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Archive for the ‘Simple Living ideas’ Category

Recently we purchased a boat load of fruit…and not just because I was craving fruit salad with the rising temperatures, but because I also need to make more freezer jam as the batch I made only 6 weeks ago is already gone (and we only gave one of the 6 pints away!) and using frozen fruit this time of year seems blasphemous.  But David also mentioned that he’d like some fruit with his yogurt, something he often does with granola.

So it got me thinking, “why don’t I just make some from scratch?”  I don’t know why I haven’t thought of that before; if you’ve followed me for a while you know that I’m always trying to think of new ways to make he very items we normally purchase packaged.  And granola is quite expensive in the store and there’s nothing quite like warm, homemade granola!

I embarked on a search by checking my favorite place, AllRecipes.com, and made a simple, no-fuss recipe that would pair well with fresh fruit and vanilla yogurt.  I combined a couple recipes, took reviewer comments into consideration and focused on the two main ingredients David was interested in (maple and walnuts).

Though it takes a bit of tending to once in the oven to prevent burning, it really couldn’t be simpler to make.

Homemade Maple Walnut Granola

  • 4 c. rolled (not quick) oatmeal
  • 2 c. chopped walnuts
  • 1/3 c. canola or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 c. maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • dash of cinnamon
  • sprinkle of sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix oatmeal and nuts in one bowl; in another bowl, mix oil, syrup, vanilla and cinnamon.  Add wet ingredients to dry mix and combine thoroughly.  Spread onto 2 ungreased cookie sheets (I put mine on parchment paper on top of the cookie sheets per one reviewer, but found it unnecessary).  Lightly sprinkle sea salt on top of mixture and bake at 350 degrees for 10 min.  Then lower oven temperature to 250 and bake for 30 more minutes, stopping every 10 minutes to stir the mix.  It will smell AWESOME in your home…trust me.

Let cool completely before storing in mason jars (but not before enjoying!)

David wanted a large bowl of yogurt, fruit and granola.  Me?  Not being a huge yogurt or granola fan, I went for a smaller portion and made a pretty parfait out of it (and I must admit, I was smitten!)

David said he is also interested in a version with honey and almonds which is what I’ll make next in lieu of maple and walnuts; I’m betting it’ll be just as good.

Enjoy!

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I used to make paper bows in my shop with recycled pieces of paper and was often asked how I made them.  I didn’t share at the time because frankly it took me a long time to hone my skill and I was trying to sell them in my shop.  There are lots of tutorial on-line which provide a great base, but I found they looked a bit cookie cutter or frumpy and don’t give the fullness or unique flair that I wanted, so I kept practicing until I created a couple variations I liked to work with.

Disclaimer, this is a pic-heavy (though colorful!) post; apologies for the obnoxious watermarks…old photos from my former shop!

Now these take a while to make so I did these in the evenings while on the couch and with the TV as company; I’m the type that likes TV on in the background, but find it awfully hard to just sit and watch TV.  I need to be doing something with my hands.  Typically I’d be able to make 5 or 6 in an hour (depending on size and type of paper) .  And seeing that most people don’t want to pay more than a $1 a bow, it wasn’t very profitable, unless you want to make $5/hour!

But hey, if you’re looking to spruce up your packages yet add a handmade touch, these are just the thing!

First there are a myriad of ways to make bows, so I’ll show you a couple varieties, but first, let’s start with your standard chunkie bow.

First here’s what you’ll need:

  • paper trimmer (I like my rotary trimmer for smaller pieces of paper as my big paper trimmer would wreck it); of course if you don’t have one, just use scissors!
  • scissors
  • tape
  • pieces of paper of varying sizes (I like using sheets from magazines – stores will often give them away free as they get credit from companies when they return covers; I also like using music sheets I find at the thrift store or used book stores)
  • tape
  • double-sided foam tape
  • embroidery floss, string or thick thread & needle (I use thicker needles as the eyelet can fit floss and it can punch through paper/cardstock easier)
  • leftover cardstock, paperboard, even thin cardboard
  • buttons (optional)

You’ll want to select pieces of paper that have a decent front side and back side.  The pieces I used for this example were from a holiday themed cookbook magazine which I knew would yield nice reds/greens and the backside was pink.  If you’re making a full-enclosed chunky bow, this won’t be an issue, but if you’re creating an open-faced bow with a button in the middle, the front and back side are equally important (more on that later).

Click on image to see in greater detail

First trim your paper along the long side of the paper, (Figure 1) making them the width of about 3/4″ (you can go thinner for a wispier bow or thicker for a chunkier bow).  I find that a standard size magazine page will be enough for one bow, but sometimes you need a little more, so play around with it until you’re happy with it.

Then fold each strip into a figure 8 (Figure 2 & 3) with the image you want showing on the outside of the strip.  Tape the backside of the strips to keep the figure 8 shape in place.  To make a fluffier, wispier closed bow, keep the figure 8 loose (Figure 4) or if you want pointy edges and an open faced bow, keep the figure 8 tight (Figure 5).  I like mine somewhere in the middle.

