Wednesday, June 28, 2017

From the archives : A woeful feeling

First posted June 2007.

"I have a woeful feeling, as if the double O of doom were sticking in my throat." ~~ James Thurber
From [an] ongoing discussion about Big Words (of course some people would call it just blog chatter, since we're all supposed to be non-professionals not entitled to consider these things):

The Deputy Headmistress weighs in again on all of this, and mentions a high-ranking clergyman who says (in big words) that he would like to simplify church language for the rest of us.

"Why is he allowed words the rest of us aren't? Is it because they taste yucky, so we won't like them anyway?"
Ah! I love it, it makes so much sense. Not that any of us believe in a conspiracy to limit our language or turn us all into Alphas, Betas...Epsilons...
The DHM's reference to "yucky" refers to a motherly deception she once tried to keep one of her offspring from asking for the pop she was drinking. (She is very, very sorry now and will never do it again.) It reminds me of some friends of ours who used to give their toddler plain yogurt while they were eating ice cream. It worked--until he got old enough to notice that there was a difference! (And it NEVER worked when the younger ones came along.)

And goodness knows I do like yogurt myself--I have some yogging on the heating pad as we speak. But speaking strictly in terms of "something somebody else has that's better than what you've been given"--is it possible that we've been gradually slipped more and more yogurt in place of the Vanilla Chocolate Chip that might give us ideas about Mocha Almond Fudge or even White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle?

Like our toddler friend (who's now an almost Goliath-sized teenager), demand your semantic rights as loudly as you can, and be a voice for the vocabulary-impaired.

"Black showed his teeth and made a restless gesture. 'Taking a single letter from the alphabet,' he said, 'should make life simpler.'

"'I don't see why. Take the F from life and you have lie. It's adding a letter to simple that makes it simpler. Taking a letter from hoarder makes it harder.'"--James Thurber, The Wonderful O

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Frugal finds and fixes: thrifted dress

Yesterday Lydia and I went to the Large Chain For-Profit Resale Store, the one I usually avoid because the clothes are a bit overpriced, and because I prefer to support the non-profit shops. The one advantage to this store is its size: if you know you want shoes, shorts, whatever, they have lots to choose from. In fact, it's so big that they have "summer dresses" sorted from just "dresses." While Lydia was looking at t-shirts, I had a look through "dresses." This is what I found.
It was marked as XL on the label, and size 17/18 on the store tag, which sounds huge for me. But I was looking at the dress itself, not the label, and it seemed about the same size as my other dresses. I was looking at the colour (grey-blue or blue-grey, you choose), and the fabric texture (a medium-weight knit). I was looking at the neckline, and the way the fabric draped, and the banded bottom that would make it easy to change lengths.

And it did fit, pretty much.

But it's better with a belt.
I didn't even mind having to pay the slightly-more-than-usual Large Chain price, because it's the sort of dress I'd even buy new if I could find one new. Except I don't usually. So that made me a very happy thrifter.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

When you choose less space: it's not all that exciting, and that's okay

Note to potential downsizers: if you've been in one space for awhile, you may be used to certain things a certain way, and you're not sure you're up for a change. Additionally, photos of tiny houses and articles on apartment websites can make you feel like there must be a rare Zen art to finding cute ways to stash things. Figuring out how to cleverly store the laundry soap in a no-storage laundry closet can be as stressful as moving itself.

But it doesn't have to be that hard.
This is our so-easy-I-forgot-to-think-of-that laundry soap storage: on top of the washer.  Nobody's going to photograph it for Buzzfeed or Pinterest. It was just the obvious place to put the detergent bottle.
This is the only real storage we have in the bathroom that Mr. Fixit and I use, which is also the main bathroom: there's a very shallow medicine cabinet, and the space under the sink, which holds two plastic dishpans, which hold anything we'd rather not leave out. You can buy all kinds of shelf things for bathrooms, but we don't have room for them. And this is the point: we don't have that much to store in the bathroom anyway, so it works out.
This is our totally unexciting entrance closet. It has an old Stack-a-Shelf unit for shoes. It has coats. It has a few things on a shelf, and a basket for paper recycling. 

Are you seeing a pattern here? 

We are not in love with having to organize and store stuff. I do not say that out of lack of sympathy for those who are honestly crushed for space. And we do have a very nice storage room slash pantry, which a lot of other apartments we looked at did not have. Without that, we'd have a whole lot more hooks on the wall, vacuum cleaner in the coat closet, etc. etc. So you might think I just don't know what small and cramped is, or I've forgotten what life is like with little children,  and you could be right. (I did live in a studio apartment before I got married. It was usually a mess.)

This is the best advice I can give from a couple of middle-aged Squirrels (and Squirreling), who have gone from smallest to small to pretty good-sized, and back to small again: if at all possible, have a little less stuff than you think you have room to store. Then you will probably find you have a spot for it, or at least that you don't have to go out of your way to devise storage for it. Ten of something requires a special shelf or box; one or two, you can slip in or under something else, or store in the empty space on the washing machine. If you can live with the one or two, you have solved the problem.

Zen not required.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Shiny happy rainbow

Seen from our balcony. The funny part was, we could hear people on other balconies also oohing and aahing and calling each other to come out and look. Rainbows make people neighbourly?

Saturday, June 17, 2017

I bought a craft magazine

Better Homes and Gardens Make It Yourself, Spring/Summer 2017

I picked up a new BHG craft magazine, and decided to make the most of it. The price was (C)$7.99 plus tax, so if I can find 16 different ways to use this issue, then I figure fifty cents an idea is a good bargain. Helpful tips and cool products count too.

