Monday, September 29, 2008


It's been an entire week of "lasts." last time to mulch the beds, last time to have a garage sale. And yesterday morning I told Chip we better eat up the last of what's in the pantry. When I went to make my lunch, what could I do but eat my own words? Although the pantry still holds tea, rice, cereal and some tiny jars of truffles, a lone can was waiting: Pace refried beans, FAT FREE. I spread it on corn tortillas with a little cheese. Not bad, really.

I've been procrastinating on another last: the very dregs of a whole office full of files and piles and keepsakes. It was a short pile among many, but this particular one, culled and handled at least four times, was too random and seemingly too hard to deal with when there were bathrooms to clean, stacks of junk to price, curtains to hang and gardens to mulch.

Today, I gritted my teeth and rifled through, sorting, deciding. I found my immunization records, which will go with us, or at least a copy. My college transcripts will wait for us in New Jersey in one of our two storage bins. A diary of my first trip out of the country goes in the New Jersey bin along with my first passport. A poem called Green Tennis Balls & Muddy Creek Water will go in my childhood scrapbook headed for my mom's in New Mexico. The poem was written by an almost forgotten classmate named John Parker, who obviously had a sense of humor and some time on his hands. It ends with "Oh, Tammy, come back, but this time bring some friends." I hope he's not still waiting. The poem was on top of a one-inch stack of my old writings from the last 15 years. I didn't have the energy or the guts to read through the pages -- be they masterpiece (SO unlikely) or trash (I'll take bets) -- so that's going to get pushed around until at least bedtime. zzzzzzzz.

There was a letter my grandmother wrote to me when she was 88, and I had just left the Southwest to live in the Outer Banks. It's a perfect distillation of her country charm and razor sharp wit in a chatty form of letter writing that now seems quaint. "Dear Tammy," she writes, "I haven't turned your picture to the wall yet" -- something she threatened to do if I moved to Europe. She hopes I've found a job and am enjoying "the colors" on the East Coast, as she referred to the leaves changing. She enjoyed the colors when she visited once but "was homesick ever night." She puts in a small report on the "folks" assuming they're o.k. because "I haven't heard otherwise." She gives a health update on her sister's dementia: "Sis is eating more and her head is better. She has gone to church the last two Sundays." I can't help but pronounce it "SUNdeez," as she would have done.

In an apology about her penmanship and spelling she offers: "If you can't read this let me know and I'll send you another one like it." Never one to ramble on, she ends the one-page letter with "Take care of yourself and come back home soon. (I mean to stay)," a failed campaign she continued through my final visit with her at 93.

I still haven't decided what to do with her letter -- or that nest still resting on my office windowsill.

Finally, the pile had nine pictures of my father when he was a teenager in the navy (he lied about his age to get in). I threw away four of the photos where he was too tiny to identify, put one in my scrapbook and the remaining three with his black-and-white, smiling face at the helm of the captain's boat will go with us on our own boat.

And that's the last bit of my very last pile.

--bought a light fixture for the back porch -- which doesn't fit
--bought a filter for the air conditioner intake -- which doesn't fit
--bought bins to store the photos to be stored at Chip's mom's. They fit!
--painted the stanchion bases
--fixed a leak in the water pump in the boat
--plowed through 13 years of taxes throwing away old receipts. Whew!

Sunday, September 28, 2008


The last garage sale is over! The Junk Road Show was a success.

We took four carloads of stuff to a friend's house for the last round. It was a ramshackle gaggle of objects: an ironing board, a machete, golf clubs, body boards, a wet suit, a Tibetan flag, a wine rack made out of rudders (really), quilting supplies, blankets, CDs, a Polaroid camera and two propane tanks. Maybe we could write a song .....

I put $5 on a nice $30 fan, and a man offered me $3. I'm like, are you kidding?

People kept asking me if I'm sad to get rid of all my stuff. I'm like, are you kidding?

It's all gone now. All of it. A 9-hour day, one trip to Goodwill and $180 later, we're free of all that stuff. We're FREE.

It could have been $183 if I just took the $3 for that fan .......

