Sometimes you just need to let go…

I love my couch. I sit on it all the time, reclined against a pile IMG_0027of pillows that are arranged just so, legs up and outstretched, afghan over me, coffee table next to me with dinner dishes stacked waiting for a trip out to the kitchen. Discarded earrings litter the coffee table, along with Sunday’s newspaper, and a book flopped open.I bought the couch probably 15 years ago–I don’t remember exactly when it became part of my living room decor. It’s upholstered in a brown cotton fabric. Bauhaus style the label said–it has high arms (perfect for piling those pillows up), and soft cushions, a distinctive line to the back and flare of the arms. Newly purchased it was elegant–the most expensive piece of furniture I’d ever bought–I who was queen of the Goodwill and second hand furniture stores, whose good pieces of furniture were mostly things brought from my parent’s house.

Elegance soon faded along with the fabric which got sun bleached along the back and tops of the arms. And my 3 cats decided that the arms made great scratching posts. I taped foil to the arms, then sticky strips guaranteed to deter kitty claws, sprayed it with noxious smelling sprays which kept me away but not the cats.

The fabric quickly succumbed to the kitty attention and shred marks adorned the front of the arms. I bought the first in a series of ready-made slipcovers, something green and synthetic and floppy. Then at some point I discovered the stretchy slipcovers that now cover it up–what one friend calls an undershirt for furniture. It’s corduroy textured, fitted, and seemingly indestructible even with a determined cat. But to get this cover to fit, I had to remove the back cushions (and it’s hard to sit sideways as I love to do with those cushions there). I now have an array of throw pillows lining the back. When I have company, I arrange them just so but I think they’re really not all that comfortable. As soon as the company leaves, the pillows get piled at the end or tossed aside and my nest re-emerges.

This year I announced to a friend that i was finally going to replace the couch. But I haven’t done it.


Yellow chair just after I moved into my house.

This all reminds me of the faded yellow armchair that I brought home from my mother’s house after she died. I hadn’t yet bought a house–didn’t even know I was going to do so–but house or apartment, the chair would be a comforting reminder of my childhood home.

Mom and dad had bought the chair shortly after they were married and it followed them from home to home, taking pride of place in the living room for many years, upholstered, reupholstered, slipcovered, and finally reupholstered yet again, its final coat a tough pale yellow fabric that was scratchy against bare skin. At some point it left the living room and was relegated to the small back bedroom that my mother used as her nest.

I did eventually buy a house and placed the chair in the living room, near the fireplace. But somehow it never looked at home. It was somehow out of proportion to my other furniture, too old fashioned, and ultimately too worn.

There were those cats–the tough fabric of the upholstery stood up to their claws for quite a while but then gashes began to show through. And there was a kind of musty smell to the chair. I’d drape it with throws or try to dress it up with ready-made slipcovers but it never really fit.

Eventually I had it hauled away along with a truckload of items destined for the dump. I remember the pickup truck pulling out of the driveway with the chair perched on top of the load. I felt sad, felt I was betraying that chair, guilty that I hadn’t taken better care of this relic from my family’s past.

I have other things that I brought from Ohio and take care of and cherish–a lamp, a painting, a glass vase, a pottery vase, some small wood carvings. I value these items for their own beauty as well as the association with mom and dad. But this poor sad chair got discarded.

Of course, my mother would probably have nagged me to get rid of the chair long before I did. And she’d be telling me that the couch needs to follow.

Drum roll please!

It’s done.The raised bed is built, filled, and planted. Yahoo! I feel like a new parent, proudly showing pictures of my “baby” to all who will politely and patiently look. It began with the hint of an idea—as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts I wanted to experiment with raised beds or planters to make weeding and planting and harvesting easier for stiff hips and knees. I did a lot of online research and chatted many times with my very patient friend Pam who is great at DIY projects. I rejected the idea of waist high planters—they’re expensive, need a firm level surface to stand on, might limit what I could plant.

So, on to raised beds. I looked at kits online—pricey. I then thought of just buying corner connectors online and purchasing lumber at a lumberyard but the connectors I wanted weren’t available. I looked at kits available in local stores. Here’s one (I didn’t like the metal but did like the size):metal bed

I finally settled on building the box from scratch with Pam’s help. Off I went to my local lumberyard, where a helpful employee talked me down from my vision of cedar (too expensive) and directed me toward spruce boards and hemlock 4 x 4s for corner supports.

Pam arrived on a hot Sunday afternoon with her cordless drill and other tools and we built the box (well, I measured, marked, and held things while she drilled and screwed in screws). Here it is, with one inaugural shovelful of dirt inside:empty bed

This past weekend, I purchased bags of dirt (didn’t want to use my weed filled compost) and filled the box. This required hauling and dumping 15 thirty to forty pound bags of soil, which I managed without throwing my back out—no small feat! I then had the pleasure of shopping for and planting a garden filled with cutting flowers and herbs. Here’s the newly planted bed:filled bed

In the summer of 1993


Mom at Memorial Day picnic circa 1960.

