V for Very Soon


18 units of luck

Urgency Day 121

500 Things Item 376: An 18” Omen

  • History: Acquired by luck
  • Value: Free but significant
  • Parting Pain: Yes
  • Un-possessing: Bound for college

In 1998, when Sam was in kindergarten, I learned the ASL sign for sweetheart.

Hold up your two fists in front of yourself and make the thumbs-up with each; then, quickly bend each thumb twice returning to the thumbs-up position: Sweetheart.

Sam and I would discretely sign this to each other when he was standing in the line at Neil Armstrong Elementary School, waiting to go into Mrs. Kuhn’s A.M. kindergarten class. Sweetheart. Way better than a kiss from your mom but still containing the same protections and reassurances. Sam could send the sign without blowing his Pokémon-cool reputation, and I could return the sign without blowing his Pokémon-cool reputation.


That kindergarten class is this year’s graduating class. A few weekends ago, the Naperville North Class of 2011 held an all-night celebration, an in-school, locked-down party that lasted from 10 P.M. until dawn. They played and danced and ate and ate and “drank” and laughed and cried and ate. They shrieked over each other’s kindergarten pictures which were lining the halls. They let their carefully tended cool down and guilelessly celebrated their Impending Liberation.

The annual Alice Cooper fundraiser played: “School’s out for summer! School’s out for-ever!!”

Or, until August 25th. For Sam. Friends, we have a Decision.

But first… a quick word about luck. I wrote about luck a few weeks back, about how I carefully try to hoard my luck, waiting for important opportunities to summon it. At that party, that all-night senior-class grad party, I let my luck-guard down. As part of the parent-volunteer check-in process, they had us fill out raffle tickets. As you can imagine, it was very hectic with hundreds of wonderfully game parents checking coats and receiving assignments. Most of my energy was focused on the idea that I had to stay up until 1:00 in the morning.  One, ante meridiem. Panic was my state of mind, not vigilance.

I filled out the silly little raffle ticket. I won the silly little raffle prize.

I don’t mean to sound churlish here, but who would trade an 18” 3 hook shelf for say, the Mega-Millions lottery? Sure, it’s a cute enough shelf. But I cannot believe I reset my luck-clock for an 18” 3 hook shelf.

I’m trying to get rid of stuff, people!

And it was proved that my luck had been reset when we weren’t given the 72 million dollar winning lottery ticket on the valedictory college-search tour over the weekend.

“Oh, and where were we touring?” you ask. Connecticut and New York. “And where will we be attending college?” you ask.

Okay, it’s time. Our new sign, the sign that now makes Sam feel happy and proud and reassured is a V. V for Victory; V for Peace:

V for Vassar.

Sam is a Brewer. Go Brewers!

So as I knew it would, the theoretical countdown, the Urgency Counter, is now very real: Today is Urgency Day 121. Sam will arrive on the Poughkeepsie, New York campus (and a gobsmackingly beautiful campus, by the way) on August 25th, 121 days from now. V for very soon.

Back at the big grad party, I caught Sam’s eye in a crowd of happy faces. Before he turned to walk away in a line of friends, he winked at me and made the sign, the old sign: Sweetheart.

very soon very soon very soon


a gewgaw by any other name

Urgency Day 123

500 Things Items 370-75: 6 Delicate Tea Cups

  • History: 25 years of tepid acquiring
  • Value:  Intrinsic only (too many chips)
  • Parting Pain: Only in the careful cleaning
  • Un-possessing: Gift

Gewgaw: Great word. Bad idea.

At least if you want to live an uncluttered life.

At what point do a few gewgaws become a collection? And is a collection a more desirable thing than a few gewgaws?

Depends, right? One person’s small collection of gewgaws is another’s assemblage of worthless tchotchkes.

Tchotchkes, gewgaws, knick-knacks, bric-a-brac, trinkets: So many charming words for the same things, and each conveying a sense of inconsequence and whimsy; of the ephemeral. I enjoy the words for stuff so much more than stuff itself.

Henry Thoreau said, “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.”

Oh Henry, I am trying:

I chant it: Simplify, simplify, simplify.

I proclaim it: Downsize, downsize, downsize.

I live it: Donate, donate, donate.

Simplify, downsize, donate. No room for trifles there. But then, for all my focus and commitment, then for all my routine affirmations…

Then, I am undone. Not philosophically, not morally, not essentially. No, I am undone by a singular task, a task with which I am faced from time to time.

I am undone by packing. Packing for a trip.

I’ve blogged it before: I can banish every burdensome trinket, streamline my entire house, and still spectacularly overpack for a mere three-day journey.

Bless me, Henry, for I have sinned, the sin of travel-excess. Just to make me feel worse, Henry also said, “After the first blush of sin comes its indifference.”

Oh no. Not yet. I feel my sin, deeply.

