Re-entry to the world of stuff

I wrote recently about the decision to re-settle ourselves in SE Alaska, ending a two-year roving lifestyle, working and living in temporary clinic housing when we weren’t out of the state traveling.

In the past month we ordered enough household items from Amazon to start life again…we’d sold almost everything when we sold the Ketchikan house in October, 2014, so we had some restocking to do. I have to admit, until now, I wouldn’t have associated Amazon with furniture. But it turns out you can order quite an array…everything you need, in fact. And though what we bought isn’t heirloom quality, it’s solid and looks good, and that’s sufficient for our needs at the moment. I’m not furnishing my dream home with this move.

So this is how you move to Alaska…SE Alaska, anyway. You talk with the barge lines that serve SE Alaska and sort out their timetable, and the various options for shipping. You can use an entire shipping container, 20 or 40 foot (or as many as you need), or you can ship up on pallets. If you ship on pallets, you’re charged by weight, and per hundred-weight, it works out to twice the cost of shipping an entire container. For a container, you pay a flat rate, and whatever you can put in goes for the same flat rate. So that’s the better way to ship, at least for larger volume.

It turns out we had exactly a 20-foot container’s worth of belongings. I think that’s pretty good, actually, for 35 years of marriage. We’ve thinned a lot along the way, so even after replacing furniture and adding the household items I had in storage, we still kept it to a manageable level.

At least, that’s what I thought, until the container was unloaded into the two-car garage at our new place. It was full, with boxes stacked on boxes, three or four levels deep. Suddenly, after a two-year break from possessions, it was overwhelming to look at everything at once.

I can’t deny I’ve done a happy dance or two at the thought of having my kitchen set up again, and it will be lovely to have all my clothes in one place, to see familiar and homey knickknacks again. It will be nice to actually fully unpack my roller bags, and live out of drawers and closets for a change.

But I also can’t deny…there’s a part of me that’s a little suffocated, a little weighed down just looking at all the stuff.

I’ve happily collected and kept my favorite things, and as I get older, I’m pickier about what meets that standard. What is worth holding on to, moving around, and ultimately keeping throughout my life? I think a bit more these days about how much stuff I’ve accumulated, and what I’ll leave to my kids to deal with (one day, far, far in the future!)

When you’ve had an opportunity to live stuff-free for a significant time, as we’ve done the past two years, you see it all a little differently. Yes, the convenience and the comfort of having my own things is enjoyable, and I’m excited to revel in nesting again.

But I also have a wee bit of a feeling that my wings are clipped, that I’ll be more tied down than I have been. And I didn’t expect to feel that. Didn’t expect to experience any negative side to setting up a home again.

Me, the ultimate nester, feeling overwhelmed by my twigs?!

Maybe I just need to clear a few boxes, and get cozy again. But it makes me think about how consumed Americans are with stuff, and getting more stuff, and maintaining stuff. And all this makes me determined to keep some perspective…to be a little less thing-oriented, and see it all for what it is…pleasant filler that makes my day-to-day convenient  and comfortable.

But stuff is not so important to me as it once was. And maybe that’s the lesson of the last two years: I can actually thrive without a lot of it, and as long as the really important elements of my life are in place…health, and family, and nurturing relationships…the other stuff is just that…stuff that fills my garage, and will soften my life. But it doesn’t make my life. I never thought that it did…but coming full circle through all of this brings that reality home to me.

We’re about to enter the season of giving, and getting. I’m thinking more about giving experiences, and the types of gifts that don’t accumulate to pile in the garage or basement, that don’t need sorting and caring for.

This isn’t meant to guilt anyone…we all need things…but just to say, how much is the right amount? And how can we have a healthy relationship with the stuff, instead of being overwhelmed by it?

It’s one of the ongoing conversations I have with myself…what about you? Got a handle on this? Any wisdom to share?

~ Sheila

Advertisements

Bare necessities

I’m wandering around in the little apartment that is a temporary home, looking for things I know I brought over, wondering how anything could be lost in this small space.

There’s nothing like a move to put me in perpetual hide and seek mode. Why is it I can see exactly where the thing I want was stored in the house? And I have no idea where it landed when I unpacked boxes two weeks ago. But I knew to expect this…I’ve been through all the games before. My favorite is the one when I begin to question…could I have left something behind? Or did a box really get lost between the last address and the new one? Even though I did the last walk through the house and know there was nothing there, not one thing…still, inevitably, I’ll wonder.

You know the feeling when you’ve looked everywhere twice, and you know you put it in…some item that wasn’t even that important, until it’s nowhere to be found. And now it’s an obsession. Must.find.IT!

