I read The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson this weekend. This is a small and very charming book, easily read in one or two sittings. Ms. Magnusson describes herself as being between 80 and 100. I love that!

Death cleaning, or döstädning as they say in Swedish, means removing unnecessary things and putting your house in order when you get to that age when you realize death is inevitable. She recommends starting at age 65 when you’re still young enough to be able to actually do it.

There is something somewhat magical about that age. Maybe it’s that, in this country at least, one becomes a card-carrying person of the senior persuasion. And you become eligible for the discounts. The hardest part of senior discounts is remembering to ask for them. Remember! They add up!

But back to death cleaning. As Magnusson says, it is not sad. “…I’ve discovered that it is rewarding to spend time with…objects one last time and then dispose of them. Each item has its own history, and remembering that history is often enjoyable.”

It turns out I had started “death cleaning” even before I’d heard the term. I’ve been going through stuff and trying to get things to people that might appreciate them. Lots of things came from my parents and their parents and wouldn’t mean a thing to my step kids. But some of my cousins might appreciate getting something that came from their great-greats.

I went through the family jewels–both of them–and gave my mother’s diamond earrings that had no story attached to them other than my mom wore them often, to my stepdaughter because I loved my mother and I love her. Seems appropriate. The ruby earrings Mom told me came to her from her great-grandmother. Those I thought should stay in the family, so I sent them to a cousin.

There are vintage photos I’ve acquired that I’ve copied and sent to cousins, along with the originals. I mean really, what would a baby picture of my grandmother mean to step kids with no connection, biological or otherwise? Would they care about the photo of my dad in full boxing gear standing with Jack Dempsey? Not sure they even know who Dempsey was let alone the skinny guy in the trunks. My dad’s nephews do, though.

The main thing is, I don’t want the stuff with stories to be lost because I procrastinated, thinking I’ve got the rest of my life to deal with this. The stuff may not be that important, but the stories are and some of them, only I’m left to know.

Plus, I don’t want to leave my kids and grandkids with a mess. I’ve helped friends deal with the parental home of a  hoarder, and it isn’t pretty. I’d much rather deal with stuff now, while I have a choice and the kids don’t resent me for the mess.

I don’t want the stories to be lost, and I don’t want to be responsible for an excess of stuff. I only want what I use and love. I’m debating about the China and crystal. If I keep it, then I’m going to start using it! Even the too small wine glasses and the even smaller liqueur glasses.

I may start drinking sherry, just so I have something to put in them!



Pay Attention!

Happy New Year! This post was supposed to happen a week ago, but Grandma got hit with an upper respiratory infection that put her down for a week or two. But now she’s back and done with referring to herself in the third person!

I want to talk about resolutions. Every year I make the same resolutions: lose weight, keep my house in order, write more, drink less. This year, I have only one resolution, or goal as I prefer to put it, and that is to pay attention.

I’m going to pay attention to people when they talk to me and stop trying to multitask, which I can no longer effectively do. This includes writing things down that I need to remember rather than relying on my memory. When I was young, my memory sucked mostly because I was daydreaming about something else and not paying attention. Not much has changed except that even when I am paying attention now, I don’t remember squat. Hence the writing down.

I’m no longer going to sit in front of the TV with a bag or carton of whatever, staring mindlessly at drivel while stuffing my gullet with stuff that’s not good for me. I’ll pay attention to what and how much I’m putting into my mouth. Somehow I’m always mindful of carrots and hummus. Mountain Man’s cranberry bonanza not so much. That bag was supposed to last the weekend, not half an episode of “The Librarians.”

There’s so much in this world to pay attention to! Besides food, cat videos and cool things on Pinterest that I’ll never do, there are also politics and children and the changing of the seasons.

People talk about being mindful and I guess that’s what paying attention is: being in the moment, enjoying the here and now, and not making mind lists while walking the dog instead of enjoying the neighborhood. I live in a great area and I’m going to start paying attention to it. Maybe I’ll meet a new neighbor or find a previously undiscovered cafe.

Paying attention will make me healthier. It’ll make me a better friend and neighbor. Who knows, maybe it’ll even give me ideas for that book I keep meaning to write.

So, what are your resolutions?



Just Do It!

Procrastination is defined as “To put off from day to day; to delay; to defer to a future time.” (New Webster’s Dictionary, College Edition). I procrastinate. It has defined me for most of my life. In fact, barring death and major crimes, most of the bad things that have happened to me in my life has stemmed from me not doing something when I’m supposed to.

