tapes delayed

Urgency Day 200

500 Things Item 285: Harry Potter 5 Tapes

  • History: Tapes, yes tapes, of our most beloved series
  • Value: Countless hours of pleasure, but tapes deteriorate…
  • Parting Pain: …And these particular tapes are haunted
  • Un possessing: Free-cycle

Proust had the smell of madeleines;  I have the sound of Jim Dale’s voice.

It’s apparent by the Urgency number: Today is a milestone. We have 200 days left of this version of Life with the Self-Contained Unit.

It is conventional wisdom isn’t it, that once you go off to college, home is never quite the same. Where is Home? Is it the place your parents live, where you slept and ate, played and dreamed, loved and cried until you left one wrenching August day? Or is it the place you went to? The new place where you slept and ate, played and dreamed, loved and cried and maybe studied a little, with hundreds of other scared kids some of whom became your new tribe, your new family, in your new home.

Two hundred days.

That’s the apparent milestone. Another one arrived this morning as well. After 455 days, we took our lives off pause.

This morning, Paul went out the door to a job. It happens every day in other houses– though not nearly enough houses—but it hadn’t happened in our house for 455 days. Four hundred fifty-five days ago, Paul came home from work early; came into our kitchen while I was having lunch, doing some paper work and listening to the soundtrack of our lives, the Harry Potter books-on-tape. It was Order of the Phoenix, not my favorite, and still near the beginning of the story. Hearing the garage door open so early, I knew something was wrong. Sickness leapt to mind first, but somehow I knew: No, not sickness. I pressed the pause button on the tape player.

Our lives have been on pause for almost 15 months. Of course, even in unemployment, Life goes on. We slept, ate, played, dreamed, loved and cried, more and less, but blessedly– though for not nearly enough people– still in the same house.

And it was in this same house, the same kitchen, where this morning I recreated the beginning of the pause so that I could literally experience taking our Life off of pause. After Paul drove off, after the garage door shut and the house was very quiet, I replaced the tape, left exactly where I had paused it 15 months ago, and let Jim Dale complete his sentence:

“The scrupulously clean kitchen had an oddly unreal glitter after the darkness outside.”

Sometimes, closure is real.

Link to the Past


no longer suits

Urgency Day 204

500 Things Item 284: Wedding Frock

  • History: Mom’s second wedding attire
  • Value: Point of contention
  • Parting Pain: Not even a flutter
  • Un-possessing: Consigning

My mom is one of two daughters. Mom has two daughters, the older of whom—my sister—has two daughters.

When I was pregnant, we all joked that if the baby turned out to be a boy, we would send him back. Well, they joked. I was kind of serious. What the heck was I supposed to do with a boy?

Guess which daughter had a boy.

Pretty quickly, we figured stuff out. One advantage we had was that my sister and I are science fiction fans. Stars Trek and Wars are greatly, some would say fanatically, esteemed by us. And the Self-Contained Unit drank the Tang right along with us. His early days were filled with all manner of lasers and phasers and tricorders. And lightsabers. Did you know that lightsabers are like swords, which, “coincidentally,” Peter Pan, Link, and Luke all wield?

But I have a few possessions in which my sword-carrying son has no interest. Even if he were a she, s/he might have no interest: Who’s to say? But some things have traditionally been passed from mother to daughter, not mother to son. Wedding dresses are one example.

I have mine. It’s wrapped, reasonably well, and will continue to be stored, I’m afraid, until someone else has to dispose of it. Sorry guys, but my lack of sentimentality ends at my wedding dress.

“The line must be drawn HERE. This far, no farther!”

We also still preserve my mom’s first wedding dress, the one she wore to marry my dad. It’s gorgeous; silk georgette, a bit of tasteful embellishment though no beading, and oh my, her waist was tiny. Like Miss Scarlett tiny. I couldn’t wear it, but I love it. All the sisters do, and it will be preserved. But not by Sam.

Mom’s second wedding frock, however? Well, hmmm. Let’s just say there is a bit less sentiment attached to it. Far more beads but less sentiment.

Mom, of course, has the final vote in the matter of its un-possessing. Fortunately, she was quite dispassionate about it, agreeing that it could be downsized without guilt. So, uniquely in this project, an item will go to a consignment shop. Will it be a temptation for another bride?  A mother-of-a-bride? I hope we can learn the second frock’s fate.

