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


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.




Hitting the ‘delete’ button on Facebook: a Dispatch from the quiet zone

In 2007, I was on national television and in the New York Times for being one of the first “old” people on Facebook.

On April 10th, I posted this on my Facebook feed:

I was going to just leave quietly, but it feels disrespectful to so many of you who I care about. I joined Facebook quietly in December of 2006 as a puckish joke on one of my kids, and it quickly became a mechanism for staying in touch far-flung friends. It also helped me make new friends, and valuable connections. But for a lot of reasons, it’s time to go. I’m reassessing a lot of things in light of Mom’s death, and the way I engage with social media platforms is on that list.

 Regarding Facebook, I know enough about what privacy means in an electronic environment to have kept my settings set at maximum privacy, not take any of those damn quizzes or list my forty favorite songs, colors or facts about myself I wasn’t willing to share. But the way Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg made it okay for anyone who let the vampires in to also let them in to their friends’ houses was not okay.

Two days later, I clicked “Delete my account.” I was informed that if I logged in within two weeks, all would be forgiven and my account restored.

Now, that’s a non-option.

And then, with a single keystroke, I flushed Facebook.

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing over Facebook’s lack of respect for user privacy, but knowing what I knew about the ways in which data gets collected, mined and used, I was less surprised about the outrage than I was at the constant (see blog archives for a paper I wrote about it in 2008) insistence by Zuckerberg & Co. that they had no idea that FB data could be used for anything other than good.

If I, a nobody sitting at my kitchen table in 2008 could identify multiple ways personal data could be used for less-than-savory purposes,  there’s no excuse for those two to turn into a pair of outraged Victorian ladies, all atwitter at this assault on their constitutions.

Still, a lot of people, whether or not their data was scooped up by Cambridge Analytica (mine was, unsurprisingly), are sticking with Facebook.

I’m not one of them. When I left, Sumner & Jessica were about to become first-time parents. I wonder how my fellow librarian pal Keith in Syracuse is faring, whether Celia got to the beach for the annual sea turtle rescue and how many impromptu house concerts and other adventures Marge has had in the last week (probably about 20, knowing her as I do).

But the truth is, Facebook had also become an avoidance strategy. In the time Mom was declining, it was a way to decompress and run away from thinking about what was going on. The energy it took to do what I needed to for her left me with little time to address my house, which was becoming more cluttered, and the long-form project I’ve been working on – mostly in my head – for decades.

Cambridge Analytica was the final push forward.

Since leaving Facebook, I can’t say I’ve made major strides on any of these things. But I have made strides.

As I write this, the radio is on and I’m half-listening to an episode of Hidden Brain in which a young mom talks about how reluctant she was to portray anything on Facebook but the perfect life, and spending way too much energy comparing her perfect life to other peoples’.

The dog is begging for a bite of waffle, Sweetheart broke a dessert dish in the microwave warming syrup; there’s a load of laundry in the wash and the litterbox needs changing.

Mark Zuckerberg may have kind of needed me back when I was “Facebook Old,” but he sure doesn’t now. At the time I quit, I had more than 1,500 contacts. All of them were there for a reason, whether or not we’d met in person.

I used Facebook to connect people with each other, stay in touch with far-flung friends and remain current in my job. There are times when I miss the ease of being able to manage those connections.  But I managed just fine before Mark Zuckerberg.

I’ll be fine without him.

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.)

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.

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.

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.

Mom’s Great Migration, a snapshot.

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

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.

“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.

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.

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 3: “State of Confusion”

It doesn’t look different, but I’ve hauled about six bags of stuff out of the room, and am at a part where the sorting is getting hard. Or to paraphrase The Kinks, “I’m in a state of confusion.”

A messy room
You’d never know I’ve hauled about 10 bags of stuff to the trash, but I have. It’s a slog, but I will get this done!

I want to get the floor emptied and the compact discs boxed and put with the rest of the CDs. That’s a whole ‘nother project, so putting them all together in one place and dealing with them is the smartest thing I can do.

