A Blue Spruce

A Short Story by Danielle Verderame

“Bring back the perfect one,” asked my mother, slumped on the couch with my ten-year old brother’s flush face resting on her shoulder. Trapped at home with the flu, they waved to my sister, father and I as we jumped into the van in search of a Christmas tree. 

We knew that perfect meant more than a tree. Since I could remember, the harvesting of this holiday centerpiece had followed a flow of tradition. The blonde-haired babes were wrapped in homemade scarfs and tasseled hats and packed into the family vehicle. First, we stopped by a local diner where you could get a platter of eggs, with breakfast meat and toast for three dollars. From there we went to the same Christmas tree farm, usually debating where a stray mitten may have been left behind. A gigantic inflatable snow man, with waving hand and curvy pipe provoked squeals from the back seat, “We’re almost there.”

There meant that we could get out of the car, to pose by the jolly, mammoth snowman for a camera flash. Then, a bow saw was rented with a warning not to touch the gnarly teeth.  We would walk past the typical evergreens, with long or short needles for the perfect ones, in the blue spruce section. They were stiff, symmetrical cones, silver in the cloudy light with a sprinkling of snow, dusted over the branches to remind us of how beautiful the tinsel would look. 

But that year, we moved four hours from that Christmas tree farm, our friends, our family, and any sense of normalcy. Following a labyrinth of back roads as we chased hand-written, wet, paper signs, we were determined to not only find a beautiful blue spruce but also replicate the journey for the perfect Christmas tree. Holding a video camera to the window, I watched the snow fall faster. 

“It’s wicked cold,” my sister said. 

A house appeared, on the cold side of a mountain, lights off and doors closed. At the front, there was a can for cash and a grizzled saw. We picked up the saw and began walking to the left as the sky grew darker.

I stepped cautiously behind them, video camera bumping into my eye as I attempted to record the experience for our housebound members. Through the foggy lens, I watched my sister shake her backside, wet with melting snow from an icy slip. Moments later, I was on my back too, camera clutched to my chest. The snow soaked through my jeans immediately, and goose bumps spread up my spine. I began to think of the big-box home improvement store that we had passed on our way over. Their parking lot was filled with spruces, pre-cut with cables for tying to the top of your car. 

I held my tongue however, blinking away large flakes from my eyelashes that melted on my cheeks like tears. Trotting past trees that were unkempt, looking angrier than a forbidden wood in a fairy-tale film, I wondered where the cone of Christmas light would be, illuminating that perfect blue spruce. There were evergreens all around us, to be sure, but they were bulging and bulbous, as the owner had never trimmed them to shape. 

Suddenly, my father disappeared and all we could see was snow. An angry yelp led us to where he had been standing. He had fallen into a deep trench, where a tree had been dug up from the roots. 

“All the good trees have already been sold to that big box store,” I said, counting more trenches.

The video camera rolled, and we all laughed for a moment, after pulling another wet family member out of the snow. With a burst of inspiration, my father arranged me with the camera, at a far distance from a tree, as he knelt down to mime cutting it down. I turned it off as he said, “We’ll say that the battery ran out.”

We returned to car, driving straight for that home improvement store. The clerk strapped the tree to our roof with a hearty, “Merry Christmas.” My father’s eyes looked from my sister to me as he spoke slowly and seriously. He shook his finger and whispered, “Don’t you dare tell your mother.”

How my Bullet Journal Helps Me Prep my Linens for the Next Season

Like most people, I prefer to run household as simply as possible. For example, most of my linens are white. They all match — from the kitchen towels to our pillowcases. So, they can be washed together.

The changing season is a sensible time to touch them up and swap out the lighter linens for warm ones. I use my bullet journal to outline all these cleaning tasks — including running to the laundromat for my large duvet inserts.

Prepping My Linens for the Next Season

Since most of my linens are white, I don’t have a complex system to prepare them. I can use a little bleach, stain spray, or even baking soda with vinegar to brighten them up.

Refresh Everyday Items

The changing seasons offer a reminder to refresh everyday linens. First, I set aside a bin in my laundry area to corral stained or faded linens. These usually include:

  • Cloth Napkins
  • Tablecloths
  • Towels
  • Sheets
  • Pillowcases (Bed and Sofa)

Then, I separate them into three piles. The first pile includes items that are too soiled to keep. They may become rags or I may simply toss them. The second are linens that I need to treat and rewash. The third are items that I want to set aside for professional cleaning.

