taking a break

empty house III

Our house is empty, our things are packed. In the flurry of these last few weeks I have, multiple times, shoved all of my belongings into various cabinets, boxes and suitcases. Needless to say, I’m ready to take a little break as Andrew and I travel to see family before jetting off to our new home. In my absence here I’ll be breaking in a new journal and wearing out an old pair of shoes, and I’ll tell you all about it when I get back.

empty house side by side II

tip for moving #4

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When faced with an impending challenge, my favorite way to tackle it is through preparation. Call me a Boy Scout if you will, but I will research and list-make and conduct dry-runs until I have conquered the situation. Moving is no different.

With a military move overseas, we will be sending two separate shipments — one is called the “unaccompanied baggage,” and it is smaller, arrives earlier and travels by air. The final shipment is referred to as “household goods,” and it includes larger items like furniture. This shipment usually arrives one or two months after the physical move, and travels on a barge, often going through the Panama Canal.

Trying to decide what items go in which shipment has been the  most complicated process of the move so far. I haven’t wanted to send anything too early that we will need in the weeks after shipping, but I certainly don’t want to be burdened by tons of luggage on our trip to Hawaii. Take into account the changing seasons and a week of cross-country travel to see family at the end of October before flying to a tropical island and you have one complicated situation.

So, to cope, I do what I do best: I made a list. A list for unaccompanied baggages, a list for household goods, a list of things to give away, a list of things to send home to my parents, a list of items to pack with us in our traveling luggage. Knowing exactly what we would need in each stage of this process was the first step to feeling more in control.

Last week Andrew had the brilliant idea to stage a practice run of our packing process, and this was the second step to arriving at a fine-tuned moving plan. With list in hand, I gathered everything I wanted to pack in check and carry-on luggage — including clothes for fall in the States and active living in Hawaii, a few kitchen items we will be using up until our move, an air mattress and bedding for when our household goods are shipped — and spread it all out on our bed. Various open suitcases were strewn about, and once all items were gathered we set about the arduous task of packing.

It was handy to have one person manage the list while another gathered items, and I recommend having a hard copy of the list available for note-making and the checking off of items. We had several instances where we realized we wouldn’t need something, or that an item would not fit or be useful; in that case, we simply made a note on the list and altered the other lists accordingly.

Now, this may sound a little extreme, but trust me when I say that it is a valuable exercise.

We undertook this mission one free afternoon the week before our first round of movers came, and it did wonders to soothe my worry and relax my tangled mind. No more concern over whether clothes will fit or what kind of bag we’ll have to put our files and important documents in — that puzzle has been solved.

After documenting what we packed and where we packed it, we set about un-packing — but this was the best part. Before unloading the clothes we had just packed (two weeks worth of transitional items for warm weather or as layers for cool weather), we took all remaining hanging and folded clothes and stacked them in a giant plastic bin. This left us with plenty of drawer and closet space in which to store the clothes we knew we would need for traveling and living until our goods arrived, and with no need to separate them from superflous items.

Not only is it a relief not to have to worry about sorting clothes, but it is a breeze to get dressed in the morning. Andrew and I share a tiny closet and it is always crammed full — although this speaks more to the miniscule size of our closet than the amount of clothes we have — but now, all of my favorite, most useful items are hanging, unimpeded, in my closet, and it is a relief.

For your reference, I’m including my abbreviated packing list. No matter if you’re moving overseas, PCS-ing with the military, or just hopping over to a new house across town, this list can be helpful.

bathroom:
toiletries
1 set beach towels, 1 set Turkish bath towels
laundry soap, dryer ball + sheets
shower curtain + rings

bedroom:
clothing for 2 weeks
shoes + jackets
jewelry in travel case
uniforms
iron
travel alarm
air mattress + pump
bedding + pillows

office:
travel safe
important files + documents

kitchen:
vitamins
sm. cutting board + knives
1 skillet
Blendtec
electric kettle
pour-over coffee maker + filters
dishtowels
travel mugs + water bottles
reusable bags
cookbooks: Well Fed, Quick & Easy Paleo Comfort Foods

carry-on bags:
laptops + cords
cameras + cords
travel chess set
snacks: EPIC bars, activated nuts, homemade trail mix, fruit…

