riding the empty-nest roller coaster

Urgency Day 144

500 Things Item 357: Set of Bird-themed Coasters

  • History: From Virginia, somewhere, sometime
  • Value: The box says $12 when new.
  • Parting Pain: Not if the recipient enjoys them.
  • Un-possessing: Does anyone have a recipient for them?

Man, the unopened-box thing last week was f-u-n, just FUN! Now, here’s the thing today:

I am beat.

And I feel more like looking back than looking forward.

At some point, I signed up for a This is a blast! weekend package. I can’t tell you how many times I caught myself saying “This is a blast!” Certainly more times than are good for my productivity/waistline/under-eye-circles.  The fun started on Thursday when my friend Melanie took me to a cooking demonstration at Whole Foods. The event was sponsored by Triblocal (kind publisher of excerpts from this site) and featured three area bloggers preparing “Healthy Meals on a Budget.” Any Healthy meal that includes ¾ cup of heavy cream certainly has my attention!

Then Paul and I were empty nesters for the weekend (still a novelty since the Self-Contained Unit hasn’t gone off to a fancy-pants college yet). We took full advantage of our nest status by high-tailing it into the Big City and doing Big City Things: Absorbing Culture; eating at a fancy restaurant (with a Groupon, but still); talking with each other about Absorbing and Grouponing.

My annual March Madness trouncing was especially raucous this weekend, with the unanticipated advancements of VCU (go Rams!) and Butler (go Dawgs!). We have intimate connections to both schools. Our invitation to watch next Saturday’s Final Four game along with some serious Butler friends included a strongly worded admonition:

COOPERATE or sit in the corner.

GO DAWGS! (I promise my fingers are crossed, Sean.)

So here I am, post-Blast, slightly deflated but also Fat and Happy, and, you know, less than mo-tivated.

What do you do when your “mo-” has vacated?

No, I’m really asking: What do YOU do?

So far today, this has been my process:

  • Staring out of the window.
  • Making tea.

I feel like the duck in a certain classic sitcom scene: “Stare at the wall. Hardly move. Be white.”

I’m kind of yellow, but you know.

Sam will be home from his trip soon, and then the nest will feel properly populated again. He’ll bring stories and music. And laundry. Boy laundry. We’ll have some tea and I will stare at him. While I can. For as long as I can.

I guess I really am looking forward,

and not really looking forward to what I see.


So Elizabeth: Not a mouse; The Mouse!

Urgency Day 147

500 Things Items: To be revealed in due course


When I hear that question, “What’s in the box?” I can only hear it in Katharine Hepburn’s very clipped, very young voice in the movie Bringing Up Baby.

“David? What’s in the box?”

(Cary Grant’s voice from the shower) “What?”

“In the box?”

You’ll remember, I’m sure, it was a bone in the box, a fossil.

My box contained a few fossils as well. And a few hard truths.

This box contains the nexus of my contradictory selves, the disparate impulses that meet and inform and divide me. And define me.

“Hi. My name is Suzanne. And I am a recovering Disney addict.”


I wasn’t always the admonishing voice of downsizing. No, indeed. As proof, two words: My favorite place in the entire world is

1.       Disney

2.       World.

The very definition of grandiose, exhilarating, enchanting, over-blown, over-wrought, rapturous excess

Disney and simplicity? Never met.

My affection isn’t of the glammed-up, post-modern variety, either. This is fanatical, guileless, drank the Kool-Aid, if Captain Hook slams his boot, I will jump, if Mickey says “Jump,” I will soar, devotion.

And here’s my shameful secret: For all my streamlining and downsizing, I’m still addicted. Here’s the shame: I can’t afford it.

Literally, yeah, as in “our economic recovery is in its infancy.” Sound familiar? But also, metaphorically; spiritually. You see, when I have gone to Disney World, I have never met a certain kind of souvenir I didn’t like. How does this not fall exclusively under the category of financially inadvisable? My souvenirs were mostly of the free but temporally burdensome variety.

If it was a themed menu, I took it; if it was a themed napkin, I took it; if it was a themed-

  • Ticket
  • Receipt
  • Brochure
  • Map
  • Notepad
  • Bag
  • Coaster
  • Matchbook
  • Sewing kit
  • Mouse-keeping message
  • Toilet paper stuck to the bottom of Ariel’s tail

I took it. I took it all. And voluminous souvenirs of this kind require archiving.

Now, I had every intention of creating a scrapbook. I even bought the scrapbook cover and page inserts, the mounting corners, the doubled-sided tape and goofy– make that Goofy– adornments. And then I carried the box with the supplies and the souvenirs from our first apartment to our townhouse to the next 2 apartments through another townhouse and to 3 single-family homes.

