Sunday, March 30, 2014


Transformative is a lovely word. 

It pairs well with spring. Collins English Dictionary, the reference I consulted, appears to agree.

Collins gives as its first definition of transformative: “of or relating to the process of changing something into something else.”

The whole new season suits the online definition. We watch snow melt and listen to the songs of returning birds.

By personal inclination we step into or over puddles. We wait for the spring flowers, counting as a friend come back even the lowly dandelion with its sunny determination to brighten our lawns.

An adjective, transformative speaks to the makeover occurring in nature and in ourselves as spring gears up in our northern region.

There’s a lift that comes that can only be called transformative. We pull off winter like an outgrown protective shell that has formed and hardened around us like armor.

We’re stirred by the sensations of life reshaping at every level. We respond with fresh attitudes and revitalized energy. Intrinsic to spring is a desire to bestir ourselves, following nature who takes the lead on this.

Transformative comes to me as I survey my open closet. Rows of neatly folded sweaters, hangers with their tops in marching order according to color, denim jeans stacked for rotation (all given equal wear whether indigo blue, this season’s star, or the faded pair somewhat out of fashion favor) make not a bad first impression.

The grouping of clothing can suggest here is one who is organized and has her wardrobe at her beck and call.

Let this not fool you. Symmetrical stacks of sweaters, color-coded garments, all the tricks of the game, don’t always save me. The closet can daunt me as I pass my eye over it wondering what to pick out and put on.

Compound this by the fact that in the Midwest we ditch winter before we ditch winter clothes.

We navigate an obstacle course with weather at this time of year. It has us swerving back into chunky sweater terrain despite winter eroding from the calendar and the longer days declaring it spring.

Our winter wardrobes get extended life. Number of layers for comfort can vary distinctly from day to day. Winter and spring, by the reality of our mixed seasons, co-exist in our closet spaces.

What’s a stylish-worthy kind of gal to do? For starters let’s be done with the heavy sweaters. Hide them away. Get them out of sight. Resist the temptation to grab for one on a chilly day.

We need to brace for bare arms and legs. It’s been ages here since we’ve been at this brevity of apparel.

We can begin reaching for the tissue-thin fabrics that have current fashion sway. After the wool cardigans they're light and filmy against the skin.

Another practical step toward closet management between seasons is to clear out our closets. 

As I see it you can get closet-buffaloed in two ways. The first is being closet disorganized. This isn’t my main problem.  

My closet has a plan and format. Admittedly it could be better. No closet professional is on my speed dial waiting to bail me out. I’ll have to figure this part out myself.

More to the issue is the second point, to which we now come. Our closets, reflecting our houses, are filled. 

They bulge with clothing, accessories (think scarves, shoes, jewelry, handbags, totes) sunglasses, sports gear and hats.

We love our bling. We adore our dress-up shoes and comfy flats and modish sandals. Where would we be without all of that? We squish items down and move them to the back. We make room for more.

Before my closet becomes unwieldy it's my intention to  make sure it doesn’t get out of hand. The closet clean-up will be transformative. I think this in my head.

It’s supposed to act as a reassuring nod to my inner confusion. I cast about doubtfully for a place to start.

I read somewhere (and it strikes me as true), that we have a personal thing going on with our clothes.

Some items in our closet are with us longer than some of our relationships – both the good ones that endure and those that have a shorter run.

Some pieces were with us when we held our first child. We had them on when we held the hand of someone dear no longer with us. 

Individual pieces of clothing have memories. They’re tangible associations with events and things that evoke emotion in us.

Advancing through life we get considerably clearer about what has value and what doesn’t. 

For myself, I value the pieces that constitute my closet. They’ve accompanied me in a loyal decent sort of way.

They’ve proved reliable and trustworthy friends. It makes pointing a finger at any one of them and saying, “You – out!” very difficult to do.

With all this said it’s time for action on the venerable pieces in the closet. They’ve had their time.

To the discard pile add the items in the colors that don’t work on me.

Those colors never did work, never will, no matter the cost savings on that blouse or the wistful hope that a different shade of green (citrus green this spring) will somehow this time prevent looking washed out in it.

Let go of green my inner fashionista laments. Maybe her voice is getting to me at last. Not backtracking on determination the green items get yanked.  

Hangers are being emptied of their weight. Progress is being made. This is starting to feel good.

There’s a theory that if you unclutter your personal possessions you unclutter your life. Drawers and closets are natural places for getting the ball rolling on this. Space opens and has a changing effect on you.

