Lessons Learned & Random Ramblings

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Making a choice to count my blessings…. November 23, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate @ 1:15 pm

For me things in life often aren’t completely real until I write about them. Sometimes that is through a quick facebook post, sometimes through an email to a friend, sometimes on a piece of paper that I immediately throw away and sometimes through this blog.

This particular blog post has been forming in my mind for a little more than a month now. I wasn’t totally ready to share my story and make it all real. It took me a while to decide exactly what to say and it took me a while to feel positive enough to avoid writing in a way that was depressing to me and to others. I think that now, in this season of gratitude, I am able to put it out there. I am able to choose to count my blessings and keep life and the challenges we face in perspective.

My husband and I have been trying to get pregnant for about six months or so. Six weeks ago, thanks to two over the counter tests and a very friendly nurse at my gynecologists office, I found out I was pregnant and due in June. I was approximately six weeks along. Five weeks ago I headed back to the doctor pretty sure I was having a miscarriage. A few hours later I was in emergency laparoscopic surgery to remove an ectopic pregnancy. I woke up from surgery in pain, no longer pregnant and feeling pretty damn sad. But I also woke up to an incredibly supportive husband, caring family and friends and good pain killers.

As far as timing, I guess it could have been much worse. I won’t lie and say I hadn’t already started picturing the nursery or considering baby names but in truth the news was so new  – and I knew the statistics about miscarriage – so I hadn’t really given myself the opportunity to be overly excited. I had only told a few select people and had sworn them to secrecy. The week of being pregnant was a busy one and my brain was a bit preoccupied which helped to tone down my enthusiasm. It was a Monday afternoon when I thought I was having a miscarriage. I went to the doctor at 10am on Tuesday to confirm my suspicions with an ultrasound. By 12:30pm I was hooked up to an IV awaiting information about the time of the surgery. It all happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to dwell on it. I cried of course — thank goodness for my mom and my husband – and I was angry (why me?!) but I suppose the speed with which everything happened kept me from having too much time to think about it. It also kept me from getting too scared about having surgery.

A week later I saw my doctor for a follow-up and thankfully she had only positive news about our chances of having another baby. She even made a prediction that I would be pregnant by spring. Nice to hear but I am trying to keep my expectations in check. I was very grateful for the positive news and certainly relieved but that didn’t erase my sadness or diminish the physical pain I was still dealing with.

Today – at the six-week mark – I am finally feeling more like myself. I see my scars going away and think about the positives. I am choosing to count my blessings. I am choosing to focus on the good things. I am not stupid – I know it doesn’t get fixed overnight. I know that sometimes I will still ask why me or what if and I know that when my “due date” arrives I will probably feel pretty awful. But I also know that those are moments and they don’t last forever.

Life challenges us. It makes us grateful, it makes us laugh, it makes us cry, scream and stomp our feet. Life reminds us sometimes of how fragile it can be but often follows up with a reminder of how strong we are capable of being. I try to remind myself that all of it – the good and the bad — helps to define who we are.

I am a very lucky woman. I have a wonderful husband, a supportive and loving family, I have friends who send emails and flowers and text messages and who drop everything to come over just to say hello. The people in my life never cease to amaze me with their love, generosity, sense of humor and compassion. I have a career I love and students who inspired me. I have my writing. I have my health and positive news about what lies ahead. Most importantly, I have hope and even in those moments of frustration I always look forward to what comes next.

 

 

A question of truth… November 3, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate @ 1:26 pm

I’ve been teaching writing at several colleges for the last few years. It is always both challenging and inspiring. At Mitchell College I teach almost all classes that fall under the First Year College – courses designed specifically for college freshman that are grouped together as a cohort that remains connected for all of their core courses under set themes.

One of the themes assigned to my writing class this semester was CSI. I was incredibly uninspired by this theme at first and I was really unsure as to how to implement the ideas, connect to the students and encourage creativity. At first I wondered if I could just show the first season of CSI: NY and call it a day. However, thanks to support from another professor and a fantastic group of students willing to figure it out as we went along this course has been one of my very favorites.

Ultimately, I decided to take the position that the entire course would address the idea of “truth”: What is truth? How do we find the truth? What types of “investigation” do we need to do to uncover it? How does truth shape us? How do we connect conflicting truths?

