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Saturday, September 29, 2012

simple saturday: lady stuff

I don't know why I dislike the term "feminine hygiene products" so much...
but let's talk about them! Please stop reading now if this topic makes you sqeamish.

Disposable products can obviously generate a large amount of waste and can also be quite expensive.

Around the time that I started to use cloth diapers for my older son, I decided to invest in cloth menstrual pads. I bought a set of Glad Rags from an Oregon-based, small female-owned company. They are very soft and comfortable, and still (we're talking 15 years later) in good shape after many washings. Much like cloth diapers, I used these most of the time, always when I was at home, and supplemented with disposables when I was out and about or working.

However, for a long-distance runner, there can be a little issue with chafing. So I tried The Keeper, a menstrual cup:
I have heard great things about this ecological and inexpensive option from friends, so I was disappointed that I didn't love it--but I didn't. I had trouble with leaking, and it can be awkward to empty and rinse if you are out and about, to say the least, unless you find a private restroom. Also, the stem was uncomfortable, though it can be trimmed.
I am happy to report that I now have the best solution I have found, for a woman not planning on more children for a while (or at all):
This is an intrauterine contraceptive (IUC) with just a bit of progestin, which causes the lining of the lining of the uterus to atrophy while it is in place. So after a few months of more bleeding to cope with. I love it. I can't even tell you how much I love it (I will spare you the humourous/distressing tales of my years of menorrhagia). Let me just say that I am not planning to have a menstrual period ever again, if I can help it. I'm going to use this puppy (I'll have to change it out once) right through menopause.
And since the Mirena is effective for at least 7 years (though only FDA approved for 5), it is a very economical, simple, and space-saving solution. I was recently doing some tidying/decluttering in the upstairs bathroom and realized that I hadn't used the bag of menstrual supplies in at least a year--out it goes!

Friday, September 28, 2012

budget blues

I've been using Quicken for quite a while to keep track of our monthly spending.
Ever since I took over the household accounting about two years ago, in fact.
It's a task I enjoy in a slightly hyperfocused kind of way.

I frequently tinker with the amount I set aside for various things, trying to constantly lower our monthly expenses and increase my rate of savings into various "pots"--tuition fees (9 more months!), Roth IRA retirement, 403 (b) retirement, and the wishful "home projects" (we now have plans for the attic addition, but not yet the funds).

Each month I "hide" or set aside money from various categories and release it as spent, so that when I look at what's left to spend what I see is the grocery money. I'm frustrated to see that we went $453 over budget this month, and at a loss how to explain it. I can see that we had some unusual expenses, including a building permit (the attic), home repair (paint and shelving), auto registration, and September school fees. However, each of those things was pre-budgeted for and I removed the money from the appropriate "pots" as needed (every month I set aside money for auto, pets, school fees, health insurance, etc etc, etc).

So where did I go wrong this month? I can see that we have way, way overspent on gas (sigh). We budget $55 and have already spent $112. We also had some health expenses (Minou's glasses and eye appointment), but again, I was reimbursed from a flex spending account, pre-tax, through work. I think that I probably didn't have enough pre-budgeted for some categories like school fees. We had some back-to-school shopping ($50) and some skin-care product shopping ($21), stamps ($10), movie rentals ($10). But those items don't add up to $453. What happened?!

I'm seeking some balance. I want to know how much we have and stick to a budget. I want to save, save, save to meet our many goals. But if the budget isn't realistic, it also won't work.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

thankful thursday

Today I am thinking about the many, many things I am thankful for.
First off is my family. Minou and those two p'tit minous make my life shine like nothing else.
My mom. Living close to her is fantastic.
Friends who are like family.
Good health.

All the basics, which I realize daily I shouldn't take for granted:
Comfortable and beautiful shelter. Healthy food to eat. Access to medical care.
A safe neighborhood to walk, bike, and exercise in.
Ways to get around where I need to go.
More than enough clothing to cover myself (and then some).

Education, which opened up my world. Books. A great public library!

