August 23, 2016

The Nest has Emptied: Week One

The Empty Nest

After nearly 21 years of stay at home parenting, the second child has gone to college. When we said goodbye to her in Chicago, the excitement and pride was so strong that there was no time to be maudlin. But now it's not just the quiet, it's the anticipation of unending quiet.

It's the understanding that there will be no more back to school photos. And that all the things that kept my days and nights busy will still go on, but not with my participation or my child's. I thought I was ready for this. I knew it was coming and I had several plans in motion to manage the quiet. Though I've never cared to be asked if I was going back to work (mostly because I don't feel like I ever was not working), I planned to begin working full time again.

An opportunity had come to me a year ago and I tried to juggle work and the last year of active parenting, but ultimately wound up resigning for several reasons, though one of the unspoken ones was that I just couldn't miss any more of those last moments. The luxury of staying home with my children was something I never took for granted and I enjoyed every day of it. Well, almost every day. There were times in any parent's job that could be trying, but I was lucky that my children never gave me grief or worries. Being their mom is the best thing I could have ever done with my past 21 years.

Now, while I'm not fired, my worst fear seems realized. I don't feel needed. I know my kids will always need their mom, but not in a necessarily useful, ongoing, daily way. I talked to a friend of mine last night who doesn't have children and she helped remind me that people get married to have a life partner and that I still have that, even if we are no longer raising children. It made sense and has lifted some of my overly indulgent feelings.

I am very proud of the young adults we raised. I don't want them to need me for their every move, but I just don't know what *I* am supposed to do. Those instructions didn't come with the What to Expect When You're Expecting book. Which I devoured and could have memorized, but honestly, I've about forgotten what it felt like to have a swollen tummy because a baby was inside, not because I gained weight in my 40s. In the absence of that, I suppose I'm substituting my swollen eyes or something equally silly.

We chatted with my daughter the other night and she mentioned her leaky window (which I noticed the first day). I asked if she had talked to maintenance about it and she said, yeah, but they won't do anything. I started to talk about sending caulk, or weather stripping, a million and one solutions, but the fact was, I was creating a problem to solve mostly so I could feel like I had something to do. I realized the absurdity of it when my daughter kept insisting, "Mom, it's OKAY", not to worry about it, etc. I think it was more my way of finding something useful to do.

Yesterday, I started to take photos and post things for sale online. That should keep me busy for a while. It will pay for some textbooks and it will help keep those long forgotten items moving along and finding a new well-loved home. The trumpet is gone, the hand-painted play table & chairs is on its way. Those items will bring joy to new families.

I don't recall the last generation making such a big deal out of the "empty nest". My parents took me to college and were happy I was somewhere I loved. I certainly don't recall any grief, but maybe that was also an era where we weren't encouraged to spill and talk about our every last thought and emotion. Feels rather self-absorbed the more I go on.

I'm writing this because that's how I process my world. That's how I communicate best. I'm an outgoing person, but I still feel like I organize my thoughts better in writing than speaking. I also figure if I put this out there, I will find some kindred souls who understand or can also tell me how silly I'm being. I do feel silly, to be honest. I know that I did my job and now am seeing the rewards of that job first hand. But for now, I'm going to mourn and beg indulgence as I work through all this.

I am going to post as I traverse these new waters, with the hope that in a few months I have a really solid guide to perhaps publish as a book. I am inspired by a friend of mine who turned her own journal into a book, Diary of a Future Ex-Wife: Yeah, I'm Pissed.

April 17, 2016

Save on Graduation Announcements: UPDATED

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January 28, 2016

Bass Amp Shoppers Guide: Know What You Need

Buying an instrument or an amplifier can be really exciting, and a lot of people save up money for years to get the exact model that they want. Others though, like working musicians and people who are just learning to play bass may have different requirements for an amplifier.

Whether you’re a beginner or you’re a seasoned pro, there are some basic tips that can guide you. Use this primer to make sure you get everything you need when you go shopping for bass amps.

Are You a Beginner?

musiciansThere’s nothing wrong with being a beginner. In fact, you should be commended for picking up an instrument and learning to play! However, you probably don’t need the best bass amp in the world if you’re just starting out.

Unlike bass guitars, amps that aren’t top-notch won’t really slow your development as a player. Focus on something that is small, sounds good and allows you to practice with headphones, especially if you live in an apartment.

