Tag: freedom

Treasure Hunt

Treasure Hunt

Emily surprised no one when she used her death to orchestrate one final treasure hunt.

“The prize at the end will taste sweeter for having worked for it,” she would tell to her grandchildren.

Emily beamed watching each child decipher clues and relished in exuberant expressions of joy when they figured out where the treat was hidden.

Whenever they visited, Emily handed each child a clue leading to another clue. Each clue took them closer to a treat, almost always round, pink candies or vanilla wafers. On hot summer days, the treat might be a popsicle.

Some days the prize was a quarter to be spent at the corner store. The first time a child found a quarter at the end of the trail sent them spinning and doing a happy dance. Your first quarter meant you were old enough to walk to the corner store on your own.

Upon entering the store, a glass counter to the right displayed all varieties of penny and nickel candy. Deciding how to spend twenty-five cents might take longer than eating the candy. Each time, the same internal dialogue: Hard candies last longer. Chocolate is better. Maybe a Tootsie Roll Pop. Mom doesn’t let us have candy bars, maybe a Snickers is the way to go.

Whatever the decision, the spoils from the treasure hunt went back to Grandma’s to be eaten on the front porch or under the big tree in the back yard.

* * *

cage-6At Emily’s funeral, the grandchildren sat in a circle sharing a favorite treasure-hunt memory. Nathan recalled the time he clambered up the big tree to find a clue.

“How did Grandma hide the clue up there?”

“I hid the clue in the tree.”

Mike revealed how as the oldest, he often assisted in placing clues around for the younger kids.

“As Grandma got older, the stairs to the attic or basement gave her trouble. I doubt Grandma ever climbed the tree. One year she promoted me to be her assistant and swore me to secrecy. Now you know. Whew! I’m glad to get that out in the open.”

At the reading of the will, each grandchild received an envelope with a clue to finding one last treasure.

“I have selected a something special for you. As you complete one more trek, remember, the joy is in the journey.”

All heads turned toward Mike.

“Don’t look at me. I had nothing to do with it.”

Everyone’s first clue led to the same place and included instructions to complete the quest together. Stacked with boxes of all sizes, Emily’s eight grandchildren each found a box with their name on it in the attic. The prize inside included a letter and photographs of the two of them together.

Tammy received antique broach she liked to wear when she visited Emily.

“I used to think I was sophisticated wearing Grandma’s fancy jewelry.”

Kathy found a crystal vase Emily brought from Ireland as a teenager.

“I used to pick wild flowers out of the field behind Grandma’s house. She always put them in this vase as if I presented her the most precious flowers on earth.”

Mike found his grandfather’s leather bomber jacket and a key to the antique motor cycle in the garage.

“I used to love hearing Grandpa tell me stories about riding with his brother.  I Can’t believe she gave me his bike.”

Roger opened his box to find Grandpa’s war medals and the flag used to adorn his grandfather’s casket at his funeral.  Overcome with emotion, tears in his eyes, Roger turned the flag over, smoothing out the corners.

Amanda started sobbing as she unfolded the quilt Emily made from aprons she’d worn over the years.

“Grandma used to let me bake cookies with her. I made such a mess, she always put one of her aprons on me.”

Nathan fell to his knees when he found his Grandfather’s baseball card collection.

“I spent hours poring over these with Grandpa. He came to every game I played from little league to high school state finals.”

Samantha showed off a hand-beaded clutch.

“Grandma let me carry her evening bag around when we played dress-up. I think that’s when I discovered my love for all things vintage.”

“Okay Cinda, last, but not least. We all know you were Grandma’s favorite. Look at the size of that box,” Roger teased.

All eyes on her, Cinda gingerly unwrapped an antique bird cage, fragile from the dry attic air. Detached from its hinges, the door lay on the bottom of the cage.

“What does it mean? I don’t remember Grandma ever having a bird,” Amanda asked.

