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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Clutter Be Gone

I have been “on my own” (without a secretary, that is) for several years now.  My life, for the last year, in addition to some writing and other creative and personal pursuits has included handling my Mother’s estate, and the on-going management of real estate rentals.  

Paperwork, books, clothes, accessories and well, just any sort of stuff anywhere near me, appears to have a very active sexual and reproductive life of its own. As a result, I am drowning in stuff.  

But, finally, I have determined: I am going to get my life and my stuff under control.  On impulse I bought a set of CD’s on “Uncluttering and Organizing Your Life.”  Impulse buying is another, and I am sure, unrelated, downfall of mine.

As the authors point out, being disorganized and being cluttered are two different sins. If, in fact, these are sins, l should just pack my bags and plan to go straight to hell.  As I am guilty. And in full measure. 

But I have seen the light and am going to take a new path to fight both clutter and disorganization.  

Here are the five simple rules.

1) Place and purpose.
2) One in, one out.
3) Six month/ six minute rule
4) Enough is enough
5) I forget this rule 

I determined to follow Rules 1 through 4, and 5 when I remember what it is.  Ok, let’s see how well this works in practice on a congenital hoarder and hopelessly disorganized person like myself.

Take a specific example, a water pitcher.  It has a purpose (serving water) and place (the cabinet).   So we should have taken care of Rule 1.  But the pitcher is more than just useful.  It is essential to my daily life.  As a constant water drinker, the pitcher provides a source of water without the need to go to the fridge each time I want a cool, refreshing glass of water.  Plus, the pitcher is exactly the right height and weight: it can be positioned in the fridge door at the water dispenser without any need for me to hold it.  Of course, that has a small potential drawback-- that one (that's me, disguised by the impersonal third person) could forget about the pitcher until the water starts to overflow.  But we won’t go there right now.   We are still on Rule 1.

I had bought this perfect pitcher  at Louisville Stoneware.  It had been expensive, in my estimation.  That is, the pitcher cost a lot more than $20.  Then I chipped the pour spout on the pitcher and it could no longer be used. I was frantic to find a replacement.

That takes us to Rule 2.  One in, one out.  Simple enough.  When you buy one new item you need to get rid of one old item in the same category.  Pick the oldest, most useless, worn out, or whatever adjective best fits, and give away, sell, or toss that item. The theory is you will not increase your stuff if you stick to the one in, one out rule. 

I put the broken pitcher aside while I looked for a replacement.  Even though under Rule 2 I should toss the pitcher, after all it not only had been perfect, but it also had been pricey.  And it was still very attractive.  I could not bring myself to part with it just yet.  Maybe when I found its perfect replacement.

So I held on to the broken pitcher while I shopped for a replacement.  Maybe it could be repaired.  Although I felt I had a good excuse, I mean reason, to not immediately toss the damaged pitcher, that also caused me to think I would get some forgiveness for my “sins” if the replacement pitcher was relatively inexpensive.  And, since I had no immediate intent to go downtown I looked for a replacement close to home.  

Armed with the measurements necessary to fit in the fridge water dispenser, I searched department stores, discount suppliers, and all manner of places.  Finding a pitcher of that exact dimension proved much more difficult than I had thought.  

Finally I found a beautiful Lenox pitcher.  But the Lenox did not fit the definition of inexpensive.  And given the fate of the last pitcher, such a delicate and pricey pitcher was not a good bet for every day use.  I kept looking.  

Eventually, I found two pitchers at TJ Max I thought might work, one a lightweight plastic and one metal.  I bought both.  I figured I could return one or both if they were not right.  As it turned out, the plastic one was the right size but not heavy enough to dispense water without holding the dispenser.  The mental pitcher worked but only if I wedged it under the dispenser.  It soon was slightly dented.  By then, my husband had taken the tag off the plastic pitcher so I no longer could return it.  Plus, as noted, my problem is keeping track of clutter.  So--you guess the odds I could find the receipt. You're right.  I ended up keeping both of those pitchers.

