Imposter Syndrome: Why Superstars Often Feel Like Shit

Can't deny, a nerd am I.

Can’t deny, a nerd am I.

I’ll admit it, I’m accustomed to being the smartest person in the room. It’s a comfortable place, and it allows me to hide my feelings of inadequacy behind a mask of subject matter expertise, fluid communication, and wit. How do I manage to always be the SME on any given topic? I prepare like a mutha. Compulsively. And I make it look goddamned easy. Others mistake my persona as “wicked smart, self deprecating,” or even “humble,” but, in reality, that smart girl is a complete fake. She stems from feelings of inadequacy that feed a deep dark fear that I simply do not belong – even though I have a portfolio that clearly indicates the contrary! It turns out imposter syndrome is a bona fide psychological phenomenon, most commonly observed amongst high achieving women. (Recent findings are indicating this condition isn’t as gender specific as originally thought.) According to CalTech, “Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence. “(Read More Here)  It also turns those of us with imposter syndrome are in great company: Maya Angelou, Chuck Lorre, and Tina Fey have all wrestled the same demon! How does imposter syndrome manifest externally? For me, it’s about extremely high performance that leads to horrible burnout. It’s about the fancy Kleenex so my nose doesn’t get chapped as I sob and cling to my cat after work.  And it’s about realizing there is something wrong with this whole situation and I must remedy it.

 “Instead of feeling worthy of recognition, they feel undeserving and guilty, as if a mistake has been made.”  Cheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.

Burnout: the career/emotional equivalent of a rat infested heroin hotel. There has to be a solution, right? After all, solution identification & execution are what I do for a living. Not whining, not news reporting, and definitely not excuse making: I deliver solutions to my clients’ problems. My personal solutions came to me as a two step process. First, I do something that makes me insanely uncomfortable. (This week was a networking event for digital project managers, my desired field. Digital, as in nerd stuff & technology. Me, as in luddite without an iTunes account. No SME crutch at this meeting!) Next, I use my skills, new and old, to develop others. Tuesdays I learn, Thursdays I teach. This is my new cycle. It doesn’t leave room for self doubt, it forces me instead to ensure I am delivering much needed value to my community. Specific, measurable, tangible actions that are, most importantly, genuine. That rotten, nagging inner voice of inadequacy has been silenced, replaced by purpose, direction, and worth. Want to learn how you can overcome imposter syndrome? Check out the links below:

21 Ways to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

TedX Video: Kirsty Walker “The Imposter Syndrome”

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Of Possibilities and Dreams

Sometimes life gets so chaotic that we forget to do the things that bring us back to center. As a result,  I haven’t written in months. While my blog was silent, my head was screaming with excitement, confusion, optimism, and frustration.  I took a job, then left it for ethical reasons: mainly I have ethics, they did not.  Jumpsuits tend to give me a wicked case of camel toe and the job I had was going to land me wearing an orange one in Club Fed.  Bill had been expressing interest in moving closer to his family in the Midwest so I scaled back my job search and focused instead on some self exploration/career counseling that I hoped would help me find the best fit for my next career. Career counseling, for the uninformed, is a lie.  There is no magical formula that will tell you what job you “should” be doing.  Instead, it’s a ruse to get you to go to therapy.  Group therapy.  For six weeks, six hours a day, and $600 (a big hit if you’re unemployed) you can choose to cross your arms and balk at each assignment, or you can elect to fall into The Process, bare your soul, explore the nooks and crannies of your psyche that drive your motivation and your needs.  I chose the latter. It’s the equivalent of three YEARS of therapy spanned over six Saturdays.  It was exhausting – there was no way I could have worked during this process.  I cried so many tears I would get dehydration headaches; I learned about my need for autonomy, an intense drive to be allowed to be myself; I fought with myself, my old habits and negative self-talk clashed with deeply held truths and aspirations.  Somewhere in this process, I discovered joy.  This is the most difficult time in my life – I am unemployed, running out of savings, have an uncertain relationship –  and I am still happy.  Guess what?  Happy people are highly employable. Bill got his Midwest dream job.  We’ve been preparing his home for sale, purging the crap that inevitably accumulates in home ownership, and moving my things to my father’s house.  Bill is going alone, and I will be heading back to my hometown to work on myself some more.  I can only hope that some time apart will bring us closer: our communication (thanks to my “career counseling”) has been great, and our relationship is the strongest it has ever been.  I have changed radically in a short period of time and that change, while good, is scary.  I truly don’t know how he stuck by me over the last three years.  I was such a broken soul; I was depressed, angry, and generally not fun. I did a poor job of conveying my love for him to him and he often felt alone in our relationship. Bill is also facing a ton of change and needs to be able to focus solely on getting settled in a new city and his career.  This sucks, but his choice it not only the right one, it is the only one.  Distance will either make us or break us, yet I am cautiously optimistic that I will be moving eastward for my birthday. I want to work for myself.  Entrepreneurship is a big scary world, like setting sea with only one’s internal compass as a guide, but it is my calling.  I’m building an e-commerce website called Crapsicles  that retails customizable empathy centered care packages. Our true products: communication and connection.  We will reinforce bonds, a sense of belonging, and promote the connection of tribe that transcends geographical separation.  I had wanted to be live in January, but it’s taking longer than anticipated.  Delays incur due to the challenges of learning to launch a website, they also occur as I learn to navigate the challenges of my new emotional development.  So I dream, I journal, I kick it with my friends – women who are brilliant, strong, wonderful – and I take the time to experience everything around me.  Crapsicles is coming along slowly, beautifully, and exactly as she ought to be in her natural evolution just as I am doing the same.

