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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Happy 2013

I wish you all, wherever and whoever you are, a peaceful and happy upcoming year.

For myself, a person who loves to make resolutions and plans, I have chosen simplicity for this upcoming year. What I choose to make a focus often ends up being where my mind wanders to while walking, drifting off to sleep, hiking, drinking morning coffee...I thought long about where I wanted to set my intentions.

That could be uncluttering, a simple house. It could be finances, saving and living more simply. It could be a commitment to healthier habits.

So many good choices. But what I need is more Love and Kindness.
So this will be my year of Sitting.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sapin de Noel

We got our Christmas tree!
On a dark and rainy, gusting night, the four of us walked down the street to a lot on a nearby corner.
We were drenched by the time we arrived, 10 minutes before closing, to find...nobody there.
The family running the lot had gone home early, with most customers staying out of the storm.
Sadly, we made our way home, treeless.

But it was worth the wait. The next day, Minou, Mamie and P'tit Minou Deux returned after school.
Minou asked for a "Tree from the Island of Misfits" and explained we only had $20 to spend.

From back behind a dumpster, the lady dragged a magnificent 6-foot noble fir. Look how lovely it is.

 It was a misfit only because it had two "tops". Would you even notice the second?
We certainly don't mind. I have always loved noble firs, the space between the branches, but we have never chosen one before since they are more expensive. Usually we get the bushier douglas firs.

It's the most beautiful tree we've ever had, and from the Island of Misfits.
Maybe because of it?
Maybe we are beautiful misfits, too...
The cats love the coziness of home.

And one more note: Minou just came up to tell me that he found his wedding ring, which he noticed Wednesday he had lost. Our neighbor's son-in-law just found it at the back of a closet where our friend keeps bedding and said "whose ring is this?!". Minou had borrowed some foam mattresses for P'tit Minou Deux to sleep on, since he gave his bed to Mamie. Now we have each lost and found our rings once! I lost mine on the streets of Montpellier in winter. Minou found it 3 days later lying on the curb at our busy corner. I wasn't worried, I was sure he would find it...

Saturday, December 22, 2012

simple saturday

So I have been feeling a little "blah" these days, not sure why.
Trying to scale back expectations of myself and others to help cope.
And there's nothing like jogging for a pick-me-up. Or coffee.
I'm indulging in both. Makes me nicer to be around.

It does feel good to go up in the Attic though.
My task for the day is to paint, paint, paint.
It's drywalled, primed, floored, and signed off by the City.
Its empty, white, and spacious. Soon to be whiter. Soon to be slept in.
I can look down on the trees below.
Finally, a space for myself again, a retreat.

Tonight we are going to a traditionally very fun Solstice party at the home of friends and neighbors.
There will be good food, a talent show with surprises in store, and a wild White Elephant gift exchange. We have scored oddly enjoyable items in the past (50's jello cookbook, World Music CDs, terrible tequila...)  Not sure if Mamie will go, the lights and crowd and language barrier are all stressful for her. We'll see.

The only problem is, I have decluttered so much, what can we take for the White Elephant?
P'tit Minou Un said "There's nothing left!"
I'm sure I can find something. I'll let you know.

Monday, December 17, 2012


Mamie is here. (Hurray!)
The books are off the floor.
There is the possibility of a dusting of snow.
All good.

My language skills are pretty rusty, however.
The French somewhere in the back of my brain is being further mixed up with the Spanish I'm trying to refresh and use at work. And all the rapid-fire code-switching in our house is confusing. Who speaks which language to whom, and when, and how....

And this evening, to make matters more complicated, our close friend and neighbor came by for tea. In Spanish nouns (no French, Mamie's adopted tongue of 60+ years), she was talking to Mamie about a friend who was learning Portuguese (Mamie's first language), and as I tried to translate what she said to Mamie, for some inexplicable reason I was trying to translate into Spanish (Mamie's second language) and she was speaking Portuguese (which I don't speak or comprehend at all) to me....

...and nobody was understanding anybody...

at which point I said to Minou, "I think I need to get up from the table!" and he replied "too bad--please stay here!"

It's laugh or grind my teeth. I'm trying to laugh.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Waiting for Mamie

We are on pins and needles over here. Minou is off to fetch Mamie.
Minou's intrepid Maman will have traveled a day and a half, on trains, planes, and automobiles, to see us. She is 82 this year.

We are so looking forward to seeing her. I know that she won't mind, but I was hoping that our house chaos would be put back together before she arrived--it was not to be, since the drywaller are still working upstairs.

I want Mamie to feel comfortable and at home. We will do our best in other ways however.

The floor is mopped. The range and sink are scrubbed. Tomorrow I will buy some of her favorite treats.    What a blessing to have this visit at holiday time. I'm grateful that she was willing to make the difficult journey.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

fresh slate


This weekend we had a painting party.
It wasn't spontaneous, but I didn't anticipate that I would get as much help as I did, or that we would paint the kitchen, living room, half the entry, and both boys' rooms.
We are tired.

we're having fun

But it was fun. What was good was that we worked together. There was very little losing tempers or harsh words. There was a lot of patient helping. Also chocolate chip cookies, and brotherly teamwork. I am so thankful.

painting party

I had been going back and forth on colors for a while. After several years of the warm, bright colors you see above, I wanted a change. And so did P'tit Minou Un, who strongly lobbied for white. Not sand, not taupe, not greige, but a clean, bright, white. 

So we went with it. I remembered a post from Miss Minimalist about white walls, in which she said that in every house she'd ever lived in, she painted everything white right off the shelf at the home improvement store. That's what we did. We got the big cans of Ultra White. No color mixing required. No agonizing between cloud, marshmallow, or palest wheat, but WHITE. I wasn't sure if I would like it.


