Full Steam Ahead!

One of the threads of my life is that I take too much on and promise too much. This is sad because I train people that they should say what they do. And most of the time, I do – at the last minute. I’ve become an expert at pulling off everything in a scrappy fashion. Not elegant – but it does the job.

Full steam ahead

 

That’s not to say that I don’t want to be better at how I lead my life, not just how much I cram into it. But at times, I hit a wall. I don’t want to do anything any more. I want to binge watch Netflix or maybe just nap. To get myself off the sofa takes a lot of effort – it takes willpower which, over the day, evaporates like a shallow puddle.

I recently read that there’s an easy way to increase your willpower. A blog I follow condensed the learning into three memorable terms which have resonated deeply with me.

The first word is Gratitude: Many of us beat ourselves up for wasting time watching TV or playing games instead of buckling down to work. With Gratitude, the idea is to keep a journal of what you are grateful for. Gratitude makes you feel better about your life, then it’s easier to approach your work with pleasure – not dread.

I thought I’d try a version of this  after an argument with Amara. While on a business trip I started writing vignettes about moments in her life. Instead of focusing on my irritation with her as she spread her wings growing up, I focused on the positive attribute that showed while she set her boundaries and achieved her goals starting at an astonishingly young age. When I next saw her, I felt an overwhelming positive love for her that had been hidden under my anger. Thank you, Gratitude!

I have also done this for myself. I recently documented my life’s changes – year by year – over the last 6 years and was astounded at how much I had accomplished. Time to appreciate myself – be grateful for myself – instead of thinking about the negative.

The second word is compassion

To increase willpower using compassion, you have to do a bit of time travel. Imagine yourself in the future, struggling to complete a task at the last minute. To show compassion to your future-self, what would you do now to help out? It’s amazing that this little twist of thinking about my future-self has hauled me out of bed or off the sofa to complete a task not wanting to have my future-self suffer. Yeah. It’s weird – but it seems to work – and quite painlessly at that.

The last word is Pride. Yeah. I know, it’s one of the seven sins. However, looking over what you have accomplished and recognizing that you have done well is important, too. So, a dose of Pride in the mix rounds out the three ways of refocusing what I pay attention to so that I accomplish more with less stress. And definitely a lot more happiness.

The last part of my puzzle came with recent sermon on one of Frank Ostaseski’s Five Invitations. The first one is “Don’t Wait.” While the focus is on not waiting to engage in a spiritual sense, for me this sermon struck a very deep nerve in a more down-to-earth way. I have had a task I have been avoiding for many years. It goes back into my time in the UK and my ex and my feelings about him are wrapped like an octopus’s tentacles – very tightly around this pretty cut and dry task. Yes, it’s about accounts.

Miraculously after the service, I found myself able to write a 5-minute email I’ve stalled on for months. And respond promptly when the answer came. Within two days, I’d roped in my local bookkeeper who is now working to complete the last year’s accounts. After no more than 1-2 hours work, the entire project is moving forward at a rapid clip. And the best part, I realize I’m working with people I like to resolve this issue and put it on a firm basis moving on. I’d love to say there are no twinges of angst, but I’d be lying. However, my focus is on making good my responsibilities to the nice folks I am working with.  Right now is my “damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead” moment. And I’m using the willpower techniques and a don’t wait attitude to keep moving.

My life now isn’t about making wishes, hoping I’ll get better at tasks, or hoping life gets better. It’s become about taking what I have – which I am very happy with – and making it better. Making it easier, less stressful and ultimately more satisfying.

My only wish is that others can find a similar peace for themselves.

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Angus Dei

100 years of armistice “Pie Jesu” In one of those miracles of life, the sun casts a rosy glow to the jet engine outside my window. It’s a magical moment of peace and movement that passes for stillness as the ethereal Pie Jesu plays in my ears. The sound is pure. The miracles of noise cancelling headphones grant me my own personal space in this incredibly noisy plane. In this space, I can watch the sun’s magic glow. And sadness washes over me.

