Monday, June 3, 2019

What We're Writing: Hallie's NO BEDROOM SETS

HALLIE EPHRON: More often that not, my fiction is inspired by something that really happened. Scary, right? In CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR I'm writing about a woman who leaves teaching to become a professional organizer, and is married to man who saves stuff that she, frankly, doesn't "get."

I was once an elementary school teacher. My actual husband? He collects, let's see, vintage fans. Vinyl records from the 60s (he had
the foresight to collect replacement needles for our record player). Uncancelled stamps that he's removed form letters so he can reuse. It's a combination of thrift and a weird value system--he has a hard time throwing away or giving away anything that he once liked. Fortunately this includes me.
Needless to say, he loves yard sales. Friday night finds him planning his route. When he leaves, I always wish him, "Good luck! No bedroom sets."

That's what happens in the opening chapter of CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR. And then...


Emily returned to the bedroom. No bedroom sets was only half joking on her end. That's what happens at the start of the book when Emily's husband Frank sets off yard sale-ing on a Saturday morning.

She suspected Frank had several headboards and bedframes, not to mention bureaus and vanity tables, stashed in their garage and basement. Lighter fare—radios and all manner of small appliances (he had a passion for vintage metal fans and porcelain-based soda-fountain milkshake makers)—he’d sneak up into the attic when he thought she wasn’t looking. Even when Emily was shut away in her tiny upstairs office with its white pleated window shades, jar of freshly sharpened pencils (she never used them, but looking at them pleased her), and well-ordered files, she could feel Frank’s finds restively revving up, like a phalanx of “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” brooms mustering to invade the main house.

It wasn’t all junk. Only last week he’d scored the original cover art for an issue of one of his favorite 1960s horror comics, Creepy. The signed watercolor had been tucked between the pages of a scrapbook priced at two dollars. So not Emily’s taste, it featured a hairy beast, teeth bared and fist raised, threatening a voluptuous blonde who cowered in the foreground. When Emily looked up the artist, turned out individual pieces of his cover art sold for tens of thousands of dollars.

As if on cue, the house trembled. Emily recognized the sound of the back door slamming shut. She crossed to the window and looked down into the driveway. Frank’s ancient Chevy Suburban (he didn’t take his BMW Z4 to yard sales) lumbered below her as it backed out into the street.

Pick your battles had been her mother’s sage advice on the day she and Frank married, and Emily had tried to do just that. Still, the irony of her upstairs, sorting and culling, and Frank out in the world, hunting and gathering, was not lost on her. She liked to think of theirs as a zero-sum game, though what she was about to rid from her closet was undoubtedly a spit in the ocean compared to what he’d soon drag into their house. But there was no point dwelling on it. There were worse hobbies than compulsive yard-sale-ing, and he wasn’t about to change.
The book comes out in August, but so far the reviews have been pretty great, including a starred review in Publisher's Weekly that ends with: "After being a finalist five times, Ephron may finally win the Mary Higgins Clark Award for this one." From their mouth to You-Know-Who's ear.

Do you collect? Do you live with someone who collects? How's that working out for you?

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64 comments:

  1. Congratulations on the great reviews, Hallie . . . I’m really looking forward to reading this book . . . .

    As far as collecting goes, I chuckle whenever we go into Barnes and Noble [or Target, for that matter] and see the ever-growing collection of new vinyl records on the shelves. Although we don’t actively look for old records, we have a fair amount of vinyl we’ve just never tossed. We also have Precious Moments figurines and books. There’s no room for much of anything else . . . .

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    1. Vinyl at B&N... really!? Don’t tell my husband.

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  2. Intriguing opening. I collect books, art supplies, and books. They are my passion and my decorating scheme, although I do try to corral the art supplies into just the studio.