But I do! It really opens the space and makes it look bigger. I love it, in fact.
P'tit Minou Deux was not sure how he felt about losing the colors, but he said afterward, "It's like we live in Italy!" I'm not sure why that association came to mind, but I'm happy that he likes it too. And his room is now a lovely deep spring green, accented with the wood window trim. He was going for a forest effect.

We will create our color downstairs with art and fabric, but right now I'd really like to leave the walls bare.
I'm looking forward to getting a tree and decorating it for the Christmas season.
The only issue now is the books. What to do with the books?

The P'tit Minous voted not to have the massive bookshelves in the living room now (they were made of recycled gym bleachers, sanded down)...and again, it feels much more spacious.
While Minou and I made a run to the home improvement store, they began cataloguing our collection.
We will have to see where they can be stored. I have always dreamed about having a home library...

I can't believe the weekend is over! What did you do, the last two days?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

tunnel vision

I've been on this frugal living/minimizing lifestyle path for a while now.
It's been long enough that I sometimes forget that not everyone around me thinks this way.

A co-worker was recently talking about budgeting concerns and questions. I had trouble remembering the first steps I took on this path. To talk about where I'm at now might sound restrictive and a little crazy.

That I enjoy tracking my budget with Quicken to the dollar (in most areas of my life, I am not this obsessive, really!). That going out to coffee is a luxury that happens maybe twice a year. Let's take a walk instead! That I will delay watching movies until I can get them from the public library, to save that Redbox dollar. That not buying furniture or linens or new clothes (I do make a clothes exception for my family, particularly the older teen) is a way of life. That I pass by the dark beer and red wine, both of which I love (in moderation of course), at the grocery store. I haven't had my hair cut in a salon since I was 17 (I do it myself) and I cut my husband and boys' hair too.

I would have shuddered and run at a vision of this lifestyle when I was younger. But I really appreciate the awareness now of the difference between needs and wants. I love small luxuries, and I really enjoy them when I indulge in them now, since they are less frequent--like good chocolate, a glass of wine, a mocha out. I also feel so much better to know that I can live on less, and save.

It sounds restrictive, but it actually brings me a greater sense of peace and freedom. But where to start? How to explain? Luckily, another coworker had some great suggestions for my friend: Keep track of everything you spend for two weeks. Write it all down. Write down your monthly bills, when they are due, and when your paycheck comes in, so that you don't overdraw. Such good advice! And I realized how far I have come (still have a long ways to go), personal finance-ways.

Living paycheck to paycheck is not something I think about. I'm extremely fortunate because I have a relatively stable, above minimum-wage job. I don't have to make the monthly choices of: buy gas for the car, or food? Pay for medication, or pay the electric bill? But there are surely people in my position who do worry about running out of money at the end of the month. Instead, I would rather see what I can live without, and make it a game to see how little I can spend on groceries (and still eat and feed my family  tasty, healthy food) each month. It's kind of fun.

Is that strange?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

be kind

Sometimes, there are those days when I have to take a deep breath and remember these words: be kind.
To myself, my loved ones, those around me.

There are days when it would be so easy to let myself get worked up in irritation, anger or self-righteousness.
And it is so much better to stop and remember that everyone is doing the best they can.
To give the benefit of a doubt.

To remember that looking back, I will be so glad to say "Oops--oh well, we're learning!" instead of scolding when a teen forgot his new weekly job. Or "Thank you for coming to get me!" instead of "I left work thirty minutes early and spent them waiting for you in the rain" when my husband made a special trip downtown to pick me up. Or "If I seem irritable it's because I didn't sleep enough and my eyes are tired--it is nothing to do with you, and I love you" to cut off the insecurities at the pass, those we all have.

At work: instead of feeling micromanaged and resenting it, to say "We have the same goals and you are trying to teach me from your experience. This way feels more comfortable to me because of xyz. I'd like to try it like this and check back in with you".

And with myself: I laughed and mopped it up instead of getting mad when I flooded the bathroom in my rush to get a morning shower and out the door (darn untucked shower curtain). I sighed, and said I'll do better tomorrow, when I had a second calzone at dinner. I forwent plans for washing the ceilings and sat on the couch with my boy and a big cat because I was tired. And I won't be disappointed in myself. I'll get to it tomorrow. And I did something kind with my sweet boy, who wants to use the money he saved up himself buying bees and geese for families far away, through Heifer International.

Monday, December 3, 2012

minimizing monday

When do things get to a point that is  recognizably "less"?
I'm wondering about this now, waiting to dip below that critical mass (can you say reach critical mass if you are trying to diminish the mass?)

Despite the items moved out last week...lots and lots of ladybugs home feels quite, quite cluttered.
It's the small things more than the big things--though it's everything. Papers, mail, magazines, books, and shoes seem to be the things that are permanently strewn around creating the feeling of lots and lots of red ants biting rather than lots and lots of ladybugs. I know I need systems to deal with these items. I have been putting off this process until our lovely Attic Addition is habitable, because at that point the bags of tools and pieces of insulation, wood, and Hardiboard lying around (hmm, could be contributing to the red ants biting sensation) will be gone. Then I will have a better idea of the space that is actually here to work with.

However, as the wise Vappu from Life Should Be the Cat's Meow stated, organizing doesn't work if you have too many things. It just doesn't. It takes a tremendous amount of energy with little return. Better to minimize first, and then organize.

I am moving along, moving slowly. This morning I took two coats back to my neighbor, who had given them to us for me and p'tit minou deux but weren't being worn ( I also took her a miniature plum berry pie).
I have three bags of books set aside to sell or donate. One bag of random donations to go out, and another bag of clothing to try and sell (this is so much harder for me, somehow). I also have a stack of maps to go to an artists' materials recycling cooperative that came from the big cabinet. And P'tit Minou Deux and I have a date to make our traditional holiday snowflakes today--we will cut up a map to do it!

It's progress. I wish it was moving more quickly, but it's progress.