--ticked all but two items off of our "BEFORE WE LIST THE HOUSE" list
--bought tickets to the Annapolis Boat Show!
--got the stanchions and lifelines on the boat
--found the coolest mosquito repellent:
--found a place to live when the house sells!! and it's on the beach!!!!!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


"I wish we'd done this a long time ago."

We keep saying that, not about going sailing (although that surely is true) but about paring down our stuff.

This weekend we did the hard, hard work of sorting through the last remaining corners of the house. We started upstairs and slowly pushed everything that's not being used out of closets and rooms, down the stairs and out the front door. Part of it went in the trash, part got yellow dots for the garage sale. A select few items were set aside for ebay and even fewer went in the ultimate "keep" pile.

What's left behind? A house beautifully devoid of clutter. The closets contain only the bare essentials. The cabinets are efficiently stocked with 6 plates, 6 bowls, some glasses and cups.

What a joy to put away pans now. No avalanche of seldom seen pans (how do they get to the front?), no pushing, pulling, stacking and subsequent cursing.

The bedroom looks huge. My office is so airy and inviting. You could play jai alai in the extra living room space.

Even I want to live here now. Why didn't we do this years ago?


HOUSE: The first prospective buyer came through this morning. The house is not listed yet, but a friend of a friend heard we're selling. It was a perfect boot into the final phase of making the place look presentable: making the bed, leaving the kitchen immaculate, staging the whole place. We should be listing next week!

BUSINESS: The business is officially on the market as of last Wednesday. The broker has had several "calls," which is probably Outer Banks nosiness. The beauty of having a broker is that we don't have to talk to anyone until they've been prequalified, made an offer and put down earnest money. All we have to do is hand out business cards.

JUNK: This Saturday our junk has one more opportunity to find a new home before heading to charity. All week my car was full to the brim with garage sale junk. I pondered the benefits of leaving it unlocked, and strategically placing a few dollar bills in clear view. Some well-timed thievery would have saved me a lot of time and effort.

BOAT: Isabella still needs some attention before going official. I have most of the bulkhead stripped. Sanding is next. I had a minor varnish tragedy: the wind blew my beautifully varnished teak garage onto a basketball hoop leaving 6 little gouges. ARGH. In my mind they're gnarly two-inch scrapes, but each time I go look, in reality they're little pencil-tip pricks.

CATEGORIES: The Ebay room is almost clear. Mailed out the stereo, cheese cuber and exercise ball. The remaining items are neatly divided in categories: stuff to be stored at Chip's mom's; stuff to be mailed to friends; two small piles that go to the kids; our pile that goes on the boat. It's exhilarating to see how small that last pile is!

WHAT THE?: We're meeting with our accountant tomorrow to figure out how the heck to manage all this. I never imagined worrying about things like capital gains tax. This 'system' neither makes it easy nor holds much reward for cashing out.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


We're doing a happy thing, selling all our stuff and moving onto a boat. Most of the time, I'm just short of giddy. I monitor myself for signs of fear or hesitation, sudden bursts of nostalgia or tugs of sentimental regret, but I'm almost always zipping right along with glee.

Until I picked up the glass measuring cup tonight.

I was making a final pass through the house preparing for Saturday's garage sale when I grabbed the handle of that measuring cup. Out of the blue a rogue wave of grief passed over me.

This weekend Casey and Dylan are turning 20. When they left for college last month, they both cleared their rooms, left them empty. Our life as a little family under one roof is one of so many doors we're closing.

That measuring cup reminded me of all the birthday cakes and pumpkin pies and pancakes that passed through it. It reminded me of young, happy faces, birthday parties, Christmas trees and laughing around the table. Card games and poetry night, soccer and band and summer camp. Christmas socks and family breakfasts. Happy, happy memories.

Life is a one-way street but the knowing makes it no less bittersweet.

--we got some solid leads on selling the business
--we set a date for another garage sale
--mailed three more Ebay boxes
--gathered more and more garage sale items
--caught a fleeting glimpse at the light at the end of the tunnel

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Some of the things on our TO DO list are minor, like "Put Boots on Ebay" or "Clean Downstairs Bathroom."

Others are monumental, weighing on us like that senior project due in three days, no, two days. Things like "Have a Garage Sale" and "Clean the Downstairs Store Room." Today we did them BOTH.

