As I drove home to Cape Cod last week, I called my mom from I-95 north. “What do you need?” I asked. After crossing the bridge, I hit Market Basket like a bat out of hell. Once home, the groceries put away, I finished the laundry and organized the kitchen pantry. That evening my mom and I prepared dinner together: fresh cod with roasted vegetables, and then my dad and I went to Par Tee Freeze and brought my mom back a Tiny Tot twist in a cup.
The next morning was gray when my folks and I met my sister Jackie and her two kids at the Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich. For three hours we walked the exquisite landscape, toured old cars, and played in the children’s area, before going out for lunch. As soon as our sandwiches arrived in baskets, it started to pour and a slight sea breeze seeped through the open windows, tickling our skin through our raincoats.
Next up for mom were new sneakers. As someone who owns at least four pairs at all times, I explained that sneakers are to be kept in a rotation. The newest pair for the gym, a pair for long walks to the beach, another pair for walking on the beach, and the last for gardening, dump runs, etc. Not wanting to be left out, my dad also got himself a pair, despite my mother insisting his made him look like a hip-hop artist.
The rain stopped so the three of us went to Long Beach in Centerville. Walking along the shore, my mom, wearing her newly relegated “beach sneakers,” pointed to what looked like two enormous sandbags and said, “What’s that?” Upon closer inspection the “sandbags” turned out to be a freshly beached gray seal, his eyes already picked out by hungry gulls. There was a round hole on his side, about the size of a fist, where his guts were spilling out. As gross as it was, it looked a tad artistic.
Sunday morning, Mother’s Day, my mom, up early and en route to the kitchen to make her famous blueberry oatmeal muffins for me, stopped when I called out, “Happy Mother’s Day.” She came in and lay down next to me. We chatted awhile in the early dawn, talking about summer projects before she headed down to the kitchen, and I snuck into her bedroom to organize her closet.
Flowers wilt, cards are recycled and dinners become digested, but the memories that come from experiences last a lifetime.
The elevator in the building where I work changes its message board regularly, announcing what each month brings. May appears to be the busiest. There are over 50 (50!) special interests to bring awareness to including Teen Self-Esteem, Better Sleep, Get Caught Reading, National Asparagus (not kidding!), National Photo, National Salad and even National Chocolate Custard Month to name a few.
While it’s no secret that National Bike Month is my favorite special interest (though I don’t need a specific month to get me on two wheels), one I wasn’t aware of was National Share A Story month. And in May, I’ve got four scheduled.
This morning I spoke at a private catholic school off Burnside Avenue in the Bronx. For those not familiar with the Bronx, this is an area some people may not feel comfortable walking in. I took two trains and walked a few blocks to the school, whose exterior has seen better days. After opening their doors 100 years ago, Holy Spirit will be closing them for good at the end of this semester.
I was escorted to the gymnasium, with its wooden floors and horrible acoustics. Folding chairs were arranged in a semi-circle around one of the baskets and I was to stand in the center of the key, a place I used to frequent in high school. The first group – 30 fourth and fifth graders – was inquisitive and well behaved, sitting with eyes wide as I shared the story of my grandfather’s life with them. When I was finished, hands shot up, many with two or three questions each.
After 45 minutes they left and the next group shuffled in. Sixth, seventh and eighth graders, about 60 of them, looked like larger versions of the first group, though their body language was completely different. They were just as well behaved, but when I finished speaking, there was silence. Not one question or comment. Over the last few years, having spoken to almost 3,000 people, many of them students, I’m used to the silence, the insecurity of raising one’s hand. However, before I let them go, I encouraged them to call their grandparents and ask them to share a story about their lives. “Our futures are based on our past,” I told them, and it is through the sharing of stories that we find out just where it is we are headed.
“A juicer,” I said, without hesitation. After using my parents’ juicer last summer, I wanted to start my mornings with a carrot, kale, and apple juice. They were great. Except for the clean up. Several parts (including sharp blades) to clean, and there was the leftover pulp. Gross. Plus, the juicer weighed a ton and was about the size of a Mini Cooper.
Now, with my kitchen complete, I ventured out for the perfect juicer. But they were either too large, too expensive or too much maintenance. I wasn’t going to be selling juice out of my apartment. Was it worth all that? So I came home empty-handed. I just couldn’t bite the bullet.
The Nutribullet. Now hold on, this isn’t a plug for the Nutribullet. At least it’s not intended to be. It’s about space saving with an added (nutritional) bonus. I have an aversion to kitchen appliances. They’re bulky, they take up precious room on your counters and inside cabinets, and they rarely get used, the coffee maker being the only exception. How many of you have a bread maker, quesadilla maker, waffle maker, ice cream maker or electric can opener (to name a few) taking up valuable real estate, not to mention collecting dust, in your cabinets?
