First Impressions are Not Always Right

This week we had an interesting hands-on experience of why one should not make snap judgements. We were camping at a state park here in Washington. We had settled in already and were relaxing in the campsite (with our tent and tent trailer) when a very large fancy RV pulled in a few spots down. They had the generator going pretty quickly and I remember thinking, I hope that doesn’t go on all night. Apparently there are rules in most campgrounds that state the generators should be off by a certain time–from what I hear it is 10:00 in many places but was 9:00 at this particular campground. We didn’t think much of it while going to bed, other than a mild irritation that it started up again later in the evening. We went to bed very early that night. Right after nine, there was a huge ruckus down the road. Swearing, yelling, an air horn that scared the crap out of us, and all kinds of hullabaloo. Other campers were indignant about this RV running its generator late at night. And I must admit, at the time I was kind of on their side. I like the peace and quiet of old school camping. But we didn’t get involved in the fray.

The next day we found out that the poor man who owned the RV turned on his generator that night because his wife had a severe attack of heat exhaustion. He was running it to keep the air conditioner going while he was trying to pack up his campsite late at night so he could get her home. Did anyone offer to help? Did anyone ask him nicely to turn the generator off? Did anyone ask why he was running it after hours? No, they started right in with the swearing and belligerence. He tried to explain that his wife was sick but was shouted down. Isn’t someone’s health more important than an hour of noise?

We all make these snap judgements at some time. It’s one of the big problems in our society. How dare that person buy a cake using food stamps, how dare you have an Iphone instead of health insurance, how dare you have a car that actually runs well if you are getting any kind of aid, how dare you this and that. It’s time we take a step back and use kindness as the first approach. Is there a reason for this behavior that we may think is wrong? If so, how can we help? If you have no idea of how someone came to be in their situation, maybe you shouldn’t put them down until you hear their story. And just maybe you shouldn’t put them down regardless of their story.

IMG_0896blog

The Dangers of Too Much Stuff

Here in the US, we live in a culture that promotes the acquisition of stuff–lots and lots of stuff. We have ridiculous sayings, like “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Really?? What the hell do you win? This need to keep up with the Joneses, the need to acquire more and more, has caused countless problems in our society, but I’m not going to discuss the political or cultural ramifications of stuff. What I want to talk about is how it affects you if you are suffering from depression or dealing with chaos in your life.

Like everything else, stuff in moderation is OK, but many of us spend our whole lives collecting more and more stuff that ends up in boxes, basements, attics, garages, storage units, closets, and extra rooms. We pay money to store boxes of stuff that is never opened. We save stuff that friends gave us years ago. Are you really going to forget that friend if you get rid of the trinket they gave you at 18? We save clothes that need mending, even if they are 15 years out of style or we weigh too much to ever fit in them again. We save paper from ages ago. If you are my age, you don’t need your college transcripts, your first resume, or the documents from the first house you owned (unless you still live in it!). If your child is 25 and has a college degree, you don’t need every piece of high school work. If you put all the good photos in albums, you probably don’t need the crappy ones left in the box (and I am very guilty of that one!). If you are not using that stuff, there is a mighty good chance you don’t need it. Certainly there may be family treasures that are worth saving. There are documents that you must save. Photographs bring back lovely memories and keep the good times alive. But be real folks!

Stuff can be stifling. It can halt creativity. Too much stuff can surround us with stress, and if you are already feeling like you are on the edge, that stuff can be downright debilitating. Depression often causes us to be unable to start a project that appears too daunting. People who don’t have it will never understand, but the idea that we might start something and not be able to finish easily is sometimes viewed as just another failure. Or it may be that going through all that stuff reminds you of all the good intentions you had that were never accomplished–more failure. The problem is that the more you accumulate, the more likely you feel that failure just by opening the wrong door. You walk in a room and have to walk right back out because you can’t deal with all that stuff. It has physical effects that are not pleasant.