I’ve crossed the country. Watched the parched land below for hours. When I left California, the cinders from a fire two hours away had turned the sky brown. It’s one of two or more which rage almost out of control. Friends with asthma were trapped at home with air purifiers set to max. Yesterday, I’d risked a quick, unavoidable bike ride to pick up a second car which left me with a runny nose. I’ve escaped the brown skies for a very long trip which will see me travel around the world – and more – in very few days.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the World War I armistice – the latest 11/11/18. Our president is in Europe but acting far from presidential. Our laws feel like they are being subverted – one after the other – in the name of keeping power. The airwaves and news feeds are full of harsh statements accusing the other side of lies or fraud or just plain incompetence. And some people are waking up. They have just started a wave of change to counteract the power and money grab. Many people have realized that if they don’t step up – they may be stepped upon. And just as strongly, other people claim that power makes right.

Some groups in the country now fear the knock on the door. Some folks can’t bring their wives and husbands home as they have done for decades. They have been declared “Other.” Our international agreements helping protect the most vulnerable among us are being twisted until they protect only the most powerful. And if you are hungry, tomorrow will probably only bring even more hunger – even if you work long hours. If you are powerful, tomorrow looks like it will bring you more power – and certainly more money.

And I know, as I have known for the last two years, that if I don’t make those groups declared “Other” feel safe that one day, the knock could come for me. The same as it once came for my grandfather just before his town was liberated. It’s a degrading process watching a beautiful, capable country heading for a crisis of conscience. It’s nasty and it’s cruel and it’s dangerous. I ask myself on this momentous day, after looking back 100 years, have we learned nothing?

If we cannot find our way to get along with each other, the earth will only become hotter, the stakes higher and the societal pain larger until we come to our collective senses. We are all human. We all have worth. Protecting the least powerful and creating shared resources that bring us all up is the goal of government. When it breaks down, then brutality becomes the order of the day. Your safety is the only one that you can create for yourself. Law and order will disappear.

This isn’t hyperbole. I lived in a broken society. One where the haves and have-nots were poles apart. It led to my ex-husband pointing a gun at a man by the side of a road to protect his children. He tried to help and became a victim. A surreal story to be told in another time.

A broken society has a real cost to the country and each and every person. Having looked at that way forward, can we please turn away? Turn toward each other? See each other’s humanity?

“Pie Jesu” The high notes resonate. And in this moment of beauty as the wheels hit the ground, I bow my atheist head and I these words come to me from long lost Catholic services my extended family took me to over many years:

Hand with poppy

 

Lamb of God

You take away the sins of the world

Have mercy on us

Lamb of God

You take away the sins of the world

Grant us Peace.

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John Mirabella & Sylvia Tufenkjian-Mirabella

On May 3rd, my Uncle John passed away in a car accident. Late last year, his wife of many years, passed away on November 3rd. To celebrate their individual and joint lives, please join us as follows:

Location: Lakewood Memorial Park, 900 Santa Fe Ave, Hughson, CA (near Modesto, CA)

Date and Time: May 19th, 2018, 1 pm

Where exactly: John and Sylvia’s ashes rest under three beautiful trees in an open, grassy area of the park called Tuolumne Garden. A map of the area is below. Follow the yellow line to the dark circle.

What are we going to do: We’ll conduct our own service with readings, music, and most importantly, everyone is free to tell their own stories of John and Sylvia. If you have an object to share, we’ll have a place for that as well.

We’ll have refreshments which celebrate both John’s Sicilian and Sylvia’s Armenian heritage.

There will be seating so you can be comfortable.Directions Lakewood Funeral Home

Please join us – and bring your memories to share. If you are able to add a comment below letting us know that you’ll be coming, that would be great.

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Brick House

Old Brick House 2Working in property business for years at a time means that I have flashbacks. Not the ones that you would expect. I re-visit houses which I’ve visited in the past. Just a flash of a room or a building and then it’s gone. Often forever. I often flashback to an old brick house built in the 1800 with lots of rooms and a squared off staircase that ends in a small room. Off that room is the start of some dark tunnels and rooms. Over time, I have described this space to others, but although I remember doing it at one time, I have never actually pulled out a flashlight or torch and crawled into that space. This morning in that fog between dreaming and waking when I once again was describing the house to a person who (in true dreaming fashion) had morphed from a slim Asian man into a middle-aged woman with light hair, I had an epiphany. Unlike my other flashback houses, no matter how real this house has always felt to me, it is, in fact, not real. I started telling Joe about this house and as I was waking and talking at the same time, finally realized that this house is me. And those dark tunnels are the parts of my life that I acknowledge, but deliberately decide not to visit.