*     *     *     *     *

photo by katiekatt via flickr

around here

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetThis weekend we got the first taste of fall in the form of chilly mornings and bright blue September sky. We harvested our final tomato and made pumpkin pancakes in the span of two days — a sure sign that autumn is around the corner. There’s a beauty to seasonal eating, and the overlap that characterizes the switch from summer to fall. It’s not as if the leaves begin to turn and the pumpkins ripen on the exact day of fall equinox, but instead we have this gentle season of transition that is  not quite one thing and also not quite another. We wear long sleeves and scarves in the morning, but by lunchtime we’ve shed our layers, thankful to be wearing sandals instead of boots.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetI think it’s a shame to wish away one season in favor of the next. Already Halloween decorations are out in the stores and coffee shops are advertising their version of pumpkin lattes. Why not relish this last stretch of summer here and now, work on our flexibility and adaptability as we traverse varying temperatures and a mixed bag of bounty from our farmers markets?

I like this time of year. It keeps me on my toes. And only recently have I arrived at a place in which I can be content in the present instead of wishing it away for the future. Autumn is my favorite season, but I can say with confidence that the here and now is my favorite place to be.

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Speaking of favorites, Saturday was Andrew’s birthday! We celebrated all weekend long with big brunches, steak dinners, a craft beer tasting with friends and plenty of his favorite brownies. We saw a special showing of Fight Club at our local theater and went on a couple of hikes to stretch our legs and soak up the gorgeous weather. Happy birthday to my love — may we celebrate many more in the years to come!

tips for thrifting

SONY DSCThrifting has become one of my favorite hobbies.

Some of my best, recent finds include: a strapless cotton J.Crew dress, a silk robe for mornings and evenings, perfectly scuffed overalls, gorgeous pottery platters and bowls for serving and for holding plants, cut-glass whiskey tumblers, Parcheesi, a wooden-bead necklace, a stationery set, swingtop jars for storage, records, old canvases to use for new projects, a wooden table for our porch, gifts for friends and family members, side tables for our living room, camping stools and plenty more.

In my pursuit of simplicity, I’ve been trying to have more of a conscience about what I buy and from whom. I try to stay away from big-box retailers in favor of small artisans, fair-trade items or, my personal favorite, secondhand stores. Thrifting is like a big game of hide-and-seek. You search through the dusty corners and staggering piles to find what you’re looking for, not knowing even if it exists but hoping all the while. Sometimes I get extremely lucky and find amazing stuff, and other days I walk away empty-handed — but this, my friends, is all part of the game.

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I’ve been thrifting for about ten years now. What began as an occasional and timid foray into my local Salvation Army has become one of my favorite pastimes, and along the way I’ve collected some tips to help others who are just starting out.

Have patience and take your time — If you don’t find what you’re looking for (or even something purchase-worthy, for that matter) on your first few trips, don’t give up. Learning where to look and  how often to shop is part of the rhythm of thrifting, and it takes a little practice. Additionally, make sure you have plenty of time to wander when you take a thrifting trip.

Be willing to dig — Don’t be put off by crammed clothing racks or piles of dishes, but be willing to go through piles and really search for something good. You may find something within plain sight, sure, but then again you may have to rummage under a thousand other objects at the bottom of the box. It’s all about taking the chance and hoping for the best, plus a little extra elbow grease thrown in for good measure.

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Think outside the box — We are in the age of repurposing, in which old rake heads hold wine glasses and suitcases get mounted on walls as shelves. Be imaginative with what you find at the thrift store and reuse old objects for a new purpose. I recently scored two sweet little yellow juice glasses for a few cents each, and now they hold my makeup brushes and our toothbrushes, respectively. A little vintage baking pan I found for 99 cents will also make a nice drawer organizer for my jewelry.

Look for brand and fabric — When you’re rifling through the racks, look first for colors and patterns that catch your eye and then check the label. If it’s a recognizable, quality brand, you may have found a good thing. If it isn’t recognizable, there’s a possibility you’ve stumbled upon something vintage…but it also may be from Walmart. That’s where fabric comes into play. Choose leather over PVC, silk over polyester, cashmere over cotton, and you’re guaranteed to have made a good choice.

