Ordinary Thoughts, Essays and Short Stories

Category: Essays (Page 1 of 3)

Playing Catch-Up…Or Not


A couple of decades ago, I worked as a receptionist in a large law firm, and I recall the not-so-fun experience we all went through when they upgraded the phone system. Compared to what we see today, the new one was only semi-impressive. But at the time, it was several technological steps above what we’d been using. The learning curve was steeper for some than it was for others, and I can still remember one of the firm’s partners barreling past my desk all red-faced and muttering, “I want my rotary phone back.”

The introduction of all manner of hi-tech equipment, software, apps, and whatnot through the years has often left me feeling the same way. I’m not saying that electronic calculators, home computers, and cordless phones weren’t exciting – and I’m certainly not willing to trade my cell phone for the cute little princess phone I had back in the ‘60s – but the rapidity with which new advances come out makes it clear that technology is swiftly passing me by. I think it’s safe to say some of my peers are experiencing this same sense of being left in the dust.

Many years ago, my husband and I were dragged kicking and screaming into the land of smartphones. Everyone kept telling us we needed to get on board because texting was essential and those phones made it so easy. We dug in our heels for as long as we could, but we finally had to admit our flip phones simply weren’t cutting it, and we succumbed to upgrading to smartphones. It was shocking how quickly we embraced the convenience of not only communicating with friends and family without actually talking on the phone – something neither of us has ever enjoyed doing – but of communicating between just the two of us when we were in different parts of the same house. Yes, as embarrassed as I was to admit it at the time, we would resort to texting instead of getting out of a chair and going to wherever the other person was in order to talk face-to-face. We’ve aged a bit since then, and our joints aren’t what they used to be, so I’m no longer embarrassed by that practice. I now justify it by saying we’re working smarter…not harder.

As comfortable as we’ve managed to get with our cell phones, other aspects of technology don’t seem to come so easily. My husband has been out of the workforce longer than I have, so he doesn’t really need to use a computer anymore. And what they say is true…if you don’t use it, you lose it. He openly admits he struggles more than I do when it comes to handling our various devices. For better or worse, I’ve become our household’s tech guru. It’s a term I use so tongue-in-cheek that my face is lopsided. Still, if we’re going to live in a world where we need Wi-Fi to watch TV or surf the net, someone has to know how to hook stuff up and make it spring to life. I’m just questioning how much longer I’ll be able to muddle through. Because that’s exactly what I do. I muddle.

During the time I was setting up the website for this blog, there was some question as to which of us was going to survive…me or the laptop.  I feared the frustration involved was going to cause me to either stroke out or hurl my little Acer into the reservoir. Fortunately – and, to this day, I believe there was some Divine Intervention at work there – I managed to get the website up and running without any casualties. My blood pressure is still acceptable, and the laptop didn’t end up in the drink. It was a win-win.

But there is so much more to deal with than figuring out how to send texts or stream movies or bank online. There are hackers and cyber-thieves and bitcoins and AI and God only knows what else out there. I can’t help but wonder when I’ll turn a corner and be faced dead-on with a technological problem that I absolutely must solve…but absolutely can’t. My brain cells aren’t getting any younger – or sharper – and the thought of sitting down and trying to learn about all those things is beyond daunting. Not to mention the fact that I have no desire to put myself through that sort of torture.

Maybe the trick for those of us of a certain age is to do our best to keep up with what we already know how to do, go the extra step in learning about things we’re truly interested in, and then be content to let all the other stuff float on by.

The way I see it, that’s not giving up. It’s letting go. And as time marches on, I’m becoming more and more okay with that.

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Shifting Priorities

It’s Mother’s Day. Well, it is if you’re reading this post the same day it goes live. If you’re not, then it isn’t Mother’s Day. Unless you waited a year to read it. Then it is. Mother’s Day, I mean. A year later.

Okay, now that I’ve got you thoroughly confused, I’ll get on to the subject at hand…mothers. Today is that special day set aside each year to honor them. And they deserve it. Without mothers, none of us would be here.

Yeah. Let that sink in. Even if you had a mom who wasn’t all she was cracked up to be, she still brought you into this world, so there’s that. Love her or not, she did do you that one solid.

When I think about moms, it’s natural to reminisce about my own. She was, in my mind, inarguably wonderful. She wasn’t a perfect individual, of course, but she was the perfect mom for me. Not everyone gets to have that sort of experience with their own mother, so I know how extremely lucky I was to have her…and how lucky I still am to have all of my treasured memories of her.

As time goes on, I see more of my mom in myself than I did when I was younger. Sometimes it’s in the things I catch myself saying, and sometimes it’s the reflection staring back at me from the mirror. I used to cringe at the thought of turning into my mother but, the more I acknowledge it, the more okay I am with it. Pleased, even. I may not be the extraordinary woman she was, but I’m content with being a half-way decent replica.

In addition to timeworn phrases and a head full of gray hair, I also inherited my mom’s inclination to write. Now that I’ve gotten that first novel out there in front of God and everybody – and I’ve begun the process of editing the next one – it occurs to me that the whole “mom” gig isn’t necessarily limited to rearing little humans.

There’s no doubt about the fact that my daughters will forever be my crowning glories. But my books, stories, and essays also fall into the category of beloved babes I brought into this world. Clearly, they’re nowhere near the same level as my flesh-and-bone offspring, but they’re still a part of me. Not only that, but nurturing them requires a fair amount of devotion…just like real kids. And that devotion takes a lot of time and effort. It’s just a different kind of balancing act.

With real kids, especially if you have more than one, you have to find a way to spread yourself as evenly as possible so none of their needs go unmet. Each child is just as important as the other. But there’s more leeway when it comes to writing. It’s okay to backburner some things so the lion’s share of the attention can go to the project requiring the most work. And that’s what I’m setting in motion now.

This is my long-winded way of saying I won’t be posting essays or short stories every other week anymore…at least not until I get this second book finalized and on the market. My plan is to publish it before the end of the year so, if I stand a chance of making that happen, that’s where I need to focus most of my mental energy. While I realize no one out there will lose any sleep over this little announcement, I felt I should explain up front why future essays and stories will be fewer and far between. The book has to take precedence.

I’m not putting the blog on pause completely, though. I’ll continue to post something once a month or so and, if you’re already subscribed to my blog, you’ll still receive emails when that new content goes live. If you haven’t subscribed but are interested, just scroll to the bottom of this page and complete the form. I’ll also put a post on Facebook when new content is available.

