Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the tag “organize”

Greetings (Town Crier, July 2013)

GreetingsAs I was doing my summer closet cleaning, a box fell off the topshelf and spilled its contents on the floor of the closet.  I thought “Aha! Something I haven’t opened for at least a year – probably should be thrown out right away!” I stooped to pick up the spill.  It was my collection of  greeting cards received over… how many years?

The first I picked up was a handmade card with a picture of a girl drawn by a very young person.  Inside was a greeting from the family which had just purchased the house across the street from us, introducing themselves and their three daughters and saying that they were “looking forward to being our neighbors for many years.” They were wonderful neighbors for almost five years; they moved last week.

The second was a birthday card featuring a couple of martini glasses with sparkly olives on the cover.  It was from my cousin and her husband. They did meet in a bar, but he helped her to beat her alcoholism after they married, and she has been sober for decades. Odd to see her name on a liquor-flavored card!

The third I picked up was a form card from a group with which I had participated in a long-term health study after my bout with cancer.  It included a recipe for a healthy protein-rich,  minimal sugar birthday cake which I had always meant to try.

The fourth was a snarky birthday card from my brother and his wife.  Judging from the price of the card listed on the back, this was sent very early in their marriage.  Before their marriage, he usually forgot my birthday entirely.  Under his wife’s influence, the cards have become less snarky over the years.

The fifth  was a custom card generated on a computer.  It was from my mother, who had been the first in our family to become computer literate, and for years had created all her birthday cards and Christmas cards on her beloved Mac.

The sixth was simply a piece of blue paper folded over.  On it is written in an unfamiliar hand “Happy Birthday Mom” and the names of my two sons.  There is a splatter of what looks like pine sap on the upper corner.  I remember how my kids conspired to surprise me with flowers on my birthday that year.   My husband and I had gone camping in the remote Anderson Valley.  The kids managed to find a part-time florist in Booneville who made a bouquet of garden flowers with an impromptu card and  delivered them to  our tent site in her pickup truck.

I guess I  won’t be able to throw this box out right away after all.

Freeway Free in Spain: Don’t Forget to Bring…

Thngs to bring

Note plain dark pants; sensible shoes, hat, shirt jacket are the same

Note plain dark pants; sensible shoes, hat, shirt jacket are the same

Note: raffia had, fanny pack as purse, bulging pockets of cargo pants

Note: raffia hat, fanny pack as purse, bulging pockets of cargo pants

I found my packing list for the Spanish trip today.  Reviewing, these are the things which jumped out as having been most useful:

A fanny pack. Mine is a dark color that can double as a purse or shoulder bag. It has lots of zippers, easy-access compartments, an adjustable strap with a sturdy clasp, and room for a water bottle.

A flashlight in the fanny pack –  in Spanish toilets  sometimes the light is on a timer and goes out unexpectedly, sometimes the switch is on the outside and a well-meaning user turns the lights off on exiting, sometimes there is no window and you need a flashlight to find the light switch.

Bandaids and anti-biotic – you hope you won’t need these, but in my case , both came in handy when I bumped the mirror in our Caceras hotel room and then caught it one-handed as it bounced. It only sliced a bit of the web between two fingers, and the Band-Aids and ointment eased both pain and anxiety.

A shirt jacket with a pocket on the front big enough to carry your camera – easy to get to, but out of sight, so you don’t scream “Tourist!” to every passerby. A dark color looks dressier in an urban setting, and is practical; a light color is more comfortable in heat.

Sensible shoes  The best are shoes that can pass for urban wear, but stay comfortable on a hiking trail or after a day trekking in museums. I swear by SAS Freetime, the classic worn by nurses in white and little old ladies in beige and me at countless trade shows and on myriad business trips in black or navy.

there are layers of long underware, a turtleneck, shirt, T-shirt, lightweight hoodie, and windbreaker rounding me out and keeping me smiling!

Six layers of clothing are rounding me out and keeping me smiling in the snow!

