Thursday, September 22, 2011

Minimalism: What's in my suitcase?

While I've been in Canada, I've been hanging with my family. On the weekends, the kiddies and I go to grandma's house. My sister or brother-in-law pack a bag for the kids. All weekend long, my mom and I have a constant refrain:
"Where is the bunny/diaper/cream/blankie/toy/kitchen sink?"
"Look in the bag."
The bag is the nucleus of the weekend. It's the apex. The center of our weekend universe. The entire contents of their weekend life can be found (hopefully) in that bag.

As a minimalist in the making, I've managed to get the entire contents of my life to into one suitcase, too. It includes:
  • One pair of jeans
  • Yoga pants
  • Tights
  • A small pile of t-shirts
  • Three thin sweaters
  • One thick sweater
  • Five dresses
  • Flipflops
  • Flats
  • Running shoes
  • Dr. Scholl's insoles (GET THESE... walking on clouds)
  • High heels I never wear
  • Undies
  • Bikini
  • Makeup bag 
  • Corkscrew... There is nothing worse than arriving at a destination after a long day and wanting to settle down with a glass of wine just to realize you can't.
The rest fits into my bookbag:
  • MacBook Pro
  • Kindle
  • iPhone
  • Camera
  • Cords for all four for constant recharging
  • Wallet
  • Two Burt's Bees lip balm
  • Hankie... I went old school and can't go back to scrounging for little packs of tissues anymore
  • Sunglasses
  • Pens
  • Journal
  • Vitamins... A Canadian brand whose fantastic tag line is: A special formulation for a special population.
  • Allergy pills
  • Gravol... Canada's secret sleeping pill
  • Noise canceling headphones
  • Itinerary
And then I wear one travel outfit that includes:
  • Boots
  • Jacket
  • Dress
  • Cardigan
  • Scarf
  • Necklace
My niece who is a toddler saw me packing my bags today and decided to pack her Dora the Explorer knapsack. She included:
  • Bunny
  • Barbie clothes without Barbie
  • Sippy cup filled with milk
  • One pair of her sister's undies
  • Bowl
A minimalist in the making. I'm so proud. Though I wish I would have noticed the full sippy cup earlier.

I'm so delighted to live out of my one suitcase that even when I decide to stay in one place, I'm going to make sure I keep the contents of my life minimal. I never have to scrounge to find anything. I love everything in my suitcase. And it keeps me from buying clothes just because they are on sale or am feeling bored, sad or off in some way. Now, if I want to buy a sweater, it has to replace the sweater I already have, which means it has to be better than the sweater I already own. And if it's not, I don't buy it.

I also don't have big decisions to make when deciding what to wear. The entire contents of my wardrobe are memorized in my head, which is easy because there isn't much to remember. I also have found a great pleasure in wearing my clothes to the point of wearing them out. Then I take great pleasure in replacing them. The hunt for the best has made shopping fun.

Before my minimalist life, I found shopping overwhelming. I found dressing rooms torture chambers. I found the cost of clothes always too much. But now, if I'm in a dressing room and the dress doesn't exactly work, I don't hesitate. I put it back and walk away. See, I've got a suitcase of dresses that fits me perfectly and a new dress has to fit me as good or better than the dress I'll be replacing it with. If it doesn't, I don't buy into these illusions anymore:
  • It will look better in my own mirror at home
  • It will fit better after I wear it a few times 
  • It's such a great deal that I should just get it
Insanity. Minimalism is kinder to my wallet and my body image. I only buy what makes me look fabulous.

Packing my suitcase isn't stressful either. I grab my small pile up my clothes and toss them in the suitcase. It doesn't take military precision packing to close it either because my suitcase must be under the 21 Kg weight restrictions for EasyJet, the most stringent of all cheapy European airlines. I always see people sweating in line at the ticket counter, wondering how much their bags weigh, concerned that they'll be dinged with an overage charge. Meanwhile, I'm singing pop tunes in my head all the way to the conveyor belt, weighing in at an easy-to-carry 19.4 Kg.

When traveling alone, one must be able to carry one's own luggage.

Minimalism is kinder to the planet, too. All that consuming is raking our resources into uninhabitable landfills.

Living out of one suitcase was the best move I ever made.

