Angels Really do Wear Plaid

Last week, as I was writing about the unexpected and sometimes strange twists in my life over the past 11 years, a thought occurred to me – I don’t think I’ve ever shared the reason I named my blog “Angels Wear Plaid.”

Of course, me being me, there’s a story behind it that goes way beyond the single moment of inspiration on the day I decided to start a blog.

You’re a Writer, Who Me?

2009 was a tumultuous year. We’d emerged from the fall and winter of 2008 with a few family outings under our belt, including a visit to Bowman’s Tower in the fall with our two miniature dachshunds, Annie and Romeo.

I’m not sure what was more memorable, the breathtaking view of the orange and golden hues of fall interwoven with the last signs of summer green or the comment made to us by a stranger as we walked up the path with the dogs. Apparently, he’d never seen mini-dachshunds.

With some obvious discomfort, he knelt down to say hello to them. In a deep, graveled and memorable voice, he looked up at us and said, “Little dogs, little feet.” He rose with as much effort as it had taken for him to kneel and limped away.

This anecdote will always stay fresh in my mind, to this day I can still hear his voice.

However, sometimes I need to look at pictures to recall the full glory of Fall coming to the Delaware Valley in the fall of 2008.

 

The outing had given me hope, but the hope was short-lived. Life rapidly returned to the pre-Bowman’s outing pace of going to work, coming home from work and trying to ignore reality.

I fell into the deepest funk I’ve ever experienced in my life, and to put it mildly, I was a mess. Gin and tonics followed by servings of wine had become my coping mechanism, and during that time of my life, I was fooling no one but myself.

Thankfully (and here’s where the story will begin to come together), in January of 2010, a friend of mine took a very tough stance with me.

He said, “Beth, you are a beautiful talented woman. I’ve read what you write in your triathlon community training log, I love it – everyone loves it. Write. If you don’t want to write, take a drawing class, take a photography class; you’re always talking about wanting to create. Do it and quit depriving the world of your gifts. We’re given gifts so we can share them, not to waste them.”

The writing bit was the only thing I could connect to, but my response was, “A writer? Who me?!” Halfheartedly I conceded, “I’ll do my best to try and find a way to do something creative.”

He replied, “Beth, I don’t think you understand. I can’t continue to watch you destroy yourself and waste your talents.”

The message was received and the meaning was clear.

Ironically (or not), the following day I received a course catalog for ed2go.com in the mail; the featured online course category was of all things, creative writing.

I registered for my first class on the same day. Oddly enough, I signed up for a class on writing romance novels, perhaps due to my teenage love affair with Harlequin Romances.

Writing Under a Pseudonym

In retrospect, I was unduly nervous about joining in on an online writing class. But at the time, it seemed as though I was going to be baring my soul, or more specifically my writing, to strangers and people who might ridicule it.

So, in order to protect myself, I registered on the site under my real name (which was obviously necessary) but signed up for my first, second, third and maybe even fourth and fifth six-week class under the pseudonym of Lady Smith.

Lady Smith is the name of a town in Virginia. I’ve never actually been there but drove by it on my way to and from Richmond, VA a few months prior to signing up for my class. For some bizarre reason, it stuck in my head and seemed like the perfect name to use as a name de plume in my online writing classes.

Six months into taking my online writing classes, ranging from “How to Write Romance Novels,” to “How to Make Money From Your Writing,” I somehow mustered up the nerve to start my own blog. Never mind the fact that I was still authoring under a pseudonym in a private and really safe environment. For whatever reason, I decided to take what I’d learned during the previous six months and give it a go – for the first time, putting my real name and identity to my thoughts, ideas and stories.

My main dilemma now was what to name my blog.

Angels Wear Plaid

I honestly can’t remember which came first, the idea for my first blog post or the idea for the name of my blog. I suspect it must have been the name of the blog. It seems logical that I would have started the process of setting up my blog before deciding to write a post – but, I’m not always logical and it could easily have happened on the same day.

What I remember is sitting at my dining room table in the house on Pine Grove Road, it was a brilliantly sunny early summer day and for some reason when I looked at the driveway I was taken back to winter and more than a few inches of snow.

The day I recalled was equally as sunny, although not nearly as inviting. At least eight, maybe ten inches of snow had fallen overnight. I woke up to the sun flooding my bedroom with daylight and forgot for a moment that we were in the dead of winter.

Not one to pay attention to the weather forecast (that is until I moved to Upstate NY), I had no idea there would be snow on the ground. I pulled back the curtain and groaned. The depth and heaviness of the snow were obvious from my upstairs window; the thought of shoveling the long driveway sent me straight back to bed. I pulled the covers over my head, closed my eyes, and hoped the snow would melt before I woke up again.

I was in that haze one feels between being fully awake and deeply asleep, there was a familiar, but yet unfamiliar sound outside. I couldn’t sort it out so I made my way to the window once again; the sound I didn’t quite recognize, was a snowblower.

My neighbor Bill, from across the street, wearing a plaid jacket and matching fur-lined cap was snow-blowing my driveway. I remember at the time thinking something to the effect of, “he’s an angel.” Although truth to be told, his daily disposition might suggest otherwise.

At any rate, that morning I certainly felt like that morning he was one.

In June of 2011, that memory inspired me to publish my first post and to name my blog Angels Wear Plaid.

Snapdragons and Butterflies

It seems appropriate and fitting to reblog this today – it’s my grandmother’s birthday. 🙂

it's a whole new world

purple snapdragon and white butterfly - medium charcoal pencil and color pencil with a touch of ink and pastel Snapdragons and Butterflies

Today is my maternal Grandmother’s birthday.  If I’ve done my math correctly she would have 101 years young today. I have many wonderful memories of her which include learning how to properly knead the dough, the taste of homemade bread fresh from the oven, and playing  “boutique” for hours on end.  However, the image that most often comes to mind when I think of her is one of snapdragons and butterflies.

