Do Cat’s Go to Heaven?

Animals have a funny way of wriggling their way into the deepest corners of one’s heart.

In the late summer of 2014, I had to face the difficult but unavoidable decision to hold hands and shed tears with my youngest son while we drove to the Veterinary hospital in Yardley, PA to bring peace to Romeo’s life and to end his excruciating pain.

He was a brave and funny dog,  and as miniature dachshunds often-times do, he maintained a puppy-like quality almost to the end. Unfortunately, age, arthritis and a severe birth defect made the decision to euthanize him clear but still painful.

11_Romeo Watching the Progress

Only a few weeks later, I said goodbye to Annie under the care of the same compassionate animal lovers and caregivers. This time on my own. As it turned out, Annie couldn’t bear the loss of Romeo in addition to her faithful companion Christian heading off to college. She passed in peace.

Annie on the steps.jpg

One of my favorite stories about Annie is when my friend Dan house sat for me while Christian and drove from Pennsylvania to Missouri. He called me on the third afternoon of his stay and said, “Beth, it’s so cute how Annie sits on the third step every day around three pm to watch the squirrels play.”

“Dan,” I said, “She’s not watching the squirrels play, she’s waiting for the school bus to bring Christian home.”

The memory of this exchange never fails to make me chuckle.

No Pets Ever Again

After this experience, I swore to myself and to my youngest son, no pets ever again. My commonly repeated reason was, “They’re too high maintenance, and I don’t want my lifestyle to be constrained by the effort it takes to care for a pet, especially if I want to travel or have to move again someday.”

Christian, my youngest son, gave me the right amount of time to grieve before the hints started dropping, not about a new dog, but of all things the hints were about how cute and low maintenance cats are.

No cats, no dogs, no pets remained my stance – well until it waivered with one too many cute cat pictures sent my way via mobile technology.

We started to talk about it and came to an agreement. If it was going to happen, and for me, that was a pretty big if – I would consider adopting an adult cat, one that was as hypo-allergenic as a cat can be and one that was not going to reproduce.

We agreed on all counts.

Google the Matchmaker

So, one night in early January of 2015, I first did some research to find which breeds of cat are the least likely to bother people with pet allergies. I quickly scrolled past and dismissed the idea of owning a hairless cat and just as quickly, began to seriously consider the notion of finding and adopting a Russian Blue.

Russian Blues are described to be intelligent, somewhat shy around strangers but still sociable, playful and affectionate with their owners. I was sold by the description alone, and then there is the fact that Russian Blues are gorgeous. They have a special kind of grey coat of hair; it’s thick and smooth and shiny. But, it’s the eyes that captured me – I never knew there could be such expression in a cat’s face.

Maybe it’s the way they’re a bit wide set on their face combined with the large ears that made me fall in love with the breed. I just couldn’t help but think that if, and again a big if, I were to adopt a cat, a Russian Blue would be the right match.

After completing my research, I did one Google search. It was something along the lines of “adult Russian Blue cats for adoption near me.”

The first link in the search results was to an animal shelter in Trevose, PA. Before clicking through, I checked the distance from me and decided it was reasonable. One click later, I found Mia. A female Russian Blue, everything from the description of her personality to her glamour shot was spot on, and I felt my resolve around the topic of “no pets ever again” begin to dissolve.

Mias glamour shot from the shelter website

I copied her glamour shot and sent it to Christan in a text message. As you can guess, the deal was sealed for both of us, and I brought her home on January 15, 2015.

Mia on here first day at home. Jan 16 2015

Life on Pine Grove Road

Meeting Mia at the shelter was a bit discombobulating. I’ve never seen so many kittens and cats running around in a confined space. Mia was in a kennel, sequestered from the other cats, while at the same time she was smack dab in the middle of the chaos.

The caregivers at the shelter explained to me that she was just under a year old, had no tolerance for other cats and had been in the shelter for nearly eight weeks. I felt compelled to bring her home.

It didn’t take any time at all for Mia to settle into her new home on Pine Grove Road in Yardley, PA. Mia and I enjoyed two full summers in our house with a three season porch. She loved to enjoy the view from the windows while I puttered around with paints.

She regularly supervised my creative sessions and working sessions, no matter what room in the house they happened to take place.

