Thursday, June 25, 2015


My dear friend,
You have been working at your task for some years now. I recall the time you boxed up newspaper cuttings, greeting cards, notes from people you had helped expressing their gratitude—boxed it all up and left it to be collected the next time the city truck came through.

At the time, I wondered how you could let go of all those things. My accumulation is similar, and I’m finding it difficult to cull the items I still want to hang onto.
Why, I wonder, is letting go so hard?

Did you find it so? Did you agonize over whole stacks of letters dating back thirty or forty years?
Much advice is written—and re-written—in magazines, newspapers, on the Internet—but it boils down to this: “If you haven’t used it in the last _____ years, pitch it.” The only difference from writer to writer is the number of years—3 years? 5 years? 10 years?

What about something that has lasted 25 years or more? Does it now have antique value? Do I care about that?

You’ve given me good tips about this letting go business. Take, for example, clothing.
·         Each time you buy new items, get rid of the same number of old ones.

Okay, I can do that. I usually have plenty: too-small, too-large, wrong color, scratchy, too hot, too cool—easy to find the right number. Sometimes, I say proudly, I can discard/donate even more items than I just bought. How about that? And since I don’t buy trendy styles, what I remove from the closet isn’t any more attractive than what I put in its place. The big advantage in taking this advice is that I don’t have to build another closet (or room) to house an increase.
Books, now—that’s a different story. I know you’re not a collector, and you take pleasure in passing on to other folks many books you’ve enjoyed. But you also keep some, because, you say, those authors pleased you and became like good friends; you look forward to rereading those stories.

So I’ve "taken a page out of your book" about books:
·         When my taste changes (now that I’m into my 8th decade, this is not surprising), I can recycle books by donating them to my library for their monthly sale or to the senior center where a minimal charge for used books puts a few dollars in the center’s piggy bank. If the books are mysteries, I check with my children first—they like different kinds, so I may be able to pass along something they haven’t read.

The hardest category for me is correspondence. In my younger years I wrote and wrote and wrote letters to my nearest and dearest. The Internet and email changed that, and though I still write letters, they’re usually typed to save my aging fingers. But receiving letters! What a joy! I’ve written about that before, so I won’t go into raptures again. Except to say, there’s nothing like a real letter, written/typed on paper, put in an envelope, and sent off via the USPS to arrive at my house. A cup of tea, my feet up, and I’m transported into the world of my friend or relative who sent the missive. It doesn’t get much better than that. No wonder I have trouble disposing of those good times, represented by letters and notes.

In thinking it over, I’ve concluded that letting go involves more than sorting, discarding, bagging it up for the trash collection next Monday.
Letting go means a break in a relationship with the items from which I’m parting. For out-of-date clothing, books I no longer read, there’s no trauma. But for very personal items—reminders of who I once was, who I still am deep down, and what I meant to somebody, sometime . . . the letting go can be painful.

So I ask myself these questions: Do I need those items to remind myself of who I was? Don’t the memories attached to letters, photographs, greeting cards remain with me?

You’ve purged many, many things from your life. And I find you are still the same person, without all the physical baggage that you’ve shed.
Thank you for letting me see how that works.

With love and appreciation for who you are,





Thursday, June 18, 2015


Have you ever noticed how certain topics keep popping up in your life? You mention fresh garden produce and that triggers suggestions about how to cook them, the best farmer’s market; or a seed catalog arrives in your mailbox; or someone makes you a gift of tomato plants.
In my life, it’s manuals . . . how-to instructions for everything from rearing teenagers (no, there is no manual; you make up your own) to quilting (expensive books abound, as well as freebies on the ‘Web) to how to get out of the mess you made of your computer (take a class; in the meantime, don’t touch the computer and call those people down the road who make a living cleaning up other people’s computer messes).

Anywhere you go
this is possible.
The truth of the matter is this: When you need help fast, there’s no manual around. There’s no friend or family member who can solve your dilemma in seconds. The nice people down the road are closed for the weekend. And the teenagers are still teenagers.
So I’ve discovered a simple way to deal with nearly every stage of life—ROAD SIGNS.

Here in the Midwest summer is a time of continuous road construction. Beginning sometime in April, big yellow Caterpillar equipment blooms along the highways and byways.
For those of us who want to get some place—the easiest, quickest, or best way—it behoves us to keep alert to our Smart Phones, our websites, and our newspapers (either in paper form or online) for announcements of roads due for work this very minute; roads already closed due to work; and a list of roads scheduled for work some time in the future.

[*As an aside—behoves is a correct spelling, though, according to my Merriam Webster, Chief. Brit. I bristle at the spelling behooves, because it looks wrong, and also because it sounds like it belongs in a stable yard. I have nothing against horses, by the way. In case you wondered.]
Back to road work.

