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?

 

 

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Before you start crabbin’, think

Against all advice to the contrary, I very occasionally read the comments on political threads on Facebook. Surprise! Most of the time, I discover trolls–hateful, mean-spirited folks who seem to delight in starting and stoking fires. But a recent post on my local Nextdoor bulletin board caused me to wonder if many of us hadn’t become so accustomed to seeing only what we agree with that when something pops up we don’t like, we feel compelled to speak out against it.

If you’re not familiar with it, Nextdoor is an app that allows neighbors to find lost pets, announce garage sales, make restaurant and repair recommendations. They ask about strange noises or warn others about local vandalism and theft.

The point is it’s neighborly, not political.

Here is the official statement from Nextdoor:

“Posting about local events on Nextdoor is appropriate, even if these events are related to the election or other national issues, as long as it is done without campaigning…. It’s not appropriate for a member to make arguments either for or against…particular polices. “

crabbing

Recently, someone posted this announcement for a crab feed called, “Crabbin’ with the Democrats.” Clever, right? Unless you’re a certain type of GOP (Grumpy Old Person), that is. Then you come out of your shell just long enough to make some snide remark or protest the absolute gall of the person posting about such an event. What was the response? No surprise, the comments got increasingly snarky, breaking the very rule they were so intent on reminding us all of. Wisely, the comments were closed before an actual war broke out.

Nevertheless, the brief kerfuffle got me thinking about how we consume our news. What comes into our view? How is controlled? And by whom?

If you use Facebook, as I do, you need to understand just how narrowly curated your news-feed is. When we habitually “like” pictures of puppies and kittens, we see more of them. When we “like” the ACLU (or the NRA), Facebook uses that information to send us more of that point of view. And of course, because it’s a social medium, we feel the need to “like,” “share,” and do whatever else we do with that information. We also get used to spouting off without fear of backlash because almost everyone and everything we see aligns with our own beliefs.

The trouble is, I think some of my Nextdoor neighbors simply forgot where they were. They also forgot common courtesy when interacting with other humans, even on the internet. I doubt they would have said anything face-to-face.

So, here’s my advice, especially to those in my demographic–those who are over-sixty-five, retired, and use the word kerfuffle. The next time you see something in your news-feed, imagine you are seeing it in an actual newspaper. Remember those? Is it so inspiring (or funny) you’d cut it out and mail it to your best friend? Would you pin it to your actual bulletin board next to photos of your favorite niece? Or is it so void of thought and human decency that it’s worth an actual letter to the editor? If not, kindly (and quietly) move along. The world doesn’t need more hate. We’re full up.

If you’d like to do better, here’s an acronym to remember while on social media or IRL (In Real Life). Simply hit your “pause” button and THINK.THINK

 

Intolerant? Me? No way!

bellyache

A few months ago, I suffered a bellyache that confined me to the couch with a heating pad for three days. Of course, it was over a weekend, so I waited until Monday to call my doctor’s office. Of course, he couldn’t see me right away. And of course, by the time I got in, the bellyache had pretty much resolved itself. When I finally got in, the wonderful Nurse Practitioner asked questions and listened as I described my symptoms. She grew suspicious of food allergies and sensitivities.

“I don’t have any,” I protested with a shrug. “I eat everything.”

She nodded, then ordered an ultrasound (to rule out anything really scary) and blood tests—a regular panel and a food sensitivity panel.

Guess what?

The test revealed a HUGE (like off-the charts) intolerance to milk protein (casein, not lactose). And eggs, especially the whites. Some sensitivity for beef and pork as well. Oh, and wheat. WTF?!

“The good news,” she assured me, “You’re not allergic to chocolate.”

But, why now?

It’s hard to believe that after 67 years of consuming milk, yogurt, and cheese nearly every day, that this could be the case. Nonetheless, I reviewed what I had eaten in the day or two leading up to that bad belly. It was my daughter’s birthday and I baked her a cheesecake. The filling hadn’t all fit into the pan, so I had cooked the extra separately. I had consumed some of that overage AND a generous slice on her birthday–as well as a slice (or two maybe? Don’t judge) of homemade deep-dish pizza. Are you counting up the dairy servings here?

Basically, I had OD-ed on dairy.

Some personal history

For over a decade I’ve stuck to a pretty healthy regimen of lean protein, whole grains, and lots of fruits and veggies. It’s allowed me to maintain the thirty-five-pound weight loss I achieved with the help of Weight Watchers. So, like anyone who is in the habit of looking at food labels and weighing the pros and cons of almost everything that goes into my mouth, I sought out nondairy alternatives for my favorite foods. I found many substitutes, some of which actually taste okay. Not delicious, but okay.