Now that I’ve brought you up to date, it’s time to make myself scarce. Mother’s Day has reminded this mama that she has a literary baby in need of some major attention. I can almost hear it caterwauling in the background as I type this.

Ciao for now.

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It’s All a Balancing Act


A long while back, I posted an essay about finding ways to tolerate doing certain things that, frankly, I simply dislike doing. The target irritant in that post was dusting. While it’s still not a favorite chore, I’ve been surprised by how much more palatable it’s become since I adjusted my outlook. Instead of viewing the chore as a necessary evil, I’ve been doing my best to consider it an opportunity to appreciate the items I’m dusting. I let myself think about their history and what that history means to me. Simplistic, I know…but it seems to do the trick.

While dusting recently, I started fiddling around with a whimsical toy my husband got back when we were dating. At least, I think we were dating. We might have already been married, and I may or may not have been the one who got it for him. That was about a hundred years ago, so you’ll have to forgive my lack of accuracy.

Anyway, the toy consists of a clown or a jester — or maybe just some guy in his pajamas — that’s suspended on curved wooden bars. When you tap his head or foot just right, he twirls delightfully back and forth from one end of the bars to the other. But if you’re off even a tiny bit when you tap him, he goes all wonky and can twirl himself right off his platform.

Noticing how easy it is to throw this little guy off course got me thinking about the importance of balance for us real people…both physically and mentally.

From a physical standpoint, personal experience has proven I can get knocked off balance in the blink of an eye. I’ve always had a special talent for falling up steps and tripping on air. As I age, that gift just keeps on giving. Fortunately, good bone density has prevented any disasters. Fingers crossed that doesn’t change.

In an attempt to stay as upright as possible for as long as possible, I make sure to incorporate some balance work when I exercise each morning. It’s not a lot, but it seems to help me feel steadier as I go through my day. As a matter of fact, even though I know my klutziness can rear its ugly head at any moment, I have to say that I haven’t tripped on air or fallen up (or down) any steps in quite a while. I attribute that monumental feat to those balance moves. Of course, just to be on the safe side, it might not hurt to throw some salt over my shoulder to keep up the good juju.

From a mental standpoint, the whole concept of staying on track gets trickier because I don’t always know exactly what needs to be balanced…let alone how to go about doing it. This generally occurs during conversations. Sometimes I’m not even aware it’s happening until I’m a mile down the road of some unintended brain tangent. By then, it takes major recalibrating to get back to the present. It’s particularly off-putting when it happens during a discussion that suddenly requires my input. I start off focusing on what’s being said and, without warning, my mind flits to something totally unrelated…and often completely insignificant.

I’ve got ADHD and realize it affects the way I think, but I’m pretty sure this can happen to almost anyone, regardless of their mental fortitude. I’m not talking about technological distractions, although there’s no argument that those are annoying little devilments. I’m talking about more innocuous attention thieves. Sometimes the least little thing can send us twirling off-kilter just enough to make our thoughts wind up somewhere we didn’t expect or want them to be.

My above-referenced diagnosis is fairly mild and, since it doesn’t terribly disrupt my life, I don’t take medication for it. I’m not crazy about pharmaceutical side effects so, for the time being, I’m content to manage my condition on my own. Sometimes it works…sometimes it doesn’t. But even people who don’t share my specific disorder can occasionally find their minds wandering off unattended. It’s like trying to restrain a toddler who just spotted the monkey cage at the zoo.

So what can we do to stop these cerebral jaunts from jacking up our thought processes? I don’t have any solid answers, but I’ve been giving it a lot of thought lately. My usual methods of staying on track require tactical exercises inside my head…like silently repeating what someone says so I can keep a grasp on it, or throwing a lasso over each fugitive thought and then mentally dragging it back where it belongs. Sometimes, these are just occasional hiccups. Other times, they seem to happen nonstop and leave me utterly exhausted by the end of the day. It would be nice to find simpler, less cumbersome, ways to tame the wandering beast.

A quick Google search gave credence to at least one of my tried-and-true practices – that of mentally repeating people’s statements in order to ground them in my head. But I came across other suggestions, too.

One recommendation was to maintain eye contact during a conversation. Not constant, unblinking eye contact, of course. That’s just creepy. But creating a sort of eye-to-eye relationship may help a person stay focused on what the other one is saying. I must confess that this is something I struggle with because introverts aren’t generally all that keen on eye contact. But, if doing so can strengthen the connection, it’s worth that little bit of discomfort.

Another tip was to ask questions related to what the person has said. Not only does that show interest, but it can help to mentally cement the conversation. And that makes sense. If our thoughts have concrete feet, they’re a lot less likely to stumble off on their own.

It was also suggested to find a way to surreptitiously make some notes about what was just discussed. If you’re like me and have trouble remembering, jotting it down can serve as both a memory anchor and future reference…just in case that “anchor” somehow gets cut loose. Lord only knows how many anchors are rusting at the bottom of my cranial ocean. Luckily, I’m no stranger to sticky notes.

Although the above ideas aren’t earth-shattering – or even all that original – they’re doable, and I believe they can be effective. I’m actually looking forward to seeing if they’ll help me stay in the here and now when I’m talking to someone. It would be amazing to stop getting mentally waylaid so much.

When it comes to successfully navigating conversations, what I really want is to be like that wooden guy in his PJs. All I have to do is figure out how to perfectly tap myself so I can twirl back and forth along my own little track without the constant worry of falling off.

Right. No pressure.


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My (Brief) Life as a Carnivore

I’m a meat eater. Steaks, burgers, pork chops, bacon, chicken, turkey…you name it, I eat it (although I do draw the line at seafood and organ meats). Considering this, I thought following the carnivore diet would be a piece of cake. No pun intended. Except now I want cake. 

Anyway, even though I’ve been eating pretty low carb for years now, I came to the realization that I needed to make some changes. The weight I’d lost a few years ago started to creep back on, and my aches and pains returned full-throttle. Thinking something in my diet was causing a lot of inflammation, I decided some sort of elimination diet was in order. 

Enter that carnivore thingy. I figured a couple of weeks away from carbohydrates would be long enough to get it all out of my system. Afterward, I would gradually add my favorite foods back in to see what it is that doesn’t agree with me. 

