A Rebuilding Year

Ironic really, that I have one of  most incredible light-bulb moments of my life and it is that I should just shut up. Even more ironic is that it happens during the year that has been unofficially dubbed “the year of the woman.”

Gotta love FaceBook.  A few weeks ago it reminded me it’s been a year since I celebrated NOT getting laid off.

Well…. I guess we celebrated that milestone a few weeks too early.

I know. It’s been awhile since I have written.  I have been busy trying to figure things out. I haven’t been in a mindset to write about what’s been happening.  This year hasn’t been a bad year.  It’s actually been a pretty good year, it’s just been hard to fit all the pieces together.

In basketball, we called that rebuilding.  Our college team fortunately did not have any rebuilding years.  We were good every year. (YAY US!)  But in high school my sophomore year was a rebuilding year.  We went 1-17 (that’s 1 win and 17 losses).  I remember as a team we couldn’t figure out why we couldn’t win.  We were a pretty good team, with some pretty good players.  We just couldn’t seem to put it all together.

That was also the first year the 3-point shot was incorporated into high school ball. (I know– I’m OLD.) I scored the first 3 pointer for my high school team in my high school’s history.  My dad reminded me of that little tidbit as we were on our way to my high school’s Athletic Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony where I was being inducted along with 4 other former athletes.

2017 Old Town High School Athletic Hall of Fame
My younger brother and I. He was inducted in the 2013 class for track and is still an AMAZING athlete.

I experienced a similar highlight when my college basketball team was inducted into our college Athletic Hall of Fame a few months later.  My family and I attended that ceremony along with most of my college teammates.  That was an awesome night.  My teammates and I have remained close friends over the last 20 years but haven’t been all together for a long time.

SJC Monks Basketball Team.
1991-1992 Saint Josephs Women’s Basketball Team. I love these women! Fun fact: our plaques are made from our old gym court–“The Chamber of Horrors”

See, not a bad year.

Despite those specific positive events and many more, I still had the feeling of not being able to put it all together. I felt disjointed.  I needed to be put back together. I needed rebuilding.  It does sound cliche. I thought the whole “I am working on myself,” thing a bit stereotypical of a 40-something in a mid-life crisis brought on by a mid-life event a little dramatic. Even for dramatic me.

But life just kind of does that to you.  It teaches.  Like before I became a mom, I had opinions on all kinds of parenting.  I was the BEST kind of parent, right?  The one who had never parented?  I was the one in the restaurant who whispered to the person with me: Gee, can’t they shut that kid up? / Keep that kid still? / Teach that kid manners? 

Then I had kids and I learned I had no idea how to parent and I had no right to judge anyone EVER. Holy $h*t. Sometimes I think that’s why The Universe gifted me McKenna. (see Do I Really Have an 18 Year Old?? ) 

You want to be judgmental, Denise?  Fine, now I am going to give you a run for your judgmental a$$. All my love, The Universe

And by God, I got a run for my money.  And I learned my lesson.  I learned not to be judgmental of other parents, but I learned a billion other things in the process, including how fiercely I can love another human being.  And how proud I can be of BOTH my little  human beings.

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2017 Smith Family Christmas. I love this photo! And yes, I am even proud of my son’s middle finger.

My learning curve this time revolved around employment. Believe it or not, I questioned the judgement of those parents who chose work over family (even though I was choosing work over family (smh ), those who let their jobs define them (ahem…me), and those who became terrified of losing their new job after having once been laid off from an old job.  (I’m not there yet, but I’m terrified in other ways.)

Clearly The Universe felt I needed a wake-up call.

I have done lots of reflecting.  This go round with The Universe has taken me through every emotion you can imagine.  Here are some highlights of where I landed.

The work/life balance is real.  When I started being home 100% of the time, it REALLY highlighted my lack of balance.  I was probably at 85% work and 15% family.  I loved my job and it took over everything.  This year helped me to understand I can love a job, feel invested and make a difference, without giving my life to the job or letting it define me.

I achieved that understanding through the work I do for a local non-profit organization providing Restorative Justice Facilitation.  Restorative Justice views crime as more than breaking the law – it recognizes that the crime also causes harm to people, relationships, and the community.  A just response must address those harmed as well as the wrongdoing. (restorativejustice.org)

My role as a facilitator is to bring those parties together, discuss the harm that has been done, and how it can be repaired.  There is a lot of work that happens between the crime and the bringing together, but all of it–it is life-changing. And the circle process, the bringing together of the parties– I call it MAGIC. 

That job is only 10 or 15 hours a week, but it feeds my soul enough that I don’t need it to eat up 85% of my life.

Which is good because FULL DISCLOSURE, I work 20 hours a week at a local university.  That job doesn’t feed my soul, but it’s consistent and contributes to the bills, which is important if I want to continue to be a responsible adult. It will also help me as I continue to rebuild.  I will share more specifically about that in a future installment. 🙂

Dinner is worth the effort.  If you have read my stuff in the past you know I hate to cook.  My past life attempts at dinner were sub-standard at best.  Dinner at the Smiths consisted of pre-made or processed foods, heat-and-eat portions, lots of chicken fingers.  I just didn’t have the time or mental energy to put into cooking.

my kind of dinner
Yeah, basically what I was serving up at La Casa Smith.

When I lost my job, I didn’t have an excuse not to cook and we didn’t have the extra money to spend on pre-packaged food.  I started making REAL food.  I don’t really buy anything pre-done anymore.  Not even spaghetti sauce in a jar.  It doesn’t take that much time or effort to make it myself and it is much healthier for us.  More importantly,  I feel so much better about it.

Which feeds my soul literally AND figuratively.  It also feeds my ego because no one complains anymore.  They just eat.

