Sixer Packing


Not the donation; The Packing! I hope...

Urgency Day 385

500 Things Items 107-116: Clothes

  • History: Easy come…
  • Value: I like half of it half as much as I should have
  • Parting Pain: …easy go…
  • Un-possessing: Donations

Oh how I wish I were a Sixer.

No, not a fan of the NBA 76ers (sorry, Phil) and not some sort of super-knowledgeable cricket fan, although I do like their white uniforms.

“Sixers” is the name for people who take a radical approach to our cultural addiction to clothes shopping. They voluntarily put themselves on a clothes diet for one month, limiting their wardrobe choices to just 6 pieces.

That they already own. (Not including underwear.)

New York Times writer Eric Wilson profiled the exercise last week. It was a timely publication for me since I would be vacation-packing soon. If people could wear only six items for one month, I reasoned, surely I could downsize my packing for our upcoming, somewhat briefer, eastern romp.

Or so one would think.

Packing.  I am forced to admit that I suck at packing.

Through the years, I have downloaded packing lists from the Internet. I have saved umpteen “This Time Will be Different!” articles from glossy magazines promising to help me glide away for a grand month-long European excursion with effortless ease carrying only a handsome leather shoulder tote. Think only slighter larger than Grace Kelly’s tiny overnight case in Rear Window and you’ll have the coveted image.

Even armed with numbered checklists with specific tee-shirt counts and Grrr-animal-worthy outfit combinations down to the shoes (only two pairs?!) and earrings (unlimited), I fail utterly, everytime.

I never fail, however, to be stricken with an unshakeable case of the “What-Ifs”

What If…

  • The local temperature plummets (or rises) an unpredicted 50 degrees?
  • Someone suggests ball-room dancing? cliff-diving? wing-suit hang gliding?
  • I suddenly gain 20 pounds?
  • Someone I love loses all her luggage and needs to borrow a complete wardrobe?

The Law of Large Numbers suggests that if I travel enough, one of these things is bound to happen. Indeed, Sydney once needed to borrow one of the three extra pairs of winter tights I packed. For Las Vegas.

Paul would say that my amateurish over-packing results from not traveling enough. If I had ever been a business traveler, I would have had to master the art of elegantly efficient packing. Right now I’m envisioning having learned to pack a lot of coordinating black knitwear.

Paul and I had already been talking for a while about how during our months of being riffed (polite for “laid off”), we had naturally fallen into wearing the same few fleece tops and jeans in the winter months and tee shirts and shorts since summer started. So it’s not some genetic aversion I’m working against.

[I hate to tell our family and friends suffering through the heat of the last weeks that here in Chicagoland we still occasionally put on a fleece. And not because of ramped up air conditioning either.]

Okay. I really really don’t think I can be a Sixer. Even with scarves not counting. But I love a challenge! Here’s the very downsized packing list, pictured above:

  1. plaid shorts
  2. olive shorts
  3. white capris
  4. short skirt
  5. brown tee shirt
  6. navy tee shirt
  7. pink pirate tee shirt
  8. gray polo
  9. sundress
  10. white denim jacket
  11. pajamas
  12. bathing suit

How’s that? Not too shabby, I’m thinking.– especially if I stick to it… And just you never mind about that bag of bike clothes over there in the corner.

What If Paul suggests extreme mountain biking on our holiday?


Perfectly Toasted


not brave, just broken

Urgency Day 387

500 Things Item 106: Broken Toaster

  • History: Purchased, best guess- more than 5 years ago
  • Value: Toasted the toast, waffled the waffles—sort of
  • Parting Pain: If someone will take it and fix it, none
  • Un-possessing: Freebie at yard sale

The toaster stopped toasting.

It’s pretty much all you can ask of a toaster, so when it stops, what you are left with is basically a really nasty, crumby cookbook prop.

I called out for my handy husband to fix the toaster. Now please. Actually, I asked him to fix the chair, but I was stabbing at the sticky buttons on the toaster and slamming the squeaky little door on the toaster, so I knew he knew I meant the toaster. Not the chair.

Why say “chair” if I meant “toaster?”

A long time ago, my brother-in-law Jim fixed a chair. One of the kids (maybe it was Sam, but it feels longer ago than little Sam, so maybe it was little Erin or maybe even little Laura, but that would be a really long time ago) chimed over and over, “Jim fix chair! Jim fix chair!” Ever since then, anything that needed fixing was a chair.

Paul, ever supportive of my gustatory whims, dutifully came and stabbed the sticky buttons on the toaster and slammed the squeaky little door on the toaster. And announced, “It’s broken.”

