Friday, June 24, 2011

Where Have You Been?

Good question! And thank you to those who so kindly inquired about my whereabouts! Jeez, as I logged into Blogger today, I had to think twice to remember my password!

Here's the thing...let's just say, I have been 'otherwise' occupied. Truth-be-told, the blog - as much as I enjoy writing it, has not been at the top of my to-do list.

As many of you know, Aunt B passed away just before Easter. In March her health began to decline quickly and even though I knew what was too-soon-to-come was inevitable, I am having a difficult time dealing with her absence.

Aunt B and Uncle Alan were the connection to my husband's side of the family. Kent's parents passed away long before I met him, so for me Alan and Barb were my in-laws as well as surrogate grandparents for Kate.

Uncle Alan passed away a bit over two years ago and now, Aunt B is gone as well. As the days after her passing quickly turned to weeks, then months, I still can't seem to kick myself into gear.

I dearly loved them both but Aunt B and I had a special connection. Sunday evenings are the hardest. Either I would call her or she me (always before 60 Minutes, because we both like to watch it). We had this routine for years. However, it wasn't 'routine' at all - it was special.

Soon after her passing, seems a delivery-truck-a-day would chug up our hill. I'd hear it and knew it would most likely pull up to our house. Usually when FedX or UPS arrives it's bringing us something ordered for a shoot for me, a gift for a birthday or special occasion, or maybe fishing equipment for Kent. Somehow, when that stuff is left by the door, it's OK. But these boxes were special and seeing them so casually stacked on the back step like they were just another delivery - no big dealmade it hard for me.

How was the driver to know what was jiggling around in those boxes were the remnants of two well-lived lives?  And, as was expected, Aunt B (and Uncle Alan) were generous in their final wishes - they were that way in life as in death. There have been lots of deliveries!

As I began to slowly and carefully unpack the boxes and pallet (yes - some things even arrived on a pallet!), I would either smile, chuckle or drip tears when the tissue would finally reveal it's contents. Aunt B was a teacher and some of the things she left me were hilarious, yet so touching all at the same time. Such was the box with the Easter bunny made from a styrofoam egg. It not only produced enough rabbits to fill a small basket -  but also included was the pattern to make them. I could just see her as she patiently and kindly would teach a child to make those bunnies.  

In her final days, Aunt B and I had lovely discussions about some of her favorite things. Together we decided then and there, that on Kate's wedding day she would receive the china, silver and crystal and it would be a gift from she and Uncle Alan. What a lucky girl Kate is. It's entirely there - full sets! Aunt B took such good care of everything!

We also discussed the beautifully needlepointed side chairs, benches and footstools her mother did, but decided that they were due for a facelift! She knew I appreciated the needlepoint yet also knew that their 'style' might be a bit too 'fussy' for me.

However, for well over a month now, said contents, and others have been accumulating either on my dining room table or in other rooms around the house, patiently awaiting their new homes.

Last weekend - finally - I started to carefully wash the china and glassware and put it away in the storage containers I purchased a few weeks ago. I also did a little digging in my collection of fabrics and began to 'try on' new looks for the chairs, etc.

Funny because as I did this, I realized I was in my element. I found myself enjoying the cleaning, the organizing and the designing.

Hummmm...imagine that!

The thing's all so final and has seemed to take it's toll on my usually upbeat demeanor. I am certainly not the first to have these feelings, but until now, I haven't had to deal with this stage of real-life. Yes, my grandparents are gone, and I certainly have lovely things from all of them, but for some reason, this is different. Maybe my own mortality is beginning to dawn on me?

In the meantime, a few days before Aunt B passed, another death took place in our family. The doctor my mother worked for since before I was born also passed away. He was 91. He was a soft-spoken, kind and caring man and a big part of my childhood. He and his wife (she passed about 6 years ago), had no children. He adored my mother and left her just about everything!

So in the midst of dealing with things from Aunt B, I have spent the better part of two weeks in Idaho with my own mother, helping her sort through the contents of yet another life.