However, while this search and find mission was going on, Macy’s was good enough to send me coupons for household goods.  With the discount, I could buy the Lenox pitcher at less than a replacement pitcher at Louisville Stoneware would cost.  Home the Lenox came.  

But then I happened to be downtown and drove right by Louisville Stoneware.  I figured it could not hurt to see if they repair chipped items.  Also I was curious if they were still making pitchers in the dimensions of my damaged pitcher.   The answer to the first question is no.  The answer to the latter question is yes.  And not only that, they make the same size pitcher but it comes in many lovely patterns, including a horse pattern for Derby.  So I could not waste the fact I had again found the perfect pitcher. I bought it.  And they make wonderful matching coffee mugs in Derby themes.  So I bought a set of those too.  

Instead of one in/ one out, now I had four pitchers for the old pitcher, plus a set of coffee mugs.  In the meantime, while I had searched for a replacement pitcher, I devised a plan to repurpose the chipped pitcher as a vase.  That is, once I found a way to fix it.  

Since it looks like I will never get beyond Rule 2, I have decided to write my own organizational and clutter control book.  There will be only one rule that goes something like this. One broken, no more than five replacements, especially if you can’t find it in your heart to get rid of the broken one.  At least my program is sure to help the down economy.  But clutter control, not so much.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving: From Turkey-Free to Gluten Free

As Thanksgiving approaches I am sharing an excerpt from an essay I wrote on a Thanksgiving of a few years ago. 

The Thanksgiving holiday is all about the turkey.  Perhaps a football game or two and a little holiday shopping.  Well, actually, for some people the shopping is more of a competitive sport than the all-day football games on TV. 

But here it is Thanksgiving and my turkey is in another town.  No, I am not stranded at the airport due to weather or holiday crowds.  Rather, we were going to drive to my Mom’s house for our turkey dinner and instead have found ourselves quarantined at home, 290 miles from our turkey dinner.

To fully understand the situation I must digress a bit. Actually, all the way back to our childhoods. My husband is an only child and I am an only daughter.  Neither of us learned to cook with a lot of other people “helping” in the kitchen, so we seldom cook meals together.  But on Thanksgiving, after 30 plus years of marriage, my spouse and I have finally reached a truce and choreographed the holiday meal to an art form.  Early in the day, I get the turkey ready, stuffed, and in the oven. 

Early afternoon, my husband begins his elaborate preparations of  side dishes that bake for at least an hour, most courtesy of Shaker recipes or Jeff Smith’s Frugal Gourmet: corn pudding, sweet potatoes baked in maple syrup, and baked apples.  After he has lovingly nestled his gourmet creations in the oven, I then prepare broccoli casserole (also courtesy of a “Shaker” recipe, though I am jarred by the image of the Shakers driving in horse-drawn carriages to market for Velveeta cheese food and Ritz crackers), potatoes, and gravy. 

This year, though, there is no turkey, not a small roasting chicken, or even a Cornish hen in our house.  Since we were not planning on being home for Thanksgiving.  Instead we had planned on driving on Thanksgiving Day to Mom’s home some four and a half hours away.  As a result of those travel plans and Mom’s ill health, for the first time, instead of our usual holiday cooking routine, somewhat reluctantly I had ordered a turkey dinner already fully prepared.  Since this is likely to be Mom’s last Thanksgiving, I went a bit overboard and ordered an elaborate, take-out feast which Mom’s care-giver had picked up and planned to heat and serve today.

Mom has had little appetite after completing five weeks of radiation for a tumor discovered several months ago.  Even though Mom is not likely to eat much of the turkey dinner, I had hoped that she would at least enjoy the sight of a plump, baked bird on her dining room table, and that feast, shared by family, would lift her spirits.