It’s a curse.

The thing that always gets me when I finally do something that I’ve been putting off is that it normally takes such little time and effort.

For example, I bought a very large container of kitty litter that I absolutely hated. The cat didn’t seem fond of it either, so I stopped using it. I managed to get it out of the basement and out to the carport–no easy deed as it was about 40 pounds of cat gravel. My thinking was that I could keep it in my trunk in case I ever got stuck in the snow. That was last winter.

Yesterday, I put the litter into my trunk. Took me about 20 seconds. I’d been moving that damn bucket of cat dirt out of my way for almost a year! Twenty seconds.

It made me think a lot about how inconvenient I make my life by delaying doing things. Little things when left undone somehow turn into projects. Dishes, for another example. When I do the dishes right after dirtying them, they clean easily and it takes me just minutes. But I hate to do dishes so I put it off. Then simple easily rinsed food residue turns into hard, cement-like and very icky stuff that needs to be soaked and scrubbed.

So why do I procrastinate? I don’t know. Back in my 20’s when I was seeing a shrink, he said I was still waiting for my mother to pick up after me. I don’t think that’s valid anymore seeing as how she’s been gone now for more than 50 years.

So I really don’t know. Maybe  part of me doesn’t think that anything is worth doing unless it’s hard.

I remember years ago a grandkid told me in a rather exasperated tone of voice, “Just do it and then it’s done!” I’m sure she was parroting my daughter who is one of those go getter types who never puts anything off and files her taxes the day after she gets her W2. An annoying woman. Still, I’ve never forgotten those words coming out of the mouth of a 5 year old.

I will always have the tendency to delay and defer. But at least I’m aware of it. I’m getting better. I pay my taxes on time without the last minute extension. I no longer let the trash overflow before taking it out. I make my bed–usually–every day.

It’s a journey, right? I can’t be the only person who has let procrastination rule them. What are your stories, and what have you done to combat it? I’d like to know I’m not alone.



From the Alley It Came; To the Alley It Goes

I am not a hoarder. Not quite. And neither was my husband, exactly. What we were was enthusiastic. We each had our enthusiasms and each of those came with equipment, supplies and components.

For example, I like the thought of doing crafts. I used to watch craft shows back when HGTV programming consisted of more than real estate. Carol Duvall was my patron saint. In the course of the 35 years since I first moved into this house, I’ve gotten enthused about polymer clay, paper making, scrapbooking, card making, quilling, quilting, doll making, painting, and rubber stamping. I needlepoint, embroider, do crewel and make pillows.

Recently, I’ve been trying to get realistic about what it is I really enjoy doing and what, of all the STUFF I have to do all this with, I’m going to keep. It’s slow going because, for instance,  I really, really like all the neat things you can make with polymer clay. What I didn’t like, I found out, was the tedium of working with it. The same with paper making. I was going to recycle all my mail, making sheets of paper with which I’d do…what? Never did figure that out. What I did figure out was that it bored me.

So I got rid of all the stuff associated with both polymer clay and paper making. I sold all my polymer clay, molds, pressure sheets and the clay conditioner (pasta maker). I dismantled the screens I used with the paper and shredded, then recycled, all the bills and mail I’d been saving for what seemed like eons. It was actually quite freeing.

Every time I make a pass through my craft items, more stuff goes. I’m getting there.

But then there’s Dear Hubby’s enthusiasms. When DH was alive, he wouldn’t let me get rid of anything. Moldy, scratched and broken record albums stayed because someday he’d do something with them. The 8-track tapes stayed even though we’d never owned an 8-track player.

He owned every tool known to man, I think, many of them brand new and still in the box. Many of them mysterious, their purpose unknown.

He also was a picker. He picked things up from job sites, from junk stores but especially from the alley. From the alley he brought in wooden chairs, file cabinets, a rattan shelving unit,  church pew,  fireplace screen, silicone caulking and wood stain.

I’m very slowly, a little bit at a time, going through his stuff, too, and getting rid of things. Some stuff goes back into the alley and in a few days, it’s gone. Like magic! I thank God for the alley. The alley giveth and the alley taketh away.



Boundaries, or Just Say “No”

“No” is a complete sentence.–Anne Lamott

One of the hardest things that I had to learn to do as an adult was to set boundaries. It wasn’t easy. I’m a people pleaser so when someone asks me to do something or to give them something, my hard-wired instinct is to immediately accommodate.

