No, You’re Not Responsible for the Happiness of Others

Here is a post where I lecture myself and remind myself of how one of my personality features bites me in the butt, repeatedly, for the same dang thing. It’s bugging me so much that I’ve started writing my own passive aggressive memes about it. I put a picture of Fiona enjoying Johnson grass under the words “You are responsible for your own happiness.” I felt good.

May be an image of animal, outdoors and text that says 'You are & responsible for your own happiness 0'
Fiona knows this!

And, by the way, I am still occasionally annoyed beyond belief when people post thinly disguised “messages” to folks who are in their disfavor via memes. On the other hand, some of Kathleen’s do make me laugh, so I’m not saying y’all should never do it. Perhaps I just don’t like the ones aimed at me. Wow, that makes me sound like a jerk. Newsflash: I AM a jerk, at least in the eyes of some people. Hey, it reminds me of another meme I wrote years ago: No one is universally beloved unless they are boring as hell.

Where I’m going here is that I keep re-learning is that it’s not my job to “make” anyone else happy. In fact, when I try to do so, it usually blows up in my face in a spectacular manner. And I’m the one who gets hurt. That’s why I wrote a meme to remind myself. It said: “Reminder time: You’re not responsible for the happiness of others.”

I’ve probably mentioned this before, since I’ve been blogging so long, but indulge me as I repeat that one of my “features” is that I find sad people, see their good points, and want to help them become happier. This started in my twenties, where I tried to help a paranoid grad school friend realize that people weren’t always talking about him behind his back and the professors didn’t hate him just because one didn’t say hello in the hall. I knew I couldn’t “fix” him, but wanted to make things easier on him. Of course, he hurt me badly in the end. And I didn’t really help. I heard from him a few years ago, and he was still thinking everyone was out to get him. I didn’t contact him again.

Not by me, but true.

Moving forward, many (okay, most) of my “love affairs” I now see as me trying to help someone sad feel better. Coincidentally, many had some pretty severe mental illnesses they were living with (a LOT of borderline personality disorder). I’d help with their self esteem and get them to a better place by being kind and listening a lot, but I couldn’t “cure” them, just show that they are worth caring for just as they are. Once that message sunk in, they’d move on to someone more well suited to them. And I’d be sad. I do hope the new relationships went well. And hey, I did eventually see my destructive pattern and STOP IT. Lee’s the last sad person I rescued, lol. I was also sad, though, so this time it was mutual, and we are sticking together through thick and thin.

It wasn’t just people I “fell in love” with. I also would come across younger folks and want to help them get a good start in life. Some of those actually worked out very well, and I have some great friends living wonderful, independent lives. But, I was still drawn toward people whose issues were really not something I could do anything about. I couldn’t “make” them happy by providing them with a safe home, sharing experiences with them, giving them tools for their hobbies, or anything. Mostly I now have a lot of baking and art supplies to show for that.

Ooh, this meme hits close to home.

At least two of these people I tried to help and even brought into my home ended up lecturing me for being kind to them just to make me look good. I took that to heart. Maybe a lot of it was MY problem, not theirs. Ugh. All this self-evaluation is not fun or pretty. But I hope I learned the lesson that each of us is responsible for our own happiness, and while giving people a chance is good, they need to find their own way.

I need to keep writing myself some memes, though, because it has dawned on me that I’ve been trying to make life better to some other folks, STILL. I spend so much mental effort trying to figure out ways to make their lives easier and more pleasant. I want the people in my home and work life to feel like they’re contributing to society, cared for, and not alone. That’s probably okay. I still can’t “make” anyone feel less depressed, less unfulfilled, or satisfied with where their life has ended up. It’s not my job.

A meme about walking your own path.

I say all that to try to reinforce it in my head. I’m NOT a failure if people I care about are not handling things well. I can’t rescue anyone, including myself! So, right now I’m working to get a better balance between caring for others and protecting myself from hurt. I know I’m not alone in this, but it’s damned hard. I’m not doing a good job of it a lot of the time. I’m wired to be an annoying rescuer, and I’m sure it came from growing up with a powerless, mentally ill mother, or whatever.

All’s not lost, though. I’ve been learning a lot in working with my team in Austin, and my boss has come up with this helpful way of looking at the mentor-mentee relationship. And that’s that the mentor can only give 50% of the effort in improving situations. The other person ALSO has to give their own 50%. Expecting someone to fix everything for you never works; you have to put in the effort. Thanks, boss, you super-stoic.

Sara and Ace are the perfect example. Each of them has to be doing their part for their horse-rider relationship to grow.

Forgive me if I’ve ever tried to help you and it made you upset or angry. I’m doing it because I also need help, ya know? Eventually I’ll figure out a balance between being part of a supportive community for those who could use some help and supporting my own self. Maybe even I’ll do better at asking for help. Those are some big dreams.

