A Load of Laundry

New Year’s Eve 2013, I believe it was. At this point we had lived in our house eight years and the last conspicuous evidence of the prior owners was the plaid ivory, pink, blue, and turquoise green wallpaper in our laundry room.

I refused to head into a new year staring at this wallpaper any longer. Down it came in big giant sheets, almost as big as the ones originally hung. It was so easy, so satisfying, to do. The whole exercise took no more than twenty minutes. Keep in mind, my laundry room isn’t tiny…it’s more like a giant walk-in pantry. All I wanted to do was remove the plaid…the fuzzy paper residue that remained on the walls could stay for another time, once I had a chance to score and remove it properly.

You see, when we moved into our house, the entire decor was baby blue and pale pink. A couple lived there before us with their three or four daughters. It always struck me as odd that a house decorated entirely in baby blue and pale pink did not have bedroom closets designed to hang dresses, but to each his own! This house did have a separate two-car garage with a woodshop attached, for the lone man of the house. I suspect he spent a lot of time out there over the years. In any event, I’m not a pastels kind of chick. I tend to gravitate toward warmer, richer colors and classic neutrals.


For me, somewhere in the middle of raising three kids, I put house matters on hold. It took everything I had in me to hold down my job, shuttle the kids around to their activities, deal with schoolwork, pay bills, clean the house, do laundry, you name it. I found that my least favorite activities, and certainly the ones that require a lot of mental energy to start, got put aside. But it was time to make the laundry room beautiful since it felt like I spent all my time there.

I don’t mind doing laundry. Washing, drying, and folding every piece has become a little meditation, a prayer for me. I think of my children wearing these clothes, how much fun they had spilling juice on this shirt or ketchup on that one, how the knees are worn out from playing, which pieces are their favorites such that they show up again and again and again…and eventually there is that last cycle when you realize they’ve outgrown the item in hand, and it’s time to release it to someone else who can use it, someone outside our home.


No kidding, an entire year went by before I got around to cleaning the paper fuzz off the walls, let alone prep them for painting. But eventually I did paint them a cheery peach IMG_4607color, and once I did, I realized I didn’t like the effect. As the mom of three kids, I spend an insane amount of time in that room and it was dreary. It was still crazy dark in that room…it has a whole wall of dark brown cabinets that had been moved from the kitchen and repurposed into the laundry room. The hardware was dusty brass, circa 1980.

I knew it would be a huge effort to pull off, but I decided I had to paint the cabinets white. And if you are shooting for cheery white cabinets, then they need to be cheery white on the side too, especially since that super sticky-tacky contact paper was used to line every last shelf and drawer.

Fast forward. Once in a blue moon I’d have a day free to tackle the paint job. It was tough to pull off because this room was constantly in use, so my painting days had to be full days I could get a lot of it done. Everything had to be hauled out to tackle the painting, and then hauled back in.  Because the laundry room was often in disarray, it became a sort of catch-all room for objects that didn’t have a home. Two years went by before I finally paid someone to paint the cabinets and the walls in a way that I realized I simply didn’t have the time to do. What a relief!

And then it stayed that way for another six months until I could purge my home of all the collected do-dads, reorganize what we would store in the cabinets, paint the trim, hang a shelf and curtains, lay down a rug, and decorate as the final touch. Here are some photos of the finished product.


Over the years, as “incentive” I told myself I could start no new home projects until the laundry room was done. It didn’t really work. Some things just couldn’t wait. Others did, but now I have a massive backlog of stuff that needs repair and updating.

I even took a couple of last-minute vacation days earlier this month to finish the job, once and for all. I posted my photos on Facebook for friends to see, as they had heard about this journey I had been on all these years. Got the requisite oohs and aahs from my photos. I’m proud of my work, my vision for the room, and how it turned out. I love doing laundry in there now. And it has stayed nice and clean ever since.

But the strangest thing about this remodeling journey is this: somewhere along the way of these five years, a load has been taken off my shoulders. I suddenly look at the list of home projects and it doesn’t overwhelm me. I know exactly where all the tools are and whether I have what I need to pull it off, and if I don’t, I head to the hardware store and pickup the few things I need to work the job.

I don’t mind doing the renovation work myself. As a matter of fact, I really love restoring objects to their former beauty or making them better than before. It’s a kind of meditation all unto itself. And believe me, this mom of small kids CRAVED time to meditate.