 

Oddly enough, one of her favorite places to hang out was on the third step with a view into the front yard. Her favorite time, also around 3:00 pm.

Mia on the steps

I’d be remiss in telling this story if I didn’t mention that all was not completely smooth with Mia’s adjustment during this time. Her eight-week stay in the shelter as a kitten, not quite a cat had left her a bit skittish and untrusting, which led to some behavioral challenges mostly to do with using the litterbox.

More than one trip to the vet resulted in medicine and special food to treat her interstitial cystitis symptoms. I had no idea that there was such a thing as a neurological condition that affects a cat’s bladder and causes them pain when they use the litter box. It’s often-times caused by stress.

At any rate, the meds and the food seemed to work and life with Mia was more than good.

The Road to Omaha

A new work opportunity halfway across the country in October of 2016 meant packing up my belongings and settling into a new abode in Omaha, NE.

I packed a suitcase full of the comforts of home for Mia, boarded the plane (after going through security with her, which was a trip in and of itself), and checked into a pet-friendly hotel before pumping up the air mattress in my new apartment.

We settled into a routine, one that was enjoyable, although not without similar challenges to those we experienced in Pennsylvania.

 

Mia’s keen sensitivity and awareness sometimes got the best of her, but again thanks to special food and treatment options, her behavioral challenges were manageable.

I’d never thought of cats as particularly intuitive or expressive, but Mia certainly challenged that perspective.  On more than one occasion, in not so subtle ways, “encouraged” me to get out of bed and into the day.

One Move too Many

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 that’s what happened.

Mia and I traveled by plane from Philly to Omaha. We drove in style from Omaha to Syracuse. The trip included a brand new trave cat tube and a trunk full of cat and people essentials for camping out in our new home; once again waiting for the movers to deliver our belongings.

 

We arrived and settled in the best we could while we waited for the rest of our belongings to be delivered.

Outside of the expected initial stress-related, but manageable challenges, Mia seemed to settle into our new home with no problem.  We resumed our twice a day treat toss routine, she supervised my unpacking and organizational efforts from the comfort from her favorite basket to a cave made of packing paper or a chest full of linens depending on what was most readily available.

 

Then things began to change. Three months after moving in, we had our first visitor; one of my coworkers came over to help me hang some pictures. Mia’s reaction to new people had always been unpredictable; sometimes she showed complete indifference and other times she greeted a lucky visitor with a forehead or tail rub to the calf.

On this particular cold March day, her greeting was a hiss, a rather scary one at that. I haven’t had many visitors here, but the few I’ve had all got the same unwelcoming greeting from Mia. She didn’t even make an exception for the woman I interviewed to be her cat sitter whenever I traveled.

The hissing was the first of many behaviors that changed and worsened over the following months. The door frames and baseboards started to look like swiss cheese; there were nights that she pawed and clawed at the patio door so violently I thought she might actually cause damage.

Our morning routine changed entirely. We still started the morning with a game of treat toss, but instead of laying on the end of my bed or just outside the bathroom door while I got ready for work, she started hiding under the folds of the comforter on the floor at the end of my bed.

Sounds harmless, right? It seemed so until she started pouncing at me with claws bared. It got so that I had no idea what to expect from her. One minute she was more affectionate than she’d ever been and the next she was lashing out with claws and sometimes even teeth.

Between her increasingly aggressive and erratic bearing and the damage she was inflicting on the woodwork and carpets, I had to make a very difficult choice. I’d tried everything from the meds her Vet in Omaha prescribed to help with anxiety to sprays, diffusers; you name it, I tried it – all to no avail. I came to the sad realization that I was not going to be able to keep her. We were both in distress.

My first thought was to find her a new home and I found a couple of reputable websites that help facilitate the adoption process. In the end, that was unsuccessful. I had more than a few inquiries, but they all had kids in the house and many had other pets. There was no way I could think about putting her in a home with children, the risk of her lashing out at a small child was too great.

In hopes that a Veterinary clinic would help me do two things, I made an appointment for her. My hopes were that they might be able to help me find a new home for her, or worst case scenario they could assuage the guilt I felt for the research I’d done on pet euthanasia.

During this entire time, I kept thinking about my dear friend Gina and how much she loved Mia and how she’d adopted and cared for more than one adult cat with special needs over the course of her life. My hope was that I would be able to find someone like Gina to take Mia in and give her a new home.

