16 December 2007

Bow Down? And Save the (Birth)Day

I’ve been reading Alan Morinis’ Everyday Holiness, a book about the ancient Jewish spiritual path of Mussar. In the appendix is a soul-trait inventory to “help you identify the soul-traits that are part of your own spiritual curriculum.” It’s an interesting list, ranging through awareness and humility to honesty, kindness, fear, and strength.

Mussar recommends identifying 13 soul-traits on which to focus, one at a time, rotating through them four times over the course of one year. So I went through the list, seeking to name the traits on which I needed most focus. Some of them, I discovered, were traits I’m actually strong in: gratitude, simplicity, order. Others jumped out at me as obvious weaknesses: patience, equanimity, trust… Coming up with 13 wasn’t that difficult.

Except for one trait, to which I responded vehemently: Obedience. What? Hell no, I will not work on being obedient. I don’t believe in obedience, for me or for anyone else. Freedom is one of my highest values. Obedience sounds like patriarchal domination crap, nothing I want any part of. (I have issues with the patriarchal construct of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim religions. But that’s another discussion.)

I know I’m not alone in my reaction to Obedience. My colleague Barbara says she would toss the Obedience angel card back in to the pot anytime she drew it. But if I have such a strong negative reaction to it, I thought, does that mean I must add the trait to my list of 13?

No. If I’ve learned nothing else so far, I’ve learned to honor and trust myself. If I feel this strongly about the rightness of humans not being obedient to each other, then I shall honor my belief. I will not work on being obedient to others.

Oh, but wait! Maybe Obedience doesn’t mean between humans. Obedience can also speak of our relationship to our Higher Power. It can mean listening to and taking direction from our intuition, or God, or the Goddess, or Universe, or whatever we call he/she/it/them. And this I’m not only okay with, I’m actually pretty good at. I take orders from HP on a regular basis, usually delivered in the form of Inspiration. (Okay, sometimes I kick and fuss first, but not too much and not for long.)

I guess my initial reaction to Obedience was a case of kicking and fussing. But once I looked at the concept from a different perspective, I shifted from feeling pressured to include Obedience among the 13 soul-traits of my soul’s curriculum to recognizing it as already being among my strengths.

Anthony’s mom’s birthday is tomorrow, and she’s driving up today for her birthday dinner with us. Anthony’s making spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread and salad. I’m in charge of the chocolate cake. So this morning I made the cake. Followed the directions on the box of Dr. Oetker’s organic chocolate cake, but jazzed it up by mixing in about a cup of little Sunspire chocolate chips. Can’t have too much chocolate, right? Wrong. Once the cake cooled, it collapsed in the center. Too much gooey warm chocolate chips! What to do?

Talk about inspiration… I cut out the middle so that the cake looked like a ring, then spread the goo over the top and sides instead of frosting it with a chocolate glaze. Then I cooked up a package of Trader Joe’s organic raspberries, some Triple Sec, and a couple of (very) heaping tablespoons of powdered sugar (adjust quantities to taste) until the sauce had thickened some. Once it had cooled, I spooned the raspberry sauce over the cake. It looks lovely, and I’m sure it will be delicious. The only problem is where to put her birthday candle (a question-mark candle that has become a tradition with Anthony and me). Anthony suggested filling the hole inside the cake ring with Satsuma orange segments. I like the idea, and the image, so we may do this and balance the candle in among them.

13 December 2007

Shifting Perspective

Anthony was 22 when we got together, almost 23. I am 18 years older. Throughout our years together, I have felt – and said – that I am his “finishing school,” that my role in his life has been to bring him into adulthood, that this was our karmic relationship.

Of course, this has only been one part of our relationship. I love Anthony deeply, and we are truly friends, sharing grand adventures and simple details of daily living. Still, I have carried the assumption that I was his stepping stone into adulthood, and that at some point (I had thought when he turned 30, but that was over a year ago), he would launch from our nest. (Yeah, that’s a mixed metaphor. Forgive me.) Not that I wanted him to leave. I wanted (still want) him to grow up, to step up and be the responsible man I want as my partner.

And I have not been patient.

I carry expectations, of what it means for Anthony to be an adult, what his being responsible should look like. And I carry expectations of what a partner would be for me, how that responsible adult would fit into and support my life. When Anthony does not fit my expectations, I become irritable. There have been many times over our 8 years together when I’ve wanted out of the relationship, but I haven’t left yet.

I know that my impatience and irritability are my responsibility. And I know how much it sucks to have a partner who wants you to change, to be something other than you are. I don’t want to do this to Anthony. I also know it’s ridiculous to be with someone on the premise that they will change. The only thing that I can change is me. Which brings me to yesterday’s revelation.

I believe that we are souls who have chosen to be human in order to learn and grow, to make existence (on the grand scale) better and more whole. We all have areas in which to improve. Clearly, patience and acceptance (and trust, honor, equanimity, and respect) are areas in which I need to progress. And who better to teach me patience than the man who triggers my impatience faster than anyone?

What I have realized is this: Anthony’s soul is giving my soul a gift. He has agreed to present opportunity (after opportunity) for me to practice patience and acceptance (and honor and equanimity and respect). And so that is the work I move into. I move into gratitude to Anthony for gifting me with opportunity to grow. I move into practicing acceptance of Anthony, learning to respect and honor him for who he is instead of longing for who I want him to be. I shift the focus off of him and onto me, where it belongs.

Whether learning to accept and respect Anthony as he is results in our staying together or moving toward other partners remains to be seen. Either way, my guess is we’ll come out of this more whole, better souls. I also suspect that, by pulling the attention back onto myself, I will be giving him the room to become his best self, whoever that may be.

18 November 2007

Ultimate Organization for Scrapbooking

The best reason I know of for being organized is so we can find our toys. This is particularly true for creative people, be they writers, painters, photographers, bakers, or scrapbookers. In fact, it may be especially pertinent to scrapbookers, who tend to be deluged with scrapbook materials – so much so that they lose creative time looking for and gathering together their supplies. That is, assuming they remember they have the supplies to gather.

Typically, organizing tips suggest that scrapbookers store their supplies in containers and notebooks by type of item: stickers, stamps, die cuts, ribbons, buttons, page kits. In theory, this makes sense. It’s putting like with like, which any organizer will tell you is a basic organizing principle. However, it doesn’t work for scrapbooking. To begin with, the supplies are stored away, out of sight (and out of mind). Second, accessing supplies requires digging through numerous binders and containers to pull out some of this and some of that – all of which needs to be returned to the numerous containers and binders when you are done playing with it.

Instead of putting things together by what they are, try grouping them by how they’ll be used. I recommend using Tiffany Spaulding’s Four Section System. The four sections are:

Titles – This includes anything you’d use for titles, including alphabets, numbers, punctuation marks, computer fonts, stamps, die cuts, etc.

Personal Themes – Any themes specific to your life and interests, be it cooking, gardening, people, pets, sports, vacations or any other theme that catches your fancy. (Notice that I’ve put these in alphabetical order. You will order your themes alphabetically, too.)

Holidays and Seasons – Set this section up chronologically, beginning with Spring and accompanying holidays: Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Passover, etc. Summer might include Memorial Day, Fourth of July, picnics, and Labor Day. Fall encompasses Back to School, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. Winter takes us into Solstice, Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, and New Year’s Eve.

Color Wheel (or Rainbow) – All supplies that have no theme or season and can be used anywhere go here, organized by color.

The key to making the Four Section System work is having all materials visible and centrally located. The best tool for this – leaps and bounds beyond those binders and containers – is Tiffany Spaulding’s ScrapRack™. The ScrapRack™ has a base that sits like a book stand but can be taken down and laid flat for storage. Each base holds seven Spinders – Velcroed 3-ring binder-like inserts, each of which holds up to 20 to 30 clear pocket sheets of various size and storage capacity.

I like the ScrapRack™ for a number of reasons:

• All materials are visible, which means you can find any supply you own within 30 seconds. (Imagine spending time creating pages instead of hunting for your supplies!)

