Scarlette Letter –September 9, 2015

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

Gratitude – I’m grateful for little bits of solitude in the middle of a busy work day

Affirmation – I am productive

Attitude – Feeling sensitive

Activity – Strength training at home and ten cartwheels

Nurture – Sat on the deck at dusk, after my delicious dinner, and watched the hummingbirds and the dragonflies flying in, out, and around the oak trees

Enrichment – Quote – “Even the best writer has to erase”

Nourishment –

Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia

Giving – Gave my last two dollar bills to a panhandling woman with a small child in the Whole Foods parking lot.

Connection – I stopped in at the “Keg and Barrel” at Whole Foods and had a cold beer after chatting with the “wine guy” in the Zinfandel aisle. I used to be a regular, now I’m a “hit or miss”, this afternoon was a hit. I chatted with a young woman at the bar who is into boxing, jujitsu, and M.M.A. She was amazed I ran marathons.

Simplifying – This is getting bad. I drove right past the storage unit where those two bins are, but it was 105 degrees out and I knew it would be even hotter within. I intended to return later in the evening, when cooler, but got distracted shopping at Whole Foods. The storage place closes at 7:00. I’m not one to make excuses.

Scarlette Begonia

Journaling – I had to reread an article I wrote some time ago about the virtues of minimizing. For my benefit if for no one else.

Social – Instagram (begoniascarlett), Facebook Page (Scarlette Begonia), Twitter (@BegoniaBegoniaS)

Set Yourself Free

Downsizing and a Digital Diet

If you haven’t tried it, there is something near euphoric about purging one’s life, home, surroundings of the unnecessary, of the accumulations of time. What do those collections represent? Scraps of papers, old magazines saved in their entirety for a single article, books read and reread, books never read, clothing long out of style that no longer fits, dusty, faded knick-knacks whose origin you only vaguely remember, or that you feel obligated to keep because they were a gift, worn out, yellowed and long obsolete electronics, empty flower vases for every florist delivery ever, cheerleading outfits and prom dresses from high school. I actually found snippets of my hair and my first tooth in my baby book which my mom purged from her collection into mine. How grotesque is that? Teeth and hair. What do these things do for us? I am very doubtful that at any point in the thirty years before the collection of those artifacts and the point in time when they were gifted to me that anyone ever had the insatiable urge to view my tiny tooth and locket of hair. Are they reminders of our past? Anchoring us to a time now gone, a time that, though remembered, and from which lessons still live within us, a time that does not serve us. Remember, the only time in which we can act, live, do, is the present. So, perhaps, in keeping tidbits of the past we are clinging to that past, fearful of letting go. Clinging to the past inhibits us, certainly, in our ability to move forward with ease, with efficiency, with grace, and with confidence.

An Effort to Evolve

I’ve embraced the idea of minimalism, for several reasons. The first being necessity. I’ve moved five times in five years. Second, storage is expensive. Third, I find clutter maddening and suffocating. Fourth, I hate dusting. I will happily swipe a dust rag over a barren surface once a week or so, but when faced with moving and dusting objects to reveal the underlying surface so it can be made dust free, I quit. Fifth, I read a good book, which, yes, I am keeping and rereading. In Kindle form. Sixth, I just really want to lighten my load, for my own sanity, but also, living more minimally is more affordable, more enlightening, more inspiring, more efficient, more liberating, and better for the planet (I read that in the book).

I do still have bits of memorabilia here and there, and, likely some I can easily part with; the Eiffel Tower statue my parents brought me from their brief and singular trip to Paris thirty-five years ago, the boxes and boxes of grade school play programs and birthday party favors I haven’t looked at once since, and my kids are in college, marathon completion medals hanging awkwardly from my bulletin board, the beloved and beyond worn out, frayed, smelly, faded, torn tennies from Urban Outfitters, the hand held Sirius radio sitting on the floor of my office, nestled between the couch and a bookcase, made obsolete with Pandora and Spotify. The bookcase full of books on training horses and becoming a better rider. I no longer have horses, why do I have this library of books? Or the saddles in storage?

Other useless, and even detrimental, things we cling to; bad feelings from former relationships, guilt over actions or inactions from long, long ago, remorse for underachieving in youth, embarrassment for irresponsible behavior in the past. Spending too much money, not volunteering enough, neglecting healthy habits. How does clinging to any of this help us now? In the future? These feelings and behaviors were bad for us in the past, well, they’re worse for us now. Let’s forgive ourselves and others, the lessons have been learned. Move on, uncluttered and liberated. Don’t let the past poison the present. Don’t let the past foul up the future.

My particular clutter problem of late? Downsizing digitally. I fully embraced going digital; books, music, movies, photos. The result? Clogged computers and an array of external storage devices I never fully trust and that, well, require space, storage, and occasional dusting. I need my 40,000 songs on iTunes and my 40,000 digitized/digital photos. Or do I? Why do I need all those songs, stored, digitally, with Pandora, Spotify, or even the ability to store 25,000 of my songs in the iTunes cloud? Well, to update my iPod Classic 120 GB, of course, it isn’t wireless. But, wait some more? Why do I need the iPod Classic 120 GB iPod when my iPhone can store and play music and is connected to the cloud? Why are we so resistant to letting go of stuff?

Movies; once upon a time, we could not enter Target, or even the grocery store, without exiting a couple of DVDs richer. The result, a six foot tall armoire full of movies, and numerous, precariously stacked, auxiliary piles of movies on either side of it. In my various moves, I purged myself of all of the DVDs I didn’t absolutely love and that I had little or no desire to see again. I am left with, still, quite a number of DVDs and have, admittedly, even added a couple to the pile, just to round out my holdings, for example, the Nora Ephron collection, the Jane Austen collection. But, why? Why do I have a DVD of “Thirteen Going on Thirty?” I love the movie, it is therapy for me when I am feeling a little low, sort of like “Legally Blonde”, for whatever, tawdry reason, those movies just lift my spirits. And, they are available to stream from Netflix or iTunes, so why do I have them crammed in a drawer with dozens and dozens of other flicks that are surely available over the internet? Let’s take it a bit further, shall we? When was the last time I actually turned my television on and watched a movie? I am certain I have dusted my television three times since I last turned it on. I dust quarterly. And that’s an optimistic estimate. The question then arises; do I need those DVDs, do I need that television, do I need the large black coffee table with drawers on which the television rests? Probably no, no, and no. Yet, I cling to them. I have moved them several times and may move them again, unless I let go of the clutter and liberate myself.

