31 July 2010

What I am reading: July 2010

  1. The God in the Hive by Laurie R. King: There seems to be a recent desire on the part of authors to cut their novels on such a cliffhanger, it's as if they had written a book, printed it, and taken a pair of scissors to the binding somewhere in the middle. The latest Gabaldon was so much so, I thought that it was a printing error. The last Laurie R. King, The Language of Bees, wasn't quite as bad but it left us in media res. I have been reading the adventures of Mary Russell, an American in early 20th century England who meets (and marries) Sherlock Holmes since it began and I've generally enjoyed it. I enjoyed this book as well, but it (and the last) also felt a little... unsatisfying. Perhaps too many carbs and not enough protein? That is, I'd like a little more meat on its bones.
  2. Agent of Change
  3. Carpe Diem
  4. Plan B
  5. I Dare by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
  6. Liaden Unibus 1
  7. Liaden Unibus 2
  8. The Tomorrow Log and Dragon Tide
  9. Fledgeling
  10. Saltation by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller--- I saw them, I bought them from Baen books by non-DRM download, I read them and enjoyed them all.
  11. Magic Bleeds by Ilona Andrews: There are a bunch of paranormal romance series that I have really been enjoying lately. I'm happy with the interesting, tough, intelligent and talented women that are the protagonists of these series and I'm pleased that the men in these series are also intelligent and interesting.
  12. The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross: I love this series by Stross. third in the Laundry series (a Lovecraftian spy/administrative).
  13. Abhorsen by Garth Nix: I was leafing through some books, getting ready to pack them up and clear some shelves and fell into reading this wonderful finish to Nix' Old Kingdom series (Sabriel, Liriel, Abhorsen) (actually, as I see while looking up that link, he will have more books in this series coming out and I am very glad: I haven't liked his other books, but I love these and the world he has created for them). I'm sorry that the earlier books are packed in storage in the States and I may re-buy them (on Kindle) when the new novels come out. It's a fascinating and strange world, with a world based in technology on one side of the Wall, and a world of "magic" on the other side. Or perhaps, a world of Order versus that of Chaos, where the Charter has bound creatures of Free Magic to act in a consistent manner that defends the living world from Chaos and Death . The Abhorsen controls forces of Death with her bells and Charter marks constrain disorder. But necromancers also can use tomes and music to disorder the constraints. Great characters, great ideas and great writing.
  14. Black Magic Sanction (again) by Kim Harrison: I was out, waiting for the kids, and decided to read this, the latest in Harrison's Hollows series, again. A nice satisfying read with solid emotional resolutions and increasing understanding of Rachel Morgan and what she has become and is capable of. Set in a world changed after a mass more than decimation of the human race through an epidemic caused by genetically modified tomatoes, the witches, vampires and other races had to come forward or the world would have imploded. A very good series.
  15. Poppy Done to Death by Charlaine Harris: I had been reading Charlaine Harris' work for years before she started her Sookie Stackhouse series (now famous as the basis for the HBO series TrueBlood), but somehow I had missed this, the last of her Aurora Teagarden series. I really do miss her mysteries and apparently she will only be working on the Sookie books from here on: her website says that she has closed the Aurora, Lily and Harper series while contractually obligated to work on Sookie. Very sorry to hear that, because I think her writing is being stretched too far there and her previous characters have been warm and interesting and their lives and issues worth following. This was a good ending to the series, rewarding even, as we followed Aurora through stress, trauma, and family losses to a happy ending for the petite and intelligent librarian.
  16. Murder by Number by Kaye Morgan: I have to get some of the fluffier stuff off my shelves. This is a hand-me-down from my mom, because I couldn't do a Sudoku to save my life and I tend to pick up paranormals for my light popcorn reading, not mysteries as I did in the US.

25 July 2010

While waiting...

to start posting what will be heading out the door in NY, here's another scheduled post.These shoes have been handed down from T1 to T2, but T2 has two other, much better looking pairs. So (after the photo) I scrubbed the sandals up with a toothbrush to clean them as much as possible and into the Kita accumulation bag they went.I may start a blog just for wine— after all, one of the prize benefits of being in Europe is how many great ones one can buy for about the cost of a soda. This one was so bad, however, that I happily downsized the half empty bottle (I stopped after 1 sip, the German didn't finish his glass): into glass recycling it went.(That's a 2008 Rosemount Shiraz Cabernet.)

