Friday, July 31, 2015


I have clothing and fabric strewn about my office, on our dining-room table, and on the floor outside a couple of closets I've been sorting through. The process of de-cluttering, it turns out, creates a lot of clutter while it's underway. 

Quilt project and sparkly stuff
It takes a lot of energy, too. I find myself evaluating items that represent, literally and figuratively, the threads of my life. Should it go? Should it stay? These decisions can be complicated. The secret, I think, is in the timing. Am I ready to let go of this? Am I ready to stop being the person who needed this outfit? Can I see myself getting along without so many bins of fabric and craft supplies? Or, at least, with less of these particular supplies? (There is definitely a voice in my head that says, "If you get rid of this stuff you'll have more room for that other stuff you've been wanting.")

Sometimes an item represents a dream. For example, I came across a pink pinwale playsuit I began to make for ViMae seven years ago, when she was a few months old. The fabric was cute but too heavy for ruffles, and before I'd finished it she was growing so fast I knew she'd never get to wear it. I couldn't throw it away--I had long dreamed of sewing darling clothes for adorable children. But by now, I have sewn other things for both grandkids, and I have also discovered the joys of buying wonderful like-new dresses at Once Upon a Child. Realizing that my dream is intact and even improved, I am finally ready to throw away that unfinished project along with other hapless bits and pieces. Bonus: In the process I uncovered more fabric that the kids have decided will be perfect for some brand-new projects.

Then, of course, there's the matter of an entire work wardrobe--two, really, because summer and winter demand different clothing options here in Minnesota. I'd stopped wearing dresses for work long ago in favor of dressy pants and jackets or sweaters. To my way of thinking, I had maybe five pairs of pants for winter and five for summer. My closets, however, say there were more. And I had them in three different sizes. For a couple of years in my 40s, I wore braces on my teeth. Lost 25 pounds because I wouldn't eat in public. I did give away some of those clothes years ago, but I realized I was keeping a few "in case I ever get cancer and lose a lot of weight." I guess that idea stuck with me because my mother got cancer at 60 and did lose a lot of weight, and shopping for new clothes while you know you are dying is not that much fun. But I'm finally ready to risk it. Those size 8s and 10s are gone.

So are a lot of other clothes that don't fit, probably never will, and perhaps never did. Also gone: things that never were really comfortable, or didn't flatter, or that I just don't like.

Or that I no longer "need." Apparently when I was working I needed eight black long-sleeved t-shirts, differing only in length and in the shape of the scoop necks. Plus eight or ten in other colors. (I wore them, instead of blouses, with suits and jackets.) I can say with confidence that I don't need so many now.

Future pillow cover and more sparkles
The same is true with all the pants, both dressy and casual, that I'd accumulated in an array of classic colors: black, brown, navy, and, of course, tan, beige, taupe, sand, stone, khaki, and other synonyms for, um, tan. Tried them all on, found some in the back of the spare closet that fit better than ones I've been wearing, kept only the favorites. In another closet I found four pairs of pants I'd put in a bin to be hemmed. Kept two, tossed two.

Today we are taking three huge bags full of clothes to Goodwill (along with household items we've recruited for the trip). This will make room to continue the weeding process, which will eventually include books, collectibles, you-name-it. And I plan to revisit my closets in six months or so, because I know I'll be ready to shed some additional stuff.

Cleaning out my closets, and then decluttering in general, was going to be my first post-retirement project. It has taken four and a half years to get started. I think I feared the process; I thought I would have to summon brutal self-discipline to get rid of things that had been part of my life. You've heard, "If you haven't worn it in a year, it's gone." Well, no. Some things just have a longer shelf life than that. 

So I gave away everything I was sure of, including some special-occasion clothes and some of the t-shirts I've collected over the years, bearing logos of favorite causes and teams and places. But I kept things to which I felt attached. A very worn shirt bearing the logo of International Women's Year (1976), in which I participated, for example. And my 1991 World Champions sweatshirt with a few Twins' autographs. And I was already feeling okay about that when I heard about a new best-seller with a rather grand title: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.

I haven't read the book, but in interviews author Marie Kondo says that when you are torn about keeping or tossing an item, hold it, touch it, feel it. If it makes you happy, keep it. Amen to that.

How about you? Have you mastered the art of decluttering? Organizing? Shall we form a book club to study Ms. Kondo's advice?  Or have you found life-changing decluttering "magic" from another source? Do tell!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Stepping things up

Some days I get a reasonable amount of what I'll call exercise from my regular activities--gardening, mowing the lawn, tap dancing, whatever. Other days I sleep late, sit at the computer, read, watch television.