For over four years in my tiny apartment I had one appliance: a toaster oven. This heated up and cooked meals, made toast, shrank my Shrinky Dink art, and when it wasn’t in use, stored bananas. It was a well-used appliance and I still use it. And now that I have a little more room, I wanted a juicer, one that wouldn’t take up half my cabinet space.
Which brings me back to the Nutribullet.
I was in Bed Bath and Beyond and the Nutribullet caught my eye. This little (big reason!) appliance broke down the whole food, not just extracted its juice. Which meant no waste and more nutrition (even bigger reason!). But more than that, it looked simple to clean. Plus it was cheaper than on TV. In the cart it went.
My first juice included kale, melon, strawberries, mango, carrots, avocado, frozen bananas, frozen strawberries, a few walnuts, some flax seeds, water, and an ice cube. I screwed on the cap, stuck it in the unit and gave it a twist. Twenty seconds later, done. The taste? Delicious. The clean up? Easy as pie. The benefits? The first week I slept like a baby.
My aim isn’t to tell you to buy one for the nutritional benefits (though I told my sister to and now her kids drink smoothies with veggies without even knowing), but it’s about space. This little machine also makes hummus, peanut butter and even ice cream which means you can say “Buh-bye” to a few other appliances. Plus it takes up minimal room inside a cabinet. Now if only I could get it to make toast.
Last night I went for a walk in my neighborhood and passed a young woman standing on the corner of West End Avenue and 71st Street. She was standing behind a card table covered with personal belongings. Was she moving and waiting for a ride? As I got closer I saw a piece of paper with the words “Yard Sale” taped to the front of the table, flapping in the wind. I got about a half a block past when I turned around and went back.
“Have you been selling stuff?” I asked her.
“Yes. I’ve been here every night after work for the last three nights from six to seven. It’s stuff I don’t need anymore.”
And have people been buying stuff?
“Oh, yes. Every night. Most of it.”
I looked over her wares. A few pairs of shoes, a foam roller for exercising, and some stationary. While the New Yorker in me knew it was only a matter of time until someone approached her asking for a permit, I had to give her credit. She was not only spring cleaning, she was cleaning up.
Even after my huge spring cleaning a month ago, I’ve been slowly and continuously saying “Buh Bye” to more. Some when my mom visited a few weeks ago, and then when my sister came. Just when I thought I got rid of everything, a fresh pair of eyes asking, “Do you really need this?” was all the push I needed to get rid of more. As a professional organizer, I’m the one usually doing the pushing, but being on the other end of the push was great.
While many of you have (hopefully) by this time done a bit of spring cleaning, do you think it’s possible to get rid of more? In my quest to try another 30-day challenge, I propose this one: Get rid of one thing every day for 30 days. Okay, I can hear you moaning. Just hear me out. The items can be clothes (a sock with a hole or missing a partner), a blouse that hasn’t been in fashion since 1984, a Tupperware without a top, a worn out spatula, your “I Love Lucy” video collection, a paperclip, anything. One thing for 30 days. Think you can do it?
The stuff you get rid of you can donate, re-gift, sell, recycle, whatever you want, but it must leave your home. Keep a list, track your progress. At the end of the thirty days, let me know how you’ve done.
I got a pet. Okay, before anyone runs screaming to my Co-op Board (pets are strictly forbidden) please hear me out. My pet cleans up after itself. And unlike me, he doesn’t shed. That’s why I named him Harry. I only got him out of necessity. Some people own dogs to eat the food that drops on the floor while others let their cats take care of their “mouse” issues. As for my reason, let’s just say the dust balls that grow in my home pass like tumbleweeds on the prairie.
I had all sorts of pets growing up. A golden retriever named Candy, Willie the Maltese, a few goldfish, a bird (which came and went with an ex), and in my micro studio I had Fred the Cockroach. (Every new cockroach, even though I killed the previous one, I named Fred.) Pets can be wonderful companions. They cheer you up and are always happy to see you when you get home.
Like Harry. He’s loyal, friendly and though I’ve only had him a few days, we bonded immediately. He doesn’t come when I call, but that’s okay, he’ll learn. Plus, he’s not too loud, which again, is good considering my Co-Op rules.
“He’s adorable!” a friend said when she met him. “Is he high maintenance?”
“Not at all,” I told her. “He’s quiet, sleeps through the night, and oh does he purr.”
Which is one of the reasons I got him. You see Harry is an O-Duster. And while I love my hardwood floors as they warm the apartment and the color is spectacular, they collect dust. With the combination of the sun streaming in and my long curly hair, well, the dust balls can be downright frightening.
But not to Harry.
