adventures in adulthood

Axe Hoarder

My long game is genius.  


It all began a year and a half ago when we moved into our new house.  You see, I love to garden and grow edibles.  There is something magical about going out into your own backyard to harvest dinner.


It’s also sort of a Hansen thing.  My Mama Addie sacrificed lawn space along her driveway to sow precious seeds.  My parents have always had a garden.  I don’t ever remember coming in for lunch in the summers.  We grazed along the bean poles and climbed high in our huge cherry tree to get the ripest berries.  I’m sure my mom bribed us to come in for PB&J sandwiches so we wouldn’t break our necks, but it’s nostalgia, I can remember whatever I want to remember, so there.


My parents now have what you could classify as a small family farm.  Fruit trees and berry bushes are fenced off to keep those rascally deer away.  They live on a hill and don’t have any flat space so my dad poured cement steps into the side of a hill to create ample growing space.  Whenever we visit in the summer, we go home with a trunkload of veggies.  Like I said, magical.


As soon as we moved into our home, I bought a composter right away.  For the last 18 months I meticulously saved all compostable material.  Sometimes this meant scooping things out of the garbage and yelling at the rule breaker who was wasting precious dirt making material.  Composting is not easy.  It also makes you a slightly crazy hippie.


The first fall we lived here, we took out 13 trees because gardens need light and also, I don’t want to live in a tropical rainforest.  My skin needs that vitamin D and so do those veggies (Do they?  I think they need the sun for photosynthesis but is it vitamin D too?  I don’t know and I’m too lazy to google right now.)


The next step took us all last Summer.  The people that lived here before us apparently loved a good plant sale and deposited their bargain hunting finds into every single inch of dirt space.  We ripped everything out of the back garden because most of it was overgrown and untamed.  Plus, it just seemed easier to start with a blank slate.  I’m sure there were beautiful flowers back there but I’m not a flower expert so it all had to go.  


My goal for last Fall was to get the raised beds built and filled so all we would be responsible for this Spring was planting.  This obviously did not happen because procrastination also lives in our house with us.  That and we discovered so many addicting shows to binge watch.  Game of Thrones and Dr. Who are higher on the list, sorry garden.  Also the issue of an enormous ant hill took us weeks to overcome.  Life can’t always go as you plan, am I right?


All of this long game took me to yesterday.  Tim and I built the beds on the weekend and put them back into the garden.  Then we saw the problem.  The beds sat all wonky and uneven and looked like complete trash.  We may suffer from extreme procrastination, but we will not tolerate un-level, un-precise crap  We decided then that a tiller was necessary so I happily jaunted off to Home Depot to rent one.  Secretly, I was psyched to wield this dangerous power tool.  That, of course, didn’t stop me from groaning and complaining about the hassle of picking it up and all the hard work it would schedule.  Tim rolled his eyes.  He saw through my facade and told me to have fun as he drove off to work.  He knew I would.  I did.  And it was AAAAAAAwesome!


My first roadblock of the day presented itself as a huge stump the tiller could not attack.  I needed to go back to Home Depot for the big guns.  And by big guns, I mean an axe.  I needed to hack that stump into the depths of hell if my garden beds had any chance of laying level.  Nobody wants crooked garden beds.  That axe was necessary.


So I drove back to my beloved Home Depot.  I knew exactly the aisle I needed because six months previously I had wandered the entire store looking for a “weed popper.”  Tim’s dad helped us with our sprinkler system and with ripping out the back garden.  We first encountered that evil ant hill then so he sent me to the store to get a remedy, oh and also he said we needed a “weed popper.”  I had no idea that this was not the official term.  I guess the Pell family has their own language.  “Herkin” is included in their familial language too and I’d never heard of that one before either.  I deduced it to be an adjective, being the synonym of enormous, but I digress.  After getting several confused looks from the store employees, I finally figured out that a “weed popper” was a tool that gets dandelions out of your lawn.  I still don’t know what the official name for that is because I am a Pell and those things are weed poppers. Forever and ever, amen.


My hunt for the weed popper gave me a thorough knowledge of the store layout.  I also remembered that shovels and axes lived in the same aisle as weed poppers, a few blocks away from the ant killer granules.  So when I walked into the store yesterday, I didn’t even need to pause for my eyes to adjust to the inside light.  I gave the nice greeter/front door helper/enabler a smile.  My strut said, “Nope, don’t need your guidance.  I know exactly where I am going.  I am going to the freaking axe aisle because I am going to axe some shit up when I get home.  And I know how, too.  I know everything there is to know about axes. Axe Expert is on my business card.”


Confidence oozed out of my pores.  I began to glisten with badassery.