“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” -Langston Hughes

Rat Lady/Cat Lady: We Are Sisters

She is the first in our family to go away to a four year university; the first to consciously commit to “going away,” really. I moved to Seattle six months before EmmIMG_0179(1)a moved to Helena, but she knew she was moving away long before I could fathom the idea. It was her enthusiasm for her next adventure that gave me the courage to pursue mine.   I’m much older than Em, part of a different generation, and have always seen her as a child more than a sibling.  This trip would change my perspective.  Emma turned 22 two weeks ago; she lives off-campus in a turn of the century home full of other young women; she has a job; she likes beer.  She has political views that fuel debates, a Discover card she uses very cautiously to build credit, plans for graduate school, and an appreciation for lasting friendships.  Emma at 22 really has her shit together, while at 35, I’m still frantically trying to rake mine into a tidy little pile.

Football in Big Sky country.

Football in Big Sky country.

We soaked up the Montana sunshine at a football game, attended a play of Edgar Allan Poe stories, and painted ceramics.  Mostly, though, we just hung out.  We cried over eggs and toast at Firetower Coffee as I shared my business journal with her (who knew a business plan could be so emotional?) and exchanged our dreams for our futures.  We laughed when I took my vegetarian sister to The Fancy Natural Grocery Store (read: too expensive for a college student) and she discovered really affordable bulk soup mixes and spices like smoked paprika that would put an end to her “4 Years of Bean Burritos” saga.FullSizeRender(1) Our relationship quickly shifted from a parent/child dynamic to the mutually respectful adult-siblings standard.  We ate brussels sprouts – and liked them!IMG_0183

Emma’s house is a testament to the bond of women.  Young and beautiful with the world in their palms, yet just under the surface they are all dealing with some heavy, complicated, deeply personal baggage as they prepare to transition into adulthood.  We, too, have transcended toward the bonds of femininity, friendship, sisterhood.  We are as different as we are similar, but even in our differences we find common ground.  RatLady or CatLady, we both love critters and in that shared passion we can laugh and support each other no matter what the future holds.

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RatLady

CatLady

CatLady

Heated Failure: Salsa and Perspective

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End of summer garden bounty.

I tried canning salsa – once.  I was 20 years old, and when I thought “salsa” I wanted the flavor of the acidic picante sauce of afternoons with my latchkey cousins;  the one with the yellow lid whose commercials featured cowboys threatening the makers of city-slicker salsa with an old fashioned hanging. “Get a rope,” they’d say, in a gravely voice riddled with disgust at the thought of salsa being made anywhere but Texas.  It never occurred to me that there may be other kinds of salsa in the world, nor did I think that the recipe I’d found would be more Yankee than Tex-Mex.  I prepped, diced, simmered, and canned a year’s worth of salsa with pride in my mother’s kitchen.  Only when I was done did I think to taste it: it was HORRIBLE.  Unpalatable beyond description, it was a sharp and pungent indigestion in a jar.  I declared homemade salsa a failed endeavor, figuring that some magical commercial process must exist and the edible version of this condiment could only be purchased at the supermarket.

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Larry, Curly, and Moe enjoying salsa making scraps.