Until then, I’ll look for memes.

PS: On the podcast, I added that I may not have been clear here. I’m not saying you can’t support, love, and cherish people who are struggling, nor that you shouldn’t. I was trying to just make it clear that you can’t force people to not feel the way they feel. Did that help?

Information, Not Advice in This Cancel Culture

Today’s topic is something I’ve been mulling over for a long time, and I think I finally have come up with a way to present my thoughts coherently. I think it explains why I have close to zero tolerance for bullying in volunteer organizations and presents an alternative way to make valid points and open people’s minds to new and different ideas.

When I was a new mother, my lawyer and one of my mentors, Roberta Bishop Johnson, encouraged me to attend meetings of the mother-to-mother breastfeeding support group, La Leche League (and if talking about breastfeeding gets you all giggly, you can try to remember you’re a mammal and make an effort to be mature). I didn’t know any other new mothers, since I was older than most of my friends and the first to reproduce.

That’s right. We’re mammals.

So, I bravely went into the home of a stranger and sat down on the couch next to a woman who seemed nice. And I listened. At these meetings, only one of the people was speaking for the organization, an accredited La Leche League Leader. But, when people asked questions, all the other mothers were very welcome to chime in and share their experiences with their own babies. One thing that got repeated often in these meetings was to please share information, not give advice. Not even the Leader told women what they should do. The mothers were considered smart enough to make their own decisions based on their experiences and to use the experiences of others to help them. That led to the second thing I heard a lot, which was to take what works for you and leave the rest.

No matter what picture I chose, someone will find something wrong with it. She should lift her shirt from the top! Why is she white? Is her positioning right? Image by @nslebedinskaya via Twenty20

By getting to know all these different mothers with all their different babies it became very obvious that the best answer for one of us would not work at all for another one, and that was OK! We had lots of areas where we differed. There was cloth versus plastic diapers. There was jarred baby food versus “whole foods” only. There was the “family bed” versus having a crib for babies. There were vaccinators and non-vaccinators. Some mothers weaned promptly at one year (or earlier), while others kept a-goin’ until the child didn’t want to anymore.

The thing is, those of us who learned the LLL philosophy (which is a list of ways to be a good parent) mostly got the point that there’s more than one right way to parent AND that for some folks, ways other than ours make more sense to them. If a mother asked for help, we gave it and helped her work out a solution that made HER happy, not us.

I eventually became a Leader and learned a lot from the women I was friends with then. It was a lot of fun and such a great way to give to my community. But, when they started begging Leaders to become administrators (there was quite a hierarchy back then), my Leader, Sharon, took me aside and warned me that things weren’t always so warm and fuzzy at the State, National, and International levels. Oh, how I wish I’d listened to Sharon.

But, no, I like leading things, and because I’d made a little website for our group (before there were images on the world wide web) my mentor, Roberta, begged me to help them get on the fledgling Internet, so I went to a conference in Chicago, met the Executive Director, and suddenly I was the webmaster and co-owner of the first email list for Leaders, where we got to meet fellow mothers from all over.

Time marched on, and I had a lot of fun and met most of the people who read my blog. But, it turned out Sharon had a point. Once I started going to meetings and conferences outside my little bubble, and once I started reading the email lists, I began to see how La Leche League got its reputation as a bunch of breastfeeding…shall we say…”tyrants” (because I prefer not to use pejorative word word other people used). You could tell that there were members who we called “More League Than League” who looked down on you if your choices happened to come on the less radical attachment parenting side of things. Woe unto the parent who used a stroller and not a sling to carry babies (even outside conferences, where strollers were hazardous). You get the drift, I’m sure.

A lot of the time I spent as an administrator, web person, and eventually as a director in the organization was trying to keep portraying La Leche League (LLL) as an organization open to all who were interested in breastfeeding and parenting, not just a few people of a certain demographic (that would be white, Catholic, home birthing, stay-at-home mothers). It was never true that this group was even a majority, but it’s the reputation that came out. And the reputation that we told people to do this and that, and such. This all got to be quite exhausting, especially when we were wanting to help mothers succeed by their own standards and meet them where they were, not make them into other people!

There were, indeed, people in the organization with agendas that were at best peripheral to the core purpose of supporting breastfeeding in the communities where we lived. The diapers, the slings, the boycotts, the sleeping arrangements…subtly pressuring people to make certain choices or they weren’t “cool” led to a lot of sadness. I always thought either they should come out and say they’re an organization for a small group of people with certain beliefs and principles, rather than claiming to be for everyone, but alienating people whose cultures and ways of life preferred to do things differently.

