Nine Months On

Nine months ago last Monday, my husband was laid off. It wasn’t completely unexpected. The contract he was working on had to reduce the number of workers. We mistakenly thought that the lowest producers would be cut. Instead, the highest paid (and highest producers) were let go. To say we were shocked is an understatement. It was the first time he’d ever lost a job instead of leaving it on his own terms.

We were blessed when he got a job offer two weeks later. The catch was the move from St. Louis to Chicago. But it was a job, and being retired military, moving for a job was no big deal. Or so I thought.

I’ve written a little bit about the really hard parts, about the grief of leaving my old life to step into the unknown. Again. The grief was new. We moved five times in the last seven years of Eric’s military career. I never grieved my old life. I picked it up and moved it.

Now that we’re settled in to our new place and have had friends come to visit, we feel more at home. I’m starting to see the possibility in the new normal and have learned to embrace both the good and bad of city life.

One thing I’ve learned is grief isn’t linear. I can go weeks without thinking about it, and then something comes out of nowhere and reminds me of where I was a year ago, and it makes me cry. Usually it’s something innocuous, but these days it’s as much gratitude that I’ve come through the worst of it as it is missing my kids. I was waiting to stop missing them so much, and then my mom told me it’s not going to happen.

I’ve come to realize that although chronologically I’m well into adulthood, I’m still a kid in God’s eyes. I still have a lot of growing to do, and He knew it wasn’t enough for my kids to leave the nest. To take my next step, I had to leave the nest, too.

100 Years

One hundred years ago today, Austria declared war on Serbia and set into motion a chain of events that would irrevocably change our world. The assassination of the Austrian heir and his wife was all it took to light the tinder, and secret alliances throughout Europe provided the fuel for the worst conflict known to man at that time. The United States stayed out of the conflict for three years, but did not join the war unscathed. Loss of American life began before the declaration of war.

Today our world is vastly different. Technology has exploded in ways people never dreamed of the day Austria declared war. It’s a lovely sunny day here in Chicago. The breeze has a hint of chill and my windows are open to catch it, heedless of the noise from the traffic. The weather is unheard of anywhere in the Midwest for late July. The breeze brings hope for the cool crispness of autumn, which is still more than a month away.

Our world is still in conflict. Areas that were part of the conflict a hundred years ago today are again in conflict. Between Ukraine and Gaza, our world could erupt into world war again. This time could very well be worse now that women are in harm’s way beside men. But I don’t think it will happen today. Today it’s sunny with a lovely breeze. It’s best to enjoy it because tomorrow may not be the same.

Sunset from our roof

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Taken last night (7-13-14)

Knocked down

It’s been a while, I know. A few weeks ago, I got feedback on a contest entry. To say it was disappointing is an understatement. It wasn’t quite devastating, but it was very discouraging. Thinking maybe the judges were smoking something, I sent it to a few of my writer friends. They disliked it, too, for more or less the same reasons as the judges. It was the first time I’ve written something that was universally hated.

It’s the measure of a true friend when they tell you what you don’t want to hear. Unlike the judges, who gave freely of their opinions and walked away, my friends helped me figure out a new direction for the story. It will be better, tighter, than it currently is. When I write it. I haven’t started it yet.

Granted, some of that is because this is a busy time of year for us, and I rarely get any good writing done from mid-June to mid-July. We have other commitments during that time that make it difficult to focus on writing, and when I do write, I almost always end up cutting or heavily revising it later. But usually by this time, I’m eager to get back to it. I’m thinking about the story, jotting down notes, trying to steal a moment or two to get to my keyboard. Not this year. The notecards for the rewrite are sitting on my desk and it feels like the task is too big. It’s too much. Why even bother? Why not just move on to greener pastures?

Because this isn’t the only one. I have four books in similar shape on my hard drive–skeletons of what they can and should become. Because this is a call, like it or not, and right now, I don’t. But in the long run, I’ll do myself more harm than good by not writing. So I’ll enjoy a week with my family, and when they’ve left, I’ll pick up the pieces and start. Again. Because I have to.

Assimilating

Vicky graduated from college last Friday night in St. Louis. Since we had family meeting us there, we decided to drive down Thursday night so we could have some time with them. The catch was, Eric wanted me to pick him up at work so we could leave from there, allowing us to get an earlier start and beat some of the traffic. It made sense, but I had a bad feeling about it.

