At The End of a Long, Long Day

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I had some bad news today.  My laptop is dead.  That’s it.  They said that it can’t be fixed.  Time to get a new one.  So for now, I am still delegated to this computer with the sticky keyboard located in a room off of the kitchen.  My blogging is going to suffer! Continue Reading »

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Oh, Happy Day!

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“It takes sadness to know what happiness is, noise to appreciate silence, and absence to value presence.”

Today I caught myself smiling.  It was a real and genuine smile, AND…it’s November.  I was amazed.  As I walked down the hall to a meeting, I was still smiling.  Someone passed me, and they smiled back a little curiously.  I don’t even know why I was smiling.  I’m not sure if I even had a reason.  If I had to pick one reason, I would say that I was smiling from relief.  Another BAD November anniversary has passed, and it was easy to see how much better my life is right at this moment than it was last year at this time.

For all of us, life has a way of going in a direction of its own choosing.  Who among us is exactly where they thought they would be or doing exactly what they had planned?  I would venture a guess that there are relatively few of us lucky enough to have life cooperate to such an extent.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  

     ~ John Lennon

As for me, I am waking up from a shell-shocked two years of my life.  Escaping from the hell of depression is a pretty f-ing happy feeling.  That is why I am smiling.  YES!  I know that there will be more sad times.  Depression has a way of wrestling its way back into your life, but TODAY, not today.  So I am happy.

I feel a tinge of fear along with this happiness.  I am excited to have all of the kids home and under one roof next week for the first time in months.  I’m so excited, and so unused to feeling good, that it scares me.  I don’t want to jinx this feeling.

I spoke to both boys this week about their travel plans.  They both seem excited to be coming home, too.  Each of them asked me about a traditional day-trip we take each year on the day after Thanksgiving.  “Are we still going to go?”  I was taken aback.  I didn’t think either of them would want to go this year. They have such a limited amount of time for this visit.  I assumed that they would spend Friday catching up with their friends.  I felt humbled and honored that they were both saving that day to be together with their crazy, old mom.

Andrew called last night around 10 p.m.  He was absolutely beside himself with enthusiasm and excitement.  He had just finished his first film shoot where he was head sound guy.  He’s involved in making a short ( 10 minute) film on location in Chicago.  I’m not sure if I have ever heard such excitement, hope, and joy in his voice.  I have never felt such happiness in another person’s joy.  I’m praying, keeping my fingers crossed, and sending positive energy that he stays on this path of finding the happiness in his life.

And now the one confession that I have to make.  Oh, I wish I would learn to mind my own business, and T is about fit to be tied with me.  I sent Katy (Andrew’s beloved ex-girlfriend) an email.  All I said was “Hi, Katy.  I just wanted to let you know that I was thinking about you and hope things are going well.”

That one email turned into a series of messages.  (What did I think would happen???)  I caught her up on my family, and she told me what was going on with her sister and parents.  Her life hasn’t been easy this past year.  Her sister has been sick with a blood disease.  Her father (a mortgage broker) fell on hard times due to the downturn in the economy.  I think I knew these things from the final months when Andrew and Katy were still together.

What I did not know was that Katy spent all of her remaining college money on her sister’s medical treatments.  She is now in her final year of school and has enlisted in the Army.  They offered a full scholarship for her remaining education, and she will be going into the service as an engineer.  Good for her.  What a good sister and daughter!  And now the problem…  When Katy was in basic training last summer, a congenital heart condition was discovered.  (Does everyone I know have one?)  Katy will be having heart surgery in December.

The emails between Katy and I were actually quite brief.  In no way did we discuss Andrew and Katy’s relationship.  I have no idea if there is anyone special in her personal life.  I have no idea if she told me about the surgery assuming that I would tell Andrew.  I have no idea what to do!  T says that I need to say, “Good luck to you and happy holidays.”  In other words, he thinks I need to back off and stay out of it.  I’m not sure.  Like usual, my heart says one thing, and my head says something completely different.

