What would a birthday be without a blog post? After all, I wrote my first eight years ago, on my 53rd birthday.
When I turned 30, an old college friend convinced me to do it up big, stating, “No one cares when you turn 31.” True. So for most of us, these ‘milestone’ birthdays tend to be momentous.
Last year, when I told my soon-to-be-retired ophthalmologist that I was nearly 60, he chuckled and remarked that once you hit 60, those ‘milestones’ are every five years instead of every ten years. Yikes, I thought.
But he was (partially) right. There are fewer decades left. I’ve seen too many friends die too soon, dammit.
My pal Christine DePetrillo asks every Friday online, “What are you celebrating?” Some Fridays I don’t have an answer, but it’s not because I’m a pessimist. Yesterday I thought, well, I’m celebrating my birthday this weekend. Sixty-one is as much a celebration as sixty, maybe even more so.
So, I jumped waves at the beach today with my husband, sang along to songs on the radio, accepted lots of well wishes (thank you!) and will indulge in something sweet after dinner tonight. It’s all worth celebrating.
Forty years ago today, I boarded my first airplane and began a year abroad that would forever mark my life. The thirty or so students who went with me might well have the same thought – we all were impacted by a year in Switzerland, with no internet or cell phones.
My first novel, Chocolate for Breakfast, was (very) loosely based on that year. Like Bernadette Maguire, I was 20, naive (yes), and hopeful. Unlike Bernadette, I did not have an affair with a married man, nor did I get pregnant with his child. 😉 I recall explaining that to friends, who took my storytelling literally.
I’ve returned to my beloved Switzerland often – in 1981 to work as an au pair (there’s a book I should write), again a few years later, multiple times in the 1990s, and most recently in January 2017, where I was inspired to write Villa del Sol.
But the year that began on 28 September 1978 was my year. I don’t have any Cardinal beer to drink, no Giandor chocolate bar, and the Café Chemin de Fer is now, I believe, an Indian restaurant. Things change, even in Fribourg, Switzerland.
“Mesdames et messieurs, it is time to go sleep!” 🇨🇭🇨🇭🇨🇭
Nearly September. 95 degrees today. Heat index 104. Just like yesterday.
So who else is cranky? I know (at least) three people who live without air conditioning. I don’t know how they live, though. Our thermostat is set at 74 and I’m hot. But I’m grateful for A/C, especially at night.
I’ve never liked summer best. Fall is my favorite. How about you? Depending on where you live, you might not experience four distinct seasons. But by September, the sun rises later and it’s dark by 8:00 now, so I want that cool air to follow.
Meanwhile, I’ve finished the second round of edits for my new novel, so now it’s off to my trusted readers, who give me honest feedback. I sometimes can’t see a plot hole or a character who uses repetitive language, but they can! I’m still on track to have this book ready by December 1 – the day I’ll be at the Rhode Island Authors Expo!
Until then, I’m reading a lot (what are you reading?). I loved How to Walk Away by Katherine Center and Crossing the Bamboo Bridge by Mai Donohue (her memoir of growing up in Vietnam – you won’t be the same after reading it). I’m almost done with How Hard Can It Be? by the hilarious Allison Pearson, just started Alternate Side by the wonderful Anna Quindlen, and The Pendulum’s Truth by the very talented writing team of Leigh Brown and Vikki Corliss. Vacation next week means lots of reading!
Autumn will get here, eventually. You won’t hear me complain about the cold. Not me.
Maybe you’ve figured out, like I have, that material things don’t make you happy. Yay! But, like I was last year, you’re wondering where to begin. So. Much Stuff. Right?
I hear you! I feel you! And perhaps I can help. So here are 10 things you can do now:
Start by reducing items. Look in your linen closet – how many towels, how many sets of sheets, how many tablecloths? Do you need all of them? Betcha you don’t. Keep what’s necessary – you also don’t want to be doing laundry every day – but donate or ditch the rest.
Get in your closet. Remember when I wrote about Project 333 ? I did it, for the summer, and I love it. I have a few work-appropriate pieces for when I go into the office where I work one day a week, and the rest of my clothes are simple pieces. I’ll do this again in the fall.