24 July 2010

A few things

While I'm travelling (and without acces sto the interwebs, I think), here are a few items I downsized before leaving. The usual Disney feeble hanger: garbage. Purple egg that held a tchotchke and for some reason was being held as a treasure by T2 (although she hasn't noticed it's gone...) and a decorative sticker from T1's dresser that has lost its stick: plastics recycling.
And here you see a box. Saved because I generally save boxes, but after three years, I think I probably won't be needing to send it for repair in its original box and it's not a fragile item that needs that box for moving: paper recycling.

23 July 2010

Beginning to accumulate

Here are a few of the things that I am accumulating, one item at a time, to give to T2's old kita when we get back from vacation.
  • a small Snow White costume, skirt and top,
  • a pair of pants- I don't love the color,
  • a Cinderella costume in 2 pieces,
  • a Cinderella nightgown,
  • and finally, a pair of pink camouflage shorts.
I pulled these out this spring as T1 is finally large enough to wear them, but I have issues with these shorts on multiple levels.

First, I think that it is ridiculous to pinkify everything. It's sexist and alienating and I am offended by the pink Lego set that I saw that has fewer interesting pieces than the standard, or blue one.

Next, unless one has a reason to wear camo (hunting, say, or running around hiding in the woods- as I have done while wearing it), I think it dimishes and normalizes war concepts.

Good enough reason for the donation box. Although I think I need to toss these into the Kleiderspende: now that I think of it, I don't think these would be wearable at the Kita for those reasons as well!

22 July 2010

Sentiment recorded

I keep wondering how to deal with what the children make: crafts, art, projects. I have strung a line along the hallway and I clip up some of the more recent and interesting 2-D projects, but they do pile up.
This was a very cute little man made by T2 this year in Kita. The head is a balloon with googly eyes glued on, it has a neck ruff and its body is made from a solo cup filled with beans. It has interesting cut out geometrical shapes glued on it and a base made out of cardboard that also forms feet. It was cute. And now we have a memory of it.

21 July 2010

A few more things

Here is a toy (now in pieces) that is a poor copy of a better German toy (children put the pieces together in a correct sequence and then a ball or a marble will travel through the structure). Bad, smaller version that came with magazine. In plastics recycling. Also a Disney lipstick: I hate when the girls wear lipstick: I am always fearful what they are made of, if they will share with friends, if it's toxic: garbage.

And here is a kite made by T2 last year in Kita. A bag, a stick, a piece of string. She loved it, but a year later, I think it can go.

20 July 2010

This is sort of fun.

Or may be it's a little frightening that I keep finding things that have been here too long! There does seem to be a theme that I am finding it easier to cull the childrens' things. On the other hand, when my things are broken, I tend to either throw them out or fix them, so I don't have as much low hanging fruit.
In the first photo, you see a bunch of catalogs : I hang on to catalogs for a while to consciously decide whether I actually want to buy anything. About 99.99% of the time, the answer is: No. Then the catalogs can pile up: into recycling they go.

You also see a hairband that my kids don't like (into the accumulation bag for the re-opening of the Kita). That's also where that strange stuffed animal will go, while the strange plastic eggs just went into recycling. The little Pooh fake phone is one of the tchotckes that comes with T2's Winnie the Pooh magazine subscription. I hate those things. Badly made, makes T2 sad when they break (as they do quickly). You see the same in the second photo, where the unmelodious and non-usable guitar can be seen. The phone goes to the Kita, the guitar in the garbage (as does T1's much thumbed over and loved American Girl catalog: she has more current ones and we will be visiting the store next week. Also, good-bye old crown from birthday party.

19 July 2010

A good weekend

It was a busy weekend.

I started another blog, linked to as a page above, to motivate myself to de-clutter.

We did a Kaufland shopping trip (that includes staples rather than the meat and produce I pick up locally and at the Arab markets).

