Category Archives: Living Small

How we maximize our square funnage.

Survival of the Funnest

You may well be wondering “Hey, did you guys survive the bedbugs? Or have you been carried off by the invading swarm?”

Well, both, in a way.

We came through it. We walked Bloodsucker valley and lived to tell. We’re still moving around the city, and we’re not scratching persistent itchy bites. We pass through the nights unmolested. Ten years from now, I might be cautiously optimistic that the process has worked. But we also seem to have been carried off, replaced by new, stronger more bad-ass people. We were made new through bedbugs. And even the Fun Apartment was made new. Even though it’s pretty much still the same.

It was 26 days living with the bags. Twenty. Six. March of 2017 is now just a charred piece of paper on the family calendar.

It was only supposed to be 24 days, but the exterminator decided–twice!–to rearrange his schedule.

And perhaps I should thank him, because it was those extra two days that did it. Those were the days that showed me that things couldn’t be the old way anymore. I knew on those two days that we were–or at least I was–going to be different people at the end of those two days. Those were the days I said all the swear words.

Happily, at the end of those two days, Mr. Fun Apartment and I were different people still married to each other, so that’s a plus. And I was a new person who just did whatever felt good. And didn’t feel bad about feeling good. I dyed a pink streak in my hair. I threw out at least a third of our stuff, but decided that we really couldn’t live without a giant squid costume.

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Eyeballs the size of dinner plates!

I went to a fancy party–on a Monday night–and drank ALL the champagne! I made cereal and called it dinner–to great applause! We started watching Looney Tunes! The Mr. bought some shorts! (Well, he’s got the legs for it.)

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Push the Sky Away.

I got interested in a band* and then actually went to see them play–like an actual real person does! We went camping and ate ice cream sandwiches for lunch! At this point, I fully expect the boys to come home with tattoos. I’m cool with that, as long as they are anchors with the word “Mom” over them.

So now, apparently, I’m a person who says “Yes, why the hell not?” to almost any proposition I get. But I warn you to use your power over me wisely: I’m very susceptible to suggestion. Yes! The answer is yes! Unless you’re the PTA, in which case the answer is “Umm . . . maybe next year?”

So does all this newness mean that I’m ramping up for a big blog-name-changing announcement? No. Not yet.

But we’re asking ourselves a lot of questions that begin with “When?” and “Where?” I think we’re pretty set on “Who?” I’m afraid that “How?” will just have to sort itself out later. I’m too busy saying yes to things.

So, for my mom and the realtor she’s been secretly emailing, we’re not packing up yet. But we’re opening the lens wide. We’re putting on shoes, but no pants.

Why the hell not?

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*One of the in-house music critics insists on referring to the band as Nick Cave and the Bad Nuts. Hey, I’m pretty sure Nick would say “Bring it on.”

 

 

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Filed under Living Small, Not cool, Mommy, The outside world

Sleep tight. . . .

Remember when we got the huge new bed? And remember when we were overrun with sea monkeys?

Well, those two things have kind of come together in a horrible way for us. It’s another infestation, but less friendly, more plague-y. That’s right: we found bed bugs.

Can you hear me screaming all the curse words, even from where you are? Good, that means I’m doing it right.

Go ahead and take a moment to glance around, itch everywhere, and then send us a text cancelling our next social engagement. It’s all right: everyone does. We grow accustomed to it.

How did we get them? Beats us. You can’t exactly interrogate the little m-f-ers, so it really could have been from anywhere. But where it is now is under the kids’ bed. (New bunk bed with all metal frame currently on requisition.)

So what did we do? Well, the exterminator suggested we go stay somewhere else for 14-20 days. This brought a fit of grim laughter. If we had somewhere else to live for that long, don’t you think we’d already be living there? And let me tell you, even very nice people aren’t eager to accept our kind of refugees into their homes.

