Category Archives: Inspiration

Reset Buttons

Cup of morning reflection

Cup of morning reflection

I think we adults have three main reset buttons to our psyches when our emotions are in a twist. I try to practice them each day so I only have to do little resets and not huge, scary ones.

The first reset, I’ve talked about before: gratitude. A little time each morning before the day begins or at the end, wrapping up, reminding myself all I have to be grateful for. And there’s lots. Our health. Spring birdsong in the morning. Running hot water for showers. It’s a very long list.

The second reset is forgiveness. This one is tougher, but like anything else gets easier with practice. Are there any humans or deities that I am angry with? That I feel have done me an injustice? Am I angry or disappointed in myself?

In this situation: Am I angry with my son for leaving? No, he is just being who he is. Am I disappointed in myself for having “failed him?” No. He has been a challenging person to parent from the get-go and I have given it my full attention. In this case, there is no need for forgiveness.

The third reset is discarding incorrect beliefs. We see the world through our belief filters. The information that gets through is colored by them, and then we make “rational” choices based on those facts. But sometimes the beliefs we hold are not true. I think most of us over the age of thirty have had the experience of freedom that comes when you realize a belief you held is not true. “I’m not stupid. Just because my third grade teacher said so. It isn’t true.”

In this case, I have believed that I could make my son’s transition into the adult world of responsibilities easier by providing for him a couple more years. Do I know that this is true? I do not. It is possibly true, but I can’t know that it is true. Maybe his life will be better in the future for the struggles that he has now. My oldest son has told me that the struggles he had with his step-father made him a better person. It was a difficult time in his life, but he appreciates the strength it has given him.

The turbulence of my emotions eases, and with renewed vigor and appreciation for the beauty of the spring blossoms and warmer temperatures, I face the new day.

Losing Your Baggage

"My baggage!" "No! My baggage!"

“My baggage!”
“No! My baggage!”

Once you have had that first big de-clutter session, and experienced the excitement and freedom of being responsible for less stuff, you can get a little tingly just thinking about the next round. When you have been on the path for awhile, you notice that beyond the cycle of too much/release/freedom that entire new vistas open for you. Your freedom allows you to think of things in a new way. I had a conversation with a friend this past week and he was lamenting the experience of having the same fights with his wife, over and over. “We are carrying too much emotional baggage. And we know each other’s triggers.” “You don’t have to carry your emotional baggage. You can set it down and just walk away from it.,” I replied. My friend was intrigued and we discussed ways to disconnect from our emotional hurts and beliefs that do not serve us. If you think a home free of clutter feels good, imagine a heart cleared of fear.

Don’t Be A Princess

Do you remember the story of the Princess and the Pea, in which a skeptical potential mother-in-law tests the nobility of a young girl by putting a pea under about 20 mattresses? The older woman is convinced of the young woman’s noble birth by the bruises she acquires while asleep.
I remember when, as a small child, I first heard this story and thought about the princess, “What a loser! She needs to toughen up.”

Life is going to send us all kinds of challenges. Unexpected physical demands, unforeseen money surprises, annoying people. Rather than letting these events throw us into a swoon or worse, a panic, let us plan for future challenges by training ourselves to be frugal and strong and kind now. Then when those difficult situations occur, we are prepared.

No matter where you are now, take steps to improve your health and finances and relationships. No flopping on the bed and moaning, “It’s too haaarrrd.” “I’m too buuussyyyy.” “People are meeaan.” Wah! It is hard, you are busy, people can be mean. Don’t be distracted.

I think of it as interval training. When training to build muscle, you push your body really hard for a short period, exhausting it. Then you let it rest. Then you go all-out again. This work hard-rest cycle builds strong bodies. Using a work hard-rest cycle can build emotional and financial strength as well.

Let’s go!

Picturing Minimalism


One of the more frequent comments I hear from my readers is “It makes so much more sense with the pictures.” That is, when we can see the process or solution, we understand it better.

Interestingly, this holds true for me as well. In the process of photographing my minimalism for you all, and looking at the photos, I have understood my processes better. And often gotten ideas how to improve things.

For example, when taking photos of the food in my refrigerator just prior to a shop (to illustrate how to eat cheaply, healthily) it occurred to me that I didn’t need a full-sized refrigerator. So I installed a “mini” fridge. It uses less space and less energy.