Here’s where transformative comes in. You set up the change, follow through on it to allow it to happen, and the change changes you. 

It's remarkably like the definition of transformative, “of or relating to the process of changing something to something else.”

Clutter has many forms. Our closets certainly, but clutter can be the sprawl of stuff through our house, worries that clog our thinking or bad habits that choke the ability to do and be our best.

Clutter reduction reduces some of the strain that come with owning too much of anything. Uncluttering lets you wind up with less.This can be marvelously liberating.

The paradox is that reducing clutter can leave us with more. More peace of mind, for instance, and also more time for other things. This freedom of time is what many of us seek and think it's impossible to get.

Peace of mind and gained time are cool payoff for reducing what is often excess ownership. 

Our closets can be an example of the surfeit we've come to expect as our due. 

If our closets can’t keep up with what we put into them we’ll fare no better in managing those items. They take on a life of their own bigger than us.

A small pile on the chair is the sum total of the clothing for donation so far. I tell myself I won’t think of the stories I see in these pieces as they lie segregated from the rest.

I won’t let my mind dart to their past, which is their link with me. Instead it’s their future I'll imagine. They get the chance for doing good elsewhere by being useful to someone else.

The closet cleanup continues. More sorting will follow. A chunk of time could be expended on it and it isn’t going to happen.

The job will get done in bursts of concentrated energy. Items will be tried on (the part I dislike which is why the project often folds upon itself). 

Buttons will be checked (not excited to bring out the sewing kit and put my abysmal skills to the test). Everything gets put back but one at a time.

 A question I’ll ask this time with each piece, and which is new to the process:  Do you pay for your shelf space or hangar space by having significant purpose here, or are you only swallowing up the air in this closet?

Away from the donation pile are three other pieces. Two are white (Gap button-down shirt, dressy tee). One is green in color.

They’re good pieces. They’re for a friend. She wears white like a tennis pro whereas (like green) white is a color I’ve resolved to leave behind. I’m pretty sure she’ll find a place in her closet for them.

The two of us enjoy playing hand-along. We don’t do it often. Neither is able to readily part with items we like.

But once in awhile we drop off a bag for the other. “Here are some clothes to look at,” we say. “Maybe something will fit. Try them. Feel free to pass them on. They’re yours to do whatever you like.”

It’s like Christmas as we peer into the bag to see what’s been brought with us in mind. We both enjoy freebie clothing if only to imagine the piece as ours for a moment even if not eventually to our taste and fit.

It’s amazing how much most of us accumulate. Our houses are filled. 

Cleaning our closets, or minimizing clutter anywhere it accumulates, can be a solution to the prevalent glut of ownership. 

Clutter reduction is transformative by nature of the change it brings about. Let our closets speak of the  relief it brings.

Ro Giencke – March 30, 2014

Monday, March 24, 2014

So soon April

So soon April. It's the hope and thought of April, as we come to the end of March, that propels us forward.

As I write I avoid looking out. If you don't look you don't see and that's the game being played. 

Snowflakes drop from high gray skies. With a shake of the head it’s another day of regretfully acknowledging spring is a holdout this year.

With the amount of snow still left to melt a fast start to a slow season is clearly out of the question. 

This is accepted given the nature of the 90 day forecast. It isn't a warm forecast for the northern tier. That's us.

Now it’s to wonder when even to expect spring. April becomes pivotal to the answer we await.

You have to look for signs of spring when it’s wayward like this year. 

Along with the lovely gained light there are fortunately other indications that spring is picking its way, however carefully, to our collective door. Recent observations:

1) Water running in the street in the warmth of afternoon sun (back days ago when temperatures were close to March averages. Past days have been cold.)

2) One robin (on the wing) in our neighborhood  and a cardinal, red against white, brightening a tree branch beside the house. Lots of little birds with their quick movements that catch the eye.  An uptick in bird calls are heard.

3) Squirrels everywhere, bounding and racing, tails flying as the furry bundles of animal life leap from trunk to limb to wind-tousled boughs and never an inaccurate guess on their aim for the next precarious landing.

3) Widening areas of bare ground are opening up under evergreens. Beneath the pines and spruce in our yards always seem first places to lose snow cover.

My theory is the dense, dark boughs pull in the sun and bring the warmth down the trunk into the roots. 

An unscientific method of getting to the mystery of things is very freeing I’ve discovered. It allows for much room in reasoning things out.

WCCO-TV, one of our local stations, aired a great First Day of Spring story. The feature, done by staff reporter Rachel Slavik, showed remnant snow heaps, hard as ice and just as resistant to melting away.