Because the moving out option was not open to us until our summer staff retreat, and because the exterminator implied to Mr. Fun Apartment that waiting that long would constitute child abuse, we got instead the more complicated, larger pain in the ass option of “bag and bomb.” That essentially means that we have packed ALL of our stuff into large plastic bags. Then, the exterminator dropped what is hopefully a very lethal and effective pesticide into each bag and sealed them up.

But did not take them anywhere.

That’s right. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any more fun, the Fun Apartment stuffed itself into (at last count) 57 awkward and somewhat fragile plastic bags. That number does not including the ones in the bathtub that hold the clothes we are allowed to wear over the next two weeks, and then take to the laundromat for some 40 minutes of fun in the hot, hot dryer.

And it’s two weeks of this, not counting the four extra days when the exterminator couldn’t be bothered to come by. So 18 days. Oh, and the extra 6 six days he suggested, while he tries to wrangle up the stragglers who did not deign to go inside the bags, but instead continue to wander about the apartment in search of luxury living spaces in Chelsea. (Location, location, location!)

And after 24 days of living like refugees in our own house, another fun time awaits us!: putting everything away again! It will be like moving in! Again! Except not into a new, bigger place. Into the exact same place.

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Climb every mountain.


In the interim, we’re camped out among the bags, all carefully stacked to the heavens. But we can start to see the bones of our old home reemerging. Today, after some rearranging, our little guy gasped with delight “We can have a couch?!” Upon receiving confirmation that, yes, we could indeed have a couch, just like regular people, he positively glowed.

And to show that we’ve been visited by not just any ordinary bedbugs, but ones with incredible senses of irony: I was counting the days until we can slice open the bags and move in again, and as I was tapping the days (10), a bed bug wandered across the calendar.

So, good thing we’re going through all this. It’s going swimmingly. Exactly as planned.

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The Big Sleep

A popular Fun Apartment joke is that some well-meaning friend or relative (Hi, Mom!) will threaten to send me some large item that regular people have in their house, like a dishwasher, a chainsaw, or a throw pillow and I will say “Are you kidding?? If we had one those, we would all have to sleep in it!”

Well, the joke is on me. We just got something so big that, yes, we have to sleep in it. Lucky for us, it’s a new bed. And it’s enormous. Enormous really doesn’t cover it. Our old comforter certainly didn’t.

i mean, seriously, look at this thing:

Bear sold separately.

Shopping for a bed is not something I had ever done before, because quite frankly, I’m crap as an adult, and mattress shopping is definitely filed under “things adults do.” See, I already had a perfectly good bed. The story is this: My mom was trying to lure my little sister, aged 4, into sleeping in her own room, so she bought her a big girl bed. That same sister is now pushing forty hard enough to break a wrist. So, that’s a recommendation for the Sleep Shop in Appleton, Wisconsin. You should probably check them out, if you are interested in mattress longevity.

But that box spring finally gave out, in the prime of its youth–possibly accelerated by the Fun Apartment’s Winter Youth Fitness Plan (i.e. jumping on the bed).

So we had to to mattress shopping. We trooped out, armed with our teddy bear and giant squid to test out beds. We camped out in mattress stores and engaged in a lay down, roll over, get up, lay down, roll over, get up protocol that, it must be said, makes one incredibly sleepy. In fact, when we actually chose one, I didn’t have the stamina to stick around and seal the deal. I needed some fresh air to wake myself up (and the saleswoman was tiring of playing twenty questions with the kids).

Seal the deal we did, but perhaps the soporific effect of mattress shopping may have marred our judgement. This bed is like a land mass–like Pangaea. Maybe it’s just the shift from double to queen, which is very striking. The Man of my Dreams and I are fairly compact, so a double bed had suited our needs. And I’d always thought of the Queen as somewhat diminutive–at least she looks that way in the photographs, but this realm must include the all former colonies and the erstwhile empire. Often I wake in the night  gasping, “I’m all by myself!” I panic, my arm flailing out to barely brush against the Mister. It’s also really tall. Sometimes I rather expect a tiny  dried pea to come rolling out of it. It’s so tall that one member of the family has requested a ladder so that he can join for bedtime reading. You know our philosophy of reading around here, so that ladder might just happen for him.