“Grandma had scarlet fever as a child. Her father gave her this cage and a song bird to keep her company during her recovery. She told me she always felt bad for the bird, locked up in a cage all the time. The day the doctor said she could go outside, Grandma set the bird free. Let’s see what the note says.”

“Cinda,

You are my youngest grandchild, the one most like me, in spirit. My wish is that you see the world for both of us. I removed the door on this cage to remind you to remain open to all life offers. Be audacious in your pursuit of adventure. Fly, little bird, fly, and I will soar with you.

Grandma Emily”

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Reinvention on Steroids

Reinvention on Steroids

2016 is about to become 2017. On the precipice of another personal reinvention,
I thought I would share a decade by decade review of my fearless life.

20 Something – An Ethical Dilemma for a Naïve Idealist

I worked in the Training Department at the home office of an infamous chain store found in every mall. (Think 1970’s, lava lights, incense, and black-light posters.) A catalog preceded storefronts and made up a larger percentage of overall sales.

A colleague approached me about an opening for a copywriter in the Marketing department, creating copy for the mailer. During a preliminary, clandestine discussion with the hiring manager, we talked about job duties and a bump in salary.

To transfer from Training to Marketing, my current boss, Dave C., needed to give his permission for a legitimate interview. To demonstrate his magnanimity, Dave called the hiring manager while I sat in his office and he inquired about the position.

When Dave got off the phone, he told a much different story than what I knew to be true. The move would mean a demotion and pay less than my current salary. I couldn’t say anything. Doing so would be admitting collusion with the ‘enemy.’

My jaw dropped. My boss lied right to my face, his motivation selfish. Two former colleagues transferred or quit within a month of my request. Upper management was asking questions. More attrition would create adversity for Dave.

If Dave wanted to play dirty, I wasn’t interested in working for him.

I gave myself 30 days to find a job and move to New York City. I can still hear the gasp and long pause on the other end of the phone when I told my parents. They lived in a small mid-west town. Once they caught their breaths, they said words they would repeat many times over the years,

 “You can always come home. Let us know if you need money.”

I doubt they ever understood my desire to push the limits of what they considered a traditional lifestyle. But they always offered support, allowing me to follow my heart.

I reconnected with a college sorority sister looking for a new apartment and a new roommate to share the costs. By the end of the thirty days I found a job and moved myself to New York.

I lived in New York for less than two years. The experience empowered me to face future challenges with confidence and excitement. Frank Sinatra got it right,

“If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”

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30 Something – Similar Stuff, Different Organizations

 Fast forward to 1986, Saint Petersburg, Florida. As Training Director for a department store chain, I created a department from scratch and designed innovative programs, some of my best and most creative work.

After about six years I decided a change was in order. I wanted to see the world. I signed up for bar-tending classes and thought I would get some experience working with caterers before applying to resorts and cruise ships.

About the time I was going to write a letter of resignation, another retail company bought the parent company of my employer. Rumors of our local department store being sold off to the highest bidder ran rampant.

At the upper executive level, I received a lucrative exit package, if I stayed until the end. And so, I did.  No idea where the bar-tending would have taken me. I took the other fork in the road.

The exit package included a year of executive outplacement services. A conversation with my counselor solidified my desire for change, but uncertainty about what I wanted to do next. I completed all the paperwork and testing, wrote a new resume and some cover letter samples and set a goal of one year to find the next adventure.

I jumped into my yellow Camaro and hit the road for a few months of visiting family and friends. I fell in love with the freedom to come and go on my own schedule.  The gypsy life suited me, a practice I would repeat over and over.

Reality set-in and I returned to the outplacement office to seek new employment. During my time-off, I learned I liked Training and Development, but wanted to change industries.

I collected unemployment, almost enough to live on. To stretch my income, I took a position with a new company, The Home Shopping Club/Network. I worked from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. as an operator answering calls and taking orders.

The evening shift gave me time to search for something else during the day. Working in a highly structured environment reminded me daily of the need to keep looking for a “real” job in my field. I lasted about six weeks taking orders over the phone. I quit to interview in another city. The gamble paid off. I went to work with a regional bank.

