11.28.2010

Hoarding and Collections

Despite all my claims of being a Purger and striving for a more minimalist lifestyle, I recently learned that I am guilty of both of the above. Hoarding and a collection. How did that happen, and why wasn't I aware of it until recently? Well, here's the story...

When I was in high school and middle school I started saving all kinds of paper mementos, cards from friends, notes passed around in class, ticket stubs from movies, paper place mats from restaurants, etc. if it was paper and smallish, it was fair game for being saved. This habit continued on into college and beyond. I managed to keep all these trinkets in a series of shoe boxes stored at the top of our closet, so they really didn't look like clutter at all. And for the most part I had completely forgotten all about them until I cleaned out my closet a few weeks ago. When I came across all these boxes I initially thought "oh, here are my memories, I can't let go of this stuff." but then I realized that in the 7 years we have lived in this house (a record for me) I've never once looked through any of it. I may have added from time to time, but it's not like I have been using these things to reminisce over anything. So I thought, maybe I can just finally let go of this stuff... of my past... and really focus on moving forward. But I felt like that was asking a lot, and I wasn't sure I wanted to part with the scraps of paper just yet. So I waited, and every time I went into my closet I thought about them... Do I really need to save this stuff? What am I saving it for? My initial answer was that it might be good to reread things when Dylan hits his teen years, maybe I can go back through my stuff and see what I was feeling at that age, and then maybe that will help me relate better to what he will go through at that point in his life. But I eventually realized that saving all this crap just so that I can better relate to my child wasn't worth it. First of all, when Dylan is going through the teen years I can always just listen to him and empathize with his emotions and events, instead of trying to project my own teen experiences on him. And second, there's no guarantee that I'd even want to reread that stuff then anyway. Those years were pretty awkward. So this week I decided to finally get rid of those boxes. I opened them all up and pulled out what I wanted to save... I kept a few things, the prayer book my grandmother used on her wedding day and then gave me to use on mine, the pearl necklace my other grandmother gave me for the same reason, and a picture I found of me with my sisters. The rest is gone. And I feel so much better for it. No more hoarding of every scrap of paper that comes into my life :)

So there's my hoarding story... Here's my collection story.

While reading all these minimalist lifestyle websites I've come across several people who have tried to whittle down their personal possessions to just 100 things, or maybe 50 or some small number. Which seems crazy, I mean I have more than 100 things in my silverware drawer for sure. But then I found out that a lot of them don't count things like that since everyone in the household uses them, or they don't count things like bed sheets, they count collections of items as one 1 thing. This doesn't seem very minimal to me. If you say you have 100 things, have 100 things, either that or change the number to reflect a more realistic representation of your things, even if that number is a lot higher like 2,599. Who cares? Anyway, I was telling Matt about this one day and I made a comment about how I don't think people claiming to be minimalist should even have collections. I mean, I had some as a kid, but I've outgrown all of those, and I don't collect anything as an adult... Do I? Matt very quickly said, "yes you do, but yours only comes out once a year."

He was referring to my snow globe collection. Busted. But in my defense, it is a very small collection. Every year, on Black Friday, I meet up with my mom and sisters at the Dulles Mall. JCPenny gives away a small Disney themed snow globe away to anyone who just walks through the door (no purchase necessary). I have one for every year that Matt and I have been married. They're small, like 2-3 inches tall, free, and only come out during the Christmas holiday. If I'm going to collect anything, this seems like a good one to stick with.... So the snow globes stay. On a side note, the only reason I even bother with Black Friday is to get my snow globe. I enjoy the occasion though too, getting some warm Christmas coffee at Starbucks, walking around and seeing all the Christmas decorations, spending time with my sisters and mom. I don't do it for the shopping, but this year we only grabbed a couple books and a small game for Dylan since we were out. But the snow globe kicks off the start of Christmas time for me, so I wouldn't miss out on that. Plus this year we went back to my parents house after shopping for some Belgian waffles and bacon. Yum yum, it was a great day :)

