Post-Christmas Blues: assorted thoughts on minimalism, gratitude and goodwill

December 26, North Shore Auckland, New Zealand, morning.

It is pouring outside, and the house is quiet. I woke up early because I need these moments of solitude. My day is always a bit strange if I don’t have this stillness in the morning. I’m pretty sure most parents can relate.

When it’s this early, sometimes I write, sometimes I work, sometimes I paint my nails. I used to do yoga quite regularly at this early time but I have to confess I haven’t done it once since we left on our trip. Yes, I stretch here and there, but I haven’t done a full session since June. That felt strange, saying June… feels like a lifetime ago. We are in such a different place both physically and mentally.  Having only what we need with us, really opens up space for other things. I guess Marie Kondo was right, “the best way to find out what we really need is to get rid of what we don’t.” I finally had the mental space (and time) needed to read her book, and I found it quite interesting. At times it’s extreme, and a bit mystical for my taste, but I would still recommend it. The most interesting part was that of the effects of uncluttering. I have to say, getting rid of the clutter does change your life.

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We have traveled since June, with only the things we need.

With that said, we just celebrated Christmas… with gifts under the tree. Even though we kept it minimal, with five of us, it adds up. After all, Santa brings a gift, and grandma sends a gift, and we give a gift, and the kids gift each other. I spent the 25th taking it slow… we made waffles with our new waffle maker and drank champagne. I picked up the wrapping paper mess and enjoyed my new teacup, breathing deep and taking it all in. We had recently spent some serious quality time in our local library and had heaps of books to enjoy, so I did some reading and even napped. Then the 26 came along and I woke up feeling blue.

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Now in addition to the things we needed, we also have many things we wanted. We will have to downsize again before returning to California!

After Christmas, there is a silence, the kids are busy playing with all of their new toys, and we rest, exhausted from all the celebrating. There is also the additional emptiness and exhaustion that weighs on me with every holiday, the way I start dreaming about my family days before the holiday arrives, and then the mornings when I crave to pick up the phone and call my parents. But I can’t call them, my dad passed away in 2009 and my mom in 2010. I can no longer call them, or hug them, or watch them play with my kids. This year is particularly heavy, as I am aware that many in my circle of family and friends are still feeling the effects of Hurricane Maria. Many still don’t have electricity. My aunt who was hosting the family Christmas party in Puerto Rico found herself with her water down to a trickle the day before the party. I have some family members that have not received water service at all after the hurricane, and everyone in Puerto Rico needs to boil their water before using it for consumption. And then there are the many family and friends that were not able to celebrate in Puerto Rico because they had to leave. This fills me with grief because I know there is no place they would rather be this Holiday season than on the island. Puerto Ricans celebrate Christmas in a loud and unique way, which leaves me panging for the old days every year, even though it’s been more than 10 years that I’ve celebrated a Christmas there.

December 26, North Shore Auckland, New Zealand, evening.

I read that one way to fight the Christmas blues is to be selfless and do something good for other people. Another one is to be active and go outside. We decided to do both.

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Ice cream cones and shell collecting at a local beach 🙂

The amazing thing about the North Shore is that there are accessible beaches and parks everywhere. This time, we went to Milford beach, which is next to a park with a very fun playground. There was even an ice cream truck parked at the beach, so we got cones and went shell collecting. There were many people picnicking at the park and playing in the water. They celebrate Boxing Day here on the 26, so there was a festive mood in the air. We are so grateful to be here.

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After the beach, I looked into the different initiatives that are doing good work in Puerto Rico and chose a couple to donate to. If you want to join us in helping people in Puerto Rico, consider donating to local community groups. They are doing amazing work at the local level. For more information check out the interactive map linked below, it has links to the local organizations that are doing grassroots community work.

Map of Local Puerto Rican Initiatives

Here is a recent video of the good people doing amazing work in barrio Mariana, Humacao:

How Puerto Ricans are Saving Themselves

This year we tried to donate to a variety of places, one of them is the Centro de Apoyo Mutuo in Caguas, they are doing solid work. We hope you are inspired to donate to a charity this holiday season. When you do, make sure they are doing real work at the local level, with the communities that need help the most.

With a heart full of love and hope for a better future full of solidarity,

Vanessa

 

 

 

Day 40: Our stuff

Our time in Puerto Rico is coming to an end. It’s time to gather our things and move on to a new place.  40 days ago we turned in the keys to our apartment after what seemed like an eternal time packing.  It turns out I grossly underestimated how much stuff we had. We survived packing, even though I still have to mentally (and emotionally) process my relationship with “stuff”.

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In my opinion, champagne is the best way to pack, though not the most productive.

We don’t usually travel with much, and this trip is no different. Each one of us has a day-pack that we carry on the plane, and we have 3 large backpacks that we check-in to the plane. We are lucky that the 10 year old is strong enough to carry a large pack with all of the girls clothes. In addition to that, we have a large duffel-bag in which we store the car-seat and booster for the two little ones.

And then we had a piano delivered to Puerto Rico… My 2 biggest girls have been learning how to play the piano, and my man had an idea: “you know, they make these travel pianos, with weighted keys, we can take one with us on our trip!” So now we have a Yamaha E353 with us. I played with it yesterday and the  keys feel so good, so I thought- if we are carrying around A PIANO I’m going to definitely need to dust off the cob-webs of my brain and get back into it. So we’ll see…

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Add to this a duffel bag and a piano and I still want to say that we are packing lightly…

After being in Puerto Rico for some weeks, I asked myself if there was anything I missed so badly that I would want to have it with me. Out of all of the things in the world I could get (Puerto Rico has Walmart, Kmart and outlets with all of the name-brand clothes and shoes you can imagine), I ended up getting a milk-frother. Turns out, I can live without my favorite purses, but not without foamy milk in my coffee.

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I left this beautiful cup back at home, in storage, but now I can have that beautiful foam no matter where I go!

I’m very proud of myself for bringing so little (or at least what I THINK is so little), when we intend to be traveling for 12-14 months. I was feeling disheartened at the shear amount of boxes we packed, when we moved out of our apartment, most of which were my things. I started feeling like my relationship with things was unhealthy. And it might be. I don’t know.

The blogosphere is full of downsizing fairy tales and minimizing stories in which people magically make their things vanish in a unrealistic time frame (it’s magic after all). And then, with the help of the fairy god-mother Marie Kondo they streamline their lives and live happily ever after. This is not my story. My downsizing story starts 5 years ago, and will need to be told in installments.  It was not pretty, so I’m gonna need a bottle of wine to recap the mess that took us to the point of leaving everything we owned in storage. Given that it’s 7:30 in the morning, the story will have to be told another time.

For now, I’m off to enjoy my last Saturday here.