Ritual – Put the Keys in the Chrysler

Car Keys

My father has always purchased Chryslers. I remember the green Plymouth Fury III that he drove to my friend’s house one afternoon to pick me up; it was not our first car but I loved the surprise of him showing up in a new one. Later there was a light blue gray Chrysler that he drove on his carpool days when I was in high school. For a few weeks until he got it repaired, the horn used to randomly sound off if he turned the steering wheel a certain way. The intermittent honks and beeps could have been embarrassing but I ignored my friends’ quizzical looks and acted as if it was the nervous tic of a car overly stimulated by chatty teenage girls. Continue reading

Working and Writing from Home – Five Easy Rules

You are not likely to find me writing in a coffee shop. I don’t drink much coffee and I need quiet to write. That rules out most Starbucks. And I will occasionally drink a coffee from Dunkin Donuts, but could never work there. That is where the sour cream donuts live and they often boss me around, telling me that I will be okay with just one. So I usually grab the coffee and run out, trying to ignore the donuts whispering at me from the case.

There is Le Pain Quotidien, my favorite spot. I can work there. Scribbling revision notes at the table, warm mug in hand, looking out the window to see the passersby, glancing around the room to make sure that the lunch crowd is not heading in, making me feel like I need to give up my table. And the food, organic and artfully presented, makes me believe that if I order, at least I’m doing my body good.

But the best place for me to work is at home, alone, in my office, perhaps with the TV or radio tuned to a classical music station. No jazz or lyrics, I am easily distracted.

Friends often ask me how I work from home, without anyone to talk to in the next cubicle, and with all the undone chores in plain sight.

It is easy. I follow the advice of my brother, who gave me Rule 1. He mastered the art of the home office decades ago.

Rule 1 – Don’t do anything during your at-home workday that you would not do if you were in the office. This means that I seldom do chores during the day, unless it is tossing in a load first thing in the morning, or washing my dishes right after lunch. You wouldn’t bring your cute lace undies to work and fold them on your desk, so don’t do that during the work part of your day if you’re supposed to be writing or working.

Rule 2 – Get dressed. Yes, I know that I may not see anyone except for the mailman, or a neighbor walking a dog, but I dress for myself. And unless I am taking a walk during a break to revise in my head, I avoid workout clothes, at least making an effort to put on a nice tee with comfy pants or a skirt, or occasionally a dress, just because I love dresses. I can guarantee that if I am sitting in a robe (or housecoat – now there’s a lovely 1950s word) at 11 a.m., one of two things will happen. I will get a call to meet a friend for a quick chat and be unprepared, or I will feel slightly sloppy until I am properly dressed.

Rule 3 – Have a game plan. The night before, I review my goals for the next day, so I don’t waste the first few hours of the day flitting around, trying to figure out what to write, read, who to call, or what I need to do to move forward on a project. If I know where to start I can at least get going, and that helps me be more productive during the day.

Rule 4 – Allow for breaks and serendipity. See rules 2 and 3. Sometimes I choose to revise while doing yard work, and I don’t feel bad about it. Or a friend who has an office job calls to see if I can get free for an hour. If it doesn’t completely throw off my schedule, I say “Yes,” (because I am already dressed and ready to go) and get on with my day after I’ve had a chance to connect.

Rule 5 – Learn your own rhythm. (Rhythm is a hard word to spell; I always want to add an “n” in there, making it something like hymn) Get to know your peak periods and when you seem to drag. Take breaks to move or get outside. And avoid the cookies. They are not your friends. Not if you eat them every day, every break.

I could probably go on but these are the five rules that have helped me, and I have worked from home more often than not over the last 20 years. If you have any great tips, please share them; they might help someone else get the rhythm of this thing.

Simplicity

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Eden Park, Cincinnati, Ohio – May 2017

I have been clearing my closets—of clothes I don’t wear, or outfits that represent a life I no longer live. I didn’t need so many white blouses; I am convinced that those many years of wearing uniforms in grade school could be part of the problem. There is something about the crispness of a starched white blouse that says I am ready to work, whether it is cotton, eyelet, or linen, long-sleeved or sleeveless. But I had accumulated more than I needed.

I walked around my home, rummaging through shelves, opening doors, and looking for items I kept but no longer appreciated. Anything that was in good condition became a candidate for donation, to Goodwill, the women’s shelter, or the homeless center. I want to streamline my life, prune it of the extraneous and unnecessary, so I can focus on the activities that matter to me, like my writing and wellbeing.

