Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ready to work?

I've blogged about this before, but sometimes we assume that simple automatically equals easy. This is not necessarily the case. Indeed, many times simplifying takes a lot of planning, work, and time.

For instance, moving from our giant house to our current small house was our first major simplification undertaking. Notwithstanding the anxiety and stress of selling one house, building another, and the actual process of moving, there was much work to do once we moved in - mainly, even after paring down, how on earth was I going to move my piano, 2 harps, quilting and sewing fabric, supplies, and books, computer with assorted office accessories, and exercise equipment, into this smaller space? How was I to organize it so that I could keep what I used frequently in appropriate places but still have reasonable access to necessary items I used less often?

Of course, paring down is when you ask the question, "Do I really need this?" That question is a beginning, but you have to be careful you don't handle the simplification process the same way the school systems usually do - "Oh, we need to get back to basics like reading, writing and arithmetic, and budget cut on art and music, because they aren't really necessary." On the contrary, I happen to think art and music are very necessary, and my creative hobbies are as necessary to my existence as the pots and pans in the kitchen. Other people might look at the "stuff" I have for music, sewing and quilting, and see excess. I see tools that enrich my life. Again, simplicity is different for everyone. So even after we pared down an abundance of unnecessary things, we still had a lot to fit into our small house. That took a lot of work to figure out and things can get crowded in here sometimes.

This month we finally accomplished what we had talked about for years but were too afraid to do - simplify two cars to one. Everyone is so used to having a car apiece these days (and most of the time, out of necessity, with couples having two jobs with two commutes) that it seems almost anxiety-provoking to go to one shared car. However, in our situation, Ed is retired and is around the house all day, whereas I have to commute to the hospital, and when I'm not working, we do everything and go everywhere together, that it seemed to us that having two cars (and their coexisting registration, excise tax, repairs and maintenance costs) was not required anymore.

It was after we traded in our two cars and bought a new one that anxiety set in for me. I immediately started considering every possible circumstance where one car would be restrictive. If Ed needs the car during the day, he will have to take me to work and pick me up. We wouldn't have a backup car in case something went wrong. We have to keep changing the seat position to accommodate each of us. What if Ed were chain sawing wood and had an accident? He wouldn't have a car to drive to the emergency room. What if I am at work and have an accident or acute illness? He wouldn't have a way to come be with me, as the car will already be at the hospital. It's the same as the "what if" syndrome one encounters when one is fixing to throw/give away an item - "What if I need this one day?" Nope, never easy.

I am also in the process of revamping my wardrobe, to pare down and buy/sew clothes that work in such a way I can get by with less. Should be easy, right? Sounds that way, but it's not. When you have fewer pieces of clothing, each piece has to step up to the plate and fulfill its responsibility on a higher level. Each piece has to conform with my list of requirements - it has to fit, be comfortable, go with most everything else, be a color I love, be a style I love, be a fabric I love, be flattering to my figure and coloring, be age-appropriate, be office-appropriate, be affordable, etc. Most of the time for me, by the time I consider something in ready-to-wear, it won't even pass the first requirement (fit), much less all the others. When I sew a piece, I can be more choosy about the fabric and colors and style, but every pattern needs a great deal of measuring and adjustment before I can even use it. Again, this seemingly uncomplicated process of simplifying my clothing has taken on a life of its own.

Although a real endeavor at simplification can result in contentment in the long run, the process itself is usually not easy. It can be stressful, time-consuming, and a lot of hard work. It involves introspection, thinking, brainstorming, searching through myriad choices, making hard decisions, flexibility, and organizational skills. You have to define your "needs" and "wants" and even before that, define and refine your definition of "needs." I think the whole attempt is like planting a garden. You spend a lot of time planning before you even plant the seeds, then you spend more precious time watering, weeding, pruning, and generally maintaining your project. Only you can decide if the effort is worth it for you. My personal experience says it is. Just remember, the whole process, though it is work, can have its own set of blessings, and once you finally simplify one area of your life, you'll probably find another one that needs attention, and you have to start the process all over again. It can be scary, but then, isn't life itself filled with leaps of faith - every time you make important decisions, such as whom to marry, whether to have kids, where to live, what job to take? Sometimes you just have to jump in there and try. You might be surprised at where simplification will lead you. In the meantime, be ready to sweat.

Friday, July 23, 2010

My new man

There's a new man in my life. He doesn't care if I'm thin or fat, he doesn't care if I have a bad hair day, he doesn't care if I have wrinkles or sagging skin or a face without makeup. He doesn't care that I can't cook, he doesn't care if I don't sing as well as I used to, he doesn't care if the quilt I made for him has crooked seams.

