The Downsizing Dozen: Travel Time

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Bougainvillea, honeybells and manatees greeted me on my first trip to sunny Florida, where I discovered that most of my relatives have either retired or vacation on the Atlantic side. This year my spouse and I were determined not to spend another winter like the last one. And confident that our little apartment would be safe in management’s competent hands, we headed south last month.

Only to become stranded in northern Georgia by one of the worst ice storms I’ve ever seen. Just like last year, we slept in all our clothes by the fireplace, and assured our mortified hosts that we were used to this sort of thing. Twenty-four hours later, the power finally came back on, and we had already given up on a side trip to frigid Myrtle Beach in favor of any terrain that still remained ice-free. We continued our quest southward, cold records breaking as we went, until we finally reached the Florida I’ve always imagined (and temperatures above freezing).

Two years ago, adapting and changing a travel schedule, or prolonging a trip heaven-forbid, would have struck dread in our hearts. We needed to get back to our jobs, or school or dog kennel. Even when we became freelancers a year ago, worry about the power going out or pipes freezing made us afraid to stay away too long from our homeowner responsibilities.

Now, as apartment dwellers we can be confident that however far we roam, and no matter how many detours and weather delays, we will return to salted sidewalks, a clear path to our door, and hopefully a running furnace.

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our suburban house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, Make It Stick in August, Following Your Feet in September, Case of the Missing Mac in October, Diminished Drumsticks in November, Dwindling Decorations in December, Finding Focus in January, and Forgotten Food in February.

The Downsizing Dozen: Forgotten Food

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Inside the dark cavern of kitchen cabinets lies our shame and carefully hidden secrets. This is where you’ll find all the junk outlawed during my elimination diet, as well as many unused good intentions pushed behind current favorites. Some items were bought with high hopes, some carried over during the move, and some can be used as evidence against a weak moment at the grocery store.

Since my spouse has climbed aboard the autoimmune wagon to help with his arthritis, I have no one except my daughter to pawn off all the formerly savored treats that no longer play well with my digestive system. And, as an upwardly mobile young career gal, she has little time to cook much less eat a good breakfast. So, our forbidden folly sits neglected, taking up guilty room.

Truth be told, in order to accommodate more storage in our galley kitchen with little wall space, we need the deeper shelves. We’ve found that our great downsizing experiment requires longer arms and a footstool at hand. In order to reach a dimly remembered ingredient, we have to complete a full evacuation while regretfully reliving one by one the foolishness of our purchases and total lack of willpower in the snack aisle.

The one advantage is that as we repeatedly handle our sins, the desire to get rid of the evidence grows stronger, either by conscious effort to cook the malingerer and never buy it again, or by food pantry donation. I am relieved to find that almost all the dry goods, condiments and frozen sundries we hauled from our old house last June have been consumed or recycled.

That’s not to say that there might be a few flirty campfire marshmallows, cavorting candy canes and malicious macaroni boxes still lurking in the shameful shadows. Like death and taxes, the presence of forgotten food is unavoidable, but we’ll keep trying anyway.

Just give us until April 15th.

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our suburban house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, Make It Stick in August, Following Your Feet in September, Case of the Missing Mac in October, Diminished Drumsticks in November, Dwindling Decorations in December, and Finding Focus in January.

Holy Grounds

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I pull open the bag, and there’s that whiff of enlightenment that I’ve sorely missed, the rich caffeinated earth resting inside, denied to me by an elimination diet’s fanatic demands. The steeping pots of loose leaf tea that my husband makes have helped pass the time, but it’s just not the same. As hot water moments off the boil is poured carefully into a filter’s waiting bloom, I reflect on the many ways I’ve prepared the morning’s elixir over the years.

It began as a child, begging for a share of my father’s daily routine, with more milk than coffee in the cup. I remember gagging on the diluted insipidness, disappointed that this didn’t come close to the wonderful flavor of coffee ice cream. By college, however, I had learned to drink the cafeteria’s dark sludge (with very little cream) as a badge of sophistication, while I gulped down big burnt carafes during all-nighters in the art studio.

Even though my husband is not a coffee drinker, at our wedding reception I received not one but two espresso makers with open arms, and vibrated around our duplex alone or with other visiting coffee addicts whenever I made a batch of the extra-potent beverage. Daintily sipping from the tiny demitasse set that came with the espresso makers didn’t help, either.

From the exotic newlywed caffeinated experience, I then graduated to regular married life with my very own Mr. Coffee, practical, prolific, and always tarry by the time I poured my second cup. The making of smaller batches, while easier to finish without rocketing off into orbit, seemed to scorch faster on the hot plate, and this was years before you could turn off the machine and reheat in a microwave.

