Monday, September 11, 2006

Lawn Furniture

When I was very small, we had a glider and matching chairs. The set was made out of strips of white metal, with green trim. You could sit on the glider and move back and forth on a hot summer night. I used to love those evenings with my family on the front porch. The grownups told tales of the old days – often about World War II and what life was like. Sometimes I caught lightening bugs in a glass jar with hole punched in the top. Life was good!

In the back yard we had some wooden lawn furniture, but we seldom used it. In fact, I don’t remember ever using it. There were two Adirondack chairs stained dark red – probably to look like redwood. One day my mother told me I could paint them pink. I did, and the yard near the chairs was probably never the same.

When I was about nine my mother replaced the old glider with a fancy new one she bought at a warehouse sale. It had an aluminum frame and bright green vinyl cushions. It was definitely softer to stretch out on than the old one without cushions. I know sometimes when we had lots of houseguests she would bring the glider inside and fold the back down somehow and use it as an extra bed.

When we moved in 1958 we brought the glider with us, but got rid of the two old white metal chairs. My mother bought a round glass topped table with four matching wrought iron chairs. She also bought some of those fold up aluminum chairs with the straps that were all the range back then. We always kept a few of those chairs at the base of the driveway so we could sit out in the evening and talk with the next door neighbors. We also had an aluminum chaise lounge, but it and all the furniture lived on “the deck.” It was great having a deck all up in the trees, but it lacked the magic of the front porch at the old house.

The years went by and my mother bought a couple of really black wrought iron chairs. They went onto the deck and all of the aluminum fold up chairs went to the basement, eventually to be joined by some beach chairs (which my mother never would have bought, but probably won) which still grace my garage. We have never taken them to the beach because we always go to the beach on an airplane. Oh’ well!

Steve and I got married in 1969 and bought our own lawn furniture. We started out with two small aluminum chairs with green straps. In time, we added two r aluminum folding chairs with high backs, orange strapping, and a wooden handles. We bought a strapping repair kit. These served us well through our two years in Illinois and our five years in California, but while we were in California we were overcome by the urge to buy a redwood table and two bench seats. I think having a set like that was requisite to living in the state.

The lawn furniture moved with us to Maryland in 1976. The redwood table never really worked well on the screen in porch. The previous owners had used a spool from electrical cable for a table. We moved that monster to the yard, but it was hard to dispose of. Eventually, I decided to donate the redwood table to Chesapeake Academy for use in the summer program. By then it was 1983. I went to the local discount store and bought a square glass table with white vinyl trim. We kept our aluminum folding chairs for years afterwards until they finally rotted and I couldn’t remember what happened to the repair kit.

At some point along the way, they introduced stackable white plastic chairs. Of course, I had to have some, so I bought four and they looked with the glass topped table with the white vinyl trim. I had a hole in the center for an umbrella, but I didn’t bother with an umbrella because it would be sort of silly inside a screened porch.

In 1990, we built a big addition to the house and a deck. The screened in porch became a pantry and the white glass topped table went to the deck where it was joined by a smart new vinyl umbrella and about eight white plastic chairs. In addition, because my mother had died and my father was selling the house, I acquired their black wrought iron table and four chairs and their two black wrought iron chairs. The deck was full of furniture.

In 1992, when we built our new house, we ended up with lots of decks, two at the main level of the house and one great big one at the basement level. That is more deck than anyone could possibly need, but we have them now and I have to make the best of it.

We put my mother’s black wrought iron table and four chairs on the small deck off the kitchen. It was perfect for barbeque dinners with our son and his wife. It even worked OK with two very small children joined the family.

The old glass topped table with white vinyl went on the big deck off the family room, along with collection of white plastic stacking chairs and a white vinyl chaise lounger in failing health.

I told my husband I really wanted a glider. He surprised me with a wooden porch swing. It’s nice , but it is not a glider. My daughter-in-law bought me cushions for the porch swing and the chaise lounge. I bought a green topped container to keep them in and green cloth market umbrella for the table (since the blue vinyl one had long since gone to the dump infested with squirrel debris). In time the white chairs got really yucky, so they went to the lower deck and were stacked up for some future need – you never know! And we got high backed dark green ones instead. Not great with the glass topped table with white vinyl trim (maybe I should paint it, but Steve says that would “be a mistake.”)

