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  • Fifty Ways To Leave Your Clutter

    September 14, 2013

    There are two kinds of people in the world.  Those whose clutter makes them feel secure and gives them comfort.  And those whose clutter gives them anxiety.

    I fall into the second category.  I feel overwhelmed by too much.

    My mother and my husband fall into the first category.  This is a problem.  Not for them, but for me.  People who enjoy clutter are seldom bothered by those who do not.  At least until their clutter goes missing.

    My mother’s house is one (of many) reasons I fled Illinois at the age of 20 and moved to Texas — to find some wide open uncluttered space, albeit in a 350-square foot apartment.  All I owned at the time was a box of coat hangers so clutter was not a problem.  My husband, on the other hand, with that whole until death do us part thing, I can’t really just move to another state.  So I gotta figure something out.

    Let it be said first and foremost, that I love my mother with all of my heart.  I love her and I admire her.  I just can’t be in her house for more than a day.  People love to drop by and visit my mother’s house, the door is always open and the coffee pot always on, but growing up in her house was stressful for me.  There was never any place to set anything down, you couldn’t ever find what you needed and if you did happen to find it, you would knock over or spill something in the process of getting to it and then once you had it in your hands, there was no place to set it down.

    On the contrary, I could go out to the garage, my father’s domain, and every nut and bolt was stored neatly together by size and clearly labeled. And that made me feel happy and peaceful and as though all was well in the world.  Everything had a place and when not in use, was right there, in its happy little place.  My dad and I were alike and he was very happily married to my mother who is like AD — so I know a mixed marriage can work.  Somehow.  On the other hand my dad was a really easy going guy, a go with the flow sort of guy and I don’t believe anyone has ever described me that way.

    Let it also be said that I love my husband, but for the past 15 years I have slowly given up on trying to keep order and have succumbed to drowning in his clutter.  But recently it has become apparent to me that the disorder and clutter that I had come to accept was causing chaos in our lives and that chaos created a lingering gray cloud of unhappiness and strife.  We were always cross with one another.   We were living in a constant state of emergency, constantly running late, never able to find anything because 90% of our space was being occupied by stuff that we don’t use, won’t use, can’t use and don’t love.  And I felt some resentment about that and that resentment further contributed to the collective unhappy.  Resentment never adds to happy, does it?

    And more than anything in this whole world, I want a peaceful house and a happy family – so some changes are in order.

    You might think that one day I snapped and said, no more, but that’s not really what  happened, although that’s usually how things go with me.  What happened was that one day I decided to work on me, to do what I could with de-cluttering and bringing order to my own small realm, bit by bit, day by day.

    My guiding philosophy to de-cluttering and bringing order is this:  Do I use it? Do I love it?  If the answer is no to both of these questions, then it has to go.  Clutterers will say, no I don’t love it, and I can’t use it, but it’s good, somebody might need this, someday I might need this.  I say, if it is good and useful, give it to someone who will use it right now, not some day.  Hanging on to stuff until it is no longer usable by anyone is one of the defining characteristics of hoarding.

    I started by de-cluttering my on-line life.  (My friend Karla writes about that here.)  I had numerous email accounts.  I closed most of them.  I closed on-line accounts and unsubscribed to email lists and blog feeds.  I had a number of web sites; I pared them down to three.  I got a password manager so all my passwords would be in one place.  And that’s the key to bringing order to life:  cut out the unnecessary and unused and put all similar items together in one place.

    One day I woke up and the silk plants were on my nerves.  They were dusty, and truth be told, I never liked fake greenery.  So I got a garbage bag and went around the house and gathered them up and ruthlessly tossed them in, I maybe even tossed them in with a little therapeutic force. Such a small thing, but it felt amazing to have them gone.

    One day I woke up and all the magazines and books were on my nerves.  So I culled out the books I love and use and the rest I boxed up and sold to Half Price Books or sent to charity.  Text books from college did not need to occupy space in my life, nor did magazines or newspapers.  Listen up people, if you haven’t read an article within one month of the publication date, it’s probably out of date.  And even if it isn’t, you can find it on the information highway.