1. Cover idea: "Grown-Up Craft Camp." That's awesome! Why don't we do that at church? How about a Charlotte Mason moms' handicraft / nature day? Everybody knows somebody who could take this idea and make it the most fun ever.

2. Cover promotion:  "A Free Cross-Stitch Pattern Every Month." I can't see myself downloading the August flipflop pattern, but the June jam jar is nice. Related thoughts: I am just an occasional stitcher, so small and simple projects are best.

3. For the book list: Care Packages, by Michelle Mackintosh. Related thoughts: maybe some of the craft ideas would be nice in a care package or a gift basket.

4. For those of us noted for our black thumbs: several ways to produce artistic-looking fake houseplants from materials such as crepe paper and river rocks. Here's one of the designer's websites.

5. I especially liked the rock cacti idea. Here's the original tutorial on Salt and Pepper Mom.

6. Handmade books, using Coptic stitching for binding. (I've seen this called Japanese stitching too.) Similar instructions.

7. Another crafty stuff book to look for: Connect with Nature, by Anna Carlile.

8. This would be fun for a tea party: turning small red paper honeycomb balls (the poofy things for parties) into strawberry shapes, just by recutting the paper backing shape (the part you stick together) and adding a green top.

9. A good site for me and my "evil sewing machine": BHG's

10. "I could do that": 1/2-inch diameter rope, hot-glued in a spiral to a cardboard circle. What it's for: party placemats, especially if you can find colourful rope. Sounds like a good way to use up a stash of ancient macrame leftovers. (These can't be washed, so they're for one-time events or at least for non-messy parties. Or you could reserve them for centrepieces.)

11. Maybe for that grown-up craft party: white cotton napkins, dyed in ombre patterns. (Think Easter eggs.) Related thoughts: not everything hand-dyed has to be bright and tie-dyed. Especially if you're using natural dyes, you can come up with softer-coloured options.

12. I like the photograph of a living-room table holding large fern fronds in a glass vase. Mr. Fixit is fragrance-sensitive, so in addition to the houseplants we don't have, we also keep cut flowers to a minimum. But some green leafy stuff would be okay.

13. Another photo I liked: jars filled with felt "canned" peaches, cucumbers, and tomatoes, which I assumed were needle-felted or something complicated like that. Actually they are simple shapes with a bit of added embroidery. What makes them look not-like-kids'-crafts is that you use wool felt, the "real" stuff, not the synthetic version from the chain store craft aisle. Also, I think, the appeal is in the grouping. Not one tomato slice, but seven. Not just tomatoes, but peaches and cucumbers. It's the same with the handmade cacti: one is okay, but a small grouping of different types makes it less random and more interesting.

14. Again, sometimes it's how you put things together. Case in point: a party table with rope placemats under the plates, and hand-dyed napkins on the plates, and stand-up placecards on top of those. Plus paper flowers and a handmade banner. For a special party, even just a rope-placemats kind of occasion, turn the celebration dial up full blast. It doesn't have to cost much.

15. There's an almost-hidden bonus in that party photograph: a purchased table runner with a white stencilled lace pattern on each end. Not hard to do that. I can imagine using the same fabric-paint technique on a thrifted tablecloth, or a fabric remnant.

16. But I cannot ever see myself being desperate enough to cover a flower vase with cut-off plastic spoons.

17. Bonus way to use the magazine: pass the issue on to a crafty friend who's been under the weather.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Found antiquing: books, teapot (and giant teddy bears)

Mr. Fixit and I heard about an antiques place off of our beaten track. We took a ride out there earlier this week. It turned out to be mostly old furniture: interesting, but not really what we were after.

But I did find this teapot, something just for fun.
They had a few books, at very low prices because I think they deal more in big stuff.
What are the mystery books?
The Royal Road to Romance, and The Call of England by H.V. Morton, that intrepid motor adventurer.

When I took my things to the front, the only one behind the counter was a giant teddy bear. I wasn't sure he was completely trustworthy, so I waited for a human helper. A man appeared, counted things up and said "ten dollars." While I was getting the money out, he asked if I had the time, because the power had been out. I said my husband had a phone with the time, so they started talking. I handed him the ten dollars, and he said, "So, it's ten fifty." I started fishing for more quarters, but then I realized he meant the time, not the total.

Now that we're all straightened out...

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wednesday Hodgepodge: Your flag, my flag

From this Side of the Pond

1. The Hodgepodge lands on June 14th this week, Flag Day in the US of A. Do you fly your country's flag at home? Sometimes, often, or every single day? Have you ever visited the city of Brotherly Love (Philadelphia)? Did you make a point of seeing The Betsy Ross House? Have you ever made a trip to Baltimore? If so, was Fort McHenry on your itinerary? (where Francis Scott Key was inspired to write The Star Spangled Banner)

I have never been to any of those places. I did go to Walt Disney World during the Bicentennial.

(There is some extreme political incorrectness in "America on Parade": you've been warned.)

2. Red flag or white flag? Which have you encountered most recently? Explain.

I take it you don't mean the Maple Leaf on the Canadian flag?

Neither, really, that I can think of.

3. Are you a stay in the car listen to the end of a song kind of person? What kind of person is that?

Someone who likes to see things through to the finish, not leave loose ends? Or just someone who's compulsive about listening to the ends of songs?

