I Am My Mother’s Mother

Recently, I watched an amazing movie, Life Itself. I highly recommend it. It’s a multi-generational tale, and it shows how the actions of one generation impacts the next and the next and the next. We all are intertwined, part of a legacy. We each carry with us the choices of our forefathers. Here’s a quote from one of the characters in the movie, Elena Dempsey-González:

I’m not sure whose story I have been telling. I’m not sure if it is mine, or if it’s some character’s I have yet to meet. I’m not sure of anything. All I know is that, at any moment, life will surprise me. It will bring me to my knees, and when it does, I will remind myself that I am my father. And I am my father’s father. I am my mother. And I am my mother’s mother. And while it may be easy to wallow in the tragedies that shape our lives, and while it’s natural to focus on those unspeakable moments that bring us to our knees, we must remind ourselves that if we get up, if we take the story a little bit farther… If we go far enough, there’s love.”

This got me thinking about my own family. I’ve written a lot in this blog about how, at age 49, I moved all the way across the continent to Seattle, a place where I had never been and knew no one, just to start over. People tell me that this was brave. I just thought I had nothing to lose, and it turned out that I had everything to gain. But I am not the first person in my family who has taken a leap like this. Far from it.

My mother, at age 48, moved us all from Connecticut to Florida. She, too, felt she had nothing to lose. I wish, for her sake, that that risk had worked out as well for her as mine did for me. I landed on my feet and then some. Her situation became much, much worse, in terms of finances and lifestyle and location. It’s really heartbreaking to think about. She deserved so much better.

Her mother, my grandmother, came through Ellis Island when she was 23. She learned English on the way over, using an English/Danish dictionary and the Saturday Evening Post. She had $10.00 in her pocket, and she was met in New York by a Danish minister. Her husband, my grandfather, worked his way over on a Danish ship.

My great grandmother and my great great grandmother on that side seem to have never left their home places, but my great great grandmother’s husband committed suicide, leaving her with seven children, and that must have been a challenge all its own.

My great great grandmother on my grandfather’s side was born in Sweden but moved to Denmark in her 20’s. That may not seem as extreme, but back then, I’m sure it was still a huge transition into the unknown. It would have been a language change. She went there looking for work. She most likely brought the BRCA1 genetic anomaly to our family as well, and many of us have been paying for that ever since. (Not all legacies are good ones.)

I don’t know as much about my Father’s side of the family, but I do know that his mother came to America from Ireland, young and single, and hoping to make a better life. She met my grandfather because she was a waitress in his restaurant. He liked to say that he only married her so he could stop paying her. In any case, he left her with 4 children to bring up on her own, which was far less than she deserved.

We each carry on a legacy. We each add to that legacy. I come from a long line of strong, risk-taking women. Sometimes those risks worked out, and sometimes they didn’t. But I’m grateful for all of them, because they led to me.

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Bogey and Bacall Know Best

Back in May, we noticed that some birds, Dark-eyed Juncos, to be exact, were building a nest on the wall-mounted speaker we have on our back patio. We do love our Juncos, but did we want bird poop on our speaker? Not really. So, before the nest was completed, my husband kindly built them a wall-mounted platform on the same wall at the same height, only further down, where we are less apt to hang out. He relocated the nesting material there.

The Juncos, whom we have since named Bogey and Bacall, quickly found the new location, and they did, in fact, inspect it thoroughly, but apparently it did not meet their standards. But we had put some cardboard on top of the speaker, so they couldn’t move back in there. So they seemed to have left. That made me sad.

But we forgot that there was a second speaker on the patio, and a few weeks later, they were back at it again. This time we decided to let them have their way. Bogey and Bacall know best where they want to nest. Soon they made themselves right at home.

Sometimes Bogey will scold us from atop our fire pit when we sit on the back patio, as seen in one of the pictures below. One time he even flew into the house to see what we were up to. But mostly it has been a live and let live relationship.

