Proper Placement

When we went on our epic trip to South America several years ago, we decided to rent out our home . . . about a month before we were leave. This forced us to clean out some stuff and pack away everything else for storage in a mad dash. After living in the same place for over a dozen years, we had naturally accumulated a lot of stuff. Moving out was a good exercise – it forced us to get rid of things we hadn’t used, or hadn’t gotten around to getting rid of before, like a broken filing cabinet, our CRT TV, etc.

Now we’re doing the same thing again. Some boxes were never unpacked since our South America trip! This time, there’s less stuff to purge, since we got rid of the obvious ‘low hanging fruit’ last time. But with longer advance notice, the process is slower, since I can be deliberate more about that to keep or discard. This is not a good thing: I feel like I’m dragging things out, and in the end, it’ll be another frantic mad dash to finish it up.

Last time, we knew we were coming back within a year, so we kept all our furniture and appliances. This time it’s long term and long distance, so it requires a different approach in deciding what to keep and what to discard. There’s also a timing issue: some items I am still using (bed, tea kettle), so I’ll have to wait until the last to get rid of them (and hope I’ll find a quick taker). Others like the pressure cooker I haven’t used in years I could sell now on craigslist.

I’d read both Marie Kondo’s  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and  Spark Joy. One of her premises is to keep only things that spark joy in you. Even if they don’t have a practical use, you can still keep them. Conversely, if something is functional, but doesn’t spark joy, you should get rid of it anyway. Regrets, swung both ends of spectrum.

OCD: One personal hang-up is slowing me down. Some items have worth and value and value to me, and while I could just give it to a thrift shop and forget about it, I want it to go to  a good home. This isn’t even a pet I’m talking about, but inanimate objects. Yet I feel concern for its welfare even after we part. It’s a bit like leaving a job under amicable circumstances: you hope the person after you will take care and do well in those tasks that used to be yours, even after they are no longer your responsibility. Legacy issues.

I want the my discards to go the appropriate someone or someplace where it will be appreciated, used, and even needed. Even things most people would simply throw away, I try to find a use for them. I want to recycle things and avoid adding to landfills.

Finding the right recipient for different things takes a lot of work and thought. Which one of my friends would like it or could use it? Who has tastes or interests which are similar to mine? What good cause/charity would take it? It’s an obligation and a responsibility.

I have been foisting things on people. My friends are probably cringing each time they get an email from me “Hey, want a . . ?” But I also don’t want my discards to become a burden on others. Problem is I’m at that age where most of our friends already have their own established households, and/or trying to get rid of de-clutter/ downsize also, so they don’t want to take more stuff!

Sometimes I give something to a friend who wants it, which makes me happy, yet slightly guilty because I know they have too much stuff cluttering their home and I’m adding to the problem! I sold an insulated teapot and a set of nesting colanders to an acquaintance. When I went to drop them off at her house, I was surprised by how much stuff she had piled up around her place. She’s really into cooking, so I’m sure she already has a teapot and a colander. But these were really nifty versions, so I knew she would also appreciate them.

My four main avenues to discarding: (1) emailing/talking to our friends, (2) Freecycle (an online bulletin board for giving away stuff for free), (3) craigslist (both for selling and giving away for free), and (4) donating it to the appropriate charity.

Some of my recent adventures in discarding . . .

Lonely Planet books (travel guides):


I had a hefty collection of LP’s, now very outdated. Still I’d kept them because I thought one day I would write up travelogues, and use them then as reference. And sometimes it’s fun to read the descriptions of how things were before they became how they are now. Neighbourhoods they didn’t mention or even told you to avoid, which have now cleaned up/gentrified, like Times Square. Restaurants that have since closed down. (I don’t like the new format of Lonely Planet, it’s not as informative as the older layouts. Nowadays, I tend to check out the latest editions from the library, rather then buy them, to save money and space, since I still like browsing hard copies.)

