The Photos I Didn’t Post on Instagram This Week

Instagram Eliza Cross

 

I love looking at everyone’s pretty pictures on Instagram. When I scroll through the feed, it’s like a little vacation for my soul. And when I look back through the collection of images I’ve posted, it’s like viewing a scrapbook of memories and lovely sights.

Instagram isn’t a reflection of my real life, though — not by a long shot. If I were posting the bad and ugly along with the good, I’d have shared this image:

 

kitchen drain repair

Real life.

 

Last week we discovered that the drain line from our kitchen sink cracked at some unknown time, and had been slowly leaking water in the basement wall. Getting it repaired wasn’t pretty… or cheap.

We couldn’t use our kitchen sink for four days. So I didn’t make homemade pizza like I’d shared on this previous Instagram post:

 

homemade pizza

 

Instead, real life led to pizza delivery because the kitchen was torn up and the plumber was here working late on Saturday night.

 

pizza delivery

Real life.

 

I love taking pictures in the garden, and occasionally I see a sight like these lovely Forget-me-nots:

 

forget me not

 

But do not be fooled into thinking that this snapshot is an accurate representation of our garden, my friends.

If I’m being real, I need to share some photos of the bug infestation I’m currently dealing with.

 

Black Cherry Aphid

Real life.

 

I believe this is Cherry Blackfly, an aphid that sucks the sap from cherry tree leaves in the spring. Ladybugs eat the aphids, so maybe next year I’ll try introducing some of the lucky bugs to the emerging leaves early in the season.

Interestingly, the wasps in our garden have also been eating the aphids. I tend to think of wasps as pests, so I’m reminded that nature has its own self-sustaining balance. At this stage of the growing season, the only remedy is to cut off and discard the damage — and who doesn’t love snipping sticky leaves covered with thousands of black bugs?

This is our dear dog Maddie. She is 16 or 17 years old, and I love this recent photo showing her sweet face and glorious white whiskers.

 

Australian cattle dog mix

 

This spry senior is starting to have a lot of accidents, though. Our wonderful vet has been running tests and trying different drugs, hoping for a miracle cure. The grass around our patio is not looking pretty, but I don’t care because she’s doing her best to get outside quickly.

 

Real life.

 

I’m reminded that the things we post on social media are usually the prettiest sights and our best selves, and not a true representation of anyone’s reality.

Did you know that Instagram has some real-life hash tags. including #bummer, #expensiverepair, #aphids, and #uglylawn?

If you want a real treat, be sure to check out #olddogsrule.

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.

A Reader’s Decluttering Dilemma

Clutter

 

Occasionally you readers write and ask me for advice.

When you query me about topics like cooking, gardening, simple living, and Greek yogurt, I always feel a mixture of flattery and terror—honored to be asked, and scared to death I’ll steer you wrong.

Curiously, you never ask me for dating tips. What’s up with that?!

Anyhoo, a lovely reader named Leah wrote me about a common dilemma that can arise when trying to clear space and get organized. Here’s her letter:

Dear Wise Eliza,  (Please note: I may or may not have added the word “Wise”)

We need to declutter, and I am about to get rid of lots of things. For me, the difficulty isn’t in parting with the things (i.e., it’s not a question of sentimentality or nostalgia) – the issue is that I don’t know how to find all these things good homes without going to great lengths. Goodwill and other charity shops are great for some items, but I simply don’t know what to do with really nice things. I want the next “steward” to really love them – not keep them in storage (as I did) and then put them in landfill.

I can get rid of these things quick on Freecycle, but I’ve found that people don’t value objects or services unless they pay for them. eBay is a possibility but it involves a lot of time and hassle; yard sales are time-consuming and people generally are looking for deals (rather than things they love and need); and giving these things as gifts feels like I’m burdening my friends. Two strong, conflicting needs – to shift the stuff fast and be non-wasteful – are tough for me to reconcile, and I don’t know what to do.

What would you advise?? My husband tells me not to feel guilty or responsible for the existence of these things (especially the items that were given to me as gifts), but I find this so emotional and difficult!

Gratefully yours,

~Conscientious, but Crowded

 

Leah, have you considered keeping a hungry goat as a pet?

 

Pet goat

 

Sorry, I’m kidding—no pun intended.

Let me share a couple of thoughts, and then we’ll invite our astute readers to weigh in.

1. You might enjoy this post,How to Declutter Your Home,” by Maxwell Ryan. Ryan is the co-founder of Apartment Therapy, a wonderful site with inspiring photos and ideas to help people in smaller homes create beautiful, highly functioning spaces.

