Friday, March 29, 2013

Time For A Little Spring Cleaning - Of The Mind

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It's time to empty my mental dumpster

It’s time for a little spring cleaning.  It’s time to clear out my mind.

Lately I’ve felt like my mind is nothing more than an over-stuffed storage locker.  It’s the repository of family dentist appointments and household to-do lists, encyclopedic knowledge of the federal sequester and celebrity baby-bump watches, family emergencies, incomplete home renovation plans, solutions to the problems of everyone I know waiting patiently for someone to ask me if they can borrow one.

I’m a mental hoarder and it’s time I open up the doors and windows to let some air in or throw some of this stuff out.  It’s like the proverbial pea under the mattress when I try to sleep and I drag it behind me every day.  My overloaded storage locker of a mind buries my real priorities.  My writing. My home renovation.  Expanding my creative life.  Learning French irregular verbs.

Before I can get to any of that, though, I need to clear out a few things and create a little elbow room.  I need to hire a dumpster and haul off the metal paraphernalia that clutters my mind.

So where do I start?

Gretchen Rubin over at the Happiness Project blog talks about the “opportunity cost” for what we do.  Because energy, time, and money are limited (yes, you Superwomen everywhere – energy and time are limited) doing one thing means foregoing alternatives, so it’s important to spend them wisely.  I guess in my case, the opportunity cost for hanging on to so much is high.  Because brain space is limited, if I haven’t used a thought or worry in six months or more I should let it go to make room for the new ones.  Hey, I’m sure the way that Albert Einstein could think so deeply about relativity was he wasn’t hanging onto a mountain of uncompleted to-do lists.

The website Zen Habits is a good place to learn about de-cluttering a life or a mind.  One strategy it suggests is to create a single Zero Clutter Zone in the house.  It should have nothing but the essentials, i.e., what is loved and used on a regular basis.  Everything else either needs to find a home, be given away, or be trashed.

I guess I could do that for my mind.  I need to leave some free space in my mind to dream, or create, or develop real solutions to real problems and then act on them.  That means trashing all those solutions to problems that aren’t mine.  Or putting the family dentist calendar in the back of a mental drawer where I can refer to it if necessary.  I need to keep my Zero Clutter Zone clean by asking each new bit of information, each problem, each chore that flits through my mind if it has a use and a proper home or if it’s a non-essential that needs to be trashed.

Probably the place to start is with social media.  Do I really need to know every thought of everyone I know?  All of their thoughts are spilling into my Zero Clutter mental zone, crowding out what should be my own essential ideas for a productive day.  Or week.  Or life.

Last year about this time, I was fretting over being a charter member of the digital hoarder club.  It was just one symptom of this tendency to stuff too much into my brain, since my computer really is just brain overflow.  I didn’t make a lot of progress since then, but at the very least I’ve started using tags when I collect ideas in my digital best friend Evernote.  At least I can usually find what I need.  And if I tag it on Evernote (motto – “Remember Everything”) then I don’t have to store it in my brain, ergo victory for that Zero Clutter Zone I need so desperately.

Who knows what I might find when I clear out the piles of rotting newspapers and broken side tables that fill my mind.  Maybe there’s a buried poem.  Or a vision for a photography theme.  Or energy to landscape my garden.  Maybe with some clear space I could restore some lost treasures, like patience or creativity.

I'd really come out ahead on that “opportunity cost” factor if I stopped paying rental on that storage locker of a cluttered mind.  It’s time for a little spring cleaning.  How about you?

My mind is like a Natchez front porch
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What are your most effective techniques for de-cluttering your mind?  Help us all by sharing them in the comments box.  

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Spring Study in Black and White

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 Who doesn’t love a night when the streets
are quiet and the snow is fresh?

‘Tis the season of delicate pastel tulips, the sunny faces of jonquils, deep purple pansies.  But you’ll see none of that today.  I give you a study of spring in black and white, courtesy of the late-season, unexpected blizzard that hit us.  Let me start with a haiku that floated through my mind as I swept the foot of snow off my SUV and dug it out of the mountain the snowplow had piled around it.

Spring sits quietly,
anticipating its entrance.
White whispers “wait.”

I’m pretty sure neither the dogwood on the left or akousa on the right will be blooming by Easter.  The hanging basket was supposed to be filled by now with those spring pansies I mentioned above.
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I love the geometric lines that are so prominent after a heavy snowfall.
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Husband and dog taking their usual evening walk.
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I enjoyed finding the spots of color in a world of black and white.
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The sun came out enough to melt some flakes and to give us hope that spring will come.
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Has spring sprung in your area?  What do you do to survive the seasonal transition when it drags on too long?  If you’re lucky enough to live someplace where spring has arrived, what is your favorite plant or color that makes you feel winter has finally left?  Share your seasonal reactions in the comments box.
I was using this shovel to knock the heavy snow off the branches of trees and bushes so they wouldn’t break or be permanently bent to the ground.  I took aim at the higher branches and let loose.  Moved on to plan B.
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Monday, March 18, 2013

My Illustrated March Madness

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Spring.  Crocuses are blooming and daffodils will burst open soon if this confounded cold weather doesn’t kill them first.  And I’m ready to bloom, too.  I have my spring sweaters at the ready.  My 13-year old dog leaps and lunges on walks like she’s a pup of two years.  My yard is overrun with rabbits, emerging from wherever they’ve been hiding all winter.

