Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Quiet of Less

I am always trying to declutter (even as I buy more, especially books). I have read many advice books on how to declutter, including one annoying book that began,"you need to sort and declutter your whole house before you begin my organizing method." Thanks a lot. I liked and used parts of Sink Reflections (by the Fly Lady) and The Chotchkey Challenge, but nothing made a continuing impact until I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I actually read the book when it first appeared, before it made the best seller lists and became a hot item, for both adherants and detractors. I was able to read it without the buzz that now surrounds her methods. Full disclosure, I completed my clothes and began books and then came to a stop. Books! They are in our hearts and so hard to part with.

Summer is a good time for a teacher to work on many house-related (and neglected) tasks. It's also a great time for thinking - about life, priorities, plans... One of my other hobbies is fabric crafts -- sewing clothes, quilting, and cross stitch. I have not done much with any of that for a number of years now, in spite of good intentions to finish this or that project. With the Marie Kondo philosophy in mind, I realized two things - first, my priorities have shifted. I have a teaching job that takes up lots of my energy and creativity and I have my music groups that take up a lot of my free time. Second, I have way more projects than I will realistically ever be able to accomplish.

This was very freeing! My fabric-related projects and material were scattered all over the house. When I decided to release most of them to go to new homes, I gathered then all from their corners and boxes and bags. I looked at each, and (as Marie says) I only kept those that sparked joy. I thought positively about how happy other crafters would be to get the rest. I posted my give-aways on Freecycle, and they were rapidly snatched up.

With the empty space and the removal of the burden of using the materials, a peaceful feeling came into parts of my house. Marie is right.

I know there are people who feel more comfortable and secure with a lot of stuff. They should feel free to enjoy that. There's room for all of us in the world.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Six Word Road Trip

Billowing smoke,
Dead as doornail.

I wrote this and then I wondered, what is a doornail? Why is it always dead when we use it as a simile? So I looked it up and found more interesting information than I had bargained for at The Phrase Finder, http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/as-dead-as-a-doornail.html. It means completely dead, or in the case of nonliving things, unusable. The phrase has been in use since at least 1350, and was used by both Shakespeare and Dickens:

"Look on me well: I have eat no meat these five days; yet, come thou and thy five men, and if I do not leave you all dead as a doornail, I pray God I may never eat grass more"
King Henry VI, Shakespeare

"Old Marley was dead as a doornail"
A Christmas Carol (of course!), Charles Dickens

What is a doornail? Again according to Phrase Finder, a doornail is a "large-headed stud." They were used for strength and also for decoration. Once nailed through the door or other item, the end was bent to secure the nail in place. The dead part may have come from the idea that now the nail was unusable, or un-reusable, to be more accurate.

My six-word story above was inspired by the most recent six word contest at Six Words, which is to write about your summer road trip in six words. The backstory is my husband, son, and I drove from Chicago to Minneapolis for a family reunion and my mother's birthday. Everything was smooth sailing until we crossed the Minnesota border. The car began to lurch and then the engine shut off. Fortunately we were near an exit, and my husband maneuvered the car up the off ramp and onto the shoulder of the ramp. Then smoke began to billow from under the hood. My husband said, "Everybody out of the car!" And we exited rapidly. Afterwards he claimed this was the first time nobody argued with him.

It was after six o'clock and we were on the east side of St. Paul, while my mother lives on the west side of Minneapolis. We started searching the Internet and calling repair places, tow companies, and rental car companies. We were very lucky to find one repair shop that was not only still open, but was fairly close. They called a tow truck for us and came to fetch us. The only rental car places open after six were at the airport, so we called my brother-in-law, who cheerfully came to get us. The next day we got the news that the car needed a new engine. Since the car was 13 years old, that wasn't a good option. We ended up donating it to a school for budding car mechanics and driving back to Illinois in a rental.

The rest of our trip was great -- catching up with relatives, relaxing, eating good food.

And now this:

Flooded basement
Dead car
Unexpected opportunities

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

First time at the farmers' market!

I love to cook and bake -- when I'm relaxed and have time! And so I also love farmers' markets. Because of several out-of-state trips, this weekend was my first visit of the year to our farmers' market.

It was a perfect day -- warm and sunny. Apparently everyone else in town also thought so, because the parking lot closest to the market was jammed. I broadened my horizons and found a spot in the parking lot on the other side, near the splash park, which was full of little children even at 10:00 in the morning.

My farmers' market strategy is to walk through the entire market and then go back and buy at my targeted stands. It's not so much shopping for the lowest price -- they're all in the same ballpark -- but what looks the best and which vegetables and fruits should I choose from all the choices. This time I had arrived with both a list and an open mind.

Happy sounds of people, dogs, and music along with fresh scents, not so much of specific items but a general fresh plant smell. I like to talk to the vendors -- nearly everyone is so friendly and eager to chat about their vegetables and fruits. And sampling is usually encouraged -- trying to decide between blueberries and raspberries, I taste-tested. Raspberries won. I was so excited to find tart cherries from Michigan! (We are within driving distance of both Wisconsin and Michigan.) Pie went onto the menu immediately.

The only laconic farmer I met was the meat guy. Not unfriendly, but certainly not interested in chatting. It was a quiet transaction. Others asked what I planned to do with the things I bought, how was I going to cook them, or had I ever tried such and such? It adds a lot to the shopping experience and I appreciate that these farmers take the time to chat, even when they're probably tired from getting up super early to get to the market.

And so, I went home, made the cherry pie, and then made a delicious vegetable stew inspired by Provence. Leeks, cauliflower, portobellos, garbanzos, carrots, celery, garlic (of course!), all cooked together with a little wine and a selection of herbs from our backyard. Served with homemade garlic aioli.

I love summer.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Fountains and kids and matching outfits

We walked out of the Houston Museum of Natural Science, squinting into the sunshine. I had never been in Houston in the summer and oh my, it was hot.

As we walked towards the parking lot we passed an interesting fountain where the water flowed down over the top, like water over a dam.

"I'm sure you don't remember," I said to my daughter, "One Mother's Day when you were two, we went to the [Chicago] Botanic Gardens. It was a warm day and there was a fountain that was flush with the ground around it. A lot of kids were running in and out of the water, so you and Ben joined them. You both ended up soaking wet and extremely happy. I remember that you were wearing matching outfits that I had made for you. You had a little dress and Ben had shorts. That was a good Mother's Day."

"I remember the clothes you made for us," Jamie said. "And dressing us alike -- hmm. But that's impressive that you made our clothes."

"I didn't make all your clothes! And you had a dress and Ben had shorts - not alike except for the fabric. And I used European patterns so you had the trendy Euro fashion."

Laughing. "Euro-chic!" Jamie exclaimed. (Incidentally, she still likes European fashion.)

"I made you several dresses -- remember your Chanukah dress?"

"Yes, my teachers were really impressed." I had gotten tired of so many little Christmas dresses for sale and no Chanukah dresses, cute or otherwise, so I made one.

Looking through the photo albums, there is no photo of the matching  outfits, sadly. My memory is that it was a bright fabric with cute animals on it -- either cats or hippos. It's also clear from the photo albums that my children had plenty of store-bought clothes. How did I have time to sew with two little children and going back to school? I must have had more energy, but I also realized how quickly small children's clothing went together compared to adult clothing.

I haven't touched the sewing machine in a long time except for repairs. This is one of my summer goals - to complete a sewing project and make progress on a second. My children are in their 20s now, so no more cute Euro fashions for them.