And are we sleeping proportionately better? Well, the Man of My Dreams is not the best of sleepers, but he reports a certain creature comfort need that is met by the “bedemoth.” And I am pretty much a top ranking amateur in the sleep department so sure, I’ll say yes. But I kinda miss the extra foot of floor space. After all, an extra foot at the Fun Apartment is well, a whole extra foot.

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List of demands

Once again, we have managed to work our way back east from our annual extended staff retreat. And as in years past, I am struck again by the following truths as we stumble in and dump bags of Midwestern bounty on the kitchen floor:
1. The Fun Apartment doesn’t actually seem that small. One would think that after getting our eyes all stretched out with all that space, the place would look more like a dollhouse when you peer in the window. But it never does. Instead it manages to look cozy. It looks like home. (But opening the refrigerator, that’s a whole other thing. That place really is tiny.)

2. Now that we’re home, even doing our normal stuff feels novel and exciting. Our neighborhood playground feels like wonderland! And the Y still has free babysitting!

3. After several weeks of Midwestern-style liberty, the kind where they can go play in outside by themselves, the boys seem to have grown up a lot in a relatively short span of time. During our visit, there were times when, while we were all still technically on the same property, they were as far as two city blocks away from me. So I am wondering how to use new long leash in a New York way. The other day, I applied it to the rather arcane and ridiculous process known as alternate side parking, during which one has to sit in the car for an hour and a half, in case the police or a streetsweeper come wandering by. But mostly one just sits in the car, going nowhere. You can imagine the non-appeal for kids. But can you also imagine how well walkie talkies work from the fourth floor down to the curb? Really, really well.

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Don’t worry, Mommy’s watching!

But, I have also been slowly realizing over the last few years that these boys are just not that keen on city life. Near-natives of the greatest city on earth? Meh. They’re over it. They want to move to the great white north.

Bite us, Big Apple.

So, the suggestion box has been stuffed to the gills with increasingly urgent requests to relocate. When queried further on this, they offered  the following somewhat surprising and specific elaborations on their dream house:

First son, first request: a dishwasher. (Love you, baby!)

Second son, first request: a pantry. “Oh! I know! A pantry! We could put things in it, like beer, cucumbers, anything!” (Really, what more does one need?)

Other ideas: a cherry orchard, with one tree for us, and one other tree for other people. A lake, but not an outhouse. If no lake, then a pool. And a treehouse that we could live in. After those demands are met maybe they could have their own bedrooms. Or even a bedroom that is not part of another room. Or just a treehouse.

Ah well, we live in hope. And–for now, anyway–in the Fun Apartment.

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Joy, and Stuff

You guys know we live in a tiny apartment, right?  Perhaps you’ve also gathered that there are, at last count,  four of us in here–and two of us are kids!

And of course, all of us have stuff. Some of that stuff is toys. And clothes. And food. And books. And wine. So, we have the essentials. And there’s also an extra lampshade, with no lamp–don’t ask. And a sewing machine, giant volcano, tin can robot, postage scale, a basket full of rocks, a cordless drill, and several thousand of the Mister’s random bags of crap.

As you might imagine, the Fun Apartment can feel pretty crowded. Keeping a clear path  requires constant vigilance and many executive decisions made while everyone else is at school or work. (And no, I haven’t seen your bag with the old lock parts in it. Stop asking.)

I’ve written before about how I feel constant pressure to purge and unclutter.* So, it was inevitable, I suppose, that I would end up writing about Marie Kondo and her “life-changing” magic.

Have I read the book? Well, no, not the whole thing. But it is in the bathroom, and I’ve flipped through it. And yes, parts of it make plenty of sense to me. But not all the parts. “One theme underlying my method of tidying is transforming the home into a sacred space, a power spot filled with pure energy.”**  Yeah, I really can’t see that happening around here.

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Good thing we have shelves.

