Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fail! Grade F for Lust for Books

I Still Lust for Books

By Christine Clark

Deceptive photo--I have three more bookcases to purge.

Purging books is difficult. I consider many books my companion, my way to avoid the noises that go bump in the night, my source of humor, my source of knowledge. I have a friend who never, ever gets rid of books. I’m closer to her in my book hoarding than I thought.
The imminent arrival of company meant I could procrastinate no longer. I had to clear the sofa of the books. I got out my “criteria for keeping” list and asked myself each question:
Do I love it? I love far too many of my books. I revisit my favorite authors and reread their books: Margaret Atwood, Isabel Allende, Barbara Kingsolver, Bailey White, John Steinbeck, J. California Cooper, Silas House, Charles Dickens... Books by those authors will always have a home on my shelves.
Do I want to read it? This was tough. Books I want to read are on the bottom shelf. I scanned those one day for beach reading. “No, I don’t want to read that. No, I don’t want to read that. No… Hmmm? And why did I keep these books?” The Dante Club and a few others went into the give-away box.
Do I want to read it again? The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, Mama Makes Up Her Mind, The Poisonwood Bible, 100 Years of Solitude, The Grapes of Wrath, Bel Canto, A Parchment of Leaves, yes, yes, and yes, maybe too many times yes.
I was smart enough to get rid of
Camping for Dummies.
Do I want to share it? Every book in the preceding paragraph and more. Yes. To be honest, my sharing is also a problem. Confession: If I see a book for sale and it’s one I really love, such as Cold Mountain, The Poisonwood Bible, Bel Canto, Mama Makes Up Her Mind, The Handmaid’s Tale, I buy a copy to give to someone else I think would enjoy reading it. Why get an extra copy? I don’t want my most-treasured books to leave the house—serious hoarding issue.
Is it a reference or a textbook I need? Animal,Vegetable, Miracle, yes. In Defense of Food, yes. The Omnivore’s Dilemma, yes, English Grammar, Language As Human Behavior, yes. The Norton Anthology of American Literature (three volumes), yes.
Am I saving it for my children or grandchildren? Yes. I have a shelf of children’s books.
Does the book represent a memory I’m not ready to release? A battered pamphlet sits on the shelf. My daughter found it shortly after her sister died in 1986. I keep it because it’s a Christmas story of hope. We needed hope at that dreary time.
Can I get the book at a library? Yes, but that doesn’t mean I will get rid of a book just because I can find it somewhere else. I can’t write in library books or turn down corners or savor them for weeks or even months at a time. Well, I can, but a fine is involved for that “weeks or even months at a time” choice.
Yes, this is a Rolling Stone from January 2008.
Most women I know understand why this is a keeper.
Fail is my book-purging grade. I gave away only about 25 books. It’s a beginning, though. I’m trying to go easy and not judge myself too harshly about book hoarding. At least I have made one resolution: I won’t bring any more books into the house—even if it’s an “extra” I want someone else to read. I don’t even need to go to the library to get any books… I have plenty to read right here at home.

       Do you suffer from book lust? Would my criteria help you purge your books? Have you successfully conquered book lust (a.k.a book hoarding)? Should we even try to release our books? Please share your successes (or failures) in the comments section.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Reading Into My Lust for Books

Lust for Stuff — Books
By Christine Clark

No "Woman Killed By Falling Bookcase" Headline for Me
Books are a problem. My house is a repository for books I’ve read, books I want to read, books people loaned me that I haven’t returned, books I love, books I want to read again, books that make me think, books I read to my children when they were little, extra copies of books I want other people to read… I have a lot of books.
A recent cleaning project forced me to move a large bookcase. I say “me,” but I mean Paul, Chelsea, and me. Said move required all three of us because I didn’t want to take all the books off the shelves. We couldn’t lean the bookcase against a wall, so I propped it up with a heavy stool so it wouldn’t crash down on me.
Woman Killed By Falling Bookcase was the headline that flashed into my head for a few hours, so I moved the books onto the sofa. Piling books onto the sofa gave me a whole new perspective on just how many books I own—too many—and those were from only one bookcase. Two more large bookcases have books spilling off the shelves, a row of reference books sits on my desk, books on my nightstand, books on top of the antique wood breadbox in my room, cookbooks in the kitchen; Chelsea and Paul each have bookcases in their bedrooms.
How Many Books Are Too Many?
I don’t think I hoard books. I prefer the idea that I have an abundance of intellectual and spiritual property. That’s what I tell myself anyway. Seeing those piles of books on the sofa forced me to take another look. I need to purge some books. I decided to apply my “Lust for Stuff” criteria to each book before I put it back on the shelf:

Do I love it?
Do I want to read it?
Do I want to read it again?
Do I want to share it?
Is it a reference or a textbook I need?
Am I saving it for my children and/or grandchildren?
Does the book represent a memory I’m not ready to release?
Can I get the book at a library?

How did I do? Stay tuned…

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Eww! Rotting Vegetable Matter and Funky Banana Water

By Christine Clark

Pity my poor family. They must live with me and my gardening projects. For about 18 years, fruit and vegetable matter in various stages of rot has greeted my family from a container on the kitchen counter, in the sink, or a dark place under the sink. I now limit the container to someplace visible. It was a bad idea to hide it under the sink. I’d often forget about it until I’d open the cabinet to add more juicy materials and just about swoon from the stench.

The "Compost" Bowl
We call this collection of vegetable peels, apple cores, coffee grounds, and eggshells compost, as in “Take the compost out, it’s disgusting,” but it isn’t compost, yet. Whether it’s disgusting is relative to how long it’s been inside. It’s what will become compost after I take it (and its various non-human friends—think fruit flies, mold, bacteria) outside to the compost pile, where time, heat, grass clippings, and manure work their magic and turn the decomposing soup into the best dirt on the planet.
Composting is a great way to recycle and to add excellent organic matter and various beneficial microbes to the garden. I like compost. I like the way a finished batch crumbles like soft, fresh-baked cookies when I squeeze it in my hands. I love the rich, earthy, moist dirt scent. I wish I had yards of it. But, I don’t, and must continue to, as my daughter says, “Make your own dirt.” So, the compost bowl is a permanent fixture in my kitchen; it sits in the sink until I take it outside, fruit flies trailing in my wake. (I’m trying to get better about taking it out everyday, but I sometimes forget.)
Unusual juxtaposition of Battenburg Lace and Banana Water
Unfortunately for my family, another gross gardening project has joined the compost bowl in the kitchen. Funky banana water is now part of my gardening repertoire. A few months ago, I got my first staghorn fern. I have no trees in which to place said fern, so it’s hanging on my patio. It’s healthy and happy. As a gardener, though, I want it healthier, happier, and bigger. I recalled that staghorns love bananas, so I Googled for more information. Some gardeners recommend that banana peels be dried and then added to staghorns. Several Web sites advised soaking banana peels in water and using the potassium-rich liquid to water the ferns. (Since then, several successful staghorn growers have told me they use the entire banana.) Potassium, hmmm, I thought. I know tomatoes need potassium and wondered if the banana water would help my struggling Roma tomato seedlings. Onto the counter went a jar of water and banana peels. After a few days, the water turned yellow-beige and the peels got soft and floaty looking. I carefully poured the liquid onto the staghorn and my ailing tomato seedlings.
Two weeks ago, my tomatoes were about an inch high and yellow. Today, thanks to several dousings of banana water, they are six inches high, green, and thriving. The staghorn keeps growing and growing.
The kids never said a word when the jar of banana peels and water materialized on the kitchen counter. They probably wondered, but decided, “No, it’s probably not even safe to ask.” At least I haven’t gone as far as Bailey White’s mother, the subject of White’s hilarious book, Mama Makes Up Her Mind (www.amazon.com/Mama-Makes-Up-Her-Mind/dp/0679751602). Unlike White’s mother, I don’t have worms and a bowl of worm casings hanging from the light fixture in my kitchen. (Worm casings are excellent for the garden, but no… I just can’t.)
My sister is a bit braver than my kids. When she walked into the kitchen yesterday and spied the jar of banana peels and water, she said, “What is that? Some sort of science experiment gone terribly wrong?” I suppose the peels with their black spots look a bit like snakes in a jar. She relaxed after I explained. She, too, was impressed with the tomatoes and, like me, loves to garden. Maybe there’s a banana water jar in her future. And my kids? I imagine when they all have their own homes, they might say, “No compost! My mother always had something gross in the kitchen, and we’re not having that here!”

