Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Not much rambling today

It is cold, rainy, windy outside. Snowed overnight. My days of walking outside are starting to shrink (I wish I was!) and it is time to dig out the Leslie Sansone DVD's and my new Wii console.

I am a creature of habit. Since I have been laid off (almost a year...still can't believe it has been that long) I have dutifully gotten up early, put on my sneakers and walked five miles a day. It grounded me and gave me the opportunity to listen to some wonderful podcasts and fabulous non-fiction books (love, love, love Malcolm Gladwell!). Now, I have to find a new morning routine that will motivate me for the rest of the day. I have climbed back on the ellipitical machine and actually got down on the floor and did some exercises! Change is good, right?

The bigger issue I am struggling with right now is trying to find my motivation - for all things - again. I need to find a job in the new year, lose weight and help to restore financial stability to our household. I feel like I have been trying so hard to do all all three things all year long - with no success. Will January really bring about a dramatic change? My daughter just called and wants to visit a psychic when she comes home for the I want to see the "future" or is it too scary to face? Will 2010 be a repeat of 2009? I know, I know change comes from within...I will try to change it up...again...and push forward for better results..

To quote Scarlett O'Hara..."Tomorrow is another day!"

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Memories pop up with the leaves falling down

My husband and I raked leaves and about a gazillion (an unofficial estimate) acorns today. We were outside for over four hours and it gave me lots of time to reflect on some very nice memories of my house and backyard. We have been in this house for over 21 years...and I plan on putting it on the market this spring. It is time to move on and downsize. It is a wonderful warm, cozy family house and it has been a wonderful place to raise our three children. My parents lived with us also so we have a lot of memories wrapped up here.

With every sweep of the rake and tilt of the ear-shattering leaf blower, more leaves were tossed into the street and more emotions popped up. I blew the leaves away from where our pool had once been - before it was felled by an extremely large tree branch that crashed into it one memorable July 4th weekend.

More leaves were removed from where the swing set once stood. I remember standing there, endlessly pushing the swing and dreaming of the day they all would learn how to "pump" on their own. Now they are off in the real world of work and college.

The bocce court was full of leaves. We built the court from scratch after I googled "how to build a bocce court".

A lifetime of memories but it is time to move on and let another family enjoy this house. I want to spend our days off not raking and painting and patching...I want to enjoy all that NYC has to offer ...the museums and street fairs, Central Park and Broadway.

I want to trade up to a house on Cape Cod and a two bedroom rental in New York. My neighbors are having their fourth child - perhaps I can convince them their memories are waiting to be made here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Paving my way to a new job

I have discovered that after eight months of unemployment that I am now visualizing myself in a variety of different jobs. For example, they are paving the roadway in the park where I walk. It is now full of dump trucks, paver's and all sorts of heavy equipment. As I was walking past the workers, I looked at them and what they were doing - driving, guiding equipment to the right area, etc that I thought to myself - I could do that! I could wear a hard hat, jeans and look official most of the time. Of course, I couldn't do it - I oversimplified the whole job, but it struck me kinda funny that I would even think like that. See what happens when the interviews dry up and your enthusiasm for the job hunt starts to unravel? I have also pictured myself as a school bus driver, newspaper delivery person and substitute teacher. Some aren't so far-fetched (teacher) but to actually picture myself as part of a road crew leaves me shaking me head. It is time for me to go back to work - but where and when?

Monday, October 5, 2009

What's up with that?

I have been unemployed for eight months now. Even as I type that scary number, I am shocked it has been so long. Like most people, it takes a while to get over the shock of being laid off - the immediate rejection of your work, the loss of friends and co-workers, and, most importantly, a paycheck.I was fortunate enough to receive a severance package and I am still collecting unemployment. I have been on a few interviews but no offers. I work daily on trying to find something but it truly is tough out there- the latest figure for unemployment is 9.8% and six people apply for every one spot.

Last week I received a call from a recruiter - my previous manager had given her my name. We chatted for a while - she seemed interested - and I emailed her my resume. She followed up with another phone call and said another Human Resources person would contact me. This morning I received that call. Right from the start of the conversation, she seemed almost defensive and made me feel I should be honored that she was talking to me. We then discussed different roles I had held at my previous job and she decided that I was not qualified for the position she was looking to fill. Fair enough. Then she said - "when were you laid off?" When I said "February" - she replied "What's up with that?" Excuse me, it is not my choice to be unemployed this long. I think anyone who has been is already suffering from a bruised ego and a growing lack of self confidence in their skill set. To hear an impervious tone in her voice set my day off to an unhappy start.

