Do You Have a Happy File?

Happy File | Happy Simple Living blog

Years ago, I was having one of those days at work. Perhaps you know the kind, where you wonder if you shouldn’t have chosen a career in, say, raising dachshunds. It was a period of time when I couldn’t seem to get any traction with my projects, and everything seemed doomed to fail — have you ever felt like that? On a whim during that grim afternoon, I decided to create a file folder in my office that would someday, eventually, hold good things.

I took out my yellow highlighter, drew a big smiley face on the folder, and made a label that reads, “HAPPY!” Over the years, whenever I received a note of praise or encouragement, I tucked it in the file. The result is an astonishing collection of heartfelt thank you notes, letters from happy clients, sweet cards from friends — and wonderful e-mails from some of you.

My Happy File is nearly overflowing since I first created it.


Thank you notes and letters | Happy Simple Living blog


If I’m feeling discouraged, or if I find myself aimlessly Googling “breeding dachshunds,” all I have to do is take a look at the contents of my Happy File and I instantly feel uplifted.

How About You?

Do you have a Happy File? Perhaps you’d like to try this idea. If you prefer, you could create a Happy File on your computer or mobile device and scan or photograph the good stuff that comes your way.

Over time as you watch for positive messages, I predict you’ll see how often you are making a difference. Sometimes we just have to remind ourselves that people notice and appreciate the good things we do.

And if we fail, I hear that dachshund puppies are in high demand.


The signature for Eliza Cross

Dachshund | Happy Simple Living blog

Embracing a Funky Old Tool Shed

Siding: Cedar Shakes, Trim: Cedar Shakes/White, Door: Red, Roof: Light Brown/Metal - This is a custom building.

Photo by Sheds Unlimited

When we moved here ten years ago, I was very grateful that our house had a tool shed in the back yard. It’s a luxury to have storage space for garden tools, pots, soil, the wheelbarrow and other various outdoor odds and ends.

Since I’ve written for home magazines for many years, I’m often exposed to fabulous, high-end homes and landscapes. Most home design writers will agree with me that this is both a blessing and occasionally, a challenge.

It’s endlessly fascinating to hear about people’s crazy remodels and sloping lots and zoning issues and architects and builders and interior designers. It’s a rare privilege to see their incredible, perfect homes. On the other hand, sometimes I return home with a critical eye instead of a grateful heart for all that we have.

I recently wrote about a beautiful lakefront home in Montana’s  Whitefish  Lake for Mountain Living magazine. The homeowners Orlan and Debra Sorensen built the most fabulous stone garden shed you’ve ever seen, complete with a sitting area and porch overlooking the lake. You can peek at it here, and the shed is the last photo at the end of the story.

Dreams vs. Reality

If I were going to splurge on a new potting shed, perhaps I’d consider one like the custom structure by Sheds Unlimited posted above. Something charming, with windows to let in the sunlight, and maybe even with a little table inside where I could escape and read fine literature and sip something like…oh, I don’t know… a sparkling drink with fresh mint and lavender syrup.

But the reality is that our shed is of a slightly… different architectural style. Our shed, in fact, looks like this:


Tool shed covered with reclaimed fencing | Happy Simple Living blog

It’s rectangular with a flat roof, and the exterior is covered with old, reclaimed cedar fencing. Because it is so wonderfully utilitarian and because we’re trying to live sustainably with what we have, I’ve given up trying to class up the shed and have decided, instead, to celebrate its unique flair.

I added a few metal signs to the front of it to celebrate its funky siding, and nailed the warped boards back in place.


Funky old tool shed | Happy Simple Living blog

The shed is topped with a lovely faux owl that is supposed to scare the flickers away from our siding but which, in fact, does not fool fowl or the rabbits who visit the garden.

I had the structure re-roofed, and Pop kindly added vents to keep it cooler in the summer. It may not be a magazine-worthy shed, but it’s functional and fun and I am grateful for it.

How About You?

Do you have an area in or around your house where you’ve decided to simply go with what’s there? Have you decided to keep your rare pink bathroom fixtures or sturdy Formica counters and let them become part of your home’s charm? I’d love to hear your stories in the Comments section below.

Here’s to making the best of what we have, and embracing the funky!


The signature for Eliza Cross


Pumpkin Maple Donut Holes Recipe

Pumpkin maple donut holes | Happy Simple Living blog

It’s cool and rainy this morning in Colorado, and I’m dreaming of these cinnamon sugar-y pumpkin maple donut holes I made a few weeks ago. The recipe is from my new cookbook, Pumpkin It Up!, and you can win your very own signed copy this week. Just visit this post for the details. The giveaway ends at midnight MST this Friday, October 14, so don’t delay.

