The Strategy of Staging

Our downsizing experiment has lasted almost four weeks, and we’re still married – although there was that meltdown near the end of week one.

We had furnished our cottage for the vacation rental market, so we really only needed to bring clothes and a toothbrush. He forgot his toothbrush.

The plan was to bring the bare minimum; no need to move too much until we were sure this downsizing experiment was successful. Except that every day of the first week we had to make an emergency trip back home to fetch something critical to our survival. After a few days of this routine, my husband announced he would not move back home – even if we hated living in this little cottage. It would be the understatement of all time to say he hates to move.

With the gauntlet thrown, we turned our attention to getting our house ready for market. The only thing my husband hates more than moving is getting a house ready for market.

I’ve spent a month of days removing anything from the house that would identify us: family pictures, pictures of the dogs, my running memorabilia. The garage, closets, kitchen cabinets, and even the refrigerator have been re-organized. Then we cleaned everything like there was no tomorrow. The last step was to edit, edit, edit: accessories, books, artwork, plants, and even the area rugs. Staging is the part that sends my husband over the edge. With every house we sell, he swears our house doesn’t even look like our house by the time I’m done staging. It’s wasted time to tell him, that’s the point.

Julie, our trusted realtor, walked through every inch of the house and gave me advice on my progress. We’ve worked together long enough that I could imagine what she would say about almost every accessory in the house. I have a propensity for decorating with dark bronzes. She would suggest something bright instead. And then there’s a few buyer-distracting accessories, such as the dog door stop that has his leg hiked. One time I took out all the bronzes, including the stampede of horses, and stored them in the garage. This time I’ve brought the dog, the fish coat hooks, and a few others to the cottage. Every surface has finally been re-arranged with an eye toward benign and bright in hopes of appealing to the masses.

Our forever home, the one with nine rooms and a mansard roof, hits the market today. Julie reminds us we can always move back home – if it doesn’t sell, if we don’t get the price we want, if we change our mind about cottage life. . .

It’s safe to say we’re hoping it will sell.

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Photos Courtesy Julie Lapkoff, Keller Williams

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A view of the back patio in full bloom last summer (with Bentley and Mr. Boggs).

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The beginning (before photos): Nine Rooms and a Roof

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De-Cluttering My Life

My husband and I bought a small cottage to downsize one last time and live a simple, care-free life by the lake. The decision has tormented me every day since.

There wasn’t an immediate need to downsize, so we’ve spent the last few months readying the cottage for the vacation rental market. We could make a little money while creeping down the path to old age, and then we’d downsize. But it’s such a sweet house, and it has everything we need. Not an ounce too much. We found ourselves daydreaming about the day we’d live there.

Then we’d come home and our house seemed so excessive – and so much work. We started seriously considering downsizing sooner rather than later – maybe within the next year.

A year seemed like enough time to reduce our footprint, but moving into a house that’s a third the size of our current home was overwhelming. A decision looms everywhere: will this fit, will that fit, do I need this many shoes, books, house plants, or flower vases? Sometimes the answer is don’t-even-ask-I-can-not-possibly-part-with-that. The longer I attempt to downsize the more I’d rather toss everything and start over – except I don’t think I have the nerve.

That’s when I set a goal of getting rid of one thing a day. Some days are easy with dozens of things making the cut. Other days I close my eyes and hold my breath as I hand over a solitary pair of shoes at the Goodwill drop-off.

I’m familiar with the guideline that things should either be functional or beautiful, but we don’t need thirty wine glasses in our cupboard or three sets of china – no matter how functional or beautiful, and I won’t even admit to how many decorative pillow covers there are in the linen closet. Those beautiful, silk pants with the side-slit up to nither have been hanging in my closet with the price tag still attached for years. It was a daring purchase at the time, and I realize if you haven’t been brave enough to wear daring by the time you’re 58, chances are good you won’t – or shouldn’t be daring now.

After several weeks of this torture we had a change of heart – or clarity of mind. There’s a better way to find out if we can survive life in a small cottage with three dogs: we’ll move in. Now. Before we downsize.

