Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Happiness is truly priceless...

It's been a wild and crazy year. It's been nearly a full calendar year since my employment was turned upside down dumping me on my bottom. It's been a year since I've been able to comfortably exhale. There is a sense of relief to reach the one-year milestone. I'm here and I'm fine.

Around this date last year, I came into work and was told I was no longer needed. The week prior I'd submitted a request for vacation and never heard from management. When I asked about it, they told me they would get back to me. They gave me a "different" kind of vacation, one where I never come back. While I was upset at the abrupt notification and lack of professionalism, it was the best thing that has ever happened to me in my entire career. Since I was twenty-two, I've been working with non-profits all over my home town. In 2008, the landscape and scope of my work changed dramatically. With the economy slumping and growing more depressed each day, the donations and support to non-profits floundered. My position had been downsized or cut before but I always had another job lined up. This time, I did not and I went home in a panic.

Beginning of one bad chapter in life.

In the winter of 2010 I took a new position (because my current one was being downsized), taking over for someone with a long organizational history. I was already somewhat burned out but I was confident that this organization had a long standing community presence. I was tired of the panic and chaos that so many non-profits operate under. However, I was assured this was not the case with this organization. To bluntly put it, I was lied to. Everyday of work was chaos and pressure to do more with less...bring in more dollars...push...push...push...get it done.

What I took away from my year there was the idea of the manager I never want to be. I approached my manager many times seeking mentoring or leadership advice only to find that she was too consumed in her own personal life and did not want to "manage" anyone. She was constantly worried about appearing "perfect." Several times I attempted to have a serious conversation with her and she would begin tearing up. Her only advice to me ever was "anticipate the move of the other managers...really anticipate and adhere to their needs. They should never have to ask for anything." This is the worst advice I've ever received in my entire career.

Non-profit work is about relationships. I learned that early. It takes a long time to build sincere relationships. I learned a valuable lesson when I took over the job from someone else. She had 30+ years experience and when she left to retire, her relationships retired with her. People said she lived at the organization working day and night. I refused to be that person. When I interviewed for my current position, I was careful to ask many questions about the person leaving. Yes, she was retiring but my company was ready to change the position. I've rarely had a soul say to me "We used to do it like this________." That's all I heard at the other job, everyday. I was hired to carry on a job and complete it as someone else had been doing it since the late 60's. Change was not welcome, nor encouraged.

Oxymoron if there ever was one.

It has been my experience that when organizations refuse to change or look ahead, they begin to fail. They decompose from the inside out. The staff is angry, tired and used up. The programs suffer and the delivery of a product or service shows the cracks from within. Turnover rates say a lot. I asked a lot of questions before I took my new job. I did not do that before. I trusted that the organizations I worked with had the same passion for my hometown as I have. What I have found, is many of them have a passion for the dollars but not the people behind the monies.

I've learned a valuable lesson in relationships with co-workers. I enjoy working with people but constant socializing with them outside of work is not an appropriate boundary. Bar hopping and party going are not in many job descriptions and I refuse to make that a hobby. There is argument for separation of church and state for an obvious reason. There should also be a valid argument for separation of co-worker and your personal space. What are you going to talk about when you are around your co-workers constantly? Work. Guess what I'd like to not talk about all the time? Work.

What I have taken away from last year most is the need for a work-life balance. Working with non-profits, I am keenly aware that I will never make millions. I want to do a good job. I will work hard. However, I need a life outside of my job. This means, I do not need to work twelve-hour days, have late night emails or texts constantly about work. When I leave work, I like to have a social life with hobbies. I know my job may require me to work outside the nine to five parameters but not everyday. Most importantly, I like to come home not too stressed about my job or living in fear that my position may be eliminated with every passing day. I still have the passion for my hometown but I am cautious about which organizations I attach myself to. The pay is not nearly as important as the satisfaction. Happiness is truly priceless.

Friday, June 22, 2012

90 Day Countdown

Three months from today, I am getting married. GULP! Three months from today, some of our family members and friends will join us at a small farm house to share a special afternoon. This is a DIY wedding. This is not a glitz and glamour wedding. There are few, if any, bows involved. There are no tuxes, no registery, no brides maids, groomsmen, no DJ's, or sit down four-course meal. There is, however, a lot of craft time, creativity, and handmade goodness.

Our invites are hand stamped muslin fabric. All local, all handcrafted.
Someone offered to make us homemade cake toppers. We're doing something more simple.

Mom is making my flowers from her own garden. They will be wrapped with my great-grandmothers prayer gloves she wore for her first communion around 1919. This picture was an inspiration because mom assured me that we are not paying $144 for one bouquet of flowers (her words).
This wedding planning is around us. We are not working to make others happy. Right now, our wedding is personalized and financed by us. All of our simple details are all handmade so far. This wedding will have a hint of cycling with southern style. Think bow ties, old farm houses, and bourbon. This is what we wanted. I'd like to imagine that Anthony Bourdain would be impressed if he walked in on our wedding. It would be even nicer if he did some voice over work and photos with us. He's not on the guest list.