All that junk that's too small to sell on Ebay got tagged with yellow dots and went on the driveway for the whole neighborhood to fondle. And just in case, Chip put a yellow dot on the house marked $350,000.

Unfortunately our gated community has bylaws prohibiting advertising a garage sale, so we only had a few dozen folks. But the exercise served to get all of the little junk sorted, priced and out of the house, never to return. We made a paltry $150 for a full day's work in 94 degrees with 60% humidity, but it was worth far more than money. The psychological weight of two major tasks has been lifted.

Next weekend we're taking the show on the road to a friend's house where we can advertise.

In the meantime, no more crock pot or dresser. No clay pots or mixing bowls. Gone are the videos and skim boards and electric lawnmower.

And somebody else is watching our TV tonight.

--cleaned out the outside store room
--sold the Fender Stratocaster and more license plates on Ebay

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


What do a 5-foot inflatable wine bottle, a Texas license plate, a green sake set and a blue exercise ball have in common?

They're the dregs of our lives available to the highest bidder on Ebay.

My office has some newspapers, a box of photos, some CD racks and a small ceramic gargoyle.

The den has a Christmas centerpiece, a couple dozen random VHS tapes, a futon couch, an antique sewing machine and Chip's coin collection.

Casey's room has a mosquito net, two amps, a memory foam mattress topper, an electric scooter and a boom box.

A cello, a Fender Stratocaster and a pasta maker.
A banjo, two lawn chairs and some dishes.

The end game is very strange.

--decided on a broker for Isabella
--finalized price for business and signed the paperwork
--put a few more items on Ebay
--ordered waffle weave, microfiber towels

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Today's essay is brought to you by, an online mag that inspired and then declined it for publication in their issue about simplifying, downsizing, taking a different path, cutting ties, running away. It's called:


My ship has come in.

It's a 35' sailboat. In a few months my husband and I are moving from a four-bedroom house onto our boat, a boat that makes a studio apartment look like Yankee Stadium. Storage space for stuff will be almost nil. There is no attic. To say the basement is damp is clearly an understatement, perhaps an underwater statement.

So, in order to jam ourselves into this new adventure, we have to pare down our belongings to little more than you would carry to summit Everest. It's simplifying your life as an extreme sport.

Fortunately, I've always been prone to living lean, but it must be a natural law: if you stay in one place long enough, solid objects start piling up around you. In the 10 years my husband and I have been together, I've gone from a small carload of belongings to an entire house full of stuff.

Divesting myself of all this stuff is like peeling back layers of my life. The outside layers come off quickly and painlessly. Ikea lamps, kitchen chairs, CD racks and rarely used kitchen gadgets fall away effortlessly. These things have served me well but have not woven themselves into my narrative.

It's those inner layers that I want to protect and keep, that are sensitive to the light. What do I do with the 30-year-old letter my mom wrote to me when I took my first airplane trip? What do I do with the tiny stuffed mouse my great aunt Flora made for me in 6th grade, the silver money clip my late father carried in his pocket for as long as I can remember? These are the chapters of my life. They have a story to tell.

For instance, if you look at the small painting in my office, all you will see is a nice watercolor of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. What you cannot see is my husband and me in a tiny apartment in a hilltop villa; you cannot feel the ancient stones beneath our feet, see the stray cat mewing at our villa door, hear the raucous laughter of our new Italian friends wafting out between the brushstrokes, but I can.

And there's the nest.

When my grandmother died seven years ago, I was 2000 miles away. I had told her my last goodbye six weeks earlier, but her death required some final act of closure. My husband and I were building a house at the time, and the day Nanny died, I found an abandoned bird's nest under the eaves. Something about it resonated, so I decorated it with flowers, took it to the oceanside and laid it on the shore. As I sat grieving on the sand, the sea swooped up the nest, swirled it about and delivered it back at my feet. That nest still rests on my windowsill.

A nest, a money clip, a painting. Am I clinging to these things, afraid I'll lose something of myself if I let them go? Am I forestalling a much greater fear that when these last things go, I must go, releasing my very life into the hands of the sea?

