I am a Rube Goldberg device.

Quote from A. A. Milne (Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh) Part of my book Just Be.

In my search for a new way to pay the bills, I have found myself applying for some very interesting positions and in some very interesting ways.  The most recent application asked “In 150 characters or fewer, tell us what makes you unique. Try to be creative and say something that will catch our eye!”  Here is what I wrote:

“Info enters my brain in the usual way. I then I twist, knot, bend, cut, spindle, fold, & even mutilate it to create art, education, magic, & beauty.”

Boom! 149 characters.

But this got me to thinking about all the things I am and even some that I am not.  In society, all of us are so often defined by aspects of our life that are really meaningless in the grander scheme, yet we think are so incredibly important to our individual identity.  For example, think about being a new kid at school.  One of the first questions I was always asked was “What’s your nationality?” Maybe this was a function of the time or maybe where I lived, but this particular question was a real kicker for me as I was adopted as an infant.  Back in 1967, most adoptions were closed, meaning there was little to no information given about the birth parents.  However, the one piece of information that my folks were given was my nationality.  So when asked, I had an answer. Interestingly, I would blend this information with that of my family so it would come out something like, “I am Pennsylvania Dutch and Swedish, but my family is Swedish and Norwegian.”  Now I just say, “I am lily-white northern European.”  Adds a real touch of class, don’t you think?

I have to admit to being out of touch with what kids ask now, but if nationality is not the question, then I’m sure  another has taken its place.  Why?  Because when I was asked about my nationality, I was really being asked, “Who are you?”  In some ways it’s the equivalent of asking another adult, “So, what do you do?”   But what are we really? Who are we at heart?  I am not from Sweden, I am not Pennsylvania Dutch.   I am not really lily-white northern European.  I am a great American mutt.

But I am more than that. We are more than that. We are so many things that when you put them all in a blender and hit the frappe button, you create something amazing, something truly delicious.  Here is my recipe for me:

  • I am a woman. One that loves to work on the plumbing, doesn’t wear make-up, has really short hair, thinks high heels are not for me, could exist if I never wear a dress again, sweats easily, blushes even easier, and cries when passionate, but not when really angry.
  • I am a daughter, friend, wife, sister, sister-in-law, aunt, niece, granddaughter, cousin, former co-worker, and casual acquaintance.
  • I am a writer, artist, crafter, designer, do-it-yourselfer, seamstress, teacher, blogger, creator of weird things, collector or weirder things, and admitted fan-girl. (Although, I have to say that the fan-girl status is a new one.  Is 47 too old to start? Let’s talk Supernatural another day.)
  • I am a narcoleptic – although this might be more of something I have than who I am. But when you can fall asleep in front of a drum line during full practice, it might be who you are.
  • I am weird, eccentric, bizarre, unique, unusual, strange, odd, quirky, one-of-a-kind, and peculiar – and proud to be each one.
  • I am a risk -taker, a devisor of cunning plans and harebrained schemes. (I am also a frequent visitor to the emergency room – that often being the outcome of a harebrained scheme.)
  • I am not quite right in the head.  But someone needs to be that for others – why not me.
  • I am afraid, anxious, fearful, panicky, slightly depressed, and strong enough to overcome each – with a little help from my friends.
  • I am usually late (but very rarely for dinner – ba dum bum.)
  • I am a care-taker of furry animals.  One of them is currently curled up asleep in the sleeve of my sweatshirt, and I happen to be wearing it at the same time (the sweatshirt, not the animal – shame on you for thinking that.)  I am also a keeper of plants and fish.
  • I am occasionally stupid, too talkative, insensitive, self-centered, egocentric, short-sighted, and idiotic. But come on, who among us isn’t at some time or another?
  • I am organized and disorganized, clean and messy, cluttered and… hmm… well… extremely cluttered – all at the same time.
  • I am beautiful, happy, smiley, genuine, friendly, caring, kind, thoughtful, loving, remarkable, amazing, and incredibly imperfect.

Just a quick side note here, I have multiple tattoos, each one with great meaning to me.  However, the most important, (and by far the most painful to get) are the ones on my feet.  On the inside of my left foot, below the ankle bone, is the word “Beautiful”. This is to remind me that yes, I am, in fact, beautiful. On the right foot is “Imperfect”.  This is to remind me that it is okay to be imperfect and to stop beating myself up over my total inability to be perfect.  I’ll let you know when that one works.

  • I am a dreamer of big and small dreams alike.
  • I am me.

I has taken me a long time to find the “me” in all of the chaos that resides in one person.  I certainly don’t think I have found the final me.  I don’t think you can ever find the true “me” because it is always a work in progress.  But I am slowly beginning to accept that the current me is an unique person. But then we all are unique.  Each and every one of us is a single original work of art –  not to be repeated – not to be underestimated.  You are as unique as I.   And while we all need to feel that we belong – that we fit, match, blend, mesh, or meld – we also need to know that there is something about us that makes each stand out, that we are different, and that our characteristics are those others will admire.

