Insecurity Blanket

I remember a time when all I wanted was to be secure. I wanted to be certain, to the degree possible, that everything would be perfect, now, and in the future. I remember wishing for security, hoping for security, praying for security, planning for security. I’d go so far as to wish on stars, to hold my breath while driving through tunnels, and beg the universe for security. Security was the word I used to describe my resistance to change, my fear of change. Oddly, though, I wanted some change, but only on my terms, according to my overall plan for lasting security; the bigger house, the acreage, the newer car, a bigger paycheck, better performing investments, more clothes, more shoes, a bigger boat, horses, more pets. Happiness. Security.

Scarlette Begonia

And I was a prisoner. I was a slave. And I was insecure in my quest, my driving desire, for security. Things went according to plan for so very long, but I wasn’t completely happy, and I didn’t feel secure. There was always a sense of unease, uncertainty, at times, feelings of dread and doom.

As the economy worsened several years ago, my empire fell. The worst I could imagine, happened. Everything was lost. Everything material I’d worked for, for my entire adulthood, lost. The real estate, the acreage, the pets, the horses, the boat, my security, and the means to a secure future. But, in that precise moment when I knew it was all gone, I experienced a sense of peace, of calm, of, dare I say, joy. The burden had been lifted, I was no longer a prisoner, I was no longer a slave. I was, for the first time in my life, free. The shackles of security fell to the ground and I ran. I ran, I danced, I sang, my quest for security replaced with a quest for growth, adventure, uncertainty, and joy.

Scarlette Begonia

Since that time, not even a decade later, I’ve left my marriage, I’ve lost a lover, I’ve lost family, I’ve lost friends, children have grown and moved far, far away. Loss is change, and change, is part of life. There is comfort in being comfortable with change, loss, and with insecurity. Life is tenuous, life is exciting, life is not meant to be secure.

Security meant comfort. Comfort meant complacency. Complacency meant a headlong spiral into disaster. Life, now, is moment to moment. Life now is edgy. Life now is adventure and risk. Life now is real. And blissfully insecure. I am happy, almost always.

Oh, sure, I still find myself fretting over potential loss, thinking about “what could go wrong”, what could change in a manner I’m not cool with. And it is only at these moments that unhappiness and discontent seep into my world.

Scarlette Begonia

There is something very liberating in losing all the stuff. I look now, with pity, at people burdened with “all the things”, and ever in anguish about not having more. I’ve found so much freedom and joy in being “stuffless”, I often go through my remaining belongings, pulling things off shelves, out of drawers, bundling them up, and sending them away to become other people’s stuff. The sense of relief, with each and every purge, is indescribable.

Yes, there are “things” I want. I want a stand up paddle board right now. Does my life, my happiness, my sense of success, of purpose, depend on it? No. I can rent one any time. And, sure, I’d love for my current relationship to endure, but this is never a certainty. Do I let the uncertainty of permanence poison the beauty and joy I have right now? God, I try not to, I’m wonderfully imperfect, but I try.

In security, we are hopeless. In insecurity, once we understand it and embrace it, we are free and joyful. Security is imperfect. Security is a myth. Insecurity is growth, it is reality, and insecurity, like many good things in life, requires practice and thought, to understand, to embrace. In a blanket of insecurity, we find ourselves, our true selves; our passion, our joy, life. In a blanket of insecurity, we learn to take risks, to accept the present moment, each as they come, with gratitude. We learn to forsake the past, gleaning only the lessons we’ve learned along the way. We learn not to fret about the future, what will come will be right, in that future moment. We are not in control, and we lose control in our attempt. In insecurity, we have the chance to learn to be youthful, adventurous, and joyful. We learn to actually live.

Scarlette Begonia

So, like a small child with a ratty, old, blanket, required for comfort, for sleep, for security, there comes a time where it must be tossed into the trash. It must be discarded. When we embrace insecurity, blanket ourselves, instead, with the joy and opportunity in insecurity, we learn to live and we find joy.

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.

 

 

Bless You!

I go through any given day often cursing things that; bug me, thwart my attempts to accomplish a task, vex me, complicate things, get in my way, or just generally piss me off. These “things”, can be things, or people. And, if left unchecked, I find I spend a significant portion of my day cursing, usually silently, sometimes under my breath, and every now and then, out loud. Honestly, I like the word “fuck” the best. I use it alone or in combination with any number of other words to express my thoughts about something. This week’s favorite is “fuck breath”. I’m pretty creative, I know.

