Minimalism game — the May edition

It’s another month of getting rid of clutter! This month was not any harder than last month, which I guess means that I still have way too much stuff. And sadly, I still don’t think my house looks significantly less cluttered. So yes, I am planning on keeping this up next month. Here’s the list for May:

1) Vacuum cleaner part
2) Old medicines
3) Votive candle
4) Eyeglass repair case
5) Close Pins
6) Toothbrush heads
7) Old underwear
8) Subpar tweezers
9) Binder clips
10) Too-small slinky
11) Unmatched sock
12) Old slippers
13) Husband’s dress shirts
14) Old t-shirt
15) Husband’s old jacket
16) Husband’s old belt
17) Husband’s old jeans
18) Husband’s old dress pants
19) Bracelets I never wear
20) Food hidden in back of cabinets
21) Magazine from December 2013
22) Husband’s old sweater
23) Magazine from September 2013
24) Fish tank cleaner
25) Magazine from April 2014
26) Magazine from July 2014
27) Magazine from November 2014
28) Old lip gloss
29) Subpar tweezers
30) Magazine from May 2014
31) Ripped duffle bag

Minimizing in the kitchen

It’s no secret that I hate cooking. I also hate being in the kitchen in general. So why do I have kitchen appliances that I can’t immediately name and 37 knifes? Why do I have “good plates”? One thing that has made it a little easier for me to be in the kitchen is not having so many appliances and cookware that I will never use. I think I got rid of about four frying pans and six pots of various sizes. At best, each of these was used once a year. What I have left is a very large pot, a small pot, and a frying pan. Here is where I did go out and buy something–a cast iron frying pan. I use it at least two or three times a week, and it seems to be true that things taste better when they are cooked in it.


The pan I bought, which is super heavy. I think the brand name is Lodge.

I also thought about minimizing cooking without sacrificing money or healthiness. I’ve been reading about those industrious people who cook all their food for the week on one specific day a week. I’m the type of person who could eat the same thing several days of the week, and not be bothered by it, so this idea appealed to me on that merit. But I wanted to start small, because the task was so daunting to me. After looking online for the kinds of things that fared well, I went with rice and beans. It took about an hour to cook up, but I made a ton, and we can eat this every day (with other foods added for variety) with hopefully minimal effort.

If anyone is interested, here is the recipe:

3 cups brown rice

1 medium onion

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon garlic paste

1 can black beans

1 cup frozen peas

2 tablespoons vegetable soup mix

Cook the chopped onion in the olive oil and add garlic paste (or chopped garlic). Add water and rice and bring to a boil. Add beans, peas, and soup mix. Cook on simmer for 45 minutes or until water is gone and rice is cooked. The finished product was pretty tasty, and I think pretty healthy too! It’s easy to heat and eat with a salad, an egg, or whatever else you have, because it does seem to go with almost anything. Of course it can always be eaten by itself if you’re in a rush and nothing is around.


Here is a not-very-appetizing photo, but I’m not a food blogger per se, so I think it’s good enough. And by the way, this was all made and is currently stored in the one large pot I kept, so they is very little clean up.

If you have any very easy, moderately healthy, make-ahead recipes, I would love to hear them!

Little break down in tears on the prairie

One of my favorite book series when I was young was the Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” books. I read them at least once a year while I was in elementary school, and then every few years as I grew older. Now that my older son is almost five, I decided to start reading them to him. Of course, I started in chronological order, with “Little House in the Big Woods.” It was less exciting than I remember.


Poor Jack had to walk all over the prairie through the first few books!