It seemed appropriate to post an essay entitled Snapdragons and Butterflies to commemorate her birthday.  I wrote it in December 2010 and it’s one of my earliest completed pieces as well as one of my favorites.  It also seemed fitting to illustrate the post with my first solo drawing.  Although my original idea was to create a realistic interpretation of my favorite flower I decided a version that was more child-like was the way to go…

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Roads May Be Winding, but They Always Bring Us Home

Throughout my life, I’ve learned that home is not a place – it’s a state of mind.

While sitting on a stool at my kitchen counter, my eyes were drawn to the pond just past my sliding glass door and postage stamp sized patio. Every time I look at it, I can’t help but wonder how it’s going to look once summer finally arrives.

In its current state, with a beaten down black heavy duty plastic protective ring around it, it’s hard to imagine it looking beautiful. But somehow I think it will end up being quite lovely. It’s funny how most of the time, even though we can’t imagine how our things in our life will turn out, they turn out to be better than expected. Sometimes it just takes a while to get there, and the roads we have to travel are often bumpy and full of detours.

My mind began to wander through the events that brought me to from the Midwest to Upstate New York. It’s been a heck of a decade, plus one year.

From Omaha to Philadelphia

In 2008 I was working for a company in Omaha, NE; the company was going through a lot of change and as often-times happens when companies are acquired and leadership changes, activities such as “right-sizing” and “right-salarying” didn’t take long to occur.

As someone who had been with the company for quite a few years and had been hired into management while the original owner was in place, I saw the writing on the wall and knew it was time to take action.

In June we had a family meeting, and I explained that since the acquisition had taken place, many of my colleagues had taken salary cuts and some had also had their positions “eliminated.” It didn’t take long for them to understand the gravity of the situation, my job was in jeopardy.

We talked it over, and everyone agreed that it was time to consider a move to somewhere outside of Omaha. It was a scary proposition for them, as Omaha was the only place they had ever lived. But they understood, as the primary and often-times sole income earner, it was critical that I was employed.

The next evening, I had the most incredible news to share; in one day, I had been contacted by three recruiters about three different positions. It was mind boggling, I hadn’t even updated my resume or my LinkedIn profile. The best part was that they were all positions in the field of E-commerce Customer Experience, which is where my professional passion lies. I pretty much took this as a sign. 🙂

After several months of interviewing (it’s amazing how long the process takes), I was offered a job in the Greater Philadelphia area. On Super Bowl Sunday of 2008, I boarded a plane at Epley Airfield and watched the Super Bowl at a T.G.I.Friday’s in Bensalem, PA. while my family hosted a party back in Omaha. It was surreal, to say the least.

At the beginning of September, my seven months of commuting between Pennsylvania and Nebraska came to an end. I met the family in Chicago to see my daughter off to college before we drove back to Omaha to finish packing up the house.

It was hard to say goodbye to my beautiful red brick, three-story colonial home – even more so because I barely got the chance to enjoy the fabulous kitchen we had remodeled. But, it was where life was taking us, and I had to have faith.

We cleared out the few things that were remaining in the house while the movers loaded up the truck, with hugs, tears and farewell waves our three-day trek with a 12, almost 13-year old boy and two mini-dachshunds began.

Apartment Life in Yardley

Although our beautiful home had been on the market for a few months, we were unable to sell it before we moved in the fall of 2008 (yeah, 2008 – not a good year for selling houses) so we found ourselves in a three-bedroom apartment in Yardley, PA.

It honestly didn’t bother me, because at the time I was confident that we would ultimately sell our house in Omaha. It was in one of the most popular areas of town, and it seemed unthinkable that no one would buy it. How wrong I was.

It was our first move in 10 years, give or take a few months, since we moved into the house we had just left behind. The number of boxes was daunting, and it was clear that additional trips to the storage unit were going to be necessary.

Beth surronded by boxes in the Kathy Stree Apartment

Whenever I move, the first order of business is to get the kitchen put together. There’s something about preparing and eating a home-made meal that helps me feel more settled in a new space.

The kitchen in the Kathy Street Apartment

The first meal I prepared in our new abode, was Quiche and it tasted heavenly. The two years we spent in this three bedroom apartment were tough. It’s a long story all on its own and, while it had its bright spots, overall it was a very challenging time. Let’s fast forward to my next big move which was to a rental house two miles up the road from the apartment complex.

Life on Pine Grove Road

After a tumultuous search for a house to rent, I finally found one. It took months, and I couldn’t get over how difficult it was. All I could think of was how important it was for me to find a new place for my youngest son and me to live. We were both desperate to get out of the apartment, and at the age of 15, he really wanted to live in a house with a yard, and I wanted to provide it for him.

My new landlord is an artist, and little did I know that meeting her and renting her house would change my life in so many ways. It was, and I’m sure still is, a very, very fine house – I hope the people who are living there today are as happy as I was.

We had a yard, three bedrooms, a living room, den, and a basement – but my favorite space from April until October was my three season porch, which took a while for me to get organized.

First, I had to arrange to move everything from the apartment on Kathy Drive to the new house on Pine Grove Road. Fortunately, my new landlord let me start moving my things into the house a good month before my lease began, in fact, she even suggested it. In her clipped Brittish accent, she said, “The previous tenant has already moved out, so the house is empty. I see no reason why you shouldn’t start moving things in before you actually take possession.” She handed me the keys.

Every night for the month before Christian and I officially moved from the apartment to our new house, I packed as many things as I could into a laundry basket and six boxes and loaded them into my car. The following morning, on my way to work, I stopped at the house to unload the boxes. I unpacked and organized after work, and before I re-loaded the laundry basket and moving boxes. Of course, I started with the kitchen.

Getting the kitchen ready in the Pine Grove Road house

I was able to transport a good share of our belongings and left only the heavy lifting to the movers. I have never been so relieved to say goodbye to a place, and say hello to a fresh start.

We celebrated the first night in our new home by watching “Iron Man” on the big screen t.v. in the basement, sponsored by the cricket who chirped so loudly we could hardly hear the dialog. It makes me smile to think back on that night.

A few weeks after moving in, I arranged for the moving company to deliver the boxes that had been in storage for two years. I was a basket case, it was the opposite of hoarders. To the dismay of my parents and my son, the most frequent phrase out of my mouth that day was, “I haven’t used that in two years so I must not need it.” I don’t know if my son will ever forgive me for giving one of the movers our lawn mower. Thankfully, he stopped me before I tossed out the good china.