As far as people go, there are the strangers I curse at, usually drivers that don’t drive exactly the way I think they should. Sometimes while running, amateur cyclists who think it’s okay to cycle on the sidewalk when there is a dedicated bike lane a few feet away. And, sadly, I will often curse people I know and people I love, not usually with an “f-bomb”, but a curse, nonetheless, and usually because they have behaved in some way that isn’t consistent with my expectations, which in itself is a flaw of mine I try very hard to curtail.

Right now I am cursing Elaine.

Elaine is a toddler, a swarthy toddler of perhaps two years of age, who has come into the coffee shop I have been peacefully enjoying working from for the past couple of hours. I’ve been sitting here, sipping an iced decaf coffee, writing to my heart’s content. Then came Elaine. With her parents. For fro yo. I like kids. I love kids. I have kids. And never, ever, did I allow my kids to screech at the top of their lungs for sport. Elaine is just emitting a happy, high pitched screech every 45 seconds or so, in a public place, that echoes, she is grabbing things off of other people’s tables, smearing her fingers all over the glass protecting the frozen yogurt from her advances and walking right up to other patrons and waving at them, three inches from their faces. It was cute for about three seconds. Her (also swarthy) parents are laughing very loudly and further encouraging her with very annoying, very loud baby talk, in response to all of her antics, including the screeching. I think my ears are bleeding. Curse them all.

But, cursing Elaine, and her parents really did nothing, other than make me feel grumpy. I left, out of frustration, and as I backed out of my parking spot, Elaine and her parents left, too. Now I’m home, writing from my un-air-conditioned office on a ninety-degree afternoon. Having a beer. I could still be at the, now peaceful, coffee shop. I deserve what I get. Curses.

“Bless a thing and it will bless you. Curse it and it will curse you. If you bless a situation, it has no power to hurt you.” –

Emmet Fox,
1886-1951, Spiritual Leader

I’ve seen this saying before, and other similar teachings. And I know it, but like all that we try to encompass into our personal evolutionary process, sometimes an important lesson gets buried by others and is momentarily forgotten. Usually, about that time, a reminder lesson manifests. Like Elaine. Bless her heart.

I have a co-worker from the Midwest, I used to work with her quite a bit until she took a different position within the company. She taught, like I do, and I frequently “shadowed” her to learn to teach different classes. Whenever she spoke of someone, in class or out, she would add, “bless her heart” or his heart, or their hearts. Then she’d inform the participants in class that this was a Midwestern tradition and by blessing someone’s’ heart, in this manner, it gave you license to continue talking about them. While I find this amusing, and now often repeat the same joke when I teach classes (we steal each other’s material regularly), there is some merit to this practice. I’m not saying we can all just go about gossiping and speaking poorly of others just because we preface our tirade with “bless his heart”. I’m saying that if someone is conversation worthy, in their absence, they could probably use the blessing! I’m also suggesting that blessing people, and things, is the right thing to do. For them and for us.

This sort of goes along with forgiveness. Blessing and forgiveness both free us from whatever negative feeling we feel victim of. I saw another saying on Facebook this week, “forgive others not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.” Forgiveness and blessing both act as an acknowledgement of letting it go. “It” being whatever is making us feel bad, angry, or sad. How liberating to just let “it” go. By hanging on to it, we are nurturing the bad, angry or sad feeling, we are giving power to whatever is causing those negative feelings. Blessing it, and forgiving it, free us from those negative stimuli and allow us to move on, into more positive territory.

I once vowed to the man I exchanged vows with that I would never forgive him. For a very long time, I didn’t. As a result, I was just bitter and resentful towards him and every reminder of him. I suffered emotionally, spiritually and probably even physically as a result of my unwillingness to forgive. And this just gave him more power over me and the new life I was trying to build for myself. It took a lot of time, reflection and self-education to finally realize that forgiveness, and even blessing, was the key to the freedom I so dearly craved. And in that eventual ability to forgive, and even bless, I am totally and completely liberated. I am free of those negative feelings and of the negative energy associated with all those long harbored feelings of spite, hatred and anger. I had that power all along, sort of like Dorothy and her ruby red slippers, she had the power to get home to Kansas throughout that whole, epic journey, she just didn’t know it.

