Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Thank You, 2014

As we count down the final hours of 2014, some will be happy to see the old year end. For me and for my family, however, 2014 was a very good year. So many positive things happened for us during the past year. We began tackling the repairs and renovations to our home. I started this blog. My husband went back to school to finish his degree. My daughter joined the track and field team, and started learning Spanish.

As for me, I won a coveted spot in the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile race in Washington, DC. We had a fabulous week-long trip to our nation's capitol at the height of the cherry blossom season! I trained all summer for the Rock'n'Roll Half Marathon in Savannah, GA. I look fondly back on all those long runs out in the hot summer sun, and in the warm summer evening air, hoping that their memory will sustain me through the dark and cold of the winter ahead. I ran the half marathon in November and set a PR, then spent several days recovering at on the Tybee Island beach.

I also began my journey down the path of minimalism. This path has not only help me begin rid myself of physical clutter, but I have began to evaluate the mental and emotional clutter in my life as well. I rediscovered the things that are important to me, and I let go of the things that were dragging me down. There is still so much more work to be down, but I am wholeheartedly looking forward to it.

Some of my favorite minimalist blogs from 2014 were:
Becoming Minimalistby Joshua Becker
Be More With Lessby Courtney Carver
Rowdy Kittensby Tammy Strobel
Slow Your Homeby Brooke McAlary

So with 2015 only a few hours away, I have been pondering my New Year's Resolutions. I am not sure what resolutions I am going to embrace yet, but for now, I want to say "thank you" to 2014, for all the wonderful memories and much-need enlightenment. Thank you, 2014!

And here of some of my favorite memories from 2014:

New lights in the bathroom!

Sunrise on the National Mall for the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Race

Cherry blossoms

Japanese girls amongst the cherry blossoms

Way out in front in the 1600m

My Blue Heaven - now with added BLUE

No more leaking bathroom pipes above the living room!

New water heater

Simon and the summer roses

RC Cola Moon Pie 10-Miler, in and around Bell Buckle, TN

Beautiful Isabella

Friends on a summer run

A summer evening run in the village

Sunset in the village


An early autumn rainstorm brings parking lot canoeing!

Glorious fall!

Fifi, our year-round Halloween kitty

Autumn sunset


The Half Marathon


Bridget loves the Christmas tree

So Happy New Year, everyone! But as we rush forward to embrace the shiny new year, let's remember 2014 and cherish the memory of a wonderful year.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Sock It To Me!

For Christmas, I treated myself to the Kindle version of "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing" by Marie Kondo. This book has been getting a lot of buzz on the minimalist blogs, and it sounded like it might have some interesting ideas. The author is Japanese and works with clients in Japan, where homes are smaller, so I thought she might have some great "small-space" tips. I have not finished reading it yet, but there does seem to be lots of good advice and perspective so far, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

I was happily reading along Saturday afternoon when I reached a part of the book in which the author advises the best way to store socks. She described her horror at learning that one of her clients kept all her socks in rolled "potatoes", the cuff of one sock turned over the other to keep them together, then stuffed unceremoniously into the sock drawer. The author explained that this method of storage stretches the sock cuffs, and stresses the fabric of the socks. Also, with your socks in potatoes, it is difficult to find what you are looking for within your sock drawer. The socks on top tend to get worn over and over merely because they are conveniently placed, while other pairs remain hidden and buried in the back of the drawer.

This thought really struck me! This is how I have stored my socks for years! I will put the two socks together, then roll the cuff of one over the other so they stay together it the drawer. However, even though I recently went through and culled out many, many pairs of socks, I can still barely open and close my sock drawer. I enjoy knitting my own socks, so I have several pairs that are thick and bulky, taking up the lion's share of the room in the drawer. Another drawback with the "potato" method that has always frustrated me is that I can never find my running socks, which are shorter and thinner, so they get lost in the drawer, while my compression socks, which come to the knee, tend to be omnipresent strings throughout the drawer.

After reading the section of the book about sock folding, I immediately decided to try it out. I went upstairs and emptied my sock drawer onto the bed.

Notice the bright pink compression socks at the bottom, and the bulky knit socks on the right. Next, I took each pair of socks and folded them neatly. I started with the running socks, which are primarily ankle socks. I placed each pair together and folded them at the heel. Next, I folded my knit socks and trouser socks. For these, I folded the toe up to meet the heel, then folded to upper part over that (so, two folds). For my compression socks, I folded them in half, then in half again. Then, I placed all my nicely folded socks in my sock drawer, each folded pair standing vertically.

