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Classroom of adult VFW students in a hotel conference room.

October 2018 I stopped working at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Can you believe it’s been a year?! I applied for retirement, and my employer officially terminated me February 2019. The retirement was approved in June. Retirement paychecks began arriving in August.

Needless to say, before it all got worked out, I was nervous about how to survive while I waited (and supported Tara, still at college in Corvallis). A previous co-worker dropped my name to someone hoping to hire, and I got a job as a contract teacher! How exciting! I taught during one week in September, and will teach again during one week in November. The students are employees of Veterans of Foreign Wars, commonly called VFW. These people spend a lot of time assisting veterans applying for VA benefits, so the hiring manager told me that ideally they like to hire people who recently left VA, because those people are current on the VA climate.

And with me, they get an enthusiastic VA Cheerleader!

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They told me what my topic would be, and how much time I had, and how many students I would have, and the dates I would be teaching. They said they needed a powerpoint presentation, handouts, exercises, and test questions. Then I went to work. VFW bought my plane ticket and my hotel room, and paid me for my work. It’s a great opportunity. How much fun it is to be a contract worker – I had never even thought of this opportunity for myself before.

I was very, very nervous before I actually taught my first class. I had never been in the environment before, didn’t know the audience, didn’t know the format, didn’t know the area, etcetera, etcetera. But I am great in front of people. Though I only slept about 45 minutes the night before, by the end of my first hour teaching, I was fine, and completely in my element. I am good at this. The student reviews were good, the feedback from the hiring manager was good. I managed to address a problem with time right away and it worked great. The students were experienced employees who should already know the material, and they were engaged, open, willing to do the exercises, willing to share their experience and also to ask questions. They were encouraging and supportive and funny.

The view out my hotel window, of the pool closed for the season. Downstairs were the classrooms, as well as a restaurant. If I didn’t want to, I wouldn’t have to leave the building for 5 days.

Typical hotel conference room classroom.

Another conference room classroom. My point with these photos is only to elicit common memories from people who have been in these rooms before!! It’s so ugly and potentially so boring!!

VFW has annual training requirements. After talking with a lot of these experienced employees, I saw that many of them are eager to receive this training. In their level of experience, these classes are mostly updates (law changes, court cases recently decided, refresher training), and so it’s not new information, but a reinforcement of what they already know. I was grateful for their great attitudes and eagerness to hear what I had to say.

The students are also a lot of fun. I bumped into a guy who lived in Idaho near where I lived. We shared memories of tiny rural communities that most people have never heard of. He and a friend of his invited me to make the 3 1/2 mile walk into the city of Annapolis, one day after class. I had never seen the town and they insisted I would love it. Though it was autumn back home in Rainier, it was still summer and hot in Annapolis – yay!! We held a quick pace and it felt great to move after too much time inside the hotel.

What the what? Yes, that’s a cemetery in the median.

My companions explained to me that when the road was put in, graves were exhumed when necessary. All the graves in this center strip were left alone. But how to get there safely?!

I realized Annapolis must be a real New England town, and I began appreciating the buildings.

Don’t you love buildings created to fill awkward spaces?

Wall art always catches my eye..

Finally we reached a place where we could see the sea at the bottom of the hill. What a pretty town Annapolis is.

It was the end of the day and we had just worked up an appetite. One of my companions said that the last time she was here she had stumbled upon a place serving fresh crab cakes and she wanted to go there for dinner. Of course we did too! It was a no-nonsense crab cafe, and the crab cakes were enormous and reasonably priced ($17 for 1/2 pound of meat). While we sat there, other VFW people showed up, which was fun. After eating, we decided to continue to explore the town.

This was officially a “sandwich,” but I ordered mine without the bread. The plate is blackened from decades of use, I imagine.

We found a hat shop and tried on hats. I never wear hats and didn’t buy any.

If I did wear a hat, I might look like this!

We were only a few steps from the waterfront, so the three of us walked around in the lovely warm evening and watched the sun go down over the water of the Chesapeake Bay.

Annapolis waterfront.

Sunset in Annapolis Harbor.

All three of us are prior military, and the US Naval Academy was right next to us. We happened to have on us the ID that would get us through the gates, so off we went. It was getting pretty dark but we were awake and ready to explore some more. With little trouble and no questions, we were allowed onto the base where we began looking at statues and entering interesting buildings.

The Naval Academy Chapel, completed in 1908, is due some repairs. The famous patina green dome will be replaced with a new copper dome that will take 20 years to turn green again.

This one looked promising as we walked up to it.

And yes, it was enormous and gorgeous inside. Dahlgren Hall was once used as an armory, but tonight there were cadets learning to swing dance.

With a sort of mini-museum there at one end.

Ship accoutrements.

Inside Lejeune Hall.

We explored different statues on campus that my friends could tell me about (they were way more in touch with Naval Academy tradition than me). One of them knew a senior cadet and texted him, and he came out to greet us and we stood in the dark courtyard chatting for some time before he had to go. We also entered Lejeune Hall, which holds an olympic sized pool, a “diving well,” boxing and wrestling arenas, and of course, a classroom. From the hallways up above, we could look down onto the cadets in swim training.

Navy mascot is Bill the Goat

Cadets in uniform move quickly through the night, returning to Bancroft Hall after classes.

