Checking in

You guys, I meant to sit down and write last night about Abby’s graduation party on Sunday (we survived! We even had fun!) and then this evening I’ve been thinking about how I’d craft that post, and yet, here I am and I have no desire to actually do so.

Here’s what I want to write about today. The words, I tell you, they do what they want:


Today I stopped by my favorite coffee roasters for some decaf in my jar. I haven’t been in months because I realized that I could get cheaper, organic coffee in bulk from the grocery store. Then I realized there’s a reason that coffee is cheaper — it’s kind of terrible.

I have very few food pleasures in life (thanks, jerky stomach!), and good coffee is just … I need that. Cost be damned.

There was a new, older gentleman in the shop today. I tried to show him how to tare it on the scale, and he was totally excited about trying something new, but he couldn’t quite get the buttons right. So my jar was tared and filled, then emptied, then tared, then filled again, times two. It made me laugh — I want to be low maintenance, but if there’s ever going to be an issue, it’s going to be because of me. It’s just my lot in life.

Anyway, when it was all over and I gladly forked over my $21.24 for a pound and a half of delicious whole bean goodness (I’ll be back when my crappy caffeinated coffee is gone), I thanked him for being willing to fill my jar. I’ve never done that before! Thank you, he said, and he was so thrilled about it that I wanted to give him a hug.

If only everyone was as enthusiastic about my jars. (Looking at you, Mr. Plastic.)

New jars

I may be a minimalist, but I have a soft spot for jars — particularly those in sizes I do not already possess.

So imagine my joy when I found these cuties at The Store That Must Not Be Named:




To give you an idea of the size we’re talking about here.

They’re 1/2 cup-size, and I’ve used them to hold hummus and salad dressing. Johanna has used them to hold chocolate chips. They are adorable. The top lid is not dishwasher-safe, but I’m okay with that.

I found those beauties a couple of weeks ago; today I was visiting Abby at her place of employment and noticed half-gallon jars on sale:


We’re all about extremes today.

I haven’t unwrapped them yet, so yeah, look at the plastic … but using these jars will save plastic later. (And life is not perfect. I find a lot of my zero waste purchases are really just a choice between the lesser of two evils.) I already have six in my pantry and I use them for everything from storing flour to cut up carrots. Right now I have a jar filled with leftover punch from Abby’s party in the fridge. Having another six of this size is going to really expand my world. Not to mention that I ended up getting a discount just for giving birth to a kid who happens to work there. So instead of $12, which I thought was amazing, I paid $9.

I came this close to purchasing individual half-gallon jars at a craft store a couple of months ago for $5 each. So yeah, I’m kind of happy right now for a variety of reasons.


In February I went to our library’s eBook lending site and reserved six titles. And wouldn’t you know it, but four of the six all came up at the same time — about a week and a half ago. I read “A God In Ruins” first (oh, wait, I already mentioned that), then went in to “Dad is Fat” (well, sometimes you want to read and not think) and just finished “1984.” Literally, like an hour ago. I have no idea why I insist on reading classics; I have a terrible attitude when it comes to books everyone says are “great.” I did not enjoy it at all — it felt very heavy handed and it was, frankly, kind of boring. I was talking to the guys at work about it yesterday (we’re all English majors and therefore all posers) and they were all, I liked it, and I was like, um, now we can’t be friends because you guys have terrible taste in literature.

Anyway, whatever. I’ve never read it before, so now I can say I have. It’s probably good to read stuff you don’t like anyway, just to stretch the ol’ mind. (I’m trying to justify the wasted hours on that thing. How am I doing?)

Next up is “Paper Towns.” I’ve got my fingers crossed. I just need something entertaining after “1984.” Come on, John Green!

I don’t have a lot to say about eBooks and the library other than it’s pretty typical in my experience to have to wait months for a book I want to finally be available. I’m actually debating whether or not I want to just buy a couple of the books I still have on hold. I guess that depends on how bored I get.

Now: Distract me with what you’ve been up to. Minimalism, zero waste, books, parties, whatever. I’ll be back next week and we can talk about Abby’s party details.

Zero waste (-ish) party: From dream to reality

How long has it been since we’ve been thinking about Abby’s graduation party and how to make it as zero waste / minimal waste as possible?

