Real, Tangible Progress!

For several weeks now I’ve promised to share progress on some of our more intractable problems. And I can! Moreover, I can show off a solution that’s been in place for a couple of weeks now, so I know it’s working. Mostly.

Disorganized From the Start

I don’t have a before picture, so enjoy this cute image of Amelia instead.

As you know, our house is seriously lacking in storage, and the lack of entry storage anywhere near the actual entry we use has been a major issue. I outlined a plan of attack a few weeks ago, and since then we’ve been to Ikea for the base of our solution, contracted plague and mastitis, suffered for our art, and I’ve started a new freelance project.

Ikea's Hemnes Shoe Cabinet, in our house.
Ikea’s Hemnes Shoe Cabinet, in our house.

But now! The time has come to reveal . . . a solution a lot of people on the internet are using, actually, and I know why: it’s attractive, and it’s effective. Beside the door, where we had a lovely low wooden chest holding sports balls, we now sport this lovely cabinet from Ikea. It actually only has feet in the front, and attaches directly to the wall behind the cabinet. To be perfectly honest, it barely fits in the space, but it does fit, and fits beautifully. On top of it we’ve added a few little details:

  • A small lamp with a low-wattage LED bulb. This can be left on for a late arrival without breaking the bank on our expensive electrical service.
  • A jar for loose change. Somehow the loose change is finding its way to a little tray inside the drawer first, but I can live with that.
  • A little Japanese statuette of Neal’s. He’s always had a few little Japanese items, mementos of his brother’s and mother’s travels, and they’re even more fun now that he’s working for a Japanese company and will likely travel there himself some day.

    Hooks for coats. They’re also from Ikea, and the hooks match the handles on the cabinet.
  • A beautiful carved bowl my MIL brought us from Hawaii. It’s holding sunglasses.
  • A clear space for mail.

We also have a small trash can for a quick mail sort and a rack for keys. It used to hang on the other side of the door, but that area’s serving another purpose now too, as a coatrack.

Inside the drawer are some little organizers and some space for Neal’s pocket stuff (mostly empty right now because he’s at work).

A drawer for all the things a certain someone carries in his pockets. I still occasionally find them elsewhere, but now I can cheerfully tote them over and stash them where they belong.
A drawer for all the things a certain someone carries in his pockets. I still occasionally find them elsewhere, but now I can cheerfully tote them over and stash them where they belong.
Plenty of room for storage.

Head Above Water

Oh, No!

I have made a terrible, fateful discovery. My beloved Christmas fish tank, which I (and my trusty fish guy Cameron at Lafayette’s Aquarium World) have stocked with a beautiful array of South American schooling fish, Spike the albino plecostomus, freshwater shrimp, and natural plants, has sprung a leak. It is a slow leak, but it has soaked through the cork pad we placed underneath the tank. It may have actually been slowly leaking from day one . . . we just thought it was a symptom of dry winter air that it seemed to evaporate so quickly.

Anyway, this surprise Christmas present has turned into something I really enjoy, and I’ve invested a lot more in time, consideration, and funds than the original “fishty,” so my solution will require a trip to Aquarium World this week, Saturday at the latest (which wouldn’t be bad, because my sister who also has a Christmas fish tank is coming to visit me and it’s a really neat store that Amelia finds fascinating). I’m going to have to get another tank, preferably one that, if not identical, is compatible with the heater, filter, and air pump I already own. Hopefully Cameron will be in to help and instruct me on the best way to transfer my sixteen lovely water creatures safely.

A Busy Weekend

My radio silence started more than a week ago, when I teased a busy wedding weekend and then disappeared. Well, Friday we went up to Chicago for the wedding, which was just perfect as it brought together all our dearest friends, who’ve all scattered across the country while we have settled comfortably down to stay right next to our alma mater. Then Sunday, Amelia and I accompanied Neal to Indianapolis to watch him ref soccer, and we all got to have a fabulous meal with my aunt Wendy and her family! Hannah is so sweet and cute and just loves her little cousin (and silly songs about turtles, apparently).

Followed By A Busy Week

Heidi attempts to pose with an over-excited Mario for a picture by her mom Sondra.