I once lost some little collectibles for about a decade, didn’t find them for two moves. They had been so carefully wrapped and stored in a little cedar chest that they lived, quite safe, but totally lost to me, until I was doing a sort for a third move. Well that was a mystery solved! I had long ago thought they fell off the moving truck and given up looking for them.

Another thing I find happens with a move…I almost immediately begin to forget what I own. Not the big stuff…I can certainly remember the big items. And some of the little things…sentimental stuff, or sometimes just random odds and ends. One good thing about storing most of the things from the house…it will feel like Christmas when I open the boxes.

I’m always surprised when it comes to unpacking, how out of sight is quickly out of mind. In some ways I feel good…maybe I’m not too attached to the stuff if I don’t carry a mental imprint around, waiting till I see the real things again. On the other hand…maybe I’m not as attentive as I like to think…if I could forget about half of what I own so easily, maybe I’m not paying enough attention to the details of life?

Well, that hardly seems right. In fact, sometimes I feel consumed by detail. That’s the effect of a move…I feel reduced to lists and to-dos, to the tedious chores of the day-to-day.

I’m ready to live simply for a while. Good thing, because it will be a while before I unpack the bulk of the boxes, make a new nest.

For now, I’m a minimalist, and I think I’m enjoying it.

This apartment is furnished with a hodge-podge of furniture…bits and pieces that are functional and practical, but not gathered into a cohesive look or style. The kitchen is basic too. With a variety of folks coming through to work at the clinic, and this apartment being one of the landing spots for the temporary help, the kitchen is outfitted to work camp standards but little more. There’s a crock pot, a toaster, a basic cook top and oven, a basic fridge and microwave. No dishwasher. The cookware is a combination of left-behinds and inexpensive non-stick pieces. The times I’ve been in this apartment in the past have been for a few days or a weekend here and there. No ongoing need to cook or make the kitchen functional beyond a few meals.

But since I may be here for months, I needed to do a little better than that. So I brought a few things.

I chose some favorite sheets and a quilt for the bed, and my own pillows. Nothing sleeps like good linens that are just the right weight. A few other homey touches made the list…scented candles for the coffee table, some favorite books, my Rowenta iron, some glasses and plates.

I brought a few of my cast iron pans to see me through.

The cast iron pieces, and my Kitchen Aid mixer…yes, I hauled it over, and it will drive out with me eventually. I brought favorite utensils, a couple of good knives, a sharpener, my coffee maker, a small blender. I brought my herbs and spices…well, what good would they do me to in storage? NO food items can go to storage.

I must admit, I likely won’t need a lot of them. But I figured I could leave those behind for someone else to use. (This is an apartment that benefits from past users’ leftovers, and I’ve been fortunate to find a just-opened bottle of olive oil or other pantry item I freely used because I didn’t have my own jar of whatever…a convenience of sharing a community space. The rules? If it’s yours, put your name on it. If you’re not coming back, or you don’t mind sharing, just leave it in a common space.)

Moving creates these crazy conversations in my head…keep or get rid of, what to do, what to do, what to do?!

So now I have a ton of spices on the shelf here, just in case I’m inspired to whip up anything exotic, and this week I had to buy a hook to hang on the bathroom door…one of the things that I can’t find, even though we had several at the house, and I thought they were in one of the boxes I hauled over.

Silly, really, but when I’m feeling a bit displaced, it’s the little things that begin to irritate…like not having an easy place in the bathroom to hang a robe, or drape a towel.

I hung my plastic hook on the door last night and put my morning robe on it, and felt a little better. It was a familiar sight, and that feels good. However small, a sight of home is still a sight of home.

In the past when we’ve stayed here, I’d fall back on a combination of soup and sandwich meals, simple warm-up dishes, even stocked up on some of the more upscale frozen pizzas. But now I’m doing my style of cooking, making real food that satisfies more than the quick and easy stuff of call weekends.

That’s not to say I’m whipping up gourmet fare. No, this kitchen isn’t inspiring heights of creativity. But a few familiar dishes, along with the other little touches that add comfort, and I find myself relaxing, de-stressing, catching my breath.

I find myself feeling grateful for an easy place to transition, never mind that the look won’t be featured on Pinterest.

It’s not a forever home. But even a temporary spot can be a shelter from the storm, and in the mornings, drinking hot coffee and wrapped in a cozy robe, I know it will do for the in-between time.

And maybe, before I’m done here, I’ll find what I’m looking for.

