Friday, April 17, 2009

Clean Livin' without Paper Wastin'

When you're unemployed, as I have been for six months, you look for ways you might be wasting money and try to remedy them.  I looked at paper goods in my home.  I try to use rags and sponges when I clean - and dish towels to dry my hands in the kitchen - so we are not huge paper towel fiends.  

But paper napkins and tissues were another story.  I think I could safely say that we went through at least 2 boxes of tissues a week - and even the cheap ones are not cheap.  Paper napkins have been the only source of napkin for us for years—or a halved paper towel when they're out temporarily.  So I decided to change my habits for environmental as well as economical reasons.

I was never a fan of handkerchiefs. My father and grandfather used them and I just thought they were gross.  So I had to open my mind up to the idea.  First of all, every one I had ever gotten close to had been scratchy and I have terrible allergies—I need soft!  Without even looking I found the softest, 100% cotton bandanas from India - so thin and light they're almost sheer - in a head shop next to peace sign jewelry and tie dyed tees.  I grabbed a few just because they looked cute and they didn't cost much—but a month or two ago they went from my neck to my pocket and became my handkerchiefs.  I love them!!! They're pretty big, so I use one all day long and then toss it in the laundry.  I don't iron them; they could not be more low maintenance.  And they're so soft that my allergic nose never minds them at all.

For cloth napkins I had tried many times to solve this with various methods of identification for family members.  Finally I realized that the obvious solution was best.  I took a paint marker and drew fanciful big initials on some simple wooden napkin holders I picked up at Pier One for a real bargain (I think it was 6 for $3 on closeout).  I am using some batik napkins I bought in Malaysia a few years back - again no ironing. They're 100% cotton and nice and absorbent.  Kids and visitors (they get a version of a "V") can pick the napkin they like out of the napkin holder and use their napkin ring to identify it for the next round of eating if it doesn't get too messy.

I'd love to start a fabric fad.  These great Indian hankies were not expensive and they barely add anything to a laundry load. I'm saving close to $300 a year in paper products and keeping our napkins and tissues out of landfills.  Why do we need paper?  There's really no reason.  I'll stick with my "Small Steps" Marcal toilet tissues... there's no moving away from paper there... but noses and fingers can be just as happy with fabric.

That's my 2 cents on clean livin' without the paper wastin'!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tea Stains

I can't help making note of a disturbing trend right now in the U.S. among conservatives. There is this Tea Party Protest, which insults the Americans who had no vote in English affairs. We voted. The American people spoke. Liberals and Progressives know how frustrating it is when your candidate does not win. It happened to us quite recently. And the country became a snarled mess of overspending and war... and worse. But the anger unleashed by folks who call themselves Christians is shocking to me, when just a few months ago these same folks were telling us we had to love our President just because he was our president, even if we didn't agree with him. It was our patriotic and moral duty. What happened to their patriotism?

The situation Bush got us in is truly enraging and exasperating! I don't like bailing out bankers or irresponsible home buyers trying to live way above their means either. However, Washington is hamstrung with crises right now - one on every front from war to unemployment to global warming to a complete lack of faith in us around the globe... there is no end to the snarled mess our poor young president is facing right now. The last thing I would do is raise a stink over how it's all getting fixed. He's hired brilliant strategists and they are all working very hard and trying to be as smart as they can about an impossible situation. I worry about them over-reacting, but on the other side of the coin is letting things spiral and worsen... and I don't know what causes economic bettering vs/ worsening, personally.  

I just know beyond a shadow of a doubt - sincerely - that the President is doing his best FOR US and not for Haliburten, his fat cat friends, his oil interests, or the elite. If he thinks helping banks helps us - that's why he's doing it - it's absolutely not to reward their mis-deeds. He's fighting every day to make sure they are accountable for the money they've been given - and bringing everything right out into the open as it happens - even if it embarrasses him. The last president and his crew hid everything, met behind closed doors, and destroyed records of meetings.  

It seems like conservatives are hell bent on undermining whatever happens now - trying to make it fail - just so they can get a republican back into the white house in 4 years. I would never consider adding fuel to their fire, or even reacting negatively when I know that Obama's heart and brains are in the right place - no matter what others say. What happened to supporting the president we elected as a nation? Patriotism? Praying for him as our leader. Isn't that what conservatives are supposed to do?