Cargo pants These are great for wear in rural areas where you are hiking, biking, or scrambling over cobblestones. The extra pockets can carry what you need and leave hands free.

Dark Casual Pants.  These should have deep pockets for your wallet, but  look like ordinary daywear for the urban areas where you don’t want to advertise that you are a  tourist.

Kleenex packs – you cannot count on finding tissues in the hotel, or toilet paper in those bathrooms.

Compact tablet computer.  I filled mine with free books and read them on the plane and bus trips.  W loaded hers  with tour books.  In both cases, we saved space by not carrying the actual books which are heavy and bulky. And of course don’t forget to bring the charger.

International Transformer/Adapter American plugs don’t work in Spain, and American power requirements can cause a hotel blackout in rural areas.  In a larger hotel in Madrid you can borrow an adapter from the concierge, but not in the smaller towns.

Laundry Soap packets (they work better than the hotel shampoo and don’t leave your clothes smelling of citrus or jasmine or whatever.)

Lots of Layers of clothing!!!. Maybe it’s climate change, maybe it’s not, but we went from 80 degrees. F. to 30 degrees F. in one day more than once.  I packed:

Bottoms: regular underwear, silk long-johns, and lined pants

Tops: regular underwear, silk long-johns, a knit turtleneck, a long-sleeved collared cotton shirt, a long-sleeved knit crew-neck shirt, a fitted knit hoodie, and a water-proof hooded wind-breaker. I never had to use all 7 top layers, but I came close.

Map Even if you have a GPS in the car, even if you have Google Maps on your  iPhone, a real paper map is invaluable for giving an understanding of distance and direction.  You can see how the distance you plan to travel today compares to the distance you traveled yesterday.  You can see whether a suggested side trip is a reasonable distance.  If the map is a good one, it will also give you an idea of the topography, and tell you the names of those distant mountains.  The one I brought was folded and re-folded until it was falling apart at the seams.

Scarves/Buff – neck warmers are key to sealing in whatever warmth your poor body can generate when you are caught in a cold drizzle or snow flurry.  A Buff can double as a hat or earmuffs.

Sun Hat.  If you are traveling with a friend, make your hats distinctive so you can find each other in a crowd.   W and I had nearly identical raffia hats, which we grew adept at spotting a la “Where’s Waldo?”

Step 1 - 2 can pack as flat as 1

Collapsible Suitcase/Tote Bag Here’s a space-saving trick to provide extra carry power: Pack two large poly-fiber grocery bags (the kind you take to the market instead of getting paper or plastic).  They take up scarcely any space. One of these can serve as a handy carry-all for a day trip.  If you have purchased presents that overflow your suitcase for the return trip, you can pack the presents into one of the bags, put the second bag upside down over the first one, then invert the whole thing and you have a tidy package with handles which you can carry on as a personal item.

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Freeway-Free in Spain: Castles in Caceras

Castle in Spain - through the bus window“I long for the day/ I can get underway/ and look for those castles in Spain…”

Faraway Places – Margaret Whiting hit song of 1948

Castles in Spain – My childhood friend  W mentioned that she was planning to make a trip to the area in Spain from which emigrated some of the families she had known during her Peace Corps service in Peru. She thought maybe she would stay an extra week in Madrid to see the art museums.  Naturally, I invited myself to come along.

My contribution to the trip was a further extension of a third week to accommodate a visit to my niece J who lives with her Spanish husband and two children in a smallish town in northern Spain. We planned to travel mostly by bus and train, except for the visit to the smallish town, where we would need to rent a car – something I had never done in all my foreign travel.The bus to Badajoz (with a stop at Caceras)

Smart thing I did:  Hang my plane tickets and passport in an easy access pouch around my neck, so they were visibly THERE at all times and easy to get to even though I was using carry-on luggage.