Now I've got to zip it closed. I've got a flight to catch.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Canada: Three times a charm

Sometimes we have to leave a place, grow a little, then return to recognize the charms it possesses.

When I walked away from my childhood home of Norfolk County, it was more of a run. A run away from what I perceived as the boring smallness of country living and toward the exciting bigness of city life.

And that run lasted a very long time.

Now that I've returned (temporarily), I've noticed a few things that I didn't see before.

For instance, driving can be treacherous in September. Not because of weather or speed or bad drivers. It's because of these:

It's not uncommon to be driving along a country road, when someone glances a roadside stand and suddenly slams on the brakes and throws it in reverse so they can get their hands on some yummy delectables from the neighbors back 40.

Someone... like my mother:

Along with roadside stands, there is also something called Cemetery Sunday, which is the social event of the season around here. It's much like the CWL Bazaar, which was the social event of last season.

On Cemetery Sunday, the Sunday morning mass is in the grotto, which is the outdoor chapel that resides between the church and the cemetery. Everyone showed up with their lawn chairs and blankets.

The priest told the story of how many of the local farmers who built the grotto years ago are buried in that very cemetery. Church felt like a picnic and everyone was chatty and friendly with each other. The way church should be. Afterward, the congregation went to stand in front of their family plots. The priest went to every plot and gave it and the family a special blessing. Father Mo gave me an extra blessing for coming all the way from Paris to attend Cemetery Sunday. Thanks, Father. I'll take your blessing.

I love any good spiritual mojo coming my way. Blessings. St. Christopher's medals. Prayers. Light. Charms. Bring it. I'll soak it up and take it with me. Bonus: Blessings of any kind always fit in my one suitcase lifestyle.

I recognized a few faces from my childhood years. And honestly, there was a part of me that cringed. I wasn't exactly the most popular girl in elementary school. I was quiet and an easy target for ridicule. So now, years later, and after a lot of self-work, when faced with these people, I took a deep breath and remembered what the Dalai Lama said:
My religion is kindness.
And I'm thinking this at the Catholic mass.

But I've learned after all my religious study that the base of all religions is kindness.

You can decide right now how offended you're going to get by that statement. But truly, at their base, it is love and it is kindness. Even that religion that isn't yours. Now you know.

So I decided, whoever I see today that made me cringe in my past, will be met with my religious practice of kindness.

And what happened?

I was met with loving kindness from everyone, including those cringe-worthy people of my past. Smiles. Waves. Kind words. Laughs. It was fantastic.

After the service, the community had a barbecue. Everyone had to bring a salad or dessert. The dogs and burgs were supplied. I chatted in between face-fulls of fresh homegrown tomatoes.

In Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, he writes that this is the one time of year people lock their cars at church, not for fear of the vehicles being stolen, but fear that if they don't, someone desperate to offload their garden's bounty will leave a bag of vegetables on the front seat.

Our bag had tomatoes and broccoli. Charming.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Canada: Practicing my poker face

They say that if you introduce a new chicken to a flock, you should do it in the middle of the night while they are all sleeping. Then when the brood awakens, they figure that newbie has been there all along.

That's how I was hoping to feel when I returned to Canada in the middle of the night. My mom's birthday is today and all she wanted from me was to come home. And all she wanted from my sister, who is a flight attendant, is to bring me home on a buddy pass. As for my other sister? I dunno. Maybe she'll get mom a sweater or something.

Anyway, the prodigal daughter returned to the flock and instead of blending in like she was there all along, she was met with the question:

"Don't you think you should get a job?"

Even my niece who is smart as a whip noticed that I wasn't going to a job every day like mommy and daddy. I told her I was a writer. She said, "So you don't have a job then."

"I have a job. I'm a writer."

"But you just write in bed."


"And sometimes in the kitchen."

"Ya, because writers get to do that."

She had to mull on that for awhile. 

What astounds me is that people don't think I've got a plan. That I'm just traveling all willy nilly and not thinking of the future.

Don't they know I've been the boss of me for a very long time?

Don't they think I'm conjuring up evil plans?

Do they think I'll just hang out and wait for the funds to dry out?

Don't they know me at all? Me who is always coming up with something fabulous to do with my time?

It's tough for an artist to constantly have to justify her behavior to the world. Because the world seems so focused on the 9 to 5 slugging and the thought process that one shouldn't consider being an artist a real job. And one certainly shouldn't enjoy one's job.