11.27.2010

Great Food

So in honor of our Thanksgiving Day dinner at Pawtomack Farm this year, i was intending to write a blog post about some of the best meals Matt and I have had at various restaurants over the years.  While we were at dinner I asked Matt for his input on the list and it didn't take very long to realize that this post wasn't going to go the way I wanted it to.. Why not?  Well, i think the first 5 or 6 things we mentioned were all dishes we got from the same restaurant.  The restaurant--  Morimoto in Philadelphia.  For Food Network junkies, yes, that is Morimoto of Iron Chef fame.  I don't know what they do to their food, but it is exceptional.  Matt and i have been 3 times, and each time we've made the trip up to Phillie specifically for this restaurant.  That's how good it is.  I know I've blogged about some of the food before (here), so I won't rehash it again, but I will list our favorites real quick:  definitely the best thing I've ever eaten in my life, the steamed scallops with Ginger. I compare all scallops to these, and nothing comes close, then there was the cold chicken with sesame appetizer, the whitetail tartar, poached pear dessert, and the wasabi tiramisu all stand out.  When we went for our honeymoon they even gave us a complimentary glass of champagne that had some blood orange in it as well as a scoop of citrus sorbet, it was wonderful, and the champagne they used is still my champagne of choice these days (Veuve Cliquot).

Morimoto's. mmmmm....

Some other stand out meals:
-Tagliatelle alla Bolognese at Palio in Leesburg. I can't resist homemade pasta and this was exceptional, but the bolognese is what really got to me, i now aspire to make my sauce taste like this, but i have no idea how to begin doing that. The only thing I've figured out so far is that i can't do it with store bought canned tomatoes.
- Ahi tuna steak, pretty much anywhere, best places I've had it though are Evo in Atlantic City and Black Salt in Georgetown. If this is an option on the menu, i will be ordering it. I also love it sliced in salads.
Hmmm... I think that covers it for now. Not that I haven't harlots of good food in other places, but these are just a few that really stand out in my mind.

11.25.2010

Thanksgiving 2010

This year we are breaking from tradition.  Instead of spending the holiday with our extended family, we decided to do something, just the three of us.  Don't get me wrong, i love our big family thanksgivings.  I love cooking with my mom and sisters and chatting at the table with everyone.  But Matt, Dylan, and I haven't had a holiday dedicated to just the three of us yet, so we are carving out a little time to do just that this year.  I think it's going to be a great day.  Dylan and i just made chocolate chip pancakes with cranberry syrup for breakfast, which is as much cooking as i plan on doing today.  We're now just chilling out waiting for the parade to start.  In a little while we're all going to decorate some ceramic ornaments i picked up at Michaels for gifts this year.  Then Dylan will go down for a nap while Matt watches the football game and i do some reading.  And when Dylan wakes up we're heading to the Restaurant at Patowmack Farm in Lovettseville for an indulgent  Thanksgiving Day dinner.  I'm really looking forward to dinner, I've wanted to try out this restaurant for at least a year now, but I was waiting for a special reason since it's pretty pricey...  I figured Thanksgiving was an appropriate occasion.  And fortunately, they have a children's menu, so Dylan is covered.  

This year i am thankful for my perfect little family, and the perfect little day we'll be spending together.

11.18.2010

Rice Leftovers

Ingredients:

Leftover white rice
A small pat of butter
a teaspoon or two of curry powder
half a teaspoon (or so) of low sodium soy sauce

Directions:

Add the pat of butter to a saute pan. Turn on to medium heat. As butter melts, add leftover rice. Break up rice with a wooden spoon. As rice warms sprinkle on curry powder. Cook for a few minutes, stirring rice occasionally, but not too often so you get some crispy rice spots. Just before turning off the heat, add a bit of soy sauce and stir. Pour into bowl, eat as lunch.