Do I stay in the car listening to the ends of songs? I don't listen to songs in the car, so I can't say. I remember a couple of times when I was much younger, asking my mom to drive around the block again so we could hear the rest of the latest top 40 song on the radio. But that was before you could easily click the button and listen to anything you wanted, when you wanted it.

4. What are some of the traits or qualities you think a good dad possesses? In other words, what makes a good dad? What's an expression you associate with your father?

To answer the last question first, "that's a lulu." If it's not a lulu, it might be a humdinger.

Finding the balance between protecting kids and letting them try their wings is something all good dads have to figure out.

My kids would also assume that any good dad should know how to hook up a stereo.

5. What's one rule you always disagreed with while growing up? Is that rule somehow still part of your adult life? Is that a good or bad thing?

I have told this story before, but here goes. At my very first school, we were marched down to the school library once a week and told to choose a book. The books were arranged by height: first grade books on the bottom shelves, and so on up to fifth or sixth grade. The first day of library time, I spurned the picture books on the bottom, and climbed my little jumpered self up to a higher literary plane, only to be hauled back down again by the book police, I mean librarian. To her credit, it did turn out okay, even after she ratted me out to the teacher, because on later visits she would pick out special books I might like. But why just for me? Maybe other first-graders would have liked to choose from those books too. The very bad idea of books labelled only for this or that grade or age stuck with me forever, and when I had my own kids, I tried not to say "you are too young or too old." That is why we had four-year-olds talking about "deadly faints" and "gallant ships," and listening to that famous composition "Tchaikovsky's Cannibal."

6. Insert your own random thought here.

Another little transition about to happen here: Lydia is in her last week of tenth grade (except for exams), and she is hoping to hear back about a summer job. The hazy days of summer await us.

Linķed from The Grand Old Wednesday Hodgepodge at From This Side of the Pond.

Monday, June 12, 2017

From the archives: Most Families Today

First posted May, 2005. Yes, we were house-hunting since the blog started. 

Yesterday Mama Squirrel and Mr. Fixit went to an open house at a nearby nest. The real estate agent pointed out the small breakfast bar in the kitchen/dining area, and said that he thought it could be made even longer, because, you know, in most families these days that’s where the kids eat, and the table is just for “formal meals.”

Today a financial-advice show came on the radio during lunch time, and again Mama Squirrel heard the phrase, “most families today.” As in, most families today need a second income. Most families today have a mini-van or an SUV. Most families today have a mini-van or an SUV with a backseat filled with fast-food wrappers. Most families today don’t eat dinner together. Mama Squirrel was so annoyed that she clicked off the radio without waiting to find out which “most families today” cliche was up for discussion. She paced around the kitchen with her furry tail bristling indignantly (as the squirrelings calmly ate their hot dogs), muttering, “Most families today! I’m so sick of hearing that! And how come whatever most families are doing, isn’t what we want to do?”

P.S. Mama Squirrel asked Ponytails to finish the sentence "Most families today..." Ponytails answered "homeschool."

Summer clothes update

I added a Midsummer Update (with photos) to this summer's Project 333 page. Scroll to the bottom of the page and you'll see it.

Friday, June 09, 2017

When you choose less space: Kitchen cupboards

Do you remember my post about plotting out our new kitchen by putting dishes and pans on rectangles of newspaper?

Well, quite a lot of that worked well, and knowing where things would go was extremely helpful on moving day, when I just wanted to unpack boxes as fast as possible and with no awkward surprises. Because we had early access to the apartment, we were even able to change the heights of a few shelves ahead of the move (had to have somewhere to put the blender and cereal boxes).

Once we got settled, there were a few things that got changed. You never know exactly how things will fit until you've lived with them a bit.
There is room in the dish cupboard for fifteen mugs, six glasses, four cereal bowls, and so on. (Too many mugs for three people, but we are fond of them.) I bought a wire rack to prop up small plates and two extra bowls. The red Pyrex belonged to Mr. Fixit's grandmother.
Casseroles, serving bowls, plastic things, and a tray of vitamins and stuff, in a cupboard over the sink. Usually the small Crockpot lives up there too, but it has dinner in it right now.
Baking things, mostly, in a cupboard over the counter. I sometimes use the glass mixer bowls for serving food.
The blender and cereal cupboard, over the stove. There's also a cupboard over the fridge, but it's awkward to access so there's not much in there...the extra muffin tins, things like that.
Bread, tea/coffee, and some small things up top in a basket.
Under the counter: pots and pans (we've used the same set since we were married), storage containers, mixing bowls, and a few staple foods.  There is one other lower cupboard for cleaning supplies and garbage bags.
Drawer #1: cutlery and serving spoons. The divider boxes were yard-saled.
Drawer #2: tools
Drawer #3: seasonings. There is a Drawer #4 where Lydia keeps lunchbox foods and a set of mini cutlery. She also has a basket on the fridge for water bottles and her lunch bag.

That's it, mostly. Most of the pantry food is in the storage room, and so are two large pots, the popcorn popper, and the coffee percolator. Dish towels are in a rack on the counter, and the hot pads and oven mitts are in a basket. The wooden spoons and spatulas are in vintage wooden canisters on the counter (I've already posted a photo of those).

So this doesn't look very minimalist? No, it wouldn't all fit into a Tiny House kitchen. If we'd ended up with a smaller kitchen, we would have had to pare down the trifle bowl, the rolling pin, and the coffee mugs. If we were more eco-conscious, we would have swapped all the plastics for mason jars, and have gone off cold cereal completely. I'm sure there are lots more valid criticisms people might have.