In the '60s, I had a poster in my room with that quote, "If you love something set it free. If it comes back to you, it's yours. If it doesn't it never was." Since at least 1970, I've thought that was maudlin and trite, but it captures the message the ocean delivered at my feet. When I released that nest, I was giving up my grandmother, letting go, feeling a deep and desperate sense of loss. I fully expected that nest to sink like a stone, or be carried irretrievably out to sea. I did not understand at the time why the nest came back. In fact, I waited a good long while at the water's edge to make sure I was meant to keep it and even then stole away with it like a contrite thief.

My grandmother was physically gone, but when I relinquished the nest, her memory, buoyed by a swell of emotion came back to rest firmly at my feet.

The fate of my little treasures is still in the balance, but as I approach their release I feel secure in knowing the memories they trigger are safe, memories that will surely comfort me on long night watches, memories that will remain bright and unscathed when I am storm-tossed and water weary, memories that will neither mold nor wrinkle nor jockey for space with storm sails and flashlights, first aid kits and life jackets.

I too will be released to the sea, swirled about and delivered safely back to shore.

Monday, September 8, 2008

STEP 842

"You guys are really doing this, aren't you?"

It's something we hear over and over. Sometimes I'm the one saying it.

With the business on the market, the house about to be, for sale signs on Isabella, two empty rooms, 13 items on Ebay and 15 already sold, including the chair I was sitting in, it feels like we're really doing this.

We no longer talk about things we have to do some day, we talk about what needs to be done in the next hour. We no longer talk about selling the house, but where we'll live when it's sold. We no longer dwell on selling the business, but what our first destination will be afterwards. We no longer procrastinate, we prioritize. We run from one project to the next, managing house and boat and business projects like a carnival clown juggling loaded paintbrushes. It's messy.

We look like a herd of carpenter ants carrying things from one place to the next to the next. To an outsider it might look like we're only shifting things from one room to the next, but from our vantage point, we're moving mountains. Sure, we might move each object from upstairs to the kitchen to be photographed, then to the "holding" bedroom to wait seven days, but eventually each object ends up in a brown, cardboard box, taped and addressed and headed to San Diego or Pecos, Texas, or Johnstown, Ohio, into the hands of someone who is hopefully as glad to have it as we are to be rid of it.

We had a staff party last week, and it was a struggle to find chairs for all six people.

Yes, we're really doing this.

--coat #6 of varnish on the garage
--coat #3 of varnish on the hatch panels
--sanded down the bulkhead
--attached the starboard dorade box
--stripped, sanded and sealed the cockpit grate, and it looks FABULOUS
--sold more stuff on Ebay.
--put the boat on Craigslist
--ordered mulch for the beds
--decided on a price for the house
--started having hot flashes. GREAT. menopause added to the long list of other life changes!

Saturday, September 6, 2008


Hurricane Hannah is stopping by tonight. She's not packing so much punch, but we'll have to take a short break from boat repair while she blows by and dumps rain on us. YAHOO!!!!

Maybe we'll use the time to do some work inside the house -- or put more stuff on Ebay.

Would you just look at that garage shine (that big chunk of wood in the picture). And I'm not finished varnishing it yet!

--stripped the cockpit grates
--varnished the companionway door
--listed the Fender Stratocaster guitar on ebay
--sold an OBX license plate on Ebay for $57 (!)
--secured the boat for Hannah
--dug out the vegetable garden and covered it with black plastic
--went to the dermatologist
--talked to broker about house

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Ah, September. We've just completed what we hope will be our last tourist season in retail -- and survived.

Things now kick into another level. the business goes on the market officially this week. The house will be ready in two weeks. the boat got FOR SALE signs yesterday and now has its own blog: Isabella.

My list of items for sale on Ebay grows as fast as I have time to get things on there.

Who has time to blog?

--painted the cabin roof where the eyebrow was
--finished two more coats of varnish on the garage
--had a staff party to celebrate the end of summer!
--emptied the loft and its bookshelf
--made a blog for the boat
--put for sale signs on the boat
--settled on a price for the business
--talked to a potential buyer for the house (!)
--talked to a potential buyer for the business (!)
--took all the excess wood and the old washing machine to the dump
--started stripping the companion hatch boards