And with the opening of the box, you have just witnessed the only subsequent effort toward scrapbooking.

I don’t scrapbook.

I know my darling sister is going to feel self-conscious in the details of this confession. She, too, took the themed bits of paper; often in giddy cahoots with me; sometimes nimbly pinching them on her own. But here’s the difference: she did turn her booty into scrapbooks! Glorious scrapbooks, worth poring over, worth preserving.

Ah, now we are at the heart of the matter, the core I referred to yesterday when identifying this last unopened box as my central issue; when I called it the heart of the matter and the dead center.

How are memories best preserved?

Through an unconsidered accumulation of stuff that requires time and brings with it an obligation of attention? That doesn’t seem to be working for me. Not with the Disney stuff. Not with any of my stuff.

In all of this stuff, here is what I love: the notes and annotations; the places on the themed papers where we scribbled plans and times and comments. The gorgeous letters that greeted us from our dearest friends who cared for our pets during our trips. The words in my beloveds’ handwriting, along with a few treasured pictures, put me back in those precious moments far better than any Disney-sanctioned memorabilia. You see, I am not dismissive of sentiment, just stuff. But I’ve got some stuff representing some truly treasured memories here.

Now what?

Here is the list of what I do not need to preserve, representing the 500 Things Project Items 348-56:

out of the box

  • Napkins
  • Gift boxes
  • Bags
  • 2 kind of nasty plastic drink cups
  • Glowing necklaces that no longer glow

And the rest? Well, there’s a picture below. I still won’t scrapbook, but clearly, I can box. I envision a pretty, reasonably-sized box which can sit out in my very streamlined family room and invite perusal. My downsizing project and I can live with one memory box, and I will enjoy it when people ask:

What’s in the box?



The Last Box, pt.1


hello, Pandora?

Urgency Day 148

500 Things Item 348: The Last Unopened Box

What’s in the box?

Have you ever considered that your house is a set of boxes within boxes? In the first box, the house, there is an arrangement of rooms and closets fitted in; and within the rooms and closets, there are many more boxes; actual boxes of cereal and pasta; envelopes and tissues; detergent and crayons… and on and on; all existing within the largest box, the house. So many boxes.

So much cardboard!

I am extremely grateful for curbside recycling.

It all begins to feel like one of those toys, those nesting Russian dolls: one within the other within the other…

And just as in the toy version, I wonder, “What’s in the middle?” What’s in the box at the heart of all the other boxes? Calling the middle of something the heart suggests that whatever is there is crucial, fundamental, necessary.

But how can we refer to the “middle” as both the lively “heart of the matter,” and as the “dead center?”

I have one answer to that paradox.

We’ve moved a few times, moves that ran the fatigue-spectrum of calling a few buddies who agree to help you haul your stuff if you feed them pizza and beer; to the gold standard, the all-inclusive corporate relocation. The desirability of each of these experiences represents the difference in desirability between taking a stay-cation and winning an all-expenses paid trip to a luxury resort.

After a move, there’s always a box, one box, that kicks around unopened until it’s time for the next move. Ironically, at some point during the next packing effort, you open the last unopened box from the previous move. Speaking from personal experience– and maybe this is just me– but I have never opened that box and joyfully exclaimed, “WOW, I’VE BEEN MISSING THAT!” Never, not once.

What I thought was, “Do I take the time to sort through this crap now, or just seal it up, move it again, and deal with it later?”

Remembering that I am a human person, what do you think I chose to do? Every. Time.

I’m staring at that box, right now.

Here’s my secret fantasy: Maybe there is a tiny, highly selective catastrophe in my basement that could remove this box from my life. A sudden opening of a black hole that sucks the obligation of the last box away from me, forever.

Neither of us is holding our breath, right?

But now I’ve opened this neglected box, and I find that it has become central to my Project, to sorting out stuff and letting go of burdens. It has been sitting in my basement for years, lifeless and inert, and now it is in the middle of my office, my Project, my life. The last unopened box.

Today, I have opened the box.

Tomorrow, I will unveil its contents.

What’s in the box?

a curiosity and a cat

Back in the Zone


warping out

Urgency Day 151

500 Things Items 346-47: Plastic storage trays

  • History: Ikea bins which have warped and no longer slide
  • Value: Until the inconvenient warping, sure
  • Parting Pain: Wire replacements were $2.50, so not much
  • Un-possessing: In 151 days, they may be going off to the still-to-be-determined college

On May 19th of last year, I asked,

“Where does your blog live?”

