In Favor of Gentle Goodbyes

OK, before you start reading: Max is not dead. Onward.

Today I am grateful for a service called Gentle Goodbyes. Their website says “when it’s time to say goodbye to your pet, it should be gentle, surrounded by family and in your own home.”

Um, YES. About time. And for the record, I am still completely traumatized from the last time I had to end the life of a beloved dog. My primary memory of her last moments were of her struggling, unhappy and scared, carrying her into the vet (and I still believe that she was scared most of being left there again, hooked up to an IV and miserable in a cage). And before that, a judgey vet who kept telling me we could prolong her life if I would just commit to her being on an IV and in a crate for much of every day.

My largest beast (Maxim) has been on the downward slide for three years. The move to Boise has revived him somewhat but he continues to age, growing increasingly more arthritic with delicate internal systems. He’s not young, somewhere around thirteen or fourteen, and he came from the pound with some signs of . . . not precisely a rough life, but one without much in the way of preventative care.

I’ve made the decision that when he goes into massive shut down mode again, we’re not going to reengage in the weeks on an IV, thousands of dollars worth of inconclusive tests and drug experiments. It’s partly because I know I don’t want that for myself, and that he hated it last time, and yes, that the resources just aren’t there these days. Also, what resources we have need to go to keeping the rest of the animals fed and housed.  There will be a point, not to far off, when it will be time to let him go.

But ah, the total dread of dealing with the vet. It’s not just the backbreaking effort of hauling an 90lb dog in and out of the car to a place he REALLY does not want to go. Or the MASSIVE guilt of refusing to do just one more test or regime. Or the expense of it all. Well, it’s all of those things. But it’s also the horror of putting him through all that misery.

So, it might sound dark but I was so happy to find an ad for a vet service that will come to your home, administer the kill shot and help you deal with the body in whatever way you wish. IMHO, it’s the kind thing to do for Max.

In Boise, it’s called Gentle Goodbyes. They employ a group of vets who will come to your home within 48 hours of being called. When I spoke with them to get the details, they were kind and patient. Pricing, while perhaps a little higher than a vet visit (about $220 for the visit/shot, additional costs for body removal and cremation depending on your choices), was not high and seemed reasonable to me.

In practical terms, it was also a relief to know they had a service to cope with the body, something I really didn’t think I could do on my own. And I appreciated knowing it in advance what it would cost versus having to write a check at the vet office while sobbing brokenheartedly (yes, that happened. More than once.).

I was headed out on a long-planned trip and worried that Max would start failing while I was gone. On the phone, Gentle Goodbyes worked with me to authorize the decision to euthanize and emailed me a healthcare directive form for use by the vet and my dog sitter. They understood that my priority was minimizing Max’s distress, not making him hang on in misery until I could get back to the U.S. and watch him die.

We both got lucky and there was no need to call for their services while I was gone. Still, knowing I had a good plan that would minimize Max’s distress relieved so much anxiety for me. So thank you to the vets and staff at Gentle Goodbyes. I’m not looking forward to my next call to you but I am really, really grateful that you are there.

And so here’s a question for every other location in the U.S.: what’s the deal? Why isn’t this an available option everywhere? And why don’t more vet offices offer a home visit for this service?

OK, those are sort of rhetorical questions. I actually have a pretty good idea of the answers. What I’m saying is, I hope we can find more ways to offer compassionate care for our animals everywhere.

Totally off topic: this monkey is in rehab in Costa Rica. He need socialization and to form bonds to a new family group. Go Costa Rica. And boo to idiots who think they can have baby monkeys as pets and then dump them in the forest when they get older and aggressive.  Don't do that.
Totally off topic: this guy is in rehab in Costa Rica. He needs care and socialization to form bonds to a new family group. Go Proyecto Asis near La Fortuna for working to make that happen! And boo to idiots who think they can have sweet baby monkeys as pets and then dump them in the forest when they get older and aggressive. Don’t do that.

And now back to Max and the rest of the Mints. None of whom have recently died.





Following the Heart of Dharma

This post is a small contemplation about gratitude and the paths that lead us to wonderful places.

I was lucky enough to stumble on the Heart of Dharma sangha through Meetup when I moved to Boise. I’m not much of a joiner generally but this meetup seemed undemanding and familiar, raised as I was in a non-monotheistic household.

And let’s face it: there’s no denying I need need all the meditation practice I can get. Not to mention practice in compassion. And letting things go.

You know what's cool about the roly poly Buddha? It all slides off.
You know what’s cool about the roly poly Buddha? It all slides off.

First meeting was great. Guided meditation followed by an illuminating talk. A teacher (Dana Marsh) who spoke with compassion, kindness, intelligence and humor. Kindly people who smiled a lot. Even being thanked for sharing my practice with the group; the loveliness and wisdom in that every practice gesture still strikes me with awe.

As with all great starts, I imagined myself attending the guided meditations at every opportunity, learning amazing things and attaining some of the wisdom my treasured sister Erica makes seem so effortless. The schedule was easy too: an evening meditation on Tuesdays and one on Sunday mornings. One hour, in and out, and even a bikeable distance!