I have to pack today. Here’s what should simplify it for me, theoretically:

  • It’s a short trip, just 3 days, plus travel days;
  • No extreme weather or activities expected;
  • If I do neglect to bring something essential, there will be no lack of a Walgreens or a Gap (In our family, we call this the “We’re not going to Albania” Rule—i.e. no where exotic or underserved by American commerce. Sorry if I’m unintentionally maligning Albania.).

I detest clutter and needless stuff fantastically; therefore, This Time, I am going to make a connection between over packing and clutter. Why have I failed to make this connection in the past? Dunno. Will it work this time? Again, not sure.

But I would really like to take my uncluttered, my gewgaw-less life for a test drive.

Buckle up and mind the Gap.

Erin Beams, Again


birthday girl and bud

Urgency Day 131

500 Things Items 365-69: The American Heart Association’s Stroke Workbooks

  • History: From the early days of my mom’s rehab
  • Value: In the early days, highly valued
  • Parting Pain: None, just hopeful they can be valuable to others
  • Un-possessing: Donation

Erin was a high-school senior when we got the word: Grandmom had a stroke.

And I was the mom of a nine-year old.

I had homework to monitor, lunches to pack, poster-board to procure for the project due on Wednesday. I had a husband who was in agony, far less over the intense training for his first marathon run the next weekend than over his imploding start-up business. I was scheduled to substitute teach that week, and the DC Sniper was still on the rampage. How was I supposed to lift right out of this intricate choreography and fly 3000 miles to my mom’s bed side?

“Come on, Suz,” Erin said.” Let’s go to Grandmom.”

My niece and my mom had always been close. When Erin was little, Grandmom lived nearby, and they were definitely two peas. They favored the same wardrobe—pink sweat suits—and the same meal—hotdogs. If they were awake, they were talking, right up until the very moment they fell asleep—that’s actually how you knew they had fallen asleep– and when they woke up, the conversation continued without missing a giggle.

Then Grandmom moved away.

Erin would get nervous when she was home alone. She was convinced there were bad-guy cowboys with tricky evil lassos at the bottom of her basement steps ready to emerge when her parents would go out. So Erin would call Grandmom.

In California.

From Virginia.

They would talk and talk and talk. Until her parents got home. Grandmom always knew just what to say to distract Erin from the cowboys.

It was also the days of landlines, and Erin’s father cashed every incentive check he received to switch phone companies.

We hadn’t been told many details, but we knew it had been a bad stroke. Her neighbor miraculously had been looking out of the window the very moment mom had collapsed. Ned called us. “Come quickly. I’ll meet you at the airport.”

Erin didn’t need another word.

“Come on, Suz.”

We got on the first flight to California we could, a daughter and a granddaughter. We told Grandmom-stories and laughed. We sat in the back of the airplane, heads together, laughing. We finished each other’s punch-lines and raced to be the one to tell the “kkkkkk” story. Trust me, it’s a good one, but you had to be there.

When the plane touched down at John Wayne Airport, I stopped laughing. The journey had been a temporary respite. What would we see at the hospital? Who would we see at the hospital? Would there be any trace of my mom’s sweet, indomitable spirit? I wanted to reassure Erin, to comfort my niece and start to prepare her for the heartache. And with all my heart, I wanted someone to reassure me.

Several lost bags and cars, wrong turns, second-guessings, and one regretful second-husband later, we were finally at the ICU. I had half a thought of pausing with Erin just beyond mom’s curtained-hospital bed to gather ourselves, but Erin walked forward with a fierce determination and one goal. Before I could react, she had pulled back the curtain, taken her grandmother’s hand and was leaning over her face.

“Well, look at you!” Erin beamed.

And her grandmother smiled.

Erin turns 26 today.

At some point, she will answer the phone and receive an almost-perfect rendition of “Happy Birthday!” from her grandmother.

They have always known the perfect thing

to say to each other.

A Moan of Chores


40 tangled befores

Urgency Day 136

500 Things Items 360-64: Clothes

  • History: Previously hung with care
  • Value: Routine, nothing special
  • Parting Pain: None: Out with the less than cherished
  • Un-possessing: Donations

What a mess.

If I had simply aligned the hangars with each addition to the hangar pile, I wouldn’t be facing the ridiculous, time-consuming task of detangling the hangars in order to recycle the hangars. I am definitely hung up on these hangars.

I’m going to time how long it takes me to untangle them. Okay, go:

6 mins. 53 secs.

Hmmm, in the scheme of things, maybe not worth all my moaning, except… How many time-wasting tasks such as this do equal a Moan of Chores? How many minutes a day are you willing to lose to inefficiency?

For me, 6 mins. 53 secs. might be my upper limit.

I am such a bossy pants about preemptive efficiency. Some of my non-negotiable Befores:

  • Getting laundry out of the dryer before wrinkles can set it;
  • Rinsing dishes before food can adhere;
  • Sorting out junk mail before bills can be ignored;
  • Drinking coffee and clutching the newspaper before mother can be expected to be Mom.

