Saturday, January 28, 2012

William Morris, Week 3

Note: my web contact is out for the weekend, so am writing this off-site. Monday, I'll be back on track.

Having said that, this weekend I am taking on the dining room. Which is the spot where I dumped boxes, bins, and "stuff" when I move din... still hanging around. Unfortunately. (I definitely have to provide some before-after shots of this, as incentive for me and simply so you readers can see what I mean. It's not Hoarders... but still a mess.)

This area will take at least two weeks to clear, since I have no idea where some things will go, and others will need to move to my study... once that is prepped. And I'll have to make some big decisions.

Basic "quick" tasks:
  • Clean off dining room table and stop using it as "storage dump"
  • Take 2 paper bags of books to office this week
  • Clear out paper clutter from move
  • Get donations to Goodwill
  • Get donations to my vet (quilts and old pillows)
  • Get donations to Salvation Army (printers and laptop)
Longer-term decisions/tasks:
  • Decide what to do with stereo (keep or donate)
  • Decide what to do with LPs (keep or sell)
  • Move papers/bins to study for filing
  • Re-organize hutch
  • Re-organize bookshelves, including cookbooks
  • Hang curtains
  • Buy a rug
Most of this is removing/dealing with the clutter... which needs somewhere to go. After that, I can really "design" anything like curtains and a floor covering.

For the floor, I am considering buying squares from Flor, a chain (now local to Dallas) that sells carpet squares. Easy placement, easy moving, fits any space. The living room may get the same treatment. For someone who moves every 4-6 years, this is a great minimalist solution. It will entail a trip to the store to really see the tiles, as they call them, but I foresee packing, moving, and placement as a snap.

In the end, I want a cozy place to entertain friends, as well as a nice place for me to eat meals daily. Not a storage locker. 

Something like this:

Friday, January 27, 2012

If I were in Paris... January 27, 2012

And I sooo wish I was in Paris: things in my department are coming to resemble Louis XIV's France.

If I was in Paris today--where the weather is rainy and cold--I think to cheer myself up I would do some things I really, really love. Some of my favorite Paris things, to remind myself of what a beautiful and wonderful city it is.

First, I'd catch breakfast in one of the cafes at the eastern end of Ile de la Cite, to watch the sun rise. If I was lucky and woke early, I'd walk along there via Ile St. Louis, up the central street, and enjoy window shopping or simply the quiet, 18th-century buildings. After coffee and a croissant, I'd proceed to Notre Dame, walking through the gardens behind the catherdral to the central plaza, and go inside to light a candle at the feet of Jeanne d'Arc. This early, the statue might not be so crowded with people taking flash pictures.

Then I'd head towards the Musee D'Orsay and, once inside, climb right up the the third floor, from the southweatern staircase to see the Impressionists: Van Gogh, Caillebotte, Manet, Monet, Degas. I'd see the paintings and then the smaller, dark rooms with the pastels.

Musee d'Orsay cafe
 I'd cross the Seine to check out the bookstores on Rue de Rivoli, including the gardening bookstore in the western gates of the Tuileries, then sit and read in the gardens, probably by the western pool (unless it was really both rainy and cold, in which case--no). If it is rainy and cold, I'd look at the gardens, wave, and proceed up to Avenue de l'Opera and one of my favorite cafes there for lunch, sit and read and eat there while watching Parisians and tourists pass.

After lunch, I'd head for the Galeries Lafeyette, where I could pick up wonderful souvenirs for everyone, including myself, in their two in-house shops for that kind of thing, then have another after-lunch coffee while staring out at the backend of the Opera Garnier.

Then I would proceed to the area of the Arc de Triomphe, where my yoga teacher, Julie Platus, gives 90-minute classes in her studio/home. After a delightful class, emerging stretched, relaxed, and energized, I would head up to Sacre Coeur to get a final look at the city as the sun goes down. I'd like another candle at the feet of Jeanne D'Arc, and head home on the Metro for a simple, filling bowl of lentil soup and a chunk of good crusty French bread.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Spring 2012

Spring 2012

Spring 2012 by pearl2164 featuring a paisley skirt

Having paid more attention to my clothing during the last week and a half (in part, because the semester started and I have to be "public" five days a week), I have made a pretty good start.

I decided to focus on working my many, many accessories more consciously, and not wearing jeans weekly. So far, so good.
Last week I made a couple of happy discoveries. First, that a wine-colored silk blouse I had not worn for a couple of years now fits again. Second, that pushing jeans out of the way made room for more skirts and pants (all of them black, of course) in my rotation.
The above Polyvore represents what's in my closet this spring (barring the beautiful Hermes scarves--I wish!). I do have scarves that essentially match the color combinations here, oh, and more shoes and jewelry. The colors overall are more subdued, shades of wine and navy rather than bold cobalt and red... not certain how I feel about that, but it's looking good thus far.
There's more blue in there than I thought, frankly, and that's good.
In my opinion, the only thing I'm really missing are good knee-high boots and a killer dress in a print, perhaps in a Diane Von Furstenburg-style faux wrap.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Doorblocker... finally!

Apparently, last night the UPS man left a package on my doorstep without knocking, rining the bell or otherwise letting me know. Nice surprie this morning!

In it was my new "as advertised on TV" doorblocker, which is basically two styrofoam tubes to be insterted in a cloth envelope, trimmed and necessary, and slid under the back kitchen door. Did, did, and did.

Now, we'll wait and see about the draft in there.

Which has been fierce.

My immediate complaint: it is u-gly. Black cotton cloth, kinda slouchy. If it works, maybe I can bedazzle it to make it less unsightly (not really, but in principle). And  by "works," I don't just mean keeping the draft out (priority #1) but being able to open the door without adjusting the blocker or the rug every time (priority #2).