I thank my birth parents all those years ago, for having the foresight to tell me my parents about my biological heritage.  Once, it might have been what defined me, maybe not.  But on the path to finding our own unique “me”, we have to start somewhere.  Just so long as you remember that the search never ends.

Tomorrow, I will find a new me.  Right now I feel like a Rube Goldberg device – an extremely complicated machine with many moving parts, a lot of them goofy and probably silly, and over-designed to do one simple thing  – take the next step – whatever it may be.

“Info enters my brain in the usual way. I then I twist, knot, bend, cut, spindle, fold, & even mutilate it to create art, education, magic, & beauty.”

I think I captured what makes me unique pretty well in 150 characters or less.  It’s kind of a cool exercise.  I recommend you try it and can’t wait to see what you come up with.  Post your unique description in the comments.  Celebrate what makes you… well, you.

Ready, set, go!

I found another silver lining to becoming redundant.

You can always blast them with your elephant.

Just over three weeks ago, I become the next contestant in “This Was Your Life”, when in the wake of reorganization, my company let our entire department go.  Now there are lots of things I can write about this new adventure (and given time you will probably be subjected to most of them) however, today I discovered a new silver lining – ways to stop telemarketers in their tracks!

Your first thought might be, well duh, just don’t pick up the phone. But the problem there goes back to that first sentence… I lost my job.  Therefore, I have to answer that phone.  Otherwise, I risk missing that perfect offer for the ideal job that wants to pay me a million dollars; or the Hollywood mogul who fell in love with my artwork at first sight and wants to be my benefactor; or that once in a lifetime chance to be paid for this wonderful, amazing, creative, snarky, blog. Sigh.

Obviously, I understand that everyone needs to make a living, (now more than ever,) but telemarketing has to be one of the worst jobs for both parties involved.  You would have to have some pretty strong self-esteem (and brass cojónes) to have person after person reject you.  I can’t imagine every day being subjected to nasty, angry, mean, vicious, petty, vindictive, and downright hostile responses to the very first thing you tell someone. Granted, there are plenty of people out there that maybe deserve that response, but most of the people are just trying to make a living.   So I try to be kind when saying “No friggen’ way am I interested in your commune in the back woods of Arkansas.” And I very rarely just hang up on someone (at least not without saying “Thank you very much.  I appreciate the offer but I really have to go as my dog is peeing on my laptop.”) Or my favorites: “Can you repeat that?  I’m sorry, I can’t hear you.  Hello?  Hello?  Hello?”  Click.  But being suddenly unemployed introduced the perfect show stopper to the call no one wants to get: “I lost my job 3 weeks ago and just don’t have any money.”

It is amazing how not one person has attempted to continue their sales pitch.  The responses have been interesting and quite varied, but they all have one thing in common – no one continued to try and sell me their condo, vacation, access to monster sizes of toilet paper, new car, used car, rental car, glamping adventure, multi-level marketing program, or all-you-can-eat buffet. The responses I have gotten mostly involve the following: an awkward silence, a throat clearing, and some type of “so sorry to hear that.”  This effectively ends the conversation and the poor bastard that has the unfortunate job of trying to sell me on a chimney cleaning service, a 10-day cruise to the Antarctic, pest control for a year, or personal ear wax removal, can quickly move on to the next name on his list.  I wish him luck

If I hadn’t lost my job, I might never have ever learned this neat little trick to getting rid of unwanted solicitations.  As a rule, I try to be honest and kind to my fellow humans – and  that includes avoiding lying whenever possible.  However, for the rest of my life, I can honestly say I lost my job – I will just avoid saying how recently it happened.  Since this is true, I don’t mind using it.

Sometimes the most amazing things happen when you are lost in the Alps.

Mont Blanc : our eventual destination

In late June, early July of 2005, I had the amazing opportunity to spend time driving through France and Italy.  (As long as the driving rules are the same as the US, I am comfortable thinking I can survive the road – silly me.)  We were on our way from Geneva to the Lake Como district in Italy, (via the Mont Blanc Tunnel)  when the road was suddenly posted with a “deviation” sign.

Mont Blanc

The start of our deviation.

Now I had two years of French in high school, so I felt totally prepared to understand any and all direction we may receive during our time in France.  So, being the good, law-abiding-no-matter-where-I-am adult, we took the deviation.

For those of you who are not adept at French (if you were not privileged to have two years of high school French classes), let me explain what deviation means… it’s a detour.  Simple? Right? Not so much.

