Monday, December 7, 2009

On the Road Again

Good news – Highway 40 is open once again, which means now you can get from here to there without making a plan in advance.

More good news – My detour on the road to San Francisco (a new bout of breast cancer) is under control. Surgery was six weeks ago and the side effects from that surgery are responding to treatments I can live with, in contrast to treatments that were driving me crazy.

Okay, crazier.

Something else to rejoice about: I’ve revised my ideal deadline for moving. When I put the condo on the market last May, I wanted to move NOW. Once I had made the decision, I took steps to make that move happen. It didn’t, even after I spent money to neuter (um…neutralize) the place, carted out 46 boxes of books and displayed folded towels in the master bath that resembled folded towels you might see in a spa.

Over the months that followed, more than 40 people toured the condo. Some were neuter (er…neutral) about it. Some disliked it; some loved it. One woman wanted to buy the condo and all the art on my walls, as is, but had to sell her place first. (That hasn’t happened.) One man stood a long time in the dining room, imagining hardwood floors here – a lovely vision. Then he left and never called back.

“Frenzied.” That’s how one friend described my state of mind as summer turned to fall and I realized that somehow, in spite of my specific intention and superlative force of will, I still lived here. Okay, I admit to frenzied. Also frustrated and annoyed and yes, startled.

“I’ve started to think maybe I have a loser condo,” I confided to another friend. She didn’t buy that, and suggested I consider making condo affirmations. “Pretty condo, good condo, nice condo,” I crooned as I walked through the rooms. (That always works on the cat.)

Nothing changed.

People came, people went – and it’s likely that these same people were tromping through the other 32 condos for sale in Creve Coeur. No one made an offer on mine. Then along came cancer, dropping into my life like a huge red stop sign. I stopped, but I immediately started mapping out an efficient detour, much as we all do when confronted with an unexpected traffic jam on a favored route.

“Your condo did not sell because you needed to be here, with friends and doctors you know, as you went through surgery,” said one person. Or maybe it was two. No – I think I heard that at least three times. Yet as far as I know, the condo does not now and never did know that I got cancer.

In any case, that’s all in the past now. I feel terrific, I look pretty good and I’ve decided to aim for moving to San Francisco by June – a much more forgiving deadline than NOW.

That said, if you know someone who would like a new condo for Christmas (with all appropriate tax breaks), send them to:


Saturday, November 28, 2009

What's Up Your Sleeve?

Does your left hand know what your right is doing?

For four days, my right hand was doing everything. My left hand – and forearm and elbow and upper arm – were all bundled up, wrapped to reduce lymphedema, a swelling that is common in women who have lymph nodes removed during surgery for breast cancer.

This bundling process, provided by an occupational therapist with special training in treating lymphedema, starts with a full-length gauze sleeve. More gauze is wrapped around each finger. Then comes a layer of cotton batting, followed by large pieces of foam rubber. Next is a wide band of stretchy gauze. Last comes not one, not two, not three, but four layers of stretchy bandages, all taped down.

Next? Me, whining.

Never mind that my left arm looked as though it had been ripped off the Michelin Man and transplanted onto me. I could barely bend my arm. It was heavy. And I had exactly three shirts in my closet that would fit over the thick bandages. Still, in order to combat the swelling and encourage my lymphatic system to start working correctly again, I was to go about wearing the tape, bandages, foam, batting and gauze wrappings for 23 hours a day. Staring in shock at my newly immobilized limb, I asked my therapist if I could type. She was sure I could.

I couldn’t.

The bandages on my left hand kept hitting all kinds of weird keys. My right hand was happy to go it alone for a while, but then that arm would start to burn and cramp. Meanwhile, my left arm alternated between itching, throbbing and feeling hot. Surgery, post-op annoyances, wrestling with the drain, dealing with extra fluid at the wound site and learning how to maneuver a breast form all were a cinch compared to living with this!

I was scheduled for two weeks of therapy appointments. Each week day, I was to unwrap my mummy arm in the morning, shower and then head -- unbound -- to my appointment. There, after a massage to stimulate lymph drainage, I was strapped back in. What about weekends? Well – I was told I could take off the bandages and shower on weekends if I could wrap my arm back up properly. Hah!

I couldn’t.

Lymphedema is not curable -- I learned this on my first day of therapy -- but it can be managed. If treated early enough, sometimes a mild condition will reverse spontaneously. If left untreated, symptoms may include severe fatigue, a swollen limb, fluid accumulation in other body areas, discoloration of the skin, infection and eventually, deformity. An extreme version of lymphedema (one that involves microscopic parasitic worms) is elephantiasis.

To reduce the risk of my wee bit of lymphedema running wild and out of control, my therapist said on the second day of therapy that the prescribed treatment would be to wear a compression sleeve every day and to bundle and bandage my arm every night -- for the rest of my life. I just looked at her and said, “No.”

I couldn’t.

I went home that day with my left arm immobilized and my mind and spirit pulverized to a fine powder. Since Oct. 7, people have been telling me things I do not want to hear. Since Oct. 7, I have been moving passively through the medical world, a patient expected to be compliant. Since Oct. 7, my sense of myself as a healthy, active individual has been under siege.

On the third day of therapy, the lovely young woman who truly wants the best possible outcome for me discussed an alternative to night bundling – specifically, an elaborate, expensive compression sleeve. She also showed me daytime sleeves that come in bright, crazy colors, as though making a fashion statement with a sleeve would make wearing it more appealing.

The fourth day was Thanksgiving. Time spent with friends and some delicious food pierced my gloom for a short time, but through the day, though people said, “Have a nice holiday,” I couldn’t.

At 3 a.m. on the fifth day of therapy, I woke up and could not get back to sleep – a rarity for me. At 5 a.m., I unwound every layer and freed my arm some four hours earlier than prescribed. At 10 a.m., I dragged in to therapy and announced that we needed a new plan, a plan that would allow me to take good care of my arm but that also would allow me to move through the world as myself.

The therapist hugged me. Next, she measured my arm and reported that the swelling was down by half. Then she told me that if I could find a medical supply store that stocked an off-the-rack compression sleeve that met her standards, I could buy it and try going bandage free, as long as I wore the sleeve during my waking hours.

I could. I did. I am. And it's just fine!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Arch(ery) Comments on Whipped Silicone

No archery!

That’s what a Pat Sitter squealed a couple of days after my mastectomy. Okay, I was prancing around the living room, pretending to shoot arrows at the neutral-colored walls.

“I’m being an Amazon,” I explained. “You remember – the Amazons purposely cut off one breast to make themselves better archers.”

The Amazons, in case you don’t remember, were a nation of all-female warriors in classical and Greek mythology. Legend has it that they cut off their right breasts so they would be able to use a bow more freely and throw spears without the physical limitation and obstruction of a pair of 38DDs.

Ruled by a queen named Hippolyta, the Amazons spent a lot of time making war (not so much making love) but they also were said to have founded many towns, among them Smyrna, Ephesus, Sinope and Paphos.

My friend reminded me that I am not now nor have I ever been an archer, much less an armed warrior. Besides, taking part in a war (or even founding a town) was not on the list of permitted activities during my recovery from surgery.

Replacing the stretchy post-surgical camisole was permitted, and I made that a priority. Shopping for a temporary front-close bra was straightforward enough, but learning about the array of “breast forms” (which is easier to say than “prostheses”) turned out to be hilarious.

Breast forms – and may you never have to know this from personal experience – come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Here are just a few of the options:

• polyester-filled cotton pouches

• foam forms with nipples

• foam forms without nipples

• silicone triangles

• silicone ovals

About those foam forms without nipples -- if you change your mind later, you can buy spare nipples! One Internet shopping site gave the nod to handcrafted breast forms made from soft fabric pouches filled with bird seed or millet. “In warm climates,” the site cautions, “the seeds may sprout.”

Just what you want – delicate green tendrils snaking out of your cleavage!

Some of the silicone breast forms are heavy. Some are made of “whipped” silicone, which is said to weigh as much as one-third less as the heavier models. The one I brought home weighs about a pound and a half.

(Worrisome thought: Will they believe me at Weight Watchers when I blame my breast form? Will they believe me even if I leave it at home?)

For now, the temporary bra and form allow me to go out looking normal, as long as no one looks too long or too hard. That’s because I am not good at this yet. Occasionally, I peer down my shirt to see if everything is where it should be. When it’s not, I head for a restroom to pull down what has scooted up and push back what has scooted forward.

The “patient care coordinator” I worked with at Medical West assured me that a few weeks from now, when I am fitted for a “real” bra and a breast form that suits me perfectly, I will be able to put them on and go about my day without giving either a thought.

I look forward to that.

P.S. I also look forward to moving to San Francisco -- the condo goes back on the market Monday!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Part of Healing: One Fine Irish Fit

For nine days, I have excelled at passivity. I’ve read, visited briefly with friends, napped, devoured many bowls of many different kinds of homemade soup and watched television. (How about those great “Glee” cast members singing the national anthem at the World Series!)

This morning, I started a revolution.

This morning, I called Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield at the offices in Iowa to discuss the level of coverage provided for mastectomy bras and prostheses. I know that eventually, I will have to stop living in the recliner and begin to engage with the larger world again. I’d like to have the right underwear before that happens.

A customer representative at my health insurance company informed me that though the typical Blue Cross/Blue Shield policy covers the cost of six mastectomy bras/camisoles and two prostheses, my company’s policy covers one bra and one prosthesis -- every two years.

I happen to be grateful that I have health insurance -- but one bra every two years? NO bra – if you wash it -- lasts two years. Also, mastectomy bras are pricier than regular bras. And one of anything is never enough for me!

