Sunday, March 30, 2014

Still de-cluttering.

Working on the notion that a less cluttered house is easier to sell, I went against my long-standing anti-storage unit stance and ponied up the first month's rent on a unit. I just do not like the idea of rental storage - why pay to house things you don't even want to be using? But in transitional situations they can make sense, so I am temporarily packing away things I won't need for the short-term. As you can see, a couple of boxes of books that I didn't get rid of headed to storage.
The first load I took on Thursday looked a little forlorn in the cavernous space.  Given our proximity to a temperate rain forest, I went with a climate-controlled unit so I won't come back to find it mouldering away. That means that I have to park outside and lug things in through a hallway.
For reasons that aren't clear to me, the hallways have doors every few units. They are kept propped open and I have to close the one next to mine to be able to get at the lock. I accidentally let it slam shut behind me and then no amount of pulling on the handle would budge it. I had to crawl through this little opening in the door and then kick it right under the handle to open it.  t was one of those ninja moments.
It's remarkable what you can fit in the back of a Prius. I thought it would be halpful to have the basement also look as spacious and clean as possible. It's huge, actually - almost 2000 SF, including the garage and bomb shelter. In fact, the space under the house is bigger than the living space of the house above it, because it extends under the screened in porch. I concentrated on moving stuff that I normally keep there. Tools, gardening equipment, sawhorses, and the boxes of Christmas stuff.

A complete aside - in my cleaning, I found a little notebook that I think belonged to my younger son years ago when I was still married. He'd only written on the first three pages and was obviously figuring things out:
page 1 - "8 1/2 weeks till Chrismas"
page 2 - "Mom and Dad's closet"
page 3 - "won't let us in closet"
The storage unit at the end of the weekend, after four loads. I plan to take another load in the morning before work and then just take things whenever I'm going into town anyway. In the meantime, I continue to take loads in to the Goodwill-like agency run by the college in my town. I'm finding that one of the tricky things about de-cluttering when you don't know where you are going to live next is that, well, you don't know where you are going to live next. For instance, will I have a fireplace? If not, I don't need the fireplace tools. But if so, no sense in getting rid of them and having to buy a new set.  I'm now viewing the de-cluttering as a two-part process. I'll get rid of what I don't need under any circumstances now and then do another wave after I've moved and furnished the new place. And then I will happily go back to not renting a storage unit.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Reader's Dilemma

I am deeply ambivalent about getting rid of books. In a recent post, Nick cited a survey that showed the average British household owned 138 books. I couldn't find a similar statistic for American households, but did find a study showing a very strong correlation between number of books in a household and the children's subsequent level of education. I grew up in a house with loaded books shelves, sometimes two-deep for smaller fiction books. We had the row of Encyclopedia Britannica for reference along with atlases, dictionaries and thesauruses. And yes, that's plural because once a book entered the house, it never left. I was always a voracious reader. For every book we read in my fifth grade class, we got a construction paper train car added to the engine with our name on it up on the classroom wall. Most people had several boxcars following their engine. My train chugged all the way around the room, circling back on itself. I once nearly caught the house on fire reading after I was supposed to be asleep. I had draped my bathrobe and a folded towel over the groovy plastic mushroom lamp in my '70's bedroom, and it went up in flames, burning through the fabric and melting the lamp. After that, I'd lie on the floor, reading by the bit of hallway light that came in through the crack under the door. Even in high school, I would read as I walked down the hall, and I often had a book hidden under my desk to read during class. All this to say, I love books.
And yet... clutter. I do hate clutter. With the advent of easily accessible information on the web, owning books doesn't mean to me what it used to. I have a dictionary/thesaurus right on the desktop of my computer. I have Google Earth to serve as an atlas. My kids sure don't go to an encyclopedia for reference, they log  on. I have discovered that not only can I carry as many books as I want to in the tiny space of an iPad, I can also enlarge the font and not fool with reading glasses. Win-win. I know the purists are writhing and shouting, "It's not the same!" Well, of course it isn't. Typing on a computer isn't the same as putting pen to paper, but we bloggers all do it. And there are times where I enjoy curling up with an actual book, rummaging through the sale rack at a bookstore or finding something new at the library.   just don't know that I need to keep a million books around. So they've been heading out the door by the box-load, bound for the local library's book sale. My most recent culling is the set up top, waiting to be boxed.
In the interests of full disclosure, I do have 50 or 60 books at work, all related to my job. Books on psychotherapy and psychological theory and books on issues that come up in the context of therapy, like mindfulness, relationships, sexuality, finances, substance abuse, grief and health. I imagine that when I retire, most of those will be sent packing.
Over the last month, I have ousted literally hundreds of books. And that was after an equally big purge a couple of years ago. I counted and was stoked to find that I was down to 99 books at home. Some I hold on to for sentimental reasons - books from my adolescence that I actually do re-read on occasion and my favorite children's books, which bring back happy memories of cuddling the kids on my laps and reading them over and over again. There are also the sort of reference books that can't be easily replaced by the internet - books on gardening and local hikes, for instance. The rest are books I either haven't gotten to yet but definitely will and books I know I'll re-read. After some gloating about bringing the book total to under 100, I remembered that I'd already packed away half a dozen books on Buddhism. Well. It's a work in progress.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Fiddler in the making.