When I photographed my linen closet for you all, I saw all those stock-piled supplies and laughed at myself, still behaving as if I lived 10 miles from the closest store, and had to take all my toddlers with me when I went. I don’t need to keep all that toilet paper and shampoo here. There is a store 3 blocks away that is fully stocked for me.

It makes me want to take pictures of everything, so I can see it anew.

Lime Green Silk Heels

The year that I turned 40 I left my husband. My life savings were invested in his farm and I walked away from the money and most of my stuff. I left with the children ages 16, 5, 4, 1 years,  a weeks worth of clothing for us all, a couch and a few dishes.

I liked the sense of freedom that I felt without all the stuff weighing me down and determined to keep my possessions to a minimum. Thus the annual counting of stuff was begun. It has been a continual learning process.

Before I ever heard of the Pareto Principle and the 80/20 rule, I lived it with my clothing. I was figuring out how much clothing is enough, and noticed that I wore my favorite clothing most of the time, even though there were other items that I almost never wore. Usually the unworn items had some small flaw: they didn’t fit well, they didn’t go with anything else in the closet, they weren’t flattering. Money poorly spent, I told myself.

Overtime, I developed a simple system of clothing purchasing so there was little waste in the process. The rules were general: buy clothing that can be worn to work, when it starts to get a little worn, wear it for non-work days. Don’t buy anything that doesn’t go with at least two other items in the closet. Buy only black shoes and black socks. This system worked pretty well, still does.

Several years ago, I did something silly and inexplicable. I bought a pair of lime green silk heels. They had an open toe (so I couldn’t wear them to work,) about a 3 1/2 inch heel (so I was not likely to wear them to the grocery store,) and they did not match any clothes that I had at the time (so I wasn’t going to wear them to a parent-teacher conference.) Mostly they sat in my closet on a shelf at eye level and I saw them every time I opened the closet door. They made me happy.

At that time my life was little besides work and parent responsibilities. My children were fairly young and need help with baths, homework and the floor had to be wiped down after every meal. I took three-minute showers instead of soaks in the tub. I exercised during my lunch break. My library card languished. I had no practical use for “date shoes.” But they made me happy.

Those shoes were a colorful reminder that life was not all work, that I could choose a different path if I wanted to. All I had to do was put them on and I would become an impractical girly girl. It was as if I had an open-ended ticket to Europe and could leave anytime I wanted.

Those years were filled with hard work and not enough rest. The bright green shoes were a nourishment for my spirit, a reminder that I was more than just a mom. Single parents have to take care of themselves as well as the kids. We need good food, sleep, exercise for the body. We need fun, beauty and connection to others for the soul.

Don’t forget the fun.

Eleven Minute Dinner

You left for school,

And I turned on the stove,

Boiling the carcass till the

House filled with the scent of chicken

And flakes of meat fell off the bone.

Burner off, and stock cooling,

I started the noodles,

Kneading the flour and egg and water

With my hands,

Cutting the ribbons wide.

Meat de-boned and noodles cooked,

I started the sauce,

Simmering butter and flour and stock and salt and pepper

Till it clung to the back of the spoon.

Dinner was served at the high school parking lot,

Between track practice and jazz band.

You entered the car, still flush from your run,

And ate the chicken and noodles from a plastic bowl.

“It’s good,” you said, between bites.

“Thank you.”

Deep Breath

Last week I was at the grocery store and noticed a young mom and her three children. Her daughter appeared to be about two years old and sat in the grocery cart. Her two sons were walking next to the cart and son Jack who appeared to be about four or five was “helping.”

“Yes, Jack, we need the cheese. Go ahead and put that in the cart.”

“No, Jack, we are not going to get chocolate milk today. Please put it back. Please put the chocolate milk back, Jack.” “No, Jack we are not getting chocolate milk today. Put it back.” And so it went up and down three or four aisles until the moment that all of us in the store could hear coming.

“Jack!” “Come here.” It was said sharply. She grabbed his hand.

Memories of my own “Jack moments” flooded back. One in particular. We were in church and my youngest, would not behave. He was poking his sister, kicking the seat in front of us. Anything to be a distraction. I had taken him outside for disciplining and promises of bribes twice already. In my fatigue and despair, I started crying. Sobbing actually. Big wet tears running down my face and my shoulders bumping up and down with my ragged breaths.

