"The Fishbowl Theory"

Blog Post #10 

I first learned of the Fishbowl Theory many years ago from my brother-in-law Ken. The reason for Ken’s explanation has been long forgotten, but the concept rang true, and is permanently etched into my psyche.
What is the Fishbowl Theory?

If you Google “The Fishbowl Theory” you’ll find multiple explanations. Strangely enough, I didn’t find Ken’s Theory in my Google search. But of all fishbowl theories, Ken’s makes the most sense to me.
Ken’s Fishbowl Theory states:

No matter the size of the fishbowl, the fish will use the whole thing.
Here are a few simple examples of how people apply the Fishbowl Theory in everyday life:
Dinner plate in a buffet line – pile it on as if you’ll never eat again

Pencil boxes – I’m sure I can wedge in one more pencil (while another pops out)

Bookshelves – you can never have enough books, stack ’em three rows deep

Car glove boxes – I’ve yet to store gloves in a glove compartment; too many out-of-date maps in there

Coffee tables – lucky to find the table under the stack of mail, books and magazines

Curio cabinets – which invariably house knickknacks that need dusting—I hate dusting!

Closets – Open door at your own risk!

Refrigerators – remove Tupperware of moldy food to make room for more Tupperware. (At least you don’t have to dust what’s in the fridge)

Digital camera memory cards – Always full 

Gigabytes of memory on a phone, notepad or computer – A few years ago, we thought 64 megabytes would be enough. Boy, were we wrong!

           Junk drawers – need I say more?

Why do people feel almost obligated to fill, or use up space? As I see it, there’s no apparent Feng Shui satisfaction associated with it, yet if there’s a particle of open space, I feel obliged to fill it. Why is that?

Here are two personal examples illustrating the evolution of the Fishbowl Theory in my own life:
Example 1 – Purses:

Age 10-12: My first was a small, fluorescent chartreuse-green vinyl shoulder-strap purse with a buckle (what can I say? It was the 60s) with just enough room in its one compartment to carry a wallet, a rabbit’s foot (popular in those days), a Troll doll (also popular), and a pen, pencil and Chapstick. Any cracks in the congestion were filled with leftover ticket stubs, candy wrappers and Kleenex.

Troll – I had one exactly like the one pictured,
even to the thinning hair.

Age 13-20: I graduated to a slightly larger leather shoulder-strap bag with a front flap, and a homemade leather Mickey Mouse keychain (minus the keys) dangling from the handle. Exchanging the toys for feminine items, I still included stationery supplies such as pens, pencils, paper, eraser, and anything else that I could cram into the single compartment. A frantic hunt ensued every time I needed to rummage for a ring, a loose coin, or an important note on a scrap of paper buried deep in Never Never-find it-land.

Age 20+: (This is where the Fishbowl Theory really begins to assert its properties.) At the birth of our first child, in addition to my regular purse—the same leather bag before mentioned—I acquired a diaper bag of substantial proportions. The diaper bag had both zippered and open pockets galore, plus several large divided compartments! I can’t explain the thrill of seeing so many organizational options available in one bag!

You never know what you might need with a baby.  A Prepared Mother never has to worry about being caught by surprise. So, my diaper bag was well stocked with bottles (even though my babies were exclusively nursed for the first several months), a change of clothes (or three), pacifier, changing pad, wipes, ointment, powder, stuffed toys, rattles, blankets, medicine, little squeezy blue bulb syringe, thermometer, baby brush and  comb, bathing items, Zwieback toast, a box of rice cereal, bowl, spoon, and a book or two–in case I caught a minute to read. 

Must-haves for all diaper bags are diapers; several pre-folded cloth diapers with pins and plastic pants, as well as plastic bags to carry soiled (but rinsed) diapers were regularly stocked. (We raised our family just as paper diapers were hitting the scene. These first attempts at convenience were sadly inadequate—like a leaky piece of origami—and expensive on a meager budget such as ours, so we only used them when traveling. In doing so, I only had twice as many soiled baby clothes to wash due to leaks.)  

Back to the Fishbowl Theory—which I’m sure you’ve forgotten after that lengthy dissertation on the diaper bag.
The point?  Every square inch of the diaper bag was used. Why? Because it was there! Would I have crammed so many items into one bag had it been smaller? Of course not! I would have been more selective.
I might also mention that this barbell I was carrying around in the name of Motherhood took its toll on my body.  This was when I began developing what I call “shoulder dents;” a direct result of the effects of the Fishbowl Theory.
With and without shoulder dents. Had my purse and diaper bag been lighter,
I might have avoided this malady later in life.

