Back to the Land of Bad Memes

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Well, the whole “cord-cutting” experiment didn’t go as smoothly as expected. I won’t go into the ridiculously complicated and frustrating installation fiasco that lasted most of June, but let me just say that it involved two weeks without Internet. That’s TWO WEEKS, fellow readers, cut off from the sustenance of the cyber webs!

Two weeks of waiting for a repair that didn’t need to be done, arguing with several reps on the phone who were incapable of deviating from their scripts, multiple miscommunications and errors that couldn’t be replicated or fixed if you tried, and two weeks of data overage on our cell phones.

BUT it was also two weeks of ignorant bliss, removed from the horrible news reports and vicious Facebook posts by righteous vigilantes, of less time wasted on online games and more opportunities for naps, and finally, the return of a peaceful and calm bedroom devoid of the squawking black box that lulled us to sleep for years with the mayhem and murder of the late local newscast.

Now that speedy connection to the horrors of bad memes and incomprehensible spelling has been restored with many apologies and a little compensation from the corporate goliath we are forced to use, I can look back on the whole nightmare like you would that horrific camping trip where it rained the entire time and your body was covered in chiggers. You’re very glad it’s over but you can afford to be generous, proud, nostalgic even. Was I frustrated? Of course. Angry? You bet. Paranoid that this was all an elaborate plot to punish us for cutting the cord? Guilty as charged.

But I’ve haven’t slept better in years.

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Cutting the Cord

IMG_6041In our latest downsizing venture, we’ve decided to take on the corporate dictators controlling what we see on the talking boxes, and cancel our cable subscription. After much help from our “cord-never” daughter (defined as someone who has never fallen for the cable TV trap) and vigorous research on the wireless internet we still need to keep, we’ve opted for one of those slim digital antennas and a Roku streaming device to fulfill our minimal entertainment needs. My family’s devotion to the sports gods has kept us from going cold turkey for years, but now there are alternatives to the big game gatekeepers.

So this week, I’m saying goodbye to the indentured servitude of bundling and contract confinement, the 300 channels we never needed, the painful phone negotiations every year when rates soared back to “normal,” the eternal rebooting when the power “blinks,” and last but not least, that nest of snakes full of cat hair behind the TV stand.

The few shows I’m giving up are well worth the clean sweep, clear surfaces and a single outlet.

The Downsizing Dozen: Basic Bliss

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Yesterday, my husband and I celebrated 30 years of marriage. The anniversary gave me an opportunity to compare what we had then, to what we have now. And I found us lacking.

We have less furniture now. When I moved in to my new husband’s duplex, I found the usual trappings for a bachelor pad, with the mandatory bookcase made out of boards and cinderblocks, and a mattress on a sheet of plywood. But our friends pooled their meager wages earned as teaching assistants and struggling writers to give us a queen-sized futon as a wedding gift that we used folded on the floor for a sofa, along with the towering coffee table, easy chairs and dining room set that my husband already owned. We were gifted a massive metal office desk that took up half of our spare room and a lovely Victorian dresser that we dragged around the country for 29 years.

We don’t keep unnecessary knickknacks. I brought very little when I moved 900 miles away for graduate school, but I possessed the soul of a collector, determined to scour local junk shops for kitsch to support my “eclectic” interior design plans. As a newlywed, I considered it my duty to transform our modest ranch house into a PeeWee’s Playhouse wonderland, my 1980s TV inspiration at the time. That wacky vision, combined with all the spoils from my in-laws’ big downsize to a retirement community that same year, led to a pretty cluttered and bizarre decorating scheme.

We need fewer clothes. About the only dowry I brought along was a big wardrobe with shoes and accessories, mostly vintage tat and ratty leftovers from college. I never threw any clothing away, even when something wore out, because that’s the way I grew up. My husband was the same way. And in your twenties, I believe style and the way you look are more important than at any other time. All that would change with a new baby several years later, providing very few opportunities to shower much less put together an outfit. But as a newly married couple, we felt compelled to buy more “sophisticated” clothing in rainbow pastels that screamed Miami Vice and shoulder pads the size of boulders to prove our maturity.

We are down to only kitchen essentials. What my husband lacked in furnishings, he made up for in pots and pans. The man wooed me by cooking Sunday dinner with all the fixings after I had nothing to offer but a couple of shriveled up pork chops with freezer burn. He’d inherited many mismatched dishes and silverware, odds and ends from his grandmothers. And I entered my married life with not one but two espresso machines and a demitasse set as wedding gifts, in addition to an addiction to PBS cooking shows. I plunged into gourmet cooking with a passion hotter than any flambé, determined to master the perfect roux, undaunted by a recipe’s 50 ingredients. All of those specialized dishes meant buying more fancy gadgets and better place settings to show off my artistically arranged micro-servings.

Thinking back, there were many other purchases and acquisitions those first few years, including a custom-built bed frame for our first mattress set, a brand-spanking-new car, and a cantankerous Corgi puppy. We finally qualified for a credit card and took on our first loan. We were proud of the parties we gave, the holiday dinners we cooked, and the guests we hosted.

And when we were ready to move 900 miles back to where I came from to start a new life, we realized that the large U-Haul truck we’d rented was too small.

Fortunately, we’ve remembered this moment of truth throughout the years, using it to fuel a shedding process that continues to this day. All the household goods we thought we needed for a successful marriage are no longer necessary. What we lack in possessions, is more than compensated by the love we share, and the trust that we will always have enough.