When I’m working at home I turn him on and he skittles around the furniture, playfully sneaking up under my feet, slipping into places I could reach, but choose to ignore. The best part, he’s not afraid to venture under the bed, which is where he does his best work, leaving me time to do mine.
For years I’ve been the daughter who organizes the closets, garages and kitchen cabinets of my sisters, performing organizing feats of genius, leaving them ecstatic with their newly systemized space. This past weekend I got a taste of my own medicine. How sweet it was.
Late Thursday my sister Jackie, the middle sister, showed up sans her two adorable children. It was the first time in ten years we had time alone. We had lots to catch up on and the conversation continued way past our bedtime, as though we were four and eight again, talking into the night until sleep took over.
Friday morning, after a six-mile walk, which included errands and buying (not enough) paint (as we had to go back two more times), Jackie got to work “cutting” my kitchen/living room while I worked in the bedroom. It took Jackie close to five hours to cut the entire room since there were so many nooks and crannies, including reaching over cabinets and around windows. While she showered, I cooked dinner and then took her to see the off-Broadway musical “F#%king Up Everything.” (Off-putting title, great show). We got home after 10PM and as I changed into pajamas, Jackie said, “I’m going to roll the room” and changed into paint clothes.
I woke Saturday and tiptoed into the kitchen/living room just as the morning sun was bursting through the window. I immediately felt like I’d walked into a hug. The color of the room was exactly as I’d hoped. When choosing from hundreds of colors and finishes, the process can be intimidating. As I made myself a hot chai and sat down at my island and looked at Benjamin Moore’s Mount Rushmore on all four walls, a smile eased onto my face. I made the right choice; the kitchen was perfect.
An hour later Jackie stumbled in, hair askew, looking as she did a million years ago when we were little. “So?” she said, heading for the coffee maker.
“Amazing. Simply amazing,” I said.
I once read that siblings take various pieces of a “skills” pie. One child may be athletic, one academic, one organized, one messy. In our family, of the three girls, I own the organized slice hands down and always shared it by helping in their homes. Now Jackie has found her own slice, Painter Extraordinaire. And despite all the times I tricked her out of candy at Halloween or made her go to bed early when I babysat, I’m lucky she’s not the type to hold a grudge. I may want to repaint my bedroom.
Part of being an organizer is being prepared for the unexpected. Like having an extra roll of toilet paper in the bathroom or an umbrella in your backseat. Then there are those items you hold onto “just in case.”
Last week my mom came for a visit. In between all the walking, we did a lot of window-shopping. (The Big Apple offers a bit more of a selection than Cape Cod.) One store we stopped in was a brassiere shop. For years my mother took care of her three daughters, but in this store, it was all about her “other girls.”
While I sat outside the dressing room, a Romanian saleswoman (who also happened to be a child of Holocaust survivors) tirelessly brought over various bras for my mom to try on, shamelessly opening the curtain and walking in. It reminded me of the scene from the movie “Yentl” when the tailor says to Barbra Streisand, “A tailor’s like a doctor, what’s to be ashamed?”
And while I was on hand to give my opinion, the two of them were chatting it up behind the curtain.
“My mother died when I was 18,” I heard my mother tell the saleswoman. “But she was there for my first bra. I remember it like it was yesterday.”
When my maternal grandfather, Papa, met my grandmother Fela in Germany after the war, she was seeing someone else. One night Fela was robbed and everything was stolen. Wanting to win Fela over, Papa asked his sister Cesia to help him buy Fela new clothes, including bras. Not knowing Fela’s bra size he bought one in every size. While only one fit, Fela saved the others. Either she was sentimental or she wanted to be prepared just in case.
Fast-forward fourteen years.
Papa and Fela are married and living in Brooklyn with their three children. On the day their oldest, a daughter, hit puberty, Fela took her twelve-year-old into her bedroom, opened a dresser drawer and removed a package delicately wrapped in tissue paper. The bras. Still new. Fela handed the smallest one to my mother.
“It fit perfectly,” I heard my mom tell the saleswoman. “Then my mother slapped me to ward off the evil eye.”
The saleswoman laughed. “My mother did the same to me.”
Sitting on the other side of the curtain, my eyes filled with tears, it dawned on me that all these years of assuming I got my organizing skills just from my dad’s mother, Nana Banana, whose kitchen cabinets were organized with military precision, that maybe I got my “being prepared” genes from my maternal grandmother… how fitting.
Passover has always been my favorite holiday. While it marks the beginning of Spring plus eating delicious foods, it also means that 20 relatives whom we don’t see that often, will be coming to my parents’ home on Cape Cod to celebrate.
On the first two nights of Passover we have a seder where we reread the story of the Jews exodus from enslavement in Egypt. Each year, seated around two beautifully set tables, we eat the same foods to enhance that story. Foods such as celery dipped in salt water to remind us of the tears our ancestors shed or matzo (what Jimmy Fallon calls a large Jewish Saltine) to remind us of how the Jews had to leave Egypt in a hurry and didn’t have time to let the bread rise.