2. Consider selling your treasures on NextDoor.com, a site that connects people in nearby neighborhoods. It’s much less anonymous than, say, Craigslist. I’ve sold several items using the site’s free classified ads, and met some really nice people in the process.

3. Find a nonprofit that helps people transition from homelessness. A fine example here in Denver is Joshua Station, a former old Motel 6 converted into apartments refurbished by volunteers and decorated with donated goods. If you find a charitable organization where your wonderful treasures will directly be making a difference in another person’s life, you may feel more peace about letting them go.

4. Photograph your treasures before you say goodbye, and make a photo book through a service like Shutterfly. Write a few memories, so that you can remember and share your feelings about the items and what they meant to you.

How About You?

Readers, will you share your thoughts about how to mindfully declutter and let things go? I always love hearing your ideas, personal experiences—and dating tips.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Grateful thanks to Tomi Knuutila for the use of the collection image above and Rebecca Siegel for the use of her wonderful goat image.

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.

For the Love of Classic Clothes

Classic clothing

Dear friends,

I own a silk blouse that I’ve been wearing and enjoying for 16 years. I don’t even remember where I got it, but the blouse fits perfectly and the cut is flattering. The sleeves are just the right length, and the collar is neither too narrow nor too wide. I hand-wash the blouse, and because it’s made of quality fabric it still looks like new.

In a world of cheap, throwaway goods, isn’t it a pleasure to own something that is classic, well made, and lasting?

For the past several years, I’ve been challenging myself to only acquire great clothes that I really love. No more buying a so-so shirt just because it’s on sale. Everything has to fit well and feel good. Gradually, my wardrobe has morphed into a smaller, but nicer collection.

Great clothes don’t need to be expensive. For Christmas the past few years I’ve asked for classic cashmere sweaters from the thrift store, and my family has happily obliged. I now have an assortment of soft, pretty sweaters that keep me warm and cozy all winter long.

A tailored black lightweight wool blazer I found at T.J. Maxx is perfect for business events, and it always looks right because it doesn’t have big shoulder pads or huge lapels — just traditional, time-tested styling.

Some other staples in my closet include jeans that fit well, black pants, a white cotton blouse, a black skirt, white jeans, fitted t-shirts, and a little black dress for parties. I wear a lot of black, so I have black boots, pumps, flats, and sandals as well. Simple.

According to Esquire magazine, some of the can’t-fail classic items for men include khaki pants, an oxford button-down shirt, a navy sport coat, a white dress shirt, a tailored suit, and a polo shirt.

True sustainability, for me, is wrapped up in craftsmanship and lasting quality. Accumulating fewer-but-better clothes frees up closet space and makes getting dressed in the morning a pleasure.

How About You?

What clothing item in your closet has stood the test of time? What wardrobe favorites do you return to again and again?

What men’s and women’s clothing classics would you add to my lists above?

I’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts.

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.

Book Giveaway: The Suburban Micro-Farm

The Suburban Micro Farm book

 

This month I’m excited to give away a brand new copy of Amy Stross’s terrific book, The Suburban Micro-Farm: Modern Solutions for Busy People ( Twisted Creek Press, $24.95). Amy blogs over at TenthAcreFarm, where she writes about permaculture gardening and urban homesteading from her tenth-acre yard in the suburbs of Cincinnati.

For those of us who are stretched for time but still would love to yield abundant harvests in our gardens, Amy’s 344-page book is full of great ideas, practical advice, helpful illustrations, charts, photos, and resources.

She begins with a good section on managing expectations, and shares her own strategies for planning and scheduling gardening tasks — many in 15-minute increments. Next, she provides tips on how to improve suburban soil. From there, she covers a variety of helpful topics like getting organized and sketching out your garden, starting plants from seed, growing your own fruits and vegetables, extending seasons with cold frames, growing herbs, incorporating edible plants into a suburban landscape, and a great section on permaculture and micro-farming.

I was especially inspired by the last chapter, where Amy covers ideas and tips for generating income with your suburban farm, from growing cut flowers to making your own maple syrup. Reading this book made me look at our yard with a new point of view, wondering how I might transform some of the unproductive spaces into gardens that would produce good food — or even a little extra income.

This book would be a worthy addition to any gardener’s library. If you’d like to enter to win your own copy, just leave a comment on this page and reply to this question:

What’s one new thing you’d like to grow in your garden?

