Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Semi-minimalism.

Over the last many years, I have purged belongings multiple times, as I mentioned when I posted about my no-shopping 2018 challenge (17 days in - yay!). But the other side of the non-acquiring coin remains decluttering. I just finished "Year of No Clutter" (borrowed from the library, NOT purchased, thank you very much) by a woman who has OCD and comes from a family of hoarders. She's a borderline hoarder herself, but worked really hard to get that tendency in check. This book was laugh-out-load funny at times. She still ended up holding on to way more than made sense to me, but it was a reminder that not everyone has the same path and I just need to keep walking mine.
As I have been taking a clear-eyed look at my belongings, I made the decision that there was absolutely no sense in letting my wedding dress just hang in the closet for eternity. I loved that dress and I felt beautiful in it, but it's not like I'll ever wear it again. And my son's girlfriend and older daughter are both significantly taller than me, and the younger daughter will be within months. Even if they wanted my dress, which I doubt, it wouldn't fit. But I also couldn't bear the idea of it hanging on the rack at Goodwill, just waiting to be turned into a zombie bride Halloween costume. I boxed it up and shipped it off to Brides for a Cause, which sells wedding dresses and gives the money to charities that help women. It felt like a win all the way around.
I also had several things I wanted to donate but not locally. Gifts from patients or other people in the area, say. I found another place called Give Back Box that lets you print out postage-paid shipping labels and they distribute the items to charitable organizations. I had two cardboard boxes that hadn't yet gone to recycling so I loaded up the things I wanted to leave town. And then threw in other things because there was still some room. The uncomfortable silver shoes I bought to go with the wedding, dress, for instance. The packed boxes are in my car waiting to go to the post office tomorrow.
Finally, I have three keepsake boxes I put together when I lived at my last house. One for photos, one for papers (cards and letters, my sons' art, school papers, etc), and one for general mementos. I just went through them again, as I do every year or so, to cull. My rule is that I don't keep more photos or souvenirs than I can store in these boxes. Each time I go through them, I find more things I no longer feel a need to keep. Like why, as an example, was I hanging on to my certificate of membership in the Huguenot society? In case I emigrate to Canada and hope that it will improve my chances of being granted citizenship? Or even my honor society certificate? Even when I applied to grad school, I didn't need to prove I was in the honor society. Or, for pete's sake, the boarding school prospectus and the term reports which noted my ineptness at skiing and my unwillingness to devote time to piano practice or speak up in math class? Why would I hold on to anything that says I'm not enough? But still, letters from friends and long-gone relatives, romantic notes from my husband, and hand-drawn cards by my kids stay for now. I guess a super minimalist would ditch it all, but I feel like this is a manageable amount of sentimental-only belongings. I plan to reassess in a couple years because I know that the more I pare down, the lighter I feel.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

And life goes on.

I had let my starter die. I know, that's terrible. I just got out of the bread-making habit. So I tossed it and started the process over, letting the flour and water collect wild yeast from the air and ferment. Frances II is now a beautiful thing, bubbly and ready to go.
My second loaf of whole wheat sourdough bread from this batch of starter. Since we eliminated virtually all processed foods from our diet, I find I enjoy a slice of toasted fresh bread with butter even more.
I've been met with some pitying stares when I talk about what we don't eat. And I'm really not sure why. We eat very well and I never feel deprived. This dinner, for instance, was king crab legs, parmesan crusted zucchini and salads. Why would I miss convenience food when there is so much wonderful real food to be had?
I'm still mourning my Dad, but I'm happy. In addition to prompting my decision to do a no-shopping year, I've found myself spending a lot of time thinking about what I might want my life to look like long term. Suddenly, I find myself open to all sorts of possibilities post-retirement. So I've been reading, and talking with my husband, and spending a lot of time in thought. I believe this contemplative season I've been having is going to continue for a while.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Ready to do something different for 2018