Today, the radio is full of news about people who died in a shooting. It’s merely this month’s version of that same tragedy of one person deciding to mow down random people using guns. As always happens, the news crews visit the town one person lived in. Talk to the surviving family members so that we can all know what a tragedy this particular loss was among the many, many losses. And me, I turn the knob on the radio to off. I can only see this conversation from the other side of the veil that separates the observer from the impacted survivor.

On the other side of that veil is the banal practicality of officialdom. The first carefully worded notice of death from the police regardless of the crumpling of faces and bodies as the words hit home. As many times as they say these words over their career, they don’t want to say them any more than you want to hear them. There are follow-on visits from police to keep you informed. They are kind, and if you’re lucky become friends. The process takes that long.

Very soon, there is an appointment to view the body. The body which is now a crime scene in the eyes of the law – untouchable, needing formal definition and identification. There is the kindness of the people who show you the body. They will have worked overtime to make sure that you see what is closest to your memory of that person. They artfully drape and tie towels so that you are saved the worst. And, if they can’t then they will minimize what is officially needed. Trust me, you do not want those images floating around your brain for the rest of your life.

There’s the choosing of the photograph to share with the press. Either you do it or they’ll grab what they like online. And, if you’re smart, a press release. Wordsmithing at this time is painful and if you’re experienced in these kind of things a professional will help you. What do you say? What do you leave out? These final words will float around Google forever and yet, you struggle to eat, much less write and describe the person that you loved. You whipsaw between calm efficiency and agony. There is no space between those two poles. One minute, you’re considered and then you are reminded why you are having to be considered. Your brain knows that it should be calm and pained and ricochets between them relentlessly. You need sleep – and simply can’t. Pain is raw and relief non-existent.

Funerals are covered by the press. If they’re compassionate, they’ll use zoom lenses from across the street so that you’ll remain on your side of the veil and at a distance. Later, someone will approach you for a personal interview about your loved ones and you’ll have to decide if you want to have your tears shown in public once again.

Even later, the official inquest starts. Press once again, pictures in the paper, on TV. And sitting for hours in uncomfortable chairs to relive the pain once again as hammer blows of dispassionate officialdom officially describe your loved one’s official death and those of many others. You wander out of the building feeling dizzy and nauseous. By this time, you are left to your own devices.

And if you’re lucky, over time, you’ll build your own dark tunnels in your own version of yourself. And you’ll stand at the entrance and choose not to go in. Choose to run back up the stairs and find what light you can knowing that the foundations of your life are built on a base others have not tested and you would wish them never to know. And the unlucky ones – they light a candle, wander on down and may not ever come out.

Amen

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Three short years

An anniversary. Three years since I held so tightly to the bookcase so that I wouldn’t shake. Three years since I dared say “I think we’ve gone past friendship.” And then oh so quick look of delight in your eyes as you said.. “yes.”

We’re people that live in our heads, not our hearts. For the month before, we’d watch movies, take walks, and talk, always talking. All at a proper distance and always so careful to remain friends. After the moment at the bookcase, when we sit across from each other, we talk again about how we got to this point. Still in our heads when our hearts are what matters now. And finally I ask if I can hold your hand. Without knowing it, I’d been admiring your fingers and squared off nails and the hair along the back of your hands leading to your arms. So close and yet, not touched. and now this small act becomes possible. What becomes ‘us’ becomes possible.

Being close is both hard and easy. The closeness is what we wanted and never dared to expect. And now, here it is and it’s easy and intense and feels so right. For days I cannot think straight. I am locked between a home where I am despised and a space with you where I am free and loved and cared for. With you I find the closeness I had hoped for all these years and never found. Trust had left my marriage so long before that I can not believe my luck in finding you.

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Christmas Party 2015. I love this picture of us together

We struggle through getting close to each other step by step. Time gives us meals, events, vacation, meeting family, holidays to negotiate. And the kids. Three teenagers on one side and on yours a much easier son spreading his wings. And always the ex, the ghost who lives under my roof. The one that only the law will see gone. It takes 18 months until he’s gone. Finally we can officially share a home. It’s such a pleasure to live with you, I’m always surprised how short its actually been. It feels like this has been us from the start.