Weekend before last, I spent two days working the estate sale with her. At the end of the sale, the remains of the household were boxed and stacked in the garage awaiting the Goodwill truck. As we quietly finished packing and stacking, the wonderful woman who organized and administrated the sale said, "Here sits the remains of 91 years of a life". Even as long as she has run her estate sale business, in the end, the pile of leftovers that didn't sell always makes her sad. It made me sad too, along with my own newly accumulated piles.  

So, there you go: this is where I am and where I've been. It's not an excuse, it's real. Sadly, most of us have had - or will have - to deal with this part of life at some point.

I feel better now. It's good to get this off my mind. I've felt bad about not writing, I wish I could have managed all of this better. But I haven't.

You know, just for fun - tonight, I'm going to pull out some of the china, the sparkling silver (Aunt B's nemesis!) and the crystal, and set the dinner table. Why not? A casual, everyday dinner served on nothing but the finest would make Aunt B laugh out loud. She'd say 'Kate won't mind" and "Good for you"!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Honestly is the Best Policy

If you regularly read this blog, you know that from time-to-time, I feel compelled to 'come clean', (no pun intended).

Today is one of those days where my conscience is weighing heavily with the truth. The guilt is getting to me! And - since it's almost Mother's Day - I think it's best to be honest. So here goes.

I happily admit that the original all-time, best-ever, cleaner-upper-organizer-decorator-juggler-of-all things, hard-working-professional, who never stops 'doing', cape-wearing-superwoman, is NOT me. It's my mama!

Yup! All the credit goes to her. She's the one who taught me the basics. Which, if you know me, you'll catch me saying, "the basics are always the classics"! They are - and she is.

How she ever "did it all", I'll never know. But she did, (pssst, she still does!)

Here's the truth:

My Mom was a busy professional who had a full time job before I was born (ahem!) in the late 50's. While many of my friends had 'stay-at-home' moms, mine was out the door before I got up to go to school!

In the mid-60's my father started his own business. Many evenings (after her 'regular' job), Mom would get dinner on the table, (she's a fabulous cook), had the dishes done (I had to dry - hated it!), then be at the kitchen table balancing the books for my Dad's new venture. To top it off, on many weekends she'd round us up and we'd head to my grandparent's home - the family farm - to do what was needed.

But that's not all, because somehow, with everything else mom did she miraculously turned our house into a beautiful home. It was a special place to grow up. A picture-perfect, middle class, All-American home that was lovingly cared for by both of my hard-working parents.

My multi-tasking master Mom literally taught me everything I know about keeping a home - and that home ownership also came with responsibility. I knew I was fortunate to grow up where I did, that we were lucky to have a roof over our heads and that all of it happened because of a lot of hard work.

Also, she taught me that having and maintaining a home is a lot more than the sum of it's contents. It's the family that lives within and the memories made.  It's the laughter - and tears too -that make it 'perfect' - no matter if you own your home or not!

Who knew back then that all those years spent cleaning, cooking, doing the laundry and the ironing, the canning, sewing, and gardening - all with some major eye-rolling from me, (Kate came by that naturally!), would eventually prime me for a career that I love.

So, as Mother's Day approaches, I'm thinking a lot about my Mom, how much I owe her and how much I love her. 

Thank's Mom for everything. Because of you I can share what you gave me. I love what I do. I love you.

What a gift. 


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Less Taxing Approach to Inheriting (Things).

Last Saturday I read a wonderful article by Frances Schultz in the Design and Decorating section of the Wall Street Journal. The piece was titled Decorating with Mama's Things and describes how, after the passing of their mother, she and her sister went about dividing her many cherished furnishings.

The piece was particularly timely as I too will soon be adding some lovely things to my home that were passed down from Aunt B.

There were a number of important points made in the article. First a quote from Frances' mother (whom I gather was 'a real character'): "Please don't you all fight over my things. Just take what you want and throw the rest away."

Aunt B had a similar attitude and often said, "Inherited things can be a burden." She made me promise to be honest with her and only take the things that I truly wanted and leave the rest behind - along with the guilt of not taking things I didn't care as much about! She cautioned me to remember that the things of hers that I cherish might not hold the same value for my daughter, and so not to burden her with them unless she really wanted them!

