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?

 

 

Is that you, Mother? I didn’t expect you so soon

Donegal 2004Today would have been my mother’s 91st birthday. This photo was taken at Donegal Castle, Northern Ireland in June of 2004, just weeks before she surprised us all and broke our hearts by passing quite unexpectedly. She was 79. The cane you see is hers, by the way. I was only minding it.

In the intervening years I retired, became a grandmother, and qualified for Medicare. However, the biggest change is that before I turned sixty, people argued when I told them my age. “No! You can’t be that old!” Now when I state my age, they don’t argue. It hurts, you know?

It is with thoughts of that inevitable process of aging that I wrote this piece fifteen years ago.  It first published in the Nevada Appeal on December 20, 2001.


I saw her again this morning. My sweet mother. She lives 500 miles away but there she was staring back at me from my bathroom mirror. It’s her all right; there’s no mistake.
Soft brown and gray curls, soft sags of skin, laugh lines, a few age spots. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mom and would introduce her to you proudly if she were standing beside me. It’s just that when she looks back at me from the bathroom mirror, it’s … well … unsettling.
So every day I spend a considerable amount of time pushing her back out of my way and finding myself, recreating the person who greets the world. The steps have become a ritual.
To my clean and exfoliated skin I apply a moisturizer with sunscreen. It’s my first line of defense, my armor against any further damage from the sun. Apparently those summers at the beach in Southern California 40 years ago have been burned into my skin as well as my memory.
Next, I sponge on the foundation. When you build a house it is the foundation that holds everything upright and straight, making it endure. This foundation just allows my little illusion to last throughout most of the day. And then concealer. It goes to work hiding dark under-eye circles from the wakeful nights that began when I became a mother in 1976. I have been collecting those little bags through 23 years, two children, colic, croup, curfews, and college.
My brows are alternately plucked and penciled, growing thickly where I do not want them, thinly where I do. Like the lawn. And of course it is made even more challenging by failing eyesight. Dime store glasses and a magnifying mirror aid in this task. Then eye shadow, eyeliner, and mascara are applied to enhance what people used to tell me were my best features, but which now lie hidden behind bifocals.
Finally a bit of blush to mimic what I can no longer trust the sun nor my innocence to produce: a rosy glow, an embarrassed flush. I’m not sure the makeup conceals much. Perhaps it’s only an attempt to reveal the person I believe still resides in this middle-aged body — someone who was considered intelligent, creative, friendly, fun and — once upon a time — even cute.
It is getting harder to find that girl with each passing year. I suppose sometime in the future the law of diminishing returns will cause me to reassess how I spend my time.
Although I had an old auntie who put on a fresh coat of makeup every night before going to bed explaining, “If I died in my sleep, nobody would recognize me.” She lived to be 100.
Perhaps one day I’ll accept these little imperfections as battle scars, as medals of honor. Perhaps one day I can wear them as signs of survival and triumph. Perhaps someday. More likely though, as aching joints and old age creep in, I’ll just be grateful for the sunrise and breath. Merely being clean will be good enough.
And maybe one day when my mother isn’t around anymore, I will even find it comforting to see her in the mirror, to know she’s close and that I’ll always have something to remember her by. Right in front of me.
Not today though. Today I will color and curl my hair, carefully apply my makeup, and accomplish a nearly complete makeover each morning. I’ll look into the mirror and see myself again and not my mother. Once the transformation is complete, I’ll put on my control top pantyhose, my sensible shoes with the orthotics, and my bifocals. I’ll take my hormones, allergy pills, vitamins, extra calcium. Even ginkgo biloba, if I remember. I’ll check the mirror once more and walk out the door accepting the fact that someday my mother in the mirror will be moving in to stay. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of my life. Continue reading “Is that you, Mother? I didn’t expect you so soon”

In case I forget…

crayonsOld age is sometimes referred to as a “Second Childhood.” Perhaps the thought is that we become carefree again as we conveniently forget our responsibilities. Unfortunately, it may also mean that once again, we are dependent on others for our care. Some of us will be forced to relinquish control of such simple tasks as dressing, eating, or going to the toilet. I think that’s what troubles me most as I age–that loss of control.

