Courage in the face of winter’s inevitability


After standing in the doorway to the deck tonight calling for the dog in the dark (at 5 p.m. — thanks Daylight Savings Time) and feeling autumn’s chilly air for the first time this season, I thought my readers might appreciate this photo of the sunshine I snapped last April.

I have nothing to complain about because as my Facebook memories reminded me this morning, we had snow in Hampshire three years ago today. It could be snowing! I didn’t even really need a jacket when I was running errands this afternoon, so a little chilly breeze on Veterans Day just means the flags flap prettily in the wind instead of hanging listlessly. Oh! And that blessing, too. The whole street is decorated with American flags to honor our veterans, some of whom gave their lives so that I can have the luxury of a fenced in yard where my dog barks unnecessarily, ignoring my calls (I love her, even if my neighbors cringe every time they realize my dog is taking another potty break).

Imagine that, OId Glory fluttering over this home of the free and the brave.

Before and after pictures to brighten your day

Anyone in the mood for a little transformation?

In the months I neglected to blog this summer and in the recent days of historic news (i.e., Cubs, election), I realized I never shared the before-and-after pictures of my pantry-back entryway-laundry room that my Beloved and I made over this summer. Oh, I alluded to its transformation here in May, and I wrote a tribute to the threshold here (worth reading, I promise, especially if you’re trying to escape all things political) but I never finished the job. How unsatisfying. Let’s remedy that, shall we?

The room of 128 square feet needed attention in the biggest way. We’ve lived here nine years, and all I ever did was sweep the floor. So let’s begin there: The floor.


Flooring: Before

Yuck. Discolored linoleum. It looked like what it was: Cheap and ugly.

My Beloved and I installed premium interlocking vinyl slats that look like barn boards but wear like iron. It was a trick measuring and cutting (for my Beloved — I was just labor, not brains), but it actually installed pretty easily. Here’s the after shot:


Flooring: After

Let’s turn to the pantry.

pantry before

Pantry: Before

I’ve tried the organize the pantry in the past, but none of my bottles and boxes ever stayed organized. So I invested in a few baskets at the Container Store with labels, and I’m proud to say I’m having a lot more success keeping things presentable.


Pantry: After

It’s not perfect on any given day, but it’s immeasurably better.

Now twirl around and behold my laundry area:


Laundry: Before

How depressing, huh? The room is just off the kitchen, so it’s very handy, but it was just plain ugly. Plain and ugly.

The room makeover began with a paint job, from a yellowish gray to a bit brighter gray. It’s hard to see in the pictures, but it helped. Then, in stark relief, my Beloved installed new white cupboards to replace the shelving.

In a tiny bit of irony, we scored a deal on these cupboards from the former owner of the house, with whom we still socialize and now consider a friend. They should have been installed all along. They began with a dark cherry finish, but I repainted them with in a shiny white.


Laundry: After

Now I can hide all my laundry detergent and dog food. My Beloved also built three little shelves to connect the cupboards, and I painted them to match the cupboards and decorated them with laundry-room appropriate tchotchkes like a button jar and an old-fashioned iron.

Turn again and you’ll see the entryway from the garage.


Entryway: Before

Bor. Ing. The row of coat hooks was missing one, and check out that patched spot where the door knob once was jammed. This area was transformed with paint.


Entryway: After

Here’s a quick peek inside the closet (to the left of the coat hooks), which I painted yellow (leftover from my office makeover a few years ago) and made more efficient with a broom and umbrella organizer.


Closet: After

The footlocker was useful and effectively kept a lot of pairs of tennis shoes corralled. But it was beat up and too dark. Here’s another look at it before I painted it:


Footlocker: Before

Most of the locker was painted with a slightly darker gray than the walls. The lid and handles were painted bright blue, the leftovers from some other project. Then I  added a few aging details with some brown paint and stenciled a blue design on the front. As I’ve said before, paint fixes a lot of sins.


Footlocker: After

But the best part of this entire room makeover is that shelving unit above the footlocker. My father, a woodworking wizard, created this from only a set of measurements. He left it unfinished for me to paint to coordinate with the footlocker (that’s the same blue in the shelve backing). I decorated the top with a few items inspired by Joanna Gaines of “Fixer Upper” fame, and I just love it.


Shelves & coat hooks: After

My Beloved did all the work ourselves, and the entire project took about two months (the cupboards alone required four coats of paint and three coats of polyurethane — that’s a lot of waiting for things to dry!). But the results are worth it, even if we can only enjoy it a few more weeks or months until we sell this place. Every time I walk in the back door, I appreciate the view.


Serenity. Now!

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government. Except for all the others.”

~ Winston Churchill

Never have I felt such a sense of excitement on election night. And I was a newspaper reporter on some momentous election nights back in the dark ages (early 90s)! I have followed the campaign from its beginning, watching all or parts of both parties primary debates, the presidential debates and the vice presidential debate.

