Spring Cleaning

I was not raised to let closets get into this state.

I feel compelled to say that my mother did not raise me like this.

Just like everyone else I bought The Magic Art of Tidying-Up. And then I left it with my mom. She read it and liked it. Then she returned it, and I promptly put it on the shelf without cracking it open.

I love clothes, and I love stuff. I don’t love clutter in other houses, but I like my things heaped around me. But I also live in a small apartment. Not small by NYC standards, but small by Colorado Springs standards. Something’s gotta give. And so a few weeks ago I started purging appliances, clothes, books, decor, throw blankets, beauty products, etc.

I have a high threshold for clutter and piles. I wish I was one of those highly-motivated, type-A gals who can’t sleep until the dishes are done. Or one of those women who puts her clothes away instead of heaping them on the chair. But alas, I can sleep the sleep of the righteous no matter what state the kitchen is in, and heaps of clothes don’t say slatternly, to me they say cozy.

Based on the first paragraph, you’d expect me to talk about how I read the book, and it changed my life. But I still haven’t read it. And I probably won’t. Because when you can read a book about Apollo 13 or Pixar or Gone with the Wind a book devoted to tidying up is just not high on my list. However, I did use the index. I turned to the page on folding clothes, read through the strategy for organizing clothing in drawers, and went to work. And my drawers are a thing of beauty. I may leave them hanging open just for the heck of it now. Who am I kidding? I leave the drawers open all the time because who really has the extra 5 seconds to shove a drawer back into place. I need to devote that time to something life-changing, like Trivia Crack.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

Loveliest of trees

The white way of delight...

The white way of delight…

Today I taught 90 or so 6th graders how a steam engine works. I didn’t really know how a steam engine worked until earlier this morning. And actually, I mostly just asked a few leading questions and let the geniuses do the work.That would be my teaching at its finest.

But yesterday I was sauntering (actually hobbling a bit, thanks to blisters) along the Mall in Washington, D.C. I spent a few hours in the National Gallery of Art with senior citizens and elementary students. But the real reason I was in DC was to see Hannah (and James). And of course, we ran the Cherry Blossom 10 miler.

Being with Hannah means pictures. Thank you, James.

Being with Hannah means pictures. Thank you, James.

Our running partnership (or running mentor/mentee) relationship goes way back. But we’ve never run a race together. So at long last, we checked that off the bucket list.

I’m still grinning thinking about the weekend. From the minute I got into their car until I left yesterday afternoon I was spoiled. I laughed harder than I’ve laughed in a while. I ate the best food. I was given the book review section of Wall Street Journal. And we watched 30 Rock. This is the good part of adulthood. A ticket takes you to people you love.

It is in no way merited, but after the years these people are still in my life. And I’m so glad. All that time in college talking and studying and eating cafeteria food and stealing cafeteria food and so many little traditions and jokes have enriched our friendship now. I have never had as much time to invest in relationships as I did in college. And I was unconscious of the fact that that’s what I was doing. Life seemed so busy. Responsibilities seemed unending. In the end, I read a lot of good books, I thought about those books, I wrote quite a bit too. But my friends may have been the greatest gift that Hillsdale gave to me.

Love the light. Love Hannah. And love James because he too got up early, toted all our stuff, and came up with the cheer "Run for brunch. Run for glory."

Love the light. Love Hannah. And love James because he too got up early, toted all our stuff, and came up with the cheer “Run for brunch. Run for glory.”

Sick Day

Brilliant repartée...

Brilliant repartée…

“Hunger is the best sauce,” Ma Ingalls used to say. In that same vein, being sick makes any/all tv a lot more interesting. Yesterday and today have been glorious, because I somehow stumbled on an as yet undiscovered BBC miniseries.

At this point in time, I have to dig deep to find one I haven’t seen. I don’t mean to brag (because this is in no way something to be proud of, but I am?), but I have seen a lot of the BBC. I routinely go on the BBC website, check out what’s showing across the pond, and click on their video streaming in the hope that one day they’ll let me into their special zone.

