the new normal?

4.2016_fire

Spring is an exhausting time. This spring in particular has challenged my ability to stay balanced.

I pride myself on having a good work ethic and being conscientious about staying on top of things at my job. I don’t require myself to be an executive, the most competitive or driven person, I don’t need to have regular promotions or kudos. I am primarily self-propelled and have an internal gauge that tells me that I am being compensated more than fairly and requires me to earn that compensation through diligent accomplishment of tasks and contribution of some value to the organization. There’s no formula to it. It’s just how I feel when I wake up in the morning – knowing that I did a lot of work the prior day, that if there *are* ugly surprises waiting for me when I go into the office that they aren’t the result of my laziness or procrastination or poor performance. If I can feel like that about myself, then whatever happens at work sort of slides off me. People can like me or dislike me, I can get criticism or pressure, and as long as I know I’ve given it my best, I could care less. In general I find that I am harder on myself than Widget Central is, and so this philosophy has served me fairly well.

Since I had Miss L, however, balance in my life is also something that I fiercely protect. I don’t want to be an executive because in my opinion, the math just doesn’t work out. My time with her and for myself is worth far more to me than promotions or more money.

So I try to balance my work, my life with L, and my need for personal alone time. Lately I’ve also had to balance Jax and that’s a good addition, but it’s an addition. It’s a delicate tight rope walk and when work explodes with board meetings, projects, travel, long hours and piling responsibilities, and the yard explodes with new growth and greenery, and Miss L still needs lunches packed and homework signed off and cuddles and love, and Jax is working hard to include me in his life and his family’s, well, it can get pretty busy. The house doesn’t get cleaned as much as it should and I still haven’t done the inaugural lawn mow and I’ve plowed through all of my freezer and pantry stockpiles because my grocery trips are swift drive-bys for milk, meat, bread, avocados and wine (the staples!!)

4.2016_sarge annoyed

Sarge listening to a late-night call with our head office in Japan and feeling as annoyed as I was about the intellectual property provisions being set forth.

Next week I’m off again to our Mexico facilities and I couldn’t be less excited. A week of foreign travel is draining and after this hurdle, I have another trip to Japan in May to dread – right in the middle of flower and planting season. Bleah!!!!

I keep telling myself that things will settle down but I think I’ve now been telling myself that for a year. This might be the new normal.

traditions and history

4.2016_big house

It was a hell of a week for me on just about every front. I had three significant presentations, a huge project due, a new lawyer starting in my department, my clothes dryer is on the fritz, and I had social obligations on top of it. Midweek, my hands and feet began itching and I noticed the beginnings of a rash climbing up my torso and so I stopped taking my antibiotic – just in time. Apparently the urgent care doctor was INCORRECT when he told me that he’d CHECKED my chart and ma’am you are MISTAKEN – you are not allergic to amoxicillin, you are allergic to azithromycin. This didn’t sound right but who am I to argue – besides, I was helplessly drooling on my Pumas to avoid having to swallow. I wouldn’t have cared if I puffed up like the Michelin man if it had cured my strep throat. Sorry Doc, you must have checked the wrong chart, because I narrowly avoided a full-on reaction.

Jax & I took our kids to the Spring Game at the Big House. I was really tired from my week and not particularly in the mood to battle Ann Arbor parking and traffic, but it was Miss L’s first time at a Michigan game (even though it was just the spring scrimmage).  I wasn’t a huge sports fan while I attended Michigan, but the years have made me fonder of the grand Michigan traditions, and football is one of them. Coming up the road and seeing the block M and the flags fluttering in the blue sky made my chest hurt with mingled pride and excitement.

The weather was chilly and blustery but the clouds parted for the game. It was somewhat under-attended compared to a real fall game – maybe only 30-40,000 in a stadium that can seat close to 115,000. With the comparatively reduced crowds, Miss L and I were able to do a lot of staring at this fella.

4.2016_harbaugh

There was even a guest rapper who warmed up the crowd with a stirring remix of a song he originally penned when Harbaugh was in San Fran. Who’s got it better than us? Miss L & I took great joy in bellowing the response “NO-BOD-EEEEE!!!” in every refrain. I think she’s a Wolverine for life now and I am satisfied.

This morning was a quick jaunt down to Detroit’s Riverfront for a Brownie troop field trip at our Department of Natural Resources Outdoor Activity Center. I really admire our troop leaders, who have selected some really fabulous trips and activities for us. Gleaner’s, the Parade Company in Detroit, Cranbrook Science Center, et cetera. I love to explore cool activities in our Motor City and surrounds, and in addition to giving Miss L great exposure to so many aspects of our community, I also learn something every time. For example, while the girls were earning their badges with the troop leaders, I wandered around reading placards and signs, and learned that the DNR Outdoor Activity Center occupies the old Detroit Dry Dock Company / Detroit Shipbuilding Company building.