We went to Ikea, returned things, bought things, returned things, bought things, let the kids play and built things with Bauhaus materials.

It rained and the heat wave broke.
We biked all the way to the Botanical Garden but we didn't stay,because the kids were tired. So we biked home a different way and stopped off at a Biergarten where the kids split potato pancakes with applesauce and fishsticks (with a chocolate shake) and the German and I split a beef goulash and a bottle of water. Then we finished biking home and the kids had a bath and went to bed: a two+ hour bike trip (not including our stops) is a little too much for the girls, I think. But it's amazing what a great biker my 4 year old is and I think my 7 year old (just last week) may be ready to move up to a larger bike when we get back from vacation.

This is part of the reason that clutter and de-clutter are such a big issue: it makes no sense to discard things that are actually going to be needed, in just the same way it can be a waste of mental and physical space to hang on to things that may not be needed. A month or two ago we loaned our Laufrad to a friend of T2's who needs to learn to ride a bike. This week, we will take the Laufrad back and loan her T2's old bike. When we get T1 a new and larger bike, we will need to keep her current bike for T2 to ride either next year or the year after (depending on how quickly she grows!).

De-cluttering and down-sizing and generally living in a serene environment: can I do that while the kids still live with us?

Anyone have advice?

Luggage downsize

Last night we pulled out some suitcases to start considering what to bring with us as we head out on vacation. It's a it of a split vacation: we start with a week in our old house, sleeping on foam rubber (that we need to buy) and borrowing dishes as we pack up our house in Westchester in readiness to turn it over (now unfurnished) to our new tenants. We want to get it completely ready to sell it next spring, because we are tired of dealing with it and we have made the final determination that if we ever return to the US and live, it won't be to the school district where our current house is located.

Then we will head upstate for almost two weeks, unpack into our storage unit, and spend time with family. But the day we get back, we need to leave immediately for a family reunion in Southern Germany, where we will then spend an additional week. So I need to think about what we will need, where we will need it, and what the weather will be like. It's complicated.

We generally go over with suitcases within suitcases, bringing back far more than we take with us and I expect that we will do so again, as we load up on items that are not findable here (here I come, Crystal Lite and brown sugar) but this suitcase was in such terrible condition it's just not worth bringing back: I wouldn't trust it to survive baggage handling as a stand alone suitcase, so why bother (see the broken handle and ripped fabric?).

In addition, while the girls were putting away their doll clothes, I was able to discard: an empty box,
some cardboard picture corners (a real down size because they were there for "future possible use",
a Princess tattoo was used now, rather than save for later:

and while digging through bags, looking for doll shoes, we were able to pull out a handful of squashed candy and other detritus that went into bio and into trash:

Another good day.

18 July 2010

Doll Storage and Ikea

Today I pulled out two laptop power supplies that have been annoying me each time I clean under them. Both have US plugs, both could be used for the German's current laptop, both won't be as he has a power cord with German plugs.

We took these to the recycling point, but were glad to hand them off to the folks at the gate who ask for any electronics: I am very glad to not add to solid waste and if someone can take the time and energy and sell these (and by doing so, get more use out of them), I am very happy for them.
Our visit to the center also allowed me to drop the accumulation of dead batteries and empty out a drawer.

We also dropped off some cardboard boxes (T2 moved to a three point car seat this past month): we try not to overwhelm the cardboard bin in the cellar— these count because they are not ordinary refuse to us.

Finally, we went to Ikea and returned two clothing storage bags, a multi-candle holder, a light cover and a light cord: if we haven't used them now, I'm guessing we aren't going to for a while (although in the case of the light, that might not be true:we may need to re-buy it). But the German was being proactive:).

To show how hazardous it is to go to Ikea, we also picked up a bookcase while we were there. I was planning on putting it next to T1's computer desk and using it as a storage center (with rods) for her doll clothes. But once we got home (after a stop at Kaufland to do the week's shopping), I decided that the Expedit that we have in the living room could have three boxes emptied and be used for doll storage and that meant that we could return the new bookcase we had just gotten.

