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Welcome to stories from the village of Nothing Much. Like easy listening, but for fiction. I'm Katherine Nikolai. I write and read all the stories you'll hear on the Village of Nothing Much. Audio engineering and sound design is by Bob Widdershine. Thanks for joining me for some New Year's stories. If you listen to my Bedtime Story podcast, Nothing Much Happens, you may have heard these stories before, or more accurately, you may have heard the first two minutes of them and then conced out and awoken the next day with pretty much no idea of what the story was about. And that's why we created this show. It's a daytime version of my simple, wholesome stories to help ground you, ease anxiety, and connect you to the pockets of joy that still exist even on stressful days. So welcome to the Village of Nothing Much. We hope you'll enjoy your stay. Now, just because it feels good, Let's take a big breath in through your nose and sigh from your mouth. Again, breathe it in and let it Good. Our stories today start with a couple of friends thinking back on what they've shared in the past year and an idea for a way to start the next one in Over the Fence.


Then early on New Year's Day, they're joined by a few others around the bonfire as the sun comes up to share a cup of kindness in Old L'Ansine. Finally, in Clean Slate, we'll stake out a of one's own and fill it with things that are useful or beautiful or both. Over the Fence. Ever since that, Friendsgiving, when we'd served up a table full of unconventional dishes, when we broke all the rules to help soften the blow of a year when things couldn't be celebrated as they always had been, we'd become a team of party planners. Not professionally, you understand. People didn't call on us when they had a birthday coming or a new member of the family to celebrate. It's just that we'd made a habit out of planning fun, finding ways to bring our friends together, and doing things we'd never tried before. On Valentines, we'd organized a day-long bowling tournament for anyone without plans, and we'd had enough folks to fill about half the lanes. Most had never bowled before, but by the end of the tournament, they knew enough to tease each other when a frame ended with a tap or a chop, to call a player out for sandbagging, and to begrudgingly applaud when someone achieved a turkey.


That's three strikes in a row. I hadn't known either. We were already hearing from friends and friends of friends about this year's tournament, and it looked like it would become a yearly tradition. We'd celebrated the last day of winter with a plunge into the lake off the end of the dock at the inn. We'd only managed to talk about five people into joining us, and then it was mostly because the innkeeper had agreed to serve us coffee cake and hot drinks in front of her fire afterward. But it had been an unforgettable day, standing there in our swimsuits, nervously shivering and amping each other up until we'd all grabbed hands and counted to three. Then the shock of the cold and the scramble up the ladder and into towels as the early spring sun shone over us. I decided to call it life affirming, that leap, and was already looking forward to doing it again. We'd snuck baskets of chocolates and flowers onto front porches on May day, and made up secret handshakes on National Handshake Day. In August, we'd gotten a dozen friends to join us on the beach when the meteor showers were at their peak.


We'd met other folks there that night, some with telescopes who'd let us take a peak, and one who taught us that these showers were called the Persades. So named because the area of the sky where they seemed to originate from was near the constellation of Perseus. I looked him up later in the library and learned that he'd slayed a Gorgon and rescued Andromeda from a sea monster. How many things I had learned this year. Some silly and some striking walking, all because we kept saying, Let's plan something. We'd signed up to lead haunted hikes through the trails in the state park on the edge of town, and we'd had such fun meeting up before at my house to put on costumes and make up and come up with code names and back stories for our characters. When November came and we looked at all the people who wanted to join us for Friendsgiving, we soon realized that we wouldn't be able to fit them all under one roof. Luckily, one of them was the owner of the diner, the one that sits Kitty Corner from the bakery downtown, and he kindly invited us to celebrate there.


We cooked on his grill and laid tablecloths and linen napkins we'd bought from the resale shop over his long counter in Formica Tabletops. Someone brought a keyboard and a microphone, and as we sat full of Thanksgiving nachos and sweet potato pie, we were serenaded. We We decided that next year we'd make a float for the Thanksgiving parade. And all marched together, though. We had no idea yet what it would be. Now we were closing up the year, shifting into the new one, and we'd made plans for that, too. We made those plans in the same way we'd been doing since that first Friendsgiving. Over the fence that separated our backyards. We had a gate that let us travel from my house to his, and vice versa. And we often met there, our elbows propped on the top rail with cups of coffee steaming in the air. When we planned New Year's Day, the Christmas lights had been strung through the branches of his crab apple tree, and they reflected off the snow in the early morning. I'd stopped at the bakery the evening before and handed a bag of apple turnovers over the fence to him as we sipped.


