What I Wish I Had Saved

If something doesn’t add value or beauty to my life, I don’t save it.

Simplifying my environment is freeing to me. It brings clarity and inspiration, especially to my writing. It’s as if, uninhibited by excess, the muse can sweep through, helping me to put words on the page.

While my three daughters were growing up, I encouraged them to go through their belongings periodically, passing down clothing that no longer fit, donating old toys that were no longer used.

But I protected their play time fiercely. In a time of excessive homework and tests and pressure to be over scheduled, I was determined that my kids were going to have a childhood with time to be creative- freedom to dream and play. This I would hold on to.

When they were five, seven and nine years old, they each had a beloved Cabbage Patch doll and they found ways to include these dolls in just about all of their play.

Their play included a pretend trip to another country to adopt the babies, complete with a travel itinerary and adoption papers. They would spend hours on the planning, even googling plane flights to China, where they would pretend to go to pick up their babies. Never mind that these were blond, blue-eyed dolls. Kids don’t get hung up on such incongruences.

These dolls had birthday parties, with menus and handmade presents and child-concocted cakes. My youngest daughter learned to write in order to create invitations to her “baby’s” birthday party. Who needs Kindergarten, when you have a cabbage patch doll and two older sisters?

During this time, they also had their first interactive computer game, the Oregon Trail and although none of them were very keen on computer games, this one was a hit. They each logged enough time on it to have a pretty good understanding of what the famous Oregon Trail entailed, and then they made it come alive.

So the three sister-pioneers set off in their electric pink Barbie jeep that they called their wagon, adopted babies, in tow. The Oregon Trail, also known as our back yard and the sidewalk that ran along the side yard, and thru out neighborhood was ripe with imaginary danger, and these three little girls were prepared for the worst. Snacks from the kitchen were carefully rationed. Toilet paper became a cast to wrap a doll’s arm after she fell out of the wagon. A puddle became a river to cross.

Plastic faces melted in the sun and required emergency treatment to reform their shape. (My husband got very good at this and also found it very amusing).

Their babies caught diseases common on the Oregon trail: cholera, small pox, and the measles. But they also caught anthrax. This was 2001 when anthrax was being sent through the mail to poison people, so it leaked into their play).

Sometime after they’d outgrown playing with the dolls, which were then stored away in closets, I suggested they give them away. At the time, the girls did not think much of it, and with barely any prompting at all, tossed them in a goodwill bag. They had moved on to more sophisticated endeavors and seemed just fine with letting go of the dolls.

But the regret came later. I had made the mistake of viewing these Cabbage Patch dolls simply as outgrown toys, rather than the precious mementos of their childhoods that they were. They were their most precious toys, a tangible memory of that time of endless playful adventure, a symbol of their imaginations, their sisterly fun. The dolls had ventured across the Oregon Trail with them! These dolls made history. They are the one thing I wish I had saved that I didn’t.

Surely if one of my daughters ends up a hoarder in life, it will be me who is to blame. I mean who could fault them if this regretful instance of decluttering leads them to collect everything they can get their hands on? (Isn’t that what we do? If we don’t like what our parents did, we do the opposite?) This left me wondering if one of them would end up buried alive in stuff, or living with twenty cats or too many kids, Octomom -style, and it would surely be all my fault for not saving the Cabbage Patch dolls!

I was a bystander in their doll games, a witness to it all. I heard the conversations, the planning, and the occasional debates which were usually settled quickly because they were having too much fun to waste time on arguing.

I saw the Oregon Trail from a distance, looking out the kitchen window, glimpses of three pony tailed heads and the pink wheels bumping along through the grass.

I cannot bring the dolls back. But I can call up these memories, clear as a summer day on the prairie.

Live Like You Were Moving

 

We’ve all heard the song “Live Like You Were Dying”, which is good advice, really. But what if we also lived like we were moving? I don’t mean in the way that you don’t settle in to a place or get attached to your home or your area (though that works for some people too). I just mean live like you were going to have to pack up everything you own tomorrow.

Would you bring it all? Really? Even the nearly empty bottle of nail polish, and the wide brimmed hat that you never wear.? The chipped pie plate in the back of the cabinet, the television in the attic, the fourth pair of flip-flops? Who loves all that stuff?

I may have been thinking of this because of all the houses selling. People are packing up and moving and moving is hard work; harder still if you move stuff you should have left behind. I think it can be refreshing though, when everything that is moved is chosen consciously. Do I want to keep this? Do I even like this? Would I miss it? Rather than packing up everything and having to deal with it all later- to live with it all later- the wanted and the unwanted- why not sort through it before you move? Even if you have no plans whatsoever to move, it is freeing to live like you are moving.

