Why I Look Up

Every week I spend at my rural office, I can’t help myself. I look up. I stare at the sky. I nearly lost the dogs walking through the dark fields one night because I couldn’t stop looking at the stars and the moon.

I look upI look up

A few months ago, I made a commitment to spend a week each month in my “rural home office” so I could hang out with my parents a bit more. You can read about this Uncertain Journey here. An unexpected delight of these visits has been the sky. I didn’t come for the sky’s daily pageantry, but it’s why I look up when I do.

Perhaps looking up is part of my living metaphor. I don’t know what I’m doing on this journey. I could look up more at home. There is, after all, a sky, followed by the expected entourage: sun, moon, stars, and clouds. The blessing when I come here is not so much the looking up, but that I’m inclined to look up.

Sky FuelI look up

I expected these visits to be challenging because of my schedule. Instead, they’re becoming easy, like muscle memory. I look forward to the visits. The time here, however, has not weakened my connection to my home fire. Since beginning this journey, I feel more connected and engaged when I’m home. The long list of to do’s doesn’t magically shrink, but I’m more focused and energized when I set out to tackle it.

Maybe looking up for a week fuels me.

The sky, the light, the colors, and the dance of the clouds are a faithful source of healing energy and peace. I need to remember to look up more when I’m home.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2017.

Being Exes Without Exing Family Bonds

When people find out that my ex and I are still friends and we do things together as a family (that we’re exes without exing family relationships), I get a lot of:

Wow! That’s wonderful. I really admire you. How do you do that?

I typically shrug (it’s an honest shrug) and respond:

Why would we not do this?

I sometimes go on to explain how we found ourselves here. It goes something like this.

Rounding the Bend Begins with Forgiveness

I was sitting across the teak patio table from my mom when she started the rant again. A list of all the anger and disappointment points, all of the things for which she faulted (eternally it seemed) my now ex-husband.

I have long practiced tolerance for the difference in points of view (primarily political and religious) between my parents and myself. I respect their choices and typically skirt any embroiled discussion because that’s not what matters about my relationship to them, and, importantly, because their choices are authentic and deeply rooted in a belief system I have no intention of undoing.

This was different. Beyond a difference in belief and perspective, a future was at stake. The future of family relations.

Mom? Why are you still so angry? I’m not.

That was the first line of a new chapter in our family.

My mom and I had a long conversation that afternoon about anger, responsibility (I, after all, was not exempt from the problems in the marriage that ended), and forgiveness.

Father’s Days and Holidays

A few months later was Father’s Day weekend. Before the divorce, we had celebrated together at my parents’ place with the two fathers: mine and my children’s. For the two years since the divorce, our children had had to split special occasions and holidays between me and their dad. Mom asked about our plans for the upcoming Father’s Day.exes without exing

I’ll be here with you and dad but the kids will spend it with their Baba. 

Silence.

Later that week, my oldest asked about the plans too.

You and your brother and sister will spend the weekend with Baba. I’m going to the farm to spend the weekend with my dad. 

No silence.

Why can’t we all spend the day together?!

Indeed, I thought. Why not?

I made the phone call and suggestion to my mom. The affirmative answer came with restrictions, but it was a step. A step towards healing anger and mending relations.

I think we were all a little nervous, but we had a great, if sometimes awkward, reunited Father’s Day.

The next family holiday was Thanksgiving. This time my eldest was the first to bring up the plans. She asked: Please, let’s spend the day together. We did. Since then, our family, the broken nuclear family and the rebonded extended family, has come together for holidays, special events, and vacations.

High Roads and Easy Roads

I’ve been trying to write this post for over a year now. Not because it’s hard to write. The story of it spills out. The difficulty is that it might sound too proud or that others whose post divorce relationships were more challenging might feel judged. I don’t feel proud. I’m simply happy and blessed. The path we took as a family was the natural path for us. And I certainly don’t judge. Just as every marriage and family is unique, every divorce comes with its own hurdles and heartache.

I should emphasize too that I didn’t take the high road. Those I admire you’s often suggest that I did. Maybe we’re on the high road, but this was the easier road, the right relationship road. The beginnings of it were a little narrow and scary, but this road has proffered our family better holidays and special occasions, richer relationships, and a deeper understanding of where love and forgiveness lead.

Every time we have a family gathering, we hold hands in a circle before the meal and take turns saying what we’re grateful for. My mom’s gratitude, without exception, has always been or at least included:

I’m grateful for this family and for Ziad and Pennie, for how they keep this family together. 

Me too, mom. I’m especially grateful this was the easy road.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

The Magic of Freelancing from Home Part 2

So you want to work from home? For yourself? Wondering how to “get in”? Sounds magical when you hear someone else talk about getting home to finish up some work? Honestly, it’s not any more magical than that very phrase taken out of context, and “getting in” depends on more variables than I could cover in a post. But if you’re considering the leap from workplace to home office, chew on these five freelancing-from-home essentials to decide if it’s right for you.

