It feels like forever since I posted to this blog, possibly because I’ve had so much I wanted to say, but didn’t feel I could in a public forum. I’m on vacation now, through the first of October. The job with which I started the year is now over. On the whole, I think it will be a good thing for me, but it’s not been easy.

I’ve known since a conversation in early June that this role was coming to an end, but it took nearly 2 more months to get to the point where I could begin to talk about looking for the next opportunity. Even then, I was so busy I could hardly begin to look for another job. That was one of the challenges, of course. I’ve been running sprints and dealing with too much stress since February. Of course, I lost Phoebe at the end of June, and continue to miss her, particularly when I came home after a rough day. Despite her failing health, she was always a source of comfort, and distraction to take me out of myself. In particular, it was emotionally draining to experience the culmination of 9 months of work, then say goodbye to my staff and colleagues last week.

Now, I’m headed for a short, much-delayed visit to Indianapolis, to see Mom and other family. Hoping for some time to reflect, re-engage with what’s important, and recharge for the next steps on my journey.

I did some gardening for the first time since Phoebe’s been gone. Phoebe has been my gardening companion since I started gardening in this yard, keeping me company. She knew the word “garden”, and when I put on the gloves and picked up the garden bag to go out to the yard, she’d scamper ahead of me, find a toy and bring it for me to throw for her. We’d play some fetch until she settled down to rest, or explore the yard for smells, while I started my weeding or pruning. Then she’d bring toys to me sporadically, keeping me from staying put in one position for too long. On a hot day, she’d take breaks in the shade, and when she was still able to climb the stairs, might go inside to get a drink of water. 

Even when she was older, and couldn’t climb the stairs, she’d still alternate between napping in the sun or shade (weather depending), and exploring the yard, and checking on me. Sometimes she’d bring a frisbee or ball, sometimes just stand beside me.

For over a decade, gardening has been one of my retreats. It was a way to recharge my mental energy, whether pruning, weeding or planting. Phoebe was always there, too. Hoping as the time goes by, I’ll feel her presence with me again.

I’m working from home today, and it’s nice to exercise at my own pace, with views of the sunrise and garden, and coffee and stollen mixed in with the stretching routine. Since my new “office” is a busy co-working space, working from home makes a nice change. I can spread out and think in peace, with my dog beside me and have music or the washing machine as background noise if I want it.

My work today made me think about what I need to do and hope to accomplish in the coming year. With the coming of 2014, I am officially making a big shift in my life – one that has been struggling to be born for at least 5 years, and likely longer. As of January 1st, I am officially in my new role with the Mission Hub organization, leading the content team for both Social Capital Markets and our Impact Hubs in San Francisco, Berkeley, Philadelphia and New York City.

My work is to connect dots about ideas and enterprises and people, both to help catalyze positive change and to enable greater impact through those connections. It is also to create programs and events that highlight those changes and impacts and powerful connections, so that others can learn about them and be inspired to join, invest and support, or be inspired to take their own initiatives to the next level.

Part working a global puzzle in space, part doing really basic blocking and tackling, the work is both intellectually and emotionally stimulating and enormously challenging, but I believe it’s the right way for me to contribute to a better world, at least for now. I am working for an expanding startup, with attendant challenges. There are more ideas than I can possibly execute on at present, particularly with a tiny team. Part of my challenge is to drive revenue so that we can grow the team and expand the impact we make. The work is a combination of ideation, working with ideas to craft programs, and execution. Some days, that means a combination of efforts that makes my head spin, as I may need to shift from talking with a thought leader in impact investing or social enterprise, and brainstorming potential content ideas, and move from there to figuring out a pro forma budget for an event.

I am working at a salary that sustains me, albeit at 1/3 what I made 5 years ago. I will continue to live without first world luxuries I’d been used to, some of which I miss dearly, particularly being able to gift travel to my family and pay for a regular cleaning service.

All that said, I am looking forward to an exciting 2014, having officially crossed a bridge in my career trajectory towards values alignment.

Here’s to a 2014 filled with making the world a better place for all!

On Eureka near 22nd.

On Eureka near 22nd.