Mom is so happy in her current solo digs. She has the airiest mother-in-law suite conceivable, attached to my sister’s house. Her slogan for her apartment is:

“No boys allowed.”

I can’t believe I ever felt anything like that about a sword-loving boy.

consigned to its fate

good enough for Sunday

Urgency Day 211

500 Things Item 282-83: Serving platters

  • History: From the fancy-party days
  • Value: Good for serving at fancy parties
  • Parting Pain: I always hated the polishing– so none!
  • Un-possessing: Gifts (I’ll clean them up first) or donations

At the local grocery store today, the gourmet cheeses were divided into two sections: one for Packers Fans and one for Bears Fans.

I was appalled.

Let me make something very clear here: I have a horse in this race. I married, for better and for worse, a Bears fan. But I am that sorriest of football fans, the football equivalent of a Cubs fan: I am a Redskins fan.

Hey! I heard that!

Back when Paul and I met, we had to instigate a “NO TAUNTING AND BAITING” rule to keep peace on the Sunday couch. That was back in the 80’s. The 1980’s for you youngersters . Both our teams were good. Old-school, real-grass, Hogs vs. Fridge good. So for the good of our relationship, we would sit politely on our respective ends of the couch and observe, politely mind you, when our teams did well.

My mother, a diehard Redskins fan and an actual Powhatan Indian wouldn’t hear of such political correctness. When the Redskins would score a touchdown against her son-in-law’s Bears, she did a war dance.  With a whoop. And a tremolo.

But back to the separated cheeses.

When your city’s team is in the play-offs, you support them. There is no tacit acknowledgement of regional differences and regional loyalties. THIS IS FOOTBALL:  Take no prisoners, leave ‘em bloodied, man-up people, FOOTBALL!

Unless a marriage is at stake.

I will enjoy slicing a fine Wis-con-sin cheddar this Sunday, for myself and my most beloved Bears fan.


Glad Hatter


maddening hats

Urgency Day 213

500 Things Items 279-81: Hats

  • History: Attempts at winter warmth and cuteness
  • Value: Achieved neither, darn it
  • Parting Pain: Hoping both for others, so no pain
  • Un-possessing: Donations

At various points during this project and this last year, I have employed a sticky metaphor to suggest my current state of mind:

I am the glue.

I am unglued.

Each has been true.

I am the glue in my family, coordinating and choreographing our lives; wearing many hats, to mix metaphors. It’s familiar role-playing, role-juggling for most parents, requiring:

  • The chef’s hat;
  • The chauffeur’s hat;
  • The chambermaid’s, the charmer’s, the chaperon’s hats…

…and a few dozen more the juggling of which can result in one’s feeling decidedly unglued.

Why am I seeing the Mad Hatter right now? And what was in his glue?

For me, for this last year, feeling unglued was less about the great amount of work to accomplish than about the devastating lack of work to accomplish. For one year, 2 months and 12 days we were seriously under-employed.

And now, we aren’t.

(Let me take away any hint of contraction, for we are expanding, we are exhaling.)

And now, we are not.

We are not under-employed. We are employed. I will not crow about this.

I will fall to my knees in gratitude for this change in our circumstances and for the overwhelming generosity and kindness that has sustained my family. But I will not swagger or gloat.

I will pray for a quick recovery for the many who are waiting, still, to exhale.

Sighs, short and frequent, were exhaled…

One must be so careful these days.

(T.S. Eliot, from The Waste Land)

Thank you. Thank you. Shantih.

#500 Turns 18


Of all the fictional characters the Self-Contained Unit has been identified with…

Peter Pan

Capts. Hook & Sparrow

Link (from Zelda; trust me)


Harry Potter

McPokeman (inclusive mascot for the new millennium)

Aladdin (Jr., for legal purposes)

and Prince Ali (Jr. op cit)

…my favorite one has to be

Sam. That Sam I am.

Thank you, Donna– she brought the Dr. Suess classic to the hospital the day Sam was born, 18 years ago today.

I am Sam.

That Sam, I am.

mischief managed

Thank you, Paul.

Thank you, village.

Thank you, Sam. My darling, Sam.



just a statue

Urgency Day 220

500 Things Item 278: Broken Figurine of the World’s Best Dog

  • History: From Paul’s mom
  • Value: That’s tricky
  • Parting Pain: Tricky as well
  • Un-possessing: Burial at sea?