Unfortunately, my husband and I aren’t able to be at that table today.  He came down with the old-fashioned stomach flu on Thanksgiving Eve.  A result of a virus, no doubt, but one that seems almost unpatriotic in its timing at the start of shopping and gluttony season. I, on the other hand, though not (yet) affected by the stomach bug, instead am suffering from a longer term, gastro-intestinal ailment that appears to be tracking Mom’s decline in health.

Thus, the absence of a turkey at our house this year is not a loss we particularly miss except, perhaps, in the abstract. Furthermore, according to the morning newspaper, most Americans gain five pounds over the holiday season.  The risks of over-eating, even in a single meal were laid out like the proverbial buffet: heart attack, stroke, gall stone attacks, not to mention old-fashioned heartburn and gastric distress.  We will count ourselves lucky to be sidestepping these risks as, we pick sedately at scrambled eggs, no toast for me on the chance my tummy upset is gluten sensitivity activated by stress. 

As it turned out that was my Mom’s last Thanksgiving.  She never rebounded after the radiation, but instead lingered for many months as her life spirit and her strength receded.  My brother and I spent much of that time with her.  Only belatedly did we think to play for her some of the music she had so enjoyed.  Nevertheless, I like to think that even in her coma-like state she heard and enjoyed some of the old Nat King Cole songs she had played on the piano in her younger days. 

This year because of schedules no immediate relatives are coming for the holiday, nor are we making the trip.  Instead, we are spending Thanksgiving with our older son’s in-laws, a very generous and welcoming crowd.  We will bring a gluten-free corn pudding as well as one of the other “Frugal Gourmet” vegetables. 

During my Mother’s final months I developed Celiac, a disease associated with a severe reaction to wheat and gluten. Celiac occurs as a result of a genetic predisposition, and can be activated by physical or mental stress.  Luckily, our son’s in-laws assure me they are happy to serve a gluten-free turkey dinner. 

It has taken me years to fully realize Thanksgiving is not at all about the turkey.  Or even the football and shopping.  Rather, it’s about counting your blessings for family, however you might define them, and good friends.  And for giving thanks for them, however far flung or distant they might now be.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Meaning of Life

I know the meaning of life.  And I will tell you.  But first I need to tell you a little about me.

The most important thing you need to know is I am not a small collie.  I am a big dog.  I was born what you Two Legs refer to as a Shetland Sheepdog.  I will grant that my kind looks a bit like a small collie.  But I always have stood tall and proud. 

I was the biggest of my litter.  In my prime I weighed over forty pounds.  Now I’m down to a sleek 36 pounds.  And I have always known I could take on any dog twice my size.  I also could take on the Two Legs, but I have learned to respect my Two Leg Pack and follow their lead for the most part.  You see, I’m a veteran canine companion to the Two Legs.  

What can I say?  Not much, just “Woof,” and “Grrwl.”  But I’ve had to learn to communicate with “Two Legs”.  Just the same, they know I say plenty when I look at them.  Or nose the back door.  And especially when I pace around or dig in the carpet.  And how about the times I drop a toy at their feet?

I’ve been through a lot.  I have outlived my first Pack of Two Legs.  Now I live with the younger generation.  So it is no wonder I worry when the routine changes at home. 

Just this week, the leader of the Two Legs left early in the morning.  Even though he was out of bed before the sun was up I offered to walk with him in the park.  Instead he left in the car without me or the female Two Legs.   So I went back to sleep.  An older canine needs his rest.

The female Two Legs walked me later, at the usual time.  She also fed me, gave me my pills, and even my breakfast dessert (a spoonful of oatmeal on one of the Two Legs' plates).  But I had no one to beg toast or eggs from.  She eats only oatmeal in the morning. 

What were they thinking: I didn’t want my second breakfast just because one of them left early?  I don’t think so.

It is so quiet around the Pack when just one Two Legs is here.  She goes upstairs to her computer for long stretches.  When I first joined this Pack I would follow her up and down the stairs.  I don’t how many times we went up and down.  But I do know all those trips use to wear me out.  Now I nap downstairs and wait until she comes down again.  If she were dragging four legs up and down the stairs at my age she would know to just stay put until it is time to eat or walk again. 