Yesterday, I remembered the wishing tree. I was thinking about whether to walk home from my appointment near 18th and and Eureka and it clicked – the wishing tree would be on my way home. That clinched it – I was walking. I wanted to see the tree again. Then I started to remember what I had wished for last year, and my spirits lifted.

Welcome to the wishing tree! Please make a wish and place it in the jar with a slot on its top. In the next days your wish will be on the tree. Words of gratitude are also welcomed. P.S. something happens when we all wish in one place.

I have been frazzled, with multiple projects going at work, trying to wrap up my teaching assistant responsibilities, finishing a project for a Christmas gift, and wanting to enjoy the season – the parties and the quiet joy of a walk at dusk when one can see decorations on the exterior, but also sometimes see into homes with parties and lit trees. Anyway, with all the have-tos, I’ve feeling squeezed on the fun and joy parts over the past couple of weeks. Thinking about the wishing tree is one of those quiet joy moments.

At dusk on my walk home.

At dusk on my walk home.

Although I discovered the wishing tree last year, it has been going on much longer, according to comments I saw on social media last year. It’s at the opposite edge of my neighborhood from my home. Anyway, as I climbed the hill, I was hoping it would be there again, and thinking about what I would write this year. I was also reconnecting to a nugget of joy from earlier in my day – a conversation about employee benefits I can expect to take effect come January.

To some of you, this might seem puzzling. It represents a milestone to me. I spent much of 2009-2012 looking for work. Even though I’ve been working full time (and more) for most of 2013, I was on contract. No benefits, and always knowing I needed to keep looking for work, even when there was no time to do so. Even with this job, which is formalizing the work I’ve been doing full time for the past 3 months or so, there are no guarantees. But roots are important to me, and being officially part of the team will feel good. It still hasn’t happened yet, officially, and I still hesitate to say it out loud, for fear of jinxing it. Four years of almost continuous job searching, whether for full time or consulting roles, takes a toll. For each one, I have to get excited about the possibility of the role in order to write a convincing cover letter, or do well in the interview. Then, if I am not selected, having convinced myself they’d be crazy not to hire me, the letdown is rough. I’d learned to try to gear up for the pitch, then detach from the role and assume it wouldn’t happen. That was necessary to keep looking for other things, too. This role is different. I’ve been doing the job for a while, so I can’t detach from it. My work requires me to assume I will be there next year, to deliver on the commitments I am making now. I am not built to promise what I can’t deliver.

So, back to the wishing tree. When I visited the tree, I was approaching the end of graduate school, with no income for a few months, and knowing that I really needed some solid work. So, my wish last year was for a full time job that sustains me – both spiritually and financially. As I walked over the hill yesterday, I was thinking that last years wish was almost true. The serendipity of talking about benefits that morning, when I would revisit the wishing tree that evening, put a smile on my face.

Written by all ages, wishes range from peace on earth to the latest toy.

As I approached the tree, others were leaving. I don’t know whether they had written their own wishes, or just paused to look. I read some of the wishes hanging from the tree: for peace, for a pony and some special toy, for something about middle school. Then, I looked at the jar – were there tags left? Yes. I picked a green marker and a tag, and wrote my wish. I put it in the slot in the jar, so that it will be laminated and hung from the tree with the others.

What did I write? I said thanks for the help making last years wish come true. As for the rest, I’ll check in next year.

May your heartfelt wishes come true for you.

P.S. The tree is located on Eureka near 22nd Street in San Francisco.

Fathers Day had me reflecting on Dad. He’s been dead since 1995 and was gone for some time before that, because of early onset Alzheimer’s disease. As the years go by, it becomes easier to forget the bad moments and tough times, but also hard to remember some of the good times, as they get further back in time.

Dad with me and the new antique clock

Dad with me and the new antique clock

I took a digital picture of this snapshot of Dad holding me as a baby in front of a Civil War era clock he was proud of (although I’m not sure Mom thought they could afford it). I have this clock, which is not currently running, and a cuckoo clock, which I keep running, although it needs to be wound twice a day. Dad loved clocks, and I enjoy them in memory of him.

