Saturday, November 22, 2014

Here's What I Know About Ferguson

More than a few times these past 3+ months, I've started to comment on a topic that has headlined the news more often than not since August 9. Each time, I've decided not to comment.

You see, for the past 4+ years, I've worked in Ferguson, Missouri.

I wasn't in Ferguson that Saturday afternoon; instead, I was attending a conference in Dallas, Texas.

I'm not a member of the grand jury that has spent untold hours listening to testimony and sifting through evidence in the case.

As a result of those last 2 facts, I am in no position to offer an opinion on what happened that day or what, if any, legal action should be taken now.

Of course, a large number of politicians, activists, ministers and pseudo-ministers, and a wide variety of other folks who were neither on the scene back in August or on the grand jury have been more than happy to do just that. They have spoken with firm conviction, but without any first-hand knowledge of the events.

Their desire to sound off or to be in the limelight has trumped their concern for truth and for the very justice they proclaim to be their primary motivation.

So what do I know about Ferguson? Let me share just a few of the things I've learned about this North St. Louis County community in the 4 1/2 years I've worked there.

1. Beautiful neighborhoods -- old and newer -- abound. Sadly, there are also neighborhoods that are unkempt at best.

2. Admittedly, Ferguson has some problems. Crime is a problem; in fact, it's a significant problem. Other problems are unemployment, struggling public schools, low property values, etc.

3. Ferguson also has many strengths of which its residents can be proud. Thriving old businesses and new businesses, wonderful parks, beautiful churches, etc.

4. Many, many wonderful individuals reside in Ferguson. Individuals who work hard or who are retired after a lifetime of good, hard work. Individuals who reach out to those in need, help their neighbors, and are the very folks any of us would welcome as neighbors and friends.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. Ferguson is a community that is like thousands found throughout this country.

What you see on television and in newspapers is not "Ferguson". Instead, it's the Ferguson that has been created by politicians, activists, so-called Christian leaders, random individuals, and those in the media who are bent on using the tragedy of August 9, 2014, to their advantage.

To be seen. To utter the soundbite that is heard ad nauseum around the world.

"Michael Brown" and "justice" are the catchphrases they use to shamelessly promote themselves.

As Ferguson -- and all of the St. Louis area and beyond -- waits anxiously for the grand jury decision, I'm sure these individuals are feeling quite proud of themselves. I'm sure that, even as I write, they are busy posturing and positioning themselves for maximum exposure in the days ahead.

Instead, they should be hanging their heads in shame.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Notice

I'm very excited again this week to join a talented group of women bloggers in an online, unedited flash mob free write. This week, the word-prompt given to us by our fearless leader Kate Motaung (whose wonderful blog can be found at katemotaung.com) is "turn". My timer is set for 5 minutes; ready, set, 

 

Notice. An interesting word I rarely give much thought to.

What do I notice?

Do I notice when someone around me is hurting ~~ and take action?

Do I notice the small acts of kindness extended by others ~~ and express gratitude?

Do I notice the beauty in the world around me ~~ and say thank you?

Do I notice opportunities to be a positive force ~~ and jump in?

Sometimes I do. All too often, though, I don't.

What am I doing that catches the notice of others?

Do others see me responding to harshness with kindness?

Do they see me working tirelessly to help others just because it's the right thing to do, and not for glory and attention?

Do they notice a warm smile on my face?

Notice. I need to pay notice to so many things.

To the beauty in the world and in those around me.

To my own actions and attitudes.

To opportunities to serve.

But primarily, I need to stop, be silent and still, and take notice of what God has said and is saying to me. That, in a nutshell, is all I really need to take notice of. If I do, everything will fall into its rightful place.

Notice.

 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Home, Cozy Home (Dream Save Do, week 9)

IF I believed in reincarnation, I would have to consider the possibility that I was, in a past life, a turtle. Back in my sports-playing days, I was agile, had great aim (in the 3 years I was the starting pitcher for a girls'-league fast pitch softball team, I never lost a game, a fact I still take shameless pride in), and highly competitive. Fast-moving? Not at all.

It's not my lack of speed, though, that best indicates I have Testudinian tendencies. Side note: turtles belong to the Testudine family, a fact I had no knowledge of until just a few minutes ago. 

What truly points to my turtle-like nature is my love for small, cozy living places. While I thoroughly loved the large home we lived in when both my son and daughter lived at home, I was happiest when we were all gathered in the average-sized family room, gathered in front of the fireplace on a couch and love seat that were carefully placed to create what I thought of as a cozy refuge.

When our son left for college, causing my husband and I to sell our large house in town and build a home on 65 rural acres, we decided to downsize significantly. I was ecstatic! Armed with a pencil, eraser, and graph paper, I planned our new home.