Monday, April 13, 2009

When Life Offers Options

I am choosing my next career move, and it's a difficult choice. The options vary, almost to extremes. The future bright in three directions, but I can only chose one at this fork in the road. 

Moments of clarity come into focus only briefly, giving way to ripples on the pond.  My reflection - for a moment clear - is muddled once again as new information plops into the pool of my consciousness.   I research and yet more information comes.  Housing markets. Unemployment stats. Average incomes. Foreclosure rates.  

Better to live where there are fewer foreclosures and it's cheaper to pay the bills?  Or is it better to live where there are more opportunities... even if everyone else is losing their job and their home?

So many lives revolve around mine and any choice I make will effect them as well.  How many decades do I wait to make a selfish choice?  Will I ever?  How tightly do I hold my children? How far do I go... when I let go?

Proving myself and my power to earn versus enjoying the moments we have while we have them.  Should you always take the higher risk/ bigger payoff... or is there a time to bet safely and value health and quality of day-to-day life over trips to Italy.  Maybe big expensive vacations are for those who don't have enough peace and enjoyment at home.  For those who work so hard to get away, maybe only a cruise or an island can save them from the stress of their daily lives.  Maybe a different lifestyle would be like a permanent vacation.

Decisions are not like chess moves.  You don't lose.  You shift and adjust and move on.  What life do I want in five years?  Where do I picture that and with whom and doing what?  Is there a settling or a mobilizing?  Is there one refuge or many adventures on the road?  Who will accompany me?  Or will I accompany them?

Sweet life—holder of memories, present joys and sorrows, and future hopes and dreams—where will you bring me if I decide this or choose that?  I must weigh options, desires, desirable outcomes, scenarios, worst and best cases, and conclude with a decision.  

Change is one of life's greatest challenges, greatest gifts, and greatest mysteries.  As I move toward my next change I am fully aware that my life will never be the same, and in awe that I actually have a say in the matter.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A Little 40-Year Reunion at Tierney's

As the wide-eyed childhood of the 60's folded into the adolescence of the 70's, a group of brilliant and charismatic 12 year-olds turned 13.  We entered high school the next year, which, bad enough threw kids from all of Montclair's junior highs together, also split into a regular High School and a Team School, where highly motivated kids could re-construct their own educational experience to some degree.  So our group was diluted, life flowed along, and we went our separate ways to college or just moved away without acknowledgement or ceremony for many of us.

But for a moment in our lives - for a year or two - a summer or two - we had each other in a way that I now know many people never get to experience in their lifetime.  And as I write these words I feel certain that everyone will not recall it the same, or feel the same sense of awe that I felt and still feel at our luck in having each other.  But this was my experience, and I want to share it fully.

If we were 10 years older we may have tried to start a commune, but that would never have worked.  Too many egos, too many leaders... so this was really a utopian group experience - just enough organization to feed our urge to be a part of something great, but not enough to threaten anyone's independence or make them feel forced to do whatever was not their idea of fun.  There were little dramas, but they only added to our sense that we were a living organism—breathing, expanding and  contracting with each spasm of desire, need, longing, resistance, rejection, confrontation... and to my knowledge always resolving as long as we had time to go climb a tree or lie around watching clouds and thinking about things in Brookdale Park... or Edgemont Park... with whomever made you feel safest.  I'm sure I'll say more about those times, but my focus today is on this time... a little reunion forty years later.

We found each other again on Facebook.  Some had kept in touch and they helped others find others... the networking effect of the world wide web's wonderful gift to us.  Women I had searched for for years by typing their names in Google and coming up with nothing were suddenly right there in another friend's list.  If you type a name in Facebook's search field you get about 3,000 hits unless it's a very unique name like Galen Warden - but there are hundreds of Galens!  You need to know someone who knows someone. Period. And we are all over the country, and in other countries, and now we're finding each other.  I've blogged about the tears of joy I've experienced in the past weeks and months as I've discovered women I so deeply loved, whose disappearance from my adult life had left a hole more profound than I had realized.

