Clearing out

I think I’ve mentioned Daily Om before, a website that offers life affirming essays and online courses. I’m currently taking a course on clearing. On any other website, it would be called decluttering, but it’s not just getting rid of stuff. It’s the why we hang on to things and how it feels to have them or let go of them. Not quite Marie Kondo, either, this. But rather a supplement to firm tossing and saying thank you to stuff. The course starts with exploring one’s attitude to things and to clearing them.

It’s slow going, which I like. I really do not understand “housework”. I’m not good with routines. I’ve followed other flaky people and their systems and have learned something from each of them. Still, I hunt for The One Method that will get me decluttering and cleaning and all that.

So why is this different? Maybe because it starts from the inside and you make the outside happen according to that. For example, one lesson was about movement. About how we get stuck in an attitude or a belief. We need to get ourselves unstuck. So act that out by moving something in your home: Find something that’s out of place and put it in place, or find something that is trash and toss it out.

That idea I could embrace: That the little household chore was about getting me moving, not about establishing some routine in the home. And that right there is the “hook” I need, the attitudinal approach that helps it make sense to me.

All the emptied and washed spice jars, ready for the recycling bin. This is the only “spice rack” I have ever had - or will need.

All the emptied and washed spice jars, ready for the recycling bin. This is the only “spice rack” I have ever had - or will need.

And from that desire, from wanting to get unstuck, from wanting more energy, I then get a routine: Every day I do that little thing in my home for me.

The course has motivated me to declutter all my spices today. That’s another thing: Understanding who I truly am, and what I’m actually likely to do. I will never do all the cooking all those spices suggest. Most of them were covered with a thin layer of gray concrete dust, so they haven’t been touched in the over 2.5 years since my bathroom was remodeled (!). So out the vast majority went. I even got a rhythm going emptying the little jars for recycling and felt really good about my little task. I was honoring my true nature: Salt and pepper go a long way with how I cook. And I finished, too!

I think that’s what has been missing: Feeling personal about the task at hand. Weird that I treat routines in my home like a service I do for a stranger. But housekeeping truly isn’t something I “get”. I do it because I understand intellectually that that’s what one does. (I admit, I do this quite irregularly.) I don’t understand it intuitively. It’s not second nature to me at all.

The things I do that “feed” me, that give me meaning on a personal or emotional level, those things I tend to do regularly. The penny dropped when I finally timed how long it takes to do dishes and realized it wasn’t that much of a chore. Now it’s something I do with pleasure. Also: The first place I can see in my home that my mental health is starting to stumble is my kitchen counter: the longer the dirty dishes don’t get done, the more “down” I’ve been. I’m back to my happy self again when I want to go into the kitchen and wash the dishes. Sometimes I’ll wash them anyway, because I know the cleared counters will make me feel better.

See, it’s an emotional thing, not a “let’s keep the house clean” thing.

And maybe, also, this is why apps don’t work for me. Lists somebody else comes up with overwhelm me because I don’t know how to use them for my own stuff. I don’t know where to start. Oh, yes, on an intellectual basis I know. I’ve read enough emails from FlyLady to have a pretty good grasp of what a daily routine should look like. But it’s not my routine. I can’t feel it. (FlyLady did help me finally do the dishes regularly, though.)

Happy accomplishment, Saturday’s decluttered travel stuff. How many of those little toothbrush caps does one person need?

Happy accomplishment, Saturday’s decluttered travel stuff. How many of those little toothbrush caps does one person need?

What works? Oddly, it’s writing a daily list by hand. Same thing with the grocery shopping. I can’t get comfortable with apps. I write my lists from scratch in Google Keep and when I’m done, “delete all checked items” and start over again next time. I think maybe this is how I focus and organize my thoughts.

Sometime last year I started writing daily to-do’s in a notebook I leave open on my kitchen table. It became a part of my healing journey through this past fall and winter. I saw the so-called “dot journals” or “bullet journals” and instantly felt overwhelmed by all the effort people put into those things. But I liked the idea of a dot in front of task and if you do it, write an X through the dot, else put a > there if you’re carrying the task over to the next day. I used to actually write little boxes to check, but the dot method is quicker and clearer. I also like that if I end up getting around to a task after all, the > easily becomes an X.

So finally, at age 58, I’m starting to understand myself, how I actually approach things, how I get meaning out of something.

Thank you for reading all this! Here’s your reward: Edvard Grieg in the Bergen city park.

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Spring magic

This year I seem to be more aware of budding trees. At this point in the season, where nights are still cold, although days are warmer, growth is slow, careful. I woke up to frost this morning, but now, as we approach sunset, my balcony is baking at a whole 26C/78F in the sun!

