Friday, May 13, 2011

Feng Shui Friday

The things surrounding you in your home serve as subliminal reminders of who you are. They will continue to direct you towards old patterns of behavior. Subconscious beliefs are generally so deep-seated that one is not aware of them.

~ Denise Linn, Feng Shui for the Soul

Well, if there is one thing I need it is new patterns of behavior. And this de-cluttering is addictive. Yesterday I filled the dread voiture to its little metal rafters with boxes and bags to be dropped off this weekend. I also left some stuff on the curb that I was thrilled to see dematerialize as quickly as I left it. Kitchen counters are on their way to being sparkling and clutter-free. Crockpot, Cuisinart, toaster and extra roasting pans? Goodbye to all of that!  Bathroom cabinets are getting closer to minimal after my sister visited yesterday and liberated me of teeth whiteners, sunscreens, serums, scrubs and assorted never-worn makeup products. The kiddo's room is looking more and more like a Montessori classroom, easy to find things and easy to tidy up. And all that plastic garbage handed down from older cousins and well-intending grandparents is starting to slowly, subtly disappear.   

More as I go. For now I'll head to work on the train. I have notebook in hand to jot down thoughts about a culling strategy for the sentimental items. We're a knick-knack-saddled family. But are snowglobes from business trips really a demonstration of my husband's love? There has to be a better way.

Monday, May 9, 2011

1000 Things! It's Going to Be Too Easy.

I'm picking, sorting, packing and I reached at least 75 things this weekend. I am so excited to be in this process. Shedding, getting liberated, feeling light. Pictures of "After" will be coming at the end of the month. In the meantime, here's a small corner of the "During."

Saturday, May 7, 2011

100 Things in May Update

I'm deeeep in the thick of this massive decluttering project in la mia casa. So many clothes (so many clothes and yet I mysteriously have nothing to wear), so much good china. So much kitchen stuff. Too many toys, too many books. It's a ridiculous wealth of stuff, but I don't feel rich. I feel like I'm drowning. I'm particularly loathe to get rid of books, and some of them have been useful in this project. 

The Joy of Less is where I read my current mantra for the week:


On the topic of storage systems, Francine Jay writes,

But while the containers made my house look shelter magazine-tidy, they didn’t bring me the serenity I’d hoped for. Even though everything was arranged neatly in pretty boxes (cloth-covered, wooden, wicker, plastic, etc.), it was still there.

In reality, all those lovely boxes, bins, and drawers served no higher purpose than to hide my junk. At some point I realized that I wasn’t organizing my life; I was organizing my clutter.

My advice to anyone who feels they need to get organized: declutter first. If you have to, declutter for a year before you start buying fancy boxes and squirreling things away.

Then think long and hard before you put something into a container (especially if it’s not something you use regularly). Because once you give something a warm, cozy abode, it can be hard to get it to leave.

As I go through these boxes we brought with us when we moved here in September, I realize just how much needs to be given away. Today I'm grateful for strong coffee, a sunny morning, the kiddo at the park with his dad, and the energy to get the clutter out.

At the end of this project I will have given away well over 100 things. Maybe I should change course and strive for a goal of only owning 100 things, a la Dave Bruno. Now that's some serious minimalism.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Is anyone here from San Francisco?

If so. . .

One of my favorite book stores is hosting this tomorrow. I'm working on childcare and hope I can make it myself.

CAROLYN BURKE will discuss
No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf
Thursday, May 5 at 7 PM at Bookshop West Portal, San Francisco

Join us for a fascinating evening with Carolyn Burke, who has written an enthralling and empathetic biography about the beloved French chanteuse, Edith Piaf. Burke, who has chronicled the lives of photographer Lee Miller and poet Mina Loy, captures Piaf's charismatic appeal, along with the time and place that gave rise to her remarkable international career.