Well, this is the last of the Downsizing Dozen. If you’ve been following along, I hope you’ve found some value in the details of our journey to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014 and a simpler lifestyle. We will continue to examine, reduce and relinquish the old while we accumulate new experiences and fresh memories, life’s precious present. 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, Forgotten Food in February, Travel Time in March, Shifting Into Single Gear in April, and Tiny Tending in May.

The Downsizing Dozen: Tiny Tending

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As suburbanites everywhere march along to the beating blades inside their lawnmowers and collect the stray mulch that spring downpours washed out of obsessively sculpted landscapes, I fill my two little railing planters with carefully chosen herbs I will use in my cooking, at three stories up on a tiny balcony. From this great height, my old life of lawn maintenance and yard work seems very far away, indeed.

As I’ve mentioned many times, I spent my childhood in the country on several farms and remember spring as a frantically busy season at my grandparents’ family nursery, where thousands of annuals were sold in the merry month of May alone. Fields were tilled and planted, and the family garden begun but often neglected for farming’s other pressing demands.

I’ll never forget the first garden of my very own. My daughter had been born early that spring after a difficult pregnancy on bedrest. I was finally recovered, full of energy and new life, so I dug and laid out a little plot for square-foot gardening at the corner of our rental property. I bought garden tools and poured over seed catalogs, amended the soil and put up trellises for the vine crops. By June everything I planted was up and thriving.

And then my husband landed the job of his dreams halfway across the country. By July, I had to leave my little garden behind, and start over. But I never stopped gardening. Every year at the first misstep of winter, when the soil begins to wake and earthworms stir under the robins’ watchful eyes, I feel the call. It’s in my blood, a part of my genetic duty.

And this year wasn’t any different. I’ve worked all sizes of gardens, from half an acre to containers on a patio, but this has to be my smallest space, yet. Our diet these days restricts eating large amounts of nightshades like tomatoes and peppers, which is mainly what I planted in years past. Nowadays, we use plenty of fresh herbs, and instead of ornamental flowers, I’m trying out a couple of everbearing strawberry plants with pretty pink blooms as an added garnish.

I’ve no doubt that given the chance, I will tend to a larger garden in the future. The tools I bought for that first little square-foot plot are safely stored in our garage, waiting to cultivate bigger dreams. But until then, this is enough.

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, Forgotten Food in February, Travel Time in March, and Shifting Into Single Gear in April.

The Downsizing Dozen: Shifting Into Single Gear

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One of the major changes we’ve made in the last ten months, much to the shock and dismay of friends and family, is to pare down to one car. That’s right, when the third resident of our apartment moved out earlier this month, she took one of our cars with her. And with it went the fuel expenses, insurance rates, repair bills, registration fees, and that reassuring sense of independence that the second vehicle provides.

We had already transferred ownership last year, but the second car was still available to us as a backup. Since my daughter was born, the second vehicle was usually assigned as my main mode of transport, and our newer “travel” autos were taken by my husband for his longer, and daily, commutes.

When my old car finally drove away to greener pastures, we heaved a sigh of collective relief that our offspring had a dependable way to get to work, but the reality of what we would be giving up finally smacked us in the rear bumper:

  1. Making appointments without checking with each other constantly.
  2. Use of an alternate when one car is in for repairs.
  3. Something to follow and pick us up in at the auto repair shop (see above).
  4. Another vehicle to haul an overflow of extra people, or stuff.
  5. Driving downtown to meet the other for an impromptu meal or a wild hair.

Well, you get the idea. None of these are deal breakers, and since we both work from home now, neither of us is left without transportation for very long. Plus, we can better afford to maintain our single vehicle and pamper it in a nice garage, instead of leaving two out in the cold (and hail).

As our first full year of downsizing looms closer, we hope to continue our monogamous vehicular affair for the foreseeable future on the roads ahead. After all, we’ve already driven off the cliffs of suburban conformity, so why slow down now?

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, Forgotten Food in February, and Travel Time in March.

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.

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.

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.

The Downsizing Dozen: Diminished Drumsticks

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Over the last few years, gatherings around our extended family’s holiday table have dwindled, sad to say. We’ve lost the older generation of grandparents, great aunts and uncles, and while I’m blessed to still have both my parents, the scores of side dishes and days of preparation are over.

Dinner was pretty simple this year: my dad’s special brined turkey and sausage stuffing, the creamed onions he only makes at Thanksgiving, my mom’s fancy cranberry sauce spiked with undiluted Grand Marnier liqueur, and a pumpkin pie using almond instead of cow’s milk to accommodate my new diet. Mashed potatoes and roasted butternut squash rounded out the menu, and I even tried my first turkey liver to fulfill a weekly quota of organ meat.

I have to admit it was refreshing not to crowd my plate with so many different foods that outer fringes of peas and brussels sprouts rolled off the brink, and real estate around my place setting became a maze of bread plates, dessert forks and wine glasses. In the past, main dishes grew cold waiting for the rest of the meal to find its way to the table. My mother was often so exhausted the next day that my father took her out for a drive and a nice lunch to get her away from the tremendous pressure of the holidays.

There were just four of us gathered for the holiday meal this year. No need for place cards or a children’s table. The kitchen counter wasn’t groaning under the weight of dirty pots and pans. Clean up took an hour instead of a whole night switching sodden dish drying towels. Our smaller turkey actually fit into the refrigerator along with a manageable amount of leftovers.

And while I do miss the relatives who made the holidays special and colorful, let it be known that I’ll never wish to live up to the reputation of a Norman Rockwell holiday feast ever again, however nostalgic.

Happy holidays from 900 square feet.

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, and Case of the Missing Mac in October.