Thursday, January 15, 2015

when stress cracks you like a cadbury creme-filled egg

Stress is a funny thing because it has a very unique way of expressing itself in people.

For me, I take information, internalize it - think I'm doing just fine and then after a day or two - find that I'm unable to sleep and yet unable to stay awake, almost simultaneously.  Last night for example, I was desperate to get in bed. But once I was there, I read books until 2 AM and then tossed and turned and was wide awake for the day at 5:55, with several things to do, but unable to get up and actually do anything until 7:40.   I just think when I lay there ... think about what I should do, what I shouldn't do, and imagine the different scenarios.  Then we miss the bus.

It can be so tough to be a grown-up. 

Charlie and I are again on the threshold of making a huge decision.  Where are we going to go?  What are we going to do?  I think we're afraid that we're going to make a wrong choice and that fear, just manifests stress and a host of other ailments like my narcoleptic insomnia.

I say "we" but in reality, I'm the one that's afraid. I'm afraid of giving up my career that has supported us. I'm afraid of moving north and buying a farm and relying on Charlie to carry the financial responsibility for our family.  I'm afraid of the alternative - moving to Texas and getting pulled deeper in to my career and away from my children.  I'm afraid of how fast these children are growing up and the teenage years that are looming a mere two and a half years away.  I'm afraid of success. I'm afraid of losing control.  And for as much as I enjoy each day ... I'm afraid of this nagging feeling that I'm hanging out in the "waiting room" of life.  Tick, tock!

Because I tend to overanalyze things, and then write about my over analysis...

On the one hand, we could move to Texas for a few years and do very well for ourselves. People at my age in the company are very well poised to move in to higher management roles, but what makes me think I'd want that?  (Answer, I'm human).

For as much as I love the idea of more women managers in this business, I'm afraid of success and what it will do to my ability to control the other components of my life.  I do not need the additional pressure and stress that comes with increasing responsibility.  Nor do I need the additional money.   That sounds crazy, but what do you do with additional money?  My experience is that you consume.

You buy houses and cars bigger than what you really need ... more crap that your kids won't play with and this makes you angry that they're ungrateful and don't care for the things you bought with money that you made while sacrificing time away from them ... and in general, you just have more and the weight of the stuff in your life bogs you down.  

Unless, I'm wonderfully disciplined and  can convince everyone to live in a small apartment so we can aggressively save for four college tuitions for two years.  (Mom, that's unlikely).

On the other hand, we have an opportunity to buy a 20-acre sheep farm with virtually no mortgage, in a picturesque little ski town, near one of the best STEM schools in New England. This sounds idyllic, except we haven't figured out yet how we'll support ourselves, beyond Charlie's very part-time consulting business, and my ability to 1) catch a sheep; 2) sheer a sheep; and 3) sell its wool.

For as much as I love the idea of that life, I'm afraid of being broke and desolate in a nearly 300-year old farmhouse with one bathroom.  What if there is a health crises and we have insufficient insurance?  What if the roof leaks?  What if a fence breaks?  What if we all get sick and have to use the bathroom at once and the toilet won't flush?  What if we have to EAT THE SHEEP?

That's how I'm dealing with my stress.  I'm imagining worst case scenarios and trying to summon the strength of spirit to charge forward despite the fear.  I'm also reminding myself how much I love an adventure. Whatever happens, I know this will be one of the best experiences of our lives!  

And then there's my husband...

This evening, Charlie was beside himself.  He's such an even-keeled guy, it's not very often that he is bothered by things, but tonight he was infuriated.  He'd heard this story on the radio while he was coming home from the store about the Cadbury Egg.  

According to Charlie, the confectioner has changed the recipe and packaging of this beloved and traditional treat.  Instead of coming in a 1/2 dozen, there are now five to a box. And the wrappers are different and the driver to this change is purely economic.  What set him off the scale, was that Cadbury was bought by Kraft and as my husband is telling me this story, he is becoming more and more agitated.