I wanted to hear what the candidates had to say from their own mouths, and boy, did I! Unfortunately, coverage in general of the messy campaign was more about personality than policy, but it certainly was entertaining.

Ironically, my presidential choice has no chance of making a victory speech. I couldn’t stomach holding my nose so I gave thumbs up to a candidate I could vote for instead of against (I would mention more body parts, but we’ve probably heard about enough body parts in this campaign). In Illinois, it wasn’t a wasted vote since this state’s electoral college votes were already in Clinton’s back pocket (or, perhaps more appropriately, purse). Well, my vote was no more wasted in Illinois than every vote for Trump and every vote Clinton got beyond what she needed.

More importantly, I voted at all, and by all accounts, so did a lot of Americans. Heck, my grandmother (who’s still alive and probably watching election returns on a TV with closed captioning) didn’t even have the right to vote when she was born. Voting is a privilege, and exercising that right is a duty. So seeing a big voter turnout warms the heart of this political science major.

Casting a vote, however, is not the same as making a demand. We live in a democracy, and that means we all go along with the majority (or in any case, a plurality). Which is why I end this post with a prayer I think is appropriate, given that half of us are going to be disappointed with the election results.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.


The suspended time of house selling

Selling a house must be like a cop working a beat: Long stretches of boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror.

It’s Sunday afternoon, and you haven’t had a house showing in two weeks. You’ve gotten a little sloppy. You know how it goes: I can take out the garbage tomorrow. I’ll pick up my Sunday paper later. I’ll clean up the kitchen after my nap.

It’s Sunday afternoon, right? Perfect time for a nap. Just as you’re drifting off to la-la land, the phone rings. Huh, unfamiliar number. Who could this be?

You want to see the house? Right now? By now you mean … now? Sure, sure, we’d love for you to see the house. But could you give us 20 minutes?

You launch yourself off the couch and survey the disaster you’ve permitted to accumulate on every flat surface from the basement bar to the floor of the second-floor spare bedroom. Thank God for adrenaline. If ever there was a time for action, now is it.

The time between the day you put your house on the market and day you meet with the buyers in a cramped, windowless room at the mortgage company to sign the final papers is what Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich might call “suspended time.” She was waxing poetic today about the time between the Cubs’ World Series win and election day, but my suspended time has me sitting in a mostly orderly house I no longer love waiting for the day I can make plans for the next place, which I hold in dreamy esteem.

There’s nothing left to pack (until we can pack every last pair of underwear, every single steak knife and the 15 kinds of pasta I simply couldn’t consume in my last weeks here). There’s no point in decorating anything (since I don’t want to spend even one more dollar on this place). I could clean, say, the refrigerator (except I hate cleaning — and what home shopper looks in the refrigerator?).

On the other hand, I can barely create holiday plans or make reservations or schedule a vacation because we don’t know when we’ll be able to dot the last I and cross the final T.

I am simply waiting.

Oh, sure, I’m filling my time with a lot of cooking, blogging, monitoring election coverage (blech!) and an occasional nap. But it’s difficult to classify any of it as productive or interesting. Necessary, yes, like treading water is necessary when you’re in over your head, but hardly newsworthy.

Suspended time. It’s like suspended animation. You’re alive but asleep. No one goes in. No one goes out. No deliveries. (Sorry, I lapsed into a line from 1989’s The ‘Burbs.)

Part of me Just. Wants. To. Move. On.

And part of me thinks I should take a nap while I can.

So my Beloved and I picked up the clutter in our house in 20 minutes flat. Actually, it was 24 minutes; I waved at the interested buyers as they exited their vehicle and I tore out the driveway with my barky dog in tow.

Twenty minutes later, my Beloved summoned me back.


Yellow, golden, amber autumn


What a beautiful day.

It’s Nov. 5, which means it could be cold, windy and raining. Or snowing. It could be snowing.

But it’s not. It was a sun-soaked day in which the temperatures in northern Illinois reached the upper 60s.

Here’s the view from my back deck overlooking the back yard and the nature preserve beyond my fence just before sunset. I swear I heard crackling in the underbrush while I was clicking away; deer have been known to bound through (maybe even live in?) the tree-filled water retention area back there. It’s not a good time of year for deer, but I certainly appreciated the lovely autumn day.

I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air.

~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

OK, so I didn’t spend the day outdoors, but my Beloved left open the screen door to the deck. I could hear barking dogs and honking geese while I chopped and cooked ingredients for not one but two pots of soup. Normally, soup is perfect for warming up during a quiet Saturday night in November. Well, it’s perfect on a warm autumn night, too.

And the best part? Looks like it will be similarly beautiful tomorrow. And we’ll all have an extra hour to enjoy it! Don’t forget to fall back!

