Scarlette Letter – September 5, 2015

Students of happiness agree that certain habits foster feelings of contentment, peace, and joy. These habits include:

Gratitude: I am grateful for all the courageous and independent women in history who’ve inspired me, among them, Eleanor Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, and, now, Coco Chanel

Affirmation: I am remarkable

Attitude: Independent

Activity: Run 13.5 miles

Nurture: Meditation morphed into nap (what do you expect after a 13.5 mile run and an eighty mile drive?)

Enrichment – Listened to a chapter of Wayne Dyer’s “I Can See Clearly” on Audible during drive

Nourishment – Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia

Giving – Nothing more than kind words and good wishes for everyone’s holiday weekend

Connection – Great conversations while running with my running club this morning

Simplifying – Figured out how to use Microsoft Word and Dropbox on my iPhone so I can blog on the go more easily and don’t have to carry my iPad all the time

Journaling – A Story

My best friend, doppelganger, and soul sister, Jardin D Fleur, posted a little story yesterday about cartwheels. In summary, she’d responded to a Facebook post that asked “Would your eight year old self be proud of you right now?” True to form, Jardin’s response was both insightful and funny, she said, “I don’t think so, I can no longer do perfect cartwheels. I think I’ll go practice.”

I began to think about cartwheels.

I used to be very good at doing cartwheels, and, in fact, I don’t think a day passed between my first cartwheel at about the age of six and the age when such displays became uncool, say, cheerleading aside, in high school, that I didn’t do a cartwheel. (Continue Reading)

Independence Day

Happy fifth of July! Yesterday, we celebrated Independence Day. We drank, we ate, we wore red, white, and blue, perhaps we took in a parade, maybe we watched things explode in the sky, either in person or from the overstuffed comfort of our recliners. That’s what Independence Day is all about. Or is it? From the Facebook posts I perused, from the handful of usual and frequent posters amidst my hundreds of Facebook friends, they all seemed to echo the same exact message as Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to those who serve, past, present, and future. Very. But what, really, is Independence Day about?  
 I always thought Independence Day was a day to remember the Declaration of Independence, a document declaring our intent, as a colony, to, by whatever means necessary, secure our independence from the tyranny and taxation of England. Tyranny and taxation. Independence. Freedom from tyranny and taxation imposed on us without fair representation. Hot tub time machine Batman! Déjà vu! While a worthy topic, that isn’t what I’m discussing today. I just couldn’t resist the temptation to provoke a little thought. Let’s be more mindful of those days off from work, the no bills in the mailbox day, those days when mobile deposits don’t post to our bank account. Those days are each unique in their dedication and purpose. Oh dear, friends are going to say I rant.  Let’s talk about independence. In general. I feel, as a nation of people, we aren’t as independent as we once intended, as we once fought for. But, as a person, I feel fairly independent. Free. Sure I have responsibilities and obligations, we all do. The absence of responsibilities and obligations does not negate our freedom, our independence. In fact, the more independent we are, often, I think, the more relied upon we become by those near us who have not achieved, or who have lost, their independence.

  

 I was independent enough to choose, for the time being, to move back to my childhood home to assist my elderly, widowed mother. She is less independent than she once was. She depends on me to do certain things she isn’t able to do; drive her to out of town doctor appointments, fill her car with gas, deal with her cable television service provider every time an error message pops up, and sundry other things.

My mom always encouraged me to be independent, and I tried, and though it took a few hard life lessons to really sink in, at the tender age of (almost) fifty-two, I think I’ve almost got it. To my mom, being independent, in the vein she meant, was to, as a woman, especially, always be able to support myself with my own earnings, regardless of marital status or a spouse’s wealth or earning ability. I eventually got that. I’m an independent wage earner. And in the dissolution of my one and only marriage, ironically, the only point of contention is how much spousal support I’ll have to pay to my husband! And for what duration. I know, right?

I taught my own children to be independent, in the same respect my mom taught me. I think they got it before at a much younger age than I, their life hard lessons being entwined with mine. I also tried to instill in my children a facet of independence I hold valuable; the ability to go and do and experience, if necessary, alone. Independently.

This type of independence is something I developed a great value for by observing, among so many others, my own mother, in her lack of independence. I don’t fault her, or anyone, for this lacking, it simply saddens me. How many hundreds of times I witnessed my mom, friends, and acquaintances lament missing out on something important or exciting to them because no one would go with them. To miss out on experiences, events, adventure, pieces of life, because of a fear or trepidation of going and doing alone breaks my heart. For this reason, I tried to instill this type of independence in my children’s core values. I sent them to camp “alone”, without friends, and encouraged them to make new friends. This may seem like child abuse in today’s world, but I felt it was an important skill for them to master, and the earlier the better. Acting alone, independently, is a reality in life. We go to job interviews alone. We can’t bring a buddy along for moral support. The ability to walk singularly and confidently into a room with a stranger and come across as the best candidate is not something that comes naturally to everyone. Myself included.