(After reading Amy’s book, I’m inspired to grow black raspberries.) The giveaway is open to anyone with a U.S. shipping address, and will run through Friday, April 21 at midnight MST.

BIG thanks to Amy Stross for providing the book for this giveaway, and good luck to all of you!

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.

Looking Back Over 500 Blog Posts

Simple living quote

Dear friends,

My blog software tells me that I’ve now written 500 blog posts — five hundred musings about my quest for a simpler lifestyle. Gosh, somehow I thought I’d have more things figured out by now.

Did I even have a goal when I started this blog? I don’t remember. I think I hoped that if I wrote about simple living, the lifestyle I longed for would follow.

As I’ve quietly pursued a simpler path, I’ve seen other bloggers accomplish some truly amazing things. Some have whittled down their possessions to 100 things, while others have zero-waste homes, or produce all their family’s solar energy and collect rain water in a cistern and even recycle their toilet water.

Meanwhile, after writing 500 blog posts, I’m still trying to get the same old garage organized.

I still work too hard and get burned out, for which I compensate with long intervals of couch time, Tostitos, and Pinterest.

Some days I manage to cook a healthy, organic, from-scratch, well-balanced family meal. But more often, the meal is a compromise of one or more of those ideals.

Even if I’m not the simplicity guru I’d hoped to be by now, my perspective has definitely shifted. Participating with you in the January Money Diet for eight years has helped our family get out of debt, save more, and improvise.

Like the quote above from C.K. Chesterton, we’ve learned to be content with less.

The Best Part of Blogging

During the journey, the most amazing, unexpected, affirming thing happened along the way… YOU! Blogging connected me with all of you, as you generously shared your ideas, and your struggles, and your enthusiasm.

A handful of those 500 blog posts provoked comments and conversations that have continued for years.

For example, a post I wrote about how to make your own Greek yogurt has inspired hundreds of comments:

 

homemade Greek yogurt recipe

 

I still receive notes from other poor souls suffering from a real condition called Pine Mouth, which I got from eating cheap Chinese pine nuts:

 

Pine Mouth | Happy Simple Living blog

 

I wrote about “11 things to do with fresh mint” after growing a bumper crop that produced enough fresh mint to make a mojito for every person in the state of Rhode Island:

 

Fresh mint at Happy Simple Living blog

 

A stopped-up sink led me to share a chemical-free way to unclog a drain:

 

soda vinegar

 

My post about trying to get rid of bindweed has connected me with many other weed warriors:

 

Free bindweed at Happy Simple Living

 

And our homemade pizza recipe is still one of the top posts:

 

Fresh pizza recipe at Happy Simple Living blog

 

So this is post #501, my friends. We’ll see where this journey takes us next.

I’m so very honored to be exploring “the art of less” with each of you, as we try to live simply and well.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. If you’re on Goodreads, you still have a few more days to enter the giveaway to win one of 10 copies of my new cookbook Berries: Sweet and Savory Recipes. The drawing closes April 9, 2017.

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.

Unfinished Business

window-sheers

I’m an early bird.

Most mornings I awaken early enough to sit in my favorite chair with a cup of coffee and spend a quiet hour reading, praying, meditating, and writing. Oh, how I treasure those quiet moments. As the sun comes up, the light filters through the sheer curtains in the living room and casts shadows through the trees.

It’s so peaceful and pretty, and sometimes I sit in gratitude and feel so thankful.

Ah, but sometimes my gaze follows the light to the rug that needs to be vacuumed and cleaned. I notice that the ten-year-old lampshades are starting to look shabby and really need to be replaced. A film of dust covers the side table. The dogs have slobbered again all over the front window, which I just cleaned last week.

The dogs…oh, how I appreciate the way they show us so much love and make us laugh.

But when I’m tired, sometimes I feel less grateful for their shedding, and their questionable manners with guests, and toenails that grow like bamboo, and muddy footprints.

Sometimes I return to our precious home, and I see a driveway full of cracks. I appreciate the blessing of this house one day, and the next I’m stressed about gutters that need to be cleaned, and the bindweed coming up again, and the flickers drilling in the siding.

Is it possible to experience content in the midst of chaos?

I’m trying to.

Right here, right now.

Because the thing is, our tasks will never be all done.

In a Perfect World…

Imagine that our homes are completely clean, from top to bottom. From the icemaker to the rechargeable electric drill, everything works as it should. Every surface is freshly painted, level and meticulously detailed. Closets, refrigerators, basements and garages are all precisely organized.