I log these as tasks in my bullet journal to remind me.

Restore Cold Weather Blankets and Duvets

Even though I wash everything before I pack it, I find my cold weather linens smell like an attic when I take them out in the fall. Soft, plush items like blankets and duvets are especially prone to those musty odors.

I pull them out and run them through a light wash again. Most of my items can fit in my washer and dryer. However, my thickest blankets and duvet inserts don’t wash and dry well in my compact unit. (A slight drawback of small-space living).

Image: The Clothes Spin

Instead of fighting the machine, I set aside some time to bring them The Clothes Spin. Most of the time, they have larger drums and stronger machines.

I simply fill a basket with these thicker linens and mark a time on my calendar to run a load. As long as I have a good audiobook, this extra task is worth the refresh.

Clean and Pack Warm Weather Linens

Finally, I wash and pack my warm weather linens. I start the process by putting my empty boxes beside my washing machine. Then, I trade out my light linens for thicker ones. As I strip dirty sheets and change pillowcases, I toss them in the wash. Once they dry, I fold them right into the storage container. Then, I can move it back into long-term storage when the box is full. If you’re looking for a quality and well established business, be sure to check out this Gretna VA laundromat

Plan Ahead with Your Bullet Journal

I use my bullet journal to help me remember those easy-to-forget “adulting” tasks.

Quarterly

When it comes to big seasonal changes (usually 4 times a year), I also create a list of tasks for the quarter. They’re those annoying reminders for home maintenance, doctor’s appointments, and other tasks I’m likely to forget.

Bullet Journal Fall Bucket List

Most of the time, I find myself referencing last year’s journal to create this list of linens to refresh. This takes the form of a double-spread. I divide it into several columns by topic.

Monthly

Typically, I plan out my bullet journal pages one month in advance. This starts with a “cover” page for the month that lists my goals and large tasks. I enjoy my monthly spreads and decorate them with the name of the month and some inspirational sayings.

Sometimes, I squish the goals next to my first week. For this list of seasonal washing, I find I need reminders on both a monthly and weekly basis — to get them all done.

Weekly

Then, I fill out each week into a double-page spread. That spread usually includes a small list of projects that I want to complete that week. It also includes a focus for the week — sometimes a quote or image to inspire me.

I vary the layout from week to week. Lately, I’ve been placing all of my days on one page and the task list on the facing page.

Daily

Under each day, I write my schedule including any appointments and deadlines. Underneath the schedule, I mark out the tasks I’ll do each day. This references my overall project list.

It helps me actually work those ongoing projects into each day. Otherwise, distractions like scrolling social media or watching Netflix fill up my time before I remember key cleaning tasks.

Planning for the Next Season

Finally, I mark a reminder (often on a post-it note) that I will need to add in these changes for the next season. If it’s on a loose page or post-it, I can keep moving it out until the appropriate page.

Then, I can start the process again when the weather gets warm.

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Small Home for the Holidays

Tips to Celebrate When You’re Short on Square Feet

My first place was 400 square feet and I loved it. Ten years later, married with a child, I’ve upgraded to a voluminous 742 square feet. You can’t call my place a tiny home (those are under 500 square feet) but, it’s less than half the size of the average American house. And I still love it!

Why? 

I’ve found that a little home allows me to live large. The simplicity leaves more room for creative pursuits. To restructure that old adage, “The less things you own, the less things own you.”    

When you live like this, you find that your approach to the holiday season changes. Instead of worrying about obligations and to-do lists, you refocus on the simple things that matter most to you. 

How’s that for an #autumnmood?

Whether you live in a small house by choice or chance, you can find ways to pack in some holiday spirit. 

Idea 1: Rotate and pack seasonal items. Your home will feel fresh with the new white spaces.

Before you dig out the holiday decorations, find some things to put away. Each season requires different tools, gear and clothes. While you want flip flops and a yard sprinkler in reach during the summer, take some time this fall to sub them out for a raincoat and rake. 

As you do your fall walk-through, pick up anything that wandered out during the warm weather. 

Tiny Tip: Get everyone in the household involved by assigning rooms. Send them off to different spaces to fill a laundry basket with anything that needs to be packed away for the winter.

