Simple Advent, Part I: Pre-Advent Cleaning Out (Making Space When Your Space isn’t Perfect)

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So yeah, it’s been forever. Life has just been well, so much. Too much for doing much (any) writing. And here and there I remember this poor, sad blog, and I become mortified that it’s on the internet for anyone to just see, and I desperately want to delete it, and, well, that might happen sometime soon. But before I do!

A few weeks ago, I realized that it was almost Advent.  Now, I love Advent. I love the entire season. I love Christmas lights and frosty nights and lighting candles and the thought of sitting serenely on the couch on late December evenings reading Advent devotions while listening to Handel’s Messiah and drinking cup after cup of peppermint tea. But the reality of December (especially now with two little ones) ends up being a lot of chaos and stress about what to buy for whom, late night present-wrapping, and frantically mailing packages on December 22nd, plus all the pressure of trying to make Christmas cookies, do meaningful Advent crafts with the kids, and generally feeling overwhelmed by stuff to do and too much stuff piled up everywhere.

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So I had the brilliant idea to use November to clean as much Stuff as possible out of our house. And to finish Christmas shopping, wrapping, and mailing. Even stockings.* So that the season of Advent isn’t dominated by frantic Amazon shopping and feeling paralyzed by decisions in over-crowded Target aisles.  And so that I’m not feeling crushed by the stress of having way too much Stuff in a really small space. And having to make all the decisions about what to buy for people. All of that. (*I fully realize that there are a LOT of really organized people out there who already do this every year and get everything done early. I did not invent the idea of Christmas shopping early. I am just not naturally the most organized, planning ahead type of person, so for me this feels like a personal victory. So I’m writing this for those of you who haven’t been ready for Christmas since October! And for any of you who have, I would love to know your secrets!)

But my disorganized self– over the past two or three weeks I’ve tried simply to get as much stuff out of our house as possible: I’ve returned library books, lent out things we aren’t using right now to people who wanted them, returned borrowed things to the sweet friends who lent them: a tiny dress sewn by a friend that Margaret wore for Halloween, tupperwares, books. I’ve taken loads to Goodwill, two different consignment stores (I made $40! No big deal!) And I’ve been deep cleaning random parts of the house, going through closets and drawers and ruthlessly purging. I even mopped. But, by gum, this house is going to be clean by December!!!! (Also, because everyone cares, the word “clean” comes from the Proto-Indo-European root, “gel”, which means Bright! and Gleaming!)

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I also packed up most of the kids’ toys and put them in some out of the way tupperware bins.  Will just has a set of wooden blocks out, and some trucks. And he has played with them with intense focus for over a week. So we have spaces on shelves, open floors. Nothing is perfect at all, but I feel like we have a little breathing room.

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I know that November is already half gone, but I have been so inspired by this that I wanted to share it nevertheless. I don’t have a 5 point plan for you to follow, but the basic idea is: get rid of stuff. Maybe make some lists of what you need to do, and do those things. Get rid of some more stuff. My dad’s idea for Christmas is, instead of everyone buying gifts for everyone else, have a huge bonfire and burn a bunch of things that you don’t need! In the process of getting rid of so many things these past few weeks it’s made me realize, truly, that the less we have the happier we are. (I’m optimistically calling this post Simple Advent, Part 1, because I have lots of thoughts about simplifying this season. But whether I actually am able to ever write the subsequent posts remains to be seen.)

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(And. Of course pre-advent cleaning doesn’t mean things will be perfect. Taking some loads to Goodwill won’t magically make all of life well. The whole of Advent leads up to a story of a birth in a stable. It was Jesus in the midst of imperfection and mess.  Jesus in the midst of what otherwise looked like failure and shame and not-the-way-it-was-supposed-to-be. We can’t perfect life by cleaning. That was Martha’s plan, and it didn’t work out the best for her, right?)

Advent is the beginning of the church year, for those who follow the church calendar, and it does feel nice to be approaching this Beginning by preparing a bit. Getting the hard things out of the way, sweeping the cobwebs out of corners, simplifying as much as possible. So that when Advent begins I’ll have space to breathe. And I’ll be ready and waiting with a good stack of books and my cup of peppermint tea.

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Life Update.

