Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Aspens are Quaking!

I've arrived in Colorado where my mom and sister live. My timing couldn't be better. The aspens are at their peak - it's as if someone poured liquid gold on the mountains and let it follow the path of least resistance this way and that creating stunning beauty amongst already stunning landscape.

Before leaving the American Midwest I took a trip through Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska to see some of the people and places I had a hankering to see. It was fantastic! One of the things that happens with an empty nest is that I'm able to devote more time to my friendships and letting people know they matter to me. Plus, I saw a lot of neat stuff. Over the next few days, I'll highlight some of the sights that I enjoyed. Meanwhile, I'm off for a picnic lunch in the Rocky Mountains!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Casting My Vote

I moved out of my home in Illinois before absentee ballots for the presidential election were scheduled to be mailed out. I called to see if my ballot could be forwarded, or sent to a P.O. Box, or all kinds of different scenarios. None of them were allowed.
If I moved to Prague immediately, I would have two residences in the first 40 days (student housing and then my own apartment), which probably complicates my voting. I was not willing to risk not being able to vote.
So I'm slowly making my way to Colorado where my family lives. I want to spend some serious face time with my Mom and my sister before going overseas and it turns out if I live in Colorado for thirty days, I can cast my vote there. My vote will actually matter more in Colorado because it's a swing state. I don't care about that as much as just getting to add my two cents. People gave their lives so I could do that!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Thanks for the great memories!

My Morning Constitutional

One of the great pleasures of living in this city is the Rock River. Most mornings I go down to the riverfront to take a walk or a rollarblade and enjoy the calm. These are some pictures from this summer.

First I'm greeted by a Karen on the other side!

The river right before dawn

Doesn't this tree bring out your inner eight-year-old?
What could be in there?
Be glad smells don't transfer through the Internet -
someone put a dead fish in there

Every fall the rowing club holds the Rock River Regatta,
a very spirited competition

Brick apartment buildings always make me smile
because they make me think of Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago
full of young people with their first job in the city

There are many beautiful yards and homes along the way

When I first came to town and saw this plaque,
I thought it was so cool.

It was from 1927 - wow, that's so OLD!
Do you think I'll have to redefine my version of OLD
when I move to Prague?

A perfect spot for the weekend

This homeowner asks passerbys to select a ribbon
and join her in a traditional
prayer for peace

A wall of whimsy

This is "Symbol," an outdoor sculpture
created by Alexander Liberman,
an artist born in Kiev, Ukraine

On the way to more fun sculpture -
I love this family!

That's it! Three miles of constant beauty
It's been a pleasure to experience throughout the seasons

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My Own Bed

There was this lady in Chicago named Bernadette.

Bernadette was a single mum and had her own set of children. She then took in her sister's kids when her sister was going through a heroin addiction and wasn't caring for them properly. I can't remember how many kids there were total but it was around six.

Bernadette worked at Starbuck's in Chicago and passed sunshine on to every single person who came into her store. Her attitude was remarkable and she did nothing but give, give, give with enthusiasm to everyone she came in contact with. One of her customers or coworkers came to know her well, know her story, and wrote Oprah and said "here's a beautiful lady who could use some help."

Well, the resulting show was so touching and so moving that it was even featured in one of the Ocean Eleven movies. George Clooney's character asked Brad Pitt's character, "you're not going to cry, are you?"

Oprah bought Bernadette a house, had Nate Berkus, her decorator, fix it up, promised the entire family she would send them all to college, and basically changed the trajectory of their entire life.

When Oprah asked one of the teenage boys, "what was your favorite part of this whole experience." He said, "the first night when I got to sleep in my own bed." He and his brothers and sisters had all had to share beds. My mouth fell to the floor. His gratitude for something so simple was so profound.

Ever since then, I've had a GREAT appreciation for my own bed. I know my emotions are in overdrive as I get ready to move but I'm just really aware that I have two nights left in my OWN bed. He and Oprah taught me something that day, which of course, is why people go so crazy for her.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

SHED Your Furniture

Craigslist rocks.

