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Monday, October 7, 2013

farm food

Yesterday we took a trip out to our beautiful CSA farm for their member appreciation day. I wasn't sure what to expect, but the gathering was more intimate and thought generating than I expected. We first gathered in a circle with the farmers and apprentices. Everyone shared something about their favorite vegetables or favorite farm living experiences. The apprentices talked about the camaraderie found in communal living and shared hard work.

Then we ate a feast prepared mainly with farm crops. Eggplant, tomato and polenta casserole, oat veggie fritters, lentil salad, green salad, beet salad, apple crisp made with "feral" apple trees, was nice to eat and talk apprentices and with other members, some of whom have belonged to the farm since the beginning almost 20 years ago.

Finally, after brushing away yellow jackets and petting a few dogs, we took a farm tour. I met Richard the carrot tumbler and stood in the hot onion-curing greenhouse. The weather could not have been more gorgeous, with golden autumn sun and bright blue sky overhead. Some people diverged for the zendo tour held at the same time, in the big field behind the apprentice barn.

One woman told me that with the shorter days, they are often picking lettuce for an hour in early dawn light before the sun rises. It's cold in the mountain valley and their fingers get chilled.

This morning I woke up to rain. As I sautéed some beet greens with an egg for breakfast, I thought about those beautiful farmers, already picking in the rainy morning gloom so that I could eat this fresh food grown from the earth. They do have tractors, but they do most everything by hand. Planting, sowing, endless weeding, hoeing, harvesting, picking, sorting, washing, packing. Nourishing the land they work on and all the people they feed.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


Inspiration tends to come in waves for me. Right now, I'm feeling re-motivated to strive toward a lower-footprint lifestyle. For the environment, for peace of mind, for my family's financial "bottom line", for the kids' future...there are endless reasons abstract and concrete, selfish and altruistic.

Here are three blogs whose archives yield a wealth of ideas and inspiration.

This week's mini-mission: Eat all the fresh locally-grown, organic vegetables in my fridge before they become food for the chickens.

We belong to a wonderful CSA, a farm-share. The boys think it sounds conceited when I say my farm, but I think of it that way, and I don't think the farmers would mind. It is a beautiful spot tucked into the Coast Range about 45 minutes from town. Once a week, they deliver boxes of veggies picked that morning to drop-off sites on members' front porches.

Every week we pick up a gorgeous box packed with vegetables, which we carry home in cloth bags and eat for the week. However, the things that are "easy" or that we would tend to buy anyway (like carrots, salads, and spinach) go quickly, which vegetables we are not quite as crazy about or less sure how to cook tend to linger (think fennel root, spicy radishes, and eggplant).

Minou's solution to our Thursday bounty of produce is to make soup, and it is a good one. However, some things just don't lend themselves to it (again, fennel root, spicy radishes, eggplant...)

I can't let this bounty go to waste. I'll let you know how it goes.

What is inspiring you these days?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

simple saturday

My weeks feel so busy. When the weekend comes, I am happy to be at home. I try to schedule as little as possible out and about, while remaining open to possibilities.

Saturday morning is also typically when Minou & I clean the house, an activity that I don't necessarily enjoy but which yields a wonderful simple pleasure: order and peacefulness. I can think more clearly and feel calmer when the house is clean and organized.

Lately the slow drift of "stuff" has accumulated to the point that piles are the entry, laundry, books and papers. That's my cue that besides putting things away, it may be time to look at those piles and triage the non-essentials right out of the house to create more space and room to breathe.

What are you doing this Saturday?

Friday, October 4, 2013

frugal friday

Here's my frugalista act for the day: repurposing tights. It's that kind of weather now, and when I dug out my old black tights I noticed that two of the three pairs had runs and large holes in the toes. Pity.

New tights are not a huge expense, but it's frustrating how quickly they run and there are no stores near my home that sell this sort of clothing staple item (maybe pantyhose at the drugstore, but no thanks).

On my way out the door, I happened to notice the small pile of G2's ballet items that I had been planning to donate to his former dance school now that he isn't taking classes. And in the pile were...two pairs of Capezio tights. One was a little worn around the knees and the feet had been cut out. The other was slightly larger and almost new.

I tried and lo and behold, they worked. What is amazing is that they stretch, keep their shape (no sagging), and are very comfortable after 2-3 days of wearing straight. Keep in mind, these were purchased for a young teen boy who was less than 5 feet tall and weighed under 100 pounds. They are being worn by his mom, who is over half a foot taller and 50 pounds heavier.

On second thought, I decided to keep his ballet shoes too (they fit).

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

hump day

I have a coworker who likes to tease on Wednesdays, "What day is it? C'mon, you know what day it is...". At first I had no idea what the joke was about. There are many benefits to not having a TV.

Today is that midweek hump for us Monday-Friday folks.

And here is something I like to do any day of the week: walk to work.

2.5 miles, not too close and not too far.

On the way to work, striding along late: picked up by my friend & coworker and made it on time.

On the way home, stopped at the library for returns and reserve pick-ups, and had a great conversation all the way home (I held off until last spring on getting a cell phone, but it does have its benefits).

How was your hump day?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

fabulous fall

It's here. Today was one of those interesting weather days we get in the Pacific Northwest. I managed to walk to work before the rain hit, then looked up periodically through the day to see pouring rain and puddles on the roof, then blue skies with puffy white clouds, then sideways rain sending yellow leaves scattering, then golden sunlight with deep gray thunderheads looming in the west. So changeable.

Here are some things making this fall fabulous:

  • A very good friend coming to visit next week... I can't wait to see her and spend time together
  • Minou making waffles for desserts
  • Family dinners with laughter, sharing a few stories, and no sniping
  • Camaraderie, friendship, and learning with the fabulous nurses I work with
  • Wearing knee boots and tights daily
  • The amazing, caring, dedicated, and intelligent teen boys I'm privileged to mother
  • My husband's patience with my shorter-day grouchy moods
  • Jogging again, ever so gentle a start
  • Minou's healing (kidney stones are the worst)
  •  Hot soup, hot tea, and especially hot coffee
  • Lunch dates and walks with my mom
  • The gift of Guinness for Andrew's Day
  • A trip to the art store with Minou and G2
  • Starting a sketchbook: one a day
  • Possibilities for G1: too soon to mention 
  • No homework (unless it's self-imposed)
  • Downpours while warm and cozy indoors
  • CSA boxes full of fall vegetables
  • A big brown dog with soft ears at my feet
  • A good high school start for G2
  • We're getting a new oven and can bake again
And that's all for tonight. What are three fabulous things in your life this fall?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Mono no aware

I remember a term from long-ago Japanese art history classes: mono-no-aware. It means "the pathos of things", and conveys a sense of the ephemeral nature of the world.

It is the term for what I feel at this point in the fall. Rain comes down and leaves with it. Darkness leaves later in the morning and comes more quickly in the evening. The season has changed.

A reflective time...

What are you looking forward to?

What do you think about the most?

What are your worries?

What are the small pleasures of each day?

With who can you share your thoughts and dreams?

Sunday, June 9, 2013


Hello. I have been gone from this space for longer than I intended.
I've been a little busy...

with this! Hooray!

Now, a new opportunity for reflection, for health, for family time, friends, and most of all,
What's going to fill this space? What's going to inhabit the hours that were filled with homework?
Do my sweet boys still remember who their Mama is?
We shall see.
To anyone who has been a part of this journey with me,
Thank You.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

simple saturday update

Oh Saturdays...I love Saturdays.

I especially love Saturdays when I don't have homework assignments to complete hanging over my head, which is currently the case. Instead of bursting out with exuberant, Superpower energy to clean the messy house, weed the messy garden, get some good long runs in, and read a big stack of library books, however...

I feel gentle, slow, sleepy, and vague. It is nice to really have down time. I've been reading a little here and there, walking the dogs, making waffles, and sitting around with p'tit minou un, talking about our pets. It's a rare pleasure to spend some time with him alone. I am feeling very antisocial, which Minou assured me is normal when one works full-time and interacts with a lot of people on a daily basis (is this true?)

What else to report? Two garden beds weeded and snap peas, chard, kale, and lettuce planted.
I'm starting basil (for pesto) and Principe Borghese tomato seeds (for drying) in the indoor greenhouse.

Three successful blood draws last week on generous coworkers. If you know anyone trying to master venipuncture skills and you don't pass out at the sight of a needle, it is an incredibly appreciated gesture to allow them to practice on you.

The boys began their spring break, and the pressure of time feels temporarily lifted from our household. Even though I am not technically on vacation with them, since I will still be going to work, I don't have to do any evening coursework (for another week). I can't describe the pleasure I have been getting from going to bed early this last week. Reading to p'tit minou deux and then turning out the lights at 9 p.m.

We still have about 1/4 of the original tank of gas from the beginning of this month. Whoo-hoo! My goal is to leave the car in the driveway and walk or bike until April 1st when the kids go back to school.

And on the financial front...A fantastic error in calculations meant that instead of being $500 short of tuition this month, I was actually 2K in the black! How do I create so much stress for myself?! (answer: by not checking the number of credits I will be registering for in advance). I directed it all to the mortgage. I have been going back in forth in my mind about whether it's better to keep paying down the mortgage principal more quickly or find some other investment opportunity (index funds?). I've decided to stay the course and stick with the safer path for now.