We are taught – programmed – to succeed as children, but very few of us (myself included) are ever taught how to fail.  The Salsa Catastrophe of Y2K is a prime example: I tried, I failed, I vowed to never make salsa, or ANY tomato based sauce for canning, again.  It took me a decade and a half to learn the virtues of failing gracefully.  What would happen if I took the opportunity to look at my botched batch and reverse-engineer both the product and the process?  I did exactly that last month.  I tried a different recipe, I experimented with familiar spice combinations, I tasted my product throughout the cooking process. I learned from mistakes made in the past and developed a new product.  I freaking nailed it.  In having the courage to face my past failure I was able to create one of my greatest successes.  This year’s salsa is top-notch, balanced, authentically Mexican, and so delicious that I’m considering a raffle to determine who gets a jar for Christmas.  Even better than my salsa is the perspective shift I’ve gained: failure is no longer an end, failure is a beginning for those with the grit to persist.

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”  – Thomas A. Edison

 

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Camping Is The Shit(s)

Relationships are about compromise, although I have to admit that means my partner often has to compromise whilst I get whatever the heck I want.  Be it lunacy or a desire to be a better woman or this continued quest for the rituals of my childhood, I have decided to forgo my need to sleep on my pillow-top with my indoor plumbing and electricity and venture into the woods to sleep outdoors.

photo(55) Bill loves to camp and I love Bill, therefore the mathematics of my logic seem pretty simple: I will camp, but on my terms.  My beloved is thrilled to pile his survival gear onto his back and skip down the trail to face mosquitoes the size of hawks, risk encounters with rabid wildlife, and to sleep on the lumpy hard ground with only a sheet of nylon to protect him from a sasquatch attack.  The things that fill Bill with childlike glee do not hold the same luster for me, so we went car-camping at Ocean City State Park.  Compromise.

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Velella Velella, a harmless cousin of the Portuguese Man O’ War.

Camp was set up quickly (easy to do when you drive your truck to your site) and we grabbed Rosie’s leash and Bill’s kites and trekked toward the Pacific. Lots of people were already flying kites and Rosie gave them no mind as we shuffled toward the surf to scavenge seashells.  We were able to check out the velella velella that had been washing up on he entire west coast, littered along the beach like thousands of used prophylactics.  With no sand dollars to be found, Bill unfurled his mid-sized kite.  Rosie continued playing with her frisbee until the kite zipped downward, roaring as its parachute fabric sliced through the air. photo(54)Instantly, the Wondermutt’s hackles rose and she tore through the sand in a fit of rage, taking down the massive 3 meter kite with force.  Two hours into our camping trip and Bill was angry, Rosie was helplessly tangled in a web of kite string, and I just wanted to go home.

Back at camp we watched the sun drop below the horizon as we roasted hotdogs over the fire, then settled into our ridiculously plush accommodations.  More luxurious than the  hotel the railroad used to house me in, the REI Labor Day Sale had treated us quite well,  with a two room tent tall enough to stand upright in and a matching pair of adjustable padded cots that would promote much needed beauty sleep.photo(51)

It seems funny, in hindsight, that keeping warm had been of such deep concern for me since I awoke in the middle of the night sweating uncontrollably.  “Great, now I’ll catch a chill,” I thought.  I rolled over, trying to will myself back to sleep, telling myself I could wait until sunrise to pee, when it hit me: my resurrected belief that oatmeal promotes longevity paired with my venture into the apple orchard the day prior (read: binge on oatmeal for breakfast and apples in the field) had inadvertently done horrible, awful things to my guts.  I needed to go to the bathroom: Right Now. I did not, however, need to pee.  I’d committed a misstep in hanging our flashlight from a loop on the tent’s ceiling to create a makeshift light fixture and had to awaken Bill to help me untie it.  photo(50)He was fumbling in the dark while I was doubled over performing lamaze breathing techniques as my muscles cramped, forcing me to grit my teeth.  “Hurry.  Huuuuuurrrrrrry,” I stage whispered, trying to avoid waking our neighboring campers with my desperation.  I gingerly stepped backward out of the tent, just in case the universe felt compelled to force humiliation upon me, so I wouldn’t ruin our new outdoor dwelling if the dam were to burst.  Bill slapped the flashlight into my hands and I scuttled down the trail toward the cold, dank, public restrooms.  They were disgusting, but when one is sick the sensibilities of modern living wane, and I abandoned my usual hover-technique and plopped myself onto the seat to get down to business.  When I was done the grody toilet was even more post-apocalyptic, but I felt better, thanking God for somebody’s kindly left-behind handsoap and scurried back to camp, emotionally high off defeating my mortal fear of other-than-home bathrooms.  This was roughing it: I’d allowed my ass to make contact with a public toilet seat.  This was what men feel when they hunt elk, this was what mountain climbers feel when they conquer peaks, this was my own personal Iron Man competition.  I had vanquished my enemy, shitting in a public restroom, and in this surrender emerged triumphant.  I was a camper, and it was awesome.