Wins lauded in Army-Navy contests.

Cadets hard at work in the pool in Lejeune Hall.

My new friends wanted to end the night with a pint, and I couldn’t think why not. I had a coupla’ Guinness as a nod to my trip to Ireland with Tara earlier this year. Rather than make the very long walk home after two pints, my new friends called us an Uber and I was soon winding down, thinking about how soon the alarm clock was going to ring…

 

Kids in the new kitchen. That’s Tara in the middle.

I did not expect that when I spent this summer jobless I would be busier than ever, but it’s true! I thought that those hours when I used to be glued to the computer I would now spend more time in the garden, or just relax on the deck with my kitty. What happened is that I just filled up all the rest of the spaces. Looking back, I realize my 10-hour work days might have been the closest thing to physical rest I got, other than when I was sleeping.

One of the most fun things I did this summer was to finally show off my new kitchen. You remember my whining about the remodel woes earlier this year. It took 10 months instead of the projected 2-4 months. The Project Manager TRIED to charge me double the estimated price, but he didn’t realize that the person he assumed was a dumb girl, that he had been ignoring and disrespecting the whole year is actually a wildcat. I got advice from a lawyer and submitted a letter to the PM with a corrected invoice, and a check for what – in my opinion – was the correct balance. …and then I sent a copy to his boss at the parent company. A month later I received a response accepting all my corrections except one. No apology. But whatever. It saved me over $10,000!! Gold star for Crystal.

Now it was time to have people over. First let me show you a before and after:

This photo is from last spring. I’m standing in the front room, facing a wall that holds a utility closet and a pantry. Behind all that (you can see the stove and microwave) is the tiny galley kitchen.

A photo of what it looks like now, while standing in the same place.

Tara wanted to have a big 22nd birthday party at my place in July, and said it was ok if I invited a bunch of my friends (since most of them know Tara anyway) and had a kitchen-warming party at the same time. Tara’s partner, Brynnen (orange hair), came over, and Tara’s best friend also came over the night before, and they insisted on making dinner. I unhesitatingly agreed.

We had the party on a Friday, and I told people it would go from 3pm to 8pm. That way, people could come and go all day long. A few of my friends stayed the night too, and so obviously the party really went till 1am or so. We had a fire in the fire pit and talked and laughed till we were finally spent.

While the photos of the perfectly clean kitchen are lovely, I like the following pictures better because this is the whole point of a kitchen: to gather and eat and drink and laugh.

The kids filling their plates after they finished making dinner.

Friends in the kitchen. My front room is still dark, but believe me it is so much lighter now after the remodel.

Three of my best friends and former co-workers.

Hosting parties is not typically my thing, and this part where people just break off and talk to each other without my help is magical to me.

Tara’s friends rigged up the TV to play video games and spent their time in that room.

Tara and a couple of my friends.

Here are the same two friends, who are also newly married, and took the opportunity to go for a long walk.

Speaking of friends… earlier in July I had the chance to spend a day with a blogger friend, Marlene, and help with her yard sale. I am fortunate to call several of you friends, and I lucked out when one of you bloggers turned out to be a neighbor (she’s an hour and a half away, but that’s pretty close). Anyway, I spent one of the best days of my whole summer with Marlene and a few of her beautiful family members. If any of you follow her at insearchofitall, please let me assure you that she is even more sincere, generous, and wise in person than she seems on her blog. Marlene wrote a great post about the yard sale. She also handed over some bowl cozies that she made specifically for Tara and Brynnen. These are bowl-shaped hot pads that you set your bowl into before you put it into the microwave. When your soup is hot, you can just wrap your hands around the cozy and pull it directly from the microwave without burning your hands. Brilliant! Tara and Brynnen are huge fans of soup, and use the cozies constantly.

Marlene wears a great apron that of course she made for herself.

Customers survey the treasures for sale when two homes get merged into one.

Blue and green leaf pattern chosen specifically for Tara’s cozies.

Another thing I did with Tara and Brynnen in honor of Tara’s birthday, is take them to see the Broadway show Wicked, a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman. Tara is a huge fan of Broadway. They listen to the Broadway Pandora channel and know most of the songs for most Broadway shows by heart, despite only having seen a few of them. Tara has been dying to see Wicked for years, but it took a very (very) long time to come to Portland, then it sold out the first two years before I could get tickets, then we were busy, but finally it all came together. I read the original book by Gregory Maguire (based on the original original by L. Frank Baum) and couldn’t imagine a Broadway show of that book. However, the performance takes only some of the key ideas of the book, and to my delight, keeps a lot of the creepiness of the uncomfortably strange world, while also showing a way to connect with that world.

The Keller Auditorium in Portland, with crowds of people who want to see Wicked.

Merchandise for sale in the lobby. I’ve always liked the artwork and design for this show.