But now that the load of doing the laundry (room) has been removed, I don’t quite know what to do with myself. The passage of time has hit me a little hard. My children are all five years older. The tiny little knick-knacky toys that are the hallmark of early childhood are slowly being phased out of our house, so they don’t clutter the laundry room anymore. No more bubble stuff, Fisher-Price Little People, lego pieces, Barbie shoes, tempera paint, Play-Doh…. Where did it all go? Wait!? You mean, all that will be left is just….laundry now?

Suddenly doing the laundry is a breeze. There’s tons of counter space to fold and the kids take their clean clothes back to their rooms…and two of the three even do the laundry themselves now.  I need to hang a picture frame? Boom! It’s easy to find the hammer and nail to make it happen. Need an old towel to dry off the patio chairs after a rain? Boom! Easy to spot, easy to grab. Need a dust mop? Same thing.

I can’t figure out whether this room was truly the hub of the house such that whipping it into shape was critical to a well-functioning home or whether the inability to finish the renovation was the giant obstacle getting in the way of other progress in my life. I don’t think this is coincidence.

Who knew that I was really working my way through a load of laundry of a different kind all this time?

And this concludes our episode of “The Doldrums”

Yeah, I’ve been in a funk. I don’t like it there. No fun whatsoever. I get down in the dumps about the state of the proverbial this, that, and the other…and yes, I have a lot of life to sort through. I have friends who think I live a charmed life, and while I don’t want to necessarily pop that balloon…cuz balloons are happy and who doesn’t like happy?… it’s not the whole truth.

I also don’t often admit when I’m down in the dumps. I mean, my husband knows. The kids know. Oh boy, does the immediate family know! They deserve hazard pay for those days… But I don’t like to talk about it with people because 1) the last thing I need to be is a complainer, 2) I’m embarrassed by that sort of attention, and 3) most people don’t know me well enough to help, anyway. They try to get me to count my blessings, as if I don’t do that every day. I do. Believe me, I know I’m fortunate and blessed beyond what most people could ever hope for.

So I don’t share much with people face to face. Online, however? I’m a little more of an open book. Funny, isn’t it?

But these last few weeks, it’s been a little harder to hide. I mean, I’m talking grief pouring out of me. CRYING. SOBBING. Showing up at work with puffy eyes and a red nose, and no, I’m not Rudolph! I don’t know when was the last time I’ve cried. It’s been YEARS. I’ve gotten so numb about certain life events I can’t even cry about them anymore, but this last month or so of introspection revealed new insights that left some pretty raw, gaping wounds I didn’t even know I had.

I have been thinking about the trajectory of my life, what I hoped for when I was younger, significant heartbreak I’ve had along the way, relationships that died for no apparent reason I could find and others that did because of neglect on my part. The hard work and sacrifice for a career that doesn’t seem to yield the fruit I was trying to grow, and the aspects of my life that were put on hold either because of my career, or maybe it was more like the career was a very helpful distraction from all of the heartbreak. I had my act together at one time…as close as one could, I suppose. And then more life happens and throws your plans all to hell, and along with it goes your confidence.

The reckoning sucks. It does. I don’t know how to sugarcoat that. Not anymore! 20-30-40 years go by and you can see the arc of events, the forks in the road you didn’t know were there at the time you encountered them, the friends, the foes, the frenemies…. I really dislike those kind of people. But let’s not talk about them because today concludes this episode of The Doldrums.

I can tell I may have turned a corner. Last night before falling asleep, I told myself that if my eyes popped open at an early hour, I would get my lazy butt up outta bed and walk outside. The weather has been pleasant. I’ve had a nasty cough that has started to get better, so no more pawning it off on illness. Besides, my inner voice has been telling me to get up and walk in the early morning since, oh, I don’t know…2002? So I made a bet with my tomorrow self and dozed off into la-la-land.

Wouldn’t you know: my eyes voluntarily popped open at 5am. I immediately wanted to bargain with Tuesday night’s Denise that I really didn’t mean it, haha.
By 5:50, I had sneakers on and off I went throughout the neighborhood. I’m pretty sure I served as the neighborhood rooster with loud coughing fits every .3 miles or so but I got 2.7 miles in today. It felt so good. Why is it so hard to put sneakers on at 5 am when it otherwise feels so good when you do at 6 am?

