The Elixir of Life

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September 29 is National Coffee Day, at least according to the coupon section of the Sunday paper. And I’m going to celebrate it like it every other day of the year.

I am a coffee devotee. That is not to say I am a coffee aficionado, because that would imply that I am a coffee snob, which I’m not. In fact, while I am a loyal supporter of Starbuck’s Vanilla Lattes, I honestly am not a fan of their straight coffee. I’m not a “fan” of coffee, but more of a “fanatic.” I honestly would drink coffee all day if I could (and often do).

I’m not entirely sure when this dedication to coffee started. When I was young, I didn’t even like the smell of coffee. I never drank coffee in high school or even college, in order to pull all-nighters. Coca-Cola was a sufficient amount of caffeine. But somewhere along my life’s journey, I discovered the life-giving properties that coffee – and only coffee – could provide to me.

Like millions of Americans – and likely humans across the globe – I start my day with a cup, a hint of sugar and cut with a good amount of French vanilla creamer. I have to start the day there. I have been known to drop everything to run to a store for any of the ingredients…or even a new coffee maker if necessary. But the coffee consumption doesn’t stop there.

Around 9 or 10 in the morning, depending on when I have meetings scheduled, I run down to the Starbuck’s in my office building for a “Venti Skinny Vanilla Latte with an extra pump of Sugar-Free Vanilla,” my signature drink from Starbuck’s. (I’ve even taught the kids how to say it so that when they stop at Starbuck’s, they can get it right.) During the work week, that will usually get me through the day, at least until I get home, where I immediately heat up a cup of coffee, sit down and drink it. And when I say immediately, I mean before I start making dinner, before I change my clothes, some days before I even say hello to the family. (Those are the really bad days.) And then I proceed to drink the rest of the pot (and sometimes even make another small pot) before hitting the hay. And no, I have NEVER had a hard time falling asleep.

Of course, my “devotion” was worse when I was at home all day. The convenience of having the coffee pot located in a central location fueled my addiction, and our local economy, since I was buying coffee and creamer by the gallon. (I do wonder sometimes if my local grocery store has had to readjust its creamer order since I’ve gone back to work.)

People I work with have always marveled at my love of coffee, but it has made life pretty easy for them when it comes to any kind of gift for me. They know that a Starbuck’s card is the way to win my affection and gratitude, not to mention make me a delight to work with. My family knows that, when in doubt, Mom will love not having to pay cash for her Starbuck’s…which also makes for a much happier house. Even the husband knows that if he’s making me get up early for something, as long as the coffee is made, well…happy wife, happy life.

So here’s to you, Juan Valdez, on National Coffee Day. May you and your cute little burro continue to provide the world with the elixir of life!

 

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Old Habits Die Hard

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Upon my return to “Cubeland,” I am amazed at how quickly I fell back into the routine. It’s amazing how, no matter where I work, the phone is always on the left, I put my stapler in the exact same spot, and I got right back into buying Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for the candy jar that has been on the corner of my desk at every job for the past 20+ years.

Sure there are challenges. When you enter a new job, there is always a ton of stuff to learn. You need to learn the company’s business strategy, culture and how it “speaks.” You need to get to know your new colleagues, who may be incredibly welcoming and who may see you as a threat. It can make your head swim!

But you also need to learn the simple, stupid, but important things. Where are the bathrooms? Which of the 20,000 passwords and user names do I use to log on to my laptop? Where are the damn pencils??

But even with all the differences and new information to process, it stunned me how much is really the same. While the people are different, you always have the crusty long-time employee, who is willing to help but will also share their views of everything the company does – right and wrong – mostly wrong. You always meet the employee that is just SO EXCITED about EVERYTHING! Then there is the super quiet employee who will help if asked but is also happy to do his or her job without any social interaction and go home at 5pm. And in my experience, all of these personalities are key to the team functioning the way it needs to. (And I think I’ve been every one of these folks at one time or another in my career.)

It takes a good four to six months to get semi-comfortable in a new job…a year to really feel like, “Yup, I got this.” I remind myself of this every time I feel like an idiot because I have no idea how to find the copier paper. But I do always find it, because I am just OCD enough to not be able to leave the machine empty of paper. I don’t want to be THAT guy.

Reflecting on it all after the first two weeks, I feel pretty ok about where I’m at so far. It’s a long way to comfort, but I’m one week closer. And I know where the copier paper is now, and I have Peanut Butter Cups in the jar on my desk. It’s a great way to make friends and make sure that people visit me. After all, old habits do die hard.

 

Heigh-Ho, Heigh-ho…

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Last November, I was one of the millions of Americans that got caught up in the “downsizing” mentality of Corporate America. And I found myself out of work for the first time since I was 15 years old. Weird.