Though not allowed to photograph performances, I always try to get a shot of the stage before shows that I see. This one is one of my favourites ever because…. Yes! the DRAGON! (It’s eyes lit up and its head moved, too)

If you don’t know, Wicked is about the days when Glinda (The Good Witch from the Wizard of Oz) and Elphaba (The Wicked Witch of the West) were college students together. How they started out as friends, but how politics and society told them that in order to pursue their dreams they had to present as enemies. In a way, one ended up on the right, and one on the left, and society didn’t allow them space to respect each other (sound familiar anyone?). Though they always cared about each other, publicly they were forced to denounce each other, and privately they didn’t really understand each other. There was also a very strong story line about discrimination of a group of citizens that the people of Oz felt were too different to be welcomed into society. And a third strong story line about how Elphaba didn’t fit stereotype of a pretty and desirable woman (her skin was green after all), and how handsome party boy Prince Fiyero not only falls in love with who she is, but is also motivated to become a better man after watching her example. The show makes us reconsider everything that the beloved television special The Wizard of Oz taught us, and makes us realize that the “truth” of history is a function of who gets to tell the story.

A whole string of good advice, wise warnings, biting criticism, intentful introspection, and positivity with tolerance. Great songs, great actors, and all of us went home very happy to have seen it.

We were, however, curious about the strange sights in the parking garage as we entered and left.

This sight on the wall near where we parked inside the parking garage. So creepy we actually laughed out loud!

On the way down the stairs to street level, we laughed again. It’s a play on a famous line from the 1977 film Star Wars.

{This one’s for Brian, who asked for it.}

A month ago I lost Phil, one of my Hussies. I went into the chicken house and there she was on the floor, with only a few gouges from either whatever predator killed her, or from the other chickens. I couldn’t tell what had happened. Obviously not something hungry, because no part of her appeared to be eaten. I disposed of her body. I am sad and the death remains a mystery.

Down to two hens, it was time to get new ones. Last year I wanted new hens and waited in the season till hens would be grown up, and went to the feed store to be told, “Good heavens, there are never adult hens left! They are all claimed as chicks!” So this year I knew I needed to be one of the chick-claimers, and to figure out how to make it happen.

I went to the feed store to ask questions and think it through, but accidentally purchased four Ameraucanas. Ooops.

They lay greenish/blueish eggs. I think it will be fun to mix up my light brown and dark brown eggs with the others. I put them in a cat carrier the first two days, because I had no other ideas. Finally I transferred them to a cardboard box. When the weather got nicer, I made a tiny temporary pen outside and let them play in the sun and eat grass during the afternoons, and then caught them all and put them back into the box when it got chilly in the evenings. Most of the time, and on rainy days, they lived on the hearth next to the woodstove so they could keep warm.

Brand new babies thier first night.

Tara came to visit me and the chicks.

I suspect that my cat, Racecar, is both insulted that the chicks are soiling her cat carrier, and wishing she could bite them.

Tara sitting with the babies (and Racecar) outside in the sun. You can see the window screen I used for a top, when there was no one to supervise.

They liked to stand inside their food and water dishes while they used them. Yes, the dishes got filled with grossness very quickly. I cleaned them about three times a day.

Here’s more of a birds eye view of their tiny pen.

Will named them the Lil’ Hussies, which I think is adorable.

Cuties in their tiny temporary pen.

More baby photos.

And more.

And more. Honestly, I tried to pick one and ditch the rest, but they are all SO CUTE.

I’m leaving on vacation soon, and I wanted to get some kind of better setup for the chicks, for when the housesitter (Tara’s dad) comes. Also, after two weeks, the chicks were stinking up the house. Chickens don’t do much more than eat, drink, and poop. And finally, they are growing fast and getting stronger. One day when I reached into the temporary pen outside to grab them and put them back into their cardboard box for the night, one got away from me.

Chickens can’t stand being apart from a chicken who has gone somewhere else because they are just certain that the far away chicken is doing something amazing and they are missing out on amazingness. So they run, fly, shriek and do whatever necessary to get to that other chicken. Such was the case this time. Docile as a group, when they spotted their fuzzy friend two feet away in the grass, outside the pen, they all went crazy and soon there were four fuzzy babies cheeping and fluttering and jumping and scaring each other in circles around the yard. Oh. My. Gosh.

Of course Racecar, who is always nearby because she is such a protective Aunt Cat, (heh heh) wanted to show them how dangerous it was to be out, so she pounced at them! Not on them of course, because I was there and she suspected it would not be approved of. She was right. I gave Racecar my mom voice and said, “Hey!” and she went away. Luckily, the chicks came back to their familiar temporary pen and food and water dish that they recognized, as I thought they would. I caught them all and got them into their box.

Whew! Definitely time for a better plan.

I reviewed images on Pinterest, and found one that I liked. It’s an A-frame, with the nesting area in the top, and yard area in the bottom. It seemed like it could be made small, and light so that it could be mobile, and just might work for chicks. I have very little construction knowledge, but a truckload of confidence and determination, plus a few tools scattered around, so that was enough to get started!

First I went to Home Depot and purchased a pile of lumber in their rejects pile in the back. All kinds of warped and broken boards for 70% off. I did have to buy one sheet of plywood at full price, and I had an employee cut it in half for me (for free!) so I could fit it into the Jeep. Yes, I hauled all the lumber and hardware home in my Jeep, and it only cost me $39. I’m so proud. Then I went to a tractor supply store that also functions as a feed store, and bought poultry mesh (otherwise known as chicken wire).

When I’m used to gossip and fashion magazines in the checkout line, this sight was a welcome change.

