Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Forever Changed

The other day in yoga class I looked in the mirror and instead of focusing on the bumps and curves I wish were not there, I looked myself in the eyes and realized I have changed, in ways I am just starting to realize.  That particular day I recognized how fortunate I am to be able to go to yoga at 10 am and how unlikely it is that I would have seriously tried a yoga class before this period of soul-searching.  And I liked what I saw behind my eyes.

Here are just a few of the ways I am different since I stopped working full time:
Helping Others:  Never have I felt so vulnerable, at the mercy of others and sometimes downright desperate for someone to give me a hand.  I have joined networking groups, made friends and expanded friendships with people who are also unemployed, and done my best to spend time with others who could help me in my search and lend a contact here and there.  My sympathy for the unemployed, the homeless, the downtrodden and the needy is at a higher level than it has ever been and I know that I will be a better friend and volunteer because of this experience.
Good Health Care:  My COBRA expires next month and I will lose my BlueCrossBlueShield Federal plan.  Recognizing this was happening, I have spent the first half of this year catching up on all the doctor visits and medical appointments while I still had choices.  I do not understand why legislation has not been enacted to allow employees to continue COBRA coverage beyond 18 months since the insured pays the full cost plus a premium. Starting next month I will be enrolled in an HMO that costs almost as much as my current plan but doesn't come close to its benefits; none of my current doctors are covered (many I have seen for more than 10 years). While I am glad that there is an affordable option, I am saddened that the cost is high and the benefits are inflexible and far fewer.  Health care is a privilege, not a right.  I now realize how fortunate I was to have had that great coverage.
Cost Per Hour:  I have taken on several consulting and part time hourly jobs during this period including a very short stint working for an estate sales company, a month as a Census worker, a few weeks as a special events consultant, provided administrative support for a conference, performed some brief government relations work, helped write a federal grant application, served on a review panel for federal grants, and a few other miscellaneous tasks.  Additionally, I have participated in paid surveys, clipped coupons, shopped at consignment stores, consigned some of my clothing, sold items on eBay and sold used books on Amazon.  I have also taken in boarders including international students and others assigned to the Washington, DC area temporarily.  In short, I have taken advantage of every opportunity I can think of to make a little money while waiting for full time employment.  

Getting an hourly wage makes you think differently about expenses.  3 hours of Census work would pay for the pressure cooker I recently purchased.  That is a lot of hard work for a pressure cooker.  I would have had to work for 10 hours at the Census to pay the grocery bill for last week.  Now when I shop, I look closely at every price.  I think I appreciate my purchases more, too.  I don't know if the pressure cooker was the smartest purchase I have made, but it is fun to have a new toy.  
Appreciating Living Things:  While I have always been a nature lover, this time has opened my eyes to many little things I had previously taken for granted such as spider webs with drops of morning dew, the sound of the cicadas, the fireworks of the lightening bugs, the late afternoon and early morning light in the garden, new life in the pond (the minnows had a slew of babies and the tiny black tadpoles have turned into tiny little timid frogs), the antics of my old dog, the annoying but really cute chipmunks that live in the garden, my amazing bullfrogs, and the night noises of the owls, coyotes and foxes.  When I was running around trying to multitask while working full time, I paid no attention to most of these things.

Slowing Down:  I take my time doing some things now and try to make them more enjoyable.   Ironing, cooking, washing dishes,  and even cleaning are tasks that formerly got in the way of other things, or I paid someone else to do.  As I have de-stressed, I have learned to make lemonade out of the lemony activities.   And if a project at home doesn't get finished in record time, it really doesn't matter. 
Yoga:  For years I have been told by various friends that I should take yoga.  Perhaps if someone had shouted the obvious at me, I might have done it sooner:  "You are one of the most inflexible people on earth and yoga will help you with your physical and mental flexibility problems."   After three months of yoga, I am mentally more flexible than I have ever been and physically I am getting better but that is more of a struggle.  I labor through many poses in the 90-minute hot class.  In one of the poses the teachers calls on us each to look like a "beautiful lotus blossom." I have never looked like that, nor will I.  But every day I get better.   And I will keep making time for yoga.