I was delighted to spot two chicks on the nest recently. And my husband spotted a third. They’re growing so quickly! Hopefully they’ll soon fly on and allow us to use our speaker again.

Nature is awesome.

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Rebooting Oneself

Decades ago, I was walking my dog after a hard rain and I slipped on a wet, grassy slope. My feet flew above my head. I went down hard. I mean, really, really hard. It knocked the wind out of me. As I helplessly slid down the hill, everything went bright white. I couldn’t see, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move, and for a second there I had the strangest feeling that my brain was completely shut off. At that moment, I didn’t know how to see, breathe, or move.

That experience only lasted a second or two, but I’ll never forget it. And I definitely won’t forget the 9 months of pure agony I went through in its aftermath, while getting the resulting herniated disc diagnosed and treated. Good times.

As a friend of mine says, rebooting your computer can fix a multitude of sins. But a personal reboot such as the one I just described is no fun at all. I do not recommend it.

Unexpected catastrophic events can definitely make you do a reboot in terms of reevaluating your life, and they can cause you to change its trajectory. Death. Divorce. Job loss. Natural disasters. Totaling your car.

But these aren’t the only kinds of reboots I’ve had in my life. The intentional ones are fantastic. Driving across country for a new job in a new state, and therefore completely remodeling my life, was a reboot par excellence. So was buying my house and moving in. Vacations are mini-reboots, and I would argue that they’re really critical for mental and physical health.

I also consider purging toxic people from your life to be a reboot of a kind. You really don’t realize what a negative influence someone has been on you until they are gone. It’s like taking off a shoe that’s two sizes too small. Feels. So. Good.

If you have a chance to voluntarily reboot, even if it’s something as minor as a haircut or a manicure, I encourage you to do so. I also fervently hope that there are no involuntary reboots in your future. But the rain falls on us all sooner or later. May you weather the storms and revel in the sunshine, dear reader.

Reboot

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Two Years in Seattle

On August 24, 2014 I arrived in Seattle to start my new life. I had never been to the city before, and didn’t know a soul. I remember how I felt that day: excited, and scared silly. I felt like I was in a foreign country. Sometimes I still do.

In retrospect, I really think I was in shock. The terrain wasn’t flat like I expected. The weather was sunny and mild. I had been expecting rain, and after living in Florida for 40 years, “mild” was a sensation I had very rarely experienced.

I remember sitting in a park with my dogs, just staring at people. After driving for 3100 miles, I still had the sensation that I was moving. I still pass that park every day on the way to work.

I remember noticing that there was a completely different vibe in this city. It’s a much smaller city than Jacksonville, Florida, but it feels like a much larger one, probably because people are much more densely packed here. I don’t know how I was picking up on these signals just by sitting in the park, but I remember drawing conclusions that I later found to be true: this was a more educated, more sophisticated, more liberal, more diverse place.

More liberal! I wanted to jump for joy. After 40 years of feeling like a liberal turd in a conservative punch bowl, suddenly I felt like I fit in. It was like taking off a pair of shoes that was two sizes too small. I had no idea how much of a burden I had been carrying all that time. That feeling of being an outsider, that feeling of having to justify my conclusions, that feeling of never being taken seriously…I could lay those burdens down for the first time in my life. And it felt so good.

In the coming weeks and months I had a lot of adjusting to do. Finding my way around. Getting used to the insane level of traffic. Figuring out which of all the unknown grocery stores fit my budget and my tastes. Getting used to the fact that a lot of the products I was used to are sold here, but in entirely different packaging. Getting used to the fact that everything costs about 3 times as much. Learning my job. Finding doctors and dentists and libraries and post offices. Wrapping my brain around the Seattle Freeze.

After a few months of desperately trying to make friends, I wrote about the Seattle Freeze. I just didn’t know what it was called at the time. In that blog entry I called it, “Nice, but not.” After two years I’m still convinced that this is a thing, but since then I have made friends, and therefore don’t act quite as needy, and am not as hurt by the smiling, polite, unmovable wall of rejection.