I went home and used my hand me down tablesaw for the first time, and borrowed a skill saw, and dug round the shop, and the garage, and the wood shed, and collected things I would need.  I made one more trip to the Rainier hardware store to buy staples for the staple gun. I mean, seriously I do not know what the heck I am doing, and I’m not set up for this. But why should that stop me!!

I began building my A-frame chicken pen. And guess what? I finished it. And it’s cool.

This is about 1/3 of the way through my project. I moved slowly and thought through next steps as I saw what I had in front of me. Totally winging it the whole way through. ha ha!

I built an area for a nesting box, but also installed a board endwise so they could roost on it. Then I installed a ramp so they can climb up. Take a good look now at all this wood and no poop in sight. It’ll be the last time that’s true.

Ok, I think this is good to go. The side is on hinges, so I can access the stuff I need to get to. I moved their familiar box of straw to that platform when the chicks moved in…with a little opening cut into the cardboard box for them to find their way out.

Main problem: the plywood warped. I still don’t know how to fix this problem.

Food installed, water installed. Now all we need is chicks!

I worked on it three different days and finished in the evening, as you see in the photo above by the long shadows that completely shade the lawn. I cannot reach down to the grass from the open door, so once the babies went in, they were going to have to stay in. No more cozy nights beside the fire. Because I am a nice momma, I waited till the next day when it got warm again.

Babies in their new home!

They only took an hour to figure out how the water works. There is a ball inside a tube, and they have to push the ball up with their beaks to get water to drip out.

I had checked the weather forecast in case the worst happened and they did not go up top for the night. It was not going to freeze, but it would be around 40 degrees (5 C) which is much colder than what they’re used to beside the woodstove. Still no idea how to fix the warped plywood, I had thrown an old inflatable mattress over the top which blocked the hole but also trapped the heat from the sun up there. If only the babies would go upstairs for the night. However, I checked on them all day long and for most of the day, only one baby went onto the ramp. As it got darker and colder, a second chick got onto the ramp and began to follow the brave chick up. But they constantly looked down below and the other two chicks were having none of it. They began to settle into the grass for the night. So the two on the ramp jumped down and joined them. “No, babies!!”

I fretted all night, worried that they would freeze to death, or get the chicken flu, or be put out with me.

I went out as soon as I woke up, while it was still cold and foggy and damp, with fingers crossed that they would have found their way to the top, and climbed into their warm box in the night. But no, a tiny huddle of chicks was there on the ground, pressed into a corner of the pen, tiny feathers all fluffed up. It made me sad.

During their second day in the pen, all four of them got comfortable climbing up the ramp to the rafters and roosting. In the three days since, no one has gone all the way back to the cardboard box though, so they don’t have that warm straw to curl up in. I’ve always said chickens are dumb. And, even though I want to forgive these darlings and give them the benefit of the doubt, I admit that baby chickens are dumb too. That evening, as they all began to form their huddle on the grass for the second night, I went out and got them stirred up again and coaxed and coaxed till I got them to climb the ramp. It was chilly in the evening and the wind had picked up, and as soon as they got to the top, they were visibly more comfortable. They stayed up there. Yay!!!

Upstairs/downstairs view of two babies in the grass, two in the rafters. And Racecar, as you see, is never far away.

It’s evening, so will you little ones please stay up here for the night?

I went out to check them the second morning, and they were up and about…pecking food and grass and cheeping vivaciously.

This is the original kitchen, viewed through a “window” from the TV room.

Prior to the remodel, I was lucky to have friends remind me to take before and after pictures. I knew the change would be drastic, so I needed a point of reference. I chose to stand in the TV room and look through the open walkway into the kitchen.

I’ll do another post with more kitchen details, but here’s one that shows one perspective of the changes that took place from September 2018 through February 2019. Remember in a former post where, to be safe, I judged the kitchen wouldn’t be ready till Valentine’s Day? It was a good thing I did because it’s still not done. Really close though, just a few cosmetic fixes left.

Take a look at how the view changed over the months.

I scraped the popcorn off the ceiling so I could have a nice smooth finish. Then I began emptying the cupboards and the pantry.

Then tore out all the old cupboards, removed the appliances, and began tearing up the tile floor. The refrigerator was moved into the TV room and plugged in with an extension cord running into my bedroom, behind me as I take the photo.

At that point the contract work came in, dismantling the walls. Look how much that opens up the room already!

After everything was torn out, I cleaned up the floor. It’s still such a mess.

Sheetrock went up, the water heater was replaced with a tankless water heater for more space, and I was able to begin to visualize the future finished walls.

Tara came home from college for a couple days and we painted the walls.

Where did I wash dishes for all that time? You guessed it: in my bathroom sink. No, it was not ideal.

When the painting was done, the electrician hooked up some of the lights so we had something to work by. Then the cabinets were installed.

At long, long last the floor was installed. It was finally taking shape. Since the wood in the kitchen is white oak, and the wood in the TV room is red oak, it’s not a seamless transition. As the wood ages it will blend better. Even with the different wood, I like this much better than the trim pieces in between each room. Now it’s a flat surface that doesn’t trap dirt.

Finally put the dining table and the refrigerator back into the kitchen (and I scratched my beautiful floor in doing so – arrrgh!). Also installed microwave and wall oven.

And viola! My kitchen today. I’m all moved in and cooking again. And washing dishes in a proper sink.

