Spring Cleaning

This dreary, misty week has given me a chill.  And maybe the oak pollen casting a yellow cloud over everything in the Texas hill country has something to do with it. But I am not thinking very clearly this week.

For instance, I am obsessing about Spring Cleaning.  Here.  Now.  Get-‘er-done.

As Mark plans to watch Virginia Commonwealth in the Final Four this weekend, I am making a To-Do List.  I am bound and determined to get things in order. And I am making a plan.

As I grow older, I think I am showing signs of early-onset hoarding.   I like stuff. I have a hard time letting go. I need to nip this in the bud. This weekend.

What was Patrick’s room until he fled the nest, is now completely empty unless you count the new permanent home for the ironing board, which I quite honestly have not used since the Bush Administration.  HalleyAnna’s room still has a few things in it.  I will  make a schedule and start at that end of the house.

Should not take long to pick up the remnant rolls of Christmas wrapping paper,  the Scotch tape and scissors and ribbon left over from the holidays – trimmings that transformed Patrick’s room into the  holiday staging area. Two stray Christmas stockings are still tossed across the ironing board. Somehow, they missed getting packed away in the attic with the other holiday trimmings. So I’ll  stash them somewhere,  and wonder where the heck they are next December. 15 minutes.

Then I will take another run at excavating HalleyAnna’s room. She has taken everything she wants for the new digs in Austin. The Weezer poster and her high school letter jacket didn’t make the cut. Well-worn CDs that long ago lost their jackets are dealt like a hand of cards on the floor next to an old jam box. Kacey Chambers. Cake. The Best of Hank Thompson, Vol. II.  No time to dilly-dally. I can come back to reminisce later. 15 minutes.

Next up, my office. It looks like a cyclone hit. Receipts and tax forms are still sorted and piled, waiting to be filed away. But clutter reigns in a cozy way in this little corner of my world. I’ve been meaning to go through the stuff in that footlocker… and organize my CDs… and, is that my Flannery O’Connor anthology? Ah, so that’s where I put that box of Aunt Helen’s old letters and pictures.  Been meaning to read throgh those letters. Maybe I will save this room for later.

On to our bedroom. Open the windows. Dust and vacuum. Fluff the pillows and swifter the ceiling fan blades. 30 minutes.

And then into my closet.  Really, does a political tshirt ever become a collector’s item?  How many San Marcos High School Band Booster Mom shirts do I really need?  Do I really think I am ever going to fit into that “skort” – or want to wear it?  What was I thinking when I bought that awful  linen cropped pant suit?  And that short denim jacket was on triple markdown sale for a reason.

But I am not throwing out my dream jeans.  My skinnys.  No, not  those trendy “skinny” jeans of today.  Just a faded pair of old favorites that I can’t bear to think will never fit again.  And exactly  when does a single digit dream become fantasy?  Enough. Forget about the pile o’ shoes for now – it’s time to move on. 45 minutes tops.

What do you call the bathroom counter? The Vanity sounds so – well – vain. Dump the drawers and sweep off the counter top.  I am giving it 10 minutes and a large garbage bag.  This accumulation of product has got to go. I have seen how I look when I leave the house. It can’t possibly take that much product to get there. Open drawers and dump.

And then, back to the office. Take a break time. A frosty Topo Chico with a squeeze of lime will be in order.  Shove that pile of stuff off the sofa. Stack those magazines in the corner.  5 minutes.

Crank up the iTunes and settle in with Flannery for a while. Enough is enough.

Listening to: Bob Seger- “Old Time Rock N Roll”

You’ve Got A Friend

Partial rock heart collection at Billy Porterfield's House of Fables.

One of my favorite philosopher-thinker-historian-musicians stopped by my office a while back. Doctor G (aka Gregg Andrews) and his wife,  noted Civil War/Southern history author Vikki Bynum were back in town for a brief visit, from their new home in Missouri.

Our mile-a-minute conversation covered a lot of ground,  but the visit was too short. We made hard and fast plans to get together for lunch or dinner during Spring Break. Their Spring Break trip was derailed by illness, and I am sorry to have missed them.

