White Picket Fence

Every runner has his or her favorite surface on which to run and/or his or her favorite area in which to run.  My husband, for instance, loves running on trails over at Gring’s Mill (a local park).  Even before his partial knee-replacement, he favored the well-worn dirt path aside the Tuplehocken Creek, shaded by trees and seasonally guarded by geese who jump and hiss at all who get to close to their nests.

Me?  I trip over thin air on a daily basis so I prefer running the streets of our neighborhood.  Despite the weathered nature of the roads, I enjoy a good trot around Wyomissing Hills.  Since I run in the street versus the sidewalks (for which I have endured many a scathing glare from drivers–as if I am going to purposely jump in front of an oncoming car!), I have to pay attention to my surroundings.  After a good long run, I return home a font of local knowledge:  which houses are for sale; who is remodeling; where does that person driving around with an annoying Auburn license plate live.

Who has died.

About six years ago, I noticed something new about a house on one of my regular routes.  The only thing I noticed previously about this house was that the front yard was enclosed by a white picket fence.  Not anything extraordinary but quaint for sure.  But then one day, I stopped across the street from the house.  One of the slats on the fence was painted pink.  And it occurred to me that perhaps an occupant of the house was a breast cancer survivor.

For the next two years as I ran in one direction or another on that street, I kept an eye on that fence.  And sure enough, more pink slats appeared.  One pink slat for each year that person survived.  I didn’t know the person or family in that house but seeing those pink slats made me glad for her.  Survival can be a tricky business, period, without the complications of disease so, congratulations!

Another year went by.  I had resigned from my job in November and after hosting my family for the most stress-free Thanksgiving ever (not an oxymoron), went for a run in the middle of the morning.  I ran up that street, my last mile or so, and once again,  I stopped across the street from the white-picket-fence-with-three-pink-slats house.

A fourth slat was painted.  Blue.  With a small cross on it.

I stood on the corner processing what this single, blue slat with a cross on it meant.  The survivor had died.  Her battle was over.

I finished my run and when Chris got home, I told him about the white-picket-fence-with-the-painted-slats.  Even though I didn’t know this person, I felt as if the white picket fence kept me up-to-date on this person’s struggle to keep on and ultimately, announced to the world this person lost her battle.

Fast forward almost a year.

Chris and I register to run a 5K to support a local breast cancer support services organization.  Chris’s cousin’s wife had lost her sister-in-law to breast cancer.  She told us about the run and being suckers for a good cause, we decided to run it to support the family.  Vali had been close to her sister-in-law, Holly, and she was so happy we came out for the run.  Afterwards, she introduced us to her brother, Greg, Holly’s husband.  He thanked us for our support.  We chatted and then parted ways.

A few months later, I was on a run and on that street when I noticed a familiar looking face in the yard with the white picket fence.  The man waved at me and I waved back but I didn’t stop because for the life of me, I could not place the face.

Until I got home.

The familiar looking face was Greg.  The house with the white-picket-fence-with-three-pink-slats-and-one-blue-slat is where Greg lives.

The house where Holly lived.

 

 

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Happy Birthday, Mom!

I suppose if you take the Earth for enough spins around the Sun, Death will eventually find a way to assert itself into every season of the year.  I also find it uncanny how Death manages to hitch its wagon to what should be otherwise happy occasions, forever casting a pall (however slight) on anniversaries, birthdays, and other holidays.

For example, Grandpa Bernie (Dad’s Dad) died a week before Easter.  Actually, if memory serves, he died on my parent’s wedding anniversary, March 30, that year.  So, Death got a two-fer there.

Poppa (Mom’s Dad) died five days before his and Grammy’s 50th wedding anniversary and right after his birthday, around mid-February.  Another two-fer.

Death certainly is an efficient fucker.

Both Grammy and Grandma Helen passed away in April (I’m pretty sure).  And to be sure that Spring is a total emotional minefield, between Chris’s mom and Mom, we have the birthday/death/Mother’s Day/birthday/death/birthday/birthday gauntlet running throughout May and June taking us into Summer.  Total awesomeness.  Thanks, Death!  You’re a real pal!

By now, you, the reader, is perhaps feeling duped.  After all, the title of this post is “Happy Birthday, Mom!” yet all the writer has done so far is rip Death a new asshole.

Hang with me.