    One day I woke up and sifted through my closet.  I pulled out 50% of my clothes and shoes and purses and sent them to charity. I had stuff in my closet that I had not worn in three years, or even10 years, and in some cases probably 30 years — and I wasn’t going to ever wear that stuff ever again.  Several months later I weeded out again.  I could still get rid of another 50% of my clothes and have more clothes than a girl needs.  I keep a box in my closet and when I try something on and it doesn’t work, into the box it goes.  When the box gets full, I take a second glance just to make sure and then I send it off.  Now I have a little space between my clothes as they hang peacefully in the closet and I can see exactly what I have.  I no longer go out and buy another white shirt because I know what I have.

    One day I woke up and Sean’s toys were on my nerves. So I sorted through them and chunked all the fast food toys and broken toys.  I stored all the toys in the attic that he had outgrown but that we still have a sentimental attachment.  Maybe in another year, we won’t feel sentimental towards those things and we’ll pass them along.  It’s always good to re-visit and re-evaluate the things you have stashed away.

    One day I woke up and my medicine cabinet was on my nerves. I tossed out all the expired prescriptions.  I put all the band-aids together in one space, all the tummy medicine in one space, all the other like medicines together.  I must have had six boxes of Benedryl.  Because our allergies are that bad? No, because I could never find the Benedryl so I would go out and buy more.

    The next day I purged my make-up drawer and the drawer I keep brushes and combs in.  I threw out bottles of lotion that had gone bad and probably weren’t good to begin with.

    I threw out all the hotel soaps and shampoos we had hoarded over the years.  And we have travelled a lot so we had a very large supply. But let’s face it.  If you don’t use them at the hotel, why would you use them at home?  You won’t. Don’t bring them home.

    I plan to go through my paper photos and pull out the good ones and throw out the rest. There is no reason to keep a blurry photo of the ceiling.  I will organize my pared down collection of good photos in an orderly way so that I can actually enjoy them instead of looking at a massive box of photos and feel so overwhelmed that I just shove it back on the shelf.

    The process of de-cluttering the whole house overwhelmed me for so long that I just couldn’t get started, it was easier to let it go another day, and then all those days turned into years.  I think what happened for me naturally, just focusing on paring down one item at a time, starting with something like dusty fake greenery that didn’t require an emotional decision, helped make it doable and helped to get me started.  And it felt so good that it wasn’t hard to keep going and I realized I didn’t have to do it all at once.

    I’m just getting started.  I have got a long way to go, but I am on a mission to bring order to my house and peace and happy to my family and I’m going to do it, one box at a time.

    * * *

    Instead of 50 ways to leave your clutter, how about 101?  If you are interested in simplifying and minimizing your life, Becoming Minimalist is a great place to start. 

    Wishing You A Very Antique Valentine’s Day

    February 14, 2013

    retro.valentine.4W

    I found a package of unopened Valentine cards from what looks like the 1960’s in an antique store a year or so ago and I fell in love with them.  I didn’t know what I would do with them, I just wanted them, so I bought them and stashed them away with the other retro stuff I randomly buy.

    I guess I love these cards because they are innocent and sweet and cheesy – the things I think Valentine’s Day should be for kiddos and I still long for.  Is that when you are officially old?  When you start longing for things to be like when you were growing up?  I think so.

    Yesterday, I had to pick up a box of Valentine cards for Sean to take to school today and as I stood there trying to choose among the unlovely and the even more unlovely, I thought about these cute little retro card with their cheesy messages.  I stood in front of the wall of Valentine cards for a long time not because there were so many great choices, but because all the choices made me shake my head.  Celebrity-themed? Movie-tie-in-themed?  Warrior-themed? Weird animated character-themed? No. No. No and no.

    I ended up buying a box of extreme sports-themed cards only because they were one of the few that did not include tattoos.  The House of Antique does not dig tattoos. Sean sighed and said an unenthusiastic thank you when I handed him the box.  He was not thrilled with my choice.  When I told him I could have picked up a package of pretty princess-themed cards his mood brightened one degree above cloudy.

    Or I could have handed him this box of retro cards which would really launch him into the stratosphere of cool.  Among antique mommies.

    Happy Valentine’s Day to all my readers.  You are some of my most favorite people.