The vacation rental strategy is on hold.

We met our landscaper at the cottage yesterday, and it was dreadful. Our little sliver of a back yard is filled with mud. The porch isn’t finished, which denies us that final check-off on the last inspection, and our lead carpenter has had the flu for over a week.

Some days are downright discouraging, but nonetheless we are on a path to giving this little cottage a trial residency – and that’s exciting. I guess no matter which house we ultimately live in for the immediate future, I’ve learned some things about the soft under belly of our belongings.

There have been days during this cleansing process that I looked around the room and imagined if I could only take one thing, what would it be? I’m glad I won’t have to only choose one item from each room, but it makes you think hard about what’s most important.

Another thing I realized was how good it feels to free myself from things I felt a responsibility, or an obligation to keep. It’s agonizing to imagine getting rid of mother’s china. She loved that china, but she didn’t use it and we don’t either.

For the life of me I can’t remember the details surrounding the conversation I had with my dad as he drove me to my high school graduation so long ago, but his advice from that day was that you can love something, appreciate its beauty without having to own it. That advice has been more helpful than ever these past few weeks.

The downsizing won’t go away during our trial residency, but there’ll be oodles of time to sort out my strategy. And if things go awry somehow in our tiny house experiment, we’ll just move back home.  🙂

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Almost ready for occupancy.

Where We’ve Been

Marriage is not always pretty. It can be downright fussy. Until you realize without warning, it’s perfect. I’ve walked down the aisle four times, and ran out the front door three. Maybe it’s not the perfect record, but I’ve always said, I am where I am because of where I’ve been.

The anniversary of my last walk down the aisle was last Monday. Eighteen years ago, at 39 years old, I knew from the get-go this marriage would not go down in the Guinness book of records for the longest marriage ever – we wouldn’t live that long. What I did hope for was a ‘good’ marriage. I felt certain I could accomplish this small feat with the perfect partner.

For those first few years it was obvious you don’t pick the perfect partner – you create one. Then I realized he might be feeling the same way about me. Getting the little things right seemed incredibly urgent. I couldn’t believe he didn’t understand how important it was to turn the lights off when he left a room. He found it amazing I couldn’t be happy with the same cleaning service, gardener, or dry cleaners.

I asked him what he had learned the most after being married to me for 18 years. He said patience. After we I laughed, he told me he’s learned that I’m hard-working, thoughtful, a good listener, and that he appreciates that I have what he calls positive ambitions. The funny thing is I would have said all the same things about him.

He holds my hand when we walk together, and kisses me before he leaves to go anywhere. I think he’s the smartest person I’ve ever known. . . and the last time I wrote glowing things about him to this blog, his ego got so big I could hardly live with him for a solid year.

The first marathon I ran was 10 years ago, which means he’s spent more than half our married life enduring my long-run days, and the resulting middle-of-the-night gimps to the bathroom. It crosses my mind that we’re both getting older and you never know what these middle-of-the-night gimps may be preparing us for.

Our resolve has been tested at times, but our best decision seems to have been to approach everything as partners. We would end up being partners in businesses, investments, as parents to each other’s children, and with our families – although we both agree the most important partnership has been in life itself.

The fast-paced and adventurous early years have transitioned to simple, sometimes lazy days of retirement where it seems more important than ever to be at peace with yourself and each other. We are here, after all, because of where we’ve been.

 

My Garden Path

This summer’s project can be summed up in one word: landscaping. I was determined to reveal my progress last week until I saw the pictures. Another week of work, I thought, and it will be ready for prime time. It’s been another week and then some. . . let’s just agree to view my efforts through the lens of potential.

Ivy has been the predominant landscaping material house after house – not by choice. I have seriously wondered if there is some life lesson I should be learning that only ivy can teach. It eludes me still.

Ivy was everywhere.