Click on image to see in greater detail

Once you have a pile of “folded” figure 8 strips (Figure 6) start aligning them loosely (Figure 7) saving the best pieces for the top (Figure 8).  You’ll see that the more piece you add, the more the bow starts to close in on itself (Figure 9).  If you find that after you have gathered your bow that it’s not closing in, just add more strips.

Then thread your needle doubling your thread (sorry, don’t know the official term of this!) and tying a knot at the end (Figure 10).  My piece of thread/floss is usually 18″ long (or 9″ when folded).

Click on image to see in greater detail

Taking your top strip and insert the threaded needle through the bottom (Figure 11) pulling through so the knotted end is underneath.  Then sew back through the top to the bottom (think if you were sewing through an imaginary button.  Now your threaded needle will be hanging from the bottom of that first strip.  Now keep adding more strips, this time just punching straight through (Figure 12) as if you were stringing popcorn for a garland.  This part goes really quick.

When you’ve added all your strips and are content with the fullness of the bow, punch through a piece of cardstock, cut your string and tie a knot (Figure 13).  Add a piece of double-sided foam tape for easy application onto gifts (I’ve found they work much better than regular double-sided tape with staying on).  Voila,  you’re done (Figure 15).

Click on image to see in greater detail

In Figure 16, I made a tiny bow (good for jewelery-sized boxes) and you can see that the end are a little bit pointier…

In these bows, the paper was longer which lends to a more open-faced bow.  These are great to add buttons to which gives them a unique flair.  You can see that I did the same thing as the first bow, but truly sewed a button on (Figure 17 & 18).  I kept adding strips (Figure 19) and you can see in Figure 20 that if you want a simple, flatter bow, you can stop after only 3 or 4 strips, or you can add more to create a fuller bow (Figure 21).

Here are more examples of “button” bows I’ve made in the past:

I like to use magazine ads as it is a way to use up paper before it heads to the recycling bin and often adds colorful variations…

But sometimes I’d use catalogs/junk mail that came in the mail…

You can see that this bow is more curly…to make this style, use thinner width strips, 1/4″ – 1/2″ – but keep in mind they’ll be more delicate.

I also loved to use vintage/used ledger sheets…

Heck, I even used coffee bags!

It’s really up to your imagination!!  And while you’re making bows, why not wrap your gifts in unique ways using materials you probably have in your house?  See my old post on eco-friendly wrapping paper.

Hope you found this helpful; now go and create fun bows for your holiday packages!

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Finally a clear day and the sight I woke up to on my birthday

I’m back and what a great week it has been!

Of the 5 days we spent in Estes Park, CO, only one of them was a beautiful, clear sunny day and I’m fortunate it was on my birthday.  I’m kinda spoiled like that.  Growing up in New England, I was always used to having beautiful weather on my mid-May birthday, but since moving out to Colorado, it’s been hit or miss.  Yesterday was picture perfect.

Entrance to RMNP

We woke up to a beautiful view of the mountains, brilliant blue sky dotted with puffy clouds and took the opportunity to head into the park.  Because of the time of year (and the snow earlier in the week was not at all uncommon for that area), most of the park is sadly closed until June.  The week before we left, David showed me a picture he found online of the visitor’s center at the top of Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park and the snow pack was to the roof line, about 16 feet and it’s not uncommon for the roads to be covered in 20+ feet of snow; thus they only keep the perimeter, lower altitude roads maintained for year-round visitors.


And the entrance fee is not reduced ($20) even though you can only go in about 1/16th of the park, but I like to think of it as our annual donation to the national park system (and frankly it’s worth it!).  We had a great time and were able to spend a good 4 hours in the park, admiring the views, breathing in the pristine air and spying on some of the wildlife.

The dogs were ancy (and aren’t allowed on any trails in the park, just perimeter parking areas), so we dropped them off at the cabin, headed into town where it felt luxuriously warm at nearly 60 degrees and dined on sushi outside near the river that runs behind the main street.  Afterwards, we slowly traipsed our way in and out of little shops, supported the local economy with a few small purchases and enjoyed ice cream in the sun.

We ended the afternoon at our favorite independent coffee shop where they serve up a delicious Mexican hot chocolate and authentic chai (dolloped with fresh, thick whipped cream).  Mmm…

We returned back to the cabin where the sun was setting, dined on nachos on our picnic table and didn’t say much trying to soak up the beauty all around us as well as the awareness that it was our last night there.

This morning we awoke to a frigid 30 degree fog and made our way home where we’ve been greeted by a heavy snowfall.  And as much as we loved our retreat, it was nice to come home and jump into our large, cozy bed where we are permanently parked for the rest of the day.  Perfection.

Whatever your plans are for this year, I hope you make some time for yourself, shut down from technology and spend time in nature, even if only in your backyard or local park.

