Heating With Wood

Today was wood splitting day.

We made an excellent decision two years ago, (and by “we” I mean “Rusty”,) to install a wood burning stove.  We had a humongous winter power bill, and knew we needed to do something different if we wanted to keep warm.

Rus hauled in an old wood stove that had been warming up a shed, and we bricked up a hearth and installed the thing. (Don’t you just love how casually I say that? We “bricked up a hearth?” That’s what you do when your husband is a brick mason. I love it!)

Our wood stove is utilitarian, country-looking, and doesn’t have the cute little glass doors so you can see the fire like the newfangled wood stoves, but it keeps us sooo toasty warm. And when it gets too warm, we can close the doors and keep the heat downstairs in the study/den.

Rus with the logsplitter

On the plus side, too, I get to watch my hubby doing his lumberjack routine. Isn’t he adorable in his plaid? Sigh…

Ever seen a wood splitter work? I was afraid the splitter would come down like a guillotine, the way you swing an axe. I assumed our fingers would be in great danger. It doesn’t work like that: the blade comes down very slowly, and it sort of squeezes the blade into the wood.


Then we ran out of gas for the wood splitter, so we went back to the old-fashioned ax-swinging method. Rusty grabbed an ax and started splitting and it looked like so much fun I had to try it too! (Don’t ask how many tries it took for me to get the first log split.)

Wood fires aren’t the best environmental choice, but when you live in five acres of woods, it’s an excellent economic choice. Gathering the wood is a fun activity for the two of us, and wonderful exercise. Just being outdoors makes me happy…being outdoors with a purpose makes me really happy.

We now have three sizable woodpiles, and a snuggly warm home.  That makes heating with wood…and wood splitting, a win-win for simplifying life at our house!



My Biggest Motive for Simplifying


Rusty and the power lines!

This is my husband.

This is my husband on a couple of ladders, pulling off and replacing boards, right next to some power lines. He is doing this because we need the money.

This is my A-number-1 reason for simplifying: I don’t want us to have to do jobs that are unpleasant, miserable, or downright dangerous.

I don’t ever want to see my husband in that kind of position again.

The power lines were really the least of the problems with this house. It was old and in serious need of maintenance. But the maintenance it needed was frightening: first, a pillar supporting the roof to the sunporch was rotten. The pillar had to be cut away while the roof was jacked (to keep it from crashing down on us,) and all the work had to be done with extraordinary care to keep the floor-to-ceiling glass panels from falling on us in a rain of shards.

Then the gutters needed replacing. The yard was a mass of plantings run wild, overlaid with a wash of fallen leaves. It was a hilly lot in the best of circumstances, but the wild bushes and groundcover and leaves obscured upright bricks lining pathways, holes, slippery mud,  and shrubs trimmed diagonally leaving upright spikes to impale the unwary.

It was the obstacle course of the doomed.

We tiptoed around the hazards, blew leaves so we could see a little of the ground we were working on, cut down some of the spikes that threatened to impale us, and prayed for the best.

Then there were the gargoyles.

No, really, there were gargoyles. As in plural. Multiple gargoyle statues with grim faces that stared at us as we worked on all sides of the house.

Ah yes, and after the gutters, the fascia needed replacing. So my husband was ripping off boards where the ladders SHOULD have rested, using a rig to keep his ladder away from his work.

Here’s the clincher: I am afraid of heights, to the point where it is ridiculous for me to even try to be on a ladder. I can get 4-6 feet off the ground, then my imagination kicks in and I visualize all the ways I am likely to be injured if I fall, (which will surely happen because I am too clumsy to walk across a carpeted floor without falling,) and I start to shake uncontrollably.

So I’m the gofer, grabbit, hand it person, while my patient husband is the climb-and-do-it person.

It sounds as though I could stand at the bottom of the ladder and do my nails while he does the hard work, but in fact I am usually very busy.

