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.

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.

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.

fullsizerender

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.

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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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A Creative Reboot

“We are never too old to be young at heart. Being young at heart means simply being willing to be a beginner.” ~ Julia Cameron.

On September 15, 2011, exactly seven years ago to the date, I picked up the book “Walking in This World” by Julia Cameron and began my creative journey in earnest. It was and still is a non-linear path of both self discovery and exploration.

Yesterday, I had the good fortune to attend an all-day intensive workshop led by Julia, one of the most inspirational authors in the creative world. The opportunity found its way to me as a part of a three day Creative Reboot workshop held in Santa Fe, NM.

Downtown Santa Fe NM

What an amazing and energizing day it was!! The time in Julia Cameron’s workshop absolutely flew by. It was worth every penny. Not only was she wonderful, the attendees were as well. The positive energy in the room was contagious and uplifting.

It’s hard to describe what it feels like to be surrounded by at least 200 creative, compassionate, caring souls. It’s safe, it’s comforting, it’s affirming and it’s rejuvenating. It’s just what the doctor ordered to help me break through the creative slump I’ve been experiencing for the past several months.

Every teacher has had a powerful message for all of the artists in attendance, each one of us connecting with the teachings in our own personal ways.

The final workshop on Friday night concluded with a Firewalk, yep, a Firewalk. Approximately 200 brave and more than slightly skeptical individuals, including your’s truly, walked over a bed of hot coals after chanting to the beat of a drum to raise the overall vibration and set individual intentions.

It took more than a few long moments for the first person to be brave enough to take the walk, but once she did it took mere seconds for the rest of us to follow suit and take our turn walking barefoot across the red embers.

It was empowering and thought shifting. From the time we are little, we’re told that fire burns. There’s no part of our rational mind that would say “walking across hot burning coals is a great idea.” But somehow being there, being caught up in the pulsing energy of the crowd, watching each novice firewalker be enveloped in hugs at the end of their walk made it feel like a very good idea.

We were all exhilarated afterwards. Each of us had been courageous enough to face and overcome a long held limiting personal belief, and not about the dangers of fire – the fire was the teacher.

Now, I’m not advocating for people to go out and try something like this on their own. It’s kind of one of those things that should be supervised by professionals. :). However, I am advocating, and recommitting myself to take a look at my own limiting beliefs – the “things” that are getting the way, to get back to creating powerfully and trusting in Divine timing.

The workshop is only half-way over. There’s another session led by Julia Cameron, entertainment this evening (I wonder what that will bring…) and more sessions tomorrow, but I had to take a few moments over my lunch break to celebrate my creative reboot.

I find it fascinating to know that this event coincides with the exact anniversary of my first creative reboot guided in part by the words of Julia Cameron; this time in person.

I’m back!

Prayers & Dreams Really Do Come True

About ten months ago, I came to the realization that it was time for me to move back into the world of going into an office for my “day job.” In the beginning, I loved the 25 step commute from my bedroom to my downstairs office/den – but over time, the solitude evolved from peace into emptiness.

My four years of self-employment also helped me gain clarity about what matters to me in  my professional life. For me, it’s not about climbing a corporate ladder or breaking through the glass ceiling. It’s about working in an environment where people and community matter.

In some ways, it wasn’t easy to think about returning to Corporate America; I’ve had my share of bad bosses and toxic work environments, however I believed that it doesn’t have to be that way. I also knew with certainty that it was time to take a leap and find the right position.

My Prayer Box

I have a prayer box beside my bed.  I write my dreams and my worries on slips of paper and put them in the box.  It keeps them from rattling around in my brain all day because I know they’re in a safe place and one by one my prayers will be answered. The practice is one of many valuable things I learned from reading “Walking in This World” by Julia Cameron.

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This morning, while sifting through my prayers and giving thanks for those that have been answered and asking for help and patience with those that haven’t, I found the words I’d written at the beginning of my job search:

I am praying for, asking for a professional opportunity that offers me the following:

  1. A positive environment.
  2. People to work for and with that like to work hard and also like to have fun.
  3. A successful company with growth potential.
  4. Financially and/or Geographically enables me to easily visit family and have my  kids visit me.
  5. A work philosophy in which everybody matters.
  6. Provides me the ability to continue to grow and nurture my creative side.
  7. A position and experience that is a positive step and offers a learning opportunity to equip me to realize my ultimate dream – abundance through creativity and helping others.
  8. Offers a good work/life balance.

Amen

My Prayer Was Answered

It was really strange, and at times uncomfortable, to approach something as important and a job search without thinking in terms of specifics such as title, salary and location. Somehow I managed to stay the course throughout more interviews than I can count using both my fingers and toes, not to mention the ups and downs associated with the emotional roller coaster that comes with the territory.