Huh, about two months. Well, time flies when you’re having an emotional breakdown fun!

I guess the good news is that, since we’ve been planning this for so long, things are actually coming together for Sunday’s gathering. This week, I talked to the church secretary about renting dishes from the kitchen, and was told to just take whatever I needed. That’s how I ended up with approximately 100 large and small plates in our basement for “a donation.”

My sister-in-law, mother and mother-in-law are all going out of their way to supplement the deficiencies of my minimalist kitchen. I’ve never actually had to borrow anything before, and they’re letting us take everything from silverware and glasses to platters and pitchers to table cloths and cloth napkins to patio furniture.

I mean, how awesome is that?

It would be slightly easier if we’d have had people RSVP for Abby’s party so we actually knew how many plates, etc., we need, but eh, what could happen? We could have 25 people … or 125. Who doesn’t like surprises?! (Well, me, but …)

Well, anyway, all of that is just to say that I’m feeling solid on the kitchenware front. That’s really the easy part of this whole ordeal. The harder part has been the food.

Harder, because trying to feed however many people (details, so boring) without any packaging is, frankly, impossible. We’ve decided on a very simple menu … and are kind of hoping for the best:

Sandwiches (ham — one big package, Eric will carve; cheese — packaged, Eric will slice; tomatoes, lettuce, onion — whew, unpackaged; condiments — packaged; pickles — glass jar at least; rolls — ordered from the bakery, probably will come in a plastic bag)

Chips (Four big packages)

Pasta salad (pasta — cardboard box; tomato, basil, zucchini, sweet onion — unpackaged; cheese — packaged; Eric’s homemade salad dressing — oil in a container but everything else from bulk bins)

Potato salad (my mother-in-law is bringing this so that’s her problem 😉 )

Veggie tray (all unpackaged)

Homemade hummus and ranch (some packages, but all will be recyclable)

Fruit slices (unpackaged)

Various desserts (most of this is my usual minimal waste baking preferences, but I did get a package of chocolate chips for cookies and some “If You Care” muffin liners; we’ll have brownies, cupcakes, several kinds of cookies, lemon tarts and individual blueberry buckles — kind of a cross between a cake and a muffin)

To drink: Pop (broke down, decided cans would cut down on our need for glasses), ice tea (homemade), water (thanks, nature!), and some beer (bottles, and hidden in a cooler away from the high schoolers)

I feel like the food part is just okay, waste-wise. I’m totally going for convenience here — I’ve got too much to deal with and I don’t want to be chained to my kitchen for the duration of the party. I want stuff I can make ahead of time and can replenish as needed. Eric basically just wants it not to cost a million dollars.

I don’t know, is this a cop out or just embracing reality?

Hey, though! I made a list of spring cleaning chores and started that whole ordeal in late May, and I have to say my house is looking awesome. I mean, I’ve even cleaned out the coat closet and detailed the stove. Probably the first time I’ve done either in the 14 years we’ve lived here.

So in conclusion, there’s nothing like throwing a party to remind you why you don’t throw parties. Abby, however, is excited … and I can do anything for four hours, right?

No prep photos, sorry, but I’ll take some on Sunday for an “after” post.

Graduation: A harrowing tale of survival

I had high hopes of keeping a journal here of Abby’s graduation week, but that didn’t really happen. I went into survival mode, which mostly meant a lot of ice cream, reading “A God in Ruins” by Kate Atkinson — good choice for what I was feeling, as it turns out — and trying to focus on the most important aspect of this whole ordeal: Abby. Well, that and my general mental stability.

And hey, good news, we survived!

A few details:

I went into her Baccalaureate Mass last Saturday feeling pretty good. Seeing her in her cap and gown, and just how happy she was, how gorgeous, made me proud, not sad. I got a few texts that night asking how I was holding up, and I could honestly answer that I was fine. We were all fine. And maybe I was feeling a little cocky to be handling it so well.


So I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of emotion I felt on Tuesday, after a really terrible day at work. We don’t need to go into too much detail — let’s just say it was a nightmare of epic proportions and totally exhausting and made me feel extremely sorry for myself. As soon as I was in my car, I felt this terrific sadness and I wanted to cry … but as I was on my way home (with two gallons of ice cream, I was kind of proud of myself for not getting five, the day was that bad), I couldn’t cry. I think I’m just afraid that as soon as I let myself, I won’t stop. So I don’t.

