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Friday, December 28, 2012

2013: A Year of Mini-Challenges

I got the idea of mini-challenges from Jen West over at Jen West Quest. I'm not really good at sticking with new stuff for very long, but I want that sense of accomplishment that will let me, over time, learn new habits.

My mini-challenges will last no longer than a week, meaning I am not obligated to hold onto them longer than that, though I am certainly welcome to. I've been considering some things I want to change about myself, new things I want to learn, and also habits that could lead to changes for my entire household.

First up in January is going to be a soda-free weekend. I gave up soda a few years ago and lost weight and felt so much healthier. Then the stress of divorce caused me to give in and I am, once again, addicted. My hope is that a weekend without soda will lead to a week without soda, which may lead to a month without it.

I'm also looking forward to a three-day period when I leave my mobile devices (phones, my old Droid I still use for Facebook and Twitter) out of sight and focus my time on my spouse. No Facebooking from the sofa, no chat, no texting, only answering the phone for emergencies.

Also under consideration are a vegetarian challenge, a fast from cursing, and a three-day period where I have no screen time during daylight hours.

I'll amend this post and add more challenges (and details as I complete them) as the new year progresses. What are some short-term, tangible challenges you'd like to complete yourself? Try to think beyond the grand sweep of things like "losing weight" and "getting closer to God" and "being nicer." What can you do in three-day chunks that could spur larger changes in your life?

No End-of-the-Year Review Here

I haven't been blogging on Static Transient long enough to give you the blogger's typical end-of-the-year review. But anyone who visits here knows 2012 was a huge year for a few reasons.

On March 8, I got married. The wedding didn't happen as we had planned it but it was still special and wonderful. Our parents and a few of our close friends came to the courthouse with us (we looked pretty damn good) and then we had lunch at the Bright Star. I can't come up with eloquent words to describe what that day means to me. Our love and partnership leaves me dumbstruck and it's wonderful.

On August 20, my dad died. That was the worst day of my life. I'm sure that down the road there will be worse days, but I don't want to think about what those might be like. My last grandparent died just a few weeks after this.

In November, we had to put my almost-fourteen-year old Weimaraner to sleep. She was sick and had lived a mostly joyful life despite her dietary choices (leather, foam, candy corn).

I choose to let the beautiful and joyous and fun things color my memory of 2012. I'm thinking up ways to make 2013 interesting and want to share them with you.

What were your favorite things about the past year?

Monday, December 17, 2012


As the year draws near its end, I think about all the changes 2012 brought and the things I would like to change in 2013. A few years ago, I made some major changes that were positive but eventually faded out. I gave up drinking soda for more than a year, I was exercising regularly and liked it, and I changed the influencers in my life.

Jen over at Jen West Quest does some cool short-term goals on her blog, and Wade Kwon at Wade on Birmingham is also into blogging his projects (like his current weight gain project). Those are two people I admire personally and professionally. I would like to follow their lead on this and try some short-term goals in 2013.

I know some things I have in mind for myself, but what would you suggest? Some ideas I have are giving up soda, eliminating certain foods, no screen time while the sun is up, and reading specific books. But I would love to hear your ideas. If you were making your own short-term goals, what would they be? What would you suggest for me? Comment, comment, comment please!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Holiday Blues, Part 2

I work in a bright, shiny, and very busy department store. As hard as it is physically and as little as it pays, I really do like working in retail. Part of the joy is customers who are sweet, fun, and downright sneaky when it comes to buying gifts for the people they're shopping with. This year, with the loss of my father, I seem to notice every couple my parents' age that come in shopping together.
I can't help but imagine my own parents shopping together for gifts for their six grandchildren. (They loved shopping. When I was growing up, money was tight, so financial freedom later in life let them really enjoy giving fun gifts.) And imagining my mom telling my dad that she had a piece of jewelry on hold and he could go get it as her gift. And then I imagine our Worley Christmas, which is never on Christmas day any more, and remember all my childhood Christmases (when I was 10, the age of my middle child, I got Madonna's True Blue, Huey Lewis & the News' Fore, and Don Johnsons's solo album, all courtesy of Dad).
He won't be there this year. My mom's shopping partners this year have been my sister-in-law, nieces, and nephew. I don't know what to expect at our Worley Christmas. Probably it will be sad. My children are keenly aware of their grandfather's absence. We will do our best to hold it together but I wonder why we try to hold it together. It seems like we did so much crying in August that we shouldn't cry now.
It's okay to cry at Christmas. Other days I have felt like I just needed to suck it up and move on, but for this season, I'm fine with crying. I feel angry that my mom is being forced into having a Christmas without my dad. And that my children and nieces and nephew have a grandmother who is so profoundly sad when she wasn't before.
That said, I don't want every Christmas to be marked by tears. This first one, though, is gonna be hard.
Merry Christmas. (Click below for a great example of a somber Christmas song, Joni Mitchell's "River.")

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Holiday Blues, Part One

People who have known me for year, either IRL on online, are familiar with my constant search for religious meaning and/or purpose. It seems like a hobby to some, but for me, my spiritual formation and transformation are living things. The day I stop wondering, pondering, considering, and praying will be the day I take my last breath. I don't just enjoy the process; I need it. I thrive on it. Sure, sometimes it makes me look like a know-it-all in conversations and oftentimes I just hide my knowledge by keeping my mouth shut (like most know-it-alls, I haven't yet learned how to politely interject that I know the correct term/answer/date/historical figure, and it loses me friends sometimes). 

The constant conversation with God is the one consistency in my life since childhood. You can tell me it's superstition. You can tell me it's not enough and that I need this other list of things in addition to. But I don't. I just need to know that God and I are speaking and listening.

In 1996, when I finally had the guts to break away from my parents' church and go to my own, I attended a wonderful Episcopal church in Montgomery where I discovered the Eucharist and the church calendar, specifically Advent. At that point, it became my goal to observe and celebrate Advent for a while before focusing on Christmas-related stuff. A few years later, after I'd gone through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults at a Catholic parish here in Birmingham, I made sure the family always observed Advent with candles, prayers, and songs, and I tried to keep the tree up for the Twelve Days of the Christmas season. 

