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I wrote a poem today.  For some people that may not seem like too big of a deal, but I really don’t like poetry.  I’ve always found poems difficult to read unless they are at the level of a nursery rhyme.  Anything beyond that level is beyond my abilities.  I don’t understand the economy of words or hidden themes.  Maybe I am too literal.  (Or stupid.)  Ask anyone who knows me, if something can be said with three words, I’ll use 33.

But today was different.  It was gloomy, and it is Monday.  I didn’t sleep well last night, and I have a deadline looming over my head to complete the FY 2017 budget.  My house is covered in drywall dust with no end in sight to the constant stream of workers talking loudly and blasting music by 7:30 a.m.

I arrived at my office with a plan, but by lunchtime I had barely made a dent.  With constant interruptions, I was struggling not to lose my temper.  I ordered lunch and planned to eat at my desk while I continued working.  I sat back in my chair for a moment and closed my eyes.  My mind wandered from one thing to another, one person to another.  My thoughts are too often on those who are no longer a part of my life. I hate getting older.  There is too much loss.  I am tired of losing.  Too much change, and I’m tired of changing.

I closed out of the spreadsheets.  I wasn’t going to be productive in my present state of mind.  I took a bite of my sandwich and tried to shake away the gloom.  I remembered something I had done years ago that had often helped me during times like this.  I opened up a Word document and started writing.  So much was bottled up, and I needed to release the thoughts one by one in a sort of stream of consciousness exercise.

Before I knew it, something had begun to take shape.  I went back to the beginning, and I began to tweak the words.  I edited and arranged them.  I worked quickly.  It was as if the words were telling me where they needed to be placed.  The words began to make sense.  One thought followed another, and a deeper meaning began to speak to me from beneath what I had written.  It was a poem.

It wasn’t good, and it certainly isn’t worth sharing.  I’m certain it does not follow the “rules of poetry.”  I remember there were always a lot of poetry rules that didn’t make much sense to me.  I’ve never been very good with rules!

The process of writing my poem was therapeutic.  I arranged the words and thoughts.  By economizing, a theme began to emerge.  What had weighed me down was lifted just a little.  A small part of the gloom floated away..off into the distance.


Seven Minutes

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I’m on day four of the Infomagical challenge.  The goal of Infomagical is to decrease the amount of space technology and information take up in our lives and in our brains.  I’m not going to go into great detail on Infomagical.  If you want to learn more, you can visit project.wnyc.org/infomagical.

I decided to participate in this challenge because I have been feeling an ever-increasing  frustration over the past few months, maybe years, about the fact that communication between actual human beings has so quickly dwindled.  We have gone from face to face conversations to email to text messages.  Sending a business-related text message would have been unheard of less than a decade ago when cell phone providers charged per text or many plans had a limit on the number of texts before exorbitant charges kicked in.  Recently, I have been receiving texts from employees, contractors, even my daughter’s music teacher.

I’m old enough to remember the rules of telephone etiquette.  My parents taught me how to answer a phone, how to politely make a phone call, and how to speak to a friend’s parents when requesting to talk to their child.  Those were scary things to learn.  I remember dialing the phone and fiercely hoping that my friend would be the one to answer so I could avoid those awkward moments of polite conversation with their parents.  Now many homes don’t even have a land line.  When we make a call, we know exactly who is going to answer.  If the phone rings, and we don’t feel like talking, we can send the call to voicemail with a quick push of the button and listen to it later.  We can even avoid a return call by responding with a text.

Even though making a phone call has become much easier than it once was, there has been a distinct trend away from even this minimal personal interaction.  Imagine a stereotypical teenager from a decade ago. Hours of free time were spent on the phone calling one friend after another.  Or even, heaven forbid, walking down the street and knocking on their friend’s door.  Fast forward to today.  Hours are spent messaging.  Typing, on social media or through texts, has replaced real-time communication.  Even the simplest of social exchanges are curated, edited, and abbreviated.

Today’s Infomagical challenge was to have a face-to-face conversation with another human being for at least seven minutes.  I decided to exclude family members.  In our home, we actually do talk to each other….all the time.