Quality prostheses run about $250-$300 each, and doctors recommend that you have two in case one is lost or damaged. I’m not sure how a prosthesis might get damaged, but they can get lost. Bobbing in the ocean one day some years ago, I met a woman in hot pursuit of her prosthesis, which had just floated out of her swimsuit and was quickly heading out to sea.


“Thank you,” I said to the representative. “I am hanging up now and writing a letter to the CEO of Lee Enterprises, who happens to be a woman.”

Though I doubt that Mary Junck is aware of the skinflint nature of this particular clause in the insurance contract, I am certain that it is my responsibility to tell her about it. So I did.

In the letter, I quickly filled her in on my story. I told her about the phone call to Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield. And then, I wrote this: “I am writing today to ask Lee Enterprises to offer what other companies typically cover for women who have lost a breast to cancer. Thank you for your consideration.”

That’s it. I did not hurl invectives – and I love hurling a good invective – and I did not indulge in name-calling. I want Lee Enterprises to adjust the coverage for my sake but also for the many women who are less likely to be able to afford to buy what they need in order to feel good about living lopsided in a symmetrical world.

I sent copies of the letter to the director of human resources and the director of benefits at Lee Enterprises. I sent a copy to the business representative of The Newspaper Guild, which is my union. Then I alerted my female colleagues, including retirees and women still at the Post-Dispatch, about my actions.


Florence wrote back immediately. “Send pix of the two-year bra,” she said. “Must be titanium.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Paging Dr. Haller

“Embrace asymmetry.”

That’s what Ken Haller said some years ago as he helped me rearrange my living room furniture.

Brought up under the influence of such straight-laced shows as “Father Knows Best,” “Leave it to Beaver” and “The Donna Reed Show” before being thrust into the turbulent freedom of the late ‘60s, I hesitated before agreeing to give the new set-up a try.

Today, as I ponder the rearrangement of my body after a mastectomy, Ken’s pithy directive is remarkably on target.

Living rooms are personal spaces; bodies even more so. Accepting change takes time, whether we’re talking a new hairstyle or color (on females), the addition or subtraction of facial hair (on males) or a dramatic scar (both genders).

When we look different, we feel different. When we feel different, we imagine everyone notices. They don’t.

A natural self-absorption keeps all of us from picking up on minor adjustments in the personal landscapes of others. Teenagers don’t get that, but what a relief as the years go by to discover that signs of aging -- natural and un -- go unnoticed by people who look at us every day.

And if they do notice, they don’t care, because they love us anyway.

“I’m not drawing on eyebrows during my recuperation,” I announced to a visitor yesterday. She replied that I looked just fine with pale eyebrows. Later, I wondered why I would fret about indiscernible eyebrows when I am obviously missing an entire breast.

I miss it only in the abstract. Where there was something, there is nothing. I had read that after surgery I might experience a sense of loss. Losing a small body part, especially one that can easily be replicated, has not caused me to experience loss so much as an awareness that something familiar is absent.

Along with it, the cancer is gone.

"Embrace asymmetry." That's what Ken said.

P.S. You can see Ken Haller’s outstanding cabaret show “Putting It Together: The Music of Stephen Sondheim” at 8 p.m. this Wednesday and Thursday at the Kranzberg Arts Center. Give him an asymmetrical hug for me.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Goodbye, Old Friend

I was supposed to pack for a trip to San Francisco. Instead, I am packing for a trip to the hospital.

The good news is that I’ll be at the hospital for just a few hours, so a small tote will do it, with no $25 fee for checked luggage. However, that remarkable view of Yosemite Valley from the air will not be a perk of this journey.

More good news: Seventy-twelve generous people who care about me are hovering, scheduling “sitting with Pat” sessions, holding me when I cry, cooking, transporting me to pre-op and post-op tests, sending me “hang-in-there” notes and making me laugh.

Prepare to laugh.

My friend Jenny, 19, an accomplished knitter, found a pattern on line for Tit Bits -- handcrafted breast prostheses. What a concept! What vibrant colors! What whimsical styles! Check it out:

Jenny also directed me to, the related site created by a woman in Toronto. Read the stories, look at the pictures and be reminded that so much of life is funny, even when you are scared or annoyed or angry.

Maybe especially so.

Jenny plans to knit several prostheses for me -- one for daily wear, one for dress-up, one just for flashing. She is a sophomore at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where she studies organ – oh, and geology. She is a lovely young woman, a gifted musician and writer, intrigued with the natural world, a good cook and absolutely one of my favorite people.

(Note to Jenny’s parents: I am encouraging this new knitting project, but I’ve made her promise not to spend all her time at it. I treasure your friendship.)

Lying in bed this morning, thinking this was the last day I would spend with my left breast, I realized saying goodbye to this body part is sort of like saying goodbye to a beloved older pet. All these years, I’ve cared for it, had fun with it, respected it and expected it to be there in the morning when I woke up.

And now it is going away.

“It’s my California makeover,” I quipped the other day. Then, “Wait – does California let in people who don’t have perfect bodies?” Then I remembered I want to move to Northern California. There is a difference, as the saying goes, between Silicon Valley and Silicone Valley.

In the past eight days, I have cycled (no, that’s wrong word, because I sold the bike and bought a ticket to Opera Theatre, where I was less likely to be run over by cars) – I have moved through the five stages of grief several times a day, in sequence and in random order. They are:

• Denial
• Anger
• Bargaining
• Depression
• Acceptance

Yesterday, after a glorious one-hour massage at the J and meaningful time spent with dear friends, I settled in with acceptance. It was time. I had to. After all, I can’t go to the hospital and return home peaceful until I embrace acceptance.

And I am determined to go – and return – peaceful.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Vincerò! Vincerò, Vincerò!

The condo is off the market for the first time since May 22.

Here is what that means:

No more air drying -- I can use my fluffy towels after I shower.

No more picking up after myself immediately when I abandon an empty glass or an apple core.

No more making the bed the fancy way every morning, using every pillow I own.

After just a matter of hours, I already feel once again as though I LIVE here, and am not just maintaining it while waiting for a would-be buyer. I’m not usually a messy person, but I may just throw around some dirty socks, scatter papers across the desk, leave a jacket crumpled on the cedar chest.

Does it sound as though I became a paranoid crazy person while the condo was available for lookers?

Oh yes – that happened right after the phone call from an agent who informed me that a potential buyer was in my parking lot and wondered if he could come in -- that very moment. I dutifully shoved my wet bathing suit back in the gym bag, walked down to the garage and then lurked in a parking lot across from my building.

I think I will enjoy this respite from being on public display.

I will not enjoy the circumstances that led to the respite. But Barbara Ehrenreich says in her new book “Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America” (Metropolitan Books, Oct. 2009) that I don’t have to be cheery as I muddle through this new cancer diagnosis and deal with the treatments.

So far I have been numb with despair, pleased at the favorable aspects of the situation, furious at having to deal with this again and grateful that I have such great docs and great friends to help me. All those emotions coursed through me in a 20-minute period, and they loop back through as the day goes on.

It’s exhausting.

Tonight I skipped book club (and I love my book club) in favor of climbing into my big soaking tub, where I cried for a bit and then read a New Yorker from two weeks ago, when I was still under the delusion that I was healthy.

Next I headed for the kitchen, where I devoured my 23rd honey crisp apple of the season. Then I spent the rest of the evening watching “Luciano Pavarotti: A Life in Seven Arias,” a DVD from the BBC that I bought last Christmas but had never unwrapped.

That did it!

In the car, I let Luciano sing to me all the time -- and this was even better. The astonishing beauty of this man’s voice transports me. Though I’m not going to California any time soon, I do plan to spend more time (courtesy of the DVD) strolling the streets of Modena and sitting in the great opera houses of the world, listening to my favorite of The Three Tenors.

And isn't that last line to "Nessun Dorma" an inspiring slogan to carry with me into surgery?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Road Work Ahead

Two days ago, early in the afternoon, I was paging through the November issue of “O” Magazine. As I sat reading, I dunked homemade chocolate chip cookies in milk -- admittedly aberrant behavior, but justified under the circumstances.

In an essay by Uwem Akpan (the author of “Say You’re One of Them”), I came to this sentence:

“It’s like what Rilke says: ‘Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.’ ”

I went to the computer to see how Rainer Maria Rilke followed that amazing line. Here it is:

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going.
No feeling is final.”

What a welcome reminder.

In 1995, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. Since then I have faithfully kept my annual mammogram appointment. A week ago, a smudge appeared on the mammogram, a “distortion,” indicating a change in the tissue of my left breast. I had a biopsy.

Just after 2 p.m. on Wednesday, my radiation oncologist called to say I have cancer again. The doctor described it as a “favorable” cancer. The lump is small – much smaller than last time. It is a low-grade cancer. It is not a recurrence, but a new cancer. I have met with a surgeon and scheduled a mastectomy.

Terror is back. Surely beauty will follow.

This is a detour on my journey to San Francisco, where the Pacific Ocean waits for me. After some road repairs, I will keep going.

Friday, October 9, 2009

How Fast Can We Make This Happen?

“Slowly, slowly. That’s the way. The Chinese say it all the time. Slowly, slowly,” says Michael Max, the man behind the needle at Yong Kang Chinese Medicine Clinic, which recently opened across from the Kirkwood Farmers’ Market.

Michael tells me this at Starbucks, where we’re having coffee on a recent Tuesday. The theme may or may not be a spin-off from this Chinese saying: “Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.”

