My Great-American Junk Drawer (aka: Getting Organized)

miscellaneous-stuff I was searching for a screwdriver today.

Yes, my toolbox is full of screwdrivers, but I was searching for the one I like best – a Phillips screwdriver with a grippy handle that feels just right in my hands. You see, I just got my bedroom back for the first time in six months. Six months! (Insert cartwheel here). My sister and her family moved here from far away and needed a transition home. So, like a good little sister, I loaned them my spacious bedroom to use as their hotel-away-from-home until they could get settled and move into their own house. Which happened yesterday.

So today, I had work to do.

It takes a lot of scrubbing and furniture-moving and reorganizing to get one’s bedroom back in shape after it’s been lived in by other people. It also takes a good Phillips screwdriver to repair your lopsided curtain rod, which has been yanked out of place by two rambunctious, preschool-aged kids. Which is why I was searching for one this afternoon.

After ransacking my toolbox and coming up empty, I began to rummage through various drawers and organizers. At last, I came to the large wooden IKEA desk that I keep in my bedroom. Our family has had this desk for nearly ten years, along with all the stuff that fills the drawers. Although I am mostly organized in other areas, desk drawers in my home have the bad habit of collecting all manner of odds and ends, until every single one comes to resemble that one drawer that everyone has in their home.

You know the one.

The junk drawer.

Junk drawer

The main drawer of our IKEA desk was a sight to behold. As NPR once put it, “The Great American Junk Drawer can be an accidental time capsule, a haphazard scrap heap, a curious box of memories and meaninglessness.” This one was no exception. Paper clips, old business cards from the home business I ran fifteen years ago, my youngest son’s missing library card, an unused $25 Game Stop gift card. I collected a few dollars’ worth of coins to add to our family Dream Jar, which will hopefully offset a future trip to Disneyland and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But there was no screwdriver. I cut my finger on one of a zillion push pins or rusty staples lining the drawer, then happened to discover a single toy Magnetix rod, which turned out to be a perfect picker-upper for push pins and staples. But still, no screwdriver.

I then came across a stack of old photos – a treasure trove of snapshots of my children when they were small and rosy-cheeked, and a few pics of old friends that instantly threw me into a nostalgic mood. I spent the next half hour flipping through more old photos, traveling back in time, the bedroom project forgotten.

At last I shook off the distraction. As much as I would have loved to clean out the junk and make it a neat, organized office drawer, I had a screwdriver to find. Which turned out to be in the toolbox, where I swear it wasn’t the first two times.

I have my room back.

The curtain rod is straight again, and my room is once again a cozy, clutter-free retreat of comfortable furnishings, soft lighting, and flickering candles. Everything is in its place – visitors snug in their own home, junk in the junk drawer, and yes, my favorite screwdriver safely returned to my toolbox.

I think.

cozy-master-bedroom

Play on Repeat (aka: 365 Days of New Year’s Day)

So I read on some wise, informative website today (Twitter, probably) that whatever you do on New Year’s Day is what you will end up doing all year long. That’s 365 days of repeating today’s choices. Hopefully most of you didn’t just lie around, staring mindlessly at the television.

snoopy-and-woodstock-new-years-toast

Of course, I have no idea who came up with this zany idea. For all I know, it’s just some ancient New Year’s Day superstition, like not washing any laundry on New Year’s Day or you will wash away a person. I swear, I am not making this up. But still, I thought it would be fun to review how I spent this first day of the year, since it will foreshadow the remaining 364 days, it seems.