How about you? What have your last weeks been like?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

simple saturday update

Tonight we will be changing our clocks to... Spring Forward!

I hope this doesn't mean cycling to work in the dark...but I am so looking forward to the longer evening hours of light. And they will be just in time for some evening gardening sessions, as I am almost, almost done with this term! And will soon have a two-week break before entering into the time-warp of the Integrated Practicum next term, a lot to tackle while working full time.

That sounded more complainy than I intended. It will be a lot of work, yet manageable, and it's so exciting to be this close to the end of the nursing program tunnel. All the past years of working hard and juggling multiple responsilities have given me the confidence to know that I can accomplish this.

Moving on: it has been an interesting week.

  • One of the best things: I received a package from a very special friend (she knows who she is) that was full of such thoughtful items, the kind that bring a little sparkle and luxury to the day. Among them were a beautiful vegetarian cookbook that I am looking forward to using (Plenty), some very me clothing pieces that I have worn daily since getting the package, some dark chocolate that quickly disappeared...and a lovely note.
             I have to admit, I feel a little shy, knowing now that she has been reading this blog.
  • Sunny days. Blue sky. Warming soil. Birdsong. The scent of daphne. Lunchtime walks by the river (actually, along the same paths I used to walk with my friend many years ago. I walk by our old apartment, as funky as ever and now painted bright marigold yellow).

  • Projects and papers drawing to a close. Thank. Goodness.

  • Housekeeping. I think the last big session was on my last academic break, around the time that we painted in December. It was time.
  • I cut my hair, and didn't know when to stop. It started with a trim, then a little more, then a little more. It is now a 20's style bob (A-line in the back, like Christopher Robin). I don't think it is very flattering. But the good thing is that it will grow.

  • I am not having much success with blood draws. I think the anxiety from not being successful carries into the next try. I just know that I can be really good at this with enough practice. I enjoy skills that require manual dexterity and "feel". I only have a few co-workers who don't mind being guinea pigs, though (a surprising number of nurses are anxious about being on the receiving end of a needle). They're patient, but I'm not sure how often they'll let me poke them before they get tired of it.

  • Another nurse, a friend, has decided to move on at work. I have learned a lot from her, really enjoy working with her, and will miss her calm, wise presence greatly. This also leaves my program extremely understaffed. What should be a four or five nurse team will be down to two. And I'm inexperienced, not yet trained in several areas. Why this mass exodus, you may ask? Well. Let's chalk it up to interesting interpersonal dynamics.

 What about you? How was your week?

Friday, March 1, 2013

march money challenge

This month I find myself facing a financial challenge.

I've been keeping our monthly margin at the razor's edge of the emergency cushion, after accounting for regular expenses and saving, because of paying down that pesky and pestilent mortgage!
(OK, deep calming breath).

In January I set aside a nice chunk of change for my final term of nursing school tuition, and it's been patiently waiting for its turn to transfer as I've been feverishly scouring academic databases and writing papers and performance improvement projects. But due to some additional final-term fees, and one additional credit hour, I'm  $500 short of the total (due the first week of April).

So here's my March money challenge:
Cut spending this month enough to make up the $500 difference!
....and still have something left to contribute to the mortgage principal in April (even if just a few dollars).

I'll let you know how it goes.

Anyone else up for a March money challenge? What'll it be?

Thursday, February 28, 2013

thankful thursday

Today I am feeling so thankful for Minou in my life.
He is travelling for work and I miss him.
I do not always show him enough appreciation for being his wonderful, quirky self.
He is kind, funny, sensitive, tender, principled, passionate, playful, determined,
loving, forgiving, silly, creative...
and basically a soft-hearted solid rock of a good person. A good man.
A total kid at heart. An adult in the day-to-day.
He believes that love is in the details, in what you do.
I am so lucky that we met all those years ago and have grown (up? older?) together.
My sweetie.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

frugal february report

The numbers aren't in yet on utilities, but I'm feeling good about frugal february...
I'm posting early since I.will.not. purchase any more food or gas until 3/1.
Let's crunch some numbers, shall we?

January Food: $525
February Food: $300 (wait, what?)

January Gasoline: $ 80
February Gasoline: $41

Wow! I call that progress.
If a little suspicious.

And you know where it's all going.
Straight to the mortgage.
Take that, evil interest!

Tell me about any frugal challenges you've set for yourself.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

bike tuesday

Hi there--I'm still here, just working away on some end of term assignments.
We had a brisk, crisp, morning and really beautiful, spring-like afternoon today.
And my bike commute was fantastic both ways.
It seemed impossible, when I was in the phase of not-bike-commuting, to imagine how much I would enjoy it. All I could envision was cold, stress, and inconvenience.

Well, it's not like that at all.
Every time I start biking again after a break from it, I can't believe how good it feels, and I marvel that I manage to forget that fact. The truth is that I really look forward to my commute. I arrive at work feeling invigorated, and arrive home feeling calm (I ride a little faster in the morning).

And worries of inconvenience--pshaw.
I bike in skirts and (water-resistant) knee-high boots, no problem. With pants, I keep a pair of nicer shoes at work and switch them out when I arrive (it rains a lot here). I have gloves (actually Minou's), and one of those cute little black biking caps (from p'tit minou un) that goes under the helmet (this is important, because otherwise my old helmet leaves a big red indentation on my forehead, and everyone at work says "OH MY GOSH, WHAT HAPPENED?" for 20 minutes until it fades).
I also have an over-the-shoulder satchel to carry lunch, papers, a book, etc.

If you don't bike commute yet, give it a try! Start small. Just do it once. You might get hooked.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

simple sunday style

I have decided to try going natural.
I am already a pretty natural kind of lady (gal?).
But I'd like to be more so.
Good health and self-care are most beautiful.

I do wear makeup, but not so anyone would notice.
Just a little brown eyeshadow, mascara, and natural lip color (more of a gloss).
I think I'd like to try to do without.

I'm not really sure what "real" color my hair is now--I've been using henna on it since I was 15 years old!
It's been a lot of shades, from aubergine to auburn to bright red to dark brown to a medium brown now.
I used to enjoy mixing the powdered henna colors and waiting for the surprise result.

Henna is a plant-based color that also naturally conditions the hair.
However, it is becoming quite expensive, and it's a lengthy and messy process
(think slathering green mud on your head and leaving it on for several hours!).
I'm getting tired of the quarterly upkeep.

My hair is growing in silver around the temples now...

One of my coworkers has the most beautiful silver hair, looking very stylish.
My mother also has lovely cascading silver hair.
I'm ready to try. I cut off about three inches last night.

Following the recommendations of Mrs. MM (and many others!),
getting a good night's sleep of 8 hours, daily exercise, and healthy food with many fresh fruits and veggies, are among the best (and certainly most frugal) beauty practices.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


As I rode my bike home yesterday I thought about choices.
I love my job and enjoy my co-workers.
I learn new things every day. I use what I learn to help people.
Basically, I'm very happy at work.

All the staff in my program share responsibilities.
There is quite a lot of camaraderie and teamwork.
There is also a little bit of office politics.

Is this typical? It's not something I'm very familiar with. I'm a little unsure of how to respond.
Communication becomes something that takes careful thinking.
I don't want to over-think, however, because then everything becomes awkward.

I have decided that I will not participate in anything resembling gossip.
(It can be tempting--but brings nothing of value to the situation, and can cause damage).
I need to learn to either step away, or say "I don't need or want to know that."
If something affects how I do my job, or there are inappropriate dynamics, I also need to speak up.
That's challenging sometimes.

I spend a lot of my life in the workplace these days. It's an uncomfortable feeling to "watch my back".
I can't quite let my guard down, but I can choose to create the environment I want to work in.
So no engaging in negative behavior or communication, either overtly or covertly.
Put positively, being respectful and courteous to all, recognizing strengths, and assuming positive intent.

I like drama in the movies, in novels. That's enough.

How about you--have you ever had this kind of experience?

