The Long Con

08/16/2011

The Misdirection

Urgency Day 6

500 Things Item 496: The Shark

  • History: More like back story—read on
  • Value: Beyond priceless
  • Parting pain: Glee! Until it returns.  And it always returns.
  • Unpossessing: That’s TOP SECRET!

My 6 favorite heist movies:

  1.        Brothers Bloom
  2.        Ocean’s 11
  3.        Charade
  4.        National Treasure
  5.        Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
  6.        The Sting
  7.        The Wrong Trousers

Yes, I know. Lame. No Reservoir Dogs or Usual Suspects. Anyone who knows me knows my well-established aversion to violence. Mayhem I like, hence The Wrong Trousers. A criminal mastermind wreaking havoc with trapdoor Techno-trousers; an attempted escape on a careening train; a chicken-disguised penguin– all as part of an elaborate caper to steal a magnificent diamond? Pop the corn, baby!

And yes, I can count. This list of my 6 favorites has 7 titles. Some “experts” do not count Charade as a heist movie. Please. There are conspirators, there is a theft, there is frolicking, there is <sigh> Cary Grant. Maybe the “experts” don’t think there was a heist, but my heart was stolen.

I love a good heist. I love a clever plot with lots of twists, betrayals, unexpected reversals or triversals, and a roguish hero or 11.  Oh, and by the way, I’ve been involved in real-life con job for 34 years.

A very long con.

In my story, there isn’t any stealing. This con is about dropping off a very specific Package to the other player in the most diabolically clever way conceivable. What is the package? What have my nemesis and I been delivering to each other via planes, cakes and waiters for over three decades?

This  rubber shark.

The Package and The Cat

Drops over the years include the shark having been:

  • Frosted into the hollow center of a bundt cake;
  • Inflated into the middle of an enormous helium-balloon bouquet;
  • Delivered by tuxedoed waiter on a covered-silver platter with an accompanying sonnet to a fancy country club soiree;
  • Sent from Florida to Scotland where it was picked up by my brother-in-law John and flown to the States where it was delivered after a marathon run through Chicago
  • Mailed in a very unfortunately suspicious box as the Anthrax crisis began;
  • Mailed in a box addressed to 3 year-old Sam and tucked inside a polar bear hand puppet.

The last one actually scared me more than the unintentional “Anthrax” box. Sam, however, loved it.

<shaking fist at the heavens>

I WILL BE AVENGED, GRANDMA JENNY!!

Oh, did I not mention? My arch-rival of 34 years, since I was 15 and she was… my mom’s best friend (you do the math)? This dearest, most adorable and proper fiend is the lady every kid calls “Grandma Jenny.”

I just call her Sly.

The shark is being “downsized” in a thoroughly, wonderfully devious way, worthy of over 3 decades of intrigue. After confirmation of the drop, I will reveal the latest plot development. Stay tuned…

The Eagle Scout, The Writer and Sly

help yourself

Urgency Day 7

500 Things Items 489-495: Glass Candlesticks and Plates

  • History: Assorted decorating/entertaining events
  • Value: Learning entertaining doesn’t have to be an Event
  • Parting pain: On the contrary—pleasure!
  • Unpossessing: Gifts

I don’t read self-help books. Unless you count Calvin and Hobbes.

Oh yeah, those two can really show you how to get out of a pickle!

For regular pickles (i.e. problems that are not careening-out-of-control-space-ships or rampaging dino-bullies), I keep to the advice we got from Sam’s pediatrician:

Eat four crackers, drink some cranapple juice,

and go play outside.

In other words, have a snack and breathe. This is pure genius.

With 7 days left, I am constantly reminding myself to breathe. Breathe. And make cupcakes. I’ve cupcaked 3 times in the last few days.

  • For Sam’s sweetheart’s departure;
  • For our neighbor’s seventeenth birthday;
  • For Sam.

When I’m in a pickle, I think cupcakes.

My affection for cupcakes and devotion to downsizing dovetailed this weekend when I saw a great suggestion on Wise Bread, a frugal-living website I follow. Take some glass candlesticks and glue glass plates to the tops: instant cake stands!

In my case: Lots of candlesticks to downsize + lots of plates to downsize = Lots of gifts to give. Just add cupcakes.

Not pickles.

Although my family does love a pickle (the cucumber kind):

  • The first time Paul peeked into my family’s refrigerator, he counted 13 jars of pickles.
  • My father would crack up his 2 year-old granddaughter by singing, “A B C D pickle pickle pickle!”
  • Favorite episode of The Andy Griffith Show? “The Pickle Story,” of course.

Pickles and cupcakes. Apparently my self-help reading also includes cookbooks.

Flipping Leftovers

08/11/2011

flip scraps

Urgency Day 12

500 Things Items 480-88:  House-Flip Leftovers

  • History: Left behind by the flippers
  • Value: I’m sure the flippers recouped their expenses in that top of the market sale
  • Parting pain: I’m looking forward to using the space their un-possessing will leave behind
  • Unpossessing: Donations, I hope

We bought at the top.

We also sold in the vicinity of the top, but not quite at. Our 2006 buyers were not the uber-entitled blood-sucking savvy bidders of 2011. In fact, their list of objections would be considered quaint by today’s market standards. Still, at the time, we were annoyed. Our buyers seemed to ask for everything and would not compromise one bit. And Paul and I were selling under The Old Rules where everybody gives a little, so that everybody gets a little.

