What Am I Going to Do With This?!?!

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Me with a childhood portrait

“It’s so big I can’t even scan it!” said my husband.

Dear Reader:

Downsizing, I think, is a lot like writing; both exercises require one to discard what is not beautiful or useful. Brutal elimination of the extraneous is a painful process. But hard work and commitment offer the potential to create a deep sense of satisfaction and true pride. My husband and I are collectors and we’ve been alive for over half of a century, so when we moved two years ago into a  home, half the size from our previous home, there were a lot of items we were forced to hold in our hands and decide to keep or donate.

Back in the days when we had little money, we could measure the depth of a friendship by the willingness of a person to help us move. You see there were many, many, many heavy boxes of books and anyone who knew us, knew that! So, if someone turned up on moving day, we knew we had a true friend. Books are still a shared passion for us, but, thankfully, we can afford to hire big, burly young movers.

I started the process of downsizing a year in advance and thank goodness for that! When my friends ask for advice, that’s the first thing I say:  Get a head start!  The act of purging builds on itself. It’s kind of like losing weight; you lose one pound and you’re more motivated to lose the other four. It does take a lot of time, though. You have to develop a rhythm. It’s easy to decide the fate of some things. Yes, I’ll keep every love letter my husband ever sent me. There are a lot as we had a long distance relationship while he was away at UC San Diego  and this was before cell phones and laptops (I’m very old!)! The closet took forever as I tried on each item of clothing and modeled it for my husband. The kitchen was a nightmare.  I’m a wanna-be chef so through the years I’ve purchased many small appliances that promised to help me achieve my culinary goals. Sad to say many of them were never used.  Bye, bye panini maker, waffle maker and food processor! I was forced to acknowledge that I’d never make a crepe or a donut. I did keep my large roasting pan only to discover on our first Thanksgiving in the house that it was too big for my new oven!

My second suggestion is to recruit the help of an honest friend. You know the one who knows how many cake plates you have and isn’t afraid to ask why you need all of them. Self talk is also very helpful. This can be of the silent variety or you can run it past your four-legged furry friends. It goes something like this: “When was the last time I used this? Am I sentimentally attached? Is it really fab or really handy?” Finally, if you’d like to buy a book to inform, motivate and support you, I offer the following recommendations:  It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff  by Peter Walsh and the hugely popular primer by Marie Kondo,  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Today we are happily living among our very carefully curated collection of things. My husband and I have never been, nor will we ever be, minimalists.  We still have a lot of stuff, but it’s all good stuff! Oh, and about that portrait…the frame is gone, but the picture  remains in a large art box filled with my daughter’s early masterpieces.

Best,

Michele

P.S. I can still find room for small dachshund shaped items and most anything in the color of petal pink.

Mean Mothers

Dear Reader:

As we drove home from Southern California yesterday, my husband asked me, “Does Mother’s Day upset you or make you sad in a way?”

I knew exactly what he meant, but the question still took me by surprise as I was quite happily surveying grape orchards and remembering the events of the weekend. If you know me from my blog, you know how proud I am of my daughter and the close relationship we share. If you are one of my dear friends, you begin every visit with the question, “How’s your daughter?” I love talking about my daughter. I simply adore her. She is my single greatest source of pride.

So, why should Mother’s Day in any way upset me? Well, the answer has to do with my mother. She died three years ago on the morning after my daughter had major surgery at Stanford Hospital. In life, my mom had loved being the center of attention and so the timing of her death seemed appropriate.

One of the nurses heard me take the call from my sister and she became immediately quite concerned about my state of mind. My daughter was scheduled to spend four days in the hospital, but she would need continuous home care for several weeks. The doctors and nurses, my husband and I soon realized, were training us to take care of her at home. Her release would be determined not only by her condition, but also by our ability to care for her. The hospital chaplain was alerted to our situation and within the hour began appearing at our door. My husband shooed her away several times while I snoozed, but she was determined to talk to me.

“Ah, good, you’re eating!” she exclaimed as she approached me late that night in the cafeteria. “I’m Dusty, the hospital’s multi-faith chaplain and I’m here to see if you’d like to talk.” Really I just wanted to eat, but I was polite. I thanked her for her concern and let her know that I was tired, but fine, and that I knew exactly what I needed to do:  take care of my daughter. “But,” she continued, “it’s hard to take care of someone else when you are suffering yourself.”