      1. I did a lot of cleaning and organizing. Seriously. I undecorated the Christmas stuff, scrubbed surfaces, tossed things out, and organized. This is one of my favorite New Year’s Day traditions — out with the old, in with the new. Sweep away the dust and pine needles and start the year fresh and clean. So far, it has yet to carry over to the remainder of the year, but I remain cautiously optimistic.
      2. I managed my home and family. As the one and only Head Honcho around here, I get a lot of opportunities to delegate tasks, call the shots, and make sure people are where they need to be at the right times. Today, this went pretty smoothly. I even got the kids to write a couple of thank you cards. (Gasp!)
      3. I went a little over budget. Eep! This is the opposite of my financial management goals for the upcoming year. To be fair, I mostly bought practical, helpful things, like plastic bins and cute matching organizers for all that tidying up. But still, a budget is a budget, and with plans to pay off old, pre-divorce debts and send kids to college soon, I’d really get a better handle on balancing the ol’ checkbook.
      4. I was active. Not as active as usual, since I’m healing from a nasty cold. But I count all of my traipsing around on foot today as much-needed exercise. The goal? At least 30 minutes of daily moderate exercise, whether it is brisk walking, jogging, or climbing the many stairs in the skyscraper where I work.
      5. I read. Okay fine, I only read the newspaper. But it counts. My goal this year? To read at least one book per month. Seems attainable enough.
      6. I was social. Sort of. I was social a lot with my kids. We talked and played around and cleaned together and finished our annual family slideshow. I should probably have social goals beyond just my kiddos and the occasional small talk with coworkers. But I am kind of at a standstill in that arena. How on earth do people get beyond the small talk realm and into that place where they do fun things together outside of work? (Do all those people even exist outside the building? What are they like when they’re not being all professional?)
      7. I made healthy eating choices. Low carb, low calorie, and yummy foods. I could totally live with that for the rest of the year.
      8. I accomplished most of my daily goals/tasks and planned for tomorrow’s.
      9. I relaxed. A little. I should have maybe increased my relaxation to productive work ratio, as I probably should most days.
      10. I wrote. Yes, I am counting this blog. But as long as I am writing something every day, I’m cool with that.

Happy New Year, readers! Maybe the new habits you began today carry over throughout the year, and may any laundry you happened to do today not wash away your family. Blessings!

new-year-same-me

Beaches and Banana Slugs (aka: Camping is Boring)

“Camping is boring.”

I stared in shock at my 16yo, whom I had taken camping nearly every summer since he was a baby. “Boring?” I repeated. “How do you figure?”

Apparently, there was nothing to do while camping. No computer games, no WiiU, no skate park or Pokémon Go-ing. Nothing to do but swing in a hammock and stare at trees.

“Can’t we take a trip to a city and stay in a hotel instead?” he asked.

I laughed. Then I set the kids to work planning camping menus, writing packing lists, and stuffing the family minivan with sleeping bags, tents, and other well-worn gear for living in the wilderness. Okay, sort of wilderness. The truth is, we are not backpack-in-the-wild, cache-your-food-in-a-tree, filter-water-from-a-pond campers (much to my disappointment). We are more like state park campers with Coleman gear and a screen house to hide from mosquitoes and yellowjackets. But hey — we’re still getting “Out There.”

 

Our family has camped pretty much all throughout Northern California — Mt. Shasta, Mt. Lassen, and all throughout the Sierra Nevada. We’ve seen gorgeous waterfalls, amazing rock structures, and endless night skies smeared with clusters of brilliant stars. This time, we chose to camp at Big Basin, a huge state park nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We’d been there once before, but decided to return, drawn by the impressive beauty of the giant sequoia trees, not to mention the lack of bears. I love everything about camping except for bears. Especially at night. We pitched our tents, then did the usual camping stuff. We sat around in camping chairs, reading books and laughing over Mad Libs stories. We marveled over chipmunks and the horrid caws of Stellar’s Blue Jays. We spotted a slimy, adorable banana slug and dared each other to touch it. We grilled pizzas and toasted marshmallows and sang silly camp songs. So boring, I know.

 

On day two, we went for a long hike through the forest. We climbed on huge fallen logs and stood inside the hollowed-out trunks of some of the tallest, grandest trees on earth. Afterward, we had soft-serve ice cream at the camp store, then relaxed at camp with Uno cards and other travel games. “But Mom, there’s no Wi-Fi or cell phone service,” said the 16yo, his expression grumpy. “This is so bo-ring!”

 

The next day, we drove down the mountain toward the ocean. Then my three kids rode roller coasters and built sandcastles at the shore while I lay on the beach, devouring a good book under our huge sport umbrella. (The 16yo barely glanced at his phone, although he had service once again).  Later that evening, we returned to camp to enjoy one last evening around the campfire, where I entertained the kids by telling a super-scary story about a scarecrow who came to life.

At last, our camping trip drew to a close. We stuffed away the sleeping bags and tents and loaded up the family minivan. We cleaned up every last trace of our visit, so that the next campers could enjoy a clean campsite as we had. Then we drove away, waving goodbye to the sequoia trees and chipmunks and banana slugs — the only witnesses to our days of music and laughter, our nights of board games and reading books side-by-side under the glow of a propane lantern. No cell phones. No television. No computer screens to keep our family from truly connecting, if only for a few summer days.

Camping is so boring. Thank goodness.

