Scarlett’s Letter August 25, 2013

I had a nice leisurely morning, after my self-inflicted, sleep deprived night, Friday, and my incredibly long day on Saturday, even a decent night’s sleep when I got home from the airport at nearly midnight, didn’t quite rejuvenate me. Nor did a couple cups of coffee. But, a leisurely morning did.

I have no groceries. Well, I do have two eggs left, but I’m not quite ready to consume eggs, again, just yet. I have yogurt, but no fruit and my organic veggies are all a bit wilted. I do still have that organic heirloom tomato I bought at Whole Foods in Chicago and transported home in my computer bag. So, for breakfast, it’s Wallaby organic plain yogurt, local organic honey, oatmeal and, by now, a kind of squishy, misshapen tomato.

I spent the better part of the morning compiling my “Two Hours in Chi-Town” video, time I enjoyed tremendously. There’s nothing like a little creative endeavor to completely kill several hours of time.  In a relaxing and rewarding way, of course.

This afternoon, a barbecue and get together with the “Napa Girls”, their sig others/spouses and an assortment of offspring. My sig other and my offspring are all thousands of miles away, so it was just me. But these girls have been in my life and dear for longer than anyone else, including my sig other and my kids. Other than my parents and older relatives, of course, I have known these girls longer than anyone else. Through thick and thin, through triumphs, trials, tragedies, tears of sorrow, tears of joy and, best of all, tears from laughter, other than my sweetie and my family, these are people that matter. There is absolutely nothing better that I can imagine than a sunny, late summer afternoon sharing food with good friends, looking at old pictures, sharing stories, new and old, laughter, a tear or two, and hugs. Of course I had my camera with me, so, yes, there were staged photos. What can I say? It’s what I do.

Great for a summer afternoon; Sex on the Beach, then Prosecco.
Great for a summer afternoon; Sex on the Beach, then Prosecco.
Good food!
Good food!
Homemade chocolate cake and some "Bunny Tracks" ice cream.
Homemade chocolate cake and some “Bunny Tracks” ice cream.

In going through the old photos, though, I am reminded of all the times I wasn’t there. Often, in high school, throughout college, and during much of my marriage, I was less frequent with my visits, I missed much of the time they spent together. Regretfully, I was always the girl that spent more time with her boyfriend, and later, her husband, than with her friends. It took a lot of reflection, again, regret, and some maturity to figure out the toll that has been taken. I feel I’ve missed much. And there is no way to ever regain that time. There is a time for being with the one you love, and there is time to be with your beloved friends. They are not, nor should anyone ever lead you to believe that they are mutually exclusive.

It is vitally important to you, to your friendships and even to that all-important relationship, that you maintain those close friendships. We must remain individuals, we must remain ourselves, even in a long-term, committed relationship. It is a tragedy to lose oneself in a relationship because you lose more than just your individuality, your identity, your freedom and your autonomy, you risk losing your friendships, too. I overheard a couple of young college-aged ladies chatting, one mentioned to the other that Friday night was always girls night and Saturday night was always with her boyfriend. While a rigid, inflexible, set-in-concrete, schedule may not always be practical, I was impressed with the commitment to her friendships. True, some friendships come and go, as do relationships, especially when younger, but, like with many things, those we invest in usually rewards us well beyond our investment. But we must invest; time, love, sincerity, and energy. Friendships fade and even disintegrate if they are not nurtured, much like romance in a relationship.

In my senior year of high school I dated a young man who was extremely jealous and possessive, he didn’t trust me to spend time with my friends, though I was quite trustworthy. While frustrated, I allowed this to continue for a few months before moving on. How much of my senior year did I miss out on because I permitted that kind of control over me? Regrettably, plenty, and I can never recover that time. Young or old, we should never forfeit our friendships, our freedom, because someone is distrustful of us. There is no room in any relationship, friendship or romance, for distrust. Another lesson learned.

In college, I dated a young man, from my hometown, a little over an hour from where I went to school. Weekends were spent at home to visit him, most generally. He also had a close group of friends and was very, very good about setting aside “bro-time”, as it is referred to these days, time with his friends, without the girlfriends. Though, a time or two, I found this a little frustrating, usually when my friends were all otherwise occupied and I ended up staying home alone on a weekend night, I, truthfully, respected it and honored it. To this day, he maintains those friendships across the miles and through the years, much like I do, now, with my friends. There is wisdom in that, and, again, great reward. Friendships are precious, and, often, as we get older, harder to find.