Of course, if you can make it to the Rockies, that certainly doesn’t hurt the cause either… ;)


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Longmont, CO where we first lived when we landed in Colorado weeks after our wedding in 2002; it’s a beautiful location, close to the mountains, close to Boulder and among farmlands – and every time we drive by on the way to Rocky Mountain National Park, we miss it incredibly!

Last year David and I embarked on a new tradition that we plan to keep yearly so long as we are living in Colorado.

Our 9th wedding anniversary is on May 31st which is a great time of year but often falls on Memorial Day Weekend which equals holiday prices on travel and lots of crowds, neither of which we are particularly fond of.  So instead we opt for treks earlier in the month and last year we found the perfect location – Estes Park, Colorado.

For those of you unfamiliar, Estes Park is the town at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park.  Not only does beauty abound, but there’s a main street with cute shops and restaurants, lots of places to admire nature, tons of recreation and one very simple but lovely YMCA camp that is open to the public.

This camp is huge and not just your typical kids camp.  I had the opportunity to spend lots of time there with a previous employer who had several work retreats there.  They have nice, simple lodges (that feel like motels) and cabins from 2-10 bedrooms.  And you don’t need any affiliation with the YMCA to partake.

Our sweet 625 sq. ft cabin is the perfect size (there is no downstairs, just storage)

To top it off, the prices are cheap prior to Memorial Weekend ($99/night and the 3rd night free) but more importantly, they allow dogs!  We hate to travel without our pups – we miss them, we worry about them when we’re away (we’ve had several mishaps with regards to their care in the past), not to mention that it’s very costly to board them or have a house/pet sitter stay with them.  Any chance to bring them with us is always the top option and the fact that this place is well within driving distance and we aren’t capped at having only 2 dogs, makes it ideal for us.

View from inside and this place has wall to wall windows

Oh and did I mention that it’s super serene and beautiful here?  It’s forced relaxation at it’s best.  There are no TVs, no internet even (at least in our cabin, but there is access at the main lodge which looks like a tiny version of the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone)  so it forces us to slow waaay down.

It was sunny and dry when we arrived on Tuesday; then we woke up to a blanket of snow in the morning and an additional 6-8 inches during the rest of the day

The days have a rhythmic quality to them…and although this may not be some people’s idea of fun, it’s simply divine to us and we so look forward to our time here.

First off, we sleep in as long as we can until the aging bladder of Sierra wakes us.  We leash everyone up and go for a walk.  Breakfast is cooked up in our cute lil’ kitchen room.  Since we have limited plates and silverware, we are forced to clean up right away and I kind of like it that way…no chance for laziness to kick in leading to a pile of dishes at the end of the day.

View from the kitchen looking toward main area of cabin

We have our laptops with us so music is generally piping with an eclectic mix of Ray Lamontagne, Johnny Cash, Diana Krall and Lorenna McKennitt, among others.  We pass time reading (alone and to each other), doing crossword puzzles together, walking, hiking, napping, and admiring the wildlife everywhere.

Yikes, there's a coyote in the kiddie park!

We walk the main street, and of course, spend time in the park (weather permitting!).  In the evenings, we go to the lodge to spend a little bit of time on the internet, grab a coffee from their cute lil’ cafe and sit in the adirondack chairs in front of the giant hearth fireplace soaking in the radiant heat of the roaring fire.  We also bring a couple DVD’s with us and might watch a movie back in our cabin if the urge strikes.  To keep costs down, we cook most meals in the cabin and only eat out a couple times during our stay.

A break in the snow and blue sky! Only for about 2 hours then the snow commenced.

We go to bed early, we sleep ridiculously long hours and we totally relax.

A break in the snow allowed for a nice walk with the pups

My friend Jess pokes fun at us.  “You guys are the only people that I know who live in a cabin in the woods but choose to vacation in a cabin in the woods!”  Yeah, I suppose it’s kind of silly, but whenever we come here, we completely turn off.  Kind of like I was mentioning in my post last week about our adventure without power for a weekend, it’s hard to force a technology shut down even though we appreciate the original break.  When we come to Estes Park, we know it’s going to force us to slow down, unwind and, as my other friend Peg says, it’s a nice change of zip code.

We love a lot of vacation spots for what we can do or see, but we love this spot for what we don’t do, if you know what I mean.  And there’s nothing like spending time in nature to ground you, to remind you of why it needs protecting and why choosing to live a greener and simpler life, while not always convenient or popular, is a great way to live.

Sierra just LOVES to be outside

So while you may not be fortunate to live close to something as splendid as RMNP, try to even spend just 5 minutes outside in nature everyday.  Whether it’s out for a walk or standing out of your front door.  Stop, take a deep breath in, listen to the sounds surrounding you and watch intently around you – you know, the things we take for granted in our everyday rushed lives.  Sometimes its cathartic just watching a bird digging around the earth or listening to the trees whisper in the wind.

Where are your favorite down-time getaways?

(p.s. hope to have more in-town and park photos tomorrow if the weather clears up, otherwise, it will be more photos of snow!)

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I’m doing a hybrid post for Whimsical Wednesday/Eco-Thursday as this fits under both areas and frankly, I don’t have any other new artwork to share this week…busy, busy!