So many of us have found each other, and more will surface. But a handful of us were physically near enough to spontaneously meet at Tierney's, a centrally located bar, because Laura, who now lives in L.A., came out to visit her folks this week.  Last night Kim, Laura, Jon, Dean, and I hugged and chatted away, spilling highlights of our past 40 years and gushing about the phenomenon of sitting at a table with 52 year olds - while looking at the faces of 13 year olds - because that's who I saw there.  Not grown-ups who've weathered a hundred storms and conquered a thousand challenges, but bright-faced adolescents, exactly as I knew them 35 or 40 years before.  Jon with this pointy eyebrows and intense, devilish grin, whose hair stood straight up in a cavalier fusion of curly brown afro and frizzy bed-head has lost most of his hair now.  His eyebrows are thin, his face softened... But that stark, angular boy is still there for me.  

And Kim, nervously bobbing her head as she gestures her enthusiasm and invokes your engagement with an almost fierce honesty, is still right there... right there.  She dives deep, as always, and challenges me to be myself in spite of everything, unafraid. And I love her as much today for that as always. I think more.  She has weathered painful storms, as I have, but has not lost that sharp self-awareness and awareness of me.  Defining friendship is an elusive task, but seeing Kim and feeling her jump into me the way I jump right back into her as if we never missed a beat, gives me hope that I should be able to find articulate words around the phenomenon of friendship better now than ever.  And I'm going to work on that.

Laura beamed for me, as she always did. Optimism that I channeled with her 40 years ago remains intact in both of us.  We were artists and both of us now write - just finding ways to express tangibly so others can be informed, share an experience, or feel included.  I long to read what she's written and she promises to send something, but all of that present stuff, that sort of spurted out in a mad grab for catching a lifetime in a few hours, paled compared to the amazing experience of staring into 13-year-old faces in a crowded noisy bar last night. 

My 29-year-old son was a witness, though he could not feel what we felt.  He came by since he lives there now, and my old friends got to see something I had done with my life in person.  Like show and tell.  Rough around the edges but charming, indignant of false ceremony, but genuinely warm and always smooth and hip, my firstborn chatted away with them exactly the way I chat away with my dad's friends at his 1953 Princeton reunions.  My brilliant friends, I'm sure, will raise kids who get masters degrees like them, but I celebrated my son, and my unconventional life.  Rather than being embarrassed that I was not as well educated as them, I was proud of my life because my struggles have made me exactly who I am, a person I know they will enjoy connecting with the more they learn about me today. 

As a group, we were not conventional.  We were about freedom of expression, individuality, and creative, outside-of-the box attitudes before there was a catch phrase for that.  But as time went by the boys cut their hair, we went to college, and we lost the trappings of the label "freaks." I remember having a melancholy sadness that we were turning into everyone else as high school ended.  But the quintessential "us" of eighth grade did remain.  We are still here.  Exactly us.  We grew up and became responsible, had our ups and downs but eventually made our parents proud and became our own versions of success.  But these are not successful people who judge books by their cover, or size up value by credentials.  They're much smarter than that.  My unconventional road, unconventional son, can make me prouder with these accomplished adults than with anyone else I know.

I always thought something was wrong when I did not see at least two or three of my junior high friends in news headlines, or on bestseller lists, or  in oscar-winning movie credits... there was too much brilliance and fierce creativity to not become some great contributor to society at large.  So what happened?  I found a little of that out last night as I sat with a researcher from Schering-Plough who works on curing diseases, the director of exhibitions for the Museum of Natural History, a social worker, and a writer.  I found out that these people change the world every day but I just don't see that in lights.  Just as I helped individual struggling kids get free online tutoring when I wrote successful proposals for, Kim helps grateful individuals live their final days with dignity in her hospice work.  I know if that were me I would want no one else but Kim on my side. And Jon may be managing the multi-layered, nuanced process of curing cancer.  I plan to take a field trip next week to Dean's museum so he can show me what he's done.  and I plan to fly to L.A. so Laura and I can spend hours discovering what we've written and created in our lives.

There are worlds here.  Worlds I have the rights to explore.  Lives connected to mine more profoundly than most since that time.  And I want them back fully.  I want to celebrate today's love exactly as I celebrated that love 40 years ago. 
The endorphins are good for my health.