Also, I have been so lucky with my work position and coworkers.
They are a  wonderful, compassionate, committed, fun, smart group of people.
It's been a great two years there.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

one at a time

I like this concept of simplifying material possessions.
It is much less overwhelming and easier to approach.
For quite a while I have been reading a wonderful and always evolving blog called 365 Less Things.

The founder, who lives in Australia, got fed up with feeling overcrowded and decided to simplify her home, one item per day, for a year. She took pictures of each thing and gave a bit of backstory for it. She was sure that she would be done within the year.

The blog has been around for several years and still going strong.

Our home, approximately 1000 square feet, would be luxurious in many parts of the world. It is certainly comfortable here, but in the area where I live, it's considered "smallish" for a family of four. I feel fortunate to have two bathrooms but would greatly enjoy a third bedroom. Mr. Minou and I feel very Japanese as we unfold our living room futon couch-bed each evening, and fold it back up and stow our bedding away each morning.

Honestly, this is not a big inconvenience--the only issues are privacy related. Sometimes it's nice to have a door to close for a multitude of reasons, whether it be a nap, couple intimacy, a good cry, or just a place to journal. Also, if someone is staying up late doing homework or a cooking project at the kitchen table, it's hard to go to sleep. Other than that, I kind of enjoy the ritual of it.

I'm digressing though--the point of that foray into sleeping arrangements was that we are trying to pack a lot of living into our smallish home. Two teen boys, an active home office (Minou's architecture business), an online student (myself, at the couch/bed or kitchen table), a passle of cats, a big brown get the picture. There isn't a lot of storage, and even with a minimum of possessions, things seem to pile up all around before you can blink.

I have found it essential to having a more peaceful, serene home to have fewer possessions. (Note: this does not mean that my home actually is peaceful or serene--see above, I have two teen boys with very different personalities). Also, a designated home for the items we own so that they can be stored away when not in use leads to less clutter and more peacefulness on the material plane.
I see how the phsyical state of our home affects the emotional state of the family.

So, with a busy week coming up, here are 7 items that we no longer use/love.

a bathroom basket
some souvenir coasters
a small coin purse
a CPR face shield, have more
much mended gloves
seldom-used picnic ware
terrible liquor from a White Elephant gift exchange

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

up & down

I have been driving up and down the freeway...

This morning I was up bright and early, all ready to poke people and get poked myself,
looking forward to some IV skills retraining in the big city of Portland.
Feeling excited and just a little anxious...

A spaghetti of concrete freeway bridges and a bright red sun rising in the hazy autumn morning sky. Fires in the eastern part of our state are very evident in the valley.
Dusty urban brick buildings and cars, cars, cars (and cyclists) first thing in the morning.

And...surprise! Class canceled. Jump back in the car, back down the road, back to work.
Disappointment: I was all ready and anticipating!
Relief: my forearms are intact.

I had a great evening visit with our friends the Yurt People, but I am so, so, so disappointed not to have the evening to spend with my dear friend and Public Health Goddess H.

It was fun to surprise the family this evening, though. "Mama? What are you doing here?!"

Monday, September 24, 2012

minimizing monday

If I were packing up to move to Rennes tomorrow (which I am not), what would I ship across the ocean? What would I be willing to pay to keep in storage?

This is my inspiration for my current round of home decluttering. It's the Act As If phenomenon.
I wrote about that concept last year--I was inspired by something another mom said to me, when she declared that rather than give into fears, she had decided to act as if the world she lived in was the world she would want to live in. In other words, she had decided to create her world as she wished it to be. To dream and think and act it into being.

Although I really would love to move to Rennes, I don't think I really want to move there tomorrow (though if I could just transport back to that cozy little creperie Le Sarrasin for weekly Friday evening buckwheat crepes and cider, I would be pretty content...). My boys are happy at their schools and with friends, Minou's business is picking up and taking off, and I have an exciting professional opportunity starting soon (more on that later). However, I want to be ready to move to Rennes in case the opportunity unexpectedly presented itself. I would want it not to be an enormous headache to prepare myself for a transition. Like the inspiring Minimalist Mom, who had already completed extensive decluttering when her husband had a work opportunity overseas... and she was able to move her family with fairly minimal preparation.