One day, Karen and I made a trip to Disneyland with our two-year-olds and and an infant in tow.  We took one double-stroller between us. Hanging on the back of the stroller were two identical diaper bags—gifts from our mother—stuffed to within an inch of explosion, and each weighing close to 25 pounds (exceeding the weight of each individual child by several pounds). When a child was lifted from the front seat, the stroller reared like a tormented stallion, giving the child in the back seat an E-Ticket ride upstaging any rides of equal ticket value in the park.

Double Stroller (identical to the one we had)

Fishbowl Theory Lesson Learned Regarding Purses and Diaper Bags: Go for smaller, and lightweight. You’ll live longer, and so will your children.

Example 2 – Homes:

When Brad and I were leaving on our honeymoon from my family home in California to our new home together in Utah, I fit all my worldly belongings into the back seat and trunk of our 1972 gold Dodge Coronet. Five large items formed the bulwark around which everything else had to be situated for the trip.  These treasured items included:

      A 1951 Singer Sewing machine with built-in cabinet (purchased used for $35 to sew my wedding gown)

      A 5-string banjo in its case (Sears Catalog model–still have)

      A whimsical vertical bookshelf made of wood by my grandfather (still have, in use by my daughter’s family

      A large gilt-framed mirror made by my father (still have and use)

      My mother’s old wooden drafting table (on which my laptop is currently resting as I write this post)

Singer Sewing Machine like the one I had

All the smaller stuff was wedged, crammed, and smashed into the empty spaces around these items with the precision and neatness of fitting rocks puzzle-like into a cave of spikes. (Fortunately, those old cars were spacious inside, and had large trunks.)

1972 Dodge Coronet
Brad carried me over the threshold into a cute little white house at the end of a long drive lined with lawn, pine and fir trees, lilacs, hydrangeas, and pussy willows. In those days, I was blissfully unaware of a sense of square footage, (and of the Fishbowl Theory lurking in my future). It simply didn’t matter to me whether the house was a shoebox or a palace, so long as it was home. *“I Got Plenty ‘O Nuttin’” could well have been our theme song in those days.

Our Little White House
Brad procured an old-fashioned rocking chair for my wedding gift—the sole piece of furniture in the living room when I arrived. The kitchen was right out of a fairy tale—diminutive and adorable—complete with an oven that smoked and long, screen-less windows that, when unlatched, pushed open, allowing me to toss breadcrumbs to the birds without stepping outside. Brad’s folks donated an old dinette table that doubled as counter-top space. There were two small bedrooms, one tiny bath, and a storage/laundry room, sans washer and dryer. Brad’s double bed and dresser were our main pieces of furniture. Especially quaint was the attic, which required scaling a ladder that was propped against the back wall. A small door opened into a dark, peaked crawlspace where we eventually stored all superfluous items that we later accumulated. It was a little bit of heaven at $125/month.

It wasn’t long before we accrued other “used” (or in today’s vernacular “pre-owned”) furnishings, including bookshelves, a very long coffee table, and a borrowed piano, as well as the ugliest and hardest couch in existence. (To makes things worse, the couch folded down into a double bed of stone.)
Storage attic and ladder 

We stored wheat, and other food items for emergencies, and purchased a large Ozark Mill to grind the wheat for bread. The mill took up roughly half the square footage of the kitchen, and, during operation, made (and continues to make) enough racket to wake the dead.

Ozark Wheat Mill
We also acquired a plethora of baby items: a bassinet, a crib, and a huge baby buggy (I include it with the furniture because it was in the only room large enough to store it—the living room—and rivaled the couch in size. It sailed smoothly on dirt or sidewalk, and could hold five small children and a baby all at once). A brand new bathinette came as a special gift, tilting our decorating style from “Early American Hand-Me-Down” to “Post Baby Modern.”

Baby Buggy

Our little doll-sized house filled up with all kinds of nonsense, as well. We installed metal shelves in the laundry room to stack apple boxes full of “stuff.”
We outgrew that little house, and moved on to a house with “square footage”! With each move there was more to get rid of and more to pack up. And worst of all, there was more to dust! Just call us “Fish” because we have certainly used every bit of space in every fishbowl we’ve had. (Except fish never have to dust.)

Six years ago, as I have mentioned in previous posts, we moved from our home in Colorado—a home with two stories and a basement full of stuff—into two rooms in my father’s home.  The move required a good deal of discarding—some of the discards had been around since our first little white house.  I gave away probably a third of what we had, stored a little more than a third, and brought only the essentials with us. It was liberating to filter our fishbowl at that time. (When we finish here, I plan to filter out even more. We haven’t needed that stuff for six years.) Because our fishbowl is now smaller, I’ve learned to strike a balance. If we need something new, something old is given away to make space. For the most part, we “fish” are content in our small bowl. Stuff is just stuff. We’ve found we can do without most of it. It just gets in the way.