I have been, now, reminded of this lesson; to bless and to forgive, everyone and everything. But, like Elaine and the joy she derived from screeching and hearing her own voice, I’m quite certain that I will still look for opportunities to creatively combine the “f-word” with other words to communicate my momentary displeasure with someone or something. I’m sorry, it’s just sport. I’ll bless them and forgive them, I promise.

Browns Valley Yogurt & Espresso Bar, pre-Elaine.
Browns Valley Yogurt & Espresso Bar, pre-Elaine. Bless her heart.

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.

 

 

Scarlett’s Letter July 24, 2013

Which would you rather be; a little fish in a big pond or a big fish in a little pond?

I’m working onsite this week with a very small accounting firm in, well, sort of the center of the universe. I’m in Silicon Valley, just south of San Francisco. My hotel is in the shadow of the great and mighty Oracle. I’m a few miles from Facebook headquarters, and a hundred other huge and notable tech companies.

In my classes, I normally have multiple participants, up to fifteen. To be able to provide adequate guidance and excellent customer service, we limit our class sizes to fifteen. Usually. This week, a rarity; one participant. The class I’m teaching is in audit methodology and a related software and this particular class usually has enough participants that we can break into discussion teams and play games and award prizes. Which is kind of hard with only one participant.

My participant is a young man, born in Hong Kong and reasonably new to the accounting field. He has a girlfriend in Hong Kong and will, in all likelihood, return there some day. His life in the U.S, most of his life, has been centered in this world; Silicon Valley. To this young man, the American dream is to become the Corporate Controller or Chief Financial Officer of a company, and to him, “a company” means something like Oracle, Facebook, or Hewlett Packard. With only the one participant in today’s class, we finished a bit early. The class is timed to allow for plenty of questions and answers, technical difficulty and other delays that just don’t occur with just the one attendee. After we covered our planned curriculum for the day, we chatted, for about an hour. I’d given my standard introduction at the beginning of the session, outlining the highlights of my impressive sounding, but truthfully, very mundane and really, unimpressive career. When I mentioned I’d been a corporate controller for two companies, the young man’s eyes lit up. No, I was controller for two very small, very unknown companies. Oh, I’m quite proud of my accomplishments, but I was not at the financial helm of anything close to an Oracle or a Facebook. In fact, the annual revenues of one of the companies I controlled probably wouldn’t even pay for a minute of operating expenses of one of these Silicon Valley giants.

I’ve worked for larger companies, I work for a larger company now. And that brings up the question; would you rather be a little fish in a big pond or a big fish in a little pond?  I favor the latter. When I worked in the accounting department for a very large company, my entire accounting responsibility consisted of overseeing and reconciling the transactions for one, single asset account. Just one. One general ledger account. Okay, it was a big account with a very large balance, but that was all I knew of this company. I was a guppy in an ocean. When I was controller of a much smaller company, I knew the details of every account that comprised every line item on the balance sheet and income statement. I oversaw the entire process, I reviewed every transaction and produced those financial statements each and every month and I knew every detail of the financial position of that company. I dealt with the bankers, the auditors, and the attorneys, the insurance agents, did the hiring and firing in my department, and I generated any and all reports, on demand, for the shareholders, upon request. I was a whale in fishbowl.

This brings up another question; to work for a company and facilitate someone else’s dream, someone else’s wealth, or to be the entrepreneur and make your own way? My dad was self-employed. My former husband was self-employed, during the better years. The love of my life is self-employed. My son is an entrepreneur while still in college, and while he’d like to gain experience under the umbrella of a large automotive giant, in the end, he is determined to be self-employed. I yearn for that as well, but find myself cowering under the perceived safe umbrella of a steady paycheck and ever diminishing benefits. It takes a certain amount of bravery, tenacity, wisdom, and, well, balls, to “fall out of the airplane”. I have all of that, why do I resist being in charge of my own destiny?

I consider myself an unusually brave, or perhaps daring, woman. I take risks, in adventure, like backpacking, kayaking, horseback riding, snowboarding, wakeboarding, etc. This past weekend, I completed my first tandem “jump” in skydiving. Okay, so I wasn’t at all in control of exiting the airplane, I was firmly strapped to the man who did the exiting and even if I did scream and shout in objection, we would have exited the airplane anyway. That’s what I paid for. But it was fun! And I’ll do it again! I may even seek to become certified to solo jump, who knows? So how is it I am afraid to let go of the W-2, salaried employee, airplane?