I hung up the phone, laced up my sneakers and went for my walk. I re-ran the conversation through my mind a couple of times - the Irish-Catholic part of me berated myself - maybe she was right - what am I doing wrong? Am I not trying hard enough? Am I getting lazy? Then, I tried to reassure myself with the daunting unemployment figures - but the truth is that even with an unemployment rate of 9.8%, 90% of people are employed - under-employed in a lot of cases - so why haven't I been able to find something?

What's up with that?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

My cat died this morning

My wonderful cat Murphy died this morning. He was 15 1/2 years old and a funny, playful cat - more like a dog then a cat. He came running when you called him and ate pizza and pasta (never poured him a glass of red wine though!). We had to put our dog to sleep about five years ago so I know the emotional tug you feel when you have to let go. We knew the end was near this week - he had stopped eating, and then stopped drinking water. Still, finding him on the floor this morning, turned on his side and looking out the window, was still a jolt.

We carefully wrapped him up in his favorite blanket, placed a catnip toy in the box with him and buried him in our backyard (probably illegally - but I am sure there are many other critters buried around my town).

To keep busy, I made a big pot of pasta sauce and meatballs - mixing, rolling, frying, dicing, kept me occupied for awhile. Then, out of the corner of my eye I saw something move and I assumed it was Murphy begging for a scrap (don't let his Irish name fool you - he loved his Italian food!). I turned around and then it really hit me - no more sweet little meow's and purring in this house. Then the tears came again and I let them.

We all know the deal when you get a pet - sooner or later the time will come to say goodbye. It still hurts though. My husband said "no more pets - it's either me or them."


Thanks Murphy for your great companionship these last fifteen years. I hope you are chasing birds - but not eating them - and have a warm fire to curl up in front of and a big bowl of tuna to eat. You deserve it!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I like being home..

Autumn has arrived and I am looking forward to the season of pumpkins/cider/and the first fire of the year. I did discover a new, but carefully hidden truth about myself this morning.

I like being home.

There, I've said it. I have kind of suspected it for a while...but this morning as I was walking on this beautiful fall day, stopping to take pictures of different roads and anything else interesting along the way, it kind of hit me. I had stopped to take a picture of - can you believe this - a miniature horse on a picnic table in someone's back yard. At first I thought it was a statue, but I backed up and looked again. There it was. Just hanging out on a bench. I have passed this house many times and did notice all the horse-related items - from their horse trailer to various lawn signs  and bumper stickers - so it did make sense why they actually had a horse in their backyard. As I snapped the picture, it hit me - I like being home. I like the fact that I can stop and take pictures of horses and waterfalls. I like not having the stress and politics of work. I like having the gift of time. I like being able to sit here on my front porch and write this blog, listening to a great mix on I tunes.


Thanks to New York State Unemployment, I am able to do this for a while longer (and an additional 13 weeks of extended benefits will probably be passed today by the US Senate). As wonderful as it is for me, it is not so wonderful for my husband. He now has to shoulder a much bigger financial burden - my monthly income has been cut in half, our oldest daughter is also unemployed and living at home, and we have one in college and one "out on her own" but with support from us.

As the months pass, my self-confidence ebbs and the desire to keep looking for that elusive job wanes. I know what I have to do - it's just getting harder to do it. When the newest Lord & Taylor catalog came and I flipped through all the fabulous fall shoes, I found myself vicariously picking out different styles - and then I realized with a jolt, that I didn't need - nor could I afford - new shoes. All I need right now are my sneakers...and I realized I am okay with that for a while longer.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bocce Beer and Unemployment Wine

