Turning 60

•April 4, 2015 • 2 Comments

Screenshot 2015-04-03 21.09.14

[I thought this blog was done. But a landmark event (a decade marking birthday), a contact from someone from a long ago life because of the blog, and Alice’s return to modeling convinced me otherwise. ]

So, tomorrow I turn 60. (technically, today, as it is the 4th).

Sixty. Sixty years of living since 1955. Through the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, a new millennium, and on. Ta831b0e49d25113262ac89669f1fac5ahrough the Beatles, the women’s movement, through the end of Viet Nam, disco, the BeeGees, big hair and shoulder pads, John Hughes movies, Reagan, Clinton, the Bushes, the war in Iraq, and Afghanistan, the first Black President and the advent of information and communications technology.

My parents’ were supposed to be in the “Greatest Generation,” but imagine what us 60 year olds have experienced?

I’m using tomorrow as an opportunity to celebrate life. Who I am, what I have experienced, what I will next do. Honestly, given my good health and mental state, 60 does seem pretty much like just a number. Symbolic of little, though clearly the recognition of a new decade. When I was a kid, 60 seemed like Grandparent age, retirement age, over-the-hill age, gray hair age. But if 50 is the new 30, then 60 is the new 40. Or at least 45.

Tomorrow is a day that I will celebrate life with my amazing 21 year old who has given me life’s most important role. Jeremiah  will give me a tattoo that symbolizes the path of life’s learning and growth. I will be with my community of women who, for the last 8 years, have fueled my soul through friendship and a sense of belonging. I will Be There. Be there and present in the life that has been given to me, and the life that I have tried to make meaningful.  The life I have tried to be in the service of others. Indirectly, mostly I’m afraid. Mother Theresa I am not.

Tomorrow I will celebrate the end of 60 years of growth and learning and understanding. And the next XXX years of more. A day that celebrates the beginning of the next phase with my daughter. With my friends. With my Self. Sadly not with my partner, but he is with his family. We will celebrate our birthday in the moments and places given to us in the everyday; together we make our collective moments.


Marathon/Just Doing My Job

•October 10, 2014 • Leave a Comment

8693763208_5491731825_mI competed a marathon on Thursday.

Don’t get excited. It’s not THAT kind of marathon.

It’s a figurative marathon involving a crap ton of big work required in a relatively short period of time. In this case (bearing in mind my life as an academic), materials for a review offering evidence of the last 20 years of research, teaching and service, keeping an undergraduate (50 students) and graduate college (21 students) class afloat, including writing and administering an exam, running a graduate degree program, and getting in a big $200K grant proposal, all in the span of about 10 days. But I did it.

And, WASP that I am, it feels great. As with running 26.2 miles – embracing the demands of a task, sizing it up, seeing it as a challenge, yet doing what it takes to accomplish it. 

This is what Fridays are meant for. And good bottles of red wine. And TV to veg to.

But that marathon would not have been completed if there hadn’t been more than a few people staffing water stops and yelling coaching calls along the way.

Yet the thing is, when it comes to the workplace, we can’t depend that those people will be there. There are people that we need to do things that will help us get our work done – it actually isn’t a favor it’s part of their job description –  and we hope they will help. Usually they do, but it’s the minimum of help; all that they can offer either because of attitude or stretched demands.

8692682601_fc5d43f1b3_mAnd then there are those that step. up. Who are there. Who do absolutely everything you need and more. And the bonus is when you are doing something kind of new, and they are more skilled and experienced than you are –  who lead you through, and do it with such kindness, efficiency and proficiency, that it’s like half of the job is done for you.

I was very fortunate to have someone (Jessica) who did that for me this time.

And there were others who offered water, and cheered me on, who ran the race with me, that helped tremendously.

So great things are never accomplished alone. Marathons may be run by individuals but there are many or a certain special few who really helped.

We have people. We are lucky.

My ring

•September 27, 2014 • 1 Comment

IMG_0701Have I shown you my wedding ring? I haven’t? Well, here it is. It’s been on my hand all these years and I guess we’ve never talked about it.

I designed it. In 1992 when Patrick and I decided to get married, I didn’t want a standard out of the jewelry store ring. Something as important as marriage to me, needed something symbolic and unique. I was motivated by a good friend who also had a designed ring. Her’s was sterling silver with an opal; a real piece of art.

Similarly I decided that an opal fit the bill. A natural yet somewhat fragile stone with tremendous color variation and color selection. Not a diamond, certainly. Diamond is our birthstone and I’ve never found it very interesting. At the jewelers (then the Jewelers Workshop on State Street in Madison, Wisconsin, now sadly replaced with a clothing shop or pizza parlor but still thriving on North Sherman Ave.) they asked what color of opal I wanted (blue), then pulled out a small rectangular flat box with about 2 dozen to pick from. I chose the one with a natural fault of blue and green side by side rather than all blue.

