Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Come see the new blog

You've checked out the new blog, right?  I'm not blogging over here at Trapped anymore, but over at Lisa Moves you can read about my attempts at a capsule wardrobe, and see the the downstairs bathroom reveal, or the newly painted dresser in my foyer.

We'll probably be moving soon (go figure!), so there will be a whole new house to decorate.....

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sayonara: bad titles, Lisa Moves

I am terrible at coming up with titles, or snappy by-lines, or anything remotely original, despite the fact that my job was teaching writing, which is presumably an activity where one comes up with original material.

Years ago, I was invited to teach a continuing education class in New Jersey.  I don't remember the exact title of the course, but the administration suggested something along the lines of "Writing Killer Briefs: Write Way Better Than That Crap You Learned In Law School."  Or something similar--the phrase "you learned in law school" was definitely in the suggested title.  I hate coming up with titles, so I said sure!

Did I mention that my professional mentor and good friend was my former law school writing professor?  Who herself taught many continuing education classes and was active in the legal community? (Not to mention I myself was a law school writing professor?) The day the course catalogue came out, I received a rather pithy lecture on "what I learned in law school."

Another title I where I should have come up with something better: my blog name.  "Trapped in North Jersey" was a throwaway joke, a title picked in a fit of pique.  I've moved three times since starting this blog five years ago, and I'm clearly no longer trapped anywhere.  This title isn't very reflective of my life or what I blog on these days.

I've had a hard time coming up with a new blog name, despite intense discussion for over a year on it. My top two choices were already taken---Lisa At Home would have been awesome, but somebody else is already writing that blog.  Casa Que Pasa would also have been great, as "que pasa" is a common joke that everyone makes about my last name, but some burrito joint in Washington got there first.

Instead, I'll be blogging at Lisa Moves.  Since I'm planning my eleventh move in twelve years, I think the new title is appropriate.  Even better, "move" has twenty-six meanings at dictionary.com, two of which are "to advance or progress" and "to set or keep in motion."  This title feels right, because I am all about forward motion these days.  Keep on keeping on, as they say.

Lisa Moves will be about our house, decor, random thoughts, minimalism, sofas and cookies, just like Trapped, but with a better name.  I hope you'll join me over there.  

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

No more paper towels

I've thought about getting rid of paper towels for a while. We use so many of them, I would like to spend less money on them, and I would like to be a little greener. A few weeks ago I decided to actually take the plunge.

One thing that has held me back has been the upfront cost of investing in napkins and rags.  I don't have a sewing machine and wasn't going to make my own.  I looked around for napkins at Target and Pier One, but I was not spending $5 a napkin.

One day at Costco, in the stuff to wash your car aisle, was a 50 pack of white rough terrycloth rags for $19.  Aha!  I bought these, put them in a basket in the kitchen, and informed the family that we are no longer using paper towels.  This was actually a really easy switch, to be honest.  Everyone started using the rags for napkins for eating at the table, cleaning up messes, drying their hands, etc.

After a few weeks, the rags were looking a bit dingy and stained.  They were washed and clean, but not the prettiest items, especially for eating at the table with company.  One day I remembered that I had a gift certificate to Pier One that I had been saving for something fun.  I hopped on the website to see if there were any clearance napkins, and behold, the clearance napkins were $1.98.  Ok, that's better than $5 a napkin.  I hied myself off to my local Pier One, where the clearance  napkins were actually 98 CENTS per napkin.  So I bought fifty of them.  Probably a bit too many, but Princess and I enjoyed picking them out, and we now have a full week worth of napkins plus we put a few aside for when company comes.

I keep them in a lower cabinet in the kitchen, where the kids can easily reach them. I haven't found it yet, but there will be a a nice basket next to the sink, so it is obvious to people who don't live here that "here, these are the cloths you may use to dry your hands." The laundry room is on the other end of the kitchen/family room, so when we are finished with the napkins or rags we just walk over to the garage door and throw them into a basket right inside the door. We use them quite a bit, so I run a load of rags in the wash about every three days or so.

This was a very easy switch.  I should have done this a while ago.  Next up, I need to break my dependence on wet wipes (so easy! so useful! perfect cleaning tool! can be used in any situation!).

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

aspirational clutter, wedding dress, fine china

Aspirational clutter is stuff you buy or hold on to because you are going to be That Person.  That person who plays the flute, that person who gardens.  Except that somehow, you never get around to actually being That Person.  You just can't seem to find time to play the flute, and you don't particularly like dirt under your fingernails.  The flute stays in the box under the bed, and the gardening tools are as shiny and clean as the day you bought them.