• The ScrapRack™ is portable. Because of the Velcro, you can easily remove (and put back) the Spinders and take them to a crop. (The kit comes with a travel pack, too.)

• The ScrapRack™ takes up very little room. The basic set-up fits on a TV tray.

• The ScrapRack™ is expandable. As your life changes and you develop new themes (or acquire new supplies), they system can expand to accommodate your needs.

• The ScrapRack™ is flexible. It can be used by teachers, geneologists, project managers, and people with ADD to organize their materials in a visible, portable fashion.

• The ScrapRack™ folds down and stacks for easy storage.

One scrapbooker commented that “You don’t have to have an organized bone in your body to use this system. Just follow the directions; it works!” A couple of principles help make the system work most efficiently, though.

1. Think of the ScrapRack™ as a work station, not a storage unit. Don’t try to stuff everything you own into the Spinder pages. If you have a large amount of something, put a sample of it into the appropriate section(s), and store the rest elsewhere. (This is akin to setting up a desk at an office. Keep what you use at your desk, and store the extra supplies in the office supply closet.)

2. Store your tools by number, not type. While acrylic stamps fit into the pocket pages, wooden and rubber stamps and most other tools won’t. The trick here is to put a sample of the stamp or tool into the appropriate section(s) and number the sample. Then store your tools in containers labeled with the corresponding number range, say 1 to 10, 11 to 20, and so on. Different kinds of tools can be in the same numbered box so that when you add a new tool you don’t have to re-arrange the existing boxes. Instead, make a sample of the new tool, assign it the next available number, and add it to the correct box.

By having materials organized, accessible, and visible, scrapbookers save money and increase productivity. You can see all of your choices quickly, and know what you have on hand. (No more buying of duplicates!) Scrapbooking becomes easier, faster, and more enjoyable. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

10 November 2007


And on the seventh day, God rested.

The seventh day. Shabbat. A day of rest.

In the seventh year, fields are left fallow.

And seven sevens? The 49th year? This is the year of Jubilee.

My psychic counselor said it would be my year of rest.


Here I am, just two months into being 49, and my life is one long ripple of activity and growth. In addition to my numerous writing projects, I’ve committed to two new, huge projects.

Project #1 – I’ve bit the bullet and signed on for NSGCD’s Level III certification program. NSGCD stands for the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization, and is the organization through which I’ve earned numerous certificates of study as well as my Specialist Certificates in Chronic Disorganization and in ADD. At the end of the Level III training, which takes about 18 months of studying and working with a coach, and culminates in a peer review, I will be a Certified Professional Organizer, or CPO® – CD. To the best of my knowledge, there are less than 50 CPO® – CDs in the world at this time.

Project #2 – I’ve joined the gym. More importantly, I’ve written the exercise classes and workout times into my calendar as actual appointments. Five mornings a week, Monday through Friday, I will be challenging my body, inviting it to remember the strength and flexibility of its youth. Aqua aerobics (which Anthony promises to take with me), Pilates, and machines will fill my mornings. God willing, I may actually get my body back.

Of course, devoting my mornings to my body means I need to restructure my consulting hours. I’ve decided to experiment with increasing my hourly minimum from two hours to three. Most organizers have a three-hour minimum, usually four hours (or more). We’ll see how I adjust to working longer sessions. The up side is that I will only work with one client a day (instead of two), which will keep me fresh for my clients.

And I’m still working away at my third book, what I call the Tzedakah book. It is requiring a great deal of research. Bit by bit, I continue to gather information and write pages.

And I am marketing Following Raven. And I’m writing two articles for organizing newsletters. And two lectures. And three press releases for Get Organized month. (The local professional organizers have formed an informal NAPO group that we are calling H.O.P.E. – Humboldt Organizing Professionals Exchange. We are doing two projects for Get Organized month [January]. One is a radio contest; the other is a lecture series at the public library. I’m in charge of writing press releases for both activities as well as a general one on H.O.P.E.)

Did someone say something about rest?

31 October 2007

Playing the Game/Pumpkin Bread

Saturday was the annual professional organizers’ conference down in the Bay Area. While I normally dread conferences, I kinda like this one. It’s smaller than the national conference, and is attended by a number of organizers I know and like. Also, this being the San Francisco Bay Area, the flavor of organizers is more to my taste: more playful and hip.

I had put together and moderated a panel on Simple and Sustainable Organizing for this conference. The panelists discussed conscious consuming (issues to consider when making purchases), earth-friendly organizing products, recycling, and how to speak to our clients about being more “green.” We had a decent turn out, and not nearly enough time to answer questions. Given that I’m committed to living a fairly simple life – which extends to running a simple business – I was encouraged by the response to the panel. The more people living simply and consciously, the healthier the planet and its inhabitants can be.

After the conference, a few of us organizers went out for dinner. Walking back to the hotel afterward, I was talking with one of the more influential women in our industry. She commented that being focused on simplicity and environmentalism makes it hard for me to be mainstream. I responded that I don’t even try, to which she employed the Dr. Phil line of “And how’s that working for you?”

Ouch. Disapproval for not playing the game.

I told her, truthfully, that not being mainstream works fine for me. I live in a community that shares my values, and attract clients who appreciate my NOT being like all the others. I’ve had clients hire me because of the picture on my website where I’m bent over, feeding chickens. They were so relieved to find an organizer who didn’t look “professional,” i.e. citified and suited up for success.

Still, it’s lonely out here on the fringes. When asked if I’d rather “be like everyone else,” of course my answer is “no.” But it takes courage to stand firm in my difference, to be the outsider in my industry. Especially since, by normal standards (specifically, money made), I’m not “successful.” Eleven years in the business and I still have a light client load, still wonder how I’m making ends meet many months.

But money isn’t how I measure success. I’m living the life I want: waking up with no alarm clock to cuddle with purring cats and gaze out my window at trees; puttering around my beautiful little house in the mornings; having time to cook and write and read; eating well; spending time with friends and neighbors; making a real difference in people’s lives.

I’ve written before (I think) about how much joy I get, walking over to the neighbors to buy my eggs. A few weeks ago, Larry (the father) came by and insisted that we pick tomatoes before they rotted. Being good neighbors, we obliged. While filling our Farmers’ Market basket heaping with tomatoes, Larry further insisted that we pick a pumpkin from his patch. (Every year he grows a pumpkin patch that school children come to on field trips and pick pumpkins to take home.)

Today I cooked up the pumpkin. Six cups of it is in the freezer, waiting to be turned into pie for Thanksgiving (and maybe a soup sometime this fall). But some of it went into the following recipe. Which turned out pretty good, if I may say so…

By the way, you’ll notice it has wheat. The eating for my blood type (no wheat) made me feel like crap, so I stopped it some months back.

Happy Halloween!

Pumpkin-Cranberry-Pecan Bread

2 cups flour (½ whole wheat, ½ white)
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves (in that order of emphasis)

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add:
2 eggs
1 cup oil
2 cups puréed pumpkin
A splash of Triple Sec (optional)

Mix quickly to combine wet and dry ingredients.

Fold in:
1 cup chopped cranberries
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup chopped pecans

Pour into bread pan (this made two loaves when I made it)

Bake at 350 for about an hour, maybe longer. (I use the top-is-cracked-and-browned cue to determine doneness. Inserting a toothpick and having it come out clean works, too.)

22 October 2007

Thunder & Lightning & Downpours, Oh My!

While traveling from Prince Rupert down the Yellowhead Highway to the Canadian Rockies, I stopped in a public library in Prince George. A kind librarian there turned me on to Yahoo! email accounts, set me up with one, and explained that I could access my email from most public libraries. (This was almost a decade ago, remember. It was still exciting stuff back then.) The following is an email I sent about a third of the way into the journey. It is excerpted from my new book, Following Raven, Finding Ground: A Road Trip in Search of Home.

JULY 11, 1998

Thunder & Lightning & Downpours, Oh My!