I encounter many people throughout the day, but I couldn’t remember the last time I had an actual face-to-face conversation with anyone that lasted over seven minutes.  Note:  I do a lot of talking TO people, but I do not have a great deal of give and take conversations with anyone beyond my family.  I talk to people, conduct my business, and move on.  I’m on to the next thing before I have allowed the time to process the first thing.  No wonder I often feel harried and stressed out.  What I had considered my ultra-efficient, businesslike manner may actually be undermining many areas in my life.  Could slowing down to communicate with those around me improve my life?  I was intrigued!

I thought about this as I drove to the office.  The idea of having a real conversation felt awkward.  I envisioned the shuffling of feet at the very least and worse case scenario, I was afraid of freaking people out.

I had my first conversation of the day within the first five minutes of work with a young man who had called off work yesterday, because he had an audition in Chicago.  Normally, I wouldn’t inquire about his personal business.  Instead of a brusque “good morning,” I stopped him on the stairs to ask him how things had gone with his audition.  He was more than happy to tell me all about it.  He had auditioned for a role in a network TV show!  He went on to tell me that it had gone really well.  In fact, I learned that he had been an extra on an earlier episode of the same show, and it had aired a few weeks earlier.  Later in the day, he stopped by my office to show me pictures from the filming.  I told him I would watch the episode this weekend and that I’d keep my fingers crossed that he gets a recurring role.

I felt psyched after this first conversation.  It hadn’t been difficult at all, and it hadn’t taken up too much of my “valuable” work time.  It had been easy, and it had created a sense of goodwill.  What was unexpected were the peripheral benefits.  Other people had been nearby during the conversation, and their moods seemed to have been lighted as well.  It felt almost festive.  How could a simple, brief conversation completely change the workplace environment?  I wanted to do this again!

I spent my day consciously connecting with people, and it was amazingly rewarding.  I had multiple conversations with people, all of them meeting my seven minute criteria.  While I wouldn’t say that it was difficult, it did require a certain level of purposefulness.  I had to remember to slow down and allow the flow of conversation to develop.  I had to listen and engage with the present instead of rushing off to the next thing on my agenda.  More importantly, I stood up and got out from behind my computer.  I sat my phone down.

This seven-minute challenge is such an easy concept, but it made me realize that real, human in depth conversation is something that had been missing from my life.  While I enjoy plentiful conversation with my family, today I realized that family-only conversation is insulating, safe, and limiting. While I am extraordinarily grateful for the blessing (and noise!) of my family, today I enjoyed pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and dropping my mask of professionalism to have a few simple conversations with the other people in my day.

Sock Basket

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T’s sister was diagnosed with breast cancer a month or so ago.  She received her diagnosis on the day her oldest brother died, and it was Christmastime.  She has three little daughters.  The youngest isn’t even in school yet.  She turned 40 a few weeks before the diagnosis which is almost impossible for me to fathom.  She was only three years old when T and I started dating.  When she was six, I traveled to California with her, T, and their mom to visit their grandparents.  She was just learning to whistle on that trip.  I shared a bed with her for two weeks on that trip, and she whistled late into the night.  I can remember gently lifting up her tiny body to move her over to her own side of the bed each night.  She was eight years old at our wedding when she was a junior bridesmaid in our wedding.  She was missing her two front teeth, and she cried like her heart would break when T and I left the wedding reception that night.

She spent many nights with us during the early years of our marriage.  We’d take her to Taco Bell, for ice cream and to Indian pow wow’s.  We invented an indoor, candlelight golf game to play, and she wore an apron to help with housework.  She was our weekend babysitter when Andrew was little.  It was a sweet deal.  We allowed her to bring a friend along and paid her with pizza and movie rentals.

Today, hundreds of miles away from us, she had a double mastectomy.  There are multiple tumors, and they’re large.  She will have a month of recovery after surgery before beginning a grueling regimen of chemotherapy.

I have navigated this day, and the weeks prior, with a heavy heart.  I hate the thought of the anguish and pain she has been going through and will face over the coming months.  I hate it that her life will be forever changed, because there is no way to face such things without it fundamentally changing who we are as a person.

