It’s a Beautiful Life

My life is beautiful.

Constancy, variety, clutter, simplicity.

Because my life is beautiful, I take pictures. I take lots and lots of pictures. I take lots of criticism for taking lots of pictures. But that’s what I choose to clutter my life up with; pictures. I take pictures of everything I eat, for example. I do this for two reasons; to kind of keep a journal of my dietary escapades in pursuit of a healthier lifestyle and, because, frankly, I think food is beautiful. I take pictures of all the places I go, all the things I see, the people I love, that is the diary of my life and, as I am lousy with dates, it is also a record of events I oft refer back to. I can remember the month and the day, almost to a freakish degree, but don’t ever expect me to remember the year without referring to my pictures! They bring me joy and they are a ready and practical guide to my history.

I experience a certain level of frustration with some of the pictures I take, my food pictures, at home, in particular. There is so much “ugly” and so much “sameness” in my home environment, I feel they compromise the beauty of the subject matter, food, or otherwise. Like power lines across a lovely landscape, I am challenged with finding varied and lovely backdrops for the food I consume several times a day, several times a week. At home. It’s not that the kitchen, or the house, is unattractive, it’s that it is always the same tablecloth and there are cords and phones and appliances always visible in the background. There are the little piles of papers on the table I can’t seem to omit from the frame no matter how I aim the camera. Petty annoyances. Very petty. But, annoyances all the same.

When I take pictures of my meals in my room, my office, or while dining outside on the deck, I have many, I think, lovely options for backgrounds, for landscapes, to enhance the beauty of my feast. This is of my choosing and by my design. This is my beautiful life.

I believe, to my core, that I have a beautiful life, literally and figuratively. True, I am always seeking change, but I like change, I crave the excitement, I flirt with the variety, I tempt the adventure. Whether that change is moving to a new city or using a tablecloth different today from yesterday, it is change and it is welcomed. So, as beautiful as my life is, I’m counting on it to change. You can look out the same window or at the same painting, every day of your life, and it is no less beautiful, but there is so much more to see. My beautiful life, by design, will be ever changing, and this, I wish to collect in photos. Photos are the only clutter I wish to keep, and digital, at that.

What it is about the kitchen I often eat in that I abhor is the clutter and the constancy. Clutter and constancy are two things I try to hold at bay in my beautiful life. It is not my kitchen, it is my mother’s, and, as I currently live with her, in her advanced age, it is the kitchen I use to prepare and, sometimes, consume my food. My mother loves constancy and allows clutter. I’m not standing in judgement, she has a beautiful life that just differs from mine. I am mostly tolerant, but dream a different dream.

As an example of our differences, for the brief and lovely time I lived alone, after leaving my husband and the kids went off to college, and before returning home to accompany my mom, I had a few lovely tablecloths and a variety of colorful napkins and placemats. No two meals were on the same combination of linens! Each was unique and lovely and fun and stimulating. Beautiful.

Different plate, different napkin
Different plate, different napkin

Variety.

My mom has two tablecloths for daily use, oil cloth and elasticized about the edge, big floral patterns that remind me of what interior designers crammed homes with in the 1980’s. There is one tablecloth for winter and one for summer, exactly like the bathroom décor for the past twenty years. May I also confess to you that beneath the everyday tablecloth is a second tablecloth, for padding, and beneath that is the most beautiful, solid oak table, cut on the quarter grain, that you will never see, like the special occasion tablecloths that only adorn the table briefly if company is nigh, or the stacks of lovely china and the sterling silver that have only seen the light of day twice, ever, that I can recall. But, really, you will never see the oak table in the buff, no matter how special a guest you are.

Same tablecloth.
Same tablecloth.

I came home from a business trip to find a package on the back counter. Contained in clear plastic wrap was a tablecloth, an exact replica of the tablecloth presently on the table. With grave concern for my mother’s mental acuity, thinking she had ordered the tablecloth not realizing she already had it, I inquired. She said the elastic on the old tablecloth was stretched out, had I not noticed? So, a new, an exact duplicate, was ordered as an improvement to our well-being and lifestyle.

Same tablecloth. Different plate, different bowl, different napkin.
Same tablecloth. Different plate, different bowl, different napkin.

Constancy.

As for clutter, I find it tiring, truly, it drains my energy and zaps my enthusiasm. I am not immune from clutter, none of us are, I have my own clutter, and pots calling kettles black, Mom and I are always intolerant of the other’s clutter. I truly believe mine is to a minimum. I moved five times in five years, I have kept only what I’d be willing to move again. I have made continual and concerted efforts to further declutter, on a regular basis. I have limited space in my rooms, my storage unit, and my life, for anything, much less the unnecessary. I find a great deal of satisfaction and a real sense of freedom in letting go of things I truly don’t need or use on a regular basis. I love to liberate things that weigh me down to become someone else’s stuff.

Same tablecloth.
Same tablecloth.

Mom’s clutter consists of unused items that have just always been there, décor and dated electronics, and paper. Lots and lots of paper. She carefully writes the date on each and every piece of mail that is received and files it for further handling at a later date. Further handling may consist of paying the bill within, ordering the items advertised, sending the donation requested, or letting it pile up precariously in “the office” until shredded. She shreds junk mail. She spent an entire day, a full eight or ten hours, shredding the accumulation of worthlessness one day last week. What doesn’t make its way to the pile in the office, resides on the kitchen table or on two of the four chairs around the table. It was occupying three of the four chairs until I moved home and wished to sit to eat. When company threatens, the piles are shuffled away to the office at the very last moment before the doorbell rings and are quickly returned to their respective kitchen resting place as the front door closes behind them upon the guest’s retreat. The company only tablecloth as quickly disappears. I don’t even see it happen, it just occurs, quickly, as if by ninjas.

Different plate. Different napkin.
Different plate. Different napkin.

Until I required two of the three bedrooms this house affords, those two bedrooms were for overflow. When company came, all that was about was put within and the doors were closed. I have no idea where all that stuff has made its way to, with my occupancy, but I am certain it is somewhere.

I’ll admit, I’ve lived similarly, but not entirely by choice, when I was living with my husband, who I would have to say is as close to a hoarder as I’ve ever known. Entire rooms in our various homes were “off limits” to guests, and every surface was filled to capacity with all the things. The accumulation. The stuff to be dealt with at some later date. Like when we moved, but, even then, most of the stuff, including piles of long dusty, faded mail, was tossed into a cardboard box, taped shut, labeled, moved, and never again reopened. If something of importance was buried in such a box, a copy was requested from the original issuer and then piled somewhere until dusty and faded, boxed and moved. I’m breaking out in hives at the recollection of this.

Different plate. Different napkin.
Different plate. Different napkin.

Clutter.

“My” kitchen, my beautiful kitchen, is in storage. All of my beautiful things, my pretty plates, my beautiful bowls, my lovely linens, and my special serving pieces. I don’t have a lot of things, just a few carefully selected pieces. Please. Remember, I moved five times in five years; I’ve kept only the very few things I absolutely adore! And, in “my” kitchen, I only have an item or two out at a time. In “my” kitchen, there are so few things, in total, that all the things have ample and generous space in a few cupboards. In “my” kitchen, one beautiful piece or another is brought out to compliment the meal of the moment, it is put away when the dishes are done, which is immediately, and the next meal is entirely differently accompanied.

Kitchen appliances bore me. True, there are some I find indispensable, a couple I don’t have I find highly desirable. But kitchen appliances, like Victorian children, should not be seen or heard, unless or until absolutely necessary. If the appliances don’t have a place in a cupboard, they don’t have a place in “my” kitchen. I honestly think I could keep kitchen appliances to a toaster and a coffee grinder. I might enjoy a really nice espresso machine, but that would be an obscene luxury item and it would require quite a bit of real estate in a cupboard. And constant care and cleaning. I gave my last not very expensive espresso machine to my son, but then, for a bit, moved in with him and had to endure its very infrequently used existence on the counter top. It required dusting. I loathe dusting.