Compromise, at times, is about sacrifice.  At other times, however, compromise leads to self discovery and growth.  I had already begun to plan our next venture into the outdoors before we’d even had time to pack away our existing campsite, and my personal growth would render less compromise from both of us.

In memory of Pie Edwards, it is time to bring back our family ventures into the woods, including one unfortunate camper’s horrifying bathroom story for each trip.  June Lake 2015, here we come.

” Lose yourself in nature and find peace.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

A King’s Ransom

photo(41)The apples sold at supermarkets are not cultivated for flavor, nor texture, nor eating, really.  They are cultivated for aesthetic and storage.  That is how you can get a “fresh” apple in May – three full months before the first ripe apples in the Pacific Northwest –  that has flawless skin and a signature rosy hue.  It is also why I stopped eating apples years ago, because, frankly, they were flavorless and had an awful, chalky/mealy texture that triggered my gag reflex.

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An Akane apple nearing perfection.

Farmers’ markets are doing their part to resurrect apples meant for eating.  They are offering organic varieties fresh from the orchards, such as Northern Spy and Ginger Gold, that you simply cannot find in a traditional market.  However, they only bring the most beautiful, flawless fruit with a penchant for apples meant to be eaten in hand rather than in pastry.  As a backyard gourmet, I prefer apples meant for cooking. Odd shapes, lumps, and battle wounds are fine by me so long as they taste close-you-eyes-and-relish-it amazing. Fruit must have the right balance of acid and tannin to maintain flavor integrity with sugar and spice, and enough density to hold its shape under heat.  While the Gravenstein will always remain dear to me, my heart went pitter-pat when I bit into a Tompkins King at Jones Creek Farms. 

Me and Caroline on our adventure

Me and Caroline on our adventure

It was green, August is simply too early in the season for King apples.  I did not care.  I knew them the second I saw the gigantic globes on the branches what I’d found, and flashed to my seven year old self in my grandparents’ front yard, climbing the biggest apple tree they had.  Those apples were HUGE, and I was impatient, and I would eat the unripe fruit until my jaw ached from puckering at their sour flesh.  Late season apples, Kings are better after the first frost, when homes are meant to be filled with the aroma of cinnamon and pastry and warmth.  The Tompkins King, first cultivated in New Jersey but named erroneously for a location in New York, is a colonial American classic predating the Declaration of Independence.  You cannot find them at the grocery store, but they are worthy of a journey to the countryside.  In an era where time is more valuable than gold, my friend Caroline the Fairy Godmother and I dedicated an entire day of travel and labor, a modern day king’s ransom, to my pursuit of The Perfect Apple-iest Apple.

 

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A giant paper wasps’ nest at the base of a tree

Jones Creek Farms was a dream come true.  Caroline set out to find apples for eating in hand while I ventured deep into the orchard in search of baking apples.  I was grateful for Caroline’s company and conversation, but I was equally grateful for the solitude she granted me amongst the fruit laden trees.  The smell of the windfalls crushing beneath my feet, the rush of adrenaline as I dodged spiders and bees, the discovery of a giant paper wasps’ nest – the wonder of nature’s bounty is something I enjoy most when I am alone.  Filling our satchels in the company of dragonflies and grasshoppers as the late summer sun rose high above us, we were happy to sit in the shade of the farm’s majestic willow and visit with Jumper the labrador as we mopped sweat from our brows. I had found a few Kings on the cusp of ripeness but gathered mostly Richardsons, which are equally delicious, and we loaded her car with the smell of autumn’s pending arrival and zoomed south toward home.

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Begging Jumper for a selfie. Photo credit: Caroline Suissa-Edmiston, The Fairy Godmother.

There is something about the din of farm life that appeals to the depths of my femininity.  I feel most empowered, completely  spiritually centered, when my cheeks are grazed by a sparrows wings as I gather apples, when I vie with the yellow jackets for mid-summer blackberries, and when I meet eyes with a fawn as we both venture toward a secret gathering spot in the woods. Picking apples to preserve for the depths of winter is tantamount to my inner gatherer. The smell of cattle is the sweet aroma of home, and happiness is an exhausted snuggle with a manure crusted retriever.  As I sank my teeth deep into the flesh of a King apple a chainsaw droned in the distance, a bluejay chirped in the trees, and children laughed in the nearby pumpkin patch forming a rural symphony.  I breathed deep and let my mind drift toward pie.

