Golden Handcuffs, Part Two

Part One of this two-part blog post can be found HERE)

I’m not gonna quit.

At least any time soon.

I am choosing to keep the golden handcuffs on.


Sort of.

Allow me to explain.

Just an hour from my home is Amboy, Washington,  a beautiful small town in the Lewis River Valley. Teeming with lush old growth forest of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, it is an area that has captured my imagination of what could be should we ever decide to own a property outside of the city. I used to fantasize about selling our house and moving away from Portland and was always prowling real estate listings in that particular county. But then I realized I am a lifelong bonafide city girl. I like to visit the countryside; I do not want  to live away from all the city life conveniences I have come to enjoy and rely upon.forest

So I have kept this little dream about owning some kind of property in the forest, a getaway property. A small cabin maybe? But small, affordable cabins in pristine forested land is actually hard to come by. At least for what we can afford. Besides, how could we possibly manage owning two properties?

And then there’s the spooky wilderness. I love the wilderness by day. I get nervous in it at night if no one else is around. That’s why I like camping so much. We are surrounded by other campers which helps me feel safe. And we always leave too early … I am almost never ready to leave the forest and head back to our urban-dense homestead. How many times have I said to Jerry as we drive out, “I wish we had a place all our own in the forest, a getaway place.” Yep, me too, he always says. I love how compatible he and I have remained 27 years into this marriage. I think it’s working out.

Stay with me… there is a point to all this. A great big, golden handcuff point…

On my hardest shifts at work I try to escape the drudgery of it all by imagining myself in the forest. I daydream about the smell, the earthy, mossy scent of a massive grove of cedars. I  picture the slender limbs of vine maples clustered upon  beds of verdant green ferns. As I push and shove and haul 2,000 pound doughs around the proof room, I secretly long for a real-life place to escape, a place to recover from the chaos of city life and demanding work schedules, a place to heal and rejuvenate. The forest is good medicine for me.

Enter my friend and coworker Nancy. She had been telling me about her recreation site at a private campground called Lake Merwin Campers Hideaway. It’s in the Lewis River valley, the very area I have eyed for the last couple of years. Camper’s Hideaway is a 36 acre campground with 1500 sites. Members own their site and develop it with a camper trailer. Many add decks and sun porches making their camper site appear almost like a cabin. As she showed me around her site and her neighbors, my imagination began to soar.

Campers Hideaway

Our Hideaway site includes a spacious deck and sunroom with a woodstove. Look at all that luscious forest greenery!

It’s affordable. It’s accessible. It’s a community of campers in the woods.

The next week Jerry and I were out there. We found a site ideal for us, right on the perimeter of the camp meaning it is very private and is surrounded on two sides by gorgeous state forest land. I wondered and wondered…. is it worth it to choose to stay on at a job that has sucked the vitality out of me to have my dream of a place in the forest?


Here you can see how the enclosure is built around the camper trailer creating an almost cabin-like atmosphere.

Jerry left it up to me. He did not pressure me either way knowing that I am the one who will carry the brunt of whether I stay on at Nabisco so we can afford the site or if I leave for a lesser paying job with an easier schedule and forego owning a little place in the woods.

It was actually not a hard decision at all.

And that is why  I have resolved to continue working at Nabisco to help pay for our place at Camper’s Hideaway. We should have the keys in about two weeks.

There is more to this decision than just a getaway place. Conditions have eased up considerably at work. I have been at the plant nearly three years. It was a season of about eight months that nearly did me in.  But now the schedule has returned to normal. I am rested. I am sane. And when I am rested and sane I am able to think more clearly and see with greater clarity. I am able to actually enjoy the people I work with and the great humor that often breaks out out on the floor.

