One long ago night, Rich burst through our front door shouting, “We have to get rid of the living room!”
“Okay,” I said. “Should I get the sledgehammer?”
“No, I mean reconfigure the space. I just heard a talk by Mike Vance, one of the creative geniuses who designed Disneyland. He says living rooms are too formal. What we need is a kitchen for the mind — a space that’s equipped to nurture creativity the way our kitchen is designed to nurture our bodies. Here, help me move this armchair.”
Over the next several hours, we shoved furniture aside and dragged in a microscope, our desktop computer, books about astronomy and natural science, wind-up toys, a life-size statue of a dog, and dozens of other random objects that had been languishing in obscure corners. By the time we were done, the living room looked far less like Pottery Barn and a lot more like 221B Baker Street, a glorious hodgepodge of brain stimulants.
“Now that’s us!” Rich exclaimed in satisfaction.
Ever since that day, we’ve viewed our lodgings (even temporary ones) as kitchens for the mind. And that’s helped keep the conversation lively all these years. But lately I’ve been looking at our domestic arrangements from another angle.
“Winter is coming,” I said to Rich. “Cold, flu, and Covid season. You can bet we’ll be spending a lot more time indoors.”
And we’ll be doing it in California. Normally we’re back in Seville by this time of year, but with the worldwide spike in cases, the worrying state of air travel, and parts of Spain going back into lockdown, we’ve decided to stay put in the Golden State at least until January. It’s not a bad place to “shelter in place” — the gentle phrase Californians prefer because it sounds mellower than such bummer, buzzkill words as “lockdown” or “quarantine.”
“What can we do,” I asked Rich, “to make the house more comforting, more interesting, more us — reflecting the way we live now?”
“Well, Mike Vance used to say that innovation needs to involve all five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell. So whatever we do, let’s keep that as a goal.”
Bearing that in mind, I started reviewing the places in our house where we spend the most time. Could they be tweaked to better fit our new lifestyle?
I wish I could report that our lifestyle includes reading great literature, playing advanced-level chess, and studying Mandarin or quantum physics, but the fact is we are, like most people, watching ridiculous amounts of TV. So we started with that. Rich repositioned our two biggest, comfiest armchairs to get a better angle on the screen and brought in a couple of soft footstools. “Sight, sound, touch – all covered. What about taste and smell?” he asked. “That’s easy,” I said. “Popcorn!”
Our days often revolve around Zoom calls, during which we chat with family and friends, attend lectures and poetry readings, and voice our views in town hall meetings and political roundtables. It took me a while to get the hang of Zoom — not so much the technology, but learning how to feel comfortable and look presentable onscreen.
I set up a fixed spot for Zooming, based on three pro tips.
1) The device’s camera is at eye level (far more flattering!).
2) I sit in an upright chair, so I don’t slouch out of camera range, leaving friends talking to my left ear.
3) The light shines on my face, letting people see me clearly.
I usually have a cup of coffee or glass of wine in hand — completing Mike Vance’s five-sensing requirement.
My sister Kate and her husband are getting a puppy to keep them company, and I have to admit I’m envious. But as one viral tweet puts it, “Really wish we had a dog right now but then I remember that old slogan… a dog is for life, not just for a global pandemic.” If you have a canine companion, you’ll appreciate this news item: “The World Health Organization announced that dogs cannot contract COVID-19. Dogs previously held in quarantine can now be released. To be clear, WHO let the dogs out.”
Rich just wandered past my desk, and I asked him what he finds most helpful in adapting to long stretches at home. “Structure and sacred spaces,” he replied promptly.
“What are your sacred spaces?”
“I know I’m going to get up every morning and spend time there,” he said, gesturing to the landing at the top of the stairs, where he has a small desk, a big armchair, and three sunny windows. “Drinking coffee, easing into the day. That’s sacred to me. Doing yoga in the bedroom — that’s another sacred space for me. My time in the garden. My workbench in the shed. Practicing my ukulele and my Spanish. These all keep me comfortably, solidly anchored in my day. I know I’m exactly where I need to be, doing exactly what I need to do.”
And then he added, “Don’t forget to tell them about the goldfish.”
This is another one we owe to Mike Vance. Shortly after our living room became a kitchen for the mind, we invited friends to dinner, explaining in advance about five-sensing, asking them to tell us about their favorite foods, music, artists, and so on. We then did our best to create a dining experience that touched on all their favorites.
Needless to say they got an earful about Mike Vance. And when they asked what exactly we did with the microscope, Rich mentioned that one of his goldfish had just passed over into the Great Beyond and we’d put it in the freezer, intending to dissect it. By now we were on the second (possibly third) bottle of wine, and the tiny cadaver was soon thawed in the microwave and dissected under the microscope; everyone wanted a look. We were just getting to know this couple, and I remember thinking, “Well, if this doesn't scare them off...!” Incredibly, it didn't, and we became fast friends. There are few bonding experiences quite like a mini autopsy.
“Innovation,” said Mike Vance, “is the creation of the new or the rearranging of the old in a new way.” As you’ve probably noticed, our world keeps rearranging itself. Experts forecast a major coronavirus surge as people head indoors to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas together. Bracing ourselves for Covid-19, the Holiday Edition, Rich and I are rearranging our space and reimagining our lives. We’re expats living in our home country, extroverts who rarely socialize in person, frequent flyers grounded for the duration. We are living into an unknown future — one that may not always be comfortable, but certainly won’t be dull. I foresee plenty of mystery, suspense, and surprising developments. And isn’t that pretty much the definition of adventure? Maybe are lives haven’t changed that much after all.
