Simple needs are best.
Skies so blue. Rooms with a view.
Just give me shelter.
With the gift of a breeze that’s got my back, I pick up my pace in warm sunshine.
I’m out for early for a walk, a nearby lake my destination.
To the serenade of robins, I feel light on my feet as I jog past bee friendly yards and a bird friendly coffee shop.
I fumble for any loose change in my pockets.
I’m on a budget, but I know one cup of of dark roast won’t burn too big of a hole.
I’ve grown to love exploring my new neighborhood on Sundays after downsizing last fall to a new place.
Today I’m searching for any simple gifts I might find.
Feeling optimistic, I open the first little free library I encounter across from the lake.
Inside, planted next to an old copy of The New Yorker, I see neatly labeled packages of seeds for pole beans.
I grab one for a small raised bed I’ve been preparing and put it in my back pack.
One block further west, I encounter five more free libraries all proudly standing in front of the local hardware store.
I gravitate to one painted lilac and pull out a book on Alzheimer’s.
But I pass.
I know more than I’d like after a decade of caregiving.
I try again.
This time I find a children’s book on art and another on ants inside.
Perfect for my granddaughter and little grandson I think.
I’m embarrassed by my riches as I’ve left nothing in return. Yet I smile as I think back to last fall when I gave away so much as I moved.
But did I really?
After my walk, I return home to my small cottage to place screens in the windows of my tiny porch.
At 895 square feet, some may consider my cottage to be a closet, but I find it a castle.
I soon feel the breeze again, dancing now with the white curtains teasing my shoulders as I sit on the little love seat on my porch to relax.
I’m more than content as I survey the space before me.
I’ve been longing for a sweet little porch, just like my grandmother’s, since I was six years old.
And now that I’m a grandma myself, I finally have one to call my very own.
What a gift it is, though not simple at all.
I’m calling this one mighty grand.
While grabbing the mail a few weeks back, I noticed one oversized envelope with a stamped New York return address.
“5th Avenue” it read. It was sent from a suite in in the Empire State Building.
Yet my Minnesota address was handwritten.
I smiled for a minute, thinking of the many trips I made to the city when I was young.
I thought fondly of one employer who’d put me up in a particularly posh room at the UN Plaza, overlooking the Chrysler Building.
I remember sitting cross legged on my oversized bed at 3:00 a.m. gazing up at that skyscraper shining brighter than the stars overhead.
I was so overwhelmed with the beauty of it all.
But I never quite made it to the Empire State Building.
Was this some kind of a fancy invitation now, I wondered?
Well, sort of.
Inside the envelope was an offer to select a gift to thank me for my many years of service from a more recent employer. They provided me a with a password to use on an internet site.
I retired back in the fall.
The selections they presented me with were dazzling though I couldn’t find any new car batteries or gift cards for dog food included.
Instead I saw regal looking clocks with chimes, delicate diamond bracelets, circular saws, and 24 piece flatware sets.
Nice merchandise indeed, but I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that more than 90 percent of possessions I owned when I retired are no longer around.
In order to downsize to an 800 square foot cottage that same month, I needed to pare down quickly. And I was also in the process of paring down to a 30 hour work week with a non-profit.
It’s pretty clear my lifestyle’s changed.
And I have as well, I was thinking as I took a second look at each of the possibilities before me.
I quickly rejected the handsome clocks. My time on earth is too short to sit and watch each minute tick by.
And diamond bracelets aren’t a must for my current wardrobe of three pairs of faded jeans, two sweatshirts, and a salt stained winter parka.
I then consulted my neighbor who advised me that deciphering the detailed instructions for a circular saw would clearly have me running in circles.
And once my late husband was diagnosed with dementia, I threw all formal dining out the window and became a permanent fan of plastic knives and forks.
I finally decided to set the big envelope aside for a while.
Instead, I stopped over at the local thrift store to take a look at a small rocking chair for $4.00.
I’ve downsized so much I don’t have chairs anymore for my grandkids to sit in when they stop by.
I found walking through the shop was like walking through my own personal history museum, as I’d donated so many items there.
To my left I saw my husband’s colorful collection of silk ties, neatly displayed next to several of his crisp blue checked shirts.
To my right were lovingly crafted pottery pieces that used to sit on our coffee table.
And in front of me was a display of our old crystal pieces.