Idea 2: Choose high-impact, low-clutter decor. With some creative substitutes, you can tailor holiday mainstays to fit your place.

Flip through any home magazine and you’ll find maximal designs for McMansions. If you’re short on space, you’ll need to rethink  your favorite ideas. 

For example, piles of plush pillows and complicated tablescapes can cramp a little living room. But, swapping out your wall art with cozy, winter images won’t take up much space. 

Tiny Tip: Take a photo of your room to evaluate the design. It can help you see messy areas with fresh eyes.

Idea 3: Embrace Lagom. It’s the new Hygge.

If you were hot for Hygge, you’ll love Lagom. The Swedish word translates to “just the right amount.” Basically, the philosophy prioritizes balance in all areas of life. 

When you’re living in a tiny home, those are #wordstoliveby. So, make the most of the fact that less square footage means less maintenance and cleaning. With less chores, you get more time to work through your fall bucket list.

Tiny Tip: Find a pretty way to work this word into your life. While you don’t need to tattoo it on your wrist, it would make an excellent device background. 

Idea 4: Sub brunch for dinner. It’s easier to host this small plates meal when your home is “standing room only.”

You can entertain in a little home. Just substitute a sit-down dinner with a brilliant brunch. Self-serve with dessert plates and let your guests wander as they eat.

My favorite brunch foods are muffins and mini quiches. You have a savory and a sweet choice. Plus, they’re easy to make ahead.

You’ll find that a standing brunch creates a fun energy. It’s relaxed, playful and social.

Tiny Tip: Divide up your food and drinks into a few small stations around the space. Then, people won’t crowd one area.

Idea 5: Meet up! When you start to go stir crazy, check your bucket list of places you always wanted to visit.

When chilly weather drives you inside, find a way to get out. Tight spaces can create a bit of cabin fever. However, you can break up the days by playing tourist in your own town.

For inspiration, I always ask longtime locals about their annual traditions. If a venue is worth a repeat visit, I definitely want to try it.

Tiny Tip: Experiences make great substitutes for physical gifts. Plan ahead for Christmas by asking people to fund your mini adventures as a gift.

If you find yourself in a little home for the holidays, enjoy the chance to focus on the spirit of the season. With less homekeeping, you can put your energy into the moments that matter most. From that first pumpkin spice latte to your last glass of eggnog, you’ll be enjoying the simple life in your small space.

The Self-Possession of Keeping a Journal

Whenever I need a burst of creativity, I read either a memoir or a fictional story written in the first person. It pushes me out of my own mental boundaries and makes me consider another person’s point of view. My mind takes on that new role and flexes into new thoughts.

One of my favorite stories to revisit is The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (Read it here). The main character’s reflection on her own state of mind mirrors the process I go through daily when I jot in my own journal. Although I am not in a state of mental anguish, keeping a journal helps me gain confidence and regulate my emotions. It helps me see myself and think about how I want to exist in this world.

A notable example of early feminist literature, the story builds symbolism around the sick room of the unnamed narrator. A modern reader will feel conflicted about her situation as she is held against her will to recover from her recent pregnancy.

It’s not a thriller. And it doesn’t need to be.

There is no real twist. Just a horrifying journey of an unwell mind (or perhaps a mind that has been made unwell.)

If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency—what is one to do?

My brother is also a physician, and also of high standing, and he says the same thing.

So I take phosphates or phosphites—whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again.

Personally, I disagree with their ideas.

Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.

But what is one to do?

EXCERPT FROM THE YELLOW WALLPAPER

The author’s sentiments foreshadow the soon-after cultural critique of domestic life as both bland and suffocating. In both fiction and non-fiction, her contemporaries and followers began to question the meaninglessness of mid-century household arrangements. Most of them did this through an exploration of their thoughts and feelings.

want

Most explored their identities through a series of journal entries (or fictional recreations of journals) that showed a progression of self. This fascination with self loosely ties together these stories for me. I always lump these types together in my mind — although they may fit in different categories.

They’re not really coming-of-age stories — more like finding-myself stories.

Going through these journeys with the writer opens doors in my own mind — to consider who I have become and could become.

That’s why I keep coming back to my own journal. It’s not a record of anything other than a progression of self — as obscure and unread as my story may be.