I deliberately left the earbuds behind, too. No music today…I just wanted to hear the sounds of the neighborhood and mindfully take in the spring sights. I noticed the nicely manicured lawns, pops of light purple flowers carpeting the ground everywhere, the crabtree-109507-unsplashbirds tweeting (oh, how I love it, no lie), and the houses with overgrown dandelions up to my kneecaps, ready to take flight.

So much thinking, planning, conviction. I ace that stuff.

See, back in 2001 I hatched this idea that I wanted to be a life coach. I liked being a consultant, and I was for PricewaterhouseCoopers. But it drove me a little crazy that I was often part of the public accounting audit team and responsible for providing all manner of information technology evaluations for our audit clients who were not required to correct any of the legitimate errors I pointed out. The lead financial auditors argued that as long as the financial numbers were adjusted to be correct, the systems and processes that produced those numbers could be incredibly crappy and faulty. Their job was to confirm the numbers were a fair representation of the business, period. The auditors would swoop in, find the errors, require that the client plug a number to fix it, and all would be happy. Until Enron happened and the whole 2002 Sarbanes Oxley (SOX) law basically made it clear that not only did the financial numbers need to be right, the systems and processes that were used to create those numbers needed to right as well. SOX was the law that gave my old PwC job total and complete legitimacy it did not have when I worked it.

So at PwC, I got paid very, very well to identify these errors no one ever had to fix. That was bizarre for a number of reasons but the most important one was it wasn’t fulfilling to me. That was me, collecting a big fat paycheck doing GREAT work, but not making a positive difference in anyone’s life, in all honesty. I’m probably judging myself a little harshly there. I was a very good people manager and coach. I knew and still know information technology risk, governance, and control very well. But back in 2001, I was burnt out. Done with that.

Instead of working with some of the largest public companies who could not have cared less about my advice at the time, I wanted to work with individuals and small businesses on plans that directly impacted their lives in a positive way. Business plans, job searches, life plans…whatever it took.

I took the plunge to start that new line of work, giving up a six figure income to risk it. I helped a former co-worker land a job with Oprah Winfrey, guided another acquaintance as she transitioned her brick and mortar business to online (or maybe it was vice versa…I am writing this late at night and can’t remember of the top of my head), and coached a former PwC client of mine to navigate the path to finishing his PhD. It was meaningful. I long to do meaningful work. But from the age of 19 I was pretty much financially responsible for my life so a earning a great income was not optional. Plus I had the smarts for it, so why waste that sort of talent?

Now as a side note, I hung my shingle in July 2001. My personal business plan did not consider that terrorists would turn our world completely upside down two months later, and the very people I hoped to hire me would struggle to keep afloat themselves. Still, I kept at the coaching until shortly after our first child was born, roughly 2.5 years later. I struggled with making so very little money relatively speaking yet making a difference in my work, having a new mouth to feed, and knowing that I had the skills and once had a job that paid several times what my coaching business was currently bringing in. Who knew when the economy, and post 9/11 life, would be normal again, if it ever would?

Still, I was pretty gun-ho about life coaching and life planning for that matter, and to improve my skills I attended LifeLaunch in September 2001 (two weeks after 9/11), the first class among several offered by The Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara to become a certified Life Coach.

It was there I was introduced to The Cycle of Renewal. I will write about this more formally another time, but to keep a long story short, there are four phases and you can move cyclically through them or slosh between a couple for a while: Going For It, The Doldrums, Cocooning, and Getting Ready. You can only imagine the state of mind of the 20-30 of us attending that class that month. It was a hugely enriching experience.

So I’m not kidding when I refer to The Doldrums. I have known it well. A lot of my career at PwC was spent in The Doldrums. It’s an outstanding firm, don’t get me wrong, and working there was absolutely incredible in terms of the scope and quality of learning. I mean, they even tapped me for a 16-week technology training course, full salary and all expenses paid, in Tampa, Florida. Our motto during that 1991 class was, “It sucks to be us” because we KNEW how fortunate we were to acquire the working-world equivalent of a masters in technology.

But I digress. I’m officially all over the place with this post. The point is, The Doldrums are a heck of a place to get stuck. At the Hudson Institute, I learned the characteristics of each phase in the Cycle of Renewal, and what activities help a person through a transition to the next phase of the cycle.

So ta-da! Yesterday, I essentially assessed my current situation and outlined a plan once again for what I could focus on, what I could do that was positive, and by golly, I had already started taking steps in the right direction. I wanted to take credit for the tiny baby steps I had started without even realizing it.

