Hats for sale

A year is 365 days, each day with the same amount of potential as the day before and the day after. The days themselves are neutral blocks of time, but what we do during each moment and our perceptions of the results of our deeds color each day as good, bad, productive, wasteful, exciting, miserable, or just another day. We remember specific dates for the extraordinary events that happened during those hours, not because the time itself did anything terribly amazing (because sadly, I’m not a Time Lord). When I look back at 2010, I see a year like so many other years with its mix of happiness, sadness, amusement, frustration, joy, sorrow, peace, and conflict. I am excited to see my own set of circumstances change with the end of K’s deployment, and doors that were previously unavailable opening up to new possibilities. But I would have felt this way in August or May if that’s when they had occurred. As luck would have it, my changes came with the actual New Year.

2010 saw me wearing so many hats, I felt like the salesman in the children’s book “Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business” by Esphyr Slobodkina. The only difference would be that when I woke up, the monkeys had made more hats to add to my pile and took none for themselves, the little furry bastards. Monkeys aside, I don’t believe for a second the length of this list is unique to me. I know lots of parents—both single and married—who also juggle so many roles it’s a wonder we are not all suffering from multiple personality disorder. But, since list-making is woven through every fiber of my being, and as a blogger of sorts, I think I’m required to have a year in review, here’s my list (from the mundane to the ridiculous) of who I was in 2010 not including the inherent hats of Mother, daughter, sister, friend, occasional substitute Dad, and long-distance wife:

Garbage Collector
Party Planner
Cake Decorator
Chef/Short-order cook
Special Ed Teacher
Travel Agent
Money Manager/Accountant
Remote Control
Designer (print and web)
Personal Shopper
Radio Personality
Dog Trainer/Groomer
Mouse Catcher
Animal Control/Rescue
Tour Guide
Fly Swatter
Conflict Resolver
Costume Designer
Network Tech
Gift-giving holiday character/winged tooth collector

I could be forgetting something, but that’s enough. I feel tired again just looking at that list. I’m sure that 2011 will afford me the opportunity to wear many of these hats again (please no more mouse catching though!), but I’m looking forward to passing some of them over to K to try on and make his own. I’m sure his soldier hat is looking a bit worn to him.

Looking ahead, a friend of mine has named 2011 his “Year of Adventure.” I really liked the sound of that, but I’m not sure that I could manage an entire year of adventure (misadventure will come naturally though), so I’ve decided 2011 will be my “Year of Momentum.” Not as exciting, but certainly better than the “Year of Standing Still” which is what I’ve dubbed 2010. I’ve spent the last couple of years setting aside my own goals to prepare for this deployment knowing how all-consuming it was going to be, and helping the kids reach a more independent stage in their own lives. Apparently I needed that time to stand around waiting to realize the dream I’ve always had for myself is attainable if I stop thinking about and fretting over it and actually do something about it. So this is the year I stop making excuses, put aside the jobs that I no longer enjoy and work toward making writing full time a reality (and thereby validating the existence of my student loans). I’m going to find other creative ways to bring in some money on the side (can I interest you in some baklava for your next social gathering?) since writing is not terribly lucrative right away…or potentially ever. I’m also going to teach myself Japanese (something I’ve been interested in doing for a long time as well) and see where that takes me (perhaps I’ll have an adventure after all!). Like most people, I could stand some improvement physically, and some inner peace wouldn’t hurt either, so making some effort in those areas will be a part of my day, too, but I’m not attaching any specific goals (or God forbid success-proof resolutions) to them. Beyond that, I’m going to try to remember to just be me. No hat required. I think that last bit is going to be the most challenging. Reaching for a hat is a reflex.

One of my favorite hats this past year was Family Digital Historian (a.k.a “photographer”). As you can see, we came full-circle and ended the year in the same way we started it: with a smile. I call breaking even a good thing.

I hope you did too.

Phase 3 approaching fast

Thanksgiving is coming and I have many milestones behind me and people in my life to be thankful for. At the top of the pile of thankful events is the deployment phase of this journey is coming to a close. K is on the way home from Afghanistan as I write. Getting home for him is like planes, trains, and automobiles…or maybe more like camels, helicopters, and cargo planes. Needless to say, it’s a long trip. I know he is thankful to be making it no matter how convoluted and drawn out it is. Every leg of the trip is one step closer to a real bed, good food, green grass, and an internet connection that works all the time.