So I am still following the slow gradual approach (it works best for me for almost everything, I do believe). Also, I am leading by example. I can not declutter anything that is not mine. I like to think that I have made vast strides...but then I realize that actually, I have more clothes and shoes than any other family member (and this is after making vast strides!)

So here's to go...

Clothing (mine AND p'tit minou 2's rejects)

Bag (from a conference I attended--we have plenty already)

LP records (we have no way to copy these now)

and the hardest of all, books

...the books are either works that I verified the library had, or that my honest answer to the questions "will I read this again?" or "will I read this?" was No.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

sorting shoes

How does one minimalist-leaning woman manage to amass so many pairs of shoes?
And how many is too many?
Here's what I have currently. When I put them all together, it was more than I expected.

I think it's too many. But I do wear almost all of them often. The ones I don't wear as often are the fancier sandals that would cost a lot to replace for the few occasions I would want them.

Brown Keen boots-fall/winter/spring
Black Dansko clogs-daily work (beloved by nurses and teachers everywhere, so comfortable)
Brown Keens-summer sandals and walking shoes
Brown Italian leather sandals-had for 18 years! Rarely wear, but still nice.
Black flat sandals-black summer shoes
Slippers-home, cold tile floors in the winter
Blue plastic clogs-gardening and chicken tending
Nike running shoes-handmedown from P'tit Minou 1, worn out
Trail running shoes-see above

Yikes! One place I think I could trim down is by sticking to either brown or black and not having two sets of colors. I actually tried this--choosing black because it seemed the more basic--but truth be told, I missed brown (I had hung onto the shoes to see how it went). I'm an earth-tone kind of gal. I also have two nice brown skirts that were given to me that I'm reluctant to part with, so I figured I will hold on to them until...?

So how can I trim? This is too much shoe volume in a small home. Also, I preach minimalism at home, but I have more pairs of shoes than anyone else in my household. Ahem. Though my feet have stopped growing, unlike some!

Here are P'tit Minou Deux's pairs:

 He loves the black leather ones (which are falling apart). Summer sandal season will soon be over.
The two pairs of running shoes above were inherited from P'tit Minou 1 (who was the other runner in the family until being sidelined by a knee injury--don't let your early teens run half-marathons, even if they want to!). P'tit Minou 2 is not a fan of running shoes and never wants to wear those.

So I think that I will get rid of my two worn-through pairs of running shoes (after today's long run: 10 miles!) and instead adopt G2's darker pair. Which leaves each of us with one less pair of shoes. His leather ones will need to be replaced soon, but we will throw away the older one.

As I write all this I can't help thinking about what a first-world problem I am having. My friend S., when leaving her Peace Corps stint in Guatemala, collected money from friends at home because she wanted to leave each woman and child she had worked with on a garden project with at least one pair of shoes. One.

This is my life now. Aiming to simplify and finding it a struggle, while others in the world struggle to meet basic needs.
It's not right or fair.

I still have more shoes than anyone else in the family, though. Ideas? I want to trim down!

Saturday, September 22, 2012


When I was a child, one of my mom's favorite expressions was "TGIF"--Thank God It's Friday.
She was a teacher.
She worked full-time, was a single parent, did continuing education to be a better teacher and for individual growth, and corrected papers after she made dinner and washed the dishes (I know, I should have helped).

Today, after attending two open house parent nights last week, I want to say TGFT--Thank God For Teachers!

I don't know what the public education system is like in your neck of the woods, but I was truly shocked by what I learned there. First, some background. My boys attend what are widely considered the best middle and high school in our school district. The younger one is in a French immersion program and the older in a French Immersion International Baccalaureate program. How wonderful is that?!

It's very wonderful. And so are their dedicated and committed teachers, who arrive at 7:30 a.m. and don't get home until dinnertime. To correct papaers and plan lessons later, I am sure.