     

    Steve

    October 6, 2011

    I remember when I was 16, seeing the cover of some magazine that featured Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.  Actually I don’t really remember if Wozniak was on the cover or not, all I remember is thinking that Steve Jobs is really cute!   I also remember thinking, wow, he’s just a few years older than me, so young to be so rich and successful.  And then, “I wonder if he has a girlfriend…”

    Steve never became my real life boyfriend, but he’s always been my pretend techno-geek boyfriend.  I’ve always had a crush on him, I’ve always had a thang for smart geeky guys.

    Steve changed the world in many ways, not the least of which, he showed the world that geeks can be hot and that being a geek can be a cool thing.

    But the biggest way he changed the world is in how we communicate and stay connected, how we learn and how we process creativity.

    When the news broke yesterday that Steve Jobs had died, I read different reports on his life and what various people had to say about him. They talked about all he had accomplished and how he changed the world with his products.  And it’s true, because of the products he envisioned and brought to market, people can do more in less time, be more creative, share more, connect more, learn more.  I am one of those people.

    I’ve always been a big fan of the “i” products and recently splurged on an iPad2 for Sean and I.  We love it with a deep intensity and use it all the time.  I have loaded it up with educational games for him and photography and design apps for me and just all kinds of fun and cool stuff.

    Last night Sean and I went out for an early dinner at Chili’s.  He confiscated the cardboard coasters off several nearby tables so that we had a deck of about 20.  While we waited for our food we tried stacking the coasters in different configurations to see what kind of load-bearing structures we could make and how much weight they could bear.  Answer:  Triangle structures can bear the weight of a drinking straw – if you hold your breath and no one bumps the table. When we got bored with that, we divided up the coasters.  I asked him spelling and math questions and if he answered right, he got one of my cards; if he answered wrong, I took one of his cards.  Very low tech, but fun for geeky geeks like us and just a tad educational.  But most importantly, we were engaged.

    As Sean and I were playing our silly made-up coaster games, I noticed a mom and little girl in the booth across the way.  The mom was staring into her iPhone and the little girl was watching something on her iPad, both bathed in the glow of their devices, a separation of less than two feet, but worlds apart.  I am not making a judgment here, just an observation. I realize there are many many reasons why a mom might need to decompress and veg out and that I have no idea what she’s dealing with.  But I will say that AD and I have taken note of how often we see this when we go out, families out to eat together, but not together – silent and zombie-like, the face and spirit of each lit up by their personal device.

    I thought about Steve Jobs and how everyone is talking about how he changed the way we live for the better, that we are better connected than ever.  But, I have to wonder, if perhaps in other ways, we are not changed for the better, if our beloved devices are more of a wedge than a bridge, if we are not more connected than ever, but more disconnected than ever.

    What do you think?

     

    * * *
    Addendum:  Found this post along the same lines from Jon Acuff who writes Stuff Christians Like: http://www.jonacuff.com/blog/how-to-improve-your-marriage-instantly/

     

    Cat Challenged

    January 29, 2011

    Many many moons ago, when our first set of next door neighbors lived next door (we are now on neighbors #3 which may or may not have something to do with us) they asked me if I would feed their cats while they were in Hawaii.

    I said yes because it’s not in my nature to turn down a request for help.  And I thought they meant “feed” the cats.  How hard can it be to walk next door and pour some food in a bowl?  But since I had not owned a cat since I was three, I didn’t understand the full implications — feed the cat is code for change the litter box.

    So a day before they were to leave for Hawaii, they called me over for my cat-feeding training.  When she took me to the guest bath off the kitchen, I started to get the idea that maybe this could involve something more than pouring food into a bowl.

    “This!” she said waving her hand Vanna-style towards a plastic washtub on the floor, “This is the litter box!” Then she proceeded to instruct me in the fine art of poop scooping.

    Although this was not what I thought I had signed up for, I couldn’t exactly back out. I had been duped like a trusting two-year-old.

    So about a day after they left, I went over to “feed” the cats.  They (the cats) ran out to greet me.  They were happy to see me and mewed and purred and affectionately rubbed up against me and serpentined between my legs as I tried to walk.  The litter box was not too terribly atrocious in my estimation, so I held my nose and scooped poo, poured some food in their bowl, patted them on their little kitty heads and went on my merry way.  This wasn’t going to be so bad, and bonus – I’ll get a star in my crown.

