Saturday, April 14, 2018

A Little Too Minimal

In my zeal to really explore minimalism, I joined a bunch of facebook groups related to the topics of minimalism, simplicity and anti-consumerism. At first, I found it very helpful and motivating. And then, something shifted. I am still committed to being frugal, and less consumeristic, and trying to tread more lightly on the earth. But good grief! My feed became absolutely clogged with photos of houses purged to the point of barrenness, with people asking if it was still too cluttered with one chair and a side table. Others would weigh in - yes! get rid of the side table and use the window sill instead! I knew without even posting a photo of my bedroom that they'd object to my having dressers and that having a few things on them would be an additional sin. We won't even talk about that small stack of books waiting to be read. And it wasn't just about furnishings. There were frequent photos by people proudly showing off their empty refrigerators. Well, honestly, what is the point of having a refrigerator if not to hold food? And tips on how to feed a family of five for a month on soup beans and leftover vegetables or lauding the benefits of family cloth. What's family cloth, you ask? I'm not sure you really want to know but since I had to read about it, so do you: it's the practice of replacing toilet paper with bits of cloth you can wash and re-use. You read that correctly. Sorry you asked, aren't you? And when you're done gagging, we can resume....

Post after post about aspects of your life that could be minimalized (a word I have come to loathe): Hair - shave it off! Flatware - only have sporks! Color - paint everything white! Beds - put a mattress on the floor! Shoes - flip flops every day! Wedding rings - get a tattoo instead! Coffee - give it up! And for each of those, the chorus of folks countering that even those suggestions weren't minimal enough. It all just started making me twitchy. Listen, I am keeping my hair, I'm not eating soup with a freaking spork, I like having my mattress on a bed frame, I can't wear flip flops to work, I adore my Celtic wedding ring, and I want my damn coffee every morning!

There were rants about using dryers. Rants about television. Rants about wasting money on wine. Rants about the evils of having children. And oh, the challenges:  How few dishes can you get by with? Who has the fewest books? What is the least amount of money you can spend on travel? Is there a single product you can get away with for washing hair, body and dishes? Or better yet, can you eliminate soap entirely from your life? But I knew I had met the limits of my tolerance when I read a post asking people to list the number of clothing items they owned and then the comments of people bragging about how they were able to get by with 22 or 10 or 7 items of clothing. I could no longer rein in the snark. I commented, "One. A single pair of footie pajamas that I wash in rainwater I collect from the downspout and then hang to dry overnight while I sleep naked on the bare wood floor."

Clearly, it was time for me to get out. So I "minimalized" my facebook groups. I stayed in some that are more about simplicity and left the others. It helps me to have some contact with like-minded people who lean toward mindfulness and "cozy minimalism." But I am just not made for the spartan life. Hygge, anyone?

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The yard over the last week or so.

The end of March ushers in spring in these parts, and I'm more than a little giddy with it. I have more tulip varieties than I can count.
The clover lawn is filling in and the wild violets are fully in bloom. It looks like a rabbit paradise in the front yard. I love walking in it barefoot.
I take almost as much joy in the things not-quite here - like the beautiful curls of the fern fronds before they unfurl under the dogwood trees. Behind them, hostas are opening.
The stone crop (Autumn joy sedum) has just emerged and will become enormous and covered in rusty pink flowers by late summer.
Lamiums and hellebores, some of my favorite late winter shade plants that bring life to the garden early.
Out back, the trillium I planted last year are coming up. I hope they flower!
This purple leafed sand cherry is a favorite of mine, from its pretty pink blossoms to its burgundy leaves. The more upright main trunk died off early, but I like how the other trunk leans into the mulched bed.
I love daffodils of every variety, but these with the apricot centers are especially pretty.
I have three or four different heucheras (so far!) in the back bed under the dry shade of the old hemlocks. They add some really nice color.
More daffodils and tulips out back, keeping one of my stone frogs company.
I have grape hyacinths scattered everywhere and they echo the color of the wild violets.
These bleeding hearts were added last year and I love their old fashioned look.
Next to them are blue asters, a beautiful contrast.
So, yeah - warm weather and lots of flowers? Now you're talking.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

March No-Shop Summary

Another month completed, putting us a quarter of the way through the no-shopping year.

