Be Careful What You Wish For

I am a hobbit. Except for the pointed ears and furry feet, I have all the characteristics of a hobbit. The soles of my feet are leathery and I have short legs. I’m not much taller than a hobbit either. And their eating schedule works for me: Breakfast at 7 AM, Second Breakfast at 9 AM, Elevenses at 11 AM, Lunch at 1 PM, Afternoon Tea at 3 PM, Dinner at 6 PM and Supper at 9 PM. And, like all hobbits, I am not a seeker of adventure. I don’t like adventures. I like my home and all the comforts therein. In the words of the esteemed Bilbo Baggins, “I have no use for adventures. Nasty, disturbing, and uncomfortable things.”

There is only one thing I would love to do before I die. I won’t go so far as to call it an adventure, but I’ve been dreaming for the past 40 years of going alone to a writer’s retreat.

There is a retreat in Alaska where writers inhabit their own tiny cabin. Meals are provided in cute little baskets and left on the steps of each cabin, so as not to disturb the writer’s concentration. There is no TV or internet to distract. There is only the fertile silence, the sensuous smell of pine needles, and that inspiring view from the cabin.

I get downright giddy imagining myself hunkered down in one of those cozy cabins, snow falling outside, a hot cup of coffee on the table next to my laptop, and the sound of wood crackling in a wood burning stove as I write all day with no interruptions, no meals to prepare, no clothes to wash, no kids to care for, and no demands on my time.

Being the hobbit that I am, I decided to create my own “retreat” in the comfort of my own home over a weekend in November when my husband would be away in Connecticut. I planned to disconnect the phone, unplug the TV and lock myself in for a full weekend of writing. I was very excited, as only a hobbit could be, about staying home alone surrounded by silence.

Little did I know that my husband had planned something else for me while he was away. I’m turning 70 on October 10th, so he wanted to give me something big, something I’ve been dreaming of for years. He wanted to give me and adventure.

To my surprise, he reserved a tiny beach house on the North Shore, an hour away from home on the east end of Long Island. I would be on the beach, overlooking the Long Island Sound for my own personal writer’s retreat. I was speechless as he pulled out his phone and showed me pictures of the place he had reserved for me on the Air BnB web site.

I couldn’t catch my breath as I imagined myself sitting at the table in the outdoor winterized porch, gazing out across the Long Island Sound, sipping my morning coffee as I gathered my thoughts for a solid day of writing ahead. I imagined solitary morning walks along the seashore, watching the sun rise as ideas flourished in my head for the next chapter in my book, then an afternoon storm to get cozy inside and write. In the evenings, with classical music playing in the background, I would edit my writing while sipping wine from a local East End vineyard.

“It’s the best gift you have ever given me!” I cried, my eyes misting over with joy.

He was beaming too. “I finally got it right!” he said. “A gift you love that you can’t return.”

That’s when it hit me. “What do you mean?” I asked. “Don’t you have a window for cancellation?”

“Well, sure,” he said. “But I have to finalize it by tomorrow.”

“What if I get sick that weekend and I can’t go?”

“That’s different,” he said. “If you get sick, I can cancel it within 48 hours. But I have to let him know for sure to reserve it by this time tomorrow.”

 I hesitated a bit too long. He was frowning now. He must have sensed the shift in my mood. I had gone from total elation to a dark sense of foreboding. Thoughts raced through my mind: I will be totally alone. What if I fall down those steep stairs to the backyard, break my neck and am laying there for days, paralyzed at the bottom of the steps? What if my appendix bursts? What if I have an A-fib attack and there is no one there to take me to the hospital? What if there’s a hurricane and the storm surge is so high it comes into the house? I won’t be able to escape if fallen trees block the only road out. There are so many trees around the beach house – some right over the roof. One of them could fall through the roof while I’m sleeping. What if the smoke alarms go off at two in the morning – like they always do. My husband wouldn’t be there to reach up to the ceiling and change the batteries. I would need an extension ladder to reach the ceiling. But should I assume there isn’t a real fire in the bungalow? It’s such a remote area, so secluded. Who the hell goes there in November? It’s a summer place. Would I be the only occupant in that dark wooded area? What if someone breaks into the house in the middle of the night and there’s no one there to hear me scream for help?

“Ugh!” I groaned. “Why couldn’t you just let me stay home alone for the weekend?!”

“Are you serious?” he asked. “Don’t you want to go? You’ve been talking about this for years!”

I stared back at him. I had finally gotten a lifelong dream – a real writer’s retreat. It was the adventure part that I didn’t want. At age 70, I had lost any sense of adventure I might have once had. It was hard to admit, but I was afraid to be so totally, helplessly alone in the dark scary woods.

“Let me know before I finalize it,” he said, his mood deflated. “Because it’s not cheap! Not that you’re not worth it,” he added quickly, “but then I’ll have to come up with something else to get you for your birthday.”

