Accidental landlording & purposeful librarianship: a dispatch from the busy zone with a reminder to VOTE TUESDAY!

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Five years ago, my pal Molly and her husband Richard flew in from New York to visit her parents, “Mel” (z”l) and “Sally.” It was their first visit after M&S moved into “Old People Harvard,” the independent and assisted-living community where Mom had been living for two years.

It was a great gift to Mom (z”l). She’d moved from her community six states away, a place where she had deep roots and was both valued and valuable.  It was a courageous move on several counts: facing that Parkinson’s disease was making it impossible for her to maintain her independence and leaping into an unknown social scene.

Mel & Sally’s move wasn’t as easy as Mom’s had been. They were uncertain about how things would be. Molly had flown out to help reassure them. We met for lunch in the dining room at Old People Harvard. There, Mom was able to be the old hand, telling and kvelling to Mel & Sally about how happy she was there, how much there was to do and the truth about the adjustments she’d had – and been able – to make. It meant a great deal to her to be able to be of service, and the three of them forged a lifelong friendship.

But, back to that first post-move visit. Old People Harvard takes itself seriously when it comes to providing top-notch programming for its residents. I remember on my birthday when I called Mom to let her know I was stopping by to drop off a cupcake. She answered the phone in that whisper I knew meant she was involved in something.

“I’m in the Rubeinstein Room. Russ Feingold is talking about his new book.”

“Okay,” I replied. “I’ll sneak in quietly.”

When I walked in, he was answering a question about the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. I dropped the cupcake into her hands and cruised back to work, where I spent the rest of the day working and passing out cupcakes to people who’d been kind to me over the past year.

Okay, seriously now. Back to that first post-move visit.

Richard is a photographer for the Associated Press. Trish, the programming genius at Old People Harvard, got him to do a “show and tell” with the photos he’s taken over a 50-year span. I could fill up the rest of this post with names of famous people and events he described photographing. His stories about the pictures were as riveting as the photos themselves. I didn’t want the program to end, and I wasn’t alone.

So, cut to two years ago, when I got my dream job as a public librarian and learned that programming was part of my job. Getting Richard to come to the library and share his photos could be part of my job!?

It was, and it is, and this afternoon it is happening. So, that’s the librarianship part of this post.

In accidental landlording adventures, when a known drug dealer looked at the house next door to us seven years ago, I was all “Hell no!”

I had a little extra scratch thanks to a car accident, and used it to buy the house. It’s basically a free-standing one-bedroom apartment in a park – 731 square feet on a 60-foot lot.

I thought Mom could live in it if she wanted to, which she didn’t. One of my offspring lived there for awhile (I joked that we were running a subsidized housing program – don’t ask!). Since she moved, we’d been pretty lucky to rent it to reasonable tenants on a word-of-mouth basis.

Luck ran out when our most recent tenant stopped being sober and skipped out, leaving us with a $715 water bill and all his stuff. Yesterday, someone I’ve known for 10+ years came over to look at it.

Sweetheart and I have a boatload of work to do to get the nasty tobacco smell out of the house (smoking in the house was prohibited by his lease, but drunks aren’t big on rule-following) and get it habitable by December for a mom, a kid and a dog.

I am looking forward to having someone I know and trust and value next door.

I’m looking forward to this afternoon.

I’m especially looking forward to Tuesday, hoping fervently that enough sensible people in this country see right-wing fear tactics for what they are and vote accordingly.  Please be one of them.

 

 

 

Reductio ad Essentialis:Diet time at The Landfill I Call Home

This holiday season, my sister got me a pair of socks that sprung a hole the first time I wore them and a pen my brother-in-law brought back from a trip to China whose individual components waged a civil war in my coat pocket. (The pieces are still in there.)

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They say “Good Luck Socks.” I wore them once and used up the luck.

She also got me a pair of Roots sweatpants that fit perfectly, and an envelope with Sweetheart’s and my name on it. Inside was a note and a check for $200. The note instructed me to use it to hire someone to help us with cleaning and organizing The Landfill We Call Home.

It was a lovely gesture. Debby is well acquainted with my travails around cleaning and organization. I definitely have too much stuff. But Sweetheart is in a league by himself, and I’ve lost control of the situation.

Once upon a brief time, I lived in a house where everything was in order. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced, a mini heaven-on-earth. It was the first time in my life I remember waking up and not thinking “I have to clean the house today,” because the house was already clean and I was able, with minimal effort, to keep it that way.

Heaven
This is not my house. It belongs to friends of mine, and when I go there, it feels like heaven. That period when I was able to get and keep things in order was, too. (Posted because I couldn’t find a photo of my house from back then.)