This is my favorite leftovers recipe. I eat it all the time. I came up with the concoction while in high school. We grew up sprinkling curry powder or soy sauce on our white rice at dinner, so it seemed a natural combination to me, even though it probably isn't. I made it for Matt for the first time the other night and he said it was good, so I feel brave enough to share it with the rest of the world (or at least the 3 people who read my blog). I'm not going to make any grand claims like "you will love this recipe and have to try it right away" but I will say that I LOVE this recipe and eat it for lunch as often as we have leftover rice... which is quite often since I like to make sure we have leftover rice just for this reason. yum :)

11.13.2010

My Inspiration

While going through a lot of our possessions lately, I'll occasionally come across something of value that we had forgotten about. For example, while cleaning out our closet, I found our fire extinguisher... still in the box and buried in the back of the hall closet, not really helpful in that condition. But I took it out of the box and put it in a more accessible location... something very valuable to have, should I ever catch the kitchen on fire. Next on the the list, a supplemental health care card that Matt had totally forgotten about, but which we need to spend very soon... prescription sunglasses are coming both our ways in the next few weeks. Another valuable item I came across are some books that I really like but had put away, mostly so Dylan wouldn't destroy them. These include my Agnes Martin books.

Agnes Martin is my favorite artist. I was first introduced to her artwork while in a college English class. When I first saw her work I was really struck by how simple it was... yet it did evoke a lot within myself... beauty, tranquility, quiet contemplation. It really spoke to me. And thus I fell in love with simplicity. Several years ago I set out in search of some books about her artwork. A lot of the books were way more expensive than I wanted to spend (as is often the case with rare out of print art books). But I managed to find 2 that were reasonable (this and this). About a year or so later, Agnes Martin died. Man am I glad I got those books when did. I recently went on Amazon to see if some of the other books were available, and what I considered to be not affordable a few years ago, is now just flat out ridiculous... for just books, I'm not even talking about her actual artwork! Anyway, the 2 books I do have are a little more valuable in terms of $$, but I've also realized that the content in them is valuable enough to me that I'd like to get them back out in regular viewing space. This has given me a new opportunity to look through them and be inspired by her work all over again. So I thought I'd share some of what I love about Agnes Martin.

(Taken from biographies on a few websites)... Agnes Martin, American, b. Macklin, Canada, 1912–2004: Gorgeously quiet in color and composition, Agnes Martin’s paintings have a distinctive grace that sets them apart from those of the Abstract Expressionists of her day and the Minimalist artists she inspired. While Martin has often been grouped with Minimalist artists such as Sol LeWitt and Donald Judd, who emerged in the 1960s in the wake of the dramatic, expressive work of Abstract Expressionists such as Willem de Kooning, she has distanced herself from that association, citing a distinction between Minimalism’s dispassionate formalism and the subtle pitch of emotion and experience with which she imbues her abstract canvases. By 1958 her paintings were based on ordered precisely geometric shapes. She gradually began to work on paintings and drawings that consisted of horizontal and vertical lines within a measured grid format. Martin's use of the grid and her austere, geometric style led critics to associate her with minimalist artists such as Sol LeWitt and Frank Stella. However, Martin's goals were distinctly different. By drawing fragile, tremulous lines across expanses of lightly applied, delicate, atmospheric color, her work seemed to become light and air. Art for Martin was a spiritual pursuit, and in her geometric format she found a way to embody both atmosphere and expression.

When I first saw her work I was really struck by how simple it was... yet it did evoke a lot within myself... beauty, tranquility, quiet contemplation. It really spoke to me. And thus I fell in love with simplicity.