Oddly enough, death was a regular topic of conversation with Mom.  Maybe it was her background as an RN.  Maybe it was her no bullshit way of approaching life.  Death was not something to fear nor something to worship.  It simply just WAS.  A story would come on the evening news and the reporter would say, “He died of cardiac arrest.”  Mom would inhale on her cigarette, pause, exhale and retort, “Of course he did.  Your heart stops, that’s cardiac arrest.  Everyone’s heart stops.  And then you’re dead.”

A day or so after Mom’s death (which was less than a month before her birthday), my sister, Bethany asked if she could post a memorial on Facebook.  I admit I was a little wary at first but then realized it was no different than publishing an obituary (although a lot, I repeat, A LOT, cheaper).  So she did and the responses were overwhelming.  But one response stuck in my head.  It was a comment from a neighbor kid with whom we often played.  He wrote something to the effect, “Your mom always said that from the moment we’re born, we’re headed towards death.”

Not, “Your mom made the best chocolate chip cookies!” but, to paraphrase, “Your mom always said we’re all going to die.”  And some people might be totally offended by such a comment but I found it funny and touching.  Funny because it is so true.  Touching, well, because of all the things Mom did or said to this neighbor kid, that sentiment stood out for him.

So yes, it might seem odd to remember Mom’s birthday by remembering her death.  The two occasions so close to each other (May 29-death; June 27-birth), they are forever intertwined.  I don’t get it when people refer to a dead person’s birthday in the past tense.  Mom’s birthday will always be her birthday; she cannot be unborn.  Likewise her death day will always be her death day.

So on Mom’s birthday, I share with you some of her words to me, from a letter she gave to me on my wedding day, September 30, 2006:

“When you were born, I was so afraid.  You were so tiny and beautiful…I can’t describe how much I loved you.  Sometimes it was like a physical pain, like my heart would literally burst inside me…You will always be my baby and I will love you for all eternity.  Thank you for being my daughter…I have always wanted you to feel loved and secure.  As you prepare to marry Chris, it is my prayer that you will find these things and so much more…Laugh often and care for people, I believe that is why we are here on Earth…Remember God daily and give Him thanks when the going gets rough…Know that I love you always and with my whole heart and I wish you all the happiness the world can hold.  God bless you, My Baby Kirsten.

I love you, 

Mommy”

You only die once.  Birthdays occur every year, living or dead.

Mom & Kiki

Happy Birthday, Mommy!

Happy Birthday, Nancy Haas!

Today is my mother-in-law, Nancy Haas’s birthday.  She passed away four years ago this month but like many people who enter into and then leave our lives, thinking of her today brings a smile to my face.

I first met her a month or so after I started dating my husband, her son Chris.  We were supposed to have Easter lunch together at her house but Chris was sick.  So I went over to Mrs. Haas’s house (I called her Mrs. Haas until Chris and I got married) to pick up a bag of Easter food-filled Tupperware and introduce myself.  Needless to say, it went well and thus began my relationship with my mother-in-law.

Over the next 14 years (seven as her son’s girlfriend and seven as her daughter-in-law), Nancy and I enjoyed a cordial relationship.  Chris often told me, “Mom LOVES you!”  And I always took that mean that one, she did love me and two, I was the best of all the girls who came into Chris’s life.

OK, she never actually copped to the second point but since I’m the one still IN his life, I’m claiming “WINNER!”

Anyway, on the occasion of her birthday, I thought I’d remember her by sharing some of my fondest (and probably funniest) memories:

–like every time we took her to breakfast or to my in-laws for a holiday, I always offered to let her ride shotgun.  She usually declined saying that I could have the front seat since I was taller than her (Nancy was about 5’1″ on a good day while I am 5’6″).  We’d not even be down the block when I’d feel a tap on my shoulder and hear, “Kirsten.  Can you please move your seat up just a bit?”

“Sure,” I’d reply, moving the seat forward a notch.  “Is that good?”

“Can you move up just a little bit more?” she’d ask.  This exchange would go on until my knees were in the glove compartment and she was fully stretched out in the backseat for a nap.

–like the time I went over her house to fix her wireless internet.  The cable company had been out earlier in the day but her internet was still not working.  I stopped by her house on my way home from work.  I fired up her laptop (yes, she had a laptop computer!) and started messing around with the wireless settings.  I kept asking her what the cable company had done and she did her best to explain it.  After 30 minutes, still no dice and as she watched me work, she kept offering the advice of “Maybe you have to plug in the computer to that thing” (meaning the modem and router).