You might think that clearing clutter means that I no longer shop. To the contrary. In fact, my style of simplicity is informed by the notion that I am more thoughtful about what I purchase and would rather save more and wait to get what I really want and treasure, rather than buy something that I will tire after one wear or use. It means that because I don’t eat meat, I willingly pay a bit more for a luscious piece of fruit, maybe organic, because that is how I would rather spend my money. I saved for a new dresser recently and I am eagerly awaiting its delivery today, because it is the first one I have picked out for myself, even though I love the midcentury piece I inherited from my grandfather and have used it for decades. I chose this dresser, waiting for years until I found one I wanted, and that makes it special. My other dresser will find a place in another room; I will not give it away, not yet.

As I release some of my possessions I am also examining my use of time. I said no to a couple of projects and resigned from a board, and I decided that for this summer, I really want to have my family and friends here for visits, so I put these dates on the calendar first, rather than squeezing them in among obligations.

Curating my commitments has also led to more time for writing, which has become my priority after my relationships. Writing is also on my calendar; I schedule a block of time to write each day, Monday-Friday, leaving the weekends a bit more fluid. It is not a rigid schedule, of course I’ll change as things come up, but one way I honor my writing is by making time to do it. I will not finish the essays, blog posts or the book that are in me if I treat my writing with a “get in where you fit in” attitude.

It is a process of asking myself, almost daily, if what I am doing is going to lead me where I want to be—in writing, with relationships, wellbeing, etc. By pruning my life of excess, in my closets, unhealthy eating, junk news, I create a more open, expansive world, one that I hope is suited to helping me focus on my values, dreams, and goals.

Dominique Loreau, in her book, L’art de la Simplicite´, addresses this issue of examining our possessions and use of time to determine what we would discard, keep, or add to our lives. It is not about deprivation, but rather about being mindful of what we choose to own, do and focus on.

She writes, “It is better to live with high aspirations than mediocre realities.” Consider what inspires you to create a more positive life and surroundings, what assists you in the pursuit of your dreams. For me, it began with clearing my closets and my calendar.

 

 

 

Happy Mother’s Day – Treasures

This is for mothers everywhere, and for those who have poured their love, patience, and wisdom into the life of another person, whether it is your own child or someone who needed a gift that you were able and willing to provide.

Despite going to Catholic grade school and college, there was a verse in the bible that eluded me for most of my life, until a few years ago. It seems it would have been brought to my attention in religion class, Sunday school, or perhaps recited during the month of May. (I loved the month of May, with its songs that celebrated Mary. Those songs were among the most joyous of the ones I remember from grade school.) I stumbled on these verses during my own reading, and it was like that piece of sidewalk that juts up unevenly from the path and forces you to slow down and pay attention.

In Luke 2:19, after the birth of Jesus, it reads:

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

Luke 2:51 says:

“But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.”

Mary’s reaction came after she watched her 12-year-old son as he listened, questioned, and learned from the teachers in the temple. Even when Jesus was young, his mother realized there was something special about her child. She may have sensed that his path was not going to be easy, and that everything he was doing as a child would prepare him for the challenges ahead.

By the time I read these words my daughter was already an adult, and I knew what it meant to know that your child would have to go through prickly thickets in the midst of sunny meadows. But what really struck me was how my own mother, also named Mary, must have known the same thing about me. Surely there were times when she just watched, observed, being aware of what might be ahead, but allowing me to go my own way. That had to be hard at times, but she did it. I am grateful for her guidance and quiet wisdom.

On this day I want to thank all mothers who have to sort this out—when to step in, and when to intercede and step back—knowing that you cannot completely prevent a loved one’s suffering, but you can love them through it.

Happy Mother’s Day

 

New Book-Family Stories from the Attic

I am excited about the arrival of a new anthology that features one of my essays. Family Stories from the Attic, published by Hidden Timber Books, was released this month. My essay, Without Words, appears in this wonderful anthology that holds stories about what we learn from the items our loved ones once cherished enough to hold onto. My story is about a different way of coming to learn more about someone when they are no longer able to talk with you. Through the words of the 22 writers in this book, you will come away with what it means to be in family, and how many questions are left unanswered if we don’t seek the deeper meaning in these artifacts. If you are blessed enough to have family members around whose stories you do not yet know, spend a little time with them, ask them about their favorite memories, lessons learned, or people they loved growing up. Then be prepared to sit and listen.

I hope that you will consider picking up a copy of Family Stories from the Attic; it is available from Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and some independent bookstores will soon be carrying it. I’d love to hear from you if you read it, and let me know how conversations with your family members are going.