Now, a few years in, I find my attendance is more inconsistent than I’d like or would be helpful to me. Yet, every time I go, I come away uplifted, optimistic and peaceful. And I feel so fortunate that the sangha exists, so accessible and so near to me. As my sister has pointed out, this wasn’t available to me where I lived in California and the nearness of a wonderful teacher . . . it’s a priceless gift.

This year I’m feeling especially lucky because in an unusual fit of resolve, I decided to attend the Eight Week Spiritual Jump Start, Sunday mornings at 9:30. In theory, it sounded like a good thing but in practice, I wasn’t too excited about it. I don’t like making commitments. Classes or anything that I feel I should do makes me want to flee. I’m the guy that, the minute I say I’ll do something marginally social, I want to do the opposite.

Classes started and I’m pleased to say, I haven’t skipped one yet. (This is slightly miraculous.) Still, last week was a bit pressured and over-scheduled. As I was contemplating another over-scheduled week ahead, I decided to reduce the pressure. No Sunday morning alarms. No rushing to get the beast to and away from the dog park in order to trundle into class on time. No inhalation of breakfast and coffee. I was not going to feel bad about missing class today. And, if we all slept in and I still wanted to do something for my battered, dark soul, I’d hit the 11 o’clock guided meditation session and call it good.

You get where this is going. With no pressure or expectation, I woke early, naturally, in time to catch a beautiful sunrise. Had quiet coffee and a clementine by the fire (I do love clementine season!). Made myself a mint tea to go. Actually showered and put on clean clothes. Max and I ambled off to the dog park where he staggered about leisurely and managed to secure the attentions of kindly dog hosts like Star. When it was time to go, no civil disobedience. We actually made it to class a few minutes early.

And of course, it was again wonderful. Today’s class helped me get some perspective on some issues, renewed my respect for my teacher, reminded me how much the person or creature sitting next to me has to teach me, and generally gave me an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and peace.  Also, I laughed out loud a few times. (Yeah, I know, that paragraph was all about me. In fairness, I’ve never claimed to be an evolved Buddhist.)

Anyway, before this day gets into busy and doing mode — or not busy and lollygagging mode, not sure which — I’m taking these few minutes to make a note of gratitude to the sangha for existing, to Dana Marsh for teaching, to all the volunteers and supporters of Heart of Dharma that make it so accessible. Thank you.

Note: If you’re not a Boise local but would like to benefit from this teacher (Dana Marsh), her book, Extraordinary Freedom, is available on the Heart of Dharma website and online. I found it accessible, engaging and helpful.

Sometimes the Buddha is just pretty. This one lives in a teak temple in Myanmar.
Sometimes the Buddha is just pretty. This one lives in a teak temple in Myanmar.

Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins

Dark winter mornings are a little sweeter when I can start them with a small muffin along with my coffee. The tang of lemony cake, a burst of blueberry, and a slight crunch of topping — it’s just a nice, cheery way to begin the day. I want a muffin in a manageable size, not those ginormous monster muffins you get in stores. And I want it to taste fresh, yet I definitely don’t want to haul out of bed early every morning to make myself a fresh batch.

These Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins work perfectly for all of the above. A little fruit, a little butter, a little crunch . . . it’s all there. And they freeze well so you can pull them out as needed. They’re tasty for a snack anytime. Cupcake-sized, they’re super portable and an easy food to gift because they don’t have to be eaten instantly.

This recipe is adapted from Deb Perelman’s great- and liberating – Smitten Kitchen cookbook, and there’s also a website to check out.  I make these in cupcake size baking cups and freeze them so as to have muffins handy. They keep fine covered on the counter for a couple days.

This recipe has two parts, batter and streusel. This is the total ingredient list for both:

  1. 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  2. 2/3 cup sour cream or plain greek yogurt (nonfat is fine)
  3. 1/2 to 3/4 tsp fine lemon zest (add more if you want batter more lemony. One lemon should give you enough)
  4. 1/2 tsp good vanilla
  5. 4 large eggs
  6. 3 cups of sugar, divided
  7. 1/2 generous tsp fine kosher salt
  8. 4 tsp baking powder
  9. 1 cup and 2 TBS cornmeal, divided
  10. 2 3/4 cup flour, divided
  11. 1 1/4 cup butter (2 and 1/2 sticks), divided
  12. 4 cups of blueberries, washed and dried or, if frozen, defrosted. Basic frozen blueberries work fine in this but the nicer they are, the better the muffin.

Assembly and Baking:

  1. Soften 1 cup/2 sticks of the butter for about an hour or more on the counter. Take the chilled 4 TBS of butter and cut it into small pieces while cold and set aside for the streusel
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Get out your muffin pans and cupcake liners and set those up. This recipe makes about 36 cupcake sized muffins or 24 bigger muffins
  3. Whisk dry ingredients together in two different bowls:
    • Set #1, main batter: 2 cups flour, 1 cup cornmeal, all the baking powder and salt
    • Set #2, streusel:  3/4 cup flour, 2 TBS cornmeal, all the cinnamon, pinch of table salt plus 1 cup of the sugar
  4. In a high sided bowl, beat 2 cups of sugar into the butter for at least two minutes, until fluffy and well combined
  5. Beat in eggs one at a time, then add vanilla and lemon zest
  6. Toss the blueberries with about 1/4 to 1/3 of the dry ingredient mixture (Set #1) You want those berries coated but not extra flour floating around
  7. Add half the remaining flour mixture to the batter bowl and stir until just combined
  8. Add all the sour cream/yogurt and stir until just combined
  9. Add the other half of the flour mixture and stir until just combined
  10. Taste batter. If you want it more lemony, add more zest
  11. Add coated blueberries and stir until just combined
  12. Add butter to streusel (Set #2) flour and combine using a pastry blender or fingers
  13. Put batter into muffin cups:
    • For cupcake sized muffins, about 1.5 heaping scoops using a large cookie scoop. Or fill the cup to 1/2 to 2/3 full, depending on how big you want your muffins
    • For big muffins, fill 1/2 to 2/3 full
    • For small, 3oz muffins, use small cookie scoop to fill cups 2/3 full. (Love those Simply Baked stand-alone baking cups when I’m in splurge mode. So, so pretty!)
    • Mini muffins: haven’t tried yet. Will update if I do
  14. Top each muffin with streusel:
    • For cupcake sized muffins, 1-2 teaspoons
    • For big muffins, about 1 TBS
    • For others, eyeball it. The streusel adds a yummy sweetness and crunch
  15. Bake on middle rack for about 35-40 minutes until cake tester comes out clean (note: streusel will cling to the tester so test a bit not covered in streusel)
  16. Allow muffins to cool in tin or turn out right away depending on your confidence level of doneness
  17. Plate and cover the quantity of muffins that will be eaten in the next two days and leave on the counter. Freeze the rest in a zip bag and take out as needed. These defrost quickly on the counter. Serve at room temperature or warm.


The Mint Dynasty

Is anyone else a Beverly Nichols fan? Down the Garden Path came into my life at a really dark time and meant so very much then (thank you Karen!). Well, it still does.

Besides all the garden inspiration, I loved his plan to host 100 cats and call each of them by a number. What a smart way to go about it!

Mr. Nichols reminded me that there were some gaps in my life just then, some missed opportunities for happiness. It was time to love a garden again. And it was time to have cats. Possibly a dog or two. Maybe not 100 cats. Maybe something more like 10. Not at once. Just as the years ticked by.

The Mint Dynasty was born. (I believe Miss Mint makes her first appearance in Laughter on the Stairs.)

It started with Miss Omega Mint, an aged Siamese who’d been parked in the shelter for several months. She needed to own a home again. I needed her. We also needed a kitten, so neither of us would get too hinky or obsessive. W&M picked out Jack T. Mint for me, based on his alleged intelligence. A pesty kitten with a ridiculous tail, he was destined to become our alpha.

Omega died too soon, a grand old lady when she came to me. Her passing made way for Elsa Mint and Augustus Calendar Mint, who, with Jack, established a sort of neighborhood pride. This was entirely Gus’ fault. (If ever someone recommends a kitten to you as “a lover, not a fighter,” run the other way. That lover will make friends with other cats, teach them to use your cat door, and share his meals with them.)

Since then the ranks of the Mints have swelled, mostly unintentionally. Every time I realize we’ve got a new one, I have that sick sense of dread. And every time I find so many surprise moments of laughter and love. We’ve got a great beast of a dog on board as well, Maxim M. deMint. When he’s not guarding (aka bossing) me, he delights in staggering around with his nose up the other Mints’ grills.

Max patiently waiting for me to catch up.
Max patiently waiting for me to catch up.

I love watching this dynasty develop, and am honored to be their host. Their dynamics are endlessly interesting and every time I think I’ve got them figured out, I’m quickly corrected.

Lucky us, all the Mints are flourishing after this move to Boise. Even dreadful Barn Cat, who I felt guiltiest about relocating, is thriving, probably the happiest he’s ever been.

So, that’s the Mint Dynasty in a nutshell. A strange and vibrant social organization that has delegated their care and feeding to me. Sometimes they even let me sleep in. Sometimes.

Tattoo is not a fan of sleeping in.



North End Largesse

New to Boise, I picked this neighborhood because of park proximity, walkability, and the charm of older homes. Though pricey compared to other neighborhoods in Boise, these amenities outweighed any fantasies I had about a home with a master suite, gourmet kitchen, or swimming pool.

What I didn’t know then was how generous a neighborhood it would be. I was prepared for California-transplant hate (which I didn’t get, ever), but not the active welcome and practical help.

Today I am grateful for the gift of plants from my kindly North End neighbors. Thanks to them, seven tomato plants are now in the raised bed, ready to go to town in the coming heat. And the bald patch in the front yard is now planted with day lilies that one neighbor thinned from her bed. I’m so excited to have plants in a spot I thought would be bare all summer due to No Spend Spring!

Wheelbarrow full of lillies, free!
Wheelbarrow full of lilies, free!

The Mints are as grateful as psychopaths ever are, as well. Another neighbor lost her cat and showed up on my stoop with a bin full of dry cat food.

I don’t remember this happening in my old neighborhood, even though I lived there more than a decade, and had lovely, friendly neighbors. When neighbors dropped by, or hailed you outside, it could be to chat, comment on one’s landscape, complain about something, or demand support for some issue. Not to just give.

