I'm having a mid-life crisis.1
Theoretically that's good news, as apparently I'll be living past 120. But it's still unnerving. I'm haunted by the feeling that everything is all wrong. We are not where we're supposed to be, and I know of no way to fix the problem. To put it bluntly, we are too far away from our children and grandchildren.
That conclusion did not come easily. I grew up with a good dose of American individualism and training in the idea that the most important family unit comprised father, mother, and children. My father came from the state of Washington, my mother from Florida; they met in upstate New York, whither they had flown (figuratively speaking) without a backward glance, so far as I know, after graduating from their respective colleges. Their siblings spread out as well, landing in California and the Midwest. Our closest relatives were a five-hour drive away. Cousins? I had fourteen of them, but we were nearly strangers: travel was much more difficult in the mid-20th century than it is now, despite not having to deal with the Transportation Security Administration. Nor did I miss them much, I have to admit: I had my parents, my three siblings, and a multitude of neighborhood friends, all quite enough for an introvert like me. Or so I thought, not knowing any better.
Did my mother miss having her parents close by, especially when her children came along? I don't know; if she ever talked about it, I don't remember. I know my father thought she was better off 1000 miles away: his mother-in-law had inherited a forceful personality from her own mother, who was quite a name in the business, political, educational, and social life of her adopted city. My grandmother was a terrific person and a great cook, and I loved our biennial visits to her home.2 Still, there's no doubt she was a Force To Be Reckoned With, and my mother's personality probably blossomed more freely at a distance.
I had no choice, since my own mother had died by the time we had children. My siblings were far away and much younger than I was. (They still are. Every year, they get older—but I seem to be outdistancing them.) So childrearing was pretty much a solitary pursuit, as far as family went, anyway. It didn't seem so onerous at the time: most of my friends were separated from their families, too, so it seemed normal. Thanks to cheaper, modern transportation and deliberate effort, at least the kids knew their cousins better than I did mine.
It worked out. The human family is remarkably resilient, and our extended family has managed to remain as close as any I know, and much closer than many. It wasn't until I became a grandmother that I realized just how wrong the situation still was.
Children, after all, are supposed to become independent, to take wing, to create their own homes and families. It hurt abominably (and still does) when our children were in pain or in need and we could not reach out to them, could not even give them reassuring hugs, but I learned to be thankful that they had friends—and later husbands—who could lend a hand and who would notice if they didn't show up when expected. Sure, I envied my friends whose children went to college nearby, and who could attend their recitals, watch their games, and invite them home for an occasional dinner. But it never felt quite as wrong as being so far from our grandchildren.
Unlike most animals, the human species lives long past the time of fertility. Some have theorized that this "grandmother effect" had an evolutionary benefit, because the help of the grandparents increased the survival rate of the grandchildren. In modern, Western society surviving may not be an issue, but thriving still is. Grandparents can enrich the lives of their grandchildren not only directly, but also second-hand, by taking some of the 24/7/365 pressure off the parents. Calmer parents are more creative, as well as more patient with their children. This can't be done when you live a thousand miles apart, however. Even fifty miles is pushing it, though my [insert much-needed term for "offspring's in-laws" here] frequently and heroically make the hour-each-way drive to spend half a day with their grandkids.
It is not "helicopter parenting" to want to help out for a day when your daughter is sick: to feed the kids and take them to the playground so Mommy can nap. I survived without that help, but how much better it would have been for the children to bake cookies with Grandma than to watch TV—the last resort of a mom who can't concentrate on anything other than not throwing up.
Even in the healthy times, children benefit from regular interactions with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. It's important for children to see the many sides of their own family: how they are alike, how they differ. What better way to learn to eat different foods than to spend the night with your cousins and be served something other than your favorite cereal for breakfast? Making cookies with Grandma, knitting with Aunt Susan, birdwatching with Uncle Don ... mom and dad alone cannot provide the variety of learning experiences available through the wider family. And how much better is it to have a crowd supporting you at your recital, or cheering from the sidelines for your soccer game?