Then the lady who sat behind us every week, and had watched our ongoing church struggles month after month, put her hand on my shoulder and left it there for the rest of the service. It was one of the kindest things another mother has done for me.

My attention is back in the grocery store and Jack’s mom is squatting down in front of him and I think he is going to catch it now.

“Jack,” she says, “Look at me. Look at me.

“Calm down. Take a deep breath with me.”  They suck in air noisily through pursed lips and clenched teeth.

“OK. Take another breath.”  Another noisy breath.  “Are you calm now?” Jack nods his head. “Can we finish shopping now?” Jack nods his head.

I remember the woman who put her hand on my shoulder in church. I turn to Jack’s mom.

“Mam.” She looks and me and Jack starts to get distracted by the spaghetti noodles. “I think that is great that you are teaching him calming breaths. I wish I knew about that when my kids were little.”

“It’s not working.”

“You are doing great.”

“Jack, put the spaghetti back.”


True Disabilities

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…..

No, really. Let me tell you a tale of two people I know.

Sue (we’ll call her) is African-American. She was injured in a motor vehicular accident when she was five years old, necessitating multiple surgeries. She had to travel a couple of hours to get to the hospital and recovery center and spent two to three months there each summer for several years. Her parents were allowed to visit one day per week, and they were not allowed to bring any toys. They did not coddle her, insisting that she do her chores when she lived at home and that she attend middle school in the same place as everyone else, which required her to ascend a flight of stairs on crutches for 3 years. She grew up and became an English teacher and inspired many young folk before she retired. Her injuries worsened as she aged and she ended up in an electric scooter, taking care of her husband and is the delight of her neighbors, because of her upbeat attitude and her love of life.

Person #2. We will call him Sam. Sam grew up in an upper middle class caucasian family where he was expected to attend college. He did. He acquired a Bachelor degrees and two Masters degrees. He had a moderately successful business career. He struggled with the ethical aspects of his work. He retired from work while in his 50s. He shortly after that he retired from most of the other aspects of his life and has spent the last 15 years blaming other people for what is wrong in his life. He will tell you he is miserable and that life is not worth living.

I think the biggest disabilities are related to attitude.

Enough for This Single Mom

After Justin’s dad and I divorced, it was just the two of us for the next ten years or so before I remarried. Justin’s step-dad didn’t like him very much and he did not treat him well, something that got revealed to me gradually. And yet, he tells me I am a good mom.

When the child who, trusting you, held your hand and followed you into what felt like a war zone, now grown, tells you, “You are a good mother.” You can trust this: for him you were.

What I am to the other children is still unfolding.


Ruby was the first woman of her family to attend and graduate from college. She got a dietician’s degree. She went to work for a local hospital and met and married a charming, handsome man. They had a little girl and a couple of years later, a little boy. Life was good. For awhile.

But the handsome man started drinking. A lot. He started yelling at Ruby and the kids. Then he took a mistress. And then, one day, while Ruby was at work, he took the kids to live with him at the mistress’s house. That was it for Ruby. She took the kids to a town two states away, and didn’t tell anyone, even her own mother.

She found a job running a truck stop and just about single-handedly pulled it back from bankruptcy using some innovative marking techniques. The kids went to school and began to settle into their new home. The handsome man was furious because he could not find them and went to Ruby’s mother and put a gun to her head to get her to tell where Ruby and the kids had gone. Ruby’s mom could not tell because she did not know. The handsome man hired a private detective, who found them. One day, while Ruby was at work, Handsome man came and took the kids back to their home two states away. Handsome man promised to stop drinking and Ruby went back to him. She got her old job back at the hospital. But Handsome man did not stop drinking and Ruby left him again. She took the kids and a year later Handsome man died of the drinking and a heart attack. He was 38 years old. Ruby raised the kids alone and put them both through college without child support or government help.  

I am proud to say I knew her well and she taught me about hope  and how to tell if a garment is of good quality and standing tall and which fork to use and that we treat everyone with courtesy and respect, regardless if their station in life is above or below ours.

Ruby Allen Carter was my grandmother and she raised her family during the difficult years of the depression and World War II.