When my “One person’s trash is another’s treasure” post was Freshly Pressed by WordPress, many people commented that they saved glass jars as their treasure from the trash.  I hear ya; I am one of those too.

I actually started saving glass jars years ago when I spent a good part of my career working in the natural/organic products industry and learned of the harmful impact of storing food in plastic wrap and containers (especially heating up!).  So I started saving most of the glass jars that I was originally putting in the recycling bin.

Hot, soapy water and a razor blade will clear all the labels/adhesive off the jars

I used these jars to not only store grains, flours and other bulk goods (see that post here) but to also store perishable food items.  I save all my glass juice jars for storing homemade broth in, I save pasta jars to store portions of soup in, I save jelly jars to store homemade salad dressing.  It wasn’t uncommon for me to store leftovers/lunch in those jars to bring to work with me.

But jars also make great storage for crafting and/or household items.  As a kid, I remember my dad using baby food jars in his garage where he would store various nails, nuts/bolts, and screws.  I keep my vintage buttons color coded in glass jars I had on hand (yes, I’m that nerdy *wink*)


Vintage music sheet, twine and a misprinted postcard image which I turned into a gift tag and added an antique skeleton key to

You can use jars to even store office items like rubber bands and paperclips (I actually have mine in tin cans that once held tuna!) or special notes, mementos, even things like ribbons and thread if you sew.  In other words, endless uses.

Baker's twine and one of the vintage ledger stickers I've been obsessing about lately, topped with a tin star completes this look

And sure, you can use them up plain…or you can dress ‘em up like I did here.

Finally a use for my metal hardware! This piece also included ledger paper, vintage fabric measuring tape, fabric from a torn lampshade, twine and a scrabble tile

Now I went a little crazy on the embellishments…it’s the artist in me, but you can also keep it simple (I once saw a photo where an artist stored all her beads in reused jars and only painted the lids solid colors; stacked along a wall it looked so simple yet stunning).

To the top of the painted lid I added used/crumpled up tissue paper, a scalloped punch from a Japanese book and a "faux" cranberry that once fell off a wreath that I threw in my embellishment pile!

So with that in mind, here are some ideas to dress up your glass jars for decorative storage:

  • ribbons or twine
  • scraps of paper, stickers or labels
  • paint
  • crackling medium (to give that cracked paint vintage look to your painted lids)
  • gift bows or gift tags
  • embellishments found around the house like: silk flowers, buttons, metal hardware, old tissue paper, trinkets, objects found in nature (pinecones, seashells, twigs, rocks), etc. etc.

Speaking of natural elements, here's a tiny piece of driftwood I found off the shore of Florida while visiting my parents

You really could do a million different things.  It’s just a matter of how creative you want to get!

So with that in mind, rethink your recycling bin and see if there are other ways you can reuse your glass jars.

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So typically I share my new artwork on whimsical Wednesday.  But this past week has been an odd one with ups and downs and last minute changes, so I haven’t had a chance to paint at all (actually I will be doing that tonight and will share later this week).

On Saturday I wrote about how I was having a Murphy’s Law kind of day.  Well, it didn’t end there…it really reared it’s ugly head on Sunday when I was faced with a very big deadline and a pet emergency.  I have a great partnership with FORCE, a non-profit that provides support to women with genetic predispositions to breast and/or ovarian cancer.  I currently donate 50% of my Brave Girl and Sisterhood Girls merchandise to them.

I also provided FORCE with their holiday cards and am now working with them on a large fundraising effort whereby they’ll be selling select bookmarks, note cards and magnets from my whimsical art shop for them to raise money for their organization.  We had discussed it over a couple weeks, but the actual order (a couple hundred pieces) came in Saturday and they needed it by this Friday which meant that I had to get it in the mail on Monday to be certain they’d receive in time.

So, I knew that I had to crank out this order (as well as others that had come in over the weekend) on Sunday and there was no time for distractions.  Well, it just so happens that our pug Zoe either was bitten by something or consumed something bad and had an anaphylactic reaction Sunday morning.  Vets aren’t open on Sundays, so we had to get her to the emergency vet, which there aren’t many in close proximity in the mountains.

She received a shot of epinephrine but continued to vomit violently all day long.  She was a sick, sad pup and only wanted to snuggle in my lap while she shivered violently.  There was no way I was going to get any work done as David had to work the evening shift and it was just me and the woefully sad pug.

This is actually Zoe as a puppy, but she had sad eyes like this times 10!

By Monday morning, she was still sick so we went straight to our regular vet where she was given different injections which did the trick and now David had the day off which meant I could finally crank out my orders.  I was able to finish my wholesale/fund-raising order by 4pm and rush it off to the post office, but then I continued working until 1 a.m. to get the rest of my orders complete.  It was a long day to say the least.

Okay, back to the whimsy part of this post.

