Tuesday, May 31, 2016

HGTV and Human Nature

I have been blessed to have been given a beautiful home -- large enough to raise our four children.  Three of them are now out and on their own -- building their lives pretty much apart from us. Which leaves Jeannine.

Now none of her brothers or sister would even think about not staying connected to her, and given the  fact that I have not yet embraced the challenge of helping her toward independent living away from me, she is still with us. So at a time when many of my friends find themselves "empty nesters" and have taken the challenge to downsize, sell their homes, move from the area, I just don't think this is for me.

Our house is closing in on 30 years old, and it is not unexpected that it has needed some revamping in the last few years. We were not the original owners, and in the course of our years here, we have painted, wallpapered and replaced carpeting to put our own personality print into the home. The major changes have been done mostly because there was a huge need, you know, things like a leaky roof or cracking counters in the kitchen. The best remodel, though, came in 2009 when Tim's cousin suggested that we repair our deck as a "DIY" project.

Jack has every tool that the Good Lord has allowed man to invent, so the two of them set out to dismantle and replace the worn wood deck with composite -- in the course of 3-4 days. Power tools like mitre saws, table saws, fancy power screwdrivers, a power washer, and construction lights for late night work --- there was no end to the tools Jack had to make rebuilding the deck easier. The whole project could be the subject of another story (and may likely), but just suffice it to say that after all was said and done, (four months later)... the finished product was gorgeous. It was hard to believe that we had lived in the house 10 years before updating that deck, with the result that the once unused (and in some places unsafe) structure was transformed into more than 1200 square feet of usable space. Then I thought: with the diminishing number of occupants in our home and my reluctance to downsize, what was the purpose in creating more space? Well.....

Where I would once have never considered inviting family or friends to gather for special occasions, I now became inspired to host any or all events. Infused with a sense of great excitement at the thought of our home being a place to entertain, but, on the other hand having no real skills to plan anything more than a child's birthday party, I began to research party planning. This is where I discovered the wonders of cable television.

Suddenly The Food Network, Man v Food, the Cooking Channel were my new companions. I found I was doing laundry, preparing meals, dusting, and doing dishes with the likes of Ina Garten and Bobby Flay cooking in the background. My confidence soared at the thought of bringing together family for birthday celebrations, our small circle of friends for game nights, and larger events for our church. The upshot is that as the last few years have passed, both Tim and I have come to enjoy being able to bring different groups of friends and family together for any number of reasons, or really none at all.

I have since "outgrown" the "cooking shows," and have now turned my focus on that other wonder of cable television, those programs that focus on homes, remodels and repurposing. What I have come to see as a common thread of these shows, whether it be "Property Brothers," "Love It Or List It," or "Fixer Upper," is that most people are looking for that "open concept" look and feel to their living environment. For a while I was getting so tired of hearing those two words together that I would reach for the remote to quickly change the channel. Then I began to reflect....a dangerous endeavor, I know...but there must be something about this "open concept" thing that appeals to the majority of people who are showcased on these programs.

My reflections took me back to my own feelings of bringing people together to do nothing more than share time, conversation and good times. Was this something that we all strive to have in our lives? "Yes," I thought to myself. For whatever else we are, at heart, social beings and it is important that we connect with others not only to "see and be seen," at the most basic level, but also, and what is more significant, to appreciate those around us and feel accepted, valued and validated in a world that constantly challenges the beliefs that are at the very fiber of our being.

So for what it is worth, I am going to move forward making those changes and updates to our home, knowing that, while it no longer serves the purpose of raising children, it can be repurposed to a place where people can get together, away from the hassles of our modern world, to connect with each other to find comfort, laughter, stupidity (sometimes) and a common ground not easily found in their day-to-day doings. Besides, that, Jeannine is "always down" for a party!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Yet Another Quest for Shoes

It seems that a trip to the Oregon Coast for our family would not be complete without visiting -- no --not the aquarium or the tide pools or any of the natural attractions of the area -- but the Factory Outlet Shops.

Yes, as ridiculous as it many seem, no visit to Lincoln City is complete without our throwing ourselves among the throngs of people on a search for any bargains to be had, be it clothing, jewelry, accessories, tools or kitchen gadgets. It is little wonder then, that our last excursion to Lincoln City should find us at the Tangers Factory Outlet Shops.

