Longevity and the next 30 years

Within the past year, I looked online to see how long I might live.

The results were sobering – ranging from 86 to 96 to 102! Since I’m just now turning 66, that means I might have 30 years left – my Third 30. What will I do during those years?

A Social Security info sheet says that “the typical 65-year-old today will live to age 85;” more than a third of us will live to age 90 and one in seven will live to 100. So, maybe I have 20 years; maybe 30 years. But let’s say I’m beginning my Third 30, just for fun. I had a paternal grandmother who lived to 100 and a maternal great grandmother who made it to 93. Genetics is on my side.

To kick off our Third 30, my husband and I both retired, downsized our stuff, sold our house in the upper Midwest, moved back to the east coast, bought 3.7 wooded acres in a rural county, and are building a cozy compact house. Those were many changes in a relatively short space of time, but we remain upbeat, energetic, and excited to have exactly the kind of one-level living we think we need at this stage. We hope this will be our last house, although considering our past behavior, perhaps not. My personal nomadic existence has historically involved 9 states, 2 foreign countries, 19 cities, and 30 dwellings – all in 66 years. Together, we have owned five houses ranging in size from 1,000 sf to 4,200 sf (not at the same time). This last house will be a little over 2,500 sf including guest rooms for our grown children’s visits.

We make frequent visits to our trees on a slope where the house will eventually sit. I imagine waking up in the morning looking at trees outside my windows, and wandering out to the screened porch to drink coffee. If we live there for many years to come, what will I be doing during my time there, once the building project is done, we are moved in, and everything is unpacked?

These questions are obviously not unique to my husband and me. All retirees face similar questions but maybe fewer realize how long they might be around to contemplate their Third 30. No, I don’t regret my decision to retire at age 65, and I have many interests but still… how will these Third 30 years play out?

I will think about all this in my blog, but right now, I’m heading out to walk my 3-mile circuit. The weather is lovely and it’s still cool.


Family photograph from before 1927 when my grandmother (X marks her) died from pneumonia. Next to her is one of the twins — either Olive (my mother) or Rose (my aunt). It’s possible that the lady in the lace cap is the relative who lived to 93. Also possible that the man to the far left is my grandfather who I never met.

Genealogy is like crack

Major news: the 1940 US Census will become available this year in April to genealogical researchers and the general public. It’s the event of the decade, so to speak. Each census is released 72 years after it was taken. People are scrambling to get everything online and make it available to rabid consumers of family history data. Like me.

I first became aware of genealogy, although I had trouble learning to spell it, in a college library when I happened to come across a book in which I looked up my last name and found out that living in the western part of the country was a whole extended family of Hogles who had become professionals, made a lot of money, and had a zoo named after them in Utah! I was amazed and wondered if somehow we were related. I doubted it since that family was in the west and mine I knew had originated in upstate New York.

During a visit with my family when I was in my early 20s, I asked our dad to tell me about all the family members he could recall and how they were related to each other. Growing up, we had been told to call everyone older than us Uncle and Aunt, despite the fact that only two of them were technically an aunt and an uncle. So, I didn’t fully understand how everyone was related. He remembered an amazing amount of detail; I drew up a genealogy chart and tucked it away. I still have it, and most of it has turned out to be accurate.

So, what is it about genealogy that is so addicting? Maybe there’s some inner drive that makes some people so curious about the past and about networks between people. It might have something to do with a love of history, anthropology, and photography. Our parents kept scrapbooks, old newspapers describing famous events, and hundreds of photographs carefully kept in albums. Our dad took all the pictures. And our mother made notes on the back of who, when and where. The why part was missing usually. But most of the photos are identified.

