Category Archives: The Stuff

Finale: The Books

It has been a good while since we talked about our book dilemma. The Wine and Cheese/Book Takeaway was a great success. Prior to this we had donated boxes/bags of books to the local library for its Friends sale. Still, we were left with the remains of a near lifetime of buying/reading/ absorbing/harboring  texts that have been important to us. Add to these volumes a good number of books that had been passed down from the previous generation.

As luck would have it (I can’t believe that I am using this phrase, but it’s true), our hairdresser Maureen, who has been with us for the long term, told me that she knew of a book dealer – a son-in-law of a client – who deals in books. After placing a call to said person, we were introduced to a most charming young man who has a passion for books in a way far greater than ours, I concede. Tom thoughtfully looked over the remaining books, gave us a quick take on the overall situation, and agreed to work through them.

Tom came by to report on his assessment this week. It turns out that we had a good number of books that were in limited supply on-line and some that were of particular interest. He is glad to take our entire collection, the least and the most of it, and make it part of his inventory. Based on this assessment, he gave us a check which we feel represents the potential value of the books, his risk for any that are not of real value, the cost of retaining them, and, most important, the value of his time and expertise.

It has been a long process of detachment and release, but we are experiencing a sense of relief and also satisfaction. The books have gone to people who will read them or pass them on to others who seek them. We realized some monetary gain, but that was not the point. After all, we left the “sale” to the end. No, it’s just knowing that we have completed this phase of our transition.

Friend Bonnie, who took some of our offerings for herself and her son, asked me recently what we kept. Looking over the shelves and reflecting on what we have boxed up, I find that we have saved many classics (Greek, Roman and others), my medieval history books and related novels, background books for Ray’s historical novel Benediction, and many children’s books that I can not relinquish because of their association with our daughters’ youth and my time volunteering at a local elementary school after retiring. Ray kept his collection of books on FDR and the North African campaign of 1942-1943, thinking he still might write something — possibly a novel — on that era. Add in a good number of favorite novels and writers, and that about sums it up.

Regarding children’s literature, I would say that there is a great deal of pleasure in it for adults, particularly if you can share the books with young ones – your own or others. As for all the Shakespeare that we let go, we concluded that we can easily get his works from the local library. Besides, so many of them were yellowing paperbacks.

That pretty much wraps it up for the books. Now we need only resist the compulsion to hold on to the next reads.


It’s Getting Real

Wonder where we’ve been? We’ve been getting our house in the Finger Lakes ready to go on the market in just a few days.

The cupboard is bare. Now how am I going to clean underneath the darn thing?

You’ve been reading about our downsizing and our efforts to get rid of “the stuff.”  We’ve appreciated your interest, your encouragement and your concern. These last few weeks it has been getting real. While we thought that we were going at it in a concerted effort, we have heard that our realtor thinks that we need to accelerate the pace.

We are on-board. This despite the early arrival of our grandson and the need to divert our time to be with him and his parents. We are smitten and will be adjusting all our plans to make the most of the opportunities to be with the family and the new guy.

Our attentions back home have turned to making the house ready to show. More stuff has gone out the door. We have connected with a local book dealer who is looking over the remains of our wine and cheese and book takeaway. He has loaded them into his van and will get back to us with an estimate. No more boxes of books to contend with. (As an aside, we were amazed and gratified to receive a note from the local history center that two of our neighbors have sent a contribution in

Ladies — he does windows!

appreciation for our giveaway. What could be more satisfying? Thanks, friends.)

We are doing “triage” on the remaining items. There are things designated for the local antiques dealer’s perusal; others for the church’s yard sale this year; more for our cherished Once Again Shoppe; practical items for the Living Well which offers services to local families in need: and, our castoff clothing and costuming to the local theater company which encountered an incredible loss with the floods two years ago.

We’ve had the place spruced up a bit with a few cracks addressed, paint freshened where needed and small matters seen to. It remains for us to address the other

Wide open spaces in the basement. Room for a pony.

stuff and to decide how we present our home.

A good bit of our furnishings have gone south to our new home in Virginia. Nonetheless, we still have a very habitable home here. The challenge is to decide what we keep for the new home and how we transition down there. It is not insurmountable, but it does keep our minds occupied.

And, by the way, the basement – that great repository of generations of family stuff – is looking pretty spiffy.

We are convinced that this was the right time to make the change. It has been a huge effort, one that we’re not sure we would want to undertake — or be able to undertake — a few years from now.


The Books – Getting There

img_2120It’s no secret that we are hoarders of books, as we have come clean about this in our posts over the last two years. It is also known that we are fast approaching countdown, the time when we have to decide what to let go of and what to take with us to the down-sized townhouse.  To this end, we have been going over the books cached away around the house: the study, the basement, the “bonus room,” even the piles on the bedside tables.