When people hear that K’s coming home, inevitably the first thing they say to me is, “You must be so excited!” I never know how to respond without looking like a complete ass. Sure, I’m relieved that he’s coming back in one piece. Beyond that, I’m cautiously optimistic. Last time K returned from a deployment it did not go well and continued to not go well for quite some time. Some of that was thanks to the Army’s lack of support for returning soldiers at the time, some was due to my inexperience and inflated expectations, and some was due to how K was handling his return—or not handling his return—and all the issues inherent in that. It was sort of a perfect crap storm. We hope with the knowledge from past experience, this time will be better or at the very least, shorter.

The return from deployment is the hardest part of this cycle for both the soldier and the family. Unlike what the general population may like to think, it’s not like the world is suddenly righted when a soldier comes home. There’s no burst of sunlight through the clouds, nor do unicorns frolic in and out of a double rainbow—although that would be novel. A typical year brings with it all kinds of natural changes. Kids get taller and more mature, rules change, new routines are established, and challenges are overcome. In the case of military families, new bonds are forged with the people you come to rely on, whether it be at home or in a war zone, soldiers experience the stress of combat and homesickness, and families struggle to maintain some sort of normalcy and spouses manage single-parenting logistics ad nauseam. Those extra layers of change are the most effecting. You learn a lot about yourself—your limitations, strengths, tolerances, priorities. The complication comes in when you try to reestablish your life as a family the way it used to be before the deployment. Life does not go back to “normal” after a year apart. To think it will is certainly optimistic, but definitely not realistic. You have to establish something new or at the very least, different.

Creating anything new takes work—and a whole lot of it. The problem in the case of forming a new post-deployment life is that it’s being taken on by mentally and physically exhausted people who really don’t have the luxury of rest because life is not stopping while they gather themselves. You can imagine that sometimes it’s a bit like watching a drunk person try to navigate a corn maze. Sometimes they make a lucky turn and other times they fall down on their ass and wonder which direction is up. Eventually they get through it, but it takes a long time and many run-ins with dead ends. Much like not being able to catch up on sleep when you have been sleep deprived, you can’t really catch up on a year apart even when you do your best to communicate. There will always be a swath of events, inside jokes, and stories that you will not have in common and can only hear about so many times before you feel like an outsider. The soldier doesn’t really understand what the spouse goes through and the spouse certainly does not know what the soldier goes through (unless they have served as well). I call it the Immutable Law of Forced Distance Over Time. I’m sure some would argue that soldiers have it worse than those left at home, but those same people are probably not the ones who are left behind. Personally, I believe the hardships are borne like church and state: separate but equal. I can promise that if couples start trying to pick apart who had it worse, resentment will flourish like goldenrod in Fall. Understanding that it wasn’t easy for anyone is probably the best stance to take no matter which side of the equation you are on.

Is there a magic trick or secret for a successful post deployment life? If I knew the answer to that, the book would be written, and I’d be a bit richer not to mention in a completely different frame of mind. Every couple’s relationship is different and some weather these times better than others. I also know not just from experience, but from seeing other military couples go through the same thing that people underestimate the force, frequency, and duration of the ripples a deployment can cause even in the steadiest of relationships and inevitably it takes them by surprise. Like I said, I cannot offer answers because I don’t have any—nor do I believe that the techniques used in one relationship’s success translates into success in another’s, but I think the best thing for anyone dealing with life after deployment is to dig deep and find the extra patience and compassion it takes to get through each day until that new life kicks in. Soldiers need to accept that life at home went on because that’s what it does and you can’t just reinsert yourself and think that will work, and spouses need to understand that coming home is not just culture shock, but a completely different mindset to adjust to that goes way beyond coming home at the end of the day from work. Being in the military is a 24/7 lifestyle and not a 9-5 job. Both need to recognize that shifting gears is not easy and that somewhere there is still common ground to stand on. You just have to find it and go from there.

Beyond those general insights into what life post-deployment is like, I would like to offer a piece or two of advice to people welcoming home soldiers. First, please try not to say things like, “You must be glad/happy/overjoyed to be home!” That is a given. Wouldn’t you rather be home than being shot at in the mountains of Afghanistan or the sands of Iraq? You could just say you are happy they are home, or ask how they are like you would anyone else. Letting soldiers know they are appreciated and that you care about them is fantastic and important, but please don’t ask if they will have to go back again soon. Let them enjoy being home. And don’t ask their spouses that question either. We don’t care to think about doing this again anymore than the soldiers do. In many cases—especially in the Guard—the answer is either “Not at all” or “Not for a while” anyway. If they will be leaving again in the future, you will hear about it when the time is right. Instead, you might want to ask if they have special plans now that they are back or something to look forward to like a vacation or new job.  Just remember that soldiers are not sideshows and you should be fine.