For the second time in two years, I found myself surrounded by boxes.

Beth surrounded by boxes on Pine Grove Road

It took from October until the following June to clear the three season porch that would become my favorite place to hang out and create. The boxes were labeled less than accurately, plus they’d been in storage for two years, so as you can imagine, Christian and I tired quickly of guessing “what might be in this box?” He was out as soon as he found the paintball equipment.

The first year we lived there, I focused on sprucing up the front yard and flower beds.

I didn’t do much in the way of fixing up the porch other than cleaning it out and buying a bit of furniture. Money was a constraint. The second summer was a different story. A woman named Maria, who I met through a running group, saved the day and made the porch updates affordable.

Oddly enough, I bumped into her at the grocery store, and as we were catching up, I told her about my porch dilemma. The harsh winter months had not been kind to the blinds, and I wanted to find an affordable solution.

“Maria, I’m almost there.  I just need to find someone who can sew and knows where to buy inexpensive material to make window coverings for my porch.”  I said.

“Beth…I sew…”

I don’t think I gave her an option when I replied, “Oh Maria!  Will you make me some window coverings?  I’ll pay you, just let me know how much.”

She introduced me to Jomar, a store in Philadelphia, that can only be described as Home Goods, and TJ Maxx meets Jo-Ann Fabrics and a flea market.  I left the store with twenty-two yards of quality fabric for $22.00.  She had a vision, and I had trust. The outcome was amazing.

The six years that I lived in the house on Pine Grove Road were interesting, to say the least, and included more than a few significant life changes. They were also full of positive changes, and it was while living there that I discovered I’m a writer and an artist. It’s also the time in my life in which I truly learned to have faith and appreciate serendipity.

From my first drawing lessons in the Art Studio at Patterson Farm to the challenging lessons at Princeton Art Council to my online writing classes through E2toGo, I grew and changed. I rediscovered my joyful spirit and sense of curiosity. I had no idea just how much my life would be enriched by my move to Pennsylvania.

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It was not without its bumps, hurdles and challenges – but, I not only worked my way through all of them. I became stronger because of these experiences.

Back to Omaha?!

The road back to Omaha was long and one that frankly, I resisted. When I left Nebraska in the fall of 2008, I was sure I would never move back. It’s not that Omaha is a lousy place to live, in fact, it’s a city with a lot to offer – in my opinion, it really is a hidden gem. But, I had no family there, I had done a poor job of keeping in touch with the few friends I had made, and to be honest, I didn’t believe I had what it would take to face memories of the past.

Unfortunately, the job I left Omaha for didn’t turn out the way I had hoped and I left the company after four years and entered the world of self-employment. 2015 marked my third year of freelancing as a website consultant and content writer, and due to a variety of reasons, I decided to find a way to re-enter the world of corporate America.

For me, it turned out that being self-employed was far more appealing in theory than in reality. Sure you can work from anywhere and theoretically you can make your own hours, but in my experience, there is no such thing as taking a break. There’s also the expense of health insurance or the risk of going without, the constant challenge of drumming up new business while keeping existing clients happy, and then, there’s the solitude.

In the end, it was the constant state of being alone that made me choose to update my resume and my LinkedIn profile. After years of writing about E-commerce technology and best practices, I wanted to be back in a role where I was making things happen rather than one of providing sound advice and wondering if it would be executed. I also wanted to return to a leadership role and be part of a team.

After almost a year of searching, and of countless interviews, I was fortunate enough to be offered a position at a company in Omaha. Although I swore I would never return to Omaha, the opportunity to get back in the E-commerce game, plus the prospect of working with some of my favorite peeps from my previous Omaha gig made it a no brainer.

In all honesty, I had no idea how heavily the cards were stacked against me. Re-entering the corporate world into a role that is very technology dependent after being out of the industry for four years is practically unheard of. Thank goodness for tenacity, good relationships, a good career track record and a bit of ignorance!

It was hard to leave my friends and the life I had made in Pennslyvania, and even more difficult to leave my youngest son and move half-way across the country, but it was exactly what I needed to do.

Friends graciously hosted a farewell gathering at Snipes Family Farm, a night full of love and laughter, and one I will always treasure.

Going away party with my friends in Yardley (2)

This lovely circle of people helped me grow and expanded my world in more ways than I can describe.

I left Omaha by car as a married woman with children at home and two dogs, I returned by plane as a single woman with grown children and a cat.

Life in Omaha

I can best describe my return to Omaha as a soft landing. Although I made the move by myself, there were friends at the other end to welcome me and make the transition as smooth as possible. In spite of my lack of communication during the years I lived in Pennslyvania, people were at the ready and volunteered to pick me up from the airport, help me move into my new apartment and treat me to many welcome back lunches and dinners.

Looking back, I’m not sure what I was thinking when I made the decision to rent my apartment sight unseen and move in the day after arriving in the city. I wasn’t in the least bit prepared to live in an empty space for the week or so that it would take for the moving company to arrive with my belongings. All I had brought with me was one suitcase with clothes and toiletries for me and another with things needed for Miss Mia, my cat.

Suitcase packed for a cross country plane trip wiht a cat

My dear friend Gina thought of everything and had a care package prepared for me. It contained an air mattress, hangers, toilet paper, a shower curtain, bedding, towels and a few essential kitchen supplies. It was brilliant, even the cat thought so.

Mia sleeping on the air mattress in omaha

My friend Stacey met me on the day I moved in and brought me a welcome basket, a feast of fruit and a bottle of wine.

A week or so later, I once again found myself surrounded by boxes and the task of unpacking and organizing a new home. Of course, I started with the kitchen and worked my way through the boxes and into the creation of a beautiful space to live.

I settled into life in Omaha with relative ease and enjoyed the chance to reconnect with friends and to make new ones. It may sound odd, but I believe my return to Omaha was a necessary step in my personal and professional journey.