My younger son, who is 17, has discovered the joys of having wheels. Last week he spent a few days camping with buddies, driving over to the next state to the Cataloochie area of the Smokies. This weekend, he drove the 200+ miles to visit his brother. I try not to worry, but I still worry. One of his goals on his visit was to go into Nashville and buy a new, better violin.

Several years ago, my son became interested in Irish music, and memorized the long lyrics to ballads like "Rocky Road to Dublin" and "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda." On his 16th birthday he decided he'd like to be able to play them as well, and he bought a violin. It seemed like it wouldn't be an easy instrument to teach yourself to play, but when he is interested in something, he is driven.  He practices every day, often waking me early in the morning. I lie in bed and listen to one of his Irish songs or Pachelbel's Canon. But it is the same sort of enjoyment I get from waking up to birds singing. I love to hear him playing the music he adores. And fifteen months after he bought it, the music has become so familiar to me that I find myself humming it as I work around the house. Here a short medley of a few of the songs he plays.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

But wait, there's more!

I didn't just work in the yard this past weekend. From Friday morning through Sunday evening, I also painted both bathrooms, re-caulked the bathtub and the back-splash of the sink, cleaned and re-glazed the slate tile in the bath, fixed the broken towel holder in one bathroom, did some touch-up painting around the house, and de-cluttered and organized the utility closet and the desk area. Then I packed away several bins worth of stuff to make the house look a little more "neutral."And that was just in the main part of the house. In the basement, I completely cleared out the bomb shelter, did touch-up painting on the walls and then swept and painted the cement floor. Then the same thing for the room that used to hold the pool table - cleared, cleaned, swept and painted. I cleared things out from the cement area under the deck, refashioned my son's old forge into a fire pit, and then cleared and organized the tool bench and cleared a lot of things out of the basement. In all, I hauled away four loads of stuff to charity and threw out the junk. I was, if I say so myself, insanely productive. I still have a list of things I want to get done, but I feel like I'm pretty well on track. And bonus? I know that my coordinating pants and ladder set is the envy of all. Go ahead - admit it.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Green for St. Patrick's Day.

When I woke up on Thursday, I could see the light had the grey of a snowy day. I looked out the window and could only say, "Damn." Not a lot of snow, I'll grant you, but still it was mid-March and I didn't like seeing any snow.
But March is capricious and the very next day the temperatures climbed into the 60's, and I was out in the yard planting flowers. Twelve six-packs of purple pansies, to add a little color for any prospective buyer. The sweet-smelling hyacinths are also in bloom.
I spent all afternoon both Friday and Saturday working in the yard, not stopping either day until nearly 7:00 pm. Lots of weeding and pulling bucket after bucket full of dead leaves and dumping them at the street to be hauled away. I worked until my back ached, blissful in the warm sun.
Twelve bags of mulch later, the beds you can see from the street are all neat and presentable. I have loads of daffodils blooming and tiny white bells on the pierris. The tulips and irises are sprouting and are not far behind. When I went out to take pictures today, I noticed the green beginning in the underbrush in the woods, so I know I won't have terribly long to wait for the trees to fill in. As soon as that happens, this house goes on the market.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Conversations with my ex.