The Veterinarian’s assistant checked us in and we put Mia on the scale. She weighed just under 11 lbs when we left Omaha, that night she weighed in at 7.5. I knew she’d lost weight, but, as Christian and I liked to describe her, she was so “flurffy” – it masked just how much weight she had lost in a very short period of time. There was no more doubt that something was seriously wrong.

After relaying my tear-choked account of events to the Vet, she gently suggested to me that euthanasia might well be the very kindest thing to do for Mia. She also did her best to try and find a new home for miss Mia, to no avail. She also agreed with me that given her past – putting her in a shelter, surrounded by other animals would be the worst thing I could do.

With many tears, and thankfully with gentle hugs from the staff, I said goodbye to Mia.

It wasn’t until I returned home, that I realized it was Gina’s birthday.

I think cat’s do go to Heaven, and I believe Mia is with Gina.

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.

 

 

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.

The Art of Letter Writing isn’t Completely Lost

Stationery Designed by Jennifer Broderick. StationTEEN

My family moved nine times before I was fifteen which meant that every couple of years I left my school and friends behind in one town and began the adventure of making new friends in the next one.

I can call it an adventure now, although that’s not really how I felt at the time, especially when I reached my teenage years. In sixth grade my best friend was Lynn. We spent countless hours playing with barbie dolls, spying on her older sisters, and teasing my younger brother. I’m not proud of the spying or the teasing, but hey we were 12.

I thought my world had ended when my mom and dad broke the news that we were moving from Aberdeen, South Dakota to  Waterloo, Iowa. Lynn and I vowed to keep in touch through the mail and an occasional phone call; a promise that we kept until we both went away to college.  Somehow we both got too busy and the time between letters grew longer and longer, until one day they just stopped.

Our letters always started with a salutation that was about three lines long because we had so many silly nicknames for each other. We shared our innermost secrets and wrote about the boys we “just liked,” “squiggly underline liked,” or “double squiggly  underlined and explanation point liked.”

I couldn’t wait to open the mailbox to see if a letter had arrived. If there wasn’t a letter from Lynn, chances were good that there might be one from my Great Grandmother who wrote like she talked, with an accent. Windy was “vindee,” which might not have made sense to anyone else, but I knew exactly what she meant and heard her voice in my head.

I saved all of the letters in a scrapbook, which sadly is no-where to be found. It disappeared somehow during my move from Omaha to Pennsylvania. I would love to have them still, both for the memories and because they might have a clue that would help me find my friend Lynn somewhere online.

stick your neck out part 2
Stick Your Neck Out – Stationery Designed by Jennifer Broderick. StationTEEN

One of the things I think is great about social networks is that it makes it so much easier for people to keep in touch. If we’d been besties in the day of social media, email, and cell phones I have no doubt that Lynn and I would still be in contact.

Social networks and emails are great for keeping in touch, but they can lack is the personal touch that is present in a handwritten letter. I don’t know about you, while I enjoy exchanging emails with people and it does make it easier to stay in touch, it’s not quite as much fun as opening the mail box and seeing a letter personally addressed to you.

I spend quite a bit of time on various social platforms as a part of my job. In my world it’s an important and valuable way to network and generate business. It’s definitely helped me expand my professional network, but it’s also expanded my personal one. I’m amazed at how many  genuine people I’ve met who have similar interests to mine and a willingness to share.

It’s not uncommon to meet someone online and have that relationship extend to a “real-world” interaction. One of my favorite stories about this phenomena took place in April, which is the National Letter Writing Month. I didn’t know that either.

One of my Google Plus friends, Jennifer Broderick is passionate about writing letters and notes. She’s been writing and sending handwritten letters to friends and family since she was a little girl. She shares her passion with others by creating beautiful cards and stationery.

She presented our circle of Google Plus friends with a challenge and an opportunity. Jennifer promised to send each of us a sample of her unique work in exchange for a handwritten letter. Many of us responded and she received letters from people close by and as far away as Wales.

I sent my letter to her on some fun stationery of my own and waited with anticipation to receive my letter back. I have to say I was blown away when I opened the envelope. Inside was a package of stationery wrapped in light teal tissue paper and topped of with a soft ribbon bow. Jennifer’s calling card made the gift-wrap complete.

