Month: January 2015

Sparking Joy


Have you read The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo? Everywhere I poke around, from the New York Times to my most read bloggers have written about the book. I gleaned two ideas from what I read: the things you keep in your life should spark joy, and you should store things vertically in drawers, in one layer and rolled like a sushi roll, so you can see everything.

This immediately brought to mind my sock/stocking/underwear drawer. I consider myself a pretty organized person, but never in my entire life have I been able to keep this drawer under control. No matter where I have lived, or what kind of storage I used, within a few cycles of putting away things, it was a disorganized mess. For example, I just organized it late this fall, and by the time winter break started it already looked like a mass of black spaghetti (all those black opaque tights, you know). I didn’t have anything to lose, certainly, by taking everything out of the drawer, rolling it like sushi, and seeing if it stayed neat.

Here I am to tell you — it has! I can see all of my stockings and socks and stuff at a glance. When I take a pair of stockings in its nice little roll out, a space opens up. After I do laundry, I roll everything back up and put each thing in a free spot. My drawer has stayed perfectly organized for the longest time ever!

This lifechanging and magical happening of course made me want to read the book. I will freely admit that I went into it with a chip on my shoulder, poo-pooing this whole “sparking joy” business. I told myself, “My things are useful! I am not going to hold a bowl in my hands and feel a spark of joy! Plus, there are things I need, and spark of joy or no, it’s not like I’m going to throw things away and buy new things and waste a lot of money and resources!”

But, I was wrong. Once you read the book, you realize “joy” is not about the perfect and “sparking” is not akin to a shopper’s high. It’s about being yourself, and surrounding yourself with things that speak to your heart. It’s about what you keep close, not about what you give away. This I can get behind! I realized that Kondo’s philosophy was very much in the spirit of the Vibrant Materialist and New Materialist philosophies I already subscribe to (she even talks about how she can’t imagine that socks like to have their cuffs folded back together — you know, I always felt that but couldn’t quite articulate it! I stopped doing that years ago. I mean, really. How uncomfortable for the socks.).

I went through my house, held everything that was mine in my hands, and asked myself if the item sparked joy. For the most part, I was able to say yes — these items speak to my heart. The shelf of reused jars that I soaked the labels off have been having a conversation with ye olde ticker for years. Knowing that I enjoyed their contents, and now they live on to store future beans and rice and spices makes me smile. My shoes speak to my heart not because they are the epitome of trendiness but because they get me where I’m going comfortably and effortlessly (and yes, I think they look cute doing it!). In short, most of my outsides were reflecting my insides.

What did I not keep close? Some plastic containers that made me feel icky went to work in case anyone needs to take home food. The non-natural fiber yarn that made its way into my stash went to the local thrift shop — I tried it, and I don’t like the way it feels or the way it wears. I bet someone else will appreciate it because it can be washed in a machine — I have found that I don’t mind hand washing at all. There was this one dress that has impeccable free trade credentials but makes me feel like Henrietta the Hippo from the New Zoo Review.

No joy — it went too. So did all of my mother’s costume jewelry. I was hanging on to it because she entrusted me with it when she was alive, and would ask me about it. She’s now gone and other glittery souls can purchase it from the thrift shop and use it. I’m more of a pearl person.

I didn’t get rid of much — two small brown paper grocery bags in all. More importantly, it didn’t cause me to add anything. I already have the things that make my heart happy — these were just extras gumming up the works.

I’m glad to have another item in my toolbox for discerning what counts. I actually want to read the book again, because I know I missed certain subtle abstract things because I was so eager to take all of my possessions, put them in the middle of the room, hold them, and see if they sparked joy 😉 I know many of you are on this same journey, and it may be interesting to ask yourself if your material goods (your friends, your job, your life) spark joy, and speak to your heart. No hair shirts, no minimalist or maximalist or haven’t used it in a year, 10 item, one size fits all solution, but rather a process as individual as each of us are. While I like having an organized sock drawer, I like even more knowing that I’m in touch with the things that make my heart sing, and that they are reflected inside and out. That, my friend, sparks joy.

Happy Accidents


I was almost finished my tin of homemade body butter, so I thought it would be a good idea to make a new batch before running completely out. I get so itchy and sad without this stuff! I took out my supplies and realized that I didn’t have quite enough cocoa butter, but I went ahead and made it anyway. I used a touch more almond oil which also finished that bottle and I figured all would be well.

The next day, I looked in my jar, expecting to see the beautiful solid but soft loveliness, and — it was still all liquid! Too much almond oil, not enough cocoa butter. What to do…

Then I remembered my tiny one ounce jar of failed solid perfume. Remember, this was the stuff that was so solid it was impossible to spread on my skin, and also had a sillage of, like, 3 seconds? I poured the contents of my body… liquid back into a pan and added this ounce of beeswax, all the while crossing my fingers. Since I was experimenting, once it was all melted I took it off the low heat, poured it back in the jar, and added some rose absolute, a few drops of rosewood, and a drop of vetiver.