Oh, thanks, he said, opening the bag and holding it up to his nose to draw in the scent. He took one out and opened his mouth as if he were about to take a big bite with his eyes on mine. I must have looked startled because he chuckled and passed the pastry over to me. I always brought him two, but it was an unspoken rule that one was obviously for me. We chewed our turnovers and sipped our coffee together. While we watched the sun come up, we talked about New Year's. Of course, there was New Year's Eve to celebrate, but that all seemed a little tired to us. Our friends who went out to dance and dine would do so. We wanted something different. I remembered a tradition I'd read about somewhere in which at the stroke of midnight, people opened their windows and tossed out any broken things they'd been holding on to. Chipped wine glasses and busted tosters were heartily defenestrated, and the street sweepers would come by a few minutes later and clear it all away. It made me think about the things we held in our hearts and our minds, even when they no longer served us.


Habits that were dug in like a groove, that needed filling in and replanting with something more useful. I told my friend about it as he washed down his breakfast with a long drink of coffee. What if instead of throwing things from windows... Yes, I put in, that does sound pretty dangerous. What if we had a bonfire and everyone wrote down the things they were letting go of and we all tossed them in? And what if we had it before the sun came up on New Year's Day, I said, Here in the pit in my yard. And afterward, we all walked to town for bagels. He lifted his cup to mine and we toasted the idea. A big bonfire, the predawn light of a brand new year, a list of worn-out worries or tired ways of thinking to shed, and a few friends to share it with. Life affirming, I called it. Old Langzein. I hummed the melody under my breath. I had been all morning since we'd sung it, stumbling over some of the words around the bonfire as the sun came up. I'd always loved that song, which at first puzzled me with its lyrics, though its feeling, its undercurrent had always been perfectly clear.


Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? It was a song often sung by friends at the end of the year, so it felt like a resounding no should follow that line. The answer came in the chorus, if you knew the translation. For Old L'Anxia, my dear, for old time's sake. It was about reminiscences, about things shared and not forgot, less maybe the things we needed to let go of. And that was what this morning had been about. We'd sat in the predawn light on logs and patio chairs that had the snow swept off of them. We were bundled in our coats, and a bonfire lit our faces. I could smell the earthy spice of the smoke, and under it, the cold, clean scent of the snow. We'd each brought a little notebook or journal and something to write with. I'd brought a favorite of mine, small, just about the size of my palm, and covered in simple brown paper. I had been given it a year or so ago, a gift from a friend who'd seen it at a craft fair and thought of me. At first glance, it had been so plain that I'd been on the verge of being inserted, that such a bare, boring object had brought me to mind.


But when I opened it, I found that each page was a different color. Some had outlines of flowers and insects printed on them. Others showed the shapes of continents and boats on the ocean. Some were lined for writing, and others held a network of squares for drawing. The shades ran the gamut from pale pastels to rich dark ruby red and velvet green. For those pages, I used pens with silver or gold ink. I treasured it because it was first a beautiful object all by itself, and then because my friend had recognized me in it. Simple, unassuming on the outside, full of secret magic when you looked closer, and that felt very good. Along with my favorite journal, I'd brought my favorite pen. Well, honestly, I I have a few favorites there, some for their color or the way the ink flows when I'm writing. But I loved this one for its short brass body and a long pretty feather attached to the end. It was a fake feather, certainly, and died in a swirl of pretty colors. I liked to pause as I journaled and let the plume brush over my cheek or drag it between my fingers.