Nope, I’m not gonna outline all of them here in this post, but let’s just say I’m reaching out to people who are incredibly important to me, even if it is briefly to say thank you for the joy, the love, and/or the insight they offered at one point in time. I realize I have knocked off a big home project off my list of to-dos, freeing up some mental capacity to focus on my health. I’ve taken steps to expand my social outreach, which is a big step for this introvert. I’ve decided I’m going to dust off one of my gifts and start singing again…somehow, someway. (Incidentally tonight I heard an 8th grader sing jazz accompanied by an incredible high school big band ensemble and it lit a fire under me not to be outshined by a 13-year-old!) And I’m going to do some serious professional career planning.

Because gosh darn it, I do a great job of visioning and outlining the steps to make it happen. I have a hard time executing, but the planning? That energizes me. Finding obstacles and knowing how to remove them? Yep, I can do that too. DOING IT is of course, much harder. But you know what? I’ve done hard things. I’ve done them very well. 50 years of hard things. And I know reward. Reward rocks. Anything else is just sissy talk. Time to buck up and do it.

Go all Nike. Just do it.

The best thing about this is I recognize The Doldrums enough to know when I’m there, and while it may be inevitable to visit that place now and then, it isn’t ok to take up permanent residence there.

Nice to be back among the living…

Beachcombing…

Oh, you guys….I am struggling to hit “publish”. Have been for weeks. We are back from our Cuba trip. I started writing about it…and I just can’t seem to find the right rhythm to publish it. I have other posts in the works too, just ideas really at this point. I am struggling to share, and I’m not sure why.

I’m blocked, figuratively speaking of course.

Maybe I’m grieving.

It isn’t like I don’t have plenty to say…  Oh no! I have plenty to say. The thing is if I were to write, like I’m daring to do now, I’d be in danger of sharing the rantings of a lunatic woman SQUARELY in the middle – or maybe it’s really the start – of a mid-life crisis.

This is so not cool. So-not-living-up-to-the-blog-name at the moment!  Sigh…

Mid-life crisis? Really? Me?

I don’t wanna have a mid-life crisis! I want to be who I dreamed I would be when I was younger: confident, successful, articulate, graceful, beautiful, and loved.

Incidentally I just now realized how I never really imagined myself as a giver when I had those teenage visions. Being a kind and giving person is the goal I should have been striving for. If it was, maybe I wouldn’t be having the crisis I am right now. But back then I was relatively kind..maybe I didn’t feel the need to envision something I had to start with. I wish I had….so I could remain a kind person. I’ve let that slip, big time. I mean, I realize just how ridiculous this entire post is. Be kind, be giving….that should be the end of the story. But those other things? I had serious work to do to cultivate those traits as I started with nothing. That’s what I was shooting for.

It’s embarrassing to admit all of this but that’s where my head is today.

My brain is so wildly all over the place as of late. Part of me shies away from posting because of what you all will think. I have a tendency to tell real-life stories involving real life people. I don’t make up names to protect the innocent; I just avoid using names. I should seriously consider creating some aliases for the people in my stories.

You see, I have a strong need to write a memoir. There is virtually no one who appears in all scenes of my life…my siblings are at least a decade older than me and we’re wildly different. We love one another but we’re not close…they don’t know what makes me tick, what has brought me joy and sorrow. And neither have they shared that with me over the years. And I have asked….but they are far more private than I am. It’s kinda like being an only child except you’re not, which is almost worse. People know you have siblings and assume you’re close.

Back to the memoir: regarding the cast of characters in my life, I’ve had several dramatic exits over the years, if you will. More than a few deaths, one devastating car accident, and a few marriages (not mine) and moves that closed off some relationships for good. If I don’t write these stories down, no one will ever know. I’d like to think maybe my kids will be curious about my life one day – curious to understand what made me tick and guide them they way I have – but I suspect that day will come when I am no longer here to ask. And when they have those questions, they won’t have the complete picture on account of those dramatic exits. They won’t know what has shaped me and how, because it just isn’t the sort of stuff of every day conversation. They won’t know the toughest lessons I have ever had to learn.

How many deaths? Well, we had a memorial service for my family at church this past Sunday. Granted, a few names were part of my husband’s family but I gave the priest a list of 45 names. 45 people who have passed! I knew well over half of them. All were family, all are gone, and I knew well over half of them.