We have explored these questions in a variety of ways. We did numerous readings on crime in society, discussed our own beliefs and experiences, watched movies like Mystic River and The Dark Knight and analyzed episodes of The Whole Truth. My students have looked at the ways we are impacted by our personal experiences and how we affect others with our own assumptions, stereotypes and preconceived notions. On many occasions my students have really impressed me with their empathy and compassion and their ability to understand the “gray” area in instances when black and white does not give issues or situations the depth they deserve or require.

Ultimately what I have found the most interesting is the way that they define “truth”. For some of my students it is simply what you can make others believe. For others it comes down to what you can prove happened. For a few “truth” is simply what you personally believe has happened in any given situation. Who knew there were so many ways to interpret a fairly simply word?!

I tend to agree with them. Without a doubt “truth” is subjective – it is often colored by our own history, our own experiences, our own bias and our own opinions. I can’t even count the number of times that my friends and I have sat around and taken a trip down memory lane. During the course of an evening we may have totally different memories of our shared experiences and for each of us our version is “truth”. In each case we believe our memories are accurate. Is one version more real than the others? Is one ultimately the truth?

I love that my students are inspired to find the truth – however subjective – and I love that they are more willing to be open-minded about people and issues. They are willing to ask the tough questions, willing to do the work to examine the evidence and the situation at hand, evaluate the information and ultimately create fair conclusions.

I’ve taught a lot of writing classes. I often see improvement on paper but I also often wonder how what they learn translates into real world skills beyond the classroom. This semester, I don’t have to wonder. My students have improved their writing but also increased their willingness to put in the effort to determine “truth” – both in academics and in real life. For me, that validates exactly why I teach.

 

Thinking about the paths we take and those that we don’t… October 6, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate @ 9:20 pm

Lately I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how we get to where we are. I recognize that the question doesn’t always have a specific answer. Do the choices we make get us to where we are or do the things we choose not to do help to guide us to wherever we end up? Are we always headed somewhere or does figuring it out often lie in a willingness to just stand still until it feels right? Do you ultimately choose your own path or does something bigger than us help to present us with the options we need to move forward? How can we be sure that our decisions reflect the path we hope to be on rather than respond to where we currently exist?

As you may have noticed, it has been far too long since I last blogged. The changes I’ve made related to employment have been pretty huge. I left my full time job as a Director of Development and agreed to teach six classes between three colleges in the state. I LOVE teaching and while it has been a ton of work it has helped to cement my desire to make this my chosen profession and has reassured me that the change was the right choice. It has reinforced for me the idea that my path ultimately includes teaching.

You are probably wondering what the problem is so here goes…I agreed to remain at the nonprofit in a part time capacity to oversee a major fundraiser. This appealed to my sense of responsibility – of not leaving things undone. It sounded like a good idea at the time when I thought about the connections I could maintain and experience that I would gain. To be honest, the amount of money they offered me was very appealing too but the amount of work that I am currently doing is completely overwhelming and it seems that I have lost sight of why I was making changes in the first place – to find my true path.

I wanted to leave development work so that I could be true to myself. I was tired of feeling inauthentic, tired of being fake and frustrated with the lack of time I had to explore other interests – including teaching and writing. When I gave my resignation I was concerned about how I would make enough money while working numerous part time jobs but I believed I could do it. I felt empowered, excited, somewhat terrified and ultimately incredibly confident that I was making the right decision. I felt a sense of inner peace. The part time offer threw me and I agreed during one of the moments that I gave in to fear. For the last few months as I have tried to balance it all I have felt overwhelmed, stressed, frustrated and lonely. I have felt out of control and unappreciated. I do not presently feel at peace. This was not what I wanted when I made changes in the first place.

At this point the end is in sight. I have approximately three more weeks of part time work and I have made a promise to myself (and to my very patient and very loving husband!) that I will be true to the path I originally chose to follow – the path to a happier, more fulfilled life. For me this includes teaching, writing, time for family and friends and “me” time – exercise, reading, photography, pedicures! This has been an incredibly frustrating experience because I have no one to blame but myself for creating this situation. However, I choose to look at what a learning experience it was as well. I now know how much I can handle, I know who I can count on and I know what I want — and more importantly what I don’t want. All valuable things to learn in spite of it all.

One of my very best friends has defined her personal values and she tries to make all of her decisions based on whether they fit into her priority areas and her ultimate goals. I happen to think that she is brilliant. In following her example I have defined the following: love, balance and inspiration. Whatever path I travel next will be headed toward a life that includes all of these and helps me to embrace the sense of fulfillment and inner peace that I crave.

Where does your path lead?

ps. A very big thank you to everyone that pushed me to prioritize writing again. I am very grateful for your support and encouragement!