Somewhere in my life I managed to embrace in a great big bear hug the idea of taking the road less traveled – and not just less traveled, but make-your-own-goat-track-and-get-yourself-totally-lost road.  Fortunately I married a man that has that same exact theory.  During the last 29 years together we have managed to make some pretty amazing discoveries via those goat tracks.  If I live to 127 I might be able to share them all with you (especially the one where twilight fly fishing caught us bats instead of fish – but I digress.)  This is the story of getting lost in the Alps and the amazing things that happened along the way.

Our deviation from the deviation

Our deviation from the deviation

Back to the less traveled road in the French Alps…  Somewhere along the way we deviated from the deviation and ended up in a little old French guy’s back yard. 

Sitting in a rickety old chair was the (very surprised) owner of the home, next to him a very French looking cat (yes, a cat can look French – just Google French cat you will see what I mean), and his daughter overlooking all of us from the porch.  I felt like I had stepped into a French masters landscape painting.  In my fabulous 2 years of high school French, I managed to explain that we were lost.  With a “well duh -you’re in our backyard” look on her face, she suggested we should turn around and head back to the town we drove through and ask them for help. (Apparently, my 2 years of French and her presumably same 2 years of English weren’t enough for relating complex directions – I can’t imagine why.) So we backed out, turned around, and headed down the mountain.

View from the little French guy's back yard.

End of the road.  View from the French guy’s back yard.

In the little town on the side of the mountain, we were wonderfully surprised to find an “Office de Tourisme” which I correctly interpreted as the tourist information office. Voila!  They can help us.  Right?  Wrong.  

Help at last! Right! Non.

Help at last! Right! Non.

No English. By now my 2 years of high school French vocabulary has been completely depleted, and I mean really… what tourist information office in the back woods of the Alps doesn’t have an English speaking employee.  I’m sure the tourist information office in a small town in Montana has at least one French speaking employee – they don’t?  Hmmm.  With the same sort of gesticulating as the girl on the stoop, it was suggested that we try across the street – or maybe she suggested some physically impossible action I should do with myself – I’m not really sure.

So across the road we went to the cheese and sausage shop – where once more we are stumped by being able to communicate only with gestures, loud voices, and now pictographs (our communication skills were definitely taking a turn for the worst.)  Fortunately we were saved by a lovely young lady who – wait for it – was American!  Tada!  What marvelous luck. (I have to wonder how long we could have gone on gesturing and shouting words that neither of us understood?)

Now that we had an interpreter of exquisite skill, we could finally find out where we deviated from the assigned deviation and how we could get back to deviating properly.  All the right questions asked, we were informed the deviation was only for trucks and since we were not a truck we just needed to go back down the road to the main highway and deviate no more.  However… we weren’t going to be allowed to leave just yet.

(cue the ominous music)

The shops close from noon until 2 and we were fast approaching 12:15. We had not eaten anything since an early breakfast and it must have been obvious to our both our English speaking and non-English speaking new friends as they immediately suggested we purchase some food.  The fact that we were both drooling and making smacking noises with our mouths might have helped them come to this conclusion.  The lovely translator ran across the street the boulangerie (this being a new French word for the most amazing-remarkable-fantastic-yummy-delicious-mind blowing-yeasty-carb-overloaded loaf of bread we have ever had the pleasure of eating) and returned with two of these heavenly items.  We then were handed sausage and cheese to go with the ambrosia bread.  I’m not sure there are enough adjectives to describe the sausage and cheese. Both were local (as in right off the side of the mountain where we were lost), both smelled beyond amazing, and when added to the bread the combination might possibly be the greatest meal we have ever eaten.  (I know – sounds like an exaggeration, but I swear!!!! I have never enjoyed food quite so much as the simple sandwiches made as we drove back down the mountain.)

Finally, our new best English-speaking friend asked that in return for their help, we would have to do one thing for them.  (More ominous music running through my mind.)  Now, I am a very trusting person – to the point where I worry my husband and friends around me sometimes.  Fortunately, I have avoided the typical horror movie scenario that includes kidnapping, being tied up in a cave filled with bats and crawly things, being covered in wax, mummified, hung upside down, walled up in a wine cellar, buried up to my neck in sand at low tide, staked out over an ant hill and covered with honey, or any of the other movie concepts that usually included Vincent Price as a lead.  But, just because I am trusting, doesn’t mean I don’t have flashes of danger passing before my eyes – it just means I ignore the warnings – seems logical to me.

She asked that we stop in their church on our way out of town.  It had some very interesting features that we might like to see.  (Deep sigh of relief – this was not going to be a horror movie after all – oh ye of little faith.) 

While we were there, we were to find the painting of Jesus in the boat that is part of the  “feeding the multitude”  bible story. We didn’t know why this particular painting was important, but we thought “why not?”  So bread, cheese, sausage, and directions back to the highway in hand, we headed to the little Catholic church sitting in the middle of the square.

