Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wish me luck!

My internet disappears today, the moving truck arrives tomorrow, and Friday I have closings in the morning and the afternoon. In the midst of all that on Friday, the movers will unload all my belongings from the old house into the new. I won't be getting internet at the new house until sometime next week, so I won't be around for just a bit. My younger son and I will spend the next several days unpacking boxes, hauling things from the storage unit and settling in. I'll check back in when I've got web access again!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Almost there.

It seems like only a year or so ago these two were helping me with the labor of making this house our home. But it's been almost seven years, and the days when I was the tallest person in the house are long gone. Both of my sons now tower over me and help me with carrying heavy stuff, opening recalcitrant jars and lifting things down from tall shelves.
I never did fill up the full space of the storage unit but the third month's rent was the last I'll have to pay on it since I'll start emptying it out again next week. And probably end up sending a good chunk of its contents off to charity. Nearly every day for the past month, I've dropped things off at a local organization that gives things to people in need.
It's been freeing but not without its costs. The metal bed frame my younger son and I loaded into the car to donate took a bite of my shin. Clothes, furniture, linens, books, bicycles, kitchen items... the more I give away, the lower my threshold for seeing something as not worth hanging on to.
But I'm not going all Zen monastery, so I've been raiding (with the manager's okay) the recycling dumpster at a nearby dollar store for boxes. Which means my stuff all has silly labels now. Honestly, who in their right mind would feel the need to purchase a patriotic headband?
Mostly, I'm trying to be organized and box like items together. But I'm not above jamming in anything that will fit when there's a little extra space. Fire extinguishers and the legs to my bed? Why not? And still room to pack in a couple of things my older son accidentally left here.
A lot of the packing happened in the den, so that I could watch TV while I worked. I chose de-cluttering shows, of course, and I think it actually made me more inclined to stick things in the charity pile than I would have been otherwise. Watching a reunion episode of Clean House where the host returned to visit former clutterers to check on their commitment to keeping their houses clean, I was instantly struck by the lack of physical contact and slightly strained smiles of one couple. I actually said out loud, "Uh oh, those two are getting divorced." Sure enough, a minute later the host reported that the two split up a few days after the filming. Even packing, I'm a shrink. And I decided while watching the hoarding show that you know you have a serious filth problem when even the exterminators are too disgusted to deal with your roach infestation. But I'll tell you, after a few days of carefully stepping over piles of things and frequently misplacing the roll of tape or my cup of coffee (or glass of wine, depending on the time of day),  I know that living in chaos would quickly drive me out of my mind.
Fortunately, order eventually emerged. The boxes are packed, the beds broken down, and all that's left is picking up two more boxes to finish and then cleaning. Not bad, considering I still have a few days. And then ... I start turning another house into a home.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

For the last month, I've been talking about everything but this.

At the beginning of April, I'd finished off the work I needed to do to get my house ready to put on the market. And then, except for posts about de-cluttering, I stopped talking about it. I don't do well with uncertainty and it made me too anxious to write about the process. But my realtor just let me know that the folks who have a contract on my house finally got their mortgage approved and we're set to close on the 30th. They actually made an offer about ten days after I listed it. Time started dragging from there as we slowly went through offers and counter-offers and counter-counter-offers and then inspection and more negotiation and then appraisal...  And in the meantime, I had to find a house. I screened the listings my agent sent me on-line first, then drove to the neighborhoods of the ones I liked to have a look at them, then went to see the inside of four houses. Just like the house I'm in now, I knew from the minute I walked inside which house I wanted. I just fell in love with a small older house in a pretty neighborhood and immediately could see my life there. The current owner's furnishings and wall colors disappeared in my mind and I started dreaming of which walls I'd paint and what landscaping I'd do and which furniture of my own would move with me.

