Browsing articles in "Stories"
Sep 10, 2014

A Sunny Place to Sit

It’s not that I had anything special planned for this summer. I guess like most years, I wanted nice, big, comfortable events: restful vacations for people I love. Good news. Days filled with small, manageable adventures. Long walks and heat waves and thunderstorms.

Instead, it was a pretty cold summer.

Sometimes, when things are difficult or I am in a funk, I try to shock myself out of a haze with activity. I clean out my closet. I paint something. I organize some cabinets. I find some distraction in driving to every Target in existence, buying up every roll of the shelf liners, as though lining my shelves in the right color mats will make the difference between chaos and order in more than just my cabinets.

Sometimes, this works.

This summer, finding momentum was harder. Instead, I have moved in uneven steps, not able to hit my usual frenzied getting-things-done mode.

On a day I received terrible news, news I had to relay to each of my family members, one after the other, changing tactics each time and adding to my team of People who Know Now and Who Must Tell Now, I spent part of the afternoon on Craigslist, shopping for a bistro table for my porch. My brain needed somewhere to go. You reach for the dullest distractions on the worst days.

I found a table. It was ridiculously low-priced. I contacted the seller. She didn’t respond. I spent the next few weeks distracting myself by shopping for bistro sets: Target (too expensive), Walmart (surprisingly cute), Ikea (their various tables were either out of my price range or not what I wanted). World Market had a few adorable and vintage-looking sets (I am a sucker for anything that looks like it belongs on Doris Day’s back patio), but they were all about 20% larger than would allow me to open my door.

I trolled Craigslist some more. The table, the original one, appeared again. The price had gone up. Someone had tipped this lady off. That was fine with me. The table wasn’t exactly what I had in my head, it was more ice cream parlor than Doris Day, but the price was still good, it would fit on my porch, and it needed a paint job and I needed a project.

The woman responded to my email with “Okay! There is a lot of interest in this table! Whoever shows up first gets it!” She did not leave any contact information. This made if very difficult for me to show up first. I made room in my car, got cash, googled her information. When she finally wrote back with her home address, I had already found her house on the internet. After a few trips back and forth, I had the table. As we loaded it into my trunk, she saw the Moody Bible Institute sticker on my Mini. This led, though I don’t remember how, to a conversation about people we have lost and our hope in Heaven. All of my annoyance at her evaporated. Everybody’s hurting, even people who don’t respond to emails quickly.

My enthusiasm fizzled out. The table sat on my porch unpainted for months. I told myself that this was because I was too busy, but really, it was because I couldn’t bring myself to do anything useful, much less a vanity project. Instead, I buried myself under a blanket of fantasy: I’d watch or read anything with magic, anything where good beat evil and the laws of physics would warp to fix things beyond fixing.

And then summer was nearly over. I couldn’t face that poor beige table all winter. I couldn’t put it away when I promised it that it would be new again. So I bought some paint: Rustoleum Painter’s Touch 2X Ultra Cover Paint and Primer in Sun Yellow. The name had a comforting lot of promises in it. It took a few weeks, but I finally made myself clear part of a Saturday to start washing the table down.

Repainting a Bistro Set

1) Spray the table and chairs down with the “jet” setting on your garden hose nozzle. Pretend it’s a pressure washer. Rinse all spider webs and spider eggs and grime off the table. Regret not doing this on a hotter day. Regret wearing jeans. Regret a lot of things.

2) Scrub the table and chairs with a wire brush. This will rough up the surface to make it hold paint better, knock off any loose chips of paint, and show you all the spider eggs you missed. Consider sanding the table when you see that the chipped old paint probably won’t look smooth under the new paint. Resist the urge, because this is an exercise in completing something, and not necessarily in completing something well.

3) Refuse to think about anything. Refuse to have any emotions which aren’t directly related to your audiobook, and be wary of those. When a certain young wizard is given a photo of his parents laughing and waving, scrub harder. It is probably okay if you are a little bit angry.

4) Think about how DIY bloggers usually use something called a “liquid deglazer” at this point. Think about how that sounds sort of sci-fi and would probably be interesting to try, but it would mean spending more money and taking another trip to the hardware store. Use vinegar instead. You can use vinegar for everything. Think about pickles, briefly.

5) Wash the dust from the wire brush away with a rag and a bucket full of vinegar and water and let everything dry. It will dry faster than you think and you do not have time to go inside and do something other than work on this table and chairs, don’t even consider it, okay, fine, go have some chips and salsa and look at the Internet. Just make sure you come back out again. You were doing so well.

6) Prepare your painting area by taping up some sheets of plastic in your garage. Put your phone in a sandwich baggie, because you can still use the touchscreen through the plastic, but now it won’t be covered in a haze of overspray paint like last time. Congratulate yourself on your cleverness. It is nice to solve problems.

7) Paint. Move the paint can in smooth, even strokes, like you read on that blog. Concentrate very hard on painting, covering the rusty beige with yellow. Regret not sanding. Sand a little. You will use more paint than you expect. The promises on the paint can do not mean that you don’t have to do a few coats. Buy more paint. The whole process will take you a few days longer than you thought.

8) When the paint has had a few days to dry, carry the table and chairs up to your porch. Put everything back together. If you do not feel the same level of satisfaction which you normally do upon completing a project, that is okay.

Sometimes, you just have to take tiny, tentative steps forward. Sometimes you have hope not because you want to, but because you must. Sometimes you have to make a sunny place to sit.

sunny place to sit

Oct 4, 2013

In Which I Reward Myself for Surviving a Third Year

It’s that time again! The time of year where I reward myself for completing basic survival tasks and cover the highlights of the last 365 days. Today Yesterday, October 3, is was my three-year anniversary of living on my own.