I completely understood the business case behind the decision, and I certainly wasn’t the only one who got hit. And, as it came in a pretty financially stable time in my life, plus I got a decent severance package, I was not unduly upset, putting aside the fact that no one likes to get “dumped.” Frankly, I was kind of excited about it, as I felt like I hit a moment in time where I could reevaluate my career. A crossroads where I was lucky enough to have some very different choices available to me.

And I do realize how lucky I am. The other folks who were laid off with me were in different circumstances and pushed toward different decisions. Hell, I know there are people out there who have lost their jobs and been sent into financial ruin. I have the greatest respect for those folks who have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and rebuilt their lives. And I thanked my lucky stars every day that I had some time and space to be choosy in my next role.

As I started looking for the next corporate job, I did a lot of networking, and with people in somewhat related fields but totally outside of the corporate world. I also looked at – and took on – a couple of freelancing jobs. I did look for corporate jobs as well, but with very specific criteria about the roles and responsibilities each jobs. And given that I am a “woman of my age,” I spent some time thinking further down line toward retirement. What could I do now to set myself up for some part-time work to stay busy when I do retire?

But I also used this gift of time to do more personal things. This blog is a great example of doing things that I enjoy but never had time to pursue. My house finally feels clean and much more organized. I finally had some time and energy to really look at what we had in this house that we really didn’t need or use anymore…and never would. And I feel more of sense of peace now that my environment is more peaceful.

So overall, I have been pretty darn happy with how this has played out. And I decided early on that I was going to leave future in the hands of the fates. I decided that “what was supposed to be would be.” If I was meant to start my own freelance business, that would become clear. If I was meant to go back to the corporate world, then I would get the “right” job offer.

And that’s what happened. The “right” job was offered and, with a little negotiation, was accepted. I start today. I’m a little nervous, as anyone would be starting anew job, but I’m also excited because of the possibilities it offers. And I’m going into a great situation, with good people that I already know.

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to work I go.

 

 

Road Trip

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Over the weekend, the family took a quick road trip, to meet up with some family and see my nephew’s stand-up comedy act.

It was great, but it also served to remind me 1) why we don’t take road trips and 2) why I wish we’d taken MORE road trips.

We were not even out of the neighborhood when the bickering began. “He’s on my side.” “She’s being too loud.” “Are we stopping for breakfast?” And these were the issues that I could understand. The list goes on into the completely unintelligible.

Now let me remind you, it’s not like I have young children. These are “adults,” as they both frequently remind me, being 20 and 17 years old. You would think that at that age, I wouldn’t have to even think about entertaining them on a road trip. But thank goodness for the Alphabet Game. As soon as I could find an “A,” I started the game, thinking that would keep them busy for a bit. I did not count on my husband’s competitive nature. Which would have been fine if I had been driving.

Now because all three cannot stand to lose – especially to each other – this game became a challenge of epic proportions…and chewed up about 50 minutes of a two-and-a-half-hour drive…all to the good.

But what struck me was how much fun and laughter we enjoyed in that 50 minutes. As the kids are growing up and establishing their own lives that don’t revolve around us, these moments of “family time” are fewer and farther between. As it should be. We raised the kids to be their own people and have productive, happy lives that they have built, so I’m really happy to see them doing just that. But there are those brief moments that remind me that time is fleeting and life is changing.

As fall starts to approach, life is returning to a more normal pace. While the kids are heading back to school and to the next steps in their lives, the husband and I are looking forward to the future as a couple rather than just “Mom and Dad.” And I will tuck our last road trip of the 2014 summer in the mind cubbyhole marked “Sweet Moments.”

 

The Wedding March

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Over the weekend, my husband and I attended a family wedding.

My husband comes from a large family with a ton of cousins, the majority fairly close in age. So there for a while after we were married (the first of his cousins to get married), it felt like we were going to weddings every other weekend!

Since then, with most of the cousins married, the weddings have tapered off, so this was a bit of an occasion. It was really nice to see everyone, and the bride and groom were absolutely adorable. The festivities were so happy and relaxed that you just couldn’t NOT have a great time.

But as we sat in the church watching the marriage ceremony, it got me to thinking about what marriage is. As we arrived at the reception, they had a table set with pens, paper slips and a jar to give the newly “Mr. and Mrs.” advice for a happy marriage.

I was stumped. And I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Now if asked, I am confident that we have a happy marriage. But I also realize that every relationship is different. And no matter who else is in your life, there are only two people in a relationship. And it’s those two people that need to determine what works for them.

Relationship “experts” will give the usual platitudes about “never going to bed angry” and “learning to communicate is the key to any relationship,” and to some extent, they are right. But HOW you do that has to be a very personal thing between the two people involved.

The “experts” will also tell you that there are certain hot buttons that every relationship has to address: money, religion, raising of the kids. But when I look at my own relationship, none of those are an issue. It’s possible that we both saw in each other those qualities and perspectives that were similar, but that seems like too simplistic of an answer.