And while I recognize the topic of dinner may seem redundant to you as, YES, I KNOW  I have discussed it before.  **Spoiler alert – it will come up again.**

Sharing is not always caring. For some people that might be an obvious sentence.  I am not some people.  I have always been the type who puts everything out there–thoughts, feelings, trust…100%, all of me, every bit of me, all the time.  Loyal followers and close friends know that is likely TOO MUCH of me, TOO MUCH of the time.  I always believed being truly authentic meant putting it all out there.

I have changed a lot over the last 10 years. I evolved from a mouthy, immature and emotional employee to a mature, focused, and educated supervising professional.  Where I didn’t hold back was in discussions with “trusted” colleagues, if someone asked my personal opinion, or if I was venting in what I thought was a safe space. I am a venter.

What I learned from the last 3 years and what came to head in the last year, is that sometimes being true to myself might be staying quiet.  Not everyone is looking out for my best interest and sometimes what I share can hurt me.

I realized that sometimes it’s more important to be strategic in a conversation than it is to be right. Or honest.  Which goes against everything I am.  Which creates the kind of communicator who cannot communicate… who umms and ahhhs and studders. Who can’t find the right words to say whatever the HELL  she is trying to say….But hopefully I will get better at it as I practice.

Ironic really, that I have one of  most incredible light-bulb moments of my life and it is that I should just shut up. HA! Even more ironic is that it happens during the year that has been unofficially dubbed “the year of the woman.” hahaha, Right?!

Oh well, I still get the last laugh because what all of this boils down to, the ultimate lesson, is it really is All About Me.  Ahhh, I love saying that.

I’m just going to leave it there for now, but don’t worry, I’m TOTALLY going to expand on the ME stuff.  Are you kidding?

Until next time…

We are Not Alone

But I do hope there are a few who find inspiration in my authenticity, connection in my vulnerability,  and value in my narrative, for this is how we, as humans, understand each other. This is how we, as humans, recognize that we are not alone.

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For as long as I can remember, I have loved to read.  When I was a kid and would spend weekends at my grandmothers, my cousins would give me a hard time for having my nose stuck in a book.

“You’re such a bookworm,” they would razz.

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Remember Sweet Valley High? I read a few…

It’s true.   I can’t stay awake long enough to read an ACTUAL book these days, though.  Instead I listen to audio books I borrow from the library.  I have listened to hundreds of them.  Audio books are an even better choice for  me since they feed my need to multi-task.  I can listen and drive, listen and fold laundry, listen and paint…It is so satisfying to do something you love while you do something you hate–listen and clean, for example.

I  also really like quotes.  Inspirational quotes or funny quotes, sports quotes…it doesn’t matter.  There  is always a quote out there that communicates whatever message I want to send.  I used quotes to send messages of inspiration when I worked with students in my old job.  I had a student who was in jail at one point and that was our thing; I sent him a special quote, one I thought he would identify with and encourage him to hang in there.

Also at my old job,  I would get a quote a day from this website called Values.com.  If I got a quote I particularly liked, I sent it out to the rest of the colleagues in our department.  You know, I thought it was a nice thing to share.  One day my supervisor was like, “So what’s up with the quotes anyway?  Who do you think we are, Hallmark?”

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One of my favorite quotes by Nelson Mandela

I stopped forwarding them after that.  Clearly, he didn’t appreciate my inspiration.  Ha!

When my goal of being a teacher crashed and burned–that was during my senior year of college  (a  story for a later blog) I got to experience a fifth year of college.  I’m sure many of you can relate to the 5 year plan, right?

For me,  a 5th year of school was one of the best things that ever happened.   I played another year of basketball, I met my husband, and I enrolled in a bunch of writing classes.

I wasn’t interested in writing, but my  life had just blown up.  The only career choice I had ever known was off the table.  And I was an English major!  The only classes  left in my major were writing or communications classes.  So writing it was.

I also spent extra time in class with my basketball teammate and now world-famous, Andrea Gibson.  If you don’t know who she is, you should google her.  She was awesome in college and I am glad the world knows her now, too.  Granted, we had no idea she was such a talented writer and performer, but we were not surprised to learn of it.  She is pretty awesome.

The discovery that I actually enjoyed writing  wasn’t a HUGE  surprise either.  College was the gift that kept on giving.  I was finding out more and more about myself and I just added writing to the list.

So far, I discovered that on the court I could, in fact, play defense in addition to shooting a helluva 3-point shot.   I sucked at teaching. Not really, but you know, long story.   I was really an extrovert (who knew?!).  Boys kinda dug me, in fact there was even this one boy who really, REALLY dug me (except he was shorter than me), I was going to have student loans for the rest of my life, and I STILL had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up.

But hey, at least I could write.  *sigh*

Well, flash forward 20 years later and here I am,  married to that short boy with 2 kids,  both of whom, at 12 and 18 are taller than he, a topic which is also a fun discussion in our home.

That short boy (he will love reading about himself being called this) also led me to something else I love: My Etsy Shop.

My Etsy shop is something I have grown to love more than I could ever begin to write about.  Maybe that’s because Andrea and I skipped the class that focused on emotional descriptors.  Or, more likely it’s because the description has become way more than words can describe.   Andrea and I only skipped one class and we got in trouble for it. The nuns at my college did not appreciate skippers.  Especially skippers who were on the basketball team.  Welp.

I have told this story before, but pre-Etsy life, Corey (that’s my husband’s actual NAME), was working at the one casino we have in our community.  He  worked there for a number of years. He had been promoted several times, was making decent money, and earned himself decent bonus checks each year.

The money was nice, but the bonus checks, ROCKED.  We used those for our extras.  Paid off a car, went on vacation, remodeled our house… But Corey hated the job.  It was really stressful.  He worked long days.  He was on-call when he wasn’t working.  He worked weekends and holidays–holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.  He put on a lot of weight because he would stress eat.  He wasn’t healthy.  He wasn’t happy.

I encouraged him to look for another job, but he was reluctant because the pay and the benefits were so good.  He was the provider, after all.

