Forty years ago today, I boarded my first airplane and began a year abroad that would forever mark my life. The thirty or so students who went with me might well have the same thought – we all were impacted by a year in Switzerland, with no internet or cell phones.
My first novel, Chocolate for Breakfast, was (very) loosely based on that year. Like Bernadette Maguire, I was 20, naive (yes), and hopeful. Unlike Bernadette, I did not have an affair with a married man, nor did I get pregnant with his child. 😉 I recall explaining that to friends, who took my storytelling literally.
I’ve returned to my beloved Switzerland often – in 1981 to work as an au pair (there’s a book I should write), again a few years later, multiple times in the 1990s, and most recently in January 2017, where I was inspired to write Villa del Sol.
But the year that began on 28 September 1978 was my year. I don’t have any Cardinal beer to drink, no Giandor chocolate bar, and the Café Chemin de Fer is now, I believe, an Indian restaurant. Things change, even in Fribourg, Switzerland.
“Mesdames et messieurs, it is time to go sleep!” 🇨🇭🇨🇭🇨🇭
Nearly September. 95 degrees today. Heat index 104. Just like yesterday.
So who else is cranky? I know (at least) three people who live without air conditioning. I don’t know how they live, though. Our thermostat is set at 74 and I’m hot. But I’m grateful for A/C, especially at night.
I’ve never liked summer best. Fall is my favorite. How about you? Depending on where you live, you might not experience four distinct seasons. But by September, the sun rises later and it’s dark by 8:00 now, so I want that cool air to follow.
Meanwhile, I’ve finished the second round of edits for my new novel, so now it’s off to my trusted readers, who give me honest feedback. I sometimes can’t see a plot hole or a character who uses repetitive language, but they can! I’m still on track to have this book ready by December 1 – the day I’ll be at the Rhode Island Authors Expo!
Until then, I’m reading a lot (what are you reading?). I loved How to Walk Away by Katherine Center and Crossing the Bamboo Bridge by Mai Donohue (her memoir of growing up in Vietnam – you won’t be the same after reading it). I’m almost done with How Hard Can It Be? by the hilarious Allison Pearson, just started Alternate Side by the wonderful Anna Quindlen, and The Pendulum’s Truth by the very talented writing team of Leigh Brown and Vikki Corliss. Vacation next week means lots of reading!
Autumn will get here, eventually. You won’t hear me complain about the cold. Not me.
Well, that year flew by. I seem to be saying that all the time lately.
A year ago, inspired by The Minimalists (Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus), I decided to begin my own journey toward living a more minimal, and more mindful, life. If I blogged about it every Friday, I’d be more accountable, and maybe if I had a flash of insight, I’d share it.
It began by cleaning out a drawer, then another. Then a cabinet and a cupboard, and another. Closets, multiple times. I began to look at possessions differently – all those collectibles that my husband I had bought through the years of our marriage, little trinkets of remembrance. Some Many of those items are worth keeping – like the prints and paintings that remind us of a special trip. Other things just take up space.
I’m not done. This is an ongoing project, and I never did clean out the garage as much as I’d wanted to, so I’ve marked that as a fall project. We still have our beloved dog, Bonnie (thankfully), so the well-worn furniture that she claims as her own stays, for now.
My friend gave me this wonderful bracelet for my recent birthday – how thoughtful she is, especially knowing how I feel about plastics and ocean pollution. Please click the link for more information about how you, too, can help. Gifts with purpose!!
If you’re overwhelmed with clutter, know that if you want to change that situation, you can. And if you look around and think you can never live more minimally, start small (like I did). Start with one drawer. Or, start on August 1 and get rid of (meaning, recycle, repurpose, or toss out) one item. On August 2, do the same with two items, and go through the month that way. You can throw out an old tube of mascara on August 1 and donate a worn but still wearable pair of shoes on August 2. Yes, you can do this.
So even though I won’t be blogging every week about my journey, the journey continues.
I’ve only had a few birthday parties in my 60 years on this earth. Birthdays weren’t something my parents made a big fuss over, although the celebration was always enough. Hamburgers on the grill, chocolate cake with white frosting. “Milestone” birthdays are usually a bigger deal (until they aren’t). Although this year, celebrating with my two sisters, brother-in-law, and husband was one of the best days ever.
I’ve never liked having my picture taken, so I don’t get the obsession of some people with selfies. I see myself in photographs and cringe – bad hair, fat face, goofy look, whatever, I could always find a flaw. Adding three pictures of myself to this blog post feels self-serving.
Through the years, I’ve celebrated my birthday with family and friends, most of the time. In 1981, I was working as an au pair in Switzerland, living with an unhappy couple and their badly behaved little boy. On my birthday, I broke a lamp in their house. It was an accident, but oh. Not a good day. She was much more forgiving than he was.