The first week went by quickly and easily. I barely had to think about what I’d fix for meals because my choices were so limited:  beef, pork, bacon, eggs, and butter. I took the hint from other carnivore dieters and also included black coffee, even though it’s technically a plant food. Oh, and I could have salt and pepper. Woohoo! I did have tuna once, mixed up with chopped boiled eggs. I ate it, but it didn’t make me happy. What it did do was teach me a lesson. Tuna “salad” without mayonnaise is just tuna in eggs…and it lands rather dismally on the palate. 

Most of my other meals were fine, though. I’ve been practicing intermittent fasting for a while now, so my first meal isn’t until at least noon. During the time I was eating carnivore, that meal was eggs with either bacon or sausage. A few hours later I’d have some rotisserie chicken. For dinner, I’d have pork chops or beef patties. And I had butter with absolutely everything…even my coffee. 

While that first week was a breeze, the second week seemed to last a freaking eternity. Not because I was hungry or craving junk, but because I was getting so bloody bored. I missed a lot of simple things like green beans, peppers, onions, apples, cheese, mayonnaise and – perhaps most of all – cream in my coffee. I knew I’d eventually be able to have most of those things again, but the boredom made the days drag by. 

It didn’t occur to me until the 12th day that I could probably have pork rinds. I know a lot of people think they’re gross — my husband being one of those people — but I’ve always liked those fried-up little pork skins. I had some on hand and, once I confirmed the ingredients were carnivore-friendly, I dumped a bunch on a napkin and went to town. They tasted so good! That little bit of variety was like a party in my mouth. 

Even with the addition of those pork rinds, I still couldn’t wait for the two weeks to be over. I wasn’t noticing any reduction in pain, and my weight loss was minimal. The idea that there are people who have been eating this way for years – and loving it – is just lost on me. It’s not that I think they’re lying, it’s just that I know I could never join their club. And truth be told…I don’t think I want to.

On the 15th day, I had cream in my coffee. It was wonderful. What was even better was the fact that, as the day wore on, I experienced no ill effects. I had some veggies and cheese later in the day, and those settled fine as well.

After watching some YouTube videos about elimination diets, I determined I’m apparently not cut out to follow that sort of protocol. Everything I heard indicated you need to stick with the diet for four to six weeks before reintroducing other foods and condiments. I was dreaming of dragging my bacon through a plate full of mayonnaise after less than two weeks. You’re also supposed to add potential problem foods back in one at a time over the course of several days. I was not blessed with that kind of patience. 

With the whole carnivore experience behind me, I can look back on it more objectively than I could during that second week. Deprivation and lack of benefits aside, I’m glad I went through with it. One of the things I’d hoped to accomplish was to stop snacking on processed foods. I didn’t miss eating them during those carnivore weeks, so that proved it wasn’t going to kill me to do without them altogether. I honestly feel that I can now satisfy my snack urges with nuts, cheese, veggies, and fruit. And instead of buying prepackaged “healthy” treats, I’ll make my own. I’m no pro in the kitchen but when push comes to shove, even I can whip up a batch of tasty sugar-free brownies.

Discipline has never been my strong suit, but I feel like my food brain is finally growing up. I wouldn’t have believed it possible if I wasn’t right smack dab in the middle of it.

Sometimes life is weird…in a good way.

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Pursuit of Happiness

People are different as snowflakes. We have different dreams, different interests, and different goals. Ultimately, though, we’re all searching for the same end result…happiness. But what, exactly, does it take to make us happy?

Some people swear it’s money…that age-old myth that the more you have, the happier you’ll be. No one can deny it’s a lot less stressful to know you can pay your bills than it is to constantly dodge your creditors, but more isn’t necessarily better. I used to work with a guy who had quite the enviable bank account, and he wouldn’t know happiness if it waltzed up and smacked him on the forehead. On the flip side, I know people who live paycheck to paycheck and seem quite content.

Maybe good health is the prerequisite for happiness. As with money, it can help, but it’s no guarantee. The world has its fair share of people whose demeanor screams discontent even though they eat right, exercise, and are rarely ill. At the other end of the spectrum, you find folks with perpetual smiles on their faces while navigating their lives from wheelchairs and hospital beds.

It could be that happiness lies in family…that loving tie that binds parents to children and husbands to wives. No doubt a close-knit family can create immense joy. There’s something wonderful about coming home to a spouse you can cuddle up with and confide in. And having little mini-mes running around can be such a blessing. But if having kids always makes people happy, why do we hear so much yelling in the supermarket? Not from the little ones, mind you, but from the grown-ups. And take a look at some of the married people around you, then make a mental note of how many of them seem to exude the bliss of a death row inmate. In contrast, you may notice a significant number of single, childless people in this world who find their status exactly to their liking.

Okay, so, if all those things aren’t surefire roads to happiness, what about professional success? People who reach the top of the ladder and brandish that coveted sword of authority must surely be ecstatic. Maybe…maybe not. Many are overstressed to the point where being happy falls to the bottom of their “To Do” lists. Who has the energy to be happy when the only emotion you have left is company loyalty? Not to mention all those CEOs who are virtual islands because their employees are terrified of them. If being at the top of the corporate food chain is what’s necessary to be happy, how do we explain the genuine, effervescent grin of a hotel doorman?

Perhaps the golden ticket belongs to clergy…people of the cloth…the faithful followers of the Divine. Surely and undoubtedly, those folks are happy. I’d venture to say that most of them are…but not all. We hear too many stories about ministers-turned-embezzlers or disillusioned priests leaving the church. And what about those everyday zealots who witness out of one side of their mouths and complain about their lot in life from the other? To say that being happy requires Bible-thumping is to unfairly dismiss those who live serene lives without professing any sort of religion at all.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you can’t find real happiness as a rich, healthy, married parent who runs a successful business and faithfully attends church. Some of those things bring a true sense of fulfillment to a great many people. But those things don’t guarantee happiness. And for some folks, they aren’t even on the radar.

As I said before, people are different. That means our paths to happiness are different. And the way we receive external influences can dictate how happy we are. I guess what it really boils down to is this: It’s not so much what’s going on in your life but what’s going on in your head. I firmly believe in the old adage that says, even though we have little to no control over what happens to us, we do have control over our response to it.

