Passing Through

A double row of hornbeams planted twenty years ago.

Here it is the end of May and I’ve barely been here. My focus is kept packed by the door and my psyche feels like it’s still moving after an interminable car ride. I stop by just long enough to check my email and pay the bills, wash a big pile of neglect that’s accumulated. There are cobwebs all over some best-laid plans left piled on last winter’s table.

My “word” for 2017 has been “awake,” and boy, have I. To the point where I rose early enough to see the dawn in all kinds of wind and weather for seven days in a row. There are no photos because I refused to carry any form of electronic distraction. Instead, I wanted to burn the sun’s first midas touch on the tips of trees into my eyeballs, let a heavy dew sink into my bones, be swallowed whole by the rising rush of bird song. How could I have missed these treasures for all those countless years spent lolling about in bed like an apathetic teenager?

Some mornings we danced intricate steps set to modern astral music inside a labyrinth’s ancient patterns. On others we were high above ancestral land and its tree-lined ribbon of river, at a circle made with stones that whispered power and prayers. And still others were spent in the gardens, tended by human hands but retouched by faery folk in those magic hours when mortal souls still wander through the grainy dreams from other worlds.

There has been art and music, poetry and dance, and some really good gin. Despite an early rise, I’ve stayed up way too late talking about crazy-beautiful ideas and inspiration, because I didn’t want to miss a minute of this precious time or interrupt the messy, foolish freedom that doesn’t fit into a shifty shared cloud calendar or antsy time-management app.

But perhaps the most precious gift I’ve been given by staying awake long enough, is to rediscover a forgotten little keepsake tin with the rusty lid I left hiding in my memory’s bank barn. Inside, once again I heard the quail’s call in tall grass, felt hard rain rumbling across a field, finally found those missing linch pins from an old Farmall tractor hitch, inhaled the sweaty scent off a low morning meadow, and watched with great joy some gritty, grinning kids stagger home covered in the satisfying filth from a mountain of freshly dumped sand.

You see, somewhere during those adult years of dysfunction, darkness and despair, I had lost my childhood’s best mementos. I’d fallen into a slumber of numbing responsibility and restriction. I could only recall the disappointments and failures harped on by my mind’s endless critiques, where the rules are always changing and your advisors never let you leave.

Nearly halfway into the year, I’m happy to report that I’ve been awake long enough to know now, that I’m finally free to go.

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Back to the Land of Bad Memes

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Well, the whole “cord-cutting” experiment didn’t go as smoothly as expected. I won’t go into the ridiculously complicated and frustrating installation fiasco that lasted most of June, but let me just say that it involved two weeks without Internet. That’s TWO WEEKS, fellow readers, cut off from the sustenance of the cyber webs!

Two weeks of waiting for a repair that didn’t need to be done, arguing with several reps on the phone who were incapable of deviating from their scripts, multiple miscommunications and errors that couldn’t be replicated or fixed if you tried, and two weeks of data overage on our cell phones.

BUT it was also two weeks of ignorant bliss, removed from the horrible news reports and vicious Facebook posts by righteous vigilantes, of less time wasted on online games and more opportunities for naps, and finally, the return of a peaceful and calm bedroom devoid of the squawking black box that lulled us to sleep for years with the mayhem and murder of the late local newscast.

Now that speedy connection to the horrors of bad memes and incomprehensible spelling has been restored with many apologies and a little compensation from the corporate goliath we are forced to use, I can look back on the whole nightmare like you would that horrific camping trip where it rained the entire time and your body was covered in chiggers. You’re very glad it’s over but you can afford to be generous, proud, nostalgic even. Was I frustrated? Of course. Angry? You bet. Paranoid that this was all an elaborate plot to punish us for cutting the cord? Guilty as charged.

But I’ve haven’t slept better in years.

Cutting the Cord

IMG_6041In our latest downsizing venture, we’ve decided to take on the corporate dictators controlling what we see on the talking boxes, and cancel our cable subscription. After much help from our “cord-never” daughter (defined as someone who has never fallen for the cable TV trap) and vigorous research on the wireless internet we still need to keep, we’ve opted for one of those slim digital antennas and a Roku streaming device to fulfill our minimal entertainment needs. My family’s devotion to the sports gods has kept us from going cold turkey for years, but now there are alternatives to the big game gatekeepers.