To be completely precise about that last rule, it should read, “Add two glugs of non-dairy creamer to the mug before filling 2/3 with coffee and drinking etc…” And my sweetie already conforms to this preemptive happy-mom-maker completely.

Happiness is a two-way street.

Or one intersection:

Preemption and Compromise.

I love efficiency, but for all my non-negotiable talk, things really aren’t that fanatical in our house. I am no Tiger Mom, I assure you. First of all, I don’t think She is either, really. Second of all, I prefer a more peaceful life. And by “peaceful” I mean quiet. I can’t imagine the battles that have raged in that house. Not every thing is a test, or preparation for the test of Life.

For example, I was trolling one of my favorite organization and decluttering websites this morning, reading about one mom’s methods for “Establishing Kitchen Routines,” when this stopped me in my mid non-dairy-creamered sip:

“If you have teenage children, they could easily make lunch while parents make dinner.”

First I should point out, this mom does not have teenage children; she has one still-in-a-high-chair baby. Possibly she will be surprised by teenage behavior. But still, several! points in her breezy suggestion jumped out at me:

  • Both parents are in the kitchen;
  • Both parents are in the kitchen making dinner;
  • Both parents are in the kitchen making dinner and the teenage children are in the kitchen with both parents, not in the car on the way to soccer or swimming or SAT prep-class, or simply elsewhere on-line;
  • Both parents are in the kitchen making dinner and the teenage children are in the kitchen with both parents, willingly making the next day’s lunch.


I’m sorry to be the efficiency-skeptic here, but this whole picture just seems a tad unrealistic to me. And I’m a person who makes dinner every day, with a husband either en route from work at a reasonable hour or seated nearby, and with a terrific kid—really, just a keeper—who, if asked to make his lunch the night before at the same time I am making dinner, would not moan or throw a fit… and he certainly would not make his lunch either.

He’d buy it. Skittles are fruit, right?

If you are scolding me right now for my lax parental expectations, I applaud your apparent success and hope you will continue to work and play efficiently. I also hope you won’t get hung up on my hang-ups.

Yes indeed,  because those hangars are already still messing with me.

breaking down luck

Urgency Day 141

500 Things Items 358-59: Microphone and Amp

  • History: First lucky conduits of the Self-Contained Unit’s music
  • Value: Priceless (see above) but now inadequate
  • Parting Pain: Amp being returned to owner/mic overworked and broken
  • Un-possessing: Returning (see above)/recycling

Do you ever pass on entering contests, saying this to yourself?

I’m going to save my luck for winning something really big.

Recently, I have graciously stepped aside and allowed others to win, in order to save my luck for a big-ticket item. An E-ticket ride, in Disney-speak.

  • I didn’t enter a contest to win a year’s worth of free house cleaning: too pedestrian.
  • I didn’t enter a contest to win $250,000 from Good Housekeeping: more housekeeping?
  • I didn’t enter a contest to win a new Kitchen Aid stand mixer: my old one is just fine, if you don’t mind unplugging it to turn it off, which I don’t, mostly.

So, what am I holding out for?  The Lottery?

Lately, I started wondering if maybe– whatever it is I’ve been withholding my luck for—maybe, it’s already happened.

What if one of those times you had the fleeting thought, “Oh, I’d give anything for this to happen,” Karma actually took you up on it? Now, you’re going through your life thinking you’re on a level-luck playing field, when really your chits have all been played. For something like a traffic light to stay green, or a grocery line to be faster, or the last doughnut to still be in the box, you gave anything, everything.

[Before going gluten-free, I made that doughnut wish a lot. Based on that alone, I should stop buying the occasional Mega Millions ticket.]

Even if luck-bargaining isn’t true and Karma hasn’t punked me, I’m going to stop acting as though it were true. At the same time I have been playing—or not playing– the luck card, I have passionately, whole heartedly believed in the “Just show up” rule. In lottery terms, this reads, “You gotta play to win.” A given, but I’ll concede the point. Still, I prefer Albert Einstein’s take:

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

Just show up and work. Work work work.

Take writing, for example. That stupid flashing cursor, the one I’m typing under right now? No matter how fervently I’ve wished, it has never once magicked itself into a finished work for me. I have to pound away at that sucker every day. I’m not saying that then *Genius* happens. Not even much perspiring happens: it’s pretty chilly at my desk. But work happens.

When you were a little kid, what work did you see yourself doing as a grownup?

I was going to be an astrophysicist or a paleontologist. I liked to look up; I liked to look down. My childhood passions required field work and lots of mathematical competence.

You should know, my spell-check just auto-corrected my spelling of “mathmatical,” which is a symbolically accurate reflection of my mathematical competence.

So I didn’t find myself looking up or looking down. I look forward, at paper, and I no longer wish for anything else.

Fingers crossed, it will work out.

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