Saturday, January 23, 2010


I have loved charm bracelets since my Mother first showed me hers, with a collection of heart charms from her girlfriends.  My bracelet and first charm, a heart, were gifts from my grandmother.  I was in the seventh grade and it sparked my interest in collecting and commemorating

Nancy, a middle school friend, gave me my second charm, a silver skate.  I added a charm from every country I visited in Europe following high school graduation, and assorted others.  I stopped collecting charms for that bracelet because it is noisy and heavy; its jingle causes people to turn their heads, probably expecting a dog. 
I started another charm bracelet with elephant charms on it.  I have always liked elephants and now have upright elephants, elephants on all four legs, 3-D elephants, cartoonish elephants, raised and lowered trunk elephants and more.  It is an amusing bracelet and appropriate for wearing to certain political events.
Several years ago my Mother gave me a gold charm bracelet that she had purchased at an auction. Some of the charms were garish and I removed them.  I kept the sweetest ones, all engraved with love messages from “Greg” to “Olivia”.   My favorite is a simple heart with a tiny stone, engraved “Olivia, mia bella madonna.  Vostra amare mio vito.”  Loosely translated, it says that Olivia is his beautiful woman and the love of his life. 
What a wonderful sweet man Greg must have been.  They would have been my parents’ ages, having children in the 40’s and 50’s, the dates on the charms.  Olivia was very lucky.  Greg was too.

I wear the bracelet in part because it symbolizes what must have been a beautiful and loving relationship.  I have added a few charms of my own, including gifts from friends, my Father’s youth ring, and a charm given to my Mother from one of her dear friends. 

Probably a bank teller or another stranger, in a position to see my wrist, has assumed my name is Olivia.  But I don’t mind.  I like keeping her memory alive.

Curious to know what started the charm phenomenon, I read about charms and found that they actually date back several hundred years BC.  Then they were considered sacred or protective and thought to give their wearers power over evil.  They were inscribed with drawings of gods or symbols and generally made of gold.

Eventually charms became simply jewelry.  In Victorian England, bracelets with charms were popular; Queen Victoria wore one with small lockets containing photographs of her children.  Today there are many such lockets worn on chains or as charms on bracelets.

During WWII, charms were given as gifts to girlfriends and wives by returning American servicemen from places they had been in Europe.

I have given them to special young women in my life.  As I have, I am sure they will keep them and remember the occasions that they were charmed for and fondly remember those who gave them the charms.

A charm bracelet is a special way to remember someone.  The one started by Greg for Olivia feels like a little bit of good luck when I wear it.  I have been wearing it a lot lately.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

An Anniversary Absent Celebration

January is a month of new beginnings, good-byes, remembrances and anticipation.  We lost my Father in January a few years ago; it is the birth month of a dear friend who became another breast cancer statistic; my sweet yellow lab is 13 years old this month and thus my days as his companion are numbered; and it is the anniversary date of my unemployment.

January could be a really depressing month; instead I have been thinking about what has been very positive about this past year of unemployment.