I did an email blast to my friends who are afflicted with wanderlust. I was quite surprised when I got quite a few takers for the books. It’s amazing how some destinations are so in-demand. Every one wanted Pacific Northwest. Europe locales were popular too. No one wanted Venezuela . . . or Brazil. I guess I don’t know anyone going to the Rio Olympics. (I ended up never going to Venezuela.)



I collect bandannas and use them for travelling. They are versatile, multi-purpose, decorative, and keepsakes all in one. A makeshift towel, a jaunty scarf for my neck, I can also tie them up to bundle gummi bears or pinon nuts.

The recipient was a no brainer: Fifth-graders at Lincoln School for science camp, where bandannas are used as lunch plates, i.e. ‘crumb-catchers’. Last time I chaperoned, I had brought along one extra bandanna, for just-in-case. But there was more then one student who hadn’t brought a bandanna. So now those ten bandannas can be spares for future science campers.

Bike water bottle:

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I spent $13 mailing a bike water bottle worth $2 to Hong Kong! Yes, I am THAT anal. But Pat really wanted a pull-top water bottle. “Remember those palmolive dishwashing liquid bottles?” he asked me. When Pat takes his dog for walks in Tsimshatsui, he rinses the spot where Brownie has done a number one with water. Pat is a very, very responsible pet-owner. So I gladly sent it to him.




Holey socks and ratty old T-shirts with fraying collars that thrift shops won’t want because no one would want to buy them:

I had accumulated a lot of them to use as cleaning rags, but I don’t clean often enough! A friend of a friend of Anne’s collects them for a group who will use them as stuffing for the pet beds and toys they make for a local animal shelter. It warmed the cockles of my heart that I was helping unknown Fidos and Fluffys out there. And I still have holey underwear to use as cleaning rags.

Ironically, when Marcella organized a crafts booth at Zoe’s school last year, she recycled the stuffing from a dog bed that her dogs had torn up, for the students to use in making pumpkin pin-cushions.


It’s hard to get rid of winter things in the summer – people don’t think about unseasonable things. I foisted a couple of them on Anne. One she liked, because it’s machine washable. The other was a cashmere one I wore around the house quite a bit. She didn’t really want it “I’m a sweatshirt person!” but I persuaded her that come winter, she could wear it under a sweatshirt, and she’d thank me for the warmth and coziness!


I discovered there’s a non-profit program called Prisoners Literature Project here in the Bay Area. They will take all old dictionaries, thesaurus, current text books, self-help books, how-to books (especially drawing/art) and books by/about people of color, because there’s a constant demand for them amongst the incarcerated. You can drop them off in the hidey-hole under the stairs at Moe’s Books in Berkeley, so it’s very convenient.

This is a case of giving your items to someone who really NEEDS them rather than just casually wanting them. You might be able to sell such books, or you could donate them to a thrift store where eventually someone would browse and buy them. But those in jail who are trying to improve/educate themselves would most appreciate them, since their access to books is most limited.

I emailed one of the project coordinators to double check what they would and wouldn’t take, because I didn’t want them to be burdened with things they couldn’t use. Hardback books are generally a no-no, because they can potentially be used as weapons? There wasn’t as much demand for books by/about Asians – not too many people of yellow color in the prisons around here, I guess.


In my 20’s, I liked visiting art museums, and buying postcards of the works of art in the museum that had spoke to me. I also bought postcards of tourist attractions, since often they looked better than any photo I could take with my 35-mm camera. Now I had too many. But who needs postcards nowadays when you’ve got smartphone cameras and digital mail?

Perhaps prisoners could use them to send notes to their friends/family outside of prison? I consulted PLP again:

“Thanks for thinking of us regarding your postcard collection.  Because we’re a ‘books-to-prisoners’ group, we don’t receive prisoner requests for postcards; but we do get plenty of requests for art books (particularly drawing & painting).  If you’d kindly donate a shoebox or small filebox of postcards, we could tuck them into packages, along with the art books.  I don’t think we’d be able to take more than a shoebox full. As you suggested: Please omit any nudes. FYI, prisoners seem most interested in drawing and painting (representational, not abstract), and sometimes copy the work.  Few have access to sculpting materials.”

