Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

Henry David Thoreau, simplify, Walden PondOne of the pleasures of moving to New England, after 16 years in California, was learning more about our country’s history, and in particular, our literary history.

I toured the Orchard House (where Little Women was written, and where Louisa M. Alcott lived with her parents and sisters).

Orchard House, Louisa May Alcott, Concord MA

The Orchard House,
Concord MA

I breathed in the literary dust of Emerson while touring his home, just across the street from Louisa’s.  

Daily walks from my own home led me pass the Old Manse, where Thoreau and Hawthorne, Fuller, Alcott and Emerson, laid plans for a garden, and a better world.

Old Manse, Concord MA, Hawthorn, Thoreau, Emerson, Alcott

But I was most affected by my strolls around Walden Pond, just a few miles away, and the stomping grounds of Henry David Thoreau. Every time I took my guests for a hike around the “pond” (much more like a lake) and then meandered around the cabin replica and gift shop, I’d pick up a book on Thoreau’s writings or a book mark with one of his quotes.

Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau

Walden Pond
Joseph Sohm/Visions of America/Corbis

You know, Thoreau had a lot to say.

“Be true to your work, your world, your friend.”

“Aim above morality. Be not simply good, be good for something.”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden Pond

Statue of Henry David with cabin.

The one I took to heart the most was, perhaps, the simplest one:

Simplify Simplify Simplify.

Don’t we all know the value of this thought, deep inside?

The more ‘stuff’ we surround ourselves with, the more our heads get stuffed with non-necessities.

The more we add to our lives (items, not friends), the more we lose sight of who we really are, deep down inside.

My man and I took Thoreau seriously. First, we named our new puppy, Henry (Henry David when he got in trouble).

And then we really got serious. We left our beautiful, much-loved 5-bedroom home, and downsized to a 2-bedroom condo.

To make the move, and the change, we had to get rid of a lot of “stuff.” All of my beloved books – off to the library and the thrift shops. Lamps, couches, extra rugs and dinnerware –  sold. Oak headboards, mattresses, linens and towels –  gone. Antique dressers, hope chests, and piano – offered to family and friends.

simplifyI never cried for any of it, and to be truthful, never missed it either. The need for those things seemed to blow away, like tiny bubbles in the wind.

I discovered that Thoreau knew it all, back in  the mid-19th century. The less we’re encumbered with possessions, the more open we are to the world around (and inside) us.

That said, I’m going to simplify a bit further for the next two weeks and not write. Gasp! Well, no, I’ll write, but I won’t share my flashes of writerly wisdom while I’m frolicking with grandchildren, swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, avoiding the East Coast jellyfish, and all around playing.

I hope your next few weeks are simply – joyous!

Summer joy, simple joys, simplify

Frolicking granddaughter.

Dirty Letters

license plate, vanity plate, DMV, grandchildrenSSCSSN – the DMV claims these letters could be “considered offensive.”

On September 21, I sent my permission form to the California DMV (Division of Motor Vehicles) for a new ‘vanity’ license plate using the initials SSCSSN.

But my request was denied.

Why? I can’t figure it out, but perhaps you can.

Here is some background to the mystery: two years ago, when my guy and I moved from MA to CA and needed a license plate, I applied for the wacky, weird combination of SSCS. How did I choose those letters, you ask? (As many do after I park my car and start to walk away…)

My usually ‘unsentimental’ man had the idea – the first initials of our baby grandchildren, in birth order.

Approved! Back in 2010, SSCS seemed just fine to the “Special Processing Unit” over in Sacramento.

But 4 months later, just when my license plate finally arrived by mail, our son and daughter-in-law announced a baby in the making, and a few months after that, our daughter and son-in-law made an identical pronouncement.

Two more initials needed for the license plate!

When grandson Sloan was born in March, we figured, ah, SSCSS. Has a certain symmetry, doesn’t it? But we waited for six more months until the last (and final?) grandchild was born. Neville.

Thus, in late September, I filled out the application for a new vanity plate – SSCSSN, and sent it along to the powers-that-be with a check.

To my surprise and disappointment, I received a letter this week from the manager of the DMV’s “Customer and Program Support Unit” stating that “Per CA Vehicle Code, Section 5105, the department may refuse any combination of letters and numbers that may be considered offensive, (or) which could be misleading…”

I don’t know about you, but have you watched TV lately; listened to the words on some of the newest, hottest songs on the radio (or just listened to the vitriol spewed out by a DJ); paid attention to a billboard; even, dare I say, read some of the messages that non-thinking people place on their Facebook page? Those, I grant you, can be offensive. But SSCSSN??

All I want is to have some good clean fun with my grandkids, their parents, my family, by acknowledging the presence of these Sweetly Sanguine Completely Scrumptious Splendid Newcomers.

And this reasoning is what I explained in a letter to the Manager of the Customer and Program Support Unit of the Special Processing Unit, DMV, in Sacramento.

Do you think they’ll reconsider?

grandchildren, babies, family



appreciation, blog, readers, writers, daughters, babysittingWhat does it mean, to be appreciated, or to appreciate something? Dictionary definition says:


1. gratitude; thankful recognition:

2. the act of estimating the qualities of things and giving them their proper value.

3. clear perception or recognition, especially of aesthetic quality: a course in art appreciation.

4. an increase or rise in the value of property, goods, etc.

5. critical notice; evaluation; opinion, as of a situation, person, etc.

