My Hope Chest

I recently started a trousseau. No, I am not about to take a bridal leap with my possessions. But I’d like to fly into a new perch and so I’m preparing.

I don’t love my current home and want to move within the next year. In order to not feel stuck and to find a home that is right for me, it helps me to visualize it. I imagine and focus on location, layout, light. I see the entrance and the rooms – and I furnish them too. Coaster 1Where will my couch and bookcase go? Should I trade in for scaled-down models? Will my new interest in mid-century modern translate into a newer, more streamlined living space? Should I get rid of my seldom-used dining table and bring my office to the forefront? Should I go for a mid-century modern theme in other rooms?

Without realizing it, I already have some of that look and it wouldn’t take much to zap it up. My grandmother, who was ahead of her time, left me a Danish modern teak sideboard and some small tables and my mother someCoaster 2 Metlox pottery pieces, which were made in our hometown of Manhattan Beach and where I worked while going to college.

Now when I’m out browsing, I keep my eyes open for these nostalgic pieces – old but ready for a new home, or new but with a decades-old design. For ideas, I’m visiting San Diego stores like The Atomic Bazaar and Boomerang for Modern. So far, I’ve purchased a set of coasters.

This is what I mean by a trousseau. Possessions for a new home. Visualizing and decorating. My hope chest. A symbol of meeting challenges and changes while still appreciating what I have and where I am.Coaster 3

As a bride, I didn’t have a hope chest. The idea for one occurred to me many years later, when I found myself in an unhappy relationship. I had moved in with a man too quickly and by the time I realized I’d made a mistake, I was stuck, at least for awhile until I could save money to leave. I began to visualize where I wanted to live. One day while out looking for something else, I fell in love with a kettle – bright iridescent red, green and yellow with a wood handle and space-age shape. I bought it and brought it home and tucked it away, gradually adding towels, spatulas, salt and pepper shakers in all the bright colors I imagined my new kitchen would radiate. (My boyfriend preferred black.)Coaster 4

It may seem like a silly thing, but gazing at that non-black kettle got me through some dark days until I moved it into my new home filled with light and ocean air and put the kettle on for a cup of tea.

Way Stations

A way station.

A place to stop and rest while on a journey.

I’ve made use of way stations, large and small, throughout my life.

As a kid, the tiny train station halfway between home and school. It was only a mile to school, but to my sister and me trudging along the highway in the snow in the Montreal winter, often below zero, it seemed never ending. Not to mention numbing. Despite our layers of clothing, hats, gloves, mittens, we froze. The little station was our warming refuge. We climbed the stairs, ran in and hugged the pot belly stove. Then made it the rest of the way to school hands and feet tingling.

A big, white Victorian hotel in the Green Mountains of Vermont. My grandfather knew the value of way stations, always stopping between Montreal and Cape Cod, stretching our 400-mile journey into two days so we could relax and look out over rolling lawns and play shuffleboard, and so he and my grandmother could enjoy their scotch at gloaming (Scottish for twilight). This was a treat for my sister and me, since if our father had been at the wheel, it would have been a mad, crabby, eyes-on-the road dash each way. No stopping for ice cream, let alone overnight lollygagging.Windansea bench

Other images float up from memory. A bench overlooking the ocean or outside a store, a cubbyhole in a library, a shady spot under a tree, a stoop or doorway, a friend’s spare bedroom or hidden garden, a wide wall next to a museum, a shack in the woods, a diner on an empty road.

Most airports, yes! I have always loved airports, the excitement of new journeys, leaving and arriving, sitting and watching. Today they are less restful, with security checks, long lines, more frequent delays. But there is more to do – eat, drink, shop, gamble, get a haircut, manicure, massage, watch TV, hold meetings, use computers and gadgets, even sleep in some. If I ever blow the whistle on someone, I could hang out like Edward Snowden in the Moscow Airport, although from photos, it didn’t look as if he got a haircut during his weeks there.

