Eliminate Weeds When They are Small, and Other Thoughts of Spring

Pulling dandelions

It’s the first week of April, and I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m bragging but our front yard is mostly free of dandelions. You heard me right.

We had snow followed by warm temperatures this week, and the ground is nice and soft. So I spent a very pleasant hour in the sunshine, absorbing Vitamin D and pulling dandelions – many of them very small. Of course, dandelion season hasn’t really started and we don’t use chemicals so the battle has just begun. But still. Today, I feel good about myself.

What about the back yard, you ask?

The back yard?


The back yard is a topic for another day, my friends. Because as I was pulling up the small dandelions in front, I was thinking about parallels to my life. Do you do that when you garden—sometimes think deep thoughts? I find that I do.

Deep Thought

So today, as I was pulling up small dandelions I was thinking about the areas of life where I might figuratively “pull weeds” earlier, with positive benefits. Here are some of the ideas I had:

  • Paying off small debts before they accumulate into bigger debts and big problems.
  • Aside from an occasional splurge, not over-eating or drinking too much wine. Weighing myself every day, and making adjustments as necessary.
  • Staying in touch with people I care about, and not letting too much time go by before we connect.
  • Speaking up if something is bothering me, instead of keeping it inside and giving resentment a chance to grow.
  • Setting aside quiet time every day for rest and reflection, so my brain doesn’t get burned out.
  • Asking for forgiveness quickly, and being quicker to forgive others.

How about you? Do you have any figurative weed-pulling strategies? Heck, I’d love to hear your literal weed-pulling strategies, too, since I’ve got that back yard to think about…


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About Eliza Cross

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

January Money Diet Day 11 – Create Something

Pottery making at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo by BLW Photography

What can you make this month, from materials you already have? Do your thing, whatever that may be.

Take a photograph, paint a watercolor, make a sculpture, create string art, write a poem, draw, make a pair of beaded earrings, bake a chocolate cake, punch a design in a tin can, create a terrarium in a glass jar, make wall art from toilet paper tubes (that’s right), sew an apron, paint a rock, make a video on your iPhone, build a birdfeeder or try something completely new.

If you need inspiration, Pinterest can be a fun place to find ideas. I collect mine on a board called Made by Hand.

If you’re especially creative, you may want to take some time this month to research online venues where you might sell your art to generate extra income, like Etsy, Fine Art America or Red Bubble. Or perhaps your art belongs on a t-shirt or a coffee mug; in that case, check out sites like CafePress and Zazzle.

Today’s Homework Assignment: Unleash your inner Michelangelo and create something this month — and don’t forget to tell us about it.

Enjoy the weekend,

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About Eliza Cross

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

January Money Diet Day 3 – Plan Your Meals

Fresh pizza recipe at Happy Simple Living blog

During the January Money Diet we take a break from nonessential spending. Since meals are considered essential, however, we do get to spend money on groceries. But lest we get carried away, this month we’ll challenge ourselves to eat really well while also spending much less. One of the best ways to trim the food budget is to create a meal plan.

I’ll be honest; a typical non-diet month in our household usually includes several restaurant meals and the occasional Chinese take-out dinner. Cooking every meal at home is usually a significant area of savings for us during the January Money Diet, especially if we plan carefully, cook low-cost meals and watch for savings on seasonal items at the store.

If you participated in yesterday’s “Shop At Home” challenge, you likely unearthed some pantry items that you can incorporate in meals this month. Take a few minutes to make an inventory of your other basic ingredients so you can use up food from the freezer and refrigerator this month. For inspiration, you might enjoy checking out the oddly-named but helpful site Recipe Puppy. You simply plug in the ingredients you have on hand, and Recipe Puppy provides recipes that match those ingredients. Woof woof!?

It’s usually more economical to plan meals using the grocery store circular for inspiration, so that you can choose meals utilizing seasonal, lower-priced ingredients. If you don’t receive one in the newspaper or mail, your local store probably posts it online.

I also keep a running list in a small notebook of meals my family especially likes; then, when I’m low on inspiration I can review the list and get some ideas for sure-to-please meals.