      I like the #5 definition best, and it reminds me of the time I babysat for my daughter – her 1-year-old and 1-month old babies – for 8 hours, yet she picked them up after a long day kind of grumpy and well, non-appreciative, in my mind.
     So, being exhausted after the day, and feeling a bit weepy, I told her straight out as we strapped the kiddies in her car: I DON’T THINK YOU APPRECIATE ME!
     And you know what? My daughter stopped in the midst of the babies crying and asking for their bottles and dinner and stared me straight in the eye – her blue intensity gazing into my green regard and said strongly and full of love, “Mom, yes, I do! I do appreciate you!”
     I believed her. And felt loved and appreciated, and I let go of my tiredness and instead appreciated how much I loved and enjoyed these grandbabies, and how much I loved my daughter.
     That was three years ago, and still on every birthday card and Mother’s Day card and Christmas card my daughter sends me, the botton line always, ALWAYS says: I Appreciate You!
     So that’s what I first thought about when a fellow blogger nominated me this week for the “READER APPRECIATION AWARD.” She didn’t know how much this sweet award would mean to me – much more than the one word seems to imply.
     We all love to be appreciated, and I thank you, my readers, for enjoying my posts, for commenting, for smiling when I say something funny (or even when I don’t!), and mostly, for being here, allowing me to enjoy my weekly wighting writing.
     Besides telling you something about myself (see above) to accept this award, I also have the honor of nominating six other blogs. Here they are:
THANK YOU – I appreciate you all!

Calm DOWN!

calm down, Calvin Hobbes, stay calmI haven’t seen my East Coat grandchildren in three months. Maybe, at the ages of 2 and 3, they won’t remember me.

So, like any self-respecting, upright, honest and upstanding woman, on this visit I bring 2 singing stuffed animals, 2 books, 2 lollipops, and a bag of my famous chocolate chip oatmeal bars.

They may not remember me, but by God, they will like me!

I arrive at their 1-week vacation cottage, a place where they’ve never seen me, so they could be even more confused about who I am and how I fit into the scheme of things. But as soon as I enter the front door, I’m greeted with “Madre! Come see my room!” “Madre, look at my car!” “Madre, can I have my pop now?” “Madre, let’s play outside!”

I breathe a sigh of relief as they cuddle with me, sit on my lap while I read stories, play with my sparkling earrings, and stroke my face like a blind person making sure my lips, eyes, nose have remained in place.



I want to be the good Madre, because after this week, I won’t see them again for at least three more months.

So when they jump on the couch, I bite my lip.

When they eat their lollipops and touch the doorknobs with their sticky fingers, I only let an ‘ugh’ escape.

When Sophie brushes my hair and pulls too hard on a curl, I just laugh.

Until bed time.

The three of us are sharing the room – Sophie and I are in the double, Clark in his own little futon. The clock is pushing 10 and I’m exhausted, but Clark is yet again sneaking out of the room like a little munchkin looking for Oz.

“Clark!” I yell, scaring the poor kid into scampering back to his bed like a bird into his cage.

“That’s enough!” I continue. “Bed! Time!”

Sophie jumps out of her side of the bed and stands in front of me, chest puffed, hands held above her head.

“Madre, Madre!” she exclaims dramatically, moving her arms from the up position to below her waist. “C a l m  D O W N!  Just C A L M  d o w n.”

“But…!” I begin to protest. But then I realize, what the hell, she’s right!

And I laugh.

And continue to be the good Madre the rest of the week.

calm down, babies sleeping, relaxation

Calming Down

Eating the Broccoli

eating your vegetablesI love broccoli and fresh green beans. I love cauliflower and Brussel sprouts, artichokes and corn, asparagus and spinach. Especially spinach.

But I didn’t always. Remember when you were a kid, and your parents made you eat those obnoxious green stringy horrid disgusting things called “vegetables”?

Why did we hate them so much? I remember plopping my peas into my glass of milk (whole milk, back in the day before the choices of non-fat or low fat) in order to hide them. Drip. Drop. Drip. One pea at a time. Thinking I’d get away with it. But my parents also made me finish my glass of milk every night. And surprise! A half dozen round peas lay in the bottom of my glass like tiny drowned smarmy green mice. My tears and histrionics drowned out the parental order: eat those mice or ‘NO DESSERT!’

broccoli, unhappy girl eating her vegetables

When did I learn to appreciate the finer aspects of the green goodies that help us stay lean and mean like a well-oiled machine (wasn’t there an ad somewhere, sometime, like this for say, asparagus? If not, should have been.)

I can’t remember eating spinach enthusiastically until I was pregnant with my first child. Then, I couldn’t get enough of it. I’d stroll down the grocery aisles surreptitiously, sneaking into the freezer section, piling boxes of frozen spinach one at a time, looking right and left to make sure no one saw. After all, who eats spinach voraciously like a wolf attacking red meat?

I’d rush home and start a small saucepan of boiling water, dropping in that iced square of green stringy stuff, timing the steaming impatiently, sighing with satisfaction as I gorged on the delicious delicacy with pure delight.

Some say my body craved iron; I say I just finally learned to let go of my prejudices and discover the goodness of vegetables.

Aldous Huxley once wrote: “The charm of history…consists in the fact that, from age to age, nothing changes and yet everything is quite different.” Same with broccoli and childhood. My grandchildren are now squirming through the difficulties of eating their vegetables. Sophie, 3 ½ years old, shows her quiet resolve to make it through this ordeal with good cheer as she “eats the broccoli.”

Check out her secret here, and then go eat your vegetables!