I travel the same 17-mile route a couple of times a week to get to Fort Wayne. My roads seldom vary, because they are the most direct for my destinations. Here are the messages I’ve been getting and the stages of life they might apply to:

I like this for the teen years.
  • Slow – Construction Zone Ahead – good advice for the early years; childhood is definitely a time of construction
  • Be Prepared to Stop – if you haven’t already lost your mind and ability to reason, try to remember this one when you deal with teenagers
  • Detour – whatever your plans, if you’re a young adult or just starting your family, keep in mind that detours are temporary; eventually you get back on the route you wanted; or maybe a better one
  • Road Work Ahead – empty nesters may recognize this one as they learn again how to live without kids underfoot 24/7/365; getting into a new lifestyle will probably require some road work
  • Road Closed – I hate to see this one, because I’m at an age where a closed road means I’m having to give up some of my activities—arthritis makes sure of that; so does asthma or diabetes or heart disease or cancer (or you-name-it). So if one road is closed, there must be another one to travel. We can search for that one.
 The road signs we see as we drive or ride by are meant to advise us of work going on that may hamper our travel plans. Once the road work is done, the inconvenience we had to endure made for a better road.

Who’s to say whether the metaphoric road signs—life derailed, things out of control, losses—were all bad? Since we can’t know what might have been, we are left with what was, and what is.

So, no manual. We find our own way through life, with the help of people, a faith community, books and studies. And always--good ol' Trial & Error. Your life, and mine, are the result of our  choices, our decisions--our personal manuals. Like life, that manual is a living, growing thing—changing as we live it.
Let’s enjoy living, and celebrate the road signs that guide us along the way. Hope you make it safely to your destination.


Thursday, June 11, 2015


Summer, like any other season, occurs in my personal life when I feel it. Right now—ten days before the Summer Solstice—it’s summer, folks.

I don’t know about the livin’ bein’ easy…

Yesterday’s high temp (the last time I dared to look) was 88, felt like 93, according to The Weather Channel; and the car thermometer read 90 degrees at 5 PM. Summer temps.
There’ve been thunderstorms every day except Tuesday for the past week, with more to come until Saturday evening. We get the whole gigantic show: lightning, thunder, wind, rain pelting down. We have pools at the end of our driveways and in the low places in yards.

On the plus side: Everything is green, grass grows an inch an hour (well, all right, not quite that fast), and gardens and farm fields are showing signs of future crop yields.

My favorite part of summer—actually, about the only part I like—is fresh produce. My friends and kids who have gardens always have a surplus of something to share. The downtown Farmer’s Market is better than an exotic grocery store: heirloom tomatoes in various shapes, sizes, and colors; big squash, little squash, fat squash, thin squash; yellow corn, white corn, and then, of course, yellow-and-white corn on the same cob. Green beans, purple beans (that turn dark green when cooked), yellow beans. Cucumbers, eggplant, peas, broccoli….
Yes, I can get those veggies all year long at my supermarket, but for fresh, sweet, just-picked flavor and color--umm, market every time.
The other part of summer I like is the no-ice-sleet-snow part. I never have to cancel out of playing the church services due to bad weather. And I can go places in the evening if I want to; the light lasts practically all night, especially with daylight savings time in place. (That’s another love-hate story, which you’ve heard before.)

My personal way of coping is to have enough library books and movies on hand, make sure the air conditioning is working, chill a dozen or so bottles of water for quick refreshment, and make plenty of colorful salads with all the aforementioned produce.

Any chores that have to be done outside, such as picking up limbs and sticks downed by the latest windy storm, are scheduled for early morning, before the humidity and heat have a chance to do their thing.
If I’m going to be fair, I have to say that all seasons have their pluses and minuses.

Autumn, my very favorite, is beautiful and energizing for me; and it’s too short. Autumn on the calendar lasts until December 21st (more or less), and by then we may have had deep snow for a month, snow that doesn’t want to go away. Thus, my personal Autumn lasts only until about November 1st, which may be only six weeks or so.
Winter can be beautiful—if I’m inside looking out from my warm house at the snowscapes that sparkle and shine. Birds can be plentiful at my full feeders. But Winter’s downside is enough to keep me in the house for weeks on end: treacherous walks and streets, low-low temps that steal my breath and shiver my bones. And Winter out-stays its welcome. You can tell I’m not an ice skater or skier, and I no longer make snow people or angels on the ground. It’s a challenge to put on enough clothes to be comfortable, indoors or out, and still be able to move.

