Dog Days, August and Instagram

Day One: Lunch

It’s the first dog day of August and I’m ready to take on the August Break challenge just like last year. A few things are different this time around, however. First of all, this is hardly a dog day–you know, one of those hot, dry and slow-crawling summertimes (when all you want to do is dip your feet into a sparkling meadow stream and let the minnows nibble your toes). No, we are still shedding our sweaters fresh from the coldest July on record in these parts, with a rain shower every other afternoon. Everything is still green, and well, cool! August threatens to be warmer, but still . . . .

The second difference is that since taking a daily photo and posting it here isn’t enough, I will be eating (or shall I say eliminating) my way through an autoimmune protocol diet to see what foods cause me problems. I already know that gluttonous gluten isn’t my friend, but there may be others (please may it not be eggs, coffee or chocolate). I picked August because we aren’t planning to travel, and I can avoid restaurants while I chew on my leafy greens and kale chips.

The third component is that earlier in the spring (as if moving house wasn’t enough, see a pattern here?) I decided to join Instagram and post one photo a day as an attempt to investigate a new social media. Okay, okay, I just wanted to be hip, I admit it. So, I’ll be posting photos there as well, at SuburbanSatsangs, where else?

And finally, while I gravitated toward an outdoor theme for all my photos in 2013’s August Break, this year I’ll attempt to stick with Susannah Conway’s list of topics. And today’s happens to be “lunch.” And yes, that odd pairing was united to be part of my mid-day dining liaison, as well as a bed of salad greens to rest them in. (Welcome back, sardines, my old friend. But you won’t be sharing a ride with any crusty pieces of baguette anymore.)

So, here’s my first photo, plus a glimpse of the rude awakening my foodie palate is in for. (I’m off to drink some more coconut milk without the cookies. Cheers!)

This month I’m taking a photo a day and following the topics of Susannah Conway’s August Break 2014. And why don’t you join me? I double-dog dare you!

A New Kind of Reveille

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Several mornings a week now, I meet a friend to walk the loop around my new neighborhood, an early stroll through pristine morning potential lined with the ambitious brick homes of another age. I could never afford to live in these tidy Colonial Revival dwellings that once housed the military commanders of an army fort, but I can certainly enjoy their orderly charm from afar, and smell the trimmed rose bushes lined up in professionally landscaped gardens around the parade grounds.

Even though what remains of the historic site is privately owned, you can’t help but pick up on the efficiency of design and careful planning, the straight lines and perfect alignment of buildings. I was never attracted to a life in the military, but I’ve always admired a soldier’s ability to carry his or her entire world in a duffel bag while traversing the globe. I’m developing a new artistic appreciation of the rows of barracks and service buildings where many managed to work, sleep and eat while possessing very little of their own. Ironically, in many cases these structures are being refurbished to store the excesses of modern civilian life.

Back along the promenade, those fancy officers quarters were often connected into early versions of duplexes, attached but facing away from each other for a little privacy inside their broad porches, the spirit of cooperation and teamwork never far from their personal living rooms. During my foray into apartment living, I’d like to think I’m honoring the military’s lessons of efficiency by residing in close quarters for a change, and sharing common ground with my fellow residents.

As long as I don’t have to rise at the crack of dawn and run laps.

The Downsizing Dozen: Giving It All Away

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This July marks the beginning of a new series on Suburban Satsangs. Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics.

What do you do when you have a houseful of furniture to get rid of, and less than two weeks to do it? You panic.

And then you email photos of all the stuff to be sold to your local consignment mogul, who ignores you. Then you panic again.

As you wait for a reply that never comes, hours tick away and you realize that it’s really too late to contact an estate or auction company, organize your own yard sale or set up that dreaded Craigslist account that you’ve put off forever. You panic some more.

To my great surprise, our house sold so fast, with such a tight deadline to closing, that we were faced with the interesting predicament of either a) taking it all with us b) placing everything in storage or c) piling anything combustible in the front yard for a giant neighborhood weenie roast.

Well, you guessed it, none of those were viable options and here’s why: we were attempting to stuff three adults and a cat (who needs his space) into a 900 square-foot, third floor apartment without an elevator. There was no way we could fit all the furnishings from 2,000 suburban feet of house acreage into that space, much less carry everything up two flights of stairs. Nor did we have any desire to move items that we didn’t need or want twice, once to a storage facility and then later to the nearest auction house or high, windy cliff. And as for the third option, well, the fire station around the corner wouldn’t have been amused by the bonfire and burnt front lawn, much less our buyer.

So back to the initial question of what to do when you have no time to deal with the disposal of home furnishings? You open your doors.

That’s right, you fling the front door open and invite your neighbors in to take what they want. You hop on Facebook and ask all your local friends to come and get items for free, as long as they can haul it away for you, or spread the word on your behalf if they don’t need anything themselves. You lift the garage door and drag stuff that nobody wants out to the curb with a big “free” sign on it.

Here is what we gave away: two sets of living room furniture, a dining table and chairs, computer desks, two dressers, one full-size bed and mattress, numerous side tables, armchairs, lamps and accessories, a 24-foot ladder, the overworked lawnmower and gas can, our well-used Weber grill, an old patio set and yes, even the trash can!

