What to do with Your Stuff

We started our married life with big ideas about living minimalist. Stuff just seemed so immaterial. It was quite trendy to be disdainful of the status quo in the circles we socialized with. We weren’t going to buy a lot of furniture, which was an easy resolution, because we couldn’t afford it. A card table and some folding chairs it would be. Then a family friend gave us with a round oak dining table and chairs that she was planning to get rid of, so there we were. They were a bit rickety, but they worked.

The living room furnishings were sourced from a paper called The Traders Guide, with actual print ads, imagine that! There was no Facebook Marketplace, imagine THAT! I remember meeting a guy at a storage locker in the evening. It was dark, so we looked at his couch with flashlights and took it home with us.

My parents were raised with the tradition that you provide a bedroom suite for your daughters. Since our first house was tiny, we didn’t have space for one, but they bought us a good mattress and an antique dresser at an estate auction.

Ideally, I thought, our belongings should fit into a Conestoga wagon U-haul trailer, or less. We were not going to have a lot of stuff because that’s what everybody did and stuff weighs you down.

Welp. Here I am, twenty some years later, with a bigger house and it’s full of stuff from the attic to the basement. I’m the lady with four bedrooms furnished, admittedly mismatched, but functional. We are on the third table since the round table days, each one bigger than the last, and we have cycled through a number of couches. You do have to sit somewhere, we found, and it’s nicer if you don’t need to use a pry bar to get out of a broken sofa.

I’m the one with shelves in the basement to store the five gallon water cooler, the thirty cup coffee maker, and all the huge bowls. I have four big baking sheets, and ten bread pans, what? I have a large variety of measuring cups, and I was only going to have one set because why would you ever need more than that? I’m the lady with stacks of plates from the thrift store and enough tea cups to serve a small crowd, and how did I grow into not-a-maximalist, but pretty far from the girl who didn’t want a bridal shower?

It may have had something to do with giving birth to children. I am grateful that our minimalist goals did not extend to excluding little people, but you can’t avoid getting stuff when you have children. Also they break things and they want bikes.

A lot of our ideas were noble and good for that newlywed season. We didn’t want a load of debt and we wanted to invest in the Kingdom of God, not the American dream. We had not yet had much experience in laying down our lives for others. Surely it would be more high and holy than being one of those wage-earning, tax-paying, load-bearing citizens who own property and invite people home for Sunday lunch and loan their vehicles to people whose cars are broken and host crowds at the missions retreats.

Well.

To my minimalist self I would like to say: You’re going to need some stuff. Not ten crock pots, but maybe three. Because there may come a time when you have rice in the instant pot, and taco meat in the one with the broken handle, and cheese sauce in the little one. Because you are serving guests.

I would like to pat that idealist on the shoulder and reassure her. You know what stuff is for, right? It’s for other people. It’s for you to use to bless other people. You don’t need 10 bread pans to bless other people, but if you happen to be the kind of person who likes to make bread, then it isn’t wrong to have them. And yes, of course you can serve tea in styrofoam cups and that is better than saying, “I can’t have people at my house because I don’t have enough dishes.” But it actually is nicer to serve tea in cups of you have them.

The same goes for your house. It’s not just for you. Hospitality is a big deal for the children of God. When you welcome someone into your living space, you touch them in a way that nothing else does. You are saying that you really do want to get to know them, and that you care about them. You are sharing your best stuff, and maybe you’re letting them see your worst stuff.

That’s what your stuff is for: to use and bless. Human nature being what it is, there seem to be plenty of ways to be selfish. If you find yourself hoarding your good things in the closets so you don’t need to feel obligated to share, saving the butter for yourself and serving margarine to others, so to speak, well, then give the old heart a check.

If you can’t bear the idea of feet on your new carpet, scuffs on your baseboards, or smudges on your towels, prepare the old heart for a lonely existence.

If you find yourself mourning the things that break more than caring about how sad the person feels who accidentally broke them, then give the old heart another check. Teach it to hold things with an open hand.

If you have all the things in your kitchen that you need to cook lovely things, but you are too busy drool-scrolling through other people’s gorgeous kitchens, then just lay the old phone down and go bake some cookies to give away.

You can own lots of things. Just make sure you live generously with your things! Don’t bury them in a museum where they look nice and stay unchipped and unstained and worthless.

********

I had this in the drafts folder for a long time. Last week I took it out and dusted it, plumped it up and shined its face. That very day I had a conversation with a friend, and out of the blue she said many of the things I had just written, so I know there are at least two of us. Anybody else out there who can relate?

