Ordinary Thoughts, Essays and Short Stories

Category: Essays (Page 1 of 2)

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.

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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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Time Really Does Fly

I was 17 when I had my first child, but I never thought of myself as a “teen mom” statistic. I’d simply become what I told my high school guidance counselor I wanted to be…a wife and mother. Had he been the type of counselor who encouraged girls to go to college, I might have followed a different path. But this was the early 70s, and the importance of furthering an education didn’t seem to be stressed as strongly to girls as it was to boys. As a matter of fact, all I remember was a very brief meeting in which he asked me what I wanted to do after graduation. I told him about my domestic ambitions, he nodded his head, and I was sent on my way. And I was fine with that. While I was fortunate enough to be a pretty good student, it certainly wasn’t due to any sense of academic dedication. I studied because it was expected of me but, while I did feel that grades were important, I didn’t much care for school and all its trappings. Truth be told, it was a part of life I couldn’t wait to put in the rearview mirror. 

My boyfriend was two years older than I was and joined the Navy after he graduated. We became engaged when I was in my junior year of high school. The plan was to get married that summer, and then I would graduate midterm and join him wherever he was stationed. Considering my age, my folks weren’t overly keen on the idea, but my mind was made up. I convinced my mom who, in turn, managed to get my dad to come around. Once that was settled, we began preparations for an August wedding.  

When my then-fiancé came home on leave in May, he jokingly asked what I had planned for the following weekend. Turned out he’d received orders for a 6-month tour of sea duty, and the date of departure was fast approaching. He said we could either get married in the next week or wait until he came home in December. Neither of us wanted to wait, so a quick wedding was arranged, we had a blink-of-an-eye honeymoon, and he shoved off before the ink was dry on the marriage certificate. 

After his ship departed, I kept myself busy with the summer school classes that would guarantee that mid-term graduation. In July, I suspected I might be pregnant and made an appointment at the medical clinic at a nearby base. I can still remember the idiotic response I gave the nurse when she told me I was approximately four months along. “That can’t be,” I said. “I’ve only been married two months.” It was a statement that warranted a facepalm if ever there was one.  

I tried to keep the gestational timeline a secret but, unless I could figure out a way to carry my baby for two extra months, the jig would eventually be up. What bothered me most at the time was the idea that everyone would think we got married because we had to. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The only thing dictating our wedding date was my fiancé’s impending sea duty. But it’s a good thing we decided not to wait until he got back because, by that time, I’d have had to waddle down the aisle while sporting a huge baby bump. 

No matter how grown up you think you are at 17, having a baby is, at the very least, a confusing endeavor. My mom did her best to prepare me, but that could only get me so far. Even now, with a plethora of available information, being a first-time mom consists of a lot of on-the-job training. Back then, there was even more guesswork. Books on the matter weren’t particularly plentiful, and Google wasn’t even a sparkle in its daddy’s eye. The mysteries of labor and childbirth remained just that. Mysteries.  

As if to prove to me that fudging the due date wouldn’t have accomplished anything, our firstborn decided to make her entrance into the world two weeks early. And to make it even more memorable, she thought it would be fun for my water to break inside a local restaurant. The contractions started getting really interesting shortly after that. Ah…those were good times. Not.  

People, if you haven’t had the pleasure yourself, I’m here to tell you…hard labor pains hurt like the devil. I’d never experienced anything so violently relentless. Fortunately for me, the alleged beauty of natural childbirth had gained no foothold in my life plan, so I was totally cool with accepting whatever fabulous pain-killing drugs the doctor offered me. When the spinal block finally took effect, only one word could do it justice…Hallelujah!

While I may have been a “Sadie, Sadie, Married Lady,” I was also still a shy teenager. The delivery itself went smoothly, and the obstetrician did his best to put me at ease while he stitched up the episiotomy but, when he finished, I wasn’t prepared for the indignity that followed. Splayed on the table like an overcooked Thanksgiving turkey, I heard the doc tell the orderly and nurses to come down to where he was sitting. When I asked what was going on, he said, “I figure not many people are going to see this, so I wanted someone to appreciate my handiwork.” At that very moment, I would have happily crawled under a rock and died. 

All the aforementioned difficulties drifted from my mind as soon as the nurse placed a heated blanket over me before wheeling me out of the delivery room. I had never in my life felt anything so wonderful. I thought perhaps I had died…and gone to Heaven. That unexpected coziness was pure bliss.  