My very dear friend and colleague Heidi, having recently finished her Master’s degree, made the difficult decision to turn down the full-time  job offer she received at the Press in order to move back to Dallas, where her family lives. I will miss her loads, but I can’t argue with her reasons.  We dedicated most of last week to sending her off in style, with help packing, dog-sitting, a farewell dinner (at the very beginning of the week to accommodate Neal’s crazy busy evenings last week), and most importantly, saying goodbye to her home in Indiana with a long-overdue hiking expedition at Shades State Park.

Last One Standing

Because let’s face it, nothing is as relaxing as time with Daddy.

Oh, right, and Neal has been mildly but tediously ill for the past couple of weeks. I didn’t take it very seriously because it’s allergy season, and he didn’t sound very sick, but now I’m sick. Friday was the worst, with a fever that shot up to 103 overnight and took until mid-afternoon Saturday (after an urgent care trip and an antibiotic prescription) to break. And then Sunday it became apparent that I wasn’t just sick with mastitis; I’ve caught Neal’s nasty little bug too. A bug I had fervently hoped was just allergies and man-cold is really awful. Neal was fantastic at taking care of me and Amelia over the weekend, so much so that I don’t think she had a chance of noticing there was anything up with mommy . . . just loads of fun hanging out with Daddy. Today, however, she might notice, as she is just heavy and exhausting to carry around and she’s stuck with me.

Mom and I had talked last week about whether I needed to try to deliberately encourage the baby to be more willing to spend time entertaining herself. Well, it’s going to happen, because I have energy to change her and feed her and that’s about it. Plus if I cuddle too much I’ll just get her sick too and then we’d all be tired and miserable instead of just the grown-ups.

The Show Goes On

We’ve done some other busy things too, the most important and positive of which was setting up a solution to my entryway woes. It still needs a couple of final details, currently being held up by me being sick, mostly, because going to Staples sounds miserable today, but I’ll take pictures and share everything with you soon.

Neal also installed my beautiful Mother’s Day clothesline in the backyard Saturday, and then when the concrete was set up Sunday and ready to go it rained like mad so I still don’t get to show it off. But that’s coming as well.

Talking to Strangers

Happy Thursday, everyone!

Since we’re getting ready for a Friday wedding, today has felt more like Friday than Thursday in many ways, and Amelia and I have been having a wonderful busy time. We have been seeing close friends (apparently we are girls who do lunch, something we’ve always wanted to be, and now we’re at a soccer field watching Daddy referee. Sort of.

Actually it proved too hot for a hungry, sleepy pigeon, so we’re going to try again in a little bit and just now we’re having a nap in the car while mommy writes this.

In between, we stopped at Starbucks to enjoy a lovely little birthday gift and air conditioning and I struck up a conversation with some ladies near me who were wrapping up the last of their grading for the year. They were both experienced high school teachers discussing the challenges of introducing technology in the classroom, keeping unmotivated students engaged, and other difficulties they face every day.

Now some of you might be surprised at my interest in such issues, especially those who’ve heard me talk about my hopes to homeschool Amelia. And it’s true that I am deeply concerned about the impact of current federal and state education policies on a system already stressed by too many children with wildly varied needs. But no matter how Neal and I decide to address these issues for Amelia, this concern is exactly why I’m so interested.

So anyway, the big thing this teacher said about the challenges she and her colleagues gave in the classroom, other than the constant pressure of No Child Left Behind and Common Core and other movements that increase testing and try to quantify teacher performance, is that there is a major paradigm shift teachers need to make in order to adequately prepare children for our connected and information-rich environment. I’m not sure I agree with her, so I’m asking you what you think.

Essentially, she believes that teaching content is not and should not be a teacher’s focus. Instead, teachers should emphasize the importance of data literacy over subject matter learning. Today’s children will have lifelong access to any information they need with a simple internet search, so the goal of education shouldn’t be to provide information, but instead the tools needed to effectively search for, analyze, and use found information.

Now We Are Thirty

Hey, guys! I’m here briefly with a recap of the weekend. As you know, I’m working part-time from home, and that seems in practice to mean that I will have weeks with no work at all and then a couple of weeks or a few days when I have a lot that needs finished. That’s where I am this week, which makes the twenty minutes in which I wrote this absolutely stolen time.

