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Friday, June 22, 2012

i'm leavin' on a jet plane...

Floor swept.
Fridge empty.
Bag packed.
Passport copied.
 Mr. Bubba to the dogsitters.
Chicken and cat care in the bag.
Laundry done (washer broke) for housesitters.
Five cartons of eggs given to friends and neighbors.
Snacks and journal and books packed.
Alarm set for 3:15 a.m.....

Off to France in the morning!
To see Minou and my beloved boys...and a taste of forgotten adventure.

I'm so, so, so excited. Not sure if I'll be able to sleep, but I'd better try.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


I will take a short break from writing here...
hope you are well and at peace.

Monday, June 18, 2012

monday morning goodbyes

Off went the minous this morning. So early it was almost still the night. I miss them already.I can't wait to be reunited, across the ocean, in a few days. It feels unreal.
But our connection is real. More real than separation. Love is most real.
I'm sniffly and sick today. For the past few days. Feeling tired and achy.
May my loved ones travel safely.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

egg thief

I left the basket of eggs on the kitchen steps this morning while I went inside to turn off the whistling teakettle.

It looked like this:

When I came back just a moment later, the basket looked like this:

One egg was missing. It didn't take me long to find it, but the egg looked like this:

 Can you see the toothmark?
It also didn't take long to find the culprit.
Ten minutes later, he is still looking guilty and avoiding eye contact:

 We have an egg thief in the house.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

minimal packing

It's so, so much easier to pack for a trip when your basic wardrobe is small.

I was recently talking about this with my mother, who enjoys the process of laying clothing out on a card table in her bedroom, looking at options, weighing her clothing choices. Although she likes the selecting and reviewing, it's also time-consuming and can be a little stressful (like when you're leaving for a five-week trip in five days).

My packing process for the Trip to France is made easier by three main factors (which is good, because I'm anxious enough about the flight and being separated from Minou and the p'tit minous for the first week without adding to the nerves!)

1) I have relatively few clothing items. (I've never counted them, but may someday).

2) I will be mainly in one area of southern France, where it is likely to be HOT. For the few days when I'm travelling further north, I will be with my mother and can glean from her wardrobe if something warmer is needed (hi Mom!).

3) I'm mostly taking clothes that my mother-in-law and sister-in-law have gifted me with over the past years.

Here's what is planned so far:
dresses inherited from M1
interchangeable brown clothing makes four outfits

brown cardigan for airplane & evenings

black below-knee skirt, black t-shirt and two sheer tops for over (blue from M1)

two more summer tops from Mamie & M1

In addition, I will be taking:
  • a bathing suit and pareo wrap
  • a nightgown
  • "intimate apparel"
  • black sandals, brown sandals (both good for walking)
  • light jogging sneakers & quick-dry tshirt, sports bra, shorts
  • toiletries & medications
  • a sketchbook/journal, small camera, and reading material
  • sadly, my laptop. I would be happy to leave this behind (the boys are all amply electrified) but I will be continuing with an online class starting late June
  • a small black bag/purse
  • and of course gifts! I don't want to show those here just in case it would spoil a surprise, but Minou and I had a lot of fun selecting small, light ones that we hope will please.
The only "light" coat that I have is a fairly inappropriate waterproof purple windbreaker, hence the brown cardigan. My other concern is shoes--the black sandals are simple but a little dressy, but the brown ones are Keens--rather technical looking and definately not dressy--p'tit Minou un informed me they were "butt-ugly" (thank you, son--especially since he had to have them four years ago). They look like this:

source: Google images from

I've never packed quite this lightly before and frankly, I'm a little nervous. What do you think--is it enough? Any suggestions from seasoned travellers?

Friday, June 15, 2012

frugal friday:wants and needs

I am working on a cognitive retraining project.

Tuesday, lying in the dentist's chair during a cleaning, I drifted off into mentally packing my luggage for the upcoming Trip To France. I'm hoping to take just one small carry-on, since I hate dealing with luggage on trains and such. Minou and the boys are leaving one week ahead and are planning to check a bag, so they are in charge of transporting gifts. If I can pack lightly, everything should fit into one shoulder bag and I'll be able to help my mom with her luggage during the few days we travel together to Brittany.