An Effort to Evolve

Books, books, books. I am a voracious reader, often reading six or seven volumes simultaneously. There is much to know, much to learn, and much of it can be found in the thoughts gifted authors have taken the time and care to record, pen to page, so to speak, for the benefit of humanity. The knowledge of all time, recorded for us to read, absorb and apply. Once, my home was full of print and binding books. We’d build floor to ceiling shelves in every room to accommodate our vast collection. Those days are gone. I have three bookcases in my office, two with books, the third with journals, supplies and my teaching materials. The journals and teaching materials I am transitioning to digital format, I have been busy trying out different options; software and mobile apps, to replace binders and journals with pages of paper. The two bookcases of books, one of horse books, the other of reference books for hiking, camping and kayaking, business books, and what I call “coffee table books”, large, pretty books you think guests might enjoying thumbing through while you uncork and pour the wine. It’s kind of a silly notion, I guess, especially in my home, as I’ve always been a “kitchen” person; I entertain in my kitchen, guests visit with me there while I uncork and pour the wine, serve the cheese and fruit. The kitchen has always been the center of my home. Of course, I grew up in a house with a “formal living room”, which is only entered when guests arrive, but only after the wine and cheese and fruit is served and enjoyed in the kitchen, lest we spill or make crumbs in the large, sterile and unfriendly territory known as “the living room”. And of cooking; a secret obsession of mine is cookbooks. Here, though, I have purged and now have only the best of the best, the most legendary cooks, the most beautiful volumes, the classics of cookbooks, in one small bookcase in my bedroom. I read them for entertainment, and rarely for recipes. I shoot from the hip when I cook, though influences, I’m certain, are drawn from my many and frequent visits between the covers of those cookbooks I chose to keep.

An Effort to Evolve An Effort to Evolve An Effort to Evolve

I have gone digital with books, and often ponder what my collection of Kindle books would look like if they were made tangible and piled up on the floor, along a wall. I’d likely have to line the walls of most of the rooms of my house with shelves, again, to hold them and organize them and make them accessible. Ah, yes, I love my Kindle, and entire library that fits in my purse and can even be accessed, now, during take off and landing in flight. Gone are the days of the smug looking traveler with their print and binding book as the flight attendant reminds me to shut off my “e-reader”. Take that! Now I only need be in “airplane mode”, which, means, simply, I can’t buy a book during take off or landing, but as soon as we reach 10,000 feet, I can buy another book. Smug tangible book toting person, you have to wait until you get to a bookstore!

Photos, good lord, photos. I take so many pictures, for so many reasons; for aesthetic viewing pleasure, to record events, to communicate, for reference, to express myself on social media, for material for articles and videos. I just, finally, successfully, uploaded 48,000 photos to “Shoebox”, the new cloud photo app, and the only one that I’ve found that really, really, works! I have struggled with ALL of the others and have even resorted to buying my own cloud, and in every instance, my own cloud included, it has been a interminable and woefully unsuccessful chore to upload my entire and ever growing library of photos. I have a large external drive with a “manual” backup of my photo (and music) library, too. Just in case. And I’d still like to find a way to swiftly and painlessly back them all up to my personal cloud, too. But, for now, I am happy. The result of finally getting my entire photo library in the cloud? I was able to purge the photos from my MacBook, which, as evidenced by this writing, has freed up enough space and memory to perform tasks. MacBook had been rendered completely unusable by the burgeoning amounts of data crammed onto its hard drive. My MacBook, my PC, after their digital cleanse, are lean and mean, powerful and fast. Both were so clogged, programs struggled to open, the cooling fans whirred nonstop, even before I tapped a key, touched the touchpad or moved a mouse. It was like a logjam of data, blocking the flow of data and preventing me from putting my thoughts and ideas into expressions and words. My MacBook is a device on which I can, again, think, create, collaborate, and not just a sleek, $1,500 external hard drive. Now, it has been liberated, and, so, too, have I!

So am I really purging if I am just sending stuff off to the cloud? Burdening some remote storage unit in the sky with my digital excess? Perhaps not. There are, I’m sure, many songs, books, and photos that are repetitious, duplicated, or, more likely, will never be accessed again, like a locket of hair and a baby tooth. But, for now, they are out of my immediate space, allowing me to organize what’s left, liberating my thoughts and ideas, creating flow. There will, no doubt, come a time when I endeavor to purge some of my cloud data, too, because there are costs, already. Accessing large amounts of data, no matter where it is stored, is time consuming and cumbersome. Refining the collections will increase the efficiency of organizing and accessing it all. There are monetary costs of storing stuff in the cloud, too, of course, not too unlike the monthly fee the storage facility charges me to store those saddles and snowboards, bicycles and backpacking gear, though, so far, far less.

An Effort to Evolve

We must each contemplate the economics individually. While some folks close to me grapple with my “need” for all those photos, books, movies and songs, I don’t understand why they keep tools, nails, fittings, fasteners and screws by the thousands. We each assign value to what we feel we need and incur the cost of keeping it. I suppose the effort I’m trying to encourage, the evolution I’m trying to foster, is to take a step back and look at the clutter, both within and about. Let go of all that is truly unnecessary, liberate yourself from the burden, lighten your load and let the carefree feeling of lightness, of agility, of freedom inspire you in ways you may have never imagined! Whether limiting thoughts, guilt or regret, whether piles of unread magazines, obligatory trinkets, tattered remnants of paper kept in hopes of clinging to precious, past moments; let them go, free them, send them away, banish them from your environment, set yourself free!

 

My favorite resources for a less cluttered life:

 

Evernote

Shoebox

The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life

Penultimate

Office 365

Adobe Creative Cloud

 

 

 

Eat That Frog. Just Do It.