Won’t be long until leaves are bigger, blooms show better, branches are less naked.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying the magic of the slow awakening. (Click to enlarge photos.)

From top left to bottom right:

The rosehip bush is right below my living room window. I’ve watched its progress through the seasons many, many times. One of the sounds of summer is to hear a bumble bee’s buzz amplified by its wings touching the side of the rosehip petals while it hunts for nectar. And of course I love the scent of rosehip roses! I’ve even learned to like rosehip tea. But first we need to get more leaves!

The Japanese cherry tree is at the other end of my building and is purely for decoration. It is lovely, though, and will be at its showiest in May.

The beech tree is next to my balcony. This is the first year I’ve noticed flowers on it. It was planted about 25 years ago and barely reached up to my balcony then. Now it’s reached up to my upstairs neighbor’s balcony. One of things that happens when I blog, is that I end up doing a little research on behalf of my reader(s). The pink flowers mean that this is a copper or purple beech, a native of Europe. I did not know I had a purple beech!

The magnolia is by the main theater in town. I have wandered around in downtown Bergen and by the theater since 1981, and this is the first time I’ve ever noticed this tree. If it weren’t for the flowers, I’d never know there were magnolia trees in amongst the cherry trees lining the park below “Den Nationale Scene”. But this year I caught it blooming on naked branches. I have seen a magnolia tree in person only once before: Tucked in a cozy corner of the botanical gardens by the university. But that was memorable enough to help me identify this other tree, a snow magnolia. This particular species also comes from Japan.

Magic everywhere!


Those of you who follow me on Instagram will have seen these photos before. 😁

Apples, APP and another abbreviation

Apples makes me think of the old gold mining town of Julian in Southern California, a charming and tiny place that today specializes in apple pie. Warm apple pie with cheddar cheese on it is a wonderfully delicious combo!

Lasers make me think of when laserium shows were new. Started in Los Angeles, at the Griffith Observatory, and I loved it!  I didn't have the sense then to appreciate the show’s choice of music from Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon". I appreciate the music more now, but it's still not an album I play much. It is, however, produced by Alan Parsons and I love Alan Parsons Project (APP).

Michigan's two letter postal code is MI. I didn't have to look that up. I actually know all the state postal codes by heart.  

I have no good pictures of the city itself, only Julian’s plaque explaining its history

I have no good pictures of the city itself, only Julian’s plaque explaining its history

Today's prompt: apples, laser, Michigan.

Elevenie "Darkness"

Inspired by Paula’s “elevenie” poem (“Elfchen” in German) ending in darkness, here’s mine about the end of short winter days:

Darkness

Occupies daytime

In the winter

Until a climbing sun

Returns


An elevenie poem has 5 lines with one word on line 1, two words on line 2, three words on line 3, four words on line 4 and one word on line 5 that is different from the word on line 1.

Paved versus cobblestoned

The charm of Bergen is its old streets and equally old houses. The classic tourist photos look something like this:

An old residential street

An old residential street

So I thought I'd show you the less charming, more modern side. The side of the city I usually see. Honestly, I like this part, too. It's just not the most photographed.

Bergen is a constantly growing city. The population has doubled to 250  000 in the last 40 years. As for most cities, at some point you can't expand out; you have to start expanding up. So we've been seeing more and more taller buildings, although not in the city center itself (regulation rules and stuff).

I live in one of the suburbs, Fyllingsdalen, a mere 10-20 minute bus ride into town, depending on time and route. It's a trip I take a lot because I love going to "the city".

Mt Løvstakken, watching over Fyllingsdalen, one morning. In front, the local mall on the left and an apartment building on the right. This is what I see on my walk to work.

Mt Løvstakken, watching over Fyllingsdalen, one morning. In front, the local mall on the left and an apartment building on the right. This is what I see on my walk to work.

Downtown Bergen is the big draw for me: Tradition, cobblestones, bars and restaurants and the easiest place to meet friends from other suburbs. But before you get to that medieval city center, there are the more modern edges. Two of them—a 2 km tunnel (Løvstakktunnelen) and a bridge (Puddefjordsbroen)—are the first ones I constantly encounter going to town.

So on a lovely late autumn afternoon two months ago, I got off the bus right after the tunnel. First thing you see starting up the bridge that goes across the Puddefjord is one our newest apartment buildings, and is (as of this writing) the tallest modern structure made out of wood, named Treet (The Tree or The Wood as in what a tree is made of; wood for burning is "ved"). All I can think is that there's not much privacy on those balconies; you can see everything, including the beginnings of hoarding.