My coping mechanisms when I was younger went the passive-aggressive route. Maybe if I was really lousy at something, people would stop asking me to do things. It worked, after a fashion, but it also made folks think I was incompetent and that would come back to bite me in the butt when there was something that I wanted to do. It would’ve been so much better in the long run to have just said “no, thanks” or “not interested” in the first place.

Hard lessons to learn.

When I first started Grandma Friday and was actively pursuing paying gigs, a woman approached me about driving her to the airport. I didn’t want to do this. Airport driving wasn’t on my list of things I do. I hate to drive. I don’t drive highways. I especially don’t drive other people around when I can help it.

I didn’t know this woman but I didn’t want her to think ill of me so I said sure. This wasn’t an area of business I’d ever researched, so I had no idea what to charge her. I gave her a way-too-low price. She countered with since I wouldn’t drive the highway, she should get a discount. I ended up driving her to and from Denver’s way out of the way airport for less money than I spent in gas.

Then I had to factor in the restless nights spent worrying about driving. It was a nightmare and possibly the longest couple of weeks of my life.

That was the beginning of my learning to say “no” and to set boundaries. This has come in especially handy with some friends and family members.

I can still see the face of one of my (grown) grandkids the first time I told her “no.” Her mother said later that she couldn’t believe I’d refused to do whatever it was she’d asked of me. I don’t even remember what it was now, but she obviously survived.

There was this attitude when I first retired that I would need something to do with my time, such as baby sit. That was another incentive to learn to say “no.” I helped raise my stepchildren. I helped raise their children. I’m done raising children.

As psychologist Asa Don Brown states, “Boundaries are, in simple terms, the recognition of personal space.”

This is my time and this is my space. And while “no” still does not come naturally to me, each time I say it is a tad bit easier than the last time.


Polite Conversation

When I was growing up, my father always said that in polite conversation, one never talks about politics or religion. Never talking about sex was understood. My father could never comfortably say the word, sex.

Today, that’s mostly what people talk about, polite or otherwise. If we’re not talking politics or discussing the ins and outs of God, we’re talking about sex.

We talk about having sex (or not), when we last had sex, when we hope to have sex again. We argue about what exactly is sex. Is it this, that and that other thing or just this and that? If so, what exactly is that other thing then?

We talk about who’s having sex with whom, or what. And how many or how often.

When we’re younger, we worry if we’re doing it right. At a slightly older age, we worry about whether he’ll do it right. At an older age, we wonder if we can stay awake for it.

I scandalized a grandchild—who was 23 at the time—when I stated publicly that I was grateful for the occasional orgasm. Not sure what she was shocked about, that I have orgasms and am grateful for them or that at this point in my life, they’re occasional? This from a woman who has no problem with posting explicit booty shots of herself on Facebook.

Sex in the 70s was adventurous. Then it became dangerous. Now it just seems horribly complex. His condoms or hers? Ribbed or lubricated? Do we double bind or trust just one? And don’t even get me started on lubricants! Who knew you shouldn’t use Vaseline?

I enjoyed my years of sexual excess at the perfect time: after the pill and before AIDS. Now, my God! You need a medical release form and a resume

It’s still fun to talk about sex. Makes me happy to know I still got it. Yup, even at my ripe old age I can still shock the kids.



It’s Not 1980 Anymore

Back in the early 80’s, I–with a friend–bought a duplex. Each side has two bedrooms and a basement. The previous owners left a large metal desk in the front bedroom of my side of the duplex, so that became my office/craft studio. It was great. No more card tables in the corner of the living room for me. I had an actual office.

Over the years, that office/studio was moved from the bedroom to the basement and back again. More than once.

One would think that with all the moving back and forth that I’d been clearing out clutter and unused items, but that was not the case. Until now.

Now, as I move things from the basement back up into the studio, I’m doing my best to be realistic about what it is I really want to do with my time.

So realistically, here’s what I do in this studio of mine: I pay bills. I write. Once I get it all set up and useful, I also want to start scrapbooking again. And making Christmas and birthday cards. One day, I’d like to make a quilt. I also enjoy embroidery and some crewel. I’ve done a little bit of needlepoint and enjoyed it.