DSC_0697Everyone. After my sort of bitter post on Friday, I just had to let the world know that YESTERDAY IT WAS 70 DEGREES. And it’s 60 today. And sunny. Both days. Two days of sunshine. I didn’t wear socks. We got to go outside WITHOUT PUTTING ALL THE COATS AND HATS ON ALL THE TINY PEOPLE.  No words in any language can describe the complete bliss and joy of warmth.

IT ALSO MIGHT STAY WARM FOR A FEW MORE DAYS!!!!!!!  I feel like I’ve won a vacation to Tahiti. Anyway, here’s to warm days in the midst of cold seasons & glimpses of grace even in the middle of February in Ithaca.  And a song for the weary. Or anyone.

A Bean Recipe, Some Cheap Dinners

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It’s been too long since I’ve written anything about the loveliness and importance of beans, but I saw this recipe recently and wanted to share it (about doctoring up a can of beans, with a 7 minute egg on top). And then saw this post about 6 family meals from Whole Foods for $30.  (Which came from this post, about how three other people met the same challenge.)  And then there’s this cookbook.

So anyway, here’s to meals based on beans, eggs, and potatoes! To humble food! To the great delight of sitting down to beans, with or without a 7 minute egg on top! To toast with cheese! And hoping you all have a lovely weekend, drinking tiny sips of joy from the simple moments of your days.

Also THIS OH THIS!!!! I haven’t tried this recipe yet but I’m going to soon and I can’t wait.

Untitled, for Loss of Words

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It has been the most beautiful fall imaginable here, the hills all aglow with scattered patches of bright green farmland and little specks of barns in the distance.  And we are only just now entering the slow decrescendo: the trees letting go of their leaves, letting them fall like flakes of gold or maybe like so many beautiful tears. Standing tall and strong as they lose their treasure, teaching us the grace of loss. A whole winter-long to learn and re-learn this lesson from them. I keep saying the Hopkins poem over and over in my head, “Margaret, are you grieving over Goldengrove unleaving?…” And then, the other one, this morning: “The Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

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Today all I can think is this, that the true ruler is a Prince of Peace, who leads by gentleness and grace. A King who turns swords into plows and speaks with dignity and courtesy to women and outsiders. May he return soon and make All Things Well. Until then, lighting all the candles I can find as flickering specks of hope, reading all the good Poems in the Good Book, and taking lots and lots of really deep breaths.  All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well:

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given;

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and of peace

there will be no end,

on the throne of David and over his kingdom,

to establish it and to uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

from this time forth and forevermore.

Isaiah 9

New Fall Wardrobe (for Free, and a Practice in Contentment). Part I.

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It’s been truly fall here for about a month now. A few weeks ago I slowly packed away my summer things and pulled out sweaters and leggings and wool socks. Most of my clothes seemed a bit bedraggled: pills on sweaters; a tiny hole in a frumpy flannel shirt dress sent to me by my sweet best friend who sometimes sends me a random box of clothes; and my one pair of jeans is faded and stretched out.

What I really wanted was to buy a NEW FANCY EVERYTHING for the fall. But what I did instead was just eliminate the ugly, give everything else a good wash, and I only put back the things I like! (And, ok, I bought 3 new long sleeved shirts, but more about that later). The only reason I’m writing about this is that I oddly enough loved this process SO MUCH, y’all. It was glorious. With two little children underfoot, it took a few weeks. I went one drawer at a time. It was messy and inconvenient. But it was completely worth it! (This is one of the big piles, which also includes children’s laundry and a dinosaur tail:)

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Over the past few years of living in teensy apartments I have had to slowly (& somewhat ruthlessly) purge my clothes. I know the minimalist wardrobe thing is all the fashion right now, and the last thing I want to do is to be associated with any kind of Movement or Trend or anything horrible like that. So it’s with actually much humility and gall that I have to admit that I do love the minimalist thing going on. I just do. And the reason is that the fewer things I have the happier I am. As hard as it is to part with clothes that have sentimental value or that I might want to wear someday, etc., whenever I have less in my drawers I feel freer. When I don’t have to sift through a bunch of junk to find what I actually like to wear, life is just a small bit easier. And I need that right now.  (And there’s this.)