“No! No! I want to go!” I said, trying to convince myself. “It will be… exciting! An adventure!” I added, my voice an octave higher than normal.

I couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about all the catastrophes that could happen. I worked myself up to such a frenzy that my heart started racing and I feared I would go into A-fib right then and there. The only way I finally got to sleep was to tell myself: You’re not going! Just cancel it and get a refund.”

And that’s exactly what we did. Instead, I came up with an idea that worked better for me. We rented a house on a lake in Connecticut for the same weekend in November. It’s only 15 minutes away from my son’s house. My husband will spend the days at my son’s house, helping him build a home office, as originally planned. That will leave me alone in the house all day, writing on a table that overlooks the lake for my personal writer’s retreat. In the evenings, my husband will return and spend the night with me. If my appendix bursts or I go into A-fib, if I fall down the stairs, someone can get to me in 15 minutes. And if someone breaks into the house in the middle of the night, at least my husband will be there to hear me scream.

Now I’m wondering about those bear sightings in the Connecticut area where my son lives. He sent me a video of a bear wandering in the street in front of his driveway last week. I know bears can break into houses. Maybe I shouldn’t walk alone around the lake at the crack of dawn. I’ll stay away from the windows if I see one approach the property and be sure to lock all the doors when my husband leaves in the morning. You see what I mean about adventures? Take it from me, a certifiable hobbit, they are nasty, disturbing and uncomfortable things.

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Is The Summer Over Yet?

In my journal, along with my daily musings, I record the time of sunrise and sunset. On June 21st, the sun rose at 5:25 AM, exactly one minute later than the day before. As my husband was pouring his coffee that morning, he announced, joyfully, “It’s the official first day of summer!”

“Yes!” I smiled. “I know!” I was happy, too, for I knew, by my daily record keeping, that from now on, the days would be getting shorter by one minute. And that meant that June 21st marked the beginning of the end of summer.

I have a love-hate relationship with summer. I love the balmy summer mornings and cool summer evenings.  I can do without the rest of the day. My morning walks are planned so that I reach a certain spot in my neighborhood a few minutes before sunrise. There, I can sit on a bench overlooking the Great South Bay, relaxing and meditating to the sounds of gently lapping water and the avian chatter of shore birds while soaking in the majestic sunrise. Once the sun is up, I walk back home, and, if it was up to me, I would be done for the day with the outdoors.

But I am married to a man who wants to be outside every chance he can. He’s retired now, and he says he’s making up for lost time spent working in an office for the past 50 years.  Every day, we check the weather and we both see the same report, but each of us has a very different reaction.

“Another beautiful day!” my husband beams as he reads the forecast out loud to me. “The beach is the best place to be on a day like this.” He snaps the paper shut. “Whaddya say?”

I’m thinking the air-conditioned house is the best place to be on a day like this, but I dare not utter the words. After all, it is summer and we have to enjoy the outdoors whether we like it or not.

I lift my eyes up to the sky, searching, hoping to find a cloud or two. “Still no rain in the forecast?” I sigh. “Are you sure? I think I see a cloud on the horizon.”

“There’s no rain in the forecast for weeks!” he says, happily.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the beach, but from June to September all my other interests get pushed aside because I feel guilty staying indoors when the sun is shining. How can I hide in my room and write the great American novel when the sun is shining brightly outside and the grandkids are standing on the dock with beach towels and coolers looking up at my window calling, “Grandma! We’re waiting for you! Aren’t you ready yet?”

 I can’t sit at my sewing machine and peacefully work on my next magnificent quilt when the temperature is a sunny 85 degrees and my husband is already in his bathing suit asking, “Do you have any idea when you might be ready to go on the boat?”

Call me weird, but I love rainy days; a windy nor’easter is even better. I get a thrill when I see the first frost on the lawn and feel a nip in the air. I long for chilly winter mornings when I rise in the dark before dawn to write in my journal by candlelight, warming my fingers around that first cup of hot coffee. I yearn to sit by the fire, curled up under a blanket with a good book and a hot cup of tea. I want to bake bread and set up a pot of soup to simmer while the wind howls and the snow blows into impassable drifts outside.

These quiet activities nourish my soul in the fall and winter months, but they are not things I can do in the summer – not as long as the sun is shining and the boat engine is running and folks are waiting on the dock for me to come outside and play – whether I like it or not.

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Closet Culling – Part Two

Cosmetic and Other Bags

This seasonal closet culling wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t have so many cosmetic bags jammed between the shoe boxes at the top of my closet. It’s a game of Jenga as I pull out a shoebox, hold my breath and wait for the avalanche of bags to bounce off my head and shoulders onto the floor.

Are we world travelers? Nope. Far from it. So why do I hold onto these little travel bags? Because I know, as soon as I throw them away, I’ll need one.  That’s the Law of Culling.