Sunday, January 22, 2012

William Morris in the Kitchen

My tasks were/are these:
  1. Find a rug for the backdoor that will fit comfortably under the door when open, and allow me to double-scrape shoes on entering
  2. Get a draft-blocker for the backdoor
  3. Buy Ball jars and transfer beans, grains, and other pantry foods to them
  4. Rethink placement in drawers and cabinets for better organization and easier access during work sessions (in process)
  5. Hang handles for two IKEA utensil pains near stove
  6. Lay down new drawer/shelfliner paper (in process)
  7. Make an accurate record of the contents of my pantry (in process)
  8. Hang a bulletin board for notes, messages to myself
  9. Consider relocating teapots to dining room hutch
Nowhere in Target or SuperTarget could  find draftblockers; I am now searching on-line for them, and if I cannot find them that way, I'll sew some.

The jars were not easy to find, but when I did I was glad I could see the pint and quart side-by-side. My initial thought had been to buy quart jars, but realizing how big those were (right: 4 cups!), I changed to the pint version (2 cups). This is more in keeping with the amount I buy from bulk bins at my favorite grocery store. And lo, when I changed/filled the jars, nothing was as much as 2 cups... except the quinoa which I had double-bought. (Lemonade: quinoa salad coming up this week!)
  • I recycled the glass jars I was using (old food jars) and repurposed the tins
  • I wrote down what I had on each shelf on a 4x6 cards as I did, and posted it inside the pantry door for reference, using the clear bins I bought at Container Store
  • No need to label anything, since I can clearly see what and how much is in each jar
I ended by buying two rugs for the kitchen, one a black half-moon which fits comfortably right up against the jamb. The pile is low enough that the door wings open comfortably. I also bought a red, flowered rug that I ended by putting in the doorway between the dining room and the kitchen: there is a tiny, 1/2" step up there and the wooden lintel is actually not attached at all, so it got junk stuck under it, got kicked out of the way, and tripped me several times. Now, with the rug there, not only do my feet have a warm welcome on cold mornings but no tripping will occur. The cost for both was about $22 at Target. Since my larger red shaggy runs are shredding their rubber backing quickly, I am considering going back for two larger versions of the flowered rug (another $40) which would be money well-spent, I think, in both style and comfort.

I've already moved a few things around in the kitchen, but in general my conclusion is that I am very happy with everything where it is. I might change up a drawer in order to put the ovenmitts and potholders away, but that is the only thing that ticks in my brain.

The biggest game-changer was that I bought a countertop over/toaster at Target as well. The stove in this apartment (well, all the kitchen appliances) are big, energy-draining things that really need to be changed out for smaller, more efficent ones. The stove in particular is a problem: the temperature gauge is off by 100 degrees (!) and the interior space is humongous, where I don't need it. I don't really use it, because of these issues. I'd rather store stuff in it--which I will do, now!--and cook on my new little countertop. My Le Creuset casseroles and Dutch oven fit inside, and I can cook/roast a chicken or bake bread in here. I also saved $10 on the price, which was 20% of the total; I compared it to the other models, for twice the price, and decided I didn't need a digital/push-button set-up (I swear, that was the only difference, for $40 more!).

I've also always hated the microwave the landlord left: 2.2 cu. ft. of microwave, to be exact. Again, I don't use nearly that space so the countertop footprint was annoying. I used it more to put things on. It's going into storage in the apartment, and I'll get along without it.

The kitchen already looks lighter and more efficient.

Today's tasks: completing #4, 5 and 7.
The positive aspects: about 50% more counterspace and an entire cabinet shelf emptied (pots now stored in old stove). Brilliant!

Monday: Got #4 & 7 done. The kitchen looks and feels so much better! Today's tasks include #5 and washing the floor and laying the rugs back down.

Cooking This Week and My New Deal!

Ths week I am really pleased because I started a new deal with my nephew, who is 20 years old. He and I are going to be diet-and-exercise buddies, long distance. Both of us agree that we need to lose weight and simply become healthier in 2012, so we're pairing off.

This week: Start and keep a food and exercise diary. Then we'll talk by phone and make specific plans for healthier diets and cookery, more exercise, and hopefully weight loss. No goals set yet, just observing our regular habits (hint: mine were terrible during this first week of classes! Stress played its part, as did poor planning.)

I did cook this week, however:
  • Southwest Chicken with Black Beans (in the slow cooker)
  • White Bean and Sausage Soup (also in slow cooker)
In both cases, the main ingredients came completely out of my pantry and freezer. In the chicken recipe, I used dried black beans (after overnight soaking), two chicken breasts, and a jar of salsa (locally-made, too). With nothing more than a little homemade chicken stock, oregano, and cumin, this was a really easy mix, left to cook on low for 7-8 hours.

For the soup, I used dried white beans (again, after overnight soaking), homemade chicken stock, and two chicken-and-apple sausages (organic, made locally). A can of diced tomatoes, a splash of white wine, bay leaf, and chopped onion: mix it all together, cook on low for 5 hours. In this case, I didn't have the 5 cups of chicken stock, so used about 3 cups water: tasted a little weak, but fine in terms of seasonings.

The great news is that everything came from stuff I had on hand, which is always my plan. Here's a great site for slow cooker recipes that are also healthy--not always the same thing, unfortunately.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

William Morris and Week 2

Again, I'm focusing on the small changes/improvements necessary for each room in my house, keeping in mind Morris's advice for living.

This week, I'm working in the kitchen. Like the bedroom, it needs only a little work, since I did a lot of smart things when I moved in. For once, I really thought about where different things needed to be located relvant to the fridge/sink/stove triangle of use. I also focused on how to make good use of the counter space, which was much larger than in my old apartment, but still not as much as I'd like, or laid out as I would like.