Without a doubt, there will be times when we’re cranky and ungrateful and frustrated and sad. Those are valid parts of being human. But it’s important to know that, barring some chemical imbalance, we have the power to choose whether or not to wallow in those emotions. Occasionally, beating our chest or crying our eyes out is a necessary release. We just need to know when to pull the plug on those bad feelings before they have a chance to smother the joy in our lives. After sufficient primal therapy, it’s imperative to suck it up. Feel the feelings and then let them go.

It’s taken me many years and more than a few hardships to get the hang of that. Taking ownership of your emotional destiny doesn’t come without some battle scars. I don’t always find the silver lining…but I’m getting better at it. It’s essential for me, in the long run, to stay positive. Negative energy is an insidious stalker that hangs around in the shadows and molests you when your defenses are weak. But I believe the more time you spend being consciously positive, the more it becomes a natural part of your being. Once that happens, even during troubling times, those negative lapses are easier to overcome.

How a person gets to the point of choosing happiness over discontent is difficult to assess. We each have to devise workable methods to defeat our own particular mood blasters. For me, the following practices have proved to be quite beneficial:

Faith in a power higher than myself. I’m not a churchgoer, but I maintain an ongoing dialogue with God. I’ve worn His patience thin more than a few times, I’m sure. But there’s a lot of comfort to be found in handing my insecurities over to someone who actually knows how to deal with them. My mother taught me long ago to “Let go and let God.”  It’s not that I expect Him to fix my problems, but I trust He’ll guide me in the right direction.

Expecting the best from people. Sure, I’ve been duped and disappointed more than a few times but, generally, this expectation works out pretty well. Sometimes I have to dig really deep, but I believe there’s something good in almost everyone.

Living the Golden Rule. Corny, maybe, but it’s one of the easiest things to do to ensure my own happiness. More often than not, if I’m cheerful and considerate of others, I get the same in return. That’s not to say I always manage to be that way. Sometimes my surly side gets the better of me. But when I do interact with kindness, I wind up being the biggest beneficiary.

Smile therapy. I read about this years ago. It sounded absolutely ridiculous, but I figured I might as well give it a try. The basic premise is that when you’re feeling gloomy, you force your face into a big smile and hold it for 60 seconds. The idea is that if your face looks happy, your psyche will follow. Is this going to help during tragic circumstances? No, of course not. But for those day-to-day incidents that threaten to bring me down, I’ve found that it actually works. I don’t understand how or why it works; I just know it does. In the end, that’s really all that matters.

Music: I think this can help bring a lot of people out of the doldrums. If I’m out of sorts and have the time and privacy, I’ll listen to some of my favorite music. For me, that generally boils down to 70s rock. For others, it could be country or classical or jazz or hip-hop. Music really can soothe the savage beast.

Gratitude. This may be the most important practice of all. I’ve been royally blessed with a strong faith, a fabulous family, wonderful friends, a cozy home, good health, all the necessities and some of the luxuries, a sense of humor, compassion for others, etc., etc., etc. Making a conscious effort to acknowledge all of the amazing gifts in my life keeps me grounded, especially during difficult times that threaten to drown me in discontent. I don’t keep a gratitude journal, but each night before falling asleep, I mentally inventory these things in my “Thank You” prayers. I find that I have so much to be grateful for that it’s not uncommon to wake up in the middle of the night and realize I fell asleep before ever getting through the list. It’s next to impossible for me to stay unhappy when I focus on gratitude.


So, there you have it. I don’t have a huge bank account. I have a bad back. I’m nobody’s boss. I’m overweight. Oh…and I’m happy. Really, truly happy. A lot of folks would look at my life and yawn, thinking, “How utterly mundane.”

I look at my life and say, “How incredibly perfect…for me.”  If there really is a secret to finding happiness, I do believe that’s it.

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Those All-Important Final Words


I’m not one to wax philosophical – mainly because my brain simply doesn’t run that deep – but I do find myself contemplating various topics now more than I used to. 


For instance, I recently saw the obituary for yet another high school classmate. It was a loving tribute highlighting his talents and accomplishments, and it was clear that he’ll be missed by many. It got me thinking because, the older I get, the more these little mortality reminders pop up. My classmates and I are at that age where many of us have lost our parents and are now the patriarchs or matriarchs of our families. Retirement is our new way of life, and the probability of looking sexy in a bathing suit has gone out the window for a good number of us. We may still feel young mentally – I know I do – but our bodies are starting to argue the point. Personally, I’ve redefined the phrase “I’m in the prime of my life” to mean, when I sit down on the floor, I can still maneuver myself into a standing position again without having to call for backup.


Thinking about classmates who have essentially moved on reminds me of a song by Paul Simon called The Obvious Child. It became a favorite of mine when it was released over 30 years ago because it was catchy and had an infectious beat. It also told a story although, back then, I didn’t relate to it much. I just liked the way it sounded. But listening to it now elicits more than just the urge to groove to the music. The song highlights a middle-aged man who’s looking through his high school yearbook and thinking about how life has changed from then to now. I don’t consider it a sad song, but it does serve as a testament to the fact that time passes, lives get lived, and things may or may not turn out as we’d hoped or planned.


Side Note: Talking about that high school yearbook brings back a less-than-stellar moment in my own young life when, at some point in my twenties, I was humiliated by an incident that involved a former classmate. I didn’t even know the person very well, but my ego was bruised to the point that, on a foolish whim, I vandalized my own senior yearbook by tearing out the page containing her photo. This actually resulted in multiple pages being ripped out because of the way the book was bound, and the whole thing was a rather uncharacteristic tantrum on my part. The offending incident itself isn’t important anymore, and my humiliation is all but forgotten, but I’ll never get those yearbook pages back. And that makes me sad because they contained pictures of a lot of other people who did not deserve to be tossed aside. I’ve only had a few regrets throughout my life, but that is definitely one of them.


Anyway, back to the matter at hand. Long ago, I used to make fun of my parents because so many of their conversations seemed to center around which of their friends was sick, in the hospital, or on a slab. Okay, they weren’t quite as indelicate as that, but you get my drift. It’s not that they didn’t have less macabre topics to discuss – they certainly had other interests – but my folks didn’t turn a blind eye to what was happening around them. Their circle of friends and acquaintances had begun to slowly get smaller and, as time went on, that sense of dwindling picked up speed. They were at that not-so-magical age where slipping from this realm to the next was becoming more and more common.