Finally push came to shove and Corey had a choice.  The casino was downsizing.  He could take another position or he could be laid off.

He chose to be done.  It was the best choice.  But that left us a little out of control.  And that’s not good for me.  I like to fix, remember?   I’m a fixer.  I am the Olivia Pope of the Smith family.

Side note:  Except I am not this season’s Olivia Pope.  I am not Command.  I wear and will always wear the white hat.

My fixing brought me to Etsy.  I had done a little research.  Quotes and words on signs was just becoming big; there wasn’t much of it being done by hand.  I had done a little painting here and there.  I had nice hand writing.  I figured, what the hell?

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One of the first 8 paintings I put up on Etsy. No one ever bought it. Hahaha

And I launched WorDSMITHstudios.

The first paintings I did were horrible.   I look back at them now and I can’t even believe it.  I think Corey was thinking I was a little crazy, too.  Crazy like, whothehellisgoingtobuythatshit, crazy.   Even still, I sold my first painting the very first day I went live.  And I have been painting ever since.

The biggest surprise, and I continue to be surprised, is that I expected Etsy sales to be a transaction on a website, a sale between 2 people who never meet, talk, or interact. However, it has been so much more than that. 

Etsy is about relationships.  It has been about sharing stories about loved ones or about love lost.  It has been about connecting over children and the challenges we have in raising them, about being moms and feeling guilty when we work, or when we don’t.

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Some of the work I am doing now. MUCH better.

Etsy has been about supporting each other in our craft, looking out for each other and the work we do to create  a community of talent and sharing it with others across the world.

I am not going to get rich off my art.  That’s ok.  But I will be rich in my soul from the tremendous amount of fulfillment the love of this craft brings me.

It’s the same kind of fulfillment writing this blog brings me.  I won’t be a famous writer.  Thousands of people won’t read my thoughts.  I certainly won’t be going on tour with Andrea any time soon, sharing her stage with my spoken word.  But I do hope there are a few who find inspiration in my authenticity, connection in my vulnerability,  and value in my narrative, for this is how we, as humans, understand each other.

This is how we, as humans,  recognize that we are not alone.

This is how we create relationships and relationships are where we find meaning in our lives.  It’s where we find love, happiness,and hope.

Because life is about relationships.

Did You Even Know? It’s a Crisis!!

I left that day and thought, “my GOD.  This cannot be over.  We are on the brink of so much greatness. This cannot be the end of my story here.” Until it was.

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Friends, I have been struggling with  this blog post!  I try to post something once a week.  I would love to do it more, but I just can’t pump stuff out that often and still maintain the rest of my life, which believe it or not, is incredibly busy for someone who is technically not working a full-time job.

Corey calls it the Type A personality in me.  “Denise, you have already gotten yourself into Type A mode again.  You’ve stressed yourself all out and this time, you’ve done it TO YOURSELF.”

True story.

Be that as it may, I have been working extra long on this post.  When I made Corey read it the first time, it was 2500+ words.  Most of my  posts are around 1000-1,500 and many out there are less.  When he finished reading he looked like I had smacked him around a little.  His eyes were all glassy and he was blinking a lot.

“Wow,” he said.  “I might need a little time to absorb this before I can comment on it.  I’m a little overwhelmed.”

Welllll…  Major changes and here we are.  I’ll get right to the point.

Maine, what is happening to us?  Here are some facts about Maine I bet many of you didn’t even know.  If you were aware already, you probably didn’t think much about it.  I know, I am making some assumptions, but frankly, I wouldn’t have thought much about it if I hadn’t been in workforce development for the last 15 years.

The Numbers

 Maine is in crisis.    We are the oldest state in the nation and more people are dying than being born.  So many people are dying that the birth rate can’t keep up with the death rate.  The baby boomers  are nearing retirement age, so we have more older workers in the workforce. As the baby boomers retire, employers can’t find  employees to fill their jobs.  We have MANY great colleges and universities in our state, but those graduates are leaving the state upon graduation.   They are heading out of Maine to pursue what they think are better jobs for better pay.

And they might be right.

Why would new businesses come to Maine without employees to fill their jobs?  Why would a business STAY in Maine without employees to hire?

We need to talk about it because Maine is such a great place to live and raise  a family. I am not alone when I say I believe in our communities and I care about our state.  There is unlimited potential we have yet to tap, potential living within the nooks and crannies of our mountains, along our rivers,  in the valleys, via the highways and byways that make up this state.

Here’s part of the problem and what prompted this post.  The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Grant.  It is a $9 million, federal, job training grant.

WIOA focuses on disadvantaged populations and dislocated workers seeking education, training, or employment.  It can fill in a lot of gaps for people that financial aid or other grants can’t always provide.  There are support services for childcare or transportation.  It pays for books.  It can also pay for adult ed courses like C.N.A or welding.  Classes that can help those who need a boost or aren’t ready to commit to college.  WIOA is the funding that pays for re-training for  dislocated workers; many of the laid off paper mill workers benefited from WIOA training funds.

There is a lot to the grant.   I don’t need to bog you down here (remember 2,500 words? ) If you want to learn more, you can google it.  I will also put a link at the bottom of this post.

I worked under the youth component of WIOA and focused on youth ages 16-24.  Anyone who knows me knows I loved my job, my team, those with whom I worked.  I did damn good work and was recognized for the various contributions I made locally, regionally, and even nationally.

Our organization did great work under that grant.   Everyone I worked with LOVED what they did.  They worked incredibly hard to serve a challenging population and busted ass to do it.

The problems arose when Governor LePage wanted control of that grant, then refused to disburse the funds.  It is why many people who worked under WIOA were laid off, both at my organization and throughout the state.  LePage was later ordered to release the funding and the service providers are now in the process of rebuilding their programs.