When K gets home, we plan on being as low-key as humanly possible for a bit. It’s thisclose to Winter up here and the instinct to hibernate is pretty strong as it is, but wanting to simply adjust to being civilians again will be even stronger. We will be having a quiet Christmas with the kids and will get around to visiting family and friends once K has had time to work through the 8.5 hour time difference and remember that every other word he says doesn’t need to start with “F.” We are incredibly grateful to everyone who has helped us get through this year whether you sent care packages, watched the kids, or just listened to us when we needed an ear. Your contribution to making the last several months bearable will not be forgotten, I promise. We count ourselves lucky to have such understanding and loving friends and family and we hope you know that we are happy to return the favor. We are thankful for you.

In closing, I know I haven’t been around here much and I apologize. My absence is due in part to just being busy with the kids, my freelance work, and various obligations. The other reason I’ve been away is because many of you who read this know me and K in real life, and honestly, it would be easier to write about some of the bumps we experience if you didn’t know us. Anonymity ensures that social gatherings aren’t awkward. I’ve been struggling with what to write quite a bit because we are fairly private people. Do I believe it’s good for civilians to get a glimpse into the realities of military life so they can see the extent of what gets sacrificed? Most assuredly, yes. Am I ready to lay everything out there in detail? Apparently not. And I’m sure K is not ready for that either and I respect his position on the topic. I’m still in the middle of it, and as much as I try to be level-headed and objective about how the deployments have effected us and the kids, it is tough to put a positive spin on it all the time as I had intended. There are days when the deployment and all that goes with it just flat out sucks and there’s not much more to say. I think I’ve probably mentioned before that I’m not the most positive person in the universe, but I’m working on improving my outlook every day because I refuse to lug around the anger I was left with last time we did this. In any event, I appreciate having readers at all. I’m grateful that you enjoy my writing and care about what happens. Like the deployment itself, keeping this blog has been a learning experience for me. I’m not giving up on it, so please bear with me in the coming year as I figure out the best angle to approach it from. In the meantime, have a lovely Thanksgiving!

Shake it up, baby!

I bet you were all wondering what would bring me back here. So was I, frankly. It’s been a rather busy few months of kids home for summer, a dead-for-the-third-time’s-a-charm computer, school starting, and K coming home on leave, and me trying to nail down regular work. Turns out what it really takes for me to sit down and write again is an earthquake. You heard me right. Earthquake. Nothing major, mind you, and I’m sure my friends on the left coast are laughing behind their hands at the lack of magnitude it takes for my heart to pound and my mind to race, but that’s ok. I laugh at the thought of them driving around during a snow storm…or as I like to call it, a light dusting. I have only ever lived on the east coast and I’m no stranger to hurricanes, blizzards, ice storms, nor’easters, drought (and not just the writing kind), hail, and floods. Not to mention, black flies, mosquitoes, and jellyfish. Mother Nature and I come in to contact fairly often in these parts and I have a healthy respect for the power she wields. She never mentioned the possibility of earthquakes though. Mighty tricky of you, Mother Nature, mighty tricky!

Saturday night, just before 11:30pm, I was laying in bed reading and starting to doze off. All of a sudden I heard a loud boom/crash/extended thud and then the house shook for a couple of seconds. At first I thought I was more asleep than I imagined and perhaps I was about to have a blockbuster movie dream. No such luck. My next thought was that the basement blew up again (yes, I said “again.”), but quickly pushed that aside when I realized that the smoke alarms didn’t go off. Then I thought some idiot finally took the corner in front of our house too fast and hit the gigantic pine tree outside Monkey’s room and hoped that the tree wouldn’t break and crush my house (or my Monkey!) or the animal shelter across the street. There was no other sound though after that initial boom, so it couldn’t be that. Maybe something nearby had exploded in an enormous fireball…All of these thoughts were zipping around in my head at supersonic speeds while I tried to assess my next action which all centered around “Holy crap I might have to get 2 sleeping kids and 2 dogs out of here ASAP.”