I’ll be honest: I almost didn’t have an award ceremony this year. Not because I don’t like collecting badges to celebrate my achievements, but because for the first time, this whole “adult” thing feels like something I am, not something I put on. (Not to say I’m getting better at it or anything. I might argue that I peaked in year two and it’s all YA novels and frozen dinners from here.)

However. I like the idea of rounding this out with year three, and besides, how many formal occasions does a girl get to attend? Cue pomp, circumstance.

We went for a low-key, no-curtain look this year


The Hey, What Happened to Your Roommate? Award

You know what's fun about far-away friends? The mail.

This one time, I met a girl on the Internet and we decided to be roommates. It was an excellent decision, and worked out nicely for some time until she moved back to the Internet. I have mostly forgiven her, and that’s mostly because she sends me enough animated gifs on a daily basis that it’s almost like having a roommate.


The I Thought You Already Had a Cat… Award

She's a lot fluffier than this picture implies

No, but I can see where you might be confused. I catsat for a few months, which gave me the opportunity to warm my landlord up to the idea of me having a cat. Then I gave that cat back, panicked about commitment for a few weeks, and then I brought home Bernadette. She is not technically named after the book, the song, or the Peters, but the fact that I’ve spent a lot of time with each of those things in the last year heavily influenced my decision.

Can I gush for a second? Yeah I can, it’s my blog. Ok, these three years were the longest I’ve lived without animals (barring the mice) ever. It was unpleasant. I was raised with the understanding that animals are essential, so not having any around felt unnatural. I had to resist the urge to dognap dogs on walks. I day-dreamed about cuddling the canadian geese that hang out in parking lots. (They are totally hug-sized. And shaped. Like huggable footballs with necks. I stand by this.) So, now I have my Bernadette. She has transformed from a crabby middle-aged lady in a cage to practically a kitten. There are few things as satisfying as loving a scared little creature until it learns it can trust people again.


The Didn’t You Blog About Finding a Church Like Two Years Ago? Award

So, they gave me this little cross necklace when I joined. Wasn't that nice of them?

Yeah, but that didn’t work out. Instead I bounced around for a couple more years and tried to figure out what exactly I was looking for. I never really decided what that was, but I seem to have found it. I enjoy going to church for the first time since college. I look forward to it. It’s refreshing and sets me up for the week. It’s a good church.


The So This Is Why You Talk about Tacos So Much Award

True friends help you attain your your dream of owning a brass armadillo

As I was looking back for defining moments over the last year, I realized that I had been to Austin, TX, twice. In fact, one of the reasons that I forgave Roommate for leaving me was that I would get to visit her there. In my two trips to Austin, I saw: tacos, longhorns, bluebonnets, queso, street art, internet friends, Book People, bronies, tacos, stars both big and bright, yarnbombing, BBQ, cacti, irony, a parade of lowriders showing off their hydraulics, tacos, Zooey Deschanel. In my two trips to Austin, I did not see: the famous bridge bats, brass armadillos. In my two trips to Austin, I firmly believe I saw: Ryan Gosling. You people should just believe me. Also, tacos.


The What Is It With You And The Celebrity Sightings? Award

It was way to warm to be wearing a felt hat in Texas, Zooey. That was your tell.

For many years, my biggest brush with celebrity (outside of organized meetings like book signings and Disney World character breakfasts) was that one time Oprah’s Stedman ran into me while crossing Michigan Avenue. Then, in the last year, I’ve had three distinct interactions. Now, I’m not saying that celebrities are more special than other people, but I am saying it is fun to see people that you’re used to seeing on giant screens and in magazines completely out of context. Stars! They’re Just Like Us!

1) Ryan Gosling, while walking down South Congress with Sharone and Christine. This is questionable, but I like things in threes and I know he was there that weekend, so we’re going with it.

2) Zooey Deschanel, while standing in line at the a Austin airport. I heard someone talking in ZD’s voice, turned around to look, and a very small, very shiny person in over-sized sunglasses and an unseasonably warm hat clapped a hand over her mouth. She had to take the hat and glasses off for security and looked terrified that she’d be besieged by adorable Austin-dwelling Zooeyites. I have never been so grateful to not need sunglasses and a bodyguard.

3) Anne Lamott at the Picasso in Chicago exhibit at the Art Institute. There I was, minding my own business, trying to appreciate noses on multiple planes or something, when I said to my friend Kristin, “Um, that lady. The blonde one with the dreads. Is that Anne Lamott?” And so commenced a 20 minute very cool, covert Anne Lamott-stalking period. After a little while, I got up the courage to say hello and tell her how much I (and my mom) appreciate her, and she thanked me and turned the conversation to Picasso, and how amazing it was just to be in the same room with something that great. Her whole face crinkles when she smiles.


The Was I Supposed to Ask About the Tomatoes? Award

Actually, my watering can is shaped like a duck and isn't really functional. I might get a big-girl watering can eventually.

I mean, you don’t have to. But, yes, I did grow a plant that produced food which I could eat. It was good, but next year I should probably remember to water more.


And that’s this year, approximately. It was a learning year more than a doing year, really, but that’s ok. Do me a favor and bring your programs out with you. It makes clean-up a lot easier for the ushers.

In case you’re wondering, here’s my first and my second award ceremony.

May 29, 2013

An Explanation of Sorts

20130529-003119.jpgI have a “no apologies” policy with this blog. I know that if I every time there’s a long stretch between posts I write an “Oh my gosh I’m so sorry I haven’t posted” introduction, I’ll shame myself into never posting at all, and that’s not the point of this thing.

(Which might raise the question, what is the point of this thing? We here at Staircase Wit the Blog think that that is an excellent question, and we will totally get back to you on that.)

