A Garden Where There Once Was None

New garden | Happy Simple Living blog

My son and I tackled a big project this summer. We had a vision to create a cool, shady spot under the trees for a small table and chairs.

The location was in a wild, overgrown area of the south side of the house that had always been a jumble of weeds and vines and bushes and sapling trees. Here’s the “before” photo:

 

New garden before | Happy Simple Living blog

On Demolition Day, my son used a handsaw to cut and clear all of the trees and bushes. I was his assistant, dragging and piling the branches. After several hours, much of the overgrowth was gone and a sense of the new garden begin to take shape. It was a very therapeutic day.

Later, we dug and cut and yanked out smaller stumps and roots. I spent many hours on my knees hacking at the hard clay soil, and began to sense a spiritual parallel.

So I started praying and asked God to clear out the deadwood and weedy, overgrown places in my heart. I asked for help to let go of some things that still weighed on me, and asked for healing of past hurts and disappointments.

At one especially difficult point during this time of hacking and introspection, the ground was so hard I felt like there must be a brick beneath my spade. And guess what?

 

Digging through clay soil | Happy Simple Living blog

There was a broken brick buried in the ground!

When the stumps and roots (and brick) were cleared, I asked for a renewal and refreshing of my spirit. I prayed for inner peace to foster quiet time and reflection, and a new place for creative ideas to grow.

A neighbor was giving away an eighth-ton of rock, so I loaded three buckets in the back of the Toyota and drove the four blocks to his house. Over three days, I made numerous trips carrying manageable buckets of gravel and spread it in the new place under the trees. It was just the right amount of stone.

We hung a string of lights overhead and a hummingbird feeder in a tree. A bright green metal table and chairs from Target fit right in the space, and a coleus plant added color.

 

Coleus plant | Happy Simple Living blog

 

Our dear friends Debbie and John brought us perennial shade plants in memory of my son’s dad and my former husband, Jose, who passed away this year. This is “Sea Heart:”

 

Sea Heart | Happy Simple Living blog

 

A stray hollyhock seed blew in and planted itself at the entrance of the garden,  where it bloomed with the showiest fuchsia blossoms all summer.

 

Hollyhock blossom | Happy Simple Living

 

The garden is such a peaceful place to drink coffee and listen to the birds and write in my journal.

 

new garden

 

Several friends visited throughout the summer, and the space was as cool and pleasant as I once dreamed it might be.

 

Friends visit our new garden | Happy Simple Living blog

 

The tiny space will always need maintenance. Vines try to creep back in, and weeds push up through the rocks.

But now there is a small garden flourishing in a place that was once neglected and overgrown, and I am so very grateful.

May you find a clearing amidst the noise, space to grow, and unexpected beauty in the days to come.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

When All You Need is Love

Aster | Happy Simple Living blog

For the past few months I’ve been trying to help my teenage son cope with the sudden death of his father. I’ve also been dealing with my own emotions, along with some changes in our lives. I suspect that nearly all of you have experienced loss or hardships, so you know what it’s like to be knee-deep in challenges.

During this unsettled season, the garden has blossomed like crazy in spite of just the barest efforts from me. After ten years of moving gravel and hacking at clay clods and digging in compost, this is the year the garden chose to reward us with a most glorious display. I know there is a lesson in there somewhere, or maybe not exactly a lesson but a reminder of the startling beauty and hope that can appear at unexpected times.

The other silver lining is that I feel blessed with some of the most incredibly supportive family and friends on the planet. Our family has been so deeply comforted by the people who have lovingly cared for us. Being on the receiving end of their kindness has filled me with gratitude.

Perennials | Happy Simple Living blog

The Different Ways We Try to Help

A tragedy can bring out different reactions in people. Some people can’t cope and disappear, and I understand. Some imagine how they would handle a particular situation, and say things or offer advice in an effort to smooth over the pain. I’ve caught myself doing this in trying to comfort my son. The fact is that I can’t exactly understand his pain because my daddy passed away when I was 46 years old, not thirteen.

In times of trouble, perhaps you’ve been on the receiving end of others’ well-meaning-but-misguided suggestions and comments. My experience is that judgment from others in the midst of our grief adds uncertainty and feelings of guilt that are just too heavy to bear.

