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Friday, June 20, 2014

Don't Forget to Write

My friend Madeline is running away from home. That’s how she describes it. She’s a grown up, so I guess she’s allowed to run anywhere she wants—no permission slip required!

(Side note: I’m not intending to make light of the large number of teenagers who run away in this country. It’s a very sad and serious phenomenon. But for the purpose of this blog post, I will be talking about a grown up’s plans to leave it all behind.)

I’ll confess I have mixed feelings about this. Madeline is leaving town for good, and I will miss her. I bond for life, so it’s hard when a friend moves. But change is inevitable. Instead of resisting that, I’m trying to be supportive. The amateur journalist in me is also fascinated by the details, and I have many, many questions about what this will be like. How will they do it? Will it be everything they hope it will be? I’ve threatened to email her hundreds of questions along the way. She laughs. I don’t think she knows that I really do have hundreds of questions for her. But soon enough she’ll discover I’m serious…

Let me stop for a second and supply a few details. Madeline, her husband, their two sons and a large dog are leaving San Diego in a thirty-foot RV. They will drive all over the USA for a year (give or take), and then land in North Carolina in time for the school year 2015-16. They have their first three weeks planned out, and the following 12-14 months are flexible. Wow.

The boys will be homeschooled for this coming academic year. Their education will be hands-on in the truest sense: they’ll set foot on the very areas that most kids read about in text books. Sounds cool.

Madeline is very excited about not having to wake up to an alarm clock this year. (You may be wondering about the dog, who is as reliable as a rooster when it comes to early morning wake up calls. Madeline’s husband has begun taking the dog on his morning walk so that the dog does not require Madeline for a morning walk. She thinks of everything!)

I’m such a home body. And I’m unapologetic about that! I’m not sure if life on the road would appeal to me. But part of me is curious about it. I might love it. But I’d really miss my garden, checking on my plants and noticing the changes each day. I’m curious about what else I’d miss. Obviously, I should not look at their adventure as an RV half empty of gas, but half full! They are focused on the adventure ahead, the fun and the memories, rather than what they will miss. They’re ready to head out into America to see what they can see. They will have July 4th on the road.  Where will they see fireworks? What is Thanksgiving like in an RV? The oven probably can’t handle a turkey but they’ll make do. Does Santa Claus visit RVs at Christmas, even if there’s no chimney? Of course! What will be there favorite places? What will be the biggest surprises about living in an RV? (Yes, I really do have lots of questions.)

(More details on their RV in a future post. Fascinating how so many conveniences of home are tucked tidily into an RV, every inch planned to perfection. It’s mind-boggling.)

Madeline and her gang are only days away from a giant adventure. I’m excited to see what they discover when they take this leap. I’ll miss you, Madeline. Happy trails…

Thursday, June 19, 2014


I think we’ve set a record. It happened today, weeks before anyone would have expected it. I heard the two words I haven’t said since the early ‘90s: “I’m bored.” Let the record show that this claim was made on the sixth—yes, the sixth—day of summer vacation. We’re not even into double digits yet.

I won’t reveal which of my kiddos uttered this blasphemous phrase. Want to guess? I offered to remedy the situation by finding some cleaning for this poor, bored soul to do. My offer was rejected and the complaint of boredom has not been repeated. Yet.

But there’s always tomorrow…

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Out of the Closet at Last

I stood ankle-deep in a tangle of flotsam and jetsam, detritus from the expulsion. My closet had just vomited up twenty-five years’ worth of stuff. Oh my. Pandora’s box was open and there was no going back.

It had seemed like a manageable task. I was visiting my parents last weekend and figured I’d have time to sort through a few things in my old bedroom closet. It wasn’t much, I thought. After all, it had been more than twenty years since I’d lived there, and over time I’d transferred most of my things to my own house. How long could this take?

Famous last words.

Let me start by saying I am not a hoarder. (And I don’t mean to insult hoarders, either. I think it’s okay to feel attachment to things. I can relate, even though I’m not a hoarder.) But let’s examine how people interacted twenty years ago, before the Internet ruled your life. (And mine, of course.) My friends and I wrote letters. My parents wrote letters to me once I moved out of their house. We chatted by phone, too, but letters were a big portion of our communication. My grandparents wrote to me, as did my aunts, former roommates and friends living in different cities. I still write the occasional letter. Putting pen to paper and thinking of a fun opening line and something cute to draw on the envelope gives me a boost. (You may have noticed that I’m a word-lovin’ gal. I’m not living in an era of telegrams, when you had to choose the fewest possible number of words and kept things all business. No, I’m a believer that words have power inside them. They build relationships. So I wrote (and received) a lot of letters to (and from) friends who generally were as communicative and expressive as I was.)