I could understand PLP being a little wary of getting too many postcards, if they didn’t get many requests for them. I sifted through for censorship, keeping Manet’s Le dejeuner sur l’herbe and Matisse’s La danse II. I had enough to fill one of the Lindt boxes in which I had stored some of my collection.

“OK, the postcards will be in a small pink chocolates box (less than a shoebox) at Moe’s,” I wrote back.

“Thank you for giving prisoners a gift much more valuable than chocolates!”

I never thought about that. If I were in prison, would I long more for art postcards or chocolates?

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A teapot missing its lid:

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This garnered 5 wanters on freecycle! (I suggested using it as a planter, which is what I used it for, for a water-based creeper plant.) Maybe that did the trick: a bit of copywriting to give people ideas of desiring something they didn’t even want.

There’s a reason why I’d kept it for so long. I used to use this a work. I dropped the lid and broke it at the office on September 11th.



TV tray tables:

I think it was the strawberries that did sealed the deal.

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It takes some effort to sell stuff on craigslist: not only do you have to write a compelling-enough description, but you have to stage it for photo, setting up the lighting. Lots of people are selling the same item you are selling on craiglist, so how do you make yours stand out other than low balling the price? I’m convinced my TV tray tables sold quickly because I put a bowl of strawberries on top of one in the photo . . . and my description said “Strawberries not included.”

Wooden blinds:

We replaced our kitchen blinds recently. They still worked, the wood slats still in good condition, but the paint was starting to flake off from countless sunny mornings. I didn’t want it to go to landfill. Perhaps someone could use it for a Burning Man orcraft project.

Things I give away for free get posted on freecycle. Things I sell go on craigslist. Having no takers on freecycle, so I posted it on craigslist as well, since that gets a wider audience. I had 2 takers. I offered it to the first respondent, who volunteered that he would use it for gardening, either as a trellis or shade structure.

He also offered to give me some tomato and pepper seedlings in return, which was icing on the cake. I wasn’t looking to get anything for the blinds, being happy enough they weren’t going to a landfill. I asked if he had basil instead. I had made caprese salad last week, and bought a bunch at Milk Pail, forgetting that I should have gone to Trader Joe’s instead to buy a plant for a little more money.

He wrote back:

There’s a quote “Every time it’s different and every time it’s good” I read in a BBC magazine interview about making pesto that’s stayed with me. I think it says so much about basil – how can one not fall in love with basil and the art of making pesto.

Yes I do have couple basil plants remaining but it’s not doing well (think it was too cold). I’ll bring them and also bring some seeds. Unfortunately I mixed fhe seeds by mistake during harvest last year and I forget which one is which (3 kinds – I think Italian Genovese basil is the smaller black seeds).

You meet some pretty thoughtful people through random craigslist transactions.

A blue cheong sam:

Other people I know have the same philosophy as I do in wanting their discards go to someone they know, rather than a complete stranger, in which case, they’d rather keep it themselves even if they have no use for it.


My step-mom was culling some old clothes, and came across a blue cheongsam, a gift she’d never worn. It was polyester brocade with flowers, the type you’d find in souvenir shops in San Francisco Chinatown selling to tourists.

I accepted it, more to relieve her of clutter, rather than to wear it myself. I ended up foisting it on my cousin on my mom’s side and mailed it to her in Minnesota. She has two daughters and two nieces who might have fun playing dress up in it. There’s no Chinatown in Minnesota, so I think they would appreciate its exotic Chinese-ness more than people in California.

Black patent leather rainproof boots:

I gave them to Truc. We have shared memories of the boots: I got them at Bloomingdales, when we were on a trip to New York. They fit her. I’m glad she has them now, I’ll be able to see them again.