I haven’t said a word to Andrew.  I haven’t even mentioned Katy’s name to him.  I will take T’s advice and stay out of it.  I’m certainly not a matchmaker, and I’m too jaded to believe in the fate of true love.  If Katy wants him to know, she will tell him herself.  I will back off and wish her well.  In my heart, though, I will say a prayer for her, and for them, and for true love.

 

Lashing Out

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Working in downtown revitalization is never boring.  It’s challenging, frustrating,and exhilarating.  It is my passion.  It’s in my blood.  I don’t know why.  This is an “accidental” career.  It wasn’t in my plans.  It’s not what I ever thought I would be doing with my life, but it is my blessing.  I have driven down the street and felt my chest fill up and my eyes begin to tear as I look at the changes that have occurred in the course of the short four years that I have been working in this area.  I feel like a proud parent with each success.  On the other hand, if a business fails or struggles, if there is a negative news article or a complaint about anything, I take it personally.  Working in downtown revitalization often feels like being in love with an aloof, elusive lover.  As much as I love my downtown, the bricks and mortar don’t give back.  They stand firm and unmoving, always needing a little more love.  No wonder there’s a very high rate of burnout and job turnover in my line of work.

Working with dozens of unique small business owners is always challenging.  Listening to their individual needs, wants, and concerns, and then attempting to get them to all work together is often a monumental task.  This past weekend, we held a major downtown event.  It was our third year for this event, and each year we have grown and added new activities and promotions.  What started out with two businesses coincidentally holding pre-holiday open houses has grown to dozens of business participating in a joint promotion.  This event is our shining-star success story.  It has become the largest downtown tax revenue generating weekend of the year.  Yes, even larger than Black Friday.

The best thing about this event is the cooperation between the bars and restaurants and the retail establishments.  We capture the retail trade early in the evening and then send them on their way to the food establishments.  From the first year, we incorporated jazz music as a way to draw people through the doors of retail establishments.  I called on friends in the local music community to help me out that first year, and now we have musicians clamoring for the available spots.  The coolest thing is that you’ll find live music in unlikely locations.  This year we organized over a dozen jazz combos to play in our retail locations.

Last week was incredibly busy as we prepared for the Friday night event.  It was definitely a juggling act to organize all of the last-minute details.  By 5:00 p.m. on Friday, things were in motion.  As I walked from place to place taking pictures, I felt such pride and a sense of accomplishment.  The stores were packed.  People were smiling.  People were BUYING.  The business owners told me that they had been busy all day.  This year, the two-hour evening open houses had grown to an all day celebration.

When I finally met up with staff and volunteers for a cocktail, I was satisfied that we’d had another successful year.  To make things even better, I received a text from a friend who lives in my town.  “We’re down here and this is great!  Where are you?”  I told her to come on over and join us.  We all had a great time sampling martinis and had a fantastic dinner.  Another year was under my belt, and the event had been a success.

Yesterday, like most mornings,  I woke up, stretched, and reached for my phone.  First I checked my emails.  Nothing good.   I checked Facebook.  Nothing unusual.  Then I checked my work emails.  My office phone sends my voice mail to my email account when I am out of the office.  This may be another reason for me to hate technology.  There were several voice mail files in my inbox.  I listened to them.  They were mostly questions about the Saturday open houses, and I returned each call.  (Do people think I LIVE in my office?)  The last message I listened to had been sent at 12:37 a.m.  I was curious about what that would be about.  Who would leave a message at that time of day?

My heart sank as I listened.  The person didn’t leave her name, but started in by telling me that I needed to “Get my act together.”  She complained that the newspaper had said that the event began at 5:30, but she had been in an establishment that had begun serving hors d’oeuvres and wine at 4:00.  Which was it? Couldn’t I even get my times straight?  I needed to get my act together!  She went on to tell me that the whole event was a letdown.  Her town, a neighboring community, would have done a much better job.  “Get your act together!”  I was still laying in bed.  I woke up thinking the event had been a success, and all it took was this one nasty woman’s phone call, and I felt like a failure.