Heading to town; "Treet"

Heading to town; "Treet"

Behind me, the tunnel home

Behind me, the tunnel home

They do have an awesome view of Damsgårdssundet, Damsgård sound. On Treet's side of the sound (south side) is a neighborhood built mostly after WWI in one of the city's earlier suburban sprawls. Across from Treet is a mix of newish and not so new apartment buildings, several built by union members for union members, also from a good 100 years ago. Hence the little neighborhood called Trikkebyen, "Street Car Town" on the north side of Damsgårdsundet. The fjord continues to Solheimsviken, an old industrial area, now all modern office buildings. And of course, off in the distance, our tallest mountain, Ulriken (642 m).

West, Treet

West, Treet

South, Mt. Ulriken

South, Mt. Ulriken

East, Trikkebyen

East, Trikkebyen

"Trikkebyen" is a nickname for a few blocks within a larger and much older neighborhood, Møhlenpris, named after a guy with a mill. When I was studying insurance a couple of autumns ago, I walked through this neighborhood to one of the most modern buildings on Damsgårdsund. Rather charming area and I want to go back and walk the new pedestrian bridge across the sound. Møhlenpris itself was the Jewish neighborhood of Bergen, back when we had Jews. There are memorial stones commemorating the lives lost during WWII. Today's population tends to be ethnically mixed, too, but everyone is proud of their neighborhood and it shows in their creativity:

As you approach Møhlenpris bus stop towards downtown Bergen

As you approach Møhlenpris bus stop towards downtown Bergen

Mural in Møhlenpris, depicting children from different eras

Mural in Møhlenpris, depicting children from different eras

From here, I go up the stairs from the bus stop at Møhlenpris (optionally, up the hill under the cultural history museum). At the top of the stairs is our Human Rights Square, next to the human rights organization the Rafto Foundation. And now we get into what is now considered downtown Bergen, but even this area is a relatively new development, not being part of the original downtown area, but one of the first extensions of the city. We are now near the university, museums and where the rich first built modern (for that era) homes on this side of the city bay. The original botanical gardens are also here, currently in hibernation.

Human Rights Square

Human Rights Square

Fish(less) pond; former fancy homes in background

Fish(less) pond; former fancy homes in background

Our museum of natural history backs onto the gardens

Our museum of natural history backs onto the gardens

From here, the neighborhood consists of a lot of late 1800's buildings. Norway, and Bergen, were experiencing a population explosion, and were also trying to keep the number of city fires down, so larger, stucco buildings became the norm, then. Seen with today's eyes, the neighborhoods are still charming. Here are a few examples as I leave the university area:

Sydneshaugen (South Point Hill)

Sydneshaugen (South Point Hill)

Roadworks and streetcar tracks

Roadworks and streetcar tracks

It isn’t just dogs that use lampposts for messages

It isn’t just dogs that use lampposts for messages

And then we get back down into one of the older parts of town again. The neighborhood between the university and back towards Puddefjorden is called Sydnes (South Point). This is one neighborhood that still has the charming jumble of small wooden houses and cobblestoned streets that Bergen is known for.

Sydnes neighborhood

Sydnes neighborhood

A map of my walk - sort of. Tunnels confuse teh Google. :-)

A map of my walk - sort of. Tunnels confuse teh Google. :-)

90, if you want

A friend commented on another blog post of mine about how we're told that loneliness shortens a life span like a smoking habit does. Her married parents are now within waving distance of 90; she doubts she'll get to that age.

I have a theory, or maybe it's just a good ol' opinion about longevity and it's this: People live a long life because they want to.

I know where my friend's coming from. I have thought the same: That making it to 90 (or even 80) just might not be in the cards for a single, childless woman who has nothing but seated hobbies like knitting, watching TV, surfing the 'net, blogging…

I grew up with "The Greatest Generation", the people who practically starved to death during the Great Depression, then went through a world war (and maybe starved then, too) and still made it into their 90's before giving up this earthbound life.

So the researchers think they lived long because they ate little. Underfeeding yourself makes your metabolism slow down which makes you live longer (is the theory I've read). I have, however, also read the opposite: That people with a hearty appetite for food also have a hearty appetite for life. And we do know that for both people and animals, going off your feed is not a good sign.

Here's the thing: The folks I grew up with, my "Greatest Generation" grandparents (or maybe they're the generation before), made it well past 90 before deciding to leaqve this earth. Grandpa was torpedoed and divorced during the war—and subsequently estranged from his son ; Grandma has been widowed twice and never got along with her own mother. They've moved countries, getting stuck with a kid in their retirement that they weren't planning on. Both had a past as smokers. Grandma was always overweight and hypertensive. Big stressors. They went through a lot of unhealthy shit and still they made it past 90.