Here is what we gained: pleasure in one more chance to visit with our neighbors and in some cases, get to know them better before we moved; relief that our unwanted stuff was recycled and re-gifted rather than dumped into a landfill; the satisfaction of knowing that our friends were benefitting rather than a dealer or company making a profit off our plight.

This is what I learned:

1) Your stuff isn’t as valuable as you think it is. Antiques certainly aren’t worth as much as they were before the recession. There are too many consumer goods out there and everyone is trying to sell theirs. If you enjoyed the item and it served its purpose, then you got your money’s worth.

2) Luck is on your side. When you can genuinely let go of your attachments, the Universe helps you. Our next door neighbors just happened to hold a yard sale on the very weekend we desperately needed some help. We brought over the dining set, a sofa and matching love seat, and our neighbors added to their summer vacation fund. It was a win-win.

3) Don’t forget charities. As extra insurance in case anything large was left that we couldn’t drop off ourselves, I scheduled a truck pickup with one of the local charities for the day before we sold our house. (I’m happy to report that I was able to cancel the pickup due to lack of stuff.)

4) I was dismayed to learn that no charity accepts gently used mattresses anymore, thanks to the bed bug epidemic. It really is a shame to haul a perfectly good guest mattress to the dump, so if you can find a new home for it through word of mouth, Craigslist or Freecycle, by all means, take that opportunity. At the very least, put it out by the curb on a sunny day. I guarantee someone will take it.

At final count, our belongings were distributed to 10 households. We hope they enjoy them as much as we have, and we look forward to a few carefully chosen furnishings that suit our new home, and benefit rather than burden our lives.

The Short Goodbye

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The day we closed on the sale of our house, I heard my footsteps echo off the blank walls for the first time. Eleven years ago we had moved into a fully carpeted residence with five pets and a garage full of construction materials left behind by an overwhelmed seller. During our final walk through, this house has never felt so empty and yet brimming with memory.

We had pulled off the impossible in the two short weeks between listing and selling. An offer came just 24 hours after the For Sale sign was planted in our front yard. We had been prepared for a long haul, the humiliating feedback from picky showings, the games of inspection, but not such a fast response. The only condition–that we be out in fourteen days, handing over the house keys on Friday the 13th and a full moon.

Our next accommodations already chosen, we wouldn’t be bringing much furniture to decorate the 900 square feet of a third-floor apartment with no elevator. There wasn’t much time to distribute a normal suburban household, but we did it. I have the stories (and bruises) to prove it. In the coming weeks, I’ll tell you more about what we did, and what we are still doing, to transition to a lighter, and more enlightened, presence.

On that last morning, while the sun beamed down onto buds of flowers I would never see bloom, the last fingerprints of our existence wiped from the shiny surfaces meant for a new owner, I didn’t have time to reflect on all the life moments shared with this house. There was only a quick exit through an open door, and a new destination down the road.

Perhaps this is the best way.

Dappled Life

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I couldn’t let May of 2014 pass by without a hello. The Year of Movement continues in earnest. No fooling this time. Our house is up for sale, new digs secured, possessions jettisoned daily. The burden is lessened hour by hour, and a feeling of lightness is creeping in all the empty corners, filled only by sun and hope. More will be revealed when the chapter is done, and this particular tale concludes. We are in the middle of a plot at present and there could be twists and turns at any moment. There have been a few surprises already.

And for those of you on the fence about taking the leap, daring to risk: do it.

I’ll see you in June. Rabbits, rabbits, rabbits.

Moving On

on track

The last box taped closed

final mail arrangements made

phonebooks left for new victims

echoing rooms scanned for laggers

cupboards swept clean for the first time

toilet checked one more time

dog belted into the backseat

cat carrier loaded next to her

gerbil cage duck taped to top of carrier

small angry child strapped in the middle

parents shutting the past without a key

a family points their car toward the future

without looking back.

NaPoWriMo #30

It has been a pleaure this year to see so many old friends, and to make new ones. Thank you to all who came to read or allowed my poems to invade their inboxes. Your support has kept me going, with much gratitude to Bonny, Adriene, Shirah, Mike, Geo Sans, Sirena, Sharon, Beth, Kavalkade, Salsachica, Busymindthinking, Shawn, iithinks, Linda, Karuni, Jackie and everyone else for commenting and following along. And a special thanks goes to Maureen for commenting and giving me feedback on every single one of the thirty poems, without missing a day! For that, you deserve a medal, my friend. 

I wrote a poem every day in April as part of NaPoWriMo’s celebration of National Poetry Month. Won’t you join me in poetry (maybe next year)?

Until we meet again, friends.

Crossroads

Crossroads

they roll along

green highways

in glass bubbles

observation cars

cast in chlorophyll

rich with ribosome

pausing at the

junction of leaf

petiole and stem

looking both ways

reflecting a

thousand eyes

NaPoWriMo #29

I’m writing a poem every day in April as part of NaPoWriMo’s celebration of National Poetry Month. Won’t you join me in poetry?