Oh, Christmas Tree

This very real looking artificial tree is easily 20 feet tall.

This very real looking artificial tree is easily 20 feet tall.

The tree is set and ready for the lines to start.

The tree is set and ready for the lines to start.

I love the lighted gifts hanging from the ceiling.

I love the lighted gifts hanging from the ceiling.

Twiggy's rear end is just in the lower left.  Tisen seems to want more lap time when Twiggy is around.

Twiggy’s rear end is just in the lower left. Tisen seems to want more lap time when Twiggy is around.

The bench is ready for Santa to come and visit with the children.

The bench is ready for Santa to come and visit with the children.

The bridge to the Asia exhibit makes for lovely lighting.

The bridge to the Asia exhibit makes for lovely lighting.


I’m glad I have the photos of the Chattanooga Zoo Christmas tree–it’s the closest I will come to a tree this year.  Having given up long ago on decorating for Christmas because we were always gone for the holidays, we, of course, have decided to stay at home this year.

This is because we have just moved.  We moved about 500 yards from one building to another.  The new building is nicer with a little more space and a lot more quiet.  But I’m not sure deciding to move on the Monday a week before Christmas was such a smart idea.

Even having downsized 3x, we still have boxes of stuff we don’t know what to do with.  I don’t know how this happens.  Furniture, papers, boxes multiple in the dark much like wire hangers and dust bunnies.  Like goldfish, we grow to the maximum size the walls of our container will allow.

I suppose from that standpoint, right before Christmas is the perfect time to move–it’s a great reminder that we really don’t need these things that take over our space.  Plus, having to buy a new washer and dryer, blinds, and closet organizers can serve as our Christmas gifts.  The new washer and dryer just got installed this morning.  Just in time–we were running out of clean unmentionables.

On the down side, the move motivated me to go shopping yesterday evening after work.  I think it has been so long since I went shopping on the last Friday evening before Christmas that I had forgotten what that would be like.

I made it to the grocery store, the dog store, Target, and Lowes.  I needed to go to Bed, Bath, and Beyond, but I couldn’t take it.  My shopping tolerance was exceeded at Target and I still didn’t have any Christmas lights for our balcony, so I skipped getting towels and went to Lowes for a lighted garland instead.  My homage to Christmas.

I nearly walked out of Target leaving my cart full of bulk toilet paper and miscellaneous supplies behind when I saw the lines.  Fortunately, not everyone had figured out there were two rows of registers, so I was able to find a short line just in the nick of time.  I really had had it by the time I got to that line.

The dogs were also starting to get impatient.  As much as they love going along for a ride, they prefer not having to hang out in the car for too long.  When I came out of Target, Tisen had taken up sentinel position in the driver’s seat.  He looked very alert.  This is usually a good indicator it’s getting close to dinner time.

Tonight, I look at the date and realize it’s almost the 23rd.  I haven’t bought a single gift or even thought about doing cards yet.  I guess my nephews won’t be getting their Christmas presents on time this year!


Bubble Wrap

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that we will be home for Christmas this year.  I didn’t mention why.  We’re moving.  It’s not the kind of move that makes my Nomadic heart sing, but it’s a move none-the-less.  We are moving to a quieter place not far away from where we are now.

I have moved many times in my adult life.  My moving truisms:  1)  move often, 2) take little, and 3) start packing early.  1 and 2 are intricately related.

Toward this end, I start cleaning out excess stuff and packing what we want to keep even though we are several weeks away from our move.  It’s a busy time of year at work and at home, so the earlier I get started, the less stressed I’ll be.

This means pulling out the empty boxes from our last move along with the bubble wrap and paper packing material, and packing away the decorative things that make us feel at home.  I start with the photos displayed on our walls, mostly by photographers far more talented that I.

It takes yards of bubble wrap to safely package the photos framed under glass.  I wrap each one lovingly, remembering the photographers whose works I display on my walls.