I used a cake pop pan to make these donut holes, but if you don’t have a special pan you can make them in a mini muffin pan and they’ll puff up and turn out great.


pumpkin patch

You can use canned pumpkin to make these sweet treats, or you can make your own easy homemade pumpkin puree. Many of the pumpkin patches and stands have good baking pumpkins now. Some of my favorites are Little Giant, Cinnamon Girl, Baby Pam, Amish Pie and Winter Luxury.

To me, pumpkin maple donut holes taste like autumn and spice and comfort and home cooking and love. Let’s make some; shall we?


pumpkin donut holes

Pumpkin Maple Donut Holes

  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup canned or cooked pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and grease two 12-cup donut hole or mini muffin pans.

Combine 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and reserve. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, and salt until blended. Add the pumpkin, maple syrup, eggs, oil, and vanilla and stir until just combined; do not overmix.

Spoon 1 rounded tablespoon of batter in each opening of prepared pans. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until donut holes spring back lightly when touched. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes and transfer to a wire rack. Brush the donut holes with melted butter and dredge in the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place on the wire rack to dry for 5 minutes. Makes 24 donut holes.


The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. You might also enjoy this recipe for Pumpkin Caramel Cinnamon Rolls.

13 Simple Ways to Add a Little More Peace to Your Day

Autumn leaf | Happy Simple Living blog

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes… including you.” ~ Anne Lamott

We all have seasons in life when we are called upon to do challenging things. One of my dear girlfriends, who is a single working mom, faithfully visits her mother every Sunday–even though her mama no longer recognizes her. Another friend is launching a new business and caring for her toddler, all while recovering from breast cancer treatments and surgery.

My challenges feel decidedly puny by comparison:  Caring for our beloved, aging dog who frequently needs to go outside in the middle of the night. Parenting a wonderful teenager, who lost his dad earlier this year. Maintaining a great 1970’s house, where something breaks down weekly (this week: busted washing machine). Homework. E-mail. Deadlines. Long days. Embracing life with my ex’s large, lively Chocolate Lab, who likes to grunt nocturnally. (Note:  I’ve been waiting my whole life to gracefully weave the phrase “grunt nocturnally” in a sentence.) (P.S. Don’t you think The Nocturnal Grunters would be an excellent name for a rock band?)

The effects of a little too much on my plate and not quite enough sleep caught up with me this summer, and I could see it in my face, too — the weary smile, and dark circles under my eyes. I finally had to admit that I couldn’t just take my good health for granted during a demanding season of life. I realized I had to actively seek more peace and take care of my own health if I wanted to be strong and rise to these challenges.

These are some of the things I’ve tried that seem to help:

1.  Begin and end the day quietly and unplugged. In the morning I wake up an hour before my son, pour a cup of coffee and head for my favorite easy chair. I read a devotional, think and pray. Sometimes I meditate. Sometimes I write in my journal. Sometimes I just sit and watch the sun rise. It’s all good. At the end of the day, I love to read a book until I fall asleep. Nothing positive ever comes from being online first thing in the morning or last thing at night, so I don’t go there.

2. Speak and think words of peace. Wayne Dyer suggested saying these words every day: “I am well. I am content. I am at peace. I am at ease.” I wrote them on a card that I attached to my computer monitor so I see and repeat them daily. I also have favorite scriptures and quotes that I like to say aloud.

3. Batch e-mails, and write shorter replies. Probably just like you, I receive a lot of e-mails. I could spend a good part of every day answering e-mails, without accomplishing much of anything. Now I’m trying to take just two or three breaks a day when I answer e-mails, and not constantly click on the InBox throughout the day. Brevity is a good thing, so I’m trying to be more concise. I also like the old-school approach of picking up the phone and talking in person, instead of sending one more e-mail. I’ve even been known to send my clients hand-written postcards.

4. Accept some limitations. This is tough, because I don’t want to miss important events, especially gatherings for people I deeply care about. I frequently wish I could be two places at once, and I ask God often for help with priorities. All working parents know something about juggling and trying to balance everything, and sometimes we simply can’t do everything or be everywhere we wish we could.

5. Hire and ask for help. We could not live in this house without our lawn guy Kevin Lombardi, who cuts the grass so beautifully and cleans up the leaves in the autumn. Paying someone to help is easier for me than asking other people for help, but I’m trying to get braver.

6. Swish and swipe. The Flylady coined this term, which means simply to give a quick polish to a room each time you’re in there. I always feel more peaceful in a clean, tidy space — which is not to say that our house is always clean and tidy. But swishing and swiping helps.

7. Declutter and clear space. The less stuff we have, the less overwhelmed we feel, and the less time we have to spend cleaning and maintaining things. Minimizing means we have more open space and serenity in our homes. William Morris said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” We’re not there yet, but this is my ongoing goal and I give things away almost every week.

