Thursday, February 23, 2012

here. now.

It’s early yet this morning, but two things have already occurred to me today. In the past six years, I’ve attended 9 funerals. Five for people who lived a long life. Four for young people who passed before their 30th birthday.

I sensed a sort of undercurrent of sadness, and having just returned from one funeral last week for a family member, it added up that experiencing so many losses is kind of leaving a heavy burden on me. I was recently enraged by the loss of two boys in a notorious parental custody case, and had nowhere to go with that rage – it steeped within me. Even the very public losses of celebrities have contributed to the feeling.

We all say that funerals should be celebrations of the person’s life. In all cases above, they were not joyous occasions. I know they all are in a spirit form and in a better place. But the loss is what stays with me. I admit to having fears of losing others who are important to me.

Somehow I have to go through all these feelings and find a positive outlook to follow. I do work to put efforts into causes and non-profits to help others and hopefully alleviate some of the inequities and losses in society.

The second thing that occurred to me today is that – a year ago, I had the premonition or message that “a year from now” I’ll be in the right place. I was at a crossroads and agonizing over which direction to take. A thought occurred to me like a whisper: “a year from now”. I went with that whisper and trusted it and hung on to it through many times of doubt. Most of 2011 I was anxious to find out what process I’d have to go through and where I would land. Several options were explored. At that time I could not have anticipated how it would turn out.

I’m here. Now.

Thankfully, that anxious year of waiting to see the outcome is done. Looking back, the resolutions that I thought were going to happen did not. Although a decisive action, the direction I took was a surprise, not what I expected.

Coincidentally, I heard a message on TV today about how when we try to take control of our lives, we get a reminder to let go and let God handle it. I seem to need a lot of reminders.

The path I chose appeared on the outset to be the riskiest and certainly the one with the least support from others. I’ve always felt that I made the right choice. There are some divine plans in store for me that are bigger than I can imagine.

Signs of recovery have appeared. As insightful as I am about the real world around me, learning to fearlessly greet possibilities beyond my imagination is a continual work in progress.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Love of Fair

“Fair” may not mean much to most people. Typically the word conjures an image of outdoor tables covered in red checkered cloth and pig-tailed kids mowing down cobs of buttered corn somewhere in the Heartland.

To me, it can only refer to the State Fair of Texas, and the love runs deep. Since I was born on October 7 in Dallas, the State Fair, my birthday and Fall’s arrival have all been intrinsically connected in my life. Even though my family moved to Louisiana when I was 3, numerous trips were made back to Dallas to see my grandparents and paternal relatives. Family traditions were started in Dallas – 7-Up floats made with Polar Bear ice cream, Mexican food at El Fenix, double birthday parties with my cousin, born exactly one year after me. And there were trips to the Fair… what I didn’t know at the time was that a long-time family tradition was being passed on to the next generation.

I have decades of memories at the Fair... salt water taffy pulling a loose tooth out, riding the original SkyWay, Fletcher’s corny dogs with MUSTARD, taking an annual picture in a Photo Booth, buying a mobile and giant paper flowers in the Embarcadero, free biscuits and pretty calendars at Food & Fiber... When I was a kid, my dad told me stories about his days spent at the State Fair, which was only blocks away from where he grew up. Yes, he was at the 1936 Centennial. I grew to love and appreciate the Fair’s Art Deco art and architecture created for that year.

But my favorite memories are the ones of bringing my kids to the Fair when they were little. There was the year that I convinced my then 3-year old eldest daughter to be a Butterfly Ballerina at the Backyard Circus, all of us watching the puppet show in the Hall of State (now in Creative Arts), the interactive exhibits at the Science Place and photos of kids on the trunk of the mastodon in front of Natural History Museum. Now it was my turn to pass along the State Fair tradition to the 5th generation.

So now, everywhere I go at the Fair – there is a memory – a building that was looking out at my dad when he was a little boy, streets that were walked by my great-grandparents in their early 20th century finery, renewed Midway rides from my youth, such as the Skyway – and a taffy stand that sells the candy that can dislodge loose teeth. Baby animals, Haunted Houses and Midway rides my kids loved.

This is the zenith of the year as far as I’m concerned… January through September is just tolerated until October arrives. If we’re lucky to get cool weather thrown in, it’s exhilarating. Football… Birthday… Fall weather… State Fair… sharing with my family, for generations to come.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

"It sure is a pretty day..."