Following the inspection, the buyers, worried about the ungrounded plugs (common in older houses), insisted that they all be grounded, along with some other electrical work. I had the outdoor plugs replaced and an additional GFCI put in, but the grounding estimate was $2500. I was NOT happy. I'd poured way too much money into updating the house as it was, I'd already cut the price quite a bit and made other concessions and it was starting to feel like the buyers were going to wring every last cent out of me that they could. On Sunday night, as I was fretting, I suddenly stopped and consciously made an effort to see the situation differently. I googled the buyers and discovered they are younger and, judging from their concerns about a lack of railing on the screened-in porch, probably have young kids and I know they are first time buyers. I thought about how they were probably, like me, just doing the best they could in a difficult process. And I started to view them with compassion instead of anger. I sent an email to their agent asking her to forward this note to the buyers:

"Hi, I wanted to ask you about some things I could leave behind or not, depending on your preference. In particular, the family room (the room with the fireplace and knotty pine walls) furniture. I'm not offering to sell it - it's serviceable but not in fantastic shape. But I'm moving to a smaller home with a living room but not a den and I thought if you happened to be moving from a smaller place it would give you some time before you had to buy new furniture for it. There's a love seat, easy chair, ottoman, television cabinet and computer cabinet. Also, the house came with wicker-like furniture on the screened-in porch which I cleaned up and painted when I moved in, and which I'd planned to leave. Finally, I can leave all the curtains that are up if you want them. If not, I can send all of that to Habitat. You're welcome to let me know through your realtor if you prefer."

I figured whether or not they took me up on my offer, I had changed the tone of the process in the same way my older son positively altered the mood at graduation with his cheering. I felt better and let go of any lingering frustration about the money I was going to have to kick in for the rest of the electrical work. Yesterday, to my surprise, I got this back from their agent:

"Thanks so much for your offer. The buyers would love for you to leave those items if they are of no use to you. Also, the electrical that had not been done is fine since it's not a safety issue like the other was."

Guess who did a little dance of karmic joy? So in a little over a week, I'll be heading happily into the next adventure.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Constant Vigilance!

Cleaning out the basement of my 1956 home, I found this book tucked away on a high shelf of a cabinet. Somehow I missed it when I moved in 7 years ago. In spite of all the work I need to do, I got lost in this creepy little read. Take a walk back with me to the Cold War mindset of 1968...
The book assures us that a "nationwide civil defense system now exists in the United States and is being enlarged and improved constantly." Good to know the war machine is in place, but citizens are encouraged to lessen the casualty count by preparing in advance. "If an enemy should threaten to attack in the United States, you would not be alone. " Whew! "The entire Nation would be mobilizing to repulse the attack, destroy the enemy, and hold down our own loss of life." Doesn't that just make you feel all warm and cuddly? I could hardly wait to move on to chapter 2:
At least they acknowledge (sort of) that it may be hopeless even in a shelter.  I was particularly struck by the useful information that putting out or avoiding fires helps prevent burns. Thanks, DOD!
Under the heading, "What Would Happen in an Enemy Attack," we discover that those close to the explosion "probably would be killed or seriously injured by the blast, or by the heat of the nuclear fireball." Nice. But if you are a few miles away, you just might live. Long enough to die of radiation sickness, no doubt. Personally, I'd prefer to just take a direct hit and get it over with.
As you can see, the heaviness of the initial dose determines how quickly you sink to the ground in despair. Furthermore, old folks and young children might as well hang it up immediately. (Stop looking up, kid, that's not fairy dust falling on you!) The book is awfully blithe about ongoing dangers, assuring us that simply wiping off food will make it safe to consume and that radiation will settle harmlessly on the bottoms of open water sources. Riiiiight.
In the chapter on warnings, we learn that a 3- to 5-minute wavering siren or a series of short whistle or horn blasts will let us know "that an actual enemy attack against the United States has been detected." Phones are to be kept free for official calls. I flashed back to having seen the movie, "The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming" while living on a Naval Base in the '60's. Afterwards, we kids ran from door to door in our neighborhood, shouting into the mail slots in our best Russian accents, "Emergency!  Emergency!  Everybody to get from street!"
Muggers will abound during a nuclear holocaust. Okay, not really. This is to illustrate that if you are outside during a nuclear flash and you feel warmth, you should take cover instantly. As if skulking in a dark corner is going to save you.  
I believe this is a sketch of the original owner of my house, who constructed a cement-encased bomb shelter in the far end of the basement. According to the book, in 1968 one could be built for $150-$200 in materials (about a thousand bucks now). Judging from the many drawings in this book, only men have what it takes to plan and build a bomb shelter.
Women are too feeble to do anything but the household chores. But at least they get to do laundry in the safe shelter built by their clever, capable husbands!
If you aren't a decent enough American to build a permanent shelter in advance, you can always improvise a shelter when an enemy attacks. All you have to do is "dig an L-shaped trench, about 4 feet deep and 3 feet wide...cover the entire trench with lumber (or with house doors that have been taken off their hinges)" and on top of that "pile earth 1 to 2 feet high." Think about it: nuclear bombs have been launched in your direction and you really think you're going to get all that done in time? I read this to my son and he said, "Yeah, I think you'd be SOL."
Finally, don't forget to duck and cover. Curling into a fetal position has been show time and again throughout history to be an effective defense against catastrophic events.
Just ask the folks of Pompeii.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Can you tolerate a little proud mama nonsense?