I don't think I have much aspirational clutter--my clutter tends toward decor mistakes and "I bought this one really useful thing, thus I should buy five of it in every color."  But I do have one significant piece of aspirational clutter that I have been having a hard time getting rid of, because I paid a lot of money for it and ONE DAY I WILL DO THAT.  (But I probably won't.) 

"That" is canning.  

I have a brand new pressure cooker that I bought two summers ago, still sealed in the box. I have a flat of glass jars, and some expired pectin, and a cookbook on canning.

Botulism fears aside, I just can't bring myself to get started.  I read tons of slow food blogs, and we make just about everything we eat from scratch because of Peter's allergies, so you would think that I would be a natural devotee to canning.  

But I hate cooking.  Really, really hate it. I like to eat, and I am dedicated to Peter's allergy safety, so I cook a lot, but I don't enjoy it at all.

This canning stuff will probably always be clutter.  Even with our "make it all from scratch" tendencies, I try to do as little work as possible. For example, we rarely eat commercially made bread, but I am not kneading bread with my bare hands.  I either use a breadmaker (two minutes of tossing in flour, water, olive oil, salt and yeast), or I ask the Mister to throw together a batch of no-knead bread in the evening, and then next day I spend one minute tossing the bread in a cast iron pot for baking.  (Note what I did there, the bulk of the work is done by the Mister.)  

Things like canning, which involve buying large batches of fruit or vegetables, cleaning them, prepping them, cooking them, decanting into glass jars, boiling and sealing them.....I am unlikely to do something that seems like this much work.

I should note here that I did canning once--my law school professor helped the Mister and I make peach jam as our wedding favors, and we accidentally set my law professor's mother's newly renovated kitchen on fire. I am well acquainted with the amount of work and peril that canning entails.

 So I should just sell the canning accoutrements on craigslist and move on with my life.  

A while back I posted about possibly donating my wedding dress. I didn't at the time; it is currently stored in the top of the boys' room closet.  But!  I came across the organization NICU Helping Hands, that accepts wedding dress donations for making burial gowns for babies.  That seems like a worthy organization and I would be happy to send my dress there. (They are currently not accepting donations until the new year, as their organization is moving to a larger warehouse, so I'll send it in January.)

When we got married, the Mister and I registered for fine china.  I don't know what I was thinking, since I do not enjoy giving special treatment to delicate objects, couldn't cook at the time, and was unlikely to throw large dinner parties needing special dishes, but that's what adults do in the 1940s, so we received plenty of china.  

When the Mister's parents moved out to California this summer, they brought with them our wedding china that had been packed up in boxes in their basement. I now have two large boxes full of packing peanuts and good china.  We are in need of new dishes, as our stoneware ones are mostly chipped and/or broken.  

I have decided to use the good dishes instead of buying new ones. I already own them, they were expensive gifts that unfortunately are not worth much in secondhand resale, and they are pretty.

Do you use good china as everyday dishes?  Share your experience, especially if your experience is "they all broke when I ran them through the dishwasher."   (I will not be handwashing all our everyday dishes; see the above paragraphs about me not doing more work than I have to.)  

Friday, November 28, 2014

minimalism: house size

Thank you for your thoughtful comments on the last post! As always, I love hearing your insights.

I recently saw an infographic that the average five person family in the 1950s lived in a house that was a 1000 square feet.  The average four person family in 2014 lives in a 2500 square foot house.

When my mother was growing up, she lived in a two bedroom, one bath house in southern Ohio. It was about 1000 square feet in all. My mother recently moved to China and all of the family pictures are in storage, but here is a picture of the exterior taken from Google Maps.

The first floor was two bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room, and a kitchen with eat in dining area.  There was an attic that ran the length of the house that was my mother's bedroom. While the attic was probably about 12 feet wide, due to the pitch of the roof you could only stand up in the middle.

Here is a not to scale floor plan:
The kitchen was TINY--maybe 8 x 6?  There was one upper cabinet in the entire kitchen.  Along the back wall was a fridge, the sink and 12 inches of counterspace.  My mother reports that when they originally moved into the house, there was a wall between the kitchen and the dining room (running right where the fridge is in the above illustration), but it was torn down shortly after moving in.

On the opposite kitchen wall was the back door to the garage, and a tiny stove that had a pull out cooktop.  It looked sort of like this:


The stove was about 20 inches deep, and the electric burner stove top could be rolled out for use, and rolled back into the stove when not in use, although you had to wait for it to cool down before rolling it back in.  Rolling the top out meant that the available space between the fridge and stove was cut in half, so clearly you would want to roll the top back in when not in use.

