Imagining

Autumn on the Oberg Mountain Hiking Trail Loop, Minnesota
The view I imagine while stuck in traffic.  Image: Autumn on the Oberg Mountain Hiking Trail Loop, Minnesota by Tony Webster, CC BY-SA 2.0.

I popped Mari’s well-worn CD of Anne of Green Gables into the car stereo this morning and from the first lines was whisked to a comfortable home in my memory. My mom bought this book for me when I traveled with my aunt at the age of 9. Once I got through the wordy descriptions in the first page, I was hooked. I finished it and immediately began reading it again. I read the series countless times over the years, continuing to read it into adulthood on occasion. The books have always been an escape for me; I recall taking an Anne book and my lunch to a park near my engineering job, sitting under a tree and reading to forget work stress for a while.

It was a pleasant way to spend the commute – listening to L.M. Montgomery’s loving descriptions of the natural beauty of Avonlea, every sentence a mark of her craft. The activities of the characters were a reminder of the world pre-technology. Anne fantasized about living near a babbling brook and spending the night in a wild cherry tree; she didn’t spend all her hours with earbuds and a smartphone. Rachel Lynde observed everything that happened in the neighborhood because she wasn’t parked in front of a TV. An 8-mile horse-driven buggy drive was a pleasure, not a time-sucking chore as it can be today in a much faster car. I’m sure there will be a million more examples; I’m only on chapter 2.

For many years, it was my fantasy to live far from the bustle of cities and suburbs, in a country cottage with a large garden and abundant physical and mental space. My parents moved to such a place when I was in college, and on my occasional visits I loved the sounds of the owls at night and roosters and cows early in the morning, the always changing landscapes of the Shenandoah foothills, and the lack of busy-ness. Oh, there was lots to do: painting outbuildings, harvesting berries, making jam, weeding, hanging laundry, painting the long stretches of fences – but there was also time to climb into the hills and marvel at the views, to enjoy a visit with the sociable barn cat, or to just think. For about a decade until upkeep became too much work for my aging parents, it was a much-loved refuge for me from the various cities in which I lived.

When, as of late, I begin to feel a real need for that refuge, I know that I need to step back and reconsider commitments. When home feels less like a cabin and more like a hotel, I know I am too busy. Recently, the fantasies of moving to the country resurfaced, and I asked myself why. It’s been a busy few weeks back to work and school, and we’re all still adjusting: we will adjust. I have given myself the position of always-willing-to-drive mother for Mari and her friends; while this can take a lot of time, there are benefits, such as knowing they are all safe, and the opportunities for conversation in the car. This is also temporary and will likely ease by the end of the winter; after her friends have navigated Minnesota winter roads, I will be more likely to consider them safe drivers.

When I was finishing my grad degree, I realized I had always been waiting for the next stage. As a young child, like many kids, I always wanted to be older. In high school, I couldn’t wait to get to college. The rapid, always-changing pace of college suited me, but I was eager to finish. The summer job I had between college and grad school was perfect in that within a few weeks I was ready to be a student again. And then I was done — I moved across the country and I was on my own… to discover that the grass was not as green as I had expected.  After a couple of years I just wanted out of the corporate world. I realized that there was always something to be finished, always something new to begin that probably wasn’t going to match my expectations.

The stress of this time will pass, and I will have some fond memories of it. Doing what I can now to make each day enjoyable for all of us will give us each a better time now and better memories in the future. And part of making every day better for all of us means giving myself more breaks.

A year ago I read the idea of a “20-minute daily vacation” in Laura Vanderkam’s Off the Clock.  It’s time to implement it!

Simple Summer Pleasures

Windows open for days on end
Listening to the frogs and owls at night
Flowers, bees, and butterflies
Biking somewhere, or biking nowhere in particular
An afternoon at the lake
Line-dried sheets
Thunderstorm!
Leaving the house without outerwear for so many months that we forget about it
Long daylight hours
Grills fired up all around the neighborhood
Garden bounty
Outdoor festivals
Farmers markets
Greenery everywhere
Less laundry to do with reduced bulk of summer clothes
Picnics
Sitting by the campfire
Stargazing
Increased unscheduled time
Outdoor concerts

Thrifty Thursday: Bar Soap

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Image © Nevit Dilmen, CC BY-SA 3.0

When did liquid soap become ubiquitous? I recall when I made the change for handwashing in my home; I had a cat that obsessively licked bar soap, and I thought it might be bad for her. Over time I became more aware of the environmental consequences of liquid soap: more fuel for transport; unnecessary ingredients, including some that have been shown to be harmful; all those plastic containers. Once Mari was old enough to hold a bar of soap, long after the cat had spent her 9 lives, we gladly made the change back.