And my landlord left/included the world's largest microwave, which takes up a solid 15"x15"x24" block of said counter. I'd store it somewhere, but that would mean giving up a solid chunk of a cabinet or closet space--and it is so huge! And unattractive, but that's another issue.

Tasks I'll take on this weekend:
  • Buy or relocate a doormat for the back door, allowing me to double-wipe feet at both entries
  • Place a draft-blocker at the back door, where a surprising amount of cold air swoops in (while warm air escapes)
  • Hang simple handles on the wall by the stove in order to hang the utensil pails that are right now taking up space on the countertop
  • Rethink the contents of the two lower cabinets where I store pots and pans, strainers, and larger electronics, so that I can more efficiently use them
  • Check and record the content of my pantry cabinets (wth accompanying GPS)
  • Buy a box of quart-size Ball jars and transfer pantry goods now stored in random jars into them for a better look and more helpful clear storage (this includes beans, pastas, and some cooking ingredients)
  • Possibly relocate teapots to dining room hutch
  • Find anything ripe for donation/discarding, like unused appliances or pots
  • Hanging a bulletin board in the kitchen to post notes by phone and door
  • Biggest task: lay down new shelf paper
These tasks can be completed over the weekend, with one efficient shopping trip and some time. The handles and shelfpaper I already have in hand; the draft-blocker, jars, and doormat can probably be found at Super Target (what can't?).
  • Doormats, draftblocker, and lower cabinets: Friday
  • Pantry tasks: Saturday
  • Shelf paper and teapots: Sunday
The donations/discards will come naturally.

Update from Friday: My visit to Target did not yield the doorblock or Ball jars, so today it's SuperTarget and maybe WalMart, the only other place I can think would sell them in boxed quantity. I did get the dootmat at Target and re-think the four lower cabinets. Several things got relocated, most importantly the small crockpot, right under the outlet/countertop where I use it.

The fact is that I have a number of pots I no longer use, that need weeding out. On with the experiment!

Friday, January 20, 2012

If I were in Paris... Friday, January 20, 2012

I would definitely head over to the Palais du Luxembourg and see the exhibition on Cezanne et Paris, an exhibition of over 80 works by the master painter. My favorite, of course, are the apples, pears, oranges and other still life paintings, but I like a good Cezanne on any day.

Afterward, weather permitting, a nice stroll through the gardens would be wonderful. I would suggest a visit to the small but delightful Musee Zadkine, but it is closed for renovations.

It might be even better to stroll over to Bon Marche and window shop, but the area of the 6th arrondissement near les Jardins du Luxembourg is rich in shopping, street sights, churches, and certainly cafes. One can walk in any direction and find entertainment. I particularly advise a walk down Rue de Rennes. You can visit the chocolate shop of Jean-Charles Rochoux, as I did.

I would also recommend a visit to St.-Sulpice, a church featured in The DaVinci Code, but more importantly featuring wonderful paintings by Delacroix. I also love Saint-Germain-des-Pres, an abbey and
square that form an early part of the history of medieval Paris. Best of all, Saint-Germain is nearly next door to Cafe de Flore and Les Deux Magots, two of my favorite cafes and the center of existentialist Paris. Pricy, but no better sightseeing of Parisians than here.

As you walk through this are, keep an eye out for the many statues, monuments, and rememberances of Paris history. In America, we're not used to have two millenia of history documented everywhere around us, but Parisians pass these everyday, monuments that form a rich history and certainly part of their self-possession. Like this one of revolutionary figure Danton.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Express Checkout Experiment and Checking In

2011 was a great year for my personal style. During the past several years, I felt discouraged about buying new clothes and my overall style, simply because I didn't fit into what I saw as the neatly defined style categories for women in department stores, chain stores, and big box stores.

You know: like Trendy Junior, Scary Boho, Mutton-Pretending-to-be-Lamb, and Dumpy Matron.

I define my style as classic/feminine/original: I love the classic lines and styles of 1940s and 50s designs, I wear dresses and skirts as often as jeans or trousers, and I work well with accessories. I avoid too much flowery/fussy/ruffle- or bow-sprigged stuff, sleeveless or tight-fitting clothing, cheap fabrics, and absolutely hate to see myself coming and going. I had more or less resorted to my "go to" favorites: trousers, jeans, and pencil skirts with man-styled blouses. This had gotten pretty routine, and thus boring, while I had a closet full of jackets, sweaters, and dresses I was avoiding. I had even given up working my many, many accessories.

Changes? Investment in better support lingerie, a couple of simple purses, good quality coordinates, and time.

So what did I do in 2010-11 to update and improve my style?

First, I revitalised my closet with the Express Checkout Experiment. Choosing 15 items and only 15 items to wear for 2 months forced me to realize how many extras were hanging around but not being worn--literally. I eliminated multiples and almost-but-not-quite impulse buys. Things that still had tags on them. Things that had worn patches I was hiding. I eliminated anything I didn't feel comfortable in, didn't look good in, or didn't like (yes, there were surprising numbers of all three). I like and need color in my closet, but worked around a limited palette: black, mid-gray, chocolate, white, red, turquoise, and shades of blue and purple.

Eliminated beige, cream, khaki, yellows, and almost all green. Okay, yes, there's a lot of black. Work with me!

Remember this from my original E.C.E. post, from 10.22.10? All of these pieces are still rotating through my regular closet wear, except the argyle dress and the purple piece. I've replaced the argyle dress (too short, too "junior") with two different black dresses. One I bought in Paris that has a more youthful feel, and one from TravelSmith that is a great conference dress (always makes me feel feminine and slim). Both can be dressed up/down more easily than the argyle one, and both are more realistically me. I haven't yet replaced the purple top.

