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This year I think I’ll just skip over Christmas and move directly to the New Year holiday. The reason? I honestly need a new year. Or rather, I need a reason to put my new year’s resolutions into effect.  So beginning now, I plan to simplify my existence. Downsize. Discard. Clarify, cleanse and refine my environment.

The other day I decided to clean out my garage. This is a task I take on about twice a year and put off doing for as long as possible.  My  car is never garaged there, rather it is the headquarters for tools, a golf cart, bicycle and moped, holiday light sculptures (from lighted boat parades past), fishing tackle, camping gear, paint (both house and artist),  filing cabinets, a wine cork collection, a huge assortment of hardware (Home Depot: don’t hate) and bits and pieces of bric-a-brac and found objects that I might use to “make art” one day.

One small slice of chaos

To tell the truth, I haven’t actually cleaned the garage, but I have decided to do so and I will. Soon.  And not only the garage, but also my closets, drawers, book cases, laundry room, kitchen pantry and cabinets, et cetera will be purged of all nonessential items. Which raises the question: what is essential?

In accordance with prevailing trends in charitable giving, essential equals food, clothing and shelter. Makes sense. But for those of us who are blessed with an adequate or even surfeit supply of these essentials another question can be asked. How much is enough, or too much?

In the movie, “The Jerk”, Steve Martin declares, “I don’t need any of this. I don’t need anything except just this ashtray. And this paddle game, the ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need. And this remote control. And these matches. The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control and the paddle ball. And this lamp. And that’s all I need too. I don’t need one other thing, not one –– I need this. The paddle game, and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches, for sure. And this. And that’s all I need. The ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, this magazine and the chair…”

All I need...

In Steven Kings’s 1991 horror novel, Needful Things, anyone who enters a curio store in the fictional town of Castle Rock finds the object of her lifelong dreams and desires. According to King, the curio shop was symbolic of the 1980’s when, “everything had come with a price tag… The final items up on the block had been honor, integrity, self-respect, and innocence.”

Political cartoon from 1981

Thankfully, the 1980’s are bygone days. We are now entering the second decade of the 21st century and what matters now is hopefully much different from those times.

And so, I will begin to downsize by clearing my home of non-essential items. I’m not ready (yet) for that tiny house or to go car-less, but one day I hope to achieve those goals. In the meantime, I’ll do what I can to reverse a lifetime of inherited tendencies to accumulate “things.”

I admit it has taken me six decades to realize that less really is more and that simple, although difficult to achieve, is determining what is important and discarding the rest. What matters now?

  • My family is my number one asset
  • My job provides what I need to survive with some left over to help others.
  • My talents are blessings from God, to be shared with others
  • My friends are my joy
  • My boat remains a necessity. Smile.

By the way, I’ve changed my mind about skipping Christmas. I wouldn’t want to miss the magical times spent with my family during this special season. On the eve of 2010, what matters to you? Please share your comments. Happy New Year!

Like many people, I’ve been thinking a great deal about money recently. I’m sad when I learn that friends and family have lost their jobs due to this struggling economy. I worry that my own small household might become a victim of  these difficult times. I’m afraid that my meager retirement income, to which I should one day be entitled, may soon evaporate.

 

I’m baffled when the “experts” recommend that we save our money by dining out less often, stop using the dry cleaners, forego regular dog groomer visits and otherwise give up luxury or non-essential purchases. I wonder how those folks who never use hard-earned dollars on this type spending can find ways to save? And what about those who are accustomed to a high life? Does depression set in if a new pair of $300 shoes must stay on the shelf at the local boutique or if that vacation home purchase is postponed another year?

 

It seems the poor economic climate affects everyone – individuals, businesses, governments and, most especially, non-profit organizations. I mention non-profits because the third sector happens to be my field. I am resource development director –the person largely responsible for generating operating dollars – for a medium-sized non-profit agency. Thus, I’ve been thinking a great deal about money recently.

 

One might imagine that my outlook is dim. Corporate, foundation and individual donations are down in general. When asked, the majority of potential donors will point to tough economic times as the reason for not giving to charity, even though it is during such times that charities – and especially those people served by charities – need help the most. Having said all that, I am not disheartened. But what encourages my optimism?

