First 70 degree day!

Ahhhh…. bliss!! It’s over 70 in Madison today. The first day in six months that it’s been this warm! For the past couple of weeks, despite fog, clouds and some very chilly days, the bicyclists have been out in force, stubbornly insisting that the snow is gone so therefore it’s time to bike, even if there was frost on the ground each morning. I tuned up my bike (or rather, paid someone to do that) and rode in on Tuesday for the first time this season. It felt so good to breathe the spring air and peddle for 40 minutes before spending the workday in my windowless office. How nice it would be to work from home…

For much of my working life, I consulted from a home base — in several states and other countries, I worked on a daily consultancy fee. There is much to be said for that lifestyle as long as you figure out a way to get health insurance. It’s also much easier if you have a household partner/spouse with a “real” day job, which often resolves the health insurance problem. Perhaps with the new legislation, there’ll be increased opportunities for home-based entrepreneurs – more freedom to work in different ways than the Office Space routine, because keeping health insurance may not be so difficult. We hope.

When I read the posts on Brazen Careerist, I often find myself feeling unsettled and neglected because I’m not 20-something, trying to land my first job on the way to some imagined heights of income and satisfaction. But I find that much of the advice is certainly just as relevant to me as a returning-to-the-working-world middle-aged person — still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. So why keep insisting that only the new generation needs to hear all this? So, I continue to read and pay attention and think, even though the advice is supposed to be aimed at the digital natives. Those young ones who grew up on electronics. But where was I…. the balmy weather… the warm breezes, and today is still March.

March has been an odd month. It’s a month in Madison where many people leave for a bit to float on boats, or get a real tan, or hang out in Arizona. I can’t seem to get away because the first quarter of each year for my job involves annual reporting, juggling statistics, writing narratives, assessing & evaluating — in general, justifying our spending of federal grant money. April would be a reasonable time to finally escape, and indeed, April or early May in Florida are the best times if you want to avoid the serious heat and humidity of late spring and summer. March is also a time of mad mania and not just in Madison. The temperature spikes like unmedicated bi-polar disorders — snow one day, sunshine and spring the next, followed by crashing temps and frigid wind. But we all expect those weatherly behaviors in March. And now it’s the last day. March blows out and April drifts in with scents of spring.

I’m biking again tomorrow!

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Turducken yesterday

Prior to a few weeks ago, I had never heard the word “turducken” because I live under a rock. My friend Shellie suggested we have turducken for our quarterly “3-couples” get-together, and I thought, “huh?”  So, I googled it, of course, and realized it was a major creative undertaking that looked really yummy. I was thrilled to learn that it’s possible to buy one already deboned and ready for roasting — it can be obtained locally from an excellent shop in Madison, or ordered online, if you want a special veggies-only stuffing with no butter, which was what we were looking for; google “turducken” for many choices in the Cajun category. I don’t yet think of turducken as something for Thanksgiving, but of course it could be. And anyway, I love turkey.

So we planned for the Turducken Saturday — Shellie & Jen brought all the sides and desserts and I sprung for the turducken; Shellie ordered it and it came to my door on Wednesday, frozen solid in styrofoam. By Saturday afternoon it was quietly roasting in our oven, filling the house with delicious aromas. We had a fairly simple meal — excellent mashed potatoes, delightful salad, homemade bread, the turducken, and the best gravy we’ve ever produced at this house! The gravy emerged as a product of the efforts of two of the men attending the dinner — I’m not sure exactly how it was made except that it had a splash of shiraz in it. By the time the gravy was made, I had had more than a splash of shiraz and was greatly enjoying the margaritas so was not sure I would have been a great candidate for gravy-maker since I don’t normally drink much. Luckily, others jumped in to produce the gravy. And then there was cake afterwards. We had a lovely evening — relaxing and full of good food with great friends.

Today we slept in. The time leaped forward (annoyingly) and we awoke to blinding sunshine and balmy temps — so energizing after a long winter in Madison. In honor of the weather, I had to spend a couple hours in the yard starting spring cleanup. Anything to be outside. We still have a bit of snow left near the street but in the rest of the yard, it’s mostly gone, thanks to 40s most of last week and some rain.

Tomorrow, I might…. I say “might”… ride my bike to work. Not sure yet.