Here are some links so you can see for yourself if you'd like... though it's very hard to capture all the subtleties via computer images.

http://www.artnet.com/artist/641822/agnes-martin.html
http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?criteria=O%3AAD%3AE%3A3787
http://www.zwirnerandwirth.com/exhibitions/2003/022003Martin/

And an interview:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-JfYjmo5OA

11.08.2010

Speed Culling

On Saturday I had a bridal shower in the early afternoon. My morning was wide open though, so I decided to make the most of it and get started on cleaning out the hall closet and turning it into more of a hobby closet for us (arts and crafts, as well as games and wii stuff). I figured I'd start off by getting everything out of the closet in the morning, and then when I got home from the shower, I would have to put it all away... And then a mere 1 hour later, it was all done. All of it. I emptied out the closet, moved stuff that we wanted to keep to other parts of the house, emptied a bookshelf from the basement to move into the hall closet, reorganized all that was left and put it all back. For some reason, i had it in my head that this process could take a few days, and it only took an hour! So with that great success behind me, I decided to spend a little extra time getting ready for my shower by curling the ends of my hair to look a little extra special. :). Oh and Dylan was all about helping me through the process, especially once I handed him a flashlight... he showed me everywhere I was going to make sure I didn't trip on anything.

Then yesterday I decided to clean our windows. I think we spent a total of 20 minutes doing that. Easy-peasy. It's making me realize that these things don't take as long as I thought they would. Which really helps me feel motivated to tackle more of my projects. On my list for today-- laundry. Nothing glamorous about that, but it has to get done.

11.05.2010

Knowing When to Stop

I just cleaned out the kitchen for the fourth time this year (third in less than a month.). I'm down to a few pots, a few pans, and only the mixing and tupperware type items that are used on a regular basis. It's nice to have so much space in my drawers and cabinets, especially since i have no plan on filling them up with anything else. The only thing I feel a need to aquire in the future is a cake pedestal. I actually have needed to use one quite a few times in the past year, but I just dont know if I want to buy more kitchen stuff right now. Perhaps I'll try to make space for it before I get one. But I had to stop myself today when I got a strong urge to ditch the microwave. Even as I type this I keep telling myself that I could get by without it. That may be true, but I think Dylan and Matt would have a different opinion. I don't want to take this too far, the idea behind this decluttering craze is to make our lives simpler by only having that which we need, use, and love, and as much as I say I hate using a microwave, the truth of the matter is that we do use it, at least for now. So I think I need to leave the kitchen alone for a little while and focus on some other areas.

Other recent clear outs: my living room bookshelf (including *gasp* my piano books-- I mean really?, am I ever going to teach myself the complete works of Czerny?? Let's be realistic here), night stand drawers, under the bathroom sinks, medicine cabinets, the coats in our coat closet, and office desk drawers.

Coming soon: dylan's toys, the rest of the stff in our coat closet (i want to put a bookshelf in there for Dylan's art stuff and board games), the rest of the books in the house, and the office.

I'm really excited for the final results!

Continual State of Becoming

Several years ago, 2005 to be exact, I started this blog.  I had recently graduated from college, was starting my teaching career, had gotten married, moved out of my parent's home (for good).  It was at a time when I felt like my adult life was really beginning.  I was figuring out the working world, running a business, being a wife, taking care of a household, and attempting to stay in touch with the academic world that I loved so much.  So I started blogging about it.  When I first opened my blogger account I had to come up with a title for my blog...  I haven't ever changed it, it has always been "Continual State of Becoming." I took the name from a passage in the Aaron Copland book I was reading at the time "Music and Imagination." This is a very loose adaptation of what he was saying, but basically he talked about how music is a very transient thing...  You listen to it in a moment of time and you can't take in the whole work at once (like you can with a painting for instance), instead you hear one bit after another bit and so on... And while it goes on the overall effect develops... Therefore he says that music is always in a continual state of becoming.  At the time I just thought that was a cool idea about music, so would make a great title for me since I love music.  But now I really appreciate how that idea relates not only to my biggest passion, but also my life in general.  I am in a continual state of becoming.  Since I've started this blog I've gone from new wife, new piano teacher, to church musician, to grad student and librarian, to new mother and now mother of a little boy.  I've explored the mundane (how much I hate grocery shopping) to the slightly more important (art and music) and plenty in between.  And the whole time never really being just one of those things, but a development of all of them.  I'm really glad my nerdiness allowed me to stumble across Copland's idea, because I think it really does sum up the journey I go through in life...  It reminds me that I'm never done developing, I'm always changing, exploring different things, always becoming.     

