Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Joy (and Frustration) of Weeding

pile of clothing discardsNo, not in the garden, though yanking botanical interlopers out of the flower beds does have its therapeutic value. The type of weeding I’ve been doing lately involves clothing, magazines, books and other flotsam from corners of my home. Since moving into my current home and combining household stuff with my wonderful mate, I have given away a dozen large trash bags stuffed with clothing and shoes. A few of these were filled with my daughter’s cast-offs from earlier years, held onto for sentimental reasons. But most if it was mine, and that bothers me, dear reader – it bothers me a lot.

            When my two siblings and I were children, there wasn’t much money to spend on clothing. We were living on my dad’s public-school-teacher salary, which doesn’t go far in a family of five. So every summer ended with back-to-school shopping from the sale rack at Sears, J.C. Penney and Montgomery Ward. My mother did an outstanding job of making those few dollars stretch to clothe three kids in the basics, plus a few well-chosen items in the latest styles – just a few, but enough to keep us from feeling like total dorks, fashion-wise. Under Mom’s tutelage, I developed a good eye for bargains. Only $4.99 for this top? And it’s so cute! Please, Mom? Pleasepleaseplease?

            The trouble is that the gravitational pull of the sales racks has not diminished over the years, even though I now make enough money to pay full price for a modest but good-quality wardrobe. I still feel the thrill of pulling a cute top out of a pile of schlock, and several times per year I make spontaneous purchases of cute but not really needed items of clothing. This blouse may not match anything I already own, but it’s cute and flattering; it only cost me 9.99 Euros, and don’t I deserve a treat?

            Of course, some of the seasonal wardrobe weeding has to do with changing sizes. Over the past ten years my weight has fluctuated up and down a good twenty pounds. Lately, my weight is easing downward (Huzzah!), and that’s a wonderful reason to weed through my Schränke (wardrobe cabinets – German homes don’t have closets) and bins. Some of the too-tight items I put away with a sigh last August fit again! But many of the rejects are seldom-worn impulse purchases that simply don’t go with my basic pants and skirts, with my most frequent color choices, or with my lifestyle. That red Chanel-style jacket that was on super-sale? I’ve never worn it. That long, camel-tan cardigan? It just looks odd and lumpy over all my blouses and slacks. That schmexy, clingy dress in the bright pink print? It looks great, but how often would I wear something that clingy? Certainly not to work, and I just don’t go to that many fancy brunches or summer weddings. At 50, a grand age to be, I don’t have the elegant, well-put-together wardrobe I deserve. Instead, I have cabinets and storage bins bulging with ill-matched single garments from which I can only pull together a few decent outfits. What a waste of money and time!

            And so, after over-spending on “bargains” from my teens through my forties, I’m turning my back on the sale rack. It’s hard, dear reader – so very hard, especially now, in the summer, when the pedestrian shopping zones of European cities are filled with rack upon rack of darling, inexpensive summer fashions. Cute, colorful tops call to me, the cheap little teases, “Take me home! I’m fun! I’m frivolous! You know you want me!”

            But slowly, oh so slowly, I find that I am actually developing sales resistance. Is this one of the gifts of age that we’re promised: the wisdom to see all that schlock for what it is? A new blouse will not give me a new attitude, a new confidence, or a new je ne sais quoi – especially if it hangs unworn in my wardrobe because it doesn’t go with anything else I own.

            This summer I’m paring my wardrobe down to the bone, and then adding in a few basic, combinable items purchased from a good clothing shop at full price. My theory is that if, say, a blouse costs me forty or fifty Euros, it’ll have to be really flattering and combinable with several other items before my cheap self will plunk down that sum. It’ll be hard, since my bargain-rack mentality recoils at such a high price for one item – but it helps to add up the cost of a dozen trash bags full of discarded ten-Euro tops – ouch! I’ll even go shopping with a list, and stick to it! White blouse means white blouse, not sparkly silver tank top, not powder-blue cropped cardigan, not flowered sundress. Basta! (Wish me luck.)