So, everything essentially got pushed back a day or two and I’m behind on painting.  But it was still a whimsical kind of day…

Since we live a good 45 minutes/hour into the mountains, we have to plan specific days to go shopping/run errands.  Typically we run “down the hill,” go to the rec. center where I swim and David skates, enjoy lunch out and follow up with our favorite pasttimes – sipping coffee in the bookstore and/or antique shopping.  Today, we indulged in both.  It was like Christmas!  (I’ll share most of those pics tomorrow for my Eco-Thursday post in addition to another great find we discovered today – stay tuned!).

David and I sometimes joke that people like us are probably part of the demise of the big box bookstore…we go for the ambience, to check out the magazines and books, then look them up at our local library instead of buying them there.  The only thing we’re out is the cost of a cup of coffee.  Sorry  Barnes & Noble.

But this ritual makes me happy: reading my favorite magazines, writing out/sketching ideas in my journal and coffee.  We usually stay for hours.

Speaking of whimsy, here’s a Family Guy inspired coffee cozy I made for David a couple years ago out of re-purposed wool sweaters.  “Brian’s” face is a little, um, off…but David still loves it nonetheless.  A nostalgic, homemade gift from the heart!

After we left the bookstore, we went over to our favorite antique mall and I spied this beautiful, shabby-chic birdhouse made out of barn wood, a fleur-de-lis metal embellishment, and crystal doorknob.  This is definitely whimsical and yes, I bought it this fabulous piece of artwork (and for only $30!).

And speaking of more whimsy…well, maybe more kitschy, here’s me playing 50′s housewife in one of the vintage kitchen booths at the antique store

I’m a quirky girl.  Isn’t that bird apron so cute?  And oh, those Corelle dishes reminds me of hanging out in my mom’s kitchen when I was five, watching her bake.

It was a really great day, a much needed day off.  Then to top it off, it started snowing on the way home (which is really quite welcome here as we’re about 3′ below the average snow precipitation for the year and the fire danger is extremely high lately).

View out the kitchen window

And my whimsical birdhouse?  Well, she’s just too darn pretty for the birds (sorry birdies!), so she’ll be parked inside for me to admire.  I’ve already told you – I’m quirky.

 

*wink*

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Well I’m finally back.  I wasn’t sure if I had food poisoning or a stomach bug, but nearly 5 days later I know it was the latter.  And it really rattled me.  I’d stay up long enough to get orders done then off to bed.  I’m still a little foggy, a little dizzy and have lost nearly 8lbs, but overall I’m doing much, much better.  I hate leaving this blog for so long, so thanks for understanding!

So there’s a local commercial playing in Colorado that I just love.  It goes like this:

Timeout!

Do you want to slow down?

Do you need to unplug?

Let’s go for more peace and less noise

More substance and less stuff

It’s time for a revolution

A movement toward simplicity, balance and a life that you desire

Wellness is a choice, take charge of your life!

Ok, so maybe it’s from a local supermarket chain, but the message is still really valid.  I love it because everyone always complains how hairy the holidays are I always remind people that it doesn’t have to be.  You don’t have to say “Yes!” to every invite, to every request and you don’t have to buy everyone gifts.  The holidays have become so superficial and everyone has become so exasperated trying to keep up with the Jones’ and what everything thinks you should be doing.

So take your holiday back.  Revel in the traditions that you enjoy and just be comfortable pushing back on the ones you don’t.  Be the first to recommend “no gifts!” at your office or even in your family or find ways to reduce the “excess.”  Enjoy the holidays for what they should be.

We have very little going on and sure it helps that we aren’t plugged in to office environments, don’t have very social lives, don’t have kids and don’t live in town (all by choice you see…).  We never go to holiday parties save for a gathering here or there that we really want to be a part of (like my soulful group of bonafide girlfriends but even then, we just keep it to the 5 of us).  And David will join in a potluck meal at work but that’s the extent of it.  Any after work gatherings he politely declines.

And we don’t have presents to worry about because we don’t exchange them.  Some might think that takes the fun out of it, but we like to surprise one another throughout the year and frankly, if we need something we discuss it together and purchase together.  Our families decided years ago to not exchange gifts because it was all getting so out of hand (save for a little monetary gift we like to give to our 2 nieces).  This alone takes hours out of driving all over the place and dealing with crowds because you fill like you have to.  Not to mention how tight money is these days for everyone.

Even my small close-knit group of girlfriends decided a couple years back not to do any gifts for holidays or birthdays so long as we made time for each other.  Because frankly, each others company is what we truly enjoy.  And we almost always potluck it making it much easier on everyone’s wallets.  And no lines, no nasty or rushed waitstaff, no shouting to hear one another.  It’s just relaxing and fun kicking back at someone’s place.  Spending time with them is worth a million candles and other pleasantries I might receive.  And there is still random gift-giving throughout the year, but not on any socially-mandated holiday.  I often gift art to them when they’re not expecting, one will bring me a bunch of natural body care swag that she gets as a buyer.  Another will bring someone coffee from a place they visited.  It’s all personal and totally unexpected.  And it’s truly meaningful.

