Snow Day

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Photo by David Dibert on Pexels.com

Today’s snow day extends our long, luxurious Thanksgiving weekend another day. Last night, as the snow fell and the power flickered on and off a few too many times for my comfort level, we waited in hushed tones for a call or text from our school district. At 9:30 p.m.–hallelujah! We knew what the call was about before we answered. The lovely, scratchy sound of a pre-recorded message: “Due to weather conditions, school is canceled tomorrow …”

(In case anyone ever wanted to know, I can affirm that a teacher is just as excited about a snow day as students–maybe more!)

A snow day rates way higher in my book than a scheduled day off. I have so many memories of our four children waking up early searching for snow pants and boots, going out before breakfast to scope out which neighbor kids were out already building snow forts. They’d come back once they were good and cold, noses running, cheeks bright pink, eyes sparkling at the sight of me making pancakes or waffles or muffins. We’d hang up the wet snow gear on the shower curtain or throw it in the dryer so it would be ready for round two.

Today’s snow day is a bit different. One teenage son’s plans to go out to have breakfast with his friend was delayed by the reality of clearing snow off the car’s windshield and the driveway, but hopefully the sense of accomplishment he felt afterwards was worth it. Another teenage son is still sleeping soundly in his bed, earbuds in, broadcasting to the rest of us that he is not meant to be disturbed. Our 11 year old daughter is still holding on to precious childhood wonder: searching for snow pants, layering up to go outside and build something in the snow with her friend. I can’t help but wonder to myself if this is the last year she’ll wake up excited to play in the snow.

Even though my kids are spending their snow days differently than they used to, they are learning the exhilarating feeling of having a day stretched out before them, a completely clean slate. They have the choice to spend it the way they like, and every delicious moment they can compare where they would’ve been at that moment if school were in session.

Whether you are in snow or sun today, take a Snow Day or a Snow Moment for yourself: give yourself a fun snapshot of a memory to freeze in your mind for a later date, when you need it. Right now I’m gazing out the window searching for cardinals. I think I’ll be heading for the tea kettle next. What do you like to do when life gives you a snow day?

xoxo,

Carol

Hiding

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Three, two, one … ready or not, here I come!

Playing hide and seek with a small child requires some acting. When it’s your turn to seek, you might see the curtains wriggle a little bit. You might hear giggling coming from behind a chair. There will be a tell-tale lump under the duvet.

I’ve been hiding. I’ve taken a break from writing for a few weeks. I needed to step away from my blog, lean back a little bit and do something else. I got together with a few of my friends. I indulged in movies, live shows, and some reading. My husband and I started binge-watching a show.

The midterm elections were … intense! The negative ads on TV were relentless. Tensions flared on social media, where a local school referendum was hotly debated. I saw people I love and care about argue with each other on Facebook and saying nasty things. Politics got personal.

So I hid.

Intentionally, I backed away from the noise and the hostility. I have a tendency to be like a sponge, soaking in all the negativity like a delicious poison. So I turned off the TV, muted certain feeds on Facebook, and made the decision to distract myself.

I’m not sure adults are really supposed to play hide and seek. I think we are expected to leave those childish games behind. But hiding is a way of carving out dark spaces that barely afford you enough room to turn around. You contort yourself, squeeze yourself in, and wait in silence. Part of you hopes they never find you. But part of you waits, knowing you can’t stay hidden forever.

There you are! I found you!

The best part of playing hide and seek is the finding. The elections are over, the rhetoric is silenced, and I’m quietly peeking out from behind the curtains, ready to rejoin a bit of reality.

Get Out!

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Photo by Anika Huizinga on Unsplash

When my kids were toddlers, distraction was my most useful parenting tool. If you’re in a store with a 3 year-old and he suddenly wants a 5-foot stuffed bunny that the store so kindly placed right at eye level of your little darling, you know just saying “No” isn’t going to cut it. If he wants that bunny more than anything, on top of being tired and hungry, things are going to get ugly quick unless you come up with a distraction. There’s going to be a scene.

“Look!” you say with feigned enthusiasm. “Look over there!” (What’s over there? I don’t know. Anything: a picture of a puppy, a balloon, a flashing light … whatever gets the focus off that 5-foot stuffed bunny.) If you use just the right lilt in your voice and swing the cart in the right direction, you might make him forget that he was about to scream bloody murder about that bunny. Take that moment, multiply it by 100 times a day, and there you have the life of a toddler.