It got even better, though. As soon as I was situated in my room, my husband and I got to officially meet our new daughter, Jacqueline Rose. She was a bundle of red-faced yowling perfection, and I immediately fell in love. Body-splitting labor just hours before? What labor? I didn’t remember any labor.

 We took our little Jackie home – she later changed the spelling to Jacki in a rather subtle display of teen rebellion – and life was never the same again. She was the bearer of countless joys and challenges, delights and frustrations, and never-ending worry. Over time, as she blossomed into a young adult and then – dare I say – a middle-aged woman, the challenges and frustrations fell by the wayside. However, the joys, delights and, yes…never-ending worry…still remain. (I’m fairly certain a mother doesn’t stop worrying about her children until she draws her final breath. And perhaps not even then.)

There were a lot of hiccups during those first several months. Since the rabbit didn’t die at my premarital exam, and because I had such sporadic cycles, the doctor instructed me to go ahead and start taking birth control pills right away. So, during my entire third month of pregnancy, Jacki was exposed to whatever contraceptive chemicals might have leached into her tiny system. I also had two minor – but very jarring – car accidents that I’m sure had her flailing about in her little amniotic wonderland. And, when the poor thing was only a few months old, she managed to scoot through her bedrail and landed on her head. As luck would have it, our first home was a very old trailer, and its aging flooring was probably just soft enough to prevent any lasting injury. Jacki is, however, more than welcome to use that as an excuse any time she does or says something that’s less than brilliant.

It astounds me that her 50th birthday is right around the corner. I don’t quite know how it’s possible. I mean…she’s still my little girl. I often lament about how horrible my memory is but, when I think about how and when Jacki came into our lives, it’s clear as day.

Starting parenthood at such a tender age is not something I would recommend to others but, now that we’re approaching this major milestone, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Being a young mom means that, God willing, I’ll have more years to love on Jacki and her sister, Jen (you know…the one she didn’t flush down the toilet*) than I might have if I’d waited until I was older to start a family. And it’s really nice not to feel like we’re separated by some huge generational divide.

Who knows…it may be a race to see which of us is the first to wind up at Shady Pines.

*Click here if you missed the toilet story.

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Arlo and the Pigskin


Anyone who knows me knows it just isn’t Thanksgiving without listening to Alice’s Restaurant Massacree. Doesn’t matter if it’s in the car, in the kitchen, or curled up in a chair 20 minutes before midnight. I simply must hear Arlo at some point before Thanksgiving Day signs off. If you share that affinity and somehow missed out today, I’ve included a link below. You’re welcome.

But that’s not the only essential tradition that always happens around here this time of year. I’m talking about…


At the risk of being disowned by half my friends and family, I‘ve got a confession to make. I have never been, nor will I ever be, a fan of football.

My husband, of course, does not share my opinion and it seems like every time I turn around lately, he’s watching whatever football game is on. Sometimes he switches channels back and forth when other games are going on at the same time. The man is nothing if not a multitasker.

When that happens, I go into another room and find something more enjoyable to do…like ramming bamboo sticks under my nails.

But, as the sounds of the commentators, whistles, and cheers waft down the hall, I can’t help but get into the spirit. I may have zero affection for the sport itself, but I do get this warm, fuzzy feeling when it’s on because, to me, football season signals the start of the holiday season. And that signals the start of delightful gatherings with family and friends.

While today is actually Thanksgiving, we’ll be heading to our youngest daughter’s house tomorrow for our annual familial feast, fun, and freakiness. I won’t even care if they turn on the game while we’re there. The important thing is to be together, so I’ll be feeling nothing but gratitude for those guys chasing around that stupid pigskin. 

I hope you’re having – or had, depending on when you read this – a terrific Thanksgiving. If you’re like me, it’s the start of the most wonderful time of the year.

And, once Arlo finishes singing, it will also announce the official (in my book) permission to put up Christmas decorations and listen to Mannheim Steamroller. Or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Or the Chipmunks. No judgment here.

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Mischievous Minds

A few years ago, I was diagnosed with ADHD. This came as no surprise, but receiving an official confirmation was a bit of a relief. I used to feel guilty for my lack of focus…thinking I just wasn’t trying hard enough. But the diagnosis helped me realize that my tendency to zone out or get sidetracked isn’t the result of a lazy mind that simply refuses to pay attention. It’s because I’ve got some funky wiring going on upstairs that makes it a real challenge to fire on all cylinders.