When I was a young mother, I worried about the influence on our kids of family members with values that weren't completely aligned with ours. That was a mistake. Well, perhaps the concern wasn't entirely mistaken, but with experience I learned that (1) the differences were infinitesimal compared with the value, experience, and attitude differences they would encounter with their friends and their friends' families; and (2) such differences in those we love—or at the very least are obligated by the family bond not to merely ignore and avoid—provide an invaluable platform for teaching our children the essential life skill of getting along with—indeed, loving, respecting and learning from—those with whom we disagree, all without compromising our own standards.
It might be argued that with today's smaller families mothers don't need the help they once did. It might be so argued—but I don't know of a single young mother who would agree! And in any case, the scarcity of siblings makes the need for cousins all the more acute. I will defend vigorously the "nuclear family" as an ideal—in the sense of children growing up with their own father and mother who are married in a lifelong commitment—in contrast with the many workable and sometimes necessary but inferior substitutes that abound today. Too often, however, the term is used in another sense: to mean "father/mother/two kids." This I find far from ideal: what we want is a clan.
Certainly there are ways to foster the clan feeling even when living far apart. I'm thankful for modern transportation and communication: for superhighways, jet planes, swift mail delivery, e-mail, and Skype. I'm grateful for siblings and children who make the sacrifices and take the time to encourage extended family interaction. Nonetheless, real physical presence, when it happens, still has somewhat of a "weekend dad" feeling: very intense and somewhat indulgent interactions, rather than the calmer experiences of ordinary life.
Deprived of nearby extended family, we make do. The human race is good at making do. We find substitute "grandparents" and surrogate "grandchildren" in our own communities, and our children become more than ever dependent on their age-group friends. It is good to have alternatives; friends and neighbors have their own place in our lives, and it's an important one. But it's not the same as family. Expecting them to fill that niche can stress those relationships unnecessarily. Granted, in this fallen world there are unfortunate exceptions, but as a rule family implies a much higher level of emotional, psychological, physical, and financial commitment than can be expected of non-family relationships. Churches try to fill the role, even calling themselves a "church family"—but Jesus himself stated that giving to God was no excuse for neglecting your own family (Matthew 15:5-6; see also 1 Timothy 5:8).
I know the problem; what I don't know is what can possibly be done about it. Wendel Berry has written a lot about the importance of place (even more so than of family, based on the little I've read), and the folks at the Front Porch Republic are always talking about the importance of localized community. But even if our children choose to live near one set of grandparents (and few do), most often that leaves the other set—and most cousins—out in the cold. Even if we try to keep families together through the extremity of marrying our children off to other children in the nearby community—nearly impossible if they go to college, or to war, or on almost any other adventure—we're likely to end up small-minded, inbred (in the intellectual sense as well), parochial, and stale.
So we make do with substitutes. But it's still not right. It's like formula instead of breast milk; giving birth at a hospital instead of at home; turning our children over to others for the better part of the day instead of teaching them ourselves; homogenized, pasteurized milk from an agribusiness dairy versus a glass of raw milk from a local, pasture-raised cow; children (and adults!) who spend all day indoors instead of out in the fresh air and sunshine, learning nature's lessons and enjoying her bounty. We're glad to have the alternatives available: each is good in its proper place. But no matter how important these may be, they are still only substitutes for the real, best thing, and it's wrong to pretend otherwise.
I'm grateful to all those who are standing in our stead for our children and grandchildren when we cannot, and for the many ways we can still serve them and connect with them without a physical presence. I'm thankful beyond words for the means to travel to our far-flung family, and for a husband who understands how important it is to nourish these relationships. I also realize that the problem is logically insoluble: even if we wanted to leave everything here behind and move close to some of our grandchildren, we'd still be 3700 miles away from the others.3
So it's not so much a mid-life crisis I'm having, as a muddle. My high calling and career, that which my heart yearns for and longs to throw itself into, I cannot do except limpingly. That which I believe is so important for the health of our nation's children is that from which our society is fleeing with alarming determination.
So what to do? Promote the extended family—the clan—when given the opportunity, do what we can with the means that we have to cultivate relationships, and daily put one foot in front of the other on the path as we see it, trusting that whenever God calls us to a task, he will provide the necessary means.
And take refuge in poetry.
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."