Eventually, I ended up with all the old photos from our parents. My brother Don and I began preserving them in better-quality albums. My curiosity about these relatives persisted. I wanted to know where we came from originally. In the late 1990s, I began to explore connections on the internet. While our mother was still alive, I was able to find out for her what had happened to her father, when he died and where he was buried. I found out the names of his parents and where they were from. I found out about my grandmother’s birth family, that she was the oops baby, the youngest of five, and that her own grandmother had died giving birth to her only child, my great-grandmother.  I found out where my mother’s mother was buried. I visited several cemeteries and photographed stones. And I also found out the name of one of my great-grandfathers, Asahel Hogle, who lived his entire life in Canada. I then found out that the Hogle family was actually of Dutch origin, not English as our dad had thought. The Hogles came to New York State from Holland, possibly in the early 1700s or late 1600s. Another Hogle from Arkansas published a book about Hogles in June 2001 and I immediately obtained a copy. Our Hogle line began with Johannes Hoghil in 1715, who was killed by Indians in his 30s. He had a son, John, who died at the Battle of Bennington, fighting on the side of the Loyalists. Years later, his widow and sons left for Canada where the family remained for a century. Asahel’s son came back to New York in the 1800s and settled in Syracuse. Meanwhile, my mother’s Irish Canadian ancestors ended up in Vermont, a short hop across the border from their original home in Montreal. Her French ancestors appear to have lived near Troy, NY, for a long time, but I’ve not been able to trace them very far. Don and I did a Dead Ancestors Tour of upstate New York a few years ago, staying in B&B’s, visiting with town historians, spending a day at the NYS Archives in Albany, and photographing more stones.

I did learn to spell “genealogy.” It’s such an odd word, not spelled like other “ologies.” I’ve taken several great genealogy classes at the Wisconsin Historical Society, one of the most amazing organizations of its kind in America. I’m not making that up. They have incredible resources and dispense assistance from a beautiful old building on the UW campus. It’s a great place to do research, even if your ancestors are not from Wisconsin!

The turning point in the genealogy addiction occurred last month when I read about the release of the 1940 census data and signed up for a subscription to ancestry.com – they were offering a reduced rate in honor of the census release. As I began to explore the site, I was impressed at how much it had improved in ten years since I first used it. Then I began to think about getting Family Tree Maker, a reasonably priced ancestry.com product that links with online family trees being created by thousands of other genealogy nut-cases like me. So, I looked into it and noticed it could upload PAF files. I had used PAF some years back to start creating a family tree, but I liked the idea of being able to backup my files online and take advantage of the research efforts of others in adding to my own tree.

Last weekend, we successfully imported all 600+ people in my family tree into Family Tree Maker. As I began doing the tutorials, I was truly astounded at how sophisticated this program is! After working in it, then you can sync the data with your online tree! And then you can look at your tree from anywhere that you have an internet connection. What happened Saturday night is that for six straight hours after uploading my data and opening up ancestry.com and Family Tree Maker, I sat in front of my computer oblivious to anything happening around me. Luckily there are no children at home or dogs to be walked. Perhaps I stopped to eat dinner.

When I look at my family tree, small leaves appear at the end of many names, waving gently and calling to me to click. That is the indication that ancestry.com has found some additional data elsewhere in other people’s trees that might be relevant to my ancestor. So, I click, quickly review the new data, and decide if I want to add it to my ancestor’s file. When I add new people, all of a sudden I then see additional small green leaves waving tantalizingly in a cyber breeze, beckoning my cursor to pet the leaf and see what’s hiding there! God, I can’t stop!! As of last night, I had added over 100 additional people to my tree, and wandered back to Belgium in the late 1500’s! How amazing and wonderful and exciting!!

My father’s line is originally Dutch, and my maternal line is French. But my Catholic Dutch grandfather (who probably didn’t know anything at all about his Dutch ancestry) married a Scotch Baptist and they spent the rest of their lives attending an Episcopal church. My mother’s mother, French Catholic, married into an Irish Catholic family who descends from Donegal, Ireland, via Montreal. But way back in the tangled lines of intermarriage, I found German, Belgian, and English ancestors, too. The whole of Europe runs in my DNA. Now I have a serious genealogy addiction fueled by the internet, ancestry.com and Family Tree Maker. And I need to go to Montreal, and back to Syracuse and Binghamton, and there are more graves to visit…. And the 1940 census will be available in just a few weeks!