  • Time with my family:  Since returning to work when my children were young, I made career choices that limited my travel and hours, but always felt my time was divided to their disadvantage.  This year, we have had more time than ever before to spend together.  I have also been able to visit my siblings and my Mom, accompanied by my laptop and portable job-hunting office.
  • Friends:  There is nothing like a crisis to realize who your true friends are and how important they are to your sanity.  Two other dear friends are likewise unemployed; we share ideas, give honest criticism of resumes and cover letters and hold one another up when we’re teetering.  Sometimes we just let loose and have a good old time on the pity pot.
  • God time:  We have had our ups and downs this year.  I have been plenty mad about my situation and held it against our creator on occasion.  One thing about God, he is forgiving and never gives up on you.  He shows me the way; I listen and move two steps forward and then turn a deaf ear and move a step backward.  Just please don’t pray for my strength.  We’re working on that and it has been plenty tested.  Instead please pray for my grace and improved communications skills.   
  • Dog days:  Dallas the dog has had a really great year.  As he has aged, he has become more attached to me and we have spent many hours rogether..  He waits patiently while I finish one more cover letter before going for the W-A-L-K. He dashes out the back door as if he were a young pup and not really 91 years old in dog years.  He licks my hand when I cry and his undying love and admiration have often gotten me through the worst of days.
  • Blogging:  In August, I started this blog as a place to talk about the unemployment ups and downs and do something with a few of the more than 5,000 photographs I take annually to record the beauty I see.  It has given me an outlet, strengthened my writing skills, sometimes given the days their purpose and upped my confidence.  I am grateful to US Airways Magazine for including me among their blog contributors!
  • Family History: I joined the Daughters of the American Revolution this year.   Through DAR I have developed a greater appreciation for geneaology.  My sons and I are also working hard to scan and read all of the 700+ letters my father wrote during WWII and in his years of college and summer camp.  It is a fascinating history; I am compiling ideas for a book.  The letters do not replace having my Father in person but they do give me a chance to know him better.
  • Networking:  It has been so interesting to expand my network of contacts.    Giving back is critical.  Following through with promises means the world to someone who is unemployed, and you will forever have their admiration.  I am grateful to somany people, and the list keeps growing as I continue this process.
  • Timing:  Learning I am not in control has been a big lesson.  This growth process has included disappointment, endless waiting, studying and patience.  I dare not say I have learned this lesson lest it prolong the testing.  Let’s just say that I have relinquished control and am eager for the next assignment!
  • Fun for free:  The Washington area is filled with free opportunities for fun and learning. I have rediscovered the C&O Canal, visited all of the Smithsonians, attended special exhibits and spent a lot of time walking and enjoying the beauty we have right here at home. As a result of many of these excursions, I write  for The Examiner and enjoy the chance to share my discoveries with others.
  • Time to travel:  I have been very fortunate to do some budget-conscious traveling this year.   Each trip included special moments with friends and family and made some contribution toward my job search.
  • Career decisions:  Being a generalist (“jack of all trades, master of none”), I have had a difficult time focusing on just one thing I would like to do next.  This time has given me the opportunity to study different career paths and eliminate some things I no longer want to focus on.  It has also made me realize how much I love working and miss the camaraderie and the everyday mental stimulation that comes from seeking answers, associating with interesting people and working toward a goal. 
  • Finances:  Having no income humbles you in a hurry but also provides an opportunity downsize and recognize ways to curb expenses.  I have cut back in many areas and I am unlikely to be as wasteful ever again. 
  • Blessings:  I keep a list of blessings, writing down a few things each day.  Some days I have scraped the bottom of the barrel but have always come up with something.  Other days I have tired of writing before completing the list. Yesterday's entry:  "Sandhill cranes are amazing; I was so close to a pair who began calling for the others --- what a beautiful racket they made."
  • Staying positive:   I have found that I need to keep my spirits up by keeping time with up spirits.  Likewise, I need to keep focused on being a positive spirit for others. 
  • Time for talents:  I have had time to focus on hobbies and talents that I had nearly forgotten about.   I love photography and I have a good eye for composition.  My Canon Digital Rebel XTI and a couple of good lenses help make up for lack of experience.  I have spent more time cooking and learning to prepare new and different foods.  I have enjoyed my cooking a little too much this year and it shows.
  • Nature: I have spent more time enjoy the out of doors this year than in the last five.  I have taken trips where the focus has been on nature, and have had time to open my eyes and enjoy the beauty in my own garden.  I have become an avid bird watcher.  For Christmas I received a 17-year old juniper bonsai.  I accepted the adoption and the lifelong responsibility and named her Jennifer Juniper.  I think the bonsai is symbolic of my newfound patience and my willingness to wait for something special.  
By next January, there will be better things to celebrate.  Meanwhile, I deal with the disappointments and  occasional good news, network like crazy, attend courses and keep learning, maintain an open mind about what I am willing to do next, and patiently await that which has been a long time in coming and will be oh so worth it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Wish Book

I went to a ladies' party the other evening; one of those events where the real purpose is to sell something but everyone knows in advance and doesn't care because they want to get together anyway.   This one was at the home of a good friend and featured silver jewelry.  I broke two rules during the party because of something magical-sounding, the Wish Book.

There were very nice women there and I got to spend a little time networking and visited briefly. I bought a necklace to give as a gift and stuck to my budget. 

During the social time, with my glass of wine in hand and interesting women gathered around the table viewing the merchandise, I spoke out of turn while the jewelry distributor was discussing her wares.

It all started because she mentioned that she has a "Wish Book" where customers can record their wish items are and she would make sure you received what you wished for.  I felt the magic and enthusiastically interrupted her, waving my hand like an excited schoolgirl and practically shouting, "that is so cool.  You actually FIND someone to buy the things we want?"  

