Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Junk Drawer and Old Wrapping Paper

The truth is, Dad, I never quite understood why you had that drawer in the kitchen, on the outside of the "island" (which was really a peninsula) full of tools, nails, twine, and other odds and ends. Or Mom, why you saved things like used wrapping paper and gift bags, margarine containers, and old ice cream buckets.

Why did you want to keep junk around? It just takes up space and clutters everything. I hated rummaging through the junk drawer to find the right size nail to hang a picture and then, inevitably, I'd be up on a chair trying to pound the nail in, and it would slip out of my fingers and fall to the carpet or worse yet, get stuck between the tack board and the carpet. Then, unless I was feeling daring and wanted to risk having pricked and bleeding fingertips trying to retrieve the lost nail, I would climb down from my precarious position on the rotating chair, set down my hammer, and go all the way downstairs to rummage through the junk drawer again for another nail (or two) to finish the job.

Or I'd ask Mom where the wrapping paper was and she'd hand me a large gift bag filled to the brim with different sized folded squares in a myriad of colors and patterns, bows without any stickyness left, and bedraggled ribbons tucked into the folds. Gritting my teeth, I would put my hands in and, after several failed attempts, finally find a remnant that was large enough and a reasonable pattern for my present need. I fixed one of those flattened bows atop the present with tape and spent a few seconds "puffing it". That should do the job. But deep down, I swore that I would not be a wrapping paper collector. I will tear off the paper with abandon and enjoy the sweet feeling of crumpling gigantic wads of paper into balls that I deftly toss into the trash. I will have rolls of wrapping paper and bags of bows. I will not wade through junk.

But alas, the "sins" of fathers shall revisit their children and their children's children. I have a family of my own now and not only do I have a toolbox--given to my husband by my father, actually--filled with odds and ends: anchors, screws, nails, allen wrenches, and other mysterious leftovers, but I also have an enormous wrapping paper collection. I have large canvas box filled with smaller remnants of wrapping paper, tissue paper, gift bags, boxes, and bows, and I have a section about a foot wide on my top closet shelf dedicated to oversized gift bags and boxes. I must have 50 of them...all different occasions and sizes. In fact, I'm rather proud of my collection. I have so many that I have the freedom to discard slightly crumpled things and even choices for the required occasions. I have simply come to realize that saving repair leftovers and wrapping accoutrement is economical and time saving. I recently stocked up on some Christmas things during the 90 % off sale in January and was aghast at the price of the giftbags I've collected for free. $2.29 for the plain white bags that can hold books and things, $3.49 for one Birthday bag about the size of a football, and $4.99 for a wedding bag big enough for a waffle maker! Now, saving a penny is always nice, but not have to go out and get gift wrap supplies every time you need them is equally nice. So I acquiesced. I am just like my parents. I've just tried to make my "junk" a little easier to access.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Phase One: Purchasing the Cursed Technology

We were psyched up. I had done my research and knew about RAM, Gigabytes, Gigahertz, USBs, Dual Cores, weights, and prices. I knew where we needed to go and the exact one we were going to get. Toshiba Satellite A205-S.... Best Buy. $449. And then we were going to "splurge" and upgrade the RAM from 1 GB to 2 GB. We'd get it home and be awed by the new speed and capacity of our lightweight baby. That was the dream.

Reality never looks quite as pretty and rarely delivers as expected. Here is what really happened. We arranged for someone to watch Dominic and set out for Best Buy in Springfield (15 minutes away) with 1 1/2 hours to do our business. We knew what we wanted, so we'd be in, and out. Pushing through the front doors into the florescent warehouse with distinctive purpose and eagerness, we scan the monstrous blue signs and locate the computer section to our right. With confident swiftness we make our move. They have the laptops set up on a chic, curvy counter that displayed the computers in a clear progression from the "budget" models to the "even-do-your-laundry" models. Unswerving in our course, we quickened our pace and eyed up the lowest budget model, the least expensive in the store, probably on the market. But don't be fooled, it was a post-Christmas sale and was $150 off the retail price. Looking at it and each other for a few minutes we steeled our nerves for a large purchase and several years of this new computer. Was it worth it? Is this the one? Yes. Yes. Okay, let's do it!

We flag down the salesman, engaged in lively and distracting chit-chat with a co-worker, having finally gotten his attention, he nonchalantly asks, "What's up?" Umm..."we'd like to buy this computer?" He told us that they might be out of stock, and he'd check for us. Looking at some database, reminiscent of DOS screens, he pointed out that they were all out of our choice Toshiba but that they had several in stock in South Philly. While we were debating about whether or not to drive another 20 minutes to South Philly, a sleek Gateway caught my eye. At $549, it boasted the upgraded RAM already installed. Plus, it had 2 more USBs, a firewire, and a 5-1 card reader. Mmm..."What about this, Matt?" It's pretty. After more looking at it and each other, we decide to go with it. After all, we were going to upgrade anyway. Less hassle, pretty much same price. More features. After checking on his stone age database, the salesman "regretfully" (okay, so I like to think that we matter) that they are also out of the Gateway. But again, South Philly has some of those too. Thinking fast, because we only have 45 minutes left before Best Buy closes, we decide to take a little drive and get it done. South Philly, here we come.