 

Then, I was in a car accident, Youngest Daughter moved in and, shortly after that, Sweetheart and his stuff.

Landfill1
This is the chaos that followed my order. It was pretty demoralizing.

I want to live in my own heaven again, with Sweetheart. Which is, itself, a good enough reason to clean and organize. But there’s another reason, and it is that I love my children.

Moving my mother across six states five years ago was a really eye-opening experience. I was the one who packed and boxed and helped her to figure out what to take and what to leave.

She had pills that were older than my adult children and issues of Good Housekeeping that dated back to my high school years. There were bed sheets from when I was a kid, and bank receipts that pre-dated the Kennedy assassination.

Moms_MoveResized
Mom’s Great Migration, a snapshot.

Don’t get me wrong. There was a lot of cool stuff, too.

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Cool things from  Mom’s (above & below)

But this baby packrat did not fall far from the mother tree when it comes to accumulating stuff. Whether I get old enough that my children have to help me move or I expire in my own digs, the last thing I want to leave them is a mess.

Which leaves only one alternative. (Well, two if you count burning the house down, but that would create a whole new set of problems.)

The house needs to go on a diet. I’d say it needs to lose approximately 2/3 of its internal mass.

Which is why Debby’s gift threw me into a bit of an existential crisis. Given the scope of what needs to happen, I wasn’t sure $200 would be enough to effectively begin to address it.

“It’s enough to rent a dumpster!” Sweetheart said.

A wholesale toss-fest sounded too much like a possessionary version of the {insert name of favorite} Diet. First Ex was a big crash/fad dieter. He’d lose a bunch of weight on whatever diet du jour was in vogue at that point, then gain even more back. A wholesale purge with the possibility of ending in storage locker rental was too big a risk.

Also, it didn’t feel right. This, to quote Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz, was a “delicate” situation.

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“These things must be done delicately, you know.”

So, for the past few months, I’d risked losing that check somewhere in The Landfill I Call Home (our house eats things) while I pondered and waited for the right thing to do with it.

Which turned out to be my friend Annie. She was closing the vintage clothing shop she’d run for years to start an estate sale and organizing business.

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Annie, behind the counter at her fabulous vintage clothing store. (Photo Credit: One of Annie’s other friends.)

I got in touch within five minutes of hearing the news. She came over for dinner and a tour of the house on Thursday. We scheduled two three-hour sessions – one for each of us.

Mine was yesterday. But in the runup, I decided to start clearing out dresser drawers so Sweetheart could have an entire dresser to himself. In the process, I began winnowing. Sweetheart saw what was happening and joined in. By the time Sunday was in the rear-view mirror, I’d thrown away three pair of shoes, a pillow and piled up a few new rags.

TakeItAwayAnnie
Annie, hauling away what I parted with after our work session. The porch and front hall look much lighter!

I also packed a huge suitcase. It’s full of clothing that still fits, but that I don’t need or haven’t worn for years. I’m off to Canada this week to see my sister.

I have a round-trip ticket. But for the clothes in that suitcase, it’s a one-way ride.

Repo Week – Day 5: I Can Dream, Can’t I?

Yesterday Sweetheart’s brother Tommy came over to help him do some excavating. I’m not sure what they got done, because I was busy fighting with myself over letting go of useless things I wanted to keep. Also, realizing that I was doing my own excavating while listening to Garbage made me feel a bit more cheerful.

Cheerful, but not any more less angst-ridden about throwing things away.

I turned to Tom for rational advice, and he was perfect.

“Kill your darlings,” he said. Then he explained that when he cleaned up his family basement and had to make tough decisions, that’s what he told himself. I plan on remembering that one.

I was starting on a metaphorical infanticide festival when the phone rang.

Mom wasn’t having a good day and wanted us to have lunch together. So I brought take-out over to the nursing home. Mom ate three pieces of an oreo roll (tuna/mushroom). Debby had a tempura roll and something called a Boston roll, which had – I don’t know – baked beans? I had fresh rolls and a small helping of green curry. The portions are huge, so Sweetheart and I split the rest for dinner later.

After lunch, Debby came back for a couple of hours, theoretically to help me with the room. But she is working on a problematic book review. (The writer lives in the same city as she does, and they have friends in common.) The story is interesting and the writing sparkles in spots, but the book was poorly edited, so there are too many characters, too much going on and a sub-head device that’s the equivalent of a seventh-grade girl who insists on dotting every “i” with a little heart. At first it’s cute, but you want to break every writing implement the kid owns after the 20th occurrence.

So her definition of help was to sit in her room writing while I occasionally showed her things. Which, while not what I was hoping for, was better than someone who’d rather be doing something else in there, tipping me ever closer to complete meltdown.

