Here’s to the Minnesotans

A Worthington street -- or what you can see of it -- on blizzard day.

A Worthington street — or what you can see of it — on blizzard day. Instagram: @robertafultz

As I write this, it’s blizzard day — the world outside is quickly turning white. I love these days, honestly — snow wrapping up in drifts past my waist outside my windows, packing in the heat like an igloo. Friends on the west coast continue to heckle me for my location choices, but this — freezing cold and hot chocolate, icicles and polar fleece blankets — still feels like home to me.

Minnesotans, really northerners in general, develop snow-coping habits that baffle people from other regions. Sometimes I feel like an anthropologist analyzing myself and my people: and here we have a typical Minnesotan female, hauling out the emergency boots stored in her vehicle for such a day as this. We regularly use our jumper cables, keep a shovel by the front door. We call and text to make sure everyone knows the slippery routes. I say “Drive safe!” about 20 times a day.

A few weeks ago, as my sister and I strolled down a city sidewalk, we stepped onto a nearly-invisible patch of ice. Immediately, and perfectly synchronized, we both assumed “the ice walking position” — bodies hunched forward, arms raised slightly, weight balanced on the balls of our feet. It was so perfectly synced that we burst out laughing; we’ve clearly suffered enough ice-related injuries to be on our guard.

In St. Paul a week or so ago, I got to play broomball with a group of friends. What I lack in skill, I try to make up for in enthusiasm; I drove home that night with aching muscles and a grin. I later got a text from a friend — a photo of her bruised knees. In any other situation, I treat bruises like a problem; now, when it comes to broomball season, I show them off like badges of honor. We won those bruises, fair and square.

So here’s to Minnesotans — survivors, cold-weather-experts, ready to brave and thrive in harsher climates.

Drive safe!

Growing up cold

Walking through the woods on a snowy evening

Walking through the woods on a snowy evening

Two days ago I sat down to write. It was savagely cold out — imagine (or remember) ice crystals crawling meticulously up the windows, a thin breath of cold air streaming from a crack under the door. It’s the season of hard fighting against winter — of well-used jumper cables and paper-dry skin, thick icicles jamming the grip on the soles of my boots. But I was buried in a polar fleece blanket in my living room, ready to trundle off to bed. I was warm, I was tired, I had worked moderately hard that day — and sleep won out over writing.

It’s strange how much January has felt like a cocoon, wrapped up and warm, on the breath of something but not quite there. I’ve been reading more, watching more shows and — mostly because I still haven’t figured out my phone’s volume settings — sleeping in. My house is comparatively clean three out of seven days of the week. It makes me feel at peace, like my home is some kind of zen garden, but also a little skewed — a messy life has always been a sign of a full life, to me; if my spaces are too clean, I start to feel stale.

Lately I’ve been comfortable — cups of tea and French-pressed coffee emptied and piled high, then washed and set to dry every evening. I have home improvement projects on the horizon. Sometimes I plan get-togethers up to four days in advance. Does this mean I’ve made it — I’m an adult? I’ve arrived? If I’m not careful, I might find myself experimenting with recipes for hotdish, or even (there but for the grace of God) egg bake.

Comfort — bear with me here — has always made me a little uncomfortable. It itches like complacency, like I’m not paying enough attention, like I’m forcing peace with things that should call me to action or looking away from problems rather than solving them.

The point of a cocoon is, of course, that you grow and you change and you get out of it.

Yesterday I drove north on a work trip, snickering to a David Sedaris audiobook and watching as the world around me shifted from wide-open fields into rises and divots. Deep enough that my phone’s automated voice apologized, GPS signal lost, and when we crested hill after hill I kept breathing, woods stretching out as the road forged on ahead. In the ditch beside the road, a fleet of sled dogs tore up the snow while harnessed to a four-wheeler, the musher leaning over the handlebars (training, I think — I love this state). My phone died an hour from my destination, and I squinted at a paper map in the dimming glow of the forest around me, whitening as I climbed further north.

This month has been restful, and that’s something I fight against, something I still have to train for like a race — enforced rest being a bit of an oxymoron, but at least it makes me read poetry, think about other people.

When I think of myself at my happiest, at my most fulfilled, it’s always in constant motion — jobs and projects and things to learn and people to know and discover again, jumping from one thing to the next, sleeping like the dead and waking up to start again. I’ve never been able to pin down my perfect career on a card, though I envy those who can — the teachers who first volunteered at an after-school program and thought, “This is it,” the reporters who told someone else’s story and just knew, the doctors and nurses who saw someone’s broken bone and wanted to fix it and then keep fixing it.