So I’ve been especially sensitive recently to the moments when I start to judge the actions of others. This is a habit I’m really working hard to break. I am not in someone else’s situation and I have not experienced their particular pain, so I am wholly unqualified to offer anything but empathy.

When a little righteous thought creeps in, I try to shut it right down and offer up a prayer instead. Or I do what Richard suggested to Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love, and send thoughts of light and love.

To get out of my own head, I recently explored some other folks’ difficulties from an empathetic perspective.

Clematis | Happy Simple Living blog

Please Don’t Judge Me

A new business owner confides to his friend that he is exhausted from working long hours. “You need to delegate more, and stop trying to do everything yourself,” says the friend, who has never tried to start a business. Please don’t judge me, the entrepreneur thinks. You can’t imagine the responsibility I feel for each employee who’s working overtime, how tight our finances are, and the myriad moving parts I’m juggling that simply can’t be managed by anyone else.

A mother takes her mentally challenged son out for a quick cheeseburger. While they’re waiting to order, the boy starts screaming and knocks over a stack of plastic trays. The other patrons, whose children are not mentally challenged, look at her disapprovingly and shake their heads. Please don’t judge me, she thinks as they leave. You have no idea how isolated we feel. You can’t imagine how much I was hoping to successfully pull off this small outing. You don’t know how fiercely I love this boy, and how desperately I want him to have a good life.

A man learns that he has a cancerous tumor and must have his kidney removed. He is afraid, and asks for prayers about the surgery on a Facebook post.  “Your attitude directly affects your health, so stay positive!” writes an acquaintance, who has never had cancer. “Remember that God gave you two kidneys!” writes another. Please don’t judge me, he thinks. You can’t imagine facing surgery and chemotherapy while trying to work and support a family. You don’t know what it’s like to look at your children and fear that your time with them may be cut short. 

A woman is trying to work up the courage to leave her verbally abusive, unemployed husband. A long-married friend points out that at least he’s not physically abusive, and suggests that she keep working on her marriage for the sake of their children. Please don’t judge me, the woman thinks. You don’t know what I’ve endured, and how different he is behind closed doors. You can’t begin to imagine how scared I am to set this boundary and advocate for my safety and respect.

A couple loses their precious teenage daughter in an automobile accident. A decade later, they still sometimes feel sad and tear up when talking about her. The husband overhears a friend, who has never lost a child, say, “How long is this going to continue? Isn’t it about time they moved on? It’s been ten years.” Please don’t judge us, he thinks. She was our baby girl, and we never even had a chance to say goodbye. Time has lessened our pain, but we still miss her and think about her every single day.

Clematis | Happy Simple Living blog

Love is the Answer

Last week I wrote words of gratitude to a dear friend: “You listened to me, you let me cry, you cheered me up, you sent me a great book, you understood my difficult schedule and still made time to meet me for lunch and come over, and I’ve never felt like you had any judgment or criticism or agenda with me.”

Ahhh, what a blessed gift her support has been–and how it has buoyed me. Think of those who supported you at your darkest hour, and I bet they surrounded you similarly with love. When people are hurting and we don’t know how to respond, sometimes the finest thing we have to offer is gentleness and kindness.

As a result of my recent experiences, I hope to pay it forward and get better at giving simple love and solace when others are hurting.

Rose | Happy Simple Living blog

How About You?

Was someone especially helpful and kind to you when you needed it most? What made you feel supported and loved?

Did you receive unsolicited advice, criticism or judgment during a tough time? How did you feel, and how did you respond?

I always love to hear your thoughts and experiences … and I hope your garden is thriving this summer, too.

Hugs and happy June,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

My Summer Bucket List

Feet against the sky

My son’s last day of school was Friday, so we’re officially in Summer mode now. I’ve been thinking of how we might like to spend our 12 precious sunny weeks, because you know how quickly the days and weeks will fly by. So I thought I’d make a bucket list just for summertime. Would you like to make one, too?

Here’s what I hope to do this summer:

Take picnics.

Go on a vacation to the beach.

tomatoes2

Eat our fill of sweet corn, peaches, tomatoes, blueberries, and watermelon.