These days, when I see obituaries for my classmates, it hits me – yet again – that I really am turning into my parents. They were probably about the age I am now when I first noticed how often they talked about the decline – or demise – of someone they knew. Hearing about the passing of my own classmates now is like being initiated into the club my parents belonged to 30 years ago. I won’t be so crass as to call it the One Foot in the Grave, the Other on a Banana Peel Club – mainly because the majority of my peers aren’t anywhere near the end of the line – but we can’t hide from the fact that none of us is getting any younger, and the inevitable is…well…inevitable.


As sad as I am for the families of my friends who have passed away, there is something almost joyful in reading about the lives their loved ones led. No matter what or how much was accomplished during that person’s time on earth, the tributes are generally heartwarming and full of love. That doesn’t happen simply because the grieving family feels compelled to say something nice. It happens because the one who died left something miraculous behind. They left a part of themselves in everyone they crossed paths with. And unless the deceased was a downright-dirty-lowlife-curmudgeon, the part they left behind was a sort of gift…a way to always be around even after they’d gone.


When I think about those beautiful tributes, I can’t help but wonder what sort of sentiments I’ll leave behind. My introverted self isn’t always comfortable engaging with others but, more often than not, it’s a social necessity. When I find myself in those situations, I try to be connected and kind and, yes, even humorous. That’s because it’s important to me to make some sort of tiny, positive impact if I can. Nothing pleases me more than the idea that, on occasion, I may have had a hand in making someone smile. It isn’t a monumental thing, but it is something.


As far as what might be said about me in remembrance, I know I won’t be hailed for any major accomplishments because, in the grand scheme of things, I haven’t accomplished anything particularly major. And that’s okay. Lots of us have managed to be quite useful and significant even if we’ve lived our lives under the radar.


So, when the time presents itself – hopefully very far off in the future – I figure my obituary will be simple and succinct. Perhaps something along the lines of:


She made people laugh.

Sometimes on purpose.


Yeah. I could live with that. Well…maybe not live exactly but, again, you get my drift.


Here’s a little rhythmic gift. Enjoy!

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A Walk with Mom


I took a walk today. The cold, brisk wind made me scrunch my hands up inside my sleeves, and each breath blew away on its own little cloud. Before long, Mom joined me. Just fell in step out of nowhere. She’ll do that sometimes.

I asked her how she’d been. She said she was having a wonderful time, and I could hear the smile in her voice. After all the pain she had endured, how incredible it was that she was now well enough to keep up with me.

I told her I wished we had been more patient with her during her illness. I felt her lean in close, and she assured me we had done a beautiful job and that she is awfully proud of us. She admonished me not to dwell on the past. I watched the wind blow leaves across the road and promised I would try.

We walked along quietly for a while and then I told her that I’d really been missing her. I wanted to wrap my arms around her and never let her go, but I couldn’t. I just kept walking. Besides, I knew it wouldn’t change anything.

All too soon, she said it was time for her to leave. She whispered, “I love you,” I felt her kiss my cheek, and then she was gone.

I tried to smile, but it was all I could do to hold back the tears. I touched my cheek where she’d kissed me. It was cold from the wind.

As I continued my walk, I was at least grateful to have spent part of it with someone I’ve loved since before I was born. Her essence had been there, even though her body had long been gone.

Maybe the next time she shows up, she’ll stay a while longer. That would be nice. There’s always so very much to catch up on.

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“Should” Doesn’t Equal Productivity

Since retiring, the term “being productive” has come to mean something entirely different to me than it did when I was still a member of the workforce.

Back then, it meant successfully dealing with phone calls, emails, reports, and deadlines. It meant handling whatever issues popped up at any given moment. And it meant dragging myself out of bed every workday before the sun came up just so I could show up at the office and do it all over again.

Nowadays, “being productive” means sitting in the car waiting for a pick-up order from Walmart, hitting the pharmacy drive-thru for a prescription (or two…or four), and physically shopping inside a store. I truly believe that last one deserves some sort of award. I mean, I actually have to dress enough to be presentable, and I have to continually put one foot in front of the other until I get back to my car.

Other productive days involve out-of-town trips to the doctor and those, most likely, include stopping at Meijer somewhere along the way because we don’t have one here in Bloomington. (Off-topic: That’s a subject my husband would really like to take up with the city powers that be.)

Not only do the aforementioned scenarios not sound all that productive, but they happen only occasionally. They’re peppered in among what I’ve come to think of as my typical, not-so-productive days. Those are the days when I don’t roll out of bed until after 10:00 am, I may or may not change out of my nightclothes, and the farthest I venture is the length of the driveway to collect the mail. And, yeah…that’s often while I’m still in my jammies.

In my mind, those not-so-productive days tend to equate to little more than wasted time. And dwelling on the amount of time I waste never fails to send me on a trip to the Land of Should. I sit on a bench just inside its town limits and mentally flog myself for not filling my days with all the things I think I should be doing. I even feel guilty for not doing what I believe other people think I should be doing.

Has anyone ever sat me down, furrowed their brow, and admonished me for not doing all the things I should since I retired? No. Have they accused me of passively living what should be the most unencumbered years of my life? No. Have they given me a list of everything I should be devoting my time to? Again…no. As with most things that chip away at my sense of self-worth, it’s all in my head. I’m an absolute pro when it comes to should-ing all over myself.

While there’s no question that I could be doing a lot more when it comes to being a productive individual, that’s no reason to discount the decades when I was up and out and working for a living day after day after day. I spent years looking forward to the day when my time would finally be my own to do with as I pleased, and I did everything required to earn that privilege. Yet, ever since that day arrived, I’ve had this judgy little pissant lurking in the back of my mind. It gets a real kick out of railing at me about how my life can’t possibly be fulfilling because it doesn’t mirror the lives of other retirees. You know…the ones who travel and take up new hobbies and play pickleball. I compare myself to them and feel somewhat deficient. The fact that I’ve never felt drawn to any of those activities doesn’t matter. I tell myself I should be drawn to them or, at the very least, to something similar.

It’s times like this – when I’m reflecting on my perceived shortcomings – that I settle myself in for a Come to Jesus talk to try and gain a better perspective. I’d like to say I’m a worthy opponent, but history has shown my opinion never wins out after one of those little tête-a-têtes. Let’s face it…Jesus just always has the better argument. Like, when it comes to this particular subject. I spend a lot of energy assuming I’m mishandling my schedule-less schedule and, any moment now, the Productivity Police are going to knock down my door and take away my retirement card. That’s crazy, of course. As this most recent Come to Jesus talk has shown me, it makes no difference what anyone else thinks about the way I spend my time. I mean, it literally is my time, after all. I just have to stop feeling guilty about what I do with it.