By 2006: “Compromise” means “Take the deal or I’ll leave.”

But, no matter how the sale goes, I always leave a welcome gift for buyers: Move-in essentials such as toilet paper, paper towels and soap, and most essential, a chilled bottle of champagne in their new fridge.

With that house, I also left a collection of touch-up paints, labeled with the brand, color names, and rooms in which they were used. Probably the new owners would repaint, but until they got around to it, they could live in scuff-free walls. Visiting friends were so tickled by this kit, they took a picture.

photo courtesy Sean Bonney

The guys we bought our current house from were great. They were two brothers who had purchased it in 2004 from the original 1982 owner to flip. For the most part, they did a wonderful job. Neighbors still gleefully recount the horrific state the house was in when the brothers bought it:

  • Raccoons and bats had taken up residence in the attic and sometimes the living room;
  • Damage from The Flood of 1996 had never been properly repaired;
  •  Broken windows hung mournfully from several frames;

And more. Their descriptions remind me of the Granville House, the decrepit old house George and Mary Bailey buy in It’s a Wonderful Life. Kids would throw rocks at the Granville House’s windows, and if they broke one, their wish was supposed to come true. Possibly our house’s windows fulfilled a few wishes before 2004.

I don’t want to break any windows, but I have a wish:     

I wish I could sell my house.

Oh, to downsize! To get out from under the burden of this wonderful, expensive, top of the market house. But did you know it takes money to save money? In this market, with today’s buyers, it would take a lot of money.

Extended unemployment + child in college = Money we don’t have.

 We also don’t have raccoons or bats or flood damage, and the windows are all new. We do have— and what a shock– Signs of Life. Yes, we have a few scuffs. We have actually lived in this house. If you watch HGTV, you get the impression that current buyers want every home to be an unlived-in model home! It would take considerable money to make my lived-in home sell like a model home.

In order to save money, it would cost money.

Downsizing takes money.

Like the lack of compromise, another strange new rule.

The leftover remodeling materials I am downsizing today have been in our basement since we bought the house 5 years ago. Maybe I could sell it all, but Habitat for Humanity said they take this kind of stuff. No money, but out of my house and to a worthy cause?

That’s a great compromise.

Shedding New Light

08/09/2011

shedding light unintentionally

Urgency Day 14

500 Things Item 479: Floor Lamp

  • History: Years-ago IKEA purchase endured even after the bulb burned through the plastic shade
  • Value: Lights but the burnt plastic smell has been pretty unappealing
  • Parting Pain: Nope
  • Un-possessing: Donation—maybe someone can replace the shade… or doesn’t mind the smell

Who doesn’t love a fresh perspective?

Especially when you’ve been muddling along for a while, stuck in old patterns, just phoning it in.

I definitely have been muddling for much of the recent present, mostly getting Sam organized for his launch. People are often oblivious to their own muddling. I am no exception.

I was aware of a low-level hum of dissatisfaction in the white noise of my routine, but when I’m in The Routine, accomplishing The List occupies most of my attention. I am deaf to how much grumbling and venting peppers my conversation.

Is there a difference between venting and complaining?

Venting seems to be the socially acceptable form of complaining.

  • “I need to vent.”
  • “Just let me vent for a minute, then I’ll be alright.”
  • “Let’s vent over Venti lattes.”

Who hasn’t uttered at least one of those statements and gotten some sympathy? Especially if it includes the offer of coffee. But try this: try substituting the word vent with complain. Suddenly these seemingly innocent declarations are a bit less palatable, even with a coffee chaser.

Occasionally, the Eagle Scout and I have to curtail each other’s complaining. We just have to. It’s not that we don’t support each other unconditionally and want to communicate internal preoccupations. But sometimes it comes down to peace in the household.

We don’t like it when the household inter-com gets stuck on “complain.”

So I’m implementing two new energy-changing ideas. Well, new for me:

  1.  Challenging cycling habits
  2.  Shopping at Costco

Cycling: I love riding my bike. I adore our relatively flat bike trails. I do not love hills. And there are some hills and climbs on our routes I complain about tediously. On last weekend’s ride, however, something clicked. I just decided to Kill a Hill.

It’s an ascent we have to tackle near the end of many of our routes. Usually I fall well off the pace of the Fierce Riders I am with. But I want to be fierce! So I attacked the hill. And you know what? I killed it.

It felt awesome.

Costco. For years, I have complained that buying in bulk simply makes people cavalier in their consumption. It’s the “We have so much; I don’t need to conserve” attitude. I have also contended that our family of 3 has no business shopping at Costco. And now, as our household is about to downsize, I am joining Costco?

Credit my friend Vicky for shedding new light on this debate. As part of the cooking class I help teach for Families Helping Families clients, I have made several recent excursions to Costco with Vicky. She points out the great buys she has found for her own small family and is the perfect role model for conscientious bulk purchasing.

She even says that she and her husband sometimes have date-nights at the Costco Café! No matter the venue, she and I never complain about date night!

The lamp I am downsizing today sheds light in an unintended way. I am very intentionally shedding new light on old complaints. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure I will never be a perfectly contented person. But with two weeks left until Sam leaves,

I have no complaints about a fresh perspective.

Wisdom Gap

08/01/2011

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.

Fraud Alert

07/28/2011

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:

FRAUD!

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:

FRAUD.

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.

Fraud.

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.

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

07/26/2011

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.

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