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.)



Fun Family Photos

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


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


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


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


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.


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



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

Organizing Mom’s Papers


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:


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

The Spider Problem


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


Top of closet: left.


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


Bottom of closet: left.


Bottom of closet: right.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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.


Here is my view out the window–straight out.


And the view if you are looking right.

Next week the closet…..



Back to School


My main new school supply is a yoga mat.

Since I moved into mom’s house, I’ve been fixing up my room. (Photos next week) And just beginning the process of helping her declutter junk. I resume writing this week, now that my room is done. The other thing I am doing in my retirement free time is taking classes.

I’ve signed up for weekly yoga by myself, twice a week Tai Chi with mom, a Spanish course that starts in October and two one time only classes on embroidery technique. There are many more courses that I want to take, but I thought I should start slow.

Early Lessons


Nobody was in the car at the time.

When I was sixteen years old, I babysat of a couple little girls in the neighborhood. One Saturday, I took care of the youngest one, while her sister was at a birthday party. Their mother asked me to pick the oldest up after the party and instructed me to use their car to do so. After I brought the girls home, we went inside and played with dolls. A few minutes later, a neighbor was at the door to inform us that the car had rolled into the lake. We ran outside and watched it slowly submerge. As I watched it go, I envisioned that I would be paying the owner back with minimum wage jobs for the rest of my life. * This event taught me the lesson of always putting the parking break on when leaving the vehicle. Even when I am parking in a flat lot in a flat state like Illinois. Even when my daughter makes fun of me for doing so.

I am holding the thought of how that one event imprinted my behavior 40 years in the future while I am helping my mother clean out closets and drawers in her home.

My mom grew up in the depression. At times, they had little more than their clothes and a few dishes. It is hard for her to let go of anything. But she is getting better. She gave me permission to give away the heavy antique wooden ladder. We have a nice aluminum one that I can move by myself. She didn’t complain too much when I showed her the pretty wine bottle stopper my sister-in-law had given her and asked if we could discard the 25 or so wine corks she had saved. She let me recycle the plastic bottles she has been saving. She gifted me my grandmother’s slips so I can make them into dresses to sell.

I had a dream/nightmare about a week ago that I had created an Etsy shop to re-purpose everything in the house that she is willing to let go. It would be interesting, but it would be a full-time job for the next ten years…..and I’ve got other things to do.

* the story of the the drowned car has a somewhat happy ending. A few months after it happened, I ran into the girls’ mom at the store. She said that she had left her husband, that she had never liked the car, and that the insurance company had replaced it before she left. She thanked me for putting her car in the lake.