While accommodations here are sparse, we have had a great many “fish” from the family come stay with us overnight, or for a week or two at a time. After my father’s 90th birthday party, we had sixty people jammed wall-to-wall into this small house for an evening.

A few of the wall-to-wall people in Daddy’s home after his party

Fishbowl Theory Lesson Learned Regarding Homes: If you’re going to fill your fishbowl, the most rewarding way to fill the space is with other “fish” you love and enjoy, with the understanding that their stuff may temporarily fill the house, without needing to be dusted!
Ken’s Fishbowl Theory continues to hold true: no matter the size of the fishbowl, the fish (at least the fish in our family) use the whole thing.

*From the opera Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin

© Copyright June 22, 2014


"The Lizard Whisperer"

Blog Post #9 (A True Tale)


My husband Brad is “The Lizard Whisperer.” That’s right. Lizard. Whisperer.
Living here at my father’s house, Brad hasn’t been able to have his preferred menagerie: dog, cat, horse…. so he has settled for the next best thing: whatever there is.  He made and mounted wooden feeders for the squirrels on the block wall surrounding the yard, and hung sugar water for the hummingbirds. Although he isn’t crazy about the *mockingbird that sings outside our bedroom window while we’re trying to sleep, he would welcome its companionship and musical medley the rest of the day. I’m grateful he hasn’t chosen to befriend other critters that have happened into our yard: opossums, skunks and a hive of bees. He is interested in them, however, watching and studying their behavior.
Brad is nature’s son, loving and respecting animals and nature. He’s the kind of guy that turns over rocks to see what’s underneath, feeds and waters the horses before eating his own breakfast, and takes a whole roll of film of his Golden Retriever posing in El Dorado Canyon, Colorado.  He saves every drop of water, and is expert at making campfires under a tree in the snow. I love and admire all these things about him, partly because they are what I am not.
Brad’s dog, Kona, posing in El Dorado Canyon, Colorado
Another picture of Kona in El Dorado Canyon
(Imagine how many pictures he might have taken if he owned a digital camera at that time)


Brad is also one of the most resourceful people I’ve ever met. And frugal.  He doesn’t waste anything.  If he finds something lying around, he’ll put it to good use in a way nature didn’t intend. It seems reasonable, then, that when he found lizards lying around, —which is what they do—he put them to use in a way nature didn’t intend.  
I realize many people keep lizards and other reptiles as pets. Brad doesn’t bring them in the house. (Just let him try it!) Nor does he keep them in a cage or case. He hates seeing dogs on leashes, and horses tethered (unless he’s riding one). With liberty and justice for all lizards, they roam our yard, emerging from their hiding places between the shed and the block wall, from holes between rocks and from under the barbecue to sun themselves on the pavement. But they pledge their allegiance to our yard–all because of The Lizard Whisperer.

A favorite hiding place of our lizards
Our lizards are quite normal. As is common, they like to show-off their strength and dexterity by doing two thousand push-ups at a time on the block wall. When the grandchildren attempt to catch them, they demonstrate their quick reflexes and speed by darting off on their short little legs, faster than speeding bullets, like grounded Supermen—capes flowing in the breeze.
Exceptionally normal lizards, really. Except for one thing: The Lizard Whisperer.

Ready or not, you shall NOT be caught!
Brad has spent hours doing yard work, cleaning-up and restoring Daddy’s yard to some of its former utility and beauty, and tending our vegetable garden. He has spent a lot of time observing, (and being observed by) the lizards.  They’re curious, and suspicious, creeping out from their hiding places, always warily keeping their distance, as if they weren’t sure they heard IT call out “Olly Olly Oxen Free!” Like fleet-footed scouts, they zip away with lightning speed if startled.


Garden where the lizards and T.L.W. often meet
Methodically, Brad began testing the lizards. Finding small bugs he knew looked like thick juicy steaks to the lizard watching a few feet away, he set the tiny wiggling insect a small distance off to see if a lizard would take the bait. Gradually, he moved the bait farther away from the lizards, discovering their Superman speed is only rivaled by their remarkable eyesight. From great distances, they raced like sleek tailed-dragsters to beat other lizards to the free eats.
Not only were the lizards watching Brad, but so was I. One day I noticed him scouting around the wall and shed area. His movements were a little odd, so I asked the obvious: “What are you doing?” Nothing. (He was focused on what he was doing.)  After a few minutes, I gave up and went inside, but watched from the window. He crouched down, waiting. He is good at waiting. I’m not; I stopped watching.