But this is our space. This is where we are at. We brought what we found most useful, and let a lot of other things go.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

She's an outfit repeater, and why "again" is a good thing

No apologies for wearing the same thing again. When something's a favourite, a hard-wearing, perennial best choice, why run to change it?

If you shop at the same stores or eat at the same pizza place regularly, you become known. If you make great butter tarts, the people at church will want you to bring some to every potluck. If you have a favourite hymn or Scripture or poem that gets you through, each time you use it makes it richer, not staler.

It doesn't mean there's no room in life for new ideas.
Even favourites have to start someplace. But we probably don't need as much "choice" as we think we have. Quotation marks there, because finding good basic things these days is little short of miraculous. And that gives even more power to the idea of keeping something you like, and wearing or using it a lot. Sometimes you even find a new use for it, like the shelves I posted about which have filled multiple needs over the past twenty years, and now hold Mr. Fixit's stereo components. Or the baskets I have scattered around the apartment, some from yard sales, some that were gifts. Or the chest we use as a coffee table, which used to hold "old baby stuff" (for lack of a better description), but now hides all our board and card games. Those home things are all repeaters for us, but we like them and want to keep using them.

Keeping a short rein on clothes isn't just an attempt not to have a "wicked" overstuffed closet, as Anne Ortlund called it (and "wicked," forty years ago, was not a compliment). It's not only about the environment or workplace justice or keeping out of debt. There's something in there for us, too. There's a reason Anne mentioned setting clothes limits in Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman, which is a book mostly focused on spiritual goals and keeping your life on track: it's good for us, not as in eating liver is good (and that's debatable), but as something that can bring more peace and less frustration. In the same way that children focus better when there are fewer toys, it is a good thing to allow ourselves to become less scattered.

And that's why it's okay to repeat repeat repeat repeat.

Charlotte Mason for big people (and a book review)

What do grown-up CMers do? I don't mean career-wise, but life-choices-wise. And I don't mean just those who had a CM education, but those who began as parents. Or grandparents. Or who don't have children at Charlotte Mason.

How does living by CM principles make a difference in parts of life that have little to do with teaching and parenting?

What does it all have to do with Mr, Fixit and I waking up alone in the apartment this morning (because Lydia had a studying sleepover with a friend), listening to the radio host talking about Canada's immigration policy, feeding the always-frantic guinea pig, swallowing vitamins, running the washer, making instant coffee, pulling a box of old car photos out of the storage room (Mr. Fixit is scanning them into the computer), noticing that the discount store has a rock-bottom sale on cream cheese (you can freeze it, right?), catching up on the AmblesideOnline forum, making a mental note to dust inside the glass-front cabinet (did we somehow bring that particular dust with us?), taking recycling to the row of bins at the back of the building?

Or with what we do with the rest of our days?

Right after we moved here, I walked downtown to the library and updated my card (I think I first got a computerized card around the time the Apprentice was a baby and we were borrowing picture books from the bookmobile). One of the books I borrowed was about slow cooking for two. The other was The Dean's Watch, by Elizabeth Goudge.

I wasn't sure what the title meant, but it turned out to be about a pocket watch belonging to the Dean, who is not a college VIP but the pastor of an unnamed English cathedral, ca. 1870. This particular Dean has a bad temper and abuses his nice watch, which both irritates and pleases the local watchmaker. He enjoys working on it, but he wishes the Dean would show a little more care. He also wants nothing to do with churches and clergymen, other than fixing their watches and winding their antique clocks.

The watchmaker and the Dean are saved, so to speak, by their mutual friendship with an elderly, disabled woman who some Charlotte Mason. Her own story is that she grew up unappreciated and neglected by her family, a sort of Cinderella daughter whose prince never materialized. In a series of Way of the Will resolutions, she decided to make her life happy in spite of everything. By the time of the watch story, she is one of the most loved people in town, in spite of not being able to leave her house. (A nice contrast to Miss Havisham, and more theological than Pollyanna.) Her influence not only helps the Dean to stop throwing his watch around, but starts the wheels moving to repair other unhappy lives. People start noticing that the others around them are also human beings, individuals with unique needs, talents, and fears. Even the mean fish seller has a secret wish (he wants a caravan so he can run the Victorian equivalent of a food truck). And he himself just happens to have an old brazier under the fish garbage out back, which is what the Dean needs to help the poor old cathedral doorkeeper keep warm on the job. Strangely enough, the Dean never noticed that until recently. Must be something in the old lady's tea.

That's Charlotte Mason for grownups. It's not all about whether we keep going to art shows, or know the names of the trees around us (Mr. Fixit has suggested we check out a local trail soon). It's not about whether we feel guilty doing a crossword (remembering that Charlotte called such things futilities), or mentally virtuous watching a history documentary. It seems to be more about how we view even our small, everyday meetings and talkings. It's a way of seeing people and caring about them; a habit of seeing something good on every walk, even if it's just birds chattering on the roof of the discount store; and trying to say something cheerful, even if it's just "The tea's 'ot." Our determination is not only to make our world happier, but to enlist those around us as agents (as Dallas Willard called it, a divine conspiracy).

Linked from the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival at The Common Room.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Wednesday Hodgepodge: One from the archives

There is no official Wednesday Hodgepodge this week, so I borrowed a set of questions from June 2012.

1. Summer officially rolls in with the Hodgepodge this week, for those of us in the Northern hemisphere anyway. What song says summer to you?

Olaf the Snowman, In Summer.

2. What's your favorite quintessential summer food?

Garden lettuce. Nothing at the store comes close.

Oh, and fresh cherries.