More significantly was the design of the band. I asked the designer for something that evoked movement, and balance – the 2014-09-27 19.19.57complement of strength and weakness. I drew him a picture of what I was thinking, myself always drawn to settings that allow each side to cover the top or the bottom of the stone, but never wrapped completely. (I did a quick Google Images search – I guess they call this chamise. I don’t know). One side was wide, the other was narrow. And the tip of the sides on the top of the stone evoked waves, again movement.

My friend’s band was silver (possibly white gold). The jeweler talked me into yellow gold. To go with ‘my skin tone.’ Gold gold. Traditional gold.


I don’t quite remember what was in my fantasies or dreams, but I remember not seeing that ring when they showed it to me. It was close but not quite. (I think it was the gold gold).

But it IS my ring and I’m very happy to wear it. It represents our marriage. The balance of strength and weakness, constant movement, something precious and strong and everlasting (gold) and vulnerable (the opal). Something dreamed of and desired, yet not exactly expected. Something that still fits after so many years. Yet something I’ve taken off from time to time. Something that I don’t get tired of, yet in its imperfection I have grown to appreciate.


Waiting for the void to fill

•September 19, 2014 • 1 Comment
Credit: Diego Torres Silvestre

Credit: Diego Torres Silvestre

When someone is a significant part of your life, and your day, and that someone is gone, it takes some time to adjust to the void.

The emptiness in the house that is sounds that are not there. A body that is not where it ought to be. A voice you don’t hear. An action you expect to happen. A responsibility to have to and want to fulfill, but don’t.

It feels odd and it feels sad and it feels empty. An unfamiliar empty. Immediately a striking, hurting empty. And with time, just empty. Then it gets filled. Slowly. With life. But it does get filled.

I remember this feeling when Alice started college (and I cried, and slept in her bed the first night she was gone). And when my cat Ethel was euthanized at 19. A daughter and a longtime companion who’d been so much a part of daily life for nearly the same amount of time. And I was reminded of both of these experiences in the last couple days, by friends who sent oldest and first children off to college and who made the incredibly painful decision with a pet that “it was time.”
They are at a loss for their losses. Back from the experiences yet not back to where they were before. I understand the odd space of sadness and discomfort mixed, that you can do little else with but wait. Wait for time to make it easier to get by with the new day-to-day. Without that person who’d so long been a part of the environment, not.

When a child goes off to college and when a pet passes by euthanasia, our sad emptiness is helped with the knowledge that they are in a better place. The place that they ‘should’ be. The difference of course is that one is a temporary-permanent state soon remedied by vacations and holidays and that there are many ways to make connections in different ways. The other is permanent-permanent. Remedied only by memory.

And time.

There’s little to offer my friends except friendship and shared experience, and the knowledge that it does get better. While better is on the way though, it’s a unique and painful void. But friends and family who are part of our lives that go on, who offer us voices, and actions and responsibilities, help us get to the new normal on the other side of the void.

For my friends, I will be that friend.

Eye to I

•September 12, 2014 • Leave a Comment

eye-contact-true-feelingsNot to sound like Jerry Seinfeld, but what’s up with people making eye contact with strangers? Or rather, intentionally avoiding eye contact?

I figure there’s a certain culture about these things.That you make eye contact and greet a person you know well, you make eye contact and smile at someone who know but not well, and when it comes to strangers, you do a bit of a dance to see who’s comfortable with what. You see a stranger approaching, glance in their direction, see if they are glancing at you, and if so, at the point of passing, do a shy glance and smile. Not significant eye contact, just a glance of human recognition. Or there’s a casual sense that they don’t want to connect so you just don’t.

Unless they are staring at you in an uncomfortable way or it’s someone you really don’t want to acknowledge for safety sake. (Or you believe it’s a safety reason and you’re just not familiar with ‘they’re kind’ and you associate them with someone to fear.)

And then there are those who don’t want to make eye contact with strangers or just stay in their personal zone, and they use the convenience of a technology prop. Like head phones or checking their phone – or if they are desperate, holding a cell phone to their ear as though they are having a conversation. It’s getting easier to avoid stranger contact in seemingly socially acceptable ways.