I peeked at it in a few hours, and I was so pleased to see that it cooled to an amazing buttery texture. It also smelled like heaven — flowers and beeswax, which is so much more to my liking than the tropical cocoa butter/coconut oil fragrance the body butter had before. Either way, the smell only lasts a little while, but why not sigh and swoon for a half hour rather than tolerate?

So, through these seemingly troublesome trials of too liquid-y body butter plus a failed batch of solid perfume, I tweaked my body butter recipe into something I love even more. Here’s to happy accidents!

For my new concoction —

In a one cup glass measuring cup, add:

a touch more than 1/4 c almond oil or other light oil

1/4 c coconut oil

1/4 c shea butter

1/8 c cocoa butter

scant 1/8 c beeswax

If you add the oil to the cup first, it will rise as you add the other ingredients and measurement will be easier. Transfer to a pan or double boiler and slowly melt to all liquid, watching and stirring. Remove from heat, put in your container,  and add essential oils to your liking if desired. Stir. It still smells beeswax-y and lovely without if you prefer not to scent it. Cap. It will take a few hours to get completely cool and solid.

You’ll also notice that I didn’t whip it this time. I figured, why do the extra step which takes more time and wastes a bit of the product? I like the texture very much as a cooled but unwhipped butter.

No coupons used, and this batch should last me around 10 months if the last 1 cup I made in late March 2014 is any indication!

Shiny Hair Miracle


I received a very kind care package from a friend (hi Ruth!) filled with tea, fudge, (best of all) a great pages-long letter (ultimate luxury!), and a shampoo and conditioner bar sample from Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve. It smelled so good that I was instantly intrigued! I used it the very next day in my bath.

It was wonderful to use. My skin and hair felt great. I did my usual walking around with wet hair until it dried all morning and I happened to glance in the mirror. Was that my hair? That shiny, manageable, flowing stuff – mine? Did I mention shiny? Even my husband commented about how shiny my hair was! I was astonished! Sorry about all of the exclamation points, but my hair doesn’t do shiny. It’s always been coarse and prone to frizz — to have it be mirror-shiny was a minor miracle.

I pretty much ran to the computer and placed an order for another one 🙂 I was so pleased to order from a tiny business run by family and friends, just a few states over in Ohio. They seemed very resource-aware and just as into natural ingredients and low/reusable packaging as I am. When I got my beautifully full-sized shampoo and conditioner bar (just a few days later!) it was packaged in only a little brown paper with a label. No plastic anywhere!



Another little brown parcel revealed a generous sample of another soap.

I started thinking about the liquid soap I use — although I love it, I do not like the big plastic bottle it comes in. I think I am going to switch over to bar soap for my household as I run out of liquid soap, and Chagrin Valley is going to be my purveyor. My husband has already been asking me about ordering him a bath soap for his eczema-prone skin. I also like that they make and sell little wood soap racks that drain the soap so that it lasts as long as possible. I’d like to invest in a few of those, too.

Another thing I wanted to mention is that Chagrin Valley recommends an apple cider vinegar rinse after using their shampoo bars. This was no problem for me, because I already use one! But the really neat thing I wanted to tell you about is that I’ve begun making my own apple scrap cider vinegar! It couldn’t be easier: use your apple peelings and cores after you have enjoyed your apple. Place in a sterilized jar, and fill with water so that it is just covering your apple scraps. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar (I use raw). Put another smaller jar inside that jar so that all the apple bits are kept under water. Keep in a cool dark place for 10 days. Peek at it every few days and stir — you’ll see bubbles. That’s the fermentation happening!

After 10 days strain into another sterilized jar and cover with a clean cotton cloth — I used unbleached organic muslin — fastened on the jar rim with a rubber band. Wait about 6 weeks. Smell it — taste it — you should have a delightful vinegar!


Here is the tutorial I used for more thorough directions and photos.

Best of all, I see the white ghostly vinegar mother floating about in my vinegar, which means I can use some to make other kinds of vinegar! I keep wanting to try red or white wine vinegar, but every time we open a bottle, we’ve wound up enjoying the whole thing. A good problem to have! I’m sure a cup of wine will eventually be mine for more kitchen experiments! I’ll let you know what happens!


Clothing: 66 out of 66
Soap: 11 out of 12
Tea: 28 out of 30

Print Sedition

A few days after my mother died, I got a kind email from a friend in the Fine Arts program where I work. She said that now is a good time to become a student again, and why don’t we take a class at the Univeristy we work at together. I know this friend is very wise, as she is the person who taught me how to knit the very first week of my working time here, coming up on 15 years ago!

I said, “Yes!”