I learned a few things. For example, “nondairy” creamer contains casein, the milk protein. I also discovered that many of the milk substitutes offer little nutrition, especially protein and calcium. Some items (I’m looking at you, almond milk yogurt) are higher in calories than the items I’m trying to replace. Sure sorbet is dairy-free, but nowhere near calorie-free. A predicament for someone intent of maintaining what’s left of her girlish figure.

milk nutrition

Breakfast protein has been my biggest challenge. Certainly, there are plenty of dairy-free, egg-free protein sources out there–nuts, beans, edamame. But will I eat a bowl of garbanzos for breakfast? Probably not.

What now?

For me the idea of never having a fro-yo, a poached egg, or a slice of Tillamook sharp cheddar again is unthinkable. Therefore, I’ve decided on a “middle of the road” strategy for now and have applied the 80/20 rule. 80% of my diet will accommodate my food sensitivities, especially dairy and eggs. No more than 20% will be from the forbidden list. With that in mind, I’ve cut way back on my cheese and yogurt consumption, substituted almond or soy milk in my lattes, enjoyed eggs just once a week, and spread Tofutti cream cheese on my bagel. So far, so good. No bad belly.

If you’ve faced similar food issues, what are you eating now? Have you discovered any helpful resources? Please share! I’ll post here from time to time as I figure this out.

Furthermore, since I don’t want troublesome foods gang up on me again, I won’t risk Eggs Benedict, fondue, lasagna, and cheesecake on the same day. Not even on my birthday.

Book report: Better late than never

bistro 1The Little French Bistro begins with sixty-year-old German tourist, Marianne trying to end her life. She’s been belittled by her insensitive, bullying, and unappreciative husband, Lothar for over forty years. During that time, he’s repeatedly told her she’s weak, silly, and stupid. Worse, she’s believed him. She sees no way out other than to drown herself in the Seine.

While she is rescued, Lothar’s response is less than sympathetic. Marianne escapes, but on her way out of the hospital, she is intrigued by and steals a hand-painted tile of a scene at Kerdruc. That tile leads her to the village on the Brittany Coast where she intends to make good on her intention to end her life. Instead, she rediscovers herself. I guess this could be described as a “coming of age” story, except that Marianne comes of age a bit late.

Some womanly wisdom from author, Nina George.

 

“Every woman is a priestess if she loves life and can work magic on herself and those who are sacred to her. It’s time for women to remind themselves of the powers they have inside. The goddess hates to see abilities go to waste, and women waste their abilities far too often.”
“’People never change!” Marianne retorted. ‘We forget ourselves, and when we rediscover ourselves, we merely imagine that we have changed. That’s not true, though. You can’t change dreams; you can only kill them—and some of us are very good murderers.’”

On the risks of compliance and defiance:

“How many deviations, side roads and senseless detours a woman can take before she finds her own path, and all because she falls into line too early, takes too early the paths of custom and convention, defended by doddering old men and their henchwomen—the mothers who only want the most dutiful outcome for their daughters. And then she wastes an immense amount of time ensuring that she fits the mold! How little time than remains to correct her fate.”
 “Life wasn’t too short: it was too long to waste unduly on non-love, non-laughter and non-decisions. And it began when you first took a risk, failed and realized that you’d survived the failure. With that knowledge, you could risk anything.” “…life as an autonomous woman is not a song. It’s a scream, a war; it’s a daily struggle against the easy option of obeying.”
“Every second can mark a new beginning. Open your eyes and see: the world is out there and it wants you.”
 “She hoped intensely that the generations of women to come would manage better than she had, having been brought up by mothers who didn’t equate love with abnegation.”

On the power of love:

“…maybe friendship was the most patient form of love.”
 “Giving and seeing how a person flourishes and feeds off your love: the amount of power you possess, and the fact that that power makes someone the best they can be.”

I love the themes that it’s never to late to follow your heart and how important it is to show people who you really are, to live an authentic life. As I age, I find these tales of late-in-life transformation quite charming, not to mention hopeful.

While I had read and loved, this author’s Little Paris Bookshop, I had trouble following and getting invested in this book early on. With an entire village full of characters to keep track of, it was hard to know who to care about. Moreover, the omniscient narrator kept changing the point of view which made it challenging for me until I realized what was going on. Nevertheless, this was a Book Club choice, so I stuck with it and was rewarded.  I also learned a bit about the Brittany Coast and the Breton culture I knew nothing of. Recommend.

Book report: Are you ever too old to change?

britt-marieBritt-Marie was Here

Fredrik Backman

Once again, Swedish author, Fredrik Backman introduces us to a rather cranky, unlikable character and then proceeds to make us care for and empathize with said character. Long-suffering Britt-Marie was the sixty-something “nag-bag” neighbor in My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. As her story begins, she has at long last left her unfaithful and unappreciative husband. She takes a job at a recreation center in the small, run-down village of Borg, and does what she always does. She cleans. And then cleans again.