So this week, I’m saying goodbye to the indentured servitude of bundling and contract confinement, the 300 channels we never needed, the painful phone negotiations every year when rates soared back to “normal,” the eternal rebooting when the power “blinks,” and last but not least, that nest of snakes full of cat hair behind the TV stand.

The few shows I’m giving up are well worth the clean sweep, clear surfaces and a single outlet.

Home Sweet Home

Day 29: Home
Day 29: Home
For the last year and a half, a small walk-up apartment on the third floor has allowed us to expand our living space from forest trails to sandy beaches. We have made ourselves at home in the world of nature and she has welcomed us.

I’ve decided to participate in Susannah Conway’s December Reflections  photo prompts again this year. During this hectic and stressful season, won’t you join me in mindful reflection from life’s photographic window seats and contemplative comments that provide refuge from the madness.

Legacy

 
It’s been quiet here at Suburban Satsangs this month, but I’ve still participated in a daily photo prompt on Instagram. The final prompt is “legacy,” somehow appropriate as I finish out September in my parents’ house helping with my ailing father.

I didn’t grow up in this house and always feel like a guest despite the 25 years my parents have lived here. While primitively beautiful, I’ve never felt like this or any other place I’ve lived was truly home for me. I’m a bit of a wanderer, I guess. 

In the bedroom I sleep in I’m surrounded by artwork I made over 30 years ago. Sometimes I lie in bed and ponder what was created in another time, by another person.

And I often wonder where she went, while searching for what she left me.

The Downsizing Dozen: Forgotten Food

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Inside the dark cavern of kitchen cabinets lies our shame and carefully hidden secrets. This is where you’ll find all the junk outlawed during my elimination diet, as well as many unused good intentions pushed behind current favorites. Some items were bought with high hopes, some carried over during the move, and some can be used as evidence against a weak moment at the grocery store.

Since my spouse has climbed aboard the autoimmune wagon to help with his arthritis, I have no one except my daughter to pawn off all the formerly savored treats that no longer play well with my digestive system. And, as an upwardly mobile young career gal, she has little time to cook much less eat a good breakfast. So, our forbidden folly sits neglected, taking up guilty room.

Truth be told, in order to accommodate more storage in our galley kitchen with little wall space, we need the deeper shelves. We’ve found that our great downsizing experiment requires longer arms and a footstool at hand. In order to reach a dimly remembered ingredient, we have to complete a full evacuation while regretfully reliving one by one the foolishness of our purchases and total lack of willpower in the snack aisle.

The one advantage is that as we repeatedly handle our sins, the desire to get rid of the evidence grows stronger, either by conscious effort to cook the malingerer and never buy it again, or by food pantry donation. I am relieved to find that almost all the dry goods, condiments and frozen sundries we hauled from our old house last June have been consumed or recycled.

That’s not to say that there might be a few flirty campfire marshmallows, cavorting candy canes and malicious macaroni boxes still lurking in the shameful shadows. Like death and taxes, the presence of forgotten food is unavoidable, but we’ll keep trying anyway.

Just give us until April 15th.

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 suburban 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. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, Make It Stick in August, Following Your Feet in September, Case of the Missing Mac in October, Diminished Drumsticks in November, Dwindling Decorations in December, and Finding Focus in January.

The Downsizing Dozen: Following Your Feet

Autumn
Here in our new home of communal living, exercise options are abundant. There’s a pool and jacuzzi (about to be closed for the winter), fitness center, and even half a basketball court in addition to the local Y and miles of walking trails and bike paths. Combine that with a tiny amount of storage space in the single-car garage where we fully intend to shelter our vehicle, and you can guess which type of equipment was jettisoned first in our move.

A whole host of balls, bats and mitts was sent away to greener playing fields. One football, the only inflated basketball (for the new court, of course) and our beloved wiffle ball set were kept, as well as my husband’s modest bag of golf clubs to see if he can renew or even revive that particular pastime. If not, then they will follow their obsolete brethren to other well-manicured pastures.