There were hundreds of letters in my old bedroom closet.

There were a few very unexpected things, items I have no recollection of ever owning, like this:


Anyone need a slightly-misshapen clown nose?

If you’re wondering what else this closet regurgitated, here is an incomplete list of what I found:

·        Stationery from childhood

·        Scraps of fabric from teen-aged sewing projects

·        High school photos

·        Diaries

·        Scripts from plays I did as a teen

·        Clothes

·        Rollerskates

·        Foreign coins

·        Books

·        Old magazines

·        My three wisdom teeth, saved in a tiny box (the fourth never grew—go figure)

·        To do lists

·        Cassette tapes (remember those?)

·        Vinyl records!

·        Art projects from childhood and high school years

·        Art supplies

But I’m not a hoarder. Really, I’m not.

At first it was exhilarating to go through the boxes and bags in the closet. Seeing photos and old letters took me right back to the years when they were created. I rode waves of nostalgia. I stumbled through a few uncomfortable diary entries about the woes of teenagehood. I cooed over items from the early eighties. May I introduce you to my childhood?

Remember when these Velcro wallets were all the rage in the early 1980s? I was given this when I was still in single digits and had no money. I found coupons inside for the local frozen yogurt store.

I found this magazine from 1982, which I ordered through school in second grade. We received pamphlets from Scholastic Books and we sometimes ordered books. I suppose I ordered this magazine (although I have the vague memory of my friend Mandy F giving it to me). I loved Lisa Whelchel, the actress on the cover. I liked the entire all-female cast from The Facts of Life. I was only a kid but watching these teenagers gave me a peek into what it might be like to be a real, live teenager someday.

San Rio stuff was HUGE when I was a kid. Hello Kitty and Little Twin Stars ruled. This stuff was made in 1976!

And don’t forget how big the Muppets were. Here’s some stationery from 1980:

I also found my Kindergarten class photo from 1981. And no closet excavation is complete without lyrics to Stacey Q’s song “Two of Hearts” (circa 1986)—typed using a typewriter.

These items are like puzzle pieces, and they piece together my past.

I estimate that I spent eight hours over two days sifting through these items from my past. Early on I felt excited, as though I was opening a time capsule-treasure chest. I was delighted to unearth things I’d half-forgotten, but which unlocked memories as soon as I had them in my hands. It’s still a little tricky to know which items I can let go of and which ones I really want to keep. You can’t keep everything. But I’m fortunate that I can take lots of digital photos of things I am not keeping.

As intriguing as it was to dig through my past, I can tell you that after the fourth or fifth hour my enthusiasm turned to dread. I was overwhelmed. I didn’t have neat piles of stuff to recycle, throw out, keep and give away. I had cascading towers of stuff, sometimes leaking into other piles. I brought many, many loads of old papers (bank statements, paper phone bills and other thrilling prizes) to the recycling can. Somewhere, a forest of trees breathed a sigh of relief as I recycled enough paper to buy the trees a longer life. I brought a load of stuff to the thrift store donation site. I’d taken dozens of photos of cool discoveries. But I was overwhelmed. I wanted to sort through things but time was ticking and I needed to head home. Eventually, I stopped sorting each box and simply transferred them into my car. I can sort them at my own pace. They’re not going anywhere. Which brings me to something funny my dad said as I sorted, “But you don’t have room for this at your place!” No argument there. But Mom’s on a cleaning-out mission and really, it’s time. There are good and bad aspects to cleaning out boxes of stuff that cover various chapters of the last forty years. When I wasn’t in a panic over the amount of stuff spewed from the closet, it was a cathartic process.

In my car I now have the equivalent of eight or nine banker’s boxes (mostly in bags, including black Hefty trash bags, because I’m that sophisticated), waiting to be hauled out and given a corner somewhere in the house. I need to sort through them this summer.

I may be forty but I’m still figuring out adulthood. It’s a process (both literal and figurative) of sifting through your past, trying to figure out what you need from the past and which parts of your present and future are ones you’re charting by instinct, not tradition.