March

The sun is nervous

As a kite

That can’t quite keep

Its own string tight.

Some days are fair,

And some are raw.

The timid earth

Decides to thaw.

Shy budlets peep

From twigs on trees,

And robins join

The chickadees.

Pale crocuses

Poke through the ground

Like noses come

To sniff around.

The mud smells happy

On our shoes.

We still wear mittens,

Which we lose.

-John Updike in The 20th Century Children’s Poetry Treasury

I like this, because when I look out the window, I can see an abandoned coat under the monkey tree, a pair of cast away mittens on the neighbor lady’s lawn, a broken toboggan by the garden’s edge and a bike cart with assorted bikes in the lean-to of the garden shed.

I see bits of fly away pampas grass, dead lavender stalks, detritus that the snowplows threw into our lawn, and daffodils shooting up in the sheltered spots.

Some days I step out the door and rush back inside for my insulated coat, and other days the sun really is as benevolent as it looks, and that is just how it is in March.

In March we rake the gravels back out of the lawn onto the lane and severely prune the grapevine and sweep out the accumulation of junk in the playhouse because you never know. We put the skates back into the attic and order seeds and clean up the game closet from the winter’s depredations. In March we feel as though we may need therapy. But in March there is always the possibility that Tomorrow May Be Fine!

A Question

I have a son (not mentioning names here or anything) who baffles me and delights me and makes me howl with laughter and irritates me terribly by turns.

How is it that the person who last brushed his teeth “the day after tomorrow” (he was serious) can tell me long involved stories about the digestive processes of owls?

How can a child who forgot every day where his seat was at the table even though it never changed, be able to show me the perfect little chef delineated by Minnesota, Wisconsin, and so on, ending with the Kentucky frying pan where he is making chicken?

And today when I told him to put the gloves away “where they belong”, he said, “I am going to need latitude and longitude for that.” Yet he could quote verbatim a long Calvin and Hobbes comic strip.

Can somebody tell me what is up with that?

Can somebody tell me whether I should continually pull him ruthlessly back to reality and the job at hand, or should I laugh and let it go?

About that Oobleck I Mentioned

Here it is, but take it from me and just don’t do it. See, it sounds so deceptively simple. My boys stirred the 1 1/2 cups of water into the 16 oz. of cornstarch and suddenly it all seized up. “Hey, this isn’t working! It said to knead it together with your hands.” Naturally I plunged my hands into the mass to knead it and instantly got a traumatic flashback from years gone by.

Back then I was working part time at a bulk food store and occasionally there was a need to scoop corn starch from a large bag into smaller sized bags for the shelf. The first time I was assigned that job, I scooped right into the powdery stuff. It squeaked and felt silky and hard at the same time and my every hair stood on end in horror. I was too embarrassed to tell my boss that I would rather do anything else, please just let me wash up the floors on my hands and knees. Anything else. That day I got cornstarch overload and I got really good at being busy whenever it needed to be bagged again. Anytime a recipe calls for cornstarch, I am very, very careful with spooning it out. I get a nasty little chill just stirring a few tablespoons into liquid.

But after reading how neat this stuff is, today I dug my fingers into the oobleck, then shuddered and quickly went to the sink to wash the mass off my hands. The children found it terribly fascinating, how it gelled and wept and turned mysteriously solid by turns. I let them make a huge mess all over the kitchen because I knew cornstarch washes up very easily. My oldest son couldn’t believe I tolerated the drippings and spills. He got a spatula and tried valiantly to keep it in one spot on the table, to corral it into a bowl, just anything to contain it. “Mama! They even have it on the wall! Make them stop.” He was nearly frantic so I reassured him and sent him out of the room until the little girls were done having fun. They tiptoed into the bathroom for a full scrub down and then I cleaned the kitchen for the second time today.

This is one “neat” experiment that is definitely not for the faint of heart. I guess next time we probably will just pass on it.

Interrupting Myself

I should be cleaning the cornstarch play goo off the kitchen table and floor, but first I wish to describe to you the meandering journey I sometimes make through the house.

It is 10 A.M.

The scholars are schooling, the littles have a snack to feed their dolls and now I need to Get Something Done, AKA Beat Aside the Chaos.

I start with the bathroom, because for me personally, chaos in the bathroom is terribly disheartening.

One boy already took the dirty laundry downstairs for me, but he dribbled a few socks and missed the towels hanging on the hooks, so I pick them up and take them down to add to the laundry piles.