Indeed, as the years went by, it came to pass that things got weirder and weirder at the higher levels, and we came under a lot of pressure, no I’ll say bullying, to only organize in certain ways, and only meet in certain ways, and…after a couple of years of trying to keep my team going through all this, I ended up being asked to leave. If your job, whether paid or volunteer, isn’t fulfilling and rewarding, it’s time to find a new job. And when my closest friends started in on me…it was time to go.

I did keep what I learned, though. I’ve always found it much easier to change someone’s mind or teach them something new by offering a wide range of information and suggestions and trusting them to figure out what works best for them. I’m so grateful for that lesson. There was and still is so much good in LLL. Honestly, this is a loving critique.

Now, today, a whole lot of years have passed, but it makes me chuckle a bit to learn that there are still factions battling it out to be the “right” kind of organization. The causes have shifted from Nestle boycotts and “Ferberizing” to trying to cancel members who aren’t deemed sufficiently on board with chestfeeding and racial/cultural issues.

All of that just isn’t the helpful kind of support parents, members, administrators, and former members need. And confronting, bullying, canceling, and lobbying against people you have a problem with has never, as far as I can see, solved the underlying issue, which is education. You know, perhaps we WANT to listen, but just being called names and treated like we aren’t even worth engaging in dialog with won’t help us learn a darn thing.

I can only suggest that people with strong feelings to convey consider this information I’m sharing, just as one option. By listening to the viewpoints of others, seeing where they are coming from, finding areas of commonality, and sharing our experiences as if they are all worthy of respect, I’m pretty sure some of the newer versions of the people I left behind in 2006 might be more successful at attaining their goals. I think they want more people to be welcome and included in LLL. I think that is a worthy goal that may not require tearing down others to achieve.

Breastfeeding is a great thing, and I applaud everyone who wants to do it, in whatever way works for their culture, religious practice, or social group. Sometimes having lived as long as I and some of my long-time LLL friends have, you learn that a little bit of listening and respect go a long way. We don’t all have to do things the exact same way, and we all will learn from our mistakes and new experiences.

Please, let’s be gentle with each other. I’m simply not going to let myself be put down for being who I am, and I don’t think any of you, my friends, should, either. And I do NOT want to put down others who have perfectly legitimate complaints, issues, or ideas! We should all have a chance to grow and learn, even us old white fogies.

Book Report: The Nature of Oaks

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Admission: I only gave this book 4 stars because I wanted it to be longer. I dwell on every word Doug Tallamy writes, so I selfishly want more of them. The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees is his latest book, and it was only published two days ago. I snatched it out of the packaging and started reading it immediately! I’m really glad Tallamy mentioned this when I heard him speak in February, so I knew to pre-order.

Now, not only is Doug (I’ll call him Doug, because I consider him a friend, though I’ve never really talked to him) my favorite current naturalist writer, but oaks are my favorite trees. How much better can it get?

Oak trees and I go way back. One of my mom’s favorite stories about toddler Suna is that she used to go outside and find me talking to the trees in my yard. I thought there was someone in there, you see. I spent my childhood in something like a paradise for plant lovers, a small cement-block house on two lots, covered with large live oaks, along with a few other lovely native Florida trees. I was, however, not at all fond of pine trees (ironic, since my grandfather worked for a company that planted pines for paper-making). I liked oaks. They always had something going on, with all that Spanish moss dripping off them, possums and squirrels running around, and of course an endless parade of songbirds.

My most recent visit to some of my favorite trees, at the park I played in a child (as did Tom).

I loved those trees like family members, as I followed my dad around helping him landscape the yard and make lovely flower beds around the oaks, all mulched with their leaves. Little did I know he was doing the exact right thing by planting the dogwoods, redbuds, azaleas, and such under the larger trees to mimic a natural understory. Most important, the leaf mulch supported all sorts of wonderful insects that contributed to the ecology of my little world. Thanks, Doug, for confirming my dad’s innate wisdom!

The oaks and I continued our love affair, and I continued to visit ones I particularly cared about as long as I lived in Gainesville, and I still check to see if certain trees are still there (most are, 50+ years lager). And when I moved to Illinois and then to Texas, I learned about more and more types of oaks, which shed their leaves in the fall like normal trees (not like live oaks, who shed in the spring). My favorite tree in my first yard in Texas was a bur oak we planted, of course with an understory of Texas mountain laurel and native plants. It’s a gorgeous specimen now.

All this background is to explain why I was so happy this book was written. It turns out, I was right, there was “someone” in my oaks! They support more moths and other insects than any other type of tree. They teem with life! I enjoyed learning a lot about the various caterpillars and moths Doug finds in his Pennsylvania trees (he also talks about other areas, too, though).