Wednesday is recycling day in my town. Today it is glass and bottles. As I walk through my neighborhood, I can't help but peer into the cans and see if I can match up their recycling to their house. Big house, well-manicured lawn - usually Tide, a good Olive Oil, an assortment of wine bottles, an occasional bottle of Absolut or Grey Goose and usually a few beer bottles - for some reason - usually light beer. Smaller house - usually the same assortment - perhaps not Tide but Dynamo - same stuff, perhaps a few pennies cheaper. Some houses have no recycling out - what's with that? Did they forget to bring it to the curb or do they just not bother? I am always impressed when I come across a can with no alcohol in it - just soda and water bottles and the usual assortment of household glass and cans. Why am I impressed? I have to admit, it seems out of the norm for me. I grew up with alcohol in my house (sometimes too much at times) and I have alcohol in my house now. We built a bocce court in our backyard a few years ago (the only bocce court that flies an Irish flag (along with an American, Italian and Scottish to reflect the neighbors on my street) so every Sunday when the weather is nice, we have a standing 3:30 pm game. Beer is brought in and assorted vegetables from our neighborhood garden are grilled and shared. The games can go on for awhile and much beer is consumed. When I drag the garbage can to the curb on Wednesday's, I always wonder what the DPW thinks of us. The other garbage can holds the unemployment wine. These bottles are the castoffs of two unemployed women who like to share a glass - or two - in the evening - as we discuss our days and try to be optimistic about our future. I once read about a book that was just a compilation of grocery lists - the author/editor published grocery lists he had found and tried to draw conclusions about the people who wrote them. Of course, it was all supposition, just like my conclusions on recycling day. Does my refuse reflect my house? At this point in time, yes.   

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Farmer's Daughter

When I was still caught up in the early days/weeks of unemployment, I fantasized about all the wonderful, creative, fulfilling things I would tackle with my new found freedom. Walking was the first thing I put back on my daily schedule and the one thing that I have truly kept up. After walking every day for weeks listening to music on my Ipod, I realized I needed something else to keep me occupied as I trudged along the hills and valleys of my town. I then discovered NPR podcasts - my favorite is "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" and for some inspiration "This American Life". I also listen to audiobooks from my library on my old Sony Walkman. One of the most memorable books I listened to was by Barbara Kingsolver "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle".  The story followed a family who moved to Appalachia and lived entirely off their land for a year. It opened my eyes to the way most American families eat - over processed, antibiotic laden food. I knew it was hardly practical to move my family down south, so I chose instead to plant an organic garden in my little part of New Jersey.  After all, at the end of the day, I am the daughter of an Irish farmer who farmed his land in Ireland for almost forty years. This would be my little contribution to the "greening" of my family. Well, the best laid plans can go awry, and boy did they ever. My husband almost passed out from heat stroke planting the garden - the day we chose to plant turned out to be the first 90 degree day of the year. After cooling him off, we planted our seeds in neat little rows and waited. And waited. Watered. Weeded. After a few weeks, we started to see some little green heads popping up. Unfortunately, we were not the only ones who noticed. Before we knew it, some unknown (a least to us) four-legged insects and perhaps a stray bunny or two, found our little plot of land and systematically feasted on it. As the end of summer approaches, our harvest included about six heads of lettuce, five onions, and one green pepper. It is said talent can sometimes skip a generation - I obviously did not inherit the farming gene, nor did I inherit the sewing gene (another story)...perhaps on one of my morning walks, it will come to me.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A crowd of two

I have been unemployed since February from a job I truly loved. Due to an unexpected severance package and unemployment benefits I have been okay financially - but all the "extras" are gone. I miss shopping and getting my nails done - trivial yes but I enjoyed it. I have gained a whole lot of free time for the first time since I had my three children. I have worked since I was 16 and being at home without having any little ones to take care of left me a little lost. I am a born list maker, so each morning before I get up, I plan out my day. It can be as simple as what path will I take during my walk today - to should I clean the house today or tomorrow? I also spend at least two hours a day researching and applying for jobs. After six months of unemployment, I have found that two hours a day is the most I can do. I volunteer at my local library, have discovered a wonderful local farmer's market and learned to shop for three adults instead of five. I had a decent, sane routine going until August. Then my 25 year old daughter also was laid off. Two women home all day, unemployed, does not make for a sane routine anymore. The house has gotten very crowded. I grow annoyed when I come back in the morning and she is still asleep. Adding to the stress is that she is in an unstable relationship which really hit the fan yesterday. Tears. Screaming. Slamming doors. This drama I do not need at this stage of my life. Although I feel content at times - no deadlines, no office politics, I know I am stressed. I have put on 15 unwelcome pounds (even with all my walking) and my clothes don't fit. I want to help my daughter and see her through this, but she has never been one to heed my advice so I have given up trying. All I feel I can do at this point, is to be available to her, make sure she is safe, and cautiously try to steer her in a more positive direction. I know I can't change her - she has to initate the change she wants to see. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Ice Ice Baby