I think I romanticize that kind of certainty. I know my reluctance to take a break stems partly from a persistent worry that resting is code for giving up the search. But I have learned, am learning, that resting is also code for hibernation, the way a tree’s roots sink deeper as surface growth stunts for winter. It’s a time to stock up on resources and skills and everything you’ll need for waking up.

Which also makes me wonder, in a nervously excited sort of way — because if this is January, what’s February?

The whole of 2016 is opening up, folks. I’m looking forward to it.

What about March?

Old years resolutions

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Like many of us, I don’t make New Years resolutions — and if I did, I wouldn’t tell anyone.

But I write about it sometimes. I’ve been flicking through the journal I sporadically keep, trying to decipher my own handwriting to find the things I wanted one year ago. At the time, writing the words down seemed more important than reading them later; now I can barely understand my scribbles.

I’ve found a few, worked in between dinner plans and story snatches and sideways grocery lists.

Travel more. Write more. Say more of what I think. Be happier. And, of course, Work out more.

The trick to writing resolutions, I think, is to focus less on their specific behavioral outcomes and more on who you want to be. The ones I picked above are pretty vague. I wanted to be active, in motion, intellectually engaged, driven, articulate. Happy.

That tactic also takes care of the overwhelming feeling of failure when you inevitably let yourself down, because you don’t expect to achieve it all in a year. If, right now, I had become exactly who I wanted to be? I may as well throw in the towel now, at 23, because it’s only downhill from here. It’s more about the process, about change rather than where I stand at the end. I haven’t run a marathon, but I can put Taylor Swift in my headphones and run a 10-minute mile — and that’s better than I could, this time last year. I haven’t written a novel, but I did eke out page after page of black letters on white paper, notebooks and journals and endlessly archived word documents to show for it. And maybe I haven’t said all the words I wanted to say — but I have said some.

For this year’s resolutions, then, I’ve decided to recycle last year’s. (Laziness — another perk of this resolution writing strategy!) All the things I wanted to be last year — I want to be them this year, too, in different ways and directions.

But I was feeling ambitious (and we are all overachievers in January), so I kept looking — what else did I resolve last year? Was there anything else that I wanted to do or be that I still want now?

I found a lot of answers to that, scribbled between budgets and sentences I swear I thought were profound at the time — but here’s one for the road:

I want the people I love to know that I love them.

I wonder who we’ll be, this time next year.

Mariah Carey and the holy war on Christmas

Mariah Carey

OOOOH I DON’T WANT A LOT FOR CHRISTMAS

Well, it’s that time of year — the stockings are hung, the candles are lit, our bodies are pleasantly buzzing with chocolate and we’ve all silently agreed to claw out the eyes of the next person who plays that Mariah Carey song.

T-minus 10 days to the holiday, folks. I hope you’re further along in your gift-shopping than I am.

I associate most religious celebrations (Lent, Good Friday) with self-restraint and closed lips, unspoken thoughts and serious faces. (True, Easter is intended to be a bit more cheerful, but many people I know rejected the chocolate egg search tradition — perhaps too secular for their tastes? — for a more Midwestern egg bake brunch. I’ve always loathed egg bake. Enforced attendance at an egg bake potluck can spoil a whole afternoon.) I’m used to my Christian holidays being celebrated with scarcity — single wavering candle flames, scratchy pastel clothing, delicate eyebrows raised at the modern consumerist mindset — celebrations of absence.

Christmas, though —

Nobody raises an eyebrow, in December, if you clean out the stash of baking chocolate cubes in the grocery store. People dress in bright, clashing, cheerful colors and smile at half-acquaintances. Heartwarming Santa stories flicker across Facebook newsfeeds. The same twelve songs play on an eternal Christmas loop. Dark red lipstick is in and people everywhere unite in the struggle to disentangle their twinkling icicle lights. And yes, there’s always that one haggard dad hidden in a swarm of children on a collective sugar high, shopping on Christmas Eve; but somewhere, a six-year-old is carefully considering the perfect gift to buy her mother with the $5 her mother gave her for the gift.

There’s always going to be a tendency one way or the other — austerity or decadence. Gluttony and starvation are on the same spectrum. There’s a purpose for self-denial, the same way there is a purpose for indulgence, and everyone, I suppose, is drawn one way or the other.