Eradication consumes the larger part of year one. Mine is not a sophisticated approach. Grab it by the roots and pull. One pull always leads to another, and another – and you never know where it will take you. Roots become entangled – a pull here is thwarted by a root crossing over, which can change the direction of your effort 180 degrees, and send you on a wild chase under the fence, across the yard, or straight up the mountain.

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Mounds of ‘pulled’ ivy, and Mr. Boggs

A garden from long ago taught me there is only so much wilderness you can expect to tame, and I’ve attempted to be more realistic in my approach. The best results seem to come about naturally, as if this little spot of ground or that shady area in the corner is ready to become something different.

The dogs always play a role in my landscaping plan as well, and it has served me well to wait a bit and let them chart the path.

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The dogs created a path through the garden before I started pulling the ivy.

This was the year my husband also got involved. His first order of business was to organize a thorough clean-up.

Ardy and his crew spent three days taking out dead foliage, pruning overgrown limbs, and clearing the fallen trees. They sorted out the hardwoods for firewood, and burned the rest in four self-made fire pits around the house. The fires burned for two days after they left.

After suffering through a constant string of poison ivy outbreaks, we realized Bentley must be bringing it back down the mountain and transferring it directly to me. Abel stopped by and weed whacked the whole mountainside, and I’ve been free of a new outbreak of poison for over two weeks.

Dudley, Mr. Boggs and Bentley (right to left)

A Garden of Potential

With a clean slate (or, at least almost clean) we visited the Lowe’s Garden Center discount cart weekly (or more) and it was shocking what could be found there – $5 hydrangea, $2 canna lilies, $1 coral bells.

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The ferns are placed in such an even line around the rock that I wonder if this was a flower bed long ago – before the ivy took over. 
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There were day lilies underneath mounds of ivy on the other side of the path.

The $2 lilies found a home in one of the fire pits on the far side of the front yard. Fifty years of dead trees were removed from behind the house and now we can see all the way through the forest.

The patio being cleaned last August before we moved in, and at its most barren state this February.

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By May, the ferns have taken over with just one lone day lily peeking through.

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The sun hits this side of the house late in the day, and it seems to shine a light on a path that leads through the garden and up the mountain. . . some day.

The excess spring rain has nearly destroyed the potted plants, Dudley chased a critter underground and tore up the herb garden, and Mr. Boggs plows right through the ferns smooshing them flat to the ground.

As with life, each season brings new challenges, unexpected catastrophes. . . and sheer delight. There’s lots of work to be done before this project looks like my inspiration photo at the top of the post, and I wonder what sweet journeys lie ahead on our humble garden path.

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Ivy Hills, forever.

It has been a year since my husband and I made the drastic decision to settle into one house forever. It’s a daunting word in my world. An endless or seemingly endless period of time. I’ve never found anything even slightly interesting about forever.

Plenty of past homes have been worthy of forever. The front door of our first condo in Chicago opened onto a wall of windows that overlooked the Sears Tower. The full east side of the apartment was a wall of windows overlooking Lake Michigan, while the west side overlooked the suburbs. It was breathtaking, and so was the job offer he got from a company in Florida.

When I was in school a few years ago, my 20-something classmates were just beginning to think about their future careers. The subject came up in class one afternoon.

Our instructor would give us the floor to say whatever came to mind after we had spent the week pushing ourselves to the very edge of our personal limits jumping off telephone poles, climbing the Alpine Tower blindfolded, or for me, forcing myself to hang upside down in a kayak for as long as I could hold my breath before escaping.

On this particular day, my classmates were admitting their fear of moving away to some unknown part of the earth. Hoping to relieve their concern, I talked about how exciting it is to move to a new city and to see the world. Trevor very politely spoke up after a bit of silence to say that some people may not be afraid to move across the country, while others (particularly those in our class) may find it terrifying to move down the street.

Here we were, a class full of adventure junkies, and what scared us most was as different as night and day. Move me a hundred times between now and eternity, just don’t leave me in one place.