I was closing in on the last mile of my walk this morning when I realized the hardest part of the walk weren't the hills or the heat or the barking dogs - or even the occasional fox - but the smallest incline. I stepped off the outside road to get back on the sidewalk and had to adjust my stride to climb a very small incline. Ouch! How could I just have finished walking 4.5 miles and this baby incline delivers a shooting pain to my 54 year old hips? Go figure.

On my way back home I realized I did not have my cell phone. Somehow it had fallen out of my Ipod/waterbottle/cell phone holder. I tried not to panic and went back along the walk and tried to retrace my steps. I did stop to take a picture with my phone of a really unusual bird - so I figured that's where it had to be. No. Maybe by the car? No. I was growing increasingly mad - and frustrated. I couldn't afford to replace the phone - could I possibly live without it? When I got home I had a voice mail from my husband. Thanks to the ICE (In case of Emergency) listing in my cell phone, the kind woman who found the phone skimmed through the numbers, found the ICE listing and called my husband. Who promptly called me - chuckling - saying my phone was found! If you haven't added these 3 little letters to someone you would like to be called in case of an emergency - big or small - do so today! 

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Back to School

School Daze
As I was walking through the different streets of my neighborhood this morning I started to notice all the cameras and the parents walking away, empty-handed, from school. Now that my kids are grown, the first week of September doesn't take on the same significance as it had in the past. I started to reflect on all those drop-offs. Even on the first day of pre-school my kids didn't turn around once they were led into the classroom. No tears, no hanging on to my leg, no yells or screaming. Nothing. Complete nonchalance. As I looked around at the other parents - with their kids crying, screaming - I remember feeling embarrassed that my kids seemed to float into the classroom. Nary a wave or a tear. I consoled myself with the thought that I had raised self-sufficient, confident children who who emotionally ready to conquer their next frontier - Pre-K. I was lucky I was able to take a quick photo before they were led away. Climbing back into the car, without having to snap someone into a child's seat, was the hardest part. Driving away, knowing I had 2 1/2 hours of freedom didn't measure up all the time. It usually meant a quick bowl of cereal as I watched Regis and Kathy Lee, cleaned the kitchen, threw in wash and hurried through other mundane household chores. Hey, it's 11am already - where does the time go?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The comforts of a large Irish Catholic Family

I watched the memorial mass this morning for Senator Ted Kennedy. Although I do not attend Sunday Mass on a regular basis anymore - I made an attempt last spring during Lent - will try again in the Fall - I was moved by the traditions and found myself silently praying along with the numerous celebrants on the altar. The eulogies were moving - especially from Teddy, Jr and President Obama - but it was the numerous shots of the Kennedy family in the pews that really brought home the joys and comfort of belonging to such a large family. You just knew that they had each other to hold each other up and to celebrate a long, well-lived life. I come from a family of five - three children, two parents. My parents - born and rasied in Ireland - came from large families - my mom was the oldest of twelve and my dad was one of five. I still remember the stories my mom told of growing up - one bed for four girls - and the inevitable fight about who would get stuck laying at their sisters feet! My father told us about his youngest brother - who, on a Saturday night before a dance, would stick his finger into the cold ashes of the fire and brush his teeth with the soot to make them white! They never spoke aloud of the poverty and the cold, damp nights - just what they had to do to make it through the day. Walking miles to school, working on the farm or in the tailor shop - you did what you had to do. My parents married in Ireland but soon moved to the States. Some of their siblings came over also so they could retain their bonds - but more stayed "home" - so bonds and connections were weakened. A trip out to the airport was always a joyous occasion to greet an arriving relative - but devastatingly sad on the return trip - for it was always the unspoken truth hanging in the air - is this the last time we will see granny/auntie alive? My parents had a relatively small family in large part because they had already helped raise their own brothers and sisters and for economic reasons - it was a tough go for them to make it here with little education. But they did and got to live the American dream. It is much harder today to have a large family - unless you have a TV show - due to economic reasons and with both parents working outside the home. Today's families - large or small - blood relatives or close friends - are a source of comfort when we need them most - to say goodbye.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Is College for all kids?

