Monday, October 24, 2005

It's Getting Darker

It was February when I started blogging. That’s a good time of the year for me. Even though it’s still cold and dreary in southern Indiana, I know that spring is on its way.

Now it’s the end of October. The days are getting shorter. The dark days of winter are closing in on us. Worse, the holidays are on their way. Holidays. Holy days. Busy days. Days driven by rules, traditions, and expectations.

Have I mentioned that I’m domestically challenged? I’m a woman with an engineering degree. I can do math. I love maps and exploring new territory with them. I’m a compulsive accountant. I follow written instructions well. I’m always ready to rip open a package stamped “some assembly required” and get started. I have designed and built simple wood shelving units for our house. I can hunt down and eliminate computer bugs. When I worked as an engineer, trouble-shooting electronic circuits was my specialty.

On the other hand, I’m lost in the kitchen. When I’m in large groups of women, I feel like an onion in a petunia patch. They complain of filth in places that look fine to me (prompting me to make a mental note not to allow them into my house, which doesn’t look at all fine to me). They exchange household hints for tasks I didn’t even know were part of housekeeping. They give oral instructions for making the dish of the night and I listen with amazement. Are others actually taking in the information and leaving equipped with the knowledge to duplicate the dish? Assuming that I’d want to make it, I’d need clear, written instructions that detailed every step. The verbal list of ingredients has no meaning for me. Is the person who is handing out the information just making conversation or does she assume I’m capable of hearing and understanding it?

Oh, I can bake well enough if I have to. I can find clear, written instructions for that. But my heart’s not in it. I don’t view it as an art or a pleasure. Cooking is harder. Gravy is beyond me. So is fried chicken. I don’t have a knack for such things. Not for cooking or decorating or fashion or entertaining.

Along come the holidays. Women cook for the holidays. Women decorate for the holidays. Women host gatherings for the holidays. People give gifts during the holidays. I strike out in all those areas, but opting out of holidays is not really an option. Holidays happen.

This first year of the empty nest will surely be different in many respects. Still, sometime in the next few weeks, I’ll likely slip into survival mode: lowering my expectations for routine accomplishment, doing what I have to do for the holidays, plugging away one day at a time, counting the days until normal life resumes in January.

It's not that I won't enjoy seeing friends and family during the holidays. I’ve even invited my extended family here for Thanksgiving and I’ll do my best to prepare a tasty meal for them. I’ll probably try to send Christmas cards and make goodies. I tend to put my actual Christmas shopping off until almost the last day in the evening -- waiting until gift choices must be made and there will be little time for second-guessing those choices before Christmas arrives. There are enjoyable times during all the hustle and bustle, but it tends to be primarily a stressful time for me.

I’ve been trying to post something here once a week. That frequency may go either up or down as the holidays approach, depending on whether blog entries turn out to be one more pressure or a temporary escape from the pressure.

Just thought I'd post a warning.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Left behind

First of all, I apologize if you came here looking for something related to the Left Behind Series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. This is not it. So far I have not been left behind by the Rapture, at least as far as I know. I do believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ, but I don’t believe there will be anything or anybody left behind after that event* nor that there will be anything secret about it.**

However, this week I did feel like I was being left behind - by technology. My favorite internet community is moving to new software. When I looked at the new environment, I seriously considered whether my ties to the community were strong enough to accept the annoyances of the new software. Maybe it was time to “kick the habit” (and the association of that phrase with addiction is not entirely inapplicable here). As I considered that option, a feeling rose up within me that I recognized as grief. I mourned the good days that would be left behind us, the comradery, the laughter. I had to remind myself that I didn’t have to leave it all behind me. I could simply take another look at the new software and decide to stick around. Even though I had expressed reluctance to make the jump, I certainly hadn’t burned any bridges.

As I watched the community settle into the new software, I soon started to see the advantages that others were seeing. It turned out to be a relatively easy move once I decided I was going to make it. But during the one or two dark days as I watched the inevitable come and wondered whether the move would be made without me, I could identify with people who fight change. It’s frustrating to be hanging on to the old, familiar ways of doing things while others are tossing aside the old and rushing to embrace the new. As I associated myself with the old, negative remarks began to sound personal. It was sort of a “like me, like my dog” mentality. If people show disregard for what I value are they showing disregard for who I am? If the crowd goes rushing over to the new software and leaves me behind crying, “the old is better,”*** does it mean that they don’t care whether I continue to be part of the community? It seemed that all I was seeing was the backs of people leaving me behind. I kept watching to see if anyone was going to turn around to make sure I was keeping up.

I’m a part of this community by choice. The truth is that they can get along without me. I hope that my presence is a positive addition to the community but I know that it would not be a dreadful loss if I were no longer around. That knowledge does not cause me grief. My value is in serving, not in being served. Yet, I caught a glimpse of the grief experienced when people watch the things they value being set aside and wonder whether anyone truly values them. I need to stash away this brief exposure to such grief so that I can recognize it when I see it in others.


* But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. (
2 Peter 3:10 NIV)

**Look, he is coming with the clouds,
and every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him (
Revelation 1:7 NIV)

*** No one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, `The old is better.' " (
Luke 5:39 NIV)

Saturday, October 08, 2005


I attended a ladies retreat this weekend. The organizers included a survey in the packet they gave us. One of the questions was, "What was the highlight of the retreat for you?" I left that question blank. Sharing the scene that popped into my mind would have been of no value in planning future retreats.