Containers

If you can’t win one way, you look for another path. So the house is available for lease now, as well as for sale…whichever comes first I’ll take. I talked to my realtor about leasing options a couple of weeks ago, but felt I had to wait on the outcome of the offer on the table at the time.

I don’t want to own a house in Alaska forever, but for now, if I lease it that will be sufficient. So another waiting game begins.

I’m ready to take the subject of house off the table for a while and focus on other things. In the long run, as this whole ordeal has reminded me, a house is a thing. It’s a big thing, an expensive thing, as things go. And certainly houses are also homes.

But the real meaning of home travels around in the bodies of the people I love, and isn’t housed within four walls. Any four walls. Walls are just containers, really, like the containers you put your flour or sugar in to store in your pantry. The containers come in different shapes, and are made of different materials. But when I recognize walls of a house for what they really are…just containers for the people who live inside…suddenly, those walls take on their proper perspective.

I’m not going to tell myself I don’t like beautiful homes, and lovely walls. I do. And I’m not going to say that the structure I live in has no meaning. Of course our life experiences are shaped by location and the physical surroundings of our day-to-day.

But those surroundings don’t have to define experience, our very lives. And though I’ve known that, this has reminded me, again: I am not the house I live in. I don’t have to let it control the major decisions of my life.

I’ve found a spark of rebellion, and a healthy one I think. I’m ready to pull out of my slump and come back to the positive side of life. I’ve been trying to do that for a while.

Today it seems doable.

Today I’m reminded there are so many people who have issues larger than mine. It’s not about comparing, but it is about perspective. I want to always, always, come back to recognizing how much I have to be grateful for.

Life, any life, has troubles. I have my share of those, sure enough, and my share of sorrows. But gratitude resets me, grounds me, and oddly enough, allows me to take the focus off myself.

Today I am grateful for the freedom I have to believe as I choose, to express myself, to travel, to live where I want, to make of life what I can. I’m grateful for the people who keep freedom for me, and all who live in this country.

Thank you, thank you, for all you do.

Now that’s the proper perspective.

~ Sheila

The Valley of Indecision

So I have an offer on the house…lower than I wanted, so I’ve countered. And now I wait to hear. The prospective buyers have until Wednesday at 5:00. I doubt it will take that long to hear the decision, but still, the wait is hard to endure. And will they counter again? I hate these games. I wish we could just sit down and talk to each other. But that’s not the way it’s done.

The hard thing is I’ve loved this house. It’s been a nest I would enjoy anywhere, but unfortunately I can’t barge it down to a new location in the lower 48. So part of the process of resetting life is making the choice to move. It’s the first step of many, and at that, my anxiety may be premature. I may just get a rejection and be back to square one.

What do homes say about us? What do they mean? I’ve been a life-long nester, and my home is my refuge in many ways. But I have to say, the older I get, the more I realize…the physical structure, and the furnishings, while they’re important, only go so far.

When you need a real refuge, you need heart, and soul, love and strength. You need character and integrity, loyalty and grace. And none of these things are dependent on the structure of a home, no matter how beautiful or how comfortable it may be.

I’ve faced some challenging moments in my life, and I’m sure there are more to come…life has a way of doing that, testing you, sending a lot of the same lessons over and over again. And each time I realize I learn something new…insights about what I really value, who I want to be in the good times, but more importantly, in the bad.

I’ve learned to feed myself the messages that I want to live, to project what I want to be until it becomes real. Some of the transformation has been slow, but it is happening. And selling a home is just another filter…another lens to look through, to see what I’m really made of.

There have been plenty of times I’ve been disappointed in myself…haven’t been strong enough, or brave enough, or creative enough. But one thing I do know: I have heart, and I don’t give up. So using the filter, the lens, of the success of selling the house, if it happens, I’m going to be thrilled, and celebrate, and find a way to make it positive.

And if it doesn’t happen this time, I’m still going to find a way to make it positive. That’s my life lesson, to take the experiences that seem like defeats and turn them into victories. And believe me, some of the defeats take a lot of work to reframe. Some of the defeats have nearly killed me. But I think most people have to absorb this teaching if they survive, and thrive, in spite of the darts of life.

Sounds pretty philosophical…maybe I’m taking the whole thing too seriously. But tonight, waiting on a decision that has the power to impact my life in such a big way, it doesn’t feel like I’m blowing it out of proportion.

I’m not in control of life, but I can be in control of myself. So whatever happens, I’ll find my smile, and I’ll put on my heels the next morning and go out and try again. Because anything else is the true defeat, the true loss.