The winter that wasn’t

Perhaps the reason I’ve been so out of sorts since early January is that we did not get winter here in Madison this year. We’ve had very little snow, many threats that did not materialize, and much warmer than normal temperatures. Last night, a couple inches of wet fluffy stuff came down, and the world look cleanly white this morning with everything frosted, but it will all melt this weekend when the temps hit 40 or more. I feel cheated of a season I love. We did not even get one blazing blizzard this year! Climate change is really annoying. Since our downsizing move to be closer to jobs this past year, I can now walk to work on campus. Rarely have I needed boots with ice-grippers on the bottom this season. Usually each year we have several days of nasty minus-something temps with wind, but this year, we only dipped into the single digits a couple times and I don’t think it was minus anything any time. Very disappointing. No skiing, no skating… it’s just not fair to live in Wisconsin and be deprived of winter.

Don’t tell anyone! Our winters here are much better than anywhere else in the midwest most years anyway, but we don’t want the rest of the country to be too aware of that fact. Slow change and growth is fine but floods of new arrivals in large numbers would not be a good idea. We have glorious summers here, but again, let’s just keep that a local secret. The folks cooking in Arizona summers can just head due north; don’t come this way! And you Texans…. just head west to NM mountains — higher altitudes, lower temps. We’re fine here in Wisconsin with our 5.7 million people. Let the growth continue…. slowly. 

All the jobs I’ve ever had

It’s April… many people are graduating from college in May (including our daughter). Some of them already have jobs lined up (not our daughter). There is much anxiety out there about working. I wonder how many people are reading Penelope Trunk as they panic about post-graduation possibilities. Back when I was at the beginning of the golden years of rock ‘n roll, I didn’t think so much about careers but mostly about how to find a job to make enough money to 1) have some spending money, and 2) stay in college. I was not really picky about work because when you grow up at the edge of financial calamity, you never feel entitled to a high-paying job when you know you have very few skills.  At the beginning of your working life, your job skills (when you graduate with a non-practical degree) are limited to showing up on time, appropriately dressed, behaving cheerfully, finding out what exactly they want you to do, doing it in the best way possible, and planning your next move. No one found me a job when I was young. I had no mentors, didn’t have a clue what I could do, but somehow ended up eventually getting more degrees, and actually doing things I wanted to do all along but just didn’t know exactly what they were at the time. I’ve had a varied “career” but the beginnings of it all were nothing exciting.  

So, I began to think about all the jobs I’ve done in the past and I decided to try to list them all. And I realized that no matter what job I did, there was something good about it, I learned something from the experience, and I can do almost anything for a year or two. In what may be the twilight of my working life, I can look back on half a century of jobs and see that I have done the usual things and then some not so usual:

  1.  Babysitting was my first official “job” for which I was paid money, which likely started out in the 1960s at about 50 cents an hour. I babysat from the age of 12 until about half-way through college when I had better things to do with my time and other ways to make money. I even spent an entire summer once as a nanny.  Best thing about the job: figuring out that child care was not something I wanted to do for pay over the long-term. What I learned: managing kids is really hard.
  2. Bud’s Chicken Take-out, Lake Worth, FL – my first “real” job, meaning a place where you go to work, in this case, after school and during the summers for a couple of years. In 1967, it was a very small place with no eat-in, only take-out, and not air-conditioned because Bud was afraid it would change the taste of the chicken. (?) Think about South Florida in the summer. Us girls wore cute smocks over our white blouses and sweated rivers standing in front of heat lamps that kept the fried chicken warm while we filled customers’ orders. Best thing about the job: free fried chicken after work. What I learned: food service and I are not a good fit.
  3. Department store clerk:  South Florida, 1960s/1970s. Working retail over holidays and summers was a fill-in thing for many young people in those years. Seemed like everyone spent some time in department stores. Best thing about the job: seeing what’s on sale before getting off work. What I learned: how to work a cash register.
  4. Bookkeeping assistant: for Montgomery Ward’s in West Palm Beach, Florida, the summer after my freshman year. I was the only person in the office with any college education. The boss asked me to quit school and work there full-time! I did not. Best thing about the job: the paycheck. What I learned: bookkeeping is boring.
  5. Typesetter:  at college in Florida in the early 1970s, I worked for the student newspaper in the evenings in a windowless office full of cigarette smoke. Before the advent of desktop publishing, typesetting of printed material was produced by hand using small sharp tools. I started out as a journalism major so it seemed like a logical job. I changed my major however. Best thing about the job: reading the paper. What I learned: I could write better than a lot of the newspaper writers.
  6. Resident advisor: This was a bonanza job that I did for 3 years in college. It paid well, I had a private room as part of my job, and in those days, it wasn’t a job that seemed like police work. Best thing about the job: it paid for braces to straighten my teeth. What I learned: how to listen and how to ask questions.
  7. Dude ranch laundry worker: After the summer at Monkey Wards, I was determined not to go home to South Florida for any more summers. By Christmas of sophomore year, I had applied to three resorts in different parts of the country. I didn’t care what the work was, I just wanted to be in a beautiful place with less humidity. And I did just that – for 3 summers – Moosehead Ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The first summer, I sewed curtains, cleaned cabins and waited tables. The next two summers I ran the laundry room. I lived for my summers in Wyoming.  Best things about the job: Grand Teton National Park; riding horses; floating the Snake River. What I learned: how to clean bathrooms & make beds properly, and how to rock climb (on my one day off each week).
  8.  Ward clerk: Eventually, I finished taking classes for a master’s degree in anthropology in the mid-1970s and needed a job in order to pay the rent while I wrote a thesis. The highest paying grunt job in Gainesville, Florida at the time was ward clerking at the university’s teaching hospital. I had an interest in medicine anyway, so did that job for two years while deciding what to do next. It was a clerical job on a pediatric ward, full of very sick children. Thus it was emotionally wrenching. But the experience in a large hospital was invaluable. Best thing about the job:  participant observation in a medical setting – how things work, what people do, how sick people can get.  What I learned: how to hold a kid still while someone does a procedure, and how to keep important information organized. I also figured out that a career in hospital administration did not interest me. Also, that I did not want to go to medical school or to nursing school.
  9. Research assistant: While I was ward clerking on the 4 to midnight shift, I worked for about 6 weeks during the day interviewing caregivers at an institution for people with severe disabilities – it was actually a type of evaluation, although I didn’t know that at the time. I was just the interviewer. It was a place called Sunland Training Center in Florida. Best thing about the job:  getting paid to participate in research. What I learned: how to interview people in order to get good information.
  10. Editorial assistant: Eventually I went back to school for another degree, this time in medical anthropology. While in school, I worked for my advisor who was an editor for a professional journal. I helped with editing the articles before they were published. Best thing about the job: reading articles in my area of interest. What I learned: editing skills (immensely useful).
  11. Ambulance driver and EMT: Fast forward to the early 1980s in southern New Mexico where we happened to be living. I decided to volunteer on the local ambulance service after taking an 81-hour EMT course, taught by the two local National Health Service Corps physicians (one of which was my husband). For one year, I worked part-time driving the ambulance and responding to emergencies. Best thing about the job: adrenaline rush & orange jumpsuits. What I learned: emergency first aid.
  12. Independent consultant: Yes, indeed, quite a catch-all label. Tells you nothing. However, in 1983, we moved to West Africa. Eventually I found work as an “on-the-ground” liaison to international development organizations that needed someone local to help them do their work. Living and working in Niger and Kenya for seven and a half years, learning to function in another culture, learning French — added to my research training — meant I had skills I could contribute to international public health. I always had work which was different, interesting, challenging and paid well. My favorite consultancy was working in Uganda on a project with traditional healers. Best thing about the jobs: flexibility and my income was not taxed because I found the jobs while based overseas. What I learned: working from home is great; French; Kiswahili; rhinos are dangerous; how to be adaptable.
  13. Program evaluator: Now we get to what I really “do”. I was trained as a social scientist in how to do research, but I realized eventually that 1) I did not want to teach anthropology in a university and 2) I didn’t really have “my” research that I was dying to do. Yes, I have done research. Yes, I have published some papers. But I did not care to jump onto the tenure track and anyway, there are not many jobs. In 1991, when we moved back to the US, I was hired as an “evaluation officer” on a federally funded international HIV prevention project, not because I was an evaluator (I was not) or because I had experience in HIV-AIDS prevention (I didn’t), but because I had lived overseas for 7 years, because I spoke French, because I was a social scientist, and mainly because I was easy to get along with! I worked on that project for six years, then consulted part-time for another decade as an evaluator, and then went to work full-time about 2 ½ years ago on an NIH grant as a program evaluator. I live in Wisconsin. And I really like my job! Best thing about the jobs: The work I do is practical, applied and useful because it helps people figure out 1) what they intend to do (goals and objectives), 2) how they’ll know they did it (metrics), and 3) where the information’s coming from (data sources). What I am learning: Evaluation is tricky, needed, and very, very marketable.
  14. Direct sales consultant: I had to add this as a postscript because I am still technically a direct sales consultant with the Creative Memories company – a 23-year-old supplier of scrapbooking and digital image management products. I’ve been a CM consultant for 10 years and created at least 80 scrapbook albums of family photographs and stories. Best thing about the job: getting scrapbooking supplies at consultant cost instead of retail, and meeting so many people who I would never otherwise encounter. What I am learning: running a home-based business is a lot of work and takes time away from scrapbooking.