The effort to sell the condo is not standing still. Sunday morning, you can watch – if you don’t blink – a quick ad for it on the Coldwell-Banker Gundaker show at 10 a.m. on KMOV-TV. Three hours later, we’re holding an open house.

At the last open house, a couple suggested that I trade my condo for their home in Maplewood. We need to do better than that.

So slowly, slowly, I’m waiting for Sunday to arrive as I ponder Michael’s words. We met at a party held at the home of my massage therapist, the incomparable Yue Ma. Now Michael and I get together once in a while to talk about writing, about selling the condo (Michael grew up in Creve Coeur) and about the acupuncture business.

Michael graduated in 1998 from the Seattle Institute of Oriental Medicine, where he earned a Master's of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. He holds NCCAOM national certifications in both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. After practicing for a few years in Seattle, Michael went to Asia for five years, where he studied medicine at Beijing TCM University and worked with doctors in the hospitals of Beijing.

While there, Michael studied acupuncture with Dr. Wang, a richly experienced scholar/doctor, and in Taiwan, he sat with Dr. Jiang Tong, a 95-year-old practitioner who taught Michael his signature approach to using Chinese herbs. When he returned to the U.S., Michael opened the Yong Kang Chinese Medicine Clinic in downtown Seattle. He moved here earlier this year.

Michael offers plenty of health tips on his web site, but he also shares general wisdom. For example:

“They say you can never step in the same river twice. That the slipstream of life with its constant movement, its ever swirl of variable change, is always and continuously presenting us with something new. Change, while it may be imperceptible when viewed through the lenses of habit and assumption, is in fact the only constant in our world.

“Simply look at how we feel about our partners ten years into a relationship, or how the work we do today differs from that we did even just five years ago. Notice how your preference for food has shifted over the course of years, or music for that matter!

“Ever go back and try to relive what was a pleasant memory? Attempt to gain nourishment from something that sustained you at a different moment in life, only to find dust and broken stone? Or, discover much to your surprise that what was once held in disdain can hold the keys to a solution we had given up on?”


Slowly, slowly. One day at a time. Half day, if a whole day seems too long.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Soup's On

You know how you reach for the can of Progresso Minestrone at the grocery but when you get home, you discover you picked up the Progresso Creamy Clam Chowder instead – and you don’t do dairy?

The last two weeks, I’ve been reaching for optimism, anticipation and the exhilaration that initially fueled my decision to sell the condo and move to San Francisco, but I keep coming up with frustration.

As soon as I caved and spent money updating the place, as soon as I lowered the price, all calls from real estate agents stopped, and I found myself sitting alone in my undecorated, uncolorful, completely uninteresting home. Oh, I still made the bed every morning, dried out the sink after running the faucet and picked up scattered cat toys. (At least someone is having fun here!) But it was lonely.

I also continued my research, talking to friends who have been through this process and to friends of friends eager to make suggestions about how to lure in customers. “Consider painting the kitchen cabinets,” said one woman, unaware that a month ago I paid to have the cabinets painted. Put in a high-end electric fireplace, suggested another.

One friend wanted me to buy a small table to place beside the rocker, to hold books and a wine glass. I explained I had just gotten rid of two small tables, and was not in the mood to buy another. “People like a place that looks spacious,” said one man. I donated the big couch and arranged to send the dining room furniture to a consignment shop. Hearing that, another friend opined that it’s easier to sell a place with furniture in it.

Finally, I have figured out that everyone has an opinion, a thought, a point of view – that there is no one way to get this done. Everyone also has a favorite realtor, a person who would know exactly how to help me. As it happens, I have a realtor who has been helping me a great deal, a realtor who laughed and nodded in agreement when I said, “This is all a crap shoot, right?”

Of course, knowing that and dealing with it are two different things.

As I told friends a few weeks ago, I am annoyed that I have not sold the condo but I am even more annoyed that I am annoyed, because this is not on any scale a tragedy. I just finished reading Dave Eggers’ “What Is the What.” Valentino Achak Deng and his people have suffered innumerable tragedies, endured great suffering and been treated unconscionably again and again in several countries, including this one. His response has been to build a school in his native Sudan.

Me -- I’m just annoyed, impatient, crabby.

This morning I watched two young men remove my dining room furniture from my home. To my mind, I had all the wrong reactions, a flood of feelings that pleased me as little as Creamy Clam Chowder. As I remembered many a wonderful dinner around that table, I felt sad. As I admired the unusual china cabinet one last time, I felt nostalgic. As I viewed the last of the chairs being carried out the door, I started to miss the beautiful fabric on each one.

When the young men were out of earshot, I yelled at myself. “Stop being so stupid!” I said aloud. Hey, I believe in emotional honesty. Feelings deserve to be felt, acknowledged and felt even more deeply, if needed. However, I detected a false note in my sentimental feelings for the dining room set.

First, I picked out a fabulous animal print fabric for those chairs – your basic black-on-brown cheetah print – and the upholsterer put the fabric on backward. The chairs came home looking quite distinctive – gold-on-black splatters – and I was devastated. My friend Edward told me he thought they were unique and quite beautiful, and that I should live with them a while. I did, and they stayed, but they were never exactly what I had in mind.

Second, the china cabinet is unusual – it looks like an old Philco Radio – but I bought the whole set about 36 years ago from a woman in University City who was moving to a condo in Florida. No emotional tug is required as we part, as this set was a purchase, not a precious heirloom in the family for generations.

Third, I know this table has to go so I can move to San Francisco and buy another table, something smaller, and then welcome family and friends to join me for wonderful dinners. You can’t move on successfully if you are dragging along everything from your past.

As I sorted out each emotion, I realized that I was operating with all the wrong feelings, allowing inappropriate reactions to color my view of the circumstances. By the time the last piece of furniture was loaded in the truck, I had successfully adjusted my state of mind. I actually started humming, happy again that I am trying to invent myself anew. I may even be willing to practice patience once again.

Just then the cell phone rang. An agent was calling, and she wants to show the condo this evening. Bring on the Minestrone!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Stay Behind the Ropes, Please

Velvet ropes – that’s it! The only thing missing in the condo now is velvet ropes, the kind used in historic mansions to keep tourists from touching the furniture. Beyond the ropes are the dioramas, perfect replicas of rooms as they appeared during the particular historic era.

Welcome to the Salmon Sanctuary, ladies and gentleman. From 1998 to 2009, a newspaper reporter lived here with her cat…

Only of course these rooms do not reflect my time here. Every room has been neutered – excuse me, neutralized – to appeal to people who want to be able to visualize their furniture, their wall art, their knickknacks (a word only slightly easier to spell than “tchotchkes”), their area rugs, their photographs.

Look at that blank living room wall! Where is the batik of Ganesh, purchased in Bombay for $10? In the back of the closet. What happened to that life-size fabric seagull that soared in the office, bought on a cruise to Mexico? Nine-year-old Elliot has it, a consolation prize since I canceled the downsizing sale. (He wanted to help.) Whither the massive “Yes We Can” poster? Gone to Columbia, to live with other liberals.

The dining room table is set, though no one is coming over. Fluffy towels wait patiently by the soaking tub. Nearby is a hardback copy of “Moby Dick,” a little joke. (It’s a joke for two reasons. First, I love the book, and I would never get in the tub with any hardback. Second, my play “MOBY” is waiting, patiently as those towels, for production.) The new stainless cooktop is spotless – never used and ready for the new owner.

Speaking of “new,” let’s discuss real estate jargon. George and I have sorted this out, but maybe you have not thought about it. In real life, “new” means unused, like the cooktop, and "newer” means purchased and installed more recently than the old cooktop, which was 34 years old. In real estate jargon, “new” means new in the conventional sense, but “newer” means older.

Go figure.

Oh! Go Figure is the name of a terrific fat girl store in San Francisco! Is that a sign?

Two years ago, I accidentally bought an entire set of fabulous living room furniture in Columbia, while shopping with friends for a bookshelf for their home. Yesterday, two strong young men took away the largest of the pieces, a 102-inch-long couch. I donated it, because I won’t have living space in S.F. big enough to contain that couch. What’s left behind (besides two cat toys, which Maggie ran in and retrieved immediately) is a lot of empty space.

I moved the small area rug in front of the fireplace (a completely fake fireplace, all lights and crackling and carrying on – but it’s about theater, not heat) and dragged my grandma’s golden oak rocker in to set the scene, so to speak. Hmmm…looks a little barren there still. I know -- I need a stack of antique blocks, so it looks as though the Victorian-era children just ran off to the kitchen to ask Cook for some gingerbread and milk.

That’s exactly what you would expect to see at Henry Shaw’s place, beyond the velvet ropes.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Spinach Salad with Insight on the Side

Start with half a bag of baby spinach leaves that have been washed and gently dried. Add red bell pepper strips, a sliced hard-cooked egg and a handful of feta cheese crumbles. Throw in a few chopped walnuts, a dozen or so dried cranberries and some pumpkin seeds. Add ground pepper and a shake of Mrs. Dash. Toss with your favorite salad dressing.

Ta-da: Supper! Time to sit, eat, take stock.

The buffet and china cabinet are empty, except for the wine glasses I’m taking with me. The utility closet holds a few items I’m keeping, but is otherwise cleaned out. Kitchen cabinets and drawers contain only those dishes, glasses and utensils that are going to San Francisco. Winnowing of the pantry – not including food, of course – is almost complete. The file cabinet is empty. Half the dresser and vanity drawers are empty.

The closet – my huge, glorious closet that a real estate agent once described as “an Affton bedroom” – is still on the to-do list. The coat closet also is waiting for attention. Until last week, the closets were jam-packed with wall art. Then I toted 23 posters and pictures to a resale shop. I kept my favorites, and a few I’m on the fence about. I keep reminding myself I will have fewer walls in a small apartment.