But so far, despite all the tempting new choices, walking remains our main form of exercise. An embarrassing number of cool summer days and a cloudless blue beginning to fall have pulled us from our device screens and out the door. We find our feet wandering into local parks and public areas, or strolling to errands we used to complete by auto, as the soles on our sneakers wear down to a satisfying thinness.

Back in the bad old ‘burbs, walks were limited to a close-minded neighborhood orbit, and shoulder-less local roads became too inhospitable to navigate, even in midmorning’s deserted hours when most everyone had gone off to work and school. Our bikes gathered cobwebs full of possessive spiders while rusting in a spacious two-car garage. To tell the truth, we can’t remember when we sold them, it was so long ago.

Perhaps as we put miles of exhaust behind us and treat our environmental elders with respect, ever-green Santa may reward us come December, and we’ll awaken to discover shiny forms of alternative transportation among nature’s gifts, the chrome of our intentions still un-smudged, and brand-new handlebar tassels glittering in fresh, unpolluted air.

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 suburban 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. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, and Make It Stick in August.

The Downsizing Dozen: Make It Stick

Tape, anyone?
As long-suffering followers of this blog have read ad nauseam, I’ve been on the minimalist path for quite some time now, posting one-hit wonders such as Don’t Minimalize Your Bangs, Goodwill Hauling, The Urge to Purge, Hobbling the Hobbies, and my biggest blockbuster to date, What’s In YOUR Garage? Since 2009, I swear to you on my mother’s outdated china pattern that I’ve tried to walk the talk. So, imagine my surprise and shame while packing to move, when I repeatedly pulled out of various drawers and pandora’s boxes an endless assortment of . . . tape.

In shock, I felt moved to document the phenomenon in the photo above. That’s right folks, you counted correctly. There were no less than ten dispensers (couldn’t get them all in the picture) of sticky stuff. For every act of stickiness imaginable, I had all the bases (or folding flaps) covered. And this number doesn’t even include the medical tape I found, or the tower of duck, masking and electrical tape hiding in the garage, but that was to be expected.

No, the big mystery to me was how on earth a family of three had managed to buy and then forget about all that packaging tape. During her formative years, my daughter was (and still is) a very creative child who went through yards of tape to hold her projects together, bind her handmade book pages, fasten her abundant artwork on the walls, and ultimately leave waded on the floor only to be cut out of the hairs of a wandering family cat or dog later.

With all this taping of hers going on, I rarely had enough on hand to wrap the occasional gift much less mend a careless rip, in which case I was stuck with the ugly duck or masking tapes, and if we were out of those, then house caulk or chewing gum often came to mind. With the necessary scotch tape truly invisible to my naked eye, yet another entry to the weekly shopping list was made.

Here’s what I think happened: as the years went by, and my daughter’s appetite for temporary paper creations switched to sketchbooks and computer art, the tape dispensers disappeared into the gaping cavern of her closet, and fell behind the beanie babies and spirograph sets lurking on the back shelf. Our holiday gift wrapping has diminished (maybe that’s why we don’t have as many friends), and even when absolutely necessary, by then I had discovered the wonderful world of gift bags to fit any oddly (or normal) shaped object.

But here’s the big reason why I found so many. You ready for this? The reproductive habits of scotch tape are little known, so it’s my theory that they breed in any dark corner or unattended shopping bag. And in my case, they are known to disappear for years, only to reappear in multitudes. Furthermore, they are not the only office supplies known to do this–rubber bands and paper clips are also likely suspects.

So what can the unsuspecting suburbanite do when they open the door to a cascade of slippery plastic dispensers with their guillotines of tiny razor teeth? Follow these next steps carefully:

1) You evaluate possible causes of your dirty little secret, vow that you will go to great lengths not to recreate a similar environment ever again, and make that resolution stick.

2) You may be tempted to fling all humiliating signs of tape debauchery into the trashcan, but please take a deep breath, and think of a daycare center, classroom or craft program that would benefit, turning a bad situation into good.

3) Whatever rolls of tape you do keep, for the love of tidiness, I plead with you to store them in a well-lit area, out in plain sight, and NEVER, EVER allow them to wander off in pairs. You, your wallet, and your pets covered in little bald spots will thank you for it.

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. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July.

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.