But the lesson in both cases was appropriateness: the dress was too young for me and the top was too bulky and shapeless. Neither did me any favors. Lessons heeded and learned!

The good news:
  • I donated/tossed about one-third of my overall wardrobe (my emotional clothing baggage, if you will!), including shoes, bags, scarves, and overall accessories;
  • I bought five great new pieces in fall 2011, pieces I see as the center of my closet now, while spending only 60% of the in-store retail price;
  • I actually re-discovered my specific likes and dislikes, and thus moved toward a more organized/comprehensive personal style;
  • I updated/invested in my hair and jewelry to fit my new style choices, and I lurv both.
The bad news:
  • I still have multiple pieces of clothing baggage from a decade ago, unable to detach myself from them (why?);
  • I realized yet again that I will be happier and my entire wardrobe will be more available to me if I lose even ten pounds (which is not a ridiculous notion and definitely a healthy one);
  • I have a few $$$ of untapped resources in my closet, for no good reason--seems so very wasteful.
The best thing was that with focus, I found that I didn't have to spend a lot to gain much, much more. Letting go of all those useless/wrong clothes made me feel better in every way, buying several new pieces of jewelry for myself (some found on Etsy) was a sound investment, and changing my hair was a bigger physcological charge than I imagined! Even adding on professional coloring every 3 months (my hair holds color forever), this is a great investment in myself.

Don't you love self checkout?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

News from the Newly "Morrisized" Bedroom

After one night in the "new" bedroom, I can state the following:
  • it is now cleaner, prettier, and more serene... which made me sleep better
  • the dawn-simulator woke me as advertised with brightening light and, at the 30-minute mark, wind chime sounds--no jangling alarm.

I did realize that I cannot use the sleep mask, because that would definitely block the "dawn." I'll have to figure that one out. But the light was slightly too bright at 30 minutes (top intensity) which I easily adjusted down two notches. The chimes were just loud enough.

Not having a pile of papers, mismatched clothing, and sheets on the loveseat--just my class today--was a giant step forward.

I had also done my other morning prep work: set out the cat's food, dish, and spoon, and prepared the coffeepot to perk while I was in the shower. I put away the clean dishes on the counter and stuck the used cat dishes immediately into the cleared dishwasher. Felt great to be slightly ahead of things in the a.m.!
And by 8, I had 1K written in novel!

Monday, January 16, 2012

William Morris and The Bedroom, Day 3

The only short-term task left is reorganizing the underbed boxes that hold my linens, including sheets, pillowcases, and quilts. Which will, in turn, clear off the green velvet loveseat in my bedroom and make it usable.

I have three boxes under there. One for unused curtains and random linens. One for flannel sheets. One for cotton sheets. I also store a couple of extra blankets in plastic covers under there.

I have a lot of room under my bed.

The sheets are the most pressing re-organization category. In the last year I have donated two sets of flannel sheets and discarded one set of older cotton sheets. On my bed, I use four pillowcases and one bottom sheet weekly, plus a down comforter + quilt in winter and a lightweight quilt in summer. (Top sheets for each set are stored.)

But here's the legacy of hoarding and home shopping: I have two cotton bottom sheets + pillowcases in pink, one in white, so three sets that rotate through the spring/summer/autumn months. In flannel, I have a striped set in red/green/blue/white, a pink set (yes, solid pink), and a set with blue roses: these rotate throug the colder winter months. Six sets of sheets for one person seems excessive, but since it used to be nine sets...

Tasks for today, to finish:
  • clear off the loveseat and hang up/put away all the "stuff" lurking there
  • dust and wipe down the underbed boxes
  • organize cotton sheet sets into one, flannel sets into a second
  • cover the loveseat's fading upholstery with a throw
  • vacuum, dust fan's panels, empty trash can
I also received the treat I bought myself as a post-New Year's gift: a dawn light simulator-alarm clock.

I've wanted one of these for a long time, and the price was finally right. This is said to allow one to wake with more energy, as the light gradually brightens over a 30-minute period. It has a radio plus 3 "sounds" (including birds, if I want to make Jack crazy!). I'll be able to ditch the clanging alarm clock.

Plus, I did a load of dishes in the dishwasher, 2 loads of laundry in the washer/dryer, emptied and put away both, printed and posted week's proposed outfits, charged all electronics. I've still got prep to do for first-day class tomorrow, but in general I'm ready... I think.

Next week: William Morris and the kitchen.

What I cooked this week

As usual, I am trying to combine my cookery with frugal planning. This week I made lentil soup and a Mexican/Southwestern salad.

Lentil soup is one of my favorite home cookery soups. I have a great recipe from, found under the reviews for the basic soup recipe (check out the Cook from San Francisco's notes). I also use the recipe found in The Moosewood Cookbook. The great thing about lentil soup is that it is filling and cheap; as a cold-weather soup, it is perfect. I can also dress it up as much as I like: make it vegetarian or add pork, bacon, or sausage.

I used my Le Creuset 2 qt. Dutch oven for all of it; this gave me three 2 c. servings; increase as necessary for your table. It will also last up to a week in the fridge.

