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.

How to Have a Hot Body! Mirrors and Pictures and Porn! Oh My!

You hear a lot these days about having a “healthy body image”. I need clarification. Does that mean we should be healthy about our body image as is, or should we have an image of ourselves healthy? Having struggled with this in the past a bit myself, I really think the latter should be the goal. I think it is important to love your body enough to want to make it healthy. I think in making an effort to evolve into more healthy ways, for the sake of our bodies, it is important to nurture and care for, appreciate and savor, in every positive nuance, every positive change.

We were all given a body to carry us through our lives. I, personally, choose to do everything in my power to make it and keep it has healthy as possible. That I think healthy bodies are more attractive is my opinion. That someone else prefers a more voluptuous physique is their opinion. To me, it does not come down to just shape or size, it comes down to health. It is absolutely and irrefutably proven that excess body weight, or voluptuousness, if you prefer, is less healthy and is linked to an increased risk of long-term health conditions, disease and even early mortality. Like my car, I do all the suggested maintenance so that it will last me as long as possible. And not cost me a ton of money to fix. Or suffer an early, untimely demise. But that is my opinion, again. Your opinion matters as much and may differ from mine. Ultimately, the point I want to impress upon you is that one of the biggest factors in self-confidence, a healthy self-esteem, happiness and fulfillment is going to be a healthy body image.

Stick thin, muscular or voluptuous aside, whatever you are, whatever you prefer for yourself, be proud of it and be proud of where you’re at in the process of becoming healthier, if that is your goal. Revel in the glory that is you and your journey if you choose to embark on one. If you are making an effort to evolve, no doubt, whether visible or not, your body is better today than it was yesterday. If you are happy with where you’re at, then rejoice and celebrate. The important thing is to love your body for what it is and what it does. If it looks like you want it to, fantastic. If it doesn’t, and you have realistic goals for how you want it to look, then worship your body by committing to those goals. In other words, no matter what your body looks like right now, love it. It is your home, a house for your soul. The one you get. The only one you get. And, like a house, if you don’t like the one you have, the best you can do is move. If you don’t like the body you see right now, then move. Get it?

What matters most, is that you are happy, comfortable, healthy and confident in the body you have. And if you aren’t, you need to find a way to get there.

I have a friend, I’ve known her for over twenty years, which is about how old she was when we first met. She has the healthiest body image of anyone I have ever met. She is absolutely confident and happy with every, single part of her body. She dresses to accentuate the good and to reveal the best. That she dresses flamboyantly may be an understatement, but she illuminates every room she walks into with her confidence first, and the vibrant hue of her attire second. I have never seen her tug uncomfortably at any article of clothing to hide or camouflage any part of her figure, though it is good, great even, it is certainly not perfect. I have never seen her strike a strategic posture to mask something about her figure she was uncomfortable with. In the twenty some years I’ve know her, she has matured from barely past teenage to a woman, a mother and now a forty-something. And through that all, yes, there have been some additional pounds here and there, but still, she is fit, she is healthy, she is very physically active and, most important, she is as confident with her body image as ever. We should all want to be like that!

Really, we should, and I do. It is something I am making an effort to evolve towards, a healthier body image. I’m doing pretty well. At the very least, I have a clean and healthy lifestyle, with the possible exception of punishing my body with a little more wine than I should, here and there. With a great deal of commitment, and effort, I have a lifestyle that allows me to enjoy wearing the same size jeans I did in high school. This has not always been the case, I sort of lost my healthy body and healthy body image there for a decade. A decade and a half, if we’re being totally accurate. But, overall, I am pleased. I do my best to focus on the positive I see in myself; the way my jeans fit, my waistline, the tone in my arms and the shapeliness of my calves. I try not to focus on the things I can’t change or that will take longer to change; a scar, a stretch mark or two, the lack of tone in certain stubborn areas. I am, we are all, a work in progress, and just like any work of art, from the first brush stroke, from the first pinch of the clay, the first twist of wire, the first form of the glass, it is absolute beauty and only bound to improve with more work. Remember that.