 

During a recent charity fund-raising event guests were asked to make a gift or pledge. Suggested donation amounts ranged from $10 to $1,000. Proceeds from this particular request exceeded the anticipated goal by 300 percent. As might be expected, everyone involved in the fund-raiser celebrated this success, which generated several more gifts than expected in the $500 to $1,000 range .  While the favorable outcome of this fund-raising effort is encouraging, it is not the source of my hope.

 

My faith that goodwill and compassion live on even during hard times comes from one single gift received during that fund-raising event. The gift was two crinkled dollar bills. The gift – gem-clipped to a pledge card – was anonymous, but the donor took the time to complete the card by hand-writing $2.00 in the amount blank. Unlike the poor widow in the Bible (Luke 21: 1-4), the small sum was probably not the donor’s entire fortune, nevertheless the gift was significant in the same manner as the widow’s mite. Most likely, two dollars was all the cash the donor had that day in her purse, yet she gave it wholeheartedly.

 

It is this lesson of the anonymous two dollar gift that reminds me that the essence of  compassion, kindness and benevolence cannot be extinguished by greed, poverty or even a failing financial system. And I am reminded that, it is not the amount which one gives that matters, but the spirit in which the gift is given.

If there’s only one attribute to ascribe to the Great Blue Heron, perhaps it is perseverance. I’ve watched solitary herons stand in shallow water  for long stretches of time as if turned to stone – waiting, watching for the next small vertebrate to flow within reach. Then, the strike! In a heartbeat a fish is caught and gulped down the heron’s long sinewy throat. The process is repeated many times until the sated heron folds her neck into an S, spreads her wings, lifts her feet from the river’s edge and with an emphatic squawk and extended legs trailing, sets sail for her roost in the highest boughs of a longleaf pine.

One of Aubudon's favorite subjects

One of Audubon's favorite subjects

The heron is an accomplished fisher and hunter. When small fry and other aquatic life are not at hand, the heron stalks mice, insects, snakes and other terrestrials for its sustenance. During breeding season, this is especially beneficial as both heron parents must consume up to four times as much food as normal when building nests, mating and feeding their young chicks. In fact, in all things, the heron excels. And why shouldn’t she? With ancestry dating back to dinosaurs, herons have had plenty of time to hone their skills.

I admire the dogged heron’s stick-to-it-iveness. She has learned the best methods for nest building, mating (herons are monogamous), rearing her young and of course, fishing. The heron doesn’t lay around in the nest and thus be late for choice fishing time. She does not need to decide which type tackle she’ll use on any particular excursion… fly rod or spinning reel, light weight or heavy, live bait or plastics? The fact of the matter is that the heron has no use for thousands of dollars worth of boats, rods, tackle, bait, etc. She knows ONE WAY to catch fish, she’s done it THAT WAY for a lifetime and it’s KISS.

Ah, the simple heron – paragon of determination. Had I followed her example of single-mindedness, I might have actually excelled at doing one thing very well. As a business woman, I could have been blue-chip. I could have stood out as a prize-winning writer, an exemplary parent, an exceptional artist, a blue-ribbon gardener, a fantastic lover, a television chef, and without a doubt a splendiferous bass master. 

With extraordinary conceit, I have considered myself a Renaissance woman. I am an idle poet. I’ve written three unfinished novels; owned, operated and abandoned two successful businesses; embarked upon innumerable careers including used car sales, cabinet-maker, artist, insurance clerk, special events maven, and charity fund-raiser. I am a half-fast boat skipper, have single-parented one adultescent, lost and gained hundreds of pounds, and of course, own all the fishing tackle Bass World has to sell.

My latest project, which has recently been supplanted by the writing of this blog, is hand-painting renderings of fishing fly patterns. I am beginning to believe if not for my unending impatience (aka Adult ADHD) to move on to the next big thing,  by now I could have  reached the apogee of achievement. Or at least been able to retire with  my sweetie and a comfortable little nest egg.

As my mother (G-d rest her soul) admonished: be happy with what you have. The heron is.  And today, I am too.