Every time I thought the right position and I had found each other, followed by the disappointment when it didn’t pan out, brought me one step closer to landing the perfect job for me. The funniest part of the whole process is where I landed geographically. My initial conversations with recruiters went something like this:

One of the first questions was always, “You’re open to relocation?” To which my reply was always the same, “I’m definitely open to relocating. I just want to stay east of the Rockies, Washington D.C. and NYC are out – they’re too expensive. Other than that I’m open to anywhere but Omaha.”

Omaha is exactly where I landed, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I guess that’ll teach me to try and dictate what’s best for me. 🙂

It Wasn’t Easy, But it Was Worth It

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns – nor did I expect it would be. The company is going through more than a few growing pains, which are a lot less painful than the kind of pain you go through when a company is downsizing.

All in all, the leadership team believes everyone matters and the company has many ways of sharing information and recognizing individual contributions. My peers are smart, caring and dedicated.

My team is young, energetic, hard working and they also love to laugh and have fun. They’re not too old or too stuffy to pose for a picture with Santa Clause.

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We all look forward to quarterly pot-luck lunches in the office and team outings in a more relaxed environment.

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The walls of my office are covered with expressions of my personality and glimpses into my creative side. It’s fun to be able to hang artwork from a session at a local Paint and Sip as well as a calendar that offers a pretty big clue that I’m an avid fan of “Gone With the Wind.”

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What’s really amazing to me, is the amount of creative growth I’ve experienced since re-entering the land of Corporate America. Instead of spending less time pursuing artistic endeavors, my work is evolving and I’m gaining the confidence needed to break out of a reliance on others to teach me and to start exploring on my own.

Experiences from my day job and my personal life have begun inspiring what shows up on my canvas. I’ve read many times that emotions, both positive and negative fuel creativity – I’m beginning to understand how that feels.

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My job hunt adventure began in Indianapolis, wound it’s way through Kansas City (a couple of times), Fargo, Boca Raton, and Raleigh.

It took longer and was more difficult than expected, but it was 100% worth every step and every journal entry along the way.

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Life is a Beautiful Mosaic in the Making

“She never seemed shattered; to me she was a breathtaking mosaic of the battles she’s won.” – Matt Baker

For the past few months, my thoughts and feelings have found their way into the pages of my journal and onto more canvases than I can count -but for some reason, I haven’t been sharing them here.

This morning I woke up with a “funny” feeling that today is right day to start reconnect with my first creative love, the art of bringing experiences to life through words. Ironically, when I logged in I discovered that today is my WordPress.com anniversary! Six years ago I wrote and published my very first blog post, Wow! That was ‘Eye Popping 3D!’  

Reading the post for the first time since writing it, was a great reminder of how much capacity we have for growth at any age and stage of life. It also made me think about how much life’s experiences, good and bad make us who we are. It’s how we get through the difficult encounters that defines who we are and in many cases, the toughest experiences in life pave the road for the most joyous and beautiful times.

Disappointment is a Part of Life

I’ve become a bit of a ‘Paint and Sip’ venue groupie since moving back to Omaha. It’s been a great way to have some social interaction and be creative at the same time. Overall it’s been a positive experience, but as with anything in life, you’re bound to eventually hit some unexpected twists and turns in the road.

A couple of weekends ago, I met up with a friend for an evening of catching up over dinner followed by a couple of hours of painting at one of the local venues. Unfortunately the evening was a little disappointing. I’m not sure which was more distracting, the “while your paint is drying” games that were better suited to a bachelorette party than an evening of painting or the obnoxious drunk attendee.

She couldn’t seem to stop herself from painting her own thing at the expense of the rest of us who wanted to hear what the instructor was saying. It was pretty hard to focus on painting when she kept interrupting the flow of the class by shouting out things like, “It looks like we have a bunch of conformists here…”

It was great to spend time with my friend, but the painting ended up in the dumpster and I was left feeling like I hadn’t gotten my creative fx for the weekend.

On Sunday afternoon I decided to try again. All of my usual haunts were either hosting private events or the classes were full so I tried somewhere completely new. I’m not going to go into details, but it was a complete bust. There was a strange case of mistaken identity, intentions and integrity (mine) which left me feeling bewildered and disappointed.

The painting didn’t end up in the dumpster, but I’m going to sand off the paint and glitter and use the canvas to remove the negative energy and create something of my own.

A Mosaic in the Making

Neither a long walk or a margarita helped me shake off the icky feelings from the afternoon and I couldn’t figure out how I was going to recover and fulfill my desire for a creative outlet. On my way home I randomly decided to go the Family Dollar store and see what kind of tissue paper they had on hand so I could continue experimenting with collaging.

It was a shopping bonanza!