But things improved from there. Abby’s last day was Thursday, and it was a fantastic one for her — she’s a teacher’s aide in one classroom and they threw her a surprise party, her boyfriend brought her favorite pad thai for lunch, and she finished her finals. On Friday, she brought me a coffee after graduation practice, and she was just so excited that it was hard to remember that I wasn’t excited too. And my coworkers booted me out early and told me they had faith in my ability to survive this thing. (Ah, shucks.)

And then it was time for graduation. The forecasted downpour and thunder showers didn’t happen; it was cold, but dry. Abby asked me to come early to take photos of her and her friends a la prom. (Eric and Johanna used the time to find us amazing seats near the front.) She gave a speech with her best friend, led the tassel ceremony, and beamed through the entire ordeal. More photos afterwards, and she was off with her boyfriend for dinner, and then to the all-night grad party.

It was just … it was perfect. The principal managed to keep it sentimental but lighthearted, the kids were clearly enjoying themselves (Abby’s best friend taped snacks to the bleachers after their last grad practice, so after they got their diplomas, they sat there eating and clapping and having a grand ol’ time — I couldn’t help but admire their foresight … and think of the packaging, but I managed to let that go 😉 ), and her speech was fantastic. (I’m biased, who cares, it was the best one.)

Saturday was actually the biggest challenge — Abby got home at 3 a.m., and we had to be out of our house at 5:30 a.m. so she could be in a Portland parade. They wanted her there at 7 a.m. … so she could sit around until the parade started at 10 a.m. We had to split up, so we made our way to the end of the route and tried to entertain ourselves for the four hours until we’d see her again (Powells’s Books, lots of coffee, LOTS of walking, lots of remembering why we live in a small town). My anxiety was flaring hard — I was worried about Abby, about navigating a city I should be more familiar with but am not, about whether or not I’d be able to keep my $&*! together and not ruin the day for everyone else. It was all fine in the end — Abby was exhausted but had some hilarious tales about her experience when we met back up, Powell’s is amazing, Portland coffee is also amazing, and GPS kept us from getting too lost.

We’d all felt like we’d been hit by a truck by the time we got home, and last night everyone was moving pretty slow … actually, everyone’s STILL moving pretty slow … but! We made it! Through all of the hard parts! Her grad open house is one week from today. I have some major to-do lists going on. And props to my favorite mother and favorite mother-in-law, who are helping me make up the deficiencies of my minimalist kitchen.

Anyway, seriously, I’m going to bed now. Who cares if it’s 8 p.m.? Hopefully this is coherent, now that I think about it. Ah, well.


T-minus a week and counting

I’m writing this Thursday evening. Eric and I just got back from a walk. Abby is out with friends. Johanna is attempting cartwheels in the living room. Tall people can’t do cartwheels, FYI. Too much to balance. But I admire her optimism. And, to her credit, she hasn’t knocked anything over yet.


With graduation upon us — next Friday, holy crap — I’ve had to give up some of our minimalist and zero waste preferences. Well, I mean, we have to have a cap and gown — that’s non-negotiable. And we have to do announcements and party invites and senior pictures. Because the grandmas would never forgive us if we didn’t. 😉


While there’s nothing minimalist or zero waste about the cap and gown — and to be honest, I’m cool with that, let’s pick our battles — I am pretty pleased with our announcement/ invitation/ picture situation. It’s a lot different in 2017 than it was in 1990. I had to order my announcements — and name cards, why did we even have those? — from a certain company, and photos entailed two sessions plus a huge print package.

Abby’s photos were a morning out in some park, and for a flat fee, we just bought the entire ordeal on a CD. Her announcements are from an online company — very simple, but very Abby — and we bought some colored cardstock downtown at the stationary store, which sells it in individual sheets, for her party invites. The cards we ordered came in a box — no plastic anywhere, that was a bonus I did not expect — as did the photos. We printed business-card sized invites on the ol’ personal printer at home, and I had Eric cut them out because things like straight lines are kind of beyond my natural abilities.

Everything about these announcements et al can be recycled, although I have no actual control of how people dispose of them. And I’ve got a carbon footprint going on with the photos and announcements coming in the mail.