Sometimes I think that those of us who walk in Christian circles tend toward self-abnegation for its own sake — clearing a space in the place of honor where we used to set ourselves and leaving it empty, an idol to a gap. We fast for Lent, then celebrate our fasting.

It’s something I’m still parsing through, and I haven’t found a reason yet, a way to set it right. All the holy answers I’ve been given so far have rung out false to me, words without actions to follow; and I have none of my own.

But it makes me grin to think of Christmas as a holy extravagance — a day we celebrate with generosity, feasting and trying to make other people happy. We give gifts and welcome strangers and make sure we talk to the people we love. The God of the universe compressed himself into a tiny fragile human baby, and angels terrified shepherds (and probably sheep) by bursting into interstellar song because they were so thrilled.

When I was little, I learned a few steps of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, a Q-and-A-style collection of church beliefs written in 1600s archaic English. It came up again in a college humanities class.

“What is the chief end of man?” the first question asks. What does the church say is the purpose for us humans, being alive?

None of the students, several of us churched since infancy, could quite remember it. We tried various phrases — to worship and obey God? To follow and glorify? Know and honor?

The answer is “to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.”

I wonder how we forgot the word “enjoy.”

So here’s to this Christmas — may you have eggnog and working Christmas lights; may you find a few absolutely perfect Christmas gifts; may you welcome strangers (or be welcomed yourself); and may you laugh more than you expect.

Happy Christmas to all!

(But if that Mariah Carey song comes on again, all bets are off.)

A month of Tuesdays

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Honestly, I thought it was going to be easy.

I thought, we’re flipping through the last chapter of 2015, and I can check out for most of December — one month of self-indulgent rest before the clamor of 2016 begins. I pictured crystallized mornings and white cups of Earl Grey tea, coming awake slowly from a dead sleep to the still glint of crispening snowdrifts off my ceiling. I imagined standing in my living room as the falling snow built a silent cocoon around me, cushioned and snug and wearing a clean cotton sweater.

Secretly, I thought I might get bored.

All that time — cleared for rest, for relaxation, for clicking “view new” on Twitter… I started to stockpile baking supplies and reading material, linger in the stationery aisle. I said “yes” to a few more things than usual. I pulled out my Christmas lights. I bought cake pans.

And then December happened.

Tuesday morning — Tuesday is always the longest day, isn’t it? none of Monday’s momentum, Wednesday’s optimism, Thursday’s anticipation or Friday’s hope — I wake up early with a short list of things to do.

That list grows up and gives birth to a longer list or maybe hyperactive sextuplets and over the dinner hour I hop through my living room in search of my other black boot while I try to convince myself that a banana and a handful of leaves are a meal and text clumsily with my left hand to coordinate my next event. On Wednesday I arrive at work reminding myself that “shabby chic” is a thing and, when feeling through my purse for my notebook, find a block of cheese (still cold) that I had stuffed in as I sprinted out of the grocery store. Thursday finds me experimenting with how much concealer I can layer under my eyes until it no longer matches my skin tone, and I scramble across iced sidewalks with itty bitty mouse-sized quicksteps (helpful bystanders shouting “Careful!” after me) to my car, which requires a second window-scraping before I can drive home so I can change clothes and make tracks to my dinner plans.

I can feel it — four days in, and this will be a month of brimming travel mugs forgotten on my kitchen counter, recycling bins piled high, early Saturday alarms and mismatched socks.

The real December is messier than my imagination. I wanted clean lines and quiet jazz, but last night I found smudged ink under my fingernails while my radio started to eke out a scrappy punk anthem.

I used to think the tidy option was what I wanted, or perhaps what I should have wanted — clear answers, smooth lines, clean hands. And don’t get me wrong, it’s comfortable, beautiful. It’s much simpler, and it comes with more consistent sleep hours. But I have learned, am learning, that the only way to permanently keep my soft mornings is to lock my door, and the only way to keep my fingernails clean is not to write.

I wouldn’t go back to that.

This month I think I’ll greedily steal any free time I spot, working toward weekend naps and a zealously treasured winter vacation. If I get a Friday, or even a Monday, I’ll guard it like my firstborn child. But that easy, self-indulgent month isn’t going to happen anymore. Tuesdays have their purpose, after all — they tend to remind me that I’m awake.

It turns out I like mismatched socks.

Blinking at the icicles

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Yesterday when I woke up and dove across the room for my alarm, the windows of my house were glistening — early sunlight barely catching on condensation frosting in the corners.