—John Milton, On His Blindness
1Well, I suppose "crisis" is too strong a word, given that I began this post in 2011, and am still plugging along. Mother's Day seemed like a reasonable occasion to revive it.
2What wasn't to like for a kid? My grandparents lived in a lovely old house two blocks from the World's Most Famous Beach and its awesome Broadwalk! (Yes, Google, that's spelled correctly, even though you tried to change it to "boardwalk." These days people do call it a boardwalk, but it was definitely "broad" when I enjoyed it.) The house is now an attorney's office. Sad, but at least it still stands; many from that era do not.
3Years ago, when people asked if we would consider moving away from Florida, I would reply that I might be tempted, once the kids settled down, to move halfway between them. But it turns out that living on a houseboat in the middle of the North Atlantic won't solve the problem.
It's been over a week since the jury summons notices went out for George Zimmerman's trial, and neither of us has received one, so I'm guessing we're safe. As interesting as it might have been to be part of such a high-profile trial, I'm happy to pass on this one. Don't count on seeing Grandma interviewed by the media any time soon.
Speculoos à Tartiner, in its American incarnation as Biscoff Spread, is now available at many stores here and around the country. Trader Joe's even has its own version, which I will be able to sample and compare because we are finally getting our own Trader Joe's! You can even buy Speculoos in tiny Hillsborough, New Hampshire—which also needs a Trader Joe's, but we'll take one step at a time.
The exploding popularity of this heavenly spread was featured in the Orlando Sentinel yesterday. I don't know what goes into the decisions involving placement of articles and advertisements on the page, but surely this could be no coincidence:
On the bright side, all this publicity may dampen the TSA's suspicious attitude, although there is now less reason to transport it in my luggage.
I've been working on my organizational system lately, and part of the plan has been to have individual index cards with particular chores on them, e.g. "back up computer." These then go in my Tickler file under the appropriate days. So far so good. But because the system is still under revision, instead of writing directly on the cards, I've been sticking a Post-It note on a card and writing on it, instead. You see, that makes it temporary, and I can replace it with a new sticky note if I want to modify it, only writing on the index card when I'm pretty sure I know what I want it to say.
Then I did some research. There's some variation—depending on where you shop, the quantity you buy, and whether you go for brand name or generic, plain or colored—but the cost of a Post-It note of the size I use is just about the same as the cost of an index card. It doesn't feel to me as if that ought to be the case, but it is. So while my system may, possibly, save a very small amount of paper, basically there's no point to it.
I plan to "sin boldly" from now on and write directly on the cards, feeling free to replace them as desired. Perhaps it will even make my organizational system seem a bit sturdier.
You all know I'm not a sports person. Would you believe me if I said that spending all day (more than 12 hours) at a sporting event last Saturday was an absolute blast?
The sport was Quidditch, and last weekend was Quidditch World Cup VI, held in Kissimmee, Florida. As much fun as I had, I doubt I would have bothered to attend had not our nephew's University of Richmond team qualified for the event. His parents came down for the occasion, and we had a great visit. It was too short, but included a first: conversing over dinner, just my sister, her husband, and the two of us. It's not that we don't get together—but quiet dinnertime conversation is quite different from the usual lots of people of all ages, with lots of things going on.
For those who have not read any of the Harry Potter books, or for those who have, but are puzzled as to how the players learned to fly, here is a brief explanation of how the earthbound version of Quidditch is played.
Several aspects of this game contributed to my enjoyment: First and foremost was knowing someone on one of the teams. But I found other games fun to watch also, and I think that's because Quidditch is such a very amateur sport. It's only eight years old, the real-live version having been invented at Middlebury College in 2005, so it hasn't had a chance to get too messed up yet. On college campuses, where Quidditch is most commonly found, it's a "club" sport rather than an official team, which makes it all the better. In an age when even young children's sports teams view themselves as a training ground for the pros, and parents dream of college scholarships, Quidditch teams play for fun. The youth of the game also means no one has quite figured out the best strategies. We watched half a dozen games or so, and no two were alike.