As a result of eight trips to the Book Fair drop-off bin and several targeted donations, I have carted 46 boxes of books out of my condo. As I write this, I see a few more titles that could go. Don’t think that I have given away all my books – I still have enough to fill one large bookcase and one small; mostly poetry, books on writing and books on wildlife.

For the first time since I moved here 11 years ago, the storage closet in the basement is packed with furniture that was assessed as clutter when I put the place on the market. (Much of what’s in there is leaving Tuesday.) When I bought the condo, I did not realize that a storage closet was part of the deal. For years, just one item sat there: my grandfather’s metal lawn chair, a chair that my father had had sand-blasted and painted several times.

My grandfather died before I was born, so I did not know him, but I did know and love his chair. Many a spring, I brought it upstairs and put it on the deck. In May, when I decided to move to San Francisco, that chair was the first thing I thought of. Who should get the chair? I called my aunt, my dad’s only sister, and asked if she wanted her father’s chair. She did not. Then I called her red-haired son, my cousin Steve, who lives in Texas.

“I have Grandpa Corrigan’s metal lawn chair, and I can just see you sitting in it on your patio, barbecuing and enjoying a beer,” I said. Steve laughed and agreed that he could see that, too. When the family gathered for Aunt Betty’s 80th birthday in June, I drove the chair to the small town in Illinois where my aunt lives. Steve took it from the back of my car and we put in on the lawn. I went inside to get Aunt Betty.

We walked out to the yard and stopped in front of the chair. I asked my aunt if she remembered it. “I do,” she said, smiling. Then she sat – for the first time in 50 years – in her father’s chair. Throughout the afternoon, we all took turns sitting in the chair, a humble yet powerful link to those who came before us.

Preparing to leave St. Louis started with that metal lawn chair. In the process of giving away more things – many, many more -- I have been redefining myself, building on who I was, tweaking who I am, getting ready to welcome who I will become. Letting go of tangible objects has allowed me to make room for new routines in a new realm, and I now understand the value of that process.

All this, over a spinach salad.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ross Winter's Punch Bowl

Am I my resume?

The performers in “A Chorus Line” ask that the question during auditions for a show.

More to the point, am I my maternal grandmother’s cookie press? Her metal bunny cake mold? How about my paternal grandmother’s crystal sherbet glasses? Her monogrammed tablecloth? What about my father’s Navy uniforms? My mother’s embroidered handkerchiefs?

Am I Ross Winter’s punch bowl?

Of course I am not these things, and they are not me. Still, I found myself reluctant to get rid of that punch bowl, the hankies, the uniforms, the linens, the glasses, the cake mold (complete with ancient lingering crumbs) and the cookie press.

Eventually, my more practical self took over and I let go of all those items except the handkerchiefs. I’ve made it a point to keep something meaningful from each of these beloved family members to take with me when I move to San Francisco.

Am I discolored, misshapen pieces of Tupperware? Three chipped candles with missing wicks? A scratched-up soup pot? A raggedy, faded pink blanket? A rusty bread pan? Of course not – and what is this junk doing in my house? I made three trips to the condo's trash room today.

In the back of a kitchen cabinet I found a rice cooker for the microwave, complete with instructions. I bought it in 1997 and have yet to use it. In a box on a high shelf in the closet, I found a souvenir maraca from Cuba, a gift from friends of my parents when I was 10. Next I discovered a cache of grade-school art projects – not my son’s, but my own, in a box obviously packed by my mother. She died in 1973.

All week, I’ve been getting rid of Stuff -- winnowing and sifting, then packing up the car and driving boxes full of my past to a resale shop.

“What is this?” asked the manager as he unwrapped one of my donations.

“A candy dish,” I said. “It was my grandmother’s.” He looked surprised.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I kept my favorite one, the one that always sat on her coffee table with butterscotch drops in it.”

Did you know that most people use 80 percent of what they own only 20 percent of the time? I heard that on a radio program recently. I know what I use, and how often. The trick is to figure out what I’ll miss.

“I had a lovely home, full of lovely things, and when my husband died I got rid of almost everything,” counsels a neighbor. “I don’t miss any of it.” Another neighbor, encountered in the elevator today, echoed the same sentiment. “Things just don’t matter,” she said.

For years, I had a wall in my home office full of photos of whales. Now I don’t need those photos, because finally I am going to live near the real thing. One startling photo shows the raised tail of an immense right whale in Patagonian waters off Argentina. I took that picture from the back of a small boat, and though I had no time to aim or focus – the majestic tail rose suddenly, silently – it is the best photo I ever shot.

I know that I would miss that photo, so I’m taking it along to serve as a reminder, a touchstone of the past, as I head into the future. The punch bowl, however, is looking for a new home.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Baking for Imaginary Friends

Whoa – that vanilla candle needs dusting!

That’s how I spend my time now, with silly thoughts and impulsive cleaning, just in case someone wants to look at the condo. Or maybe “impulsive” is not the right word. I’m starting to think “compulsive” might be a better choice.

I now dust candles, wipe down the sink every time I turn it on, empty the trash if it holds even one lone banana peel, hide the damp towels after I shower, pick up the cat’s toys twice a day, arrange my library books so that any potentially offensive titles are on the bottom, carefully rinse any plate twice before it goes into the dishwasher and tuck away “to-do” lists where I will never find them until it’s too late to do whatever I had in mind.

Today I am baking pumpkin bread for tomorrow's Open House. I meant to bake it tomorrow, so the lovely aroma of cinnamon, clove and pumpkin would be strongest, but I decided I couldn’t handle the stress of baking and cleaning up on The Day.

The bread, of course, is for the people who come to look at the condo. I have come to think of these people as my Imaginary Friends. That’s because for the past three weeks, I have only imagined that someone would come.

This is not happening just at my place. I’ve spoken with plenty of people trying to sell homes who are drawing thin crowds, if any. Driving down the street, observing the many “For Sale” signs, I am tempted to stop, knock on doors and ask how the owners are feeling. Maybe we need to form a support group.

Right now (thanks for asking) I’m feeling good, because I made a new plan, a plan that finally feels right. For weeks, I’ve been waffling about whether to hire someone to run a downsizing sale for me, have the sale on my own (with friends, of course), haul stuff to consignment shops or donate whatever I choose not to hand to people – people whose taste I know -- who happen to stop by.

First, I contacted a person who runs sales. Then I interviewed friends who have held recent sales and friends who attend sales. I went so far as to buy little sale-price stickers. Friday, I visited consignment shops and stopped in at a resale shop that takes donations.

Finally! Finally, instead of waiting for the stars to align or the last piece of a puzzle to drop in or the specific answer to an ambiguous clue to occur to me, finally I started putting my skills into action. I know how to do research, and I’ve been doing some. Before this, I was just… waiting.

That is exactly what is driving me crazy about trying to sell the condo – it’s a passive process. You sign papers and get your info on a list and then you wait. I have allowed this insidious waiting mode to take over other aspects of my life. I was waiting to decide this or think about that. I was waiting for other people to make the case for one plan of action or another. One day, I was even waiting for the carpenter to help me hang one picture on a wall.

“Sure, I’ll help,” he said. “But I’m not sure what you want me to do.”

I remembered that I had hung all 46 pictures that used to be on the wall. I remembered that I do know how to hammer in a nail. I remembered that I have a brain, and I realized all this waiting has turned it to mush and left me feeling unconfident about so many things.

I pounded the nail into the wall, hung the picture and stopped waiting. Today I hauled six big boxes and three big bags of Stuff to the resale shop. I am not hiring someone to have a sale for me; nor am I doing all the work required to have a sale myself. I may send a few select pieces to a consignment shop – the dining room furniture likely would do well where the chandelier is now, at West End Galleries. But I am donating everything else. My tax preparer has explained how this works, and I am comfortable helping others while I help myself get ready to move.

Every day from now on, I am moving something out of the condo, moving something somewhere that others will find it, be able to afford it and enjoy it as much as I did. That is the route I am choosing to take on my way to San Francisco.

I don’t care what my Imaginary Friends think about that. I do hope they like the pumpkin bread.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Caribbean Solution

SPOILER ALERT: Johnny Depp did not – repeat, did NOT – show for my 90-minute Caribbean Therapy Body Treatment last night at Ginger Bay Salon & Spa in Kirkwood.

His loss. In his role as Jack Sparrow…excuse me, Captain Jack Sparrow, Depp would have livened up the place considerably.

On the other hand, no one goes to Ginger Bay to liven up. The Caribbean Therapy Body Treatment is “a rejuvenating and nourishing treatment” designed “to create inner calm and renew the body and senses.”

First, you inhale aromatic essences and pick the one you like best. Even congested from the moldy fall air, I knew I liked tangerine and vanilla best. Then you get exfoliated. Next a seaweed masque is applied to detoxify your skin. Next, your attendant wraps you up and massages your scalp and face.

“I’m using a lightly scented flour water that is especially refreshing,” said Meghan. Flour. Water. Wait, I thought, in my exfoliated, detoxified state of relaxation – flour and water make paste. This nice young woman is spraying ingredients in my hair and on my face that any second now will turn to Elmer’s glue? Flour water?

The light in my dim-bulb brain went on. FLOWER water – she said "flower water." Not "flour water." Oh good. Back to mellowing out.

Yes, folks, that’s how bad it gets when you let the stress of trying to sell a condo get to you.