This year has not gone as planned. I made a lot of promises to myself that I just wasn’t able to keep. I’m a little embarrassed that I made those grand pronouncements at the beginning of the year, and then remade those pronouncements a month later, and now I’m writing this.

So this is a sort of apology, sort of explanation, sort of prime-the-pump kind of blog post. I’m wiping the dust off the ol’ WordPress admin tools and trying to get my fingers to remember what it’s like to type words that aren’t for work emails.

Call this my six month update. (I know it’s May. It’s a long month. Just go with it.) I gave myself two goals this year: get stuff done, and get a cat. While I can’t report that I have a cat, I can say that I have Nefarious Plans, and that they are In Motion. As far as getting things done? Well, does learning things count? I’ve been learning things. Lots of things. About trust and faith and grace and thankfulness. I’ve put in a request to not learn anything new for the rest of the year, but I have a funny feeling that this is not a year for coasting. (Not to say that it’s been a downright terrible year. There have been some amazing highlights and some remarkable blessings thrown in with the hard stuff and as a result of the hard stuff.)

Honestly? I have no idea what this year is going to look like, or if I’m going to do accomplish anything close to what I had planned. I just wanted to do the bloggy equivalent of stretching my legs, flexing my muscles, and getting some of the kinks out of my neck.

So, there’s me. How are you?

Jun 15, 2012

Mouse Problem

Sometimes I think a Doogan can’t leave the house without rescuing an animal. Cases in point: this week I got a text message from my dad, photo attached, about the the turtle he removed from the middle of the highway. Just yesterday, my mom and sister were unreachable while they figured out a shelter for a lost baby bird. A few weeks ago, my sister and I got the local authorities involved when some wild turkeys insisted on landing in the middle of an archery range. (It was the day before open season on turkeys started. I’ve heard that wild turkeys have a reputation for being wily, but I think that kind of a risk is just foolhardy. There are other ways to get thrills, turkeys.)

I say this so you understand that I love animals. I was raised to believe that it is my job to protect and save as many as possible. I say this so that when I make the confession I am about to make, you will understand that it pains me to do so.

I have a mouse problem.

I do not mean that I have mice invading my home, although I have that too. What I mean is that I don’t like mice. Can’t stand ’em. They are, to me, what water is to chocolate or what snakes are to Indiana Jones.

My issue with mice began late in my undergrad career when a mouse was spotted in my dorm. The mouse was named  Edgar and his stories are legend. There was the Friday night when five or six girls attempted to catch him using only cardboard boxes and high-pitched shrieks. He stole food from the kitchen and ran from dorm room to dorm room like a Scooby-Doo monster. But Edgar’s most thrilling escapade was a trip into my room and into my bed while I was sleeping. I woke to see a tiny pile of mouse droppings cozied next to me.

Maybe it was a gift. Maybe he just wanted to be loved. If Edgar meant to be kind by that small surprise, I did not take it that way. It was a violation of my personal space that did nothing but prepare me in the worst way for what I was to experience as an apartment dweller.


My life was moving along quite smoothly. Work was good. I was feeling more connected to my community. I was at that sweet spot in my Doctor Who-watching where I was far enough in to love the characters, but comfortably far from the end of the available episodes. Life was good.

I rushed into my apartment one day, chatting on the phone with my mom, and went directly to the large closet where I store my food. I threw open the door just in time to see a pair of tiny pink feet dangling from a hole about three feet from the ground. The feet wriggled as they tried to make traction in the air. Somehow, the tiny body disappeared through the little doorway, followed by a grey tale. It was simultaneously the cutest and most terrifying thing I had ever seen.

Artist's rendition of terrifying/adoralbe mouse feet.

I screamed.

Mom: Jesse! What happened!
Mom: Jesse, calm down. They’re very gentle creatures. They’re much more afraid of you than you are of them.

So ended my peaceful life. I started researching safe ways of repelling mice. (I did not want to deal with traps and couldn’t justify killing anything. See first paragraph.) Peppermint oil is supposedly an excellent deterrent. I diffused it on cotton-balls and my apartment smelled like a Christmas wonderland. I refused to enter the closet without kicking my pantry shelf and yelling threats at the mice. I’m coming in and I’m bigger than you!

The mice showed excellent taste. They ate an entire bag of macadamia nuts, but seemed to especially enjoy shredded coconut.

I avoided being home alone in the evenings. When I was, I would talk to myself or clear my throat, just to make sure the mice knew I was around. On one occasion when I could not avoid being both alone and quiet, a mouse ran across my living room. I was forced to climb over furniture, keep-off-the-lava-style, in order to open the door and let him back in the closet.

This was the end. I would no longer be a prisoner in my own home. I would no longer budget food for 100 tiny mouths. I found the humane traps my mom sent me and talked my sister into coming over to wait with me. We caught three mice over the course of about three hours. Each time we caught a mouse, we’d walk them to the park to release them.

As we walked, our conversation went something like this:

Melissa: Don’t you think we should release them closer to home? They’re never going to find their family again.
Me: That’s kind of the point.
Melissa: What should we name him?
Me: We are not naming the mice.
Melissa: Chester. You know you were thinking he looks like a Chester.


One morning as I was leaving for work, I found a baby mouse in the kitchen. He had fallen down a stair and was unconscious. I scooped him up in a cracker box and put him back in my closet. I figured the mice and I were even.

Finally, I put my food in plastic tubs. That night, when I went to bed, I heard a thud from the closet, then a metallic PR-RI-NNNNNG! The mice had hired raccoon heavies and they were going to take my pantry shelves down, I was sure. When looked for damage the next morning the tubs were knocked a little cockeyed and there were teethmarks in the jar of the peanut butter lid, but otherwise, all was well. I had won.

It was peace time. There had been several weeks without a sign of mice. No stolen food, no need for traps. If I went to bed without washing dishes, the only consequences were tough grease stains.