Truthfully, as for pots and pans; I could thrive with my cast iron skillet, a high quality sauce pan, and a stock pot. The cast iron skillet serves for everything from Dutch oven to sauté pan. I yearn to keep it simple.

Different bowls. Different napkin. Same tablecloth.
Different bowls. Different napkin. Same tablecloth.

Knives and forks and plates and bowls and chairs and napkins; in my dream kitchen, there’d be just enough for me, for mine, and for a bit a bit of company, and no two items would match! They’d be eclectic and collectibles, new and ancient, and I’d let each guest select the color and pattern that struck them! And, when not in use, they’d be tucked in a neat stack in their appropriate cupboard or drawer.

“My” spaces would be decorated only with flowers, an ever changing bit of art or whimsy, a seasonal and varietal splash of color from a valance, a pillow, a candle, a picture book, a cozy throw, and a few photos.

Clothes and shoes, if they don’t fit in the closet or I haven’t worn them in a year’s time, off they go to Goodwill. I caught myself, only once, replacing my thick plastic hangers with thinner wire hangers so as to fit more into the closet. I can be cagey like that, brilliant, but devious.

Books are down to just the ones I am likely to refer to or reread, and, unless of a whimsical, interesting, varietal, and only occasional coffee table picture book, they are being replaced with electronic versions as can be afforded.

I am as paperless as this still paper dependent world will allow. I scan and shred daily. Mail that is not vital or relevant does not even enter the house. I subscribe to electronic statements and no print literature, and I call catalog companies who send me print catalogs and beg them to stop. I threaten to stop doing business with those who will not honor my “paperless please” requests, and I follow through.

As Mom and I “clutter bash” each other I have to remind her, like dieting versus a healthy eating lifestyle, simplifying and decluttering is a lifestyle. Simplifying and decluttering is a lifestyle you choose and that you live, each and every day of the rest of your life, it isn’t something you do for two weeks and then pray for lasting results, like the cabbage soup diet. Like choosing wholesome ingredients and carefully planning and preparing healthy meals, keeping the clutter that accumulates in our lives to a comfortable level takes commitment and a permanent change in behavior.

My beautiful life, in its perfected form, is a life where company can arrive unannounced and my world is clean and inviting, simply, effortlessly. Simple, uncluttered surroundings require so much less effort; less dusting, less scrubbing, cleaning happens daily with a quick swipe of a cloth across a smooth, empty surface. Dishes are done as they are used. Nothing accumulates. Everything has a place and is replaced in its place after use. This is so exciting to me I can barely contain my glee in describing this! This is my beautiful life, I have lived it briefly and yearn for it again.

Simplicity.

My life now, in my childhood home, beautiful in execution, but not in aesthetics, with all that I need and all that I use, quartered in two bedrooms, with the exception of one of the two closets, and some highly contentious space in the middle of the garage floor. My beautiful things that do not fit into Mom’s home, that I don’t require regularly, are stored, at a huge expense, in a storage unit a couple of miles away. Were this house, or a house a fraction the size, vacant, my beautiful life would easily fit within, without clutter. Simply. This is my vision, it has been my reality, and it is what I lust for now. It is the lifestyle I choose, like being active and eating clean, it’s what makes me feel joyful. I love my life. It’s a beautiful life.

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

 

 

 

What I Learned From a Squirrel

I was puttering about in the kitchen yesterday morning, fixing breakfast and doing dishes. The kitchen is what I consider traditional, there is a window over the kitchen sink. I consider this normal and have had a couple of abnormal kitchens in my life. I hated them. It should be part of the building code; kitchen sink placement shall be beneath a window with a view to the outdoors, preferably to a pleasing view. Since I currently live in the house I grew up in, and there is a window over the kitchen sink, and the view is quite pleasing, I suppose my high expectations are well-explained.

As I puttered about in the kitchen, at the sink, glancing out to the pleasing view on occasion, I noticed a squirrel. Our squirrels are numerous and are big and fat and gray. Growing up, Mom used to name the squirrels, based on the characteristics of their tails. There was Wispy Tail and Bushy Tail and Fluffy Tail. Those are the ones I remember. I don’t remember, though, actually being able to discern one squirrel from the other quite as well as Mom. At a young age, I assumed this was a gift that came with wisdom and maturity. No. They still look all the same to me, I do consider myself at least somewhat more wise and mature than when I was a tot. Last week, I saw four different squirrels scampering around the back yard at the same time, two in one tree, a third high in the branches, navigating from one tree to another, the squirrel highway system, I suppose. The fourth squirrel was on the fence between our yard and the ravine where a seasonal creek runs during the wetter months, or the wetter month, or the one wet week we have each year.

I observed the single squirrel, yesterday, on the deck railing, not too terribly far from the window where I stood. The squirrel was preoccupied with his nuts. I watched as he flitted from one point to another, looking for a good place to hide his nuts. He twitched his tail continuously as he fretted over one locale, then another.

I mentioned to Mom that there was a squirrel on the deck and she asked, “Oh, is it Fluffy Tail?” I replied, “Um, I don’t know?” They all have fluffy tails as far as I can tell. “Fluffy Tail is the only squirrel left,” Mom stated with a melancholy tone, “he’s the only squirrel I ever see anymore.” Mom’s world is one of scarcity, these days. I told her I saw four squirrels at one time, in the backyard, earlier in the week. She didn’t seem convinced, or didn’t hear me. Either way. And at least I was off the hook for proper squirrel identification, as far as I was concerned. If Fluffy Tail is the “only” squirrel left, then the squirrel on the deck MUST be Fluffy Tail. And, so, I’d probably be right to say that every squirrel in a hundred mile radius is also Fluffy Tail. That certainly makes it easier, and a lot less mysterious. I shall no longer worry or be mystified by proper squirrel names. It’s all kind of nutty, anyway, if you ask me.

Mom continued to muse, now watching the squirrel, busy with his nuts, “I always wondered if they were pooping when they twitched their tails like that, or is that how they balance?” My logical and over-analytical mind has to assume the latter, otherwise, the world as I know it would be a foot deep in squirrel shit, I reckon. And, to add further credence, I don’t know that I’ve ever, in my life, seen squirrel shit. Anywhere. I think it must just be vapor, or dust or some other particulate matter that does not accumulate. Another mystery.

I watched the squirrel, he watched me.

Squirrels are everywhere, I know, to the point where we kind of take them for granted. I’ve only lived in one place where there were no squirrels. We had rats the size of squirrels, but no squirrels. This was sort of a depressed and crime-ridden neighborhood, a stepchild suburb of Sacramento. The area was populated by the down and out, with many Section 8 rentals, there were houses that were rumored to be meth labs, and, for the most part, from what I could tell, the demographics were what I’d consider “white trash” and “rednecks”. Not that they are one in the same, but, coincidentally, are often found in the same areas. I don’t want to make any inappropriate correlations, but I found it interesting that there were no squirrels, at all, in this neighborhood, in spite of the many mature trees and ample food supply. I’m thinking the squirrels, themselves, were considered an ample food supply by some of the residents in the area.  I’ve never cooked or eaten squirrel, but I’m pretty sure if I ever wanted to, I could knock on ‘most any door in that neighborhood and be obliged.

I lived in another neighborhood that had plentiful squirrels that were both a joy and a relief to see, after the previous situation. There was one demonic squirrel, though, and he frequented a tree on our property, that had several large limbs that arched over our wide, graveled driveway. On more than one occasion, as I made my way to or from the house and car, this particular squirrel would chatter and scold me, then throw, not just drop, but throw, with force and with malice aforethought, an object at me. Once, caught unaware, I got beaned in the head with an apple and almost lost consciousness! There’s a squirrel worth looking up a recipe for!