Should I have sifted through these mountains of papers, photos, class notes, etc, in my 20s? Probably. But back then I thought I was busy. (This is amusing to me now because back then I was not a parent yet and had more time—much more free time—than I do now!) Oh well. Maybe I appreciate these pieces of my childhood more than I would have if I’d done this inventory at age 22. I’m sure of it.

Having survived the transfer of mountains of letters, etc, from the closet to the car, and from the past to the present, I feel glad I did it. But I’ll caution anyone who resolves to clean out closets this summer. It does take at least twice as long as you think. It may involve some discomfort. It may involve paper cuts and dust-fueled allergy attacks. There may be tears, and maybe even a regret or two. But it also can be a nostalgic trip down memory lane. It can be healing and liberating. It takes patience and endurance. It will get messier before it gets cleaner. But that’s true of many things in life. It’s still worth it to look at your past. Your past is a piece of you and you may by happily surprised by the things you discover about yourself if you take a closer look.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

What's Growing? Tomatoes!

Exactly five weeks ago today I posted a photo of my surprise tomato plant, a volunteer that started growing in the middle of a former olive oil barrel supplied by my friend Ed. Here is the plant thirty five days ago:
Here is the same plant today:

It is gigantic. I’m throwing a bunch of water at it but honestly, that’s about it. Look at how much it’s grown. It’s between four and five feet tall! I love surprises like this. I think this may be The Summer of Tomatoes.

What's Growing? Peaches!

It’s mid-June, which means a lot of things are growing. But today I’m here to talk peaches. We have a white peach tree, planted by the people who lived here before us. So I can’t take credit for having planted this magic tree. In fact, I can’t take credit at all, since Hubby waters it. But I’m excited to have such a healthy tree bearing fruit. I think these peaches are bigger than we’ve had any other year. Some are as big as tennis balls. Aren’t they beautiful?

They’re causing the branches to sag toward the ground, and we’ve propped up the saggiest branch with a 2 x 4. I’m not complaining—just marveling—that we have a tree with so many peaches it’s dragging down branches.

What’s growing where you live?

Friday, June 6, 2014

Metal Detector

A few days ago I was at the bay, sitting on the sand at low tide. I sat among countless fragments of broken shell, marveling at the spirals and stripes and details of the shells. They looked like white and brown confetti scattered along the shore.

I picked up several, studying their geometry, awed at how many pieces surrounded me. Among the shells I noticed something round. Its size looked familiar. I picked it up. It was a piece of rusty brown metal. It had been lost at sea (well, the bay, anyway) and I had to look extra hard to make out the profile of a face. It was a quarter. It looked ancient. I wondered how long it had been moved back and forth, back and forth, by the tides. Where had it been lost, and how far had it traveled? What was its story?

The poor quarter had seen better days. Clearly, it needed some TLC to restore it to its former shiny state. This coin deserved a spa day.

Preparations began this morning. I whipped up an exfoliating scrub, made from vinegar mixed with salt. The coin soaked in the treatment for hours, allowing the layers of grime float off it. I played soothing Tibetan meditation music and burned incense for the troubled coin. (Well, not so much. But it sounds relaxing, right?!) After the quarter emerged from its scrub treatment, it was smoother and it glowed with renewed health. See for yourself. Here are the before and after photos:

I’m thinking of starting a side business. I could call myself The Metal Detector (and shine restorer).
How does this sound? Sarah’s Scrub ‘n Shine, the first spa catering to rusty coins!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Happy Stuff: Look Out for Letters

Stumbling upon something creative makes my day. So imagine my excitement when I found this charming mailbox while out walking. Someone made this by hand.
Miniature things are inherently fun. I’ve blogged on bird houses, dollhouses and fanciful mailboxes before, and my interest in small houses is nothing new. There’s something enchanting about seeing a smaller version of something, especially in an unexpected setting.

I appreciate the creativity of the person who made it. Someone dreamed up the idea, measured and cut and glued and painted and patiently kept working until it was completed. Great do it yourself spirit.
Check out how the red rescue buoy is actually the latch that opens the front of the tower and reveals the spot for letters.

I love that the homeowners wanted to take a mailbox and put their own twist on it and make something ordinary into something creative and fantastic. These are my people.