The last two times I went to France, my wardrobe shifted from my usual home "uniform" of jeans or workout clothing. First, it's hot where my mother-in-law and sister-in-law live. Second, people are much more fashion conscious and tend to dress up more than in my small city. I kind of enjoy this, especially when on vacation. I found myself wearing skirts and dresses a lot more than I do at home (also thanks to my sister-in-law M1, who has exquisite taste and enjoyed sorting her closet and generously passing on discarded items, though what is roomy on her is form-fitting on me) . However, I find pants more comfortable for airplane trips. I don't want to take jeans--too hot and bulky. I have two pairs of black pants for work, but both are long, plus if I'm not at work, I don't want to see them (you know how it is with uniforms).

For a minute, I thought "I need to get a new pair of black capri pants". The thought instantly evoked anxiety and a chain of associated nervous thoughts. Likely they would cost under $20, but...the dog just went to the vet for an eye infection, leading to an unexpected bill. Our clothing budget is $25 a month for the four of us (technically), so if I buy pants, it empties coffers needed for my rapidly growing sons (p'tit minou un grew almost two inches in the last few months). Plus I hate, hate, hate with a passion going to the mall or big box stores, but don't have much time to do the thrift store rounds in the next week and a half. And I am really trying to only use the car when I have to, so when and where could I bike to the store...

Mental noise. I stopped myself. What is the point of all this stress? It's silly.

I do not need a new pair of black capri pants (or any other item of clothing). I have enough clothing to cover myself, even if it is not just exactly what I am wishing for. I know that more fashionable minimalists might find this unacceptable, and as things wear out I will replace them with functionable, fitting, interchangable items, but might it not be a good reality check to practice making do with what I have? Yes, I think so too.

Source: google images retrieved from
necessary? no.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

paper progress

I'm feeling very proud of myself for all of my progress with physical paper this week.
I managed to cut our family file drawers almost in half, by culling and sending to the shred pile many, many unnecessary items (last year's dental bills?!)

Also, and this was a big step, I recycled a large chunk of the files/notes from my master's degree coursework. Gulp. I still worry "But what if I neeeeed it someday?" However, as I mentioned before, I have switched careers and am pretty passionate about my new one. Also, what I recycled were hand-written notes (volumes of them, gulp) that would have needed to be scanned page by page, standing over the scanner...which was my first thought. My heart cringed from the project and then I realized I didn't really need to keep them.

All those papers represent an amazing amount of work and learning. I'd like to say all the learning is still in my brain, but as I looked through my old notes I was surprised and disappointed how much of the theory and academic vocabulary I had forgotten or relegated to the far recesses of memory. However, keeping them taking up half a standard file drawer does not make me smarter, and would not make me a better ESL teacher if I teach again one day. As Minou noted, professional and academic knowledge marches onward, and information can become outdated.

Oh, and did I mention that I have a whole shelf of language-teaching books from the program that I'm not parting with anytime soon?

So. Three grocery bags of recycling and a whole lot more space later, I'm feeling good about the decision.
Step by step.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

winnowing wednesday: minimal closet

At the risk of incurring the wrath of petit minou un, I am showing you my closet. Which is also his closet. Yes, I know that it is messy. The hanging items on the right side, along with the items in the drawers, are almost the entire contents of my wardrobe (I do have a small carry-on bag of seasonal items stored in the attic).

Anyone who knows me personally knows that "fashionable" is not a word very likely to be used to describe me...but I  enjoy clothes! However, as I travel along my path of "less is more", I have become much more careful about a) how I spend money, even on thrift store items and b) what I bring into the house, realizing how much more I value the space and freedom it brings.

I have been thinking about how to create a very small wardrobe of comfortable, versatile, mix-and-matchable, and flattering items, a la Miss Minimalist's ten-item wardrobe. I was inspired yesterday by a post over at the about moving toward ethically made, multipurpose clothing items. I followed her link to (r)evolution apparel and was even more inspired by the story of two young travelers who decided to follow their dream and make a difference in the world...with fashion.

Check out the video of the Versalette and "how to rock it"! It's rather amazing, when you consider the design ingenuity involved in creating this multi-use garment (the model is great at showing the quick changes--she could duck into a phone booth and transform her look in a flash). I'm not sure how many of the options I would actually use... but the fact that this one item of clothing can transform from scarf to shawl to hood to top to tunic to skirt to dress is incredible!

