What I would save

The Burning House asks if your house were burning, what would you save? I love this question--which is a new development, by the way. When I was growing up I hated that whole fire safety discussion. It gave me hives. It brought me to tears. I didn't want to talk about a gathering spot. I didn't want to wonder how I would get from my upstairs bedroom to the ground. I didn't want to think about what might happen. I was perfectly happy with my head planted firmly in the sand, thankyouverymuch.

Okay. Having said that I'll admit that I still don't like that glimpse around the bend of the path of what-might-happen. But I do like thinking about what I'd prioritize, what I'd save.  And I think what we choose says quite a lot about us. As Burning House puts it, "Think of it as an interview condensed into one question." It helps me see the big picture, which is this: I am lucky to have some things I like but, really, most things are replaceable. 

So here's an idea of what I would grab if I had slice of time after making sure my family crew were safe:

What I would save...

What I would save...

  1. My set of scriptures that I've had since I was 17. I've highlighted, I've made notes. It's a record of my making sense of the world. A map of my spiritual progression, complete with tear splashes on some pages. 
  2. My external hard drive with all of our family photos and many documents saved on it.
  3. A wedding picture of G kissing my forehead, snapped by one of G's best friends. I don't have the negative and I want to keep it forever.
  4. My flute. Because it's given me a lot of joy over the years.  And it's portable.
  5. My battered, soul-baring teenage journals (and more recent ones, too, now housed in a series of smaller Moleskines). 
  6. My good camera (certainly replaceable but well loved).
  7. The laptop containing my dissertation files and analysis (which I just realized I need to BACK UP, by the way).
  8. My super-secret red book of important information.
  9. My wallet (credit cards, drivers license, etc.), just in case. Sometimes it even has money in it. 
  10. Not pictured because they're in the US: the box of love notes and the library of audio tapes I exchanged with G when we were dating.

How bout you? What would you save?

Nest Lab: Hail and farewell

Today we’re unveiling (imagine me flicking my wrist and gliding my arm in front of me, The Price is Right style) a new feature for Nest & Launch*. When we met and brainstormed some new ideas a couple of weeks ago, Sarah and I wanted to have a spot now and then for trying out ideas/research/advice. And so Nest Labs and Launch Labs were hatched. Each month one of us will choose an idea to try for two weeks and then follow up with a lab report—ideas related to either nesting (family, home, parenting) or launching (exploring, discovery, outside-the-comfort-zone, next stage sorts of things).  Sometimes we’ll take our cue from old wives’ tales, sometimes we’ll try out what research suggests, and sometimes we’ll just follow a crazy thought where it leads.

We’re not promising that these experiments will necessarily make it into our regular routine and repertoire, mind you. We’re thinking of these more like a dressing room for ideas—some will come home with us but some will end up cast off and crumpled on the floor after just not quite working in the three-way mirror in harsh fluorescent lighting. It’s an experiment and this will be our lab. Oh, and you’re invited to come along, too, if you feel inclined. The more the merrier!

For this first Nest Lab, I’m going with something simple—making better hellos and goodbyes. Sometimes our house feels like a train station; someone is always coming in or dashing out the door. As the unofficial train station manager I used to be quite good about making sure everyone got a good send-off or a focused hello but more often than not I toss an absent-minded “hi” over my shoulder as I hunch over something—a book, a computer screen, a stovetop. (Speaking of hunching, that is a lab for another month. Must. Improve. Posture.) Or I holler “bye!” from upstairs when I hear the jingle of keys. Hellos and goodbyes were easier and more energetic when the kids were younger; I think time, frequency, and routine have sapped them of their energy lately.

Hello, Dad! My dad and me, 1971

Hello, Dad! My dad and me, 1971

As I was writing this I remembered that Gretchen Rubin tried this very thing in her book Happier at Home (she enlisted her whole family in warmer hellos and goodbyes). She says, “somewhat to my surprise, we all began to follow the resolution (most of the time)…as a consequence, each day, several times, we had moments of real connection among all members of our family.” I also think this is a great skill for life: knowing how to give a good hello—eye contact, smile, warmth—and goodbye. Maybe this will spill over into other kinds of interactions. I don’t know. Will this really make a difference to my people? Will anyone even notice? We’ll see.

So for these two weeks, here’s the plan: I’m going to stop what I’m doing, go and look the arriver/goer in the eyes, smile big and give a genuine hail or farewell. It is a very small thing but many family and marriage counsellors believe that paying attention to small rituals like this make a huge difference in relationships and pave the way for a warmer family climate overall. (For example, here and here.) And, surprisingly, it’s often one of the first assignments for a couple in therapy.

Join me? I’ll be trying this for the next two weeks and talking about it in my “lab report” on April 21. 

* We're also happy to be returning to our schedule of posting every weekday starting this week. On the slim chance you're interested in the full rundown (hi, Mom!), here's the rough schedule of posts we're trying out, M-F:

  • Monday: Nest/Launch Lab post, essay, or parenting post
  • Tuesday: Focus on  food - books - movies - research - design - gatherings
  • Wednesday: Essay or parenting post
  • Thursday:   Focus on food - books - movies - research - design - gatherings
  • Friday: A Few Good Gems (fun fact: we were considering eliminating these but many of you mentioned them as favorites in the giveaway post so they're staying)

Laundry & launching

Monday is typically laundry day at our house and today our dryer is suddenly, inexplicably broken. Ugh. It will dry for 11 minutes and then can't be bothered to finish the job and gives up. While I can certainly commiserate with that inclination, it's pretty inconvenient in a dryer.  Anyway, I've got laundry on the brain (and everywhere else, for that matter) so let's talk laundering and the mid-stage family. 


I think laundry is a life skill everyone should learn. One professor friend related the following question that was asked of her by some parents dropping of their freshman at college: "Who does his laundry and when do they come pick it up from him? Weekly? Bi-weekly?" Um, your 18-year-old young adult does, as often as he wants in the basement laundry room. Leave him some quarters if you want. 

Having said that, though, I have to admit that in practice I do most of the laundry around here. We do teach our kids how to do their own by around age 12 but, truth is, I don't really mind it and it makes more environmental sense for the four of us to do our clothes all at once since that way, after sorting for color, I end up doing just about five loads a week (whites, lights, brights, and two loads of darks) not counting sheets and towels. [I know it's a completely different story for families with more kids, more sports playing, or if kids don't wear uniforms to school (somehow that's cut down immensely on laundry).]

But I do have my limits. Here are my iron-clad laundry rules:

  1. I don't pick up clothes from the floor (which, after all, amounts to more work and essentially means cleaning their bedrooms) so I only do laundry that is in the dirty clothes basket.
  2. If you end up doing your own laundry, you have to work around my use of the laundry room (with a dose of: next time put your clothes in your hamper and you won't have this problem). 
  3. There is no faster way to the wrath of mom than to put clearly clean (sometimes still folded!) clothes back in the dirty clothes. Just no. 
  4. I'll probably fold (especially if I treat myself to a movie or tv show catch-up in the process) but when it comes to putting away the piles of clothes, all bets are off. Everybody gets their own clothes and (ideally; see #3) puts them away.  

I'm definitely willing to change things up in the laundry room, though, and turn more of the process over to someone else for a while. I'd love to hear how other families do it. Do chime in!  What's your laundry philosophy?  Do your kids do their own laundry? If so, when did they start and what's your system?