For the first time in a while, I’m looking forward to the snow. I’ve been buying apple cider and candles, pulling my mittens out of storage. I’ve been throwing open the curtains so my home will absorb as much glancing bright light as it can, wandering outside to see the red traces of the sunrise as the air grows sharper.

I’m sure the novelty will wear off after the first great whiteout, and I’ll lock the doors and burrow under a pile of blankets until May like usual. But now, with winter only promising and not yet corporeal — it makes me think of change, action, opportunity.

There are two reactions to the cold: cover your skin and hide from it, or dress warm and embrace it. It can close you down or wake you up. Neither is the right reaction — just two options, and all winter long, we’ll pick one every day.

This has been a year of small changes for me — new home, new things to learn, new goals being made and met. It feels some days like my bones are growing into my skin and it’s beginning to fit properly, like I’m finally figuring out the calibration for the internal circuits. I’ve been reopening old hobbies and setting others aside, trying things and rediscovering past loves I didn’t know I still had.

After college I stopped reading for pleasure for a while — a little, here and there, then back to Netflix and nature walks. Besides, I read enough at work to fill up my daily quota of words.

In the last few months, though, I’ve begun again. I’ve been working my way through new stories that catch my eye, books on my shelves I skimmed a chapter of and then set aside. Two weeks ago I looked up on a Saturday and realized it was dark out, and I’d read four books in a day.

I’m still trying to figure out how that happened.

I’ve gotten in the habit of baking to relieve stress (it helps, honestly — I highly recommend it). But lately I’ve started baking again without the pressure, purely for the joy of it. Last week I experimented with the perfect homemade brownie recipe; I’m not there yet, but I’m close. (If you have it already, feel free to help a girl out — my email is rfultz@dglobe.com.)

And I don’t mean to brag, but I watered my house plants twice this week, and none of them are dead yet.

I’ve been angry for a long time, I think, as I’ve watched myself and the people I love try to patch together the cracks worn into our skin by the people who promised they knew what was best for us. It still scares me, after all this time; fear and anger are two sides of a coin. It’s a toss up which one I’ll get on any given day.

I’ve been thinking, though, that this is the time for me to figure it out. Anger is healthy, and those who say otherwise are often selling a weak replacement — but anger is a sorry stopping place. And fear can be healthy, truly; but a good love drives it out.

It’s a little confusing to me that “fitting my own skin” looks a lot like childhood to me — reading and making, getting work done and playing. Having the freedom not to worry about the scrapes on our shins; probably just signs of getting into trouble.

Of being awake.

This feels a bit like writing New Year’s resolutions — it’s all fine and dandy until the third weekend after, and then that gym membership begins to lapse. Maybe it’s an exercise in futility.

Just now, though, winter’s peeking over the windowsill, and we’re nearly prepared for the first big storm.

This could be a really good year.

Scrubbing out the faith

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We’re going to talk about religion, but first we’re going to talk about dead things.

When I was young we had a bird feeder outside the wide picture window in our living room. We’d watch the chickadees, admire the squirrels’ ingenuity and, occasionally, hear the “ping” as sparrows confidently dive-bombed the glass. If we turned quickly, we’d see shaky flashes of feathers as they bounced off dazedly and flew away.

Once, after a particularly loud “ping,” a bird dropped to the grass. My siblings and I ventured outside (under strict instructions from Mom to “not touch it, it could have bird diseases”) and found it lying sideways under the window, shivering, flapping feebly.

We wrapped it in a cloth napkin (“Careful!” Mom shouted after us) and tried to keep it warm.

It was dead by evening.

My siblings and I decided to have a little birdie funeral. We dug a small hole in a trail in the woods behind our home. We may have said a few words; I don’t remember, but it seems like something we would do. Then we tipped it into the ground, careful not to touch it to our skin and under strict orders to return the napkin to the kitchen.

When the carcass thumped into the dirt, the underside was crawling with maggots.

We walked back to the house for dinner.

“Wash your hands,” Mom reminded us, and we shuffled into the bathroom. When we returned she assigned me to set the table, and I pulled out the plates, fingers running over porcelain.

Maggots, I thought, and left the plates on the counter, running back to the bathroom sink to wash my hands again.

And again.

And again.

It was my Dad who finally noticed what I was doing, who stopped me and smiled and said, “Your hands are clean; come and eat.”

Maggots, I thought, and looked at my hands, skin cracking, crawling, then grit my teeth and sat down to dinner.