For nearly a year, since the demise of my trusty old laptop, my blog and I have been the guests of the Self-Contained Unit and his middle-aged desktop computer. He was an exceedingly gracious host, considering my blog and I brought some serious baggage to his real and virtual spaces:

  • Gigs of picture files and documents
  • Reference books– yes, actual books!
  • Rolling storage bins of office supplies and granola
  • Errant used tissues
  • A certain purple lamp

But most disruptive of all: an expectation of access.

We are writers, Sam and I. We have our routines, our preferred times to work, and our peculiar ways we go about accomplishing our work. His needs include The Clash and a deadline. Mine tend toward classical music and copious lead-time. Neither of us likes hoverers.

I’m afraid we both hovered a bit this year:

<To the one working at the computer> “Can I have the computer?”

<From the worker, resisting the urge to snap, “No!”> “How long do you need it?”

<To the one working at the computer> “Why? Do you need it?”

It was an interesting tango.

But now I have turned in my guest password. My blog and I are back on our own, downstairs in a lovely space I like to call, “My Office.” Aahhhh

With Paul back amongst The People and with a new work computer, I have inherited his laptop. This computer and I are still getting used to one another. This computer upon which I am typing these very words– how should I put this? It is very stubborn. It is pretty sure it knows better than I do what I want. I’ve tried reason; I’ve tried passion; I’ve tried vacuuming its keys and running extra soothing scans. And it continues to, um,


Oh dear. I’ll pay for that.

And still, my purple lamp shines down on me. My dictionary, thesaurus and Fowler’s Modern wait nearby to reassure me. I play my Debussy, gaze out of my window, and work with (somewhat) fewer interruptions. I revel in the small, joyful moments of creativity, remembering old patterns and dormant habits. And I ooze gratitude, especially to Sam, for the patient hospitality he showed me these many months. Truthfully, I know he is glad to be downsizing, too.

And I am trying to open my heart to this new digital companion of mine.

I hope it will soon become a comfortable place for my blog to live.

any chance to show my lamp

color me purple

Urgency Day 155

500 Things Items 344-45: BIV Clothes, hold the B

  • History: Attempts at purple velour
  • Value: Purple velour should not be attempted
  • Parting Pain: None
  • Un-possessing: Donations

It’s the day to get your GREEN on.

But I already gave mine away.

I won’t be blue either, literally or otherwise. I have no blue clothing to un-possess and—praise everything good and holy—THE SUN IS SHINING! So, I am not blue as in sad.

No, today, St. Patrick’s Day, the day to celebrate the Irish in ye with green shamrocks and green cabbage and green beer; on this day all about the green, I will be jigging my indigo and violet cast-offs down to the Goodwill. Seems like I could have timed my colorful ROY G BIV un-fashionings better. I blame the time change.

Hey, change is hard. We get in our paths, our groves, some would say our ruts, and thinking outside the rut is hard. I acknowledge this and I enjoy change. I watch my loved ones who skitter away from change like fiddler crabs at the shore line: “Look out! Look out! Ooo ooo, look out!” and I think they just need a better strategy.

Take, for example, my wonderful sister. Donna would definitely check the “change-averse” box on the questionnaire. So when I was recently back in Virginia visiting her, she knew she would be accommodating a few deviations from her comfortable routine. Such as our mother having cataract surgery. Not an everyday occurrence.

Complicated story short-ish: Donna was determined not to drive off to work the morning of the surgery taking with her the set of car keys that would have had my brother-in-law, Jim, and me reassuring my mom that, yes indeed, OF COURSE we had intended all along to take her, an 83 year old grandmother, in a hastily arranged taxi 22 miles to the surgery center for surgery on her eye.

How did my sister prevent this moment of screwball-comedy panic?

  • With a series of color-coded Post-it notes throughout the house?
  • A large reminder message flashing on her computer?
  • A trip-wire claxon rigged at the front door?

Well, no. My sister’s completely efficient memory-aid was one rubber band. Not around her wrist, but around her car keys.

easy does it

I love efficiency. I love change. And I really love my sister, who managed her resistance to change so efficiently.

Jim and I drove mom to her surgery with time to spare and, considering the circumstances, we even had a good time. We pointed out to mom that right next door to the optical surgery center there was a colo-rectal surgery center. We had mom convinced that it was either one stop shopping or an entirely new cataract removal protocol…

Erin go Bragh! Go Irish!

Especially tomorrow versus Akron, although by then my poor bracket may already be in tatters. Some things never change.

Come March With Me


what madness is this?