In recent weeks, we have taken books that were subjects of our church study group to the church library. Ray has found a home for history books at the local history center, and I have given a number of children’s books (along with art supplies) to the local ARC, which supports children and adults with developmental disabilities. These placements seem right.  But, what about the remainder?

We are in debt to wonderful friend Becky who years ago shared with us her approach to leaving a home.  Friends were invited to visit and take away an item. No bringing of hostess gifts; the requirement was that guests help with the process of saying good-bye.

Thanks to Becky’s sharing, we have invited friends for wine and cheese and a “books takeaway.”  Doing this will allow us to see many friends whom we have not had a chance to enjoy properly, what with our goings and returns these past many months. A second boon is the pleasure we will have in passing along books that we have treasured enough to carry them with us for many years. Knowing that they will go to good homes, I am inclined to take a more critical look at the books that I think I must keep and those that I can let go of, knowing that they may be chosen in the same way that I did originally.

Speaking with friend Libby today, we talked about passing along/divesting ourselves of the stuff of our lives. We touched on real linens and family silver, among other things. For the most part, the next generations do not want them. We agreed that the rummage sale was the place for them, especially as the proceeds would benefit a worthy cause. Still, I find that books are another matter.

Another friend, Jeanie, shared in an exchange which I cannot locate easily but the substance of which I can render. Speaking of books and letting go of them, she replied, “Some of my best friends are characters I have met in books.” That about sums it up. I guess I’ll keep the best friends.

We’ll let you know how we do with the “takeaway.”


What We Call Progress

We are plugging away at the stuff.  Having undertaken the family archives and sent some documents on their way to historical institutions, universities and libraries, we are more and more confronting the books. What to do with these companions that we have read, savored and held onto over the years?

Well, for my part, much of the problem was hoarding. I’ve read about it and experienced it first hand in others. I just can’t seem to let go of something that gave pleasure.  Another part of the problem is that I fool myself that I will return to read them once again. Well,  I am at that point of life when there is not sufficient time to re-read all of them and still read the other books on my life list. I think I’m finally growing up here.

We are becoming more  critical, more discerning regarding those tomes that we want to retain and will actually read or reference again. We have agreed that the paperback Shakespeare plays can go. We can borrow them from the library should need arise or Google particular questions that we might have. We will keep our hardback copies of the ancient classics. They speak to us still.

Then there are the books that have been formative in our thinking. Those we will keep for sure. What are some of them, you might ask? Well, here’s a sample.

The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt

1491 by Charles C. Mann

Machiavelli, A Portrait by Christopher S. Celenza

Ornament of the World by Maria Rosa Menocal

Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick

Lincoln at Gettysburg by Garry Wills

Growing Up by Russell Baker

Dante by Barbara Reynolds

Someone quotable once opined that you can tell much about a man [person] by the books he/she keeps. Draw your own conclusions.

So, (a word that linguists and folks of their ilk voted to retire a year ago) what are we left with (oops, a dangling preposition?) Right, and now where does the question mark go? Yikes!

We’ll tell you more shortly.




More Things Under Heaven and on Earth…

Ray has been sharing his trip down memory lane as he goes through his family memorabilia. See his post.  While he has taken laudable action to preserve his father’s papers and other items related to Pop’s career at TVA, the matter of the snippet of his grandmother’s wedding gown is now looming large.

I hesitate to tell him that he doesn’t know yet what trouble with wedding gowns is. I am going through other Copson family items. Lo and behold, we have his mother’s wedding gown in its entirety. Mame, while average for her time, would be called diminutive today. Not many brides could wear it, even for nostalgic reasons. Well, our daughters could because, while they are much taller, they are also as slim as they come. But, we have married them off.

If that isn’t enough, I have my mother’s ball gown from a weekend at West Point in the 1930’s. It’s somewhat the worse for wear – not her wearing, but my sister’s and mine. Mom let us dress up in her old gowns when we were young. I’m afraid that we were not as respectful of them as we should have been.  Along with the current white cotton sheath with a flounced skirt below the knees, I vividly remember the white satin slinky  gown with the faux diamond clip at the shoulder strap and the slim green crinkly gown with an aura of mystery about it.

Some thoughts come to mind. We could donate them to the local theater company which has taken some of our funkier items for their wardrobe. On the other hand, perhaps the local history center would like them for its collection of period clothing. The wedding gown was worn in 1932, and is a classic. And I don’t know anyone among my acquaintances who went to a West Point weekend with a cadet.

