Thursday, December 31, 2015

2H, 2015: Executive Summary

The Ones came to visit - Little went to a STEM camp and Smallest stayed at my house.  I went all out with the spoiling - candy, ice cream, endless quarters for those claw machines, cartoons - but made one fatal error.

"Are ghosts real?" she asked as we watched a horror movie preview during American Ninja Warrior.  And because I thought we were friends who could be honest, I answered her thoughtfully.

"I don't know," I replied.  "I've never seen or experienced one but there are people who believe they have and I don't know enough to claim they're incorrect."  Pleased with myself, I was astounded when she burst into tears, fleeing from the house as if the gates of Hell were inside.

Frustrated after 30 minutes of trying to reason with a 7 year old at the end of my driveway at dusk, I called my mom.  Then Smallest's mom.  Then I picked her up and carried her inside to go to bed, disgusted with both of us.

A mother, I am not. And while I mourned that bitterly once, I'm pretty cool with it now. 

As a proud aunt though, I do OK.  Little gave the best closing speech at her group's presentation and I beamed while taking video on my phone. 

Mom and I also took them to Great Wolf Lodge and King's Island.  It was difficult.  And exhausting.

I started reading infertility blogs before moving to academic ones and starting my own.  So as I watched a colleague struggle, I became increasingly certain she was going through something reproductive-y.  So I gently nudged until she talked to me about it, holding her hand and grabbing Kleenex and trying to remember all I'd read about being supportive and not judgmental at all.

Utterly convinced I was put in her path for a reason, I returned home one day after having lunch with her.

"I'm going to Colorado," I told Mom.  So I shared some of the story - how she'd lost twins recently, how devastated and guilty she felt, overwhelmed at work and unable to have her husband make the trip.  "So I'm going to book a ticket and a room and just show up.  Then if she needs someone, I'm there.  If not, I'll hang out and do work from out west for a week."

My colleague - and friend - was thrilled and we spent an intense, yet somehow wonderful, week just focused on doing things that made us happy - always getting dessert, driving in the mountains, wandering the botanical gardens and marveling at the flowers.  Spending time in prayer and exchanging little gifts to add light and love to the world that seemed too dark to bear at times.

"You saved me," she said when we met just before Christmas.  I demurred, of course, because she saved herself, but I reminder her that Friend saved me during my post-doc.  Being present and reminding me to be kind to myself, to seek help when I needed it, that there were amazing, wonderful, loving, supportive people out there and that maybe I could grow into someone who could be someone's angel for a little while someday.

So I was.  And it was the best thing I did in 2015 - feeling God's close proximity, spending time in peaceful prayer and graceful support.

"My dad died 3 years ago today," I told her while we were having dinner one night, having forgotten until Mom reminded me when we talked on the phone.  And it was her turn to clutch my hand and fetch tissues.

I kept asking - reading books, doing exercises in career building, networking, making spreadsheets, sitting with small groups, excelling at my everyday tasks and taking on additional projects for the organization.  Yet I was at a dead end and increasingly frustrated that my attempts to forge a path forward were failing.

So - when I wasn't beating All The People at Soda Crush (!) - I started interviewing back where I started my career in Industry.  And while I didn't get the first job I wanted, I did get the second one that I wanted even more!

It's my dream job, honestly - I have a team (my very own team!) and we do super-cool stuff and talk about interesting projects that can really make a difference and it will be wonderful!

Almost immediately after being hired, I returned to Europe for a visit.  And while in past trips to Europe, I'd fantasized about bringing along a suitably sexy man, I took Mom!  Which was odd and delightful - we really had a wonderful time. 

"Would you like to play?" I asked over and over, smiling down at children dressed as angels and witches, superheroes and scary spiders.  "Pick a sucker - any one you want!"  Then I'd hold the homemade cardboard stand steady while they carefully selected a flavor.