Station Teen Packaging
Station Teen Packaging – Jennifer Broderick

Inside the tissue was a sample of her stationery, as promised. What made it  more special than I anticipated was that it was obvious the designs she sent me were chosen just for me. She remembered the comments I made about one of her new series, “Stick Your Neck Out,” and how much I liked it.

Stick Your Neck Out – Stationery Designed by Jennifer Broderick. StationTEEN
Stick Your Neck Out – Stationery Designed by Jennifer Broderick. StationTEEN

She also included a note card decorated with a butterfly and small flowers in two of my favorite colors. I frequently use pink and green in my artwork and my doodles are filled with butterflies and flowers.

Stationery Designed by Jennifer Broderick. StationTEEN
Stationery Designed by Jennifer Broderick. StationTEEN

Last but not least, she included a lovely handwritten letter back to me. She shared about her love of art and writing letters as well as a lovely childhood memory. I was so touched it brought tears to my face.

Jennifer’s challenge was a wonderful reminder about the beauty of a handwritten letter. Just a few words on a note can brighten someone’s day.

If you’re now in the market for stationery, check out Jennifer’s work at StationTEEN.

 

What’s Missing in Today’s Corporate Culture? A Lighthearted Walk Down Memory Lane

Lancer Label Group Picture

I started my career at a family owned business in Omaha Nebraska over 25 years ago (yikes!). I actually worked in retail and sold life insurance before that, but consider my job at Lancer Label to be my first “real” job.

This group picture was taken sometime in the late 1980’s, my guess is 1986 or maybe 1987. I can’t say that I’m sorry the days of big hair and shoulder pads are behind me.

Lancer Label Group Picture
Photo by Bud Phillips

It’s hard to believe that when I started there people could smoke at their desks. Smoking was eventually limited to the break-room and then banned completely, but back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon to see the owner of the company walking throughout the offices and press room with cigar in hand. He once started a dumpster on fire with an unfortunate flick of hot ash.

Harry Riley, the owner and founder of Lancer Label, was a man who recognized his own strengths and limitations, saw the best in others, and cared deeply about his employees.

Lancer Label_Harry Riley
Harry Riley – Photo by Bud Phillips

John O’Brien was the president of the company while I worked there. I know I’m not alone in saying he’s the best business mentor I’ve ever had. He was tough but fair and had a talent for giving a person feedback that was constructive, sincere, and spot on.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that he knew everyone by name; he managed the company by walking around. He took the time to stop and talk to people no matter what their position was; sometimes to tell a joke and other times he would just listen.

Lancer Label_John OBrien
John O’Brien – Photo by Bud Phillips

John and Harry created and nurtured a culture of respect, quality, continuous learning, and fun. To this day, some of the best training opportunities I ever had were during the time I worked for Lancer Label. They spent money investing in people and providing resources to help us all succeed together.

It wasn’t unusual for them to initiate a company-wide training initiative and then celebrate the successes that came from what we learned.

Lancer Label Company celebration in the lunch room - Copy
Lancer Label Company celebration in the lunch room – Photo by Bud Phillips

They believed in recognizing people for their contributions and every year at the annual holiday party awards were presented to a few individuals for their outstanding performance.

Lancer Label Holiday Party_ employee recognition
Lancer Label Holiday Party Employee Recognition – Photo by Bud Phillips

John and Harry also believed in putting family first and having a good time. The annual company picnic was held in a different place every year and always included activities that were fun for both kids and adults.

Lancer Label Company Picnic - Photo by Bud Phillips
Lancer Label Company Picnic – Photo by Bud Phillips

The picnics weren’t elaborate but they sure were fun.

Lancer Label Company Picnic - Photo by Bud Phillips
Lancer Label Company Picnic – Photo by Bud Phillips

The leadership team never missed an event and participated in the activities with enthusiasm and delight.

Lancer Label Company Picnic - Photo by Bud Phillips
Lancer Label Company Picnic – Photo by Bud Phillips

The highlight of the year (at least for me) was the holiday party. My favorite memory is the year we put on a “concert” that featured a few of our favorite rock stars.