Snow’s gone

Well, almost. Temps rose all week, we had some rain. Very little snow is left, just in protected corners and crevices — places without much sun. The lawns are pressed flat, browned, mushed down smooth and ugly. No signs of plant life yet. Well, maybe a few. But I’m not seeing any crocuses in our yard yet. I spend most of my day indoors in an office with no window, so I’m cut off from the natural world, parked in front of the computer screen. Each day, I come out into a changed world —  less white and more dull March-ness. March is not a pretty month. I’ve noticed that in the 6 years we’ve lived here. Meanwhile, back in northern Virginia, it’s been in the 60s and within a short time the cherry blossoms will pop. But the 3 years I spent at home in Wisconsin prior to going back to work were very different with much more exposure to sunlight, than the 2.5 years I’ve been working again. Now that I’m working, time has speeded up, seasons pass quickly, I miss out on skiing, I miss out on winter vacations. In my prior non-working life I was outdoors much more. That was better.

What is it I do? It’s hard to categorize, to people outside my world,  but that’s the case with many jobs these days. Even an epidemiologist recently asked me, but what do you really do? I write, read and think. Not necessarily in that order. I help my organization and all its disparate components clarify what they really want to do, figure out how they’ll know they’ve reached their objectives, and help them identify where the information’s coming from. The short-hand for what I do is called “evaluation”  but that word doesn’t really explain itself very well to most people. I like my job a lot. It’ satisfying. I work in a great team of like-minded people who are all trying to do the right things. Despite not having a window office, I like my job. If I do a good job, that will help obtain future jobs for many other people, and we’ll be very small cogs in a much larger wheel. In many ways, we just have to trust that the small things we do will accumulate into larger accomplishments and progress. Only decades from now (maybe) will someone or several people really determine if this national consortium of which my group is a part, will have actually caused some culture changes that make a difference. Meanwhile, we all have our jobs providing resources to researchers. My parents never did understand what I do or what I did or what I studied in college. It was all a complete mystery to them.

And I can help pay for our children’s college educations with this job I do. It makes me feel good to be able to do that. My own parents could not contribute a dime to our educations — my brother and me. They always felt badly about that; they wanted to help, but they couldn’t. They never attend college themselves and didn’t really know anything about what a college experience was. They came of age when only rich people went to college. Or people who were extremely bright and extremely motivated. For people with average to good motivation and talents, college was not the norm the way it is now. And my parents were in the disadvantaged sector economically. My dad had exceptional musical talent but that talent did not ultimately provide him and our family with a secure existence. My parents married young, had kids later than most in their generation, and never quite managed the 60s, 70s, or 80s very well.

Why is it that March brings out dull brown reminiscences from the depths of my memories? The snow’s gone and we won’t likely get any more this season. I didn’t ski this year, and now it’s too late. I didn’t even get my cross-country skis out. And no warm trips came my way. We may be looking at a long chilly rainy spring.  But I didn’t really seem too distressed most of the time. Odd that the winter didn’t depress me. I was too busy. Too busy blogging.

Best haircut in Madison, WI

I will confess that one of the things I worried about when I found out we might relocate to Madison, Wisconsin, was… how would I find someone to cut my hair? I’d been seeing the same stylist for most of the 13 years I lived in northern Virginia. All my life, I’ve had a hard time finding someone who can do a short haircut that pleases me. Short hair is hard to cut. One of my new friends in Madison used to drive to Milwaukee for a haircut because she couldn’t bear to look for someone else in Madison. And our favorite blogger claims to fly to LA for a haircut instead of finding someone in Madison. Look no further.

After I’d been in Madison for about a year, I realized that whenever I saw my friend Kate, I noticed how great her short haircut looked. Finally it dawned on me to ask about her stylist. I figured since she lived on the east side, she probably had someone over there, but I thought I might consider driving to that side of town for a haircut if I could get one like Kate’s. Turned out that Toni was on the west side and Kate has been driving over here for a decade for the best haircut in Madison! It took me quite a while to get on Toni’s list but now I visit her place at Classic Hair Designs every 5 weeks or so for a haircut that makes me VERY HAPPY. She’s been cutting hair for nearly 25 years, and also does makeup. And she’s one of the most delightful people I’ve ever met! Truly.

Don’t waste your money flying to LA for haircuts or driving to Milwaukee or Chicago when you can get the best haircut in south central Wisconsin at 8333 Greenway Blvd, Suite 300, Middleton WI (on the west border with Madison) — make an appointment by calling 608-831-4247 and tell her Jan sent you. And no, I’m not making this up. I’m just telling you who cuts hair the best around here!