One coworker often pranks me to the point that we are in helpless hysterics with me doing the Don’t-Make-Me-Pee-In-My-Pants dance.  (You know who you are!!)  I have slowly been developing genuine connections with some of my coworkers. I am finding my tribe within the Nabisco camaraderie. Like one coworker who is an amazing artist. She invites a few people to her art studio every month for a wine and painting party. She has an art studio and is a prolific artist as well as a full-time factory worker. She inspires me. Dont-look-back

With a saner work schedule I have been able to recall how my coworkers  rose to the occasion to support my family when Jeremy had cancer. Several coworkers, whom I barely knew at the time, organized a raffle and sold tickets for a whole month. Many people donated prizes for the raffle and many more bought tickets. When my son was presented with the raffle money, he and Jerry and I were speechless. The generosity was in the thousands… the thousands! I remain deeply grateful for the outpouring of care my coworkers demonstrated to my family during that difficult time.  In the midst of what can be a brutal workplace are many workers of Light.

As soon as our offer for the site at Camper’s Hideaway was accepted, serenity filled my inner being. Peace – and her sister Joy – came inside. I have been missing the two of them for quite some time. I’m so glad they are back.

It was cool talking to the owner of the site. She is an artist and a writer. She said the previous owner was also an artist. “I don’t want to sound weird,” she said, “but this place has tremendous creative energy. You just feel it the minute you get here.”

There is even a small out building that I could convert into a creative studio. Imagine!

So is this what it means to wear golden handcuffs? To remain entrapped to a miserable job because you can’t free yourself from the lucrative paycheck and benefits?

Yes. And no.

Yes, because it is true. I need to stay on a job that’s not my favorite in order to afford this little place in the woods. And no, because I am not a prisoner to this job nor any job. I can quit. I can stay. I can look for another job. I can return to the hospital. I can make it work and stay on a few more years. I Have Options. I get to decide what to do with the resources that are in my life. I choose to work in a healthy partnership with Jerry so that together we are making wise decisions we can sustain for the long run. Owning a getaway out of overcrowded Portland is an option we get to exercise together. It is something we can share with not only one another, but with our children, our future grandchildren (future!) as well as our friends.  We can barely afford it if I make less money. We can easily afford it with me working at Nabisco. At this stage of our lives, we want to avoid the barely-afford-it category.

When I wrote about the harsh schedule and the toll it has taken on me nearly every commentor  advised me to Run. I’d tell me to run too, based on that blog post. But that was only part of the story, granted it was the hardest, darkest part of my work story, and yes, I can in no way sustain that kind of chronic stress again. And I won’t. I have now had ample time to rebuild my inner resilience. I have strategies in place to protect my vitality should our company ever work us to the bone that way again. I have turned a corner in my workplace.

Plus,  I now  have a hideaway in the woods, a place to retreat to where the forest can work it’s healing magic upon my body, soul and mind. Because it is in a camping community, or Glamping,  as some like to call it (Glamorized Camping = Glamping), I feel secure enough that I can even go by myself. My tree-hugging hippie 22-year old daughter can also enjoy the space and I won’t fret knowing that there is year-round onsite management.

So there you have it. The saga of my  workplace struggles and how I’ve decided to stay. It doesn’t mean I’m staying for a lifetime. It is just for  a few short years to help pay for our Hideaway place. I’m still young enough that there could always be a job change in the future if I decide to leave.

I realize that many must make vocational decisions in order to pay the rent and keep food on the table. I am mindful of the privilege I possess where I am making a decision to afford a getaway while also helping pay monthly bills. I am so done with feeling guilty for my privilege. I work hard, and so does my husband. We have worked hard to stay together for 27 years. Our partnership is the foundation of what gives me such privilege. A stable marriage is a treasure, hard won and hard kept. I am incredibly grateful for mine for all kinds of reasons. That’s another blog post for another time, how my  marriage really works and makes it in the real world, stormy times and all.

FindwhatmattersI made some new art last night. The message on it, Find What Matters to You, sums up
what drove me to this decision. It matters to me to retreat to the forest as often as I can whenever I can. Having our own Hogeweide Hideaway means I can do that. I look forward to new inspiration for art, writing and Life as we spend time at our getaway in the forest.

What do you think? Am I crazy? Have you ever had a new plot twist show up in your life that affected a major decision? 



Part One : Golden Handcuffs

I hate this, I hate this, I hate this.