But all in all, I’m happy with how this turned out. And so is Abby, which is mostly what I care about at the moment.


This doesn’t have anything to do with minimalism or zero waste, but it does have to do with cats, which I think is just as important a topic. I went to a dog shelter this morning to take photos for an upcoming story, and lo and behold, two kittens had been dropped off sometime during the night.

Who drops off kittens at a dog shelter, that was my first question, but actually, that’s better than just abandoning the dears in the woods or something, so never mind.

So my tour guide asks if we have a dog — I think she was trying to feel me out for a possible adoption — and I was like, oh, no, I don’t even have plants. We’re cat people, and she was like, ahhhh, I see. Hey, wanna see some kittens?

Why, yes I did!

My heart was not prepared for what I was about to see: Two black kittens, one who looked just like Bear, crazy fur and all. This one had a shorter tail, but it did the same excited shake that Bear’s used to, and I stuck my hand through the bars and this kitten started purring and licking me and was basically my new best friend.

Oh my God. Bear incarnate?

So I was like, I think I love this cat. And the tour guide was all like, well, it’s belongs to animal control now, but it will end up with cat rescue, so what you need to do is let them give it its shots and tests and get it spade or neutered and then adopt it via their website.

Talk about a cold shower. Although in retrospect, probably a good thing. I couldn’t take a cat just that second anyway — I had to go to work, I didn’t have a cat carrier, and I couldn’t just toss it in the house with Pearl and walk away for 8 hours.

So instead I walked away from my new kitten friend. Being an adult is really boring.

The end, I guess. Well, maybe. It’s kind of funny that with Skilly, I wanted to just give up after he died, but with Bear, I’m ready to jump back on that wagon. Maybe it’s because Abby is leaving and I’m trying to soothe my soul with purrs.

Not the dumbest thing I’ve ever done.

(Pearl is not the kind of cat that purrs or cuddles. She’s doing so much better than when we first got her, but the trust still isn’t completely there. Eh, it’s only been 8 months.)

P.S. With graduation on Friday, I’m going to take next week off from blogging. I’ll let you know how it goes the week after next and we can talk about party details.

Embracing the moment. Uh, kinda

My lovely daughter Abby graduates from high school in two weeks.

Just writing that one sentence makes me tear up. She truly is a lovely person. She’s the kind of teenager that is every parent’s dream: She’s smart and driven, empathetic and kind. She’s still trying to do well in school, even though it’s all but over — and her classes are ridiculously difficult. She checks in when she’s out with friends and is always on time for curfew. She takes good care of Johanna — their relationship is a little different, given the disparity in their ages; Abby is more of a cool second mom. She’s got a part time job and never complains about any of that.

I keep telling her she needs to start being a jerk so it’s easier for us to let her go. But that’s just not in her nature.

I guess all of that is just to say that my time with my girl living in my house is coming to an end, and I’m heartbroken. I know, of course, that she’s perfectly ready for this next stage of her life and that she needs to go. That this is what we’ve been working towards — independence, giving her wings, getting her ready. She’s going to be fine. She’s going to do great!

I just wish these past 17 years hadn’t gone so fast.

I am not, for obvious reasons, sharing any of this with Abby. She knows I’m sad that she’s leaving, she just doesn’t know the depth. I don’t want to add a negative sheen to any of the proceedings — this is my issue, not hers. And anyway, it’s a weird kind of heartbreak. I’m totally proud of that kid, totally happy for her. I’m just sad for me. Selfishly, I want to keep her a little longer.

Anyway, as we move from event to event these last couple of weeks — scholarship night and award ceremonies last week, Baccalaureate Mass this coming Saturday, and then graduation itself — I find that my anxiety is flaring. Hard. It’s a good lesson in mindfulness, I guess (I always get the lessons I don’t want for some reason. HA!) because I’m trying to just stay in the moment, to enjoy the now and not worry about what’s going to happen next, or dwell too much on the past. I breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth. (That’s a handy tip I learned when Eric and I went to birthing classes.) I work towards the spring cleaning chores I’ve sketched out to get our house ready for her grad party. I work on my own projects. When she’s actually home, I sit with her and laugh when she spends the whole time texting friends and apologizing for not talking much — I honestly don’t care, I just want to soak up a little extra Abby essence. I read and she texts, and that is just fine.