From a creative perspective, it took me almost the entire two years that I lived there to find an opportunity to participate in an art class that was taught by a professional artist. However, I had great fun attending more than a few “paint and sip” classes and exploring “how to do acrylic pouring” videos on YouTube. My dining room table was covered in a yellow plastic artist’s tablecloth and a project in progress more often than it was set up to host guests.

The strange thing was that while I was exploring visual art with fervor, I struggled to write even once a month, let alone once a week or every day. I guess it just goes to show that there is a season for everything.

I didn’t move to Omaha with the expectation of staying there for the rest of my life. However, I didn’t expect that my return to the city would only be for a couple of years. But in June of 2018, for the second time in my life, I received three calls from three recruiters within one business day. It was impossible not to take it as a sign that it was worth at least having the conversation and that it was time to make an inventory of the reasons to stay or move on.

While my job was secure, leadership changes in the company had caused a significant shift in my responsibilities, and my role was no longer focused on the website customer experience.

I decided it was time to move on, but only for the right opportunity.

It was a whirlwind summer and fall full of interviews. It culminated in back to back in person interviews in mid-October, one in Pittsburgh, PA and one in Syracuse, NY. I never dreamt I’d be in a position to have to choose between two opportunities, but there I was. The decision wasn’t easy, but in the end, I decided to accept the opportunity with a company headquartered in Syracuse, or more accurately, Liverpool, NY.

As my welcome to Omaha began, with lunches and dinners, so did my departure back to the Eastern part of the country end. I hosted a farewell brunch with my eclectic group of Omaha transplants, a wonderful tradition that was started and carried out most often by the most gracious M.J.

I couldn’t resist the urge to model my new black winter coat with its fur-lined hood during brunch.

My co-workers sent me off with a gathering as well. I was overwhelmed and delighted by the turnout.

My third going away gathering was the most special of all in some regards, it was with my circle of friends who are regulars at Fernando’s. Fernandos is a Mexican restaurant in Omaha, there are two locations, but the one on 75th and Pacific is by far the best. The margaritas there are second to none.

While I was living in Omaha, I fell into a rather bad habit of stopping at Fernando’s for dinner multiple times a week. Who can blame me, it was literally on my way home from work, and as I mentioned, they have the best margaritas in the country.

The plus side of this bad habit is that I met some wonderful people, and made some genuine friendships. On my last night in Omaha, they all gathered at the restaurant to see me off. It was a night of hugs and laughter. The following morning I began the three-day cross country drive from Omaha to Syracuse.

On the Road Again

On Tuesday, December 4th, 2018 the movers arrived at my apartment and packed up my belongings. On December 5th, they loaded them onto the truck, and I settled into a pet-friendly hotel with Mia, which conveniently, was close to Fernando’s.

Thursday morning I double checked the contents of my trunk and headed east. This time, thanks to Gina’s wisdom, I was prepared to move into my new townhouse with no furniture. My trunk contained boxes with essential supplies such as dish soap, toilet paper, hangers, towels and bedding; boxes which were intended to (and did) double as nightstands. Of course, it also was packed with the basic things needed when one is traveling with a cat.

Trunk Packed for Move to NY

After a night in Indiana, where I was mistakenly identified as a trucker (it’s a long story), followed by a night in Erie, PA, I arrived safely in Liverpool, NY on the third day of driving.

It was a Saturday, not usually a work day for the folks who manage the property, but they were gracious enough to meet me and turn over the keys and garage door opener so I could move into my new townhouse (once again rented sight unseen, but a perfect place to land).

Daylight Drive in Liverpool

I unloaded my car, made a trip to Walmart and another to Target and set up my bedroom- complete with a new Smart T.V., a luxury air mattress, two divine cardboard box nightstands and a couple of inexpensive lamps.

Air Mattress and cardboard box night stands

As of today, I’ve managed to unpack all of the boxes, and I would say that my new home is mostly in order. I have two remaining corners of chaos to deal with, a painting to try and repair, there’s still art and pictures to be hung, and I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of my new furniture. But all-in-all, I think I’ve managed to make a somewhat cookie-cutter layout feel like a home.

For me, cooking a home-made meal is the first thing that makes a place feel like home, and surprisingly I’ve done a lot of that since moving here. The second thing is having friends and family visit, which is something I’m looking forward to, May is going to be a marvelous month!

So here I am, in Liverpool, NY, starting a new chapter and establishing a new home. I have a feeling that it’s going to be a great experience, it’s certainly off to a beautiful beginning.

Silly Rabbit, Piano Lessons are for Grown-Ups!

The piano has always been a part of my life. Some of my earliest memories are of Grandma Marion playing carols in the crowded living room after a traditional Christmas dinner of Swedish meatballs, lefsa, lutefisk and rømmegrøt. (Yes, I’m a bit Norwegian).

Surrounded by aunts, uncles and cousins, the 24th of December was full of warmth, even on the coldest of winter nights in North Dakota. I do believe my love of music, especially the piano is rooted in large part with memories of her. My piano is part of her legacy.

I took lessons as a child and through my teenage years. If memory serves me correctly, I made weekly trips to my instructor’s house until I graduated from high school. I don’t ever remember dreading practicing or going to the weekly lesson. I also don’t remember looking forward to it.

To the best of my recollection, I liked my teacher a great deal, hated playing in recitals, always had trouble remembering the right fingering and was somewhat relieved to be “done” playing the piano as I entered my college years.

Thankfully, my parents were wiser than me, and when my grandmother passed away, they used part of my dad’s inheritance to purchase a piano for me. It seemed like the right thing to do, although I never dreamt it would mean that I’d ever touch the keyboard again.

They bought me a beautiful upright, made by Yamaha – which according to my new piano tuner is one of the best.

Anna tuning Beth's Piano

The details are fuzzy, but soon after the purchase, I arranged lessons for myself and my three children. We all advanced at different speeds, and I’m not sure why we stopped our Saturday lessons, but by the time we did I had made my way through most of John Thompson’s fourth-grade series. For anyone familiar with the series, you’ll understand why I’m proud of this accomplishment.

My piano and I were separated for three years when I moved from Nebraska to Pennsylvania.  We were reunited thanks to the generosity of friends, but in spite of the reunion, it went unplayed for the better part of eleven years, that is, until recently.