Friday, February 22, 2013

frugal february friday update


  • rode bike to work 4/4 days! (Monday was a holiday)
  • used car once on weekend to take p'tit minou deux shopping (see angst-y post below)
  • Minou used the car three times Saturday to make a two mile round trip to the grocery store. Tsk, tsk, tsk. But it was a deliberate choice; we had friends coming for dinner, he was cooking, he valued his time more at that moment. He stated.
  • Back bike light is out; need to find the rechargable batteries. Luckily it's light when I leave work.
  • Spent more this week. Cupboards were bare. Decided against a lentil-based diet (though I like them).
  • Bought fancy sandwich spreads at Trader Joe's for livening up simple fare (tapenade, roasted pepper & garlic, etc.). Bought some luxury items: veggie ham, parmesan, a bottle of wine (friends for dinner)
  • Starting into the new week with a semi-full fridge, will try to just pinch-hit as needed (fruit, veggies, cheese, milk) until March rather than doing my usual weekly shopping.
  • It got cold again. I haven't turned up the heat but I am feeling it, especially up in our unheated Attic Addition at the top of the house. We have a mountain of comforters and each other to stay warm.
  • Still trying to be careful with the water. No baths. Shorter showers, usually.
  • Turning off the printer at night (last one up).
Frugal Fun:
  • The Ladies have started laying again! We have had an egg a day since Monday. I tricked encouraged them by placing a decoy in their nest, and the days are getting longer.
  • Very nice meal with some good friends. Spaghetti, homemade marinara, sauteed tofu, garlic bread, salad, red wine, and ice cream with homemade fudge sauce. 
  • p'tit minou deux now wants to go out for frozen yogurt. He argued earnestly in favor (he is very earnest, that one) of supporting the local family-owned business whose yogurt he enjoys. I think we will have  homemade ice cream sundae night at home instead.
  • Minou wants to watch the "new" James Bond movie at the dollar theater this evening, which is actually $2 (maybe even $2.50) per person on Friday evenings. We may rent this from Redbox for a dollar instead.
How about you? What frugal adventures did you have this week?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

the perfect is the enemy of the good

"Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien"-Voltaire

The perfect is the enemy of the good.
I have to remind myself of this concept constantly.
For me, the significance is the fallacy of all-or-none thinking.

All too often, if I can't (or think I can't) do something to the level or standard I wish for, I give up.
(darn those perfectionistic tendencies!)

Here are some things I am reminding myself of this week:

  • it's better to jog 20 minutes a day than not to jog at all
  • it's better to drive the car on one errand than to drive the car on three errands
  • it's better to say "I'm sorry, I was wrong" after I lost my temper than not to say it
  • it's better to clean the dried spaghetti sauce off the stove even if the grease stains won't come off
  • it's better to take a 15 minute walk break at work than no walk break
  • it's better to spend a little more on fancy groceries than be tempted to eat out
  • it's better to do 25 push-ups than no push-ups
  • it's better to make sure my children eat fruits and veggies at dinner even if none at lunch
  • it's better to complete an educational assignment on time than to make sure it is stellar
  • it's better to read just a few pages of a book with p'tit minou deux than not read together that day
  • it's better to put $100 extra toward the mortgage than no extra
Can you think of any examples from your life? If so, I'd like to hear them!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

weekly food report

This week I tried some new things.

On the weekend, I pulled out the waffle iron and made yeast-leavened waffle, which were delicious--crisp outside, tender inside. They needed to rise for an hour and a half before cooking in the waffle iron.

These were so popular at breakfast that I made them again for a savory dinner, topped with slices of "veggie ham" (a vegetarian meat substitute), sharp cheddar cheese, and runny fried eggs. So good.

P'tit minou un consumed at least five of the savory waffles, declared the dinner to be enormously inadequate (despite having had a banana, a glass of milk, and a cup of salted peanuts just prior), and proceeded to make himself a giant sandwich after dinner. Teenagers. It's hard to keep them fed to their satisfaction.

I baked a batch of whole-wheat banana-chocolate-chip muffins with the first egg the Ladies have laid in weeks (hurray! here's hoping it's just the beginning of the season!).

I made a giant pot of minestrone soup. It is tomato-based, with sauteed onions, carrots, broccoli, and rainbow chard, orzo pasta, red beans and garbanzo beans, and seasoned with fresh parsley, basil, oregano, lots of garlic, and a little red wine. Simmered for hours so the flavors meld. Very nice for dinners.

I also am planning to make and freeze a batch of burritos that can be pulled out individually or a few at a time for dinner or snacks, with whole pinto beans (cooked them myself), cheddar cheese, black olives, and salsa. We will see how the flavors and textures hold up.

What are you cooking this week?

Monday, February 18, 2013

never be normal

The title of this post is a knockoff of a great one written by Mrs. Money Mustache about how living the frugal life (she would say the Mustachian life) can permanently alter your perception and habits.
She titled her post "You'll never be normal again!"

I took my younger son to the mall yesterday. Why, you ask?
He needed shoes, grey jeans, and long sleeved t-shirts.
Well, he really needed shoes. They do that, those kids, they grow and outgrow things.
The jeans and t-shirts I wouldn't say he really needed.

However, he has decided that grey jeans are the color for him, and so the grey pair now has a giant hole in the knee but he continues to wear them to school. So traditional of me, but it bugs me.
He has blue pairs and black pairs that stay in the closet.
Same with shirts--he has several, but they are either very frayed, too large, or somehow not quite right.

I suggested second-hand shopping--at least twice. But he looked at me earnestly and said, "I've had so many second or third hand clothes in my life, Mama--almost all of my clothes were (p'tit minou un)'s first, and lots of those were someone else's first too."

He is right. And while I know that this is not a bad thing, that wearing hand-me-downs or third-hand clothes does not mean deprivation, I was still swayed--I wanted him to know that he is important to me, that I heard this was important to him, that he meant enough to me that I would swallow my aversion and go to the mall.

And so we did. Yikes. Once we were there, we quickly found jeans, and shoes, and plotted our escape. The smells, the crowds, the lights, the pounding music--it was completely sensory overload for me, and I suspect for p'tit minou deux as well. Because an odd thing happened when we couldn't find any plain, simple, long sleeved t-shirts in either of the two stores we had now been in. Everything had logos, or writing, or branding, and that wasn't what he wanted. Neither did we want to venture any further into that giant place.

He sort of forgot why we had come, and began saying that he didn't really need any more t-shirts (forgetting the weeks of rejecting the ones he has for above reasons or size or conditions). Meanwhile, I went into bossy generalista Mama mode and became very directive, demanding of the young skateboarder/hipster clerk WHY they didn't have PLAIN CHEAP t-shirts and WHERE could someone who HATED the mall find such a thing. Because I was darned if I was going to come back another day after p'tit minou deux remembered that actually he really wanted a t-shirt or two.

Target, the young man told me. Go to Target.
It was in a different mall.
So heck, we were already out and about (driving, I might add)--we drove there too.

I am happy that my son is happy. I want him to have non-ripped and non-frayed clothes to wear to school. I get that he has had almost exclusively hand-me-downs (except for the times his lovely Grammy has taken him shopping), and appreciated having something new for himself. He has the right to have his own opinions about the colors and styles he prefers, and he is usually a very easygoing member of the family who tends not to assert his own wants and needs too strongly (maybe not strongly enough, at times).

However, I feel downright icky. We drove our car at least 15 miles round trip, polluting the air. We bought clothing that was cheap for us because it was likely manufactured by someone in a sweatshop in Nicaragua or Bangladesh. Clothing that he did not really need (except for the shoes). Money spent that is also now not going to melt the mortgage this month.

Did I do the right thing? Am I making too big a deal out of this?

What do you think? Have you had similar dilemmas?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

mood magic

I keep thinking about a term I read long ago in a book called Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.
That term was "wrestling with the tofu" (or how about "wrestling with the futon"-ever tried to move one?)
It's the process that one's mind can go through when sitting down to meditate.
Or in my case, trying to overcome inertia or grumpiness.

Rather than wrestling with my own mind (sounds so complicated), I resort to linguistic tricks.
When I am sitting on the couch with my laptop and need to get up and get moving,
telling myself "You know you need to go EXERCISE" just makes me feel teenage rebellious.

So instead I's time for a little Mood Magic!
Once my shoes are on and I'm out the door (with my trusty big brown dog), I feel instantly better.
And that elevation lasts for hours. Effects are doubled when the sun appears along the way.

Minou used to complain when I headed out the door to jog, leaving him alone with two tiny p'tit minous.
He learned over time to say "Good for you--it's good for your heart".
These days I bet he's pretty glad for the existence of Mood Magic.
I'm much nicer to live with because of it.

Some days he even says "Don't you want to start your day with a jog?"

How about you? What's your Mood Magic?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

frugal friday update

It's the Frugal Friday update--on Saturday!


  • rode bike to work 5/5 days (new benefit: chatted with nice bike commuter coworker en route)
  • filled up gas tank for 1st time this month (we are using less with my commutes out of equation)
  • used the car only once last weekend, to pick up p'tit minou un from far-away friend's house

  • food spending for us four this month so far is around $250--more than I hoped, but pretty good.
  • on the downside, because I have been busy with schoolwork, I haven't been planning/cooking much and meals have been rather plain. Need to work on that this week.

  • thermostats at 64 and staying that way. Ignoring complaints and bundling up. 
  • taking "military showers": get in, water off, soap/shampoo up, water on, rinse, out.
  • turning off lights and "vampire lights": printer, power strips, laptop.

frugal fun:
  • found a gift card I received for my 40th birthday (a while ago) and went out to lunch with Minou during the work week at a fancy delicatessen, twice! (had delicious & interesting sandwiches)
  •  had Friday Family Movie Night (third week in a row). Borrowed the third Matrix movie from the library. Had frugal snacks (Valentines chocolate from a neighbor, snack mix and soda courtesy of p'tit minou un's generosity, and rum and coke for Mama Minou courtesy of winning the liquor at a holiday White Elephant party).
  • borrowed "The City of Ember" from the library per coworker's recommendation. Read it, loved it. Passed it to Minou who read it, loved it (he cried at the end--we are sappy that way). P'tit minou deux also read it and liked it. P'tit minou un read it years ago. Then we watched the movie.

