Giving Thanks and Review of the Situation

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When I moved to mom’s in August, I knew I was exhausted. I had been working long hours for decades and raising four kids mostly by myself. I had been using coffee and wine to ignore my body’s fatigue. I needed a rest and planned to get it. I figured about a week of sleeping in and I would be ready to go.

I turned off my alarm and let the sunshine wake me naturally before I drank any coffee. I greatly reduced the amount of wine I was drinking. I took naps in the afternoon, if I was tired. I didn’t make a lot of plans, I mostly let the work of the day present itself. Except when I was refinishing the floor of my room, I haven’t worked more than six hours on any given day. Ten to fourteen hour days were the norm before. It has been four months and I’m still not completely rested. But I’m a lot better.

This Thanksgiving, mom and I hosted the gathering with lots of help from other family members. We had seven extra overnight guests for two nights, the big meal on Thursday and an even larger brunch for extended family on Friday. This included my two living aunts, ages 85 and 89.

Yesterday I spent 5.5 hours raking leaves in the front yard, which gave me lots of time to reflect on what I am grateful for. Here’s a few of the things I thought of:

~ yesterday was a beautiful fall day, perfect for raking leaves.

~ I’m glad I got to see my aunts, one of whom I have not seen for 20 years.

~ I am extremely fortunate to have this time with my mother. She and I are having a blast together, and I know that I will treasure these moments when she is gone.

~ it was so good to have my kids here, even briefly.

~I am fortunate to have this time where I do not have to work for money and can allow my body to rest.

As I get more rested, and the house is getting put in order, I am thinking about what I wish to do with my time moving forward. My classes give me hints and clues. My weekly yoga class has stirred the desire and commitment for a daily yoga practice. This is a great feedback loop for someone who is just learning to listen to her body. My sewing classes have rekindled a desire to make a clothing. I love the idea of reusing fabric. I plan on starting with the fabric I have found in the house. I will post some of my projects here as I go.

I can feel a great shifting in myself. I was a nurse and single mother for over thirty years. I am moving from those roles into a way of being that feels lighter and more fluid. I’m not exactly sure what the next period will be, but I will continue to make space for the silence and rest to speak to me until it is clearer.

Thanks for listening.

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Hard Drive Crash

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Just part of our extensive collection of empty boxes being stored….for when we might need them.

Last Sunday, I had the electronic equivalent of a house fire. My hard drive crashed and I was unable to retrieve any data before smashing the hard drive and taking the mess to the hazardous waste center.

I had saved my novel on an external hard drive and also the cloud. Many of my photos were also saved to the cloud. So the crash mostly meant that I no longer have on my “to do” list the tedious chore of deleting unwanted files. Poof. They are gone. It did mean that I had to spend a couple of hours uploading software to the new laptop. Probably a net gain in time, though.

The exterminator has returned and our spider body count is low enough that I may safely return to decluttering the basement.

Because mom and I have the luxury of time and are being as frugal about the decluttering as possible, the limit of what can be disposed of in a single week is filling the recycle bin and the trash bin to capacity. I’m not sure the gallon/liter capacity, but each bin is chest high and we are not allowed to put in more than 50# per week. Sometimes the volume is the limit, sometimes the weight is the limit. But each week those puppies go to the curb, they are full.

Due to insects and spiders liking the glue in cardboard boxes, mom has allowed me to breakdown and recycle all boxes not currently in use, including those in the photo above.

Boo!

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Greeting cards for my kids/grandkid

Earlier in the year, my sister-in-law gave me some stamped post cards.

Earlier in the month, I made holiday cards for my kids, and mailed them.

When I owned my house on Walnut, we got hundreds of kids trick or treating. Their parents drove them in from less family friendly parts of the city. It was lots of fun.

Mom says if we get two trick or treaters tonight, she will give me a nickle. (That’s our high-stakes betting around here.)

Boo!

Fun Family Photos

Yesterday I got into a box of old photos and found some real treasures.

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My family when me and brothers were teens. I’m the one with the bad hair…..oh, wait….

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Four generations. I’m sitting on my great-grandmother’s lap.

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My dad is the boy with the glasses. Next to him my uncle Hank. Grandma Mimi is holding my cousin Rusty.

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Here are some family that mom doesn’t know who they are. Mom is the last of her generation, so it will be hard to find out now.

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Looks as though mom and dad’s wedding rings were $27.48 with tax.

 

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Photo of two of my dad’s friends from high school. The one in front was killed in WW II.

Organizing Mom’s Papers

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Two bins of files and seven bags of shredded papers.