Yes, they were married. They had each other and they got along, and they both had a positive, friendly disposition. They had both stopped smoking decades earlier, and I guess having me around in their old age was also a positive.

These are my two data points. Still, the question is: With everything going on, why live into your 90's? Why did my grandparents?

Nothing says "I've been here a while" like a moss veneer

Nothing says "I've been here a while" like a moss veneer

For Grandpa, the end started when the war came back to him. Psychosis brought on by PTSD robbed him of the last of his strength and he spent his last months in a nursing home. He was hard of hearing, had cataracts and was basically hard to communicate with but also restless. He calmed down when Grandma and I visited and just talked like we always did. Us gals yapping, Grandpa just listening—the way it had always been.

He didn't die until I gave him permission to. I didn't know that's what I was doing at the time. Same thing with Grandma. She didn't die until she knew I would be OK without her.

With Grandpa, it was a Sunday visit, him oblivious to Grandma's and my presence. Knowing he would never come home again, I started talking, telling him that bringing me to a foreign country, away from my parents, was OK. It turned out well. I wasn't angry; I was grateful. The deaf man turned his head towards me as I was speaking, his cataract-covered eyes looked clear and focused and he was: Focused on me, on what I was saying, alert. And I am damned sure he heard every word I said. Two days later the nursing home called and said he'd died.

He needed closure. Then he could go.

Grandma was 9 years younger than Grandpa and we got to enjoy another 11 years of talking about everything and anything before it was her turn. With her it was the body that gave out first. A lot of sitting probably gave her more pain than necessary. It was frustrating for me with her in the nursing home; I handled being the adult and having to be responsible for both of us rather badly (sorry, Grandma). Bless her, she always stayed patient with me. Our last conversation ended with me telling her I had as much in my savings account as she had in hers. "You do?" she said. Later than evening she had a stroke that put her in a coma and she died within a week.

She was always after me to save, always worried about my finances (she had worried about her daughter the same way, so I guess it was habit). Knowing I'd got the message and was doing fine let her know she didn't have to stay around any more, so she left. Keep in mind, this was a woman who would wonder why she'd lived so long. What for? Now you know.

So if people actually choose when to leave this earth, what is all the advice regarding longevity about?

It's actually about 1) pain avoidance and 2) purpose. Taking care of the body through regular movement and eating well helps mitigate problems with aging or illness. Having meaningful relationships and hobbies gives one purpose.

It's like making sure your aging car is well-maintained; it won't break down as often if it is. Also, a car needs to be used regularly so the battery doesn't go flat and the oil doesn't turn to sludge. That analogy of regular use also applies to human minds and bodies.

Here's the thing, though: We can't all do all the things researchers think will make us live longer. If you want to live a long and happy life, do it your own way. I mean, if you hate exercise, exercising will just be another life-shortening stressor in your life, especially if skipping it makes you feel guilty. Likewise with anything mental. Creating stress and guilt in ourselves defeats the purpose. Find something that lets you move that works for you. And for your mind, same thing. Find something that sparks your own creativity, something that makes the hours fly by. And if it's done sitting, so what. Peace of mind and joy far outweigh sitting.

Speaking of peace of mind, my adventures with Norwegian sick leave, therapy and having a depression have taught me a few things about myself. I thought I was strong and positive about myself, but whadya know: I too have a skeleton in a closet. I made the closet; I put the skeleton there. It's named Guilt and it has very strong bones. (Obligatory Astrology: This whole blog post is nothing but Saturn/Capricorn stuff.)

So the new lesson I'm learning is how to be gentle with myself, how to have a healthy perspective on who I am and what I am capable of. Also: Practicing forgiveness. Forgiving myself, and forgiving others (mostly myself, these days). The healthiest thing I have found I can do for myself is to be my own best friend, to accept and love myself.

We have to make our own rules for living. Knowing how to make ourselves happy has huge value. Who wants to be ancient but miserable? Find your peace of mind and your joy, and enjoy for as long as you want.

My grandma. I try to be like her.

My grandma. I try to be like her.

Longevity: My maternal grandmother when she was 93. Those are her paintings on the wall. Art was one of her joys.

#astrology: Transitting Mercury in Capricorn is right on my natal Saturn today.

Golden

If you follow me on Instagram, you will recognize some of these photos. Leaving the good stuff only to IG isn't fair to my blog only readers, so here you go!