This has been a solemn holiday season for me. A contemplative Christmas or New Year's Eve isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, and there is a gift wrapped up in the sorrow. I spent quite a bit of time this holiday, and some sleepless nights around the time of Dad's death and funeral, reflecting on priorities and goals.
I have a long-standing interest in living more mindfully and to that end, I've been working on letting go of habits and things that get in my way. Over the last couple of years, for instance, our eating habits have changed as we have tried to eliminate processed foods and cut way back on sugars and simple carbs, and increase vegetables and other healthy foods.
We continue to work on de-cluttering to make the house more peaceful and easy to maintain. In 2017, we set ourselves a list of seven financial goals, met every one of them, and ended the year with no debt other than our mortgage. Even that we took a healthy chunk out of. For the last month or so, I have done a lot of reading on consumerism and frugality and began gearing up for a big change in the new year by unsubscribing from advertising emails and canceling our Amazon Prime membership.
My husband and I have agreed that starting tomorrow, it will be a year of no shopping for us. Obviously we will continue to buy groceries and maintain our cars and fix things that break in the house. I’m talking about discretionary spending. So for 2018, we will be buying no clothing, no shoes, no accessories, no cosmetics, no kitchen items, no gadgets or electronics, no furnishings, no books, no shrubs or trees, no non-necessary household goods. I’m announcing it publicly because I know about myself that when I do that, by god I stick with it. And I was delighted to find a Facebook group all taking the same challenge! Our hope is that having a shopping ban for a full year will be enough time to change our relationship to spending and acquiring things. Because let’s face it, we have plenty of stuff. I’m pretty good at getting rid of excess but new purchases always slide in. Sometimes rapidly. We intend to continue to winnow our belongings to free up space and time in our lives. But for this year, we are going to avoid what feels like an inevitable creep of acquisition.
By the time 2019 rolls around, I am hoping we will have a better handle on discerning the difference between wants and needs. Wants are endless and there is always the next thing to buy in search of happiness. I know intellectually that material goods won't deliver fulfillment, but we are bombarded by the message that the next new thing will fill a void, make us better people, bring us joy and win us the admiration of others. Never mind that all the research on consumerism shows definitively that it just isn't true. With any luck, we will be able to use this year to permanently step off the consumer merry-go-round. I suspect it will be a challenge, but I hope I will learn a lot about myself and about peace this year.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Saying goodbye.

Yesterday we made the trek up to my father's funeral. I dug this old Navy charm bracelet out of a little box of keepsakes I have. Dad gave it to me when I was a kid and I wanted to wear it one last time. When we arrived at the funeral home, I was taken aback by the sight of the open casket. It was a custom my father didn't care for. In fact, he and I sat outside at his father's funeral, both wanting to remember the man as he was when living. But Dad's wife must have taken some comfort in it, and I don't begrudge her that. She and I have had a pretty hostile relationship the last many years and that just seemed to fly away in the face of our shared grief. When she hugged me, weeping, I had yet another burden removed from my heart.
The graveside service, in the bitter cold, was a military one. My sons and brother served as pallbearers, my brother-in-law (an Episcopal priest) performed the service, and the sound of a passing train in the distance merged with both the bagpipes playing Amazing Grace and then the bugle playing Taps. The flag covering the casket was folded and presented by a Naval officer to my dad's wife and all the military men attending saluted the flag and my father.  Afterwards, a soldier offered me a casing from one of the bullets fired during the gun salute. My dad's wife, his kids, and their families gathered at a hotel following the service, to have a drink in his memory. I went with bourbon, knowing he'd approve.
My father would have loved everything about his funeral, including that his kids were all there in his honor. Dad rests now in a family section of the beautiful Lexington cemetery, buried in his dress uniform and surrounded by ancestors from the past couple of centuries. It suits him, and I'm glad he's at peace.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

I'd meant to return to blogging sooner....