Does that count as a downsize when we haven't even opened the box? I'm going to say it does. And on the de-clutter side, the German bought (instead) an insert of two drawers that fits into a single box, a metal rod to use as clothing rods (after being sawed into the correct sizes) and two sets of rod ends (from Bauhaus, the German equivalent of Home Depot).

As he was putting it together today (Sunday), we discovered that the book case was a bit too hardened for the screws of the rod ends, but no matter: I know where the double-sided, good to 45 kg, tape is: score for de-cluttering drawers!

T2 is ecstatic: she just ran around gathering up all her doll clothes to hang them  and her accessories to put in the drawer.

 A very good start to the week.

17 July 2010

Random Thoughts on Sentiment and Roots and Clutter

So far it's been an amazingly hot summer in Berlin, after a quick turn around from an unseasonable (but bog standard) chilly one. In Sunday it was 40C+, or aout 104F. It's a bit better now, in the low to mid-30s most days, but still sticky and muggy. That would be fine, but it doesn't cool down at night, which means each day starts sticky and muggy: my Russian and Nort East US background both rebel against this weather.

However, things are plugging along.

I read an interesting article about clutter and life, on keeping things and throwing them away, in the NYT. The comments were as intriguing as the article and as I read through them, I ran across and was interested in a comment from someone who decided to de-clutter his life, one item (at least) a day for a year, and to keep a blog about it: (or as he calls it,) Downsizing. It was interesting to see him reach for items on busy days and achieve big successes on other days, particularly as he wound up moving and needing to pack, and as he and his wife had a baby and needed to look at baby clutter (or possessions, in a non-pejorative term).

I enjoyed reading through his blog and found myself laughing and admiring his follow through. It made me look around (again), as I often do, and consider my own clutter. I have a lot of it. The vast majority is books, magazines, and paperwork. But next up is the girls' things. There are crafts and books, clotes in their sizes,clothes that I am packing up because they are too small, clothes that are just a little too big and maybe should be available. There are boxes that I have just unloaded from summer clothes and boxes that are being loaded with fall and winter clothes. There are boxes of toys that I am hoping they have out grown so that I can give them away and boxes that are currently age appropriate. We have two girls, separated by three years,but only by a size or two in clothing, so everything overlaps.

In addition, it might be considered clutter, but I consider it a tremendous boon that my brothers also have girls and that I am swimming in hand-me-downs. So we brought over 23+ boxes of children's clothing, age labelled, and boxes of kids' toy, ditto. Because children aren't always the sizes that the clothing states, boxes are constantly being shuffled, which creates waves of chaos. I'm not complaining: the girls have had wonderful clothes and toys, far nicer than I could have purchased, but it does create chaos. Each time we go to the US, I bring back another load or two and need to clean, sort and consider our booty.

My books are an issue: even with the Kindle, I find myself with too many. I've sold some on Amazon, but as Reed found out, Amazon and Craig's List have their own issues, particularly with no-shows and the cost of shipping, and Germany is probably not the best place for my esoteric taste in books to hit a chord (in English). At home I would hand my no longer wanted books over to the library for the annual sale: here, I'm not yet certain what to do but I will soon decide: the packing box I'm filling with the unwanted books is almost full. I can't yet make myself want to buy Kindle books that cost more than physical books, but I can see why people would move that way.

Then there are the school things, for the two girls (and for myself), and the work things for the German. On a regular basis we shred and recycle and discard. I try to hang new artwork and to store old: should I start taking picture of the art and discarding the original?

I think part of the reason that I am such a pack rat and such a sentimentalist is because all my life I have felt the lack of roots.

My mother's family had fled, rootless, from Tsarist Russia and Byelerusse. My grandmother was too young to know very much and she was never told very much: in America, it was about fittin g in and becoming American. We have no heirlooms or keepsakes. Not even photos or stories.

My father survived Auschwitz, after seeing his baby sister murdered in front of him and watching the majority of his family die. Two other brothers survived of his large and extended family. But he left the practice and the way of his forebears and became, as well, an American, after some interesting travels and work of his own. We were raised in English and as Americans. But we had no relatives and no past, no family photos and almost no stories that did not bring forth tremendous sorrow, which we avoided, because who wants to bring pain to the ones we love most?