A few years after that, I was exploring Judaism (for several reasons) with Rabbi Jonathan Miller at Temple Emanu-El and, in my reading, discovered Hanukkah. Okay, I knew all about it before that because I always have kind of liked all things Jewish. And though I do get irritated when white Westerners start adopting and co-opting and changing traditions of other cultures, I thought, "this is a holiday most of us can relate to!"  How many times have we been sustained long after resources should have run out? Whether you attribute it to God or another being or to your own fortitude or just sheer luck, I bet it's happened.

So we observe Hanukkah here. In the middle of Advent, occasionally at Christmas, depending on the calendar that year. It's a time for miracles, and to remember of the times that the Lord has kept us going. The Chabad has a great section on Hanukkah.  Saturday night, when I come home from work, we will have Hanukkah "cakes" made from doughnuts, and latkes, and we will light the first candle and say blessings. Maybe we will remember to wear blue and white. 

It will be a good way to stop in the middle of holiday madness (my kids have THREE holiday performances next week, all at night!) and remember that God provides. Since I'm not really sure what Christmas holds for me emotionally this year, I'm grateful for other meaningful holidays that carry less baggage and let me feel closer to God.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why I Am Not a Novelist

This year, I am a proud NaNoWriMo loser.

I don't think the great people at the Office of Letters and Light want those of us who don't finish our novels in the thirty days of November to call ourselves losers. Those who finish are winners, but those who don't are still participants. Some of us participated more than others (and less). My idea was good but my motivation on 27 of the days was pretty terrible. Sometimes it was because I was legitimately busy with raising three kids, trying to run a household, work a couple of part-time jobs (including retail with holiday hours that start in November). Sometimes it was because I chose to spend time with my spouse over time developing and writing my store. Sometimes it was because I had the flu (that was horrendous).

And sometimes I just didn't want to write. At all.

I had plenty to say (anyone who knows me knows I have plenty to say, and most of it is stuff no one but me cares about). I was proud of my story idea and was developing two characters I loved and admired. The original idea had morphed from a kind of quirky romance into something that asked deeper questions about how we fall in love, who we fall in love with, and the permanence of the human body and the human spirit. I plan to keep writing my story long after November ends. I don't know if it will ever become a novel. Sadly, fewer people read short stories than read novels, but I feel my story may be better told and explored as a short story.

What did I get most out of trying to participate in NaNo this year? I learned more about myself as a writer than ever before. I studied creative writing in high school for two years, then writing and literature for four years in college. The years since then have been peppered with attempts, some noble and some foolish and some just stupid (which is much worse than foolish). But none of it taught me what NaNoWriMo 2012 did:

1. I need space of my own to write. I need to be able to have music or silence, to have no human or domestic distractions, and to be able to be fully dressed or the opposite of fully dressed.

2. I need dedicated writing days. Making myself write every day is counterproductive. I can do Facebook statuses, text messages, and Tweets every day. But writing for writing's sake just frustrates me. The two days I set aside for writing at home I KILLED IT. Tens of thousands of words.

3. Dialogue is not my strength. I need to find good examples of dialogue and study those writers if I ever want my characters to have decent conversations. Right now, my narrative is like the Italian countryside in spring and my dialogue is like a Swedish fishing village in winter.

Just those first two discoveries were really enough for me. I realized I still like writing (I wasn't sure), and so that makes me more likely to want to make the first two on the list happen. I told my spouse that if I were to become a "serious writer," I would need a place, like a teeny tiny office where no one could find me, and I would have to go there a couple of days a week. It would be like my job on my off days from my real job.

The prospect of finishing the story is very exciting. I don't know when it will happen, or if any story is ever really finished (I have unfinished poems from 1993). But I'm sure I will tell everyone!

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo this year, or any years prior? Did you finish? Under what conditions do you do your best work?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

November 20

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance. The trans community is close to my heart. Read about it at the HRC's website.

Also, the Transgender Day of Remembrance site has a memorial listing on their page. Read and learn and be moved.

And for those who feel lonely or alone, who grieve for life or relationships lost, there's this:

It's been three months since my dad died. And yet the world continues spinning! Unbelievable! I remember thinking when it happened that a world without my father in it seemed like a crueler place than I wanted to live. Now, as time moves the way it is known to move, I see the mark he left on it, but also that it's just as important and good a place as before. This Thanksgiving, I will be ever grateful for the time I had with my dad and for all the good he did for others.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


I'm married to someone who loves shopping, including grocery shopping. For years I thought I only liked grocery shopping alone. That's because I had never been grocery shopping with an adult who loved doing it as much as I do. I get so much satisfaction from going to the store with a goal, meeting (and often exceeding!) the goal, and then coming home to see that my family has food to keep us going for a while. So my spouse and I spent a couple of hours today filling up the grocery cart and goofing off.

We have quite a few "back of pantry" mixes that look interesting in the store but we usually don't eat them until the rest of the pantry is empty except for olive oil, honey, and powdered drink mixes. But today we found a rice mix that we are going to put front and center. It's Nueva Cocina's coconut raisin rice mix and looks fabulous. For a long time, we would drive to Whole Foods in Mountain Brook to buy a lot of our specialty items (our household has some special dietary needs and the variety in a place like Whole foods, EarthFare, and the locally-owned Organic Harvest is much broader than in a Publix or Winn-Dixie). When EarthFare opened just a few miles from home, we decided to try shopping there since it's closer. I couldn't be happier with the friendly staff and the selection in the store. While I always had good experiences with Whole Foods, and do go back now and then when I'm nearby, I'm so grateful that a store that meets our needs is so close.

Canned vegetables seem to be another "staple" that live in the pantry. We like having them on hand just in case, but really prefer fresh or frozen to canned. Other things I found in the pantry today included Booberry and Count Chocula cereals that are only half-eaten (and most likely shoved to the back because they taste awful!) and a peanut butter brownie mix I'd forgotten we had. Looks like we'll have brownies when the kids get back from their dad's after Thanksgiving!