Our guest list is small, reserved for only close friends and closer family. The ceremony will be short. We do not have a plan B for the weather. I am working to keep the stress low.The best part of getting married in my thirites is I have never had a time in my life where I've been more comfortable with myself. I used to say I have no regrets but truthfully, I wish I had waited all this time to marry. My twenties were not a perfect time in my life. I was not ready for the responsibilities and work that is marriage. I was not ready for all the changes I was going through as a person. I learned a valuable lesson...be patient...be very patient. I have been quite slow to move near marriage again. It only came up in rare discussions and the one thing I was certain about was the fact that I would not even consider marriage unless the right person came along. I had fully accepted this may never happen.

When people ask me about "the one" or "how did you know?" I unfortantely have to answer with a cliche of sorts. On one of our first dates, JC and I started completeing each other sentences or saying things in unison. This did not happen once, twice or three times but many times. After nearly three years we still do it almost everyday. At times, we may say something aloud so off the wall, we really do wonder how we conjured it up. There is some reassurance when we say something obscure at the same time. At least we realize we are not alone in our thoughts. That is something special and rare. I had never been one of those girls who claimed love at first sight or swooned over the first few dates. However, very early on, we both knew something was different.

We're not pefect. We have our arguments. They are not cute. We move on after we cool down. Neither of us can imagine ourselves without the other. The trials of our relationship started early with some huge stressors. We rolled through those. In many ways we are opposites. I am the social outgoing one. He is the quiet, shy type. You have to wonder if he is having a good time at a friends house because he is so quiet. He would tell me if he wasn't. We balance each other.
JC and I at a friends wedding recently.
 We've worked out the household chores list. I cook. I cook a lot. I love to come home and cook dinner.I hate dishes. He does the dishes. He makes coffee. I handle all our fiscal responsibilities. I take care of the flowers. He keeps the cars detailed. He keeps our bikes built. We have similar passions although my aspirations of public office are my aspirations alone. Most importatnt, we know we will never be rich, have a huge house, two new cars, and a vacation home. We are fine with that. We are happier with our small home, small mortgage, loving animals and Sunday mornings on the couch. We'll see how the next 90-days goes.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Making Lemonade

The excitement of having time to ride may have overshadowed the chores I was supposed to complete this weekend. This has been a hard year to make a consistent ride schedule. It's bothered me considerably. Work keeps me late at times as do my "pre-wifely duties" of dinner making and life organizing. Wedding planning takes up most Saturday mornings. All of this to say, ride time is generally cut short or moved off the to do list because of other life necessities.

However, this weekend, I was determined to ride and not ride alone. Thankfully, a teammate offered his services of accompanying me on a ride. He has flourished this year preparing for his first race season. This means he's stronger and I can chase after him in a greyhound fashion. He lets me catch his wheel sometimes.

The plan for the Saturday and Sunday rides was to get some light hill work in and general miles under our belts. A third rider joined us post race on Saturday. She found herself earlier that morning caught in a deluge of Biblical proportions. Somewhat discouraged, she decided to join us on a recovery ride. We all agreed that although the skies were turning gray, we would press on hopefully staying ahead of the rain. The weather channel said a "chance" of pop-up showers. We took our own chance.

A chance and certainty are two different things. We took a chance. We lost. As we pedaled no more than 100 yards from our parked, dry cars, all three of us were trapped in a torrential downpour. It was the stinging rain that soaks and abuses you. The thought of turning back crossed our minds but we could see clearer skies ahead and the rain felt somewhat refreshing. Yes, I worried about my new bike being in the rain. However, it happens. We pressed on several miles and quickly found our soaked selves drying out with the tiring headwind. No one complained, so we moved along. We did not pass many other riders and as we picked up pace on a small stretch of two-lane road, it would seem the ride would progress in a normal fashion. The only problem was a small sign that caught my drenched eyes reading: Pina Coladas $2. My feet heavy from the sloshing water swirling back and forth in my shoes began to set in but the two dollar pina colada sounded refreshing.

Scott and Melinda after the first rain storm.

Scott and Jordan still dry after the first soaking.

Still smiling with water in our shoes.

We turned back. We did not reach the harder hills. We sat along the Ohio River sipping on a delicious Pina Colada in our soaking wet chamois. We looked haggard. The pop up rain storm had turned us into soggy messes. The Pina Colada's made up for the misery we avoided had we pressed on. Our internal organs soaked in a frozen coconut, rum delight, we decided to head home up a slow but steady hill. We were mostly dry at this point which was a welcome comfort. Within a few pedal strokes, the skies opened up once again soaking us from head to toe, flooding our shoes and adding the last bit of humor to our day.