They moved away from San Marcos a little over a year ago- settling back to Gregg’s hometown,  the Hannibal area of Missouri – Mark Twain country.  Before that, they lived about eleven houses down the street and around the corner from us.  Though we talked about it,  we never managed to get together for dinner or a glass of wine or an evening out, though we should have.

But since they packed up the cats and moved to the Mississippi River, we have probably talked on Facebook more than we did the whole time we lived in the same neighborhood.

That got me thinking about those “if onlys” and “should haves” along the way. How often have I thought about running over to Lockhart, or up to Fredericksburg,  or into New Braunfels,  or down to San Antonio,  and the need to make some time to see a good friend.

Just tonight, I mentioned to Mark that I really need to sit down and make some phone calls just to catch up with friends I have not talked to in a while. And before I knew it, the evening was gone.  I am still “old school” in that I don’t make phone calls after nine at night, unless it’s an emergency.

Thank goodness for Facebook.  And, hey, it’s not just for college kids anymore. In fact, I read that more than 18 million Facebook users are over 45.

So that’s where you’ve been keeping yourself.

Go ahead and say what you will about virtual friendships, but I believe that Facebook fills that gap left by disappearing front porches, back yards and neighborhoods, and free time.  I like being able to open the laptop at 2:30 in the morning and click on Recent News to see who among my friends has posted something.

And if someone complains too much or whines too much, I can “hide” them, which is effectively ignoring them without them noticing. How great is that?

And it’s like the world’s best family album –  and tag, you’re it.  At any hour, I can check in and see an old friend’s new grandbaby, or a prom picture from 1974, or one of our kids at a party – well – ok. What happens on Facebook stays on Facebook.

And I love it when Paul or Bill or Joe Nick posts a classic song or obscure one-hit-wonder from YouTube, or  HalleyAnna shares her latest songwriter feat, or Van Wilks is tagged in a Caribbean sunset shot.

It’s not all fun and games. Actually, I got caught up in virtual farming on Facebook a couple of years ago. It was horrible- and I had to quit cold turkey. If taking up walking was 2011’s life-changer for me, I would have to admit that 2010 kicked off with me giving up the “farm”  and gaining hours back in my day.  (I am a little taken by Facebook’s daily trivia quiz, Qrank, but it’s only a once-a-day addiction so I can maintain some control.)

I still lament the fact that I have not made time to spend an afternoon catching up with an old friend, and it’s been forever since my cousin and I have had a “wine night,” and we really do need to invite our tailgating buddies over for dinner in the off-season, but at this point in our  lives, that is not going to change the reality that we are growing ever shorter on time and longer on want-tos.

And so for now, if we don’t see one another as often as we’d like in real life, let’s check in on Facebook.

It’s a lot like my Aunt Robbie’s old front porch swing. You can just stop and sit there a while. And keep in touch, and not overthink what someone meant or said, and for the most part, just expect the best in most people.

And I like that.

See you around.

Listening to: Carole King – “You’ve Got A Friend”


Walking Wisdom and Quality Time

Yes. I wear these in public. (Reebok ZigTechs) And I have two pairs.

Historically, I am not a big fan of exercise. I admire people who do it. And I was pretty good at it back in the day.  Okay, that “day” is sort of a fuzzy dream like when middle-aged men sit around drinking beer and talking about their championship high school football team.

Now, I was not ever an athlete of the catch-a-ball/make-a-goal/win-the-game-at-the-buzzer sort, but I liked to dance,  and was completely caught up in the aerobics fitness era. I even owned Jane Fonda tights and big shirts and leg warmers,  and wore such fashion statements in public, like to the grocery store after class. And I clearly remember “feeling the burn.”

But that was then. We are talking last century.  Jane Fonda is going to be 74 this year.  (Can that be right?)

Indeed, a lot of water has gone under that bridge… and along the way, if cooking had been an Olympic sport, I coulda been a contender. I have never seen a food store I didn’t want to hike through – or a recipe I wouldn’t tackle, no matter how challenging.