Friday, April 22, 2011

Hands Off… My Feet

John 13:5: After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

By Christine Clark
Tenebrae service overwhelms me with its power and emotion. I feel more connected to Christ and His message during Holy Week than at most other times. I can take or leave Christmas, but I observe Easter. The progression of Christian holy days toward Easter begins on Maundy Thursday with Tenebrae. The word itself is Latin for “shadows” or “darkness” and Tenebrae services progress from light to dark. Leaving the church in shadow and silence at the service’s end echoes the darkness of the world when the light of Christ was extinguished for those few days.
Tenebrae services also often include foot washing. Jesus became servant to his disciples during his last time with them and washed their feet, symbolizing that He was there to serve them. He instructed them to follow his example of service throughout the world.
I don’t mind relating the act of foot washing to service. I get that we’re supposed to help each other and be Christ-like as much as possible in our daily lives. But, when it comes to my feet, I don’t want anyone to touch them! I watched warily as the bowl and towel moved to various people in the Tenebrae service last night. Foot washing was optional and I knew it was an act of service, but I have to say I am glad the bowl and towel passed me by.
In the silence during my drive home from the service, I pondered why the idea of someone washing my feet repels me so much. I don’t mind the hugging at church and handshakes. As part of the service last night, we washed each other’s hands. That, too, was okay with me. But my feet? No. Why? I decided that to have someone, almost anyone, touch my feet was just too intimate, too close… Then I realized that was the point of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Foot washing is intimate. During Jesus’s lifetime, only servants washed feet. That’s why the disciples were so shocked at Jesus’s actions. It’s the very intimacy of the act that is so profound. Someone takes your dusty, dirty, probably smelly, foot in their hand and cleans it. Foot washing signals that you are ready to serve, that you aren’t afraid of getting down in the trenches and simply doing what needs to be done.
Early this Good Friday morning, I am pondering service. What can I do today, especially, to serve? Not in a symbolic way, but in a real way? When I run errands today, what face will I show the world? When I speak to people, what tone of voice will I use? If someone needs me, will I be there for them, no matter what they need? Jesus performed the ultimate service for us… a service that went far beyond washing feet… Where and how can I be of service today in my walk toward the holiest of days this Sunday?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sometimes It’s So Easy to Just Ask

“Ask and ye shall receive…” ~ Matthew 7:7

(Note: The following is a letter to three pastors whom I deeply respect. They are a constant source of inspiration and guidance. I put this letter on my blog because I want to share my answer from God with a wider audience.)

Dear Dale, Bill, and Brant,
I have been so disconnected spiritually for months—maybe years—probably since shortly after I moved to Florida from Massachusetts. This is not a good thing. I’ve been lazy about church and staying connected with God. Lately, it seems that so much is spiraling out of my control; because, after all, I have to control everything.
My to-do list today has a hundred more things on it than any normal person could possibly accomplish. Nonetheless, I said to myself: “It’s been weeks and weeks since I did any morning spiritual study.” So, I forced myself to sit down with my Bible and The Upper Room devotional. In a rather offhand way, I said, “Okay, God, give me a sign.” The Bible reading for today is: John 15:1–11. It starts: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes.” Not a big deal, right? Wrong! Today’s first order of work for me is to proofread a book on pruning. That’s what I call a sign.

“Stay in Touch” is the devotion’s title and subject. The text tells about the importance of staying connected to God, and how when we ignore or don’t continue that connection, we fail to grow spiritually. My interpretation is that without the necessary pruning, we (I) become vines run amok, without any care or direction in which to grow. That pretty much sums up my spiritual path for far too long… a vine with a lot of crazy branches spiraling out of control, with lots of dead brush cluttering up the beauty of what could be a life that walks with and toward God.
Of course, I want to say that I have a new resolve… that I will be perfect in my spiritual walk and after this sign, I will never again stray or think that I am in control, even when I know I am not. Wrong. I know my human side all too well. And then there’s that imperfection inherent in being human. However, I have a pretty strong reminder that God, indeed, is paying attention, even when I am not, and He’s ready to prune me, to help me grow… and all I must do is lift my hands in prayer and open myself to that growth. I intend to do that much.
I leave you three with my wishes for a wonderful Holy Week. I also want you to know that you help guide my walk and for that I am grateful to you, and to God.