 
It is remarkable how closely the history of the apple tree is connected with that of man. – Henry David Thoreau

 

 

Grandma’s Apple Crisp (Dessert for Non-Bakers)

Pie crust is best reserved for ambitious pastry chefs.  So simple, yet so daunting, if you screw it up your entire dessert is ruined.  Apple Crisp captures all of the goodness of apple pie without sending you running in a panic for a bottle of Mommy’s Little Helper Merlot.  Serves 8-10, table ready in 75 minutes.

Apple Filling:

3 lbs Baking Apples (Kings, Gravensteins, Winesap, or <gasp> Granny Smith, if you must)

1/3 C. Brown Sugar

1/3 C. Granulated Sugar

1/3 C. All Purpose Flour

1 Heaping Teaspoon Cinnamon

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees.Peel, core, and slice apples into 1/4″ slices into a large mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, mix together dry ingredients then pour over apples, stirring to evenly coat them.  Pour apples into a lightly buttered 9×13 glass baking dish and set aside.

Crumb Topping:

1 Cup Old Fashioned Rolled Oats

1 Cup Firmly Packed Brown Sugar

1 Cup Chopped Pecans

1/2 Cup Flour

1 Teaspoon Salt

1/2 Cup Butter *cold*

Toss dry ingredients together.  Cut your butter into cubes, then work it into your dry ingredients with your fingertips, working until it resembles a coarse meal and all of the butter bits are smaller than peas.  Sprinkle evenly over your apples. Bake 35-45 minutes, until filling is bubbly, apples are fork tender, and topping is crispy.  Allow to cool slightly, serve warm with vanilla ice cream. 

 

 

 

 

Love Is Patient, Love Is Kind, Love Finishes That Which I Cannot

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Backyard Wasteland, the term “yard” being used lightly as it is really a mixture of road ballast, weeds, and mud.

I am guilty of believing I can conquer the universe with the power of Google and YouTube.  While Bill was in Michigan, I read a couple of blueprints (badly, as it would turn out), watched a few tutorials, and did some Googling and decided that it was time: I was going to build a deck as a surprise for him when he returned from his vacation.  The professionals made it look super easy – just cut off some siding, hang a ledger board, make sure everything is square and true and BAM! You have a deck in 48 hours or less.  Rest assured, friends, even virtual contractors are deceptive beasts.  I measured and marked and scored the siding, made the requisite 3 trips to the home improvement store, and set up shop with Rosie The Wondermutt in the backyard as my supervisor.  I slipped The Persuader (the name of our pry-bar) under the siding to loosen it as the video instructed and pulled.  Nothing happened.  It didn’t even wiggle.  I repeated the process, I grunted, I sweated, I may have even had a couple of exertion farts, and still nothing happened.  Defeated, I plopped down into my lawn chair and stared at my project to contemplate. “There is no shame in asking for help,” I told myself, but I couldn’t help it.  I was terribly disappointed that I couldn’t deliver my surprise as intended.

Bill returned from Michigan to find me in my lawn chair, the furrows in my brow growing ever deeper, two cuts in the house siding that simply refused to be removed and a carefully marked ledger board that couldn’t be hung until the siding situation was resolved.  I was getting an A+ in tenacity but an F- in accomplishment and it was making me a little bit bonkers.

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My careful measurements on a badly warped board. Note: select your prospective ledger carefully as she will be key in squaring your deck. Geometry is important!

“I picked up all the stuff, this won’t cost you a dime, ” I assured him.  Then I sheepishly admitted that I didn’t have the muscles to pull the siding from the house.  Bill is gentle, Bill is kind, Bill is everything the book of Corinthians mentions when the bible is explaining true love.  He let out the heavy sigh of a man resolved to pleasing his woman and picked up The Persuader.  He pulled.  Nothing happened.  He grunted.  Nothing happened.  Bill got low and flexed his Crossfit muscles and released a battle cry and the siding finally gave way.  It took over an hour of him systematically loosening, wiggling, growling, and pulling, but both boards eventually parted ways with the house and we were free to hang our ledger….or so we thought.

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Bill pulling the stubborn siding from the house.

Just under our siding was a lair of the most hideous, sinister, vile, GIGANTIC spiders.  Had I not been running around the yard screaming at the top of my lungs, I probably could have thrown them into a pot of water and called it a crab boil.  These suckers were goddamned dungeness huge.  “ABORT MISSION,” were the only comprehensible words I could muster between shrieks, waving my arms helplessly above my head.  “I changed my mind, I don’t want a deck.  We’ll just sit in the mud until we move.”

photo(33) Paralyzed by fear, I did the only rational thing I could conjure:  I declared a 48 hour holiday and released my flock of hens from their coop.  Where I saw a horrible den of monsters, my chickens saw an all-you-can-eat buffet! They spent two days gleaning creepy crawlies from the walls, under the siding, from the dirt below. When they started pulling at the underlayers of the house trying to sate their gluttony I declared Spidergate 2014 officially over, cooped my ladies, and we returned to work sans Spider Spawn of Satan.