How about you--any frugal fun this week?

Friday, February 15, 2013


I'm feeling good about giving a wonderful coworker & friend a gentle nudge.
I encouraged my 20-something colleague to consider opening a deferred compensation retirement account.
She made the call.

I just went to a "Retirement Strategies for Women" seminar and was pleased and surprised to see women who looked to span at least 6 decades there (of course, it's hard to tell).
I wish someone had talked to me about such things at her age.
(Or maybe they did, but I wasn't ready to listen? Not sure.)
Where my coworker goes from here is up to her, but if she starts thinking about long term saving now, she'll be way ahead by the time she gets close to needing it.

How about you? Is retirement saving on your radar? At what age did that begin? 

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Happy Valentine's Day!
My sweetie knows the way to my heart. That Minou Man is so thoughtful.
Look what was waiting for me on the table at breakfast.

A pound of organic French roast coffee, plus Voodoo Doughnuts for the p'tit minous.
Hope your day was sweet as well.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

go around gently

Sometimes the procrastination issue gets the best of me.
I have been thinking about it a lot, and how to wiggle around it.
Facing it head-on feels like throwing myself at a giant boulder, trying to shoulder it out of the way.
Something is blocking my path, and the reasons for it are complex. Brute force is ineffective and just leaves me feeling bruised.

When this happens, I am blocking my own path. I am both the blocker and the blocked.
It's better if I can just get myself out of the way. To continue with this image, I have to find a nice little forest trail that gently wanders its way around the big boulder, so that I don't really notice I'm past it until I look backwards in surprise and relief.

That's what I'm working on now. Breaking down the tasks that are triggering my aversion into tiny, little, chunks. Then finding small rewards for after each step, that make me feel good and feel good about myself. A small walk. A chapter of a novel. A home skin treatment. A few minutes to write something here.

It also helps to reset patterns by working in a different spot. I moved from being entrenched on the living room couch (though Mowsie Cat kept me company) to the quiet Attic Addition, which reminds me of a Swedish cabin with its clean, bright emptiness.

What are your tricks for overcoming procrastination? Or is it an issue you struggle with?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

lights & leftovers

I have become that mother.
The one who follows everyone around turning off the lights, or is constantly calling up the stairs "Are you coming back down to the bathroom? Because you left the light on!" (mentally: Again!)
Or, "Did you remember to turn off your power strip? You think so? Let's just pop in and check."
And, "It's so nice and bright in here. I can see why you like it. But do you really need two lights just for doing your Algebra II homework? Hmm? I didn't think so!" (click)

And even better: the mother who finishes the food on her children's plates that they did not deign to consume.
(Let's hope p'tit minou un never reads this post, for he would faint with embarrassment).
This is actually a rather common practice among mothers of preschoolers, at least it was among those that we spent time with back in the day. Maybe a little less so among mamas of teens.

However, I hate, hate, hate with a passion wasting food, and I have nothing against leftovers on principle. So if one of my boys happens to declare something inedible, or himself too full to touch it, I am prone to scooping it into tupperware and taking the leftovers for lunch the next day.
There. I said it.

Does that send me over the edge from frugal to cheap?
Am I taking things too far? Or just being reasonable?

No dumpster diving yet.
Just kidding, honestly.

Monday, February 11, 2013

thermostat update

I did it--I reset the home thermostats to 65. All of them. No cheating!
I am taking advantage of a novel concept called "layered clothing" for comfort (see humorous post by Mr. Money Mustache, and especially read down for the truly inspiring story of Alaskan bike commuter Sister X).

Today, that means legwarmers under my jeans, two pairs of socks, a wool scarf, and a wool sweater.
I am nicely toasty.
I police the boys' rooms a little bit, nudging their thermostats back down as they nudge upwards.
I drink hot tea, in addition (haven't caved and bought coffee yet).

It's also warmed up significantly since our January cold snap.
Which was nothing compared to what the East Coast is enduring right now.

I hope our water & electric bill will be back under $100 this month.

How much do you heat your home?
And how do you stay comfortable?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

simple sunday: groceries

At the beginning of the month, I wrote about trying to decrease our monthly grocery budget in order to pay down the mortgage principal more quickly. Part of this involves meal planning and focused shopping.

Each weekend I think about the main dinner meals for the upcoming week. We have several staple main dishes that we rotate that are quick, easy, and liked by at least three members of our household (have I mentioned that p'tit minou deux is a rather picky eater?). Those include spaghetti with marinara sauce, garden burgers, enchilada casserole, homemade macaroni and cheese, burritos, homemade pizzas, and vegetable soup for the Parental Units (as the boys enjoyed calling Minou and I for a while).

Then we do a weekly grocery shopping, also making sure to have snacks (yogurt, fruit, baking ingredients), lunch materials (sandwich bread, carrots, cheese and peanut butter), breakfast food (generally rolled oats, raisins, nuts, cinnamon), and vegetables.

Last weekend I did not do a big grocery shopping, deciding that we would try to empty the cupboards first. And empty them we did. I don't think I've ever seen the fridge so empty at the end of the week. Success!
However, with two hungry teens in the house, I have to be careful not to let the pantry get too bare. It feels like a serious emergency when there is nothing quick to grab and eat. Explosions could ensue.

Yesterday, Minou did our big shopping for the week, and took seriously my maximum $100 spending request. I'm curious how we will do this week for further shopping, since we no longer have the back-of-the cupboard stores we once did. Don't worry, I will not forget the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables.

My challenge: we are almost, almost out of coffee (actually finished the real beans a week ago, and I've been drinking the Nescafe we bought for my mother-in-law).Coffee, my very favorite small luxury...

What would you do?
Buy more coffee, or go without?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

simple saturday bike update

Here we are, Saturday again. I thought it was a good time for an update on my biking to work goal.
I'm happy to report that I rode my bicycle all five days this past week.
Also happy to share that I really, really enjoyed it.

It's calming. Invigorating. Refreshing. A transition between home and work. Exercise.
It got easier to organize myself as I went through the week.

I have a pair of biking gloves and a little black cloth cap that goes under the helmet.
I have a pair of used rain pants and a water-resistant windbreaker.
I have a battery-operated strong front light, and a blinking back red light.
I had to buy batteries for my front light this week, since I have misplaced one of  our rechargeables.
Darn it! But then I was glad that I did buy them, because I worked late and rode home at dusk one day.

I now leave my work shoes at work (those new/used Dansko low heels), and wear running shoes while biking. This is easier than carrying shoes back and forth. I dress in layers and have an over-the-shoulder messenger bag for lunch, reading materials, etc. Minou may eventually put a basket on the back of my bike.

I found a small shortcut, a couple of alleyways and a different turn that makes it easier to cross a busy street. Sometimes I go around the hill if I'm tired or trying not to get sweaty.
What used to be a 20 minute ride is now 15.

Where I used to work, there was an exterior rack, so I always carried a U-lock. a cable for the front tire, and a plastic bag to cover the seat when it was raining. My office building now has both a covered bike cage out back and a secure bike room with hooks. I use the room, so I can just wheel the cycle in and not even worry about locking it up (sometimes I don't even hoist it up to the hook). It's great!

So weekly bicycle summary: 30 minutes of active transport exercise for five days, and at least 20 miles driving saved, maybe more.

Do you ever use active transport?
How, where, and when?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

a wednesday walk

Today is Wednesday, the midway mark for my work week.
Minou phoned me mid-morning to remind me of our Wednesday lunch meeting.
We used to try to do this weekly, but fell off our schedule during the visit of his maman.

It was such a nice surprise. Immersed in what I was doing, I had forgotten about our tradition.
Instead of eating lunch together, we decided that today we would go for a walk.
And it was perfect. He brought our big brown dog and met me at work, and we went off to walk the bike trails next to the river. It was so much fun to walk hand-in-hand watching the joggers, bikers, families, and ramblers in the park, along with the river through bare trees on the bank.

A weak but very welcome sun came out. We soaked it up.
A beautiful hour together.

And...nothing purchased. No money spent.
What's your favorite simple pleasure?

Monday, February 4, 2013

weekend cooking

Mondays can just feel so challenging after the relaxed pace of a weekend at home.

Getting out the door calmly and on time in the morning. Having everything organized for the week.

And for me (not for much longer) ever-present online assignments hanging heavily over my head.
(I sometimes feel like they follow me around in the form of a visible dark rain cloud of worry)

All this is why it is so nice not to worry about dinner for Monday night. I love to cook up a storm on Sundays, with dishes that we can eat heading into the week. This weekend I made:

  • Creamy potato-broccoli-garlic soup, with a milk base
  • Enchilada casserole, with homemade pinto beans, yellow corn tortillas, black olives, cheddar cheese and mild enchilada sauce
  • Macaroni and cheese made with orzo pasta, bechamel sauce, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses
  • Cinnamon coconut-milk muffins
  • Blueberry cobbler (this went to a birthday potluck and did not come home, it was much enjoyed)
I will just wash and tear the lettuce for salads and move some frozen peaches and berries out from the freezer to make breakfast smoothies with yogurt. Petit minou un also just requested a pie...we will see..