Do you like to shop for groceries alone or with a friend or spouse? What's your favorite "guilt" item when you're shopping for food? (I bought fudge-covered Ritz crackers today!) What is the thing that seems to sit in your pantry or freezer FOREVER? I'd love to know!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

In My Father's House

Today my preacher talked about having "an acquaintance with grief." I have it. Grief and i may become good friends, and that's fine. I do fit in the stereotype of "sad: it's happy for deep people." And I'm fine with that.

I still can't walk into what is now just "my mom's house" without expecting my dad to be standing at the kitchen counter munching on almonds and exuberantly greeting my kids and I.

I didn't cry this time, not even when my brother and his family had left and all my kids were asleep and Mom and I were sorting through endless boxes of Dad's books so I could take the ones I've wanted. Not even when my mom cried.

But now the house is quiet and in front of me is a picture of my dad in his Air Force uniform, and I'm crying. Not because he's dead, but only because I miss him.

It's a step.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Day My Dog Died

My dog died last Friday. She was to turn fourteen in December and had taken some serious downward spirals in health recently after bouncing back from a near-death experience in 2007.

Audrey was a Weimaraner, known among enthusiasts and Weim lovers sometimes as a grey ghost. She was beautiful. In January 1999, we drove home with her in a shoebox. She did all kinds of terrible things over the years, including eat wedding photos, a pair of Dansko clogs, a loveseat, and lots of food and trash (including two bags of candy corn that had her hospitalized when my daughter was in kindergarten). She ate my thigh-high stockings and panties. When we adopted a Goldendoodle puppy when she was about ten, she was sure to lead her little doggie brother into the same life of crime.

I had a lot of really big emotions surrounding this, but the worst of my feelings was the guilt of having left her behind when I divorced and moved into another house. I left her with the human dad and the kids who loved her dearly, so I wasn't abandoning her. But for years she had been my constant companion, always around when my ex-husband was out of town or out of the house, and when the kids were asleep. She would listen to me sing loudly and not complain. Eventually, as her health deteriorated, she would wake me several times in the night to walk around the block because she couldn't sleep.

I loved Audrey in a way a person can only love a dog. Anyone who has ever loved a dog knows what this means.

My ex and I had been discussing Audrey's health and what we knew was her inevitable death for a while. Our son, twelve, already knew what was going to happen because he asked his dad (for the record, we are both pretty terrible liars, and while we weren't upfront about it, we would have also been honest with our daughters if they'd asked). Friday morning, I drove the kids to school (early morning devotional for the girls, jazz band for the boy) then to McDonald's to wait for my dear friend who has been with me through every life change since 2005 to come pick me up (thank God she was there for me, because I wouldn't have been able to drive myself afterward).

The vet and vet tech who had treated Audrey since 1999 met us in an exam room to look her over. She was pitiful. Her kidneys had basically shut down and so her body was using her muscle for protein. This beautiful beast who had once weighed close to 90 pounds was now under 55 pounds and could barely stand on her own.

The tech laid out some soft purple towels for Audrey and we moved her to them. Dr. P had already explained the entire process of euthanizing a dog. He had loved on her and let her kiss all over his face. We were all crying, not just because it was the end of her life, but also because her life had been pretty remarkable (she'd survived several unusual illnesses that should have been terminal).

With Audrey resting on the cozy bed they'd made for her, Dr. P injected a sedative into one of her front legs. I have never seen an animal so relieved to relax. She gave us a few sleepy looks, let us stroke her ears and back and snout one last time, and then we left the room.

Telling my children that day was the most awful thing I'd ever had to do (I was not the one to tell them about my father dying because I had already driven to Montgomery). It was a wailing only heard of in Irish folk songs and war films. These babies have never known a life without Audrey. She was born before I even realized I wanted to have human children. They have another dog there to keep them company, Murray, who is sweet as heaven but dumb as rocks.

By Saturday they had already talked their dad into going to look at rescue dogs. Not to replace Audrey, really, but to fill that space. They've learned at such young ages that people and pets can't be replaced, but those needs for companionship and friendship can be met in other ways.

I think I'll always miss Audrey, but I am choosing to remember her young and strong.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

NSFW Thursday: The Death of Professionalism

I take my jobs seriously and expect the same of my coworkers, but it doesn't always happen. 

Let's start with the Urban Dictionary entry for the word "professionalism" (please note that while my NSFW posts are actually safe for work, Urban Dictionary probably isn't, unless you work at home and there are no kids around): any business practice in which happiness is sacrificed for success.

Now here's what some of my friends (a corporate woman, an attorney, and an early childhood education director) have to say about professionalism where they work. They are all in their thirties and forties.

Corporate America Woman (for lack of a better title for her):

I work in "Corporate America" and the lack of professionalism that I see is running rampant. It's not just in retail. I work in an environment that permits the consumption of alcohol after 1530 on Friday's in the office; we are allowed to use profanity and as long as we don't show up naked, we can wear whatever we want to wear. We are also a "Go Green" company but I don't think it was meant to be taken to the next level when the same few employees are recycling the same employees in the bedroom. I love my job but I feel that many people take advantage of the liberties that are afforded to us.

Every Monday that I come to work, I have to listen to the same few people talk about how wasted they were over the weekend, while wearing the same trashy ensemble that they most likely wore in the club all weekend. The exact same people complain and swear that it is the result of some type of grand conspiracy of why they cannot seem to get a promotion within the company. Really? Who's going to promote someone that is always talking about being wasting and dresses like a street walking prostitute? Although the members of upper management may not always hear it, it gets back to them and they monitor the actions of these people. People just don't realize how their actions result in them being "blacklisted".

Every Monday that I come to work, I have to listen to the same few people talk about how wasted they were over the weekend, while wearing the same trashy ensemble that they most likely wore in the club all weekend. The exact same people complain and swear that it is the result of some type of grand conspiracy of why they cannot seem to get a promotion within the company. Really? Who's going to promote someone that is always talking about being wasting and dresses like a street walking prostitute? Although the members of upper management may not always hear it, it gets back to them and they monitor the actions of these people. People just don't realize how their actions result in them being "blacklisted".

Early Childhood Education Director:

 I would say that there are many facets to defining professionalism. There's appearance, quality of work, relationships, manners of communication, attitude and more. I have decided that, in my workplace, I should not assume that everybody understand, defines and displays "professionalism" in the same way. Standards can vary from place to place, and even from department to department. I'm learning that I have to be clear and specific about my expectations in this regard because it is the first job ever for many of my staff. So I always try to point out things that might be acceptable or not across the board in many settings.