Of course her implication was that we all had husbands who could be contacted and talked into giving us the gift items.  Having no husband, I was using my imagination and thinking how really fun that would be to have a fairy godmother who could make wishes, albeit it for moderately priced silver jewelry, come true.  Broken rule #1 - Do not interrupt or add humor or new ideas to the discussion.

She looked at me as if I had just stood on the dining room table and disrobed.  But she was professional and politely explained that husbands and "even girlfriends" were the potential givers, not anonymous donors.  

Not one to leave loose ends, I finished my point, and with that pulled a double whammy, further elaborating on my creative ideas but saying the no-no words of all "parties" of this ilk. 

"You could make a LOT of money if you found the donors, too," I said.  "It would be sort of like matchmaking but with gifts.  Really, you should think about offering that service.  Women would sign up and might pay a lot."  I heard her sucking in air in disbelief as soon as I said, "make a lot of money".  Broken rule #2 - do not talk about the real reason you are there.

WIth that, I had done the unthinkable.  I actually acknowledged that this was about money and she was there, not for the socializing, but because she makes a profit from the sales.  We all knew that, but it is something that you keep silent about in this party business.  The rule is that you play along and come for the fun and pleasantries and networking, knowing that you are making money for someone.

It should be just fine to acknowledge the true purpose of something; until that point I hadn't really comprehended that we were masking it.   It's all about pretending - wish books without the magic of really making a wish come true, and acknowledging the true reason behind a party.  

What I thought was light and funny conversation was tantamount to attaching a cement block to myself and jumping into the river, or perhaps more realistically, opening the wish book and revealing what was really inside the covers.  

I should have been a better reader of facial expressions and guffawing noises. Not only did I not read well, but I chose to abandon all sense of decorum and press the issue, blowing it by mentioning money.   We were supposed to focus simply on the jewelry and pretend it was all for fun.  

For those few uncomfortable minutes, I was not the life of the party but the ink spot on the carpet, the elephant in pajamas, the tarnish on the silver jewelry.  Even so, I was glad I went to the "party".

Finding donors for those who are in need of wish list funding still sounds like a great business to me. My wish list is filled with things like finding a job, taking a fabulous trip, adding to my retirement fund, easing the suffering of the Haitian earthquake victims, and keeping my children safe from harm.  Imagine the party to celebrate any one of those wishes coming true!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Good Cry Day

Call me a control freak, but I am not a crier.   I can only remember crying once at the movies (I can’t tolerate anything bad happening to children) and unless something strikes a particularly emotional chord, even the most compelling, personal testimony or pronouncements won’t bring me to tears.  I can be just shy of cynical about some things emotional.  And then I can see a hurt animal, or miss my kids and I can rival Niagara Falls.  But this week, I knew there was one coming on, and I needed to plan for it.

There are lots of studies about the benefits of crying.  Unleashing is good now and again (for me it’s once or twice a year), and the accumulated manure of 2009 seemed to me a good preface for the annual releasing of the demons.  The torture of unemployment, from the economic impact to the terminal worry of what is going to happen for the rest of my life, had gotten to the point I knew I needed to take my finger out of the dike and just let off some of the pressure.

I cleared my schedule and gave myself permission for a whole day of whining to self, crying, indulging in behemoth waves of self-pity --- but for 12 hours only.  I told a couple of friends, and planned the day around the time my youngest would return to college after Christmas vacation, and near the date of the anniversary of my Father’s death.

The truth is, my crying day was a great day.  I wasn’t sad, but very happy almost all day, except for about an hour when I cried my eyes out, let loose a flood of tears and shook the plaster walls of my house with my screams.  But the interesting thing is that it wasn’t unemployment, missing my Dad or my children, or anything personal that made me cry. 

What triggered it was something I saw while walking the dog late in the morning.  Hanging in the tree of a house down the street, attached to what looked like fishing line, was an enormous hawk’s wing – so large that you couldn’t believe the rest of the bird wasn’t attached.  There was bird meat where the wing formerly met the body.  Clearly the poor raptor had gotten caught in line, flown to the tree, become tangled in the tree branches (the line was wrapped around and around the branch) and then tried to escape, probably dangling from the tree until the wing ripped off.  The body was nowhere to be found.  It was horrible, and I cried for the poor bird, for the pain inflicted by the torture of its final hours.  I probably would have gotten the cry out anyway, but this way I paid tribute to a beautiful creature, prayed for his soul, and took the pressure off the plugged tear ducts. 