The house will sell when the time is right, and I know that in my heart, even if my head has a hard time believing that.

Wish me luck!

And to my blogging friends out there…I haven’t abandoned you…just a little pre-occupied right now. But soon, I’ll be catching up, and reading about all you’ve been up to this summer.  See you soon!

My house!

~ Sheila

Chooser

I often write about the challenges of life at my stage: empty-nester, part-time worker, full-time budding entrepreneur, wife, mom to young adults, grandparent, daughter, friend. The intent is to share the struggles and epiphanies I’m having with the hope of helping someone else who’s struggling too. I haven’t got it sorted out! Life is a work in progress, but I’ve learned a few things along the way. I’m a slow learner, and a late bloomer. But here’s what I know today…

It’s good to be home! I know, it’s a common theme with me. Two weeks out of town for vacation and a family visit, and then two weeks working at the Metlakatla clinic, and I’m done. At least for the next three weeks. These are mine to enjoy at home.

Home is complicated right now. We have a house in Ketchikan, which I love, but we’re spending limited time here these days. Between time working in Metlakatla, and time out and about for personal reasons, days to putter around in my own little nest are hard to come by. It hasn’t always been that way. In fact, most of my life has fit the norm…parenting, working, raising children, and though the location changed a few times throughout the years, the basic pattern was set.

A couple of years ago, Rob backed out of full-time practice with the promise to himself that he was done with that lifestyle. Too stressed, burned out, and exhausted to do full-time medicine any more. So now he works part-time, and for the moment, that’s in three different clinics in SE Alaska.

We tried the arrangement of me working in a full-time position and staying with the house, and him out and about, working, coming home, leaving again to work, coming home, leaving again…it was wearing, and lonely, and not what either of us signed up for. But for Rob, the variety is good. He enjoys moving about a bit. The change-up of the routine is good. And I’ll be honest, he’s not wedded to home and stuff as I am.

I like my stuff. I’ve spent a lot of time and a fair amount of money accumulating what I have. I love to putter about in the kitchen, using the gadgets and tools I have to try new dishes. I love pretty linens on the bed, comfy furnishing that have a look of warmth and tradition. I love the books on my shelves and the art on the walls. It all speaks to me, of people I love or a mood I want to evoke.

But that isn’t what comforts Rob. He’s a wanderer, and a nomad. Through much of our marriage he lived life in the traditional way, because that was the model we knew, and we were raising kids. But that’s changed, and with the empty nest has come new freedom. Freedom for both of us, in different ways. It has freed us financially, to some extent, and it has removed the need to keep a stable home base for growing children.

So now what? I’ve written about making the choice to leave my full-time work. It was two years ago in January. I’ve already lived a semi-nomadic life two years. Some of it has been amazing. Some of it has been fun. And there have been moments of weariness, times when I said, over and over in my mind, like a litany, “I just want my life back. I just want to go home.” Those moments have been few. But they have been part of the tapestry.

This week I said, as we sat over a late breakfast, looking out on the Tongass Narrows from our front windows, that it was good to be home. That I miss my things, that right now, I live a crazy life that keeps me on the run, and often somewhat adrift. Rob looked at me and asked, “Why is that?” I was in the process of answering when I got interrupted, and we never really finished the conversation. But I can finish it. I can give the answer.

I’m living a crazy life right now because I made a choice. I made a choice to match my lifestyle to what was working for my husband. He didn’t demand that I do it. He didn’t make it a requirement of the relationship in any way. I made the choice, and I’m committed to the choice because I realized, after trying to do it differently, it was all or nothing. I couldn’t keep a foot in both camps…happily married and living alone for weeks at a time. It wasn’t good for the relationship, and to be honest, I got almost no pleasure out of my things when I had them all to myself. Things do not replace people. And though I knew it in my head, it wasn’t until I found myself living that reality, that I knew it by heart.

If I learned anything about myself during the time that we lived mostly apart, it was that a lot of my pleasure in homekeeping and cooking comes from the relationships around me. If I’m cooking dinner for the two of us, or for a crowd, I enjoy every piece of it: planning, shopping, prepping, cooking, eating. Even the cleanup is a validation of time well spent, and spent with loved ones. If I’m by myself, I have little-to-no interest in any of it. My enthusiasm dries up. I lost weight when we were living apart. I hated to go to the grocery store, because it wasn’t for anything fun…it was just for food. And what’s the fun in that? And pretty rooms? They just don’t mean much when you wander through them by yourself, trying to enjoy the never-disturbed perfection because there’s no one around to move anything out of its place.