Pants went on quickly, and the ridiculously calm dogs (who were my first clue that all was more well than my pounding heart and flight ready brain were able to process) looked at me askance while I shut them in my room to go investigate on my own. Nothing smelled funny, no sirens in the distance, and the kids were both still asleep. I went downstairs and made sure the basement door wasn’t hot and that the barn was still attached and the shop in the side yard was also still in its usual dilapidated state. Everything was right were it should be—unchanged. I suspect even the pantry mouse was undisturbed. Back upstairs I go, to waiting dogs who I’m pretty sure think I’m off my rocker at this point, but are nice enough to not say so out loud. I collar them up and outside we go to investigate the property and look around the neighborhood for signs of the obvious coming apocalypse. Casey and Zoe, amazed at their luck in getting to go out after 9:30pm, immediately go running off to sniff out the wild animal nightlife and I stand at the bottom of my driveway wondering what the hell was going on because nothing seemed to be going on. Surely if there was a rift in the space time continuum (which was the only other option left as far as I could tell), I would be seeing aliens or a passel of long-forgotten farmers making their way back home in a horse and buggy parade. Nope. Nothing. All was quiet on the Great White Northern Front.

I called the dogs back in and we returned to bed. I think my heart finally began to slow to it’s normal pace and the adrenalin rush unlike anything I’ve felt since riding the Mt. Everest roller-coaster at Disney (it goes backwards!) started to dissipate as well. Of course the first thing I did after settling in was get online. I saw my neighbor across the street was also online (Phew!) and she and I instant messaged briefly about the excitement of the night (let me tell you, we do not generally live in an exciting part of town at all), and thanks to Twitter (yup, Twitter) we quickly found out that we were hit with a 3.2 earthquake less than 10 miles from our neighborhood.

For as much upheaval as that tiny earthquake caused in my internal organs, I was actually glad it was that rather than all my other options (especially the Doctor Who-esque scenario). There were far more chances for death and destruction coming out of my brain than what was happening in reality and I could not have felt more relief at that realization. Aside from the novelty of having experienced something that was neither on my bucket list or any other list of mine for that matter, it made me realize that I need to remember to keep a calm head when crazy shit happens (i.e. pay attention to the dogs who were calm the whole time). I am not 100% prepared for a disaster—natural or man-made—but I could be with little effort. I know where all the things I would need are: first aid kit, water, and food (thanks Army for your oh-so-tasty MREs!). I know, though, that our generator is lacking fuel, and I don’t have any wood yet for the fireplace if it were necessary to be stuck at home without electricity or heat. I have a camping stove and fuel for that, and we have blankets and sleeping bags. I don’t have anything that’s particularly grab-n-go, and it’s probably a good idea to consolidate. Soon. You know, just in case.

I don’t plan on this little shake up making me paranoid about the possibility of future disasters since they are not the norm (and I really prefer the whole “level head” thing to “crazed loony” thing), nor do I plan on making next summer a family Outward Bound extravaganza, but it sure has made me think twice about what I would do if something truly serious happened. As long as K is attached to the Army, and given that the National Guard is called out for any type of local (and some not-so-local as it turns out) disasters, the kids and dogs and I are pretty much on our own during tough times. It does not hurt to believe that all those years I spent hanging out with Boy Scouts (my dad was a Troop Leader and my brother a Scout) showed me preparedness. Even more important, just being a single-parent forces you to manage a degree of planning and logistics I don’t believe can be taught in college. But here I was left at loose ends even for such a short time over something that in reality was small but could have been bad, bad, bad. Thankfully this is not a cautionary tale that will wind up being checked on Snopes because of its unbelievable circumstances, nor will I end up a recipient of the Darwin Award (at least not this week!). However it is a good reminder to tend to basic needs and always have a plan…which I am working on before Winter comes with all its frozen goodness.

In other news, as I mentioned K was home on leave for a couple of weeks earlier this month and a grand time was had by all. He’s back in Afghanistan counting the days until the deployment is over. The kids did really well with the transition (ah, my little adaptable beings!) and they, too, are looking forward to Daddy being home for hours of hikes, faux camping, sparring practice, and Lego building.