3. I've spent a lot of time traipsing up and down the NJ Turnpike in recent weeks. Did you know the rest areas on the turnpike are named after people who lived or worked in NJ? Clara BartonWalt Whitman,James Fenimore CooperMolly PitcherJoyce KilmerThomas Edison, and Grover Clevland just to name a few. Of those I listed, who would you most like to have known and why?

Joyce Kilmer. We could talk about trees.

4. At what age did you move out of your parent's house and what prompted the move?

I started university at nineteen (that's what we did here, then), so if a dorm room counts as moving out, that was it.

5. What's more satisfying to you--saving time or saving money? 

You might expect I'd say money, but I like a good timesaver too. (Like frozen chopped onions. Or a bus stop near the front door.)

6. Name something you think brings out the good in people.

This is a tough one because it depends on what you see as "the good." 

Maybe having something or someone to care for, who needs them? I have seen some tough cases soften up over critters.

7. This last question comes to you courtesy of Kathy over at Reflections...will you be taking a vacation or a staycation this summer? If so where will you go? If a staycation is on the calendar have you made any special plans to fill the time?

Staying in town mostly. We have a teenager hoping for a summer job, and a guinea pig who needs to be fed, so no travel plans.

8. Insert your own random thought here.

If bathing suits are the clothing item that causes the most try-on trauma, where do summer hats rank? I find them hard to buy with any confidence, especially if they're large: I just don't like taking up that much space. But baseball hats aren't so good for dresses, and anything visibly made of straw makes me look like a scarecrow. I settled for a crocheted version from our next-door discount stor
Not linked from anything this week! But feel free to use the recycled questions yourself, and leave a link in the comments. The regular Hodgepodge will be back next week.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

When you choose less space: bedroom closet

Some bloggers like to show everyone their very big or very small closets. This is mine (photo below), and you're seeing it all, or at least the half that is mine.
 I have two coats in there, four dresses, some t-shirts, a couple of shirts, one multi-skirt hanger, one multi-pant hanger, a hanging shelf for scarves, and a hanger with hooks on it for belts and purses. (I think it's a tie hanger.) Shoes and a bin of winter clothes are on the floor.
There's a shelf over the hangers, which has non-clothes things on it. And there are four shelves to the right of my space, which are our linen closet. (I haven't achieved matching baskets there yet--just using what we have.)

The only thing not so good about the closet is that it closes with a big, lightweight sliding door that tends to jump its track. Someday we will ask about replacing it, but for now we don't want to be the constantly-complaining tenants.

The white door just outside is the closet that holds a stacking washer and dryer. Retrieving wet clothes from the washer may cause head-bonking on the bottom of the dryer, but again what's to complain about? It works. We are very blessed.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Weird fact for the day: a puzzle obsession that went too far

"In June 2008, an Australian drugs-related jury trial costing over A$1 million was aborted when it was discovered that five of the 12 jurors had been playing Sudoku instead of listening to evidence. [37]
(Wikipedia; you can click on the 37 to see they weren't making it up.)

Friday, June 02, 2017

Again with the words: can you be both minimalist and Danish-cozy?

Found through Pinterest: Hygge vs. Minimalism, on the Simple on Purpose blog. It's an interesting comparison.

I think our new apartment is sort of Hygge, especially when we can sit on the couch and look at the clouds.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Rise and shine (or, the unexpected journey toward minimalist living)

So did you have a chance yet to look at 10 Ways Minimalism Ruined My Life Forever? It's tongue-in-cheek, of course, because the Welder's Wife blog is all about letting things go and living more naturally, a little at a time. An example of her objections: "I no longer have the pleasure of searching for something."  But yes, she's right, in a way. Making more "mindful" choices in any area of our lives takes more brain power than taking the default option. Most times those choices are going to cost us something, or at least force us to use flabby will-muscles that are, naturally, going to object to being roused and stretched.
Image result for dormouse teapot
Our old habits, too, may not take kindly to being ignored. The clean-swept room, and all that. If you find a certain comfort in piles of things, or enjoy having something of an Undiscovered Country in the basement, then trimming stuff down may seem akin to stripping naked. There are always things we would just as soon hide, and I don't mean the garbage bag (or three) full of mouldering stuffed animals or high school t-shirts, but the anxieties and old scripts that brought them in and left them there in the first place. Letting stuff go can feel like you've just been kicked in the hopes and dreams. Or like you've just let somebody down who would be very, very disappointed in you for not keeping that thing.
Image result for vintage vinyl baby doll
After giving it some thought, I would say that the biggest thing you might lose, on the way to living with less, is a sense of urgency. Or emergency. That is (as the Welder's Wife said), you miss not only the fun of searching for a needle in a clutter haystack or an overstuffed desk drawer, but the embarrassment, panic, and threatened consequences that sometimes go with those searches. We can find more enjoyable ways to get that adrenaline rush.

And it's true, as that post says, that if we suddenly are freed from shopping and maintaining and paying for things, we may have to face questions like "what else is there to do with my time?" As with silence, many of us are a little uncomfortable with empty spaces, both physical and temporal.

But reality sometimes (thankfully) steps in and gives us no choice, or at least makes very clear what choices we need to make, and fast. A Sold sign out front is one way to do it. For some people like Courtney Carver, change comes after a health crisis.  Or someone asks us to come on a dragon-hunting adventure, with dwarves...and pack light.

A minimalist blog for you to check out

Have you seen this one yet? A Welder's Wife: A Southern-Style Minimalist Blog. 