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    1. Do art supplies have use-by dates? We have a world class collection of dried up markers

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  3. I think Warren would have been a full-on hoarder if I hadn't been there to intervene. He saved anything he thought might be useful someday, and once he put it someplace out of his way, it became invisible to him. Stack by pile he would take over any uncluttered space in our very small house, including my spaces, until I'd have to cede my sewing room to him so he could have uncluttered office space--only to go into his former office armed with giant trash bags to claim it for myself while he was settling into my former sewing room. I remember the night he came home from work to find ten huge trash bags on the front porch. He was appalled. What if he needed that stuff? I told him he had the rest of the week to figure out what I had filled those bags with. If he needed it, he could have it back. Since I knew it was mostly decades-old bank statements and credit card statements from accounts he had long-since closed, plus computer magazines that were generations out of date, I figured I was pretty safe. After he died, I didn't have a lot of energy for cleaning out all his junk, and I confess that some of it has moved with me. In unpacking old boxes, I still find some of those dang bank statements.

    I collect blown glass paperweights and art when I can afford it. Those piles of books everywhere? Pay no attention to those.

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    1. Gigi, when my father-in-law died, the task if clearing their house fell to me. I took two Accord-loads of old bank and investment statements, going back to 1940, to a commercial shredder. My car was filled completely, the trunk, and to the windows, except for the driver's seat.

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    2. This sounds scarily familiar

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  4. I can't wait for this book! I have trouble getting rid of old stuff I love. Not my sister, or my second son (age 30), who was visiting this weekend. Before he left yesterday he went through his last few bags and boxes he'd stored in our attic. He somehow did NOT inherit the pack rat gene the rest of us have. It was a wonder how in half an hour out on the deck he whittled his stuff down to one half-filled file box and a small bag of clothes. We were left with a big bag to give away, a full recyling bag, and a full trash bag. It takes all types!

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    1. Now that’s a young man after my own heart

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  5. I don't live with anyone that collects.

    While I have collections of CDs and comics (and apparently books given the size of my TBR pile), I don't know that I would qualify myself as a "collector" given the way I've seen other people's collections evolve.

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    1. I think you're safe Jay. Those CDs and comics are the tools of your trade. I currently have 8 "sleeves" (the giant size ones) filled with my son's comics sitting in my storage unit. He reviews and blogs comics as a side addiction. I have finally just mentally re-classified them and now they don't bother me.

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    2. Lyda, nice that your son reviews and blogs about comics! I have pared down my comic collection over the last year or so. But I'm sure it could be made smaller still.

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  6. I live with someone who doesn't exactly collect, has never been to a garage sale for instance, but who has great difficulty getting rid of anything. Our attic is full of dead peoples' things, clothes, furniture, art work, you name it. The advantage is that when we need something, we "shop the attic first".

    Hallie, as you know, I devoured your book in two sittings. And then I looked at my closet. In old houses, closets tend to be tiny, and there is a need to pack up winter clothes when summer comes. This year, instead of packing them or moving them to the guest room closet, I filled two big black trashbags. I'd done the same thing a month or so go with my socks and undie drawers. Two more drawer to go, but that's for another week. Hallie's book inspired me far more than Mondo Cane or whatever her name is. And I give it handfuls of stars.

    Years ago I culled books, except for signed first editions and reference books like the OED, which I no long have the strength to lift, much less use. Anything I got rid of that I wish to read again, I can find on Kindle. The local library was then glad to have them all. Now they've stopped taking book donation, I know not why.

    Julie, to the contrary, has cases of books, many of them that again belonged to dead people. Somehow I can't see treasure in Aunt Marie's paper back copy of Gaudy Night, too yellowed and fragile to read anymore, but hey, they are Julie's treasures, not mine.

    I'm with Jerome K. Jerome:

    “Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need - a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing. ”
    ― Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

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    1. Love JKJ! And that book is one to keep!

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    2. That is one I’ve kept although neither a first edition nor signed

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  7. I started to write "I don't collect" when I thought to myself "what about your fabric stash?" Somehow my fabric stash, yarn supply and two banker boxes of patterns seems more like necessary support to my hobbies. I'm pretty sure anyone else who looked at it would think otherwise.
    I do not "Marie Kondo" but I have embraced "The Swedish Art of Death Cleaning." Hideous title, great concept. Simply put, is anybody in my family or any of my friends going to need/want this item when I'm gone? If the answer is "probably not" ...save them the trouble of getting rid of it.
    That said, I need to step up the pace of my sewing/knitting.

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    1. Fabric is my weakness, too. Made worse by my 20 years' of travel to seeing shows, where fabulous fabrics were sold. I have incredible pieces if silk, wool, linen, cashmere, alpaca, and superfine cottons, all once designated for couture-level wardrobes. All in time for a much more casual lifestyle.