Today’s letter/blog is based on The Upper Room devotional for today, April 18, 2011:

Monday, April 11, 2011

First Is Best—Gardenias, Bells from a Reindeer, Steps On the Beach after a Storm

By Christine Clark

The first gardenia of the year bloomed yesterday. Gardenias are my favorite flowers, so my first purchase for my bare Florida yard was a gardenia bush. Gardenias bloom for only a few short weeks in the spring, so I take full advantage of that time and fill vases and bowls with blossoms so the scent can follow me throughout my home. In the early spring, I study my bushes and pamper them with fertilizer and organic sprays to rid them of aphids and other creatures who might spoil their beauty. I watch and wait as the buds form, and eagerly anticipate that first white bloom.
Late yesterday, I noticed the first gardenia blossom. The first one is always striking to me and I view it as the most important. That bloom heralds more to come in the next month. I never pick it, but wait patiently, knowing more buds will open in the following days. This first gardenia blossom brought to mind other firsts—firsts that strike a chord in my psyche and wake up my senses. I know I have not become too cynical because I came up with the following group of firsts that thrill me on a regular basis.
The Polar Express, a children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg, tells a magical story of the first gift of Christmas—a bell from one of the reindeer that pulls Santa’s sleigh.
Winter in New England is a trial; the first crocus of spring announces that the bitter days will end soon, soon.
Storms produce a charge in the air on the seashore. A first walk on the beach after a summer afternoon’s thunderstorm awakens the senses, yet calms, because, after all, the storm has passed.

Basil is my favorite herb. My pesto is famous for its taste and texture. The season’s first batch of pesto made from young basil leaves, parsley, garlic, and other secret ingredients, awakens the taste buds of all who eat it.
My eyes fill with tears, and I get that crying lump in my throat whenever I hear the first notes of “Pomp and Circumstance” right before the graduates begin their march into the future.
Lindt dark chocolate truffles are my all-time favorite chocolate. Nothing matches the first bite of one and the feeling I get as my brain gets busy manufacturing feel-good endorphins.
When my daughter Tarah climbed into the car after her first-ever soccer practice, she turned to me and said, “That was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life!”
Air-dried bed linens have a perfume that pleases like nothing else in the world. Scents of air, sun, and the Earth wafting over you when you first slip beneath those sheets after a long day produce a sense of well being few things can match.
First isn’t always best, but it often is. Stopping our busy lives to notice and appreciate firsts can bring a sense of joy and wonder at life’s gifts.
What are some of your memorable firsts? Do you take a few moments to stop and smell the gardenias or to savor that first bite of chocolate?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Running On Empty? Your Choice?

“Running out of gas is a conscious decision.”
~ Barbara Rich, yoga teacher, Groton, MA

