Sunday, April 5

Wisconsin in Winter

Gentle Readers, it appears I will have to learn how to Do Winter.

I've never had to, up till now. For nine years, I lived in the tropics... things get cold when temperatures drop to 60 degrees. For thirteen years, I've lived in Southern California. I own eight pairs of flip-flops... and two pairs of shoes that have both a closed-toe and an enclosed heel.
Flip-Flops. A good choice for every season. Right?
The other years? Those are the coldest I've ever known. It snowed once when I was in high school. We got about an inch of snow during the night and it melted almost completely by 10 am. The important part of that day, though, was that school was cancelled on account of it.

But aside from the rare coincidence of cold and humidity arriving on the same day, my years in Central California were marked by a long-standing inability to believe that there existed temperatures colder than 60 degrees. I remember standing on the blacktop during the gray winter days of second grade, without a jacket or a sweater. I was cold, yes, but if I didn't let myself start to shiver, then I would be fine. Classmates and teachers would come by and marvel, "Aren't you cold?" And then before I could explain, they would remind themselves, "Oh yes, you lived in South America. You are used to it."

Not used to it, no. Just unable to comprehend that season called winter.

In eighth grade my lack of knowledge about winter caused me to ruin an otherwise 100 percent on a math test. Which is likely to have colder temperatures: Thanksgiving or Valentine's Day? My vast knowledge of seasons supplied the answer: Winter lasts from Thanksgiving to New Years Day. Spring starts shortly after.

My math teacher was unconvinced.

Even as a mature boomerang, home in between college and career (also known as the interlude between my years in Southern California), the frigid winter temps of 40 degrees disoriented me. I'd run outside to check the mail or take out trash and hurry back, surprised at the tingling pain in my bare feet.
A typical winter day in Southern California. Notice the long sleeves.

Gentle Readers, what is that thing called below freezing? And when people speak of temperatures in the single digits or below zero, it is like those imaginary numbers in math, right? It is purely an exercise of consistency in carrying a theory to its supposed extreme. Yes?


People tell me no. I don't quite believe them, but I am old enough and wise enough now to suspect that when winter next arrives, and I find myself in Wisconsin, I should plan on wearing a jacket and something warmer than flip-flops. I don't suppose they make open-toed winter boots, do they?

Monday, February 23

Ten Clickbait Headlines You Have to Read to Believe

He stretched. What happens next is shocking.

While the boss was away, THIS happened.

Wait till you see what happens at 24:31. Totally worth the time!!

You won't believe the shady pedigree on this guy.

Have lasting success following these 10 simple rules.

What this 12 year old does will blow your mind.

What this guy did with 5 loaves of organic bread = Epic.

Worst Fashion Fail EVAR

One new superfood you won't believe.

He increased his wealth using one simple weird trick.

It is really way, way too easy. After all, there isn't just scandal in the Bible... scandal got invented in the Bible. There aren't just amazing, surprising outcomes... there are miracles. And there aren't just good tips for self-improvement... there are the basic rules for life.

But still, I'm glad that my Bible has normal tell-all subheadings rather than clickbait headlines. Aren't you?

Tuesday, February 3

10 Signs My Kitchen is Small

CutieLittleBoy is firmly situated in the middle of the Why Phase. I am pretty well convinced that he asks the question so frequently that he doesn't always hear it himself. It is his verbal pause of choice. And then every once in awhile he throws me for a loop by expecting me to answer and repeating the question again and again until I come up with a suitable answer.

And for some reason, the size of our house has come up in his endless questions. "Why do we have a big house? Why is our kitchen small? Why do we have lots of things? Why do we have a small house? Why do we have lots of things in our kitchen?" In between scrambling for answers, I wonder what prompts the adjectives. What is he seeing that makes it big or small, full or empty?

I don't know why it surprises me, though. From day to day I find myself asking similar questions. "How can we keep living in such a small place? Why did I ever think we might one day need to move to something larger?" From day to day, the adjectives differ.