But to be brutally realistic, here’s what I do not want to do in this studio of mine that I once thought I did: make soft toys to sell at the flea market, make bread dough Christmas ornaments, paint rocks, make paper, make paper mache fruit bowls, make fancy ornamental fruit with pins and sequins, make polymer clay ornaments and jewelry, macrame, and probably a ton of other stuff I bought books about and material for.

I know I paid good money for a lot of this stuff, but I’m over it. Well, over some of it anyway.

Last week, I gave away the beginnings of a blue jean quilt I started shortly after I moved here. I cut squares out of my jeans and jeans I’d gotten from my husband (then boyfriend), his kids, my neighbors and co-workers. I remember paying the kids (who are now both in their 40s) to trace and cut out the squares. I painstakingly sewed the squares together into strips. I bought a ton of blue plaid flannel to use for the backing. This was going to be a king-sized quilt we could take camping or keep in the car. It would be tough and useful. I think I broke the heavy-gauge sewing machine needle and never got around to buying another. The quilt never got done.

It did get moved from upstairs studio to downstairs studio multiple times. It stayed on my “Craft Projects to Finish” list until last week when I gave myself permission to give it up. It went to a lady who actually does this kind of thing.

I was just going to give her the strips to sew together. Then I decided to add the backing flannel because, realistically (there’s that word again) what was I going to do with it? Then I added two shoe boxes full of un-sewn together denim squares, in two different sizes because, again, what was I going to do with them? Really?

As soon as I hauled those bags of partially completed quilt out of the house, I felt relieved. Lighter.

Two days ago, sitting here looking at shelves still full of stuff, I decided to do the same with the large quantities of felt squares I’d bought for I-don’t-remember-what also back in the 80s. I think there was a sale of some kind involved. Anyway, I called a nearby community center that does lots of kid classes and offered it to them. They jumped, I delivered and another two bags of stuff I’d never gotten around to are out of my house.

Not everything I’ll probably get rid of is from the 80s. There’s the large shopping bag that’s full of my late husband’s shirts. I wanted to make a scrap quilt out of them (more squares). While I still love the idea of doing that, it’s been 8 years. If I really wanted to do this, wouldn’t I have done it already?

That one I have to think about some more. But there is one thing I’m sure of: It’s not 1980 anymore.



Moms I Have Known

The last of the moms has died. Her name was Opal and she was 98 years old. She was a grand old dame, funny and feisty. She loved peacocks and geese and kept both. Have you ever eaten a peacock egg? Amazingly rich. She liked to travel and gamble and was good at both. She was instrumental in saving my home.

Back in the early 80’s, at the height of “creative financing,” my friend Angi and I bought a duplex with only a few dollars down and very little credit. She lives in one side of the duplex and I in the other. We had three mortgages, one a balloon that came due in five years. Five years went by. Our first two mortgages were paid ahead. We’d never missed a payment, nor had we ever been late. We couldn’t get that third mortgage refinanced. The bottom had dropped out of the housing market. Our home was doomed.

In stepped Opal, Angi’s mother-in-law. She loaned us what we weren’t able to scrape up from raping our 401Ks and mutual funds. We always had, she said, a place in her heart since we were the only people who had ever actually paid her back. We loved her. And now she’s gone.

Opal wasn’t the only great mom in my life, just the last. The first was my mom, Zana. Pretty and profane, she made sure that wherever we lived–and we lived in a lot of places–our house was the hub of the ‘hood. She didn’t mind a house full of hungry neighbor kids because then she always knew where I was. She died when I was 13 and I still miss her fried chicken. I wish I’d known her as a grown up.

In high school, my BFF’s mom was Evelyn. She got me through high school and saved, if not my life, then my sanity. Whenever I’d run away from home, I ran to her. I had a stormy adolescence, but there was always a place for me with Ev and her oh-so welcoming family. She and her husband, Jack, were the most in love people I’ve ever known. We’d stuff four kids–me and their three–in the front seat of a big white Chrysler and go cruising country roads while they sat in the back seat and necked. Ev made my graduation dress because my stepmother wouldn’t and my sewing sucked.

There was my Auntie Madeline, my mother’s sister. She cussed and drank and smoked. She taught me to play poker. Once my parents were both gone, she was the only family member who was unequivocally there for me. She loved my dog and insisted on feeding him ice cream. Her daughter was grown and away with her own family in California. Auntie and I (and Uncle Roger) became our own family. As she got old, she got mean. She made me crazy and I miss her.