Greetings, all, with a quick update from Nelson, B. C. They boot you off in 30 minutes at this branch, and the librarian is very strict – the first and only truly uptight librarian I’ve ever met. I suppose I should have compassion for her, but I feel more like challenging her, especially since she got so upset when I truthfully answered “none” as my address on the form they make me fill out, promising to be a good girl on the net. “It sounds…” and she cuts herself off. Sounds what, lady? Homeless? Uncouth? What are your assumptions? But I’m a nice girl, eh? Only felt like challenging her, didn’t push it. Changed the address from “none” to that of Kokanee Creek campground.

What a glorious, loud storm there was last night! Thunder rumbling and roaring and shaking the ground, lightning four to seven counts away, shocking the whole sky awake. I could feel the electricity vibrate up from the ground and through me. Couldn’t help but think of Zeus roaring in anger – but why do we think of these storms as angry? Yes, they feel angry, but maybe there’s another way to understand them. Ecstatic? Undeniably, raw and powerful. So alive.

Took an impulsive detour last night – 16 kilometers up a gravel, pitted, bouldery sort of road – just to see what was at the end. At the end was a lake and a trailhead, and a sign with a funny, cartoon drawing of a porcupine that warned us that critters will eat your tires, brake linings, etc., and to protect your vehicle with chicken wire. “We are not joking,” concluded the sign. And they weren’t. The cars parked there were indeed surrounded by chicken wire. The things I learn… .

I love Canada, especially the road signs. One, warning of wildlife (animaux sauvages) in the vicinity, is a large, white cutout of an antlered wapiti (elk), with a neon-orange round eye. The picture for falling rock took me a moment to decipher – it looked like a bear’s paw at first. And the one for trucks entering the roadway looks like the truck is going to run smack into the road: Kaboom!

On the way here from Fernie, via Cranbrook and Creston, is a kitschy place called The Glass House. A guy in the funeral trade (trading corpses for what?) decided to build a whimsical home for himself and the missus out of empty, sealed embalming-fluid bottles. It’s actually quite livable and sweet: round rooms. He had so much fun, he kept building, mostly little round watchtowers, an arched bridge, what-have-you. Then came the landscaping. (Mind, all this is built on bedrock along the shores of Kootenay Lake – an idyllic setting). The waterwheel isn’t bad, but all the dwarves, Snow White, deer, etc. get a bit too cute. Still, it’s quite charming and worth the five bucks for a tour (given by his sweet, early-20s granddaughter). Beat the heck out of the wildlife museum that I stopped in (seduced by the roadway signs), which was a morose collection of stuffed mammals and live pheasants (gorgeous plumes on those caged birds).

Some moments, being on the road is fabulous: driving along two-lane, line-less highways, blasting the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Other times, I long for a stable roof over my head, particularly when it comes to fixing myself a meal. God, I’d love to have access to an oven just to bake myself a spanakopita, or maybe a cobbler, or… . Cooking in the rain sucks when you don’t have adequate shelter, and I don’t even try. I’m spending far more than budgeted on eating out. (What else is new?) On the other hand, I prefer bathing in the eddy of a fast-flowing creek to a bathtub any day, and my hair is so much softer when rinsed regularly with creek water. True, hot running water is one of our finer inventions, but those creeks sure are fine, too.

Time’s up. I’ll keep y’all posted as I can. My love to everyone.

16 October 2007

Roaming Home

I come from a family of wanderers.

My father was born in Jugoslavia, the only son of parents whose own parents had migrated from Spain, through Hungary to Belgrade. After WWII, which he spent as a child in hiding (ages 7 to 11) with his mother’s sister (who had married a Greek Orthodox and converted) he moved to Switzerland. Eventually, his mother’s brother got passage to the States, and brought my by-then-teenaged father over. After finishing high school in New York, he took the Greyhound to Berkeley. Many years later, after 13 years and 3 kids with my mom, he moved to Oregon, then to Ottawa. Eventually he relinquished his U.S. citizenship and became Canadian. These days he lives in Victoria. (You won’t hear me complaining about visiting him there!)

My sister, Jessica, spent many years living with our father in Ottawa, alternating lives between Canada’s capital and our rustic maternal home in the redwood hippie refuge, Camp Meeker. At one point, Jessica lived in western B.C. Eventually she met Gavin (a fellow fiddler), married him, and followed him to New Zealand. They have since settled on his family’s farm in Scotland, where they are raising my two nieces (and organic vegetables and chickens).

Tristan, my brilliant-artist brother, is also in Europe, having lived in Germany, Italy, and now Denmark. (He’s another topic altogether. Someday I’ll write about him.)

Relatively speaking, Mom was a stick-in-the-mud. She was a native Californian – first generation, both her parents having immigrated from Eastern European shtetls – and never really relocated out of the state.

I guess I haven’t gone very far, either, although I wandered all around our country and parts of Canada before deciding that Humboldt County was where I wanted to stay. I find it ironic that, given that my siblings and I are first generation Americans (second on Mom’s side), I’m the only sibling left on this continent, and the only immediate family member left in the country.

But this is home for me. Sometimes I’m tempted to move further north, deeper into the Pacific Northwest. There are parts of Washington that I crave, particularly along the Olympic Peninsula. The thought of starting all over again – building new friendships, recreating my business from scratch – stops me from moving. As does the thought of leaving the life I’ve built here.

Besides, this is my cats’ home. They have 3 acres to patrol, and they love every inch of it. Although, come to think of it, even my cats are wanderers. Each of them appeared in my life from whereabouts unknown. Ochosi was abandoned at a campground in Trinity County. Jules showed up mewing his little kitten heart out one August night around 10:00. Zachy limped onto my porch with a broken leg two autumns ago. And Sam… well, no one really knows where Sam came from. He was here when I bought the place 7 years ago.

It's a Contest!

Following Raven, Finding Ground: A Road Trip in Search of Home is here!

Told through journal entries, dreams, and emailed travelogues – with an occasional recipe tossed in – this heartwarming story of one woman’s midlife search for Home winds through terrain both personal and public. From the Pacific Northwest to the Canadian Rockies, from Yellowstone to Maine and west again through Santa Fe, Claire describes the inner and outer landscapes with poetic honesty and subtle humor. This book is a beacon to all who step into uncertainty in search of where they belong.

Freelance writer and poet Carla Baku writes:
Joseph Campbell once said that there are really only two stories: A hero sets out on a journey and A stranger comes to town. Claire Josefine tells both stories in this slender in-search-of odyssey. Claire’s keen eye for the beauty of small things in the natural world and her willingness to disclose doubts, fears, joys, and humble triumphs along the way, leaves the reader with the distinct sensation of having come along on her solitary journey. This lovely little read will have you thinking about what “home” really means. Curl up and enjoy a ramble from the comfort of your corner of the world.

To celebrate, Winter’s Daughter Press is running a contest. Write an essay (maximum 500 words) on how you found your home town and why you chose to stay there. Submit your essay to Winter’s Daughter Press at organized@humboldt1.com. The winner’s essay will be “published” on this blog, and the winner will receive a signed copy of Following Raven, Finding Ground: A Road Trip in Search of Home. Entries must be received by November 1, 2007. (All submissions retain their copyrights.)

P.S. – Please let everyone you know about this contest. The more entries, the more interesting the results!

12 October 2007


Nine years ago, I became voluntarily homeless and hit the road, traveling 15,000 miles solo across 29 states and 4 provinces, searching for what I took to calling “Capital-H Home.” My new book, Following Raven, Finding Ground: A Road Trip in Search of Home, is the story of this journey, told through journal entries, dreams, and letters I wrote along the way.

But what is Home? While on the road, having hit an emotional bottom, I posed this question to my family and friends. Mostly they responded with well-worn clichés: that home is inside of you, or home is where you make it. Yes, I answered, but how do you know where you want to make it? Eventually I defined my own criteria – a cool, coastally-influenced climate along the Pacific Northwest with people of like mind (left-leaning, spiritual, environmentalists) and an artsy culture, not too crowded, where people have a sense of community and I can see the stars at night.

