I recently had a birthday. And I had to smile at the changing way birthday greetings arrived. I received four birthday cards via U.S. mail plus a couple of texts, four calls and a few emails. The majority of my birthday wishes, though, were from Facebook. Nearly 50 people wrote a birthday greeting on my “wall.” I understand that Facebook makes it easy with birthday reminders and all. One click and you write a few words on someone’s home page. No searching for an email, a phone number, an address or a stamp. No looking for the card that’s not too dorky or sentimental. You don’t even have to sing.
The thing is, knowing it took people little effort didn’t diminish the joy. While I greatly appreciated the extra efforts some made by leaving me a singing voice mail or handwriting a note in a card, I also loved hearing simple wishes from so many. It reminded me that I can often over think how special, personalized or creative an effort needs to be (which usually stifles any action at all). Maybe most of the time, it’s just the simple outreach that matters.
Japan is certainly on the minds and hearts of many right now. So much destruction. Whole communities wiped out; the enormous mess is overwhelming. The human loss, deeply tragic. I watch the footage in awe of the immeasurable force of nature that changed everything for people there in an instant. And as I grieve for their suffering,I am struck again by how little stuff matters. How little most things we stress about matter. How people are searching not for their recently purchased iPad 2 but for their family and friends. It’s about relationships. Relationships matter. So little else does.
Today I was looking around our house at our simplifying process (i.e. stacks of stuff we’re sorting) and feeling overwhelmed. In light of the incredible disaster across the ocean, though, I feel validated that this is the right thing to do. Less stuff will mean less time dealing with it and more time for what really matters. And time with people we love is clearly a precious thing. May it not take a tsunami to remind us of that.
Yesterday I updated my wardrobe…for free! My amazing friend Crystal who with her husband is selling all her stuff and traveling indefinitely needed to get rid of a lot of her clothes. So rather than just get the task done (donate, consign, ditch) she made it fun for all her friends. She organized a massive clothing swap. Nearly 20 of us showed up at her house where she had her entire upstairs prepped for the event. In both bedrooms there were signs that directed us to categories of clothes, a section for pants, one for skirts, one for tops, a closet for dresses and coats.
As people arrived, we sorted the clothes we brought into the appropriate piles. Then we waited downstairs eating snacks and catching up with old and new friends until Crystal thought everyone who was coming had arrived. Then we went upstairs together. She counted down to go and we all started trying on clothes. The best part was how calm and relaxed everyone was. No Black Friday frenzy here. We handed clothes to people we thought would look good in them (or who were a better size for whatever we had just tried on than we were). We offered opinions (when asked) and I greatly appreciated additional perspectives.
Nobody seemed obsessed about collecting hoards of clothes and yet we could take freely knowing that if we had “buyers remorse,” no harm no foul. Just pass it along later. There were a lot of fun clothes to try on and it was a great way to thin out the clothes I was sick of or that never did fit well and infuse my options with something fresh. I think this should be a regular thing, maybe twice a year. Why not? It’s a great way to save money while still keeping things simple (way more fun than going to the mall and looking at exorbitant prices for many not so exciting styles.). And it builds relationships!
I’m impressed that Crystal turned something that could be overwhelming into a fun experience that benefited her friends and helped us all save some money! Collaborative living. It could be the new black!
The Oscars were on last night. Who are you wearing and all of that. I didn’t watch it. Not to make any kind of social point about entertainment, overpaid movie stars or anything like that. It was simply because we don’t have cable. And we don’t have cable because we don’t have a flat screen T.V. And we don’t have a flat screen because when we moved here, we sold our super heavy T.V. (it had lead tubes) which was bulky. In our downsizing mode, space is at a premium so we decided not to replace it until we could get a slimmer profile. Apparently, it’s not the first thing on our “must buy” list because we haven’t bought it, yet. It must not be the second thing either, actually.
Anyway, we did this once before. The kids were young and our T.V. stopped working. We decided not to repair or replace and for several years we simply didn’t have one. It was, in our opinion, a critical time for development and we wanted them to read more, play outside, use their imaginations. And I really don’t think they minded much…well except for that one time when a test question was missed because it had to do with a current television show they’d never heard of. There were some words over that, I remember.