Why am I saying all of this? Because it’s important for me to acknowledge…this crazy life I lead is by choice. I could be home every night, in my bed, eating at my own table. But that’s not the priority of my life. In a few weeks I’ll be in a different setting, camping in the RV again. I’ll have time to write; work on my baby business that’s slowly coming to life; I’ll do some work for the Met clinic via phone and email; and all of that will fit between the plans of the day that Rob and I make together. Because that is my priority. And how can I be ungrateful for that freedom in my life? If this time looks chaotic…if it seems like we’re always on the move…well, we are. It won’t last forever, I’m sure of that. There will be a time when we make different plans…when we move nearer family, and we settle again.

But for now, this is my choice, and claiming it, owning it, helps me avoid the victim mentality when I have one of those moments of just wanting to be home. I am not a victim or a martyr to Rob’s choices. I have made my own. It feels good to recognize: if I hadn’t jumped off the corporate ship, I wouldn’t have some of the opportunities that are on the horizon. I wouldn’t be in the process of developing a design for a logo and business card and a new web site. I wouldn’t be a budding entrepreneur at the ripe age of 53. I wouldn’t have the freedom to work from home, or from the RV. I wouldn’t have the flexibility to make my own commitments. And the reality is, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity and the financial stability to step out on this ledge.

And if I hadn’t jumped off the corporate ship, and into my crazy life, I wouldn’t have the joy of seeing and doing the things that I seen and done in the past years, with the man I chose.

Life is complicated. But it helps if you know that you’re where you are by choice. So I’m a chooser. I’ve learned to choose love over things, experience over money, and freedom over security. I’ve learned that you don’t have to be traditional to be normal; that you can walk a different path and still get where you need to go. And I’ve learned that although head knowledge is good, there’s no replacement for understanding something from the heart. Because the heart gets final say; and if my choice has passed the heart test, I’m on the right path.

Dinner for two…

Today I’m grateful

I’m up early, rolling little balls of sticky sausage and cheese for breakfast. Not the most pleasant kitchen task, but the little bites of savory are perfect with coffee on a cold November morning. More than that, these little bites are a traditional beginning to our winter holiday feasts. So I roll, getting the tray of uniform balls ready to bake, ready to serve when the group stirs.

As I roll I think, my mind free to wander as my hands are occupied with the sticky dough. And this day in November, my heart is full of thanks.

I’m thinking of all those people throughout the country who are working quietly, keeping things running, humming, even on a week day when most of us are off and home with family. The healthcare staff, the police, the crews working at airports, the military who’re on duty today, the folks keeping gas stations and convenience stores going for the benefit of travelers; I think of the lights that come on when I flip the switch, the oven that heats, the warm kitchen…I’m sure there are crews monitoring the utilities of our lives, making sure the turkey can roast and the cranberry salad stays chilled. And tomorrow, and on Saturday, crews will be out, making the rounds in trash and recycling trucks, taking away the remnants of the feasting, and the shopping, and the gathering.

I am a worker. But I don’t keep life stitched together. I’m essential only to a few souls on earth, and even that necessity is limited to a supporting role. And I recognize that. In one sense, none of us is essential. No one is irreplaceable. Life teaches us that, sooner or later.

But some people have chosen to take on life tasks that make them, for a time, essential. The odd thing is that many of those tasks also are invisible to the average person. Who sees, or knows, the names and faces of service workers? Other service workers, and their family members.

People contribute in many ways. We have a lot of teachers in my family. We have ministers, mothers and fathers, doctors, nurses, a truck driver, an undertaker, IRS agents, a cartographer, business owners and executives, writers, publishers, engineers, security guards, counselors, IT professionals, farmers…who have I left out? What a splendid array of professions, now that I see the list on my screen!

But just today, I’m thinking of the ones who cover call, whose jobs don’t take a break because the calendar says to…the folks who know that their turn will come, if not this holiday, then the next…it will be their turn to work when everyone else is off, and keep essential services up and running. To those people, I’m especially grateful. My lights came on, and I know if I have an emergency, someone will answer the call for help.

Thank you for being there, even when I’m too busy, in my holiday rush of list completion, to notice. And just now, with my hands covered in dough, my mind is still, calm for a moment, and I picture you, going about your routine, keeping us safe, keeping things humming, invisible but so necessary. Thank you for choosing hard jobs, and long hours, and for doing the (often) thankless and unglamorous tasks. Thank you for giving up your family time, and for making mine possible.