The Leader of the Two Legs at least plays music for me.   Not always what I want to hear.  Maybe once a year they play something with canines in it.  The rest of the time it is Two Legs’ music, lots of singing and other sounds, not found in the canine universe.  But I like most of it anyway.

So today both of the Two Legs were home.  At the table at breakfast, they were both available for me to possibly participate in a second breakfast.  But then I smelled there were no eggs, bacon, or even toast.  And I heard the dreaded word from one of them: Diet.  Oh no.

To distract myself from the possibly lean times ahead I brought them a squeaky toy.  That way we could practice catching a live breakfast.  If the Pack doesn’t have any meat to eat they could just let me off lead at the park.  I’m sure I could catch us one of those squirrels.  And I bet they make good eating.

I’m getting more philosophical in my older age.  I’ve come not to expect as much from Two Legs as I once did.  The human kind certainly don’t think like canines.  For example, even though I warn them of dangers, such as a dog near the house, they don’t really appreciate my bark. 

So I only bark when absolutely necessary.  There is one rude bulldog who hurls nasty insults.  I have to put him in his place with a few well-thought-out rejoinders.  I ignore those yappy, pillow-sized dogs entirely.  Some Four Legs are just beneath my dignity to respond to. 

In my older age I now need a number of long naps during the day.  So I don’t mind when the Two Legs go out for awhile during the day without me.  But they should know I expect them to be here when it is dark or especially if it is stormy outside. 

And the whole Pack should be home to share meals and walks.  I am a big male Sheltie and don’t especially want to be known as pretty.   But I tolerate my Pack petting me and telling me how pretty I am.  I know it makes them feel happy.  And it makes me happy too.  So here it is, what I have learned in thirteen years in this world: having two good Two Legs to share that happy feeling is the meaning of life.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dogs As Masters

Today I read a story on NPR’s web site titled “How Dogs Evolved into ‘Our Best Friends.’”  The expert interviewed was Mark Derr, who wrote “From Wolves to Our Best Friends.” 

Derr discounts both of the main theories on the domestication of wolves into dogs: 1) humans domesticated wolves that hung out around human groups to scavenge our refuse and 2) humans tamed wolf pups and kept them. Derr instead argues that wolves and humans, as two equal beings who saw the benefit of hunting together selected each other because of the mutual hunting advantages.  As wolves worked and lived with humans, the wolves eventually became wolf-dogs and then the pets, hunters, and the all-around helper-companions we know as dogs today.

I rather like Derr’s argument about how dogs and our relationships to them have evolved.  But I am not sure I buy the argument that today they are our companions or merely our best friends.  In fact, I’d say dogs are now our masters, not the other way around.  Sure, I know people often spend a lot of money for their dogs.  And for veterinary care. And for food and grooming and toys.  Dogs even allow us the illusion we are in charge.

For example, give a dog a walk, make a friend.  Give a dog two walks and he is your BFF.  Take the walk three times together and you have created a canine entitlement.  No longer are you giving your dog a treat.  Rather you are fulfilling your purpose in his life.

Think about it: who is feeding whom?  Who is taking whom to medical care?  And back to the walking thing.  For every dog I have “owned,” once I walked that dog three days in a row at about the same time of day, I no longer had an option to sit on the couch and let the dog out in the yard.  You would think after this same experience with multiple dogs I would have learned something.  But no.  New puppy or adopted older dog, I take him or her for a walk.  I forget the “three-day-in-a-row” rule.  And it happens again.  I am the slave, he is the master.

Suddenly, the walk becomes a canine right.  A right that inclement weather, inconvenience, or a broken foot doesn’t change. 

