January 31st, 2015

Bye-Bye Buy Nothing Month: January 31st, 2015

I was having a bit of a crisis a few days ago.  As some of you may know, I also write a blog called RootLocal in which I sample locally made things and root for them.  Thus far, all of my reviews have occurred at the Wolfville Farmers’ Market. Luckily, in January, I skipped one post, and I had purchased my goodie-to-review in December for the next one.  Today, however, the very last day of Buy-Nothing month, I was scheduled to travel to the Market and purchase something new to review.

What to do?

Luckily enough, the weather and the Market came together and thoughtfully stormed out Market day…which will now be held tomorrow!  Oh the great good fortune.  I really can’t thank them enough for their joint efforts.  You really shouldn’t have, it was too much already.

But seriously, I was prepared to make an exception for the greater good (I could not have The Grapevine‘s readership suffering!). Which brings me around to the topic du jour, as suggested by Mike.

Mike wanted me to tell you about when we slipped up.

I wanted to hang on to our façade of perfection.

Mike shook his head sadly and turned away.

So here goes my confessions (don’t be mad, okay?):

But first, let me distract you with this gorgeous dress I purchased when Clara was a wee baby, and hid it high on a shelf and when I found it tonight, I took it down, opened it up, she tried it on and IT FIT!!!

I did not know if I had a favourite dress but now I have a favourite dress and I will wear it to MY birthday party and even I might wear it to PAPAs birthday party!

“I did not know if I had a favourite dress but now I have a favourite dress and I will wear it to MY birthday party and even I might wear it to PAPAs birthday party!” said Clara, all in one breath.

We slipped up, one day, by forgetting that I had both of the booster seats in the car, and Mike was at work.  We met in the middle and conspiratorially went out for lunch.  Edible Art Cafe‘s deliciousness was almost enough to prevent me from feeling guilty for days and days.  Almost.  I’m sorry.

Also, twice (!) we gave in and bought potato chips.  Oh the shame and self-loathing.

And lastly, last night I accidentally wandered into the liquor store and I accidentally glanced in the direction of the local wines and I accidentally noticed that for some mysterious reason that particular store was not entirely out of my very favourite (and limited-yearly edition which usually runs out before Christmas) wine.  It accidentally landed in my hand.  I’m not even sorry.

Well, maybe a little.

Here, I’ll distract you with the roommate poster I made way back in my Acadia days (incidentally, Sally, Kelly and I found Ngaio: exactly the stranger we were looking for!):

Saved because...why?

Saved because…why?

So yes, we did slip up on a couple of occasions, but I think you’ll agree that it was mostly a roaring success.  I weaned myself off thinking I “needed” stuff every day.  No one in this family really cared that much, once we adjusted, and no one suffered (contrary to their fretting grandmothers’ expectations – way to join forces, guys). It was not an unhappy month, by any means.

I do think, however, that I will stick to buy-nothing WEEKS henceforward.  One at a time. This was not a bad experience, exactly, but there were times that it really was a bit annoying.

Onward to February, the 4th month of 5 Downing!

Day 92 Scorecard: 460 down, 1,365 to go

January 30th, 2015

A Little Help from a Friend: January 30th, 2015

Tonight one of my lovely dinner guests offered to find 5 things to 5 Down for me.

This was amazingly interesting as the push and pull between choosing what she thought should go and what she thought I might or might not be enormously attached to proved too difficult, in the end.  I don’t blame her.  It’s like opening someone’s closet and offering to get rid of the things the owner shouldn’t wear any more.Much easier said than done.

I could also compare it to the New Year’s Eve when Mike and I decided to make resolutions for each other*. Great idea in theory…deadly minefield in practice.

In the end, my children (the two who had stayed awake during the entire get-together: yes, the younger two) pitched in to bail her out.

It was fun and I would not have been insulted whatever she had chosen, but oh the pressure!

And so tonight, late as it is, is again very short.  I promise to be more contemplative and verbose in the coming days.  After which I promise to apologize for carrying on so much.

Day 91 Scorecard: 455 down, 1,370 to go

* his idea; I give credit where blame credit is due.

January 29th, 2015

The Spenake: January 29th, 2015

A pen snake.  A snake pen.  A spenake!

A pen snake. A snake pen. A spenake!