Our pets are well mannered and tidy.  They have toenails like geishas, and tread softly on our polished reclaimed wood floors. Not one single hair rests on any surface in our homes.

We are completely caught up with our work. Our computer files are tidy and our email inboxes are empty. Our managers and clients are 100% satisfied. Our offices and desks are spotless. (Excuse me for one moment while I stifle my laughter.)

Our yards and organic gardens are immaculate, with not even one tiny unwanted weed. No pests nibble our produce. The flower beds are lush and filled with color-coordinated annuals, native plants and perennials, that bloom in rotation throughout the season. Even our tool sheds are organized.

These impossible ideals sound silly, don’t they?

But can I make a confession?

I still struggle at times with the bad habit of looking at a room or a garden, or sometimes even a dog, and seeing what needs to be done.

I don’t want to postpone feeling deeply satisfied until I catch up on all the things I need to do.

I don’t want a mindset that says true contentedness is always around the next corner.

Happiness vs. my To Do List

These have been my recent prayers and meditations:

Thank you for good work and chores and responsibilities.

Help me see and be grateful for the abundance all around me.

Let me be content—in the midst of all that is unfinished in my life.

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.

7 Ways to Manage a Conflicted Case of Spring Fever

Tulips for spring fever

Here in Colorado, the meteorologists like to remind us that March is historically our snowiest month. (We hate when they say that.) They are apparently bound by some sort of Colorado meteorologists’ ethical code which obliges them to always (always) follow up that statement by reminding us that April is the second-snowiest month. I respond to these two helpful reminders by throwing pillows at the TV.

We had three record-breaking warm days in Denver during February 2017. They were lovely days, but their freakish balminess made many of us feel uneasy. Spring fever has struck with a vengeance, but for the first time ever I’m actually hoping that our “normal” spring snowstorms are still ahead.

How do you manage a bad case of spring fever mixed with a yearning for a normal climate? Here are some ideas:

Wear some of your springtime fashions.  Pull those transitional clothes from your closet, like a floral women’s blouse or a men’s pale blue oxford shirt. Layer with a camisole or undershirt if the temperatures outside are still nippy.

Use colorful linens. Put a pretty tablecloth on the kitchen table, or hang a bright dishtowel.

Force flowering branches. If your forsythia or pussy willows are starting to bud and develop small leaves, cut some branches and bring them inside. Put them in a vase of room temperature water, and in a few days they may start to leaf out and bloom.

Walk outside and see what’s coming up. We have tulips and crocus popping up, branches budding, baby strawberry plants, violets and vinca all greening up. I’ve covered some of the tender plants with extra leaves and mulch to encourage them to take their sweet time. What’s coming up in your garden?

 

Tulip Arrangement at Happy Simple Living blog

 

Make a spring flower arrangement. The stores here are full of tulips and daffodils. Six stems of daffodils are just $2.99, making them a most affordable splurge. Or try a creative combination like the arrangement above, which I made when I had some extra asparagus and thought the purple tips nicely complimented the tulips.

Read gardening books. Now is the perfect time to develop a master plan for your garden spaces. Daydream, make sketches, and figure out what you want to grow this season.

Order seeds. Buy what you need now, before the nurseries sell out of the really popular seeds. These are some of my favorite seed companies.

How About You?

Do you have spring fever? I’d love to hear your favorite ways to invite springtime in during these early weeks of March.

Hugs and enjoy the weekend,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Congratulations to Betty Jo Harris, who won the giveaway for my new cookbook Berries: Sweet and Savory Recipes. If you’re on Goodreads, watch for a new giveaway for the book starting March 9, 2017.

 

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.

What is My One Thing? and Other Questions on a Winter Walk

frosty pine tree

 

I visited a friend in the Colorado mountain town of Evergreen earlier this month, and decided to take the scenic route instead of the highway. What a good decision that turned out to be. As I wound through Indian Hills and came around the bend to Mount Falcon Park, I entered a wonderland where a blanket of frost had turned the landscape soft and white.

It was so breathtaking, I parked and took a spontaneous walk.

 

Snowy pine tree

 

Every tree branch, every blade of grass, had been touched by frost.

 

 

My spirit had been downcast after reading the news that morning, and the walk did me good. I’d been wondering for the zillionth time why, as a people, we can’t strike a better balance between supporting business and taking care of the environment. Why do those two good concepts have to be in such conflict?

 

Frosty fence

 

We’re so smart about some things. Why is positive change so difficult? Why should there be any question at all about our collective need to care for our beautiful earth?