Wanna take one more look at what it used to be? The old kitchen was small and dark. The new kitchen is bright and open.

Big changes.

Two of my former co-workers notified me that our office instant message service has declared that it has been 100 days since I logged in. That means, I have not been to work in 100 days.

With my anthropology background, I find it interesting that the 100-day mark caught their attention and that they both contacted me about it. One friend suggested I look up the significance of 100 days; the other friend suggested I write a blog post to commemorate the event as a possibly therapeutic process. I’ll do both.

The passage of 100 days is significant to people around the world, but I did not find analysis of why it is significant. My guess: the number 100 is important mathematically and mathematicians were crunching numbers prior to the Babylonians and Egyptians. Mathematicians have likely been teaching the general population about the significance of the number 100 since before recorded history. Look around and it’s not 100 days that are significant, but 100 anything. 100 degrees Celsius is water’s boiling point, 100 kilometers above sea level is the end of Earth’s atmosphere, 100 years is a century, and the number 100 is an easy-to-remember emergency phone number in multiple countries, like 911 is used in the US.

Focusing only on the significance of 100 days, I see that my friends were dialed right in. I made a list of some of the ways in which 100 days are significant:

  • Buddhists have a prayer ceremony 100 days after a death, and this also may be a long-lost Catholic tradition.
  • Schools celebrate 100 days of learning.
  • 100 days following a bone marrow and stem cell transplant is a milestone.
  • Napoleon’s final military campaign in 1815 was called The 100 Days.
  • The 100-day moving average is a method of analyzing the health of a particular stock.
  • Chinese babies have a celebration when they are 100 days old.
  • American zoos wait 100 days when naming baby pandas.
  • Films called 100 Days include a 1991 Hindi murder mystery and a 2001 film about genocide in Rwanda.
  • There is a book called 100 Days in which a teenager has a rare disease and 100 days left to live.
  • People set goals of 100 days to bring awareness, to do art projects, to lose weight, to make money.
  • The first 100 days of an American Presidency is considered a landmark.

The question I ask myself today is “How are my first 100 days away from work significant to me?” Honestly, until my friends pointed it out, I wasn’t even paying attention to the timeline. So in that sense, not significant at all.

I miss my job. I love the job. I miss figuring out the puzzles every day. I miss both having a tight enough knowledge of the law that I can recall the regulations from memory, and I miss searching through the laws and court cases till I find exactly what I need. I love writing my decisions. I love finding new medical evidence and pointing it out to an overworked doctor, putting the pieces together for them, so all they have to do is recognize what I’m trying to do and either agree or disagree. I like volunteering for the totally confusing screwed up cases that have been ignored for two years because nobody can figure it out. I miss serving people.

I’m still mad at myself for failing at my job. I left for medical reasons that are not my fault, but I still feel like I failed. Because. I did.

Yes, people I used to work with still love me, and probably nobody blames me for forcing them to take over work I was supposed to do. The fact remains that I can’t do my job while other people can. Just because my decision was valid doesn’t make it comfortable. It sucks. It’s hard for me to tell myself “Well, I’m sick, I had to leave the job,” because that feels too much like blaming my problems on something else. Also it’s very hard for me to accept that I’m sick. I don’t want it to be true.

Either I’m sick and that prevented me from doing my job, or I’m not that sick and I simply failed. Both options bite.

I suspect that once I’ve found my new path/career/plan, I’ll be able to put my last job into the right context. In 2003 I left my job after 11 years as a weather forecaster with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to go to University for the first time. Once I embraced my role of student, I was glad I had left weather forecasting. In September, I left my job as a disability benefits decision-maker with the Department of Veteran Affairs after 11 years. Eleven years must be my auspicious number, rather than 100 days!

I have remained the same person during the past 100 days. I adore my same friends, I get excited over visits with Tara, I nerd out about all the same nerdy things, I still go for walks around my property, I can’t stand grocery shopping, I love my kitty, I whine about the cold, I drive into Portland to catch shows, I plan future travels. Without the job, I am the same woman.

So just maybe…maybe a word like “failure” is much too grand for my story, and the truth is merely that I used to work there, and now I don’t. After 100 days away from work, I’m marking that event by recognizing that who I am might inform how I do my job, but is not shaped by what that job is, or whether I even have one. I am grateful that my friends told me about this milestone and prompted me to think about it. It’s no great ceremony, but it does give me hope and confidence.

This pin acknowledges my time as a public servant in the Air Force, as a NOAA weather forecaster, and as a Decision Review Officer with VA. I am proud to have been able to give so much to my country.

While texting a friend last night about his career as a musician, he said he has been overcoming challenges and right now is focused on manifesting something much better.

This morning I got the email reminder that my Leave and Earnings statement from my federal government job is now available for review on the .mil website. It’s the one I’ve been worried about, and it took me a while to open up the website and take a look. With relief, I see that it was the best I could have hoped for, which is 73% of what I usually receive. It means that I was credited every last hour of vacation leave and sick leave I had left. Until now, I wasn’t sure if there were any wonky rules that would end up restricting use of some of those hours. But yes, I was paid for it all.

While Human Resources helps me through the paperwork, I am now in Leave Without Pay status. It makes me anxious. Today I received my last paycheck from VA. I’ve been questioning myself over and over and over: what the heck am I doing? Trulove, are you crazy?!