A few basic considerations drove every line I drew and every revision I made. The foremost guideline was size. We wanted a house that would fit the empty-nesters we would be in just 2 1/2 years (at the time) but which would accommodate both our son and daughter, plus their families when that day came, for both brief get-togethers and extended visits. The other major considerations were openness, efficient use of space, and energy efficiency.

When all was said and done, we moved from a 2-story home with 1400' sq on each level (and a same-sized unfinished -- except for a bathroom -- basement) to a 2-story home with "only" 960' sq feet on each finished level. I couldn't have been happier.

Since my husband's death, I've moved to a 2-bedroom condo and then, when my new house was completely constructed, a 2-bedroom (with additional office) home of 1264' sq on one level, and now to a 1-bedroom apartment. In each of these last 3 locations, I've had more room than I need, and I've dreamed of finding something smaller.

For a couple of years now, I've flirted with the idea of buying a tiny house or having one built.

For those who aren't familiar with the term, a "tiny house" can mean many things. To some people, it means a home under 400' feet. To others, it means a house that can fit on a trailer and, if desired, moved from one location to another if the need or want arises. To me, a tiny house is a very small home that is either site-built or built on a trailer.

A "Dream House" bookmark group on my laptop holds links to websites that I study carefully every chance I get, my footlocker-turned-coffee table is adorned by 2 fabulous tiny house books, and I've been putting every extra penny I can find in a "mortgage-free home" savings account.

I'm done flirting! I've set some deadlines, and I'm determined to either build or buy a tiny house within the next 12 months. While I like the idea of a site-built home, I'm still about 10 years from retirement and want to be able to move if/when a better job situation presents itself. As a result, my plan is to build a tiny house on a trailer so I can easily relocate.

I shared my plans with my son and my daughter. While "skeptical" may be too strong a word, they both have reservations. That's natural. They both are at a different stage in life -- they are both looking forward to owning their own homes; to accruing things they haven't been able to afford while in college, grad school, med school, and residency; and to starting their own families.

They tease me about my Birkenstock tendencies, and I have to admit that, as much a traditionalist as I am, there's more than a bit of truth in that assessment.

I long for a simpler lifestyle. Evenings spent alone or with friends. A simple meal and a leisurely walk afterward, time spent reading or knitting or scrapbooking on the porch or inside my cozy home. My work time spent earning money not to spend on utilities, rent/house payments, a 300+-station TV package, etc., but to fund experiences -- a white-water rafting trip, a Route 66 road trip, or an extended trip across Canada by rail. A simpler lifestyle that is closer to nature, more organic.

I'm being pretty bold, I believe, in putting this commitment out here on a public forum for anyone who stops by to see. But it's a good kind of bold. An exciting kind of bold.

As I indicated at the beginning of this post, I don't believe in reincarnation; I know with utter certainty that I have never had a past life, much less a past life as a turtle.

I also know that I am ready for a new life, one that fits me, and that includes a home that fits me, Birkenstocks, hand-knitted socks, and all.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Joy-filled Decor (Dream Save Do, week 8)

Six days out of seven, I check my email inbox and feel the same disappointment I feel when I check my snail mail mailbox. With most of my non-local family and friends using facebook as their primary method of communication now, I rarely receive personal emails. Instead, my inbox is filled with messages in which the sender is hawking a product or two.

Last week, though, I had a one-out-of seven day; when I logged on to my personal email account I found a message from a favorite cousin, Debbie. And it wasn't just any old message! Right away, she touched my heart by saying that when she read what she was sharing in the message she thought of me. I don't know about you, but when someone says that -- and I know they truly meant it -- I feel honored, yet humbled.

Then I read the rest of the message. The blogger shared a concept I've long embraced and even shared here more than once (get rid of everything you don't love or use). But he said it more succintly. More profoundly. Better.

In short (pardon the pun), Chris Guillebeau summarizes the decorating philosophy espoused by Marie Kondo in her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. 

Get ready; here it is:              "Discard everything that doesn't 'spark joy'".

I wrote this sentence on my little dry-erase marker board that sits in a prominent place in my apartment:

 

I read that sentence every time I walked through my living/dining area. I found it running through my head at odd moments. And then, I put it into practice on Friday morning by going through my books (again). I pulled all 100+ books from my large entertainment center and sorted them into 3 stacks.

1: Spark joy

2: Do not spark joy

3. Portions spark joy or I haven't had a chance to read this yet

The books in the first stack -- only 45 -- went back on the newly-dusted shelves.

The books in the second stack have already been donated to the local Friends of the Library for the biannual book sale.

The books in the third stack have been subdivided into two more stacks. The first contains books in which I've hilited a sentence here or there. I'm going to skim or read each of those books again, recording in a beautiful leather journal I was given recently the nuggets that inspire me. Of course, I'm organizationally-obsessed -- I'm already thinking of how I'll sort-of divide the book into topics such as organizing, decorating, faith, etc.