Defense Attorney:

 The ABA requires a course on ethics and professionalism to graduate from law school, and afaik, every state requires a certain number of your mandatory CLEs to be ethics in theory, there should be no such thing as an unethical, unprofessional attorney. And I have no problem with swearing at work, or using fact, I have a tendency to lapse into the same language style as the person to whom I'm speaking, and while I don't do it intentionally, I DO think it helps clients feel more at ease with me... 

To me, professionalism means maintaining a separation between your work life and your personal life. It's one thing to interrupt your work to deal with a personal emergency, but it's entirely inappropriate to discuss one client/customer with another, complain to coworkers in front of patrons, or behave in any other manner that might shatter the illusion that the client standing before you is The Most Important Person In Your Life Right Now. 

To expound on what Amy said about professionalism going downhill, I think our society as a whole has become more casual over time.. Think about our grandparents' generation -- women wore heels when they went to the market, and men were never seen in their t-shirts outside their own homes. Now days, you go to Walmart and half the shoppers are in their pajamas... I'm certainly not advocating a return to the days of white gloves and pearls, but I DO think that we're rapidly reaching a point where people think the entire world is their living room..

To me, professionalism means maintaining a separation between your work life and your personal life. It's one thing to interrupt your work to deal with a personal emergency, but it's entirely inappropriate to discuss one client/customer with another, complain to coworkers in front of patrons, or behave in any other manner that might shatter the illusion that the client standing before you is The Most Important Person In Your Life Right Now. 
To expound on what Amy said about professionalism going downhill, I think our society as a whole has become more casual over time.. Think about our grandparents' generation -- women wore heels when they went to the market, and men were never seen in their t-shirts outside their own homes. Now days, you go to Walmart and half the shoppers are in their pajamas... I'm certainly not advocating a return to the days of white gloves and pearls, but I DO think that we're rapidly reaching a point where people think the entire world is their living room..

I have had lots of paying jobs in my life, and I haven't always behaved in what I would call a professional manner. Usually it was because of age or inexperience. I had to learn as I went along, and make embarrassing mistakes that I sometimes got called out on. My first job ever was when I was 17. I worked at the pretzel stand in Montgomery Mall in Montgomery, Alabama. I made the mistake of following the behavior of my equally immature coworkers (which didn't make a lot of sense because I wasn't a follower) and it led to the manager, who was exhausted and pregnant with a toddler at home and a husband who also worked there at the mall, pulling me aside saying she hired me because she thought I would be different than the others who were there when she took over. I had a job at 18 where my fussing at the computer out loud was distracting to my coworkers and they let me know it. 

Now I work in retail, and because I used to shop a lot, I know that customers can potentially hear everything we say. This is first and foremost in mind before I say anything on the sales floor. I try not to say anything that I would be embarrassed about if someone called my manager and reported it (people get upset about things that puzzle me sometimes). I'm 36 and work with a lot of younger people. For some of them, it's the only job they've ever had and they have nothing to compare it to. For others, it's a second or even third job they're holding down to pay bills and support a family, just like me. Several are also full-time students. Whether you're a part-time student living with your parents and working a few hours a week or working fifty hours a week to keep afloat, the mind doesn't always focus on work. Everyone has slip ups. 

The lack of what I consider to be professionalism in the retail workplace involves language, appearance, conversation, and dependability. It actually has less to do with how well you do your actual job and more with how you conduct yourself around your managers, coworkers, clients, and customers. 

I've come up with some guidelines.

1. Keep the language clean. Profanity doesn't belong at work, not in front of customers/clients, and not in front of your coworkers. FTR, I feel like "ass" and "bitch" are not really profanity (I have a bit of a mouth myself but save it for friends and not for my coworkers) but would still hesitate to use them in front of a coworker, even in a casual setting.

2. Dress neatly. I make $7.67 an hour and can't really afford to buy a lot of trendy items because of things like the power bill, the water bill, and the gas bill. Thanks to money I used to have, and to a spouse who has found ways to purchase well-fitting, fashionable items for me for next-to-nothing, I can dress nicely for work. One reason I love working where I work is that I can dress well. But even if I couldn't dress well I would dress neatly. Pants should stay up (this is not a problem with the young men I work with, but some young ladies should switch to dresses...those of us with big bottoms have trouble finding pants that stay put). Tops should cover your tummies and backs. Your fingernails should be clean. You shouldn't look like you just rolled out of bed, even if you have. This is not a matter of having the nicest clothes, but of taking care of the things you have. It is fine if you have to wear the same clothes to work every time, but be sure they at least look and smell clean, even if they're not (believe me, I've been there).

3. Your customer/client comes first. I like chatting with my coworkers if we have opportunity, but I always greet my customers and ask if they need assistance. I tell them my name and am sure they know where I am (my job involves putting out a LOT of merchandise, changing watch batteries and removing watch links, showing fine jewelry from cases to customers, recovering the fashion jewelry department and the beauty department, and working as a backup cashier when other lines get too long). Private conversations shouldn't be had in public. I tell you, I hear customers say all kinds of things I wish they would keep private! Also, don't complain about customers when you have customers! (One great function of the employee lounge is that it gives you a place to complain about customers. Everyone in retail bitches about customers. It's part of the game. But don't do it in front of other customers.)

4. Your manager is not your friend, but she should be your ally. Don't share too much with your managers. Work issues? Definitely. Personal issues that affect your work? Yes. But the full details of your weekend (or your day off) and all of your family drama need to be shared with others. Make friends, please. (In this same vein, managers should be careful about oversharing with their employees.)

5. Be friendly with your coworkers, but oversharing is bad. I do work with some delightful people (I mean delightful! They are sweet and fun and genuine young people) who are all best friends with each other and they still manage to work well together. I think that's great. But while they're at work, even though there's some fun banter, they still work. I'm sure they know all kinds of things about each other that I will never know...thank God. I like most of my coworkers a lot, and I care about what happens to them outside of work. I don't want a situation like I had at my last job where someone died of breast cancer because no one ever told us she was sick. But some things I just don't want to know about my coworkers (like whether you use regular or super tampons, which is a real life complaint a friend had to make about her coworkers to their manager!).