    About a day after that I went back for my second visit.  This time the cats did not come out to greet me but rather cowered in dark corners and hissed at me as I walked past.  I went to the guest bath for the scooping portion of the visit and good glory, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  They had dumped over the litter box, shredded the rug and shower curtain, pee’d all over everything and had apparently made a clumsy attempt at using the toilet paper.  These were some mad cats.  Vindictive too.  Some words immediately sprung to mind, all of them four-letter.  So much for that star in my crown.

    I cleaned it up as best I could and took the shower curtain and rug home to wash.  Here’s a tip. If a cat pee’s on something?  Throw it away.  Three washings later and the rug and curtain still smelled like the garbage dump from hell.

    For the remainder of my active duty, I ran in and scooped and fed as fast as I could and then ran out before they shredded me.  I was afraid. Very afraid.  They were plotting against me, I could feel it in my bones.

    That was about 10 years ago, and memories fade, so when my friend Jennifer asked me to feed her cat while her family went skiing over Christmas, I of course said yes. How hard can it be to feed a cat?

    When she called me over to give me feeding instructions and walked me to the laundry room, I had a flashback.

    “This!” she said waving her hand Vanna-style, “This is the litter box!”  This was no ordinary litter box. This was the Rolls Royce of litter boxes.  It cleaned itself automatically and had moving parts and sensors.  It was nicer than my car.  And it was idiot proof, or at least it was until I came along.  She said I shouldn’t need to do anything because the box does it all automatically, but if does need to be changed, do this and this and this and put in a tray and then do this.  And at that point, I sort of blanked out in the same way I do when someone starts talking about percentages and fractions and information that I don’t think I need.

    So about a day later I went over to feed the cat.  The cat ran out to greet me, mewed, purred and walked between my legs.

    On the second visit, the cat hid in a corner and hissed at me as I walked past.  And the Rolls Royce litter box seemed to be on the blink.  So I scooped and said four-letter words in my head and got out of there as fast as I could.

    On the third visit, I noticed that when I went in that the door from the house to the garage was open.  No worries, I figured that it popped open when I opened the garage door as sometimes happens at our house.

    So I go in and call for the cat, scoop and feed. The cat makes no appearance, but I figure she hates my guts and can’t stand the sight of me. And Jennifer said that she sometimes hides, so I left it at that and went home.

    About two hours later, this horrifying thought occurs to me:  What if the door to the garage popped open when I left on the second visit and the cat was not hiding in the house but was in the garage when I arrived?  Since I left the garage door OPEN when I was calling/feeding/scooping, perhaps the cat availed herself of the opportunity to escape the hell that is having me feed her and scoop her poop.

    And that horrifying thought was followed by this even more horrifying thought:  I don’t really know what Jennifer’s cat looks like.  Being able to identify Jennifer’s cat was one of those things that fell into the category of “stuff I don’t really need to know”.

    And then even more horrifying thoughts followed:  How am I going to find a cat that I can’t identify? What if I find a cat slinking around Jennifer’s house and I force it inside and it’s not even her cat?   And then she comes home to a new cat?

    So I go back over to Jennifer’s house to find the cat.  She has most of the doors closed off, so if it is there, it can only be in a few places.  I call and call and call for the cat. I search and search and search every possible place for the cat.  But NO CAT.  So I went home distraught over the fact that my friendship with Jennifer has ended.

    As I sat at my desk, trying to order the horrifying thoughts and figure out how I am going to tell Jennifer that I lost her cat, I get an email from her saying how her girls were crying because they really miss the cat.  I had a problem.  A big problem.  And so I did what I always do when I have a problem, I turn to the ultimate problem solver – AD.

    AD takes command and control of the situation and launches Operation Find The Cat.  He orders Sean and me to go with him back to Jennifer’s house for a search and rescue.  First we do a reconnaissance of the property, even though we have no idea what the cat looks like.  Our plan is to capture all the cats we can find and then we’ll line them all up and figure out which one is most likely to be Jennifer’s cat.  No cats were found on or near the exterior of the property, so we then systematically search the garage and the inside of the house.

    Finally, after 30 minutes of calling and searching, hand-wringing and brow-beating, Sean finds the stupid cat hiding behind the curtains in the guest room.  The cat smirks at me and hisses.  I stick my tongue out at the cat and we leave. I breathe a sigh of relief.  My friendship with Jennifer has been saved.  At least until she reads this.