Training for the bank gave me the experience of facilitating a series of two-week workshops for branch managers. The workshop included an outdoor day of experiential activities. I climbed over the wall, fell into the arms of my team in the trust fall, and maneuvered across some high-wire challenge every three weeks.

I learned a lot about myself and human behavior.  I confirmed I could do whatever I put my mind to.

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40 Something – Making It Work, the Hard Way

I spent the 1990’s on airplanes, flying domestically during the first half and all over the planet in the second half. Afterward, ready to leave corporate America, I visited the Peace Corps website and started the application, for the first time. Sixteen years later I completed the application, but that is another reinvention story.

A training design firm offered me a chance to work as a contract consultant. I sold my house and moved to a small community. I lived near the yoga center I managed for over two years. I discovered the perfect place to live and put in the effort to develop the spiritual part of me, ignored for most of my life.

My income dropped. I struggled to keep the lifestyle going. During one conversation with my mother she said,
“I think you are just lazy. Why don’t you get a job?”

“Getting a job would be the lazy way. I’m juggling five part-time jobs. It takes a lot of energy and skill to manage my life.”

I hung on until the next reinvention.

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50 Something – Anchors Aweigh

My parents spent twenty-two years as ‘snow birds,’ wintering in Florida and summering in Michigan. My father’s health declined and travelling back and forth every six months ended for them. My mother needed help and I needed to move on. I sold my house and car and moved back to Michigan to assist.

My initial thoughts: find a place of my own and live near my parents. My father spent the last five months of his life in healthcare facilities. I spent those five months monitoring his care and living with my mother. I moved my stuff into their home.

Less than two years after my father passed away, my mother died suddenly and unexpectedly. Against my wishes, she left me the house, the last thing I wanted, an anchor holding me in place.

The economy crashed. I looked for jobs anywhere in the country. In the end, I took a position right where I lived. The non-profit board I served on hired me as Community Development Manager, raising money and raising awareness. The learning curve moved straight uphill. Such good work for a worthy cause.

I loved being near friends and family and seeing the newest generation grow and thrive. But I could no longer say, “I am one of the most interesting people I know.”

The job didn’t pay enough for me to take exotic vacations or pursue interesting hobbies. I made ends meet. No more, no less. Time to shake things up again.

I reopened the Peace Corps website for the umpteenth time in sixteen years. This time my instincts were not telling me to shut down application. Four hours later I completed part one. The next evening I finished part two, the medical history. A year later and after lots of paperwork, I flew off to orientation and my assignment in Botswana.

After six and one-half months, I left the Peace Corps early, for personal reasons.  I returned to the United States homeless, no car, no income.  Everything I owned was in storage.  After two years in Lexington, Kentucky I returned to Florida.  That’s where I am now.

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60 Something – What to Do? What to Do?

As I said in the beginning, I’m on the precipice of another reinvention. I’m not sure what I will be doing or where I will be living. Stay tuned as the mystery of the next chapter unfolds for all of us.

 

The End of the Line

Father’s Day always brings to mind one of the most fearless people I know, Raymond F Barry, my dad.  He was proud of his service as a Staff Sergeant in the Army during World War II.  Originally stationed at Clark Field on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, he spent thirty-four months as a prisoner of war.  He didn’t talk about it very often.  He did however save articles, books, photos and letters.

raymond barry

I would like to share two excerpts from a memory book about his service.  This first piece is taken from “History of Cabanatuan Prison Camp 1942-1945” written by Maj. Gen. Chester L. Johnson, US Army.

On April 9, 1942, some 75,000 Filipino and American soldiers and prisoners of the Japanese, captured on Bataan began the infamous “Death March” out of the Bataan Peninsula to central Luzon.

