Sunday, April 23, 2017

Wasted Brain Cells

Joe's new house is about thirty minutes west of mine, and so, if you put the radio with the broken antenna in just the right place, and push the tip of the antenna against the metal handle of a broom leaning against the door, you can pick up a radio station out of Topeka that plays country music classics.

When I don't bump the radio and reduce the music to static (I haven't quite mastered the trick of the proper antenna / radio / broom placement), I've been enjoying hearing songs I haven't heard in ten or twenty years.

As I was painting and singing along last Friday, I realized I'd been working for five solid hours, listening to the radio the whole time, and had only come across one or two songs I didn't know. For some of the songs, I knew most or all of the words. (A rousing chorus of 'Delta Dawn', anyone?) For all but those few, I at least knew the chorus.

It was fun, but it's a profligate waste of brain cells. Do you suppose, if I didn't have so many cells taken up by the second (and third) verses to Christmas songs, I'd have been able to pull up a few more names of people I hadn't seen for a while at the event I was volunteering for last night? Or, perhaps, if I couldn't sing all of 'Country Roads', I might be able to remember the different ways java can instantiate variables when faced with the question on a test, which would enable me to go back and get another programming job.

On the other hand, perhaps the words to 'Yesterday', fill the place where I can't quite remember the pain of the weeks following the operation that removed my breasts five years ago. Do the words to 'The Servant Song' stand in stead of the memories of the months immediately following mom's death?

Funny, the things we remember.
A blessing, some of the things we forget.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Time To...

I'm continuing to look for work. There is activity and motion, but nothing concrete is happening.  **sigh**

Back when I was working, when I pictured unemployment, I figured I'd have some trouble filling my days.

Not yet.

I'm still faithful about looking for work each morning. (Mornings are my best time for thinking and being creative.) But I can't look for work eight hours a day. I run out of leads to follow after three or four hours.

So then, I get to take a nap. (If I can't take naps when I have no specific time pressure, when will I ever be able to take one?) The good part is that when I lie down, sometimes, I don't actually fall asleep - I just ponder the state of the trees outside my window for a bit. It's hard for me to believe, but I think I'm finally catching up on my sleep.

Then? (This is where I thought I'd be bored...)

For the past few weeks, I've been heading out to Joe's new house. It needs some serious TLC before it's ready for he and Rita-Marie to move in. She's working some ungodly hours, is totally stressed and can't help with the cleanup. It would help her to be able to move on into the house; it's much closer to her office. I can't do anything about her job, but I can ease her stress a bit by helping to get the house ready.

Each room needs to have the popcorn ceiling scraped down. Assorted wall holes need to be patched and spackled. Everything needs to be washed down and Kilzed. Then, finally then, I can paint.

As I've been working, I have been so aware of the gift of time available to me because I am not working at a paying job.  My unemployment frees up my afternoons, so I can spend several hours painting on most days. (I don't do it every day - even when it's unpaid work, you can't do it every day, right?) I've been able to spend a good ten days out there already; the way job hunts go, I'll have the time I need to spend the additional ten days I need to finish the job. It feels good to be able to help make Joe & Rita-Marie's lives a little easier; to be able to remove just a bit of stress from their days.

Good Is.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Job Hunt

I keep telling myself this is the part of my camper van saga where things don't go so well. When I left AT&T, I knew I was trading safety and stability for a wilder ride down an uncertain course. And, here I am, looking for my next great opportunity in the world of work.

I find job hunting tedious and demoralizing. A gazillion listings out there, a million of which I qualify for, yet I haven't yet found the magic words to make the job listers stop in their tracks in sudden realization that they need look no further to fill their position because the resume of the most absolutely perfect hardworking and qualified candidate just landed in their inbox after I, Janice, hit the apply button. (what is wrong with these people???)  I haven't let that stop me, it just gets harder to muster up the discipline to scour the job listings day after day when nothing seems to 'pop'. (I've found good probable matches, had two interviews in the five weeks I've been looking, so it's not an all-bad-news story.)

On the upside, after three weeks of cool temps and daily rains, Spring has decided to come back! The rains have washed away the winter dullness, the grass is green and the trees are in bloom. It's a rare day outside, and because I don't have to spend time in an office today, I get extra time to enjoy it. Blessing and Bonus all rolled into one.