After the floor is relatively clear, I’m going to tackle the note cards. Mom had a lifetime supply of stationery and it’s taking up two full shelves in that room. I will never write that many notes. And if I do, I need to remember that even if civilization is eroding, it hasn’t slipped to the point where I can’t buy pads, paper and note cards. Also, I have a job and can afford to pay the utilities, so we are not at the point where I need to burn what Mom didn’t use to keep warm.

Speaking of which, she was very pleased with the blueberry drop-off and is even more excited that my sister, the Disneyland Daughter (the one who comes around a few times a year and takes her out for lunch and shops and does fun things) is coming tonight.

So I will have to take a bit of time off to get her room ready, and I want to clean the bathroom. But my little den is top priority, hard as it’s been to do what I’m doing.

Also, Sweetheart is home today. He says he’s going to deal with laundry and the upstairs hallway (you don’t want to know).

Truth: It’s a slog.

Truth: If I manage to get out of my way and ruthlessly excavate, the rewards will be worth the angst.

Welcome to Repo Week!: Adventures in Room-by-Room Reclamation, with a slight pollinary diversion

Before the real meat of this post, a quick update on the bees. As of last week, I can report that they are schlepping pollen to their hive. I expect to find baby bees when we open it later this week. Meanwhile, here are a couple of close-ups of my girls with full pollen baskets.

The yellowish ball hanging underneath the bee is pollen.
The brighter yellow ball hanging underneath the bee is pollen.
Another shot of a bee with a full pollen basket.
Another shot of a bee with a full pollen basket.

One of the most amazing things about having a job is paid vacation. This past year, I jealously hoarded the week and change I had left after my daughter’s wedding in order to begin addressing The Landfill I Call Home.

When we moved to this house six years ago, I was in grad school and working full time. I made a conscious decision to put unpacking and housekeeping last, focusing my energy on doing a good job for the People (I’m a public sector employee) and excelling at my studies (I graduated with honors). During that period, I moved my mother across six states into an assisted living apartment and then to a single room in a nursing home. Which did nothing – and continues to do nothing – to help decrease the stuff in my house or increase the amount of time needed to deal with it.

Anyone wondering about Sweetheart and this process? Fuhgeddaboutit. He’s the love of my life. He feeds me and calms me, and that’s huge. But when it comes to housekeeping, he’s more a problem than a solution. If I ever write a screenplay, it’s going to be a horror movie/romcom called “When Packrats Fall in Love.”

Bottom line: Last year, I got my masters degree. I did a bit here and there, but the cleaning/organizing/purging process does not come any more naturally to me than it does to Sweetheart.

Nonetheless, this week, it’s happening.

My dream would be to Marie Kondo the entire place wholemeal. But one thing I have worked hard to be good at is seeing things as they are. Trying to take on the entire house in a single week is a recipe for defeat.

So I am going to attempt the following:

  1. My study
  2. The pantries
  3. The front and back hallways

I started the study a couple of months ago, when I had a long afternoon. It went from okay to terrible in about three hours. I was so traumatized that I stopped.

The Ultimate Before Picture. I am mortified to be posting this, but if all goes well, the next picture of this room will look way different!
The Ultimate Before Picture. I am mortified to be posting this, but if all goes well, the next picture of this room will look way different!

But today, as soon as this post is posted, I head upstairs to turn on some good music and start again. I’ll be on my own for a couple of hours, and then Grace is coming over. Something I learned when I first started breaking up Mom’s house is the utility of having a friend who really understands your pathologies. It’s the equivalent of hiring a stand-in for your rational self, someone who can bypass your freaked-out inner child and reassure you that getting rid of your (insert possession here) will not, in fact, cause your soul to wither and life as you knew it to end. Unless, of course, you’re defining “life as you knew it” as “being so overwhelmed by clutter that you can’t function.”

I’ll probably be posting every other day or so this week, maybe even daily as this process unfolds.

Stay tuned.