As a child, Piaf grew up in a Normandy brothel run by her grandmother, then led a vagabond life, touring as a singer with her father's acrobatic performances. Burke had access to previously untapped Piaf documents, and highlights aspects of the artist that are rarely mentioned, such as Piaf's aiding Jews during World War II. The author demonstrates how, with her courage, her incomparable art, and her universal appeal, "the little sparrow" endures as a symbol of France and a source of inspiration to entertainers worldwide.
"Burke's terrific biography of Edith Piaf shucks the simplistic arc of self-destructive urchin to a more complex portrait that includes the singer's heroics in the French Resistance and roles as mentor, lyricist, and enduring icon." — Kimberly Cutter, Marie Claire  

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What I am Doing and What I Want to Be Doing

I want to be reading today. I have two quick reads going and each has me transported somewhere fabulous when I pick it up. But even as my mind is off handcrafting shoes in Greenwich Village and Buenos Aires

or swilling martinis or scotch and sodas with Nick and Nora at the Normandie hotel

my body is here taking advantage of a few childfree hours to make progess on my 100 Things in May project.

In two days I am up to three kitchen garbage bags of clothes to give away, a huge box of toys, and a bag of toiletries for which I need to find a home.

When I finish this round I get to go in for a skincare treatment. It's an intermittent fasting day so I'm doing what I can to treat myself in food-free ways. But I wouldn't argue with a martini later on


Monday, May 2, 2011

But I'm an Earth Mother Type (a long post, mostly about parenting)

So I had the pleasure of spending a short bit of time with a charming femme d'un certain age at an art show this weekend. She was a jewelry maker originally from France and she had great style. We chatted a lot and I took mental notes on her to report here. She wore glasses and strong eye makeup with a definite bohemian vibe. She sported her own unique jewelry and flowing clothes in neutral, subdued colors. Her hair was a long blunt cut with bangs (and the women debating Ines de la Fressange's style guide on the Yahoo French Chic group will be interested to note that this was not a gal who appeared to wash her hair on anything even closely resembling a daily basis). Mostly I noticed the forthright way she spoke- confident, vivacious and also a keen listener.

We began talking because I had my three-year-old with me and talk tends to go to those who spill the most ice cream and giggle most loudly. Mine is a spirited kid and she told me hers were too. She said that when her son was young, the teachers at his (US) schools would chide her that he didn't "respond well to social pressure."" That a teacher of small children in our educational system would find fault with that quality doesn't surprise me; it was her delight in it that suprised me greatly.

I've had German, Greek and Italian acquaintances with young children but I haven't known any French parents that I can think of. But one thing I have read repeatedly is that French parenting is all about training children to respond to social pressure.

Charming petite Parisienne in her natural habitat, 2004

An essay I read recently (yes, I'm talking about this book again - there was a lot to chew on in its pages!) looks at French parenting and its differences with "Anglo-saxon" style childrearing. The writer is Janine di Giovanni. Like part of me, she is Italian-American. Unlike any of me, she appears to be a glamorous award-winning international journalist who is married to a frenchman.

Watching a crying child exhaust himself trailing behind his chic, slender (and unrelentingly quick-stepping) mother in Luxembourg Gardens, she writes,

'Well that kid will be in therapy for the rest of his life.'

I joke about these things but it's not altogether funny, One of the toughest things I have had to get used to in an otherwise idyllic Paris is the huge gap between Anglo-Saxon (or Italian American in my case) parenting and parenting French-style. The French are certainly stricter. They shout more. They slap more. And they enforce manners.

As a result, you find beautifully brought-up children, and many of my French friends who are parents will argue endlessly that instilling discipline and setting boundaries is the way to show the utmost love.

All true. Kids need boundaries and they need to be civilized for their own good. But Di Giovanni writes that, despite the fact that French children are better behaved than their American counterparts,

the hippie earth mother part of me still wonders about originality, creativity, and freethinking. (There is no such thing as an earth mother here; it is simply not chic.)