The quest for a good, small cup of joe led to a string of tiny coffeemakers, from the cute little drip machines that quickly brewed the right amount but lacked the flavor, to pour-over cones for a single cup that cooled too quickly, to a brief foray into steeping coffee bags (only slightly better tasting than instant coffee and just as humiliating), to a knock-off of a popular dispensing brew station that clogged into a dribble.

Then there was the attempt to get serious by purchasing a respectable grinder, a bag of eco-friendly and ethically grown beans, and a French press in trendy vermillion green. I confess that this arrangement, while producing great-tasting coffee, was messy and stressful in deciding when to press the plunger. I was irrationally terrified that the flimsy glass beaker would break and an angry, unfiltered mudslide flood my kitchen. Hardly a zen moment.

All of which has led me to my current ritual as an occasional coffee drinker. While my body still can’t handle daily doses of the good stuff without considering a spacesuit, I’ve found a method that is cheap, convenient, tasty — and mindful. The new caffeinated practice involves a small bag of good-quality ground coffee, a trusty Melitta #2 pour-over cone in unbreakable plastic, an electric kettle that boils faster than Mount Vesuvius, and a wonderful 16-ounce stainless steel thermos that lets me slowly sip hot coffee as long as I like.

All to say that once again, I can find reward in the slow passage of filtered thoughts through grounded intentions, setting the quickened pace for another productive day.

The Downsizing Dozen: Finding Focus

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If you really get to know me, you’ll find out that I’m a curious mix of distracted and obsessive. I can go from forgetting to eat in the midst of a mission to darting my attention around in conversations like a squirrel in traffic. I can get nothing else done until I finish that book or stream an entire TV series, and then again I’m capable of hopping from one uncompleted cleaning task to another until I’ve stirred up more dust and chaos than when I began.

Part of why I love practicing minimalism is the clean slate that comes after a total purge of all life’s unfinished tasks and cluttered surroundings. Then there’s a chance to introduce projects one at a time, while establishing a balanced routine that doesn’t neglect eating, sleeping and human interaction. I say there’s a chance, because more often than not, my mind remains cluttered and my attention span scattered enough to undo that lovely empty potential that I’ve cleared.

But the very act of purging has been a meditative focus for me. For years, as I sat in my 1985 suburban tract house that was carefully organized and way too big for the three of us, I would mentally sort through all our possessions to see if they were still needed and necessary, using this purging visualization to calm down my squirrel mind, give me hope for a fresh start and put me to sleep at night. That way, in my dreams at least, I could trash all the unrealized hopes, unfulfilled goals, and creative disappointments in the big subconscious recycling bin in the sky, ready to be reincarnated into some new piece of writing or artwork.

Then came the great Purge and Merge of 2014, when my family unloaded many possessions to move into a small apartment and blend all our activities into shared space. My minimalist meditations were finally manifested, and for months, I was at a loss on what to visualize. Even though there is always something to organize and purge (hello junk mail!), I couldn’t get my teeth into the physical stuff anymore–it was all gone.

And going any smaller right now wouldn’t be wise or practical. So, it gradually dawned on me that what I need to let go now is all that mental clutter I’ve stored my whole life, from revenge for that playground group I was kicked out of in 5th grade, to the college anxiety dreams where I didn’t study for the final exam of the class I hadn’t dropped, to a kick-ass response for the woman who screamed at me in front of my child for parking too close to a school fire hydrant  (I don’t have unresolved anger issues, do I?), to a rebuttal for the speeding ticket I didn’t deserve during a speed trap (my first and hopefully my last).

Well, that last run-on sentence is a perfect example of what my squirrel mind is capable of creating every waking moment if I’m not careful. My new reality is this: now that the physical clutter has been downsized and minimized, I have nothing left but to face my mental mess. Even though this is a life class I never signed up for, it would serve me well to attend all the lessons and face that final exam, however long it takes, with or without the speeding ticket.

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our suburban house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, Make It Stick in August, Following Your Feet in September, Case of the Missing Mac in October, Diminished Drumsticks in November, and Dwindling Decorations in December.

All in the Signs

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The task of taking a daily photo challenges me to become more observant in everything I do, out of necessity. Although some of my last-minute posts on Instagram can attest to late-night desperation, for the most part these little snapshots of a day in the life can reveal deeper meaning, especially in the next morning’s leisurely light.

I took the above photo last Tuesday during my early morning walk in freezing fog. I happened to spy a cut in the ground, made by some sort of manmade object, I’m sure, since there were other divots similar to this one, only more complete circles. This particular one reminded me of a crescent moon. I didn’t realize until later that I made this discovery on the day of the new moon and beginning of 2015’s lunation cycles.