I’ve found that place – have settled down on 3 acres, spent 8 years with one guy (the longest I’ve ever been with a sweetie), and built my business and reputation within the community. By all appearances, I’ve done a very good job of finding, and creating, Home.

And yet.

And yet, I think there is another layer of Home that I’ve never found, and for this I feel sorrow.

Home is place and community and friendships – yes. But I think Home is also the deep connection, the intimacy of sharing one’s life with a best-est friend, with a mate, with children. None of which I’ve ever managed to create in my life. Yes, I have a few good friends (most of whom live at least 200 miles away), lots of friendly acquaintances, and I have my sweetie. But I long for a bosom buddy, a sister – a best-est girlfriend. I’ve never had one. (A psychic once told me that my best friend wasn’t in body this time around.) And I long for a husband, a partner and mate, which my sweetie cannot be for me. (As for children – well, I do prefer cats … )

I imagine that the home we find in deep relationship soothes the loneliness of life, that loneliness that makes me want to cry wordless tears, wishing someone in my world understood and would just hold me and stroke my hair for a while until the lonely blues passed and I could return to being the strong, competent, (etc. etc.) woman people know me to be.

I’ve had a recurring dream for 25 years now, the basic theme of which is this: I find myself living at either my mother’s house or my old apartment in Oakland (it differs from dream to dream), aware that I have a life and home of my own somewhere else, but unable to remember where that is. Recently, in the dream I am able to vaguely recall that I have a place in the country someplace north, but that it’s been a while since I’ve been home and I’m not sure what condition it’s in or even really where it is. For 25 years, I’ve felt lost and confused, trying to remember something and being unable to. But what am I unable to remember, to find? What is this home that I’ve been dreaming of for so many years?

Ideas are welcomed…

08 July 2007

The Personal IS Political

Back in 1974, as a high school junior, I had to research and write a term paper for my English class. I chose to investigate comprehensive medical care, and my Canadian father helped by mailing envelopes bursting with information on Canada’s medical system. I also learned about England’s system. And I read story after scary story about the abuses of medicine for profit, e.g. doctors performing unnecessary hysterectomies on poor women of color. I became 100% convinced: we needed to remove the profit motive from medicine.

Call me old-fashioned; call me naïve -- I probably am. But naïveté speaks of a good heart, and I’d rather be hopeful than cynical (although cynical comes pretty easy these days). I believe that government’s function is to provide for the general welfare of its populace, that we elect representatives to take on the job of seeing to those needs that affect us all. Health care affects us all. And the cost of health care has become unbearable.

Count me among the millions of America’s uninsured citizens. As a self-employed single woman, I cannot begin to afford medical insurance. Up until now, I’ve found my way around this obstacle; I live a reasonably healthy lifestyle, and get what medical care I need through the local health clinic at sliding-scale fees. Even paying cash for dentists and eye care, I spend far less than I would on private-pay health insurance. By the graces of good health and state-funded health programs, I scrape by.

Until yesterday, when I went to the pharmacy. Ah, the heartbreak of psoriasis; a plague on my skin for pushing 30 years now. The only thing I’ve ever found to help was a synthetic Vitamin D brand-named Dovonex, sold through Bristol-Myers. For many years, Dovonex was available through a program that some pharmaceutical companies provide for those of us floating in limbo: too poor for health insurance and too wealthy for public assistance. But a couple of years ago, Bristol-Myers discontinued offering Dovonex this way. I dug deep and paid for a couple of bottles of scalp solution, which I’ve eked out over time, along with the cream I still had from the “free” days. But my supply is running low, so my doctor called in a new prescription for me. Yesterday I went to pick up the drugs, only to learn that I couldn’t afford them. They had gone up in price to over $200 EACH, five times more than I had anticipated, based on my (sketchy) memory. Ouch. I told the pharmacy clerk to restock the meds; I will have to do without them. (I also had the small-town joy of saying this in front of a former client, who was standing at the counter at the time.)

There is no good reason that this product, which has been out for years and would have recouped its research-and-development costs long ago, should cost so much. Except for greed. I doubt the higher echelon of Bristol-Myers ever has to worry about how to pay for their medicine, let alone how to afford medical insurance. (In his 5/19 review of Sicko in Time, Richard Corliss notes that “HMOs and pharmaceutical companies have made billions while Americans have health care below the standard of other industrialized countries, and pay more for it.”) So here’s my idealism again: tax the rich. Skim the financial cream off the obscene excesses of the rich – those who keep getting richer while the poor get poorer – and pool the money into funds that provide for the general well-being of all, including comprehensive medical care. It’s a bloody sin that the executives of pharmaceutical companies are swimming in wealth while I (and people like me) can’t afford medicine.

I realize that this is a simplistic answer to a complicated problem, and that creating a government-funded medical insurance program that works is challenging. Hopefully the Democrats will manage to institute a sensible and successful program. (Okay, I’m being a dreamer again.) All I know is that we need comprehensive medical care. Of course, after presenting my mounds of research and resulting thesis to this effect years ago (as the oral presentation part of my project), Mrs. Hastings’ response was a snide “You realize you’re proposing socialism, don’t you?”

I never wrote the paper.

17 June 2007

Summer and Censorship

9:15 p.m. and the western sky is just now putting on its evening show: tangerine mists, swooping barn swallows, ivory sliver moon, shining first star. Two deer nibble their way through the back field, munching blackberry leaves and rye grass. One’s a young buck balancing two thick, fuzzy points atop his skull; the other’s a young ‘un, barely tall enough to be seen among the unmowed pasture grass.

Summer’s here! Maybe not officially, not quite yet. But Saturday Farmers’ Market laid proof to anyone’s doubts. The farmers’ tables were mounted with early summer’s finest – young zukes, broccoli shoots, delicate peas, French filet beans, sweet lettuce; cauliflower and spinach; artichokes; herbs; green onions; fresh garlic; and fruit. Oh heaven, there is nothing I like better than fresh organic cherries, and they are finally (and briefly) at market! Along with the first raspberries, and strawberries.

Soon to come: white peaches… and hay bales. Farmer John should be mowing within the next few weeks. And then, once the bales are moved to the barn, the girls will cross the river (which is down to a trickling creek) and graze outside my kitchen window.


I’ve been working on production for my next book. The e-book should be available by the end of July, and I hope to have it in print by September. It’s a road-trip book, about my 3-and-a-half month, 15,000-mile journey in 1998, trying to find where I wanted to put down roots. (It’s called Following Raven, Finding Ground: A Road Trip in Search of Home.)

Anyway, as research for my book, I checked out a couple of road trip books from my local library. And I discovered that there is something that pisses me off as much as people littering. Someone else checked out both of these books before me, and used white-out to obliterate all the “obscene” words in both books. Grrrrrr…


Several readers have expressed concern for Steve and Suzanne, whose wife/mother died in the car accident in April. They both seem to be pulling through okay. I was at a barbeque at their house yesterday. Steve clearly has a support network of good friends and family. And Suzanne appears to have blossomed; she is much more confident and outgoing than she used to be. Still, your prayers are appreciated.


Veggie Melt

This is my bachelorette summer standby.

Half of one onion, chopped
1 to 2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 to 4 mushrooms, sliced
1 medium sized zucchini, sliced thin

Season with black pepper and thyme.

When the veggies are gently browned, you can add a sliced or chopped tomato (or not, as you wish) and cook it a bit.
Cover the veggies, still in the skillet, with about a half cup of grated cheese. My preference is sharp cheddar, but a fontina or gouda could be nice, too.
Cover the skillet and remove from heat. When the cheese has melted, spoon everything onto toast and eat as an open-faced sandwich, or serve with rice.

07 May 2007

Kindness for Strangers

Peggy drives for Oregon Coachways, which has the bus contract with Amtrak between Eugene and Astoria. Peggy's gregarious -- clearly likes people, likes driving, likes her job. Peggy also has decided to recycle our trash, and asks that we put all our recyclables in the bag she's provided so that she can take them home and sort them for us. And Peggy has a sense of humor. "I can't make you recycle, but if you don't ... well, narny, narny!"