Look how pretty! All my running socks are right in front where I can get them quickly when I am trying to dash out for a run. Compression socks are in the back, since I use them less frequently. Knit socks on the right, and socks for work on the left. I can SEE all my socks at once, and can tell if I need to do a wash to have clean work socks or running socks. The whole thing only took about five minutes.

You have no idea how happy my new sock drawer has made me! Several times when I was in the bedroom, I just opened it and admired my happy socks. On Sunday night, I had several freshly laundered pairs of socks to put away, so I folded them nicely and "filed" them in the drawer. Even though the drawer looks full, there was still plenty of room as the socks are not jammed together. The drawer opens and closes easily as well, with no socks getting caught. When I got ready for work this morning, it was very easy to find my gray socks that I wanted to wear!

I was so inspired that I also organized my underwear drawer. (Even though I happily took pictures, I won't post them here - no one needs to be looking at my undies, no matter how prettily folded they are! If you have any questions about how I folded stuff though, I will be happy to answer them.) I found when I organized this drawer, that I had lots more room, as the underwear folds down quite small. I also discovered that I needed to do another load of laundry (only two pair of work underwear left?!)

My success with my socks has renewed my simplifying and organizing enthusiasm. (I offered to organize my husband's and daughter's sock drawer, but they both declined.) It made me realized that our house does indeed have plenty of space, if we only utilize it properly.

Friday, December 26, 2014


Though Christmas is upon us, we are just now getting started in earnest with the Christmas decorating! One of my plans is to go through all our decorations and ornaments as we take them out (and later pack them away), and determine what we want to keep. We have lights that we don't use anymore, ornaments that were gifts that we never cared for, Christmas dishes that I can never remember to unpack in time for Christmas, and things that are just too much trouble to put out for whatever reason (I am looking at you, unreasonably heavy tree ornament!). There is a wonderful charity called the Holiday Bureau that takes toys, stuffed animals, and all kinds of holiday decorations, and finds new homes for them. The closest branch to us is in Anderson County, TN, so we have planned a post-holiday dropoff of toys, stuffed animals, and decorations when we go visit my parents, who live in that area. For those of you who are interested, the Holiday Bureau is one of the few places that I know that will take lightly used stuffed animals. (You can call to get tips on how to prepare donations of stuffed toys for dropoff.)

We brought four boxes of Christmas decorations down from the attic, and went through them as we decorated the tree. We touched and sorted through each item. The ones that we loved went on the tree. The ones that we chose to let go were packed into two large boxes for the Holiday Bureau. In the end, the tree was beautiful, and every ornament a treasure to us. And as you can see, Bridget approves.

I have noticed something since we started going through the house and simplifying. It appears that in the year or so leading up to our change of lifestyle, we did a lot of shopping. It's almost as if we reached some kind of tipping point with our accumulation of possessions that made us decide to jump off the consumerism bandwagon. I am not sure why this is the case, but I do find it interesting. It has been most striking as we unpack the Christmas decorations. I have said at least once, "I totally forgot we had this!". And though we are planning on parting with many things this holiday season, we WILL be keeping our "menagerie" - a large giraffe, a dinosaur, two flamingoes, and inflatable bears, all with Santa hats - who live on our porch during the holidays and make us smile.

Merry Christmas to everyone! I hope your Christmas is beautiful and bright.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Yuletide Reflections

This Sunday was Yule, the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. To celebrate, we had a fire in our backyard chiminea. Even though Christmas is just a couple of days away, I am already thinking ahead to New Year's. New Year's Day is probably my favorite holiday (though I also love Valentine's Day). I love the idea of a clean slate. I enjoy looking back on the year and reflecting on my journey, and then looking forward and thinking about where I want to go. This year, I feel like I will be continuing along the path that I began a few months ago, simplifying my life, minimizing my possessions, and making room for the things that are important to me - my family, my music, my art, my health. The new year will bring new opportunities and challenges, and I feel equal to meeting them.