I am very good about meeting new people, I can strike up a conversation with just about anyone. I can connect quite well with people, initially, but to create lasting friendships, as an adult, is a lot more difficult than it was when younger. I’m sure my vagabond lifestyle complicates this some. I’m also quite sure that the fact that my co-workers, all being “remote” employees, like myself, are scattered around the country doesn’t help. Often friendships develop at work because you spend a lot of time with one another. I work alone about 95% of the time, from home a portion of that, and the rest, on the road. I see my co-workers, perhaps, once or twice a year. There is not a lot of opportunity for close friendships to develop.

For these reasons, and for so many more, too many to count, I am grateful for an afternoon like today. Quality time with cherished friends.

 

Friends for all of time - then.
Friends for all of time – then.
Friends for all of time - now.
Friends for all of time – now.

 

 

Scarlett’s Letter July 26 – 28, 2013

I am such a lucky girl. I don’t count my blessings nearly often enough, and I count them daily. I have a great family, my mom, my kids, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, and many departed family members I am grateful to have had in my life as well. I have many friends and many acquaintances, all of whom I cherish. I have a good job, a good career and many talents. I have my health and my fitness. I have a special someone to love who loves me in return. I have so, so much to be grateful for, I have not yet begun to account.

Of my friends, I have a group of friends I have known for nearly “all of time”; a couple of us have been friends since kindergarten, the rest joined us along the way. There are five of us and we were nearly inseparable in high school. I am so happy to still be close to these “girls”. We may not see each other as frequently as we’d like, but we will always be close. Some are closer than others, with the demands of careers and families and the division that distance and absence can cause. But we are all still close.

This weekend we had the good fortune to be able to spend the weekend together at a villa in the Shenandoah Valley wine country in Amador County in northern California. Being Napa girls and with connections in the wine industry, this wonderful opportunity was made available to us. It was as if time had never passed, and again, as though it had been ages. We talked and shared stories, reminisced and laughed not just over lunch, as we try to do every so often, but for the entire weekend, beginning late Friday morning and ending late Sunday evening. Just the five of us; no kids, no spouses or significant others, no Internet and not much of a cell signal. It was a retreat, really, in every sense of the word, and a time I will cherish for the rest of my life.

We talked about all the things we used to talk about; the guys we dated, who did who, who may have been first to “lose it” (still unclear), other friends and acquaintances, and all those stories of our youth. We shared pictures and we took pictures. We talked about more current topics; health, husbands, movies, music, careers, the triumphs and the tragedies of life and of our dreams. We floated in the pool, played outrageous card games and a little tennis, watched movies and ate fabulously. There was a winery at the end of the driveway and we didn’t even make our way there. Every minute was spent just being us. It was magical.

And in spite of challenges in life that we face, some serious health issues, career challenges, joblessness, financial trials, marital strife, not a tear was shed. There was only joy, laughter and the undying support that only lifelong friends can understand.

All I can say is, if you have friends that you don’t see as often as you’d like, or if you’ve lost contact with friends you once held dear, make every effort to reconnect, or to reconnect more often. When we are blessed with such friendships, we need to give them some priority. It is vitally important to have time apart from those who occupy our daily life; spouses, children, parents, co-workers. Reserve time for those whose friendship you held dear before spouses and children and the demands of family and career. Amidst all the daily demands of our life and what seems like so little free time, it is so very important to retain our individualism, our autonomy, and occasionally, our freedom from the life that dictates the ordinary day. We become ourselves again when we are removed from that which occupies our daily life in an almost robotic repetition. We are refreshed and rejuvenated by our renewed sense of self that only a separation from daily life and the bonds of friendship can provide. To fortify our sense of self strengthens who we are for the rest of the roles in our life. Make it a priority, and often enough to make a difference.

Dear friends are the truest of blessings. Cheers.

Villa D'Oro (Terra D'Oro Winery)
Villa D’Oro (Terra D’Oro Winery)
Inside the Villa D'Oro
Inside the Villa D’Oro
The plan for the weekend; red wine and sun hats.
The plan for the weekend; red wine and sun hats.
Red Solo Cup
Red Solo Cup

We made it! To graduation! And now to 50!
We made it!
To graduation!
And now to 50!
The most famous picture of us of all time.
The most famous picture of us of all time.
Reliving history.
Reliving history.

 

 

Slavery

slav·er·y  

1. The state of one bound in servitude as the property of a slaveholder or household.

2.

a. The practice of owning slaves.

b. A mode of production in which slaves constitute the principal work force.