For those areas where squirrels haven’t been hunted and eaten to extinction, we’ll find geographic differences, some have smaller squirrels, some squirrels are brown, or red, or striped. The college I attended has fricking scary squirrels! They will crawl right up on your lap and try to pry food from your fingers, staring intently at the food with one eye and into your eyes with the other. I swear it. There are squirrels on campus that are nearly as large as some of the more petite students. Big, scary, damn squirrels. I was sitting on a bench beneath a tree one day, knowing me I was probably studying, for the first time, for an exam the very next hour, and something sizable whizzed past my head from above and landed with a frightening thud on the ground next to me. A squirrel. I feared he’d be injured, or dead, from the fall from the top of the stately sycamore tree next to me. Nope. He stood up, sized me up, and, once convinced I had no food, scampered back up the tree. A few minutes later another student sat at a nearby bench, and, moments later, whump, the same squirrel landed on the dirt next to that bench. This squirrel was so obsessed with food, apparently, that it chose the fastest route to the ground to be the first, of thousands of squirrels, to pry food from a human’s hands. Scary, scary, scary squirrels.

I’ve been on a few backpacking adventures at Philmont Scout Ranch outside of Cimarron, New Mexico. Here, the little ground squirrels are called, and not with an air of fondness, but more one of disdain, “mini-bears”. If food is not handled and stored according to the best of “bear proofing” standards, if not the real bears, then for certain the mini-bears, will chew through anything to get at any morsel of edible matter, including dehydrated backpacking food and greasy, nasty, “squeeze-cheese”, which, I’m sure, isn’t cheese at all. If you set your daypack down for three seconds, when you pick it up again, there will likely be a mini-bear inside, having either deftly unlatched the nearly human proof latches, or, usually, having gnawed a squirrel-sized hole in the bottom of the pack. Varmints.

I especially like the bubonic plague carrying squirrels that populated the Sierras there for a while. Not.

Fluffy Tail isn’t quite so terrifying, trouble causing, diseased, or demonic, he’s not menacing at all, and seems, actually, to have an appropriate amount of wariness about me, on the other side of the glass, a good twenty feet away. And though I’ve seen squirrels on practically a daily basis, for most of my life, this morning, I was drawn to watch Fluffy Tail’s antics.

And, as with everything in life, I learned something.

It doesn’t’ really matter if everyone can see your nuts ~

A nut "hidden" in the bird feeder.
A nut “hidden” in the bird feeder.

Show the world what you’re made of. In most things in life, we kind of just have to put it out there; to grow, to develop, to evolve, to succeed, we can’t quietly hide away, keeping our talents, our passions, our abilities, hidden or secret. The more willing and able we are to step out of our comfort zone and make ourselves known, the more comfortable we are with being uncomfortable, the more we have to gain. Take risks, take chances, make mistakes, learn from your mistakes, get up, brush yourself off, laugh it off and take a different approach. Don’t ever let fear or insecurities dictate your actions or compromise your goals or your dreams. Get out there and show off your nuts!

Take chances in making connections, fostering relationships, establishing a network both professionally and personally. Every connection you make is a two way street with good will running in both directions. Never allow yourself to miss an opportunity to connect with people, and those opportunities exist 24/7/365. I don’t mean social networking, though it has its place, I’m talking about real, tangible connected relationships with real people, outside of the comforts of your house. Get out there and show off your nuts!

It doesn’t really matter if everyone can see you’re nuts ~

A nut "hidden" on the deck railing.
A nut “hidden” on the deck railing.

Take pride in your uniqueness and individuality, even if you do march to the beat of a different drummer. How refreshing is it to meet people who are confident, outgoing and a little bit zany? It’s our differences, our unique qualities, our one-of-a-kind way of looking at things or doing things that make us special. Who wants to blend in with the crowd? Most great inventors and achievers in our time were thought to be out of their minds for the ideas and their commitment to see those ideas through; Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, and the list goes on and on. In fact, you’d better be a little nuts if you have any intention of succeeding, it’s part of the process, to keep trying in the face of repeated failure; also know as the definition of insanity.

Be quick  ~

Be quick.
Be quick.

Life is short, there is no time to waste, not a single second. Every second of every day should be put to good use in furthering our evolution. I’m not saying you have to work sixteen hour days to get ahead, I’m saying that no time should be wasted. Time put to good use includes time for adequate rest, some stimulating and interesting adventures, appropriate time for relaxation, reflection and meditation, time for good nutrition and adequate physical exertion, time for love and for nurturing relationships and friendships, time for acquiring knowledge, for developing new interests, hobbies, pastimes, time for exploring possible new career avenues or technologies. Plan and use your time carefully and guard it judiciously. Time is not refundable, expires quickly and cannot be retrieved or replenished. Use it ever so wisely.

Have some nuts – be fearless ~

Be fearless.
Be fearless.

Have respect, exercise caution, but refuse to be fearful. Don’t make me quote Eleanor Roosevelt again.

Freeze ~

Freeze.
Freeze.

Stop, observe, then decide what action is appropriate. Be thoughtful, reflective and contemplative, but don’t dwell or belabor. Be decisive, with discretion. You can see any prey animal you encounter freeze, momentarily, and in those seconds, a life or death decision is made. Have you ever seen a deer deliberate over whether to run or go back to grazing for more than a few seconds? And yet, the life of the deer depends on that split second decision and usually multiple times a day. True, we are predators, most often, and have been given the luxury of time to mull things over, we’ve also been given incredible intelligence, which is both a blessing and our bane. We are capable of acting quickly and rashly, often to our detriment.  We are equally as capable of being unable to make a timely decision, again, usually to our detriment. Observe the squirrel; freeze, watch, and decide; scamper or get back to taking care of your nuts.

Don’t keep all you nuts in one place ~

Don't keep all your nuts in one place.
Don’t keep all your nuts in one place.

Have a variety of interests, develop goals for each role you serve in your life, nurture your passions, follow your causes. We have a remarkable amount of energy if we know how to appropriately develop it and use it. We all have the individual ability to change the world in a positive way. Together, our changes can amount to amazing things. Explore every avenue.

Don’t forget where you put your nuts ~

Don't forget where you put your nuts.
Don’t forget where you put your nuts.

Be organized. De-clutter your life, de-clutter your mind. Much of success, personal and professional, arises from efficiency. Efficiency is never gained in a cluttered space or in a cluttered mind. A place for everything, everything in its place, including your nuts. Every effort you take to cut the clutter is going to result in a freeing and liberating euphoria. Clutter in our midst and in our minds robs us of energy, vitality and precious, precious time. One of the best books I’ve read this year was a book on minimalism, “The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life” by Francine Jay. I have a ways to go, but, yes, every step towards minimalism is truly bliss.

Sample your nuts ~

Sample your nuts.
Sample your nuts.

Whoever made cookies without having a spoonful of cookie dough? Liar. Everything we do speaks to our reputation. Double check everything before you release it to the universe; thoughts, words and actions all deserve a quick sample before we decide to unleash them for the rest of the world. What we send out comes back our way, guaranteed. Think positive, speak kindly, act with valor, honor and integrity, and as a result, live richly.

Know when to stop hiding your nuts ~

Know when to stop hiding your nuts.
Know when to stop hiding your nuts.

Know when to stop working and focus on what really matters in life; you, your health, your family, relationships and friendships. Voluminous are stories of people so driven to work and succeed in their careers that they lost everything that truly, truly mattered. Every day should have ample time in it to savor that which you cherish, beginning with yourself, your health and well-being, for it is a healthy you that will be able to love, nurture and provide for those you care for for a much greater time. It is a healthy you that is a happier and more relaxed you, a you that those you care for will so enjoy spending time with. Get your priorities straight. Jobs come and go, no job is worth sacrificing health, family, relationships and friendships for.

The real lesson here, I’d have to say, is to learn to stop, look out the window, and to find value in everything you observe. Lessons in life are everywhere, we only need to stop fussing with our nuts long enough to pay attention, and learn.

Go nuts.

Scarlett’s Letter December 13, 2013

My first full day home in the aftermath of those big things that have been clogging up my calendar, my focus, my free time and even how I eat, sleep and work out; travel season and the first marathon.

I feel like a freed prisoner. Liberated. I can resume life, the way I intend it to be.