Heart home

We’re traveling again, on the road for the Thanksgiving holiday. This year we’ll be with family, seeing different ones over the course of the week. Some years we’ve been with friends, and had to add the family touch via phone. We do the best we can, but making the family connection in person is not always possible. When that happens, friends round out the circle, fill in the space at the table, make the holiday bright.

Here’s what I’ve learned about celebrating and connecting in spirit, since we moved far from family, 27 years ago:

  • When you connect on a regular basis, holidays are icing on the cake. Holidays don’t have to function as points of glue. The day-to-day relationship is the glue.
  • Connecting can be as simple as a phone call or Skyping or a card or an email. Or in today’s world, a Facebook post.
  • Distance can work for you. It can smooth the rough spots and make you appreciate the good stuff.
  • You’ll only maintain the relationships you nurture. That’s especially true when you have to relate across the miles.
  • A carefully planned “surprise” visit, or some gesture that shows you’re thinking outside the box…becomes a highlight. There’s nothing more fun than orchestrating a trip like this. And the faces when you pull it off…priceless!
  • Spending holidays with friends has enlarged our circle and our traditions. Some of my favorite memories are of Thanksgivings with friends. We’ve learned new foods, new games, and built relationships that have lasted over the years, solidified by adopting others as “family.”
  • Find the right balance between pulling out all the stops for a special gathering, and keeping it real and sane. I’ve learned to pick and choose…we don’t try to do everything, we just try to do a few things well.
  • Mark the moment. I’ve learned to stop in the middle of the hustle-bustle and just look around and absorb.
  • Limit the drama. Family gatherings should not be a time of crisis or scenes. Create memories that are good so you’ll want to get together again.
  • Bring something new to the party…a new food, a new game, something different.
  • Decide what traditions are keepers. What are you always going to do, no matter who sits at the table?

Holidays don’t wait for life to be perfect. I’ve never quite achieved the Martha Stewart magazine spread for my living room or my dining room, although I’ve tried. Who doesn’t have the ideal scene in their head, just waiting to be unveiled in real life and captured in family photos as proof that it can be done?

But I’ve had better than a magazine spread. I’ve had the real thing, in all its chaos and glory, deliciousness and kitchen failures, to tell me, and those gathered with me: this is the good stuff.

 “The sun looks down on nothing half so good as a household laughing together over a meal.”   ~ C.S. Lewis

She’s thirty

Stephanie & Jack

Stephanie & Jack

Friday, November 1st, and we’re heading to Seattle for a long weekend. We’re going down to celebrate, and mark the moment, and wonder where the time has gone. Stephanie turns thirty – 30! – tomorrow. I’ve joked that I’m not sure who is more traumatized between us. I think it’s me. She’s actually excited to be leaving the 20s behind, and feel that she’s fully a member of the adult world.

I’m excited for her. She’s a wife, and a mom, and a teacher, a home-owner, a tax payer. She sees this milestone as a cap to a decade of growth and achievement. A Type-A first-born, she powers through to her goals.

I’m nostalgic. I vaguely remember my mom turning thirty. I clearly remember myself turning thirty. I’m utterly astonished that my daughter could be hitting this marker. Decade birthdays cause reflection, my daughter’s no less than my own. I look at her and have flashbacks to earlier years. Photos and videos tell her story, interwoven with lives of family, friends, and now, her husband and little ones.

I’m proud. She’s funny and smart and pretty, and she’s kind. She follows her faith. She’s organized and creative. She remembers birthdays, calls her grandparents. She’s a better mom than I think I was…firmer, and more disciplined. She’s a strong woman.

I’m humbled. Motherhood will do that. From birth to now, I’ve watched her grow, with awe. She is unique, as all individuals are; yet watching her develop has taught me that from mother to child, the generations repeat the rhythms of life. I hear her talk about Riley and Jack, about her life and her epiphanies, and I identify. Yes, I remember feeling that. I learned that lesson too. I’ve experienced the same emotions as she does. I’m just a few years further along the path. And with the vision of my 53 year-old eyes, I see that my mom, and my grandmothers before, did the same things, said the same things. We are linked by blood, but maybe more importantly, by common experience. With all the changes in the world, we are much the same at heart. Technology and fashions change. Love doesn’t.

One of my favorite quotes of motherhood says that once you have a child, your heart is forever walking around outside your body. That’s more true today than the day she was born. The love for the newborn grows and matures, just like the person. And now, thirty years rich with experience and memory, that love is a deep current that flows between us, mother and daughter. Not often spoken, but always there.