I have always been a bit of a non-conformist; in fashion, in education, in musical preferences, in my career path, in sports and leisure activities, in many, many things. And yet, when it comes to what I do for a living, I find myself following the path of the lemming; work for someone else’s wealth and benefit until the appropriate and ever increasing age for retirement, then exist, barely, on an extremely fixed income for the remainder of my days. Every cell of my being is in riot against this plight! And yet, I cling. I conform.

I realize that I am blessed, that I am fortunate, lucky, even, to have the fantastic job that I currently have. And to walk away from something with the semblance of consistency and stability would be crazy. But, with the semblance of consistency and stability, ever decreasing benefits and the regular paycheck, there is a trade off; the limitation of potential advancement, the limitation of residency in certain states or more rural areas, the limitation of personal time off to travel or attend to family matters. And this must always be carefully considered and reconsidered as life changes. Is it wrong to want stability and more freedom?

The freedom I yearn for exists just a few steps from where I am. The freedom to work my own hours, my own schedule, from wherever I choose. I have the expertise, I have the experience, I certainly have the energy, I have the tenacity, I have the work ethic. I have a plan, a vision and a timeline. I just don’t have the guts to let go or to even to set the plan into full motion. I pick at it, I poke at it, but I don’t’ deploy it. Only steps away, and I can’t seem to lace up my sneakers. Are you in a similar situation? Are you a cog in someone else’s wheel? Do you get by and work like a slave for someone who is able to set their own hours, vacation more than work and retire at 50? I know we can’t all be successful entrepreneurs, but what is it that separates the dreamers from the drones?

This is not about amassing wealth, it is solely about freedom. I seek the freedom to live where I want, to work at what I love, and to love what I do so much that it doesn’t seem like work. That’s what the dream should be about, not net worth. On the day of judgment, don’t you think it will be better to have lived a life of passion and purpose than a life building the net worth of someone who’s only motive was amassing wealth and power?

What kind of fish are you?

A "big pond" full of little fish, Facebook headquarters, Silicon Valley.
A “big pond” full of little fish, Facebook headquarters, Silicon Valley.

An Effort to Evolve

Google, the "main" campus in Mountain View, CA (Silicon Valley). "Little fish" in this "big pond" can navigate from one campus to another on one of the many brightly colored bicycles.
Google, the “main” campus in Mountain View, CA (Silicon Valley). “Little fish” in this “big pond” can navigate from one campus to another on one of the many brightly colored bicycles.

 

 

Dang Mosquitos

I am in Alaska. In July.

All of my well-meaning friends, acquaintances and complete strangers warned me about mosquitos in summer in Alaska, just like they did about predatory men in Alaska. The man thing worked out just fine. The mosquito thing, I am dealing with. Sort of.

If you saw me, you’d never pick me out as a granola-crunching, peace and love, nature valley hippy girl. But, I am, with sort of a cosmopolitan twist. As you have probably gathered, I can do just fine on Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan one week and be thirty miles up a dirt road fishing in the wilds of Alaska the next. I am the only girl I know with both a street guide, complete with subway routes, to Manhattan and the latest fishing regs for Alaska in my magenta, leather Fossil bag.

As we speak, my man is on his hands and knees, swatting mosquitos on the living room carpet with his hat. And he just fished another dead mosquito out of the butter. Death by butter, I’d choose that, certainly over swatting with a hat.

The granola-crunching, peace and love, nature valley hippy girl in me, in interest of prolonged health, longevity and quality of life, prefers not to douse one’s self in harmful chemicals to ward off bugs. That worked (not really) for about a day (not quite). I am head-to-toe welts, and Alaska mosquito bites, like everything in Alaska, are bigger and badder than anything in the lower forty-eight.

I have been applying DEET like most girls apply lotion; liberally and often. Lucky for me, my man says he likes the smell of “bug dope” just as much as the pretty stuff I wear. Ok. Whatever. I don’t. But the combination of the two is worse and probably creates a near lethal vapor gas that rots your brain from the inside out. We’ll see.