Through the years, I have joined gyms and bought treadmills and exercise bikes and cute fitness clothes, appropriate for the  activity…. and dropped the memberships and used the treadmills for laundry racks and sold the exercise bikes in garage sales — and outgrown the fitness clothes.

But this year, I took up walking.  Okay. Yes. Walking. I know it’s not exactly an extreme sport.  One foot in front of the other. Left right left right. I started on January 2 with a new free app for my iPhone called Runkeeper.  My sister-in-law, Karen, told me about it on New Year’s Day. Not one to rush into things without forethought, I waited until Sunday to jump in with both feet.One at a time. I dug around and found my walking shoes. And two good cushy ankle socks that matched. And dug up the headphones that came with my iPhone.  And made a mix-tape (they call them playlists now) for walking.

I have learned a lot about walking in these first few months. It’s a lot more than just getting there. It is decadent, self-indulgent, me time, free for the taking. No sign-up fee, no monthly charges. Just step by step. Breathing deep cleansing outside unfiltered air.  Getting tired and a little out of breath. It’s good for the soul.

My first goal was 60 miles in 2011. Lofty? No. But if nothing, I know my limits and weaknesses – and lack of staying power when it comes to something that makes me sweat. But I did it that day, and the next, and the next. One mile, and then a little further, and a little more.

We have a good walking neighborhood. Not much traffic.  Friendly waves from neighbors I know and  even folks I don’t.  A few hills and lots to see and hear and smell. Streets I have driven for years with the windows rolled up, in climate controlled comfort. It’s funny how my senses have become more aware of all that is out there.

And today -a little more than  midway through March, I have walked more than 125 miles.  And it has become kind of addictive.  Early on, I decided to try to walk  seven miles a week — and passed my 60 mile mark sometime in mid-February. I found that some weeks seven miles turns into 10 or 12.   I am averaging 45 miles a month.

I have walked in freezing weather and  blustery wind, but I draw the line at precipitation. I have not walked in scorching heat yet. I usually walk in the afternoons, but I like the crisp cool mornings that weekends allow.

The music is good. I have literally thousands of songs on my iTunes account – some I have downloaded and some I have uploaded from cds.  While I have background music playing pretty constantly through my life at work and in my home office, and in my car, and in the kitchen, lately,  I had not had time to really listen.

But, wow! Walking is a great listening room.  No one talks over the music. No one walks in  and asks for something during the chorus, or calls in the middle of a great instrumental lead.  I  can listen to Walt Wilkins and Tony Bennett and ABBA and Israel Kamakawiwo’ole and Loretta Lynn and no one questions my format. And I can play a favorite over and over and over – and even sing along, because no one really listens to someone walking down the street.

I like walking with friends. Melissa has walked with me a lot. Mary Mikel and I catch up when our schedules allow. It’s a great way to visit, vent and laugh, albeit sometimes we do get a little out of breath on a steep grade.

But most of those miles have been solitary. That is when it is  completely, selfishly, totally my time. To think, listen, wonder, dream, and yes, even pray. There is much to be thankful for when you give yourself time to just be. Uninterrupted time with nothing required beyond putting one foot in front of the other allows mercy and grace some breathing room.

There is much to learn about our neighborhood. I have figured out who burns real wood and who warms the hearth with gas logs on cold days. I know who gets up early to mow their grass on Saturday mornings, and who has fresh fertilizer waiting to be spread.  Who rakes their leaves and who leaves them for the next strong wind. And who puts their garbage can out the day before, and who recycles. I know who grills on propane and who uses charcoal or mesquite or live oak  to cook their  weekend supper.   And the hoarder in me has fought the temptation to poke through the boxes of stuff at the curb when a trendy upscale neighbor moved to Dallas.

Along the way,  I got some trendy new Reebok ZigTech shoes. My friend, Bob Pankey,  is a gait expert and he told me to get my walking shoes a size larger than my normal shoes.  No kidding. But I did. They looked sort of like clown shoes at first. But he was right, and they are perfect. No shin aches or blisters or knee pain.  I learned to tie them like a marathon runner so the heel is tight and doesn’t slip.

