Category Archives: Learning the hard way

Best Laid Plans (1)

UPSwampAbout a year and a half ago, I started cleaning out my mother’s house, and almost immediately learned that keeping stuff “because I might need it someday” or “because it’s too good to throw out” is a bad idea. Clearly, it’s time to dejunk my own home – but I had to finish my mother’s first. Days and weeks and months went by, and my husband and I kept filling up trash cans and lugging dozens of big black trash bags out to the end of her driveway to be hauled away. Over and over, I thought we were almost finished; we never were. As soon as we cleared away one mess, we found another hiding behind it.

But at last, when 2014 was almost over, the end seemed in sight. And I had such great plans. I knew exactly how I was going to spend the winter – at home, cozily busy indoors, discarding piles and piles of my unneeded, unwanted, unloved junk. Bags and boxes on top of bags and boxes, out the door and gone with the trash collectors. And when spring came, I was going to look back on months of accomplishment and look forward to a new, streamlined life.

So much for plans.

The trouble was, even after a year of work, I still didn’t realize how cluttered my mother’s house was. There was still stuff behind stuff, all sorts of stuff, three different types of stuff. Some of it, my parents valued but I don’t have enough room to store it or any desire to own it – but maybe someone else would. Then there were perfectly good things I don’t think they realized they had, like half a dozen can openers, ten or twenty or thirty years old (judging by the price tags), still in their original store packaging. (These first two categories were easy; they could be given away or sold.) And finally there was stuff, lots of it, that they might have valued once, and shoved out of the way someplace or other, and never touched again while it deteriorated and became unusable.

And I had no time or energy left to tackle my own mess. Instead, this house got more and more cluttered as we brought home boxes of papers – as many boxes as the back of the car would hold – that I didn’t have time to sort through while we were at my mother’s house.

So much stuff, and so little of it any use to anybody.

Cake of Catastrophe

I keep making promises and getting myself into these situations that end in one kind of catastrophe or another. Last weekend, I had promised to provide a cake. After all, I had a recipe for glazed lemon bundt cake that sounded appealing. And I have a bundt pan – a bit more elaborate than the standard ones, but how could I have resisted buying a pan that looks (sort of) like a rose in full bloom?

CakeOfCatastrophePanThe cake wasn’t that hard – it’s basically a half-pound pound cake, with a bit of baking soda and some buttermilk and some lemon juice and grated rind added. And while it baked, I mixed up the glaze – butter and confectioner’s sugar and more lemon juice. Everything was going smoothly.

At first. The recipe tells you to let the cake cool just ten minutes, then turn it out of the pan so you can pour glaze over the hot cake and let it sink in. Only the cake refused to leave the pan. I tried cautiously running a knife around the edges to loosen it. No good. I shook the pan good and hard. The cake didn’t budge. I banged the upside-down pan on the counter a few times and whacked it with the palm of my hand while shaking it some more.

CakeOfCatastropheTopNope. It wasn’t moving. Total failure. Catastrophe, in fact. Finally I admitted defeat and spooned glaze over what was supposed to be the bottom of the cake. I was too tired to try something nice and foolproof, like brownies, so I just didn’t show up with a cake at all. Instead, we had some of it for dessert last night. Now that it’s cold, the slices come out of the pan nicely. Well, almost. Except for the parts that stick.

CakeOfCatastropheTopPartlyEatenIt does taste good. So maybe it wasn’t a complete catastrophe after all.

 

Just Saying

(Occasional expert advice on how to be thoroughly disorganized.)

Are you doing laundry today? Do you expect to do laundry some time in your life? Here’s why the truly disorganized person should never check pants pockets:

Because it’s so much fun to find scraps of Kleenex stuck all over everything.

Because it’s even more fun finding that a cough drop (the one that was in the same pocket as that Kleenex) has unwrapped itself and glued itself to a sock.

Two guesses how I know this. Come on, nobody needs three.

Saturday House Clearing Haiku

Boxes keep falling
On my head, coming apart
Down the attic stairs…

Or, how to end up covered by old clothes and scraps of box. Corrugated cardboard doesn’t last forever, alas.

Yesterdaily post: Talents I wish I had…

(With thanks to the one and only Rarasaur. Without her, I would have overlooked this WordPress daily post suggestion – “tell us about a talent you’d love to have, but don’t” – entirely. As it is, I’m only a day late…)

Oh, there are lots of things I wish I could do effortlessly. Draw. Run. Make my hair do what I want it to do. (We’ve come to an understanding, my hair and me. I  wash and brush it as needed and let it do pretty much what it prefers, and it sits on top of my head and points in various directions and smirks.) But none of those is the biggie, the talent I long to have and never expect to master.