I notice that one load is finished washing, throw it into the dryer, put in another load.

Oh, I am low on soap, need to write that on the grocery list.

I look over the shoulders of students, correct sloppy handwriting, encourage accuracy in math.

On the way back upstairs, I see that the tot has taken all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books off the shelf again, and I put them back into their spot.

Hey! There is that extra owl button I need to replace the one we lost so I put it in a safe place.

I am walking past the freezers so I think about supper, naturally, and take out a pack of hamburger.

I hear a squabble in the girls’ room, drop the burger into the sink, and go to settle it.

Sit here, little girl, and look at these books. And you, sit over there and look at those books.

Okay. Where was I?

Oh, the bathroom!

Yeah, the toothpaste splatters on the mirrors are really getting to me. I wash them off.

As long as I am cleaning glass surfaces, I might as well go shine the appliances, especially the spot on the dishwasher where gravy dribbled last night at supper.

Speaking of gravy, I should use that leftover gravy with meatballs tonight instead of making a spaghetti sauce.

I check the cupboard for rice. Almost out. Shopping list.

What was that other thing I was going to write down?

I can’t remember for anything! Oh well, it will come to me.

Hey, is that a trail of ants carrying off crumbs?

Get the broom, quickly!

I am gonna have to set outsome traps again.

I open the closet door, nearly get beaned on the head by my box of household tools.

“Boys!” I have a few choice admonitions for them on getting a stool to put the tools properly back on the shelf so that other unsuspecting folks don’t get hammered and wrenched when all they wanted was an ant trap.

I set the trap carefully in a spot only readily accessible by ants.

There is a hair bow under the table. I pick it up and take it to the bathroom.

I am right back where I started.

A half hour has passed and I have been very busy, but it doesn’t look as thought I have accomplished anything, really, except to cause myself to feel a little dizzy.

I don’t think I am ADD. At least I didn’t use to be. I used to pride myself on being so efficient I took my own breath away. 🙂

I think that I get so used to being interrupted that I even do it to myself. This goes way beyond multitasking to plain downright silly. I sort of hope I am not the only one who does this.

I am trying to stop it; I am trying to be more productive.  I have to discipline myself to actually, literally stay in a room until I am done with it. I pile all the stuff that doesn’t belong in that room outside the door. Then I pick up one pile and take it to its home and stay there until I have done all that needs to be done there before I go back for another pile. I can’t tell you how hard it is to break the habit of suspending what I am doing to pursue yet another partial trail.

Wait… Am I hearing someone in the candy bowl?

Be Kind to Everything and Don’t Say “Stupid”

Nap time. It is so restful when the time comes to settle down quietly after a strenuous morning of striving to be nice to  each other despite… everything. That includes the slow start in school, with a wrestling match that abruptly vanished without a trace as soon as my feet hit the staircase to go down to the schoolroom.  By the time I hit the bottom step, the boys were busily pulling out math books. It also includes juggling Learning to Read, spelling word lists, grammar quizzes, and laundry for a few hours, secure in the knowledge that the two smallest ones were sweetly playing babies in their room.  Later I discovered that in the course of the morning  they were also skinning a cucumber and feasting on it in the top bunk bed; they were peeling oranges in the living room; they were eating a lot of sliced lunchmeat and graham crackers. For some reason, they still ate salad like starved bunnies with a ranch dressing love affair at lunchtime. One would think there has been naught but bread and water for days if one didn’t distinctly recall feeding them quite often and well.

So yes, naptime: when all efforts of goodness and mischief are suspended for a while. It is my favorite time of day every day when I lie beside my two year old until she falls asleep. Much of the day I am too distracted to listen closely to the piping little voice that is Addy, but at naptime she unwinds by saying every thought that enters her little head until suddenly she conks, just like that. I get much amusement out of her chatter. There are only seconds between each of these bits of  confidences.

I like dogs, mama. Do you like dogs?”

Mmmhmm.

Little dogs. Not big dogs. Do you like big dogs?

Hhhmmm.

We just like little dogs, right, Mama?

I have lots of excuses, Mama.

I’m sorry.  I’m a little tired in the bed.

Mmmhmm. Me too.

Lollipops are sour, Mama.

But we don’t have any lollipops, do we, Mama?

Huhuh.

Maybe I could have some candy when I wake up?

That would be fun.

We don’t have any candy, do we, Mama?

Do you like candy?

You shouldn’t snip yourself. You might get hurt.