My little sister came to visit, bringing me her leftover Easter candy. With the innocence of someone who has never lived without cats, she put the chocolate in the pantry closet. Within hours, the tail had been eaten off the chocolate bunny.

I have been warned.

These are the mouse traps I used. For extra humane-ness, add peanut butter.
Artist’s rendition of terrifying/adorable mouse feet doodled in Paper for iPad.

Mar 28, 2012

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream Cabinet

I think I can finally write about this.

My injuries have healed–the physical ones, at least–and the smell has gone away. It was a long road to recovery, but it was worth it.

Decorating my apartment is my favorite hobby. My only real goal is to make it as adorable as possible. (There was a point a few months ago when I thought I had made my apartment as cute as it could be, and I sank into a deep depression. Then I realized that absolute adorability can never be reached, so I righted myself and bought some curtains.)

This leads me to my biggest project to date. The project that inspired this post. The project that nearly ended my DIYing life.

It began with this cabinet. Doesn’t she look innocent? A little white thing with legs akimbo. She all but bats her eyelashes. I found her at my favorite furniture thrift store.

Cabinet before, all akimbo.

The cabinet was just exactly the size I needed, and it was a reasonable price. I knocked on it, and it sounded like wood. I figured I could spend a weekend repainting it and have just exactly the cabinet I wanted.

I was so young.

My plan was to combine paint and stain to get something two-toned like this. It was going to be so fancy. I bought my paint and can of Zip Strip and got to work on a Friday night after work.

I polled Twitter with my paint swatches. Mostly I just like to say "swatches".

I figured I could strip the cabinet on Friday, paint a coat on Saturday, and finish up on Sunday. I opened the can of Zip Strip. Or, I attempted to. I tried pushing the lid down. The lid made a clicking noise. It was like it was telling me that it could open, it just didn’t want to. I tried pulling the lid up. That didn’t work either. I banged on it with my screw driver. I stood on it, balancing my heel on the lid and imagining what would happen if I burst the can and sprayed caustic chemicals everywhere.

I called my dad. He said that my choices were to wait until he got up there or go back to the hardware store. I drove back to Ace, ashamed. When I explained the situation, the woman at the desk announced over the PA that I needed assistance. She called “Big Tom” to the front. Big Tom was about 6’2 and twelve years old. It took him four seconds to open the can of Zip Strip. Big Tom was one of those smirky tweens.

So began my DIY troubles. I hurried home, trying to get a start on the cabinet before dark. I opened the doors and started to peel up the shelf paper that covered the inside. I wouldn’t peel. It wasn’t shelf paper.

It was wallpaper.

Who wallpapers furniture? Unrepentant sinners with limited vision and a complete lack of foresight, that’s who.

Wallpaper. Inside the cabinet.

Not to be deterred, I looked up wallpaper removal. Everyone recommended some fancy wallpaper eating tool, but I didn’t need no stinking tools. I got out my Xacto knife and started cutting scores in the wall paper to let the Zip Strip seep through. I did not swear.

I couldn’t remove paint until the next day. This way, I had fresh and hopeful new light shining to reveal the next horror.

My cabinet, my friendly little wooden cabinet, the cabinet that I was going to stain and also paint, was not wood. It was laminate. I was nearly defeated. My plans were ruined. I pressed on.

Poor naked cabinet.

The paint fumes started to get to me. I used four cans of Zip Strip. I used it wrongly. Somewhere around Saturday evening, my cozy mystery audiobook ended and I switched to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The wrinkled paint started to develop pretty patterns.

Sunday night, I hit my groove. I figured out the Zip Strip. (Reading instructions helps. Who knew?) I had five hours of daylight left, and I was going to remove the paint from that rebellious cabinet. When I smashed my finger during a particularly zealous sanding maneuver, I shook off the dizziness and nausea, but decided to take a break when my finger threatened to bleed on my nearly stripped cabinet.

When I returned to work on Monday, I had trouble focusing. I wasn’t sure if it all those hours spent with noxious gasses or just my utter need complete my project, but even my waiting-for-files-to-load doodles were cabinet-themed.

Doodles at work.

The actual painting of the cabinet was uneventful. I went with a vintage olive green. The legs of the cabinet did turn out to be solid wood, so I finished them in a walnutty color. The cabinet took me three weeks of weekends and weeknights to finish. The cost of the materials would easily have covered a new cabinet, so when I finally finished, I took stock of what I learned: I gained a little experience, a little humility. And I gained a little green cabinet whose paint chipped when I moved it into place.

In my little living room.


Title taken from this movie. If you don’t like it, we can’t be friends.

Photos were all sent through Instagram to try to hide the fact that they are, in fact, iPhone photos. In case you were wondering, it is unwise to pour your coffee into your purse when your purse contains your nice camera.

Dec 9, 2011

I would really like some snow. Please.

taken from Metal Cowboy's Flickr stream

It will not snow.

I need snow. It’s sort of like one of those mermaid movies where the mermaid (who has recently turned into a human, obviously), hasn’t been around water recently, so her gills have started to reappear, except instead of being iridescent green, they’re now a sort of sickish gray.

My snow gills are gray.

We’ve had a few flurries, and I heard a rumor that there was actual snow in downtown Chicago last week, but I’ve seen almost nothing in the suburbs.

There is a growing flock of Canada geese who, instead of continuing south like reasonable birds, are taking over the parking lot at work. They think they’ve found their tropical paradise.

I went Christmas shopping on Michigan Avenue last Saturday, and I did not need a coat.

I’ve been watching the weather reports, and we’ve had a few snow storms predicted, but nothing’s materialized.

I’m starting to get anxious.

