Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Time Machine in My Garage

Today, my husband and I took a trip through the Wayback Machine. All we had to do was step into our garage - it was a wild ride!

First, a disclaimer: If you walk into my house, you don't have to squeeze through the door and navigate through stacks of things. I don't have wall-to-wall collections, unless you count books, and those are neatly shelved on bookcases. Those that wouldn't fit in bookcases are in organized bins. I'm not a hoarder.

Doth I protest too much? Probably. Because while I'm not a hoarder, I AM a collector. Okay, with certain things I'll admit it, I'm a pack rat. (Have you seen my Pinterest page? That's after only two months. Imagine what I can collect in twenty years.) To some extent, so is my husband.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. We've saved some really cool stuff, like every issue of the Beatles books my husband received during his years in the Beatles' fan club back in England. We have a LOT of Beatle albums, 45s, books, magazines, newspapers - pretty much anything related to the Beatles, we saved.

We also saved a lot of crap. Treasured crap, but still...

I saved pretty much every sheet of paper my kids ever drew or painted on, every school assignment, every Sunday School paper, programs from every play they were in, Student of the Month awards, sports awards, and so on and so forth.

I'm a letter-writer, card-sender and postcard-mailer, always have been. In return, a lot of people have sent me letters, cards and postcards over the years. I've probably saved 90 percent of them. Okay, maybe only 80 percent. It's still a lot of paper.

If only that were all I saved, it would be relatively normal. But no, the pack rat in me didn't draw the line at pretty cards, treasured letters or my kids' memorabilia. I saved everything.

Today, I decided to tackle the bins of papers we've stored in neat, organized, non-hoarder type stacks in the garage. Spring cleaning for pack rats is never a simple project. In this case, it was less a cleaning project than a trip back through a time machine.

Among the things I found:

*A canvas sailor hat my friends autographed back in 1966, between 8th grade and freshman year.

* I tried not to stop and read all the Christmas and birthday cards in the bins, but I did find a 21st birthday card to me from my husband.

*Business cards and pay slips from every place I've worked in the past 35 years or so.

*Cancelled checks and bank statements from the year my daughter was born (1983). I paid some bills the day I went into the hospital!

*An old wallet insert filled with pictures of my husband from the mid-1970s.

*My union card from when I was in NATSOPA in England in the late 1970s.

*Mortgage papers, plus receipts for carpeting, furniture and repairs on the two houses we owned in England, back in the 1970s and early 1980s.

*My pocket calendar with the list of farewell parties we attended right before we moved back to the U.S.

*Newspapers with just about every major event in the last 40 years.

*Wallpaper swatches my husband and I both recognize but can't for the life of us remember which houses they were from.

*Countless cards and letters from relatives who haven't been with us for years.

*Half a bin filled with letters, cards and postcards written by me when we lived in England and mailed to my grandmother and mother, who saved them. My mom passed hers on to me when they moved to a smaller house. I'm sure they tell an interesting story of our life over the pond, but will I ever read them? Will anybody? Probably not. The only people they're likely to interest are me and my husband, and I can't see us going through them all. Life goes on.

*Although, we did find a huge stack of journals my husband wrote while we lived in England. He flipped one open to the day I fell down some wet marble steps, sprained and fractured my ankle and tore some ligaments in my knee. It took a long time to heal (because it happened while I was working - we were madly busy and I didn't take the time to go to the doctor for two or three days). When I hit my fifties, that dang knee started acting up occasionally. I'd forgotten when it happened - now I can pin it down to the exact day in 1977.

*The journals are incredibly detailed, and we've had some laughs at the descriptions of a few of our arguments back then. I was touched that my husband mentioned my new hair style (he liked it), and that he'd listed every little thing I gave him for Christmas.

*There were a lot of things I have no clue why I saved - book club catalogues, magazine clippings, brochures from hotels we stayed at, even airline luggage tags from every trip we've ever taken. There were also lots of cool things, like playbills from all the shows we saw in London. Good times!

We probably transferred fifty pounds of paper from the storage bins to the trash bins, and there are a lot of bins left. Both Marty and I are feeling nostalgic, but with no desire to actually return to those days. Our little jaunt back through time has been fun, as well as dusty and a bit tiring. When it comes right down to it, though, even though we're older and grayer now, I really wouldn't want to go back through time.