We are taking a Book Arts: Structures course –

Historical book forms serve as models and as a departure point for innovative new work. Among the new structures presented are accordion bindings and variations, pop-ups, carousel books, tunnel books, and box structures. Students are encouraged to explore new applications and to experiment by combining images and text with book structures.

I’m really excited about combining my love of writing and the printed word with my love of making images and objects. I made a hand illustrated, written, and bound book for one of my education classes, and it was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. To be able to control every step of your creation — not only the words and images but the kind of paper you use, the actual stitching together of the book, the way the reader will open and go through your work — it’s heady stuff.

I have an idea for a book  — it would be called the Avant Gardener and show/tell some of the strange but practical and sort of funny gardening things I do in a comical/serious fashion. When I told Lisa about the idea, she commented that the theme of gardening is perfect because it fits so well into the idea of sequencing and things moving (turning the page) from one state (page) into another state (the next page). Ooooooh. I can also see beautiful and useful and philosophical pamphlets on how to make bread, darn a sock — you get the idea 🙂

Remember that Make Something Month list I reblogged back in December? One of the items on the list was Print Sedition. I got chills up my spine every time I saw those words on the list — it was something I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to get started. Well, now I know.


Never Say Never

I know, I know. I said I was never going to buy tea bags ever again! But when I was in Chicago, our hotel had bags of Twinings English Breakfast decaf out, and I took two bags to try. I haven’t ever met a decaf tea I truly liked, even from my fancy loose tea purveyors, and was not expecting much more than some warmth that wouldn’t keep me up all night. Well I was sure surprised to genuinely enjoy the flavor of this tea! If you served it to me with a blindfold on, I would never think it was a decaf flavor-wise. It had lots of body and a toasty malty flavor and I was so pleased! I was going to get myself a tin as soon as I got more coupons.

But – I couldn’t find this tea loose! Everywhere I checked, including the US Twinings site, only offered bags, so bags I got. As Osgood says at the end of the film Some Like It Hot, “Well, nobody’s perfect!”

My two boxes contained 25 bags each and weighed in at 1.76 oz each.

1.76 X 2 = 3.52 — so let’s say 4 oz as a punishment for getting bagged tea 🙂 Each coupon = 2oz of tea so this purchase cost me 2 tea coupons.

You knew my first coupons spent for 2015 would be tea coupons, right?


Clothing: 66 out of 66
Soap: 12 out of 12
Tea: 28 out of 30

Happy New Calendar and Coupon Year!

Happy 2015! Welcome to the second year of my rationing project!

First, let me post my final tally for 2014! Coupons remaining:

Clothing: NONE out of 66
Soap: 10 out of 36
Tea: NONE out of 10

I did it! Remember, I “donated” some soap coupons to my tea coupons after I bought some tea in Chicago, but otherwise — yay! I’m actually pretty impressed that I figured out my clothing coupons down to the coupon without going over, and came in under my soap coupons. I sometimes had to get very creative or let a want pass by, but I never felt deprived or shabby. In fact, I experienced a great sense of well-being. It felt good and balanced to add basics to my life, and treats truly felt like treats.

I’ve already done some musings about my ration categories over the last month, but let me emphasize now that the year is officially done — this project was both educational and fun. I likened it to working a complex puzzle in a previous post, and I still think that it’s the most accurate way to represent my method of figuring out how to spend my coupons wisely — how to take what I have and the limited amount I can add to that and live a good year making, doing, giving, experiencing, learning, enjoying. Notice I didn’t say suffering, pining, or longing (too much — I did experience major tea buying withdrawal but I’m through the worst of it. I don’t find myself guiltily perusing the tea websites any more!)!

Now, for my clean fresh slate for 2015! Coupons remaining:

Clothing: 66 out of 66
Soap: 12 out of 12
Tea: 30 out of 30

Remember, the clothing ration coupons are explained here, a soap coupon is any toilet item which is not a single ingredient item (argan oil — no soap coupon. all natural organic lavender moisturizer — 1 soap coupon), and one tea coupon = 2 oz of tea.

What will happen in 2015?! I am already in great suspense because quite a few of my basics such as my winter coat, casual clothes, summer shoes, summer clothing, and bras have seen better days and any way I try to put together that puzzle ends up in an overage of coupons. My soap coupons are reminding me of my tea coupons last year – i.e. strict and LOW. Will my commercial deodorant be worth a coupon? How about my tinted moisturizer — will I stop wearing it? Blush? Will I ever paint my nails again? Perfume? The tea coupons seem like pure luxury after last year — but have I learned my lesson?

Come visit me here to find out! And, again, Happy New Year!

image: from Liverpool Blitz 70. Although I’m thinking of my grandmother and I’m pretty sure she did not dress for dinner in long dresses in the 30s. 😉 She took off her house coat/apron thing to reveal her dress, though. Still a sensible option I daresay!