Through it all, each and every day, you are my joy. Holding your hand is still a thrill. Your grey eyes and soft voice bring me home again every time. When I disappoint you, it hurts. I don’t want to hurt you – ever. And yet, we are who we are and for most of our lives we’ve been leading another life. We are independent and very much together. These small tears in the fabric of our days are also part of life. The healing is swift. Forgiveness fast. And then I’m swept near you for a hug, a kiss. And my world is right again. I am good in your arms. And then its up to me to tell you once again how wonderful you are. I remind you of all the parts of you that make up the whole of you that I want to share each and every moment with for much much longer than just – three years.

Thank you.

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Scarred Hearts

CandlesThe cards twirl on the stand. One wings its way to a grieving family. It is a feather weight against the weight of grief of a child gone much too soon.

A mother holds her child   He looks like he’s sleeping. His body slumps with the bonelessness of sleeping children. She cradles him in her arms looking down at his face. But his eyes will open no more. His body is warm. It is cooling slowly, imperceptibly.  For now, a mother can fool herself that he will somehow breathe. Jerk awake, re-open those huge big beautiful eyes.

For this time only, she can pretend. Grieve what she knows will never be while pretending that this really isn’t happening at all. She delays the moment when the fork in the road is too hard to ignore.  When someone will carry her child as a body, not as a son.

The days, the weeks, the months and the years are still to come. The anniversaries of his age group will pass with only this weight, this scant warmth to keep her memories alive. To hold up against what could have been. She is young. There are other children. Now in another place playing quietly, still innocent of this pain. Children to come, too.

But this quiet form will stand guard over her heart for the rest of her days. In the quiet times, this small ghost will stand next to her until they are both in that shaded land together. She will hold his hand in every quiet moment.

No matter the years, the count of ones children will always be wrong. Always a small silent addition to the figures that stand by her side. She will carry her scarred heart in silent pain.

For now, she holds this cooling body tightly in her arms. He’s heavy, but letting go is a one way journey and she’s not ready to step across into that everlasting void. Better to hold out hope for that wakening. Cry now and then forever hold that peace that never truly comes.

A card wings its way into the depths of grief. Floating weightlessly past that heavy heart that has no end. It will never patch this heart.
In memoriam: Margotje, Sasha and … Fletcher

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2016 in Review

In the last few years my life has felt like one long soap opera script. Until June of this year, I was part of a church discussion group. Every two weeks, we’d start by discussing what happened in our lives since the last meeting. Other people talked about quiet activities and family milestones. Since I joined, my bit always had a lot of drama and action, punctuated by others saying: “Oh my! Did that really happen?? Oh no!”

The major change happened in January 2016 when Colin moved out of the house. Adair and I cleaned the house from top to bottom in a couple of weeks and then Joe started moving his things in. One day I looked at the living room and started to cry. Joe’s black leather sofa was in the ‘sofa spot’ in the living room. I realized that in the dark days, I had imagined a future when I would live in the same house as Joe. When that day arrived, I knew the sofa would be right where it now was. I was so relieved to have a coherent and calm life back after so long.

In fact, my life is so nice right now, this year’s post seems too much like a traditional Christmas letter. Apologies. I’m enjoying every minute. Let’s see what 2016 brought me. First off, a lovely partner to share experiences with in a loving manner. For those of you that have a great relationship, bear with me. Even after 2 1/2 years, this is pretty new to me. I’m savoring it like an amazingly well made vanilla ice cream. Yes, it looks ordinary and simple, but each bite is its own bit of paradise. Thank you so much, Joe.

Thinking back over the year, the months are punctuated by work trips. London, Connecticut (5 times!), Milwaukee, Jerusalem, Paris, and Zurich. I managed to catch up with a lot of people in my travels. In London I met with Zaheda and Brian. Brian was then into cocktails and after sampling 6 of the most amazing sounding concoctions, followed by a couple of pain killers, I boarded the plane the next morning glad that breathalyzing isn’t part of the security protocol. Ouch!

One memorable trip to Connecticut, I rented a bike and got ambitious on the third day of

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Connecticut/ Massachusetts border

biking. I completed the last 6 miles of the picturesque loop in the dark. Trust me, a dark river takes a terrible picture and even the straightest of paths may have a bollard in the middle. Luckily the one I hit fell down easily and my bruises healed quickly. Then I met up with Joe in New York for a short break visiting the city that never sleeps. So we didn’t either.

