Lack Friday and Cynical Monday

Yes, that’s right. I’m over here making up my own shopping holidays. Or should I call it a very “unconsumerist” season. What the ho, ho, ho?

It all starts on the Friday after Thanksgiving, when my small family celebrates the over-abundance and gluttony of the previous day by doing nothing. No crack-of-dawn pilgrimage, no angry crowds, no hyper-discounts, no consumer coma.

Instead, there’s a rather lengthy occupation of pajamas, leisurely pots of (looseleaf) tea, the traditional family walk, a picking over of ample leftovers, and much TV watching of collegiate pigskin between blatant appeals to spend money. (We have no DVR to avoid the snake oil.)

Friday was also a beautiful day weather-wise this year, a fact I noted by giving my ancient, but faithful point-and-shoot an afternoon workout. There was even plenty of time to put up what is left of our old outdoor lights for one more year of LED joy.

Saturday and Sunday went pretty much the same way. Making do, patching up what we already own, decorating with less and less, enjoying all the leisure time we have on hand instead of wrestling with lawn ornaments and long lines at the registers.

Monday has dawned raw and wet, reflecting the spirits of grumpy consumers everywhere, no doubt hungover from the excessive mall grog and department store ails. Never fear, the internet is ready and waiting to pick up anything missed on Friday, the perfect remedy for buyer’s remorse.

Lest you think I’m some minimalist saint espousing the virtues of a shop-less life bereft of price-tagged temptations, I can honestly say that I am not. I am simply lazy and tired.

And relieved that I have finally found the grace of contentment. Time spent with my nearest and dearest is far more precious to me than stalking the latest electronics.

I am not without holiday spirit, however. I can still stream my (semi-free) internet music stations while I collect more elvish castoffs for Goodwill.

Ho, ho, ho, indeed.

Harry Potter Meets the Buddha

I spent a weekend at a women’s retreat and ended up sleeping under the stairs. (That’s the short version.)

It was love at first sight, that little cubby hidden behind the steps. You could have missed it. You could have dismissed it as a closet.

But the door stood open wide, light shining out in welcome, and tucked underneath the diagonal slash of stairwell was a comfy twin bed made up of old quilts and soft mismatched pillows.

I felt pulled into its spell even as I ducked my head to look at the rest. Space enough for a chair and dresser, not to mention a bedside table to hold the day’s pocketful of healing and peace.

Enough, and more. I knew I had to sleep there, under the soft footfalls of a great group of women practicing their nightly bedtime rituals.

I didn’t notice my roommate until the dark came, when hallway beams shone in through a timber teepee cut above my head. There he was, perched between reality and dreams, the long wisdom of his earlobes comforting me into quiet reflection.

I can’t help thinking Harry would have been a lot happier if an enlightened being shared his cupboard.

Resting safe in the knowledge that Buddha got your back.

The Empty Room

A member of my household moved back to college a couple of weeks ago. But this time, instead of the claustrophobic closet of a dorm room, there is a big apartment to furnish.

Off the walls come the autographed mementos of childhood heroes, yellowing banners of former school victories, the dry-erase board that is still active after all these years, vintage music posters and personalized signs establishing territory.

The dirty clothes have vanished with their hamper, scattered footwear marched off toward winding campus trails or retired to the darkest, forgotten shelves. Chairs, drawing table and lamps have all been whisked away to find new productive lives.

The perpetually unmade bed has left dimples in the carpet to remember it by.

I wander around aimlessly in this small room, suddenly vast and hollow as a canyon, its cloudless blue walls and sand-colored floor containing my desert in parenthood.

Before the empty echoes of the U-Haul fade, another family would find younger siblings lined up to stake their claims, the winds of seniority shifting down the hall to find a new balance.

But at my house, there is nothing to redistribute. Everything has found its place. There is no mid-life hobby busting its seams, or exercise equipment for the middle-aged chaffing at the bit to spread its wings.

And even though I have an unobstructed path, there’s no incentive to vacuum away the traces of childhood.

Maybe tomorrow.

