Peppermint & Chocolate

There’s a quiet kind of joy

That sweeps us off our feet

A ticking clock that soothes

The anxiety in our minds

There’s strength and warmth

But more embers than fire

Ours is such an easy dance

Amazing grace and loving hands

Count your blessings, they say,

And we have got more than enough

Count your blessings, we smile,

For there might be only today

There’s a quiet kind of love

That only whispers to our ears

The clock still ticks the time away

And soon enough we will be grey

There will be tears and hurricanes

So many lines around our eyes

But our love will smell the same

Like peppermint and chocolate

 

25.09.2018

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Practical guide to no-spend challenges, how to survive them, and how to benefit from them

My family and I are doing a 3 months no-spend challenge. We are already living in a manner that many would consider frugal, even if we don’t see it that way, but I wanted to really push it, and see what we could do to spend even less.

So, where to begin?

 

1) Think about it beforehand

That might sound boring, but it’s really important.

What is the area where you tend to slip more easily? Are there exceptions to the no-spend rule? For us, it was shoes for the children – they grow up fast and I knew I would have to buy some sooner or later. How long do you want the challenge to last?

It can also be motivating to write your budget down in order to see what amount of money you could save each month.

2) Get your partner on board

If you’re married or living with someone, discuss it with them! Explain the concept, why you want to give it a go, and ask them what they think about it. It won’t work if your partner isn’t at all inspired by the idea, so it’s better to allow some more exceptions than to have to give up on the whole thing because you didn’t take your partner’s wishes into account.

3) Focus on your goal

Why are you doing it? Do you want to save enough money to do an early repayement of your student loan or your mortgage? Travel? Refurbish a room? Fund an emergency account? Having a precise goal wilp help you to stay on track.

4) It’s the little things!

Believe it or not, that coffee you are getting every morning does make a difference. Bring your own lunch to work, and your own travel mug already filled with coffee. Walk or bike as much as possible to save on travel expenses. Invite your friends for dinner instead of meeting at a restaurant. Don’t get takeaway meals – just cook something with whatever is already in your pantry. It doesn’t seem like much, but all together, it adds up quickly.

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5) Prepare to fail

Because you will. And that’s ok.

I bought some second-hand toys in prevision of Christmas last week. I hesitated, I thought about it, and finally, I bought them. I don’t really regret it, since I’m not sure I would have found the same toys in a few months. What’s done is done anyway, there’s no use dwelling on it! You trip, you fall, you dust yourself and go on!

6) Boost your result

Take the no-spend challenge as an opportunity to take a good look at your possessions. Ok, you’re not buying new ones… but are those you already have adding value to your life, to paraphrase the Minimalists? Have you used that cotton candy machine or watched that DVD recently? Have you worn that dress? If not, maybe you could sell them, hence boosting your final savings, and making space in your life for more interesting things than… well, stuff.

7) Have fun with it!

Such a challenge can be a breath of fresh air in your household. You will begin to think of activities for your family that are free. What about a nice walk in the woods? What about cooking together? What about a board game evening? What about having some pop corn and watching a movie, all bundled up together on the couch? Enjoy the newfound space in your home since you’ve sold junk and not bought anymore. Use the art supplies that are gathering dust on a shelf.

There’s no reason why such a challenge couldn’t be fun!

As always, be well, be thankful, be kind. Until next time.

On passion and being good enough

A little while ago, I wrote about my pathetic running and how we were constantly told that our hobbies weren’t worth it if we didn’t excel at them.

Today I wrote a small poem – as usual with me, quite out of the blue – and tweeted it before I could think too much about it. I knew I would find it ridiculously bad as soon as my finger would hit ‘send’.

Which got me thinking. Writing is a real passion for me. I’ve been writing forever – I guess as soon as I could. Songs, poems, short stories, novels – even a fair number of fanfictions – and blog posts. In French and in English. I carry a small notebook with me because sometimes I need to write an idea down so badly, right now, that I cannot function normally until I’ve actually written it down.

I am so convinced that I am not good enough, that I don’t even try. I never tried to get published. I never even managed to finish a single novel – because that would mean having a finished work that I could actually submit, and the thought of it terrifies me. I pretend to have writer’s block when in fact, I know that I’m perfectly capable of getting to the end of the damn thing.

The question is, do we need to be perfect to share our creations with the world? Perhaps not. Maybe we just need our creations to get out there and to touch people. If even one person is moved, laughs, cries, gets to think because of something we created, isn’t that already something great?

