Brutal Calculations

Good morning! Life has been life, lately. And life, as John Lennon quoted from Allen Saunders, is what happens when you make other plans. I really wanted to come back with something about that aspect of life but realized that I needed to talk about something else first – the choices we make about what we do and having to balance what we Want To Do with what we are Required To Do. Brutal Calculations as I have started to think of them.

Brutal Calculations. We all make them. They are part of the lives of every single person on the planet. An example for me commonly is between work and practice. Playing roller derby is a huge passion for me. Having been injured I need to work harder to come back and part of that is going to practice and actually skating. Practice and working out becomes a priority. Then I have work, which is a supervisory/management position. That means I have a lot of stuff to get done with deadlines. It also means that I get assigned extra tasks based on business need and I am expected to complete them. Even if I have to unexpectedly work late that night to do it.

And there you have it. The choice between roller derby, an activity which lifts my spirit and brings me joy, and work, which keeps a roof over my head but isn’t “uplifting”. A Brutal Calculation.

But the choices don’t have to be that stark or depressing. It can be the choice between playing Fallout 4 (very fun in the moment, no long term benefits), writing (can be fun, working on a skill that will be useful), and working out (quite a chore, great benefits). If you have limited resources you have to make them. Do you buy the Deluxe, Super Premium, Every Channel Possible Cable Package, or do you take classes to indulge a hobby? Do you pay the phone bill or the electric bill?

Well, lately my choices have been work, working out, the aforementioned Fallout 4, and watching old episodes of Would I Lie to You? It is time for me to change prioritization.More writing. More working out. More practice. What about you? What calculations do you want to change in your life?


Time flies but stuff gets done

Well, life has been kind of busy. Moved into a different department at work so I had to transition my team over to someone else and get into the swing of the new team. Lots of stuff to do. And this move came with yet another schedule change – and I rarely do well with schedule changes. But things settle and it is time to write again. Although I probably should not have waited until shortly before I have to head out.

Cleaning stuff out has gone well. Jules has been her usual amazing self and gotten many things out the door. I have moved most of my “keep” stuff downstairs. I have more stuff to sell – time to learn how to sell on eBay. Do people still use eBay anymore? Also, once I have everything out of the upstairs I will need to winnow the downstairs. There are probably many things that can go – I really don’t need three guitars for Rock Band.

We are also having some trouble finding a place. I guess the toughest part is finding one that takes dogs.

There you go. Back to writing. Not very inspiring on the face of it. No bon mots, no pithy wisdom, no uplifting words. But read again – life is throwing up roadblocks and we are getting past them. It may not be glamorous, but we’re getting there.

The symbol is not the dream

When I was young I wanted to drum but I didn’t have encouragement. I remember being told many times to “stop banging” on whatever it was at the moment – a margarine tub, a bucket, or even all of my mom’s pots and pans upended on the floor like a drum kit. They tried to have my dad teach me guitar but my fingers just wouldn’t move right. I joined band and the teacher made me a saxophonist. I even tried learning bass as a teenager. None of that felt right. Part of me always wanted to drum.

Years later I shared this desire with someone very near and dear to me. Another friend had purchased a doumbek and in hushed tones, as if I were embarrassed to admit it, I told her that I had always wanted to do that too. She excitedly told me that I should – but I didn’t right away. Maybe because that friend had just started and I didn’t want to “copy” her. Maybe I was just scared.

A few months later we went to an event put on by a group in the Society for Creative Anachronism. It was called Pennsic and it was incredible. Lots of classes, performances, food, music, parties, great people. And merchants. Several of those merchants sold musical instruments. I decided to splurge and get a doumbek, because who knows if I’d get an opportunity back in Wisconsin. If I had known then what I knew just six months later, I wouldn’t have gotten it – because it was the wrong style for the way I would end up playing. And if I had known then what I knew a 18 months later I would have waited until I got home because not quite 100 miles from my house was a master drum maker.

In that year and a half I purchased five or six drums of varying low to mediocre quality. All but one of those drums has been given away. I purchased two doumbeks from Abdul Hamid Alwan, a wonderful man with a great shop in Milwaukee, WI that sold many, many things. And in the back of that shop were drums.


The one on the right is the first drum I purchased there. It was great and wonderful and I loved playing it. The drum on the left (with the hard case) is one that Hamid used for a while when he performed. It is a gorgeous drum that I bought to play at my first wedding. That marriage didn’t last long and, while this drum is even nicer to play than the first, I could never really bring myself to play it much.

Anyway, I posted on Facebook that I am selling them. Two drums from a now retired master drum maker whose clients included professional musicians in the Middle East. Both have meant a lot to me. But they deserve to be in homes where they bring music and joy.

But don’t worry, I still have this lovely drum…



I haven’t posted in a couple of days because, well, lots of reasons. Busy time at work (month end can be like that). Getting back to roller derby. Morning workouts taking time from writing. But also because I’ve had to shift my method of getting rid of stuff.

One thing I can have problems with is long term time estimation. If there is a long time before something happens then there is always a long time before it happens. At least there is until reality slaps me in the face with a reminder that there is only a short time. That’s what happened here. Jules informed me that we had less than two months until we moved. Not really enough time for me to leisurely filter things out. Nope, I need to “get a wriggle on” as Jules says.