I am tempted to pop the bubbles in some of the wrap.  It’s hard to resist the popping noise bubble wrap makes when you jump on it.  But, it doesn’t make for good protection once it’s been popped.

When I’ve packed the photos and most of the non-essentials in the bedroom, there is still a stack of bubble wrap left on the floor, perfectly sized for wrapping glasses.  It’s too soon to pack glassware, something we most definitely use every day.

I hold a piece of bubble wrap up in the early afternoon light streaming through the windows and get an idea.  What if I were to shoot the view through the bubble wrap?

I imagine reflections of the city skyline in the bubbles like those commonly seen in water droplets.   Then, I imagine a distortion that makes the city look like it’s inside a snow globe.  I can’t wait to give it a try.

I tape a single square of bubble wrap to the window then press my lens close to the glass next to the bubble wrap and focus on the skyline in the distance.  I move my lens so I’m shooting through the bubble wrap and search for an image that might look like something.

Alas, there is so much distortion, most of the focus is lost.  There are no reflections in the air inside the bubbles like there would be in a water droplet.  The plastic creates flare, like when shooting into the sun, but it doesn’t really create a globe effect.

While I’m not fond of the resulting images (I like the macro shots of the bubble wrap better), at least I found a way to play with bubble wrap without destroying it.

Sunday Morning

I wake up at 4AM feeling like I need to sleep about 2 more days, but unable to go back to sleep.  I lay in bed for another hour before I give up and tip toe out of the bedroom, trying not to wake my sister-in-law who, visiting for the weekend, sleeps on an air mattress in the living room.  My foot cracks with a sharp little “pop” with every step.  I do my best to silence it, but my bones seem determined to announce themselves.  Fortunately, my sister-in-law sleeps through the sound of my creaking feet and I manage to get a glass of water, scoop up my laptop, and go out onto the balcony without disturbing her.

The early hours on Sunday morning are quiet.  There is no traffic and even the birds are mostly still sleeping.  I appreciate this time in the morning.  I remember my mother telling me that even as a baby I was not a morning person–I like having time and space to wake up before I engage with people.  It’s as if each morning only part of me wakes up, leaving the extroverted part dozing until it begins to vibrate with the excitement of a new day and I am suddenly ready to be with others.

After sitting alone for an hour or so, I go inside to discover that Megan has awakened and started getting ready for her departure.  We decided last night that we would try to Longhorn for breakfast.  It’s a small little diner that Pat and I have walked by dozens of times, intrigued by its ’50s diner architecture.  We have been wanting to try it and they open for breakfast at 7AM on Sunday morning, so it works well for our purposes this morning–Megan wants to be on the road by 8AM.

Once we have all gotten ourselves ready, we take the short walk over to the diner, arriving just after 7.  Two women in Longhorn shirts sit at the counter.  When we try the door, it’s bolted, but one woman is already on her way over to let us in.  The restaurant consists of a row of 2-person booths lining the windows and a long, formica counter top with metal trim and short metal stools fixed to the floor in front of it with burgundy vinyl tops.  We pick 3 stools in the middle of the counter.  The coffee is made, the grill is covered in nearly done bacon, fresh biscuits are piled in a basket, and the hashbrowns sit prepped, waiting for their turn on the grill.  I wonder what time these women got started this morning.  They are both tiny, frail looking women who wear years of experience on their faces.  One could be my age or 10 years older than me; it’s impossible to tell.  The second could be old enough to be my mother.  Although they appear physically frail, there is something about both of them that makes me think they have strength that has seen them through a lot of hard times.

Pat orders decaf and is surprised that it, too, is already made.  The second woman, still sitting at the counter, asks how they get the caffeine out of coffee.  Pat smiles and says that they use chemicals that aren’t good for you and she laughs a big genuine laugh that lights up her face.  Her smile transforms her instantly and makes me smile with surprise at how beautiful she is.  She reminds me of one of my aunts who used to laugh the same way, dropping 20 years every time she showed her teeth.