      I just packed away some of my favorite garments that I made, lovely and original designs that no one will ever wear again, but that I put so much into I can't bear to part with.

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    2. I finally gutted my yarn stash - painful but necessary!

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    3. That question : do I want to have it when I die - very useful

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    5. I think this is a really powerful motivation...
      Do I want my relatives to think--yikes! She had all those (fill in the blanks)? Nope. Gone. xxx

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  8. I have a terrible time getting rid of stuff. It's not the big stuff that's a problem for me (like the furniture, etc., inherited from my parents and uncles), it's the small stuff. Crap I set aside because I don't want to deal with it right now, so it just accumulates in boxes. For the last year or so my husband and I have a made huge strides in getting rid of stuff but we still have a long way to go. We each see the other's stuff as crap, as in "why do you keep this crap?" LOL. Reminds me of George Carlin's "my stuff vs your s**t" routine.

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  9. I think I used to collect things but now everything seems like just stuff so I'm trying to get rid of it. It makes me sad that none of my family member want any of my "stuff" although they don't come out and say it's junk, because it isn't. It just isn't to their tastes.

    Really looking forward to reading the book, Hallie!

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  10. Congrats on the reviews, Hallie! I am eagerly awaiting this one.

    I briefly collected teddy bears, but my husband put a stop to it. He doesn't seem to have a problem collecting power tools, though. :)

    Of course, we bothy collect books, but that doesn't count, right?

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  11. The book deserves all the stars it gets AND if I could place a wager on that MHC award, well, I think you're a shoo-in this time, Hallie!

    The stuff I have is mostly stuff I love and I keep it out where I can see it and enjoy it--like some antique and not-so-antique pitchers, but my books and music and dvds don't count as junk--those are as necessary as fresh air. In my family, my brothers inherited the packrat/hoarder gene--my sisters and I were Marie Kondo-ing before ever Marie was out of diapers. And we have no idea where the gene came from--must be generations back!

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  12. I admit I still have two boxes of vinyls that survived the recent flood when the leaking water heater soaked the finished basement, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to purge.

    I tell people I collect kids, weeds, and bills.

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  13. How exciting, Hallie! I'm so happy for your success, and eagerly anticipate reading this one.

    My husband is like Gigi's Warren was: left alone, he would die from toppled over piles of discarded nothing. He doesn't collect, exactly. It's more that he's so focused on work that he is absent-minded​ about his surroundings. I daily have to wrest order from the chaos he generates. This is especially exhausting right now, since our house is for sale, and we are still living in it for another week or two. Calgon, take me away!!

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  14. Looking forward to " Careful what you wish for ".
    My ex-husband bought a lot of things : some he kept and some he re-sold to make profit. It is a lot clearer here since he left but more than 20 years later, I still use HYATT bathroom towels rejected by the hotel chain because of light imperfections.
    Always two sides on a coin.

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    1. My husband talks about selling stuff... and talks ...

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  15. You know I loved "Careful What You Wish For". Like Ann, I rearranged my sock drawer. Happily it has not stopped there. I frequently would watch "Hoarders" and use the show as motivation to clean. I did not realized until I watched that show that most people don't attach memory to objects. I did/do. Maybe I thought I would forget the person if I give away the object? I dunno. My Parents lived through the Depression, and kept wow, everything. Three broken televisions! etc. Fortunately, my brother in law is a set designer. Most of the stuff was donated to amateur theater companies. The clothing went to a costume design house. The turkey bone, I kept as a child --to see what would happen to it-- left after 8 mos.. It lived on as one of my mom's favorite stories. Hallie? I did find a use for that rock.

    Everyone? The book is extraordinary and wondrous.

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    1. Turkey bone??? What an interesting child you were

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  16. My late husband was fascinated with ancient Egypt, and each birthday and Christmas he asked for books that would fuel his interest. Now that he has passed, I have about 150 books about ancient Egypt, many of them quite beautiful. Yes, I could donate them to the library, although it will take me a while because they are HEAVY. And I know that my sons will want some of them in remembrance of their father. But I am trying to think of how to donate them meaningfully, to someone or some organization who would really appreciate them. (And I don't want to have to mail them anywhere.) If anyone has an idea, I would love to hear it.