After deboarding, I wait to thank her, wait while another woman praises her, itemizing Peggy's attributes, then asks to place a blue ribbon overe her heart. The ribbon proclaims, "Who I am is making a difference."

Ray works for Provco, weed-whacking 10-foot perimeters around utility poles. His back aches by the end of the day, especially this time of year when the grass is tall from growing all winter and hasn't been cut back yet.

Ray and I are talking about Highway 299 and Carol's accident. He needs to drive 299 over to Redding on Wednesday morning to take a 7:00 a.m. test. He wanted to take Tuesday off, get some rest before heading over the mountain, but his boss has him scheduled for a 10-hour day. The test -- for his pest-application permit renewal -- is needed for work; without it, his pay is lowered. But he is required to pay for the test and the travel to take it out of his pocket. He has been unable to find a babysitter for his daughter, so he'll be driving 299 at 3:00 a.m. This is what I call a raw deal. (Actually, I think i said something about capitalist pigs...)

Ray has tatoos. One forearm is for his grandpa, the other for his grandma. Each bicep is decorated with a daughter's name in elaborate script. His fiancee's name is written across the back of his neck. (Better marry her!) The abstracts on the back of both arms are "from when I was a bad boy." He's been a good boy for 3 years, as of the day before we're talking.

I enjoy talking with Ray. He's kind, considerate, hardworking, plain spoken, honest. So i ask for his supervisor's phone number, tell him I'm going to tell her so. He beams. She's ecstatic, surprised and delighted to be hearing good news. It's rare that anyone calls with a compliment.

My point? Each of us can take one moment to acknowledge the good we see in each other. One woman I know claims that the best gift we can give is to be happy to see each other. Certainly a sincere smile spreads joy to all who receive it. Whether it's a ribbon, a phone call, a compliment, or a smile, we all can -- and do -- make a difference.

26 April 2007

Delivering the News

9:30 Sunday night; a knock at the door. “Who’s there?” I call cautiously.


Hoping that his response is true (I live alone), I open the door a crack. An attractive man is standing at my door, looking at his notes.

“Do you know where 7465 is?” he asks, adding my neighbor’s last name. His badge reads “Coroner.”

Coroner. Wait. “Did someone die?”

“Yes.” And he names the woman across the street. Did I know her? Yes. Would I come with him while he breaks the news? “It’s easier on the family if someone they know is there when they hear it.” Okay.

On the ride over (it’s up a drive that’s hard to find for the first time in the dark), I tell him a bit about the woman and family, and he tells me what happened. Evidently she failed to negotiate a curve on 299, drove over the bank and died.

Gone. One moment here, then not.

The lights are on in the open garage, so I call. “Steve? Steve?” He comes out of the house, followed by his 16-year-old daughter, Suzanne.

“Steve, this is Frank Yaeger. He came to my house looking for you.”

Frank speaks. “Carol’s been in an accident. She’s dead.”

And Steve crumbles, catches himself on a nearby sawhorse, clings to it for support. Suzanne stands within hearing distance at the deck’s edge, still as a statue. Steve manages to bark out a few questions, stunned, shocked. How did this happen. When did this happen. Were there witnesses. Where is she. Frank kindly answers each matter-of-factly, then goes to his truck to get the phone number of the investigating police officer.

I stand helpless, witnessing, not knowing what to do, wanting to cry, too. Because now Steve and Suzanne are sobbing, holding each other. You couldn’t write a more moving scene if you tried.

And this is the crux of my story. Their story is the sudden loss of a loved one – I’m only a bit player in their drama, a one-line extra during the Delivering the News scene.

And yet, I can’t shake the trauma. Seeing Steve’s face, knowing how close they all were. (Even at 16, Suzanne was always hanging on her mother’s arm, cuddling up to her.) I keep seeing Carol, alive and happy – always cheerful and generous. How can Carol be gone? I feel like I’ve woken up in an alternate universe, a nightmarish mimicry of my normal life. And if I’m feeling this way, I can only imagine how Carol’s family feels.

Mostly, though, I feel powerless to relieve their pain. Because I had to leave for a business trip on Tuesday morning, (presenting at the national organizers’ conference) and because I have no cultural training on how to deal with death.

Turns out I’m not alone. Speaking with my neighbors (the coroner said I should let them know), we all feel helpless. What should we do? Seems to me, when we lived in communities – small towns, churches – the women moved naturally into proper action. One would’ve put on a pot of coffee, another would’ve picked up the phone. Casseroles would arrive, the pastor would be called… We’d know who the pastor was, for Christ’s sake.

I left them a card and told them when I’d be away, and that Melinda and I both had keys to their house and could do cat and chicken care if they needed. Teresa made a stroganoff to take to them. And Pam called a friend who attends their old church, found out when and where the funeral will be and disseminated the information among the neighbors. But there should be more we can do, shouldn’t there? Something we can do to hold Steve and Suzanne through their pain?

As I drove off Tuesday morning, I looked up at their house. It was a perfect morning: clear blue skies, fresh green pastures, everything in flower – heaven on earth. Steve and Suzanne sat silently side-by-side at the end of their porch, staring across the valley. Their grief was palpable; it slammed into my heart.

In The Mermaid Chair, Sue Monk Kidd writes, “There’s release in knowing the truth no matter how anguishing it is. You come finally to the irreducible thing, and there’s nothing left to do but pick it up and hold it. Then, at least, you can enter the severe mercy of acceptance.”

Carol’s gone.

09 April 2007

For these things we are grateful

The swallows are back!

And tonight we eat the first dozen spears of asparagus, harvested from the garden.

The fruit trees are in bloom, and the rhodies are about to flower. The bearded iris are sporting buds – promises of purple – and the lilies are sending up their stalks. The blueberry branches are bursting with pink, teases of blueberries to come. Borage is blue and begging to be picked, a cheerful starburst to spice up the salad. (My latest favorite: lettuce, crumbled feta, dried cranberries, toasted almond slivers, and borage flowers tossed with a simple olive oil/lemon/honey/thyme dressing. Very patriotic appearance!) Oregano, parsley, cilantro, rosemary, and mint are healthy with new growth. The raspberries and boysenberries are leafing out, as is the grape. And the roses seem to be thriving after our hard frosts earlier this year.

In other words, spring has returned. And with it has come my hope. I’m feeling enthusiastic, energetic, creative, and joyous again. Part of this is because we’re moving forward on projects for the garden; e.g., we’ve finished building two of the three raised beds that we’re putting in this year. Part of it is because I’m feeling inspired in my work. I’m starting a series of Clutter Support Groups, and have ideas for a few more products related to my book (The Spiritual Art of Being Organized).

But I’m also feeling better because I’ve reconnected with my spiritual path. I’ve hooked up with a group that helps me to remember (and practice) basic truths: the importance of being in present moment, of gratitude, of remembering our connectedness, of choosing love instead of fear and abundance instead of scarcity, of being kind, of taking responsibility for my life. All the stuff I intellectually know, but sometimes my heart (ego?) forgets.

Thank god for spring, for hope – and for happiness!

May we all feel joy and gratitude. May all beings be happy.

29 March 2007

Some Wheat-Free Recipes

Hmmm… I’m not sure how I feel about this blood type diet. Not eating wheat is okay. Not eating both wheat and corn gets harder. Not eating wheat, corn, or potatoes makes it damned difficult to grab a bite when I’m out running around and am hungry. (Salads just don’t do the trick when I’m hungry.) I did manage to find an asparagus frittata at a deli that wasn’t half bad. But all my usual solutions for a quick bite out are off limits.

On the other hand, cooking at home isn’t that challenging (other than missing potatoes). I tried my hand at spring rolls, and made a delicious stuffed chicken breast. Also concocted a simple pilaf that pleased my sweetie.

Spring Rolls

24 cooked shrimp (40 to 60 count), tails removed
1 cup of bean sprouts, chopped
1 cup of lettuce, chopped
1 carrot, grated
24 whole fresh mint leaves
1 cup softened thin rice noodles

1 Tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Juice from 1 lime
Sugar to taste (1 Tablespoon?)
2 to 4 mint leaves, chopped

Dip the spring roll wrappers (banh trang – rice based) into warm water for about 15 seconds, then lay out on your prep surface.