But, still, I really hate applying the stuff to my exposed skin; face, hands, neck and chest. Yesterday, while fishing, I decided to go without. I covered up the exposed areas with extra clothing, which worked because it was a lot colder than I thought it would be. For my face, neck and hands, I just swatted furiously all day long. My triceps are sore, take note if you’re looking for a good spot workout for that area. Another tactic I employed, which I’ve used in conjunction with DEET is copious amounts of beer. DEET and beer, one makes the mosquitos stupid, the other makes you stupid, and in combination, just be careful not to drink the DEET and douse yourself in beer. So yesterday I just stuck with beer and swatting. Today, I awoke with my left eye nearly swollen shut, I got bit on my eyelid near the tear duct. I look like Mohamed Ali, on a bad day.

At “home”, we just burn mosquito coils. We’re lucky, there are a few boxes left in the shed. The rest of Alaska is out and good luck finding any. We were in Anchorage last weekend and followed one rumor after another to store after store in search of mosquito coils. We came home empty handed. We’ve been checking store shelves everywhere we go, calling people and asking two very important questions; where are the fish and who has mosquito coils? Today, based on a rumor, we found a half a shelf’s worth at the hardware store in the basement of the sporting goods store in Fairbanks. Limit five. My man bought five while I was buying an unlimited amount of wine a couple of doors down, after which, I went and bought five more boxes of mosquito coils. I seriously considered changing my clothes and putting my hair up and trying for another five.

Thirsty bloodsuckers, sucking the life out of me. Reminds me of some people I know, just sucking the life out of me. Do you have any people like that in your life? If not money, time. If not time, money. Or worst of all, both.

Whether dealing with bloodsucking bugs or bloodsucking people, none of the options for effective management are very appealing. For mosquitos, really, DEET seems to be the only truly effective method to avoid being bitten. For people, sadly, there is no remedy, toxic or otherwise, that we can buy on the sporting goods aisle that’s going to help. Or we could use DEET.

DEET – The “D” stands for “distance” or “detach”. If there is someone in your life that is taking advantage of you, in any manner, financially, physically, emotionally, or in some other way, and the circumstances allow, create some distance, or better yet, detach from that person or that situation. If you are being taken advantage of by someone it is difficult to establish distance from, or detach from, you may have to reconsider your circumstances on a larger scale. Any time we allow someone to take advantage of us, on a routine basis, our own strength and self-esteem will suffer and we will never grow in the manner we desire, for as long as we allow it to continue.

DEET – The first “E” stands for “empower”. Another possibility is to help empower the person who uses you as a crutch, again, whether financially, physically, emotionally or in some other means. Find a way to help them help themselves. This will free you and help them establish their own independence and freedom, boosting their self-esteem, and yours.

DEET – The second “E” stands for “establish”. Establish some limits, some parameters, some boundaries with the person who takes advantage of you. Establishing limits or boundaries can be as simple as having a serious, open conversation, or may go so far as to require a restraining order. Whatever is necessary, start peacefully and progress from there in degrees, if necessary. It is up to you to decide to not be taken advantage of anymore, solely up to you. You allow it, you must end it.

DEET – The “T” stands for “talk”. This really should be the first step, and then should be part of every other step. Often, when we are being used as a crutch, or are being taken advantage of in some way, we suffer in silence. A lot of times, especially in close relationships, the situation develops without awareness on one parties part, the other, or even both, and when we finally realize we are feeling taken advantage of, we become silently resentful, further damaging the relationship, but we often won’t be open about our feelings, we just let them fester. Talking, simply talking about the situation, in close relationships, will often be all that is necessary. Only in long-term, chronic situations will we generally have to employ other measures.

The point, is, don’t allow yourself to get bitten. Don’t let anyone take advantage of you, and put to an immediate end any situations where you are currently being used as a crutch. This is important for our own peace, growth and fulfillment, and it is important for those close to us that, for whatever reason, seek to lean on us rather than find their own way. Remember, by assisting others in finding their own independence, we, too, benefit emotionally and even spiritually.

Now to go Google some holistic remedies for itchy mosquito bites!

 

Empty shelves in the mosquito repellent aisle in EVERY store in Alaska!
Empty shelves in the mosquito repellent aisle in EVERY store in Alaska!

 

Taking extreme measures
Taking extreme measures

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Just Go!