And I’m not missing it now, either. Without it we forgot that our friends were likely watching the Oscars last night when we tried to coordinate a spontaneous Skype date. Impressively, they ignored their set and we spent an hour catching up and laughing over life. We were in PJ’s and sweats so nobody was nominated for “best dressed.” The computer cameras weren’t state of the art so no awards for “best picture”. On the other hand, the dialogue was witty, creative and fun. The character development was rich from years of interaction, evident in the hour-long conversation. And finally, and maybe most importantly, the touch point at the end of a great weekend with our good friends of nearly 25 years was its own “special effect.” And, I would nominate them any day for best supporting roles. Who needs T.V.?
It’s a Sunday afternoon and after messing with my small box garden a bit, I’m sitting on our back screened in porch. I hear the sound of a small airplane overhead for a moment and I wonder if they are headed out for business or pleasure. Otherwise the day is quiet except for the variety of bird sounds as they energetically chirp back and forth, apparently encouraged by the warming weather too. The wind occasionally moves the brown, brittle leaves still left dangling from the trees. The sky is filled with big white clouds breaking up the blue expanse.
I am soaking up this time to rest and reflect on the week past and the week ahead. To read for pleasure…to ignore our big picture project because it’s just too nice to sit inside. This moment of quiet, of time standing still even for a few hours reminds me of the importance of rest, of unscheduled time that allows me to soak in the beauty of a gorgeous day. I’m learning how to leave more space for myself, enabling spontaneity.
In years past, I didn’t always have the luxury of making that choice. Raising kids while working full-time while going back to school or any number of our past scenarios made it hard to leave space and I developed the habit of filling my time (efficiency, you know). My husband is a good balance for me that way and in this latest stage of life I am appreciating the value of doing nothing now and then. I sometimes have to kick against the protestant “stay busy” work ethic to be successful at this. But not today. Today it’s easy to breathe deeply. There’s no kicking, just kicking back.
Last week I went with my daughter as she chose a tailor to alter her wedding dress. The tailor pinned the dress to fit and created the bustle so we could see how it would look (and it was beautiful…like every time she tries it on). The experience was one step in many toward the final day which will be an intimate gathering of immediate family and close friends. They are keeping it small so they can talk with everyone and enjoy all aspects of their day. And less complicated also reduces the pre-wedding stress so they can enjoy the entire process as well as the celebration.
How different this planning is from the Royal Wedding. This week invitations were sent to some 1900 people to attend their ceremony, including more than 1,000 of the bride and groom’s “closest family and friends,” plus members of the royal family, foreign royal families, members of various levels of government and more. The Queen is inviting about as many people from the Prince’s charities as we are in total.
The gold-stamped invitations included the dress code for attendees. The acceptable attire is uniform, morning coat or lounge suit. I didn’t know what that meant until I saw these examples. Apparently “morning dress” is something between formal and business wear and for women includes a hat and gloves. Where do you buy such a hat? No problem. The bride-to-be has enlisted a milliner to custom design hats for some of the guests.
Well okay. I guess the Queen’s in charge. In fact, it was reported that Her Majesty was “not amused” that some planning happened without her consult. This article stated that she called her grandson and said “Are you going to cycle to the Abbey?” I had to read a few lines before I realized that was an insult (from my pro-bike mindset, I thought for a second something creative was going on). The Prince, apparently, was preempting the planning with tweets and the Queen wasn’t happy. She wanted him to stop being “trendy” and be realistic. I mean really, why would his finance wish to ride in a car rather than the horse-drawn glass carriage? The Calvary Guards will be on duty anyway so using a car is wasteful (and bucking tradition). And by the way, she didn’t approve of a breakfast buffet. I don’t think the Queen does buffets.
Personally, I’d rather ride around in a hatchback checking out tailors without paparazzi and a steady flow of tweeting following every move. It seems the Royal Wedding is setting the tone for the type of marriage Prince William and Kate Middleton will have (very public, grounded in centuries of tradition and expectations). And I hope my daughter’s wedding also sets the tone for their life. If so, it’ll be thoughtful, prioritized, surrounded by people who care deeply for them as people, not for their “positions.” (And with a mother who would rather cycle to the Abbey than insist on a glass-drawn carriage.)
Saturday I rode all over town on a bicycle. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while but hadn’t. There are a couple of busy main streets that are the quickest ways to get most places I go and I’ve been surprisingly reluctant to bike them. People do it all the time here. It’s a university town, after all. But I have always found excuses for not biking that way. Until Saturday.
A friend organized a super creative surprise birthday party for his wife. A scavenger hunt on bikes. We formed small teams to decipher about a dozen clues that had to do with her life (where she worked her first years here, where she gets her hair cut, where they had their first date, etc.). We biked throughout the downtown and the university campus. It was surprisingly easy to get around. And super fun.