 

Pokémon Go Go Go! (aka: My Super-Fake Video Game Rant)

Dear Nintendo,

What on earth were you thinking? Have you guys completely lost your minds?

I used to hold you in such high regard. Especially back in the days when you churned out seriously cool video games, like Super Marios Bros. and Zelda. It was so clever when you invented the Gameboy, and especially the Nintendo DS. My three kids used to be so entertained, and would sit quietly for hours, punching away at the keypad and fighting Lego villains on the miniscule screen. Your wonderfully simple, mind-sucking products resulted in peaceful family road trips, whine-free visits to the dentist office, and calm evenings between dinner and bedtime as my three munchkins racked up points and conquered digital worlds from the comfort of our living room sofa.

BUT THEN…

You had to go and create a revolution by inventing the Wii, followed by the bigger and badder WiiU. No more were my kids happily glued to their seats, engaged in the gameplay of the peaceful good ol’ days. Now they were on their feet, jogging in place, swinging invisible rackets and golf clubs, and shaking their hips in front of the TV screen. What madness! My quiet family evening dream was shattered by the thumping and jumping of little feet.

AND NOW…

You’ve really gone and done it. Pokémon Go? Seriously!? It wasn’t drastic enough to transform my kids from quiet sitters to noisy movers – now you’re encouraging to go places, too?

The other day, I tried to find one of my teenagers to make him take out the garbage. But you know what? He wasn’t even home! Turns out that he had actually figured out how to open the front door, and walked all around the neighborhood.

“Why would you do such a thing?” I asked him.

“To catch Pokémon, silly,” he told me.

I ended up having to take the trash out by myself.
pokemon-go.gif

If that didn’t take the cake, get this — as my kids have been Pokémon Go-ing, they’ve been meeting other neighborhood families at these so-called Pokestops and training gyms, and holding conversations about their little “adventures.” They’ve also been doing a lot more walking. Yesterday, my kids walked a whole mile in search of Pokemon, then had to text me to pick them up, because it was growing dark. So you know what? I couldn’t just stay at home relaxing. I had to get up off my rump and Pokémon Go Go Go, too.

Thanks a lot, Nintendo. What are you going to invent next — a way to make my kids eat healthier? Yeesh.

Say Cheese! (aka: One Cheesy Summer)

Cheese glorious cheese

Okay, I know it’s Independence Day, and I should probably write a post celebrating our nation’s bold and wonderful patriotic heritage, or about the joy of celebrating by making things blow up. But that’s pretty cliché, so instead, I’m going to write about cheese.

Yes, cheese. Queso. Fromage. Der käse.

See, every summer, my kids and I like to have a foodie adventure. Usually, we pick a country, or a type of cuisine, then we spend a few weeks tasting foods from that culture. We sample at restaurants, look up new recipes, and try our hand at preparing all sorts of interesting foods from around the world. The French and Chinese experiments were huge hits. Soul food and Indian food, to my disappointment, didn’t go over so well with my kids.

This summer, we took a slight detour from our annual tradition. After a delicious visit to a famous Berkeley restaurant known as The Cheese Board Collective, the kids and I were inspired. What if, instead of trying many types of food from one culture, we try eating a variety of fresh breads and cheeses from many cultures? Think of the possibilities!

bread

So once a week, instead of cooking dinner, we head out to the deli, or farmers’ markets, or to local bakeries, and we pick up a fresh, hot loaf of some type of interesting bread, and one or two cheeses. Then we head home and prepare a cheese platter to sample with our bread. So far, along with the usual staples like cheddar, swiss, and mozzarella, we’ve also eaten fontina, harvati, goat cheese, brie, and munster. We’ve also had plenty of breads, like pugliese, naan, rosemary olive loaf, cheddar-jalapeño ciabatta, and garlic-onion baguettes. Like with any foods, we have found definite winners (harvati with dill) and definite losers (a spicy artisan cheese from a farmers’ market stand).

You know, when you really think about it, this is a very patriotic blog post. No, not because of the amber waves of grain that went into each loaf of bread. But because our little food experiment embodies one of the values we Americans hold dear–the freedom to make our own choices. We live in a country where we are at liberty to make our own choices, to try any kind of bread or cheese or other food that we desire. And, true to the American spirit, we can break from tradition and define our own customs, like spending a summer tasting new foods together as a family.

Happy Independence Day!

Independence Day USA

Winner! (aka: My Parenting Trophy)

I did it! I won a trophy!