In the summer Joe ran a half marathon in a

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Joe at the start of the run

valley in the Sierras. He trained months for it and then during the last stretch had an injury, so it was a run/walk affair that he completed more quickly than I thought. My boss roped me into writing a book this year (stay tuned for the 2017 announcement due shortly), so I was completing a chapter in the car when Joe appeared at the window. I missed his big arrival! Still it was a lovely break in the middle of the peaceful valley.

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Snow White??

My only other ‘sport’ is being part of a women’s softball team where they hide me in the spot I can do least damage. Some bright spark booked us for two games on Halloween.So, here’s my attempt at Snow White playing softball.

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Mom turns 80!

Right after celebrating my mother’s 80th birthday, September through November became a blur of work and travel. A highlight of September was a visit to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Dead Sea fitted around my work schedule. I walked the old city on Saturday to get over jet lag transiting from religious sector to sector drinking in the sounds and sights I’ve only ever seen in pictures. At the end of the week, I met up with Vadim, an old colleague at

img_1924-2Adaptec, and met his wife at their lovely place north of Tel Aviv. Thanks, Shani, for the great meal! It was a real treat to travel someplace I’d never been before and just explore. My last day started with floating in the Dead Sea (400+ meters below sea level), visiting the place where the Dead Sea scrolls were found and then flying to Paris. It was all an amazing contrast. Travel note: if you ever bathe in the Dead Sea, plan three showers to start smelling normal again.

img_2009Paris was a chance to connect back with a friend from Lycee. Paola and I spent hours talking and I got to help one of her daughters with her English homework among many highlights of the week. I also now know where I get my habit of compulsively cooking from scratch. One afternoon, I watched Paola carefully clean every leaf of basil as she made her own pesto.

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Pam & Aaron for the 280 Group

Zurich was busy with a conference and speaking on behalf of the 280 Group. Each evening had its own particular Swiss themed event. One night, my work colleague, Aaron, and I found a classic old school fondue restaurant, so we ticked off the most important tourist activity followed up by buying vast quantities of chocolate at the airport on the way home.

img_2130And Joe and I finally had a week of vacation together skiing at Whistler. There was a huge selection of slopes and lots of snow, so we had a great time bundled up against the cold. After that we had a too brief stop in Victoria where we caught up with my cousin, Paul, and his lovely family.

img_2210-2The kids are older now and I have to reach out on a weekly basis to catch up with their lives. We manage to fit in coffees, lunches and dinners. When I traveled a lot, I’d send them hour by hour schedules of when I was available and they’d drop by for at least a hug. I was also buying small things for them on my travels, so a lot of the Swiss chocolate went out the door with them!

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The happy couple

Adair is living with Mary. He is back at West Valley College doing well in his science classes. And Mary became a Slug (the banana slug is the official mascot of UC Santa Cruz). They are both settled in well with each other which is very nice. They stayed with me for a while over the summer which was a great opportunity to share a space and have more time to talk. Now they have their own small place in the mountains and visit for showers and laundry.

Aidan is full speed ahead with his studies after transitioning to Foothill college from De Anza. He has a great set of friends who I hear about and lend camping equipment to. He has a great side career as a lighting designer. Who knew that Adair’s casual request a few years ago for Aidan to pitch in a the last minute and work the spot light at Cupertino High School would turn into a job! Next fall, he’ll be off to a 4-year college, so he’s knee deep in sending out applications. He joined Joe, Nate, Joe’s son, and I for a skiing weekend right before Christmas. Our first real blended family event!

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Nate, Joe, Pam and Aidan

Amara is deeply involved ahead with the same theater group as the boys. Last year she was doing makeup. This her senior year she’s been promoted to stage manager. At her last production, I marveled to see her keep the show on track with careful and clear directions to one and all. She has gained a tremendous amount of poise and confidence as she has taken on more responsibility. And as she faces challenges at work and school, she is more willing to ask my advice from time to time. I am honored that she trusts me enough to ask and then listen carefully to my suggestions. One highlight was cooking up my second annual winter borscht meal for her Russian friends. It’s sad to realize that a year from now, they’ll all be off studying elsewhere.

That’s 2016 in a nut shell. Take care of yourself and your families. Note: I’ll be splitting this blog into personal material which will stay here and a work-related blog in the next short while.

 

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