What about the second sub-divided stack? Well, I've imposed on myself a deadline of the end of Christmas Break (January something-or-other) to read each of them and, of course, apply the "sparks joy" criteria when finished.

Four days later, I glance over at my entertainment center, devoid of the clutter of books that I had kept out of habit, not out of intentional thought. I like what I see. It makes me smile. It brings me a peaceful kind of joy.

I'm not done. Next up are my clothes, and I can't wait to get started!

If you'd like to read the blog post my cousin shared with me, you'll find it at:          

                    http://chrisguillebeau.com/better-organizational-strategy/

Friday, November 7, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Turn

I'm very excited again this week to join a talented group of women bloggers in an online, unedited flash mob free write. This week, the word-prompt given to us by our fearless leader Kate Motaung (whose wonderful blog can be found at katemotaung.com) is "turn". My timer is set for 5 minutes; ready, set, 

 

If this had been the word last week, I don't think I could have written a word, but Kate hit the nail on the head this week.

Why? Because yesterday there came a turn in the road for me. Not a bend. Not a curve. A turn.

Until yesterday, I thought of making some significant adjustments regarding my current position. I dabbled a bit -- updating my resume, collecting one current letter of reference, and talking ad nauseum about my desire for change. A pretty lackadaisical approach to making a significant life change, you'd have to say.

Earlier this week, an incident at work caused me to think it was time to get more serious about a change. I asked for 2 more current letters of reference and contacted a previous supervisor for a 3rd -- bringing my grand total of professional references to 4. I searched my employer's website for a posting of a different position or perhaps the same position at a different location. Nada. I did a quick internet search and found a few intriguing listings. I even began putting together the *actual* application packet.

I didn't respond to even the most intriguing positions.

Yesterday afternoon, though, an incident occurred that caused me to turn emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Mentally, I'm fed up. I'm fed up with my profession, my colleagues, and myself being treated with disrespect. It comes from all angles. From many in the public, from politicians (except when they need our vote or need a great sound bite), from clients, and even from those above us in the food chain.

I'm fed up mentally. I do everything I can and everything that is considered best practice in order to be effective at what I do. I treat others with respect, I do not react to disrespect or aberrant behavior on the part of clients, and I maintain a calm, professional demeanor. Yet, no matter what I do, the outcomes are not what they are at previous places of employment or at most other places that do what we do.

I'm fed up physically. I have been experiencing physical symptoms that are, according to my doctor and other reliable sources, clearly stress-related.

I'm not a quitter.

But I've turned a corner.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Progress (Dream Save Do, week 7)

Now that I have a fairly specific goal as to where I want to go from here, I've been spending my free time taking care of various details that will get me there by setting mini-goals.

Goal: 7 items donated/sold/discarded every week

First, I've begun decluttering . . . again. Although I donated/sold/tossed quite a bit of stuff when I moved to this much-smaller place this past summer, as I contemplate boxing up what I still have and moving again, I'm motivated to get rid of even more. Last week I surpassed my goal by 3 items.

Goal: 10,000 steps every day

On Saturday, I signed up for a month of free membership at the fitness center here in my planned community. When I rented my apartment, I was given a free month's trial as a welcome gift of sorts, and I'd been saving it to use when the weather turned cold. This past Thursday temperatures plummeted -- 82 degrees on Tuesday and in the 30's on Thursday -- so I signed up.  I've logged 10,000 steps every day so far.

Goal: weight training 3 times a week (Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday)

I also had planned to work out using a DVD I have, but I discovered that the movers didn't hook up the DVD player after all! I need to take everything off my large entertainment center, move it out from the wall, figure out what wire goes where, move it back agains the wall, and put everything back where it goes. Needless to say, I'm not looking forward to that job, but it has to be done before Wednesday; I don't want to miss another day.

Goal: write a book

The third project began Saturday when  NaNoWriMo 2014 kicked off. Every November, writers from around the globe participate in National Novel Writing Month by attempting to complete a novel of at least 50,000 words in 30 days. Of course, the goal is to get just the rough draft written, but several NaNoWriMo novels have made it to the bestseller lists (Water for Elephants is one). To reach 50,000 words, I'll need to average 1,667 per day. So far, I've exceeded that by at least 70 words each day.

Goal: find a new job

The final task was one I had been dreading, so I jumped right in and took care of it early in the week by asking two of my supervisors and one colleague for letters of recommendation. While I wait for those, I'm getting my online application materials prepared so that I can begin applying as soon as I've uploaded their letters.

 

I feel good about what I've accomplished so far, and I'm excited to finally be moving forward, one step at a time. If you have any hints, tips, or suggestions for staying the course, I'd love to hear them!