Of course, we can look to our parents and grandparents for examples of the paths our aging may take. My two grandmothers lived well into their 90s, although they’d lost most of their marbles by that time. My mom died at 79 of what I consider to be a broken heart, having watched and cared for my dad as he suffered an unknowable number of mini-strokes in the two years leading up to his death at 82. Nonetheless, we can’t see the particular road that lies ahead for us.

So I thought I’d share these notes, just in case I end up trapped inside an uncooperative mind and body.

When I visited an elderly friend in a nursing home after an accident, she didn’t have her teeth in. Imagine how demoralizing that would be. Moreover, she had no one to look after her and remind staff what she needed. So she was stuck. Toothless. While I don’t wear dentures (yet), you never know. So please, someone, bring me my teeth!

And please, DO NOT put my hair in a ponytail or pin it back with those childish plastic barrettes. I haven’t worn a ponytail since my twenties and for good reason. My thin, wispy hair makes for a ridiculous ponytail with the diameter of a pencil. Cut it short. Judi Dench short. Let it (finally) go grey, fine. But please, no ponytail, no barrettes.

Before you judge me for my vanity, let me say that my lovely sister-in-law wants someone to please (please, please…) remember to pencil in her eyebrows. Perhaps she’ll have them tattooed on before she forgets.

And if I’m confused or anxious, don’t give me drugs. Give me crayons. This simple remedy occurred to me a couple of years ago, while lying on the floor coloring and eating graham crackers with my then toddler granddaughter. I noticed how happy I felt. Contented, you know? Just a lazy, lovely activity with something and someone sweet. My mother enjoyed coloring too, and would often let housework go undone to spend a morning doodling away with me. Graham crackers and milk just add to the blissful experience. Any coloring book will do. Dora, Disney princesses, dinosaurs, I won’t care.

I want to believe that somewhere deep inside, a little nugget of my five-year-old self will still exist, remember, and calm right down.

So if you visit me at Happy Acres, I hope you bring me crayons and graham crackers. And please, make it the big boxes. I like to share.

 

Ch-ch-ch-changes of address

Full-MailboxWe now officially own no property. None. And until that check clears, we have no money either. Fingers crossed, breath held until Friday when we (hope to) sign on to the next house.
Now we’ve begun the monumental task of changing every address, utility, credit card, membership, DMV and voter registration, every insurance policy. Again. We just did this when we moved into the apartment in July, just not EVERY little thing since we knew (hoped) it would be temporary. For example, we didn’t order new checks with the apartment address. And since the next election isn’t until next year, we didn’t change our voter registration. We’re in a new county now too. So everything changes. I guess I even need a new library card.
This part isn’t fun. It’s tedious. There’s a reason we don’t do it very often.
In the first few years we were married (when we owned nothing, had nothing), we used to joke that we moved every time the apartment oven got dirty. In the forty years since, we have owned just three houses. Our joke has become that we stay until the house doubles in value. That’s held true so far, starting with the tiny $35K townhouse we bought in San Juan Capistrano that we sold two years later for $70K in 1977.
Whether or not this house can double in value is probably a matter of how long we can stay healthy and hold onto our marbles. I figure we’re good for about twenty years. That would take us to our mid-eighties. By then one or both of us will likely need to move into assisted living. Or memory care. Or the cemetery. But at least when that happens no one will expect me to fill out another change of address.

Honey, I’m home!

For those of you who’ve been following this downsizing-and-moving-closer-to-family adventure, the end is in sight! To recap, we had several reasons for starting this process. We are in our sixties, retired, and our old house no longer suited us. It was too big and hard to maintain. We wanted to move before we had to be moved. We wanted to be closer to our daughter and her family. We actually like our family and have missed being nearby. No, we aren’t quite ready for the old folks home, but to be honest, there will likely come a time when someone needs to check in on us. So close is good.

