Finding the Magic


This blog’s long silence can be blamed on our move to the country, and lots of trips with the back of the car loaded Beverly Hillbillies-style holding what we thought were our “minimalist” belongings, which turned out to be quite a few.

Granted, the capacity of our hatchback isn’t cavernous, and we managed to relocate without a moving truck, but still, our “living with less” egos became a bit bruised over the weeks and months that dragged on as we filled box after box. We also were cured of the whole weekend-house-in-the-country mystique after we did our best not to buy and own two of everything, a feat that inevitably led to at least one item residing in the wrong place just when we needed it every week.

However, as I wander around still searching for hastily packed items that ended up in the oddest of places (paring knives with the bath supplies, anyone?), I’m constantly amazed by how everything seems to gravitate toward its perfect placement, and the stuff of my dreams (rustic bohemian cottage with flower gardens) is coming to life after thirty years.

Around every corner, and out the window especially, I’m struck full of wonder each day by a brilliant light beam, or the jewels of frost on an unruly tussle of native seed pods. A walk to the river nearby can lead to a sweet encounter with a baby river otter or the sleepy gaze of a garter snake. The sacred soul of this land that drew ancient prehistoric people to leave their calling cards in the form of earthworks and stone tools, is palpable here.

Which leads me to my Word of the Year, completely entwined with the prolific vegetation that could easily compete with Jack’s beanstalk, and heralded by the fairies that live in a world garden created in love. What could be more appropriate than “Magic” for 2018?

I’m sure that magic won’t be hard to find every day.

Advertisements

Back to the Land of Bad Memes

IMG_9453
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.

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

anniversary - Version 2

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

IMG_5031
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

IMG_0991

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: Finding Focus

IMG_0046
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.