Before I “went to work” this morning, I called my Sweetie! We hadn’t spoken on the phone for several days, and with his travels between Fairbanks and Coldfoot and my travels between the east and west coast, plus the huge time zone differences, our texts were even missing each other for hours at a time. The delay in text messages and the inability to talk on the phone left an odd and disjointed communication trail that I found befuddling and disheartening. It was heavenly to just sit and talk in complete and coherent sentences for a continuous period of time. It has been way too long, I really miss my guy.

I got a lot done today. First, I just sat my butt right down in my office and didn’t move until I had ALL my expense reports done. Over $6,000 worth. I kept thinking of Brian Tracy’s “Eat That Frog” program where he suggests just tackling the thing you least want to do in your day, first. Eat the frog first and the rest of the day is a breeze.  So I did. Yay! The frog wasn’t so bad.

After my expense reports, I cracked a beer open. Don’t judge, I’m still on “east coast” time for a day or two, it was much later in my brain than the clock said. Before my beer was half finished, I’d finished three quarters of my Christmas shopping, again, without even leaving the comfort of my ergonomic, Tempurpedic, office chair.

Lost Coast Downtown Brown, one of my daily faves.
Lost Coast Downtown Brown, one of my daily faves.

I spent the rest of the day puttering about my domain, upstairs, my bedroom and the other bedroom, which I use for my office. I broke down boxes and discarded packaging from mail orders received over the past month or so, I threw away the piles of junk mail and catalogs that arrived while I was gone and did a mountain of very necessary laundry.

DSW box, among others.
DSW box, among others.

I cooked my own food tonight. It felt so foreign, handling and preparing raw food, I was almost a little scared that I’d forgotten how. I made the most delicious spaghetti sauce with ingredients I had on hand, which were sparse. I ladled it over the last of the soba noodles in my pantry and, truthfully, it was one of the best meals I’ve had in a very long time. The food was hotter than any I’ve had in a while, and not nearly as salty as anything I’ve eaten lately, and, the portion size was perfect! I have enough sauce left over for another meal, too. Like maybe lunch, tomorrow!

Cooked my own dinner. So yummy.
Cooked my own dinner. So yummy.

I was settling in for the night, big sloppy sweats on, big glass of V. Sattui Cabernet Sauvignon poured, and I as I accessed my face in the mirror, contemplating initiating an anti-aging regime and noting the obvious need for an appointment with my aesthetician, I remembered; I have an appointment for a massage tonight! So, I funneled the wine back into the bottle, for now, put clothes worthy of being seen in public back on, including undies, I am so going to forget those some day, and I’m about to grab my purse, my keys and my phone and go. I thought about postponing the appointment, but, I can’t. I was mayor of the Napa Massage Envy Spa on Foursquare, until last week. Someone bumped me out of my esteemed position, while I was out of town and unable to do anything about it. The nerve! I aim to go get all nice and relaxed, which should be just the thing for the last of the lingering marathon stiffness and soreness in my quads, and the post travel season shoulder soreness from hefting my computer bag around with its two laptops, Kindle, iPad and enough cords to reach to the moon and back.

All set for a relaxing night at home.
All set for a relaxing night at home.
Luckily, Donna, my handy digital assistant reminds of important things, like massages.
Luckily, Donna, my handy digital assistant reminds of important things, like massages.

And, I aim to reclaim my title as Mayor on Foursquare. Tally ho.

P.S. Odds-bervation – doesn’t it seem peculiar that my Apple MacBook tries to correct the spelling of “iPad”?

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.

Scarlett’s Letter November 18, 2013

Dear Friends ~

I managed to not have a teaching assignment, a consulting engagement or a travel day today. Originally, I did, but, thanks to our electric company and a “scheduled” outage for maintenance tomorrow, I was able to get my Monday/Tuesday client rescheduled to another consultant. Since that point in time, I have been so looking forward to today. Shit was gonna get done! All the stuff I can’t do while traveling was to happen today. I had a list. I am a big believer in lists. I feel great satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment in crossing things off my list.

One of the items at the top of my list was to actually go to storage and fish out the box with my coffee grinder in it. I accidentally bought whole bean coffee last weekend and have no way to grind the beans short of a rock and a bowl. And, frankly, no bowl I’d choose to smash beans in with a rock. I’ve been going to the coffee shop nearby for a latte every morning I’ve been home. There are three choices here, clearly, I could go buy a bag of ground coffee and use that until I next go to storage and retrieve the grinder. I could, alternatively, go buy another grinder. Both of these options are things the “old me” would quickly do. Spend money after spending money. But, wait, at $3.50 per latte, plus the dollar cash tip, I could’ve bought the ground coffee AND the grinder over again already. Damn. I hate math. Math has never been my friend, never an ally. Guess what, I didn’t make it to storage today, I didn’t buy ground coffee and I didn’t buy a grinder. I guess I’m buying a latte again tomorrow morning!

This is representative of how my whole day went.

I knew today would be sort of a low energy day. I ran a long way yesterday, so a little lethargy was to be expected. And, after all, scheduled work or not, it’s Monday. I was not, however, expecting the level of apathy I achieved today. I even underachieved at sleeping in. I had no reason to set my alarm and thought a bit of extra rejuvenating sleep would be nice. I awoke at 6:48. That’s 6:48 AM, to be clear. I checked texts, emails and Facebook and finally got out of bed at, like, 7:02. AM. The realization that I’d need coffee before being able to hold an even remotely intelligible conversation followed achieving a mostly vertical posture.  I thought about going to the coffee shop in my PJ’s, which are really just ugly sweats, but talked myself out of it. Miraculously. Instead, I pulled on my favorite Billabong maxi skirt, which I wore out to the store to buy beer last night. No one I knew saw me last night, so, who would know I was wearing the same thing today? I took my Sweetie’s Silver Gulch shirt off and slipped my old, slightly too big, black cardigan on over the cami I slept in. Again, who would know? I didn’t even quite have the energy to put a bra on, the cami would do. My hair was a wild mess of curls after my shower last night and a night on my pillow. The satin pillowcase did not net the desired results of keeping my hair under control. I twisted the mess into a clip and called it good. Off to get a latte.

I came very, very close to accidentally going to the coffee shop in my favorite slippers.
I came very, very close to accidentally going to the coffee shop in my favorite slippers.

Upon my return, caffeine supply in hand and four dollars and fifty cents poorer, I set to fixing breakfast. An egg, sunny side up, a piece of toast, a slab of cold moose meat left over from dinner last night, yogurt, honey and berries. This was one of my more industrious moments for the day, by the way. Mom mentioned last night that she wanted to go visit Dad, at the Veterans Memorial. I agreed. We confirmed our plans over breakfast. When we first talked about it last night, I knew she meant we’d go today, but the full impact of that request was just settling in. Visits to see Dad, at the Veterans Memorial, which is about forty-five minutes from home, are usually accompanied by lunch out, and a flurry of other errands, while we’re out. I saw my day to “get shit done” dwindle down to “not gonna get a thing done”. Day = hijacked.

After breakfast, Mom went upstairs to get ready. It takes her a very long time to get ready, even by my standards. I got a couple of little things done and procrastinated with the whole shower, blow dry, straighten, curl, make up, pick the perfect outfit, thing. I piddled around, re-prioritized my list, did a minor thing or two for work, sort of “making an appearance”, and I shuffled things around in my suitcase, which has to be packed by some time tomorrow, for nine days. Suddenly, Mom was standing in my doorway with her jacket on, her purse and cane in hand and her ginormous old people sunglasses masking about 80% of her face. I quickly applied the bare minimum makeup and off we went, me feeling sort of rewarmed, like leftovers from the night before that didn’t quite heat all the way through in the microwave. And you know what, I really didn’t care. Not today. I decided to be apathetic about the whole thing. Apathetic; a pathetic human being.

One of the things on my “to do” list was to go to Express at the mall situated between home and the Veterans Memorial in quest of those same items I dumped on the floor of the Express in Long Island a few days ago. I still want the clothes, I just want to buy them from someone interested in selling them to me. I asked Mom if she wanted to go to the mall and she got all excited. She hasn’t been to the mall in quite some time and wanted to shop for some slacks at Penney’s. I cringe, just a little, to think of actually shopping at Penney’s, but I disguised it as a yawn.

