New Year’s UnResolutions

Sure New Year’s was a few months ago, but as you may notice, none of my resolutions include posting my columns in a timely manner.  Maybe next year for that one.

Written Jan 2, 2014

Happy 2014! With every new year, as soon as the kids stop blowing those noise makers in my ears, I start hearing people talk about the “R” word.

Resolutions.

By definition, “resolution” means firmness and determination to take a course of action. But as soon as you tack on the words “New Year’s” in front of resolution, it all becomes a joke, as in “Oh ha ha…yes, of course you are going to work out more this year…for about two weeks…” Aren’t New Year’s Resolutions those plans that you make and then just completely discard by Valentine’s Day?

So this year, I’m making some un-resolutions. (And no, that is not technically a word…yet.) I hate to say I’m resolute, because well, plans change, and things come up. And when it comes to unresolved, I’m quite good at that. I have plenty of unresolved projects in my life. In the last month alone, I’ve created an astonishing number of unresolved projects all over the house while Christmas took a priority.

Theoretically, when the holidays end, I’ll have all sorts of time to start fresh and tackle a few projects in the new year. Here are some of my Wintertime Unresolutions:

Paint the Kitchen Cabinets
The first time I walked through this house, I thought “If I bought this place, I’d paint the kitchen cabinets white right away.” We’re sneaking up on two years in this house, so I think I’m finally ready to take on that “right away” project.

I actually did start painting the cabinets about a month after moving in, starting the project at about 11 PM, when I finally had some quiet time. Obviously, I was way overtired if I thought I should drag out the paint to start a home improvement project two hours past my bedtime. I did paint for an hour or so before bagging the project for months on end.

This past spring, I primed a few more cabinets one afternoon. But when that winter snow finally melted (at the end of May, I believe), all the indoor projects ended and all attention went to outdoor projects. Make hay while the sun shines…or paint the porch, in my case.

Currently, when people look at my cabinets with about 1/4 covered in the streaky primer coat they tentatively ask, “Is that how you are going to keep them?” Um, no. I just thought it’d be nice to really drag out the ugly transition stage for a really long time.

Currently, my cabinets are a classy mix of half streaky paint and half dark wood.  Be it resolved that the cabinets will actually get painted this year.

Currently, my cabinets are a classy mix of streaky primer and dark wood. Be it resolved that the cabinets will actually get painted this year.

With a frozen world outside and my youngest kiddo sneaking up on three, that seems like the ideal time to tackle that kitchen.

Paint the Girls’ Room
When I moved in, I also thought, “I’ll paint the girls room ASAP.” And of course, you can guess what’s happened. The girls’ favorite colors are blue and purple, but the current walls are orange, brown, and dark green sponge painting…pretty much the opposite of those favorite colors. For an added touch, the room also sports a wall paper border that is partially missing due to an industrious baby who liked to help out with home improvement while stuck in her crib. Apparently, she didn’t want the border, either.

When I get that kitchen done, the long-neglected girls’ room is next on the list.

Read Three Books
In the course of the year, I fairly easily read 500 books. Sounds impressive, right? And of course, many of those books are the classics. Classics, as in The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Harry the Dirty Dog, Green Eggs and Ham, Goodnight Moon…you get the picture. When it comes to adult literary selections, though, I’m really lacking.

I hate to say this, but in some ways, majoring in English partially killed my desire to read. I regularly cranked through 100-200 pages of intensive reading a night. Remembering all details, characters and plots while making inferences and identifying underlying themes burned me out for quite some time. Just when I really started liking reading for enjoyment again is about the time that babies arrived on the scene. And no surprise, sleep deprivation and increased work load aren’t really conducive to reading novels.

My modest goal this year is to read three books. (I won’t say “adult books” because that leads people to thinking that I shop for my books in that run-down store on the wrong side of the tracks.)

Three books in a year seems like a laughable amount when I’d read that much in a week in college or in the summer during high school. However, three books is a vast improvement to the half of a book that I read on my own this year. How embarrassing.

I found some new reading inspiration, though, on the latest trip to Montana. I brought home a small stack of books from Grandma Grace’s collection, and seeing them makes me want to sit down and curl up with a good book at night. And best of all, I won’t rack up any library fines.

A new little stack of books from my husband's Grandma Grace is the inspiration for reading books for myself again.

A new little stack of books from my husband’s Grandma Grace is the inspiration for reading books for myself again.

Looking at my list, I realize my un-resolutions are pretty minimal. That is the point. In my head are easily another 20 big projects that I’d like to take on in 2014, but for now, I’m starting fairly simply. If life taught me anything in 2013, it’s that things don’t always go as planned. So I’m starting with just paint and books.

Throw four young kids into that mix, and that seems like plenty of opportunities for un-resolutions for the start of the year.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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For Richer or Poorer: A Love Affair with the Library

The true glory of the public library is that everyone who goes there is rich, but it has nothing to do with money.

When we lived in Montana, one of the most anticipated days of the week was Thursday. That was the day we took my husband’s grandparents to the weekly Senior Citizens’ Dinner at the Community Center.  And twice a month, when we pulled into the parking lot for the Thursday noon meal, our kids would spot a large bus and excitedly shout, “Jerry’s here! Jerry’s here!”

Jerry, of course, is the librarian/bus driver for the Infomobile that makes regular Thursday stops in Broadview, Montana.  Jerry is a kind, soft-spoken man nearing retirement age, but for my kids, Jerry and his book mobile were greeted with the excitement of spotting a rock star.