There stood my tall Tiffany candlesticks, our beautifully etched bowls, and all my elegant vases.
I saw my favorite vase where I once displayed the yellow roses I received each anniversary.
I became a little melancholy.
But only briefly.
I know all the goods I donated will find the homes they deserve.
And I’m helping out a worthy local charity that does a great job of helping clients find food, housing, and jobs.
Today I went back again to view the gift website of my old employer.
And this time I saw something new that had been added.
The gift was described as a ‘creative vision’.
An ‘evolution’ of sorts.
One encased with color ‘creating a dramatic presence’.
The words made me think of what I want for this late chapter of a life.
I quickly hit the ‘send’ button.
An aqua infused crystal vase will be coming my way in 10 days.
It’s a simple gift really, yet shining with light.
And it will bring back color to a landscape once cloudy as it frames the yellow roses I’ll be growing in my new little garden.
What more could I possibly want?
What more could I possibly need?
Not one single thing.
I was thinking yesterday, moving out of your home can be like a root canal gone bad.
The pain seems to go on forever.
My back was finally complaining this week after 23 days of urban camping.
A.K.A., sleeping on the floor because my bed and the rest of the furniture have been in storage.
And my cold fingers and ears chimed in as the winter gear has been resting along side it.
I’ve learned coordinating with multiple moving partners can cause a major relapse on bad habits like biting your nails and avoiding reality.
At least it has for me.
And repeated phone calls to straighten out double billings in wrong names and wrong languages haven’t helped any.
Yet with the first frost coming I had to at least try and make those calls again to get my belongings back this week.
But all now seemed aligned, and I had my delivery perfectly scheduled for yesterday morning when I’d have a few hours off from work.
Or at least thought all was perfect until I discovered my work schedule had changed.
So I called in my daughter Nicole from the field to pinch hit.
Knowing I’d be unreachable at work, I left her my cell phone so she could triage the inevitable confusion and emergency issues with my mover and storage folks.
I kept biting my long nails shorter all morning, wondering how it was going.
Finally, I was free to call Nicole from a break room phone right before noon.
There was no answer.
Trying again and again, I reached her on the fifth attempt as she pulled into a gas station on her way home.
“All is well,” Nicole proclaimed.
But I remained skeptical.
There just had to be a snag some where.
Isn’t there always one?
Walking gingerly into my kitchen after work, I first picked up my cell phone on the counter to check for my missed calls.
And I found some.
In fact, a lot of them.
There were multiple missed calls from the same number but no voice mail.
“Now what?” I mumbled.
Problems with the credit card for the mover?
Or is it the gas company again, I wondered.
Frustrated, I glanced up as I entered a very peaceful living room on the way to the back bedroom.
I stopped in my tracks.
There really was furniture, including a bed, off in the distance.
My daughter had even decorated the place.
And she did so beautifully.
I saw my terrier, Tuck, back napping in his favorite spot on the black sofa.
And my beloved cozy quilt, nestled next to my old reading chair.
I took a long deep breath, then looked again at the phone in my hand, studying the mysterious number for those missed calls.
And I laughed, finally recognizing the number.
“Hey, Tuck,” I said. “That was just crazy me making all those calls from work to my own cell phone.
At that point, I dove into my bed for a very long nap.
And so did Tuck, right at the foot of it, immediately snoring away like always.
It seems we are finally at home.
And as for that pain, the first nap in my own bed was just the perfect Novocain.
Before deciding to ‘right size’ in this autumn of my life, I chose two guiding principals to follow:
-Live your life with intention
-Know that you can’t go home again
I was thinking about my changes while falling crimson and gold maple leaves kept me company last night on a walk.
I’ve scaled back to a 30 hour job so I can write more. And I’ve scaled back to a tiny white cottage with a patch of grass I’m maintaining with a push mower.
I rely only on my strength for fuel.
That’s just the life I led back way back in my twenties.
Yet it seems I’m now living just a mile north from a house my parents rented during grade school, right over the border in the next town.
And I’m only a mile west from the hospital where my husband passed away a year and a half ago, and two miles from the depot where his memorial service was held.
I’ve also discovered I’m three miles from the clapboard house I rented the last time I tried to live with intention, back in my twenties.
But this time I’ll aim to keep that focus sharper, knowing I have many more seasons behind me then ahead of me.