The Snitch is a wild card that certainly contributes to keeping the game from degenerating into just another move-the-ball-from-one-end-of-the-field-to-the-other game. The Snitch can do just about anything, roaming all over the park, throwing water balloons, catching a ride on a golf cart, whatever. He or she must come back to the field after a certain period of time, even if he hasn't been caught by a Seeker—else the game could go on forever because the Snitch hopped a bus out of town.
Although I was at the games to root for the University of Richmond, I couldn't resist watching another UR game: the University of Rochester. (Fortunately, the two did not play each other.) Speaking with one of the players after the game, I mentioned that we were Class of '74 and Class of '75. The player said he was Class of '14. Still, I didn't feel that old until I realized that the age difference was as if I had been talking with someone from the Class of 1934. Ouch.
Both Carnegie Mellon and Virginia Tech have Quidditch teams, but we did not see them. Either they did not qualify for the World Cup, or they couldn't afford the trip. We're very glad the Richmond team managed to raise the not-inconsiderable funds.
Many of the team uniforms were clever, especially the backs. Here are two of my favorites, from Rice. (Click on the images to enlarge.)
The University of Richmond, however, had the best shirts overall; they received many compliments. I thought the University of Rochester was odd, being the Yellowjackets; not to be outdone by the other UR, Richmond is the Spiders. Our nephew Kevin and his friend Layla ... or rather, Layla and her friend Kevin, are shown here modeling the shirts for me.
The Seekers must wait out the first 10 minutes of the game before running after the Snitch. This gives the rest of the players time to play before the catching of Snitch brings things to a halt. It also gives the Seekers a chance to enjoy the game for a while. And me, as well: because Kevin is a Seeker, once the Snitch hunt was on my attention was mostly directed away from the other play.
Below are a few videos of that famous UR Seeker, Kevin Alloway, catching the Snitch in three of their four games. Many Seekers are of the heavy-built, muscular type, but Kevin is a long-distance runner and fast, fast, fast. Instead of wrestling the Snitch (person) to the ground, he zips in and grabs the Snitch (tennis ball in a sock, attached by Velcro to the person) before anyone knows what has happened.
Incidentally, my admiration has shot way up for those in back of the news cameras who manage to keep their attention on what they are doing. You can see in the videos where in my excitement I totally forgot I was holding the camera.
University of Richmond vs. University of Texas (Austin). Texas went on to claim the overall championship, so the object of catching the Snitch here was to end the game before the point spread could get any bigger. I wasn't happy that Texas was so successful, because they have apparently forgotten that the game is supposed to be fun for everyone. They play hard, rough, and mean; early in the Richmond game, one of their players smashed a bludger (dodge ball) point blank into the face of one of Richmond's best Chasers and sent her to the hospital. His teammates said he's known for doing that. It wasn't even a penalizable offense, so I think a rule modification is in order. Some temporary pain is within bounds; deliberate infliction of injury is, well, unsportsmanlike, in the old sense—all too much like "sports men/women" these days. (After the passing of time, and three medical exams—paramedic, urgent care, hospital—she was pronounced fit to play again. Fortunately the games were far enough apart that the Texas bully didn't ruin her entire day.)
University of Richmond vs. University of Southern Mississippi, Richmond's first win.
University of Richmond vs. Ohio State. This was the most exciting game of all, going into overtime: five minutes or until the Snitch is caught, and Kevin ended the game for a win.
A bald eagle stops to watch the game: Hrmph. Silly people, flying so low to the ground. I'd put those hoops a lot higher. Why didn't they ask me to play? I can outfly the best of them! At least they didn't charge me for this great seat.
Yesterday, Porter saw a male American redstart, in our backyard. He was on his way to the West Indies, no doubt—they don't live here, only migrate through. I've never seen one—nor had I heard of one before yesterday, for that matter. Roger Tory Peterson calls it the most butterfly-like of all birds, which is what caught Porter's eye from his office.
I know that's not earth-shattering news, but I'm finding this blog to be the best place to document things I'd like to be able to find again. To save me from, "Um, what was that new bird you saw in the backyard a few years (months, days) ago?"
I've started a new category, Music. For now, it's a place for me to keep track of music we sing in choir, and other music that interests me. I'll add YouTube videos when I can—almost never of us, but just so that we (and anyone else who is interested) can hear and remember the work.