When the sun teases us with its presence, I feel as light as a tulip waving in the breeze.  I feel full of bright color and possibilities like the flower I created at the top of this post.  On the other hand, when it’s another gray sky and nothing but nothing will entice me out of an oversized pair of gray sweatpants, I’m no more than a fleece blob, like so
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And this is one of those sweatpants days because I went back to see what I was thinking about a year ago.  According to my blog, last March I was exactly the same place I find myself today.  The same place so many women find themselves at mid-life.  Can you say “frustrated”?  Can you say “hopeless”?   If you want to find out the cause of my seasonal angst, you can either try to piece together the story hidden in the Tagxedo word clouds, or you can read my old story below.

It's Time For My Own Personal Spring Training (French-Style)
Well folks, it’s that time of year.  No, not the madness that hits even the non-basketball fans every March.  No, not the season of green beer.  Not the season of daffodils and dogwoods.  It’s that time of year that I start panicking that I will not be able to lose 50 lbs. before I head to Dijon, France this summer. . . .(finish the story)
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 All I can say, though, is with my newly diagnosed arthritic knees, this time next year I’ll be telling a different story.  I’m motivated to win this game.  You can bet on it.
After you’ve read, come back and tell us in the comments what you look forward to the most in spring or what you miss the most about winter?  What would you consider your own version of “spring training”?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Slipping and Sliding Through Winter . . . Oh, And A Little Cancer, Too

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Let’s see.  When last I left you I was deep in the hell that is trying to buy a sofa in Dijon.  The French are obsessed with modern design.  I wanted nothing to do with the furniture we bought from the previous owner, with its lacquered finish and dearth of architectural details.  However, my husband liked the look – as well as the convenience of not having to shop.  So I told my husband that I’d put up with the rest, but I would buy an American-style sleeper sofa.  I’d have none of that futon business.

The brown hunk of futon Euro-style sat there like a pile of steaming dog poo in the Louvre’s statue hall.

Why their love of a futon, you may ask?  Would you want to carry a couch up these stairs?

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Futons come in boxes that fit in tiny French cars and maneuver up winding staircases and through centuries-old tiny doors.

But more about that later.  Let’s talk about why I disappeared from the blogosphere before I even left France.  It has something to do with this:

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The snows came.  But the snow plows and snow blowers didn’t -- at least in the narrow streets of historic Dijon.  Or the ice melt on sidewalks.  So I picked my way to and from the bus stops.  I had so much to do for the apartment.  And I had to find my sleeper sofa in time to have it delivered before I left town.  BAM!  I didn’t even have time to react as I found myself on my back in the middle of a patch of black ice.  Before trying to stand, I took inventory.  Definitely a sprained ankle.

With so much to do I hobbled on through Dijon for almost three weeks.  I had no time to rest or find a doctor.  At the pharmacy I bought some tape that had a picture of a foot wrapped in this adhesive brace, comme ça:

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So all was well for about two days until I woke in the night scratching my ankle so hard that I was bleeding.   Despite the “hypoallergenic” label on the box, my über-sensitive skin was having a massive allergic reaction.  My foot and ankle were swelling more from reaction to the wrap than from the sprain.  And at the pharmacy I was informed I couldn’t buy any steroid anti-itch cream without a doctor’s prescription.

And that’s why I didn’t write.  I was too exhausted from hobbling around and too distracted from the massive itching to write.

By the way, did I mention that my knee was killing me so bad I couldn’t get down on the ground to do my yoga?  Simply sitting in a dining chair led to pain.  Even sleeping hurt sometimes because my leg would turn just so and the pain would shoot through me and wake me up.  This started before the ankle thing.  Perhaps it was the affect of carrying fully loaded shopping carts, or computer printers, or full sets of dishes and glasses up three flights of stairs.  Several times a day.

But I made it.  I found a suitable sleeper sofa that fit through all the required spaces before being deposited in my living room.  Only a little blood was shed.  Of course, it took the patience of the movers, who decided to dismantle it and carry it up the stairs in two pieces and then mantle it (is that a legal verb?) again.  They earned a giant tip for doing this in the rain and not saying “Forget this!” and hauling the thing back to the warehouse.

However, when the time comes to replace this sofa down the line, I’m just opening my French doors in the dark of night and chucking it into the street.

When I got back to the States I raced to the orthopedist and found out that my knees are disintegrating.  Yes, good ol’ arthritis has made its appearance.  “What do I do about it, doctor?  I don’t want knee replacement just yet.”  His prescription:  Don’t fall.  And lose weight.

Yeah, yeah . . .

But then . . .

My dermatologist, in my annual visit (you do go, don’t you?) said, “I don’t like the look of that spot.”  A spot that had been there, seemingly unchanged for as long as I could remember.  Only the size of a pea.  But she took her scalpel  and dug out a chunk for a biopsy.  And less than a week later she called back in the early morning while I was sitting in my pajamas checking e-mails.

Yes, I have skin cancer.

She said it was a slow-moving form as long as it’s on the surface, but swift and deadly once it grows below the epidermis.  Mine was caught early.  This week a plastic surgeon will make an even larger incision to cut out a bigger chunk of skin, down below the epidermis clear to the fatty layer, to make sure none is left.  On the down side my days of being an arm model are over.  On the up side it will be a while before I can carry laundry baskets or work a vacuum cleaner.

So that’s what’s been up with me.

Tell me (in the comments box) how your winter went.  What were your highs and lows?  Have you begun a routine of annual visits to your dermatologist?  What are you waiting for?

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