And if we don’t expose ourselves to critique, to feedback, how can we ever hope to grow and get better at whatever we like to do? How can we know if what we create is indeed of value to others, if others never get to see it?

It is scary to expose ourselves in such a way – we put so much of ourselves if what we create, that we fear rejection and critiques as much as if we asked people to judge our whole being. But it’s what creating is about, too.

I’ve always hoped I could, one day, be an author. As a child, I imagined my future as such. And then real life came along, and I looked with some derision at that childhood’s dream, as if the adult I had become could not believe they once had thought about something so unachievable.

I didn’t stop writing, though. And perhaps that was my clue all along, that I had, in fact, never truly given up. I don’t know if I will one day get published or not. I still don’t know if I’m good enough, and maybe I will never know. But I will never convince myself again that it’s not worth trying.

Next time someone asks me “so, what do you do?”, I’ll tell them that I am a writer. Because that is what I am, what I’m the most passionate about, what I want to do day after day – and it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t pay the bills – yet.

As always, be well, be thankful, be kind – and be passionate. Until next time.

Soulbrother

We’re the ones that got away
With no regrets – just emptiness
Soulbrother, where are you now?

It was too rough but far too sweet
And addictions find us easy
Soulbrother, where are you now?

Troubled soul, troubled mind
Such a mess we left behind
Soulbrother, where are you now?

There was war, there was pain
It all echoed across the sea
Soulbrother, where are you now?

Ink and booze and empathy
The memories won’t keep us warm
Soulbrother, just keep standing

Got a freckle on my shoulder
You have to know it’s a token
Soulbrother, I’ll keep watch

Storms and rains coming our way
And we’ll weather them just alright
Soulbrother, here comes the end

We raise our glasses to this life
It was so good while it lasted

Soulbrother… where are you now?

 

12.09.2018

On convenience, effort and pride

Is convenience fueling our ever-deeper dissatisfaction? Sometimes I think that it does.

Don’t get me wrong. As a mother of two, I am more than grateful to have running water, electricity, and a washing machine. There is no denying that modern comfort is a blessing, and I hope that these things can soon benefit every family in the world.

That being said, how much convenience is too much? And how does it impact our feeling of self-worth and our general well-being?

Take cooking for example. It’s in fact convenient to get a frozen meal, pop it in the microwave and eat it. But it’s not rewarding in any way, is it? You bought it, and ate it. Now if you cook the same meal, the result is far different – even if it may not appear so on the surface. You will have bought the ingredients, cooked the dish, and then eaten it. Some can say you will have lost precious time with the cooking part. But have you, really? Or have you gained another kind of time, spent doing something by yourself, and then enjoying the result of your labour? Perhaps even thinking of ways to improve your dish, or how far you’ve come already if you couldn’t cook all that well before.

There’s pride in doing things by yourself that can’t be found in buying them. Whether it’s gardening, cooking, repairing appliances or cars, sewing, building furniture, chopping wood, there’s a feeling of accomplishment and pride that goes hand in hand with the effort required to achieve the result. In a world where much of our jobs aren’t concrete in the sense of directly producing something, we find comfort in doing things by ourselves in our homes, regardless of how inconvenient it might seem at first glance. There’s an amount of effort (and in some cases, physical exertion) that is beneficial to us, and that we are lacking for the most part.

As a society, we’re chronically depressed, unsatisfied, in search of purpose and meaning. Learning a craft, no matter how pointless it may appear when you can buy the stuff for cheap from your couch and have it delivered at your door, is a simple way to feel more accomplished, more proud of yourself. It allows you to realize that you can take a little independance from the system – and it has a reassuring effect, too. If shit hits the fan, you will have basic skills that might come in handy (I might have read too many dystopia novels and watched too many zombie movies, but, well. You know what I mean!)

Get up and go fix that damn sink. Repair your shirt. Plant tomatoes. Try to bake bread. Harvest wild berries or mushrooms. Change your car oil.
The rewards will far exceed the time you’ll spend doing this, I promise. And as a side bonus, you will save money – it might help you travel, go out of debt, rent a better house. Win-win scenario, really!

As always, be well, be thankful, be kind. Until next time.

On womanhood and finding our place

I don’t stand out. I never really did – and when I actually did stand out, I would have prefered to stay in the comforting safety of my usual shadows. It’s quite telling that when I passed on a message to a former teacher through his wife years after I left high-school, he simply told her ‘she was a very reserved student’.