Volunteering:  I have done more volunteering during my extended time off than I have since I became a Mom (26 years ago).  Volunteering isn't optional for me anymore.  Hard working smart volunteers are needed by many organizations in so many capacities.   I have enjoyed doing different things with charitable groups and meeting new people.  There will always be a place for me somewhere and I plan to keep up with this new habit.
Sharing:  I just had the delightful experience of sharing my home with two teachers from Spain.  I'm not saying every day was wonderful; we all had good days and bad.  But I learned so much from them and I enjoyed sharing my home and learning more about a place I really want to visit.
Focusing on Positive things:  Yesterday I had a bad day.  But this week a number of nice things have happened to me and I am trying hard to focus on them.  Here is a sampling:
  • When I was weeding the garden, a tiny baby tree frog hopped on my hand.  I like to think that it was one of those that I raised from tadpoles in the safety of a colander in the pond (to keep the fish from eating them).
  • I lost a pearl earring and found it at the end of the day.
  • I received two very sweet cards from friends who care about me.
  • I received a gift of two female bullfrogs to put in the pond full of male frogs.  They are all quite happy and contented and there is a lot of noise out there in the evenings.
  • A friend made a job connection for me today.  
  • My guests from Spain took me out to dinner on Friday night and I took them to Great Falls Park, Maryland, and for a night drive through DC. 
  • My serissa bonsai bloomed - tiny white flowers.  Beautiful. 
I am different now, in a more compassionate, relaxed and appreciative way.  Maybe those are the lessons I needed to learn before moving to the next job.  I'm ready.  Really ready.  But I'm cool about it and meanwhile I continue de-stressing and am open to more change experiences.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Some things are worth sweating for

On a recent morning, a good friend and I got out early  and visited Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington, DC.  For an hour or so we explored with wonder and delight the acres of wetlands and ponds and thousands of water lilies and water lotuses.  They are absolutely stunning and we sweated like the dickens while we enjoyed their beauty.  
We were glad we went - absolutely - but with early morning temperatures above 90-degrees combined with unbearable humidity, let's just say we were uncomfortable, a little bit grumpy and easily tired.  What kept us going was the reward of seeing the flowers and wetlands.
Bikram Yoga is worth sweating for.  In the 105-degree room, for 90 minutes several times each week, I sweat out the stress, meditate and pray (sometimes I pray just that I will survive the grueling, sweaty exhausting experience), work every muscle group and gain mobility in places that had not moved so much in many years.  I wish I had started sweating and working on my flexibility sooner.  It is harder than any exercise class I have ever taken, and the benefits far outweigh the buckets of sweat. 
Anything that requires that much sweating has to be worthwhile.  That is true of most things in life.  The more I give, the more I receive in return.  
Job hunting has definitely involved a lot of sweating.  While the returns have not always been what I anticipated, there have been many blessings on this sweaty journey - new friends and contacts, more time with my family, opportunities to do new and different things, time to appreciate and spend outdoors in nature, discovering new hidden talents,  and volunteering.   

I am prepared to keep on sweating and do what it takes to cross the finish line.  Meanwhile, those lotuses were really something and I am exceedingly grateful for my yoga classes and the fantastic instructors.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

When you are in a hurry

When I must use a public restroom, it is not because I want to be entertained or, worse, detained by ambiguity.  I need to go.  I am a women in my 50's; very simple.

I am not complaining about lines to get into bathrooms; we women are used to waiting while the men sail in and out.  Actually lines solve ambiguity problems; where there is a line, it is obvious which door is mine.   What I am peeved about are the cute little distracting and sometimes slightly ambiguous signs indicating the gender of those the room is intended for.
Last week I was confronted with these signs at a restaurant on Kent Island in Maryland.  Encountering the non-male one first, I was confused. Chocolate was not what I was after and it was only after I saw the sign clearly intended for boys that I was certain where I should not go.  But what do Chocolate and Biscuits have to do with restrooms?  Please don't detain me.  I am already in a hurry.