What I wish I could say: as a post-postscript, I have to say that if my life had been different, I would have liked to say simply that I am a writer or a photographer or a musician. I do all those things, but not professionally, and not for money. “Do what you love” was not advice that I heard 30 or 40 years ago. I did not have the self-confidence to even consider doing something as risky as photography or writing or music. On the other hand, some would say that a social science degree (like anthropology) is plenty risky. But whatever…. Half a century later, I’m working, I like my job, I have good benefits, I’m satisfied. And I learned plenty from all those other jobs.

Thunderstorms in Madison!

The first snowstorm of the winter season is always a noteworthy event here in Madison. The first thunderstorm of the spring season is less noticeable, but I noticed last night when flashing lightning, window-rattling thunder and torrential downpours made it difficult to nod off to sleep after Duke pulled off their big basketball win. Or should I say, after Butler missed their potentially-prediction-shattering chance at victory.

It was still raining, lightning and thundering this morning when we got up, so we had to check the water run-off on the property to see if we were going to avoid standing water in undesirable places. It looks like the drainage improvements have worked. Our lawn service came last week for the first treatment of the year, so by the end of this week, it’s likely the grass will be green & clean with all brown vestiges of the weight of packed snow since December, eliminated from the landscape. Flowers are up; bushes & trees are budded. And it’s time to prime our little garden spot for a few tomatoes and peppers, to be installed around Memorial Day. Ah… spring! Such a pleasant diversion!

First 70 degree day!

Ahhhh…. bliss!! It’s over 70 in Madison today. The first day in six months that it’s been this warm! For the past couple of weeks, despite fog, clouds and some very chilly days, the bicyclists have been out in force, stubbornly insisting that the snow is gone so therefore it’s time to bike, even if there was frost on the ground each morning. I tuned up my bike (or rather, paid someone to do that) and rode in on Tuesday for the first time this season. It felt so good to breathe the spring air and peddle for 40 minutes before spending the workday in my windowless office. How nice it would be to work from home…

For much of my working life, I consulted from a home base — in several states and other countries, I worked on a daily consultancy fee. There is much to be said for that lifestyle as long as you figure out a way to get health insurance. It’s also much easier if you have a household partner/spouse with a “real” day job, which often resolves the health insurance problem. Perhaps with the new legislation, there’ll be increased opportunities for home-based entrepreneurs – more freedom to work in different ways than the Office Space routine, because keeping health insurance may not be so difficult. We hope.