I won’t make promises that I’ll be writing regularly again. Those seem to bite me in the ass. So you’ll see me when you see me and thanks for sticking around and caring what I have to say.🙂

“But Summer vacation just started!” you say. Pish posh! Not for me! Mine’s done. I had a total of 4 glorious days this month without my kids around (with copious amounts of thanks to my parents for taking them) and that was my summer vacation because now they are home. Did I go somewhere fun? Did I lay around sleeping and reading and watching tv while eating bon-bons? Nope. I did enjoy the quiet (that I promptly filled with my music and singing), though.

What I did was tackle my home office project (among some other smaller projects). I converted the under-the-stairs closet into my own little cubby of vocational joy. I patched, painted, built, drilled, hung, and decorated until I made a space that Harry Potter would be happy to live in (if, in fact, he could fit under my workspace)! Come Fall, both kids will be at school full time and it’s time for me to get back to work. Or to work, I guess, since I haven’t been able to accomplish too much business of late with K gone. But I’m ready now, and by the time he gets home for good, I’m hoping to be well-acquainted with my office and what I can do in it.

If you’d like to see the progress of the job, you can see it all here start to finish (with more detailed description), but here’s the finished product:

When the last picture was hung and everything was in its place and I could sit down in a space that was all mine, I felt like a new person with a purpose and direction and less like a gypsy roaming around the house looking for the perfect place to work for the day. Working in the kitchen made me hungry, my bedroom made me sleepy, and in the living room, I could go either way…or both. But here in the closet, I can concentrate. Even with the door open and the view of my lovely back yard plainly in view, I can focus and not want to eat or sleep. It’s refreshing, and if I had known that going into the closet and staying there were the answer, I would have done it from the get-go. I am fortunate that I don’t really have a problem with small spaces, because even though I did my best to minimize the square footage I used for work top area, it’s still on the tight side. But like I said, it’s not a problem for me…or the dogs:

The kids, of course, find my tiny office fascinating (much in the same way they find their little food-shaped Japanese erasers fascinating), but I’m pretty adamant about not all of us fitting, so their trips in for visits are very short-lived. I put the heavy wooden coat hanger rod back up and added a sheer curtain that divides the closet in half should I need a second line of defense. R likes to call the space on the doorway side of the curtain my “waiting area.” I have a hanging magazine rack in that part along with some artwork hanging on the wall, so it is a bit waiting room-esque. The dogs pay no attention to the curtain divider and manage to sometimes lay down in the slim space behind my chair and the wall, or one of them spills out of the doorway a little into the dining room. It is a testament to their unswerving loyalty that they would hang with me in this space when they have the whole rest of the house to lounge about in. I like my dogs…now if only they would fix the rug they bunched up on the way out…

When I was thinking about the decor for my office, it was a no-brainer that the walls and whatever other color I used would have to be light, so I went with two colors I will no doubt cringe over when I think of their names come Winter: “snowbound” and “Icelandic blue.” I’ve been snowbound a time or two and I can’t say it was pleasant after the first 24 hours. As for Iceland, I don’t remember seeing a blue this light or pretty while sitting in Keflavik Airport when I was there eons ago. It looked more like the surface of the moon with a slight coating of dead grass. Not a color I’d want on my walls, that’s for sure. Anyway, the closet is as bright as I could make it within the context of my own taste limits. I added Christmas lights around the office at mid-wall for some light. The usual fluorescent light is actually too bright for me (I have always preferred low-light to work in), so I took it out and just use the natural light from the large glass doors at the back of the house along with the twinkly little Christmas lights and that’s fine for day-to-day stuff. I have a clip-on reading light that I use when doing art projects that require more attention to detail. I kept all the fixtures (rugs, shelves, bulletin board, magazine rack, baskets) on the cream-colored side just to maintain that open feeling. I think it works. I don’t feel like it’s too close in here. One of the unexpected upsides of the shape and size of this office is that the room makes a great speaker. When I play music on my laptop, I can actually hear it clearly and the volume amplifies so nicely. Normally, the rooms in our house are too big for my little crappy laptop speakers, so even at full volume, it just seems to fade away. But playing at full volume from my office allows me to hear it perfectly in the kitchen and living room. Take that Bose!