A Minimalist Moment: Wardrobe Unbound

The good news is that I’m back working in the public library system I left last year. I’ve reincarnated as a substitute at the reference desks of various branches throughout the city. Each one is a little different, in size, culture and persona.

The bad news is I don’t have anything to wear.

Truthfully.

Backing up a bit, I had entered the spring season after my 3-month fling with Project 333 considerably parred down. And the love affair with the versatile but boring black and grey ensembles left me craving color and vibrance.

Reminds me of one summer in my 20s when I set off on a road trip through the southwest with four Dutch students (don’t ask) in my 1964 VW Bug. After a one-day excursion across the border into Mexico, three of us came down with the worst stomach bug I’ve ever had in my life, all while surviving in tents in a west Texas KOA camp. In July.

I couldn’t eat for days. When we reached Corpus Christi, where I had planned to stuff myself with as much gulf coast shrimp as humanly possible, I could barely stand to look at tartar sauce much less seafood.

But by golly, I looked good in that bikini.

Anyway, when I got home, a good ten pounds or more lighter, I made the mistake of immediately heading to the supermarket for groceries. There, I bought every fructose-laden, fatty, overly processed food I could carry out of the store. My body screamed for boxes of Captain Crunch and powdered donuts while I sat stuffing myself into a sugar coma.

Well, the same thing happened when I came off the Project 333 diet. I was attracted to this season’s romantic but not-so-work-appropriate festive hippie skirts and see-through peasant blouses like a moth to flame.

There have been countless years when the current styles left me cold. But no, this had to be the year for boho chic’s comeback.

I’m becoming better informed about where items are made. I’ve acquainted myself with conscientious upcycled Etsy shops and stalk the web for organic, fair trade clothing. Instead of just giving, I’m actually buying from Goodwill.

But it is so hard to pass by the displays selling carefree youth, albeit factory-made with a whiff of wrinkle-retardant. It is an illusion and I know it. But tell this to my nonconformist, freedom-loving spirit that longs for the rush of jumping into my old VW with the beaten-out fenders to drive off with no plan or timeline, orange-haired troll doll swinging wildly from the rearview mirror.

Anyway, I fell off the wagon and bought some stuff I probably shouldn’t have this spring and summer. Surreptitiously, from sales racks and even in the men’s department. I’ve knit a couple of unnecessary items in brilliant colors of the sea. Part of me feels guilty because they aren’t practical. Because they don’t go with everything else.

I’ve justified the little sprees by citing my uniforms for work. Since I’m a sub with sporadic work schedules, I can get away with wearing the same items all summer. I have two outfits: a couple pairs of cropped pants in basic beige and dark brown, and two conservative tops (which I’ve worn for years).

This was all well and good until last week when I put in six full days, mostly at the same branch. It’s either feast or famine in the sub business. I had to pull out (literally) all the tricks for variety by supplementing my uniform with a long gathered skirt here, and a filmy cotton blouse there. There may have been some borderline color-clashing going on, some extra deodorant needed.

But I survived. I don’t think I offended anyone. My sense of style and confidence still need a lot of work — a Diane Keaton I am not.

Most important is when I open the closet door to greet these friends, old and new, when I touch their hangers and pull the beautiful fabric of rainbows into my arms, they make my soul sing.

What is there is what I love.

Photo Friday: Traveling Light

I’ve just returned from a week-long meditation retreat. In front of the center where we stayed, a small pond was surrounded by butterfly bush.

The stunning blossoms attracted more than just butterflies. Meditators couldn’t keep away from the fluttering paradise.

Daily, we gathered around the pool, transfixed by croaking frogs and tinkling waterfall, the flexing of lily flowers and ripples across calm waters. But most of all, the delicate wings of nature’s angels lured us into golden afternoon sunbeams.

Their mating spirals and ministrations to the nectar of life made the depth of meditation that much sweeter. The community and conversation I found that week will remain with me always. The light of peace carried forever.

As a practicing minimalist, I arrived with very little.

I left with so much more.

Photo Friday: Minimalist Watering

This can is older than dirt. I don’t remember a purchase date, or even the decade. It has always been. With a hint of rust and a few old dings, the vessel stands ready to hold more than hope and a little bit of fertilizer.