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    1. We’ll be the same with bird books - we’re on beyond 100 now

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    2. Margie, you might ask if a local museum would want them. If they do want them, they would come pick them up. Same with the library.

      You could also try to sell them. We had an extensive library on wildlife of all kinds, with a focus on birds, and a bookseller came and bought several volumes. We probably could have made a lot more by putting them online, but that was more hassle than we wanted.

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    4. Thank you, Karen, for your suggestions. They definitely gave me some food for thought. Believe it or not, we have the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum here in San Jose, but I'm not sure they would be interested, based on what I've read about them online. It doesn't hurt to try, though, and I will do that.

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  17. Love it!!! I think the relationship between people and their stuff is weird and complicated and rooted in all sorts of developmental angst. The Hub collects everything probably because his mother threw out everything. I collect nothing probably because my dad collected everything. I find clutter and austerity two sides of the same coin and I like something in the middle - no clutter but touches of comfort - a stack of books, plants, a hand knit afghan, and lots of family photos to be just right with my bare counters and clean surfaces. Can’t wait to read your latest, Hallie!

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  18. Hallie, those pictures from your place look so familiar...this is why we buy big old houses, to have places for al our stuff. Ross and I both have had our collecting/hoarding weaknesses. For him it was anything sentimental - and he attached sentiment to a great many things. And he would not part with items he thought would be useful for the kids education. I once tried to get him to release his hundred plus copies of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC by offering to buy the CD-ROM set that had every issue since the start in the 1900s. No dice.

    As for me, I used to be too much into the saving-to-save-money thrift. I've moderated my tendencies considerably when I introduced the $25 rule in my life - if I really need a cheese grater/slide rule/cookie jar/boot jack can I get one for $25 or less? If so, I let it go.I still reuse things as much as I can, because it's becoming an increasingly important part of the reduce-reuse-recycle process. Why is there so much sturdy plastic that can't be recycled? It frustrates me - but that's a conversation for a different day.

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    1. Love the $25 rule - but my husbands mother’s cheese slicer? Priceless and irreplaceable

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  19. Sounds wonderful - the book, not the collections, I'm married to my own collector - you have no idea how many working HAM radios are in my house! No bedroom sets though.

    I'm adding my whisper to you know who for your win of the Mary Higgins Clark award.

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    1. Thanks Kate! Btw my husband’s big into old radios and cameras

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    2. Kait, my husband is a HAM too. Lots of radios, lots of radio stuff, lots of storm spotting stuff. But he has his shelves in his office, and the entire garage, and that's fine. (He's W5TUX, btw.)

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  20. Hallie, great post! I collect books. I have too many books. When I moved 15 years ago, I had to whittle down the number of books and I gave away many books to the new library. And I had a collection that I was going to give away then decided at the last minute to keep them. Now I am glad I kept them because these books are now out of print! And only one book in that collection is available on kindle!

    It's tough deciding which books to keep and which books to donate!

    Diana

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  21. My hubby does keep a lot of stuff, but other than the box of his high school t-shirts, I have to admit that most of it is useful. He doesn't collect to collect.

    I used to say I collected tea pots, but I have no place to put any more of them, so am no longer tempted. Not tempted by yard sales these days, either. Quilts and china are my weaknesses, but again, I'm trying to find a home for some of the vintage quilts I have, DO NOT need any more dishes! We both still have our old vinyl in boxes, but don't have a turntable set up. Really, they should go to Half Price Books, if I could ever find the time to tackle it.

    And I still have much of my mother's art stuck under the guest room bed. She had lovely Chinese and Japanese framed prints. I have no room for them in my house, and my daughter doesn't want them, but I just haven't managed to let them go...

    Hallie, the book is fabulous!! I predict great things for this one!!!

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  22. I forgot to mention pinback buttons in my earlier post.

    Those little 2 inch or so buttons that advertised pretty much anything. My focus would be bands I like. I have some stuff on my 80's jean jacket (that no longer fits), but if I was to begin collecting something "new" in full force, that's what I would pick up.

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    1. I had a few of those. Come to Middle Earth. Stokely is a Riot.