After being forced to march the 85 miles to San Fernando, under the most inhuman conditions, the prisoners were forced into small freight cars and hauled to the town of Capas, which was 45 miles away, in the hot sun with the doors to the freight car closed.  From Capas they were forced to march the final 8 miles to the Camp O’Donnell POW camp.

Weakened from four months of continuous combat, living on starvation rations and minimal or no medical attention, thousands of men died on the death march, in the freight cars and at Camp O’Donnell.

After the fall of Corregidor and the Manilla Bay Fortress islands on May 6, 1942, 16,000 Filipinos and American servicemen were ferried to Manilla.

The American POW’s were marched through the streets of Manilla…as a show for the Filipino civilians.  The American POW’s were shipped by train to Cabanatuan where the Japanese had established an American POW compound.

American POW’s in Cabanatuan were assigned to work on a farm…all the work performed was hard labor…the results were that in a 30-month period, 3,000 died at Cabanatuan alone.

These POW’s died from disease, executions, beatings and starvations.  It should be noted that more Americans died at Cabanatuan than any other prison camp since Andersonville in the Civil War.

In October and November of 1944, the Japanese moved able bodied POW’s to Manilla…Only about 500 American POW’s judged too ill or too crippled to work were left behind in Cabanatuan.

On January 30th, 1945 at 7:45 p.m. An American team of 100 Rangers…along with two small Alamo Scout teams (22 men in all)…in a totally successful surprise attack liberated the camp.

* * *

In Dad’s own words:

freight car

After walking five days without food, this (boxcar) is what is waiting for us at San Fernando.  We were squeezed into these small cars and hauled to a town called Cabas which was about forty-five miles away, in the hot sun with the doors closed.  The trip lasted five hours.  Some prisoners succeeded in opening holes in the sides of the car to let in fresh air.  We were weak, tired and sick.  I can’t describe the feeling, to be treated worse than cattle by a stranger who does not know you, and hates you bitterly.  From Capas it was about an eight mile walk to Camp O’Donnell.  Another Death Trap.  This surely was the end of the line.

* * *

It wasn’t the end of the line.  He was moved to Cabanatuan, worked on the farm, buried the dead, and eventually was left behind with those too ill to work.

Dad returned home legally blind from malnutrition and suffered other health issues throughout his life.

He was married to the same woman for 58 years, raised four relatively normal children and lived to be 86.  Along the way he earned a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Michigan and taught school for 24 years.

As a side note:  Near the end of Dad’s life, while in the Veterans’ Hospital, one of the Rangers on the team that liberated Cabanatuan was in the same facility.  He would stop by dad’s room every day to ask he needed anything.  He felt responsible for the life he saved.

And so on this Father’s Day, I salute you Staff Sergeant Raymond F Barry for your fearless determination to survive, your fearless dedication to your family and friends, your fearless insistence on the importance of getting an education, and your fearless guidance that serves me still.

Happy Father’s Day from Your Favorite (and only) Daughter

The Three R’s

The Three R’s

Reflect, Renew, Reinvent – that was the theme for the year. Renewal and reinvention have begun but are still in the works. I need more time for those.  My annual holiday letter is a summary of 2014 with some reflection built in.  If you received a holiday card and letter, this will be redundant.  If not, you may find the following post amusing.

2014 – All the World’s a Stage

This year has been like a variety show with me playing every role.  Along the way I have tried for some self-awareness.  The following is a summary of the various roles I took on and a self-assessment.

Shipping and receiving clerk for Pickett Brass – it turns out I’m not so good at this.  Too much detail for my big-picture brain.  I had to fire myself before things went from bad to worse.

packing

Call center operator enrolling Kentuckians in affordable healthcare plans – I responded to incoming calls, talked to people, filled out a lot of on-line forms.  I was really good at this, on my way to winning customer service awards, but had to cut it short to be a host mom.

call center

Host mom for a teen female exchange student.  Not so sure I was any good at this.  I honed my in-town driving skills and found short cuts getting her to school and swim practice every day.  It was challenging to watch her develop an eating disorder and not have the authority to do anything about it.