On Labor Day, when I was really going nuts over all the waiting, I remembered I had a gift certificate to Ginger Bay, a hefty one, courtesy of the Five Favorite Female Friends. Most of us no longer want Stuff, so we exercise the Spa Option. Everyone pitches in cash and the birthday celebrant trots off to a spa of her choice. Because I get regular therapeutic massages, I usually opt for a deluxe facial with Leah at Ginger Bay.

Do I have new wrinkles? Oh yeah – but I decided a Special Treatment was in order, and that called for hydrotherapy. After your seaweed masque is rinsed off, you get to lie face down on a table in a big shower room. The attendant blasts your body with warm water from a hose while six or seven or eight (who can count at a time like that?) showerheads hanging just above the table are opened up as well.

The effect is of warm rain pummeling your body, as though you were caught napping in the grass some night (no bugs, just soft grass) and suddenly a cloud above you opened up. The water jets move up and down your spine and across your back, massaging all those cramped and crabby muscles.

“People either love it or hate it,” said Meghan. “Of course, usually if they think they are going to hate it, they don’t sign up for it.” I did not respond. I could not. Water is my natural element. I wanted to lie there with warm water cascading over me forever.

Even a gift certificate won’t buy forever, but the consolation prize is that after you become one with the table, water dripping all around, as if apologizing for stopping the steady flow, Meghan massages you. Then, rejuvenated and nourished and calmed to the point that you wish you had a chauffeur, you stagger out to the car and drive home.

And Johnny Depp -- channeling Cher as Captain Jack Sparrow -- missed it.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Peachy Therapy Session at Duff's

“I’m depressed.”

“Me, too.”

“I’m really mad.”

“I’m mad, too.”

“And my feelings are hurt.”

“Yes! My feelings are hurt, too.”

This discussion took place today at Duff’s, where my friend Karen and I discussed our general malaise over not being able to sell our homes. Hers has been on the market since April; mine since May. At first, we both had a reasonable stream of lookers. The stream turned into a trickle and then dried up. Now, the phone rarely rings.

Sitting at the table with us was George, whose home is not for sale. He asked why our feelings are hurt.

“I love my house,” Karen wailed, “and people who come to look at it say mean things about it.”

I nodded in agreement. “Really mean things.”

George asked, “Like what?”

"Some people didn't like my color scheme and some were annoyed that the perfectly good cooktop was old," I said. "So I let Pete come in and paint and I replaced the cooktop."

Karen said, “People look around my house and they say, ‘This is really big – and it needs a lot of work.' I already know that! That’s why I’m trying to sell it.” Karen had hoped to sell her nine-bedroom home “as is.” She sighed. “That’s not working.”

I asked if she has gone through the house to clear out clutter. Karen frowned. “I started to," she said. "I opened one closet and considered what to do with the contents. I really like to iron, and I decided I would rather iron than clean out that closet. I started ironing cloth napkins, and I ironed all of them. When I was finished, I counted them. I had ironed 350 napkins.”

Hey -- you have to do whatever works. “Did you go through anything else?” I asked.

Karen reported that she had opened a kitchen drawer, intent on filling a couple of boxes with extraneous kitchen tools. “I brought home a lot of boxes from work,” she said. “When I was finished in the kitchen, I had four items in the bottom of a great big box. Four. Total.”

We discussed the level of assistance provided by burying statues of St. Joseph. Karen has not tried it. I told her my statue has provided lovely blooms in the big pot of geraniums, but no buyers for the condo.

We discussed how we are smart women, good at being in charge, happiest when we are in control of our circumstances. Then we admitted that being smart isn’t helping, that we are not in charge of whether our places sell – much less when – and we are not in control.

We discussed that acknowledging all that made us even unhappier.

And so we moped, sitting at the table at Duff’s.

George was appropriately sympathetic. He assured both of us that he is the kind of home buyer who prefers “as is” offerings. He expressed indignation that the people who have looked at our properties have failed to recognize just how special our homes are, and have concentrated instead on minor flaws. Of course, George already has a house and is not in the market for another.

Sharing tales of woe at Duff’s was, in retrospect, therapeutic -- and the peach cobbler was delicious.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Degrees of Separation

Some stuff begs to be pitched or donated. Some wins the argument and remains on the shelf or in the drawer – until the next sweep. Chalk it up to degrees of separation.

I’ve learned that the longer stuff sits around, the less interesting it gets. Some items that made the cut the first time through, even survived a second survey, look useless at third glance. Because I will sell some stuff – one way or another – I’m now pitching less and storing more, but with each sweep through the condo, I’m mentally marking more stuff “Sell” instead of “Take and Treasure Forever.”

Probably this is because I’m starting to understand minimalism. That’s what happened to my friend Deb. She left this comment on an earlier blog:

“We emptied our house in the home sale frenzy. Had it painted, refused to have it "staged" professionally, and after 9 months of daily bed making, selling and giving away china, furniture, and odds and ends, then, shoving scattered, sundry items in cubbies when the house was to be shown, only to totally lose track of tax information, bills, notes with phone numbers, invitations and so much more, we removed it from the market.

“Now, our house feels more minimal and manageable.”

Speaking of manageable, yesterday I dusted. It took half the time dusting used to take, because I have almost no knickknacks on display and one-third the furniture that used to grace these rooms. Dusting was a snap! Why was I so entranced with stuff for so long?

Another friend filled a rented storage space after his divorce and headed for China for a couple of months. When he returned five years later, he opened the door to the storage space, peered in and thought, “I don’t want any of this. Why did I keep it?”

Lying in my really big bed in my really big bedroom this morning, I thought, “The next place I live will be one-third the size of this condo. I need to sift through stuff again.” A touch of fear flashed through my mind: “Wait! I don’t want to just camp in a new place; I want to make a nest! Don’t get rid of everything.”

Yet I’m already “camping” in the living and dining rooms, where 90 percent of the stuff has been cleared. The art is off the walls in every room, with a few exceptions. Forty-three boxes of books have been removed, along with two bookcases. The kitchen counters are cleared of all but the microwave, which I use all the time, and the KitchenAid mixer, which looks good.

Is this camping? No. But it is minimal and manageable, and you know – that’s really okay. And that’s the proper frame of mind for once again going through drawers and closets.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Whale Waiting in St. Louis

In the dream, I was in eastern California, trying to get to Yosemite National Park -- eager to get there, determined to get there, demanding to get there. One problem: I was on a boat.

That dream occurred before I agreed to update the condo, so I hope that now my mode of transportation, metaphorically speaking, is more appropriate.

Under most circumstances, it doesn't get any better than being on a boat. For 27 years, I've sat in small boats next to large whales. I've watched whales off both U.S. coasts, in Trinity Bay off Newfoundland, off Vancouver Island in British Columbia, in Patagonian waters off Argentina and in Baja California, Mexico.

Before you can do any whale watching, you have to put in some time waiting for the whales to appear. I know that from experience, plus I've written books and numerous newspaper and magazine articles about whales, whale watching and whale waiting. And so I wait, all the while wanting to move to San Francisco and live close to my really big friends.

The first time I visited my son in The City, we stopped at Ocean Beach, near the famous Cliff House restaurant. I looked across the street and saw houses, the homes of people who can get up every morning, cross the road and greet the Pacific Ocean. "What is this neighborhood?" I asked. "I want to live here."

The neighborhood is the Outer Sunset, where sand collects in driveways and you fall asleep to the sound of real ocean waves, not synthetic ones on a pathetic white noise machine. The weather, say those who live in San Francisco, is not ideal. Even Wikipedia agrees:

"The Sunset (particularly the outer Sunset) can be foggy for many consecutive days during summer. The Sunset's finest weather is usually from mid September through October, when regional air patterns transition from onshore to offshore weather and the area is free of fog."

That six weeks of beautiful weather is bestowed on all of The City, and oh, how I would hate to miss it this year, no matter where I end up living.

I will not be living in Yosemite National Park -- I don't think that is allowed -- but I do want to acknowledge its magnificence. Writing for The Century Magazine in 1890, John Muir had this to say about Yosemite Valley:

“The walls of the valley are made up of rocks, mountains in size, partly separated from each other by side cañons and gorges; and they are so sheer in front, and so compactly and harmoniously built together on a level floor, that the place, comprehensively seen, looks like some immense hall or temple lighted from above. But no temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite.

“Every rock in its walls seems to glow with life. Some lean back in majestic repose; others, absolutely sheer or nearly so for thousands of feet, advance beyond their companions in thoughtful attitudes giving welcome to storms and calms alike, seemingly conscious, yet heedless of everything going on about them.”

I first went to Yosemite to meet a waterfall, as research for my book "The Extreme Earth: Waterfalls" (Chelsea House 2007). Said to be the highest free-falling waterfall in North America and the fifth tallest in the world, Yosemite Falls plunges 2,425 feet into Yosemite Valley.

I was entranced with that waterfall and by several others in the park. I also was captivated by the granite -- the texture, the sheen, the striations. Twelve different types of granite have been identified in Yosemite National Park, and one large boulder abandoned by a glacier in the Merced River is another type altogether. The story of the formation of the valley is amazing, too, a tale of how El Capitan and Half Dome were formed in the course of the assault by massive rivers of ice that carved the valley.

About 20 minutes out from the San Francisco Airport, American Airlines flies right over Yosemite Valley, and if you are paying attention, you can wave to Half Dome, to El Capitan and to Bridalveil Fall.

But before I fly to San Francisco again, before I sweep sand from my driveway, before I race across a road to hear the ocean roar, taste salt on my tongue and revel in my natural element, I have to wait.

(To see a short video of some of my whale watch photos, go to

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Of Kennedys and Coffields

So I’m sitting in Borders, sipping a latte I got free with Borders Bonus Points, eating an oatmeal cookie that is bigger than my head, reading the New York Times. This is my reward for enduring six days of crazy in the condo while my painter and my handyman made magic in a frenzy of updating.

I bought the paper because I wanted to smear my fingers with ink, feel the texture of the reporting, as I read about Senator Edward M. Kennedy. His death is weighty news, and reading the stories on line simply is not satisfying. Besides, I was there for the Kennedy Years, and I’ve been feeling melancholy about the end of this particular era.

So I’m sitting in Borders, sipping a latte I got free with Borders Bonus Points, eating an oatmeal cookie that is bigger than my head, reading the New York Times, poring over every word in Mark Leibovich’s front-page article “After a Grim Diagnosis, Determined to Make a ‘Good Ending.’”

I start to cry.

The tears start at this paragraph: “Some patients given a fatal diagnosis succumb to bitterness and self-pity; others try to cram in everything they have always wanted to do. Mr. Kennedy wanted to project vigor and a determination to keep on going.”

A few paragraphs later, I read this, a comment from Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut: “At no point was he ever maudlin, ever ‘woe is me.’ I’m confident he had his moments – he wouldn’t be Irish if he didn’t – but in my presence, he always sounded more worried about me than he was about himself.”

I did not know Edward M. Kennedy, but I did know and love Philip M. Coffield, who also “wanted to project vigor and a determination to keep on going” and who “always sounded more worried about me than he was about himself.”

One day near the end of Philip’s life (he died in January 2006), I walked into his hospital room. “How are you feeling?” I asked. He said he was fine. Philip had AIDS, and he had just been diagnosed with a brain tumor.

“Have you seen any good movies,” Philip asked. I said no. Then this: “I’m having Kat and Larry over for dinner on New Year’s Eve, and I need some ideas for a good sauce for pork tenderloin. I have a recipe I like, but I want to try something different.”

Memories flooded through me, reminding me of lessons I’d learned from Philip. So I’m sitting in Borders, sipping a latte I got free with Borders Bonus Points, eating an oatmeal cookie that is bigger than my head, reading the New York Times, crying.

Then I remember the most important lesson I learned from Philip, obviously wisdom that Senator Kennedy also possessed: We all are dying, but only some of us admit it. Once you admit it, you can allow yourself to be overcome with emotional paralysis or you can get on with your life, projecting vigor and a determination to keep on going until the minute that your life is over.

“Every day is a gift.” Senator Kennedy began conversations in his last weeks with that mantra. “Don’t postpone joy.” That’s the motto on a bumper sticker I gave out one year at my Winter Solstice party. “The knobs for the kitchen cabinets just don’t matter,” I told a woman at Lowe’s last week as I looked for the least expensive package. “People in the world are starving, dying in wars, living out the saddest of human tragedies. Why would any of us get obsessed over kitchen cabinet knobs?”

No more whining about the process of ripping up life as I know it and heading West. No more freaking out about spending money here that I have saved for there. No more frittering away the gifts of today worrying about the uncertainties of tomorrow. Thanks, Senator Kennedy and sweet Philip, for the reminder.

And to the people at Borders – sorry about that.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Whale Wall

Good news – the updating and renovating of the condo is almost complete. Unless, of course, I cave and get new floor covering in the LR, DR and hall.

That means taking everything out of the china cabinet, the buffet and the book shelves all over again, but there is far less in the rooms to move than there once was. Some people have said do it; others have suggested offering a “carpet credit” to potential buyers.

The latter makes sense to me, because what if condo shoppers hate what I pick?

I’ve heard more than one story about people who put in new carpeting, sold the house and moved – and then heard from neighbors just days later that the new carpeting was out on the lawn and the new owners were installing new floor coverings. A “carpet credit” would help someone choose what they want, instead of what I want.

What do I want?

I want to move to San Francisco!

I want to move so I can live by the sea – go there every day if I choose. I want to move so I can be in the family circle that waits for me there. I want to move so I can volunteer one day a week for the Oceanic Society, writing for them and helping out on whale-watch boats. I SEE me there, doing this!

Late last night, I pondered my newly painted, posy-colored walls and woodwork. It looks fresh and clean – neutral, so anyone’s stuff will fit right in. It looks fine. After all, it’s all about pleasing the would-be home buyer.

Then I remembered a particularly anti-posy wall in my old house in Shrewsbury. Artist and book author David Peters painted a humpback whale on my bedroom wall, one-fifth the full size of the actual 40-foot-long magnificent mammal.

Every morning when I woke up, before I put on my glasses, I would see a humpback whale swimming across the room. No matter what you think of my Whale Wall -- and I know some may think it is really weird – I SOLD THE HOUSE IN SHREWSBURY WITHOUT PAINTING OVER THAT WHALE.

Did the new owner paint the wall? Probably.

Times have changed. The market has changed. And now my condo has changed. The whales are waiting for me – perhaps I could lure in a buyer with a recording of humpback songs…

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Friends Indeed

Wow -- just when I needed a boost, before I remembered that I know how to ask for help, a string of people showed up to say just what I needed to hear. Consider this a Thanksgiving Blog -- never mind that today is a summer day with a spring feel to it.

First, in response to my last post came a generous email from Bernice: "I loved your condo the way it was. When you walked in, it said to me 'Pat lives here.' But since you now want it to say, 'Pat lived here,' I guess you are doing the right thing. Just focus on how wonderful it will be to say good-bye to it when you close the door on your way to S.F."

Here I was, busy mourning that the Salmon Sanctuary was changing drastically, failing to take into consideration that it must, to make way for a new owner. In an odd way, this is related to how you are able to send your beloved children halfway across the country to college only because with each passing year in high school, they increasingly annoy you. By the time they are seniors, you are eager to help them pack.

Next, Curtis showed up. We walked a few blocks and had lunch at a great little spot. Curtis mentioned he had been to five funeral services in seven days, and had just come from visiting a friend who recently had back surgery. We stared at one another a few seconds, put down our forks and shared a fist bump. "To good health," we said.

Before he left, Curtis came in to meet Pete the Painter and to pick up two Souvenirs of Pat that I had promised him, both Sumo related. For reasons neither of us can fully explain, we admire and honor the ancient art of Sumo, and I just happened to have two posters here.

Friday evening, my cousin Karen stopped in on her way home from work. I gave her some glassware that had belonged to our grandmother, and then she looked through some of my posters and art. Karen is a self-described "beachy person," so she left with some images of beaches, a concrete mermaid and a metal sculpture of the sun.

On Saturday, Susan and Denny came by to carry off a three-foot-tall ceramic statue of a giraffe. They ended up leaving with a floor lamp, a bottle of bourbon and half a bag of my favorite bread. (Long story; never mind.) Then Judy and Scott popped in to pick up two bookcases that they had kindly loaned me. I sent them home with some excess liquor, a bit of bread and a toy stuffed bear.

Carolyn dropped in later, and helped me rearrange the storage closet so that empty packing boxes were within reach, instead of shoved to the back, behind superfluous furniture. In return, I sent her home with a stack of books for use in her fourth-grade classroom.

This habit I have of sending people home with stuff they did not expect has served me well over the years, but it is not a behavior that is original with my family. Indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast practice potlatch, a word that means "to give away" or "a gift." Legend has it that tribal members compete to see who can give away the most, gaining great honor -- not to mention a decluttered home -- in the process.

Today, I contemplated cleaning the baseboards so they will be ready for Pete when he arrives Monday to paint them. Once, in another home long ago and about 10 miles away, I painted right over a dead fly clinging to the baseboard, barely pausing to feel bad about the insect's demise. Pete is not that kind of painter. "You're not working with kids here," he always says.

The phone rang, and Champe asked if I was up for running out the door for coffee. Let's see -- clean the baseboards or go out and play? I went, but not before showing off the transformation in progress. When Champe walked in the kitchen, her jaw dropped. Yes, kitchen cabinets look funny without doors, but oh my, how convenient!

After a run to Starbucks, I stuffed some borrowed books into envelopes and mailed them at the Post Office, I hauled a full box and an empty CD tower to the storage space in the basement and I've just finished cleaning the damn baseboards.

My reward? Finding my friend George's quote (see "comments" on the previous post) from my personal anthem ("Move On") from Stephen Sondheim's "Sunday in the Park with George." Thanks for that, George.

And thanks Bernice, Curtis, Karen, Susan, Denny, Judy, Scott, Carolyn and Champe. Thanks, too, to people who helped with onerous tasks earlier in the week and to people who will be pitching in soon.

All of you have reminded me that I do not have to do this alone. What a relief!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Get Here, Mom

Goodbye, orange walls. Goodbye, dark kitchen cabinets. Goodbye, lotus-shaped light fixture.

Refreshing the condo has begun. After I agreed to let Pete the Painter brighten up the entry way, the long hall and the dining room, by the end of the first day, I had signed him up to paint the living room too. And all the woodwork. And the doors.

Two years ago, I am told, home buyers wanted something interesting to fix up, personalize with their own color preferences. Today, I am told, home buyers want to move their stuff into a place with cream-colored walls, woodwork and carpeting.


“You don’t have to like how it looks,” the realtor tells me repeatedly. “The first impression will be light and fresh. You’ll be glad you did it.”

Perhaps this is a much-needed step of separation, prying me loose from my beloved condo, where almost 11 years ago Pete painted everything variations on a color best described as poached salmon. The Salmon Sanctuary, I called it.

Maybe as the new color – a creamy hue called Posy – goes on the walls, I will start thinking of the condo as belonging to someone else, that new owner who likes everything pale.

On the other hand, Pete just told me a story about a job he did for a realtor. When the would-be sellers saw the place transformed, they fell in love with their place all over again and decided not to move. The realtor was annoyed, but surely she got over it.

Has everyone who has come through (24 people in three months) hated the salmon walls, woodwork and carpeting?

No. A few said outright it was not to their taste. Some had no comment. Three potential customers admired the color and commented how nicely it acts as a neutral. One adored it. That woman also liked my art, and said if she moved in, she would leave everything just the way it was.

She didn’t, however, offer a contract, and that’s what we’re after.

I’m paying Pete with money I’d saved to make the move. I’ve learned to think of the expense as an investment that may actually lead to a move. My son and his wife are in San Francisco, waiting for me to arrive. When he called last week, he said, “Lots of cool things happen in San Francisco in October. Get here, Mom.”

I’m working on it. First, I am saying goodbye to the condo as I knew it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Enter Pete the Painter

This weekend, the condo will have been on the market for three months.

So much for a quick sale with the condo “as is.” Since May, I have decluttered enthusiastically but otherwise rejected suggestions from the agent and also from friends to “freshen” the condo.

Yesterday, my son asked during a phone conversation if I am being stubborn about making home improvements. “Yes,” I said. “Yes, I am being stubborn – not about making improvements, but about spending money.”

He reminded me what one month’s rent in San Francisco will cost me. Then he said it’s time I was willing to spend close to that on the condo in the hope that the improvements will result in a sale.

“Great stuff is happening here, things you will want to do and be part of,” he said. “Sell the condo and get here.”

Here are some of my freshening options:

• Paint the entry way.
• Paint the long hall.
• Paint the dining room.
• Repair cracked tiles in the bathroom floor.
• Replace some missing grout in the kitchen floor’s terra cotta tiles.
• Paint the kitchen cabinets.

“You have THE UGLIEST kitchen cabinets I have ever seen,” offered one friend. She has said this more than once.

She is right. I also have an older laminate countertop and older carpeting. I admit it. I have chosen to spend discretionary funds on plane tickets, not on updating the condo.

Last Thursday I had lunch with five buddies from my water exercise class. I brought fortune cookies to the table, and ripped mine open immediately. I read it and howled. “Listen to the wisdom of the old,” it read. Everyone at the table was older than me, and I am not young.

“What should I do to the condo, oh wise older women?” I asked.

Here are their collective answers:

• Do absolutely nothing.
• Do everything the agent suggests.
• Do only what you can afford.
• Do absolutely nothing except lower the price.

The fifth woman removed the fortune from her cookie, read it and tossed it across the table to me. It read: “The simplest answer is to act.”

The painter is coming over on Wednesday. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I'd Like to Thank Ruth Gordon and Han Solo

For emotional support we turn today – almost three months since I put the condo on the market – to a dead actor and a fictional character from a movie.

Drum roll, please – I give you Ruth Gordon and Han Solo.

What an unlikely pair, you say?

You are wrong.

In an interview long ago -- my newspaper clipping is yellowed and brittle -- Ruth Gordon (1896-1985) said, “Never, under any circumstance, face the facts.”

I liked that then and I like that now, especially considering that there are currently 19 other 2BD 2BA condos in Creve Coeur available for under $158,000.

Gordon went on to say that had she faced facts in her youth, she never would have become an actor. She was short (5’1”), she grew up in a small town (Quincy, Mass.) and she didn’t know anyone who had become an actor, or even anyone who knew anyone who had become an actor. She also was not particularly pretty, though she was perfectly pleasant looking.

“How does someone like that become an actor?” Gordon asked in the interview. The question was hypothetical. She won an Oscar, an Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards and she also wrote plays, film scripts and books.

Then Gordon answered her own question: “Never, under any circumstance, face the facts.”

Han Solo, that’s your cue.

In a book I co-wrote with two oncologists (Chemotherapy & Radiation for Dummies) and also in numerous speeches I have delivered in and around Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I have often quoted the daring, the dashing, the damn sexy Han Solo. Here’s the story:

In the first “Star Wars” movie, at one point Han Solo is trying to maneuver the dilapidated X-wing fighter through a field of asteroids. Ever helpful, C3PO starts to rattle off the odds of the plane making it through the field.

Han Solo, played by Harrison Ford, turns to the droid in a rage and yells, “Don’t tell me the odds! NEVER tell me the odds!”

That’s a great sentence to repeat when doctors rattle off statistics (means, medians and the like), stages of disease and grades of tumors. I do not have fulfilling relationships with numbers, especially scary numbers, so why learn them? If you learn them, won’t they just flit around in your brain and drive you crazy when you could concentrate instead on working with your doctors in an effort to save your own life?

“Never tell me the odds.” That’s what I told my doctors 14 years ago, and now I walk around the condo muttering the mantra, instead of struggling to calculate the percentage of people looking for 2BD 2BA condos in Creve Coeur versus the glut of such condos in the neighborhood.

So that’s what’s up here. I’m not facing facts and I’m not figuring out the odds of selling the place.

Meanwhile, San Francisco waits.

Monday, August 10, 2009

What's New, Pussycat?

When I move, Maggie the Cat will move with me. She is 14, and has been with me for 12 years. Most likely, moving to California will annoy her immensely, but so far, moving Maggie appears to be the best option.

On the American Airlines web site, I read all about flying with pets. Then I called the airline to discuss some details that the web site does not address. A cat lover happened to take my call, and he had plenty of advice.

“Buy her a harness and a leash,” he said. “When you go through security, you have to take the cat out of the carrier and walk with her through the screening machine.” He added that Maggie also would need an ID tag with her address in San Francisco and my cell phone number.

Next, I called the veterinarian’s office for advice about harnesses, leashes and ID tags. The receptionist suggested I go straight to PETCO and see what was available. At PETCO, I lucked out. The sales clerk’s last job was with the Transportation Security Administration, and she had plenty of tips.

First, the young woman suggested a small round ID tag for the harness. The words “San Francisco” wouldn’t fit on it. We fiddled with abbreviations, and then moved on to larger tags. One of the bigger ones was heart-shaped, in a ruby color. “That won’t do,” I said. “The pointy end might poke Maggie’s skin.”

No matter how crazy you sound in a pet store, the staff has heard crazier.

PETCO had a new supply of harnesses, a different style from the traditional strappy ensembles. The new style looks like a cross between a kerchief and a bikini bottom. “Some cats slip out of the strap harnesses, but I’ve had good reports on this new style,” said the clerk. Unfortunately, the harnesses come only in pink.

I hate pink.

Pink is a pale, washed-out color assigned to baby girls, a throwback to the day when baby girls were expected to grow up docile and submissive and undemanding. Raspberry is vibrant. Red rocks. Pink stinks.

Perhaps the worst abuse of pink comes from people who think if they wear a pink tee shirt or buy a pink KitchenAid mixer or eat yogurt from a container decorated with a pink ribbon that they are somehow putting an end to the epidemic that is breast cancer. That’s just not how it works.

Do I appreciate support for women experiencing breast cancer? Absolutely – I’ve had it, and you need all the help you can get. I am wholeheartedly in favor of putting more research dollars into isolating the cause of this insidious disease. But I become downright crabby when told that “thinking pink” will lead to a cure.

Does the sky turn a delicate pink color from time to time? Yes, and I revel in it. Are some flowers a breathtaking shade of pink? Of course, and I celebrate their beauty. Does my pale, freckled skin take on a pink hue after about 15 minutes in the sun? Oh yes, and that’s fine. Otherwise, pink is off limits in my life.

Yet this particular cat harness, said to be the safest, comes only in pink. Worse, the only cat leash on sale also was pink – shiny, sparkly pink. I bought the harness. I bought the leash. I also bought the ruby-colored, heart-shaped ID tag because (I blush to admit) it looks nice with the harness and leash.

“The tag will be attached here, on the top of the harness,” the clerk pointed out. “Look -- there’s no way the tip of the tag can poke Maggie’s skin.” She was right. Now Maggie is ready to go.

First, of course, I must sell the condo. And now I have a deadline. On Nov. 18, American Airlines will no longer offer direct flights from St. Louis to San Francisco. I’d hate to ask a 14-year-old cat, a cat that gets car sick on short drives, a cat dressed all in pink -- to change planes.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Where Are You From?

What do you know about the lives of your ancestors?

I'm not talking about 3.2-million-year-old Lucy, but your grandparents and your great-grandparents. What were their lives like, what about them would surprise you, and what about you would surprise them?

Some of us know a bit – he had red hair, she taught herself to play the piano, he was a produce vendor, she bought expensive shoes, at least until her first child was born. Some of us waited too late to find out their stories.

“Tell me who you are,” I whispered to a photo of my great-grandfather. He chose not to reply, so I scanned the image and moved on to the next mystery. As I sort through my belongings in preparation for moving, I’ve spent a lot of time going through old photos. I spent the day scanning some of those photos, trying to put them in some logical order.

“You should always write the names of the people in a photo on the back,” my father used to say whenever I brought home prints of my pictures. (Usually, my photos were of animals, so identifying them was not crucial.) “You think you will remember, but you won’t.”

Unfortunately, he didn’t practice what he preached, and I have – had – boxes of pictures of people I cannot identify, friends of my parents, friends of friends of my parents, maybe even distant relatives. I had no idea who most of the people in the photos were.

Of course, I recognize my relatives, but I know little about their lives. That seems sad. We owe who we are today in part to those who came before us.

On his splendid Writer’s Almanac web site last week, Garrison Keillor wrote a moving piece about Isabel Allende’s response to the news that her grandfather was dying. Allende was in exile in Venezuela and could not return to Chile to be with her grandfather. “So she started to write him a letter, to reassure him that she wouldn't forget all his stories and memories,” Keillor writes.

That letter expanded into a 500-page book manuscript that was Allende’s first novel, “The House of the Spirits,” published in 1985.

Maybe that’s the secret. Maybe if we started writing letters to our ancestors, we could slip inside their lives, add to the facts we already know and discover what sort of lives they might have lived.

Or, if a 500-page letter sounds too intimidating, consider reading “Where I Am From,” a rich poem by George Ella Lyon. You will find it on her web site at You can even listen to her read it.

Where am I from?

One day in 1980 I was driving the back roads of Kentucky, looking for a big white house that squats on a tobacco farm, a house where my mother Bonnie spent much of her youth in the company of loving relatives, a house where I got to chase chickens, talk to cows and pump my own drinking water during a few summer visits when I was a child.

That day in 1980, I was 32, and had been out of touch with the Kentucky relatives for at least a decade. Driving along an unmarked road, I recognized the house right away. I stopped at the gate, opened it and drove up the long winding drive. I parked in front of the house.

As I got out of the car, a woman about my age stepped out on the porch. She took one look at me and then turned back to yell through the screen door, “Mama, come quick! It’s Bonnie’s girl!”

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Let's Dish

S.O.S. -- that's my motto: Stay Outta Stores.

If you don't go in stores, you don't buy stuff. That said, like my friend Philip, I do occasionally allow myself to be lured into late-night, on-line shopping. The other night, I was just ready to hit "Buy" on a crazy purchase -- a $69.95 vegetable bowl -- when I realized that this bowl was not the solution.

The solution was shopping, going into real stores.

The problem (doesn't every solution have to have a problem?) was this:
In preparation for moving, I meander around the house asking myself what I treasure. That, apparently, is how you figure out what to take and what to leave behind when you head out to a new life.

Now, I like my dark green Bennington Pottery dishes, but I treasure my whale-and-dolphin pattern Mikasa dishes because they were a gift some years ago from my Five Favorite Female Friends. So no contest. The ocean-theme dishes will accompany me to San Francisco, where, by glorious coincidence, there is an ocean.

I have enough Bennington Pottery dishes to feed 10. I have enough Mikasa dishes to feed four. I am selling the dining room furniture, as I anticipate renting a small place. Fine, I thought. I'll feed no more than four people at any one time. But I sure could use a serving bowl. I found a vegetable bowl that matched my dishes at With tax and shipping, the price was over $70.

The time was 1:23 a.m. Just before I clicked on "Buy," the voice of reason intoned: "STOP! You can buy plain white serving dishes, probably several of them, for this much money. Just go to a store."

I scored big time at my first stop: white Dansk serving dishes (big bowl, platter, sugar bowl, cream pitcher), originally $84, marked down to $14.95. Perfect. Done. Outta there. Mission accomplished.

No -- wait. Maybe, I thought, I needed to buy another set of dishes that complements the whale dishes, in case I need to feed five or six people at once. It could happen. And from what I understand, paper plates are frowned upon in California.

In 24 hours, I visited Bed Bath & Beyond, Kohls, Crate and Daryl (er...Barrel,) Pier 1, Target, Tuesday Morning, Marshall's and TJ Maxx. I strolled up and down the Housewares aisles, clutching one of my salad plates so I could try to match the blue on the sea creatures. I bought some pretty blue Melamine/Bamboo dishes with white bowls. Thank goodness that's over, I thought.

My waking thought the next morning was this: I hate plastic dishes. Furthermore, I don't want blue dishes. I took everything back and started over. Hmmm -- the whale dinnerware has a smidgen of pale yellow in the pattern, on the nautical rope. That's it! Yellow dishes! Perfect!

I raced off to Kohls. They had yellow Fiestaware. Too bright. They had a mellow yellow stoneware. Humming along with the old Donovan tune, I held up my whale salad plate. A match! It looked really nice, and the dishes were on sale. Loading the yellow dishes into one of those horrid canvas carts, I noticed that the Food Network dinnerware also was marked 30 percent off.

White dishes? Really? Stark white?

I held up my little plate. The background, of course, is white. The whales and dolphins are a soft, muted blue, and there is that bit of yellow I mentioned earlier. The round white dishes looked great next to my ocean-theme plate. The square white dishes looked even better! And next to the plates was a set of three Food Network serving bowls -- oval white bowls, in graduated sizes. On sale.

The Food Network dinnerware is mine now. Did this 24-hour bout of compulsive shopping get me closer to a moving date? No. But somehow it feels like progress.

"I bought new dishes," I said to a friend this afternoon.

He replied, "Oh, did you need new dishes?"

What a silly question...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What do you hoard?

My moving company has provided me with a list of “non-allowable” items. For instance, nail polish is listed under “Hazardous Materials” and may not be shipped. (Farewell, OPI.) Don’t even think about packing fireworks, even if they were “Buy 1, Get 4 Free.” You also have to leave behind chemistry sets, weed killer and household batteries.

Kiss all those half-empty (half-full?) bottles of salad dressing good-bye as well. “Perishables/Personal/Sentimental” items are no-nos. This intriguing category includes produce, checkbooks, wedding photos, car keys, plants, laptops and cash. Oh, and frozen food.

The latter restriction once led to my storing the top of a friend’s wedding cake in my freezer when she moved. She also asked me to keep a container of frozen soup. Her father had made the soup. He was no longer living and the soup was beyond old, but she could not bring herself to throw away the container. I made room in my freezer for almost a year, and then drove her frozen foods – tucked in a cooler, of course -- to her new home.

I helped this same friend pack for her move. Her husband had already left for his new job in their new town. One child, now grown, was out on her own. The other two often were busy with friends and summer jobs. Besides, my friend was eager to sift and sort, and not simply box up everything and cart it off into the sunset.

Or so she said.

I promised not to reveal her name here, but I am going to tell what she hoarded. One afternoon, I was put in charge of packing the contents of a large metal cabinet. The cabinet, she told me, held "art supplies." This cabinet was filled with scraps of construction paper, colored pencils (nubs as well as full length) in every shade and crayons – hundreds, maybe thousands, of used crayons.

“Why do you have 963 crayons?” I asked. (I made up that number, but it wasn't far off the mark.)

“We bought each child a new box at the start of every school year,” she called out from the kitchen, where she was packing utensils, baskets and kitchen towels, all past their prime.

“That was very generous of you,” I said. “But two of your kids are in college and one has graduated. Surely you don't want to keep this stuff. Every last crayon has been used. Some are broken, and many have lost their wrappers. I’ll just toss them all.”

Silence from the kitchen. Then: “No. Let’s not throw them out. You never know…”

Ah, yes. You never know. That sentence will effectively plug up any sifting and sorting operation, and the next thing you do know, you’ll be looking for a spot in your new home to store 963 used crayons. That’s exactly what happened.

My friend is not alone in her hoarding behavior. I hoard beauty products. When I learned that Sally Hansen’s “Radiant Hands, Nails & Cuticles Crème” was being taken off the market, I bought eight tubes on line. The previous year, I had scooped every last tube of the hard-to-find Glysomed Hand Cream off a grocery shelf. (Do let me know if you are in need of any good hand cream.)

One friend hoards hair products. When she learned that her favorite would no longer be available, she bought a good-sized stash. However, she soon found she was reluctant to use any of it.

“If I used it, soon I would be down the last tube and then there would never be any more,” she said. Over time, she experimented with half a dozen new hair products. When she found one she liked even better than her old favorite, she raced out and bought a dozen, just in case the item might be discontinued in the future.

You never know...

What do you hoard?

More to the point: If you move, can you take it with you?

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Will he come today?

That is my waking thought every day. (I allow the gender-specific reference only in deference to Samuel Beckett.)

Will the right buyer show up today, offer a contract and buy the condo so I can pack up and head for San Francisco?

Today, eight people came to my realtor's Open House here. That's good. We'll see.

Meanwhile, I walk through my rooms eyeing Stuff. "You're going," I say to the Madcracker poster. "You're not," I tell the photograph of the teen-age moose. "What?" I imagine the moose saying. "You would opt for an old poster over a real photo of a real moose?"

Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe I will sell both.

To help me sort it all out, I am reading Julie Morgenstern's book "When Organizing Isn't Enough: SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life." That acronym stands for:

* Separate the treasure.

* Heave the trash.

* Embrace your identity.

* Drive yourself forward.

Sounds like more of a workout than water aerobics.

I am not, as some friends have pointed out, particularly attached to my stuff -- at least until I stare at any one item and try to determine whether to take it or leave it.

I do know that I am not my stuff. I know that my stuff does not define me.

Had I not known, I would have found out in Morgenstern's book. Still, I'm not sure that my inner bohemian is ready to shed every last item. The trick seems to be choosing what will make the journey and what will go to the down-sizing sale.

Deciding about big stuff is easy. I'll sell the bedroom furniture, the dining room furniture, the office furniture. I really like my loveseat and the matching chair-and-a-half and ottoman. I can't leave behind my purple shell-shaped chair.

I've looked at used furniture on Craisglist. People are eager to shed --- er, sell -- lovely kitchen tables, desks and bedroom sets. I'll buy those when I get to San Francisco. People also are eager to sell lumpy, discolored couches and chairs. The guy from the moving company said if I leave behind my living room furniture, I'll save $295.

Ha! I can't replace what I have for that. I will take my upholstered furniture, and be happy that I did.

"Just take your purse," said my friend Gail.

Another friend, when I told her Gail's advice, commented, "She's got a bigger purse."