Monday, September 26, 2011

A test to publish

This is a test of posting from my iPad.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Choosing to live with less?

For the past 10 years --- more if you include summers --- Michael and I have chosen to live what my parents would have called a 'bohemian life' that meant living with limited utilities, limited comfort.

Whether we lived on our boat or in a rural village in Mexico or in our lake cottage in rural upstate New York, we constantly monitored our usage of what most Americans take for granted: water, sewage, gas, electric, garbage.

Know what we had, what we used, what we stored --- it was a lifestyle we had accidentally chosen.

We would carry a couple hundred gallons of fresh water on our 48' Maple Leaf sailboat, Sabbatical. So when I washed the dishes, took a shower, brushed my teeth, I knew I'd better not to let the water run because we would run out. Even after we moved off the boat and on to land when we built our home in Arroyo Seco, Mexico, the village would only turn on the water for an hour every morning so we could fill our water tanks for washing and watering. Drinking water still had come from the 5-gallon jugs purchased from the daily water trucks.

Living in our lake cottage in rural Upstate New York isn't a lot different. We use a beach well for our water, pumping the water into a big cistern located underneath the kitchen floor. So even in the United States, we've still had to be cognizant of how much water we've been using -- especially when we have guests -- or the cistern will go dry, which means the pump goes dry, which means Michael has to go grumbling down to the cellar to re-prime the pump. And then refill the cistern. Otherwise, no dishes, no showers, no flushing the toilets.

Because the 100-year-old cistern is a bit suspect, we haul water in by jugs. Limited water, just like on the boat. And just like Mexico.

Garbage is also an issue everywhere we've been living, which means selecting food and drink products based on the packaging. On the boat, small containers stored well. But then you have more containers to dispose of. We could fill glass bottles and throw them overboard to become crab condos on the bottom of the sea. But not plastic. We 'composted' food over the side because it's pointless to save it in a plastic garbage bag to send it back to a landfill.

In Mexico, if we throw everything into big plastic trash bags, the garbage guys will pick it up and deliver it just up the road from our village where they burn it. All of it --- including all plastics, toxic whatevers, tires, everything.

Really lovely when you live downwind....

So we tended to be careful to sort, compost, recycle, return.

Other utilities were limited as well.

When we ran out of propane on the boat for the stove and barbecue, the propane bottle would have to get to shore, then to a gas company for a refill (usually without a car), then back on the boat and reinstalled. So we were pretty careful with our propane use.

It was a little bit better in Mexico. The propane truck came by twice a week, although propane is pretty pricey there. For the water heater, we opted for a solar heater. Lots of sun in Mexico.

And then there's the head (or the bathroom for you landlubbers). That waste has to go somewhere. And the water that you flush with has to come from somewhere. Always a big issue on a boat. In Mexico and in New York, we built huge septic systems, so we wouldn't have to worry about that for at least a decade.

We hope.

So --- when we bought our 'new' little house in Watkins Glen, it seemed a miracle that the water would continue endlessly (as long as we pay the bill), we could drink the water, flush whenever and whatever, crank up the thermostat on the natural gas heat, put all the garbage out on the curb, throw all the recyclables into one container for someone else to sort.

These are comforts most Americans take for granted.

I could too. But here I am, not even five months into civilization, stunned at how easy it is to slip into a cavalier attitude about these resources. It's so easy to let more water run in the sink, run the dishwasher with only half a load. Same with the washing machine. Forget the clothelines! Just turn on the dryer.

So here's the first part of my epiphany for today: If I'm no longer vigilant about the packaging, the waste, the storage, if I can start to slide backwards after a decade of paying attention, and I multiply my attitude and use by an estimated 6.94 billion people on the planet, well, Houston, I think we've got a problem.

I finally understand the simplicity of the dilemma.

We're waiting and hoping for Americans (and all humans) to choose to turn off their faucets, take their bags to the grocery store, buy merchandise with the least amount of packaging so less is produced and less is taken to the landfill. We are hoping people will choose to use less of everything so we will need fewer energy resources which will then produce less pollution.

In the meanwhile, while we all bask in the ease and comfort of what we believe are unlimited resources, we're fouling our own nest and about to get expelled by Mother Earth. At least that's what it feels like these days as we break all kinds of weather records around the globe.

So the second part of my epiphany? We all need to change our lifestyles, use fewer resources, go without. And that's not going to happen. And it's probably too late.

Since I don't have a solution, all I can conclude is that perhaps my generation should start apologizing to our children right now. And to our grandchildren.