So I've created this handy list of ten signs my kitchen might be too small. Read it quickly, because if you blink, I will have made it a list of ten signs my kitchen is just the right size.

1) Costco-sized kitchen mats can't fit. It doesn't matter whether I lay the mat parallel to my kitchen counter or perpendicular. They won't fit. Oh, and those additional sizes available online? All larger.

2) A key feature of a kitchen trash can: a flat lid... all that additional work space!

3) Having a clean sink and a clean stove top ranks as an awe-inspiring encounter with the miracle-working God. With no dishwasher, it is a rare minute indeed where no dirty dishes huddle in my kitchen sink. And for drying? A dish rack can only hold so much. That's where the stove comes in, with all of that great extra space for drying larger items. Like a see-saw, if one is empty, the other is full. The last time my kitchen experienced double-emptiness, I'm nearly positive I saw the glow of heaven in my white stove-top enamel.

4) Putting away dishes involves a precise process. And it is not because of any wannabe OCD. It is a simple matter of physics. I can't open the cupboard to put away the kids' cups if I haven't yet put away the knives. I can't reach the plates if I haven't put away the cups. Etc.

5) The desk is seen as an extension of my kitchen space. Nothing revolutionary here, right? Doesn't everyone put a toaster oven on their desk?

6) A new pan ruins my drawer layout. I made the mistake of buying a new roasting pan. It's a little bit bigger than the one rust is eating it's way through, and that little size difference is fatal. When we remodeled the kitchen to maximize counter and storage space, S.O.S. measured our kitchen supplies and built the cabinets to match. Brilliant, except now I realize I need a new kitchen before I can get any new pots and pans.

7) Opening the fridge all the way involves pulling it into the center of the kitchen, so it perfectly blocks the doorway. This is hardly ever an issue, unless we're putting away pizza boxes, casseroles, large salads... or want to clean up the goop in the bottom of the vegetable drawer.

8) It is impractical to use a mop. Even a full-size broom, come to think of it. Up until about 4 months ago, the only broom I had was one of those waist-high mini-brooms. I finally splurged and bought a "grown-up" broom with the hopes that I could convince the kids that it was mine. No success to report on that front. The story with mops would follow the same plot line. I keep trying to make mopping the floor on hands and knees look similarly appealing, but again, no success to report.

9) Opening the oven requires an utter and complete stop on all other kitchen activities. Think of it in these terms: our floor space is the size of an oven door plus the standing space of an adult pair of legs. Yes, there is more room over between the fridge and the pantry, but again, open one and forget any of the others. The adults in the family understand this reality. The children, not so much.

10) In kitchen design, the kitchen work triangle is all about placing the refrigerator, sink, and stove top within a four to nine feet triangular walk area. Those step-saving kitchens? They have nothing on mine. I can have my hands in dish soap glory over the sink and turn on my stove without getting any suds on the knob. How? It's all in the lean, I tell you. Of course, I've only ever done this accidentally, but think of the possibilities!

So in summary, these are ten reasons why my kitchen has plenty of room. (But does anyone need a larger roasting pan?)

Monday, January 5

Unconnected Significance

Ever have those weeks where each day holds something semi-significant?

It's a storyteller's pet peeve. Something interesting happens, and in the midst of working it into an entertaining story, some other unusual event occurs. It's unrelated but still noteworthy. The story teller can't quite connect the events meaningfully, but to tell one story and not the other...

That's what these past few days have been for me. A break-in, an escape. A near tragedy, a dramatic recovery. A stirring of a long-forgotten passion, and a surprising absence of one. Not a one is connected to another.

The volume has been turned up. Or the picture just came into focus. Something must have happened to bring these all together right on top of each other. And surely, if I just listen a little harder or look a little closer, I'll find the pieces that make it all come together in a proper story.