An oak out in nature in Florida

He also satisfied my curiosity as to what the heck oak galls are, what they’re made of, and who lives there. Well, little larvae live in there, but the galls are somehow inspired to grow from actual oak material by the wasp who lays her eggs on the leaf buds. All sorts of insects want to eat the larvae, but galls protect them well. Then, when they leave, they make a nice hole, which then can be used by certain ants as little homes. I never knew that!

So, there’s just one example of the kinds of things you learn about amazing oak trees in this book. It’s enough to make you want to run out and plant some. That’s exactly what Doug wants you to do. Like to many trees, their numbers have diminished. We need them to store carbon, to support life, and to clean the atmosphere. You’ll find fun information on starting oak trees from acorns, as well as comprehensive lists of the best oak varieties for different parts of the US (by size, too).

You’ll also be sure to enjoy the color photos of trees, insects, and all the denizens of the oak world. I guess Doug’s now famous enough that he gets to have color photographs in all his books. We win!

This little book is a treasure, and I’m so glad it confirmed my bias toward the gentle old trees I’ve loved my whole life. I plan to take the book off its shelf and hug it occasionally. It’s my friend, I guess.

Want to read more by Doug Tallamy? I have a review of his previous wonderful and inspirational book, Nature’s Best Hope that you might enjoy.

To Troll or Not to Troll?

That’s my question for this first morning of spring, should I keep up with what appears to be a new undertaking for me, trolling with kindness? What the heck do I mean by that, anyway?

And by the way, Ostara (Vernal equinox) greetings to all of you!

Well, the book I just finished, Blind Spot, made it quite clear that humans are hard-wired to participate in us versus them thinking, and that there are actually good things about feeling a part of a group. Group membership conveys a sense of safety and belonging, and encourages us to take care of other members of our group.

You can’t really avoid creating “others” who are not in your group, and it is natural to focus on your differences to clarify who’s in what group. The authors of Blind Spot pointed to the Dr. Seuss book, The Sneetches, which arbitrarily had a star on their chest or not, leading to great division. And I think of that Star Trek episode, Let That Be Your Last Battlefield, where the people who are black on the right and white on the left are mortal enemies of people who are white on the right and black on the left. Both of these are heavy-handed examples, but they are right: we will work very hard to find ways to divide ourselves.

Yes, our outfits are embarrassing, and we do agree on that.

So, I am totally and completely aware that anything I do is not going to change people’s adamant insistence that “the other side” consists of horrible, no-good, bad, creepy people. Still, I know that even people who are biased to one belief system can start to question things, and that one way to initiate questioning is to repeatedly be exposed to other perspectives. THIS is why I feel compelled to “troll with kindness.”

Bubbling up inside me is a mission to not just keep scrolling when I see people making assertions that further our divided society. Rather, I am compelled to say something in a kind and/or neutral way that provides another way of looking at things.

Today’s example came when someone I used to know, sort of, posted something about President Biden tripping on the stairs of Air Force One. Commenters commenced to making all sorts of assertions about Biden’s age, competency, and such. I responded by asking if none of them had ever tripped on stairs before, that it seems common and not worthy of partisan commentary. Someone replied that they are doing it because once the previous president slipped and the media picked at him. So, I pointed out, nicely, that the tit for tat stuff isn’t very helpful, but I understand that it’s not going to stop.

And after that, I’m out of the conversation. I hope that just by planting the seed that being mean to someone because someone was mean to a member of your group in the past really doesn’t help anything at all. I don’t plan to prod and respond, just to provide another viewpoint.

No doubt I could have done a better job on today’s attempt, but it was only my second try. Maybe I’ll get better or get some suggestions. I know I won’t change anyone’s mind, but it makes ME feel better to gently point out that there are other ways of looking at things.

The chickens heard the Ostara Bunny was coming for their eggs.

Diversion About Today’s News

I know I’ve been pretty naïve most of my life about the hatred deep inside people. My conscious mind has worked so hard to overcome prejudices and stereotypes that I’m often genuinely surprised to find out how others feel about their fellow humans. It’s never occurred to me to think badly about people of Asian descent (consciously; I now know I’ve no clue what’s lurking in my brain).

I’ve always found Asian cultures interesting (since I was a tiny girl in love with kimono) and I’ve had many close friends who are Asian, even dated more than one. Once again, thanks to that linguistics education and that Japanese minor! For some reason, my bias toward Asians is more like they tend to be fun people and potential friends. My upbringing didn’t overtly cause this, though; it was something inside. (I always said it was because there were so few people I had things in common with that I didn’t want to rule out potential friends because of race, gender, religion, or sexuality.)

(here I give you a little piece of my history, again.)

It occurs to me that while my mom was not shy about her traditional Southern US white people view of Black folks, she was equally unhappy with Japanese (who killed her fiancé in WWII) and loved to sing some truly horrid song about “Chink-chink Chinaman named Chow Chow,” that I never understood, but is still in my brain, right along with the sound of her endlessly reading Little Black Sambo to me.