You know how after the Flood, God sent a rainbow as a promise that he’d never destroy the world that way again? Snow is sort of my rainbow. Give me a minute: I know I’m not making meteorological sense.

I’ve always loved snow. I was always happy to see it, no matter what time of year it happened to fall. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that it became as important to me as it is now.

It was my senior year at Moody, and I think I had just done badly on a test. I know that’s not really the end of the world, but I was miserable. I felt like I had wasted opportunities and time and like God had given me this gift of an education and I had squandered it. I left class, and instead of heading back to work at the yearbook office, I left campus. It had started to snow that morning, and there were already a few inches on the ground. I was wearing little fabric shoes and my feet were soaked almost immediately, but I had to walk.

I walked faster and faster, and as I walked I counted every mistake I had made in the past four years. Every missed opportunity and broken friendship and wasted moment. The faster I walked, the more mistakes I could remember. I was overwhelmed.

I stopped.

The snowflakes were huge. Nickel-sized. When I stood still, I could watch the snow on the ground get deeper. I was used to the noise of the city, the sounds of the traffic and people. But with that much snow, all those sounds were muffled. It was 2pm on a weekday in Chicago, and the whole city was silent. Everything, the wrought iron fences, the street lamps, the buildings, was covered in snow.

That was when I realized that if God could silence and transform a whole city with just a little frozen water, then there was nothing that I could do that he couldn’t make beautiful by covering it with a layer of redemption.

I could breathe again. I watched the snow for a few more minutes, then I went inside and put on dry socks.

Snow is my rainbow and my ebenezer and my reminder of what the Gospel means.

I am tired.  And I could use a refresher course on redemption. And I would really like it if it would snow.

Nov 22, 2011

Riding Along in My Jaunting Car

The summer after my sophomore year of high school, I was struck with an unusual bout of productivity. I enrolled myself in summer school to try to get ahead on something math-ish for the next year. (Clearly, there was some greater purpose behind all this. This was the first and last time I voluntarily spent extra time with numbers.) It was a morning class, so my parents would pick me up at lunch time every day and drive me home.

It was on one of these drives that I saw it.

“What is that?”

“What’s what?”

“That car! It’s adorable!”

We did this for a few days before I could get on of them to stop so I could identify the car. It was a little red MINI Cooper. I had never heard of one before. It was adorable. It was love.

I waved at that MINI every day for weeks until someone finally bought it. It was sort of a fluke that it was at that used car lot, anyway. BMW had just purchased the MINI company and brought them back to the States. They had only been available again for about six months. MINIs were, of course, available here in the 60s and 70s, but they were discontinued in the US because the original models were considered too small to be road safe. Too small to drive. So cute.*

I was smitten.

Over the next few years, cars entered and exited my life. My sister and I shared two cars (Lorelai and Lucia, God rest their souls), and my best friend and I had a few quite-exciting-enough close calls in her little purple Neon (Frankie, who I believe is in geriatric care). But these weren’t my cars. In fact, I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 19 and 364/365ths.

My family appeased me with mini MINIs.

My family appeased me with mini MINIs.

Since I went to school and then worked in downtown Chicago, I didn’t really need a car until I started my job at Tyndale in the suburbs. Once I was there, I needed one in a hurry. My sister let me borrow her giant SUV while I saved up. Moose–as I affectionately called the Explorer–and I had a difficult relationship. I had to park him in a tiny one-car garage that was built in the 1950s. I had to coax him into waking up in the mornings. I had to fill him with $4 gas.

I started shopping for replacements for Moose, but I couldn’t find anything that would fit my budget but also be cute. Then I shopped for ugly cars out of spite. I would look at MINIs longingly, but they were all way out of my budget, or a really bad color. (Have I told you how shallow I am?)

One Sunday afternoon, after about three dozen conversations about what sort of car would be realistic for me, my parents had a hankering for a good Chicago hot dog. Normally, they’d just run to a stand near our house, but this time they wanted a particular hot dog. They took a nice long Sunday drive, meandering their way to the hot dog stand. I tell you all of these details about the hot dog and the Sunday drive because my parents were in a part of town that they very rarely go to. And they just happened to stumble upon a little blue for-sale-by-owner MINI Cooper, that just happened to be in my price range. My parents sent me pictures and I drove down for a test drive that afternoon.

The whole buying process actually took almost two months, but that’s a boring story.

Finally, after 10 years of hoping, waiting, wishing…


Our first drive was to the Starbucks of my youth. Of course.

Our first drive was to the Starbucks of my youth. Of course.

He is a perfect British gentleman. A gentleman’s gentleman, actually. Bunter gets his name from Mervin Bunter, the butler in Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Whimsy mystery novels. Bunter the character is polite and efficient. He has excellent taste. He anticipates Lord Peter’s needs. He is, occasionally, the voice of reason when Lord Peter’s plans are too convoluted. He’s a bit of a ladies man on his day off. Basically, he’s everything I need in a car.

Bunter and friends, apple picking

Bunter and friends, apple picking

What I didn’t know about owning a MINI is that it inducts you into this very exclusive club. MINI drivers see each other as kindred spirits. You can’t pass another MINI without giving at least a knowing smile. If a MINI suddenly pulls out in front of another MINI, it’s probably to show off a clever license plate pun. (My favorite so far: TRUNC8.)

Another hobby I’ve picked up is giggling uncontrollably when I park next to a Hummer. Or making intimidating faces at Smart Cars. Bunter loves that one.

Miracle of miracles, he fits in my garage with room to spare.

Miracle of miracles, he fits in my garage with room to spare.