And then you would cry. You would cry for a bandaid.

Do you know where the bandaids are, Mama?

Mmmhmm.

When I have a bleeding owie, I cry for a bandaid.

And then I need a Mama.

If I eat too much toothpaste, I might get sick.

Then I would have to go to the doctor. And pump my belly out.

Yeah. Now shhhh.

(Quiet little whisper) I can talk, Mama.

No kidding.

The Bible says be kind to everything. And don’t hit.

And be kind and don’t say “stupid”.

We like little dogs. But we don’t have a dog.

We just have cats.

Mmmhmm.

And a rabbit at Jakes.

But no dogs, Mama.

Am I your baby, Mama?

Mmmhmm.

Be quiet now.

I love you, Mama.

I love you, too. But no more talking.

Okay, Mama.

ZZZZZZ.

Guest Post from my Son

Gregory wrote this during our deep freeze weather. This is a child who has been known to weep over a one-sentence journal entry, so I was a bit surprised at the rapidly scratching pencil. When I read his story, I remembered what he shared with me just a few days ago. “Mama, if I daydream all day long for about 3 weeks, do you know what happens?” Of course, I knew some things that happen, like a very exasperated mother trying to get his attention, but actually, I didn’t know. “Well, if I do enough daydreaming, I don’t dream at night! It’s like I used up all the dreams!” It does make sense, doesn’t it? I give you his story, titled:

The Polar Regoin

I knew it would be a very unusual day. When I woke up and felt how cold the floor was. I walked over and opened the door and saw before my astoinished eyes a……… penguin demolishing an icicle!!!

I heard a growl. And looked over and locked eyes with a polar bear! My first thought was (I knew my dad had got lost wen we moved!) fortunately I had a baseball bat at my side!

To bad he didn’t have time to tell his fellow bears about the strange thing on two legs with a stick that he swung on him nearly nocking his head off! (I did nock his head off!)

I guessed the bat was going 90 miles an hour.

Then I woke up! To bad.

Why I Need Coffee Today

This morning I stirred a bit and mumbled a good bye when Gabe left for work at 5:15. It may have been a little while before I got up and thought about the day. This is what I thought, “I need coffee. Nice and strong. Coffee.” I have a percolator just like this, and I really like it because it fits into my cupboard, thus saving valuable counter space. When I picked up the stem thingy that holds up the cup for the grounds, I discovered that the spring thingy that keeps the cup at just the right level so that the hot water runs over the grounds and not straight down the sides was missing. Wait, what did I just explain? Oh, yes, the spring was missing, which causes the end-result of coffee to be weak and sorry.

So there was nothing for it but to ask the children, one of whom was already awake and said she saw Gregory playing with it. Here is what I did. I woke Gregory and he said, “No, it was Rita, and she was playing with it when she was making stuff with clay and all I did was put it back on the counter.” I kneaded the clay, but didn’t find the missing part. Rita was still pretty sleepy, but she insisted that she had no idea where the spring went. I gave up on their dubious trail of breadcrumbs and brewed without the spring. It was weak and sorry. When Alex emerged for breakfast, he remembered having played with the spring last night before we went to church. I assured him that he would be spending some time looking for it before school.

Everybody ate their eggs and toast like the chipper little devouring chickies that they are. All except me, since you may recall that I am on a diet that says toast is bad. Coffee, yes, toast, no. And then Alex did find the spring and he also gathered the dirty laundry, of which there was a considerable amount, what with church twice yesterday. There were also a number of perfectly clean things that got chucked into the girls’ hamper when someone zealously cleaned up their room.

We started school with me checking the last three days’ worth of assignments and especially tests. I discovered that my 6th grade boy totally did not get the chapter in History on the government with its three main branches and numerous obscure sub-branches, therefore bombing the test. I feel really bad about this because I had planned to tutor him on it before he does the test, since he had also bombed the quiz, but I forgot and what’s more: I never really understood it myself. DVD school does not fix all problems, that is for sure. There was also the little matter of skipped stuff in math lessons for both boys, necessitating penalties and a pep talk.

The wind is not in my sails this morning, so I am at a dead-calm, sitting in the water, writing. I have encountered 2 little clay snakes placed in strategic locations by my second boy and I have not even blinked, much less screamed. This is his idea of a joke, but it isn’t working on a half-asleep mom with only weak coffee. I am on the third load of laundry, resolutely plowing through the loads, grateful for a dryer on this damp and raw day.