My sanity may be questionable. I got up at 4:45 AM this morning, got dressed, jumped in my car and drove 80 miles to run eight fast miles with my running club. My running club is awesome and there isn’t anything quite like it in my new locale, so I commute Saturday mornings to run. At 5:30 on a Saturday morning, in the spring, there is virtually no traffic between the north San Francisco bay area where I live and Sacramento, where I run. Wintertime is another story, with snowboarders and skiers all heading towards the Sierras, but though there are many of them, they tend to be very efficient drivers. Today? It was a breeze! A nice consistent speed between ten and fifteen miles in excess of the speed limit. My highway motto is “I just want to do 72”, sort of a variation of Sammy Hagar’s “I can’t drive 55”.

After my run, and three delicious street tacos for lunch, I headed back home. Westbound. Late morning. Things were looking really good, we were all doing about 72 miles per hour, or so. I’m just happy. Blissful, even. Full of endorphins from my run, sunroof slanted, music on and I am singing at the top of my lungs. I do love to drive when thing are going my way! Then, it happened. Brake lights. We all came to an abrupt halt, then crept along for a bit, and then we were all back up to speed. Then brake lights, an abrupt halt, creeping, then back up to speed. This cycle was repeated for most of the 80-mile drive. I was still singing at the top of my lungs, but there were explicatives being mixed in here and there. I just wanted to go! There was no good reason for the slowing, no wrecks or stalled cars, no cops, no cows on the highway, nothing that could explain the behavior of the traffic. At least the last time I made the same drive westward and we all came to a screeching halt it was for a good, well, actually, an awful reason. A truck driver choked on something he was eating, blacked out and took out a BMW, killing the occupants, and mangled a couple of other cars. All lanes of the highway, in both directions, were closed. It took me two hours to go ten miles to the detour, where we were rerouted around the charred remains of the big rig and the BMW. It was gruesome, but a really valid reason for halted traffic on an interstate. I get a little claustrophobic when stuck in lanes and lanes of traffic for hours on end. Just a little cray cray. I just want to go!

Yes, I am one of those people you see in the rear view mirror gesturing, urgently, but politely (I don’t use the one finger salute, ever, I have a story about that, for another day). I really just want to go! I like moving forward quickly and efficiently. I will gladly pull to a lane to the right to let a faster car pass, and I appreciate the same courtesy from other drivers in my way. My ideal day driving is one where I can, like a bicyclist, maintain my cadence, or speed, unimpeded. I just want to go!

My habits and preferences driving are very much indicative of my general attitude in life. I just want to go! I am a very high energy, highly motivated individual and anything that slows or impedes progress will make me a little cray cray. This applies to all things, great and small. Fixing dinner to career paths. Doing dishes to training for a marathon. If you’ve read any of my material, you already know my philosophy on wasted or squandered time; it is a crime and a sin, in my eyes.

Everything I approach in life is with a “let’s do this!” kind of attitude. As an example, when I started the job I currently have, training accountants how to use specialized software to help them organize their workpapers and financial data, I was expected to learn to teach the “core” group of classes our team teaches. Our team teaches a total of about thirty different sessions, the core consists of maybe six or eight classes. Every time an opportunity came up to learn a new session, or when a brand new session was added to our curriculum, I would request to be one of the instructors. I would tell my manager, in these exact words “bring it”. Of the thirty classes we teach, I am the only person on our team that can competently perform twenty-nine of them, and if I had to teach the thirtieth one, I could be ready to do it by the end of this week. That may explain a little bit about my nature. I just want to go!

I just started running about a year ago. At the beginning of 2012, I was contemplating the feeling of freedom. I was emerging from a time in my life where I felt imprisoned by certain circumstances and I wanted to do things that would make me feel free until I was physically able to free myself of those binding, imprisoning circumstances. I thought about being a kid, I always remember the feeling of freedom as a child, at recess, running around the playground. Remember, as a kid, you ran everywhere. Ok, I did. Truthfully, I usually galloped; I was one of those horse crazy girls. Three things came to mind that I felt represented a similar feeling of freedom, and, ironically, there were all three things I felt I really sucked at. Dancing. Singing. Running. And those became my goals for 2012.