My initial draft of this post tried to explain the account in detail; it’s what made it so long.  The moral of the story is Governor LePage has no right to control the WIOA funding because it is a federal grant.  He was ordered to disperse the funds because holding them was illegal.

Why is WIOA and Maine’s employment crisis linked?

The goals of the WIOA grant line up quite nicely with the needs of our state: Work with employers to understand the job market.  Get people trained or get them  credentials that employers say they need. Get people hired.   Make sure they are hired at a livable wage.  Make sure they stay working.

Our  job was to work with individuals, assess their needs, remove their barriers, and  find them viable employment.

ULTIMATELY: Move disadvantaged populations off of state systems.  You know, like welfare?

Anyway,  last Monday I read in the newspaper that Governor LePage is  targeting WIOA funding again.

I get so fired up every time I think about it…About the time  we spent prior to being laid off, working to PROVE our worth to someone who, as our “leader,” should already know what we, as WIOA providers, were doing to work with employers, industry, and individuals.  In some cases, we were doing ground-breaking work.

Yet, he didn’t care.  Instead,  we wasted capacity to run reports and provide the same data over and over.  Internally, we analyzed data, asked questions, reviewed information, double checked files.

I remember our organization hosted this really great economic development conference with fabulous national speakers and great breakout sessions.  It was really well attended and just so freakin’ awesome!  I left that day and thought, “my GOD.  This cannot be over.  We are on the brink of so much greatness. This cannot be the end of my story here.”

Until it was.

Shame on you, Governor LePage

We just can’t lose sight of the most important aspect of our state: the people.  We can’t lose sight of what has made Maine  so great.

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Is it really?

Having worked with youth for so many years, I am also empowered by the amazing voices young people have raised over the issue of gun violence in the schools.  The march in D.C. and across the U.S should be a wake up call and a reminder that

OUR YOUTH ARE OUR FUTURE.

We cannot afford to let one single youth slip through the cracks of the system.  WIOA is a bridge and a lifeboat for many of those youth.

We need to do everything we can to empower  individuals to develop educational awareness, to learn to navigate systems, and to engage in their communities to become leaders and champions of their own lives and their own futures.

We need to train Mainers.  We need to re-train them.  We need to educate them.  We need to EMPLOY them and keep them employed.  We need to keep them in Maine.  We need to bring people TO Maine to stay.

We need to be helping people reach their potential.  We need to do the right thing.   Perhaps doing the right thing is holding our leaders accountable.  Perhaps it is holding our friends accountable.  Maybe it is listening to our subordinates.  Listening to our co-workers.   Maybe it is just working to keep our kids in Maine.  Or maybe it is organizing a million person march across the state or across the nation.  I don’t know what your right thing is…  But we all need to figure out how to make our contribution because our state, and so many other things,  is spiraling.  And that might sound a little melodramatic, but let it be so.

It is my story after all.

……………………………………………………………………………………….

For  statistics and percentages that back up my facts or for more info about  state, visit these websites:

www.maine.gov/labor/cwri       www.northeasternwdb.org

For the articles I refer to about Governor LePage and the job training funds, please go to:    bangordailynews.com

For information about WIOA, check out:http://www.doleta.gov/wioa/

You Love Winter? I Call Bulls#&t.

Sure, sledding is fun.  I used to have fun sledding, too.  But I also remember being cold and wet and peeing my pants.

wordsmithstudios.orgWell, we just endured another Nor’ester in Maine.  This one, THE worst of the season,  came on the heels of last week’s “worst of the season.”  I have been  thinking  about how much I hate winter.  I especially hate it this time of year, when we have already had our fill of Nor’easters and are just ready to put our feet on some soft green grass, look up at clear blue sky, and hear the birds sing.

Then out of nowhere, I  heard someone say, “I loooovvve winter!” in my head.  I jumped and looked around because I don’t even know who said it!  It just trilled in my head and knocked around a little, you know, like the ball in a pinball machine?  Maybe it was Big Mouth Denise  trying to antagonize me or maybe it was some ghost from the past, but it freaked me out.  Because seriously,

who the hell in their right mind loves winter?

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My front yard after the storm. Yeah, it’s pretty.

I mean, I get that it can be pretty when the snow  comes down and if you are a skier or snowmobiler you get to do those things, but come on, really?  When push comes to shove, do you like winter or are you just making the best of a shitty situation?

Here are a few things I’d like  to remind you of:

  1. Shoveling & snow-blowing. Ok, pretty obvious, we know they suck. If you have to shovel more than a few feet of heavy snow, your back feels it pretty quickly no matter who you are or what your age.

And listen, I call bullshit to those of you out there who say they PREFER snowblowing to plowing.  I understand paying someone to plow can be expensive and purchasing said plow can be an upfront expense many can’t afford.  Hell, I couldn’t afford it.  My Dad bought the plow we have.  He bought the plow and then promptly bought himself a winter home in Florida.

Now as I write this, I even wonder if that plow purchase was a pity purchase?  “Sorry, kid.  I’m going to Florida, but here, I got you your very own plow!  Enjoy!”  Or perhaps it was purchased out of guilt.  “Hey so, we just bought this great place in Florida.  But don’t worry, your Old Man didn’t leave you with nothing.  I got YOU a PLOW!”

In any case, we have it and we appreciate it every time my daughter tells us to get our asses out there and get to plowing. <insert rolling eye emoji>

Anyway,  snow-blowing is not fun.  It’s cold and wet.  And it takes FOREVER.  I don’t care how bad your OCD is, perfectly snow-blown  driveways  or walkways are not worth frozen toes. And if someone were to offer up a warm plow-truck, hot coffee, and sports talk on the radio like my dad did, I find it hard to believe none of you yahoos would accept it.

2. Snow down your boot, back, mitten, neck, pants.  I cringe and get goose bumps even now as I think about it.  It never matters how high my boots are, every time I walk out to my car, snow gets in my boots.  I could wear waders and I would get snow in my boots!