My other sister in law has kept me up to date throughout the day.  I ache for what she is going through, too, her husband, my 80 year old mother in law, and my three little nieces.  I hate it that this one sister who was the baby of the family and cherished by all has to go through the evil that is cancer.

And so we trudged through another work day hundreds of miles away from our family, but we were with them in spirit and in prayer.  We were not asked to be there, and we know that our presences would have accomplished nothing.  This was a time when more people would have complicated an already difficult situation.

The contrast of my day with that of my sister in law’s was drastic.  I felt guilty to enjoy a productive meeting, a bowl of soup for lunch, and a song playing as I drove home from work.  How can one life be so normal, mundane even, when another lays helpless on a table while doctors slice away hoping to eradicate the killer?  I squeezed my eyes shut several times today in a prayer of thanksgiving for this normal and boring day, and I prayed for the life of my sister in law.

Tonight as we waited for word that she was out of surgery, I started in on the laundry.  I needed to wash the bedding for our new bedroom furniture that will be delivered tomorrow afternoon.  T was working on wiring in the basement.  We’re knee-deep in the middle of a major home improvement project.  I’m excited to see how things will look with the new furniture and with one little corner finished in the mess of our house.  I felt a pang of guilt to be happily anticipating these meaningless changes in our lives.

I finished folding laundry and grabbed the basket that sits on the shelf in the laundry room.  Whenever a stray sock shows up, it ends up in the basket to be sorted out later.  I called out to the girls to look through their sock drawers for strays, and soon they joined me in the sock sort.  We talked quietly as we paired the socks.  We wondered at where their missing mates might have ended up.  We found a few single gloves and a dog bootie.  I breathed in a deep sigh as we returned the non-paired stray socks to the basket.  The sorting and the conversation with my daughters had eased the tight knot of stress between my shoulders.

Simple days, days without pain, when loved ones are within the sound of our voice are days to cherish.  I told my girls that I love them and that I was grateful for their help and their company.

Tonight I pray for my sister in law.  I want her to have thousands of mundane days ahead of her, days full of work and simple chores like sorting socks with her daughters.

Past into the Future

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woman-future-ahead-forward-ss-1920-800x450It’s been a while since I have written in this blog or anywhere else.  I’m not sure why I ended up here tonight.  I was remembering my mom.  She died four years ago today, and I needed to read the words I had written years ago.  I wanted to go back in time for a few moments and remember what our lives were like during those last few weeks.  It wasn’t an easy time.  Four years later, the memories of those last years, and terrible last months, are beginning to mellow and become replaced with gentler, happier memories from my childhood.  I miss both of my parents.  I’m not sure if I will ever be able to see myself as anything but an orphan for the rest of my days.  As an only child, the shared memories of my childhood died along with my parents.

I often think of what my parents would think of my life now.  They don’t know where I live!  They have never been to my home.  They don’t know where I work.  For the first time, I have freedom from their opinions and judgement of my life, and yet I miss those same opinions that often filled me with anger or dread.

There has been so much change in my life over these past four years.  An unbelievable amount of change; it often feel like a completely different life.  So many people I have loved are gone now.  Even this past year, we have lost other friends and family.  Other people have left my life for reasons of their own or our lives have taken separate paths.  It’s no surprise to me that I do not deal well with change and loss.  For so many years, life was full of steadiness and sweet sameness.  As I get older, I realize that change is inevitable and beyond my control.  As a result, I have found a profound appreciation of those moments when life feels wonderful.  There are big moments and little moments of perfect just waiting to be acknowledged if we’re willing to recognize and honor them.

Getting older isn’t any fun, but along with age comes valuable experience.  If I have learned anything over these past difficult years, it has been to appreciate moments of peace, laughter, and contentment.  I have learned to slow down and enjoy what is in front of me instead of longing for what I feel is lacking in my life.  Another thing that is new, and I think good, is a new sense of impatience.  I am impatient and intolerant when it comes to bullshit.  For too many years, I wasted time and energy on people who didn’t deserve a moment of my time.  And I didn’t enjoy the frustration.  I enjoy making people happy.  That won’t change, but I’m not longer a “pleaser.”