I wanted to put some inspirational pieces of art on my walls, and I have a rather informal guideline I use in my house regarding what gets shown off on the walls. I try to only put up pieces of art done by people I know. I am fortunate enough to have many talented artists on both sides of my family as well as K’s, so it’s not as hard a guideline to stick to as you might imagine. I decided to dedicate my office to my Aunt Mary who was quite an accomplished artist and one of the more jovial people I’ve ever known. She loved to give big hugs and had a generous laugh and I do miss her. When I was a little girl, she would babysit me sometimes and I have very fond memories of playing in her attic as well as loving the fact that I knew the people in her paintings. I even made the cut into one of them and I have it hanging on the door into my new office. A couple of years ago, Mary’s daughter—my cousin, C—let us all come over and pick out some of her pieces of art. Talk about feeling like a kid in a candy store! I already have some of her still life paintings on various walls around the house, but for my office I picked and framed some of the unfinished sketches to remind myself that practice is key to anything. I’ve got four figure studies, a matador done in pencil and ink, and the sketch for an icon of St. George killing the dragon. Having all those drawings in here gives a bit more meaning to my own efforts and makes it feel like home. Even if it is a closet.

So now I have my own office and it’s time to put it to good use. In fact, I just did. I could get used to this closet dwelling.

Divisible by 13

I like birthday math. I’m sure it makes me somewhat strange, but it’s true (I’m strange). I like to take my age and do the math. This year, upon turning 39, I am now divisible by 13 and 3 (as well as 1 and 39, naturally) and they are both prime numbers which means I am still unique, mathematically speaking. I loved 37 which was prime in and of itself. Last year I was also divisible by two prime numbers (2 x 19) but 38 is not as masthetically (Look! I just made up a new word!) pleasing. Three and 8 don’t have much in common, unlike 3 and 9 which have all kinds of things in common—3 being the square root of 9 and all. So not only do I have primes this year, I have square roots (which don’t need dye jobs) to boot. Who ever said that math and getting older wasn’t fun and interesting never really took a good look at 39. Dare I say, I’m looking forward to 41, too?

As far as birthdays go, this one was just lovely. I can’t say it was extraordinary, but I sure did like it. I took the day off from cleaning and doing work, and thanks to my excellent friends, H & B, I had tasty Thai food for dinner and my most favorite Key Lime pie for dessert. And H even cleaned up from dinner! Talk about being pampered! Lots of birthday wishes were thrown my way (thank you!), and K sent me a fantastic Black Lab t-shirt that upon wearing it the next day, I managed to get strawberry juice (from the most amazing strawberry ever, I have to say) on it almost immediately (curse the stain attraction of white shirts!). I cannot be trusted (although I did get the stain out). The kids even behaved themselves and I had quite the dog pile when I stretched out to do some reading while the kids were at school. The day progressed as if someone wrapped up contentment with a bow and hand delivered it.

But that’s not even the best part! My parents agreed to take the kids this weekend so I could have a couple of days to myself (well, almost—the dogs are staying). Ah, sweet, silent, bliss! What will I be doing with my “time off” you ask? Well, anyone who knows me will tell you that I am not necessarily adept at relaxing. So fooling myself into thinking that will happen the whole time is just silly. There are so many projects I’d like to work on and books I’d like to read, I’ve been considering writing all my options on little pieces of paper, putting them in a bowl, and pulling them out one-at-a-time to see how many I can get through in a weekend. However, I do have one project that needs to get started now and that is converting some space into an office for me.

The space of choice is the large closet under our staircase (a la Harry Potter). It truly is big enough to furnish as long as those furnishings aren’t wider than 3 feet or 8 feet long. I am obviously not claustrophobic. I actually like small spaces (less for me to get distracted by) and this particular space has a door that can be closed (and locked from the inside once I install it). We had been using it for random storage as well as the location of all our cleaning tools, but they can be moved elsewhere without disturbing the peace. So here is a picture of the empty closet (with the work areas taped):

This office is most likely not a permanent solution, so I want to make sure that I don’t spend a fortune on getting it outfitted, but I have to be able to store supplies as well as work. Plus, I decided I really wanted to be as eco-friendly as I can be since I don’t currently have a piece of furniture that will fit the space or the need. I had been shopping around for storage and some shelving that would fit and I finally came up with an inexpensive and “green” solution. Enter Way Basics and their cube storage made up of 99% consumer waste paper. Plus, you can configure the larger pieces in all kinds of ways with a couple extra dividers. The pieces are lighter than particle board and sturdy (when you follow the directions for putting them together, of course). I am planning on having two areas in my office: one storage area with a work surface on top for art projects I might want to do, and another shelf for my laptop so I can stand and write (or use a folding bar stool if I choose to sit). The one large shelving unit I purchased will serve to cover both needs. The two bottom shelves of the unit will take care of storage (with an additional real wooden plank I found around the house to put on top) along with the 3 extra vertical boards to use as dividers in some way. And the extra top board will be used separately as a shelf with brackets underneath along the long wall to hold my laptop and possibly my flat screen second monitor if I decide not to mount it to the wall. All for under $100 (including shipping via Amazon).