Place 3 shrimps, 3 mint leaves, and a bit of the other filling ingredients onto the wrapper, drizzle with sauce, then fold the bottom edge over the filling and tuck tightly (like you’re rolling a sushi roll). Fold the sides in toward the middle, then finish rolling. You can serve whole, or cut into two or three pieces.

Recipe makes 8 whole rolls.

Confession – these were tasty, but messy. I didn’t manage to roll them tightly enough to hold together. Also, if you can eat peanuts, they would be a nice addition.

Stuffed Chicken Breast

Thaw and drain one box of chopped spinach.
Crumble in about 4 ounces of Greek sheep feta
Add enough panko (rice-based “bread” crumbs) to hold the filling together.

Butterfly two skinless, boneless chicken breasts. Put half the filling on one side of each breast, then fold the other half over to cover the filling.

Drizzle the breasts with olive oil, sprinkle on more panko, and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour, depending on the size of the breasts. (Mine weighed in at 1.5 pounds for the two of them.)


Chop half an onion and sautee it in about 1 Tablespoon of butter until soft.
Add 1 cup of white basmati rice and continue cooking for about five minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add 1 cup of chicken broth and 1 cup of water.
Season with saffron (about ¼ teaspoon).
Bring to a boil, cover, reduce to low heat, and cook for 20 minutes.

While the rice is cooking, toast ¼ cup of slivered almonds and chop up a bit of parsley. (I used flat leaf. Cilantro would also be tasty.) When the rice is done, remove from heat, fluff, then add in the almonds and parsley.

20 March 2007

Wheat-Free Ain't So Bad

Yum! I made these muffins this morning, and they came out perfect. This is a modification of a recipe I found, I think in one of Elaine St. James' books on simplicity.


2-1/4 cups oat bran
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup sugar (can use maple syrup)
1/4 cup oat flour

Beat in
1 egg
2 overripe squirshed bananas
1-1/4 cups milk (can substitute almond or other fake milks)

Raisins or berries (I used raspberries)

Put in muffin tins. They don't rise much, so go ahead and fill almost full.

Bake at 450 for approx. 15 minutes, until browned.

Makes one dozen muffins and a mini loaf.


After poking around the internet (and reading the ingredients on a store-bought package), I came up with a general idea of how to proceed with wheat-free rye bread. Here's what I tried this morning.

1.5 Cups tepid water
4 Tablespoons olive oil
3 Tablespoons molasses
2 Tablespoons yeast

Allow the above ingredients to proof, then add in
1 Tablespoon sea salt
4 Cups rye flour
1 Tablespoon caraway seeds

I used my bread machine on basic setting to knead, leaven, and bake this loaf.

This dough is too dense and heavy for the bread machine to knead properly. Next time I will knead, etc. by hand.

The bread stayed dense. Without much gluten, I guess it's hard to get a good rise.

The bread is better for breaking off chunks and slathering with butter than for slicing.

The flavor is WONDERFUL.

19 March 2007

Playing with My Food

A client of mine has been following the Eat Right for Your Blood Type diet, and keeps raving about how much better she feels for doing so. Curious, I dug through my medical records and finally located my blood type -- type O. Then I visited Borders and sat down with a copy of the book, taking copious notes on what I should and should not eat. I realized several interesting things:

1. Many of the things I should not eat are things I don't like anyway.

2. Most of the things I should not eat are the same items that Marty, a nutritionist I worked with 18 years ago, muscle-tested me as foods to be avoided. (In other words, Marty's muscle testing agreed with the recommendations for my blood type.)

3. I indeed suffer from some of the ailments most common to my blood type.

Intrigued, I decided to give the dietary recommendations a try for one month. (Well, most of them. I'm not ready to give up dairy.) On the chance that my experience with this (or my recipes/menus) will be of help to others, I've decided to share my menu plans and experiences on my blog. So here goes!

These are the foods I'm supposed to avoid:

Grains/Beans: Wheat, corn, navy beans, kidney beans, lentils

Meats: Pork and Goose

Fish: Barracuda, catfish, caviar, herring, lox, octopus

Oils: Corn, peanut, cottonseed, and safflower

Nuts: Brazil, cashew, litchi, peanuts, peanut butter, pistachios, and poppy seeds

Pickeled foods

Seasonings: Capers, cinnamon, cornstarch, corn syrup, nutmeg, black pepper, vanilla, vinegar (apple cider, balsamic, red wine, white)

Fruits: Blackberries, coconuts, melons, oranges, plantains, rhubarb, strawberries, tangerines (bananas and blue-boysen-raspberries are okay)

Veggies: Alfalfa sprouts, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, corn, eggplant, mushrooms (portobellos are okay), mustard greens, olives, potatoes (sweet are okay)

Juices: apple, orange

Whole milk and yogurt, most cheeses (butter and feta are okay)

Like I said, I'm going ahead and eating dairy, but otherwise am following the guidelines for foods to avoid. With that in mind, I put together some meal plans for the week. (Note: I'm supposed to eat meat.) This week's international feasts include:

Dinners --

Roast beef
Roasted parsnips, beets, and carrot (drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with Herbes de Provence)
Baked winter squash with butter

Stir fry of marinated chicken (tamari, honey, garlic, ginger, and sesame oil) with bok choy, portobello mushroom, and green onions served over mung bean noodles

Turkey meat loaf (onion, garlic, ginger, carrot, oat bran, worcestershire), steamed broccoli, and brown rice

Jewshi -- sushi rolls with smoked salmon, cream cheese, green onions, carrots, and toasted sesame seeds

Salad with Greek sheep's feta, dried cranberries, and toasted almond slivers dressed with olive oil/lemon/herbs (and maybe a side of dolmas?)

Breakfast options --
Curried (or scrambled) eggs with Ryvita
Oatmeal (slow cooked steel cut)
Raspberry oat bran muffins
Yogurt with fruit

Lunches/Snacks --
Seeded spelt crackers with brie
Roast beef and horseradish with lettuce on Ryvita
Leftovers from dinners
Yogurt with fruit

08 March 2007

Of Muses, Messes, and Misquotes

Well, I was quoted as an expert in Delaware's largest daily newspaper today.

Unfortunately, the reporter didn't mention my book The Spiritual Art of Being Organized, and he phrased our conversation enough out of context that it implies I'm saying things I didn't intend. (Other than that, it's a fun article and I enjoyed talking with the reporter.)

1. I told him up front that I have never read The Perfect Mess, so it troubles me slightly that he has me responding directly to that book's message.

2. Actually, what I said is that my favorite book title is You Can't Make A Difference When You Can't Find Your Keys. By attributing the title to me as my own words, it sounds like I'm stealing the author's material, which was not my intent.

3. He didn't include any of the juicy stuff I sent him or that we discussed. Ah well, here's where the Serenity Prayer comes in, eh?

Here is his original query, and my response:

His original post:

Is there a blogger in existence who cares about home decoration -- his/her workspace and the feng shui of it all? Aren't they all about ideas and words, rather than design and comfort? Are there any tips for bloggers who want to make the writing space more inviting and hi-tech cool? I'm a reporter with Delaware's largest daily paper and I seek bloggers, home decorators and funny souls to weigh in.

My response:

Of course there are bloggers who care about their writing space. Not all writers live solely in their head. Some of us enjoy creating an environment that supports our writing.

Or at least I do. My name is Claire Josefine, and I am the author of The Spiritual Art of Being Organized. I have been a professional organizer for 10 years, specializing in residential organizing with adult ADD clients (i.e., creative folks). I bring a spirituality and simplicity based focus to organizing that is unique to the field, and have been interviewed for Delicious Living magazine, BooxReview.com, and World Talk Radio.