Windansea shackActually, I’m living in a way station today. That is what my current house feels like. It does not have a sense of settling in for the duration, or much duration beyond a year or two. I moved to get out of the storm of rising costs, rents. On my journey, I’ve known for awhile I need to simplify, but I wasn’t quite ready to leave a home I loved. But here I am! This way station is comfortable and convenient. It appeared at the right time. It is a place to rest and reflect awhile, to rejuvenate, before I get back out there on the road.

Looking for the Perfect Pad

Someone said to me recently that I was “the Queen of apartment hunting.” He knew I usually have good luck finding a decent landing pad when I’m forced to take flight. He told someone else she should ask me for advice.

Tree House for Rent Actually, I am more like the Joker, staying a dance or two ahead of the royalty. But here are my tips for finding the perfect pad. In addition to talking to everyone and walking around neighborhoods, I search online once or twice a day. I can tell now just by looking at ads what they really mean and what the pads will look like.

cozy – claustrophobic.  So small you can spit or throw spitballs at any wall from anywhere. And soon you will want to.

charming – dilapidated. So outdated even the era has been forgotten but the termites are having a good time.

near beach – closer than Yuma, Arizona.

minutes from beach – if you get in your car west of Yuma and drive fast.

ocean view – often means peek view, a tiny sliver you can see from your shower window or up on the roof.

near night life – party town. Forget sleeping.

friendly community – common patio or courtyard. The party has come home. Forget quiet evenings and weekends, privacy and sleeping.

off-street parking – can be anything from carport to shared driveway. First come, first parked. Not good if friendly community.

street parking – good luck.

new floors and carpeting – how new? Got rid of ’70s shag in 1997? Fake wood with a decade of scuff marks? Linoleum with an impressionistic pattern of heel and peel marks?

recently remodeled – how recently? Veneer and stainless steel do not a new kitchen make especially if the oven is not self-cleaning and the refrigerator is not self-defrosting.

laundry room – see my blogs, The Laundry Room, Part 1 and Part 2. Start stashing your quarters.

laundromat nearby – good luck.

There are words in ads that have no meaning whatsoever, such as:

  • amazing
  • awesome
  • miraculous
  • spectacular
  • one of a kind

Apt. for Rent If an ad sounds too good to be true and the rent is low, then it probably is too good to be true. It’s one room in a house, or a vacation rental and not available year-round, or it’s being sold, or the creepy manager wants to sleep with you.

Good luck.

Obsessive Unpacking Disorder

I’m no longer suffering from Chronic Packing Syndrome. Nor am I betwixt and between two homes. I’ve landed safely on the other side.

But now I have a new affliction – Obsessive Unpacking Disorder. Not that I really have to rush through all 50 boxes. I’m not on a deadline the way I was packing.

I do have to unpack most of them, however, so that I can walk from one side of a room to another, and from one room to another without tripping and killing myself. I’ve been bumbling around for a week now and have the bruises to prove it.

UnpackingThe cats have already used up a few of their lives catapulting themselves from the box towers onto the fireplace mantle, unsteady bookcases and top shelves of closets. They’ve also risked my wrath running across the tops at three in the morning.

My one shy cat is a holdout. She has yet to venture out of the bedroom. I know how she feels, would like to stay in there myself, under the covers, and will all my possessions to put themselves away.

But if I’m ever to wear my beige bras again (forgot to keep one out), if I’m ever to wear more than one pair of shoes, if I’m ever to eat off real (not paper) plates again, using real (not plastic) silverware, in fact, if I’m ever going to prepare real (not takeout or microwave) food again – then I have to unpack boxes, boxes, and more boxes.Unpacking Zoe

I’m a pretty well-organized person, so most of my boxes are labeled by room with some clues as to what’s in them. But no matter how careful I was, it was so tempting to stuff things in at the last minute to fill spaces. Thus the tangle of bras end up mysteriously entwined with pots and pans or desk accessories. The walking shoes I added at the last minute to the box with the small bedside lamp, thinking I’d remember. Ha!

So I’ve become a bit obsessive, developing a disorder to help me feign some sense of order. Work in the morning (I carried my computer over by hand, so can’t make excuses), unpack in the afternoon, a few a day. Must meet my goal.

