Rescuing a Heron

I woke up at 3AM, pinned under the covers by the weight of a sleeping dog and too content with him by my side to move him.  I eventually squirmed my way out, managing to heed the call of nature without waking either my husband or my dog.  But when I returned to bed, I was left out in the cold.  I think I got another half an hour of sleep before finally getting up at 6AM.

In those 3 hours, Tisen moved only if chasing something in his dreams and Pat snored quietly, marking the time.

I get Tisen walked, fed, and into his create in time for me to get to the gym.  We are using the create when I go to the gym.  Tisen rather likes his crate with his new bed and collection of squeaky toys–we’re getting close to trying going out to dinner again.

After the gym, I buckle down to work and try to focus.  It goes like this:

  1. Start to work on presentation
  2. Think, “I need the dates in that email from yesterday”
  3. Open inbox, see 18 unread messages have arrived in the past 5 minutes.  Start reading and responding to each one, opening files until there are 40 files open and 16 applications running.
  4. Remember I was looking for an email for my presentation, I return to the inbox to find new messages and start over again–I’m in danger of an endless loop.
  5. A reminder it’s time for my first conference call pops up and interrupts my interruption.
  6. Remember I was trying to get my presentation done before my first conference call.
  7. Look at calendar for meetings I can cancel later in the day.

In the midst of this, Pat returns from Tisen’s second walk and reports he spotted a Great Blue Heron with a broken wing.  I start juggling phones with the conference call in one ear and a call to S.O.A.R. in the other.

Pat is able to meet John (from SOAR).  When my morning conference calls end and Tisen insists he needs to go out, we are able to check on the heron rescue progress.  We arrive as Pat dives into the bushes with a large butterfly net, just missing the heron.  I get out my iPhone and snap a few pics.

John catches the heron moments later.  John asks me to remove a stick from its mouth.  I reach out and gently pull the stick free, hoping it will be a little more comfortable.  This poor bird has exposed bone where its wing has snapped and bent backwards.  John will take it to a licensed bird rehabilitator, but he doesn’t seem optimistic.

Much later, John’s wife, Dale, tells me the heron had to be euthanized.  I am sad this one could not be saved.  But, I am happy there are people like John and Dale to make sure if there is a chance a bird will survive, the bird will get it.

Now, I need to finish that presentation . . .



It’s begun to look like we will be in Chattanooga for longer than we originally thought.  As such, it’s time to get serious about getting organized.  I am torn between getting organized and getting rid of more stuff.

We still have things laying around that we haven’t used in years, but it’s still functional and we have yet to get our money’s worth out of it.  With only one large closet and virtually no furniture that creates storage space, we are constantly moving stuff around from spot on the floor to spot on the floor and we’re never able to find any of it when we actually need it.

We’ve asked the building manager if we could have an extra door put in our very large closet to give us better access to about 7 feet of space currently behind a wall.  Now, we need to get the rest of our stuff out of the way and stored so that we can easily cover it up when they come to do the work.

So, today, our big undertaking will be to find an inexpensive and reusable way to store the miscellaneous stuff that we want to have accessible inside the apartment.

Now, Pat and I have different ideas about how to tackle tasks like this.  Me, my priority is efficiency.  Pick the place most likely to have what we’re looking for, go to it, and if they have anything even close, buy it and go home.

Pat has a different approach to shopping for home goods.  I don’t really understand his approach, but it usually involves making multiple trips to several places several times and not buying anything.  If I have no vested interest in a project and I’m not forced to go shopping with him, I’m OK with him spending time looking at things and not making a decision.  But, I am not wired for shopping.  I like to get in, buy something, and get out.

Today is one of those days when we will compromise.  I let Pat take us to Home Depot “just to look,” and then to Target, and finally to Lowe’s.

Then, just when it looks like Pat is content to go home, I talk him into a couple of sets of industrial-looking shelving units that are on sale and some baskets.  We have to return to Target to get more baskets to put on the shelves.  While this breaks one of my cardinal rules, “Thou Shalt Not Go Backwards,” I figure it’s less backwards than going all the way home and coming back another day.

We get home and begin assembling the shelves.  The instructions say it takes 10 minutes to assemble them.  Ten minutes in, we have the first set out of the box and have removed the plastic wrap.  There really are few things that test a relationship more than assembling something together that’s supposed to take 10 minutes.  Especially when I’m already cranky from our shopping excursion.  We manage to get both sets assembled in about an hour without filing for divorce.

Next, we need to put our stuff into the baskets and put the baskets on the shelves.   My sweaters go in one basket.  Jeans go into another.  The stockpile of lightbulbs goes into a third.  The collection of miscellaneous bike tools and accessories goes into a fourth.     Then there is the pile of cables that we don’t seem to need anymore, but I’m sure we will need the second we get rid of them.  I decide they can go under the lightbulbs.  The dirty laundry gets a basket for each sort.  Then there is a small basket for gloves, hats, and scarves–items I’m sorry to say I’m starting to wear more and more.  I am quickly running out of baskets.  Is it really possible that I still have this much stuff?

We’ve sold, donated, given away, recycled, and, when all else failed, thrown away all of the miscellaneous crap that we thought we could live without.  We’ve gotten rid of dishes, glasses, furniture, area rugs, electronics, camping gear, and what seems like an endless amount of clothes.  How is it that we still have piles of stuff we don’t know what to do with?

My sudden desire to get all of the crap that has piled in the corners of rooms up off the floor expands into the living room.  I find myself standing at my desk (which is really a table) and wondering if I need an actual desk.  One with drawers so I wouldn’t have the entire top covered in crap.  Then I ask myself, am I heading down a dangerous path?  Am I about to start replacing all the stuff we just got rid of?  Does it really make sense to buy stuff in order to organize stuff that we probably don’t need in the first place?

All this thinking about stuff is making my head hurt.  I decide I’ve had enough for the day.  We now have the things I haven’t known what to do with it hidden away in baskets that look, well, if not nice, better.  It’s sort of dorm-room like in decor, which is not exactly the look I was going for.  But, that’s OK.  Better a dorm room than something less reusable.  After all, someone can always use shelves.

Waking Up

I get up at 5AM so I can be at the gym by 6AM and be awake. I only need 15 minutes to get ready, but I need an hour to be functional. It’s early for a workout. I get to the gym and realize I didn’t turn my phone on before I left–I wouldn’t have received any cancellation texts.  It gets to be a few minutes after 6 and I see no evidence that anyone else is here for the class I’m attending, including the trainer.

This is an anxiety producing situation for me. I don’t know why. Even if no one shows up, I’m at the gym and can get a workout in on my own. However, I get stressed when I’m supposed to be meeting people and we don’t hook up. I worry that I’m in the wrong place and we missed each other. Because, after all, if my trainer came in and didn’t see me, I just know he would assume I didn’t show and go on without me. And, even though the front door is only 20 feet from the treadmill I’m on, it’s entirely possible that the 200+ pound trainer could sneak by unnoticed and that he would never think of turning his head.  It’s ridiculous, but I do this to myself every time I meet someone until the situation becomes familiar.

The trainer arrives about 2 minutes after 6AM (depending on which clock you’re looking at). I am now stretching in the hallway outside the training room door. While I prefer to stretch in the women’s locker room, it’s too anxiety producing to be out of sight. Now that I know the trainer will arrive a couple minutes late, I will factor this into the next class and not be so anxious.

As it is, I follow him into the room and stand there feeling awkward while he tries to get his stuff situated to begin the class. My presence and readiness to start rushes him and he forgets to turn on his music, set up some equipment, put away his hat. Next time, I will wait outside until he tells me he’s ready.

As it turns out, I am the only participant today. Apparently everyone else thought 6AM was too early. I am at about 60% of full capacity with my cold. I am still tired and I’ve been laying around too much. I go a little easy today, but my shoulders and chest are still exhausted by the workout.  By the time we are done, I’m debating whether I want to walk before work or wait until after.  But realistically, if we don’t walk now, we won’t walk later.

When I get home, I write. By the time I get Pat out of bed and get myself ready, there is little time for a walk. We’ve also realized we have nothing to eat. So, we do go for a walk, but it’s just to the store and back. We pick up some cereal and milk so we can eat breakfast.

Even keeping it quick, I am racing back to get to my first call of the day by the time we’re done. I don’t know where the morning goes sometimes. I get up hours before work to have time to take care of the things I want to do. I like getting those things in at the beginning of the day. Somehow, making time for me first thing in the morning sends a message to my brain that I am a top priority–I will not sacrifice my health, my needs, myself for the sake of my job.

I have a fantasy work morning that goes like this: I sit on the balcony sipping coffee, watching the sunrise, maybe shooting a little. I finish my coffee and do yoga for a while, ending with some meditation. After feeling completely and totally relaxed, I write for an hour. Then, I go for a walk with Pat along the riverfront before starting work.

Theoretically, since I get up at least 3 hours before my work day starts, I should be able to make this fantasy reality–well, other than the sunrise during coffee. I don’t really know what happens, but my real morning often goes more like this: stumble out of bed, get the coffee going through bleary, half-shut eyes. Check email for emergencies. Answer a few mails. Check calendar for first meeting. Pour coffee. Write blog. Start researching some trivial point that has little to do with my post. Finish post, realize it’s getting late. Wake up Pat. Jump in shower, get cleaned up and ready to go. Decide to log on while waiting for Pat to get ready. Try to answer a couple of emails and then realize I’m out of time and we can’t go for a walk now.

Ah, I see what happens–I start working first. Funny thing how priorities work. How many times have I said, “I want to . . . But I just don’t have time”? Yet, I manage to make time for so many other things–like obsessive email checking. I tell myself “What if someone needs me?” In reality, what I think drives me is the fear that maybe no one does. Otherwise, wouldn’t it be easy to let them wait until office hours?

Tomorrow, maybe I will try leaving my phone in airplane mode until after I’ve finished that walk with Pat.

Fall Fantasies

It’s Monday morning.  Thursday is Thanksgiving.  Many of my colleagues are taking the entire week off.  I’m saving what’s left of my vacation for the end of the year.  I expect to be able to get caught up at work before the holiday with so many people gone.

The morning starts rather abruptly with a 6:30AM call with a colleague in Great Britain.  It’s the only time one of our volunteer testers for a project I’m involved with is available to talk through what we need him to do.  It’s now 7:30AM and I’m already overwhelmed with how much I need to get done before Thursday.

Not only do we have this testing going on, but four of the other projects I’ve been working on are coming to a head and I’d like to get them all to the next major milestone before taking off for the long weekend.  What I really need is a walk, but it’s not happening today.  Having gotten started working, I’m on a roll and I’m not stopping now.

Now it’s Tuesday morning.  I’m up long before dawn now, the dawn coming so much later these days.  I am working out this morning.  It’s my last training session with Kory and then my package is done.  He’s offering a boot camp class in the mornings starting next week, so I’ll be doing that.  But, this morning, I have my final one-on-one workout.

Once I get out of the gym, I decide I need the walk I skipped yesterday even more today.  Pat is out of bed when I get home, so we get ready to go.  It’s been a week since we last walked by the riverfront.  The trees have dropped many more leaves; the crews are still out there blowing the leaves and hauling them to the compost piles.  It seems endless.  From the look of things, there will still be leaves to remove after Thanksgiving.  There are far more leaves still on the trees than there were in Columbus, but I don’t think fall is much more than a week behind.  I wonder if there will still be any leaves on the trees in the mountains this weekend.

I realize that I am wearing a T-shirt and a light sweater as we walk around the park.  Pat is wearing only a T-shirt.  It seems like a repeat of before we went up to Columbus–it’s in the 60’s and the sun is barely up.  I like this warm weather stuff, I have to admit.  I like changing seasons and cooler weather, too.  But there is a lot to be said for not being cold.

The river looks the same.  The sky is overcast, so there aren’t interesting reflections on the water this morning, but the blue heron like it just the same.  A pair of them flies over the water, rounding a corner and landing too close to the shore for us to see from where we stand.  We walk to an overlook and lean out over the rail, trying to spot them.  But, they have either flown on or parked somewhere hidden behind they honeysuckle taking over the space between the path and the shoreline.

As we look for the heron, a large shadow passes over our heads, catching our attention.  This often happens when a large bird flies between us and the sun when we’re out for walks.  Today, it turns out the sun has briefly appeared from behind a cloud long enough to cast a shadow from a car crossing over the bridge.  This phenomena shocks us every time.  The bridge is far enough away that it seems impossible that a car could cast a shadow over our heads, yet it happens on a regular basis.  There is something wrong about cars casting shadows that can be mistaken for airplanes.

We get to the far end of our walking route and head back towards home.  The leaves are piled in lines down the center of the sidewalks.  The crew is taking a break under the bridge.  We step carefully, trying not to displace any of the leaves waiting to be swept up and hauled away.  I think back to the falls of my childhood.  I have a generalized memory of my whole family being out in the front yard creating massive piles of leaves and taking turns running and jumping in them.  In my mind, that was what every fall was like.  Yet, when I actually remember specific times, I remember thinking piling up the leaves and jumping in them should be a lot of fun, but actually doing it turned out not to be all that exciting.

More clearly, and therefore, probably more recently, I remember raking and raking and being amazed by the amount of raking required to clear the yard of leaves.  I also remember enjoying mowing the last few times in the fall–I felt like I was vacuuming whoever’s lawn I was mowing, sucking up all the leaves and debris into the mower bag and leaving a trim, bright green stripe of lawn in my wake.  The difference between where I had yet to mow and where I had already mowed (mown?) was so striking.  I loved the unambiguousness of my accomplishment.  There are a lot of days I wish I’d stayed in the lawn mowing business.

When my neck aches, my head aches, and I can’t point to a single thing I’ve actually gotten done after a long day sitting at my computer, I start to long for a job that involves physical labor.  Recognizing that this probably sounds better than it would actually feel by the end of a long day of challenging physical work, I sometimes fantasize about being a park ranger.  I realize I don’t actually know what a park ranger does all day, but just the idea of hanging out in a park for a living seems very promising.

When the park ranger fantasy surfaces, this is usually when I decide I should clean off my desk.  That’s about as close to physical labor as my job gets these days.  Is it any wonder that I have to go to the gym when the best I can do for exercise on the job is throwing away scraps of paper and putting my pens back in the pen holder?