Contrary to popular opinion, being organized -- and caring about one's environment -- does not belong solely in the realm of dullards and Martha Stewart devotees. In fact, my favorite reason for being organized is so we can find our toys. And when you strip away the woo-woo, feng shui is really about making sure a space is comfortable, safe, and inviting -- that you can move through the space freely in both body and mind. So here are a few practical tips for making your blogging space more inviting:

1. Make it comfortable. Obviously, ergonomically appropriate equipment is crucial if you're spending extended time at the computer. Removing obstacles -- precarious piles of paper, objects underfoot, furniture and objects that constrict access to your writing area -- is equally important.

2. Make it usable. Keep your tools handy, whether they're a dictionary and thesaurus (some of us still use paper versions of these reference guides), or articles you've clipped for commenting on. Dedicate your computer area to writing, and keep only writing-related items there.

3. Make it fun. Decorate your writing area with bobble heads, rubber chickens, or inspirational quotes from Mahatma Ghandi -- whatever gets your juices flowing. After all, if it ain't feeding your soul, why bother?

02 March 2007

Wait. Maybe we shouldn't kill our TVs.

What if ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is actually a good thing? What if ADD is an evolutionary shift toward reincorporating the feminine principle, the goddess?

Okay, I know that sounds far-fetched. But play with me here. The idea came to me last year as I was simultaneously studying for my ADD Specialist exam and skimming Leonard Shlain's The Alphabet Versus the Goddess.

Shlain's originating question was, "What caused the disappearance of goddesses from the ancient Western world? … What in culture changed to cause leaders in all Western religions to condemn goddess worship? Why were women forbidden to conduct a single significant sacrament in these religions? And why did property begin to pass only through the father's lines? What event in history could have been so pervasive and immense that it literally changed the sex of God?"

His answer, briefly, is that literacy emphasized the development of the left brain, which is inherently more linear, aggressive, and masculine. "When a critical mass of people within a society acquire literacy," he writes, "especially alphabet literacy, left hemispheric modes of thought are reinforced at the expense of right hemispheric ones, which manifests as a decline in the status of images, women's rights, and goddess worship." Looking at brain function, he observes that "the written word issues from linearity, sequence, reductionism, abstraction, control, central vision, and the dominant hand -- all hunter/killer attributes. … Writing made the left brain, flanked by the incisive cones of the eye and the aggressive right hand, dominant over the right. The triumphant march of literacy that began five thousand years ago conquered right-brain values, and, with them, the Goddess. Patriarchy and misogyny have been the inevitable result."

So, if Shlain is right, alphabetic literacy stressed physiological development of our left brain and a cultural preference for its attributes. Interestingly, ADD can be seen as an underdevelopment of the left brain and a dominance of the right. In Organizing for the Creative Person, the authors (Lehmkuhl and Lamping) use the left-brain/right-brain model to explain the differences between "normal" Elbies and the more creative (read: ADD) Arbies. A chart of left and right brain characteristics (source: Mary Ellen Jirak's The Gift of ADD) shows left brain as the logical mode: linear, verbal, logical, analytic, digital, symbolic, temporal, and abstract. The right brain operates in gestalt mode: holistic, nonverbal, intuitive, synthetic, spatial, concrete (operates in the present moment), nontemporal, and analogic.

In other words, the right brain is the feminine side of our brain and it is the stronger side for creative people and those who are labeled ADD.

But why are so many more people manifesting ADD behavior? A number of theories exist. One of them has to do with television. In his book, Beyond ADD, Thom Hartmann notes that the rise in ADD is concurrent with the increase in television viewing and other visual input. "So much of our information now comes to us visually. More than two decades ago, television replaced newspapers as the primary way most people obtain their news. About that time studies began to show that children spent more time watching TV than they did interacting with their family or their peers. Print media has become more visual… Advertising … is wildly more visual and less verbal. … Best-selling books are translated into movies to reach wider audiences." At the same time, he reports that "children with ADD are less likely to become excited about reading at a young age" and that "kids with ADD tend to read less well, and so recreational reading is difficult for them." Ditto for kids who watch TV: the more TV children watch, "the less likely they are to perform well academically, and the less likely they are to read recreationally."

Shlain also notices changes as a result of television. He points out that comprehending TV requires different hemispheric strategies than reading, including using pattern-recognition skills and optical rods (instead of the cones used in reading). "As people watched more and more television, the supremacy of the left hemisphere dimmed as the right's use increased."

So, what we have -- thanks to TV, advertising, visual print media, and other phenomena usually damned for the dumbing down of America -- is a de-emphasis on the written word, a return to the visual and a redirecting of our brain's development back to the right brain -- back to the creative hunter/gatherer, back to ADD, back to the feminine, back to the goddess. To quote Shlain's epilogue: "I am convinced we are entering a new Golden Age -- one in which the right-hemispheric values of tolerance, caring, and respect for nature will begin to ameliorate the conditions that have prevailed … Images … are the balm bringing about this worldwide healing."

And folks with ADD are leading the way. They are the next evolutionary step, the pendulum swing back toward balance. Some may argue that ADD is an exaggerated swing, but it's a swing in the right direction.

28 February 2007

Anti-Authoritarian Organizing

Twice recently I've been misquoted. One woman, who was in the process of clearing out her closet, proudly insisted she was following my advice by getting rid of anything she hadn't worn in a year. Another was astounded to learn that my house, while tidy, is far from passing the white glove test; she was certain that I had a regular cleaning schedule.

Hey, folks -- pay attention. I'm an organizer, but that doesn't mean I advocate (let alone implement) rigid rules and routines. In fact, I find rigid rules and routines disturbing. (The FlyLady's advice drives me up a wall.) I realize that people -- especially people who are struggling with problems resulting from being disorganized -- long for structure, for someone to come along and tell them what to do. There are people out there who crave an authority figure.

But I'm not that figure. I have never said that, if you haven't worn (or used) something in a year, you should get rid of it. In fact, I quite clearly state that this advice is "arbitrary and externally imposed. I want you to make decisions based on your own needs, values, and goals, not on some magic number dug out of an organizer's advice bag" (page 126, The Spiritual Art of Being Organized).

As for a regular cleaning schedule -- ha! Yes, I have my daily chores, morning and evening rhythms that I've molded for myself, and just as often modify to fit my mood. I enjoy sweeping my floors in the morning, feeding the cats, feeding myself. I like the feel of soap and warm water, so washing dishes is a pleasure. And there's a calming satisfaction to hanging my laundry to dry. But I hate dusting, vacuuming, mopping, scrubbing the toilet, washing windows. So these chores get done when I feel up to them, not on any schedule. Not very efficient, perhaps, but that's okay. (Besides, trying to keep surfaces clean during the wet season, when four cats are constantly painting the floors, counters, and dresser tops with dainty mud prints, is like sweeping back the sand at the beach.)

Being organized means being "at ready." It's what frees us to share our talents with the world, and what helps us to easily find our toys. The whole point of being organized is to make our lives easier, fuller, more meaningful. Organization is a supportive structure that allows us to ride life's rapids, to flow with the anarchy of existence. Constricting that anarchy with rigidity and rules stifles our life energy, which is the exact opposite of organization's goal.

My cousin David is one of the most famous anarchists in the U.S. His ceaseless work to bring justice and equality to all takes the form of teaching nonviolent protest, puppetry as political theater, and consensus as decision-making procedure. David is the youngest of his siblings, while I am the oldest of mine. At either end of the sibling spectrum, we joke about being the two organizers. Ostensibly, he is a political organizer and I a personal organizer (although I prefer the term "professional" so as to make clear that I am a consultant, not some indulgence of the privileged class). He is considered the radical, I the non-political liberal. And while it's true that David is politically active and has been arrested innumerable times for his activism, I think of my work as equally subversive and revolutionary. He takes his lessons to the street; I take them into people's homes. Together we hope to change the world for the better.

And that certainly doesn't mean dutifully following the dictates put forth by organizers -- professional or otherwise. Think for yourself, and do what you can to make the world a better place.

27 February 2007

Finding Our Direction

Our landmarks have changed.

When I give directions to my home, I speak of passing two covered bridges, then going six tenths of a mile until you see a cream-colored duplex with lipstick trim on the right. There are two black mailboxes out front, and a big red round sign that says "Elk River Courts" is just past my driveway. My house, I say, is the one with the deck.