Who does things like that?  What is wrong with people?  Who feels the need to lash out like that anonymously, to someone who has worked hard and actually cares about what they are doing, at someone who they don’t even know?  That phone call ate at me all day.  That phone call ruined my weekend.

The woman may not have left her name, but the file that came through to my inbox identified her phone number.  I looked it up, so now I have her name.  🙂  Thankfully, it is not someone I know.  There doesn’t appear to be a personal agenda.  She is simply a really horrible, bitchy person.  Yes, I know that I should let the matter go, but I can’t.  Her words stung, and I am tired of stinging.  I’m tired of mean people, and I’m tired of being treated as if I don’t have feelings by mean people.  It has happened all too often this past year.

Once again…I am tired of mean people.  I’m tired of people getting away with abominable behavior when they think no one is looking, when they think no one will find out, or call them on it.  Yet again, I find the need to hold up a mirror for someone to see the reflection of their own bad behavior.  I am tired of being a doormat.

On Monday, this lovely lady is going to be getting a call from me.  If she has a complaint, I will be happy to calmly listen to what she has to say.  This time, she isn’t going to get away with the safety of anonymously calling my office in the middle of the night.  I will call her by name, and I will tell her my name in return.  I will put a human face on the other end of that phone and that complaint.

I am taking off the KICK ME sign.

Kindness Matters

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My New Car Magnet!!!

 

Who are you when you think no one is looking?

We all probably know someone who loves to tell people that they are a “good guy.”  They love to tell you about the good things they do for others and the sacrifices they make.  They love to pat themselves on the back.  According the them, everyone looks to them to solve their problem, everyone asks them for advice, everyone depends and relies on THEM.  Of course, in the next breathe, they will tell you, “I’m not patting myself on the back here.”  We all probably  know someone like that.  Chances are, if we were to dig a little bit beneath the surface of their “kind” actions, we might find a fairly selfish person who only does good for others when it serves their own best interest.  Yesterday I was thinking about one such person, and it reminded me of a long ago conversation I once had with a priest.

I was raised as a Baptist.  T was raised as a Catholic.  After Andrew was born, I decided to convert to Catholicism to eliminate confusion as we attended church with our children.  I became a Baptolic.  🙂  While I was in the process of becoming a member of our local church, T and I met weekly in the home of an elderly priest.  He was thought of as old-fashioned and unnecessarily strict by members of the local parish.  Having grown up with stoic Baptist grandparents, I quickly grew to admire the strength and conviction of his faith.  He and I had many lively debates, and he never failed to listen to the point this Baptist girl was trying to make.  I could start an entire blog just on those conversations, but the one discussion that came to mind yesterday was about acts of sacrifice and kindness.

I believe the discussion revolved around the Lenten sacrifices.  I wondered what purpose it served to give up eating meat on Fridays if a person were in fact a seafood lover.  Heck yes!  I was happy to eat lobster or crab legs each Friday for 40 days!  It seemed to me that a greater sacrifice would have been to warm up the leftover spaghetti that was sitting in the fridge.  Wouldn’t God be more pleased that I frugally used my resources than to go out for dinner to a seafood restaurant that was offering great Lenten specials?  He laughed, agreed, and told me to go eat my spaghetti.  Oh, he was such a cool guy!  I miss him as I write this.  He died on Christmas Eve over a decade ago.