Favourite post so far: 10 Ways Minimalism Ruined My Life Forever.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Clothes are where you find them

Let's play a game. Which of these three items of clothing came from the thrift store?
Sheer, very large vanilla-coloured scarf
Polyester-rayon vanilla-coloured wrap top
Polyester-rayon vanilla-coloured tank top

Can you tell that vanilla is one of my favourite colours this summer? It reminds me of ice cream in the park.

And the answer is: the wrap top. I went to the thrift store today and found that, plus a fall sweater. But the top, being very lightweight and open-styled, needed something to go under it. When we got home, since we needed guinea pig lettuce anyway, I walked next door to the discount store and had a look through the t-shirts and tank tops that they had displayed out front. They had just one tank top like that, and it was about the same price as the thrifted wrap top. The other funny part is, the fabric and colour are almost identical. You would think it was just another layer of the top, which is fine with me. 

The scarf? That came from Walmart. 

I like fair trade and sustainable clothes, and I like thrifting. Most times I can find what I want at those sources, but sometimes I do buy new and not-so-great-for-the-planet. Polyester-rayon would not be my first choice if I were going to spend any amount of money on a new top (or two tops and a scarf). But with a bit of TLC (hand-washing), these should last for at least a little while.

A short but unusually difficult Wednesday Hodgepodge

From this Side of the Pond
Some weeks the Wednesday Hodgepodge seems right up my alley. What are you doing to save money? What's your favourite thing in the winter? What's your favourite shade of brown? The questions for this week are harder to answer, and I considered skipping the whole thing, but here goes.

1. What makes you feel accomplished? Explain.

Hard question because I do not take credit easily for things, and often for good reasons: someone else may have helped or been involved just as much, or I think I should have done a better job, or I never stopped feeling like a learner even well into the project. Or it just feels like God should get the glory for whatever it is.

Getting the house emptied and things moved to the apartment, that was an accomplishment.

I went to the big-box hardware store today with Mr. Fixit to buy a mirror (the more "local" store we prefer didn't have what we wanted), and while we were there we looked at some shelving. Mr. Fixit said, "those aren't real wood," and I answered with what came into my head: "Some kind of laminate." Right. So how did I learn that? Fifty years of living in houses and looking at houses, and twenty-five-plus years with Mr. Fixit. One person's "accomplished" tends to rub off on the other one.

2. If you had your own talk show, who would your first three guests be? Tell us why.

Hard question because I don't know who's watching. Would I choose famous people, or people nobody knows who have good stories? I think I would invite some of my homeschooling friends who have done great things and don't get much airtime.

3. Do you have a great burger recipe? What's in it? What do you like on a hamburger and where is your favorite spot to order one out?

Somewhat hard question because I don't make the burgers here, Mr. Fixit does (unless maybe they're lentil burgers). I like a Teen Burger at A&W because they have those frosted mugs of root beer.

Lydia likes the funky burger place uptown where they have a huge menu of mix and match toppings, buns, and patties, served in industrial-looking metal trays. According to their menu, if your date orders "Boring #1," a.k.a just cheese, your relationship is doomed. I wonder what they would make of my preference for vanilla ice cream.

4. What's the biggest anxiety producing thing you do on a regular basis?

Going out on the balcony. I have never liked heights. I don't even like escalators.

5. This is the last Hodgepodge of May. Tell us about your summer plans.

Hard question because I honestly don't know. How about: sitting on the balcony with some lemonade? And working on writing projects.

6. Insert your own random thought here.

I read in today's local paper (they're a bit behind, the news is a couple of months old) that an extremely large department-store owner (you know which one) bought another corporation which now gives it ownership of a popular online indie-quirky-vintage clothing store, not my style exactly but one that I have heard the Squirreling girls mention over the years. 

And that is the business of those companies, really, but it does remind me never to assume anything about preferring little labels over big. Because lots of times now, the little fish feed the big ones.

Linked from the Wednesday Hodgepodge at From This Side of the Pond.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

What's for supper? Skillet Chili Chicken: did you like it, dear?

Tonight's dinner menu, which felt to me like that thing you make when your boyfriend is coming to dinner and you want to show him you can actually cook:

Skillet Chili Chicken, from Saving Dinner, which is not chili but chicken pieces browned in spices, then simmered in a sauce made of canned chilies and broth plus sour cream added at the end

Mix of brown rice and barley, in the slow cooker

Vegetables: use-it-up mixture of zucchini, peppers, frozen spinach, and a couple of mushrooms

Oatmeal-chocolate chip bars

Monday, May 29, 2017

Frugal Finds and Fixes: Four Weeks In

We took possession of our apartment two months ago. Our move-the-furniture date was almost four weeks ago. Two months, or four weeks: both go by pretty quickly.

We are lucky to have a washer and dryer in our unit, but a lot of my own and Lydia's clothes are better hung to dry. We bought two drying racks: a standing one and an over-tub one, and I can't say enough good things about those. They both fold up small enough to slip in beside the washing machine (a very small space), and the tub rack can be also be used flat. If the clothes aren't dripping, we can set the standing rack up by the balcony door to catch the breeze. Drying racks actually would have been useful in our house, even with all the furnace-room clotheslines; I could have used them on the back porch when we no longer had an outdoor line (it blew down in a storm).