ZZ Top treated us to “Hot Legs

Lancer Label Holiday Party ZZ Topp - Photo by Bud Phillips
Lancer Label Holiday Party ZZ Topp – Photo by Bud Phillips
Lancer Label Holiday Party  ZZ Top Hot Legs - Photo by Bud Phillips
Lancer Label Holiday Party ZZ Top Hot Legs – Photo by Bud Phillips

Ike and Tina brought down the house with “Rolling on the River

Lancer Label Holiday Party , Ike and Tina Turner - Photo by Bud Phillips
Lancer Label Holiday Party , Ike and Tina Turner – Photo by Bud Phillips

The night wouldn’t have been complete without the Pointer Sisters and “I’m So Excited

Lancer Label Holiday Party the Pointer Sisters - Photo by Bud Phillips
Lancer Label Holiday Party the Pointer Sisters – Photo by Bud Phillips

And of course the ladies went wild when Elvis entered the building. His body guard had to work hard to keep them from storming the stage.

Lancer Label Holiday Party Elvis - Photo by Bud Phillips
Lancer Label Holiday Party Elvis – Photo by Bud Phillips

It’s no wonder that the company was awarded with the “Best Managed Company” in our industry niche multiple years in a row. They invested in and cared about their employees and it was returned to them tenfold.

I will always feel fortunate for the experience and for the people who touched my life while I was there. There is no better example of how a business should be run than depicted in this walk down memory lane.

Photo Acknowledgement: Many thanks to Bud Phillips for posting these wonderful pictures on Facebook and giving me permission to use them in a blog post.

Celebrating Life – An Afternoon in New Hope

the Delaware River on a Breezy day in March

The second weekend in March is an anniversary of sorts for me. Five years ago was my first visit to New Hope and in many ways it was the first day of my new life.

It would be an understatement to say that the move to Pennsylvania was a challenge on many fronts. At that point in my life I did nothing but worry, and in my mind I had a lot to worry about. The company I moved to here to work for declared Chapter 11, the adjustment to living in a new state far away from friends and family caused many emotional difficulties, and the fact we hadn’t sold our house were at the top of the list.

It didn’t help matters that we didn’t leave the apartment for anything other than to go to the grocery store or to go to work. I was thrilled when we finally found a dog sitter and arranged to take a day trip.

I remember it like it was yesterday. The forecast prompted a last minute change.  It was a Sunday and we’d made plans to go to Manayunk, PA but the chilly March temperatures, threat of rain, and dog sitter schedule limitations caused a change in plans. Instead we went to New Hope, which is twelve miles away not fifty and going anywhere was better than staying home. All I knew is I was desperate to get out of the apartment.

Our first stop was Made In Italy. Elaborate Venetian masks covered the walls, glass shelves held hand tooled leather belts and accessories, and black velvet jewelry busts showed off bright colored beads and bangles.  I was drawn to the case dedicated to less elaborate necklaces and fell in love with a solid silver sun with wavy rays.

I’ve always had a thing for the sun; it could be because I’m a Leo, but it’s more likely because my favorite memories are made of endless days spent playing in the sun at Big Sand Lake in Minnesota.

I started to play the rationalization game to justify the purchase and promised myself that if the necklace was still there when it came time to head home it was meant to be mine. We visited all of the eclectic shops we could and at the end of the day, my mood was lighter than it had been in months, the grey skies parted just enough to let a bit of sunshine and blue sky peak through, and of course the sun necklace was still in the case waiting for me.

I put the necklace on as soon as we got in the car and it immediately became a tangible symbol of the promise of a new and happy life. It didn’t seem like a coincidence that the threat of storms changed our destination and led us to a place called New Hope.

I wear the necklace as a daily reminder of hope, happiness, and the importance of being me. I also take a day trip to New Hope every year on the same weekend to celebrate life and the woman I’ve become. This year I added a few additional stops to my day.

I started my afternoon adventure by treating myself to a few slices of margherita flatbread at a local restaurant called The Vault.

margherita flatbread

I’m not sure why but I find it amusing to think about a micro brewery in a building that used to be a bank. They have great beer that is brewed on site and the food is yummy. You can buy what’s called a Growler and have them fill it with your favorite brew and take it home, it’s re-fillable and they sanitize it for you. I don’t have one, but I’m tempted to make a purchase.

The Vault In Yardley PA

I turned right instead of left at the end of East Afton and drove toward my old apartment. In a moment of impulse I stopped to take a few pictures of one of my favorite views of the Delaware River.

the Delaware River on a Breezy day in March

Feelings of relief, happiness, and accomplishment came over me as I drove down the street toward my old apartment. The two years I lived there might possibly have been the most difficult time in my life. It was also life changing in ways that have turned out to be amazing.