There are books out there that deal with this subject. I think some of them go a little bit too far, or are daunting in themselves, but they have a point. If it doesn’t bring you happiness or have some value or function (my can opener doesn’t make me happy but I do need it), it might be time to toss it. That in itself can be an issue, as we are often overwhelmed with what to do with things. We paid a lot of money for this, or we know that is in fabulous condition, but where does it go? If you have to make too much effort to get rid of things, you won’t. Unless something is truly valuable (like heirloom jewelry, a fancy car, or vintage furniture), you may find greater value in getting it out of your house rather than worrying about getting something out of it. I’m not suggesting that you throw things away (unless they really are junk). You should always recycle or donate when you can, but don’t have 27 boxes all going to different places. They will just end up staying right where they are. Keep it simple.

Getting rid of stuff does require the right mindset. It can be depressing in and of itself. It is overwhelming. It can be especially awful if you have lost someone and are going through their things (you need to take your time with this–it’s a whole different issue). You need to take advantage of the feeling when it comes along. Sometimes it can actually feel good to get rid of things, and when it does–go for it, even if you have to put off something else. You will feel better in the long run. Getting rid of excess stuff can help us step away from the rat race and find some balance in our lives. For those of us dealing with cosmic crap, that can be huge. We are not defined by our stuff, and we need to be able to see that.

I would love to hear your point of view on the matter. Any tips or suggestions?IMG_9663blog

These Lemons are Downright Rotten

A friend of mine recently told me she was missing my blog posts and I realized it had been quite some time since I wrote anything. So here’s my reason why. I apologize in advance, as this is going to be a bit of a rant, and I had hoped to keep this blog upbeat for the most part. But it is a blog about coping with major life changes, and sometimes you just need to blow off steam.

A few weeks ago, my husband got a call out of the blue that we thought might be a big change for us, finally in a good way. He got his job back, after a year and a half of being in limbo. The HR department sent him forms to fill out and he was given a date and time to report back to work in two weeks. We were stunned, and then relieved. A huge weight was lifted off our shoulders. It took several days to sink in but it did. One of the reasons I haven’t posted is that I was trying to decide how to continue the blog, as we would no longer be semi-retired.

Luckily, we made no huge financial decisions, because we failed in an age-old lesson–don’t count your chickens before they are hatched. Poor Jim showed up to work at the crack of dawn on Tuesday and was told, “Oh sorry. You don’t have a job after all.” Wow. Stunned once again. If they had called us a day or two after the first news, we would have been OK. After all, nothing much has changed–we are right back where we were a month ago. We didn’t go out and buy a new car or book a month-long tropical vacation. Our big splurge on hearing the good news was buying six fruit trees. I think we can recover from that expense! But the emotional impact is huge. I feel like we have gone back to the beginning, and we are now going through all those awful feelings once again.

We will manage. We were managing. We will continue. We have good supportive friends and family. We have each other. We have a house that’s paid for. In the grand scheme of things, we are better off than a great many people. But it still sucks. It seems like a really nasty, extended April Fool’s joke. And no one likes to feel like a fool.

My next post will be more positive, I promise!

Garden Dreams, Garden Realities

This is the time of year when my thoughts turn to gardening. I always have grand visions, which usually don’t turn out quite the way I imagined. But it’s fun to dream big! This year, we have a lot of work to do. Shortly before Jim lost his job, we sold our big house in the suburbs and bought a small place on almost six acres out in the boonies. It turned out to be one of the few really good things that has happened in recent years, as we no longer have a mortgage, and that is truly a blessing with our money struggles.

It does mean that we need to be much more creative. We are trying to be more self-sufficient, which isn’t a bad thing, even if money isn’t tight. But for us, it’s a necessity. It can be a challenge, but it can also be a lot of fun! We have about an acre cleared out of a portion of 20 to 25-year poorly managed Douglas fir. I’m sure the timber company sold off the land some time ago, and therefore, it was never thinned properly. Our vision is to slowly restore the property to a more natural state. But first, we must deal with the cleared area and work on establishing our garden, so we can grow some of our own food (the deer think it’s for them, but we will work on that!).