Its delicate rose won’t allow any torrents to wash away the weak. The capacity is big enough to build muscles. A long time ago, the handle cover disintegrated so that its wire can callous my hand into remembrance during the dormant winter months.

Instead of kinky soakers or a temperamental sprinkler, I get my “zen” on with this trusty piece of galvanized dependability. Every day I practice carrying water to the outer regions of my lot in life.

Where no hose can reach.

A Minimalist Moment: Walk This Way

One of the mandates to come out of my recent dance with Hashimoto’s (and the ongoing run-in with menopause) is to practice some sort of regular exercise. You might as well have asked me to do an exorcism. In fact, I’d be far more comfortable expelling evil spirits out of my body than tying on a pair of running shoes.

My claim to fame in college was that I owned no athletic garb of any kind, and the only sneakers in my possession were worn while working in the cafeteria dishroom, dispensing an odor that outstripped the puny scent of gym socks by a mile. Imagine the irony when I would later go on to finish typing an English master’s thesis in my husband’s athletic department office to the din of bouncing basketballs.

Over the years, I’ve tried, truly I have. I’ve climbed stairs given the choice, jogged my way up to three miles a day with the help of STP and Live on the Walkman, taken aerobic, step, zumba and fairly vigorous yoga classes. In an attempt to find out my body fat percentage, why I even joined a gym in the ’90s.

As a result, I lost twenty pounds and gained body fat. Now tell me how that is possible, oh Great Spirit of Jack LaLanne or any other tank-topped TV fitness guru? Guess my eastern european fat cells thought I was preparing for famine. I also couldn’t sleep at night because the evening classes revved me up too much to fall into bed unconscious. As a stay-at-home mom, mornings were out of the question since I didn’t enjoy watching my young daughter pantomime a screaming fit through the soundproof glass of the gym’s nursery.

Then there was the throwing of my husband’s hard-earned fitness stipends toward exercise equipment for the home, considering we were obviously too lazy to venture out into the recreational wilderness. The only stipulation being that any machines caught wearing an entire year’s worth of laundry for drying, ironing or mending purposes would be expelled from the property.

So, sure enough, after hanging up our hats (and coats, pants, shirts, not to mention underwear) on our good intentions, we waved goodbye to the deluxe stationary bike with heart monitor and clip-on tracking sensor, along with a very nice treadmill featuring handrails, timer, heart-rate monitor, mileage counter and a good coating of pet hair.

With our visible guilt-triggers banished (and now room for a foosball table!), I wasn’t left a lot of options. There was a brief fling with hand weights and how-to videos, virtuous printouts of sun salutations (promising myself extra time in corpse pose), bribes in the form of lavender-scented, rice-filled eye pillows and waffle-patterned mats in a pretty shade of orchid, as well as stylin’ yoga hoodies and jingling zumba hip scarves.

But what do I always come back to? The good old-fashioned neighborhood stroll. A sweet and simple standby of bygone days. Except I need to shift up a few gears to a faster heartbeat if I want to burn off the Cadbury I just wolfed down when the Easter Bunny wasn’t looking. Nascar I ain’t, but I can sure walk the talk with a minimum of requirements.

All I need is a will, a way, forgiving lycra, the wind at my back and a reasonably dry day. And my old Nano full of rocking tunes. (Okay, I know I should be all zen and one with nature without musical stimulation but I move faster to the unearthly wailing of longhaired bad boys.)

Oh, and let’s not forget the active footwear. Where are those baby pink Keds of my youth when I need them?

Project 333: The Wrap. Up.

Color my world.

My, my, how March rushed by in a blur. April has been prancing around for some time now and I keep plugging away with most of my original 33 items, picked for Phase 2 of Courtney Carver’s Project 333 Challenge. There was some good, some bad, and a little ugly.

The Good: While I was mostly confined to the house (if not bed) in February due to health issues, March was spent gallivanting about the countryside wearing an easy assortment of separates and accessories. Even while stripping off layers when I found myself in abrupt southern swelter, I noticed my travel selections stayed versatile enough to handle heat waves, and the all-too familiar chill when we reluctantly headed back to northern climes.