The weather was great and I was energized by the fresh air and sunshine. It was also fun to meet random people. There was a home game that day and a couple of students wearing their team apparel posed for a picture. We stopped another on the corner for help unscrambling a word. Multiple times people willingly took our photo since all team members had to be in some shots. And at one point on a crowded intersection we dropped the clue sheet and the wind started blowing it away. I said,”Save that paper,” and someone jumped into action. I rolled my front wheel over it and she picked it up for me. “Are you on a scavenger hunt?” she asked. “Yep, and it would have been bad to lose that paper,” I said with a smile. “Do you need any other help?” she asked enjoying her spontaneous role in the game. “I think we’re good now, thanks” I said.
It was another reminder about the beauty of biking. You can get places quickly. Enjoy the weather. Meet new people. Solve clues. And learn new things about your friends along the way…all while getting exercise and without spending a dollar on gas. And it increased my confidence for traveling by bike. Another plug for social support, even in the form of a birthday party.
Sorting old photos has been more telling than I expected. First it’s amazing how the photo world evolved. From little square photos of hazy resolution to rectangular photos with crisper images. We can see exactly where we got a decent camera. And where they started offering higher quality “max” film. Photo albums went from sticky pages with a film cover (those were a pain to take apart) to albums with slip in sleeves. We also got better at taking photos. Closer shots, better expressions.
And there were more personal tells. People came in and out of our lives. Here’s the couple we met on our cruise and the one visit we made to their house. I wonder what happened to them. Here’s a former neighbor, a former co-worker, some people we went camping with once. And then there are those we’ve known a long time with cherished photos showing our kids’ growing up together while we also aged as friends. In those photos, I can be transported back to a conversation or a birthday party in a heartbeat.
More startling is what I don’t remember. “Who is this couple?” I asked. My husband stared at it a minute and then shrugged. “I don’t know” he said. At first I stood there holding the picture unsure of what to do. But then I thought, “Who am I kidding? If I don’t know them now, I’m not going to remember them in 10 more years,” and tossed it out. Or “I don’t remember this,” I said as I looked at a picture in which I stand smiling as I lean against a railing. “What boat were we on?” And thankfully (I think), he remembered enough details to make it sound vaguely familiar. Or so I told him as I freaked out a little about losing my mind.
The best discovery, though, came from the collective review of our years together. You can see it all in the eyes. “Starry-eyed in love.” “Wide-eyed expectant parents.” “Bleary-eyed new parents,” Glassy-eyed robo-parents.” “Steely-eyed I’m-on-to-you-parents.” “Teary-eyed transition parents.” (and back to) “Starry-eyed empty-nesters.” We have definitely done the family thing. There was the starter auction house, the rental duplex, the suburb house for a growing family and more. There were many cars, sport uniforms and events, holiday group photos, hair styles and fashion trends (and no, you can’t see those), and even a few vacations.
We stopped at one point and said to each other,”We didn’t do too bad, did we?” It’s so easy to remember the failures, the missteps, the “Geez I wish I could do THAT over” moments. But in the compilation of memories we can easily see that there were many, many things we did alright. Our kids had decent childhoods. We figured out this thing called marriage. There have been great friends in our lives and there was love. A lot of love.
And that makes me glad we’re doing this difficult project. These are good stories. They’re our story. And that’s worth preserving.
What is February, anyway? I always thought February was solidly winter. But recently I was told it is time to start planting spring greens like kale, beets, spinach, collards, sweet peas, arugula. That’s weird. I just can’t imagine planting anything in February. I grew up in Michigan where it wasn’t safe to plant outdoors until after Mother’s Day. The days are warming up here, more often than not. But the nights are still pretty chilly. Feels like a combination of winter and spring.
February is the shortest month of the year and was apparently named after the Latin term februum, which means purification because of a roman festival of ritual purification (Februa) held on February 15 (full moon) in the old lunar Roman calendar. This was basically spring cleaning because it coincided with “the rainy season.”
That’s interesting. My “spring cleaning” (open the windows and wash everything in sight, doesn’t kick in until March or April here (often later up north). But I am in the middle of a large purging project right now. The endless picture project plus more sorting and selling and giving away. And even more so, the newly honed skill of selectivity for not bringing in more stuff. As I sit here writing, my living areas are cluttered with these purging projects.
I’m working on having patience with the process. At least I’m in season.