Category Archives: Family issues

My daughter, my angel

I don’t know how anyone downsizes out of the big family home alone. The job is immense and takes five times longer than you could possibly imagine.

My daughter has been here for four days – left her usual job as Household Administrator and Sanitation Engineer in Oakland, California so she could perform a ramped-up version of the same duties with me in Vancouver, Washington.

I kiss the ground on which she walks.

Together we have sorted, tossed and packed unbelievable amounts of stuff.  Evidently my belongings were stored under pressure, because when a cabinet door is opened, its contents explode into a heap fifty times the size of the cabinet dimensions. Kind of like one of those paper-thin sponges when you add water.

I have this thing about like being packed with like. Kitchen pots with kitchen pots. Sweaters with sweaters. Tstchotchkes with tstchotckes. This makes packing a challenge, especially for volunteer help who just want to get the stuff stuffed.

My daughter notes, correctly, that when you pack really heavy kitchen pots you need something light and fluffy to cushion and fill the box so it is still carryable. So I have pots and sweaters in a box, tstchotckes and towels in a box, books and undies in a box.

You get the idea. Like with unlike. The boxes are labeled, but not so specifically that I could actually find the blue sweater without searching through all the boxes in which sweaters may be the only cushioning material.

Boxes are now piled in every room. Goodwill is better off too. I sure hope I have sufficient storage space!

Despite all this concerted effort, when Heather leaves tonight I’ll still have days of work ahead.

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Filed under 101 Reasons to Downsize, Downsizing, Family issues, Getting organized, Storage

Open House Deadline = week of insanity

Hearing my pitiful whimpers as OH-Day (Open House Day) rapidly approached, on Friday the Rescue Angels (my dear kids Heather and Ethan) flew in from the Bay Area – Ethan just for the weekend, and Heather for the whole week.

This is why we have children. Yup.

Heather brought my 5 & 8 year-old grandsons as well, who added to the amusement but weren’t exactly worker bees. At home they have no TV, no VCR. So whenever they got too bored with watching us slave away we shoved a Star Wars movie into the slot.

Mesmerized

Mesmerized

Elliott's not so sure about this...

Elliott's not so sure about this...

First we did the gross stuff. Gross as in big. Hauling boxes of photo albums, books, notebooks, excess cookware, etc to the storeroom, bagging excess bed linens and clothing for Goodwill, and moving out the bookshelves and cupboards thus emptied.

That left the dirt.
It revealed the cobwebs.
And it left lots of piles of random shit… in what box will that go so I won’t lose it forever???

Heather never stopped. When she wasn’t folding linens or scrubbing out the frig, she was keeping the crew fed with fabulous food. A mix of what I had in the garden, and what needed to be eaten down in the cupboards.

We eat well

We eat well

The more orderly the place got, the more we could see imperfections that had been camouflaged for years.
And yet, miraculously, minutes before the first realtor showed up we finished, and the place looked FABULOUS.

See for yourself here: the virtual tour put together by my realtor. It looks like it’s always been this calm and lovely.

And in a way, it always has been…just hidden by all the STUFF.
.

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Filed under Family issues, Inspiration & encouragement

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

Yard Sale poem

yardsale

Just came upon a great poem by the late great Jane Kenyonabout a yard sale at her father’s house after he died . This is just an excerpt from the poem, “Yard Sale”:

Under the stupefying sun
my family’s belongings lie on the lawn
or heaped on borrowed card tables
in the gloom of the garage. Platters,
frying pans, our dead dog’s
dish, box upon box of sheet music,
a wad of my father’s pure linen
hand-rolled handkerchiefs, and his books
on the subsistence farm, a dream
for which his constitution ill suited him.
….
Hours pass. We close the metal strongbox
and sit down, stunned by divestiture.
What would he say?

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Filed under Family issues, Selling stuff

I’m jealous.