We visit Dad and left some sprigs of holly from the yard near his mausoleum. The Veterans Memorial is in the middle of miles and miles of very flat farmland and I have never been there when it wasn’t windy and cold. Today was windier and colder than usual. It felt like November. It felt like November for the first time this year. We jumped out of the car, scurried over to Dad’s mausoleum, deposited the holly sprigs, said a few words, and fled for the warmth of the car again. We’re sure he’d understand our brevity; he hated being cold, too.

We had lunch at our favorite totally local and very authentic tacqueria before leaving town, so that meant we could now go directly to the mall. I left Mom at Penney’s and ran for Express. My goal was to find the items I had selected the other day, try them on, buy them and return to Penney’s before Mom had made her selections. I didn’t even reach the table with the black slacks of my desire before I was cheerfully greeted and assisted. Pants in hand, I set to browsing for the other items I was questing for. Again, I found myself with an armload of clothes, but, before I could even set a foot in the direction of the fitting rooms, my load was lifted from my arms by the cheerful sales associate, she said she’d “start a fitting room” for me, which, I know, is a subtle way to say, “you keep on shopping, gather as much as you want,” by never allowing my burden of new clothes to become too heavy, it never seems like I’m considering buying all that much. I have been around the mall a time or two, I know how this all works. Instead, I just follow the sales associate to the fitting room and forgo any further browsing. I love everything except for the “other” black slacks the sales associate suggested I try. I make my way to the cash register where the sales associate begins to fluff and fold my selections, assuring the tags are easy to reach for quick scanning. She mentions that the slacks are BOGOHO (Buy One Get One Half Off, which isn’t quite as good as BOGO, Buy One Get One, that means the second one is free). BOGOHO?! How can I resist BOGOHO slacks? I know it’s more money, but only H! I find a scarlet pair of slacks, skinny cut, and add them to my pile. They’ll be perfect for the holidays, and they are HO after all! I thank the sales associate and tell her I sincerely appreciated her cheerful assistance. I told her about my experience in Long Island and was glad that my local store was so much more customer service oriented.

There is nothing like a positive shopping experience and BOGOHO sales to lift an apathetic mood. I flounce through the mall, back to Penney’s, where I find Mom, sitting on a stool at the cashier’s desk. Apparently the transaction is taking so long, someone has retrieved a stool for Mom to rest on during the whole ordeal. I wilt a little. I find Penney’s whole environment, from the clothes they stock to how they’re displayed, their lighting and signage, all of it, a bit oppressive. Depressing even. The kind sales associate is helping Mom order the slacks she wants, to have them delivered. They didn’t have her size in stock. Mom is buying four pair; gray, blue, black and tan. They are identical in every way, shape and form to the four pair she currently owns. Every last stitch. These four will just be slightly newer. I’m awash in apathy, again. I glance in my Express bag in hopes of finding my spirits, but they don’t seem to be there.

Mom finalizes her purchase and wrestles with her purse for at least five minutes. She and I have very different purse management methods. I have many purses, but for each of them, I have a consistent system of where I put what. I know exactly which pocket to find my keys in, receipts always go in a certain place, etc. Mom’s system, a word I use very loosely here, is not as formal, routine or consistent. She is always digging through her purse, certain she’s dropped the item she is searching for outside the car, or left it on the counter back at the store. She finally gets her possessions into the purse and we leave Penney’s.

We head to Mimi’s Café where Mom wants to buy the neighbor a couple of carrot muffins. Again, after her purchase, Mom is wrestling with her purse like it’s a crocodile trying to devour her. We make it back to the car and she begins to fret about the receipt for her purchase from Penney’s. I pull the car over and we spend another ten minutes trying to subdue the damned purse. We find the receipt and I begin to head for the highway. Once in traffic, Mom, still elbow deep in purse, can’t find her wallet. The one I just found the receipt in. She swears she’s dropped it in the parking lot, which would be terrible, except we didn’t open the car door at any point in the last round of wrestling the purse. The wallet is finally found on the floor of the car, near her feet, shoved back into the purse and the purse is finally subdued and lies motionless on the floor of the car. Mom’s tired and pissed off at her purse. I’m tired and pissed off at the traffic, time and my to do list. The purse is tired and isn’t speaking with either of us.

We finally make our way back towards Napa. The traffic is heavily congested through the canyon, which frustrates me further. As we creep along I can’t help but think of each and every minute I’m NOT going to have to tackle my to do list.

As we reach Napa, Mom says she wants to get gas before I leave for New York, tomorrow. Knowing that most of what I wanted to accomplish today is going to have to wait until tomorrow, I suggest we get gas today, rather than wait. I don’t want to be anxious to leave for the airport and still have this chore left to do. Mom has only driven, I take that back, I have only driven Mom’s car 45 miles since we last filled it up, the needle is barely off the “full” mark, but she insists. We find a gas station and after Mom beats her purse to a pulp trying to get her credit cards out, again, I put two gallons of gas in the tank and we finally head for home.

It is now very late in the afternoon, I’ve been driving with the headlights on, and there is no way I can complete all the errands around town I’d hoped to undertake today. I’m too apathetic to consider going to the gym, so I settle upon the idea of packing for my trip this evening, while drinking a beer, perhaps, and getting a couple of administrative work items put to rest.

Cross THIS off the to-do list!
Cross THIS off the to-do list!

A simple dinner is managed and a load of wash. I do not feel, in any way, accomplished today. My list for the day has all been pushed to tomorrow. Tomorrow night I fly, and I fly from San Francisco, which means wildly unpredictable timing with traffic and who knows what. I finish up my evening reviewing my list for today. My accomplishments are so meager that I add a few items at the end in order to allow me the satisfaction of crossing anything at all off my list. The rest will be carried forward for tomorrow, though I’m a little afraid, tomorrow, only a few tiny items will actually get crossed off. Here is my list.

To Do To Day:

Get coffee grinder from storage
Get cash for tips for trip
Do all four expense reports
Catch up on work emails
Go to gym
Run five miles
Finish packing for NYC and SF
Prepare class materials for SF
Call Clarissa
Happy Hour with the Ladies
Shop for black slacks and stuff
Organize five boxes for donation to charity
Make YouTube video
Unpack boxes to dresser drawers Mom finally cleared out
Unpack boxes of shoes & purses to closet after boxes above are moved
Do last load of laundry
Put away clean clothes
Order Mom’s Netflix movies
Aesthetician
Mail “the book” back to Clarissa
Massage
Get latte
Text Sweetie good morning and a safe trip to Prudhoe Bay
Eat breakfast
Eat lunch
Check Facebook
Check Blog Stats
Drink a beer
Eat dinner
Put on pajamas
Drink another beer
Eat leftover Ben & Jerry’s in freezer
Drink water
Wash face
Yawn, twice
Brush, floss, rinse
Go to bed

Note to self – triple shot latte tomorrow morning. Shits gotta get done.

What I learned today; sometimes, we have to be flexible. We have to make things that are important to others a priority, and adjust our own list in accordance. Of course we have our own things to tend to, sure, but now and then, a day devoted to loved ones is far more important, and appreciated, and right. Everything that’s going to get done will get done, and the rest won’t. The world will keep turning, I promise. Enjoy.

Scarlett

Selfie - in need of a latte
Selfie – in need of a latte
Cross THIS off the to-do list!
Cross THIS off the to-do list!

What Once Was Lost Now is Found

I have a confession to make. I lost something. It wasn’t just something, it was a handmade gift. I didn’t lose the whole thing, just one quarter of it, but without that one quarter, it wasn’t just incomplete, it wasn’t whole. I felt terrible. This was so unlike me, I’m quite careful about such things. You could even say compulsive. Perhaps even anal.

