Just Wondering…

Can someone reconnect with a friend whom they met in the sixth grade, exchanged letters for a few years, but hasn’t communicated with in over 40 years?

I’m going to try.

Over Thanksgiving, tales of my adventures with my best friend from sixth grade were told and retold. She and I shared some wonderful times exchanging secrets, torturing siblings and attempting to build tree houses. We also went to movies, played barbies and spent hours ice skating under the guise of looking for cute boys.

Our conversation at Thanksgiving prompted my dad to contact an acquaintance who might know Lynn’s dad, a conversation that led to my receiving an email with the contact information for my best friend.

In a newspaper article, celebrating the 90th birthday of her dad – she was mentioned within the context of her married name. From there it wasn’t all that difficult to find the contact information for her husband. Thus the email I received, which included a not so subtle nudge from my dad to find a way to reach out to her via the contact info he found.

This past weekend, I unearthed my one and only Scrapbook and memories of the past rolled down my face and at the same time, filled me with joy. There, within the yellowed pages and still bound to the pages by yellow, brittle scotch tape, were letters from Lynn – my best friend at the time, a person I’ve never forgotten and always have held dear.

What to do?

Here I was with a boatload of memories from my scrapbook and the contact information for an Orthopedic Dr. in Rapid City, South Dakota, the name of the man she is married to.

Is it her? I can’t be sure, but it seems like a reliable trail of clues. I felt more than a bit of angst over calling or emailing the office to make a connection with her. These days, I’m certain I would have been written off as a total weirdo.

So, instead – at my mom’s suggestion, I found her home address through a Google Search. I know, that sounds a little creepy as well – but, honestly, the internet is cool when used in the right ways.

I’ve composed a letter, and am sending her a copy of one of her correspondences to me – we’ll see where this goes.

I hope we reconnect.

More to come…

Sixth grade memories

So many memories flying around in my head right now.

We’ve Reached a Fork in the Road, or have we?

My parents and I were talking tonight about things related to business dealings, politics and life in general.

The phrase, “we’ve reached a fork in the road” came up, it was followed by “it’s time to make a decision.” This doesn’t just imply it’s time to make a choice, it explicitly states there is only one next step. There is one way or another, nothing in between. I honestly don’t think that’s what either person means. But, it’s how it can be and probably is most often interpreted.

As we were talking, I had two images flash through my brain. One was of an actual fork – one we use to eat with. The other was of a fork in a road. The difference between them struck me immediately. I know this is strange, but it’s how my brain works.

As we picture a fork in the road – there are only two choices, you go left, or you go right. Those are the only options. Perhaps we limit ourselves.

Oddly enough, the fork we use in everyday life, as a utensil to consume food, has three prongs. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to pick up a piece of meat or a potato wedge with a physical fork that only had two prongs? Especially if they were pointing in opposite directions…

It made me think – perhaps, the third prong, the middle road so to speak, represents the opportunity for a “win, win” approach to life.

We seem to be faced with so many it has to be ‘this way’ or ‘that way’ choices these days.

Perhaps it’s time we started to look at the “fork in the road” in a new way and find common ground. It’s time to carve a new path – it’s in between the “fork in the road.”

Dear Betty Boop, Embrace What Life Offers in the Moment…

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” ~ Buddha Siddhartha Guatama Shakyamuni

I’ve heard the quote many times before but never knew who to credit – after much Googling, I’m still not sure if I have the right source, so we’ll call it good enough.
Regardless of whether or not I got the credit for the quote correct (which I hope I did), it’s a true statement and one that I’ve personally experienced, or maybe finally recognized, over the last decade.

It started with my first drawing class in Yardley, Pa.

When I say that I was nearly hyperventilating and on the verge of abandoning the class for the refuge of my car, I’m not exaggerating. The only thing that moved me forward was another student who caught up to me and cheerily said, “You must be here for the drawing class, I can’t wait! Let’s head in together.”

Gulp! This left me with little choice but to face my fears and perch myself on a stool in front of an intimidating blank canvas amongst people who knew each other but were strangers to me.

The subject for the first lesson was a sunflower, a large one from my perspective. I sat on my stool, overwhelmed, and a bit paralyzed. The sunflower we were supposed to draw looked impossibly intricate.

It didn’t help matters that the women around me already had petals flying out of their pencils onto the paper, and I was so hung up on how to draw a perfect circle that I couldn’t move on.