Tall purple suede boots:


They are flat and comfy, not “slutty”, an impulse buy from Nordstrom Rack. But I understand that they are not to most people’s taste. I offered them to two high-school age girls (daughters of friends), but no takers.






I’m going to stop writing here, and stop procrastinating, as I have lots more stuff to get rid of, and to pack. Well, actually, I’m going to procrastinate some more and go cook/bake.


Creativity strikes twice in a row

My ego got not one, but two boosts in a row over the weekend. Two of friends thought I was a genius for coming up with solutions to their problems. I thought my ideas were common sense, but they thought I was genius. I’ll bask in the glory anyway.

  1. On Saturday, I was comparing notes with my friend Dr. DJ about swimming. She alternates between two pools in the East Bay, one of which has a handy-dandy centrifugal swimsuit water extractor, and the other doesn’t. When she swims at the one that doesn’t have spinner, she has to bring an extra towel to squeeze out the excess moisture from the swimsuit.

“I actually looked into buying a portable swimsuit spinner, but it would take up too much space in my house.”

“Don’t you have a clothes rack for hanging clothes to dry?”

“I do, but then the wet drip would ruin my hardwood floors.”

“Why don’t you put the clothes rack in your bathtub or shower, that way your swimsuit drip will just drain away . . .”

“OMG, I never thought of that! I’m so excited now, I feel like that alien in the Little Caesars pizza commercial, spinning its head in glee after discovering about cheese-filled pizza crust….”

This idea was not really genius on my part. It’s precisely what I do at home, since I swim regularly at one pool, and it doesn’t have a swimsuit spinner. Still, I was very happy and proud that Dr. DJ thought I was really smart.

By the way, I couldn’t find the commercial she was talking about (I tried youtube). If anyone else knows, please send me a link!

  1.  On Sunday, I was talking to A. She was still getting over a cold, and preparing for trip out of town. But most of all, she was stressed out about her brother who lives in a very small town out-of-state. He’s functionally homebound due to ill health, and his housemate-cum-attendant had gone the grocery store with his debit card on Friday, but hadn’t come home. So he was stranded at home with no cash, and no groceries. A was frantically trying call his neighbor and his social worker to help.

“Well, why don’t you look up online for pizza places in his town and order him pizza delivery? You can charge it on your credit card. Then he’ll have something to eat.”

A was dumbstruck for a moment. ”Wow, I never thought of that! That’s a great idea!”

Later she told me she’d ordered her brother a pepperoni pizza, and a large milk, so that he could have it with his cereal for breakfast the next day.

I thought the milk was a stroke of genius on her part.

“Did you add the tip to your credit card?”


She ended up ordering him another pizza the next day, so hopefully she remembered to tip extra to make up for it.

Actually it’s a generational/cultural context thing. When I was in college, we ordered pizza delivery a lot. When A was in college, there was almost no such thing. (A is actually my parents generation. Her children are my age – in fact they were at Cal the same time I was, but we didn’t know each other then.) And here in Silicon Valley, almost every restaurant posts a sign offering food delivery via Grubhub or I eat out a lot, so I’m constantly reminded that there’s such an option. A doesn’t eat out as much, so she wouldn’t really think about it.

Late adopter

This weekend I finally got around to uploading music to my first ever portable mp3 device. (!!!) I bought it out of pity at a silent auction fundraiser three years ago. (No one had bid on it.) It’s a Zune, which is probably not surprising eh, for me to go against the grain. Plus it was red, not a generic black or white color. But there was also a strategic reason I picked it: it has FM radio. I thought it would be neat to be able to listen to radio stations in different places we traveled to. Though of course, now that I’ve finally gotten around to activating it, it doesn’t seem like I’m not going anywhere in the foreseeable future!

