A modest proposal

This Fourth of July, I’d like to propose that we ban over the counter fireworks in the United States.

My reasons are thus:

From an environmental standpoint, over the counter fireworks are wasteful. Most are not disposed of properly and can be seen littering the streets and sidewalks for days after they’ve been used.

Environmental standpoint II: This is fire season. Fireworks pose a risk of setting fires. And fires can be deadly and devastating.

From a pet owner’s standpoint, over the counter fireworks cause a great deal of unnecessary alarm. The kittens do not understand what these loud noises are, just that they are loud. I’ve written articles about pet safety for the Fourth, and dogs and horses are also at risk for running away or harming themselves as they attempt to flee the noise.

From a mother’s standpoint, getting a kid to bed when the neighbors are shooting off fireworks at midnight? Yeah, impossible.

I know that there will be those who disagree. Over the counter fireworks are fun, the booths provide fundraiser opportunities and it’s a once a year treat.

My answers to these arguments: There are city-funded fireworks on the evening of the Fourth (that could most likely benefit from a donation of whatever you would have spent on over the counter fireworks — I know our city would — and are more satisfying to watch then tiny sprays of fire), my favorite fundraisers are those where I give you money and you give me nothing, and it’s never once a year — it’s the week before and the week after, and then you have to deal with the noise again for some reason on New Year’s.

In conclusion, over the counter fireworks are an environmental hazard and can potentially cause unnecessary harm to children and pets. If the U.S. won’t ban them, then I’d settle for Oregon. Hell, I’d settle for just my city.

*Unlike my buddy Jonathan Swift, I am serious.

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Holiday decoration declutter diary: Operation Cedar Chest part II

I woke up Sunday morning ready to kick some ass on the holiday decoration decluttering front. Since my first foray into getting rid of excess holiday decorations — namely peeling off the first layer in the ol’ cedar chest (that depressing post is HERE) — I’ve been mentally preparing myself for layer two.

I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the chest back up, though. I had done more last week than I’d thought, and it was great to realize I had much less crap to deal with this time around.

Bean was instrumental in the process.

I had an epiphany of sorts as I was emptying out the chest again: That it’s guilt that has been holding me back from achieving my dream of using the chest to store blankets and quilts. I probably wouldn’t have figured that out without reading comments on the Dec. 1 December Wishes post, which is why, my internet friends, I am now giving you all a virtual hug.

Once it was emptied, I dusted it inside and out, got the very quilts I’d been wanting to store in there for years and years, and PUT THEM IN THE CHEST. Then I closed the lid and wondered what the hell had taken me so long when it was so simple.

Well, maybe not simple. I did have everything that was in the chest now strewn around my bedroom. And what made it worse is that I opened up a hidden cupboard that’s above my wardrobe and emptied that thing out, too.

Well, that was anticlimactic.

Because between the chest and the cupboard, that’s where I store all the stuff that I don’t know what to do with … like my old college papers, the cups and saucers to our original dish set, wallpaper fragments, broken items and other such heirloom pieces. (Ha!) But I had that epiphany on my side this time, and it was time to let go of the guilt:

Guilt over not liking what was given to me, or not fixing what was broken, or wasting the money on some knickknack, or potentially hurting someone’s feelings.

As if that wasn’t hard enough, something I recently realized about my decluttering method is that I like to make piles because I want to get my crap, I mean treasures, into the right hands. Even though I know there ISN’T a perfect scenario and have, in fact, counseled against doing that very thing.

Seeing piles everywhere is overwhelming, disheartening and stressful. It’s December, you guys, so I gave myself a gift instead:

I discovered recently that our town has a Goodwill donation outlet. So on our weekend grocery trip, Johanna and I made a quick stop. A kid actually came out to the car to meet us. It took two minutes and then we were back on the road. I felt such a huge sense of relief as we drove away. Like, I’m actually getting somewhere with this project. That’s amazing.

I now have my favorite fall decorations in one bin in the electrical room, I’ve got blankets in my cedar chest (don’t give up on your dreams, kids), found Eric a white elephant gift to take to his office party and … um, well, still have some Christmas decorations that I need to sort through, but overall, I’m feeling SO MUCH BETTER about the state of the union. 

The real test will come, I suppose, when Eric brings all 12 or whatever Christmas boxes we have downstairs up when we start decorating the tree. But I’ve got a couple of weeks before I have to worry about that.

I suppose it’s good to go through this process periodically, just to remind myself of how far we’ve come on the minimalist front, as well as how difficult it is to purge — which is why we need to make careful decisions on bringing items into the house in the first place. The lessons just never stop coming.

Holiday decoration declutter diary: Operation Cedar Chest

I forgot how utterly despondent decluttering makes me feel.

All this stuff. All this stupid, worthless stuff.

I’ve been putting off decluttering my holiday decorations for years. Part of the problem is that I don’t even know what I have. Our decorations are strung out all over the place: In the cedar chest in our bedroom, in the basement, in unused closet space. But yesterday evening, I was like, “You know what? I am STRONG. I am BRAVE. I’ve, like, given birth TWICE. I can totally clean out the cedar chest and make the hard decisions in an hour and a half.”