I’ve been putting off writing this, or any article, all week. My creativity has been focused on other things and I just really haven’t felt the urge to write. Sue me. No, don’t. It’s not that I have nothing to say, I just haven’t felt like sitting down and putting it all into words. I decided I just had to “eat that frog”.  That’s right, eating the frog. The frog is the thing you don’t really want to do, but you should, or must, or ought to, or you really, really, deep down inside want to, you just haven’t focused any intent or energy to it, whatever “it” is. For me, this week, this article.

The concept of “eating the frog”; it’s horrible and slimy and gross, but if you just eat it first thing, it’s over with and the rest of the day is like cake! It becomes a mindset, a lifestyle, even.

Eating the frog is a lot like I eat my meals; I eat what I know is healthiest, and usually least tastiest thing on my plate first, like kale, then move to the next healthiest, like zucchini, and leave the least healthiest for last, like the meat, or the pasta, hoping I might be too full to eat it all. Hardly ever the case. I have the appetite of an elephant, I don’t know the meaning of the word “full”. In several respects; my calendar, my closet, my plate, my glass, my suitcase, my iPhone, my hard drive. I could go on. I shan’t.

I attend a local MeetUp group, WINN, Women in Napa Networking. We are “WINNers”. We have a monthly “Eat That Frog” gathering, at a local coffee shop and we talk about our “frogs”, our obstacles, our hold ups, and we share ideas for resolving our little issues. The next month, we report back on our progress. There’s some accountability, which helps, sort of like having your junior high peers jeering you into eating a frog!

Remember the Nike ad campaign “Just Do It”. Did you? Do you? So simple, how can you not just do it? Whatever it is. Doing it should never be that difficult. The key may be in breaking it down into manageable pieces and prioritizing them, perhaps the awfulest, the frogiest, first. Unless it were a really puny frog, it’d probably take more than one bite to eat it, right? Well, there you go! Take those insurmountable tasks or goals, and break them down into manageable pieces, bite by bite, the frog will be easier to eat.

How much do you enjoy the thing you really want to do when you know you have to follow up with all those things you really don’t want to do? Doesn’t it steal some of the joy? It does, and you know it. How many times have you put something off until it could be put off no more and you missed doing something amazing because you were stuck doing that dreaded thing? The dreaded thing that you should’ve done last night, last week, or last month, or last year.

I’ve been eating frogs for a while, now, and think I’ve got it down to an art form. Mostly. I usually have a frog or two on my plate, but I used to be knee deep in frogs.

What are your frogs? Mine? Usually returning the phone call I don’t have an answer for, the desired answer, or that I know is going to take three hours to conclude. Likewise with emails, returning emails without being able to totally thrill, excite and satisfy the recipient’s request, need, or desire. Another frog, rescheduling appointments! I don’t know why it’s a frog, but it is. Vacuuming is a frog, but dusting is the biggest, ugliest, wartiest frog ever. I’ll do dishes, wipe down the stovetop and scrub the sink after every meal. I’ll clean the shower after every use and keep my stuff organized and in its place. But dust? I’ve given up brick-a-brack and knick-knacks for the sheer joy of never having to move anything to dust. Dusting, for me, is best accomplished if I can sit my butt down on the dusty surface and kind of slide across from one end to the other. Then I just toss my jeans in the wash! Vacuuming? If I had my way, I’d have no carpet and just wear socks with a little lemon oil spritzed on, and dance, all over the house. Then, of course, I’d toss my socks in the wash. I rather like doing laundry. I even like to fold, hand and put laundry away. No frogs there! Mailing birthday cards, another frog. I love to buy cards, but I wait until the very last moment to write the sentiment inside. I have no problem addressing them, and even plastering a stamp on the envelope. It’s the act of mailing the card that presents a problem. I just buy a stack of funny cards, sign them all at once, seal them up and at a family or friend get together, everyone gets their card for the year. All at the same time. I bring extras, even, in case there are unexpected guests!

Eating frogs. An analogy. How about this? Would you rather brush your teeth for two full minutes, at least twice a day, floss every tooth once a day, and go to the dentist for a quick, painless cleaning twice a year, or spend many torturous hours over several days, weeks, months, even, and possibly thousands and thousands of dollars because you just couldn’t make yourself do the easy, little things? Tender little tree frogs or a big, bastard of a hairy toad? The choice is yours, my friend.

On a larger scale; what stands between you and, well, you? Are you all that? Are you really the total picture of who you thought you’d be? Or do you have a list? A bucket list? A to do list? Are these lists, in life, getting any shorter, is anything ever getting crossed off? Why not? Is there a frog, or perhaps a whole pond full of frogs, that need to be devoured?

No one is faultless here, I’ve my own list. Believe me, there are some pretty old, big, scary frogs in my pond. But every day, I at least poke at them a little. I’ve got my frog-gigging fork out and I’m taking aim, each and every day. Every now and then, I gig a frog, gulp it down and I start jabbing at the next one. I am sometimes chided for being a compulsive goal setter, for always trying to make progress, for never sitting still, for never just letting go. And to those who notice, I say “thank you, that’s the way I want it, now put the toaster away, we won’t need it again today and I don’t want to have to dust it next month.”

I think a lot of our frogs result from living “beyond our means”. I don’t mean that strictly monetarily, either. Time is money, money is time. I lie. Truthfully, I believe time is more valuable, more precious, than money, in the grand scheme of things. If we live in a home that’s larger than we need, and have more stuff than we require, and commit to more obligations than we can manage, and keep all the catalogs the postman delivers in case we might want to order more stuff we don’t require, pretty soon, we’re buried. In more ways than one. We don’t have the time to catch the frogs we need to eat because we’re over-committed and over-burdened. And the frogs can hide in all that stuff we don’t require! This, in my experience, closely resembles the contemporary, American, family life. I’ve been there. And everyone suffers as a result, whoever is involved; kids, husband, wife, the couple as a couple, the family as a family, friendships, extended family. Cut back, cut out, eat frogs and prosper.

