New Orleans: A Cajun Thanksgiving

Cajun ThanksgivingHeide and I started our winter travels for this year on November 1.  We are spending seven weeks in New Orleans before heading back to our son’s and daughter-in-law’s house in Ashburn, Virginia for Christmas.  Then it’s off to Nicaragua for four months (January through April). Hablo un poco de español, but I’m getting better.

Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, city life is a foreign concept to us.  We decided this year to spend time in cities (New Orleans and Managua, Nicaragua) to sample city life, public transportation, restaurants galore within walking distance, all of the sights and sounds a city has to offer, and, in New Orleans, the music.  Music is everywhere here.

South Carollton/St. Charles Streetcar

Spending time in a city without a car is a new experience for us as we are used to simply jumping in the car and going wherever we please.  No car in the city has its advantages (not worried about parking!) but it takes a little more planning to get around.  Fortunately, we have clearly been spoiled here in New Orleans.  The apartment we rented in the Uptown section of New Orleans is but two blocks from the streetcar that takes us all the way into the heart of the city at the doorstep to the French Quarter for 40 cents!  Although it was good planning when we made the reservation, it has worked out even better than I imagined.  And, we have discovered the joys of Uber !!!

Patti and Larry

One of the nicest surprises has been the people of New Orleans.  I have traveled to many cities throughout the United States and abroad over the years, but the people of New Orleans win the award for being the friendliest city-folk I’ve ever been around.  We have been walking 3-5 miles daily in the city and everyone we pass is forthcoming with a smile and “Hello.”  Home re-modelers in the neighborhood have stopped working to say “Hello” and strike up a conversation about the weather, the Saints, or simply what a beautiful day it is.  “Y’all have a great day” is heard frequently.

On our very first day in New Orleans, the owner of the apartment we are renting (Larry) extended an invitation from his friend Patti to join him, her and her family for Thanksgiving dinner.  This was sight unseen–we could have been ax murderers from the hills for all they knew (I don’t even own an ax by the way…anymore !!!)–but a warm and welcoming invitation was extended nonetheless.  Since the kiddies (Mark, Eileen, and Thomas) were unable to make the trip to New Orleans as originally planned, Heide and I faced the prospect of spending time together alone on Thanksgiving for the first time in memory.  I rarely warm up to strangers quickly but, even so, we accepted the invitation and with some trepidation faced the prospect of sitting down for an intimate dinner with complete strangers!

Beth, Mary Lou, and Sweetie

Everyone in Patti’s family (her mother Mary Lou, her sister “Sweetie,” her brother-in-law Tim, and her nephew Timothy) and Larry made us feel like we were the long lost cousins from Pennsylvania right from the start !!!  Patti’s brother Glenn and her sister-in-law Beth, joined us later for dessert.  Conversation flowed easily as if we had known each other for years.


Tim, Timothy, Glenn and Beth

The hors d’ oeuvres, drinks, food, and companionship of new found friends for Thanksgiving are, and will remain, the highlight of our stay in New Orleans.  It was a wonderful way to spend Thanksgiving. Southern hospitality at its finest.  And they play a cut-throat version of Mexican Train.

Vagabond Life: The Fine Art of Downsizing

“Simplify, simplify.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Not our actual house !!!

Part of the driving force in our decision to sell our house, thin the clutter, and become “vagabonds” (click here for earlier post) was to provide the time and freedom to change our lifestyle, downsize significantly and simplify our lives. We wanted to spend our time, energy, and resources on international travel and living, experience new cultures and languages, continue life-long learning in myriad ways, and enjoy the fruits of 40 years of working and saving.  For us, the decision has resulted in a cascade of benefits that were both foreseen and yet some pleasantly unexpected.  The decision has brought a freedom we could hardly have imagined.  For those of you considering the vagabond life or just dreaming about “maybe some day,” following are a few tips.  Step outside the box and think about life in a less traditional way.  Life is good.  But, the sheer amount of crap one accumulates over a lifetime is daunting.  Getting control of that part of our transition was a serious challenge.

Following are some tips I hope are helpful.  Born of experience, these seem to me to be crucial in terms of not only accomplishing the task at hand but, in all honesty, testing whether you have the mettle to pull the plug and seriously downsize.

The shear volume of crap is astonishing…

This move has caused us to do some serious soul-searching regarding material possessions.  Spending summers on our boat provides limited storage space.  Traveling throughout the rest of the year provides no storage space.  See the problem?

Sit up on the mountain with a six-pack and think deep thoughts about where you will store your things while you a gallivanting all over the world.  This is no snap decision.  You will need some space that is preferably climate controlled so your things do not become mildewed, damaged by drips, leaks, etc. and that can be organized as if you suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  Everything should have a place and everything should be in its place.  When it comes time to move back ashore and be a dirt-dweller again, I have no doubt this will make life easier.