So, rootless and languageless, I try to create roots by keeping things that have meaning. But really, so much is clutter. One person can't create a history and if I can, it won't be through souvenirs and small remembrances.

The mother of someone whose blog I enjoy died this past week. As she told us why she was not posting, I was struck by part of her eulogy: she said that her mother had never said a negative word and had always had her back.

I think that's one of the loveliest things I have ever heard.

So I'm going to try to de-clutter and down-size and calm our lives down, in hopes of being able to spend less time running around and cleaning and tidying and more time having quality time and peace. I expect it will take me a while— if it takes as long to pare down as it did to build up, it may take years, so to keep myself going I'm going to blog about it here.

I'm curious to see how it goes.

How to Start

De-cluttering has always been a huge issue for me: I'm a biblio-addict.

I used to read and re-read Dan Aslett's books, although generally I used them to help me organize and then clean around my clutter.

With the two kids starting to create messes on a daily basis and to accumulate clutter of their own— and ungainly clutter that can't be simply contained by weeding through my books shelves, or perhaps buying another bookcase— I have been feeling overwhelmed while trying to keep the chaos under control. I want to be able to have people over without apologizing for the mess and whereas before I didn't really mean the apology (if someone objects to piles of books and magazines, they aren't really my sub species anyway), now I do: toys and dolls and crayons and drawings and DVDs are exploding throughout the apartment.

Even though our latest move decreased our living space by 30% (and our storage space by more), that's not really the issue: we are a family that uses things and we need to pare down and to organize. We don't have the luxury of space to hide our excess and there's nothing more annoying than having to purchase something to replace something that I know we have— somewhere! That's particularly so when we are dealing with adaptors and transformers and foreign appliances and power cords and appliances.

I was wandering through the NY Times and ran across a fascinating article about legacies and clutter and losing one while trying to get rid of the other. The comments were even more interesting than the article itself and in the comments I ran across someone who started a Downsizing blog. I really enjoyed reading about it and I am going to take him as a model.

I don't expect to post every day, particularly as we will soon be leaving for a month's vacation. Nor do I expect to be able to necessarily be able to downsize/de-clutter on vacation. But I'm going to go at it seriously, I will post at least every week, and I hope to de-accession at least one item for every day, even if I need to do it proactively or after the fact. I also won't be counting ordinary recycling: here in Germany (as it should be everywhere), organics, metal, plastic, paper and packaging are recycled daily and as an ordinary part of life, not requiring any acknowledgement. I will count anything that requires me to go to a special recycling facility though.

Let's start with what I have been able to do:
  • I have a large number of books listed for sale on Amazon. This has netted me some results, but not nearly enough because I'm not willing to sell for a net loss. Clearly those who can sell books for less than it costs me for postage are smarter bears than I. I have shipped off about 15, though.
  • Through kijiji.de I was able to sell patio furniture (two loungers, two chairs) that we can no longer use as we no longer have a roof.
  • Also able to sell a milk pump- glad to get it to someone who could use it rather than to just recycle it at small appliances.
  • Attempted to off load some furniture for free, but when two sets of people did not show to pick it up, we carried the Ikea computer desk to the local recycling facility and, after breaking it apart, recycled it.
  • On Thursday, I gave two pairs of T2's dress shoes (therefore in great shape as not frequently worn before she out grew them) and two outgrown shirts, also in good shape, to the younger sister of T1's friend, a year younger than T2.
Big items coming up:
  • sell a Nikon D70s and 18-55 lens (this may wait until I get back from the US)
  • find a non-profit that wants English language books to donate mine to
  • get rid of the lights from the old apartment that no longer work in this apartment, including a children's overhead with three lights and a dining room three halogen hanging light: very nice, very formal, but we aren't re-wiring this living room for it and it is fragile and uses precious space in the cellar.

11 July 2010

Being too hot in Berlin.

What does one do in Berlin when it's 104F, or 40C+? Well, we order ceiling fans. But when they arrive and our friendly handyman blows us off two days in a row, we look around, find a friendly pond, and drive on out. What a relief.

This pond/ lake wsn't terribly crowded (for Europe) because although free, it wasn't reachable by public transport.