His face is red and his fists are clenched and he's yelling that Kraft makes crappy macaroni, now they're going to ruin the iconic CADBURY EGG and why can't people just leave GOOD ENOUGH ALONE?  "You know what they did, don't you?" he bellowed. "I'll bet management at Kraft said, 'Just substitute cheap cocoa chocolate instead of the good dairy stuff, and charge them the same amount for five crappy eggs instead of six. People will still buy them and we'll save $14.25 million a year!'  Why does it always have to be about money?!"

I'm not sure, but hearing him say that, makes me thing we should totally buy the farm and rebel against the financial ties that bind us in this society.

Oh, wait a minute.  "Bought the farm."

Doesn't that mean they died?!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

the quest for sense and sensibility

For as long as we've lived in Virginia, five years this coming July (how's that possible??) ... we've known that our stay here was temporary. We knew coming in to this situation that by 2015, my company would be constructing a new corporate headquarters in Houston, Texas.


We knew that if I were to stay with my current employer, the expectation is that we'd need to move our family, again.  And while we knew all of this and we've obviously been thinking a lot about it and weighing different options, it really struck me yesterday when I spoke with a 46-year-old co-worker who is in a different part of the country and he was told that he needed to provide his decision regarding whether or not he would move to Texas by March 3.  If he opted not to relocate his family, his last day with the company would be March 4.  And that would effectively conclude his 23-year career with this organization.

Business is business. 

A challenge for myself, and so many of my co-workers who are considered "mid-career", is that if we can hang on until we reach the age of 55, we receive a private pension that comes with insurance benefits that essentially lasts for the rest of our lives.  To put a price tag on that kind of benefit package, would likely top the scales at over a million dollars.  I've heard countless people (including my parents) tell me that type of retirement package is virtually unheard of in this day and age and I'd be a fool to not stick it out.  But, in exchange for that retirement pension - you need to remain with the company until you reach the age of 55 and have worked with them for 15 years.

To terminate your employment short of 55-years old, you're still eligible to receive a pension, albeit significantly reduced and with no insurance benefits, when you turn 65.


At this juncture, I've been with the company for almost 14 years.  But I'd need to continue working, until at least April 20, 2026 in order to retire with my full benefit package.  And then I'd need to wait until I reach 60, in the year 2031, before I receive my pension at 100%.   While I'm wildly speculating, should the cost of crude oil prices continue to nose dive, there's always a chance that lay-offs could occur and who knows what might happen to future pensions?  And if the state of my industry has taught me anything over the past five years - it's that nothing in the business world is guaranteed.  Except taxes.

So at this moment in time, our family is facing two significantly different options.


Option 1 is that we accept the move to Houston this summer, immediately after the children finish the school year.  We, or rather my company, sells our home in Virginia, and we take what equates to a very profitable relocation package.  Under this scenario, I'm committed to remain in Texas for a two-year minimum.  Or, until the children have completed third, and sixth grades, respectively.  We could move at that point. Alternatively,  the more financially conservative approach (and somewhat soul-sucking) is that I could continue working until I reach the golden age of 55, provided I'm not canned. Management assures me that wouldn't be the case, but crazier things have happened.


Before I get to Option 2, I need to convey a situation that happened with my boss a few months ago. When he asked me my thoughts on moving to Texas, I told him, "As a Project Manager, I always start with the end in mind.  That said, if we move to Texas I'll need to continue working for another 12 years, before I'm eligible retirement. In that same span of time, my four children will graduate from high school and will likely attend college in Texas, seeing as we'll have four in school at once and I'll be pushing for in-state tuition.  I'd then expect that if our children are anything like me or their father, they may fall in love while they are in school. They may opt to get married following graduation, and find jobs in the area.  And then, they may have children. That means I now have GRANDCHILDREN in Texas.  Just like that, BOOM, I'll never leave. And while I thoroughly enjoy the Lone-Star state, I don't want to be buried in Texas."    