On the other hand, would I get out every day and exercise in the park if my dog didn’t insist?  At least my dog, I mean master, is taking as good care of my health as I am of his.  I just hope we are close to the summit of our mutually-evolving relationship.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Revelations at the Nail Salon

On the neighborhood nail salon TV, CNN is covering the Penn State-Joe Paterno-failure to stop-child-sex-abuse story. Yes, even writers get their nails done on occasion.  What can I say?  It’s not the best use of my time or resources.  But a bold color brightens my mood.  And it is a relaxing indulgence.  I like to think I’m even helping the economy and the nice Cambodian couple who run the salon.  Maybe I am rationalizing.

The middle-aged lady sitting next to me, also indulging in the nail-pampering, comments on the CNN story and what a sorry state of affairs, how disgraceful the whole thing is.  I agree with her.  She then proceeds to express outrage over the matter.  Again I agree with her.

Then she says Joe Paterno should not have been fired over some children lying about sex abuse.   So much for the relaxing time at the nail salon.  No, we did not come to blows with our freshly painted, not-yet-dry nails.  But we did have a discussion.  A surprisingly open and non-shouting discussion for two adults who don’t just disagree but who inhabit two different universes.

Today I am left to wonder what does it take for people to recognize a child is more important than any ‘institution”, even if the institution is college football?  Actually, we seem to be pretty good at recognizing the importance of one child, as long as that one child is a pretty blond girl. Make it forty young boys or thousands of Indian or African girls and boys and we don’t get as excited. 

And for the record, at Penn State it was not even a question of whether a child was lying.  Not that I believe that happens very often.  It was multiple cases where adults saw the abuse.  How does that adult not have a moral obligation to stop it and call the police?

Oh, but my fellow-nail-treatment friend said, the university had a chain of command.  A lot like the chain of command in most institutions, whether they are corporations, churches, or even families.   As long as the person who witnessed the abuse reported it up the chain of command, she argued, they were “covered.” 

Well, how you would feel about that “coverage” if you had been the child.  Or had that been your child?  

Could we pretend all children are as important as a pretty little blond American girl. Maybe then the adult who had seen or heard about a little blond girl being abused would have done something.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Let's Talk About Sex

Got you reading, didn't it?  That's what's happening with the Herman Cain stories.  Sex sells: cars and appliances and products of all kinds. It sells eyeballs on the Internet. And ratings on TV.  It also seems to sell attention for political candidates.

Is Herman Cain a serial harasser or himself the victim of political harassment?  Ask most working women and I’d be surprised if they didn’t agree: when a man is accused by four women of blatant sexual harassment there really is only one word to describe him: sleaze. 

Sure, it is not just men who harass.  And there are occasional misunderstandings in the workplace.  But that’s not what is happening when a guy grabs, offers to help a woman find a job if she “helps him” or any of the other blatant acts alleged against Cain. 

Most women have been there and had that done to them.  One of the few benefits of getting older is that kind of sleazy “misunderstanding” doesn’t happen as often as it once did.  And if it does, even if imperfect, there now are laws and remedies to help the victims.

More remarkable than the serial harassment history of the Herminator is that the media or the public ever considered this man a serious contender for President.  If Cain were not a conservative Republican who also happens to be African-American would he ever have made it to this level of a major political primary?  The tea party types need someone like Cain to support the claim they are not racist.  His goofy antics, until now, have just been added entertainment.  Sort of like Sarah Palin with her hunting.  Makes for higher ratings and gives the Blovinators more to talk about.

But let’s talk about sex—seriously--for a minute. 

An eleven year old girl is forced into a life as the second wife or mistress of a much older man.  She frequently is subjected to forcible sex.  She is not allowed to leave her one room.  At the same time, she is indoctrinated into viewing the world as a dangerous place.  She is totally dependent on the older man, her sexual tormentor, as her only source of food and companionship.  Quickly she comes to accept her limited world as a “safe” but very limited home.  At fourteen she bears her first child. 

Of course, the child-mother is not allowed to go to school.  But she has hopes of a better life: the occasional visit from the first wife; some day leaving her one room and feeling the sun on her face, even if only for a brief moment; her child having a better life.  Three years later she gives birth to her second child.  

