Friday, March 12, 2010


This blog wanders like it is lost, but I am still working on my efforts toward frugality. Simple abundance and frugality - they seem like opposing forces (abundance and frugality?) but frugality is about being simple, so perhaps they're not so opposed after all.

We have been Craigslisting items, which a) gets them out of our house, and b) brings in some cash. We switched from an espresso machine to the little stovetop espresso pot like everyone in Europe seems to have, and yesterday a nice person from Craigslist came and paid me $100 for the machine. We can still have espresso whenever we want - but it's one less pull on electricity (the espresso machine was always plgged in), one less large piece of clutter, and more money in hand. The machine had been sitting for about a year, so we certainly won't miss it.

We are eating a lot more vegetarian meals. Last night I made black beans and rice, Mexican style with onions, chilis, tomatoes, served with a squeeze of lime, a sprinkling of cheddar cheese, and avocado slices. Tessa would still prefer a cheeseburger every day of the week at every meal, but she actually ate everything I served with only a minimum of fuss (which is huge these days). Ryan is taking his lunch almost all the time, and often he takes leftovers (which I plan for when I cook), so that means he's eating more vegetarian at lunch, as well, instead of the fast food meals that I know he was having.

Part of my reason for more vegetarian meals is cost, and part is health, but another part is that it's more environmentally friendly. When I buy meat I'm trying to find sustainably raised, grass fed, pasture raised, free range (in the true sense of the word), hormone free, ethically slaughtered, etc. That comes at a price - a hefty one. I almost moan when I hear an ad for $1/pound hamburger, because I sometimes pay 5-6 times that much for the green version. To balance this with frugality, we just eat a lot less of it. Not only do we eat meat less frequently, but we also eat it in smaller quantities than we used to.

(Book note: I just finished "The Butcher and the Vegetarian" by Tara Austen Weaver. It discussed the ethical and environmental issues of meat by a once-vegetarian who is prescribed meat in her diet due to health issues. It's an interesting twist on the question of meat, and an easy read.)

Once again, we got free mulch delivered, with help from our friend Kathleen and a local tree service. It's high quality, rich material, and it will nourish our vegetables all summer. I'm never paying for mulch again. We're making our own compost, though it seems like we can use twice as much as we can produce. Vegetable scraps are used to either make stock (I keep a container in my freezer at all times now so that making stock is as simple as throwing it into a pot of water, adding onion and salt, and simmering) or compost in the worm bins, and I love the closed cycle that creates. Once again this summer we will be eating out of our garden. The blueberries and raspberries are starting to leaf, the rhubarb is coming up, the strawberries are waiting, and the herbs are starting to renew themselves. In the next few weeks I'll be planting early veggies like peas, leeks, spinach, chard, and the garden will be off and running. We're expanding the garden again this year, so our harvest will be even greater than before.

I am trying very, very hard to avoid packaged and processed foods. I still buy, not make, cheese; I haven't attempted my own crackers yet. But for most things, I'm working with whole foods that look the way that they grew. Tessa would probably prefer Ding-Dongs in her lunch (at her age, I did) but we're all adjusting. I am making all of my own bread (and getting rid of the bread machine!), cereal, and three meals a day. It's tiring but worth it, I think.

The library is one of my closest friends. I'm on their website every couple of weeks, placing holds on all kinds of books. I do look forward to buying books again, but right now, while I really care about frugality, this is a great back-up plan. It's one thing to stop buying books, altogehter another to stop reading them!

We haven't used paper towels in at least a year, maybe more. I keep one roll on hand for things like vomit (arghhhh!) but that roll lasts a whole year. I keep a basket of rags with the cleaning supplies, and they work great. Whenever something gets stained beyond wear, I cut it up and it goes into the rag bin. I don't miss the paper towels a bit. Same is true for paper napkins - we still have a bunch from before we went all cloth, and I will use them very occassionally, but I don't even think about them any more. There is a big bin of them in the kitchen, and it works for us without a thought.

In the winter it's harder, but I'm still trying to walk many errands instead of driving - that's one great thing about living in West Seattle, I can walk to multiple grocery stores, a deli, coffee shops, pharmacies, toy store, thrift stores, clothing boutiques, etc. We've got to get Tessa more comfortable on her bike and then we can expand our range, too. (Although I haven't figured out Shep + bikes. I like to take him on my errand walks to get him exercise - how do I exercise him if we're on bikes?)

I'm still staying out of stores. Yesterday the Title Nine catalog (women's clothing, much of it athletic wear but also darling skirts and dresses) came and I drooled over it for far too long. I have canceled most catalogs for this reason: when I look at them, I start to crave things or think that what I have isnt' good enough. But when I stay out of stores, and stop looking at catalogs, I don't miss things at all. I have never been trendy - I like to htink of myself as more classic - so I don't need to buy a bunch of things every new season.

In short, I've come a long way. Still have a long way to go....but I've come a long way.

Time to wake up the girl. Fingers crossed that she's in a good mood this morning....

Thursday, March 11, 2010

More little pleasures

Today: yoga (in my basement), followed by a lunch of apples with peanut butter and carrots with lemony hummus.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

More things I love

My last post made me feel good, so I'm adding to it. Remembering what I love, remembering what makes me smile, remembering what is good in the world - what's not to love about that?

Now, let it be said before I begin: the things that I love most are not things. I love my husband, daughter, family, friends, dog, cat, health. I love clean air, fresh water. I do know what is important, and I'm not trying to trivilize that just because I'm taking about smaller things. Small things are good, too, and that's what I'm thinking about today.