Our conversation led to a discussion on the true meaning of sacrifices and acts of kindness.  We discussed the public sacrifices of Lent.  Everyone loves to tell you what they are “giving up” for Lent.  (Oh, I can’t have candy for 38 more days!)  Everyone loves to grouse about not eating meat on Fridays as if it were some big deal.  What do these things actually accomplish in the grand scheme of things?  We talked about the greater value of acts of sacrifice and kindness when they are kept silent and performed privately.  He told me about monks and priests of old wearing horsehair shirts under their robes as an offer of personal sacrifice.  What would the value of that sacrifice have been if they went around announcing to their brethren, “Hey guys!  Dang…the horsehair shirt I’m wearing is itching the heck out of me!”  Both kindness and personal sacrifice hold a much greater value when they are done quietly and without the expectation of accolades.  I often think of that conversation as one of the greatest moments of truth and learning in my life.

Often in my life, I have been humbled by the kindness that has been shown to me by others.  Often, the words of Father H have come back to me.  Some of the most meaningful moments in my life have been due to the kind acts of people whose identity has remained anonymous.  When Andrew spent weeks at the University hospital an hour from our home, complete meals were delivered to our freezer each day.  Some friend organized people in our community to do this.  I never found out who that friend was, and I never found out the identity of the people who took their time to cook for my family.  That is the beauty of a small town where doors are unlocked.

When my dad died, someone brought the funeral plants and flowers to our home while we drove an hour to the burial at the family cemetery.  To return home to that act of kindness, and a beautiful flower-filled kitchen, was so humbling.  That act of kindness made me feel cared for on a very difficult day.  There is no greater kindness than to show care for someone who is in pain.

Thank you, Father H, for your role in my life and for teaching me the true value of sacrifice and kindness.  It’s easy to be a good guy when you know you will get a pat on the back.  It’s easy to do what is expected of you.  It’s easy to be the guy at work that people rely on or the neighbor with the funny joke to tell.  It’s easy to put on a show, but the true test of a human being is in their actions when no one is looking.

Snakes and Other Dangerous Creatures

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This blog post has been brewing for a few days.  It wasn’t until very early this morning as I sat drinking coffee with T that I even began to attempt to put the words together.

T and I had fallen asleep on the couch as we often do on the weekends.  We watched a movie all snuggled up and warm on the couch.  When the movie was over, we turned on an episode of The Office.  It was the one where Michael proposes to Holly.  I had watched it the other night with Em.  It was so sweet that I wanted T to see it, too.  I loved watching it again, and I loved seeing T smile at all the right parts.  Even after the show was over, we stayed in our spots on the couch.  We halfheartedly talked about getting ready for bed, but it was so warm and cozy.  We were so sleepy and so comfortable.

The next thing I knew, it was morning and T was in the kitchen brewing a pot of coffee.  I wandered in with a smile on my face and told him that I was kind of enjoying our weird pack mentality when it came to sleeping.  There is something so delicious about drifting off to sleep right where you sit compared to the formality and routine of getting ready for bed.  He agreed.  Falling to sleep like that is wonderful, but damn, are we ever sore in the mornings from sleeping all night in awkward positions.  We laughed a little more as we both stood there trying to stretch out the kinks.

These odd sleeping arrangements have become our habit as of late on Friday and Saturday nights.  We skip the bed and the bedroom.  We nest and nestle in for sleep wherever we are comfortable at the time.  The best thing of all are the mornings.  It is just the two of us wandering around downstairs.  We haven’t had the luxury of lingering over coffee and conversation in the kitchen for many years.  Strangely, I am reminded of my grandparents.  As a child, I can remember waking up at their house and coming into the kitchen as they both sat at the table sipping their coffee.  It was a warm, peaceful feeling of contentment to see them there.  Now that is T and I.  It makes me feel old, yet content, all at the same time.

As we finished up in the kitchen this morning, I told T that I was going to go upstairs and write before the girls woke up.  He stopped and looked at me.  “What are you going to write about?”  He had never, ever asked me that question before.  I have been blogging for two years, but he has never asked me one question about it.    I don’t hide the fact that I’m writing.  Many times I have come to him to talk about a particular blog post or a comment that I have received.  Until this morning, though, he has never asked me what I was going to write about.  Today he asked, so I poured another cup of coffee and asked him to join me at the table. Continue Reading »