Five Freelancing-from-Home Essentials

1. Qualifications

One rule that doesn’t change when you freelance: you need to be able to supply what’s in demand. Data entry, coding, copyediting, writing, proofreading, PhotoShopping . . . the list is endless. Is there a demand that you can supply?

2. Home Space

If you’re going to work at home, make sure you have the appropriate space. It might be a room, the kitchen table, or even the coffee shop on the corner. But you need a space where you can be productive.

3. Tools and Technology

Do you have the things you need to do the job? Computer? Software? If you’re moving from an office where you have access to expensive software that is part of what you would bring to the freelance table, you’ll need your own at home.

4. Discipline and Chaos

You’ll need the discipline to get the work done, and often, you’ll need to hurdle chaos as you go. I’ll get into the dark side of the battle between domestic and freelancing in another post (when I’m ready for a deeper share), but consider the logistics of working at home: your workspace is in the middle of things that need tidying, sorting, cleaning, tossing, or (and especially if you have children at home) feeding and entertaining. It’s best if you can ignore them, except, of course, the hungry pets and children. Tuning out the chaos around you to work is crucial to content focus and turnover deadlines, which will become the very reason you can snag the next freelance gig.

5. Connections

Even if you have the first four essentials locked down, you’ll need connections. These might be connections you have through your industry, workplace, friends, or school. If you don’t already have one or some of those in your pocket, you won’t have the magic key until you seek out the necessary connections. The good news is that it has become easier to connect both socially and professionally. Be wary, however, as you seek out connections. After all, you’re working to get paid. Make sure they have a reputation for that!

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

The Magic of Freelancing from Home Part 1

Many people fantasize about working from home and freelancing. I do both. I was that wide-eyed “I want to do that!” I wanted to know that magic of freelancing from home.

Magic of Freelancing Germination

This idea seeded itself in me when I spoke with a mom in the daycare parking lot back in 1993. Maybe you’re on the edge of your seat hoping to discover the magical formula, just as I was when I listened to her bellyache about getting home to finish a project, pamphlets for a local business.

Eyes wide with wonder.

You work from home!

I didn’t stop there, I was so hungry!

I want to work from home! How do you get started?

The mom pal condescendingly cocked her head and said (something like):

Well, I have a degree in art and advertising design.

Today, I get it. I know why she rolled her eyes.

But my heart sank. I wasn’t an art or ad grad, just an underpaid Liberal Arts PhD. I was teaching at a university but felt unenthused about playing the publish or perish game. I loved teaching (was good at it), but my paycheck barely covered that 45 minute commute each way and daycare. What a dream it would be to work from home.

Less than a year after that condescending cocked head in the parking lot, I received a call from a grad school friend. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that call was my toe in the door of the freelancing world.

Do you think you have what it takes to freelance from home? Stay tuned. Next post: some (sometimes ugly) magic of freelancing truths.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2017

Being the Change

The Hidden Brain podcast about being the change you want to see moved me.

The host Shankar Vedantam asks what would happen if we truly stood by our principles. He also points out how exhausting people who stick to their principles can be.

The podcast showcases the journey of one couple and their effort to raise their daughter free from gender stereotypes. This story is not only moving, but also enlightening. To shield their child from gender stereotypes these parents struggled against words, clothing, and colors. They struggled with family and friends. But they held true to their path and trusted their truth. And, importantly, they were patient.

Changes take time. Being the change takes patience.

This couple takes being the change to a fiercely high level. I feel privileged to know a few young souls who are as strong and brave as that couple. The bravery of people who fearlessly stand by their principles gives me hope. They also inspire me to be better and being the change.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Hobbies and Derelicts

Today, I realized hobbies and derelicts are connected.

The Venue

Every six months, I load my beach wagon with boxes of pepper jellies, drag the wagon of jellies through the arboretum, and set up a booth to sell my wares. I think of vendor venues like the Plant Fest! as enabling events. When you make things, if you can’t hang them on the wall, display them on a shelf, wear them more than once a year, or eat them before they expire, you’d best have friends who clamber for them or a place to sell them. Hobbies and Jelly addicts

Peppers and pepper products are one of my many hobbies. Even when I sell several hundred dollars worth, I don’t really make money. I make just enough to enable my addiction hobby. That’s what I meant. Hobby. It’s also a chance to pop my work bubble, spend a few hours outdoors, and mingle with friends, vendors, and clients.

The Neighbor

One of the neighboring vendors asked about my jellies and peppers. My muscle memorized explanation:

I grow my own peppers and forage the fruits I can’t grow.
“Oh really! Where do you grow them?”
Right here. In my backyard. I live behind the arboretum. 
“I live in this neighborhood too!”
I’m on Corby.