I guessed that writers who'd used real quills when those were the tools of the day had done the same. Eased a moment of writer's block with the soft distraction of fluffy barbules against an upper lip. By the fire, we'd each of us bent our heads down to our paper and written while the logs crackled and snapped. What was I letting go of? What didn't need to follow me into the new year? I looked around the circle of friends who were pondering the same thing. A couple were writing feverishly, whole paragraphs that clearly had a bit of force behind them. Another who had forgotten to bring a notebook and had been handed a stack of sticky notes from the junk drawer, wrote one word, folded the sheet in half, and sat back in her chair waiting for all of us to finish. I closed my eyes, listened to the fire and the sound of my own breath. I felt my booted feet resting on the patio stone sounds and noticed the touch of my scarf against my neck. I did this sometimes when I wanted to focus, when my mind felt like water rushing through a colinder, drifting in a hundred small streams rather than one potent current.


I spent a few breaths just cluing back into what my senses were picking up. Then, with eyes still closed, I opened up a question mark space in my mind and heart, and I waited. It didn't take long. Within a second or two, a thought stepped forward and raised its hand to suggest what should be written on the paper. And I felt the transference of weight from my shoulders to somewhere outside of my body, as I wrote. In fact, I sat taller after and rolled my shoulders down my back and let out a slow sigh. I didn't like the idea of ripping paper from my journal. I didn't like the jagged edge of a torn sheet among my pretty flowers and sailing ships. So I'd written my words on the center page that was held in place with a couple of metal brads. I eased up their fasteners and slid the whole page out. I tucked my feathered pen back into the book and closed it up. Around the circle, my friends were folding up their papers, tucking journals into pockets, and sipping coffee from travel mugs. Somebody cleared their throat and asked, Are we ready?


We nodded at each other across the fire. The sky was turning a pale orange, and the day was about to break. One of my friends had folded his paper into an airplane, and he sent it sailing into the fire. It made us all laugh and broke the serious feeling into something more manageable. Someone else crumpled their page into a ball and tossed it as if sinking a basket on the court. Next went the sticky note and my folded sheep. One of my friends bent over his book and tore out the whole lot of pages. We laughed as he dumped them into the fire. We we stood up stomping our feet to bring the blood flowing back into our chilled toes and watched the pages curl and turn to ash. The fire was doused and the air steamed with the last bits of what we'd let go. We smiled at each other, not really knowing what to say. But for my part, I felt less bogged down and more at ease. That made me think that as helpful as it is to let old things go, it is also smart to plant new and useful things in their place.


We shouldn't just shed, we should sow. So I thought about what I'd like to see more of, do more of taste more of, feel more of in the new year, and pulled those hopes and plans into me with deep breaths. Then I raised my mug in toast to my friends in the new year and sang in a small but unafraid voice. Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? And they generously joined in with me. We only knew the one verse and the chorus, but we sing it through twice as we trailed out through the yard and into the street and into town for breakfast. We'll take a cup of kindness yet for old langzine. Clean Slate. It was a plan I'd had for a while to clean out that back room home, the one that was full of possibility but also full of random clutter, and make it a space for myself. I'd started a few weeks ago, sorting through boxes and reholming the mismatched lamps and forgotten things that had ended up there just because we didn't know what to do with them at the time. Sometimes we do that, don't we?


Something lands in our hands or our hearts, and we don't know where to put it, how to let go, so we stash it for another day. But even behind a closed door, it can tug at you. You might be able to walk past it for weeks or even months, but at some point the day comes and you say, enough. I want this space back. So I'd been adamant, a box or two a day, sorting out the things I wanted and letting go of the things I didn't. And soon, I had a clean, empty space. I'd even vacuumed into the corners and gotten the ancient bobby pins and paper clips out from between the planks and the floor. I dusted down the floorboards and polished the window panes till they sparked circled. For a bit, I just enjoyed the emptyness. It felt restful to me. I'd seen an article once. The headline had made me laugh. It said, 75 Ways to Simplify your Life. Seventy-five seemed like much too high a number to result in the simplification of anything. But the gist of all those words could be boiled down to these. Figure out what matters to you.