This disorder manifests itself in various ways. For example, more often than not, my brain would rather wander hither and yon than zero in on one particular subject or situation. I lose focus easily and sometimes find it very hard to concentrate during a conversation. It’s not because what the other person is saying isn’t compelling. It’s because my mind has a knack for chewing through its leash and galivanting about. Pulling my attention back to the present feels like a physical struggle inside my head. In an attempt to stay in the moment and retain what I’m hearing, I’ll often silently repeat what the person has just said. It generally works, but it’s exhausting. My mind will even float away on a stream of consciousness during my nighttime prayers, and I wind up apologizing to God for getting distracted. For whatever reason, it seems the only times I’m fully focused are when I’m engrossed in a book or lost in writing.

At the end of the day, if I try to inventory all I’ve done since rolling out of bed, my brain freezes up. The same thing often happens when I’m asked a question about something I did earlier in the week…or even that same day. It can take some serious concentration just to recall what I had for breakfast because basic information retrieval is, quite often, a downright struggle. I should probably be used to it because this isn’t something that started happening after I entered the golden years. I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. (Of course, you can take that with a grain of salt since it’s been pretty well established that I can’t remember squat.)

I also have a habit of getting sidetracked while doing things around the house. I’ll be working on a task, go into another room for a moment, notice something there that needs attention and then start in on that. The fact that I’ve left a half-finished job in the other room completely slips my mind. What makes this even more bothersome – and not just for me – is when the initial task was something I was working on with another person. For all they know, I simply abandoned them.

Decision-making is another challenge because I tend to overthink things. Once I finally do make a decision, I almost immediately second-guess myself. This trait definitely gets in the way when I’m facing a particularly multifaceted project. It often causes me to become so overwhelmed that I simply throw in the towel. I’ll usually start up again somewhere down the road – and even bring the project to fruition – but it drags things out unnecessarily and, frankly, it’s mentally taxing. I keep thinking I’ll finally get into the habit of staying the course but, so far, my intellect is the only part of me that considers that the best way to accomplish something. My nature has yet to jump on the bandwagon.

I am, however, second to none in at least one area…I’m a master procrastinator. Take this essay, for instance. I like to post new blog content every other Sunday. As I type this, it’s already past 5:00 pm on the “every other” Saturday. And, as you may have ascertained since we’re only midway through the essay, it’s not even ready to proofread yet. This is pretty much how I roll, but it’s not the most effective way to handle deadlines. And, yes, I’m well aware that, since I’m no longer in the workforce, most of those deadlines are set by me. That means much of the stress in my life is self-imposed. But that’s a self-help project for another time.

When it comes to ADHD, I identify with most of its laundry list of symptoms. But when I was diagnosed, I did question whether I truly fit the “H” aspect of that acronym. I mean, compared to me, a sloth looks like the Tasmanian Devil. I learned, though, that the term “hyperactive” doesn’t necessarily mean you spazz out and spin around in circles. (Although considering my lack of grace, that might be fun for others to watch.) Hyperactivity sometimes presents itself in much less noticeable ways. For example, I move my hands and feet a lot. Not because they’re uncomfortable or I feel nervous…it just seems to happen. I’ll also find myself chewing my tongue, particularly when driving. Sort of like Bessie the Cow chomping her cud…but behind the wheel instead of out in the field. I make a conscious effort to stop these behaviors when I notice them, but they generally start up again in short order. You’d think all that movement would at least burn a few calories but, if it does, my waistline hasn’t gotten the memo.

I envy people who seem to absorb and retain things easily because I have to consciously work at it, and it rarely sticks the first time. My husband has trouble understanding why I repeatedly forget directions to various destinations. He’s one of those people who can mentally file away this type of information and immediately access it the next time he needs it. For me, it becomes automatic only after I’ve taken the route multiple times.

I know it’s frustrating for others when I ask them to repeat what they’ve already told me – sometimes more than once – or when I forget what I was doing because I get distracted by something on the sidelines. But what they may not realize is that it’s frustrating for me, too.

Over the years, I’ve tried self-help books, tapes, and videos but, as is typical, I’ve never followed through enough to reap any major benefits. I realize there are effective pharmaceutical treatments available, but I’ve opted not to take any of the medications because I’m not all that keen on the potential side effects.

I’m fortunate that, while my level of ADHD (and its sidekick, OCD) may be an inconvenience, it’s far from debilitating. It hasn’t kept me from enjoying the important things in my life, so I figure I’ll just continue to navigate my happy little world as best I can. It hasn’t failed me yet.