The two good wrought iron chairs and matching table were set up on the lower deck where they began to rust after 16 years. Nobody ever sat on them except for few minutes now and then in all those years.

I bought two fold-up chairs with white plastic straps to go in the hot tub room in 1992. They are still there, looking new!

A few years ago, I spotted some chairs that folded up and slipped into a bag. Very clever, I thought, and immediately bought two. They were destined to become all the rage. Now you see them everywhere. We now own four, but the second pair are heavier with arms. Who needs arms? We take the lighter ones when we go to outdoor events.

Recently, I decided it was time to re-do our outdoor furniture. This time I was going to think the whole thing through and get some good stuff that was really “suitable” for the deck off the kitchen. I considered some lovely wooden furniture from the grocery store at a great price. I told my son and his wife about my plans. They reminded me that this furniture was likely made with wood from tropical rain forests. Jeez…that had not occurred to me. I would not want to personally be responsible for destroying the ozone layer. It is bad enough that I bought that redwood picnic table back in the 1970s.

The small round table on the deck off the kitchen was not big enough for four adults and two rapidly growing children. I went to a local store and bought a hexagonal table and chair for six. The chairs have nice beige cushions, so I had to buy a big bronze colored container to keep them in and a beige cloth market umbrella.

OK, so I did the one deck and it looks great in fashionable bronze and beige. The other big deck was still green themed. After all, it is OK to have different rooms in different colors, right! The same should be true of decks!

The lower deck became home to my mothers’ black wrought iron table and four chairs. It is starting to rust seriously (again – Steve repainted in once).

Over the next year or so I am anticipating having some more gatherings at my house and need the lower deck. My goal is now to get that deck and everything on it in shape.

So, all the white chairs went to dump. Steve said I could power wash them, but I tried and destroyed the finish. Besides the things chalk like crazy!

Now it seems that the last frontier is the wrought iron furniture. Clearly it has to be thrown away or painted. I considered getting rid of it; then I priced wrought iron furniture. I had Steve get some dark green paint and he has started the scraping and priming part of the process. Probably by the end of the fall it will all look great and can start rusting again with the winter snows.

So, now you have it – half a century of lawn furniture history and drama!

Friday, September 01, 2006

I am waging a war on clutter, but with a tear in my eye. With every item I throw over the edge of the giant dumpster at the landfill, I throw away a memory. Every time I make a drop at the Salvation Army, I see the items I leave behind as they were when they were new and sparkling. At one point all of these things I am getting rid of I brought home with a promise. But time passes; tastes change; things break! You can’t keep it all… and remain sane.

Clutter has been a family curse and try as I might, I can’t break the curse. There was a time when I didn’t care, but now I care passionately. When I go, I don’t want those I leave behind to have to spend weeks and months of their lives going through my stuff. I have cleaned up after too many dead people to wish that on anyone. But at the same, time I want the stuff I need to go on living; the stuff that gives me warm fuzzy feelings and good memories; and, of course, the valuable stuff.

I recall when I was a kid that junk accumulated in certain places in the house. There was a large, large closet off the kitchen (not the pantry) where the grownups kept out of season clothes and other stuff they didn’t have a place for. About twice a year, they cleaned it out and gave clothes away – usually to the maid or sometimes to charity.

There was a basement with a dirt floor. It was scary down there and I didn’t go there often. They kept weird stuff down there – I remember a coal scuttle (though they didn’t use coal), some big flower containers like they used to use at funerals, lots of garden tools, wood scraps, bags of fertilizer and more.

The upstairs was divided into four parts, but the biggest room was my father’s office. He was an Amateur Radio Operator and had all sorts of equipment, including transmitters, receivers, microphones and more. He also kept all the back issues of Readers’ Digest and National Geographic.

My grandfather had an office on the front of the house, opposite my father;’s on the back side and a hallway connected them. The room my grandfather used was more in name only. I had a desk and his adding machine and a chair, but he seldom went up there. Mostly my mother and grandmother stashed stuff in that room.

