Simple Gifts


today, he would make a natural blogger

Urgency Day 20

500 Things Item 478: Walden by H.D. Thoreau

  • History: I attended Thoreau Middle School, read Walden in high school, but it wasn’t until I took a graduate seminar on HDT that I learned to pronounce his name correctly (THAW-roe).
  • Value: “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify!”
  • Parting pain: I’m thrilled to share.
  • Un-possessing: Gift—read on.

There are two kinds of families: Ones who send their kids to summer camp and the other kind.

My family was the other kind.

Because I never went to summer camp, I am left with the conviction that I missed out on the greatest, most formative experiences of life.

No wonder I’m such a mess: I never went to summer camp!

  • I never camped under the perfect summer sky.
  • I never learned to run like Rudy the Rabbit.
  • I never met my long-lost twin!

Okay, maybe some of my yearnings are more informed by Disney than by the park district. But how would I really know? Still, I’ve heard from Actual Campers that camp truly was all that. And more.

I have a young friend who’s off on his first two-week sleep-away camp experience. He has the advantage of having an older brother who has been to the same camp and who has shared his rough and tumble camp wisdom. Well, some of his r & t camp wisdom. I understand it’s part of the Brother Code to share wisdom only on a need-to-know basis.

In many families, there is a kids-to-camp drill. In this one, as each boy departs for the first time, their parents send out an email entreaty, giving the newest camper’s address and encouraging family and friends to send along a note, a postcard, or, if they are so inclined, a care package. Remember how fantastic it was getting mail when you were at camp?

Well, no I don’t. But I do remember getting mail at college.

I remember the elation of looking through the tiny little window of my College Station mailbox and seeing the diagonal edge of a letter or, oh happy day!, the end of a small package. When you didn’t see that tell-tale edge, you could still humor yourself into dialing in your combination on the off-chance that you had received a very small card or, oh glorious day!, a Large-Package Notice which was lying obscured on the bottom of your mailbox.

“Oh well,” was usually the response to this most hopeful act.

I’m remembering that hopefulness and hoping to delight my young friend during at least one mail call. I’m sending him a letter and a book. Here’s the thing: I didn’t go to camp, I wasn’t a boy, and so I’m not sure if what I am sending will actually please him beyond just getting mail. That’s probably enough.

I’m sending along an old copy I have of Walden. It’s sweet, it’s quaint, and for all my hopes of giving cheer to my young friend, it may be hopelessly naïve.

I’m not sure, but what more could you wish for the last precious days of summer camp?


Wisdom Gap


In this case, time really is money.

Urgency Day 23

500 Things Items 469-77: Gold Jewelry

  • History: Sundry items of assorted provenance
  • Value: INTRINSIC!
  • Parting pain: Gold is at a historic high, so parting is the opposite of painful!
  • Un-possessing: Our local reputable dealer

Sam was taught the Golden Rule early.

But with only 22 days to go before Launch Day, I’m starting to realize there are a few lessons of intrinsic and extrinsic value I will not have time to teach Sam before he leaves for college.

Sure, I think we’ve done an admirable job in several crucial areas:

  • Because he knows to take the popcorn out of the plastic wrapper before nuking, he won’t burn down the dorm.
  • Because he knows how to separate lights from darks, he won’t turn all his clothes pink.
  • Because he can work and play well with others, he won’t become the dorm hermit.
  • Because he knows about predatory lending practices, he won’t graduate with future-crushing debt.

Not a bad list for anyone.

Plus, he can do a lot of things I can’t: Tune a guitar, for example, and at this point, ANY algebra. So maybe the few things I’m ruing say more about my regrets rather than reveal a wisdom gap in Sam. Probably.

And probably the things he will wish he knew are things that aren’t even on my radar.

The third week Sam was in Kindergarten, Paul and I went to our very first Back to School night. We were eager young parents delighted to sit in our tiny assigned chairs, marvel at the vivid surroundings, and beam at every class chart that held a laminated index card with Sam D. printed on it. We were thrilled to anticipate all the knowledge our five-year old would gain that wondrous first year of his formal education.

We did not anticipate being sharply reprimanded by his teacher, Mrs. K., who said she was

shocked  that not one of these children can cut along the lines!”

Paul and I leaned into each other and whispered, “Isn’t that what they’re supposed to learn in Kindergarten?”

I will keep that Kindergarten Back to School Night in mind as Sam departs for college. Lessons will fall on both sides of the ledger: learned and not yet learned; expected and lacking. Some skills he will proudly display and share; some he will acquire for the first time. And he will be just fine.

Really my regrets aren’t about running out of time to teach Sam skills or share lessons.

My regret is simply running out of time.