Minou and I are starting our healthy eating habits again. It's been a long slow slide since Thanksgiving. But we are strong, and we will support each other.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

clothes shopping

Yikes! After all this talk abut frugal living, I went clothes shopping.
A good friend who loves to thrift shop invited me to meet her at a 50% off sale at a very nice, slightly upscale second-hand clothing store. I went intending to spend no more than $10 and hoping to find a pair of dark jeans that are presentable enough to wear to work on Fridays.

I had recently noticed that my favorite black pair of work pants, a uniform if you will, was showing serious signs of wear (not surprising given being worn at least three times weekly for the last four years, and purchased second hand! Those were amazing pants. No ironing required.) The hem was fraying, the inseam was ripping, and they were starting to look a little faded. Boo. I also noticed that my beloved black Dansko clogs were cracking and the heels were getting very worn. Again, these have been my daily shoes since fall of 2008. The cracks started while wearing them biking in the rain--not a good idea with leather shoes. The dress code (unofficial) where I work is quite casual, but looking professional is still appreciated, and I knew it was time to retire the clogs and black pants soon. I was thinking, though, that I would try to last until spring--just a few more months.

Long story short, I had no luck with jeans (always challenging for Pears with Curves), but did find two other pairs of pants, an REI grey casual one and a well-fitting replacement black pair, new with the tag on. The total for the two after the discount was $18. I also found a new-but-gently-used pair of Danskos with a little heel--a narrower, dressier, look and more height than I am accustomed to, but just my size, very comfortable and a good price at $16 on sale (they would be over $100 new). I was hesitating, but bought them after I noticed that my tan socks were visible through the cracks in my black everyday shoes! (I usually wear black socks, so I hadn't noticed. My friend's husband later asked, "Didn't you try duct tape on the inside? That's what I would have done.")

What do you think--was this a good investment in my professional wardrobe?
Or should I have gone for the duct tape and waited until spring?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

frugal february

Hi there.
We are starting a new month. This means it's a good time for a new challenge.
I think I have already mentioned my determination to melt down my mortgage.
Each month I want to put all the extra pennies I can towards it.
Pennies won't go too far, but dollars will. Even a few here and there.

The biggest spending categories that we can easily control and cut are groceries and gas.
Utilities too, actually. Our water & electric bill has jumped almost 20% to $120 since the Attic Addition
(more space to heat) and with the month-long cold snap we endured here in the normally mild PNW.

So...a challenge!
First up: take on the gas bill. Yikes! A good month for us is around $100.
I can't control the chauffering that happens when I am off at work, but I can change how I get to work.

  1. Ride my bike to work four out of five days a week.
  2. Make any weekend trips under three miles by bike or on foot.
  3. Try to do grocery shopping once using the Burley bike trailer!
Second: take on the grocery bill.
This is challenging, since I already feel like I'm fairly frugal here, and we have a picky eater on board.
  1. Grocery shop once a week at a larger discount store, and only buy milk/fruit/veggies in between
  2. Try a cash budget and stay under $500 monthly for the four of us
  3. Do not stray from the list at the grocery store (avoid those impulse purchases)
Third: take on the utility bill
Oh, the dreaded Being Cold. I wear a wool sweater, wool socks, wool scarf, and hat at home. I really dislike being cold. I am often the guilty party nudging up the thermostat. Our heating bill has nudged up accordingly.
  • Keep downstairs thermostat at a consistent 68 degrees (I know that's high, but it's lower than now)
  • Keep upstairs thermostats at a consistent 65 degrees
  • (according to Architect Minou, consistent is more energy efficient than raising and lowering)
  • Take On-Off Showers and no hot baths.
  • Get KGallons of water at or under 5. (that's a crazy lot of water, folks).

Anything I can save I will throw at the mortgage. I'll let you know how it goes.

Anybody else up for a frugal february challenge of your own?
What will it be, and what will you do with the money you save?

Friday, February 1, 2013

frugal february

Ah, health is returning to our household.
Which is leading me to ponder the question What is health?
What does it mean to you, my eight (?) blog readers?

I'm trying to spend more time thinking about this question than frugal frivolity,
but it does seem like there are some nice overlaps.
Especially if, like me, your mind tends to run toward exercise, diet, and stress when thinking health.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Flu has struck our home, and it is nasty.
We are fully vaccinated but it got it nonetheless.
The pediatrician helpfully told petit minou un that I was surely the vector.
Now I am not only the vector but also afflicted.
Going to bed...
a note: for those who are not feeling well, don't share. stay home.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

mortgage madness

Oh, I am going all kinds of crazy with my mortgage.
This type of situation is when I'm not sure if my somewhat obsessive nature is a blessing or a curse.
Yes, it's important to let go of things, take them slowly, step by step.
But it's also so exciting to see progress!

I sent off my monthly payment with some extra principal this month, and the bank mistakenly applied the whole thing to principal. I could have called to fix it, but since I'm already paid a month ahead, I don't really need to. And it's so wonderful to see the drop in principal! In just one payment, I wiped out what would have been almost a year's worth of principal making regular payments (because so much goes to interest).

Now it makes me want to put more, more, more toward principal. My ostensible and reasonably ambitious goal is to be mortgage-free by age 50. What I really want is to be mortgage-free much sooner.
However, I don't have more money to put toward the mortgage right now.

Do I get a second job? (after completing this BS degree of course).
Or maybe ditch the car?

Monday, January 28, 2013

birthday week

This week marks some important milestones for two of the people that I love most in the world.
Minou and p'tit minou un each have a birthday. Not to give anything away,
but let's just say that both of these involve traditionally big deal days.
Neither of them wanted a big deal though, so we will simply have hugs and chosen dinners and cakes.
I am so glad to be a part of their lives and that they are mine. Glad we are a family.
Happy Birthday to two very special people.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

simple sunday

Food, glorious food....
I love cooking on Sundays.
It's my day to enjoy bustling around in the kitchen.
We will have lots of leftovers to carry us into the week, as illness has struck the Urban Farmette.
Poor p'tit minou un is sick with an ILI (influenza-like illness).
When this boy isn't hungry, I know he's really not feeling well.
Minou has something brewing as well. Hand washing--lots of handwashing!

In the meantime, since I'm feeling fine, I made:

  • Onion and spinach quiche with cheddar and parmesan cheeses; vegan olive oil crust (not bad!)
  • Blueberry whole wheat muffins 
  • Vegetarian curry with potatoes, carrots, onion, garlic, veggie broth, coconut milk, and curry spices
  • Brown rice
  • Blueberry pie with a whole wheat/butter crust 

Sorry for the lack of pictures. Maybe one day I will remember to take them!

What are you cooking this weekend?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

mortgage meltdown

I do not like the feeling of being in debt.

I feel so lucky to have exited my (many) years of college without student loan debt, thanks to a combination of family assistance, working while studying, and frugal living/planning. I have my final term's nursing school tuition waiting in the bank, unfortunately in a low-yield savings account.

We also thankfully do not have auto loan debt, another common type in the U.S., this time due to Minou's foresight. At the time, my understanding of how much more you pay over the life of a loan due to interest was limited, and it made me nervous to nearly empty our savings to pay off that debt. But I am grateful now, both for the money saved and the introduction to the concept. That was back in 2005, when I first checked out from the library and read "Personal Finance for Dummies".

Eye-opening! And initially, anxiety-inspiring. For a number of reasons, I grew up without much practical knowledge of personal finance, and even into my late 20s preferred to let Minou take the lead in that arena. I have since seen the light, and we are now equal partners in our family budget and planning (I think I enjoy playing around with the numbers more than he does).

Our house and urban farmette  are not yet our own, and this is driving me crazy.
I know I need to let it go, since it won't be entirely our own for quite a while.
I also know that there's a lot of debate out there about whether it makes good financial sense to pay down your mortgage early. In this case, if only for the strong emotional reason of being so debt-averse, I think it does. So, I have decided to prioritize it. I'm calling my campaign "The Mortgage Meltdown".

I made a very basic, low-tech tool for our refrigerator door. I took a piece of graph paper and blocked out the number of squares we still owe on the mortgage, with each square representing $100. Each time we pay off another $100 from the total owed, I color it in.

Initially it was somewhat discouraging. There are a lot of squares. Since only a third of the monthly payment goes toward the principal, they are not getting colored in very quickly. However, by adding more toward the principal each month, it speeds the process. I am updating my system now. P'tit minou deux suggested making an even bigger graph, where each square represents $10. I think this was a good idea, even though it initially seemed like so much farther to go. It's easy to spend $10, thinking "Oh, it's just $10,".... a bakery trip, a cheap movie jaunt, library fines (oops).

But each $10 put toward the mortgage principal helps melt it away, even if slowly. It's a visual representation of progress. And it helps cultivate the habit of planning, saving, and strategizing, one little square at a time.

How about you? Do you have a mortgage or other debts, and if so, are you trying to pay them down?

Friday, January 25, 2013

rainy night

It has been so cold, so very very cold, here these past weeks that the sound of rain is a welcome surprise.
A glimpse of sun or blue sky would be even more welcome, but I am relieved to have the freezing fog lift.