How to Deal With Sentimental Clutter

Camera Themed Wallpaper for Desktop Backgrounds or Lock Screens

Projecting emotions onto objects is an odd quirk of being human. Items themselves can evoke memories from their shape, feel and smell. Some are special and good. Some are unpleasant or weak. Separating meaningful items (even if they aren’t useful) into keep and toss piles can be a stressful and energy sucking process.

In fact, sentimental clutter is usually listed as a separate category of organization. It’s so hard to decide what stays and what goes.

The experts say…

  • Christine Kell: “I put my prom dress on one last time, took a picture, and shared it on Facebook,” says Kell. “People laughed and commented, and that made it easier to get rid of the dress — because it’s really all about your relationships and sharing the memory.” (Source)
  • Marie Kondo: “Hold each item in your hands, as close to your heart as possible,” she says. “And then, pay close attention to how your body responds. When something sparks joy, you should feel a little thrill running through your body, as if your body is somehow slowly rising up to meet the item, embracing it even.” (Source)
  • Joanna Gaines: While going through her kids’ baby clothes, she kept her favorites and tucked them each in a container with a note, “in case they are sentimental like their mama,” she writes on Insta Stories. (Source)

How to Deal with Sentimental Clutter

My process for sentimental clutter is a little different. I go through a process that allows me to identify the emotions and determine what space the objects have in my life. Below are the steps I take to assess each item.

Separate Emotional Items

First, I pull together the clutter that I consider to be keepsakes. These are objects that really don’t have much function and don’t fit as part of my daily life. I put them in laundry baskets. Seeing them together often causes me to reconsider the sheer amount of sentimental items I really need to keep.

Pack Away and Take a Test

Next, I pack these items away. I leave them somewhere safe but, where I can’t see them. I put a reminder in my calendar to go back a couple of months later and review the baskets.

When the time comes, I try to make a list of what I packed away without looking. Usually, I can only recall a handful of special things that I set aside. This is a very telling part of the process. It shows what items really matter because they take up some space in my memory.

At this point, I can usually remove some of the items because I have realized they really don’t matter much to me.

Write Down Your Feelings

With the remaining items, I create a list. Next to each, I write little notes about the emotions they give me. Sometimes, the feelings can be complicated or negative. Often the emotions are not ones I want to relive. This helps me get rid of things that don’t make me feel joy.

Display and Enjoy

With anything that is left, I make a plan on how I will display them. Sometimes that means framing things, cleaning them or altering them in some way. Regardless, this means less of those items are actually clutter.

They are now a meaningful part of my home decor with the chance to bring me joy each day.

Tell Me Your Thoughts!

How to deal with Sentimental clutter
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I’d love to hear about the special items that you choose to keep and display. Do you have something special handed down from a friend or family member? Do you have mementos from special events? Let me know about your favorite pieces and how they came into your life.

How to Be More Organized

“I always carry lots of stuff with me wherever I roam, always weighted down with books, with cassettes, with pens and paper, just in case I get the urge to sit down somewhere, and oh, I don’t know, read something or write my masterpiece.”

-Elizabeth Wurtzel, author

The creative process and organization are closely aligned. While the word “organized” may make some people think of a grey, stifled office cubicle filled with dead-looking filing cabinets, you can be organized in such a way that promotes the creative process. The trick requires balancing the process with the end result. Essentially, you need to use organization as a tool to aid creativity without stifling your energy.

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Vintage Chair Transformation ( with Good Bones Paint)

Vintage IKEA Blue Chair Transformation with Good Bones Paint

Ever since I attended a class at James T. Davis in Lynchburg, VA, I’ve wanted to try Good Bones Paint on a furniture project. Their product advertises “NO SANDING. NO PRIMING. NO SEALING.” making it “a truly a one-step furniture paint.”

Personally, I did opt to prep my chairs because they were old, IKEA furniture. My parents had purchased them as part of a set in the 1980s. I remember the little white table and chairs as one of my first crafting and coloring stations.

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Why You Need to Declutter Your Life

Clutter is such a fascinating word. Its both the individual pieces and the state of all those pieces put together. It’s an active verb. It’s a state of being. It’s a process.

Almost every self-help decluttering guide focuses on the central theme of feeling overwhelmed by stuff. You are literally tripping over things and it gets in the way of your life. My personal (and continuing) journey to decluttering started with similar frustration.

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