My wish list for this next house was pretty specific and included:
• Close to some shopping and other services, perhaps walking distance
• No steep hills which can be treacherous in winter
• Single level, no stairs, no basement
• Space for an office
• Guest room
• Sewing and craft space
• Space for husband’s workshop so he build and fix stuff
• Two baths. No more, no less
• Stall shower and double sinks in master bath
• Space to park our motor home
• Low maintenance landscaping
• Covered patio
• Open kitchen/family room combination
• Plantation shutters on windows
• Gas fireplace that lights with a wall switch or remote
I figured I’d have to compromise on a few things, but a girl should know what she’s looking for. Otherwise, like the late Yogi Berra says,

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”

ISdgd5y2sjvh430000000000So when my daughter told me about a nearby open house last month, I went by myself, figuring I’d know pretty quickly if it had possibilities or not. As I followed the signs, I noticed that it was just a couple of streets away from our granddaughter’s school and around the corner from a playground. Not to mention walking distance to the drugstore, the library, and a couple of restaurants. As I parked I noted the three-car garage and no lawn, just lots of mature trees and shrubs. Nice.
The agent hosting the open house was one I’d met and liked at another house a few weeks before. That’s a sign, right?
The front room had a vaulted ceiling and big windows with plantation shutters. At the back was the open kitchen/family room combination with more plantation shutters and a gas fireplace. From there I stepped out onto a covered patio and a huge deck surrounded by more trees adding both privacy and shade. The big master bath has a stall shower, garden tub and double sinks. There were also two smaller bedrooms (guest and sewing!), a second bath with tub & shower, and an office. The laundry room led out to garage with plenty of space for my husband’s workshop in that third garage. And there was room for the motor home in the side yard.

I tried not to act too excited. The place wasn’t perfect and the price was at the top end of what we wanted to spend. It needed some paint (they loved forest green!), maybe new carpet, linoleum, kitchen counter tops and probably a list of other things that wouldn’t show up for a while, but I could actually see us in this house.
However, we were waiting for several contingency dominoes to fall on the sale of our old home. We couldn’t really make an offer. Still, I obsessed about this house. I lurked on Zillow for other houses, but found nothing even close. At long last our buyer firmed up and I felt like my husband should see the house. He agreed. He saw what I saw and wanted to start the offer/counter-offer dance immediately. Long story short–we got it! We’ll be home for the holidays. Whew.
So in the end we sold, donated or dumpstered about half our belongings. We found a lovely, one-story house with one-third less space on a smaller lot that pretty much met every item on my wish list. If I needed a sign that this was the right move, I think this is it.
Next steps? Coordinating the workmen installing new carpet and counter-tops and deciding what color paint will cover up that forest green.

Downsizing: How low can we go?

hand-holding-tiny-house-cartoon-illustration-securing-30676278Now that the house looks like it might actually be sold– and without any contingencies–the next round of decisions are keeping me up at night. That and the iced-coffee yesterday afternoon. And trying to finish The Martian before the movie comes out. It’s always something.

Anyway, I’ve been stalking houses on the Internet for months. I’ve walked and driven through neighborhoods. I crossed anything with two stories off my list as well as those out of my price range. I’ve been to open houses. I’ve probably seen hundreds of houses that simply won’t work for us.

The apartment we are in now is 1250 square feet, with two bedrooms and two baths, a great room, a laundry room and a single garage. Not bad for an apartment, but not for the long term. I find myself needing one more “away” space. There is neither space for our hobbies nor the little fix-it projects my husband likes. Places for sewing, scrapbooking, model trains, DIY-ing, and writing all go into figuring out just how big the next house should be. How many bedrooms and bathrooms? How many square feet? How much garage space? Is there space to park the motorhome?

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We’re (only) in our sixties. This should be prime hobby-enjoying time. And even after 42 years of marriage, we are two different people with very different interests. We’ll need enough space to accommodate those activities. And enough personal space to avoid divorce.

The 3000 square feet of our old house—with its three levels and huge sloping lot– was just too big. This apartment is too small. So maybe something just under 2000 will be the sweet spot.

Stay tuned. I have a hunch that the Goldilocks of houses is just around the corner. Literally.

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