    So while I am perfectly capable of watching your kid while you are gone, please do not ask me to “feed your cat.”

    Things I Falsely Believe

    January 13, 2011

    Random, Stray and Otherwise Unassigned Thoughts:

    If I could just find the right color of blush I wouldn’t look so washed out.

    Someday I will find the “right” haircut and I’ll have fabulous easy to do hair that always looks great.

    Jeans are comfortable.

    My kid is astonishingly smarter/cuter/funnier than all the other kids.

    My seven-year-old will always be the loving, delightful and polite little fella he is today.

    My husband forgets to take out the trash on purpose.

    If I get it on sale, I’m saving money.

    I can still shop in Juniors.

    Everyone else has it together/knows what they’re doing.

    Fun-sized Snickers are a healthy nutritious snack.

    Someday I will get rid of The Mole.

    And then I will have a beautiful Southern Living yard.

    Coffee counts towards my daily 8-glasses of water because it’s made with water.

    That weird smell coming from the sink disposal is probably nothing.

    What I Did On My Summer Vacation

    July 19, 2010

    Hi everyone! I’m just going to write some stuff down here, not edit or make the words pretty or tie it up nice and neat at the end or that kind of thing, so go ahead right now and lower your expectations. Okay, just a little lower. There.

    Now.

    First, thanks so much to all y’all (Texas to English translation: everyone) who noticed my lengthy absence and sent notes and emails inquiring as to my whereabouts and well-being.  That makes my day.

    I am well, thank you very much, and I am here. I’ve been keeping myself busy enjoying this last summer with my favorite six-year-old before 1st grade begins. I have this feeling that we are about to step through a door, into another time and space, and I don’t want to forget what it was like to be here, where it is so wonderfully bright and secure and easy. There’s going to be no coming back and visiting this little hollow in time and that’s a shame.

    2006, the summer of three.  Oh how I’d like to book a week’s vacation back to three. I’d pay just about anything for a little more of that.

    What exactly have we been doing this summer?  We have been swimming. A lot.  Last year, Sean was still not so crazy about the water, still wanted his water wings and preferred the baby pool, which kinda made me a little crazy. I swam when I was three! How dare he not be like me?! This year, he is a fish. Which confirms my theory on parenting: Don’t over-manage — they will walk/talk/potty train/swim/read when they are darn good and ready. Chill out and enjoy your kid exactly where they are. Everyone will be much happier that way.

    We also do some school work every day. There. Now you you can tell your kids that you are in fact not the meanest mom ever, Antique Mommy is. Yes, I know, it’s summer, but here’s my deal: I don’t care.   Because I am just mean like that. After Little Dude completes the math and phonics worksheets I give him (which he secretly enjoys, I’m quite sure) and a little reading, he gets 30 minutes of approved-TV time or Angry Birds time when the sun is nigh and land of Texas miserable. If he does it without complaining, he gets 40 minutes. If he tells me I’m the prettiest mom in town, he gets 45 minutes.

    What else? We play a lot of Legos, we cook, me make costumes, we make stuff out of boxes, we read, we swim, we make it up as we go along and then we start over the next day. Boring to some, perhaps, but it’s all the ingredients we need for a magical last summer before we walk through the door to 1st grade, maybe one that we’ll remember and long to visit again some day.

    What are you doing with your summer?

    Feminism, Gas Pumps and Clock Batteries

    May 25, 2010

    The other day I was out running errands and I had to stop and put gas in my car.  Filling the tank with gas is not my favorite task, but I’m an independent modern girl and I put gas in my own car.  But honestly?  I’d rather not and am happy to get out of doing it whenever I can. I don’t know why. It just seems to me that the men folk should have to pump the gas, take out the trash, remove the dead geckos from the shower and other duties as assigned. When it comes down to it, I’m old-fashioned.

    I see that all the pumping stations are occupied, so I pull up behind my favorite pump and wait for it to become available.  Gas pumps are like bathroom stalls — you have your favorite one, you know you do and why it is your favorite defies explanation, but it is the one you go to when need arises.