I took some salsa, tango and merengue dance classes. I became proficient enough to really enjoy it! I couldn’t find any singing lessons that were affordable that would work well with my work travel schedule, so I bought a DVD/CD series on learning to sing and, admittedly, I still suck, but I’m still trying. Running. I joined a running club on the recommendation of a good friend. I hadn’t run since junior high, that I can remember, anyway. Parts of high school and college are a little blurry, but if I ran, I don’t think it was far, or very pretty. The first day with the running club we were asked to run a mile to see what pace group we’d fit into. I’d been doing a lot of cardio at the gym, but I decided I’d take it a little easy. I didn’t want to be placed in a pace group that would kill me mile two! I ran the mile, without walking once, and finished at just about the time I figured I would. I was placed into a pace group and the following week I ran with them. It was excruciating! We run on a very busy multi-use trail; cyclists, runners, walkers, strollers, dogs, horses. The cyclists are murderous, rogue gangs of high-speed killers when you are a person jogging along on the shoulder! Terrifying! Since there are so many folks using the trail, we run two abreast in groups numbering anywhere from eight to maybe twenty, depending on attendance. We look very much like soldiers in a running exercise, minus carrying rifles. Our pace is monitored using expensive, sophisticated GPS watches. I could’ve walked faster. We weren’t running, I would call it more of a shuffling. But we only ran a few miles and the prospect of piling more miles on intimidated me a bit, so I stuck with the group for a few more weeks. Nope. I just wanted to go! I was getting kind of cray cray shuffling along with theses folks. I promoted myself another thirty seconds. Then another. I jumped to a whole different color group and finished the training season a full minute faster per mile than I’d been placed. But we were still shuffling. I competed in my first half marathon a few months later and ran the entire 13.1 miles a full one and a half minutes faster than the pace I had been training at. This season, I’m running with that pace group and have sights on jumping another color group for next season. I just want to go! Farther, and faster! You see how I am?

So how does my need to just go apply to my evolution? Simple, I am driven in all I endeavor to do. Not by money, not for prizes, not for notoriety. Just for the sense that I am improving myself in ways I consider meaningful. My free time is scarce, so I try to take on only those endeavors I think will provide me the best avenue for growth, for learning, for development, for improvement. Evolution. I just want to go. What could this possibly have to do with you? With your evolution? How am I trying to inspire you by telling you that slow drivers and shuffling runners make me cray cray?

I guess my point here is, with time being of limited supply, and more in this world to accomplish, to try, to learn, to experience than we can even list in a lifetime, let alone do, we really need to focus on what endeavors are meaningful to us, personally, and then just go. Any time you allow to go fallow, time that is idle or wasted, squandered, is time that could be used in an effort to evolve. Any effort we make to evolve into a stronger, happier, more balanced person is worthwhile. The trick is deciding which avenue to take when there are so many. Which interstate, which pathway will open up before us and let us just go?

Think Outside the Box

I have always had a thing with boxes. I can’t explain. Bah. I lie. I can explain.

You know how kids are, they’ll play with the box, not the toy. That was me. I always loved boxes. Again, I lie. I loved the toys, too, I still do. But when I was a kid, I wanted it all, I played with the toy while sitting in the box. Now I just want the toys, preferably electronics, and I’m happy to discard the box. Once the warranty has run out.

As a young girl, by dad worked as a traveling salesman for a bicycle distributor. Later, he bought his own Schwinn bicycle shop. I always had a new, shiny bicycle. Or two. Schwinn used to make an enormous three-wheeled bicycle for adults, and it came mostly assembled, in a gigantic box that was occasionally printed on the outside to look like a log cabin! My dad would bring it home in the back of his Chevy El Camino, bring it inside, cut the windows out and cut the door so it would open and shut. It was amazing, and I remember having a couple of them during the course of my childhood, in my room. The ultimate indoor fort. One in particular, I remember, somehow, had pink shag carpet inside. Another of my earliest fond memories of the color pink. And of boxes.

I remember constructing other forts out of lesser boxes. Another glorious box fort comes to mind. I had boxes up against the wall by my desk and bed, which I had pushed away from the wall just enough that I could crawl around behind the furniture, beyond the boxes. Near the boxes, though, was a nightlight which illuminated the space. I had a red balloon in my fort, and if I had the balloon close enough to the nightlight, it created the most wonderful, pink glow. My second, very fond memory of the color pink. And of boxes.

I have moved a half dozen times in about as many years. My life is cursed with boxes and right now, having recently moved back in with my mom, I have piles of boxes in my bedroom, in my office and in the garage. If my mom would let me, I could easily arrange them into a fortress and live within the cardboard walls, defended against whatever or whoever may seek admission. There would be a password, guaranteed. I also have a ten foot by ten foot storage unit full of boxes of family heirlooms I need to contend with, you know, like Legos and Barbies and merit badges and prom gowns.