If I had to recommend some resources here, and I’ll keep the list short and manageable, because I know you’ve got other frogs to eat, I’d have to say the three most valuable resources I’ve run across, thus far, would be:

  1. “Eat That Frog” by Brian Tracy
  2. “The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize and Simplify Your Life” by Francine Jay
  3. “The ONE Thing” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

Well, it’s 10:36 PM and I really, really want to go to bed. My face is washed, moisturizer applied, teeth brushed, really, really, well, flossed, and my breath is all minty from mouthwash. Oh, but I have a load of wash that just finished up sitting like a big, soggy frog in the washing machine. I washed my favorite jeans, which I’d like to wear tomorrow. Unless I hang them up to dry tonight, they’ll still be wet in the morning and I won’t be able to wear them. There’s my frog. So, nom, nom, nom. Done. And good night.

See, laundry all hung up. Tonight's frog.
Article done AND laundry hung. Tonight’s frog.

Ribbit. Now go eat those frogs.

For the insanely curious, I actually found recipes for frogs, not that this is what this article is really about. I just HAD to know, and now, so do you!

Happily Ever After

Moore's Landing - Public Fishing Pier - Cutting's Wharf
Moore’s Landing – Public Fishing Pier – Cutting’s Wharf

Isn’t that what we all want? Our “happily ever after”?

I had a wonderful, fun, over-indulgent, sunshiny, friend-filled, food and wine overdose week this past week while my Sweetie visited from far, far away. His plane just landed back home, seconds ago, three thousand miles away. As I lay in my lonely little bed earlier this morning, a little thought crept into my mind as I tried to meditate, it proclaimed, “all I want is my happily ever after.” Then, for emphasis, the pathetic little voice added, “now.”

Like all little thoughts that creep into my mind while I’m attempting to meditate, I dismissed it, but not without acknowledging it, so I could address it later. I am here to address that stray little thought. Now.

Just the other night at dinner with my friends and my Sweetie, we reminisced about afternoon syndicated television shows we all adored during our childhood. We all talked about TV after school, with Gilligan’s Island, Lost in Space, I Dream of Jeannie, I Love Lucy, and Bewitched. The Friday night line up, of course, Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family, and, then, Sunday, having to endure Lawrence Welk with the older family members in order to enjoy Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and, finally, the Disney movie. The Disney movie was like the whipped cream and chocolate sauce on top of the ice cream sundae, making ordinary vanilla ice cream that “once a week” treat.

My kids were “raised on Disney”, too. We had a pile a mile high of all the Disney classics, and added to the pile every time the newest movie came to video. We watched them all, over and over and over and over again. What is it with Disney movies? Simple, it’s the “happily ever after.”

Moore's Landing - Public Fishing Pier - Cutting's Wharf
Moore’s Landing – Public Fishing Pier – Cutting’s Wharf

In every story, there is some sort of sadness or strife or discord and then, there is the “happily ever after” and the credits roll. Most of these stories are based on tales of yore, books and stories generations, if not centuries old, though the newer ones follow the same pattern, promising them success in the box office with the kids, and the adults, alike. We want to see that “happily ever after”, ever after. And even in our favorite childhood TV shows, the usually happy characters had some sort of chaos that made us laugh, and in the last moments of the episode, order was restored and things were just the way they were supposed to be, “happily ever after.”

“The happily ever after” is usually a kiss from a prince, a castle, a sunset in the Disney version. In our favorite weekly series, the characters were all together, right where they belonged, with a laugh, smiles, and hugs. The sadness and strife ended and there was bliss, the “happily ever after,” we all assume, begins. And that’s what we all want. And that’s what we all chase. And we are all missing the point.

There are no guarantees in life, except one; no one and no thing can ever bring you your “happily ever after.”

From the lighthouse - Point Reyes National Seashore
From the lighthouse – Point Reyes National Seashore

The real sadness and strife in life is that so many of us spend so much thought, time and energy trying to produce this “happily ever after”, others of us just sit and wait for it to arrive at the doorstep without putting any effort into it. We treat “happily ever after” like it’s going to be some cataclysmic event, like rounding a corner or clicking on a light switch, and BAM! From that point on, happy, ever after. We are under the sad impression that “happily ever after” happens to us and is external; a person, a thing, and worse, we think that person or thing will make us happy, ever after.

I have to think of my hero, here; Gilligan. In all those years, Gilligan and his pals never actually got their problem solved, their “strife and sadness” being the fact that they were stranded on some uncharted island in the middle of the ocean. The television show only existed as long as their “strife and sadness” continued. Their rescue, their “happily ever after”, would mean the series would end and the kids of the seventies would have to watch something else after school. Or invent video games to fill that time instead.

In spite of the fact that Gilligan and Skipper, the Howells, Ginger, the Professor, may he rest in peace, and Mary Ann, didn’t find their “happily ever after” at the end of each episode was okay. They were happy. They were happy for what they had, they were grateful. They used the resources they had and made a pretty sweet looking existence. I wanted to live in a grass hut, sleep in a hammock, cook over a fire, have daily adventures, go to the beach, fish and always have my friends around. That looked frickin’ awesome to me, on the other side of the TV screen. And just like Gilligan, our “happily ever after” is right where we are. We need only look around and be grateful for what we have.

Our “happily ever after” will never come as a result of meeting a terrific person, falling in love, getting the job, gaining career success, making millions of dollars, traveling around the world, driving a sports car, or buying the big house, it isn’t a pill the doctor prescribes or an intoxicating beverage from a bottle. Our “happily ever after” isn’t as a result of a thing, or a person. It can’t be bought or visited, it isn’t even tangible. Our “happily ever after” is something we are in possession of and is something we have power over. It is in our midst and in our grasp at all times, immediately and forever.

Our “happily ever after” comes from within, and, only we can make it happen. Disney movies follow the same storyline movie after movie, show after show, there are certain components and factors that make their success measurable at the box office and those same components and factors are applied to each story to thrill the audiences and give them a glimpse at a “happily ever after”. Our own, personal, real life, living color “happily ever after” also follows a familiar storyline and has consistent components and factors. And, just as with a full-featured, animated blockbuster success, producing our own, personal, “happily ever after” isn’t quite as easy as rounding a corner or flicking on a light switch. There’s a reason why Disney is more successful with their productions than others, they know the formula and the repeat it consistently.

So, what’s the formula? What’s the prescription for our own, personal, “happily ever after”?