Aunt B was speaking from firsthand experience: she was an only child (as is mine) and the burden fell squarely on her shoulders.

Another point Ms. Schultz made in the article was how she felt their mother had given her children permission to toss what they did not want. In other words, if it wasn't important or didn't fit, then by all means get rid of it! Each realized that their mother's things were not their mother, and that getting rid of them was not the same as getting rid of their mother's memory. Giving her things to charity or to friends was a great joy. That's BIG!

Once a few months had passed and the sisters both felt they could 'deal with' her possessions, Ms. Schultz and her sister set out to amicably divide up the contents of their mother's home. Each took what made sense for the way they lived, realizing that they could not keep everything.

I love her description of the old items she did keep and how she's made peace with her mother's belongings. She fully understands the value of inherited items. Most often they are neither new nor perfect, but each item has soul, a history, and a story to tell. I love that.

I also loved how she felt that in order to make some of the pieces work, she'd need to "Encourage them in the form of painting, repurposing, or outright re-imagining them." How many of us have inherited things and then feel guilty about changing them to work for how we live? I'm with Frances on this one and I know that Aunt B would surely agree!

Towards the end of the article, Ms. Schultz suggests some great tips for how we might incorporate newly inherited items into our homes. A few of her suggestions include:
  • Don't act in haste but give yourself time to carefully decide
  • Carve out special display places that won't add clutter
  • Avoid 'pigeonholing' period pieces (in other words - give them a chance)
  • Re-task items (read about her mother's lime green kitchen table!) 
  • Don't be afraid to break decorating rules, (this is fun), she painted an 18th-century table gloss white! 
I love her last suggestion most of all: Most importantly, find ways to use what you love.

I'll add to it by saying that for the most part, the things we inherit from those we love were given out of love and not intended to be burdensome or that we should be made to feel guilty by having them or changing them.

Thank you Frances.

In the coming weeks and months, I'll share with you what I plan to do with some of the things that were given to me by Aunt B. I know she'd get a kick out of my plans - I hope you'll stay tuned.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Epitome of a Lady

Earlier this week, the very special woman of whom I often referred to as "Auntie B", my 'surrogate Mother-in-Law', quietly and with great dignity, slipped away.

I refrain from saying she left us, for any who knew her will surely agree, the spirit of this smart, strong, dignified woman who was quiet and full of grace, will forever resonate within all whose lives she touched.

This fine, humble woman gave more than she ever took. She adamantly refused to have a funeral, memorial service, or even a notice in the newspaper. It was of utmost importance to her that she quietly move on, with her ashes being simply strewn into a rose garden.

That was our Barbara.

So in keeping with her wishes, I will not memorialize her here but will move forward knowing she will always be with me. I pray the days I have ahead will be spent trying to become even half the woman she was.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Heading South

A few quick notes. I am heading out of town for a few days. Family issues have my mind and body elsewhere. I hope to be back next week.

In the meantime, hope all of you had a nice Easter.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Best Laid Plans

Recently a reader asked me "How do you manage to get everything you do - done"? She wondered if in the near future I would consider the question as a blog topic. Great idea!

I immediately wrote back to her (she is a busy mother of two) and revealed to her that many days, my best laid plans (that is to say, my list) doesn't always get everything crossed off of it. I also reminded her that my daughter is grown and away to school and now I have more time.

First and foremost, moms - give yourselves a break! Easy for me to say - right? Honestly, as I look back, there are a number of things I wish I had done differently when Kate was home. If you read my first blog entry you'll remember that I am not 'super-human', super-mom or super-woman! The main reason I started to write this blog was to share the many lessons I learned while raising a family (and I only had one child!). While many thought I seamlessly managed to 'get it all done' - I didn't!

That said - for me, it's my daily list that helps me keep all the balls in the air.

Here are a few tips on how I compile my daily, weekly and monthly lists.