It’s just a statue. It’s just a statue. It’s just a statue.

We had a life before the Self-Contained Unit joined us.

  • We lived in fabulously run-down apartments.
  • We stayed up late (yes, we really did).
  • We moved almost as far as you can, east to west.
  • We moved almost as far as you can, west to east.
  • We collected stuff and memories.
  • We had the world’s best dog.

When we paused for a time in Oregon (and oh my, I am suffering for my Ducks today), my up-for-anything mom came to visit us. She loved us; she loved travel; and it turned out, she loved Oregon. What did she love best about Oregon? She loved the driftwood.

In Oregon’s Dunes National Park, we would scramble up coastal sand dunes that reach 500 feet above sea level. The wind howls constantly there, carving and wresting exhausted bits from the land and sea. Some beaches are renowned for the glorious sea glass that gently washes ashore; the Oregon coast relentlessly creates its own treasure trove.

After a day of collecting driftwood, do you know how you can tell when you’ve collected enough driftwood?

When your arms are so over-laden with what you’ve gathered from your scrambling, you fall all the way down the enormous sand dune and at the bottom, you don’t laugh.

You know this is enough, because you’ve fallen so many other times, and each of those times, stumbled back up, doubled over from laughing, and re-gathering your treasures and trying to pull a particularly appealing “stick” away from the dog who thinks this is the BEST GAME EVER!

In those days, mom was able to take as many of these twisted, captivating, heavy chunks of wood home to Virginia as she could cram into her luggage. Her carry-on luggage. Can you imagine that airport scene now?

Now is different in a lot of ways. Mom still loves her children and her driftwood, and her laugh is as ready as ever, but the stroke means she scrambles out of bed, not up and down sand dunes. Now, our peripatetic life has paused in Illinois, and the nearby Indiana Dunes, while lovely, are not nearly as exciting. And the World’s Best Dog? Well, since they only overlapped for 6 months, we believe he exchanged katras with the Self-Contained Unit over 17 years ago.

They are both remarkable creatures, and we are humbled in our gratitude for having had each come into our lives.

As I have reduced so many of our possessions, I’ve whittled down our vast collection of Oregon driftwood. A few treasured pieces will remain near other carefully chosen mementos. And the little figurine pictured? It looks something like our Jed, the World’s Best Dog. Enough so that Paul’s mom, who was not given to idle sentiment, thought it fitting to give to Paul many years before Jed’s death, and, of course, her own. But it’s been gathering dust on a back shelf, broken for a long time. I don’t remember how; perhaps on one of those adventures toward which Paul and I seem to gravitate.

We both agree: It’s time to let go.

It’s just a statue. It’s just a statue. It’s just a statue.


good boy

run, jump, leap, fall, roll: repeat

Urgency Day 224

500 Things Item #277: Children’s Shoes

  • History: 2 years worth for one four-year old
  • Value: Hundreds of dollars and now priceless
  • Parting Pain: No pain, in fact joy
  • Un-possessing: Donations

I get the shoe-thing. I really do.

Is it because I’m a girl? I don’t think so, not necessarily. My sweetie, the Eagle Scout, likes his shoes. In some ways, his collection is less noticeable than mine: They’re all brown, black or gym-shoe gray, and they are all flat flat flat. On the other foot, they are, well, enormous. Size 12-13 enormous. Like, we have to factor in additional luggage for his shoes when we travel, enormous.

At least he’s indifferent when I pack an extra pair of sandals and/or wedges and/or fabulous knee-high boots. They all fit inside his size 13’s.

And shoe people tend to pass along the genetic trait for collecting. The pile of shoes pictured though? Doesn’t come from the Self-Contained Unit. His feet resemble his father’s, and haven’t fit in Spiderman Velcro snow boots for a long time.

The pile of little boy shoes, 24 for those keeping score, comes from a friend, a single-mom who’s been through some really tough times with her little guy. She loves to buy her shoes; she loves to buy his shoes. And she’s starting to connect the dots between buying too many shoes and not having enough money. And how many pairs of shoes does a four year old need to jump like Spiderman and learn like a sponge.

Not 24 pairs but at least one. Not all our kids have even one.

We are fortunate to live in a community of problem-solvers. I am sure we in Naperville are not unique in this; I’m sure your community has these angels, too—people who don’t just notice a problem or wring their hands over a rotten situation. People who kill the problem: kill it with kindness and tenacity and stubbornness, and a lot of laughing through the tears and frustration. People who don’t want you to notice them and their good hearts, but just their good causes.

