Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Deep, Lasting Home Organizing for Spring

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. Our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect who we are. Recent insights:

My friend Jessie is moving. My friend Laura is Spring cleaning. And I am hanging onto the promise of a few hours on Friday, which I've set aside for an initial blast of Spring cleaning and home clearing. After this rough Boston winter, welcoming warmer days is a major mandate.

For all three of us, I floated the idea of sorting/purging by CATEGORY vs. by room. I got this notion from Marie Kondo's Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (amazing title, equal to Nick Offerman's Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man's Fundamentals for Delicious Living). Instead of tackling one dumb corner of your living room, go through ALL your books. Gather them ALL up in one place and sort/purge once and for all.


Kondo recommends a specific order for going through your things, which you can find in her book. She is passionate about following this order, which is basically easy to more sentimental (harder). And she insists that if you ruthlessly move through each category--if you dump anything that is really not worthwhile--you won't need to KEEP going through this process and will be less likely to reacquire goods that don't truly serve.

I like her idea of really dwelling on each thing within each category and asking yourself if you really need to keep each thing. Simplify, yes. And also, really set up your scene with stuff that you love. Don't keep yucky things that make you mad.

Another real zinger for me has been how she urges you to store clothing. At first it seemed crazy and obsessive. No flat folding! Instead, fold shirts, for example, into rectangles. And nestle them all in your drawer side-by side. Wow, who has the time? And I laughed out loud when she explained that you must NEVER ball your socks into little potatoes. It stretches them out and doesn't allow them to 'rest'! But after my husband actually did the drawer re-order and gained a third more drawer space (and has managed to keep his clothing drawers completely tidy for a month!), I tried it. Um, it's totally magic!! You stay well-ordered, and it doesn't take more time to fold this way.

Well, gang. Here are the first three CATEGORIES, in case you want to try along with me on Friday!

1) Clothing.. in this order:
    - shirts, sweaters, all tops
    - bottoms
    - hanging clothes (including coats)
    - socks (no more potatoes)
    - underwear
    - bags (ALL at once)
    - scarves, belts, hats, jewelry, all accessories at once
    - sportswear, swim suits
    - shoes

2) Books and magazines: Take ALL books from everywhere in the house, put them in one place, and touch the spine of each. Only keep the ones that truly spark joy. OUT with the rest. For REAL!

3) Papers... in this order:
    - files
    - envelopes, office supplies
    - bills, notes on fridge, etc
    (set any sentimental stuff aside... that's later)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Just Three Words

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. Our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect who we are. Recent insights:

It's been a rough February. Snows started in Boston at the end of January; and at this point we are all so beaten from trying to deal with a total of 7 feet of snow (so far). Work and school have been canceled. Yoga classes and social events are suspended. Parking bans have destroyed businesses' profits. Power outages have been annoying, though thankfully short-lived.

During this inconvenient, expensive and disheartening chapter, we've tried to keep ourselves and our four-year old son active and upbeat-ish. It's been too cold and the snow is too deep for snowpeople and snow angels; but we've made trips outside to shovel off the roof and make sledding hills and paths to the compost bin. So, it's come down to lots of indoor dance parties and arts and crafts.

By the time St. Valentine's Day had approached, we'd given up making plans. Most people ended up canceling their plans when more snow started, and when the T announced its second full closure day... When you have a little kid you can't totally "give up." But we weren't in the mood to rally.

It was late afternoon and my husband was going out to chip ice and prepare for the next big snow when our son placed this on the table.

Sometimes it takes a small thing to boost a mood--this was both the smallest and the biggest thing that could have come our way. To witness this clever little boy teaching himself to write, read and express himself directly and thoughtfully is a gift. And this token was even more amusing and uplifting than BAD MOM from a few weeks ago.

Three little words... all we needed.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Giving Winter the Finger

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. Our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect who we are. Recent insights:

Hooray for the cheery people out there. I've been trying to dial in sustainable optimism through snowstorm after snowstorm. But after the pile of snow we'd built up to clear the sidewalk collapsed, I gave up.

Today, I'm pulling the covers over my head (metaphorically... I can't really, because I need to invent and supervise indoor kid activities, especially because preschool has been canceled again for tomorrow...). So, here are a few simple schemes, to get me through the day.
  • Work on Thai trip for next February
  • Pray that the snows have been cleared by Tuesday night so I can get to the Midway to hear Matt Heaton and the Electric Heaters as part of an awesome surf/instrumental band showcase
  • Make a baked dish that needs to be in the oven for a loooong time, so the house warms up. It would be fun to try something new; but it'll have to be with ingredients on hand, since we can't drive to the grocery store. While I'm at it, maybe I'll play around with my new online menu planner called Plan to Eat. (There are cheaper/free apps to help with family food management; but so far this is the best I've found for generating shopping lists along with the week's menus.)
  • Wait to shovel until the VERY LAST MINUTE, because all the advice about going out several times during the day means the whole day is spent shoveling. Back health be damned. I'm up for minimizing my time in the dreary winter world...
New England is a treasure. The history, architecture, neighborhoods, amazing regional accents and international and small town/local situations lead to inspired collaboration and community mobilization. The Autumn leaf display is stunning. Late Spring and Summer brim with creative natural and cultural offerings. And in early Winter, a light dusting of snow on early 18th century homes can be quaint.