6. Do your job and take pride in it. Care about your customers and your coworkers. I like working with the public. I feel like I was made for retail. According to my company, my first job is to provide excellent customer service according to our corporate philosophy. I believe I do this every time I step into my store. What's your job description? Read it carefully. Are you getting the point? Ask your manager to be sure. It might say your job is to run a cash register, but I bet there's more to it. Look at the goals of your job.

 For a while, when people I went to school with years ago (and had high intellectual and career expectations of me, no doubt) asked what I was doing now, I was kind of shy. But you know what? They have to buy their stuff from someone, and I'm glad it's me, someone who cares about their needs being met. Do I like throwing away coffee cups they leave behind and showing ten different diamond rings only to have no purchase, or cleaning up the fitting rooms when customers leave their stuff everywhere? Not especially. But I understand that my job description of "provide excellent customer service" is multi-faceted. And I understand that the more I show customers I care, the more often they will come see me. It's job security.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The one where I ramble on about death

Death changed my family.

It changes every family it touches. I remember reading Catherine's blog when her dad died. And I remember when one of my favorite Tweeters died suddenly from the H1N1 virus, leaving four young kids and a very young widow. I've followed the changes of Joanna's family online. I remember too well that day in December 1998, when the grandfather I adored died unexpectedly in the same way his own son, my dad, would die in August 2012. We were sad because we just loved him so much (we really did), but the sadness wasn't the only thing that happened. The family dynamic shifted. The vivacious, generous, and sometimes cranky man who had been at the center of the family was gone. No more listening to Cincinnati Reds games on the radio in the basement, no more extravagant dinners out, no more taking twice as long to hand-wash dishes so he would keep telling stories. No more thick-sliced bologna from the deli, the kind with the red wrapper you peeled off.

I don't know if everyone thinks their parents will live forever, but I did. I'm a smart woman, really, but I just assumed that God would always be sure my parents, specifically my dad, would be around for me. My parents were never sickly until my father had his heart attack in 2008. And within a year of that he was well again, active and healthy. We had rarely seen eye to eye but my dad was always my cheerleader, encourager, and comic relief. He was the center of our family dinners. He was funny and kind and treated people with respect. Dad defended my bleeding-heart-liberal self against the adamant Reaganite singer from his band when I was in high school. We shared a deep, complicated faith that I came to as a child and he came into as an adult. 

At first, I thought the only obvious change would be that Dad wouldn't be around any more. I wept for my mother, who had lost the love of her life while they slept side by side. I wept for my children, my nieces, and my nephew, who were losing the only granddad that could rival my beloved Papaw. I'm not sure I cried for myself much at first. I was heartbroken that my dad and my spouse wouldn't have a chance to get to know one another, because I think it would have been a precious friendship. I was sad for all the people who knew my dad through work and church, because they looked forward to seeing him. He lit up a room.

Then a dear friend told me I would be grieving soon for the loss of my parents. I acknowledged this but wasn't really sure what it meant. (In fact, a lot of things people told me I would feel, I put aside as a list in my head but didn't really get it yet.) Now I see it. My mom is always sad. In fact, her mother, who had been sick for months, died a couple of weeks ago. Within about six weeks of my dad's death, in fact. Talk about unfair! But I don't have parents any more. I have a mom. Even my kids, whose parents divorced, have parents. In fact, they have three parents now. But I don't. I have a mom. I love her. But she's angry and bitter, and it shows. She's sad and lonely, even with lots of friends and support. Her temper is short and she asks mean and pointed questions. I call to check on her, and I text her, and I wish it were easier to spend time with her. But it's not.

This year, we're having Thanksgiving at my brother and sister-in-law's house. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and while I'm kind of dreading having to deal with the sadness this year, and not looking forward to a day of my mother weeping, I'm going to keep the day as positive as possible. My kids will be with their dad on Thanksgiving this year, so my spouse and I are going to drive down and visit a while and then just come back when things get too uncomfortable. 

I am still not over this, and it's hard for me to help anyone else get over it.

Is that selfish? Is avoiding family until I can get "more" over it a bad thing? I know there's not a "right" way to do it, but maybe there's a "wrong" way. I don't want to alienate people, but I also need time and space. My dad died when I had been married only a few months. We are still trying to get our own family dynamic going over here. I find it vastly unfair that I have to deal with both at once.

What do you think? How did you get over an unexpected death? Or did you just not get over it? Sometimes at work it hits me that my dad is dead, and I realize it's been more than two months and I'm still thinking that. I still have days when I want to call to ask him something or tell him something, then I remember I can't. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Unforeseen Joy of Saying Yes

Today, I finally learned something my spouse has been trying to get me to see for a while. I've pushed it aside before because I really like my way of doing things. I don't always think it's the best or most effective way, but I know it's my way and sometimes, that just makes it right to me (even when it's not). It's familiar and I can predict the outcome. In a life that's been filled with some upheaval, I like some predictability.

What did I learn? Saying yes is okay!

Some of my friends know the rigid rule-follower I can be (despite my seemingly rebellious views), and some know me as the laid-back, barefoot hippie I am at heart. When I'm stressed (and with all the changes that have occurred over the last few years, for better or worse, it's most of the time), I am the rigid rule-follower. But even more than a follower, I am a rule-maker. The demands I place on my children for astonishing academic, athletic, or artistic achievement are minimal. I want them to be decent people who can love and be loved (and that's truly my only want for them. We had a sermon on this at church Sunday and I can honestly say that's my wish). They are not required to maintain very tidy rooms (another source of stress for me, actually) and they are free (and expected!) to speak their minds to me about anything and everything. So I feel the so-called arbitrary rules I make aren't asking a lot. I'm rigid about bedtimes, even on weekends. I'm rigid on mealtimes and what can and cannot be had for snacks and when things must be turned on and off and what color shirts can be worn to the park (even though I have almost NO other rules regarding clothing, and my kids have dressed themselves since they were toddlers).

I focus on the small and so I lose the big picture.