In honor of the poor hawk, here are some tips for making it a successful crying day, and how I approached MY cry day.

Recipe for a Successful Pity Party and How I Blew It

Make sure you do not sleep well the night before.  I went to bed on time, after a good day of exercise, networking, education and personal time.  I slept like a log, for nearly 8 hours, and woke up to a dog nose gently nudging my fingers from the floor below. .

Move as if your legs were made of lead.   I bounded out of bed, fed my enormous, grateful goldfish on the way to the back door to let the dog outside, stopping to turn up the thermostat and admire the view of the garden, all the while moving at a rapid, enthusiastic pace.

Don’t drink your pick-me-up coffee; eat an unhealthy breakfast.  The night before, I set the coffee maker to brew a strong pot.  It was music to my ears when it turned itself on during the dog nose incident.  I fixed a delicious oatmeal breakfast.

Choose a dark, rainy, cold day.  My cry day dawned cold but beautiful.  Wispy, fast moving clouds filled the otherwise blue sky.  The wind blew and the bare trees in the backyard swayed. 

Focus on how much the world is out to get you, depriving you of time with friends and opportunity for fun.  Two friends contacted me to see how I was doing, sharing their news and well wishes.  Another friend sent a job tip my way, which resulted in communication with a good networker and more job leads.

Think about all the things you do not have and want and will probably never get.  I looked around me and saw great fortune – family photographs, reminders of travel here and abroad, books filled with fascinating information and ideas, enviable furniture and furnishings, and a really comfy seat on the couch with a lovely view of the garden and a warm blanket to drape over my legs.

Focus on family problems and bones you have to pick with close family members.   One of the first things I saw that morning (next to the fish tank) was the bonsai tree my sons gave me for Christmas; with it were wishes that I have a new hobby to enjoy during my time off .  Next, I checked my IPhone and saw the previous day’s text message from my youngest, ending with “love you.”  I am generously blessed with love and the two best man-children any Mom could have. 

Spend your day in a room with no windows so that you will not be distracted.  I started my day in my favorite room of the house where I saw the beauty unfolding and noticed a whole new section of blooms on Sham, my friend the shamrock plant, and a tiny increase in the growth of the stalk on which an amaryllis flower will soon be blooming. 

Look at your calendar and lament the fact that you have nothing interesting on your agenda for the coming weeks.  My calendar for the next month includes: a visit to the Smithsonian Naturalist Center in Leesburg; a concert in the Dumbarton Concert Series; a walk on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal; a trip to the Phillips Collection with a friend; two networking meetings; a request to provide a proposal for PAID work; several coffee dates with friends; a walk in the Congressional Cemetery with another friend (I photograph headstones as a hobby); a trip to see my Mother and other family members; lunches and dinners with friends; and of course – Groundhog Day (celebration plans not yet complete)!

Stay away from nature; avoid all animal interactions.  Over coffee I watched the birds enjoying their suet and a pomegranate that was too far gone for human consumption.  The cardinals took turns eating and squawking the gossip to the neighborhood.  A big fat squirrel tried to eat the suet but lost his balanced and hurled to the ground; he later returned and had a large meal.  Downey, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers enjoyed their fill of the treats.  Chickadees, a mockingbird, sparrows, a pair of wrens, a gnatcatcher, a nuthatch, and a titmouse all visited at some point during my newspaper and coffee time.  Additionally, I had entertainment from the world’s sweetest 12 year old yellow dog who chased his tail and proudly carried around his stuffed bunny.

Do not exercise.  I worked out with a fitness DVD; it gave me energy and heightened my already uppity spirits.

Eat all the junk food you want.  I ate healthy food all day – hot, organic herbal tea throughout the day; homemade bean soup for lunch; an organic Pink Lady apple (my favorites); a salad; and leftover Indian food from Haandi, a local favorite.

If you are unemployed, focus on how horrible it is and how unfair it is that you were singled out for this situation.   I am one of the fortunate ones.  I am not starving to death; I could live off body fat alone for some time.  My financial situation is ugly but my head is above water so far.  During this year, have enjoyed many things and discovered new talents and interests.  If I had not become unemployed, I might not be nearly this enlightened and certainly not this relaxed.  I haven’t had to wear pumps or pantyhose in months!
      If you are planning a Pity Party, I hope yours will be a dismal failure as you, too, realize all that there is to be thankful for.  Remember that a good party requires guests – and a worthy theme.