Training design and development is something I’ve been doing for so long I ought to be good at it by now.  I would be well-served if I updated my skills to be able to design e-learning modules.  Still not ready to take the plunge.  Is it denial, avoidance or procrastination?

Tour guide and visitor to local attractions in Kentucky, Washington, D.C., New York City and Hendersonville, NC.  Hopefully I was a good guest and guide.

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Author of a self-published book:  Your Holiday Coach.  I gave away more copies than I will ever sell.  I am just happy to check it off my bucket list.  I am also creating the first draft of a novel in November, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  Not sure if anyone will ever read it but me, and I’m not ready to reveal the story line.

YHC Kindle Cover

Student in yoga teacher certification course, a twelve month commitment starting Oct. 2014.  This is not my first teacher training.  I went through this in 1999 and eventually wrote the training manual.   I also attended Yoga for Kids teacher training.  I like to learn but I am usually an impatient student.  That probably comes from being a training designer.  Bad training makes me cranky.  So far, so good.  I was a pretty good yoga teacher at one time.  I’m not sure I will teach again.  But if I do, I should be awesome.

Blogger and social media novice.  I am navigating my way through cyberspace as a marketing strategy for my current book and any future books.  I suspect I am not so good at this.  But I will keep plugging away, attend webinars, workshops and on-line courses and hope to get better.   I now have Twitter and Goodreads accounts, multiple Facebook pages, and several blog sites.

See you in the funny papers!

Happy Holidays!

Accountability

Accountability

Recently my journey led me down a trail that explores the meaning of accountability.  I was amazed at how many sources used the word accountable in the definition of accountability.  Not helpful dictionary editors.  I found two definitions that work for me.

1.  Accountability – responsible to somebody or for something; an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility. (Encarta Dictionary) I might even switch it around to say ‘responsible for somebody or to something’.

personal accountability chickens

2.  Personal Accountability – Being willing to answer for the outcomes resulting from your choices, behaviors, and actions.  www.toddherman.com

Personal accountability is very familiar to me.  As someone who has made unconventional choices in my career and personal life, I accept total responsibility for my actions and behaviors.  I was able to make those choices because I have only been accountable for me.  No need to confer with someone or consider someone else’s needs.  Some of those decisions led to less than optimal results, but no regrets here.  Each decision has made me the person I am today.  I like to believe that the whole person I have become is greater than the sum of the parts.  With many more decisions to make, I am only a fraction of the person I will become.

Just over two weeks ago I made a personal decision to become accountable for someone else.  My last blog introduced Juli, an exchange student who is now a part of my life.  Each day I am accountable to her and for her and that has increased my personal accountability.

My life has more structure.  I set the alarm so I can get ready for the day and get her to school on time.  Sometimes I set an alarm on my phone to be sure I leave to pick her up from school on time.  Meals need to be planned for and prepared.  I get texts and emails from her school about schedule changes, homework assignments and whatever else the school deems important.  We are planning some sightseeing trips to enhance her visit to the United States.

Adding structure to my life to meet my responsibilities for some else has helped me add structure to meet my goals for this year and beyond.  My personal accountability has reached a new level by taking on the responsibility for someone else.

To bring this blog to a close, I would like to share a few quotes I found that ring true for me.

“The right thing to do and the hard thing to do are usually the same.”
Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

“It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one’s acts.”
Mahatma Gandhi

“As for the journey of life; at some point you will realize that YOU are the driver and you will drive!”
Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

Under Construction

Under Construction

Welcome back to my blog!

I am currently reinventing my blog to reflect a new journey – the road to reinvention.  This year I will be examining what I have done, what I am doing and what I want to do.

My word of the year is Freedom.  Freedom from what you may ask.  That is a complex question with many layers that will unfold as I explore the road before me.

If you choose to follow me on the journey, welcome aboard.  If you choose not to follow along, I get it.  My personal journey may not be that interesting to you.

Mary Sue