And you know what…people won’t hate you if you don’t send out holiday cards.  People come to expect it, sure, but I’m willing to bet that the people you send a generic card to for the holidays would much rather hearing from you out of the blue, when no one else is sending a card.  Trying to send out 50 cards at once is a chore and so much more meaningful when it’s done individually, throughout the year.  I remember the year I stopped sending cards…I felt downright guilty.  But you know what, I got over it and so did everyone else.

So get back to enjoying what the holidays mean to you, whether that be religious in nature, philanthropic in nature or even kitschy in nature (driving around looking at Christmas lights and listening to Christmas songs from the 50′s) and move away from the harried, commercialism that it has become.

And sure, I’d be hypocritical not to note that my shops are doing well this time of year because of the holidays.  However, I’m actually quite happy to report that most of what I’m selling right now are supplies for DIY projects (like blank/Kraft gift tags, folded cards, etc.) and not crafted goods or art which tells me that people are starting to make more of their own stuff.  I like that.  And typically most of the goods that I’ve created always seem to sell better when it’s not  a holiday which tells me that people are using them for themselves or to gift throughout the year.  Just like my girlfriends do.  And that makes me smile.

So I say, bring on the Burl Ives, light up the tree and snuggle up with a friend or loved one and celebrate relationships during the holidays and pass up on the hype.

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Instant oatmeal

Yep, I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I never made oatmeal with old-fashioned oats until last year at 34.  And what I was missing all those years!

When I first left my job a year ago and had to really watch our budget, I knew that going bulk with a lot of my grains was a good frugal food route to go (you can see my bulk food area here from a previous post).  I had heard that old-fashioned oats took a little longer to cook but were heartier and knowing David’s appreciation for hot cereal, I bought a pound (and doing so is about 1/4 to 1/2 the cost of a box of instant, even organic!).

When I first made it, I remember thinking, “now THIS is what oatmeal tastes like.”  It really has that oat-y flavor and you can make it all sorts of ways (doing away with the sickeningly sweet flavored packets of instant that I used to enjoy).  You can also add other grains to it to make it a multi-grained hot cereal (like cracked wheat, buckwheat, amaranth, etc.)

Cooking old-fashioned oats is simple – it’s a 2:1 ratio of water to dried oats, bring the mixture to a soft boil, then put on the lowest heat setting for about 15-20 minutes.  I always add a pinch of salt and a pat of butter as it really balances any sweetness you add to it and really draws out the flavors.

I typically make oatmeal once a week, though more in the winter.  It’s only 19 degrees on this chilly morning, so oatmeal seemed like a good call.  Today I’m making our oatmeal with maple and pecans (though we’ve been enjoying a lot of apple/cinnamon oatmeal recently with our ABUNDANCE of apples from our CSA (I seriously have more than 6 large apple-picking bags worth of apples taking over our fridge right now and another big bowl of getting-ready-to-turn apples on my counter that I’m making into muffins and crisp later today).

So, if you haven’t tried oatmeal the old-fashioned way, you really ought to.  Once you do, I don’t think you’ll be returning back to packets anytime soon.

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When you think of decluttering, people don’t often come to mind.  And it sounds a bit cruel in simplified terms.

But lets revisit that quote in the last post from Shirley at  Choosing Voluntary Simplicity:

To me, simplifying means eliminating anything that is a drain on your time, energy and soul while giving nothing back in the way of enjoyment, contentment or peace.

Now use that definition to the people in your life.  Do you have family, friends, coworkers or acquaintances that are “a drain on your time, energy and soul while giving nothing back in the way of enjoyment, contentment or peace?”

Sure you do.  We all do.  And though its a heavy topic, sometimes we need to take a break or break away altogether from those people in our lives.  And sure, sometimes this sounds easier that it is.  You can’t always avoid a draining co-worker or walk away from a family member.  But you can set up boundaries, you can refuse to allow yourself to get caught up in the drama and you can learn to let go of the one-sided relationships in your life.  We’re talking decluttering on a very personal level here.

What relationships in your life do you need to reevaluate?  Here are some of the types of relationships that can be cluttering your life and I’m sure you can think of a couple people that fit into each category:

Energy vampires

These are the folks that are always in some state of drama.  Something’s always going wrong, they are always miserable and they want to suck you into their black hole.  These folks often call on you when they need to vent but never to share good news or want to share in any of your news.  Its as though they avoid happiness at all turns and choose to remain in a vicious cycle.  And I don’t mean to assume that relationships aren’t give and take.  Sure, there are times when you need to lean on someone and then in turn other times they need to lean on you.  That is the symbiotic sway of strong relationships.  But I’m talking about the ones that drain you, all the time.  Are they “a drain on your time, energy and soul while giving nothing back in the way of enjoyment, contentment or peace?”