I wish my parents could be here now.  I think they would approve of the new me.  They would be proud.  I often image how they would view our lives in this new place.  It’s so very different from our lives back home and anything they would have ever imaged.  I know they would be proud to see how their grandchildren have grown into such fine adults.

Most weekends find us with a house overflowing with people and laughter.  We live close enough for our sons to visit, and our family is growing.  Luke is engaged and will be married this coming summer.  Emily has a serious boyfriend from back home who visits most weekends.  Lola is a busy 7th grader with a group of giggly girlfriends who are here most Saturdays.  T and I are now the older generation.  Isn’t that a weird thing?  We are creating new stories, new traditions, and new memories.  Even as we mourn the past and learn to let go, life continues to surge around us and pull us into the future.


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Lola is 12-years old now, and that’s a difficult time in the life of every young girl.  Even Lola, who is amazingly intelligent and independent, is going through that awkward middle school stage of life.  She’s tall and thin, and her body has quickly become something that to her must seem quite unfamiliar.  I have spent the past couple of years equally worrying about how she is adjusting to a new school environment and being impressed with her “old soul” philosophical attitude about most of the challenges she has encountered.

I encouraged Lola to sign up for band this school year.  Unfortunately, she is not able to take both band and choir in this school district, and last year she opted for choir.  While she enjoyed it, I could see that musically, she wasn’t learning much.  She agreed to take band this year, but she was apprehensive about being a year behind the rest of the kids in her class.  I promised her that she would quickly catch up, and she has.

Lola met with her band teacher at the end of last school year to select an instrument.  Anyone who knows our family, or reads my blog, knows that music is a large part of our lives.  I was thrilled to see Lola testing instruments.  Though she asked me repeatedly to advise her on a choice, I kept my mouth shut.  This had to be her decision.  Learning an instrument can become one of the most rewarding things in life, but only if that is a personal choice.  It wasn’t a matter of expense as we own several trumpets, a trombone, two saxophones, three clarinets, and a drum set.  Even if she had selected an instrument that we didn’t own, I would have gladly added to our collection.  She chose the trumpet.  The other kids had all been waiting to hear what Lola chose, each wishing she would pick their instrument of choice. Her big brother Luke, the trumpet player, was thrilled.

If we still lived back home, I would have known any number of people who could teach Lola the trumpet, but we’re not back home.  We’re here, and I didn’t have a clue where to take Lola for lessons.  I looked online for the music center nearest our home and set up an appointment for a lesson.  Lola’s first lesson was several months ago, and I feel incredibly blessed that my random selection set in motion a wonderful chain of events.

Lola is shy, so shy that on the night of her first lesson she begged me not to make her go.  She had a tummy ache from worry, but I promised her that I would stay with her through the entire lesson.  Lola and I waited together for her teacher in the tiny studio lesson room.  When he opened the door, I was stunned.  He was a tiny man well over 70 years old, but his presence filled the room.  His hair was snow white, and his eyes sparkled.  I stared at him in amazement.  He reminded me of the man who introduced me to jazz, Bob DuBois, a trumpet player.  Bob died about a year ago, but the impact he had on so many jazz musician carries on.

Lola’s teacher’s name is Mike.  He has played with some of the greatest names in jazz.  He and I spent part of her first lesson talking about common likes and dislikes while Lola quickly relaxed.  Eventually, Mike turned his attention to Lola, and the lesson began.  Their connection was almost instantaneous.  They made each other smile, and I could see that she wanted learn as much as he wanted to teach.  He offered to take Lola’s trumpet home with him and give it a good cleaning and tune-up.  The next day, Lola and I went to his home, near our own, and her trumpet was shining like new.

That first lesson was months ago, and their friendship has blossomed.  Twice each week, 12-year-old Lola and 70-something Mike, spend an hour together.  Without fail, Lola comes away from each lesson with a smile on her face.  Her confidence in all areas of life has soared.  T and I secretly call Mike Lola’s trumpet therapist, because the change in our daughter has been so positive and dramatic.

Frequently, Mike sends me texts telling me how wonderful Lola is doing, how quickly she is learning.  Just tonight, Mike sent me this text.  “Pam, Lola is doing remarkable work.  I’m not sure if you have heard her lately, but her sound is superb and she is really really getting it.  She is easily my best student.”