Mom has really made a home with me - she has a walking group, takes water Zumba, knits with the ladies at church, goes and sees shows and talks with her new friends.  I'm so proud of her - this wasn't what either of us wanted - we'd much rather have her with Dad back in the house where Brother now lives - but we're happy together. 

"They wanted 40 volunteers and they only have 8," she told me one morning.  And I sighed - working at a kids' Halloween party didn't really interest me, but by the time we wandered through the field to find our car afterward, my cheeks ached from smiling.

The challenge with the new job is that it keeps me away from Mom a lot more - I'm at the office more, doing more at home, just ramping up and being more mentally engaged.  So when she asks me to do something, I suck it up and offer candy to strangers.  

For as well as we did in August with the anniversary of Dad going to Heaven, my parents' anniversary and Daddy's birthday hit us hard.  We were sad.

We cried after having someone come to the house to fix the front door and look at the vent fan in the master bathroom - Dad would have fixed both of those for us.

The snow thrower that Dad bought me, brought to me and taught me how to use didn't start after its summer rest.  And I wanted to curl up and cuddle it - it's precious to me, even if it doesn't really fit in the garage anymore with both Mom and my cars.

So we went north - drove around, relaxed by the fire and hung out.  I took calls at 11PM and 4AM, creeping downstairs and starting the fire before muting the phone before I yawned.  Work is intense but rewarding. 

"I want to go home," Mom said a day before we were due to leave.  "Dad would leave early so we're leaving now."  So we threw stuff in bags, got in the car, dismissed my sweetheart of a dog-sitter and headed home. 

I'm settling in at work - wrote my performance review and am pleased with my progress and path forward.  It's a good feeling.

I write this from a hotel room in Florida - we spent Christmas with the Ones at the family home where Brother now lives.  Then we drove south - which Mom loves and I strongly dislike - and while we stopped each night, I managed to worsen my back spasms until I needed Many Pills here in Tarpon Springs (we bought sponges - they're awesome).  So I'm a bit drugged and was missing all of you so I thought I'd pop in and wish you a very Happy New Year!

I do have an Instagram account - it's my real name since Little One pressured me to get one so I could like her photos - but I do use that more frequently if anyone's interested.  I hope you're all very well and enjoy a wonderful 2016.

Saturday, June 13, 2015


"Hello, princess!" I greeted Smallest One, resplendent in a white sundress as she ran gracefully toward me at the door of the church.  I scooped her up, pushing her blonde locks behind her shoulder and smiling down at Little One, smoothing hair that was darkening to match my deep brunette.

"What'd you bring me?" Smallest asked and I reached for the jewelry boxes I'd had for years, smoothing the dust from the velvety top with my thumb before flipping both of them open.

"I bought these," I showed her the cross necklaces - one simple, one containing a sparkling ruby, "years ago but I saved them for your baptism.  I carried your sister at hers - she was just a baby - but you get to wear yours today!"

She selected the one with the ruby, turning and holding her hair off her neck so I could fasten the clasp and admire the sparkle once she flounced around again.

She's just finished 2nd grade, Smallest One has, and Little will go into 5th grade in the Fall.  Their mother remarried and I rather like their stepdad.  He coaches softball.  Helps with homework.  Cooks dinner.  And takes them to church where he plays in the band.

He - Stepdad - was baptized first, wading into the pool on stage while the lights went deep blue and the electric guitars quieted.  The pastor prayed over him before motioning for him to cross his arms under his chest and lean back into the water.  I smiled when Stepdad plugged his nose, emerging to slick the water from face.

He hovered while Smallest carefully went down the steps into the pool.  She looked angelic as she grinned at Stepdad then her pastor.

And I wept as we prayed over her.  I was just so proud - feeling that rush of 'I remember when you were born!' that hits me at dance recitals or school plays.  But this - the cementing of a relationship with Christ - an immersion in a faith I pray will sustain and strengthen her - was profound.

"She will serve God valiantly," the pastor said and I nodded, gulping back a sob and dabbing at my eyes with wet fingertips.  For she is valiant - a powerful force who shares snacks with those who have none, plays with the friendless, gives freely of what she has with the simple trust that she'll find more.

