Vertical Organization

After living with the Crankee Yankee (my husband) for nearly 13 years, I think I may have at least one of the methods of his madness figured out. Let’s just say that we are short on space and long on stuff. We live in a small house, along with three goodish-sized cats. Between us all, we have a lot of stuff. (Well, at least all the cats’ toys can be corralled into one basket. But then, they also have cat furniture….)

I would say that at least one-fourth of our stuff is papers; documents, letters, magazines, articles cut out from newspapers, and various recipes. Doesn’t sound like a lot, doesn’t it? Well–it IS. In our house, no flat surface is safe, nor does it stay empty for long.

The Crankee Yankee has perfected what he calls the ‘science of vertical organization.’ This simply means that he will stack stuff in neat, squared-off piles–viola–vertical organization. Only he knows what’s important, what must be saved, what “might could” be saved, what may or may not need to be saved, and what stuff can be shoved  away for another decade. To my way of thinking, though–it’s endless stacks of STUFF.

I think that he approaches his stacks the way an archaeologist approaches a column of sandstone; it must be studied grain by grain. This means that we could both be well in our 100s before those stacks disappear. I have tried baskets, file cabinets, big plastic containers with lids (“Look! Now you can SEE what you’re hoarding!”) to encourage horizontal organization; nothing seems to work for the Crankee Yankee but his endless and every-growing stacks (i.e., vertical organization).

Does anyone remember the TV sitcom, “Seinfeld”? There was an episode where George (the short, balding and continuously complaining guy) kept everything in his wallet; cash, cards, receipts, etc. The wallet began to take on the size and breadth of a small groundhog, and one day it just exploded from one receipt too many. That is what I believe may happen to our house before too long. Ice dams? Heavy snow on the roof? Icicles?! Oh, no–what will destroy our house is when the vertical organization goes to critical mass. Then we will wake up in mountains of paper bits big enough to rival New Orleans the day after Mardi Gras.

Well, ancient Rome has crumbling ruins. We have crumbling ‘vertical organization.’

Did I Wake Up in Antarctica?

I was born in Maine, and raised in New Hampshire, and I’ve seen my share of cold and snowy winters. I have skied in it (both downhill and cross-country), skated on the ice, made snow forts and snow angels, climbed up snow mountains and sledded down snowy hills. I’ve bundled up in snow suits, knitted hats and mittens and heavy boots and scarves, and played in the snow despite a runny nose and chapped lips. I’ve always enjoyed winter and the cold–but THIS winter is a doozie. This is a winter so cold that opening the freezer feels almost balmy.

As usual, when I run out of text, I go straight to poetry, and here it is:

This Winter

My nose hairs are frozen

As well as my nose, and

My fingers, they are frigid,

My feet, they are rigid.

My body heat is failing

And my arms are flailing,

To keep me upright

So I won’t fall right

Into more snow and ice

‘Cause I’ll freeze in a trice,

And they won’t find me til Spring

And by then I’ll look nothing

Like the gal I was

Before I fruz

Into one big block

That they’ll have to shock

To bring me out of the snow,

Like a thousand-year old Eskimo.

This cold, you can keep it–

In fact, you can sweep it

All into the sea,

Where the fish and the seabirds

Can fill it with turds

For all I care–

I’m staying in my long underwear!









A Must-Read Book – “A Man Called Ove”

I have mentioned the term “ya ya books” in previous posts. It means that a book you are reading is so good, so engrossing, that if anyone tries to speak to you while reading, all you can do is to flap one hand irritatedly at them, indicating that they should shut up immediately and go away.

“A Man Called Ove” is such a book. Written by Fredrik Backman, it is the story of one grumpy old Swedish guy, hidebound in his thinking, ideals, values, and in fact every aspect of life. He is much more than he seems, and his story encompasses so much–I found myself alternately laughing and weeping while reading it.

Mind you, it isn’t a really sad book, but a combination of things funny, sweet, endearing, heart-breaking, and poignant. Reading it is a lot like picking up an ugly chocolate by chance, and, because you don’t want to seem boorish for putting it back in the box, you bite into it…..and it’s the single best, most delicious, most unexpectedly amazing chocolate you’ve ever eaten.

Here’s a passage from the book that I just loved (and for your information, it’s on page 305):

“Loving someone is like moving into a house,” Sonja used to say. “At first you fall in love with all the new things, amazed that every morning that all this belongs to you, as if fearing that someone would suddenly come rushing in through the door to explain that a terrible mistake has been made, you weren’t actually supposed to live in a wonderful place like this. Then over the years the walls become weathered, the wood splinters here and there, and you start to love that house not so much because of its perfection, but rather for its imperfections. You get to know all the nooks and crannies. How to avoid getting the key caught in the lock when it’s cold outside. Which of the floorboards flex slightly when one steps on them or exactly how to open the wardrobe doors without them creaking. These are the little secrets that make it your home.”