I subjected both Minou and p'tit minou un to a complete viewing of the seven minute "How to Rock the Versalette" video, and they in turn subjected me to some teasing. However, Minou did promise (and petit minou un was my witness) that if I gave away fifteen items from my current wardrobe, he would purchase a Versalette for me (from outside our household budget). Game on, mister! (he didn't know that at all times I have a bag of waiting-to-move-out-of the-house items sitting in the closet).

Here is the Versalette in all its glory:

And here is the bag of six items ready to go:

I have three more items already selected to be passed on as well, bringing me to nine. Just six more til I order that Versalette. Not a bad trade, fifteen items out for one in that can take the place of  all the others. What color, charcoal or sage? Opinions?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

day off

I love to have time for myself, projects, just daydreaming, puttering in the garden and reading.
I love Tuesdays off work for all those reasons. My plan today is to get the house ready for our housesitters for the time we will all be in France (fast approaching, so excited). I'd also like to have the garden prepared to be as low-maintenance as possible so that it won't be too crazy overgrown when I return.

Here are a few phone shots from just outside the door.

calendula & blueberries

new japanese maple & petit minou deux's nature project table

marguerites, poppies & hiding sun face in blueberry patch

Enjoy your day! What are you up to?

Monday, June 11, 2012

magazine minimizing monday

These are a reoccurring cause of clutter in our 888 sq foot home.
By clutter, I just mean visually (semi) unappealing items that tend to lie around on the couch, floor, and just about any flat surface--not that the contents are not informative or useful.
I'm not sure how we somehow ended up with such a surplus this year. I think it was a combination of Minou subscribing to multiple trade magazines, using up some airline points that weren't enough for a ticket, holiday subscriptions for us and the boys from Grammy, and just generally being too busy to read & reuse them promptly.
The pile you see below, occupying the top of our library & encyclopedia shelf, has already been reduced by at least two-thirds.

Magazines are items that I firmly believe we don't all need to get individually. Think of the trees! Although I know I can access some content on-line, I also know that I probably won't. A great solution is reading them at or borrowing from the library, or sharing and rotating with friends and neighbors.

So why are we currently receiving (besides our alumni publications and trade magazines) National Geographic, The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Outside, Wired, Popular Mechanics, Skipping Stones, and Inc.? And are we ever going to read all these back issues? And can you predict the response if I ask the respective recipients if they want to keep them? And do you think I should ask?

Don't worry, I will ask. And they will henceforth be kept in individual bedrooms, except for a basket with the most recent issues in the living room. I'm ready for clear flat surfaces. Now what to do with the piles of architecture magazines is another story. Any suggestions??

Sunday, June 10, 2012

simple sunday: paper projects

Janko's Wish by Judy Varga

Papers are always, always a problem for me.
So many of them! What to do with them?

Like many other items, they tend to collect on just about every flat surface in our 888 sq foot home (I throw that statistic in every chance I get now, since Minou finally corrected my 1,000 sq ft estimate yesterday).

I have read many helpful organizing books that speak of having a system to deal with papers. Handle each item only once. Set up a station at the front door. "Hot storage" and "cold" storage. These are all great ideas. Yet although I (we) have improved a lot over the past few years, the paper drifts tend to pile up again when I am too busy to cull/sort/deal with them regularly, and when there are items that I'm really not sure how to handle. Usually the second reason involves some sort of emotional block--a to-do item that I don't seem to get around to, or something that I think I should save although I'm not very likely to use it. Sometimes they sit around because I don't have a filing/desk system that is set up to handle them (let me say again that space is feels rather tight in our home) such as articles from a workshop that I attended, or training materials from work, or a non time-specific to-do item like a guide to making a home emergency kit....etc.

So. Not quite by choice, but because of needing to rearrange furniture to accomodate our housesitters, today Minou and I are tackling paper piles. It's amazing how one project leads to another project leads to another project...and ultimately all to our benefit.
Here's a shot of an already culled pile from the downstairs entryway:

entryway paper piles

Yikes. As the first stop in the door, this is where papers tend to accumulate and stay until sorted. It looks chaotic and messy and tends to make my stress level rise the minute I walk in the door. Not the desired effect when returning home. There is a recycling basket on the floor in the entryway, and a shredding bag in the front hallway closet, and those both help. But what remains are to-do's and to-file's. I need another system.