I do need to figure out (rechargeable battery powered) lighting for in there (aside from the one bare bulb it’s got near the door), and I need to find a power strip that’s not so bulky that I can run from the outlet outside the door into the closet until I can figure out if putting an outlet in the closet is feasible. Tonight I’ll patch the cracks in the walls so they dry overnight, and tomorrow I’ll paint the walls (white with a light blue on the slanted overhead wall). The unit will be delivered on Saturday and I’ll put it together not long after it arrives to let it settle and cement and then I’ll figure out what I need for storage containers for all my stuff and start putting the finishing touches on it Sunday. Then, voila! New office. I can’t wait. Obviously I’ll take pictures along the way and post the finished project in all its confined glory.

I know my plans hardly sound relaxing, but to be able to get through the bulk of a project uninterrupted is as close to heaven as I get these days. I’ll putter around and I’ll tinker with some other things, and I will squeeze in catching up on some of the new Doctor Who, reading a little, writing a bit, and sleep in (as much as the dogs ever allow). I’ll listen to my music, and I might even eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner. Mostly I’m going to be happy by myself for a bit and by Sunday afternoon I’ll probably miss the kids a little and be ready to show off what I’ve done. R will humor me like the good girl she is and tell me it’s “awesome,” and Monkey will try to stuff himself into one of the cubbies and life will be back to normal(ish).

And lastly, a K update: He’s still in Afghanistan dealing with suspicious locals and faulty latrines. His unit has done some great work catching bad guys and their weapons. When this is all over, I’ll be happy to share the press that’s been out there, but for now it’s going to have to wait. But K is fine and getting by and counting the days until he gets to come home on leave at the end of summer.

Battle of Midway

Well this is just embarrassing. I wish I could chalk this long lapse in writing up to simply falling off the wagon, but really what happened was that the wagon was nuked. Obliterated. Vaporized. Went supernova. Michael Bay was knocking down my door trying to get the secret to the power behind the explosive destruction of my wagon for use in Transformers 3, it was so spectacular. So, not only did the writing here stop (I was writing elsewhere when I could though), but the weight loss momentum came to an abrupt halt, the exercising habit vanished, and much of the freelance work I had on my plate was piling up at an alarming rate. Amazingly, the only habit I was able to maintain was not biting my nails, which considering I’ve been a nail-biter my whole life is a minor miracle. I like to refer to this time as “The Battle of Midway” and if I had really learned my lesson last time, I should have seen it coming, but I broke my own prime directive: pay attention. I just didn’t realize what time it was.

April & May were roughly the mid-point of this deployment. Last deployment, I had a pretty good meltdown about six months into it which lead to a turn around in short order (I hired a friend to help me out once a week). I can’t claim that I had a breakdown this time because generally I have things in hand and ask for help when I need it, but I definitely hit a wall. Repeatedly and with vigor. There just comes a point when you get mentally burned out from doing the smallest of repetitive tasks like loading and unloading the dishwasher, rotating laundry, making lunches, food shopping. You think, “If I have to do this one more effin’ time, I’m going to toss out my Acme portable hole, jump down, and pull it in after me.” I remember last time being so sick of hearing “Mommy!” a million times a day that I required 4-year-old R to call me by my first name for a week just so I could hear something different. It hasn’t come to that (yet), thankfully, but we have definitely hit our speed bumps along the way. I just wasn’t in the frame of mind to be positive here and resorted to the “if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all” adage.  Plus, I thought sleep might be an important experience to have.