Strategies for improving your body image:

Find a dream body double, someone, a celebrity or an athlete, whose body you admire, whose general physique is similar to your own. I admire Jennifer Aniston, Sophia Vergara, Eva Mendez, Jillian Michaels and Cameron Diaz. I know I will never have a body like Sophia Vergara. Never. I’d like a body like Jennifer, Eva, Jillian or Cameron, and while I may never achieve exactly that, it is not a totally unreasonable goal for me. Once you’ve selected some dream body doubles of your own, and, yes, I will share mine, if you like, go to Google Images and look at pictures of your body double, consider that your dream body image “goal”, if not your actual body composition goal. Notice how confident they look, so comfortable with who they are and how they look. Practice that. Learn to become so comfortable with who you are, in your body, that you can confidently look into the mirror, the camera, or just walk down the street, as you. So, when I look in the mirror, when I get dressed in the morning and undressed at night, I look in the mirror and see me, as Eva Mendez. Splendid!

For the ladies; I read a sensational book, and highly recommend it, “Veronica Monet’s Sex Secrets of Escorts: What Men Really Want”. It is a little racy, a little graphic, but, it is also full of fabulous suggestions and solid advice for acquiring a healthier body image, among other things. From looking at yourself in the mirror, to dressing yourself up, to taking pictures of yourself, all of which I have done, and do, and find incredibly empowering and rewarding. Once you get used to it. I have mirrors in every room, more than one. I make sure I can see a reflection of myself in almost every room I enter. It is against all things Feng Shui, but in this case, I will exercise my veto. The mirrors are a way to become more accustomed to you, your expressions, how you look. It is amazing how we are sometimes taken by surprise at our appearance if we aren’t accustomed to really seeing it frequently. Pictures provide a great benefit, as well. I try to take at least on “selfie” a day, either with my phone, my video camera or my computer camera. I have a whole gallery. And in that gallery of self, I can see the progression of self-confidence, the comfort I have gained with the camera and angles and lighting, make up, my hairstyles. I am okay with looking at me. I know this may come across as vanity, but it is really only an exercise in self-confidence. It isn’t vain to be comfortable with how you look, and to be accustomed to how you look in a mirror, on video, or in a picture. I cringe worse when I am around someone who gasps in horror when they see a picture of themselves, “I didn’t know I look like that!” than when I’m around people who are, perhaps, a little over-confident.

Know thyself. Another lesson from Veronica, but works for both genders. Learn about your individual body, its nuances, needs, preferences. Do whatever it takes, if you know what I mean. She recommends, “exploring” yourself, and, even, if you’re comfortable with it, watching some, yes, I’m going to say it, porn. The idea is to become more comfortable with our own sexuality, our sensuality, our power as a “goddess” (or god). Building our sexual confidence enhances our body image much more than we realize. There is a great deal of power, confidence and self-esteem derived from the fact that we are comfortable with ourselves in our sexual experiences. Men and women both prefer sexually confident partners in study after study after study. And knowing what you like, how you work, individually, and how to draw from your own power as “goddess” (or god) will enhance your enjoyment, as well, further inflating your body image. When we are more comfortable with our sexuality, which is something, sadly, that our society almost frowns upon, we become more empowered, more fulfilled, more attractive, have more enjoyable experiences and enhanced relationships by being more sensual, more knowledgeable and more confident.

On a tamer note; dress up, not down. No matter your size, your shape, your weight or your muscle tone, dress it up. Disguising your low self-esteem and poor body image in shapeless clothing only makes you feel worse. Clothing, fashion and all the wonders that go along with it are one of the biggest, simplest boosts to self-esteem we can garner. This is the one “immediate” fix, it may be the first step in the process to becoming the confident, diva, goddess (manly, god) you have locked inside of you. There are so many folks out there who hide behind a wall of fabric, cower in unshapely clothes and only dream of some far off day where they can wear “clothes like that”. Wear the damn clothes! Now! There are very fashionable, attractive clothes in every size and shape, made specifically to enhance and conquer! We’re talking swimsuits, pretty lingerie, jeans, dresses, blouses, shirts, suits, camisoles, whatever. Many fashion magazines have entire sections devoted to fashion for every body type. No one is discriminated against in the world of fashion anymore. Truly. A little wardrobe makeover and I guarantee, your body image will instantly improve enough you’ll want to take the next step.

Whether you are happy with the general shape of things, or if you plan to downsize or remain a plus size, matters not. We are all powerful, diva goddesses (or powerful, manly, deities, guys) and deserve to live a life with a healthy body image. Take some steps, read some books, some fashion magazines, search out other resources for positive advice for improving your body image. It is likely the single most important step in gaining the confidence we need to rule the world and to evolve into the happy, confident, fulfilled person we deserve to be.