North Enders seem to be heavy NextDoor users, and they use it well. Sure, there are a fair number of lectures, issue related, and for sale posts. Yet there seem to be even more about found pets, creatures who need homes, and useful free things (lumber! plants!). Now and then there are calls for help, refreshingly creative ones. At the holiday one neighbor asked for help for some homeless friends, struggling to get into housing with a disabled child. Her plea wasn’t focused on cash but on the short term assist that was needed. This meant specific items to help this family with practical needs and a holiday celebration. OK, not rocket science but my California-jaded self is just so used to pleas only for cash.

I posted once, trying to find a home for a puppy a friend was fostering. This was met with practical offers for help for the little guy. Sure, there were a few unhelpful lectures as well, but scanning — and ignoring — those were a small price to pay to help the puppy. That puppy quickly found a home.

It’s not just online. I notice it out dog walking as well. There’s a genuine interest in my beast, the occasional invite to sit down by a front yard fire, collegial alerts about foxes in the area (the Mints seem impervious), and the like. Sometimes free stuff is just left out for the taking. Or the lost posted on telephone poles (and found again). The North End Neighborhood Association (NENA) is active too, and volunteers kindly deliver a quarterly newspaper.

I’m not sure what inspires all this kindliness. Is it a Boise thing? Is it smallish city  living? Not sure. Just lucky.




Refreshing the Step-In Master Closet

This cute little 1947 cottage has a nice-for-the-era-and-social-standing-sized master bedroom with a (same as above, can’t write it all out again) similar closet. At best, you could call it a step-in closet because at 4 1/2 x3 1/2,’ stepping in is about all you could do. Also, it was painted a dingy mushroomy color, generally insalubrious.

I kind of thought it was hopeless and not functional and then I started reading about the Konmari method of organizing things. I’d applied it to my dressers outside the closet already (not the way the book advises) to great effect and thought, why not give it a whack?

I'd already done a partial Konmari purge, which is why the uppers are no longer jammed. Still, a dingy depressing closet
I’d already done a partial Konmari purge, which is why the uppers are no longer jammed. Still, a dingy depressing closet
Fist I tried adding more shelving (see below) to see if that would improve things.
First I tried adding more shelving (see below) to see if that would improve things.
See the hanging sweater organizer? All those t shirts are now in the little dresser, thanks to konmarie!
See the hanging sweater organizer? All those t shirts are now in the little dresser, thanks to Konmari!

Lighting: the probably-original-to-the-house jar light was just there, flickering on in a dingy way. Couldn’t do much in the budget and with the low ceiling height, at least for now. Switched out the low energy bulb for a conventional one.  Instant cheer! Not the most eco solution but since this guy is turned on for maybe 30 seconds in any given day, I’m going to indulge myself here. That only took two years to figure out.

Color: Donna Frasca’s article convinced me that most of my closets should be a light neutral. The dank mushroom color wasn’t uplifting in any way so I trekked down to the basement to see what I had on hand. (Buying paint is off limits this No Spend Spring.) I did find an unopened gallon of pretty ballet pink. I’d picked it up for $5 at the ReStore, last September. I figured if I couldn’t use the pink, I could re-tint it. Couldn’t resist the quality (Behr Premium Plus Ultra) for $5! The closet would be pink. Trim would be my standard Kelly-Moore Country Cotton.

2015-05-26 16.48.48

$5 paint from the ReStore
$5 paint from the ReStore

Dresser color: I also had an old plastic dresser I’d bought whilst waiting six months to get my furniture moved here. It was supposed to go to the garage (Lowes sold it as garage storage) but it proved too useful in the closet. A dingy grey, it just needed a little refresh. I painted the drawers with two thin coats of high adhesive primer (Zissner BullsEye 1-2-3), and then my standard house white (Kelly-Moore Country Cotton). It looked okay-ish, but not especially pretty.

Sadly, this paint job was not a success. It instantly chipped (ok, I did drop a drawer). I think I’d have better luck with a spray on plastic paint primer and a spray color but this is No Spend Spring so that will have to wait.

Here's the ugly plastic dresser, actually super functional
Here’s the ugly plastic dresser, actually super functional

Konmari: I’m hunting for a way to talk about this method that won’t make me sound like a groupie! Seriously, organizing my clothes this way has given me more storage and more access than I’ve had in years.

Also, I got rid of three bins of clothes I could never get to. These bins just sat up top of the closet, sort of out of sight, which means the sweaters I loved in them were out of mind. Now the keepers are integrated into my regular drawers and a couple of items have been donated. I love empty bins!

Now, in the spirit of honesty, this little closet doesn’t hold everything for me. It sure holds more than it did but I’ve got serious business clothes, out of season coats, and evening dresses in another closet. I don’t use them a lot but am not ready to part with them. Also, I keep most of my shoes by the front door. The shoes stored in this closet are rarely used. If this were a more modern closet size, I’d probably be able to get everything in.

Added storage: I wanted to add another layer of shelving over the top shelf. Stacking things high wasn’t working; it all just sort of topples. I didn’t want to buy any brackets and shelving (yup, No Spend Spring Strikes again) but I did have something that could work.

The pictured plank had been the top of a busted bookcase. I planned to re-purpose it as a shoe rack and so had added some legs from the wood pile. But my wall shoe rack project rendered it totally unnecessary so it was just sitting there. It wasn’t quite the right size for the closet — two inches short. But I decided that was okay. Two lost inches is better than that vast stretch of unused space. It also turned out to be a little wide for the shelf. I handled that by just screwing it into the wall.