 

So we’re not totally converting to this new religion. But, like I said, it takes constant vigilance to keep the producers of Hoarders at bay. So I thought we’d just try to do some magic tidying and see how that worked out for us.

I’m not sure why I chose to take my organizational stand in the bathroom, with the wash cloths. But there they were: a bin overflowing with washcloths. Some of you may remember this pile of washcloths as the sea monkey mass grave. “Perhaps I could tidy those,” I suggested to myself. But there were a lot of them and rearranging them in the bin didn’t really produce the promised life-changing magic. So, I asked the man of my dreams about getting some of those tall odd-shaped drawers to curb the washcloths.*** But instead of agreeing to drawers, he suggested we just go through the washcloths and get rid of a bunch, until we came to a manageable quantity. Now, I am not one to quash the Mister’s purging urge, as he is only seized by this urge . . . Umm is there a word that means “every five years”? Quintennially? Maybe he has been reading in the bathroom, as well. Anyway, we dutifully went through our washcloth collection and decluttered. We were joining the choir. We were one step closer to a home filled with “pure energy.”

At least, we were, until the kids came down with pink eye.

(I will pause here so you can reassure yourselves that your eyes are not really itchy, but perhaps you should wipe down your screened devices anyway.)

That’s right, we suddenly found that what we needed were washcloths. Lots. Of Washcloths. Approximately the same number we had just unloaded. And we needed them right away. Suddenly, that decluttering urge seemed more like hubris or idiocy.

So we had not nearly enough washcloths to gt us through the pink eye. But we did have protective eye gear! A few years ago, some well-intentioned soul gave me a pair of goggles to wear while chopping onions, to prevent one from crying. While I have cried in the kitchen, it is usually for reasons pertaining to the presence of a large mountain of dishes and the absence of a dishwasher. I didn’t really need the goggles, but we held on to them, because well, I guess they just became part of the landscape. Maybe they’d be useful someday?

And sure enough: their time came! When your kid has pink eye and isn’t allowed to touch his eyes, it turns out that onion chopping goggles are exactly what you need. Pretty smart holding on to them all this time, wasn’t I?

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Safety first.

I’m sure that this whole life-changing magic is great for a lot of people. It’s probably perfect for real grown-ups, people better at adulting. But it seems like it’s not for us. Pink eye has taught me that I am not all that interested in having a home full of pure energy.  I’d rather have a home full of people I love, the things we need, the things we love, and a pair of onion chopping goggles.

Sure, I’ll still man the guns at clean-up time, but it turns out I actually like living with a bunch of interesting, useful stuff. Would it change my life to simply toss out a bunch of this stuff? Sure, but not necessarily for the better. Here at the Fun Apartment, life is magical enough.

*Martha Stewart’s last email was downright bossy about it: “Eliminate clutter.” Anytime a subject line includes the word “eliminate,” it just gives off a sinister tone.I begin to think about the clutter taking its family, assuming a new identity, and going into hiding until the reign of terror has ended.

**p. 161. I can’t make this stuff up.

***I do realize that her method is not to buy more storage space (That is the job of the Container Store’s marketing department) but I thought even just trying to wrangle some of the chaos into tidiness might help with the magic and pure energy business.

 

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Tribal

You’ll have to excuse us at the Fun Apartment this month. We have birthday fatigue. Our Little grew a bit bigger a week or so ago and, well, the jump from four to five required quite a lot of effort and energy.

See, in New York, it is hard to just . . . have a birthday party. At least, it is hard to have a birthday party attended by more than one child. So we have been putting off whole the “birthday party with your friends” business because, well, there are difficulties to be faced. But we thought, if we kept it small in stature and size–only his three close friends–then it might just be manageable.