And so it goes. 125 miles. Next goal, 200 miles by summer. Along the way, I have shed a few pounds, but more importantly, I have gained some personal space and quality time  that I didn’t even know was missing.

Try it. And if you have a smart phone, get one of those apps that tracks your distance. I like the accountability – and how the steps add up to miles.

Take a walk. To the mailbox or the street corner or around the block.  Make some quality time for yourself. When was the last time you did that?

Listening to: Walt Wilkins – “The Shape I’m In”

One Good Thing…

E Shafer Bookstore in Savannah, Georgia

E Shafer Bookstore in Savannah, Georgia

Around the first of the year, I discovered a quirky little website called “One Good Thing” that singles out life’s pleasures and promotes the idea of sharing the things that give us joy.

So is it too optimistic to look for One Good Thing every day in 2011?  They don’t all have to be trips to paradise or lottery wins. I think I can. And I bet you can, too.

Bundling up for a long winter walk with an old friend –or inhaling the aroma of a rich homemade cup of coffee with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a cloud of cream – or savoring the perfect light, with or without a camera in my hand – or an afternoon in a great bookstore – or a practically perfect date night at home with the great love of my life…

When you stop and think about them, it’s fun to come up with a list of good things we have stumbled across when we least expected them.

Stumbling into a real bookstore. Mastering an heirloom recipe. Making  a new friend. Celebrating a sunset. Sipping an icy beverage. Getting the perfect shot. Exploring a backroad.  Poking through a box of old photographs. Feeling sand between your toes.

They’re right. One good thing really does lead to another.

Come on. It’s your turn.

On your mark. Get set. Go.

Listening to: Deryl Dodd – “Good Things Happen When You’re Around”

Good To The Last Drop.

I drink coffee now.

Yes. It’s a new thing.

Diet Coke was my beverage of choice in the mornings. A boiling cup of joe couldn’t  hold a candle to that first chug of icy cold Diet Coke burning its way down my throat to wake me up.

I would buy a cup of mocha latte at the coffee shop once in a while but for the most part, the sound of the pop-top fizz was the sound of caffeine morning for me.

But then my mother gave us one of those fancy Keurig one-cup coffee makers for Christmas. And now, I have joined the majority of Americans who wake up and reach for the mug instead of the poptop.  And now, I drink coffee.  Plain and flavored.

I am not yet a purist. I don’t drink it straight – or black. I use  real half-and-half, and sometimes for fun, I even get that aerosol real whipped cream in the can and squirt it on top and add a sprinkle of cinnamon and a packet of Splenda.The ritual of fixing the perfect cup and then sitting down and savoring it  warming both hands around the mug is a big part of it.

There is nothing like leaning into the machine’s  personal counterspace and inhaling the aroma as the steamy liquid pours into my cup. There really is no better smell than coffee in the morning, no matter what Robert Duvall said in “Apocalypse Now.” But some mornings that quote does cross my mind.

And my new Keurig device makes tea, too. Hot and iced. Herbal and traditional. Have not figured out chai tea yet.  Someone is going to have to teach me to love chai tea. I hear it is a little like scotch whiskey. An acquired taste. I am a fast learner when it comes to beverages. I took to Chivas and Black Bottle after a few tries, so I can probably learn.

And meanwhile, I have even “registered” with the Keurig coffee pot club online and ordered a giant shipment of coffee to be delivered to my front door (free shipping).  My go-to everyday coffee is Kona. Sometimes I go to the coffee ordering website and pour over the flavors. I wonder what Creme Brulee coffee tastes like. Or “Jamaica Me Crazy” decaf.

Okay,  enough of the Joe talk. Yes. I am just a tiny bit obsessed.  I think I’ll have a cup of Sleepytime herbal tea with a splash of lemon and hit the sack. Morning comes early.