Here's the bookshelf top turned shoe rack turned closet shelf
Here’s the bookshelf top turned shoe rack turned closet shelf
Here's the too big shelving unit. It works ok on the other side, where the shelf is an L. Solution? Screw it into the wall. I could remove the leg but I don't want to in case someday I remove it and use it as a shoe rack
Here’s the too big shelving unit. It works okay on the other side, where the shelf is an L. Solution? Screw it into the wall. I could remove the leg but I don’t want to in case someday I remove it and use it as a shoe rack

So here’s what we ended up with:

See how the dank mushroom turns green against the pink paint
See how the dank mushroom turns green against the pink paint
It's pink! If a closet can't be a happy pink, what can?
It’s pink! If a closet can’t be a happy pink, what can?
Here's the closet with the badly painted dresser and laundry hamper loaded in
Here’s the closet with the badly painted dresser and laundry hamper loaded in
Here's the not-perfectly-fitting bookshelf/shoe rack mounted over the top shelf
Here’s the not-perfectly-fitting bookshelf/shoe rack mounted over the top shelf

2015-05-26 10.22.07

Here's the other angle. Might want to add another shelf to the L shelf someday
Here’s the other angle. Might want to add another shelf to the L shelf someday


It might be tiny but I like having a floor I can see
It might be tiny but I like having a floor I can see

So, what do you think? The space is so tiny, is it hard to see how it’s genuinely more functional now? Is art in a closet the silliest thing a person can do? What would you do differently (besides buy a house with bigger closets)?

15 Musings on No Spend Spring

I’m a shopper. I admit it. I wish I were one of those people who disdain stores just like I wish I were someone who loved being endlessly dirty, or sleeping on rough earth. Sadly, no.

Poking about in almost any kind of store stimulates me. I like seeing how things are made, what they cost, and how they are displayed. I enjoy comparing prices and thinking about how to get the best deal for something (love you Red Laser!). I adore finding something beautiful and/or functional and imagining how it might improve my home or life. I can shop for hours and buy little, or nothing even, and still be happy and inspired.

My favorite museum is the Victoria and Albert, so much about home crafts there, so carefully curated. Not to mention the vastly entertaining Casts Courts (imagine those empire builders zipping around the known world, making plaster casts of everything that caught their eyes! Much nice than looting it and hauling it home to the UK).

I grew up without much money so shopping was a treat. My mother hated it, which made me love it more. I swore that when I grew up, I’d be able to shop whenever I wanted, and be more like my classmate’s families, not so continually pinching pennies.

Life advanced and my professional years started. Here was the time when I had income and opportunity. Plus I was surrounded by media messaging about the joy and wisdom of acquisition. It seemed like setting up a comfortable, pleasant home was the next important rite of passage. Being able to buy things became a sort of code for well-being, for freedom from worry.

Boy did I get that one wrong! Life happened with a vengeance! After some years of success and increasing confidence, things stopped going so perfectly. Sorrows mounted. As for many, the spiral down has felt swift, a combination of my own poor choices, family mishaps and a dicey economy. Enough moaning about that. As Pema Chodron tells us, “start where you are.”

No Spend Spring has been both a challenge and a necessity. The essentials of my little fixer egg house were there.  So in a time when cash is tight, everything not necessary is . . . just not necessary. This is a real mind shift for me, redefining “need,” and breaking a habitual pattern of not thinking too much about buying “essentials.”

That said, I know myself to be among the fortunate. I’m not crying poor when so many genuinely are. Right now feels like battening down the hatches and weathering a storm, not the end game. These musings are in no way intended to minimize the struggles and triumphs of the genuinely poor, just describe my own halting progress.

My challenge has been is the continuation of nesting, of genuine home improvement at a time when there’s no or little cash to throw at a problem. For me, making my home a tiny bit better every single week is meditation, stress relief, a confidence builder, and an embracing of hope. Living through No Spend Spring could not be allowed to block any of these solaces from my life.

No Spend Spring hasn’t eradicated my general enjoyment of shopping, but I do seem to be evolving. Here are a couple of thoughts I am embracing:

1. Good enough isn’t. It really is better to wait to get the perfect item. I’ll always regret money wasted on the good enoughs. And each time I look at them, I have that sour feeling instead of delight.

On the flip, annoying as the good enoughs littered about are, using them up does eventually clear physical and mental space. When they are gone — used up or donated or hacked — there’s more breathing room around here.

2. Three days on the list kills impulse. These days, everything goes on a shopping list and lives there, unfulfilled for at least three days. (This even includes standard grocery list food.) It’s amazing how, after three days, an item stops holding my interest. Or, if the thought of it continues to engage my interest, I’ve come up with a way to get it, or something similar, by making it myself, re-purposing or rearranging. So the outcome of the wait is often much more satisfying (and less costly) in the end. And often, I’ve just stopped “needing” it.