Don’t believe me? Try getting rid of something you think you don’t need anymore. Guaranteed, within a few weeks, you will need it.

During a recent culling of the crawlspace behind our bedroom, my husband pulled out ten old backpacks. “What do we need all these backpacks for?” he asked, as he tossed them into a garbage bag. “The kids are gone. Why are we still holding onto this stuff?” The next month he was called on a business trip and needed a small carry-on for the plane. I found him crawling behind the bedroom wall, muttering to himself as he searched in vain. “I must have saved one! Why didn’t I save one?

In that crawlspace clean out, we also tossed a bunch of old sheets that we thought we didn’t need anymore. And then we did. The cabin we were renting for a week in the summer did not provide sheets.

I rescued my maternity clothes from a bag he was filling for our local thrift shop. It didn’t matter that I was on the cusp of menopause at the time. I wasn’t taking any chances by tempting fate or the Law of Culling. I knew if I got rid of those dowdy maternity clothes, I would need them in the near future.

And that’s why I keep those travel bags jammed between the shoe boxes. I have learned through the years that once I toss something in the trash, I need it. I don’t want to need those travel bags because I don’t want to travel. I don’t like to travel.

I hate long car trips. When I’m the passenger, I eat too many junk snacks to stay awake. I must stay awake to call out the lanes we should be in for upcoming exits. Otherwise, my husband, who daydreams while he’s driving, will take the wrong exit and we will be in the car even longer than necessary.

When I’m the driver, I’m either bored to death – closing one eye at a time to rest,

or I’m white-knuckle-heart racing-terrified when a tractor trailer comes plowing up behind me at breakneck speed.  

Cruises don’t entice me either.  Anyone who has ever been seasick knows the truth behind the saying: There are worse things than death.

As far as air travel goes, I have such a fear of flying that I become airsick before the plane even takes off. It never made sense to me how that big machine, packed with all that luggage and all those people, could defy the law of gravity. My anxiety reaches a peak when I sense that the wheels are no longer touching the ground. I study the faces around me, swallowing hard to fight back the panic and nausea, thinking, these will be the last faces I see as the plane falls into the ocean!

No, I won’t tempt The Law of Culling by throwing out all those travel bags. They are my assurance that there won’t be any airline tickets purchased, cruise plans made or long road trips mapped out in the near future.

A small sampling of my little travel bags that never leave the house.

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Closet Culling

Part One: Shoes

I finally packed away the winter sweaters and flannel shirts and hung my summer tees and capris in their place. I hate this seasonal task so much that I delay it for as long as I can. It’s not that I have that many clothes to pack away. It’s the shoes. The seasonal switching of the shoes drives me nuts.

Why so many shoes? It’s not that I’m fashionable. Far from it.  I only routinely wear three pairs of shoes: crocs for lounging around the house, red tie shoes for going out, and white sneakers for my morning walk. The problem is that I hold onto shoes that I don’t wear anymore – shoes that are out of style, worn out in the heels or just don’t fit comfortably. Every season, I empty these old shoes out of their shoe boxes and line them up on the shoe rack in my closet.  They sit there collecting dust for the next few months, unworn, until I repack them again for storage. I can’t help it. I can’t throw shoes away.

I think I inherited this strange behavior from my mother. She wore the same black rubber sole tie shoe every day through every season. But she had a hanging shoe organizer on the inside of her closet door filled with nine pairs of shoes that she never wore. Each pair had a story and a reason why she couldn’t get rid of them. One day, when I was at her house helping her with some cleaning, I suggested we donate the unworn shoes to a thrift shop.

“Don’t you dare!” she scolded me. “Those are my shoes!”

 “But you never wear them!” I held up a two-tone dress shoe. “What about these?” I asked. “I’ve never seen you wear these. They look brand new.”

“They are new. I only wore them once to what’s-his-name’s wedding,” she said. “I just sat there all night. I couldn’t even dance, they hurt my feet so much. I have to stretch them.”

I held up a pair of loafers. “How about these? I remember you wearing these when I was in high school in the 60’s!”

“So what? You think they’re too old? All I have to do is replace the soles every few years. The leather is still good. But, they’re too loose now. My heels must have shrunk somehow. I have to get some shoe pads to put in those.”

“What about these old saddle shoes?” I asked, laughing. “Do you think these will ever come back into fashion?”

“Put those back and leave my shoes alone! Some day I might need them. You never know.”

You never know. That’s what I say as I store my brown leather tie shoes in a shoebox for the summer season. I haven’t worn them in four years.I box up the uncomfortable navy-blue patent leather dress shoes too. With a little stretching, I could wear them to a wedding. The winter boots go into plastic bags. They haven’t seen the light of day in three years because I stay indoors in my fuzzy socks and fur lined crocs if I see snow on the ground. I’ll hold onto them. Maybe I’ll venture outside next winter. You never know.

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