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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.