All about me’s

You know them.  The world often revolves around them.  You are just a member of their choir and they are at the pulpit.  I know a bunch of these folks on Facebook alone – they post often, don’t engage with you when you try to reach out, they’re amassing followers like a cult leader.  And they don’t care what you have to say.  If you chat on the phone, they often will gab for the first hour and give you 2 minutes to share what’s going on in your life.  These people can also be the one-sided folks that you want to be friends with but they dictate the friendship on their terms – contacting you when its convenient for them or need something from you, but not answering you when you reach out.  They just don’t have time because it’s all about them.  Are they “a drain on your time, energy and soul while giving nothing back in the way of enjoyment, contentment or peace?”

Are we even friends?

These are more acquaintances – people you know and are friendly with, but not someone you would really call a friend.  These folks are the “spam email” of the relationship world.  They want to connect with you on Facebook or other social media site just to connect but add no real value to your life.  They’ll reach out when they need someone to come to their tupperware party or need help moving or need help with a job, but otherwise, you wouldn’t really connect.  I’m not suggesting you get rid of acquaintances altogether, but perhaps you should ask yourself, are they just clutter in my life?  Are they “a drain on your time, energy and soul while giving nothing back in the way of enjoyment, contentment or peace?”

High demand people

These folks are the high-pressured people in your life and have exceedingly high expectations of you.  On the other spectrum of the folks that don’t have the time of day for you, these people expect you to be at every event they invite you to, give you grief if you don’t call all the time or make you feel uncomfortable in their space because they are perfectionists and expect you to be too.  They expect you to be the perfect friend or family member and if you don’t meet that expectation, then you might as well pack your bags and get ready for the guilt trip. They don’t understand the ebb and flow of life, the distractions people have and the saying “gee, we picked up right where we left off, like we’ve never been separated,” would never leave their lips because their pissed that you haven’t been there for every single occasion in their life.  Once again, are they “a drain on your time, energy and soul while giving nothing back in the way of enjoyment, contentment or peace?”

I started reevaluating my relationships about a year or so ago and came to the realization that I needed to weed certain people out of my life.  I found myself taking things personal, allowing myself to be weighed down by others drama and not standing up for myself and my needs.  I was either being a people pleaser or avoiding people altogether so I wouldn’t need to start drinking after interacting with them.

But then I started repeating a mantra over and over: “I don’t have space in my life for negative energy”

This has been a tricky road for me, a people pleaser, to traverse.  But I’ve learned that I need to take care of my own needs.  Getting approval from everyone isn’t the end goal.  I’m not going to hang on for dear life to a person or situation that is just draining me or becoming a detriment to my own life.  Life is too short to be dragged down by people in your life.

And so I let go.  I started cutting people out of my life.  And not I’m talking about an angry slash and burn of contacts.  I just quietly removed myself from these people or situations. 

“I don’t have space in my life…”

And this doesn’t mean that I’ve put up a permanent wall but more of a, “I just can’t continue to be drained/wounded/ignored/sucked-into-your-black-hole, but perhaps we can come back full circle and be a part of each others life again in the future.”  In other situations, I’ve taken a giant step back so that I’m not so closely involved in the drama.  Although I mourned my expectations of that relationship, I had to let go of some friends and family at certain points in my life.  Some have vanished altogether, some are at a distant arms length, some have come back into my life with a renewed sense of mutual appreciation, respect and love.  I am also learning to let go of past hurts and just accept it as part of life.  It is a process.

Recently I deleted half  of my “friends” on Facebook – over 100 people.  Talk about decluttering!  Sure, some see it as a networking opportunity, but for me, I really only want to be connected to people who I’m in regular contact with or whom I have a fondness for and want to keep in touch or those that reach back out.  I can’t even tell you how many people “friended me” only to never say a peep or answer back messages sent their way.  I even accepted friend requests from people I didn’t even remember but saw that they were friends of friends and surmised that we must have none each other at some point.  How ridiculous is that?  Once again, the people pleaser was emerging; I didn’t want to appear rude afterall.

But it was beginning to feel like these people were friending me just to size me up and check out my photos or to link in case they ever needed a job referral.  If we never talked in high school and I’ve never seen you since, why do we need to be connected?  And if I’ve sent you messages and you can’t give me the courtesy of answering back, ever…then what’s the point?  And if we worked in totally different departments of the same company years ago and we haven’t chatted since, where’s the friendship in that?

My girlfriend Peg is a very engaging, gregarious and popular lady.  People are instantly drawn to her and she in known in many circles.  But I love her no-nonsense take on FB.  Her approach is that if a person isn’t someone she would want to share vacation photos with, then she isn’t friends with them.  Even if it means turning down countless friend requests and regularly deleting contacts.

This approach may sound negative, but it really isn’t.  It’s about quality relationships, not the quantity of them.  And on Facebook, it seems like everyone is in a contest to see how many “friends” they can amass.  Like a giant popularity contest for adults.  C’mon, let’s be real folks.

So to those who got lopped from my personal profile, no hard feelings, but it was an empty connection.  And the empty connection left me feeling bad and once again “I don’t have the space in my life for negative energy.”

