Sunday, October 27, 2013

Time . . . Trying to Find Some?

"I don't have time." I wonder how many times I've said that -- to myself and to others -- to explain why my "projects" list remained unchanged for months (okay, years) or why my dreams remained dreams.

More than likely, you know what I mean. Surely I can't be the only person who has a list of major projects -- get the kids' scrapbooks caught up, organize the basement, download pictures from various memory cards onto the computer and organize them into folders, etc -- that has for far too long seen far too little action. Nothing checked off. Nada. Surely I'm not the only person who is planning to start on the #1 item as soon as I get through the Thanksiving and Christmas holidays . . . or over the summer when I'm out of school for a few months . . . or by diligently working on one project at a time for 2 hours every Saturday starting, well, next Saturday!

And surely I'm not the only person who has, along with a project to-d0 list, some general life changes in mind. Make a budget and stick to it, declutter/pare down/simplify, exercise on a daily basis, consume a more healthy diet, write that best-selling novel that's percolating in my brain. Come on, you know you're right there with me. Thinking about it, planning to do it . . . tomorrow or next week or after Christmas.

The problem is not having enough time, right? Maybe. When my children were tiny and my husband deployed (was out somewhere in the world doing his top-secret Air Force job) several times a month, most of "my" time was consumed with parenting and taking care of basic household tasks.  When both of my children were old enough to play sports and be in Scouts and church youth group but not old enough to drive themselves to practice and meetings and my husband was working shifts, I was truly busy as the sole driver/confidant/cook/tutor/home-keeper and teacher-with-papers-to-be-graded. When . . . well, it's clear that at various points in my life, I've been really, really busy.

But I always found time to chat on the phone or visit my favorite scrapbooking chat room or play a few (okay, maybe more than a few) games of online solitaire or watch a television show I now can't even remember the name of. Yes, I needed to relax. I needed "down time", and I found it. I put aside my project list and my dreams of being the next Margaret Mitchell and simply vegetated. What's done is done, and I'm not going to spend any time 2nd-guessing my choices. Instead, I want to focus on what I can do now. I want to focus on getting those projects completed and implementing those life changes I've been pondering.

I've got time now. In some ways, more than I've ever had. My small home can be cleaned in almost no time at all, fixing a bowl of soup and a sandwich takes far less time than creating a meal for four, and my teaching schedule and office hours allow me to get quite a bit of work done at the office. On the other hand, at this point in my life, I'm facing the hard truth that I also have less time. The proverbial bloom is off the rose; unless I live to reach 100 (or so), the term "middle-aged" doesn't technically apply to me any longer. I have a new appreciation and respect for time, and I'm determined to honor the time I have left by using it well.

In the past couple of years, I've spent considerable time pondering time (in print, that sounds ridiculous; in reality, it's quite logical, as anyone who has faced the loss of a loved one knows all too well), and I've come to a few conclusions:

1. I can't "find" or "make" time. Period. Instead, I can only choose what pursuits I "give" my time to. Thank you, Holley Gerth, author of Opening the Door to Your God-Sized Dream, for some great insights and gentle guidance.

2. I have more time to "give" than I ever imagined. Thanks to Robert Pagliarini, author of The Other 8 Hours, I have a new perspective of how much time I truly have and techniques for using it in a way that allows me to be productive without sacrificing relaxing and refueling.

3. I can often implement life changes -- even try them on for size -- right where I am, without a major investment of time and energy. I figured that one out on my own! :)

With that in mind, I've made some changes. For example, in an effort to "try on" living in a smaller home with fewer things, I've closed off the master bedroom and bath. I simply do not use those rooms at all -- not even to store seasonal clothing in the large walk-in closet. I use the smaller guest bedroom, and what didn't  fit nicely (without being scrunched together) in the closet was either sold or donated. I've also been selling and donating household items on a weekly basis. It amazes me, how much stuff a non-shopper like myself had accumulated and how not a single thing I've toted around for years and finally gotten rid of has been missed.