Ha ha ha. I’m hilarious.

I forgot to take a before photo, and I didn’t end up taking an after shot, either, because THIS IS NOT DONE. But here are a few from during:

Delightful!
Um … not delightful.
I spy with my little eye something that is Goose.

I ended up making four different piles: One to donate to next year’s holiday bazaar, one for the June rummage sale, one for my mother to look through, and one I will take to work today to see if my co-workers want anything. And at the end of all that, I STILL had a bunch of stuff I didn’t exactly know what to do with … and didn’t want to deal with any more. So I put those things back inside my cedar chest for another day.

(I’m honestly wondering if I just forgo all piles, toss everything in the car and take it to Goodwill. That would get it out of my house ASAP and that way, I wouldn’t have to look at it or think about it ever again.)

So not only do I NOT have a cleaned out cedar chest (my fondest desire: To store quilts in there), but I have NOT even made very many hard decisions. All I’ve done is reminded myself that I have all these holiday decorations … and I don’t even decorate the house anymore.

Ickkkkkkkk. I’m kind of remembering why I’ve put this off for so long. 😉 To be continued.

How I’m getting ready for December

I have kind of a love/hate relationship with December. Um, maybe mostly hate. I love that my baby is excited for her birthday and Christmas (and Grandma’s sugar cookies, hint hint Mom). I love that we’re all cozy inside. I love the general feeling of goodwill. I love being with my family.

This is EXACTLY what December is like in the Walker household!

But I hate the commercialism, the focus on stuff and doing more and being busy and that if you don’t have THE right sparkle top in THE right metallic for all your holiday parties — because obvs you’re going to, like, four a day — then you’ve failed at life. (And if you’re not going to four a day, I suppose that’s a failure too.)

I don’t need that kind of pressure. Here’s what I’m focusing on instead:

I’m making a list of what’s important. I got this idea from Nourished Planner last year (HERE): Write down the family activities, to-dos, decorations and gatherings that mean something to you. Go over that list and pick the top three items for each category; everything else gets crossed off or, at the very least, regulated to “as time allows” status. 

I’m making health a priority. Another list! Before I get myself into a bind, I’m going to brainstorm possible pitfalls and how to avoid them — physically (aka my jerk stomach), mentally and emotionally. I will do this by thinking about what has happened in passed years and what I could have done to change the narrative. Step one: Accept that I have a chronic condition. (Two? IBS and anxiety?)

I’m doing the thing I do not want to do. That makes it sound a tad more exciting than it really is, but basically: Every year, I get overwhelmed by the sheer number of Christmas decorations we have somehow accumulated, and every year, I promise myself that NEXT year, I will deal with that mess. This is the year I actually do that. As we decorate, I plan to go through boxes and separate the used from the unused, what we like from what we really don’t. These items will go into a separate box (boxes?) that I will donate next year to our church’s annual holiday bazaar — an idea I’m stealing from my mother. 

I’m giving myself a break. Literally. Even with all my lists and all my planning, I still get overwhelmed. I will schedule daily breaks into my planner and pretend they’re doctor’s appointments.

When in doubt, play with kittens. This one doesn’t need any explanation. 😉

Basically, I’m going to pay attention to what I love about December rather than what I hate, to simplify where I can and forgive myself for the mistakes and missteps that will inevitably happen.

Anyone else thinking about December and how to manage enjoy the season?

Quick story …

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I’m elbow-deep in Thanksgiving prep — my house looks so amazing right now, you guys! — so I only have time for one quick story today:

I was charged with writing a Thanksgiving-themed feature focusing on kids and recipes for the paper for Wednesday’s edition. We ran a similar feature last year, and it was hilarious — the takeaway is basically kids have no idea how to cook. Anyway, I visited a first grade classroom last week and, having told the teacher exactly what I wanted to do — come in, explain the project, have the kids write down recipes in English and Spanish — found that he had an entire lesson planned that had absolutely nothing to do with anything we’d talked about.

I mean, okay, it’s your classroom.

So the kids wrote on “How to Catch a Turkey.” And I did some quick regrouping.

The next day I visited an area preschool. In hindsight, this was a terrible idea, because these kids can’t write at all. They can barely draw. But they’re guileless and adorable, so really, what could happen?

They were excited to write down recipes — meaning they mostly drew pictures of turkeys and apples. Hey, that’s cool, I’m not about to stifle anyone’s creativity, and anyway, I had the good sense to steal a colored pencil and start asking questions and writing down their answers.

So my feature was saved is what I’m saying.

That’s not even the story. So I’m surrounded by tots who are super excited to show me their drawings. They’re in my face, they’re crowded around, they’re jacked about life. I like your sweater! one kid says, and another chimes in, I like your pants! (They were tights, but close enough.)

Then a third says, I like your hair! And I was like, wow, thank you, and he was all, yeah, my grandma has grey hair too.

Ah, babies. He was so earnest and sincere, I could hardly take offense — plus my hair is grey! — and it just made me laugh. I’m sure he just really, really loves his grandma and that’s why he thinks grey hair is awesome. 😉

Anyway, my dear internet friends, I hope your own Thanksgiving preparations are going well (or your week is going well for those of you who don’t celebrate this particular holiday). I’ll probably take Friday off — Abby comes home on Wednesday! I’m gonna hang out with my baby! — but I’ll see you next week. Maybe we can compare Thanksgiving successes or something.