Happiness and choices

It might be misty moisty March with the realization that the time is about to change [I hate the spring forward thing] and the threat of taxes coming due [I hate all that calculating] or the worry that one final blizzard will come out of nowhere. But somehow I have this feeling of disorganization, a sense of waiting and wondering, and not feeling hugely productive. And then I read a post on Brazen Careerist and want to write about similar topics because I don’t sometimes agree with what I read or I have questions or things aren’t defined sufficiently. That’s always my big gripe about blogs… people don’t define what they mean and then communication is more complicated.

I was wondering what it is that makes me happy. And how do I feel about the extent of choices in my life? I have not spent years researching happiness. I guess I’m a little surprised that researchers spend huge amounts of time studying what makes people happy. Why bother? Aren’t there more urgent issues to study? Wouldn’t it be reasonable to be a little happy with some small things each day? Like lunch. How can you exist in some state of perpetual ecstasy? Is it necessary to love your job? Wouldn’t liking it a lot be sufficient? Why would someone think that liking a job instead of loving it would be incredibly sad? I don’t think that.

Am I too busy to worry about whether or not I’m happy? Does it matter? I really don’t think I’m too busy. I’m sitting here writing a blog; how can I be busy? But I’m a bit nervous about the times right now, because in the past it seems like whenever I’m in a calm period [a period where I have time to wonder about these things] it usually means that disaster is just around the corner. But that sounds pessimistic and cynical; maybe I don’t really feel that way. I so clearly remember the summer of 2001 — it’s even in the family photo album: that summer we’d had lots of nice experiences and the weather in northern Virginia was beautiful — and then September came and school started… and then 9/11 happened and everything fell apart for several years in a variety of ways. By the time we surfaced in Madison, Wisconsin, in the summer of 2004, there’d been a fair amount of depression, destruction, death, disorientation, disorganization and decompensation. But then things got better. Life is full of cycles and the best thing about being at the bottom of a pit is looking upwards, and realizing that things can’t get worse, so they must be about to get better! And they do. And they did.

Once, our son asked me if I was happy with my life and satisfied with what I’d done, where I’d gone and where I was at the moment. I was caught off guard into stunned silence that our son had asked such a question of me. He rarely asks those kinds of penetrating questions that require some thought to answer. But it wasn’t that hard. I answered “yes.” Because in fact, I’m fairly content most of the time. I don’t have a huge number of diagnoses — just ones that are manageable. I have what is likely the usual number of regrets, but nothing worth writing a novel about. There are no astonishing skeletons in my closet. Some would say I’m a bit boring, but then again… maybe not. Only to my kids, possibly. Happiness… what is it anyway? “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…” Is that what we’re always seeking? Is there anything I’m seeking right now?

OK, it’s not about what it is that makes me really happy. That’s not the right question. The real question is… what are the things that grab me? What am I obsessing about lately? Or rather, what do I love and who cares if it’s not something that makes money? That question is fairly easy and simple to answer, which maybe explains why I don’t spend much time worrying about what makes me happy. I can like my job — even like it a lot — and it helps pay the bills, so then in my free time [which I do have because I value free time] I can do things that intrigue me. Things that are interesting to me. Like listen to pandora and read about music and musicians whose sounds I like but who I’ve never heard of before. I really enjoy that. Or working on genealogy for my family. Or editing photos and getting them printed and writing about the events connected with the photos. I like that. Or reading novels. I read every day just before I go to sleep. Or walk on the treadmill and watch whatever it is that is next on my list. This week, I’ve been watching Empire Falls, an HBO mini-series from several years ago. We just read the novel for my book group. I enjoyed it a lot. And I love planning my next trip to Scotland. I sure hope it actually happens. The trip will make me very happy, and then I’ll spend 6 months working on the photo albums while listening to Scottish music on my iPod. I will be happy! Choices? I didn’t talk about choices in this post. I think I have lots of choices every day. Such as, which delectable item will I choose for lunch? And what can I talk about in my post?

OMG! S&G in Madison in May!