In January, I'll begin an exciting 4-month experiment that will allow me to try out another idea that has gained great appeal the past 3 years. Within a few months of moving to the city and dealing with a rush-hour commute two times a day (the community I live in does not connect via mass transit to the part of the city in which I teach, and 17 miles is too far to walk, of course), I began thinking of where I could live and work that would allow me to park my car for all but occasional outings. Because I will be teaching in England for the Spring 2014 semester, I won't be driving during those 4 months. Instead, I'll rely on my own 2 feet and public transportation of various kinds the entire time I'm there. What a perfect opportunity to test-drive (sorry, I couldn't resist) a minimal-driving lifestyle!

If you have a dream or a list of projects you'd like to accomplish -- or both -- I hope you'll join me in using some time every day, even if it's only 15 minutes, toward realizing that dream or completing one of the projects. Play some energizing music (I love the soundtrack to Mama Mia, for example), turn off your phone and computer, and set a timer for 15 minutes. Go for it! And, please, come back and share with me how you used "your" time and how it made you feel.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Mementos and Memories

Last week I met with a realtor and put my house on the market. To say the least, my timing could be better. First of all, winter will be here sooner than I like (if I had my way, it would never arrive), and popular opinion is that homes don't sell well at this time of the year. I already have quite a bit on my plate, and I haven't finished downsizing by any means, so that was an issue to consider. Finally, I was a bit hesitant to list it 2 1/2 months before I leave the country for 4 months.

I knew, though, that there's never going to be a perfect time, so I signed the contract to list my house. I also knew that by putting the house on the market, I'd be forced to finish some tasks I've been chipping away at for months and months. One of those tasks is sorting through 27 years of photos and memorabilia, organizing everything "once and for all" so I can get serious about completing my children's scrapbooks.

Yesterday morning, I collected from all over the house (the basement, my closet, the office, and even under my bed) all the bins and boxes containing photos and memorabilia from January 1986 (when I found out I was expecting our first child) to now. Feeling optimistic, I also pulled out 3 large bins that contained mementos and photos from the first two years of our marriage (before we had our son) and from my husband's and my lives before we met.

I assembled the 27 boxes -- sized 12" x 12" x 4" -- I purchased months ago, wrote a year on the outside in magic marker, and arranged them along the outer walls of my living/dining room area. And then I dug in.

For two days, I've been immersed in memories. Memories of babies and toddlers, first baths and first teeth and first steps, romps on the playground and on the living room floor, and beloved friends we left behind with each move.  Memories of beloved pets  that ranged from our much-loved West Highland White Terrier to two kittens a sweet older lady from church gave my preschoolers to two bunnies that we quickly decided were not a good fit for our family to a red milk snake that, surprisingly was. Memories of Sunday School Christmas programs and Vacation Bible School. And then came the school years. Classroom parties, Boy and Girl Scouts, and birthday parties galore. Followed by high school. No more birthday party pictures, but oh the band concert photos and pictures of sporting events and . . . the list goes on and on.

Finally, at about 5:45 this evening, I was done. 31 numbered boxes (a couple of particularly eventful years needed 2 boxes to contain all the photos and memorabilia -- who knew one week at Walt Disney World could produce so many pictures, brochures, tickets, character autographs, and other bits and pieces of paper!) are filled and stored in my closet. One large bin holding photos of my ancestors as well as photos and other items from my husband's and my childhoods and pre-marriage lives -- all sorted and grouped by year -- sits in the office.

I'm tired -- physically and emotionally. Strolling through so many years, briefly reliving the best experiences of my life and some not-so-great moments (children's injuries and surgeries, for example, and my father's battle with cancer) was just as hard as I thought it would be. But I'd put this off as long as I could; it was time to get it done.

It's not easy to go back and look at what "was", when what "was" ended far before I ever dreamed it would. But I did it, and it felt really good to check that item off my to-do list. I know I will be reliving everything yet again when I actually create the scrapbook pages. Next time through, I'll slow down, look at the pictures more carefully in order to choose just the right ones, and journal about the events that accompany the photos and the memorabilia.

I'm not looking forward to the monumental task of scrapbooking 27 years of life (24 for my daughter), but I'll get it done . . . one memory at a time.



Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Long & Winding Road

About 6 1/2 years ago, I made a wise decision. Had I kept acting wisely, the story would have ended very differently. In a nutshell, I made a wise decision, followed by a couple of stupid, really bad decisions based on fear. The end result was that I resigned from a job that many people (myself included) considered a plum position. The job loss affected me professionally; more importantly, it negatively impacted my family, as they were directly affected by the loss of my income and the public embarrassment my actions brought about.

I began searching for a new job, hampered by both a tough job market in my career field in general and by the lack of positions within my specific driving distance of about 100 miles each way (a very long drive but "desperate times . . .  desperate measures"). At the same time, I sought part-time employment with a former employer and was immediately hired. I was told I would be working a very limited number of hours, but each semester something unforeseen happened just before the semester began that caused a welcome increase in my course load. Each term, my income was at least equal to what it had been in my previous position; one term, I made twice as much. Not only was I earning enough to make up what I had been making, I was doing so while working about 1/2 the number of hours, and I had no out-of-class duties for which I received no pay.

Over the course of the next 3 years, I added another part-time position with my then-current employer; additionally, a coworker told me about another part-time position. I applied and was hired. Between these 3 positions, I was still working less and making significantly more than I had earned at the position I lost. And while I didn't realize it at the time, I was also receiving another very important benefit. Almost every semester, I taught at least one course at the developmental education level (a course for students whose test scores indicated they were not ready for college-level courses in my subject area).

And then, July and August and September 2009 brought horrendous tragedy in the form of my husband's diagnosis and passing. Of course, his death impacted my life and the lives of our children in many, many ways, some of which were financial.  He earned about 70% of our family income, and the children and I had excellent, very affordable health insurance through his employer. When he passed away, I had 12 months to find a full-time job with benefits for my children and for myself. Within a few months of my husband's passing, I heard of 2 openings in a city about 110 miles from where we lived. I applied for both, interviewed at both, and accepted the first one offered to me. I began my new job in August 1010, 12 days before our insurance coverage through my husband's employer was terminated.

At this point, you may be wondering what in the world I am rambling on and on about. Stay with me a bit longer -- I'll explain. But first, I need to go back to the first part of this story. It's important that I not gloss over the fact that I made some errors, did wrong, screwed up. That's important. But what is even more important is how my mistakes weren't the end of the story.

Had I not made a couple of significant, bad choices, I would have had no reason to return to a previous place of employment which led to:

1. experience in an area within my field that I had no previous experience in, which was 2. the main requirement for the full-time position I so badly needed and was hired for after my husband passed away, which 3. has wonderful benefits and 4. pays almost 3 times what I was getting paid (which was about 1/3 of our total family income) and 5. opened professional opportunities that I would not otherwise have had and which open other doors, and which eventually led to 6my being chosen to serve my employer in a 1-semester position abroad beginning in January.

I spent some time this past week reflecting on the past 6 1/2 years, re-reading journal entries and contemplating the various events, and it is amazingly clear that the horrible experience of  losing my job, stressing every semester about whether or not I would have enough hours to earn enough to do my part to make ends meet, etc. was actually a blessing in disguise. You may not be a Christian, and you may even be offended by what I'm going to say, but I know it to be true. God took the mess I created -- a mess I could not fix (believe me, I tried) -- and led me down a long, winding road to where I am today.

Hopefully, I'll continue on the road of my life for many, many years. I have no idea where it will lead me, but the past 6 1/2 years have taught me to travel that road unburdened by worry, and I'm making every effort to do just that. It's been an interesting trip so far -- many highs and some devastating lows, along with twists and turns that kept me from seeing where the road was headed -- and I'm looking forward to the next part of the journey.

I imagine that as you look back over your life, you can see times where mistakes you despaired of, that caused you great stress and heartache, actually led to wonderful things you would never have experienced had you not misstepped in the first place. I'd love to hear about your experience; if you feel comfortable sharing, I hope you will -- either through a comment or by emailing me. Have a wonderful weekend!