Here is the story our translator told us about their beautiful little church…

St. Gervais Les Bains

St. Gervais Les Bains

It was built sometime in the late 1600’s.  During the French Renaissance Italian painters came up over the alps looking for work in exchange for food and housing.  They agreed to paint the inside of the church in exchange for what they needed.  (Sounds a little like artists and musicians now – will work for food and booze and all that…)  So to reach the ceiling, they filled the church with dirt and proceeded to paint.  As they worked their way down the walls, the removed the dirt little by little , thus lowering slowly, until they were done.  Simple and brilliant!

So we entered the little church and were in awe of what we saw.  Such beauty and artistry.  You could feel the passion the painters had for their project.  It was no Sistine chapel, but then it didn’t need to be.  It was its own true work of art.  We stood there looking at the different scenes, taking in the beauty and artistry, finally finding the image of Jesus in the boat.  And there he was – in glorious color, wearing a floppy 17th century style Italian chapeau.  Gotta love a sense of humor.

The artist had a great sense of humor!

The artist had a great sense of humor!

This particular make-your-own-goat-track-and-get-yourself-totally-lost road provided one of the most memorable experiences we have had in our lives traveling together.  When I need a smile, or to be reminded that it’s okay to be my own quirky self,  I just have to think of the artist and what was going through his mind when he decided to paint that particular hat on the head of Jesus. 

Chemin à parcourir l’homme! Être différent. (Way to go man! Be different.)

Wishing doesn’t make it so – or – I am an intelligent person.

Last April I found myself coughing and struggling to breath.  I kept thinking it was just a cold and I could wait it out.  Eventually, I decided I at least needed to confirm my diagnosis of the common cold.  So doing what every intelligent adult does when they need expert help – I went to the internet.  I assumed I could just look up my symptoms and figure out what was wrong.  Why not?  Like I said earlier – I am intelligent.  Or maybe not so much.  (Have you heard this one – never assume – it makes an ass out of u and me?) Probably a truer than my being intelligent.

So, on to one of those diagnose-yourself websites I went and followed their symptom checker: head → nose → difficulty breathing  → nasal congestion.  Results showed I was either suffering from allergies or a foreign object in my nose.  A quick look in the mirror with a flashlight and I was satisfied that there wasn’t anything stuck up there. (Not that I’m in the habit of sticking things in my nose, but one never knows what might have happened when you aren’t paying attention.)  So that leaves allergies.  Great!  I’ll live.

But what about that raspy cough?  Is that part of allergies?  Better make sure – back to the medical website I go.  It is so great to have a useful and accurate tool to help me.  I mean, remember, I’m intelligent.  With the right tools I can figure this out.  No need to waste a doctor’s time with something so silly as what must just be a cold. Right?  Symptom checker again: chest → cough → answer 4 additional questions  (Hacking? No. → Sputum? Gotta look that up. Nope. → Eating under cooked crab? Wonder why that is important? No. → Exposure to asbestos? Hmm, deep though. No.) Results: Congestive heart failure or the Plague. Seriously? Nah, they’re wrong – it’s just a common cold.  I’ll muddle though.  I’m sure it will go away. Because I am intelligent person and I know best.  Right?

Now it is really getting hard to breath, and talk, and swallow, and my throat seems swollen, and coughing now involves that sputum stuff I had to look up.  Maybe a quick stop at the urgent care center – not that I really need it – but it has been more than a week now and …

Okay. Here’s how it went down at urgent care…

Dr:    Do you smoke?
Me:   No. Not since the last cigar on New Year’s Eve.
Dr:    How long have you been like this?
Me:   Only 9 days or so.
Dr:    Hmm. Any chance you looked online and diagnosed yourself?
Me:   Well…I am an intelligent person.  I figured I could work it out.
Dr:    You and that medical degree you have? (And I thought I was snarky!)
Me:   Hey, I…but…I…well… yeah, okay.

Silence….. longer silence…. uncomfortable silence….

Me:   I’m thinking I don’t just have a cold that will go away?
Dr:    Nope. Severe acute bronchitis.
Me:   Oh. Hmm. That wasn’t one of the choices online… So that’s a problem?
Dr:    Only if you want to keep breathing. How long did you say you’ve been like this?
Me:   (Meekly) 9 days.
Dr:    (Scowling) And you thought it would just get better? 
Me:   (More meekly) Yes?
Dr:    (Deeper scowl and an added head shake) Antibiotics, steroids, and an inhaler so you can breathe.
Me:   (Really meekly) You sure it won’t just go away? 
Dr:    Maybe, but how much do you like to breathe?
Me:   Oh…okay.

Maybe I’m not so intelligent.