We had lunch about a week later and I grinned back at her after handing over a $50 bill.

"Katie," Mom scolded, "she doesn't need that."

"Yes, I do!" Smallest insisted.  "That's why I made her feel sorry for me - so she'd give me money!"  For she is as manipulative as she is darling and I shake my head at how very often she gets her way.

But, watching her on that stage, plugging her nose, closing her eyes and reclining into the water, I said my own prayers and curled my hand on the empty chair beside me, praying that Dad got to see and rejoice with us, and cried a bit more.

For while I may feel stagnant at times, the Ones rarely are.  So I brace myself for exhaustion as they visit again today.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Friendly Visit

I smiled and kicked my legs with delight, eliciting a widening of Friend's eyes as she stood above and behind the couch on which I reclined.

"I saved all the bears from the honey!" I declared victoriously, causing said eyes to roll.  "Now what were you telling me?"

Friend is - as she ever was - intensely intelligent, thoughtful, sharp and more wonderful adjectives.  I've learned about cells and students, rocks and NIH, theoretical scientist tracks and sexism.  She educates, Friend does, and it delights me to watch, even when directed at yours truly.

"It's silly," she said, driving me from the airport which delivered me to the land of drawling accents, sweet tea and cars abandoned on the sides of highways.  "But I feel like I'd either veer too far into talking about students or that I should join the conversation for reals."

I opened my mouth to respond to her thoughts on blogging - for mine independently are more shallow (I use an iPad to play games rather than a laptop to generate content for fun - when I have my laptop, I'm working - defining strategy, convincing people to agree with me, sending email, progressing projects) but paused.

"For realz?"  I repeated?  "Like with a z?"

"I work," she responded haughtily, "with 20 year olds.  And it's with an s."

So I giggled at us - for as rarely as we talk (I'm terrible at maintaining long-distance relationships - it's a serious character flaw) - it's as easy as ever to slip back into familiar patterns even in circumstances that are dramatically different (as they remain refreshingly and eerily similar).  The more things change, the more they stay the same and all that.

"I read a book on the plane," I told her, "that talked about online presence as people look for jobs or establish the groundwork for promotion."

"I should update my LinkedIn profile," she mused.

"Yes!" I confirmed, remembering my highlighted sections on the iPad.  "Add a photo, update at least monthly, fill in all the sections with stories that differentiate you, but not too much.  But it also talked about having a YouTube channel (I watch PewDiePie, BTW.), having a professional blog..."  I trailed off, unable to remember the other items without checking and I was still too hot to put my bag (clearance!  I love that bag even though I keep losing stuff in its many pockets) on my lap to retrieve my device.

But I read career paths (in order to gain more power and money as well as fulfilling my mission in life, as fuzzy as that may seem sometimes) while she reads pedagogy (determining how to best shape young(er) minds).  And I ponder that while I am a good person - I love God, I try to do good and be kind - Friend is ever-so-much better.

"You are," I told her over cheese biscuits and honey butter (God bless the South), "inherently kind.  Non-judgmental.  Not to everyone - not to stupid people - but to those who approach with real pain and problems.  You are good."

Then I blinked back a tear or two because she is and I love her and that's profound.

"She saved you," Mom reminded me when I sighed over having to get on a plane (which I hate less than before but still don't enjoy - the "look at me going places!" excitement is eclipsed by the "don't like prolonged contact with strangers stealing my half of the armrest" and "I have landed - don't leave me on the tarmac while I want off this plane.")

"I know.  I remember," I said, giving kisses and "love yous" before departing.  Brother has been struggling with his mental health of late and I adopt the gentle tone Friend used with me when speaking to him at his most fragile.  "It's fine to just sleep.  This will get better.  Don't be afraid of the medicine.  Let's say the Lord's prayer.  If you can get outside and take a walk, that may help.  Just breathe.  Try to eat something.  Be patient and kind with yourself.  We love you."