See if you can donate something to a well-deserving charity each week. The extra set of dishes that you never use. The winter coat and the boots that you don’t wear.
Sell your unwanted but still good stuff. Yard sales and online auctions work for some, and you might pocket a little cash in the process.
Have cloth shopping bags in your car always. Use them wherever you go, not just the grocery store, but everywhere. If you do have plastic bags, find a place to recycle them.
Living minimally also means spending mindfully. If you keep track for even a week of your mindless spending, you’ll be shocked.
Getting rid of paper has been one of my biggest challenges. I’m still working on digitizing everything, from photographs to insurance policies to tax returns.
Unplug when you can. And you can more often than you think. Unsubscribe from mailing lists that clog up your inbox and never get opened. If the news in your feed is making you angry or depressed, let it go. You can still be informed.
Borrow books instead of buying them. Or buy a digital version, if you like that. I read both, and I like to support independent authors by buying their books (both print and digital versions), but if I buy a print book, I pass it along to someone else. For better-known authors, I’ll use the library.
Do you give a lot of gifts? How about an experience instead? Treat your girlfriend to a manicure, send your parents to their favorite restaurant, give your kid’s teacher movie coupons.
I’m sure there are plenty more ideas you can come up with!
Living minimally is circular. By that, I mean we continue the practice on an ongoing basis. As I come to the end of this year-long project, I’ll no longer post each Friday morning. But I’ll still give this way of life my best effort. Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes not.
I’ve cleaned out closets, drawers, cupboards. Brought boxes and bags to the donation center. I’ve thought twice before making impulse purchases and I regard “things” with a more critical eye.
I’m still concerned with the amount of plastic we use, even though I’m recycling as much as possible. But my paper straws are working just fine and my fancy glass straw is pretty (www.glassdharma.com). I’d rather frequent restaurants that use cardboard takeout containers. No more Styrofoam! Cloth grocery bags go not only to the supermarket but also to CVS and Target.
Kind of hard to write this week. I’m not sleeping, because I’m so worried about this country. These poor children and their distraught parents. The daily barrage of hatred and condemnation from the White House, the silent acceptance by the elected Republicans. The false information spread by those who don’t take the time to educate themselves to the facts.
“I’ve seen several tweets comparing this to Nazis / The Holocaust and saying things like ‘this is how it begins.’ I teach Holocaust Literature so let me be clear – this ISN’T how it began. This is already several stages along the way.” (Aviva Dautch)
“Make no mistake – no matter where you stand on immigration, what we are doing to children and families in the name of the law is evil. And we, as Christ followers, have a moral responsibility to speak and stand against evil. You cannot remain silent.” (Pastor Stan Cardwell of Community United Methodist Church in Crofton, Maryland)
Chobani chief executive Hamdi Ulukaya, an immigrant who is known for hiring refugees, tweeted that “separating a child from a mother or father is not political. It is inhumane. It is against everything this country stands for. I have seen it in other parts of the world but never thought I’d see it in the land of the free.”
This week I shredded paper and put it in the recycle bin. I used less stuff.
Old habits die hard. But the only way to change an old habit is by practicing a new one.
Last weekend I went out with my sister. Neither of us is a shopper, but she needed to buy shoes for work and I tagged along.
Now, you may recall that I’ve pared down my shoe collection (black, brown, white, tan, sneakers – that’s basically it – winter boots don’t count in June). But I was drawn in – lots of sandals on sale. I was tempted. I paused, long enough to realize that I have what I need. And the floor of my closet looks good! Hey, buy ’em if you want ’em. This is my personal journey. I’ll survive without those adorable Calvin Klein slides, marked down 40%.
Then we hit the bookstore. Oh, man. Harder than passing up shoes is passing up books.
But I did. I’m behind my own self-imposed schedule for the new novel I’m writing, and I still have plenty of books to read. Besides, if I do buy a book, it’ll be from an independent bookstore.
We are barraged with ads every day. Buy now. On sale. Clearance. Last chance! It’s part of our culture. Changing the habit of consumerism can come slowly. But last weekend, as I returned home with only a bouquet of irises for the house, I felt triumphant.