Sunday, March 30, 2008

Setting Free The Stuff

As spring break wraps up and my daughter relishes her return to school, I find myself puttering about the house with many projects swimming around my head. Of course, Easter holidays usually signify the onset of true spring-like weather but the the actual observance of Holy Week and Easter came early - really early- this year. The gooey snow of last week guaranteed a lot of time in the the house looking at the accumulation that accompanied this winter and many winters past. Magazines, dvds, toys, mismatched mittens, extraneous crayons and markers... stuff, Stuff, STUFF! It was too cold to overlook the cluttering of the stuff in the house to go prepare the yard or drag out the outdoor distractions of the hammock for the warm afternoons. I was stuck. That pestiferous voice in the recesses of my mind nagged "Enough! Clean this mess up before you're outside all day in the yard for the next half a year." I went with the directive as best I could with two small children in the house. I got the tax information in, filed through the piles, tackled dust bunnies and did a victory dance as I backed up the computer to dvd while uploading long forgotten pictures. Unfortunately something then happened that hijacked my whole grand scheme with one failure: the refrigerator expired.

Deader than dead was my 2001 Whirlpool side by side with many month's fresh meat defrosted. I called for repair, I Googled for a part and crossed my fingers; I prayed to the kitchen gods of goodness and frugality but it was all for naught. I begged a loaner fridge, spent a couple of days cooking, marinating, and packaging while I began the search for a replacement. Many things have changed over the last few years when it comes to replacing a major household appliance, many for the better and a few not. I began the search for an Energy Star unit that would be efficient, affordable and capable of going back into the space that the Whirlpool would be vacating. I looked. I read customer reviews. I got nervous. Am I the only one to notice that in a world populated by the tiniest of technologies, refrigerators seem to get bigger and bigger? A laptop that can fit in a manila envelope? Sure. A mobile phone that is smaller than a pack of gum? No problem. A t.v. that can snug up against a wall? Yes, yes, yes! A refrigerator that isn't 30 inches deep. Good flippin' luck. The only thing getting smaller on a refrigerator is its compressor and it's that one fact explains why something that cost a grand at the beginning of THIS century didn't make it a decade. Yes, I looked at repair, but the sad news is a new compressor would run in the neighborhood of $600 and the fridge I finally located is $700. What would you do? Needless to say, the new one isn't a Whirlpool.

My great household meltdown of '08 started more than Spring cleaning for me. I hadn't been able to put a name to what I wanted to do until today when I was on the internet looking for ways to disinfect a dishwasher, which I thought might be a good idea after this winter's cold and flu onslaught. Yes, that is precisely the random stuff I look up in my day to day interactions with the Internet. I ran across a blog of helpful cleaning strategies (hints don't work for me, I need strategy) that succintly described what I'd been trying to communicate to my inner neat-nick. It's called "Discardia" and it's described this way: Discardia is celebrated by getting rid of stuff and ideas you no longer need. It's about letting go, abdicating from obligation and guilt, being true to the self you are now. Discardia is the time to get rid of things that no longer add value to your life, shed bad habits, let go of emotional baggage and generally lighten your load. It's viewed as a holiday by some, but I don't need another holiday. I need clarity. I need organization. I need ease of locating what should be in my house, not another reason to send out a greeting card that I may or may not have bought but now can't find in the paper stacked next to my computer. So, I began. I went through stuff. I disposed of what I'd not used in 5 years. I filled the dumpster with all the stuff I promised myself I'd repair myself 7 years ago. I tried shoes and clothes and socks on the kids and myself, passing on the outgrown items. I cleaned toys to take to St. John's Thrift Store. I put all the photographs in their own organized box. I listed usable but unwanted things on eBay. I even dusted... a little. After a winter of feeling crowded by the stuff, I began to breath easier. I've been emptying out the cupboards, cooking the food I have on hand. I've been reminding myself, whenever I caught myself saying "I'm almost out of....******..." to refrain from running to the store. I've let my Costco membership lapse. I no longer see buying in bulk as a necessary thing. The reality of food sitting on a shelf for a couple years, just so I can save 19 cents when I buy twenty boxes, isn't very appealing to my palate. And, more importantly, I simply don't have the room. If I can't buy it at my local grocery, I don't need it. A walk to the farthest grocery in town for me is a two mile round trip. There's no reason I can't walk to pick up a little something to round out dinner and I won't have to shove and cram to make its super-duper econo size container fit in my cupboards.

Simplicity is what I want; a streamlined life with the help of my households sprites saying "no, you don't need that" when I linger at a website showing that latest whatzit at a steal of a price. I want what I have to last. I know, finally, there is no such thing as retail therapy. Happiness comes only with simplicity. I truly appreciate anyone who can produce an item that is useful, miniscule, and long-lasting. I sure don't like throwing things away, but I do like being able to live with less stuff. I guess "Discardia" isn't just a particular day, but a mindset for which I'm finally ready.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Truth About Leprechauns for St. Patrick's Day

The Truth About Leprechauns ... According To Augusta from Justine Larsen on Vimeo.

The corned beef is in the oven!