And now I miss you, my bloggy friends who may still keep me in in reader lists.  So Rudoguil may have to wait for my help with finding the spectral blade for the new king frozen in rock while I try to write a bit again.  We shall see.

But - for now - Friend and I are well, trying to make our small corners of the world better.  I very much hope you're the same.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mapping, part 2

 On a Saturday evening, after mowing my lawn and showering, I began to draft my journey map.  In Excel.  Because I'm super-cool like that. 

I'd be percolating on this since Wednesday, not thinking about it very hard, but letting myself absorb that I wanted to devote it some attention. 

Is it bad to confess I was a bit afraid of this?  I have a friend who did an intensive yoga retreat in Vietnam last year.  Even listening to her talk about it Freaked Me Out.  I don't want to explore the depths of my soul.  Or reach the boundaries of my consciousness.  That's releasing control over your boundaries and I like my boundaries. 

I still have recurring dreams of being driven somewhere - often in a school bus - and very suddenly going over an edge and down a deep incline.  Though the bus remains on the road, I am unanchored and lift up, plucked from my seat by forces beyond me.  I typically wake, frantically looking around and ahead, seeking something to which I can cling or hoping the road levels so I can find a seat to support me again.

Point is why would I want to delve deeper into a brain so scary?  I'm good with superficial knowledge, thanks.   

Anyway.  Back to mapping!

I had three columns - (1) Month, Year (2) Feelings on an arbitrary scale from -10 to 10, (3) Notes.   I added the colors later - ignore those if you're following along on your own journey map.  (In Excel.  Because you're super-cool like that too!)

I quickly found that I could best assess my past if I looked at May as that's when the academic year typically ended for me.  I added extra time points as they struck me as important but I set my minimum sampling at May.    I finished with May, 2014, so I have a current state.  There's no particular reason I started in 7th grade - it felt like my first "professional" accomplishment and gave me upwards of 20 years to consider patterns. 

I may have scrunched up my face in thought to get a Feelings Number but I tried not to think about it too much.  I made it a 'your first answer is probably the right answer' exercise so I worked pretty quickly, going back and inserting rows if I realized I'd forgotten something I wanted to capture or adjusting values if I found my scale was a bit off. 

Also recall that I did this at night.  I'm sharp in the mornings - my brain is nimble and fast.  Like a ninja.  Or an otter.  An otter ninja!  At night, my brain more resembles a befuddled yet emotional elephant  - the edges of thoughts blur, I'm much more likely to get upset - angry, sad, anxious - depends on the day.  So I tapped into the emotions that tend to linger closer to the surface at night for me. 

I was oddly disappointed when I inserted myself a line graph and did not find my squiggly line profoundly informative.  I poked the screen of my laptop with my finger, befuddled-elephant-brain wanting it to tell me something.  Upon admitting it was going to remain a squiggle and smiling over how I could see some Ms - "M is my middle initial!" I giggled - I closed the laptop and went to bed.

When I realized the ends of those Ms looked remarkably like my dreams.  Sharp, surprising declines that leave me floating frighteningly above the ground, grasping for help that won't come fast enough.

Closing the laptop quickly, I calmed myself and climbed the stairs to snuggle in bed and sleep.  I'd think about the rest later.  

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Mom Flies Solo

My parents spent February, 2012, just south of Tampa Bay.  Dad didn't feel well during that trip, though they did have a nice time.  Returning home the first of March, Mom made an appointment for him to see our family doctor and he was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer on March 16. 

Aunt and Uncle have taken this February Florida trip for years now and while they let Mom stay with me in 2013, they nudged her to join them this year.  She agonized over the decision - she and Aunt talked, she and I talked, she and Uncle talked.  Repeatedly. 

It was at last decided that she didn't want to stay the whole month.  She would instead fly to join them for the middle two weeks.

I blinked at her when she told me, but quickly recovered to smile encouragingly.  "Great!" I said.  "I'll fly down with you and then fly back the same day.  And we'll do that again when you return."