Peace and blessings,

Ramona

French Lessons – Exploring Nice

There are places I have been drawn to and France has always been one of those places. I studied Latin in high school for three years and then switched to French because I wanted to learn a language that was spoken on a daily basis, not just in church or classrooms. In college, when friends departed for other countries in study abroad programs, I realized that immersion might be the best way to experience a different language and culture.

I was fascinated by Josephine Baker for a time, and admired her taking leave of the states and forging a career and life abroad. James Baldwin, a brilliant and prescient writer, also made his home in France. And the fact that my family had roots in Paris, although it was Paris, Kentucky, was a source of amusement for me. It had been over 20 years since my last trip to France and this year I decided that it was time to return. Continue reading

My Encounter with an Owl

This weekend we change our clocks, and in less than two weeks it will officially be spring. If you have ever had that feeling that someone is following you, tiptoeing to catch you by surprise, that is how I feel about the coming of spring. It is windy today and the first daffodils are in bloom. I am visualizing how my yard will be in full bloom midsummer, mentally plotting where I will plant the three hydrangea bushes I ordered, and considering how I can spruce up my screened-in porch. I have decided to not wait until it gets warm to sit out there; all I need is a good chair and a blanket. A peaceful way to start my day.

Last week I looked outside and saw something moving in a corner near a large urn that sits on the porch. It was grayish, not the brown of the dried hydrangea blossoms that I placed in a bundle in a wooden bucket last fall. Continue reading

Valentine’s Day, AWP17, and Mornings

 

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Happy Valentine’s Day! I celebrate this day because I was brought up on the idea that love extends outside our front doors, goes in the neighborhood, schools, and the world around us. And the world needs an extra hug, wink, or a blown kiss right now. So don’t worry about not having a date, or the box of chocolates, don’t rush out and buy gifts. Just send a little love and hope out today. That will be enough, trust me.

I went to Washington, D.C. to Continue reading

Angry

thick stream of fog on blue

In grade school at Annunciation, I had one male teacher; his name was Mr. Hall. In a school full of nuns and female teachers he had a more relaxed approach to teaching and seemed to have more fun than most of our teachers. (I know that nuns are women but I was a child then and only saw their faces most of my time in grade school. Back then, the nuns wore habits and covered their hair until I was in seventh or eight grade; later on some began to wear regular clothes.)

Up until that point in time, Mr. Hall was the only educator that I can remember expressing a particular political affiliation. This was 1972 and he was a McGovern guy. After Mr. Hall mentioned his support for George McGovern, most of us assumed he was a Democrat.

During a class conversation about government, he encouraged me to consider a political career when I got older. I was always a leader in my class and maybe he saw something else in me that suggested that I’d be good in politics.

I told him “I’d run for office except I know that I would get angry if I saw people being treated unfairly.” I guess I saw anger as a disadvantage in leadership, or maybe it was more anger than I wanted to feel at the time. I was already angry enough about the inequities I saw in my school.

“That’s okay,” he said, “we need people who will speak up and that might mean being angry sometimes.”

I didn’t have a response, but I considered that maybe there were other ways to deal with injustice, ones that would not take so much out of me emotionally. Over the years I also learned that this culture chafes when women get angry; our anger is seen as not nice, too harsh, shrill, unladylike. Sometimes women are accused of being angry when they are simply using their voice, or speaking up for themselves. That’s not anger; it is exercising your right to express your opinion, even if the volume or vehemence is uncomfortable to some.

Over the last couple of weeks, my former teacher’s words have come back to me almost daily. I am angry, and disappointed. Not being “in” politics hasn’t saved me. I now realize that the only thing that will save me is action, getting involved, and opening my mouth. My family, friends, and colleagues know that I don’t shy away from hard conversations, and I have had some very frank discussions recently.

I don’t know where Mr. Hall is now; maybe he is retired and only occasionally reflects on his time as a teacher, but his words have stayed with me. I sense that many of you are angry too, maybe afraid or concerned that our country is being led off in a direction that we did not choose. What matters is our response to these feelings, and each one of us will have to determine what that will be.

When I was a child there was a TV commercial for Maxwell House coffee; a coffeepot gave off a musical whistle when the coffee finished percolating and was ready to serve. That is the kind of simmering, brewing outrage I see in people and in the media, and it is what we talk about when we are one-on-one, or in groups. The anger is almost unseen, like the water heating up in that pot, yet it is also the kind of anger that can erupt, prompting people to search for answers rather than simmer in their rage and disbelief. If anger drives me to positive action, and forces people to have tough conversations, then maybe it will do some good. Mr. Hall was right—we might need to get angry sometimes.