This week, I cooked it as follows:
  • saute one chopped white onion + 1 tsp. minced garlic in 2 tsp. olive oil until translucent
  • add 1 tsp. dried thyme, a bay leaf or two, a sprinkle of red pepper flakes (optional) and stir for 10 seconds
  • add any or both of the following and saute for three minutes:
    • 1 lb chopped sausage (chicken or pork)
    • 1 c. chopped vegetables (carrots or celery)
  • add 1/2 c. washed lentils and 5 c. liquid (chicken stock, vegetable stock, water), 1/4 c. red wine (optional), 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar, and grind in black pepper to taste
  • bring to a boil, then turn down to a bare simmer and let it cook an hour
  • add one can diced/no-salt tomatoes and heat through
  • serve!
I used hot Italian chicken sausage, and the outcome was a zesty alternative to the sometimes bland flavor of "just" lentils. I cooked three slices of bacon to crisp texture and crumbled it over the top. Delicious. You can also top it with sliced or shaved cheese, a dollop of yogurt, or fresh-cut herbs. With a salad and hearty bread, this can be a full meal; it can also accompany a sandwich or simple chicken or pork dish. Besides being cheap and filling, it doesn't need a lot of tending while cooking, so can be completed while you're doing something else in the kitchen or nearby.

I also made what most people call a Southwestern salad hereabouts: meaning a lot of Romaine covered with black beans, corn kernels, chopped plum tomatoes, chopped red onion, and sliced avocados, with a vinaigrette dressing that incorporates lime juice, oregano and chili powder. I combined everything but the Romaine and the avocados separately, storing it in a bowl. Then tossing that on top of the lettuce and adding the avocados on top, with the dressing on the side, made for a great lunch.  The salad is simple (1 can black beans, 1 cup corn, 1 lb. chopped tomatoes, 1/2 red onion) but fresh; the second day, the flavors are even better. It all lasts about three days in the fridge.

The dressing is the ticket: finding the right combination of flavors. You can add tortilla strips, sour cream or yogurt, and shredded cheese--or aoid all those calories by keeping it simple.

This is a nice alternative to the regular green salad, but can also be a meal--combine with the lentil soup, for example, or a sandwich, or a simple tortilla wrap.

Oh, and my money-saving adventures included using one of my gift cards for the movies: I saw Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Iron Lady both on the same card, going to morning matinees, so that I have money left for two movies.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Bedroom, Day Two

Today I am taking on the three tasks of repairing the dresser (and reorganizing it), hanging the two posters, and getting the multi-plug in place.

Repairing the dresser: This is simple. The dresser, an inexpensive but pretty IKEA one has inexpensive cardboard floors to its drawers. The center one has bulged downward, due to the fact that I stored pajamas, slips, and bathing suits in there--apparently heavy as a group. That affects the bottom drawer, by pushing it open--constantly. To solve this problem, I propose to use duct tabe to lift the cardboard back into place, followed by moving the heavier clothing to the bottom drawer and putting the t-shirts into the middle drawer.

For this, I need duct tape (bought clear duct tape: worked perfectly).
Hanging the two posters: I have all the materials I need. The right size picture hangers and a hammer.

Placing the multi-plug: here, I have to buy the right plug from Home Depot. Since I live in an older complex, the outlet requires a two-prong plug. Once it is in place, I can plug the bed light and the phone into the plug, leaving an extra outlet available for my nook, the laptop, or whatever I need to read, work, or watch a movie in bed. Ahhhhhh... luxury! (Bought three: now study light works, too!)

This is obviously a simple series of tasks, so today should get 'er done.
  • Hang large poster (2 hooks)
  • Hang small poster (1 hook)
  • Buy and insert plug; replug phone, bed light
  • Repair dresser drawer with duct tape
  • Redistribute clothing for weight on bottom

Friday, January 13, 2012

2012 Declutter: Week 1

My goals for this year include decluttering, donating, and re-thinking my apartment, car, and office space into a cleaner, leaner space. My inspiration is, as before, the wonderful quote from William Morris: "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." (Thanks to Jules at Pancakes and French Fries for reminding me!)

First up: the bedroom. The coming week I'll be tackling the basics in this room.

This is the simplest space to fix in the house, which is why I start here. The tasks for initial improvement are as follows:
  • reorganize the closet, top to bottom
  • repair the dresser and reorganize the drawers
  • hang two framed posters
  • buy a multi-plug for behind the bed; plug in phone and lamp, with extra outlet space
  • reorganize and declutter underbed storage of bed linens
  • buy a new mattress and boxspring (long-term goal)
See? Simple. Most of these tasks can be completed once I buy a few items: duct tape, a multi-outlet plug, some storage boxes. A trip to Home Depot and Michael's, and I may be done.

Let's start with the closet. What gets stored in this closet?

On the floor:
  • the vacuum
  • the mop and bucket
  • the washbasket
  • the drying rack
  • an electric fan (probable donation)
On the left side:
  • smaller, framed art and personal photographs (top shelf)
  • postcards and cards used for projects, memory boards, and creative exercises
  • baskets of extra beauty and health products
  • boxes of "stuff" (to be culled, donated, tossed)
  • beading materials and mailing envelopes, bubble wrap, postal tape
  • smaller gift bags, gift wrap, ribbon, cards
On the right side:
  • blankets and afghans, some in storage bags
  • jewelry box and extra pieces in larger jewelry boxes
My biggest issue is that none of the current storage boxes match, so right now the interior looks jumbled and cluttery even though everything is neatly packed up in a box. Second, there's no real logic to what's on what shelf, or why there are similar things in other closets in other rooms.

I like the open baskets for the beauty/health products (extras bought on sale or in multiples). They need to go on a shelf where I can see them easily, so this height is good. One basket has facial care and cosmetics, one has lotions and skin care, and one has medical stuff including sinus and allergy pills, aspirin, and the rest of the quick-grab stuff. This shelf will probably not change much.

But the boxes! Ugh! One simple idea I favor: replaced the currently mismatched photo boxes with three to six photo boxes all in either solid red, white, or black from Michael's; not only would that match the stuff in the closet, but throughout the rest of my apartment. I can also replace the clear plastic boxes with solid white ones from IKEA already in use elsewhere. You might say I am too matchy-matchy, or that the door is kept closed and no one goes in there but me... but yeah, it bothers me.