But I also feel very guilty, because I am worrying about him falling. Then, (hyper-imagination time again,) I’m envisioning his hospital stay and me nursing him back to health. Or that he falls on me and we are both injured. I play through all the scenarios: broken leg, broken hip, broken back, fractured skull, the frantic 911 call, the trip to the hospital, getting in touch with Rusty’s relatives, the long convalescence…

All of it.

Our last strip of fascia and gutter replacement was on the back end of the house, a scary area we had nearly managed to forget: an odd little offset on the back end of the sunroom.

The ground was extraordinarily uneven there, and someone had attempted to correct that by making steps directly into the earth. The area was so covered by leaves we really couldn’t see what was going on, so we blew them away.

There was no way to adequately photograph it. There were odds and ends shoved into the hillside to form makeshift steps, held in place by bits of rebar. Nothing was uniform, or steady, or secure in any way. It was almost more frightening to see how this was done than it was to scale the mess blindly under a mass of leaves.

Then, high above the strangely uneven ground was the wall of the glass sunroom, with the biggest gargoyle of all staring down at us, glowering, arms crossed. It really looked like the area was under a madman’s spell. And my beloved hub was going to have to find a way up there and make that job happen if we wanted to get paid.

More guilt, in waves, and with it the visions: of ambulances lighting up the dusk, the wail of sirens and the preternaturally calm voices of professional EMTs assessing the damage, the puffs of sphygmomanometer and the rustle of sterile packaging, the smells of alcohol and medication and sheets so clean they squeak.

Darkness came in quickly, and we worked fast, growing a little frantic. The sunroom, of course, was a wall of glass panels, and any slip of the ladder would hit glass…all of it old, and likely untempered. The uneven ground made placing the ladders tricky. The sight of my husband high above the ground in front of a wall of glass yanking away at an ancient board was a little overwhelming.

But he survived.

We pulled down the ladders long after the sun had dropped behind the horizon, while the last, weak rays of light barely illuminated our feet. We finished loading the truck and trailer by flashlight.

Never again.

My husband’s life and my sanity are worth more than that.

We drove the truck into the night, our worries melting into a kind of grim euphoria. We left the gargoyles behind…and the spectres that haunt my waking dreams.

I want to leave them behind forever, to have the luxury of choosing only jobs that feel safe and fit our schedule. My biggest motive for simplifying is to keep my little family intact so we can focus on goals that make us both happy, together.

A life without gargoyles.

Why Bother to Declutter?

Sometimes decluttering is as simple as tossing out the trash.

Usually, it’s much more difficult.

We keep things like gifts, mementos from old relationships, life-changing books (or cds, or college courses,) or clothing that will fit when we lose weight. We save the first outfit our child wore, things willed to us by loved ones, business materials we thought would launch us into a new life.

In other words, letting go of the “thing” is not just about letting go of the thing, it’s about letting go of a cherished idea.

That is infinitely more difficult to do! 🙂

So should we keep all those mementos forever? What’s the cost of hanging onto those cherished ideas?

A few things: we lose time, not being able to find the socks we are looking for (for example) in the mounds of underwear and shirts.

There’s expense…possibly being forced to buy more socks (or tools, or spices) because we can’t find the ones we already own.

There’s the expense of storing too much stuff…perhaps even adding rooms, sheds, or rental units to house the excess . That gets expensive! So here’s a question for you:

Could you live in a smaller home if you got rid of excess junk?

If you lived in a smaller home, would your homeowner’s insurance be lower? What about your power bill? Your taxes? Might you be able to spend less time cleaning? A house with less clutter can be cleaned much faster, even if the square footage remains the same. How much time could you save?

And the big one:

Could you possibly work less if your home and your bills were smaller?

What possibilities does that open?

Is it possible that you would live a freer, happier life if we only scale back?

Hold that thought a second.

If we take these actions:

1. Review possessions and toss or sell anything that is not extremely useful or incredibly beautiful.

2. Reduce our home size.

And then we can:

1. Work less and

2. Clean less, saving TIME, that glorious thing that nobody has enough of.

What would you do with the additional time? Would you visit your aging relatives more? Would you send yourself back to school? Is there a volunteer work you’d like to be more involved in? Could you use more exercise? Would you hold more dinner parties? Travel more? Spend more time hiking? Gardening? Dancing? Playing with your dog? Reading?