I have been blessed with really good friends who had really great moms. Didn’t get to see much of Angi’s mom, Helen, since she lived in Illinois, but she never forgot me or our other friends at Christmas. There were always hand-made gifts for us. One year it was multi-racial mice angels, another brightly colored home-sewn underwear. During the Carter Administration–we’ve all been friends for a VERY LONG TIME–it was a pair of sexually explicit ceramic peanuts. The gifts were always thoughtful and funny and special.

Our friend, Eileen’s mom, Rose, was one of those German-from-Russia women who loved through food. It didn’t matter what time of the day or night that we’d show up, the first words out of her mouth were, “Have you eaten?” It didn’t matter what our answer was, because in just a few minutes there’d be a full, hot, sumptuous meal on the table. And that was in the days before microwaves! Even after Alzheimer’s destroyed most of her mind, she still tried to feed us. That never went away.

I still have friends whose moms are living, but these are the women who helped raise me and loved me and kept me on the straight and narrow, and Opal was the last of them. Guess that means we’re the moms now. Scary thought.



Good Intentions

Summer sucks for me anymore. On July 5, 2009, my husband turned 60. On August 2, he died. It was sudden, unexpected. Devastating. Eight years later, I’m still reeling.

I also find myself using that time between July 5 and August 2 as an excuse to indulge. I indulge in sloth, in gluttony. I drink too much. I don’t exercise much. Projects go by the wayside. I let the plants die because I can’t bring myself to water them. I stop writing because I really don’t want to know what’s in my head.

It’s stupid. It’s self-destructive. It’s wrong. Wrong for me, anyway, and these days I’m trying hard to concentrate on what’s right and wrong for me. What’s good or what’s bad. What’s healthy or what’s not. I’m trying real hard to keep my judgments and advice focused on me.

At the same time, I’m trying to be more honest in my dealings with people, friends and family mostly. I’m trying to be truthful and not just say things they want to hear because it’s easier than stating what I think. I’ve always avoided confrontations. Now, not so much. My inner snark seems to have found a home front and center. And it dearly loves to come out and play.

It’s not to say I’ve become bitchy and mean. I hope I haven’t. I don’t want that. I think I’m bored. Bored of listening to the same whines about what Mom did or didn’t do and how mistreated everyone is. We’ve all been mistreated. We’ve all been mean. It’s time to get over it and move on. What I want is to be able to look myself in the mirror and say, “you told the truth.” And the first person I’m truthing is me.

I’m done using Jessie’s death as an excuse. There are too many wonderful things in the world. Why get mired down in sadness and self-indulgent excuses?

The pity party is over.


My Life In Three Parts

If you read these pages with any regularity, you know that I’m in the process of going through all my crap, downsizing, getting rid of stuff and reevaluating where I want my life to go. It’s been interesting seeing how far I’ve come in some areas and how far I haven’t come in others.

Since I rarely throw anything out (until recently), I’ve come across lists of New Year’s Resolutions or Goals & Achievements going back decades. Sadly, there is a sameness to them.

Some of these have dated back to the seventies. There are three major themes running through these rather sad lists and with them, I can boil my need to improve life into three major categories: my health (weight), my finances and my clutter. Everything I feel I need to change or improve in my life falls under one of these three categories.

I could probably pare these down even more, since these all seem to be connected. But then everything in life is connected, isn’t it?

For example, I like to eat out and do it way more than I should for both my pocketbook and my waistline. One of the main reasons eating out is so desirous is that it’s too hard to fix something myself, because my kitchen is almost always a mess. My lack of housekeeping skills falls under “clutter” because I don’t know what I have, I have no clear counter space to prep food and I don’t know where things go, hence the crowded counters.

I buy things I don’t need, in and out of the kitchen, because I can’t find what I already have. I end up sitting and watching TV and snacking while I do it because I don’t have the cleared up space to work on art or craft projects. I have too many scrapbooking supplies to actually do any scrapbooking.

So what am I doing about it?

Slowly but steadily I am going through stuff, getting rid of stuff, and finding homes for stuff.

I’m making an effort to finish what I start, be it dishes and laundry or that hooked rug I started decades ago.

I’m getting off the couch more often, resulting in more exercise and less mess.

I’m really trying to be aware of what I’m doing, so less mindless eating, less binge buying, more seeing what’s around me.

Most importantly, I remind myself that this is a process and a journey. It took me 65 years to become this person, and most of her is pretty awesome. I’m working on the not-so-awesome stuff, three categories at a time.