The $2 Pina Colada. Refreshing.

You might think we learned our lesson Saturday. However, on Sunday, the same three riders (plus one on the back of tandem) decided to ride again with the goal to finish the route we started on Saturday. The radar looked crystal clear and we were able to get more dry mileage this time BUT the skies opened up again, soaking us. Although the storm was more brief than Saturday and less intense, we decided this time to finish. We wrapped up the ride at a moderate pace, still wet, and slightly defeated. With our kits soaked, some of us enjoyed ice cream while another headed home to dry out (I did not blame her but I really wanted some ice cream).

Although, it was not the rides we had planned, we turned two somewhat painful outings into something of a laughable memory. It will be that weekend that we joke about to each other, "Hey! Remember when we headed out for a ride in that horrible rain storm, twice?"  It's proof you can make lemonade from lemons or in this case, Pina Coladas.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Say Yes to the Bike

On one of our very first dates, I explained to JC, that I was not a "ring hungry girl." As the night in November of 2009 wore on and more beers were poured, we carved out the idea of of engagement bikes. The reality of this was sometime off in the distance. JC and I faced some interesting trials early in our relationship including a weekend road trip that stranded us in West Virginia, job changes for both of us, and the loss of some meaningful friendships. When we occasionally discussed marriage, it was something on a to-do list, an idea that was always on the table but timing is everything. However, anytime we talked about the long term, we did not talk about rings, dresses, flowers, or ceremonies, we discussed engagement bikes.

As many people around me know, 2011 was not a stellar year. An odd cosmic disruption occurred where I had to rely on JC to be my stronger partner. An abrupt career shift meant the juggling of finances, illness, and life. Although I transitioned through jobs likes glasses of water, JC was my supportive cheerleader for the "next big thing." Countless interviews later, I secured a "real job." The New Year felt as fresh and clean as a Zest commercial. We talked more about a commitment and it was fitting that his proposal was on a bike in the park near our home. There was no bended knee moment and no ring box. I could not have been happier. I said yes anyway and without hesitation. I am not the traditional fairytale type of girl nor did I want to finance a ring for 120 months. After returning home from the park to make a round of calls to friends and family, we began the work on planning our engagement bikes while discovering we both had family jewelry I could wear. I slipped one ring on and we spent the remaining evening hours discussing all the details of our engagement bikes.

Our engagement bike idea was simple: Two one-of-a-kind, very personalized bikes handmade to our specifications with intimate details for each of us. We love many of the same things about bikes so it was a rather easy design process. We like steel and traditional race geometry. A key element was to capture the love of our animals. With our wedding, comes the merging of two households; one large spastic golden retriever, and one obese but loving cat. The cat and I are a package deal. If you are going to be with me, you will have to love my twenty-two pound cat. If we were designing engagement bikes, a likeness of Victor had to be included (his bike will have a likeness of Buddy). More important, it is customary to have your name painted on the top tube. This is the first thing I've designed with my new name. It made us both rather emotional.
Frame with new name on the top tube
Then sometime this Spring, behind closed doors, in Don Walker's shop in  Buckner, Kentucky, my bike was born from a dusty box of tubes. I was fully aware it was in production but unaware of the look or feel of the final product. Cycling has become something special for me. I appreciate the craft and careful love that goes into each handmade frame. I have two other handmade bikes. They are each very special to me.  The hardest part of any handmade bike is the waiting. I waited, somewhat patiently but excitedly. I refused to look at any pictures online. I refused any texts. I wanted to see it when it was complete. I trusted JC would make all the right decisions. He did. Months of waiting have paid off. My bike is here.

New bike complete!
To many, it is just another bike out on the road with one of those crazy riders that believes they have all the rights as every car on the road. To me, it is much more. To me, it is something my fiance helped craft by hand. It represents something we love together. It is sized just right. A few light adjustments and it will be the perfect bike. While some women would squeal over a new diamond ring, I found myself doing a happy dance (with witnesses) and chills running down my spine. The craftsmanship is amazing but all the small details make it much more special than ANY bike on the road or ANY other bike in anyone's home. I will never ride the bike and not think of JC. I will never ride the bike and be without Victor or his "likeness."

The Victor "likeness"-It is dead-on
I had friends and colleagues who raised an eyebrow when I said we were getting engagement bikes. I got that "huh?!" face. I know it sounds rather odd and non-traditional. Everything that JC and I have ever done is rather odd and non-traditional. It works for us. I cannot wear the bike on my hand but it makes our story more special each time I tell someone. That's what important to us.
Me with my engagement bike! I said yes!