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.

Do you Hygge?

The book I’ve been reading this week: The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking. The strange-looking word (pronounced HOO-ga) is the idea of coziness: a Hygge kit would contain such things as a candle, a book, and a steaming cup of tea or hot cocoa. Hygge could be described as that feeling of gathering around a table of comfort foods with friends you’ve known for decades: all the pretenses have gone, and you can all sit together in pleasant conversation or complete silence and feel completely at ease.

Since reading the book, I’ve gone Hygge crazy. I’ve purchased a ridiculous amount of candles. The cocoa is flowing freely. I’m trying to set the table with a little more care, adding a tablecloth and some soothing music in the background. I find Hygge to be the next obvious development in my quest for minimalism.

Our cozy little house is perfectly adapted for Hygge, but our family’s schedule is not. We are on the run most days from morning until night. Making room in my life for Hygge-fication is my new religion. If I can find one unnecessary task to forego so I can accommodate a few moments of peace with a hot beverage staring out the window and taking in the sights and sounds of the world around me, then all the better.

Denmark, home of Hygge, consistently ranks as one of the happiest nations in the world. But why should that be? I mean, there are plenty of fuzzy sweaters, teapots, books, handknit blankets, and soft cushions to go around for everyone. Hygge is a choice. A commitment. A mantra.

Take a moment for Hygge-fication this week. Better yet, share the moment with a friend or loved one. Inflict a little Hygge on them, and spread a little happiness.

Why It’s Okay to Have a Bad Day

IMG_0017I’ve got resting bitch face. I know this about myself, because I see it every morning in the mirror when I first wake up. Also, I have an almost violent aversion to people who say “You’d be so pretty if you just smiled more!” (Important memo: don’t ever say that to anyone, ever. Especially not to me.) To solve this, I try to smile. I smile when I’m driving. I try to smile even when I’m taking out the garbage. In fact, to fight the depression that’s part of my chemical DNA I’ll surely fight for the rest of my life, I’ve made a habit of “looking on the bright side” of almost every situation. I try my hardest to combat sadness and negativity in my life. It’s just what I do.

But sometimes, you just have a bad day. I’ve had a bad couple of days. I attended a funeral of a person I wasn’t ready to say good-bye to, then I fought with someone I love, then caught one of my kids in a lie. It felt like the universe was punching me in the gut a little.

And I’m writing about this because I know everyone who reads this has felt this way from time to time. Sometimes, things just suck. Sometimes, we just need to allow ourselves the luxury of saying, “This sucks. I don’t feel good about it.”

I have a wise friend who just knew she should text me today and check in. For some reason, I decided just to be truthful. “I’m sad,” I told her. “I’m really struggling. I’m a crying mess.”

Turns out, she was having a bad day, too. She told me that sometimes, uncensored journaling is the best thing. Actually, she called it the more aptly named “Verbal Vomit.” Guess what? I did it. I verbally vomited at my laptop for two aggressively incoherent pages. I’ll probably never go back and read it. But somehow, I feel better. It’s out of my system.

It made me want to compile a list of things I can do that usually make myself feel better. If you have a day that sucks, I hope you have a list like this for yourself. I also hope you have a very wise friend who knows just the right time to text or call you.

Things I Can Do to Make a Day Suck Less

  1. Journal (a.k.a. “Verbal Vomiting”)
  2. Take a nap (but limit your time—then get up, and get dressed)
  3. Walk in a beautiful place, even if you have to drive to get there (extra points if you take the dog)
  4. Bake something (bread, chocolate, or cinnamon result in the best aromatherapy)
  5. Watch a really sad movie and cry about that
  6. Smile—you’d be so pretty if you smiled more! (Just kidding—only smile if you want to. You’re beautiful no matter what.)