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Take a chance on tailoring — If you find a piece of clothing that is from a good brand or has quality fabric, but doesn’t fit as well as you’d like, take it to a tailor. You can take in a dress, hem a pair of slacks, cut off a pair of jeans or do any manner of things to make a thrifted item fit your body and your style. I recently found a Nanette Lepore dress for less than $10 that had a great silhouette but was about a size and a half too big. I bought it and have high hopes for it after a good tailoring.

Go with a list and with an open mind — I find it helpful to keep a running list of what I’m looking for at a thrift store. It keeps me focused in an sensory-overload situation. But don’t put on blinders to the rest of what’s out there; make sure you have the freedom to look beyond your list, because you never know what you’re going to find.

Please feel free share any of your favorite thrifting tips in the comments. Or, leave me a note telling me about what good secondhand finds you’ve snagged lately!

than to receive

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I mentioned earlier this week that over the weekend our neighbor left a big box of bread on our doorstep as a gift. I’ve been thinking about that gesture all week, what it meant for him, what it means for me, and what it means when I read “It is better to give than to receive.” 

Our neighbors aren’t wealthy, by any means. At any one time there are five to seven people living in that house, with two travel trailers parked in the back yard and at least eight dogs barking through the fence. There are a couple of decomposing vehicles, waiting for a little love and repair, sinking into the dust of the driveway. They buy their bread in bulk from the discount bakery and put most of it in a deep freezer to preserve throughout the month.

We aren’t wealthy, either. We’re living off of one paycheck, augmented by sporadic bursts of income from my [freelance] end of the deal. We shop at the commissary, we put money into savings as often as possible, we rarely go out and we buy secondhand. But we have no debt from school or car payments, no crushing loans or credit card responsibilities, and we live comfortably.

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Lately I’ve been thinking about our neighbors when I bring home a big bag of groceries or when I shop at the farmer’s market. The luxury of it all. How is it okay that I’m in my kitchen, cooking macadamia-encrusted cod, while less than fifteen feet away they’re waiting on this month’s disability check? How it it okay that I can choose not to eat grains and sugar and instead buy fresh veggies and some grass-fed meats and eggs from a farmer when they subsist on Subway and Stripes?

I’m living in my own little world and it is insular and protected against the reality of poverty, of hunger, of financial security. What am I doing to alleviate those pressures on the world around me?

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So much is going on in my head and my heart. I’m reading Acts and Galations. “Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows.” (Gal. 5:14 MSG) My world is in a tailspin, thanks very much to Jen Hatmaker and her revolutionary book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. (More about this later.) I’m in the middle of inventory-ing our home to prepare for our move and I’m facing the sheer magnitude of how much stuff we have. All good, beautiful things that we need and use. And all of this to say — we have been given so much, and what are we giving in response?

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I’m thinking about the national socio-economic divide that is displayed in the microcosm of my little neighborhood, my home next to my neighbor’s, and how much that relates to Dr. King’s revolutionary “I Have A Dream” speech we celebrated yesterday. I’m thinking about radical generosity — I am not thinking about socialism or political reform — and how Jesus loved and gave to the least, how Paul worked for what he needed and lived with what he could carry.

I’m struggling to make sense of it all and how it works realistically in my life. How do I give and serve without perpetuating the endless cycle of poverty? It’s the same question I face every time a homeless person asks for spare change: How is this going to help you? Does it make any difference in the long run?

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Heavy stuff for a post about enchiladas. I made these with equal parts joy and creativity combined with a good dose of solemnity, with one eye out the kitchen window to where that little ramshackle house sat. I’m trying my hardest to figure out what place I have in this mess. How to start small but make a big difference. How to get out of my comfort zone. How to shake up my concepts of service and generosity and love.

So far I haven’t accomplished much by way of revelation, and so far these ramblings have very little direction, but I’m leaning into the tension and looking for opportunities to act. To show that I care enough. To give. For it is far better to do that than to receive.

All of this from a box of bread.