My ex-husband and I have a remarkably good relationship for former spouses. Which is fortunate, since we run a business together. My schedule is set up a little different than his and there are days when we hardly see each other, although I can sometimes hear him laugh through the wall that divides our offices. On slower days, though, we chat off and on throughout the day. The first year after our divorce was a little tense, but it has now been seven years and we've settled into a mostly easy friendliness. And since we'd been together for twenty years before that, we haven't fallen out of the habit of rather casual exchanges. Like the time a couple of years ago I was complaining about the density of my breast tissue making for painful mammograms. He laughed and said, "That's the price you pay for having great tits."
And that's how we have conversations like this one, when he gave me a copy of an article about the many ways a high-sugar diet negatively affects various organs.  You know, diabetes and blah, blah, blah. And then I saw it:
Me: "Oh my God, eating lots of sugar makes you wrinkle faster!"
Ex: "That's funny that that's the first thing you went to - 'fuck my kidneys - people can SEE my skin!'"
Me: "Well, yeah - my point exactly!"

Nothing like vanity to shake you up. And so, using Lent as a jumping off point, I have dramatically cut back on sugary/processed foods. In spite of the fact that I'm thin, I knock back a disturbing quantity of sweets. I'm not kidding - several times a day I'm putting chocolate or candy or sugared cereals down my gullet. Since Ash Wednesday (ten days ago?), I've only had two cookies and one small cinnamon roll. That's it. It's especially tough when my son is around and I'm making sweet snacks for him. I'm trying, though. My hope is that by the time Easter rolls around, I'll have put enough of a dent into my sugar craving that I will just alter my general eating pattern.
His new wife is a nurse, and he often passes along health information from her. Most recently was the other morning, when he hit me with this:
Ex: "Are you in perimenopause yet?"
Me: "Wha...?"
Ex: "I'd feel guilty if I didn't pass along this new information - are you aware of the current thinking on hormone replacement therapy?"
Me: "I'm not sure..."
Ex: "Apparently, if you start low-dose HRT when you are in perimenopause, you can ward off some of the more horrible effects of menopause... like vaginal atrophy."
Me: "What!?!  Holy hell!"

I mean, sweet Jesus, is that really a thing? If it is, that is some kind of sick, twisted joke the universe plays on women. And I don't know the answer about where I am - I guess so, but I'm missing a uterus these days so the usual signs that I'm cycling are gone. I never had any PMS-like emotional changes and can't rely on that to tell. There is only the occasional breast tenderness and an inexplicable craving for Lucky Charms to let me know my ovaries are still chugging along, even if sporadically. But I wasn't taking any chances. The conversation ended there, because I turned on my heel, grabbed my cell phone and punched in my gynecologist's number right. that. minute.

That afternoon, I picked up a prescription of estrogen patches. They are dime-sized and the instructions say to put them on a fleshier part below the waist, a new one every half-week.  (I've got news for the pharmaceutical company - weeks have an uneven number of days.) So I slapped a patch on my hip when I got home. Here's the problem, though - the only fleshy part I have is also my best part.  Every time I caught sight of myself in a mirror, I'd cringe. I felt like I might as well take a sharpie and write "OLD" on my ass. I called my gynecologist again, and she had her nurse call to say there was a bag of estrogen gel samples waiting for me. Fifteen weeks worth, in fact, saving me quite a bit of money. Putting invisible gel on my legs I can live with.

I may scoff at my ex's hand sanitizer habit and what I consider to be an over-avoidance of germs, but I know important health information when I hear it. And if it also falls under the category of vanity, I really don't care.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Getting all proto-Gnostic.

I came across this line from the Gospel of Thomas while reading the other day:

"If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you."  
I'd seen it before when I read The Gnostic Gospels (Elaine Pagels) about the Coptic texts discovered at Nag Hammadi which had been suppressed by the early church leaders as heretical. But that saying struck me this time, and I've been turning it around in my head like a koan.

The Gospel of Thomas is apparently a collections of sayings attributed to Jesus, rather than a narrative of Jesus's life, which were written prior to the other Gnostic works.  Gnosis is self-knowledge or insight. Well, what shrink doesn't like that? The idea, as I understand it, is that rather than accepting the Church as the authority about spirituality, you look within yourself. Which fits for me, given my own nontheistic Buddhist-Quaker approach to spirituality. (And yes, you can be all that at once - the practice of mindfulness can be employed in any framework and there is a substantial minority of liberal Quakers who do not believe in a god.) Anyway, the individualized insight-driven revelation of the Gnostics, the true self encountered in mindfulness meditation, the light within experienced when the Quaker engages in centering prayer, the self-awareness sought in the relationship that is psychotherapy - all place a primary emphasis on the importance of knowing one's own self.
As we enter in Spring and the flowers in my yard start opening to the sun, that saying feels especially meaningful and seems to me to be about authenticity and growth. About not suppressing who you really are, not allowing others to decide what is appropriate for you, being your own guide and following your path in the way that feels right. And, actually, I should sub in "I" for every "you." Because what it means to you? Well, look within - you get to be the authority on that.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Splitting my time between indoor and outdoor work.