I feel spring not so far away. At least I'd like to think so.
This time of winter used to be the very hardest time of year for me.
The holidays, with their coziness and gatherings and warmth, were over.
Spring, with its sweet smells and warmer air and especially longer hours of light, still out of reach.

These really are the dark days, cold and closed in. I have to remind myself to take an hour-long mid-day walk break instead of a lunch break. Before work is too dark. After work is too dark.

However: this is not a gloomy post. Rather, it is about noticing small changes and anticipating others. One of the gifts of riding my bike to and from work is that I have been aware of the few extra minutes of light in the morning and early evening. In November, I cycled home in total darkness. Now I can make it almost to my door before twilight really sets in, and each day is a little longer. I love it, and I'm not sure I would notice if I was driving.

Also, what really turned around this time of year for me, when my boys were small and we all had cabin fever, was becoming a gardener. We would get the new garden catalog each January and start to dream about planting our spring and summer crops. It was so much fun daydreaming over the pictures and seed packets, and planning out when to plant what, and where. Then we would set up a big table near the the window with the most daylight, and start our seeds in tiny cups in early preparation. The fragile ones, like tomatoes and basil. Flower seeds. Catnip. (this was before we had a big brown dog with a curious nose).

One of the first years that we had a garden, the boys must have been aged three and one, or four and two. I distinctly remember turning over the plot wearing p'tit minou deux on my back in a backpack. I also remember being sadly and territorially grumpy with enthusiastic little p'tit minou un about not trampling my newly turned soil. Oh, the things mamas (and papas?) wish they could go back and do differently. Instead of "Stay out of that part of the garden!" I would say, from my now vantage point of a forty-something mama of teens, "Dig! Have fun! Roll in the dirt, and scatter some seeds around while you're in there! I love you!"

Anyway. That first year, or maybe the second, we planted five blueberry bushes which are still alive and thriving, and four feet tall, today. We also started from seed an entire packet of tender, tiny little lavender plants. From seed! Truly a gardener's triumph. One of them remains today, growing in my mother's garden. Several were given as gifts to preschool teachers.

The rest of the lavender starts had a difficult experience, a funny story...I set my sheltered little baby plants under a slatted wooden bench on the back porch to shade them them from the June sunshine. Then I set a giant bowl of bread dough to rise on top of the same bench (I made all our bread weekly back then)...and went away and forgot about it, no doubt distracted by naptime or nursing or diaper changing or laundry or a million other things. When I came back, the bread dough had over-risen and over-flowed through the bench slats, drowning the little plants. P'tit minou un helped me rescue the few we could, picking the dough off their delicate stalks.

And now, it's raining. I'm thinking about spring, and lavender plants and tiny fingers, and basil, and pesto, and sweet days when my boys were little and I didn't always realize how sweet they were. Hold them close and tenderly, those little ones and these days. Dark and cold, rainy, or sunny, they are fleeting.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

resisting temptation

OK, I left the blog on a slightly negative note, with the idea of frugal failing.
That really wasn't my intent; I mostly enjoyed the alliteration.
And I did want to convey the idea that who you are with can sway your spending one way or another.

Which leads me to...the wonderful women I work with (and men, but I usually go for walk breaks with the women).
I really enjoy the company of my coworkers, and we frequently take mini-walks on our regularly scheduled breaks. We also often walk to a nearby natural foods store that has many tempting and spendy treats and snacks.
My solution to resist temptation has been simple:
I leave my wallet back in the office, and simply enjoy the company of my coworkers.
Easy peasy!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

frugal failures

So, a frugal update this week: I have had several splurges on food.
And interestingly, they have all been when I was out and about with p'tit minou deux.
Hmm...I sense a theme here. We may need to carry snacks.

After a trip to the eyedoctor's yesterday, we popped into the bakery for a day-old baguette (a fairly good deal). P'tit minou deux noticed that there were also day-old cream puffs in the pastry case--giant, chocolate-glazed, beautiful cream puffs. He did not ask for one for himself. He asked for one for his Papa, who recently celebrated a birthday and had hoped for a cream puff (they were out that day). How could I say no?

Then this evening, I picked up my tired boy after ballet class. He was wishing for a particularly unhealthy type of junk food, and offered to buy it himself if I would only make an unscheduled stop at the grocery store. At 5:30 pm. Okay, okay, he wanted bright orange cheese puffs!

Again, I was swayed. Feeling like a poor excuse for a nurse, I bought my son cheese puffs, after extracting the promise that he would a) not touch them until after a healthy dinner and b) would share with his brother. We added some bananas to our purchase to make ourselves (me) feel better.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


How do you feel about leftovers?
I suppose it depends what they are, but in principle I welcome the challenge of using them in tasty ways.
This is contrast to Minou, who would prefer to cook just enough and make something fresh nightly.
Which doesn't always work...

...leaving me with the minor irritation of multiple small, ignored pots and jars of this-and-that in the fridge.
I think that for Minou eating leftovers implies something--want, poverty, not having enough to cook more.
Whereas I feel that it is an appropriate, frugal, responsible thing to do. Not wasting. Making something good.

Maybe I'm turning into my mother?
She used to make me laugh, as a young adult, with invitations offered to "Come over and help me eat XYZ before it goes bad!" thank you! It's all in the presentation.

Tonight's dinner: the fridge was feeling really full, so I did some rummaging around to see what I could consolidate and make for dinner. I found:

  • leftover orzo pasta that I sauteed with onion, garlic, red bell pepper and plum tomatoes
  • a bit of parmesan to put on the pasta
  • vegetarian lasagna (I do like lasagna, but even I am getting tired of it after 4 days--I made a very large pan of it, forgetting that P'tit Minou Un does not care for ricotta)
  • plain cooked lasagna noodles (maybe I will bake with bechamel sauce and cheese tomorrow)
  • jicama and carrots (these weren't really leftovers, but were tucked away in a crisper corner)
  • vegetable soup
  • two pounds of fresh tempeh, which I crumbled and marinated to make into "soysage" tomorrow
  • some cooked garbanzos in vinaigrette that I will take for lunch tomorrow
  • leftover chocolate chip muffin dough (in a big bowl) that I baked in cake format
  • leftover whipped cream (from Minou's last cake) that we will eat with it
Good things!

I also sadly found some soup (from the last batch) that needed to be tossed. It was languishing in an opaque yogurt container, its true nature disguised. 

Do you have any interesting leftovers in your fridge? Would you prefer to toss them or eat them?


Monday, January 21, 2013

mitzvah monday

I went to a street clinic and gave immunizations for several hours to some community members who were happy to have access to them. Preventative health care=wonderful!

There is nothing like a little dose of perspective to make me appreciate my life and all the comforts I enjoy. It was cold out there, and some of the clients were planning to sleep in a shelter.
Whereas I biked home to warm soup and lasagna, hugs, a 68 degree home and a hot bath.

Also, going to see an old and dear friend today and celebrate her new U.S. citizenship. It is always a treat to spend time with her, and she welcomes the chance to use and refine her English as well.

Made chocolate chip muffins (again) for my boys. They will be gone before evening.

Thinking about the life of Dr. King and his courage.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

simple sunday

Today, I was the first one up (I was also the first one in bed last night).
I headed out into the foggy, chilly morning to walk the dog, clean the chicken coop, and feed the cats.
Then I made a strong pot of French press coffee and sat down with some schoolwork.

I am struggling with procrastination these days. To admit to it somehow makes it better.
I know how lucky I am to study, I love to learn, I want to complete this degree.
But I do not feel like doing homework! So many years of studying...

Minou is up now too. Laundry is going, the steady hum. The boys are still sleeping.
It's a nice day to be at home for a simple, cozy Sunday. I'm still in PJs with a wool sweater, wool socks, and a wool scarf (it's cold!). I'm thankful for another day at home tomorrow.

I am feeling like I want my "space" these past few days. I am so happy to have my family near, but I want to be a little bit separate from them. It's the ongoing dynamic of the only child, perhaps--growing up comfortable with, and enjoying, alone time. It's much easier to find as a parent of teens than as a parent of preschoolers.

Later today I plan a long dog walk, some more homework, and maybe a trip to the public library. It's a no-car day, as I hope tomorrow will be too. I've started riding my bike to work again, and it feels so good. We still have a Burley bike trailer in the garage that the boys rode in when younger (and more recently towed the dog in). If I really get motivated, I can do my big grocery shoppings using the trailer!

What's on your Sunday agenda?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

weekly meal plan

I have saved quite a bit of money since I started planning meals and doing a focused shopping once a week.
Plus, meals tend to be a little more interesting, since there is time to think ahead to when in the week I will have time for cooking, prepping, and baking after-school snacks.

We had fallen into the lazy habits of many parents around the world, catering to speed and the bottom line in meal planning. Many, many years of meals such as plain pasta, raw carrots or bell peppers, a glass of milk, and an omelette or handful of nuts (all the males in my family are vegetarian--I am not). So, so, so boring.

One of my boys is a very picky eater. Very picky. As in, plain foods not touching kind of picky. Luckily for his health, he loves tofu, nuts, and fruit and will eat many types of raw vegetables, including (when pressured) salad. The other boy used to be a fairly picky eater, but has developed a more sophisticated palate in the last few years and also dislikes too much repetition. These boring meals were driving him (as well as Minou and I) crazy.