  • Gratitude. Take time every day to remind yourself, in some way, of all you have and of what you are grateful for.
  • Now. Live in the present. The past and the future steal the only thing we really have in life, the present moment.
  • Self-esteem. Like yourself. You have to like yourself enough to make positive changes. You have to truly believe you deserve better before anything positive from within can happen.
  • Meditation. Quiet that noisy, whiny, needful voice in your head, separate yourself from it, and, in the process, discover your true self inside.
  • Cleansing. Get rid of all the clutter, the things that hold you back, drag you down and imprison you.  Too many possessions, too many commitments and too many toxic people. Clean house.
  • Purpose. Do something meaningful, every day. We have to have a reason to arise in the morning and something to feel satisfied about as we slip into sleep.
  • Passion. Do only what you love, for work and for play. There simply isn’t enough time for all the rest.

No, “happily ever after” isn’t easy, I never said it was, that’s why we all look to something external like the prince on the majestic steed to just whisk us away. Our “happily ever after” is more subtle, a little elusive and it takes practice, a lifetime of practice, in fact, we must practice forever after. But, every moment can be happier than the last with effort and practice, diligence and discernment.

And we can begin immediately. We don’t have to wait until the prince on the horse gallops up, we don’t have to wait until we find our way back to Earth again, we don’t have to wait until we figure out how to get rescued from the uncharted island. Like Gilligan, our daily happiness is all around us, we just need to identify the resources, like building a hut from grass and a hammock from old fishing nets and making cups from coconut halves. We have what it takes.

So, though I’m sad that Gilligan’s Island isn’t still on TV, I’m okay, I have the series on DVD. And, though my Sweetie isn’t here, now, I’m okay, because while I’m happy and oh, so grateful that he is part of my life, he isn’t what creates my “happily ever after”. I do.

An Effort to Evolve

A few resources for finding your “Happily Ever After”

http://vimeo.com/22100389

http://www.eckharttolle.com/

http://www.missminimalist.com/

Francine Jay, “The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize and Simplify Your Life”

Eckhart Tolle, “The Power of Now”

Jillian Michaels, “Unlimited, How to Live an Exceptional Life”

Scarlett’s Letter November 29, 2013

Remember that list from a couple of weeks ago? The one I didn’t finish and would have to tackle when I returned from New York and San Francisco? I made a dent, today, I made a small dent in the list.

And, no, I still haven’t gone to storage to get the damned coffee grinder. I still have an unopened pound of Peet’s whole bean coffee in my cupboard in the garage and I am still frequenting the coffee shop a mile from the house. In fact, I am even “the mayor” of the Browns Valley Yogurt and Coffee Shop on Foursquare. True, I may be one of twelve people in Napa that uses Foursquare, I am likely the only Browns Valley Yogurt and Coffee Shop customer that does. I win. I rule.

The dent I made today, no, not my five expense reports, and I am beginning to stress a little about those. I really need to get them done. Oh, how I loathe doing expense reports, especially really big scary ones, like New York. Especially when the really big scary New York one contains a great deal of personal expense that has to be a) acknowledged and b) separated out from reimbursable expenses and c) paid for by me. The dent I made today was my room.

I moved “home” in February, it is November, and until late this afternoon, there have been boxes I have been shuffling about, opening, rummaging through, shuffling, and restacking, multiple times a day for things like underwear, socks, purses and shoes. The closet, as in only one, which, by the way, is way smaller than any closets, as in at least two, I’ve had in the past several years, has had several boxes of “things” that were Mom’s that she said were mine, or were, at least, mine to deal with. The dresser and dressing table drawers were all full of matter of questionable worth; old magazine articles, outdated maps and trinkets gifted over the years and kept out of duty rather than affection. On one of my trips, I made certain that no boxes blocked access to the drawers and Mom finally undertook the task of the dressing table first. Partially. Five of seven drawers are empty. And I am so hoping she doesn’t get her “sewing” drawer mixed up with my “toy” drawer, they are dangerously close to one another. But, girls, the toy drawer, like real estate, is all about location, location, location. Proximity matters. Mom doesn’t sew so much anymore anyway. Let’s hope.

The dresser was, at last, emptied, completely. The closet, again, was mine to deal with.

So, after a fast four-mile run to declutter my head, I spent a few hours decluttering my room. It was amazing. I liberated my purses and shoes, my underwear and lingerie and organized everything in a manner, though not perfect, a manner I am fairly certain I can tolerate for a bit. Two of the boxes in the closet I had to deal with contained framed pictures of my kids for all of time. I will never own a home large enough to display them all, so I think I’ll unframe them all, scan them, store them in an album and donate the frames. No dusting that way, either. You know I hate dusting.

The third box, a Rubbermaid tote, actually, a large Rubbermaid tote, I’ll add, was full of, and I kid not, old Martha Stewart Living magazines, Reader’s Digests and newspaper clippings. The minimalist within was apoplectic. I have been coexisting in a house where I know much of this matter resides. On one edge of the kitchen table, there is the one pile of mail and reminder notes written on tablets made from years and years of printed out Facebook pages. My dad would print out my Facebook wall for Mom to read, which I find painful to admit, and, yes, she still has them all, but has now cut them in half, put them in stacks and stapled them into “notepads”, which I find even more painful to admit. There are piles of newspapers and clipped out jumble puzzles on two of the four kitchen chairs. And, there is a pile or two of similar stuff, mostly mail, I think, downstairs in the family room. I don’t spend much time down there because the television is almost always on, usually on the news, and really, really loud, three things I am very sensitive to, so those stacks are out of sight and out of mind. The rest of the matter resides in drawers, closets, cupboards and boxes in the garage. I’m sure there are mountains of such matter and I know some day it will haunt me. But, there is no more such matter in my room. My room is matterless.

Oh, then there was the Fisher Price Family Farm, barn, silo and all the little animals. And the tractor with the cart. I played with it for a while, then placed it in the pile to go to storage. You do know it makes a mooing noise when you open and close the barn door, even still, after all these years in the back of the closet.

I have two boxes ready to go to charity, two marked “bathroom” left to unpack, but, no drawers in the bathroom have been afforded to me to unpack into, yet, and two boxes to go to storage. But, for all I did manage to unpack and the organization that took place is huge in enhancing my level of contentment at home, in my room. It is good.

