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."

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Year in Review

There is an odd disconnect.  

I attended a conference recently (ish) and found myself embracing colleagues I'd not seen in over a year.  

"Hello," I'd say, sometimes still holding tight.  

"I'm fine," I'd answer when asked and would elaborate that I was quite good at my new job and, yes, it could be viewed as a stumble back when most expected me to pounce forward.

"My parents got cancer," I'd explain, trying to remember the Katie who existed before March, 2012.  "And we lost my dad."  Sometimes I'd cry.  Others I could blink back tears.  Mourning, I think, not only Daddy and for Mom - who just hasn't been happy since - but me.  That brightness that I seem to recall but may be getting wrong.

When I think back over 2013, I recognize that I was aware of days passing.  I sign a lot of documents so I'm aware of the progression of days.  But considering events?  Moments of joy or surprise or laughter or that sharpness of longing?  I look up and to the left expectantly, hoping my brain is embarrassed at my prompting gaze and comes up with something I could write down.

I turned 34...  Oh!  They decorated my desk at work - my second of three spots since taking this job - with balloons and streamers and magnets.  I got flowers.  It was actually really lovely.  (Good job, brain!)

I'm pretty sure I was in Europe.  I say that because my desktop photo on this AirBook I rarely open is of Zurich.  So I think that was when I did a Switzerland, France, Germany swing.  I threw up all over a hotel room outside Paris - I remember that more than I wish I did.  

I recall the train from Zurich to Paris though - of staring out the window as the countryside rushed by and thinking that it was still amazing to be in Europe.  Exciting.  Beautiful.  

As I spoke to new colleagues in the airport, I realized I didn't want my old job anymore.  And I was walked through Munich in the snow with my new boss, searching for beer and sausages and pretzels, I watched the snowflakes fall on old fountains and swirl around ornate steeples and smiled, even as I rushed to catch up with him.  

Mom turned 64.  I think we started seriously considering having her move in with me around then.  Otherwise, I probably played on my iPad.

Worked?  More playing on iPad?

Might have gone on a short business trip?

Please see April.  

We were launching a new process that I was to manage.  So I was working a lot.  (Still found time to play on iPad.)

Alaskan Cruise!  With the otters and elderly people and gospel singers!  I actually had a really lovely time - marveled at nature, learned songs about Jesus, hung out with my mom.

Mom and the Ones (my nieces) were here for the day Dad died.  We stayed busy.  Took a tour of a nearby city on a boat and bus.  Did projects.  Took long walks.  It was actually far less terrible than I expected.

Then the girls went back to school and Mom moved in.  Sort of.  She still goes back and forth fairly regularly but rarely stays at my parents' house.  She'll mostly be here or with Aunt and Uncle.  But it's going reasonably well.  Mostly.

"My son had on a stained shirt this morning for school," NewBoss sighed while we were waiting for everyone to join a conference call.

"My son had to have Nike socks so I spent a fortune on Nike socks and then he wouldn't wear the Nike socks today!" A colleague exclaimed.  

After we'd laughed for a minute, I offered that my mom had asked if I was really going to wear this top with this skirt as I'd walked out the door.  "So maybe you parents should calm down about us kids," I decided.  

I visited Friend!  It was long-overdue and probably too short but we talked and ate and shopped and visited the waterfall-that-wasn't.  (I think those 2 sentences cover the extent of my socialization in 2013.)

Massive documentation exercise in owning this new program.  So Many Forms.  

Audit on September's work.  

Audits are tough - I've now had three.  With a good auditor, I understand the benefit.  She may have ideas on how to better manage certain sub-processes.  Can identify common errors and make some off-the-record suggestions on how to correct those.  May mix encouraging statements in with the demeaning "this is how you failed at your job" listing of offenses.  

With a bad auditor?  It's soul-sucking - makes me want to stab someone with a pencil, make sarcastic comments and list my qualifications because I get so miserably defensive.  

Depression.  Visited new doctor to get more medication.  With Dad's birthday and my parents' anniversary looming near the end of the month, I was down-down-down.  Luckily, my new job is way flexible and I can work on projects when I can't sleep at night or fuss with documentation even when I'm blank and sad.  So while I was down, I wasn't self-destructive.  And that was a comfort.  

Mom and I have settled in at a new church - by far the most liberal religious institution I've ever experienced - but it's nice.  I think I like it.  

Mom had the main floor of my house painted as a Christmas gift - it's Navajo white with some accents of Ivoire.  We left the ceilings white so the contrast - while very gentle - makes me happy.  

We had a nice, low-key Christmas.  We did go back to Illinois for a day to spend time with my Aunt's family - we'd skipped it last year so the kids look so old to me.  (They're in 3rd grade.)  I cuddled with the puppies (!!!) and kept asking them when they'd become dogs.  

The Ones returned to the frozen north with us and convinced me to give them their gifts.  (I had purchased Saige and Emily from American Girl.  Even though they creep me out a little bit - they really are lovely dolls.)  

[Side Note:  Little One is beautiful.  Quiet and smart and bookish like her Aunt Katie.  (Also selfish and overly sensitive.  Like her Aunt Katie...)  She loves to read and plays with dolls and went hunting (WTF?!) this year with her mom's boyfriend.  But that's OK - nobody needs to be exactly like Aunt Katie (obviously) - so I'm proud of her for exploring.  I just wish there were less dead animals in said exploration.

[Smallest One is a character.  Precocious and charming and quick and ever-so-funny.  She's learning karate and made Mom cry when - after breaking a board with a backward kick - she presented the pieces to her grandmother as a sign of respect and love.  She still drinks pink milk and watches my SpongeBob DVDs when she comes to visit.]

Brother followed the next day, having managed one more shift before heading north.  He's largely the same - doing well at work and I'm proud of his stability and talent.  He's funny and loving yet still has the quick temper that we try to work around.  

They all resent me a bit for taking Mom away, which I understand and accept without comment.  The truth is that she needs someone around regularly and Brother and the Ones aren't able to offer that.  Their Years-in-Review would be too full already and occasional visits are no longer enough.  Mom is without part of herself.  And I'm obviously in a position to offer support and attention and my regular presence and I'm honored to do that.  

But perhaps that's a story for another time.

January 1, 2014
After moving all the furniture for painting, we reorganized.  I moved a chaise into my office and relocated my oft-ignored Mac to the room with my books.  

Today, I moved some large pillows to said chaise to make it more inviting.  Then I sat and began to type.  Perhaps I want to remember more.  Or try to find that person I was before.  Be a better person - more centered and thoughtful and loving.  

So without grand promises or resolutions, I hope I find that here.  And that - for any of you left - you have a happy and blessed New Year.