I also came across a blog entry I wrote before leaving Florida, called A Florida Transplant to the Pacific Northwest. In it I had a lot of anxious, unanswered questions about how to make this massive transition. I can still feel the stress rolling off the page. Man, I was scared.

But you know what? Since then I’ve answered all those questions, and this place now feels like home. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.

So, happy anniversary to me!

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Revisiting My Relocation

Back in August, 2014, I moved from Florida to Seattle. This was a huge leap for me as I didn’t know a soul out here, and had never even been to Washington state, let alone to this city. All I knew was that I desperately needed a do over, and the opportunity presented itself, so I took it.

Yesterday I had a chance to revisit my epic journey across the continent because I’m going back and reviewing my old blog entries to determine which ones would make good anthologies. I don’t know where I found the energy, but I blogged during the entire trip, from Florida to Georgia to Kentucky to Missouri to South Dakota to Montana to Washington. 3100 miles, just me and my dogs and a lot of time to think.

At the time I was both excited and scared to death. Now, looking back at it from the other side, I don’t think I realized how brave I was being, and how totally insane the whole situation was.

I also look at the things I worried about and have to smile. I was afraid I wouldn’t know how to dress for cold weather. I didn’t even own any long sleeved shirts. And I was in a panic about driving in snow, but I’ve only experienced one day of it in the two winters I’ve been here.

And it amazes me the things it didn’t even occur to me to worry about. I seem to have underestimated how hard it would be to make friends and find romance. I think on some level I just assumed I’d pick up my life where it had left off. I had no idea the amount of isolation I was about to subject myself to. Had I known I might not have had the guts to do it.

Do I regret my decision? Not at all. In fact, I wish the current me could go back and tell the 2014 me that all my obstacles would be surmounted (well, except for the romance one), and in fact, it would be the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.

I remember savoring every moment of that adventure, and I’m so glad I had the presence of mind to write about it, because that means I can take that voyage again any time I want. The trip remains the same. It’s the traveler who is constantly evolving.

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One Year Ago Today

I remember exactly what I was doing on this day in 2014, because I had just arrived in Seattle after having driven all the way across the country from Florida. I was in a weird place mentally. I was excited about my future. I was shocked that I had actually pulled this relocation off. And I was also scared shitless.

I knew nothing about Seattle. I knew no one. I was about to start a new job and move into a place that I had rented sight unseen. Were the butterflies in my stomach a sign that I was anxiously anticipating a brighter future, or were they fighting to get out because I had just pulled the biggest bonehead move in a life that has been, to be painfully honest, chock full of bonehead moves? It could go either way.

At one point during that day I was lying on the grass in a park with my dogs. I remember feeling kind of weird because for the first time in about a week I wasn’t zooming down a highway. I had come to a complete stop. I was tired. But I felt safe. I could breathe. I liked where I was. I now pass that park every day on the way to work. I sort of wave at the memory of myself when I do.

At the same time, though, I felt a little removed from all the people around me. A stranger in a strange land. The climate, the terrain, the vibe… it all felt like I was in a foreign country. As much as I love to travel, I’m usually longing for home at a certain point. Would that happen this time? It was a moot point, because there was no turning back. That’s a rather terrifying concept.

In truth, it took me a long, long time to stop feeling strange. Some days I coped with that better than others. But I’ve begun to make friends. Romance has eluded me, but I’m starting not to really care, most of the time.

Fast forward a year. While running a bunch of errands, I suddenly realized that I hadn’t even bothered to turn on my GPS. When did that happen? And I was getting tired, and looking forward to going home. Home. Where I live now. I’m home.

So maybe it wasn’t such a bonehead move after all. Would I do it over again? I wish I had done it 30 years sooner!

There’s no place like home.

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My Own Personal Garden Song

After pulling up stakes and moving 3000 miles across country to a place where I know no one, essentially starting over at age 50, I spent a lot of time beating myself up because upon arrival I didn’t instantly have it all figured out.