 March       Year to Date      Category                              
      $0                       $0                   Clothing                                                   
      $0                       $0                   Shoes                             
      $0                       $0                   Accessories                                       
      $0                       $0                   Cosmetics         
      $0                       $0                   Kitchen items                 
      $0                       $0                   Gadgets/electronics 
      $0                       $0                   Furnishings
      $0                       $0                   Books 
      $0                       $0                   Shrubs/trees
      $0                       $0                   Non-necessary household goods 

Honestly, it seems to just get easier with time. Some of the folks in the no-shopping challenge facebook group I'm in talk about their struggles and giving in to temptations and I think, "Eh, I'm fine." Turns out, there just isn't that much I really need that I don't already have.
Hodr, however, is singularly unimpressed with our progress and cares only that we keep feeding her.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

I'm going to be a Mother-in-Law!

So much going on lately, but I'll start with my younger son's engagement. He and his partner revisited Cumberland Island, Georgia, on a spring break camping trip and on their last day, my son "found" a shell on the beach in which he'd hidden this ring.

(A note on the following use of plural pronouns instead of singular: My son's partner identifies as "nonbinary," a word that this older woman has struggled to understand. If I'm getting it correctly, it's about not identifying either as male or female particularly, but there is no real accepted gender-neutral singular pronoun. So we say "they" and "their" and instead of "she" and "her." Grammatically, this is tough for my old-school self, but philosophically I'm fine with it. I'm trying to use those terms even when not in my future kid-in-law's presence so that I don't flub up when I am. And I do adore them, so I want to be sensitive.)

Anyway, opals are their favorite stone and my son found an Israeli jeweler on Etsy who had this beautiful ring that so suits his partner's style. My son graduates in May and his partner the following May, and the plan is for a wedding right after that in 2019.
As soon as they got back in town, we made plans for a celebration dinner. I cut flowers from the yard and the four of us sat well into the evening hearing about the proposal (a very traditional, down on one knee sort of proposal) and plans for the wedding. They talked about the possibility of having the wedding here, in our back yard, an idea I find both exciting and a little unnerving. But yes, absolutely. The two of them had only been dating a month when my husband and I got married and we all remembered their startled reaction to being invited to our wedding. My absolute favorite photo from the wedding hangs on our living room wall and includes my son's now-fiancée, in a mini-skirt with Barbie doll-long legs, smiling shyly at the camera.
I made this silly heart-shaped cake for dessert and we opened a bottle of champagne to toast the newly engaged couple. I could not be happier with my son's choice of life partner and I look forward to making a spectacle of myself, crying like a baby at their wedding.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Time to be back in the yard.

Typical March here - one day there are flurries and the clover in the front yard wears little caps of snow.
And the next day it's warm and I get a chance to check what's in bloom. These hellebores are always the first to arrive and have been blooming since January. I also have daffodils and tulips out now.
If we get a nice day on the weekend, my husband and I try to get out for a walk.  A week or so ago, we walked along the greenway trail by the river. This groundhog was puttering around in the undergrowth and I gave him some grief about he and his kinfolk not predicting an early spring. Because let's face it - I was raised mostly in the South and I'm spoiled when it comes to weather. I want warm, sunny days, dammit. When I don't get them, I tend to huddle in a blanket and grumble.
Fortunately for me, we have had several days where I've been able to indulge in my gardening love. I cut back a lot of the old dead parts of plants to make room for new growth and pulled roughly seventeen bazillion weeds from the yard. If it's nice enough to be outside, I'm much more likely to be there than here in front of a computer!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

February No-Shop Summary

Two months in, and green for every day we didn't buy any discretionary items. And because I'm a chart-maker, I also have this:

 February       Year to Date      Category                              
      $0                       $0                   Clothing                                                   
      $0                       $0                   Shoes                             
      $0                       $0                   Accessories                                       
      $0                       $0                   Cosmetics         
      $0                       $0                   Kitchen items                 
      $0                       $0                   Gadgets/electronics 
      $0                       $0                   Furnishings
      $0                       $0                   Books 
      $0                       $0                   Shrubs/trees
      $0                       $0                   Non-necessary household goods 

I have to tell you, there is something immensely satisfying about not buying things. Although we didn't specifically ban restaurant spending, we have cut back on that as well. We got take-out sushi once this month, and that's it. Even my grocery shopping has changed. I went today and didn't get anything not on my grocery list. I think it's just because a side-effect of not buying things I don't need is that it makes me more mindful of spending in general.
          (photo cropped by request to preserve the privacy of the kids)
Still, we sure aren't missing it. My older son is home from Optometry school because it's his spring break and last night he, my younger son and his partner all came over for dinner. I made a vegetarian lasagna with zucchini, spinach, onions, leeks, and peppers, made a salad with greens, cucumber, dried fruit, almonds and pumpkin seeds, and baked a loaf of whole wheat sourdough bread that morning. When I am surrounded by people I love and have good food on the table, I am keenly aware that I am pretty damned rich.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Way-overdue post of kitchen remodel.

Back when I first bought this old house, I did some mostly minor fixing up (painting, changing ceiling fans, and so on) and posted before and after shots of each room as I went. But the kitchen took so long that posting about it got away from me. So here, just for my own records, is the remodel project.
The house had its post-war era original kitchen, circa 1945. The first two photos are from when the house was for sale. I liked it, but wasn't wild about the dark red walls, formica counters, and parquet flooring. Or that it lacked a dishwasher - a fact I somehow overlooked when I bought it. (Also - note the framed Audrey Hepburn picture. I like Audrey Hepburn as much as the next person, but it seemed like an odd choice for a kitchen decoration to me.) I went all out on my kitchen remodel in my last home and didn't come close to recouping the money when I sold it, so this go round I decided to take a much saner approach.
This is the original dining room. The chandelier is so not me. And I had no use for a bar with seats. One of the first things I did was tear that island out, leaving a gaping hole in the floor for months.
And paint the red walls a sunny yellow to cheer the place up. I like brighter kitchens.
I replaced the heavy red and gold valance that obscured much of the window with white wooden blinds, which now stay open most of the time so I can see outside when I'm at the sink.
I decided to keep the fridge and the oven, which both were in decent working order, and the upper cabinets because they went all the way to the ceiling. I especially liked the little semi-circle wood shelves attached to the upper cabinets. The lower cabinets, however, weren't sturdy enough to support granite countertops. And before everyone gives me grief about that, let me just say that I didn't want granite for its trendiness. It just suits the way I cook. You can cut things directly on it and set pots right off the stove or out of the oven on it without damaging it. Also, it is the perfect surface for working bread dough.
I'd ordered lower cabinets and also wood doors for the upper cabinets from a company in Washington, and painted them white.
In the midst of this project, I met my husband-to-be. He did most of the assembly and I did the painting.
Once they were all assembled and taking up space all over this little house, the contractor who put in my last kitchen came in and tore out the old cabinets and floor. I decided to keep the old porcelain sink, because it's a classic.
The parquet floor was replaced with oak, to match the rest of the house.
The old sink with new fixtures, including a space for the instant hot water spigot. I love being able to have water hot enough for tea or cocoa right out of its own little tap.
We picked out new brushed nickle cabinet pulls for the doors because the old ones were a) brass and b) grungy. I kept the basic arrangement of lower cabinets, except I added in a corner cabinet and another next to the stove. It was a more efficient use of floor space.
And replaced a cabinet between the sink and the refrigerator with a narrow dishwasher! We still sometimes hand-wash dishes, but it's really nice to have on busy days or when we have company.
The finished kitchen. I added a light over the sink, and three square shelves to hold spices.
And the dining room. That little granite-topped island is one I had made for my kitchen in the old house. When I put that house on the market, I stashed it in storage because I knew I wanted to keep it. We also added a tiny cabinet next to it with a piece of scrap granite and it holds the coffee maker, coffee bean grinder and sugar bowl. I replaced the utilitarian white light fixture over the old island with four amber glass lights.
I had already swapped out the chandelier with this glass globe and Edison bulb. It came from China and not only were there no English directions, they use different color wires than we do. Took me a little tinkering to figure out how to wire it in. I painted the top part of the dining room walls the same butter yellow as the kitchen and the part below the chair rail a darker honey gold. That hunt board along the wall was a family piece from my husband's family, and the table I've posted about before - it's made from reclaimed tobacco barn wood.
And that is likely to be the last remodeling we do here unless we change our minds and decide to stay forever.