Dumb thing I did: Omit the last-minute-before-you-leave-the-house check for all necessary documents. Thus I failed to notice that my wallet-on-a-string had snagged itself on a towel bar in the kitchen as I zoomed past and had been pulled out of my fanny pack. Panic in the car on the way to the airport.  Go home? Risk missing the plane? Decision to rely on W for credit and ATM for a few days, assuming Capable Husband could find and FEDEX the missing wallet.

Smart thing we did: Book our first full week staying in one hotel central to Extremedura, so we could settle in – and the wallet could catch up with me (which it did, a day earlier than I had thought possible. Blessings on CH and FEDEX!)

Eighteen hours after leaving my house, via car, plane, subway, bus, and taxi, W and I arrived in Caceras, equipped with two Kindles, an iPad, a MacBook, and a cheap cell phone purchased at the bus station for making calls to my niece.  We were to become very attached to this phone.

Travel Trivia: Caceras, with its intact medieval Old City, was the second World Heritage Site created in Europe.

Sierra Gredos range, from the bus

Triumph of the Garage (Los Altos Town Crier, April 4, 2012)

My mother told me awhile ago about my great-great-grandfather’s workshop, where every nut, bolt, and screw had its own special compartment, every tool had its own particular hook.
This awoke a hunger in me. Unlike many of my neighbors, we have always been able to park two cars in our two-car garage, but negotiating the way from the car to the hall door was hazardous – successive layers of cleaning out the trunk in order to go to the car wash, unloading from a camping trip, shifting material from an old office to a new one, and miscellaneous craft supplies had gradually encroached upon the shelving and floor and sink to the point where we could barely exit the cars once parked.
Once I started to work at home, “organize the garage” made it onto my weekly todo list. And there it sat, for week after week. “We’ll do it on the next rainy weekend” I told myself. It has been one of the driest winters on record. “We’ll do it when it’s warm enough to leave the door open so we can see what we are doing”. It has been colder than normal for weeks on end..
Finally something snapped. I went out and measured the space. Then I drew a plan, with height and depth and width of shelves needed. (Turned out not to be completely accurate, but that’s another story).
Having a diagram in hand seemed to trigger a switch in my husband’s brain: “Aha! A reason to cruise all the home improvement sites on the Internet! Awesome!” Before I knew it he had checked out wire,, wood, aluminum, PCV , and pre-formed plastic shelving at OSH, Loew’s, Home Depot, etc., and was presenting me with options: “Do you want any cupboards? Do you really need a 22” inch wide counter – that’s an odd dimension. You want 24” deep shelves, but comments on the Internet say things tend to get lost at the back – if we get taller units we could get by with 18” deep, don’t you think?”
Wow! What had I unleashed? Next thing I was swept into the car for a trip to the nearest home improvement mecca, where the most recommended shelving was in stock.
The chosen shelving was the prefabricated plastic kind where you tap the pieces in place with a rubber mallet and a block of wood – my husband set to with gusto. There must be something atavistically thrilling about pounding things into submission – the shelving was assembled in no time.
Now the hard part – emptying out the existing storage, purging what was not needed. and reloading.
The”existing storage” consisted of two rough units knocked together from planks and covered with peeling contact shelf liner – I had salvaged it from a curbside when we first moved into the house. I optimistically put it out on the curb again for free-cycling along with an extra soldering iron, out-moded hot glue gun, macramé flower pot holder with ceiling hook, totally unused paint roller and pan, furniture gliders, wall shelving hardware and support (with shelves) and other redundant or outmoded items. All disappeared within hours except for the storage units, which my husband eventually had to whack apart and deliver to the local landfill.
After a weekend of merging and purging ,we’re done. The garage is still not up to my great-great-grandfather’s standard: we don’t have a container for every nut and bolt or a hook for every tool, but at least we have dedicated shelves. (Who knew we had so many different kinds of lightbulbs?)
And finally – a floor! We can drive into our garage and get to the hall door without danger of tripping over anything!
Could the attic be next?

(Published in Los AltosTown Crierpril 4, 2012

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