Here’s why: the old way of eliminating possessions when one is moving is to select a date for a garage sale, be organized enough to have the ad describing what you will have for sale into the paper on time to meet their deadline, have all the stuff organized and laid out on the appointed day, round up a friend to help out, watch an absolute buying frenzy for the first hour, then sit patiently watching browsers for the next three very slow hours.

With Craiglist, I’ve been putting stuff up on the list from each room as I pack it. It’s amazing how fast some stuff sells (the DVD player took under one hour) and other stuff that I thought would be popular just sits there. When it isn't selling, I can look at the ad and see what would improve it and try again. I’ve had someone call from as far away as California for a set of cutlery (keep dreaming). I have sold every single piece of furniture within one week. At no cost -- gotta love it.

My favorite part is when you realize it’s the same person who keeps coming for your stuff. After awhile, I’d just skip Craigslist and say “here’s what I’m selling today.” Only if she didn’t want it, would the item go on the official list. I’ve advertised stuff for $10.00 an item at a time, an amount that would never merit it’s own paid ad.

For all the dollar items that one would sell at a garage sale, I’ve shown each buyer the small items I’m “shedding.” Usually it would result in $20 to $30 in add-on sales. I get to skip the garage sale! When I see the children's poetry books go to fun families it doesn't hurt to sell them, it feels good. Release the energy!

In the future, I won’t wait to sell stuff in one fell swoop. Daughter #1 sells stuff on Amazon or Craigslist the minute she finishes needing it. No waiting around for garage sale day. Not using it – it’s gone.

For safety, I never let a male come by himself. He always has to have a female in tow. Craigslist is ever vigilant about warning about scams too. That’s good because they’re out there. Here’s one email I received on my washer and dryer:

This deal is on as the secretary has prepared the check as promise But there seems to be a little problem which i think we can handle with care.......When i contact the secretary to confirm if the payment has been prepared,I was made to understand that she made out a check of $2400 instead of $400 claiming that's what i told her . The payment was already posted before i was informed about this but i would not want to delay the sale because of this as we have rectify this with the Bank.All you have to do once you receive this check is to take it to the Bank and have it cleared and cashed and you will deducted your money (for the item ) and plus an additional $50 for all the assistance.The excess fund on the payment will then be wired to my mover via Western Union that same day so that he can come for the pick up as i have already planed on using the excess on the payment to offset the cost of the various shipments he as undertaken on my behalf. Do let me know if i can trust you to have the excess sent to my mover as soon as you have check cleared...Please reply me as soon as possible....
They even went so far as to Express mail me a check for $2400!


Monday, September 8, 2008

SHED Your Books

“Once again, I have taken on something impossible:
water with grasses undulating on the bottom….
It is wonderful to look at, but maddening to want to render it.
But then, I am always tackling something like this.”

So wrote Claude Monet on 22 June 1890 to his friend and biographer Gustave Geffroy.

A friend gave me a coffee table book of Monet’s Water Lillies when I had expressed doubt to her that I could leave my hometown, plus my pretty home, and pack up everything to live in a two-bedroom concrete block apartment in student housing and go to graduate school as a single mom with two kids under five.

“Every time you think you can’t do it,” she said, “think of Monet working for ten years to do the impossible -- paint the beauty of water lillies as he saw it at a time when he was actually going blind.”

I did exactly as she asked. It works.

Now do you think I could part with that book? Nope, no way, no how. This is the real hard part of separating my treasures and heaving the rest. My books!

I struggle with parting with the titles that hold great memories but are no longer "necessary" or relevant to my life. Julie Morgenstern asks in her book "When Organizing Isn't Enough": "Do they move you forward toward your new theme?" No.

Out goes all the books I read in preparation for the Chicago Marathon.

Out goes all the books given to me and inscribed by a Pulitzer-prize winning author. I read them already. I am just keeping their energy from going to the next person if they sit on my shelf or in a storage box.

Out go all of my Colorado hiking titles.

Out go most of my children's picture and poetry books. Oooooh the pain of it! I saved three beloved dog-earred titles back. To look at them they should be the first to go.