Reflections on Arizona

I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of hearing about the presidential election. I’ve already early voted so no amount of cajoling or scare tactics can change my vote now. I. Am. Done. Shut up already. (As a political junkie, however, I will watch Tuesday’s election returns with spellbound interest.)

So assuming you’re as sick of the election as I am, I won’t bore you with a political post. But how about travel? The talking heads on the news keep pointing at maps of the United States when they’re telling us the latest poll numbers and about how the electoral college works. Don’t those blue and red and purple maps make you want to skip around the United States? Well, they inspire me.

Several years ago, I blogged about all the states I’d visited (and the ones I missed) in a six-part series. Perusing the list again now, I realize I still need to visit a number of states in the northeast (plus Alaska and Hawaii — alas, I’ve never been to either). But I also realize that driving through a state doesn’t provide much beyond geographical information. One needs to eat there and talk to the locals and peruse the bulletin boards in the local diners to understand a little bit about the soul of a place.

My Beloved and I spent most of our winter last year in Yuma, Arizona (please don’t confuse Yuma with Huma — we’re talking about travel here, not politics, remember?). When I talk wistfully about it now, my friends say, “Yuma? What’s so great about Yuma?”

Well, Yuma is no Grand Canyon. They’re both in the state of Arizona, but Yuma is a windswept desert, not a majestic canyon. The Colorado River runs through both the Canyon and through Yuma so there’s that.

Here’s what I found interesting about Yuma:

  • The desert. In the wintertime, it’s a beautiful place early in the morning and just after dusk. The temperature is perfect, maybe even a little bit cool. And the air is dry, dry, dry. When you look across the horizon, you can see for miles. Look up, and the star sparkle brightly.
  • The restaurants. There are no Michelin-starred restaurants there, but a Minnesotan wouldn’t know one when she sees one anyway. I liked the authentic Mexican taco stands and the yummy ice cream joints. And I still remember the Italian place with huge portions and half-price wine on Wednesdays. It’s a frugal Minnesotan’s dream.
  • The winter population. I’m sure the locals hate the snow birds, but I kind of like them. Retirees have led interesting lives. They’re not too demanding (especially the Canadians). And they go to bed at 10, so they make great neighbors.

If I’m lucky, I’ll get to go back to Yuma. And I’ve added a new wish to my list of things to see in Arizona: Chicago Cubs spring training.

The Day After

Like a visitor on an alien planet, I observed Chicagoland residents with keen interest today.

Who are these “Cubs fans”? What is the meaning of this white flag with a blue W? What does it mean, to reverse a curse?

The Chicago Cubs, of course, won the World Series last in a wild Game 7 that went 10 innings and included a rain delay. It was awesome! (I told you it would be.) I was awake at 11:45 when the last out was secured.

I thought I was weird. I’m a Twins fan, after all. And a woman. And who watches baseball nowadays with its relative lack of violence and obscure concepts like double switches and designated hitters?

But as I sat around a table this morning with eight other middle-aged women and a (lucky) man at a cafe known for its brunches, I asked who else stayed up till midnight last night. Every hand went up. Every. Single. One. And then we all toasted the Cubs with glasses of champagne. No kidding. It wasn’t sparkling apple juice, some pretender stuff. One of those middle-aged women brought a bottle of real champagne to our meeting. Because the Cubs winning a baseball game — The Baseball Game — was That Important. That noteworthy.

On the way there, a car ahead of me on the interstate had a license plate that read “CUBEES.” The plate hung on the bumper of a sporty model that probably isn’t normally driven this time of year. But it was driven today.

I stopped at a superstore on the way. Every other person there, bright and early, was wearing Cubbies blue T-shirt. Or sweatshirt. Or a Cubs hat.

In the afternoon, on my way home, I stopped for coffee with a friend who lives a normal, quiet suburban life. Playing on the TV in the restaurant? A recording of last night’s game. The friend? She (yes, SHE) stayed up until 3 a.m. after the game, standing in line and buying World Series merchandise at Dick’s.

What I thought would happen didn’t. There were no riots. No cars overturned and burned. No crazies causing headline-making mayhem. I didn’t even hear anyone trash-talking the poor, poor unfortunate Indians. No zombies. Instead, there was cheering and champagne. There were fireworks, yes (I heard them at midnight, even in my little suburban village, far from Wrigleyville). And there were tears. Oh, the dewy eyes of dreams come true.

What I didn’t expect was the disbelieving gratitude of baseball fans who had never seen their team become champions and who finally let go of the superstitions they held close to ward off disappointment. They finally witnessed the team win it all. For themselves, of course. But also for generations of others who weren’t so lucky.

The day wasn’t filled with belligerence or arrogance or vitriol. It was filled with joy. Pure, blissful joy.

And it was a delight to behold.