I could tell by the tone of his “Oh no, I don’t live there” that he wasn’t fond of my street. After he explained where he lived, he went on:

“What has happened to Corby? It’s become derelict.”
Derelict? How so?
“Oh, the houses are so run down.”
Hmmm. You’re probably talking about my house! 

My house needs gutter repair (not easy on a two-story home), a pressure wash, and paint on the front door. I guess the guy thought I was joking, because he kept going.

“You know the house with the DeLorean?”
That’s my house!

Domestic To-Dos vs. Hobbies

I tried to keep my tone true. Amused, because I found this amusing, not insulting.

I mostly live within my financial means. No yard guy, no maid, and I don’t hire that guy who knocks on my door and offers to pressure wash my house. I have a mower, a mop, and a pressure washer. I’ll do all that myself.

But I do NOT live within my temporal means. My time is fully spent: frenzied freelancing hours and more hobbies than I can count on both hands.

When hobbies and domestic trifles land on the same to-do list, pressure-washing the house is more likely to fall off than tilling the garden. I’m more likely to can peppers than dust. Vacuuming versus writing? I’ll choose writing every time.

I don’t judge those who spic the span and have picture-perfect homes. I’m just not there.

The Derelict

My vendor neighbor seemed uncomfortable, so I didn’t insist on explaining My street is fine, and several houses have been recently painted, windowed, or flipped. Mine is not one of them. So me. That’s me in the derelict house. I let him shift the topic to the car (what’s up with the DeLorean?) and cars, and all the cars that he has parked in his garage.

I don’t know why he thought my street was derelict, so I can only guess and assume.

My street has become more diverse over the years. This is something that thrills me. If he associates run-down and derelict with color (and I don’t know that he does), I am even more amused since the only three houses (all in a row) that need more TLC on my street belong to a middle-aged white woman, a white family who rent to their son and two other white twenty-somethings, and another white family whose parents are of the brilliant computer-geek types.

If long-in-the-blade yards are bothersome, I’m with the computer-geeks two houses down: I do my own and get to it when I can. The twenty-somethings next door? Since when do college-age guys keep a tidy lawn?

The Hobby

I’m going to own “derelict.” Since I’m sort of my own boss, maybe this can become part of a title: Derelict Product Developer? Freelance Derelict? Derelict Novelist? Jelly Dereliction? Derelictious Gardener?

I’ll also own that I have taken on more than time allows. I could take a loan and just get some of the domestic things done, but I prefer the pay-as-I-go plan. And honestly, I’d much rather finish a novel and a screenplay (writing is my loftiest hobby) than fret over a well-kept yard or an appointed house. I take comfort in one of J.K. Rowling’s replies when she was asked how she raised a baby and wrote a book.

I didn’t do housework for four years! I’m not Superwoman, and living in squalor that was the answer.

Here’s to more years ahead of hobbies and dereliction! And owning the creative squalor.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Giving: Did I Do the Right Thing? A Revisit and a Scrutiny

“I don’t want your money, but . . . “  That’s how our brief encounter began. I wrote about it (and giving) two and a half years ago.

When is giving good?

A few months ago, a friend posted about the same woman. She had seen her at several stores, hustling for groceries. It was a scam, a hustle for pricey items that she probably resold. Don’t give to her!

I had already given. Chicken, potatoes, bananas . . . What I gave was the opposite of high-ticket, but after my friend’s post I spent the next few months tumbling questions:

  • Did I make a mistake?
  • Was giving to her a bright spot in my human interaction or was it a bad (foolish!) decision?
  • Knowing what I know now, would I have still do the same?
No. Not sure. And absolutely yes.

Here’s the thing. She wanted chicken. The cheaper potatoes. Bananas. Bread. And (maybe I’m imagining this) validation.

She’s a human being making her way through a life. It doesn’t match mine and probably not any else who is reading my post, but she’s doing what she can with the circumstances she was given.

Who am I to judge?

I don’t and wouldn’t judge you for walking past her or blatantly turning her down. I get it. I often don’t feel comfortable giving. But I won’t judge her for asking for the chicken and sides.

If we’re all subjects in a massive human experiment, a test to deteremine what “humanity” is, I’d rather err on the side of a little foolish and warm-hearted than cold and clinging to my dollar bills.

I stand by my initial decision and expenditure. But mostly I stand by my initial biological feedback. It felt good.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

My Garden Control

The hunter’s full moon is shining down on my garden tonight. I don’t have much in the garden, but the soil is freshly tilled and a dozen seedlings are reaching for the sky. My garden, honestly, is about everything but the vegetables. Sometimes it’s about control.

I can’t say I control my garden well. And the garden certainly doesn’t control me.

If the bean counters showed up, my garden would be condemned. It’s a bad business model. More money for the lesser vegetables, or, often, no vegetable at all. Add to that, the garden takes up precious time, space, and effort.