Slowly and somewhat reluctantly she becomes acquainted with and invested in the villagers including the town’s cop, the ragged kids who play soccer on a makeshift field, and the wheelchair-bound operator of the town’s pizzeria/post-office/corner shop/garage. Oh, and she confides in the mouse she feeds Snickers and Nutella.

Some of Britt-Marie’s thoughts:

“At a certain age almost all the questions a person asks himself are about one thing: how should you live your life?”

“She wonders how much space a person has left in her soul to change herself, once she gets older. What people does she still have to meet, what will they see in her, and what will they make her see in herself?”

She is puzzled by, but learns to appreciate the passion those around her feel for soccer and what the teams they favor says about them. And she learns about the impact of circumstances and choices on lives, including her own.

“If a human being closes her eyes hard enough and long enough, she can remember all the times she has made a choice in life just for her own sake. And realize, perhaps, that it has never happened. …they have all been for the sake of someone else.”

As in Backman’s other books, there is plenty of food for thought here. It was a slow start for me, but had a very satisfying finish. Both the small Swedish village and Britt-Marie were changed by the end of the book. Perhaps you’d enjoy a few days in Borg yourself.

Book report: If you love a curmudgeon, read this book

51dQBC7HcaL._SY346_A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman has been on my cyber nightstand for a long time. Then the Swedish movie popped up on Netflix. When I finished My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by the same author, it showed up as a recommended next read. Finally, the stars aligned and the Kindle version became available at Overdrive from my local library.

Ove (pronounced “Oova”) is a cranky old man, recently widowed and forced into retirement. Throughout the book we see the world through his eyes. Life is bleak and the changing world is filled with idiots. No one knows how to do anything anymore.

Here’s a sample of Ove’s worldview:

“Should one really have a driver’s license if one can’t drive a real car rather than some Japanese robot vehicle, he wonders. Ove doubts whether someone who can’t park a car properly should even be allowed to vote.”

“People didn’t know how to…brew some proper coffee. In the same way as nowadays nobody could write with a pen. Because now it was all computers and espresso machines. And where was the world going if people couldn’t even write or brew a pot of coffee?”

 “People said he was bitter. Maybe they were right. He’d never reflected much on it. People also called him antisocial. Ove assumed this meant he wasn’t overly keen on people. And in this instance he could totally agree with them. More often than not people were out of their minds.”

As the book progresses, we learn Ove’s story is one of sadness, almost from the beginning. Nevertheless, the book is far from depressing because we meet Ove’s neighbors and the Cat Annoyance and see them interact in human and quite humorous ways. We feel empathy for the old grump.

This is a charming book, with many laugh-out-loud moments. I highly recommend you read Ove’s story. Then watch the subtitled movie, perhaps with the curmudgeon you love.

Book report: Entering Christina’s world

 

 

A teacher once pointed out that the young woman in Andrew Wyeth’s painting, Christina’s World, was a real person who couldn’t walk and whose entire world was the house in the distance and the field surrounding it. Christina Baker Kline’s A Piece of the World  expands my appreciation of this famous painting by letting Christina Olson tell her own story in a first-person, present-tense narrative that immersed me deeply into her life.

Christina is stricken as a child by an unknown illness that leaves her unable to walk without stumbling awkwardly. She recovers but becomes more and more disabled as time goes by. As an adult, she rarely leaves her chair on the ground floor of her three-story house. She defiantly refuses a wheel chair, preferring to scrape her wooden chair around the kitchen to prepare meals for her parents and brothers. She crawls on her elbows when she wishes to go elsewhere, even to the home a friend a mile away.

“I wonder, not for the first time, if shame and pride are merely two sides of the same coin.”

“To me using a wheelchair would mean I’ve given up, resigned myself to a small existence inside the house… I see it as a cage…I am willing to risk injury and humiliation to move about as I choose…

She cuts herself off from many well-meaning neighbors in the nearby town of Cushing, Maine.

 “These neighbors leach pity the way a canteen of cold water sweats in the heat. The slightest inquiry is freighted with words unsaid. Worried about you…feel sorry for you…so glad I’m not you.”

When a young Andrew Wyeth appears at her door, she reluctantly lets him take over a room upstairs as a summer studio. He returns every summer to paint the fields, the farm, the house, the rooms, her brother, and her. He alone seems to see her beyond her infirmity and her crankiness.

Wyeth tells Christina…

“…I think you’re used to being observed but not really…seen. People are always concerned about you, worried about you, watching to see how you’re getting on. Well-meaning, of course, but–intrusive. And I think you’ve figured out how to deflect their concern, or pity, or whatever it is, by carrying yourself in this ‘–he raises his arm as if holding an orb–‘ dignified, aloof way….Like the Queen of Sweden…Ruling over all of Cushing from your chair in the kitchen.”

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Author Christina Baker Kline

Kline researched the very real people and places depicted to create a sensitive, insightful, and thought-provoking exploration of a familiar image. Recommend.

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.