For example, this past Sunday we sang My Eternal King (Jane M. Marshall, Carl Fischer #CM6752).
I'm writing this post to remind myself how easy it is to order books from amazon.de—the German version of amazon.com—and for anyone else who might be considering such an order.
When you first go to amazon.de, the page can look intimidating, being mostly in German. This is not a problem, for three reasons:
- It's still Amazon. You'll be able to guess most of the important words simply because they correspond in position on the page to what you're accustomed to from amazon.com.
- If you're uncertain, Google Translate is a great help.
- On the top left of the amazon.de page, you'll see "Hilfe". This is "help" and will take you to a page where (on the left side) you can click on Information for English speaking customers. This section is—surprise!—all in English.
The company clearly expects some very nervous English-speaking customers, because the Step-by-Step Guide to Ordering is excellent.
From the English guide you can also learn about the Amazon Currency Converter. This is an option you can turn on or off in "Mein Konto" ("My Account"), from the main amazon.de page. Prices at amazon.de are given in euros. One payment option is to pay in euros with your credit card, letting the credit card company handle the exchange. But if you enable the Amazon Currency Converter, which stays on or off until you change it, Amazon will make the exchange. The primary advantage of this is that you know at the time of purchase exactly what charge will show up on your credit card bill.
If you're sending the order to Switzerland, you're in for two pleasant surprises:
- Shipping is free, with no minimum order.
- The price will be less than you expect, since the EU's VAT will have been subtracted.
More good news:
- I don't know the legal technicalities of the connection between amazon.de and amazon.com, but it uses the same account information (passwords and such) and address books.
- If you have an Amazon credit card, buying from amazon.de is just as 'way too easy as buying from amazon.com.
"Okay, so what's the down side?" I hear you ask. There is one: I've found books to be generally more expensive on amazon.de. Even so, buying from them is cheaper, and a whole lot faster, than having amazon.com ship overseas. And since the USPS got rid of its International Media Mail rate (Boo! Hiss!), buying from amazon.de is much cheaper (and again, faster) than buying from amazon.com and shipping the books yourself.
All my e-mails are sorted and ordered and I know what needs to be done in a timely manner and what can wait. The former have been sorted into "Action" folders, and I know to give them top priority. But all the e-mails that now reside in various Project and Someday folders no longer trouble me, as I know there is no hurry, and I can get to them whenever I feel I have the time and energy to tackle them. What's more, they are organized, so that if I decide to work on accumulated reading, or educational materials, or computer enhancements, I can navigate immediately to the relevant material.
I wrote that a week ago. It's still true. (It's still amazing.) What's more, I have reduced an e-mail backlog of more than 600 to 64, and not by declaring e-mail bankruptcy, but by dealing with each one. I don't expect the number to get much lower: the point of e-mail is to use it, after all. But what remains is in useable form, filed and easy to access. If I keep it under 100, I'll be thrilled.
However, there's a downside. Frankly, taking care of e-mail has become an obsession. I can't stand to have anything in my inbox, which is a good thing because if I can deal with it quickly I do, and if I can't, I file it appropriately. In addition, I've obviously spent a lot of time slashing my backlog by 90%. That, too, was a very good thing. But as I said, I'm obsessing. I'm spending too much time checking e-mail, just so I can deal with it. If I'm working on something else and notice that mail has arrived, I immediately drop what I'm doing to take care of it.
That was okay for the first week, but it's time to move on.
The point of e-mail control is not to get rid of all e-mails as soon as they come in; it's to deal with them effectively and efficiently, in a timely manner, and not allowing the important to get lost because of a poor signal-to-noise ratio. What I need now is to let go my Death Grip of Control a little. To acknowledge that
- the last 10% of my e-mails will take a lot longer to dismiss than the first 90%
- their numbers will continue to ebb and flow somewhat
And that's fine, because as long as
- I review them regularly so that I know I'm not neglecting something that can't wait
- I keep on top of them so that the flow doesn't overwhelm the ebb
all will be well.
My e-mail system, after all, is much like a Tickler File/Next Action Lists/Project Folder GTD system. There's no point in an empty Tickler, and no need to check it obsessively. Each day you check it once, deal with what you find, and then forget about it until the next.