But maybe it’s not that different for adults.

Maybe I’m tired and hungry, but I’m feeling frustrated today. Irritable. I’m thinking about events currently in the news, thinking about work and family obligations, and today is a day I just wanted to relax. I wanted things to go my way. But they didn’t. Same goes for my husband. We spent a good amount of time this afternoon complaining to each other about the maddening things that hijacked our plans for a relaxing, stress-free day.

The more we talked, the more we were getting upset: not at each other, really. We were just feeding off each other’s frustrations, and as we counted the ways things had not gone our way, our voices got louder, and tone got sharper, our blood pressure was mounting.

Time to get out

We’ve been here before. Life is stressful. A lot of times it’s just little stuff, but even a tiny pebble in your shoe can be maddening sometimes.

Our little house, only two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen, and my beloved reading porch, sometimes isn’t enough to contain the mounting frustrations of every day life. Today is one of those days.

So we got out. We walked right out of our house and distracted ourselves, the way we distracted our little toddlers for so many years in the past. Now, as I write, I’m sitting at a table at our local library, in front of a gorgeous window overlooking a park. It’s so quiet here. There’s free wi-fi and a coffee shop downstairs. Bathrooms I don’t have to clean. Looking across the table, I see my husband’s face. He’s happily clacking away on his laptop. The creases in his forehead that were there just a few hours ago are gone.

A change of scenery, a change of pace, is good for all of us. In fact, it’s necessary. And for some reason, living in our small house has amplified that lesson for me. For one, the small house has fewer chores that demand my time. It takes just a few minutes to tidy it up. And because it’s so small, it’s taught me that my whole life can’t take place inside the walls of my house. I have to get out some times. I have to walk out the door and see new views and meet new people.

Sometimes I need quiet. Sometimes I need noise to drown out my worries. But the point is that a change of scenery can be good and give us a much-needed change in perspective. Today, getting out turned I-can’t-believe-that-happened into I-feel-so-lucky-to-be-here-right-now.

Attitude adjustment achieved. Adult temper tantrum thwarted.

 

Sock + Optimism = Socktimism

I consider it a good day when I remove an even number of socks from the dryer. I always put in an even number, that I know. With military-like precision, I unroll each and every sock from the hamper and verify its mate before throwing it in the wash. But somehow, by the end of the drying cycle, something’s gone awry. There’s usually one, lonely sock.

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Photo by Rafael Lodos on Unsplash

I keep the single socks. What else can an optimist do? I once made a cardboard box to go above my wash machine and labeled it “Sock Orphanage.” Soon, it was overflowing with socks, yet when I dumped them all out to sort them, none of them seemed to match.

One day, I realized that my husband, also an optimist, had been stashing lone socks on his side of the bed in a drawer. I gasped with such wonder and awe at this discovery, emotions not typically associated with socks. I ran to my own sock orphanage, and dumped the two collections of socks on the bed. I nearly cried with joy. So many happy reunions!

Other than the isolated instance of the sock stash reunion, I mostly feel as though I lose just as many socks as I keep–it’s a little disheartening. Then came the game changer: crazy socks. My kids’ hampers have banana socks and goat socks; socks with unicorns and hamburgers, flags, avocados, and even bearded lumberjacks. We’ve lost fewer socks since this tiny tweak. Also, crazy socks are funny. And colorful. Also, there are entire stores devoted to crazy socks, and they are stores filled with whimsy and surprise and imagination.

What an unexpected place to find happiness.

I hope you find some unexpected happiness today. And may all your socks have mates.

xoxo,

Carol

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Related and for your amusement: 37+ Unusual Uses for Lonely Socks

Thank you for airing your clean laundry in public

There are a lot of things we don’t talk about with our acquaintances. Certain things, like money, or sex, or illness, or past traumas. Or mistakes.

The line, “Please don’t air your dirty laundry in public” is one of those idioms addressing this phenomenon of secrets. “Please, we don’t want to hear about that unpleasantness.”

(Just to be clear: airing other people’s dirty laundry? That’s a no-no. Keep your hands in your own laundry, please.)