Take fun photographs. (For inspiration, I’m currently enjoying Andrea Scher’s wonderful Superhero Photo class.)

Learn something new.

Swim.

Take the dogs to the dog park.

Go camping.

Eat Dreamsicles.

ice cream

Make homemade ice cream.

Play tennis.

Go to the mountains.

Ride bikes.

Read some great books. (I’m enjoying the novel Me Before You by Jojo Moyes this week, thanks to my dear friend Laura.)

Go on a road trip.

Mini-golf

Play mini golf.

Lie in the grass and look at the stars.

Visit the farmer’s market.

Walk down to the park at dusk and try to spot the neighborhood Great Horned Owls.

Ferris-Wheel

Ride a Ferris wheel.

 

How about you? What’s on your summer bucket list? I’d love to hear your ideas and plans.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

 

P.S. Grateful thanks to ILoveButter for the mouth-watering ice cream photo, and Groman123 for the colorful Ferris wheel photo.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Precious Letters from Nanny

My grandparents | Happy Simple Living blog

My grandparents Eliza and Fred Seely on their wedding day in 1935

I’m remembering our grandmother today, on her birthday.

Eliza Gracie Weeks Seely was born on September 19, 1907 and lived to be 99 years old. During her lifetime she experienced the Great Depression, World War I and II, and the attacks of 9/11.

Theodore Roosevelt was president when she was born, and 16 more presidents served during her lifetime—all the way through to George W. Bush.

She attended Boston Bouvé College and earned her degree in Physical Education. Nanny married Poppy—our grandfather Fred Seely—in 1935. When I think of the good marriages I admire, theirs is at the top of the list.

My impression was that they were best friends, lovers, and partners in the truest sense of the word. They both loved to laugh and have fun, and they shared such affection! I can still remember catching Poppy playfully pinching her bottom as she leaned over the dishwasher one morning.

Nanny wrote the most wonderful letters, and it was always a joy to find an envelope from her in the mailbox. I saved many of her letters and cards, and I’m so glad I did. Re-reading her words now brings back so many wonderful memories.

cards and letters from my grandmother

Our grandparents were very active, and Nanny’s letters often contained stories about their latest adventures:

“Last night Poppy and I went up to the Blue Ridge Mountains with friends and had a real touch of nostalgia listening to a wonderful concert under the stars – all of Cole Porter’s golden oldies – big band tunes and scores from so many of the New York shows we saw when we lived in New Jersey. The moon helped light our way down the mountains and we were all glad we had gotten reserved seats, for there were close to 2,000 in the big outdoor auditorium.”

Sometimes her letters contained family stories, like this one she shared about my mom, Betty, during the time they lived in California when Poppy was stationed there during World War II:

“I’m sorry Gracie had chicken pox, and I hope by now the meanest part is over. Betty had it when we moved to California during the war and there was no doctor in the whole area of Balboa. She was miserable, and the Navy officers that commuted to the base with Poppy were scared they would catch it. Sure enough, one did!”

My grandparents were married for 55 years before Poppy died in 1990. Nanny wrote me a letter not long after, describing a poignant moment:

“You would have been proud of me last evening, for there was a giant (200 people) sit-down cocktail buffet here at The Downs and I was dragging my heels, hating to go all by myself. But I could almost hear Poppy saying, “Go on—and wear that new dress I bought you.” So I flapped around and got all dressed up in the peach dress.

“As I drove out of the garage, I realized I didn’t have the house key—I’d locked myself out! That didn’t add to my state of mind, but I went along and as I looked at that horde of people someone waved and said, ‘Hey! Liza!’ Two wonderful words that made my evening, and my nice next-door neighbor let me in when I got home. So now, I’ve climbed that mountain and next time won’t be such a big deal.”

As her letters drew to a close, Nanny’s script got smaller and her spacing became tighter as she tried to fit in a few extra lines. Sometimes her writing got so small on the last page that there was only enough room at the bottom of the page for her to squeeze in a tiny “Love and a big fat kiss, Nanny.”

I’m so grateful that Nanny took the time to write the letters I so treasure now. In this day of email, texts and instant messaging, she inspires me to do the same.

Hugs to all of you, and enjoy the weekend,

The signature for Eliza Cross

With my dear Nanny at a family reunion in 2004.