The back porch, which actually was enclosed and had a row of narrow, vertical windows surrounding it, was another messy place. It was where we kept the washer, dryer, freezer and old refrigerator and my mother’s sewing machine. We also kept my grandfather’s chifferobe out there and it was filled with tools, a sprayer for DDT and small cans of paint.

When we moved in 1958, everything had to go. My mother was determined not to transfer any junk to the new house. My father set up a workshop downstairs in the basement, finished half the basement into a “rumpus room” (in Maryland called club basement), and set up my mother with her sewing machine in the rumpus room.

Gradually, the “rumpus room” wasn’t needed for “rumpuses” and became my mother’s sewing room. She bought a huge cabinet to store her patterns in. An old dresser was added to hold the other sewing supplies, and the closet under the stairs became filled with fabric. By the time of my mother’s death thirty years later, the room was overtaken by sewing supplies, etc. I had to get rid of it all. I can barely thread a needle.

On the other side of the wall, my father’s “shop” became more and more filled to capacity. He had laundry baskets full of vacuum tubes, lots of electronic equipment – some antique, some worthless and some valuable. But he also had lots of transmitters, resistors, and capacitors – all referred to by the female members of the family as “electronic doohickies.” Some of this stuff found its way into my husband's "shop."

When he sold the house the year after my mother died, everything had to go. That’s when I had to come in a do the really tough stuff and part with decades of memories. But I did what I had to do.

Meanwhile, of course, I had my own home and my own growing collection of stuff. I married an electronics engineer, so, of course, he had the requisite electronic “doohickies.”

When we first got married we had a small two-bedroom apartment. Steve used the second bedroom as a “shop.” I didn’t mind really – it was what I was accustomed to after all.

I guess there are men who don’t collect electronic parts, solder things together, or have boxes of wire. But my father did, my husband does and so does our son. Could it be genetic? But I digress!

When we moved to California in 1971, we bought a four bedroom house. Steve had one bedroom as his “shop” and since we had a garage, we managed to fill it with everything but our cars. When we moved to Maryland in 1976, we got rid of a lot of stuff, but the Air Force would move whatever we had, so it was simpler to hold onto stuff than to get rid of it.

Our Maryland house had only three bedrooms, but it had a full basement. There was a room my husband could use as an office and another large area where he could have a “shop.” The “shop” was where he did electronics and woodworking – not a great combination. We had grand designs to make the basement into something nice and even had several rooms down there that could be used for something. As it turned out, only one room really had much of a life as my office. When we moved out, however, we cleaned out the whole area and had it all redone. It looked great when we left it.

When we moved in 1992, we got rid of loads of stuff. I filled up the large family room with piles –keep, throw away and donate. What we kept, we moved into our new house and we were very selective about what we kept. And for a few years, we were winning the battle against clutter. We purposely went ahead and finished the basement so that it would be easier to keep it nice. Nice theory!

Now here we are in 2006, and the clutter is trying to win again. My husband has an office, an electronics shop and a workshop, plus a furnace room for stuff. They are all filled with stuff that I cannot throw away. I can’t because I promised him that I wouldn’t mess with his stuff. And for him these are precious items.

Meanwhile, I have decided to be totally ruthless with the “shared” areas of the house as well as my own personal spaces. My cleaning lady is my partner in crime. We cleaned out my closet and got rid of dozens of bags of worn out, out of style, non-fitting, or otherwise objectionable clothes, shoes and purses. We attacked the pantry, the large finished basement room, the basement storage room, my office, and various closets. I feel very virtuous, if not exhausted. At last I am winning over the clutter.

I do worry about the unabated clutter in areas of the house beyond my control. Will they somehow spill over into my newly liberated areas? Can I really expect to stop clutter creep? Not really, but I can hope!

My instinct used to be “save it – you might need it later.” Now my instinct is “trash it or give it away – later is too vague to mean anything to me.” If I need it later, I probably wouldn’t know where to find it anyway.

And I guess that brings me to the point, if there is one. Saving stuff only makes sense if you can find it when you need it. Clearly there is trash and trash should be thrown away. There is not going to be “better time” to get rid of trash. Some things should be kept because they are very special. Other things are useful for someone, but not for me –so they should be donated. And for those things that are useful – the useful time better be in the foreseeable future! Otherwise, out they go! Enough is enough!!!