What does he care about? He cares about the fact that Ed and I raised our son Matt in such a way that he became a responsible, loving, compassionate adult. He cares about the fact that in time Matt took for his bride an equally responsible, loving, compassionate adult, and between the two of them, they will be the greatest parents ever. He cares about the fact that he will live in a safe and secure environment, where his physical and emotional and mental needs will be met. He cares that this family unit will prepare him through the years to be a responsible, loving, compassionate adult himself. One day he will look back, realize all this, and be so grateful.

And Ed and I, in the present, look forward to watching him grow and develop, awaiting his first laugh, first step, first everything. We are totally assured, as in the Allstate commercial, that he is "in good hands." My new man is starting life with the blessings of generations before him who have led to this moment, on both sides of his family, who have nurtured their children who in turn nurtured their children and paved the way for this new little (or maybe not so little!) human being, who, I know, will absorb like a tiny sponge all of this boundless love which surrounds him.

Welcome to the world, Joshua Edward James, 9 pounds 15 ounces. You are one lucky kid!


Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Brand New Person

When we were teenagers, my sister and I were privileged to be able to usher on a regular basis at the Ellis Auditorium in Memphis. There we saw everything from the Metropolitan Opera to Bobby Sherman to Broadway Shows to symphony concerts and instrumentalists like pianist Van Cliburn and cellist Pablo Casals - all for free, of course. What a golden opportunity for cultural education! My sister and I owe unending gratitude to our dad for driving us downtown and picking us up, many times at midnight when he had to get up early for work the next day. He never complained, because he realized it was an experience for us that he could never have afforded to give us on his own.

Some of the Broadway shows were so enjoyable that I almost memorized the whole script. When you sit through 8 performances of a musical, you retain a lot. One of my favorites was "I Do! I Do!" with the incredible Mary Martin and Robert Preston. It's hard to believe, but the whole play consists of just those two actors, who at the beginning pose as two newlyweds, bright-eyed and naively optimistic about what marriage was going to be, and it takes us through their married lives, their fights, their midlife crises, their kids being born, and the most beautiful song near the end, where they look back over their marriage with fondness, singing the poignant duet "My Cup Overfloweth with Love."

Decades later, I still remember many of the lyrics, and one particular song has special meaning for me this week. It's called, "Love Isn't Everything," and it talks about the excitement of bringing home a new baby into the family. The father sings, "At one minute after 2 in the morning, 6 hours following my wife's confinement, early on the day of January 12, in room 22 of the new City Hospital....A BRAND NEW PERSON SUDDENLY WAS, WHO NEVER USED TO BE! He weighed 6 pounds and 14 ounces and we named him after me! A son! A son! A son!....." and of course, reality sets in and the mom sings the chorus, "Love isn't everything...It cannot buy the pills, or pay the doctor bills...Love cannot heat the house, or warm the baby's formula when he starts crying....Love isn't everything...It cannot buy a new supply of fresh dry diapers! Love keeps us on the run, but when it's said and done, love is what makes it kind of fun, kind of fun, kind of fun, kind of fun!" Later in the skit, Mary Martin has another baby, a girl this time, and Robert Preston continues the "reality" chorus, singing, "Love isn't everything...It cannot hire a nurse or fill an empty purse...Love cannot pay for milk or put the satin ruffles on her party dresses...It cannot sign the check for her piano lessons....Love keeps us on the run, but when it's said and done, love is what makes it kind of fun, kind of fun, kind of fun, kind of fun!" At the end of the song, they both sing together: "Love keeps you on the go, but when you're feeling low, love is what keeps you a'hummin', when all the bills keep a'comin', love is what makes it sorta fun!!!"

I've been singing that song all week, because on Tuesday morning, we will welcome by C-section our third grandchild, who is also our first male grandchild and our son's first child, and suddenly the world has changed for us, for the other set of grandparents, for aunt Rachel and uncle Chris, for uncles and aunts and great-aunts and great-uncles and cousins on both sides of the family, because there will be a new entry into the annals of human history. He will be Joshua Edward, born into a family chock full of love, and, of course, that's what "keeps you a'hummin when all the bills keep a'comin."

That's the experience of every couple starting a new family. So my message to our wonderful son and fantastic daughter-in-law is this: The love gets you through all the changes and anxiety and fears and additional expenses - and the feeling of holding your newborn baby, the "brand new person" who "suddenly was, who never used to be," is totally, utterly, completely worth it. Of course, they don't need to hear it from me. They'll find out for themselves on Tuesday morning. And Ed and I are so blessed to be able to share in their happiness.

I can't wait to see and hold you, precious Josh! Love, Grammy

Saturday, July 10, 2010

It's Today

“Your days are your life in miniature. As you live your hours, so you create your years. As you live your days, so you craft your life. What you do today is actually creating your future. The words you speak, the thoughts you think, the food you eat and the actions you take are defining your destiny - shaping who you are becoming and what your life will stand for. Small choices lead to giant consequences over time. There’s no such thing as an unimportant day.” - Experience Life Magazine July/August 2010.