Other gifts and lessons I attribute to Dad:

  • A love of hiking and fond memories of family hikes at Indiana state parks
  • Enjoyment of Gilbert & Sullivan, Mozart and other melodic music
  • An insistence on correct pronunciation of my last name (pronounced kreeger, with 2nd vowel long as in German)
  • The importance of a good set of sharp desk scissors, and knowing where they are kept
  • A love of dessert – Dad always wanted some baked good, and the more choices, the better
  • Childhood stories being read to me and my brother, including Winnie the Pooh and folk tales in dialect
  • Knowing to stand for three songs: your school song, the National Anthem, and the Hallelujah Chorus
  • Rooting for you own team is good, but not rooting against the opponent
  • Knowing what a bed warmer is on sight, after all the stops at all the historical sights along the road
  • Independent soft ice cream places are the best, even though as a kid I pretty much only wanted chocolate/vanilla swirl
  • Minnows and tiny snails and snake grass at Coldwater Lake in Michigan, while we vacationed and Dad painted during his summer break
  • Appreciation for wood grain from Dad’s woodwork and hand-rubbed linseed oil finishes
  • Being frugal about energy and water use – Dad has solar panels on the house in the 70s, always made sure we didn’t leave the lights on, and always wanted us to take “Army” showers
  • Dad in the kitchen – making steamed puddings and bread, and making home made candy canes with me one year
  • Inspiring me to look for work that I enjoy doing, because he wasn’t happy with his choices along the way.

Although Dad would have been more likely to play Sir Joseph Porter than Captain Corcoran, here’s a slight alteration to Gilbert & Sullivan to close this out:

He was the captain of the Pinafore.

And a right good captain, too.

He was very, very good, and be it understood, he commanded a right good crew.

As evidenced by some of the lessons I still recall from my youth ….

Thanks, Dad!

What is heartbreaking? It’s seeing someone you love feel broken. Leaving Mom at her nursing home with my brother last night, and seeing her tear up as we left her at the doorway hurt. Knowing that she feels trapped and wants not to be where she is, and in the condition she’s in, leaves me frustrated and angry.

Mom is the person I admire so much for her strength and determination through the years, from putting herself through college as the first female in the family, on scholarship, working 40 hours a week while completing her degree at IU. She is a caring mom who taught us sports, put meals on the table, and planned our family vacations to include time for swimming as well as the historical landmarks Dad was so interested in. Doing all this even as a young mother getting her Masters degree and after she went back to full-time teaching. An elementary school teacher who cared about her students and taught them well. A singer of Christmas carols interchangeably with show tunes around the house at all seasons. A thoughtful provider of valuable life lessons to me and my brother, typically in the kitchen. She loves people and laughs easily.

When my brother and I were in high school, Dad began to change. We know now he was showing signs of early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Being around Dad was tough, especially for Mom. She opted not to take a trip to Europe with Dad and the church choir, because it would have been too stressful. Her singing around the house stopped. Her first grandson was born in 1991, and he was a cause for joy to her in a difficult time. Even once we moved Dad into the Alzheimers unit at the Franklin home, she was torn with guilt because he wanted each visit to be taken home, and called her to come get him. Dad died in 1995. Mom got help for depression. We bought her a cd player and speakers, and some music returned to the house. Things were looking up, but within a couple of years, she needed heart bypass surgery and retired from teaching. She recovered from that better than ever, and took a cross-country road trip with her sister, seeing the Tetons and Yellowstone, and visiting me in San Francisco. She went with the whole crew of us to DisneyWorld for a week in 1999.
By 2001 she had back pain so severe that spine surgery was the only hope for a pain-free life. I took family leave and stayed with her for 2 weeks after the surgery, but after lengthy recovery, the pain was not gone. When she visited San Francisco in 2004, I rented her a scooter, which was an adventure for her first time driving one – on bumpy paths at Muir Woods.

With increasing pain and limited mobility, we helped her move in 2005 from our family home to one just a block away from my brother. That helped, but the neurologist eventually came up with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s to account for the continuing mobility issues. She began to need a walker. She began to fall when her feet and legs would “freeze” and had some falls that resulted in hospitalizations and rehabilitation.

