Simple Needs, Simple Gifts

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.

Moving 2015: The Epilogue

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.

Right size

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.

Lessons in Change

Strains of Ave Maria fill a busy co-op where I have found internet connectivity this morning.

I see and continue to smell change in the air.

And it’s beautiful.

Gold and burgundy sweaters, along with striped wool caps have been pulled out from storage.

And so have the recipes for stews and chilies.

It’s the rebirth of a glorious and colorful season.

And the debut of a new one for me.

I downsized into a new home this last month.

And I also retired from a corporate job one Friday afternoon and transitioned to a new job with a non profit on a Monday morning

So far I’ve learned so far that my 806 square feet ‘Grandma’ house is all that I need to make a grand home.

And actually much more.

Paring down 24 years of possessions, and those of four generations of other family members, has been no minor feat.

But I survived.

At least I think I have.

My furniture is still in storage, including the beds.

But I’ve been purposely taking my time.

Though I think this little guy in the picture is looking for a sleep over, so I’ll add a call to the storage facility to this week’s ‘to do’ list.

In the meantime, I’ll pick up root vegetables for a pot of heart warming stew in celebration of this new season of autumn.

And a pair of cozy pumpkin colored socks for me to celebrate my season of change as well.

Oh, what a great gift change is for us all.

And it seems for me, especially.

Moving: Lesson 6

“It will be fun eventually. Really!”

My sister emailed me those words last night.

I was enjoying a pity party of one while entering the final days of packing and pitching before my move.

I’d just broken a favorite French styled lamp my husband gave me years ago.

I’ve been downsizing to a smaller home, but I’ve come to realize that doesn’t mean the work is any less.

It seems I missed summer with job and home tasks, and was thinking I’ll miss fall with its brilliant orange and yellow colors as well.

But my sister kept cheering me on, acknowledging the stress and telling me how much I’ll enjoy decorating my new little place.

I sat on my rusting kitchen foot stool, a.k.a the last chair still in the house, munching on my daily move cuisine of yet another “gourmet” gas station sub.

With my back aching, and too tired to lift another box, I surrendered to my bed by 8:00.

After all, I knew by Saturday night that bed will be gone, and it’s the tile floor with a yoga mat as mattress for me.

But hey, today’s another day!

I’m up early.

Finding coffee in the house and a not too stale glazed donut, I’ve now got my fuel.

And it’s been predicted to be a beautiful autumn day.

I’ll be passing those last garbage bags like perfect ‘Hail Mary’s’ into the dumpster.

Did I mention just how much I love that dumpster?

Maybe even more than those awesome gourmet gas station subs.

And there’s absolutely no way I’m going to miss my fall orange and gold.

The first thing I’m doing after closing on my new place is buying the brightest orange pumpkin I can find for my sunny front step.

And I’m going to decorate it in a French bistro style I think.

Just the perfect match for my new little French kitchen.

Oh, it really will be fun.

Ooh la la!!!

Moving: Lesson 5

I learned this week that when you’re moving you look at life differently.

Take this morning, for example.

My 6:30 breakfast bowl of last night’s subgum chow mein was bliss with every bite.

Besides, my kitchen shelves were bare of bran flakes and bagels.

Well, actually bare of everything.

But flexibility is the key these days. And I’ve even taken a few cues from my chi-doxie Grandma Greta.

The poor four pounder lost her library desk (a.k.a. perch) Thursday in a preliminary sweep of broken furniture before our movers’ arrival next week.

Her day throne’s been located there where she’s been empowered to bark orders down at Tuck, the terrier, whenever she deems necessary.

Yet somehow 16 year old Grandma Greta adjusted, moving that throne with her tiny teeth over to a high chair she found even more regal.

I’ll also be taking up temporary quarters for a few days, but my throne will be a pink yoga mat with my purple sleeping bag.

After breakfast, Greta turned her attention to me and barked that I should get downstairs and work on cleaning out that basement.