3. The condition of being subject or addicted to a specified influence.

4. A condition of hard work and subjection

 

Slavery. I’m against it on every level. I am a proponent of personal freedom, independence and autonomy. My very strong beliefs go well beyond just the exploitation of individuals for the benefit or gain of another.

I am also opposed to enslavement by possessions or by lifestyle. I realize it is not possible to be completely free of your possessions, or of your lifestyle, but you are in control your level of enslavement to those things. And a lifestyle that may seem enslaving to one is an expression of freedom to others. To try to explain:

I have worked full time, or nearly full time, for most of my professional life, spanning over twenty-five years. My work hours ranged from thirty hours a week, in the good old days, to upwards of sixty or seventy hours a week in many years, some quite recent, like most of last year, and probably the remainder of this year. When evening rolls around and I finally turn my back on my work for the night, or when the weekend comes along and I have the opportunity to be home, rather than travelling to or from home for work, the very last thing I want to do is housework and yard work. I do thrive in a clean, neat, tidy, organized home and loathe and despise an unkempt yard. How to manage? One must be both clever and extremely well organized.

There was a time when my children were small and my husband and I were both working hard building our young careers. We cherished our “free time” with our children on evenings and weekends. The house was getting messier than I liked, the yard was overgrown, and tensions were high. During a “discussion” of the state of things, sort of a “state of the household” speech, by yours truly, my husband declared that he would “take care” of the yard and I should take care of the house. He hired a gardener. Never one to be outdone, I hired a housekeeper. Our weekends were ours, and the house and yard were always neat as a pin. This peaceful balance and accord lasted for several years.

I know this isn’t always possible. For instance, it is not a possibility for me now, as income, while more plentiful, my expenses are far, far greater. A college education for two grown children is not cheap and my disposable income has been disposed of for a very long time into the future. So, how to manage both my time and my home? Simply by making the appropriate choices based on my resources and my preferred lifestyle.

First, my preferred lifestyle; I want to be free when I’m not working. I want to go places, visit with friends, dine out, wine taste, travel, run, hike, work out at the gym, etc. I do not want to clean house or do yard work. I do want my house to be spotless and ready for friends to drop by at a moment’s notice. Yes. I want it all. And I’ve got it ALL figured out. Normally. Up until recently, I have chosen to live in places where the yard maintenance has been included with the rent or payment. As far as the inside of my home, I like a more minimalist lifestyle, no clutter, a place for everything and everything in its place. I have given away and sold most of the things I no longer need, want or use. I am vigilant in identifying things that are eligible for purging. I make frequent trips to Goodwill and to the dump. I clean my bathroom and kitchen after every use, vacuum now and then, and have a strict no knick-knack policy. I don’t mind running a dust rag over a nice, sleek surface. I do mind having to dust little bits and things, removing them, replacing them, and having to dust underlying surface in the few brief moments it is exposed.

To further my blissful, stress-less home environment, I don’t even bring junk mail into my house; I enroll in paperless statements and billing and shred anything that HAS to come in paper as soon as I’ve scanned it. Stephen Covey in his “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” suggests that you only ever touch a piece of paper one time. That is my goal, if I have to touch it at all.

I am reading an awesome book right now that I highly, highly recommend for anyone trying to live a more organized, less cluttered, life; “The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life” by Francine Jay. Everything the author says resounds with me. I have accomplished much of what she recommends in advance of reading the book, but, of course, could evolve a little more in my efforts to be freer.

So, if I already have a plan, I already have it ALL figure out, what could my dilemma possibly be? I’ve moved in with Mom. She is in complete, total and bonded slavery to her house and her yard. She always has been. Whether by choice or out of duty, I don’t know. She does seem to derive some kind of twisted pleasure from vacuuming for hours on end. And she should really consider wearing a tool belt from which she could hang her Windex and 409 bottles and holster her roll of paper towels. True, I did move in to “help” her, but I don’t remember signing any kind of agreement that said I would be available to clean house and do yard work, to her standards, which, by the way, are impossible to meet and even harder sustain.  Her “system” is impossible for anyone, an able bodied person, but especially for a frail, octogenarian. It is absurdity.