And the day got even better!

This evening I met with my besties from all of time, Janelle, Janette, Eden and Gloria, for a multi-faceted celebration. We’ve all turned fifty now, as of Thanksgiving Day, with Janelle’s birthday, we are all now a half century old. The other celebration, Gloria’s victory over cancer.

A couple of Janelle’s friends joined us for the festivities, and every time the doorbell rang, more wine was produced. Janelle is a fabulous cook, her passion and her trade, and made us a fantastic Asian noodle salad. I asked if I could bring something and the option was left open, without a helpful suggestion, I could bring whatever, if I could think of something to go with Asian noodle salad, or nothing at all. I’m always a bit self-conscious about my prowess in the kitchen in Janelle’s company, so, I made the one thing I am really good at; a beer run. I brought a cold, mixed six-pack of premium porters, lagers and brown ales.

I started with an IPA, then the sparkling wine arrived, so I had some of that, too, simultaneously. Then the chilled Jessup Cellars white was opened, so I had some of that. With dinner, a Terra D’Oro red was uncorked, so, yah, I had some of that, as well. For the record, I did not have any of the blush sparkling wine, though I don’t know why.

After dinner, with Janette as our designated driver, we all piled into the largest vehicle in the driveway and made our way to Silo’s in downtown Napa for a night of Motown music, dancing, and, yes, more wine. We ended up at Empire, at the “west end” and somehow I found myself drinking a lemon drop, poured from a pitcher of the stuff on our table. Things were a bit fuzzy by this point in time, and the last thing I remember with real clarity was really not wanting to drink the lemon drop. I nursed it for a while and texted a bit with my Sweetie, just home from another trip to Coldfoot. I remember overusing emoticons and being grateful, for once, for autocorrect. We always punctuate our texts with emoticons, but I’m pretty sure there were three full rows of emoticons in one text I sent. I consider it poor form to reuse the same emoticon in the same text, with the exception of the red heart and the kissy lips, those two can be used to fill the last row at the end, for emphasis, and to make the message symmetrical in appearance. For the record, there are not enough heart shapes in my emoticon library to fill three full rows of text, I definitely overused certain items. Shame. And, as for autocorrect, I usually do battle with autocorrect, I use big words that the engineers at Apple don’t use, I guess, and I make up my own words, like “matterless” and “declutter”. But, when drunk texting, I am a very poor typist but a much more diligent proofreader, and, so, appreciate autocorrect more than usual, at least as long as I am able to still form intelligible phrases.

And that was about it. I remember that each time Eden and I had to climb into the back back seat of the car, because we were “the bendy people”, it became progressively more difficult. I think I had become, perhaps, too bendy, during the course of the evening. Extracting myself from the depths of the back back seat that last time I do vividly remember and there will be a bruise. Maybe more than one.

I did manage to get home in one piece, only having to navigate myself about two blocks and into the driveway. This task I have practiced for many, many years long before I was of legal drinking age. And, once upstairs, just like old times, tiptoeing, even in my Guess boots, across the squeaky, hardwood floor of my room, careful not to wake the ‘rents, I peeked out my window, down onto my car in the driveway, just to make sure it was a) actually there, b) parked straight c) parked in the middle of my half of the driveway, and d) not halfway into the (closed) garage. Aces.

Scarlett’s Letter November 19, 2019

To-do-to-day-to-be-continued:

I made considerable progress on yesterdays to do list, but, as expected, several items will simply have to wait until Thanksgiving weekend when I next return home. The only thing I neglected to do this morning was eat breakfast, and breakfast is ALWAYS on my list. I’ll have an early lunch, and two dinners, one at the airport, dim sum, for sure, and another, likely, on the long flight from LAX to JFK, to absorb the copious amounts of usually dreadful, airline wine likely to be involved in a red eye flight to NYC. How else does one obtain the red eyes referred to?

I grew up a latchkey kid, my dad owned an old, fashioned Schwinn Bicycle shop in Marin County for most of my childhood, and was a travelling salesman for various bicycle distributors, including Schwinn, before that. My mom was a registered nurse, she worked in local convalescent hospitals and, often, in the bike shop, when needed. For much of my childhood, I came home from school to an empty house. Mom, while nursing, usually made it home about an hour later than me, so I didn’t have time to do too much harm. Weekends, however, were another story. I was often left alone all day Saturday. Mom, concerned that I may have ample time with which to destroy our home, would seek to occupy every last minute with chores, chores she found challenging to keep up on while working, chores I was, at least in appearance, eager to do in exchange for the monthly board for my horse. When I awoke each and every Saturday morning, on the edge of the Formica counter in the kitchen, impossible to overlook, was a list of chores, always written on a Schwinn tablet in her familiar cursive handwriting. I cleaned bathrooms, I vacuumed, I dusted, I mopped, I ironed. Of course, I found ways to cheat, and I was a master at procrastination. I’d spend the morning playing or watching cartoons, the good old ones, then an hour before Mom was due home, I’d go on a mission to make it look like I’d done all my chores. To this day, she has never suggested I shortchanged her in any way. She’d come home and find the house a) standing b) quiet c) clean. She’d also find her list, exactly where she left it, on the edge of the Formica counter, in the kitchen, with each requested chore neatly crossed off. This, my introduction to to-do lists and the satisfaction in crossing complete items through with a bold, defiant line.

Mom has always been one to, I don’t want to say nag, but the term does come to mind, let’s say, remind, me of things that need to be addressed, sometimes warranted, but, usually, needlessly. While this may have been more necessary when I was twelve years old, now, at age fifty, having been in command of my own life and having left many to-do lists myself, and done a fair share of nagging of my own family, I feel I am quite responsible, self-directed and, frankly, able to manage the day-to-day components of my life. If there is one thing I have a hard time with, it’s micro-management, no matter who is dishing it out. No matter how much I love them. I abhor and resent and resist, micro-management, with every tiny cell I am made up of. Unnecessary reminders fall dangerously close to micro-management in my book.