Whatever you want to do, minimizing your possessions could help you do it.

Is it worth working full time the rest of your life to maintain your collection of beanie babies? You decide.



Decluttering Pure Junk


If I am working on simplifying, (which means, in part, “decluttering”,) then why am I hanging onto a 48 year old teddy bear? And a 42-year-old badly-crafted turtle with a busted tail?

It’s not because they’re so pretty!

Old teddy bear
Teddy Bear
Told ya.

These are things that were mine when I was little, which my mother saved because they reminded her of the cute, tiny version of me.

The teddy bear was something I picked up at a store when I was a one-year-old. I loved it, and it was the first thing I’d “asked” for, so my parents bought it.

My one-year-old self had lousy taste. This is the homeliest bear you are ever likely to see, and he has fur that feels like grated pop bottles…which is misleading, because apparently recycled pop bottles can make a pretty soft fabric. But really, if you went in your kitchen right this minute and grated up your Sprite bottle with a standard-issue cheese grater…the resulting mess would feel like this bear.

The bear’s one redeeming feature is his passing resemblance to Dancing Bear, of Captain Kangaroo fame.

I don’t know if there was ever a licensed Dancing Bear doll, but I know my five-year-old self would have begged for it. Captain Kangaroo spoke through the camera directly to me. He loved me, thought I was special, and the feeling was mutual. And if Captain Kangaroo thought it was a good idea to hang out with a strange, mouthless, silent, dancing bear–well, ok, count me in.

But no, my bear is not actually Dancing Bear. He’s just a homely teddy, who found himself a home.

For a long, long, LONG time.

The turtle was an art project from second grade. I remember the feeling of my fingers in  the clay, and how much I really wanted to make a horse, but knew there was no way to make it recognizable. I made the turtle because, stubby animal that he is, his fat little legs would both stay on his body and hold him upright.  I remember liking the pale color scheme I chose a lot more before the glaze shined it up.

My parents thought the turtle was pure genius because I made his legs “walking”.

I was seven, people! I was doing good to have a total of four legs on my turtle. His legs looked like they were “walking” because I couldn’t line them up neatly the way I wanted them.

While it was sweet that Mom saved those things for me, there’s really no point in saving those things for MYSELF. Then what happens? I eventually die and my children are faced with, amongst all my other possessions, a 79-year-old teddy bear and a 73-year old turtle?


But I hate to just toss ’em out.

So here’s what’s gonna happen: I’m going to do a photo project with these things. I’m going to honor them by photographing them in a memorable way, perhaps posting a few for your amusement, then giving teddy & turtle an honorable burial.

At sea.

With cement overshoes.

Those ugly suckers have got to GO!

Simple Living, The Cell Phone

Simplifying ought to be simple.

It isn’t.

It’s time consuming, often complex, and sometimes more than a little frustrating.

Take cell phone bills. (Really, take ’em, please.) Cell phone bills aren’t particularly simple, and they can be so painfully expensive. And they aren’t just a one-time expense, they roll around every. single. month.


We have just now reduced our “Family Plan” to family members living in our immediate household, but the expense is still high.

Friends have recommended another cell service provider that uses the extensive network towers from our OLD cell service provider, but at a far cheaper rate.

In the interim, we need to go to our cell phone company, discuss how many monthly minutes the two of us really need, and do what we can to adjust our bill as quickly as possible.

This isn’t the most fun we’ve ever had.

I hate messing with bills. I hate thinking about them. I’d rather just close my eyes and bleed money than think long and hard about how much each little item is on my cell phone service charges.

Therefore, I’ve been bleeding money. O.o

I hate taking the time out of my busy, messy week to stomp into a store and talk to a nice salesman about why I want to leave his company.

“Hi! You are too expensive, so I want to figure out how to get out as cheaply as humanly possible until my contract is up. Then I want to dump you altogether.”

Simple living isn’t always simple. This time, frugality wins. We’ve got to make the time to go deal with this expense and cut it down to size.