Pros of Bar Soap:
– Minimal packaging
– Long-lasting
– No anti-microbials
– Easily available in unscented form, or naturally scented
– Soap dishes never wear out and are easy to “refill”
– Lots of fun options for soap dishes – beautiful china, interesting rocks.  I use seashells that we collected on a family trip.
– Lower cost per handwash
– Takes up less space in the cabinet, so easier to buy in bulk, with further cost savings
– Less weight for transport (liquid soap contains water, which weighs 8 pounds per gallon)

Bar soap demonstrates the green triangle about which I first read in a simple living book: if something is good for one aspects of health, budget, and the environment, then it is likely good for the other two as well. Three priorities met with one small effort!

Simple Pleasures of Spring

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CC0 image

Hearing rain after a silent winter

The return of the songbirds

Beginning the 6 months when daylight hours exceed dark hours

Daffodils waving their cheery trumpets even after an unexpected snowfall

Baby lettuce and spinach from the garden

The explosion of greenery

The return of the pollinators

Baby animals!

Easier commuting, never so appreciated as after a hard winter

Fresh strawberries for breakfast, still warm from the morning sun

Opening the windows!

Waking to the early morning chorus of birds

Ducklings!

Putting away the heavy winter coats and boots

Replacing the utility mats that pick up winter’s slush and grit with less utilitarian rugs

Cooking outside

Eating outside

Pausing on a long walk to talk with neighbors we’ve not seen in months

That brief time of ease between shoveling snow and mowing lawns

The first bicycle ride of the season


What makes you smile in the spring?

Simple Winter Pleasures

snow-river-and-trees-with-sky-and-clouds-in-temperance-river-state-park-minnesota.jpgThe bluest sky over glittering, crystalline snow

Ice skating, skiing, snowshoeing

Reading by the fireplace

Silent nights, save the owls

Simmering soup and baking bread that scent the house

The silence of a snowy day

Slow days at home, avoiding cold or ice, puttering in pajamas

Studying the amazingly beautiful snow crystal shapes

Walking on a frozen lake

Neighborhood snow shoveling nights

Chili & game nights with friends

Reaching for another blanket

Planning the vegetable garden

Hot tea or coffee on a cold morning

Watching the cardinals in the bare trees

Walking in the winter wonderland created by fresh snow

Coming inside after a long walk

Snow sculptures

Indoor projects

Last year’s harvests – strawberry jam or frozen raspberries – brightening a meal with color, flavor, and memories

Thrifty Thursday: Finding Rewards

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Small thatched cottage on Wellington Road near Church Aston
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Jeremy Bolwellgeograph.org.uk/p/3128236

It’s been a thrifty week. We’ve all been at work or school for long hours, and it’s been fairly cold. None of us has any desire to go out in the dark and cold for anything unnecessary or superfluous. I’ve been so pressed for time that I was utterly thrilled to find two jars of soup in the freezer last night to finish out my workweek lunches.

I’m reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits in an atomically slow fashion – about 3 pages/day during my work lunch (I’m guessing I’ll beat my coworker, who is reading Chernow’s Hamilton in the same manner). Today I was reading Clear’s summary of the cue, craving, response, and reward progression that everyone consciously or unconsciously experiences many times each day, and it occurred to me that Thom and I both find rewards in our frugality.

What are the rewards to which we have conditioned ourselves?
The challenge of making something by hand
The security of savings
Creating things that are better in some way – unique or tastier or containing our favorite materials – than we could purchase

Some might say that I need more excitement in my life, if leftover soup is that exciting.  But why would I want to change the ability to experience happiness over such little things?

 

Finding Hygge… a conversation that led us back to basics.