Treasures I can't part with:

My Library of America titles. They are the collected works of America's greatest writers printed on acid-free paper. My children just roll their eyes when I suggest this is their heritage to be lovingly passed down. They would love nothing better than for me to sell them and free them of this expectation! The likelihood that they are going to read about Francis Parkman's history of life among the early Iroquois, or Grant and Sherman's memoirs of the Civil War complete with maps, or Thomas Jefferson's life writings is close to nil. But if I save them I can hope.

Anything written by or about Winston Churchill. He's the greatest statesman of Western Civilization - nobility pours out of every page.

But I did well. Thank you Julie. Four boxes saved - about six going out. That's pretty good for me when it comes to books. Do you have a favorite book you could never part with no matter what? Here...have a seat... and tell me about it.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

SHED At Work

This weekend I realized I've already experienced SHEDDING in the work world. I once led a three-year effort to SHED all sorts of practices that would prevent an organization from moving forward. Most of them involved eliminating unprofitable ways of doing things that were still being done long after the rest of the industry had evolved to more profitable ways. Every practice had it's staunch defenders who were loathe to give them up.

SHEDDING at work, while as deeply creative as a solo venture, is pretty much a thankless task. That's why it's even more important to constantly evolve at work and not let it build up to one big spurt that has to be done quickly. It exhausts everyone!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

SHED Your Commitments

I once took a week-long jazz appreciation class with an older gentleman who celebrated out loud at the start of our class how exciting it was for our class of jazz lovers to have gathered from all different places to enjoy a week of great music together. His enthusiasm and making the most of each moment is an example I have identified with my whole life.

So when Julie Morgenstern asked her readers in "When Organizing Isn't Enough" to look for schedule commitments that are dragging you down and keeping you from moving forward to the next exciting theme in one's life, I didn't have these. Every single commitment I have is one I thoroughly enjoy. It wasn't always so.

This week I resigned from the board of my local children's museum (#4 in the nation, thank you very much). I have served just shy of six years and loved every minute of it. We are about to start a multi-million addition to the museum and the people on my board are of such terrific good will and wisdom, it was a pleasure to serve. I was on the facility committee and I do wistfully admit I hate missing the upcoming good part because I would have learned sooo much. There are very experienced construction minds on that board. I am very proud of my board work there.

Yesterday, I went and told my pastor that I was moving. My church is AWESOME. My church family is so loving and welcoming and they all get along. The music program is incredible. I love my church because my church never shies away from combining the intellectual and the spiritual. That doesn't seem to be a popular combination in America, because mainline churches are struggling with membership.

One insight I learned from my minister gave me enormous pause at the time he said it. In the context of a discussion about if good manners include how you left the world and the state of your government for the next generation, he said that 100 years from now, future generations will look back at how we used up all the oil and left so much public debt for our children and grandchildren to pay off that they will ask of us with the same spiritually questioning we ask looking at slaveowners from 100 years ago: "What were they thinking?"

Tomorrow I go to my last church service and it's going to be a giant celebration of all the downtown churches getting together to form a redevelopment corporation to uplift our neighborhood. The music program will be incredible as usual, only supersized, as all the choirs from all the churches will sing together outside in celebration. This church commitment has been a gift.

Friday, September 5, 2008

SHED Your Clothes

Wow, that got your attention. It’s not what you might think. SHED is Julie Morgenstern’s acronym from her book “When Organizing Isn’t Enough.” Her book encourages those in a life transition such as an empty nest to separate out our treasures and toss or sell what’s not a treasure.

I’ve just gone through my closets and taken stuff to the consignment shop. I thought I was pretty good about regularly tossing stuff when I replaced things, but some of the stuff I’ve held on to is just silly. Most of it is clothes that I hung on to because I remember what I felt like when I wore them -- each item holds such good memories. I should have just taken a picture!

Among them are business suits that made me feel invincible, pretty summer dresses I wore on a fun vacation, and an outfit I wore when I had a new baby (the baby is twenty now).

The silliest thing I hung on to was a winter coat I wanted to save just in case I ever went luging again. How many times have I ever gone luging? A grand total of once. But if I ever was able to do it again, I wanted to be prepared. I didn’t want to ruin a new winter coat. I haven’t lived near a luge in ten years! I moved this old coat three times!