You can always sell an inexpensive amplifier to recoup some of your money and buy a better one when you advance as a player.

Practice Amp?

Even skilled musicians practice at home in many cases, often setting aside at least an hour a day to work on their skills. If you live in an apartment or have neighbors close by though, chances are you can’t do that with a big stack!

Look for a practice amp with a single speaker and in a relatively contained package. Having a practice amp with a headphone output can be beneficial too, but don’t pay extra for that if it’s not a feature you’re going to use.

Studio Use

Recording musicians often need different amps for studio use and live use. In the studio, it’s all about the best tone, not about how loud you can be. Sometimes being too loud is actually detrimental, especially in home studios or in places where isolation is a concern.

If you’re recording, look for a low amperage bass amp that sounds good even at a low volume.

Live Music

If you’re buying an amp for live use, sometimes volume really is what matters. Make sure you can get enough out of any amp you buy or add a cabinet down the road. Otherwise you’ll be stuck with a heavy paperweight or a very expensive practice amp which will not serve your purpose.

December 15, 2015

Maddy performing "Being Mrs. Banks"

As a blogger, I don't often shamelessly self promote. I think it's more important to stay neutral, but on this video, I cannot.
This is my daughter and her talent makes me shudder. She was Winifred Banks in her HS production of Mary Poppins.

It's my blog so I can share it. 

I hope you enjoy. 


September 14, 2015

The day I turned 49

I had been given notice.

Your life will never be the same.

That's what my new boss said. Those words. Your life will never be the same.

I tried to nonchalantly nod and act like it was cool, but the fact was, he was right. I'm not sure he knew all the reasons, but that's not important. He knew, traveling would change my life.

I've always had a restless soul. I fancied myself a bon vivant, melding into places around the world and absorbing the culture like a sponge. Yet, while 48 years of life had taken me many places, all of them were familiar. I'd moved around a number of times, attended three high schools, and seen a lot of places. I never had to experience a different language or currency. Small changes, but I wasn't familiar.

I've spent a lifetime processing my world with words. I've imagined the places I could go and the people I wanted to meet. I felt it.

The morning of my 49th birthday, I woke up along the Danube River in Austria. Our port was a little town of less than 900 residents. We had two hours there, but I had hoped to jump on a bicycle and ride 32 km to the next port. Alas, that trip was canceled, so instead I hopped on the ship, imagining my legs instead of the ship were carrying me to the next destination.

When I walked into the small town of Durnstein, I wandered the cobblestone streets and peeked in yards. I talked to people pushing wheelbarrows up their path to work in their yard and admired their handiwork. I pretended I was one of them. I got separated from my group and took a few moments to reflect. I walked along the shore and picked up a few polished river stones. I wrote the date in the sand along the bank.

I've never tried to obsess over numbers. But as my nest shrunk and my baby birds flew from the nest, I felt the sinking weight of age settling over my soul. I wondered what was next and couldn't imagine.

I wrote my soul on the screen, spilled my heart to the electronic world. I tried to make sense of a world one letter at a time. I used all 26 as often as possible. And somehow, it was noticed. I never stopped trying to find ways to work or use my talent for words. It was noticed. I was offered a job as content creator and social media manager for a travel group. Part of my compensation is travel.

I spent a week waking up in strange cities, with strange customs and unfamiliar languages. I paid attention and asked questions and made friends. I learned about my surroundings and did my best not to be an ugly tourist. I decided as I left the cruise to look up the way to say "Thank you for taking such good care of us" in the native language of all of the staff helped make our trip wonderful. My Romanian and Hungarian friends were delighted. I just told them they did so much to help me feel comfortable in my language, the least I could do was thank them in theirs.

The world isn't as big as it felt. I cannot wait to see more.

It's pretty cool. No, it's very cool. My boss was right. My life will never be the same.

September 4, 2015

Summer of the gypsies

The summer I would turn 14 my father made me change my tank top before I went to the county fair. I thought Dad was being overprotective and nerdy. He mumbled something about those carnies, on the carnival side of the fairgrounds. Cigarettes dangled freely from their lips, glowing hot embers complimenting the neon lights of their rides and games. Our farmer's side of the fair had old men with cheeks full of chewing tobacco, but no cigarettes around all the hay and sawdust bedding. An errant ash could set everything aflame. I see myself then, a skinny tomboy, with tiny rosebud breasts that didn't even need a bra. I talked with the kids about chickens that didn't lay. Some of the older brothers would laugh, elbowing each other knowingly. It made no sense to me.