Ya that's not gonna fly with me anymore. And I pray to God that my God children don't pick up this thought process.

In the wisdom of Christophe, when I lamented about this with him on the phone, he said in his BetterEnglishThanMyFrenchNotThatI'mJealousOrAnything, "They will understand later."

Later? I've already got two books out in the world that are shining wit and wisdom in the lives of those experiencing the trials and tribulations of dating.

Later. After I've finished plugging away at making my evil plans a reality.

Later. After I reveal my evil plans to the world.

In the meantime, I'm keeping my evil plans to myself and practicing my poker face.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Being on the Ellen DeGeneres Show

Crazy shit goes through your head when you're walking around Paris.

So today I'm walking around Paris. By now, I've got a pretty decent lay of the land and don't need my maps like I did before. Except I got lost yesterday and missed my Skype call with my mom. Worst part: Not even five minutes from my apartment. Lost. Came out of one street and was all, WTF am I doing back at my apartment? Since I'm here, might as well go pee.

Public bathrooms in Paris: Utkatasana Chair Pose.

So today I'm walking and conjuring up what I plan on saying when I'm on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Not that she's asked. But when she does. She will call. 

I'd walk on after her brief witty introduction. The audience would laugh and clap. I'd walk in all skinny and svelte. She'd say I was looking good.

Janice: Well Ellen, I'm not really this thin. I just look thin on TV.

Ellen: That's odd. I always heard the opposite was true.

Janice: No no. Because out there, in the not-TV world, I don't wear Spanx. Right now I'm folded into some tight ass Spanx. When I get out of these later it's gonna be all Jabba the Hutt. It'll all just fall out and my boobs will hang low and wobble to and fro.

Audience: (Laughter, obviously)

Ellen: Really? So you're all tucked in there?

Janice: Sure am. Want to see?

Ellen: Ugh...

Janice: (Lifts up skirt to reveal said Spanx)

Audience: (In stitches because I'm being all real and shit)

Janice: You know, I saw this advertisement once. It was for a gym. The headline was "When they come they'll eat the fat ones first."

Audience: (Laughing hysterically)

Janice: The ad got a whole lot of bad press, which naturally meant the gym memberships went up. You know how that goes. They are right though. They will come. But will they really eat the fat ones first? I mean, think about it. What if you don't have a big family of aliens to feed? I mean, why get a fat one when you really only need a thin one. Maybe your alien children decided to stay at school and hang with their friends for the holidays trying to be all "How I Met Your Alien Mother" and you're left with just you and the man that made those ingrates and you don't need a big human to feed just the two of you.

Audience: (Laughing but wondering where this is going)

Janice: And what if the aliens picked up me as I left the Ellen DeGeneres Show in my Spanx. The jokes on them. Turns out, they got themselves a fat one when they meant to get themselves a thin one and before you know it, it's leftovers for a week. We're talking human sandwiches, human soup, there's a casserole involved. Some goes in the freezer. It's a whole thing.

Ellen: Ya, ya. I see you're point there.

Janice: Listen to me, running off with the mouth like I'm Robin Williams or something. Man that guy is funny. I've got to wear Depends when I watch him. Imagine if he were on this show with me right now. I'd have to wear Spanx and Depends.

Ellen: (She's got tears but I can't tell if it's from laughing or crying) Why don't you tell us about your new book.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The eReader Dilemma SOLVED

3 subjects have had far too much of my mind space for the last week:
  1. How to effectively rid my Paris apartment of les souris. (Just tossed another body out the door.)
  2. Where to buy the best boot for autumn. (Minelli and they are lovely.)
  3. Do I get an eReader? If so, Kindle vs iPad.
I asked my friend Cassandra and she loves loves LOVES her iPad and hasn't touched her Kindle since she bought said iPad.

So, being brilliant, I asked if I could buy her Kindle. She's decluttering. I'm getting an eReader and she's throwing in the Kindle accoutrement free o' charge. Everyone wins.

I asked my friend Jeff about eReaders and he said he's putting off the purchase because he's tired of plugging things in to charge them. Charge fatigue. Been there.