When a house is going up for sale, a realtor will usually tell the owners to clean it up, put some things in storage, keep the furniture to a minimum. It makes the space look bigger, more open and inviting, less cluttered. And if this is so, why wouldn’t we want to live this way even when we aren’t selling our home?

It’s been a particularly busy weekend –a birthday celebration for my father, an Easter dinner, watching the Boston Marathon (my sister ran!), guests, driving my daughter back to school. It was a joyous weekend, but it’s time to get back to writing, and it happens to be trash day. Out with the old and unused. After gathering the trash and recyclables, I had room left in each barrel and seized the opportunity to do a little extra purging. New week, fresh writing, and spring is eeking through in fits and starts. No room in my life for old hair products, a ripped sheet set or Tupperware without covers. Would I bring this stuff with me if I were moving? Not a chance. Out to the curb, out of my life, gone from my line of vision, my mind, my cabinets. It is a season of renewal and new beginnings. We don’t have to be moving to start fresh. Sometimes the newness, even if it’s a mystery, reveals itself after we’ve purged.

Ahh the sweetness of a new day, a fresh week, an empty table top. I look around me and everything I have is everything I need. It is raining hard outside, a puddle forming at the root of the tree I see from my window. Firmly planted, even in its bareness it looks so alive, so strong, so rooted in time and place. There’s only a wall and some space between me and the tree, inside and outside.   I look between the two and think of packing up what is in here to bring it out there. What would I take? Everything that is in here? Pretty close, I think. I have no plans to move, but if I did, I think I’d be ready.

Four Secrets to my Writing Process

A belated thanks for the tag, from a prolific and talented fiction writer,  Lee French     http://authorleefrench.wordpress.com/  Here are my answers to the Four Secrets to my Writing Process:

Q1: What are you working on? 

I always have at least one essay or article going, sometimes for a literary magazine or as a guest blog post, and of course there’s this blog.  But my biggest project is  my book, a memoir.

Q2:  How does your work differ from others in the genre?

I have my own story and voice, but also my memoir is partly stunt journalism. I revisit the past while writing about the present journey, day to day.  I touch upon a universal desire to be better and happier today than we were yesterday.  This ‘coming out on top’ is not easy, but it is much simpler than we often make it. I think my book sheds light on this in a way that is useful, honest and entertaining.

 

Q3:  Why do you write what you write?

I’ve been a truth seeker and a story teller for as long as I can remember. Even as a young child, on some level I knew that I would write this story. It is honest even when that is unflattering. I have a lot of emotional courage; I am not afraid to peel off the layers and poke around. This whole blog on simplifying is really about peeling back the layers to get to an authentic life. But sometimes it’s difficult to get there. The layers can be like band-aids for those who have been through harrowing events.  I have a lot of faith that the pure intentions of my book, along with a lot of hard work and revisions, will see me through to its publication.

 

Q4: How does your writing process work?

Typically, I wrestle myself to the page each day. I stare at where I left off until my fingers start moving. I used to edit what I wrote each day, but I’ve learned that I really just need to get it down and the revising will be a whole other step in the process. A huge step. Recently, I felt that something really needed changing. I wanted to give the present more space in the book, but wasn’t sure how. So I opened my mind to what that change would be. By opening my mind, I mean I walked, journaled, meditated and cleaned out my closet. I was in limbo for weeks, and then one morning it struck me. I knew what to do. It’s going to take a lot of extra time to make the changes, but it feels right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fermenting veggies simplified

ermented

I’m not big on chemistry projects or growing mold, so I closed my mind off to fermenting foods until recently. When I could no longer ignore the exceptional health benefits of fermented foods, I searched for the simplest, quickest way for a novice to try it. Here it it is, vegetable fermentation simplified.

What:  A process of lactofermentation in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch of the vegetable, creating desirable lactic acid.

Why:  Fermented foods are probiotic powerhouses. Fermentation creates beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and various strains of probiotics, thus healing the gut (the largest part of our immune system).

How:  Chop various vegetables, including either cabbage or cucumbers. (optional: add seasoning such as garlic, ginger, pepper, mustard seed). Pack them tightly in a mason jar. Mix 2 cups of water per 1 tablespoon of good sea salt. Pour this brine mixture over the veggies, covering them. Place a dry piece of cabbage on top, weighing it down with a clean rock (this is to keep the veggies from rising above the brine). Put mason cover on tightly and store in cabinet for 4-7 days.(Loosen lid to release pressure once per day, just for a few seconds, without letting air in).  After the week is up, you can eat the fermented veggies or store them in your fridge for up to six months.