One of our biggest problems is soil. Anyone in Western Washington probably knows what I’m talking about. Rocks, rocks, and more rocks. All of the lovely glacial stuff left behind. We do have a few pockets of good soil, but they are either in shade all day or under water seven months out of the year (or both). Cranberries maybe?? The one big sunny patch is also the area with the most rock (of course!). We’re not even trying to clear the stuff away; we’re just building up on top. And that’s where the fun and creativity come in. I’ve been reading lots of books and magazines about woodlot management and self sufficiency from the library and online. Last year we started a straw bale garden, which is becoming quite popular. We had mixed results. Some things did very well, others not so much, though I think weather had far more to do with it than the straw bale setup (growing tomatoes the the NW is always a crapshoot). The biggest problem for me was expense. We did it sort of last minute and it ended up being more expensive than I had hoped. Straw is not as cheap here as it is in some other places! It did, however, leave us with a nice pile of rotted straw that we can plant in again this year and then compost in what will become the main garden.

This year we are planning the main garden, which will eventually be fenced against the deer. We are using two strategies–lasagna gardening and hugelkulter. I must admit, I want to do the hugelkulter in part because of the name. Who doesn’t want to be able to say “I’ve got a hugelkulter in my yard!” OK, maybe I’m the only one. But both use what we’ve already got. Today I spent several hours (and about 2 miles of walking around the property, which is good because I’ve been slacking off on my exercise program!) building the hugelkulter mound. I won’t go into too much detail, but it’s a long-term garden solution using wood debris, tree limbs, and whatever organic matter you have around to build a big mound which breaks down slowly but adds tons of wonderful nutrients to the soil. Since we have lots of thinning to do, there will probably be quite a few of these mounds around the yard! The February/March 2017 issue of Mother Earth  News talks about both types of gardening, plus several others.

We’ll keep you posted on the progress of our garden experiments!

hugelkulterwr

Look at that lovely soil we’re starting with! Found a huge mound of fir cone remnants in our woods. Using several buckets of it to add to the pile. Still lots of work to do.

Why We Hike

img_1566

This blog is about the ways my husband and I are coping with a very different situation from the one we were in a few years ago. One of the realities we have learned to face is that our future travel plans have changed dramatically. That trip to Bora Bora is not likely to ever happen. Nor will we be able to even keep up with our yearly trips somewhat closer to home. It can be hard to let those dreams go, but we are finding new adventures in our own backyard. That is where our hiking comes in. It’s not something we did all that much of before, unless we were on a vacation somewhere. Jim likes speed, in the form of water and snow skiing and riding dirt bikes. But these things are expensive. We have had to cut back, and hiking locally is a great solution for a number of reasons.

First, it’s cheap and we need cheap activities to keep us from going crazy. We are not backpackers, just day hikers. For that, one needs good boots, a decent day pack, and mostly, common sense (like pay attention to the weather and to maps, dress in layers for our NW climate, carry the essentials like WATER, and my personal favorite, maybe if you are almost out of gas, you should be going down the mountain, not up! I always wonder if the two in that car are still up there). Our daughter bought us a book of hikes around the Olympic Peninsula, since we live in Belfair (entitled Day Hike! Olympic Peninsula by Seabury Blair Jr). It’s a great resource and we started last year with the easier hikes. There are many books like this for various areas around the country, so pick one up for your area!

Hiking is great exercise, which helps us stay healthy. That’s important for anyone, but we need to be really careful with our health, because without insurance through Jim’s work, our healthcare is up in the air. Exercise also gets those endorphins going, which makes you happier. Best of all, it provides peace and solitude, especially during the week or in the off-season. This is a vital part of my well-being. I, like many of us, suffer from monkey brain. Too much going on in there, and with all our recent troubles, those darn monkeys are starting to fling shit at each other. A trip to the woods always works to calm the little beasts down.

I hope you can find peace and joy in the wilderness around your home. Slow down, listen, watch, and be happy. Here’s some natural “music” to get you started.