The main difficulty, as it always is in New York City, is space. It is at a premium, especially around the Fun Apartment where one kid coming over for a play date creates a standing room only situation. Also, all of our extra chairs are broken in various eyebrow-raising ways. We could go outside, of course. There are parks and playgrounds, but these will probably be too cold to sustain a party longer than half an hour — what poor planning to have winter children! We could try an expedition party and head off to some fun destination, but then one has to schlep a cake and gifts through the zoo or a museum, while still keeping track of the guests. (Telling another parent that you are sure that you saw their child somewhere in the room with the giant whale, an hour previous, tends to put a damper on budding friendships.) And our local restaurants will demand a rather exorbitant fee for the disruption that a party of five-year-olds would provide. Or they might just laugh in your face.

So our inner party-planners were stymied, and decided to sleep on it. That is, until we realized that the ideal party space lay not two feet from our sleeping heads! Our beloved neighbors recently decamped to Brooklyn in order to accommodate two new roommates: twin girls. Their apartment–Ready to rent! You could live there!–was standing empty. So they graciously allowed us to have a riotous party in their former living room.

Space problem resolved, we tackled the problem of theme. If only indecision could be considered a party theme. An early birthday present of a woolly mammoth convinced the birthday boy that an ice age-themed party was his heart’s most intense desire. But, just like last year, after I had already bought the sharks, he changed his mind, a mere five days before the guests were due to arrive. Wild Kratts, he insisted, was his one and only party idea. While I love these crazy bros, I was not so eager to embrace this new idea. But, because, I am able to see the bright side of everything, I did not collapse into a(nother) screaming panicking fit. Instead, I patted myself on the back for my foresight in accidentally holding onto our amazon prime membership I signed up for to get the Christmas presents here on time. (How was I to know that you had to actually cancel after the one month free trial??) Smart by accident again!” I congratulated myself, while clicking on the free two day shipping button! Soon, small quantities of various animal print goodies arrived at our door.

(Although, I will pause here to concur with a friend who thinks that it would be good for us all as a society, if we agreed to give up on this whole goody bag thing. Although I do like the idea of giving presents on one’s birthday, instead of expecting them. But what to do with all those random little items? I have a special bin, specifically for “small toys we got for free somewhere!” Perhaps I sort too much. At any rate, I digress too much.)

I even managed a crafty type thing I’ve been intending to do for years. “I know!” I thought. “I’ll clean out all these random broken crayons and melt them down into rainbow crayons! They’ll be perfect for the birthday party! They are recycled! There may now be room in the crayon bucket for all the crayons! I am a such a domestic demi-goddess / mad genius!” Naturally, this project was a disaster start to finish. After I wore my fingernails down to brightly colored stubs, the Mister asked “Why didn’t you just soak them to remove the paper?” Luckily we didn’t have to go to the emergency room to remove the crayons I stuffed up his nose. Chopping and melting the crayons was easy, but Martha Stewart neglected to mention that this process turn your previously-serviceable muffin tins into a brown field super fund site. And the rainbow crayons, while kind of cool looking, only color on one side. And they looked so interesting and unrecognizable that one unfortunate party guest mistook them for a colorful snack.

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Me love cookies.

But despite my domestic demigoddess failings, it was a wildly, successful birthday party. And it was grand! My son and his three besties ran rampant. We opened the door to the Fun Apartment, and the door to the neighbors’ cool, enormous empty apartment and the guests immediately sorted themselves. The kids dove headlong into the Fun Apartment, pulling down every toy bin in reach (and a few I’m not entirely sure how they got to),  while their parents enjoyed some adult celebrating in the cool whiteness of the neighbors’ apartment. I have always maintained that the secret to a good kid’s party is in the cocktails. Thus, I found myself at Chelsea Wine Vault asking the rather unlikely question: “What wine would you recommend for a five year old’s birthday party?” They picked a winner!

“Should we go check on the kids next door?” I asked, setting down my wineglass. This naive statement earned me such withering looks of pity–looks that said “No, of course not, you foolish woman. They are fine and will find us if they are bleeding.”

“I could really get good at this parenting of increasingly independent children,” I thought, passing the bottle around again.