I’ve had trouble finding my place for a long time. My teenage years were mostly spent hiding behind oversized men’s shirts while trying to survive school. My early twenties were a – in hindsight – desperate and in the end very futile tentative to fit in, while always feeling on the sidelines somehow. I felt like being a woman was overly complicated. I felt too feminine or not enough. I struggled with makeup (I gave up) and body image and the way I should act or not as a woman.

We receive many contradictory messages about womanhood. We feel trapped between the never ending expectations of a society who still pressures us to act and dress a certain way, and the strict requirements of a certain brand of feminism that makes little sense to many of us.

Where is our place? As human beings? As women? Do we have a different place, a different role? Are we different? What is innate, what is acquired in our behaviours?

I must say, as cliché as it is, that motherhood helped me to find my place. The fact that my body – that I hadn’t always loved like I should have – was able to grow a miniature human being, and then to feed it, was kind of a revelation. Being a woman was suddenly an amazing gift. It wasn’t easy, but it was easier and it helped me realize that I could find my place as a woman, without either denying myself or yielding to others’ expectations, both in my professional and personal life.

I get the impression that we often see womanhood either exclusively through men’s eyes, or through a distorted feminist’s perspective that only views women as victims. We don’t talk about womanhood in a really positive way that often. We talk about women achieving things that are deemed ‘for men’ or about women being oppressed by society (I’m of course not denying that many women are indeed oppressed in many parts of the world, to be clear). We don’t talk about womanhood as a thing to be celebrated, respected, praised. We don’t value ‘feminine’ attributes or qualities, that we associate to being weak, inferior, a bit ridiculous – and I am deeply aware that those attributes are debatable, and that we’re all different, but there’s no denying that men and women are different.

I still don’t stand out. I still prefer shadows. But I feel comfortable and confident enough as a woman. There’s strength, grace, warmth as much as there’s fragility and emotions in womanhood and I wholly embrace it. I don’t envy men anymore – I don’t think it’s any easier to be a man. I hope to show my daughters that there is a way for us to be who we are, and not who others want us to be, whatever ideology they are pushing. I might be the quite stereotypical nurturing kind, but I’m the one drinking beer while my husband sticks to fruit juices, and that’s ok too.

As always, be well, be thankful, be kind. Until next time.

On fake pockets and thrifting

As far as I can remember, I’ve worn second-hand clothes. I used to wear my cousins’ hand-me-downs, and my mom would take me to the second-hand clothes shop around the corner. Once a year, a local association would organize a big event where thousands of clothes would be available, and it was a thrilling experience to go there early with my mother, to wait in line outside until the doors opened, and then discover what we would bring back home with us.

In high-school, I bought oversized men’s shirts and sweaters to wear with my jeans and Doc Martens boots – second-hand clothes were a grunge’s paradise, and the satisfaction of looking different when I felt so different was very soothing for me.
I lost the habit in my twenties, when the urge to conform became too strong and I began to buy clothes from mainstream fashion retailers with my girlfriends, spending money on poorly made clothes that never really fit and were out of fashion a few weeks later. And I’m not even talking of the fake pockets, you guys. Whoever thought all women needed were fake pockets needs to be cursed with painful boils.

I came back to thrifting in my mid-twenties, during my first pregnancy. Buying maternity clothes for just a few months seemed like a waste, so I bought whatever I needed and hadn’t already been lent to me by friends on ebay and at local charity shops. Same with baby clothes.

Today 80% of my wardrobe, and that of my two daughters, is made of second-hand clothes. As I write I’m wearing a summer outfit that’s 100% thrifted:
– a super comfy grey dress thrifted in NYC 3 years ago for $3
– a vintage owl necklace bought on a garage sale for €1
– purple Roxy sunglasses bought on ebay for €3
– leather sandals from ART thrifted for €15 (and worth every cent)

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Awkward pose is awkward – sorry guys I’m no fashion blogger!! Not too shabby though for a thrifted outfit, uh?

We treat clothes as we do disposable tissues. Fashion retailers keep on filling their stores with ‘new’ collections, tempting us to buy more and more clothes that seem cheap and as such, no big deal.

If I say ‘seem cheap’, it’s because there are not really. Today clothes aren’t made to last. Fabrics are flimsy, clothes are sewn sloppily. We do end up spending a lot on clothes that will shrink, be torn, or fray after a few weeks. And their environmental and human cost is huge – I highly recommend Elizabeth L. Cline’s book “Over-dressed” on that subject. Workers are treated as slaves to produce clothes as cheap as possible to satisfy our endless need for fast-fashion. We throw away tons of clothes that end up in landfills, or in some cases, on markets in Africa, where the overabundance of Western second-hand clothes is killing the local fashion industry.