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Photo by Karen Maes on Unsplash

I, for one, am a fan of hanging out laundry in public. And by that, I’m referring to actual laundry. You know: sheets, and pillowcases. Towels and underwear. Years ago, I heard a rumor that in the somewhat conservative suburb where I live, there is an ordinance against hanging your clothes out on a clothesline. It prompted me to immediately purchase a clothesline. Consider it my own form of suburban civil disobedience.

The laundry police have never stopped by my house, even though I religiously hang freshly cleaned laundry out on the line to dry. I love the ritual of pulling out cold, damp clothes from my basement washing machine, carrying them upstairs in a clothes basket balanced on my hip, then shaking them out on my deck and attaching them to my line with wooden clothespins. Almost immediately, you can feel the moisture from the fabric being pulled out by the warmth of the sun. All that free energy, plus the added bonus of being outside and hearing birds sing in the back yard while you do a mundane chore. I don’t often compare myself to Snow White, but my clothesline does make me feel a bit like that domestic Disney waif.

In the same way, this blog is a way for me to air a little of my “clean” laundry. The process of downsizing our home began four years ago when a combination of a pay freeze, bad financial decisions, consumerism, and valuing things over experiences and peace of mind resulted in us living in a house that was beginning to feel less and less like home and more like an albatross hanging around our necks.

Three times now, I’ve spoken in public about our family’s experience of downsizing to a smaller home. There are a couple things that always feel a little embarrassing to say out loud: that in the process of moving, we not only donated a bunch of stuff, but we additionally filled two dumpsters of stuff from our home! That is hard to admit out loud. But it’s true.

The other difficult thing to say out loud: our monthly mortgage payment used to be nearly 50% of our monthly income. We thought that was normal. We thought that was the price of the American Dream! Then, when we attended Financial Peace University and started working toward financial wellness, we learned that our mortgage payment should actually be closer to 25% of our monthly income.

(By the way, the first time I heard that 25% number, I scoffed. I thought it was impossible to achieve. But I’m here to tell you it IS possible, and WOW, does it make a difference in the way you sleep at night!)

But I want to say these things out loud now. I’m compelled to! Because not too long ago, we thought we were doing the right thing. We thought we were keeping up with the Joneses, even if we were feeling exhausted and worried all the time.

Our little house has taught us so much. Our lives are more balanced. We’ve had some rich experiences in the past few years that have happened as a direct result of our move to a much smaller home.

So this is why I air my laundry, and I encourage you to, too. Clean up the messes in your life the best you can, then talk about it! Encourage others who may be silently suffering, wondering, or searching. Be honest and vulnerable and human. We aren’t all that different from each other.

Porch Life

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Visible across the way from our house are two homes that cause a lot of discussion when my husband and I take the dog for a walk. For 3-1/2 years since we moved into this neighborhood, we’ve passed these two homes countless times; you could say they are part of our daily scenery.

The one house is what you’d call a farmhouse style: it looms large with lots of sunny windows. It’s a newer construction boasting all the amenities, conveniences, and 21st century square footage coupled with old fashioned curb appeal. The best thing about this house, to me, is the lovely wraparound porch. Hanging between the porch posts are lush, green plants in baskets. Those plants are never dried up or wilted! The porch has wicker furniture, bedecked with luxurious cushions and throw pillows. If there was ever a place to flop down on an August afternoon into a soft, fluffy cushion on a wicker chair and fan yourself with your wide-brimmed hat while saying, “I do declare, what I wouldn’t give for some Sweet Tea right at this moment!” it is on that porch.

Never, not once, have I seen anyone sitting on that porch!

Beside the Sweet Tea house is a 50s ranch, utilitarian, small in size, but neat as a pin. The owners, let’s call them Tony and Flo, keep the sidewalk swept, the grass mowed, and the shrubs well manicured.

Tony and Flo don’t have a porch. They barely have a stoop. From their house, they could practically reach out and touch the Sweet Tea porch, but they’re probably too polite. Instead, Tony and Flo get two lawn chairs from their garage, set them up on their asphalt driveway, and sit, happy as clams, living their best porch life on a makeshift, asphalt driveway. They always wave to me when I’m out walking the dog, and I often see them talking with neighbors passing by. They look positively serene out there.

How can a Sweet Tea porch sit empty, while a slab of asphalt is the site of so much contentment and community?