It has been a week now since my son has returned to school for his sophomore year of college. He is the youngest of my three children and the one I smothered the most. (hey, I admit it) He was born with some serious health issues, endured four neurosurgeries before the age of six months, and recently had a health scare last April. Helicopter parent? Maybe. But with good reasons. I know we have given him all the advice we can- be safe-not stupid - know your limitations and, of course, remember why you are in college after all - please study! He came home freshmen year with a 2.7 G.P.A. - not the worst but certainly he could have achieved much higher. I watched my oldest daughter treat college more like high school and she also had the GPA to prove it. Now she is at home at 25, recently unemployed but stuck now with $50,000 in student loans. Was it worth it for her to go to college? At this point, no. Will I let my son skate through college so that he can also be saddled with loans? No way. I told him already that if he came home next summer with a similar GPA, I wouldn't allow him back. My daughter would have been better attending a trade or business school and graduate with an AAS and get a head start in the business world. My son claims he wants to be a police officer - I can't see it - but - all he needs is 60 credits to get into the Police Academy - and he will have that after sophomore year. We can reevaluate the situation next spring. My middle daughter did everything you would want a college student to do - embraced every opportunity that came her way, became involved with campus activities, completed an internship and landed a great job in Wash DC. As a middle class parent we just expect our kids to go to college. When I graduated from High School, my Irish immigrant father did not want me to go to college at all - I convinced my mother - who supported me - and I went to our local community college/then on for my BA. At the age of 44 I completed my Masters Degree in Communications. I had the drive and the commitment. Perhaps more thought should be put into who really should go to college - especially with tuition costs climbing higher and higher and the accompanying loans that go hand in hand. My kids will be paying off their loans until they are well in adulthood - is that the way to start a new life?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Street Art

A few years ago when I was commuting by car to NYC on a daily basis for work, I passed this very intriguing and extroverted man who would take the daily cast-offs of his neighbors and create street art from it. One day he would rail about the Pope, posting a hand written sign with the huge letters PRO-CHOICE and place it next to an old rusty baby stroller with a battered doll inside (think Chucky) . The next day would be about the insane policies of the Mayor of New York – whoever he was at the time. He bared his soul every day for all the tired, bored, frustrated commuters to see. I often wondered how many people, idling in their cars, bothered to even look at his "art"? I was on the FDR Drive last week with my son and his art was still happily on display. Even though the whole area is under major construction – with ramps and crossovers all over the place - he still managed to carve out his own personal space and continue to make his own personal statements. He gives the term "recycling" a new meaning.

Things that are left in public bathrooms

One time in the park’s bathroom, I found a used pregnancy test kit. It was sitting on the dirty ledge above the sink – for all the world to see. Being a parent to three children myself, I know that when I took my pregnancy tests, it was always in the privacy of my bathroom and gleefully shared with my husband. The thought of a woman – young? old? taking this test in a public, dirty restroom was very distressing. Why wouldn’t she throw it away? Was she so distraught she just ran out? I looked around to make sure she wasn't still there. Then I glanced at the little window to see if it had turned into a plus or negative sign. Plus. That explains why she ran away.

The Girl in the White Toyota

The girl in the white Toyota. She has long dark hair and always wears big black sunglasses. I do not know how old she is – the car is sporty – spoiler on the back – so I am thinking young-er. She arrives at the park every day at 10am and leaves promptly at 11am. I walk at least five days a week in one of the best-maintained parks in New Jersey. When I walk past her on the outer rim of the park, she is usually on the phone or reading. She doesn’t seem happy. How would I know? I really don’t obviously. I’ve never spoken to her. Never would have the nerve to go up to her car and ask her all the questions that have been brewing all this time. But, I have her seen her so often these last 10? 15 years? that I wish that could speak to her. Why do you come to the park everyday and sit in your car, with the window barely cracked when everyone else is outside walking, running, skating or pushing strollers and communicating? What pulls you in everyday? I can set my watch by your schedule. Now that I am walking outside of the park’s perimeter, I have an idea of where you live – not that I want to stalk you…I am just so curious about your story.