As I write, there is a rap, rap rap upon my bedroom door. It is 7:30 AM and I have not ventured, yet, out of “my room”. Mom, with mild panic in her voice, “don’t you have an appointment this morning? I was panic-stricken, I thought you’d be leaving by now.” Panic-stricken? Really? That I’d miss my bikini wax at 8:30? Does she even know what a bikini wax is? I reply. She doesn’t hear me. Bless her heart, to worry over every detail of my life, when, really, a bikini wax is the least of our concerns. We have topics much more important looming ahead.

I’ve raised my own children. Two of them. Mom only raised one, me. True, I may have amounted to the same trouble as two, I don’t know. My kids were pretty good, but I was a different kind of mom, not to dis my mom’s parenting style. We’re just very different. I like to think I was more “consultative”, for lack of a better term. We had adult conversations, my kids and me, from the time they could speak until, well, about five minutes ago. And, if there is one thing I’ve learned from growing up and from motherhood, it’s that kids, and to define that term, your children, no matter their age, are going to struggle and make mistakes. As are we. As parents, sometimes, we just have to let those mistakes unfold, to proffer advice, to suggest alternatives, and to let them run to the end of the leash.  My kids have wrecked cars and suffered broken hearts, my kids have broken hearts and lived beyond their means. I have stumbled upon incriminating photos of one child of mine on Facebook and sent him, I’m sure, the most terrifying text message he ever received, “I certainly hope you aren’t behaving tonight as you did last night per the photo of you I just saw on so-and-so’s wall.” They have violated curfew to the point where we had to renegotiate the whole thing and ended up, actually, abolishing it altogether, because it worked out better for our family. Basically, it came down to this; “if you need to stay out beyond (insert reasonable curfew time here), just call and tell me where you’ll be staying the night, and don’t come home”. This after one child, having been locked out of the house and not carrying a house key, climbed up the onto the porch roof, and, finding his bedroom window also locked, climbed over onto my bedroom balcony, from the roof, and, basically, broke into my room while I (didn’t) sleep at 3:00 AM, three hours after curfew and an hour before I had to get up for work. Like I wouldn’t notice. Like I said, abolishing curfew is probably not the usual approach, but one that worked for us. But, through it all, with love, support, good communication and a close bond that many shared experiences fosters, they have both become incredibly strong, successful, independent, individuals. I could not be prouder. They are both, by far, more mature and well grounded than I was even a decade older than they are. We are never prepared, formally, in any way, to raise children to adulthood. We all muddle our way through, based on our own experiences, often applying methods different than our own parents, in hopes of a different result, knowing ourselves, only, our youthful deviations.

I make it to my bikini wax appointment, by the way, three minutes early.

Back at home, though, a new to-do list is emerging, and a new list of reminders, and, no, it isn’t on the corner of the same Formica counter that still glistens from all those years I waxed it, weekly, in the same old kitchen. So far, these reminders and the new to-do list items have all been verbal directives. “If you don’t want the oak library table and Grandpa’s oak rocking chair, when I’m gone, give them to your cousin Jane and Nolan, Nolan loves oak furniture.” The next day, “When I’m gone, if Dogwood (my son) and Sherwood (my son in law) don’t want your dad’s tools, offer them to Bob across the street, then to Ed (another neighbor).” This is not written anywhere, I am to remember. I am to remember?

And this all reminds me, vaguely, of the times my parents went on vacation to Hawaii and again, to Europe, both times, without me. I was in high school and I was left home. I was allowed to have one designated friend stay with me, I suppose, to help me invite the rest of the gang over, to not burn the house down, to eat all the Oreos and drink a half an ounce of booze from every bottle in the liquor cupboard, shaken up together in a mason jar, with orange juice. This, we called “kitchen shit” and it required leaning over the sink and plugging one’s nose to ingest it without gagging. I’m pretty sure Mom doesn’t know every detail of this, other than the Oreos being gone. But, my point, for weeks before my parents’ departure, she would tell me things I was to do, or not do, and I was to a) remember and b) comply. There was, probably, though I don’t remember for certain, probably a list of the more important points left on the counter for me.

As Mom’s new directives go, she has made them “mandatory” or non-negotiable. She has backed them all with a blanket threat. “If you don’t, I will come back and haunt you.” She is joking, of course, but not really, she looks serious. Very, very serious and is, actually, almost in tears. And, the truly terrifying thing about this is, she never threatened a consequence, that I can remember, before, in my life. I was told what was right, what was wrong, sometimes a discussion ensued, but never, to my recollection, did she say, “if you do this then I’ll (insert appropriate punishment here)”. I often tested the limits set, and was usually grounded, if caught, but then let off early. I’m not sure this haunting thing is a consequence I wish to put to the test. I’ll just comply. Completely. I like ghosts and all, but not ghosts I am quite so familiar with. Tap, tap, tap, “don’t you have an appointment this morning? I was panic-stricken, I thought you’d be leaving by now.” Aaaaaaggghhhhh!

“Do you want the house when I die?” Yes. No. Yes. No. I have to decide right now? I don’t know, and my answer changes every ten minutes. My spoken response has been, consistently, “not if it doesn’t make sense for you.” In other words, if the house needs to be liquidated to pay for a more appropriate living situation, then let’s liquidate. I am craving both new horizons, new geographic locations, and roots. I guess, based on some applied thought, I’d like to have a home to come back to, to visit, to fall back on, and Napa doesn’t seem a terrible place to have that home. Further, it would serve as an excellent performing asset if not needed for my own shelter. I do desire to live elsewhere, at least part of the year, perhaps even most of the year, and I am open to moving around and traveling and seeing the world in the next phase of my life, too. But, there is a great deal of comfort in having an anchor, a home, a place to hang one’s hat, keep the suitcase, the family heirlooms, or just return to visit on occasion. I am conflicted, but with a plan. A couple of plans, actually.

We chatted, again, this morning, Mom and I, about the house and some creative ideas I came up with last night in the hour or two I was eluded by sleep, ideas that may work for both of us, as in, Mom can progress to a more suitable living situation and I’ll hold down the fort and generate some income from it at the same time, to subsidize her needs. I’m not sure if this is what will ultimately materialize, or not. Time will tell. But at least a reasonable dialogue has been started and I’ve been able to reinforce that I am not here to profit, gain or force a selfish agenda. I am here to support and facilitate whatever course of actions will suit Mom the best. I’m a big girl, I most def can take care of myself, whether I am late for my bikini wax appointment, or not.