Okay, so don’t notice Naperville moms Dr. Phyllis Parise and Cherish Thompson; just notice their mission,

Jolly Old Soles.

Jolly Old Soles, LLC was created by two working mothers who wanted to make a difference and Pay It Forward. Our mission is to collect and house new and used shoes donated via the generosity of our community and distribute them to those in need.

Pay it forward to those in need. My friend, the single-mom with the 24 pairs of little boy shoes, is paying it forward. So what’s the next step for these donated shoes?

You may have noticed a link on my Blogroll, and I mention it from time to time: Families Helping Families, the Naperville charity started by Vicky Joseph. FHF helps guide formerly homeless families into self-sufficiency. The bedrock, the non-negotiable cornerstone of FHF is the absolute primacy of education: staying in school, keeping kids in school, completing degrees, acquiring more training. This is the most significant way FHF improves lives. Jolly Old Soles donates shoes to FHF families.

So what’s the next step for some of these donated shoes? Through a classroom door.

I know what you’re thinking. This is not my donation, not technically part of my 500 Things. But if I can draw attention to this amazing effort, to the mission of Jolly of Soles through my project, I promise to make  up my downsizing day off to you.

I’ll step up. I hope you will, too.

Jolly Old Soles

No Resolve


restoring sanity through downsizing

Urgency Day 226

500 Things Items 274-277: Paper Chasers

  • History: Various attempts at desktop tranquility
  • Value: Encouraged paper profligacy, so none
  • Parting Pain: None
  • Un-possessing: Donations

On Sunday, January 2nd, the second day of resolve, I read this in The New York Times:

“So. Have You Broken Your Resolutions Yet?”

I’m sure you can name the two most popular New Year resolutions people make:

  1. Lose weight/get in shape
  2. Organize everything

I don’t make resolutions.

It’s not because I don’t have plenty of flaws that I should self-improve; I just don’t think making a New Year resolution is the best strategy for enacting improvement. I think it’s the best strategy for increasing guilt. And I don’t need to exercise or organize my guilt.

One big misconception people have about organization is that it takes a lot of specialized gear and contraptions to achieve it:

  • You have a lot of stuff;
  • You want to organize your stuff;
  • You buy a lot of stuff to organize your stuff;
  • You now have all the same stuff plus more stuff to organize your stuff;
  • You also have less money from buying more stuff.

My friend Vicky likes the quote:

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.”

Similar to the old chestnut:

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.”

Vicky also says that, and in her Kentucky lilt, it sounds like the voice your conscience should have. Hers or Jiminy Cricket’s, of course.

I try not to proselytize. Who needs that? But I do observe what works for me, with maybe a soupcon of belief that it might work for you, too. Here’s what I’ve found.

Do not buy more organizers; own less stuff.

In that spirit, I’m downsizing my organizers. These desktop paper organizers just encouraged me to keep more papers on my desk. And my desk isn’t even “my” desk; I’m still a guest of the Self-Contained Unit. Ironic? Just a soupcon.

And as a follow-up to The Reckoning, the long-overdue downsizing of my holiday crap, I offer pictures from the second phase, The Post-holiday Take-Down:

Reckoning 2.0

more of less

  • Several shopping bags of broken this and that,
  • And some embarrassingly dusty fake plants: Trashed;
  • Several book boxes of glass balls and trinkets: Donated;
  • One over-sized red and green holiday bin, emptied and repurposed for our developing composting efforts; Finally.

I’m pleased. It’s a start.

And I resolve not to replace any of it.

No wait! I didn’t say that!

Happy New Year, to one and all!

I’m sending you a quick note about a tiny improvement I’ve made to this site.

Starting today, you can also type in as the blog address and be directed here! So, if you are ever kind enough to share my blogging efforts with others, there’s no more tedious spelling t-h-i-b-e-a-u-l-t.

This is especially appreciated at happy hour. Yippee.

Either address works:



It’s just a convenience for me, you know, in my first step toward Bold New Endeavors.

Why am I hearing one of my favorite animated bits right now?

Pinky:     “Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?”
The Brain: “The same thing we do every night, Pinky—try to take over the world!”

More to come. Thank you so much for your support.

gotta love a genuis who uses a #2

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