“But you have wireless, right?”  She affirmed it which led me down the rabbit hole trying to explain that the whole purpose of wireless is you don’t have to plug in your computer to the modem/router, etc. , complete with finger-waving hand motions meant to illustrate beams of internet moving throughout the house.

I drank a bottle of wine when I got home.  By.  Myself.

–like the time we took her out for breakfast at her favorite local joint, The Ranch House (Chris and I called it The Raunch House) and Chris told her he got me a Garmin for my car for my birthday.  She asked about what is Garmin and as we explained how it works, she declared, “I need one of those!”

And before I could get a slice of bacon into my mouth, I blurted out, “Why?  You don’t go anywhere.”

DOH!  Cue swift kick under the table.  And quite possibly the only time Nancy shot me a dirty look.  That I know of.

We DID get her a Garmin.  She used it one time to drive herself to my in-laws in York, PA, about an hour-an-a-half away.  She ended up going an hour in the wrong direction anyway.  I think that was the Garmin’s one and only journey.

Nancy was only in my life for 14 years and I know there is so much about her I did not get a chance to experience.  But I know she loved her family and gave them a good life.  She raised her son to be a good man who respects others and always wants to do the right thing for them.  And for that son, my husband, I thank her.  Thank you Mom Haas.

Happy Birthday!Chris & Nancy Dancing 2006

What Sean Spicer Doesn’t Know…

sunk the Titantic.

What I mean to say, is that icebergs are not nearly as dangerous to ships as slack-jawed ignorance.  I mean, yes, an iceberg sank the Titantic but wasn’t it really the White Star Line’s ignorance of icebergs floating around in the North Atlantic in April 1912 that sunk the ship?  Well, maybe it wasn’t “ignorance” so much as “ignoring”.  Same, same.  Right?

By way of this lame introduction, I am referencing Sean Spicer’s latest faux-pas, sorry, massive-ass screw-up, as White House Press Secretary on Tuesday, April 11 when he compared Syria’s Basher al-Assad to Adolf Hitler by claiming that even a monster like Hitler did not resort to using chemical weapons on his own people.

I didn’t think it was possible to kick yourself in the ass and put your foot in your mouth at the same time, but hey, these are crazy times.

When I caught wind of this story later in my day, I stood staring at my phone screen in disbelief.  I read the immediate responses such as Chelsea Clinton tweeting that perhaps Spicer should visit the Holocaust Museum about a mile away from the White House.  And the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect expressed their opinion that Spicer be fired.  The Executive Director, Steven Goldstein, stated on CNN’s “New Day” that Spicer got wrong something every sixth-grader knows.

Which got me thinking:  do they?

I love trivia.  I love “Jeopardy”.  I take the on-line test every year and in 2014 got an audition for the contestant pool.  I didn’t get selected but in due time.  Often when I watch the show and a competitor gives the wrong answer or doesn’t answer at all, I snort, “Everyone knows that!” while my husband and occasionally family and friends look at each other, shaking their heads, “No, not everyone knows that.”  I feel a moment of guilt for having made the people I love feel stupid but then the moment passes.

But I digress.

Back in June and July 2000, I spent four weeks working in the European headquarters of my then employer.  The office was located in Brussels and during my first trip there in June, I was delighted to be introduced to the joys of European train travel.  Within two to four hours, I could be in any number of cities and still be back in Brussels to sleep in the company-paid-for hotel room.  When I made my trip in July, my Belgian colleagues informed me that the first Friday of my trip was a national holiday and the office would be closed.  Woo-hoo!  Another day for a day-trip by train and the city of choice was…Amsterdam!

Aside from its reputation as a marijuana heaven and the infamous red-light district, I really knew only one other thing about Amsterdam:  Anne Frank had lived there.

I don’t recall how old I was when I first read “The Diary of Anne Frank” but I can tell you I have read it many, many times.  So when I planned my day-trip to Amsterdam, a visit to the Anne Frank house was literally the only item on my agenda.  I had no idea what to expect so I figured if it was the only thing I got to see, then so be it.  I took the early morning train from Brussels and arrived in Amsterdam as the sun rose.  I got to the Anne Frank Musuem a few minutes before it opened for the day and I joined the short line to get in.

