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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.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

january 1

New Year's Eve was less than hoped at our home...a good lesson in letting go of expectations.
I worked all day and was more tired than I realized. I also ate more doughnuts than were good for me.
(that would be any number over 0, right?)
I walked home in the dark evening, as Minou was making sandwiches at the cold-weather homeless shelter.
We ate late, a special Italian gratin Minou prepared. Tasty.
But somehow at dinner, the energy was not good. Both p'tit minous came down hard on me, for reasons I'm not entirely sure of. No matter. I did not respond well, felt ganged up on, left the table and went upstairs to the Attic to read (Mountains Beyond Mountains, very inspiring so far).
Came back down, had dessert also prepared by Minou.
The boys (which includes Minou) watched an inane movie, I worked on a puzzle.
At 11 pm I went to to bed, to general disappointment. (Mamie had already gone at 9:30).
None of the family was feeling very happy. That's an understatement.
It was a sad, numb feeling. It is hard to love people, because they can hurt us.
It's hard to remain open when there is that possibility for pain.
But when we close ourselves off, staying safe, we are also closed to love.

I woke up early this morning, it was still dark, and thought,
Keep Trying.
Then I went back to sleep.
A few hours later...
Get up, give kisses, say sorry, and try to stay open. Open to the love and pain.
It's not easy, at least not for me.

Tonight I will Sit for the first time. 10 minutes? 20 minutes? Not sure.