Back in the day, Fimo was not the supple, gentle substance of today.  Oh no, friend, we had to work that hard lump of, er, stuff.

Baking a pen inside was no small feat, either.  And it was a one-way journey.  There was no replacing that tube ‘o’ ink.

So now I have a picture and the pen is gone.  Fare thee well, spenake.

Day 90 Scorecard: 450 down, 1,375 to go


January 28th, 2015

De-cluttering by Disaster: January 28th, 2015

A few years ago, my parents had a disaster of epic proportions. They had journeyed out to the wild, wild west to visit their son, and they left their house behind.  My sister happily came and checked on the house each day and made sure that the basement hadn’t flooded.

This was important, because it had rained a lot.  In fact, we’d had a giant storm.  Their basement was clear.

What you need to understand about my parents’ home is that it is rather enormous and elderly (built in 1893).  It was built back in the time of “here, let’s use the bits from that barn that fell down” and “90 degrees?  Just eyeball it!” and don’t forget “railings for stairs should reach to just below your knees!”  The west side of the house faces a row of assorted (huge) trees.  It is the east side of the house where my sister would enter each day.

Apparently, when my parents had had the roof replaced, the builders took a different approach to construction-related activities.  Like wee robots, they clambered over the roof, eschewing sheathing, nail-gunning the shingles to the evenly spaced roof trusses.*  Now I want you to imagine the sound of a record needle scratching and re-playing this bit: the evenly spaced SCREECH evenly spaced SCREECH eveeeenlllly.

Eye-balling is not necessarily even.  Nor is “let’s just add a few feet on this end and wall in the sunroom” or “guess we should move this bit – hand me that piece from the neighbour’s leftover timber.”

So, roof robots were evenly nailing shingles into…nothing much.

Big storm comes along and rips off a giant chunk of the roof.

Rain came pouring in and sought its own level: the basement…from the attic.

And then, while my parents were awaiting the repairs (and living in a closed-off portion of the house) another storm came along and ripped off more of their roof, resulting in about 90% of their house being ruined.  Nightmare x 1 million.

As this blog is all about me, you’ll no doubt be wondering what all this has to do with me.  Well, I, like most adult children, was happy enough to leave my parents’ home with many, many boxes of crap and other important things stuffed into their attic.

The attic, in this home, was also built according to the aforementioned stringent building codes.  I kid you not, there was not a floor in the attic.  Why would you need a floor, silly?  It’s not like you’re walking around up in there!  It’s a home for bats and spiders and mice.  They don’t even like floors.  And getting up to the attic involves pulling down a hatchway on the ceiling and unfolding the clever set of stairs which creak and sway as you climb up, directly over the stairs leading to the main level.

What I’m trying to explain here is that the attic is not exactly a place one spends an afternoon.  Or longer than long enough to shove something up there and then beat a hasty retreat down the screechy, wobbly stairs.  However, when everything is a water-logged, sodden mess, venture up you must.

This is not the kind of de-cluttering you want to do.  Trust me on this one.  Luckily for my parents, their three daughters all live within drive-to-their-house-open-door-deposit-stuff-and-run distance.  Mom has a key to my house.  It became a not-infrequent experience to arrive home to a new pile of stuff in my mudroom.

My general solution to this was to carry the boxes down to the storage room in our basement and cram it in there.  Hooray.

Of course, when we had our own flood (the more traditional kind – from the ground up) many of those boxes were sitting on the floor in the basement.

They’re twice-disastered boxes.  NOT that our itty-bitty flood compared to my parents’ flood in any way (thank goodness).

And so, decades after I put them into the attic, years after they were poured on, and many months (over a year) since they were flooded, I’m finally pawing through the boxes and making hard decisions about stuff.

It’s amazing how many emotions junk can drag up.  I keep finding letters to and from people I don’t even know any more.  I found the first letter I received from my then-boyfriend when I was an exchange student in Uruguay. Since the mail system was not exactly efficient there, it had taken 5 weeks for me to get any mail from home, and so I got 18 pieces of mail all on the same day.  3 were from him.  It’s a good thing I’m so obsessive about reading things in the right order.  Otherwise I would have not been able to enjoy the first letter, knowing he would unceremoniously dump me and break my heart into a million little pieces** in the third.  But I digress from the other emotionally charged item I found:

Mi amigo

Mi amigo

This little book (it’s about 2″ by 3″) was my talisman, my spy decoder ring, my lifeline.  I was living with a family who spoke zero English, and I spoke about 4 words of Spanish (“mas despacio, por favor” was what they had taught us to say – “slower, please” – if we didn’t understand.  It was only later that I learned to say “no entiendo” – I don’t understand, and “lo siento mucho, soy Canadiense” – I’m sorry, I’m Canadian).  There was no google translate or hand-held electronic translation device.  This tiny book went everywhere with me.