The word seder means order and the ritual of the seder is that we do things in the same order every year. That order has always spoken to my organized heart. Especially the “seder” that happens after the meal.
As the older generation remains seated in the dining room, talking about family and business and home renovations, and the little kids rush off to the den to play, those of us sandwiched in the middle begin our post-seder ritual. My cousin Todd is Mr. Dishwasher. With sleeves rolled up, he erases the pile of dirty dishes on his right, while my cousin Jenny dries. Then my sister Jackie puts them away as my sister Meredith wraps leftovers. My cousins Scott and Jeffrey, and brother-in-law Jeff, fold up tables and chairs and bring them out to the garage while I slide around between everyone doing whatever else needs to be done. During our well-choreographed dance, the best conversations take place as we catch up on each other’s lives, while my father takes pictures.
This year we held the seder on an earlier night because of travel issues. So what made last night – the night Passover actually started – different from all other nights? It was the first time there were 20 fewer people seated around the table. Instead it was just my parents and me – the three of us – having our own intimate seder and it was still as special in its own right.
On the “eve” of the eve of spring, while a snowstorm was brewing outside my window (March was apparently going out like a lion, too), I decided to jumpstart spring on the inside. First I put “Moves Like Jagger” on repeat on iTunes, before dumping all my clothes onto my bed. Then, category-by-category, in between dancing like no one was watching, I went through each item.
I’m usually motivated to tackle this annual event when hit with that first tickle of warm weather. But with only snow and sleet outside, I switched to my Plan B Motivator. My sisters. I’m heading home to Cape Cod this Friday and, as usual, my sisters and I have a standing “Hand-Me-Arounds” ritual each spring. As the oldest, my clothes were usually the ones passed down, but for the last decade, when the three of us have been roughly the same size, we’ve done this swap.
In preparation for this one, instead of asking myself, “What should I get rid of?” I asked, “Do I love it?” If I did, I kept it. If I didn’t, it went into the “Buh-bye” pile, and if I wasn’t sure, I left it out with the intention of wearing it this week. Then after wearing it I’ll know one of two things: either I’ll love it and put it back in the closet, or I won’t and then it goes “Buh-bye.” This year my “Buh-Bye” pile was filled with 16 tops, 2 skirts, 4 pairs of pants and a few pairs of shoes.
Most of us wear 20% of our clothing 80% of the time because we gravitate to the things we love. So then why have things we don’t love taking up space in our closets? Sure, at one point we may have loved it, but that’s why it’s important to do a Closet Clean Out at least once a year. Not only do our bodies change, but our likes change as well. Not to mention styles. So, like gardeners, we need to weed out the “unwanteds” to keep them from choking the “wanteds.” This also ensures that every time you get dressed, you’re going to feel good.
The best part of our Hand-Me-Arounds party has nothing to do with the clothes, really. Sure we each walk away with one or two new items, but there’s always a pile of leftovers none of us want, and we really feel good bringing them to Goodwill.
Tomorrow marks the 30th day – in a row – of my hot yoga challenge. With the classes 90 minutes each, that makes the total time I logged sweating it out on the mat a whopping 45 hours. But the actual time I dedicated was two and a half hours a day when you include travel. So we’re talking 75 hours. And here I’ve been gun shy to sign up for a weekly cooking class, not thinking I could commit to seven Tuesdays in a row.
But this was different. As much as this was a physical challenge, it was a mental one as well. Unlike a New Year’s resolution I didn’t think of it as losing weight, it was simply to challenge myself to do something every day. I think that was the most important factor as it kept the focus on the challenge, not the results. And honestly, the hardest part was showing up.
While I did this as a way to get through the last few weeks of winter, something happened towards the end of the 30 days. One day in class in the middle of a rather hard pose, the instructor said, as they all do when switching between poses, “Change,” releasing us from the uncomfortable posture. As relief washed over my muscles, I realized that while “change” was what I had been looking forward to, as in the change in season, I had changed too. I didn’t want the 30 days to end. I was loving it.
Completing this 30-day challenge has me wondering about my next 30-day challenge. Will it be to take calcium every day? (Seriously, you’d think it would be easy to remember, but…) Write one letter (on paper!) a day to a different friend? Or maybe it’s to walk five miles a day. The challenges are endless. That’s the exciting part.
While I did promise myself a reward if I accomplished my goal (a summer dress from Athleta), it turns out I’ve already been rewarded. Knowing that I can succeed at anything I put my mind too is priceless. Well, that and seeing my name written on the 30-day challenge board.
What’s your 30-day challenge going to be?