Category Archives: Back Story

What about the family piano??

Mom's piano

The piano is a dying fixture in the American home.  So claims a recent story in the Los Angeles Times.

105,000 acoustic pianos (upright and grand) were sold in the US in 2000. By 2007 sales had plunged to 54,000.  Given today’s economy, we could be chopping them for firewood in a few years.

People are buying electronic keyboards instead – keyboards that are light, portable, and include attachments that control the furnace, shampoo the carpet,  and flip pancakes.

This is very bad news for me.

I am the keeper of a 1936 Steinway baby grand – a gift from my mother to my son, who is a talented pianist. Maybe I should say was a talented pianist. We refurbished it at great expense and he played the heck out of it from age 11 till he left for college in 2001.

A few months later I bought a too-big home  because it had a living room spacious enough to accommodate his precious piano which he would return to claim any minute.

Right.

First issue: he’s scarcely touched it in eight years, even when he was living at home the last few months.

Second issue: he’s globe-trotting for the forseeable future. A baby grand will not fit in his backpack. And when he returns it will probably not fit in some shoebox bachelor apartment either.

Third issue: my own future cottage/condo/shoebox won’t have space for a piano unless I put a mattress on top of  it and call it my bed.

There’s so much history with this piano. My grandparents bought it for my mom as a college graduation present  ($990 for the piano, $10 for the bench = $1,000 total).  She taught singing for 70 years with it,  playing it so much the brass sustain pedal was worn to a nub.  My two sisters and I  shed tears of frustration on its (real) ivory keys at our daily practice sessions.

After being refurbished and refinished the piano was appraised at $40k.

Needless to say it’s one of the biggest and most emotionally loaded THINGS that must be dealt with in this downsizing process. Not to mention the pain in my heart that my son’s connection to the piano seems have come undone.

He and I need to have a little chat about the piano’s future…

Meanwhile here’s more from the LA Times story…

The piano has been the center of many American homes for generations, not only a proclamation of a love of music but also often a statement about striving for success.

“In a very traditional sense, the piano did stand for something. It was a symbol of mobility, moving up,” especially among immigrant families, said Joe Lamond, president of the International Music Products Assn., based in Carlsbad and known as NAMM. Some real estate agents still will move a piano into a house that’s for sale to class it up, he said.

In many homes these days, a piano isn’t so much a musical instrument as it is just another piece of furniture.  ….

In the 21st century, the acoustic piano seems to be a relic of another era. Jeffrey Lavner, a piano teacher at the Colburn School in downtown L.A., puts it this way: “I think piano playing is a little like black-and-white movies.”   [ouch!]

…   Many forces have contributed to the acoustic piano’s troubles. Start with electronic keyboards and digital instruments, with their improving quality and alluring gadgets such as metronomes, USB ports, headphones and recording devices. Not to mention their generally lower price.

“We live in a digital age,” said Brian Majeski, editor of Music Trades magazine. “You have to redefine the instrument.”

And in a time of foreclosures and downsizing, the expense of a traditional piano — which can run from a few thousand dollars to $100,000 or more — may seem untenable, especially for a child who may be eager to play but has no track record in the rigors of daily practice. What’s more, for students, there is ferocious competition for the hours between school and sleep: Homework or video games? Soccer or ballet? Facebook or TV?

In a survey of piano teachers conducted in 2005 for the Piano Manufacturers Assn. International, 89% said that the primary reason a child drops lessons is “too many other activities.” …

[Cross-posted at 365pwords . Piano is a great p word.]

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Filed under Attachment - Vairagya, Back Story, Emotional issues, Family issues, Furniture

Possessed by possessions: are you the owner or the owned?

“Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

You remember the thrill of the hunt for a new possession? You hear about a cool new gizmo. You think “I need to get me one of those…”

So you do the google hunt, find the best price, type out your credit card number and drag that sucker home.

You wear, sit on, look at, or labor-save with the new possession, feeling quite smug about your excellent taste. Your friends may even envy you a little for getting this new possession.

Time passes. More gizmos and whatchamacallits enter your life. Some of them break. You get bored with others.

One day you wake up and realize you’ve been possessed. Your possessions have taken over your life and now they own you!

You’re exhausted trying to keep them dusted, repaired, organized, and their batteries charged. You’ve lost crucial parts, operating manuals. And who are those people with granny glasses and bell-bottom trousers  in the yellowing photographs?

You can’t find the one thing you really need.

Then the kids leave home, your retirement fund collapses and you need to make some major adjustments to your lifestyle.

Bye bye acquiring, hello downsizing.

Even though I live relatively clutter-free, I’ll be rattling around a 3,000 sq. ft house alone when my last child leaves next month. I can no longer afford to maintain a place this big – and indeed, even if I could afford to, I don’t want to be tied down by so much stuff, so much responsibility.

I want to take back my life from my possessions.

I want to sell this place and find some place no more than half this size…

Which means that HALF my possessions need to GO.

If you’ve done this or are doing this, let me hear from you!Advice, moral support and tips from your own experience always welcome. Maybe you’ve got ideas about selling art? antiques? Dealing with boxes of photos, big honking scrapbooks.

Together we can do this.

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Filed under 101 Reasons to Downsize, Back Story, Downsizing, Priorities

Home is where my heart is

While I love getting away, seeing new sights, meeting new people, I am firmly anchored at home. Home is where my heart is. Home is where I center and rejuvenate myself.

Since my ex and I separated seven years ago, my home has been a 3,000 square foot house on a one-third acre lot framed by trees and nestled into a gentle slope overlooking a lake. In feng shui, this fortuitous placement is called “the belly of the dragon.”

This is the most wonderful home I’ve ever had – and people who visit are immediately enchanted by it as well. Not because it’s grand – because it is anything but (built from a plan-book in 1972). But it’s cozy, colorful and quirky.

So why did a single woman of modest means buy a house this big? Aside from my instant heart connection to it, it was the only house I could find within my pre-recession budget that had a dining room big enough for my grandmother’s dining table, and a living room large enough for my mother’s Steinway baby grand (which I’m keeping for my still-peripatetic son, 25).

And ohmigod the yard! The previous owners were skillful gardeners who left behind shrubs, native plants, sheets of color from spring bulbs, rock walls, five prolific blueberry bushes, a grape arbor and an asparagus bed! A chestnut tree on the southwest corner to keep the house cool in the summer, and a couple of towering black walnut trees in my neighbor’s yard that frames my view to the northwest.

I plowed a lot of money into remodeling. If the economy and housing market hadn’t plunged, the investment might have been wise. But now the moths in my purse are looking hungry.

Walking around the yard this spring, I’m seeing not just beauty but bondage. The yard work is unending. And it’s more work than a single woman of my age wants to do.

My options as I see it: find a new mate (someone who loves to garden or has enough money to pay a gardener); inherit lots of money from a long-lost maiden aunt or down-size.

At the moment the first two options are in the realm of fiction . That leaves me with down-sizing.

It’s so easy to be blithe about down-sizing when it’s my feng shui clients’ stuff. But the shoe is now on MY foot and it hurts. Yesterday I sat in the yard and wept just thinking about letting go of this place.

It took me months to find my home – and now I’ll be fighting the growing horde of down-sizers who are also seeking a smaller, charming home within walking distance to shops and public transportation.

I hope I can maintain some shred of equanimity during this process. For sure I’ll be a better consultant after I’ve done it myself.

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Filed under Back Story, Downsizing, Emotional issues, Gardening/plants, Practical feng shui