SONY DSCVegetable Enchiladas with Salsa Fresca

6-9 med. plantain tortillas (or corn tortillas if you’d prefer)

1 med. butternut squash

2 med. pattypan squash

4 garlic cloves, crushed

2 Tbsp. lard or coconut oil

sea salt + black pepper

1 c. homemade broth

1/2 c. coconut milk

1 tsp. smoked paprika

pinch of cayenne

Incredibly, all of this produce came from my farmers market — except for the plantains, that is. Those were dirt cheap from our commissary. I don’t think anyone else knows what to do with them so I’m counting myself lucky that they even exist in west Texas. 

Begin by making your plantain tortillas or, if you’re short on time or prefer the flavor of masa harina, use small prepared corn tortillas. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large skillet, melt 2 Tbsp. of lard. Peel and de-seed the butternut squash and dice into small cubes. This will go into the skillet first, with a generous pinch of salt, to brown and soften. Once squash is tender, remove half of the amount from the skillet and set aside for the sauce. Add in diced pattypan squash and crushed garlic, plus a little more salt and pepper. Saute until all is tender.

Meanwhile, make the enchilada sauce: in a food processor, combine reserved butternut squash, broth, paprika, cayenne and coconut milk. Blitz until smooth and season to taste.

Begin filling the tortillas with a scoop of the squash mixture and roll into little enchiladas. Fill a 9×11″ glass baking pan with the enchilada rolls — or, if you’re lazy like I was, layer the tortillas with the squash, stacking it up flat. Top with all of the enchilada sauce and bake until tortillas are starting to crisp and sauce is bubbling, about 20 minutes.

Serve with a big scoop of this salsa fresca:

Pomegranate-Sungold Salsa Fresca

2 qt. sungold tomatoes

1 med. pink pomegranate, seeded

1 lg. bunch cilantro, chopped

1 lime, juiced

1/4 red onion, sliced thin

In a bowl, combine halved tomatoes, pomegranate seeds, cilantro, lime juice, and paper-thin red onion slices with a pinch of salt. Toss to combine and let marinate while the enchiladas are baking.

around here

SONY DSCSONY DSCart museum Iart musuem IISONY DSCI’m enjoying getting back into the rhythm of these posts, of sending out little snapshots of the most notable, colorful parts of my weekend. Andrew helped me pick out some blush carnations from the grocery store, and now they’re cozy on our table in the kitchen. Everything is a little brighter in our house now that we have new windows — even if that did mean a day without air conditioning and with fifteen gaping holes in my walls while they took out the old and installed the new. But at the end of the day I have a potentially reduced electric bill and a cool old windowpane/door to make something with, so I’m a happy girl.

Over the weekend I baked a peach pie with a homemade lard crust and gave it to the old guys who run my favorite butcher shop. They make their own bacon and sell eggs gathered from their farm and, last month, gave me a free gallon of lard they’d rendered. I can’t receive free lard and not repay the kindness with a pie, Whole30 be damned.

A couple of pieces from a museum art exhibit were so striking I couldn’t help but snap a photo — the colors, the texture, the glow were all too much to leave behind. And speaking of left behind, our neighbor anonymously left a box of bread on our doorstep, nine packages to be exact of everything from white and wheat and all that’s in between. This “just because” mentality of kindness is something I’d like to get better at. We are all either teachers or students, our roles expanding and contracting depending on the day, the heat and the cold, the pressure from within. And no matter if you eat bread or not, you can’t deny the generosity of a box of free food from neighbors.

I made a big purchase this week: a pair of beautiful high-waisted Emerson Fry vintage-inspired jeans that I have been enamored with for no less than four years. While doing a little birthday shopping for Andrew I found these babies on super-sale and snatched them up. After a quick stitch to hem the length they fit perfectly. Happy birthday to meeeee…and now begins a self-imposed spending hiatus. Not that I’ll need to buy anything ever again now that I have these beautiful pants.

Listening to The Wailin’ Jennys and the new Civil Wars album. Working on refinishing some furniture. I can’t wait for this to come in. Making these on repeat, and eating them with everything from spicy chicken and deli turkey to scrambled eggs. Reading this again and waiting for my hardcopy of 7 to come in the mail so I can read it for the second time, thanks very much to my sweet mama for sending it my way.

organized simplicity // a review, a lifestyle

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I recently finished reading the book Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living by Tsh Oxenreider, recommended to me by a good friend. It was incredibly inspiring.