4.2016_detroit shipping signs

The building dates back to 1869 and was the construction site of many vessels, including railroad ferries and the steamers that are a fixture in the maritime history of the Great Lakes. My intrigue with the Great Lakes maritime history is shared among my family, especially my brother, and probably started with the old “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” song. Learning about the old freighters, steamers, wrecks and ghost ships is an itch that is never really fully scratched for me.

Henry Ford worked in the complex as an apprentice machinist. The buildings were closed due to the Great Depression between 1922-1929, and changed hands many times over the ensuing years.

4.2016_detroit shipping signs2

Many of the adjacent buildings in the complex were shuttered and demolished, which is always heartbreaking, but a pervasive problem in a city as plagued as Detroit. Luckily, a grant to the DNR helped save this building, and the Outdoor Activity Center was opened in 2015. The ribbon cutting was done by Nicole Curtis, a popular HGTV renovator and an advocate of preservation of historic buildings. She’s a Michigander herself and has done rehab / salvage work on a few historic Detroit properties, most notably the Ransom Gillis mansion.

We came home in a cold driving snow (yes, snow) and although I have more projects than I can count that could be constructively occupying my time, here I sit on the couch under a blanket, feeling sleepy and wondering if I can even stay awake to read a chapter of the new James Lee Burke novel I got from the library (“House of the Rising Sun”). It’s going to be a pizza, wine, & Netflix chill kind of night and I really couldn’t be more excited about it.

 

easter weekend

3.2016_easter eggs

It took a solid 36 miserable hours on antibiotics before I began to feel marginally human again. For the record, I still have some discomfort whilst swallowing, so this strep was no joke.

Yet Miss L & I soldiered on and salvaged some of our weekend. On Good Friday, we typically bake something, and plant some seeds, and do a bit of early spring clean up. Yeah, none of that happened. But on Saturday, we did our annual pilgrimage to Kensington to see the new babies at the farm, and have a bit of a ramble on the nature trails.

3.2016_easter lambs

3.2016_easter heron nests

There is a little island in the middle of a lake where the Great Blue Herons have their nests. It’s pretty amazing, even at a distance, to watch them come and go; I always wish I’d remembered to bring binoculars.

And then on Easter Sunday – despite feeling drained and wan with fatigue – I went to church. YES I WENT TO CHURCH.

***DISCLAIMER – IF YOU ARE EASILY OFFENDED BY RELIGIOUS FRANKNESS, PLEASE STOP READING SO WE CAN STAY FRIENDS***

I am not a religious person in any way, shape or form. Under generous circumstances, I might be termed spiritual, but I can’t put a definition to what I believe. I just know I believe it, if it makes any sense. I tend to be a bit suspicious of organized religion in any form, although some aspects of it appeal to me – the traditions, the old-fashioned aspects of storytelling and mysticism, old hymns, whatnot. I haven’t been to church in over twenty years, but when Jax invited me to Easter service at his church, I decided to say yes. I didn’t even know what religion he is, but I was touched that he would want to include me in that part of his life, and it’s clearly important to him.

I was envisioning ponderous but lovely Latin hymns and a measured sermon in an old brick chapel covered with ivy, sunlight streaming in through jeweled stained-glass windows. I thought a dress would be most appropriate, but all I have are tailored black and grey numbers for work, or summer dresses. So I threw my capsule closet rules to the wind and went out and bought a navy blue and white number with a slightly full skirt, to be worn under my navy cardigan with my navy blue platform heels. It felt very Junior League but my impressions of Easter services involve pastels and white gloves and big hats and matching purses, and this was as close of an approximation as I could muster with limited time. (Yes, I will be getting rid of the requisite 2 items from my closet to make up for this.)

Jax looked very handsome in dress pants and a tasteful Brooks Brothers shirt and I was slightly agog with anticipation. When we walked into his church, however, it became clear that my expectations were completely off-base. It was essentially an auditorium, darkened but with flashing lights up at the front and a LIVE ROCK BAND. There was a drummer behind a glass window and three singers gyrating and singing a pop song into microphones. There were guitars and video screens showing lyrics and women wearing skinny jeans in the pews holding their hands up and dancing and singing along. It was all quite astounding and I felt ridiculously fanciful in my Junior League outfit.