A concern I have, and not at all unfounded, is that I will be left with the house in its current condition, full of stuff I’ll have to, single handedly, sort, sift and deal with. This seems to be my specialty as of late, and one, again, that I abhor. Not so many years ago, on the eve of a long-threatened foreclosure, it was largely my responsibility to determine which items in the house, our family home, and in the hangar that served as a garage and storage, and even in the pastures, full of lovely creatures, which items could be forfeited, which could be rehomed, which should be saved and moved. An accumulation of a family of four over the course of two decades, in a typical American family, that, like many others, tended towards collecting more than needed.

Cut the crap.

Another year or so passed and I found myself, again, largely in charge of emptying the house we attempted to retain in town. Short sale. I had long since moved away, leaving the home and the man within to pursue a more positive, productive and happy life. Again, I sifted, sorted and determined what should be forfeited, donated, sold, retained. That which was retained ended up in two very large storage units, costing me, personally and solely, over $400 per month. Over the course of the year that followed, I attempted to find the energy, drive and motivation, other than saving myself a fuckload of money, to, again, address the accumulation of years. Methodically, with my trusty Civic, and on the rare free afternoons and coveted weekends I was on the western edge of the continent, I’d load as many boxes as I could fit into my car, take them home, and sort the contents into three piles; Goodwill, garbage and keep forever, or, at least until the next time I attempted to downsize. Months later, I managed to get everything into one unit, finally isolating what I wanted from that which belonged to my husband. I moved my items to a 10’ x 10’ unit for a small fraction of the original cost I’d been paying for storage.

Still cutting the crap.

Time passes. My children have both moved far away in pursuit of their goals and I am left with a storage unit full of my stuff, and theirs, in a city I no longer live in. And, with my most recent move, back home with Mom, those last things I cherish, the things I used daily and had in my home when I lived on my own, have been piled up in her garage in carefully labeled and classified boxes. The piles of boxes are causing her much consternation and me, frustration. A few weeks ago, all by myself, I rented a fourteen-foot moving van and single handedly relocated the contents of the storage unit in Sacramento to one in Napa, a larger unit with a larger price. The following day, I relocated my cherished items from Mom’s garage to my new storage unit, as well. And, in three months, my monthly rate increases. Substantially. I have three months to sift, sort and decide. What goes? What stays? Likely using the same method, five boxes at a time in trusty Meep, three piles; Goodwill, garbage and box back up and store. My goal, a unit no larger than 10’ x 10’, of only the most exquisite family heirlooms and cherished items. A few well chosen pieces, as I like to say, only the ones any self-proclaimed and slightly extremist minimalist would be compelled to keep.

Now, Mom is quizzing me on every item, artifact and scrap of paper from nearly ninety years of accumulation, almost fifty of that time in one house, a house with more than generous storage. And every nook and cranny, every cupboard, closet and cabinet crammed. Unless it is china, silver, crystal, a certain piece of furniture or particularly good photographs, it can go, and if I am in any way interested in the item, I take a picture of it, from several angles, and tell her to pass it on to someone else. I really, truly do crave a more minimalist life, though I am incredibly sentimental, at heart. I seek minimalism because it feels so good, and not just because I loathe, despise and abhor dusting which is probably as a result of all the dusting I did in my years of child servitude. I just don’t like clutter. It’s oppressive.

Cut the crap, please.

I find myself in a position I never really imagined. All those years, shopping at Costco, throwing decorations, books, electronics and every other imaginable thing into those enormous carts, all those years of piling my Target cart high with toys and books, home décor, DVDs and games. Every letter and greeting card I kept because I couldn’t bare to throw something so personal away, all the memorabilia, the cheerleading outfits, the prom dresses, the junior high band jacket with the awards still pinned to it, the musical instruments, themselves. I am the St. Peter of shit. I sit at the “pearly gates”, which look suspiciously like a roll-up door on a storage unit, and I am to decide, not just for myself, but for my entire family, my mom, my kids, what stays, what is valuable to any of us, and what goes. I don’t remember this being in my job description, but, as, ultimately, it will all be up to me to store, to pay to store, to dust and to trip over when in need of something useful at the back of the closet, I guess I have a rare opportunity to decide what is heavenly, and what goes to purgatory (Goodwill) or to hell (the dump).

Cut the crap.

So, as I cross the last of the items I can possibly cross off my to-do list today, a much larger to-do list looms ahead, one that will take months, perhaps years, to complete, accompanied by a lot of soul searching and some hard, hard decisions. The lesson, as I seek to evolve, is not one of trepidation or dread, but one of challenge. I have a truly rare opportunity. As a result of the events and actions that have transpired in my life over the past five years, I get to, pretty much, rebuild from scratch. I get to decide what, and who, is part of my life, and what can be “re-homed”. I am in complete control, ultimately, of where I choose to live, what I choose to do for a living, and even what bits and pieces of my past I wish to display in my home, use in my life, decorate with, keep and cherish. This is so liberating, so empowering and, frankly, sometimes, as I look at all the decisions ahead of me, large and small, large like a house and small like a greeting card from Mom and Dad for Valentine’s Day 1987, a little daunting. At least, by this point, I am well practiced.

And, really, we are all in this position, if we think about it. I am not unique, the liberation and empowerment I have exists for us all. That mine came about as a result of a whole bunch of crazy and unbelievable actions, and inactions, does not mean we don’t all have the same opportunity. The opportunity to reengineer our lives is always there, we just need to decide how, then act upon it. That I was sort of pushed into it, initially, was, really, by “luck”, if you will. And I may have considered it really bad luck, at first, but, now, see that it was all a long time coming, completely unavoidable, and has been an amazing and very positive catalyst for growth and change. So, in our effort to evolve, we often need to reexamine every aspect of our lives, much like the boxes of stuff we keep in the garage, the attic or in storage, and decide, which of the three piles does each belong in? Goodwill, garbage, or keep and cherish forever, or for now. Cut the crap! Embrace. Enjoy. Be empowered.

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.