And then there’s the person I encountered the other day. 15215292971_3aa2918ef4_m

I saw her down the hallway in my office building, walking toward me as I walked toward her. It was the usual, getting a sense of what this other stranger wants to do but as a friendly person probably smile on my part. As I approached her, I glanced in her direction. And then the interesting thing happened: first she looked stone straight ahead, like she was in a military line being yelled at by a drill sergeant. Then as my glance was in her direction (mind you, I’m not weird. It was a mild glance, not a glaring stare), her eyes rolled up and away, like an intentional statement of ‘not only am I not looking at you, I’m looking away from you.’ 

What does THAT say?


Credit: Quinn Dombrowski

What it said to me (after I absorbed one of those happens 1% of the time encounters) was that it was unfortunate that this gal was not comfortable with a casual, in the realm of normal, decades older stranger of her own gender, that somehow made her possibly feel threatened enough to send this strong signal of lack of human contact. Without analysis, I simply felt sorry for her.

Later that day – ironically – I learned that her job in the building is quite a public one. One where she’s sits at a desk that that visitors would stop at to ask directions or other questions, and one that requires her to handle small real people problems all day long. Oh dear. Clearly this woman doesn’t have Walmart Greeter in her career plan.

But who knows? Maybe when she’s behind HER desk and in HER zone of control, she’s OK. Friendly, warm and ready to make eye contact. On her terms.

Predicting her parents

•September 6, 2014 • Leave a Comment

predix envelopeWhen Alice turned 1, I asked our friends at her birthday party to predict who she’d become. Movie fan that I am, I was inspired by Michael Apted’s 7 Up series and created prediction questions for Alice’s 7th, 14th and 21st birthdays. At 7 the question were about where we lived, her best friends’ name, her pets. At 14 it was about activities and hobbies. At 21, it was where she was going to college, her major and her plans after graduation. Over a sushi-filled celebration of Our Girl’s 21st, we opened the envelope to learn how close our friends had gotten.

Their guesses were quite revealing.

In essence, they predicted that at 21, Alice would be either me or my husband.

As some background, the majority of the people at this party were graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I was a PhD student in Child & Family Studies; Patrick was in Economics. Some brought their partners who were also in school, though several were not. (Those not in school actually offered the most interesting predictions.)

The schools she’d be attending trended toward large public universities like UW-Madison (where she DOES go), UCLA, Michigan and Berkeley. Though a few private schools like Oberlin (in OH), Swarthmore (in PA), Carelton (in MN) and Carnegie Melon (in PA) made the picks. Had we stayed living in the Washington DC area, I’d guess that she’d be in school on the east coast. It does seem like kids pick schools a few hours from where they went to high school. Or (in the case of several of Alice’s friends), transfer to those schools.

NO one thought she’d be in a sorority, and their guess for her last job included a range of low paying/dues paying work like waiting tables, child care, tutoring, data collection, and working at a summer camp. In reality she IS waiting tables and doing office work (in visual design) for her jobs.

Her last travel revealed guesses for a range of places, international and domestic. And in fact, Alice is pretty well traveled, with her last 3 stops including Nashville (for fencing), Washington DC and Berlin.

Most interesting though, was the choice of majors for Alice.

Continue reading ‘Predicting her parents’


•August 16, 2014 • 2 Comments

2014-08-15 11.57.242013-06-29 12.40.24 copyToday, Alice is 21. At 6:08pm to be exact. There we are at the beginning of her adventure and last year, as it continued. (I’m not standing in hole on the left – she really is that much taller than I am).

Every birthday is special but this one is a landmark. At 16 she could drive, at 18 she could vote and now she can drink. Drink legally that is. And (I had to look this up) apply to adopt a child, and get a commercial drivers license.

But 21 is our society’s informal definition of adult. I asked my undergraduate classes what defines an adult and many of them said ‘being financially independent,’ but most described it as more qualities than benchmarks. An article in Psychology Today several years back pretty much says the same thing.

Alice is very much an adult in many ways. I am amazed at her intrapersonal intelligence, maturity in reasoning about others’ behaviors and motivations, her ability to express herself and be true to her self. She is incredibly creative and resourceful. She can be highly organized and is interested in just about everything. Alice has always been a fabulous traveler- easily adjusting to new situations and interested in meeting new people – and this serves her well as she is open to the world. And, she speaks her mind.

I chalk up the characteristics that would appear to be less mature (OK, sometimes irritating and irresponsible), merely the product of laziness or occasional apathy, certainly not ability or aptitude. She hasn’t been tested in the big ways of being an adult. That of living independently and being financially responsible. But that’s more of a societal phenomenon and privilege of being a full time student in college between 18 and 22. Kind of putting full responsibility for living independently on hold.

And then of course there are the BIG challenges that life throws at you and regardless of your age, you’re not certain you can deal.

Continue reading ’21’