 

Thoughts on happiness & reviewing “the one i want”… July 12, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate @ 3:27 pm

“Happiness is what you choose, what you follow, not what follows you. These are the things I have seen, these are the things that I now know, these are the things I will carry with me as I go.”
~
Tilly, the main character in the one that i want

FYI: My blog seems to be becoming a mix of books reviews, personal reflection and life lessons learned – that makes me happy! I seem to be finding my groove….

I just finished reading “the one that i want” by Allison Winn Scotch — pretty fantastic! The story centers on Tilly Farmer, a woman in her early 30’s whose entire life is connected to the place she grew up and the roles she plays as a result – dutiful daughter, oldest sister, wife, school guidance counselor, friend. She believes she is truly happy until she is given the gift of “clarity” by an old friend in a fortune-telling tent at the town carnival. This “clarity” allows her to see the things she has been ignoring about the people in her life. Initially reluctant to embrace what she is now witnessing, the story focuses on the way her life changes as she is forced to accept the things she sees and the way she eventually redefines and accepts happiness.

In the book Tilly has always lived in the same town, she has the same friends and she is married to her high school sweetheart. She has assigned the people in her life a very specific role – dad is a recovering alcoholic, her sisters are a screw up and the mediator respectfully and her husband is the hero of his high school team without much to show for it since. Her determination to always play a defined role also makes her unable to see the parts of her friends and family members that don’t fit into her predetermined roles – or the ways in which they have changed over the years. Her journey to discover who they are and who she is as roles change is very relatable. More importantly, the gift of “clarity” she is given reminds readers that we are sometimes forced to see and accept things we don’t like or can’t imagine in order to also accept change.

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson 

This book reminded me of Emerson’s quote. I chose it when writing my college applications and, at the time, I was all about change and blazing new trails and meeting new people. I spent all of college exploring my options and finding my passions. However, as soon as college as over and I returned home to the “real world”, I also quickly returned to the same people and places. My friends were the same people from elementary school and junior high, I married a boy I had been friends with since high school. I fell into the same routine – working in the same town, shopping at the same stores, hanging out at the same bars, sharing the same stories. I was content I suppose but I wasn’t happy.

Four months after my wedding I told my husband I was leaving him. The fallout was truly unbelievable at times. When you have always been the same person, with the same guy, in the same group of friends change is very hard to swallow. I had always played the same role – I organized game nights, birthday parties, girls nights out. I was the one who sent flowers, bought group gifts, kept everyone together. People didn’t know how to react to the “me” that wasn’t the “me” they needed or the “me” they relied on. They didn’t know how to function as a group when my role changed. They didn’t know how to accept me when I became “different” from their routine and expectations.

I wish I could say that one morning I simply woke up realizing the need to make changes. I wish I could say that this clarity also came with understanding and a plan for dealing with the fallout. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen that way. There was an ongoing build to my decision. There was a long period of second guessing myself and ignoring my gut and eventually one day I couldn’t stand myself for being so disingenuous and I felt like a coward for not being about to step up and admit that I had made a mistake. Once I was ready to take responsibility, I must admit that it probably seemed rash but it wasn’t – I had been thinking about it for a very long time. I didnt’ expect it to be easy. I did understand that people were going to be hurt and that relationships were going to change. However, I did expect to be accepted for who I was and I hoped for understanding and support as I made the changes I felt were necessary to be truly happy. It wasn’t easy – I lost friends, our group didn’t remain intact, I hurt people. My ex-husband was a great guy – he just wasn’t great for me. We weren’t great for each other. I deserved better but so did he.

In many ways this book was reflective of my experiences. When I left my husband and, as a result, my “safety net” and group of friends, I had moments of sheer panic and intense loneliness but I had more moments of excitement and breathless anticipation of what was to come. The reality that I could be or do anything I wanted was an incredible change for me – I went to grad school, I made new friends, I tried new things, I changed jobs and I met (and have since married) an incredible man. In a very real sense I was transformed. My soul didn’t change, the things that mattered to me didn’t change but my willingness to think bigger, be more, love more deeply did. I didn’t feel trapped by history or geography. I didn’t feel like I was suffocating under the weight of prescribed roles or expectations. I felt free to be myself and to find happiness. I made a choice, like Tilly does in this book, to be happy.

This book was like looking at my own history, my own experiences through a new lens. It was a chance to let go and embrace who I have become and the incredible possibilities ahead. It reminded me of the endless possibilities I imagined when I used Emerson’s quote 14 years ago and the excitement I feel as I continue to grow now. It also reminded me of how incredibly important it is to choose happiness and to be grateful for all life has to offer.