She pointed out holiday decorations not yet removed. An inflatable Santa Claus, limp as overcooked noodles, was among specimens of holiday adornments she found to remind us their time was long over.

She interviewed winter-hardened residents in parkas who good-naturedly unzipped them for the camera when reminded it was spring.

In t-shirt (brave of Slavik in that weather!) she did her story outside with green grass at her feet. It had to be artificial turf. Nothing naturally green will be here for awhile.

The angle taken on the spring story was an interesting one. It celebrated spring by taking note of the lingering presence of winter.

By making a spoof of spring, as it tardily arrives this year, the TV feature reflects the Midwestern method of giving perspective to things by poking a little fun at ourselves.

J.Crew is another example of cleverly playing the seasonal theme. It  injects humor where some lightness of spirit is appreciated. In this case it’s in the shoppers’ pocketbooks.

“If I wear this sweater one more day, I’ll scream” sale was announced by sign on the J.Crew storefront. 

I was passing by the store's location at the mall and stopped to read the sign. It had me chuckling as the truth of it hit me. It also had the effect of getting me inside the store

Many of us have the experience of looking into the closet and freezing in place. We become unable to pick out an item because everything has been worn way too often. Tired of it all!

With layers critical this year to winter comfort the continuing re-working of pieces into outfits used up our fashion creativity. 

We can’t think of one fresh way to match, contrast or pull together our by now way too familiar winter wardrobe.

New and different speaks to us after a long season. J.Crew  figures this rightly in its current sweater sale. 

We’re ready for spring. We can come to terms with our late spring if we can get something out of it. An item of clothing or new haircut will work.

In bits and pieces, in clothing and fabrics, in switches to lighter layers, and in anticipated sunny skies and mild breezes, we and spring come together at last.

Ro Giencke – March 24, 2014



Monday, March 17, 2014

St Patrick's Day, a poem

May the luck o' the Irish
be yours today and forever
in the lift of your head
the wit of your reply
and lilt of well filled heart.

Bask in the abundance which is life
and sing of the love that steadies you -
warming as sunshine after rain,
gentle as dewdrops, mist and grace.

To write Irish poetry must ask a wee drop of Irish blood of which none I can lay claim. But put me stoutly on the side of the Irish today as the desire is for some of that Irish pluck.

And here it's snowing. It's impish of St. Patrick's Day to fall white instead of springing forth green with daffodil spears and blades of emerald grass. 

March 17 wears its own look in Minnesota and has its own outlook too. 

With a third of Minnesota's population of Irish heritage it makes St. Patrick's Day locally a big deal. We all get to celebrate and be Irish for the day. 

Those of us who choose wear green in solidarity. We'll stand out for sure this year. Green has impact against our very snowy background. 

Ro Giencke - March 17, 2014


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Reading and journaling, a route to you

Today is the 74th day of daily calm if the book of the same name, written about in the previous blog, had been begun at the top of the year.

I’ve had some catch-up to do as I broke the book open about the middle of last month. 

It’s still early enough in the new year to feel the months ahead of me and the pleasure of a page to enjoy each day.

Daily Calm is a moment of quiet, a chance to cradle the book, take in the photo which is the daily entry and think about each piece of wisdom that accompanies it.

Joan Didion is the source of the thought for March 15 as the page was turned  this morning. The four lines address self-respect that comes from knowing our intrinsic value in the scheme of everything that touches our lives.

We need to live by our expectations and not solely be shaped by others. 

For personal growth it’s essential we place our worth and our needs appropriately. 

It does nothing good to allow our esteem to bloat or shrink out of proportion to the fact that each of us counts through the generous gift of life.

We’re continually shaped by personal choices as well as the influence of others. To differentiate which is the better course in some decisions can take a lifetime to get expert at.

We begin by being aware of our inner guidance formed through experience. We learn to open to what we take in of life around us each day. 

Many find that journaling helps in this process. You can go back and find answers revealed in what’s been written about and recorded.

We can see the composition of our thoughts, which is a distillation of our interests and concerns. 

It furnishes contact with our inner reasoning and truths. Without this reflective exercise we might miss this profundity.

It accords us a context for how we view life. This can be instrumental in what we reach for next and how we carry it out.

My journaling has never been daily discipline. Nor does it constitute a summary of the day and its activities.

For many years, instead, my practice is to jot down thoughts read in books, clever advertising from off billboards, lines expressed well in letters now so rarely received, and out of conversations where a line scintillates long after it’s been uttered and the visiting has moved on.