I took a picture of the apartment building, but deleted it. Instead I chose to remember the gateway leading to the Delaware Towpath.

Tree Lined Path ledaing to the Delaware Towpath

I’ve spent countless hours on the towpath running, riding, taking pictures, and thinking. Lots and lots of thinking and also a few life changing and difficult conversations.

Before beginning my anniversary tour of the town I stopped a the playhouse to pick up information about upcoming shows. My new goal is to do something fun each weekend so when I look back on this time in my life I’ll have a list of “I’m glad I……” instead of a list full of “I wish I’d…..”

Bucks County Playhouse

My first visit in New Hope was to a psychic. There are almost as many psychic’s in New Hope as there are restaurants which has made it difficult to choose one. I finally decided on Readings by Edith because of the golden sun on the sign.

Readings by Edith Sign

The funny thing was that Edith turned out to be a 300 pound man. He happens to be Edith’s son, but I still found it amusing. He does palm readings, tarot cards, and has a crystal ball. He read my palms using a large magnifying glass and I have to admit even I was surprised at the details the tiny lines revealed.

I wandered through several of the stores. The doodle designs on these sticks were fun and reminded me of the many ways that art comes into our lives.

sticks with doodle designs

I ended my day with a glass of wine and a bowl of French Onion soup. I was lucky enough to get a bird’s eye view of the street from the restaurant’s outdoor patio.

Beth in New Hope

New hope has to be one of the best places in the world for people watching. My favorite from yesterday was the bird man. He walked around the street with his Raven and another unidentified bird on his shoulders.

man with a Raven on his shoulder

Of course I wouldn’t go near him for fear that one of the birds might decide to leave his shoulder and hover over my head. I wonder how many times he’s shared the story of his birds with strangers on the street.

My day of celebrating life ended on a perfect note and I completed the first version of my second grade art girl dress.

i am me - Doodle Art Dress

It was a great day of celebrating life and being myself.

Don’t Throw Out the China

holiday table set with fine china

Divorce is hard. Even when it’s for the best it’s not an easy experience. It’s laden with “what if’s,” “should have’s” and “what do I do now’s.” This is my fourth Christmas as a single mom and tonight I’m more thankful than ever that I didn’t throw out the china.

Backing up just a bit, a little over three years ago Christian and I moved into my lovely artist’s vessel, aka home.

my lovely artist's house - the livingroom

We’d been living in an apartment that was one third of the size of the house we left behind. This meant that one third of our belongings were sold, a third was in storage, and the rest was in the apartment. Although I’m not so sure it was quite as evenly split as that.

After much angst we found a house to rent and it was time for the belongings that had been gathering dust in a storage container to meet the light of day. I scheduled the moving company to deliver the contents of the storage container and my parents volunteered to help me unpack.

surrounded by boxes

I won’t go into all of the details but suffice it to say it took me 322 days to unpack all of the boxes and turn my porch into a slice of summer.

finishing touches

Unpacking items I hadn’t seen or used in two years was almost as surreal as walking through my house and marking things with labels that designated the disposition of individual belongings as keep, sell/donate, or store.

My standard line for the day the storage arrived was, “I haven’t used it in two years so I don’t need it, put it in the donate pile.” Memories, both good and bad, poured out of each box I opened. Naively I thought the experience would be without emotion.

One of the most difficult moments was when I opened the box labeled “china.” I unpacked a dinner plate; memories of Thanksgivings, Christmases, and special occasions flooded my mind and pushed tears down my face.

Hoping no one had seen, I stood up and said, “I haven’t used it in two years, donate it.”

It’s an understatement to say I was irrational that day and if Christian hadn’t asked, “but Mom, what dishes will we use for special occasions?” – I would have thrown out the china.

For me the china represented the hope I had as a new bride and the disappointment that things didn’t turn out the way I had planned. For him the china represented family, traditions, happy times, and perhaps stability or familiarity.

Tonight he asked if he could set the table for dinner. We’d invited his girlfriend to join us for pre-holiday meal; he chose to use the china.

holiday table set with fine china

Thank goodness I didn’t throw it out.