Listening to: Guy Clark – “Instant Coffee Blues”

The Obituary Club

Clockwise, Janice Williams, Joan Kornblith, Diana Hendricks, Denise Boudreaux, Jenni Finlay (Lana didn't make the shoot!)

I am not quite sure how it came about, but I am a charter member of a small but unique organization, The Obituary Club. We are an unlikely group of women. Men are not discouraged from joining our group, but none have yet to actually step forward. So for now,  Jenni and Janice and Joan and Denise and Lana and I make up this odd group. Our ages range from early 30s to mid 50s.

We meet regularly via email. Our mission is to make note of the passing of important, infamous, or otherwise notable people. Bonus points are given to the member who breaks the story, but I don’t think anyone actually keeps score.  Sounds a little weird – maybe looks a bit morbid at first glance, but bear with me here.

Most of us have done time as “professional” obituary writers at some point in our careers. One of Jenni’s first assignments on the college newspaper, of which she later became editor, was writing the obit for the beloved dean. (Challenging since she didn’t know him, but so moving that they blew it up displayed it). Radio professional Janice has had to announce deaths on the air – breaking the news of celebrities’ demise.  And Joan has the most world-wide acclaim: having written some of the most memorable obit essays about celebrities for radio’s Voice of America.  My favorite: her obit for Mary Travers of Peter, Paul & Mary fame.

I didn’t just fall into this club by accident. I come from a long line of obituary aficionados. My grandpa used to hand deliver funeral notices all over Lockhart. Is anyone old enough to remember those?  Small town funeral homes used to print funeral notices on little squares of paper with black borders,  and take them around and put them on peoples’ doors.  In towns that only had  weekly newspaper, that was the only way to be assured that you got the word out in time for folks to attend the service.

While she was not a great fan of death in general, my (great-)Aunt Robbie was a true fan of funerals and well-written obituaries. She would say, “Did you see Miss Jackson’s obit in The Paper, this afternoon? It was a good one.” Or, “Pennington’s sure did a nice job on Marjorie. She didn’t look plastic. I’d hate to look plastic like some do.”

And, of course, “You know, he was a good Methodist. So we all went back there after the service. Lois made those chicken salad sandwiches I like so much. Only white meat and real mayonaise.”  And, “Someone took them a bucket of store-bought fried chicken.  Umm. Umm. Didn’t even put it on a platter. I swan…”

And, as has become a family saying, my favorite expression that Aunt Robbie used to use, when I drop by her house after work -and before the paper hit the street, “Did anybody good die?” (Good in this interpretation was not actually referring to the heart and soul, of course, but newsworthy.)  My mother still asks that sometimes, when calling from Houston – wondering about the goings-on in San Marcos.

When I was the features editor of The Paper, obituaries were on my beat. Sometimes, I would be asked to write the obit, but most came pre-written by the families- through the funeral home.  I know a good obituary when I see it.

The information superhighway is a long way from walking door to door in Lockhart delivering the news. Random death announcements pop up during the day. We stumble across something in the online edition of New York Times or the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

A couple of our members even subscribe to an online Celebrity Death Watch that notifies them directly when somebody good dies. My husband helps me. If he sees a death announcement in his web-surfing, he will instant message me and say, “Did anyone post Dandy Don Meredith yet?” And sometimes, just as news pops up on the evening news, my iPhone bings with a message from one of the club members. Drat! I missed being the “first to know-first to tell.”

Every obituary we post is not necessarily one of celebrity status. When Mr. Hada died in San Marcos, I had to tell the group about him, because he was the only chicken sexer I had ever known.  Janice posted one recently about oldest guy in that “We’ve been to every Super Bowl” club, who was too weak to go this year. She thinks he may have died from heartbreak  for having to miss the game.

Nearly forgotten celebs whose names conjure up memories are always newsworthy. Mitch Miller and Jack Lalane, Barbara Billingsley, Sargent Shriver…

Sometimes these posts take us off on tangents. When Jane Russell died, most of our group were of a generation who didn’t think of her as a voluptuous movie star as much as the “Cross-Your-Heart bra” spokesperson who touted the Playtex 18-Hour Bra “for us full-figured gals.”