• Before the end of the year, purchase a date book or planner. I don't always buy the same one, however I gravitate towards the options available from Moleskine. This year I purchased a medium-sized weekly planner.

• Keep your planner in a spot you see everyday and that's convenient. For me, it's the cookbook holder in my kitchen. I keep the planner open so I can see my entire week at a glance. I hook a pen right on the planner, making it easy to jot things down things that need to be done.

• Keep a notepad with the planner. This becomes my daily to-do list. For example; Sundays I tend to do my grocery shopping. Everything I'll need for the upcoming weeks menus is on that list, as well as other things I need to do that day like other errands, chores, bills that need to be paid, etc.

• I also customize my date book by adding these tabs that say; Daily, Weekly and Monthly. I move them around from day to day, week to week and month to month. The tabs make it easy for me to quickly find the dates and pages I need.

• I also add one of these pockets to the inside front cover to hold things like tickets, coupons, reservations, etc., and one to the inside back cover for items I know I'll need in the weeks ahead. 

• If I'm heading to a meeting or out for the day, I grab my datebook and my daily list and take them with me. As I work my way through the day, I check the list and cross things off as they get done.

• I try to prioritize my list as well. Often, by days end there are things that did not get done. I'll add them to the next days list and have a go at it again.

• Recently I added a narrow folder that I keep with my planner. I made 7 file folders, 1 for each day of the week. Inside each file folder I place bills that need to be paid, forms that need to be signed, cards that need to be mailed, etc. I look inside this folder first thing and handle everything I can before my day gets started.

My list is a visual cue to what needs to be done. I am a visual learner so this system works best for me. The addition of the folder keeps everything that needs to be done in one place.

There are lots of ways to keep our days organized. The most important thing is to develop a system and a routine that works best for you.

It's also good to remember that all systems can be made better. As you develop your organizational skills, you'll find yourself adjusting and readjusting to make things work better for you.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Part of my Heart

I left a part of my heart in San Francisco, Santa Rosa and St. Helena. My Bay Area trip last weekend was a whirlwind of family, fun, good food, fine wine, (no song), old friends and some new too - and new business!

Early last Saturday morning, Kent and I fled the rainy Pacific Northwest and headed towards Oakland and the California sun. We pointed our rental car north to Santa Rosa to spend a far-too-short Saturday with Auntie B, leaving her Sunday afternoon for an overnight visit with his aunt Bev in St. Helena. As the weekend whizzed by, we were reminded once again how thankful we are to have these two very special and amazing women in our lives.

Monday morning, we headed into the city and spent the afternoon wandering through interesting shops and neighborhoods. We met Kent's cousin Paul for dinner at a lovely little restaurant called Catch. Kent flew home early Tuesday morning and I stayed a few more days visiting with a dear friend and her two beautiful baby daughters and then on to making new friends and investigating new business opportunities.

This coming week, lots on the docket. First and foremost daughter Kate will FINALLY make it home! I couldn't stand it another minute, sucked it up and got her a plane ticket for Easter. Friday evening a dear friend will arrive from Portland. She and I have known each other since we were in the sixth grade! Her hubby is in China on business, leaving her alone on her birthday. We can't have that! I made my list and grocery shopped for the week because come tomorrow morning, I must get organized!

I'm working on three projects for Meredith: two for Better Homes and Gardens that will appear this fall; and one for the food group that will publish before the holidays. Lots creative work- I love it!

I need to accomplish all of the above, spend some time working with Elizabeth on our calendar project for next year, and focus on Raw Materials. That part of my heart (a stack of products that I've nurtured and tinkered with the past few years) was left in San Francisco in very good, kind and capable hands.

In the past few weeks in meetings and over cocktails, here and down south, I've learned a lot about myself and where and with whom I might want to take Raw Materials. I've always known that great work is never accomplished alone. Raw Materials will require a great team to get rolling. Things are starting to fall into place and for a variety of reasons - both business and family - the Bay Area will most likely be in my travel plans again soon.

I hope you'll check back with me this week to see my progress. In the meantime, what Easter, Passover or simply family time have you gotten organized?