I stifled a small sob as I used the power equipment to move an oversized trough full of dough into it’s place. It was another 13-hour shift, my fourth one that week. I had not had a day off in two weeks.  My body was exhausted, my arms ached from being overworked. Sometimes I would wake up at night in pain, my forearms throbbing with an intensity that matched my emotional bleakness.cocoapam

I felt weak. My coworkers, many working as hard or even harder than I, seemed to cope much better with the excessive overtime. My husband, who has worked at this factory for fifteen years, kept telling me it would get better, that just as soon as our union contract, which was about to expire, was renewed that things would simmer down. “The company always pushes more production when it’s contract time,” he said. His attempt to reassure me fell flat. I had never felt more demoralized in a working environment in my entire life. I’ve held twelve different jobs over a thirty year span. This job has been  the worst and best of my life. The best because of the pay and benefits. It is a solid, union job with wages that are the most I have ever earned. I make as much my husband, something new in our 27-years of marriage. And though Jerry never lorded it over me, I always felt the gap of our earning power as I navigated motherhood and working at entry-level jobs with entry-level pay.

When Nabisco (yes, Nabisco!) was hiring again Jerry urged me to apply.  Yes, there would be some overtime and some weekends, but new hires often did not rack up the hours as senior employees scooped up the premium overtime pay. “It’ll be years before you work a Sunday,” predicted Jerry.

Before my second year anniversary I was working 60+ hours a week, including a lot of Sundays. The company, now owned by a multi-billion dollar international conglomerate, made it clear that they were intent on increasing their profit margins.That translated to workers like me being forced to work the equivalent of two full-time jobs. My entire being was collapsing from the pressure.

“I’m not going to work tonight,” I cried as time inched closer to the start of my graveyard shift. “I am wiped out. I can’t even get out of bed.” I laid there like a little girl with the covers pulled over my head. I wanted to hide from my new world of long shifts and production quotas. My eyes were swollen from crying. Why did this job undo me so much?

I stayed home for the next three days. Where I work we can miss up to three shifts. It’s a ding on our attendance and too many dings will result in discipline and even termination. I have never worked in a place where I had to call in just to get time off to rest. I felt guilty. I knew that someone else would be forced to cover my shift, and yet that is the game. I covered plenty of overtime for other people when they called out, too, I rationalized. It’s not my fault the company chooses to run a thread-bare crew resulting in high absenteeism.

“I can’t sustain this, Jerry,” I lamented over and over again. “I have to quit. I cannot live my life this way. It is crushing me.”

Jerry and I had many conversations about my exit plan. We were enjoying the two incomes from the job, yet not beholden to it. We avoided the Golden Handcuff syndrome that enslaves so many workers to stay in jobs they hate.

It was decided. I would leave the company by summertime. We would build up our savings and then I would resign.  I contacted my former boss and coworkers who all encouraged me to return. I used to work as a patient food server at a large hospital. I loved that job, my most favorite job of my working life. The only reason I left was for the Big Money … and to work at the same place as my husband. Besides, how COOL IS IT  to have bragging rights that we make America’s favorite cookie, the iconic Oreo, as well as other beloved Nabisco snacks?

Despite having an exit strategy, the weight of long work hours that isolated me from my community of friends, continued to take it’s toll on me. I would spontaneously start crying over the smallest of things, even at work, which freaked me out. I often worked alone and would just start quietly crying and feeling terribly sorry for myself and the fuckedupness of it all.   Many times I came home sobbing as I dragged my tired body through the front door. My emotions swung wildly from immense self-pity to deep shame for the pity parties I kept throwing myself. Dammit, Pam, get your shit together. At least you have a good paying job! There was no end to the floggings.

I went to four funerals in one month the summer of 2007; I have been through cancer with my teenage son… but it is this job that has me undone. What the hell is that all about? What is wrong with me?

I finally made an appointment with a therapist. I had been reading up on chronic stress and began to connect the dots of why my job was pushing me to the brink. I laughed when I read the remedy for chronic stress : Rest. Personal Time. Exercise. Um, yeah, right, I’ll get on that just as soon as I maybe get one or two days off this month.