 My grandparents bought the house when my mom was nine, for about $2,000.  My grandmother lived in that house for forty-five years.  It was the first home my mother lived in that had indoor plumbing.


On the other end of the spectrum were my paternal grandparents.  Although they moved many times, for a long time they had a split level ranch house in southern New Jersey that was about 2300 square feet, with four bedrooms and 2.5 bath. (Again, I clipped the picture from GoogleMaps--when my grandparents lived there, there was an RV and a huge station wagon in the driveway, not fourteen garbage cans.)

That house was bigger than the 1950 average of 1000 sq ft, but keep in mind that my father is the oldest of eleven children, and thus there were 13 people living there, which brings us well below the average amount of square feet per person.

Over the years the Mister and I have lived in ever-larger homes.  (Mostly.)  We started off in a ridiculously massive winter share (3000 sq ft), which quickly taught us that we couldn't afford the rent on a large house, and even if we could, we couldn't afford to keep the utilities on.

We moved into a 2 bedroom apartment in a pre-war apartment complex, then another 2 bedroom apartment in the attic of an old Victorian.  These were about 800 sq ft.  For a few months we moved in with the Mister's parents, then with my parents. After our wedding, we bought a 2 bedroom condo with a small loft, where we brought home our first child. The condo was 1100 sq ft.

I didn't feel like the condo was cramped--we had a small attic storage space with some junk, but nothing out of hand.  We bought the condo after we got married, and we really didn't have much furniture yet.

Then we bought our sidehall colonial that was about 1400 sq ft.

This is where I had my second and third child.  After having my second child I stopped working, and started reading design blogs for intellectual stimulation.  Prior to reading design blogs I enjoyed decorating but didn't spend much time or money on it. After reading design blogs the "lets buy fun stuff for the house!" train really took off.  (This is a topic for an entire separate post.) I also started buying stuff for the kids.

By the time we moved out, we had a full basement, and a full attic, and it felt cramped. In retrospect, it was a great house--we just needed to have less stuff in the house.

After we sold that house, we moved into the apartment above my inlaws, which was quite spacious.

That house was like a magic trick--it looked like a small Cape Cod, and then you walked in and it just kept going on forever.  The upstairs apartment was at least 1500 sq ft.  It was huge, for an apartment. And it had a ton of spacious closets. But we still had stuff in the basement and half of the garage. And I bought more and more decor stuff.  

Then we moved to the sidehall colonial in Westfield that was similar to the sidehall we had owned.

 Again, 1400ish sq ft, with large attic, basement, and garage.  Although the rooms were small and storage was lacking, it was a nice house.  (Except for the rats.) Regardless of the lack of storage, we still had too much stuff. We had so much stuff that when we moved out of that house to California, the moving company told us we were over the weight limit that the Mister's new company would pay for.

You think that would be a wakeup call, wouldn't you?

The wakeup call was when we moved into our house in California, which was similarly sized, but lacking the attic and basement.

And ALL THAT STUFF got put in the garage.

We couldn't find stuff, we couldn't move around the stuff, we couldn't move the stuff, we couldn't get the garbage cans out of the garage because there was no room to move, we couldn't reach the washer and dryer because of all the stuff.

And thus a small seed began to bloom....maybe we don't need all this stuff.

We got rid of at least three quarters of the stuff in that garage before we bought this house.  This house looked empty for a while. Remarkably, we didn't buy much new furniture for this house.  We simply figured out how to arrange the furniture.


Our current house is 2594 square feet. For years, we thought this size house was what we wanted. Tons of space! Tons of storage!

It has much more space and storage than we need.  It costs quite a bit to keep up, from the mortgage and taxes to cleaning and keeping the lights on.  It is more space than we need.

My mother grew up in a tiny house that had approximately 333 sq ft per person.  My father grew up in a large house that had about 176 sq ft per person.  We are living in a house with about 500 sq ft per person. I could get rid of our formal living room, formal dining room, and fourth bedroom and not miss them. I would miss them two or three days a year when we have out of town guests, but 99.99% of the time, wouldn't  miss them.

When we move in the spring, for the first time in a decade, we'll be going to a much smaller house, rather than larger.  I'm looking forward to having less, cleaning less, paying less.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Minimalism vs. decor: where the rubber meets the road

I've been working on a number of minimalism posts having to do with food, and house size, and money.  They are turning into giant unwieldy tomes that need editing and and breaking up into smaller topics and blah blah blah they are taking too long.  So I thought I'd throw a quick little topic I've been thinking about out there in the meantime.  Can you adopt minimalism at the same time as being a decor enthusiast?