And in the meantime, turn the water faucet off.

An incredible video about the human destruction of our planet

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Jack of all Trades, Master of None

When I was growing up, I remember my father telling me that I was a 'jack of all trades, master of none.'

He didn't mean it as a compliment.

I wasn't very interested in the academics of elementary school, although I did passably well. But what they called the extracurricular, well, that had my full attention.

I took violin lessons starting in fourth grade and joined the orchestra. You had to be a parent to love the recitals. I remember the realization that when I couldn't hear my own violin, that meant we were probably all hitting the same note. Unfortunately I was probably in my second or third year of orchestra before I understood.


I also begged for a piano and eventually one Christmas they relented and an old upright was moved into the basement/play room and lessons began. As the ultimate perfectionist, my father persuaded a concert pianist to give me lessons. My father believed that if you were going to do something, you were going to do it well. I wasn't her star pupil and although I played around on the piano, I don't actually remember practicing. It had to be painful for her.

Then there were the dance lessons. Years of creative dance through the YWCA.

And the horseback riding lessons, before I finally wheedled my own horse out of my parents, another great gift. She was a wonderful Appaloosa named Happy, and I spent many a hot summer day riding around a friend's farm and down to the lake to cool off, meandering through the apple orchard on our way.

Then the pressures of growing up started, my father passed away during my early teenage years, and I put my creative interests aside. I got multiple degrees, had children, had a successful career. And then I retired. And got time.

Four years into retirement, I'm beginning to think I'm going to need professional help to prioritize my interests. I simple can't fit in anything more and it might possibly kill me.

And Michael.

We landed in New York in early April and I immediately signed up for a quilting class from a fabulous, thriving quilting store in Watkins Glen, O'Susanah's. For four Saturdays in a row (plus plenty of homework during the week), we've learned how to create a quilt. I'm almost done with my first and I've loved working on it. It takes a lot of creative energy and it's soothing to the brain, having to fully concentrate on each step. Otherwise there is a lot of ripping out and re-doing. And I don't reverse and redo well, as many of you might imagine.

Then there are my music friends who are double and triple-booked with gigs and jams and, of course, I don't want to miss any music. But then you also have to find time to practice between jam sessions so that I can stand to hear my own playing.

And, of course, I'm committed to getting exercise so Michael and I walk almost day, exploring Watkins Glen and finding amazing historic homes, views that take our breath away. Although that might also be because everything is uphill from our place.

And I don't want to give up the exercise of dancing with my Zumba friends --- I love getting out there and dancing for an hour 'til the sweat drips off my pony tail. And now I'm trying to memorize some routines for an occasional team-teaching opportunity since I got certified last November.

And I can't wait to get the living room painted in our new house, find the furniture we want, get the wallpaper off the bathroom wall and re-paint, find a place for the jacuzzi, maybe build a deck off the front.

And I don't want to give up learning to speak Spanish, which requires study time. It doesn't just happen. I tried that approach.

And there's a piece of writing that I really, really want to do. All I have to do is plunk my butt in a chair and make the time to start writing.

I think you get my drift.

I've hit a wall, the wall of no more time in a day, no more energy to do what I want. And that's unacceptable.

Even I think that sounds crazy.

But here's the problem. I'm aware that I'm getting older. I now have to use eye drops because my eyes are too dry. I spend a lot of time with my favorite physical therapist and my favorite local massage therapist getting my neck and shoulder to cooperate with my lifestyle without a lot of pain. I get the occasional skin cancers removed. I'm not quite as perky in the morning (which my husband probably thinks, 'Thank you, God').

I feel the urgency of my meter running. I love doing all of this. I want to do more. I want to save every dog, drive the elderly neighbor to see his father's house before he dies, spend quiet time at the lake house, meet a friend for a movie and have dinner afterward.

And I can't. It's simply not possible.

So my thought this morning was to make a chart of all my interests and prioritize them (is that possible?), and put the rest of them aside for a while.

Last year I told my friends who hold Passion and Priorities Workshops that I didn't need to figure out my passions. I have plenty.

But --- aha! -- maybe it's time to figure out how to be happy doing less.

And maybe, like my father remarked, I can become a master of some. Maybe I can choose to do some things well and not try to do everything not-so-well.

In the meantime, gotta run. Michael is waiting for me up at the lake house so we can open it up for the season. And then it's time to decide between a movie with a friend or Zumba.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Back to our New York state roots

In a surprise move even to us, Michael and I have bought a house and settled into a small upstate village of Watkins Glen at the end of Seneca Lake, near our family's lake cottage and near dozens of our relatives.