Anne, the instructor, walked up behind me, put her hand on the small of my back, and said, “Breathe, Beth, you’re in the right place. I know you are.”

As it turns out, I was. It took me weeks – but I eventually finished the sunflower.

029 final sunflower_white shading
I took several classes with Anne through the Artists of Yardley. In all that time I finished every drawing we started, but only one during the class. It was a pine cone, and the medium is charcoal.

pine cone_04_19_12
While I lived in Pennsylvania, I also had the privilege and opportunity to take drawing lessons from an accomplished artist at the Princeton Arts Council. I lived just across the river from New Jersey, so it was more than convenient.

I still remember the Thanksgiving in St. Louis when I decided to sign up for one of Konstantin’s classes. The class cost more than any class I had attended to date, which was part of what caused me to take pause. The more significant hesitation had to do with his profile. There was no doubt in my mind that he was a no-nonsense professional artist. I bit the bullet and hit submit.

He didn’t disappoint, he exceeded my expectations and made me think about art ways that had never occurred to me. I’ll always remember my first class with him.

He asked the class, “What is one of the most important things to know as an artist, as you sit down to create? Here’s a clue, if you took piano lessons and you had a good teacher, you learned this early on.”

There was silence as the students looked at each other and tried to come up with the right answer.

Unsure, but uncomfortable by the silence, I raised my hand and offered with some hesitation, “Proper fingering to form a chord or to play a scale?”

His somewhat clipped and heavily accented response was, “Good guess, but no. They teach you how to position yourself in front of the instrument and place your fingers properly on the keys so you can easily move from note to note. It’s no different with art, and that’s where we’re going to start.”

That’s when I first learned how to properly set up an easel and align myself with the subject when working from something real, not imagined for inspiration. I was hooked on his teaching style from the beginning.

He taught me to draw while he taught others to paint. His focus was on helping me learn and understand the fundamental elements – and also to loosen up. His painting classes were always full, but the drawing classes, for whatever reason – not so much.

I hadn’t thought about it before now, but I realize now he went out of his way to offer me a venue in which to learn. It had to be tough to have patience with a student who is afraid to draw a circle and at the same time, coach a student with years of experience. He did so with aplomb.

I laugh with fondness when I recall him walking up behind me when I was clearly frozen in a state of perfectionism. He’d say to me, “Betty Boop, you’re creatively constipated again. Loosen up.”

He was a teacher one either loved or not. For whatever reason Betty Boop was and still is his nickname for me, I sort of love it!

Fast forward a few years, and two cross country moves that landed me inexplicably in Upstate NY, and enter stage left, my piano teacher. It wasn’t easy to find him, and when I moved here, I had every intention of continuing my exploration of visual art and had no plan to rediscover music.

As life often happens, things unfold differently than we imagine they will.

Having my piano tuned for the first time in over a decade triggered an unexpected flurry of Google searches for a piano teacher. I found one that was willing to teach an adult was within a reasonable driving distance and sounded like he had a fun approach to teaching. I’ve been taking lessons now for a little over seven months, and all I can say is “wow.” It’s been amazing and continues to be so – I’m now thinking about music in a whole different way.

I’ve kept in touch with Konstantin over the years, and on a whim, I sent him an email about a week ago.

Subject line: Greetings from Betty Boop

Hello Konstantin,

It’s been a very long time since I’ve touched base with you. Thought I’d send you a hello.

I hope all things are well in your world. Things are good, but a bit strange in my world – as per usual. 🙂

I may have mentioned that I moved to Syracuse, NY – it’s been quite a change in many, many ways. It’s hard to believe I’ve lived here for almost a year…

I won’t bore you with aspects of my professional life – let’s just leave it at, I made the right decision to move to Omaha and from there to NY. But this will most certainly not be my last move. I’m starting to feel like a nomad. LOL

Creatively speaking, my move here has caused a gap when it comes to writing and visual art. In Omaha, I was on fire with experimenting with visual art. In Pennsylvania, I was on fire with writing and exploring visual art.

Here, those two aspects have been lacking. However, I found the most fantastic piano teacher, and he’s helping me learn to play the piano in ways I never dreamed of. I doubt I ever shared this, but I took piano lessons from third grade through twelfth and for a few years again as an adult in the early 2000’s. Before I started my crazy cross-country moving trek. I was actually reasonably accomplished in classical music.