Probably the biggest monkey wrench in my well-oiled machine was the death of my laptop not once, not twice, but three times in 6 weeks until it finally required a logic board replacement (thankfully all covered under a warranty!! Let’s hear it for Apple Care!). And for some inexplicable reason, two of the breakdowns happened while watching my favorite new show, Justified and trying to get some work done. Seriously. The third time happened the night before Justified. Maybe my poor laptop was just jealous of the time I was spending admiring Timothy Olyphant (perhaps I’ll put that re-watch of Deadwood on hold…), or maybe it was protesting the idea of working late at night. Who knows? All I do know is that the only original part of my laptop left is the (slightly dented and dog-hairy) case. I don’t know how many of you have ever had to rebuild a computer the way you like it after a near-catastrophic data loss (luckily, I only lost 6 weeks of files), but it can take a while—especially if you are trying to make it organized in all the ways you couldn’t be bothered to do with your last set up. The first time the hard drive bit it, I approached the situation with the optimism a clean slate can bring, but the two times after? Not an ounce of optimism to be had. Needless to say, all my work fell behind and I’ve been playing catch up while still taking on new work. Doesn’t leave much time for anything else, frankly.

Throughout all the computer shenanigans, I was continuing to deal with the daily grind of kid and dog stuff, keep the house clean during shedding season (why Casey and Zoe can’t coordinate their shedding schedules is beyond me—their tandem shedding is hardly efficient), plan and slog through an acre’s worth of yard work (that I’m wholly unqualified to attempt) and garden planning, maintain all my other relationships both long and short distance (with varying degrees of success), and I realized the time had come to start working toward my long-term career goals now that Monkey will be in school full time come Fall. Needless to say, my to do lists had to do lists. I’m not sure “tired” really describes what I have been feeling the last several weeks. Daunted, overwhelmed, weary, all of the above? Mental doggie paddling is now my particular super hero ability, and I would gladly trade in for invisibility or telekinesis.

I can’t say that I’m caught up or remotely ahead, but I’ve made some headway, and now it’s definitely time to shake off the funk of the last couple of months, readjust my thinking, and rebuild all those habits that went up in smoke, which include writing here more often. Tomorrow is the start of a new year for me. For my 39th birthday I’m giving myself a shiny new (hopefully bomb-resistant) wagon with enough space to allow myself some slack now and again when things don’t go as planned. If I’m lucky enough to be several years short of my mid-life, I think now would be the perfect time to put to use what I’ve learned over the last 39 years before the next 39 years go by in another blink.

To quote Betty Friedan:
“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”

Signs of Spring

I feel like I’m always making excuses about why I’m not writing here more often even though I have so many things I want to write about. That’s actually part of the problem. I have so much going on in my head it’s hard to know where to start or what to say or how much to share. There’s a lot to sort out…much like cleaning up after a hoarder who’s been at it for 39 years. Piles upon piles of feelings and memories and treasures buried under old wrappers and useless trivia. Sometimes I think I need a dumpster on site constantly with daily scheduled pick ups. So, while I figure out what I want to say next, I thought I would share my favorite signs of spring around here.

When we get a good rain, the fields out back flood into wading pools (you can see pictures of the ducks who frequent the mini-ponds here). At that point two things happen. First, Monkey begins his treks out to splash around in the water, which he’ll do for over an hour easily.

The second sign happens after the April showers: the arrival of tiny flowers that, ironically, look like little patches of snow when seen from far away. When we’ve had a particularly wet Winter and early Spring, the whole back field is full of them, and if you didn’t know better would think they were, in fact super slow-melting snow.

Up close, they are bunches of delicate, little, flowers of the palest lavender with sunny yellow centers. I always have the urge to lay down amongst them and watch the clouds for hours on end. I might do just that if I weren’t such a complete stick-in-the-mud and could move beyond the idea of getting thoroughly soaked because they only bloom in the soggy marsh-like earth. I hate being wet though and my inherent lameness always seems to win out.

For now, I’m grateful for the longer, brighter, warmer days (even though it means less quiet alone time at night for me), Monkey’s joy at being outside every chance he gets, and the happy (and incredibly lazy) dogs basking in the sun on the driveway blacktop or lounging under the shade of the blossoming apple trees. This is one of my favorite times of year when nothing is extreme, (except for the amount of Zoe’s winter coat flying off her like bits of fluff coming out of a well-loved stuffed animal), but everything I can spy with my little eye grows more beautiful with each passing day.

Not too much longer and I’ll be back again on a regular basis. This kind of absence is fairly cyclical with me as you’ll figure out if you haven’t already. With the better weather comes more attention to the kids and the house and less time in front of my computer (no, really). Like the transition from Winter to Spring, my own transition is a bit tempestuous but will eventually settle into something better than what it was.

In the meantime, I leave you with my favorite naked tree in the early stages of becoming less naked (and in my opinion, somewhat less interesting).

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