We all swapped emails about bras for about a week. Department store fittings, appropriate foundations, when they should be discarded, car wreck concerns,  etc.  (Maybe this is a reason we don’t have a rush of men in our numbers.)  But Jane was not our first bra-related obit.

The New York Times has some of the best obits in journalism today.  Their ledes draw you into the life story of the departed, whether you’ve heard of them or not.  Take Selma Koch, for instance:

Selma Koch, a Manhattan store owner who earned a national reputation by helping women find the right bra size, mostly through a discerning glance and never with a tape measure, died Thursday at Mount Sinai Medical Center. She was 95 and a 34B.

Now, that is a good one.

Oh yeah, and  they really do go in threes. Aunt Robbie had heard the Indian legend  that people die in threes because it takes three to paddle the boat across the waters to the Happy Hunting Ground.  And that does make sense. So we try to count. Or we say, “There you go – he would be the third.”

Elizabeth Edwards and Dandy Don were in the boat with Barney Miller actor Steve Landesberg. I’ll bet that was an entertaining canoe trip. I hope Elizabeth got to laugh a lot.

Listening to Shelley King’s  “Welcome Home.”

Time-Lapsed Ramblings: An Introduction

Okay. I’m here. I’ve been meaning to come here for a while but have been dragging my feet. I need the exercise and discipline of a journal.  And I love blank books and good pens that glide across the page.  But the reality is that I don’t sit down and write on paper for pleasure much these days, unless you count grocery lists or post-its. 

So a blog might be a solution.  My friends have them.  Janice, Mary Mikel, the Susans (Hanson and Albert).  I am a loyal reader. A subscriber.  I “take” their occasional blogs, as folks say in small towns when talking about The Paper.

Yes. If you are reading this, you probably know that I spent a long time as a  journalist, photographer and jill-of-all-trades. I was the Features Editor at an almost daily newspaper.  Actually called the Neighbors Editor (which was a step up from Women’s Editor,  but I kind of  wanted to sound a little more uptown than that.

That was sort of like writing a blog. In addition to posting the engagement announcements and editing submitted wedding write-ups (who knew Alencon lace could be spelled so many different ways), and getting the obituaries in on time, I had free rein with filling the rest of the section. And so we wrote to amuse ourselves, and garnered a few loyal readers and some state and national writing awards along the way in spite of ourselves.

“All the news that fits, we print,” was an in-house saying among the three of us who made up the Neighbors Section. Gardening, adventures, book reviews, photo essays, interviews with famous or not-so-famous people, and self-indulgent columns about whatever popped into my mind were the order of the day. It was the best of….

I left that gig to take a dream job as editor of an edgy alternative newsmagazine. Politics, entertainment and social commentary was the order of the day. It really was the best of times,  great staff,  incredible writers (including the gang who came with me from the almost daily)  and an appreciative publisher who savored every word. After a while, the economy sunk that paper and began hitting print journalism in general.   I  fell into a municipal grant-writing job which led to the most unlikely day-job that I hold today. (I will blog about this unlikely match sometime,  so watch for details).

Somewhere along the line, I quit having deadlines for writing off on tangents and rambling about whatever crossed my desk or my mind. And I miss it.

And so. Okay. I’m here. I am not promising much in the way of regular writing  or deadlines- or even much of interest to the masses. In sort of a stream of consciousness, I plan to write about  the most ordinary things like  backroads and graveyards, great love and baseball bats,  good music, quiet moments,  keeping score, getting the shot and taking a chance.

Once in a while, I might stumble across something that catches your eye. And you are more than welcome to hitch yourself to my wagon and come along.

Listening to: Guy Clark – “Maybe I Can Paint Over That.”

__________________

Disclaimer: If  you quickly grow weary of personal blogs, go ahead and quit reading immediately. Really, this forum is first for me, and then for anyone who has the time or inclination to read it. I am not sure how it works, and don’t know if you can really “unsubscribe” but you can avert your eyes.