How could she know that was exactly what I’d told myself for years when I thought about my mother? She was simply unable to be kind or nurturing as she was in pain. The explanation served to protect me from completely absorbing the constant emotional assault she inflicted on everyone close to her. My mother died without having a relationship with me or knowing her only grandchild. “She’s no longer in pain,” I told Dusty and I left her to interpret the comment in any way she chose. I returned to my coffee and eggs as she left finally satisfied that she had done her job.

A week later I found myself speeding down the freeway to attend my mother’s funeral. I paid my last respects to the woman who had created me and who had, I think, helped determine the happy course of my life.

“You know we may not have Natalie if it weren’t for my mother,” I answered my husband.

I missed out on having a strong bond with my own mother; maybe that’s why I finally decided at 35 to throw away my birth control pills!   We all make choices and those choices are often based on needs we may not even consciously be aware of. Maybe I needed a strong mother/daughter bond. I did not have that with my own mom, so I set about to create it with my daughter.

It has been many many years since I felt anything for my mother, but it took time and counseling to resolve issues from my childhood. It seems to me that it is still taboo to speak about one’s mother in anything but appreciative terms, but for those readers who can relate to my story, I’m sorry… and I’d like to offer the following book recommendations: Mean Mothers by Peg Streep and Mothering Without a Map by Kathryn Black.

I’ll borrow Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words to perfectly describe my feelings about my life: “For everything you have missed, you have gained something else…”

I am so fortunate to be able to celebrate Mother’s Day with my daughter. Happy ending!

Sincerely,

Michele 

My Dog’s Favorite Books

Dear Reader:

Remember my little editor, Bart?  You caught a glimpse of him in “See the Nose?! He spends a lot of time with me in the pink shed, because he’s a “mama’s boy” and, well, he’s an editor.  This week he has two books to recommend: he hopes you will consume them with as much pleasure as he did.

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His first recommendation is the $60,000 Dog: My Life with Animals by Lauren Slater. It’s probably obvious why he was drawn to this book, and, of course, it’s the same reason I was drawn to it. Slater’s memoir is one long, beautiful meditation on the solace and joy that animals can bring to our lives. Slater, a psychologist, survived a difficult childhood with a mentally ill mother. As a child, her bike provided her with a means of escape from her troubled home and the country lane she travelled was her introduction to the natural world. It was there she fell in love with a variety of animals. We meet a horse, raccoon, swan, bat and Lila, her precious dog, who eventually loses her sight despite the $60,000 in veterinary care.  Her dog is resilient, though, and adjusts to blindness so well that it seems to inspire Slater’s husband who is suffering a medical challenge of his own. Anyone who loves animals will love this book, but it is not just for animal lovers. Slater’s honest reflection on life’s joys and sorrows is inspiring.

Bart’s second choice is an old favorite of mine, as it reinforces my eat, drink and be merry philosophy!  A surgeon and a psychologist teamed up to produce:  Live a Little:  Breaking the Rules Won’t Break Your Health. The book covers the full gamut of women’s health topics including: exercise, stress, nutrition and sleep, and contains quizzes to help you determine your current state of health. Love and Dormar debunk some common myths and explain why the studies we read about in the headlines are often highly flawed. The big takeaway is just as my grandmother preached: everything in moderation. Don’t worry!

I’m sure you’ll agree after reading these two titles that my little guy has excellent taste in books!

Have a great day,

Michele 

 

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Guest Post: Inner Space by Laurie Seidler

Dear Reader:

I’m packing for Mars.

Yeah. I’m an astronaut. Self-trained. Rigorously self-trained. I’ve been running stairs. Well, not so much running stairs as using them on an as-needed basis. You know, when I’m downstairs and I have to get upstairs. And I squeeze a tennis ball. A lot. Preparing for space travel is an arduous and exacting science. You have to mix anaerobic and aerobic activity.

What drives me? What drives any explorer? Curiosity. A thirst for adventure. The need to test myself. Mars is there and I’m here. Enough said.