My husband and I seemed ready for forever though. This is our favorite spot on earth. It’s never too hot, not too cold, but just cold enough. The views will sweep you off your feet – driving down the road, sitting at a red light, hiking along the Blue Ridge Parkway, or in the parking lot at the grocery store.

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A view from the grocery store parking lot.

It’s a quaint, little community. We complain about the tourists all summer, and when they flock in for the prettiest fall colors on earth. As unlikely as it may have seemed prior to this moment, this is home.

We also seemed to be ready to stop remodeling houses, although this one will clearly take us forever to finish.

If the weather is nice, we work outside – where there’s ivy to clear, dead trees to clean up, flower beds to be designed. If a limb breaks off anything, it goes into a vase of water and we wait to see if it will take root. After all, we have forever.

 

Our neighborhood is called ‘Ivy Hills’ by the locals, for good reason. After clearing the ivy from a hidden swan on the back patio last summer, I got the worst case of poison my doctor had ever seen. At the time of this writing, I have poison ivy again on my left shin, left arm, right toe, on my neck, under my chin, and on both sides of my face. Ivy, forever.

 

Mr. Boggs, Dudley and Bentley (left to right) on the stone wall by the patio – now clear of ivy.

If the weather’s bad, we work inside – where there’s still 8 doors, 12 windows, 2 columns, the master bath, and almost every ceiling in the house to be re-painted.

When decorating previous homes, I raced to finish every room (preferably in 3 weeks or less), and once a room was finished, rarely did anything change – not one piece of furniture moved, drapes never replaced, rarely one pillow changed seats.

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Vases of something green hoping to take root in rooms here and there all over the house.

This time my husband has encouraged me to take it slow, be patient, and enjoy the process.

Suddenly, there’s a seemingly endless amount of time to watch how the sun travels across the garden, to experiment with decorating the bookshelves, or finding the best spot in the room for a plant. . . the pillows have finally changed seats.

Forever is beginning to be a little less scary. In fact, forever can be quite pleasant indeed.

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Oodles of time for cozy naps in the sun with a friend (Mr. Boggs and Bentley).

A Dog’s Life

Give me a day, I’ll be somebody big.

I’ll grow strong, run fast, learn how to dig.

Give me a day, start early if you dare.

The world is my oyster, and there’s no time to spare.

Give me a day, see who I’ll be?

I’ll be yours forever, Bentley B.

Day One: November 15, 2016  Opening my eyes, learning to walk and dressed up for the Holidays.

The first bath.

Merry Christmas to me, and Happy New Year 2017!

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Day 57: January 10, 2017   Going Home.

Meeting Mr. Boggs

The very best way to sleep on the bed seems to be when the bed is upside down.

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“Mr. Boggs, let’s play. . . PLEASE Mr. Boggs.”

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Buddies
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Yours truly, Bentley

 

Losing Weight: My ‘Running’ Story

No carbonated beverages – diet or otherwise. No candy, potato chips, or pizza. Never a glass of that heavenly sweet tea so famous in this part of the land. How on earth did I gain weight? The easy answer is I took my eye off the ball.

My husband downloaded a dieting app as he reminded me that he was not the one on a diet. I told him I understood – which meant I would make the necessary changes to my diet while not imposing those changes onto him. It was only a few days into the process when I realized it was just like him to share this journey with me by logging every calorie I ate into that stupid app on his phone, and I loved him for that support.

WHOA!

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The day’s standard fare was added to the app every morning: cappuccino, yogurt, granola, a small glass of juice. The rest of the day’s menu was always an adventure.

He’d enter the calories from my dinner plate, and say whoa! There were always calories there that surprised us. Sometimes we looked up the calories before he cooked.

I brought out blackberries one morning to add to my cereal. He said, whoa! Each blackberry has a whopping 10 calories!

We sat in the parking lot outside our favorite Mexican restaurant while he looked up my favorite menu items. Whoa!  We drove away.

