Decluttering my head and heart

Tidying upIner-Peace-Quote - Copy my physical world only goes so far. Lately, I find my psychic space being cluttered by the simple act of following the news. So I’ve started tidying up my interior landscape by consciously limiting my sources and consumption of current events.

While I’m still appalled at the hate and fear demonstrated by my fellow citizens, I CANNOT remain in a state of agitation and high-alert between elections. My mental and physical health simply can’t afford the stress of getting (and staying) angry at every little (or big) thing our leaders or countrymen say and do. Ignoring the latest atrocious words that one man or his minions have tweeted is a conscious act of resistance and survival on my part.

First, I reject any “news” source that yells at me or allows shouting matches between those espousing opposing arguments. I click away from inflammatory headlines and name-calling–no matter which side they come from. A little NPR (National Public Radio) in the morning while dressing or the few minutes I spend in the car keeps me up to date. Thank you, NPR for not simply focusing on the latest horrible thing. Thank you for providing context, in-depth stories, and interviews with authors, musicians, scientists, and historians. Thank you.

Secondly, but in the same vein, I’ve decluttered my Facebook feed by shutting down my privacy settings. I’ve hidden or unfollowed posts and people (even a relative or two, sorry) who repeatedly spew hate or misinformation. Name-calling by either side also gets ignored or hidden. And I’ve cut WAY back on reacting to or commenting on political posts, since that only feeds the beast. My friends know where my bleeding heart and I stand. Furthermore, I really (really) try not to read the comments section which is inhabited by trolls who have long-forgotten the basic rule of civil discourse–

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

A confession: I do indulge my dark side once in a while with a little dose of the snarky humor provided by Samantha Bee or Lewis Black. They get righteously angry so I don’t have to. But honestly, their humor (like others on both sides) strives too hard for gotcha moments that make the opposition just look dumb. I am increasingly drawn to Sarah Silverman’s Hulu series, I Love You, America. And I recently discovered a great podcast with Alan Alda in which Sarah talks about the series and explains her efforts to be more empathetic, even on Twitter.

Unlike some people, I really try to be even  kinder on the internet than I am in real life. While I certainly vent among my like-minded friends and family, I don’t want to clutter up the universe with more rancor and awfulness. I know minds are not changed by arguments, but hearts can be changed by empathy.

Finally, I try to let go of things over which I have no control. Yes, I still write letters to my deaf Congressman and Senator, but I know my only real power is to change my response to what is going on. So I take deep breaths, listen to music, enjoy walks, practice yoga, or escape into a good book. I smile at strangers. I am generous with compliments and thank-yous. I vote.

And when the news is especially sad, I’ve been known to eat a few Dark Chocolate Peanut M&Ms. Just to take the edge off, you understand.

Here’s hoping for a week in which I don’t have to hit the hard stuff. Or buy a bigger bag.

 

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De-cluttering my calendar

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Retiring certainly freed up my calendar but still, prioritizing my time and energy didn’t happen overnight. For a decade or more before I quit working, I tried to stop being the Girl Who Can’t Say No.” I whittled away at commitments—both personal and professional. It took practice. I learned to say, “Let me get back to you” rather than giving an automatic yes. I handed off leading roles on committees and politely begged off a few social engagements.

However, the first year after I retired, I still found myself over-committed to political and social causes close to my bleeding-heart. And I continued to write Opinion pieces for our local paper, The Nevada Appeal. I joined clubs and attended meetings, but I soon discovered that meetings were rarely productive. For many attendees these were simply social events that accomplished little. After a career in education, I’d attended enough meetings. And with a large circle of friends I’d cultivated over decades in the same small town, I didn’t need to socialize with strangers. Heck, on a trip to the local farmers market I could easily run into a dozen acquaintances.

My time is precious. I mean, who knows how much I have left? Obviously, some organizations and calendar items didn’t make the cut.

Nonetheless, I did become a Weight Watcher leader. My rationale was that since I needed meetings to maintain my weight, I might as well get paid to go. I led meetings for eight years until we moved 45 minutes away. When leading meetings felt too much like a job, I stopped. I also bagged food for needy kids and played in a monthly charity bunco game. The money went to a variety of causes worthy of my time and energy–animal welfare, sexual assault, domestic violence, hungry kids. Bunco was fun and included dessert. A win-win. However, when we moved away those items slipped off my calendar too, along with contributing my columns to the paper.

Now ten years into retirement, I’m just as busy as I ever was, but even choosier about what goes on the calendar. Today it’s yoga classes, writers’ groups, my book club, bus stop duty with my granddaughter a few times a week, and volunteering in her classroom. Writing (and re-writing that beast of a novel), reading, and putting my feet up every afternoon have become priorities.

As I said before, time is precious and finite. I’m trying to spend mine wisely.