I became aware of my loss when my cousin, an artist, last visited. We got onto the topic of skulls as art, and ethnic and tribal art over lunch. I mentioned that my son’s former girlfriend was an artist and had made and given to me, as a gift, four hand etched tiles that, when placed together, made a skull. When we returned to the house, I went upstairs to retrieve the tiles from where they are carefully displayed on my small bookcase by my window to show my cousin. I have them stacked, dead in the center. The bookcase is out of the way and doesn’t get much traffic, so, doesn’t get bumped or knocked. I figured it would be a safe location for the tiles. When I took them downstairs to spread out onto the kitchen table, there were only three tiles. I ran back upstairs and looked and looked and looked for the fourth tile. I looked behind the bookcase, in case the tile had fallen. I looked all around the bookcase and even inside the books to make sure it hadn’t fallen between two, or within one. No tile. My mom was pretty insistent that it must be on the floor behind the bookcase, but I’d looked, and it wasn’t. The tiles are heavy enough that I couldn’t imagine the lace curtain on the window next to the bookcase, even in a hurricane force wind, being capable of knocking a tile off the top of the bookcase. I was certain that, in my move, I’d neglected to unwrap the tile from the U-Haul wrapping paper I buy, by the box, with each and every relocation. I know I’d wrapped the tiles with my other “treasures”, usually the last things to get packed, and after riding in my car or in the front seat of the moving van, they are the first to get unloaded and the first to get unpacked. I rooted through a couple of boxes still lingering around, but found no tile. I was now afraid I’d tossed the tile out with some of the wrapping paper. I felt a little sick.

I considered sending a Facebook message to the artist and giver of the gift, telling her of my loss and asking her if she could recreate the one tile, for which I’d be happy to pay. I delayed. Or procrastinated. Or chickened out. I felt careless. As I said, this is not like me. I’m quite particular about such things, and I have considerable experience moving, I just don’t lose things in the process of moving. I mean, you should see how I pack and label boxes, you’d understand.

The other day, weeks after the discovery of my loss, after wine tasting, so a little buzzed, I was rooting around behind a small, upholstered chair, in my room, near the bookcase I had the tiles on. I was in search of something unrelated. I keep caboodles and other tidy containers of things like hair accessories and gloves, sunglasses and nail polish, under the chairs, out of sight, but close at hand. There, on the floor, behind the chair, upside down, was the missing tile, unbroken. Intact. I was so relieved, I did a little happy dance and reunited the piece with the rest of the set, which had been moved to another location, further from the window. The tiles are now spread out rather than stacked, defeating, or at least mitigating, the force of gravity that apparently displaced the reclaimed tile.

What once was lost, now is found. My tile art pieces are joined together once again.
What once was lost, now is found. My tile art pieces are joined together once again. Artwork by the talented Kayla Verseput.

What other things of value have we lost? Whether out of neglect, carelessness, or just with the passage of time. Are there things in life we’ve lost that we’d dearly love to find, to reclaim, a treasure of some sort? Not knick-knacks or pieces of art, not tangible items, but things more valuable, things that are, perhaps even, priceless. Perhaps our self-confidence, our ability to trust, faith, our health, love, our purpose, our ability to forgive, hope, our energy, enthusiasm, passion, courage, our integrity, our inspiration, motivation, our self-esteem.

Like the tile, we may not even realize what’s missing until we need it, until we go in search of it. The discovery of our loss, though far greater in magnitude than my tile, will cause a sense of panic, of confusion and even sorrow and despair. We will wonder how we could have displaced something of such value, something that money cannot replace.

We will spend time trying to figure out how, or even if, we can possibly regain what has been lost. We may feel despair at the thought, or, in some cases, the certainty, that it cannot. At this point, many falter and resign to the loss. Then, and only then, does the loss become real and certain.

Recognizing the loss is our first step. Coming to terms with it helps us begin to take the steps to find what once was ours. We can begin to plan, to set goals, to move in the direction of restoration. We can find our inspiration, foster our motivation. Be assured, that once we have found again what was lost, whether self-confidence, our ability to trust, faith, our health, love, our purpose, our ability to forgive, hope, our energy, enthusiasm, passion, or our self-esteem, it may seem different than in its original form, it will likely be much better. At the very least, we will have a better appreciation and more respect for it. We will take better measures to safeguard it, to care for it, to keep it, much like the tiles on my shelf.

What once was lost, now is found. What you have lost, you too can find, you need only to keep searching, it’s there, I assure you.

Scarlett’s Letter September 10, 2013

Game on.

I had a team meeting for work today. My team consists of about twelve people and we all live in different cities across the country, so, team meetings are conference calls and an internet meeting room for visuals, if necessary. No video, so we can’t see each other, thankfully. I don’t know what the big deal is, I’m usually all “ready” before I go to work, and my office is neat, I don’t know, I guess I could get used to it. But, for now, since no one else is wild about the idea of video conferencing, and it probably costs more, we aren’t even talking about it. Than means I can do useful shit while listening to the meeting, and occasionally glancing at the slideshow. Game on!

I have shelves next to my desk. For every class I teach, I have the materials, printed, in a binder on the shelves. I know. I teach paperless, but print all the materials. Since I refer to two printed copies at a time, sometimes three, I’m trying to figure out how to do so on my iPad. Two of the three shelves are stuffed full of binders. I teach a lot of classes, more than anyone else on my team. I’m pretty proud of that. It is my curse, though, too. Being able to teach all of the classes means being able to substitute for anyone else, at the last minute, if something goes wrong; an illness, a missed flight, technical difficulties, power outages. The top shelf of my shelf has cute little bins I bought at Target, solely because they were cute. Once I got them home, I decided I could put my office supplies in the bins and put the bins on my shelf. Through the last couple of moves and the chaos of life, and work, and laziness, these three bins have become a nice hiding place for crap I don’t know what to do with. They’ve just become receptacles for bits and pieces, odds and ends I don’t where else to put; paper clips, dry erase markers, ones that work and dry dry erase markers that don’t work, Sharpies, ones that write and some that don’t, software CD’s, miscellaneous cords to electronics I no longer own, USB flash drives, a lifetime supply staples, binder clips, pads of post it notes, No. 2 pencils, staplers, yes, plural, I have four, for whatever reason, pencil sharpeners, yes, plural, one manual pencil sharpener, one battery operated one and one electrical one,  and old Blackberry phones that no longer work. Today, while on a conference call, I, for whatever reason, decided to clean them out and organize them. I just did it. And that’s kind of how my day proceeded from there. Game on.

Bins and binders
Bins and binders

Today was also the day of frantic travel arrangement frustrations. As much as we all travel on my team, we are all responsible for our own travel arrangements. When I first took this job, that seemed terrifying and incomprehensible, making all my own travel arrangements. I was not much the traveler before this job. I had no idea. I’ve adapted and, now, wouldn’t even consider letting anyone else manage my travel! Just coming back from vacation, from the land of no Internet, I am a little behind booking travel. I am supposed to go to Chicago next week and New York City the week after. I am excited. But, with only a couple of participants registered for the Chicago class, and all from the same firm, after booking a nonstop flight to Chicago, the hotel I love right next to the mall and a rental car, plans changed and the training will be held at the client’s office. In Glasgow, Montana. Ever heard of it? As it turns out, I’ve worked with this client before. In Montana. Glendive, Montana. Ever heard of it? Great client with a few offices in the most random, rural and difficult to travel to places. Ever. I’m not too excited, and changing travel arrangements isn’t all that easy, it can’t be done all online, you have to call the agency and they have to confirm everything with the airlines. It is messy and time consuming. Game on.

The New York City class had more participants and I had my flight reserved, not booked, but reserved, in the manner I prefer for NYC. I take a red eye the night before my scheduled “travel day” so I have all day to sightsee and tramp around the City before my first day of work. I sleep on the plane and arrive looking like shit and feeling a bit groggy, but a cup of coffee and a few minutes in the City and I’ve absorbed all the energy I need for a full day of fun. I’m excited. But, then, I get an email saying that since all the participants for the training are with the same firm, we may conduct the training at their office rather than a regional training center. To save money and to make it “easier” for the client. I quickly Google the firm. They have three locations, one in NYC and one on Long Island and one in New Jersey. I assume NYC and quickly reserve a second hotel, closer to their NYC location, just in case. Then I wait for the final word. Much to my disappointment, horror and dismay, the training is occurring at the New Jersey office. I rearrange all of that travel, now, too. So, Chicago became Montana and New York City became the suburbs of Newark, New Jersey. I considered drafting my resignation. But I didn’t. I’m readying for two long weeks in two difficult locations. Game on.