Friday, November 30, 2012

happy at home

It is so nice to have some time to be home.

This last week I have been struggling with a cold that just won't go away.
In an effort to heal and boost my health, I have been trying to sleep lot and lots
(propped up on pillows to breathe), have been swilling green tea by the gallon (& little coffee),
and drinking green smoothies for breakfast every day.
Fresh pressed apple juice, frozen blueberries, bananas and peaches, and big handfuls of chard or kale.
Delicious. So nutritious. I love to start the day with something green.

Now: the start to the weekend. A Friday evening grocery trip with Minou to replenish the bare cupboards, and a plan for cozy cooking tomorrow: leek and potato soup, pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, homemade pizza, and blueberry pie. I love to bake, and like to bake several things together when the oven is hot.

Keeping these p'tit minous fed is a constant job. P'tit minou deux has been requesting a second supper every evening, usually at lights-out time. Unless I'm on my own way to bed, I don't argue; we go back downstairs and it gives me a chance to get a vitamin and another fruit and veggie into him as well as another serving of dinner or a pbj. We have worried a bit over this one and his light appetite over the years, so I enjoy watching him eat. He is 13 now. I'm expecting to look up and find him as tall as me any day now.

This weekend I will also be making a trip to the home-improvement superstore with Minou when he goes to buy supplies for the attic. Drywall is next. We'll be sleeping there soon. I'm planning to buy painter's tape and get our downstairs ready to paint before my mother-in-law arrives for a visit in three weeks. We have had had warm, bright colors in our living space for several years now. It was my choice, an antidote to the winter gray here. The living room has a long red wall (dark brick red) and bright sunflower yellow walls. I'm tired of it now. I want a look that is more serene, peaceful. Our ceilings will stay white, and the floor downstairs is an off-white tile. For the walls, I have been going back and forth between a true white, off-white, and a pale tan/taupe.

What do you think? What would look more serene?

Monday, November 26, 2012

lots and lots of ladybugs

I just watched the movie Under the Tuscan Sun. Minou watched it too, and even P'tit Minou Un enjoyed it, to my surprise. If you're not familiar with the film, a lonely, recently divorced writer from San Francisco impulsively decides to buy and renovate an ancient Tuscan villa.

I really liked several of its themes, such as the belief in "signs", and the need to sometimes make impulsive decisions when they feel right. The main character wished for several things in her new home--a wedding, a family, a community. When she made the wish, she envisioned that she would be the one getting married and  having a baby. At the end of the movie, she realized that although that hadn't happened, in fact all her wishes had come true--though not in the way she first dreamed of.

There is another part of the movie I liked. As she searches for love and companionship, the main character is unhappy when it appears to elude her. An older friend tells her the story of searching for ladybugs as a child. She would search and search, without finding a single ladybug. When the young girl finally gave up and fell asleep, she woke up covered with ladybugs. Lots and lots of ladybugs, crawling all over her....just the thing she was searching for, when she finally stopped searching.

Where am I going with this? Sometimes, as an aspiring minimalist living a family life, there are frustrating spells of time. Suggestions of minimizing family possessions are met with howls of protest or solid resistance. So in quiet defeat (so dramatic, I know) I cease to think about it for awhile, taking a break from the downsizing process.

And then one day, my teenage son comes to me out of the blue and says "I don't want this piece of furniture anymore".

And then "These hooks" (which are consummate entryway clutter collectors) "remind me of preschool. Can't we take them out?"

And my husband and son say "This shoe box is ugly; let's get rid of it."

And to top it all off, my husband says "I don't think we need to keep that couch anymore."

And then I load said shoe box and piece of furniture up in the car, and drive them off to donate, hoping that someone can use them. And I enlist said son with the drill to remove the clutter-collecting hooks. The couch will stay a little longer, until after my mother-in-law's visit.
And I enjoy the new space...
Lots and lots of ladybugs.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

we've got windows

Look! Up in the sky! It's so exciting....

The windows are here!

We are going to feel like birds in the trees from our attic perch.

And now...

The first one is in!

(Minou had to look away as our friend W. gesticulated and leaned way up there...I'm thankful that he isn't the one climbing that high ladder. Our friend's wife came to lunch mid-day and even she didn't like to see W. up there, comfortable as he is 30 feet in the air).

Do you have any home projects going on these days?

Saturday, November 24, 2012


Usually in our home, it's Minou who prefers to hold onto things. He is sentimental and a historic preservationist to boot. So when he suggests sorting things, I jump into action before he changes his mind, and never ask "Are you sure?".

As we convert our storage attic into a sleeping space, a lovely Attic Addition, we need a new storage site. We don't have excessive amounts of things to store, but there are some. Camping gear, suitcases, younger-kid toys, and boxes of papers and letters and mementos and such.

It's the papers that are the most difficult.

Our plan is to create a storage space under the stairs. What is currently under the stairs is a large metal cabinet intended for architectural drawings, which Minou rescued from an office where he used to work. It's so big that when we built our little house, we had to build in a space there, a hole in the wall, so that it would fit.

It has to go. It will go to the garage, so that if Minou ever has his own office space out of the house it could still be used. But in the meantime, the top half of it is full of family things that need sorting.

Art paper.

Kids art and school work, organized (mostly) by year...

Framed artwork we are rotating, and National Geographic maps.

Framed family photos and artwork awaiting frames.

Oh it's a big job.

Friday, November 23, 2012

dance day and cat fights

dance day

Not for me, but p'tit minou deux. Today is the start of his twice-yearly Weekend of Dance. His ballet studio puts on a great production each holiday season. It is amazing to watch it come together, like kneading raggedy scraps of bread dough into the smooth, shiny, finished product and watching it rise and bake.

He will be at rehearsal a solid 8-9 hours today, then has two shows in the next two days. Whew.