 By Christine Clark

Procrastination has my car's gas gauge running near empty these days. As gas prices edge ever higher, I wait, hoping they will go down. Of course, the opposite has been true and the numbers flip toward $4.00 a gallon. I work at home, so a tank usually lasts a week. I broke my gas budget last weekend by traveling an extra 240 miles, so I bought only a few gallons on Tuesday for $3.539999. By Friday, regular was $3.69999 at the least-expensive station in Sebastian, Florida, where I buy gas. Still, I hesitate to fill up.
I know that hesitation can get me into trouble. Thursday morning at 4:20, my sister sleep-dialed me. She didn’t answer my return calls for about 10 minutes because she was asleep. Wide-awake and frantic, my imagination went into overdrive wondering what emergency made her call at that time. I imagined I would have to drive to her house in Ft. Lauderdale in the next hour. And what was my biggest concern? I would first have to buy gas because I didn’t have enough to get there.
In the last two days, as I’ve thought about my near-empty gas tank, my yoga teacher’s saying came to mind: “Running out of gas is a conscious decision.” It is a conscious decision, because I (and many others) make the decision to not buy gas. When I lived in Massachusetts, I had a personal rule about when to buy gas: Emerson Hospital in Concord, MA, was the closest large hospital to my home, yet it was a 40-minute drive. If my car didn’t have enough gas to get there, I filled up before going home. When I had to take my daughter to Emerson one snowy evening, the last thing I needed was any worry about having enough gas to get there. I had obeyed my own rule, so all I had to do was get in my snow-worthy Subaru Forester and drive. My decision to not run out of gas spared me extra stress that night.
Gas prices may or may not go down over the next few months. I hope they do because the high cost of driving is a hardship for many people. I don’t drive much; so altering my driving habits won’t help my gas budget in the meantime. Regardless of the per-gallon price, however, I have made a Sebastian rule about my gas-tank level. Close family members live two hours north of me and two hours south of me. I won’t park in my driveway unless I have enough gas to get to either city. I hope an emergency never requires an anxious drive north or south, but if it does, I will have plenty of gas to get there.

Where might you need to drive in the middle of the night or in case of an emergency? How much gas would it take you to get there? Can you make a commitment to have that much in your tank at all times?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Lust for Free Stuff—I Wanted It, But I Don’t Have It

By Christine Clark

Last weekend I visited my sister, who is consolidating the contents of two homes. Read about my lust for free stuff here:
I’m trying to conquer my lust for stuff, so before I left home, I made a list of criteria to consider before taking anything:

1.   Do I want to walk my talk and conquer the lust for stuff?
2.   What will I do with the stuff?
3.   Do I need the stuff?
4.   Where will I put the stuff?
5.   Do I love the stuff?
6.   How have I managed to live 58 years without the stuff?

Later in the evening after I arrived at Kathy’s, my sister Lindy and I circled the table, sniffing like wary canines. Earlier, I had scanned the table and decided, “I’ll take this, this, and this,” conveniently forgetting my criteria. I had my eye on a few items and was ready to present my case why I, not Lindy, should get that stuff.
How did I do? Helping someone move always brings out the stuff. The idea of moving my own stuff is daunting, so I am more averse to accumulating stuff. I think I did okay.
What I Brought Home
Coca-Cola pitcher: My former husband loves and collects Coca-Cola everything: bottles, cans, clothing, anything with the Coca-Cola logo. My son Paul wanted the pitcher for his dad.

Large basket: I like this sturdy basket and the handle. It will replace a larger, less-attractive basket filled with games and magazines I must purge.

Spode Copeland Series Blue Willow dessert plate: I love the cobalt blue, but, honestly, the word Spode on the plate’s bottom and the gold rim caught my eye. It is valuable. I found it online priced at $50.

Stainless steel measuring spoons: Spices, yeast, and baking powder and soda cling to my plastic measuring spoons. My stainless steel spoons have disappeared over the years. I will use these daily. Now I must purge the plastic measuring spoons I dislike.

Salad dressing cruet (a fancy word for jar): Although fatty and caloric, I love Ranch dressing, but $4 for a bottle, the sodium content, and the chemical ingredients concern me. I recently began making my own. It is delicious and I can pronounce all the ingredients. This bottle’s tight-fitting lid makes for mess-free mixing. Now, I must recycle the empty glass jars I’ve been using.
Towels: Taking a few towels is purely practical. I don’t have many, and will need more when a houseful of guests arrives in June to celebrate my son’s high school graduation.
What I Almost Took But Put Back
Pink shawl: My sisters said it looked beautiful on me. I love pink, but… I don’t wear heavy shawls, especially since my return to Florida. Back to the pile it went.
White cotton jacket: Even Paul said this looked great, but… I have a white hoodie and a white linen jacket. Two is (one more than) enough. Back to the pile.
Blue and white ceramic canisters: Cobalt blue and white is my favorite color combination, but… the canisters are not practical. I have too much blue and white. Back to the pile.
Large stainless steel soup pot: A large pot like this is perfect for making soup for 20 people, but… I’ve never made soup for 20 people. Back to the pile.
White-spotted blue enamel pot: The perfect pot for making popcorn, but… I already have a pot for making popcorn. Back to the pile.
Small Pyrex bowl with fitted lid: Perfect for storage in the fridge or freezer, microwavable, oven-safe. I’m using fewer plastic containers and wrap, so I have several Pyrex containers. Back to the pile.
Pie plates: I often bake pies and quiche. I have more than 10 quiche dishes, pie plates, tart pans. I’ve never run out, even during baking-intensive holidays. Back to the pile.
Dishes with cobalt blue design: It’s obvious cobalt blue is my favorite color because I have so much of it. Dishes of all colors fill my cabinets, a shelf in the kitchen, a cabinet in the garage. I don’t need more dishes. Back to the pile.
I turned down clothing, sheets, travel games… the table overflowed with items. At one time, I might have taken everything—or at least what Lindy didn’t want. My desire to avoid more stuff—even, especially, free stuff—kept me in check.
I survey what I brought home, opposed to what I could have brought home, and I feel light, almost airy, because I am breaking the chains of stuff—wanting it, acquiring it, possessing it—link by link.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lust for Free Stuff