The weekend celebrated not only Jeannine's 20th birthday, but her grandparents wedding anniversary, and we arrived at our destination -- a place where the world's shortest river (the D River) empties into the Pacific Ocean -- and hauled our weekend supplies of food, clothing, wine (not enough) and almost all of my small appliances up two flights of stairs to our condo. Settling in Friday evening, we (Tim, his sister, Jeannine, her grandparents, and Jeannine's sister Mary and her husband) gathered for dinner and discussed plans for the weekend.

Of course Jeannine was interested in going to the outlet mall, presumably because she can talk just about any of her family into buying her something. Her aunt and sister were up for the trip, but the grandparents not so much. Tim expressed interest as he needed to replace his walking/hiking shoes and he needed to replace his worn jeans. There happen to be a few options at the mall to enhance his search: Columbia Sportswear, NorthFace and Levi all have outlets, in addition to Famous Footwear, so there was almost no end of stores to be searched.

Mary pushed for an early start because Saturdays are huge customer traffic days at the outlets. Sure enough, as we turned into the parking lot we soon found ourselves in traffic congestion. There were almost no spots to be had in the main lot, and just as Tim was ready to give up and head to the parking structure, someone happened to pull away from a prime parking space and we, with all dispatch, pounced on it.

February on the Oregon coast is not real warm, and this particular day was no exception. Those familiar with outlet shopping know that these are pretty much open-air, so that movement from store to store can be (for me) a race to get warm. Our first stop was the Columbia Sportswear huge tent, which took up a significant part of the parking lot. They were having a HUGE Presidents' Day sale and judging from the piles of coats, windbreakers, shirts and other apparel I saw walking around (you literally could not see the customer's heads above their arm load of clothing), the store was practically giving stuff away. Tim wandered around for several minutes before he decided there wasn't anything of interest for him, and we headed to our next destination: The NorthFace.

I actually had great success on a previous trip there, finding great shoes for myself and a jacket for Jeannine. Tim did, too, purchasing a jacket and some socks. This time, however, was a different story. I went immediately to the shoes, hoping to expedite Tim's decision-making by securing two or three choices. Tim, however, was side-tracked by a "great deal" on t-shirts, and had several questions for some poor employee who happened to be walking by. When he finally arrived at the shoe shelves, he spent the next 20 minutes examining each style of shoe. The upshot was that he found two worthy of consideration, but he was not going to decide until he looked at other stores. I heaved a huge sigh of frustration as we left the store.

We buzzed in to the Reebok Store and within 15 minutes he decided that, while there were one or two "definite possibilities," the shoes at NorthFace were still in contention. I began to sense that we would be at the mall for the rest of the morning and a significant portion of the afternoon.

Between there and any one of the other stores selling shoes, stood the Levi store. Another 30-40 minutes and about 10 try-ons later, Tim finally found two nice pairs of jeans. At this point we had lost all communication with Mary, Ryan, Jeannine and Tim's sister, who were on quests of their own. With shoes still to be found, we left the Levi store. We were not more than 10 steps from the store front when his cell phone went off and Tim had to address a patient problem.

Fortunately, Famous Footwear was no more than 20 feet from us and, as I had taken advantage of the time Tim spent on the phone with his patient to go in there just to keep warm, I was able to hone in on some possibilities. After 15 minutes or so, I was getting some interesting looks from the clerks because I had been there a long time without doing anything other than sitting on a stool waiting for Tim. Glancing out the store window, I noted that Tim was still on the phone; however, there was a store selling kitchen gadgets across the walkway, so I decided to see what was new, different and exciting in the realm of cookware.

Many of you who have rented vacation condos may know that most are equipped with the bare minimum of cooking utensils and supplies. While preparing dinner the night before, I became painfully aware that our unit was in dire need of bowl scrapers. Well.....gadget store to the rescue! Within three minutes I had five very colorful scrappers in five different sizes for $5!

I digress. By this time, Tim completed his call and I directed him to Famous Footwear. He readily agreed (15-20 minutes consideration) to my choices and only needed to determine which size. We searched the store for a sitting bench so he could try on the shoes, and somewhere between Men's Athletic Shoes and Women's Boots, we found a place. I won't prolong your agony: Tim found a pair that fit; the price was great, and we were soon on our way.