Buying second-hand clothes is not only a responsible thing to do, it’s also fun. It’s amazing to wear things that are different instead of showing up to a party to discover that two other women wear that damn dress from H&M. I often get compliments on my most original finds, because they stand out in a sea of uniformity.
It’s amazing to find beautiful vintage clothes with French seams and fabric of quality. You can even go further by refashioning clothes you buy: teaching myself how to sew (well, I get by) has allowed me to salvage a lot of clothes I would have otherwise donated. It also taught me how to recognize well-made clothes.
(I might write on refashion in the future, but in the meantime you can check out The Refashionista blog here: http://refashionista.net/ – Jillian has one of the most creative minds I’ve ever seen!)

And… I like things that have been given away, discarded, disposed of. Giving them a second life and some much deserved love is highly rewarding, I find.

Next time you need a dress for a party or a new shirt, think of pushing the door of a nearby thrift shop. They’re full of treasures just waiting to be discovered. Even dresses with real pockets.

Be well, be thankful, be kind. Until next time!

Edit 25/07/2018: I’ve now a new blog dedicated to refashion/DIY that you can check out her: https://domorebymyriam.wordpress.com/2018/07/24/starting-simply/

On writing, excoriation and growth

I let the tip of my fingers run on my skin. My upper arms. My face. My shoulders. My legs.

Not in a loving way. Not in an erotic way. It’s deliberate and focused. A methodic search for imperfections. Little bumps. Little pieces of skin to pick at. I can’t remember how or when it started. Early teens, probably. I couldn’t explain why I do it. It’s not as if I feel better once I’m done, quite on the contrary in fact.

I wasn’t aware that it was a disorder with a name until a few months ago, when I heard a Youtuber talking about it and suddenly there wasn’t enough air in the room because I knew what she was talking about. I knew. She bared her shoulders and I cried, because that was what my shoulders looked like when I was a teenager. I used to swim with a huge tee-shirt on to hide my scars, telling my parents I wanted to protect my skin from the sun.

It sounds horrible. Excoriation disorder. Skin-picking. Dermatillomania. Whatever you call it, it sounds horrible. It is horrible. I don’t want to talk about it. I’m ashamed of it, and I have never, never talked to anyone about it. Not once. I didn’t even know there was anything to talk about. I just thought I was weird, abnormal, freakish. I still do think so, if I’m honest.

I have gotten better. I still slip up when things get too much and I have to excoriate them. Quite literally. I’m lucky that I am covered in moles and freckles, and that my scars look just like freckles. They don’t stand out.

As the years went by, I learned how to bleed on paper instead of bleeding for real. I’ve always read a lot – what a sweet, sweet reprieve it is from that world – but my writing has been inconsistent. I got older and understood better how to let out what was inside of me in a way that was healthier. Sharing is always difficult. But a sheet of paper or a laptop won’t judge whatever you told them. It doesn’t matter if no one ever reads those words. Once they’re out, the excoriation is already done, in a way.

Ernest Hemingway said “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” And, well, yes. Writers may write for others – I’ve written fictions that were requests for example – but in the end they bleed themselves out each time they put words on paper.

When I begin to pick at my skin, I know it’s time for me to bleed again. Only most times I’m able to do that using a keyboard now. Others use music. Art. Sports. Find a way to express yourself, no matter how, because what is inside will find its way outside somehow anyway.

Until next time… be well, be thankful, be kind.

On minimalism and old cameras

A few weeks ago an older relative gave me her old TLR. It’s a beautiful thing, in its leather case, that’s been cherished and maintained. I was so happy about it that I posted a picture of it on Twitter, which prompted someone to react by telling me something along the lines of ‘that’s not very minimalistic’.

Which, well. That is not untrue. But I feel that minimalism is often misunderstood. We imagine people who have all their possessions in a single suitcase. While I have the greatest admiration for those people, that would be quite unpractical for us. I see minimalism not as a single way of living, but as a broader spectrum.

So what does it mean for us?

1) we got rid of a lot of stuff over the past few years: books, clothes, shoes, bags, CDs, video games, DVDs, toys… Every six months or so, we downsize, so to speak. We never throw anything away unless it’s really beyond repair. We’ve given to friends, donated, sold. I would say our wardrobe is half of what it use to be (and it was never huge to begin with), and we have about a third of our books, CDs and DVDs left.