Other than dance rehearsal, or maybe because of it, it's a quiet day around the Maison des Minous. Friends will be coming over later to help with the attic windows, and play a game. We had a great meal yesterday. I made my most successful apple pie ever, and I know why. I gave up on trying to make a "healthy" pie crust with olive oil and whole wheat flour. If that doesn't sound very good, you're right--it isn't. Yesterday's used white flour and butter, and it was delicious...

P'tit minou deux, who I believe may be starting a growth spurt (or is just starving because of all the dancing he's doing) ate a quarter of the pie for breakfast this morning. Along with milk and a pear, don't worry.

cat fights

A big black cat that I've never seen before just stealth-attacked Mowsie, who was sleeping on the patio porch just two feet from me. We have been having a lot of trouble with fighting cats lately. Our cats have lived here so long that they mistakenly believe the whole area around us belongs to them (some of the other homes weren't built yet when we originally moved in next door). Newcomers feel the need to challenge this, and I think our cats sometimes go out of their way to seek those challenges.

Our biggest, lovey-est cat James has been the worst offender when it comes to fighting. He has had several terrible wounds. After the first, we dutifully took him to the vet's, had his injury cleaned and stitched (he had to be put under), and got him antibiotics. The bill was shocking, and I warned him that if he continued to fight, he was taking his own chances. He didn't listen. He amazingly recovered from another deep wound all on his own (I did soak and clean it, but no vet involvement). Now he has a third. What to do?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Let's just shout it out.
What am I thankful for? So much.

First and foremost, loved ones. Family, and friends. Good health of same.
These sweet. sweet boys who have taught me so much. Minou. My mom. More.

Work. Last night my boss had to tell me to leave work. So grateful for this new job.
Working in public health is a dream come true. My co-workers are pretty wonderful too.

Food. After work last night, Minou and I stopped at the grocery store. We aren't extravagant, but we loaded up our grocery cart with...whatever we wanted. Healthy and delicious food. Comice pears and yams and salad. Mushrooms and broth. Tofu dogs and strawberry yogurt. Cage-free eggs (the Ladies have stopped producing for now) and whipping cream. We will have a vegetarian feast today.

Home. Our warm, snug, sweet little house. It may be petite, but so is the mortgage. There's space for a garden, and fruit trees, and a chicken run...and it's ours. The windows for the Attic Addition were delivered yesterday. I can't wait to be sleeping up there under the eaves.

Education. For my boys, the public school system that allows them to study in an international baccalaureate, French-immersion program. I am so proud of them as they do the work of learning. For myself, all the opportunities I have had to try things and stretch my wings in new areas. My poor mother feared that I would never attend college due to my own sad high school career, but she (and the rest of my family) may now fear that I will never stop attending college.

I hope that you have as much to be thankful for as I do.
Please leave me a note and tell me three things you are grateful for!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Another snapshot of summer warmth.
A day trip from our home base in Luc, Aveyron, a hamlet of maybe 24 people.
I loved the cathedral St. Foy (not so much the windows by Pierre Soulages).

I loved the details of the stonework.

I loved wandering around the medieval town.

I loved the time with Mamie. It was very hot and steep for her, but she was a good sport, always.

I loved the patient streams of pilgrims coming and going from every direction, like lines of ants, with their backbacks and walking sticks. Someday I'd like to walk that route with Minou.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


We are in the midst of a tremendous rainstorm in the Pacific Northwest right now. It's calmed down today, but this morning there were flood warnings around the region. On my early morning jog with the big brown dog, in the dark, I ran right into several sidewalk puddles that soaked me to my ankles. Cycling to work, there were many streets with a foot or more of standing water due to the drains blocked by recently fallen leaves and water.

It makes me think about those who are living outside. Trying to shelter against this weather. I'm imagining the cold, the wet, the discomfort, the lack of a welcoming place to go in and warm up, to have a hot cup of tea or a warm shower and dry socks.

Really, I am lucky.We are lucky, lucky, lucky. I spend a disproportionate amount of time worrying about money; not a very healthy habit I know. I am mostly frugal. I try hard, with moderate success, to distinguish between wants and needs and luxuries. I wish I could pass on that perspective to my boys, the awareness of how fortunate we really are. They compare to their peer group--understandably. But we live in a culture where it is not easy to say "We could afford that, but choose not to because we are prioritizing other goals". Building an emergency fund, paying off the mortgage early, saving for retirement. They see the consumption and goods of those around them, but this may or may not reflect the full situation.

My older son wants an I-Phone. He knows that he doesn't really need one, but he also really really wants one. He thinks that I am hopelessly outdated and ridiculous for refusing a cell phone. So far, Minou is the only person in the family who has one. Technology is where Minou's needs and wants sometimes become conflated (for me it's clothing. Or education? No, that's different. It is.)

It was a surreal conversation tonight at the table after dinner, trying to convey how truly, truly lucky we are to have all the things we generally take for granted: a warm, safe home, a washer and dryer, working utilities, transportation, a fully stocked refrigerator...and hearing from p'tit minou un, yes, that's well and good, but that's normal. Everybody has that. I want a cell phone. An I-phone.

All this while the rain pours down. How can I convey how fortunate we are, to be thankful for what we have, to resist the lure of a million ever-changing desires?

Ideas? Please share...

Monday, November 19, 2012

kitchen odds & ends

If you home is anything like my home, certain foods fly off the shelves while others tend to linger.
Snack foods usually go first. I was amazed at the quick disappearance of large boxes of granola bars, energy bars, etc. (usually after a Costco trip) until I saw p'tit minou un grabbing five or six for an afternoon snack. Cereal is another item that doesn't stay around long, with the exception of rolled oats, a pantry staple. I tried hard to instill the practice of adding other cereal to oatmeal (think muesli) for texture and flavor, and to make it last longer, but it didn't stick. The boys quickly devour the Kashi Crunch, Grapenuts and what-have-you and then eat plain oatmeal with a sprinkle of brown sugar when it's gone.