One day he told me he was going to ride his bike to the new sporting goods store around the corner. He’s an umpire, so I thought he might check out the baseball gear. After he got home, a new little white plastic container appeared, first on the dryer in the garage, and later in the fridge. “What’s that?”  Nothing.  Later, I reached for a tub of margarine from the fridge. “Not margarine. Mealworms!”  I’m onto him now! He’s been purchasing mealyworms to feed the lizards! The small white container the store provided must not have been large enough, so the mealworms graduated to a roomier margarine tub, and to an air conditioned place in the fridge. (This was either for Brad’s convenience, or for the comfort of the mealworms. Not sure which.) 

What I found in the fridge
What next? I’ll tell you…
He’s kneeling down, arm outstretched, hand open on the ground. Something small and wiggly on his palm. Yoga position?  No. A lizard is standing on the pavement about four or five feet off. He’s having a stare-down with Brad.  The mealworm’s destiny lies in the balance. Lizzy creeps closer, keeping a weather eye out for danger. Keeps creeping. He’s in Brad’s hand. Grabs the worm and takes off. Score!
History repeats itself, but this time the lizard comes from the block wall. Brad’s hand outstretched, waiting. 






Word gets out through the lizard grapevine. Other lizards line up for the dole. (I don’t know how they pass the word, but I’m sure they do.) They’re eating out of his hand, some nibbling at his toes. A lizard in hand is worth two behind the shed.


One day, Brad was walking around the shed, scrutinizing the side near the wall with particular interest. “What are you doing?” Nothing. I stayed, waiting. Suddenly, like a Close Encounter of the Lizard Kind, one by one, half-a-dozen lizards appeared out of the darkness cast by the shed’s shadow on the block wall. Others came from the holes in the top blocks along the wall to the right. Brad waited, arm outstretched, mealy worms in his open palm close to the wall. Soon, lizards were jumping off the wall into his hand, grabbing a worm, and jumping back onto the wall again, taking turns getting the worms. Two worms each, Brad kept track.  Amazing!

Brad tempting lizards with plump, juicy mealworms.
You can see them coming out from behind the shed (upper middle of picture).
Since then, most of the lizards in our yard seem to know Brad. They aren’t tentative in the least, openly approaching him for mealworms. Like feeding chickens, he makes his normal rounds after work each day. They are comfortable walking onto his hand to eat: a drive-through café for lizards.


Last week, a very plump, familiar lizard was lying on the sidewalk near the back door. Too many mealy worms, I thought. Later that day, Brad asked if I saw the pregnant lizard. (Yup. That was her.) Poor thing. She looked as if she had swallowed a small mouse. Not long after, she was fit and thin again. Her clutch of eggs must be hidden somewhere nearby, and before long, we should have a lounge (appropriately named) of baby Lizzies lounging around waiting for Brad to befriend, coddle and feed them.
I walk out the back door; two hopeful lizards are waiting there—like miniature furless, long-tailed puppies, anxious for me to pet and feed them. I’m not the one they want. I’m only his wife. But those little guys know the hand that feeds them: The Lizard Whisperer.
Western Fence Lizard (or Spiny Lizard)
Sceloporus occidentalis
For a split second, I see through their lizard eyes: 
The Lizard Whisperer rides off on his white horse into the sunset.
The Lizard Whisperer
(Had a picture of him on the white horse; missed the sunset)

 *See blog post #7 “For the Birds”
© Copyright June 10, 2014



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A Beautiful Mess

Blog Post #8

Enchanted trees…. 

That’s how I think of Jacarandas. They sprinkle fairy dust underneath their canopied branches of lavender blossoms. On streets lined with Jacaranda, rivers of purple flood the curbs reflecting the swaying limbs above. I love Jacarandas! I look forward to each May and June, when they’re at the height of their enchanting color, their exquisite beauty, and their—what was that? Did I hear someone say, “Mess?”
More than one person who has a Jacaranda tree has told me how much they hate them and the mess they make. But they’re so beautiful, I protest. These people are beyond enjoying their beauty. All they can see is the mess that follows the delicate display of their lithe, trumpet-like flowers. Lavender petals that fade and dry and moosh and get tracked onto the carpet and make it hard to clean up the yard. Pretty soon, I’m told, they wither and even become ugly.