Maybe I just need to have a good cry in the shower (my mother’s trick, she’s a genius) and get it all out and then it will be easier? I’m not a cryer — I hate crying, and I’m tired of being on the brink of tears all the time. Like I have been this entire post.

Well, anyway, this isn’t much of a post, but this is where I’m at right now. And I guess I wanted to explain too in case I don’t get around to writing much in the next few weeks. If anyone has tips that would help me stay in the moment, that would be greatly appreciated (my monkey mind makes mindfulness rather difficult) — and if anyone has words of wisdom on letting kids go after high school, I’ll take that too.

The continuing saga of Mr. Plastic

Those of you who followed my zero waste Simple Year are well versed in my continuing fight with Mr. Plastic at my favorite grocery store’s meat counter. I wrote about him a lot. (A lot. Too much, probably.)

A general recap is probably in order: Last year, in an effort to cut down on our trash output, I started getting our meat from the counter in my own container instead of prepackaged in the meat case.

Every single person behind the counter has been more than happy to fill my jars — every single person, that is, except Mr. Plastic. Thus the nickname.

Mr. Plastic simply refuses. Or rather, he will, but he has to put everything in a plastic bag first and then decant THAT into my jars, and usually makes a big slimy mess in the process because he always overshoots what will fit inside and then has to cram it all in. I have tried so many times to explain that I’m not trying to be difficult, I’m just trying to reduce my trash (and very nicely too, since I need him on my side) and he either isn’t listening or simply doesn’t care. And that’s frustrating, especially when I know that literally anyone else behind that counter would comply.

Yadda yadda yadda, so last weekend Johanna and I were doing our regular shopping trip, and meat was on the list — Eric had volunteered to barbecue All The Things Sunday night so we could just eat off that the rest of the week (uh, awesome). As we approached the meat counter, my stomach dropped. The only person there was Mr. Plastic.

So I decided to try a different approach. I put my containers away in my bags and asked for four pounds of chicken and a couple pounds of ground beef. He pointed to the meat cases and told me they were already packaged.

I don’t like the plastic, I said, and he gave me a long suffering sigh and was like, alright, four pounds of chicken? And I was like, yes, please, in paper.

So what do you think he did?

Yep, pulled out a plastic bag (hidden behind the counter so I couldn’t see what he was doing at first) and filled it up, then weighed it and wrapped THAT in paper. To be fair, he wrapped my ground beef only in paper.

One out of two, I guess, but still …  I just … I did not come unglued, although I felt like it. Well, Johanna was there so I was trying to set a good example. 😉 I am at the end of my patience with him, though. I don’t have to deal with him very often because we don’t buy a lot of meat, and if I must, I just wait it out until I can get someone else to help me. But obviously this weekend proves that this isn’t always possible.

My choices are thus: I can base my purchases on who is behind the counter and do without if he’s the only one there; I can complain to the manager (although I’d have to learn his real name); or I can write a complementary letter about everyone else and add that only one person refuses to fill my jars.

Huh. That last option just occurred to me. I kind of like it. Though I doubt it will help besides making me feel better.

The thing is that we live in a small town, and you can’t get away from anyone here. The minute I go postal is the minute I will see that guy everywhere. And I don’t need that kind of stress in my life. So I don’t want to be rude, or aggressive, or even have another conversation. He’s not going to change. I either need to accept that and be okay with a periodic plastic bag, or change on my end.

Blerg. I think what annoys me the most is that it doesn’t have to be this hard.

Anyway, so that’s were we stand on that front. I guess the good news is that I’m so used to  asking for my jars to be filled that it’s no longer a source of stress. Well, usually. (Ha.)

Virtual dementia tour


Sometimes I get to go on some really interesting adventures, thanks to my reporter’s gig at the newspaper. (And sometimes I just sit at my desk wondering what it would be like to have a normal job with normal hours that lets you see the sun.) I had such an experience last week, when I scheduled a “virtual dementia tour.”

One of our local assisted living centers is hosting free virtual dementia tours soon, so my editor asked me to write a first-person account of what such a tour is like. I had no idea what to expect going in. I knew the ins and outs of the event, but I decided not to research the actual “tour” part because I wanted to go into it like a person off the street would.


Forget folding socks — matching them was hard enough.