Anything that involves cooking and multiple ingredients usually takes a little longer to go. However, this doesn't mean that we have no food in the house, as p'tit minou un once told me--just that we need to prepare it. With mixing, and chopping, and time, and heat. Hmm.

Which brings me to the question of how much food we really do have tucked away in all our kitchen corners. How many meals could I make from ingredients on hand, including fresh, frozen, dry, and canned? Quite a few, I'm guessing. I see the ingredients for both black bean enchiladas and Yumm bowls (if you are unfamiliar with these, it's a bowl of layered brown rice, whole beans, salsa, cheese, olives, veggies, and a delicious, locally made sauce called "Yumm sauce").
I know that there are several containers of soup I made this fall in the freezer, and lots and lots of whole wheat spaghetti and marinara sauce (another Costco trip). We have plenty of flour, rice, sugar, raisins, oats. We are runing low on milk, carrots, bell peppers, apples, and bananas (constantly).

I want to see how I do with using up odds and ends that might otherwise languish in the fridge. For example, after my run yesterday I came home and made lunch. I chopped and sauteed the last few vegetarian sausages with some tofu in olive oil, then added a little soy sauce and brown rice to make fried rice (well received by the minous). Some ingredients we have on hand are not enjoyed by everyone (like greek olives and artichoke hearts), so they lend themselves well to mini-pizzas. P'tit minou deux has cheese and black olives, p'tit minou un the same with the addition of sauce, garlic, and roasted peppers, and Minou and I whatever we feel like.

We are heading into the week of Thanksgiving. This is the first year in many, many years that we haven't celebrated it with my mother--since 1999, when we were living in France. We usually also share the day with Auntie R., a close family friend, who is travelling to be with her daughter and grandson this year. So it will be just our little family, which actually sounds really nice. It will give us a chance, I rashly suggested, to build our own traditions. Just because we always bring the mashed potatoes and tofurkey, doesn't mean we have to have it this year...does it? I was envisioning something like enchiladas, popcorn, and playing a game. Maybe a new tradition of eating odds and ends, and being thankful for having them.

Alas, I was voted down for the non-traditional dinner.  Game playing was well received, hopefully a long match of Settlers of Catan followed by several good movies, but it looks like we (not I! we) will be making pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes. If we want to eat them. In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, however, I want to try and fix as many good meals as possible with the kitchen odds and ends.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

run to stay warm

I finished my second half marathon today!
I'm still feeling elated. In case you can't tell.

My friend K. inspired me to run it with her. It was not an expensive community run, and the money went to a good cause--supporting the winter energy assistance program for our local utility board. At the last minute, K. had a work conflict and couldn't attend. I was disappointed, but understood (it was due to something rather important like flying cross-country with a sick child--she's a critical transport nurse). However, this amazing friend stopped off at the course before even going home, and ran the last half-mile with me.

I was also so extremely happy that my sweet Minou saw me off at the beginning, and then he and the p'tit minous were there at the end to whistle, cheer, and yell "Sprint Mama sprint!" I did. I sprinted. I have some great pictures with those beautiful young men, but they (boo hiss) don't want them posted here, so I won't.
And finally, I was happy with my time. I didn't have any official time goal--I really just wanted to finish, and finish without injury. I had been following an official training schedule, building up my milage in a very organized way, until about...early October. Then it took a back seat to some of the other life events going on. This is fine, but I really wasn't sure what my reserves of strength were. I was very pleasantly surprised to finish in 2 hours 30 minutes. The first half marathon I ran I finished in over 3 hours. That one was rough. I almost didn't finish (it was at elevation, in the mountains, in August). Today's felt so, so smooth. Cool weather, a few raindrops, along the river.
 I started out the run very, very slowly. I had a lot of time to think. I thought about finances for a while, then that grew tedious, and I thought about p'tit minou un's college goals, and then I thought about food (starting around mile 7) and what I could cook with what we already have at home, and finally I just let my thoughts drift...swirling around the theme of slow and steady. I have so many goals, and can be impatient. If I can envision something, I want it to be completed. I do very well with the energy of starting and the energy of finishing projects, but sometimes in the long haul in the middle, I start to lose focus and interest. That's when I can get off course, or sometimes create unnecessary drama about a project. I want to use the long run example for life motivation in other areas. If I can find a comfortable pace, and keep going, I'll get there.
What are you thinking about, and up to, this weekend?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

minou & me

The boys, p'tit minous un et deux, have requested to not be visibly present in this space.

Minou has made no such request.

He is such a cutie.

Sometimes a little silly though...


Friday, November 16, 2012


I look back with pleasure on the pictures of last summer at Senanque. We took a day trip through windy roads on a very, very, very hot day from Lattes to the lavender fields of Provence, a place my mother particularly wanted to visit during her time there. It was so lucky that thanks to the weather, the blooming season was late and we were able to enjoy the purple fields.


Besides filling my eyes with the colors, what I remember most from that day was the fact that we had not one but two ice cream stops, one of them for lavender ice cream (it was good, but the chocolate noisette was better), and that we were rationing water by the end of the day despite the eight bottles we'd brought for the five of us--it's difficult to find free drinking water in France. I also remember the Japanese tourist who was sitting in the shade of an olive tree, painting a beautiful landscape of the abbey at Senanque.



Thursday, November 15, 2012

dog days

While Grammy Minou is gone, the basset stays to play.

She's pining for her human Mama, but her BFF Sawyer provides some comfort.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

we ate cake

What do you do to celebrate a friend's birthday?
It doesn't take a lot of money...I prefer the pleasure of spending some time together.
My long-time friend J. (we were roommates in Beijing many, many moons ago) had a birthday recently.
Somehow it's all too easy to let months go by without getting in touch.
So we set to baking, then loaded up the car and drove north for a visit.
Here is what her birthday cake looked like on leaving home:

It was beautiful...and edible. But you can probably guess what happened. Both the nasturtiums and calendula wilted during the drive. I didn't take an "after" picture; I took the sad looking flowers off as soon as possible. Luckily I had prepared a plan B:

The almonds and chocolate chips actually added a lot to the texture.