It was this boy's day. He went off on Wednesday for his last day of high school, already looking college-bound. He announced to me the next day that he'd finally convinced his friend, who was giving one of the graduation addresses, to make the theme of her speech "YOLO." I remarked that this was probably the culmination of his academic career and I was only sorry it hadn't happened in time to put that accomplishment on his university applications. As it turned out, he had made a brilliant suggestion - it was a funny address beginning with her turning her back to the audience with her phone held high and saying, "First, let me take a selfie," and filled with pop references such as "in the words of nursery rhyme poet Nicki Minaj..." And rather than focusing on the silly justification of foolishness that YOLO has come to mean, she talked about the challenge of living fearlessly when you embrace the idea that you only live once.
My older son came home for graduation, insisting that we arrive early enough to find a good seat. We were given stern instructions by the principal to refrain from using air horns or cowbells, or from screaming, "hollering" (because this is the South), or otherwise behaving in an undignified way not befitting the gravity of the situation. Which was a little funny given that it was being held in a arena most frequently used for rodeos. But everyone obediently clapped quietly, like golf tournament viewers, for the first nine honors graduates. My older son leaned over to the woman next to him and said, "I'd like to apologize in advance, but I'm going to yell for my brother." And yell he did, bellowing across the arena through cupped hands. Giggles rippled through the audience and as if granted permission, the tone shifted and people began cheering lustily for their friends and family members as they graduated. Because you know what? High school graduations aren't solemn occasions. They are joyful celebrations of kids being launched into adulthood.
But don't you just know I cried? I swear to you, I had this baby only a few years ago and I don't know how he morphed into a young man so quickly. The boys, their father, stepmother and I all re-convened at my house where I'd made a chocolate chip cake with raspberry sauce and had a bottle of white wine chilling. I let my son pick tonight's menu and we'll celebrate after he and his brother return from their hike. And I'll spend a little time trying to wrap my mind around the idea of having two sons in college.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Okay, I took a bit of an unexpected blog break.

Mostly because I've been overwhelmed with working on the house, computer issues at work, and end of the school year activities. But I've been making an effort not to just let the best time of the year pass me by - May weather is just glorious here. I've fit in as many walks as possible, some with my younger son and some on my own.
One day last week was spent at a continuing education conference on ethics and legal issues presented by an attorney who seemed to think quite a lot of himself. HIPAA, HITECH and the Omnibus rule. Yep, that's just exactly as exciting as it sounds. When I noticed the woman next to me had the same last name as me, I struck up a conversation, so at least I had someone to snark with over the presenter's choice of clothing: jeans, an oversized polo shirt and Crocs. Seriously, Crocs. The most effective form of birth control. I celebrated my release from the seminar by walking downtown to sit outside with a wine and cheese. That day's overheard conversation from the neighboring table was a guy who said he isn't really with his girlfriend anymore except that they own a ferret together. I also learned that it is their second ferret together and also that she's in grad school and no longer knows how to have fun.
And more walking. My younger son is occasionally willing to accompany me, but he much prefers to go off-trail. I also fit in a visit on Friday from a friend who was in town just for a day and I enjoyed catching up.
Sunday afternoon I met up with another friend for dinner at an outside table. It was so beautiful out that we sat for a couple of hours and then walked across the square for ice cream cones.
And I did say I'd been walking? It is meditative for me - my mind stills when I walk. And lately, my mind has been in over-drive so I need to be outside and moving.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

I thought you couldn't take it with you?