I'm amazed at how quickly my days go. I keep thinking I'll run out of ways to fill my time; I will get bored with not working, but each time I complete an item on the top of my list, another appears to attach itself to the bottom. So, on the days when I can set worry about money aside, which is most of them, I find myself enjoying the luxury of time to work with my hands. Time to whittle down the list of to-dos that called to me all last year as I commuted between home and Seattle.

And. AND. All the days are sleep-in days. I realize my years of work have fostered an unreasonable attitude towards my alarm clock. Truth be told, now that I'm caught up on my sleep, I wake up just a few minutes later than I did these past few years when I was still working. The difference is the time I take to wake up slowly. To peek from one barely opened eye to check to make sure the sun remembered to rise. To mull over my dreams and set a tentative order to the tasks of the day. To stretch and doze a bit - and then, finally get out of bed some thirty minutes later.

Stop.  Breathe.  Relax.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Connections II

I went to Rose's dad's funeral today. He'd gotten sick about a month ago, and last week, after 94 years of life, he died in his sleep. I cried though his funeral - even when they are at the end of a long and good life, goodbyes are still hard. I cried for Rose. I cried again for Maria; my wordless grief over her too-soon departure is still near the surface.

My mind keeps circling back to connections.

I'm developing a vivid mental picture of a multi-dimensional web, surrounding, sustaining us, lifting us up, holding us when we'd otherwise fall. I sensed it surrounding us all last month, I saw it cocooning Rose today.

The strands are formed by love; frayed by distance and dysfunction. They connect us one to the other - to the people part of our lives today, to those who we have lost track of but still hold a place for within our hearts, to those who have traveled the path of death before us. When we die, the sections of the web connecting us to those who have died before us tingle, and the people at those connection points stop and turn back to pull on the strings to help us along the way.

I think this is why I've always found the saddest lives to be those where the web is sparse; the connections few. Their road to the afterlife is the hardest because they travel alone with no one ahead to encourage them and pull them across the tough and scary parts of the path.

Can you picture it?

Your eyes close for the last time, your soul prepares to depart from your body. With the eyes of love, you look ahead through the darkness to see a web, its strands made of light. At the end of each line is someone you love. As you begin to walk, the web closes in around you, showing you the way onward. Behind you, the lines flow to those who are sending you on your way with love; those for whom you will be one of the guiding lights when their turn comes, as it will.

I'm going to have to keep thinking on this.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


It seems spring has changed its mind about arriving.

Last Friday, for Maria's funeral, the weather in Minnesota was brilliantly sunny, but cold.  Single digit temperatures.

We were only up there for a couple of days, and late winter decided to follow up back down to Kansas City. It's snowing outside again now, the second time this week. It didn't snow all winter, but now, in March, it's here.

The previous weeks of unseasonably warm weather had all the trees blooming - too soon, it turns out. The fragrance of their flowers has been abruptly cut off; the petals are brown, sad.

I can empathize.

The last few days have been tough. I've continued to look for work - fortunately for me, the computers on the other end can't tell how half-heartedly I push the apply button for the jobs. (If / when one of these pretend jobs turns into reality that, in itself, will boost my enthusiasm for the process.)

Yesterday, I was back to my January pattern. It's gray, it's cold. Time for a nap. Time to look out the window and contemplate the beauty of the bare branches waving gently against the gray sky. Time to retreat into a contemplative state. Not thinking, not trying to process the events of the year, but rather, just being with wherever the heck it is I am for a few minutes.

Processing hard things takes its toll. I'm sending a lot of healing energy in Tony (my eldest brother) and Libby's directions.  (Libby starts round II of chemo next week, Tony's prostate cancer surgery is scheduled for the end of the month.)

At the funeral, people kindly asked how I was doing. I had no answer, so deflected the question to a heartfelt, "it is good to see you - I am glad you are here today". If I were to be asked the question today, I would still have no answer. No idea how I am.

Winter 2.0 is scheduled to last only a few more days. Spring will return.

This, too, shall pass.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Not Fair!

Once again, I run up against the enduring unanswerable question stemming from my bout with cancer. Why not me???

Libby, my younger sister, is also battling the demon. But her demon is triple-negative and when they did a first round of chemo to shrink the tumor before surgery, it only partially worked. The tumor did shrink - but also started to grow back before she had her surgery six weeks later.