My other friend Jeff wrote about his love of the book here... and I quote:
"I can't imagine giving up the tangible, visceral experience of holding a book in my hands while reading it. The texture of the binding, the smell of the print, the sound of the spine cracking when it's first opened. To me it's a deeper, richer and more satisfying experience than reading on a Kindle or iPad (as bitchin' as the iPad is)."
But then I was hanging out in Poland at a cabin to... gulp... relax.

And I only had 50 pages left in the book I brought with me... gulp... panic.

And I knew I couldn't rely on Sudoku to get me through. 

So I downloaded the Kindle for Mac and a few books I had looked for in Paris but couldn't find.

I don't know what took me so long.

I've been scouring English bookstores in Paris, searching for the books I want to read, only to realize that all the books I want to read that are not available in Paris ARE AVAILABLE INSTANTLY ONLINE.

Sometimes I amaze myself with how NOT brilliant I can be. Boy am I ever late to get in this game.

Electronic books rock. They are all right there on my computer (and soon Kindle). I can click on a word and instantly get the dictionary definition. I can highlight whatever I want, go back later to read my collection of highlights and sigh once more at how brilliantly one can turn a phrase. And if I want to read something later that I didn't highlight, there is a search function. Oh yes. Ohhh yes there is.

Sure, like Jeff above, I'll miss the smell of ink on paper, the feeling of flipping through a book, the anticipation of being gripped by a good story as I walk my new purchase home from the bookstore. And sure, like the other Jeff above, I'll likely not enjoy the inconvenience of recharging YET ANOTHER item. For living out of one suitcase, I sure have a lot of stuff that requires charging.

I used to clip photos from magazines, too. I had a pretty folder full of bits of paper. But now I can pin electronic photos on Pinterest and get goosebumpy whenever I want by the combination of nice photos and the neat and tidy organization.

I still miss records but I learned to get on without them. Sure, the big square album art was nice. And then CDs came along with their cute square booklets of lyrics. That was cool, too. But one thing is better than all that: iTunes.

I want to support the mom and pop shops. I do, I do, I do. And I will, but honestly, my support will likely be limited and dwindle with time because eReading is making a believer out of me.

I remember wanting to support my local camera shop, too. But one thing is better than getting my film developed, no matter how fun it was to receive an envelope of photos: iPhoto.

Rotary phones? Any phones? The answer is the iPhone... as long as it's not roped into a devilish AT&T contract

Yet I still feel slightly conflicted. The bookstores. The aimless wandering. You've Got Mail is one of my favorite movies. But, just like when Facebook revamps the site, the initial outrage subsides and we all get on with it, barely remembering how it was before.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Do not adjust your screens

The photo shown above is fully loaded.

I squished down the header photo. It was all a bit much to see my giant face every time I clicked on this site.

I don't have a giant face. I don't have a giant head. I have a normal sized face and head. But I thought the photos was disproportionate to the site itself. It was all "Here comes Janice's face!"

So I cut down the photo... an interim rebranding, if you will. Now I look at my eyes that aren't exactly symmetrical but they give my look a certain flirty je ne sais quoi. Now you know that I'm not perfectly symmetrical... even if you thought I might have been.

Life isn't symmetrical.

Let's take a trip down blog header memory lane:

My humble beginnings when I was shy and trying to be a serious writer. I learned that being serious isn't fun. I'm into fun. Next. 
This was taken while sitting on steps in Rome, waiting for my new friends Sandro and Marco to arrive. On this trip to Rome, I decided to leave my job. When there are places like Rome in the world, there is no reason to spend so much time in the San Fernando Valley, despite the reverse commute.

I had quit my job at this point and went to Hawaii to inaugurate my new life of vacation days and nomadic bloggery. And to start a base tan.
There is always that moment when you see the Eiffel Tower for the first time. This photo was taken in March of this year when I arrived in Paris. Secret fact: I took this photo myself. I had a camera in one hand and a baguette with brie and mustard in the other. I was very happy. And not only because my bangs kinda worked out that day.

This photo was taken in May of this year on the same steps as the original Rome photo. My friend Sandro calls it returning to the scene of the crime. There is a certain devilishness to my look. Another super secret fact: I took this photo, too. I forget what my other hand was doing. I think I was holding gelato. Or as Sandro would say, "gelato." Oh Romans! Oh the innuendo!

And that brings us to now:
Still devilish but a lot less in your face.

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