Well, “knew” is a relative term. None of them really knew me, and I guess it’s fair to say the reverse it true too. After all, I was kid or young adult when those I knew passed, and they weren’t about to open up to me, their youngest niece. Let’s put it this way….we rode the train of life together for a little while but the conversation was more like every day pleasantries. Small talk.

Needless to say, there’s a place for small talk but that’s not my thing. I need to talk about life…make sense of things. I need wisdom. I feel like I’ve got nothing…just what’s in my head and I don’t trust it lately.

I just broke down Sunday, sobbing over the enormity of the loss. Some days all I feel is the loss and it makes me cry.  Why does it feel like none of the latter relationships in my life have nearly the same significance as these ones in the beginning? Is this normal? But then I realize that crying makes me my mother, and I work hard to snap out of it.

And lately, regarding my brain? The regrets…oh, the regrets are strong today. Time is ticking by, baby. Part of me wants to make amends, make peace with people who are still living that I may not have treated so fairly or appreciated nearly enough when they were an active part of my life. If only they knew what good humans they were and what a difference they made to little old me. I wasn’t a proper witness to their significance, importance, goodness, decency….once upon a time. It’s only when 30-40-some-odd years go by that I can see these things so very clearly.

Why do I feel like I’m dying that I need to make amends right this very instant? Is that normal? Why is this feeling overtaking me? It too reminds me of my mom….her last phone call, unbeknownst to her at the time, was to make amends to a high school advisor of mine. Is that why I’m freaking out? Am I doing the same thing here?

I don’t know why I wasn’t a proper witness to these good people. Teen me was self-centered and shallow-minded. In some cases I for sure felt inadequate, awkward. And in other cases, I assumed that most people were as good and decent and kind as the ones I left behind in pursuit of new experiences.

I was wrong on oh-so-many counts.

I have spent most of my life, SO MUCH TIME, looking for a spark, and even waiting for lightning to strike twice. The truth is, all I’ve ever been is a seeker. I keep looking for something better, wanting something more. I can’t separate how much of that is a healthy pursuit of excellence, personal growth, and self-actualization versus blind, gross, insatiable need. The truth is, I don’t know how to sit still and just be. It feels like I’m withering away, rusting, when I do that.

resa-cahya-369025-unsplashDon’t get me wrong…I am grateful for what I have. But why am I not satisfied with that? Why do I keep looking? Why don’t I spend my time polishing what’s before me? And by looking backward at past relationships, why am I like the retiree walking on the beach with a metal detector looking for something precious that has been buried? What good could possibly come from THAT?

When I’m feeling good, I’m forward looking, not beachcombing. I don’t want to be in this space… But the beach…the waves are my tears, washing precious objects ashore. And while the ocean is vast and the objects are small, they bring some joy when I find them…even if they’ve been lost in the waters for so very long and not something that I can incorporate actively into my life today. Maybe my beachcombing is to find shiny little happy things and reminisce for a short while.

Let me explain: about a week or two ago, I made a list of about 20 or so people who had the greatest positive impact on my life. I put them in a couple of different categories, ranging from no contact whatsoever in years to constant contact. Only my husband is in the latter category…very telling. I thought long and hard about how hard it has been for me to make friends ever since I moved back to Ohio even though that was 14 years ago, and how maybe my best bet at this point was to rekindle the relationships that were the most meaningful over the course of my life. Very few of the 20 have entered my life in the last 20 years. Very few.

I know don’t know what I expect to get out of this effort. I know darn well that some of these relationships can never be rekindled. My outreach would be viewed as odd, eccentric, unwelcome. Lightning, I’ve learned, does not strike twice. Whatever stupid action I may have taken to cause the relationship to fizzle is a done deal. “Things happen for a reason,” they say. I say they happen because sometimes I’ve been stupid and careless….

I suspect the only thing I can hope for is to share a word of kindness about how much these people meant to me, tell them that I will always wish them well (as I have every time I think of them), and that I regret that I ever lost touch in the first place.

Yet this whole exercise feels like a stupid, vulnerable thing to do. I will probably chicken out before I get through the list. I don’t have courage when it comes right down to it.

And I know life gets in the way and friendships exist sometimes only for a season due to no fault of anyone, but lately I am living with regrets about that.

I’m walking on the beach with my metal detector. It’s silly, I know, but for now but it gives me something to do.

 

Photo credit: Resa Cayha on Unsplash.com