The food comes quickly and hot.  There is nothing fancy here, just various combinations of eggs, meat, and potatoes, but it’s good and my eggs are done exactly as I wanted them with the whites still soft but not slimy and the yolk runny and bright yellow.  I appreciate a good over-medium egg.  We sit and talk of when we will next see Megan.  My youngest nephew is turning 18 in October; my sister-in-law assumes we will not come now that the drive is so much further, but I’ve never missed my nephews’ birthdays by more than a few days and I don’t intend to start now.  We talk about his pending graduation in May and I think all of us are struck by the impossibility of being old enough for both of my nephews to be out of high school.  Having no children of our own, Pat and I often measure the passage of time by the milestones of other people’s children.  It comes as a shock each time I realize that another child is no longer a child.

More people arrive and sit in booths as we continue to talk over our coffee, our food long gone.  I don’t want my sister-in-law to leave, but I know she must be looking forward to returning home after being gone much of the past 3 weeks.  I reflect for a moment on the friends in my life.  I am incredibly fortunate when it comes to friends.  They are an assortment of people who have come into my life through random circumstances and stuck in a way that makes me feel both honored and humbled.  Megan is one of those people.  I suppose I should thank my brother for bringing Megan into my life.  She is someone who makes me a better person even though we have always lived hundreds of miles apart.  I cannot imagine having gone through the loss of my mother without her–she also lost my mother and our shared grief got me through in ways I don’t understand and Megan probably doesn’t even know about.  As we leave the restaurant and walk her to the rented mini-van parked behind our building, I find myself missing her already.  The sense of being alone in Chattanooga without my support group rises in me and I suddenly find myself missing all of my friends in a sudden mass of self-pity.  Having just returned from Columbus a few days earlier, it’s as if the loss that I felt leaving my friends behind suddenly caught up with me.

We wave goodbye as she pulls out of the parking lot and return to the apartment.  I plop on the couch, deflated, much like the air mattress that now sits rolled in the corner.  I find myself wishing I were back in Columbus where I could get a hug from my best friend.  The thought of her intensifies my sadness to the point that I turn on the TV just to have a mindless distraction.  I have had many friends move to remote locations where I see them only once a year or less.  We stay in touch and when we talk, it’s like we just saw each other yesterday.  I know that this is how it will be now that I have moved.  I know that my best friend doesn’t care less about me and I hope that she knows that, if anything, I care more about her.  But for a few minutes I wallow in the sense of loss.  I ponder how I could have been looking forward to being back in my own bed when I was staying at my best friend’s house and, now that I am sleeping in my own bed, I long to be back with my best friend.  But the TV distracts me and I find my eyes drooping.  I set aside my sadness and give in to the pull of much needed sleep.

Urban Anxiety

For 10 years, we lived in what I would describe as an “urban residential area.” Located North of the Columbus downtown area, the walk to restaurants, the grocery store, the library, the farmers market was an easy endeavor. At the same time, we were nestled into a wooded ravine, keeping us cocooned and creating separation from city activity. We spent a year a few miles further North where there was less separation, but also a little less busyness. Now, we live on one of the busier streets in Chattanooga in an apartment with a balcony that oversees it all. The view of the downtown skyline is fantastic–I love keeping the blinds open so I can look out over the park across the street, the bridges over the river, and the cityscape. Being in walking distance of the majority of the things we want or need to do every day is also a big plus. But it’s definitely different.

For us, it’s a small step from where we lived before, but the noise has been an adjustment. Fireworks at the baseball stadium across the river sounded like they were going off right outside our window. We learned about the summer concert series across the river because we thought a band was playing in our living room. When large trucks go by during the day, I have to mute my phone to avoid disturbing conference calls. And, perhaps most surprising to me, sirens scream by every single day. I had no idea there could be so many fires in a town with about 300,000 residents!