We used banker boxes for storage.  They are inexpensive and, importantly, stackable.  You’ll need bubble-wrap for delicate items, packing paper to wrap everything as if you were a professional mover, labels to permanently stick on the boxes (not the lids) that list every single thing in each box, permanent markers, and tape.  A time-consuming process to be sure but I have little doubt we will appreciate it more when we eventually move back to more permanent digs–hopefully, years from now.

Storage, in our case, is in the form of a modular storage system I built in my wood shop (while I still had one !) comprised of custom shelves sized to hold exactly three banker boxes across.  Each shelf unit is stackable so I can adjust the height of the shelving to fit whatever space I want to put them in.  A big benefit is that each shelf unit is lightweight and easy to move when empty.  Another big benefit is the shelving sits in Mark’s and Eileen’s basement in a relatively small footprint.

De-clutter and Be Ruthless

moving boxesPerhaps the most difficult task, both physically and emotionally, was to thin out our accumulated belongings.  Hard to believe but we have reduced 43 years of married clutter into 54 banker boxes and kept but five pieces of furniture that are family heirlooms with which we couldn’t part.

In deciding to sell our house, downsize, simplify and in the process create more freedom, we went through every single piece of “stuff” in our house–knickknacks, chatzkees, housewares, furniture, books, keepsakes, etc..  As a researcher, I was always reluctant to get rid of data–you can’t recreate it once its gone.  But at the beginning of my career, data was all on paper and had to be keypunched.  Today it’s all digitized.  I had banker boxes filled with reams of data (paper surveys, questionnaires, literature review drafts, etc.) in addition to tape recordings of interviews–both reel-to-reel and cassettes along with the hardware/equipment to transcribe them.  In short, when it came to research files, I was a pack-rat extraordinaire–I never got rid of a shred of data I thought my be useful again someday.  In a class by myself no doubt.

Additionally, I had crates containing multiple copies of every paper I ever wrote, presented and/or published (see Vita).  Between my data files and the things I wrote, the sheer volume depleted a significant portion of the world’s rain forest.  It’s amazing that the rafters in my garage didn’t collapse.
To make matters worse, in 2011, we sold our first house in Elizabethtown and moved about 3 miles down the road to a new one.  We had professional movers pack everything (and I do mean everything) with the boxes clearly marked as to what room they came from.  Often the movers would also write general descriptive terms on the boxes (e.g., books, dishes).  We did not go through a thing to decide if we wanted to get rid of it before the move; rather, we merely packed everything and figured we’d have the time at the new house to sort through things.  The moving company moved everything into the new place according to the room labeled on the box and it was fairly easy to unpack and restore order to our lives.  However, anything marked “attic,”  “basement,” or “garage” went into the new basement with the good intention of sorting through the stuff “later.”

Well, as you might imagine, being a legendary procrastinator of all things I don’t want to do, “later” never came.  (As an aside, I once owned the domain name but never got around to doing anything with it…!!!  True story).  When the current house sold and the buyers wanted to be in as soon as possible, we agreed to a closing date just 30 days from the sale date.  The clock was now ticking.  The boxes in our basement that sat quietly taped shut for three years suddenly became a problem of epic proportions.  But given our plans to travel and wander the world, it was time to pay the piper and go through those boxes.  A herculean task to be sure, but we rolled up our sleeves and began the assault on Mount Melnick Crap.  If there is a hell, it is located somewhere in the universe where you need to box things up so you can move and unpack them everyday.  With the help of very good friends (only your dearest friends will help you move!), the last truck load left the house just two days before closing.  It was a photo finish.

The good news is that Heide was not into clutter.  The living spaces in our house were well organized and minimalist in philosophy.  If something didn’t serve a purpose, it did not live at our house.  It was really the unopened boxes of yesteryear that provided the greatest challenge.  We started the process by each identifying those things that we simply could not bear to part with.  There were pieces of furniture that have been in our family for generations.  The rocking chair that every baby of my parents’ and my generation and the next was rocked in is likely 100 years old, handmade with mortise and tenon joints and not a single one of them has ever come loose.  A few other “sacred” pieces of furniture were mandatory to keep such as the Hoosier cabinet with the pull-out porcelain top where my mother rolled out homemade pie and pierogie dough.  Mark and Eileen are storing them for us in their basement for the day when we wash ashore and become dirt dwellers again.

Except for those “sacred” items, we were able to part with most everything else fairly easily.  When we had moved to the current house, we got rid of a lot of furniture we had for the past 30+ years and bought new.  For the sake of simplicity, we decided not to bother with trying to sell the new furniture.  Rather, we gave it away to family and close friends.  They got some virtually brand new, quality furniture pieces and we were able to empty the house in record time.  And we have the benefit of when we visit them we get to see our old stuff !!!

When the time comes to wash ashore again, the move into new accommodations should be straight-forward and easy (yeah, right !).   I hope that day is many years away…