Work resumed on the deck project, by which I mean I sat in my Lawn Chair of Thought and Bill toiled away picking up heavy things, driving nails, digging holes for the base, and checking for level repeatedly.  I felt completely useless aside from making sure the iced tea pitcher remained full and that supper was ready before sundown.  Bill dedicated 12 hours a day for both days of his weekend to working on the Big Surprise I’d planned as a gift for him.  I felt like a complete asshole.

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Setting the joists, making sure they are true, level, and square

The base of the deck actually came together relatively quickly.  I recall my dad and my grandfather building their decks when I was a kid (my job was to hold the tape measure; 25 years later my role hadn’t really evolved much) and though my memory may be blurred by the passage of time,  I’m fairly certain their projects weren’t complete in four days.

Bill was tired and stressed.  He was convinced our project would look wonky and homemade, be unstable, or require an expensive contractor to correct our rookie mistakes.  Bill read blueprints, watched tutorials, compulsively Googled, and finally shrugged.  All signs pointed that we were on the right path.  He was patient with my photo documentation, although just under his smile I could detect his cynicism was beginning to flare.

Rosie helping Bill take a breather.  He'd worked all day before coming home to work all night.

Rosie helping Bill take a breather. He’d worked all day before coming home to work all night.

I was able to join the labor force as we topped the deck. Bill would cut the pieces (we were careful to stagger our seams, avoiding the area in front of the door for structural and aesthetic integrity) and I would screw them down.  It was tedious work, but rewarding.  We had hoped to complete  our deck in three days, but we ran out of lumber and screws hours after the lumber yard had closed for the day.  Sensing Bill’s waning interest in completing this project, I sent our friends a text inviting them over for dinner on our new deck.  The pressure of accountability ramped up our game.  Bill came home from work the next day with 4 lbs of deck screws and the balance of the lumber we needed.  We worked feverishly, finishing with enough time to wipe down the patio furniture that we’d been using in our driveway (classy, right?) and carry it to the backyard.  We set the table, ran a quick vacuum over the house and, while we still had some finish work to do, declared our deck “done enough to party.”

Our wonderful friends arrived with beer and conversation and joined us in the light of our tiki torches as we talked about work, family, the future, and the changing weather.  The deck did not collapse nor crack nor creak under our collective mass.  Rather, we had a relaxing evening in the cool air of late summer in a portion of our yard that had previously been off limits.  This project was not a lesson in carpentry, but a lesson in surrender.  We had to let go of perfection, accept things that were beyond our control, and learn to enjoy satisfaction in simplicity while living in the moment.  Yes, we still need a roof, gutters, landscaping, paint, a bathroom….the projects of home ownership are endless.  But, for now, we have a place to gather, to build relationships, and a visual reminder of what we can accomplish with determination and persistence.  Sometimes, it is best  to stop thinking and start living.

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The sun sets, the candles begin to glow, and the laughter comes from deep in our souls. These are the moments reminiscent of my grandmother’s patio; these are the reasons for our new deck.

“Happiness is not something ready made.  It comes from your own actions.”

-Dalai Lama XIV

Remembering Mayberry: Ridgefield, WA

When I was small, my Aunt Joanne’s house was a magical place to visit. An old farmhouse a couple blocks from downtown Ridgefield, it was (and remains) a bucolic gardener’s paradise with an apple tree and overflowing flower beds. Aunt Joanne’s house was bursting at the seams with teenagers during my childhood, and we used to slide down the shag carpeted stairs in pillow cases and skate across the cool linoleum floor.  She had bubble bath (the REAL DEAL!) and her house was always clean and smelled of roses and fancy perfume.  My cousins had an Atari and we could play Pitfall, Frogger, or Pong; if the weather was nice we could walk to Zebrun’s Market – without an adult – and buy Tootsie Rolls that were two for a penny or to the Starliner and get our fill of chicken strips and potato wedges. We would gather filberts from the tree in the front yard or wander to Abrams Park and catch crawdads.  We were a gang of urchins running amok in the safety of a town where everybody knew everybody. The best part, however, was not the video games, or the Mr. Bubble, or the candy and fried food.  The best part was sitting on the back porch with my beautiful cousin Becky, cracking open a jar of Aunt Joanne’s homemade spicy pickles and waiting for the lightbulb in the Easy-Bake-Oven to heat up so we could burn some toast.