February 27 2010 – 27 years. Hard to believe. I’ve lived more years without my mom than with her. I could have not foreseen the profound changes that the direction of my life would take since then. I learned that I do not want any of my kids to feel the way I did, missing my mom for significant parts of my life. I want to stick around and be a grandmother – my kids did not meet either of their grandmothers.

Recently, my mom’s youngest and only surviving sibling discovered that she had a diary of my mom’s from when she was about 10 or 11 years old. This was surprising news to me, as I’d never seen anything from my mom’s childhood, maybe just one photo of her as a girl in a box under the bed at my grandmother’s house. Now that everyone but the one sister is gone, all I have are the recollections of one person and now, a diary.

The diary arrived a few days after my aunt told me about it. It was small and a little worn. Dated 1936. References to the Texas Centennial that was going on in Dallas. My mom and her family lived on a farm in a small town southeast of Waco in Limestone County. Anything that they heard of in Dallas must have been big news. There is record of the TCU band marching down the street (singular) of Kosse to announce the opening of the Ft. Worth Stock Show.

Interestingly, there are careful notations of births, deaths, fires and illnesses such as measles, mumps and diphtheria. Babies, friends and acquaintances succumbed to these diseases that we no longer consider a threat. Burials were made the next day after passing. Every day there were visitors to their home, either family or neighbors. There was never a day that was spent alone. Cousins, grandparents, schoolmates and friends from town would stop by. The oldest sisters still living at home would spend entire days with their mom washing clothes, shelling peas or scrubbing floors. As a young girl, my mom passed the time cutting out paper dolls or playing a game of jacks, both of which she shared with me when I was little.

Something that my mom repeated several times in her diary struck me. It was a reflection of a happy, innocent time of her life with few cares. “It sure is a pretty day.” It is particularly profound to me because when as I knew her in the last 25 years of her life, she was not so carefree and happy. Somehow it’s comforting to me that she had that sort of joy in her heart and hopefully that is what she is experiencing now… where every day for her, I hope, “it sure is a pretty day”.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

On the quest for writing…

Anyone that aspires to writing may be familiar with the lulls that happen from time to time. In my case, I haven’t had any real attempts at writing since suspending efforts in 2006 while pursuing a degree. Well, it’s been a year since the degree was completed, and those months yielded no new material! I had hoped and expected to continue riding on the wave of productive momentum after school was over. So many plans – brush up on the latest and greatest graphic art software, re-do my dad’s website, make progress on a writing project…etc. I knew that all that free time from not having to do schoolwork would become a bounty of completed projects that I just didn’t have time for until then.

Reality…at about the same time I finished my degree, I also changed jobs at work. The new job was an opportunity to grow into a new type of work – and meant a steep learning curve. One year after starting the new job, I’m now starting to feel like I can get some traction on these “other” projects in my life.

I actually think that my brain has been totally overloaded – not only with the new job and all the information that has had to be assimilated…but my continued habit of trying to be super-productive in every waking minute of the day. As a result, my brain just decided to put limits on me if I didn’t. My brain acted independently of my will? Yeah, I think so… it knows best.

Anyway, I’ve been doing “research” to inspire me on the writing project and I’ve been enjoying some books. Lately the selections involve a lot of memoirs to study their style. Thought I’d pass along the reading list for your edification…if your brain allows…

Half Broke Horses,Jeannette Walls,2009
The Glass Castle,Jeannette Walls,2005
Growing Up,Russell Baker,1982
A Moveable Feast,Ernest Hemingway,1964 (about his time in Paris 1921-26)

p.s. I’m a big fan of our local library system… love to check out audiobooks when they are available… originally with that idea I had of constantly being productive, even while driving my car… now it’s a nice alternative to the noise on the radio and a fairly time-efficient way to progress through a book…

p.s.s. I’ve enjoyed the wording of Ernest Hemingway, almost a language that is vanishing… this passage ALMOST convinces me to have some oysters – it is notable that he was consuming them in Paris in the 1920s, which might have something to do with generating a lot of romance around the scenario…despite living for years in Louisiana, the consumption of scavenging bivalve creatures is super-low on my list of preferences…

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”

Better than ”Downing a bunch of raw oysters chased with white wine really perked me up”, don’t you think?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Paper Chase - the race is on!