    So then…

    I’m sitting in my car waiting for my pump to become available and I’m taking note of all the stories going on at the gas station this morning.  In particular, I notice this elderly couple get out of their car and make their way around to the pump.  As is sometimes said, if they were moving any slower they woulda been going backwards.

    The little Mrs. was apparently the driver.  She is the first to get out of the car. She is dressed very crisply in her lavender stretch pants, matching blouse and never-committed-even-a-venial-sin bright white Keds.  She weighs all of 98-pounds.  I am guessing by the scarf she is wearing tied under her chin that she has recently been to what she would probably term the “beauty parlor” where the “beauty operator” washed and set her hair.  Just so.  I also suppose that her beauty operator is named Velma and has been doing hair since 1949.

    At any rate, the elderly lady gets out of her car, makes her way around to the other side of the car where she opens the door and helps an elderly gentleman out of the car. I assume he is her husband. She manages to maneuver him into his walker, the kind with the tennis balls on the front, and together they work their way around the car to the pump.  Together with great time and effort, he puts gas in her car. Because by cracky, as long as that man has breath in his lungs, she will not pump the gas.  Whether is it she who will not pump the gas or he who will have not have his wife pumping gas I can’t quite tell, but I can tell that’s how it is for them.

    It was almost painful to watch and part of me wanted to jump out of my car and pump their gas, but I didn’t.  I could have done that small thing for them – easily – but it seemed an intrusion of sorts and in this day of age, they would have probably found it more frightening than helpful. So I sat and watched.

    Later, I stopped in at one of my favorite boutiques and purchased a small clock for a gift.  The sales clerk, who appeared to be the same age as my mother, was very kind and helpful. I asked her if the clock had a battery in it. She said that the clock came with a battery but that it was not in the clock. She added that I would have to have my husband put it in when I got home.

    I laughed to myself and decided that I would have him do that as soon as he gets back from putting gas in my car.

    Things I’m Doing Instead of Blogging

    February 19, 2010

    1. Trying to get a shot of a cardinal. Those little boogers are fast and camera shy. See that little bright red dot? That’s a cardinal.

    Photobucket

    2. Walking the local nature trail with Sean, pretending to be Lewis to his Clark.

    Photobucket

    3. Trying to become one with my camera.  My goal this year is to get off green.  As it is now, I have to think really hard about the settings and dials and exposure values and the other technical stuff.

    4. Writing up a little story I told  Sean the other night while he was in the bathtub.  At school, they are studying the concept of fantasy versus real and he asked me to tell him a fantasty story,  so I made one up on the spot. He said he really liked it, so I’m going to write and illustrate it and make him a little book.

    5. Writing several posts that I can’t seem to get out of my head and into the computer.

    6. Making awesome gourmet grilled sandwiches for my husband.  I am the sandwich making queen, always have been. Ask my dad.

    7.  Working out a little bit, walking and lifting weights.

    8. Playing with Photoshop.

    9. Unloading and reloading the dishwasher.  Shouldn’t there be a limit on how many times a week one has to do this task?

    10. Drinking entirely too much Bigelow’s Vanilla Caramel tea.

    11. Watching the Olympics, critiqueing the figure skating and imagining what it would be like to do some of that trick snowboarding.

    12.  Thinking about all the things I should be doing versus all the things that I want to be doing and considering which will add greater value to my life and how much I can get away with.

    What are you doing?

    Learning To Work

    October 11, 2009

    Some random thoughts on the importance of learning to work.

    * * *

    Back in the olden days, many people bore children to help them work the farm. They needed people to work the land to survive, so they bred them.

    I recently read an interview with AD’s grandmother who was born in the 1890s.  She talked about how she walked behind a plow and picked cotton when she was seven.  It was harsh, but it had to be done.  She had to help, everyone did, that’s just the way it was.  Probably your grandparents or great grandparents did similar work to help the family keep body and soul together.

    Today, children are not expected to walk behind a plow or work in factories.  And that is a good thing. However, in my corner of the world, most children I know are not expected to work at all. They watch TV and play video games and go to lessons while their mothers wait on them hand and foot. And I think that is not so good.

    Early on I decided that Sean is not a prince and I would not be his valet.  I decided that he should learn to pick up after himself and to pitch in — to embrace the concept of work.  And I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve got a lot to learn as a parent, but one thing I have observed in my own child is that the first step in training is to establish the expectation.

