Life experiences mold our identity

Day by day

Life experiences  mold our identity

By LIZ THOMPSON
THISWEEKNEWS
Tuesday February 18, 2014

No person is just one thing.

Recently, I was remembering some of the last words Mike Tikson said to me the day before he died.

“You were never just a secretary, Liz.”

I had been his secretary at Battelle from 1978-1987. We had stayed in touch over the years, but his final words continue to stick with me.

We all wear many hats throughout our lives. Sometimes the hats I wore didn’t fit well and I discarded them. At times, the hat was so unique I didn’t quite know if it fit. But I hope I’ll always remain a wife, mother, stepmother, daughter, sister, friend, neighbor and a Christian.

Those are roles, not jobs, I’m aware. Through my life I have been student; waitress; cafeteria worker; shoe salesperson (one thing Mike and I had in common, and he was a retired Air Force colonel); receiving clerk; secretary to researchers, engineers, doctors, nurses, social workers and computer technicians; and I have worked in administration of medical databases (before Windows), as a reporter and lastly as a teacher’s assistant for children with special needs.

Some jobs taught me integrity in the workplace; some gave me great on-the-job training, while others were riddled with problems that led to amusing war stories to tell, especially to young people just starting out. Having realistic expectations is a good thing, and aspiring to improve in the job is one of the best things we can learn.

But in all those jobs, I was never just one thing, and I wasn’t the job itself.

Those roles and jobs, along with other life experiences I’ve had over the years, developed who I am today. The day-to-day routines that were typical with the positions, the people I met, the new challenges I faced and the goofs I inevitably made were all part of the whole.

So when he said I was never just a secretary, he meant that the other roles in my life spilled into my daily work. Being a secretary was how I earned a living. But with his guidance, I learned more than how to greet people, type reports and organize meetings and the like.

When I first came to him with a problem, he listened. Then he gave me a life lesson I would use many times over.

“What do you think we should do about this?” I wasn’t sure. No one had ever asked me to offer a solution. For that matter, my opinion had never been sought out. It felt good but was also unnerving.

He went on to say that I should try to think of a solution and bring it to him to consider, even if we didn’t use the idea. I did as he asked and we used my idea.

I learned to detect and present problems, yes, but also think of at least one solution. That tidbit has served me well in all aspects of my life.

Over the years, I have reinvented myself, you might say. Circumstance required it with my diminishing ability to hear and experience in jobs that required it. I had two years of college under my belt, but one year in music and the other in special education didn’t find me jobs.

About 13 years ago, about the same time my hearing was restored with my first cochlear implant, I learned about experiential studies through Ohio University. I applied, was accepted and spent a few years documenting my experience, which turned into college credit.

I gained more than 50 college credit hours from that effort and years of varied life experience. Had I not met the challenge of trying new things, this education might not have happened. I like to think my determination to reinvent myself was a positive outcome of going deaf. My appreciation of hearing again is never ending.

The news is littered with stories about the jobless rate, unemployment compensation and letters to the editor with comments on both sides of the subject. The jobs are there if those seeking employment are willing to reinvent themselves or realize they are not just one thing. Taking a job “beneath” their qualifications might be a hard sell to the potential employer. They tell you that you are overqualified.

Maybe then a potential employee might say, “But I’m not just one thing and I want to work.” Then when the door opens, walk through and don’t disappoint.

Then we prove our worth. It’s not an easy walk but we don’t strengthen without effort.

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Kitchen aromas bring memories flooding back

Day by day

Kitchen aromas  bring memories  flooding back
by Liz Thompson
THISWEEKNEWS
Wednesday December 4, 2013

My childhood memories created a love of a lived-in kitchen. My Grandmother Page had a grand home called West Bank Farm on Alum Creek Drive in Columbus.

I loved the smell of her kitchen and the entire house. Even though it was, at one time, on a historical registry of some kind, it has long since met its demise. But the memories of the place are as easy to recall as closing my eyes.

The kitchen was the first room you walked into at this 15-room house. The aroma was a mix of years of canning foods from the garden, homemade applesauce, and her favorite gum; Dentyne. Cinnamon was clearly the winner.

The ceilings were tall and the wooden floors covered with worn Oriental rugs. I loved the sounds as well as the fragrance. It reminded me of stepping inside an old book with its musty smell and great stories to share. Many a night I still fall asleep walking through the house in my mind; seeing the winding staircase, the music room, large screened porch where I looked out at huge trees and wide open land that went on for acres.

Good memories all.

About 30 years ago, we were house hunting. I don’t know why, but when I looked at houses to buy, I always opened every kitchen cupboard and looked in every closet. What was I looking for? I’m still not sure.

We were looking at a house that was a little above our price range but we loved it. When I walked into the kitchen, I was met with a scent that was delicious, for lack of a better word.

As I opened the kitchen cupboard doors, I was met with one aroma after another. Spices. Coffee. Candles. Tea. I’m not sure what it was in total but my senses were in love with this house. There was more than scents we liked about it but today what I remember is that behind each door was a delight for me to enjoy. The kitchen had been loved with home cooking for years and it was obvious to anyone standing in the room.

It reminded me of the farm, on a much smaller scale.