Twice a month we had a routine of climbing up the tall bus steps, heaving a bulging bag of books to return on his counter, and heading to the long bottom row of the bus shelves where all the children’s books are stowed.  Our two-year-old even knew the routine, and would make his selections and plunk the books up on the counter on our stack to check out.

After watching her siblings read books, our baby heads to the shelf to find a book, too. Just over a year, she loves “reading” a good book.

Next, our kids eagerly watched Jerry scan the books, making them officially “beep,” stamp them all with a date, and most fun of all, when the books were all stamped, the kids presented their hands.  If they asked nicely using “please,” which Jerry sometimes reminded them, they received a highly sought after date stamp on their hands.

Then we loaded up our once again bulging bag of books, climbed down the steps that are waist-high on small kids, and headed home.  A library bag full of new books to read feels like amazing wealth.  Usually, the next step involved dumping out the books all over the living room floor to fully check out the new selections. I’ve even on occasion seen a kid or two happily roll in the book pile, like the familiar movie scene of rolling in a pile of money after a big night in Vegas.  (Please don’t tell the library that my kids roll in books.)

After that, we’d pile on the couch, settle book selection disputes, and read as many of the new books as we could before it became obvious that afternoon nap time had arrived. Thursday Infomobile library days were always good days at our house.

Libraries to me are amazing places.  I’ve frequented libraries enough to know how just they work, but it still amazes me every time I visit that I can just pick any book I want, have as many books as I want, and take them all home.  For FREE.  No matter how many times I go to the library, there is always a little fleeting moment in my mind where I feel like this whole public library system can’t be for real.  It’s a little moment of awe.  Isn’t the librarian going to chide me and say I can’t really have all of these books?  As I grab the bag of books and walk away, isn’t someone going to stop me and ask me for some cash or a credit card in exchange for all this book bounty?  I really get to just walk in and take these books home, for nothing?

The true glory of the public library is that everyone who goes there is rich, but it has nothing to do with money.  Simply enter the doors, and everyone has full, complete access to everything inside.  In an age of tightened budgets, many libraries are forced to reduce hours and cut staff, but they still remain available to all, with free books, free computer access, free magazines to read (with no guilt of speed-reading an article in the store checkout line), free DVD rentals, and on and on.  The library provides wealth in knowledge beyond compare, and it doesn’t cost a single dime.

What an amazing equalizer to live in a country where personal income has no bearing on one’s access to a world of information via public libraries.  I’m particularly awestruck by the New York City Public Library.  I’ve only seen it in pictures, and it’s an impressive beauty to behold.  Made of stone with columns rising up in the front, and intricate gold inlays in the ceiling, it looks more like the European cathedrals I’ve toured than a library. What really strikes me is wondering what it would be like to be a child growing up in the projects, walking into that place of awe, and getting to check out books there just like everyone else.  What would that feel like?  What kind of impact does that have on a child to have that library access?

Libraries and books resonate deeply with me.  I often heard my mom tell stories of how poor she was growing up as the oldest of 13, but almost always in the same breath, were stories of how she’s always loved books, had a library card, and always had a book (or three) to read.  In books and their opportunity to learn, she always had wealth.  And now, my mom is a librarian, her dream job.

For me as a kid, walking out of the library on a summer afternoon with a gluttonous armload of books gave me a giddy feeling of utter abundance and richness.  Settling in with a book on a summer evening and not going to bed until the sun started to come up in the sky was not an uncommon activity in our house growing up.  Getting lost in a book feels like the essence of summer.

A quiet Sunday afternoon, relaxing in the sun room and enjoying a new book from the library.

The glory of a summer trip to the library hit me all over again last Saturday.  We haven’t been to a library in two months with the busyness of settling into a new house and a new routine.  Visiting a new library for the first time after not visiting any library at all for two months made the whole experience new again for my kids.

Instead of their usual library mode of assertively choosing books off of the shelf, they were cautiously asking, “Mom, can I get this one?”  “Is this one ok?” “Can I have this one, too?”  I realized my kids were in their “store mode,” where they tentatively ask for something and then expect to hear “no” as the response.  When I recognized what was going on, I reminded my six- and five-year-olds that books in libraries are free, and they can in fact choose any books they like.

And that’s why I love the library.  As a parent, saying “no” and setting limits to unending requests when we’re out and about is big part of my job.  Saying no means we don’t come home with a van full of popsicles and trinkets on every trip to town, but on the negative side, sometimes I feel like my main job title is Chief Rejector of All Requests.

I love that the library is the one place where, when I walk in with my kids, I get to say “yes.”  They don’t get to fling books off of the shelves or swing from light fixtures, but when it comes to picking out any book that strikes their fancy, the answer is a big, fat “YES!”

And best of all is what happens with the books at home.  Just this morning, our five-year-old boy was conspicuously absent from our breakfast table.  I looked into the living room and I didn’t find him in front of the tv, so I yelled upstairs.  From long down the hallway in the sun room upstairs, I heard the boy who hadn’t even eaten breakfast yet, lost in another world yell, “I’m just looking at this book.  Is it lunch time already?”  And in that moment of morning breakfast melee, I was deeply pleased that my son who never misses a meal was oblivious to time and hunger because of reading a book.  That’s my boy.

Written June 11, 2012.
© 2012