The specific girl I describe above has a happy ending for two reasons: she was found alive and she is an American living in the United States.  Jaycee Dugard, a little blond, eleven-year-old, was living in Lake Tahoe, California with her mother and step-father when she was kidnapped.  It took far too long for Dugard to be found:  incredibly, 18 years.  But today her kidnapper, Philip Garrido, is serving 431 years to life in prison.  His “first” wife and co-kidnapper, Nancy Garrido, is serving 36 years to life.

When Dugard was finally released from captivity the media went wild.  Eventually she gave an interview to Diane Sawyer and was brave enough to share her horrendous experiences in a memoir, “A Stolen Life.”  

But if we could all look away from the train wreck that passes for our national debate on important topics we might realize that Dugard’s story is not all that different from that of many girls, too young to be called women, around the world.  While they daily are living the nightmare Jaycee Dugard lived, they have no hope of a happy ending.

If we devoted just some of the excess media attention and energy we spend on sexual harassment by politicians and instead directed it at the plight of sexual mistreatment of children, whether or not they are little blond Americans, we might be able to get them out of the forced marriages or daily rapes in a brothel and back to the schools and playgrounds where they belong.

We could start to turn some of the eyeballs and ratings, now wasted on stories about people like Herman Cain, and pay more attention to journalists such as Nicholas Kristof who has investigated the plight of women and girls subjected to sexual slavery throughout the world.  See his book “Half the Sky” or his many writings, for example:

Let’s leave the Herminator and his ilk to the EEOC and the courts rather than the media. The national debate, and our eyeballs, should be focused on something worthy of our attention.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Silly Photo

Keeping up with the Grandkids

We recently enjoyed a few days with our grandkids.  Let's see, bowling, video games, wiffle ball and laser sword fights in the yard, interspersed with frequent refueling stops. When they use that much energy its not much of a surprise they need to eat frequently.

This is what the grandparents looked like at one of those "refueling stops." The grandkids may have needed refueling; the grandparents needed the rest stop.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Traveling in Dreaded Real Time

Traveling can be fun and enriching.  Exploring new venues.  Seeing new sights.  Sampling new foods, meeting new people, daring new adventures.

But traveling, whether for work or fun, can be tiring. There always is something from home you wish you had with you that provides comfort, whether it is your own bed, comfy pillow, or ratty sweatshirt.  Maybe the dog who greets you at the end of the day with a happy wag. Or having a washer/dryer close at hand in the event of a mishap. Even the choice of clothes one's own closet offers which is not available in the space of a suitcase.

I love to travel but there is one thing I miss from home more than all the other comforts combined: TIVO. or more accurately, my digital TV recorder.  I don't watch all that much TV, whether at home or on the road.  But at home TV viewing is never in DRT (Dreaded Real Time).  I don't even know when the shows I watch actually are aired.  My digital recorder records them and I watch them, "buzzing" through commercial interruptions whenever I need a fix of some TV show.

The problem is not that I am missing some particular show.  TIVO, or generic TIVO, is on the job recording any show I may want to later view.  While traveling, at the end of a long day of sight-seeing, for example, if I should need an NCIS "fix", chances are at any given time a re-run of that show is on some channel.  The problem is, that and most other shows are subject to long commercial interruptions. By the time I sit through several minutes of commercials I either have lost interest in the program,  fallen asleep or both.

Even on commercial-free cable channels, such as HBO, if you do not have a digital recorder you have to actually know when the program is on and be there at the TV to watch at the appointed hour.  Either way, you are living in DRT and subject to the schedule of the television broadcast rather than it being subject to your schedule.

Without a traveling-TIVO TV is just too demanding.

DOROTHY'S IDEA OF THE DAY: Why not have a portable device that allows a person to access the shows he or she has recorded on a home TV recorder and watch them while traveling. Or put a DVR in hotel rooms so travelers can record something worth watching when they return to their room after a long day. The hotel even could let you set up your list over the Internet before you got to the hotel.