but toward the end of November my Dad's wife let us all know that if we wanted to see him again, it should be soon.
My older sister and I drove up with our spouses and my younger stepdaughter (who wanted to meet him). My Dad's cancer had metastasized to his spine and he was failing quickly. Dad also had advanced Alzheimer's and the previous time I had visited, he still knew me but was confused by the presence of my new husband. Still, he was affable and we had a nice visit. It was a marked change, however, from the visit before that, when he could talk about his dementia and share memories. On this most recent visit at the beginning of the month, it was clear that he did not really know who we were. And let me tell you, in spite of all my training in neurocognitive decline, I was not prepared for the gut punch of not being recognized by a parent. I kissed him on the cheek and told him I loved him and he said, "Well, I love you, too!" And that was about as coherent as he got on the lunch visit. Still, several times I looked up to see him intently studying my face and it appeared as if he was aware that I was familiar but couldn't place me. I am glad we went, because a few days ago, he slipped away.
My father was a complicated man. When his parents divorced, his mother walked away from him believing she could better find a new husband without a young son in the way.  Raised in a strict military household by a father who married four times in total, Dad went to the Naval Academy and then on to MIT for a master's degree in mechanical engineering.
I know, we look like a perfect little 1960's suburban family. Dad struggled with alcohol dependence his entire adulthood and life was often chaotic. When drinking, he wasn't able to suppress his rage and my mother either couldn't or wouldn't protect us. When he wasn't drinking, though, he was a great dad. He was very bright and had a fantastically quick wit.
And he was also affectionate and very involved in his kids' lives. After my parents divorced, when I was ten, we visited on alternate weekends and holidays. For a while, this involved him driving about 500 miles each way to pick us up to spend a couple of days with him.
When he got stationed in Hawaii, I spent a summer and we got out to hike, camp, and go to the beach every weekend. In fact, we grew up hiking and houseboating and generally getting outdoors as much as possible. I credit him in large part for my love of nature.
Dad remarried quickly after the divorce and the family merged. My stepbrother and stepsister (who my father adopted) became my brother and sister.
When I went off to boarding school in Switzerland, a perk of his new job, he surprised me on parents weekend by flying unannounced from Saudi Arabia just to spend a couple of days with me. I had been homesick and was thrilled by the visit. He came back in June to see me graduate.
But we became estranged around the time of my first marriage, when I was 25. I needed to talk about the hard parts of our childhood and apparently he had a need NOT to talk about it. My letter to him went unanswered, he skipped my wedding, and we did not speak for four years. But at my brother's wedding, he sat down with me to acknowledge the abuse and ask forgiveness. That's a remarkably healing thing and it lifted a burden from my heart.
We had a great relationship from then on. I visited when I could and we were always happy to spend time together.
He was tickled when I got pregnant, and happier still when I gave each of my sons family last names as their middle names. He doted on his grandsons until he was no longer able to do so. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's about ten years ago, but the signs were there for a few years before that.
His funeral is this Thursday. This wouldn't have been my choice for returning to my blog, but you take what life hands you. And what life handed me was a sometimes furious and brutal/sometimes happy and tender father. I know one thing about him beyond a shadow of a doubt, though - he loved me and my sons fiercely. He never failed to say so. I miss him terribly but I have that fierce love stored in my heart.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

I'm sorry, I'm just in a slackerly place.

At least when it comes to blogging. I started to post about our Quebec trip and then just fell off the map. In the meantime, we both celebrated birthdays. On mine, we dressed up and went to the sort of restaurant we found in Italy - a chef who came out to chat with us, escargot to start, amazing roast duckling and seafood, good wine and then limoncello. Not a single person in the restaurant in football t-shirts, a rarity in this town on a game night.
I haven't been able to muster up the extra energy for the blogosphere. At the moment, I'm heavily engaged in a photo project with an expiration date and also work is busier than ever. I will be back, but I need to get a few things done first.  Maybe in another moon.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

See, back in August we had this soon-to-expire Airbnb discount...

and my husband was scheduled to start a new job in a week, with no vacation days available until he'd been there six months. What could we do? I got online and found a room for two nights in a little residential neighborhood in Quebéc City, that's what.
It was our most impromptu trip yet - I scrambled to cancel out three days in the middle of a week, we booked flights, brushed up on our French, packed a couple of carry-on bags, and flew to Canada. We used our discount to get a very inexpensive room in someone's home. And it was a little odd. Like staying with the friend of a friend. She was welcoming and accommodating, but we tried to stay out of her way when she was getting ready for work in the mornings because it felt a little awkward.
We shared the walk-up with this very fat kitty
and his even fatter brother. Both very sweet. I was pleasantly surprised that the apartment didn't smell like cat at all. One night, though, I heard something in the bedroom and then shrieked when this fellow jumped on the bed. I'd left the door to our room open while I ran to the bathroom, and he got in.
As soon as we'd dropped our bags at the apartment, we headed up to Rue Saint-Jean to Épicerie J.A. Moisan, the oldest grocery store in Quebéc.
J.A. Moisan opened his store in 1885 and it was fun to poke around in for picnic supplies.
We picked up a bottle of red wine, a baguette, some soft cheese in a hardwood ash, crispy pastries with duck confit and a fruit tart.
The plan was to walk until we found a place overlooking the river. But I'm one of those people who gets pretty irritable when my blood sugar starts dropping and I was hungry. The first place we found in the shade was our picnic spot. No glasses, so we drank directly from the bottle.
After lunch we walked along the river towards the old town.
The Saint Lawrence River flows through Québec, and the city is a port of entry.
There is a boardwalk that runs above the river, and we spent some time after our picnic strolling along it and just enjoying the feel of being somewhere different. Our luck of defying predicted bad weather held and it was gorgeous out.
Just doing my part to keep the Château Frontenac in its position of "most photographed hotel in the world."
Québec takes the idea of entertaining tourists and residents seriously and there were street performers out all the time. Not necessarily great ones, but still.
We decided to spend the rest of the afternoon in the lower part of the old town, and headed toward the stairs. But more on that in the next post.