    And so I set about establishing this expectation of work.

    When he was around three I showed him how to use the Swiffer mop and how to dust.  He still thinks this is tremendous fun.  I began to teach him how to cook.  When he was four I taught him to set and clear the table. When he was five I taught him how to fold dish towels.  Now that he is almost six, he can fold bath towels fairly well.  I sometimes pay him a penny a towel, sometimes not.

    When I tell him what a big help it is to me that he has folded a basket of towels, he beams.  It is a bigger reward than the two dimes I give him.  His new job is to take the trash and recycling out to the garage.  Next year, we’ll start working on laundry.  My dream is that at some point he will be a man who looks around, sees what needs to be done and does it.

    My point in saying all this is that sometimes we think that children are too small to help or too small to learn how to contribute, but I don’t think that is true.  It is true that most often it is easier to do something myself rather than to take the time to teach little hands. But oh the reward that comes later for both mother and child is a wonderful thing.

    As a not-prince, I have established the expectation that Sean will help me do what needs to be done to make living in this house a pleasant experience — which means if he wants to have a pleasant experience living in this house, he needs to help me do what needs to be done. Sometimes Sean thinks the work is fun and other times he grouses about it. Either way, he knows it is expected and he has to do it.

    Some families choose to do chores and I can see that there is value in that.  For me, because I am not great at keeping track of stuff I would just end up paying him for work he didn’t do and that would be bad because you seldom get paid for doing nothing in the real world.

    For me,  it works better to hire him for certain jobs, or, if he wants to earn some money, he’ll ask me if I have any work for him to do.  I think it’s good for kids to know they are expected to contribute to the keeping of the house but also to be rewarded for their work once in a while.  There are probably as many ways to balance that as there are families.

    If you were to look at the Biblical model, life is six parts work and one part rest. I hope to inspire Sean to strive towards that model.   Work provides purpose and structure and satisfaction.  These things are good.

    * * *

    He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies lacks judgment.  ~Proverbs 12:11

    The Bride Lady

    August 20, 2009

    Back in the late 70s, after I graduated from high school, I worked for an insurance company whose offices are on the edge of a small historical downtown area.

    The particular building that I worked in occupied one city block and was six stories tall, and having been built in the post-modern era, it had windows all the way around, top to bottom, which meant you could see all there was to see. Which wasn’t a whole lot.

    However, on most days you could look out the windows and see a middle-aged woman wearing a tattered wedding dress hurrying down the sidewalk.  She always walked briskly and with purpose as though she were late for her own wedding, her long dingy veil trailing behind her, floating in the wake of her own pungent breeze.  It was a haunting image, and oddly beautiful in a bizarre sort of way, and one that remains vivid in my mind almost 30 years later.

    She was known among those who worked in the building as The Bride Lady.  Everyone had seen The Bride Lady from the windows but no one seemed to know anything about her, what her name was, where she lived or how she became a perpetual bride.

    In all the years I worked in that building and walked in and out and around that building, I never once encountered her face to face. Like a ghost, she just sort of seemed to appear on one end of the sidewalk in a cloud of wedding finery and then seconds later, disappear at the other end. I never saw her anywhere else but from the windows of that building.

    I have not thought of The Bride Lady for a long time, but today as I was driving, I saw a dirty and fraying piece of delicate fabric that had caught on a fence post. It was captivating the way it would lift and waltz in the breeze and then suddenly go limp and rest when the wind disappeared.  There was something about the way the fraying fabric floated and fluttered in the breeze that made me think of The Bride Lady and her veil.

    From six stories up, I was afforded the luxury of participating in her fantastical reality without the burden of confronting her humanity.  From where I stood I did not have to consider that she had unmet needs or a name and a mother — I could simply enjoy the romantic and somewhat comedic notion of a bride speed walking to her wedding.

    From six stories up, she wasn’t crazy and homeless, missing teeth and sharply aromatic.

    From six stories up, she was a beautiful bride in a hurry to meet her groom.

    I often wonder what ever happened to The Bride Lady, if maybe somehow in her fantastical crazy world, she did live happily ever after.

    Or maybe that only happens six stories up.