But it has sat in a box for years now.  I have no need of it any more, and it doesn’t even fit on a shelf nicely.  A picture of it, and a story, is enough.

And to finish on a happier note, here is a picture of the front cover of the day planner produced by the Student Union at NSCAD for the school year 1995/96***:

Reference may be lost on the young 'uns who haven't been immersed in tabloid culture.  I miss you, National Enquirer.

Reference may be lost on the young ‘uns who haven’t been immersed in tabloid culture. I miss you, Weekly World News!

Day 89 Scorecard: 445 down, 1,380 to go

* I think that’s what they’re called, just stay with me on this, m’kay – the boards that are triangles that hold up the roof, okay?

** I totally stole that phrase, and I’m unapologetic.

*** It did not cost $32.85.

January 27th, 2015

Clutter in the Eye of the Beholder: January 27th, 2015

Last night was book club and it was hosted by a lovely woman with an absolutely stunning house.  As everyone filtered in, I heard her exclaim how “cluttered” her kitchen looked as her cupboards have glass + wood fronts.

Trust me when I say her house is not cluttered – it is full of life and energy! But it did make me think about how we see our own spaces and how other people see them. I find it fascinating that I can acknowledge that other people have a distorted lens when they talk about their space or themselves, but I have a hard time recognizing it in myself.  In fact, I oscillate daily, thinking how embarrassed I would be to show anyone my “now” house, with the knowledge that we’ve dispensed with hundreds of things already, and thinking about how proud I am at how far we’ve already come.  I also wonder if you, dear reader, imagine that my house is absolutely bursting at the seams.  Part of me would like to take before-and-after shots…but the rational part of me shudders at the thought of having photos of my pre-decluttering house living on for all of eternity on the Internet.  The Internet is forever, after all.

And then I circle back to feeling like this sounds like I am protesting too much, methinks.

My imaginary audience is putting too much pressure on me!  How dare you assume the things I am assuming you assume!  The nerve.

I stumbled across a blog, a few days ago, that encourages people to match the year with the number of things they purge.  The family in question got rid of 2008 things in 2008 and they’ve continued on until this year (getting rid of 2015 things).  I’ve been thinking about this a lot, in the past few days, and wondering why and how this family can continue to keep burning through so much stuff.  For one thing, she writes that they are a family of 8. However, I still cannot imagine.  If you are really interested, you can find her site, but I’m not linking to it because it is not my taste at all and it’s rather pushy sell-y, if you know what I mean.

In any case, I am thinking there is an important distinction to be made between the purging for the sake of purging and purging with a purpose in mind.  I’ve written about consumerism before, and I’ve written about the Zero Waste Home book.  I think there may be a sweet spot between having my children feel guilty about accepting treat bags at birthday parties (for fear of cluttering our house) and not even attempting to staunch the flowof “stuff” that cascades into our home so that we’ll have things to purge, down the road.  It’s like some weird temporary hoarder issue.

It’s a tricky balance.

I like to assume that the match-the-year-with-the-purge family lives amidst steaming heaps of clutter, all 6 children tripping and tumbling over stacks of doodads and geegaws. I envision the matriarch going on frantic late-evening jaunts to fast-food joints, hollering at the kids to hang onto their toys-with-meals so they can throw them out when they return home.

This is very uncharitable of me (and not at all true in any way, shape, or form), but it helps me justify why I’m not posting photos from here.  You, too, can imagine the heaps at my home.  I would hate to rob you of the fun you can have with your mean-spirited imagination! But that’s probably just me.

Maybe I’ll post “after” photos some day.  Stay tuned.

Day 88 Scorecard: 440 down, 1,385 to go

So totally not my house at all.  Grabbed from here.

So totally not my house at all. Grabbed from here.