If I only could get organized. (To the tune of that song from the Wizard of Oz, you know, the one the scarecrow sings. Or maybe each of Dorothy’s buddies gets a verse of his own. If I were organized, I’d know, wouldn’t I?)

PeterthegreateggBut I’m not organized. I tackle all sorts of things…I write, I blog, I take photos, I bake, I knit, I, I, I get interested in a lot of stuff. Shiny! The world is so full of a number of things, as that poet, you know, Whitman, or Stevenson, or Plath, said. And I want to play with most of them.

Focus, I don’t got it. If only I could just set most of my mental toys gently but firmly to one side and concentrate on the most important. I’m not so sure that would work well, though.

Faberge+egg+main Imperial Easter EggHow do you cope when you’re working hard on a project and reach a dead end, a puzzle you don’t see how to solve? Well, I need to concentrate on something completely different – then my mind wanders off exploring and comes back with solutions to unrelated problems. When I force myself to drive grimly straight ahead toward one goal, I wind up exhausted, depressed, and incompetent. When I keep juggling, sooner or later one of my problem balls hatches like a Czarist jeweled Easter egg…shiny!…and hands me an answer.

Memory of Azov egg

Maybe my best plan is to treat my mind like my hair: just learn to live with its quirks.

Playing with yarn – big and little oopses

CowlTwoSidesReversibleI’ve been knitting away for weeks on a reversible cowl, sort of like a ring-shaped scarf, and it looks like I’ll finish just in time for warm(ish) weather – starting this week, I’ve seen crocuses and second-year pansies that sprouted and started to bloom again, and there are rumors of robin sightings.

Well, the timing doesn’t matter much. Some people say it will get cold again in about eight months, and besides what really interests me is finding out what kind of strange shapes and designs you can make out of long fuzzy string.

Not that I managed to get through this experiment without mistakes, two in particular – the big oops and the little oops. The little one was too annoying to live with, so I ripped it out and fixed it. The big one? Fairly noticeable, obviously wrong, and it can stay just the way it is.

The Little Goof

CowlLittleOopsFor those of you who knit, two-sided knitting is done almost exactly the same way as basic knit one – purl one ribbing. The differences are that you need two yarns, and you alternate yarns for each stitch. (Well, except when the pattern says not to.) What happened was that I only moved one of the pair of yarns to the back of the fabric for one stitch, leaving the unused yarn running in plain sight in front of the new stitch.

CowlRippingDownStitchesWhen I finally noticed it and talked myself into fixing it, I undid that entire column of stitches, all the way down to the mistake, and then rebuilt it with a crochet hook.

CowlRebuildingStitches

(So what we really have here is a double-sided, reversibly patterned, knit and crochet cowl. Maybe I should throw in a bit of cross stitch too. Or some welding.)

The Big, Permanent Goof

CowlWrongWayHeartThe cowl has a design of hearts, alternately pointing up or down. (The pattern’s not even a little bit subtle.) And I made one heart pointing the wrong way. And it’s going to stay just like that.

Hmm. Maybe I should have thrown in a couple of sideways hearts to keep the upside-down heart company. Too late now.

Let’s see, what can I knit wrong next?

The clock is ticking…

…only fourteen and a half hours left of 2012. Sorry, fourteen and a quarter.

All right, let’s try for realistic plans for 2013. One thing I’ve finally learned over the past year (and about time, too) is that there’s a limited number of minutes in a day to get things done, and a limited amount of mental and emotional and physical energy to use for doing them. So it seems like a good idea to tackle only one large new goal at a time.

The two things that have to continue are writing and providing support for my mom. I’ll certainly continue with the weekly 100-word challenges – they’re fun, they’re good practice, and I enjoy seeing what other people come up with based on the same prompts. I’ll go on blogging regularly. And, above all, I’ll keep chipping away at the boulder of book-length fiction, trying to sculpt it into finished work of my own.

What should I tuck into the corners of the day around that central core? Probably the thing I want to do least: clean the horrible house, because the inconvenience and irritation of living in this mess is getting to me. And what that needs to start with is getting rid of lots and lots and lots of stuff – we own too many things to organize them all.

Once the mess is under control, I can free up time for regular exercise, something I’ve neglected lately. And make sure I’m eating good food, not junk. Will I lose weight? Probably not, but I’ll be healthier.

And, since at least one New Year’s resolution should focus on something you want to do, I’m going to finally make time for knitting experiments – trying out odd stitches and construction methods that I’ve read about here and there. Blog posts, yes, there will be blog posts. With pictures.

(And also, I’ll go on looking forward to posts from the many varied bloggers I follow. Some of you have become online friends, and all of you brighten my day. Thank you so much!)