In total disbelief, I see in the paper last Wednesday morning that Simon & Garfunkel will perform in concert in Madison at the Kohl Center on May 9th. Amid the hazy shades of the end of our winter, my excitement levels explode until I realize that we will be in Greensboro, NC that weekend, attending a certain college graduate’s transition to the real world. Mood plummets to bleecker depths. I check the return air flight, which is supposed to arrive in Madison at 7:50pm Sunday night, May 9th. IF we had tickets to S&G, and IF the planes (2 legs) are on time, we could arrive late to the concert and at least see/hear most of it.

Why Madison, Paul & Artie? Checking online, S&G will perform at the New Orleans Jazz Fest in late April, followed by concerts in 5 Canadian cities: Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon and Winnipeg. Then they continue on to… get this… Fargo ND, St Paul MN, and Mighty Madison WI. After that May 9th concert, off they go again to Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. Explain me all this. AND WE’RE OUT OF TOWN THAT WEEKEND. I just can’t stand it. And why Madison, indeed? Art Garfunkel has performed here twice on his own in the 6 years we’ve lived here — the first time in Sept 2004 during the grand opening of the Overture Center, he sang with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.  He was here again on his own and we attended again. But the only time previously that I’ve seen them together  was at the MCI Center in DC in December 2003 at the Old Friends concert. It’s painful, remembering how much I paid for those tickets. But oh how I loved the concert. What people will do for fine music that brings back memories of an entire chunk of coming-of-age years. Somehow, Madison has some groovy thing goin’ — we get S&G in 2010. Most peculiar.

I checked online to see what it would cost to change the flight time for homeward bound from Greensboro, looking at Orbitz through whom we originally booked our tickets. $260 for both of us to change the damn time of return to earlier in the day; not exactly designed to keep those customers satisfied. How I hate flying… let me count the ways. How can I justify that? Well, I can’t.

Simon & Garfunkel are 10 years older than me. When I was 2 and moving to upstate New York, they met in an elementary school play in Queens — Alice in Wonderland. [I hope there are photos from that event in their scrapbook albums.] The year my family moved to South Florida, S&G hit the folk scene in Greenwich Village (1963). One of  my clearer memories from the dim angst of junior high school in 1966 comes from my first school dance, in which I danced to The Sound of Silence, which had become my favorite song of the year. Hello darkness my old friend sums up that ninth grade year in the tropical humidity of my little town’s Junior High School. Music helped get me through those troubled-water years.

Off to college in Gainesville, Florida, mightily distressed that S&G might break up. That last album came out in 1970, in the middle of my very troubled freshman year. But as always, music helped me bridge the gap between painful life lessons and the courage to continue.  I was playing guitar by then and figuring out how to strum their songs and sing along. As the two went their own ways, I followed both careers and bought record albums, memorizing the words to songs because I played them so much. 1974 and all I know is that I bought every one of Artie’s albums and they seemed written for me and my individual small anxieties. Fast forward to 1987 when our little precocious son, walking at 9 months, loved to “dance” to Graceland. I think we even have it on video.

So… how many more concerts will there be… and impossibly… I can’t even say it. This is my last chance to see them perform, and our youngest is The Graduate of the hour. And it costs too much to change the tickets. Do we dare chance it to buy tickets in advance and make it to most of the concert? Do we not buy tickets and see if we can get in a few moments after the concert starts, because maybe there’ll be a couple vacant seats? Well… after all these years, I’m just crazy enough to try something… anything… except $260 to the airlines… to see S&G perform.

Or… I could adopt a mature Zen attitude and let it all go. And listen to them on my iPod. So long, Frank Lloyd Wright.

What a difference a week makes

Now it’s March and much of our snow has already melted because of several warmer days and lots of Wisconsin sunshine. Yes, you read that right. Wisconsin sunshine. We do get quite a bit, but the media doesn’t focus on that. Since we’re the Upper Midwest, we’re supposed to be the Frozen Tundra, and certainly we have those days… ok, months. But there is also lots of sunshine. And that means that our steep driveway often loses its snow cover during a sunny day without our having to snow-blow.

Although it’s 21 degrees outside this morning, the sun is blinding, and the high will hit 35 today, and into the 40s by the weekend! Yes, indeed… looks like an early spring to me, so Jimmy the Groundhog hit it right this time. Smells like spring, too, and the birds are blathering about the yard every morning now. Can’t imagine what they’re finding to eat. Nothing in our yard, anyway.

The taste of spring makes it impossible to even remember the last snowfall. Too bad I’m indoors all day today at a desk, in front of a computer, in a windowless academic world.