PS. Do you have a book you think I should read and “review”? If so, please share your thought and recommendations!

 

Questions to consider…another review of sorts July 2, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate @ 12:02 pm

As an obsessive reader, one of the best parts about summer for me is finding time to sit outside and read. I am see-through pale so the beach is often more a lesson in the constant reapplication of sunscreen and replacement of my beach chair to avoid direct sunlight than it is a way to relax and enjoy the weather. However, sitting in the slightly shady areas on a beautiful day with a cold beverage and a good book is just about paradise for me.

That being said, I’ve been doing even more reading than usual over the past few weeks. Recently, a friend recommended Patti Callahan Henry’s “Between the Tides”. I picked it up at the library – one of my favorite places ever and thankfully across the street from my house! The book was pretty good – it kept my attention and I found myself caring about the characters and the storyline. I was even about to overcome my occasional frustration with the main character, Catherine, and her inability to see what was right in front of her and cheer her on as the book came to an end. The premise is intriguing – Catherine’s father has recently passed away and she has been asked to return to her childhood home to scatter his ashes. The problem: tragedy struck in the same place while she was a child and she hasn’t been back since or gotten past what happened. There is significantly more to the story but basically I was most interested in the idea that we are our experiences; we are the collection of our past joys and disappointments as much as we are a collection of our hopes and dreams for the future.

In the story, 3 questions guide the story as Catherine struggles to redefine herself as she learns more about her father and more about what truly happened during her childhood. The questions are:

1. What do you want to be doing when you die?
2. If you die today, what will you regret not doing?
3. What would you want your tombstone to say?

Slightly morbid questions but thought-provoking nevertheless, particularly question #2. Personally, I would probably add another question to the conversation as a whole: (4) How do you want to be remembered?

The reason this conversation appeals to me is because it is so easy to get lost in the routine of every day that we forget to take time to be extraordinary. We neglect the opportunity to define ourselves because we are too busy trying to find ourselves. We spend so much time worrying about what comes next that we forget to appreciate the now.

When I was little I remember saying to my mom things like “I can’t wait until Christmas” even though it was only April or “I can’t wait to be 16” when I was only 12. Without fail her response would be “if you spend all your time wishing away the present you’ll miss out on the things that make every day special”. I don’t think I realized how right she was until I was much older but now I completely agree with her.

I don’t know how I would answer those four questions but I do know that I want to think about the answers. I don’t want to spend so much time thinking about what comes next that someday my big regret is that I neglected the people who matter the most and I certainly don’t want to be remembered as a hard worker instead of being remembered as a good friend.

I was at a training once several years ago and we were given two assignments. The first was to write a letter to our 17-year-old self with advice, tips and love. The second was to write our own obituary or the eulogy we would want someone to read when we passed. The first was much easier for me than the second but both provided valuable lessons and food for thought.

So, I challenge you to take a few minutes every day to appreciate the now and think about the lasting impressions you hope to make both for yourself and others.

 

“My Name is Memory” ~ a review of sorts… June 16, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate @ 3:07 pm

I read A LOT – usually several books a week. I also read really fast. My husband jokes that sometimes on weekends when we sit down on the couch to relax he watches a few innings of a ball game and I read a book. He says all the time “you have a few minutes, why don’t you read a book?” He is only exaggerating slightly.

I LOVE to read and I love to talk about books. I love my book club and discussing the stories we read, debating the plot and defending the characters. If reading was a profession, I like to think I’d be among the best. I haven’t quite figured out why I don’t write more on this blog about the books I read but maybe someday….

Anyways, I’ll try to find my way to my point! I recently read “My Name is Memory” by Ann Brashares. I am a big fan of the author – I loved the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series and I enjoyed “The Last Summer of You & Me”. I will admit that when I picked up this book I was a bit skeptical…the jacket of the book was intriguing but also a big vague. I was afraid that it would turn out to be a wanna-be Twilight story. I will also admit that I was wrong about that.

The story has a very interesting premise. To me, the overall theme was that our souls never die – they inhabit new bodies and new environments, face new challenges and interact with new people and situations, but they retain the important parts life to life – the things they have learned, the lessons and characteristics they value, the love they feel for others. In the book it presents the idea that only a remarkable few people can “remember” their past lives and therefore they remain connected to the souls that they loved – even if those souls are in new people and if those new people don’t remember the past or the connection. Sound complicated? I struggled a bit with the book at first – the narrator tells his own story but several other characters become the focus of chapters and the time periods jump tremendously – from 541 to 2009 – and settings from all over the world are featured. Once I got used to the back and forth and connected with the voices of the characters I found myself really enjoying the story and caring about what happened to the characters.