I also had the joy of closing my Macy's credit card account this week. I paid the card off long ago, but just got around to closing it, thereby further minimizing the possibility of future debt!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

2005 Was A Good Year

Last Friday night, we decided to have spaghetti for dinner, so I volunteered to cook (yes - I define boiling water as cooking!). While I was in the kitchen waiting for the water to boil, I decided to clear out a corner of one of the countertops. Out kitchen is very small with limited counter space, and yet has still managed to become a catch-all area in our home. This particular corner held a recipe box, two outdated phone books, several cookbooks, and more appliance / toy / equipment user manuals than I wanted to count! In the time it took for the water to boil, and the pasta to cook, I had recycled the phone books, sorted through the user manuals and recycled those for things that we no longer own, culled the recipe box, and selected unused cookbooks to take to the used book store. Though there is still too much in that corner, there is a lot less than there was before. It just goes to show that with even a few minutes, a bit decluttering and simplifying can be accomplished.

In sorting through all the papers, recipes, and user manuals, I found several interesting items - an old address book from when my husband and I first got married, and a whole stack of coupons that expired in 2005. Think about that for a minute. Those coupons were cut out and collected in 2005, placed in that corner of counter with the cookbooks and manuals, and have remained there, mostly undisturbed, for ALMOST 10 YEARS!! How is that possible?! We use those cookbooks and occasionally those manuals, and we HAVE cleaned that area of countertop in the past 10 years. But apathy, disinterest, something, kept us from going through those papers and throwing out those coupons. I wonder what else we will come across on our journey that will cause us to just shake our heads and say, "Why did we keep this?"

Has anyone else out there had this experience - finding things in their home and wondering why the kept them all this time?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Things I have found new homes for this week

Considering that I have not had a lot of time to declutter lately, what with the mad end-of-semester push for both my husband and daughter, I feel like it has been a fairly successful week. I have found homes for the following items this week:

  • mechanical timer - previously used for an indoor greenhouse for starting seeds, I gave it to my supervisor at work for her in-office space heater that she worries about forgetting to turn off
  • alarm clock - this was on my nightstand, but I have decided to use my iPhone as an alarm clock (the alarm tones are not so jarring in the morning!). I gave this to a friend who has a friend that is setting up a new apartment
  • toothbrush holder shaped like duck - left over from when my daughter was little, this has been sitting by the kitchen sink for about 5 years (why?). It also went to my friend with a friend, who has kids
  • stand mixer - barely used, this went to the same friend for his parents that like to cook
  • blender - used but still in good condition, also went to my friend's parents

The mixer and the blender will free up almost a whole cabinet under the kitchen counter. Not sure what I will do with that space, but I am sure we will put it to good use!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Even a small victory is a victory!

This past Sunday, we enjoyed a particularly warm and balmy November day. It was overcast and slightly breezy, the perfect day to put the second coat of paint on the front of the house. Since we only had one day, and I am still recuperating from a nasty tumble down the stairs, we decided to just paint the lower half, in other words the porch. This required minimal ladder climbing and bending and stooping. It only took a couple of hours, and then we were done and I could rest. I am hoping that we will have a few more warm days before the chill of winter really takes hold to get the rest of the the front done. It feels good being able to get that off my to-do list!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

I just wanted to share a picture of our dining room table. We decluttered it yesterday for Thanksgiving, and actually had a meal at the table!

The only thing left from the piles of junk mail, magazines, old receipts, and things that just never got put away is a stack of library books, which my husband is returning to the library later today. Everyone agreed that it felt wonderful to sit at the table for a meal. And now we can have a games night tonight!

Also, Bridget, our Official Kitty of Thanksgiving, reminds you to give thanks for the blessings in your life, and pass the turkey.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Clean Sweep

Tonight, we had pasta for dinner. In the time it took for the water to come to a boil, and then for the pasta to cook, I went through the cabinet above the kitchen sink where we keep most of our cleaning supplies. I threw out all those that were nearly empty, that I bought years ago and have never used, or that were redundant (I rarely dust so why do I need two cans of Endust?). I threw out tile cleaner (we have no tile in our house) and scouring powder (I prefer baking soda for cleaning the sink). I filled two plastic groceries bags which I happily carted out to the garbage can, and out of the house. Then we had dinner.

After dinner, I cut some more pieces for the quilts that I am working on. All in all, I got a lot done for a Monday night. I consider every day that I remove some clutter from our house a successful day.