Yick. But doing so will save us approximately 80 dollars a month. I can think of a lot more fun things to do with 80 bucks than pay a cell phone bill.

Can’t you?



Healthy Vegan Diet or Dirty Rotten Cheater?

There’s an important difference between laws and principles.

I should know: I’ve kept the law, but stomped all over the principle.

The law was to stay gluten-free vegan. But, exhausted and very hungry, I found myself eating potato chips.

LOTS of potato chips.

After a week of very careful dieting, the potato chip grease in my tummy  caused…um…serious distress. Which led to my present state of re-evaluation.

In other words, if I am starving and absolutely must cheat, might it make more sense to choose the healthiest choice that will fill me up, rather than the food that is technically “vegan” but but is terribly unhealthy?


My tummy says I need to think seriously about this.


Simplifying my Closet – the Gluten Free Vegan Way

Closets have doors for a reason.

So they can be closed, thankyouverymuch.


This is one closet of two rather large closets that are filled to the brim with clothing.

There are only two of us. One walk-in closet ought to be more than enough.

Why so much stuff?

In the spectrum between minimalist (very little stuff, but all of it is nice,) and frugal, (don’t spend anything on stuff, but keep everything in case we need it later,) we’ve erred on the side of frugal. We’ve been given stuff, inherited stuff, and we are very active in jobs that ruin our clothes, so we need a lot of stuff.

Thus, lots of clothes that take up a lot of space.

But there’s one big humiliating reason why there are soooo many clothes: they are in all different sizes.

I’m hanging on to clothes in the hope that one day I’ll fit into the size I want to be.

Sound familiar?

Most of us have been there. Most women, I’ll venture to say, have a closet that contains at least a couple of sizes. My closets contain *cough, stutter* six.

Six sizes. Five of them I cannot wear. And I’m clinging on to the other five in hopes that one fine day I’ll be able to step out and be the new me, the version of me that has hipbones and ribs. The pre-three-kids-and-menopause me. The ancient history version.

If I were counseling me, I sit myself down, take my hands, and look gently into my eyes. “You’re good enough,” I’d say. “You’re a kind person with people who care about you. You don’t need to conform to anyone else’s standard of beauty. And besides, should you ever happen to lose weight, just go out and buy stuff you love!”

And the me being counseled would say “Bwahahaha!”

“In this economy, I’m going to trot out and buy a new wardrobe! Riiiight!” (Even in my imagination I talk back. Hmm.)

So therapist me and frugal me are locked in battle…and minimalist me is losing out bigtime. The closets are bursting.

This is part of the reason for the big dietary change. It is difficult…but not entirely impossible, to be a chubby vegan. (It’s also difficult to be a diabetic, acidic vegan with high triglycerides and hypertension. Another plus.)

So yeah, it’s kind of like I’m eating tofu so I can clean out my closet. Closets. Don’t laugh. It makes sense, in a very roundabout way.

In the process, I’m discovering that my refrigerator and cabinets are cleaner. This is a totally unexpected perk. Before, my cabinets held everything under the sun, from brownie mixes to dried seaweed. Now they only hold gluten free vegan stuff…which means a lot of utter junk is just gone. There are no noodles, no breads, no croutons, no sweets. There are only canned vegetables, peanut butter, dried fruit, dried veggies and bags of brown rice and beans. Real food.

The fridge is a haven of veggies and more veggies, with a side of fruit.There are no Diet Cokes, no cheeses, no meats. There are salad greens and olives, pickles and tofu, carrots and bok choi and grapes.

It feels kinda nice.

My goal in decluttering my home is to reduce things to their essence, to keep the best of everything and toss the excess.

Eating vegan feels like doing the same thing for my body. I’m reducing ME to my essence, keeping the best and losing the rest.

That’s an awesome feeling. I’ve got a long way to go, but the act of trying makes me feel more alive and purposeful. More like my younger, bouncier, stronger self.

And if simplifying my life and diet ever results in a simple closet…well, you’ll hear me singing hurrahs from the rooftop!