It happened in the morning, before the day's activities started. Morning is my "quiet time". I dressed early and, leaving my roommates behind, slipped down to the lobby with my book bag. As people started gathering for the day's activities, I left behind my initial resting place on a sofa in a hall and looked for someplace further from the beaten path.

At the back of the lobby, I found a cozy cluster of unoccupied furniture and settled in once again on the sofa there. A few minutes later, a black man in work clothes, maybe 30 years old, settled into the chair across from me with a cup of coffee. I greeted him with a smile and turned back to my books. I was enjoying what I was doing, but also very aware of my surroundings. I occasionally glanced up and took in the activity around me. I noticed that the man lit a cigarette. Coffee and tobacco. Neither are a part of my life, but I don't particularly mind the smell of either when they're fresh. However, in this case, the hotel circulation system did a good job providing clean air for me and I didn't notice the odor.

A mother and daughter with matching blond curls approached our area. The mother was talking and as she came close enough for me to hear her words, she expressed relief at finding a place to smoke. The man assured her that he didn't mind but wasn't sure about me. He indicated that he had been watching me. I found that interesting since I hadn't observed him observing me while I was observing him. I wasn't sure what information he had gathered in his observation, but apparently he had decided I didn't smoke. I greeted the newcomers and let them know that the smoke wasn't bothering me. The mother took the other chair in the area and told her daughter, who was maybe six, to sit with me on the couch, away from the smoke. I smiled and welcomed her and her teddy bear to the "non-smoking section".

The bear was clad in a wedding dress and as we admired her, the little girl noticed that she had spilled some of her chocolate milk on the dress. For reasons I won't go into, I had a mansize handkerchief in my pocket. I pulled it out and dabbed at the milk, but suggested to the girl that she would need to use water on it. She carefully set down her lidded cup of milk on the coffee table and reached out to take my handkerchief. Before I realized what she had in mind, she showed me a trick that she later explained her daddy had showed her the night before when she dropped some food on her dress. She puckered up a bit of the hanky and wet it with saliva before applying it to the bear's dress again. I suspected that her mother would not be thrilled with the idea of her putting a hanky from a stranger's pocket in her mouth. When she did it a second time, I started trying to think of a way to reclaim my hanky without making a scene. I glanced over to where Mom was sharing her views on smoking with the man: "My Uncle Joe smoked and my cousins smoked . . ." Her curiosity was roused and the little girl carried the bear (and my hanky) over to her mother. I waited to see if she would continue the spit bath and whether the mother would go ballistic, but they simply discussed the nature and source of the stain and then the girl returned to me. I quickly reclaimed my hanky. A little later the girl asked me if she had given back my "towel". I assured her that she had.

Mom shared with me that the little girl was the flower girl for a wedding that day. I turned back to my companion and asked if she had practiced the night before. She had.

It was time for me to go. As I got up I explained that I had been retreating from my retreat and needed to return. Both the man and woman smiled and I was pleased that my little joke amused them. As I walked away, the mother was telling the man about the ring bearer in the wedding.

And that was the highlight of the retreat for me: Sharing a pleasant few moments with strangers, strangers to me and to each other; smiling at smokers; seeing them as people instead of as smokers; making them smile; having a serious conversation with a charming flower girl; being reminded of "spit baths".

I don't spend a lot of time in hotel lobbies and don't often find such pleasant companions when I do. It was a nice contrast to the more structured and proper atmosphere of the retreat.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The empty nest revisited

I see that my “empty nest” post is the one that draws people here via search engines. Maybe it’s time for an update. It has now been five weeks since we packed our youngest child off to college. She’s coming home next weekend for the first time. We visited her last week on her college campus. She seems to be having a great time. We haven’t seen her older brother and sister for seven weeks and three months, respectively. Telephones are nice.

I still miss being involved in the local school system and haven’t found a satisfactory substitute for it. On the other hand, I’m actually updating this blog semi-regularly as well as squeezing a few other projects into my days that had previously been beyond my time budget.

I hope my mixed reaction to the empty nest, particularly rejoicing in the increased freedom to choose how I fill my days, does not bring further grief to the hearts of those who wonder about their purpose in life now that their children no longer need them on a daily basis. The truth is, I fall rather low on the need-to-nourish scale. I once killed a pet rabbit by neglect (and imposed a lifetime ban on myself from ever owning another bunny). The fish in our 10-gallon tank (originally belonging to one of the kids) know about life on the edge. I was always glad the kids were so insistent in their demand for my attention. However, I think that if I had a need to nurture children, I could find plenty of opportunity in volunteer positions.

For me, one of the freeing things about having the kids move on is the realization that I’m no longer responsible for correcting anyone’s behavior. I can make it a life-goal to “live and let live”, to accept people as they are without feeling a need to fix their social skills.

I’m convinced there’s life after kids. It’s a different life, but a good one. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, there are a myriad of things to fill my days. The biggest challenge is to find ways to maintain the variety of relationships the school brought to me. Internet exchanges are good but I want to be involved in the community where I live. Our rural setting, with only four houses on our stretch of the road, three of which are out of sight from our house, adds to that challenge.

I’ll let you know how it goes.