I'm rereading Erin Boyle's book Simple Matters (borrowed on my tablet from the public library), looking for help with some minor storage issues that we are still working out. The simplest solution to lack of space for something is to get rid of it, but that's not always possible. Another strategy is to use what you have, including existing cupboards and drawers. This morning I fixed the ongoing spice-jar problem, and the solution was the simplest one possible, other than just leaving them on the kitchen table (where they've been since we moved in): I put the jars in a drawer, the same way I had them at the house. Yes, we're still short on kitchen drawers. But it was better than hot-gluing magnets on baskets to stick on the fridge, or screwing holders to cabinets, or searching for a rack to fit my fat little jars. Besides, the drawer solution was the free one. The utensils that were in the drawer were moved to other places, and the spice space hog has been tamed.

Moving next door to an everything-under-the-sun chain store has been a bit of an ethical dilemma. On the "bad" side, we can assume that most of the clothes, household things etc. are sold without much thought for where they came from and who made them.  There's also the temptation to impulse buy: you go in to buy milk, and besides the obvious snack foods and cute/funny seasonal things (right now it's patriotic M&M's, who knew?), they get some nice baked goods in, and the strawberries look good, and oh look they have Noah Martin summer sausage. There goes another five dollars.

On the "good" side, having the store so close means we save on car trips, and do not have to keep a deep pantry. It's just as easy to walk over there and buy hamburger buns fresh when we want them, as it is to keep a package in the (small) freezer. I have a hard time finding shoes at all, never mind whether they're expensive/cheap/ethical/used/new, so when I saw a rack of comfy running shoes and summer slip-ons, I bought a pair of each. (Also a bathing suit.) In the past, Mr. Fixit has bought jackets there (think plaid flannel), and we've sometimes found good DVDs and small housewares. The discount store won't be our major source for clothes, but it is helpful for food and for small things like greeting cards.

The main way we've been frugal over the last month has been, mostly, not to buy anything much new. Other than human-and-guinea-pig groceries, and a couple of new things for the apartment, we haven't been bringing too much in. We stopped at a couple of yard sales on the weekend, but couldn't see anything we needed. I guess that's a good thing! We have also made use of the freebies that come with the apartment building: the swimming pool, outdoor barbecues, and a pool table (Mr. Fixit and Grandpa Squirrel, and occasionally the Squirrelings, like to play pool). There is a bring-one, borrow-one library in the room with the pool table, and I noticed a couple of interesting books in there along with all the Clive Cusslers.

Life several stories up is not bad, especially now that they seem to have gotten the fire alarms to stop ringing for an hour at a time every other day. Or night.

Well, it gave us a chance to meet some neighbours.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Quote for the day: The beauty in a working home

"Thus I find myself dreaming of the day I can go up to the checkout stand and see [my imaginary] Working Home magazine, with pictures of real people in their gardens, the old wooden tools and the bursting eggplant alongside the real gardeners...showing what life looks like in a real and functional home. There is so much in the rich potential for beauty in made-over and made-do, in homegrown and home-cooked, in mended and patchwork, in home-built and fresh-made, and the art of hybridity--the transformation of an ordinary suburban ranch or an apartment in the Bronx into a place that is full of art, and life." ~~ Sharon Astyk, Making Home

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Strawberry Cherry Banana Muffins

I had a jar of cherry jam, bought last fall at the vegetable stand. I also had the end of a bag of frozen strawberry and banana slices. Combined: fruit muffins.

Wednesday Hodgepodge: Stereo Typing

1. What color is prominent in your home? Are you glad about that or wishing you could cover it up or remove it?

In our new apartment, we have a lot of browns, beiges, and greens. The carpet is light brown and the walls are "neutral." If I wear beige myself, I disappear. But in the living room, it works fine.

This side table is new, from Ten Thousand Villages. Mr. Fixit did the choosing and I did the carrying, in case you want to blow up any more gender stereotypes (see #3).

(I thought about including a photo of the stereo, but I've already done that.)

2. What's something you'll NEVER do again?

Pour something hot straight into a glass pitcher. We don't have that pitcher anymore.

3. Tell us a couple of ways you fit the stereotypes associated with your gender, and a couple of ways you don't.

The last university course I took, right after I got married, was a summer crash credit, Marriage and the Family. One of my essays was on the theme of non-stereotyping children. Little did I know.

When we had kids, I was the one who stayed home to care for and later homeschool them. It only made sense: Mr. Fixit was the one with a steady job with benefits, and we wanted the kids to be at home, not in daycare. Our oldest, at a very young age, liked to go outside and "help Daddy"; but I was startled when she told me that I couldn't come along on one of their adventures, because "wimmens stay in the house.

The ironic part is that, in spite of my lack-of-career, lack of a driver's license, and lack of support for certain "wimmens'" causes, more than one of the girls has said that, to them, I seemed like a feminist. Maybe it was because my role as the at-home parent was viewed as the choice we had made, but not as the only way families could arrange things. Maybe because they were homeschooled, they heard "that's a boy thing" or "girls can't do that" less often than most girls. 
We tried to give all the Squirrelings room to explore whatever interested them: hairstyling, model rocket building, dressing dolls, electronics, voice lessons, photography, quantum physics. We read books with both male and female main characters, and had discussions about the history of women-as-persons, hiring and pay equity, education, voting, and so on. 

They also had a father who blew off a few male stereotypes by enjoying housework (he's better at it than I am, I fight with the vacuum cleaner) and not caring much about sports (I am the one more likely to turn on a Blue Jays game). 

4. May is Motorcycle Awareness Month. Have you ever owned a motorcycle? Ever ridden a motorcycle? If the opportunity presented itself would you hop on a motorcycle and go for a ride?

One ride behind someone else, too long ago to matter.  Motorcycles are too noisy for me.