I am not sure if it is the same today but back then, the first thing you saw after purchasing your ticket was a diaroma-style map of the house.  The idea was to orient the visitor to where you were standing versus the actual house and then to give you a small scale premise of what you were going to walk through and see.  I took my time to absorb the 3-D map and as I walked around it several times, occasionally stepping back to make sure I understood what I was about to see, I noticed an American mother-daughter pair opposite the display from me.  They too, appeared to paying great attention to the details.  So imagine my surprise when I heard the daughter ask her mother:

“I don’t understand.  Why was this family hiding?”

This woman was not a five-year girl.  She was a young woman who was at least in her mid-teens if not university age.  She was certainly old enough to have heard about, if not studied (yes, I believe the two to be different learning concepts), World War II and the Holocaust.

“I don’t understand.  Why was this family hiding?”

Her question and the ignorance it displayed bothered me the rest of the day.  As I toured the house and tried to wrap my head around how eight people lived for two years in such a small space constantly under threat of being discovered, I kept coming back to that young woman’s question.

“I don’t understand. Why was this family hiding?”

I was embarassed for her; I was angry at her.  How do you not know about Anne Frank?  How do you not know about the Holocaust?

And so we come back to Tuesday, April 11, 2017 and Sean Spicer.  As soon as I heard the story, I was transported back to Friday, July 21, 2000.  And today I wonder, how many people out there are asking these same questions?

To quote the current President of the United States:  Sad.

 

 

 

Observations from a Starbucks

Oh. My. God.

My plans for the day so far have worked out. I did a two-mile, brisk walk for my Shamrock training. It was cold. Not as cold as yesterday (I did a three-mile run in 22 degrees—with wind chill, it felt like 10), but cold. I showered. I met a former work colleague for lunch. I bought a cartridge refill for my favorite pen. I am now at Starbucks to spend the remainder of the afternoon writing what I hope to be my first new blog post of 2016.

And sitting across from me is a woman who feels comfortable enough to remove her clogs to expose her filthy feet. When she walked in, she asked me if I was using the hassock (footstool, ottoman, whatever) and I truthfully told her to help herself. But, really?

I haven’t been in here in a few weeks but I see at least one person who looks to be a regular. Maybe this woman is a regular as well. Perhaps it is I who is irregular.

That’s not right.

Ewww. Her dirty feet, correction, foot, is back up on the ottoman. I wonder if she has circulation problems. Her feet (both on the footrest now, happily tap, tap, tapping against each other) are not wearing socks but rather what look to be ace bandages or soft casts with the toes cut out.

Her nails are well manicured and she is wearing a large topaz on her left hand. So what’s the story with the feet?

I have to say the people watching is my favorite part of hanging out in random places. Next to Dirty Feet is a young woman who appears to be talking to her iPad mini. She looks kind of fancy for a random Wednesday afternoon. Dressed in a sparkly sweater, faux diamond jewelry and heavy eye makeup. She keeps looking around as if she is waiting for someone.

I am in awe of her eye makeup. How did she learn to do that? She has the perfect black cats-eye liner thing going and her eye shadow is perfectly even.

Behind Perfect Black Eyeliner (she is packing up to leave) is a super skinny college guy (I’m guessing). There are at least four colleges in the Reading area one of which is a Berks campus of Penn State, only two miles (if that) from this particular Starbucks. He’s wearing a navy and grey striped sweater and has been furiously typing at his computer for the better part of the hour. So, yes, I think he is a college student.

To my right, on the leather loveseat (I have no idea when but at some point, my local Starbucks remodeled itself to look more like a living room and less like an establishment) is a couple. Or are they? The man is older, maybe late-70s dressed in brown leather hiking boots, corduroys and an apple green Patagonia ski coat. He has been reading The New York Times. Occasionally, he leans over to the woman and shows her an article. Sometimes, they share the newspaper section. The woman looks to be in her mid-60s and is dressed all in black except for her grey booties. Based on the number of coffee cups on the surrounding end tables, it looks like they have been here most of the afternoon.

Perfect Black Eyeliner is not gone after all. As I suspected, she was waiting for someone and is now sitting behind me with a young lady who looks like Macy Gray (remember her?).

That is the second celebrity sighting for me today. When I walked in, I noticed one of the baristas; she looked like the lead singer of Alabama Shakes. Brittany something-or-other. I was going to tell her but she went into the back and I haven’t seen her since.