My current lessons are stretching me in so many ways, it’s almost impossible to describe – but it’s incredible.

I did participate in #inktober, so, in a small way, I have started to revisit visual art expression. My new place just doesn’t have a space that’s conducive to doing much more than small scale drawings – ink, pencil, and small canvases are currently my options.

Visual art teachers here are non-existent. I genuinely miss the Princeton Arts Council and the classes I was able to take there. In particular, I miss learning from you.

Anyhoo…

Just thought I’d say hidy ho and send greetings from Betty Boop to you.

A few nights later, I sent my piano teacher an email, I wanted to try and express how his teachings are changing my perspective about music.

Subject line: More than Music Lessons

Some thoughts are in my heart and mind that I wanted to share.

Until meeting you, I didn’t understand or appreciate the role of an accompanist.

I had no idea what to expect at my first lesson with you, but I knew I didn’t want to regroup on learning classical. It served me well, but for me, it was time to have fun with music.

You immediately seemed to get it.

Although, at first, to be honest, I sort of thought you were a bit bonkers for teaching me to play songs from music with a single note melody line- aka fake music. But, I quickly got it, loved it, and felt challenged.

Then, you started taking me on the path of learning how to chord on the piano in a way that would support a vocalist and/or other musicians.

I couldn’t stop thinking, I can’t do this.

But you challenge me, teach me and encourage me in a great way, and I am loving the progress I’ve made. It’s beginning to click.

You’ve turned music on its head for me. That’s a good thing.

Now, every time I listen to a song, I gain a new appreciation for the accompanist, who helps bring a song to life.

I also feel like I’m making good progress in my own way.

I came across this tonight and wanted to share it. (You’ve got a friend, link was inserted here – I’ll put it at the end of my post. 🙂 )

Carol King is one of my favorite artists, and in d for me, this brought home the music lessons I’m learning from you.

The most amazing and extraordinary thing happened, on the same day – they both responded.

There were many words of wisdom, support and encouragement in both replies. It truly made my heart smile.

I also laughed out loud at Konstantin’s quirky, humorous comment. For a bit of context, refer back to my message, in which I mentioned to him that my piano lessons are stretching me.

In true Konstatin humor, he replied, “please, be very careful with the stretching exercises (of the direct, not figurative variety), while keeping in mind the grave price Robert Schumann paid. After all, you do need your hands and fingers for drawing and painting, as well. No need to sacrifice yourself to one muse only! 🙂”

I had to Google what happened to Robert Shuman, suffice it to say, he damaged his hands in an attempt to stretch and strengthen his fingers – which of course, is something Konstantin would know!

I took comfort in both messages, which coincidentally – or not, sent two important lessons. Konstantin summed it up this way, “Take full advantage of whatever Life is offering you at THIS moment -lemons or piano lessons, and make full use of it.”

Mark, my piano teacher, offered this thought among many others, “So the journey is long but so FUN!”

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear…

Embrace What Life Offers in the Moment…

As promised, here’s the link.
Carol King is one of my favorite artists, and for me, this brings home the music lessons I’m learning right now.

Lessons in Leadership

It’s odd, but true that one of my most profound learning experiences as a leader has also been one of my best-kept secrets. It’s an experience that caused me so much shame and embarrassment that I haven’t shared it with many people – in fact, I just recently shared it with my parents more than 20 years after it happened.

As a young supervisor, I entered my new role with unearned confidence after having been the President of the University Program Council at my college, coupled with many summers of managing lifeguards at a local country club and a short stint in retail.

Little did I know what the business world expected and would require from me.

I entered the “real” work world as the supervisor of a small call-center for a printing company. Don’t even get me started on the ridiculous interviewing tactics of my then manager. They included describing the dimensions of block of wood, which was somehow supposed to relate to printing – I actually never understood the connection.

Anyway, fast forward to my role as the Customer Service Supervisor (yes I was hired).

I thought I was doing a fantastic job. After all, “everyone “loved me.”

Turns out, it was time for a significant course correction.

The company (ahead of its time) conducted an employee satisfaction survey, “guaranteed to be anonymous.” The survey included the opportunity to give direct feedback about your supervisor, and honesty was encouraged.

The survey was sent, the results were received and the feedback sessions were scheduled.