An example: when my spouse and my kids were first getting to know one another last fall, we would have dinner together and the kids would say things I thought were just awful. But really, they weren't. They were just being themselves! I was so stuck on the perception of them (and more importantly, of me as a parent), that I allowed myself to be frustrated and embarrassed. I'd end up yelling at someone, and then everyone was uncomfortable and unhappy. Instead of letting my fiancee get to know my kids as they were (which is pretty cool by the way), I was trying to control a situation that was not mine to control. Did I think that once we were married, the kids would act the way I thought I wanted them to behave? Or that my spouse wouldn't notice, once we were all in the same house together, that the children suddenly liked talking about farts at dinner?

We have been married for seven months and I am finally learning to relax on some things. My spouse has almost no previous experience dealing with children, but they are enjoying getting to know one another and building relationships that are not parent-child, and not parent-teacher, but something different. Not having had stepparents, it's not something I can pretend to understand. The lack of animosity and terrible preconceived notions is something for which I am grateful every day.

Today, my youngest wanted to do a science experiment in the kitchen. It was simple. Add water and vegetable oil to a clear glass, put in a drop of food coloring, and add salt. Saying no would have been easier (I was trying to do something with raw meat) but I suddenly didn't feel like saying no. It wasn't even a messy experiment! We have to say no all the time to things that cost money. I felt empowered to say yes to my daughter. I don't have to give in to whining or indulge in every little thing (and I never have), but when I have an opportunity to say YES, I think I'll take it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

NSFW (but it's totally SFW) Thursday

Today I went to substitute teacher orientation so I can start subbing again. I let my license expire and have been waiting for a few months to get a spot in the orientation. I loved subbing! High school was my favorite, but I will probably focus on middle school since it's just a couple of miles away. Now I can supplement my income from my part-time retail work, and I am really excited about it. I wanted to be a teacher but for some reason (honestly, I don't know the reason) never pursued it. Going back to school is not an option now, so working as a sub is the closest I can get to working in the classroom. I enjoy working with kids, and I feel like it's a good way to connect with the teachers and students my kids talk about at home. 

Did you know that substitute teachers in Alabama have to show 48 hours of coursework in college, junior college, vocational school, or trade school? This is because of Title I, a program dating back to 1965. It doesn't guarantee your kids will have a sub who knows the coursework for that particular class (trust me, I've subbed in chemistry and trigonometry classes), but it does guarantee a certain level of post-high school education and a chance to have a well-rounded sub. Also, my system has a vocational high school and they are often in need of subs for  not just general coursework, but for their programs as well (like cosmetology, horticulture, welding).

The county I work in pays $66 daily for a classroom teacher sub, $7.25 per hour for classroom aides, and $9.50 per hour for a CNP (child nutrition program) sub. It's not a high paying gig by any means, but it doesn't involve weekends and keeps me in the loop in my community. Those are perks a lot of other jobs can't offer.

Now for something NOT work related. We've had a bit of a rough time here, with the unexpected death of my dad in August, and the less surprising death of my last grandparent Tuesday, plus my spouse and I have been fighting illness that's set us back a bit in the work department (also laundry and a still-broken dryer, and a litter box that won't clean itself even when we have fevers). I returned to work Tuesday night but left toward the end of my scheduled shift when my ex-husband called to tell me my mom's mother had died. She'd been in hospice care for a while, and we knew her time was short, but her death came fewer than two months after my father's death. This is my kids' week with their dad, and we decided to let our twelve year old son travel by plane to my grandmother's funeral with my mom this weekend. 

With so many decisions to be made, and changing family dynamics to deal with, and still being foggy from being so ill over the last few days, we really didn't think we'd be able to have a "date night" this week. (We like to do something on the 8th of every month since we were married on the 8th, but it doesn't always work out perfectly.)

We found out that Wednesday night's Sleigh Bells show at WorkPlay was going to be a buy-one-get-one deal for $25. When the tickets were $22 each, there was no way we could have gone. So despite not feeling all the way well, we decided at the last minute (during church, actually) to go to the Sleigh Bells show for our date night! I totally feel like a woman my age should after a very loud rock show, but it was great, and the singer was so sweet, patiently taking photos and signing autographs for her fans. We got to see friends we hadn't see in ages, and part of the fun was the spontaneity of it all. 

Here's a picture of my love and I with Alexis, the singer for Sleigh Bells. WorkPlay is still a great play to see a show!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Poor Spending Habits

This past Sautrday's edition of Marketplace Money really hit home for me. Click here to read it. (Marketplace Money airs on 90.3 WBHM in Birmingham on Saturdays at 1 pm.)

It was about being poor, specifically being the working poor. It's so easy to judge people from where we are sitting, but the past couple of years I have spent juggling bills and barely scraping by sometimes have taught me to be more understanding of other peoples' situations.

I remember days when I worked 20 miles from home, back in early 2011, calling in sick to work because I didn't have enough gas to get to work and back. One day a friend (who was in pretty dire straits herself financially, I believe) came to see me at work and gave me three bucks in change and I was able to put about a gallon of gas in my minivan. It made a huge difference to me.

Have you ever suffered a major economic disaster that made your standard of living go way down? Did you come from means and then have to downgrade your spending as an adult because you didn't make as much as your parents? What's the "stupidest" thing you've ever spent money on? Did you regret it, or did it bring enough happiness to justify the expense?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

NSFW Thursday (but it's safe for work, really)

I've posted before about my work history and how I ended up in the job I have (my first NSFW post). Retail offers lots of opportunities for people like me who enjoy talking to a lot of people every day but don't necessarily want to be friends with a lot of people. Some customers are regulars. One I call the "purse lady" (yes, even to her face) because she comes every Wednesday on our Senior Discount day and buys two purses, then brings one back a day or so later. The Purse Lady sweetly asks my opinion and then goes in a totally different direction each time. Another regular has a distinctive South Florida accent and has made it clear she loves the Kardashians and all their fragrances. Of course, plenty of other people flow through the store weekly, and I only ever know their names if I handle their credit cards or their checks. Some of them spend hundreds of dollars at a time.