I love looking around at people when I am hanging out. The airport is another favorite place of mine for observing others. One time, a colleague and I had a six-hour wait at O’Hare. We had flown out that morning to Chicago for a trade show and we were supposed to return the next day. The show was a bust and by noon, we were done. The next flight the company travel agent could get us on (without paying a gazillion dollars) wasn’t until six or seven that night. We took it but then we had a lot of time to kill. We started playing a game of watching folks and seeing how many of them looked like celebrities. I think we saw Cher, Loni Anderson and Robert Stack. A bit obscure I know but digging for names was good mental exercise.

At airports, you have the added question of where is that person going? Where have they been? Are they traveling for fun? Is there a loved one meeting them? Is there a loved one missing them?

As I catch Navy Grey College Guy staring at me, it occurs to me that I too am being observed. By one or by many, I wonder what they see when they look at me?

Sitting in an upright leather and canvas armchair, red-covered MacBook on her lap, she has been typing for an hour. Skinny jeans disappear into well-worn brown leather ankle boots. A brown leather tote bag with a patchwork monkey on the front sits on the floor next to her swinging leg (judging by the ear buds shoved into her ears, must be some good tunes). She pauses periodically to look over the tops of red-rimmed glasses and check out the scene.

What’s her story?

It is a new year. Time to forge ahead and see what new adventure awaits me.

I’ll Always Have Paris

The first news of the Paris attacks reached our living room late afternoon, Friday, November 13. My husband and I were winding, sitting on the loveseat watching The Paul Finebaum Show.  In the midst of reporting the surprise news of Gary Pinkel’s resignation (for the non-college football fan or fans outside the SEC, Gary Pinkel is/was the head football coach at the University of Missouri), the news streamed across the bottom of the television screen: Explosions heard outside the France versus Germany soccer match.

The streaming snippet had to cycle back around before the news sunk in and my husband grabbed the remote to start searching for a station carrying the developing story.  We finally landed on CNN and watched, mouths agape at the unfolding scene.  At that point in time, the Bataclan was still under siege by the terrorists.

My mind immediately went to thoughts of my niece who had been in Nantes earlier in the week and I checked Facebook to be sure she was safely back in Switzerland with her family.  I thought of former European colleagues and again I used Facebook to reach out to a few of them and wish them prayers and good thoughts.

The next day, I got a text message from Dad: “Re:Paris Love you & Chris. Stay safe. Maj. Dad” (texting is still a new skill for Dad but at least this time he didn’t call me to make sure I got the message).  My husband didn’t say anything but I know he was thinking it was good I was no longer in a job where I traveled overseas.  Dad echoed the same thought a few days later when we spoke.

In the week or so that has passed, so much has been said about the Paris attacks on television and the internet. Some of the news has been uplifting, illustrating the resiliency of humanity and the refusal to be cowed by cowardice.  Some of the news has been disheartening, illustrating humanity’s amazing capacity for stupidity, hatred and hypocrisy.  The rest of the news is noise; there is still so much to learn about how it all went down.

Last week I found myself reminiscing about my experiences in Paris.

My first time in Paris was my birthday, June 23, 2000.  I was actually in Brussels for two weeks training new sales people in the Europe office.  The weekend in the middle of my stay was mine to spend as I pleased and with the help of a colleague, I booked a ticket on the early morning Thalys high-speed train for Saturday.  My day started at 2 AM when my hotel room phone rang, startling me out of a deep sleep, with my parents singing “Happy Birthday”.

Funny aside, the hotel operator originally connected them to the wrong room and they sang the whole song before the gentleman whom they woke up politely said in broken English, “Sorry, wrong room.”

Four hours later, I was on my way to Brussels Midi station to take my first train ride and to Paris, no less!  On the way, I discreetly studied my Fodor’s Pocket Paris, which included some basic phrases (I took Spanish in high school and college but am only capable of conversing, poorly, in present tense); points of interest and handy little maps of the various arrondissements.

My goal was to look like I belonged there so if worse came to worse, I would keep my mouth shut and walk around the same block ten times.  I was a little wary about taking the Metro so the plan was to walk from Gare du Nord to the Arc de Triomphe from which I would hit as many sites as possible.

I have always been bad at math and accordingly I misread the scale conversion on the guidebook map.  I thought I’d be taking a leisurely stroll down the Rue La Fayette and then the Boulevard Haussmann.  Instead, I ended up doing a ten-mile hike.  OK, I exaggerate.  I just checked the distance and I only walked three miles.  It just FELT like ten.