With the same swiftness but less confidence, we quickly advance to the entrance and then to the clearly designated computer area. Looking remarkably the same, we found the same curvy counters and the budget Toshiba and the sleek and enticing Gateway. There really wasn't too much deliberation left. Matt complained about the curvature on the Gateway scroll pad buttons. The silver of the Toshiba was more commercial looking than the black of the Gateway. Then, there was the RAM: Pre-installed. We walked back and forth a few times between the two computers and decided in favor of the Gateway. Getting another flunky salesman who asked us, "What's up?" we responded with a resolute, "A computer." So he handed us the box and we went away to purchase it, or rather, to be wearied by endless queries about whether we want warranties, optimizations, transfers, anti-virus, and so on. With a broken record, "no", to everything, we headed out of Best Buy to go home with our new, lightweight Gateway.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


After a sojourn from blogging forced upon me by the pains caused to Dominic by his 5 new, stubborn teeth, forty pages of Matt's academic prose needing my "artistic" and critical eye, and the sluggard effect of the January doldrums upon my creative juices, I have mustered up all my powers to finish a brief post that I started about a week ago on hospitality.

The art of hospitality simply cannot be underestimated. The best way to learn it is to observe others in their element. I am extremely fortunate to have grown up with very hospitable parents. Almost every night we had at least one extra guest to dinner and for several years while I was growing up we had one or more live-in guests, either exchange students or someone in need of a place to stay for a while. Sundays were special days where we invited an entire family over for a scrumptious dinner and lively games after church.

Their hospitality was never super fancy, our house was rarely immaculate (though always "clean"), and dinner never consisted of filet mignon marinated in bourbon, and yet, it was the perfect form of hospitality for our guests. Our house was comfortable and guests always felt at ease. I remember hearing my friends frequently say to me how much they liked coming over because they felt so welcome. They knew that coming over meant a peaceful house, good food, and lively company. My parents made it a point to have an open house and to welcome everyone--whether by invitation or not. This is truly Christian hospitality.

During a recent visit to Connecticut to visit my brother-in-law, Stephen and his wife Sarah, I found myself prompted by their welcoming home into contemplation about the nature of hospitality. What ingredients are really necessary? I came up with a short list: a clean, fairly uncluttered space, tasty--not necessarily fancy--food, a place to repose, a gracious host who anticipates your need, and a real invitation to make yourself at home. This all can be summed up in saying, making a person feel comfortable and welcome.

I thought most about the first ingredient: a clean, uncluttered space. It is really quite paradoxical. Contrary to the innate domestic "scouring urge" most women (including me) have at the prospect of visitors, in truth, I find that if a dinner party is overly prepared looking and the house is absolutely immaculate, it discourages me from really "settling in", like I need to stay on my best behavior to fit in with my surroundings. This isn't to say the house should be dirty, cluttered, or aesthetically unpleasing. No, no, a house should look welcoming without distracting either by looking unkempt or pristine. You want it to simply be inviting.

Stephen and Sarah, thank you for your hospitality. We will come again. :) (If you want us, that is).

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

For Christmas we once again made the painfully long and dull trek across Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and into Minnesota. The trip totals almost exactly 1,000 miles each way and takes us 20 hours. We stop "half-way" in South Bend, IN, to stay with my incredibly hospitable brother and his family who, without fail, take us weary travelers into their home and fix us up so that we can make the second leg of the journey. They always bless us with a comfortable place to repose and shake away the monotony of the topography we have just traversed, a beer or other strong drink to enhance our sweet repose and melt away the long hours, and their company to enjoy our repose with and make the whole trip worthwhile.

Inevitably morning comes too soon and we must take leave of them to cross the rest of the Great Midwest. Even the two cups of coffee in my system and having delayed our departure by 1 1/2 hours until 10 A.M. (we notoriously hate leaving. In fact, on the way back we added an extra day to the stay at my parent's and at my brother's and then got snowed in another day!) could not combat the time change and our late night of merriment. Continuing our journey on I-80 through Chicago to MN seemed positively cruel. But visions of sugar-plums in the shape of Mom, Dad, and little brother, danced through our heads and we plowed onward through the dull scenery.

The next several days were a euphony of the lively chatter of nine adults who hadn't seen each other in months, the mischievous little footsteps of two kids, the crawls of a baby chasing them, and the curious gazes of two smaller babies watching them. This all was punctuated by a pinging and ponging coming from the basement that could almost always be heard in the background if one listened carefully. For as long as I can remember croquet had been our family sport. It was the excuse to dawdle in the backyard together chatting, defending ourselves from the ravenous midwestern mosquitoes, and exercising our competitive spirits in a (usually) friendly competition. Zero degree weather and a foot of snow, however, prevented even the most devoted among us from gathering around the croquet course. My ingenious and ever-thoughtful father had anticipated this and had a brand new ping pong table ready to take the place of croquet in the family gathering and lore. His plan worked marvelously as a replacement. There was actually an official family tournament complete with the multi-bracket tournament schedule posted on the wall. Proudly, I took second overall and first in the women's division.

Other than ping pong, cards, and watching 24 (an extremely addictive TV drama), we really just enjoyed each others' company and were amused by the kids. Here are a few samples:
  • My four-year-old nephew and his two-year-old niece were sharing bunk beds and frequently came upstairs with excuses about why they could not sleep. Here's my favorite: "Mommy, Ellie tooted and it stinks too much so I can't sleep."
  • My niece has a special secret that she likes to share with my husband when he asks. He comes up to her and says, "Ellie, I have a secret." Her eyes get really big and she comes really close, "What?" She whispers in her really cute little voice. My husband pauses for a second and doesn't say anything and she whispers back, "baby" as if she were the one with the secret.
  • Their parents woke up in the middle of the night to Stephen walking around wailing that he lost his goat (we think it was because he had been playing with a stuffed animal the day before) and couldn't find it while his little sister trailed him dragging her blanket and pathetically repeating "goat", "goat" after him.
The vacation went far too fast and the time before the next one will be far too long, but I count myself incredibly blessed to have such a wonderful and large family. So, until the next ping pong (hopefully ping pong and not croquet, for I'm loads better at it than croquet) game, I must make my own fun.