Easier said than done. I waste tons of my precious time worrying about the opinions of others. It’s been one of my biggest flaws for as long as I can remember. And what makes the whole thing almost comical is the fact that, truth be told, it’s highly unlikely that anybody cares one way or the other about what I’m doing on any given day. They have their own lives to think about. Regardless of what my massive ego may claim…it isn’t always about me.

My guess is I’m not alone when I question whether I’m taking advantage of my golden years the way I should. I figure there’s a fair number of retirees out there who wonder about their own productivity. For their sake, I just hope they don’t go as far as I do when it comes to worrying about what others think. It’s not only pointless, it’s exhausting. Honestly, the concept of “should” has no right to rent space in anybody’s head.

So, I’m putting a stop to it. The worry, I mean. I still believe it’s important to be productive, and I’ll still do the things that must be done. But I’ll also do the things I want to do regardless of how it might look to someone else. Besides, it’s pretty much been established that the “someone else” I worry about probably doesn’t even exist.

On my productive days, I’ll continue to bask in the feeling of accomplishment after taking care of the essential To-Do’s. And I’ll keep in mind that productivity isn’t limited to the things that must be done. It includes things I want to do…like tending to my Bucket List, such as it is. When I was dreaming of retirement, I placed only two things in that bucket, and those were to finish and publish the books I first drafted many years ago. One is almost to the finish line and, while the process hasn’t been what I expected, the result will be the same. It soon will be out there in the world for all to see – good, bad, or ugly. The second book is in the editing stage. A stage, I might add, that is absolutely no fun and seems to take for-bloody-ever. Still, it’s part of the process and definitely falls into the category of productivity.

On my not-so-productive days – which I’ve decided to affectionately rename “Sloth Days” – I’ll unapologetically enjoy soaking up the decadence of having nothing in particular that must be done. I’ll stop worrying about whether or not I’m being productive. And I’ll shovel the should off my path and be grateful for the opportunity to simply be.

This may be taking me a lot longer than it does others, but I am eventually going to get the hang of this whole retirement gig.

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Pets Are People, Too


What is it about people’s furry little loves that turn them into spineless pantywaists? There are pet parents out there who can bravely face combat, ruthlessly broker million-dollar deals, and unapologetically evict nonpaying tenants. But…if their dogs — or cats or pythons (ugh) or whatevers — nudge them perilously close to the edge of the bed each night, they’re rendered utterly powerless.

Man versus puppy…and the puppy wins every time. Although in our case, the bed hogs have always been cats. Succumbing to a pet’s whims would be downright pathetic if said pet wasn’t so stinkin’ cute. And those of us with critter-kids can relate. We know we do it. We roll our eyes when we admit we do it. And, still, night after restless night, we continue to do it.

But why do we do it? Why do we give in to nearly every little demand our fur-covered children toss at us? The simple answer is that we care about our pets and want them to be comfortable…even if we wind up being less than comfortable in the process. But, for a lot of us, it goes deeper than that. We anthropomorphize our pets. We give them people-thoughts and people-feelings. We actually fear that, if we do something they don’t like, they’ll be upset and hold it against us.

Sounds a bit irrational, doesn’t it? I mean, animals don’t hold grudges, right?

Wrong. They do, and lots of us know this from experience. For example, we had a grey tabby many years ago that seemed to be a normal feline with normal feline tendencies. Max meowed for food, liked being scratched under her chin, and used her hind claws to try to slash the guts out of any stuffed toy she was given to play with. But she also had feelings. Like people have feelings.


Max decided to show us how strong her feelings could actually be when my mom was ill. I was away from home a lot during that time, going back and forth from our town to my parent’s home so I could help with Mom’s care. That went on for over a year and, more than midway into that time period, Max started pooping on the guest room bed. Not every day, but every little whipstitch. After about the third or fourth incident, we decided to keep the door to that room closed. That didn’t deter Max, though. She just decided to poop on our bed instead. Again, it wasn’t daily, but it happened often enough to be an issue. Max acted fine in every other regard, but we thought this behavior might be her way of telling us she was in a health crisis, so we took her to the vet.

The doc gave Max a clean bill of health and then asked if anything had changed in our routine at home. So, I filled him in on my frequent absences due to my mom’s illness. He quickly determined that the disruption to Max’s sense of normalcy was the reason for those occasional unwelcome gifts on our bedspread. Apparently, she disliked the fact that I wasn’t at her beck and call as much as I used to be, and this was her way of expressing her displeasure. In other words, she was royally ticked and intended to make sure we knew it.

Shortly after Mom passed away, our home life returned to normal. Max’s little attitude disappeared, the bedspread was no longer being violated, and our fur-kid carried on as if nothing had ever happened.

Max was 15 ½ when she died, and it broke our hearts. We didn’t lose a pet…we lost a member of the family. It took a good six months to even entertain the idea of adopting another cat.

When I finally felt ready, I went to our local animal shelter and was chosen by an adorable little black kitten. She’d reach out to me through the cage, wanting so badly to be petted, but she was skittish at the same time. When we got her home, I temporarily called her HissPurr because she’d hiss when I got near her, and then immediately start purring as I began to pet her. I initially considered naming her Zydeco – just because I liked the name – but something about her made me think of this little comic strip iguana named Quincy. It was adorable, totally clueless when it did something wrong and, for whatever reason, I felt like its name would be a good fit for our new little girl. Time proved that she wasn’t nearly as out in left field as that iguana was, but she certainly had her moments.


Quincy was the only cat I’ve ever had that played fetch. She loved for us to throw little things across the room so she could run after them, scoop them up in her mouth, and bring them back so we could start all over again. She’d have played that game endlessly if we’d let her. She also had a particular affinity for pens and pencils. She not only liked them…she stole them. We couldn’t leave any sitting around unattended or they’d disappear. I lost count of the times I caught her on the kitchen counter pawing one out of the pencil holder and, for the longest time, we couldn’t find them after she got tired of whacking them around. We would have sworn they vanished into thin air but, one day, I felt something odd under the area rug in the dining room. I reached underneath and pulled out a pen…then a pencil…then another pen…and so on. I don’t know how many pens and pencils we retrieved from under that rug, but Quincy had apparently been stashing them there for months before we caught on.