Wy-amtrak1

My25-year-old son mooched off his kindly old mum from October thru May, stashing away heaps of money from his job – like so many autumn leaves in  giant trash bags.

And then poof! He took off for Wylie’s Excellent Global Adventure – to travel in distant lands till his money runs out, or I yank on the invisible apron string I tied to his ankle the night before he left (whilst he slept).

To make his money last, his plan is to work for room and board wherever possible. Right now he’s helping a Swedish family renovate their old farmhouse through the WWOOF program (worldwide opportunities  on organic farms).  He’s strong, smart, and a hard worker (when motivated… i.e. not working for his mother).

Suddenly I’m thinking, hey! Instead of downsizing, why don’t I just sell/store everything and get the hell out of town myself. Way out of town. Far away. I would be an aged oddity at a WWOOF placement, but I sure have done my share of garden work and have the experience.  (Not quite the stamina or strength though…).

I know if I really put my mind to it, I could do it. But first I gotta figure out how to sell this place for a decent price. Oh that.

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Filed under 101 Reasons to Downsize, Downsizing, Envisioning a simpler life, Family issues

Boomerang kid reverses direction

boomerangAnother downsizing step taken today, and I’m feeling pretty weepy about it.

My youngest child left home this afternoon.

It shouldn’t be a big deal; he’s 25 for godssake. It’s not even the first time – he went off to college at 18, and until the past few months he’s hardly been back home. But since September he’s been my housemate in order to save $$ for his big globe-trotting adventure – to parts known and unknown.

I have been totally happy living alone since I left his dad in 2001 (when he left for college, actually). I amuse myself quite well, and mostly handle what needs to be handled.

But “I’ve grown accustomed to his face.”  And his good-natured company, his music, his assistance, his goofiness. It’s been a real pleasure and privilege to get to know him as a responsible young adult who is quite capable of running his own life.

His room is now (mostly) empty of his stuff – his boxes line the walls of my once orderly garage. After some cleaning and buffing I could rent the space while I continue the process of getting rid of my own stuff.

Meanwhile I’ve got a couple of big bags in the car for Goodwill. And a hole in my heart.

Wy-amtrak1

Amtrak to Seattle. Seattle to Dublin. On to Prague, Sweden, Berlin, India, Thailand…

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Filed under Attachment - Vairagya, Baby steps, Emotional issues, Family issues

From materfamilias to mom-in-a-box

I sold a printer cart on Craigslist yesterday, but no nibbles on the crib yet.

Selling the crib brings up all sorts of feelings even though the crib is nothing special.

It’s about my role in the family as materfamilias.The crib represents my ability to host family gatherings, guests from out of town, grandbabies and adult kids who need a few months to regroup.

All three of my kids have returned home for a few months (post college) in their early 20s to regroup before launching into the next thing. My youngest has been here since October and will leave (swine flu permitting) for world travels in late May.  In each case it’s been a privilege to get to know the former child as a young adult.

My daughter was looking forward to sending the little ones up for a week in the summer starting next year, but if I’m living in a shoebox it may be a challenge.

Christmas will be very different too. One of our long-standing traditions is gathering after the little ones are asleep to wrap presents and stuff stockings together. We sit on the floor, everyone facing a different corner so no one can peek at the gift being wrapped– laughing, drinking, passing scissors and tape, drinking, laughing.  And in the morning all waking up way too early to be ready when the little ones come down…

Have to let that one go until someone in the next generation gets a bigger house themselves…

My resistance to this move is in full flower today.

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Filed under Baby steps, Downsizing, Emotional issues, Family issues, Furniture, Selling stuff

Let go of the little things

Sometimes letting go of the smallest things opens big doors.

joyThis is embarrassing. I just tossed two bottles of perfume that have sat on my bureau or bathroom counter for decades.

I haven’t worn perfume in decades.

The bottle of Joy has been with me since the boat trip I took across the Atlantic (Quebec to Le Havre) right after college. A dashing member of the German crew gave it to me as a momento of our brief but torrid shipboard romance. (My name is Joy and that was a very popular and expensive fragrance at the time).