            How about you? Have you found a way to cultivate sales resistance and good discipline when it comes to buying clothing? Do you shop with a plan? If so, please share your wisdom here.

An Open Letter to My Students

I wondered what I would say to my senior students on their last day of high school. I had only a few twelfth-graders this year, but they were a special few. There were three extraordinary young men in my drama class, one of whom had been my student for all four years of high school. Teaching in a small school like ours, one gets to know some students quite well, and it’s been a privilege to know these three. So, what can you say to the departing seniors on their last day of high school? Well, through misty eyes I looked at this group of thespians, and what I said was,

            “Don’t forget how creative you all are. Don’t neglect that creativity as the years roll on and the adult responsibilities pile up. You are all deeply creative people, and if you don’t respect your creativity, it’ll bite you on the butt.”

            “Remember who you wanted to be.” So says the bumper sticker on my classroom desk. I can’t find the original author of this quote, but it’s an apt thought for our departing students. But there’s a problem here: many of these young people don’t really know who they want to be, or even who they are. And – even if they do have that insight – how can they remember those youthful dreams after decades of raising kids and paying bills and getting by?  So, with that in mind, I’d like to expand my advice to this year’s students.

            My advice to you, dear young ones, is to keep a journal. It doesn’t have to be a written one, though I certainly treasure the time for reflection that writing in a journal fosters. Perhaps you’ll sit down in front of a video camera and record your thoughts of the moment. Perhaps your journal will contain as many images as words: drawings, paintings, photos. But however you choose to tackle it, you should pause often to record your thoughts. Who are you, and who do you want to be? What do you love, and whom? What brings you joy? What brings you peace? What stirs your imagination? What do you yearn for?

            Let me tell you, darlings, as the years roll on and the adult responsibilities pile up, you don’t want to lose focus on these questions. Oh, the answers will change over time. For example, at your age, my greatest thrill was to go dancing in nightclubs. Now? Meh. But dancing is a thread that’s woven through my life, and it still brings me joy. As you keep your journals, you will notice strong threads woven in among the changing colors of your life’s tapestry. And those threads, some bright, some dark, represent your truest nature. Do not lose these threads, my loves. If you do, they’ll weave themselves into your dreams and strangle your peace of mind.

            And I promise you, you’ll enjoy looking back at those journals and hearing the voice of your younger self. The passing of time can make that teenage self seem like a stranger, but – I’m not sure whom I’m paraphrasing here – in your older self exists every age you’ve been: child, youth, young adult, and so on. The passing of time sometimes makes my younger self seem like a stranger, blurring memories and blending details into a fog. But hearing my own voice from back then, seeing my words on the page, brings it all back. In my journals I see patterns, themes, battles begun long ago and only now showing signs of victory. It’s the cheapest therapy you can buy – for the price of a pen and a notebook, I regularly have the kind of epiphanies that others pay thousands of dollars to achieve.

            So buy yourselves a graduation present, dear ones: a journal. Spend some time getting to know yourself better. Don’t forget to check in regularly and continue this vital conversation with yourself. Don’t forget who you wanted to be.


Rottendorf Castle 

When the sun shines and the leaves are green, there is no place more beautiful than Germany. After a long, cold, wet, dark spring (the longest on record for over 100 years), the sun has blessed us with three warm, clear days in a row. And tomorrow we’re expecting some summer thunderstorms! I’m giddy with anticipation.

Isn’t it funny how affected we are by the weather? We surround ourselves with electronic accoutrements, but really we’re just little animals burrowed into our hidey-holes, waiting for the sun to return at the end of winter. This evening’s walk around the neighborhood revealed people gathered on patios, in courtyards, anywhere a wee patch of sun could be found – and all of them basking like lizards, laughing, sharing drinks and stories as the children pedaled their little go-mobiles around like busy bumble bees. As the Germans say, “herrlich!” (glorious!)  Welcome, summer. Thank you for loving us again.