"No," she replied firmly, though her chin quivered nervously.  "I can do this." 

So I watched her make reservations.  Helped her pack, walked her through what would happen at check-in and security and while boarding.  Told her to ask for help if she grew confused - she's such a sweet lady.  People would help her.

I checked her in the day before, frowning thoughtfully at her ticket.  It had merged her middle initial with her first name - making her a Judithe.  But there were three letters - lower case i - at the end of our last name.  I snorted, almost choking myself when I figured it out.

"You must have accidentally filled in the suffix when you made reservations," I told her, chuckling at her outraged denial.  "You made yourself Judithe, the third."  After assuring her it wouldn't matter and showing her the websites that reassured her, we giggled about it.  I took to calling her "i-i-i."

We drove to the airport in the predawn hours on a Sunday.  I kept expecting her to refuse to go so I could whisk her safely home. 

She did not.  We checked in, printing her boarding passes and asking the nice airline representative about the "iii."  She told us it was fine, smiling warmly at my mother and promising she would be fine.  I walked with her to security, leading her to the entrance of the empty maze of ropes before a TSA guy waved her over to the first class line instead. 

"I'm proud of you," I whispered, hugging tightly and pressing a kiss to her cheek.  She nodded, chin trembling, and took her bags from me and moved toward the ID-checker.  She turned to wave before moving to unpack her luggage as we'd practiced and I waved back, standing on tip-toes so I could continue to watch. 

She motioned to her knees - they've been replaced - and leaned closer to listen as they explained the stance you take in the scanner.  And then I smiled as she gathered her bags and walked toward her gate, dutifully checking the monitor as we'd discussed. 

She texted me from Atlanta, saying she'd made friends on the plane and they helped her find the train to her connecting flight, despite ATL being their final destination.  Then she made another friend who watched her bags while she went to the restroom.

She enjoyed the weeks at the beach - wandering the shore, exploring shops and restaurants and spending time with Aunt, Uncle and other couples.  And she missed my Dad.  But she did OK.

I went to fetch her late one Thursday, rushing to meet her as she emerged from the concourse, looking exhausted but happy. 

"Hi!" I greeted her, practically bouncing.  "I missed you!  You did it!  How was it?!" 

"It was hard," she told me, smoothing my hair as I took her luggage and widened my eyes and how heavy it was.  "Presents," she noted, nodding at the smaller - and heavier - of the bags.  "But I did it," she said and I nodded, immeasurably proud of her.  "Let's go home."

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Mapping, part 1

"Where do you see yourself next?" he asked and I cocked my head at him. 

We'd been discussing organizational changes.  Growing pains.  What was working and what wasn't.  I find I'm fond of him - this new manager with a team parallel to my own.  So when he asked if I had a moment after we completed a meeting early, I strode - in my nude kitten heels - toward his office.  We sat around his desk and talked - I tried to answer his questions fairly but offered enough criticism to be helpful.

"For my next role?" I clarified and pressed my lips together when he nodded.  "I don't know."

"You must know," he replied, smiling, for I am a thoughtful person to the point of being neurotic.

"Not really," I stated slowly.  "I want to be a better person. That's what I know."

"What does that mean?" he asked, leaning toward me behind the closed door in his office.

"I don't know, exactly," I sighed.   "I had a plan once.  And then my parents got cancer and..."

"You told me," he offered when I trailed off and I nodded, not recalling that conversation.  I tried to remember, wondering how often I repeat it.  My parents diagnosed.  My dad died.  I miss him so much and remain so sad that it all happened. 

Life doesn't always work out, I wanted to confide.  You don't know what will happen and you plan and train and fight and win and then when the biggest battle is before you?  You're as helpless as if you'd done nothing at all.  All the knowledge and contacts and strings to pull?  It matters not.  God's will be done.

"The business won't tell you what you want," he finally said as he watched me struggle, sympathy lingering in his dark eyes.  "You have to decide where you find purpose and joy and then drive toward that.  You have talent, Katie.  I see you being capable of so much.  But you need direction and must find that for yourself."