I sharply pivoted down what turned out to be the wrong aisle.  I was one off, so sue me.  To cover for my error and to maintain an unruffled pace, I continued down that lawn mower aisle and took the back way to the axe home.


My self-assuredness waned when I saw there were 50 different axe options.  Do I want a wood handle (hickory or cedar)or a fiberglass?  Straight or curved grip?  Double or single bit?  I mentally crossed off the 500 pound titanium axe because it was out of my price range and I needed to work out a few more months in the gym before that purchase seemed prudent.  Luckily, nobody witnessed my hemming and hawing.  (I know, because I side glanced enough times to make sure.)  So I grabbed the best one, a 3.5 pound single bit with a straight, fiberglass handle, and headed to the cashier.


Nobody tells you what carrying an axe does for your self confidence.  


Let me pause for a second for some necessary history.  Previously, I’d been having a rough couple weeks.  One hour I would be up then I spend the next day and a half, down.  Sleepy, irritable and fuzzy had been the default, even when a reprieve would enter in for a few hours.  My average demeaner slipped into a dimmer level each progressing day.  I did not see any light at the end of the of the stuffy, dark tunnel, until I picked up that axe.


As I walked to the front of the store, I gripped my shiny new tool down at my side.  (Don’t worry, I didn’t throw it over my shoulder like a lumberjack, I’m not a total idiot.)  I pride marched past a few other customers straight to the self-checkout lane.  (Self checkout lanes were made for people like me.  If I don’t have to talk to anybody extra, I will always choose that option.)  I was a little tempted to flaunt my purchase to the cashier and other customers in line, but I know my weaknesses.  And one of them is oversharing. In this instance, I would have probably explained my entire store experience, long game gardening plan AND axe knowledge incompetency so I chose to remain aloof.  I had to keep up appearances.


And so then I drove home to hack shit up like a total badass.  


Nevermind the fact that I realized halfway through my stump slicing that my axe was dull.  Do you even have to sharpen these things when they are new?  They must be like knives right?  You don’t have to sharpen razor blades when you pull them out of the box.  (I just googled it.  Yep, I should have picked up a file and other sharpening tools.  This explains all the trouble I had with that offensive stump.  Apparently, my prized tool was “dangerous and ineffective” but whatever, we are losing focus.)


This whole experience made me realize I may become an axe hoarder.  Whenever I’m feeling down, or fudgy, or if I feel fat, or if I’m questioning my parenting strategies or life accomplishments, etc., all I need to do to feel better is to march down the axe aisle and make a purchase.  That will bring back to the light for sure.  But what am I going to do with all those axes?  Do you think there is a Pinterest page for axe art?  Maybe I can make an axe wreath.  Or incorporate some wood palettes to make an axe rocking chair or an axe fountain.  The possibilities are endless. Also,  I am not a waster so I will definitely find ways to make all these new axes useful.  Please don’t judge me when you go through my belongings after I’m old and gray and have died.  Just think of my collection of four million axes as my gift to you.  Really, I’m just bestowing badassery onto you.  You’re welcome.


Still high on my axe purchase, I went grocery shopping at Costco.  I don’t even need to tell you how bad this combination is.  Included in my brimming cart: the 6 things on my list, plus 27 more packages of “family size” snacks, and a 15lb bag of lemons.  


What the eff am I going to do with all those lemons?  I don’t even know, nor do I care right now.  One thing I do know, is that I am in no way making homemade lemonade.  I’ve tried that already and it’s hard.  Maybe I’ll just put them on display in a pretty bowl so when visitors come they will realize I am actually an adult.  Okay – let’s be real – we hardly ever have visitors beside the neighborhood kids, but at least those hooligans will have a renewed respect for me.  A bowl of fresh lemons is a magic elixir.  So is buying an axe.  

Moral of the story: Do what you gotta do to get your badassery back, even if it means hacking up fresh lemons with a new, dull axe.

Axe Hoarder 3


Axe Hoarder 2

Nailed it. Or axed it, whichever you prefer.


being an introvert, letters, Tim

For Claudia

Recently, Tim left his old work home for a new work home.  This new adventure has proven to be a great fit, all the details lining up for him professionally and personally.  All four of us are pinching ourselves daily at how well the transition has gone.  I’m not going to lie though, both Tim and I are still a little anxious, waiting for some unforeseen ball to drop.  Pessimism is alive and well in the Pell Household, but we are furiously trying to push it out the door so we can enjoy this new ride.