But as I’ve said before, sticking me in a room and telling me to go through everything turns into me working hard for 15-30 minutes, getting overwhelmed, and then being distracted by things. And I can’t rely on Jules to constantly keep me company while I do everything. So I’m trying to come up with ways to do this that minimize the “supervision” I need with this to keep on track. I have some thoughts, but suggestions are always appreciated.

Life gets busy

Things have gotten busy. A bout of food poisoning, a dentist appointment, working late, and a planned trip to watch roller derby. But I am committed to decluttering. Here are the 22 items for the four days, all in one fell swoop.


There is no one thread behind the books. Some I have other copies of. Some I have as ebooks.  Some I will never read again (or just never read). Here they are clutter, somewhere elae they may be loved.


Giving away something that was given to me is difficult. I guess I feel that on some level I am rejecting the gift or the gift giver. But am I really honoring that relationship by letting that potentially well thought out symbol become meaningless background noise? Or worse, am I assigning meaning to a last minute, “Oh shit, I have to get Val something” selection? Either way, the importance is in the relationship, not the token.


These are from yesterday and today. Each one was a gift.

A flask from the Throttle Rockets, a Rat City Rollergirls home team. Roller derby for those unfamiliar. Jules got this for me early in our relationship. She knew I liked derby and that I needed a flask. This was the only one that she could get that combined both at that time. I have since purchased a larger one that I use more often – this was my “loaner flask”.

A handmade belt from an old SCA friend. I got it at my then local group’s Yule party. I cherished it but never got a chance to wear it.

Two wooden spoon/drumsticks. That’s right. Drumsticks with wooden spoons on the other end. A thoughtful gift, as I like cooking AND drumming. But they don’t work well for either.

A hand held Sudoku game. Kate got me this for Christmas many years ago. And I played it A LOT. However I have gotten out of my Sudoku phase and it has languished for several years.

A biography of Johnny Cash. Another present from Jules, this one from about a year ago. I’ve wanted to read it but just couldn’t. I can’t really explain why. The book (like many others) just feels wrong. Not content but how it feels in my hands. Okay, maybe I can explain why, but not until just now.

Not always grand

Decluttering doesn’t have to be about removing big items that have been stored for years. It can be a little thing that takes up space instead of making life better.


The blue pieces are from a tea set I purchased about eight years ago. Back then I was more into the “ritual” of tea than I am now. I liked the process of filling this mug, taking back to the table or the dance room (fancy term for living room with no furniture), and letting it steep while I sat. Now I’m more of a “large pyrex container and a strainer” girl. Don’t want fancy, just my tea. This may be going to my dear friend Kate who had something similar that broke in travel years ago. She’s going to try it out this morning to see if she likes it.

Next to that is a bell. Someone at work gave that to me when I broke my ankle a year ago. When your voice doesn’t carry well you sometimes need other ways to call for help when bedridden.

Finally, a PS3 box. I don’t have the PS3 anymore. Traded it in last summer. But even before that all this box was doing was holding up other stuff.

There. It doesn’t have to be meaningful. In fact, a lot of things going away will be quite the opposite – meaningless. Or at least they will no longer have meaning – everything I’ve shown so far was important to me at some point. Soon there will probably be things that never meant anything to me past the rush of pleasure at buying them.


It isn’t easy to change a habit. The ingrained autopilot routines can catch us when we’re not paying attention. Just grab the remote and start channel surfing; pop open the laptop and play games; pick up the phone and check social media.

We have to put stuff in the way of those easy paths if we wish to change. Not because those habits are bad but because they impede us from being who we want to be.

My biggest reminder at the moment is this:


That is a leather bound notebook of hand made paper. I bought it months ago, wrote in it once, then left it on a shelf. I would see it and think that I should write something. The notebook now resides on my laptop. I have to consciously acknowledge the notebook’s existence and purpose every time I turn on the laptop.

And in the past few days I have written more both in and out of that notebook than in the past year. Will I keep up this pace? Who knows. I will be getting back to other things in life that mean something to me.

And I’d rather choose between meaningful things than meaningless things.

Must List start

One of the tools that the Minimalists speak of is a “Must List”. Their thought (like mine) is that people say they “should” do things but never get to it. They just took it further and realized that our goals must be reframed as something we “must” do. When we view our goals as something we “should” do then we give ourselves a way out.

With that in mind I have started working on my list of what I feel I must do to live the life I want.

An unexpected destination

Last summer Jules and I went to a bachelorette party for a friend. During dinner conversation someone asked Jules where she would like to live. Jules immediately said “I want to live in a tiny house.” My attention shifted back to that topic and I must have had quite a shocked look and tone because she immediately looked abashed, saying “Wait, haven’t I told you about that?”

I wasn’t upset that she hadn’t told me. My shock stemmed more from:

  • Jules had a lot of stuff. I mean, A LOT. A spare room and a storage unit both crammed full of things.
  • I had also wanted to live in a tiny house but felt I couldn’t because I also had too much stuff.
  • I didn’t think I would have support in downsizing.

In the months since we have talked this through. We have both tried downsizing in fits and starts but nothing sustained. Things just weren’t clicking into place for me. Jules talks about using the KonMari method – which is basically grab an entire category of your stuff (such as books, clothes, or housewares) and pile them up in a room. Then take each item and see if it gives you a “spark of joy” – if not then get rid of it. That is just too overwhelming for me. So I did nothing much.

Then last night I started listening to the Minimalists podcast. And I checked their website a bit. And a path started to be revealed. This is the story of that intentional journey.