(There’s a whole long conversation here– yes, I should feel happy and free regardless of my circumstances, and especially with kids in the house mothers must learn to be ok even in the midst of chaos. BUT I do think having closets and shelves and drawers overflowing with things has a sort of choking effect on us that is quite real and damaging. Thorns and thistles, y’all. It’s just as easy to worship at the altar of minimalism as anything else, but there’s a strain of simplicity that goes quite far back in the church, and what I’m aiming for is more or less a nun’s habit than anything else. A few simple outfits that are sturdy and practical. Um, does that make sense?)

ANYWAY.

So, here’s how I did it: As I took summer things out of my closet and drawers I took every single thing out of a given drawer. I didn’t do it all at once, but sweeping everything out of a drawer to really get a look at things was a game changer. And then I thought about things before I stuffed them back into storage: does this actually fit me? Is this too dingy to wear next summer? Did I actually wear this at all? Do I need this, even if it isn’t quite perfect? (This is the hardest thing for me, because it would be lovely to just burn everything and replace it with priceless, heirloom quality clothing handmade in Brooklyn. But that is not an option, so the sturdy and practical summer pants that are too big but are excellent for hikes and sitting in sandboxes with the little ones,  and which could, I guess, be tied up with a string or something next summer, those are going to stay for now. The white t-shirt with stains is going to go.)

Here are the general steps to take, once it starts cooling off wherever you live:

(ALSO, CAVEAT!!!!! This is not supposed to make anyone feel guilty! I was only able to do this because my 3 year old is in pre-school this fall! Your drawers and closet will look different! I just want to wear white t-shirts every day, so that’s what I do. You do you, ok? The ONLY reason I am sharing this at all is because it literally felt like one of the most joyous things I have done in a long time. I went from feeling “Ugh, I hate all my clothes” to “Wow, I like all my clothes!” just from doing this process. But if you have a newborn baby or if you’re working full time or if you just don’t feel like doing this, that is completely fine. Just do you.)

Step One: Pull everything out. Thank you, Mari Kondo. You were right after all. It seems like such a hassle, but taking all the things out is a game-changer. You don’t have to do everything all at once, but it does help if you do, say, a whole drawer at a time.  Only put back things you KNOW that you will LOVE to wear in the winter. For me that was some cardigans, camisoles, a few t-shirts. Then, as you pack summer things away think about whether each item is truly worth keeping. This doesn’t have to be a long, drawn out thing. Stuff you didn’t like to wear this summer, just let it go. Don’t pack it away to moulder in a dark box for half a year.  See below for some links to helpful posts about really cleaning things out.  (I keep one of those long, low tupperware storage boxes under my bed to keep most of my off season clothes so if for some reason I need a bathing suit or a certain t-shirt it will be within easy reach).

Step Two: Pull out your winter clothes from wherever they’re stored. I had some packed away in a closet and some in my under-the-bed tupperware, so I pulled all of them out. If any strike you immediately as things that no longer fit or that you aren’t decently content with seeing, put them in a pile to get rid of. Send nice things to Thred Up and less nice things to the thrift store. Store maternity/nursing/too big/too small things if you are in the midst of the childbearing years. (Again, see links below for some encouragement, helpful tips, and ethereal Japanese advice. Or, if you’re nursing/pregnant/postpartum/might get pregnant again, store clothes that you might need for those phases but which don’t work in your current phase/size.)

Step Three: Of the clothes that you like and which fit: put washables in the laundry. Wash them! This is the really important and awesome part. Take sweaters and coats to the cleaner if that’s in your budget or just give them a good wash in the tub with Woolite if you’re a normal person. (I never made it to washing my sweaters, so I just let them air out a bit as I was going through them and getting rid of some.) If anything needs to be mended or needs buttons, mend it! Or find a tailor!

A BIG part of this step for me was gathering all my (clean) winter clothes in one spot, sorting them by category, and looking at them. I had about 15 sweater-type things, for example. This seemed a little crazy, so I just got rid of my least favorite maybe 5 or 6. I did the same thing for shirts. I realized that I never wear any 3/4 sleeve shirts. They just don’t work for me. So I got rid of some really super cute ones that in theory should be perfect but which I never wear.