How are you preparing for pandemic winter? Any tips or concerns to share? Let me know in the comments section below. And hey, good luck out there!
This article is part of my ongoing series of articles on surviving the pandemic, if possible while holding on to some shreds of our sanity and sense of humor.
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10/22/2020 04:26:32 pm
Love this post! We are really missing you guys and the way out lives used to be. I can totallyrtotally to creating a comfortable space, we spent the last few months preparing our house for this very unique winter season. My family is in lockdown now but I think the city is headed in that direction any day now. Kisses from Seville!
Karen K McCann
10/22/2020 04:44:42 pm
Heidi, I'm so glad to hear you guys are staying safe at home; the world is a scary place right now and there's no point in taking foolish chances. Knowing your creativity, I can imagine your home filled to the rafters with projects, entertainment, and laughter. I'll be thinking of you all, especially on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Our small turkey just won't seem right without your kids carrying it in to present it to the crowd. Ah well, let's hope for next year! Hugs to you, Enrique, Kique John, and Lola.
10/22/2020 05:08:46 pm
karen, love your posts....they make me laugh. my plans for spain and france dashed this year as yours were. finding the good amongst the angst! xoxo wishing you and rich a wonderful winter until you can return to spain or whereever adventure calls!
Karen K McCann
10/22/2020 05:49:56 pm
Thanks, Nancy, I'm so glad you're enjoying my posts. We're all struggling to keep our heads up these days, but luckily the quirkiness of humanity still provides plenty to laugh about. Sorry about your dashed plans; this virus has a lot to answer for! But I'm glad you're staying safely at home. I am still reading articles urging people to travel and they seem horribly irresponsible under current conditions. Enjoy your winter at home and let's hope 2021 gets its act together better than 2020.
10/22/2020 05:30:25 pm
Hello Karen (and Rich!),
Karen K McCann
10/22/2020 05:54:38 pm
What a wonderful quote, Mary (and Mark). I just copied it onto a post-it note and stuck it on the wall above my desk. The going has gotten very weird indeed, and it's time to draw on my inner weird to navigate this planetary chaos. Are you two still in France? I hear the virus is really running amok there, although come to think of it, that's true of just about everywhere these days. Stay safe, you two, and stay weird!
10/23/2020 06:23:37 am
We are. Still hanging out in the south though, and not in our tiny Paris digs. The virus is rampant here (and everywhere else as you say), but there's no place we'd rather be.
10/22/2020 05:34:45 pm
Another great blog from the amazing duo...even though you write this Karen, Rich figures prominently in the ideas you kids come up with hence the reference to an amazing duo. You have inspired me to do a little rearranging; spiritual space is all taken care of but the family room where we hang out needs an overhaul. That said I might need to call on you for marital counseling once Jon sees what I come up with (providing I have the courage to follow through on this initial blast of enthusiasm engendered by your post).
Karen K McCann
10/22/2020 06:00:50 pm
Best of luck with your rearranging, Kim. I always tell Rich, "You will learn to love it!" And then I promise if he doesn't, I'll put it all back the way it was in a month, knowing by then he'll be so used to it he won't want to change a thing.
10/23/2020 12:10:30 am
Your posts always make me laugh--thank you! We live in Michigan and have a pergola in our back yard that we eat and spend time under a good part of summer. This winter we hope to use our fire pit more, get some outdoor heaters (which I always eschewed because they're such a waste of energy) and spend more winter time under the pergola with friends (never more than 4 of us altogether). My girlfriends and I continue to play pickle ball outside (unless it's raining). In short, we're adapting to a more Scandinavian lifestyle. If there's a lot of snow, then we'll build snow forts and stuff.
Karen K McCann
10/23/2020 04:13:41 pm
Sounds like you are finding great ways to reimagine your outdoor spaces, Nancy. I've heard fire pits and outdoor heaters are flying off the shelves as people seek to extend their outdoor socializing options. I think you're brilliant for embracing a more Scandinavian lifestyle. They have the longest, darkest winters, but are always rated among the happiest in the world. They treat wintertime as special. Indoors they create coziness (hygge in Danish; koselig in Norwegian) and get fresh air even on cold days to enjoy what some call “outdoorphins.” They — and you — are inspiring!
10/23/2020 08:14:47 pm
I prepared this week by having to go to get a skin procedure so I can't go out. My house is wide open with very high ceilings, lots of sliding glass doors, views and trees. And it gets CA cold in the winter so I usually feel like I am outdoors. Do LMK if you would like to come to Bodega Bay on a nice day. We have a 6ft. deck table and crab season starts soon. I hear Kate lives there too. We usually go Thu thru Sat. The offer is open so you don't have to commit.
Karen K McCann
10/24/2020 01:39:10 am
Your house sounds wonderful, Kitty, a mix of indoors and outdoors. What a great place to rest and recuperate. Don't know if we'll make it to Bodega Bay any time soon; Rich and I aren't indulging in in-person socializing and haven't even seen Kate's new place yet. But I will think of you in your light-filled space, soaking up the sun, in the run-up to crab season. Enjoy!
10/26/2020 03:15:54 am
I’m with Rich. Structure/routine and sacred spaces work for me.
Karen K McCann
11/2/2020 07:48:21 pm
I so envy you that fireplace, Faye, now that the cooler weather is coming along. In Ohio, we spent countless happy hours in front of the roaring blaze from our own logs in a fireplace that had served generations of householders. But the important thing is to find sacred space wherever we are, and moments with friends, either safely socially distanced or electronically, where we feel connected to the community. Sounds like you've got it covered!
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
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