By this time it was nearly afternoon and, since we had made this excursion in two cars, we discovered that our cohorts decided to go back to the condo. The grandparents were looking for lunch.

So what it is worth, the outing was not the exercise in agony and frustration that tend to be the hallmarks of shopping with Tim. Its success, though, was founded on running interference between the shopper and his purchases, and I will carry this important experience into future shopping ventures.

Lessons Learned from the Queen

Like most of us in the United States, I have had little-to-no interest in the doings of the British monarch. Admitting that the Queen of England is really more of a source of frivolous entertainment is easy enough for me to do; admitting that there is anything of value to be learned from her and her life is much more difficult.

Danika is coworker who grew up in Britain, and I have had fun teasing her about the news stories we see regarding the royals, either on the Internet, or those in fluff publications like People Magazine. Apart from asking for a day off so she could watch William and Kate's wedding, she has not been what I would call a serious defender of the monarchy. When the topic of conversation turns to the latest escapade from Prince Harry or how Kate Middleton dresses her children, she has readily joined in on the ridicule, and her obvious dismissal of the Royal Family as anything other than a last remnants of a bygone era are quite well-known throughout the office. The Queen's birthday, though, spawned a program that piqued Danika's interest, and she encouraged me to view the cable program "The Queen at 90." After watching it, I have found a new appreciation for what this monarchy fuss is all about.

In previous postings, I have written about Downton Abbey, as well as the demise of civility in our modern world. Having viewed the program on the Queen, I better understand her role and her dedication to her calling. You see, it really isn't about "sitting on a throne" and having servants and lackeys at the ready to fulfill her every whim. The program provided a glimpse into what her life has been, and I learned that from her core, she is the servant, and her challenges have been many and difficult.

From her birth, she had been trained to lead her country; to take on the duties of her state in life. A serious and intelligent woman, the Queen has been on record as saying her reign would be one of devoted service to her people and her empire. I think it is important to acknowledge she does not use the word her as if it is a possession -- a toy or pet, like her beloved Corgis. No, I think that she uses the word to reinforce the idea that she is a caretaker of the people, a cultivator and perhaps a protector and promoter and preserver of what British culture is.

Her father, King George, was beloved by the British for his steady guidance through the world war -- not so much in the political realm, but by the connection to the people who listened to his radio addresses to gain comfort and strength during very uncertain times. Queen Elizabeth learned and understood this role and has had the difficult task of negotiating a changing monarchy in a world that sees the "divine right of kings" as an antiquated idea and system to be relegated to previous centuries. Yet her purpose and her work has been very real and serious.

The program followed her life through her ascension to the throne at 25 years old (and a wife and mother to small children), to her current work today. It is impressive and very humbling to note that she has given up much to fulfill the demands of her calling. I am certain that many times throughout her reign it would have been easier for her to "chuck it all" so that she and her family could enjoy a quieter life....much like how her uncle Edward who chose to abdicate his responsibilities as king rather than give up his private life. I believe it is to her credit that she stood up to the challenges of her duties as a head of state and discharged them with incredible dignity, energy and determination. The biggest take away I had from watching the program -- the thread that was woven into the heart of the program -- is that Queen Elizabeth shows a care for those she serves....and how she serves them.

All of this had me thinking about how I approach my calling -- as wife, mother, soon to be grandmother, caretaker of a child with disabilities, as well as my responsibilities with Tim's medical practice and now as a health coach. Have I really given the time and energy I should to fulfill those duties? How many times have I "chucked it all" for a momentary pleasure like a few extra minutes of sleep? How many times have I put up excuses for not taking the time to travel for the sake of my marriage or family just because I didn't want to? How often have I lost sight of goals simply because the challenge seemed too daunting? Far too many, I suppose.

So for what is is worth, I have gained a new understanding of what it means to be a monarch in the Western Civilization during the modern world. I definitely have a new-found appreciation and respect for the Queen as a person. From her I have learned that devotion and dedication to serve sometimes comes at a high price, but at the close of a day (or a lifetime) knowing that the job was done and done well, that those who have been served feel valued, is more important than what it costs me.