When we last met, I had just come to the realization that I’d seen the writing on the UNT wall as it were, and if I was encountering this much resistance and obstruction to registering and getting started, the whole experience might likely be as arduous. I decided to write the summer semester (and the $40 UNT registration fee) off as lost in the research process. I had not found the best program and had to pick up the pursuit again.

Texas A&M University – Commerce had the same type of Bachelor degree and offered all online classes, but the program was more oriented towards business rather than training, as the UNT program was. I emailed the contact for the program at TAMU-Commerce. To my happy surprise, I was assured that I could not only register all online, but there was no reason I would ever have to make a personal appearance on campus. I made sure of that detail, since that was the final straw with UNT, the requirement to sit all day on campus for “Transfer Orientation” before I could register for any classes.

A note here – while it may seem perfectly reasonable to require an on-campus all-day orientation for transfer students, and UNT seemed to believe fervently in the need for this – it is overlooking the whole point of online classes and degrees – that it now becomes available for people of all circumstances to do college work – regardless of age, location, family or work commitments. I considered it very non-insightful for a university to overlook this important point. (I guess I’m really not through chastising UNT about this).

Back to TAMU-Commerce – with as much as a few emails, I was registered for classes. Yesssss!! The way it should be. The evaluation of my 8 million hours at LSU was done and most of them transferred, even the oddball art classes. Quickly I had the list of required classes before me, and I set about to tackle them. Here’s where the plot thickens a bit…

While at LSU, I started out my freshman year majoring in Psychology (some of you who knew me in high school knew of my plans to pursue this). At the time, in my narrow range of understanding, I thought that I’d have to get a Masters degree to practice Psychology or Social Work. At that time of my life, that sounded like eons of school years to me, and I thought that all I could do with a Psychology degree was be a psychologist (I know differently now) and I decided to change majors. One should have a new plan to change TO before deciding to change, but that’s not how I did it. When I did change into an Architecture/Interior Design program (because I’d seen my friends returning with portfolios of work they’d shown at the interview to get into the program), I was most pleased that no math appeared to be required. The perfect major for me.

Ah, life had the last laugh. Of course, now in order to complete the degree at TAMU-C, I would have to fill in some gaps here and there, after all, degree requirements are not the same as they were a couple of decades ago in a different state. Gap-filling would include one semester of American History, 2 semesters of Government and….College Algebra!!! (scary horror music). Even Macro and Micro Economics did not strike the same fear in my heart as having to face down the Algebra dragon that I’d evaded all my life. The good news was that TAMU-C allowed me to take as many classes at nearby Collin College, which saved a lot of money. Collin also offers many web classes, so those could all be done online as well.

So I dove into the requirements – choosing Microeconomics as my first class. For those of you (and it’s almost 100%) that say you could never do an online class – I’ve done many of them, including ridiculously complicated subjects and I did well – so no excuses! I made a B in that first class – and learned what I needed to do for an A, which I did get in Macroeconomics the next semester. Online classes are good because you can work when it fits your schedule and you can listen to lecture material over and over all you want, unlike “live” classes. The Micro/Macro were taken through Collin College, and used an Austin-based class material system named Thinkwell, which sought out the best professors in the country to get their lectures on DVD. My Micro/Macro material was delivered from a well-known professor at UT-Austin. I couldn’t have had access to these great professors otherwise.

Another way that life had its last laugh on me – now I had the determination, but not the memory cells. Oh, cruel trick of nature, why dost thou mock me? I started popping B complex supplements each day along with vitamins to prop up the lagging brain power and get it up to speed just enough to get through this. I had to have been obsessed to complete the program, how else could I get myself through?

Adding insult to injury, health issues arrived to further drag me down. This was the stage where my family affectionately (?) remembers that I could fall over sideways on the couch around 7pm each night. Simple solution – pop large quantities of dark chocolate to jump-start the brain with a shock of caffeine! A side research project at the time was to investigate the many varieties of chocolate with high-percentage cacao quantity. There was a down side to that, as might be expected.

My life became a routine of work-come home-hit the books and laptop-fall asleep-wake up. On weekends I could start reviewing stuff at 5:00am. That commercial for “studying in college with your pajamas on” is pretty misleading…I may have had my pajamas on… but maybe all day long while working on school!