Reputations for fixing things are hard won and easily lost.

Paul also wanted it stated, for the record, lest anyone impugn his handiness, that the “$#&+% chair” is broken.

That’s right. The “chair” is toast.

Follow-up: I really, really wanted the toast, so, I fired up the broiler. Thirty seconds later, I had the most perfectly toasted toast I have ever had.

Alton Brown calls them unitaskers— kitchen gadgets that perform only one function—and encourages anyone listening to eschew them. I don’t think a toaster oven officially qualifies as a unitasker, but I know for sure an oven oven does not. By honing resolutely to the downsizing spirit and not replacing my broken toaster, I will save money and counter space, and enjoy using the broiler to make the perfect toast. Which I will also certainly enjoy. Just look at that toast!

yes, again, Facebook friends



Urgency Day 392

500 Things Items 101-105: Scratched, warped sunglasses

  • History: Purchase, twist, purchase, scratch, purchase ad nauseum
  • Value: Moral: Quality matters
  • Parting pain: As usual, just the misspent resources
  • Un-possessing: Donate if possible

This picture suggests 2 things: I’m in hiding, and I feel you watching.

Paranoid? Yes, a little.

The collection of sunglasses also reminds me that I’ve been thinking about my time as an elementary school aid. It’s one of the jobs I’ve applied for recently, having some experience at it and a connection in our local school district though my network.

Network. Network. Network. Did you know the word “network” has a Scrabble face-value of 14 points? Strategically placed and using all seven tiles, “network” could earn an awesome score.

I’m job hunting: I think about networks, all kinds, a lot.

But all those sunglasses. Here’s one example of an item that it’s probably better to spend a little more on and get better quality. A timeless pair of Ray Ban aviators, for instance, never goes out of style and is sturdier than your average pair– or five– from Target.

But, you see, there’s always a catch.

I once spent a year cheerfully resigned to contorting more than a few pairs of sunglasses, so the cheaper the better. It was the same year I called a lot of people “kitty cat” and they loved it.

Part of my routine in the school where I worked was to escort a class of first-graders from the cafeteria out to the playground for recess. I don’t know if you are aware of this, but seven-year olds are wriggly. And affectionate. Especially after lunch. And most of them only come up to about coat-pocket height, even on me.

“Mrs. T! Mrs. T!” they would chirp and press forward from their required positions in line against an institutional-beige tiled wall. I have some idea of what it’s like to be an adored celebrity from those days of lunchtime meets and greets. Twenty five up-turned faces, twenty five gap-toothed smiles, twenty five quick but reassuring mid-day hugs.

And too many times, from the vicinity of my first-grader-high coat pocket: One ominous snap.


“Was that another pair, Mrs. T?”

“Yes, kitty cat, I think it was. Silly me.”

“Silly you!”

I am not a flighty person. Really. And not in a “I-am-not-a-crook” way. Really. And anything more I say in my defense at this point just undermines that, so I’ll stop.

<tapping toes; cracking neck; scrunching mouth>

No Really!

It’s just that there were a swirl of details and last-minute chaos and a lot A LOT of kids to remember everyday. And they all knew I was Mrs. T., but I admit, I couldn’t always conjure their names quickly enough. Hence, “kitty cat.”

But forgetting I had put my sunglasses in my pocket every day at hug and greet time? Yeah, that was pretty goofy.

Six pairs crunched. Six incredibly cheap– but now it’s a sweet memory– pairs.

And now I own one pair of Ray Bans. Hard case included.

One last note: Each day, The Cafeteria Lady would give me the list of Offenders to hold out of recess because of Bad Cafeteria Behavior. I would listen to her litany of “bad bad bad” and nod along gravely. Once outside, not one of my kitty cats every missed a minute of recess. Ever.

Merci beaucoup!

Urgency Day 401

500 Things Item 100: Milestone Cake avec Lemon Glaze!

  • History: Only ingredients before yesterday
  • Value: Priceless acknowledgement of progress
  • Parting pain: It’s gluten-free, so no pain!
  • Un-possessing: Um, you know

Marie Antoinette said,

“Let them eat cake,” but she was just mean.  I say, “Let me bake you a cake!” And mean to thank you, gentle readers, from the bottom of mon coeur, my heart.

Vive la France! Happy Bastille Day


Happy 500 Things Project Milestone Day!

Yes, today I am celebrating coloring in the 20% wedge on the pie chart toward the goal of un-possessing 500 Things. The geeky pattern seeker side of me has been having a blast, crunching numbers, looking for significant trends and reveling in keeping on track.