I like my customers. In fact, I like retail. The pay sucks. The hours are long and unpredictable. Sometimes my coworkers behave like children (not always the youngest ones, either) and it drives me crazy. But I like the opportunity to be a friendly face and voice to people, and to help them find things they want or need. And mostly...well, I like working around pretty things.

Today I started to worry that my job is making me too materialistic.

I'm surrounded by diamonds and gemstones at work. The deep jewel tones and hearty patterns of our fall and winter merchandise catches my eye no matter which path I take through the store. Every shift, I see at least five new things I would love to bring home (if only I didn't work as a cashier in a department store!). Sweaters, scarves, blouses, earrings, slippers. I pass through the children's department and see clothes I know my girls would love.

Remember those old Toys R Us shopping sprees you used to be able to win if you were a contestant on a Nickelodeon game show? They'd show the kid running through the store, tossing toys into the cart while others cheered her on. That's me. I imagine myself, except I am at my store and I am tossing beautiful clothing and accessories and bed sheets and towels into a cart, my spouse who LOVES TO SHOP (this cannot be emphasized enough) by my side, kids and other customers cheering me on to the finish line.

Our work affects our personalities and daily life routines. Friends who are nurses and teachers approach parenting differently than those who aren't. Those with really stressful jobs may never wind down or may overcompensate on the recreational end. I feel like my job makes me want to buy things much more than I would if I didn't know they existed. New jobs are few and far between, as I have learned, so I will stick with it and just try to adjust my attitude.

But when I clock out and walk down that aisle after each shift, I'll still imagine myself blissfully grabbing clothes from the racks like they were stuffed animals and Star Wars action figures.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Extreme Provident Living

Last Friday, during "grocery store rush hour," another customer and I were in line at our local Publix behind a woman who was attempting to use several of those wonderful save-five-bucks-on-a-thirty-dollar-purchase coupons. To help her redeem these coupons, the cashier was allowing her to break her large purchase into several smaller ones.

The man in front of me was irritated enough to grumble aloud...several times. After a few minutes, my patience was tested enough for me to post a mobile Facebook update about it (I almost never do this since I use StraightTalk and the mobile web service is not the fastest). I understand trying to make coupons work. I've used those same coupons myself and worked the same kind of magic to somehow save ten or fifteen bucks on my grocery bill (not usually when others were in line behind me, though). And someone pointed out to me that maybe the store wasn't as busy when she started out, so she didn't realize she would be holding up so many people.

That gave me time to think about the coupon show I've never watched on TLC (we don't have cable any more, but even when we did I was only guilty of an occasional "Hoarding: Buried Alive" marathon or the old standby "What Not to Wear"). I look at web resources on stockpiling (her word, not mine) and wonder how that fits in to a normal, healthy life (it doesn't look anything like what the what the LDS Church recommends for what they call "provident living."). But when we stop to consider how many of our families (mine included) depend on convenience foods, it makes sense that we would wonder, "what would we need three months worth of flour/sugar/dried beans/other "old-fashioned" cooking staple for? What would we do with that much stuff?" Because though many of you out there are both practical and creative home cooks, plenty more of us are not making our own meals from scratch. So when we think of "stocking up" on basics, we're thinking frozen lasagnas and Hamburger Helper, not the raw ingredients required to make those same meals.

I wonder what people do with their ten tubes of toothpaste or fifty-eight bottles of mustard (it happens!). I wonder where the lines are drawn between being prepared and hoarding, between being frugal and being stingy. Families that are prepared for an emergency because they have a modest extra supply of basics like water, broth, and dried foods probably also know how to use those ingredients to survive. I'm not sure how having lots of extra condiments or toothpaste or fruit snacks is going to help anyone. Sure, you can live off fruit snacks for a while, but eventually your body will need other nourishment.

Where would you draw the line? Do you use coupons? Are you just a casual coupon user, or do you love to search for the very best deal all the time? Have you done the "crazy couponing" before? Also, what's in your pantry that would get you through a week or so in an emergency?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Coping Mechanisms

How do you deal with lots of little things going wrong at once? We have a kitchen plumbing issue right now along with a broken dryer, not to mention the stresses that come as a bonus with paycheck-to-paycheck life. Also, I still have moments where I'm keenly aware of my dad's absence and have to cope with those and not let them overtake whatever might be happening.
Tonight we decided to cook a deliciously simple supper, eat dessert, and watch a dark but funny movie. I have seen "What About Bob?" at least 20 times. Twenty-one if you count tonight. When the house explodes, I feel this great relief and it makes me laugh. With everything else that goes on around here, no crazy psychoanalyst has strapped explosives to us. It's all about perspective, right?
I hope you have a great weekend with no exploding houses!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Not Safe For Work

Last November, I was hired on as "holiday help" at a major retailer, and they kept me on after things slowed down post-Christmas. You would think that a single mother of three (I was unmarried at the time) would be beating down everyone's doors to get a full-time job, in a career field, with benefits.

Well, I was. And I'm acquainted with locally influential people on a friendly enough level that I would even ask on Twitter and Facebook, "do you know who's hiring someone like me?" Of course, the jobs I was interested in (nonprofit stuff, mostly) required experience, which I didn't have. (Number of people who have told me I'd be great at grant-writing: 2,369. Number of same who have given me an opportunity to do it: 0.)

What I had was a liberal arts degree and a job history that spanned...well, too many fields. The story of how I got there (and here) is long, but you might recognize some parts of it as your own -- or your friend's, or daughter's, or sister's.

I was identified in grammar school as gifted, but gifted education was not available to me once I changed schools (okay, not just schools, but geographic areas...I moved from Kentucky bluegrass to the foothills of the Sandia Mountains in New Mexico). So instead, I was just the Really Smart Kid. Eventually, as school bored me, I became the Really Smart Kid With Lackluster Grades. Also, I was bad at math (not just a little bad, but a lot bad). Teachers loved me despite my performance and classmates were intimidated by my vocabulary. A great little liberal arts college (that couldn't give me nearly enough scholarship money to even consider it) briefly courted me but I went another route.