A couple of weeks ago I decided (again) that I need to be more deliberate about being active. Of course, I've known that forever and haven't changed my habits. So I bought a Fitbit to motivate and remind me. I bought a Charge HR, the model that tracks steps, heart rate, sleep, and stairs.

I began by letting it record my daily activities without making any special effort to step things up. In fact, the first day I wore it, I was so inactive that it thought I was sleeping all day. Then I had a few active days--walking through airports, volunteering at my dance studio's recital dress rehearsal, and the like--and without making any special effort I was logging 4-5,000 steps.

Yesterday was cold and rainy. I slept until noon, read all afternoon, and watched television in the evening. At dinner time I'd taken only 472 steps. Today, having walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner, I'm at 2,700. Now that I have a sense of what comes naturally, it's time to set specific daily goals. Most walking programs set a goal of 10,000 steps. I'm going to start somewhere lower than that and work up.

One step at a time.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Peony time

I can't believe how long it's been, again, since I last wrote here. I have been over-thinking each potential topic and I just need to jump back into it.

So, with no further ado, here is a bouquet of peonies I cut yesterday. I had just returned from a five-day trip to Sacramento, where my nephew was married Saturday, and I was happy to see that the peonies had hung on long enough for me to enjoy them.

The wedding was great, by the way, and I'm very glad I went. More on that later! 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Immersed in music

I love to travel. Peter loves to be at home. I knew it would be a challenge to plan a trip he might actually enjoy, but I really craved some time in a warmer climate, so I gave it a try. And I succeeded.

We decided I'd find a place where we could settle in and become part of a neighborhood for a week. We agreed on New Orleans, a well-loved destination we had visited several times, but not since Hurricane Katrina. We'd see how the city had recovered, but mostly we'd concentrate on music and food.

On our balcony, overlooking Frenchmen Street
With music as a focus, it made sense to stay in the Faubourg Marigny, a district just beyond the French Quarter, where a three-block section of Frenchmen Street has become the place to enjoy jazz and blues. On, my go-to travel research site, I found housing choices ranging from elegant to slightly shabby, and then I hit gold: a rental apartment with big, airy rooms, 14-foot ceilings, and the most wonderful balcony overlooking the street. The second floor of an 1870s commercial building, it's been renovated to include a modern kitchen and bathroom, air conditioning (which we never needed), and lots of electrical outlets. It even has wifi, courtesy of the bicycle shop downstairs. The only downside: a flight of 28 stairs. Happily, Peter's knees cooperated and the stairs, while difficult, were not impossible.

Some people might see another downside. Frenchmen Street is much quieter than, say, Bourbon Street, but it is not quiet. There are at least seven music clubs just on the block where we stayed. We had Snug Harbor and dba on either side of us, and The Spotted Cat directly across the street. Spotted Cat brings on a new group every two hours between 4 p.m. and 2 a.m. weekdays and from 2 p.m. and 4 a.m. on weekends (which in New Orleans can stretch from Thursday through Monday). The way the club is set up, music sashays right out the front door and into the street...and directly into our home-away-from-home.

Some people who stay there use earplugs when they want to sleep. We just let the music wash over us. Hot jazz, cool jazz, funky jazz, Dixieland, blues--it became the soundtrack for our lives. We went to other venues, too, most notably Snug Harbor where we heard two especially fine concerts. Who could have known that Dick Hyman, whom Peter and I both remember from the 50s, can play jazz with such virtuosity at age 88? He appeared with a quartet headed by Evan Christopher, my new favorite clarinetist, and the entire show was an experience in perfection. Another night we heard a jazz band led by one of the Marsalis brothers. The room is tiny--the very definition of an intimate venue--and Snug Harbor audiences are attentive and respectful, as you want them to be when you've paid a handsome cover charge to hear some of the best in the business.

After the shows at Snug Harbor, we'd walk next door, climb the stairs, and once again sit on the balcony enjoying the scenery and the perfect weather. People up and down the street were having a good time. Those in The Spotted Cat were whooping, dancing, clapping, singing along--not only enjoying music but participating in it--and the energy was contagious.

We've been back several weeks now, and still when I hear any music at all, my ear homes in, eagerly paying attention to the interaction among instrumentalists. Also, I crave hearing live music--blues, jazz, rock, whatever--in small venues, something we haven't done much lately. I've begun to watch the listings in Saint Paul and Minneapolis so we can do more, without having to pack our suitcases. Meanwhile I'm listening to Evan Christopher on YouTube and am about to order a CD, or two or three. He's a wonderful performer and a great scholar of New Orleans jazz, which shows in his work. Hope you enjoy this sample.

I'll be back soon.


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