8. Write in a gratitude journal. Saying thanks changes my heart. Being glad for what we have and focusing on good things helps me stay centered. I love reading back over the entries I’ve jotted down over the years, too.

9. Do your own thing. When you have multiple responsibilities to many other people, I think it’s especially important to have something you do just for you. This might seem like an odd example, but I joined Toastmasters this year to practice public speaking and it’s been so much fun. I just finished my fourth speech, and I love the Zen element of forgetting about everything else that happens when we attempt something new. Plus I adore the people in our group, who are each working so hard to improve their skills.

10. Talk to someone. When I feel stuck, I love going and talking with our wonderful family counselor. She always helps me sort things out, and it’s like a spa day for my soul. My mom is the wisest woman I know, and I often turn to her when I need help. (Thank you, Mom. I love you.) My sweet sister and several dear friends are great at nonjudgmental listening, which is such a gift.

11. Write a Victory List. If you sometimes feel like you’re not doing enough, perhaps writing down your accomplishments throughout the month will be an encouragement. Here’s why and how I started a Victory List.

12. Do something good for your body and soul. Just for fun, I stopped at one of those chair massage stations the last time I was at the store and had a 15-minute massage. It was heavenly! Whether it’s a steam shave at the barber or a pedicure, do something nice for yourself occasionally and reap the benefits.

13. Take a walk. A middle-of-the-day walk is so therapeutic. It’s good exercise, the fresh air clears my head, and I often come back with a new idea or a solution to a problem.

How About You?

What do you do to maintain balance in your day and stay centered? I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

Here’s to more peace — in ourselves, in our families, and in our world.


The signature for Eliza Cross

Free Cookbook Giveaway – Pumpkin It Up!

Pumpkin It Up cookbook by Eliza Cross

My newest cookbook, Pumpkin It Up!, has just been released by Gibbs Smith. I had so much fun developing and testing recipes that highlight the mild, earthy, slightly sweet flavor of pumpkin, and the result is a 128 page, four-color book that retails for $16.99. This month I’m giving away a free signed copy to one lucky, pumpkin-loving reader.

Pumpkin It Up! has 75 recipes that feature pumpkin in both sweet and savory ways.

Pumpkin It Up cookbook by Eliza Cross


It begins with a section about preparing pumpkins for cooking, with basic recipes for homemade pumpkin puree and roasted pumpkin seeds.

Pumpkin It Up cookbook by Eliza Cross


It has recipes for breakfast treats like Pumpkin Cheesecake Crescents:

Pumpkin It Up cookbook by Eliza Cross


…and soups like Pumpkin, Corn and Shrimp Bisque:

Pumpkin It Up cookbook by Eliza Cross


It features pumpkin in side dishes like Maple-Roasted Pumpkin and Brussels Sprouts:

Pumpkin It Up cookbook by Eliza Cross


…and dinners like soul-soothing Pumpkin Risotto:

Pumpkin It Up cookbook by Eliza Cross


Pumpkin stars in desserts like Creamy Pumpkin Tiramisu:

Pumpkin It Up cookbook by Eliza Cross


…and an old-fashioned Pumpkin Roll:

Pumpkin It Up cookbook by Eliza Cross


…in sweets like Pumpkin Cream Chocolate Cups:

Pumpkin It Up cookbook by Eliza Cross


and in treats like these pretty Pumpkin Chocolate Swirl Brownies:

Pumpkin It Up cookbook by Eliza Cross


You’ll even find a recipe for homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte in this book. #PSL!

Pumpkin It Up cookbook by Eliza Cross


To enter the drawing to win your own signed copy of Pumpkin It Up!, just answer this question in the Comments section at the bottom of this post:

What do you love best about autumn?

I can’t wait to read your answers. Be sure to include your e-mail address on the form when you post your comment (it won’t show to anyone but me). The giveaway is open to anyone with a shipping address in the U.S. and Canada, and you can enter between now and midnight MST on Friday, October 14.

Hugs and happy October!

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Be sure to check out yesterday’s post featuring the recipe for Pumpkin Caramel Cinnamon Rolls.

The beautiful photos shown in Pumpkin It Up! are by Susan Barnson Hayward for Gibbs Smith.

Pumpkin Caramel Cinnamon Rolls Recipe

Pumpkin Caramel Cinnamon Rolls | Happy Simple Living blog

Photo by Susan Barnson Hayward for Gibbs Smith

The flavor of pumpkin spice seems to be everywhere right now, and is even the subject of some good-natured debate; some folks are complaining of Pumpkin Spice overload with so many manufacturers jumping on the #PS bandwagon. The TODAY show is even running an online poll where viewers can vote on whether the pumpkin spice craze has “gone too far.”

Pumpkin It Up cookbook by Eliza CrossIf you’re overloaded on #PS, you may wish to skip this post. If you’re a pumpkin spice lover, read on!