But somehow I completely missed Berkeley Square. It might actually be horrible. But in light of Downton Abbey it seemed the perfect. It’s another upstairs/downstairs story. Only this time it’s about Edwardian nannies. Nannies who become friends with each other and do crazy things like swap in their own illegitimate babies when the rich baby dies from a laudanum overdose. And it works! They get away with it!

The story line is, of course, melodramatic, but it seemed more realistic in the way that it pitted the servants against their masters. It even pits the nursery staff agains the regular staff. I have never understood why the Downton Abbey servants like the upstairs crew. Who wouldn’t hate Lady Mary? If my wildest dream came true, Anna would snap and kill Lady Mary and Isis would help bury the body in the park, and no one would be the wiser.

In Berkeley Square seduction  and romance between the upstairs and downstairs is actually dangerous. And no, you don’t marry into the family, somehow becoming the confidant of Lord Grantham who stoically puts up with your socialist views. You not only lose your job, but you’re turned out without a reference if you try to protest. And you might have an illegitimate child, who also makes finding a job either impossible or tragic (you leave the baby at a “baby farm” in the country).

I guess what bothers me, and will continue to bother me is how little Downton actually humanizes the downstairs servants. They have their little quarrels and problems, but nothing gets treated with the same gravitas as the upstairs’ problems. It’s clear whose story we’re supposed to find more interesting. What I loved about Berkeley Square was the juxtaposition of the Nanny Hannah’s baby swap dilemma with socialite’s “which dress do I wear to the ball” drama. These women were working in these fine houses not because they had nothing better to do. It was a matter of survival and a chance to better one’s self. To gloss over this reality seems unfair to all the men and women who were in service. And honestly, it’s pretty shoddy storytelling, Julian Fellows.

That being said, I have the next episode of Downton all queued up. But only because I plowed through the one and only season of Berkeley Square in two days.

A grim, but not unpleasant view for a few days.

A grim, but not unpleasant view for a few days.

Lessons of the French Revolution

It's like Dickens was writing this for me...

It’s like Dickens was writing this for me…

We’ve been learning all about the French Revolution in history for the past few weeks. I love this unit because it’s my opportunity to show off my French pronunciation. That’s right, 4 years and departmental honors, and this is all the use I’ve gotten out of my French major. No regrets.

I try to ride the fine line between sympathizing with the third estate (97.5% of France) and not excusing their barbaric actions. Although, after you study the systemic oppression of the third estate you wonder why exactly they end up becoming the villains of the revolution.

But I love Marie Antoinette. I just do. I know she was extravagant and selfish, but the more I read about her (just finished Antonia Fraser’s excellent biography), the more she just seems trapped in a culture and society that very strictly defined her role. Are we angry at her for not being Mother Teresa? To have gone against the tide at Versailles (at the age of 14) she would have had to be a young Joan of Arc. Instead, she was exactly the kind of girl she was raised to be. So yes, let’s leave her in peace. And she lost her head, so isn’t that enough?

But that was all a digression, because this was a rough week. Now lying in bed with a tissue up my nose and two cups of hot tea by my side, I realize that I was coming down with something and perhaps trying to fight it off. My students came across as really spoiled. Not all of them of course, and there wasn’t any one thing that anyone did, but I would listen to NPR on the way to work and hear stories of ISIS executing children and Boko Haram invading Nigeria, and I would cry. And then I would go to school and hear whining about the room being a touch too cold or the amount of homework they had to do that would interfere with club sports schedules. And then the Valentine’s Day party involved a thousand emails until I was ready  to scrap the whole thing. Anyways, all this culminated in me telling my students that they were the aristocrats of the world.