The Bad: However, by March there were some swap outs and a few casualties. My winter coat was traded for a jacket as the days grew milder and longer. The winter gloves kept quiet in the coat closet. I also removed two tunics from the line-up and foolishly bought a short-sleeved novelty tee with little plastic discs sewn artistically to the front which I’m sure will fall off when washed.

The Ugly: I realized my old long-sleeved black tee had grown short enough to allow me to join the ranks of repairmen everywhere when I bent over, so I purchased a replacement of reasonable length at Target, and retired the old shirt to the role of pajama top.

I also flushed one of my beloved 1928 earrings down the toilet during a trip in March. With the lid down. Don’t ask me how — it was one of those freaky things. I valiantly tried to retrieve the unfortunate accessory to no avail. (I’ll spare you the details.) The rest of us carried on without it until the end of March when I bought a new handmade pair at a craft fair as replacements.

The Exceptions: I wore almost all of the items chosen for the project, and I didn’t regret any of the stuff I left out, with one exception. I missed my collection of earrings. I knew I would. I dearly love to make a daily selection according to momentary whim.

I also became bored with all the black and white in my wardrobe. While I know that you need a strong base of neutrals, I found myself craving bright colors throughout the three months that my scarves helped alleviate but couldn’t entirely quench. I was drawn to multi-colored yarns and brilliant floral displays like a moth to the flame.

Maybe it’s been a long, dark winter.

The Future: Participation in this project has brought me closer to defining my style, which has been a life-long struggle. Along the way, reading about the journeys of others inspired me. Among them, Janet at Gardener’s Cottage taught me to carefully consider the cut and color of each item and how it coordinates with the rest. She is the essence of style.

And Meg at Minimalist Woman encouraged me to be aware of where and how my clothing is made and to choose accordingly. She’s got a great list going of responsible clothing brands. I’ll be reading labels, and haunting ethical, local and handmade businesses from now on.

As for the next phase, I will be heading off on my own. I am, by nature, a nonconformist and quiet rebel. Project 333 has given me a good start, but I aim to set up unique restrictions and create personal guidelines that let my freak flag fly.

Stay tuned.

For those of you still reading this and care about particulars, what follows is my original list with annotations.

  1. White tank
  2. Black tank
  3. White t-shirt
  4. Black t-shirt
  5. Green long sleeve t-shirt
  6. Black long sleeve t-shirt (replaced)
  7. Black turtleneck
  8. Black print tunic (traded out)
  9. Purple velvet tunic (traded out)
  10. Print blouse
  11. Blue top (didn’t wear)
  12. Blue plaid shirt
  13. Grey cardigan
  14. Blue cardigan
  15. Blue sweater
  16. Maroon sweater
  17. Black vest
  18. Grey dress pants
  19. Black dress pants
  20. Black jeans
  21. Blue jeans
  22. Black winter coat (traded out)
  23. Grey Print scarf
  24. Blue print scarf
  25. Grey hat (replaced)
  26. Gloves (put away)
  27. Purple purse
  28. Black pant boots
  29. Black loafers
  30. Black sneakers
  31. Purple necklace (didn’t wear)
  32. Blue 1928 Earrings (lost)
  33. Buddha Hand Earrings

Photo Friday: Dining Alone

This year I’ve decided to join the 365 Project on Flickr. There are many variations, but the main goal is to take one photo a day for 2011. As usual, I was a late starter, beginning on the 20th of January (I’m always wary of commitment). And I worried that I would run out of ideas. But, so far I’ve enjoyed the discipline while paying attention to the everyday beauty around me — yes, even in the suburbs.

So, I thought I’d start posting a photo every Friday, a tasty bit from my week of daily photos. This week, I’m focusing on the simplicity of my seldom-used dining room. It consists of a table (covered by a tablecloth to prevent my cat from carving his initials in the top), four chairs and a bench against the wall for setting aside extra dishes at a meal. As you can see, there are no stacks of papers, mail catalogs, sewing projects or jigsaw puzzles cluttering the surfaces.

The only decoration needed is a candle in a hurricane holder (with fingerprints), and the play of afternoon sunlight, free of charge.

Until next Friday. . . .