For those who haven’t read this series as recently as I have, “Big Woods” basically goes through a year in the life of the Ingalls family, without having much of a plot. The most memorable part for me was when the kids blew up the pig bladder and tossed it around like a ball. The next book, “Farmer Boy,” about her husband growing up in upstate New York, was memorable for all the vivid descriptions of the food. In the next book, “Little House on the Prairie,” the family attempts to settle on the Osage Indian reservation, and there were a lot of very negative things said about Native Americans, so I ended up skipping over quite a bit. “On the Bank of Plum Creek,” which comes next, has my very favorite part in all the books, where Laura has a party and takes all her school friends to go wading in the crick, and there scares Nellie Olson with the crab who lives in it.
A few nights ago, we started on the next book, “On the Shores of Silver Lake.” There is a gap of a few years between the start of this book and the one before it, and Laura is now 13 years old instead of 9. The tone is very different, and a lot of horrible things have happened, such as Mary going blind and the death of an infant. I knew I had to read the part about Mary going blind, because it is such a prevalent plot point in the rest of the books, but I paused in my reading to make sure my son understood what blindness was before going on. (I edited out the part about the “Scarlet fever settling in her eyes,” because Scarlet fever doesn’t make one go blind. One theory is that she actually had untreated meningitis. But I digress.) And although I swore the part about the baby dying happened right away, I didn’t see it. Perhaps they cut it out of the book, since I have a very new edition? Whatever the case may be, the youngest sister is already born at the beginning of this book, and she was their last born child, so chronologically, it already happened.
The second chapter of the book is memorable because Jack, Laura’s childhood dog, dies. I was prepared for this and fully expected to be able to read it. It’s an important part of the book, because it’s supposed to represent Laura’s transition from childhood to adolescence. But I’m not deluded enough to think my four-year-old child would grasp the significance of that. So as it went on, I started breaking down and crying, and eventually had to stop reading at this part:
“Good Jack, good dog,” she told him. He turned his head to touch her hand with the tip of his tongue.
Then he let his nose sink onto his paws and he sighed and closed his eyes. He wanted to sleep now.
Strangely enough, I don’t remember crying quite so much about it when I was younger. Since I’ve had kids, I’ve definitely gotten more emotional, and everything I see I tend to imagine seeing through their eyes. And while I want to be able to talk to my sons about anything, the death of a fictional bulldog is obviously too much for me right now.

Getting rid of intangibles

My love of Netflix is epic and undying, but there are a few other monthly credit card charges I could and have done without.


1) Naturebox. True they have yummy snacks, but the last thing I need is to be encouraged to eat more snacks. Besides, if I really wanted it, Trader Joe’s has much of the same stuff. That’s $40 a month.

2) The gym. Who has time to go to the gym? Maybe those who don’t have two kids, a full-time freelance job, a house and cat to maintain, and an urban fantasy series to finish writing. I went during maternity leave but after I went back to work it was impossible. That’s $40 a month.

3) Cleaning services. I have a confession: The first time I cleaned a toilet was last year. When I was growing up, no one taught me how to clean. Rather than live in filth, I’ve had a cleaning service twice a month for most of my life. One day when my husband took the kids upstate to visit his parents, I decided to give it a try. Two hours later and the place looked as good as when the service came. That’s $120 a month and somewhat makes up for the gym in exercise.

4) Fresh Direct. This is a difficult one. I love FD. I used to lie about my zip code to get them to come to me. When you have a newborn in the winter you should probably just give in and get it (which is when I started). Their food is good quality but overpriced. Stop & Shop is way cheaper. Estimated cost savings: $60 a month.

5) Manicures. I used to get a manicure once a week when I had a full-time job. That’s because I had a lunch hour break. Now I get paid by the hour and can’t substantiate taking that long a break. That’s $40 a month.

Adding these up, that’s a savings of $300 a month! Have I noticed any of this extra money? Sadly, it doesn’t appear to be showing up in my bank account. Still, I’m feeling good about saving the money and am looking for more things I can let go of, but none of those things will be Netflix!

I’ll be there for you (with repetitive plot devices and flat, obvious humor)

In honor of Mother’s Day, I am going to share a random memory of my mother that eventually turned into a journey of shame and depression. My mom passed away 13 years ago, but I randomly remembered a few months ago that she once said, “I actually kind of like that show Friends, except for that one annoying guy.”

It took very little for me to become obsessed with this memory, to the point where I just had to watch the show to figure out which one was the one annoying guy. In case you don’t know, and I hope you don’t, there are nine seasons of Friends, so watching the entire series, start to finish, is a big commitment, especially since the only purpose was to re-connect in one very small and even insignificant way with my mother. But I was willing to do it.