We recently met a young guy who told us he had moved here about a week before we did from some small town in Tennessee that I had never heard of. He told us the name of the “big city” he had to drive to as a kid in order to see a movie. The “big city” was another small town I’d never heard of. Walking with him across the street, when I went to push the button for a walk signal, he thought I was walking off the wrong direction. When I explained my intention, he laughed and said he was from such a small town that it never occurred to him he was supposed to push a button to cross the street. I imagined a small town where he could step out in the street unassisted by lights and if a car happened to be going by, they would stop to say hello. This must be a completely different world to him.

While adjusting to the noise is a bit of a challenge (and may have something to do with why I’m only sleeping 4-5 hours a night these days), I wouldn’t give up our location. Convenience is a great benefit. For one, we can see our new bank from our balcony, which has made setting up new accounts a lot easier. We try to take a walk each morning along the riverfront between my first burst emails in the morning and settling down to work steadily for the rest of the day (and, more often than I would like, the evening). The other day, as we were strolling by the bank, our new banker was arriving. He stopped to chat with us for a minute. I can’t remember ever having a banker whom I’ve met once and then seemed like a friend the next time I ran into him. I think of my small-town acquaintance and how nice it feels to be recognized as part of the neighborhood.

As far as feeling like being part of the community goes, we haven’t made a lot of progress there yet. Working from home doesn’t lend itself well to meeting new people. And working a lot limits the time available for activities that promote making new friends. It’s easier to just jump on my bike for a ride whenever I can work it in than it is to have to be somewhere at a specific time. This leads to watching people more than being with people. Part of my problem is putting work away. It was easier to stop working when my office wasn’t across the room 24×7. Now, I think of something I forgot to do and I go do it. Once I get started, I find other things I need to do and soon, hours have gone by. Work often consumes me.

I also have a new anxiety about my career. I worry that because no one sees me answering emails at 5AM, on a conference call at 11:00PM, creating presentations at 8PM, etc. that if I step out to go get lunch late in the afternoon and miss a call, an email, an instant message, people will think I’m slacking. I’m not sure who I think would see me if I were in the office at those times, but I worry all the same. It makes it harder to put work away.

On the plus side, I can take my laptop out on the balcony for as long as I can stand the heat and enjoy the view unobscured by windows at any time of the day (as long as I’m quick with the mute button since I seem to be on the phone at least 8 hours a day). It’s a tradeoff, but I’m adjusting.

But people watching is interesting. Lots of visitors wander the streets. Chattanooga attracts people from all over. Plus, it’s summer time and the ever-blowing breeze from the river attracts people to the waterfront all on its own. I am not the only one watching. Cameras lace the park areas, observing secluded corners from lamp posts. I always wonder who is watching me as I walk by and what they think I’m up to. Security seems to be a primary concern. Cops patrol on bicycles, Segways, foot, and in cars. Between the cameras and the police presence, I find myself wondering if I’m in danger. Funny thing how security can make you feel insecure. Perhaps the anxieties that motivated people to hang cameras and hire extra cops taps into my own anxieties?

I told myself before we started this venture that I had to remember that no matter where we moved, I was still taking myself with me.  Trying to avoid the disappointment of expecting a new life along with a new place, I coached myself that I couldn’t expect to be a new person.  Yet, I find that I secretly hoped I would leave my anxiety back in Columbus.  My husband once told me when we were planning our great escapade that he worried that even if I didn’t have a job, I would still be me.  He didn’t really mean this as an insult.  🙂  He just meant that I can get obsessed and anxious about anything.  I can take the most enjoyable pastime and turn it into a stressful burden in no time–I’ve even managed to do this with learning relaxation techniques.  It’s a skill I don’t take pride in, but it comes from a lifetime of believing hard work is central to character.  The lesson I continue to try to learn is how to relax into the work.  The philosophy of enjoying the journey as much as the destination comes hard for me.  I constantly remind myself to be where I am, to experience fully what I’m experiencing, and to let the next moment take care of itself.  After all, right now is all we have.  But goals loom large and distract from the joy of each step along the way.