So....I have added a few more dishes into our regular rotation. These include:

  • bean and cheese enchiladas or enchilada casserole
  • vegetarian curry with tofu, carrots, and potatoes (YUM)
  • lentils cooked with sauteed onion and garlic
  • pureed vegetable soup with whatever I can throw into it for the adults (my boys will not eat soup), usually carrots, potatoes, turnips, leeks, tomato sauce, & leafy greens like chard or kale
  • basque skillet beans, made with spinach and tomatoes
  • orzo pasta with sauteed vegetables and parmesan

I try to always add a salad or sliced raw veggies, plus a vegetable soup, to the main dish for our evening meal.
I buy fruit, milk, yogurt, and vegetables during the weekend shopping trip, and then pick more up as needed during the week (or ask Minou to do so).

We mostly eat rolled oats for breakfast, sometimes with brown sugar and raisins added, so I make sure that we have those on hand plus brown rice, peanut butter, whole wheat sandwich bread, jam, and whole grain pasta. 

I bake muffins for after-school snacks, and add as many fruits and nuts as I can (plus a few extra eggs) for nutrition.

I think this system has helped me be more organized and avoid the dreaded "What in the world can we have for dinner?" or frustrating last-minute 5:30 pm grocery shopping trips (or plain pasta for dinner). I can also try to plan meals around what we already have in the cupboard, just looking at what needs to be added to make a dish, which lets us spend out and save money. My goal is to keep our monthly food budget under $450, which is a challenge with hungry teenage boys in the house.

This morning I made: vegetable soup, vegetarian lasagna, and walnut-chocolate-chip muffins.

Do you pick things up day to day, or do a big weekly (or even monthly) shopping trip?

Thursday, January 17, 2013


I am constantly thinking about ways to live frugally. It's pretty a pretty ingrained habit by now.
Here are some things I did this week to celebrate frugality:
  • am holding off to the weekend for a big(ger) planned grocery trip, cooking with what's in the bare cupboards and ignoring my cravings for popcorn and chocolate
  • am thinking about what I can prepare with what we have for an office birthday potluck
  • did not go out to lunch with colleagues (I also had homework to do)
  • drank office coffee (instead of using up a lovely coffee card that I was gifted)
  • rode my bike to work four days out of five
  • waited four days to wash my hair (French people wait a full week!)
  • turned a shrunken merino wool sweater into the warmest circle scarf ever
  • drank warm water instead of faux cafe (Pero or Inka, a non-caffeinated favorite) after dinner
  • put holds on five movies at the library (one has 47 other holds) and did not go to Redbox
  • had pineapple upside-down cake made by Minou instead of taking Mamie out for ice cream
  • ate beans or lentils I soaked & cooked myself for dinner or lunch five times this week
Because I did those things, I went ahead and 
  • turned the thermostat up to 71 (because it's coooooold)
  • took a hot bath (it has been quite the week, and it's a semi-monthly treat).
Are you frugally minded? What is one thing you did this week to save?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

this & that

It is so interesting how what we are doing and focusing on reframes our perspective.
What I'm trying to say is, I keep meeting people who meditate.
A colleague in my building, a fellow bike commuter, mentioned that he has practiced for 20 years.
And today, Minou and I were riding behind a vehicle with a bumper sticker that said "Sit and ye shall find".
"What in the world does that mean?" Minou wondered. I knew.

not sitting
If you don't sit, but just think about sitting, will you still find?
That is what I am doing and wondering.
These days have been so long and full. Flu season is upon us and nurses are busy.
By the end of the day I am ready for a glass of wine, a hot bath, and a book.
I attempt homework but am not finding it easy. (Why is blog writing so much more fun than academic writing?) When morning comes, I say "I'll sit tonight." When evening comes, I say "I'll go to bed and sit tomorrow."
I will not scold myself about it. When I sit down to sit, I will be there.

Mamie leaves tomorrow, and I will miss her. We had a good visit. I'm planning her next flight already.

not missing
Animal, animals. I'm not sure how we ended up with so many of them. Actually, I was instrumental in bringing every single one of them into our home or yard. Our first cat Rougette came home from a birthday party in a wicker basket just before P'tit Minou Un started kindergarten (with her brother, actually, who later ran away). Our sibling cats James and Mowsie came to the P'tit Minous as Christmas presents one year with my blessing and instigation. Sawyer the Big Brown Dog joined our family the spring I graduated from nursing school, when Minou was camping at the coast with p'tit minou deux, and p'tit minou un and I went to the Humane Society "just to look". The chickens were a somewhat misguided attempt at locavore eating, since they either give us no eggs or so many we can't give them away fast enough. I love them all, except maybe the chickens.But I would really not miss caring for them.
I thought about this when I came home to a big pile of poop in the entryway tonight.
And then tracked in more when I went to put the chickens to bed. Ick.

Does anyone else still have a tree up? Ours is so beautiful that I don't want it to leave. I think I will just take the ornaments down, leave the lights up, and keep it. And our neighbor asked for it when we finally take it down! I'm not kidding. I'm also not ready to take it down.

and you?
What are you thinking about and up to? I would love to hear from you!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Anyone read Davis Sedaris?
I'm thinking of his book "Me Talk Pretty One Day".
I can't remember the specifics, but I remember laughing hysterically in the bathtub, reading about his attempts to make casual small talk in French while trapped in a doctor's waiting room, wearing only a paper gown, in front of a well-dressed older couple.

I tend to forget how much I sound like that, because my polite mother-in-law and husband generally don't correct me if they can figure out what I'm trying to say. Which is not always a good thing. (the p'tit minous feel no such obligation, which is generally a good thing, but not always a good thing either, depending on how it's presented...)

I realized tonight that I was brightly insisting we needed to put a blanket (couverture) on the enchilada casserole before putting it into the refrigerator. Mamie's gentle attempts to reframe my statement and ask about a lid or cover (are you sure we need a couvercle?) were met by my cheerful insistence that we really, really needed a blanket. To tuck the casserole in to bed, of course.

Monday, January 14, 2013

lazy day

Where my mother is staying, at Plum Village (a Buddhist retreat center in France), once a week they have a Lazy Day. That means a day with no regularly scheduled activities. No Dharma talks, no classes, and no gatherings. I think they still have work duties, meals, and meditation times.

My Lazy Days are a little different, but yesterday I had a delicious one. Despite the alarm that went off at 7:30, I was still lying in bed at 9:00. I only got up when the call of "Waaafles!" echoed up the ladder to the attic loft. Then the poor dog, terrorized by the beeping of the waffle iron (??), needed reassurance. Then I spent some time fiddling around  looking for high yield savings accounts (advice, anyone?). I was still in my PJs, unshowered, sitting on the couch with the cats at 11 am. I roused myself to cut Minou's hair, then settled down with another cup of coffee and my book group book, Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder (it's really good).

I love lazy home days. How about you? What do you do on lazy days?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

flu vaccine

image from via google images

A friendly reminder to get your flu (and pertussis, or whooping cough) vaccines...

I work in population health. In every population there are people who can't be vaccinated for a number of reasons. Or, even if they get the vaccine, it's not effective because their immune system isn't functioning well.These individuals depend on those around them to create the "Community Immunity" that protects them as well as us.

image from via google images
A healthy person might have a really bad sick week with the flu, or even just some mild symptoms for a day or two. They might not even know they have the flu (the same is true for whooping cough). But that person can pass it to someone for whom it could be fatal, such as a senior citizen with other health problems, or a newborn, or someone going through chemotherapy.

Your vaccine protects me, and my vaccine protects you.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

simple saturday

There is little I love more these days than a day at home.
I wasn't always such a homebody.

My sister-in-law noticed, not long after Minou and I met, that we seemed most lighthearted when we were "out and about". I also remember those days as a home-centered mama of two little ones when every day had to have at least one outing, and more were better.
A few hours alone at a coffee shop with a book and a journal back then--bliss.

Time has passed. Life has changed. I am very happy with my work now, but I'm away from home for many hours a day (nine and a half, counting the  bike commute). I love my sweet & simple home. I miss it and those in it.

Even if the p'tit minous are occupied with homework or reading or other diversions, even if Minou is tied up with the taxes, I feel their presence and I am happy to all be home together. At this moment, I'm sitting on the couch with the sun shining in the big double doors. There are two sleeping cats next to me, and a sleeping dog at my feet. I wore out Sawyer (and myself, in a good-tired way) with our long hilly jog this morning.

I made a Thai vegetable curry with tofu, carrots, zucchini, and potatoes over rice for lunch. Spicy and good.
I'm looking forward to an afternoon coffee to go with the pastries we will select (with an X-mas gift card) at a bakery in honor of Minou's upcoming birthday. We decided together to choose then & bring them home, rather than eating out. Crean puffs are sounding pretty delicious.

I have a little homework for later, but I'm holding out hope for an early evening movie and snuggle on the couch. I have also been mulling over a post on how the Sitting is going. Still hard, but good. Tuesday will be the two-week mark. I think I have missed two days. I've also switched to mornings, first thing.