There’s nothing like a move overseas to make me examine what I have. The consignment shop said “please, only items that are less than two years old.” If all things have a physical energy to them, I could have passed this energy on out to the universe to somebody else who needed it when the clothes were still in style and could have done them some good.

What's hanging in your closet that you no longer wear but you can't bear to part with out of sentiment? What will you help you let it go?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

SHED Your Music

When it came to purchasing music, the good ole days weren't better. In my tweens, we purchased "45s", records that contained an "A" side and a "B" side. If the artist merited it, we'd purchase a whole album, once we had a job and were earning money. It was amazing how many albums one person could amass without any overt effort due to 100% disposable teenage paychecks.

But then we needed portability -- we were in our cars, right? Cassette tapes could be popped in and listened to in vehicles and in portable players. So we purchased the same music that we already owned once, only this time on cassette.

The music industry then said, "no, you don't want cassettes, you need to get all of your own music on eight-track tapes." I can't remember what the selling point of eight-track tapes was, especially since they would change to another track right in the middle of a song. That format was really short-lived. But I had a few of those too.

Next came CDs. The music industry said, "oh the quality is better, you can find the exact song you want, and it won't skip or get stuck [not true and I"m not falling for that one again!]

By then, if you really liked a band, like the Beatles or the Stones, you were likely to have purchased it in four different formats! Oh how the musicians of today must envy the luck of those musicians who came before them. Carole King must still be dining out on album sales alone, before boomers purchased her Tapestry album (one of the largest selling albums ever) again on cassette...and again on 8-tracks....and again on CD.

So here I sit with this CD collection, not having digitized it previously because it wasn't a compelling use of my time. Since I'm moving, and I want the music, but don't want the physical 'stuff,' I'm finally digitizing it to take with me. Thank goodness, I started this project a month ago, it takes forever! I'm transferring each CD to a small storage device. I think it will actually increase my listening.

But that's it! My time is too precious to me to spend this much time messing around with metadata. I don't have any idea how to digitize sentimental homemade cassettes. Do you? This was the easy part of shedding the old and moving on to the new ala Julie Moregenstern's 'SHEDing' process. The harder stuff is coming up.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

SHEDing a house and a full-time role

The number one search term that brings people to my blog are labels on Julie Morgenstern and her book “When Organizing Isn’t Enough.” A lot of people must be going through the same thing that I’m going through, the need to transition from one phase of life to another. Her book is fantastic and these are a few of her thoughts I find useful.
Julie says:
“There are three common characteristics that define people who are ready to SHED.
1) There is a specter of some better future in your mind [for me, sampling a life of rich culture in Prague].
2) You don’t know if you’ll be able to do “it" [pull up stakes and move overseas].
3) You’re feeling weighed down by something that’s preventing you from moving forward [a whole house of stuff useful to my full-time parenting life which I am now sorting through and hoping to SHED].

She says SHED can be used by anyone going through any sort of transition at any time in their lives, including those prompted by anticipated natural life transitions such as moving, retirement, graduating, marriage, promotion, new baby, empty nest, or a new business.”
What’s the difference between SHEDing and organizing?
Julie says:
“Think of it this way: if organizing is dropping anchor once you know what you want, SHEDing is lifting anchor so you can go someplace new.

1) Organizing is about identifying what’s important to you and giving yourself access to it. SHEDing is about getting rid of the old and obsolete so that you can have space to discover what’s important to you.
2) A perfectly organized closet filled with items you never use can be SHED.
3) It’s possible to get organized without every throwing anything away…it’s impossible, however, to SHED without letting things go.
4) SHED is an ongoing process that generates movement and fuels transformation, which means the finish line is harder to define. You measure success by the feeling of having completed a transition, as well as the subsequent energy, authenticity and excitement about your life which ensues.
I find her words so helpful because I do want to make this transition a happy celebration of what I have accomplished as a single parent and an exciting pivot to a new life. This book helps me make the most of this moment. 

What has helped your mindfulness during a life transition?
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