How the heck did she do it?  Her house, when I visit now, is TINY and she had kids and step-kids, and friends of kids, and nieces, nephews, and kittens, and a husband, and a career.  How did Aunt Joanne find time to make homemade pickles?  I can only guess that she secretly sports Wonder Woman underwear or has undisclosed magical powers.  Today, as I babysit my neighbors puppy who is non-stop wrestling with my dog Rosie, I am making Hot As Hell Pickles in an attempt to walk a mile in Aunt Joanne’s shoes.  I’m pretty sure I need 3 more puppies and a toddler to match the chaos of 1986 Ridgefield, though.

Simplicity in character, in manners, in style; in all things the supreme excellence is simplicity.
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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I cheated: Ball had pre-mixed salt, crisper, and spices and I bought them. Always use a trusted recipe when preserving foods to make sure they are shelf stable and safe.

I went to the farmstand and bought 20 pounds of pickling cucumbers.  These are “special” compared to the cucumbers you’d purchase at the grocery store because they are not coated with wax which would ruin your canned product.  Since my pickling mix was a complete kit in a bottle I only needed to buy vinegar and sugar but not pickling salt, spices, nor dill.  I did, however, buy some jalapenos so I could make sure these pickles had some kick!  I sliced the cucumbers into “chips” for future snacking convenience.

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I quickly realized I had 10 pounds too many cucumbers, but it was cheaper to buy the full box than to pick out only what I needed. Fortunately, my neighborhood has a social media network of domestic goddesses and one of my neighbors will be making pickles tonight with my leftovers!

I boiled brine and sanitized jars and listened for the familiar hiss and rumble of my waterbath canner coming to temperature.  The dogs tumbled at my feet, sprinted by with my clean laundry hanging from their jowls.  I remained steady, packing the jars with cucumbers and peppers, and playing games of fetch while the future pickles processed in their bath.  It was pure bliss – I didn’t even notice the mayhem around me while I was immersed in my pickling.  Perhaps Aunt Joanne needed to make pickles because she was surrounded by chaos.  It’s no trip to Hawaii, but it is a nice escape!

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Removing the jars from their waterbath. Within seconds you will hear the first “POP!” as they seal air-tight. Pickles are shelf stable for up to 12 months.

What Did the Fox Say?

The sallowness in my stressed out skin has been replaced by the glow of a sun-filled existence, but the sunken shadows beneath my eyes are slower to fade.  I had given so much of myself away that I worried I might never find my way back to center, and my spiritual self-neglect had manifested physical scars on my body: hives and acne, wrinkles, belly fat, and that obscure thousand-yard-stare of the corporate zombie.

Sometime over the last six months I’d developed a mild (moderate) case of agoraphobia: I could no longer leave my home without Bill to support me.  Naturally, I didn’t tell him about it, I just made up excuses for him to grocery shop with me or acted like a spoiled toddler in need of a nap when we did anything else.  The truth was that my brain was in a perpetual state of sensory overload: I’d gotten stuck in a never ending fight-or-flight cycle that was fueling anxiety attacks, rage, and exhaustion.  I was at my wits’ end, but so was Bill.  He didn’t ask to be on the bus to Crazytown, but at some point we’d taken a turn down the express lanes to that destination.

“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I – I hardly know, sir, just at present – at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland

The last two weeks have been about forcing myself out of my house.  I’ve taken two road trips and have begun chatting up strangers in coffee shops.  During one trip to Empire Espresso, I met The Fox.  He was immersed in his MacBook so I was free to stare at his long beard and hair beneath his red felt hat that clashed in the best way with his pink Utili-Kilt and fox tail (yes, a fox tail hung from his belt) for what would have otherwise been a wholly socially unacceptable period of time. Fueled by carbohydrate delirium (Belgian waffles, anyone?) I approached The Fox with a simple question: “What do you do for a living where you are allowed to be….yourself?”  I was afraid that I’d offended him, but his belly-laugh put me at ease and he shared his story of being a freelance techie, photographer,  and spiritual healer.  He showed me work that integrated all of his specialties, but was emphatic that he did for a profession things that he would (and sometimes does) do for free. He lives his life passionately, including how he dresses, and feels the universe has repaid him ten-fold.  When he asked me what I like to do (professionally) I told him my favorite things have been taking a visionary concept, breaking it down into attainable steps, and then delivering the finished product, as a newborn child, into the world.  I was a midwife of ideas in my mind’s eye; The Fox said, “Oh, Sweetie, you’re a Project Manager.”  I said, “I don’t know what they do.’ The Fox said, “You already do what they do, it’s time you get paid for it.”