It was an utterly mind-blowing experience. I tried to hum along and look interested and attentive, although on the inside I was slack-jawed with shock and horror.  And then when the singing was over I tried to relax and enjoy the sermon, which was about hope in the face of suffering. Then there was some mention of Satan, and I felt my cheerful optimism begin to fade again. And then the pastor said that when it comes to Jesus, you either completely reject him or you fall on your face worshipping him as your savior. Too many people, he said, take the middle road; they might not totally believe, but they’re okay with Jesus, they can take him or leave him. MAYBE EVEN SOME PEOPLE IN THIS CHURCH TODAY, he said, and I felt the cold sweat that had broken out all over me during the singing begin to prickle again. I know my eyes were the size of teacups. Am I so wrong? NO, I don’t 100% believe. I have doubts. I like the basic messages and feel that they are beautiful stories, but am greatly troubled by the forms that organized religion of all forms can take. I would be interested in the Bible from a historic perspective, and I could probably really get absorbed in the Gospel of Thomas. More than that, though – well, I just I can’t attend a church that forces me to attest to believing in things that I don’t totally know if I believe – and that’s what’s kept me away for twenty years. I have no beef with Jesus. But, in the words of a pretty awesome Criminal podcast that I listened to, when asked why he selected a Buddha statue over a Jesus statue for a specific purpose that you will learn about in the podcast, if you choose to listen, the subject of the podcast said, “(Buddha), he’s neutral. I mean, if we threw Christ up there, he’s controversial. Everyone’s got a deal about him. But Buddha – nobody seems to be that perturbed in general about a Buddha.”

Of course, I didn’t tell Jax about my discomfort. If he asks again, I will try to explain it to him; I still think it’s pretty great that he invited me to the service and we spent a really nice Sunday in the sunshine afterwards. But I don’t know if I’ll go back. In many ways, I still feel that my way of spending Easter – with lambs and birds and rambles – is just a better fit for me.

strep

03.2016_back road field

I sneezed three times on Tuesday afternoon, and one of them was a hard sneeze that hurt the back of my throat and made me wince. I thought idly on the way home that sneezing like that even once usually means I am getting sick. I felt fine, though, so I used my neti pot before bed and thought nothing more of it.

By Wednesday midday I felt like I’d been beaten with a stick, and swallowing was a misery of broken glass shards. I went home early, crept into bed, and stayed there until I forced myself to Urgent Care first thing Thursday morning. If I could have drooled helplessly on myself to avoid the flaming cavern of agony that resulted from swallowing, I would have.

Urgent Care was, as usual, a gallery of crazy although I suppose I looked no different, hunched over my knitting and whimpering every time I had to swallow my spit. The nurse took some swabs (which hurt like hell) and ran the tests. “You have strep!” the doctor cheerfully announced as he bustled in a few minutes later. I resisted the urge to say “NO SHIT SHERLOCK GIVE ME MY DRUGS” but merely smiled and nodded. He flashed a penlight into my mouth and said, “Yep! That’s an easy one! Look at all of those white spots! Look at those tonsils! Textbook.”

Although the doctor told me that I couldn’t give strep throat to children, that they are usually the carriers and the contagion is reserved for adults, GB kindly took  Miss L so that there was no chance. Plus, I could barely lift my head off the pillow.

I’ve been on the antibiotics for a full 24 hours and while I do feel better than I did yesterday, when I rocked up to Urgent Care and nearly throttled the kindly doc for my antibiotics, I’m still reeling. This strep came on fast and hit me hard and took me out at the knees. My throat is still on fire and although I can knock it back with ibuprofen, at least enough to swallow, I was expecting a much more rapid improvement. I also missed a day of work when I can scarcely afford to, with two board meetings next week, one the following week, and no time to prepare all of the agendas, packets, and presentations that I am responsible for.

I’m hoping another dose of antibiotics will give me less pain and more energy, but in the meantime, I am tucked up in bed with my (admittedly indifferent) nursemaids and a book.

3.2016_sleepy boyz

daylight savings fails and more.

3.2016_em yawn

The most ferocious thing about Emmett is his yawn.

I consider this year to be a Daylight Savings Fail as it took me at least four days to adjust and be able to get out of bed at the new time. After I had Miss L, sleep came to occupy one of the most important places in my life and I just never felt like I had enough of it. Miss L is a big little lady now but I am still extremely protective and fussy about my sleep patterns and any hiccup renders me useless. Luckily, apart from being relentlessly picked at by my lovable colleagues in Tokyo (and there’s a time difference so their precise and disapproving emails come into my Inbox at night, which makes them easier to ignore when I get into work the next morning for some reason), it was an easyish week at work and my boss is never a reliable office presence, anyway. So, yawn.