In any case, I somehow got up to the last episode of the eighth season, when a song from the first Interpol album came on. I immediately stopped the show and looked up when that album was released: 2002. My mom died in early March 2002, so I am fairly certain I ended up watching more of that crappy show than she ever did. Instead of feeling relief that I never have to watch the ninth season, I just felt depressed that my mother never got to watch the end of that stupid show. And it made me wonder what crappy show I will be in the middle of watching when I drop dead. (Right now, I am thinking it more likely that GRR Martin drops dead before me, but who knows?)

When I mentioned this to my husband, who has never had to process the agonizing, soul-crushingness that is Friends, he said, “Obviously the annoying one is just David Schwimmer.” Which was the same conclusion I came to and made me want to rip out my hair, because, really, I could have made that uninformed decision after only watching about five minutes of a single episode.


It is unspeakably upsetting to me that I know all their names.

My actual dream is to open the very first sock puppet school

Supposedly, we learn from our mistakes. It just takes some of us a little longer than others. One of my (many) mistakes that I have done over (and over) again is go back to school. In (some year, a long time ago) I graduated Pace University with a Bachelor degree in literature and communications. Never being one to leave well enough alone, I decided only a few years later to go back to school for something else. After all, if one degree is good, two are better, right?

What did I go to school for? I don’t exactly remember. I did take a bunch of anatomy classes, which I enjoyed. I also took pottery, which I enjoyed somewhat less. There may have been business, which I didn’t enjoy at all. At one point, when my mom had just died, and I was not exactly in my right mind, I even quit my job to go to massage therapy school. Where did rational thinking come into play during this decision? It did not. How much, in general, do I enjoy touching people? I do not. It has been pointed out to me that when a person tries to hug me, I will pat their back once and then pull away. The only good thing about massage therapy school was that I was able to give all non-massage presentations by sock puppet theater.

Nevertheless, I went to massage therapy school for almost two years. Please take note that I said “almost two years.” How long is massage therapy school in New York? Two years. That’s right, I dropped out with about a month to go. I developed painful bursitis in my hands, and also was offered a job as managing editor of a medical journal. After that epic fail, I stopped thinking about school for a few years. I would like to say more than three, but in reality it was exactly three. This time, I applied to acupuncture school. Although that sounds like it’s really out there, it did use a lot of the classes and credits from massage school, so theoretically that time and money would not be totally lost.

I am happy to report, however, that even though I applied, interviewed, and was accepted into acupuncture school, I did not go. It was around that time that I decided, after not wanting anything to do with children the first 34 years of my life, that I did want a kid. So at that point I concentrated on getting pregnant and having my first son, and temporarily gave up on the idea of school.

A few years later, after my son was born and my first book was published, I realized I no longer had the desire to go back to school. It took me a bit to think about how these things are related, but they very much are. My job did not fulfill me as a person, and I was looking for something that did. For whatever reason, my thoughts always lay in academia rather than, say, world travel or volunteer work. But by publishing my first book, something I had wanted to do since I was in elementary school, I fulfilled my inner need to express myself and do something I love, and thus did not need to go back to school.

My elementary school, PS 229 in Woodside, Queens. It was there that I first said I wanted to be a writer. And made sock puppets.

Minimalist game — the April edition

Remember when I said I was done with minimalist games? Well, I lied. Because I greatly enjoyed getting rid of so much stuff, I decided to keep going in April. But because the end of the month in January was so time consuming (getting rid of 31 items in 1 day), I decided to simply get rid of one item a day for each day of the month. If this goes well, I might even do it for the rest of the year!

Here’s the list for last month:

1) Small sticker book
2) Pacifier holder
3) Old magazine
4) Vat of Play-doh
5) Son’s ripped jeans
6) Broken lipstick
7) Decorative plastic zipper thingie
8) Stress ball
9) Mysterious marble
10) Shirt of an event that was 15 years ago
11) Worn and ripped t-shirt
12) Ripped pajamas
13) Tea tin
14) Magazine from September 2014
15) Ripped towel
16) Small awkward bear
17) Old ripped window screen
18) Expired vitamins
19) Magazine from October 2013
20) Unmatched sock
21) Old flowerpot
22) Overly large toy car
23) Broken decorative bottle
24) Glue stick
25) Magazine from February 2014
26) Jeans that don’t fit
27) Shirt of odd material
28) Shirt with stain
29) Bracelets I’ll never wear
30) Girl Scout sash (yes, I was a Girl Scout, but that’s a story for another time)