It’s like living in a maze that keeps changing. No sooner do I get used to navigating around a 5-foot stack in the bedroom when it’s gone and I trip on nothingness.

My bedroom scaredycat is finally poking her head into the hallway and I wave at her encouragingly from the living room, but of course she can’t see me over the boxes.

Unpacking Linda and Lily
Unpacking Linda and Lily

I feel disoriented outside too. My new home is only around the corner from my old one, but the right angle turn has thrown me off. When I go out the front door, do I turn left or right? Coming home, do I remember to stop at my door, or do I walk right on past? Yes, I do walk by, still on auto pilot to my old home. Do I forget that my car is now parked out back instead of downstairs in a garage? Yes, I do and so have to carry all my flattened cardboard boxes back around, up the long driveway, easier than the indoor maze. I stuff them all in my car and head for the recycle center, grateful I can now drive forward onto the street instead of backing out into traffic from my old garage. And I’m thrilled when I find the recycle center is quiet and empty and I can throw all the flattened boxes I’ve unpacked into the blue bin’s smiling, cavernous mouth.

Betwixt and Between

San Diego is crisscrossed with wild and coyote-filled canyons. A few of these canyons divide streets and neighborhoods and so early city planners built bridges and even staircases here and there to bring the parts – and hopefully the people – together.

In the Banker’s Hill area, just north of downtown San Diego, a suspension bridge was built in 1912 near First Avenue over Kate Sessions Canyon to connect two parts of Spruce Street. It is one of the city’s hidden gems. Many locals don’t know about it, but those who do call it the Wiggly Bridge because it wiggles and wobbles as you walk across it. It also creaks and clanks and moans.

Spruce Street Bridge
Entrance to Spruce Street Suspension Bridge

I first crossed Spruce Street suspension bridge 30 years ago on my lunch hour. It’s located in an older, elegant neighborhood, filled with graceful Victorian and Spanish homes, one of which housed the ad agency where I worked. In the mornings, I would park two or three blocks away and walk to work, passing two large houses full of Hari Krishna people outside gardening or inside chanting.

One day the owner of the agency said he wanted to show me something. While he said he liked my copywriting, he didn’t seem to like me. We often argued. He was happily married and I wasn’t attracted to him, so I don’t think our personality conflict was romantic.

Anyway, there we were one fine Spring day on the wiggly bridge! Laughing, enjoying the view over the canyon and downtown and the ability to get to the other side in a sort of secret way. I thanked him. I think it was his way of saying, “We can work together.” And we did, for two more good years.

Recently I watched a show on local TV about the Spruce Street bridge (“About San Diego” with Ken Kramer). There it was in all its creaking glory, “another story about San Diego,” as Mr. Kramer likes to say.Spruce Street Suspension Bridge

This inspired me to drive down and take photos and another wobbly walk. But in some ways I was already on it. In the middle of moving, I am on my own bridge – suspended, swaying in the air, between one home and another.

Betwixt and Between, that’s me. Not to be confused with Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, that state of temporary insanity hardwired into us so we’ll mate and procreate, which I’d actually prefer right now, except I wouldn’t get my packing finished.

No, I mean the feeling of being neither here nor there, not belonging anywhere. My home of eight years is devoid of life now (except for my suspicious cats) and full of boxes. My new home is having its innards ripped out and is not yet ready to live in. I had planned to leave my current home in a couple of years, to downsize, but a sale and large rent increase put my plans on fast forward and my feet back out onto the streets. Old and new streets. Former neighborhoods. Would I like to be back there again? Exploring new areas. Maybe I should try living over a store or ???

Bridge PlaqueBy luck (and talking to neighbors), I found a new place right around the corner. If it weren’t for a tall condo a few doors down, I could see it from my current window. Straight as the seagulls fly. I don’t know if I will like it. I’ve loved my current space, full of light and looking out over trees and people. I leave it reluctantly, yet I also feel ready to make a new home.

So  here I am, walking the wiggly walk, swaying in the salt air breeze, listening to the coyotes, holding on, no desire to jump, suspended between two parts of the same neighborhood, curious about the other side.