Monday, February 19, 2018

This year, a sun with ironic freckles (can suns get sun-damage?) let me know I'm okay.

For those of you have been along for the ride for awhile, you might remember that I had a couple of surgeries for cervical cancer starting in 2009. The first wasn't effective and I had a hysterectomy right before Christmas in 2010. Each year since, I've held my breath waiting to see if there would be another recurrence. A couple of years ago, my old GYN (the one who did my surgeries) retired and I saw her replacement. I wasn't wild about her and that was doubly true when she did what turned out to be an unnecessary (and insanely painful) biopsy. Thankfully, it was negative, but it made me delay going back. Last month I went to see someone new and just loved her. She is frank and funny and I felt instantly comfortable. Her office sends out these postcards, that are blank on the back except for my name and address, to give the all-clear. The silly smiling sun instantly lifted my spirits - seven years with no sign of malignancy. I'll take it.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Foodie Post

Well, one result of cutting way back on restaurants is that I spend more time in the kitchen. Since I am committed to avoiding processed foods, it can be a little labor intensive. Good thing I like cooking!
On one afternoon, I spent a good bit of time chopping vegetables, roasting tomatoes, onions, and garlic, and making up a big batch of spaghetti sauce. I divided them into one-meal sized bags and stashed them in the freezer. Any time I make a sauce or soup, I try to make enough to freeze at least a couple of meals worth.
When I met a friend for dinner last month, I had a delicious chickpea salad. The menu listed mixed greens, lemon herb marinated chickpeas, cotija cheese, pickled red onion, radish, grilled zucchini, citrus vinaigrette. I thought, "I could make that." The first thing I had to do was find a quick pickled onion recipe, which turned out to be much easier than I thought. I made those the day ahead and also marinated the chickpeas in lemon and herbs. The next day I roasted the chickpeas, potatoes, and beets (which I subbed in for radishes) and assembled the salad. Easy and every bit as good as the one the restaurant offered.
A week or so ago, my son and his girlfriend were over for dinner. I had a Persian jeweled rice recipe I'd wanted to try and found a recipe for golden turmeric tilapia. I checked at the grocery store and couldn't find the mango chutney it called for and again thought, "I bet I could make that." Turns out it is easy. And so good - I could just eat it by the spoonful. We liked the turmeric fish recipe so much that I made another batch of chutney and my husband made the fish with sweet potatoes and broccoli for another dinner.
I'm back to making whole wheat sourdough bread more regularly, too. The last loaf I made with turmeric. It gave it a faint gold color and just a hint of the flavor.
I put poppy seeds on top but next time I think I'll mix them into the dough on the second kneading.
And then came Valentine's Day. We had already agreed not to buy unnecessary items, but groceries are exempt from the ban. I had the day off and put some of my time into prepping ingredients for dinner. I know I've said it before but it's just truth - I make a mean seafood risotto. There is something so peaceful about stirring the wine and broth a little at a time into the arborio rice and watching it absorb. I made it this time with crab meant and two kinds of shrimp, and add in caramelized onions, peppers and garlic, sautéed zucchini, and chopped greens.
It's heaven on a plate. We had some of the bread and a salad with field greens, cucumber, strawberries, feta and almonds.  I also made dark chocolate-covered strawberries for dessert and we cracked open a bottle of chardonnay we'd brought back from a winery we visited in Tuscany on our honeymoon. I'm realizing I'm happily able to forgo gifts for good food.