But I'd trade it all for one inch less of snow today...

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Wahooing Winter

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. Our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect who we are. Recent insights:

Complaining isn't going to make the day go any sweeter or easier...

...But the snowstorms (and the canceled concerts, lessons, preschool and social plans they bring) are getting me down. All plans to be productive fade when there's a kid to entertain and snow to shovel.

And still, there are a lot of people out there with great attitudes, including my cheery barista, Ethan, who's rocking shots at Medford's very fine Tamper Cafe.

And, of course, there are hard-working folks dedicated to snow removal so the rest of us can park and get around. The postal workers are still delivering mail. And the firefighters are out there clearing off fire hydrants (in addition to their regular workload).

I still feel frustrated for my own inconvenience. But it's hard to wallow too hard, when surrounded by the triumph of the human spirit. Go, optimists!!! You rock!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Elegance of Simplicity: Todoist App FTW

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. Our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect who we are. Recent insights:

"Want something done? Ask a busy person."

OK, kind of a dorky and simple notion... but industrious people who rock a number of projects (effectively) are usually productive because they have found some way to manage their work.

My own pursuit of organizing creative thoughts into action--instead of being distracted and drowned by deadlines AND future dreams, all at once--started with a glance at the classic GTD method, and then a glum look at my own workspace/life/brain. I would NEVER fit into all of those buckets!

In my search for a method that could work for me, I stumbled on NowDoThis. It's sweet. I love the mandate. It was a good first step, a reminder to keep it simple and keep moving.

But I really did need a system for all my projects--a way to stay accountable to big and small pressing tasks, and to make room for new and ongoing creations.

All roads led me to Evernote, a comprehensive, universal catch-all. I signed up for a day. It was the equivalent of going to Babies R Us, when all you need is a package of breast milk freezer bags. I felt cold and my eyes hurt.

Finding ToDoist was like arriving in Suphanburi at the end of January: no snow, no shoes inside, plenty of Pak Bung Fai Dang, and no rush (except on the highway). This app is just complex enough to customize your projects and set deadlines in one clean, clutter-free spot.

The $29 upgrade gives you room for notes and links, and allows you to backup your info (no backing up with the free version, yikes). But because ToDoist doesn't encourage including extraneous info, I find myself staying on task. The productivity posts on the ToDoist Blog offer gentle and well-timed encouragement and tools/motivation. The "karma button" is a cute way to make a game out getting stuff done by the end of the day. The photo above is where I do stuff--it's less cluttered than it used to be!
Above all, ToDoist has reinforced the cornerstones of productivity for me:
  • Transform ideas, music goals and correspondence into reasonable action items. (eg. "try triplet accompaniment pattern at beginning of 2nd movement," vs "finish string quartet cycle")
  • Set due dates for each action
  • Adjust due dates as natural delays occur, or as priorities shift

So: Noodle... don't Noodle. ToDoist... don't ToDoist. Above all, the goal is to DO, and this app is helping me stay on target. I am busy, and I am getting things done. The only thing that might up my productivity would be a big plate of Pak Bung Fai Dang (Here's a recipe for these Chinese Greens Stir-Fried with Spicy Red Chilis).

Monday, January 26, 2015

Bad Mom Hits the Gym

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. Our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect who we are. Recent insights:

The Storm of the Century is beginning to rage in Boston. We hear snow plows clanking down the street, and there's only an inch of snow so far.

I thought I'd fit a YMCA workout in before we all became housebound for a day or two. We'd already picked up some groceries, including ONE gallon of milk (though some of our shopping comrades had many gallons in their carts. Huh? Doomsday preppers...)

My son got to do a 45-minute little kid Track and Field class. And then I dropped him off at the babysitting room at the YMCA Kid Zone for my turn. Son was NOT delighted.

When I came back to pick him up, he showed me the art he had made. I told him I liked the colors a lot... and that I think it's so great he is expressing himself with his art. How amazing that he is teaching himself to write things like this!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Whole Indulgent Truth

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. Our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect who we are. Recent insights: 

I recently received an unsolicited series of complaints about my grossest behaviors and character flaws. A number of my present and past actions were called into question, from events that went back years in the past. According to my attacker, several people have conversed about my troubling habits.