Inspiration comes at the strangest times and often-times in the most unexpected ways. My new boss and I were talking about music, and I happened to mention that I had a piano.

“Do you play?” he asked.

“I used to, but I’m beyond rusty and my piano is horribly out of tune.”

He said, “Why don’t you get it tuned and start playing again?”

“Hmmm, that’s a good question, maybe I’ll look into it.”

His comment and the rest of the conversation motivated me to get serious about at least getting my piano back in tune after 11 years of traveling back and forth across the country.

Finding a piano tuner was much easier than finding a teacher – but after a few weeks of Googling, I found both and I couldn’t be happier with both discoveries.

Anna or A. Ajemian is a second generation piano tuner – she mastered the art of piano tuning against her father’s advice. He wanted her to pursue a “respectable job” for a woman. In other words, he thought she should find a “nice office job.” Thank goodness she ignored his advice!

Three weeks after having my piano tuned I had my first lesson with Mark. He welcomed me warmly and I felt at home as I took my place on the bench in front of the obviously well played and loved white upright against the main wall in his studio.

We talked and I explained that I had taken lessons for many years and the focus of my study had been on classical and jazz. I shared that I’m at a point in my life that I just want to have fun with music, and while I want to learn and be challenged I don’t feel a need to graduate from John Thompson’s Fifth (and last) grade level book.

He said “I know exactly what you need,” and flipped through a book of sheet music intended for someone who plays the ukulele. I was dumbfounded and wondered for a moment whether or not I had made the right choice for a teacher; ukulele sheet music only has a single note melody line – no chords, no bass clef. I was perplexed and had no idea how this was going to work out.

After settling on a song, he asked me, “Do you know how to chord?”

I responded by playing the middle C chord with some authority. He beamed, “Yes that’s it! Now, do you know what the inversion of that chord is?”

I looked at him blankly. He went on to explain how chord inversions are different ways to play the same chord, each position is called a different inversion depending on what the bass note is. He guided me through some basic chord formations, and I felt both comfortable and challenged. It was clear to me then, I had most definitely found the right teacher.

It was scheduled to be a 30-minute lesson, so at 8:35, five minutes over the scheduled time, I fully expected him to give me my homework, not to say, “Start from the top again and incorporate the chord work we just talked about.”

I did, certainly not flawlessly (not even close), but I did my best and it was fun.

At 9:05 he wrapped up the lesson and gave me my homework assignment, which includes a lot of work around root and inversion cords while working a Bob Dylan classic, “Blowing in the Wind.”

As we were wrapping up, he said, “Your lessons won’t usually be this long, they’ll be in the neighborhood of 30 minutes or slightly more. But tonight I was inspired to keep going because of how quickly you were catching on.

It’s clear you’ve had excellent musical training and have talent. Because of your background, you made more progress in 30 minutes than some students make in months. This is going to be fun!”

I’m going to enjoy learning something completely different from playing classical music. It’s also cool to know that all of the years of playing and practicing songs from the various grade levels of “John Thompson’s Modern Course for the Piano” paid off.

I’ve had great fun practicing this week, even if my cat doesn’t seem to appreciate it.

mia guarding the piano

I’m excited to see where this new adventure takes me!

If you’ve made it this far, here’s a sound bite from my first week of practice – it’s far from perfect, but it makes me smile nonetheless.

For the second time in my life, I’m proof positive that piano lessons are not just for kids. I also won’t be surprised if my next lesson includes a lot of focus on the importance of finger position on the keyboard. I have a feeling it would have made some of the chord transitions much smoother.

All in all, it’s so much fun to explore something familiar, but yet brand new.

 

 

Peat and Repeat

Just because a recipe made its way into a church cookbook doesn’t mean it’s going to taste good. That’s a lesson I learned many years ago when I was cooking for a family of five.

Apparently the same holds true for recipes that are delivered by a meal delivery service. A lesson I learned recently,  as a part of my attempts to master the art and science of cooking for one.

Cooking for Five

When my kids were growing up they were all very active in sports, at school and hanging out with friends. Evening mealtime was a very important time of the day for our family and we made it a point to sit down together whenever we could – no cell phones allowed, to share a meal and the highlights or sometimes lowlights of the day.

The older they got, the more difficult it became to come home from work and prepare a home-cooked meal and we found ourselves eating out way too often; a fattening and expensive habit. I wanted to find a way to help us all eat healthier, at home, and at the same time take the drudgery out of the daily task of figuring out what to make for dinner and then prepare it.

The answer was a weekend of mass meal preparation. Over the course of a few years, I fine-tuned my technique for prepping somewhere between 20 and 25 meals from taking up an entire weekend to a single day. Somehow, I found a way to complete everything from grocery shopping to cleaning up in a little over eight hours. The answer to the question “what’s for dinner” changed from “ugh, I don’t know” to “let’s go pick something out of the freezer.”

It was a family affair and usually included loud music, dancing and off-key singing into the head of a wooden spoon which did a fine job of doubling as a microphone. The day always ended with dinner at Fernandos, our favorite Mexican restaurant. After all that food prep, I figured I had earned the treat.

The one downside to this approach was that it was tempting to make the same meals over and over again because I had learned how to prep them and practically knew the recipe and ingredients by heart. In an effort to add variety into the stacks of plastic storage containers and gallon-size freezer bags that filled the freezer, I started including a few new recipes in each of the monthly meal prep events.

Peat or Repeat

For many people, I would guess that hearing the words “peat and repeat,” may conjure up a memory of the riddle: “Pete and repeat went fishing. Pete fell out of the boat, who was left?”

In our house, it had a double meaning. Each time I served one of the new recipes, the family would vote on whether or not it was worthy of repeating. The meals that didn’t make the cut were voted off the table and categorized as a “peat,” the opposite of repeat.

The worst peat I ever made didn’t even make it to the table, let alone a family vote. It was a recipe for barbecue chicken from a church cookbook. To this day I don’t know what I was thinking when I combined ketchup and frozen lemonade concentrate poured it over the chicken and turned the crockpot on before leaving for work. (I know!)