First up is from earlier this fall, in the neighborhood of our university, at Øysteins gate. I think Øystein was a king. We have a bunch of king names in this neighborhood, like Sigurd and Sverre and Magnus Barfot (Magnus Barefoot; apparently, he wore shorts). 

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Next is from two months later, i.e. last night. Another street named for a king: Olav Kyrre, who was the founder of Bergen, Norway, in 1070. The street now is a main transit hub in town. (Weirdly, our bus station isn't.) I was waiting for my bus after my annual lutefisk dinner. (It was delicious.) I need to go back because the Christmas lights in the city park (Byparken) are new this year.

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And finally, one of those rare moments when everything just comes together. Right place, right time kind of thing. Last week, we were covered in frost, and everything was coated in glittering, white fuzz. A low, warm sun added perfect light to a corner of my local pond, Ortuvann, transforming ordinary into magical.

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You may be thinking the above was taken late in the day, but it's date-stamped with a time of 12:54. Nearly high noon and yet shadows are very long. Such is winter at 60 degrees north.

Lisa's Eleven

A little musing and sharing via eleven questions thought up by Lisa and found via Paula.

1) Socks? Love them or hate them?

— I have cold feet. Socks, please, and they have to cover my ankles. I've chosen to get different patterns and stuff, inspired by a co-worker wearing a pair of bright orange ones. That's when I realized that colorful socks are important. IMPORTANT. Nobody ever sees mine since I wear bootlets at work.

Handknitted socks a co-worker made for Secret Santa. And I won them! They keep my feet toasty in rubber boots

Handknitted socks a co-worker made for Secret Santa. And I won them! They keep my feet toasty in rubber boots

2) Is there a God?

— Paula starts off with "I wonder why peeps are so obsessed with this question." Since I have constantly asked myself this question, I don't find the obsession weird.

The answer is yes, by the way.

The real question is: What is God?

3) Is a pizza a pizza without cheese?

I like Paula's answer (must have cheese!), but since pizza is one of those incredibly flexible dishes, it can also lack cheese. I mean, I still remember how upset I was when Mexican pizza became a thing (blasphemy!!!) but they do taste good so I gave up caring.

4) What’s your favorite book and why?

For the longest time my favorite was "Illusions" by Richard Bach. I've outgrown it now, but I still have two copies. Favorite book does not equal most used, however. In that category I could put my ephemeris because of my astrology interest and Louise Hay's "You Can Heal Your Life" because of the affirmations for everything that ails a body. If I have to bring just one book to a deserted island, it'll be an illustrated, unabridged encyclopedia.

5) Do aliens exist or are we floating around in space all alone?

Both. Maybe we're the Mt. Everest of the universe and only the most daring make it for a visit. That's why it looks empty in this neighborhood.

6) Do you still have the teddy you slept with as a child?

I never had a teddy bear. Don't actually like them. Anything with eyes tended to bother me as a kid and still does. The only stuffed animal I remember having was a yellowish snake I named Oscar. I don't have Oscar any more (moving countries tends to leave stuff behind) but I actually still kind of miss him. I didn't sleep with the snake or any other stuffed toys at all. I had a calico cat who would fall asleep under my chin and move after I'd fallen asleep.

7) Brussel sprouts? Yes or no?

Fresh ones, gently boiled, are actually almost sweet in taste, so yes to that!

8) Christmas? Do you love it or hate it?

I'm not Christmassy in that my home turns into Santa's workshop, but I love the lights because it gets dark early where I live so anything cheering is a plus. It's also the only time of year I turn into a romantic, indulging and overindulging in sappy movies with happy endings and a bit (or a lot) of Santa magic. In Norway, we get a bit of time off so people are pretty chill between Christmas and New Year which is nice after the hectic preparations before Christmas. And the solstice means the days have stopped getting shorter! Whee!

Christmas tree at Håkonshallen with the Norwegian tradition of white lights only

Christmas tree at Håkonshallen with the Norwegian tradition of white lights only

9) What’s sexier – a beaming smile or thigh high boots?

Both are sexy, but I'd only stay for the smile.

10) If you were stuck with one view for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Either the smile from question 9 or nature. I have to have a tree or something that attracts bird. Ideally also a mountain or body of water. Actually, I want to see the sky, to see sunsets.

11) Which do you prefer? Spring or Autumn?

Autumn. The stars come back (because the nights get darker), the air gets crisp, and I get to wear sweaters again! Spring in Norway is just stressful for me: Too many people outside doing things that stink (painting houses, barbecuing).

Autumn also has frosting

Autumn also has frosting

Feel free to take on these questions for yourself!