Not just any trophy, either. The Best Trophy Ever.

Finally, after years of driving my three kids around to their events and watching them earn gymnastics medals, soccer trophies, science team trophies, and scouting awards, I finally had my turn.

Okay fine. It’s not like I’ve never earned awards before. After all, I grew up at the beginning of the High-Self-Esteem-Trophies-For-Just-Showing-Up era, when every kid was a winner. Of course, the moment the coaches’ backs were turned, the “real” winners stole the conch and Piggy’s glasses, then danced around a bonfire. And those trophies? Their fate was to be crammed away in some cardboard box in the garage until Mom tried to push them off on her grown kids. (No thanks, Mom. I’d rather keep the memories).

But today was different. Today, on the day before the last day of school, I opened an envelope that my 11 year-old son handed me. Every sixth grader heading off to middle school next year wrote thank you letters to their parents — a tradition carried on through the years at his school. My kid, who isn’t usually the mushy, sentimental type, wrote a love note that brought tears to my eyes. My heart cartwheeled in happiness.

This was not just a letter. This was proof. Proof that my children think I’m pretty special. Proof that I haven’t been screwing up this parenting thing. Proof that the experiment is working. Hooray! Yahoo! This letter from my kid is my trophy. The only trophy I need. And I don’t know, maybe I will frame it and hang it in my closet. So anytime I feel like I’m failing in the mom role, I can read my son’s honest, loving words and be reminded.

Hey Mom. You’re doing just fine.
LoveLetter FromConnor

Summertime Dreaming, Part 2

Apparently, I’ve been blogging about life in the cave for four and a half years. Four and a half! That’s a long time. It is interesting now, to look back on what life was like four years ago, and to see all of the ways that things have changed. Our family. Job. Schools. As always, Time keeps marching forward, arm-in-arm with her sister, Change.

I came across this one post, Summertime Dreaming, which I published almost exactly four years ago. It was amusing to read the fun, mostly superficial summer goals I’d set there. Let’s see how I did:

Engage in some nice, relaxing Global Thermonuclear War

Haha…it has been a loooong time since I’ve had a good real-time online battle. A part of me misses the days of Age of Empires or CyberNations. But maybe I’ve outgrown my thirst for virtual world dominance.

Wear a Bikini

I totally did it! So rad, right? At the age of 36, I hit my weight-loss target and spent my first (and last) summer traipsing around the beach in a cute little two-piece suit, like a true California girl. Now I can happily move on with life and not have to wonder what it would be like to wear a bikini.

summer splash 031

Drink a Beer

I’m proud to say that I have drunk a grand total of five beers since I posted that goal. No, not all at once. Yes, I enjoyed it (though I still prefer a glass of good wine).

Remodel My Sons’ Bedroom

Yep, did it. Then we moved to a new house.

Write Write Write

I wrote, wrote, wrote.

writing creative stuff

Setting goals does not always have to mean the big, serious plans in life, like career goals, fitness goals, or financial goals. Sometimes, you can take great pleasure in setting small goals that are all about enjoying life, having fun with your family, or growing and learning in tiny ways. Meeting these little goals can result in great joy.

And now to set some small goals for the Summer of 2016. I would like to:

Do a fun programming project

Maybe design a fun new website for readers of Young Adult fiction, or design a relational database of our family’s book library. Okay fine, maybe this does not sound like summer fun to like, 97% of the world, but it does to me.

Try a new water sport

My kids and I already love kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding. Learning to surf would be fun. Maybe waterskiing or wakeboarding? Even floating down the river in inner tubes is still on our haven’t-tried-it list.

watercraft fun

Learn to do something new with my hair

I’ll admit it. I am pretty dull when it comes to styling my hair. Wear it naturally curly and short, or wear it straight and shoulder-length. Ponytail or no ponytail. A couple of times, I had it highlighted, and years ago, I even wore it in dozens of mini-braids. But now what? Learn to French braid? Try a hair weave? Dye it some daring new color?

Shop at farmers’ markets

farmers-market shopping

Now that I’ve decided not to grow a veggie garden this year, I would like to make a habit of heading to some of the great farmers’ markets we have in our region. The kids will enjoy this one, too.

Write, write, write

Specifically? Finish something and start sending it off to editors for publication.

Hopefully, whether or not I am still blogging away four-and-a-half years from now, I will be able to look back on this tiny list of tiny goals with a huge smile, knowing that even if I didn’t complete them, I had fun along the journey.