I’ll pursue these avenues, with Ray’s permission of course. Who knows, maybe we’ll drag these pieces with us to our next stop. Let the girls agonize when the time comes. Serve them right for all the stuff they have left behind in their time.






What’s the Plan?

Downsizing continues here at Common Sense for Seniors headquarters. Yesterday, in the latest departure, our kayaks, nestled on their little trailer, went out the driveway. They were headed over to the Finger Lakes Museum, which has an active paddle program.

So where is all this headed? Will we end up living in an empty house? (Still a ways to go on that one.)  What’s the plan?

We do in fact have a plan. We are going to purchase a home in Reston, Virginia, which will eventually become our permanent residence. We’ll keep our house in the Finger Lakes for a while, and hope we can visit back here for years to come. But time marches on, the moving finger writes, and time waits for no man or woman.  Over the long term, life in the country, which we love, will simply no longer be possible.

Reston has many advantages — public transportation, for one. Buses run throughout the community and connect up with the Washington Metro. It’s possible to call a taxi or summon an Uber driver. Doctors and a large hospital are minutes away. Homes can be found that are within walking distance of a supermarket and restaurants. Reston has a network of walking paths and swimming pools that will be great for exercise. We know our way around, since we lived there before we retired and kept a small condo afterward. Most important, our daughters and their families, including our grandchildren, are nearby.

Of course, there are disadvantages too. One level living is probably not going to be possible. Since land is expensive in this “urban suburb,” builders simply don’t construct many one-level homes, so we’ll almost certainly be living in a town house. We’re looking for one with a manageable stairway. We’re not too sure about the summertime heat in Virginia either, after years of enjoying Finger Lakes summers.  We’ll have to be careful of the traffic, whether we’re driving or walking. A senior was recently killed in Reston in a hit and run.

It’s not perfect in every way, but that’s the plan. We hope we can pull it off. There are all sorts of arrangements to be made, as we’re learning. Right now we’re focused on getting the little condo transferred to its new owner. After that, we’ll have to actually find the new home we’ve been thinking about. We’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, we’d love to hear from readers about the living arrangements they’re devising for their senior years.




Ready to open

Ready to open

We are reporting the results of the yard sale, which finished on Saturday. We’re a little late, but that’s because we’re still recovering from being on-duty and in the sun for two days during the sale itself, and a bit worn out from the time and work invested in getting to that point. A lot of lessons learned, but also many points of pleasure.

Some observations: we were able to make a good number of folks happy when they bought things that we no longer need. We were able to let go of dishes, tools, linens, things for the garden, and even some plain old iron stakes that have either lingered in our basement and garage since our move here more than eight years ago, or were bought and no longer needed. We are relieved, and would recommend that others contemplate doing the same. But we still have items that we’re prepared to pass on, but were not snapped up. Furniture seems like a particular drag on the market.

No one wanted Pop's old cradle, circa 1904

No one wanted Pop’s old cradle, circa 1870’s.

Maybe other folks are as full up as we are. What next? Well, some will go on Craig’s List or possibly be donated.

In the case of a few items that we steeled ourselves to let go,  we’ll be asking ourselves if we really meant it. That English rya rug from the 1970s is really pretty attractive even now. Maybe that small easy chair can be re-upholstered and used in our next place.

At the last minute, Ray pulled Bunrab and Mr. Sneggles, his creations, out of the sale

At the last minute, Ray pulled Bunrab and Mr. Sneggles, his creations, out of the sale

Money is not a factor in a yard sale. It is a question of deciding what matters and what is needed and what we should let go of. Seeing others appreciate the things that we have harbored for untold years makes us happy. We were delighted to have them claimed.

Apart from the sentiments that accompanied putting our “stuff” out there for all the world to see, we were delighted by the opportunity to engage with the folks who stopped by. So many stories, so many connections. Neighbors dropped by to share with us their time on the Bluff, their recollections of our house being built, and how much history we all share. We hadn’t realized that a yard sale can be such a pleasant social occasion.

This last observation is a true departure from previous yard sales that we and our family members held in years past in Virginia. Collectively, back in those days, we all finally agreed that the effort was not worth it, but not because of the financial results. Mostly, it had to do with prospective customers offering insulting prices and being brusque and feeling somehow entitled to take away our dish, toy, tool, whatever at the price of twenty-five cents.

We’ll keep you advised of how we deal with the remaining stuff.







Getting There

IMG_1965It’s D-Day minus two. Our signs have been appearing on the Bluff, and the ad is in the local paper plus Craig’s List and our local Yates County online yard sale site. There is a lot of competition, if we should care to term it that, but I think that there is a synergism in having a lot of offerings for folks. The weather bodes rather well, so we take heart.