Everything was great on the drive to pick him up, on the trip downstate, throughout the whole weekend. Even the drive back was fine. Then came this morning. Eric’s car was still at the office. I had to get up to take him to work.

He drove there, allowing me time to caffeinate, but I should have topped my cup up once more before we left. Traffic was really light outside his office and I thought I was home free. About fifteen minutes into my drive, I realized I’d missed a turn, and I had no idea where I was.

No big deal. I got out my cell phone and told it to navigate home. It told me to turn right in half a mile. Cool! I was in the right lane. Easy peasy. After I turned right, it told me in half a mile to take the exit onto I-290 East. Not so good. In my opinion, I-anything is a bad thing at 8 a.m. on a weekday. Still, I did what it said and merged onto the parking lot. It wanted me to go seven miles and change highways. Do you know how long seven miles takes in Chicago rush hour traffic? Half an hour. If you’re lucky. Rule of thumb is five minutes/mile. I figured I was looking at an hour to get home, but I wasn’t sure because I didn’t know what exit I would be on after I merged to the highway that would take me home. Asking my iPhone to find an alternate route did no good at all. Apple maps only goes one way.

Then I saw it: Western Ave 1 mile. *cue singing angels*

Suddenly, in the middle of no man’s land traffic, I knew more or less where I was. It still took another fifteen minutes to get home, but I got home stress-free (and hungry). The moral of the story is, at least in Chicago, pay attention to the names of the streets near you. If you’re lost and see one that looks familiar, chances are decent you’ll be able to find your way. The caveat is that even though a street might stretch from one end of the city to the other, there may be interruptions. Sometimes there’s a park in the middle of the street and you have to circumnavigate, and Chicago has its fair share of one-way streets, but if you get going the right way, it’s pretty easy to get around. Just make sure you are going the right way.

Kleenex is my friend

My allergies kicked into high gear all at once this year. This is how I’ve been feeling:

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Since I can barely think coherently, I’m going to leave you with a picture of the Martha Washington Geraniums on my terrace. It’s a much nicer picture than me blowing, well, you probably can guess. Flowers are much nicer.

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Short Stuff

I found a writers’ group that people actually attend! They had a writing lab the evening I went. We chose from a couple different prompts and wrote for half an hour. Then each of us read our piece, and the others gave feedback. It seems to be a nice blend of positive comments with gentle suggestions for improvement, and I think it’s going to be a good group to be in. Here’s the edited version of what I wrote.

 

OVER

She sat at a table outside the cafe, picking tiny pieces off her pastry as if to make it last. Or maybe because she didn’t have much of an appetite. Steam rose from the white cup sitting untouched on the matching saucer. Wearing a gray dress, her long blond hair loose on her shoulders, she almost looked like a ghost. She barely glanced up from the table top, never smiled, not even when the handsome young man pulled out the chair across from her. He was tall, athletic, not more than twenty.

He spoke a few words to the waitress and leaned his elbows on the table. He said something to the girl.

She just nodded.

He leaned back, his speech more animated, gesturing with his hands so he almost hit the waitress when she brought a cup to him. The girl flinched at the near miss, but the boy seemed not to notice.

He leaned in, closing the distance across the table, his hands flying, punctuating his words. She drew back as if slapped, her jaw falling slack, before bursting into tears. He didn’t seem to care. If anything, he seemed more agitated than he had been before.

Finally, she wiped her face with both hands and picked up the black leather bag from the chair beside her. She pulled out a small photo album with a teddy bear on the cover and slid it to him across the table. Then she stripped the ring off her left hand and laid it beside the album.

Hoisting the bag to her shoulder, she stood and shuffled way, eyes pointed toward the ground.

He stood, too, every part of his body tense, his movements jerky as he scooped up the book and the ring.

She didn’t even turn around when he pointed at her and shouted, “I don’t care what you say! It’s not my fault the baby’s gone!”

 

Good Day

Intellectually, I knew it would happen. Statistically it had to, but there were times in the last few months I didn’t believe I would truly have a good day again. Not one without a kid around. I was even a little resigned to only feeling truly alive because someone else made it happen, and not because of anything internal.

