Double Nickel

Here I am turning 55. Just how on God’s green earth did I get this old?

I have a close friend of over four decades who calls this birthday “55 Alive.” You see, her father never made it to that age, so for her family, turning 55 is a reason to both celebrate and reflect. I am borrowing that philosophy today.

There may come a point in each of our lives when we look critically at who we are and what we have accomplished, and realize that we have more years behind us than we have ahead. In these moments I pause to wonder, what remains to be done? It is then that I start looking for good examples.

Finding and being a good example is something my mother used to dwell on. When we were children she wanted us older kids to set good examples for the younger ones. We hated that at the time. Now as I look for good examples, I also look AT my mother. At 84 years young, she has raised five children, outlived her husband of more than 40 years, and lives life very much on her own terms. In her senior years she has been active in numerous community groups and clubs, built her own at-home sewing business, learned to play the piano, and keeps busy attending cultural events and spending time with friends.

My 9th birthday, with the Schwinn I got from my great aunt.  Note the white knee socks worn by me and all of my sisters.

My 9th birthday, with the Schwinn I got from my great aunt.

When I was a teenager, I condemned so much of what I felt my mother stood for. There she was, tied to a home and family, giving up her “self” for the sake of others. That, I swore, would never be me. In the 1970’s women were burning bras and rallying against a male-dominated society, and those were the women I admired. But life has ways of redirecting us and now I, too, have raised my family and am shuffling my cards again.

In many ways I will never be my mother. Her faith is strong. She is incredibly organized. She is more calm and collected than I will ever be. Despite our differences, I have grown to deeply respect her and she is a great example.

So as I move on in my own journey, I have reviewed my own priorities and found that I have already been somewhat successful. My daughters are pursuing their own lives, my husband and I are finding our way back to our own relationship without children, and my career paths and volunteer work have, I think, made a positive contribution to my community and fulfilled my own sense of self.

What’s left? For starters, I am working to be healthier, so that I can enjoy this next stretch of my life with some degree of physical comfort. I will always have this stupid disease/condition called Achalasia to deal with, but I refuse to be either defined or debilitated by it. Creative pursuits are more of a priority than ever: writing especially. And the time I spend with family and friends is precious.

If you make it to this point in your life without scars then you have taken no risks. The scars: physical, emotional, or psychological, make us stronger. These battle wounds are the result of loss, illness, fear, and unrealized ambitions. Life is scary and messy and almost never goes our way, so I will wear my scars with pride at having navigated the chaos so far.

I have also been blessed to be surrounded by interesting people. I have family and friends who are caring, thinking, and committed. They are engaged in the world around them, in other people, in nature, and in projects that improve not only their lives but the lives of others.

When I was young, I wanted to change the world. Guess what? The world has changed during the course of my life; some of it for the better, some for the worse, and hardly any of it because of anything that I did or didn’t do.

I am rarely content to simply be content. Now, as I move past this double nickel birthday, I hope to use whatever time I have left to find just a small sliver of contentment as I still work to fill my time with purposeful pursuits. There are many, many working years remaining before retirement is even an option. Despite that, I am going to make time to enjoy this beautiful earth around me and the fabulous range of people who inhabit it.

Maybe it is no coincidence that the “double nickel” is standard highway driving speed – 55mph. Care to join me for a birthday cruise?

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Irish Stock

Some of my ancestors were from Ireland.  Since my maiden name is McCarthy, I have always felt that it’s perfectly acceptable to observe St. Patrick’s Day in some form.  But there is a bit of a back story, and sadly, I don’t know much of it.

lovely shamrock leaves

lovely shamrock leaves

Here’s what I know about my Irish background.  My great grandfather came to the United States from Ireland and settled in Pittsburgh.  I’m pretty certain that I still have relatives in or around Pittsburgh, but I don’t know them.  My dad took some of us there many years ago to meet his Aunt Lucille, but she has long since passed and so has my dad.  My great grandfather worked for the railroad, and my great grandmother died fairly young, leaving the oldest daughter, Margaret, to raise the rest of the children.

My grandfather was William Hugh McCarthy, who settled in Warren, PA.  It was there that he married my grandmother, who was of Danish descent.  They adopted my father when he was an infant, and seven years later had a daughter, my aunt.

My grandfather had a brother who left Pittsburgh and never returned.  He apparently was never heard from again, so there may very likely be McCarthys I am related to that I don’t know.

My grandfather used to spend St. Patrick’s Day downing quite a few beers, and then singing Danny Boy – I’m pretty sure in memory of his long, lost brother.  This is actually one of only a few memories I have of my grandfather, who died when I was just nine years old.  He was not a warm and affectionate person, but we later realized that he probably had been suffering from cancer for quite a few years and just didn’t know it.  My grandmother was a dear, sweet, loving woman who died just a few years after her husband.  They were both smokers, which I am certain led to their early deaths.