My plan it to try to force myself to "check my E-mail Tickler" once each day, and do what needs to be done. That doesn't mean I'll only read e-mail once a day. I'll never be a Tim Ferriss and check e-mail once a week or less, because I've chosen e-mail as my primary form of communication. I might be able to manage his recommendation to check e-mail only twice a day, but I don't think so: I wouldn't want to miss the e-mail that says our grandchildren are asking to Skype! (Though of course that will happen anyway, unless I get a phone smart enough to nudge me when an e-mail arrives, and I'm in no hurry for that.)
What it does mean is that while I may clear my Inbox more frequently, unless the e-mail is one that (1) I can take care of in less than two minutes, (2) I would particularly enjoy answering right away, or (3) urgent, I will file it in the appropriate folder and forget about it until "Check E-mail Tickler" comes up again the following day. (Actually, I may not forget about it completely, because several of my e-mails are parts of ongoing discussions, or for other reasons will provoke long, thoughtful responses. In such cases, Li'l Writer Guy will always be busy in the background. But that's pleasure, not guilt.)
And in case you're wondering why I haven't answered the e-mail you sent, checking my e-mail tickler means making sure I know what can wait and what can't, and dealing with the latter. And then, if I have time, some of the former. If you think I've misclassified your e-mail, feel free to nudge me with another.
This is not going to be easy. There's always the fear that—as has happened with so many other of my efforts—letting go of iron-fisted control will cause the system to implode. But a system that requires so much maintenance is of no use at all. So it's time to take a risk, pry my clenched fingers off the reins, and let the system do what it's designed for.
Back in September of last year, our toaster over gave up the ghost. As in, it started smoking in all the wrong places. Since we all know that smoking is a health hazard, we decided to replace it.
(We replaced it within the month; I'm just slow in getting around to writing about it. Granted, this post is somewhat ironic coming after the previous post on too much stuff, but it's hard to make a decent piece of toast by roasting bread like marshmallows over a glowing stove burner. At least we followed the one in, one out rule.)
After much deliberation, I chose the Cuisinart Custom Classic. It was $80 minus 20% at Bed Bath and Beyond. Of course all online reviews vary from "worst toaster I ever bought" to "best toaster I ever bought," but this one seemed to do reasonably well. I considered the convection combination, but I had space constraints -- this one is at the upper edge of what fits into the designated space.
Much to my surprise, I really like it. Here are some reasons:
- It hasn't actually burst into flames yet. I still have it on a switched outlet so I can turn off power when I feel insecure, especially on long trips, but I've mostly stopped doing that since it has behaved well for six months.
- It has a dial for setting toast darkness and a pushbutton start (albeit electronic, like most pushbuttons these days). I like this much better than the tick-tick-tick timer, and for the first time in years I can make toast without watching it like a hawk.
- The quality is a little better than that of the $25 toaster we bought five years ago. Not $75 worth better, but the best I could do for a reasonable price. The less expensive toaster ovens seemed really junky, as if they might be lucky to last five weeks, rather than five years. If this one gives us the same use/price ratio, it should last more than 12 years. Not that I'm counting on it.
- It has two elements on top and two on the bottom. Again, unlike our previous toaster, the cheaper ones had only one top and one bottom element.
- The crumb tray is easy to remove and clean.
- I haven't checked the accuracy of the temperature dial for baking, but it seems to work well.
- There's a "bagel" setting that toasts the top more than the bottom. I haven't actually used this yet, but I like the idea.
- As I said, the oven is bigger than our previous one, but the larger footprint is worth it because it really does hold four pieces of toast well. I think that whoever decides for advertising purposes how many slices a toaster oven can handle must use smaller bread than I do.
It's nice to make a purchase and still be satisfied with it half a year later. That's true of our refrigerator, dishwasher, and washing machine, too. (The last two years have been tough on the appliance budget.) I'll write about them in upcoming posts.
Upfront admission: This is a First World problem, and I know there are millions in the Third World who would love to have it. But we are First World people, and it is a problem.