Returning from our walk in the park and settling myself at my desk, I realize that even the pens and papers are disappearing from my work life.  Soon, I will have to pop my laptop in and out of its docking station for physical activity on the job.  I promise myself I will stand up and pace while on calls today.  This, of course, doesn’t happen because while I am on calls, I am also doing at least 6 other things that all require sitting at my computer.  I am reminded of an idea I had many years ago for a line of office furniture that requires you to move while you work.  I find myself thinking maybe I should build some prototypes for myself.  If only I knew how to weld.

Back in Chattown

Having spent the night just outside of Lexington in a semi-frightening hotel, I am doubly surprised when the alarm jerks me out of a sound sleep.  First there is the expected surprise (sort of paradoxical, isn’t it?) of the alarm itself, but then I am also surprised to realize that I have slept through the night undisturbed.  I hop out of bed and get myself ready to roll quickly.  We have a 3 hour drive to home, today is a work day, and I have an important conference call this morning.  Fortunately, I was able to finish the presentation material last night and send it out for a quick review.  I check my mail to see if I have any responses.  Only one with no suggested changes.

We forgo the free breakfast that comes with the room (probably just cereal and bananas anyway) since it’s still a half an hour before the service starts.  We get in the car with me setting up to work from the car while Pat drives.  It’s early enough that nothing much urgent is happening and my cellular MiFi is getting sketchy reception as we get into the hills.  Deciding I’m as caught up as I’m going to get this morning, I put the work away and watch the sunrise over the mountains as we make our way from Kentucky to Tennessee.  It’s a gorgeous morning.

Pat starts nodding off at the wheel, so we stop for a break and to grab something to eat.  Then, we switch drivers.  I drive us the final stretch into Chattanooga.  It’s the first time I’ve been the one behind the wheel as we returned to our now hometown.  It’s only the 2nd time I’ve driven in Chattanooga since our move.  I get to experience some of the oddly banked curves of 27 as we round the city and cross the river to our exit.  I manage to drive us safely to our parking lot, but with the stop we made, it’s almost 9AM.  I grab all of my work related items and dash upstairs to get back online.

When I get online, nothing has happened.  My boss hasn’t sent me any comments on the slide deck.  No one in Australia responded to the replies I sent early this morning (already past their office hours).  I’ve still heard nothing from Singapore, Hong Kong, or China on any of the things I’m working on there.  And no one in any other part of the world sent me an email between 7:30AM and 9AM.  That hour and a half that I wasn’t able to check emails really wasn’t so critical after all.  I’m glad that I relieved Pat of driving rather than insisting I needed to be working.

During the day, fortunately during a break between conference calls (and after my most important call of the day was over), squealing tires and a big crash attract my attention.  Two cars have collided in the intersection below our balcony.  Since my camera is already set up, I indulge in a few quick shots from the window and then return to work.  I count the number of sirens required for this accident.  Both drivers are alone and both walk away with no apparent injuries, yet 3 fire trucks, 1 ambulance, and 6 police cars all come screaming to the scene.  This helps explain the ridiculous number of sirens that go by every day!  When I next look out the window, they are loading up one of the cars on a flatbed tow truck and sweeping the debris out of the street.  I get a few more quick shots and then forget all about the accident.

That evening, the sunset reminds me why I tolerate the sirens during the day for our view.  I talk Pat into going up on the roof with me so I can get a better shot of the sunset since there’s a building between us and the horizon to the West.  I watch the sun go down with deep breaths.  I slow down all of the anxiety-produced nervousness.  I settle into myself as I watch the sun settle into the landscape.

I think this is why I love to shoot–it creates stillness.  It stops the motion of time and pauses in a single moment.  While a photo stays in that moment forever, the photographer moves on to the next moment and repeats the process.  Between shots, I watch with an open mind and wide eyes.  I am eager to see what next will present itself.  All my senses feel alive and alert as I decide, “Is this the moment to shoot?  Is this?”  This is especially true during a sunset when I might shoot a hundred pictures of virtually the same thing–I watch for minute changes that make the scene worth shooting again.

Today, I am also working on some skills.  As much as I enjoy shooting, I am rarely really pleased with the end results.  Today I am practicing using a tripod and a remote shutter release in the hope of improving the sharpness of my images.  While I’m at it, I play with long exposures and car lights, which is always fun.  I also always try to improve composition.  Unfortunately, I’m finding the use of the tripod is making composition much more difficult.  In addition, my viewpoint makes getting the elements I want in the photo difficult to arrange around the rule-of-thirds.

Although I work on each of these things and take them into consideration as I set up for each shot, it is without anxiety.  After all, this is a low-risk activity.  If I don’t like the picture, I delete it.  Instead, I work with the tripod to figure out how to best position the camera for the composition I want.  I don’t worry so much about the rule-of-thirds for tonight.  I breathe into the sunset and push the button on my remote.  I feel calmness, serenity, and perhaps a little awe as I watch the light disappear.  This is why I shoot.