By the time I got to my destination on the Champs Élysées, I wanted to cut off my feet.  Instead, I hopped on one of those red, double-decker tourist buses; the ones where you pay a flat rate for the day and can hop on and off at your leisure while the bus loops around to various sights.

From the Arc de Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower (where I proudly ordered a sandwich jambon-fromage) to the Hôtel des Invalides then round to Ile de la Cité where I proceeded on foot to Notre Dame.  After spending a bit of time at The Church, I bought a big fluffy scarf from a street vendor near Pont Neuf.  The day had turned cloudy with sprinkles and the scarf kept me warm and made me look more French, or so I imagined.  I crossed the Seine and strolled the courtyard at The Louvre, up through the Tuileries and to the Place de la Concorde before heading to catch my train back to Brussels.

Thoroughly exhausted yet giddy with the excitement of my whirlwind day, I anticipated my next visit to the City of Light.

A month later, I was back.  This time, I had two specific missions in Paris. One, I spent the day at The Louvre.  I maximized my time there by taking the early train and braving the Metro.  From top to bottom, I absorbed the museum and its works.  I employed my limited knowledge of French and Spanish (they’re both Romance languages so I improvised) to read every sign by the pieces of artwork.

Two, I had to find self-tanner by Yves Rocher.

What?

Yeah.  So, a woman on Mom’s tennis team swore by this self-tanner by Yves Rocher, which apparently was not available in the U.S.  This woman had purchased her supply in Québec.  Mom called me the week before I traveled and asked if I could look for it while I was in Paris. If I found it, I was to purchase a few bottles to bring back to the States.

I was taking a late afternoon train back to Brussels so I figured I had no more than two hours after my Louvre sojourn to seek out this miracle of faux sunshine.  Right outside the Louvre, I found a general cosmetics store (like an Ulta or Sephora) and inquired.  Which means that I spent ten minutes repeating the phrase, “Yves Rocher, S’il vous plaît?” while the sales woman looked at me quizzically.  I finally wrote it down and she declared, “Ah! Oui! Yves Rocher!” and shook her head.  Apparently you could only get Yves Rocher at an Yves Rocher store and she graciously gave me directions.  In French, of course, but I caught the name of the street Rue de Rivoli and continued my quest.

I had no idea in which direction I should go on the Rue de Rivoli so I decided to turn left and walk for 30 minutes.  No dice.  I turned around and walked back the way I came continuing down the street.  Within ten minutes of passing my starting point, I saw the sign outside the store, white with green letters:  “Yves Rocher”!

To my delight, not only did I find the magical self-tanner but also it was on sale:  Buy one, get one free!  Merveilleux! I loaded up my shopping basket with two-dozen tubes of the stuff and checked out, handing over my credit card with a smile and a “Très bien!”

Two and a half years later, I made my first post-9/11 visit to Europe and it was to Paris.  My friend Kathy and I found a great deal on-line.  $500 got us a round-trip flight and three nights hotel.  Since we had both been to the city before, we spent our long weekend just hanging out.  We walked through neighborhoods without a destination.  We dined at sidewalk cafes and tried out our French on the natives.  Our hotel concierge helped us get reservations for a dinner cruise on the Seine.  We felt welcome and carefree. Our biggest dilemma all weekend was I forgot to plug Kathy’s curling iron into the voltage convertor and melted it.  Literally, melted it.

It would be over ten years before I returned to Europe but I have not had an opportunity to return to Paris.  But the memories of my delightful adventures in the city are as fresh as if I just stepped off the plane.  To see this city ripped apart in such a brutal manner as happened over a week ago is heart wrenching.

“Liberté, égalité, fraternité”:  The national motto of France meaning “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.”  It is one the world would do well to remember.

 

My Annum of Unusual Circumstance

In 1992, Queen Elizabeth II, current reigning Queen of England, made a speech in which she referred to the year as an “Annus Horribilis” (Latin phrase meaning “horrible year”).  In that year, the Queen experienced a series of trying events. Mauritius became a republic (another piece of the British Empire disappearing into the endless sunset); all three of her kids had serious marital issues (a separation, a divorce and an infidelity—those crazy kids!); one of her houses caught fire (maybe the merry wives of Windsor took it a bit too far) and she faced the only other certainity in life besides death:  taxes.

In other words, she had a shit year.