January 26, 2015

Little Achievements: January 26th, 2015

I’ve written about the necessity of small goals already, but today they were very much on my mind.

I calculated, whilst struggling up an endless hill with nearly-frozen-solid legs, that June will mark 4 years since I took up running (not counting a few months here and there, including the first 2 winters).  That particular hill I’ve run likely more than 100 times.  And it doesn’t get easier. As I run, I make deals with myself, in my head:

“If I make it to that ‘for sale’ sign, I can take a walk break.”

“Okay, made it to the ‘for sale’ sign, I’ll just go until I hit the intersection, then I’ll walk.”

Most of the time, by the time I get to the spot I had promised myself I’d stop at, I’ve passed by the worst of my struggle and I don’t even realize I’ve passed my marker.

I try to psyche myself out, too.  I anticipate that I’ll make it past, and I find myself already making the next goal.  This is a bad idea.  This sucks all the triumph out of making it past the initial goal and my brain doesn’t trust me that I’ll actually take that walk break.

It all sounds very silly, but it is terribly effective.  It keeps me going even when I’m so ready to give up I would give just about anything to flag down a passing car and hop in.

But I don’t.

I find myself struggling with 5 Down some days, too.  The days when the endgame, the overall goal, seems just too overwhelming and too far off.  I’ve tried to rally myself with the thought of “almost to the quarter mark!” but, you know, I’ve been saying that since the beginning of January.  It’s a lot like asking “are we there yet?”


I think I’m just going to focus on smaller goals and little achievements.  I need to celebrate more.  I mean, don’t we all?

The kids were being goofs at supper tonight.  When I mentioned a routine thing that had happened at work, they burst into cheering and applause.  We all had a good laugh before Mike and I had to remind them that food does not eat itself (now you know why they’re all so slender).  It’s not a bad idea, though, to celebrate even the most routine of accomplishments.

So for tonight, I’m going to cheer for myself (and the entire family) that we’ve made it this far, so far.


Day 87 Scorecard: 435 down, 1,390 to go

(today’s chalkboard was a joint venture – Solomon provided #s 4 and 5).

January 25th, 2015

Spending: January 25th, 2015

I spent some money today.  I’m not going to tell you how much, because it doesn’t matter.  I was happy to spend it, and it felt like it was the least I could do.

Today my sister, my running buddy, and I participated in a fund-raising event.  A “fund-run” if you will.

See, last year, on December 23rd, when you were probably getting ready for Christmas and looking forward to the upcoming new year, a friend of a friend, Lisa, was being given utterly devastating news.  Stage 4 cancer.  She is blogging about her experience, and you should read it.  Beware of liberal use of the f-bomb.  I’m not sure I’d be feeling all that polite either.

Shortly after her diagnosis, her close friends decided to have a run and hopefully raise a few dollars to support her.  They figured about 40 people would show up.  They were wrong.

I don’t know if there was a final count, but my guess is that about 400 people were there.  And we raised over $12,000 for Lisa and her young family.

Lining up.

Lining up amongst the throngs.

There is this thing about money.  It’s so totally necessary, and it can be hard to come by, and hard to think about when you’re suffering.  When a person is staring down an enormous foe, it probably feels rather trite to think about cash-flow.  Unfortunately, though, money (enough money) still matters.  The money will be an enormous boon to Lisa; it’ll allow her to concentrate all her energy where it is needed.

But I am here to tell you that no matter how much money we raised today, and how crucial it is, I would still hazard a guess that it was the people, more than the cash, that made the biggest impact.  On a cold January day people came out to show that we care.

I hope that the run today is a fond memory that Lisa can look back on in the years to come.  I hope it’s fodder for her to continue being a force for good in her community (as I’m told she very much is).  I hope she has nothing but good news coming her way.  But no matter what comes, she knows that she has a crowd on her side.

These are the things that are worth everything.

So, no, today I feel nothing but good about spending money.  It didn’t bring me a possession, it didn’t provide me with stuff to clutter up my house, it didn’t satisfy a passing fancy.  It bought a little less to worry about for someone who very much needs to not worry about money right now.  It bought a little peace of mind. Stay strong, Lisa.

Day 86 Scorecard: 430 down, 1,395 to go

ps: if you want to donate, too, you totally can: click here.