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Photo by Jenna Hamra from Pexels

(Ilse) Hygge is all over the media these past couple of years and our library has some lovely books on the subject, but I think I’ve known about it most of my life… it just didn’t have a name and wasn’t practiced to the extent that it is elsewhere. After reading about hygge, I realized that this is what I always loved about my visits to family in Germany – the focus on simple pleasures such as friends and family, the outdoors, and good food. All were often combined in a leisurely midday dinner or afternoon coffee outside. My grandparents’ house on Long Island was full of hygge, but somehow it always felt to me that it ended when I left… I didn’t feel the same anywhere else.

Before hygge awareness arrived, I had already adopted the “home as cabin” mindset. I think that some of my friends understand this, but not all. Honestly, we’ve mostly quit hosting since my return to full-time work, primarily because of my schedule, but also because I became aware of some house snobbery among a couple who are otherwise good friends. They do have a nice house, but I don’t feel a lot of hygge there.

What makes me feel a sense of calm and wellbeing in our house?

Good aromas… baking bread, spices, fresh air in the summer
Sounds of nature… owls in summer, rain in spring and fall, wind in winter
Snoozing pets… they are so easily pleased – a fleece blanket, a sunbeam, a lap
Coziness… in winter, ample warm blankets and throws, throughout the house
The right lights… reading lamps, LED candles on timers

(Kelli) I love it when it’s quiet.  Right now I’m up past my bedtime to get it.  With my kids at 4 and 2 right now, I’m craving quiet and introspection.  They are at a really fun age and I love it when they will snuggle me, which they will do with book after book (hygge) or with the TV (not so much).  We have a wood burning fireplace and it is sooooooo cozy when we have a fire! We’ve only done so twice! I really want to do that a few more times this winter.

I also finally figured out how to get my own little spot in the house, which is a little writing desk in our sun porch.  No one messes it up, or leaves junk on it, or litters it with crumbs. Since it’s very drafty I’ve put on a heater and usually use a blanket and light a little candle in there.  (In fact I just got up and moved so I could sit at my little desk).

Speaking of candles, I’ve come to embrace aromas a bit more, but I’m picky.  They have to be oh-so-subtle.

One million blankets?  Seems that’s yes. 😉

(Ilse) Ooh, quiet!  Yes. There is not enough of that in the world and it is so necessary after a busy workday.  In the summer, our screened porch is my refuge, and I love to sit outside but out of reach of the mosquitoes.  In the winter, I sometimes have difficulty finding quiet in the house and retreat to the library instead.

What would my dream house have that would increase hygge?

(Ilse) A windowseat looking out on the back yard, large enough for 2, or 1 and a very large pile of books.   An indoor garden of some type – some houses in warm climates have large planting areas inside the house (but I don’t intend to move for that feature!). Less clutter.

(Kelli) I think I’d live in the country so I could have a big bonfire area, or be outside under the stars.  I miss that about my childhood home.

What can I do in my present house to increase hygge?

(Ilse) We actually priced adding a bay window for a windowseat in our living room when we replaced our windows. Since it cost as much as all the other windows together, it was an obvious decision.

I’d like to figure out some way to arrange my houseplants to appear more garden-like. They are all in disparate pots all over the house.  I’ve recently seen some articles about houseplants being the new decorating trend, so I’ll look for some ideas. (whoever would have guessed that a small house filled with houseplants would become trendy?)

We could decrease clutter. This is a constant goal and we’ve made a lot of progress. The clutter takes a few predictable forms in our house: books, footwear (particularly in winter), and papers. Happily, decreasing clutter is almost always free except for the time. Here’s where to focus my energy!

(Kelli) I agree with the clutter.  It is just such a mental energy suck.  Looking around I feel overwhelmed almost all the time, which makes it hard to relax, be present, want to have people over, focus my thoughts on other things.  In one aspect, though, I want MORE items – and that’s to have more on the walls. We have had pretty spare walls for a few years after I put my foot down in this house of no “man cave” decor such as our former teeny little home had (vintage Northwoods, but still.  SO. MUCH. NORTHWOODS.). I want more family photos, and photos from our trips, and, ok, a few vintage northwoods items would be kinda hyggetastic.

(Ilse) Until I get back to creating a photogenic hygge-ful space, I’m going to channel my inner cat.  Sylvester finds hygge everywhere, and he spreads the hygge spirit with his rumbly purr and physical and temperamental warmth.  Warm blankets, fireplace, family, book, tea, purrrrrrrrrrrrr.