Janet, our (almost) Swiss daughter, has a refrigerator about half the size of the one I had in my college dorm. It is, understandably, uncomfortably full. Heather, our New Hampshire daughter, and I each have what I'd call a normal-sized refrigerator. Each is uncomfortably full. My sister has a large refrigerator. You guessed it: her refrigerator is also uncomfortably full. (Maybe that's only because I usually see it at Thanksgiving. But I doubt it.)
Janet has a small cubicle in their apartment basement for storage, stuffed full. Heather has a good-sized basement, and the only reason it's not yet stuffed full is that they just removed the large furnace and chimney that were taking up a good deal of the space. My sister's basement is wonderfully large, but it has the same problem. We don't have a basement, but I know what it would be like if we did.
Janet doesn't have a garage. Heather has a one-car garage that is crammed with stuff. We have a two-car garage, ditto. My sister's three-car garage is in similar shape.
Janet's apartment is very small, with no closets and little cupboard space: it's overcrowded. Our four-bedroom house has decent cupboard and closet space: it's overcrowded. Heather just moved into a large Victorian monstrosity of a house, and their newly-renovated kitchen alone has awesome cupboard space. But even after making allowances for temporary construction equipment and materials, it's clear that the house is well on its way to filling up. Thanks to a taste for clean lines and an eye for beauty, my sister's very large house doesn't feel crowded (except at Thanksgiving), but her closets and cupboards are as full as the rest of ours.
I could go on: Attics. Bookcases. Drawers. Filing cabinets. Even boxes. I'm seeing a pattern here, and it's not good.
No matter how much or how little space we have, our possessions expand to fill it to the point of discomfort. I wouldn't want to limit the food I have in our refrigerator to what would fit in Janet's. But if she can manage, why can't I keep ours at the point where there's still wiggle room? Why do our bookshelves hold books behind books, and books on top of books? If we had fewer bookshelves we would have the same problem—but with a quantity of books that would fit comfortably on the shelves we do have.
I've come to believe that the problem is actually a mental miscalculation, similar to the one that results in my having almost-but-not-quite enough time to meet any deadline. If I could have 30 more minutes before guests come for dinner, I would be relaxed and well-prepared. If I could have one more day to prepare for our vacation, I would step onto the plane well-rested and confident. If I had left home ten minutes earlier, I wouldn't be fretting about traffic and red lights. What I want to do always fills up the time available—plus a little bit more. Likewise, what I want to store always fills up the space available, plus a little bit more.
Solving this problem has become one of my Foundations 2013 goals. Inspired by Janet's organizational and deluttering efforts, encouraged by some modest successes of my own, and cheered on by friends and family who are tackling similar projects, I hope to recalibrate my mental vision, or at least figure out how to compensate for its known errors.
Yesterday I had a dentist appointment, and while I was there I had a revelation in their restroom.
Sitting on the counter was a mug full of disposable, single-use toothbrushes, individually wrapped and pre-loaded with toothpaste.
When I spoke with our dentist, she said that she had gotten the idea from orthodontists, whose patients often come to the office without having had the opportunity to brush their teeth. But I saw quite a different use for them.
One of the most annoying aspects of overseas airplane travel (after the expense, lack of sleep, and forced minimal movement for hours on end) is the difficulty of brushing one's teeth. It's bad enough to have to negotiate the tiny lavatory, hoping the plane doesn't lurch as you attempt to spit into the diminutive sink. But schlepping a travel toothbrush in your carry-on luggage, and toothpaste in the TSA-approved clear, plastic, quart-sized, zip-lock bag, and negotiating their interaction within the confines of the aforementioned lavatory—well, let's just say it's enough to make many people forego dental hygiene on long flights.
Enter the single-use, preloaded toothbrush: Light. Individually wrapped. No hassle from the TSA. Brush and toss. Brilliant.
There's only one problem. You can order these NiceTouch toothbrushes from practicon.com. However, since they expect you to be a dentist, the minimum order is 144. (I so wanted to say "gross!" but that doesn't fit with toothbrushes, unless you drop yours on the lavatory floor while trying to brush your teeth on an airplane.) So either you must plan a lot of travel, or go in with a lot of travelling friends, or have a nice, friendly dentist who will get some for you.
If you succeed, remember this caveat from our own nice, friendly dentist: they really are for one use only. They're not made well enough to stand up under repeated use, and have been know to fall apart in very uncomfortable ways.