My job at Department of Veterans Affairs is stressful, and I may have expressed it now and then over the ten years I have been blogging. They do not manage people well, and it is hard on employees. The government takes forever to fix a problem, and that is only after they’ve taken forever to even admit there is a problem. VA has not yet realized, as an agency, that it doesn’t manage people well. Clearly the fix is not going to happen soon enough for me.

With the new White House Administration, the screws have been tightened more than ever before, and our managers are being squashed under unrealistic demands and expectations. It trickles down even though many managers try to shield us.

On a personal level, I have been struggling more than usual. I have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to multiple sexual traumas in the military. Since my job requires reading medical records of veterans so that I can make decisions about benefits, I’m reminded often of my own trauma. There is a case on my desk with someone who has PTSD every single day. It’s that common.

October 2017 sexual allegations against Harvey Weinstein exploded into the #metoo and #timesup movements. I wrote, at that time, about how I can feel this kind of news story in a physical way. A jab in the stomach every time I hear the news. It has literally been in the news every single day for a year.

Beginning October 2017 my performance at work began to decline, and it just got worse. My managers had to get creative to protect me from getting fired due to my mistakes. A month ago, I hit a wall and could not go back. The combination of everything spent my resources and I couldn’t get out of bed. I have not gone back to the office. That explains why I used up every last hour of paid time off.

So here I am.

FYI, I can afford this for right now. I have talked with my financial advisor, and it’s ok for awhile. Tara can stay in college. I can make plans without time pressure. It’s a relief.

And I’m doing better. I’ve been sleeping through the night, which I think is the same as medication. I’m painting much more. I’ve had time to visit friends. I’m working on my photobook for my trip to Myanmar. These are the things that fill the fuel tank rather than drain it.

The surge of anxiety this morning with the notice that I just received my last paycheck was the most anxiety I’ve felt for a couple weeks. It feels normal to get anxious now and then over some scary news, instead of anxious every day.

A few hours ago I sat at my computer, carefully updating my financial spreadsheets, and worrying about future unknown expenses. The words from my musician friend came back to me and I realized he had given me the emotional boost I needed today. As scary as change is, I am doing a good thing. I am manifesting something much better, though I don’t yet know what that is.

This is the best I can do for a “before” photo. The shed is on the left side.

There was an old lean-to shed built up against the side of the house. I didn’t like the looks of it or the location, and had been telling people for years that I wanted it torn down. As with so many other things around here, Josh took care of it.

One problem was that the shed also contained my well. So the tear down had to be careful, and there also had to be a plan for a reconstructed pumphouse, to continue to protect the well.

The demolition went quickly. Turns out, the wood on the far side – away from the house – was completely rotten from both the wood sitting on the wet dirt for many winters, but also from a nasty termite infestation. There were also years of rats nests in the roof. The roof had actually caved in over the top of the well. I am *so* glad that disaster is no longer attached to my house, because the termites would certainly have made their way over.

Roof is coming off.

More deconstruction. That’s the old well-house there behind plywood in the corner.

Walls gone. Roof down. See the pile of bricks there at the side of the house? Those are what I used to build the front walk.

The old, rotten pumphouse.

Josh was carefully saving the good materials.

Here’s the water tank for the well, connected to an old broken water softener, and pipes and electrical wires all over the place.

Ready for reconstruction of the pumphouse.

In early June we could still burn, so this is what happened to the rotten wood.

With barely a day to absorb the missing shed, Josh got to work on the rest. Someone at some point had installed a water softener next to the well. It’s a good idea. The water here is hard, meaning there is a high mineral content. It’s also high in iron and sulfur, so it has a mild rotten egg smell – yuck. But after three years I’m mostly used to it. The water softener was broken and taking up space. It had not been functioning in the three years I lived here. The benefits to having a functioning water softener are to minimize mineral buildup in pipes and to make showers nicer on the skin. But they also require maintenance, which I am not interested in. A reliable new one would cost a couple thousand dollars. I told Josh to get rid of it.

Without the water softener, the pipes had to be re-routed. That was done in a day.

Then he built a pumphouse entirely out of recycled materials. I asked for a roof over the back for a place to store my trash and recycling bins. Since he was in there anyway, he put a spigot on the outside of the pumphouse, which is wonderful because I didn’t have water on this side of the house and had to buy a 100 foot hose to drag over here. Then he installed an outside outlet and some flood lights. This guy can do anything, I’m telling you.

New pumphouse. You can also see the ground torn up, where he ran the drainage for the French drain from my driveway.

View from the back, with my trash and recycling bins.

Now I needed a space to store all my equipment that had previously been stored in the shed. I pointed out the place where I wanted it built. Josh thinks about it for a couple hours, jots a materials list down on a piece of paper. I handed him my credit card and off he went to Home Depot. In no time, the place was going up.

New shop going up.

He built these doors from scratch. He adjusted the bottom to follow the slope of the land.

They open onto a bed of river rock. I can just drive my riding lawnmower into it! Sooooo cooooooll!

Tar paper up to provide a little insulation in the winter.

This is the location. On the other side of my house, and completely detached.

The roof was the hardest part. He built it steep for upstairs storage.

More roof work.

Some of the roof pieces are clear, so there is a skylight.