This sort of uncertainty is very bad for children, who are easily humiliated anyway; in fact it might cause some to avoid public restrooms because they are uncertain which room is intended for them.

As a child I remember going to a seafood restaurant where the signs said "Buoys" and "Gulls" and I came back to the table and asked my parents what to do - an unwelcome distraction when I had other business to take care of.  It was humiliating to have to acknowledge that I needed to use said facilities and worse was that they made me feel so embarrassed by pointing out how "obvious" the answer was.  How many other poor youngsters have been too embarrassed to ask and spent a miserable uncomfortable time at the dinner table waiting for someone else of the same gender to make tracks so they could be sure where to go.

I don't remember any such silliness in any of the European countries I have visited.  They do not mess with your mind over such simple things.  We Americans should follow their good example and use universal restroom signs everywhere.

If you are in charge of restroom signs, have pity on those of us who are in a hurry and make it obvious and simple.   This Gull would appreciate it very much.

Jumping to Conclusions

My dog, now in his 13th year, still provides insight into human nature and gives me a lot to write and ponder about.

Recently a dear friend visited from Texas.  He remembers her and happily greeted her when she arrived for her welcome dinner and presented her with his stuffed bunny, his challenge to the endeared one to play a game of keepaway.

A few days later when she was leaving, he panicked when he saw the suitcase, neatly packed and deposited by the front door.  He pouted, got that hang-dog, world coming to the end, it's all about me and I know this means Mom is leaving again look as he sat, shown here, guarding the suitcase.  He jumped to conclusions, as old dogs are prone to do, and he was in fact wrong.  And boy did he make himself miserable with worry.

As most things do these days, this makes me think about the job-hunting process and how easy it is for people to make assumptions and then take subsequent actions based on incorrect information.  More than one headhunter has looked quickly at my resume and commented that most of my career has been working for the federal government, when in fact I have had exactly one federal position and at least 9 others.  Because they don't know what "government relations" means, they assume that it means working for the government but it is really a misleading term for lobbyist, which is vastly different than working for the government.  As with old Dallas, trying to convince someone who has made an incorrect assumption that they need to re-examine the facts is probably futile.

My answer to the dog and suitcase problem is to hide the suitcases from him until time to go out the door, then put the dog out the back door while the suitcases go through the front.  As for the headhunters or hiring managers, I learn a little something from each of them.  I have made changes in my resume to make clearer the positions I have held.  The key to survival, and moving a little further ahead in this game is to learn from mistakes, be they my own or others'.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Time to enjoy the little things

This unexpected and prolonged time off of work has meant that I have had opportunities to embrace special moments, great and small.  Here are some of the recent highlights
Final Graduation  The youngest graduated from college.   Wow.  Phew.  His older brother took him skydiving for graduation.  I was so relieved when they both returned and did not find their nervous, pre-flight joking about life insurance and forgetting to pull the cord at all funny.  Yes I am blessed to have them both alive and well educated.  We have had a lot of time together this summer.  Two of us are looking for work.
Happy, Liberated Frogs  Lucky the frog has completely acclimated to life in the pond.  He began croaking his lonesome "jug-a-rum" noise about a week after his liberation from the meat department at The Great Wall grocery store.  Last week my friend and I liberated two pals for him.  We chose smaller frogs, in hopes that one or both would be ladies.  We named them Lucky Lady and Sam.  They seemed stunned by the pond at first and then quickly became used to the good life.  Now two frogs sing at all hours of the day and night.  I hope that means that the third one is in fact a lady frog.  One day this week I bent down to pull a stick out of the pond and Lucky was right beneath me, unaware, and begin his "humm..jug-a-rum..." right next to me.  Wow what a voice and the echo off the water was intense.  He quickly realized I was there and made a loud "hruumph" and dove to the bottom.