Here's what I do, after a number of years of trial and error:

Drain corned beef from brine in the package (yes, it's packaged. Someday I'll do my own brining, but not until my attention is a little less divided)

Place in roasting bag in roasting pan, fat side up. Schmear with a good few squirts of Gulden's Spicy Brown mustard. Sprinkle seasoning that arrived in the corned beef package on top of the mustard. Chop an onion and put it around the beef n'bag. Add chopped or small carrots. Add 1 cup chicken broth or stock. Tie up bag and roast in 300 degree over for approximately and hour a pound.

I'll be making acorn squash potato cakes as a side dish and some boiled cabbage and onions. I'll let the spouse write the food review. A friend is coming to eat with us and she's bringing the dessert and Guinness. SlĂ inte Mhath!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Enough Already...

I just received ANOTHER phone call asking who I plan to vote for in tomorrow's Wyoming caucus. I don't know whose list I'm on right now, but I must be on speed dial. Why do I feel I have to be polite to these folks calling? Even though they call me "Justin" when they call, I've remained polite. What I've been saying, though, is I'll decide when I get to the caucus. Tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow is another day, to invoke Miss Scarlett. I'm going to the caucus. I'll do my best to get over the stack of mailing from Senator Obama's campaign, and hope that some printer in Wyoming saw a big chunk of pay for the full-color press time. I do realize that Wyoming is in play this year, really for the first time since JFK needed Wyo delegates in his bid for the White House. I KNOW!

I also know the money being spent is OBSCENE. And, I said that before Jon Stewart did the other night on The Daily Show. Seconds before he said it. I am that voter that will vote, wants change, but is horrified at the amount of money being tossed around as I sweat over whether my last check to buy food at local grocery store is going to clear or send me spinning, yet again, into overdraft. 35 million raised by the Clinton campaign last month? 50 million for Obama? Gross, gross, gross.

I want change. I want experience. I want accessibility to health care coverage. I want a future of promise for my children. I want the debacle in Iraq to be ended. I know it won't be stopped, but I want it ended. I knew what I was getting when the criminals moved into the West Wing nearly 8 years ago. The scandal, the deceit, the 3 trillion dollar (Huffington Post) debt hangover... all portrayed as "compassionate conservatism" so none of what's resulted has come as a surprise to me. I realize, being the origin of the current Vice-President, Wyoming has a lot to answer for and it's time for some serious make-up. I will do my part. I will caucus. I will stand for Bill Richardson on the first vote. After that, I will make my choice.

Mostly, I just don't want to be disappointed by the second choice I make. Bill Richardson's departure was a big disappointment. The Democrat that goes to Washington has such profound work to do, and I hope they bring Bill Richardson along to help clean up the mess that awaits them.

And, from this point on, I will only take calls from The Daily Show.

Saturday, March 01, 2008


I had an odd situation crop up this last week. A friend, who is still certainly a friend though our orbits are now quite far away from each other, stopped by the house. She said "I have some ideas for you. First we need to get you into a bigger house..." I stopped her there. I said "I can't buy a new or different house. I'm not working right now. Until my son is eligible for daycare (meaning out of diapers) I can't work full time. Period" Not working has been a big deal for me. I'm not the best stay-at-home mom and I know that. Our life, as a family, has had some real uncertainties the last couple of years. We are up against a big uncertainty right now, finalizing the sale of our old business. All of that seems to be unknown where we are living now. I don't broadcast a sense of doom but I also don't understand how I give off a sense of trust fund-driven wealth. I do my best to portray a calm, but I also live in a house that is less than 800 square feet and drive an old car with nearly 160,000 miles on it, neither of which I can replace right now. I had another friend - one who has her own business and a large house for one person - say that the church I attend is the one that "rich people like you" attend. What? I lined her out but still said thanks for thinking I was just dripping in wealth. It must be the clothes I bought last year on the Target clearance rack that gives off that vibe of Carnegie cash running through my blue veins.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I remember hearing similar assumptions when I was a kid. A few times I was referred to as a "rich kid" and was always puzzled by the accusation. My parents were school teachers. Yes, we drove a Cadillac, but we also had a Gremlin. We had to sell my dad's beloved Cadillac off shortly after his death because he died in July and my parents didn't get paid in the summer and the $2100 it garnered all went to the ambulance bill when he had a massive heart attack one night. Our house was comfortable but it's the house I was brought home to as newborn. My mom still lives there. Yes, I've seen Paris but it was with a back pack on and a flat pillow awaiting me at the next youth hostel.

Often my daughter asks me who lives in the big houses that are being built near us. I'll tell her, "Mr. and Mrs. Soandso". She'll then ask how many kids live in that big house. I have to answer truthfully and say "none." She'll then ask when we are going to "trade houses" and I have to say, again truthfully, "not anytime soon". Even if I had the means, I wouldn't want to follow that path. I try, on a daily basis, to simplify my life; to have less stuff, to have less worry, to consume less. As much as anything, I don't want the big ol' house because I couldn't deal with the perception issues; I want to live simply and I can't stop thinking that with more stuff comes more worries.

Point? Non-existent, really. Perception is a bigger thing for me than I wanted it to be, I guess. I want to be perceived as someone without pretension, without clutter, without inaccuracies, without complications... but not without complexity. Do I want too much or not enough?

If nothing else... no huge house, big car, or bulging mutual fund... I do have some appreciation for the rarities. I found one today in the first strawberries of the season, on sale, in the grocery store. I honestly do think they taste better when they are two boxes for five dollars...