The Deserted Office, Desserts, and Death

Today is Wednesday.  No workout this morning.  No face-to-face meetings scheduled.  But my calendar is full of conference calls.  When Pat drops me off at the office, I go upstairs to discover an empty floor.  Those who were there the day before are all either off, working from home, or traveling today.  There is no one to say hello to, no one to catch up with, not even anyone to ignore.  I find this oddly distracting.  Given that I even have calls through lunch, I find myself wondering why I bothered to come in at all.  I do not rate a window office, so I sit in my empty office with no view and miss my home office with a fantastic view.

An interesting thing I have learned about myself in the age of ADD:  I need low-level distractions in order to focus.  It’s as if I need to give the “Squirrel!” part of my brain something to do so that it stops nagging at the rest of my brain when I’m trying to concentrate.  Background noise at the office helps.  Just knowing there are people outside my door helps.  When I work at home, I have an easier time remaining focused on an intense task when my husband is home doing something on his own than if I’m home alone.  I’ve found that listening to music helps in the absence of other distractions, but that’s not possible when on conference calls.  Within an hour, I am coming out of my skin.

I don’t know what exactly it is that I experience when there is not enough going on at once–is it anxiety, boredom, hyper-activeness?  I’m not sure.  All I know is that I begin to work on one thing, I think of something else and open that, then I think of something else and open that.  All while I’m on a conference call.  Before I know it, I have about 40 documents open, 8 instant message conversations going, I’m halfway through answering 9 emails, and I’m in a complete state of confusion as to whether I’ve actually accomplished anything or not.

Complicating this state of task-hopping (let’s face it, there’s no such thing as multi-tasking) is the memory factor.  Another thing I’ve learned about the scattered mind combined with a faulty memory is: when I start to do something, it often creates a memory of having done it.  Whatever the function is in my brain that checks of to-do items, starting a task can trigger that little check.  Once the item is mentally checked, I forget all about it.  So, the more task-hopping I do, the more items I’m at risk of believing I’ve completed when in fact, they are only partially done.  To combat this, before I close things, I carefully look at each window I’ve opened, figure out why I’ve opened it, and then determine if that item is complete or not.  When I have a day like today with back-to-back conference calls where I’m able to just listen for my name during the first one (giving me the opportunity to open a lot), but the rest of them I have to listen and participate (preventing me from finishing anything I opened during the first call), I will often get to the end of the day and not have time to do a graceful shutdown, so-to-speak.  Then, I put my laptop to sleep and hope it will wake up later and that I will remember where I was with all the stuff that’s still open.  Of course, the more stuff I leave open, the more likely my laptop will hang and require a reboot, which essentially reboots my memory right along with the laptop.

It’s the end of the day, we have dinner plans with friends we haven’t seen in two months, and, as predicted, I have too many things open and must put my laptop to sleep and clean up later.  Given that our friends are expecting a baby in about 2 weeks, I imagine we will not be out late and I will have time for this tonight.  But, I hate going to dinner with things hanging unfinished both on my laptop and in my mind.

After a day of isolation, getting together with friends is even more welcome.  Our friends include a little one who arrives in his mother’s arms half asleep.  I try to remember what it feels like to have to jerk yourself out of sleep, rouse yourself and be social.  He’s only 4–too young to have learned that skill set yet.  He wants to be held by his mother, tiny and nearly 9 months pregnant.  She holds him and I wonder how that’s possible.

Our small friend does come to life during dinner.  He makes it through his meal with the promise of ice cream dancing in his head.  There is a Graeter’s next door.  Even though we still have Graeter’s in the freezer at our hosts’ house, I am just as excited about going next door after dinner as the 4-year old.

Outside, there is an event for a dog rescue.  One woman has a tiny Chihuahua on a leash.  He poops toothpaste-consistency yellow poop on the patio without his owner noticing.  I think back to our Mastiffs and how I used to tell my friends that with Mastiff poop, you worry more about tripping over it than stepping in it.  The Chihuahua’s poop is about 1/40th the size, just like the dog.

I watch as first one dog steps in the soft pile, then another.  I tell a volunteer and she gets out a bag, but before she can clean it up, the Chihuahua owner steps on it, completely covering the mess with her Ugg boot.  Amazingly, when she takes another step, it’s as if the entire pile has desinegrated and been absorbed into her sole and the patio pavers, leaving only discoloration behind.  The volunteer looks at me and says, “Was it her dog who pooped?” I answer in the affirmative and she winks and says, “Retribution!”

After enjoying a scoop of pumpkin pie ice cream, watching the dogs, and watching our small friend attempt to play “Cone Hole” (Graeter’s humor–an ice cream place’s name for “Corn Hole”), we say our good-byes and head on home.  It’s barely 8:00PM.