They were stunned. Of course, they see themselves as peasants, but we’re not. Of course, we have to be in the wealthiest most privileged population of the world. I don’t know how successful this was, but I had to say something. I don’t want them to feel guilty (although I feel guilty all the time), but I just want them to be aware, to look outside themselves for two seconds. I want to look outside myself for two seconds.

This week my goal is to go to school with a better attitude. In the same way I want my students to be more grateful for their privileges, I also want to reflect that gratitude. I get to teach in a country where education is valued. My school gives me a lot of autonomy. When I run in the late afternoon, I want to appreciate the fact that not every woman (even in the US) has this opportunity. So I guess, that’s  what I’m taking away from the French Revolution. Inequality exists, right or wrong. I may not be able to fix those inequalities, but at least I can appreciate my good fortune. And I don’t have to be ignorant about the plight of others.

Decorating with Books

Actually, the title should be “Decorating around Books.” I am passionate about most things in life, and books are pretty close to the top of that list. I own books that have shaped me as a human being and books that I’ve been meaning to read for awhile. Books that I love but haven’t touched in years have a home. I also buy books that I have no intention of reading, but I can’t bear the thought of Audrey’s 1925 Christmas presents languishing in a thrift store. Someone needs to love them and prop them up. That person is me, keeper of the stray books.

I dashed around my apartment snapping photos of the shelves that are taking over my 525 square feet. The bedroom is for poetry, Shakespeare, and french literature. Oh, and Betsy and Tacy and Anne of Green Gables live permanently on my nightstand.

This shelf is also home to a hammer and Remy the mouse. Some things are inexplicable.

This shelf is also home to a hammer and Remy the mouse. Some things are inexplicable.

The kitchen houses the cookbooks. I think I’ve written about this before. The appliances got kicked off the red shelf to make room for the books. The only two I use regularly are Smitten Kitchen and America’s Test Kitchen. But it’s important to have A Little Dinner before the Play close at hand. I enjoy reading cookbooks while I dine. And I really like reading vintage cookbooks because the food sounds so much better and less…artisanal.

Honestly, the food processor languishing on the bottom shelf will probably get the boot pretty soon.

Honestly, the food processor languishing on the bottom shelf will probably get the boot pretty soon.

The desk is really just two book shelves with an Ikea slab on top. These house the essays and Agatha Christies.

I hate that they're stacked because pulling them out is so annoying, but it's so much more efficient space-wise.

I hate that they’re stacked because pulling them out is so annoying, but it’s so much more efficient space-wise.

Then of course there’s the bookcase that my Grandpa Berg built. This one is mostly for the Victorians. I like to think that they’re happiest together. Although, I’m not sure if Dickens got along all that well with his contemporaries. If I worked at Pixar (someday…), I’d write a screenplay about books coming to life. Just like Toy Story. But Book Story.



And now…my greatest pride and joy. My ikea bookcases. That now take up what feels like half the room, and alas, will probably not provide enough space for my growing herd/flock/horde. Jane Austen (and Jane Austen ephemera) takes up about half a shelf. Honestly, organizing these was stressful. Nothing fell into clear categories. I have a ton of literary criticism, but I also have a lot of Malcolm Gladwell and Adam Gopnik who don’t really fit into that genre. They don’t go together. And what about my biographies of Victorian feminists? Must Kurt Wallander share a shelf with Miss Buncle? Yes, they must, and so far they’ve both behaved admirably.

The right half

The right half

Left half

Left half

But in all seriousness, it’s almost getting to the point where a serious system is needed. There are too many books now for me to easily locate the one I need. I get side-tracked and end up rereading portions of Antonia Fraser’s Marie Antoinette biography when I meant to grab N.T. Wright.  But the alternative is…not having books? Or doing this abominable thing…


Or this, which is maybe a bit better…

Library of an Interaction Designer (Juhan Sonin) / 20100423.7D.0


I know I could just get rid of most of these and replace them digitally. But…if you’re the kind of person who buys old books based solely on the inscriptions, chances are the kindle is never going to cut it. Someday these books will bury me alive, but until that day I will keep adding to their number one by one (just picked up W. Somerset Maugham’s intellectual autobiography that’s been out of print for years).