Here’s a truth: messes and beauty go together; they walk hand-in-hand—opposites that not only attract, but also cooperate. Beauty is almost dependent on a mess. Before I have a beautiful jar of peach preserves, I have a kitchen full of bottles, pots and ladles, sugar granules on countertops, paring knives, bowls of pits and slimy peels, and sticky stuff just about everywhere. A real mess. But have you ever stopped to admire a jar (better yet, a dozen jars) of freshly bottled peaches? Beauty. Simple beauty. I make a practice of leaving jars of freshly preserved jams and fruit sitting in neatly ordered ranks and files on the table for  a day or two where I can admire them each time I pass by. They make me happy. They radiate beauty born of months of growth, harvest, honest toil, and…a mess.

So many messy situations culminate in beauty: creating a work of art, reorganizing a closet, sewing a new dress, preparing for and planting a garden, a haircut, making a Thanksgiving feast. Probably the most rewarding of messy situations are labor pains.
I can’t think of anything more beautiful than a baby.  But even a brand new baby has to be cleaned up at birth—and frequently thereafter; one continuous series of messes coming out of every end. Not to mention the state of the house as the baby grows. Constant upheaval and disarray. Stacks of laundry. Piles of dishes. Toys. Books. Pots and pans. All pulled from their places and scattered abroad like seaweed on the beach.

As children grow, they become expert at making messes: grimy fingerprints on mirrors, windows, doors and walls; bedrooms that look like a Goodwill drop-off; sand and dirt on freshly mopped floors; backpacks and shoes cluttering the entryway; and socks—endless smelly socks—emerging from every nook and cranny you didn’t know existed.

It’s all worth the beauty that attends the mess: crayoned pictures laden with hearts—drawn and given by the stacks; hugs and wet kisses; holding a tiny, trusting hand; the words “I love you, Mom” scraped into the dirt on the hill in the backyard….there’s nothing like it for the price of a mess. Nothing.  
My mother appreciated a good mess. She understood that messes were companions to creative beauty. She urged us to make messes and praised the beauty—or attempts at beauty—we created. She gave us (almost) free range of the house in which to make our messes.  She also taught us to clean, and somehow managed to have a clean house underneath the messes we made.

I recall the day I discovered that we did indeed make messes. (Frankly, before that day, I hadn’t noticed.) That day of enlightenment came when I was only about….oh, fourteen. (Not kidding.) My mother had a calligraphy project going at her drafting table at one end of the family room. I was busily mass-producing pictures to sell that required tedious cutting of burlap, fabric scraps and construction paper, as well as gluing and the use of markers at a card table set up on the other end of the family room. My sister was also occupied with a project of her own in the same room. (Heaven only knows where Craig was at the time. Probably making an entirely private mess of his own in his room.)
The doorbell rang. A friend was at the door. My friend. What’s worse, the friend happened to be a boy I liked. Someone I never expected to come to our house….ever! When I first opened the door, I was oblivious to the mess. When my friend walked in, I saw THE MESS in all Its Terribleness. I tried to stand in front of the card table to block, at the very least, my mess from view, but to no avail. My small frame was no match for the sheer quantity of MESS splattered across every square inch of that room screaming the words “Look at me!” like a flashing neon sign.
It turned out OK in the end. The friend left after a brief and, for my part, extremely uncomfortable few minutes. He surely had an eyeful of what went on in our house. But we continued to make messes, and we enjoyed the beauty we created. The real beauty, however, was in the time we spent, and the love that grew from making the messes together.

The beauty of Jacaranda trees comes before the mess they make, but the order really doesn’t matter. Shedding their flowers is so important to the production of fruit, seeds, and growth. It’s a necessary step toward an encore display of their magical fairy dust in years that follow. As I see it, what does matter is that they first give something splendidly beautiful to the world before casting their refuse on the ground, (which, by the way, still looks magical when it first falls). It is part of an important cycle. They make the most of their few moments to sparkle, knowing what will come.

Maybe that’s why messes are important to life: to help us better appreciate and recognize the beauty in special moments. Messes also help us see order in creation and throughout life. A mess can have elements of order to it, it can be part of a greater plan—as with the peach preserves. It may look a mess to the untrained eye, but there is order in the kitchen chaos working toward a planned goal. I always clean up after (sometimes during) a messy situation: an important lesson accompanying messes. The “cleaning up” lesson, if never learned, creates its own mess!

Surely, the cycle of mess and beauty is true of people. Our lives may seem a mess at times, but as we work through the chaos, we become more complete, strong and beautiful people—beautiful as to character, opposed to looks—better able to cast aside the refuse—those things that hold us back—and move forward, producing seeds of growth that contribute to a fulfilling and joyful future.

So, here’s to messes! And may our messes create as much beauty as the Jacaranda!

© Copyright June 7, 2014