Let’s start with the yards. Front and back. Both really large. Mostly lawn. She has a gardener, now, finally, that comes once a week and mows, blows and goes. For any extra fee he will trim fussy hedges, forming them into right angles unnatural to any growing thing in nature, he’ll prune trees into unrecognizable stumps and things like that. The yards, front and back, both look good. Good enough for company. In fact, her yards look like something straight out of Sunset Magazine from the 1960’s, and therein lies the problem. Her yards, while they do have automatic sprinklers, they harken back to who knows when and are wholly inadequate. She lives in a city with outrageous water rates, and has landscaping that requires “hand” watering several times a week. Which she does with a cane in one hand, the hose in the other. Windex and paper towels close by, I’m certain. She has all kinds of planters and areas that require constant and diligent weeding. This is not the type of yard someone who travels 70% of the time (me) can even begin to maintain, even with a gardener.

The house has always appeared very neat. To guests. When guests are not scheduled to arrive, the house is under constant attack from paper and organizational systems that have never been completely thought through or fully implemented. Things have places but aren’t always in their places, or the proper place for a thing has been forgotten because it is infrequently accessed. Every closet, drawer and cupboard is packed full of items that never get used, but for some reason get kept. Then I move in, and even with my pared down pile of possessions, they look overwhelming piled in the middle of the garage and in the middle of my rooms. I have been provided one very small closet, mostly, and two partial shelves in a cupboard in the garage with the warning that rat turds have been spotted in the vicinity. I keep my food with the rats and have hung clothes in the closet. Everything else remains in boxes. There is a dresser in my bedroom I could put clothes in, but the drawers are completely full of stuff that hasn’t seen the light of day since I vacated the drawers thirty some years ago to go to college.

The house is large, for its era. It was built in 1967 and is probably upwards of fifteen hundred square feet. It is a split-level, so two partial flights of stairs, one seven steps, one eight steps. I count steps. This I learned during my wayward teenage years, trying to sneak in and out after curfew without being detected, interrogated and grounded. The front room is Mom’s “formal living room” with a “formal dining room” adjacent to it. We have never been allowed to set foot in there. Ever. Unless there is company. Then we pretend like we use it all the time. She actually takes one of her four vacuums and “lays the nap down” on the carpet, so if anyone does set foot in the living room or dining room, there is, literally, a trail. There are shelves in the living room and a library table, a coffee table and three end tables, all with decorations on them that require dusting. The rooms do look nice, in the way a furniture catalog does, but they are just big, uninviting, uncomfortable and useless spaces that require way too much effort to maintain. I’m thinking warm, wood floors, large comfy couches and chairs, a coffee table with an interesting book, a picture and a flower.

The guest bathroom is also “my” bathroom. It is always appointed for guests, in that, there are towels on the towel rack that are not to be used or touched, and like the couch and chairs in the “formal living room” are dreadful to touch or use, anyway. Very uninviting, very firm, very uncomfortable.  In addition to the fussy, stiff towels I don’t dare touch, there is a basket that occupies one corner of the bathtub. It is lined with a crisp, eyelet napkin or handkerchief or some fussy bit. Inside the lined basket there used to reside little bottles of shampoo and lotions my parents schlepped home from all three vacations they took in their lifetime. Now those pretty little bottles are aged and yellow, and to them have been added the little squeeze packets of free shit that comes in the mail, and weird stuff that was brought home from the hospital after each and every one of my father’s numerous admissions in the latter years. There is also an odd, gold encrusted bottle full of water with bright green food coloring added to it stationed in the other corner. And a candle perched on the ledge, even though we aren’t to ever burn candles. My mom believes that all candles are made of intuitive napalm that will explode into gelatinous flame the instant we turn away for a moment and will take the house down in a furious infrerno. Hey, at least we wouldn’t have to clean! We just buy candles for the edge of the bathtub and the back of the toilet, I guess, to look like a “normal” house on the cover of Martha Stewart Living. All of these oddities require being moved and replaced every time I shower. The shower is tiled, the original, from 1967. It is in fairly good shape considering I used the shower daily as a teenager and didn’t follow the rules. The rules; you have to first squeegee the shower immediately after use, then towel it down. And, truthfully, I am fine with it. I admit, though, just toweling it down is fine, I’ve been doing this for years and I never, ever, ever have to clean my shower or bathtub! It’s the odd decorative inhabitants of the shower, I guess, that I am objecting to.

All three bedrooms have lovely hard wood floors that have been all covered up with the most hideous floor coverings money can buy. Rugs. Strange area rugs that require care and vacuuming. As do the floors underneath. Twice the work. There are shelves of every shape and size, desks and dressers, all burdened with an army of odd little knick knacks that sort of make the house look like the Goodwill store, or Dollar Tree. There are strange little plaques “decorating” the walls that must have been crafty little gifts from well meaning and not terribly talented friends that remind us that we are “special” and such. All of these artifacts require dusting, individually. They need to be removed from their station to dust beneath them all, and then they have to be replaced. Dusting, alone, must take eons.