Still, just like she actually loved Black people she knew personally, she was really fond of her Chinese-American friend, Fay Eng.* Fay owned the only Chinese restaurant in the town I grew up in, and she and Mom became friends when my sister and her child were young. It was a long-time friendship, because I knew her all my childhood, and took all my friends to meet her and eat at the restaurant in college. Ha, I remember thinking Chop Suey was an exotic Asian dish. I did quickly learn better in college.

Sorry, I keep coming back to my mom, because I am pretty sure her attitudes about people got imprinted deep within me. I guess I rebelled in a constructive way by getting to know people of so many races and ethnicities and dragging them home to confront her stereotypes. And I’m sure my own children, who had a more diverse set of friends than I did (and do) are at least helping carry on the lessening of racial biases the Blind Spot book mentioned.

(back to the topic)

Where I was originally going with this was how blown away I was to learn about the murders of mostly Asian people in Atlanta this week. I don’t get it, at all. Hurting people just because of the way they look seems like the deepest depths of horrible human behavior. I’m now crying for my Asian-American friends just like I’ve been for African-American friends for so long.

Yes, it’s convenient to divide up according to superficial things like skin color, but it’s just not right, and I WILL speak up about this, and it may not be trolling with kindness.


*Oh my gosh, I looked Fay up to be sure I spelled her name right, and as of last year, she was still alive, at age 95 and a Democratic voter, not only that, she was a poll worker, and used to serve cookies from her father’s recipe, which used to be served at the restaurant I ate in my entire young life! She still lives with her daughter, in a beautiful home. Good for you, Fay. Mom picked a great friend.

What’s Your Favorite Comfort Song

Sometimes the hits just keep coming. I’m not here to share the stories of others, so let me say that the past few days have been full of unexpected illnesses, complex surgeries, and sudden deaths among my friends and family. That can be hard on an empath, even one with boundaries.

Swamps comfort me. Something about new life and decay, I guess.

One death has hit me particularly hard, since it was of a special friend with whom I had a weird and complex relationship since I was 14. I hadn’t heard from him except on Facebook posts for a couple of months, then, wow, I’ll never hear from him again.

We were fellow singers, and spent a lot of time talking about music, since we both did choral music (that’s how we met in high school). Sometimes when I was a mess, he’d call and sing me “Country Roads” or something like that. Everyone needs good friends, and it’s hard to lose one.

I’ve found music to really help me when I’m mourning a loss, and today, in honor of my friend’s habit of sharing music with others, I’ll share my favorite song of all time.

Oddly enough, this song was on two of the first record albums I ever got, at around age 14, as a matter of fact. Once I heard “You’ve Got a Friend,” I felt heard, like I actually HAD a friend. I’ve sung this song many, many times, and it comforts me. Honestly, when I really think about my life goals, it’s always been to be a good friend (and why I get so sad when I lose one to my own human failings).

And, the first “favorite song” I ever had is STILL my favorite comfort song. That’s almost 50 years of comfort.

I’m not much of a YouTube linker, but if you ever want to hear what music has comforted me in my life, there aren’t many. You can look them up yourself.

  • You Can Close Your Eyes (James Taylor)
  • Drive All Night (Bruce Springsteen)
  • The Chorale movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
  • The Long Black Veil, Chieftains version

Yep, that’s about it. What comforts you? Music, images, books? Do tell. I could use it. I’ll miss my friend. Luckily people live on in our hearts. And remember, you’ve got a friend.

Knitting Progress and a Memory

Someone surprised me by asking how my knitting project was coming along. Sure, I’ll share.

Knitting plus ever-present lap dog.

I’m close to getting through two repeats of the lace pattern. I’m also awfully close to finishing the first skein of yarn, which means this will be more of a mat than a table runner. So, I’m going to see if there happens to be any of that yarn out there in the world. Who knows?

Pattern up close.

The black part of the yarn makes the lace pattern not show up as well, but that’s a risk I took by not doing this in a solid color. I’m not a perfect decreaser but I’ll smooth some of them out later.

Dark Lace

Just because a yarn is dark doesn’t mean you can’t make a lace project out of it. One of my favorite shawls is this beautiful one made from natural black sheepswool from American Shetland sheep. The shawl was made in 2010 and still looks new. No evil moths have attacked it.

Hey, that hunk of quartz makes a nice shawl display.

The style is Faroese, a traditional British Isles style. The way the center pattern and border intersect is so elegant.

Fun lace. Simple beauty.

The wool is spun a little scratchy, but that makes it stay on your shoulders and drape beautifully. I had Lee take a few pictures of me wearing it, since Ravelry only had pictures of the shawl alone.

It’s very light, but warm. I’m so glad the dogs are old enough that I can wear shawls again. Anyway, dark lace can be lovely.