I suffered from two things as a child on into my early adulthood; shyness and being an only child. I learned from both afflictions, and I overcame both. As a shy person, acting alone can be a challenge, but, as an only child, being alone is a reality. I learned, as a child, to work up the courage to call my friends on a rainy day to see if anyone could come over and play. If no one was available, I was left to play alone. From this I learned to enjoy my own company, to cherish some solitude, and to play four different players in a solo game of Monopoly. Right hand, left hand, right foot, left foot. Right hand was always banker.

  
I am an extremely active person, I like to go, I like to do. I like to experience. I don’t like to sit still long. I can’t stand the thought of life passing me by, of time slipping away, without some experience attached to it. Funny to live in the same neighborhood near some of the same folks I used to call up to come play Monopoly with me on a rainy Saturday. Now, like then, they are more often unavailable than not. Many of our interests differ, our stations in life are different, we all have many who depend on us, which means I either need to act alone or miss out. Missing out is not an option.  

I run alone, except on Saturdays, when I run with a running club. But I joined the running club alone, I didn’t require the security of a friend to join with me. I will happily go to art galleries, museums, parks, national monuments, wine tasting, parties, restaurants, outings, traveling, and to events, alone, if necessary. I hike alone as much as possible. I kayak alone, usually. I camp alone, occasionally, I have even backpacked alone. If I’d waited for someone to go with me, I’d still be waiting! And I’d have missed out on so much. What an indescribably sad thought!

  

Sometimes I wonder if I’m alone, not just running, hiking, and kayaking, but in my fierce independence. Especially for a girl. Yesterday, as I drove away from the house, kayak atop my car, still dripping from the day’s solo adventure, a neighbor from across the street, you know, the one who speaks to everyone, who lies in wait for someone to exit their house, their car, then chats for an awfully long time. I’m not proud to say I’ve mastered avoidance. Until now, with him practically stepping in front of my moving vehicle, waving at me to stop. I rolled down my window, turned down the Jeremy Loops song I had blaring and greeted him. A couple of week s ago, the UPS driver knocked on our door while I wasn’t home. Mom answered. He had a large parcel, a kayak, for the neighbor next door. Mom couldn’t accept it because she isn’t very mobile and would have a hard time a) delivering the kayak to the neighbor upon their return and b) walking next door to tell them they had a delivery awaiting their retrieval. We both assumed the kayak was for the man of the household, with whom I’ve swapped stories of hikes and backpacking treks. But, the neighbor from across the street now leaned in my window and told me the mother in law had bought a kayak and wanted to go on solo paddling excursions, but couldn’t figure out how to fix the kayak to the newly installed roof rack on her Prius. My heart warmed, a kindred spirit, older than I. I told the neighbor I’d be happy to offer my assistance, next we met out in the front yard. 

I value and cherish independence, as a nation of people, from tyranny and taxation without representation, as a wage earner, but most of all, as a student of happiness, a liver of life! My life, the way I want it, and my happiness, depend on it! Go. Do. Be. Don’t wait. Make your declaration. Make every day independence day.

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

 

 

Scarlett’s Letter July 4, 2013

Lovin’ on the Porch.

Not what you think.

We decided to spend Independence Day “celebrating” independent of the rest of America. We stayed home and worked on that list of things that needs to get done but isn’t quite urgent enough to make the priority list of things that MUST get done. Like staining the timbers on the porch. A couple of years in the Alaskan elements, unstained, and they were looking a little thirsty. So, we just got our brushes out and stained them.

Staining the timbers was such a splendid idea that we decided to stain the deck boards, too. Partly because we sort of dripped the stain from the timbers here and there. And pretty much there and here, too. So, we got the deck stain out and stained those boards, everywhere.

We picked rhubarb from the garden before it went to seed and, together, made a rhubarb crumble to enjoy after dinner tonight. We’ll take the leftovers to the neighbors to enjoy when they return from their anniversary rafting trip on the Nenana River. We’re grilling salmon and munching on greens from the greenhouse for our dinner. A perfectly independent Independence Day, food caught, food grown, food cooked and food enjoyed.

Sure, there are parties and events that could be attended, but now and then, it is nice to just not go anywhere, especially when anywhere is the better part of an hour from home. And then having to come home again afterwards. It’s not like fireworks are the best thing in summer in Alaska. After all, it is light out all night this time of year, right? While the rest of the country is watching a bazillion dollars worth of gun powder explode in the dark, we’ll be enjoying the breeze in the birch trees, dappled sunlight, a brief rain shower and rhubarb cobbler. The only “fireworks” nearby were two big bore rifle shots, spaced about five minutes apart from some neighbor down the hill, probably a bear, we haven’t been able to confirm that one way or another with any of the neighbors we’ve met on the road, but I’m sure we will.

And thus, one of the best Independence Days ever, celebrating independence independently.

 

Lovin' on the porch
Lovin’ on the porch

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.