I’m reasonably sure my feedback session was the first. It was awful, no, let’s make that horrible. Not only was the feedback hard to hear – the setting was worse.

Imagine sitting in a conference room surrounded by your direct reports, the V.P. of HR (aka the daughter of the owner of the company, in this case) and your nemesis. In other words, I was sitting at a table with the people who had been asked to provide “anonymous” feedback about my performance as their supervisor.

It also included the woman who had been hired to be promoted into the position I wholeheartedly and mistakenly believed should have been mine. Could there be a more uncomfortable setting? I think not – it was beyond awkward for everyone.

Long story short, and I’ll get to the point. The feedback I received was painful to hear but honest and accurate.

The next morning, after a night of endless tears, I made myself get out of bed and go to work. Just as I got to my desk, the phone rang, the name and extension number on the display signaled it was John O’Brien, the president company. I froze, then shakily picked up the receiver and said, “This is Beth.”

He asked me to come to his office.

I was terrified of the outcome – sure I would be fired because I had received such a terrible review from the survey. But here’s how the conversation went.

“Beth, yesterday was a tough day for you. First and foremost, I want to apologize to you for how the feedback was delivered. That was not my intention, and unfortunately, I didn’t do a good job of setting up the right way to communicate the feedback. I own that, and you should have never received the feedback in a group setting, it should have been private.

Having said that, it happened. Tell me what you think about what was said and what you heard, separate from the way you received it.”

After a deep breath and through barely held back tears, I responded, “It was hard to hear, but it was accurate. I do try too hard to be liked instead of giving people honest feedback that might be difficult to hear but would help them grow. There were many things said that I need to improve on and change. The list is long.”

His reply as he handed me a tissue, “You have choices now, Beth. What are you going to do?”

“John, it’s embarrassing to admit, but what they said was right, and like I said, it was hard to hear, but it’s obvious I need to make some changes.  I’ll need help along the way, but I want to make this work.”

“You have great potential, I knew you’d make the right choice, and I’ll help you in every way I can. We both learned valuable lessons yesterday and today. Let’s put this  experience behind us, but learn from it.”

Looking back, the choice seemed rather obvious to me at the time, purely from an “I need to keep my job” perspective. But as it turns out, this was one of, if not the biggest and best lessons in leadership I have ever learned.

The lesson was painful but straightforward. People look to a leader to help them grow, not to be a friend. It’s essential to believe in people and to take a personal interest in their lives and in their success, but boundaries are important and necessary. Being a leader is important and bears responsibility. As a mother, I often-times liken it to parenthood.

We want the best for our kids, we are stewards of their lives – after all, we brought them into the world. While we didn’t bring the people we work with into the world, we spend more time with them than we do our own children when it’s all said and done. So, as leaders, and we all are in one way or another, we have the responsibility and the privilege to care for the people we interact with. Especially if we are in a leadership role.

The people we work with rely on us to show both honesty and compassion in our relationships with them. What they may or may not understand is that it’s not always easy. I’d never thought about it before, but I now realize that John O’Brien probably dreaded the conversation with me, maybe nearly as much as I dreaded facing him.

In the end, he owned his part in the debacle but didn’t let me lose sight of the leadership lesson I needed to learn. John O’Brien was someone who owned his mistakes, made the needs of his employees a priority and helped people develop. In other words, he was a servant leader long before it was a corporate buzz word.

While the experience was undoubtedly the most humiliating one of my professional career, it was also the most important one. Because of it, I learned what it means to be a leader and it changed the course of my career for the better.

Recently I attended a leadership workshop, which brought the experience full circle. It involved a “360 review.” This basically means questions are sent to your manager, peers and direct reports requesting feedback on your effectiveness as a leader.

I’ll leave it at this, John would be proud of the leader I’ve become.

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.

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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.

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

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

Trunk Packed for Move to NY

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

Air mattress and cardboard box night stands

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

boxes piled high

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

Beth's piano and pictures

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

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

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

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

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

I’m so happy it’s all in place!

Finally to the real reason for this update.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We shared two cups of tea this morning.

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

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

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

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

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

Beth and Anna

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

New Beginnings and Beautiful Outcomes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flower liquid pour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Seemingly insignificant actions, with unexpected outcomes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Change is the One Thing in Life that is Certain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Jeanine Moravec Weise

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

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

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

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

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