While I cannot exactly empathize with the Queen’s issues, I do understand what it is like to have an unusual year.  Not a horrible year by any means.  Definitely not horrible.  But definitely unusual.

Earlier today I had lunch with three former colleagues.  It was great to meet up with these ladies and catch up.  Female friends in the metals industry are difficult to come by so when you make them, you value them and keep in touch.  Plus, we ate at a local Thai restaurant that serves an awesome seafood curry (yumsters in my tumsters).  But our lunch date gave me pause and got me thinking.

See, it was a year ago yesterday, November 10, 2014, that I informed the HR department of my desire to resign.

Over the past year, I have learned a lot about myself and about what matters in life.  But here are some very specific things I learned during my “annum of unusual circumstance.”

There has GOT to be a better way of describing a job situation than “unemployed.”  “Unemployed” simply means “without employment”, right?  I mean, nowhere in the definition of the word does it say, “lazy”, “stupid” or “bum.” Does it?  Well, I checked and in fact, none of those words appear under the definition of “unemployed” in the dictionary (I actually looked up the word in an actual, hardcover bound book with paper pages dictionary), in case you were wondering.  However, the word “idle” is in there.  Shit.  As I settled into my new circumstances, I struggled to find the right description for it.  “Unemployed” sounded so depressing.  I wanted a phrase that let people know I was in charge of my professional life, such as it was.  I coined the term “professional sabbatical”:  I was on sabbatical from having a profession.

Soccer moms are fucking scary.  Sorry to moms I have offended with that statement but I’m just sayin’.  The first time I walked into Michael’s at 10 AM, I felt like an alien. I  felt intimidated by these women walking around this crafting utopia looking for stuff and finding it (me, not so much).  These soccer moms just kept looking at me as if they somehow knew I didn’t’ belong there.  Full disclosure: I was raised by a stay-at-home mom so I know its not all bon-bons and soap operas.  Which is not to say working moms don’t also have it tough.  Of course, I don’t have kids, so what do I know?  OK, now that I’ve pissed off somebody for sure, let’s move on.

If an unemployed woman is a “homemaker”, what is an unemployed man?  I asked myself this question because since last November, I’ve had to change my employment status on various forms, for instance medical insurance forms. Usually people don’t comment but it came up last April when I went for my annual eye exam.  I checked in at the reception desk, completed the requisite forms and handed them back to the lady.  She glances at them and notes my change of employment status saying, “Hmmmm.”  I respond, “Did I miss anything?”  “No,” she replies peering at the computer screen and fiddling with the mouse, “I’m just trying to decide which box to check.”  I presume she is referring to my employment status.  “Did you retire?”  I snorted, “Not really. I resigned.”  Why does it matter?  “Oh,” she looks up and continues, “Good for you.”  A common sentiment expressed to me over the months.  “How about I check ‘homemaker’?”  I spent the walk home (dilated eyes and all) pondering the criticality of that checkbox.  What if my husband had been the one standing there indicating he was unemployed?  What box would she have checked off?  “Lazy bastard?”

Spontaneity. It’s a good thing.  For years, our friends Jim and Katie have been teaching me to wakeboard.  They tried first with regular waterskiing but I’m uncoordinated and knock-kneed to boot so it’s best if I only have to control one piece of equipment.  Anyway, I cannot tell you how great it was to get a text at 10 AM from them and reply, “Yes, I can come out and play today.”  It was during a random mid-week, early-afternoon wake-boarding session at Blue Marsh that I finally mastered (as much I can master the skills) the board.  It was the Summer of Kirsten.  Well played, Spontaneity.  Well played.

Finally, it is OK to NOT have A Plan.  This statement is very un-Kirsten-like.  My entire life, I have known exactly (more or less) where I am going and how I am going to get there.  A year ago, I didn’t have the slightest clue where I was going in life.  But, there are people around me who are OK with that and I have slowly learned to be OK with it as well.

My “annum of unusual circumstance.”  I tried finding a Latin phrase to match but the closest thing I can find is “annus ad absurdum” (basically means “year of silliness”).  Unusual, silly, whatever.

19 years and four months into my career, I resigned.  It was not a decision I planned to make.  It was not an easy decision to make either. But even on my darkest days (which frankly are not THAT dark, more like grey and hazy), it stands as the best decision I have made in my life.

Scratch that. Marrying my husband is THE best decision I made in my life.