Let go of the rest. And I supposed before I put things back into this clean room, I wanted to have a clear idea of what mattered. I wanted a space for my water colors, my easel and my canvases, a desk to lay my sketch pad on, neat drawers to organize my pencils and stacks of charcoal. I wanted a place to keep my favorite books, the ones I reread often, depending on the season and the changing temperament of my heart. Some place comfortable to curl up to read or nap or daydream. Some things to inspire me, some things to calm me, some things to remind me of where I had been, and some things to spur me toward where I might go. I started with a rug, rolling it out over the oak floor. It was woven with warm fibers in shades of cerulian, an oriot, that would keep the chill from my feet on cold days. I turned it this way and that till I found the right spot for it. Then, and with a bit of help, I brought in my desk. I'd found it in the antique shop downtown, and I'd been carefully cleaning it, brightening up the wood with polish and shining up the door pulls.


The style was what was called a secretary desk. It had a hinged panel that lowered down in the front to create a level work surface. Cubbies and small drawers just the size for my supplies, a hollowed-out space to lay your pencil in. I When it was folded up, it could lock with a tiny key. When I'd found it in the shop, the key was missing, and I was a bit heartbroken over it. Keys fall into that category of objects that, for me, hold a bit of magic in them. And even though I had no reason or need to lock up my desk, I wanted it all the same. The shopkeeper, hearing my disappointment, reached up onto a shelf behind his register and pulled down a box full of old keys. He explained that most of these antique locks were built around only a few styles or cuts, and with a little trial and error, we were sure to find one that fit. He tipped the box out onto the counter, and we poked through the dozens of brass and iron openers. With each one I touched, I wondered what lock it had originally fitted into and whose secrets and treasured items it had protected, how all those stories had ended.


Finally, we found a small key with an iridescent greenish patina he guessed must be made of copper. It smoothly turned in the lock. And since then, I'd threaded a green ribbon through its bow and had it ready in my pocket. I took my time filling the drawers, thinking about where I want everything for ease of use when I was sketching or writing. My boxes of colored pencils, my sharpener, my sealing wax and stamps. They all fit with a curious exactness into the drawers. I slid a fresh journal into one of the cubbies and laid a just sharpened pencil into the groove, then lifted the lid into place. I turned the key in the lock and left it there, the ribbon showing against the polished wood. I set an old-fashioned desk lamp on the top ledge of the secretary, the kind with the green glass shade and pull chain, already looking forward to the sun setting, to needing to pull it and enjoying the pool of light it would cast. Then we brought in a sweet little love seat that had been hanging out unused in an odd corner of the house for ears. It had a single arm and a curving retro shape that seemed designed for just one person to stretch out on, and that made it perfect for this room.


I added a small table where I could rest my future cups of tea and plump the cushions of the sofa. I'd bought myself a new and incredibly soft throw, and I draped it over the arm. Next, I set up my easel by the window to catch the natural light. I had a collection of photos and illustrations, as well as the first full painting I'd ever done, and they'd been waiting their turn, gathering dust in a closet. Now I'd framed them, and I hung them over my love seat. I'd had these pieces because I liked them. I wanted to look at them. Why had they spent so much time in the dark? The clutter of stuff hadn't left room for the things I loved. I made a quiet promise to myself that this room would only house things that were useful or beautiful or both. I added a bookshelf and filled most of it with my well-loved favorites, but saved one shelf for new books. I'd checked out five from the library this week just to slide onto this shelf and to have something undiscovered to look forward to. On the windowsill, I set out a small pot with a young jade plant that I'd propagated from one that sat on my mother's windowsill.


She'd told me that these thick-leaved succulents were symbols of fresh growth and prosperity. Finally, I set out a candle on the top of the desk. It smelled of vetiver and cedar. In that same antique shop, I'd also found a small, round pot. It looked like an inkwell, but it was made of rough ceramic. And stempled in bright blue ink against its white stoneware with the name of a hotel in Morocco. When I'd carried it up to the checkout desk, the shopkeeper took a green-tipped match from his pocket and struck it against the rough surface of the pot, and the match crackled into life. Useful and beautiful. Check. It went onto the desk beside the candle, and I filled its blue-rimmed pot with the special-tipped matches I'd found at the drug store. I struck a match, I lit the candle, I turned the key and opened the desk and slid the blank journal out. I picked up my pencil. It was easy now to remember what mattered to me. It felt like it would be easier going forward to let go of everything else. I started to draw. Thank you for visiting us here in the village of Nothing Much.


We wish you a very Happy New Year, a cup of kindness, and a room of your own.