Mama Minou's desk

So here is my desk, which now (after an hour of sorting) has fairly neat to-do, to-file, and to-read piles (mostly professional articles that I want to have available, but don't have a place for), along with a massive shredding bag. I cleared out one bookshelf zone and placed the wire organizing shelves to make a "warm storage", for work or schoolwork related paper that I may want to access. I will sort it once a trimester, every three month. Yes, really. Since I actually rarely sit at this very tall desk, mostly working on my laptop from the couch, I think that a basket system with just TWO baskets could live here next to the printer. To Do and To File. That's it. I will get to them weekly, on the weekend, and empty the baskets. Really.
When I opened our family file cabinet's drawer to start putting away the to-file pile, I found to my dismay that it was stuffed far too full to accomodate any more papers. Time to start the yearly cull, which has already yielded a large amount of shreddable material and at least a quarter-drawer's worth of space. Plus Minou's casual comment "Hmm..I wonder if we need all this...maybe I don't need to keep xyz...I'd like to see if we could get down to just one filing cabinet total." Yes, please!

A few more thoughts--the papers that I find most troublesome, again, have an emotional tug of some sort. I'm anxious about parting with them or not sure how to deal with them for that reason. Here's an example. I recently accomplished a second midlife career change. It's hard for me to part with items from my past role as an adult educator--sort of feels like giving up an identity that I am proud of and worked hard for. Yet I do not need (for example) those paper grade books any more. If I do teach again at some point, I will certainly use an electronic grade system and not paper. I had a nostalgic moment looking back at five years of class lists...oh, I remember that sudent! I wonder how he/she is doing? I heard they graduated from the program! etc. I think that my solution is to scan these items. I can keep them electronically and still have access to them, but they will not be taking up physical space in my limited work & storage area.
This whole process reminds me so much of one of my favorite childhood books, Janko's Wish by Judy Varga (published 1969 by William Morrow and Company, New York). Another favorite book of mine was Sloth's Birthday Party--a similar theme of laziness/industriousness/motivation. There's a theme here--I hated cleaning my room.

how do you rotate pictures?

great illustrations by Judy Varga

 It's a story of a lazy young Hungarian farmer with a sadly neglected small farm who is tricked by a "wise old gypsy crone" into helping her push her caravan out of the mud by the promise of granting a wish. "Janko stopped to think. He thought of his neglected farm and of all the work he could avoid by wishing it away." Janko decides to wish for a sack of gold to make all his other wishes come true. He then begins searching for a place to hide his gold on the farm. and organizing in the process. "Nowhere could he find a good hiding place. He was too busy rushing about to notice that he was putting his farm into tiptop order." Finally, Janko realizes that he has all the gold he could need or want in his now planted and harvested wheat fields, and decides to wish for a partner (wife). Janko's sweet neighbor appreciates his industrious nature, and in a large communal party they begin their life together.

I love it! Janko tricked himself into getting motivated and creating the life he wanted, so that work didn't feel so overwheming (as cleaning and organizing sometimes can). He realized that he had all he materially needed, and stopped chasing the "sack of gold" to build relationships with a partner and his village. It's so funny to look back and see my attraction for this book as a child, remember reading it many, many times to my boys, and now resonate with the themes as an adult.

What were some of your favorite children's books, and do you see parallels with your adult life?