When I read the posts on Brazen Careerist, I often find myself feeling unsettled and neglected because I’m not 20-something, trying to land my first job on the way to some imagined heights of income and satisfaction. But I find that much of the advice is certainly just as relevant to me as a returning-to-the-working-world middle-aged person — still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. So why keep insisting that only the new generation needs to hear all this? So, I continue to read and pay attention and think, even though the advice is supposed to be aimed at the digital natives. Those young ones who grew up on electronics. But where was I…. the balmy weather… the warm breezes, and today is still March.

March has been an odd month. It’s a month in Madison where many people leave for a bit to float on boats, or get a real tan, or hang out in Arizona. I can’t seem to get away because the first quarter of each year for my job involves annual reporting, juggling statistics, writing narratives, assessing & evaluating — in general, justifying our spending of federal grant money. April would be a reasonable time to finally escape, and indeed, April or early May in Florida are the best times if you want to avoid the serious heat and humidity of late spring and summer. March is also a time of mad mania and not just in Madison. The temperature spikes like unmedicated bi-polar disorders — snow one day, sunshine and spring the next, followed by crashing temps and frigid wind. But we all expect those weatherly behaviors in March. And now it’s the last day. March blows out and April drifts in with scents of spring.

I’m biking again tomorrow!

Turducken yesterday

Prior to a few weeks ago, I had never heard the word “turducken” because I live under a rock. My friend Shellie suggested we have turducken for our quarterly “3-couples” get-together, and I thought, “huh?”  So, I googled it, of course, and realized it was a major creative undertaking that looked really yummy. I was thrilled to learn that it’s possible to buy one already deboned and ready for roasting — it can be obtained locally from an excellent shop in Madison, or ordered online, if you want a special veggies-only stuffing with no butter, which was what we were looking for; google “turducken” for many choices in the Cajun category. I don’t yet think of turducken as something for Thanksgiving, but of course it could be. And anyway, I love turkey.

So we planned for the Turducken Saturday — Shellie & Jen brought all the sides and desserts and I sprung for the turducken; Shellie ordered it and it came to my door on Wednesday, frozen solid in styrofoam. By Saturday afternoon it was quietly roasting in our oven, filling the house with delicious aromas. We had a fairly simple meal — excellent mashed potatoes, delightful salad, homemade bread, the turducken, and the best gravy we’ve ever produced at this house! The gravy emerged as a product of the efforts of two of the men attending the dinner — I’m not sure exactly how it was made except that it had a splash of shiraz in it. By the time the gravy was made, I had had more than a splash of shiraz and was greatly enjoying the margaritas so was not sure I would have been a great candidate for gravy-maker since I don’t normally drink much. Luckily, others jumped in to produce the gravy. And then there was cake afterwards. We had a lovely evening — relaxing and full of good food with great friends.

Today we slept in. The time leaped forward (annoyingly) and we awoke to blinding sunshine and balmy temps — so energizing after a long winter in Madison. In honor of the weather, I had to spend a couple hours in the yard starting spring cleanup. Anything to be outside. We still have a bit of snow left near the street but in the rest of the yard, it’s mostly gone, thanks to 40s most of last week and some rain.

Tomorrow, I might…. I say “might”… ride my bike to work. Not sure yet.

Snow’s gone

Well, almost. Temps rose all week, we had some rain. Very little snow is left, just in protected corners and crevices — places without much sun. The lawns are pressed flat, browned, mushed down smooth and ugly. No signs of plant life yet. Well, maybe a few. But I’m not seeing any crocuses in our yard yet. I spend most of my day indoors in an office with no window, so I’m cut off from the natural world, parked in front of the computer screen. Each day, I come out into a changed world —  less white and more dull March-ness. March is not a pretty month. I’ve noticed that in the 6 years we’ve lived here. Meanwhile, back in northern Virginia, it’s been in the 60s and within a short time the cherry blossoms will pop. But the 3 years I spent at home in Wisconsin prior to going back to work were very different with much more exposure to sunlight, than the 2.5 years I’ve been working again. Now that I’m working, time has speeded up, seasons pass quickly, I miss out on skiing, I miss out on winter vacations. In my prior non-working life I was outdoors much more. That was better.