Bunter and I have been the best of friends for almost six months now, but Thanksgiving is coming up. I was thinking back on all of the tremendous blessings I’ve had in the last year and a half, and I still cannot get over how God has been faithful in the big things, but he’s also been faithful in the small things.I needed a car. I had to have a way to get to work. I wanted a cute little car with personality and bonnet stripes. What I got was everything 15-year-old me wanted and more. It was a perfectly timed, perfectly planned gift. I don’t mean this in any sort prosperity gospel way. Or like God is Oprah and if I show up at the right time I’m getting a carrrrrrr! I just mean that this car felt like a special gift, and Bunter is a constant reminder that God’s got all the details taken care of.

*Note: The MINI website says that it was actually new emissions regulations that sent the cars back home. I specifically remember reading that the distance between the driver’s head and the windshield needed to be greater than it was in a 60’s MINI. You should probably trust the MINI folks before you trust 15-year-old me, but that’s an awfully specific story for me to invent. Besides. Mine fits the story better.

The post title comes from this song from The Gnome Mobile, one of Disney’s underappreciated live action little people movies from the 60s.

Nov 16, 2011

In Which I Reward You for Reading the Fine Print

When last we spoke…well, when last last we spoke, since when last we spoke I told you about a book I love. Right. So, when last last we spoke, I celebrated one year of living on my own and gave myself award badges for surviving. At the end of that post, I said that I’d create badges for those who wanted them.

I had just won a lot of awards. I was feeling benevolent.

And so, since I am a (wo)man of my word, I present…



I hope you’re all dressed appropriately. Otherwise I’ll have to hire someone to give you the stink eye and one of my Year Two goals is to stick to a better budget and I just didn’t plan for a bouncer. Thank you for your cooperation.


The “WordPress Hero” Badge

Capes are difficult to draw. Especially on letters. Give me a break here.

Marc didn’t technically ask for this badge in the comments of that last post, but we discussed it shortly after he got me out of a WordPress hole.

My webmastering strategy is usually to grab a piece of code, close my eyes, and wiggle it until something either looks better or breaks. Marc very kindly helps me out when I break things. I believe this particular time, he helped me turn on threaded comments on the blog so that I can reply to comments without it being horribly confusing. That didn’t even involve code. It involved me pushing a button. Sigh.

So, Marc gets a cape.

Incidentally, Marc and his wife had a baby yesterday. He doesn’t get a badge for that. He gets a baby.


The “I Survived Wound Care Even When The Nurses Hadn’t Had Coffee Yet” badge

Before they've had their coffee. Sigh.

This badge is for my Twitter friend Krista, who very bravely endures wound care after and even before the nurses have had coffee. I don’t endure people who haven’t had their coffee, period, so I can’t imagine the cranky nurses. Good job, Krista.


The “Starting Two New Businesses and Actually Making Some Money”  badge

This is not a drawing of a swamp monster sneaking up on a debutante.

Brenda requested the “Starting Two New Businesses and Actually Making Some Money” badge, but I’d like to edit that and make it the “Starting Two Adorable Businesses Where She Makes So Many Pretty Things and Oooh, Look at That Photo and That Photo…” badge. That’s a bit long for a badge name, though, so I’ll stick with her wishes. Brenda is a wedding coordinator, and she also rents out vintage accessories for events and photo shoots. (Brilliant. Idea.)

Check out Storybrook Wedding Design and Storehouse Rentals, especially if you’re in Northern California.


The “I Picked up and Moved Cross-Country” badge

I'm not sure how the bushes survived the flight.

Katy Dear requested a badge for one of her great accomplishments this year. The woman’s been busy. A small sampling: she survived a long-distance relationship with her husband, parented two pitbulls, lived through the craziest house-purchasing story I’ve ever heard of, and reupholstered a wingback chair. You should read her blog.

I’m going to say, though, that the biggest (and, ahem, easiest to draw) accomplishment was picking up her little family and moving all the way across country to purchase a home in Michigan. She, her husband, and her two pitbull puppies journeyed all the way from the nation of Texas to the Great Midwest. (She’s my neighbor now.)


This concludes our ceremony. Thanks for coming. Please take your programs with you. Not only are they great scrapbook fodder, but it helps the ushers out.


Oct 4, 2011

In Which I Reward Myself for My Own Survival

One year ago today yesterday, I moved out of my parents house and into my own little apartment. (Well, technically, it was my roommate’s own little apartment, but she let me stay with her. She’s since moved on with her life.) Since this was my First Year Living On My Own, there were lots of pretty big Firsts.

Now, I tend to be pretty reward-oriented. I always have been. I spent nine years of my childhood memorizing Bible verses and participating in athletic activities just so I could get a giant gold trophy. (And, cough, for the general edification that comes from memorizing Bible verses. And also the candy bars.)

So, as I was looking back at this year and of the First Living Year On My Own hurdles I jumped, I thought it would be nice to have something similar to all those AWANA trophies. I considered getting little patches to sew on a vest, or maybe little jewels to stick in a crown, but then I realized that I actually have a lot of dishes to wash, so I should probably go simpler. Besides, if I’ve learned nothing else in this first year of real adulthood, it’s that I need to  work with what I’ve got. Which is, in this case, a pen, a smart phone, and a blog. I’m nothing if not resourceful.

So instead of renting out a hall to present myself with awards that moths and rust destroy, allow me to welcome you to my…


Find a seat, get comfortable. I’ve been practicing my acceptance speeches all day, so should be able to keep this succinct. If not, I’ve installed one of those retractable microphones in my living room.

Let’s start small with some life essentials…


The “I Can Feed Myself Like a Big Girl” Badge

Fork and knife badge

I love to cook. Always have. When I was six, my specialty was this elaborate peanut butter and jelly that I made by checkering the pb AND j on to each piece of bread, and then folding the bread on to itself.  It took about three times as long as a normal sandwich, and tasted exactly the same, but it was fancy. When I moved out, I assumed my love of fancy food would mean that cooking for myself every night would be a joy. I learned this year that cooking is fun when it’s optional. It’s not that I no longer enjoy cooking, or that I never do. It’s just that I eat macaroni and cheese a lot more often than I’d like to admit. This badge is for excellence in Not Starving to Death.