Urgency Day 157

500 Things Items 329-343: 14 Books

  • History: Oldest acquisition (1970’s) Hamilton’s Mythology; Newest (2008) The Fountainhead
  • Value: Lesson learned- Sam will never read Ayn Rand
  • Parting Pain: I truly enjoyed placing Rand on the left
  • Un-possessing: Donations


The original quirky book read by our Quirky Book Club, the ad hoc group my sister and I formed years ago, was Calendar by David Ewing Duncan. Among many fascinating subjects, Duncan describes the incredibly cumbersome Roman calendar which is the basis for Shakespeare’s oft-quoted but generally misunderstood warning:

Beware the Ides of March.

Now, I’m usually one to say, if it’s a reference from Mr. Shakespeare, that’s good enough for me. End of discussion.  In this case, however, I must point out that, since I am not Julius Caesar, I am free to enjoy March 15th. In fact, I love every single one of March’s 31 fascinating, meteorologically-perplexing days! Here are just a few of my highly subjective reasons for happily Marching:

  • My wedding anniversary;
  • My darling’s birthday;
  • My own silly birthday (thanks, mom, for the heavy lifting);
  • The beginning of cycling season (usually);
  • Spring Break whoo hoo! (often);
  • March Madness.

Oops, no wait: Make that


I am a complete and total sucker for college hoops. In March. Save all those pre-Dance games for sorting out bids; I couldn’t care less. But come March, oh yeah, I can tell you the difference between Big Blue and a Blue Devil; a Patriot and a Commodore; a Hoya and a Husky. Scoffing right now? Is it because my references were too easy (high five!) or too obscure?

Well, that can be remedied.

In an attempt to offset my greatly expanded television viewing during the weeks of Madly Marching—and frankly, to get caught up on my 500 Things Project— I am donating 14 books to my wonderful public library. At that time, I will check out 6 books. These will correspond to each of the six rounds of the tournament.  I will have them read by April 4th, the night of the NCAA Men’s Final. Oh yes I will.

Game On.

Today, on the Ides, I will give you one “warning:” My bracket, my annual attempt to presciently select the outcomes of more than 60 games; to balance the gimmes and the upsets, the fervent wishes of my heart and cold demands of statistics; to conjure the holy grail, The Perfect Bracket, and go on to greater glory with absolutely NO MONETARY REMUNERATION, Mr. Taxman: my beloved bracket? Well, it sucks. Always.

But hey!

My trash talk flows in couplets that rhyme.

This is why March is my perfect time.


Stepping Back


it was easy being green

Urgency Day 168

500 Things Item 331: One Green Shirt

  • History: From the only really good Rugged Warehouse
  • Value: Why do green clothes turn yellow so soon?
  • Parting Pain: Only for the label
  • Un-possessing: Donation

G is for Green, roy G biv-wise.

I love the name on the label of this shirt: One Step Up.

It reminded me of a jazz club on M Street in Georgetown, One Step Down. I had to Google it, to see if it was still operating. Alas:

“Dear friends and patrons,
I regret to inform you but the One Step Down is now closed. The building was sold to a developer and will be turned into apartments.”

Damn. Another bit of youth, gone.

Where did you hang out in high school?

My group had the Amphora Diner in Vienna, Virginia. The old one, on Rt. 123, not the newer, less authentic one in Herndon. The Amphora is where I learned to love coffee black, because the management would actually let a group of high school students sit in a booth for hours and hours and endlessly refill their coffee cups.

It occurred to us that this was a pretty sweet deal, so we consciously skipped the cream and sugar– so as not to take advantage. One friend couldn’t abide unsweetened coffee and would provide her own for the duration. Only later did we learn about the importance of turnover in the restaurant biz.

Growing up in suburban DC also gave us access to Georgetown, now known as one of the great college “towns” in the country.

“It is said that Georgetown was designed with college students in mind.” (collegeprowler.com).

But back in the day, a whole lotta days back, we thought Georgetown was designed for high school students. That was before 21 laws, before the 1984 National Championship crowds, and certainly before any of us were responsible people. Or maybe that was just me.

The boy I adored before I met The Love of My Life played jazz. Jazz, like the real thing: Freddie Hubbard, smoky bars, just shut up and play, jam-sessions jazz. He played; I adored. But One Step Down was where I learned to love jazz, not just jazz musicians. Even this place tolerated a bunch of high school kids. It was a different time.

And now it’s condos. Yeah, I know. Life goes on, grandma.

I have a son who is a musician; so here’s what I think about. Knowing what I know, knowing the trouble we got in, and the rules we broke and the reckless, exhilarating crap we got away with, if we lived near a One Step Down now, would I want the Self-Contained Unit hanging out there?

Hell yeah.

And I would be green with envy.

%d bloggers like this: