Category Archives: Downsizing

Piano paralysis

Piano:  n. a musical instrument having steel wire strings that sound when struck by felt-covered hammers operated from a keyboard

Paralysis: n. loss of the ability to move a state of powerlessness or incapacity to act

Our piano

Our piano

[Cross-posted from Getting to Less…]

The piano is a dying fixture in the American home.  So claims a recent story in the Los Angeles Times.

105,000 acoustic pianos (upright and grand) were sold in the US in 2000. By 2007 sales had plunged to 54,000.  Given today’s economy, we could be chopping them for firewood in a few years.

People are buying electronic keyboards instead – keyboards that are light, portable, and include attachments that control the furnace, shampoo the carpet,  and flip pancakes.

This is very bad news for me.

I am the keeper of a 1936 Steinway baby grand – a gift from my mother to my son, who is a talented pianist. Maybe I should say was a talented pianist. We refurbished it at great expense and he played the heck out of it from age 11 till he left for college in 2001.

A few months later I bought a too-big home  because it had a living room spacious enough to accommodate his precious piano which he would return to claim any minute.

Right.

First issue: he’s scarcely touched it in eight years, even when he was living at home the last few months.

Second issue: he’s globe-trotting for the forseeable future. A baby grand will not fit in his backpack. And when he returns it will probably not fit in some shoebox bachelor apartment either.

Third issue: my own future cottage/condo/shoebox won’t have space for a piano unless I put a mattress on top of  it and call it my bed.

There’s so much history with this piano. My grandparents bought it for my mom as a college graduation present  ($990 for the piano, $10 for the bench = $1,000 total).  She taught singing for 70 years with it,  playing it so much the brass sustain pedal was worn to a nub.  My two sisters and I  shed tears of frustration on its (real) ivory keys at our daily practice sessions.

After being refurbished and refinished the piano was appraised at $40k.

Needless to say it’s one of the biggest and most emotionally loaded THINGS that must be dealt with in this downsizing process. Not to mention  the deep pain in my heart that my son’s connection to the piano seems to be over.

He and I need to have a little talk about the piano’s future…

Meanwhile here’s more from the LA Times story…

The piano has been the center of many American homes for generations, not only a proclamation of a love of music but also often a statement about striving for success.

“In a very traditional sense, the piano did stand for something. It was a symbol of mobility, moving up,” especially among immigrant families, said Joe Lamond, president of the International Music Products Assn., based in Carlsbad and known as NAMM. Some real estate agents still will move a piano into a house that’s for sale to class it up, he said.

In many homes these days, a piano isn’t so much a musical instrument as it is just another piece of furniture.  ….

In the 21st century, the acoustic piano seems to be a relic of another era. Jeffrey Lavner, a piano teacher at the Colburn School in downtown L.A., puts it this way: “I think piano playing is a little like black-and-white movies.”   [ouch!]

…   Many forces have contributed to the acoustic piano’s troubles. Start with electronic keyboards and digital instruments, with their improving quality and alluring gadgets such as metronomes, USB ports, headphones and recording devices. Not to mention their generally lower price.

“We live in a digital age,” said Brian Majeski, editor of Music Trades magazine. “You have to redefine the instrument.”

And in a time of foreclosures and downsizing, the expense of a traditional piano — which can run from a few thousand dollars to $100,000 or more — may seem untenable, especially for a child who may be eager to play but has no track record in the rigors of daily practice. What’s more, for students, there is ferocious competition for the hours between school and sleep: Homework or video games? Soccer or ballet? Facebook or TV?

In a survey of piano teachers conducted in 2005 for the Piano Manufacturers Assn. International, 89% said that the primary reason a child drops lessons is “too many other activities.” …

Priorities… I’m moving on, getting to less

Priority: n. something meriting attention before competing alternatives

365 Words Beginning with P is winding down. Not because of a paucity of peachy P-words – indeed the peerless pantheon of P words is scarcely pricked.

My purpose – nay, my priority – was to prod my procrastinating pea-brain into a practice of producing pontifications on a daily basis until I had proffered at least 365 of them, thus proving to myself that I could write regularly.  This is #377. Who knew vocabulary could be so much fun!

(To those whose interest in 365pwords was more literary than political, I apologize for all the Palin posts last fall. It’s not my fault her name began with P.  I thank god she’s not our vice-president — pity those poor people in Alaska.)

What I’m saying is my priorities have shifted and I must move on. Literally. To a much smaller home, with much less stuff.

But I’ve caught blogging fever, and my new blog, Getting to Less, is shaping up nicely.  If you’re at all interested in getting to less in your own life, or you just want to keep me company on the journey, please please c’mon over.  And bring your own downsizing tips and (mis) adventures.

Pitching your possessions has got to be more fun than pulling your own teeth, right?

I’ll be back here occasionally when a P-word just screams to be written about. Meanwhile, join me over at Getting to Less.

Perspective: it could be worse!

Perspective: n. a mental view or outlook

I need to lighten up. I’m trying to let go of enough possessions that I can sell this place and move into something more manageable. The current boat anchor I’m trying to offload for a decent price is a humongous executive desk – so far no luck.

mcguire-desk

Speaking of boat anchors…

boat-anchor

A friend read my post about the humongous desk I’m still trying to sell and commiserated over the stunning rate at which the value of material possessions declines.  Here’s her sad story:

I bought a Split Cal King Adjustable Tempurpedic bed four years ago for over $6600 because I was having a LOT of back issues and didn’t want to wake Larry when I got up and down in the middle of the night. Hated it from the get-go but the company would not take it back because the very expensive bases were special ordered. This despite my having a witness who was with me when I bought it and heard the guy say we could return it.

Last month I took pix, put it on Craig’s list, got a couple of nibbles, but more questions than I cared to deal with. The bottom line was either have Macy’s take it away when they delivered the new mattress we just bought or give it away.

I gave it to my cleaning lady who split it, one for each child’s room.

I’m my own cleaning lady, so that donation strategy won’t work, but I’m going to give selling it another go this weekend on Craigslist. Wish me luck.  It’s become my boat anchor – a symbol of all that holds me down.

[A version of this is cross-posted over at my new blog, Getting to Less.]

Possessed by possessions: P-post #366!

Possessed: adj. influenced or controlled by something (as an evil spirit, a passion, or an idea)

Possession: n. something owned, occupied, or controlled; property

With this morning’s post I have proffered and probed 365 words beginning with P.  365 P-words may seem like a plethora, but really it’s a paltry potpourri; I’ve barely penetrated the pregnant possibilities P-words provide.

You could say I’ve been possessed by P. Although I will continue to post here, it won’t be so regularly because I have a pressing priority: dealing with my Possessions.

I’ve got to get rid of about half my stuff so I can sell this house and move to a smaller place.  But, I’m not going away.  I’ve started another WordPress blog – on downsizing, cataloging the process of Getting to Less.

I hope that some of you will join me over at Getting to Less. Advice, moral support and tips from your own experience always welcome. Maybe you’ve got ideas about selling art? antiques? Dealing with boxes of photos, big honking scrapbooks.  Aaaagh.

The blog is a bit sparse so far… I’ve edited and moved over about 20 former P-posts that seemed on topic (so if you read a post that seems strangely familiar; it is – like I’m using this post title but the content is different).

Soon the material will be All New!

Perfume, bye-bye!

Perfume: n. a substance that emits a pleasant odor; a fluid preparation of natural essences or synthetics and a fixative used for scenting; fragrance

joyThis is embarrassing. I just tossed two bottles of perfume that have sat on my bureau or bathroom counter for decades.

I haven’t worn perfume in decades. (Except for the fabulous essential oil fragrances my son created – and just discontinued – at Jimmyjane.)

The bottle of Joy has been with me since the boat trip I took across the Atlantic (Quebec to Le Havre) right after college. A dashing member of the German crew gave it to me as a momento of our brief but torrid shipboard romance. (My name is Joy and that was a very popular and expensive fragrance at the time).

As you might imagine, the fragrance in the bottles bore no resemblance to what the perfumiers originally bottled.  So why did I not discard them years ago???

Well – they were gifts with special memories attached. They were small. And you never know… I just might want to wear a dab some time….

This morning the veil fell from my eyes. I emptied the bottles down the sink and put the empties into the recycle bin.

It felt like a major victory.

Woo-woo postscript from yoga class later in the morning. Our teacher has two little baskets from which we can draw random words on which to focus in class – one contains round river rocks and the other contains cards (with words in English and Sanskrit). You can use the words as areas to focus your intention for the class, if you want.   From the middle of the pile in each basket I drew (not peeking) a rock that said “Joy” and a card that said “Joy.”   The dharma talk at the beginning of class centered on vairagya, learning to let go of attachments.  Oh yeah.

Pressure to pare down

Pressure: n. the burden of physical or mental distress; the constraint of circumstance; the weight of social or economic imposition; the application of force to something by something else in direct contact with it.

Pare: v. to trim off an outside, excess, or irregular part of; to diminish or reduce

Because I haven’t posted in a week you may think that I’m moving prematurely into slow blogging.

But no. I’ve just come to the realization that I can no longer afford to think about down-sizing. I need to DO down-sizing. Which means putting time and effort into planning, divesting, tossing…

Which means that instead of thinking about P words, I’ve been inventorying my stuff in preparation for the Great Divestiture.

Really, there’s no way I can go looking for some cute little shoebox until I sell the home I have – my beloved home.

To buy something, even a shoebox, would be silly when it could take months to sell my place in this challenging real estate market. And who wants to be paying for two places?

I’ve made myself a fine Excel spreadsheet on which I’m listing all my stuff, including measurements (will it fit in my shoebox?), and whether it’s a keeper, a give-away, a “store it in case the kids ever have real homes AND want Grandma’s embroidered antimacassar” , a “will it sell on eBay?” or “could I just dump it?”

I started with the easiest space – the guest bath. How much can a guest bathroom hold? I asked myself. Turns out quite a bit: a nice little rug, an antique commode, three pieces of art, and a very very very old Greek water jug. Sigh.

None I want to part with. And I’m just getting started.

I

Paradox of thrift: what’s a poor consumer to do?

Paradox: n. a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true

Poor: adj. impoverished, beseiged

Paul Krugman (Nobel prize-winning economist, Princeton professer, and liberal NY Times pundit) spoke to a packed house in Portland the other night as the first in our annual World Affairs Speakers Series.

The theme for this year’s series was supposed to be “The World in 2020” but Krugman rightly assumed that his audience was much more concerned about what was happening in the world in 2009, so he talked about the economic crisis.

He was funny*. And pessimistic. His basic message was that it sucks out there, everywhere – and that we have a right to be worried because we’ve never been in quite this sort of pickle. And furthermore, it’s a global crisis.

We poor consumers who have already lost jobs, health insurance, and homes  aren’t stupid. We tighten our belts, hunker down and dust off grandma’s formerly quaint advice on cooking dry beans and saving string.

But thanks to the “paradox of thrift”, our sudden crave to save is making the economy spiral down faster. If we don’t buy stuff, companies don’t earn enough money to make stuff, so they lay off workers – or they drop their prices to woo buyers, causing their competitors to do so as well which also leads to stuck inventories and laid off workers.

Giving us a tax credit or tax cut may put a few bucks in our pockets, Krugman says, but we use that to pay down debt, which doesn’t help the economy. We should be spending

(Didn’t we just try that?? like for the past couple of decades?)

If he were to advise Obama he’d tell him to make the stimulus package big enough… like about $2 trillion (!) because that’s what’s needed to get people working again so we can return to our spending ways. Unfortunately a ginormous stimulus package is a hard political sell.

Meanwhile, all the money I’ve saved from eating dog kibble the past few weeks just flew into my dentist’s pocket. It appears that kibble chomping can crack a tooth.

* Sample Krugman joke: “Capitalism is a system of exploitation of man by man. Socialism is the reverse.”

Postponing penury: Operation Sugar Daddy

Postpone: v. to put off into the future

Penury: n. an oppressive lack of resources (as money) ; severe poverty

I have a predicament, no doubt shared by many single women in this time of economic hardship. I live in a house I love. It’s bigger than I need, and more expensive to maintain than I can afford (unless I want to spend my last years on the street).

Plus I’ve been single since 2001 and the solitary lifestyle is getting stale. So three years ago I decided what I needed was a sugar daddy… some brilliant, charming, loving, handy, and financially comfortable man with whom to share my life and my home.

Unfortunately, qualified men who were also eligible are scarcer than the dodo bird in my town. Especially since I disqualify Republicans and evangelicals.

So I foisted the task of finding me a new mate off on my son-in-law, who knows all sorts of fascinating people around the country.

Nada.  Plus I learned that he has several other female clients who have given him the same task – and they are younger than me.

Yesterday I was talking with my daughter about the sorry state of my finances, and she gave me a talking to:

“Mom,” she said, “Operation Sugar Daddy is entering into its fourth unsuccessful year. When are you going to come up with a different financial strategy?”

Hurt to the core by my daughter’s lack of trust, I started to write a P-word post on the subject, one with a hip name, like “Project Pwned,” to show how youthful I was. Unfortunately I was unsure of the correct usage of “pwned.”

I saw that my #2 son was on googletalk at the moment so I messaged him for illumination. And this is how that conversation went:

Me: Vocabulary help needed…   If Heather makes fun of me for falling down on my Operation Sugar Daddy Project, can I say the project was pwned?

#2 Son: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Actually… you’d say Heather pwned you.

Me: Oops. Glad I asked, because I’ve got P-word post in the offing about my abject failure in Operation Sugar Daddy department.

#2 Son: It’s about owning or dominating another person. Look it up here: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=pwn

Me: So its done to a person not to a project or effort.

#2 Son: Well, kind of. If you were to have kicked ass at Operation SD, you would’ve “pwned” the project. As in, dominated it. A tough week at work could “pwn you”, meaning it defeated you.

Me: OK so I could be pwnd by Operation SD?

#2 Son: Well, not exactly. The project didn’t pwn you–it didn’t dominate you. It just never went anywhere. It was like that horse at the track that doesn’t move a muscle when the gates open, instead choosing to stand there, with a lost and slightly vacant look in its eyes… like a drunk who’s lost a bet.

Me: Jeez – Give me a break. Heather already pointed out the Plan had some flaws.

#2 Son: Exactly. The Plan had the fatal flaw of never actually existing.

I’ve got one more child to go to for sympathy.

Or maybe I ought to create a PLAN for Operation SD… ya think?

imPermanence: snow melts and tempus fugit

Permanent: n. continuing or enduring without fundamental or marked change

Impermanence:  n. an essential element of Buddhism – that everything is changing, inconstant, in flux. Because things are impermanent, attachment to them is futile, and leads to suffering.

The Portland area was blanketed in nearly a foot of snow for most of the week up until Christmas. My grandkids –  Elliott who’s 4 and Alexander who is 7, were beyond thrilled to be able to enjoy a white Christmas with their two super-fun uncles, who are young at heart at 25 and 37.  (Their parents – my daughter and her husband – were not so thrilled to have to drive up here from sunny California in such nasty weather, but they picked the only 12-hour window in a week to make it through!).

The joint was jumpin’ for six days – the boys of all ages seemed more excited by the snow and playing Pokeman (a P post for another day) than the prospect of presents.  Gifts were pretty sparse anyway, giving us the chance to focus more on hanging out together.

Here are my two sons and Alexander, after inserting the snowman’s carrot nose, and clapping a hat on his head:

snowman-done

Starting Christmas night the temperature began rising. The snowman began shrinking. This is how he looked this morning, right after the Californians left for home:

melted

He was only about 15″ high then; a few hours later he’s just a tiny snowball.

And now the house is totally quiet again.  The holiday came and went as fast as the snow, and I feel a lot like our snowman. Quite deflated and a little soggy.

One of our snowed-in activities (which turned out to be much more fun than my older two first thought) was going through the many boxes of their’ memorabilia which I’ve stored in one garage or another since they left for college eons ago.  “Whatever stuff you want to keep,” I said, “is going to henceforth be living with you, so choose wisely.”

Heather had only one box left here, but Ethan had six – packed to the gills. To keep him company I brought out a couple of boxes of my own written memorabilia to sort through. I have to hand it to him; he carefully plowed through a couple of boxes every day, examining each item (mostly artwork, homework, book reports, photos and letters), tossing about half of it, but savoring and repacking the rest.  Already in middle school you could see hints of who he would become – the fascination with edgy design – the originality of his ideas – and his writing skill, which I’d just taken for granted until he began writing for HuffPo last month.

The process was a powerful reminder of how many lives we each have lived through, in what seems like the blink of an eye. Friends, passions, projects… developing, ripening, disappearing. Many forgotten until a picture or letter brings it back.

My own journals and letters are voluminous. I’ve got them going back to college and it will take a long time to sort through them. The triviality of most of my concerns appalls me, but it’s all there – bringing the past temporarily back to life.

If I hadn’t recorded all those experiences they’d otherwise be gone gone gone – melted away like our snowman.

Update 1/4/09: Blogfriend Splodge forwarded this cartoon… too good not to append.

snowman

Powell’s in Portland: paradise for book lovers

Powell’s Books: n. a world-famous independent book store in Portland OR, occupying a full city block with a rabbit warren of rooms stuffed with new and used books – plus separate satellite stores for technical books, home and garden, and travel books plus a major online presence. Visitors to Portland MUST go to Powells.

Paradise: n. a place or state of bliss, felicity, or delight

Books are among the things I need to winnow out in this down-sizing project. So a couple of days ago I made a pilgrimage to Powells with three boxes of books I hoped they’d want.

The door to the book-buying room is on a very busy corner and it’s not always possible to park close by, so my son met me at the door and hauled the boxes in while I went to park.

He also helped me unload the boxes onto the counter for the buyer to view. This was a mistake, because I had included some children’s books in the collection. Every few books, he’d grab one with a little cry of delight and place it back in the box:

“Oh, The Woodland Folk! I loved that book. You can’t get rid of that!”

“Hey, Wembley’s Egg! Give me that!”

“Wait a minute! Why Cats Paint!”

This is my very manly 25-year-old son talking, not a nine-year-old. Sigh.

Nevertheless Powell’s bought about half of what I brought and gave me a decent amount of money for them. Immediately we got lost in the aisles, and the money would have gotten spent in a trice if we hadn’t had to be someplace else.

We both agreed that a it would be heavenly just to spend the entire day at Powells, getting lost in the stacks and not even noticing.

A friend of mine was telling me that when her son was turning ten, she was looking for a way to avoid throwing a birthday party for a bunch of rowdy boys. She offered him a day’s adventure anywhere, or a concert or movie or theatre experience. He immediately announced he wanted to go to Powell’s and stay as long as he wanted, maybe even all day. Which they did, and she says he still remembers it as his best birthday ever.