Last week, I was invited to a job fair. The company found my resume on Monster.com and thought I might be a good fit for what amounted to a pre-interview. There weren’t any specifics given for the positions they needed filled. I was pretty sure I wasn’t interested in what they had to offer, but I’ve been out of the game for a long time. I haven’t held a job for two years, and it’s been close to a decade since I did anything administrative. I figured, if nothing else, I could see what other people wear for interviews. Before I could talk myself out of it, I signed up for the earliest possible slot.

It rained the day of my appointment. Not hard rain. Spotty drizzle, really, but persistent if it happened to pass over you. I found a place to park in the next block, but I had plenty of time. If there’s one thing I’ve learned here, it’s to double your estimated travel time in non-peak hours, and triple it at peak times. There was one moment as I was walking to the interview when I felt fierce and powerful. There wasn’t any sort of threat, unless you count traffic when I crossed the street. There was something about wearing a dress, hearing my heels click on the pavement, knowing that I had a place I needed to be and people who were expecting me. In that moment, I realized that I can have a life here. I don’t know what it will look like, if it will include a job or if I’ll just spend time telling stories at the VA hospital. What I do know is that the spark is still there, and I’m the only one who can fan it.

As it turns out, I was right about the job. Under different circumstances, maybe at a different time, I would have jumped at it. But there are parts of the job I’ve done before that I’m not willing, at this point, to do again. It’s more intense than I want, and I suspect that the parts I would love would not outweigh that parts I wouldn’t love. The beauty is that I’m pretty sure the right job is out there, and when when it’s time, the door will open. I don’t need a job to support my family, so I don’t have to settle for a 75% fit.

The city still intimidates me, but not like it did before. There are still things I have to get used to, but we have resources now that we didn’t have when we first moved here. We have some friends, a wonderful church and a couple favorite spots. Things are looking up.

Back again

I got back last night after having spent the week in the country. I’ve always wanted to say that! I went to my Mom’s in Michigan and had a good visit. Cutting the distance in half from our old house made it a lot easier.

I wrote a couple weeks ago that it felt surreal to come back here after having been in the St. Louis area for the weekend, and I was surprised to find it to be true yesterday, too. Coming back here felt like I was crossing a threshold, like I had to change gears when I walked into the apartment. It was strange and a little unnerving, but it is nice this morning to be back in my own space with a long list of things to do.

We didn’t do anything out of the ordinary during the visit. It was mostly to get caught up with family. I had hoped to log some hours sitting on Mom’s deck, but it was too cold. It will have to keep until the next time. Since there aren’t any exciting announcements or amusing anecdotes, I’ll leave you with the view I woke up to yesterday morning.

What do you love?

I was out to brunch last week with my neighbor, and after getting caught up on the latest news, she asked, “So what do you love about the city so far?”

My first thought was, “Nothing!” But when I took a second to think it over, I came up with a list of things that, strangely, I do love. Take heart, country mice! You can adapt!

Here’s my list so far:

- Being about to walk to the grocery store and restaurants.

- Our church, and the wonderful staff. I don’t think I could have gotten through the last few months without them.

- The pizza/Mediterranean place up the road. I’m particularly fond of the limeade.

- The fact that our apartment comes with a roof deck, two parking spots, and a washer and dryer.

- The neighbors we’ve met are really nice.

- My garage door opener. I know that sounds silly, but I went months without because the rental agency only gave us one.

- Our gym–the Tuesday morning yoga class in particular.

- Our neighborhood. It’s so eclectic, like a little village. Off the top of my head, I don’t know of any empty shops on the main street. They’re all filled with boutiques, restaurants, doctors/dentists/lawyers/rental agencies, even a couple places that have music lessons for kids under 4. In fact, this neighborhood is more family friendly than I gave it credit for because there are kids’ clothing boutiques and tons of activities for the kidlets.

- Starbucks in easy walking distance. Two of them, actually.

- Target is across the street from the gym.

- Not being scared to drive. I’m getting used to the traffic, but it helps a lot that I’m learning my way around.

- The layout of my apartment. If I could take it and put it on top of a partially finished basement, I could live in it happily for a long time.

So there’s an even dozen things off the top of my head. What do you love about where you live?

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