With my dear Nanny at a family reunion in 2004.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

A Remarkable Rose from a Sweet Grandma

Grandma

Grandma C. had 17 grandchildren and 31 great-grandchildren.

Sylvia Crosslen became my step-grandmother when her son Howard married my mom Betty, some forty years ago. If you are fortunate enough to have a special relative through marriage, then you’ll understand when I say that it didn’t take long for me to not even think about the “step” part and just call her Grandma.

 

GrandmaGrandpa

Sylvia and Orville Crosslen on their wedding day in 1933

Born in 1908, Sylvia traveled to Colorado on a covered wagon from Paris, Texas when she was eight years old and married Orville when she was 25. Grandma and Grandpa raised seven kids in a simple cabin in the Black Forest of Colorado Springs; my Pop was the youngest, and only boy. We’ve heard many stories about the family’s challenges and Grandma didn’t have luxuries, but she grew a fragrant, old-fashioned pink rose in her garden. In her later years–before she moved to the apartment–she gave a slip of the rose to my Mom and Pop, who carefully carried it back to Denver and planted it in their garden. When their rose became established, they in turn gave my sister and me a slip, and we each planted the roses in our gardens, too.

 

old fashioned rose

The tiny stalks take a while to get established, but soon they grow into a wild cascade of canes and leaves. Once a year, for just a week or so in June, the plant blooms with the most fragrant, extravagant pink roses you’ve ever seen.

 

Old fashioned rose

The roses are impossibly fat and packed with pink petals, and you can smell their sweet aroma across the yard in the morning.

 

Old fashioned rose bush

The blossoms last only for a day or two, and then they litter the grass with pink petals.

 

old fashioned roses fading

Grandma Sylvia “Jean” Crosslen passed in 2001 at the age of 93, but I’m thinking of her this week because her rose is blooming once again and putting on its extravagant show in the garden. I am grateful to have the offshoot of her rose bush here with me to remind me of her gentle spirit.

 

Old fashioned rose

We sure do miss you, Grandma.

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Let’s Talk about Toilet Paper – Part 1

Toilet paper holder

My friends, I’ve decided to give our toilet paper choice a comprehensive review. Because toilet paper is an ongoing expense and a resource we use continually, I want to be sure we’re making an informed decision. Naturally, you’re invited to come along for the journey.

Last year, I finally got fed up with the store brand of toilet paper. Over the years the rolls had gotten thinner and shorter, and the paper seemed increasingly prone to disintegrating. One day I marched into the store muttering to myself, “You work hard, you make sacrifices for the family, and darn it, you deserve nice toilet paper.” I yanked a 12-pack of Cottonelle Clean Care off the shelf, and never looked back.

Cottonelle toilet paper

This wasn’t a frugal buying decision at all. At our local King Soopers, a 12-pack of Cottonelle is $7.49. With tax, it’s 67 cents a roll. We don’t belong to a price club, so the only way we save money is when it goes on sale—which is rarely.

The label is printed in nice, bold print. Yet for some reason, the text at the bottom listing the number of sheets per roll is printed in the lightest, impossible-to-read pale blue. Why do you think this is?

toilet paper info

With the aid of high-strength binoculars, I was able to read that a pack contains 12 rolls, each with 208 1-ply sheets per roll. It also lists the square footage (266.4) and square meters (24). This information could be handy for easily comparing brands—if only one could read it.

The package boasts that my 12 “Double Rolls” are equal to 24 “Single Rolls.” Like me, do you scratch your head when you read this? Since every toilet paper brand now considers its products to be double rolls, ours don’t seem particularly robust.

 

Magnifying the text on a t.p. roll

Aided by a magnifier, I found the Double vs. Single explanation on the package back in a font so small that Ripley’s Believe it Or Not Museum once used it to print the Declaration of Independence on the head of a pin:  “1 Double Roll equals 2.3 times the number of sheets as the leading ultra brand regular roll.” Ahh, now I understand.

Fancy T.P. and Sasquatch

Wait—what “leading ultra brand?” Are you telling me the leading ultra brand only has 90 squares per roll? I’m skeptical. Let’s keep our eyes open for pricey—but skinny—super-fancy t.p. rolls in the future. Will you let me know if you find this elusive, half-size luxury roll?