We’ve all heard it - “You are what you eat.” The proteins, fat, carbs, minerals, vitamins, fiber, etc., are all “building blocks” for the body. Whether these blocks are constructed wisely and build a foundation for health, or whether these blocks are constructed haphazardly with inferior materials and result in disease, fatigue, and body system malfunctions is always our choice. Of course, the problem with those choices is that they have to be made every single day, several times a day. You can’t just make a decision to eat healthier once and for all and expect everything to be smooth sailing from there on out. It’s not some kind of decision like what college to attend or whether to have kids or not - something that’s a done deal, decision made, case closed. It keeps coming back and back, every meal, every bite. It’s a decision that has to be made, remade, over and over and over.

The quote above from an article in Experience Life Magazine was really thought-provoking for me, for it takes the adage “You are what you eat” and expands it to encompass every decision of how you spend every second of your entire life. We are not just physical beings, and while we are creating building blocks that affect our health, we are simultaneously creating building blocks that involve our spiritual selves, emotional selves, mental selves - basically the wholeness of our souls and bodies. Every choice we make contributes to the structures that we call ourselves and the lives we will end up with.

That’s not to say everything runs in a perfectly straight line and can never allow for mistakes. Thank goodness there are second chances, changes of heart, do-overs, and such. We can undo some of the damage our choices have done to us, our bodies and souls and relationships. But in the end, our decisions and experiences are part of the whole package. They can be improved upon and repaired, but they can never be deleted. Yesterday makes us who we are today, and today makes us who we will be tomorrow, and the cycle is always in motion.

Those who know me are aware that I have written my own obituary. I will be 56 in September and I realize that I have more of the sand on the bottom of the hourglass than at the top. The process of creating and updating one’s obituary results in mortality staring one in the face. Each time I think about my obituary, I have to reevaluate my life anew. What do I want the final portrait to be? What is my legacy? What good changes have I brought to the world? I’ve heard so many people say that we miss the Big Picture in life, but what makes up the Big Picture? The tiny small pixels. Small pixels that on their own look meaningless and unimportant, but when put together finally reveal the complete portrait of a life.

You may want to join me in adopting this motto that I have selected to start each remaining day in my still-evolving life: “Small choices lead to giant consequences over time. There’s no such thing as an unimportant day.”

Saturday, July 03, 2010

It could be worse

Most people who know me realize that one of my life mantras is the Serenity Prayer (asking help to change the things I can, the ability to accept the things I can’t change, and the wisdom to know the difference). I also subscribe to one of my mom’s favorites: “This too shall pass.” But there’s a third piece of mental health maintenance I repeat often: “Oh well, it could be worse (ICBW).”

ICBW seems to have the uncanny talent to apply to almost any situation, because I have never been or will I ever be poverty-stricken, 100% desolate, and without hope. As most of you are, I am usually in the middle somewhere. So yes, things can be worse. There’s always room to move in that direction.

I tried to take a nap today and got awakened by two phone calls. Frustrating, to be sure, but - one of those calls could have been from a loved one bearing tragic news. Instead, one was from a telemarketer and the other from my daughter, checking in. ICBW.

As a medical transcriptionist, I have my share of dreaded dictators - the ones who don’t know where the “pause” button is and sit in silence or throw around papers or type while they think, or the ones who “uh” and “er” and then mumble the rest of the way, costing me money. I had Dr. H-- (who does all these things) dictate something the other day. It was a 12-minute dictation. I sighed, then thought, “Well, it could be a 20-minute dictation.” I can even take it further. “Dr. H-- could have been covering the hospital all week; it could have been Dr. H-- along with another equally horrible dictator on the next dictation; it could have been Dr. H-- with a sore throat and sinus blockage mumbling with an incoherent raspy voice and blowing his nose into the phone.” ICBW.

A friend told me he didn’t get as much raise as he thought he might, but at least he has a good job. ICBW. Our Jeep Liberty was stalling and gave out on the highway last week and had to go in for repairs. Ed was worried it was the tran$mi$$ion. But it was a minor problem with a bill of $81. Whew! ICBW. We had our debit card number stolen this week and had several fraudulent charges made to our checking account. They totaled $121. That’s bad, but the alternative? I’d just gotten paid and they could have wiped us out before I even was aware of it. ICBW.

Some people may find this approach of deliberately bringing to mind unpleasant scenarios depressing, but I find it uplifting. Because it is always a true statement, my rational mind has to acknowledge that I am in a better place than it might originally seem. It’s just one of those little ways to encourage gratitude and a sigh of relief, rather than resulting in my wallowing in self-pity and anxiety.

As you can see, this blog post is relatively short for me. It totals 564 words and is quite benign in nature. It could have totaled 1200 words and could have discussed in excruciatingly sickening detail an assertion I found on the Internet today that the dairy industry realizes there is a problem with pus in cow’s milk. See? ICBW.