Charlie scoffs at me and says it's irrelevant because I'm actually planning to be cremated - but the point is, in my mind's eye, I'm not spending the rest of my life in Texas.  I'd be desperately sad if I could never wear my wool sweaters and snow boots.  And since life happens so fast, I can absolutely see that scenario playing out.

Option 2 is that we do not accept the move to Houston in June.  Instead, I resign from my role this spring and embrace the role of homemaker and homeschooler.  People who know me well tell me that there's no way I could be a homemaker, because I'm too driven and after being at the "high career level" I've been at the past several years, I'd be bored by Day Three.  To that, I just laugh because being a homemaker and teacher sounds like the most GLORIOUS GIFT in the whole world and people who claim to know me well, likely don't know me too well at all.  (Or maybe they do, and I don't know myself??)  So I'll add the caveat that maybe I'd eventually pursue a part-time job if deemed absolutely necessary from a mental stimulation (or financial requirement) perspective.


This option spurs a whole lot of other options, akin to throwing a dart at a map, but the one that we are most seriously considering, is a relocation to Massachusetts and the purchase of a sheep farm where we can tap maple trees for syrup, and spin wool.

Yes! YES!  It's a very real possibility, just like I dreamed about nearly SEVEN years ago!

In either scenario, our Virginia house is going on the market in April or May of this year. While we have tremendously enjoyed it here, I'm craving a life significantly more simple than what northern Virginia has to offer.  So if you've been wondering why the blog has been so quiet the past few months, now you know what's been keeping us busy.


On those nights when I'm not live-streaming Jane Austen movies, Charlie and I are huddled around our computers, analyzing spreadsheets, and developing Excel macros that weight-average the pros and cons of me continuing with my career or retiring at the age of 44 and pursuing my dream of being a full-time wife and mother; while Charlie re-enters the fray of the working world.

And who knows what else?

Maybe we'd learn to do some other things like brew beer and make candles and soap??

Then again, Houston might be an excellent adventure for us, if we pursue it for two years and I'm able to resist the temptation to get pulled deeper in to the career world.   Money is a tempting, tempting thing. But what instantly sobers me up, is looking at our children and realizing that I only have them at home with me for another eight years.   That time is going to fly past and I know we'll regret the things we didn't do ... more than the things that we did.

So in the midst of our spreadsheet analyzing and Jane Austen live-streaming (me, not Charlie he can't handle Jane Austen, although he did seem to enjoy the full six hours of Pride and Prejudice - Colin Firth version), we've been fervently praying for clarity, wisdom and courage.   There are so many thoughts swirling around our heads, we need to be able to have the clarity to recognize the best and healthiest option for our family, and then have the courage to implement it.

If we played the lottery, we'd probably be praying for a winning Powerball ticket, too.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

brother bear

Seven and a half years ago, just before I went in to the hospital to deliver Henry, a special package arrived on our doorstep.  It was a gift to our children from Marie, who is Julie's sister.  I can't recall everything that was in the package, but I do recall that there was a little brown bear, that Julie had received when she was sick, that she had named, "Forest."

Every night for the past seven and a half years, William has slept with Forest cuddled between his arms.  And every night when we say our evening prayers, we include one for Julie's family.  Forest's head peeking out beneath William's chin, always reminds us of my good friend, and his first owner.  Since today is Julie's birthday (and coincidentally, Henry's 1/2 birthday), we prayed extra hard for her family, tonight.

When the triplets were in Kindergarten, they were invited to a birthday party at "Build-A-Bear Workshop."  As William worked his way through the line, selecting the animal that he would like to stuff - he chose a little black bear that he named, "Climby."


After he carefully selected the heart that would reside in the bear's chest and oversaw the stuffing process, he proudly showed me his new bear and indicated that this bear had been made specifically for his little brother, and he hoped Henry would love it as much as he loved Forest.  And so it is, Henry is also inseparable from his bear at night.


These two brothers...



Might all of us have someone that loves us as much ... as these two love each other.

(At least most of the time.)