2) we think about everything we buy. Do we really need it? Oftentime we realize that we do have another object that could fit the bill just as well. Could we maybe borrow it? Loan it? Many objects that we own are in fact only used a couple of times each year, if even that. It makes more sense to loan or borrow such objects when needed than to buy them.

3) we try to find a balance for our children, which is perhaps the most difficult thing. Compared to their friends, they have significantly less toys – and yet still a good amount of pointy things that will stab your feet at night, let me tell you.

I’ve read something once about getting rid of things that don’t bring value to one’s life. I think that is what we are trying to do. And that old camera? It brings value to my life. I have fun using it. I have fun learning how to develop the film with my dad. It has meaning, it has history. Using it means making an older relative smile, sharing my pictures with her while she teaches me how to do better. It means learning how to develop films myself with my father. It’s a slow kind of art that is becoming a rare thing in a world of immediate rewards.

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Minimalism is not necessarily living with only a handful of things stuffed in a backpack. It’s about letting go of the endless pressure of consumption. It’s about letting go of that toxic competition to own more, while never feeling complete or accomplished because owning more stuff will never fulfill our longing for meaning.

Get rid of the things that are empty of meaning and only incites you to buy more. And welcome to your life the things that gives you joy, reinforce relationships, help you hone your skills.

As always, be well, be thankful, be kind. Until next time.

On time

“I didn’t have the time”, we say. “I’m too busy to have the time to do this”, we pretend, shaking our heads sadly.

We’re running. Not literally though: while we live mostly sedentarily lives, we spend our days running from one thing to the other, thinking about the next task, the next call, the next stop. We lament that days only have 24 hours. We envy those who enjoy more ‘free time’ than us, while we resent them at the same time. We hurry, in everything we do.

On Sunday morning I cooked for my (extended) family. We were celebrating a birthday. The French way, with a 4-course lunch and red wine, of course. When my children asked me if they could help me with cooking, I considered saying no. After all, I would be done more quickly if I cooked alone. I could send them away to play, in that slightly condescending way grown-ups use and that I always hated as a child.

But what would it bring me to be done more quickly? It’s Sunday. There’s no rush. What would I do with the ‘extra’ time I would have if I cooked alone? Clean up some more? Check my emails or my Twitter notifications?
They helped. We made a mess baking a chocolate cake and a mushroom risotto. It was fun. We finished in time – I didn’t get to clean up my apartment, but no one really cared – and enjoyed a long lunch with my family. In the end the extra time was the time I got to spend with my kids, not the time I would have ‘gained’ by doing it all by myself, in a certainly more efficient, but a bit empty way.

I already talked a bit about minimalism here. In my household, we are kind of aliens compared to our friends and family. My husband and I both have made the choice to work only 4 days a week. It’s made possible by the fact that our lifestyle doesn’t require us to earn always more money. It does require time, though. Time to do things we enjoy. Time to see our children grow up. Time to be, and not to have more stuff. We are used to be seen as oddities, people who make the bizarre choice to earn less money willingly.

I am deeply aware that we are privileged: we live in a country with a good healthcare system paid by our taxes; we earn decent wages even in our modest respective jobs. It’s very much a luxury.
But… when we were childless, we both worked full-time. And we often had the impression that we weren’t earning enough money… now we’re doing much better with less – and two children.

Time is a resource that is much more precious than money. It should be enjoyed, not always filled to the brim with things we feel like we have to do – in opposition to things that we would like to do, if only we had the time.

I used to say I hadn’t the time to read anymore. But I spent hours weekly watching TV shows (and with them, commercials that make us want more stuff that makes us feel bad about ourselves and yearn for that supposedly ideal, glamorized life that they show us). Sometimes it’s not so much how much time we do have, but how we choose to spend it, or with whom.

When I cook with my children, it takes double the time I would need alone. But it’s also time I spend teaching my children skills, sharing tips that I inherited from my father, eating batter and having a damn good time. What could I do that would be more important than that? Not much, if I stop to think on it.

Days only have 24 hours. No matter how we rush through them, trying to be more productive, more efficient, or not, this will remain true. And no matter how much we plan, how far we do project ourselves in the future, all we truly have is now. We might as well enjoy it, without constant (and often virtual) distractions and pressure to do more. It’s not an easy thing to do. We have to unlearn, to fight against that urge to rush in that fast-paced world, and we will fail sometimes. But nothing truly worth it is ever easy.

Be well, be thankful, be kind. Until next time!