Of course, that was just a cat being a cat. But Quincy had her people tendencies, too. Hers came to the forefront most often after we’d been away for a day or two. We always left her with a fresh litter box and plenty of food and water but, when we’d get back, she’d lay into us like there was no tomorrow. And she wasn’t just meowing for attention. She was delivering a loud, thought-out reprimand for our utter lack of compassion and respect. She wasn’t merely upset about being left on her own…she was mad. She always got over it fairly quickly, but there was no mistaking the fact that her feelings had been stepped on, and she was having none of it.

Just like Max, Quincy was 15 ½ when we had to let her go and, once again, our hearts were broken. We had to say goodbye to…not a pet…but another cherished family member.

There was no thought of getting another cat, though, because we already had one. We inherited him when my dad passed away. He just showed up at my folks’ cabin one day and never left. Dad named him Smoke, had him neutered, and thoroughly enjoyed having him around.

After Dad died, the cabin became our weekend getaway, and Smoke was generally there waiting when we came up the drive each Friday evening. He even had a sidekick for a while. Her name was Charlie, and we inherited her from Dad, too. Both were outdoor cats, and we began referring to them as the Cabin Kitties. It took a few months for Smoke and Charlie to trust us enough to come inside for any length of time but, once they realized it was a pretty cozy place to be, they’d both meet us when we arrived on Friday, come inside off and on to hang out with us during the weekend and then watch us leave on Sunday. It became such a routine that, if they weren’t waiting for us when we got there, we’d worry until they showed up.


The weekend eventually came when that worry was validated. Charlie had been limping a little the weekend before and, when we arrived the following Friday, she wasn’t waiting with Smoke. She didn’t show up that weekend, or the weekend after, or the weekend after that. Time went on and it became clear that she’d left us…in some manner or another. On the last weekend we had with her…when she had that little limp…we saw a huge turkey vulture in the road on our way home. Logic tried to tell me that the vulture, or another one like it, had seen her vulnerable condition and taken her. My heart, though, couldn’t bear the thought, so I decided that a kindhearted family saw her limping along the road and gave her a new forever home. No one will ever convince me otherwise.


For a while, Smoke seemed a bit lost without Charlie, but he eventually got used to having us all to himself. As a matter of fact, he’s adjusted quite well to being Lord of the Manor. And when it comes to people traits, his sweetest characteristic is how affectionate he is with my husband and me. We live at the cabin full-time now but, when we were coming down only on the weekends, he couldn’t seem to get enough of us when we’d first arrive. He’d come inside, hop up on one of our laps, and nuzzle in so close it was as though he wanted to get inside our skin. It was obvious he missed us when we weren’t here and needed to convince himself we were real. By the end of the first night, he’d settle down and give us some space, but there was always something both sad and sweet about how he first had to get his fill of us. Now that we’re here all the time, he still likes to be on a lap now and then, but he doesn’t carry on like he used to. That only happens if we go someplace overnight. The difference between Smoke and his predecessor, Quincy, is that he never seems angry with us for leaving him. His demeanor when we get home is more one of relief that his humans didn’t abandon him after all. Once he’s sure we’re back where we belong, all he really wants is food and a comfy place to nap. Oh, and someone to let him outside to go to the bathroom. The little booger still hasn’t quite mastered the litterbox.

Since Smoke was a stray, the best the vet could do was estimate his age when Dad took him in to be neutered. The doc said he was probably about two years old at the time, and that was in 2010. That puts him in the neighborhood of 15 now and, considering the fact that we lost both Max and Quincy around that age, we’re girding our loins for the inevitable. We try not to dwell on it, but the signs are there. Even though he eats well, he’s lost a lot of weight in the past year. He still grooms himself, but not as fastidiously as he used to. And, whether it’s legit or simply selective, it appears he’s deaf as a post. Age is undoubtedly taking its toll on him.


That being said, he’s still our sweet boy. Regardless of the fact that his DNA is animal rather than human, Smoke’s our kid. He plays, he gets underfoot, and he tests our patience…just like any other child. He considers every surface in our home as his own special napping space, and we allow him to take up more than his fair share of the bed when he sleeps with us at night. He has real thoughts and feelings, and he gives back every single ounce of love that we give to him.

In their own unique ways, Max, Quincy, and Charlie were more than just heartbeats. They were very people-y family members. Smoke is no exception.

As far as I’m concerned, cats are just furry little people. And just like Charlie in her new forever home, no one will ever convince me otherwise.


Postscript: Two months and a day after publishing this essay, Smoke passed away. We loved him hard, he returned that in spades, and our hearts are broken. It’s astounding how large a void such a tiny being can leave, but we have lots of pictures and wonderful memories. And I’d like to think he’s now enjoying himself with his friends who went before him. RIP, Smoke. You’ll forever be our good, sweet boy.

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Here I Go Again

If you’ve been with me a while, you may recall a post last year in which I talked about the need to do some decluttering. I planned to incorporate the KonMari Method™ because I’d had luck with it in the past. I did make a good-faith effort and, while a fair amount of progress was made, it wasn’t nearly as much as I’d intended. As we all know, life gets in the way…and then TV gets in the way…and then computer games and books and gazing up at the clouds get in the way. It’s a marvel we (I) ever accomplish anything at all.

Before the ball dropped last week, I’d already decided 2023 would be the year I stopped coming up with excuses for not getting things done and just bloody do them. One of those things was thinning out the ridiculous amount of stuff I have. It would be one thing if I wore all the stuff, read all the stuff, and utilized all the stuff. But I haven’t in a long time, and I don’t expect to in the future. While Marie Kondo’s tidy-up method may have served me well in the past, I realized I needed something a bit less delicate this go-round.

Enter Swedish Death Cleaning. Yes, yes, I know it sounds horribly morbid – and it can be, depending on how you choose to look at it. The main idea behind SDC is to avoid leaving behind a boatload of belongings that nobody wants or needs when you finally cross over. I mean, clearly, the last thing your grief-stricken loved ones will want to do is slog through a basement/storage unit/attic full of worthless stuff and try to figure out what to do with it while still honoring your memory. I know from experience that it’s a gut-wrenching endeavor because it can hurt to part with anything. My mom’s been gone nearly 23 years, and I still have trouble discarding random little slips of paper that have her handwriting on them. They serve no purpose anymore, and there are some I can’t even decipher because, when she was in a rush, she had a habit of reverting to Speedwriting (a type of shorthand). All those symbols and squeezed-together letters are about as easy to read as hieroglyphics. Still, tossing any of those notes still gives me a painful twinge.