Saturday, June 9, 2012


soft grey day. project complete. whoo-hoo!
one boy is sleeping off a sleepover (or maybe eating pancakes up the street by now), the other is off to the vet's with our cats (he is the guardian of the animals, very in tune with them).
Minou is building a beautiful bench for my mother.
and I'm sitting on the couch, revelling in the sound of the washing machine and a peaceful moment.
many thoughts swirling around, many projects to complete, but none of it feels heavy right now.
rather, inspiring!
I have had a lot of gifts this past week. let me share:
  • a beautiful birthday. loveliest surprise dinner and birthday cupcakes.
  • future kundalini yoga classes. maybe tomorrow.
  • an opportunity at work: taking action that made me very unpopular (this is hard for me, I like to be liked) but may actually have prevented a future tragedy. sometimes the hard stance is what is needed.
  • a student nursing conference and chance to grow, learn and share with some amazing women.
  • a day at the coast. great naps both ways.
  • a partner who invites me for walks every night but understands if I don't go (je t'aime Minou).
  • patience and encouragement from people around me. I'm grateful.
  • a new-to-me sweater & japanese maple from a friend at work.
  • a reminder, which I needed after a brief loss of perspective last weekend (note: never visit giant open houses for sale in the neighborhood you want to live in, if simple living is your real goal), of how privileged I am. why was I born where and when I was? I don't know, but the choices and comforts I have here and now are unusual in our world.
  • a new mantra: to look at a situation with clear eyes and heart and ask "Now, what can I do?"
I hope your week is full of inspiration. What gifts did you receive last week?

Monday, June 4, 2012

grey skies

Yesterday evening I felt a little sad, and even the splashes of color, the orange and red poppies and purple Russian sage on my rainy jog didn't cheer me up. The sky was heavy and my mood as well.

Northwest spring. Humph.
Some days are like this. But I choose to notice it, feel it, and move on.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

simple sunday

Here's a household item we decided we can live without:

....the humble dish drainer.

Oddly enough, this common kitchen feature has been a source of frustration and even contention for Minou and I over the years. We used to have a simple wooden dish rack--I loved the aesthetic, but he was frustrated by its design functionality and inability to clean (we live in the Pacific Northwest, where things that stay damp have a tendency to develop mold quickly).

So we switched to the cheap, basic plastic-coated wire type that can be found in any drugstore household department (you can still see ours lurking sadly in the background of this picture, ready to be schlepped to the garage, on its way out the door). It initially had a rubber pan-mat thingie that quickly developed pink slime--I can't remember the technical term (biofilm!), but it disgusted Minou and he hated cleaning it. So we discarded the rubber mat and moved to an absorbant towel on the counter that could be quickly thrown in the wash. Now, the rack itself has developed small spots of a nasty blackish mold. Minou requested a change to just using the towel-on-the-counter system--why not?

It works, and it's one less thing sitting on the counter (provided we put away the dishes after they dry).

What common household item have you learned that you can live without?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

birthday business

Wow! I just realized that I will be turning 41 in a few short days. Unlike last year, this event has been low on my radar this spring. However, much as some people like to set New Year's resolutions, I enjoy using birthdays as an opportunity to mull over my intentions for the year to come and  think back over the prior year.

Usually New Year's is the time I find myself focusing on more concrete goals, such as financial or professional. I'm happy to say that this calendar year I met my plan of fully funding my Roth IRA and  also increased the amount I'm setting aside for retirement in a 403 (b). I managed to pay down our mortgage principal, shaving 2 years off the length of the loan. All this has been due to some pretty simple living. Simple, but not deprived. Professionally, I completed two public-health-related classes and plan to continue moving steadily along toward completing my BSN degree, which will (hopefully) happen next spring.

But back to birthdays! For me, this is the time for more introspective, less tangible objectives. This year, I want to put more effort and time into maintaining and developing friendships. They are precious. They need care and attention (like children). Also, I would like to create beauty and order in my home environment, while experimenting more with a lifestyle of simplicity. What can I live without? Materially? Mentally? And what will exist in that future space? Stay tuned for 42.

Friday, June 1, 2012

sweet sixteen

Yup, that's sixteen years since Minou and I stood up on the porch of the historic house in the little rural town (after the judge pulled up late in his pickup truck and dashed around back to throw on his black robe), looked each other in the eye, and said we would. We did. Grammy and Fred, Bob and Paula were our witnesses. Then we had lunch in the one little cafe in town. Then Grandpa Bob drove us the thirty miles home. Grandma Paula took a rearview mirror picture of us snoozing, heads together, in the backseat. We were exhausted from the emotions and planning a ceremony/celebration later in the month and growing a new little life.

Today is a day of both love and loss. In the last two days, several friends have lost loved ones. Someone whose arrival was awaited and someone whose departure was expected. My thoughts are with them. Life is so fragile and beautiful.