A good deed

I was thrilled to see this in my e-newsletter at work this morning! I have been trying to get Vanderbilt, where I work, to do a story about my daughter's awesome school for a while. Vanderbilt has a cooperative agreement with the school, and so much great stuff is going on there to turn the school around. I hope people will finally take notice!

Teaching as a team sport boosts student performance

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Day of Rest

Today was a lovely restful Sunday. I had coffee while I read and caught up on my minimalist blogs. It was raining and gray outside, though thankfully not as cold as it has been. After breakfast and coffee, my husband started working on his paper for school, my daughter started her homework, and I read a little more while planning my day. At one point I noticed that the only sounds were the rain falling, birds chirping outside, and the tick of the clock. While my family around me, working peacefully and quietly, I felt very content. After a while, I began work on the blocks for the quilts that I am making for my parents. I hope to have them done in time for Christmas, but the same things that have kept me from working on the house and simplifying have gotten in the way of my quilting as well. I was able finish four blocks today, so that is pretty good progress.

Before bed, I found one more item to minimize. I unplugged my alarm clock and added it to the donate pile by the door. The face is too bright, it awakens me with a loud blaaa sound which makes me instantly hit snooze, and it is not battery powered, so when we have power outages, I oversleep. I will be using my iPhone now instead. It has pleasant alarm sounds and is already by my bed most nights anyway being charged.

It's warm enough tonight that I have the bedroom window partially open. I love hearing the wind chimes.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

13.1 Miles Is Not Half Anything

We have done very little renovating or minimizing over the past couple of months. Last spring, I competed in the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run in Washington, D.C. About a week later, in a residual runner's high, I registered for the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon in Savannah, Georgia. To that end, I spent most of my summer weekends either completing, or recovering from, long runs. Needless to say, this did not leave a lot of time, or energy, for home projects.

The race was on November 8, and I had an absolute blast!

The course wound through historic Savannah, and was flat as a pancake, except for one bridge at mile 1.

I had a time goal of sub-3 hours. I ran with the local Fleet Feet pace group, led by a wonderful woman named Crystal, and finished in 2:59:19. Hurray!

I have a few races planned over the next few months, but the longest is a 15K in February. I want to get some of the many projects that we have started, or that we have planned, completed, and I can't do this if I am out running 14 miles on the weekends.

Following the half marathon, I renewed my commitment to decluttering, minimizing, and simplifying. This morning, I spent some time going through the pile of papers on the dining room table. Most got tossed or recycled, and now there is a clean space to work on some Christmas gifts that I am making. I am continuing my journey into minimalism, reading everything that I can get my hands on, subscribing to blogs devoted to the subject. My favorite is Joshua Becker's blog Becoming Minimalist. I subscribed a few months ago, but just recently went back to the very beginning of his blog, to follow his journey from the start. It inspired me to document my own journey into minimalism within this blog, in addition to our home renovations and projects.

I also recommend:

Brooke McAlary's Slow Your Home
Leo Babauta's Zen Habits
Tammy Stroebel's Rowdy Kittens
Courtney Carver's Be More With Less

And for anyone looking for a wonderful, minimal Christmas gift, Courtney Carver is offering 31 Gifts That You Deserve, delivered daily to your email box. I have subscribed for my husband and I. We are going to try to give each other experiences rather than things this Christmas, as part of our move away from consumerism.

Somehow, even though I haven't had as much time as I would like to go through everything, just knowing that someday it will be out if our house has allowed me to mentally let go of all the feelings associated with all that junk. It's freeing, or at least the beginning of freeing. I already feel better just having made the decision to get rid of stuff - now, I just have to actually get rid it!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Where have I been? Well ...

I haven't posted in so long, because I was out enjoying one of the nicest summers we have had in a long while. Usually the summers in this area are hot and humid, and after the 4th of July, everyone just retreats to their air conditioning to wait for fall. This summer was different - it was a warm, soft summer, with temperate weather, beautiful sunny days, and firefly-filled nights. Our family took full advantage of it, and we were outside from the time we arrived home from work until dark every night that we could be. I didn't get too many projects done. But during the week, I had lots of nice evening runs, and saw many beautiful sunsets, and on the weekends, we relaxed and relaxed some more.

This week, it is starting to feel like summer is coming to an end. A cold front in moving through today which will bring fall-like weather, according to the weatherman. It has been hot and muggy the last two weeks (as opposed to all summer long, like it usually is), but I am still sorry to see this summer end.