Stuff. I find it endlessly fascinating. I swear to you that stuff is genetically similar to rabbits in its ability to rapidly reproduce. But my hope is to move into a smaller house and to keep that place as un-cluttered as possible. It's been an interesting experience to have a de-cluttered house on the market. Now that I've gone a month with a lot of my things packed into temporary storage, I'm re-assessing my need for those things. I continue to cart stuff off to charity on a regular basis and I find that I need reinforcement frequently to keep me on track. In fact, I'm listening to Andrew Mellen ("Unstuff Your Life") on YouTube as I type this. He is absolutely opposed to storage units, by the way, unless you are between homes.

As a booster, I read books on de-cluttering - but I only buy them as ebooks! For the past week or so, I've been watching Netflix television episodes of de-cluttering shows. "Hoarding: Buried Alive" I watch more for the awful train-wreckness of it all. This show deals with actual mental illness, folks with compulsive hoarding, who genuinely believe it would be catastrophic if they did not surround themselves with towering piles of things. That level of hoarding is unusual - most people who live in cluttered homes don't actually have to climb over piles of stuff to get to the next room. "Clean House" (the show where they go in and convince people to get rid of things in a yard sale and then redecorate) is a little less extreme. I watch that show the way other people watch football - vocally. I shout at the TV, "Oh my God! You're an adult! Why do you have Barbie dolls!?" Or, "Are you kidding me? That's hideous - get rid of it!" People always tell me I could be a professional organizer, but I'd have to rein in how brutal I can be.

But I know that people's relationship to stuff is emotionally fraught, and that has to be addressed first. For one thing, stuff is a hedge against an uncertain future. The whole Depression-era "I might need it someday" approach. But is a thing worth storing if it can be easily replaced? People even do this with things they've already replaced.You know how that goes - you buy new towels but the old towels are still serviceable so you shove them into the linen closet. Maybe the kids will want them when they move out or maybe you'll be having a neighborhood picnic when an unexpected storm springs up and everyone runs into your house, soaked, and needs to towel off in synchrony. There's always a reason why something might be useful in the future. As an example, I just got rid of an entire box of spare fan parts. When I installed ceiling fans six years ago, I packed all the leftover bits in a box and stored them in the basement. As if I might actually be able to figure out which part I needed if one broke. If I find myself saying, "But this is a perfectly good whatever-it-is," I stick it in the off-to-charity pile. It's better that it remain in use somewhere than sit on a shelf in my home. Just yesterday, in fact, I wrapped all my stemmed wine glasses in newspaper and took them to charity. Since I bought really cool stemless wine glasses engraved with the name of a California winery that happens to be my own last name, I don't use them. Keeping them means someone out there has to buy new glasses when they could have mine for free or cheap. If you think about it, it's selfish to hold on to things you don't actually use.

Possibly more difficult is the "sentimental value" issue. Things once owned by your great uncle or given to you as gifts or which are part of a collection. (Don't even get me started on the whole idea of collections.) But as Mellen said in that video, "If everything is precious, nothing is precious." I've warned people in my life to stop giving me things - I may appreciate the thought, but I'll also get rid of it. I've shifted my perspective on memorabilia and am far more likely to snap a photo of something and just keep its digital image. I have a couple of family items, but I no longer keep things just because it was once owned by a family member who has died. It's just not possible to have a deep love for that many things. So as I go, I only want to keep a thing if it is truly more important to me than the space it occupies and the time and effort required to deal with it. When I consider it that way, it becomes so much easier to let go.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Worth the wait.

I had to skip my women's group last night for Seniors Honors Night, held on the basketball court of the local college. We bypassed the reception, but the awards ceremony itself lasted a mind-numbing two hours and twenty minutes. I stared at the giant eagle coming in for the kill, read a book on my iPad and shifted uncomfortably in my metal folding chair as we slogged our way through $500 dollar scholarships from insurance agencies and best cosmetology student awards. There were moments of hilarity. For me, anyway - I saw no one else looking remotely amused when the former beauty queen fumbled her way through an excessively long speech about the "Fairest of the Fair Scholarship," awarded to this year's pageant queen who qualified by winning the title at the County Fair, doing community service, and maintaining a 2.0 GPA. The honoree teetered up in outrageously high heels, her pageant sash and a tiara and the two hugged several times, careful not to muss their hair.
But I was there for this moment. Mentions for Beta Club, four years on the honor roll, good scores on all his AP exams, top PSAT score, student of the year nominee. Best of all, his high honors stole and medal to be worn at graduation in a couple of weeks for his 4.35 GPA. I'm a wee bit proud of that kid.