Also, I have an empty nest now, and a bit of free time. A fair amount of free time, truth be told, and I don’t do well with free time. I need structure and goals. So I’m planning and executing a 270-day trip to Mars, during which I’ll be following the kind of regimented program of exercise and intellectual stimulation that keeps astronauts sane as they hurtle through the vacuum of space.

You know how people say, “I’ve always wanted to do X. I’ve always wanted to [learn to surf, play the cello, read Proust and not just say that I’ve read Proust]”? Well, I may actually read Proust. And learn to surf. I’m not sure yet. The trip is still in the planning stages. But it’s a go, as we like to say in the space business. It’s on. I’m in the process of establishing the mission parameters that I’ll be following for the 270 days that I’m “away,” and I’m chronicling the journey in a mission log.

We’re happiest when we’re absorbed, when we’re rising to a challenge. Well, everything I know about astrophysics I learned from Star Trek and I get dizzy shaking my head, but I’m going to Mars, if only metaphorically. That’s my challenge. We’re all travelers, I’m just steering my ship in a new direction.

Call it a trip to inner space.

Laurie Seidler

My friend Laurie has a BA in history from Yale and an MFA in writing from the California College of the Arts. Formerly a reporter and editor for Dow Jones & Co., she teaches in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her book, 22 Shelters:   Lessons From Letters , is an inspiring read.

In addition to those amazing credentials, Laurie was the first mom to be-friend me when my daughter switched schools in the second grade. So, yes, she has a permanent place in my heart. Her only “child” is a sophomore in college.

Maui Time

Dear Reader:

While there is no bad time to go to Maui, my husband and I have discovered a truly good time to visit the island. Last year, a couple of days after Thanksgiving , we loaded the suitcases with books and magazines, threw in our suits and shorts and escaped the holiday rush. We walked every day along the beach paths and in the sand. We slept in late and began each day with a mimosa. We didn’t rent a car. We didn’t watch the news.We enjoyed sudden bursts of tropical rain. We sang along to “Frosty the Snowman” in the hotel lobby as we enjoyed Kalua pork sandwiches and mai tais. There is something particularly satisfying about having nothing to do for a whole week, especially in the month of December. (Our daughter was appalled: we had not only gone without her, but we were there while she was taking finals. We sent pineapples and chocolate covered macadamia nuts to her and her five roommates!)

My reading list for the week was diverse, and heavy! I have simply not made friends with readers, and so I hauled my heavy load from lobby to pool and back again throughout the week. I began with the book my sister-in-law had recommended: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson. I am not a person who has to be convinced of the power of non-fiction. But, even I was struck by how moved I felt at the stories of those who lost their lives in such dramatic fashion in 1915. I followed that book up with something lighter:  A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. I knew I had to read the book when I heard  that it was a novel by a blogger and that the central character was a 59-year-old curmudgeon. My husband is not yet 59, but in three years he will be a 59 year old curmudgeon. The book was charming, as is my husband. For my third book, I read Delia Ephron’s: Sister Mother Husband Dog : (etc) . I’ve always admired the work of the Ephron sisters and I enjoyed the mix of autobiographical essays that had me alternatively chuckling and near tears…a true representation of life. The last book I read  Blog, Inc.: Blogging for Passion, Profit, and to Create Community by Joy Deangdeelert Cho was an inspiration. I read it once; then I read it again while taking notes; then I read it again because it was fun. I felt energized, afraid, motivated, excited! After tossing around the idea of a blog for several months, I suddenly knew that I was going to become a blogger. Joy had convinced me!

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On our last morning, as I packed up my large tote with my books, my husband called for the bellman. He arrived shortly after and looked at me and said, “You look like a movie star…or, maybe a writer.”

His comment seemed to me to be a good omen. Clearly, I do not look like a movie star! But, yes, I’m a writer. I must be. I look like one!

Aloha,

Michele

* Note to those who want to look like a writer or movie star: Throw on a pair of jeans and a black tee, top with a long cardigan, drape a colorful scarf around your neck, carry a large tote filled with a computer and books, and WEAR A MARVELOUS PAIR OF SUNGLASSES!

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