My mother died 22 years ago on Memorial Day weekend. She was in her mid-80s and living in a suburb of Cincinnati, in the home she and dad had bought more than 30 years earlier. She’d lived there alone for ten years since dad died–with a home health aide, good neighbors, and Meals on Wheels she was able to stay in her home until close to the end. But then a sudden health crisis led to a hospital admission and then a nursing home and that was it. One of her neighbors called to let me know mom was in the hospital. My sister B and I got to Cincinnati as soon as we could—me from New England and B from her home overseas.

Our cousin P had come to see mom and he went to the nursing home early on Memorial Day while B and I went to the suburban town’s parade. This small southern Ohio town had at one point been the winter home of a circus. To commemorate that heritage there was an elephant in the parade that year–that’s another story—but it’s an image that sticks with me from that day, standing in the shade on a leafy Ohio street watching an elephant amble along.

B and I spent the afternoon and evening at the nursing home. Mom was drifting in and out of awareness–when she was awake she was sharp and present. We worked away at the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle–B and I would be trying to figure out clues, thinking mom was asleep, and all of a sudden she’d call out a possible—and often correct—answer. We finally went home mid-evening, wondering if we should stay overnight but concerned we’d disturb mom who seemed to want us to go–and she died that night.

For the next two weeks, B and I settled her affairs and cleared out the house, slogging our way through hard decisions and easy ones: What should we sell? What should we give away and to whom? What would we each take with us? I took a fragile lamp that had been in the family for a long time because it would be more likely to make it to New England in one piece than overseas. I also took the old and worn armchair that mom and dad had bought shortly after they were married. B took artwork and books and family papers.

By the end of two weeks the house was empty. B and her husband headed home and I stayed one more night to do a final sweep through the house and close it up, ready for a Realtor to show and sell. On my final morning there, I bagged up some trash, called on the neighbors to say good-by and thank-you, and then paused in the living room.

With all the curtains pulled, the house was dim and cool. I sat on the hearth and looked down the hall toward the bedrooms at the end. Such an ordinary suburban house but it was the first and only house they’d owned (previous houses had all been rentals). It had been their—our—home for over thirty years.

I felt peaceful in that moment after harried and hurried days. I had a strong sense of presence–of the air shifting near me, of gentle weight on my shoulders, as though mom and dad were standing on either side of me, leaning in.

Downsizing? Well…let me tell you about that.

Everything is growing so quickly now that it’s gotten hot. Mounds of green, daffodils and tulips and an early rhododendron blooming. Weeds dotting the soil, dandelions galore. The rabbits are getting fat and lazy munching on grass and weeds–I watched one late this afternoon, munching and hopping and then stretching out in the cool grass to rest, sated at last I imagined after a long cold hungry winter.

Instead of doing my part toward the downsizing, which is marking the plants I want to keep and thinking through where they might go and maybe even transplanting some of them (no need to wait for Tom on that), I began to plan out a new garden. I know–that’s not exactly downsizing. But it’s hard to stop.

This one, if I carry through on the plans, will be more easily managed. There’s an l-shaped stretch of dirt that I’ve used for a cutting garden and for herbs. I created it on the site of a Norway maple that was cut down several years ago. I dug it out of lawn and added composted soil from my compost pile which is a cold pile and full of weed seeds.

I’ve paid the price with several years of cutting gardens that are so full of happy, healthy weeds it’s hard to see the flowers. And then there are those bunnies who love to munch tender new growth. So my fantasy now is to put in a raised bed or two with landscaping cloth underneath to keep those pesky weeds out and enough height to the beds to keep the bunnies from eating the plants (they seem to love sunflowers). It would mean work this summer but something will be in place for coming years that will be easy to maintain.

So, how do I feel about downsizing the garden? I’m there but not there.

I’m in the same in between place inside the house. I’ve been clearing and decluttering in my daydreams–but not in reality. I read somewhere online about the idea of a 30 day declutter. On day 1 you throw away or recycle one item, day 2, 2 items, and so on.

What a great idea I thought–but it hasn’t happened. Instead the detritus of a busy life continues to pile up around me. The bedroom is in its seasonal transitional mess–boxes with summer clothes in the corner, winter clothes piling up on the cedar chest waiting for the summer clothes to exit the plastic box, spring clothes in the closet, the down duvet on the floor where I flung it the other night when I realized it was just too warm these days for down, dirty clothes and bedding and towels overflowing the laundry bin, in spite of regular trips down to the washing machine. The seasonal identity crisis continues in the living room where wool scarves and hats and gloves still live in a basket near the front door at the same time as the world is exploding with heat and sun just outside the window. At least I put my boots away.