Those of you wanting to make one can go to my Ravelry page for the project, which lists the source, yarn, and other details. Gosh, I still remember the day I bought the yarn and how helpful the shop owner was. We both kept patting the beautiful wool.

All the details!

Memories. I do have something percolating in my head to write more seriously about, so I’ll be back later. Now I must go on an adventure!

What Chickens and Cattle Have in Common

Ah, memories. Back when Lee’s dad was still around, he liked to tell us all he knew about cattle. He knew a lot, since he spent most of his time with cattle, not people.

I found this 2011 photo of one of Lee’s dad’s mama cows who nursed two bull calves, well past the usual nursing time.

One of his favorite things to tell us was that cows were very smart, and that they had definite habits. He’d tell us he always knew where his cows would be at any time of day, and what they’d be doing. He knew when to go outside and take a nap with them, when they went to get water, and when they went to the back part of the farm to graze. He was a very find observer of bovine behavior!

Well, for the past few days, since I have been sitting at my home office window, I’ve been watching the chickens. I now know that they start out hanging around under the RV in the mornings. Around midday, most of them (Springsteen the Jersey Giant hangs around the coop) head over to where our cattle troughs are and peck at the hay. They also drink out of the fish tank…I mean water trough.

At mid afternoon, they hike over to our house and visit the porch, then at least four or five of them head ALL the way out to the edge of the woods.

They spotted me, so they’re running back toward the house.

And of course, as it begins to get dark, they head back to the coop area, before turning in for the night. Just like cows, chickens have habits. I don’t know if that makes them “smart.” I don’t think it’s at all smart of them to go way over there, knowing the chicken hawk lives here, too.

An Anniversary Year

When I was looking for a photo of Lee’s dad’s cattle on an old blog, I found a picture of the first time we ever stayed overnight here at the Hermits’ Rest, which was in November, 2011.

There’s Ursula, our first RV, sitting pretty much where I could be seeing her outside my office window.

Wow, ten years of this property. No wonder we’re getting to know it so well. Guess who else I’ve known for ten years? My precious horse! Here he is as a strapping 5 year old!

Apache is pissed off that Sara is riding her previous horse, Aladdin. She traded him for Spice.

Suna Conquers the Ridiculous Ranch Closet

There’s so much in life you can’t control. You can’t control whether people like you or not, whether you’re treated with respect, the actions of faceless government agencies, or groups of people who think differently from you. I can’t control those things, either, but, I made myself better by totally dominating my Hermits’ Rest house closet. It has bent to my will and now can be used with ease. It’s like a rural version of those fancy closets you see where ladies (or others) sit around and sit champagne while gazing at their shoes. Sorts.

Yes. There IS a chair there, and there ARE a lot of shoes, organized by type and function, mostly.

Does that photo scare you? Well, if you know me, you’ll know the story of the immense closet in my house, but let me share with the rest of you.

The doors lead to the main bathroom. I like the birds on a branch hangers. There is now only ONE thing per hanger. Thank you, Suna.

The deal is that our house is based on a floorplan for a 3 bedroom 3 bathroom house I found online and ordered the blueprints for. I did ask for some modifications, because the kitchen was really small and I knew there would be lots of cooks. I added an island with a second sink and the cooktop on it. OK, so yes, that made the second floor a bit bigger, too. I also added a laundry room/mud room, so the original laundry area could be a really big pantry (and safe room, long story). That added another few feet.

There’s a 3-way mirror in the corner, and that big square thing is all drawer space. I love the stone, which is actually natural quartz, not granite. My children gave me the obelisk the first Christmas we lived here. We were so thrilled by the island that we opened our Christmas gifts there (closet wasn’t in use yet).

Then, when the dudes started building the house, they asked if they could simplify the second floor. This turned some space that was attic storage into full height closets, and made the upstairs even bigger (also, now Lee has two large closets of his own for his stuff, do don’t jump on me for taking this whole thing).

As of last week, all those storage cubes were a mess of things, and the whole top shelf was shoe boxes. Um, so was most of the shoe shelf. I threw away a lot of boxes I was saving for some project or another.

What ended up happening was that our bedroom is ridiculously large, and has a sitting area and a coffee-drinking table and chairs. And my closet, which started out as a perfectly reasonable walk-in closet became as big or bigger than many bedrooms. It was sort of embarrassing.

These storage cubes now hold the things that were randomly scattered around the room, like tote bags, purses, plastic bags (for trash), bathing suits, hats, etc. I still have a few for future items. I also had them add these two windows, so I don’t need to turn on the lights to find things. Energy efficient!