We had a great overnight visit (though we missed p'tit minou un who opted to stay home--older teens can do that sometimes). We went for a walk and saw a "street lending library" where p'tit minou deux scored a vintage cookbook, we played with the lost then found kitten, we talked, we ate delicious enchiladas, and we went to the zoo the following day.
It was a good time with good friends.
Amazing how the little ones grow (her son is seven now).
And the cake was so good that we made it again for Grammy Minou's birthday, with even more chocolate chips. Mmmm...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Attic Addition

Here are those photos of our future retreat under the eaves...

Notice the luggage, the sentinel Nutcracker, and the piecemeal fiberboard flooring.

Notice the framed-in window, new light boxes, insulation batting, and the beautiful pine decking.

Doesn't it look more spacious now? I am so grateful for the help we have had to create this space, from friends who are generous with their times, skills, tools, and support.

Here's the next step:
A truck full of rigid insulation waiting to be cut (yucky job) then fitted into the ceiling.
I will have to be patient this week, as Minou is busy with other projects.
It's moving forward. At least once a day, I pull down the ladder and poke my head up into the Attic Addition to breathe in the pine smell and dream about a peaceful space of our own up there.

Monday, November 12, 2012

sunday sniffles

Sniffly days around the maison des minous this week, but we have not let it stop us from embracing the coziness of a rainy November three-day weekend at home. PJs and bathrobes were worn all day by some. Much reading and studying, lounging in bed, and perhaps a little too much computing, took place.
We baked apple muffins (using the last red apples hanging from our tree like globular jewels), and drank lots of tea.
We installed pine tongue-in-groove decking as attic flooring.
It looks lovely, rustic and simple, like a Swedish county cottage.
(where are those pictures I promised you? so sorry.)

We also put on our fancy shoes and took Grammy Minou out to dinner, sniffles or not, because we will soon be losing her to the monastics. She is leaving for a six-month stint at Plum Village in France. We are excited for her, but also feel a little sniffly about our upcoming long separation.

And my mantra for the week: Be nice to yourself.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

simple sunday

A lovely, cuddly, extra hour of sleep.
An early morning phone call to France via Google for a birthday.
(at 2 cents per minute, it's fine to talk for an hour--and we did)
A day-old baguette warmed in the oven for breakfast. Delicious with jam and Inka.
Helped Minou with framing upstairs. Another window framed in for the Attic Addition.
A long, sunny, weekend run with the big brown dog.
Up the trails at the edge of town, where the forest begins and the leaves are gorgeous.
Ran into two old friends on the trail.
Home for lunch of leftover pizza, carrots, and homemade red lentil soup.
A green tea day, instead of a coffee day. Easier when the sun is shining.
Start of a great new library book: Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin.
Paid the mortgage and added a little extra.
Now: a quick shower, and off for more tea with some friends.
Back to get a head start on this week's homework, read a couple of chapters of Huck Finn with p'tit minou deux, and watch Tangled. (I also have Oscar et la Dame Rose and My Beautiful Laundrette, again from the library).

A simple Sunday.

What is your Sunday like?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

november, and home projects

Is anyone else having trouble believing that it is already November?
The season has changed here. Chilly rains have set in, and most of the yellow leaves have fallen.
This leaves our predominant Pacific Northwest winter colors of green and grey.

Tonight we set the clocks back--Fall Back.
I am looking forward to that extra hour of cozy, restorative sleep under the patchwork quilt.

Amazing, since I last wrote here, the progress toward the Attic Addition.
I always forget to document projects in progress, but I will keep you updated.

As we move along, a few more parts have been added: another window at the opposite side for views and cross-ventilation, and a decision to move the access to the space so that it is not directly in front of the boys' bedroom doors.

A friend asked Minou, "Does she want the project not to be finished?" No. I do not want it not to be finished.

What I mean is, I cannot wait for this project to be finished. It has been a lot of work, almost all of it done by Minou. With the help of some good friends, generous with their time and skills. P'tit Minou Un has also used his brawn to lift down many, many boards and planks. It was good that we started this now--we discovered, among other things, a carpenter ant infestation up there! They were hidden under the former insulation.

It is going to be beautiful, and simple. Spare and serene. All white. A bed, a place for our clothes, and a little altar/meditation cushion. A little treehouse loft with a sloping roof. I will be able to just stand up in the very center. Minou will have to bow his head. That's OK.

This process has got us excited about other changes that will make it more comfortable to live in our  little house. Late nights in bed there are a lot of whispers about "What if we...". The thing is, these are not expensive changes. Well, the materials of course do have a cost, and our time is valuable. But what I mean is that starting projects, especially with so mch else going on in life, is daunting and can feel overwhelming. Yet fairly small changes (like adding a little storage) can make a big difference in daily life. I think overcoming our resistance to starting and seeing how fantastic it will be to have the Attic Addition has given us a new sense of what's possible.

(Of course, this is all very easy for me to say... I am not the one who has been making all the trips to the home improvement superstore and dealing with the ants and insulation upstairs.)

Did I mention that Minou and I sleep on a futon couch in the living room? It's actually very cozy--there's always a cat at our feet. But tricky when someone (me) needs to stay up late working at the kitchen table.

Anyway. I look forward to a day when there are not so many competing responsibilities. Just eight more months to go to complete my BSN degree. I hope to have our home renovations all finished this winter (the next steps will be painting,dealing with water damage in the upstairs bathroom flooring, and creating a storage closet under the stairs). And of course, more decluttering, so that what is in our little home is only what we love and use.