I'm looking forward to brushing my teeth on my next trip to Switzerland.
Here in Hillsboro we sleep in an apartment-like section of the house that is separated from the kitchen by two doors and a flight of four stairs. Dad-o usually works here, though due to the poor Internet signal, he will periodically wander through the better-connected part of the house on a "download break."
Except for one delightful morning when Noah knocked on the door to announce, "Jonathan and I have made eggs for you and they are ready," the other kids generally stay in the main part of the houseJoy, however, will periodically toddle up the steps, open the door, and question plaintively, "Dad-o?" Much to his delight, of course.
During the first two weeks, when Heather was either ill or recovering from childbirth, I was Joy's favorite person. She came to me when she needed something, and when she didn't; she clung to me when she was sad, she turned to me for everything she would normally have turned to Mom for. But for two weeks I had no name.
Thanks to this nasty flu-or-whatever-it-is, I've been spending a lot of time in bed in the apartment, and one day I was rewarded with the pitter-patter of feet on the stairs, the slowly-opening door, and a plaintive, "Damma? Damma?"
Now that Heather and Jon are more available, I'm no longer the favorite go-to adult. But I am still Damma!
Tomorrow our choir will be singing as the Presiding Bishop of the American Episcopal Church comes to our church. Unfortunately, we will not be with them, as we are currently some 1300 miles away and are too sick to sing anyway.
It's true that the circumstances save me from the potential of actually meeting the PB and having to say, something like, "Pleased to meet you." I have some serious quarrels with this particular Presiding Bishop, thanks not only to her opinions and policies but to specific offenses given to dear people we know.
Still, I have problems with President Obama, too, and yet would consider it an honor to be asked to sing at the White House. It's a matter of "saluting the uniform, not the man."
Resurrection Choir friends, we miss you, are sorry we're not with you, and wish you the best tomorrow!
Tomorrow, Joy will turn two years old. (I almost said, "will celebrate her second birthday," but with so many sick folks around here, I suspect the celebration will occur a bit later.)
Except for her size, you wouldn't guess her age. Trying to keep up with three older siblings is a powerful incentive to tackle projects beyond what most people expect of you. I've written before about her unusual physical coordination at fourteen months; she continues to excel in both large- and small-motor skills. She dresses herself completely with no difficulty, though it must be admitted that she hasn't figured out the matching socks thing yet.
Joy is a willing and able helper. She can help set the table. If she's thirsty, she can get a cup and fill it at the kid-sized sink in the kitchen—though at the moment she can only reach the hot water tap. She can clear off her place at the table and put her dishes in the dishwasher. If the dishwasher is full of clean dishes, she can unload all but the items in the middle of the top shelf, which she can't reach, and put them away (with the help of a chair for the higher shelves of the hutch). When it's time to fold laundry, she's quite good at knowing whose clothes are whose, and very competently folds the cloth napkins and puts them away.
She doesn't talk much yet. No, that's not true; she talks plenty, but we're not so great at understanding her yet. She understands a lot, however, including such complicated instructions as, "Please put the dirty napkins in the basket in the laundry room."
Having been the baby of the family for almost two years, she needs to learn a bit more about self-control when her will is thwarted, a process that will no doubt come quickly now that she is a big sister. She has adjusted amazingly well to her new rank, no doubt in part thanks to having a couple of extra adults to fill the gap in parental attention. She's happy to let Grandma attend to her, even when sick, and has Dad-o wrapped around her little finger. When she gets a chance she slips out of the kitchen and climbs the stairs to the apartment where he sits with his three computers. "Dad-o? Dad-o? [Read] book?"
When she can't find an adult or a sibling to play with, Joy will entertain herself for hours: looking at books, playing with dolls, building with Legos, "cooking" in her play kitchen, writing in her "school" notebooks.
No, she's not perfect. She has a temper, and does not take well to being shut out of her siblings' play, which happens sometimes, as she's not gentle with her sister's cards and would rather take apart Legos than build, especially if the Legos in question are her brothers' special creations. But she's very sweet, amazing, a true delight, and well worthy of her name.
Happy second birthday, Joy!