Wow, I thought this would be the final installment and it’s not working out that way… if you are actually reading this, I will deliver the finale soon…”the rest of the story” as Paul Harvey would say. Stick around for the slaying of the Algebra dragon…

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Not So Trivial Pursuit

chasing the Bachelor degree...continued

Now that I had the resolve to finish my Bachelor degree, I had to figure out how. Again, this was the third go at it – the previous two tries were limited to in-person attendance at a school and the necessary funds to pay for them. Two things I had little of were money and time. Now as I sought out a program, I was no more advantaged with money or time – but swift winds of change had brought about technological development – the internet. Fortunately, I had always been close to technological developments and I was very well-suited for internet-based offerings. Traditional universities had evolved to offer online classes and the possibility of completing a program in this way. It was the only feasible way for me, I thought, as a person with a family and full-time job. Finding a Bachelor program that could be completed through online classes without paying exorbitant tuition was a challenge. Sadly, in-state and out-of-state tuition levels exist even for online programs, which one would think would cross state or international boundary lines. Online classes were not just a convenient option for traditional students who did not or could not appear in a live class, they brought possibilities to untold numbers of people who could not attend classes due to a number of reasons. But that is a paper I wrote for a class…

Might I add that naturally, my search for this program was done exclusively online – a good indication that online programs can work for you – if you are already adept and comfortable with internet usefulness.

Let me tell you that when your criteria is a Bachelor program that can be completed all online, with in-state tuition, you have narrowed your search considerably – in fact, it narrowed to two options for me. Usually people choose a major or program according to interests or job-related skills. In my case, further consideration had to be given to the 100+ credit hours already in my possession from the four full years + a summer at LSU. Not to mention that many of the credits were in Architecture, Art and Design which would normally only apply to a similar degree. Program choices were becoming mighty slim.

My first attempt to start back to school in an online program was with UNT – University of North Texas. This was largely due to the program offerings they had posted on their website, which included a degree in Training. Having spent numerous years in Training and support, this was very appealing.

Alas, it was not to be. Just because a school offers an online program and classes does not mean they are evolved enough to understand how to apply it or make it work for the people who need them. The bad vibes started right away, when I contacted the counselor assigned to me alphabetically by my last name. I sent an email to this person – time went by – no response. I called and left messages – turning back to older technology. No response. I contacted another counselor for a different alphabetic grouping. That person did respond but couldn’t do the work for his fellow counselor.

Amazingly, I was simply trying to find out what classes from LSU could apply and what classes I needed to start. I had already applied and been accepted to UNT – sure, that process was easy because it involved taking my money. But I ran into wall after wall of zero information and incompetence at every turn. The counselor never ever contacted me. With further searching by phone all over campus, I talked to someone in the College of Education, which included the online program I sought. This person in an administrative position in the college informed me – a full-time working single mom with 3 kids – that it is a UNT requirement to appear on campus for a day of “Transfer Student Orientation” to even be evaluated for the classes needed. When I explained (incredulously) that I’d have to take a day of vacation from work to drive up to Denton and sit around on campus JUST to be able to register for classes and that this did not seem reasonable for an online program, the administrator very rudely snapped “well, that is what most people expect to do when they decide to go back to school”. End of conversation as far I was concerned. The writing was on the wall – even if I did continue to go by their inane rules and start their program, I was going to be hurdling one giant obstacle after another. UNT was a school of people completely out of touch with the real world, like so many other institutions of education. I knew from experience from the college my kids were attending that it was possible to find a university with a professional, respectful attitude towards students.

This time, I was not a kid – I was a grown adult that had carried many responsibilities for decades and I was working for every dollar in my income. Excuse me, but I am not going to be blown away by the condescending arrogance of out-of-touch education administrators. In case you think I sound like a rebel with a history of fighting authority, quite the contrary. I very simply had a realistic view that I wanted a quality product for the thousands of dollars I was about to spend. Incompetence and unanswered promises were not going to be acceptable for me.

What a shame – UNT had what appeared to be a fine online program – in print, anyway – but absolutely no clue how to administer it and make it feasible for real people. They certainly were not interested in my worldly perspective on the subject either. I had wasted a good summer semester in this pursuit – but it was yet another stepping stone on the path of finding the answer. The $40 I had paid for application to UNT just became a contribution to their coffers.