Tsh writes about pragmatic ways to live a simple, organized life, and outlines a comprehensive plan to turn your home into a clean, well-managed place through ten steps. She also delves into the emotional and spiritual realm, discussing how clutter and chaos can negatively impact our ability to live life on our own terms. To be controlled by one’s objects is to not to have life to the full, she writes, but to be steered by the society of more, the attitude of the consumer.

The more I think about our impending move, the less I want to own, to schlep in luggage through airports and across oceans to a new place. I’ve done plenty of work to get to where we are now — i.e., to where all of our stuff fits in our little 900-square-foot house — but reading this book revealed to me some junky places in my heart in addition to the junky places in my home.

As I read through the ten steps, in which Tsh outlines a plan to comb through every detail of every room, I kept a notepad by me on which to jot down any notes that came to mind as I mentally walked through our home with her guidance. I ended up filling an entire notebook page with ideas for things I wanted to sort or get rid of. Within a week I was taking it all to the charity shop. This meant drastically reducing the size of our record collection, tossing out dingy college t-shirts and home decor items, and researching how to responsibly dispose of old prescription medications. I discarded old makeup and unused scrapbooking materials, organized our toiletries and first aid kit, corralled all of the many electronics wires and culled our collection of orphan pens. I disbanded the concept of a junk drawer and, thanks to a little bug infestation, ended up cleaning out and reorganizing our kitchen pantry. Now I know where everything is. Now I know exactly what I have. Now I have control over these objects in a way that, before, they had ownership over me.

One of the most important concepts in the book is the idea of purpose. Tsh describes simple living as “living holistically with your life’s purpose,” and one of the first exercises she encourages in her book is to create a family purpose statement. This will guide the direction of your life, yes, but will also determine the purpose of your home, which will further direct how the home is curated. Is your family purpose statement focused on friendships and hospitality? This will be reflected in the warmth of your home and the diligence with which you maintain it — ready to host at a moment’s notice. Is your purpose statement centered upon environmental stewardship and the love of the outdoors? This will be reflected in your commitment to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Andrew and I are still working on our family purpose statement, but I loved this concept. How refreshing to have a team decision already formulated about life goals and the purpose of our home. We often discuss these things — how we want to live, what we value, etc — but to have a fully-composed vision to turn to when making decisions will be helpful in pursuing our goals to streamline and simplify.

Another aspect of Organized Simplicity was an insistence on the value of relationships over objects. One of the factors that is contributing to our general de-socialization, Tsh writes, is the importance placed on getting more over loving more, being more. We are so consumed with buying, collecting and earning that we forget to care, to establish a home base, to spend quality time with loved ones. I know that everyone in the country isn’t this way, but I concede that there is a reason that we are more “connected” than ever and yet feel more isolated. This phrase — “value relationships over objects” — will definitely become a part of our family purpose statement.

Tsh ties in all of this organizational theory with personal values: her commitment to living a life glorifying to God, one that is in harmony with the environment, one that is simple and frugal and full and rich. She advocates homemade body and home care products as a way to save money and limit exposure to toxic ingredients. She homeschools her children because she values the freedom to travel and individualize the curriculum in accordance with her kids’ personalities. She values debt-free living and rigorous savings plans, and outlines her budgeting system in great detail.

But she does not push for us to do more just for the sake of it. She does not want her reader to feel compelled to take on meal planning and DIY deodorant-making just because she says so. There is purpose behind her every action, behind her every word — and it is to cultivate a simple life. A life that is good and bountiful and beautiful in its slowness, in its attention to detail.

This is the sort of life I want to live. (I also want to be her friend.)

How I’m implementing Organized Simplicity:

1. Getting back to a budget.

2. Tightening up my spending.

3. Bringing less into and taking more out of our home.

4. Composing a family purpose statement.

5. Making my own household cleaners.

6.  Letting go of objects; releasing the hold they have over me.

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I’ve started reading 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker, and I’m finding it to be the perfect follow-up to this book. This prayer is the lodestone of her work — “Jesus, let there be less of me and my junk and more of you and your kingdom.” Amen.