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The purge continues

446f46a234421c92e49b6c1ab9ed8106The recycling bin was especially heavy this week after I went searching for space in a file cabinet in which to file a few hard-copies of drafts and other pieces related to my current writing project. How-tos on scene building, character development, querying, and the like were tumbling off my shelf in our office. What I discovered was an entire file drawer filled with outlines, overheads, and handouts for presentations I’d done as a literacy coordinator and teacher consultant for the Northern Nevada Writing Project. All neatly tabbed, sorted, and archived.  Mind you, I’ve been retired for over ten years and in that time, NO ONE has asked me to present. No one.

Yes, I had spent hours developing this pile of stuff. And it was all good. Really. But it has nothing to do with my life now. And no, burdening some young teacher with my old stuff would only add to their work. And it didn’t contain the current buzz words—Common Core or Standards-Based—which would be necessary for inclusion in today’s classroom. So yes. It all went.

De-cluttering has become a habit.c3f2140c603c60236b1430916c26a455

Two and a half years ago, when we moved from our BIG house (basement, attic), to a medium house (no basement, no attic) we tossed or donated about half of our worldly goods. The purge continues. These days, I keep a bag in the sewing/model train room to collect small items as I continue to edit my collection of kitchen utensils, bras, shoes, picture frames, baking tins. jewelry, scarves, doodads, and what-nots. When the bag is full–at least once a month–I drop it off at the nearby donation center. This week my donation will include two large wooden, thirty-year-old dollhouses and tub of furnishings. My granddaughter–the reason I saved them in the first place–says she’s outgrown them.

Nonetheless, some things—like my grandmother’s 1910 Queen Anne sofa with its down cushions—are pretty and useful and comfortable. But I recognize that there will likely come a time and place when having that and her cute old Singer sewing machine (in its cabinet!) are simply too much. And the jam-packed curio cabinet and Hoosier with my collection of Depression glass and vintage snack trays? That will have to go too. But not yet. They still make me happy, although less so as time goes on.0c452eb429c85b90523f85f798b5ee00

You see, I don’t want to burden my children with too many of these “treasures.” What 30/40-ish person wants three cut glass relish dishes? Certainly no one I’m related to. So, I keep whittling away at my material wealth. Perhaps by the time I am ready to move into assisted living (or am taken to the big garage sale in the sky) there won’t be much left. My daughters won’t have to worry about what to do with all my crap. I won’t be cluttering up their homes. And I hereby absolve them from any guilt about what they must give away.2f87e90f263b08ca9bcafc7ac53f2b4e

Serendipitously, many of the meditations in my yoga classes lately have been about de-cluttering our lives and our minds to reveal what is essential, to find focus. I’m finding that particularly apt these days, not only in my physical environment, but in other aspects of my life. I’ll be focusing my posts on that for a while. Have you tried de-cluttering as a habit? What have you discovered?

 

 

This is summer camp for adults

princess-cruises-sapphire-princess-balcony-galleryWe’ve been home from that long cruise for a few weeks now. The unpacking and reacquainting ourselves with real life has taken more time than I thought. Hence the long gap between posts here. Why has it taken so long to slip back into everyday life?

I think part of the reason cruising is so hard to come home from may be the same reason it’s so popular. Cruising is like the best summer camp ever. For adults.

For one thing, your meals are prepared and you don’t have to bus your own dishes. In fact, you have no chores at all. No making beds, no washing dishes, no scooping litter boxes. I remember my mother complaining that she had to retrain me every time I returned from camp.

There is at least one pool. I don’t remember my summer camp having hot tubs though. Or an indoor pool for inclement weather.

And, just like at camp, you can meet people from all over. On a cruise that means the world. Literally. Australia, Portugal, the Ukraine, Indonesia, the Philippines.

All the cool kids wear a lanyard with their ID badge–your Sea Pass. You carry no cash. All financial transactions are handled by swiping that card. That bucket of Coronas you had delivered to you at the pool every afternoon? The pricey massage? The candy bar at the gift shop? At the end of camp, your parents settled up. Sadly, on a cruise, settling up is your responsibility.

Camp counselors (your Cruise Director’s staff) lead tons of indoor and outdoor activities. You get to try activities you’ve never tried before. Every day the long list of events included trivia contests, bingo, bridge, belly dancing, knitting, yoga, rock climbing, gambling, a chorus, a flash mob, sushi making, and more.

Of course, the major difference on a cruise is that you are free not to participate. Want to lie in your bunk and read all day? Or drink yourself silly? Or nap beside the pool? Or just hang out and smoke with your friends? Totally your choice. No one will bug you, except maybe your traveling companion.

And there is no “lights out” or “reveille.” You set your own schedule.