Spring is always welcome! She arrives just as I and most of my associates are ready to give up. Her greatest asset is sunshine and warm breezes, flowers and blooming trees; but she’s coy, too, and just when we put away our heavy jackets, she surprises us with an overnight snow and temperature plunge. “Just a joke,” she says. Uh-huh. This year we’ve had a lovely spring—long, slow arrival, then only a couple of joke-y days. But again, she didn’t stay quite long enough.
So now it’s Summer—never mind what the calendar says—and the temps are definitely stuck in the 80s. Humidity likewise. Summer came early, and will stay too long. But that’s just my take on the seasons.

If you like Summer, then I wish you a grand and glorious one, and that it lasts for you just long enough for you to feel you’ve had a great season. You have so many choices—summer camp, camping, vacation, picnics, cookouts, popsicles, swimming, boating….
But I’m campaigning for an early Autumn—starting, oh, around September 1st, maybe a week or two earlier. After all, school starts the first or second week of August, so why not Autumn? Colored leaves, cooler nights, and cooler days, the year winding down.

Good thing the seasons aren’t up to us, right? We take what we’re given, try to be thankful for it, and then live with it. That’s what life in the upper Midwest is all about. And when I can’t stand it any more, I can always look for another place that approaches my personal definition of Nirvana. (And I can hear you say, Good luck with that one!)




Thursday, June 4, 2015


No, not a typo. Making vacation is a deliberate act, a choice of time, place, and type of relaxation.

Making vacation is what you do when you don’t have money to travel, or leisure to take a week (or more) away from your everyday affairs, or—and this is mine—when you don’t really want to leave home because you enjoy your house/town/life.
I’m on virtual vacation this week. Starting after church on Sunday, my schedule for the week lightened and I have spent more time doing things that seldom, in my normal way of life, get the attention I can give them now.

I don’t actually get a full week—there were appointments and meetings I can’t avoid, since I’m going to be in town anyway, but I have discovered three days that count as vacation in my book: Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday.

Before making a vacation, I recommend you figure out what it is that you like about being on vacation. I came up with a list of six things that appeal to me:
  • No housework
  • No laundry
  • No shopping except for fun things
  • No errands
  • No meetings
  • Minimal cooking

Another recommendation: drop certain words from your vocabulary: should, ought, must, have to. Those words dictate what you do. Instead, try could—there’s possibility in could. There’s adventure!
So—you’ve made your list. You’ve developed a vocabulary for possibility and adventure. Now for the details. I chose things I absolutely love to do, and even though I do them often, I seldom make them the focus of my day.

Reading, for instance. I read every day, but now I’m reading much of the day, even almost the whole day. In a new mystery (the first by that author) I found endorsements by several other writers, some of whom I’d never heard of. So, my fingers did the walking to our library’s website and searched the online catalog. Bingo! Two of the writers I’d never heard of resided on the actual shelves of my library and were listed as “Available” (not checked out).
Now they are checked out. Two new authors. The first one is almost finished (by today’s end it will be history) and then I’ll tackle the next. Now that I'm on vacation, I can get lost in the story--and it's a hoot. Craig Johnson's The Serpent's Tooth. Some rough language, but fitting for the story and locale (Wyoming, South Dakota).

While I read a CD of the Pacific Ocean, Carmel by the Sea, plays in the background. I love the sound of the water rushing to shore, rushing out again. In my imagination I’m at the beach in northern Oregon, letting the wind blow through my hair, snuggled into my sweatshirt for warmth. That was always one of my favorite vacation spots.
Since this is vacation week, more or less, I’m doing almost no chores. Minimal cooking (I’m using frozen soups and fruit that were put away for just such an occasion as this). Minimal dishwashing (paper plates are life-savers, except for soup; so is eating out). No vacuuming. No yard work. My rationale is that I would not do these things at a hotel or resort, so I’ll not do them here.

My one concession was laundry, which I did on Tuesday. Now I have unlimited choices in my bureau and closet—even better than a vacation at a resort, because there I’d have only a few items with me.
Shopping? That’s a natural for vacation time. Thinking about a trip to the big stores in the city. But not very seriously.

And I’m not going to any concerts, plays, movies, or outdoor extravaganzas; not visiting malls or stores I've never been in. My idea of vacation is just what I’m experiencing right now: not doing the chores and errands that eat up my creative time; not staying up late to finish a sewing project because tomorrow is too busy already; not spending a lot of time with people, because I always see enough of my fellow man and woman to give me a sense of community.
Saturday night I’ll return from my virtual vacation, lay out clothes for Sunday morning, practice the music for the service I’ll play at 10:15. And next week I’ll resume my regular life: sewing, exercise classes, knitting, meetings. But the memory of my virtual vacation will be as meaningful as if I’d driven to the airport and flown to Oregon. Not the same, but very, very good.