Solution: I got four white photo boxes from Michael's on sale ($8 total) and shifted everything into these. I also incorporated two IKEA Kassette boxes of approximately the same size. Much better looking, and the six boxes more easily hold what was jammed into three. I didn't really want all-white, but I would have had to wait on the photo boxes at Michael's--white was the ONLY solid color in stock--and so I settled, which turned out better than fine.

I can also pick up some relatively inexpensive storage bags at the Container Store for my two afghans; everything else has a plastic zip bag. That makes the blankets easier to store and stack, plus I can see which one is which, when it comes down to it. Both afghans were made for me by my crafty grandmothers, so storing them carefully is important.

Solution: I got two sets of clear cubes for three afghans (oops!) and one summer quilt; one large cube for the thicker summer-weight quilt; and thinner clear bags for the unhung curtains and one thin summer-weight quilt. Come warmer weather, I'll need something in which to store my large down comforter, but that's April's problem. 

The breakdown of tasks is, then:
  • buy photo boxes at Michael's and replace mismatched boxes (Goodwill)
  • buy 2 storage bags at The Container Store for afghans
  • gather similar stuff from other closets and relocate like:like
  • cull all stuff to be stored (discard, donate, relocate)
  • organize and label boxes and fill appropriately
  • redistribute stuff to be stored elsewhere
  • toss stuff to be discarded
  • set donations aside
Days to complete this: Saturday.

If I were in Paris... Friday, January 13, 2012

Of course, if you're a Friday the 13th-a-phobe, you'd stay home. Or maybe because the weather is only a cloudy 46 degrees. Brr...

This might be a good day to visit the newly refangled Musee de la Chasse et de la Nature, the Museum of Hunting and Nature. This is one I've never visited, but it is in the rue des Archives, in the Hotel de Guenegaud. The museum is not far from the Place des Vosges (another reason to go!) and is housed in two 17th & 18th-century aristocratic homes, preserved for this museum.  One houses the hunting part of the museum, and the other, the celebration of animals in nature. Paintings, tapestries, sculptures, and the various tools and equipment of hunting and animal preservation are presented; during the 16th through 18th centuries, hunting wasn't just a royal sport, it was one way that humans interacted with nature, where the preservation of the landscape, the forests and wild parts of "civilized" estates was key.

Currently there is a rather subversive exhibition by Francoise Petrovich, where she has placed her scupltures in rather irreverent juxtaposition to the art and implements of the hunt. Comic and controversial, the exhibition continues until January 22.

You can follow up by tucking into a nice cafe meal of lapin aux lentils.

Or at the Petit Palais, the final days of an exhibition about La Comedie Francaise, showing the company's treasures from close to 338 years... since the 1673 formation of the troupe after Moliere's death. The show includes paintings, sculptures, archival documents, stage settings (in miniature), and other objects from the company, actors, actresses, directors, playwrights, and designers.

And, at the Musee Balzac, is an exhibition dedicated to "la grisette," a female figure of the early 19th century, the dressmaker, seamstress, and servant. One hundred works--visual and literary--are part of this exhibition on the young, working class female professional... and her life, personal and professional, between 1815 and 1850, as Balzac's world embraced her.

If that doesn't appeal to you, you can take the Metro to the 18th and see Kathputli, dancers and marionettes from Rajasthan. This traditional Indian dance art--combining live dancers but focusing on puppets--is rarely seen by Americans. On Fridays, starting tonight until the end of the month, the show runs two hours from 7-9 pm.

Or, at the Odeon, one can see one of the great 19th-century French classics, La Dame aux camelias, orignally written by Alexandre Dumas and starring Jeanne Balibar, the French actress and singer. According to the description, this is a bit of a deconstruction of the original play, ironic rather than romantic, perhaps verging toward the notion of 19th-century realism rather than melodrama... which is where the play (and later film) have come to reside. This might be a very good twist on the rather dated (and puritanical) classic version.

Personally, I'd include a visit to Angelique for some cocoa--simply to warm my bones!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

2012 Goals: The Beginnings

Given my ambitious personal goals for 2012, it is time I get started, right?

Having thought it over, my January goals are the following:
  • Resources/Health: improve my daily energy, so I don't feel quite so tired at the end of every day
  • Resources: deal with money issues hanging on from 2011 and re-think spending for 2012
  • Creative Closure: submit second mss. to editor by 1.31
  • Community: develop one new and one old "group"/community for 2012
  • Living Situation: Goodwill, Salvation Army, and eBay by 1.31; insulate front and back doors
Since the spring semester begins on 1.17 and I have three new classes to jump-start, these goals are certainly do-able for the remaining part of the month.

Daily energy: this is the toughest, because it will require long-term changing of habits involving meals, exercise (ugh!), and hormones. You can't buy or find energy--you have to make it, yourself, by doing things differently. Not my strong suit. But... necessary. Changes will include:
  • eating every 3-4 hours;
  • increasing complex carbos (fruits and vegs, whole grains with B vitamins) to match already present proteins;
  • taking vitamins daily;
  • taking hormones every day;
  • exercising 30-40 minutes at least 4 times weekly;
  • getting 7-8 hrs. sleep every night;
  • scheduling/organizing all of same, so as not to get behind/stressed.
Money issues include things like studying my monthly bills for where I can cut expenses; getting 2012 taxes completed; continuing to pay my credit cards steadily, while NOT using them (!); making my weekly/monthly grocery bills leaner--again, all long-term planning issues. It wouldn't hurt to get a jump on my 2011 taxes, either; since I've been keping better records, that should be easier than it ever has been.