Eventually I will deal with the watery tea party that the little girls set up on the sofa while I was busy checking tests and feeling bad. We will likely be sitting on towels for a few days. I will put away the dishes that they cleared out of the dishwasher and I will supervise a major clean-up of all areas, but especially the places where I like to walk. Tripping does tend to hamper progress and frustrate productivity, I have found. In due course I will fix my bed and figure out lunch and dinner.

Probably what I will do next is go fix the children mochas with the weak coffee and I will put whipped cream on top. They will think it is amazing and give me lots of compliments. I may just feel a gust of airy ambition flowing toward me; the sails are starting to flap.

Anybody else need coffee today?

Occupational Hazards of Parenting

About the time my first born turned two, old enough to trundle things around, we became aware of a facet of parenting that we hadn’t considered before. It became clear to us that we would have to become comfortable with mystery. Up till then, the screws had their own designated spot in the organized utility drawer, the flashlights stayed in the closet, the pens in the tin can designated for pens, not pencils or markers or stray tinker toys. Oh lovely adage: a place for everything and everything in its place. Now five children later, the mysteries have deepened and surround all of life.

It is a little exasperating that, despite having very keen hearing and the use of a proverbial set of eyes in the back of my head, I simply do not always catch on. It is humbling to acknowledge that they probably are smarter and faster than I am.

When I was a child, our family would kneel at the couch to pray every evening at bedtime. The little ones would kneel beside our parents and my brother Nate and I got the outside edges. We hit upon a conspiracy to back slowly into the middle of the living room while my dad was praying, then creep forward again, suppressing giggles. I don’t know how many times we did this before we got found out but I do remember how daring it felt to do something so utterly unapproved of and be undiscovered. Boy, did we ever think we pulled it over our parents.

Now our children do it to us, and sometimes it is funny and sometimes it is really irritating. Just the time we think we have things figured out, they change it up on us. I give you Conundrums in the Kitchen:

Just yesterday you hated tomatoes, and today you are picking them off the salad before I get any. What is up with that?

Why is there a can of worms in the fridge?

Who drank my coffee?

How come it isn’t possible to eat a cookie without 299 crumbs on the floor?

Who let the cat(s) into the house?

How did that box of Cheezits get empty so fast?

Then there are the Black Hole Mysteries:

Does anybody know what happened to Rita’s fuzzy brown boots?

If you had five pairs of undies last week, they must still be somewhere. ???

Where in the world did that Popular Mechanics library book go?

What can possibly have happened with my sister’s prized Cricut cartridge?

Where is all the toilet paper going?

Has anyone seen my driving gloves?

I also have a category of Generally Inscrutable Events:

Who splattered the bathroom mirror with toothpaste?

How did the new colored pencils get so short?

Why are there rocks in your bed?

How can you possibly be hungry when we just ate supper an hour ago?

How did we bring home “Baby Easter Bunny” from the library without my knowledge?

Where did you learn that word?

How do you know how to type and print a document?

What happened to the chocolate chips that were on the pantry shelf?

When did you get so tall?

And last, but not least, there are the Lovely Surprises:

What did I do to deserve a child who loves to sort all those screws and thumbtacks and assorted beads and marbles in the utility drawer?

Who passed on the cleaning gene to the little girl who runs for the vacuum cleaner when the house is a wreck?

How is it that the child who ate all the chocolate is so adorable in his contrition?

Who can resist the mischief-maker who cuts hair, snips sheets, shears stuffed animals, and doles out hugs that nearly crack the ribs?

How can the baby of the crew be so grown up and articulate, yet such a total mush pot who wants to be rocked with her blanket?

How could this life get any more interesting?

EDIT… One final whodunit:

Who published this post before I was done?

Overheard at my House

The 4 year old: I feel deep down in my heart that I am a big girl.

Little A: But, Mama, I already went potty… last week!

G: I tell you, Alex, skunks are not related in any way to civets!

A: So why do they have musk glands?

G: I don’t know, but I read it in the encyclopedia! No matter what anybody says!

O. haltingly sounding out: The… bad… pig… sat… on… the… cat. Hahahaha.

R. out of the blue: You know what? I am gonna be true to the end!

Me: True to what?

R: To God, of course!

Two little girls looking at an American Girl doll catalog: We will probably never get dolls like this…But sometimes when little girls don’t beg and just be sweet, they get what they want for Christmas.

R. dreamily: There must be something inside us, like in our hearts, that makes us just love things.

G: If anybody ever says they want a female cat, we could just tell them our story.

Me: I love my life!