If this were a real review, I’d recommend it the book. I will also confess that I hope for a sequel….

What really struck me though was the way the characters connect to each other throughout the book in truly incredible ways – the soul of an old male friend inhabits the body of a young girl but can still be recognized, a young man can still feel love for the soul now inhabiting an elderly woman in need of comfort, a young woman reaches out to a child. I don’t know if I believe in reincarnation but, in fairness, I don’t know that I don’t believe in it either. This book definitely challenged my thoughts on the subject.

This is why I liked the book – it made me think. Have you ever felt instantly connected to someone – either as friends or romantic partners? Have you ever wondered how it seems as though you have known someone forever when you’ve only recently met? This has happened to me on more than one occasion and I wonder sometimes if there is more to the connection than liking the same restaurant or movie or choosing the same grad school program or being in the same general line of work. The same has happened in reverse – I’ve instantly known I don’t like someone or can’t trust someone with no logical reason why – just a gut feeling that something is off. Is my intuition finely tuned or could it perhaps be something more? I am not sure I can totally buy the idea of previous connections in the way the book presents them but I definitely believe that there is something bigger out there and maybe it helps us to meet people and connect to those that are our meant to be our “soul mates”…

Something else to the long list of life’s mysteries to ponder….if you read the book, please let me know what you think!

 

What I miss about childhood… June 9, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate @ 1:51 pm

The trick is growing up without growing old.  ~ Casey Stengel

While driving to work this morning I caught the end of a conversation on the radio about what people miss most about childhood. In the few minutes I listened I had to smile at many of the things callers mentioned: community games (kickball, soccer, baseball); family meals & movie nights; new school clothes and supplies; etc. Several callers even mentioned family vacations, childhood pets and specific hobbies they have now outgrown. It was a very varied and interesting list and each one reminded me of my own experiences.

I was very lucky. My sister and I had a great childhood and I have wonderful memories of time spent with family and friends. I have great photos to look back on and people to reminisce with. However, there are things that I miss about childhood, including:

  • The freedom to draw outside the lines  – as a child we pick whatever colors we want and don’t necessarily follow the pre-drawn outlines. Pink hair and purple skin – go for it. A lime green house with purple grass and yellow clouds – make it happen. As we grow up we learn the rules – the acceptable colors of grass and sky, the importance of following the rules and drawing in the lines – but as children we just enjoy the moment and allow ourselves to draw what we feel inspired to draw.
  • The sense of absolute confidence in what we like and who we are – I remember liking a different color weekly (blue, purple, yellow) and wanting to be something different when I grew up each week as well (baseball player, teacher, writer, princess). I also remember having my heroes – people in my life, baseball players my dad admired, characters in cartoons or television shows. When asked, I was so certain of my answers and didn’t second guess myself – even as the answers changed regularly. As an adult, I still have likes and dislikes (everyone does!) but because they don’t necessarily change on a whim anymore, I am not always nearly as confident in putting it out there for others to judge.
  • Having a best friend and believing that person would never go away – my best friends growing up (other than my cousins) were named Darren & Sandra. We were friends from infant playgroup through 2nd grade. We were going to be friends forever until my family moved and we were too young to stay in touch. However, I vividly remember the security that came from having a “best friend” as a child.
  • The unwavering belief that anything is possible – I don’t think as a child I ever questioned whether or not I could be a baseball playing princess. In fact, it seemed to make complete sense to me. I never questioned the existence of Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. I had a fantastic array of imaginary friends and shared our adventures with my family.  I believed that I could accomplish anything that I put my heart and mind to. As an adult, I still believe some of this – a baseball playing princess would still make me smile – but my beliefs are probably a bit more grounded.

The act of putting this list together was more thought-provoking than I thought it would be. I find that when I think about it I am still all for coloring outside the lines but perhaps on a more limited basis. I am also a big fan of my best friend(s) and I am pretty confident that we will remain friends for whatever length of time “forever” winds up being. I also still tend to be pretty optimistic and do believe that anything is possible with the right balance of work, faith and luck.

I love the opening quote by Casey Stengel – it is a great reminder that we don’t have to give up our childhood beliefs and wishes when we grow up. Instead, we need to find ways to grow up that maintain the most important parts.