Yes, I’m proud that Lola is a good student on the trumpet, but I am incredibly amazed to witness the special relationship that has developed between a young girl and an old trumpet player.  It is readily apparent that they both “needed” this relationship in their lives.  The rapport they have is heartwarming to witness.  I talked to Lola about it tonight, about just how special it is that she and Mike have found each other and this unique connection.  She said, “He’s one of my best friends.”  Wow!  I love this kind of thing.  When people step outside of their comfort zones, whether that be school, work, neighborhood, or even age group, all kinds of interesting people await.  Once again as a parent, I learn another lesson from my child.

Dr. Kenneth

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Yesterday was a beautiful early autumn day.  It was one of those rare Sunday mornings that we didn’t have anything to do, no company, and no plans for the day.  The girls sat on the couch reading.  T was in the kitchen putting a coffee cake in the oven, and I was stretched out in the recliner still in my robe.  I was messing around on my iPad and thoroughly enjoying the thought of a day without any commitments.  My weekend cleaning chores were done, and the girls and I idly discussed what we might do to get out of the house while T watched football.

I heard an email ding and swiped across the screen to check it out.  It was a connection request from Linkedin.  No big deal.  While I don’t go on Linkedin often, I do have over 500 connections, most of them colleagues I’ve met at conferences over the years or former co-workers.  I didn’t recognize this person’s name, but I saw that he lived in a city near my own, and we share several connections.  I quickly accepted the connection and went back to my conversation.

Several minutes later, I heard another ding.  It was a private message from my new connection.  It read:

“Hello Pam,

Thanks for accepting my connection.  It’s really nice hearing back from you. I only use this medium for business purposes, but can’t take my eyes off your profile.  I’m interested in you and would appreciate being acquainted.

I lost my lovely wife to cancer about 5yrs ago and haven’t dated anyone ever since just been lonely. Do you have kids? I’m sorry if you don’t like this, it’s just that I’m interested and can’t keep it to myself.  I would be very glad to hear back from you.  (Here he writes his phone number, but I’ll be decent enough not to publish that!)



Dr. Kenneth?  I wondered who this guy was, so I clicked through to his profile.  It was suspiciously impressive.  A Harvard graduate!  He worked for the World Health Organization!  The poor guy was a lonely widower.  Yeah…..RIGHT!

To be honest, his profile picture was of an exceedingly handsome man.  I giggled for a moment.  I’m sure that meeting me would have been a huge disappointment to the handsome man in that picture.  I giggled, and then I thought what the hell??  Why was I beating myself up and thinking that I wasn’t attractive enough for a man that I had no interest in meeting?  No only am I not looking to meet anyone, but this guy is obviously a liar, a player, and maybe even dangerous.  I sat my iPad down, and forgot about Dr. Kenneth for the rest of the day.

After dinner, I sat down with my iPad once again.  I had been traveling for work late last week, and I wanted to get a jump on any emails I had missed while I was out of the office.  My weekend had been so relaxing that I had slid anything work-related to the back burner.  I was startled to see another message from Dr. Kenneth.

“I waited for a message from you all day.  I took my horses to race after church and didn’t get back home until later in this evening.

I would really appreciate hearing back from you.

Does that sound strange?  I just had to tell you how I felt about you.  You are special and I see it in your profile. We haven’t met before.  I just stumbled on your profile.  I’m truly interested in you and I just can’t keep it to myself.

Will be waiting to read from you soon.



Now I was pissed off.  I had such an odd mixture of emotions.  I knew without a doubt that Dr. Kenneth was a phony, but what saddened me was that I imagined some sad, lonely woman falling for his flattery.  As human beings, we all long for companionship, love, and validation.  This man was using his knowledge that somewhere out there was a woman who would jump at the chance to have these things, who would believe that she had found “the one,” her knight in shining armor.  Why?  What was his end goal?  Sex?  A fling?  Something more sinister?  Was he looking for a woman so desperate for  love that he could feed a narcissistic ego?