But here’s the thing, in the summer if you stand under the sprinkler or someone douses you with water– THAT  doesn’t feel like you were just stabbed in the foot with 1,000 tiny needles!

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credit: word porn

3. Snow flying off someone else’s car and onto your windshield.  I had a friend who actually caught a full windshield of ice from the car in front of him.  It busted his windshield all up.  He wasn’t hurt, fortunately.

Sunshine doesn’t fly off the car in front of you and bust up your windshield.  Enough said.

4. Heating your house, well, unless money grows on trees for you. This is a real issue for us, Mainers.  Where I live the option is oil or electricity.  My parents did just get one of those fancy heat pumps and that seems to be working well for the small apartment they don’t use in the winter.  (Florida, remember?) And of course, there are the alternative forms of energy like solar or wind.

Like I said, reality in my neck of the woods is oil.  My house is pretty new,  making it relatively energy efficient.  It would be even more energy efficient if my husband would just listen to me already and do some simple winterizing in the fall.  Or even in the winter for that matter. (I can’t do everything, ok?). But it still takes a good chunk to heat this place. And I try to keep the thermostat at 69 or 70. Still, my daughter is always complaining she is cold.

The shorts and t-shirt probably don’t help.

What double sucks is our driveway is right in front of where the oil intake is.  So every time there is a snowstorm and we plow,   we (my husband) also have to shovel a path through that gigantic snow pile for the oil guy.

Winter sucks.

5. Raking the roof.  We have a porch on the front of our house.  I love it.  It’s charming and cute and nice to sit and rock on in the summer.  Ya know, when it’s warm?  In the winter, it’s a snow collector.  After a snow storm like the one we just experienced, it holds 2+ feet of snow up there.  My son, whose room overlooks that porch, can’t see out his window.  That porch, which my son views as an escape route in an emergency, becomes a source of fear because if anything happens, he AIN’T getting out.

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Snow pile in front of my house with      snow on the porch roof

So we have to rake the roof.  Well of course, we don’t have a roof rake. (That’s how we roll at the Smiths.)  One day I called every hardware store and big box store in a 25 mile radius looking for a roof rake and EVERY SINGLE ONE was sold out.  So I did what I should have done in the first place:  I called my Aunt Bev.

“Of course I have a roof rake,” she said.  Of course she has a roof rake, I said.  DUH.  So I picked it up and promptly spent the next  3 torturous hours pulling and yanking heavy, wet snow from our porch roof, only to have the weather turn warm the next day.

Literally, it was 45 degrees and everything melted.

F’n Maine winters. It’s like Mother Nature just rubbing her power in your face.

I mean, I see all your sledding photos on Facebook with your smiles and happy faces.  Sure, sledding is fun.  I used to have fun sledding, too.  But I also remember being cold and wet and peeing my pants. Yeah, I peed my pants!  I would get to laughing so hard that whoops there it is pee in my pants.  It’s a thing.  Maybe I will write more about it someday, but all you need to know now is that no, I’ve never gotten over it.  Maybe I am a little bitter.  But it definitely isn’t influencing my feelings about winter.

So there.  I listed 5 reasons that winter sucks.  Perhaps I listed 5 of the most obvious reasons.  You could say, “Yeah, Denise, when you say it like that, winter sounds so bad. But you did list like 5 of the WORST things.”  (Spoken in that kind of nasally, whiny voice some people use when they want to argue but they really know they have LOST the argument.) 

Not true my friends.  I left a lot out.  I mean, I could have written about dry skin, chapped lips, getting stuck (that’s a big one), falling on the ice, potholes, slippery roads, ridiculous commutes, dirty cars, dirty snow, iced up windshield wipers…

Do I really need to go on?  I mean, didn’t I have you at bulls%@t?

I Still Shower.

Corey says I laugh more. Even though I  shower less.  A lot less. 

wordsmithstudios, Chronicles of the Dangerously OptimisticReinvention.  I like the spin that word puts on where I am right now, but I am not sure it really describes my path.  Someone else talked about finding my identity and that could be a little closer to how I feel.

I ruptured my achilles tendon a little over 10 years ago.  I have told the story often because it demonstrates my personality and also *could* be an example for karma, if you believe in such things.

I do.

I was working at our local Job Corps Center  as a career counselor at the time.  I really loved my job there.  Talk about great kids who just needed someone to connect to–I am still connected to some of those great kids, actually.  They aren’t kids anymore.  They have grown up to be wonderful and amazing adults.  That  job was another job I thought I would never leave…haha…it’s always funny where life takes you.

Back when I worked at Job Corps, the population was pretty diverse in relation to where I grew up.   I grew up in a hard working middle class family in rural Maine.  My high school had ONE African American student.  Job Corps had all races and socio-economic classes represented.  There was white middle class America, but there was a lot of representation from rural Maine-specifically poor, rural Maine.  It wasn’t unusual for students to lack running water where they lived or to come from limited access to consistent heat in the winter.

In opposition to that were the students from the cities.  I had students on my caseload from Bridgeport, CT.  New Jersey, Puerto Rico.  Students who were legit members of gangs.  One of my all-time favorite students was a member of the Latin Kings.  Well, technically he was a former member because you can’t be affiliated with a gang and be enrolled in the Job Corps program.  The story was, he had a young daughter who because of his gang status, had literally  been born into the gang.  He had come to Job Corps to get away from all that.

Imagine ME the most naive person on the planet trying  to connect with and gain the trust of ANY of these populations.  Especially those who hail from outside of Maine.

And those were just the surface level demographics.  Of course there is way more to a person than where he/she lives.

I did the only thing I knew I could do I embraced my naivety.  I asked a billion questions and believed everything those kids said.   I supported them and tried to help them create a career plan that worked AND…

I talked smack.