And lord knows we have had our fights. And we have gone to bed not just angry, but furious with each other. But in the end, I honestly can’t picture my life – before and after this moment – without him. I’ve never asked but I hope he would say the same thing.

Yes, I dropped some platitude in the jar…something like “just enjoy each other’s love…” I feel a little guilty that I took the easy way out, but the bar was open. What I really believe is that there is no silver bullet. No “one-size-fixes-all” rule. Marriage can be the most fun you’ve ever had or it can be the dirty job no one would want. It can raise you to the height of joy or plummet you to the depths of hell. And most of the time, it’s just making sure the mortgage gets paid on time and watching reruns of other “perfect” marriages on TV. In marriage, you have to play to long game. Give and take at different times. Slow and steady wins the race.

Maybe that’s why they call it the “Wedding March.”

 

The Dog Days

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I can’t believe summer is winding down already and we are entering the Dog Days, defined as the hottest period of the year. Fun fact:  Historically, it coincided with the heliacal rising of Sirius, the Dog Star.

How do I know this? My kids start back to school over the next couple weeks. I can tell that the evenings are starting to get dark a little tiny bit earlier each night. I can feel the opportunities slipping away for that afternoon in the sun.

Normally, I kind of like this time of year. Usually, by this point in the summer, I’m kind of ready for the change in season. But this year is a bit different. Here in the Midwest, we have had a lovely summer. Perhaps the Weather Gods are trying to show their remorse for the uber-winter we had, but mostly sunny and temps in the 70’s to 80’s with generally cool nights (perfect for sleeping!). Very few 90-degree+ days and overall generally manageable humidity levels (translation – not tropic). And I find myself wishing that we’d had just a couple more days of really hot and humid.

Now many people, including the rest of my family, think I’m nuts. (Well, to be honest, probably for more than just my thoughts on the weather, but…) But it’s because it’s been so beautiful this summer that I’m a little sad.

Generally by this time we have had those super-hot days where you feel like you are truly melting into a puddle. And the humidity is so high that when you walk outside, it’s like being smacked in the face with a giant wet sponge. And we Midwesterners get the chance to complain. This restores balance to the universe, because we spent equal time in winter complaining about the cold and ice.

I feel balance-less right now. I complained SO much last winter about the cold, swearing that I would NEVER be warm again, I assumed I would get equal time complaining about the heat and humidity. When that balance exists, I can happily look forward to getting my sweaters and hoodies out of storage. Without that balance, the end of summer (and the approach of winter…again) feels like that much more of a loss.

Who knows? This is the Midwest and we have a saying: “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes because it will change.” We could still get some of the heat and humidity that I so crave. Maybe it will happen as soon as the kids are back in school…with no air conditioning. Maybe it will be after I return to the working world…where I have to dress like a grown-up professional, which means no shorts and tank tops. Maybe this means that the upcoming winter will be mild. Who can say?

I guess my only option is to go sit in the sun and soak up as much of the heat as my little body can store. And enjoy whatever “Dog Days” we get.

 

 

 

In the End

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Endings are hard, no matter how they come about.

The endings you don’t see coming – an unexpected death, a job loss out of the blue, etc. – are obviously going to be difficult to process, since you had no run-up time to get used to the idea. But everyone will go through a process of dealing with it…denial, anger, bargaining and depression, before you finally accept it. There is no set timetable on this. Everyone will deal with it in their own time and often in their own way.

But that doesn’t mean that endings you expect…sometimes even long for…are any different in the phases.

Think about when you graduate high school or even college. While my guess is that you couldn’t wait for your “real life” to begin, I’ll lay money that you denied the need to figure out our next steps, you were angry that you needed to figure out a next step, you tried to bargain your way out of a next step, and maybe even shed a tear or two about your school years ending, before pulling yourself up and moving toward that next step in your life.

This past weekend was likely my last travel baseball tournament. For quite a while, if not forever. I have previously talked about my “Boys of Summer”, knowing that the end was nigh. It’s true that I am looking forward to having free weekends in the summers to come, I will miss the weekends at the ballpark, getting my “bleacher tan,” cheering on my boys and eating a hot dog from the rare concession stand. I’ll miss the fun and camaraderie with the other parents; playing Baggo on a warm summer evening with an adult beverage of your choice. I’ll miss the laughing and jokes in the stands, along with the frustration and commiseration there when the team has one of those innings. I’ll miss the boys and all their grossness and how sweet they can be to the fans and to each other…although they will never admit to that out loud.

I’m already full-on in denial, thinking that come next spring my son will join another travel team and we’ll have one more year. I’m also edging into anger, that I didn’t make more of the moment when it was happening. Not sure how or what I will bargain with, but I may catch myself trying to talk him into looking at options for next summer. And I’m sure the first nice weekend next summer will have me at loose ends, depressed that I’m not sitting on a bleacher somewhere in the sun cheering for a double play.

Endings are hard. But I know that the world will keep turning and everything will fall into place, in the end.