This is a busy season of life, but it is not forever.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

holding down the fort

I have been on my own with my boys for a few days a Minou is off in the wilds, somewhere near Seattle, hob-knobbing and cavorting with a bunch of eco-builders and designers.

He left us hidden chocolate. That man is so sweet.

As are my boys: I loved watching them be playful, gentle, and encouraging with a little one we know. P'tit Minou Un used his Big Boy influence to encourage Finishing Dinner, while P'tit Minou Deux spent time building Mr. Potato Head and roughhousing on the floor despite being tired. I am so, so proud of them, watching the young men they have become.

Anyway, we are holding down the fort. We bought massive amounts of groceries (two teen boys in the home), we bought chicken feed, we bought cat food and dog food. Our entire household will be well fed (me perhaps a little too much so: see hidden chocolate above, plus some amazing chocolates sent by a dear friend in a surprise package). I'm also hearing a buying theme here. Let's hope (for Minou's sake) that we don't buy a house too.

We're going to an open house today, just to look.
P'tit Minou Un reminded me that this was how our big brown dog Sawyer joined the family--a weekend that Minou was out of town, and the guilty parties went to the Humane Society just to look. Ahem.

In other news, I have discovered some affordable non-code (oops) tiny spiral staircase options that could solve our attic loft access problem. And I have a big week coming up at work, with two events I am excited about. Sometimes I don't recognize outright that I am feeling a little nervous about something--until the behaviors I am employing to cope with the feeling undercurrent trigger me to notice.

Such as: why am I eating too much chocolate? Why am I spending so much time on real-estate websites and driving around town to look at houses, when we are planning to fix up our little urban farmette homestead and make it work for us? And why can't I be motivated to scrub and clean, and go on long-distance runs, instead of these other behaviors?

Oh well. Related to news, I also have several academic deadlines coming up. I had promised myself that this would be the year of No Procrastination--I am tired of the disruption this bad habit can create, as I work feverishly last minute to gallop in and deliver the goods in time for a deadline. As interesting as my online coursework is, I am really, really ready to no longer be a student. So many years of this. And here I am, procrastinating again. It's challenging, with this tendency, to study online, since there are so many built-in distractions--such as blogging and real-estate websites!

Therefore, I'm going to take a little blogging break. I'll plan to check in and post weekly on the weekends as a self-reward for getting my coursework done. I'll fill you in with my decluttering progress, which is proceeding at a slow and steady pace. Thanks to a suggestion from a reader (thanks Sue!) I have been sticking with a set amount of time per day--15 or 20 minutes. When that is done, that's progress.

Have a lovely week...please leave me anote and let me know what you're up to!

Monday, October 15, 2012

woke up

What a rollercoaster ride of emotions this last week has been.
Thankfully, I woke up from a dream of a Japanese house to realize that, although I long for space and beauty,
there are many, many, ways to create them in my life...
and that I do not want to be saddled, weighed down, leashed, or chained,
to an enormous mortgage or any other debt.

Whew! Am I the only one who has these fade in/fade out moments?
Seized with a new passion for something, swept by emotions that temporarily overcome the rational parts of my brain.
I  live in both the rational and emotional parts.
I have discovered, though, that the "middle way" of living is more sustainable.
Slow and steady. I keep coming back to that theme, because I have found such stability and comfort in it.
Not to mention progress.

 I'm back to the "ten a day out" decluttering system. This sounds like it would move quickly, but many of the things are too tiny to be noticable. Still, it keeps me moving forward.

So, no grand sweep of the house (the attic avalanche is sadly still piled on the couch). I'm having the hardest time making progress with the baby clothes and little-kid toys. My preference would be to keep a few of the classic, favored toy sets, like the wooden train and Playmobils (I'm hoping for grandchildren some day far in the future, and we do have younger kids over to play occasionally). Also to keep just a few of the cutest, most memorable outfits...and pass the rest on to some other adorable baby or toddler to wear and make their own memories in. Most of these clothes were passed on to us from little Bastien, Tasman, and Zane. However, here is where I must defer to the P'tit Minous, who are inexplicably attached to their three-month old outfits and two-year old coats. Sigh.

We are (I'm claiming some credit, but really I should say Minou is) making progress on the attic remodel too. He pulled out all the rough flooring over the weekend and installed a new ventilation system to deal with moisture from the shower upstairs. I'm so excited to imagine this as our cozy little sleeping loft space (shhh...I mean, "storage space", since we aren't installing a legal staircase at this time. The City does not like lofts with ladders, since the fire marshal couldn't get up there). We live in the rainy Pacific Northwest, and I can just imagine falling asleep to the lullaby of rain on the metal roof just over our heads.

And in other news, I'm back to jogging, tonic for my soul and mood (there's nothing like a good run in the pouring rain), and I love my new job and co-workers. Life is good.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


I'm in a mood.

I shed a few tears over the Japanese house last night, then let it go.
Its sale is pending. It was snapped up once the price dropped--so low, but too high.
(I stopped tears quickly as P'tit Minou Deux said "Mama you're making me sad...")
The open, empty space. The Shinto temple aesthetic. It was lovely and unique.
I hope that whoever bought it will love it and live in it, not leave it as a university rental.

Here we are. Dreams aside. This is my home... la Maison des Minous.
And it is a sweet one. Well-insulated, wood-framed windows, trees all around, and the garden.
Also lovely and unique, in a warm, friendly, simple, crowded, cluttery way.
We built it from the ground up. (not really, but designed and watched it built)

Warm and friendly and simple is good. Crowded and cluttery, no.
I'm ready to part ways with Things. I want less of them. I crave open space.
I need fewer posessions than I own. I desire to break the emotional ties to them.
Expect to see progress on that Attic Avalance within the next week.
Tonight, I want everything to go.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Home clutter maintenance takes time.
Not a lot of time, but regular time.
I find it amazing and overwhelming how quickly everything can pile up
with just a few days of being-too-busy.
Too busy to do that regular evening sweep,
tidying up, recycling, returning books to their shelves,
coats to the closet, shoes to the Shoe Box, and above all,
papers to wherever they need to go.