Growing up on a farm, the pinnacle of our summer was the county fair. It was always the first week of August and we’d spend the prior two months preparing our livestock for show, our baking for judging, and our sewing for modeling. The Future Farmers of America brought in samples of their hay and crops, and the really cool guys were allowed to bring their tractor to the fair. It was wholesome and idyllic.

Ours' was a different universe, the farmer’s side of the fair, where we ate at church sponsored cafeterias or out of picnic baskets we brought ourselves. We rarely ate the carnival food. Someone would occasionally bring back a cup of fair fries, manna soaked in vinegar and ketchup. We’d circle like buzzards. The fortune tellers and games of chance tantalized us. The invisible fence wasn't electrified, but that didn't mean it was easy to cross. I rebelliously yearned to wear my tank top and walk down the midway, just to see what would happen. The carnies’ trucker chain wallets jangled with a hypnotic cacophony. Their greasy hands and sinewy muscles were a stark contrast to overalls and manure-caked boots. We camped on cots in the barn playing cards next to livestock pens while they huddled around their trailers comparing tattoos.

Every summer, my friends and I would take one day and explore the carnival side of the fairgrounds. We rode the creaky rides, ate the greasy food, and slipped inside the gypsy tent with a few dollars to hear our fortune. We wanted to hear that we would win a blue ribbon for our project. The gypsies were never that specific, but winning the blue ribbon meant the gypsies were right. The last night of the fair was the livestock auction where we would parade our blue ribbon animals before the crowd hoping for a high bid that would help grow our savings accounts. Our animals were carted away after the fair closed, destined to be a future dinner for the lucky bidder.

Livestock animals are raised for the sole purpose of one day gracing a dinner table. Fictionalized accounts of Charlotte the spider telling us that Wilbur was “Some Pig”, or that and Mary had a “little lamb”, were cute stories, but far removed from the reality of farming. We weren't encouraged to name the animals. Named or unnamed, they eventually disappeared in the still of the night, or more accurately, as the sun rose. We knew that it was best not to ask or be told where they went.

Very few farmers do their own butchering. We seized a bit of the frontier spirit on occasion, mainly with chickens. I witnessed firsthand how precise the expression “running around like a chicken with its head cut off” was. Those chickens for certain never lay again. When the spastic chicken’s muscles wearied, we would pluck the feathers, and then burn the remaining down off with a small blowtorch. The novelty wore thin, and we would crate the chickens and take them to the Amish farm down the road. They would kill and dress the poultry for 50 cents a bird, much more efficient and feather free.

One year, we hired some gypsies to butcher our pig. A huge family arrived, at least four adults and several children, probably ten people, total. The exotic dark haired children played hide and seek and flashlight tag with my brothers and me. It was patently clear that my parents didn't trust the gypsies. Our folks had told us ahead of time not to let anyone into the house, that if anyone needed to use the bathroom, to show them the outhouse. I was much more interested in watching everything than playing with the children, so I lingered near the barn. My father had a hunting rifle and shot the pig between the eyes. I only heard and felt the reverberation, but I didn't see it. The men tied and hung the pig in the air, from the front end loader tractor, and slit its throat so the blood would drain out. I watched with detached fascination.

The gypsy men carved the carcass with efficient expertise. They salvaged every part of the pig we didn't want, to dine on later. The gypsy women sang songs in an unfamiliar language while they caught the draining blood in buckets. They tucked the ears into plastic bags, and saved the intestines to stuff with their ethnic sausages. They claimed the hooves. They had ways to use what we discarded. Dusk came and the carcass was sliced into manageable pieces, wrapped in paper, and labeled. The mercury light cast a glow on our offering to the gods of the full larder. The gypsy men leaned on the side of their truck, casually smoking their cigarettes, while the women rounded the children into the back of the truck.

We carried baskets of wrapped meat to the freezer in the basement, stacking it neatly on a shelf. I don’t know why the gypsy butchers never returned. It makes me wonder how we found them in the first place. Were they mingling at the livestock auctions, offering their services? After that one time, we simply did what we did with all the other animals. We loaded them in the trailer and took them to the slaughter house. A few days later, we picked up our orderly packages of wrapped sustenance.

When I got older, I decided that I wanted to be a vegetarian. Maybe I had named one too many animals. Maybe I knew them too intimately to eat them. That was the same summer Sam died. For years, I had ignored the advice of my elders and I named my animals. Sam was one of my 4H lambs. He got an infection from an open wound. I tied him outside under a cherry tree and laid clean sheets on the grass for him to sleep on, so his infection wouldn't get worse from the less than sterile barn. I slept in a sleeping bag under the tree with Sam. In the morning, I woke up and Sam didn't. I remember being disappointed that I would only have two lambs to sell at the auction and closed the ledger book on Sam. I focused my attention on my remaining two lambs and that year I won the showmanship trophy.

Today, I buy frozen meat from the supermarket, in Styrofoam trays with sticky UPC labels, heeding the warning to cook to the right temperature to prevent disease and never ever thaw at room temperature. I wear tank tops when I wish and do not avoid the gaze of anyone. I hum to myself as I choose my meat. The song is an old one and a sense of déjà vu washes over me. The gypsies still intrigue me; I wonder what they dine on and their music echoes in my soul.

Life is sterile and tidy, but somewhere, away from my inquisitive eyes, the animals are still slaughtered and I wonder who catches their blood.

June 20, 2015

Lisa or Lakeysha: What's in a name?

In the aftermath of the hate-filled shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, my heart began to hurt terribly. I consider myself relatively un-bigoted and open minded. I have several black friends who I love dearly, but admittedly, I cannot begin to wrap my head around their experience or their despair. I will never truly understand what it's like to be black in America. I've started some discussions on social media and I've tried to ask questions. I've tried to listen and understand.

I wanted to write today's blog because unlike a social media discussion, this will not go away. This will be a permanent opportunity to think and question the different ways all of us may grow.

I pondered the times I have exercised subtle racism, some of which I've written about. One thing I believe strongly is that if I am unwilling to do some self-examination and try to consider where even on a micro-level I've been guilty, I need to expunge it and ask for forgiveness. I need to vow to do better and I need to encourage the same of others. It's the only way the needle moves.

One of the more subtle ways I'm guilty of racism is when I read a person's name. We all know what a "black" name is when we see it. The embarrassing thing is, I have to admit to mentally mocking those strange spellings and wondering how in the world to pronounce that name. Turns out, I'm not the only one who does that. According to a study from the Poverty Action Lab,  "Resumes with white-sounding names received 50 percent more callbacks than those with black names." (full report: Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination).

I've never done that for Giuseppi or Gianna, Raj or Raaka, Kieran or Siobhan, or Amtullah or Yahya. I've never wondered why their parents didn't give them an easier to spell or pronounce name. I've never been a big enough fool to actually ask someone why they didn't pick an easier name for their child. (Yes, I did that and my friend said, "How well do you think a Heather would survive in my world? She'd get mocked and teased daily for having such a white name.) I've never asked my friends why they'd choose Huxley or Hazel (names that are in the top growing elite baby names). This leads me to believe if I am so presumptuous to question what someone names their child, maybe I need to rethink myself.

This doesn't mean wipe away all my opinions. I still have a lot of opinions on names, and that's typical, it's why name lists exist and people spend nine months trying to think of a name for their baby. Why I should think any less of another parent's choice for their child's name? If that child is black and I have a hard time pronouncing that name, is MY problem, not the parents.

Where the problem comes in and where racism is at play is when I glance at a class roster and make assumptions about what sort of day it will be based on the names I see. Maybe a little chuckle as I navigate the apostrophes in places that I don't understand and letter combinations that I never would think to make. Little Keshaun and K'iana should proudly wear the first gifts their parents gave them. Maybe if we start to accept their right to have a name that speaks to their life and experience, we can begin to grow as a society.

It starts with a drop of acceptance hitting the water like a pebble.

Here are the names of the victims:
Rest in Peace
Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41
Cynthia Hurd, 54
Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45
Tywanza Sanders, 26
Myra Thompson, 59
Susie Jackson, 87
Ethel Lee Lance, 70
Daniel L. Simmons, 74
Depayne Middleton Doctor, 49

My essay Trouble Maker was about a young black boy. I didn't want to label him black in my story because I thought it would bring an unnecessary piece to the story. When I wrote it, I wanted it to be a color-blind story. I've realized if my young trouble maker was a white boy, he never would have faced the same scrutiny. He may have been considered "high-spirited" or a little "rascal" instead of a "thug". We can do better. 


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