Want to hear something kind of cool? I’m not just on track; I haven’t just downsized 100 things:

I’ve downsized 285 Things!

Here are a few highlights from the Project so far:

  • There have been 35 posts in the 500 Things Project category cataloging the un-possessing of almost 3 things a day for these 100 days
  • I’m averaging about 25 hits a day from readers but…
  • On the busiest day so far, June 2, I got 81 hits— thanks! (Paul promises to take me out for a dirty martini if I hit 100!)
  • The most viewed post has been It’s a Coincidental World, After All with Paul in his mountain-man glory
  • The second most viewed post, A Tale of Wild Boxes, generated the most comments, some on the blog, some on Facebook (I think it was the reference to flavored vodka that was popular- just a wild guess)
  • Largest category by far of items un-possessed:  Books– 146 of them!
  • Other notable cast-off categories: Electronics and household items
  • There’s been an even split between targeting items for donation or eventual sale

So, one fifth down by calendar-reckoning and a whole lot more downsizing to chronicle.

Of course, I am constantly aware that the other half of this experience of tallying up 500 Things to dis-possess is the Urgency meter simultaneously counting down toward the most significant downsizing Paul and I will ever do: the launching of The Self-Contained Unit.

Mon Dieu! I need more cake!

BONUS: Glazed Lemon Cake Recipe— don’t forget to garnish with a few lovely blueberries and sprinkle liberally with my gratitude.

Reliving the Draft


Urgency Day 403

500 Things Items 95-99: Art supplies

  • History: Gifts of unrealized potential
  • Value: Music called Sam, not painting
  • Parting pain: Gifting forward, so none
  • Un-possessing: Again, gifts

I was re-introduced to the importance of the draft this weekend.

In a previous life—in other words, before parenthood— Paul and I moved all our crap, our dog and our cat to Eugene, Oregon from Herndon, Virginia. 2818 miles by the most direct route, which we didn’t take. It was the only thing we didn’t take.

Even then, we had too much crap.

In fact, we had so much crap, Paul drove a huge rental moving truck and I drove our light-weight Toyota pick-up. This was in the days of yore before cell phones, so we communicated through CB radios. Our “handles” were Ernie and Zippy. Paul was Ernie, short for Earnest, in the big main truck; I was Zippy in the little back up truck.

Those names make sense even if you didn’t know we got them from an old Dave Barry column about his family’s dogs, Ernie, the big main dog, and Zippy, the little back up dog. Can’t you just hear Zippy’s annoying yips?

We had a pretty eventful road trip:

  • The cat tried to slice out my right eye just as we were leaving Virginia– poor Paul got some dirty looks: I looked like the poster-child for domestic-abuse victims the whole trip (To my mother’s every-lasting credit, she actually drove about 100 miles to a rest stop in Pennsylvania to retrieve the cat, who decided the only place he was willing to make the trans-continental journey was wedged underneath the Toyota’s accelerator pedal; mom flew out with him a month later.);
  • Our stop-over visit in Peoria with my terminally ill mother-in-law would be the last time I saw her—she died just a few months later;
  • And as we drove across a bridge over the Snake River approaching Burley, Idaho, I watched from behind in wide-eyed horror as a sudden wind-sheer nearly blew Big Main Truck Ernie—and therefore Paul—right off into the Snake River.

Among other incidents. Eventful: oh my yes. But through it all, I was never really alone. Even though we drove separate vehicles, often with no radio reception, and blessedly, with no cat, I never felt alone. For over 3000 miles and a week’s worth of highway driving, I can count on one hand the number of times I allowed another vehicle to pull in between Zippy and Ernie. Between me and Paul.

Yes, I drafted for over 3000 miles.

A reminder of the exquisite sense of security—not to mention great gas mileage— I experienced drafting behind Paul all those miles, all those years ago came back to me on this weekend’s bike ride.

Deep philosophical query:

How can a gentle summer breeze feel like an unrelenting gale when you are trying to ride your bike into it?

For all the cycling we’ve done, this remains a mystery to me.

But I do know for sure, the best place for me to be, whether riding a bike or driving the back-up truck, is right there drafting behind Paul.

The continuing adventures of Zippy and Ernie.

Today, as I approach the milestone on Wednesday of having un-possessed 100 thingsstay tuned!— I present a few drafting supplies of the artistic kind which will surely go to family and friends. Laura in particular is a wonderful painter. She and Erin gave Sam the easel. However, we can all agree: Sam’s chosen art form is music.