Fortunately, she has a good surgeon; the experienced kind who relies on what her fingertips tell her as much as the data from the scans. She found and removed the original tumor - then found two other spots where it was growing, and took those out, too. She removed the sentinel lymph nodes, and then, when her sensitive fingers sensed 'something off' about some of the others nearby, removed those, too.

The good news part is that they were able to remove all the cancer they found. The hard news part is that Libby will start a second round of chemo in a couple of weeks - a stronger one. Stronger is good for killing cancer cells. Stronger is harsh on the rest of the body as the doctors do the best they can to seek the delicate balance between killing all the cancer cells and leaving the rest of the body in a place where it will be able to recover when the treatment ends.

Chemo II will be followed by radiation - the cancer is gone, but statistics say the long term survival rate is better when radiation is done anyways.

When she heals from the radiation, she'll finally be able to get her implants filled and replaced with the permanent ones. I remember those temporary implants. They feel a lot like someone stuck a shower curtain under your skin. It's a creepy kind of feeling - and I know she's not looking forward to the 5-6 month delay in getting them out of there.

Libby is coping with all of this by searching for the good things anyways. (It's the same coping method I used to get me through my cancer, and then Kate's.)

The delay between the chemo and the surgery which allowed the cancer to grow back is not all bad - if they'd done the surgery right away and the visible tumor cells were still gone, they could very well have missed the signs telling them how aggressive the beast is.

She was worried from the get-go about the other shoe dropping. Now it has, and she as she put it, now she has a matching pair of shoes.

Knowledge is power.

You can do this, Libby Elizabeth Leonard the last (in line, licking lollipops, late at night)!
One step at a time, you can do this.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

New Beginnings III

Well, that job was fun while it lasted.

It was short term anyways, but disappeared a week before it was scheduled to - I'd finished the work they initially hired me to do.  There was talk about having me do further work, but the end customer lost their funding, and *poof*, it was gone.

I am grateful it lasted while it did - it got me through the last of winter,

Job hunting in the winter was hard(er).

I'd get up and do the job hunt part OK, but then, once I'd finished for the day (I've discovered I can only look for work half time...), I'd grab some lunch then look outside. It would be gray. Which means it must be time for a nap. I'd sleep for 30-45 minutes then wake up and gaze lazily out the window at the gray sky for a while. I'd finally get up, futz around for a bit, then look at the clock. Dang! It's three in the afternoon already. I can't start anything now, it's going to be dark in an hour!

So much for getting things done around the house.

I started looking for work again this past Friday, and the after-looking part of the day has gone much better. It's been unseasonably warm - climate change, anyone? But even though I KNOW sixty in February is not a good thing, and I'm worried about the long term implications, when I'm in the moment, it's hard to deny the joy that springs from my soul when I step outside and raise my face to the warmth of the sun.

I took advantage of the warm afternoons last week to clean winter's debris from my yard. I've made progress on my cabinets. I've been working on cleaning up the odds and ends in the corners of the house; the things that got put there, just for now, until I have a minute to get to them - and have been sitting there for six months. (It REALLY feels good to get those things knocked off the list.)

I haven't gotten any bites yet, but I've been diligent about looking for work. This soon after looking just last month, I'm finding it hard to press the submit button on the applications. My heart is convinced that they're just going to say no anyways, so why even try? I am discouraged. But I hit enter anyways - because if I don't, the right job won't have a chance to tell me yes.

The days are getting longer, winter is alllmmmoooossttt past. The cycle turns, and I am ever so grateful for the coming of spring.

Life Is!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Hard Things

I don't like to do hard things, but.

There are different types of hard things.

Hard Things 1: Things like slogging through the aftermath of my bout with cancer as I dealt with the effects of that damn shot. (Last week marked five years, cancer free! Yay, me!) It was hard, the days were long, my brain was foggy, my heart and body were tired. The best I can say about it was I got through it.

Hard Things 2: Things like helping Juliann to deal with Maria's death a couple of weeks ago. I've been wanting to ride in on my white horse and rescue that child for years. (Not that she needed rescuing, she has grit and determination and smarts enough to rescue herself.)

But as Maria's liver gave up functioning, and the end she both feared and wished for came to claim her soul, I decided the time was now.

Juliann did a marvelous job of taking care of her mom during the last few years of her life, but it's a whole 'nother level of hard to clean up the pieces after someone dies. This is where I gave myself permission to ride on in. Hi, Ho, Silver!