On the other hand, it was great, and I could organize things and find them. Our contractor did a GREAT job making this a great closet without spending too much money on it. The storage cubbies are lined with cedar, for my hand knits, he built me a jewelry holding area with cork to hang things from AND a chest of drawers for non-hanging things, plus the mirror and the chandelier. It’s nice, but not California Closet crazy.

The jewelry area and ironic sign. By the way, the cubes at left weren’t organized yet in this photo. All those things on the top are now nicely organized in a storage bin.

As years passed, my organizational scheme went awry, and I ran out of clothes hangers. I do probably buy too many clothes. But I do wear them! By a couple of weeks ago, there were piles of things that needed sorting all over that pretty quartz island, I couldn’t find any of my jewelry, and those endless shoe boxes made the room look just awful. I did NOT take “before” pictures.

Essential oils are alphabetized and just need me to bring the rest of them in from various places. Note the trash can is up high, away from dogs. The photo is of my dad after winning a boxing tournament as a teen.

So, I was sad about things going on that I can’t control, like COVID, my family issues, a person I was trying to help but wasn’t able to, things at work. But by gosh, I could make that closet do my bidding. All I had to do was order 100 coat hangers, some drawer organizers, and 16 storage bins. For less than $50 I was ready to tackle the mess.

It was a lot of fun collecting things to donate to charity, organizing other things, dusting, vacuuming and even putting in decorations, so it didn’t look quite so boring.

In THIS photo, the cubes next to jewelry world look correct. You can tell how high I can reach, can’t you?

Sure, no one needs a closet this big, but if you DO have one, the least you can do is make it usable! I can find all my clothing, including pants, dresses, shoes, winter things, summer things, etc. And wow is that jewelry under control (um, now I have to organize the jewelry at the Austin house, sigh…I also have way too much costume jewelry, as part of my coordination obsession). Chaos has departed this one tiny bit of my life, and when I want to breathe, I can go into my closet, spray some rose room scent, and relax. Ahh.

This is ridiculously organized. Who took over Suna’s brain?

To all my friends with small closets (including me at my other house), I hereby promise to keep the ranch closet organized and usable, even suitable for visitors. When we are pandemic free, you can come over and see it.

What do you have under control where you live? It could be something big or small. It could even be in your mind!

Thirty Years Ago Today

On January 15, 1991, the Gulf War was all that was on the news. I was, however, preoccupied with other things, since the previous day, I’d taken a very bumpy and snowy drive to the local hospital in Urbana, Illinois, where I’d spent the least-pleasant day and night in my life. No one wants the gory details, but in the end, the day dawned with a new human being in the world, my son, Kynan. The name means high and mighty in Welsh, or something like that.

Cute little tongue!

I have to say that this baby brought so much joy to his parents, grandparents, and friends that it was totally worth the interventions and ickiness of his birth. We had so much fun with this bright, funny, and entertaining little soul.

He started talking at nine months. We went into the back yard to look at the stars, and he pointed up and declared, “Moon!” He’s never done things the standard way. My dad said K. was revenge for how I was as a baby and toddler. I apparently talked constantly, too. Lucky for me, I was in my element gabbing away and reading to my little buddy.

Woodland exp0lorer (sorry, bad photo; it’s high on a shelf)

He was also an annoyingly early walker, but again, that was fine. He got his dad’s athletic build and skill, that’s for sure.

Raising this young man was one of the great joys of my life. I always enjoyed his friends and was impressed with his loyalty to them. If a friend crossed some line, though, they were out. His sense of right and wrong has always been very strong. His intellect is bright and very sharp; he’s fun to debate with (he was good at it in school!). He’s a gifted musician, and I always loved listening to him play his mandolin.

Stick a beard on it, and that’s him as an adult.

The other greatest joy I had was proofreading his college papers. It was awesome to see how his writing became better and better during college. By the time he as finished, he wrote as well as me and didn’t need my help (and I couldn’t really understand the philosophy stuff, as he’d passed me long ago).

I’m very proud of his work as a high-school teacher, and have worried about him a lot during the COVID-19 period. That has had to be so challenging for someone who cares so much for his students.

Here, he looks like an angel. Even though it hurts, I look at this every day.

Anyway, it’s a sad day for me on January 15, 2021. Like many people I know, I have a child who will not communicate with me. The last time I heard from him normally was two years ago today. It’s been a hard time for both of us, I think, as there have been many challenges in both our lives. I hope though, that he is happy with his family and household, and thinks of me in positive ways, at least occasionally. I know when he’s ready, he’ll get in touch again and I’ll find out what caused him to ghost me two years ago.

If you have a close relationship with your children, tell them you love them often! And if you’re estranged, hold hope and love in your heart. That’s about all I can do. I’m not looking for advice, just sharing how things are right now. My sadness today is perfectly normal, and I’ll be fine and keep coping.

My children aren’t big on gift giving. This is my treasure, which he had made for some band fundraiser in high school.