Pretty nice. I’m now wondering if an Assisted Living apartment might be similar. Meals prepared. Helpful staff. Scheduled outings to malls or museums. Like a cruise ship that doesn’t go anywhere, you know? It certainly makes the possibility more appealing. I’m now beginning to consider a long cruise as a transition to such an arrangement when/if the time comes. Costs are comparable, I imagine. Getting rid of everything and cruising for a month or so before moving into Happy Acres would certainly soften the blow of giving up my independence.

For now though, I enjoy sitting here, drinking my coffee, and waiting for the stateroom attendant. The bed needs to be made and we need some fresh towels. Then I remember I am home. Crap.

Real life is overrated. I want to go back to camp.

 

You gained HOW MUCH on that cruise?!

FB_IMG_1485373261825While being interviewed a few days ago, one of the ship’s food and beverage managers said that passengers gain an average of one to two pounds per day on a cruise. Per day! Not bad if this were only a weeklong cruise. But this one lasts eighteen days.

Could I actually gain thirty-six pounds? Not that I don’t like a challenge, but that’s how much I lost fifteen years ago and promised myself I’d NEVER have to lose again. Besides, I gave away all my fat clothes.

So this is one area in which I am determined to stay well BELOW average.

I do expect the scale to be up a bit. After all, I’m on vacation and the food is delicious and plentiful. The dining room offers modest portions of delectable dishes, appetizers, and desserts, all included in what you already paid for the cruise. So, it’s practically free.

Or one can choose to eat at the buffet. It’s a more casual atmosphere and there are more choices.  Besides, you don’t have to share your table with eight strangers as you do in the dining room. That’s helpful if, like me, your traveling companion resides at the extreme end of introvert spectrum.

Trouble is, at a buffet you can take as much as you like of anything and go back for seconds. Or thirds. Or— you get the idea.

And then there is room service. Food, drinks, whatever you want, brought to you. Day or night.

To counteract this increase in intake there is a well-equipped gym, a running/walking track, fitness classes, and stairs. So many stairs. Yoga, spin, belly dancing, and boot camp give passengers plenty of opportunities to burn off a few of the extra desserts and cocktails. 

However, I’ve learned you can’t out exercise a bad diet. I can eat way faster than I can run.

I just have to make good food choices and move my lady-like keester. You know, that motivation thing. Overcoming excuses–too hot, too cold, ooh look, ice cream! And setting priorities– I really ought to finish reading that book, or work on my novel, or check my email… You know, that stuff.

That being said, I’m at the gym the other morning, using the elliptical when I notice a middle-aged Asian gentleman on a stationary bike. He finishes, reaches for his collapsible cane and feels his way to the towel rack and the next machine in his circuit. Yes, he was blind. By himself. On vacation. On a boat. And did I mention he was blind?

My excuses paled in comparison. I hung my head and powered through a few more sweaty minutes and a 30-minute stretch class before climbing the stairs to breakfast. Then I strolled right past the sweet rolls and pancakes, the biscuits and gravy,  and the explicably ever-present baked beans on toast. I selected poached eggs, wheat toast, and as much fresh pineapple and melon as I could fit on my plate.

Day 15 and I can still zip and button my capris. I’ll take that as a win.

Seriously, what are you complaining about?

untitled gratObservation of my fellow humans is a hobby of mine. And maybe the teensiest bit of quiet judgment. But honestly, the endless variety in shape, size, color, language, mode of dress, experience, and expression fascinates and amazes me. Every day.

For context, at the moment I’m on a cruise ship with 400 of my fellow Americans and 1000 Australians. (Sadly, not one of them is Hugh Jackman) The other 500 passengers are from just about everywhere else. One thing we have in common though, in spite of our differences: We’re all on vacation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a big beautiful boat that will dock in Tahiti tomorrow. So, you know–life is good. Very good.

Nonetheless, it appears that some people can still find something to complain about.

  • One recent morning, after a particularly rough night of twenty-foot seas, I overheard a young man complaining at Guest Services. It seems his stateroom was creaking a lot, and that he (or his pretty young wife standing next to him) couldn’t sleep. Could the Captain do something about it?

Personally, I was grateful that the ship hadn’t capsized overnight and that the Captain was getting us past the storm as quickly and as safely as he could. I was also grateful I packed earplugs. And Dramamine.

  • A New Jersey gent noticed me eating a chocolate ice cream cone and commented that he was glad they finally had chocolate again. He really didn’t like strawberry.

I’m grateful for the self-serve, soft-serve available all day, every day, as well as the forty-seven other desserts to pick from. I’m also grateful for the freedom to not eat strawberry ice cream.

  • This morning, in the ship’s library, as I sat rereading and revising the beast I like to call my “novel,” a woman came in looking for the Sudoku puzzles that are placed there every day. She lamented that the previous day’s puzzles weren’t there. She’d gotten behind.