I was visiting an old friend in Santa Rosa this weekend. He asked me to come down for his dog's burial, which was a lovely ceremony that began with an invocation of the directions, followed by song and poetry, then the physical placing of mementos and ashes into the ground. After planting a dwarf bottlebrush and a leptospermum to mark the grave, we gathered round the kitchen table for coffee and homemade scones.

Somehow, the conversation got around to restaurants, with hearty recommendations of favorites. The neighbors were explaining where these hidden treasures could be found. The Japanese restaurant is over by Carl's Junior; the good Chinese restaurant -- the one with enough class to make walnut prawns sans mayonnaise -- is in the downtown mall. (The theater that airs commercials before the previews -- how obnoxiously crass! -- is next to Bakers Square.)

Listening to their conversation, I realized: it's come to this. Our destinations are malls and our landmarks are chains. The great American individuality and creativity upon which we pride ourselves is being devoured by conformity and mediocrity. Across our nation (and across Canada, I'm sorry to say), our towns look just like the other one with strip malls and fast food joints and that cancerous WalMart spreading over the land.

Get me out of here.

But maybe there's hope. Arcata, California -- the town that Fox News loves to mock -- has limited the number of chain restaurants and is exploring implementing a ban on chain stores. A few years ago, my fellow voters in Eureka, California, defeated a zoning variance, effectively blocking WalMart from building a store in our community. Today I read that Stockton, California, is considering an ordinance that would block new big-box retail stores from setting up shop. (http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/breaking_news/16789225.htm) Across the country, communities are waking up and saying enough's enough; they are successfully stopping the spread of sameness and superstores.

So what can we do? The one thing we have some control over is our own behavior. I included a quote from Wendell Berry in my book (The Spiritual Art of Being Organized) that applies here:

"What we must do is use well the considerable power we have as consumers: the power of choice. We can choose to buy or not to buy, and we can choose what to buy. The standard by which we choose must be the health of the community—and by that we mean the whole community: ourselves, the place where we live, and all the humans and other creatures who live there with us. It is better to buy at a small, privately owned local store than from a chain store. It is better to buy a good product than a bad one. Do not buy anything you don't need. Do everything you can to see that your money stays as long as possible in the local community."


25 January 2007

The Right Tools/Roast Beef

I used to walk every day. When I lived in San Rafael, I'd get up at 6:30 in the morning and go for a 45-minute neighborhood walk. When I lived in Albany/Berkeley, I'd walk the little side streets, admiring people's gardens. Or I'd go on hikes in the East Bay hills with a friend or the Sierra Club. A fellow teacher (Anne) and I would hike into the back-country campgrounds at Pt. Reyes for the weekend. And, during my teen years in Camp Meeker, I'd take off along the old logging roads for long walks in the redwoods.

Somehow I lost the habit of walking when I moved to Elk River. Partly it was because there's nowhere enjoyable to walk without getting in a car to get there, which isn't what you'd expect when you live on a lovely country road. But this lovely country road has way too much traffic, including logging trucks (and loggers speeding past in their big white -- always white -- pickups). And I've written before about how aggravated the litter leaves me.

Also, I haven't had walking shoes. Well, I had a pair of New Balance shoes (which weren't cheap), but the damned things always gave me a blister, so I never wanted to wear them. And with no good walking shoes, I found it even harder to get my butt out the door and moving.

But Marianne, my neighbor with whom I pressed apples into cider last October (and I'm telling you, that cider is delicious!) asked me to be her walking buddy. So we've been walking. (Even though I have a broken toe.) At first we just did half-hour walks up and back along the street. But then we went exploring the forest along a logging road across the street from my house. Unfortunately, it's private property and owned by a grouch, so we probably shouldn't be walking up there. However, there's another path that I went exploring today that heads into the forests behind my house, and there's no signage saying we can't go there. I'm excited because there's miles and miles of trails to explore.

And I finally have a pair of walking shoes that fit! Of all things, I found that a men's (well, boy's) pair of Hushpuppies fit my feet perfectly.


On another note, I was talking with my dear friend Scott the other night. He's very excited because of a new "tool" that he's using. Specifically, he's working with a holistic veterinarian out of Santa Cruz, implementing an alternative treatment for the cattle. Seems that a virus was spreading through the herd. Where, in the past, he would have been "quick with the needle" -- i.e., administered the standard treatment of antibiotic injections (which may or may not have worked on the virus), this vet suggested a pill (a concoction of colostrum, probiotics, and other stuff) designed to strengthen the animal's immune system.

Scott's very excited because the concoction worked, and worked well. It cost less, was easier on the cattle, and was more effective than using antibiotics. His hope is that this alternative will catch on. If the cattle industry -- at least the segment of it that is focused on raising healthy, grass-fed beef -- can reduce its costs at the same time that it avoids putting antibiotics into the beef, then "maybe poor folks can afford healthy beef, too." This is why I love Scott: he cares for the underdog and is committed to doing the right thing. He is the most conscientious, honorable man I know.

And he has a voice you want to -- as the author Sark said when she heard it -- take a bath in. (Scott, Sark, and I were on a radio interview together. An odd combination -- a singing Jewish Cowboy, Sark, and me -- but it turned out to be a good show (July 13, 2005, on KSVY 91.3 FM "Conversations with Katy.")

Scott's music CDs are available at www.cdbaby.com/scottgerber.


Seems like forever since I've posted a recipe. So, in honor of Scott's dream of healthy meat for the masses, here's my technique for a yummy roast beef. Local, grass-fed, and antibiotic free -- of course.

Peel and slice two garlic cloves into 1/4-inch wide slivers.
Using a knife to create a series of slits, insert the garlic slivers into the flesh of a one-and-a-half pound roast (sirloin or rump).
Pour over the roast, then marinate it in:
Red wine (1/3 to 1/2 cup)
Olive oil (1/4 cup)
Worcestershire sauce (2 to 4 tablespoons)
Thyme (1 teaspoon, dried)
Black pepper to taste.

When you're ready to cook the roast:
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Put in the roast (and some russet potatoes for baking).
Immediately turn the temperature down to 325 degrees.
Roast for approximately one hour (for medium rare).
Remove from oven and allow to settle for 10 to 20 minutes.
Slice and serve. (I like it with horseradish.)

04 January 2007

Endings and Beginnings

Did someone say something about daily routines?

I certainly haven't adhered to any today. In fact, it's after 4:00 p.m. and I still haven't showered or gotten dressed. Didn't even eat breakfast until noon.

On the other hand, I've been amazingly productive with end-of-year details. With the exception of inventory and accounts receivable figures, which are waiting on sales reports from my distributors, I've pulled together all my numbers for my accountant. (He always schedules an appointment with me in early February, figuring he can count on me to be ready before some of his other clients, whom I've seen in his waiting room, shoeboxes full of receipts on their laps.)

The end of the year is a ritual of sorts. For some people it's about lovingly reboxing their Christmas ornaments. For me, it's about culling my files, gathering numbers, and updating my estate information. For my e-book on estate organizing, visit the E-Books section of www.wintersdaughterpress.com (www.wintersdaughterpress.com/dl_paycart/index.php).

The end of the year brings beginnings, too, of course. On January 2, I joined the Humboldt Association of Realtors as an affiliate member. I've been thinking of doing this for two years, but -- enjoying ADD clients as much as I do -- I decided to focus on earning my Level II Specialist Certificates in ADD and Chronic Disorganization first. Having now earned those (along with a few specialty certificates), I am ready to pursue my other interest: helping people move into their new homes. I'm not so much interested in helping them unpack as in helping them figure out how best to use the space.

I'm also back to work on my next book. My editor returned it to me with corrections and suggestions. Now it's up to me to implement them. At least I have a title! I've decided to call the book Following Raven, Finding Ground: A Road Trip in Search of Home.

Haven't been cooking much, so no recipes. Sorry!

Blessings to all, and to all a Happy New Year!