When we arrive at our hosts’ house, we eat some more ice cream and talk about the news of Steve Jobs’ death.  Oddly, I feel more likely to buy an iPhone 4S because Steve Jobs died.  There is no logic to this and I cannot explain it.  We ponder what the impact will be on Apple and whether they can continue his legacy when he was so heavily involved in the details.

I find myself wondering what his personal life was like, if he was happy, if the legacy of Apple was worth whatever he sacrificed.  I wonder what was most important to him and if he believed, in the end, that he lived his life according to his values and his priorities or if he struggled with regrets over the things he didn’t do.  Then, I begin to wonder if building something like Apple is more or less important or valuable than building a family or anything else that someone dedicates their life to.  But, this is too deep for contemplation right before bed, so I let the thought drift away as we say our goodnights and head upstairs.

My First Chattanoogan Drive

The hardest part of taking a two-week vacation is going back to work.  I ease into it gradually, getting up early and taking a morning walk with Pat and even taking my camera so I can shoot the sunrise.  We wander along the riverfront slowly, shooting every few minutes.  We run into another photographer.  I ask him how he likes his tripod (having still not bought one) and he chides me for trying to take landscape shots without one.  OK, maybe not “chides,” but I was pretty humiliated when he asked me how long I’d been shooting and I said, “about 7 years” and he said, “time to get a tripod!”  He also points out a sunrise rainbow that’s formed on the other side of the bridges, which I had completely failed to notice.  Strike two.  We manage to enjoy the sunrise none-the-less, but as a rainbow predicts, rain drops started falling so we high-tailed it home before we (by which I mean my camera) got too wet.

After two weeks off, I’m ready to go back to work from an emotional perspective, but from a pure memory standpoint, it’s like bits and pieces of information have fallen out of my brain and have to be swept up and poured back in again.  However, the last bits of dust that make it all fall back into a coherent picture have to be chased around and forcibly gathered.  Things that seemed vitally important two weeks ago are now just distant memories that I don’t know the status of.  I find myself wishing I had timed my vacation differently, but then I pause to wonder when would have been a better time?  It’s never a good time to take a vacation.

I dive into my email.  It’s actually not as bad as I was afraid it would be.  Fortunately, there is someone to cover for me for once and the more urgent items got taken care of while I was gone.  As I hunch over my keyboard sitting on an ottoman, I am quickly reminded of something I didn’t take care of before going on vacation–I must get an office chair.  The pain in my neck has not gone away even after 2 weeks away from my “desk.”  After only a couple of hours back, I’m in so much pain that I have to move back to the couch where my head is supported.  I decide that I will go chair shopping tonight.

Pat left this morning to go back to Columbus for three days.  I could have gone back with him and worked from Columbus, but I feel a need to stay home for at least a week.  He wants to go home next week, too, so I will go back then.  In the meantime, I am left to keep myself busy for the next three days.  There is one advantage to having just come back from a two-week vacation–I will have plenty to do.

It’s now after 5PM EST and I decide to take a break to go chair shopping.  I google office furniture and discover a website that has some really nice office chairs.  Just out of curiosity, I look up their location and discover that they are located 1 block from me.  This is a nice surprise!  I walk over there to see what they have.  The woman there, Leslie, gets down chair after chair and asks me to sit in each one for a while to get a feel for it.  There is one chair that has a funky neck rest on it.  It’s the only chair that has it.  I sit down and the neck rest hits a sore spot in the crick in my neck.  I think it feels rather awkward and it’s uncomfortable, but Leslie gives is a tug and adjusts it so that the top edge is sitting just under the ridge at the base of my skull.  There is something relieving about being able to set the weight of my head on this headrest.  Although it’s still putting pressure on my neck in ways that I don’t like, I find myself wondering if it might feel better after getting used to it.  Leslie makes the most amazing suggestion:  She tells me to take the chair home and try it for a couple of days to see how it works out.  This is the perfect solution–I get to try the thing before I buy it!  However, I wasn’t optimistic when I came over here that I would find anything, so I didn’t bring the car.  I contemplate rolling the chair down the sidewalk, but see scuffed wheels full of road dust in my head and decide that’s not a good idea.  Instead, I walk back home, pick up the van, and drive in Chattanooga for the very first time.

Yes, it was only a block from home, but, remember, I had to drive 2 blocks by the time I went round-trip.  I did not even use the GPS.  I got in the van, started it up, and drove it like I’d been driving every day for months.  I think about it and realize I haven’t driven since our last trip to Columbus when I drove part of the way home.  That was a month ago.  But, I make it to the furniture store unscathed and amused that this tiny jaunt would end up being my first official drive in Chattanooga!