I don’t know what I was thinking. Was everything supposed to fall into place, as if I could just pick up where I left off in Florida, like the new job and the new place to live and the 3000 mile drive were  mere hiccups in my day-to-day routine? Reinventing yourself isn’t for sissies, let me tell you.

Fast forward 6 months, and yes, I love where I’m living. I’ve even more than halfway unpacked. I love 95 percent of my job, and I actually go long periods of time not dwelling on the other 5 percent. I’ve even started to establish a stable, albeit quirky, routine. And I can now go several places, like the library and the grocery store and to work, without relying on my GPS, which is nice.

But yeah, I admit it. I haven’t made a single friend outside of work yet, and that sucks. I’m lonely. And before you even go there, I’ve been given a million suggestions about how to rectify that. If I pursued them all I’d probably be so popular that I’d have to change my phone number just to get some peace. So I feel kind of guilty. I should be on top of things. I have all the tools. And yet, here I am, alone.

But today I started humming the Arlo Guthrie version of the Garden Song, which has also been famously sung by John Denver; Pete Seeger; and Peter, Paul, and Mary to name a few. I’ll attach the video so you can check out Arlo’s hilarious take on it, but meanwhile you know the song. It starts, “Inch by inch, row by row, I’m gonna make this garden grow. All it takes is a rake and a hoe and a piece of fertile ground…”

And I suddenly realized that what I’m doing is transplanting my life. I uprooted myself from Florida and I’m putting down roots here. That’s going to take some time and patience, some love and care. I just need to go inch by inch. I don’t have to beat myself up when, at the end of the day, the whole darned garden isn’t planted and in full bloom.

I need to give myself a break, do things correctly and with positive intention, and it will all work out in the end. Yes, I have the rake and the hoe. I’ll get there.

Next stop for me is signing up for a pottery class at the nearby community college. That starts in April. I’m looking forward to it. And I’m sure I’ll meet some amazing people.

Forward motion is what counts. Even if it’s only an inch at a time.

A Florida Transplant to the Pacific Northwest

My upcoming relocation to the other side of the continent is constantly on my mind, as you can well imagine. This is going to be a dramatic change for me. I’m a Florida girl who has never had to deal with Pacific Northwest-y stuff. I’m anticipating having to ask a lot of stupid questions, and I’m quite sure things are going to come up that I don’t expect. Here are some of my biggest concerns.

  • I have never driven in snow in my entire life. I don’t know any of the tricks or rules or… anything. Will I need snow tires? Chains? Where do I get them? How do I put them on? Do they salt the roads? How do you avoid rust?
  • I don’t know what footwear to get to deal with rain and snow.
  • I don’t know how heavy a coat I’m going to need. Should I get thermal underwear?
  • What’s a good setting for your thermostat so you don’t freeze to death but also don’t get an insane electric bill?
  • This is going to sound silly, but I basically don’t know how to dress. Here, it’s t-shirt, shorts, flip flops, and you’re good 90 percent of the year, even in nice restaurants. I think I’m going to need more long sleeve shirts…
  • Do people dress up when they go out to dinner? Or is it as casual as Florida?
  • How often will I experience earthquakes? What do I do when one happens? What do you do if you are driving during one?
  • How do you keep mud off your carpet?
  • My lease says I have to wrap the outdoor hose bibs every October. What do I wrap them with, and where do I get it? Wouldn’t it just be easier to keep them wrapped all year round?

God, this is embarrassing. I feel like I’m about to be dumped off on another planet with no orientation whatsoever. I feel like I’m 5 years old and have wandered away from my mother in a department store. I realize that this is all part and parcel of my general free floating anxiety about this relocation, but seriously… help!

Between these silly questions and having to beg the world for help on my Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, thereby putting my fat pasty self on a video and getting all emotional for the whole world to see, this change has been a huge lesson in what it feels like to make myself vulnerable. It’s a good lesson to learn, but it’s hard to swallow.

