Get Rid of All The Things!

In preparation for the garage sale our family and neighbors will host this weekend, I've been scouring our house with an eye to throw everything away. I mean this. Nothing is safe.

Last week, for example, I launched an epic cleaning endeavor that targeted the cabinet where roughly eleven thousand mechanical pencils, wooden pencils, colored pencils, broad-tipped markers, fine-tipped markers, scented markers, Crayola crayons, Twistable crayons, Twistable pencils, pens, Sharpies, and other miscellaneous and/or specialty writing utensils have accumulated, and apparently multiplied, in dozens of plastic pencil bins.

Because this is how I spend my down time.

I poured myself a tropical cherry sparkling water, turned out some music, and organized until my heart was content.  Dried-out markers, wrapper-less crayons nubs, and pencils without erasers were tossed.  Dull pencils were sharpened.  Like items were sorted with like items.  Extras were packaged in neat bunches and donated to a new teacher who's starting her first classroom.

 Bit by bit, my exterior world came into more order, and my heart soared a little.

Then I realized that this was just one cabinet, and there we sundry other things -- toys! games! more craft supplies! books! clothes! kitchen things! -- that needed to be sorted, tamed, and reduced.

For the love.  How does this happen?  How does this amount of stuff enter a household?  I prefer to believe that I don't own too many possessions, like it's a mark of sobriety and contentment and not being snared by the materialistic trappings of the world, but fifteen plastic pencil boxes of writing utensils will disabuse you of the illusion that you don't own much.

I'd blame my kids, given that they're chief perpetrators with their craft creations, books, gadgets, school worksheets, and special occasions detritus, like those birthday party goodie bags filled with small plastic gizmos that they love and I want to spontaneously combust, but the truth is, kids really can't bring that much into a house without you letting them.  (Or, if they smuggle things in without you knowing, like the time my girls and the neighbor kids hid a pet frog in our garage in a plastic crate.  It died.  They still feel badly about this.)
But back to the stuff.

Even thought I'm highly organized, I also contribute to mass accumulation.  You see, I'm kind of a hustler.  We live in a transitory town where people -- students, mostly -- leave things on the side of the road when they're moving out.  (We're talking about furniture, home goods, and entirely viable products that, at least in my mind, don't belong on the side of a road destined for a landfill.)

So, I sometimes pick up these cast-away roadside treasures and bring them home, which, as you can imagine, my husband deeply appreciates. Then -- here come the hustling part -- I sell these items FOR PROFIT.  (My husband appreciates this part more.)

That's where we are now.  We've reached critical mass.  The only thing separating us from a garage where we can actually park is a mere 327 sequential pricing decisions (should I charge 50 cents or one dollar for this candle?), and then, during the sale, some strong currents of mental telepathy to the woman who repeatedly returns to the corner table to hold the decorative lantern. Buy it. Buy it. You know you want to buy it.

Because maybe she'll take it home and treasure it forever.  Or, just maybe, she'll sell it at her own garage sale next year.


Shrimp and Corn, Cheddar-Caramelized Onion Bread, and Defining Moments

Last week, my two younger daughters attended camp, which means that we only had one child at home for the week.  Let me repeat: two thirds of our offspring were away for six consecutive days.  I almost didn't know what to do with myself.

There's something special about getting to spend time with just one of your kids.  It's like shifting from zone defense to man-on-man.  There were no split decisions about what to have for dinner, and no need to urge anyone to compromise about what to do for the afternoon.  Evenings were even better because, at thirteen, she's old enough to watch movies I'd actually want to see.

One afternoon after taking a few of her friends swimming, she said, "I've been thinking.  Nobody else is home tonight.  It's just us.  We should have shrimp for dinner."

She loves shrimp, and her sisters rarely want to eat it.  Shrimp it would be.

We planned our menu, ran to the grocery store, then started cooking.

I explained how to peel and devein the shrimp, even as she squirmed and balked while handling them at first.  Using a simple recipe that a friend calls Summer in a Bowl, we sauteed the shrimp and some fresh corn in butter, stirred in fresh basil and chives, then seasoned with salt and pepper.  (It's delicious.)     

We also baked a wonderful recipe from Chef Nick Wallace found in a Southern Living article: Cheddar-Caramelized Onion Bread.  (This bread is phenomenal.  In fact, stop reading this post right now and go make it.  Then cry some happy tears as you eat.  Just plan ahead for the first step, which requires you to freeze a stick of butter for 30 minutes before you start, which is a crucial detail that slipped past my reading comprehension and briefly stalled our progress.)