Going into this transition, we both knew we would mourn the loss of his old work team.  They have all become family to us.  Initially, they made the first move and graciously ushered all four of us into their lives even though they didn’t have to give us any light of day.  I have a feeling that, in general, this doesn’t happen quite often in the corporate world.  They are still our family, and our love for them hasn’t changed, but we will miss our easy access to all of them.  


These team members hail from all over the world.  Costa Rica, India, South Africa, Scotland, Ireland, Luxembourg, China, Japan and of course, the U.S.  All of them taught us invaluable lessons and we experienced irreplaceable adventures with them.  They gave us a world view and world experience; we will be forever indebted to them for sharing that with us.  Along with us, they watched our boys grow up.  They let them jump and bounce behind them down the cobblestone roads of Luxembourg, Germany and Amsterdam. We celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, and professional milestones together.  And even though Tim won’t technically be part of the team anymore, all four of us will be cheering them all on from the sidelines.  


The awe-inspiring force of nature who leads this whole ragamuffin band of personalities is Claudia.  She is humble and kind and would never brag about herself or self promote.  I wanted to let the whole world know how phenomenal she is, and what better way to do that than post it on the interwebs for the whole world to see.  So, Claudia, here’s to you.




I’m going to attempt to put into words the gratitude, awe and love I feel for you, so here goes.  It is inevitable, all the words that follow will fall short.  My feelings toward you and what you have done for Tim and our family are too giant to be contained on a page.  But I will try because you deserve to know at least a fraction of how much you have impacted our entire family.


From day one you were always more than the “boss.”  You saw Tim, truly saw him, for all his strengths, weaknesses, creativity and potential.  You saw him as more than just an employee or a direct report or even a fellow team member.  You saw more and you brought to light bits and pieces even he couldn’t see.  He could let his sarcastic humor flow freely around and you let him use it to strengthen your team as a whole.  You weren’t afraid to look to him for his people reading skills.  Just like you, he knows how to uncover others’ hidden strengths and develop the potential he sees.  He always looked to you for your calm, confident, steady light.  You weren’t intimidated by him, most people are by the way, and that’s where they get it wrong.  You didn’t mind him being bold and blunt because you are refreshingly the same.  You are confident in yourself and leadership capabilities so you don’t mind if someone excels, you are fueled by it, as a leader should be.  You poured your logical encouragement into him and he flourished under your precise direction.  You didn’t back down when his stubborn streak showed up either; you kept pushing through, reminding him of a better way.


Tim always described your leadership style as “minds on, hands off” and that’s what he needed to be motivated and to create and to lead others.  In my opinion, that kind of people management is the best kind.  You made space for new ideas, creative solutions and the innovative systems.  You didn’t care how it got done, just as long as it got done.  You always checked in to see how you could help in case he was stuck, always offering a kind affirmation or gentle suggestion.  You supported him so he could support others. The trickle down effect worked brilliantly.  Through your example you taught him how to be an effective leader.  You encouraged his innovations without any hint of micromanagement.  You weren’t afraid to push him or  gently remind him of areas where he needed to devote more energy.  You weren’t afraid to give feedback to him, or even receive some from him.  Your confidence in yourself, and in him, poured out and colored all your work.  All of his projects have your name watermarked on them.  All along the way, iron sharpened iron, just as both of you needed.


While you led him, you simultaneously built trust.  He could always rely on you professionally, knowing you would always be fiercely protective of him and his work.  The mother grizzly has nothing on you.


When you saw Tim, you weren’t single minded.  He wasn’t just a corporate peer, you also saw his other life roles.  Your vision included the boys and I, and that meant the world to me. Yes, Tim worked for you, but you valued his time spent as a husband and dad.  You didn’t see those roles as inhibiting his work life, you knew they enhanced it and you welcomed all of us into your life.  When you saw Tim, you also saw our family.  I know that says volumes about Tim, but it also speaks to your stellar character and investment into his personal life.


Even though I’m grateful for your confidence in Tim, there may have been one time your faith in him was a bit of an overstep.  At least now we both know he can’t be trusted to drive a large vehicle in a foreign country.  Or I guess we now know to get the maximum insurance policy on rental vans.  On second thought, don’t ever let him drive in Europe again.  I won’t either, I promise.  Also, don’t entrust cowbells into his care, he will ship 145 of them to Germany in his carry-on.


Personally, I’m glad I found a kindred spirit who could logically and exactly categorize why we are kindreds through Myers-Briggs letters.  Thank you for introducing me to Susan Cain and sharing in a mutual appreciation for Brene Brown.  Thank you for showing me I’m not the only one who thrives in the stillness.  It’s refreshing to find someone else who is loud in her own quiet.  You showed me that I don’t have to yell to be a strong leader.  Creativity and innovation don’t always need maximum volume.  There is a time and place for the roar, and you don’t shy away from it when necessary, but a clear and quiet voice is heavier.  Thank you for showing me how brave it is to be confidently quiet.  That kind of voice is bold and pierces the soul.  It also makes sure shit. gets. done.  The corporate world, and the world as a whole, needs more voices like yours, never silent, just calmly, courageously leading.