I’m not sure why I thought that just because a recipe made it into a church cookbook meant that it was going to be good, but I did.

Thank goodness I was the first one home that day. I walked in the kitchen and almost gagged when the sickly sweet smell of ketchup combined with lemonade hit me. I didn’t think twice and while holding my breath, I unplugged the crockpot and dumped its contents into the trashcan in the driveway.

Needless to say, that recipe was an unequivocal peat and we had dinner at Fernandos that night.

Cooking for One

There have been a lot of changes in my life as I’ve transitioned from the time in my life when I regularly cooked for five and sometimes more, to most often trying to figure out how to cook for one.

Oddly, or maybe not, it’s been one of the more difficult things for me to figure out. The first challenge for me was getting used to the lack of a need to have leftovers on hand to serve as midnight snacks during impromptu visits from my youngest son and his friends. The second challenge, and not a small one for me, was in finding recipes that serve one and appealed to me.

There are some pretty good resources out there and I did manage to find more than a few that seemed worth trying. This led to challenge number three, grocery shopping for recipes for one and also challenge number four, having the motivation to cook after work.

I tried a meal delivery service in an attempt to solve three out of four of the excuses for not preparing healthy meals for myself. After one too many ingredient substitutions, the worst of which was when they sent brussel sprouts instead of asparagus, I canceled the service. Once again found myself falling back into the habit of eating at restaurants, one in particular, far too often.

A little over a month ago, I decided to give a different meal delivery service a try and I’ve been trying new things. For the past few weeks, I’ve been “zesting” limes and lemons, charring corn and goodness knows how many other new food preparation methods that were previously unfamiliar to me.

Much to my surprise, I’m actually enjoying learning these new techniques and with the exception of one “peat”, I’ve been very happy with all of the recipes. The ingredients are intended to make a meal for two, but I find the serving sizes to be more than generous and in some cases, could feed at least four. This means I have just the right amount of leftovers for meals throughout the week and I have variety.

It’s worth noting that my grocery bill has gone down, I throw away less food – in particular, produce because the service sends me just what I need. I’ve even made a few of the “repeats” on my own.

As with a church cookbook though, not every recipe is worthy of a repeat just because it’s featured as a menu selection on a meal delivery service website. Although I’m sure the odds are probably higher than the church cookbook.

Going forward, for me, any recipe with couscous or cooked spinach is an automatic peat, or in this case, a do not order.

The Weekend the Pope was in Town

The past several years have been quite the adventure and full of stories, most of which, I haven’t been able to share until now. In part due to being smart about the timing of when to share certain adventures and for some experiences, well, just being ready to tell them.

My travel misadventures during the weekend the Pope last visited the U.S. falls in the first category.

In the late summer of 2015, I was working remotely for a company located in Long Beach California as an SEO Specialist. I was also doing a fair amount of free-lance consulting in the hours before and after the office in Cali came to life. For a variety of reasons, it became obvious to me that it was time for a change and I added a full-time job search to my already full plate.

My goal was to get back into a leadership role, be a part of a team and return to the world of eCommerce and making websites easier for people to use. Much to my surprise and delight, I didn’t have to wait long until my first in-person interview.

On the evening of September 24, 2015, I boarded a plane to Indianapolis. Indianappolis Boarding

I lived in Philly at the time but had the company I was interviewing with make my flight arrangements through Newark, N.J.

Knowing that the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia and NYC that weekend had the potential to make local travel a hassle, I figured it was safer to suffer finding my way around the airport in Newark rather than risk missing my flight.

The flight went off without a hitch, I landed on time and felt like a fairy princess when a limo picked me up from the airport and again in the morning at the hotel the next morning.

One interview blurred into the next as I answered what seemed to be the same questions over and over again. Midway through the back to back day of interviews, the executive admin assistant who had made my flight arrangements burst into the conference room.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, but your return flight was canceled and we had to rebook you. We’ll adjust the remaining interview schedule and the limo will be here to pick you up an hour earlier.”

I looked at the itinerary she handed me and replied, “This will actually work out well, this flight will get me home an hour earlier than the original flight.”

A final limo ride to the airport, a glass of wine and some dinner to celebrate the day and the flight took off on time, I made my connection without missing a beat. And then…

About 45 minutes before landing, I pulled the itinerary out of my bag to double check connecting gate and the details for my final destination. My heart almost stopped.

I turned to the young man sitting next to me, “Am I reading this right? Does my flight land at LaGuardia, in the middle of New York City?”

“Yes, you’re reading it right.”

“But, my car is parked in Newark. I’m supposed to be flying into Newark, not New York.”

“Let me start checking train schedules for you. Oh,… but wait, the Pope is in town. The train schedule will be completely unreliable. Let me see if I can think of something else for you.”

While I appreciated his optimism and desire to help, it seemed unlikely that he was going to be able to help me out of my predicament. I was on a plane that was about to land more than 30 miles away from where my car was parked. Thirty miles in the Midwest is nothing, it’s thirty minutes or less depending on how fast you drive. However, thirty miles between NYC and Newark is an hour’s drive under the best traffic circumstances, let alone on a Friday night when the Pope was in town.

I turned to my journal and started listing out possible solutions while bargaining with my travel angels. If perhaps I could get a taxi from LaGuardia to Jersey for $100, the day would be saved. The chances of finding a hotel room were none, so images of myself on a bench in Penn Station or on a chair at LaGuardia, one eye open, seemed to prevail. I had no idea how I was going to get home that night.

I closed the journal with the realization that I would just have to figure it out.

The young man next to me flagged down a flight attendant, “Her flight was booked into the wrong airport and she needs to find a way to get to Newark tonight. Do you have any recommendations?”

“Well, a cab is out of the question. The fare between New York and Newark is normally at least $100, but with the Pope being in town, the traffic is crazy and it will cost at least double that.”

There went my hopes.

“But, there is a bus that shuttles passengers between JFK, LaGuardia and Newark. I think it costs around 30 bucks.”

Hooray! The day had been saved, or had it?