Uh, and also I didn’t have time. 😉

The assisted living center had two of its employees take the “tour” with me, and we assembled in a staging room, where we were handed a box of supplies that would aid the simulation: Glasses to mimic macular degeneration, textured shoe inserts to make walking difficult, earphones and an iPod for a constant stream of background noise, and two pairs of gloves — one plastic, one mitten-like, with one of those turned purposely inside out — to restrict coordination. (This was a “worst case scenario” situation.) We got ourselves ready, and I already was noticing a problem — not only could I not see, but walking on those inserts (I was wearing sandals with no socks) was going to be a major problem.

We made our way carefully down the hall, and then they lined us up in front of another room. One of the “tour” leaders started talking to me — and it wasn’t until she was halfway through that I realized she was giving me a set of instructions for what I was supposed to do inside. I was first in line, so I heard the other two women’s instructions as well, even though I was trying to tune them out. I tried to repeat my list to myself, but I couldn’t. The noise in my ears made it impossible to think, and my feet were hurting to the point of distraction.

And then they let us into the room.

It was dark. I couldn’t find a light switch and gave up trying to find one. I wandered a bit trying to get my bearings, but didn’t really want to walk much, given how painful it was. I saw a notepad by the TV and did my first task — drawing and labeling my family. The gloves made it hard to grip the pen, but I’m not an artist anyway, so whatever. Done!

I sat on the bed before a pile of laundry and started sorting and folding six pairs of socks. I couldn’t see very well, and I couldn’t get a good grip on the socks, but I managed.

Task done, I tried to think about what I was supposed to do next. Any time one of us stopped moving, one of the leaders would tell us how many tasks we had left to do. One of the women asked for help, but the leader just repeated she had to finish her tasks. (They’d warned us ahead of time they would offer no help.) I went to the closet, found a belt on the top shelf (good thing I’m 6-feet or I might not have seen it) and thought about my instructions: Thread the belt though pant-loops. Did they mean my pants? I was wearing a dress, so that was going to be awkward. But I found a pair of pants hanging in the closet — not hard, there were only four items in there — and took that whole ordeal back to the bed to get to work. Anytime I could sit down and get off my aching feet, I did it.

That done, I was rather at a loss as to what to do next. We each had five tasks, and I’d done three. One of the leaders kept telling me I had three more tasks to do, which made no sense since I’d done three. I finally gave up and sat on the bed to wait it out. By my calculations, I’d been in the room for a half an hour. I was frustrated and anxious, and knew I’d let everyone down.

And then it was over.

Getting debriefed was interesting. They told me completing two tasks was actually pretty good — which compelled me to correct them with a patient, no, I did three, and they were like, uh, yeah, that first one you did was actually someone else’s task. 


Then they asked how long we thought we’d been in there. “Forever” was the consensus, but it had only been nine minutes.

Did we remember they’d told us there was a list of each task group in the room that we could have looked at? No, none of us did. Why didn’t we turn on the lights? I couldn’t find the switch, I said. Why didn’t you open the curtain? she asked.

Because that hadn’t occurred to me, to be honest. Light was about the farthest thing from my mind.

What I took away from this is that when dealing with someone with memory loss, giving clear, one-item directions is the way to go. And you can’t change the person, you can only change yourself and the environment — turn on the lights, be positive and affirming, keep it simple. Introduce yourself even if this person has known you forever. Don’t compare what they used to be able to do with what they can do now.

Anyway, should you have the opportunity to take such a “tour,” I highly recommend it. (This is a national program.) My empathy level and understanding now is so much higher. I wish I’d have known all of this when my Grammie M. was showing signs of memory loss — she’d get so frustrated, and I didn’t know how to help her.

I don’t know what this has to do with minimalism or zero waste, you guys, but I felt compelled to share. In retrospect, the sparsely-decorated room and limited personal items probably helped us — had I just walked around and took note of what was there, I may have been able to figure out better what my tasks were. But wow, it’s hard to think when you hurt and you can’t see and you can’t concentrate because it’s so noisy …

Thoughts, feelings, insights to share with the group?

UPDATE: I should have added this to begin with: The national program is run by Second Wind Dreams, and HERE is a link to their website. Just in case you want to see if it’s in your area, or if it helps get a tour set up. I don’t know anything about the logistics; I just went because it was offered here.