Is It Lust of a Different Color, or Is It Still Green?

By Christine Clark

“We still have each other, even if all the stuff is gone.”
“But I want the stuff!”
The preceding conversation is loosely based on dialogue from The Jerk, a 1970s movie starring Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters. A simplified plot summary follows: They are poor. They get rich. They get lots of stuff. They lose the money. They lose the stuff.
I have often echoed Peters’ line: “But I want the stuff!” I do want the stuff, but I am learning that its weight often exceeds literal ounces and pounds. Avoiding the stuff is easy if I stay away from retail establishments. Thrift shops, discount stores, yard sales, department stores, garden centers (a particular lust land for me), and even the grocery store can be tempting. Places that sell stuff have a common denominator: If I want the stuff, I have to buy it, which helps me set limits.
Free stuff, however, is a different beast. I challenged the beast of free stuff last weekend. My sister Kathy moved back to Florida and is consolidating the contents of two houses. She has so much stuff she is giving some of it away—free stuff! My sister Lindy and I planned a visit last weekend to help settle Kathy in her home.
Kathy called Friday and told me her dining room table was piled with things she no longer wants. Lindy and I could have whatever we wanted. Free stuff! My greed chip activated instantly: “Don’t let Lindy take anything before I get there! She can be so greedy sometimes.” As soon as I said that, I felt guilty. I asked myself, “Who is greedy? I am!” I wanted first dibs on the stuff. Shame on me! I lusted after stuff I had not even seen. I had no idea what it was, but it was stuff, it was free, and I wanted it. Well, I wanted first choice at what I knew I would want as soon as I saw it.
Lust for a shiny doodad, shirt, jeans, shoes, flowers, whatever catches my fancy, is one thing. But I lusted after stuff I didn’t even know existed earlier that day. In the hours before I left for Kathy’s, I took a hard look at that lust. I didn’t like it. I felt awful about calling Lindy greedy because, in fact, she is quite generous. As I pondered getting more stuff, free stuff, I surveyed my existing stuff—books spilling over the edges of bookcases, plants on every surface, cabinets filled with dishes, glasses, pots, pans, pie plates—many I don’t and might not ever use. I realized I did not need any more stuff, but I still wanted it.
I am a flawed person; one of my deepest flaws is not walking my talk. I aspire to be like people who walk their talk. How could I walk my talk about conquering the lust for stuff? How could I stop acquiring more stuff—even free stuff?
I decided to set criteria on what I would take by asking myself several questions:

1.   Do I want to walk my talk and conquer the lust for stuff?
2.   What will I do with the stuff?
3.   Do I need the stuff?
4.   Where will I put the stuff?
5.   Do I love the stuff?
6.   How have I lived 58 years without the stuff?

I wrote my questions on a piece of paper as a visual reminder and put it in my suitcase. I also packed some blankets and large towels to wrap and bring home the glass top for the table my sister gave me two weeks earlier, not that the table was stuff...
When I arrived, Kathy had taped a cute sign on the door welcoming us to the thrift shop. One line rang true: “Competition is fierce.” She called it. I was competing for stuff I had not even seen. How did I do? Stay tuned…