Time to cut bait and move on.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Stuff catches up to you...eventually

I was inspired to recount this journey after talking to a woman at work today who was completing a college degree. She was, like me, well past her traditional college age years...

Between Fall 2006 and December 2008 I spent all of my “spare” time pursuing the completion of a Bachelor degree. I say “spare” time because I had a family and a full-time job outside the home. Although I attended college for 4 complete years + 1 summer in the traditional timeframe after graduating high school, I had changed my major, which required an extra year to complete the program. Life, at the time, opened up a big sinkhole for me to drive into, and I never did return to finish that program or get the piece of paper. That hung over my head for (X) number of decades.

There were attempts to correct this travesty in subsequent years: I enrolled at UTD in 1985 and had just gotten a few weeks into that pursuit when a job promotion came along. It was a good promotion: I was the first female District Sales Manager in my company. And, lucky me! My territory was north Texas and Oklahoma…in the late 1980s!! Um, ring a bell? That’s when the bottom fell out of our economy…but I digress. The job promotion required being on the road 3-4 days per week. This was “back in the day” when all classes were in a brick and mortar format, requiring actual physical – and mental – attendance. As I was already reeling from the debit and credit ledger concept in my Accounting class and had not successfully logged into the campus lab computer for my COBOL class (does that date me or what) I was all too happy to abandon my degree completion plan yet again for what looked to be immediate career progress. At least a few times I thought to myself “who needs a degree to do well in a career”.

Well, let’s see…a few more life sinkholes later…and after voluntarily and happily spending eight years as a stay-at-home parent, I found myself at the bottom of the workworld food chain. I’m talking krill here. If there is something that plankton feeds on, that would be about the right level. It’s as if all of my previous work experience, accomplishments and skills didn’t exist…all for naught. Starting over in what I considered a job “beneath my talent level”, I knew that it was nonetheless necessary for income, insurance and survival for me and my 3 kids. I recall having an attitude that sadly must have been discernible to others: “wait a minute, I was the first female District Sales Manager for my company, organized countless training classes and escorted many fledgling sales reps into the unknown, scary domain of military bases and corporate accounts all over the US and Puerto Rico. I have written more training material than you can imagine – surely you must recognize and appreciate my potential!” I was actually told by the condescending assistant manager that I worked with: “you are paid to do tasks, not to think”.

Thus began my journey of discovery that yes, the world has people who are not particularly attuned to my past career experience and project management wizardry. Think “Private Benjamin”. I was, figuratively speaking, relegated to clean the latrine with my electric toothbrush.

Fast forward – at a grindingly excruciating snail’s pace – to eight years later, where I had evolved up the work food chain a few notches to the status of “small tadpole in a large pond”. The fight had not been completely beaten out of me yet – I had managed to survive some aggressive attempts to wipe out my species, but I still expected to be progressing to ever-expanding career opportunities every 18 months or so, like it was before I dropped off the face of the work world to stay at home. During the five years that I waited to arrive at the next level, I had a discussion with my boss’ manager. These discussions were arranged to facilitate communication in an upwardly direction, and possibly to give some insight for higher level managers to develop empathy towards the lowly creatures of their domain. It was during this discussion that the moment of resolution arrived for me.

My co-workers collectively held their breath when I talked to this manager, who was well-established as one who ruled with an iron fist approach. A two-way conversation could be construed in his mind as “backtalk” from an unworthy knave. I bravely mentioned some issues that I incorrectly perceived he would be interested in, such as career path development for the employees. I suggested that it’s difficult to get promotions in the department, to which he responded defensively that the newsletter was full of promotion announcements. Sure, people in other areas or moving from one hourly job to another. It was no use continuing the discussion. But at that moment I decided I was going to look around for a job outside the company.

Long story short, again I found out that my past work glory, I mean, experience didn’t seem to count any more. For almost every job of interest, a Bachelor degree was a minimum requirement. Guess what? I hit a ceiling… choices made in my earlier life caught up with me. I couldn’t move on without this piece of paper. And so, with the knowledge gained from getting my firstborn child into college, I set out to find a program for myself. The year was 2006, 29 years after I first went off to college.

All that to tell the story about how I decided to return to school to finish a degree. How I went through that process is another story! …or two…or three…