I was a kid then — I don’t remember how old — but sometimes, to this day, this is the memory that hits me when I walk into a church.

I’ve spent a lot of time in churches. I’ve gotten to know the women who have confident opinions on modesty, who begin instructions with the words, “God says.” I’ve gotten to know the men who attend because their wives do. I’ve seen kindness, and I’ve seen compassion, and I’ve stood by as, after a visitor walks away, the women’s ministry leader exclaims, “Good heavens, did you see her neckline?” I’ve been taught that God forgives and, in the same breath, the best cure for sin is not sinning.

I’ve taken dedicated notes as holy folk talked to me about love and belief and the behaviors I needed to modify; I’ve listened and absorbed and felt aching guilt for the things I’ve done, or wanted to do, or thought of doing.

I’ve washed my clean hands so many times I know by now that it’s worked into the layers of my skin, embedded in the crevices, and that phantom shame isn’t going away.

Here is the secret, the bit left out at the end of the sermon: the only way to keep your hands clean is to do nothing. Better to keep still, clear and silent and perfectly still, than to do something wrong — wash and wash but good heavens, try not to collect any more grime.

And here is a second: motionless hands catch dust.

For every church leader who compiled lists of new sins for us to feel ashamed of — perhaps frantically washing his own hands after services — I know an elder who cried when he spoke of his friend’s missionary work, a mischievous mother of four who teased me mercilessly until I startled into laughter, a pastor who welcomed me into his home and showed me the scars from his mistakes before we were really friends. These are the church, too. Sometimes it is strange to me that these can coexist: kindness and cruelty, trust and self-flagellation, full-bodied happiness and unremitting shame.

“I like the pointed sermons,” a friend told me once. “It gives me something to work at.” I think sometimes we get so used to fixing ourselves that the constant weight of it, running water over raw skin, becomes normal. Sometimes legalism looks enough like goodness to get invited home.

Just thought we should talk about it. To live, we have to stop washing our hands.

Malice and Harry Potter

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Wax-sealed menus of Harry Potter recipes. No friends were seriously injured in the making of this project.

Last week was “one of those weeks,” a delicate term for a series of days that makes you want to stab your eyeballs repeatedly with a fork.

We’ve all had ’em.

I started each morning by inhaling unhealthy quantities of caffeine, and around lunchtime I got the day’s influx of bad news, extra work memos and “surprise” expenses. I spent evenings watching from the sidelines as the amount of work I had to do multiplied far past the amount of time I had available (or my rapidly dwindling energy supply).

On Thursday night — the start of my weekend — I drove home angry and stayed up late, furiously drinking herbal tea and penning roughly 500 words of an indignant semi-political blog I was determined to finish for today’s paper, and then read angsty prose until my eyes wouldn’t focus on the page.

But on Friday, I slept in. I cleaned and baked mini pumpkin pies and set up my home for a small Harry-Potter-themed party. It was part of a progressive dinner — each home served a part of the meal, and mine served appetizers. Friends came over to help me decorate, drop off supplies, bring food and — I am still impressed with this step — wax-seal the handwritten menus.

The rain poured on Friday night, flooded the streets a little; we were cocooned in the dry house. Then we traveled to the next home — hair dripping, curling at the neck as we splashed up the sidewalk. The host offered us slippers at the door.

The tempting aroma of potato soup someone else had made wafted through the room. I could hear the rain through the propped door, and I was warm and drowsy, listening as my friends told stories, teased.

A little belatedly, I remembered I was trying to be angry — savor the mood, finish that blog. It felt like looking at myself from the outside: Here, a woman stares into space and contemplates her emotions. But I couldn’t seem to manufacture it. I was surrounded by people I like, people who — and we are all surprised — seem to like me, and I couldn’t engineer enough negativity to counter it.

And dessert certainly didn’t lend a hand with the bad mood, either.

When I got home that evening, my phone buzzed with a message from out-of-state friends: Get on Skype, we will deal you in. It’s hard to play card games via Skype, but they managed it, holding mine up to the screen so I could tell them which one to play — “Left— no, other left.”

It was a really good weekend.

Impossible to revel in a funk, though, when you’re feeling practically snuggly.

I’ve said before that having friends, having people you care about who care about you, always comes to me as a bit of an afterthought. Yes, of course, I’ll be there in 10. We’re friends, aren’t we?

In the first Harry Potter book — it’s been sitting on my end table, as I prepared for the party — Ron and Harry have a conversation Christmas morning.

“Will you look at this?” Harry said. “I’ve got some presents!”