But how do you connect the careful calculation of an active thief (it appears the item of greatest value in our storage unit was a 14 year old computer) with the utter fluke of a flightless zoo bird discovering flight... right over the 15 foot high fence?

I kept trying to get a good picture of the cute baby giraffe without the ugly bird. A few hours later, when we were on the other side of this enclosure, still cooing at the baby, the bird made his move toward freedom. As one animal handler commented, as far as code reds go, this is as exciting as you want it.
Or what can you make of a beautiful final day of holidaying nearly derailed by a man crashing through the arms at a railroad crossing in front of the oncoming train?
It's a good day to be riding the train.

And put this back to back with another man suddenly struggling for breath and consciousness while preparing for the Lord's Supper. (If the prayers of a righteous man availeth much, a congregation freshly reminded of forgiveness and grace makes a mighty audience for the desperate pleas of a panicking wife.)

Add in a chance talk with a friend casually winding around to a subject I love but rarely think about now.

And then, as if that all were insufficient, I discovered myself to be standing in line at a store behind the woman who prompted more nightmares of mine than any other single person... and finding only pity where anger once raged.

Such a range of human emotion, the results of both coincidence and purpose. These events have no connecting thread except they could fill sequential pages in my diary.

It all started on New Year's Day, and I tell myself this, too, is a coincidence. A week of such stories is one thing, an entire year? Oh, gentle readers, what would become of me?

Wednesday, December 31

Four Thoughts to Close Out 2014

As the last few minutes of 2014 slip by, I offer you a few scattered thoughts for your edification. (Or maybe I am just hoping to diminish the number of unfinished drafts in my blog post file.)

1) Hotels are so worried about saving the planet through water use. Reuse your towels, and all that. But have you ever noticed how many hotel showers have the hot and cold faucets switched? I can assure you, that is not a water saving feature.

2) I hope SOS and I do not turn out to be a prime example of parents who drag miserable kids around on all of our adventures. I'm thinking the fix is all about controlling PR. We'll hang on to the pictures of them smiling and photoshop their grouchies out of the vacation slideshow. Keep the picture of them reveling in the feel of water gliding through their fingers… and not the picture of them crying and misbehaving on the Golden Gate Bridge.

3) I'm not worried about being nickeled and dimed to death. It's those quarters…the endless march of quarters that bothers me. Thus my wrinkled toes, my jeans rolled up to my knees, and the bathtub full of clothes. And as if the non-stop flow of quarters weren't enough, there's that whole challenge of coordinating the corralling of children and clothing with the unpredictable use of semi-public laundry facilities. Isn't it alarming to consider that it is easier to wash a basket of laundry by hand (or foot, as the case may be) than it is to use the occasionally functioning facilities a mere stairway down the hall?

4) The year 2014 marked ten years of my blogging. If I add the posts of this blog with what I've written professionally, this year I wrote my 1,000th blog post. Does that mean I'm ten percent of my way to being an elite blogger? Another 90 years of blogging ought to do it.

Here's to fame in 2104. Happy New Year!

Monday, November 17

Thin Walls and Wide Open Doors

This is Part 5 in my series about living in a small space. If you've missed any, catch Part 1Part 2Part 3, and Part 4.

Standing in my kitchen, I can hear my neighbor in hers. She's talking about her day, using the microwave, grinding her coffee.

In my bathroom, I can hear my upstairs neighbor plunging his toilet, starting his shower.

Not all small living is this intimate with neighbors, but for me, it often seems a natural extension.

I stand in the open door while the kids retrieve the mail from the box across the hall. The hallway door opens and other neighbors pass between us, greeting us and naturally glancing past me, seeing most of our house.

I'm not ashamed, I tell myself, hoping to one day make that true. I'm not the best housekeeper in the world, plus small children add their own special housekeeping style. But there is little I can do to hide it from my neighbor, since the routine of daily living opens up my life for them to see inside.

