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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.