What is it I do? It’s hard to categorize, to people outside my world,  but that’s the case with many jobs these days. Even an epidemiologist recently asked me, but what do you really do? I write, read and think. Not necessarily in that order. I help my organization and all its disparate components clarify what they really want to do, figure out how they’ll know they’ve reached their objectives, and help them identify where the information’s coming from. The short-hand for what I do is called “evaluation”  but that word doesn’t really explain itself very well to most people. I like my job a lot. It’ satisfying. I work in a great team of like-minded people who are all trying to do the right things. Despite not having a window office, I like my job. If I do a good job, that will help obtain future jobs for many other people, and we’ll be very small cogs in a much larger wheel. In many ways, we just have to trust that the small things we do will accumulate into larger accomplishments and progress. Only decades from now (maybe) will someone or several people really determine if this national consortium of which my group is a part, will have actually caused some culture changes that make a difference. Meanwhile, we all have our jobs providing resources to researchers. My parents never did understand what I do or what I did or what I studied in college. It was all a complete mystery to them.

And I can help pay for our children’s college educations with this job I do. It makes me feel good to be able to do that. My own parents could not contribute a dime to our educations — my brother and me. They always felt badly about that; they wanted to help, but they couldn’t. They never attend college themselves and didn’t really know anything about what a college experience was. They came of age when only rich people went to college. Or people who were extremely bright and extremely motivated. For people with average to good motivation and talents, college was not the norm the way it is now. And my parents were in the disadvantaged sector economically. My dad had exceptional musical talent but that talent did not ultimately provide him and our family with a secure existence. My parents married young, had kids later than most in their generation, and never quite managed the 60s, 70s, or 80s very well.

Why is it that March brings out dull brown reminiscences from the depths of my memories? The snow’s gone and we won’t likely get any more this season. I didn’t ski this year, and now it’s too late. I didn’t even get my cross-country skis out. And no warm trips came my way. We may be looking at a long chilly rainy spring.  But I didn’t really seem too distressed most of the time. Odd that the winter didn’t depress me. I was too busy. Too busy blogging.

Best haircut in Madison, WI

I will confess that one of the things I worried about when I found out we might relocate to Madison, Wisconsin, was… how would I find someone to cut my hair? I’d been seeing the same stylist for most of the 13 years I lived in northern Virginia. All my life, I’ve had a hard time finding someone who can do a short haircut that pleases me. Short hair is hard to cut. One of my new friends in Madison used to drive to Milwaukee for a haircut because she couldn’t bear to look for someone else in Madison. And our favorite blogger claims to fly to LA for a haircut instead of finding someone in Madison. Look no further.

After I’d been in Madison for about a year, I realized that whenever I saw my friend Kate, I noticed how great her short haircut looked. Finally it dawned on me to ask about her stylist. I figured since she lived on the east side, she probably had someone over there, but I thought I might consider driving to that side of town for a haircut if I could get one like Kate’s. Turned out that Toni was on the west side and Kate has been driving over here for a decade for the best haircut in Madison! It took me quite a while to get on Toni’s list but now I visit her place at Classic Hair Designs every 5 weeks or so for a haircut that makes me VERY HAPPY. She’s been cutting hair for nearly 25 years, and also does makeup. And she’s one of the most delightful people I’ve ever met! Truly.

Don’t waste your money flying to LA for haircuts or driving to Milwaukee or Chicago when you can get the best haircut in south central Wisconsin at 8333 Greenway Blvd, Suite 300, Middleton WI (on the west border with Madison) — make an appointment by calling 608-831-4247 and tell her Jan sent you. And no, I’m not making this up. I’m just telling you who cuts hair the best around here!