It is only obvious with what I can hear of my neighbors, they are not just limited to what they can see of me. One of our neighbors once commented on the great bedtime book we read the night before.

And that, gentle readers, encourages me to live small.

There may be very little that I can do about the sound of deteriorating children at bedtime or croupy crying before dawn, but what about the sound of my deteriorating patience or croupy attitude?

It is scary vulnerable to have so little boundary between us and them. We live off of what is perhaps the busiest hallway in our complex and neighbors or strangers are constantly coming and going. I'm not ever sure what can be seen or heard by passersby. It would be so much more comfortable to live in a turtle-shell hermitage.

But for hospitality.
The largest crowd we've ever had in our house. What you can't see is how much of our furniture we had to move out to the porch.

I've heard hospitality defined as welcoming someone into your daily life. We can fit no more than a handful of people within our four walls for a meal. We can host just one overnight guest at a time (and that is only if they don't mind sleeping sitting up or sharing the floor with how ever many children climb out of bed that night). But there is a certain hospitality borne out of sharing a laundry room, of knowing there are people eavesdropping on your children's bedtime routine, of preparing for the inevitable moments of the day when our door will be open and it will be as if we were entertaining strangers.

So I keep winnowing. I keep tossing the clutter, curbing my tongue, considering the thin walls and wide open door. I am not ashamed, I tell myself, hoping one day to make it true.

Monday, September 22

Easy Decluttering Tips

This is Part 4 in my series about living in a small space. If you've missed any, catch Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

About a year ago the kids and I got home unexpectedly early from a weekend visiting my parents and found the door unlocked and an empty house. Really empty. Like furniture moved out and nothing on the floor empty.

Fortunately, I quickly realized SOS had taken the kid-free opportunity to have the carpets cleaned, and sure enough, he showed up a short time later chagrined that he hadn't been able to put everything back before I got home.
Four-Year-Old Selfie, with Carpet

But I was inspired. There was so much room!

Just imagine what we could do with so much empty space! Hold a contra dance! Or put together a 5000 piece puzzle! Or maybe, just maybe, make a comfortable, non-cluttered home for a family of four.

With welcoming SmilesBabyGirl and the explosion of accompanying girl-baby accessories, I had begun to doubt our condo really could be a comfortable home for us. Had we simply run out of room? Was it time for me to acknowledge that the inevitable "time to move" was now?

With the wall to wall carpeting bare, though, I reconsidered. We could do it. I just knew it.

The first step seemed obvious: The big piles of stuff hanging out on our porch while our carpet dried? How much of it could go directly out the front door? Thus began a season of ruthless, drastic decluttering. (Okay, we are still talking about me here, and I like my fair share of STUFF.)

The first thing to go? A pile of old magazines with the book "5 Easy Steps to Decluttering" smooshed in between the October and November issues of 2010. How is that for a review of the book? Maybe I'll write my own "5 Easy Steps to Decluttering." Step 1 will read: Empty your house of everything. Step 2: Don't let it get back inside. Oh, look! I got it done in only two steps. A sure-fire bestseller.

My brilliant plan aside, every once in awhile, I will pull up search results for decluttering tips. I used to do this earnestly seeking ideas that would solve problem areas. Now I do it largely for amusement. Keeping a basket handy for everything that needs to be taken to a different room. Hee hee. The "30 day challenge" where an entire day was dedicated to organizing take-out menus. Hahaha.

I've found one of the best deterrents to amassing many types of clutter is having only a few cubic feet of space unreachable to small children.

As far as the clutter so closely associated with those children? I'm still working on that. I'd use my nifty trick and schedule the carpet for another cleaning, but the kids' toys have barricaded themselves in the hide-away of the wunderbed. It's become a monster in there, waiting for the day when it can take over the rest of the house. I'd be more upset about it except I'm pretty sure the kids have it all under control. They periodically toss other household items in there as an appeasement sacrifice. How much easier can decluttering the house get?