First, let me say how thrilled I am that it is finally Daylight Savings Time! I was so happy that I turned all my clocks ahead on Friday night to give myself a jump-start. Helps me adjust to the change in sleep and gives me an extra day of having more light in the evening. Win-win. My state has a bill pending that would make DST permanent. I can't tell you how much I am hoping that it passes. With all the warmth and light we've had lately, I've been working outside as much as humanly possible.
I've tried to concentrate the indoor work to the cooler days or mornings/late evening.  One of my tasks for getting the house ready was to paint my younger son's room.  Both my boys chose green for their rooms, and this one was originally my older son's room.  He actually lobbied for black walls, but I vetoed that. The first order of business was taping the room off and patching all the holes.  He had pictures thumbtacked all over that room.
Actually, I wish he'd only used thumbtacks - some of the pictures were just nailed to the wall. And not small nails. With ENORMOUS nails.
I dragged all his belongings into the living room and set him sorting through them. When he's done, I'll reassemble the room in as organized and bland a way possible. Which means all the knives, machetes and the rifle and bullets will be tucked out of sight. Just like my wine rack has been taken apart and the bottles stowed in a cabinet in the basement. I have no idea who will be traipsing through my house when it's on the market, but I'd like to be as circumspect as possible.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The sort of food-related posts I tend to just put on FB.

While I was at Trader Joe's recently, I picked up another couple of bags of this bizarre product. I'm convinced the company has some crack-like substance they put in all their snack foods. I bought these for the first time on a whim and when I tried a few, I thought, "Ick! Why did I buy these?" Later a few more and I thought, "Meh." And still, I kept going back for more of them. I canNOT stop eating them even though they are basically cheetos made of peas. I need help. According to the ingredients list, they are made up of whole green peas, canola oil, rice, salt, calcium carbonate, and ascorbyl palmitate (vitamin C), so I don't know why they are so addictive. But I know it's not just me. I offered some to my younger son and he looked suspicious and took only one, bit off a small piece and grimaced. Then took another bite. A minute later I looked up and he was staring at me, holding out his hand. I handed over a few more and he ate those. And then he said, "Aren't there any more?"

I got a mad craving for fries the other day, so I went through the drive-through at McDonald's. (Yeah, I know. They're terrible for you. Sue me.) I don't remember suggestive selling being quite this insistent during my teen days of working in fast food:
Drive-through person: "Hi, I'm Danielle. Would you like to try our new strawberry and cream pie?"
Me: "No, thank you. I'd just like a small order of fries."
DTP: "Small fries. And would you like to add on a strawberry and cream pie?"
Me: "No, thank you, just the fries."
DTP: "Did you say no... or YES!?"

Mostly, though, I just grocery-shop and eat at home. I generally keep chocolates out since my son is a grazer with not an ounce of extra fat. I caught him starting to open a bag of chocolates recently and I stopped him, saying I wanted to finish the chocolates in the canister on the kitchen counter first. Smiling, he reached in to grab a handful and said, "Challenge accepted!"

Some days it feels like I've raised locusts instead of humans. And neither of them lets me know we're out of something in a timely way. He complained one morning that he was out of deodorant, so I told him, "Put it on the list."  Later, I saw he'd done this:

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Not a bad start to March.

I spent the last three afternoons working in the yard. It was increasingly warm throughout the weekend - it actually got up into the high 60's today. I've decided to put my house on the market in April, giving me one month to get it ready to show. My first task outside was clearing all the leaves and weeds from the flower beds.  That doesn't sound like much, but there were a lot of leaves.
See that pile? That's what I've done so far. Not the Christmas tree next to it - that would be the work of my procrastinating neighbor. The same one who doesn't shovel his driveway when it snows and has to slide his car sideways down it instead.
When I heard the church bells ringing at six o'clock, it hit me that in a week it will be the same light at seven o'clock. Daylight savings time, warm afternoons, and crocuses in bloom. I might make it to spring after all.