(I'm posting this as per the date we went swimming, but I'm editing the post on August 18th and it's already difficult to remember what it was like being hot in Berlin, needing to pull out my shorts for the first time in three years, and wishing it were cooler.)

02 July 2010

What I am reading: June 2010

  1. Soulless
  2. Changeless by Gail Carriger: These are the first two of the new series "The Parasol Protectorate", with Blameless  coming out in late summer. I liked them very much and far from finding them tediously derivative of Amelia Peabody, as one review accused, I found them well in the line of an homage to Austen, ut with steampunk, Heyer, an interesting paranormal concept embodied. I liked them and I will buy the next.
  3. The Familiars by Adam Jay Epstein & Andrew Jacobson: Advance, uncorrected proof. Charming YA (and by that I mean young, as in appropriate for 9+ in my view) story of the familiars to magic users. Interesting POV from the animal protagonists, rather than the (not quite teen) magicians. I liked it and will look forward to the sequel.
  4. The Dragon Variations: by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, comprising:Local Custom—Master Trader Er Thom yos'Galan knows that Liaden custom is to be matched with a proper bride and provide his clan, Korval, with an heir. Yet his heart is immersed in another universe, influenced by another culture, and lost to a woman not of his world. And to take a Terran wife such as scholar Anne Davis is to risk both his honor and reputation—not to mention the lives of loved ones.
  5. Scout's Progress—Aelliana Caylon is a brilliant mathematician, revered by pilots for the life-saving revisions she brought to the ven'Tura Piloting Tables. Despite this, her home life is terrifying, as the target of her elder brother's spite and her mother's indifference. Convinced that she has no recourse, Aelliana endures, until, on a dare, she plays a game of chance and wins a spaceship. Suddenly she has a way to escape her drab life ? if she can qualify as a pilot, and survive her brother's abuse. 
  6. Conflict of Honors—Declared legally dead by a High Priestess of the Goddess and abandoned by her mother, Priscilla Delacroix has roamed the galaxy for ten years, surviving and becoming a woman of extraordinary skills. Now, she's been betrayed and abandoned once again, left on a distant planet by the Liaden starship on which she had been an important officer. But she's not alone: starship captain Shan yos'Galan has his own score to settle with the same enemy and is about to offer her an alliance. 
  7. Mouse and Dragon: Aelliana Caylon has endured much, and finally, she appears to have won all: a spaceship, comrades, friends -- and the love of a pilot she adores.            Even better that her lover—the man who was destined for her, a man as much a loner as she—is also the Delm of Korval, arguably the most powerful person on all of Liad. He has the power to remove her and protect her from the toxic environment of her home Clan. Best of all, he agrees to sit as her co-pilot and her partner in a courier business.
                Even happy endings sometimes show a few flaws. Such as Aelliana's home clan being not as agreeable to letting her go as it had first seemed. And the fact that someone is stealing pilots in the Low Port, which falls within the Delm of Korval's honor. Oh, and the revelation that the man she loves—the man who is destined for her—isn't entirely the man she thought he was. And finally, she discovers that even the lift from Liad she'd so fervently desired, is part of a larger plan, a plan requiring her to be someone she never thought she was, or could be.
  8. Conflict of Honors: In the third novel of the Liaden Universe, Priscilla Delacroix is betrayed and abandoned by her shipmates. But confronting the crew will be far easier-and safer-than confronting the demons of her past.                                                                                                           I read the 4,5 and 6 several years again and wanted to go back to them after reading 7. I read 7 after reading sample chapters on the authors' web site and deciding that I had to read it right away—being able to download books instantly is almost a form of drug addiction, I think.  The above plot summaries are from Amazon. Let me say that these are great books: science fiction with romance, swash and soap. The female characters are strong and intelligent and don't take a back seat to anyone, while the men are also strong and intelligent. These are some of the first Austen/Heyer pastiche science fiction novels I had read, although the Heyer dominance shows more in the earlier books. Chronology is a little off, with internal and date in print not coinciding, but the wiki article gives a good (although dated and not including the latest books in the series) understanding of what order the books should be read in and the complications of the publishing (omnibuses from different publishers including different books in different order!).