While Tim and I appreciate your presence in our life personally, there is something even greater that I haven’t even touched on yet.  Teaching our boys about feminism and raising them to value both men and women equally is very important to us.  You are our tangible example that women can do anything men do.  Because of you, the boys will grow up thinking it’s old hat to have a woman in leadership, in the corporate world, the tech world, in all the world.  They will know that you don’t have to sacrifice your femininity to lead.  Your femininity is a strength, just as your direct and bold communication and your passion for developing people as whole leaders.  Because of you, when they hear the label, “boss”, they won’t automatically picture a man.  Every single day when you walk into work, you are decreasing their unconscious gender bias. Whatever life path and career they choose, they won’t be intimidated, or God forbid, be demeaned, by a boss who happens to be a woman.  They will remember that their dad thrived under your leadership.  Because of you, they will have high standards for any boss, male or female.  They may not fully realize all of this until they grow up, but Tim and I will keep teaching them and reminding them how we need both men and women in every sector of life, equally.  Gender is just a surface detail, character and strength are what matter in a leader.  You have set the bar high, for all four of us.


So lately, in the Pell Household, we have been mourning the loss of your constant contact in Tim’s daily work life.  We know it’s not really a loss, just a transition to a new adventure, but it sure feels like an empty hole.  I know Tim will continue to learn from you, but now is the time for him to leave your nest.  You showed him the mechanics of how to fly but now comes the scary part of taking that first step off the ledge.  Because of you and all the skills you’ve molded in him, I know he will soar in this next role.  He always will in every step of his career because you showed him how.


It’s also exciting to know that you will continue to develop the leaders already under your care, as well as teach and mold new ones.  Your talent for leading and caring for others needs to keep spreading.  I’m afraid we may have been a bit selfish with you.  If I could have my way, Tim would work for you for the rest of his career, but I know that can’t be.  More people need to see your way; they need to be under your direction.  They need you to push them to the next level.


Thank you for being fiercely loyal.  Thank you for not taking any of Tim’s shit.  Thank you for welcoming Luke, Jack and I.  Thank you for showing us beautiful bits and pieces of Germany.  Thank you for not rolling your eyes when our boys threw a horrific, jet lagged tantrum in the Luxembourg airport.  Thank you for being a strong, brave and kind leader.  Thank you, Claudia, from the deepest part of my heart.


P.S. Thank you for introducing us to “Kaffee and Kuchen.”  Our afternoons will never be the same.

Kaffee und Kuchen 1



deep down

The Thief

It sneaks in, like a thief in the night.


Most of the time I don’t realize it has taken up residence, until it begins to steal bits of my day.  A botched interaction, a snippy, nasty remark, the inevitable, face-staining tears.  By the time I realize it has come to stay a while, I stare at the rubble already caused, the items that are missing.


Depression is a thief.


It takes away my sense of humor.  My sarcasm decoder is stolen from me, unbalancing my normal interactions.  I don’t understand anymore when someone is just joking around.  Everything is taken personally and seriously to heart.  As a result, I lash out.  How dare you say that.  How. Dare. You.  An institution that normally brings joy and laughter is ripped out of my hands.


Depression peels away my already thin skin barrier.  Light touches scrape against me, bruising my soul. Even noises are louder.  The low hum of my family becomes an unbearable screech in my ears.  


And when my nerve endings are completely exposed, depression comes in to add a cloud layer that squishes around in my brain and floats into the corner of my view.  I begin to walk in mud.  Every step is an effort.  That’s when I know depression has taken my clarity.


My patience is stolen too.  Irritability makes it hard for others to enjoy being around me.  Knowing I’m not enhancing the daily experience of Tim and my boys pushes me to spiral even farther down into the pit.  The guilt comes and I retreat, so as to lessen the impact on the ones I love, but leaving impacts them too.  Lashing out or closing in on myself, both hurt my people.  I don’t see any other positive options, I can’t even think clearly when it gets like this, so despair arrives and I descend down farther.


Last Saturday Tim and I knew I was about two days into the spiral downward.  Actually, we’ve figured out that Tim realizes it’s starting about 18 hours before I can wrap my brain around the dark period.  We both know there are certain triggers and we work together to minimize them, but we also know there is no logic when it comes to predicting my depressive episodes.  Some of the triggers were there this time around, but mostly it arrived without the usual prerequisites and during an unpredictable season.  Both of us know the average episode lasts about four days, some have been way longer.  That is also about the time it takes for my meds to kick in.  Medicated or unmedicated, I knew I had about two more days of living in the dark pit.