It’s somewhat miraculous that I managed to keep my appointments with the therapist, but somehow I did. Talking with her helped me understand the root cause of why a job… A JOB… had brought me to such a low point. It was like my entire being, body-soul-spirit, had been assailed. The therapist boiled it down to a simple metaphor about Resilience.


“Resilience is like a water tank,” explained the therapist. “The tank has to be constantly filled because it is constantly draining.  Life with  all of it’s stresses keep the tank draining.”

Resilience is the ability to harness inner strength to weather through life’s challenges. Not to be confused with stoicism or toughing it out, resilience is the ability to roll with it and adapt.

We talked about the stressors I had endured in the preceding two years : the stress of changing jobs,  the tremendous year-long stress of our son having cancer, and as soon as I got through that with barely time to catch my breath, the overtime at work kicked in so hard that even the old-timers   were shaking their heads.

“Your resilience tank has been tapped out. Chronic stress strips you of your ability to cope. You have no reservoir to draw from,” she explained.

This  helped me feel less crazy and ashamed for not being Super Woman. I even began to confide to some of coworkers what was going on. “This job makes me feel weak,” I said to one woman.  “Me, too,” she said. And then she began crying. I was not the only one. THAT knowledge, that I was not the only one falling apart from workplace-related stress, somehow comforted me. It empowered me. I began to Own My Story of how the journey of my life had brought me to this low-point. Through journaling and making art I resolved to give myself permission to be weak. Self-acceptance is an effective remedy against self-pity.

As I made my peace with my exit plan a small splinter of fretting started irritating my conscience. Quiet whispers   in the back, the way back, where thoughts I don’t like to acknowledge hang out. You’ll never make this kind of money again. Are you sure you should walk away? The hospital will never pay you as well. 

Life is more than money. What is my vitality worth? You only live once. 

These were my mantras, my prayers as it were, as I leaned into the Spirit for guidance and wisdom.

“This place is a dream killer,” said someone on the management team to me in casual conversation. “The golden handcuffs keep people shackled here for more years than they want.”golden-handcuffs

Not me,  not me, I told him. I am gonna leave. No golden handcuffs on these wrists.

Last month the excessive overtime came to a sudden halt just as our union contract expired. Just as Jerry predicted. Many people have recently retired and  the company is hiring many new people right now.  My seniority, once rock bottom in my department, is now climbing the list. Where I work, your place in rank makes all the difference to the shift you have, the job your assigned and the amount of OT you are forced to work. I have been off the last four weekends, in part because the schedule has calmed down and also because my name has climbed higher on the list. My resilience tank is full. I don’t burst into tears over the slightest pressures anymore. I have not missed a shift for a while. Could a future here be possible?

That is the big question. Do I stay or do I go?  Do I have to sacrifice life/work balance to work here? Do I have to let my vitality take a hit for financial security? (which really, there is no true financial security in the world of manufacturing as jobs are outsourced to low-paying unregulated nations, including Nabisco jobs).   Where I work determines so many choices in life, family and the future. It’s not just about a job. It’s about my livelihood. It’s about my life. And me, being me who tends to fret over little  things and big things as well as over analyze every possible scenario to the nth degree, has been storm-tossed in the waters of indecision.

Welcome to my world.

It is a huge decision in my life. I am mindful of the privilege I possess to have choices and options. But this is my story, my privilege and I get to figure out the next part with all the angst of a post-modern Gen X-er.

I will blog about that in Part Two next week and tell you what I decided, how I settled it within  and what it means. The answer might not be as saintly as some might suppose.

Work is an integral part of my life, of all our lives. The jobs we do are not just about paychecks and paying bills. Our jobs shape us. They reveal parts of ourselves no other sphere in our lives reveal, including  our weaknesses and strengths. Where we work is where we trade our vitality for sustenance. What will I trade mine for? Can I maintain this resilience in this environment? Should  I return to the  job at the hospital?

I will tell All in Part Two.

***What about you? Have you ever felt the bindings of golden handcuffs? What did you do?


Irrational Life Decisions

Let yourself be silently
By the strange pull of
What you
Really Love.

You will not be led astray.