Change is always possible, and is inevitable. I’ll be here for my son whenever he wants me to be.

Book Review: A Place for Everything

Rating: 4 out of 5.

There’s one final book review for this year, and it’s a book I always wanted to read: the history of alphabetical order! Be still, my heart! A Place for Everything: The Curious History of Alphabetical Order, by Judith Flanders is a book that begged me to read it. And with its huge index (alphabetized, of course), end notes, and all the hallmarks of a modern nonfiction book, it did not fail to disappoint, at least if that’s the kind of reading material you like.

Nice cover!

I’ll have to resort to memoirs to explain my excitement at finding this book. You see, when I was in second and third grade, I was annoying to teachers. They could not find enough work for me to do to keep me quiet, and I kept raising my hand to answer all the questions. I probably annoyed other kids, too. To remedy this, they passed me off to the patient librarian at Sidney Lanier Elementary School in Gainesville, Florida (also at the time home of education for deaf, mentally handicapped, and otherwise challenged kids, which was GREAT for teaching us that those are regular kids that are fine for playing with at recess). And yes, I know now that Sidney Lanier served in the Confederate military, but we were told he was a poet. The End.

Anyway, I proceeded to read through the contents of the library that matched my reading ability. I also needed books that matched my social development, which means not books with a lot of sex or overly “adult” themes that would confuse me. The librarian was very glad that I loved horses, because that made it simple. Just give Sue Ann books about horses, she thought. Then, she taught me how to find them myself in the magical card catalogue. OOOOOOO.

I loved the card catalogue. I’d just browse through it, amazed at its orderliness. I aged a bit and started my own collection of books, of course starting with Black Beauty. Duh. Once I had more than a few books, I was compelled to alphabetize them, by author, of course. There WERE a few I organized by size (which I learned from the book I’m supposed to be reviewing was common).

By the time I was in middle school, I had my own card catalogue (always spelled that way in my mind), made from index cards. I had a title index and an author index. Each card said when I got it and had an indication of its type (mainly F, NF, and SF for fiction, nonfiction, and science fiction (I moved on from horses)). This went with me and was updated throughout high school.

Sigh, alphabetized by author, but not title.

Even as I got older, I obsessively alphabetized my books. It made me happy. It also made finding books easy. I was an academic. I had a LOT of books, but added categories like Japanese, linguistics, knitting to the system.

Once I had children, I gave up and just shelved books by type. Every time I’d get them alphabetized, something would mess them up, so I gave up.

Back to the Book

Judith Flanders taught me a lot about books and their organization, or lack thereof. First off, there weren’t many books for a long time, and they were often bundled together randomly. That’s parchment books. Papyrus ones were scrolled, of course. And you generally read a book from start to finish, so there weren’t many organizational helps like subtitles, page numbers and such. All those things had to be invented!

Once libraries showed up there were lots and lots of ways to organize them. Some organized by size, some by topic, and some by the conventionally used systems of organization, which were fascinating hierarchies. God always came first, then rich people, then other subjects. That’s how lists of all sorts were organized, not just books. I have no idea how anyone found anything in the olden days. People also wrote all over books, and no two copies of any book were the same, since they were hand copied. Challenging.

Eventually, typing and carbon paper made organizing correspondence less complex, while double entry bookkeeping made financial stuff easier, but that all depended on having notebooks and files. So many things we take for granted today are NOT that old, like filing cabinets, file folders, staples, desks, and more. This book will blow your mind and really, really make you respect all those humans of the past who had to memorize everything.

So, as you can see, Everything in Its Place shares the history of a lot more than ordering systems! There’s writing systems, ways to permanently or impermanently record things in writing, storage methods, and of course, organizing systems.

Today’s shelves are beautiful, but disorganized. We are still unpacking books. I still have a lot in Austin. Eek.

That brings me to my favorite discovery in the book, which is about Dewey of the Dewey Decimal System. I was always very annoyed by this whole thing. Topics just didn’t make sense to me, especially the order in which they were arranged (all that Christian stuff in the beginning with lots of numbers, but then just one number for each other religion, for example, and science was weirdly arranged). I never arranged my books by that system, nope.

Was I ever thrilled to discover that Melvil Dewey was an asshole! A sexist! An anti-Semite! A homophobe! A creep! I just knew it. And these biases of his made finding certain topics really hard (there were changes made…but now I see why they use other systems now).

In the end, while Flanders didn’t make the book overly exciting, she did add some fun footnotes that I enjoyed, and she was certainly thorough in her research, which was complicated by the fact that there actually hasn’t been all that much research on organizational systems and alphabets. People just take them for granted. I was glad she addressed how to organize information in non-roman alphabets, like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc. I really feel bad that typewriters are still based on Western principles, which can make typing and printing take a while.