Today I’m sharing one of my favorite recipes from my newest cookbook, Pumpkin It Up! (128 pages, hardback, $16.99; Gibbs Smith, Publisher). Perfect for a weekend breakfast or brunch, these flaky cinnamon rolls are filled with a pumpkin spice-pecan mixture and drizzled with a caramel icing while they’re still warm. The rolls are extra easy because they begin with a tube of refrigerated crescent roll dough. If you like, you can use an organic brand such as Immaculate.

For the filling, you can use canned pumpkin or make your own pumpkin puree; I’ve included complete instructions after the cinnamon roll recipe. Steaming or baking the pumpkin is quite easy, and pumpkin puree freezes really well so that you can have it on hand whenever you get a pumpkin spice craving.

Now is a great time to visit your favorite farmer’s market or pumpkin patch and buy good cooking pumpkins. Stay away from the gigantic Jack O’Lantern pumpkins, which tend to be tough and stringy, and look for look for smaller, sweeter baking varieties. Some of my favorites are Little Giant, Cinnamon Girl, Baby Pam, Amish Pie and Winter Luxury.

Here’s the recipe:

Pumpkin Caramel Cinnamon Rolls

  • 1 can (8 ounces) refrigerated crescent rolls or seamless dough sheet
  • 1/3 cup cooked or canned pumpkin puree
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened, divided
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar, divided
  • 2 tablespoons milk, divided
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9-inch round cake pan.

If using crescent rolls, unroll dough and separate in 2 long rectangles. Overlap long sides 1/2 inch to form 1 large rectangle. Press seam and perforations to seal. If using dough sheet, unroll dough and pat in large rectangle.

In a small bowl, combine the pumpkin, 4 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 tablespoon milk, pie spice, and salt, and stir until well blended. Spread the mixture over the dough and sprinkle with pecans. Starting at long side, roll up; pinch seam to seal. Cut in 12 equal slices and arrange cut side up in prepared pan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until rolls are golden brown. Cool in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan until melted. Stir in remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar and remaining 1 tablespoon milk; cook over medium low heat 1 minute. Cool for 5 minutes. Stir in vanilla and 1/4 cup powdered sugar and beat until well blended, adding more powdered sugar if needed until desired consistency is reached. Drizzle rolls with icing. Makes 12 rolls.

Oven-Cooked Pumpkin Puree

  • 1 medium pie pumpkin, about 4 pounds
  • 1/2 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Wash the pumpkin and cut out the top and stem with a sharp knife. Lay on a cutting board and carefully cut in half. Scrape out stringy pulp and seeds. (Rinse and reserve seeds to make Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, if desired.)

Cut pumpkin in large pieces and arrange skin-side up in a roasting pan. Pour water in the bottom of the pan and cover with aluminum foil. Bake 45–60 minutes, or until pumpkin is soft and easily pierced with a fork. Cool to room temperature.

Scrape the soft pulp from the skin into a food processor or heavy-duty blender, discarding the skin. Pulse until evenly pureed, adding a little water if necessary to make a smooth puree. Alternately, mash the pulp in a large bowl with a potato masher or run it through a food mill. If finished puree is too watery, drain in a fine mesh strainer for 30 minutes.

The puree can be used immediately or refrigerated, covered, and used within 3 days. The puree may also be frozen, tightly wrapped, or stored in an airtight container for up to 6 months. Makes about 8 cups.

Steamed Pumpkin Puree

  • 1 small pie pumpkin, about 2 pounds
  • 1 cup water

Wash the pumpkin and cut out the top and stem with a sharp knife. Lay on a cutting board and carefully cut in half. Scrape out stringy pulp and seeds. (Rinse and reserve seeds to make Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, if desired.) Cut pumpkin in 4-inch pieces.

Stovetop steaming method: In a large pot fitted with a steamer basket, heat water to boiling. Add the pumpkin, reduce heat to a simmer, and cover. Cook until pumpkin is tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and cool to room temperature.

Microwave steaming method: Place the pumpkin pieces in a microwave-safe bowl, add the water, cover, and cook on high until pumpkin is fork tender, about 15–20 minutes depending on microwave. Cool to room temperature.

Scrape the soft pulp from the skin into a food processor or heavy-duty blender, discarding the skin. Pulse until evenly pureed, adding a little water if necessary to make a smooth puree. Alternately, mash the pulp in a large bowl with a potato masher or run it through a food mill. If finished puree is too watery, drain in a fine mesh strainer for 30 minutes.

The puree can be used immediately or refrigerated, covered, and used within 3 days. The puree may also be frozen, tightly wrapped, or stored in an airtight container for up to 6 months. Makes about 4 cups.


The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Watch for details tomorrow about how you can win your own signed copy of Pumpkin It Up!