“What did you expect, turnips?” Ron said.

Surprised, and also delighted.

The angry blog was tabled, after all. I couldn’t engineer enough hostility to finish it.

Four smartphone apps for tech novices

Smartphone

I tend to be a little behind the curve when it comes to technology, and my recent transition to a smartphone has been a pretty steep learning curve.

Honestly, I love it. It’s made communicating with the people I love who live far away so much easier, and it’s allowed me to keep up-to-date with the daily news even when I’m not at the office.

Still, I feel like I’m under-using the technology. The power of the sun in the palm of my hand — and I’m paddling around on the surface of its capabilities. I mean, some people are trading stocks on their phones, and I’m still figuring out the camera. (I discovered the flashlight feature by accident… That took a while to shut off.)

I’m learning, though — and if you are, too, here are some of the most useful apps I’ve found. All of them can be found (for free) in the Play Store or App Store on your phone.

QR Barcode Scanner

This one is exactly as advertised — it allows your phone to scan an item’s bar code and find the item online, or links your phone to a webpage via the QR code. I’ve found it helpful for comparing product prices and for connecting easily to photos, videos and websites on my phone.

(If you decide to download the app and want to test it, this QR code will direct you to my last blog post.)

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GuitarTuna

If you play guitar, there are several free apps that will help you tune your instrument. This is the first one I found, and it’s worked beautifully. I think it also works for other stringed instruments, in case any cellists or, say, banjo-players are reading along.

Banking

My bank, AffinityPlus Credit Union, has an app that allows me to check account balances, transfer funds and actually deposit checks securely from my phone. Since I live in a city without an AffinityPlus bank, this has been extremely helpful. I don’t know how many banks have similar apps, but I’d encourage you to check it out.

Caribou Coffee

And, finally, I can’t help but mention that Caribou Coffee has an app that notifies you of deals and occasionally gives you a code for a free drink. “Never turn down free coffee” is a good life motto, I think.

If you have another app that you think I’d find useful, let me know! I’m still trying to harness the power of the sun here — I’ll take all the tips I can get.

Moving in

This weekend I emptied my little apartment into boxes, bins and borrowed pickup trucks and, with the help of a few wildly underappreciated friends, moved into my next home.

I think a lot about place these days. Location. Where I stand and what I can see has a great deal of influence over how I think, what I feel, how I act.

It’s why grocery store designers carefully orchestrate their indoor pathways to take us past most of the merchandise (and all the cheap candy). It’s at least partly why old cathedrals were built as they were: soaring towers and arched ceilings draw your eyes up, tilt your head back. It’s why interior decorators sometimes take a ridiculously long time to select the exactly perfect shade of cerulean mid-periwinkle sparkle blue, or whatever — they’re aware of how the details of our surroundings influence us.

My new place is an apartment in an old house, with high ceilings and tall windows. It’s small, with no hallways: the rooms are connected to each other. The kitchen is a pale sunny yellow, and the floor slants a little toward the heating vents.

On Saturday, as we unloaded furniture, my new landlord was still wrapping up construction; my friends were, I think, a little surprised to see the toilet sitting on plastic on the bedroom floor as hammers pounded in the bathroom.

I wasn’t worried.

My old apartment was a practical place — functional appliances, squared corners, a window in each outer room. It was a reliable apartment; I think someone else has already taken it.

My new place, though —

Late last night when the temperature dropped, I tried to shut a window that had been propped open all day. The wood was stiff and started to squeal as it scraped against the outer frame — and kept squeaking, in one continuous, painful noise, for the full twenty seconds it took to force the pane by inches all the way down.

I opted to close any other open windows in the morning and bundle up for bed. I can only hope my neighbors are heavy sleepers.

The place has a sprawling feel about it, like the architects set a solid foundation and then let the house decide how it wanted to grow.

I keep trying to talk about the house like it’s alive — it decided, it grew. It has character — and believe me, that’s a good thing.

It reminds me of the college I stayed at in England, the last place I’ve felt at home — history and quirks, space for bookshelves.

When I tried to explain the house to my friends — particularly the kind ones who saw the toilet in the bedroom and said, um, listen, will you be OK — I felt a little like a ship’s captain, expounding on the merits of a sea-weathered tub.

Some, though — some get it.

I think the place you live matters — it’s where you spend the most time, where you wake up, the first thing you see.

My old apartment was consistent, utilitarian, efficient. It was a place you stay.

The new one, though — this is a place you live.