Chronic Packing Syndrome

Most people think of moving as being one of life’s most stressful events – up there with death of a spouse, divorce, loss of a job or limb. But according to one of the official stress-ranking systems (Holmes and Rahe stress scale), moving is actually Number 32 on their list, after “Revision of personal habits” and “Trouble with boss.”

It doesn’t feel that way, now that I’m in the middle of moving! It feels like Number One (and I’ve survived death of family, jobs and marriages).

Why is moving so difficult? I think it’s because it turns our lives inside out and upside down. It’s mentally exhausting. It’s actually more work mentally than physically, although the physical work is bad enough.

Traveling can turn our lives upside down too, requiring constant vigilance, but we know all we have to do is pack our bag and get on a plane or a boat and be home to normal life soon.

With moving, we are packing our bag over and over again and we never seem to get everything in and there is no normal in sight. Our normal routine has been blown out of the water. And if we work, take care of family, exercise (not to mention eat, poop and shower), we know we still have to pack that bag into the wee hours.

Make lists that never end. No sooner do we cross off one item when two more appear. Call mover. Call carpet cleaner, call junk man. Pack all silver. Oops, forgot tarnished family heirlooms and old china. Call cable company. Pack DVD player. Oops, remember to draw diagram of connections before I yank out DVD player, router and modem. Call gas company. Remember to tell them neighbor shares meter so they don’t shut off her power. Order boxes, buy boxes, borrow boxes, drive down alleys and grab boxes in dumpsters. Buy packing tape and markers. Raid the free newspaper stands.Feline packing inspectors

And then the fun begins. Pack, pack, pack! I work into a rhythm. Need music. But I packed my stereo already! The physical work is not too bad. It’s the mental fatigue that sets in. It’s the decisions. Constant decisions.

Do I give away that old heirloom, or carry it with me yet again to loom in the back of a new cupboard? I have the perverse thought that I could bring a box of these family treasures to my sons. They might as well deal with them now as after I’m gone.

Do I sort through my files – business, household, taxes, medical – or just transfer the whole outdated mess to a file box? Do I give away books? I do manage to cull out a few. But what if I really do re-read all the Greek tragedies or Camus and Sartre (in French) or take up juicing again?

How about my grandmother’s cookbooks? Will I ever make Scottish mince again or have an English holiday party? Will I ever use my Spring-themed dishes, crystal glasses and shell napkin rings?

And who will ever read my 20 plus years of journals? Newspaper clips of old stories, frayed college papers and essays?

Feline packerAnd clothes, don’t get me started. Will I ever wear those dresses again I bought for my high school reunion and my son’s wedding (and I can, I haven’t gained weight)? Will I ever totter in the red heels or strappy sandals? Now that I work at home, my usual attire is jeans and a nice top. I could probably survive just fine whittling my closet space down by three quarters. But I don’t dare give away some outfits. Just in case.

I’ve moved many times in my life (at least 12 in 40 years) so I’m far from being a hoarder. I must make from six to ten trips a year to the Good Will, regularly discarding items. I store very little and actually park my car in my garage.

So it’s amazing and appalling to me, when faced with going through it all, how much I do have. And how much work it will take to decide to let it go.

It’s tempting to give it all away and move into a studio.

And maybe that’s what I’ll do. Next time.

While packing my books, I came across this treasure from E.B.White and I’m taking him with me:

For some weeks now I have been engaged in dispersing the contents of this apartment, trying to persuade hundreds of inanimate objects to scatter and leave me alone. It is not a simple matter. I am impressed by the reluctance of one’s worldly goods to go out again into the world. During September, I kept hoping that some morning, as if by magic, all books, pictures, records, chairs, beds, curtains, lamps, china, glass, utensils, keepsakes would drain away from around my feet, like the outgoing tide, leaving me standing silent on a bare beach. But this did not happen. My wife and I diligently sorted and discarded things from day to day, and packed other objects for the movers, but a six-room apartment holds as much paraphernalia as an aircraft carrier. You can whittle away at it, but to empty the place completely take real ingenuity and great staying power.

“Good-Bye to Forty-Eighth Street,” 1957, Essays of E. B. White