I spent some time with Jax and his puppy Iz, watching March Madness and eating pizza. Rather, Jax & I ate the pizza and watched the basketball and Iz enjoyed her bone in the sunshine streaming in through his open door. I really like that little dog but am glad that she was focused on her bone this time – she has a history of creeping into my luggage while we are occupied doing other things and stealing items of my clothing, which I later find all over his house. “What gall,” Jax says, and he’s right. Under normal circumstances, her little leather collar jingles and when she’s on the prowl, she knows to move slowly and silently, quiet as a ninja puppy as she stealthily raids through my bags for that stray sock or undergarment.

3.2016_Izzy

Despite the persistent ennui, I got in a few good runs on the treadmill during my lunch hours and am hopeful for a longer run this weekend. I am somewhat reluctant to make it official, but I am looking towards the Glen Arbor Solstice Half Marathon in June. I’ve run the 5k a few times and it’s a nice course and I am in surprisingly decent shape; my big “meh” about it is the time of year. The 5k is usually extremely humid and muggy and warm, and I’m just not a good hot weather runner. Fall races are the best for me but I don’t want to wait. I am excited to get back to that distance over the next several weeks and add a new experience to my run collection. (Past halfs confined to the inaugural Ann Arbor Half Marathon which I hated because we ran around Briarwood Mall around the 8-9 mile mark and who wants to run through a mall parking lot at the darkest part of a half, when you are starting to flag but still have too many miles ahead to see the light? I think they’ve changed the course now, maybe? And my favorite race of all, the Sleeping Bear Half Marathon, which I’ve done twice and is my half PR at 1.57.)

Anyway, the sun is shining today and there are little green things determinedly poking up through the detritus so perhaps there will be some raking and yardwork. The six suburban deer have raided my birdfeeders and there are a lot of cold robins heading to the neighbor’s buffet instead – I should rectify that. I can bundle up and listen to my audio book. I finally finished the seemingly endless “Lake House” on my Audible subscription and have started on something called “Nightlord” which at first listen isn’t really my cup of tea but audio books aren’t like library books – if I don’t like them, I actually paid for them, which makes me loathe to cut my losses. (As I did recently with “The Witches” library book, which I found to be little more than a sensationalist rehashing of the same old story – I swapped it for V.E. Schwab’s “A Darker Shade of Magic” which I am really enjoying.)

I hope you all have a lovely weekend recharge. xo

 

weekend and Capsule Closet Project: 1

Miss L & I are both fighting off colds and spent the dreadful Daylight Savings weekend being quiet. (This was perfect for me but less than exciting for her.) We fetched a soup bone from the local ham shop (yes, HAM SHOP, we live in a beautiful world) to make bean soup and stayed up late fast-forwarding through the scarier bits of the Hobbit films. (Again, I have to ask – why did the filmmakers find it necessary to add a completely fictitious ROMANCE?! I am still offended by their need to alter the perfect source material. If they wanted to make it a love story, go fangirl in a separate movie with a stubbly Kili and elfish vixen.) Ahem. Anyway.

I also had a tree guy come look at some of my greenery; I made a running schedule for early summer; and, of the greatest interest to this post, I did some work in my closet. I have been reading about capsule wardrobes lately and there are a lot of things that appeal to me about it.

  • I tend to wear the same items over and over again anyway, leaving probably 75% of my closet untouched.
  • I like the idea of buying classic, well-made pieces that will last a long time rather than a multitude of less expensive items that wear out quickly, don’t fit as well, aren’t quite right, or aren’t on-trend next season.
  • In my old age I am becoming ever more frugal.
  • I like the idea of simplifying, decluttering, and becoming more organized and streamlined.

I have no interest in paying $20 for a course on how to create a capsule wardrobe, and I’m not sure I can go as few as 10 items, but in my own way, I’ve started identifying and segregating what I actually wear from what I don’t. I think this will be a long process. At the end, I’ll be able to identify what I have and also what I need, and start filling in the gaps with some good pieces.

I’ve already identified a few things that I know I need – mostly shoes at this point. I need a pair of fashionable sneakers for work travel. Comfort is key, since I can’t hobble around airports in heels, and yet I always feel bad clomping around in my running shoes. Black suede Pumas are the ticket. I made a count and can donate at least 5 pairs of cheap, old summer sandals and flip-flops in exchange for 1 quality pair of comfortable, well-made sandals – I am thinking about a pair of Birks. Maybe these. And ballet flats – I have two pairs of old or not-quite-right ballet flats that I could get rid of in exchange for one pair of Tieks.