I’m grateful that the puzzles are placed there, just in case I run out of other things to occupy my time. I’m also grateful that there are entire books of Sudoku and crossword puzzles available (not to mention mobile apps) that one might carry along, say, on a long ocean voyage.

  • At the breakfast buffet, a woman poked at a huge pan of lovely poached eggs trying to determine which ones might be done to her liking.

I’m grateful that poached eggs are available without having to order them special. And that the toast and English muffins are already done and that someone has made Hollandaise. Those facts alone are enough to allow me to overlook the precise degree of doneness that I prefer. That and the fact I don’t have to do the dishes.

Yes, the Internet onboard is a little slow, but again, we’re in the middle of the ocean. And even though the breakfast buffet doesn’t open until seven, they do put out tea things every afternoon at three, including scones and cute little sandwiches. And there is always room service. And did I mention not doing dishes?

There’s plenty to be grateful for. Especially here.

 

Learning to read Australian before breakfast

20170417_072828While the language is the same (mostly), my dearly beloved (db) and I were in for a few little surprises when we arrived in beautiful Sydney, Australia after a long flight on our way to a long cruise. I’m not complaining—who can complain about a chance to travel so far and see such beautiful places? No, I’m merely noticing.

The first thing we discovered was the electric tea kettle in our room instead of a coffee maker. Several varieties of tea and an Arrowroot Biscuit (!) were provided along with a couple of packets of instant coffee. Instant coffee.

Yes, I can–and did–drink instant, but you see, db and I are accustomed to early morning coffee before we attempt communication. Certainly we would survive, but seriously, how do people function and remain married without real coffee? We’ll celebrate our 44th anniversary this year and I know part of our marital longevity is due in no small part to the consumption of a couple of cups of coffee before we speak each morning.

At least they’d have real coffee at breakfast. Right?

Of course, a few of the menu choices at the hotel’s breakfast buffet also reminded me I was no longer in the USA. There were packets of Vegemite and Nutella to spread on toast, broiled tomatoes, muesli, baked beans, and boiled eggs in the shell–served hot! Still, I found enough creamy scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, and raisin toast to fill my plate.

Now to find the coffee before I sat down to eat. I looked around but found no giant urn, no thermal carafes… Oh, wait, there’s a machine. I read my choices. Espresso or long black. What about regular coffee?

Espresso is a shot, right? Not enough. But would a long black overfill the cup I held in my hand? I weighed the risk of going another moment without the requisite amount of caffeine I needed for basic social in interaction. I pressed the button for a long black and hoped for the best. Blessed hot black liquid poured forth from machine.

When I tasted it, it was stronger than an Americano, but definitely “real.” Later, with the help of google, I learned that “long black” is a term used in Australia and New Zealand for a double shot of espresso poured over hot water.

With that long black coursing through my veins and my jet-lagged brain now firing on most of its cylinders, I could face the puzzling items that would appear on the lunchtime menu: rocket salad and cos lettuce with capsicum.20170417_072638

Adding a little goodness back into the world

We’ve been in our new house for a month now and we’re still unpacking the mountain of boxes filled with our accumulated material wealth. The good news is that garage no longer looks like that warehouse at the end of the first Indiana Jones movie. Two cars fit in the three-car garage. My husband even has the beginnings of a small workshop out there. Even so, there is much to do. I’m still on the injured list, the holidays are upon us, and the world seems to be in a constant state of grief, anger, violence and fear-fueled hate. What’s a girl to do?

Then last week this appeared in my Facebook feed: Fifteen Things for When the World is Shitty and Terrifying. Reading it made me feel a bit better. There are things I can do in my own little corner of the planet.

light a candleYou may remember that before we put our old house on the market, we filled a couple of dumpsters, held a garage sale, and made multiple donations to a local thrift shop. You’d think we were done shedding stuff. Not quite. Many of the things I saved and packed up last summer now have me saying, “Meh,” when I open the box. Extra linens, towels, and surplus kitchen items.  All still usable. Still pretty clean even. Things I simply don’t need.

Fortunately, I discovered a Catholic Charities/St. Vincent’s (Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada) donation drop-off just a few blocks away. When they sell my usable items at one of their thrift shops, the profits help purchase food that they give to those in need–without regard to faith, race, or circumstance.  In Reno alone, they feed an average of 500 meals each day to hungry men, women, and children.

So while I may be feeling a bit overwhelmed by the chaos that exists in my home and in the world, I can do something. I may not have a lot of money to share, but I do have an overabundance of stuff. Giving it away declutters both my house and my heart.

We can all seek out helpers in our communities and join them. Maybe, by adding our own goodness back into the world, we can help it heal. It certainly can’t hurt.

happy holidays