I retrieve the chair that I’ve signed out on loan and manage to load it into the car with only a couple of new bruises, and then go into the grocery store (which is right across the lot) to get some beer and dinner.  I pick up some stuffed shells, which have become a standard “lazy” dinner lately, and Sierra Nevada.  I forgot to grab a shopping bag when I left the apartment and was unable to find one in the van, so I tell the cashier I don’t need a bag.  Normally, I get $.10 for each bag that I bring and use.  I’ve always thought it was $.10 for every bag of theirs that I don’t use.  Apparently not.  I do not get $.10 for not using a bag at all.  When I think about it, I bring in reusable grocery bags that are 2x the size of the paper bags they use if they bag my groceries, yet, I don’t get $.20 when I fill one of my bags because I saved two of theirs.  No.  I get $.10.  It occurs to me that perhaps I should try bringing a bunch of hand-puppet-sized bags and put one item in a bag.  Would I still get $.10 for each bag I bring?  I may have just found a way to make shopping at Green Life affordable!

When I go back to the house and get my chair upstairs, I go back to work while my pasta shells heat.  I adjust the chair just right and feel my neck stretching and my shoulders relaxing.  I think maybe I will like this chair.

On Visiting

After arriving in Columbus, I quickly realize several things about coming for a visit:

  1. Friends are more important than errands–scheduling tasks from getting my iPad fixed to getting my hair done leaves little time to see friends in the few waking hours left after work.
  2. Co-workers are more important than errands–missing happy hour with colleagues in favor of appointments wastes a rare opportunity to socialize with people I enjoy.
  3. Making a list of everyone I want to see and scheduling time with them before I leave and before I schedule any kind of mundane task should help make time to see everyone next trip.
  4. Spending time with people I care about is important because I don’t know how long it will be before I get to see them again, even if I just saw them 2 weeks ago.
  5. Having a mobile broadband connection that works makes like easier.
  6. When I pack, I need to count carefully and not get distracted in the middle of packing.

These lessons were, of course, learned the hard way.  Thinking I could take care of tasks in Columbus more easily than in Chattanooga because I knew where to go caused me to pack my schedule with stuff I really would have preferred not to do.  I missed out on the opportunity to spend time with people.  We ended up with only 3 evenings that we could schedule anything and one of them was shared with a 2-hour hair appointment, making for a late evening on a work night.  I mentally go through a list of the people we didn’t get to see and groan inwardly.

On the plus side, staying with friends worked out well–at least for us.  Sharing a cup of coffee in the wee hours of the morning with my fellow insomniac made a great way to start the day (although I suppose we both would have liked an extra hour or two of sleep).  And our schedules were offset just enough that we got to spend some quality time together without getting in each other’s way (I hope).

Driving was interesting.  I didn’t think about having only one car to share with Pat while in Columbus.  As it turned out, he did all the driving until we were on our way home again, so I went almost 3 weeks before I got behind the wheel again.  Not having a car also made it difficult to arrange time with friends at lunch.  I managed to have lunch with work friends, but missed the chance to get together with a friend who I could have seen if I’d had a car to meet her for lunch.

We left for Columbus on a Sunday with Pat doing the driving so I could get caught up on some work.  Unfortunately, my work laptop refused to play nicely with our USB broadband device and we found ourselves wardriving for a WiFi network so I could get a document emailed that needed to be in Hong Kong in time for the start of their Monday morning.  Worried that I would forget to send it when we got to Columbus, I wanted to make sure it went out while I was thinking about it.  Fortunately, McDonald’s now offers free WiFi, accessible from their parking lot.  But driving around looking for internet access does not make for an efficient car trip.

As for getting distracted while packing, once we are in Columbus, I discovered why my suitcase looked so empty.  I’d stopped packing before I’d finished gathering together everything I needed for working out (especially my workout bag) and I’d mis-counted the number of days I needed work clothes.  With no workout bag, I ended up packing my change of work clothes for after my workout into my laptop bag, which caused me to forget my lovely heels.  I ended up having to wear my fivefingers shoes all day the first day I went to the gym.  If you’ve never seen fivefingers shoes, check them out.  While they are the best shoes I’ve ever worked out in, they aren’t exactly complementary to work attire.  I comforted myself that not that many people would see me in my silly shoes, but, of course, we have a firedrill at the office that day and I ended up in the parking lot along with the entire population of our building.  As I walk across the parking lot, I count the number of times I hear, “Nice shoes!”  Oh well.

Urban Anxiety

For 10 years, we lived in what I would describe as an “urban residential area.” Located North of the Columbus downtown area, the walk to restaurants, the grocery store, the library, the farmers market was an easy endeavor. At the same time, we were nestled into a wooded ravine, keeping us cocooned and creating separation from city activity. We spent a year a few miles further North where there was less separation, but also a little less busyness. Now, we live on one of the busier streets in Chattanooga in an apartment with a balcony that oversees it all. The view of the downtown skyline is fantastic–I love keeping the blinds open so I can look out over the park across the street, the bridges over the river, and the cityscape. Being in walking distance of the majority of the things we want or need to do every day is also a big plus. But it’s definitely different.