It was a busy and exciting weekend, though. Friday I hit the dreaded milestone birthday, but rather than feel grumpy about it I had a good sit-down with myself and informed me, “Me, I can’t think of any reason to feel a lot of self-pity for the fact that I am possibly now middle-aged. After all, me, when I look back on my accomplishments this decade it’s looking pretty good. I’ve made up for the failures of the decade before by going back to school and finishing a degree (not that degree, but that’s for the best, me and I agree), I’ve bought a house with Neal that I love, and I’ve even managed to eke out a fairly last-minute slide into motherhood.” Granted, I have certainly learned to beware of goals that require stuff to happen I can’t actually control, but this hasn’t saved me from a vision of myself at forty with two beautiful beloved babies, well on their way to growing up, but still. Life is wonderful, and it is more wonderful at thirty than it was at twenty, and I have little to be afraid of as I face the future.

Amelia treated me to a couple of very special presents for my birthday, too. With the collusion of her daddy she presented me with a very interesting and intimidating GPS athletic watch. I’m going to keep an eye out for a little kid’s bike trailer because running is highly unlikely (I’ve tried running, even completed a 5K, and we don’t suit), and the watch will have to accustom itself to working only at the most glacial of paces, but it’s a good bite of accountability on my fitness goals, just sitting there waiting for me to take it. Far more precious was the gift she gave me Thursday all by herself: a quite deliberate roll from tummy to back, executed with much fanfare from mommy and completely self-satisfied complacence from infant. She has since repeated the trick several times and for various audiences so it’s official: my baby can roll over. One way, anyhow, but I’m not sure how motivated she feels about going the other way.

I am not sure if this forum will hear from me again before the weekend; as I mentioned I have lots to accomplish. But just for a preview of upcoming information, here’s what I’ve been working on house-wise:

  • A plan of attack for the incoming stuff dilemma. This weekend has been arranged to include a quick shopping trip for supplies, and hopefully by Monday or Tuesday I’ll have a delightful solution to present.
  • Keeping the house clean and tidy. True confession, no progress whatsoever has been made on floors, beyond a good sweeping. However, great strides have been taken against clutter, fueled by having some friends over for dinner Saturday night, and really very little work remains for full kitchen recovery and nearly all of that involves a load of dishes that, against all my good resolutions, I didn’t do.
  • Some preliminary planning for a good material-goods purge. I think with some work (and clear eyes on the prize and not the stuff) that I can make some fantastic progress on the clutter I loathe. Mostly by stuffing into bags or my car and making it go away.

To Shoe or Not To Shoe

So Neal and I are advisors for a group of young college students at the nearby state university, and occasionally invite them up to visit us en masse. And, sweet things that they are, they all cheerfully take their shoes off and leave them in a giant sloppy pile at the door rather than track dirt or slush or pollen (depending on the season) through my house.

I’ve never asked them to do this, and I tend myself to walk around full-shod, but I’m thinking about it now as I strive to keep the house tidier all the time. What do you think about shoes in the house? Do you wear them? Do you take ’em off? Do you find it makes a difference in dust and mess on your floors?

Cleaning Won’t Fix It: Problems of a Low-Storage Home

Hello again! Amelia and I had a wonderful weekend visiting my family. We got to see everyone, had a wonderful picnic followed by delicious cake and homemade ice cream, and even attended a parade! Naturally, Amelia and her younger cousin (they are two days apart) were much petted and loved on, so yesterday and today Amelia is making it clear that the swing is not a cool place to sit and where’s a grandparent or an aunt when you need one? Add that to a doctor’s appointment with some new vaccinations yesterday, and I just didn’t get this post written when I wanted to.

I am happy to report, however, that her doctor is pleased as punch with Amelia’s growth and accomplishments, as is only proper. She’s a beautiful, wonderful girl and I’m glad we continue to suffer no significant health problems after her early start.

Back to business: I promised to report on problem areas in my house, and I’m going to do so now. This is not really intended as an exhaustive list. There are a lot of areas where things are less than perfect, obviously, but today I want to talk about systemic areas. Not necessarily something that we need to just do a better job with, but rather something that isn’t a matter of simple maintenance.

Incoming Stuff

Our house, well-loved as it is, has a couple of little quirks that present challenges in staying organized. And the three things I’m going to talk about today are all related to those quirks. The first is the fact that there isn’t a dedicated entryway or foyer. The front door opens immediately into the dining room, and more than half the time we use the garage door anyway, which opens right into the living room. Neither entry is particularly close to a closet or storage area. This means that there’s no great place to set up a ‘landing strip’ for mail that needs to go in or out, wet shoes, coats, and so on. And in consequence these things tend to land wherever they fall: on the breakfast bar, the dining table, the coffee table . . . whichever flat surface is most convenient when we walk in the door.