But listen to this. There are thirty-five student (!!) between the ages of 11 and 13 in my son's middle-school algebra class. High school biology can no longer do labs with the entire class (there are 42 in there), so they must alternate days, with half the class working independently in the hall during lab days. Middle school full-time teachers have 8 class sections of 25-35 students. And here is the real shocker--the brand-new to the district, not full-time, middle-school band and orchestra teacher has SEVENTY-TWO STUDENTS in her 6th grade band class. Now there is a truly scary thought. Seventy-two 11 year olds new to their band instruments, all at the same time.

Also, the custodians no longer have time to sweep the classrooms, we were informed.

How long is that wonderful new young band teacher going to stay fresh and committed? This is crazy!

Due to class overcrowding, scheduling snafus are infinately harder to fix. My younger son, who has played the violin since the age of 7, was mistakenly placed in 8th grade Band (with kids who have played their instruments for at least 2 years) instead of 8th grade Orchestra. If he switches back to orchestra, he will be giving up his science class--for the year. Also, there are no available electives for him to take during the band slot--so he could be a "teacher's assistant" during that period. That's it. He was also mistakenly placed in a French cooking class that he has already taken.

I just don't understand. Public education is an investment in youth, in our community, in our society. How can things get to this point? And why would anyone choose to become a teacher, with the ever-increasing class sizes, budget cuts, and stresses?

Thank God For Teachers!!

Friday, September 21, 2012


Change is hard. I'm really not sure how to write about this now, so I will just say that I have a big change coming up, and very mixed feelings. However, when a decision is made for the right reason, it helps with the uncertainty.

Monday, September 17, 2012

house hunger

Every so often I am seized by an irrational desire to move (or move house as the British say).
When it strikes, I often can't resist looking at real estate websites for my city.

I love our little house, the garden, the light and trees around, the proximity to my mom (next door), good friends (scattered all around), and the feeling of being in a community. It is a really good situation in so many ways. I am fortunate.

But but but...more space, and somehow the promise of something different, a new way of seeing and experiencing the world that comes with being in different surroundings, are so appealing. It takes us off of the auto-pilot of routines, opening our perceptions and senses, just like travel.

I also would like (if we could, which we can't, now) to invest in property and rent out homes. So sometimes I justify my desire to look at real estate that way. Just in case there are any super bargains in super neighborhoods, you know.

Anyway, yesterday I was seized by one of those moments. I have to learn to resist--it's like window shopping. I read somewhere that we take ownership of something when we try it on, making it harder to resist the purchase. Therefore, when sticking to a budget, find other forms of entertainment besides windowshopping! It makes sense...and the same is true for the house photos. I start imagining us living in them. More space! An office for Minou! A third bedroom! And then, when I come back down to earth and realize the financial and practical infeasibility, I feel extremely grumpy for a while. Well.

Minou kindly pointed out to me the immese stress and amount of work moving actually entails--as evidenced by our good friends who recently went through the process and are still working on both houses, new and old. Which led me to my new resolve. I'm going to organize our home as if we were moving. Putting like things together, grouping and culling and cleaning. It will make it a much more comfortable place to live, now, and for the future...who knows?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

less & more

I want less of:
  • clothing
  • jewelry
  • stuff on the floor
  • pens & pencils
  • coats, shoes & bags
  • books
  • magazines
  • paper piles
  • time spent cleaning and picking up
I want more of:
  • laughter
  • evening walks
  • learning new skills
  • naps
  • glasses of wine with friends
  • reading books
  • hugs
  • family bike rides

Saturday, September 15, 2012

dear departing daughters

Two friends of mine, amazing women, mothers, and nurses both, just said goodbye to their only daughters this week. The late-teen daughters set off around the globe on adventures in two countries, one in Asia and one in Europe. One daughter will be gone for one year and one for four years, both to study.

Both my friends are so excited for their daughters, proud, worked to make this happen. It's a testament to their parenting that their daughters have become the smart, confident, capable and inquisitive young women that they are, heading off to explore the larger world and realize their dreams. But it's hard. The daughters are dearly missed.

Now, I don't happen to have any daughters, myself. But I am a daughter, and I remember setting off on my own study abroad adventure many years ago. I remember the dismay in my mom's face as she said "China? Are you sure?...Will I ever see you again?"