Although my father was adopted, he always considered the McCarthys his real family and had no need to seek his birth mother.  His allegiance was with the family that took him in, gave him a home, and raised him.  They doted on him as a child.  There are numerous photos and stories to prove just how well he was loved; adored, in fact.

My father always observed St. Patrick’s Day and really milked the Irish ancestry bit.  It suited his personality quite well.  Born Irish or not, he had the gift of gab and loved to socialize.  He was a true extrovert by nature.  He was also a drinker for many years, so the whole concept of St. Patrick’s Day was right up his alley.

All five of us McCarthy children were given Irish names.  I consider myself lucky to have escaped Siobhan, only because most people can neither speak it, nor spell it, correctly.  My father really wanted to name me Siobhan, but my mother was far more practical and put her foot down.  (Thanks, Mom!)

In my youth, we always had corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day.  We did not subscribe to the policy that all foods consumed on that day had to be green, and I still don’t really understand the “green beer” phenomenon, although my dad found that any type of beer went well with corned beef.  Later on, when my siblings and I grew older, we enjoyed our share of Guinness, Irish whiskey, and Bailys Irish Cream to observe the day.

Since my father’s passing sixteen years ago our family has done little to celebrate St. Patrick, who may or may not have driven the snakes out of Ireland.  We still wear green, and may have a Guinness, and may enjoy some corned beef with or without the cabbage.  But we don’t wait for a single day in the year to honor our Irish heritage and the McCarthy family that so lovingly raised our dad.  I almost always wear a claddagh ring, and have some other much-loved Celtic knot jewelry as well.  It is beautiful, and it is a reminder that my ancestors had a hard life, came to America to have a better life, and still worked very hard to improve the lot of each generation that came after them.

There are hundreds of thousands of immigrant stories in the United States.  My family tree, on both sides, blossoms with interesting leaves and fruits, some of which are green.  Today, even while I wish I knew more about them, I celebrate my Irish ancestors.  Sláinte!

Doing It All

I am crying “uncle.”  Giving up.  Throwing in the towel.  Apparently, after years of racing on a treadmill to get things done, I can no longer do it all.  At least not all at once.

There is no doubt that my work day is busy.  Here’s just a sampling of what an ordinary work day brings my way:  responding to emails, writing news releases, fielding numerous questions, writing a column, tracking goals, sending mass communications, reviewing budgets, troubleshooting software problems, writing custom reports, approving invoices for payment, coding data, training, setting up communications and training plans, implementing those plans, events promotion, maintaining two web sites and multiple social media platforms, and sitting through meetings where I am bound to come out with even more on my plate.  Technology was supposed to make our work lives easier.  Instead, it has made them busier.

At home there are the routine house chores, winter shoveling (and more shoveling), and summer yard work (which does not count as work since it really is therapeutic to dig in the dirt), laundry, and groceries.  My husband (bless him) keeps up with the bills at home and is also very helpful keeping up with things both inside and outside the house.

Currently, I am involved in some detailed volunteer projects:  for a very worthy board I’m proud to serve on, for a committee that really needs some help, and for the school my daughters used to attend and where the teachers are so great that I can’t say no.

aqua ultra-suede purse - one of my few recent sewing projects

aqua ultra-suede purse – one of my few recent sewing projects

Then there are all of the hobbies I would love to get to.  Last weekend I spent a few hours sewing and made myself a lovely aqua ultra-suede purse.  But I have a couple of chairs that I really want to get around to reupholstering, some other furniture in the basement I have been planning to refinish for quite some time, and a writing project that I swore I would get back to in January and now it’s March and I’m barely any further along with that than I was before Christmas.  Okay, I was diverted by a different writing project, so I’ll give myself a little bit of a pass on that.  I do still carve out some time for reading most days, and when we get a little bit of sunshine it is imperative that I get out of the house and enjoy it for a couple of hours before it is gone.

Honestly, I thought things would slow down once our kids were grown and gone.  I think they did for a few weeks, but then the treadmill started up again with a vengeance.  It’s not that I can’t say no.  I have said no to quite a few things in the past year.

Is this just a thing with women, or do men get this bogged down too?  I ask that question seriously.  I know my husband is very entrenched in a number of work and community projects all the time.  But how about others?  I would love to know:  Are you living to work or working to live?

And if you are doing a lot of things are you doing any of them really well?  Or is good enough truly good enough?

Is life a constant struggle to find balance?  Maybe it’s just the winter weather that’s got me down, but I am ready to chuck it all…. after I finish this one project.