Submitting the second mss. means writing at least five times weekly, with a weekly page tally of about 25-40 pages. I'm 2/3 of the way through this mss., but need editing time as well. That means one to two hours daily for writing.

Enriching my group work might already be solved: I have an invitation to join a local women's group in my area of expertise, I am working with a local theatre group already on a solid project, and I have a social group that should be meeting again (for the second time) this month. Again, just needs scheduling.

And the work on donations, selling, and the house? One shot deals, each of which require some preparation time but nothing too much. I can get one of these done per week, or over a particularly empty weekend.

What accomplishing these means is that by the end of this month, I'll feel better (although I am considering that the "energy" issues are really a three-month project, considering the need to change old habits for grounded, new ones), my bank account will be leaner and meaner, my house will be cheaper & warmer, more clutter will be gone, I'll have two new group relationships developed, and I'll be moving onto mss. #3... a great kick-start to 2012!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Fighting "Should"

I've had two visits with my sister over this break, and both focused on her story of my brother-in-law's frustration at work over an ex-employee, begun with the phrase, "You're sort of a feminist, what do you think?"

First, I am not "sort of" a feminist. I am a feminist, as unpleasant as that word has become for many (and why?).

Second, the problem doesn't have anything to do with feminism, feminist thinking, or even really women, other than the ex-employee was one.

The problem as I see it is that my brother-in-law, like many including myself and my sister, are thinking about how the world "should" work, and not how it does. Bad idea, and I am actively weaning myself from that point of view.

Why? Because "should" is for fiction writers (and yes, I use it). "Should" is the same as "fair": not an active force for real in the Universe. I do believe in justice, karma, living consciously without harming others, and respect. I no longer believe in "should."

Thank the Powers That Be!

"Should" is useless. Let me explain. This employee was once an active, productive worker; she became a problematic subordinate who threatened to sue the company, saying my brother-in-law was sexist. He isn't, but not the point. He did everything right, including documenting her below-grade behavior; his bosses love him, especially since the bottom line has increased every year he's been in charge of this part of the company. His evaluations, bonuses, and raises all point that out.

She lied. She misrepresented her work, his attitudes, and her situation: she outright lied on paper and in person, and that was proven. BUT she got her settlement. The company paid her to go away, rather than go to court.

As my sister said (forcefully, at least four times in two conversations), "This shouldn't have happened. She should have been fired without reward."  She's right in "should" terminology: but it did. And a year ago! Why are we talking about it as if it was today? Twice?

The two of them are reliving the "should" of it and missing the point. The bad girl left. She's gone. And his bosses still love him, didn't blame him, and told him so. The decision was made over his head and he's not been held responsible... except by himself. He thinks his other employees don't respect him because of this--but he's not dealing with that issue, which is right in front of him. He thinks his bosses don't respect him--which is patently untrue and in fact the reverse is true: he doesn't respect them, because of their decision, which was a business decision, not a moral one (for them). Both my sister and her husband are angry, frustrated, and worried about something that is over for everyone else. They are stuck.

"Should" creates this: it makes you replay the same thing over and over, wondering why it didn't work out like LAW & ORDER or BUFFY (because they're TV shows, dude!). "Should" gets you stuck in the past, not seeing clearly the present or the future, taking away your opportunity for change.

I say it: those students "should" have done their homework, that politician "should" have gone to jail, that guy "should" have called me back because we had a really good time... BUT they/she/he didn't.

My advice to myself: Let it go. Move on. I have to deal with what's really in front of me and how I can effect a different outcome next time--by changing my methods, or response, or communication. I cannot change or control others, only myself. "Should" is about what other people do--as I see it or as I want it. It is useless, because they won't or can't or don't want to and I cannot make them by the method I am using now.

I am not responsible for the behavior of people who "should" behave better. I can only respond to what they do/choose in the most honest, direct, open way possible as I feel is right. Which doesn't mean it is right for everyone--only me. And maybe I need to learn a new way to communicate with the "should" folks, rather than expecting that their morality/situation is exactly the same as mine: it usually isn't.

And I "should" let "should" go.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Community Thoughts from France

Over at A Femme d'Un Certain Age, she posted a lovely notion of "community," quite in keeping with my own desire to expand and grow my personal community: those I connect with on a regular basis in terms of services and shopping.
What a bonne idee!
Not just your friends, colleagues, co-workers or neighbors, but the people you interact with on a regular basis... Hah!

This would include
  • the people who run my salon Shag and cut or color my hair, Kevin and Kelly (seriously good hair stylists, people!);
  • my tailor, who does such a great job shortening my skirts and pants, or even reshaping them; my neighbors, who feed and watch Jack while I am out of town;
  • my coffee crew at White Rock Coffee, who let me sit every Saturday and work for hours without interruption;
  • the ladies at Neiman-Marcus and Nordstroms who are my perfume consultants (at the Jo Malone counter in N-M) and skincare consultants (Angel at the Chanel counter at N), who are ridiculously helpful;
  • the men at Dunlap-Swain who care for my car and occasionally me (while in car breakdown-mode);
  • even the greengrocer at my favorite grocery store, who slips me free produce because he's a genuinely nice guy.
Probably more, too, once I think about it for a while, folks I should definitely acknowledge this time of year but all year... who make up my world. This should definitely be part of my 2012 resolve: to act more positively on a weekly, monthly basis with these folks.

The suggestion, too, underlines a difference between French social interaction and the American version of same, in that we in the US are used to shopping in big box stores, chains, or onlines, creating distance between ourselves and the people who sell us our favorite products or who provide necessary services. This year I have been so very grateful for the people who provide those services that I feel as if I want to make bridges and connections, rather than step away from them.