Anyway, here’s what I got done yesterday.

A picture of a room.
It’s looking a bit better. Today it ends, wherever it ends. Hopefully in a usable, functional place that I can maintain some order.

Today, I’m inviting Sweetheart in to help with one thing – taking apart the Halle Berry chair (once upon a time it was hers) and stowing it in the attic for my oldest offspring, who wants it – and installing a light fixture.

Then, at the end of today, I’m gonna call it quits for the time being. It’ll be functional and I can relax and work in there. I don’t know if I can ever get it and the rest of the house to where I’m fully satisfied. But I can dream, can’t I?

Repo Week-Day 4: Burning Down the House would be easier

I will not lie. It is a slog. I'm not entirely sure how good of an idea this was.....
I will not lie. It is a slog. I’m not entirely sure how good of an idea this was…..

Yesterday I reached the place where you decide that starting from scratch would be easier. Which was quickly followed by advice from the voice in my head.

“You should have just burned the house down.”

Then I thought about the logistics, and of saving my musical instruments (the dog and cat were already outside with me, of course). I will try to plow into today’s work with that in my head. And, of course, the Talking Heads.

Later, my friend Molly sent me an e-mail and said her daughter asked her if she knew that I was a hoarder.

I sent her a one-line response, based on the following:

When Sweetheart and I moved from the other house and the movers showed up, I was apprehensive about the amount of stuff we had and that it wasn’t exactly completely packed. (It was largely packed, but not completely.)

“Is this the worst you’ve ever seen?”

The movers – a crew of older guys – laughed.

“Not by a long shot!” one said.

“Have you ever walked into a house and walked out?” Sweetheart was asking.

The response was a chorus of yeses.

I swallowed, took a deep breath, and asked The Question.”

“Are we hoarders?”

The trio looked around, considering the question.

Finally one spoke.

The other two nodded in assent. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Which is why my response to Molly’s e-mail was, “Tell Sophie the movers diagnosed us as packrats.”

Anyway, my sister arrived last night. She’s going to spend most of her time here with Mom, which is great. But Debby, who has also struggled with the same kinds of organizational issues around stuff (yes, it does stem back to our Family of Origin, and we both thank you for noticing), has promised to have a toss party with me this morning.

Except she just came downstairs and announced that she is leaving.

I’m on my own, and a bit freaked out.

But at least I have a mantra.

Note to self: “The instruments. Your first thought was to save the musical instruments. Try to remember this.”

Stay tuned.

Update: Debby called from the nursing home. Mom wants us to all have lunch together, and then Debby is going to come back here and help me with Operation Paredown. Just called in to our default Thai restaurant for takeout, but am going to share a picture what I’ve managed to get done on my own this morning.

Picture of study
This is what I managed to get accomplished this morning. Everything that happens after this will be sister-assisted.

Repo Week- Day 2: “The trouble with normal/is it always gets worse”

First off, a shoutout to Bruce Cockburn. Today’s headline is ripped straight from one of his songs. It’s actually the title track of his 1983 release.

By the time my office gets to its new normal, it’ll be better. But right now, it’s worse, even though I hauled a bunch of stuff out yesterday. Some went to the trash. Some went into boxes for the neighborhood rummage sale we’re holding this summer. Mom & Dad’s record collection is downstairs because my pal Ronn is going to digitize a bunch of them before I toss or donate the rest.

Grace hung out with me yesterday and got me to throw away things I might not otherwise have done, and when she left, I got lost in a box of Mom’s stuff before I really went nuts.

She saved everything, and multiple copies of it. I found four of these.

a letter from Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis
As this letter from former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis illustrates, anyone who meets me knows instantly that I am delightful. Mom had this original in one file and three copies in another. Clearly the Clutter-attracting Apple did not fall far from the Packrat Tree. (The copies have been recycled.)

 

Then Sweetheart came home and started working in the laundry room. (I’d gotten it sparkly last year. He filled it up. When I told him what I was going to do this week and asked him to take a few days off – after I’d gotten a running start – he said he was going to start there.)

When he came upstairs to tell me it was time to go to Cindy & Andy’s for dinner, I’d moved on from the box of treasures I’d found in one of Mom’s boxes and was hard into removing paper clips and fasteners from grad school papers and tossing the remains onto the floor (I’d already filled the recycling bags) to box up and haul off.

Repo Week Day 2
It might not look better, but at least it looks different. Tomorrow? Who knows!

That’s where I’ll start this morning, as soon as I’m back from buying a pound of coffee and dropping off fresh blueberries at the nursing home and collecting a hug from Mom. (I have not told her I am off work this week, because she would want me to hang out with her and I have to get this done. I will spend some time with her, but not until that room is the way I want it.)