I'm an un-chic earth mother type. I wonder a lot about these things too. And this process of parenting a young child as he moves into a sprited third year on Planet Earth is a challenge: to transmit knowledge and instill manners and social savvy while respecting the dignity and liberty of this small person -- without slaps and without shaming -- is often difficult.

Free-range American kid in his natural habitat, Sea Ranch CA 2010
How to negotiate the goal of teaching boundaries with the reality of sharing space and a life with small children? How to "train" them well without treating them like lesser beings? After trial and error I have come to a philosophy of trying to approach mine as I would someone who is as worthy of respect as I am but who lacks the life experience to navigate life without help. I see myself as a combination translator, tutor and concierge, if you will. And he is, so far, a really great kid. But it's true you never know how well you've taught your children until they are grown.

Slow Toys

Today my family and I visited my dad and his wife at an arts show they were working. My dad is an artisan who hand-crafts beautiful wooden toys. It's a post for another day, but I'll say that I'm proud of his work and we are incredibly lucky that my son is kept in a ridiculous wealth of beautiful toys in a world that is otherwise full of the cheapest disposable garbage at the lowest price. It's hard to sit at craft shows and see kids fall in love with his toys and then watch their parents balk at the idea of spending a bit more than they would on something toxic and plastic, assembled by a child in a developing nation. I know we are living in a tough economy but so much of it is our unrealistic expectation of what it costs to make things. We expect things to be cheap and disposable, and anything else seems too dear.

This girl was too cute to not photograph.  My son has this same rocking horse,
only his is 35 years old. It used to be mine when I was his age!

It's an interesting time in the culture, though. There is a movement growing in which people are seeking quality over quantity, and not a minute too soon. (Think par example of the prevalence of cheap fast food and the growth of an appreciative culture around more delicious, healthful and fairly priced "slow" food.) I think we live in an exciting moment. I'm proud of my dad that he and his work are a part of that.

So it looks like the post for another day found its expression today. Anyway, in the booth next to my dad was a charming an attractive femme d'un certain age, and I took mental notes on her that I am eager to share. But let's let her be the subject of a different post and spare my two readers' eyes from weariness on too long an entry.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Dread Voiture

Something wonderful and maybe terrible happened: we were given a car. We had lived so long car-free: me, my whole life, and for my husband it had been at least 15 years. Now we have one and our beautiful life of daily walking and knowing our neighbors and daily shopping for the freshest foods is perhaps threatened. Will we become the kind of people who drive 10 blocks to the park on a rainy day? Or will we continue to splash our way east the 15 minutes it takes to walk, all soggy hair and drippy boots and loving the way it feels to live in the weather? Will we rush to school in the car or will we remember to make time, leave early, and walk that mile first thing in the morning, maybe stopping for coffee in a paper cup, maybe riding on the back of the stroller--scooter style-- for the last two blocks before the mad rush to another day at school? Will we still shop at the farmer's market twice a week, carrying only what fits in our canvas bags and what stacks on the seat of the scooter-stroller?

I don't know. One thing I do know is that we have grown accustomed to every day being like that special market day many people in less walkable cities and towns only dream of. We don't shop for sport, and if we did we would be very lucky: we live in a place where our options extend beyond chain groceries and big box stores. We have shade trees and good buses and wide bike lanes. There are independent books stores, non-chain coffee shops and organic options as far as the eye can see. We have hills and a beach and, across the bridge, all the culture we could ask for, for the price of bus fare.

Without trying we live many of our dreams daily. I don't want to give that up for the convenience of getting there faster and in our own little metal world.

But one thing that the car does provide that we didn't have before is the ability to cull our stuff ruthlessly. We no longer have to wait for one of those monthly charity donation trucks to come by and take away the stuff we thoughtlessly let into our homes and our life. Now we can pack it all up and drive it to the nearest Goodwill. So today, between fundraising, craft-selling, and margarita-drinking, we began a huge purging project. The goal is to box up and donate 100 things this month. I'm calling it 100 Things in May and I'm excited to see the final outcome. Updates and photos tomorrow!
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