It was an upsetting surprise. I felt like a punching bag: the real-life receiving end of self-help programs that encourage airing The Truth vs. sharing concise, relevant ideas on how to move a project or relationship forward. There were no reasonable requests for behavior modification... just a lot of "Truth" all at once.

I did not respond with my own laundry list of resentments and challenges. Nor did I defend or deny allegations. I did say it was haunting to know about talk behind my back. My reply did not satisfy; and further insults came in. The whole thing was so mean and ugly.

Once the tirade trickled down and I had recovered a little (by getting a lot of exercise and and writing a bunch of string quartets), I began thinking about how to teach my son to air HIS grievances compassionately and in a timely manner---and how to NOT air all of his grievances. Truthfulness does not need to mean the whole truth.

I also started thinking about how to to teach him to NOT ENGAGE with hurtful people, but to also stand up for himself.

And then I realized that if my son had received such a comprehensive series of character attacks, I would have clawed the emailer's eyes out.

So, Nigel, do not say terrible things to people.
If people say terrible things to you, here is my poem for you:

Son, if someone's mean to you
And thinks that it is fair
To judge, insult and hurt you
And tell you all his cares:

Be kind and listen, don't fight back
And let this chap unload;
And meanwhile, I will have your back
And punch him in the nose.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Wind on Your Cheeks

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. Our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect who we are as people, thus musicians. Recent insights: 

It's winter in Boston. When it's cold, I prefer to run inside... on a treadmill. I actually like the treadmill. I can just zone out and sweat for 45 minutes. Also, I have a Netflix app on my phone; and I've been watching retro serials, like Lost.

But my friend Laura prefers to run outside. So since November I have been bundling up and braving the elements with her. Finding a few super warm layers (thank you, Marshall's clearance rack) has helped make it more comfortable. And everything is easier and more fun with a friend... um, almost everything.

The other day we were out. We'd warmed up a bit. It was chilly but sunny! It felt great to be running in the world. My pal said it was so good to get "the wind on our cheeks." I love this. A good mantra for facing challenge and hard work--so good to put yourself out there and do stuff, whether you're running, swimming, or making big and wild dreams come true.

On a similar tangent, I've been reading Nick Offerman's hilarious book entitled Paddle Your Own Canoe:  One Man's Fundamentals for Delicious Living. (Bwahahaha on the title already). He wrote, "If you engage in a discipline or do something with your hands instead of kill time on your phone device, then you have something to show for your time when you're done."

So, yeah. Getting OUT there is real, earnest and uplifting. I'm getting OUT literally (and with friends), in the cold and the wind. And I'm putting myself out there with a huge string quartet project (my newest challenge which is hard and totally engrossing). Time to finish this blog post and get back OUT.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Nigel's Five Ideas for Practicing Patience

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. Our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect who we are as people, thus musicians. Recent insights: 

I was talking to my husband about strategies for being more patient... with myself, with other people.

My four year old son came into the kitchen and told me he had some ideas for me. I told him I'd really like to hear them. This is the astonishing list he shared with me:

#1 (he actually said, "number one is that you should") concentrate on what you're doing.

#2 [is that you should] have something to comfort you, like a stuffed animal.

#3 ... relax a little.

#4 ... don't interrupt Daddy.

#5 ... just do all the jobs you need to do to make money.

OK. Focus on my own stuff. Nurture myself with supportive people/things and outlets that help me relax. Start my patience project at home, with my patient husband. And remember that work can just be work sometimes.

Anybody want to hire Nigel for a tune up?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

3 Simple Displays of Love

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. Our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect who we are as people, thus musicians. Recent insights: 

Love is what you say, what you do, and how you give and take:

1. From my friend Andy:
"I just put Sadie down on the couch and said, 'Love ya, babe.' She waited til I was walking out of the room and said, 'Dad .... I always remember when you say that.' And the impact of the words I say around her hit me like ten arrows at once."

2. From a recent road trip:
My son Nigel got a sudden case of the stomach flu--all over the hotel bed and all over one of his favorite stuffed animals, a little Ringtail Cat from Arizona. After changing the sheets and mopping him off, I washed Ringtail. Working this wet little soapy stuffed animal until he was clean, I realized I would happily wash vomit off a stuffed animal anytime for my son.

3. From my friend Laura:
Reeling from a trying weekend at work followed by heartbreaking personal news, I ran a Thanksgiving Day race with my friend Laura. We ran and laughed and ended up not having to poop during the race. Friendship is hugging your stinky, sweaty, fragile friend. And knowing that she'll hug you back, even at your stinkiest.

Sleepy trust, vomit, and sweat. Love is all you need.