Thoughts that come to me are written down as I remember to transfer them to paper.

Sometimes the thoughts hang in my head refusing to go away. 

Other times it surprises me that the words spoken, or popping into consciousness, are mine. I put them down to think about why they were said and how they may apply.

Following, from the pages of my journals, a sampling of five years of thoughts that have occurred to me:

4) Going to new places makes you interested in other places.  -March 8, 2014

What you do, from what you care about, makes a difference.  -March 4, 2014

As a society Americans from the beginning have been makeshift and make-do. It’s in our character. If these traits were missing we’d not be capitalizing on an important aspect of our national tradition and culture.   -March 1, 2014

When you appreciate things they come around to start appreciating you. -March 1, 2014

Our years of life experience become generous shelter shared with others.   -February 28, 2014

Timing and sunshine make all the difference in the world.  -February 27, 2014

When you pay your dues life pays its dues back to you.  -February 26, 2014

Sometimes it takes a little effort to get to the better things. When it gets hard it’s good to remember half way effort only gets you half way.   -February 24, 2014

New adventures are meaningful.  -January 25, 2014

In the things that have to be done remember how to relax in the sun.  -January 20, 2014

Be the best version of yourself.  -January 13, 2013

We all gamble, in our own way, for what we want in life.  -September 19, 2012

Not to grow is to diminish.  -March 17, 2012

Happiness is as much what you put into it as what you take out.  -January 24, 2012

Dark is dark everywhere before the dawn.  -January 5, 2012

We’re educated to be re-educated.                 -December 18, 2011

We have to at times allow ourselves to be helped.  -November 9, 2011

Italian music seems to understand where your heart is at the moment.  -October 21, 2011

Sometimes you wind up in places you’re meant to be.  -October 8, 2011

We have only one air to breathe.  -July 25, 2011

We learn so much from our elders and don’t even know it’s learning until it becomes time to apply the lesson.  -June 10, 2011

Try to do things right and things go easier for you.  -January 10, 2011

I believe sunshine is the antidote to everything. -October 2010

Ro Giencke – March 15, 2014


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Calm at the center

Inspiration comes to us in many ways. And we learn never to discount the places where we might meet up with it.

For me it was a recent noontime visit to a Barnes & Noble cafe.

All the tables were taken including the spot I was now relinquishing.

Chairs pulled out from the tables made for an obstacle course as I stepped around bags of various types placed on the floor as I returned my empty coffee mug to the counter.

Threading between tables I brushed past a woman who sat with a pile of books spread on the table around her.

Her head was down. She was deeply engrossed. She appeared to be writing in a journal.

This was noticed afterward. First to draw my attention was the small book set out closest to her.

It was diminutive in size but its title was not. The casual glance as I squeezed past put the book title in my line of view.

Daily Calm was the title. It was calming to me just to read the words. The idea of daily calm caused an encompassing serenity to settle upon me.

For me it altered the busy café. It was as if all of us in it could be without hurry. It was as if possible that each of us could deliver from a peaceful place inside us which could conceivably be sustained day after day.

I spoke with the woman from some imperative need to tell her what she had done. I told her she was creating an oasis of peace by the choice of her reading material laid out for others to see.

The comment pleased her. She showed me a lovely picture from inside Daily Calm. She said the illustrations enforce the theme of the book and she is enjoying the pictures so much.

I didn't look for a copy of the book that day but did so later and bought the book. My copy is placed on a side table within easy daily reach.

The book is a National Geographic publication. The photos are breathtaking. The thoughts that accompany each picture can be transformative as you absorb them.

The thoughts are quotes from people from all walks of life  through the ages. Most of the names are familiar. If  listed here the range of wisdom the book borrows from would be made clear.

But it’s the photos that carry the real cachet. They convey the beauty of life in all its forms and interpretations.

Let the pictures lead you day by day. Read the thought for each picture as you travel the year with this book. Many thoughts will reach into you and stay.

You’re sure to find calm at your center. You’ll feel reconnected all over again to this amazing, astounding universe.

It can be a world too big to grasp but National Geographic has been able to whittle it to size. The book, after all, fits in the palm of your hand. 

Daily Calm 365 Days of Serenity Photos and Wisdom to Soothe Your Spirit isn’t the only book that got my attention that day at Barnes & Noble. Another on the table was Every Day is Another Chance (Blue Mt Arts).

I'll long remember the calm the Barnes & Noble reader unknowingly radiated with her book titles.

Her inspiration became mine as she arranged her books around her like friends who would prove to inspire me too.

Ro Giencke – March 11, 2014