Inside, he built me a work bench. He picked up the windows at Habitat for Humanity, for $5 each.

Stairs up to the storage area.

This is the storage area above the lawnmower parking area.

Lawnmower has a new home.

Evening sun lighting up the shop.

Getting closer to done!

This is my view from the deck now. It’s ready to be used.

Isn’t it beautiful?

On a whim, he thought maybe the soil previously in the shed might be good for a garden. Josh planted tomatoes, green pepper, cucumber, and onions here. We’ve been harvesting the onions and cucumbers already, and the peppers are just about ready.

I built a new attractive front walk and steps to replace the ugly concrete slabs.

Ever since Josh has been living here, things are getting done at a breakneck pace. I almost need a moment simply to absorb the changes.

New front door with glass to let in light.

Tara called him my Work Gremlin at one point. I came home from the office one day and the deck was stained. I glanced out my window from my home office one morning, and noticed a new, handmade bird house mounted on a tree. He cleaned the roof, repaired the gutters, then installed leaf guards. He borrowed a leaf blower and cleaned up the leaves, and heaped them all on the burn pile. He rakes, and power hoses, and organizes. He consistently takes the small push mower and mows the grass where there is no room for the riding lawn mower. Sometimes I ask for things, sometimes they simply appear. Josh isn’t able to pay me rent, but as far as I’m concerned, he’s paid up.

In my quest to bring more light to my cave-like living room, I purchased a new front door with decorative glass in it. I was quoted hundreds of dollars for the store to send someone out and install it. Josh said he could do it, and within an hour from when I brought the door home, it was installed.

I complained one day about my sloping drive into the garage. I said I had been thinking that a French drain might be a good way to address the problem of all the mud and rainwater and snow that slides down the slope into my garage. He said, “That’s a good idea.” And in a couple of days, it was done. While he was at it, he also installed new weather stripping on the bottom of the garage door, and a rain barrier to the concrete floor, so it’s much better protected inside. Then he found some of the spare house paint, and painted the outside of the garage door that had been weathered down to bare wood. All the work on the garage door disrupted the open/close mechanism, because the size of the opening had changed. I found a YouTube video that addressed my brand of garage door opener, got a stool and got up on tiptoes, and reprogrammed my garage door. With this guy around, I have to do *something* to show for myself.

In front of the garage door, a drain is installed. Now, water that runs down the hill will fall into the drain, then run through an underground pipe into the yard.

Behind the French drain, you can see the red curved bricks that make a border around my front garden. The front garden has changed somewhat. I don’t have many good photos from what it was on day one. Funny how consistently I have not photographed the “before” scenes, so that even I have a hard time remembering what it used to look like. Here are a couple:

This was in February 2016. You can see there is almost nothing planted in the garden. (also no French drain!)

This photo taken in May 2018.

I’ve always hated the concrete walks in front of the porch. I asked Josh one day to take the sledgehammer and bust them up so I could haul them away. It didn’t take him long to discover that these walks are six to eight inches thick! Whoever decided to pour such massive slabs of rock? ugh what a pain. Somehow, he got them broken into three huge pieces and drug them out of there, chained to his truck. Somehow, none of my plants were destroyed. That’s the real miracle.

Since I moved in there has been a pile of bricks on the side of the house that are left over from when the previous owner built the rock fireplace inside the house. I had the idea of using those bricks somehow to make a more attractive walk. Josh showed me how to mix concrete, and soon I was up to my elbows in it and having a blast. He built some forms for me to make steps, and then left me to do everything else.

Steps are poured, and river rocks laid down before concrete is poured on the walk.

Looking from the porch toward the driveway. Isn’t this a hundred times better? I’m so proud of myself for building this beautiful walk on my very first attempt at using concrete.

Just wait till I tell you about the new pump house and new shop!

View of chicken pen and coop from my bedroom window. Look at that pretty little spike deer.

Remember the Hussies? My chickens are still with me. Only three remain (Lacey was hit by a car, and I ate Gimpy), and I love them as much as I ever did. It was high time I demonstrated this.

A friend of mine needed a place to stay and he is not able to pay but is the handiest of handy men. I live alone in a three-bedroom home on a big property and work full time so I don’t have extra time left over to take care of my big property. Obviously, this was a situation that could help both of us.

Josh moved in the end of March and started helping me. (You may remember Josh from our hike last October) The list of improvements ranges from finally having a towel rack installed in my master bathroom to constructing new buildings on the property! One big change is that my chicken Hussies finally have a decent home.

At the beginning of March, I began some work before Josh showed up. I hired some professionals and had a new chicken house built. My poor hussies have been living in a tiny chicken house designed for chicks. For two years they huddled in that tiny house and roosted and nested in the same space.

Original chicken house, soon after I moved here.

The beginnings of the new house lit up by morning sunlight, while the old house remains. You can pick it out behind the workman in blue.

Walls go up.

Roof and siding on.

One of the first things Josh did when he arrived was to finish the chicken house. He installed roosts and nesting boxes. Installed moisture-repellent flooring for easy cleaning. Covered the walls with tar paper (again, for easier cleaning). He painted it. Josh had the idea to cut a little hole in the side and install the old ramp from their little house, so there is a special chicken-sized access door. Now they have a chicken palace, and they roost on the opposite side of the room from where they nest (translation: no more poop on the eggs).