She rarely has visible tremors, but the signs of Parkinson’s show on her face and the medication and disease itself contribute to hallucinations and vivid dreams. These often make their way into her stories – stories that would seem plausible to someone who doesn’t know the real situation about people, times and places she sometimes describes. Sometimes they got her into trouble, like when she said she stepped away from her walker to go dancing, except there was no actual dance partner.

After part time care at home proved insufficient, we got her into assisted living, hoping that would give her the independence she so wants with the support she needs. It worked for a while, but she is now in long term nursing care. She doesn’t want to be there, and says she gets panicky and packs up her things to leave almost daily, often calling my brother’s house for someone to come pick her up to move.

She wants to be living somewhere else. She wants her independence back – her recliner and TV that she could control with no roommate to consider. Maybe she wants the travel she didn’t get to, as well.

I have never heard her express regret that she didn’t get to do something. Only recently did I hear her say she felt that she ought to have done something during the civil rights movement, and felt badly that she hadn’t taken action then.

She was always adamant about wanting us to live our own lives, and resisted for a long time even taking the step of moving nearer to my brother and his family. That is part of what makes her calls to leave the nursing home so heartbreaking. That and the fact that she feels badly about doing it, in part because she recalls how she felt when Dad did it.

I believe she is at heart an optimist. She created most of her opportunities from an early age and fought through challenges without complaining. Maybe it is that optimistic spirit that continues to fight for her independence and to change her circumstances, even when she isn’t fully grasping reality. She certainly knew that life isn’t always fair, but if anyone deserves a break, she does. From the tears in her eyes as I left yesterday, I think she thinks so, too.

So what do I wish for her on Mother’s Day? A miraculous recovery would be nice. Barring that, some peace so she can enjoy more of the life she has, however constrained. For her family, friends, and caregivers, I wish us all the strength and love and compassion we need to help her on the journey as it continues, however hard the road.

Mom with my brother and me on May 11, 2013

Mom with my brother and me on May 11, 2013

I just finished weaving in the tail end on my spiderweb shawl this morning. I actually finished the crocheted border about a week ago, but didn’t want to take on the weaving-in at night. I did get some done watching/listening to NCAA basketball games, and finished it while watching Skyfall on DVD. I got much better at keeping the slippery yarn on the slippery crochet hook, and did establish a feel for the pattern, so I didn’t have to stop and count stitches as often. It may have taken me 20 hours to finish, but I really didn’t keep track.

I look forward to wearing it this afternoon – it is silky-soft and so fine it compresses into scarf size.

Now that it’s finished, I will miss the work of it – the feel of the soft fiber slipping around my fingers – and leaving a blue stain behind, and the rhythm of the stitches. If you want more information on the pattern and materials, you can find those here.

I will have to come up with another project, but not just yet. Life is a little crazy just now. Of course, that may be the best reason to find another knitting project.

 

Hexagonal lace shawl knitted with hand-dyed indigo silk fiber from A Verb for Keeping Warm.

Hexagonal lace shawl knitted with hand-dyed indigo silk fiber from A Verb for Keeping Warm.

I am saddened by the news that Geoff Penney has died. I worked at Schwab with Geoff from 1997 until his retirement in 2004. I thoroughly enjoyed working both with and for him, and valued him so much for what I learned from him. I watched him develop as a leader, and one who was willing to share with me from his experience. Some lessons were on the order of what not to do, but many were things he coached me on in our one-on-one interactions.

Geoff was direct – sometimes abrupt – but I always knew he had good intentions, and there was never a question of where he stood on a topic. He challenged me from the start, even calling me on vacation to make sure we were aligned on something my team had to deliver for his project. Whether as a peer or my boss, he made his expectations clear, but gave me the support I wanted and room to deliver.

He clearly loved technology, and it was a joy to see him wade in to technical detail with staff at all levels, even when he was CIO. I’d see their faces light up, knowing that this very senior person valued their work.