I take a deep breath.  I look out over the view.  I remind myself that I am here, sitting on my balcony, my feet pressed against warm concrete, cars rolling by below, writing purely for the pleasure of writing.  Chattanooga is a beautiful place.  And I am in it.  The early morning light highlights the yellows in the trees, giving the scene freshness.  Birds sing loudly enough to hear them over the traffic.  The breeze still holds the coolness of the night and delivers it to me in soft waves.  I think briefly about the work I didn’t finish yesterday, but bring my attention back to now.  I finish my coffee and put my laptop away far less anxious.

Just a few things

There is nothing like moving to make you think about things.  And I mean that in the most literal of ways.  I pick up each thing I own, examine it, think about the last time I used it,  think about whether that thing is worth the trouble of packing, lifting, carrying, and placing back in my life at the next location.  When I add into the mix a reduction of space by 1/2, I scrutinize even more carefully.  Is this thing worth my time and energy?  Where will I put it in my new place?  Is this something I will be able to find and use?  Is it something I will replace if I don’t have it?  I never cease to be amazed at the number of things that have found a place in my home that have turned out to be a drain on my energy.

Having purchased our last house from my father, we inherited all the things that he didn’t want in his life anymore.  This included things from four grandparents, my mother, and my aunt–the leavings from their lives that I felt like I should be emotionally attached to.  But none of those things were them. Detaching objects from people was a mandatory step in reducing our burden when moving from our house last year.  Now, we have reduced our space again by half, requiring yet another reduction.

Digital photography is a great tool for dealing with balancing emotional attachment and physical space.  Pictures of the things that represented something important take up only virtual space.  This method, suggested by my brother, has allowed me to unload things I don’t know what to do with ranging from trophies to family heirlooms.  Take a picture, sell or donate the item, move on.  Interestingly, I don’t find myself looking at the pictures of these objects when I want to remember the people and experiences that went with them; I just remember.

Harder for me is balancing reduction and waste.  I hate getting rid of an object that I spent money on that I don’t feel I’ve gotten my money’s worth out of yet. Likewise, I hate to get rid of something I might use.  Clothes are hard for this reason.  I seem to always end up with items I consider expensive that hang in my closet far more than on my body.  I decided that I should get my wardrobe down to 7 outfits for each season.  Then, I won’t need much space and I will save time deciding what to wear.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t been too practical.  I have a wardrobe for work, hanging out, going out, working out, biking, hiking, skiing, and yoga.  I have highly technical clothing for virtually every weather possibility.  These are practical clothes that I use to death, but it’s a slow death.  Now that I work from home, my work clothes will be needed about as often as my ski pants.  Being prepared and being a nomad don’t seem to fit well together.

I think about a book I once read called Your Money or Your Life.  It talked a lot about the concept of “enoughness.”  The stats show that there is an optimal state of wealth, and it’s not what we think of as wealth.  Once you have food, shelter, and clothing, your happiness maximizes at some minimal level of comfort beyond that point and then the stress of maintaining things causes your happiness to decline.  The trick is that there is no formula for determining what your personal level of eoughness is.  I, for one, cannot imagine life without my iPad or iPhone.  Yet, was I less happy before they existed?  It’s a slippery slope.  I introduce something new into my life and it takes hold, becomes part of what I do each day, and I cannot imagine giving it up.  Yet there is a cost to all of these things–even those that don’t require a data plan.  Clothes have to be cleaned, put away, decided upon.  Pictures have to be arranged, hung, dusted.  Collectibles have to be maintained, safe-guarded, cared-for.

I wonder if I should start a website where people can trade homes not for vacations, but for cleaning out the clutter?  If someone else came into my home and made the decision for me about what I needed to keep and what I could live without, wouldn’t it be easier for them to decide?  In the meantime, I struggle to find places for the debris of my life that I cannot part with, but don’t have a place for.  I wonder how we’ll reduce what we have to a set of things that we can take with us and how much comfort I am willing to give up in exchange for more space, time, and energy to do what I enjoy?