For us, it’s a small step from where we lived before, but the noise has been an adjustment. Fireworks at the baseball stadium across the river sounded like they were going off right outside our window. We learned about the summer concert series across the river because we thought a band was playing in our living room. When large trucks go by during the day, I have to mute my phone to avoid disturbing conference calls. And, perhaps most surprising to me, sirens scream by every single day. I had no idea there could be so many fires in a town with about 300,000 residents!

We recently met a young guy who told us he had moved here about a week before we did from some small town in Tennessee that I had never heard of. He told us the name of the “big city” he had to drive to as a kid in order to see a movie. The “big city” was another small town I’d never heard of. Walking with him across the street, when I went to push the button for a walk signal, he thought I was walking off the wrong direction. When I explained my intention, he laughed and said he was from such a small town that it never occurred to him he was supposed to push a button to cross the street. I imagined a small town where he could step out in the street unassisted by lights and if a car happened to be going by, they would stop to say hello. This must be a completely different world to him.

While adjusting to the noise is a bit of a challenge (and may have something to do with why I’m only sleeping 4-5 hours a night these days), I wouldn’t give up our location. Convenience is a great benefit. For one, we can see our new bank from our balcony, which has made setting up new accounts a lot easier. We try to take a walk each morning along the riverfront between my first burst emails in the morning and settling down to work steadily for the rest of the day (and, more often than I would like, the evening). The other day, as we were strolling by the bank, our new banker was arriving. He stopped to chat with us for a minute. I can’t remember ever having a banker whom I’ve met once and then seemed like a friend the next time I ran into him. I think of my small-town acquaintance and how nice it feels to be recognized as part of the neighborhood.

As far as feeling like being part of the community goes, we haven’t made a lot of progress there yet. Working from home doesn’t lend itself well to meeting new people. And working a lot limits the time available for activities that promote making new friends. It’s easier to just jump on my bike for a ride whenever I can work it in than it is to have to be somewhere at a specific time. This leads to watching people more than being with people. Part of my problem is putting work away. It was easier to stop working when my office wasn’t across the room 24×7. Now, I think of something I forgot to do and I go do it. Once I get started, I find other things I need to do and soon, hours have gone by. Work often consumes me.

I also have a new anxiety about my career. I worry that because no one sees me answering emails at 5AM, on a conference call at 11:00PM, creating presentations at 8PM, etc. that if I step out to go get lunch late in the afternoon and miss a call, an email, an instant message, people will think I’m slacking. I’m not sure who I think would see me if I were in the office at those times, but I worry all the same. It makes it harder to put work away.

On the plus side, I can take my laptop out on the balcony for as long as I can stand the heat and enjoy the view unobscured by windows at any time of the day (as long as I’m quick with the mute button since I seem to be on the phone at least 8 hours a day). It’s a tradeoff, but I’m adjusting.

But people watching is interesting. Lots of visitors wander the streets. Chattanooga attracts people from all over. Plus, it’s summer time and the ever-blowing breeze from the river attracts people to the waterfront all on its own. I am not the only one watching. Cameras lace the park areas, observing secluded corners from lamp posts. I always wonder who is watching me as I walk by and what they think I’m up to. Security seems to be a primary concern. Cops patrol on bicycles, Segways, foot, and in cars. Between the cameras and the police presence, I find myself wondering if I’m in danger. Funny thing how security can make you feel insecure. Perhaps the anxieties that motivated people to hang cameras and hire extra cops taps into my own anxieties?

I told myself before we started this venture that I had to remember that no matter where we moved, I was still taking myself with me.  Trying to avoid the disappointment of expecting a new life along with a new place, I coached myself that I couldn’t expect to be a new person.  Yet, I find that I secretly hoped I would leave my anxiety back in Columbus.  My husband once told me when we were planning our great escapade that he worried that even if I didn’t have a job, I would still be me.  He didn’t really mean this as an insult.  🙂  He just meant that I can get obsessed and anxious about anything.  I can take the most enjoyable pastime and turn it into a stressful burden in no time–I’ve even managed to do this with learning relaxation techniques.  It’s a skill I don’t take pride in, but it comes from a lifetime of believing hard work is central to character.  The lesson I continue to try to learn is how to relax into the work.  The philosophy of enjoying the journey as much as the destination comes hard for me.  I constantly remind myself to be where I am, to experience fully what I’m experiencing, and to let the next moment take care of itself.  After all, right now is all we have.  But goals loom large and distract from the joy of each step along the way.

I take a deep breath.  I look out over the view.  I remind myself that I am here, sitting on my balcony, my feet pressed against warm concrete, cars rolling by below, writing purely for the pleasure of writing.  Chattanooga is a beautiful place.  And I am in it.  The early morning light highlights the yellows in the trees, giving the scene freshness.  Birds sing loudly enough to hear them over the traffic.  The breeze still holds the coolness of the night and delivers it to me in soft waves.  I think briefly about the work I didn’t finish yesterday, but bring my attention back to now.  I finish my coffee and put my laptop away far less anxious.