The center had a mostly male population, so that’s what they were doing to each other.  I razzed the SHIT out of them.  In a good way.  I told them about my basketball career.  Talked up  my time in college.   It got them to open up a little.  We talked smack to each other. We connected.  It was fun and we laughed.  Then when they let their guard down,  I would hit them with the hard questions.  (wahahaha- that’s my evil man laugh)

Then in 2007, someone planned a staff/student basketball game.

Then Big Mouth Denise took over and she couldn’t stop.  I talked more smack leading up to that game!  And I had no right to talk so much smack.  I had nothing on these kids.  They were teenagers and had been playing street ball since they were toddlers.  But I just kept talking!  I was gonna shoot the lights out because I was a kick-ass 3 point shooter.

They were probably annoyed.  I didn’t care.  It was really fun.

When the game started, I ran down the court maybe 2 times before I experienced what felt like a hard kick to the back of  my calf.  My friend/co-worker/teammate, Blaine was right behind me.

Friends, I remembered this vividly.  I looked right at him and asked incredulously, “Why the hell did you kick me?”   I don’t remember exactly what he said, but he probably said something like,  “Woman, what are you talking about? I didn’t kick you!”

I limped to the bench and kept trying to stretch out what felt like a charlie horse in my calf muscle.  Every time I tried to get up to go back in, it would seize up and I wouldn’t be able to run.

Karma.

I blocked out the results of the game, but I’m sure we lost because I couldn’t play. 😉

I walked around for a week on that leg.  It wasn’t until I realized I couldn’t point my toe that I grasped the significance of the situation.  I googled it and, yup,  I had the symptoms of a ruptured Achilles.  Right down to the feeling of being kicked.  Go figure.

Because I waited so long to go to the doc, my tendon had creeped up inside my leg.  I had emergency surgery and  had to wear a cast from my hip to my toes for about 6 weeks.  Then I had a boot and crutches.  I had months of physical therapy.  I couldn’t work for 3 months.

wordsmithstudios, Chronicles of the dangerously optimistic
Kids sleeping on me when I had my cast on my leg

That time was really hard; I did experience a loss of purpose.  I couldn’t do anything.  I had a 2 year old and a 7 year old at the time, neither of which I could really care for.  It was winter and the doctor didn’t really want me to go out for fear that I would slip and put pressure on my leg.

I remember feeling sad and depressed and I remember my friends being worried for me.  I didn’t recognize it at the time, but looked back and articulated it as that loss of purpose.  The loss of contact with the world and what I felt happy doing. I wasn’t getting the ongoing give and take from the students that I was accustomed to or the social interaction I needed from the adults in my life.

Not only that, but I felt like I was failing those I had worked so hard to create relationships.  I wasn’t there to intervene or help when they were having moments of crisis.  I was finding out about students being terminated and sent home.  That favorite Latin King I told you about?  He had caused a pretty big incident on center that involved the police.  I was sick that maybe if I had been at work I could have done something to prevent incidents like that.

Nothing seemed to be going my way.  My smack talking couldn’t have brought on that much negative Karma, could it?

Those were the feelings I described to people when I told that story.  You know, back when I had The Universe by the balls?  That’s why I told the story.  I thought I was relating to people  who couldn’t work or couldn’t find a job or who changed jobs.  And in my defense, it’s all I knew.  I was being authentic and I wasn’t being patronizing intentionally.  However, I was being patronizing.

Sorry about that.

Flash back to 2018, present day.  I still see many of the people I used to work with before I was laid off.  Quite often they ask me where I am working now.   The question is usually  light-hearted, upbeat, positive.  The relationships I created in that job are strong and people feel comfortable asking.  When I say, “I’m doing some part time work, but I’m mostly I’m home.  I’m really good though.”

The person often seems embarrassed for asking.  I don’t understand.  So then I feel embarrassed for saying , which then makes me feel like I have to make them feel better.  You know, FIX IT?

“It’s ok.” I usually say.  “I am right where I am supposed to be. I’m good.”

“Oh…well, that’s good to hear.  Good for you.”

*Awkward silence.*

I am good.   I don’t feel depressed or angry or confused.  I feel supported.  I go back and forth about whether I have lost my sense of purpose or not.  Perhaps I don’t want to admit it.  I do know I don’t feel like I am making a difference.  I feel like I should be doing something bigger.  I feel like I need a ripple. And there is guilt in that.

Guilt between making a difference and making money.  Both are important in different ways and both create fear in different ways.

But Corey says I laugh more.

Even though I  shower less.  A lot less.

I Used to Be Somebody

I used to be somebody.   I was challenging people as if I had everything together and knew it all, had it all, had The Universe by the balls. What do I do now that I am a nobody?

wordsmithstudios
I used to be somebody

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

When I was working it was a question I asked of  the young people who sat across from me.  These young, insecure, anxious kids were afraid–afraid of failing and afraid of succeeding.  Often I would challenge them with what seemed to me like a simple task, perhaps it was to make a phone call or to arrive to class or work on time or to ask a question during a meeting.

I would say, “Why don’t you ask that question at your next meeting?” or “Why don’t you call your caseworker/RA/supervisor/landlord and ask?” So often the answer would be:

“I can’t.”

What would you do if you knew you could not fail? 

I have challenged my son the same way, though probably not with the exact same question.   He is is smarter than both my husband and I and very outgoing and articulate.

Frankly, being smarter than me isn’t a huge accomplishment, but my husband, HE is pretty smart.  He won’t admit it, but he kinda has a photographic memory.  I say ‘kinda’ because he often forgets when I ask him to do something, like pick up the shit he leaves laying around or that yesterday I told him why I had to leave early today.  But he remembers almost everything he Googles and reads on Facebook.  And judging by the time he spends on both of those, he has A LOT of stuff stored up in that absorbent, photographic brain of his.

Corey’s excuse about not picking up his mess or remembering my schedule is that I never told him in the first place.  That’s stupid and totally his way of messing with me– if I am questioning myself, I can’t blame him.  (Smart, right??)