New Year

Because a snowy landscape is the ultimate blank slate...

Because a snowy landscape is the ultimate blank slate…

Everyone else made awesome new year’s resolutions or picked a cool word or started a new diet or fitness regimen. And I didn’t. I did do a juice cleanse, but only because I’d eaten a steady diet of all the McDonald’s on the I-70 corridor for 4 days straight. And Culver’s and Sonic. Not pretty. I thought about doing Whole 30 because Hannah sent me her meal plan and grocery list. It would have been so easy except for giving up legumes, sugar, dairy, and grains for 30 days. I started strong, but then Gail brought 7 layer bars in for a treat, and I gave that up.

Here’s my manageable list:

1) Try grating fresh nutmeg with a nutmeg grater. In recipes I make they’re always calling for freshly grated nutmeg. I grab the ol’ McCormick’s from my cupboard and wonder how long I’ve had this bottle. Since college perhaps? This is the year that I will know if it’s really all that great. I have the grater in my amazon basket, so I’m almost there.

2) Get a library card. As Arthur the Aardvark rapped once, “Having fun / isn’t hard / when you’ve got a library card.” I have one to Arapahoe County up in the Denver Metro area. That is great, but I live in Colorado Springs. And I love the library. I’m not sure if I’m afraid of the excessive paperwork, new fines wracking up, or librarians (they can be so mean and not helpful), but it has not happened in the 3 1/2 years I’ve lived here. That ends in 2015. Maybe.

3) Do a headstand. As we often tell our fat dog Guthrie who is jumping impaired, “If you dream it, you can achieve it.” I believe. I also am making friends and family spot me until this works out.

Resolutely on the floor...because jumping is for dogs with less junk in their trunk...

Resolutely on the floor…because jumping is for dogs with less junk in their trunk…

4) Get rid of many clothes. I in no way aspire to be a minimalist. I am in awe when people write about having three t-shirts and one perfect pair of jeans. I know at times that I have definitely over-shopped. Having too many clothes is not good. But I’m not sure if minimalism doesn’t hit the opposite extreme. Being obsessive about having less (which is always way more expensive somehow) seems wrong as well. So I’m aiming for a balance. I want my closet to look happy and maybe a little chubby, but maybe it shouldn’t bring a ruthless gleam to the organizer’s eye. I sent a picture to Hannah, who responded with “It’s like a siren call to me. I want at it!!!”

Too ashamed to post a picture of my closet. So here's a selfie. Yes, I wore red lipstick to help cope with the closet culling. I'm keeping the orange sweater, even though it's been 2 years since I've worn it.

Too ashamed to post a picture of my closet. So here’s a selfie. Yes, I wore red lipstick to help cope with the closet culling. I’m keeping the orange sweater, even though it’s been 2 years since I’ve worn it.

Happy New Year and almost Valentine’s Day!

Advent reading

Sometimes more is more. And sometimes less is more. I have a whole stack of books I’m reading and rereading this Advent season. I’m working my way through Isaiah, and Auden’s For the Time Being, and Bonhoeffer’s God Is in the Manger. And they’re all good and meaningful and wonderful.

But today I received my friend Jenny’s card in the mail. Jenny has a genius for choosing her words wisely. She is one of the few people who truly thinks before she speaks. And these four verses just say it all. Here’s the photo I snapped (and isn’t her handwriting just lovely?):


And here are the verses with the citations:

“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down!” (Is. 64:1).

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:19-20).

“He will be our peace…For he himself is our peace” (Micah 5:5, Eph. 2:14).

I have read all of these verses before, but today it was as though I was reading them for the first time. And to reread something with new eyes is a gift. Thank you, Jenny.