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.

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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.

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.

Travel Tape

07/21/2011

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.”

“I KNOW!”

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.

Soaked

07/18/2011

disarming

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 HAVE TAKEN DOWN THE DISPUTED IMAGE.
  • 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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