Quick inventory:

very cool easel, even if I'm a rotten photographer

  1. Wooden easel
  2. Acrylic paint set
  3. Plastic palette knives
  4. Metal palette knives
  5. Chinese Calligraphy set

Free and Priceless


Urgency Day 407

500 Things Item 94:  Martha Stewart’s Gardening

  • History: Gift from mom, hopeful as ever
  • Value: I enjoyed the pictures
  • Parting pain: Sorry mom, no pain
  • Un-possessing: Re-gift

How closely does a tale need to hew to your own circumstance to be considered parallel?

Take the story of Carmine and Lydia for example. They are an active couple in their late 70’s from Suffern, New York, using their not-inconsiderable means to move from their upscale single-family home designed by a noted architect into a tiny condo in a retirement center adjacent to a Wal-Mart and described by their current architect as “Polite and suburban, generic and poorly crafted.”

Their granddaughter put it to them more bluntly:

“You can’t live there with all those old people!”

But living is exactly what Carmine and Lydia are doing, even as they prepare for their eventual and inevitable not living. I enthusiastically recommend to you an article in which they are featured in today’s New York Times Home section. Writer Penelope Green neatly sums up their story:

“…it’s about how to downsize gracefully. A good marriage and an open mind help.”

That pretty much sums up what I’m trying to convey in this blog as well. Both the article and my blog chronicle the downsizing of households. I use the phrase “nimbly careening” trying to convey a sense of graceful stumbling toward an increasingly uncertain but certainly downsized future and to evoke all the planned randomness we are experiencing in our particular downsizing effort.

Yes, planned randomness.


  • The Self-Contained Unit leaves home after successfully navigating high school: copious gratitude is expressed
  • Paul and I reduce our load
  • Paul and I reduce our footprint
  • Paul and I spend a lot more time together


  • Unemployment
  • Ditto
  • Op. cit.
  • Paul and I spend a lot more time together

As you can imagine, the Careening! warning light is flashing all the time. But you may well ask, “Where’s the nimbleness?” Ah well, that’s in the quote above too:  the “good marriage and the open mind.” Minds, I would say.

And that’s what was reflected back to me in this article about two people who, unlike us, have the enviable ability to live any way they wish, any where they wish, but who wish to live reasonably, comfortably but, above all, together.

And that’s the immutable state of nimble grace in which I gratefully live with Paul.

Sam left, Suz right

Urgency Day 408

500 Things Items 92-93: Old Bike Helmets

  • History: Purchased
  • Value: Priceless protection of craniums
  • Parting pain: None other than replacement costs
  • Un-possessing: Unfortunately helmets don’t recycle– trash?

Once again, three nudges make a poke. This time the cumulative pokers are Paul, Donna and, well me. I bruise easily, so I want us to stop poking me.  Ouch!

But we’re right. My little chart at the beginning of each 500 Things entry where I give just the facts, ma’am about the departing items has become a bit obscure. I was trying to document efficiently a few consistent facts about the loot in the project, so that at the end of this whole exercise, I could quantify it all and discover if there were any patterns.

Remember? I’m a pattern seeker.

But I quickly got too cute by half and the informational aspect was subsumed by the quirky entertainment aspect I could include in each posting. I do think the facts are important to the endeavor, however, so I am going to try to rein myself in a bit.

Presenting the new 500 Things Transparency Template:

  • History: In which I tell from whence an item came to our family–purchase, gift, etc.
  • Value: In which I convey the joy (but often lack thereof) an item has provided my family
  • Parting pain: In which I reveal how bereft or gleeful I am at its un-possessing
  • Un-possessing: In which I confirm the method of dispersal—donation, sale, etc.– from our home

This should clear things up and keep me on track for my eventual “data reconfiguration and statistical analysis.”

In other words, pattern seeking, with a Friendsly flourish.

Acknowledging that today’s post was more about housekeeping than anything, I will provide a bit of entertainment in the form of an adorable picture my friend Scott posted on Facebook:  Six frolicking raccoons and their mama, assembled in his family’s backyard.  As Scott’s wife, my friend Rose, said,

Mom was a bit fresh to us, but she sure did a good job keeping her babies safe. They’re very cute, but it’s a little unnerving to look out the back door and see 7 raccoons in our backyard.

Surely there must be more than coincidence at work with the timing of our wildlife postings? I will leave each gentle reader to weave the proximity of these observations into their own karmic tapestries.

As for my own take: I think Naperville has gone WILD!

Also, relevant to the bike helmets referenced at the beginning of this post, they were for Sam and me. Sam has outgrown his and mine was crumbling.

They were also incredibly stinky.

Wildly stinky, even.

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