I like it fine just where I am.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


I'm a bookaholic - no secret there. You can find my recent reading list on Shelfari and more favorites at Barnes & Noble. Recently my friend Kelsey Browning blogged at Wordplay about the benefits of reading deprivation as a sort of cleansing process. The thought of going even a day without reading gave me chills, and not in a good way.

As a kid, I often got in trouble at school for having an open book in my lap, hidden by my desk. At home, I drove my mom nuts by sneaking a flashlight into bed and reading under the covers. If there wasn't a book handy, I'd read cereal boxes. 

Since I was the oldest child, our house wasn't full of kids' books when I was little. That happened gradually, as my brother and I were allowed to get books from Scholastic and Weekly Reader Book Clubs. My allowance went to Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books. Later, I used babysitting money to subscribe to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. My first "real" paychecks in high school supported my book club habit: Literary Guild, Mystery Book Club, Doubleday Book Club, the History Book Club and the Paperback Book Club. Even later, I subscribed to Harlequin, Silhouette Special Edition and Candlelight Ecstasy Romance book clubs - and more.

I also went to libraries a lot, and never left a used book sale without at least a bag of books. My husband shares my love of books, even if he's not quite the reading addict I am, so our date nights frequently take us to bookstores - and cafe's IN bookstores. Not a week goes by that I don't buy at least a few books. Hell, on average, I might even buy a book a day. (My husband is nodding vigorously.) And I'm lucky enough to get books from publishers and authors, too. I have a huge to-be-read pile (we're talking hundreds of books) in paper, and a whole lot waiting to be read on my Nook, too.

But it never struck me how much I need to read until yesterday. My husband and I were out running errands when our car battery died. Luckily we belong to triple-A, so all it took was a phone call to arrange for help. We were told a serviceman would be with us in twenty minutes or so.

Since we'd only planned on being out a short time, I had left the house without Nook or book. Well. Twenty minutes. Easy peasey, right?

Two minutes later I started to get antsy. My husband, playing with his iPod, was cool and calm. I fidgeted, watching another minute tick away on the clock. Fidget, fidget. My husband didn't say anything, but I think I saw his eyebrows raise. Apparently, I have the attention span of a five-year-old.

I eyed my purse. When was the last time I cleaned it out? Went through the surprisingly clean make-up bag. (Yes, I travel with a make-up bag at all times, because you never know when you'll need mascara. And a roller-ball perfume or three.) Dug a few old receipts out of the bottom and stuck them in a side-pocket for disposal later. Found a relatively new pack of gum - opening that took another ten seconds or so.

The zip pockets - rats - must have been cleaned out the last time I switched purses. Nothing to occupy me there. Then I pulled out my wallet and struck gold. Amazingly, there were five insurance cards in there, all seemingly identical. 

"I don't suppose I really need all of these, do I?"

My husband took them from me, squinting at the small print. "Some of these are bound to be old."

"Don't worry about it," I said, as he put on his reading glasses. "No biggie."

"No, now I'm curious," he said. "You've hooked me on the mystery."

A few seconds later he muttered, "Aha!" and pointed to the printing dates in tiny numbers on the back. 

Huh. A couple of those cards went back 2009 - who knew?

After that I dug out three expired Garden Writers Association membership cards, a Lancome discount coupon that expired two years ago, and business cards for every hairdresser I've ever visited. I stuck a bunch of those in the discard pile (the side pocket of the purse). Another five minutes had passed.

I pulled out the credit cards. I was squinting at the small print on the back, when my husband laughed.

"What?" says I.

"Look at you - you're reading credit cards!" He shook his head. "I knew you were addicted to reading, but I never knew you were this addicted."

Assuming an air of nonchalance, I put the credit cards away, dropping my wallet back into the dark depths of my purse. 

That's when the triple-A guy pulled up.

Now, honestly, I don't see a problem here. I made constructive use of my time and now have a much more organized purse.

But I'll tell you one thing. I'm not leaving this house in future unless either the Nook or a book is in the bottom of my purse. And I never go anywhere without my purse.

I think Kelsey's idea of the no-reading cleanse probably has merit. I'm pretty sure I'll never find out.