If the bean counters, however, would factor in more than harvest, my garden would receive a “best deal” sticker. My garden is for unplugging, for meditation and movement, for physical and mental therapy, for emotional grounding.

Tonight as I studied the hunter moonshadows on my crooked rows, I felt a surge of comfort.

Just as everything was spinning completely out of control, I took time last weekend to weed and till my garden. The weeds in some spots were chin-high. It took two days and many I’m-going-to-pass-out moments.

Control becomes an emotion. I felt it immediately. Sure, I was panting and wiping the sweat from my face. But I had restored something. Taken control.

I started this week with more direction and strength. And tonight, as that out-of-control feeling was creeping back in, I went outside to see the full moon. I knew she’d be there. That helped.

I looked at the shadows she cast. My garden rows and seedlings beamed up at me in the moonlight. They restored me.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

 

Choked

I haven’t written much since the 2017 election. I don’t have writer’s block, really. I just feel choked.

I miss writing, because writing is where I figure things out. Writing is introspection, meditation, screaming therapy, and prayer in one painful and joyful process. My self-inflicted October one-blog-a day challenge is my effort to loosen the strangle hold from my pen. The late nights are exhausting. Loosening the restraints is a struggle. Yet I’m grateful to be writing again.

From Choked to Conversation

So, what’s choking you?

If you’re guessing political climate, you’re getting warm.

Why is that choking you?

If you’re guessing I’m a chicken for not raising my voice or a snowflake because I’m an aghast liberal, you’re getting colder now.

This obstruction in my esophagus has nothing to do with chickens and snowflakes. This stricture is about my anxiousness to find the path to conversation and common ground, in spite of and because of the political climate.

After nearly a year of searching for it, I realize that if I’m not writing, I’ll never find that path.

This is me, coming unchoked, looking for the path to conversation and common ground.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Uncertain Journey

A couple of months ago, I made a decision. I didn’t have time to do what was involved, but part of the decision was to make the time. I made the time to begin an uncertain journey.

Monthly One-Week Visits

Once a month, for one week, I go to the “farm,” my folks’ place. They live a mere ninety miles away, but due to my long hours and endless projects, months can slip away between visits.

Earlier this year, mom was diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer’s. Months between visits suddenly seemed unacceptable, so I decided to make a change.

Once a month, I throw a bag of clothes and my computer in the car, and the dogs and I head to the farm. I set up a docking station in the house we rent from my parents and spend a week in our little country home in the water hollow, just down the field from my parents’ home.

I’m not sharing this as a brag. I don’t have a clue what I am doing. In fact, I felt a little selfish at first. Even though I’m working, the visits are a nice break. I don’t have the worries and distractions that pressure me when I’m at home (in the city). I don’t have to feed or coddle anyone. In fact, I get coddled! Mom shows up with clementines and cashews. Dinnertime? I just show up. It’s already prepared.

Am I doing this for me or am I doing it for my parents? Can I make a difference given my ridiculous work hours?through the field

I’ll answer the second question first.

Yes. Absolutely yes.

While I spend most of the eighteen hours I’m awake sitting in front of my computer, I can take a five-minute walk and I’m in mom’s kitchen. I walk up the field three to four times a day, sometimes to join my parents for a meal, sometimes to help mom do something, and sometimes just to visit. But can I make a difference? Just as doubt was setting in, I realized that the insight I gain during the visits and meals are helping me identify ways to help. This is a new journey for us, and although it’s not one I’m thrilled about, I’m blessed and joyful that I am able to be on board for it.

Regarding the first question: “Am I doing this for me or am I doing it for my parents?”

Both. Why shouldn’t it be both?

For me: The visits are self-indulgent. They take me out of my work bubble. I may not work less while I’m there, but I move more, look up more, breathe better air. I have a break from the regular pressures of home, and I get a little spoiled.

For my parents: This is an uncertain journey. The uncertainty is unsettling. I may not know how to help, but I know it helps to talk, share ideas we’ve found, and be present for each other.why I look up

The Magic of Making Time

Remember I said I didn’t have time to do this, but decided to make time? It’s true.

My garden had gone to weeds, the walls in one room need to be torn out and replaced, all of the windows in my house need to be replaced, the shed needs to come down, two ponds need to be dug up and moved . . . The grass and weeds keep growing, the dust and webs keep collecting, the dogs keep shedding, and I can’t keep up because I work ten to fifteen hours a day. I didn’t have time.

What happened when I made time? The list of to-dos didn’t magically diminish, but, magically, I have more energy and vision for tackling that list. I’ll continue to make the time for this uncertain journey, for myself and for my parents.

Enjoy the photos I took on my walks between the water hollow and the main house (it’s not why I go but it’s why I look up when I do).

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.