I gave a talk several weeks ago about practicing small moments of spirituality and mindfulness, even for a few minutes in your busy day. Noticing the world around us as we work, such as catching a glimpse of a bright red cardinal that reminds us of a loved one, finding the bend in a tree like the one where your grandfather hung your favorite rope swing, or enjoying the exotic colors of the tropics in a sunset on the long, cold commute home are all sacred examples that take us out of our ordinary mental routines, if only briefly.

These little spiritual glimpses can be messages to consciousness about challenges and decisions we’re facing, not only at our daily jobs, but along our life’s journeys. Everything from the encouraging phone call you receive while thinking about that same caller, to the chronic flare-ups of familiar old health conditions every time you’re stressed, can be taken as suggestive nudges and supportive promptings.

As for that little slice of serendipity in the photo up there, the first frosty new moon signals fresh starts and hopeful seeds germinating inside the creative darkness in preparation for manifestation at the full moon. Perhaps for me, this is a thumbs up to new writing projects, and just maybe, the Universe is signalling that she’s got my back.

Keep on the lookout for your signs.

The Latest Word

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I could come up with a lot of excuses why I didn’t write much last year: surviving a polar vortex without power, the resulting major downsize and move, over 4000 miles of family-related travel, technology updating, complete lifestyle and dietary overhauls, not to mention my forays into choral singing, Instagram and meditative art projects. But I won’t go there. Okay, I just did, but it all added up to an open invitation, apparently, to forsake my pen, paper and laptop.

This is my fourth year of One Little Word, and I’ve learned by this time around that, like wishes, you have to be careful what word you choose. Case in point, my pick for last year sure turned out to be a doozy. And still going strong because I find the momentum unstoppable. In fact, just putting a single word down on the un-erasable paper of your psyche can have a profound impact. Saying it out loud is even better. And physically writing it out, well now, that can have the biggest punch of all.

Despite deceptively simple instructions, careful consideration must always be taken in making your choice. Forever looking for an easy way out, I’d hoped it would be a breeze to actually write my Word for 2015, because it is WRITE. But as you can see, I’ve taken half of January to get the guts to announce this here on the blog. And even longer to sit my derrière down and do the work. (Steven Pressfield is my writing guru at the moment.)

So, I’m starting the year with a fresh journal, a new blog template and much resistance. Plus knowledge that the simplest word can be the hardest.

Huh. Go figure.

And while you’re at it, go figure out what yours is. Trust me. Word.

The Downsizing Dozen: Dwindling Decorations

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Have to admit that I anticipated the annual dragging out of the old Christmas boxes with some trepidation this year. Why? For the last ten years, we have known exactly where all the decorations would be placed–snowmen chilling on the fireplace mantle with the stockings, lights of the correct length wrapped around our breakfast nook railing, tree positioned front and center in the living-room window bay. Now all bets were off when faced with the alien (and rather compact) landscape of our new apartment.

At least the ever-important tree placement was easy. There was clearly only one spot in the apartment that would work, by the door to our balcony, where we had strung our remaining outdoor lights for a show of holiday spirit among the drab units surrounding us. The tree is actually one that my daughter bought last year, and one that she is willing to share with her miserly parents. (Actually, we have no idea what sort of ornament-hanging structure we really want when she moves out.)

The other Christmas detritus was more problematic, however. As we unwrapped the holiday candy dish and the rather heavy stocking hangers, the snowpeople collection, bottle brush trees, my husband’s family nativity and 1950‘s ceramic bells in the shape of Christmas ladies, I was once again grateful that we had purged a good deal in the last couple of years, keeping all Christmas keepsakes down to two storage bins and an ornament box. Everything had to fit into the life raft of those boxes or be set loose upon the open seas at Goodwill.

Thank heavens for a lengthy bar area along the kitchen counter, a tabletop with enough space for the snowmen, and a bookshelf with a lack of books and plenty of parking places. We found just enough room for everything except a very large fiber optic angel, a string of lights and one pair of festive tealight holders. The added bonus is that we can sit in our living room and enjoy all the decorations without having to get up and walk into another room, like we had to do in our old house.

Much has changed in our lives, but some traditions live on in new digs without too many of the trappings. We toast our good fortune in relocating to a warm and comfortable nest with the annual spiked eggnog while our cat re-acquaints himself with the penguin tree skirt.

Happy holidays, my friends, and see you in 2015!

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our suburban house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, Make It Stick in August, Following Your Feet in September, Case of the Missing Mac in October, and Diminished Drumsticks in November.