The Barn House View

The Barn House View

In a little less than 96 hours I will be officially on vacation from Job #1. Twenty-four hours after that, I will officially be on vacation from Job #2 AND HMOKeefe should be rolling up my driveway. By Sunday morning, I should be in full hedonism mode. I can’t wait.

Most of the time I rather enjoy HMOKeefe’s and my long distance relationship, but I haven’t seen him (except on Skype) since January 1st. And if seeing him weren’t enough, my vacation intentionally coincides with my birthday (August 3rd for those of you playing at home).

And if all that wasn’t enough, this is my first real vacation in several years and I’m taking two full weeks. I practically swoon at the thought. There’s only been one other time that I’ve taken a two week vacation. It was hectic and jam packed though thoroughly enjoyable. Still. I need serious downtime.

After minimal conversation, HMOKeefe reserved The Barn House in Berkeley Springs, WV for a week. [The photos I’m using here are shamelessly stolen from – I consider it free advertising.]

The Barn House

The Barn House

This large vacation rental is a restored antique barn that sits in the middle of nowhere offering privacy and spectacular views. It feels wrong to be hyperactive and wildly excited about sitting and doing nothing – but here I am – wildly excited and hyperactive.

I can’t wait.

One day we’re planning an outing to Capon Springs. And on another, we have spa reservations. We also have tentative plans to trundle into D.C. and partake of tea at Ching Ching Cha and, as much as I like this teahouse, I think it’s likely these tentative plans will fall victim to inertia. Maybe not.

HMOKeefe has been cooped up for two years and he’s wildly excited about getting out and about. With any luck there won’t be any friction between my need to be a deck ornament and his need to explore and excavate.

I should be cleaning my house. I should be packing. I should be grocery shopping (less HMOKeefe perish of hunger while here). I should be doing a lot of things, but I’ve been doing a lot of things and I’m tired. By the end of the week, I’ll be bone weary. Hyperactive or not, I need to slow it down. So tonight? Tonight, I sit and do nothing but yammer at y’all, update my Twitter status, maybe take a bath – by candlelight. I’m considering these activities the dusting off and readying of my innate hedonistic qualities which are a bit rusty.

Actually, I do know how to operate an antique stove.

Actually, I do know how to operate an antique stove.

I may or may not be sorry for blowing off this evening later in the week. I really do have a lot to do. At present, HMOKeefe will fall over dead in shock at the pigsty that is my house. He might even break up with me. Or leave me home to clean up the mess while he enjoys Berkeley Springs. In any event, what I manage to get done will have to be done later this week.

I expect to be in full panic mode by Friday.

But right now I’m practicing my downtime vacation skills. I think there’s beer in the fridge. Some leftover black bean soup. I’m sure I have a half-finished novel somewhere.

[Connie wanders off in search of vittles and entertainment.]

(Nonexistent) Spare Time

Photo by TheMarque - used under a creative commons license

Photo by TheMarque at Flickr - used under a creative commons license

In my nonexistent spare time, I’m doing some work at an emergency shelter for teenagers.

I must be getting old.

For fourteen years, I worked on a college campus. In addition, I was a teenager (once upon a time) and I raised a teenager. I hadn’t expected to be surprised by these kids.

About every two hours or so, one of them surprises me. Far too frequently, one of them will surprise me to the point of speechlessness. I’m rarely at a loss for words.

In 13 days, I will celebrate the golden jubilee of my existence. I’m rather excited about turning 50 though I can’t quite articulate why. I am discovering the Big 5-0 is a time for reflection. While I don’t feel it’s possible that I’m 10+ years past the age I was convinced my parents were elderly and on the verge of nursing home care, I do know that I’ve got enough years behind me that every now and again true wisdom pops up in my brain – the brain that still feels 25 in the body that’s feeling every year of 50.

Working with teenagers at this junction encourages that reflection and results in some brief glimpses of insight.

I was the teenager from hell. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, I was intelligent and strangely responsible with my delinquent behavior. I had goals and I managed to get through a surprisingly good public school system with a solid 3.92 average. I worked 20-30 hours a week. In my (then) nonexistent spare time, I also partied like it was 1999.

The saving grace was that I loved and respected (kind of) my parents.  I loved them and they loved me.

I told my son there were few things he could do that I hadn’t done; and, unlike my parents, I knew what to look for. While there were days I said to him, in stunned disbelief, “Who raised you?” we managed to get him through those years with minimal trauma.

At this point, I’m probably sounding like a hypocrite.

Those all too brief episodes of wisdom are bearing fruit.

They tried to tell me then and I try to tell them now that they have years and years in front of them, but youth is all too fleeting.

I would love to have the attitude and joy of being a small child again – the wonder at the world and the excitement of discovering it. I wouldn’t be a teenager again for nothing. Folks say they’d love to do it again knowing what they know now. Not me. They’d have to drag me kicking and screaming back to the time of Clearasil.

These kids I spend time with 25 hours a week are a mess. Most of them haven’t willfully done anything I didn’t do. The difference seems to be what has been done to them.  By their own actions and by what’s been done to them, they’re growing up far too fast. 

Some of them are there because of things they’ve done that landed them in the criminal justice system. Others are there because of things that were done to them that landed their guardians in the criminal justice system. Others are mentally ill. Some are there because their parents couldn’t control them and voluntarily turned them over to state custody.