If you are a dedicated reader as I am, books are your daily bread. When you become immersed in one that holds you captive page by page, it becomes part of you. It’s a lot like meeting someone for the first time; you’re not always sure that you’ll like them or be able to forge a friendship with them. But when you let them into your heart, they are there forever. They become part of who you are, and often they change the very map of your life.

This book sort of sinks into your soul and lingers there for as long as it takes for you to let it go. It is compelling because you want to stay with it and in it for as long as you can–but you still can’t wait to reach the last page. When you do, you may cry as much as I did because I didn’t want it to end.

After finishing the book, I feel as if I’ve met someone who became important to me, and now I never want them to leave. This book touched me so deeply that I need to wait a day or so to start a new one. I’m not finished living in “A Man Named Ove” yet.

Please read this book. It will change your life.



An Inventory of Good Things

We in the Northeast (which, by the way, is fast becoming another tundra) are experiencing another nor’easter; more snow and this time, strong winds as well. Since there’s no going outside while it’s snowing hard, it’s a good time to do an inventory of Good Things.

Yesterday I cleaned out our refrigerator and routed out all the fossilized items that sneakily crept to the back of the shelves. While I was at once holding my nose and cleaning, I started thinking about all the good things about a snowstorm:

Good Things About a Snowstorm When You Still Have Power

  1. You have free license to hunker up with a good book and a cup of cocoa.
  2. It’s a great time to snuggle back into bed after a decadent breakfast.
  3. All those fun things you are always wanting to make time for? Do them now–it’s snowing out!
  4. Bake.
  5. Take a hot shower or bath–if a bath, throw in those expensive bath oils you’re “saving.”
  6. Finish that quilt/scarf/baby booties/whatever you’ve meant to finish before Christmas.
  7. Watch a good movie. Make popcorn and everything.
  8. If you’re a trainiac like the Crankee Yankee (my husband), run your train set. Fortunately, these trains can run in the snow.
  9. Watch TV with the sound off and make up your own dialog.
  10. If you’re into that kind of thing, post pictures of all the snow on line.

Good Things About a Snowstorm When You Don’t Have Power

  1. Play your guitar, banjo, ukulele, trombone, piano, drums–just whoop it up.
  2. Brush the cats. (Hint: wear gloves while doing so–trust me.)
  3. Strap on your headlamp and read.
  4. Put a blanket over a few chairs and make a fort.
  5. Tell ghost stories.
  6. Eat tuna right out of the can.
  7. Play a board game.
  8. Tell jokes; the worst one wins another can of tuna.
  9. Cut your toenails–you know you need to.
  10. Practice making origami animals. Or paper airplanes.

Besides all that, it feels a little like being a pioneer in the old days. Sometimes it takes a snowstorm to make us appreciate all we have, including each other.

Love, Love and More Love

Love is all around us, each and every day. Even if we don’t have a sweetheart or pet to call our own, love is there. We’ve all been loved at one time or other in our lives, and even if we feel we haven’t–we are loved, just the same.

I went looking for quotes about love, and found thousands. Here are some that really resonate:

“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

“You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”
― Dr. Seuss

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
― Lao Tzu

“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”
― William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

“So, I love you because the entire universe conspired to help me find you.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

“I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?”
― Mother Teresa

“How many slams in an old screen door? Depends how loud you shut it. How many slices in a bread? Depends how thin you cut it. How much good inside a day? Depends how good you live ’em. How much love inside a friend? Depends how much you give ’em.”
― Shel Silverstein

“What Is Love? I have met in the streets a very poor young man who was in love. His hat was old, his coat worn, the water passed through his shoes and the stars through his soul.”
― Victor Hugo

“Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.”
― Maya Angelou

And from me, there is this:

“I believe in love the way I believe in sunshine and snow and stars

I know love by the way it hugs my heart and erases its scars–

This moonscape of love is engraved upon my soul

And glows and flickers like a random coal

That warms me, yet never burns

That lights my way with all its turns–

And keeps my feet walking straight and true

To my true love, and Love–that’s you.”

Happy Valentines’ Day, everyone!




It All Balances Out

For those of you under the age of 60, there used to be milkmen; men whose job it was to deliver bottles of milk and cream to peoples’ homes. There was a story I once read about a milkman who had made a big delivery to a family of six, the youngest of which was a new baby. The husband had lost his job, the wife baked pies and cakes for a local restaurant, and they had a hard time making ends meet.