I spent a week helping Juliann clean up.

One day, we went over to Maria's and picked up every piece of paper we could find in the place. I spent the next two evenings sorting through - working to find the car title, the outstanding bills, the stuff that needed to be dealt with. I threw out bag after bag of old checks and bank statements that no longer had relevance. I smiled as I went through a box of Juliann and Connor's old school papers. I set some personal papers aside to be read later, once the dust has settled and hearts have healed.

I helped pack up Maria's apartment. This to Goodwill, this to Juliann's garage to look through later, these things back to the people who had loaned it to her, this to the trash.

The day after the move, my sister-in-law and I went back and gave the place a thorough cleaning.

After we were done, when I went back to Juliann's and handed her the keys, I was physically and emotionally exhausted, but in a good way. Finally, I was able to make her life a little easier, a little better. Because I'd been able to lift a few of the burdens off her slim and tired shoulders, she had the energy she needed to make the decisions only she could make.

As I got back on my white horse to ride off into the sunset, I decided I couldn't have asked for better payment for helping with a week full of hard things.

Hi, Ho, Silver!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Goodbye, Maria

Maria John  1965 - 2017
How do I begin to say goodbye to my little sister?

She struggled with alcoholism for years, and lost the battle a week ago.  

Alcoholism is a cruel disease. It kills slowly and eats away at the mind while it tilts the body's systems beyond repair.

She was beautiful, intelligent and generous, and loved her children more than anything else in the world. But her disease destroyed her censors and brought out her dark side and drove her to actions and words she deeply regretted when she was sober.

Her disease took away her home and her laughter. It drove her to lose daily contact with her children. It stole her joy, her bright wit, and at the end, it took her beauty.

I'm not used to feeling so much anger swirling around someone's death. But as my sister-in-law said this morning, anger stems from a sense of injustice - and there was so much that was unjust around her last years. I can feel the anger, hot in my belly - but I loved her anyways - and we all did.

And, Grace Is.

This morning, all of my family who were able to be there gathered to empty Maria's apartment of the boxes we'd packed over the past few days. Her daughter was delayed, and stepped from her car to find herself surrounded by people who loved her and who had come to help. The scene was far from one she'd envisioned - the one where she labored alone to carry the boxes down the long unsteady straight flight of twenty stairs because the family still wouldn't come. She took one look around at the crowd and her eyes filled with tears - tears she couldn't wouldn't allow to fall. It took a little less than an hour for the eighteen of us to empty the three rooms of all their contents, Juliann's eyes bright with unshed tears the whole time. Her eyes reflected the tears hiding behind my own.

Tears of sadness, tears of forgiveness. Tears of love, tears of regret.

Her disease built walls between Maria and her family. This morning, some of those walls took a serious battering. It's hard to hold righteous anger in your heart when you are surrounded by love.

Maria's funeral is scheduled for March 10th. She didn't want her farewell to this world to happen in the cold and dark days of February. In this, I agree with her. Easier to say this final goodbye with the promise of new life and new beginnings in the air.

Sleep in peace, Maria. May your soul and your body finally be at rest.
And, yes, as I promised, I will do all I can to be there for your children.
I love you...

Thursday, January 26, 2017

New Beginnings II

I wasn't out of work for long.  Eight days, but who's counting?

I've found a short-term consulting job that started already this past Monday. The job will only last for 6-8 weeks, but I'm good with that. If I must be unemployed, I'd much rather it be in March than January.

I'm afraid I didn't utilize my time off as well as I'd hoped I would. I did the looking for work in the morning part pretty religiously. It was the work around the house in the afternoon part that fell kaput. I'd finish scouring the job sites and putting in my apps, then turn off the laptop and eat lunch. Then, when I should have started working, I'd look out the window. It was cold, gray. Surely, I told myself, a little nap wouldn't be out of order. So, I'd lie down for a bit, then I'd putz for a bit, then it was after four, and it gets dark at five and surely you don't expect me to work on stuff after dark!

I think I only talked me into getting stuff done on two of those eight days.  Not a good track record, unless I consult the "I'm free" voice - it LIKED the putzing and napping part.

How do I like the new place? So far, so good - the company is really small; an interesting change from the larger places I've worked. The job can be done mostly remotely, except for client meetings. This means I get to work from home. I like working from home.