Follow up to the last post Fraud Alert (but not to the Correction to Fraud Alert):

In an effort to minimize as much as possible the hypocrisy gap between my downsizing efforts and our college shopping frenzy, I will try to downsize a similar item for each of the ones we need to purchase. So for example, if we need to purchase extra-long bed sheets, I will downsize a regular set of sheets; if we need to purchase shower flip-flops, I will downsize a pair of sandals. This will be in addition to the existing project, but at this point, I don’t intend to document it. Just know it is going on. Thanks for your understanding.




This correction is mostly directed at the blog’s email subscribers as the error was corrected for later visitors.

There was an error in the first paragraph of yesterday’s post, FRAUD ALERT, which significantly changes the meaning of the post. The line should read, “I promise: It was NOT my intention.” The word NOT was left out. This tiny omission makes all the difference. I promise this error was NOT my intention! And I invite you to re-read the post with this crucial little word in place.

Thank you for your time and understanding.

And thank you so much for your subscription!

error message!

Fraud Alert


sometimes the pen is mightier than the pixel

Urgency Day 27

500 Things Item 468: Laptop Computer

  • History: This is the same dead laptop that sent me aknockin’ on Sam’s desktop last year
  • Value: It’s still dead; Pixie dust couldn’t rescue this pixelated processor
  • Parting pain: Not at the parting, just the replacing
  • Un-possessing: Conscientious recycling

I am a fraud.

I promise: It was NOT my intention. It just kind of snuck up on me; uncomfortable realization after uncomfortable realization. Then, one day– not at all out of the blue– it smacked me in the head:


That day was April 26th. I downsized a small shelf unit that day, April 26th, the day I announced the winner of the Self-Contained Unit’s college search: Vassar College. Corks popped, fireworks sizzled: Hazzah! Sam is a Brewer (BTW: All-time least ironic college mascot). He had successfully navigated high school’s end game: college admissions. Sweet relief.

Yes, I downsized an item that day, as I had for 375 days prior to that and would (and will) for another 125. But do you know what happens after the college selection is made, the college deposit mailed, the college-admissions-process guard dropped?

College shopping.

Methodical, strategic, predestined accumulating.

Lists, lists, lists of absolutely essential stuff… and oh my, I love a list, but every lovingly descriptive, coupon coordinated, Mapquest-aided list I compile, I feel the smack again:


I write a blog about DOWNSIZING, for goodness sake! I am getting rid of one thing every day for (what will be) 500 days. I giddily proselytize about decluttering my shelves, my drawers, my life. I patiently defuse incredulity about how Less Really Really is More. And in the presence of More is More zealotry, I keep the eye-rolling to an absolute minimum.


I am now re-acquiring, magnificently.

See this list?

  • 41 Kitchen items
  • 58 Decorative items
  • 54 Items of clothing
  • 21 Wardrobe accessories
  • 35 DVDs, CDs and tapes
  • 4 Pieces of furniture
  • 8 Electronics
  • 43 (+ one trunk load) Toys and games
  • 28 Household items such as tools
  • 1 Christmas Wreath
  • 1 Box of Mouse Memorabilia
  • 186 Books

That’s the list I posted on May 17th of the first 400 Downsized Things. Since then, I have downsized an additional 67 items. More books, more household items, more CDs, more toys. Or I should say fewer. We have 67 fewer Things, because of this Project. Except…


College. Requires. Stuff. Apparently.

Yes, some items on the lengthy college-stuff list will come from the family collection. He doesn’t need brand new mugs or utensils. A blanket? Plenty of those to contribute. And we’re tickled to send him off with the trusty corkboard that aided and abetted his four-year dash toward independence.

I just don’t happen to have any extra-long sheets kicking around. A shower caddy? In our home, we encourage him to keep the soap and shampoo in the showering area. And a suitable portable computing device? What a revelation.

I have heard that— and I intend no bias here; I’m simply reporting a pattern— many girls are very interested in the college shopping process. Some even take charge. My boy hasn’t shown a similar level of investment in tracking down sheets and stuff. Except for the suitable portable computing device. Suddenly, the boy was all about the hunt. And the kill.

One down.

And I don’t mean down-sized.

Next post: My thoughts on resolving this conflict of interests.



practice fx

Urgency Day 29

500 Things Item 467: The Broken Guitar

  • History: Broken NOT from practicing Pete Townsend moves; cannibalized for parts
  • Value: None, now
  • Parting pain: None, now
  • Un-possessing: Sadly, trash

The Self-Contained Unit left home today.

Not for good, just for practice.  Still, it’s close enough to his Real Launch Date that it feels like a tune-up. This trip is our family’s Downsizing Dress Rehearsal.

Many pursuits benefit from practice; some, such as music and sports, require daily application for improvement. And I suppose there is some merit to practicing sending your child off to college.