Minimalism starts with the concept that the "having of stuff" is not what defines your life.  Your life should be built around people, not things.

The notion of decor is, on the other hand, essentially defined by the having of stuff.  Pretty stuff. Stuff that will look nice on your mantel and in your bedroom.  Stuff that will make people walk into your house and gasp in delight at your design chutzpah.

What's a girl who likes (and sort of used to write) design blogs to do?  Can you be minimalist AND own pretty things and decorate your house and oh, say, RE-decorate your house again in a year or two just because you like to?

I feel uncomfortable with the question, because I fear the answer is no.

There are minimalist decor blogs, and they seem to revolve around the Scandi-chic look.  Paint all your rooms and the floors white, put up one black spider-arm sconce, a shabby vintage MCM sofa or leather sling chairs, a wooden trestle table, and the back wall of your house is floor to ceiling windows, and voila, minimalist decor.

But what if you like lots of color? You have some handmade quilts your grandmother made that you like to use in the bedroom?  You prefer layered rugs so your feet don't get cold traversing the bare floors in your wintry Scandinavian house?  Where does minimalism end and excess begin?

For a long time I've lived closer to the maximilist side. Only in the past few years have I thought about taking the minimalist plunge. I put away all our knick-knacks a while back, then brought a few back out.  But other people in this house also want to display stuff, so the majority of the tchotckes are probably going to be donated soon.

I read design blogs where people buy lots of knick-knacks, and it doesn't bother me--I don't feel the need to accumulate these things.  I can look at someone else's stuff and enjoy the beauty of it in someone else's house without feeling the need to own it.

Pillows, bedding and curtains, on the other hand, make me burn with envy.  Expensive pillows? I need them.  Bedding for every season?  Guilty.  To the trade fabrics that cost thousands of dollars? I WANT them. How do I justify spending thousands of dollars of fabric?  (I don't, but I want to.)

I  have more art than I have wall space.

 I also read design blogs/magazines/books where a room has cost $50,000, or a $100,000, or more.  If you can afford that, is it excessive?

Where does minimalism end and excess begin?  On the fifth painting or the fifteenth or the fiftieth?  When is your stuff too much?

Discuss amongst yourselves, please.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

One Room Challenge, Week Six: The Big (Seven Eighths) Reveal

As the title might indicate, I'm not quite done.

See Week One, Week Two/Three, Week Four, and Week Five.

I had some unexpected expenses last month and my budget ran out.  The room looks pretty good for nearly done.  

You might recall that the bedroom was originally navy blue, and the bathroom was full of gross carpet.

Since we are selling our house in the spring our realtor rather forcefully gently suggested that we paint the bedroom a neutral color and get that carpet the hell on up out of here.  As much as I liked the navy, I was thinking of painting the bedroom white anyways.

I love it.  It is so bright and airy.

I took an old canvas, painted it blue, threw a few stripes on it.  Nearly free art.

The only thing that I planned on doing and didn't get done in this room was new pillows. My budget ran out and I didn't want to buy something cheap just to be something new, so I'll eventually get the otomi pillow and embroidered shams when I save up some more pennies.

One thing I really like about the all white walls is that it makes the stupid pony wall less noticeable, and the space flows into the bathroom a bit more cohesively.

The new tile floor makes SUCH A DIFFERENCE.  Totally worth it.  Although my feet are freezing walking on that cold tile now.

I started painting the cabinets ugly beige, then changed course and just slapped a fresh coat of white on them.  I also decided to avoid mixing metals and am not going to put hardware on the cabinets.

We extended the tile into the toilet room.  You may remember Lady Vader from her time in the downstairs powder room.

Remaining to be done: I had hoped to get a window treatment up over the tub, and change out the vintage 80s Hollywood vanity light, and figure out what to do with the shower door, but it didn't happen.  The carpet will also be changed out, but not until right before we are ready to list the house.

I thought about framing out the vanity mirror with MirrorMate, but it is a few hundred dollars because of the large size.  I'll re-assess that decision in February.

The bathroom area looks SO MUCH BETTER now with the new floor.  I think the new floor took the room from "this is a gut job and I will make a lowball offer for this house" to "eh, its fine for now, although we'll have to do something with that tiny shower eventually." It is still dated, but it looks clean and functional.  I think a window treatment and a new light fixture would also go a long way towards making it feel a bit less white and sterile.    

Thanks to Linda at Calling It Home for giving me the incentive to get moving on this room!  See all the big reveals here.