For people who don’t text or who don’t like to text, you often hear them ask “why not just pick up the phone and call?” Well, allow me to enlighten you. While I do enjoy a nice, chatty call, more frequently with some folks than others, there are times when texting is far more practical. Texting versus a phone call; a case study. My close friend is having a memorial service for her sister who passed a few weeks ago. A few of us are bringing food and beverage to serve as a large crowd is expected, probably over a hundred people. I’m bringing lemonade. One of the girls is a pastry chef, a consultant in all things cooking and catering and is in charge of the whole affair. I’ve been assigned something I certainly cannot mess up. Lemonade. And I have a helper, just in case it looks like I might mess it up. I am, actually, thankful for my assignment. I don’t want to deal with the stress of anything more challenging than lemonade, I’ll leave that to the professionals. So, today, as I’m frantically managing travel and answering work emails, I’m texting the chef and emailing my helper (she doesn’t text) the finer points of lemonade. I am also carrying on a lengthy textervation with a friend I run with about the memorial service, hoping he will attend. And I’m texting my Sweetie. And drinking a beer. And eating a slab of dark chocolate. Simultaneously. You can’t do that with a phone! Game on.

Beer.
Beer.
Slab of dark chocolate.
Slab of dark chocolate.

I want game for dinner! I’m just feeling extra carnivorous this evening! All I have left are two moose roasts and two moose steaks. I’ve been kind of saving them, but they aren’t improving by aging in the freezer, and, perhaps, if I eat them all up, some moose karma spirit will guide a nice 50-incher to a very easy and opportunistic location and for my Sweetie.  Though, it’s a busy time on the haul road for him and having to process a moose could be a bit overwhelming. I’ll just enjoy my steak tonight and whatever happens with the remainder of this moose season is how it is meant to be. I can eat beef and lamb and buffalo all year for what it would cost to ship moose down here, anyway. Game on. Literally. I have game on my plate for dinner!

What's left of my moose provisions.
What’s left of my moose provisions.
Nom, nom, nom. Minus one moose steak
Nom, nom, nom. Minus one moose steak

Piles

Today is the day I make piles, in earnest. The piles sort of started forming yesterday, if you can call three items a pile. I’m actually feeling a little behind schedule in my making of piles. You see, before any trip, whether for work or for pleasure, I put things in piles so I won’t forget to pack them. I pile first and pack last minute. I’ll usually have a pile of electronics and related stuff, a pile of clothes, a pile of shoes, and a pile of other flotsam and jetsam.

Before checking out of a hotel, usually the night before, I gather up all of my things, which I keep hyper-organized in strategic locations within my hotel room, and move those hyper-organized piles closer to my suitcase. I centralize the smaller piles into sort of a cluster of piles. By morning, as I’m getting ready before checking out, those piles just get placed into my suitcase/s, computer bag, purse and I’m off. I have only ever left one thing behind accidentally; a razor in the shower.

This system, piles, works well for me. Even in preparation for an early morning run, I will make a pile of everything I need to remember to take with me the night before; my watch, my hydration pack, my food, my “running wallet” (smaller than my daily wallet), and a reminder to grab the chocolate milk out of the fridge.

You would think with as much as I travel as I do, packing would be no big deal. And, during my busy work travel season, that is very much the case. I really don’t even unpack. I come home, often in very late at night or even in the wee hours of morning, take my clothes out of my suitcase, launder them, hang them to dry and pack them back into the suitcase later in the morning. I sometimes have a less than twenty-four hour turnaround at home. I have duplicates of cosmetics and personal care products and will just refill any travel-sized containers I have when I shower. Even when work trips are a little further apart, like now, I keep many things in my suitcase; ugly shoes accountants would wear, trouser socks that are only ever worn with ugly shoes accountants would wear, my bag of duplicate cosmetics and personal care items, about a thousand Target bags to pack shoes and stinky gym clothes in, and my traveling kitchen which includes a stemless wine glass, a jar of spices, Via coffee packets, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, snack bags of Ezekiel cereal, a paring knife, a set of cocktail service with a little knife, fork and spoon, a couple of little plastic bowls, those sheet plastic cutting boards.

When I was backpacking regularly, I had the same approach; I’d hike, come home, launder, repack and a) be ready to go and b) have a handy place to store all my backpacking stuff. In the backpack.

I’m sure it is fairly common practice to make piles in preparation for doing laundry, right? A pile of dark clothes that can be washed on the “regular cycle”, which for me, is about two items. Then there’s the pile of dark clothes for the delicate cycle and another for lighter clothes for the delicate cycle, and, finally, white things, delicate cycle, of course. How else would you do this? Do people do laundry without making piles first

I muse at how this all started. Was it because my mom always had me lay my clothes out for school the night before? For all the good that did, I always changed my mind eight or ten times between the time I got up and the time when I was at the front door ready to go. Sure, it may have worked when I was seven years old and was only supplied with three mix and match outfits for the school year, options were very limited. But, by the time I was seventeen and began my lifelong career of making up for a childhood of having only three mix and match, color coordinated outfits for school, by stuffing my closet full of clothes I picked out and purchased myself, selecting what I planned to wear to school the night before was a futile exercise. This may explain a lot about me and my clandestine shopping tendencies, even as an adult. At last. Now you know.

But, there may be more to the origins of my preference for piling things up than an evening chore my mother tried to instill in me as a child. I am surrounded by piles. Her piles. Mom piles things up and always has. I don’t understand the logic of her piles, but, piles are very personal. That’s for her to know. I’m sure she doesn’t understand my piles, though I think mine are far more evident. Perhaps not. Whatever (link to article). Mom has piles, mostly of paper; newspapers, ad inserts from newspapers, magazines, catalogs, important mail, unimportant mail that may end up being important, and unimportant mail that isn’t clearly understood so may seem more important than it is.

A pile on one chair the nature of which I don't totally understand.
A pile on one chair the nature of which I don’t totally understand.
A pile on the other chair the nature of which I don't totally understand.
A pile on the other chair the nature of which I don’t totally understand.
A pile on the table, which I assume had more immediacy than the ones on the chairs, though I could be mistaken.
A pile on the table, which I assume had more immediacy than the ones on the chairs, though I could be mistaken.
The pile on the counter of unknown significance.
The pile on the counter of unknown significance.

I am not really frustrated with Mom’s piles, except they take up seating space and if company is coming I’m the one that has to quickly relocate her piles to the “office”, which was supposed to be the laundry nook, with folding doors, downstairs off the family room. Mom had the laundry hookups placed in the garage and my dad used the laundry closet as his office. Actually, his antique roll top desk is in there, but I don’t actually ever remember him sitting there to do any work until he retired. Like me, Dad despised television. The television is in the family room, adjacent to the “office”. So, he did his nightly bookkeeping from his bike shop upstairs at the kitchen table in relative peace. Mom dominated the family room with news, news, news, sitcom, sitcom, sitcom and the news, again, as a nightcap. When Dad retired, he learned to enjoy television, too, and set his computer up in the office. Now that he has passed, the office provides more flat surface space for Mom’s piles. I have relocated Dad’s computer to my office, the third bedroom upstairs. His computer is piled up with my other laptop, my MacBook, when not in use, my iPad and Kindle. So, for my upcoming trip, I need only grab and pack that whole pile of electronic wonderment! Easy peasy! See?