Leading up to this fall of change, I read two books that spurred me on.
The first, titled the “The Blue Zones”, is about how to live longer and better. The second provides tips on the creativity, titled “Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within”.
What’s better that living healthier and freeing the writer within, I thought as I continued my walk and noticed the freshly painted little free library in my new neighborhood.
I opened the door and peeked inside.
That’s when I spotted the same two books I’d just read stacked neatly on the top shelf.
I took it as a sign.
It’s never too late for us to live our days with intention.
And perhaps we can actually go home again, even if we never intended to.
It’s all in that perspective.
Here I was thinking I’d acquired just a sweet little home with a sweet little porch last month.
But it seems I’ve gained so much more.
I have myself a sweet new little life.
Oh, and what’s even better, it’s just the right size.
I’m really working hard at making my downsizing adventure exciting.
Or at least fun.
And I’m almost there. (At least I think I am?)
In fact, I discovered 10 new tips this week that gave me an adrenalin rush while navigating my own jungle of closets and cupboards:
1. Bubble wrap is better than the finest French champagne. You’ll still have bubbles to pop and your precious cargo will feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Oooh la la!
2. Never back your car into the cars of move volunteers. Beside the added body shop expenses, they won’t come back unless bribed with double doses of anchovy pizza.
3. Find yourself a BFF at the donation drive up. Brian’s my buddy at the local Goodwill. I get a receipt, pep talk, and a smile every time I roll in.
4. Next, find yourself a guardian angel at the Best Buy. I’ve found one in George. He’s making sure all those dead soldiers under my basement stairs go to their peaceful, final resting place. So long you old Dora the Explorer stickered TV sets and Back Street Boy blaring boom boxes. RIP!
5. Do not pack your cell phones into move boxes. Otherwise you’ll be forever calling yourself to figure out which boxes to reopen.
6. Also, don’t pack away your Ben Gay, heating pad, and chocolate too soon. And once you do, make sure and label that box, “Open Me First!” You’re going to need it.
7. Smile sweetly and bat your eye lashes with your grocery and liquor store clerks when begging for free boxes. I gather more of them that way along with extra sympathy and smiles in return.
8. Remember purging is good for the soul. And also good for others. I’m packing a set of dishes this morning for someone who has none. I’m happy I can help out. What a gift that is for me.
9. Gratitude really is the key. Be thankful you don’t have to move every year. And if you do, you have my sincere sympathy and I’ll regift you all my leftover packing tape.
10. Keep your sense of humor. It’s like high octane fuel.
In summary, I’ll end this Lesson 3 with a little move ‘self talk’ I gave myself and the dogs this morning.
‘This too will pass’.
Though that reminds me, I’ve got 6 more empty boxes and hungry dogs calling my name right now.
And it seems my ringing cell phone is missing once again.
So I’ve learned something else about packing for a move to a new house.
Never ever refer to your possessions as “treasures.”
Because here’s what happens.
You’ll stop ‘moving’, for one.
And two, you’ll soon be picking up every little gem, holding it up to the light just to see how it shines.
I learned that many years ago helping Grandma Esther go through her old agates and Life magazines in that musty magical storage shed.
Every last gem in there was a treasure for sure.
As for me, I don’t have a storage shed.
But I do have a basement.
And my nephew’s even deemed it magical.
If you enter my yellowing submarine, you’ll find yourself lost below ground for hours.
In fact today I snorkeled down there, finding new treasure trove which caused me to float off course.
This morning’s special diamond was an old family picture of Big Dog (a.k.a brother Scott) and Little Dog (a.k.a Buffy). They were a very bonded pair.
I’d never seen the birthday shot of the two ‘dogs’ before.
Likely it swam my direction in a box, as we did last minute clean up on Mom’s and Dad’s house before it sold.
I noticed Little Dog looks old and very gray in the picture.
The shot was likely taken shortly before she passed.
Yet Little Dog had a great and long run, far exceeding our expectations.
In contrast, Big Dog looks young and vibrant in the picture.
Though he passed shortly after the photo was taken as well.
Still Big Dog’s run was also good, even if his distance fell unexpectedly short.
I’m very happy I made my detour today, finally coming up for air up with my picture in hand.
It really is quite a treasure.
And I already have a special spot in mind in my new home, right on top of the fireplace mantle.