This is the lesson our little house has taught me. I’ve only just learned it and I suspect Tony and Flo have known for much longer: It’s not about chasing after the bigger, better stuff. It’s about having just what you need, then taking time often to slow down and celebrate and feel gratitude for what you already have.

Summer is coming to a close: the cicadas’ song tells me so. Find your porch, whether you have a Sweet Tea spot or just a patch of grass or asphalt big enough for a chair. Have a seat, look around, smile at your neighbors, and tell yourself, “Aren’t I lucky?”

xoxo,

Carol

 

 

Returning Home

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Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

 

After a week of vacation, we returned home.

Immediately, I set to work on our massive laundry pile. As I work through one load at a time, I check pockets, finding handfuls of sand. Fresh memories flash through my mind like an old slide projector. Children watching the waves crash to the shore … *click* … finding smooth rocks and stowing them in an upturned frisbee to bring home to my garden … *click* … screeching seagulls calling each other, swooping near beachgoers, searching for crumbs dropped by distracted children …

On the last day of vacation, it was time to pack up. I felt satisfied. We hit that sweet spot of being gone long enough to clear our minds, but not so long that boredom set in. We’d had a good time and it was time to return home.

Returning home to the Cozy Cottage feels markedly different than returning to our previous homes. This home feels like a place of refuge, a place that opens its arms and welcomes us in without demanding too much in return.

“It smells old in here,” said my daughter, crinkling her nose.

Well, yes. After a week of being shut tight, the air in the house was less-than-fresh. Smells of our last few meals and our sweet dog produced a stale olfactory cocktail. But no matter. Home is the best place to be–once the windows are thrown open to let in the fresh air.

 

xoxo,

Carol

IKEA: Deconstructing My Feelings

All I wanted was a lamp.

Since moving to the Cozy Cottage, IKEA has become a champion for my journey to minimalism. Their furniture has clean lines, and a lot of it is built for small spaces. And it’s affordable. For example, our IKEA bed is the bomb. It has four huge drawers beneath the bed. It’s brilliant! We don’t even need a dresser.

But this last trip was … not good. It started out on a bright note, but by the time we got home, we were tired, frustrated, irritated with each other and … still didn’t have a lamp. It started me thinking … is IKEA really a champion for minimalists? Or is it the bane of our existence, with its labrynthian layout and low-cost/poor quality items that aren’t finished until we lug them home and pour our own sweat equity into the construction via Allen Wrench? It left me feeling confused.

I decided to work out my feelings about it on Facebook. This is my post from last Sunday:


TRIP TO IKEA IN 13 EASY STEPS [a love story]

1. OMG. We’re at IKEA! I love IKEA
2. Look at all the great stuff!
3. Where am I? Didn’t I already pass this display?
4. OMG! I love this [thing I have to assemble myself]
5. Where are you?
6. Do you like this [thing I have to assemble myself]?
7. Why don’t you like it?
8. What do you mean? I don’t think it looks like that.
9. Well, if you don’t like it, then I’m not going to get it.
10. Fine.
11. OMG. I hate IKEA
12. Are you mad? I’m not mad. I think I’m just hungry and tired.
13. I’m sorry. But I still hate IKEA.


What followed was a very boisterous exchange of ideas and commiseration from many of my Facebook friends:

From Suzy: “The problem appears to be you missed a step–sit down at the restaurant and eat meatballs somewhere between Steps 6 and 11. Meatballs make everything better.”

From Amarelis:  “Too accurate. IKEA is always a good idea until you actually start shopping.”

Shannon: “I’m going tomorrow but have the item # and bin so I will be in and out! I’m convinced this is the way to do IKEA!”

Liz: “I bought glasses there once. It’s true, you get what you pay for. They were broken by the time I got home!”

Kathy: “I buy lingonberries by the case (way cheaper than anywhere else) because I make lots of Swedish chili in the winter!”

Mmmmm, Kathy, you tempt me with your talk of Swedish chili! Tell me, are the lingonberries kept in stock near the exit, or do I have to search for them somewhere on the third floor between duvet covers and the wine racks?

While I’m still left sorting out my feelings about IKEA, I do know one thing: I have some pretty awesome FB friends.

Rob sums it up best:

“I always get so Sklerf when I go there–at first it is Ploog, and then it gets Flurgen.”