We ate the dinner in stages.  First, the shrimp and corn, because those little buggers cook quickly.  Then, nearly a half hour later because I botched the initial butter-freezing stage, the bread was pulled piping hot from the oven in our cast iron skillet. 

The lag time between courses didn't matter at all, of course.  We filled that time sitting on the stools at our kitchen counter, talking and laughing.  In that moment, with nowhere else to be and nothing else to do, I understood what Chef Wallace meant in the article when he talked about the beauty of "slow food."

At some point that evening, it struck me that while her sisters were the ones "out there" having a "special" week, that my oldest daughter was having a special week, too.  So was I.  And this simple moment -- working together at the kitchen island, making a meal that was specifically tailored for her -- was a defining moment in its own right. 

It was just a quick shrimp dinner eventually followed by savory bread, but it also was more.  It was a bit of love served on a plate, just for her.


The Best Overheard Compliment

Because of my husband's job as a chaplain, we host large groups of students regularly for dinner.  This past week, over twenty college athletes crowded around our kitchen island, sat at our kitchen table on chairs that suddenly looked too small to support them, and spilled onto our back patio with heaping plates of food.  The doorbell rang; more guys had arrived.

"Just come in!" one of the older players called to the newcomers at the front door. "You don't need to ring the doorbell here.  It's not that kind of house."

Just come in.  You're welcome here.  Don't ring.  It's not that kind of house.

This could be one of the best inadvertent compliments I've ever received.

Image compliments of Andrea on Flickr.


Purposeful Aimlessness

When I experience a very busy stretch of life, it takes me several days to mentally decompress and slow down.  I liken it to driving on a highway, going 70 miles per hour, then exiting onto residential roads.  Even though you're tired from your journey, everything feels glacial when you crawl along at 25 miles per hour.  It's hard to acclimate to a slower pace.

But, eventually, you do.  The speed of residential roads, not highways, eventually begins to feel normal again.

That's where I am in life right now.  I submitted final grades for my summer classes late one evening, then we left for vacation with my husband's family early the next morning.  (I don't recommend this degree of haste when packing.  I forgot plenty of useful beach-y things, like hair bands, a hat, a swim cover-up, and shoes. In good news, we remembered to pack all three kids.) 

It was a wonderful -- and active -- vacation.  We spent a day at a water park, we crabbed with our nieces and nephews, and we visited the beach each day where, like flip-flop-clad sherpas, we lugged our towels, bags, sunscreen, coolers filled with drinks and snacks, and beach chairs across the blazing sand.

The afternoon we returned home, we had two hours to unpack, then we dressed up to attend a local wedding.  The very next day, after more unpacking, loads of laundry, and vacuuming sand from our minivan, we had house guests arrive for several days.

All of the activity has been great fun, but I feel like I haven't stopped moving.  I'm ready to get off the highway, but I don't yet remember how to adjust to a slower pace. 

So, now, during this glorious month of July, it's time to learn how to be aimless again.  To get lost in books and fun projects, to not wear my watch, to not be bound to a tight schedule.  Aimlessness can be therapeutic, especially when you're wound tightly.  There doesn't always have to be somewhere to go or something to complete.

You don't always have to be driven.  Sometimes, you can just be.

You can just be a reader.

You can just be a bike rider who waits on a pier to watch a sunset.

You can just be in awe.

Purposeful aimlessness.  It takes time to settle into this pace, but it's worth it.


Well, We Can Picnic in the Garage

The Fourth of July is one of my favorite days in summer.  I love hosting family and friends at our house for a feast, like Thanksgiving in July, just picnic style.  And on the grill.  And without turkey.  Or stuffing.  (But we do eat pie, so it's relatively similar, right?)

Each year we roast s'mores, we play bean bag corn hole toss, and we arm our kids with sparklers so they can run around in close proximity to each other while holding fire.  We enjoy spending the whole day in our yard, which always has freshly cut grass in preparation for the day's outdoor celebration. 

But today, it rains.  It thunders and pours throughout the afternoon, like it's its job.

So, we'll picnic in the garage instead.  Picnics are portable; they go where you take them, after all, and today we'll take it into the garage.

Rain or shine, you can't stop a favorite summer day.

Photo by Jay Wennington on Unsplash
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