The main reason why I hadn’t loaded up the Zune earlier was that I was daunted by the thought of having to upload all those CDs, and how time consuming that would be. As it turns out, it wasn’t too bad, since Joe had already loaded up most of the CDs we have onto the desktop. And even though he has an ipod, which is proprietary with iTunes, I was able to drag and drop stuff pretty easily onto the Zune.

Even though we have the 80’s and 90’s in common, a lot of our music taste is quite divergent. For the past couple of months I’d been playing Flight of the Conchords ad nauseum around the house.
“Aren’t you tired of them yet?”
We play his ipod in the car when we’re driving long distances. It’s nice to have variety, but it’s mostly his variety. Sometimes I really want my own variety, wacky as it may be.

I’ve started to bring my Zune to work. It’s almost silly to listen to it on the commute, because after I get off my bike (I don’t listen to it when I’m biking), I’m only on the train for about 20 minutes. At work, I usually listen to KCSM streamed through the internet, all jazz all the time. When the pledge drive was on for three weeks, I brought in several CDs from home, but I got tired of listening to them over and over again. Another case of esprit d’escalier, the Zune would have been the perfect antidote for that.

The great thing about any of these music players is that you can load so many songs on it, and hit shuffle, it’s like your own hit-or-miss radio station with a wonderful variety of songs. Although the shuffle doesn’t seem completely statistically random: I’ve been hearing a lot of Les Miserables, Janet Jackson and early Beatles. And the volume is a bit uneven, some songs come out very softly, and the others are a bit loud. I don’t know how/if there’s a way to calibrate that.

But overall, I’ve been rediscovering so much music that I hadn’t been listening to in such a long time with the Zune, it makes me smile. Jazz is good, but sometimes you just feel like belting out in lipsynch to the Police or Duran Duran. Or certain music conjures up certain moods, memories or sensations.

The other neat thing is that I could recreate almost all the lagniappe compilations from when we started burning them as CDs, in 2000. I’ve wanted to be able to have them all accessible from one source, and be able to play them in chronological order. It actually took me some effort to re-create them. Some of the source music I don’t have anymore, and I can’t even find all the lagniappe CDs to copy from again.
Joe asked, “And once you’re done with that, will you make playlists of all the mix tapes we made for each other when we were first going out?”
Actually, I still have cassette box covers with the song lists, even if the cassettes themselves are long gone. What would be really neat is if I could find the covers to the original cassette lagniappes from the late 90’s, and recreate those playlists on my player.

Maybe I just am really enjoying and appreciating the player now because I’ve gone so long without one; to me it’s the discovery of a new toy. And I haven’t even begun to load photos or video/podcasts to it (I’m trying to resist, because it could be another slippery slope.)

Viva the Red, White and Black

So Mubarak gave Egpytians a cliffhanger with a happy ending. Thursday, he asserted he’d stay on, to their fury. And then Friday, resigning, after all. (Wow, where did they get the fireworks from, so quickly? Such optimists!)

It was the day after the protests started. I was talking to a friend of mine, who mentioned she had plans to visit Egypt on a tour this spring. “Well, given the demonstrations, maybe when you go, they won’t take you to the Egyptian Museum near Tahrir Square, but give you more time to ride a camel around the Sphinx instead,” I joked.

Of course, as time went on the protests escalated. I was thinking, oh no, she might not get to go. But now, she probably would

I’m amazed at the power of social media and the skills and talents of these youths, to achieve the toppling of a dictator 18 days. In those same 18 days, I have done diddly squat, nothing of note except eat, sleep, read the newspaper and surf the net.

I’m happy that it happened with relatively little bloodshed and loss of life. The Egyptian military behaved with circumspect restraint by not firing on the protesters. (Unlike in Thailand last April.) I can only hope, that in this intemediate period where the military received transfer of power, they don’t hold onto it and turn Egypt into a military-led oligarchy in which Egyptians remain repressed politically and economically.

Go Bears!