I could have purchased Starburst scented candles (for a dollar), but that just seemed like a really bad idea. 🙂

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Instead I walked out of the store with $30 worth of treasures – enough tissue paper to make several collages, a set of sheets to use for a drop cloth and a box to store art supplies in.

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After my trip to the Family Dollar Store, I cranked  up the tunes and blocked out the rest of the world with candlelight, a paintbrush, Modge Podge and balloon patterned tissue paper.

As the balloons came to life on the canvas, the unsettled feelings from the afternoon and previous evening floated away.

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It’s funny… Without the two “icky” experiences, I never would have thought to create a collage using balloon patterned tissue paper from the Family Dollar store.

Nor would of that ‘one thing leads to another’ phenomena have happened and I never would have thought of creating something using tissue paper, sand and shiny shell-like embellishments. My mosaic, a work in progress – just like life.

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2017 – The Year of Feeling Grateful

It may be a bit early to start talking about New Year’s Resolutions, or is it?

For whatever reason, when one year draws to a close and a new year is about to begin, we reflect on what is “wrong” with our lives and make a promise to “do better.” We declare a commitment to spending more time with family, losing the weight and getting in shape, taking a cooking class or finally sitting down to write the book we’ve been talking about.

As I’ve been doing my own reflecting and making promises to myself, I couldn’t help but think about how different my life is from what I imagined it would be at this point in life. And it’s dawned on me, that the most important promise I can make to myself and the people in my life – is to focus on feeling grateful for where life has taken me and who I am because of it.

Life is never perfect, but there is always something to be grateful for.

2017 – The Year of Feeling Grateful

I’m

Grateful for my body

Grateful for my mind

Grateful for life’s challenges,

and for the discoveries they help me find.

Grateful for my family

and for my friends

Grateful for the Universe

full of love that never ends.

Grateful is a state of mind,

it overcomes self-pity and hate

it empowers us to be kind.

Grateful is a place of being

that gives us peace of mind.

Be grateful, be happy, be kind.


May 2017 bring you happiness, gratitude and peace.

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Thoughts from my Echo Chamber

Like many people in the U.S., I’m caught up in the aftermath of the 2016 election results. Normally, I write about my observations about life from an every day, non-controversial point of view. This is the first time in almost six years that I have felt compelled to share my thoughts about any topic surrounded by a polarizing minefield of thoughts and opinions – the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election.

I don’t know that there’s ever been an election in my country that has affected so many people on such a deeply personal level. As I’ve been trying to understand my own reaction to the outcome, it’s occurred to me, that in many ways it’s as much about business as it is about political agendas.

I could be wrong, but I believe that one of the reasons PET won the election was his ability to ignite the fear and promise hope within the hearts of working class Americans who are struggling to put food on the table. Although I don’t, and never have held a blue color job, my story has more than a few parallels than one might expect. Our political and business landscape has adversely affected more than the grass roots laborers of the country, and it’s been happening for a long time.

Thoughts from My Echo-Chamber

I know it’s dangerous to form opinions from within our own personal bubble, but we all do it to one degree or another. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that my own personal experiences have had a very common thread; it’s upon this common thread that I base my opinions and share my thoughts.

I deeply care about our environment, education and human rights. I’m far more liberal than I am conservative – but at the end of the day, if I’m not able to put food on my table or provide for my family, the larger issues move into second place. That doesn’t make me selfish, uncaring or uninformed, it just makes me human.

The “American Dream”

Here’s the thing, the “American Dream” of providing a better life for future generations started dying on the vine a long time ago. As a point of reference,  I began my career during the Reagan administration and at that time, I was already part of the first generation who would never make more than their parents.

It wasn’t easy, but I eventually landed a good job with a small, family owned printing company in Omaha Nebraska. They paid me a fair and equitable salary, offered training opportunities that to this day are unparalleled in my experience, as well as the way they invested in their employees and advancing technology on a regular basis. That was until, they were acquired by a British holding holding company.

Raises stopped, investments stopped, the mantra became – “do more with less.” Morale plummeted, growth slowed and the only people who were experiencing financial prosperity were the board members of the holding company.

History Repeats Itself

Eventually my loyalty to the original owner of the company ran out. After a couple of years without a raise, increasing demands to work longer hours and the  realization that I was missing out on my children’s lives, I moved on.

My next job was also with a local, family owned business. I found balance, an opportunity to learn and grow, my pay increased at a rapid pace and I found myself trapped in the land of “golden handcuffs.” Earning more than what my position was worth was a huge conundrum, and one that I knew would catch up with me eventually.

It did, we were acquired by a U.S. based holding company. After the announcement and the obligatory, “nothing will change,” comments, people were still nervous. They sought me out for counsel because I’d been through it before. I assured them, and I believed, that life would go on as normal.

“My last experience was with a British holding company, this is a U.S. one, so I’m sure it will be a much different, they really sounded like they care about employees and customers.”