My flight into LaGuardia landed late. Like a madwoman, I made my way through the crowd – down the escalator and to the ticket counter for the airport shuttle bus. The agent was just turning the sign from open to closed, the hours said 9 am to 10:30 pm. It was 10:33.

I must have looked like I was going to burst into tears, or perhaps I actually did. At any rate, he turned the sign around and asked, “How can I help you?”

I explained my situation and he nodded along.

“Here’s the thing,” he said.

“I’m not sure if you’ve heard about it, but the Pope is in town. This has changed our regular route. Normally my bus would take you to the parking lot at Port Authority and the next bus would pick you up from there and take you to Newark. But because the Pope is in town, the roads have been rerouted.

We would drop you off near the Port Authority parking lot and then you would need to walk about a mile to a temporary lot. From there we can get you to Newark.”

This was not what I wanted to hear as the hour was nearing 11 pm in the heart of NYC.

Just then, a man near my age turned to face me.

“I’m in the same boat and am trying to get a cab. Would you be interested in splitting the fare with me if I can negotiate it?”

Without thinking twice, I answered yes. Somehow, he miraculously negotiated a fare of $160, to be split between us.

My share, plus a $20 tip equaled a $100 taxi ride from LaGuardia to Newark.

I never saw the Pope in person, but I’ll never forget the weekend he was in town. It was quite an adventure.

Tuning into Life in Liverpool

It’s a little hard to wrap my head around the fact that I’ve moved four times in the past 11 years.

First from a five-bedroom house in Omaha, NE to a three bedroom apartment in Yardley, a township in Pennsylvania, located just north of Philadelphia. There was barely enough room for our basic belongings so I had to move my piano to my mother-in-law’s basement with the hope that someday I would find a way to get it back.

Next, my youngest son and I moved out of the three bedroom apartment into a three bedroom house. A house that had more space than we had furniture and the perfect wall for my piano, which, unfortunately, was still in Omaha.

Three years to the day that we arrived in Pennsylvania, I received a phone call.  The message was brief.

“Your piano is here; can you meet us today to accept delivery?”

Thanks to the generosity of my dear friends Dick and Gina, my piano and I were once again reunited.

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Although it was a bit out of tune after three years of neglect, it still sounded amazing to my ears. I practically wore the keyboard out playing Annie’s Song by John Denver over and over again. For some reason, it’s the only song that I can just sit down and play after being away from the keyboard for years. Not perfectly for sure, but at least it’s somewhat recognizable.

Fast forward to September of 2016 when life’s circumstances catapulted me back to Omaha, and into second floor two bedroom apartment. This time the piano came with me and there was a beautiful spot for it, but knowing how sound carries through hardwood floors, it went unplayed for the two years I lived there.

It sadly became a beautiful, out of tune and sentimental piece of accent furniture; all the same, I was happy it had remained part of my physical space.

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I fully imagined myself staying at my job in Omaha for a number of years, not forever, but certainly for longer than two years. The Universe or maybe Fate had other plans in mind for the final month of 2018.

On Tuesday, December 4th, the movers arrived at my apartment and packed up my belongings, the next day they loaded up the truck and I relocated to a pet-friendly hotel with Mia. Thursday morning, I loaded up the car – cat and all, and began the drive from Eastern Nebraska to Upstate New York.

Trunk Packed for Move to NY

Three days later I set up camp in my new townhouse with an air mattress, cardboard box night stands, a couple of inexpensive lamps from Walmart and Miss Mia – my still mysterious cat.

Air mattress and cardboard box night stands

Over the course of a week, my furniture was delivered. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, and if it hadn’t been for the piano bench precariously perched on top of a stack of boxes, I would have doubted that my piano had been delivered.

boxes piled high

After weeks of unpacking that seemed like they would never end, the main floor of my townhouse is mostly in order and not only did I find my piano, I was able to fill this corner of my new abode with character.

Beth's piano and pictures

The largest piece above the piano is a piece of lacework that my dad’s Aunt Gladys created. It’s called Hardanger and is a form of embroidery, origins unknown, but for some reason flourished in Norway.

The dried flower pieces that surround it were created by my maternal grandmother.

Thankfully one of my coworkers volunteered to help me out. Hanging this arrangement is not a one short person job. 😄

It hadn’t occurred to me before today that this arrangement of art is a wonderful representation of both sides of my family.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the reason I have a piano in the first place is directly related to Grandma Marion, my dad’s mom. I do believe my love of music, especially the piano, is rooted in large part with my memories of her. My piano is part of her legacy.

I’m so happy it’s all in place!

Finally to the real reason for this update.

After eleven years of disruption, my piano is now as perfectly tuned as possible.

I found A. Ajemian, a second generation piano tuner, via Google – as we find most products and services these days; the appointment was confirmed through text messages.

Finally, after 11 years and four moves, my piano would be back in tune.

As it turns out that there is at least one other human being on earth with a bad sense of direction, even worse than mine. She called me 45 minutes after she was due to arrive and announced that she was lost. Somehow I was able to sort out where she was and guide her to my driveway.

It’s worth mentioning that I’ve given five other people the very same directions and all of them found my place without trouble. 🙂

Before my move to Pennslyvania, I had the piano tuned on a regular basis. I honestly never took much interest in the process. Once a year, the piano tuner’s wife called to make an appointment, they showed up, he tuned the piano while I went about my business, I wrote a check and they left.

This time, however, I had a much stronger interest in seeing how the process worked, well that, and Anna – the “A” in A. Ajemian, was quite talkative. Plus, I really had no other “business” to attend to.

Anna (I like knowing her first name), carried in her father’s toolbox and in between anecdotes about why she loves pianos manufactured by Yamaha (my piano is a Yamaha), settled into the task at hand.

Anna tuning Beth's Piano Once she settled in, she became quite serious and focused. I’m mystified by the tools and techniques that she used to work her way through correcting one tinny octave after another. But somehow she did.

It was fascinating to watch how her facial expressions changed from pinched to relaxed as she brought the strings behind the keys back into tune. Each time she finished a big section, it was time for tea and a chat.

We shared two cups of tea this morning.