Happiness and choices

It might be misty moisty March with the realization that the time is about to change [I hate the spring forward thing] and the threat of taxes coming due [I hate all that calculating] or the worry that one final blizzard will come out of nowhere. But somehow I have this feeling of disorganization, a sense of waiting and wondering, and not feeling hugely productive. And then I read a post on Brazen Careerist and want to write about similar topics because I don’t sometimes agree with what I read or I have questions or things aren’t defined sufficiently. That’s always my big gripe about blogs… people don’t define what they mean and then communication is more complicated.

I was wondering what it is that makes me happy. And how do I feel about the extent of choices in my life? I have not spent years researching happiness. I guess I’m a little surprised that researchers spend huge amounts of time studying what makes people happy. Why bother? Aren’t there more urgent issues to study? Wouldn’t it be reasonable to be a little happy with some small things each day? Like lunch. How can you exist in some state of perpetual ecstasy? Is it necessary to love your job? Wouldn’t liking it a lot be sufficient? Why would someone think that liking a job instead of loving it would be incredibly sad? I don’t think that.

Am I too busy to worry about whether or not I’m happy? Does it matter? I really don’t think I’m too busy. I’m sitting here writing a blog; how can I be busy? But I’m a bit nervous about the times right now, because in the past it seems like whenever I’m in a calm period [a period where I have time to wonder about these things] it usually means that disaster is just around the corner. But that sounds pessimistic and cynical; maybe I don’t really feel that way. I so clearly remember the summer of 2001 — it’s even in the family photo album: that summer we’d had lots of nice experiences and the weather in northern Virginia was beautiful — and then September came and school started… and then 9/11 happened and everything fell apart for several years in a variety of ways. By the time we surfaced in Madison, Wisconsin, in the summer of 2004, there’d been a fair amount of depression, destruction, death, disorientation, disorganization and decompensation. But then things got better. Life is full of cycles and the best thing about being at the bottom of a pit is looking upwards, and realizing that things can’t get worse, so they must be about to get better! And they do. And they did.

Once, our son asked me if I was happy with my life and satisfied with what I’d done, where I’d gone and where I was at the moment. I was caught off guard into stunned silence that our son had asked such a question of me. He rarely asks those kinds of penetrating questions that require some thought to answer. But it wasn’t that hard. I answered “yes.” Because in fact, I’m fairly content most of the time. I don’t have a huge number of diagnoses — just ones that are manageable. I have what is likely the usual number of regrets, but nothing worth writing a novel about. There are no astonishing skeletons in my closet. Some would say I’m a bit boring, but then again… maybe not. Only to my kids, possibly. Happiness… what is it anyway? “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…” Is that what we’re always seeking? Is there anything I’m seeking right now?

OK, it’s not about what it is that makes me really happy. That’s not the right question. The real question is… what are the things that grab me? What am I obsessing about lately? Or rather, what do I love and who cares if it’s not something that makes money? That question is fairly easy and simple to answer, which maybe explains why I don’t spend much time worrying about what makes me happy. I can like my job — even like it a lot — and it helps pay the bills, so then in my free time [which I do have because I value free time] I can do things that intrigue me. Things that are interesting to me. Like listen to pandora and read about music and musicians whose sounds I like but who I’ve never heard of before. I really enjoy that. Or working on genealogy for my family. Or editing photos and getting them printed and writing about the events connected with the photos. I like that. Or reading novels. I read every day just before I go to sleep. Or walk on the treadmill and watch whatever it is that is next on my list. This week, I’ve been watching Empire Falls, an HBO mini-series from several years ago. We just read the novel for my book group. I enjoyed it a lot. And I love planning my next trip to Scotland. I sure hope it actually happens. The trip will make me very happy, and then I’ll spend 6 months working on the photo albums while listening to Scottish music on my iPod. I will be happy! Choices? I didn’t talk about choices in this post. I think I have lots of choices every day. Such as, which delectable item will I choose for lunch? And what can I talk about in my post?