To further streamline meals this month, you may want to schedule some of your favorites for certain nights of the week. For instance, Sunday night is homemade pizza night here during the month of January. (Here’s my homemade pizza recipe, including detailed instructions, two crust recipes, a homemade sauce recipe, dozens of topping ideas and lots of photos.) If you make a big batch of pizza dough early in the month and freeze the extra rounds of dough, you’ll have an easy, economical meal half-prepared with very little work or expense.

Soup is another great choice in January, as are slow-cooker meals. To keep things simple, you could, for instance, designate Mondays as casserole night, Tuesdays as stir-fry night, Wednesdays as soup night, Thursdays as pasta night, Fridays as Crock-Pot night, Saturdays as cook-on-the-grill night and Sundays as pizza night – or whatever fits you and your family.

For breakfast, I like to make a big batch of breakfast burritos and put them in the freezer. We also like homemade Greek yogurt (the recipe happens to be Happy Simple Living’s #1 post of all time) and fresh-baked granola.

Some people save money with coupons and online grocery games, while others don’t think the time justifies the payoff. If you’re a whiz at saving with coupons, that’s all the better! Just try to figure out the meals you want to prepare and serve for the next week, take advantage of seasonal foods and specials, stay within your budget, and purchase the groceries. You’ll be way ahead in the challenge to spend less and eat well this month.

Today’s homework assignment: Plan every meal for at least the next 7 days, utilizing what you already have on hand and taking advantage of any good deals at the grocery store. Share a few of the meals you plan to cook in the comments section below, and if you find some amazing deals at the store we want to hear about those, too!

I hope your new year is off to a very good start, and I’m so glad we’re in this together.

Hugs to all of you,

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About Eliza Cross

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

Final Days of All Done By December One – Seeking What Really Matters

Photo: aloshbennett

Photo: aloshbennett

In this final post for our “All Done By December One” series, let’s explore the idea of how to bring more meaning into the Christmas season. Last year, Kelly from The Simplified Family wrote, “My goal is for my family and me to truly feel the magic this year and not the stress.”

Can’t we all relate to those sentiments? No matter how much or little we each accomplished during these past six weeks, we still have four weeks ahead to enjoy the season leading up to Christmas. What steps could we take to reduce stress and add joy? These are some ideas:

What could we subtract in the coming weeks? Perhaps send fewer Christmas cards, or skip the cards? Leave one bin of ornaments in the garage, and enjoy a simpler tree?

How about if we make a pact to resist the temptation to buy stuff to festoon every square inch of our houses? Maybe we can forgo Christmas-themed towels, doormats, hand soap dispensers and the like?

Could we be mindful of opportunities to help someone in need?

Homeless man at Christmas

Photo: Beverly & Pack

Could we schedule something simple and fun? Watch a Christmas movie, bake some cookies, drive downtown to see the lights…

Could we “X” out some time on the December calendar just for ourselves? Take a walk with the camera, get a massage, relax by the fire with a good book…

What if we did something with our loved ones outdoors next month, and enjoyed the beauty of the season?

Sleigh ride

Photo: USFWS Mountain Prairie

Could we call or visit someone who might be a bit lonely, just to say hello and spread a little cheer?

What if we planned a relaxing night at home, by the fire or the Christmas tree, being together? Perhaps we could make something simple for dinner like soup? (I’m thinking this could be a new Christmas tradition…)

Finally, what if we spent a moment considering what we’d like for Christmas? You know how our loved ones ask us, and we say something virtuous like, “Oh, I don’t want you to spend anything on me – just make me a homemade card,” which actually drives our loved ones crazy because then they have to shlep around and find something they hope we’ll like? What if we gave them a concrete idea or two? Our loved ones will rejoice, and isn’t that what we really want?

What will you do in December to make the season special? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the Comments section below.

In the coming weeks, I hope you make memories, truly enjoy the season, find some precious time for the things that matter most, and have your best Christmas ever. Happy Thanksgiving, too!


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P.S. Have you signed up to win a signed copy of my newest book, The Quinoa Quookbook? The drawing is open through this Friday at midnight MST. Details here.