Ha! And my apologies to my friends in the U.K.

Shortly after new “leadership” took over, raises stopped, investments stopped, the mantra became – “do more with less.” Sound familiar? In addition, we started to experience the loveliness of “right-sizing, “salary aligning” and “process transformation.”

Translation – people who had been there a long time were laid off, “salary aligned,” and outsourced. Holy buckets, when I think about all of the consulting fees that were paid out to make those changes happen….

The Writing was on the Wall

I’m no dummy, I saw it coming so I started looking for a new job long before the actual mass layoffs began. I was thrilled to land a position with a company in PA. There was some hesitation on my part, because they were owned by a private holding company, but took the risk because of assurances that they were financially stable. Two months after I started, they filed for Chapter 11. So once again, raises stopped, investments stopped, the mantra became – “do more with less.”

In spite of the Chapter 11, I put my house in Omaha on the market and moved my family to PA – in 2008, toward the end of the housing bubble. Long story short, I ended up losing both my house and all of my savings trying to avoid going into foreclosure.

As I do, I tried to make the best of things, but after four years of no raises, no bonuses and a less than ideal working environment, I took the route that many have tried before me; I started my own business.

It’s Not as Easy as it Sounds

To be honest, starting my own business wasn’t my first choice, it was my only choice. I didn’t want to uproot my youngest son and there were no jobs available in the area. There’s so much that I could share about this topic, but I’ll save that for another time.

In October of 2014 I thought the best of two worlds had collided and I accepted a full-time position with a company in California. I was able to work remotely and maintain my steady freelance work in order to make ends meet.

Health insurance and other benefits were among the multiple reasons the position was appealing. I’ll be honest, insurance through the marketplace isn’t exactly cheap if you are making a “decent” income as a self-employed individual.

Here’s where the common thread continues, the company was owned by a private holding firm. Based on my experience, I should have known better. Soon after I started, new “leadership” was brought in, and raises stopped, investments stopped, the mantra became – “do more with less.”

On April 29th, 2016 I received Fed Ex delivery which contained a check for two weeks severance pay and the notification that my position had been eliminated in order to provide better customer service. Truth is, my position was outsourced – not overseas, but to an agency.

Health insurance you ask?

The company was very “generous” and extended me the opportunity to continue my health insurance through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). They had to. The cost to me was $950 a month.

Thank goodness for the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

It’s not just Politics, it’s Life and Livelihood

I’ve been through more than a few ups and downs in my life, we all have.

My guess is that Donald Trump, nor any of the individuals that he’s nominated to lead key government agencies, have ever experienced the shame associated with the realization that your child is wearing shoes with holes in them  – simply because they don’t want to add to your financial burden, and “it’s not that cold out.”

I’d be surprised if any of their children witnessed their mother being served papers by a Sheriff because she had to proceed down the path of foreclosure on their beautiful home.

I also doubt that any of them have experienced the absolute humiliation of being interviewed for private insurance, only to be denied. Let me share a glimpse of what it’s like.

If you want private insurance, outside of the health care marketplace, you must meet certain criteria. So, a stranger from an insurance company calls and grills you about every aspect of your health history.

My experience went something like this:

An hour (yes an hour) into the interview, I was asked, “what was the last reason you went to the doctor?”

A reasonable question, to which I replied, “I had a couple of warts removed from my leg.”

“So, you have a history of genital warts?”

“No! The warts were on my leg, specifically my calf.”

This spun off into a line of questioning that was too invasive and humiliating to write about.

My denial of coverage letter included some nonsense about being predisposed to genital warts in addition to just the normal life/health conditions that come along with being a woman over the age of 45.

Thank goodness for the affordable health care act.

I Understand Why Trump Won the Election

He promised people he would “fix it.”

So, to that end, he’s assembling the richest administration in history and putting the future of the working class into the hands of people who have never come close to experiencing their pain?

I don’t get how anyone can think this is a good thing.

As I watch the deck stack in favor of the business models that led to the housing crisis and in my mind are behind the widening gap between the elite and the struggling, I’m disheartened beyond words.

I do believe we can join together as human beings to address many issues around the environment and human rights, in spite of PET – I’m not so sure we can have the same influence when it comes to business and our ability to earn a living and maintain affordable health care.

I hope we do, I’m just not sure how to go about influencing change in that arena.

We’re on the Same Side

Let’s not forget, that we’re all on the same side. We love our families and we want the best for them.

I don’t know how this is all going to turn out, but as an eternal optimist, I look at this time in history as an opportunity for good outcomes in the end. As a realist, I can’t help but think it will be a painful journey.

Let’s all join together, in whatever way we can to move forward in a positive fashion. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of all the shouting.

Thanks for listening, after getting this off my chest,  maybe now I can get back to regular programming.