Her dad was a piano tuner. As a young woman, she decided she couldn’t let this art form die with him. Apparently, he wasn’t very keen on having her follow in his footsteps.

“Find a nice office job. Tuning pianos is not a proper job for a woman.”

She ignored his advice, carries his toolbox to this day and now, thanks to this legacy, my piano is once again in tune and it’s brought me one step closer to feeling my home is complete.

In an unexpected final moment, Anna, the piano tuner, snagged me for an impromptu selfie.

I obviously didn’t have time to make sure every hair was in place, but I’m sharing the moment anyway.

Beth and Anna

And yes, I have played Annie’s Song by John Denver numerous times in the past two days.

New Beginnings and Beautiful Outcomes

Every artist was first an amateur.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hot Shops Art Center is home  to more than 80 local professional artists and multiple gallery spaces. Although I haven’t yet attended one, I’ve heard the bi-annual Open Houses are amazing and grow in popularity each year. A visit to the Hot Shops is definitely now on my artist’s date list!

As an amateur artist, never in a million years did I think that I’d have the opportunity to create art in such an inspiring place, but the weekend of October 13th a dream I didn’t even know I had, came true.

The night before, with no small amount of nervousness about the workshop and jumping into unknown territory, I loaded up my car with a laundry basket full of supplies, along with a half dozen big scary canvases.IMG_5044

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The name of the workshop was “Big Juicy Abstracts,” taught by Beverly Todd, a local professional artist, and beautiful human being.

The list of materials, which included canvases, specifically called out the requested size of canvas. 38″ x 38,” as a starting point – in case you’re wondering, that’s equivalent to the height of a taller than average three year old.

The majority of my artwork has been completed on canvases and pieces of drawing paper between the sizes of 5″ x 7″ and 10″ x 20″, with two exceptions.

The first and most significant was the three little birds painting I created a few years ago at a friend’s request.33_three little birds final on white background

Over the past two years, I’ve dabbled in acrylic through multiple visits to local paint and sip venues

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and through spending countless hours on YouTube channeling the techniques of other artists to create something uniquely mine.

Flower liquid pour

I’ve learned a lot, have had tremendous fun experimenting, but something has been missing – the opportunity for a more structured, hand’s on learning environment.

I didn’t realize how hungry I was for such an opportunity until I saw the promotional post for the workshop in my Facebook feed. Although I normally dislike the promo zone on Facebook, in this instance I was grateful for it.

The weather was gray and gloomy, but my spirits were high as I unloaded my car and traversed to the open studio space. I was the last to arrive, which surprisingly meant that I ended up with the best spot in the room, the one with the most natural light.

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I set up my station as quickly as possible and settled in to learn and explore.

Abstract art is an interesting concept, so often we judge “good art” based upon how accurately it represents our physical world. In other words, how well the artist recreated a landscape or the impression of a person or an object through paint, ink or pencil.

Abstract art, is often criticized and misunderstood. I have to confess that prior to learning a bit more about the art of being abstract, I too have thought, “Why is this piece of art great? A five year old could have done this.”

What I know now, is that part of makes abstract art great – is exactly that. It’s created from the heart and soul, from a place of feeling. A place that’s sometimes happy and sometimes sad – a place that’s completely human. That’s how children create, from the heart and without overthinking it.

Over the course of the two day workshop, I also learned that while abstract pieces may appear to be randomly assembled to the untrained eye – there are very purposeful intentions behind the patterns that have emerged on the canvas.

We took time to “loosen up” and try some creative techniques on for size, things like making marks on a canvas with charcoal before painting.

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Seemingly insignificant actions, with unexpected outcomes.

By putting myself into a playful state of mind, and by following the intuitive input of the teacher – I quit procrastinating and painted.

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I’m not going to lie – it was a struggle to get to this point. The concept of painting on a such a large canvas was intimidating, and watching the seasoned artists around me fill their canvases with paint made me pause and wonder whether or not I was in the right place.

In many preceding drawing and painting classes, I’d never completed the work during the allotted class time. Frozen by my comparing mind, I’ve almost always allowed perfectionism to trump playfulness.

What I came to understand later in the day, as we shared our art – and what we learned, is that I’m far from alone. Even the most experienced artists in the group felt like they’d stepped way outside of their comfort zone and were unsure, but happy with where they had landed.

As it turns out, we’re not really alone. We just need to be brave enough to try.

In an unprecedented weekend, I completed not just one – but three pieces of art. I do believe it’s the first time, outside of a paint and sip experience, that I’ve actually completed a piece within the time-frame allotted.

This piece was particularly daunting, the size of the canvas was beyond my imagination, or so I thought.

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It was a fabulous high energy weekend! I somehow think it’s a glimpse into the future.

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Change is the One Thing in Life that is Certain

“I’ve suffered a great number of catastrophes in my life, most of which have never happened.” ~ Mark Twain

There have been times in my life when I feel like I’ve jumped out of the frying pan into the fire, in other words – moved from one difficult situation to one even worse.

What I’ve learned from these times is that nothing is certain, except that there will always be change, and that sometimes being in the fire – dancing through the flames – serves to make me stronger.

Last weekend, I walked through fire. Not just metaphorically, I literally (yes, this is an appropriate time to use this word) walked across a bed of hot coals. It was an unbelievable experience.

There’s no part of me that woke up last Friday morning and thought, hmmmm…tonight I’m going to walk across a bed of hot coals.

I don’t have any pictures of it. My phone and camera were safely tucked away in my room, and for some reason I resisted the urge to run to the elevator and collect the technology that might help me capture the moment.

Thankfully, a few people did capture the moment and were willing to share it.

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Photo by Jeanine Moravec Weise

The woman in the picture isn’t me, but it could be.

The first time I walked across the bed of hot coals, I was simply carried by the energy of the group. It wasn’t without intention, but it wasn’t specific to me.

The second time I stood in front of the path of burning embers, I raised my hands above my head and shouted “Abundance!” I heard two hundred voices echo my intent as I crossed the fiery pit.

The path to Abundance is paved with challenges, it won’t be easy – but it will be worth it.

The key is to live each day without making up what tomorrow will bring and accepting that the only thing that is certain is change.