The family suddenly moved out in the middle of the night; too ashamed to let anyone know where they were going. The rent wasn’t paid, and neither was the milkman. He complained mightily to his wife about this, especially since he had had to make up the cost of that big delivery himself. Every night for a week, he came home in a bad mood, and always griped about the family who he felt had cheated him.

His wife finally sat him down and said, “you know, you’re making yourself and me miserable complaining about those poor people. How do you know that they meant to cheat you? How desperate do you think they were to leave town like that, owing money they knew they couldn’t pay?”

The milkman argued with her, saying that it wasn’t right for him to have to pay for their delivery out of his own pocket. His wife put her arms around his neck and kissed him. She said, “That family was in trouble not of their own making; and imagine–six children to feed! Why don’t you think of that milk as your gift to them? Because of you, those children had milk. Because of you, they had one less thing to worry about.”

He looked at her and smiled, saying, “You know, you’re right. What better gift to a big family than milk?” He found it was a lot easier to think of it that way, and from then on the thought of it made him smile.

I loved that story. I think of it often, especially when I have the chance to do something nice for someone just ‘because.’ It can be as little as paying the toll for the car behind me. A small act of kindness, even a buck paid, makes a difference. We don’t know what others’ lives are like, and what they may be suffering.

I’ve also learned to let others be kind to me; if someone holds the door for me, I appreciate it. If someone lets me go ahead of them in the grocery line, I thank them for it. I used to feel uncomfortable about things like this, and would automatically turn them down, thinking I didn’t deserve it. But I finally realized that accepting a kindness from someone is a gift to them.

Kindness given is kindness received–that’s just how the universe works. It’s the same old karmic law–put good out, and good comes in. Put bad out, and bad comes in.

And the money or time or anything else we’ve given without being paid back? It all balances out in the end.


Be a Willow, Not an Oak

Ever notice how a willow tree will gracefully bend with the wind? The willow has a limber trunk and long lacy fronds that allow it to bend but not break even in a hurricane. An oak tree, on the other hand, will stand tall and strong and immovable–until it faces heavy straight-line winds, a tornado or a hurricane. Then it breaks–its massiveness a mere toy in the face of all that violence.

There are willow people and oak people. The willows of this world may bend nearly double, but do not break. They suffer hardships and deprivation, loss and devastation–and yet they stand back up when it’s over. The oaks, on the other hand, will strive mightily to stand firm, and will not give an inch to the force that tries to topple them. But eventually that very strength becomes their undoing, and they fall, broken forever.

I once worked with a woman who was a true oak–there was absolutely no compromise for her. A thing either was or was not; there was no middle ground, no shade of gray–her world was utterly black or white. In her mind, she had absolute control over everything in her life, and that suited her just fine. I, like others, found ways to work with her, but it certainly called on my creativity to do so.

I found I understood her more than I wanted to–I, too, have been an oak; unbending, hidebound, too serious and too obsessed with being right. Where that got me ultimately was exactly nowhere. I’m sure that I irritated and frustrated others around me, and more than that, I suffered needlessly. All I had to do was to learn how to bend. It made all the difference.

These days, when I am tempted to return to my old oakiness, I remember the toll it took on me and those around me. It is much healthier to give now and then instead of stubbornly standing there with the wind and storm in your face.

Living as a willow is a vast improvement over living as an oak.

Winter Static

Oh, the sparks and snaps I have endured

Throughout this winter, and I’ve heard

That more snow and cold are on their way

Ensuring more shocks to come each day–

I’ve jumped and sworn and shouted words

That I’m sure every single neighbor heard.

Doing laundry has become a battle

Between me, the air, and the shocks that rattle

My peace of mind and my fingers, too–

This winter static is making me blue!

I pull the clothes out of the dryer,

And a volley of snapping shocks so dire

Makes my hair stand upon its ends.

I’ve had enough of this, my friends!

The air’s too dry, of this I’m sure–

I know that warm, soft Spring’s the cure

For all this snappy winter air

But this static storm, it won’t play fair–

I’ve had my share of shocks this year,

So old man Winter, please be a dear

Go somewhere else to chill and freeze

And take your static with you, PLEASE!









Be Prepared, Not Scared

In my family, we are big believers in having a “Just in Case” plan. You know, such as keeping jumper cables, emergency kit, flashlight, blanket, etc,. in the trunk if you break down. The Crankee Yankee (my husband) and I also keep a pantry downstairs stocked with non-perishables like canned tuna, tomato sauce, beans, bottled water, sardines, pasta, vegetables, fruits, etc., as well as canned and dry cat food.