The year I turned 40, my husband and I went to Boston, and, as it turned out, we were back there for my 50th ( I spent my birthday facilitating a roundtable discussion with fellow fraud investigators). But, our hotel room had a view of Fenway Park and I ate chocolate-covered strawberries.
I’ve lost some friends over the years. By the time you reach this age, it’s not completely unexpected, although I do expect to attend wakes and funerals for the parents of my contemporaries, not my contemporaries. Still. Jeff, Steve, Lucy, Kevin, Sue, Paul, Kathy, Jack, Patty, Susan, Michael, Andy, Danny, Carole, Tom, Pat, Karen, Joe, Tim. Always remembered.
My friend Tommy Hobin (we’re going on 48 years now) says we’re living in “bonus time.” How many of us can say we’re still alive thanks to good fortune or dumb luck – those narrow escapes we reminisce about but don’t want to share with our children or grandchildren. Bonus time.
This year we won’t be in Boston, but I’ll be somewhere near the Atlantic Ocean. I had a new headshot taken, by my dear friend Dianna Solimeo of Vee’s Photography. It’s me at 60, with my Coke-bottle eyeglasses and lines on my face. It is a true photo of the real me. Maybe, finally, I’m okay with it.
If you’ve read this far, you deserve a reward! Every single one of my books (all eight) are discounted to 99 cents for the digital version. Seven novels, including my Swiss Chocolate trilogy, and one nonfiction. I’ll keep the prices low for a week or so. 💛💚💙
I’ve been thinking a lot about plastic – bags, straws, packaging, utensils – there’s just so much plastic. And we all aware that our oceans are filling up with plastic at an alarming rate.
At the conclusion of this year-long project, I’ve just discovered Tippi Thole. Tippi Thole is someone you should discover, too. Check out her “tiny trash can” website here – and you’ll be amazed/inspired/ wowed. Because Tippi Thole replaced the trash can in her kitchen (10-gallon capacity) with a small wastebasket (like the kind you probably have in your bathroom). She began to shop mindfully, and within a few months, the amount of trash her family produced each week fit into a Mason jar that is under 3″ tall!!!
Could I do this, too? I’m sure as hell going to try. We’re only two people.
Maybe you’ve figured out, like I have, that material things don’t make you happy. Yay! But, like I was last year, you’re wondering where to begin. So. Much Stuff. Right?
I hear you! I feel you! And perhaps I can help. So here are 10 things you can do now:
Start by reducing items. Look in your linen closet – how many towels, how many sets of sheets, how many tablecloths? Do you need all of them? Betcha you don’t. Keep what’s necessary – you also don’t want to be doing laundry every day – but donate or ditch the rest.
Get in your closet. Remember when I wrote about Project 333 ? I did it, for the summer, and I love it. I have a few work-appropriate pieces for when I go into the office where I work one day a week, and the rest of my clothes are simple pieces. I’ll do this again in the fall.
See if you can donate something to a well-deserving charity each week. The extra set of dishes that you never use. The winter coat and the boots that you don’t wear.
Sell your unwanted but still good stuff. Yard sales and online auctions work for some, and you might pocket a little cash in the process.
Have cloth shopping bags in your car always. Use them wherever you go, not just the grocery store, but everywhere. If you do have plastic bags, find a place to recycle them.
Living minimally also means spending mindfully. If you keep track for even a week of your mindless spending, you’ll be shocked.
Getting rid of paper has been one of my biggest challenges. I’m still working on digitizing everything, from photographs to insurance policies to tax returns.
Unplug when you can. And you can more often than you think. Unsubscribe from mailing lists that clog up your inbox and never get opened. If the news in your feed is making you angry or depressed, let it go. You can still be informed.
Borrow books instead of buying them. Or buy a digital version, if you like that. I read both, and I like to support independent authors by buying their books (both print and digital versions), but if I buy a print book, I pass it along to someone else. For better-known authors, I’ll use the library.
Do you give a lot of gifts? How about an experience instead? Treat your girlfriend to a manicure, send your parents to their favorite restaurant, give your kid’s teacher movie coupons.
I’m sure there are plenty more ideas you can come up with!
Living minimally is circular. By that, I mean we continue the practice on an ongoing basis. As I come to the end of this year-long project, I’ll no longer post each Friday morning. But I’ll still give this way of life my best effort. Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes not.
I’ve cleaned out closets, drawers, cupboards. Brought boxes and bags to the donation center. I’ve thought twice before making impulse purchases and I regard “things” with a more critical eye.
I’m still concerned with the amount of plastic we use, even though I’m recycling as much as possible. But my paper straws are working just fine and my fancy glass straw is pretty (www.glassdharma.com). I’d rather frequent restaurants that use cardboard takeout containers. No more Styrofoam! Cloth grocery bags go not only to the supermarket but also to CVS and Target.