Okay, disclaimer over. Here's today's random list:

I love:
- the colors cobalt blue and turquoise (sometimes together, not always)
- oriental rugs
- desks with cubby holes for storing things
- hand knit afghans
- Tessa's naked baby photo
- hearing the Dalai Llama speak (or reading his works)
- the tree mural in Tessa's room
- the Coast Salish carved orca that hangs in the living room
- eating fresh from the garden
- home made bread
- days when I get to stay in my pajamas for as long as I want
- hot coffee
- hot tea
- the smell of my yard after it rains
- hand made baskets
- the smell of baking lemon bread or cake
- sitting with a friend in the middle of the day to just talk
- full bookcases
- the way the sun comes through the stained-glass door in the mornings
- watching birds in the bird feeder while we eat breakfast
- smooth pebbles, especially beach washed pure black or white ones
- freshly painted rooms
- the color of my bedroom - I find it so soothing
- empty kitchen counters (maybe just one bowl of fruit on them)
- my teapot from Grandpa
- setting a table when people are joining us for dinner
- silver serving trays
- fresh flowers in a vase, just plunked in, not arranged. bonus points for growing them myself.
- sitting down at a clear desk to write a letter
- curling up with a good book in a comfortable chair. bonus points for adding a cup of tea and a hand knit afghan
- my black leather boots - the flat ones, because they are comfortable and stylish and warm
- dangly earrings
- wearing my hair long
- picnics with wicker baskets and plaid blankets
- beachcombing
- long bubble baths by candlelight. bonus points for a good book and a glass of wine.
- snowshoeing
- hiking up to Talapus Lake
- the Olympus Day Spa (aka "the naked spa")
- the texture of Tessa's hair, and the color of her natural highlights
- home cooked meals made by a friend
- eavesdropping on Tessa and her friends

Ahhhhh. Writing that put me into my happy place.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Things I love

Simple abundance doesn't mean getting rid of everything. Here are some things that I love:

- Lots of pillows on my bed
- An assortment of china tea cups and tea pots (yes, I use them)
- stainless steel pots and pans
- crystal vases that catch the light
- beeswax candles (yes I burn them)
- pretty table linens
- books, books, books
- heavy kitchen bowls
- serving ware with an Italian twist, lots of cobalt blue
- cashmere sweaters
- my Great Aunt Helen's Limoge china with the pink and lavendar roses, even though I only use it once a year
- warm throw blankets, especially those made by hand
- purses in just about every size, shape, and color

What do you love?

Simple Abundance

I've been reading a book by the title of "Simple Abundance" and I've been thinking a lot about the topic. I want a simple abundance in my life: enough, but not too much. Laughter galore, good books, music, friends, wine, quiet, flowers, comfort, beauty. I want to live in the present, loving what I have, even when I'm working for the future.

I want to be surrounded in beauty, but I don't want to live in a museum or on the pages of a catalog. I want to be content with what I have, but still know how to dream and to plan.

How does one go about making her home filled with simple abundance? Not the trappings of a modern consumerist life like in the glossy pages that are before us all the time; not what Martha Stewart or HGTV tells us, but a comfortable home where people love to visit. A place of serenity, safety, comfort, and beauty. A place marked by individuality.

Today, I'm spring cleaning. After helping my in-laws to spring clean their home in preparation for sale this weekend, I came home filled with resolve to do the same things in my own life. When Ryan and I watch "Designed to Sell" we always laugh at the simple changes that people make that they should have made years ago to make their home more livable; I'm working on that myself today. But it's more than that: it's the philosophy of being present, of knowing how much is enough and how much is too much. It's being able to separate memorabilia that brings joy, and the things that just add clutter. I'm not moving any time soon (I hope not, anyway) but the practices that people go through before a move are probably good for all of us. Ryan and I have lived here for nine years, and the house that once seemed palatial is now filled to the rafters with stuff.

I suffer from the same consumerism that impacts us all. Right now I want a new dining room table (ours is starting to sag), a remodeled attic and kitchen and basement, and clothes with feminine ruffles on them. And a new trenchcoat in a color that pops. There is always a list of books or music to buy or have.

These same things might be things I don't want in a year, or in ten, and so I'm trying to examine my impulses more closely. I don't need anything. I don't need much stuff, and we have so much.

I don't want stuff. I want beautiful, useful objects that please me and truly simplify my life. I want it for the joy of it, but I also want it to be sustainable and green for this earth. I want our possessions to contribute to the ease of our lives, but not to rule us.

So, as I'm going through overflowing closets and drawers and extra rooms, the question I ask is: What is enough? What is the difference between abundance and excess?

I'd love a discussion on this, with some practical numbers thrown in. How many of each should we have at any time?
- magazines
- books
- CDs
- toys
- baskets
- sets of sheets
- sets of towels
- extra blankets
- vases
- office supplies
- clothing per person
- shoes per person
- kitchen tools
- other.....

I'd love to see others thoughts. What is simple abundance, and what is excess? Where is the balance between simplicity and abundance?

I believe that when my physical space is in order, my life feels more in order - and my head, too. I'm working on all of it right now.


Many thanks to my beloved in-laws for allowing us to share in their process this weekend as they sort through a lifetime of home furnishings and mementos before they downsize to the "land cruise" of the pretty retirement place they've picked out. I know it's not easy to choose which memories to take and which to leave behind, but I hope that when I am in their shoes I will handle it with as much grace and good humor. I am grateful to them for allowing me to whirl through their home, poking my nose into the corners to help them, because though I do it as a service I imagine it must be invasive, too. It is an honor to be entrusted with the joy of helping to care for them. Mom and Dad Surface, I love you. I hope you're relaxing after the whirlwind of your family swirled through your home this weekend.