As you might imagine, the fragrance in the bottles bore no resemblance to what the perfumiers originally bottled.  So why did I not discard them years ago???

Well – they were gifts with special memories attached. They were small. What harm is something that takes so little space? And you never know… I just might want to wear a dab some time….

This morning the veil fell from my eyes. I emptied the bottles down the sink and put the empties into the recycle bin.

It felt like a major victory.

Woo-woo postscript from yoga class later in the morning. Our teacher has two little baskets from which we can draw random words on which to focus in class – one contains round river rocks and the other contains cards (with words in English and Sanskrit). You can use the words as areas on which to focus your intention for the class.

From the middle of the pile in each basket I drew (not peeking) a rock that said “Joy” and a card that said “Joy.”   Then the dharma talk at the beginning of class centered on vairagya, learning to let go of attachments.  Oh yeah.

Attachments R Us.

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Filed under Baby steps, Downsizing, Family issues, Spiritual lessons

Purchasing Paroxsyms

Purchase: (need I tell you it means buy buy buy, the American pastime?)

Paroxsym: a fit, attack, or sudden increase or recurrence of symptoms

I need… No, I WANT to purchase a projector. I have a list of semi-rational reasons for “needing” this electronic gadget, only one of which would bring in any money.

  • $$ I could put it into service to promote my feng shui consulting services and to teach classes. It would take four consultations to pay for itself.
  • I could use it at Toastmasters for more professional presentations.
  • I could use it for social gatherings to show travel and family photos.
  • I could project DVDs from my laptop and (if I buy TV receiver) I could use it instead of a TV. Of course I watch almost zero TV.
  • I’m supporting the sagging US economy…

I discussed the proposed projector purchase with my daughter: “Mom,” she said, “are you down-sizing or up-sizing?”

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Filed under Electronic gear, Emotional issues, Family issues

Impermanence: snow melts and tempus fugit

Impermanence:  n. an essential element of Buddhism – that everything is changing, inconstant, in flux. Because things are impermanent, attachment to them is futile, and leads to suffering.

The Portland area was blanketed in nearly a foot of snow for most of the week up until Christmas. My California grandkids were thrilled to share a white Christmas with their two super-fun uncles, who are young at heart at 25 and 37.

[These family visits are one of my excuses for keeping a house with 4 bedrooms. And you might ask: what about the other FIFTY weeks?]

Being snowbound gave us the chance to invent our fun together. So the boys and the uncles made a snowman:

snowman-done

We all wanted the fun times, and the snowman, to last forever. But impermanence happens. The temperature began rising. The snowman began shrinking. This is how he looked this morning – about 15″ tall:

melted

And now the family is gone and house is totally quiet again.  The holiday disappeared as quickly as the snow, and I feel a lot like our snowman. Quite deflated and a little soggy.

Even during the holiday I was on a downsizing kick though. My two older kids went thru 7 boxes of their childhood memorabilia from the garage.   “It either goes home with you or it goes in the recycle bin,” I told them.  “Now is the time…”

Six of the seven boxes were Ethan’s.  To keep him company I brought out a couple of boxes of my own papers for sorting.

I have to hand it to him; he carefully plowed through a couple of boxes every day, examining each item (artwork, book reports, photos and letters), recycling about half of it, but savoring and repacking the rest to ship to California where he lives.

My own journals and letters are voluminous – going back to college!  The triviality of most of my concerns appalls me, but it’s all there – bringing the past temporarily back to life.

The process was a powerful reminder of how many lives we each have lived through, in what seems like the blink of an eye. Friends, passions, projects… developing, ripening, disappearing. Many forgotten until a picture or letter brings it back.

We keep these things because our memories are as ephemeral as our poor melted snowman.

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Filed under Downsizing, Family issues, Paper and books, Photos & memorabilia