Mom, however, is frustrated with my piles. I have piles of boxes in the garage. When I relocated here, it was from a full size, single family dwelling appropriately full of my things; furniture, décor, dishes, small and necessary household items, most of which I wished for, worked for and acquired with some effort; Cuisinart food processor, Dyson vacuum, Pampered Chef baking stones, the entire collection, an entire set of crystal from my wedding, my grandmother’s china, which Mom thinks is ugly. I think you get the idea. These, among other things, are my treasures. I downsized a great deal over the past five years, with five moves occurring in that time frame, but these are my treasures. That they fill one third of the garage, okay, the third that would be the floor, is not my fault. That the shelves are full of Christmas decorations that only saw one year of use and are packed in boxes labeled with said year, is not my fault. That there are two ten foot long clothes racks hanging from the ceiling full of clothes from the fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties that don’t fit my mom, is not my issue. My issue is, I have no other place for my things. The dresser drawers that were mine as a child, in my bedroom, are now full of piles of things that haven’t seen the light of day for decades, and, so, my clothes remain in piles of boxes in my room and in the garage. Yet, as it was expressed earlier this week, “your piles of boxes in the garage are stressing me out.” Okay. Let’s see Mom try to live out of those boxes for months on end and reexamine stress levels.

My pile of boxes in my room from which I deal on a daily basis because of the piles in the closet and drawers that once were mine, but, now, are not. Yet.
My pile of boxes in my room from which I deal on a daily basis because of the piles in the closet and drawers that once were mine, but, now, are not. Yet.
Some of my boxes in the garage, piled. My treasures, mostly china, crystal and long sought after kitchen equipage I'd prefer to use rather than have boxed, if there were only room in the kitchen for them. Sigh.
Some of my boxes in the garage, piled. My treasures, mostly china, crystal and long sought after kitchen equipage I’d prefer to use rather than have boxed, if there were only room in the kitchen for them. Sigh.

And this seems to be perpetuating, generationally, too. When my daughter moved to the east coast, when she married her high school sweetheart who is, now, in the Navy, I was left with her treasures and her trash. In piles. I spent several weeks sorting through it all, throwing away the true trash, donating the unwanted treasures and re-boxing the true treasures. All of which are now piled in the corner of a storage unit three counties away. At my expense. In my to-do pile is the plan to re-sort and relocate that pile, here, space permitting.

My son moved to Hawaii last week. He did a fair job downsizing, but, again, in a storage unit three counties away are his treasures, piled in another corner. There is a pile in the garage of the house he vacated which I am to, at my convenience, retrieve and find a place to pile. And, in my office, upstairs, is a pile of books that I am to box up in flat rate boxes, periodically, and send to him, except he has not yet found a place to pile them, he is still looking for housing. Until then, the books are piled on the floor of my office. And, ironically, these are a pile of very nice books, Automobile Quarterly, that my dad subscribed to and accumulated over many years. My dad was downsizing his piles and wanted to “get rid” of these books. As they were lovely publications, and my son has the “gear head gene” that seems to run in the family, my mom, who, I think we’ve established, really resists getting rid of stuff, suggested that my son may enjoy the books. So, the entire collection was loaded into my car and piled into my son’s room. Until now. Now they’re back in the house of origin, in my room.

My Dad's books that became my son's books that are now in my office, back in my parents' house, until they can be shipped to my son again. A pile, nonetheless.
My Dad’s books that became my son’s books that are now in my office, back in my parents’ house, until they can be shipped to my son again. A pile, nonetheless.

So, today is a day of piles. Two-fold. I am piling things up for my trip and Mom and I are each taking a pile of things, two cars full, to donate to Community Projects. If I have to prioritize, though, the top of my pile is going to be packing for my trip. The trip to Community Projects can be left in a pile for later, if need be.

Packing for a trip gets a little more complicated, when I’m not traveling for work quite so often, like now, and a pleasure trip comes up. I need to empty my suitcase of unnecessary items, because suitcases become excellent storage facilities when not in use, and fill it with more appropriate stuff. I have a week in Alaska fast approaching. I depart Friday morning. And like a good Boy Scout, yes, I am a registered Boy Scout, I am always prepared. We have several ideas of what we’re going to with our week, but nothing absolutely set in stone. I need to be prepared for just about anything. I know, at the very minimum, I need jeans, something to wear with my jeans, a bunch of shoes and a case of wine. That’s the easy part. Now I need to think of all those things I might need. For example, last trip I ended up layering my pretty, black work cardigan under a flannel and a hoodie to keep my warm while beheading and gutting salmon into the wee hours of the morning along the Copper River in Chitina. I’ve replaced that pretty black cardigan with five new cardigans, a pile of new cardigans, one in black, one in burgundy, red, navy and navy with hand-painted white polka dots. A trip or two ago, again, I ended up layering almost everything I packed for an overnight pilot car adventure up to Prudhoe Bay where it was forty below and blowing. I once had to buy boots for a snowmobiling excursion, not that I ever mind buying footwear, but this is not nearly as enjoyable when supervised, especially by your sweetie. There is a process to buying shoes that most men will never understand. I did manage to score cute AND inexpensive boots that garner compliments when worn, so we were both satisfied. I am the master at shoe shopping.

Piles. What else piles up on us in life besides mail, clothes and books?

Piles of laundry, some of which will be packed, some of which will be hung, some of which will be folded and put back into their boxes. Reference boxes and drawers.
Piles of laundry, some of which will be packed, some of which will be hung, some of which will be folded and put back into their boxes. Reference boxes and drawers.

Do you ever feel like you have a pile of troubles, problems, concerns, worries, and issues that you need to deal with? Fret about? Lose sleep over? This is a common complaint I hear and I don’t think anyone is truly immune. How we deal with those piles, though, is the difference. How we deal with those piles of negative things; troubles, problems, concerns, worries, and issues, is the difference between managing them and letting them manage us.

In letting problems and such pile up to the point where we worry, fret and lose sleep is really not much different that letting piles of newspapers and junk mail accumulate on the back counter in the kitchen. We are constantly reminded of these troubles, problems, concerns, worries, and issues, because they are ever present and amassing. Stephen Covey, author of, among other great books, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” suggested that we should only ever touch a piece of paper one time. If we go out to get the mail, for example, before we set it down, anywhere, it is classified and dealt with; junk mail immediately in the trash, important mail dealt with and mail for others distributed appropriately. Done. No pile. Could our troubles, problems, concerns, worries, and issues not be dealt with in a similar manner? Sort, classify and deal.

Why let a problem or worry linger and fester? I know there aren’t always immediate solutions to dilemmas in life, but, if the solution is not immediate, what purpose does fretting, worrying and losing sleep over it now, serve? Address the problem immediately, if possible, and as immediately as possible, and, until it can be resolved, focus on more positive things. Focus on the now. If a problem can’t be resolved, it lives in the future. We live now. If we focus on the future, and the problems in the future, we lose the now, the present. We can only ever impact the present, now, the immediate. Fretting over what lies ahead, in the future, steals our ability to deal with what we can effectively deal with now, the present. Worry manifests in this manner, by depriving of us effectiveness and efficiency, now, and because of the negative focus of worry, into the future, makes us dread what lies ahead.

If we are to pile anything up, at all, it should be an arsenal of useful tools and useful habits to arm us with positive thoughts and actions that will propel us through any troubles, problems, concerns, worries, and issues that may arise throughout life. By practicing a positive mental attitude and focusing on living only in the present, by expressing our gratitude for all that we have, all that we are grateful for, by recognizing our strengths, our value and our power as individuals, by setting clear and decisive goals, based on our purpose, our guiding principles and our values, we are driven through life, and all its trivial and petty little dilemmas, with a positive, confident, powerful force that comes from within. We can make molehills out of mountains, tiny piles out of insurmountable ones. I am not saying it is easy, this takes, first, making a decision, second, making a decisive change contrary to human nature, a course of education oneself, and a great deal of diligent effort. But, the reward is piles better than the alternative. Worth the effort.

So I begin my day of piles. Laundry, emails, work, boxes to go to charity, and, best of all, things to go in my suitcase for vacation. And, at the end of the day, the piles will have all been dealt with and I will sleep peacefully, because I don’t let anything I can’t deal with immediately accumulate. That’s my present for living in the present.