Additionally, I’ve always kept an “Emergency Information” folder (well, it’s really a sheet of 8″ x 11″ printer paper, folded up and placed near my drivers license) in my wallet. This way, if something happens and I’m unconscious or unable to communicate, all a rescuer needs to know will be right there in my emergency information.

This is a template you are welcome to use for your own Emergency Information. Having this on you will save valuable time and get you the help you need ASAP. FYI: Do NOT put in your social security number!




Home Phone:

Cell Phone:


Date of Birth:


Blood Type:

Organ Donor:



Family History:

Primary Doctor:

Health Insurance:

Emergency Contact 1:

Emergency Contact 2:

Emergency Contact 3:

Medications/Supplements Information

Medications Supplements

Pet Care Information [names, sex (neutered, spayed), age, coloring, microchip (Y/N) and whether or not they are indoor only or indoor/outdoor. Also include your vet’s address and phone number.

It’s also a good idea to be sure that at least one of your emergency contacts has a key to your house as well. Keep a copy of this information in your files at home, too.

Just a word here about having this same information on your cell phone: while convenient, it may work against you:

  • If you are in an accident, your phone may break and be unable to access information
  • Your phone may get lost or stolen
  • Your battery may die

Paper may be old-fashioned, but it’s dependable.

Speaking of stuff in your wallet, did you know how easy it is for someone near you to swipe your credit card information without even touching you or your card? Most *credit cards today have embedded RFID chips, which can be easily read with portable card readers. If someone near you has one of these, they can pick up all your information. All they have to do after that is to download it on a blank card, and boom–they are now you, using your credit card!

Here’s how to stop this from happening, and it’s a cheap fix: cut a square of aluminum foil roughly the size of your credit card. Fold the foil in half, then slip your credit card(s) into it and put it in your wallet. Not to sound like those tinfoil hat wearers who believe that space aliens can’t read their minds through tin foil, but the foil acts as a barrier to keep the card reader from accessing your information. There are many web sites you can check to verify this information, and also where you can buy metal wallets that don’t weigh a ton, and will keep your information safe from walk-by thieves.

If you’re simply looking for a bit of casual protection, simply stacking your cards next to each other will assist in reducing their strength.

But by all means, keep your emergency information current so that you can be prepared, not scared.

*RFID chips now exist in:

  • Chase’s Blink Credit Card
  • Mastercard PayPass Credit Card
  • Many Corporate IDs
  • Many University IDs
  • United States Passports
  • Euro Passports


Being Present

As we in the Northeast are soldiering through yet another snow storm, it’s tempting to wish for spring and an end to the cold. Everyone has been shoveling snow for what seems like weeks, and temps have been at zero most mornings.

Our four little garden plots are sleeping under high comforters of snow, and the little lilac tree below our bedroom window looks like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree without its green leaves and purple blossoms. We find ourselves yearning for a bit of greenery, a bright flower, some honey-colored sunshine.

All that will come in time, but right now we are still in Winter’s chilly embrace. So, that being said, my personal goal is to not wish my seconds and minutes away in looking toward warmer weather. Yes, we are all tired of the mess and dirty slush, and the salt that whitens all our vehicles, but that’s life right now. At least once each day I look for beauty and find it. The mornings and sunsets have been gloriously pink and gold, and during the full moon, our backyard was nearly as bright as midday. The stars have been icy diamonds in glittering gold and silver settings in a black velvet sky. In the mornings, birds and squirrels will have left their calligraphy of wings and claws in the snow.

When I was young, I dreamed so much of my life away, and did not pay enough attention to the present. Now that I am older, even the coldest, snowiest day has its own particular majesty, and I don’t want to miss it. I keep reminding myself, ‘be present; be in the moment–THIS moment, don’t let it go by without notice.’ One of my personal prayers is to be something each minute of each day–happy, sad, angry, silly, frustrated, flustered, too busy, too lazy, too tired, hungry, thirsty, laughing, crying, thinking, feeling–anything and everything.

When I walk, I think of all the people who can’t. When I speak, those who can’t speak are in my mind. When I breathe, I think of those who can’t breathe without machines. I look at the landscape of my hands, once so smooth and young–now they are mapped with bumpy veins, spots and the occasional cat scratches. Where once I sought to be pretty and popular, I now want to be useful and as capable as these older hands of mine.

Sometimes I feel that I hear the urgings of past relatives, whispering, ‘open your eyes and ears; look, listen, feel–be present and don’t miss a thing.” We know too well how fleeting and fickle life can be, and we don’t know our own timeline.

Let’s not miss a moment of the party. Let’s be present.