Michael and I met 21 years ago on a job interview (he was interviewing me) in Sacramento, California. It wasn't until we were almost heading down the aisle that I discovered that he, too, was an upstate NY "lake kid". He was raised first in Brooklyn, then on Lake Chatauqua, about three hours from where we now live. We had both migrated west in the late 60s, me to Flagstaff, Arizona and Michael to Northern California.

Those of you who have been following our adventures know we've spent the last decade or so living on sailboats, cruising Mexico, living in a small Mexican surf village, doing a canal trip in France ---- just generally not letting any dust settle anywhere on our lives.

It's not always been appreciated by our children. But we've had a blast.

So, what happened?

I guess we're getting ready for the 'final' retirement from the university and wondered where we were going to keep our stuff. We had always assumed it would be our lake cottage for four or five months a year, the remainder in Mexico or wherever else we would be traveling.

But the lake house is over 100 years old and I swear I can feel the breeze blowing through it, even with all the windows tightly closed. It would need a lot of work for me to be warm enough to survive even an early fall or a late spring.

So we started looking around and realized what a delightful area Schuyler County has evolved in to, a Northeastern version of Napa, California, with probably close to 50 local wineries and bistros on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail surrounding the lake. Not the small Upstate New York town we escaped from almost 40 years ago and that Richard Russo so aptly describes in his novels.

After being here for a week and initially wondering what the hell we were thinking, it's also clear to me why we've chosen to return.

The initial shock: It's still cold. Damn cold for my thin blood. Shockingly cold, despite what the natives say. But we have this lovely radiant baseboard heat that keeps our new house a nice constant shade of warm, an electric blanket on our bed, and soon, our jacuzzi.

A second surprise: I'd forgotten how many layers of clothes you have to wear on a daily basis. Long pants. Long sleeve shirt. Socks. Fleece sweater. Then a jacket. Sheesh! It feels bulky and abnormal after the majority of 21 years spent in balmy climates.

And what shouldn't be surprise: the bane of Upstate New York ---- the gray, about 200 gray days a year. We open up the curtains early in the morning and wait to see if the sun comes up. Often it doesn't. It goes from a dark shade of gray to a lighter shade of gray. Then it gets dark again.

So why on earth would we choose to move home?

Family: On our first Saturday back here, both my brothers dropped by for dinner and to see the house. My cousin Ruthie can swing by when she comes to town to do errands, as can many of my other cousins.

Friends: Yesterday morning I went to yoga at a friend's house, something that I miss every year when I leave in August. Our good friend Amanda dropped by after work one evening with her new dog (a lovely boxer) and a bottle of wine. Betsy, who is now a neighbor and is 'band leader' in my music world.

Music: I've started to practice my fiddle again, getting ready for the multitude of jams and gigs available in the area, more than I could ever fit into a schedule. And soon I'll start informal lessons with a friend who plays awesome old time fiddle and is willing to 'show me what he knows.'

Proximity: We can keep the cars parked and walk almost everywhere! The general store is 10 minutes from the house and makes two choices of homemade soup on a daily basis (and publishes the menu on FB). We have restaurants and great shopping just minutes from home. And I can walk to some of the Zumba classes offered during the week. The steep uphill trek home should only add to my workout.

Community: Tonight we're going to a meeting on a proposed gas storage facility. Tomorrow the protest group is having a separate meeting. We'll attend both. We might even go to a City Council meeting. What the heck. The SPCA is having a benefit at a friend's winery. Other friend's are playing at a nearby restaurant on Saturday night. We just don't feel isolated here at all.

So if we hate the cold weather, what else --- besides the fantastic summers! --- would make us still decide to commit to living part of the year in Upstate New York?

Oh, about two hundred years of family history in this area. It's amazing to walk through the local cemeteries and recognize dozens of the local family names, including our own, families who are still living in the area, people who still remember my mom, remember some of the mischief my brothers and I got into during our summers on the lake.

Serious roots.

If we had moved back to San Diego, moved on to South Florida, it would have been lovely. But it would have felt like starting over. And I just didn't feel like doing that anymore.

But don't be deceived. Come the first snowflakes of winter, we'll continue to hightail it out of here to follow the sun with the multitude of other snowbirds heading south. For those of you who have been perplexed our latest move, really, nothing's changed. We just finally settled down enough to have a home base.

It feels great!