"I don't know how," I admitted softly.  "I mean, I've thought about it.  I really have.  I want to do good work - find something important and do really well at it.  I want to work with people who are happy and fulfilled.  I want to be good at what I'm doing now."

"You are," he stated quickly.  "Let's move to what's next."  At my raised eyebrow, he rose from his chair and began to draw on the board.  The green marker moved, creating axes with little pluses and minuses and a wiggly line moving in the space they defined. 

"Draw a journey map," he assigned.  "Take the last 10 years - 20, 30, whatever - and remember what made you happy, hopeful, strong and what was sad, difficult, upsetting.  Your parents - that's the low point.  You're climbing back from there and that's hard.  So think back to when you felt good and figure out how to get there again."

"OK," I said, staring at the green squiggle for a moment before deciding I would try.  Go back through blog posts.  Think.  I would use Excel to assign numerical scores to my mood and what happened in my life. 

"Two weeks," he said before rushing off to a meeting.  "We review your map and define next steps."

I nodded before gathering my bag and glancing at the board one more time.  I seem to have inadvertently found a mentor, I decided, somewhat bemused.  Maybe things do happen when they're supposed to happen.

God's will be done. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The More Things Change...

I felt my lips curve from involuntary amusement when I realized my last three purchases had been bags.  I can recall arranging my purses and totes, carryalls and laptop bags to demonstrate the breadth of options I required once upon a time. 

I've donated many of those.  Decided to simplify.  Feel proud that I consistently carry the same navy bag, ensuring its designer label faces outward proudly.  I purchased it with a work award, beaming at it upon arrival for I now have a nice bag. 

Then, awaiting a trip to Europe, I delved into credit card points and bought a new backpack.  My old one is literally falling apart.  I accidentally became infatuated with a Coach wristlet while browsing so I decided to have that as my very own too. 

So despite despairing that I have lost some essential element of myself, I remain constantly Katie.  I buy too many bags.  I have an inordinate fondness for cut flowers.  I try to be kind but am too impatient and irritable to consistently succeed.  I love God.  But too often absently - without the dedication and devotion that relationship deserves. 

"Do you miss it?" Two friends - old ones with whom I've not spoken much since taking my new job almost 2 years ago - asked gently when we connected for lunch.  In response to my inquiring expression and cocked head, they elaborated.  "The travel.  The stress.  The potential for promotion." 

"Ah," I replied, considering it.  "Sometimes?  Not often.  Work stuff aligned the way it should have.  I love being here for my mom.  I needed the steadiness.  The knowledge that I could do a good job but not kill myself.  But I do miss the travel - I'm craving Europe like you wouldn't believe."

But just when I was feeling increasingly unsettled - am I not important enough to travel?  Why am I not recognized for the work I do for projects that are increasingly high-profile?  Is this organization career-limiting?  And, if so, given my salary and stress level, do I care? - circumstances shifted. 

I was granted permission to go to Europe at the end of May, an event that sends me researching hotels on my iPad twice daily.  I'm visiting two new places (to me - centuries old unto themselves) and one familiar locale.  I was appointed to a different project and somehow gained the visibility I seem to seek.  And I was appointed to a committee that aims to address some shortcomings in my group - a difficult task to be sure, but one I feel is important and urgent.  I recognize such talent and passion and creativity in my peers (and managers) that I feel is being misunderstood and unused. 

It pleases me that when I have little energy for much of anything, I remain - or perhaps have become - an outspoken advocate for morale. 

I listened - over a different lunch - to a brand new colleague talk about her long-term plans.  I smiled and nodded over promotions and leadership roles she had in mind.  Offered advice when asked.  Made encouraging comments when appropriate. 

"What about you?" she asked when we were nearly out of soda.

"Long-term?" I asked and shrugged when she nodded. 

"I want to be a better person," I told her.  "I'm not sure what that means exactly but that's the goal."