This is a major problem. Not only is this the cause of a lot of the clutter in the house, it’s also created difficulties with lost and misplaced bills, disorganized exits from the house (especially troublesome now that we have a baby to tote along with us with all associated paraphernalia), and general mayhem.

Proposed Solution: Create a landing strip by the garage door that makes use of containers and wall space to manage the following items:

  • Keys (these currently have a small hook rack by the door that’s been pretty successful, but I’m not opposed to moving that some if necessary for the whole solution)
  • Coat Rack or Hooks (we have a coat rack by the front door, but that’s not where we usually enter or leave, plus it’s covered in huge numbers of coats so it’s difficult to grab or add one)
  • Shoe Storage
  • Mail Sorter
  • Tray for Man Pockets (Neal tends to empty his pockets as he walks through the house to change after work, and there’s a little trail of earbuds, inhaler, wallet, ID tag, and so on that stretches from the breakfast bar to the nightstand and dresser, to his desk in the office)
  • Trash Can (for junk mail)
  • Mirror (for quick spit-up checks)

Towels and Linens

Our house has no linen closet and minimal bathroom storage, but we have lots of linens and towels and bathroom dohickeys. Currently these things are stored in a chest in the living room, a flatpack cabinet in the office closet, a dresser in the office, stacked in the laundry/pantry, and a series of cubbies wedged into the tiny bathroom. Amelia’s towels and linens are stored separately. Moreover, that piecemeal space is inadequate to the volume of things we need stored, and clean linens often end up living in the bottom of laundry baskets as other loads are folded and put away on top of them. There just isn’t a place for them to go.

Proposed Solution: Sort through the collection to make sure we need everything we have. Try to bypass Neal’s cute but obnoxious-in-small-house need to assure me that the towel that’s nearly ripped in half still has useful material and should be kept for the garage or dirty work rather than tossed (He can’t throw anything away, and even has difficulty disconnecting with stuff enough to donate it.) to get excess stuff out of the house. Consolidate storage.

Long-Term Plan: Supplement storage consolidation by ripping out current bathroom cabinetry and replace with open shelves and basket/bin storage.

The Combination Laundry/Pantry/Utility

WP_20150511_002Not only is this room desperately trying to be all things to all people, it’s an incredibly awkward space to begin with. You walk in from the kitchen to see the washer and dryer directly in front of you, the utilities to your left behind a floor-to-ceiling curtain, and a window and some shelves for pantry storage to your right. But there’s a little nubbin of space to the right of the washing machine that is barely three feet square and contains two doors. It creates this odd square cutout in our bedroom that’s almost as awkward as it makes the laundry room. We are currently using a combination of steel restaurant style shelving and a plastic shelf along the back wall of the odd bit for pantry storage.

WP_20150511_003The trouble is that, with so little good storage space in the rest of the house, this room gets dumped on. It is just full of stuff, and nothing is working. I need it to be much tidier and more organized to support more cooking at home.

Proposed Solution: Just getting it cleaned and organized is going to do wonders. Again, this is going to require a purge; I know there’s stuff in there I don’t need or use.

It’s Friday!

And I am not cleaning my bathroom; instead I’m driving with my beautiful girl to visit my parents for the annual dog party*!

*Also a fine time to celebrate my birthday, and my grandma’s, a week early this year so more family can attend.

So rather than a long or serious post, I just thought I’d share a couple of fun articles in honor of the occasion.

5 Grown-Up Things You Should Be Doing in the Kitchen by the Time You’re 30: I’ve got a week, guys. Although I am happy to say I am cleaning up on number 1, good on 2-4, and have been guilty of offenses against number five involving take-out containers that I do solemnly swear to mostly straighten up on (hey, you know those black containers with the tight clear lids some Chinese places use? I’m fine with those).

Find Out What Your Name Would Be If You Were Born Today: Sophia, apparently. I share my name with a ton of 80s babies, but I love it. So glad I’m not Barbara, my 1950s name. In other news, Gertrude would apparently be a strong contender for my girl’s name at the turn of the century. I like it.