3. Buying too soon ends the fun of the hunt. And the chase is fun!

4. More free stuff starts showing up. I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s because without cash to spend, I check the free piles at garage sales more frequently. Or accept things from friends instead of an automatic decline (thanks for that lumber D&D! Expect some serious raised bed veggies this summer from those and the salad bar I made out of your old bunk bed ladder). The landing strip seating made from Johanna’s old sewing chair and leftover fabric wasn’t planned but is so functional. Without a wallet to finger, maybe I’m just more open. But all this openness has got me an two handy new shoe racks at a savings of more than $100 off the Ikea price.

5. Any charity is better than none. I almost passed a giving bowl one day because I didn’t have my usual $5 to put in. I had fifty cents. It felt embarrassing. Then I slapped my prideful self upside the head and doubled back. Plinking fifty cents in the bowl might not my first choice yet still, the cause was advanced.

And there’s always something to give. Sometimes it’s something a friend could use more than I need, like a dog crate. Sometimes it’s one of those cool Kohl’s $10 gift cards that come in the mail right when there’s nothing I actually need. Sometimes it’s extra plastic bags for pet waste. Sometimes it’s just being kind, friendly or appreciative. Occasionally it’s brushing the dog or cat beyond my boredom threshold. Whenever I feel empty and pointless or that I will never be a successful philanthropist (thanks for putting that in my head, Austin), I try to remind myself that while my day might be crap, someone else’s could still go a little better were I to bestir myself slightly.

6. No Spend Days are really peaceful. With the option of spending off the table for the day, it gets boring to obsess about all the stuff I want. I’m quicker to redirect thoughts to what is already lovely and wonderful in my life.

7. It’s all just stuff, much of it landfill. Nowadays, estate sales particularly make me think about the temporary nature of everything. I’m still a fan, still a shopper, but estate sales make me think about how my family will hold one for my stuff someday. What really does need to be brought into my home? Am I really going to spend X for it when I know it will go for a fiftieth of that in an estate sale?

8. Stuff takes energy. This is an old Buddhist sentiment and it’s 100% true. My sister reminds me of it repeatedly (and despite the evidence, I am listening, Toad). Anything you acquire takes time and resources to get it, bring it home, and then take care of it, storing it, cleaning it, etc. Energy is limited. Does the item under consideration warrant the drain?

9. Real friends will take a walk. Or do something else entirely free. Holding off on the friends and activities that require resource outlay gives you more time for the people and creatures who matter.

Full moon walk at Camelsback.
Full moon walk at Camelsback.

10. It’s smart to limit shopping. Much as I enjoy it, having dense, goal filled shopping trips helps me to spend less, prioritize more.

11. No Spend means appreciate more. Sure, I will always lust for a new pair of yoga pants, especially when those catalogs show up. However, taking the possibility off the table for now redirects my energy to relishing what I already have, yoga-pant wise. And speaking of appreciate more, thanks to the Konmari method, while my closet is only slightly pruned, I can actually see all those yoga pants.

Konmari folding makes it easy to stash and find my yoga pants. I've gone from two drawers to one!
Konmari folding makes it easy to stash and find my yoga pants. I’ve gone from two drawers to one!

12. No spend living is healthier. I’m limiting mileage on the car in earnest. That means if I forgot something and the car isn’t necessary, it’s time to hop on the bike or take a walk.

13. No spend is cleaner. When I’m feeling twitchy to shop or upgrade the house somehow, I’m reminded that the single best way to freshen it is to . . . freshen it. Thirty minutes spent cleaning usually has a bigger impact than two spent shopping. And using up languishing supplies or good enough purchases clears the air even more.

14. No spend is more creative. In this time, I’ve tackled a bunch of small projects that weren’t on my priority list. Still, I had a twitch and the supplies were already on hand and I learned something. Every time I see my silly little fence tip planter, stash shoes in my wall rack, or harvest some arugula I do the smug dance.

15. Organization makes No Spend living easier. With drawers jammed full, I used to forget I had stuff. I’ve been on black t shirt purchasse restriction forever yet still, whenever I needed one, I couldn’t find it. I read about the Konmari method and took a half-baked swing at it. I didn’t expect to purge a lot of clothes, since I’d done that pre-move, but hoped for organization help. Wow! With shoes organized and accessible in my new DIY shoe racks, buying dupes has ended. Closets and drawers are now navigable and pleasant. Next up, books and papers . . .

No Spend Spring is still going strong. It’s not always fun but I’m getting something of deep value every single day.

What about you? Have you gone No Spend? How long? What were the surprise benefits?

45th Birthday Banner

My charming sister was having a 45th birthday party with the theme of 45s (records, people! vinyl!). She’s always had an inclusive, wide-ranging joy in all kinds of music, one of her many enchanting qualities. I couldn’t be there but it was essential to remind her how much she loves me. Enter the birthday banner! This one was easy and fun. And bonus! She cried when she opened it.

You could use this approach for any kind of birthday banner (and I did for a niece’s tiara banner). Here’s how to get this particular one done for maximum impact:

Budget: this was an affordable one because I had most of the supplies around already. I did spend about $3 on some polka dot sticker letters (coupon at Michael’s) and I had to mail the banner, I think for about $6.