Now let’s just hope that, when I’m ready to publish this, I’ll remember which folder it’s in…and what I named it.

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Cheers to Ears


[Disclaimer: The essay below is in no way meant to show disrespect for individuals with physical anomalies. It simply describes my own tendency to initially focus on the negative until I remind myself how inconsequential that perceived negative truly is.]

My husband recently had a spot on his ear diagnosed as basal cell carcinoma, and he underwent a procedure to have the malignant tissue removed. The dermatologist cut out the lesion, tested it, came back and removed more tissue, tested that, and then came back to remove even more. That last removal, fortunately, got rid of all the cancerous cells. It also left a quarter-size hole through the upper portion of the ear, creating the need for reconstruction. That involved a cartilage graft and a skin graft over the course of two separate surgeries. Considering the extent of the work that was done, the surgeon produced a great result. Hopefully, no one – my husband included – will dwell on the fact that his ears are no longer an exact match.

Witnessing all of that not only brought home the importance of regular skin cancer screenings, but it made me super aware of ears in general. I mean, have you ever paid attention to ears? They’re sort of weird. Or weird looking, anyway.

Don’t get me wrong…I have great respect for the function of ears. But I wonder, why do they have to look the way they do? I have a vague recollection of a school assignment – it might’ve been for middle school health class – in which we had to draw a diagram of the ear.  It involved canals and stirrups and all sorts of whatnot. While I clearly don’t remember the specifics, it seems the ear is strategically designed to bring in sounds that reverberate and help us hear. Without a doubt, an ear’s shape is very important, hence the reason for its appearance. So, in thinking that through, I guess I pretty much answered my own question.

My newfound interest in ears has nothing to do with hearing, though. I just seem to notice them more now than I ever did before…like the other day when I was binge-watching a week’s worth of my soap.

Unrelated Side Note: Have you ever noticed that the majority of actors on soap operas are ridiculously good-looking, appear to be super fit and have flawless complexions? It begs the question, are those characteristics prerequisites for the job?

Anyway, I was watching an episode in which this drop-dead gorgeous woman’s silky black hair was slicked back into a perfect ponytail. Much like her skin, it was flawless. She was super deep in a serious conversation, but I was distracted from whatever earthshaking dialogue was taking place because all I could focus on were her ears. With her hair pulled back the way it was, the ears of this model-perfect specimen reminded me of Alfred E. Neuman. Physically, she’s an absolute beauty, but it was the wingspan of her ears that caught my attention that day.

Initially, I found the whole thing a little off-putting. It was like those ears didn’t belong on that woman. But the more I looked at them, and then looked at her as a whole, the more I realized her protruding ears didn’t seem so out of place after all. Before I knew it, I’d forgotten the distraction, I was back in the dramatic groove of the moment, and nobody’s ears ever became the topic of discussion. Nor should they. They were just…you know…ears. We all have them.

So, you might ask, what does all that have to do with anything? Well, for me at least, it’s a reminder that dwelling on a few imperfections has no place in a well-lived life. Not one among us is physically perfect, nor can we be, so perfection should never be the goal. Striving for perfection is a fool’s game, and my mama didn’t raise any fools.

I have, though – for most of my life – suffered from a severe lack of respect for my physical self. The mirror has always felt more like an enemy than a friend and rising above my brain’s negative chatter is a daily struggle. But it’s a fight worth fighting and, on some days, I can almost convince myself I’ve come out the victor.

While it’s not easy to look past our flaws, when we manage to do it, we find out we’re just like everyone else. We’re not the crooked nose, or the overbite, or the Dumbo ears. We’re not the round tummy, the crepey skin, or the big feet. We’re the sum of our parts and, in the end, they all work together beautifully in our favor. We might not always see it in ourselves, but our family and friends do. The trick is to learn to view ourselves as lovingly as they view us (and as we view them).

And, as far as ears go, I’ve decided it’s a good thing they’re shaped the way they are. Otherwise, we’d have to find some other place to dangle our earrings, and that’s a challenge I don’t think any of us wants to take on.

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Dust Bunnies in the Wind

After I retired, I struggled with the absence of the routines and deadlines I’d grown accustomed to in my job. Without the benefit of a real schedule, I found myself becoming one with the sofa while motivation was reduced to nothing more than a word in the dictionary. I had all the time in the world to devote to a boatload of interests, yet I didn’t possess an ounce of enthusiasm.