Below: stacks of washed and folded things, being sorted through again before going on hangers or into drawers:

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Step Four: Put your fresh, clean, lovely favorite winter clothes away. Only the things you love.  And voila, a fall wardrobe which, through the process of elimination, has become beautiful. And if not perfect, a little better than it would be clogged with too much. Spend a little time with this new arrangement and see if it works before you buy anything new.

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Some blog posts & books to inspire & assist: 

Slow Fashion October

Growing a Minimalist Wardrobe (a helpful, if almost unbearably pretentious, blog series about paring down). And Seasonal Editing.

Downsizing Your Wardrobe with Common Sense (a less obnoxious blog post, and one that addresses women in the midst of the childbearing years– not a flashy blog, but I LOVE everything this woman has written about simplifying the home in general & closets in particular!)

And a whole article on managing one’s wardrobe during, after, and in-between pregnancies.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (I know this book isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but despite all of the obvious criticisms I love it; and re-reading what she has to say about clothes might be a helpful way to jump start the process of getting rid of things)

(If you do need to buy any wardrobe staples, consider using this link to shop at Everlane. High quality basics at good prices.) (Updated to add: Pact Organics.)

January: Some Good Things, a Fat Baby, Weather, etc.

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DSC_1879Life around here is so beautiful and so crazy. We all have terrible colds so I’m making little potions for us of cayenne pepper and honey and apple cider vinegar and kleenex are strewn about hither and yon in the way you’d imagine they would be in the home of an INFP mother of two babies.

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It has been a mild winter so far; we have had several days above freezing so far. Unlike last winter. But we won’t speak of last winter.

I bought plane tickets to take the children and myself to Nashville in late March, by which time the South will be all daffodils and sunshine and joy and low taxes, and Ithaca will be 14 degrees and miserable. I cannot wait. I’m flying by myself with a baby and a toddler and I don’t even care.

Some good things around here lately:

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Bullet journal!!!! I want to recite all of shakespeare’s sonnets to you every day.

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Making butter with some cream I found on sale at the co-op. Awesome toddler activity.

Watching lots of Jeeves and wooster with the toddler. He’s obsessed. It’s the best.

This baby:

There are lots of other good things I wanted to write about, but I am being clawed at by a toddler. More later.

My Babies!

We made it to the library (and back) this morning. It was snowing, no big deal. Being a surgeon in the ER during a power outage or climbing Mt. Everest with no food or water during avalanche season would be a calm, relaxing experience after taking two small children to the Ithaca library in the winter.  Have I ever mentioned that our library has no parking? Anyway, we stocked up on books about Thanksgiving, and I got some Dickens  (Oliver Twist) and some fun mysteries if the Dickens feels too difficult, which it probably will. And an anthology of 20th c. poetry! I realized I need more poems in my little world.

But before we went I tried to get some pictures of the nuggets for a possible Christmas card!!!! We’ve never sent one out, and every year I long to with all the fervor in my little heart, and then I realize that it will cost money, and we don’t.  But this year.  Maybe.

Also. I hope these photos convey how we are always sitting about laughing heartily and kissing our baby sister and gazing with wonder at the falling snow wearing coordinating outfits (minus, I guess, Will’s random track pants)! Not how unshowered I was (and still am) or the heaps of laundry in the other corner and econo-pack of toilet paper sitting in the middle of the living room because I don’t have a place to store huge quantities of toilet paper in the new house or how immediately after these pictures ensued approximately 1 hour of Margaret screaming because it was her nap time and she was hungry but we were also trying to get out the door to go to the library or how I spent most of the weekend sobbing or huddled in a ball of panic because of how hard life with two babies is.

Ok, so as crazy as life is, I just have to say. Will is obsessed with Margaret and all he wants to do is snuggle with her, help me change her diaper,  bring me cloths when she spits up, sing songs to her when she’s sad. And obsessed with helping. Takes out the trash with John, helps me wipe the table, puts his clothes away, everything. Good little productive firstborn child. And the other morning while he was playing on the rug with his trucks I heard him whispering to them, “Get cozy, get cozy.” And Margaret’s little baby smiles are just radiant beams of golden joy. So anyway, Merry early Christmas because yes, I am one of those people who starts celebrating Christmas before thanksgiving!