5. If someone wanted to understand you, what should they read, watch, and listen to?

Mr. Fixit says about himself: early Neil Young music.

Mr. Fixit says about me:  "Read Lunch at the Homesick Diner." He means this book.

6.  Insert your own random thought here.

This has been fun to write, but I know it has been a hard week for many people in the world. Some of the hard things are in the news, some have happened in the lives of people I know. 

"This sharp, heartbreaking realization of our condition silences all argument and hair-splitting rationalization. It makes us simultaneously recoil from God, because we realize that he also sees us for what we are, and yet we reach out for help and refuge in him." ~~ Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines

Linked from the Wednesday Hodgepodge at From This Side of the Pond. 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

What's for supper? Pasta Salad and (surprise!) Something from the barbecue

Tonight's dinner menu:

Primavera Pasta Salad
Barbecued Sausage on Buns

How do you barbecue sausages in a highrise apartment building?

Weĺl, in this case, you take the elevator down, walk out the back of the building, and there are picnic tables and propane barbecues, free to use.  When Mr. Fixit went to do the sausage, he was the only person there. Imagine that on a holiday weekend. Maybe it's too cold, or everybody's camping or at the cottage.

Mama Squirrel made a pasta salad to go with the sausages. It was an easier version of a recipe in Saving Dinner by Leanne Ely; easier mostly because I used frozen vegetables and only had to dirty one pot. The trick is not to let either the pasta or the vegetables get mushy.
Pasta Salad, Squirrel Version


1 package Green Giant Valley Selections Stir Fry Medley
3 small handfuls pasta bowties
1 can corn, drained
3 tbsp. olive oil
A little cider vinegar (the recipe didn't call for any, but it seemed to need it)
1/2 tbsp. basil
A bit of minced, jarred garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
Some shredded cheese, Italian type preferred

In a serving bowl, mix the dressing ingredients and add the drained corn. Boil a large pot of water and start cooking the pasta; after about six minutes, add the package of vegetables, bring the water back to a boil, and cook just a few minutes more. The pasta should still be slightly chewy. Drain well in a colander. Mix with corn and dressing.  Sprinkle with cheese (if it seems too hot, wait until it has chilled a bit, you don't want the cheese to melt). Chill until ready to eat.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Quote for the day: The world at our command

"She passed Joshua Appleby's bookshop with an awed glance for all the books inside, and she wondered what it must be like to be able to read. She thought it must be wonderful and it surprised her that the gentry who were able to read could be bored. Yet they were. What was the matter with them?" ~~ Elizabeth Goudge, The Dean's Watch

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wednesday Hodgepodge: Can I have a grass skirt to go?

From this Side of the Pond

1. May 17th is National Pack Rat Day. Sidebar-should we be celebrating this? Hmmm...

Are you a pack rat? Even if you're not a full fledged pack rat, most people have one thing or another they struggle to part with. Tell us what's yours.

I grew up very pack-ratty. Maybe that had something to do with moving house a number of times: it was natural to want to hold on to my own stuff. I got stuck in an early idea that if someone gave you a birthday card, you held onto it forever; and that trips meant souvenirs, both for yourself and those back home. Which you also kept forever, unless it was a can of macadamia nuts. Then maybe you kept the can.
This is not mine, I promise

Aside from the purely sentimental stuff, hoarding certain things did make sense years ago: finding another copy of the map or part for the toaster might be hard. Better to keep the thing around if it ever had any chance of being passed on or recycled. Cobbling bits and pieces together was morally superior, even if they didn't work as well or look as good as if you had bought new materials. Maybe that's why I got so good at using leftovers. Add to that the Mama Squirrel and Mr. Fixit shared interest in old things and yardsaling (not to mention two years of thrift store volunteering), and we could have ended up with a true packrat's nest. We did donate things often, but we still ended up with quite a lot.

You might think that it was the recent move that impelled a new view of Treehouse stuff, and that's partly true, because we remembered how hard previous moves were, even when we had less to pack. But we've been working on paring down for longer than that. In some ways what smoothed this move was timing: maturing and moved-out Squirrelings who did not insist on keeping childhood belongings; not too much pressure from other relatives to keep what we no longer had room for; reaching a place ourselves where we could say goodbye to the antique desk, the math games, the electric train, the floor polisher.
Like this one

The things we brought along are a mixture of old, middle-aged, and new. The common threads are that we use them, we like them, and we have room for them, as much as possible. I did not know how I was going to make room for my family-heirloom little rocking chair, but we found a place for it in the dining area.
2. What are two things you know you should know how to do, but you don't?

Drive. Cook seafood (never had to, Mr. Fixit can't eat it).

3. Do you crave sugar? Do you add sugar to your coffee and/or tea? Do you use artificial sweeteners or sugar substitutes? When dining out is dessert a given? Are you someone who has slain the sugar dragon, and if so tell us how you did it.

I usually go for sweet rather than salty; but I am happy with a small piece.

4. What's a trend it took a while for you to come round to, but now you can't imagine living without?

I had to think about this one for awhile.

How about...Pinterest? I had a "Moving Stuff" board there long before we found this place, plus tips on organizing small spaces, and also a board for decorating photos. It's funny how many of those pictures did end up influencing our new space (Mr. Fixit had quite a lot to do with it as well).

5. What's a song that reminds you of a specific incident in your life? Please elaborate.

I can't think of just one right now.

6. Insert your own random thought here.

Random thought: today is hot.

Linked from the Wednesday Hodgepodge: Hodgepodge Hoarding, at From This Side of the Pond.