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Simplifying the Schedule: This is gonna take a while

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Photo by Park Troopers on Unsplash
We did the hard part, right? We packed our belongings, filled two dumpsters, moved to a smaller home, lowered our expenses, and settled in. So, that’s it, right? We’re done here?

No. No. No. But it’s a great start. Since moving to our Cozy Cottage, we’ve made huge strides in identifying what is most important in our lives: experiences over things; less debt and therefore less stress; travel; following our creative dreams instead of being tied, like a ball and chain, to too many responsibilities.

But as a family of 6 (minus the one who is out and adulting on his own–and doing a great job of it), we are still going in 100 different directions.

Simplifying the schedule is going to take a while. Here’s how I’m trying to cope:

  1. This is my circus, these are my monkeys Accept it. The family is busy and vibrant; be grateful that they are active and doing a lot of things that they enjoy.
  2. My circus is different than your circus We all have different thresholds of what feels like “too busy.” My dear husband is perfectly happy doing twice as many things as I can handle. That’s okay. Sometimes he’s a whirling dervish, while I read a book. It happens.
  3. Say no You don’t have to say yes to everything. You can’t. And when you spread yourself too thin, it doesn’t help anything. You’re just going to feel bad about not doing your best.
  4. Calendar, calendar, calendar Our family has a paper calendar (ginormous squares, hanging on wall in kitchen), plus a Google Calendar that my husband and I both maintain through our computers or phones. Each Sunday night I sit down and go over the upcoming week. Which nights are the busiest? What will I be making for dinner? Do I need help with anything? Planning the week makes me feel much more in control of things. And despite the planning, monkey wrenches inevitably come up. Do the best you can. And breathe.
  5. Ask yourself, ‘Will this matter in a year?’ Sometimes things feel really big. Like, when you accidentally forget to pick up your kid, and you’re convinced he’s going to need extensive therapy from the feelings of abandonment. When you’re doing a hundred things, a couple things are bound to get messed up. When this happens, try to remind yourself of the 98 things you did right. Give yourself some slack.

What do you do to simplify your schedule? Tell me in the comments.

xoxoxo,

Carol

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The kid goes to camp

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Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash

We dropped off our third child at camp over the weekend. He’s 14, and it’s his first time to be away from home. We left early, drove two hours to the University of Illinois, where he will spend a week playing tuba in band camp. He is matched with a roommate he’s never met before, will sleep in a dorm room, and will likely learn to navigate the campus like a pro by the end of the week.

My life flashed a little before my eyes as we drove towards the camp to drop him off. I couldn’t help but sneak glances into the backseat and see my boy–my baby boy–looking out the window, absorbed in his own thoughts. His face is taking on the elongated angles of a young man. But all I see are his trademark chubby face and sparkling eyes, the mischievous glances he used to give me as a toddler. I can still hear the cute high-pitched voice he used to talk and laugh in, now deepening as he slowly becomes a young man before our eyes.

This is the deal we sign up for as parents. If we are lucky enough to have children, our life is swept away by a torrent of 2 a.m feedings, diaper changing, snotty-nose-wiping-potty-training-temper-tantrum-ing years that seem to chew you up and spit you out. It’s exhausting, hilarious, maddening, heartwarming. Each year brings new challenges, many that weren’t discussed in What To Expect When You’re Expecting. Just when you think you’ve handled one problem, another one crops up. You’re batting away obstacles and quietly celebrating each small victory, and if you’re even luckier, you have a partner who can bat away and celebrate alongside you.

Next thing you know, you’re dropping him off at camp, trying to figure out whether he wants you to hug him goodbye, or whether a public show of affection would embarrass him to death.

And yet, this is what I want, isn’t it? I want a young man who is independent and can handle himself when I’m not there. And there he is, smiling at me, waving, then turning on his heel to go into the residence hall, alone. He didn’t even hesitate. He’s ready. I’m ready.

Back at home, I’m wondering about him. I hesitate, then decide to text him.

Did you find out which band you’re in?

40 minutes go by, then a reply:

Symphonic

I answer back immediately: Woo! Congratulations!

Another 30 minutes go by.

Thanks, homeslice

[He calls me that–homeslice. Sometimes I’m dawg. On really good days, I’m Schmom. Or Mom.com.]

I exhale. He’s fine. I’m fine. I’m not going to text him again.

He’s fine.