So other than enjoying the summer, what have I been up to? Well! Let me tell you.

For a while now, I have subscribed to Joshua Becker's blog, Becoming Minimalist. Recently, I read his books Simplify and Clutterfree With Kids. Our house is small, and during the last couple of years I have been increasingly dissatisfied and perturbed by the feeling that I am living in a storage unit. Joshua and his family started out like us, and have now embraced minimalism. I found this idea very intriguing. I like the idea of clear surfaces, room to move about, and the ability to find things when I need them.

I took a week off work after Labor Day (just 'cause), and decided to spend some time going through ... DAH, DAH, DUM ... The Third Room. The Third Room is the third bedroom in our home. It is a sewing room / music room / storage room / dumping ground for all things we can't place elsewhere. I went through about ten boxes of things and got rid of almost all of it. I got rid of three garbage bags full of quilting fabric, which I donated to a local guild that makes quilts for the NICU. I got rid of an entire box of video tapes - many went in the garbage, but some are in a box to go to the used book store. Same with CDs. I found a box full of cassette tapes, 95% of which are now either in the trash or in the donation box for Goodwill (we still have a cassette player, so there were a few keepers). I got rid of two garbage bags of my own clothes (I never shop for clothes, so I am not sure how I ended up with so many!). One box had nothing in it but an old bag of potting soil. It's been stored safely in The Third Room for ten years! Why? Why? There is now a pile of things by the front door that have "exit strategies" - a box to go to the used book store, a box for Goodwill, a box for Freecyle, my old bass amp to go to Sam Ash, a box to go to ReTool (a used tool store), etc.

Getting rid of all this stuff is liberating and exhilarating. There is still tons to be done just in The Third Room, but I feel motivated to do it. The trick is the way you look at your things. If I open a box, and ask "What can I get rid of?", very little will actually be "gotten rid of". Most items will stay in the box. BUT, if I open a box, take everything out, and then ask, "What do I want to keep?", only a few things, if any, will go back in the box. I will find a home elsewhere for those things that I want to keep, that bring value to my life, and everything else gets an exit strategy. And the now empty box gets added to the growing pile of empty boxes.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Time To Wake Up And Smell The Fabric Softener

Before we could start painting the house, we had a couple of other emergency tasks that arose: the water heater stopped working, the dryer stopped working, and water from the bath tub supply line in the upstairs bath began to leak about a bucket a day of water through the ceiling into the living room. Last weekend, we tackled fixing the dryer, and got started fixing the leak in the ceiling. But today I am just going to talk about the dryer.

We have a 10-year-old Kenmore Elite HE3 front-loading washer and matching dryer.

Last November, we put in a load of clothes, pressed the button, and nothing happened. The display panel at the top lit, but the dryer would not start turning or drying. The interior light came on, but that was it. We did a little research on the internet and found that this "symptom" is generally caused by a burnt-out thermal fuse. A little more research was required to track down the right part number for our dryer model. Luckily, there are lots of these dryers still around. In our case, the part number was 3392519. We found the fuses on Amazon from McCombs Supply Company in Lancaster, PA. The fuses run about $2.75 a piece, and McCombs provided free, quick shipping. When the fuse installed in November blew a couple of weeks ago, we ordered two more of the same fuse. Side note: I think that the first fuse that we installed blew due to the fact that the dryer vent needed to be cleaned, which has been rectified.

The first thing that we did was unplug the dryer.

Next, we propped the front of the dryer up with a 3" X 3" fence post remnant, so we could better reach the access panel.

Then we removed the two screws on lower corners of the access panel.

We slid the outer access panel off to reveal the blower wheel housing.

There are three screws that hold the blower wheel housing cover in place - one on the left, seen below at the top:

one on the right:

and one underneath that secures a clip:

We slipped the blower wheel housing off, and cleaned the blower wheel with the vacuum.

The fuse is located above and to the right of the blower wheel.

We loosened the screw that held the fuse in place and slipped it backwards out of the slot.

Then, we slipped the two connectors off the fuse.

We got the new fuse from the package.

We connected the connectors to the new fuse and installed it in the slot.

Then, we tightened the screw that holds the fuse back into place.

We replaced the blower wheel housing, and the access panel, and removed the fence post used to prop up the dryer. Then we plugged the dryer back in and - TADA - it works!

The whole process only took about 45 minutes, and most of that was spent looking for the right size hex wrench.