On the plus side, I also discovered this information in tiny elfin text: “Paper from responsible sources,” accompanied by a miniscule logo from the Forest Stewardship Council. Greenwashing? Not this time. A little research convinced me that the FSC is a legit organization which promotes responsible harvesting. Here are the principles of FSC-certified forests:

* Never harvests more than what grows back
* Protects biodiversity and endangered species
* Saves rare ancient trees
* Guards local streams
* Supports the local people
* Uses narrow skidding trails so as not to disrupt the rest of the forest
* Prohibits replacement by tree plantations
* Bans toxic chemicals
* Bans genetically modified trees (no GMO)

In the coming days, I aim to delve further into whether Cottonelle is the best choice for us—and if so, whether we can buy it cheaper elsewhere. All three of these attributes are equally important:

a. Comfort

b. As earth-friendly as possible

c. Reasonable price (would this be the right time to make a “cash flow” pun?)

How about you?

Do you make your own toilet paper from recycled feed sacks? If not, would you be willing to share the brand of toilet paper you use? Do you buy it at the grocery store? Or do you get those Volkswagen-sized packages at Costco for a better price? Are you Single Roll, Double Roll, Triple Roll or Mega-Quintuple Roll user?

I look forward to flushing out all of the options with you in the days ahead.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Top photo: A.N. Berlin

 

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Fifteen Minutes a Day – What Good Thing Will You Do Today?

Emperor Angelfish

I posted a challenge on Sunday about devoting just 15 minutes a day to something worthwhile for the next six days. A number of you are undertaking some important endeavors, and I’m excited about your goals and plans. If you’re just now reading about the idea, feel free to jump right in!

For my 15 daily minutes I committed to take photos, and I shot this one yesterday when my son and I stopped at a pet shop. This striking saltwater fish is an Emperor Angelfish, and he was very shy so I stood still and waited for several minutes until he came out of hiding. I’ve never seen a fish with such beautiful markings.

How about you? If you’d made some time for something important, I’d love to hear what you’re up to.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Finding Joy on a Cheerios Box

Cheerios Box

If you’re one of the nine in ten Americans who favor labeling of genetically modified foods, you’ll understand my surprise and delight this morning when I poured a bowl of Cheerios.

Right there on the side label in bold type were these lovely words:

GMO-free Cheerios

I did a little research to find out what prompted this popular breakfast cereal to put the GMO-free label on its package, and learned that activist groups pressured Cheerios to stop using GMO ingredients because it’s a cereal often given to toddlers as snacks.

Other good news on the GMO front: Whole Foods will require all of its suppliers to label all products that contain genetically-modified ingredients by 2018.

These are baby steps, to be sure, but the news gives us all something to smile about on a Friday morning.

Smile about Cheerios GMO free

How about you? Are you in favor of mandatory labeling of GMO foods? Would you like to see more brands like Cheerios follow suit with voluntary labeling? I’d love to hear your thoughts about this much-debated topic.

Enjoy the weekend!

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

 

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

11 Things To Serve For Easter Besides Ham

Homemade pasta noodles

Photo: Missy

We’ll have a dozen or so friends and family here to celebrate Easter on Sunday, and I thought it might be fun to veer away from traditional ham and come up with a fresh menu for lunch. But what to serve? Here are some ideas I came up with after perusing cookbooks, Pinterest and some of my favorite food blogs:

1. Homemade pasta
2. Roast chicken
3. Brunch
4. Beef brisket
5. A salad buffet
6. Roast turkey
7. Soup and just-baked bread
8. Made-from-scratch pizzas
9. A potluck picnic
10. Grilled salmon
11. Desserts and tea

I think I’m going to go with #1, homemade pasta. I’m envisioning two kinds of sauce–maybe a creamy Alfredo swirled with a little pesto, and perhaps a meat sauce for the men-folk. I’ll accompany it with some veggies and grated Parmesan cheese to stir in as wanted.

How about you? Will you be gathering with loved ones for Easter this year? Are you serving a traditional ham, or something else? I’d love to hear about your plans.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. You might enjoy this past post, “A Bowl of Easter Memories.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.