Red-Lined

img_3210One day we calculated the day’s calories in advance – to the last bite of dinner. It was a long-run day and we had made that our ‘night out’ – going out for dinner being the hardest meal to keep under calorie budget. We finished a glass of wine while sitting at the bar of our favorite Italian restaurant when the bartender topped up our glasses ‘on the house’ – good news/bad news, red-line day.

Obviously it’s easier to manage weight if you don’t eat out. In fact, we have friends that follow this approach quite successfully. Unfortunately, my husband and I enjoy eating out.

My rule of thumb is to never feel shy about special requests (marina sauce instead of a cream-based sauce, for example). My mom almost always orders what she wants to eat even if it’s not on the menu (albeit for a different reason altogether); amazingly they’ve never refused her. Maybe the easiest thing you can do is to always, always ask them to hold the butter (you’d be amazed how much they add!).

Calories In / Calories Out

There’s truly an astonishing number of different diets in the world. I decided to keep it simple and just count calories. In my eagerness to cut as many calories as possible, we eventually eliminated all carbs. Each day I went for a run, my energy dwindled further and further until I could barely finish a short run.

One of our fellow runners and bloggers (Adam from Back In A Bit, Have Biscuits Ready) had also been on a diet and eliminated carbs quite successfully all the while running and racing a lot. I thought maybe I’d jumped ship too soon, but we had already reintroduced carbs into my diet by the time I read his post, and I’ve never looked back.

Timothy Noakes co-authored a report in 2014 referencing a study of elite athletes, adapted to a diet of less than 10% carbohydrates, who produced energy at very high rates purely from the oxidation of fat. The jury may still be out for me, but a low-carb strategy is an interesting alternative.

Most experts suggest a distance runner’s goal is a ratio of 60/30/10 carb/protein/fat (or thereabout). This has always been especially challenging for me (evidenced by the two days on the left where the fat ratio was off the charts!), and it’s one of the best reasons to track calories from time to time.

study for Active.com found that Kenyan elite runners at the peak of their marathon training consumed up to 76% carbs while most of their 10% protein came from the milk in their tea. Despite the growing trend of the low carb diet, some would say it’s tough to denounce the golden standard.

Also remember: the greatest nutritional value is gained from eating a large variety of foods, and the most diverse diets have also been linked to the most successful athletes.

Weight vs Size

January 4-30th: 6 pounds lost (I didn’t think to weigh myself until Jan 30th)

February 4: 2 more pounds lost / February 16th: success!

I’ve never been a big fan of weighing myself regularly. Better to feel good in your clothes. Nonetheless, my weight simply verified the problem I was having with the size of my clothes.

For some folks, not to weigh themselves is comparable to us runners never checking our pace during a run. It’s nearly impossible. However, weight is affected by many factors: the time of day, what you’re wearing (which can add 3 to 5 pounds), how much sodium you’ve consumed, muscle vs fat, when you last went potty. . .

My weight goals have always been related to my dress size. When I turned 40, I was determined to be a size 4, but overshot my goal and landed at a size 2. When I took up running, I was sure I would run faster if I were smaller and decided to drop one more size. Over time I overshot my goal again, and landed at size 00. Although I regularly weighed myself a few years ago to be sure I wasn’t losing too much weight, I couldn’t attempt to tell you what I weighed at any time in the previous 30 years.

It’s not my numbers, weight or dress size, that’s important. It’s the process. Whenever I ‘grow’ out of my current size, panic ensues – rightfully so. For me, it wouldn’t matter if my weight were 125 or 110 as long as I fit comfortably in my chosen size. I’ve spent the past eight weeks getting comfortable in my clothes again.

Keep Your Eye On The Ball!

This process has reminded me of all the ways I took my eye off the ball, and the habits I’ll be more careful about in the future. But the truth of any human endeavor is the same truth I’ve so often mentioned as it relates to running: you have to do what works for you.

These are the rules that will hopefully help me keep my eye on the ball going forward:

  1. If you don’t know what’s in it, don’t eat it.
  2. Serving size is just as important as ingredients.
  3. Push back from the table before you feel full.
  4. Good In, Good Out.
  5. Be Adventurous.