Recently this issue was ignited for me.  I had a friend that I’ve been trying to find for years, one that I was chasing…always emailing, never hearing back.  I cared deeply for this person and wanted to share in their life.  Clearly I was more invested and I was like a puppy dog waiting for a bone to be thrown my way.  I finally got an email back and was thrilled to see their name in my in-box, but then the body of the message was nothing short of a resume of their life over the past 10 years.  And that was it.  No greeting, no closing.  I fell back into old patterns and excitedly wrote back looking for details, only to get a very curt, cold reply.  I was hurt.  It’s always painful when it becomes very clear that you are the one invested and the other person is not.

I really tried not to take it personal, but I processed it for a couple days. I was disappointed and hurt that this person didn’t share my enthusiasm of reconnecting.  Finally, I made the decision to make peace with it and let go.  I will not chase this person.  I will also not wish ill-will.  I instead wish them well in my heart and have let go.

Like I’ve said before, relationships are about give and take.  Sometimes you give more, other times you take more.  But if it’s all one-sided or if it’s an empty connection, wouldn’t you rather free up that space in your life and focus on those connections that allow you to give and receive enjoyment, contentment and peace?

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I’m still a student of the simplicity movement.  I take two steps forward, then one step back.  I struggle with balance and negotiating terms that work best for David and I.  Pushing, pulling, staying on track and falling off the wagon, moving fast, taking it slow and learning all the while.

About two years ago when I seriously started this journey toward a more simple life, I read dozens, and I mean dozens of books on the topic.  One of the tenants of the voluntary simplicity movement is decluttering.  The idea is that doing so allows you the physical and emotional space and time to enjoy the things that are important to you (and in a karmic/energetic sense, allows for new people/relationship/opportunities to come into your life).

Shirley over at the blog Choosing Voluntary Simplicity sums it up just right:

To me, simplifying means eliminating anything that is a drain on your time, energy and soul while giving nothing back in the way of enjoyment, contentment or peace.

And so we’ve shed lots of items…minimizing our belongings and donating often when things feel out of balance.  Resisting the urge to buy things that will only add to the clutter and learning to let go of the things we said we’d get to, but never did.  Freeing up physical and emotional space.

Decluttering from a business perspective has been especially challenging for me this past year.  I’m still learning what’s working, what doesn’t, what I want to pursue, what I don’t.  It has been particularly tough for me to keep inventory levels in check and to not save every last item from the recycling bin in hopes that I’ll someday convert it into art or something useful (I consider myself an eco-artist after all!).  This, I fully admit, has been a personal challenge of mine and one that I’m constantly negotiating.

But sometimes decluttering can be applied to non-tangible items like technology and, dare I say, relationships.  Let first discuss that lighter topic of the two: technology (or more specifically, email).

I have two email accounts: personal and business.  And like a home, these accounts need regular housekeeping.  A little each day is no big deal, but put it off for even a little bit and it compounds and soon becomes overwhelming.

Last week, while David was off at work and I was having trouble sleeping, I decided to finally delve into something I’d been putting off for a long time – going through my inbox and deleting old emails.  On this particular night I went through the 2000+ I had in my business email account.  Now mind you, I’ve been through them all, but some things were auto-generated newsletters that I learned I didn’t really need and were just adding to the clutter.  I also had lots of alerts to “convos” or Etsy-specific emails that I had received.  It takes a simple delete once you get them, but if you let a week’s worth remain in your inbox, well, it’s all downhill from there.  So that’s how you end up with 2,000 emails over the course of a year.

And so this past week, I’ve been diligently going through each day and filing what I need to keep and deleting the rest and it’s so nice to look at that inbox and see less than 10 emails sitting in there at any time.  Now I feel confident that I’m not missing/forgetting anything and it makes me feel as though I have things under control and that in turn equals peace of mind.

Tonight, I decided to do the same with my personal email.  I had over 2000 emails as well in that account – many of them absurd spams, others were things I signed up for (but didn’t realize I’d be getting daily digests and even more-than-once-a-day-newsletters).  Because of the sheer volume, I felt overwhelmed and stopped checking it regularly, often missing out on the emails I truly want to receive – those from family and friends.  It was all so overwhelming.  And I could have easily cleaned it out in less than 15 minutes with a slash and burn method, but I decided to take the time to sort by name and then go through each group and figure out what was going on.  Was it spam?  If so, I’d click that to help my service provider understand the spammy email accounts.  Was it something I signed up for and no longer care to received?  Then I searched for the unsubscribe button so that I don’t have to keep doing this every 6 months.

The goal is to limit the amount of email coming in so that I can manage it on a daily basis.  And sure, it took me close to 2 hours to get through it all, but the emotional space it cleared up was more than worth it.  Sounds so stupid, but I feel so much better having all that junk, all that clutter gone.  It truly is freeing.

Tomorrow I’ll discuss another way to declutter your life exploring a much heavier and sensitive topic: relationships.  As painful as it is, sometimes you need to take a “sabbatical” or “break-up” altogether with certain family, friends or the energy vampires in your life.  Oh, it’s a loaded topic, but one you’ve certainly considered at some point in your life.  So come back and lets discuss.

 

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