College professors are consistently amazed at the irresponsible and dishonest behavior of their students. They’re further disgusted at the lack of basic skills these kids are coming out of high school with. Some of them put the blame squarely on the kids. Some on the public school system. Some on the parents. Some on all three. Rather than blaming, I’m more interested in figuring out what we’re doing differently with our kids that leads to this behavior and attitude. If we can figure that out, we can stop it before it starts.

In my other job, I work with folks committed to prevention of child maltreatment. The statistics and the research strongly show that it’s far more effective and less expensive to prevent the problems in the first place than to react to them later.

This job offers the flip side. What I see is that we’re dumping tons of money on this problem. Money that needs to be spent. But I wonder about the efficacy of it. It’s a temporary shelter so I don’t get to see what happens in the long term.

What strikes me about these kids in the shelter is how young they are and how old they think they are. The problem lies in that junction. They chafe, in ways I didn’t, at our attempts to control and change their behavior. So many of them have an attitude that this is all there is. Those that do have goals have ones that are shallow and center on the acquisition of stuff or the attainment of fame. They don’t want (or don’t they can) contribute something of real worth. Or they have no concept of what is worthy.

At their age, I felt like an adult. As an adult (and I use that term loosely), I know now that I didn’t feel like an adult – I felt like a teenager with the accompanying raging hormones and brain that had not yet lateralized. Hell, most of the time I still don’t feel like an adult.

It’s too easy to throw up our arms in despair and declare the problem too big to deal with. There’s an old story that makes the rounds of intervention folks – The Starfish Story. It was written by Loren Eisley. In short, a man on a beach sees miles of beached starfish and encounters another person picking them up and throwing them back into the ocean. The man points out to the other that he can’t possibly make a difference as there are hundreds of starfish and miles of beach. The starfish thrower says, as he tosses one back into the ocean, “”It made a difference for that one.”

My work at this group home is not onerous. Mostly, I sit and talk with the kids. Every now and again, I get the opportunity to say something that I hope is the equivalent of tossing a starfish back into the ocean.

What I need to learn, and this is probably true of life, is that while I will not get to see if my actions provoke positive results, the simple act of doing is still worthwhile.

I’ve spent this morning bemoaning my loss of free time. This job began as a means to alleviate some financial distress. It’s becoming something more. I’m learning something from these kids and I’m learning something about me. Time will, perhaps, illuminate more clearly what it is I’m learning. It’s possible that the starfish I’m saving is myself.


Not a good time for the <br>windshield wipers to go on the blink (again).
Not a good time for the
windshield wipers to go on the blink.

I’m tired of rain.

Oh sure, it was all good and fine up to a point, but not now. Not in spring. Not when I have gardening to do. Not when I need electricity.

I love summer storms – the ones that roll in about mid-July and punctuate my birthday month of August.

[Note: I’m turning 50 this year and am oddly excited about it. I haven’t set up a gift registry (yet?), so feel free to ask me what I want. ]

In a proper summer storm (July and August), I’m quite content to sit somewhere and watch the pyrotechnics in the sky. I have fond memories of Chef Boy ‘R Mine and I sitting on the floor looking out the glass doors and shouting “Boom in the sky!” when the thunder and lightening rolled. He was just 2 and initially fearful of the storm – I decided to make it fun for him and fun we had. There’s no sound in the world better than baby giggles.

Storms in May are another matter entirely. I can garden in the rain, if I have to, and I’ve had to. But now, we’re at that point where I’d like to sit out there and admire my handiwork. It’s one thing to work in the rain, but to just sit out there like a garden statue while getting soaked seems a little too eccentric even for me.  Especially when it’s not just rain, but torrents – the white water version of rain. 

[Note:  By the way, I’d like a garden Buddha for my birthday.  I’ll settle for a head, but I’d be tickled with a roly poly seated Buddha.]

Candlelight Blues
Candlelight Blues

It seems like it’s rained forever. Coming off the Winter from Hell, I am sick-to-death of stuff that makes my power go out.  So, if I can’t sit in the garden at my table with the fabulous floral centerpiece, I’d like to be here, cruising the web, maybe watch a movie and catch up with friends on Skype. Can’t do that either.   It would be nice to be able to cook dinner.  Baths by candlelight are sensuous and wonderful (even alone), but you can only sit in the bathtub for so long. 

Candlelight is not quite as romantic alone.

I can’t do laundry which has piled up to the ceiling during the great 2009 Gardenpalooza. Can’t vacuum. The batteries in my Itty Bitty Book Light have died. I’m getting cranky. What’s worse is that the power comes and goes. Just when I think it’s come back on, I lose it again. Living in a clearing in the middle of a forest, I’ve learned the inevitability of power outages during any kind of inclement weather, but that on/off stuff wears on my nerves.

Weather Dude says this pattern could last through the weekend. I’m not sure how many days in a row we’ve had rain, officially, but it seems like 971. I’ve had enough. I’m positively pruney (and not from marathon baths).

I am tired of rain. Really. Now, the laptop battery is dying (goodbye Freecell!). I’ll post this when the power comes back on for good or if it stays on long enough to do so.