 

 

The night before I’d had a good conversation with my niece, Bonnie. She’s caring, committed, courageous, and outspoken. She’s 24, and she’s part of the generation that will, I hope, fix some of the things we’ve unfortunately broken.

“We can’t each fix everything, so why not focus hard on one thing and really try to make an impact?” she suggested, and I thought it was wise advice.

 

 

The challenge, for me, is narrowing down all the things I care about to really focus on one thing. Feeding the hungry, clean water, clean air, human rights, caring for the environment…how can you pick only one?

 

Frosty trees

 

But perhaps, I reasoned, I could give one cause my daily attention.

 

 

A simple walk through nature reminded me of how ordered and perfect and sustaining a mountain meadow is. God entrusted us with the earth, and all we humans have to do is take good care of what we have. My one thing, I decided, is to do all I can to nurture the earth and speak out in support of long-range, big picture policies that better help us humans steward this beautiful planet.

 

 

I’ll do my best to look after all of the causes that matter to me, but I’ll focus extra hard on my one thing:  making a positive impact on our environment.

Maybe if enough of us do the same, future generations can experience the soul-soothing wonder and awe of a quiet mountain meadow dusted with frost.

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.

10 Simple, Budget-Friendly Gifts You Can Give That Aren’t Lame

red geraniums

 

A reader wrote during last month’s January Money Diet and said that she was trying to be frugal but had several birthdays to celebrate. “How do you balance wanting to give generous presents while still sticking to a budget?” she wrote.

Good question! I suspect many of us are similarly challenged. We want to bless our friends and family and show them that we love them. At the same time, we are trying to be thoughtful about finances and not over-spend.

Here are some ideas, beginning with the very toughest group:  teenagers. Some teens really only want one of two things — gift cards or cash.

How in the world do we apply frugality and creativity to cash or gift cards? For either of these options, it pays to plan ahead.

Cash. Try the $5 Bill Savings Plan for a couple months. Or throw your change in a jar, and cash it in for currency at the bank. You could also give your favorite teen the whole jar of coins.

Gift cards. Buy a discounted gift card on eBay. (Look for a seller with a feedback score of at least 100 and a good rating.) Or check out one of the online gift card exchanges like CardHub, CardCash, or GiftCards.com. Costco and Sam’s Club often sell gift cards for less than face value. If you’re patient, you can also earn gift cards by using a site like SwagBucks for searching.

An outing. Make a memory instead of giving a physical gift. Visit the art museum, or the zoo, or a historic home, or take a factory tour. For the past several years, my parents and I have celebrated their anniversary by doing something fun. Last week we spent a relaxing afternoon at the Denver Botanic Gardens, and had such a good time.

A special book. My friend Mindy bought her entire family’s Christmas presents at her library’s used book sale. As an author I may be a little prejudiced, but most people love receiving a book — especially if you find one aligned to your friend’s interests.

Consumables. My sister once gave me a huge, extravagant bag of Ghiradelli chocolate chips for my birthday, and I made treats all year. Anything that’s a splurge-y version of something your friend uses on a regular basis will be appreciated,  from a good bottle of olive oil to a generous bag of Arborio rice or a box of citronella candles or some new art supplies or organic potting soil and flower seeds.

Artisan food. I love receiving homemade food gifts, don’t you? Use the produce from your garden to make homemade preserves or pesto. Cook up a batch of roasted almondscheese crackers or homemade honey graham crackers. Bake an apple cake or butterscotch brownies.

Something growing. Grow herbs from seed and give a potted herb garden. Force spring bulbs in a pot. Root a cutting from a plant you already have. Look for cool pots at thrift stores and garage sales, and give a potted flowering plant like geraniums or pansies. My friend Gail gave me seeds that she gathered from the lupine growing in her mountain garden, and I think of her each year when the pretty flowers come up.

A photo or family memory. Have a vintage family photo copied and put it in a simple frame. Make a scrapbook. Take your loved one’s portrait. Print out the family genealogy.

A donation. For the person who has everything, give a gift to a worthy charity like Heifer International, Water.org or Mercy Corps.

A party. Invite your loved one’s friends over, make a birthday cake, and celebrate. When people offer to bring something, let them!

How About You?

We’d love to hear your gift-giving ideas and suggestions in the Comments section of this page.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Don’t forget to enter to win a copy of my new cookbook Berries: Sweet and Savory Recipes, published by Gibbs Smith. You can win a special signed advance copy. Just visit this post from last week for full details. Enter between now and midnight MST on Friday, February 24.

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.