We have culled, once again, the stuff. Who knew how much we have harbored these past eight years? And that does not take into account the stuff that we have accumulated just being here. It takes so little to get to this point and a lot of discipline to rid of ourselves of the stuff. Too many memories; too many plans.

What have we discovered that we can live without and are ready to part with? Well, there’s the family furniture which no one has claimed, as we have mentioned before. Then there are the duplicates. We really do not need two crock pots even if they are of different sizes. One used to go Ray’s office holiday party and the other was acquired in a misbegotten belief that we would join the ranks of the slow cookers. We did not need to become slow cookers; we are retired and can decide what to cook and eat whenever. Anyways, how much time do we have left that we should consider slow-cooking? Heck, we don’t need even one crockpot.

Apart from the decision involved in deciding to have a yard sale, there is the physical energy and time needed to pull the stuff out and haul it to a point where it can be “showcased.” Best that we do it now as we are not likely to get great new infusions of strength and endurance.  So we are feeling good about this latest enterprise.

As I have said,  we’ll keep you informed.


Next Steps

The Friends of the Library annual book sale is over. On Monday, a crew of volunteers packed up the remaining books which were taken by a dealer who lists them online. For this, the Friends receive a generous donation.

What next? Well, there is no end of stuff. In the course of identifying books to donate, Ray and I were confronted with all the other items we have amassed over time. Some of it had been deferred until we have time to consider and decide what to do with it. (See Ray’s post about his father’s humidor.) I need to go through my family’s stuff. While the term sounds harsh, we have come to accept that the “stuff” of history, even family history, is not of great moment to our heirs. Thus, Ray’s observations on how to pass along that which is of significance. Kudos, Ray.

For the other stuff, there is good news. We have two events in the near future that will  provide opportunities for us to pass along those items that we have used but no longer need. Our Yates County History Center has an annual yard sale, and our church, St. Mark’s, will be holding a travel treasures and yard sale. I am in charge of the latter and am rounding up a committee to start planning. Ray is on the board of the History Center and very involved in its events program. We are off and running.

There are real prospects here for reducing the load and doing good at the same time. We’ll keep you posted.

P.S. After packing up books at the library, I dropped a couple bags of other stuff at the Once Again Shoppe. I thought I could just abandon them on the dock, but as I was pulling away a volunteer popped out the door and gave me a wave and a cheery, “Thank you.” I replied, “No, thank you.”


What To Do With Historical or Potentially Valuable Items

Our downsizing continues, but it isn’t easy.

I’ve been going through my father’s humidor — in olden times, men smoked cigars and had humidors to keep them fresh.

At some point, someone, no doubt my mother, stuffed this little treasure chest full of family history items and slipped it into our basement. The problem is that some of these items have historical or even monetary value, forcing me to decide how to dispose of them responsibly.

From the RMS Samaria, 1936

From the RMS Samaria, 1936

What to do with the scrapbook of my father’s business trip to Europe in 1936? There are passenger lists and menus from the Queen Mary and the Samaria — all quite lovely — and photographs of various meetings and events that might have been important in the history  of chemical engineering, his profession.

Menu from the last dinner of the crossing

Menu from the last dinner of the crossing

Then there’s the gold watch given him at his retirement. He never liked it, and didn’t wear it — but is it valuable?

Most interesting are Civil War documents related to Josiah Bean, a distant relative by marriage. My father’s Aunt Ina Bean must have left them, and somehow they found their way to the humidor. I have Josiah’s promotion to Captain, signed by President Andrew Johnson, and other promotion documents signed by Massachusetts Governor John Andrews. Letters to a friend from Bean reveal that he was an officer in the 55th Massachusetts Regiment of Volunteers — an heroic African-American regiment that spearheaded the capture of Charleston.

From Josiah Bean's promotion to Captain

From Josiah Bean’s promotion to Captain

These items should not be mouldering away in a humidor. (Actually, the Civil War items aren’t mouldering — the quality of the paper used in those days was quite good.)

The easiest thing for me to do would be to slip the humidor into one of my daughters’ basements, where it could mature for another few decades — but that would be wrong.

I’m thinking that we should save the watch for the auctioneer. Donna and I are agreed that at some point, we’re going to have to turn to an auction house for some of the larger items we have, but we could also include smaller items we come across that might have value.

The scrapbook? Perhaps the historical society in my father’s hometown, Easthampton, Massachusetts, might be interested. Our local society in the Finger Lakes, the Yates County History Center, takes such items.

The American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, might want the Bean material. I’ve just contacted them — I’ll let you know what they say.

As they say in Kenya (we have many items from our time there too): haba na haba, hujaza kibaba. Little by little, the measure is filled.

Do you have a humidor in your life? Let us know how you dealt with it