One of my favorite things about now is the ability to talk. We talk daily. Sometimes multiple times a day, usually short exchanges that keep us connected and rooted in the other’s life. The minute-to-minute events of childhood or traffic or a new haircut are the stuff of our conversations. Mostly. Sometimes we wander into deeper stuff, baring our hearts for a few minutes. But largely, through the magic of technology, we have a running dialog of the day-to-day.

Tomorrow we’ll treat her, and ourselves. We’ll open gifts and have dinner out, topped off with cheesecake. We’ll do photos and drink a toast to the day. Rob has a sentimental gift for her. I went with the more practical approach. I’m giving her a new camera for the coming decade. I expect lots of sweet shots to add to my digital collection.

Happy birthday to my daughter, my first born, my one and only Stephanie. You have been a joy and a delight! May you have many more to come, and may you be rich with love, opportunities to serve, and satisfaction from life well done. My deepest wish for you is that you experience the reward of relationships. Nothing is better than a life well lived, and full of love. But you already know that. You’re thirty now!

In defense of Pinterest

It seems there’s a lot of strong opinion out there about Pinterest and its impact on everything from use of time (aka waste of time) to fueling competitive birthday parties to adding new musts to the already jam-packed to-do list of the average American woman. (Notice I’m confining my opinions and observations to the narrow borders of my own country…I haven’t been authorized to speak for all women of the world just yet.)

I was going to be productive today...

I was going to be productive today…

No doubt many of the criticisms are justified. I’ll admit it’s addicting and time-consuming to scroll through my favorite Pinterest theme pages. However, I am still in control of the clocks at my house, and that super power extends to my keyboard as well. So it is within my ability to set an alarm and limit the time I spend on Pinterest.  A little Pinterest surfing is often my reward for finishing a project or task. It doesn’t have to gobble up whole evenings or weekends.

One of my favorite things about the site is the at-a-glance appeal…I only check out a recipe or project if the image is appealing. I think this is an enormous time-saver. After all, if the finished product doesn’t look enticing, why would I waste time trying to duplicate the taste or the look? And I love the links that give great step-by-step instructions with photos…no guessing about how to do the tricky parts!

Often when I’m looking for a recipe or product I begin with Pinterest. I’m rarely disappointed…much quicker than checking out links through Google.

As to feeling that I have to decorate amazing cookies or have elaborate theme parties…well, I get to make these decisions too at my house. I understand peer pressure, and I’ve had my share of mom-guilt motivation. But I’m also able to appreciate good ideas and copy what will work for my needs without feeling that I must do everything to the nth degree. I like to think of Pinterest as an engine to fuel my creativity. Actually, a site like Pinterest is perfect for me because I have almost NO inherent creativity. But I know what I like when I see it, and I can copy like a pro! Knowing when to stop is up to me.

I read a post today about the increasing tendency to turn events into spectacle: gender reveal parties, theme parties, holiday celebrations, and biggest and most intimidating of all, engagements and weddings. No one can use every great idea, and few parties are perfect. No one needs the pressure of one-upping or living beyond means to achieve. That’s no fun at all. When the details of the party become the focus more than the birthday child, or decisions about wedding arrangements create stress and tears, something is certainly wrong.

I’m all in favor of reflection, introspection, and honest confrontation here. I’ll admit, as a mom, as a wife, as a woman, I’ve sometimes been guilty of acting out of pride and perfectionism. But the scenario I picture in the planning stage doesn’t always hold up in the light of reality.

Hopefully I’m wiser as well as older now, and I’ve pretty much given up pursuit of perfection if it includes humans of any sort. And now when a dinner flops in a spectacular way, or my holiday dazzle doesn’t quite achieve the double spread gloss of a Southern Living magazine feature, I’m still content. I’ve learned to value the heart beyond the image, and to know that trying and intention count at least as much as any result I could pin on a Pinterest board.

Naughty, naughty!

Naughty, naughty!

So, to my fellow Pinners…let me encourage you to be mindful about this amazing tool. It can be a wonderful source of inspiration and delight. But remember, if you are fortunate enough to live with other humans…short ones, tall ones, young or old…they’ll likely derail your carefully laid plans, and your photos may not be perfect either. You’ll likely not finish all the crafts you plan for the holidays; your amazing new dish may look nothing like the exotic photo you tried to copy.

Never mind: all is well! It’s all about learning from others, enlarging our creative borders to try things we hadn’t thought of for ourselves. And it’s about coming to terms with messy reality: looking around at the kids you love; the person who sometimes is your soulmate and sometimes is just a fellow warrior in the battlefield; the home that isn’t perfect, but is yours, warts and all, and knowing that you love it anyway.