About six months into retirement, I set my sites on becoming a productive human being again, and I put together a monthly task calendar. Each day had at least one household chore or “To Do” task assigned to it. I purposely didn’t expect a whole lot from myself – I am retired, after all – but I wanted to end every day with the knowledge that I had accomplished at least one thing of substance. It could be as minor as changing the sheets or as major as clearing out a bloody ton of old emails (and believe me…that one was major).

A lot of those “To Do” tasks were things I’d allowed to pile up while I was working, like cleaning out closets, reorganizing my room in the garage and finally dealing with my late parents’ and brother’s possessions. Over time, I’ve whittled things down to where my monthly calendars consist mainly of routine household chores and whatever projects I want to sink my teeth into. As mentioned in a previous post, a fair amount of my time lately has been dedicated to driving my husband to medical appointments so, of course, those are noted on the calendar, too.

It was during one of those medical trips when I realized I was wasting precious time by focusing only on the mechanics of driving. There was beauty all around us so, that very day, I began to truly appreciate the amazing scenery. And I didn’t let that living-in-the-moment practice stop with the trees along the roadways. A couple of weeks ago, while entrenched in one of my least favorite household chores, I made myself really notice what I was doing rather than simply trudging through the job until it was done.

That chore was dusting. I swear, it’s one of the most tedious and time-consuming activities I can think of, and it’s never, ever truly done. But this time, as I contorted my way through bending and reaching and squatting to reach all those places that accumulate dusty bits, I paid close attention. Not to the process but to the dusty items themselves. Instead of begrudging the task at hand, I mentally took in each piece of furniture or décor and appreciated it for what it was.

Throughout the house are many items that hold special meaning for me…like the framed button tree on the wall by the front door. My eldest daughter made it for me using buttons that had belonged to my late mother, and it’s more than just a pretty piece of art. It’s a piece of my mom.

In the guest room, as I dust the black and white prints purchased many years ago in the French Quarter, I’m reminded of the beauty of Christ Church Cathedral, the warm beignets at Café du Monde and the unexpected talent from the street performers. While dusting in that same room, I get the pleasure of lovingly handling the photo of my two beautiful daughters, my parents’ graduation pictures and the portrait of my mom with her family when she was just a teenager.

In the living room, I linger over the cover of The Beatles, a coffee table book. It conjures up the deep affection that was spawned by the Fab Four’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show when I was nine. As I dust the barrister bookcase, my eyes wander over the book titles, and I relish the feeling of being tempted by all the stories waiting to be read or read again. And while dusting the mantle on the stone fireplace, I marvel at the hard work my dad put into building the cabin that he and my mom loved so much.

More thoughts of my mom bubble up when I dust the Hoosier cabinet in the dining area. She’d found it at some antique place in town and was quite pleased with the result after she’d stripped off the layers of paint and brought it back to its natural wood finish. It’s a charming old piece that’s more than just useful. It’s a memory inducer.

Dusting the rocker in the TV room elicits memories that aren’t even my own. It was built by a man I never met…my maternal grandfather. He was a minister and used to sit in that rocker to compose his sermons. His Bible, pen and notebook would be laid out on a writing board he’d also crafted that fit perfectly upon the arms of the rocker. Mom talked about him often, and I came to feel a real kinship with him through her stories. She absolutely adored her father and was devastated when he died. She was only 19 at the time.

In my room out in the garage, I continue to travel down memory lane while dusting a multitude of framed photos of my family. Thoughts of my dad are particularly in the forefront as I dust the TV cabinet, bookcase, guitar stand and rolltop desk…all pieces he created in his workshop. I even use the old florescent lamp that he’d had on his desk as far back as I can remember. I’m pretty sure it’s a lot older than I am so, of course, I had its brittle wiring replaced. I may be sentimental, but I’m not stupid.

It’s clearly been established that I’m not one to go overboard when it comes to housecleaning, but I do dust once a week…whether warranted or not. (Ha-ha.) Yes, yes, I know there are those who dust every day, but that will never be my jam. That being said, now that I’ve made a point to use that particular chore as a reminder of the countless treasures that make up my life, I don’t really consider it a “chore” at all. It’s a weekly opportunity to participate in an activity that’s brimming with wonderful thoughts and memories.

And before you accuse me of dwelling on the past instead of living in the moment, let me be clear…that’s not what this is at all. It’s simply me embracing what was while enjoying what is.

Will I ever be able to look at cleaning the bathrooms with that same sentiment? I strongly doubt it. Will I even try? I strongly doubt that, too.

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