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[Image credit: wallpaperfly.com]

Out I Shall Get

The minute my boyfriend passed away, my landlady decided that even though I only rent 1/3rd the square footage (and now presumably would be using much less electricity), I should now pay 2/3rds of the electric bill. When I said that this was unfair, she told me that maybe someday I’d grow up (I’m 49) and realize that luxuries had to be paid for. Luxury, in this instance, is apparently setting one’s thermostat anything below 79 degrees. I was also informed that because I did not socialize with her, I led a hermit lifestyle. I was asked to leave.

Then, at 4 o’clock in the morning, I got a text message from her unemployed, ex-convict son who at the age of 50 lives with his mother, and delights in leaving cigarette butts on my doorstep. He informed me that I was “born to be miserable,” and that he couldn’t wait for me to leave. You haven’t lived until someone of that high quality weighs you, measures you, and finds you wanting.

Then the rental search began, and as has always been the case in this town, the only affordable places were one step up from a cardboard box and/or right next door to a crack den. I was really starting to panic. Images of having to give up my dogs and sleep in my car. But eventually I found a place and will be moving in at the first of the month. I can’t wait, as things are now understandably tense around here.

Setting aside the fact that now that I’ve paid an application fee, a pet fee, and a security deposit, I haven’t a clue where I’m going to come up with the first month’s rent, let’s now focus on the stress of packing my stuff for the fourth time in as many years, and since this, too, will be a rental, there will be another move in my future.

Ugh. I long to be a homeowner one last time. I’d move all my crap in and never, ever, ever leave again. Ever. Gone are the days when I could move everything in one or two carloads. Now I require trailers and long-suffering friends. Why, oh why do I always move during the hottest month of the year? And why do I have all this junk? Most of it never got unpacked from the last few moves. These things are nothing but a packing box shaped albatross around my neck. I ought to just pile all this stuff up and set it afire. Preferably in my old apartment as I drive away for the last time. It’s not like she’s going to give me back my security deposit anyway, right?

On a lighter note, I’m actually excited about this new place. It has a bathtub. When I saw that, I nearly burst into tears. It’s been so long since I’ve rented a place with a bathtub that my body cannot remember what it’s like to be submerged in water. And it’s much closer to one of the bridges where I work. Also, unlike my current residence, it doesn’t have wall to wall dark green shag carpet that is nothing but a dog hair magnet, and the owner won’t be hoarding rusting piles of debris in the back yard. And best of all, I won’t share a wall with anyone, with or without a prison record. When you work graveyard shifts, you appreciate that quality above all others.

Having a better place to look forward to kind of takes the sting off of the weeks of packing in my future. It will also take me out of the neighborhood that is full of nothing but painful memories of my late boyfriend. And heaven knows the utility bill will be lower.

At times, even when you realize deep down that change is needed, it takes a little bit of a push to get you started. Sometimes it takes a hostile shove. But who cares, as long as you land in a soft place? So if you want me to get out, dear lady, out I shall most definitely get.

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A Work in Progress

Whether it’s childbirth, terrible twos, adolescence and puberty, going off to college, marriage, midlife crisis, divorce, job change, relocation, illness, death or some twisted combination of any of the above, transitions are going to happen in your life, and they’re usually stressful. In actual fact, midway through a transition, life generally sucks. I know because I’m right there in the thick of it even as we speak.

The scariest part of a transition is that moment when you have multiple options. If you’re like me, you’ll agonize and second-guess yourself within an inch of your life before finally settling in and adapting to your new circumstances.

We are all works in progress. When I was young I thought there would be this point, some magical moment in the future, when I’d be “done”, and all my problems would be solved, sort of like an existential graduation. With maturity I realize that life tends to be cyclical, and these transitions will come and go. Somehow, though, rather than depressing me, I actually find comfort in this insight. The more rough patches I survive, the more I learn that they’re survivable, and that gives me confidence.

So pardon my dust. I’m under renovation. It’s only temporary. I’m looking forward to being new and improved. I just wish, for the love of GOD, that this current project would hurry up and reach completion.

Life underconstruction.