  • Colored construction paper
  • Black construction paper
  • Glue stick
  • Hole punch
  • Big sticky letters, enough to write out whatever message you want (scrapbook section of a craft store). Or you could use stencils.
  • Black sharpie
  • Black ribbon or butcher’s string
  • Big envelope if you’re going to send as a card

Get going:

  1. Go online and look up a list of hit songs by year. I like Wikipedia’s. Make a list of the top single for the year by year starting in the year that the birthday girl/boy was born.
  2. Pull out your construction paper and a large salad plate and a jar lid. Or your protractor. Whatever you can use to make a circle. You want a larger circle to be your record and a smaller one to be the label in the center so choose sizes that will be proportionate. Or, if you have an actual 45 around . . .
  3. Trace and cut out your big circles on the black construction paper. You will need:
    • 45 / one for each song +
    • one for each letter or character of your message +
    • one for each space you want to make
  4. Cut the same number of small colored circles. Use lighter colors because you’re going to write on each label. Plus you want it to show up against the black
  5. Write the year for the first year on the colored disc. Under it, write the name of the song, and then the artist. Or make clear labels on your computer to do the same.
  6. Repeat for each year. Keep an eye out for varying the color.
  7. Draw a little black circle in the middle of each “label.” You could also use premade circle stickers
  8. Glue each colored disc to the center of the bigger black disc.

    Here's a single
    Here’s a single. I’m sorry it’s upside down but you get the idea
  9. For your personalized message, glue a blank disc to the black discs, one for each character and spacers. My message was  “Happy 45 XXX {her initials}”
  10. Stick one of the sticky letters on each disc, keeping an eye on varying the color

    Not sure if you can see it but this is what the discs with the message/letters look like
    Not sure if you can see it but this is what the discs with the message/letters look like
  11. Write a personal message on your very last disc. Mine said
    You are a hit every year with me. Love, Siggy
    You are a hit every year with me. Love, etc. (sorry, upside down again)


  12. Stack your entire banner in order. This is the hardest part. Position your message discs wherever it works for you. I went about 1/2 into the stack before the “Happy” part went in since I wanted to keep the whole message together but you could mix it up. End with the loving message designed to make your sister tear up.
  13. Punch two holes at the top of each disc, about 1″ down from the top. You’re going to string the banner ribbon through this so you want them wide-ish and positioned at the top
  14. Weave the string/ribbon through the two holes. For some reason it was easiest for me to start from the last disc. Make a loop to make it easy to hang at each end. Go for consistency: either weave the string so it shows on the front or back of all the discs. Make the discs so they overlap slightly but not too much. Your recipient can tighten them up if they want. If you need to add ribbon, just knot it behind one of the discs.

    Here's what the banner looks like strung. It's so long you can't really see it stretched out.
    Here’s what the banner looks like strung. It’s so long you can’t really see it stretched out. Jack Mint is wondering what’s in it for him.
  15. Carefully stack your binder and put it in a manilla or padded envelope. You’re done! Time to deliver!

Have you made a banner? What did you do? Other great birthday ideas?




Refreshing the coat alcove /closet

I’m lucky enough to have a coat alcove in my small front entryway. Like the entryway itself, it’s not at all big. Yet since so many small houses of my 1947 vintage have no place to store outdoor gear by the front door, I know myself to be fortunate.

A challenge is that it is an alcove. It’s convenient that there’s no door to open but it also means that the first thing you see when you step in is a bunch of coats. I want it to look pretty and be functional and useful. I’m not sure I got to pretty with this refresh but I think it’s an improvement. Here’s what I did:

Defined the use: For me, this is a place to keep outdoor wear, shoes, and dog walking supplies (leashes, collars, earbuds for that audiobook, waste bags) that I use every single day, several times a day. It’s also a place for guests to hang coats, away from all the cat hair opportunities that abound in my house. I’d love the entryway to be glam, but convenient access to these items was most important. I decided to aim for organized and pleasant over glamorous.

Mask or Edit? One suggestion I got was to put up a curtain to mask the contents. In this small opening (22″), this would harm access so I decided against it. It might look peculiar. Plus I sometimes have commitment issues when it comes to fabric choices. Edit it would be. First I decided that the coats needed rotation every month. In this four season climate, not all coats need to be accessible at all times. So keeping the the coat/hoodie limit to five-seven seemed reasonable, even generous. This would take up about half the hanging rack at any one time, leaving the rest for guests and access to dog supplies. Then I decided that accessories would be grouped in bins and stored high. Sometimes these are in heavy use. Sometimes they are not. Finally, I edited shoes. I still have a lot, but I don’t buy shoes every year so I kept the good quality shoes I actively wear.

Freshen the paint: The alcove was still the bizarre dank mushroom color they  the whole house was painted when I moved in. I had fantasies of an exciting colored alcove, contrasting mightily with the Kelly-Moore Windham Cream that is the paint in the living room and entryway. This logical article from A Color Specialist in Charlotte helped me decide to stick with a simple white. There’s a helpful graphic so if you’re pondering closet colors, check it out.

I want the colors of what’s hanging there to essentially pop, and I didn’t want things to get lost in an already dark closet by choosing a darker color. It’s possible that someday I’ll go with the Windham Cream to match the entryway, but I’m out of that paint and didn’t want to buy anything new right now. So a warmish white (my house indoor/outdoor standard of Kelly-Moore Country Cotton) it was. I painted everything in the closet white except the space over the top shelf and the inside walls that you can’t see unless you are standing in the alcove. (I am that lazy. Also, I don’t stand around in the closet. Also, people who do, maybe aren’t the best sort of guests.) I’m still thinking of painting the above shelf area the light blue/gray I use in the shoe storage unit (below) but I dunno.