This year I plan to earn the Eat Your Vegetables badge, the Sack Lunch badge, and the Noodles Don’t Have to be Shaped Like Disney Characters badge.


the “Dish Soap Should Not Be Named Ironically” badge


My main defense for not cooking for myself is that I don’t have a dishwasher. Basically, the better my meal tastes, the more time I get to spend in the kitchen after dinner, partying like it’s 1932 and my large Irish family is out in the fields gathering potatoes and I am the only one who can wash dishes because they all have severe allergies to to dish soap and we can’t loose another field-hand that way and so I must bear my cross with courage. Or I listen to audiobooks. Depends on the day.

This year, I plan to earn the “Hey Look, I Have Kitchen Counters” badge. Or maybe the “Give In and Buy a Portable Dishwasher” badge.


the “Riding Along in My Jaunting Car” badge

Oh Bunter. You're such a gentleman.

This was a particularly fun badge to earn. This summer, I bought my first car. Twenty-five might seem a bit old to be buying my first car, but I went to school/worked within the bounds of public transportation for five years. That’s my excuse. Anyway, my little blue Mini Cooper is named Bunter, after the gentleman’s gentleman in the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, and he is my best friend. We have all sorts of adventures planned.

I have my eye on the “Extended Road Trip” badge, and the “I Hope I Don’t Have to But Perhaps I Could Learn to Do Something Like Change A Tire or Oil or I Could Just Vacuum His Floormats” badge.


the “It Sure is Character Building Outside” badge


I prefer winter. Make no mistake. It’s pretty. The nights are clear and crisp. There’s snow everywhere. I could survive in December/January for a good long time, thank you very much. However, this winter was particularly harsh. We had a blizzard that shut down most of the Midwest. I was given a day and a half off work because it was unsafe to go outside. I went to the grocery store at the last minute to buy rations, and ended up with a steak and half a dozen over-priced scented candles. (Ok. Grocery stores of America. If there’s going to be a blizzard, you stock candles. Not $15 vanilla scented ones. The ones that I can afford to burn to keep me from falling down my steep and terrifying steps. Thank you.) Bright side: I am still burning those lovely accent candles almost a year later.

Since this was no ordinary blizzard, I award myself a bonus badge for surviving a natural disaster that had a nickname. I will wear it with pride.

No seriously. Google "snowpocalypse". It's a thing.

Let’s see. This year I plan to earn the “Build a Snowman” badge, the “Don’t Forget to go to the German Christmas Market” badge, and the “Stifle Angry Faces at People Who Complain about Winter” badge.


the “Aspirational Green Thumb” badge

Aww, look. It's a little plant heart thing. Adorbs.

I decided that instead of putting myself through the emotional turmoil of naming a plant and then being sad when I killed it, I would name my flower pot. Sparky the flower pot has served me well all summer. To my surprise and delight, so has the plant I bought. I currently have two plants that are almost entirely alive, despite my best efforts.

This year, I plan to make up for the ranunculus I killed this spring by earning the “Kill Another Ranunculus Because I Never Learn” badge.


the “Customer Service Purgatory” badge


This is probably the most grown-up trial I’ve had to endure this year. I signed up for cable just as the new year rolled in. I spent at least three nights a week in January on the phone with AT&T trying to understand why they couldn’t help me. I was without Internet and in near despair. The AT&T reps were all very nice, and I could tell that they wanted to help. One spent a good ten minutes describing my problem using ship metaphors, which was all a giant build up to his grand conclusion: “It’ll be smooth sailing from here, ma’am.”

There was also a rep who promised to be my “Micky Mouse–no–my Mighty Mouse”. I wasn’t sure if I should hang up on him or not.

It wasn’t until Valentine’s Day night that a poor AT&T tech wandered around my neighborhood in the sleet, fielding calls from his angry wife, to find that AT&T had never wired my house for DSL. Many hearts were broken that day.

In the next year, I plan to earn the “Go Completely Off the Grid” badge. For at least 20 minutes guys, I promise.


the “Oh, I Finally Found the Candles” badge

Poor little incandescent light. It didn't even make it to see its own extinction.

I earned this badge in conjunction with my First Tornado Warning badge, but since it wasn’t an actual tornado, I didn’t know how to draw that. I guess I could have drawn the little fort I made in my creepy basement.

For three days in the middle of summer, I was without power and forced to entertain myself like they did in the olden days: by plugging my wireless router into the generator my landlord provided. Actually, for about twenty minutes I attempted to embroider by candlelight. Mostly so I could tweet about it. Really, the worst of this week was that I missed a doctorwhotime and my hair was a little flat for lack of hairdryer. I got over it. But cute band-aid on that light bulb, right?

This year I plan to achieve the “Appreciate Light Switches” badge. I did miss those guys that week.


the “DIY to Death” badge

Yep. I DIY'd myself to death. Except I think there's a name for that. And then this would be offensive. So let's go back to talking about paint. Hi mom.

I’m not sure exactly what happened, but I got all crafty this year. I’m not sure what hit me. All of a sudden I was buying embroider floss and making pillows and just generally doing all the its I could find. However, my apartment has become particularly cozy, so I’m going to say it’s worth it. Since Kate came and helped me do some re-arranging, I’ve had to flip a coin to decide which of my two rooms I’m going to spend my evening in. I love my little home, so I’ll gladly accept this badge.

I’m in the running for a “Cutify This More” badge, and a “Actually Learn How to Sew/Embroider/Cross-stitch” badge this time around.


the “Naturey-type” badge

They're such gentle looking little guys. I mean, when they're not disembodied tails.