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    2. Pat D, I probably used to have a lot more but some probably got lost along the way.

      I know that I have some non-music pinbacks that would be out of place on the music jacket but I should think about putting them somewhere.

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  23. I love the snippet you posted, Hallie! Now I'm wondering if the husband and his collections survive! I don't really collect anything anymore. When I was a kid I collected postcards. I still have them tucked away in a couple of shoeboxes. I have tons of books scattered about. Every few years I will do a purge. That purge gets smaller and smaller. We have a ridiculous amount of camping stuff out in the garage. Ridiculous because who needs 3 Coleman lanterns, 2 Coleman stoves, a giant canvas tent that is over 40 years old and hasn't been used for at least 30, and assorted camping items, when we haven't camped since 2004? I'm afraid the only thing that will motivate my husband to pitch things, no pun intended, is moving. We have so many things around the house that are souvenirs from trips, my mother-in-law's gifts from trips (she loved to travel and as my husband said, she never met a country she didn't try to buy out), family hand-me-downs. I try to limit travel spending on things I can actually use: clothing, tea towels, etc. I think I'll have to secretly Mondo Kane things without my husband noticing. When I talked about getting rid of our blue Reizart-Gorham crystal we never use he started using it. And then stopped. So I need his whole-hearted support or else secrecy for some purging. I refuse to purge his stuff though. Just "ours."

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  24. Hallie, I am very close to diving into your book (getting caught up), and I know it's going to be a real page turner, like all your others have been. I've often told my daughter that she should be a professional organizer. Marie Kondo has nothing on my daughter. Hahaha!

    My biggest collection is, not surprisingly, books. There are books everywhere in the house--on shelves, in baskets, in copper tubs, on the fireplace hearth, just everywhere. I am trying to weed some now, to set books aside for some different organizations. I did find a new area of books that has me in a collecting mode. Dell Mapback books were small paperbacks published by Dell starting in 1943 and continuing for about a decade. As the name implies, there are maps on the back to inside of houses, outside scenes, and other important scenes of the book. I discovered them at Mystery Mike's at the St. Pete Bouchercon. CrimeReads did a great article on the history of these books at https://crimereads.com/dell-mapbacks-a-history/

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  25. SUCH A GREAT BOOK! Do I collect things? Nope, not really. Before Eli was born, I decided I would collect stamps for him (like Jonathan's dad did for him)--so I did it with a great passion. However. He had NO interest, none none none. :-)

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  26. When I was a child, I collected plastic horses and comics. I got rid of the horses when I started bringing home knickknacks from trips that meant more to me. I stopped keeping my comics when I realized that I had no time to reread them. That's why I don't keep many books anymore. I have childhood favorites and some others. I'm still reading tons of books and comics, though.

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  27. I'm a collector. Fortunately, it's just me in my condo because I am running out of room as it is between my books, movie and TV on DVD sets, and my Hallmark ornaments.

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  28. Excellent book -- I hope it gets many awards, as it well deserves.
    I did give away most of my school "stuff" when I retired, actually put an invitation out to all the teachers in my building to come and take what they wanted. I also made use of Freecycle when I moved. gave away half my vinyl records, including some '70s protest songs to a former student. Still, there's so much that I don't really need, but feel attached to. I have started taking a few children's books and storytelling CDs from the shelves when I give a workshop for the early childhood educators, little gifts to encourage participation. ;-)

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  29. Yes, I am a collector, not even recovering collector. I am an active collector but don't tell anyone, they might try an intervention. It's all Grandma's fault. She gave me my first Madame Alexander Foreign Land Doll when I was six. I have over 54 spoons which are in a box because I don't have enough wall to hang my 3 spoon racks, favorite one is the World War 1 soldier, I call him Uncle Billy. I trying to purge the bears but the key to my storage unit is missing. Crochet hooks - great-great grandma's are fabulous. My sister and nephew, who moved me, will say I have too much yarn. Guess what everyone is getting for Christmas? I still have vinyl purchased during my childhood. And, of course, books. Maybe I do need an intervention.

    My Mom had tea pots and scarves. We decorated the tables, in the Parish Hall, with them for the reception after her memorial service. Then we invited people who were special to Mom, to choose one to take home has a memory of Mom.

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