11.03.2010

Praise for the iPad

I already mentioned that Matt and Dylan got me an iPad for my birthday this year. I was really surprised by this, since I had been telling Matt that i didn't think I wanted one. And I even thought about returning it for a split second, but considering how crappy my little net book was, I decided to keep the iPad in hopes that it would at least be better than that (we have since sold the net book). I knew that it was a cute little gadget, but I never really expected it to be as amazing as it is. In fact I feel like it was the catalyst to some major changes I've been making lately.

First of all, i have completely organized my life on my iPad. I got this AMAZING app called Things that is basically a sophisticated version of my old notebook To-Do list. I can schedule things for certain days and they will appear when they are due (or a few days before if I need a reminder ahead of time). I can organize my lists into projects, keep track of a variety of areas that need work, keep track of what i have done, search tasks by special tags (I've chosen to use location based tags like "desktop" "phone" "errands" so that i can see all my computer tasks when I'm sitting at my desk), etc. It's so much better than my notebook because I can change and rearrange things without have to scratch out/rip out/rewrite the entire list. And since my iPad is so portable, I always have my to-do list at my fingertips. It's so satisfying to just check things off as i go. I completed a lot of lingering tasks last month... I couldn't believe how productive I was. I use this app many, many times a day, and at this point I have so much information on it, I'd be kind of lost if something happened to it.

My next favorite app is iNotes. It's basically a notebook app. But I can group pages into files, which I like. I've kind of used this app as a catch-all for my thoughts and anything I want to remember later. Plus, I tend to remember things better if I've written them down (even if I don't refer to them again later). It's another daily app for me.

And now that I finally have a computer device I enjoy using, I've started using it quite a bit. Since getting the iPad I have come across some interesting blogs that I check on a regular basis. I'm not really sure how I got started into them, but a lot of them seem to deal with minimalist lifestyles, simplifying, and cleaning. And let me tell you, that has had some big implications around here (see my previous post). I have been purging like a maniac lately. My goal is to go through every square inch of our home and get rid of all unused, unloved, unnecessary items. And I've made tremendous progress so far. In fact, just yesterday I achieved something I never thought possible... I cleared all the stuff off the top of the fridge. There's nothing up there anymore, and that's how it's going to stay! I've also put myself on a cleaning schedule. There are things I do every day (shine my sink! It makes such a difference), pick up everything as we go through the day (my new mantra is "don't put it down, put it away"). And then there are weekly tasks. For example, today is Office Day, so I'll tackle any office related projects, take care of computer tasks, and try to organize some in that room. Tomorrow is Floor Day, probably my least favorite day, but definitely a necessity with all the shedding going on right now as Eve's winter coat grows in. And of course I keep track of all of these tasks with my various Apps just to make sure it all gets done. But the house over all has been SO much cleaner, things are getting done, and best of all... I feel much more relaxed!

A side benefit of all of this, and the reason I've managed to stick with my new routines, is that I've been amazed by how much it has reduced my stress. I don't have to worry about laundry piling up all the time because I know that on Monday it will all get washed... instead I can just focus on whatever task is at hand. And the cleaning part of the day doesn't take that much time, so when I'm not in the middle of that, I can really focus on just having fun with Dylan, instead of constantly thinking about all the things I need to be doing instead of building the 100th block tower of the day. This lack of stress has greatly impacted my mood, my energy levels, and my outlook on the day. I feel tons better all around.

And all because of the iPad ;)