It was the weekend and as a family we always try to jam in some quality family time.  Tim had been traveling, we had been hosting family and friends fairly consistently for the last month or so.  Family and friend time is rejuvenating but, we were in desperate need of just the four of us time.  My depression didn’t get the memo that I needed to be “on” this weekend.  I needed to be an active participant in the quality interactions.  Tim graciously rearranged the weekend activity schedule.  


Instead of all of us hopping over to the driving range, he dropped me off at the nail salon and took the boys to the card shop.  While they searched for their next great football card hit, I cracked open my new book.  The massage chair scraped against my back while the kind pedicure lady picked away at my toes.  I couldn’t even jump into the story.  Normally this pedicure/book situation is heaven.  Today it became a frilly torture.  I couldn’t find my normal joy and I knew depression took this away from me too.


I wanted to get sucked into a new story so I could forget that I had a minimum of two more days here.  I wanted to be relaxed while I got pampered, getting my nails did.  None of that happened so I dug deeper into the thick mud.


The boys knew I wasn’t feeling 100 percent.  I told them I was down, feeling sad, for really no reason at all.  I reassured them it wasn’t anything they did, it was just my body and brain screwing me over for a few days.  They understood, like they always do.  And then I worried how this was affecting them.  Would all their childhood memories be tainted by a mom who just didn’t have the energy to go to the driving range like we planned?  Logically, I know it’s a good thing for me to be honest with them about all this.  They are smart and intuitive.  I couldn’t hide the depression from them, even if I wanted to.  But that still doesn’t stop me from wondering how they will be negatively affected by my episodes.  Again, depression takes it all.  It takes my logic.  It makes me worried about the well being of my own children.  Am I passing this on genetically?  Am I creating an environment that hinders them more than it helps.  Are nature and nurture both against their well-being?  When my intelligent reasoning comes back to me, I can see that there are certain factors beyond my control.  And I know with the ones I can control, the nurture part, I am doing the best I possibly can with their environment.  


With the grace approach to life, comes a great covering over of mistakes or mistaken situations.  Even when the chemicals in my brain shift, when I am taken hostage, grace is freedom.  When you weave grace into your environment you can’t go wrong with the nurture aspect.  My boys are evidence of this.  They love me and extend grace to me when depression changes our plans.  They know that this is not something to be fixed, nothing is wrong, it’s just a stupid situation to wait out.  The sadness is not something to be cured, it’s part of who I am.  As Tim always reminds me during these periods, grace is hardest to give to yourself.  And it is.  Starting over in the middle, not holding past blow ups against myself, that’s hard to do.


This last weekend, Tim and the boys were totally fine with me being this way.  We were good.  It was me who was having trouble with myself.  I felt sludgy, cloudy.  I couldn’t enjoy all the things that I normally do.  I got irritated with normal everyday occurrences.  During these times I spend a lot of time on the couch.  So we brought the mattresses down to the living room.  We gathered all the blankets and pillows we could find in the house and dumped them onto the mattresses.  Tim brought the little t.v. and gaming system and planted them next to the mattresses.  The boys thought it was brilliant, so did I.  We got up and showered for the couple obligations we had that weekend, but the majority of the weekend was spent covered in cushy, warm blankets together.  


Tim is always my voice of reason during these times.  When depression sneaks in to steal my clarity, he gives it back.  He knows I just have to wait it out.  He knows that there isn’t anything that will fix it or solve it.  He knows because we’ve tried everything.  This was before we were both okay with depression visiting every once in awhile.  


And this could be the turning point of the essay where I tell you all the things depression gives back.  I could tell you about how it gives you the opportunity for your loved ones to love you and wait it out together.  I could tell you how it gives you the opportunity to practice grace within your own heart.


But I don’t want to do that right now.


I’m still on the tail end of this current dark episode.  I don’t feel good about it yet.  I don’t want to see the bright side of depression because all of it totally blows.  I don’t want to have to have honest conversations with my boys about why the chemicals in mom’s brain go wonky sometimes.  I don’t want my husband to have to censor his sarcasm because I’m too touchy and peeled open.  I don’t want to have to change plans because it’s really hard for me to get off the couch.  I don’t want to have to write these stupid words every few months looking for the bright side of living in this deep, dark pit for a few days.


Depression is a subversive thief.  I hate it.  And I want all my stolen stuff back.