Certainly each of us will be “practicing” different college skills. I will ask the Self-Contained Unit’s aunt and grandmother whether over the next week he practices choosing to eat some vegetables, changing his sheets, or going to bed in time to get up for an 8:00 class.

And what will I practice?

Well, I will not practice wailing and sobbing. I will not practice glancing wistfully at the pictures of Sam cavorting with his cousins, his best friends, his mama. I will not practice missing his breezy “Love you” called toward my office after grabbing another granola bar from the pantry. I will not practice smelling his pillow for the last trace of his baby scent.

I will practice letting him text me first. I will practice patience. I will practice letting him go.

And, I will practice having my sweetie’s undivided attention. I will practice enjoying a clean house (particularly a certain notorious bathroom sink area). I will practice having a car all to myself whenever I want.

And I will practice worrying.

Travel Tape


better travel with tape

Urgency Day 34

500 Things Items 464-66: Worn-out Bed Pillows

  • History: So tired and worn, I AM SPARING YOU THE PICTURES!
  • Value: New $45; Now $00
  • Parting pain: Horror at still having them
  • Un-possessing: Donate to animal shelter

Got tape?

If I’m traveling, my answer is always, “Of course.”

It is uncanny how often I need– or someone I am with needs– a piece of tape on a trip. The need can usually be satisfied with any kind of tape—masking, Scotch, duct, painter’s. It simply has to adhere one thing to another.

And the needs don’t vary much:  A gift requires securing; a note, sticking to a hotel room door. This was a more common need before cell phones. (That’s true of a lot of things, isn’t it?) But as predictable as the needs tend to be, it is surprising how few people tuck a roll of tape in their luggage.

I’m not complaining. I love hearing the incredulous gasps of “You do?!” from grateful friends in their moments of adhesive want.

But proving the adage “You never know,” Paul and I had an unusual tape need last weekend. As I mentioned in my last post, we were invited to the gorgeous lake house of dear friends. Our bedroom was in a turret-shaped feature of the house, with a panoramic view of the lake out of 5 large windows.

Now, Paul is a very early riser, and I’ve become an early riser (a shocking evolution for the teenager who could easily sleep until 2:00 in the afternoon; these days, I turn into a pumpkin at 9:00 in the evening). But even as a person who enjoys an early cup of coffee in a quiet house, I figured quite a lot of sun would be streaming through those 5 large windows a little too early. So, down went the 5 large rattan shades without a second thought.

Who knew you could buy black-out rattan shades?

Our room was absolutely pitch dark, which meant two things:

  1. The early-risersons didn’t get out of bed until 8:45 (Early to some, I know, but precious vacation hours were wasted!).
  2. More importantly, the white LED power-light on the wall-mounted TV was like a high-wattage laser beam BORING INTO OUR EYES all night long!

When Paul asked me how I had slept, I said,

“Great… except for the Big Brother Eye interrogating me all night long.”


The second night? We slept as soundly as teenagers.

I had tape.

FOLLOW UP: In my last post, I stated that I had been accused of copyright infringement. Turns out, the transgressor was not me at all. Needless to say, I am MIGHTILY relieved, and I very much hope my suddenly completely gray hair can be returned to its usual only gray-at-the-roots state very soon.




Urgency Day 37

500 Things Items 458-63: 6 Super Soakers (TM Larami Co.)

  • History: From the last fabulous summer visit of the Brothers Bonney
  • Value: $20? And/or priceless
  • Parting pain: Yes, 6 era-ending markers
  • Un-possessing: Gifts

FABULOUS way to wake up: Surrounded by friends at a truly spectacular lake-front home.

NOT FABULOUS way to wake up: Slapped with copyright infringement notices.

  • I am chastened.
  • I am worried.
  • I am ready to scurry back to my hole.

Ah well, the Universe giveth and It taketh away. We had a lovely water-filled weekend, bursting with story-telling, belly laughs, clinking glasses and almost enough big fat still-warm-from-the-sun Michigan blueberries even for me.

And do you live somewhere where you could see That Moon Saturday night? That was the Universe giveth-ing.

If I hadn’t managed to time gasping over That Moon with breaking my clinking glass, well, I guess I wouldn’t be me. Yes, hide the stemware: I’m a glass-breaker.

Why am I the only one worried about this?

The 5 multi-hued Super Soaker water guns (TM Larami Co.) I am downsizing today come from the arsenal of the Self-Contained Unit and are being dispersed with his blessing. There were a total of 8 young men ranging in age from 15-23 at the lake house this weekend. There was not a single water gun battle.

Trademarked or otherwise.

Postscript: In referencing “scurrying back to my hole,” I had a past-life flashback. VERY past. I think I was one of those tiny mouse-like creatures that lived a perilous life; dodging enormous, rampaging dinosaurs by day; and at night, darting out to nibble on plants and tremble.

And worry.

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