Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Mother Theresa Comes for Drinks Part 1

I’ve been wanting to write about my relationship with my mother, but even three years after her death, I still struggle to describe our connection without falling back on clich├ęs. I loved and admired her at the same time that I loathed and rejected some of her behaviors. Advice that is often given to writers is to “show, don’t tell.” So here’s a story about a time that my mother visited me.

My mother usually made the trek from southern California to eastern Oregon to see me and her grandchildren once a year. She would visit for at least a week, stay with the grandchildren while I was at work and do all those housekeeping tasks that a working mother never has time to get to.  I would come home from work to dinner cooking, all the laundry clean and folded, and my ironing basket empty. I appreciated the help, but like most things of value, there was a price.

One day after work I invited several co-workers, including my boss, back to my house for drinks. We sat out on the patio enjoying the warm spring weather and my mother charmed my guests with her English accent and self-deprecating humor. Everyone told me how lucky I was to have a mother who would spend her vacation digging through piles of laundry and ironing. My mother basked in the glory of her newly adopted Mother Theresa persona. We ate appetizers and had another round of drinks. Our conversation rambled over current events and local controversies including a teacher who had been arrested at the middle school. I went in the house to get more snacks and returned to the patio to hear my mother saying “Jann was molested when she was five by a school employee.” I stood stunned watching my boss and co-workers listen to my mother tell the complete story of my molestation, reporting the abuse to the police, and the eventual trial.

As I write these words I am still at a loss about what to say. That day I served the snacks, returned to my seat, and pretended that everything was fine. That’s what we did in my family…never talk , never confront, pretend that everything is fine.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Maybe I'll be Eccentric

One of the blogs I follow is The Badass Geek ( Badass is a very talented and humorous writer. I especially enjoy his posts where he describes odd and downright weird people he encounters. Since I started to force myself to break out of my usual routine, I've had a few of those encounters myself.

Yesterday as I drove an alternate route to the grocery store, I spotted a mature woman strolling down the sidewalk. (Since I joined the AARP crowd I cringe at using terms such as elderly or senior.) She was well dressed in exercise apparel and looked like a typical walking-for-fitness pedestrian except she had two large bright pink cylinders clamped to the back of her head. I wondered if she was aware of them or if she just got distracted in her morning routine and started her walk before she finished combing her hair. Would another walker point them out to her? Or, would she get home and realize that she’d done her two miles with round pink rollers bouncing at the back of her head. Did she really intend to go out in public with two random pink plastic curlers at the back of her head? Perhaps she has just gotten to that point in her life where she does what she pleases…to hell with what anyone thinks!

I’ve had days where a disruption in my routine led me to forget to complete a customary task. I haven’t left the house with rollers in my hair, but I’ve been known to forget deodorant or to end my shower without washing out cream rinse. A ringing telephone or a question from my husband is enough to throw me off track.  Now if forgetting my grooming routine were a habit, I might be eligible for eccentric status…that odd stinky woman with the stringy hair.

I’m not going for eccentricity; I’m working on developing that “to hell with what anyone thinks” attitude.  That's a good goal for retirement.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Adjusting to Retirement

It is hard for me to believe that I have been retired for over a year now, but I don’t think that I am any smarter or wiser about how to be retired.  When I made my last minute decision to retire I told people that I wanted to clean out the garage, update my kitchen, and travel. I cleaned out the garage, but it has managed to accumulate new clutter since last spring. My kitchen is unchanged…other than the soot on the ceiling from that small grease fire when I forgot to turn the stove off after cooking bacon!  I’ve traveled a little, to Hawaii and a cruise to Alaska, and frequently to Texas to see the grandchildren.

Today I went to the doctor for my regular six month check in. My blood pressure was excellent…maybe stress does have something to do with blood pressure. A stress-free retirement lifestyle is agreeing with me.

I spent years using the “I don’t have time” excuse for every undone task and unfulfilled goal. Now that I don’t have that excuse, I’m learning to own my behavior and tell the truth…I just don’t want to do it, ever. I’m only doing what I want to do.

The biggest challenge for me has been unstructured time. I don’t do well without an external structure…left to my own devices I manage to put off everything for another day. And, if I’m truthful, I feel a little guilty about not being productive. I’m still working on accepting that pleasing myself is enough. I have learned to schedule necessary tasks in the mornings. If I have an appointment in the morning it forces me to get dressed and get going. That fifteen minute appointment for blood tests gets me started and I make good use of my time for the rest of the day.

I am working with several school districts on preparing federal grant applications. Over the years I’ve had great success securing federal grants. Grant writing was a hobby and since it wasn’t part of my regular job, a low stress situation. The stakes are a little higher now as I start to consult. What I enjoyed about writing grants was “winning” the money. Implementing the project was not as much fun. Grant writing may be the ideal second career for me. I can take on only projects that interest me, work on my own schedule, and just win the money. The trick will be to not fall into the trap of stressing about the competition…that would make it too much like work, and I’m retired!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Ready for Spring Break!

I substituted today at the high school...what was I thinking?  The kids are ready for spring break and not in the mood to answer the questions at the end of the chapter.  My subbing gig was only for a half a day and when I got to school after a leisurely morning,  I found out that I had to teach only one period.  Bonus!  A little later the school secretary asked me to also cover the last period class for a teacher who needed to leave early.  I met briefly with the teacher and she showed me the lesson plan which was basically watching a movie and answering questions.   Wow, this was going to be an easy day.

Cut to the last period of the day.  I show up in the classroom, take attendance, pass out the worksheets and start the movie.  The teacher had left an answer sheet and the lesson plan on her desk.  What’s this?  When they finish the movie, we need to read out loud Chapter 18, section 1 “popcorn style” and answer the questions at the end of the section.  I think to myself that it’s good to have enough instructional material to fill up the time. Boy was I wrong.

Guess the title of Chapter 18….REPRODUCTION!!!   Talk about bad timing.  Last period of the day, spring break starting soon, a room full of freshmen…this is not a recipe for excellence in education!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lucky Numbers

One benefit of being retired is that I am freed from the clock. Although I have become something of a recluse, I do leave home occasionally. It’s a different world out there during traditional working hours. The locations that I previously could only visit after 5:00 or on weekends look different at 10:00 A.M. on a weekday.

Last Tuesday morning I went to Bi-Mart. Where did all the people come from? As I maneuvered my cart through the store, I noticed that the crowd was deeper in the laxative/Metamucil aisle. On closer inspection I realize that I was the youngest customer in the store. Apparently Tuesday is Lucky Number Day at Bi-Mart. If your membership number matches with numbers posted in the store, you can win valuable prizes like a box of Red Vine licorice or Hefty extra strength trash bags. A local senior residential center even brings a busload of residents every Tuesday to participate in the excitement.

I was just reading an article on the top 100 places to retire. None of the towns in the article featured a Lucky Number Day. Sure, those fancy places that made the list have public transportation and cultural events, but Hermiston has Lucky Number Day at Bi-Mart.

I went to Ross Dress For Less on Tuesday and it was like a retired teacher convention. I ran into three former co-workers who had retired. Turns out that seniors get an additional 10% discount on Tuesdays at Ross, and you only have to be 55 to qualify!

So in my quest to figure out retirement I have learned that retired people can’t pass up a bargain. As much as I love a discount, I like uncrowded stores more. I will wait until after 4:00 to head to Ross…I think that’s when all the seniors will head over to the early bird special at Granny’s Buffet.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Walk to the Park

My two-year old granddaughter is very verbal. She’s been talking non-stop for quite a while, but it is only recently that we started to understand what she was saying. Now we know what she’s been hearing for the past two years and we've started to question our abilities as language models. On our walk to the park on Tuesday she talked the entire trip:
“Watch out! Be careful. Look for cars. Don’t walk in the street, stay on the sidewalk. Watch out for dog poop. Oh, there’s the dog poop. Watch out. We don’t like dog poop, do we , Nana? There’s a pretty flower. It’s a “lello” flower. Look for dog poop. Watch out for cars. Go this way, go this way. We’re going to the park, we’re going to the park. There’s the park. Yeah, the park!”
Who knew that we spent so much time warning children about dog poop and speeding cars?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Making Memories

I'm visiting my grandchildren this weekend.  Megan, who is four, was sitting on my lap while I checked my blog.  I was showing her the pictures that were in the last few posts.  She was excited to see pictures of herself and her sister.  But I got the biggest reaction when I got to the pictures of my messy kitchen counters. 

"Wow, Nana" she exclaimed "You've got Cheetos?"

I travel thousands of miles to see this child and what is she impressed by...that Nana has Cheetos in her kitchen!

Tomorrow, while her mother is at work, I'm taking her out to buy her own bag of Cheetos.  I know how to make memories for my granddaughter...don't tell her mother!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Refuge From the World

My house sits on a rise overlooking the Umatilla River. Directly east, across the river, is Riverfront Park. The view of the winding river, walking trails, small trees and brush is unobstructed by human habitation. We occasionally see eagles circling overhead and frequently have quail and pheasant running across the lawn. The three acre lot size gives us a comfortable cushion from our neighbors. The backyard is serene. The river can be heard tumbling over the rocks below.

There are signs that spring is coming. The tulips have just broken to the surface and the flower beds are spotted with green. Unfortunately, it’s the green of hearty weeds that have established their dominance in the flower beds. I’m looking forward to puttering around in the yard. In the spring and summer we spend a lot of time in the backyard. In the afternoons the house casts a shadow on the patio and creates a cool retreat from the sun. Our house is a refuge from the outside world..

Yesterday as I turned off the road onto our driveway I noticed that a neighbor had posted a sign on her lawn. The spray-painted sign was pointed toward the front yard of her next door neighbor, Jerry. Jerry is a friendly guy who waves every time we drive by. For the fifteen years that we have lived here, he’s been a good neighbor. He collects our mail when we’ve been on vacation and he’ll sometimes surprise us by mowing the weeds in our front pasture. (Okay, “pasture” might be a glorified description. It’s just a fenced field with weeds.) We’ve never asked him to mow, but when he’s got his mower hooked up to the tractor and he has the mowing mojo going,  we appreciate his efforts. Jerry is retired, but he’s always busy. He does odd jobs with his tractor and he raises a few animals on his small acreage. My husband and Jerry frequently chat when they’re both outside “working the land,” male bonding over discussions of the intricacies of their tractors or the best fishing spots.

Now when Jerry walks his land this is what he sees:

He no longer has a safe refuge from the outside world. Every time he leaves his house he is faced with the wrath of his neighbor.

What did he do to deserve this?

When the house next door to him was sold over a year ago, the new neighbor decided to open a dog grooming and boarding service. She tacked up a sign on the road and opened for business. Soon there were many dogs barking all hours of the day and night in her backyard. Jerry called the county to inquire if our area was zoned for this business use. Apparently it was not because the county sent someone out to her house/business and told her to remove her business sign and cease operating an unlicensed business.

This should have been the end of the story, but why respond responsibly? 

She set up a stereo in her window pointing outward toward Jerry’s house and blared country music, and then she left the house.  The music plays all day and can be heard well beyond her property line.   I think she learned this one from an episode of The Sopranos! She called the country and reported that Jerry had too many livestock for the size of his acreage. He had two cows and a couple of sheep. Jerry had to get rid of the sheep. And, she posted the sign that says “Stop being a peeping Tom.”
The sign is visible from the road. Everyone who drives by reads it. Friends who have visited me think I’ve got a pervert living across the street. Jerry’s enjoyment of his home is destroyed. Every time he goes outside he is psychologically assaulted. And I am sad every time I drive by to see his enjoyment of his retirement shattered.

A poem by Robert Frost states that “Good fences make good neighbors.” Sometimes it takes more than a fence.

What would you do in this situation?

Tackle it Tuesday Success Story

Tackle It Tuesday Meme

If I hadn't posted pictures of my clutter I probably would not have gotten anything done.  Although it took me several weeks, I finally made the effort to get some progress pictures taken and posted.  I didn't think that the Internet police would be busting in my doors to cite me for excessive cluttering, but I also didn't like that I had unfinished business hanging out in the public domain. 

        Before                                  After

Okay, I'm not ready for House Beautiful yet, but I cleaned out a lot of clutter and got the paintings hung.

I'm starting in on the kitchen next.  It is time for a kitchen make-over.  I'd like to have fancy countertops, but in this economy I really can't justify the cost.   In the next month I'm going to replace the out-dated tile backsplash, paint the walls, and call in the cabinet guy adjust the cabinet configeration so I can install a new stainless microwave/range hood over the range.

Thanks for the encouragement and for keeping me accountable for getting something done. 

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