I walked home energized by a stranger’s belief in li’l ol’ me.  The Fox spoke to me with compassionate energy, and spoke OF me with certainty and conviction.  He saw me for what I was, without the baggage that polluted my inner dialogue.  I was slowly emerging from my cocoon with confidence, feeling better about rejoining the world without fear and anxiety.  I emailed some acquaintances, set up some meetings, and ventured south toward the familiarity of my childhood home.  I hadn’t seen my grandmother since Christmas, and now I had to break the news to her that I’d left my pension, my stability, and my career behind me in a quest for happiness that I was only beginning to believe I deserved.  White knuckled, I drove 200 miles to face the fear of disappointing my hero.  I tuned the radio to Lucinda Williams and hoped for acceptance on my path toward redemption.  My wrinkles in the rear view mirror were now battle scars, and when I smiled it felt natural, and Lucinda sang my anthem :

“I just wanna live the life I please
I don’t want no enemies
I don’t want nothin if i have to fake it
Never take nothin don’t belong to me
Everything’s paid for, nothin’s free
If I give my heart, will you promise not to break it?”

I Lost It, Lucinda Williams 1998 “Car Wheels On A Gravel Road”

Always an intense child, I believed contorting my face into a horrifying pseudo-smile would convey my inner excitement to the outside world.  Now, I seek to return to a state of being uninhibited by ego....although perhaps a tad more socially acceptable.

Always an intense child, I believed contorting my face into a horrifying pseudo-smile would convey my inner excitement to the outside world. Now, I seek to return to a state of being uninhibited by ego….although perhaps a tad more socially acceptable.

I Want To Be A Barista (okay, I really just want a decent cappuccino)

I saw the ad on Craigslist and my heart skipped a beat: a coffee internship that paid a living wage and participated in sustainable trade and farming practices.  I was immediately smitten with teenage caliber lust.  I stalked the coffee shop in person and on the internet and began wooing their human resources director.   I’d quit my job 5 days earlier and I wanted (needed) to be busy, to be taking action toward employment, to start anew in uncharted (for me) territory.  This is what I do: I set a goal, break it down into measurable steps, devise processes, and take action.  My first interview went great; my second interview even better.  Then I met with the owner, we’ll call him “S,” and he shot me down – HARD.  He was supportive, engaging, eccentric, and German.  His accent put me at ease and his direct nature made me feel at home.  His assessment of me was spot on as well: I was still wearing my “corporate mask,” needed to get more comfortable with myself and to take time to heal.  In spite of only saying positive things about my previous employer, he said I “needed to cleanse myself of the poison” my last “toxic” career had deposited like plaque on my soul and rediscover my self worth.  Yes, all of this came from a job interview with a stranger.  S gave me assigned reading, directed me toward a career counselor, and made some interim employment suggestions.  If I followed his process he would have a job for me in six months.

I left his office and went directly to the bookstore for my copy of What Color Is Your Parachute: 2014 edition.  I felt the twinge of “you’re turning into your mother” as I picked up what I considered to be a self-help book, but I am reading it, and it is good.  I’ve made arrangements with a career counselor and allocated the funds in my budget to invest in my future happiness.  (So long, glamper project, you’ll have to wait until I have a steady income.) I began talking to strangers in coffee shops and reached out to other businesses that interested me for informational interviews so I could learn more about what they do, what they enjoy, and what path led them to where they are.  As I went through S’s process I realized he was right: I didn’t want to be a barista long term, although it would be fun for six months.  I was longing instead to join a happy team in a happy workplace and I’d pounced on the first one I’d found.  “But,” S said, “Vee don’t create happiness here, vee hire people who are already happy with themselves.”

I returned home, still blissfully unemployed, and returned to the rituals that allow me introspection and growth.  I hung the clothes on the line and contemplated the path S had suggested.  No matter my protests (I don’t have the education or credentials; I don’t know what those people do; I don’t know if I can do that….) S maintained that I already had the skills and just needed to fine tune my approach and restore my confidence; the rest, he said, would be provided by the universe.   And so, just as there are stars in the galaxy and galaxies in the universe,  I am a project manager.

I shrugged, that guy was crazy.  I can’t do that job. Nobody would hire me.  He knew me for an hour; he can’t KNOW me in that time.  Or can he?

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“Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows,
Fearing neither clouds nor winter’s chilling breeze;
By and by the harvest, and the labor ended,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.”