One event that sharply underlines this for me is the closing of one of my favorite two restaurants in Dallas. Now, I don't have a restaurant where they know my favorite drink and serve it just right, let me know when my favorite dessert is on the day's menu, or let me sit and read for a couple of hours before I order... sigh. Time to start scouting again for a replacement.

And certainly, time to be mindful of the invisible threads of interaction between myself and those around me, every day. A great place to start 2012!  

Monday, January 2, 2012

Resolutions -- or Goals! -- for 2012

It's that time of year again, and I have to assess 2011's goals and repurpose them for 2012.

Thankfully, this is not too hard to do, since I have been pretty steadily working on each of my 2011 goals and thinking a lot during the last week about how to revise them for 2012.

Here we go!

2011's goals were, as I took them in this blog:
  1. Improve Overall Health
  2. Change My Living Situation
  3. Manage My Resources
  4. Build a Better Community
  5. See Creative Work to Closure
Health: This was only an okay goal, over the course of the year. While I worked on stabilizing my hormones and depression, I did not embrace exercise. For that reason, my weight and overall condition did not improve (note to self: it's true about exercise!). Positive outcomes: my depression is under control, my mood swings and other perimenopause symptoms are under control. My allergies/sinus problems flared up in the final weeks, but using a humidifier every night (!) as well as increasing my intake of H2O hugely improved that, rather than the OTC remedies I started with. Overall, I am in great health. Negative outcomes: my LDL cholesterol is high and not coming down, my weight is still over the line and not budging except bits and tweaks. I need to lose serious poundage and remember to maintain my health through habits of hydration, nutrition, movement, and meditation.

Living Situation: 100% improvement, maybe 150%. No more crackhead landlord, no more cracker box, reduced rent, more green space, and more light. Thsi one was a total success, despite sacrificing a good deal of savings on the 3-month overlap of spaces.

Resources: Time is a constant battle, between "shoulds" and "want tos." Yo, I'm human. However I did add the Rescue Time Robot to my desktop, and it tells me I am 79% more productive than average. So shut up, Critic's Voice! Money is another, different battle, but this year I did pretty well. I have a more affordable appartment (and even though I might only be saving $100/month, the happiness factor makes that huge). I rearranged my retirement $$ is a way that makes me feel more secure. I opened several successful venues of frugality for decluttering, including selling unwanted items. Energy is the real battle, and that's the 2012 focus.

Community: This, too, was a success. I joined a short story group of women I enjoy and while we've only met once, I look forward to more meetings. I opened myself to the performing community in town, and am building bridges there. I opened myself to the community on my campus, and am trying to open out of my division, my school, and into the university in a positive way. I need to set more goals here, however, and be open to groups of strangers.

Creative: This was a big success! I sold my first novel (coming out in June!) and have almost completed the second, which I am certain will be equally salable. I sent out my short plays in a month-long binge and have had one hit so far, and three rejections (so I've got a long way to go). It felt great, however, challenging myself to complete and submit projects.

Overall, 2011 was a good year in terms of my goals. I plan to build on that in 2012:

Improve Overall Health: not much change here in direction. However, I plan to focus specifically on maintaining good habits (like using the humidifier every night) while building new ones (like 30 minutes of movement every day). I'd like to add daily meditation and vitamins, but I think I'll be conservative in this area, since it is one that truly needs daily focus.
  • January-April: make it a habit to spend 30 minutes every day in movement of some kind
  • May-August: add daily meditation (which will work with my 2012 summer plans)
  • Sept-December: add supplements and vitamins
  • get a mammogram
  • get a colonoscopy
  • get a dermascan 
Living Situation: This is easy. Renew lease on apartment (i.e., don't move!). More, start researching the pre-fab house I love in detail through contacting the company and chatting with them. And start looking at the places I think I want to build it: Oregon, Northern California, and Washington are the three places I'm thinking about now. But they might stink once I look around. So... research.

Resources: As ever, my biggest battle will be managing time. I have come to hate scheduling and to-do lists. And yet.... I need a new car, I need a new mattress & box spring, I need to pay down (or off) my credit cards. All worthy goals, all hard to do at the same bloody time! This year I want to build on my basic foundations of frugal saving and repurposing and decluttering: I find that I am about done with the wholesale donations to Goodwill, etc., and while that is an easy and intelligent manner of getting things OUT OF MY HOUSE (and onto my tax savings) I must needs find other ways to open what one of my favorite blogs refers to as "additional revenue streams." And finding new energy is part of the Health intiatives above, plus the hormones.

Community: continued reaching out, across phone, email, work/personal connections to develop relationships with new people/groups as well as people I already like, love, and connect with.
  • Habitat for Humanity: in the Dallas area
  • Alum group: for connections and fundraising/support of current programs
  • Short story group
  • Theatremakers/academics/women in both
Creative: Here, I have very specific goals
  • Finish and sell second and third novels
  • Binge with short plays in February and Sept-Oct
  • Journal daily: dreams, ideas, etc.
  • Finish and send two reviews
  • Finish and send encyclopedia entries
  • Polish and send two articles (from ALA papers, 2011) to journals
  • Present two-three conference papers (one scheduled, July)
  • Blog daily (in either blog) and continue to post my own photos
Here is my overall goal for 2012: Make lemonade all year long, every day.

I am so tired of negativity, including my own. I really believe everything is an opportunity, seen in the right light. Context and response are everything... they can turn what looks like failure or an impass into something wonderful. Not to be goopy or stupid about it, but to stop letting myself define my view by others' vision. Ugh! Especially since I am butt-tired of the men in my life having stupid, negative, misanthropic outlooks anyway.

Oh, does that sound negative? Nope: it's all good.