Not sure how to capture that image for a Pinterest pin, but that’s the one I would be most proud to share with the world.

Fresh from California

Biscoff spread. Has 5g of sugar so it's out of...

Biscoff spread. (Photo credit: programwitch)

So here I am, back in Ketchikan on Labor Day Monday, ready to work the rest of the week. My end-of-August flirtation with California sun and big beach hats is done, and I’m moving into work mode.

I got home today to find that summer is still here. That was a surprise. I haven’t seen the weather forecast for Ketchikan the past ten days, and I figured we’d used up all the available sunny days we’d be allotted for the season. But not true, there are several more on tap this week. I rode across on the airport ferry standing outside the cabin…that doesn’t happen often. My car was delicious, the warmth causing it to release its lingering new car smell (after 4 1/2 years…that should tell you how much this vehicle is used!) My house was roasty and welcoming in the afternoon light streaming in the big front windows.

And to add to the summer temps lingering a little longer, I imported seasonal flavors to enjoy the next few days. We took frozen salmon down with us to grill while we were camping, and I made use of my emptied fish box to bring back tomatoes, corn, squash, peaches, and a jar or two of Biscoff Spread. (No, no, that’s not produce…just an item I can’t find in the local market.)Would you believe the last time I bought a jar of this delight and tried to bring it back with me in my carry-on luggage, TSA took it from me?!  This stuff is definitely not a liquid. I was assured that the staff can’t consume anything they confiscate, they’re required to dispose of food. That’s almost worse than thinking of some stranger eating my Biscoff. Seems like a waste all around!

Of course I can buy all the fresh produce in Ketchikan. But the charming thing was that I bought it yesterday at a farm stand in California. Whenever I have the option of buying produce from a roadside stand, I’m drawn like a moth to flame. What is it about the farming heritage that makes produce at a farm stand more alluring than neatly stacked fruits and vegetables in a lovely market setting? I always think it’s my grandmothers’ farming blood singing in my veins. Although I’ve grown little beyond tomatoes and rhubarb and flowers, I like the idea of farm fresh. Never mind that I have seen enough of the work side of gardening to know that it’s not the glamorous occupation it’s cracked up to be!

So, when it occurred to me that I could dine on home-grown tomato sandwiches all this week, I couldn’t resist the temptation to bring up just a few things. A couple of guys at the airport this morning saw my fish box and wondered aloud why I was taking fish to Alaska. You see these iconic cardboard boxes all summer as tourists and fishermen take home their catch, flash frozen and ready for travel. Well hey, I figured if the styrofoam-lined box can keep fish frozen on a trip down to the lower 48, it could keep veggies in good condition to travel back up. And I’m happy to report that I was right. All produce survived amateur transportation. My sandwich was delicious! I know I’ve waxed eloquent about my favorite summer feast before…just can’t help myself. A sign that I’ve had almost enough tomatoes is that I begin to get mouth ulcers from all the acidity after overindulging. But I’m not even close yet. Maybe after this week. It’s a painful condition for a day or two, and I’ve never been successful at timing…I only know I’ve had too many tomatoes when the little ulcers begin to appear. But this is my dedication: I’m willing to suffer for the mayonnaise-and-tomato-on-soft-white-bread symphony. Especially when the best flavor is only a summer treat.

We went to a huge flea market last week. Found a beautiful straw hat, very Audrey Hepburn style. I loved the hat so much I wanted to bring it home. But that seems a waste as it’s likely to get more wear when we’re RVing. Not really much occasion for Audrey big hats in Alaska.  Well, this is not exactly how my hat looks. But it is lovely, take my word for it, and big enough I could have sailed a small vessel with it. Very useful for shading small countries that are lounging at the pool and have forgotten sunscreen.

15 apr 1963

15 apr 1963 (Photo credit: fred baby)

I also found a couple of elegant glass bottles for holding sparkling water or juice…whatever…really the contents don’t matter. My clear glass fetish kicked in and I was compelled to buy these two lovelies. Rob just looks at me like I’ve grown a third eye or something equally hideous. He cannot understand my need for clear glass objects. Most of the time I control it very well. But let’s just say one day I’ll have a thing or two to leave some like-minded clear glass aficionado. You know who you are. I think I raised one of those people, so that will probably work out to be my son-in-law’s storage issue eventually.

So, home, treasures unpacked, and a few eaten, and on to next. September and pumpkins and all things fall. I had a maple latte at the airport this morning. Aaahhh, it begins!