Maria (my sister who's health has been on edge these past two years) took a turn for the worse last weekend, and my heart is calling me home to Minnesota. I need to be there for her daughter; I need to be there for me.

Fortunately for me, one of the hallmarks of a small company is flexibility. When I went in on my first day, I told them what is going on. I said I needed to go to Minnesota for a bit; that I wouldn't blame them if they wanted to rethink their decision to hire me and look elsewhere instead. They told me they didn't really care how remote I was; that as long as I was online, they didn't care if it was MO or MN that I was working from. I am most grateful.

More hard stuff.
I'm rather tired of hard stuff.

But grateful for a couple of weeks off to gather my strength before facing down this latest heartbreaker.
Grateful for a company that will trust me to work completely remotely.
Grateful to have money coming in.
Grateful that beginnings follow endings. Even the hard endings.

Friday, January 13, 2017

New Beginnings

My last day at Ericsson was last Friday. It was with much regret that I finished up my daily team call, wrote up the notes, sent them out, and shut down my laptop one last time. I didn't want to leave - I HATE leaving things uncompleted. I worked hard almost right up to the end; I wanted to hand over my project neatly wrapped with a red bow.

I worked around the house over the weekend; got started on building the closet shelving system.

Monday, I got up and started to look for work. There's not a lot out there right now, but I'm looking anyways. I figure that if I never hit the submit button on these job ads, they'll never have the chance to tell me no. Or ignore me completely. I mean, what fun is life if you don't have job applicants to ignore? And, eventually, most likely, one of them will look at my resume and say, 'yup. that's what we're looking for', and I'll be back to work.

I have competing voices going in my head:

Voice 1:  OMG! I'm unemployed and I don't have any money coming in and I'll never find a job and I'll be bankrupt and on the street and then I'll be homeless and... You get my drift.

Voice 2 (talking quietly, underneath Voice 1):  I'm free! I'm FREE!

Change is easier to adjust to when it's self-initiated, but I'm working on it.

Realistically, it's a bit much to ask that a job show up right when I need one.
Also realistically, I needed this break. I enjoyed my work at Ericsson, but constant time zone adjustments made me tired. Already, after just a week off (and my fourth week in one spot), I feel less tired. My body and the clock are in agreement on when it's time to sleep, time to eat.

It's good for me to have some time free. Time to look for work and work on my long-neglected projects, yes. But also time to take naps and do not much at all. Time to look around and breathe.

Someone once said it was good to have times in life where one can stop, breathe and relax.

Maybe the universe is trying to tell me something.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Happy New Year!

My sister's family has a quirky tradition they follow to ring in the new year. At midnight on the 31st, they run out the back door of their house - to usher out the old year, then run around the house barefoot to the front door, where they bring in the new one. The tradition wouldn't be quite so quirky if they didn't live in Minnesota, where the ground is quite cold come New Year's Eve. My brother-in-law is kind enough to clear a path for them on their annual jaunt - no need to add injuries from errant branches stuck in the snow to the mix.

This is the first year I've had a chance to join them for the festivities, and I must say, it wasn't so bad. I followed the teenagers out the door and almost to the corner of the house before my feet figured out what was up. From there, it was a quick sprint across the gravel (what, exactly, do you think you are doing???), a short jog across the concrete driveway (OUCH!  that bit of gravel that decided to quick-freeze to the bottom of my foot hurts!) with a few hops to remove the gravel bit, then up the front steps (whose idea was this???) and back inside (Made It!).

Once inside, feet tingling, bodies revved, we toasted the new year with a glass of sparking cider - and I was in bed within thirty minutes. (One can only take this acting like a youth thing so far, you know.)

I see a lot of life changes in this new year, starting with my job. I thought an issue with a non-compete agreement had been settled. My former company's lawyer disagreed and threatened to take me to court, so I have resigned my current position effective this coming Friday. Going to court is expensive, and I have lots of higher priority uses for my money than to use a good chunk of it to keep a contract job.  **sigh** Once my travel cut back to every other week, I really liked my job, and I was good at it. I'm trying to look at it like one of those nudges the universe gives from time to time - pushing me out of my comfort zone to a better place. It's not working, yet, but I'm trying to look at it that way...

The other life changes are more positive - Joe and Rita are engaged and have a wedding plan, so he'll be moving out. Kate, God willin' and the crick don't rise, will be graduating before summer. All good things.

5... 4... 3... 2... 1...  Happy New Year!