While I am waiting for the spiders to die, I have been destroying one of their habitats–old dusty papers. Mom has been storing papers since dad died fifteen years ago in various hidey -holes and cabinets in the house. And she has been saving everything–every bank statement, every credit card receipt, newsletters from organizations my father belonged to.

I checked the preferences of my older brother, an attorney, who will be executor of my mothers estate, for how far back he wanted the records kept. With that information in mind, I began shredding anything no longer relevant.

I’m just getting started, I haven’t even gotten into the tax papers that my father saved from when he did the taxes. But I still manage to fill the recycle bin and trash can each week, and have stuff to take to the thrift store and offer up to the grandkids. Like this old washboard:

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These things are selling on eBay for $20-$40. Still no takers in the family.

The Spider Problem

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By the time the exterminator arrived, I had seven specimens.

The clearing of the basement has come to an abrupt halt with the discovery of an infestation of Brown Recluse spiders.

In case you are not familiar with the fauna of Missouri, they are a poisonous breed that live in the cracks and spaces in between, whose bite can leave a crater-sized wound in the flesh that takes weeks, and sometimes plastic surgery, to heal.

The exterminator has sprayed and left glue traps. I am working on other projects until his return in one month. He will check the glue traps and determine if repeated spraying is needed. Once the population is reduced (I’m told you can’t get rid of them completely) I will proceed to clear out the basement cautiously, taking care to protect myself with gloves and by jostling the piece I am about to pick up, to give any living critters a chance to move.

Honestly, I can’t think of a better argument for minimalism than Brown Recluse spiders. They love the protection of the clutter and seclusion in the basement. Because the wet bar sink and bathtub in the master bath have not been used for years, the traps under the sinks went dry. This left a vent-sized open door to outside spiders inviting them into the warmth inside. I found a spider living in each of these drains. I found one behind the refrigerator, one living in the leaves of a folding table that had not been opened in decades. And I found 30-40 empty egg sacs under the TV stand. Yuck.

The silver lining in the spider problem is that mom is far more willing to let go of unused objects that she ever would have been otherwise.

Meantime, I have turned my decluttering attention to other issues.

Oh, The Irony

The writer of the Small House, Big Life blog is now living in a big house.

When I lived in this house as a teenager, I knew that I didn’t want to live in a house like this as an adult. It is too big, requires too much time and money to maintain it.

My mother loves this house. She doesn’t want to live anywhere else. But she is frail enough that she can not take care of it alone. A lot of work just didn’t get done for the past 20 years or so. I moved in to take care of the house, so my mother can stay here for the rest of her life.

Before I got here, I thought that I would spend a month or so getting things in order and then on to writing my novel. I’ve been here 2.5 months now and I will probably need to work that much again to get things under control.

Here is a partial list of what I have been doing: cleared out the room and closet that is now my room. Sorted through that stuff and moved some to the basement, some to a thrift store and some to other family. Sanded, stained and sealed the floor in my room. Painted my room. Moved two old mattresses to the basement (and later to the curb for pick-up) and helped mom buy new ones, new linens for the guest room,  cleaned and sealed the limestone in the master bath, coordinated the electrician visits to replace the electrical panels for the house, moved two large rugs: one to a different room and one to the thrift store, cleaned and organized four kitchen drawers, fixed three assorted drawer pulls/knobs, cleaned out and organized two bath cabinets (from the master bath seven shoe boxes of expired medications and toiletries were taken to a hazardous waste center), cleaned and boxed up about thirty framed family photos, cleaned and organized the shelves in the laundry room, installed two new smoke detectors.

It is a good thing that I actually like to de-clutter and organize.

The Closet

Almost everything I own is in this closet. It feels kinda crowded. Maybe I can let some stuff go before the next count.

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Right side of closet.

On the top shelf is my shower caddy. More about that later. In the boxes on the hanging organizer are socks and underclothes. Exercise clothes below that, then shoes. On hangers: coats and regular clothes. On the floor you can see the laundry basket and way in the back, rolled up, my yoga mat.

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Left side of closet

Backpack, purse, suitcase. The suitcase is housing some out of season sweaters and some gifts I have squirreled away for Christmas. You will note the towel is hanging from a clothes hanger. That is because at mom’s house, all the towels hanging in the baths are decorative. Yes, I know this is ridiculous, but it’s mom’s house and I am picking my battles.