Windows; there are lots of windows. I think windows are great! I love natural light. Mom has a compulsion with windows that I fail to understand. I know windows need to be washed, inside and out. I think once a quarter is about right. She has washed them, inside and out, three times this week, because company is coming two weeks from today. I’m quite certain the “smudges” she sees are where the glass has been worn thin from the years of exuberant window washing. I’m quite certain of this fact, I really don’t remember being able to hear everything going on outside from inside, while growing up in the house. I think the glass windowpanes are actually thinner! I can hear everything! Well, perhaps the forty six year old windows just need to be replaced, but that’s a subject for another time.

I decided to flee today; the Windex fumes and the relentless roar of one of the vacuums were not conducive to working, even with the door shut. There must be some expectation of shared enslavement to this inefficient lifestyle and compulsive Sunset magazine cover status. I did not agree to this. I am happy to clean up the kitchen to a sparkling shine every time I use it. I am delighted to clean up my bathroom, all the way down to replacing the fussy little basket, the grotesque green liquid filled bottle and the decorative napalm candle after my shower. I will vacuum on occasion, sooner if I notice a rat turd, which, thankfully, I haven’t. I think the Windex fumes probably killed them. I will dust sleek surfaces I am in control of. I do not have clutter to chase, as long as I have dresser drawers and a closet floor for my clothes and shoes, that currently reside in boxes I have to stack and restack to access the contents of. I will even wash windows, inside and out, once a quarter, with non-toxic and Earth friendly products.

So, I moved in to help, and here I sit at the Oxbow Public Market, across town, I’ve finished my work and have chosen to write from here, too, rather than return home. So what happens when Mom can no longer care for the house to her liking, be that next week or in another decade? If we keep it, it will become mine. I’m about ready to call the realtor now! But, if it were my house, or I were placed in charge of the house, I would break the chains of enslavement. Beginning outdoors, assuming I didn’t have tens of thousands of dollars to replace the lawns with an attractive, low maintenance, drought tolerant yard, I’d at least re-do the sprinklers. I’d replace the planters requiring weeding with low maintenance patios that could be populated with chairs and a container garden, maybe, with easy to care for and very hardy plants. Maybe a fire pit and a water feature. The rest would be left to nature, as there is a creek full of oak tress that offers a lovely, serene and natural backdrop. I would leave the leaves on the ground, rather than pay someone to make them go away, so they would provide a natural mulch in that area, preventing the growth of weeds and nourishing the soil, keeping it moist without as much water. The hedges and fussy trees would be replaced with things that didn’t require constant pruning into weird, contrived and unnatural shapes for growing things. When have you ever seen a shrub with right angles in nature, let alone an entire fifty-foot row of them?

Indoors. I would rent a dumpster and conduct a knick-knack holocaust. I would have the industrial shredding company pull up their largest truck and haul away every scrap of paper. Every closet, drawer and cupboard would be completely emptied and only those items that have been used in the past year would be replaced into them, and then, only after very careful consideration. It if isn’t loved, it isn’t kept. We owe no duty or obligation to any inanimate object occupying a space in our home.

Sounds great! I’d like to do that now! But it is my mom’s home, her pride and joy, and I think a very real reason she is still ambulatory, I think it provides her a sense of purpose. So, out of respect for her, I don’t want to force any issues. Tensions are rising, though; an air of martyrdom has developed relating to her “having to clean the house”. The house is as clean as it’s going to get for the impending company. We just need to stuff all the shopping lists, catalogs, and scraps of newspapers into one of the drawers, cupboards or closets. The carpet couldn’t be much cleaner, the windows most definitely are not capable of becoming any cleaner. I could offer to mop the floors, I have no problem with that. But, I really, really doubt that my mom’s twin sister and her husband, who are failing in sight, are going to notice that the floors aren’t waxed. Personally, I think it’s borderline criminal to wax floors when ninety-year-old people are going to be walking on them!

So, with that, I suppose I’d better head home and get to mopping. It’s Friday night and I’ve been working hard all week. I’m ready to relax with a glass of wine and a good book before getting a good night’s rest before a very long training run very early tomorrow. Is it bad I have plans other than vacuuming, mopping, dusting and washing windows tomorrow? The dirt, real or imagined, will wait. I’m no slave.