Brand new chicken palace.

Roosts, chicken, pellets, and poop

I can walk right inside! Open the window, fill their feeder, marvel at what a mess they make.

Eggs in the nesting boxes.

Newly painted.

Stay tuned for updates on the landscaping, the pump house, the upcoming kitchen remodel… and more.

A sign we spotted when using a drive way to turn around. Tara and I thought it was hilarious.

A sign we spotted when using a drive way to turn around. Tara and I thought it was hilarious.

In my “About Me” page, I say that this blog is my online journal. And it is. But it’s public, of course, and thus some of the more complicated personal stuff is left out or glossed over. Happy happy happy: that’s me.

I have been sensistive to the fact that I nearly dropped out of the blogging world completely this Spring. Some of you I haven’t read in a year. I can hardly stand it. I miss you more than seems reasonable for a group of people I have mostly never met. I’ve been resisting telling you guys what’s going on with me for a long time, but I now have a way to bring it up that isn’t painfully awkward. Just painfully real. Sorry. Like everybody else in the world, I’ve got layers. 🙂

I’m leaving in a couple of days for Chile! Isn’t that awesome and amazing? It is! A couple days in the capital, then down south to the wine country and the lake country. I’m nervous and excited and hopeful, and I’ve been casting meaningful glances at my Nikon, every time I pass her, sitting on the desk. “You are getting ready for this, right? You have a lot of work to do.” It’s the first last-minute, spontaneous overseas trip I have ever taken. It’s the first trip I have not been the one to orchestrate. All that is kind of surprising, so let me explain.

One of the most brilliant things about me is that I have a crazy intense will to Live. And by Live, I mean that with a capital “L.” Not staying alive, but living with intent, Consciously Engaging with my life because it’s the only one I’ve got and I am loathe to squander it. Things knock me down, and I do not stay down. When there is an obstacle that threatens to make my life begin to resemble merely existing and surviving, things inside kick into gear and get me out of that spot. It is a very good thing. That’s why I’m going to Chile. But…. let me back up a little bit.

Because of some traumatic events during my military service, and the fact that I had no support group of friends or family back then to ease me through it, I developed posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. I didn’t know it at the time. Over the years I built a toolbox for myself of defensive strategies to get through life that are good in times of crisis, but unhelpful when there is no crisis, which is nearly always. So after 20 years of wondering why I was struggling so much, I finally got a therapist that specialized in military trauma, who helped me learn how to give up my crisis strategies. She began to teach me a more accurate way to view my life: not as this enormous, uncontrollable, scary place, but just a place with good and bad things, and none of it was to be taken personally.

In May 2015, my therapist retired. I was doing so well with her that I announced that I did not need a replacement therapist. In July 2015, I moved from the city out to a big property in the country and began country living for the first time in my adult life. In September my only child left home for college, and I began life alone, really alone, for the first time in 18 years. In October I got a new, challenging job. Blam, blam, blam, all these big life events. And it was too much. I sort of lost control of the organization of my life. The old crisis strategies took over.  And by November, a year ago, I nearly fell to pieces.

I worked too much. I drank and smoked too much. I was depressed and angry and irritable and yelled at Tara when they came home from college. I didn’t clean the house. I didn’t buy groceries. I cried. It has taken me all this time to come back, and I’m still not totally better, but I am confidently on the path to better. I got a new therapist. I’ve been binging on your blog posts now and then. I even won the award for Most Comments On Blog Posts In A Single Day, on Curt’s site, ha ha!

My girlfriend Margaret called me earlier this month and said, “What’s new?” Because something is always new with me. I am a woman who keeps pots going on all burners at all times. Even the small stuff is interesting and exciting. And I replied, “Uh, I’ve been working. And Tara’s still at college. And…um…” While I was saying it, I realized that when she called the last time, 4 or 5 months earlier, I had said the exact same thing. Margaret must have noticed it too. “Meet me in Santiago at the end of the month,” she insisted. “yeah, right, Margaret.” In my mind I was thinking, now wait…in what country is Santiago?  She said the trip was already plannned, I’d have to split the Air BnB costs, and taxis and stuff. I explained about the big property, and the chickens, and the fact that vacation time at work is always set in January, so it’s too late anyway. She wasn’t buying it. “That’s no obstacle,” she said. I think it was her brassiness that caught my attention. I mean, we’ve been friends for 16 years, but was that appropriate? I asked, “Did you just tell me that the responsibilities I have in my own life are no obstacle?” “I did,” she said with no humility at all. “Crystal, I know you. You are smart and capable and you can figure it out. I’ll call you in two days and get your answer.”

And that will to Live sparked up like when a breath of wind hits a bed of coals.

I realized the trip was just the slap in the face I needed. I made a bunch of phone calls and 24 hours later I texted Margaret to say we’d be on the same plane from Houston to Santiago.

My flight leaves Portland at noon on Tuesday, and arrives in Chile at 10am on Wednesday. That’s a lot of time in a plane. Wish me legroom and no crying babies! (I know, impossible request) I’ll bring the laptop, and with any luck, my brassy friend will indulge me at an occasional wifi hotspot. If not, I’ll be gone two weeks and my beloved Nikon and I will share our stories with you when I get back.

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