Did I really forget to tell him to pick up his crap or did I just say it in my head??  Well…who cares!?  He is a grown man;  he should know better.  That’s my go-to argument anyway.  All the while I am questioning myself in my head because I do have a memory problem and forget just about everything I don’t write down on my hand.

Anyway, Kobe is really smart.  The kid loves documentaries and has watched everything he can on Netflix.  So between that, YouTube, and his iPhone, he has harnessed the internet to educate himself and man, he just KNOWS things.  I shake my head in amazement everyday.

He is also incredibly articulate.

Me as keynote speaker during a local chamber awards dinner

And he does really great in school except for one subject: writing.  There is a reason for this, but it’s a long story and doesn’t really matter.  What matters is he hates his class and doesn’t like to ask for help.  The teacher will specifically ask the students if anyone needs help and he won’t ask for help.  If I ask him why,  he just says,

“I can’t.”

*sigh.*

wordsmithstudios; I used to be somebody
When I was in NYC to present at the Federal Reserve

“I can’t,” is so hard for me to hear.  I’m a fixer.  If there is an issue, I hate not being able to FIX IT.   If a challenge comes up in conversation, ANY conversation, I immediately shift  into fix it mode.  My friends will want to vent to me and will have to preface the venting session  with, “Denise, I don’t want you to fix it.  I just want to vent.”  Because they know.  They know for me, it hurts to not SOLVE THE PROBLEM…to take action… to just fix it.

And so here I am, 45 and 3 months into unemployment.  In so many ways I am at peace.  I feel settled at home and continue to enjoy creating a relatively stress free home for my family.   When my husband leaves for work, he even asks what we are having for dinner.  Because he is excited about eating what I make.

Like, when has that ever happened in my 20 years of marriage?

(The answer to that is NEVER, friends.  It has never happened.)

Well, I recently listened to Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert.  I am an audio book listener.  I can’t read anymore.  I just fall asleep.  But I can listen to audio books while I am painting or cleaning or cooking or driving.  So I have listened to a bazillion books.  I LOVE Elizabeth Gilbert.  I loved Eat, Pray, Love.   I connected with that book so deeply. I read it maybe 3 times.  I felt she was literally speaking to me when she wrote it.  I loved her take on spirituality, on God, on life.  I feel like we are friends.

In Big Magic, Liz also asks the question.  She asked me, “Denise, what would you do if you knew you could not fail?  Would you trust yourself, your talents, your work?  Would you put yourself out there and trust that The Universe will provide for you?”

I cried.  I have been busting my ass writing a blog barely anyone reads, marketing mediocre talent in an Etsy shop with mediocre sales.  I just started a PoshMark closet .  I work 10 hours a week for a non-profit that helps juveniles stay out of the justice system.  The most positive feedback I get in a day is that my dinner tasted good.

I used to be somebody.

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

I think that’s what hit me the hardest.  I was asking that question to others and I was asking it while on some pedestal in a holier than thou spot in The Universe believing I was all that and a bag of chips.   Challenging people as if I had everything together and knew it all, had it all, had The Universe by the balls.

Because I was somebody.

What do I do now that I am a nobody?

And I Rise Above

Because I am a fighter.  I am a dreamer.  I am Dangerously Optimistic.  And I rise above.  

Above
I was having a bad day yesterday.

I  pride myself on my optimism.  I named my blog Chronicles of the Dangerously Optimistic, didn’t I? I mean, I am truly a glass half filled kind of gal.  I always see the good. I have gotten into trouble many times because I have failed to see the bad.  But yesterday, yesterday I was really feeling shitty. And it obviously showed in my blog post.

I am actually a little embarrassed.

Yesterday I wrote about my ReStart.  Lost my job; blessing in disguise.  You know the story.  The details were just intimate to me.  I wrote about my opportunities.  Annnnnd the challenges.  Because now it’s 2 months in and things are getting harder.  So I wrote about ReTiring from this. Stopping this…

Giving up.

I basically whined. I apologize to the people to read that post.

But I also truly feel like things happen for a reason.   The Universe, it does it’s thing.  So when I saw the word of the day today was “Above,”  I figured The Universe was giving me my chance for ReDemption.

 

Yesterday, I was ready to give up on blogging.  I was ready to give up on my goal to cultivate my Etsy business.  Yesterday, I was ready to cut bait and run as they say.

Artwork from my Etsy shop WorDSMITHstudios on Etsy.com

I think that’s what they say…

But I am not giving up.  Hell no.  I am just going to work harder.

Because I am a fighter.  I am a dreamer.  I am Dangerously Optimistic.

And I rise above.

ReStart

That’s kind of what my life is right now. A restart. I am about 8 weeks into life without a job.

RestartThat’s kind of what my life is right now. A restart. I am about 8 weeks into life without a job.

So, I am going to assume, reader, that you haven’t read any of my posts before today.  Not many have, you see.  And that’s ok.  Because part of why I write is for  me.

I will fill you in.  I was laid off from my awesome non-profit gig managing a program that served underprivileged youth.   I did that job for almost 10 years.  I really liked it and those I worked with, but it was demanding and the environment was sometimes hostile.

The work, the program, my team and the participants of the program made what I did worth all the demands of the job and the hostility of the environment.

However, my family often took a backseat.   So when I was abruptly laid-off, my family saw it as a good thing.  They were tired of of being in the backseat.

I think the The Universe decided to step in for all of us.  It pulled me from my vortex of running  and RAGING and just decided to

STOP

everything for me to take a breath.  So I could

ReSTART.

And surprisingly, unemployment has been going great. I am being a mother.  I am being a wife. My family comes first.  I haven’t been late for almost every appointment because I was rushing from the office.  I have cooked meals that don’t come out of the microwave–I actually cut up vegetables.  My family wants to eat what I cook.