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Top shelf, left

At the far left are pads of watercolor paper, then a couple of books I am currently reading, then a stack of odd-sized envelopes given to me from my sister-in-law which I will use with the watercolor paper to make greeting cards. Then, moving right, regular envelopes, checks, scissors and two metal tins. One houses my colored pencils and one my sewing supplies. On top of that, my hat. The box to the right stores my mementos: Mother’s day cards, poems I’ve published, photos.

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The shower caddy

Mom doesn’t like me to leave my shampoo and razor in the shower, so I carry my supplies into the bathroom in this contraption, a process like dorm students use.

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The caddy unpacked. And that little tin that says “Dark Chocolate Nibs” has cotton tipped swabs in it.

That is all my stuff, except for a small box of kitchen things being stored in the basement. I’m hoping that by my next count, I can get everything I own in the suitcase.

 

Privilege and Minimalism

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Ebony and ivory keys harmonize.

My heart is breaking. My beloved hometown St. Louis, Missouri continues to be oppressed with life-threatening racial injustice. I feel silly posting photos of my closet.

So instead, I’m going to write about privilege and minimalism. Yes, I’m privileged. I’m a white, middle-class, educated, American. I’ve had my struggles with low cash flow (very different from poverty) and sexism. But it is a rare day that I am not fully aware that I have had access to education, abundance and luxury that most women in the world can only dream of. And it is because of this education and abundance that I have the privilege to decline some of it as too much.

~ minimalism is sometimes criticized as a spoiled persons’ game.

Minimalism can benefit the individual practitioner with reduced stress and increased savings. Often folks new to minimalism talk about these benefits first. But with longer practice, other blessings are revealed. Minimalism can be a high-priced aesthetic, or it can be practiced as voluntary simplicity. This is my version.

~ “Live simply so that others may simply live.” –Gandhi

By consciously choosing to use fewer clothes, a smaller home, less energy there are more of these available for other inhabitants of the earth. By not filling my time with meaningless activities, I learn the equanimity to sit with difficult emotions and not add my own troubled reactions to the fray. I use my love of my brothers and sisters, both black and white to be a bridge over the violence.

I use my voluntary simplicity as a tool for social justice.

My New Space

Let’s start with photos of what it looked like before I moved in. First I had to get rid of the stuff in the closet. Found some of dad’s stuff that had been in there for decades.

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Top of closet: left.

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Top of closet: right. Some of this stuff was precious family history…and some was just junk.

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Bottom of closet: left.

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Bottom of closet: right.

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My brother often slept in this bed, when he was visiting. This was his room when he was in high school. Note the antique and broken clock radio on the night stand.

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The flower arrangement and basket on the top self originally belonged to my great-grandmother, who died when I was 4 years old. (dust magnet) A few of the mugs and books were saved for family that wanted them…the rest was sent to a charity shop. The bookshelf is in the basement…being used as a staging area.

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The Birdseye maple chest is a stunning antique, also my great=grandmother’s. The fashion prints are antiques (we’ll see later if they are worth anything.) The alabaster lamp antique, the red, white and blue pillow and the floral arrangement–trash picked treasures mom was willing to let go of. The rug, mom has moved to the family room.

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The floor: was a mid-tone brown that I would have been completely happy with (I am NOT one of those HGTV princesses that “can not” live with light-colored wood or parquet.) But this had a wax finish, which meant that is was susceptible to water marks. And they were all over the floor.

Sooo–I cleaned out the room, I sanded the floors. I stained the floors (choosing a dark walnut that matched most of the other floors in the home) and then I put down the polyurethane coating. Then the room smelled so bad, that I could not sleep in it for weeks. Even when I was still sleeping in the master, I moved my furniture in.

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Here is the new, dark walnut stain of the floors.

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You probably remember this cabinet from the apartment–it still has the router and lap top stored inside. The orchid is new.

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The table you will remember from the apartment, the chair was borrowed from another room in mom’s house, and the lamp was purchased on-line. It is the only lamp in the room and I needed enough light I could read and sew during the winter dark.

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The bed looks the same as when it was in my house. I thought for sure one of the kids would take it…but no, so still mine for now.

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I’m so proud of this decor: I did not want something figurative/literal, as I get bored with that kind of image very quickly. I love the sea glass colors–I find them restful. Everything came from the hobby stores. Frame 36″ x 24″ at 70% off at $16, all four paint colors for $3, and the watercolor paper was $0.63 per sheet. So this art that makes me happy was $21.50. My original configuration of the sheets was as 16″ x 45″ headboard, but that was going to cost $410 for the frame, so we went with plan B.

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Here is my view out the window–straight out.

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And the view if you are looking right.

Next week the closet…..