The ironic thing is, Mom wouldn’t give two hoots whether I hung onto that stuff or not. She was wise enough to know that that sort of thing has a way of becoming a little albatross around the neck and, the more stuff there is, the fatter and heavier that blasted bird gets.

But I digress. I was talking about the macabre moniker for this type of cleaning. It’s about more than simply preparing for your demise, so I’m approaching it in a more palatable manner. I’m doing it as much for myself as I am for my family because, while I don’t like the idea of them being burdened with my leftover stuff, I also don’t like being mentally encumbered by things I’ll never again use or need. Even if I have an out-of-the-way place to store them, I know they’re there, and I know that someone down the road will have to deal with them when I’m gone. My family may not care…but I care. I plan on being around a long time, and I’m selfish enough to want to live clutter-free while still enjoying the things I do use or truly treasure. Believe me, when my time comes, there will still be plenty of junk my family won’t know what to do with.

That being said, I understand why some of my family members find the term Swedish Death Cleaning so off-putting. It doesn’t exactly elicit a sense of joy. So, in an effort to respect their feelings, I’m using the same initials but referring to my SDC journey as Spiritedly Ditching Clutter. It’s the same method of clearing things out, has a more lighthearted title, and nobody gets hurt.

Fun fact: My husband doesn’t like the new name I came up with because he thinks it’s too hard to say. I just told him not to say it. (But between you and me and the fence post, he’s not wrong. That’s why I only use the initials.)

Margareta Magnusson, the author of the book that in the remainder of this post shall not be named, suggests doing your closet first. (By the way, I guess I technically started with my bookcase because I downloaded the book to Kindle rather than buying a hard copy. That one little step saved several square inches of shelf space. Go, me!)

 Anyway, the closet is a logical place to start because most of us don’t attach a lot of sentiment to our clothing. And most of us have way more clothes than we need or, in some cases, even want. Our want for them just apparently outweighs our willingness to tackle the job of sorting through them. I happily discovered that, once I started on my own clothes closet, it became easy to be almost ruthless. Margareta basically has you ask yourself just two questions as you assess each item:

  1. Will I use it again?
  2. Will it make someone else happy?

By keeping those questions in mind, the job became much less daunting. I set out three boxes (Yes, No, and Maybe) and one large trash bag. After quickly determining where an item should go, I moved on to the next. I was more motivated by the thought of a tidy closet than I was by the delusion of ever again fitting into the cute little shirt I’d kept on the shelf for more years than I care to admit. And, the more items I set aside to toss or donate, the lighter I felt. Sure, I was still too heavy for that cute little shirt, but that was no longer the point. My spirit felt lighter. Once I was done, I stood back and gazed into my finished closet, basking in the fruits of my labor…just like I used to do as a kid after I finally did a deep clean on my pigsty of a bedroom.



Since decluttering isn’t the only thing I want to accomplish throughout this year, my plan is to go about this SDC project slowly…one area each month. January has been reserved for the closets in the house. My clothes closet is already done, and the others shouldn’t take long. My husband doesn’t share my hoarding instinct and, since we downsized and had to learn how to maximize every inch of storage space, none of our household closets have gotten too out of hand. It’s mainly my personal spaces that tend to wind up looking like the aftermath of a nasty storm.

My SDC challenge for February will be the room that serves as my office and crafting area in the garage. At first glance, it looks pretty good, but it’ll probably take the entire month to complete. I have file drawers filled with old pictures in that room as well as a cedar chest chock full of papers and other bits and bobs that belonged to my mom, my dad, and my brother. By tackling this area so early in the year, I’ll be running counter to Margareta’s advice. She strongly suggests doing that sort of cleaning last because it tends to dredge up countless memories – both good and bad – and it’s important to give yourself time to feel whatever emotions arise. I’m allowing myself the whole month, though, so I figure it’ll be fine.

Margareta mentions you may come across things that are very dear to you but won’t be of value to anyone else. She says you should designate one box for those items and clearly label it “Throw Away.” You’ll be able to look through the contents and revisit those memories any time you like and, after you’re gone, your family will see that label and know they don’t even need to open the box. They can just chuck it into the trash. (You know they’ll open it, though, because curiosity is a relentless motivator. Still, you can rest easy knowing you did your part in trying to save them a bit of time and effort.)

Besides the sentimental stuff in my room, it also houses my desk, craft cabinets, and rarely used exercise equipment. So, when I start decluttering in there, I plan to employ the same brutal approach I used in my closet as I went through my clothes and boxes of miscellaneous whatnots.

What helped me most was keeping in mind something I recently heard in a video by The Minimalists. One of them said, “We hold on to things just in case…the three most dangerous words in the English language.” That designation may be a bit extreme, but I understand what he’s getting at. It’s been my M.O. for as long as I can remember…always afraid to part with something, no matter how insignificant, just in case. I would rationalize I might need it at some point in the distant future. Cleaning my clothes closet resulted in one full bag of trash and three full bags of items to donate. That proved to me how rarely just in case even happens.

The minimalist in that video also mentioned the importance of being sensible about what you consider precious. He said that, if everything is precious, then nothing is precious. It reminded me of something my husband told me years ago about a coworker who wanted to make everything a priority. He tried to explain to this person that, if everything is earmarked as a priority, then nothing will be a priority. Using that premise, I know I can hang onto what I consider precious as long as I don’t try to convince myself that everything is precious.

While there isn’t anything particularly earthshaking or original in Margareta’s book, it’s sort of like that old saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” For whatever reason, this student feels ready, and the three major principles I’ve taken away from her method are:

  1. Simplify
  2. Organize
  3. Cherish

I’m fully aware I’m in the honeymoon phase, but I’d like to believe this is something that will eventually become second nature. Margareta talks about making SDC a daily habit because, if you’re consistently mindful of what you bring in and what you take out, you’ll never have to do a major purge again.

I really, truly want to put that last part into practice. Considering my hoarding tendencies, only time will tell. For now, though, I’m cautiously optimistic…and even a little excited…to see where this journey takes me.

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