I ended up at Auburn University Montgomery, which is a decent state school with its share of excellent faculty (especially in their business school and in their English department) and a lot of interesting staff. But then I couldn't settle on a major. I was living with my parents still, and gaga over my now-ex-husband, who was a few years older than me and had already graduated and was working. School was not my focus; a career was definitely not my focus (I was actually very interested in politics and public relations but my other half didn't have the stomach or the patience for those things so I avoided them to keep things sane). I didn't have any ambitions of being a stay-at-home-mom at the time, but I really had no idea what career I could have that would fit in with my fiancee's plans to...well, never leave Alabama.

I got married in April 1998, and that August I received my Bachelor of Liberal Arts. It meant that I had taken a lot of liberal arts classes (and I had, and I'd loved most of them). I had a job as a technical writer and editor for 14 months, then got a job as a caseworker for the county child support program. I was there six months before we ended up leaving Montgomery for Birmingham. There were no jobs in that field in my new county, and I ended up working for 17 months in online banking (which was a new field) before leaving to work as an administrative assistant at a nonprofit downtown. 

That last job lasted five months. I was pregnant with my second child, and constantly in the emergency room for unexpected bleeding. I was stressed about leaving my very young toddler son in daycare (I worked at a child care resource and referral agency and if that doesn't make you want to keep your kids out of day care, I don't know what will). We had to sacrifice a lot of extras but I was able to stay home with my children from February 2001 to March 2010, only working as a substitute teacher during the school day when they were all in class. 

By March 2010 the economy was drastically different and our family needed money. I got my insurance license and went to work in a friend's agency. within a few months, my marriage fell apart, my friend fired me, and I was unemployed for a few months before getting hired full-time at a department store. My employer was so inflexible with my schedule that I ended up leaving there and living off my divorce settlement for the summer after my divorce because summer care for three kids is costly (as in it was going to cost my whole paycheck plus some every week to pay for day care for my school-aged people).

Finding a job once school started seemed impossible. I went on so many interviews, driving all the gas out of my broken-down minivan in my sad attempts to find employment. My love interest (to whom I am now quite blissfully wed) encouraged me to try a particular store, and their flexible scheduling and long operating hours made it a perfect fit (the pay is terrible, it really is, but they work with the custody schedule I have with my kids' dad and few other places would). 

Did you notice that I haven't mentioned any new skills I gained outside the field of mothering during the nine years I was home? I did nothing but be a mother. My three children were born in just under three years. I was busy. And then when I wasn't busy being busy I wanted to sleep. It didn't occur to me that someday I would have to work. Reason even published a letter I wrote about "Mommy Wars." 

As a result, I am 36 and have a defaulted student loan and make just above minimum wage working between 15 and 25 hours a week. This is the only job I can find. I have interviewed for countless other jobs and have not been hired. Those who know me know I am intelligent, bright, personable, and capable. I'm not the only one like me out there. The one benefit of the job being part-time is that I am not spending two hundred dollars a month on after school care for my two youngest kids, and it's only seven miles away so it doesn't tax my car and gas tank like driving downtown would.

Before criticizing the unemployed and the underemployed, investigate their stories. And those of you who are undertaking the beautifully terrifying challenge of being a stay-at-home parent, be sure you invest in yourself a little during those years. As hard as it is to find work that's rewarding both spiritually and financially right now, I still don't regret the time I spent not working. I just wish I'd thought of student loans and my future a little more often.

I'm not always kind, but when I am, it's to total strangers

My father, a healthy and fit 57 year old man, died unexpectedly on August 20, 2012. My kids and I talked to him on the phone at 8 pm the night before and my brother called me at 6 am on the 20th to tell me he had passed away.

I walk myself through the events of that morning and it still feels like I'm watching someone else's movie. Maybe later I'll share the hairier details (there was flailing, and orange-juice-dropping, and cursing). Today I just want to share a story about my dad, one that defines his character in my eyes.

The summer of 1985 my family lived in Lexington, KY. We had just gotten rid of our blue Chevette (which, okay, I really loved, with its pierced vinyl seats and skin-melting metal seatbelts) and replaced it with another blue Chevrolet -- an Astro minivan with totally removable bench seats and enough room for our beloved English Springer Spaniel *and* a cooler for drinks and snacks! Money, as always, was scarce. My mom worked full time at the UK bookstore and so I spent my days bouncing between the bookstore and being at home or (sometimes) in class with my dad, who was an engineering student. I was nine. My brother stayed with the woman who had been our long-time caregiver in Lexington (and to whom I am still very close) but I got to play semi-adult during the day.

I remember sitting in the front seat while my dad and I were driving around running errands. Remember how the eighties had lots of hitchhikers? My father decided we would pick up a hitchhiker that day. I was sworn to secrecy because my mother would have had a fit (I know how I'd feel if my kids' dad let a stranger ride in the car with them!). Dad had me move to the very back seat of the van, "just in case." The guy got in and told my dad he needed a ride and would appreciate something to eat.

The whole incident was really uneventful. We drove to a KFC and the three of us got something to eat, then we dropped the hitcher off somewhere I don't remember. What's memorable about this is that I remember it at all.

My dad wasn't perfect, and we "had words" quite often. But I always knew his love was unconditional. It was based on his faith, and his belief that God loves us and there's nothing we have done to earn it, and nothing we can do to lose it.

When I was 19, I worked in my university library. My college utilized work-release prisoners for various projects and, as far as I know, never had any issues. The dean of the library called me into his office once and expressed concern that I was being "too kind" (his words exactly) to the work-release guys. Others had observed me being cordial and thought it put me in danger. I listened to what he had to say but already knew that I wasn't going to change my behavior. At dinner, I reported the meeting with the dean to my parents. My dad said to never stop being kind or cordial, especially to those who society deems less deserving of our kindness and cordiality.

And while now I am trying to avoid the trap of looking back on my dad and our relationship with the famed rose-colored glasses, I'm glad I remember these stories. My family can tell you I am not always kind or sweet. But my nature is to be that way, and when I'm not doing it, it's because I'm fighting who I am. My father treated everyone he encountered with kindness and dignity and respect, and I want to do the same, and I want, someday, for my kids to be scolded for being too kind or too friendly to people everyone else has given up on. That will be the best legacy.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I consider myself a "static transient." My heart is always on the move while my body stays still. I care about people and ideas and ideals, and it's time to start talking about them all.