The problem with jars

This was a bad weekend on the jar front.

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Can you hear me crying?

It started Saturday morning, when I opened my freezer and saw that two widemouth quart jars of beautiful, gorgeous leek and potato soup base had broken. I used jars this summer to freeze everything from stock to dried fruit, and I haven’t had a broken jar in … well, I don’t remember, but it’s been a while, and it didn’t even occur to me that my soup might be in jeopardy. I didn’t fill them all the way up to the top and I froze them without lids — so there would be plenty of room for expansion. (Irony!)

Major, royal bummer.

Leeks have been at the farmers’ market the last few weeks, and if there’s one thing that Johanna loves and adores, it’s leek and potato soup. Which is hilarious because she has weird texture issues and she doesn’t like much. Anyway, I made a double batch of soup while Eric was hunting, with the idea that Jo and I could eat it a couple of days and then the rest of it could go in the freezer for emergencies, aka any ol’ night when I don’t feel like cooking dinner.

So every night, really. Although I did make dinner Monday night — chicken I’d cooked ahead of time and froze (there’s another jar), mashed potatoes and salad. I know. I’m shocked I pulled that off myself.

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Not modern art.

Wait, what was I talking about? Oh, right, jars.

So then, during our weekly grocery trip, I got a pint of walnuts — sale in the bulk section, I’ve learned the hard way that’s no reason to go crazy, but it didn’t matter anyway because I’d only brought a handful of jars with me this time — and as I was bringing my bag up to the house, I heard a crack as it hit my knee … and yep, there were shards of glass in the bottom of the bag intermixed with $5.50 worth of nuts.

Blerg.

Johanna suggested washing the walnuts off in the sink, but glass in the digestive system isn’t really a chance I’m willing to take with any of us.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a jar break on me after shopping, too. I’m not sure what led to any of these breakages — old jars? Bad luck? — but wow, there is a lot of glass in my trash now.

I’ve got a couple of cloth bags I could use in the bulk aisle, but I’d rather use jars. It’s so much easier to come home and stick stuff in the pantry or fridge instead of decanting my purchases. It’s also not so much that I care about the jars — I’ve got hundreds — but that I do care about what I send to the landfill.

I don’t really have a solution for this problem. I’m just bummed out.

*

Thanksgiving planning is coming right along. I’ve made a list of the food I need to buy and how long it will take to prepare, as well as a list (I love lists) of what I need to do to get the house into shape. I’m going to be real honest with you — I haven’t deep cleaned the house since Abby’s graduation party in June. Eh, whatever, cleaning is boring. Next Saturday is the last farmers’ market of the season, so I plan to get all of the fruit and veggies I possibly can there for the big day. No packaging, no stickers, local food, that whole thing is full of win.

I think we’ve got 12 for dinner, which is almost too easy. I’ve crammed 36 people into our house before with an 11-month-old underfoot. (Jo’s first Thanksgiving!) But I told my mother she should still plan stuffing for 85. We don’t want to run out, do we?

So what’s up with you? I don’t actually want to clean my house, so give me something to read. 🙂

Ready or not, here I come

My anxiety is already ratcheting up a notch with the beginning of November. Just thinking about the holiday season getting underway makes me want to hide.

So of course I’ve decided to host Thanksgiving this year. Why not? Here’s the thing about my anxiety: It’s like a ferret. Sometimes it’s cute, sometimes it’s rabid, but it’s always there, and we’ve come to a reluctant truce.

Anyway, not really the point. The point is that I am rather impulsive, which is why I require adult supervision. Saturday I woke up early, grabbed my journal, and started outlining what it would take to host Thanksgiving: The menu, what I’d need to borrow to supplement my minimalist kitchen, the guest list.

And what I saw wasn’t very daunting at all. A maximum of 17 people, a simple-ish menu* that covers all bases, and the realization that I have enough pots and pans and serving dishes (um, probably) to actually cook the thing.

I’ll have to pull out Grandma’s china to ensure everyone has a plate, and borrow a coffee pot to handle all of the coffee drinkers. Um, and a tablecloth, because Johanna is an artist and my dining room table is thrashed.

Here’s the thing: I am already over the holiday season, but I love Thanksgiving. That’s a hard one to commercialize. I used to host every year, but after I went back to work, I’ve left it to others. And I’m a teensy bit excited to do this.

It will be minimalist, and it will be as low waste as I can make it, and it will totally trigger my anxiety and it will be fun.

YAY.

*In case you’re curious: Turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, rolls, green salad, fruit salad, pumpkin pie, whipped cream, coffee, milk, water and apple cider (which my favorite farmer gave me the last time I was in the farm stand, and I’ve frozen for the occasion). My mother says she’ll make an Orange Charlotte, which is my favorite thing ever, and take care of the stuffing, pies and the potatoes. She’s a superstar. And P.S. I’m not sure why we require rolls and stuffing, but whatever, I’m not about to crush any dreams.