My family is happy and even more surprisingly, I am happy, too. I like being a mother and a wife.  I think everyone was a little nervous at first, including me.  They were afraid I would get bored.

But I am not. Because I am getting my ReStart.

I am pursuing my love of writing and creating art.

I have an Etsy shop.  I started in 2013 and it has been a hobby for me for the last 5 years.  This restart became an opportunity.  An opportunity I embraced with both arms.

Well, I have created all of my social media accounts.  I am pinning on Pinterest like a mad woman.  I am blogging every week.

Painting.  Writing.  Restarting.

And things seem to be moving!  My Instagram followers have doubled.  My presence  and impressions on Pinterest continue to increase.   My stats and views on Etsy keep growing as I add pieces.  1000 people read my first blog post.

And 50 read my second.  WAHHHHH.

And no one is buying.  I haven’t had an Etsy sale in over a month.

And now the mortgage is due and the cell phone bill is due and the credit card bill is due and I am beginning to wonder if this whole restart thing was a good idea after all.

Now I just feel fear.  Now I am beginning to see my restart as more like  restrain.  Repress.  Reduce.

RETIRE.

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We’ll need an arsenal if there is a zombie apocalypse.

America, gun violence is a thing.  Having too many guns IS A THING.  And America is known for it. Guns cannot be more important than human beings. Life is about relationships. Let’s start creating some.

Dear America,

I don’t know what’s happened to you. I watch the news and I see chaos.  I watch CNN and see clips of protests—protests I am used to watching happen in other countries—I read my Facebook feed and read friendships and families divided.  People are being deported, politicians can’t do their jobs, women are outing their harassers after (sometimes) YEARS of inexcusable behavior.  And our kids are afraid to go to school because they might get shot down as they learn their ABC’s or algebra.

Admittedly, America looks and feels a lot messier than we want it to, but I am thankful we still live in a free country.  It is nice to know that unless I am on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, just broke out of jail,  am criminally connected to the mafia or in some other gang related occupation, it’s unlikely I will ever NEED an assault rifle of any kind.

My son and I talk about that sometimes—how lucky we are.  We could have been born in a country at war like Afghanistan or Syria.  We could have been born into a country where we have NO rights like North Korea or even somewhere in Latin America where people just get murdered all the time (Wikipedia has the stats if you want to fact check). Those are places we would need an assault rifle. Multiple assault rifles and an arsenal of guns in our basement or better yet in the coat closet by the front door.  If we even had a door.  That would be a luxury too probably.   In one of those countries, we would be fighting for our family’s survival every day.

Oh, and we would need an arsenal if there were a zombie apocalypse.  I’m sure that is an argument someone will make.  Fortunately, it is still general consensus that the zombie apocalypse is not real despite how awesome the tv show is.

I know what I have described is mostly just reasonable thought and lacks statistics, so here is a short video my husband found on Facebook.  He spends a lot of time there watching cat videos since he is getting tired of the crazy shit going on in the news.  I encourage everyone, whatever you believe, to watch it BEFORE you revert to your standard go-to opinion on the gun debate.

https://www.facebook.com/Vox/videos/841874856000118/

Finished? If you are, and I hope you really did watch,  because you saw that yeah America, gun violence is a thing.  Having too many guns IS A THING.  And America is known for it.

And before you revert back to that go-to argument, America, think about how you would feel if it were YOUR son, daughter, wife, husband, loved one who was a victim of the violence?  Would you still say guns don’t kill people?  Would you still say we don’t need to change our situation?  Would you REALLY?

What are we going to do?

Desensitization is also a thing.  I dare say I speak for many Americans when I say I feel like I/we have become a bit desensitized to violence or to situations that don’t effect me directly.

I don’t play video games by the way, so we can’t blame them.

I do tend to compartmentalize things.  Sometimes that is THE only way I can manage my emotions—I put them away in a box in my head and lock them up.  My kids are safe and happy.  My world is safe and happy.  So my strategy has been to look at the TV, feel bad…and move on…

Until a few days ago, I am not even sure I would have written about something like this. Something so controversial and emotional.  Writing  about something so raw rattles at the lock on my compartment.

Except that during the news coverage of the Florida school shooting, I saw the news clips of students talking to the news and they said things like, and I am paraphrasing, “We knew he was going to shoot up the school one day,”  and  “I wasn’t surprised when I found out it was him.”

And that BLEW THE LOCK OFF THE COMPARTMENT.  My eyes bugged out of my head.  I got mad and sad.  Mad at myself.  Mad at the media.  Mad at a system who puts guns into the hands of anyone who wants one.

Quote from Parkland School Shooting survivor, Emma Gonzales

Sad for a system who let a young man become so angry he resorted to violence to be seen…to be recognized…to be heard.

Mad at the culture who just keeps chanting that guns don’t kill people.

Except that there are too many lives lost and too many guns.

I mean, REALLY?  This is where we are now?  We have become so complacent about our fellow classmates, students, friends, humans, that this is where we are?

Can’t we all just SEE each other?  Can’t we just LISTEN to each other? Can’t we put aside the radical thoughts and look at what is best for everyone?  What is best for the vulnerable?  What will keep people safe?  (and we know it’s not more guns). 

From Author Tom Digby https://www.facebook.com/tomdigby3/posts/1445953932167458

The victims of these crimes must be heard and must be examples on which we base our future.  “I hear you” needs to be far more than a talking point on a list held on a piece of paper by our President.  We need action that creates change and change that saves lives.

I am not pointing fingers and I don’t have a solution.

But I know people aren’t evil.  We have created these situations and we need to start looking at ourselves to fix them.

Listen to the victims of the crimes.  Listen to the broken.

America, guns cannot be more important than human beings.

Life is about relationships.  Let’s start creating some.

Respectfully,  A dangerously optimistic citizen feeling dangerously close to giving up on America’s ability to do the right thing