We had our share of laughs, and experienced occasional cultural and language differences – like when he had to spend quite a bit of time describing the significance and context of the “broad, sunlit uplands” to us – necessary, in his view, for us to create our team vision.

Geoff gave me an enormously challenging assignment with the instructions to “do whatever I needed to do to make this happen, but don’t slow down”. I had the feeling he was Henry V and I was one of the soldiers headed to battle on St. Swithin’s Day during that conversation. He retired during that assignment and it was my last role at Schwab. I missed him a great deal, but learned in the years since to enjoy his annual newsletter about things he was learning and doing, and trips he and his family were taking. His version of retirement seemed to me the right way to go about it. I hope to continue learning from him.

My condolences to the whole Penney family.

After many months, I picked up my spider’s web lace shawl again. I finished the last 2 rounds yesterday. (I know now that they’re called rounds – not rows – when knitting in the round.) The final round had 1092 stitches.

Since I started it in 2010, I had managed to keep working on the project sporadically, and knit a couple of small projects in between. Nearing the end of the pattern, I knew I’d need help with the binding off, so I set it aside until I knew my knitting-expert friend could help me. He removed the belly-button start and showed me how to do the crochet bind-off called for in the pattern. It’s designed to make the ruffly, open edge. Turns out, it calls for 14 crochet stitches for every 2 stitches that get bound off.

Yep. To bind off the final 1092 stitches, I’m going to have to crochet 7,644 stitches.

I did find that knitting the pattern could be a meditation. In fact, when finishing the last pattern round, I found that a mantra of “all will be well, and all will be well, and all will be well, and all will be well if I put some effort into it” worked for the repeating series of knit 3, yarn-over, 3-stitch decrease, yarn-over pattern. (If you’ve never knit, just take my word for it.) Partial credit to Julian of Norwich.

See photos for the lacy, curvy edge, and a sense of what the whole thing looks like – remember, it’s a full circle. In the photos, I had bound off 39 stitches.

A bit more stretched out to show the shawl pattern.

A bit more stretched out to show the shawl pattern.

Detailed shot of the edge. For scale, the bright green tip is about 3/8" at the widest point.

Detailed shot of the edge. For scale, the bright green tip is about 3/8″ at the widest point.

Because the piece is still mostly on the round needles, it can't be spread out much, but this shows the edging effect nicely.

Because the piece is still mostly on the round needles, it can’t be spread out much, but this shows the edging effect nicely.

I am not finding that this bind-off lends itself to a mantra, so far. It takes too much concentration to keep the slippery silk fiber on the slippery crochet hook.

So.

I have 1053 stitches left to be bound off, and it seems to take me about 2 1/2 minutes to complete one 14-stitch set when I’m focused and working pretty smoothly. That’s 1,316 minutes or 21.9 hours of pretty focused work.

I would like to think I could do this during the upcoming NCAA basketball tournament games, but I know I won’t be able to if I want to actually watch the action. (Doing needlework like this while watching TV is good, because it forces me to look up and focus at a distance regularly, and reduces eyestrain.)

Unless I increase watching TV that I’m fine with mostly listening to, it may take me another 2.5 years to get this done. Stay tuned – but don’t hold your breath.

A friend wrote an eloquent blog post the other day about his faith. (He’s a writer and generally eloquent. I won’t attempt to compete.) Here’s a link to his post: http://www.punkmonksf.com/blog/?p=367.
As someone who also does “the whole God thing,” this made me think, and inspired me to reflect and write about what I believe and why. I agree with what Karekin says, by the way. One of the things I believe very strongly is that no faith tradition is any more “right” than any other, assuming it is helping you to live a good life in a way that makes one a whole human and sustains self and community. I also agree that that doesn’t require a faith tradition.
My faith community helps me, and sometimes the trappings of the Christian calendar and Episcopal church help me, too. It is also helpful for me to talk to God and feel as though God is listening and helping me find answers I need.
This may or may not turn into future posts here, but I encourage you to read Karekin’s post and consider his position, and your own.
If you want another resource on this general topic, I recommend Fenton Johnson’s book, http://www.betterworldbooks.com/9780618492374-id-9780618492374.aspx.

Peace