But she let me go in the end, with encouragement, love, air mail envelopes (no internet then) and long underwear. Thankfully, my friends and their daughter now have Skype and email, as well as long underwear. And always, love and encouragement.

Friday, September 14, 2012


I'm thinking about this lately for myself and the p'tit minous.

One of them is extremely self-motivated (I won't reveal which is which) and, I would say, has a high level of belief in his self-efficacy. He can plan his time, stick to a challenging job, and get things done. He is also skilled at motivating others, and has been since at least age 3, though to his chagrin in our stubborn family this can sometimes create resistance.

The other is in no hurry to assume the mantle of responsibility. We have almost daily arguments about his ability to accomplish tasks. He can argue passionately for what feels like hours, elaborating on all the many reasons that he can't do whatever the issue at hand is. Needless to say, as his mama, this is extremely frustrating.

It got me to thinking about my own levels of motivation and self-efficacy. I recently took an interesting online personality assessment as part of a nursing education class, and I discovered that while I have high levels of achievement orientation (no surprise there), my levels of self-efficacy and self-discipline were only average.

Procrastination my old friend....(cue Simon and Garfunkle)...
I think that my awareness of this issue makes me lack some belief in my ability to accomplish all the things I want to accomplish. And I am ready to change this. I declare this year the year of Anti-Procrastination. Or maybe the Year of Planning is a better moniker.

Building habits, setting small measurable goals, and rewarding myself are the tools.
I hope to help the stuggling p'tit minou by, instead of lecturing, giving him an example of an imperfect adult working to change sa way of doing things that is no longer working.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

just things

When I set out jogging on Tuesday, I forgot I was still wearing my favorite pair of earrings. They are small and dangly, delicate, with amethysts. They were  bouncing in an irritating manner as I ran, so I took them off and tucked them in a zippered pants pocket with my keys.

When I got home and emptied my pockets before a shower, I heard a "clunk", the keys fell on the floot, and I realized there was a hole in my pocket. Only one earring was still in there. I was instantly swept with an intense feeling of disappointment. I loved those earrings! I wear them almost daily! I'll never find another similar pair! thoughts ran through my mind.

Then I stopped. I repeated to myself: They are just things. Just things. That's it. Yes, pretty things that I enjoy, but just things. And just like that, I let it go. Things come and go in our lives. Why do we invest so much emotion in them?

As I took my shower I contemplated what other items I might be able to part with given this revelation. I will tell you more about that at another time. Then I stepped out of the shower...and on to the missing earring.

I'm glad to have it back, for now, but even more glad for the occasion to think about things that are just things.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


I need some help here. But let me back up:

I have been working on fitness and (I think) doing a great job at being active.
For me, this is a pleasure and not a duty. It's necessary. It keeps me happy.
(Or at least even-keel). I find perspective. I release stress. I daydream.
I walk, I jog, I ride my bike to work. I do push-ups in the morning. Hurray! I love it.

I'm also happy to say that I always eat 5 fruits and veggies a day now. And sometimes 7.
Again, not hard to do. I like fruits and veggies. I live 4 blocks from a little neighborhood natural food store and a mile from a great supermarket. I have generous friends and neighbors who share their garden bounty this time of year. Our lot is full of and surrounded by fruit trees. Easy peasy.

Where I'm not doing so well health-wise....

is when it comes to eating cake. Or chocolate. Or ice cream. Or cheese.
I seem to be "on" or "off" when it comes to self-control, with very little reasoned room in the middle. Either I'm actively choosing not to consume those items (which, with a high cholesterol issue at my relatively tender (ahem) age I know I shouldn't), or I'm indulging without restraint. It isn't a healthy pattern, but I'm not sure how to break it.

Oddly, when we were in France this summer and surrounded by all kinds of delicious food, I felt much less tempted. I could enjoy bites of something, or taking a picture of it. I also felt more aesthetically fulfilled--the visual pleasure of being in a lovely place. And I had less stress. I was on vacation. It seems like the family dinner hour, when we reunite after the long day, is usually when the teenage p'tit minous choose to engage in some regularly scheduled sibling conflict. Which makes me automatically want to start finishing the ice cream.