The lads eventually joined us to wrestle in a large pile at the center of all that empty space. Then they invented a game that involved throwing their inflatable animals at each other. I’m sure it was something totally sanctioned by the Wild Kratts: Living Free and In the Wild!

 

Keep on creature adventuring!

Our guests stumbled home when the threat of bed time began to loom. I even thought about how fun it would be if we woke up in the morning with the three extra kids in residence. But alas, or luckily, they all departed for home–hopefully two steps ahead of an impending meltdown.

But by the time the school birthday party rolled around, I had run out of celebration stamina. Fridays are rough around here anyway and when you throw in attempting to make rice krispie treats with uncooperative marshmallows, let’s just say that the bloody decimated bodies of Snap, Krackle, and Pop, or those of their bastard cousins from Trader Joe’s, were littered throughout the Fun Apartment’s kitchen. I kept expecting the Keebler Elves to show up with some crime scene tape. And I showed up late at school anyway. But at least nobody took a bite of the rainbow crayons.

Another reason to celebrate: this little guy’s birthday is also a party for all of us Fun Apartment residents, because it was on his first full day in the world that we decided to move back to New York, in a post-natal haze, with only a vague sense of, oh who the hell knows what to guide us. “If New York is in your heart,” said a friend, ” then that is where you need to go!” But for the longest time after we moved, even we–the Fun Apartment natives–weren’t sure that we had made the right call. After Little’s first birthday–a walk along the high line with balloons–even after champagne, the man of my dreams and I cried a little. “Did we make the right choice?” We asked. After giving up good jobs, an awesome house with lots of space, we weren’t sure we had arrived in Paradise. Instead the Fun Apartment felt more like Easter island. We moved here only to accustom ourselves to ever-increasing, ever-more expensive hardship. “Will he ever have a birthday where we don’t cry ourselves to sleep, in between kicking ourselves?” We wondered.

The long view won out, of course. This month, along with the Little’s birthday, it felt like we actually celebrated our 5th anniversary of Fun Apartment living, rather than just marking it by nodding solemnly at each other. Five years is more than twice as long as we planned to stay, but hey, plans change. We are finding our tribe. And loving it.

 

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Containment 

With all of the holiday bounty comes another uniquely Fun Apartment moment: finding places to actually put away the new toys, all of which seem to be enormously larger than last year’s toys.

So, first comes the purge. I have been sneaking old stuff out of the fun apartment all week (hey, I’m basically unsupervised all day, what did they think was going to happen?) I have a sort of de-cluttering quirk that allows me to give away basically anything we own, as long as I know it is going to a good home. (The flip-side of this quirk is that I have a lot of stuff we are hanging onto because I just know there is a good home for it out there somewhere. Wow, do I hope my knocked up sister has a boy, because that would clear out half of our basement storage closet in a single shipment!)

Because things can really pile up around here. And I seem to be the only one who raises even one eyebrow at the piles. Sure, we live in a small place, there’s going to be stuff around, but sometimes a girl might want to see some flat unoccupied space, like a table top, without waiting for the accompanying unicorn or blood moon. We heard this study on the radio a few days ago (my bit is at the end) and I was basically jumping up and down pointing at the radio, while the man of my dreams shrugged charmingly at me. But science has proven: I am being neuro-chemically altered–in fact, poisoned!–by all this crap around here! Thank you Science! I am vindicated! Now, I have to go to the Salvation Army carrying these large plastic bags. And, no, I don’t know what happened to your magazines from 1998. Or Thomas the &*$#ing Tank Engine, but whatever happened to him, I’m sure he totally had it coming.

After the purge, more bins. Today I spent $35 on Lego storage. And I thought I was the one getting the bargain. I admit, I have a complicated relationship with this temple of organizational commerce. But it is the only place where I could remotely be considered a pop star. The clerk seemed to have his world-view shaken when I asked for “under-couch” storage bins. “Santa brought me several Lego storage problems,” I explained.

“Lego storage opportunities,” he corrected. They should give that guy a raise.

That’s what we have at the fun apartment: opportunities. Lots of opportunities.

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