I have to admit, I don’t know how to listen to spectator sports on radio, basketball, baseball or football. I’m not into sports enough to know how to visualize the play by play action in my head. But without cable TV, I just tuned in on the radio to the Cal vs ASU men’s basketball game, to keep track of the score. And now the PAC-10 championship is ours!

This was also the last home game for senior Jerome Randle. I think of him as “Buzz-Buzz Mosquito” every time I saw him play because he’s short (for a basketball player), and he’s fast; he’s everywhere all the time. I hope he makes it to the NBA, or wherever he wants to be.


“Did you lose your keys?” Anne called on the phone.
“Hallelujah! You have my keys!” I was so relieved.
“I’m so sorry I took them by mistake, thinking they were mine.” It turns out she has a set of keys with a similar keychain medallion that says “If lost, please drop this in the nearest mailbox.” Only hers was from the blood bank, for having donated a gallon of blood (over time). Mine is from my alma mater alumni association, since I coughed up enough money for a lifetime membership (Not nearly as worthy a cause!)
“If they hadn’t been yours, I would have dropped them in the mailbox,” she said. It’s one of those things we’ve always wondered about (does it work?), but I didn’t really want to risk it and besides I wanted my keys back sooner rather than later.

In any case, it had been about 2-1/2 weeks since my keys went missing. It’s not unusual for me to misplace things for a few days. But I was pretty sure I hadn’t lost them in the sense that they were in the hands of a potentially unscrupulous stranger, but that it was somewhere in my house, in one of my myriad of bags? How did they end up with Anne? She had come over to carpool to class.

It made me recollect other incidences of my possessions taking long trips without me, which are pretty funny. All’s well that ends well, right?

About 15 years ago, Pat drove down from Vancouver for a long-weekend visit. On his last day here, we went to dim-sum, after which he dropped me off at my house and then headed on his long trek. For the next couple of days, I couldn’t find my car keys. I looked everywhere, but couldn’t find them. Then I got a call from Canada. “Did you leave your keys in my car?” Pat asked. Somehow they must have fallen out when I rode in his car. But since he didn’t usually have people riding in his backseat, he didn’t come across them immediately either. (In a delayed karmic tit-for-tat, last summer I had to mail the key to Pat’s flat back to him when I forgot to return it to him before I left HK!)

So misplacing keys is a commonplace thing. But what about a tent? My cousin Will and I had scheduled our respective weddings on back-to-back weekends one summer, so that relatives flying in could attend both in one trip. Biker and Si had decided they would go to Yellowstone National Park during that gap-week. So Joe and I loaned them our sleeping bags and tent, so they wouldn’t have to lug camping equipment all the way from Japan. We got out sleeping bags back, but then it wasn’t until they got back to Japan that they realised they still had our tent! It had been packed up into their suitcases, as they were going back right after the second wedding. Biker offered to send us money to pay for a new one (and keep ours), but fortunately his brother in LA was going to visit him later that fall, and brought it back for us!

“Gee,” said Joe. “I’ve never been to Japan, but my tent has!”

Phew! App was app’d

No, I’m not talking about smart phones. The (grant) application (I wrote for an agency I worked for) was approved.

Last year, one of the major projects I worked on as a contractor was pulling together a grant application to Caltrans. The proposed project was a worthwhile one, I was just worried that the application didn’t sell it well enough, even though I put a lot of work into it. The matching funds for the project was a bit convoluted, because it was differentiated for various phases.

Competition was going to be fierce, especially with the State’s perpetual budget woes. I read a peer agency’s application for the same grant program (because I was charged with writing a letter of support for it), and I was worried, almost envious, because their application was really well-written. I would have felt really bad if my agency didn’t get the grant, because they paid me to put so many hours into it! However I forgot all about it after the summer until I had to look up something today on Caltrans’ website, and wandered into that section. I checked the approved projects list, and PHEW!, it got funded.

It might have been given a little less than what we requested (I can’t remember now), so hopefully the discount was due to Caltrans’ budget, and not my poor writing!