El Cheapos

Yesterday, during a torrential downpour, I felt dampness underfoot and discovered my well-worn pair of sneakers had a hole in the sole.

(Have you ever noticed that you don’t discover a hole in your shoe until you’re out in the rain? Just like you never discover you’re out of coffee until that morning when you desperately need a cup. But, I digress.)

By the time I got to the office my sneakers were water-logged and ruined. So, I added a trip to the shoe store to yesterday’s to-do list. I ended up going to Famous Footwear, where I made a beeline directly to the clearance rack and bought this perfectly good pair of size 13 walking shoes for only $35. I’m no runner or roundballer, and I really could care less about style. Shoes are a consumer good where I can easily save a few bucks by going the discount route.

I can also report that it’s nice to have some extra cash in my wallet, and that my first few walks in these El Cheapos were perfectly satisfactory.

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10 Million Mustangs

Yesterday, somewhere in the Detroit area, Mustang No. 10,000,000 rolled off the assembly lines at a Ford manufacturing plant.  In a vehicle world now dominated by oversized pickup trucks and high-end sport utility vehicles, the Mustang is one moderately sized passenger vehicle that has held its own, and Ford is making a big deal of the milestone.

51rkn5udqhl-_uy462_A lot of car models have come and gone since the Mustang was first introduced at the New York World’s Fair in 1964.  As its perfectly chosen name suggests, the Mustang was a “pony car,” designed to be a smaller, more affordable sports car that would appeal to both men and women.  Indeed, women were a prominent target audience for Ford’s advertisements for the initial Mustangs.  And with its iconic grillwork and front end, adorned with the silver wild horse running free, the Mustang was an immediate hit.  Its popularity has endured.  Although sales of the car have lagged here in the U.S., its sales have been strong overseas, where car buyers no doubt associate the car with the classically American concept of the freedom of the open road.

In the more than 50 years since the Mustang was introduced, countless other cars have been introduced to great fanfare, only to end up in the dustbin of automotive history.  The Mustang is one of the few cars to achieve iconic status — but it, too, has changed over the years.  It seems like the designers at Ford just can’t resist fiddling with it.  Over the years, the Mustang has progressively gotten a lot bigger — the Mustang Mach I of the early ’70s, for example, was a true muscle car — then downsized; when I was in high school in the ’74-’75 ear, Ford introduced the Mustang II, which was much smaller and less powerful.  I drove a red Mustang II with a white vinyl roof, and it was a great car.  (At least, it was until my sister got her hands on it, but that’s another story.)

But through all of the design changes, and all of the changing tastes of the car-buying populace, the Mustang has retained its ultimate allure.  When you think about it, ten million vehicles is a lot of cars.  Mustang Sally would be proud.

Water Treatment

Several people have asked about the poor, desiccated potted plants that I featured in a blog post a while back. Although some people said the plants looked like they were beyond redemption, in fact some careful attention to watering — and lots of unusually cool July and August weather and rain — has made all the difference. The plants in the two small pots are flowering again, and the plant in the big pot is sprouting lots of green leaves. We’re hoping flowers aren’t far behind.

I also got a useful tip to try the next time we’re on the road. You fill a wine bottle with water, plunk it down into the soil of the pot, and let hydraulic forces do the watering while you’re traveling. I’m going to give that technique a try. There’s only one problem — where in the world will I be able to find an empty wine bottle?

The Case For Making Your Bed

Every morning, just before it’s time to head off to work, I make the bed.  I pull the sheets taut, put the pillows back in their place, adjust the blanket so that it’s the same length on all sides of the bed, and make sure there are no wrinkles to be seen.  Making the bed is just part of the morning ritual that means I’m now ready to face the day — but apparently not everybody does it.

I read an interesting piece recently about the simple act of making your bed, and what it means. It’s entitled The Unmade Bed and the Fall of Civilization, which is a little over the top, but the essential point holds:  little things matter.  They’re not significant by themselves, but they can add up to big things — and it really doesn’t take much time to take care of them, when you think about it.

So why not do those little things?

Clean off your dishes and put them in the dishwasher, so they’re not left for your spouse or roommate to deal with, and then rinse down the sink.  Hang up your coat and your clothing rather than tossing them over a chair.  Put old magazines and newspapers into the recycling bin.  Pick up after yourself, and when you leave a room see that it’s tidy.  Take out the trash before the wastebaskets are full to overflowing.  And make your bed.

I was a total slob in college — who wasn’t? — but when I graduated and moved into the working phase of my life I decided I needed more order.  The best way to accomplish that was to start to do those little tasks myself.  I found that it not only made our place look better, it also made me feel better, both when I was doing those little chores and when I got home to a place that was neat and shipshape.  Doing those things made me feel like I was was pitching in, carrying my share of the household load, and actually behaving like an adult.  After college, that seemed like a worthy goal.  Now it’s all habit — but I still like the feeling I get when I do those little things.