Not my favorite activity on a perfect September day, knowing our leaves are beginning to show their full palette of colors.

I went to the basement anyway and kept on working, trying to find a little joy below ground.

But it just wasn’t there.

I did make some progress, but eventually grew weary.

Then Greta gave me a jolt, barking at a visitor who’d left a package on the doorstep.

Climbing upstairs I saw the box was from a blogger friend and fiber artist, Syl Strawbridge.

Inside I found a card that read in part, “Thanks for Your Positive Energy”!

Her supportive words gave me my spirit right back. Along with a smile.

Next, I pulled out a beautiful long scarf that she’d made.

The colors were from that full palette of autumn colors I was so missing today.

Still wearing my smile, I skipped back down the stairs to the dirty basement.

I opened the windows wide and felt the cool breeze.

I let the fresh autumn air dance in the room, while I did the same with my broom while I swept.

And for the first time in years, I found joy in that old basement.

Moving: Lesson 4

This may sound a little strange.

But sometimes moving can be almost magical.

Like today, for instance.

Early this morning a very kind man came to help me sort and pack my husband’s 800 plus art books.

But sizing up the situation he immediately called for back up.

And soon the two fellows were twirling, packing and lifting books on Renoir and Rubens like they were two pound weights instead of twenty pounds plus.

Then out the door they went with the precious cargo to be re-homed with loving owners who’ll care about them as much as my husband did.

My book angels were soon to be replaced by a new crew.

I’d spotted my daughter in the driveway who was here to pick up a piece of furniture.

But she wasn’t alone.

Two other angels quickly flew out of the truck with her.

I was about to be blessed with the great gift of 3 energetic garage angels.

And with the speed of a magic wand, the 4 of us were giving that grungiest of rooms the best cleaning it’s seen in over 4 decades.

After the last of my tired angels departed for the day, I munched on cold pizza admiring the dancing deer and bouncing bunnies up on the hill at sunset.

But after the party they too disappeared.

Though I knew where they were going.

These angels wanted to make their own kind of contribution.

And they did.

While eating crust from the pizza boxes in my bulging dumpster, the animals magically granted a new open spot to toss items no longer bringing me joy.

And in the process they joyfully discovered the magic of mozzarella for themselves.

Lucky them.

Oh, and lucky me.

Moving Lesson: 3


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.

Spirit Dogs

My dog’s got spunk.

I rarely see Maddie feel sorry for herself.

And she’ll bust any pity parties I hold in no time.

She’ll just look up at me with those big brown eyes, button nose, and give me her widest smile.

Then she’ll race over with her front legs in record time to greet me.

Her expression seems to say, “So what if I’m lame. Life goes on.”

Maddie reminded me of that fact as I slowly entered the house after work, nursing a sore leg from lifting heavy boxes earlier in the week.

Maddie, of course, was right.

A little pain medication and I’m now back to packing boxes tonight for our move next month.

Once we do move Maddie will no longer have to try and tackle steep hills in back to keep up with her brother Tucker, the terrier.

Instead we’ll be blessed with a flat, and fenced, back yard.

Maddie can’t wait to start digging her 12 signature holes in that green grass.

Before Maddie, I once owned a corgi named Maggie.

Maggie had a different disability that also resulted in her going lame. She too was a very happy girl.

“You ought to put that lame corgi down,” a dog walking neighbor yelled out to Maggie and I one night.

I gave the woman a limp ‘neighborly’ wave and bit my tongue.

I knew much better.

Maggie was a dog full of spirit.

And so is my girl Maddie.

She’ll tell me one day when the joy is gone, just like Maggie finally did.

For now corgi Maddie proudly remains my muse.

She’s looking up at me now, as if to say, “Now get back to packing.”

“Hey, and don’t forget those raw hides!”

I guess there’s nothing like a spirited corgi cheerleader to help you get your move on.

Moving Lesson 1

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.