I know the light there will continue to shine on this bonded dog pack for many years to come.
So here’s the deal.
I’m really trying to pare down.
I hope to be extra efficient as I downsize into a smaller home.
But here’s the problem.
I sat down.
My excuse was a sore right leg from lifting too much on the weekend.
Though I kept on working while seated.
Well, sort of.
I was stripping family photos out of albums so I could toss their tired covers.
But I was beginning to have fun.
Maybe too much fun.
And that’s not allowed when you move.
So from my kitchen stool, I picked my next target.
I looked up at all the dusty glassware in the dining room.
I eyed one too many crystal vases.
It was a prime candidate to go because of its weight.
I was about to make my move when a photo fell on my lap.
Then a second, and a third.
And there was Mom in all three, looking pretty and perky in her favorite pink suit.
Mom’s smile in the photos is one I still remember. She was at her retirement party held in the middle school where she taught.
And I saw in the second photo that the gift from her co-workers was the same crystal vase now living in my dining room.
I immediately moved the vase over to the ‘keep’ pile.
Mom also received a book on the life of Claude Monet at the celebration.
I’m betting that gift’s in the house here, too.
Likely buried with those still to be dealt with 800 art books of my late husband’s.
So here’s my first moving lesson.
If you want to learn efficient techniques, I’m not your best teacher.
I did a rough count this morning. There are more than 800 art books in my late husband’s office. Some are boxed. Others are aligned alphabetically on 8 sagging bookshelves.
Problem 1: I may be selling and moving out of my little house in 60 days.
Problem 2: Maybe not.
Problem 3: I may be moving into an even smaller house.
Problem 4: Maybe not.
But the biggest problem of all is I’m no wheeler dealer.
And when it comes to matters of real estate, I’m a lost lamb in the woods, running
the treadmill of offers and counter offers.
I know it will all work out.
And life will get more simple.
Because my true home’s wherever that old green knapsack takes me in life, with the canine crew at my side.
So for this day, I’ll just load up those carefully selected free boxes from the liquor store labeled ‘Le Grand Noir (Black Sheep)’ and ‘Cupcake Angel Food’.
They ought to be prime candidates for the French art books and maybe even my cookbooks.
As green as I am with real estate, this girl’s determined to make the downsizing dilemma fun.
Even if it does take one U-Haul full of Angel Food Cupcakes to keep me going.
I have taken the act of being overwhelmed to a new art.
I refined my skill after my husband passed away a year ago. Though he’d been ill for sometime, the end came abruptly.
With his death it seems so many decisions need to be made in such little time.
And I’m not getting any younger.
Though a few decisions still remain relatively easy for me, like yesterday’s purchase of new GAP jeans, Anne Taylor pants and a faux leopard jacket from the thrift store for $9.00.
I’ll even call decisions related to retail therapy fun.
Particularly on a gray winter’s day.
But on my way back home I thought I better get serious and stop at an Open House for a rambler that’s up for sale.
I know I’ll be downsizing soon and I’m studying up on the real estate market.
Renting, which once sounded like an option, may actually be more expensive than buying a tiny piece of property that I can maintain.
So I skated down the icy driveway towards the vacant house for sale behind an elderly gentlemen who’d also stopped by. The man’s probably looking for a starter home for his grandson or granddaughter, I thought.
Greeted by a jolly realtor, we both looked around the cheerful rooms in the small home.
“I’d sure love that fenced yard for my dogs,” I commented, to keep the conversation moving. Though I was more interested in learning what the selling price was for the house, as I own a rambler as well.
I noticed my new gentleman friend was hunched over, but sporting a slight tan. Though he looked tired.
Like me, this man also lived nearby.
“I will be selling soon, and I’m trying to decide it I need to makes cosmetic upgrades,” he said.
“Not to worry in this market,” advised the realtor.
“We built a beautiful porch on our house just before my wife died. She’d wanted us to spend our final years together in the home,” the man added, his face now expressionless.
My heart sank.
I wanted to give the fellow a big hug. Or at least buy him a steaming cup of coffee.
But then he added, “It’s ok though. I’m going to Florida!”
I detected a smile and a sparkle in his blue eyes.
I knew he would be just fine after all.
And I suppose I will be, too.
We both left the house and returned to the bitter cold to walk to our cars.
But I looked up and saw the sun was now shining brightly.
On both of us.