Collage art by Pam Hogeweide

Sometimes I fantasize about heading out on the open highway instead of heading to the store for yet another food run. I heard a story on the podcast, This American Life, about a bus driver who in 1947 drove his New York City bus all the way to Florida. He disappeared for two weeks. His family did not know where he was. His boss certainly didn’t know where he was, but William Cimillo was done. He was done with the monotony and the routine and the drudgery of the life he found himself in.

When he was found and forced to return to New York City, he received a hero’s welcome. The Everyday Men and Women heralded him a working class hero for taking his life into his own hands and breaking the script. His family suffered not knowing where he was for those two weeks, and yet despite that inconsideration I, like those New Yorkers of 1947,  admire  his chutzpah for breaking away from the tried and true trail of the safe and tame.

I am at a place in my life as a middle-aged woman that playing  it safe makes good, rational sense. Taking risks is for the young, right? They have all the time in the world to right whatever mess-ups that might happen if they take the plunge over a risk-laden  cliff, like driving your bus off the job to a sunny Florida beach.

There is an itch in me that I can’t scratch these days, a restlessness that has me feeling caged up and suffocating in my daily existence like the bus driver. I’m not thinking about driving to Florida, but there is a big life decision on my horizon and I am biting at the bit to get to it and take the risk and change lanes of where my life is at. I am churning with anticipation while fear grips my guts.  

What is it about major life decisions – like job changes, hint hint – that brings to the surface every scalawag of an excuse for why I ought to remain as is,  to stand down as it were, from the center of my own existence. I drive myself and everyone around me ca-razzy with my over-analysis-obsessive-over-thinking when I am  determining a life-altering decision.

I have been summoning Wisdom to come to me in a variety of ways.

I pray. A lot.

I talk with friends. A lot.

I talk about every possible angle of The Decision with husband, who seriously should receive some kind of Husband of the Year award for enduring my neurosis.

I also search for wisdom while I make art. Many of the messages that I paint on my collage art pieces are words that I need to hear, messages that I tune in from the cosmic playlist I listen for when I am arting it up. I often hear encouragement this way.

A new way I am searching out guidance and affirmation about my Big Decision is using tarot. I used to think tarot cards were the work of the devil, an occult tool of witchery that must be avoided. But I now see tarot as a medium of  metaphors and  mini-stories that help seekers like me sort out what I need to sort out. There is a magical aspect to using tarot in that I have almost always drawn just the right cards with what was helpful to hear in the moment for whatever question I brought to the reading.


Today I drew this card in my 3-card reading >> Judgment<<.

This was intriguing to me because ever since my friend gave me this deck I have drawn this card several times. (Hello Universe, I am listening!) 

The meaning of this card is to realize I am the Key of what I have been seeking. I can trust in my own judgment to make decisions that are right for me, no matter how irrational they may appear to others. If I decide, for example,  to leave a well-paying job for a lesser paying job it may seem foolish on the outside, yet it may be the wisest decision for me and my life. I get to be the judge of that.

I follow author Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) on Facebook. She posts the most wonderful Zen-like Facebook statuses that lift the spirit. Like this one, a story about her cousin who decided to up and move to New Zealand :

My cousin didn’t know anyone in this entire hemisphere. She had never before traveled. She feared she was “too old” to change her life. She had always been risk-averse, and the thought of moving across the world was terrifying. But she had been stuck for too long. She was suffocating in her day-to-day existence. She couldn’t take it anymore. She was tired of faking happiness.

Then she realized: “If I don’t face my fears, I will never grow.”

So she did it. She followed some deep, irrational, inner instinct that led her right to this place. She planned to stay in New Zealand for only four months…but she has now stayed for four years. And holy shit, has she grown.

I just love that. It inspires me. I’m not planning to move to another country (not yet at least 🙂  ), but I am planning on a major life shift soon. I need to trust myself that I am on the right track, even though it seems irrational. Sometimes Wisdom is found in the irrational places, like a little bird hovering on the edge of a teacup.

That’s where I am hovering, in between worlds of where I am today and where I might be tomorrow.

What about you? Where are you hovering? Have you ever made the leap of faith for an irrational decision? A job change? A relocation? A new hair style? (hey, why not ?!!)

Tell me all about it in the comments!