How is your Saturday going? What are you doing today?


Readers, I would love to hear from you: who are you, what corner of the world do you live in, what brings you here, what would you like to hear more of, what makes your day sparkle, links to your blog if you have one...
Please, leave me a comment and tell me a little about yourself!
Mama Minou

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

our lady

Our Lady of the....

missing toilet paper???!

Set up in my meditation space to "scare the something out of me".

(the downstairs bathroom was bare of its usual stock)

Teenagers! You've got to love them. What am I going to do with these practical jokers?

On another note...I started back to school (on-line) yesterday. Please chant with me: B-S-N! B-S-N!
Only five and a half more months to go. Although blogging here is one of my favorite recreations, I need to put myself on a blogging schedule so that I limit my procrastinating diversions. Therefore, I will try to stick to twice a week, on Tuesdays and Saturdays. If you see me here at other times, feel free to send me either encouraging or scolding emails regarding getting back to work.

Monday, January 7, 2013

galette des rois

Yesterday we celebrated epiphany with a King's Cake party (les galettes des rois).
Friends and neighbors came for for a relaxed and simple gathering.
We shared savory treats, sparkling apple cider, strong coffee, Mexican wedding cakes and anise biscotti.
Minou made a marvelous creation out of homemade puff pastry and frangipane, an almond cream. He hid a token (or febvre) inside to designate the finder King or Queen for the Day. Initially he put an almond, since he couldn't find the tokens (and suspected me unjustly of decluttering them, but later recovered them in a drawer).

There was even a second Galette that I didn't get a picture of. P'tit Minou Deux and his friend C. each found half of the almond that was hidden in Minou's galette--sliced in two during the cake cutting. Then C. also found the token from the second cake, a ceramic baguette. Since C. was then doubly king (or prince), he was crowned with the purple glitter crown. This caused S., almost aged three and dressed already in a beautiful princess gown, to break into tears since she wanted to be crowned!

Luckily, her maman (who had made the delicious second galette) had had the foresight to bring a second crown for S., but it was the beginning of the end of the gathering, as they departed for naptime.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


Last night we went to dinner at the home-in-progress of some good friends.
It is beautiful, the architect/builder (our friend)'s oeuvre, really a marvel.
My favorite part was the rooftop garden, feeling so urban for our small city.
The climbing wall that will be part of the 20 foot atrium will be fun for their little boy too.

As we left, P'tit Minou Un expressed his affinity for the modern aesthetic,
and suggested that the ultimate modernist home with a twist would be perfect for our family:


image from courtesy of google images

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, except instead of falling water, we would have falling...chickens!
Thus neatly solving the annoying chore of letting the chickens out every morning.
Apparently (he explained it better), there would be an enclosed coop under the house.
As soon as it gets light (when the chickens wake up), a light sensor would activate a switch that released the chickens, who would somehow be flung over the waterfall feature (gently, without hurting them) down to their pen below. The problem of the falling eggs would be dealt with too, I forget how.
But how would they get back up into their coop at night? Hmmm...

This boy, he cracks me up. So creative!

Saturday, January 5, 2013


Intentions. They are the guide, the pointer.
Imagine a child preparing to take a turn at the pinata at a birthday party.
Blindfolded, she is spun around and around, and then sets out with her stick in the direction she thinks the pinata hangs, swinging wildly. Sometimes she is heading in the opposite direction.

When we take off our blindfolds and point ourselves in the direction we want to go, we make progress.
We may not break the pinata and be showered with candy, but we are getting closer to it.
(I'm not sure this metaphor is working, but you get the idea).

I have so many intentions in so many directions.
Sometimes I feel like I'm spinning in circles because I'm not sure which way to head first.

I find myself thinking and worrying about finances quite a bit. It's not a bad thing, but it can become a mental groove that I am stuck in. This is really not where I want my life's energy and intentions to be focused. Security for my family and myself  is important, but fretting is not productive and is a limitation. Our time here is limited. I'm middle aged--yikes! Where do my intentions really lie?

Growth. Spirituality. Relationships. Creativity.

Last night, I sat down for my nightly Sitting and could not turn off my monkey mind. What was worse was that I didn't really want to. It was much easier and more comfortable to go around and around the questions of the mortgage and retirement savings and how to pay for college than it was to focus on Love and Kindness.

I want to set concrete goals and take steps toward them in the areas of my life, such as finances, that I tend to worry about--to put them on auto-pilot. Instead of worrying each month how much extra I can put toward the mortgage, I can make a lump-sum payment now, and stop thinking about it. Instead of fretting about the ever-increasing food bill, I can plan meals and use the envelope system. That way, I am working on goals and making progress, even if incremental, and can let go of the fretting.

Then I can  focus my life energy on the core values.

Friday, January 4, 2013

domestic bliss

The little pleasures.
I left work early today and was picked up by several members of the Minou family with two wet and muddy dogs.
I felt extraordinarily happy to be home early on a chilly, sunny Friday afternoon.
I made lemon zest biscotti to go with tea, and orzo pasta with roasted vegetables for dinner.
The kitchen is clean and minimalist-ish. Tree lights reflecting  in the window.

A 1000-piece puzzle on the card table, and dog eyes reflecting in the camera's flash like headlights.

This dog and I are going for a night walk, and then we (meaning the Minous, not the dog) will hopefully snuggle up to watch a film together (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day) and then turn in early.


How do you feel about housework?
Sometimes I wish I were a person who loves to clean.
Or who cleans while stressed (instead of lying around eating cookies, for example).
I appreciate and enjoy cleanliness.
I just would usually much rather read a good book or take a walk than actually cleaning.
This is neither good nor bad, it's how things are....
and while we do have a lot of animal hair around (due to a lot of animals), a hygienic standard is met.
Perhaps this standard would be a little low for some. But high for others! Everything is relative.

Where I'm going with this is that I am very, very lucky to have a mother-in-law who loves to clean.
Seriously. She really, really enjoys it. And she is very good at it.
She thinks of lovely touches that give new meaning to the term "domestic arts".
And our house is free of dust bunnies, the stovetop and sink are sparkling, the dish towels are ironed (!!).

I feel a little guilty. My mother-in-law is 82. I haven't washed a dish since she arrived.
In fact, there hasn't been a dish sitting out since she arrived, since not only does she wash them, but dries them and puts them away...immediately.

This just doesn't feel proper. She is our guest.Yet she would be extremely unhappy if she couldn't help, couldn't keep busy. She doesn't enjoy reading (and her eyes don't allow it). She is a talented artist, but the mood has to be just right. Cleaning and organizing are among her many gifts and one of her favorite hobbies. At home, she is so efficient that there is little to do. Thankfully, we have quite a bit to keep her occupied.

I long ago gave her free reign to rearrange, sort, organize whatever she wishes on visits.
And I benefit tremendously from it. Time to read (for myself and to P'tit Minou Deux--we are continuing our Mark Twain kick with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court). Time to jog. Time to blog.

I am lucky.

Thursday, January 3, 2013


Gosh, it's hard. Will it get easier?
The first evening, I sat alone (on Sheepie), but forgot to hang a "do not disturb" sign down the ladder.
So many calls, questions, "What should I prep for dinner? Where is the xyz?"
Also, with part of my mind I was repeating
"I breathe in love...I breathe out kindness..."
I was happy with that part.
The other part of my mind, the part that kept running away from me, was flashing from one thing
to another with lightning speed. Flickering through all kinds of random thoughts, emotions, pictures.
I wasn't happy with that part.
What was interesting was that the two things were happening simultaneously.
And yet another part kept saying "My knees hurt. Are we finished yet? This is taking forever.
It must have been twenty minutes already. When will the music start? My toes itch..."
and then just when I finally relaxed into it a bit and forgot to wonder when the time would be up...
it was.
I think it helped me feel a tiny bit more calm and bemused at dinner, however, when someone whispered confidentially that the potato gratin dish I had prepared made them want to vomit. Can't please everyone!
And although I looked forward to sitting all day yesterday (sort of),
I had an evening meeting after dinner, then walked the dog, then watched an episode of House en famille
(it's hard to turn up a chance to snuggle on the couch between Minou and P'tit Minou Un),
and then it was ten o'clock and time for bed...
and then did I sit?
yes. but not for long. in the dark. waiting for the music to start so I could go to bed.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Oh it is bliss to have a retreat space, I tell you.
It's hard to imagine how restful this feels unless you have been without one for a while.
Here is what our Attic looked like while it was still under construction, just over a week ago:

And here is that same space now:

Nice, yes? Just under that window is my Sitting Space.

We are currently five people in the house, and we have a total of seven pillows.
Two were borrowed for the occasion of Mamie's visit.
I'm in no hurry to go out and buy anything.
In fact, when that thought "I need to get...."  arises, I do my best to think my way around it.
Do I really need to get whatever it is? Why do I want it?
Is there some other way to meet that need?
In this case, there was a way to meet the wish of padding while sitting: Sheepie.
A beloved relic of my childhood that has remained, despite not being embraced by the P'tit Minous.
(for some reason, maybe his beady button eyes, they found him creepy).
He makes a very fine pillow.

And this makes a very fine reading and retreat space, even if the insulation isn't covered yet.