On July 4 we had quite a show from the two male frogs, croaking and puffing out their chins and hopping all over one another.  It seems Lucky Lady was nowhere to be found and not receiving their signals that they were interested.  But we are still not sure if Lucky Lady is a man or a lady.  We can't get close enough to clearly see the color under the chin and the size of the ear circles.  The croaking goes on day and night.  It is quite a show.
One of the many creative displays at the Chesapeake Bay Exploration Center
Glorious days, Unplanned fun  There have been many beautiful weather days this year, but last week was exceptionally wonderful because it was so beastly hot the week before.  The first morning of the trio of glorious days, I woke up cheerful and ready to enjoy the day.  I cancelled out of my Bikram yoga class (sweating in 105-degrees was an unpleasant thought when it was barely 80-degrees outdoors).  I called my friend and an hour later we met around the beltway and drove together to Annapolis, Maryland and then over the Bay Bridge to Kent Island.   There we enjoyed walking by the water, eating crab cakes at a new waterside restaurant, Bridges, and visited the Chesapeake Bay Exploration Center that was filled with interesting hands-on exhibits (some creatively displayed in old kitchen appliances) and an observation tower with a spiral staircase.  The best part about the whole day is that it was completely spur of the moment (no time to make plans or change plans) and absolutely relaxing.
curious catbird in a ray of sunshine
Bird in the House  Last week I left the door open to let in the cool breeze.  When I returned to the room, a curious catbird flew in.  After a few disoriented minutes for both of us, including the dog barking when he finally realized his space had been invaded, and a sweet moment when the bird hopped on my wrist and looked up at me ask if to say "please help me out", my son interceded and suggested I simply open the window next to the bird and let him out.  Sometimes it takes another person to make you realize the obvious solutions.  Out he flew and that was that.  Today he was in the garden, intrigued by the bucket of compost.

Praying Mantis  When I sat down for lunch at Kent Island last week, a small brown praying mantis flew onto my arm and began to pray.  It was such a sweet moment and I felt the urge to join him, all the while conscious that restaurant patrons don't always take kindly to seeing "bugs" while eating.  So I held my hands out so he could stairstep up them, thinking he would just fly off and go about his business.  He had no intention of leaving me so I walked to the outskirts of the patio where there were small bushes to  place him on.  A little girl noticed him and said to her grandmother, "look, that lady has a grasshopper."  Clearly not a bug fan (at least in restaurants), the grandmother scowled; I thought it best not to show her that it was actually a praying mantis.  I put him on the bush, hopeful that he would find others of his kind and glad to have had that little moment of prayer with him.
Juniper after the haircut
Juniper clippings
Haircut  While work is scarce, my haircuts are intermittent and I appreciate them all the more.  There is nothing like feeling that your hair looks good.  At my last appointment, I was surprised at how much hair I needed to have cut.  Recently, I gave the juniper bonsai a haircut and was amazed at the pile of clippings.  Taking care of these small trees requires patience and at the same time gives me the opportunity to meditate and enjoy nature and the act of giving.  While doing my caretaking, I watched the birds, listened to the frogs croaking, and relaxed.
First day of flying lessons
More flying lessons
Flying Lessons   The mother robins have been giving flying lessons in our backyard and not all of the children are good at it yet.  They spend a lot of time complaining loudly and the moms leave them unattended so that they are forced to try to fly.  One sat on the deck railing for a long time, not even calling his mother but looking fearfully at the ground and his surroundings, as if paralyzed.  Eventually, he flew and in the next several days I saw him with his sibling who was less fearful and a bit better at the art.

Three's a Crowd   There was a nest of baby robins in the hedge across the street.  My neighbor and I had a good time watching their hungry little heads bobbing up and down when a branch moved or they heard a noise that sounded like mom coming with dinner.  They opened their beaks in anticipation of a yummy worm and squawked disappointedly when they were not rewarded.  They were stuffed in their nest so tightly that it looked as if it would burst open.  The day after I took this photo, their mother brought them to my yard for lessons and they have not returned to the nest.  They probably no longer fit.