My box story isn’t pretty, but it has a happy ending. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve recently moved in with my elderly mom. I’m back in the house I grew up in. In fact, I am, at this moment, facing the corner of the room where the amazing log cabin fort bicycle box was, once upon a time. Now there is a short filing cabinet with a printer atop it. I kind of wish it was the fort. With pink shag carpet. I’d be in there, with my MacBook, typing happily away, sipping my Bitch Creek Extra Special Brown ale, listening to my most excellent music mix.

Without going into gory details, I have spent the last several years weeding through an unimaginable number of boxes, ending up with, for the most part, only what I absolutely need, love, and adore. Plus the Legos and Barbies, merit badges and prom gowns. This has been pared down from what once filled a house big enough for a family of four, a forty-acre back yard, a “shop”, almost as many square feet as the house, and another outbuilding full of nothing but saddles and related accouterments. And quite honestly, all were bursting at the seams and spilling into the forty-acre backyard. Five moves later, I have taken a pile of boxes that filled two ten by twenty foot storage units in addition to what items I appointed my living space with and pared it down to, well, what still looks like way too many boxes, because I really could build myself a fairly impressive cardboard castle.

I still have work to do, it’s kind of scary, the accumulation of a family of four over the course of time it takes children to grow to young adults. How much stuff do people really need? I’ll tell you. Not that much. My ultimate goal is for everything I own, love and desire, to fit into one small U-Haul that I can drive comfortably, all by myself. So I either need to get rid of some more stuff, or go to truck driving school.

To my credit, during this timeframe, I have also migrated from family car camping to backpacking. Ten years ago, when we went camping, it required an SUV and a utility trailer to haul all the crap we thought we needed out to the woods for a weekend. Our getaway weekends ended up being a bring-it-all with weekends. And I’ll give you one guess as to which family member packed it all, drove the damn SUV, towing the trailer, all the way out to the woods, unpacked it all, set up the house-sized tent, cooked and cleaned up all weekend, then reversed the whole process in time to get to work Monday morning. I was never so happy as when I donated all that camping crap to Goodwill! Backpacking is where it’s at, everything you need in a nice, small, confined space, with a zipper. Okay, so my first couple of treks, I might have had a forty-five pound pack, but I’m so over that!

With my busy travel season soon upon me, I am beginning to panic a bit about all these boxes. I’m afraid I may have to get a larger storage unit, move the boxes there and out of our way and deal with them like I did the last batch, one Honda Civic load at a time. This is an exhausting, but manageable method; drive the Civic to the storage unit, cram as many boxes into it as possible, drive them home, go through them, dividing everything into three piles, keep forever and ever, donate to charity, take to the dump. The three piles are assembled into boxes and distributed between the storage unit, Goodwill and the dump. This process can be repeated several times in a weekend. Last fall, I spent entire weekends doing this, for several months on end.

The somewhat frightening thing, though, is, as I sit in my mother’s house, the house I grew up in, the house she has lived in for nearly forty-six years, it occurs to me that the only reason my already pared down pile of belongings only seems overwhelming is because every closet, cupboard, drawer, cabinet and even the spaces under the beds and behind all the doors, in every room, are full of the accumulation of a family of three. There is no space for the few, select items I have chosen to keep. And, this, too, must be dealt with. Boxed. And dealt with. Probably by me.

My childhood affinity for boxes has ended up as a recurring nightmare of boxes, but, I am confident, in the end, I will be able to overcome the situation. How is this a happy ending? I find with each and every box of stuff I discard, I lighten my load, I become less encumbered, more free. It is so completely liberating, ridding oneself of the unnecessary stuff. This reached beyond boxes of belongings, I realize. I have trimmed my life of many unnecessary, hurtful, unhappy things. Clutter of life, be gone! I’ve lost weight, I’ve chosen to populate my life only with people who are positive, supportive and adoring. I realize I don’t need things to make me happy. Those things never made me happy, they were just proof that I had money with which to buy stuff. Just stuff, not happiness. Now I have genuine happiness and I only have a few more boxes of stuff to deal with. I can do it! I simply need to think outside the box.