About Eliza Cross

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

Week #5 of All Done By December One – Make a Holiday Food Plan

Holiday food buffet

Photo: regan76

One of the best things about the holidays is all the wonderful food, but the preparation of special meals and extra treats can take a lot of time. Are there food items and menus you can plan or make now so that you’re a few steps ahead when December rolls around? Here are some ideas:

Christmas cookies cooling

Photo: jayneandd

  • The Pioneer Woman wrote a great post on freezer meals. She likes to prep things up to a certain point—cooking and seasoning a batch of ground beef, for instance—so that meal preparation is faster and easier.
  • You can make the dough, roll out and bake sugar or gingerbread cookies in festive shapes and freeze them. Then the only part that’s left to do is the fun part—decorating.
  • Plan the menu for a Christmas meal or party, so you can watch for non-perishable ingredients on sale in the coming weeks.
  • Make ahead something for Christmas morning, like a stollen or Freezer French Toast.
  • Try some of these make-ahead holiday appetizers for Taste of Home.
  • Or how about this elegant, make-ahead Christmas dinner from Fine Cooking?
  • Side dishes are great candidates for early preparation, like these 35 make-ahead side dishes from Better Homes & Gardens.
  • Are you in charge of dessert? Check out these freeze-ahead holiday desserts from Busy Cooks or these six make-ahead chocolate desserts from Real Simple.

Next, think about any food-related holiday gifts you’d like to make. Imagine the calm, serene feeling we’d all have if our food gifts were made and tucked away in the pantry, all prettily packaged and ready to give. It’s completely possible if we simply get started now. Here are some ideas for make-ahead food gifts:

Jars of cranberry preserves

Photo: imcountingufoz

How about you? Do you have any holiday treats or meals you can make in advance? Are you planning to give any food gifts this year? Perhaps you’d like to explore some of these ideas and get a jump on the preparations before Thanksgiving ramps up next week.

By the way, do you have a holiday-themed board on Pinterest? Be sure to share a link in the Comments section below so we can all visit. (Mine’s Happy Simple Holidays with easy Christmas foods, decorating ideas, wrapping, gifts, flowers and do-it-yourself projects.)

December 1 will be here in 13 days – how are your preparations coming along? Next week’s topic will be all about adding more meaning and joy to the season. In the mean time, I hope you’re having fun getting ready for a special holiday.


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About Eliza Cross

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

Week #4 of All Done By December One – A Party and Entertaining Plan

Christmas party fun

Photo: dpstyles

December is the season of holiday parties, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing. I spoke with a friend yesterday, and she told me she was thinking about skipping her neighborhood’s annual Christmas party. While the event was a perfectly fine affair, it was always crowded and hot and loud—and not really her cup of tea. When she posed the idea of ditching the party to her husband, guess what he said? “HURRAY!”

While it’s relatively quiet in November, think about the parties you’d really love to attend—and host—during December. What would be truly fun and festive? Most of us have certain events we’re obligated to attend—the company party, for instance—but what about the rest? If you’re routinely attending things you don’t enjoy merely out of habit and tradition, think again. Who would you really like to see this holiday season, and how would you like to celebrate?

It’s easy to get over-booked and tired during the holidays, too, so you may wish to “X” out some evenings on your calendar when you’ll stay home and relax.

My friend and party planner extraordinaire Maury Ankrum has a special gift for entertaining and throwing parties, and she has inspired me to open my doors more often and have people over without worrying that everything has to be perfect. In fact, I’ve discovered that most people prefer a casual gathering in the kitchen with easy food and drinks.

One of my better parties was one in which I invited the women in my neighborhood to come over one Thursday night after work. Everyone wanted to bring something, so I suggested an appetizer or favorite libation. We ate and drink like royalty that night and had a great time in the kitchen, and when everyone left I realized I had three more bottles of wine than I began with!

The key in holiday entertaining—like so many things in our busy lives—is balance and moderation. Consider the month of December with a calendar in hand. If you’d like to host something in your home, plan it now. Those December days and nights are precious and special, so accept invitations as judiciously as you can and leave some space for mellow nights at home.

Are you hosting any holiday gatherings this year? What are your plans? Any tips you’d like to share about keeping things sane and simple? You know we’d all love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.


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P.S. Don’t forget to enter the giveaway to win 3 scrumptious boxes of John Wm. Macy snacks – just in time for Thanksgiving.

About Eliza Cross

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