We were disappointed to not be able to buy this lovely home, but we have moved so often, it might have been hard to leave. So it was for the best.

Unconsciously, I think I always wanted our home to have that welcoming aroma, for visitors opening our cupboards to smile in that same way.

Yet even though I didn’t really know what the mix was, in my mind, I remember. But it’s more than an emanating scent that that home held; it had memories stamped into its fabric. I realize that now after years of doing the same in our homes from here to the Southwest and back.

Again, like the farm; memories which are too many to recount here.

We carry our memories with us and at odd times they make it to the surface. The farm experiences are part of my personal fabric and the comfort of these soft pieces make all negative experiences less traumatic. Like a patchwork quilt pieced together one stitch at a time to end up with a complete quilt to treasure.

Christmas was always a time for baking cookies at my childhood home in Westerville. Sugar and molasses cookies, Chinese chews that were so sweet they made your teeth ache — in a good way — and my mom’s famous meringues. How she is able to whip up those stiff cookies that melt in your mouth, is still a mystery to me.

If you were born into a coffee-drinking family and before it was sealed in bags, you must remember the metal tins of coffee. We opened the coffee with the metal “key” used to wind around and pop the lid off. The smell of fresh coffee filled the room.

My mom stored her Christmas cookies in used coffee tins. Now I realize that the lingering coffee aroma made her cookies taste extra delicious, to me.

My granddaughter sent me this email:

I had poured myself a cup of coffee this morning — lots of milk and sweetener — and the very moment I tasted it, I was reminded of you and Pappy! Coffee always reminds me of waking up early at your house and having eggs and bacon and sweet, milky coffee for breakfast. It’s a really fun memory.

And the memories linger.

Priority lists…

Day by day

Priority lists good for life as well as chores

by Liz Thompson
THISWEEKNEWS.COM
Tuesday January 21, 2014

Each new day is a gift. As years pass, seemingly faster every year, I become more aware of this reality. I try to start my days with a prayer that I’ll use my time wisely.

In the 1980s, I took a time management class at my workplace. My most valuable takeaway was to make daily to-do lists and prioritize them. The goal was to end our day with a lot of the tasks crossed off.

Years passed and I became a true list maker: grocery, daily to-do, what to pack for a trip, Christmas cards and gifts, and even books I’d read. Sometimes when the day is through and I read my list(s), I add accomplishments completed I hadn’t planned on and cross them off, too.

The last 10 days of December, my daily devotional book was about priorities. The author took each letter of the word, discussing what should be foremost in our lives. I realized that I don’t often list my life’s priorities; they are in my head and heart. This is not the popular bucket list or New Year’s resolutions I speak of, but what uses my time and talents and what fills my heart and mind. The order shifts with life circumstance, with many being constant.

Recently, I was reminded of a visual illustration. You have an empty jar — any size, you choose. You fill it with various small marbles or pea gravel. The jar is mostly full. Then you realize you still have some larger stones you need to put in the jar, but they won’t fit.

Start over and put the larger stones in the jar first. Then sprinkle the small gravel on top; these stones shift around and settle into the cracks and crevices. Some empty spaces remain. The jar represents our day, or life, and the large stones are our first priorities; the smaller stones are minor events. If those don’t all fit in our jar, or life, we’ve only missed out on something of lesser consequence.

Keep in mind that the small joys are no less important.

I asked some friends what their priorities are at this point in their lives. The answers have a common thread, partly because my friends and I are of a certain age.

Don Huiner, of Columbus, wants to become a better, active listener and talk less. “You know me well enough to know that’s not going to be a walk in the park for me,” he said.

Irveline, from Columbus, says her priority for this year is to teach her grandchildren, ages 2 to 20, Dutch and Welsh, which is their ancestors’ mother tongue.

“My priority for the year will be to say it like it is,” says Linda Sturm of Gahanna. “Procrastinator is a pretty word for sloth. I’m not procrastinating when I put something off; I’m being a sloth. By being honest with myself, dropping the window dressing, I hope to be more productive.”

Clay Cormany of Worthington says, “For me the ‘t’ in priorities stands out with t standing for time and a wiser, more productive and less self-centered use of it. That means more time spent playing with my grandchildren and seeing the world through their eyes; more time spent showing my love and devotion to my wife; more time visiting my 90-year-old aunt, who’s my last living link to my parents’ generation; and less time playing computer word games.”

“I want to spend as much time as possible with my grandchildren while they’re young, and my children,” says Judy Hannigan of Grove City. She hopes to start visiting people in assisted living and spend time with shut-ins, like she used to, because they may not see others very often.

My daughter, Mary, wants to be more like the biblical Mary and less of a Martha. See Luke 10:38-42 for the story about Mary listening attentively when Jesus was their guest while her sister, Martha, was busy working.

Elizabeth, my granddaughter, wants to make God’s purpose for her life her highest priority.

If we put these and similar long-term priorities in our jar first — and probably keep them there to remind us — we’ll have room for the small surprises. We’ll still have empty spaces of time open for contemplation, recreation and rest.

No matter what we place in our jars, Zig Ziglar sums up time management well: “Spend time with those you love. One of these days you will say either, ‘I wish I had,’ or ‘I’m glad I did.’ “