I have some loose, self-imposed rules for this little challenge.

  • For everything new that I buy, I have to be able to get rid of at least 2 items from my closet. So new pieces have to be considered and researched and I have to show myself a space-and-use advantage to acquiring the new item. This will be my most rigorously enforced rule for the length of this project. It allows for splurges, but if I slip up and come home with a shopping bag from Old Navy, I’d better be prepared to roll up my sleeves and get rid of things.
  • Where possible, I would like to buy a gently used piece from a site like Thred Up rather than buying new. If I’m buying a quality item, it will be less expensive and most of my experiences with those items are very good. People take care of their more expensive things and honestly, it makes more sense to me to buy used. I know this gives a lot of people the heebie-jeebies but I have absolutely no squeamishness or snobbery about buying something from a consignment shop or the Salvos, if I can find it there. It just makes sense to me. For example, I know I will need a black skirt for work since my old one is almost worn to bits. I could go and buy one new, but I can look at Thred Up and find six pages of designer black skirts for $10-$15 or less, in every cut and style possible. What’s not to love about that?
  • Lastly, I would like to almost entirely fund my new purchases with money made from selling my old brand-name items. I have tons of things that I’ve barely worn but paid a lot of money for and have already started selling a few items online and salting the money away in my Paypal account. The Pumas were an exception, but I used a gift certificate from my mom for those so I feel okay with that.
  • Workout clothes, pajamas, undergarments don’t count. If I need a new pair of running shoes because I’ve hit the miles in my old Brooks, I will buy them. I’m not interested in getting another stress fracture or injury because of this project.
  • Obviously this project is only ongoing in *my* closet – not Miss L’s. I’ll continue to buy for her the same as I always do – mostly new, less expensive things every few months due to wear and tear / growth rate / seasons / activities.

I could afford to go out and spend money at the mall, stocking my closet, but that feels lazy and overconsumptive and illogical to me. And it would be at the expense of other things that I find more financially important and motivational – like home improvements, savings accounts, retirement funds, paying off my house early, and saving for a new (probably used) car since my Camry isn’t going to last forever.

I like this idea and am having fun with it and overall I think it makes a lot of sense for me, my value system, and my lifestyle. I expect this whole process to take at least a year – decisions made in every season. I look forward to keeping tabs on myself via this online journal so if this bores you to tears, skip posts titled “Capsule Closet”.

 

when you wake up it’s a new day, and you’re going home.

3.2016_iowa road

Mornings come early in Omaha. I set off in my rental Nissan Sentra in the darkness pre-dawn. Hills rolled in the distance and the roadsides outside the city were full of billboards and the orange lights of enormous factories, puffing plumes of smoke into a glowing Harkonnen landscape.

Soon, though, the blue light of morning was upon me. The stark landscape was bleak and brown still, but oddly beautiful. Neatly fitted fields swirled in curving rows and red-winged blackbirds perched on fenceposts. I stopped for coffee in a town with no stoplights, but which proudly offered their very own McDonald’s in the shade of a looming agricultural silo.

3.2016_omaha sunset

I had two two-hour presentations scheduled at two neighboring facilities and lunch with a colleague at the coffee shop on the town square. Despite how often I’ve had to travel and give these sorts of presentations, there is always a moment when I’m walking in, bag banging my hip, imagining the churlish faces that will regard me blankly from my audience, in which I think, “I really wish I didn’t have to do this.

But I always do.

The day was long and exhausting and the long drive back to my hotel that evening was less lovely than it had been that morning. I called my parents and listened to NPR for the early Super Tuesday returns. Finally back at my hotel, I debated with myself about whether I was too tired to care about dinner. I knew that I had no energy left to chat with an Uber driver, no matter how nice they were. I changed into jeans and walked a block to another Omaha restaurant for dinner.

3.2016_old mattress salmon

03.2016_old mattress beer

When I posted my whereabouts on the ubiquitous social media, a couple people thought that the Old Mattress Factory was a funny name for a restaurant. It seemed obvious to me, but maybe only if you are in Omaha and see how much history many of the buildings have, particularly in and around Old Market. Uh….it’s called that because it actually WAS a mattress factory. Ahem. And that was a later incarnation (1940’s). The building itself actually dates from the late-1800’s.

The service was friendly but lackluster, which was okay because it gave me time to slowly absorb a much-needed Nebraska Brewing Co. Ale Storm American Blonde into my parched and overexposed system. The salmon, when it came, was among the best I’ve ever had.

As usual, after presentations, I dream about being in social situations and realizing I am only half-dressed – usually pantsless.

It was another early morning the next day, but I was heading home, and so that was okay.