Tidying Up

I can’t really call it “spring cleaning” because it’s nowhere near spring in this part of the world. More like “deep winter” cleaning.

The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up,
by Marie Kondo.
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Two weeks ago we were in the Barnes and Noble store and they had this book on one of the discount tables. The Live-changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo.

“Hey,” I said to Brooke. “We could use that one.”

“Very funny,” she said.

“Yeah,” I said. “Funny.”

Because how many magazine covers and blog posts have you come across that promise the magic bullet for getting your life in order. I’ve read quite a few online, and quite a few more in magazines in doctors’ waiting rooms. The only people I know who have really clean houses are people who pay for a cleaning service to come in once a week and do it for them. And even then, it’s only for that one day a week.

But then, it was kind of like the way once you buy a new car all of a sudden you see lots of other people driving the same car you just got, as if everyone bought the same car on the same day you did. All of a sudden, after that day at the bookstore I kept seeing references to this Tidying Up book. Like, it wasn’t a joke. Apparently this was the real deal.

So last Tuesday when Brooke was headed back down the mountain to civilization I asked her to pick up a copy. She did. And I stayed up until 1am reading it.

If anyone ever told me I would stay up until 1am reading a book about cleaning, I’d have said they were crazy.

Actually Brooke now thinks I’ve gone crazy. I’ve been tidying up ever since.

I’ve cleaned off the piles of crap that have been on my desk for two years. I’ve sorted, folded and put away piles of my clothes that have been sitting around since we unpacked them three and a half years ago. I’ve cleaned up my bookcase, gone through my papers in two file cabinets and culled out the rat’s nest of old wires that have been occupying a corner of my office.

After three days of pretty intense sorting and pitching I’m, maybe, a little more than half done, not counting the garage that’s going to have to wait until spring. Temperatures are hovering around zero. I’m really not that crazy.

The book promises that tidying up will have life changing benefits. I will become more productive. I will be more prosperous. My health will improve, as will my family’s. I will have better luck in general. We’ll see. I’m already pretty lucky most days, so it’s a tall order.

What I do know is: it’s sure nice to be able to see that corner of my office again, and it’s mighty convenient not to have to dig through piles of laundry to find my underwear.

Letter to American Christians

Today is a holiday for a lot of people, in observation of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday (which was actually last Friday, January 15). If you have the day off, in observation of the day, spend a moment listening to the man himself. You’ll be glad you did.

On November 4, 1956 Dr. King preached a sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church entitled Paul’s Letter to the American Christians. Even if you don’t count yourself among the Christians — and even if you don’t count yourself among the Americans, for that matter — it’s worth your 30 minutes to listen to it, or less than that to read it. The relevance of King’s words to people beyond the church and beyond the borders of his nation are what makes his memory worthy of marking his day.

As you listen to Dr. King, you can read along with with Paul’s Letter to the American Christians here (opens in a new tab).

Sweet Chili Salmon — On Dadness

Dads who aspire to awesomeness need to know how to make dinner. The old saying about how the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach applies equally in the other direction! Cooking is not quite as sexy as running the vacuum cleaner. But almost. Not sure why, but hey.

(The only thing sexier than running the vacuum cleaner is having the cojones to buy tampons — but that’s for another post.)

So the other day one of my friends, Jamie, posted a recipe for Sweet Chili Salmon on her blog and it looked so good I decided I’d have to try it out.

Sweet Chili SalmonJamie’s recipe is pretty simple, and that makes it a good one especially for new-to-the-kitchen dads. If you follow the recipe you’ll do alright. That said, whenever I try out a recipe for the first time, I always make some notes so the next time I’ll be on the lookout for any dicey (pun intended) spots.

So here are my notes:

  1. This recipe calls for marinating the salmon. Which means you have to allow an extra 20 minutes when you’re calculating time from start to dinner. In all, including the 20 minutes for marinating time, you’ll be about 45 minutes from start to finish.
  2. When you get salmon filets, you’ll have much better results if you take the time to de-bone them. The bones won’t really hurt if you miss one. It’s not like serving undercooked chicken where you’ll probably send someone to the hospital if you do it wrong. But de-boned fish makes for a much better dining experience. I keep a pair of tweezers handy in the drawer next to the sink. Run your finger along the thickest part of the filet and you’ll feel the hard little bone ends poke out about every ¼ inch along the center. Gently press the meat next to the bone to expose the end, grab it with the tweezers and give it a gentle tug.
  3. The recipe calls for lemon zest. For the novice, this is just a fancy word for the rind — scrape the lemon across a fine-mesh grater to flake it off into little filings, just the yellow part down into the white rind flesh.
  4. Step one in Jamie’s recipe calls for juice, which isn’t listed in the ingredients. I interpreted it to mean the juice of the half of the lemon you just “zested”. Just squeeze the juice into the bowl with the other ingredients.
  5. If you’ve got any little cuts on your hands when you’re handling the lemon it’s going to sting a little bit when you get lemon juice on them. It’s because lemon juice is basically citric acid with natural lemon flavoring. On the up side, your hands are going to be really soft after you’re done with this.
  6. Once you have the salmon marinating, you’ve got 20 minutes to kill before you can start putting it in the pan. I used my 20 minutes to make some Roasted Red New Potatoes to go on the side. You have just enough time!
    • Grab 3 Red New Potatoes per person. Rinse them off, pick off any stems and eyes, and cut out any bad spots. Then cut them in quarters and arrange them on a cookie sheet, skin-side down.
    • Melt some butter (allow 2 Tablespoons per 10 potatoes) and brush it onto each one. Then dust them with your favorite seasoning salt, Old Bay seasoning, or if your family is into spice, try a cabo chipotle rub.
    • Bake in a 350° oven for 15 minutes. (Which means that if you put them in when the salmon has 10 minutes left to marinate, they’ll come out just as the salmon is going on the plates.)
  7. Use the remaining marinating time to get the salad greens, lemon wedges (from the half of the lemon you didn’t zest and squeeze) on the platter and dash with your favorite salad dressing — not too much dressing!
  8. Make sure the pan is hot, but not red-hot — like on a scale of 1-10 if you have those kind of knobs, use a 7 or 8 — before you put the salmon in it! Two minutes per side as Janie says on the salmon. Maybe 2½ on the second side if it’s still really red in the middle. But you want the thickest part to still be slightly pink in the center when you take it off the skillet. Turn only once! If you keep playing with it after it starts cooking through, it’s going to start falling apart and looking like crap.

And the verdict from the family: Two thumbs up!

Again, a big thanks to Janie for the recipe.

TP Binoculars!

Last November the 4-Winds outdoor science program I volunteer with at the kid’s school did a unit on birds and migration. As part of the training for the session, we learned a quick and cool thing. Binoculars out of toilet paper tubes!

Two toilet paper tubes, two pieces of tape, one at each end,TP Binoculars and presto! Adventures await!

And even though they’re perfect for pretending, they’re not just for pretend. They don’t have lenses or magnification, but they really do help you see things far away, like birds or whatever critter is moving through the grass in that field down by the river. By narrowing your field of vision they help your eyes focus on the thing you really want to see.

Another binocular tip (for use with these and even fancier binoculars):

When you spot something you want to take a closer look at, don’t look down, put your binoculars to your eyes and then try looking back with the binoculars on your face. You’ll never be able to find what you were looking at. Instead, without taking your eyes off the thing you want to see, bring the binoculars up to your eyes. That way, they’re already pointed at the right thing as soon as you get them up!


(Bonus: Want to go Exploring? Check out some ideas from my friends at Faraday’s Candle.)

Sick Day

We knew he was getting sick Sunday evening when he said he didn’t want ice cream.

Oral ThermometerOn Monday we kept him home. His fever peaked at just over 102°F after lunch. He slept on the couch most of the day. Then in the middle of the night he got up, too hot, and had another round of acetaminophen and some water. Then juice. Then hot cocoa. Finally, with sufficient fluids restored, he fell back asleep — next to the mom in our bed.

At 4am I’m tucking myself in on the couch. The downstairs house makes different noises in the night. You can hear the furnace rumbling in the basement. The radiators ping. There is an annoying yellow light from the mercury vapor flood lamps they installed in the post office parking lot last year after an old lady drove her car through the side of the building. It’s colder.

The alarm went off at 5:30. Coffee made. The wife is already up. She’s doing last-minute getting ready because she’s driving to Albany for a press conference and to testify before the New York State Assembly’s Committee on Health about a bill for single-payer healthcare. (Irony.)

The kid is also awake. He’s still running a 99° fever. He’s going to be home again. But he’s on the mend.

Instead of lounging around napping on the couch, because he feels better, he wants to watch DVDs non-stop in bed with the portable DVD player.

Ok. This is better than him jumping on the couch all day. Except that I must lie in the bed with him to keep him company the whole while.

Portable DVD PlayerAnd he can’t just watch the DVD. He has to rock the DVD player forward and back on his lap to see how hard it tilts before it will skip. And whether it will continue to play the movie when held sideways one way, sideways the other way, and upside down. And if it stops playing when you hold it upside down, whether holding it upside down and shaking it will get it going again. (It doesn’t. It makes the disk fall off the spindle inside the case. “Why is it making that noise?” he asks. “I’ll give you three guesses,” I say.)

And then, when I’ve rolled over the other way thinking that I might just as well take a nap, I am soon poked in the back and asked why I’m not watching the movie.

So tomorrow he is going back to school even if his temperature is 108°.