I recognize that it is all about building habits.
My lovely mother-in-law, Mamie, is a home organizing genius.
She loves to clean, move furniture around, and rearrange drawers.
You could eat off the floor in her home (though she wouldn't let you).
It would not be recommended to do that in our home
unless you were trying to really prime your immune system.
Years ago, as I quizzed her on How She Did It,
I remember she said, "If you just take the time
to put each thing back in it's place after you use makes all the difference."

Of course, I scoffed: too simple! How could that solve our clutter problem?
Well, part of the problem back then, with limited storage,
was that not everything had a place to live.
 But now, many Goodwill bags out the door later, it does.
And it really does make the difference.

After just one week of attention spread in many other places,
when I forgot that the thirty seconds it takes to return something to its home is worth it in the end, our downstairs looks like a whirlwind hit it. Maybe I'm exaggerating, but it feels overwhelming to me. Paper piles. Magazine piles. Shoe piles. Homework binder piles. Things headed-out-the-door-but-not-there-yet piles.
And with all these piles, it's harder to find the floor to keep it clean.

So just like a monk sits down to meditate and takes the first breath, a runner heads out the door and takes the first step, a cook picks up the kitchen knife and prepares to cut the first vegetable, I have to learn to start from the beginning again every day. Pick up my first item, and return it to its home.
The simplest tasks performed again and again.
Back to basics. Building the habits. Home maintenance.

Friday, October 12, 2012

mia due to CHN

I apologize for some sparse postings this past week.
There has been a lot going on in the Casa de Minous.
I started a new job this week.
It was really hard to say goodbye to my wonderful coworkers at my past job, my first nursing position.
I loved working in women's health. I loved the privilege of talking with clients about very personal details of their lives.

However. I took a leap, in equal parts for my minous (the hours are much more family friendly) and for myself, craving a new challenge and wanting a broader base of experience as a new(er) nurse.

And let me say that I love, love, love my new position as a Community Health Nurse. My new coworkers have been very warm and welcoming, the job will be (I can already tell) constantly changing (that's a good thing), and it is so, so interesting with many areas to learn about. There are a lot of parts to this job that I have never done before, and it will be a personal and professional stretch. There is much to learn and a lot of support for learning it. In the few spare quiet moments, I have been working my way through a video series based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "Guide to Immunizations and Vaccine Preventable Diseases". This is much more fun than it may sound like.

It is also enjoyable to be downtown. I wander over to the library at lunch time, and walk to P'tit Minou Deux's ballet studio after work to watch the last part of his class and catch a ride home. The location and hours have me feeling more integrated with my family's daily life, which is just what I wanted. I was actually at home cozily cooking dinner in my pajamas at 7:00 p.m. one night, thinking that I would have been just getting off work and starting my 45 minute bike commute home the week before. Now when I ride my bike, it's just 15 minutes!

I haven't touched the attic avalanche this week, but now it looks like a neatly stacked tower that has completely taken over the landing couch rather than an avalanche, thanks to Minou. I'll get to it this weekend, if only a little bit.

How has your week been? What are you up to?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

house hunger, again

Oh, as if there is not enough going on right now...
I went and fell in love with a house.

And I didn't pine in silence and privacy, either--
I dragged each of my family members to see it, one by one.
It is sitting empty, a little Japanese-styled jewelbox
half a mile from my boys' schools.
Full of windows, soaring ceilings, tatami mat room, an office studio for Minou
and yes, three bedrooms.

No yard to speak of--but between full time work (at a new & wonderful job), finishing my BSN nursing degree, and helping P'tit Minou Deux with homework, I am not finding much time for farming these days.

And it just dropped $50,000 in price.
To be what we could just ever so barely afford.
With a personal loan for the down payment offered by a dear family friend.

What to do.
Stretching financially like that goes against everything I believe in and feel comfortable with.
I don't believe in debt, I don't carry debt (except a small mortgage).
I like the security of an emergency cushion.
To know that even if the worst happened, we would be OK for a while.

Yet--it's a great investment, close to the university and a park, sure to appreciate in value.
It is a gem of a home.
Not for everyone--no storage and no carport (or garage).
Perfect for a minimalist!
(a real one).
My boys could walk to school.
And did I mention how beautiful it is?

Sometimes it's handy to have an architect in the family.
While I rhapsodized about the light, the lines, the Japanese soaking tub, the open floor plan,
Minou noticed the cracks in the major beam, the water damage on the ceiling,
and crawled under the house to see the falling insulation and floppy HVAC pipes.

My bubble was burst.
I still want to buy it, though...for someone with the money to put into fixing into it, it would be a wonderful investment.
The problem is, we don't have the money.
But we almost do. With no cushion.

What do you think? What would you do?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

attic avalanche


I had been feeling, dare I say it, just a tiny bit smug about all the decluttering progress I have been making. Watching things going out the door that aren't loved or used, even parting with emotionally charged things like my father's book collection and folders full of prior course material, feeling very proud of myself.

Well, I still am, but I realized today exactly why the house has been looking so spacious.
There's this little thing called an attic.

And ours was completely emptied today, to make room for some renovations--ripping up the flooring and insulation to make it into (eventually) a finished sleeping loft.

And that attic space was full. It didn't feel full, but there you have it. Bring everything in it down the pull-down stairs into the upstairs landing/office area, and there is a horrific, piled-up mess.

And if I thought prior items were emotionally charged--here we are talking baby clothes, baby toys, boxes of papers and cards.... How will we do this?

I'm not sure that P'tit Minou Un will be able to get out of his bedroom to come down for dinner.