(somewhat ironically, just as I was writing this, Minou came back from the store and put a chocolate button in my mouth.)

So, suggestions please!
How can apply the principles of minimalism--just enough and no more--to healthy eating and treats in moderation?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

sunny day

  • The rain is gone for now and I have a day at home during the week.
  • Minou is upstairs drawing and pricing an attic renovation, from storage to sleeping loft.
  • An architect must follow code, and Minou is a man of principles. We will have a permit.
  • That attic was once full--and is now almost empty. Sigh of relief.
  • My good friend and longtime former neighbor stopped by for coffee and sunflowers.
  • She gifted me with a huge bowl of orange garden cherry tomatoes, and a bag of chard and kale for the simmering Italian potato-leek-bean-tomato soup on the stove.
  • She is feeling more settled in her new home. And while I wish it were nearer to our home, I'm glad.
  • I made whole wheat blueberry-apple muffins for the boys' after-school-and-ballet snack.
  • First mammogram this morning: not painful at all. Whew!
  • how was your day?

Monday, September 10, 2012

...and another thing....

Today's post (which I actually wrote last night) was timely, because I woke up to a grey, drizzly morning and wet clothes on the clothesline.

I did get on my bike and set out to work, but a couple of miles into my ride I was done with riding in the rain, unless I could acquire some little windshield wipers for my glasses.

So, I stopped downtown, wheeled my bike onto the rapid transit bus, and mulled over why the hefty $130 felt like such a good investment for this frugal mama. I usually hate spending money (every dollar spent is a dollar not going into the Roth IRA), but I feel well satisfied supporting my local transit company.

I'm investing in my community. Not only helping the environment, but helping keep the bus company afloat with my fees. If enough customers subscribe, it keeps rates low and routes open for non-driving populations who depend on public transportation: youth, the elderly, disabled riders, and low-income people.

here's what I need!
image source:

bus pass

I just spent $130 dollars on something that I haven't used yet. What is it?
I bought a 3 month bus pass!

It felt like a lot of money up front, but it's a good investment in keeping my lifestyle car-light. At an average of $33 dollars monthly, it's still less expensive than one tank of gas. My health center just moved to a (beautiful) new site about 5-6 miles from my home. It's a great bike ride when the weather is good and the days are long. There's even a changing room and a shower at work if I get sweaty on the way. However....come the rainy, early fall evenings and mornings, I know I won't be so eager to wheel out my bike.

So, the bus pass gives me options, while providing incentive not to request a ride from Minou (we're a one car family, so he as the official p'tit minou-chauffeur has first dibs on the vehicle). After all, I paid for it, so I need to get some use out of it. The rapid-transit bus runs from the city center (about 2.5 miles from my home) right past the health center.

Having a bike and a bus pass allows for all sorts of alternative transportation combinations. I can bike downtown, hop onto the rapid transit line, then bike home. I can walk downtown to the bus station and then take the bus to work and back. I've even thought about jogging to work, then taking the bus home in the evening. The possibilities are good for my waistline, wallet, heart...and endless!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

september evening

It seems I don't have much to say here these days.
Life continues on, changes are both with us and afoot.
Waiting for news and waiting for plans to be drawn
leading to a permit and more changes.
Routines and the coziness of home are a comfort.

Both my boys are back to school--
while this may be relief to some parents,
it's sad for me, as our overlapping schedules means
I see them much more seldom. We have breakfast together,
dinner, and a short hour or two of time, homework help, then bedtime.
On the weekend, there are movies together, bike rides, maybe ice cream.
I love the weekends.

Something about September, the early fall,
carries a melancholy sweetness. I look forward to it, and
I find this time of year so beautiful, the light, the leaves, the air,
...but then a sadness strikes. I miss the long days and energy of summer.

It takes all the seasons. This drawing inward is a good thing too.
My tiredness may be just of the body. I ran nine miles today!
I'm on a slow and steady plan, my new mantra for everything.
On November 17 I plan to run my second half marathon.
I feel inspired to start a new round of paring down of possessions.
Again, slow and steady.
It's funny how things cycle--

How is life with you these days?