Add shoe storage: This is a shoes off household, partly because of the way I was raised and partly because it just keeps your house cleaner. That means I want everyday shoes by the front door, easy to see, use and put away. I definitely don’t want anything but special occasion shoes in the bedroom closets. A boot try couldn’t hold enough shoes in an organized manner and it would provide too much cat access. I don’t love shoes bundled in a basket because then I only use the ones at the top, and it scuffs some. I decided to knock together some wall storage that would tuck into the sides of the alcove. These were inspired by a great article on Remodelista. (Ana White also has a good one.) I made a test bin with some lumber from the free pile at a garage sale and liked it so much, I made a bigger whole wall bin (again with leftover lumber). I also kept my boot tray. It’s handy for tall shoes which don’t fit well into the shoe racks as well as drying the occasional soggy shoe.

Here's the full-wall shoe bin. The height is 40"
Here’s the full-wall shoe bin. The height is 40″
Here's the test version of the wall shoe rack / bin. Not as big as I needed but still useful on the opposite wall of the alcove. There's a whole shelf for dog waste bags!
Here’s the test version of the wall shoe rack / bin. Not as big as I needed but still useful on the opposite wall of the alcove. There’s a whole shelf for dog waste bags!
Here's the shoe rack, fully loaded
Here’s the shoe rack, fully loaded

Made the most of the top shelves: I had three black & white lightweight bins and I used these for gloves, sunglasses, scarves&hats, and miscellaneous stuff. I thought about paring down the hats and gloves but though I don’t use them all, I get a lot of out of town visitors who do. And I put some dog stuff (extra tags, collars) in a small metal bin. I pull from it on bath day but don’t much need it any other time.

Bins organize outdoor gear on the shelf
Bins organize outdoor gear on the shelf
But the bins aren't really visible when you're just glancing at the closet. I'm still on the fence about painting the over the shelf area it is nearly impossible to see
But the bins aren’t really visible when you’re just glancing at the closet. I’m still on the fence about painting the over the shelf area as it is nearly impossible to see

Installed a back corner rack for scarves or purses: I don’t change out either of these items a lot but I wanted easy, back-of-the-closet access. This rack is one I bought from Restoration Hardware or Williams Sonoma about 20 years ago and never put up. Time to put it to good use.

This corner rack has moveable arms. It's handy and got installed in the back corner of the closet.
This corner rack has moveable arms. It’s handy and got installed in the back corner of the closet.
And now here it is loaded with long silk and cashmere scarves. These will become invisible once the coats are on the rack but I'll know they are there when I want 'em
And now here it is loaded with long silk and cashmere scarves. These will become invisible once the coats are on the rack but I’ll know they are there when I want ’em

Used hooks and ledges: the closet came with a few much-painted hooks and these were great for dog leashes and the dog towel. I just painted over these instead of spending an hour scraping and reinstalling them. Inspired by Ana White, I added a little leftover lumber ledge for supplies like leather conditioner.

Here you can see the tiny ledge. It's handy for stuff I want to be able to see without pulling down a bin
Here you can see the tiny ledge and the little dog collar metal bin wedged in the corner. The ledge is handy for stuff I want to be able to see without pulling down a bin. Example: dog walking flashlights.

Added art: Maybe it’s silly to put a picture inside a closet but I wanted just a little pretty to draw your eye away from the clutter. Plus I like surprises in rooms. This is a snap from a trip to Moraine Lake years ago.

Moraine Lake in the alcove
Moraine Lake in the alcove. Not a masterpiece but a serene note against all the shoes, leashes and coats busyness.

Hung some lavendar sachets to the guest hangers: I don’t think my shoe collection is smelly but I think it’s nice to get hit by a waft of lavender when you walk in any room.

Loaded it all back into the closet: And that was it. I feel pretty good about this improved storage situation.

Alcove fully loaded
Alcove fully loaded
And now here's the alcove, fully loaded
And now here’s how a visitor first sees the alcove when coming in the front door

What do you think? How do you handle small front door closets? Would you paint the over-shelf area that gets no light? How ridiculous is it to hang a picture in a closet? If it isn’t, should I put in something more attention grabbing?

As always, thanks for reading and your helpful opinions!




I’m a Folex lover

We all know that cleaning your house is the fastest, cheapest way to make it look fresh and enticing.

I admit, I often feel overwhelmed. There are seven animals here and none of them is interested in helping me clean. Sometimes there are just dark spots and dirt I don’t get to in time. Folex carpet spot remover has extended the life of my carpets. I whip out Folex every week or so to freshen the look of my various area rugs and it works. Spritz a couple of times, work it in if necessary, and the dark spot is gone. Thanks Folex!

Folex is available online at Amazon and at various home centers. As with many liquid products, it seems to be cheaper at the home stores.

Folex doesn’t replace carpet deep cleaning but it can help you go longer between cleanings and still have fresh looking area rugs.

No one is paying me to say this.

Folex Co. FSR32 Folex Instant Carpet Stain Remover - 32 Fl 0z.