I thought about Dr. Kenneth off and on all day today.  I was shaken, and I felt victimized.  Men don’t have to deal with this kind of thing.  Or do they?  Obviously, I was going to block Dr. Kenneth on Linkedin the first chance I had, but it was a busy day at work, and I didn’t get my chance until after work.

It was well past 5:00 p.m., and I was the last person in the building.  I felt a wave of fear as I walked down the stairs to lock the front door of the office.  I made a mental note to delete this guy as soon as I got home from work. Who is he, I wondered.  Is this someone I have encountered in real life?  The phone number he had given me was local.  Honestly, I was a little freaked out.  My eyes swept the parking lot as I walked to my car.

To add to my uneasiness, T is out of town all week for work.  Usually, I enjoy these times when the girls and I are home with no men in the house.  We giggle a lot, eat what we want, and listen to music that make the men in our lives roll their eyes.  Tonight, I made sure to lock the door behind me as I walked in the house, and I made the rounds to check the other doors.

Logically, I know there is nothing to fear, but the thoughtless words of this person has shaken me.  I am angry.  I’m angry at him for treating ANYONE in such an inappropriate way, and I am angry at myself for not being more careful.  I’m upset to have let this shake me up.  I think of myself as a strong and independent woman, yet I have let the words of a man I don’t know impact my confidence.

I have blocked Dr. Kenneth from my Linkedin account, but not before I replied to his message.

“I like meeting new people, but I am aware that there are bad people in this world who enjoy preying on women. That is a sad fact of life. I am going to have to err on the side of caution.

Something tells me that you are not being upfront and honest with me, Dr. Kenneth. If I am wrong, then I humbly apologize. If I am correct, please examine your motives and attempt to correct your dishonorable actions.

In your first message, you say that I am an intelligent woman. You are correct.  Like most women, I am swayed by flattery. Flattery often blurs our reaction to caution, and I have learned to think with my head and see the red flags along my path in life.

Leave me alone.  Please do not do this kind of thing to other women in the future.”

Pinch Myself!

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I can remember the moment almost ten years ago when I told T, “Someday I’m going to work for The N…”  At the time, it seemed like a pipe dream or a joke.  Living in the Midwest, how did I ever think I would work for a national organization based in Washington, D.C.?  Of course, I was only kidding when I said that years ago.  I had just gotten home from my first big conference.  T and I were talking in the kitchen of the old house.  I was sitting on the counter in the corner where the edges met, and T was leaning up against the island listening while I talked.  I was full of enthusiasm as I told him all about it.  I felt like an entirely new world had opened up to me.  I wanted to learn more and more, meet people who knew more than me, and get more involved.  I had found my niche.  Fast forward ten years to yesterday.  I started a new job working for THE N…  No, I didn’t have to move to Washington, D. C.  There are field offices across the country, and I was in the right place at the right time (for a change!)

I took a week off between jobs.  During the entire time I was home relaxing between jobs, I held my breath.  I waited for them to call and tell me that there had been a terrible mistake.  “I’m sorry, but you weren’t really our first choice for this job.” or “I’m sorry, we just don’t want YOU.”

I took a picture of the building as I walked up to my new office.  Tears welled up in my eyes.  I’m here!  They’re actually going to let me do this job!  I stood on the drive as the humid, summer morning air wrapped around my legs.  I looked at the beautiful, old building before me, and I vowed to care for it and protect it.  I walked through the impeccably manicured gardens, and knew I would find time during my days to know these plants and help keep them free from weeds.  I entered, and I looked up the expanse of the spiral staircase to the galleries above, some full of art while others were full of potential.  I sat my bag down and positioned myself behind my desk.  This is where I belong.  I felt it immediately.  Like a mother knows her own child, I knew that I was meant to be in this place at this particular moment in time.

I hope I can live up to my own dreams.  So many times in the past, as quickly as a dream has come within reach, it was just as quickly snatched from my grasp.  Feeling happy or excited scares the hell out of me.  I don’t trust those feelings.  Is it because I don’t feel deserving of happiness?  I’m afraid I’ll mess up.  I’m afraid I don’t deserve anything good.

I hope so much this time is different.  I feel a kinship with this place, and I want to make us both proud.