So every morning, I make the bed.  And by the way, if you make the bed properly, when you climb back into bed at night you’ll find that the sheets are cool and inviting, even on a hot Midwestern summer evening.  It’s just one of the benefits of trying to live an orderly life.

 

Handy Heidi And Her Magic Brush

It’s always nice to host family house guests, to share some laughs about days gone by and catch up one what they and their family members are doing.  But when you can get some good, solid home improvement work out of them that greatly improves the appearance of your place, it’s even better.

Kish’s sister Heidi is a fearless do-it-yourselfer who’s willing to tackle just about any task.  When she heard that the stairway in our Maine house needed to be painted, she insisted that she and Kish would do it.  So we bought scraping tools and a sander, and when Heidi came to visit she brought her own, personal paintbrush.  And, being a long-time California resident and therefore intrinsically cool by definition, Heidi of course also brought her shades, the better to cut down on the glare of the white paint on the steps.

Now Heidi and Kish have finished the job, and it’s hard to exaggerate what a huge improvement these freshly painted steps are.  The “before” photo with this post really doesn’t fully capture the dramatic upgrade.  When we bought the place, the stairs were covered by thick, ugly brown carpeting that looked like the fur of a teddy bear and was secured to the stairs by about a thousand staples.  When the teddy bear carpeting was removed, we found that the natural stairs were covered by multiple overcoats of paint.  That’s when Heidi was alerted and the sisters’ project was planned.  Kish started their project by scraping off years of paint — the photo above being taken mid-scrape — and then she and Heidi sanded it down, and finally Heidi and her magic brush applied primer and then several coats of paint to the stairs and bannister.  Now the staircase has gone from an ugly eyesore to a part of the house that helps to create the “cottagey” feel that Kish has been aiming for.  You can see the final result below.

Thanks, Handy Heidi, for your excellent work on the staircase.  You and your paintbrush are always welcome.  And don’t forget your shades!

Sunglasses Summer

This summer I have a simple, straightforward goal.  I’m not trying to lose 50 pounds, or develop six-pack abs, or write the Great American Novel.  No, my sights are set much lower, at something that is at least reasonably attainable:  I want to wear my sunglasses as often as I possibly can.

Some years ago, when I bought a new pair of regular glasses, I got this pair of retro sunglasses for a reduced price.  However, I’ve never really worn them much.  I think it’s because I’ve never gotten in the habit of wearing sunglasses at all.  I’ve always worn prescription glasses, and back in the old days if you did your only option was to wear the kind of shades that clipped on to your regular glasses.  That was too nerdy for me, so I swore off sunglasses.  As a result, even when I got these prescription jobs that address the near-sightedness issue, I just never thought of wearing them.

But earlier this year I resolved that I should start wearing the sunglasses, and I’ve realized I really like it.  For one things, the dark lenses hide the unseemly bags and wrinkles surrounding my aging eyes.  For another, the sunglasses make me think I look stylish, even if that is a laughable proposition.  And wearing the sunglasses on hot days somehow makes me feel cooler, temperature-wise.  I know that can’t possibly be true in an objective sense, because obviously eyewear doesn’t reduce the ambient temperature or minimize the harshness of the sun’s rays, but wearing the shades gives me that feeling just the same — and I like it.

Already this year, I’m confident that I’ve worn my sunglasses more than I have in all of the years I’ve had them, combined.  I feel a certain sense of accomplishment, but I also feel like I’m in more of a summer mood.  Amazing what a pair of sunglasses can accomplish!

Flower Pot Fail

It’s been beastly hot in Columbus over the past few weeks, with temperatures in the 90s and very little rain.  You might aptly describe the weather as broiling — but that’s July in Ohio for you.

We’ve been gone for a few days during this torrid period.  That’s been good for us, because we were enjoying much cooler weather, but for the plants in our front flower pots?  Not so much.  When I got home they were dried out and teetering on the edge of death.  I’ve been watering them in the morning and again at night in hopes of saving them and am seeing some hopeful green signs, but it’s obvious the hot weather combined with lack of watering knocked them for a severe loop.  The flowers and plants in our beds, on the other hand, seem to have survived the hot dry weather just fine.

It makes me question whether having flower pots during a midwestern summer makes any sense at all — unless you are going to be around on a daily basis to water them.  Since we’re on the road regularly, I’m thinking that next year we might forgo the cruelty to the poor potted plants and the guilt that comes from seeing desiccated brown leaves.