This isn’t even a legitimate badge. I was just excited about it. I have skunks in my yard. I have never seen a real live skunk before. I grew up only 30 miles away, and we had all sorts of fauna in our yard (rabbits, deer, foxes, squirrels, coyotes, raccoons, small hoodlums), but never skunks. So when I surprised one in my yard one night, it was a major life event. Very few people were excited about this for me, so I’m giving it an official badge just to express my excitement.

Next year I plan to win the “Um…I Don’t Know…I Guess I’ve Always Wanted to See a Wolverine” badge.


Little key with "one year" on it.

So this is my basically my year in review. It’s been a good year. I’ve had to learn how to live by myself, which isn’t always easy. Because there’s no one around to off-set my strengths and weaknesses, I’ve learned a good bit about consequences. If I don’t make coffee, no one gets coffee. That’s rough. (On the other hand, there’s no one around to make bad coffee.)  I’ve learned that as introverted as I think I am, I still miss having people around. I’ve learned that I can keep myself pretty well entertained. I think I’ve also become a little more comfortable with myself, since I’m forced to be in my own company most of the time. Oh, and I laugh at all my own jokes. But that’s not really a new thing.

Overall, it’s been a good year, and I’m looking forward to the next.

This is the longest post I’ve ever written, so if you do actually get this far, leave a comment and I’ll make you the badge of your choice. You don’t get a ceremony, though. These shindigs are just once a year, like Christmas.  Or, if you don’t want a badge, you can still leave a comment and say hi. I think you’re pretty. 

Sep 25, 2011

Cloudy Day


They were just making a routine run to the garden nursery, but my parents called and told us all to be waiting for them on the couch. This usually meant a present or surprise of some kind, but it could have been anything from candy bars to a new little sister. It’s tradition in our house to make everything a special occasion. They said I should sit in the middle, but this wasn’t unusual since I’m the middle daughter.

My dad walked in from the kitchen holding a little cardboard box. It was meowing. There was a cat in that box. I immediately started preparing for the worst. This was a cat for the whole family. That would be ok. I could share. Really, I reasoned, this could all be a horrible prank. My parents had found some sort of cat sound machine. I don’t know why I thought that was an option. My parents had never been practical jokers, and anyone who had been in the same room with me for more than a few minutes knew that I wanted a cat more than anything.

For the last few years, I had been dropping the most obvious hints I could think of. I remember one Christmas rendition of We Wish You A Merry Christmas where I substituted “kitty” for “figgy”. I was a quiet child, but I didn’t go in for subtlety. I drew picture after picture of my ideal cat: small, gray. I even had the perfect name picked out. If I ever got my little gray cat, I’d name her Cloudy Day. This was the height of poetry to my nine year old self.

When my parents brought in that box of cat, it was more than I could handle. After nine agonizing years of all my hints being ignored, I had about given up hope. My sisters and I opened up the box, and this tiny gray fluff popped out. I was devastated. Not only was I going to have to share this cat, but it was my dream cat. I was going to have to submit my name idea to be approved at our next sister meeting, and I’d be lucky if “Cloudy Day” even made it as middle name.

I was quieter than usual. My parents were concerned. Didn’t I like her? Of course I did, but she was for everybody, so it didn’t really matter. They laughed a little bit. They explained that Melissa and Elizabeth both got special attention for being the oldest and youngest girls, and they wanted to make sure I didn’t feel left out. This kitten was for me. Did I have any ideas for a name?

Over the next few years, I became an expert on experimental cat parenting techniques. I had already read the “Cat” entry in the family encyclopedia a dozen times, so I branched out to more specific books on cat breeds, cat home remedies, cat training. I supplemented these more serious works with James Harriot’s Cat Stories and The House of Thirty Cats I had plans to become the world’s first cat-only vet. If anyone asked me her breed, I could tell them confidently that she was an “American Longhair Blue Smoke Tortoise Shell”, which was longhand for “grey and brown cat-mutt”. I bought Cloudy a leash and spent hours trying to get her to “heel”. She would not.

Cloudy and I shared everything. This wasn’t always by my choice. She preferred that I drink water so that she could share comfortably. Hot chocolate was another favorite. She did not appreciate when I started drinking coffee, and would let me know by sniffing disdainfully at my mug and then trying to steal my breakfast. If she hadn’t been so polite about her sharing habits, I might not have put up with it, but she always dipped a paw into my glass and drank it by licking drops of her little hand. This is also how she ate her cat food: she’d drop a few pieces onto the ground and pick them up one at a time, popping them like popcorn.

She slept by me every night, under the covers. When I moved to the top bunk, she taught herself to climb the ladder, a feat that required intense concentration every time. She was very particular about how she would sleep. She wanted to be near me, but not too close. Often, I would wake up to see that she’d reached out her little paw so that she was holding my hand.

I had Cloudy for sixteen years. That’s more than half my life. This means that over the years, she has wrinkled the pages of Betsy-Tacy, tracked milk across my Algebra homework, deleted paragraphs from college essays on my laptop, and hidden my smart phone with strategic sleep positions. She was a faithful friend when I needed one badly. She never did well when I left home, but she always greeted me at the door and forgave me for the inconvenience I had caused.

I lost her today, and I didn’t expect it. She had been on several medications for the last year, and I knew she was getting on in years, but I think I just didn’t know what life would look like without her waiting at home for me. I’m grateful that I was home when it happened, and that I got to say goodbye. I don’t really have a point to make, even though this would be a great place to say something profound about the relationships between people and animals, or maybe about growing up. Mostly, I’m just sad, and I wanted a place to put some of these memories and say that I love my little cat, and I’m going to miss her.