It’s So Easy to Be Critical

Colorado blizzard March 2016 | Happy Simple Living blog

This Wednesday we had a nice spring blizzard in Colorado. It snowed sideways here from about 4:00 in the morning to 5:00 in the afternoon, and the blowing snow caused Denver International Airport to close for the first time in ten years. I shot the picture above from my home office at the height of the storm’s blizzardiness. When it stopped, we had over a foot of heavy snow.

My First Mistake

Yesterday morning, just before I put on my parka and snow boots to begin the task of shoveling the driveway, I happened to read this headline from The Denver Post:

Denver Won’t Be Plowing Residential Streets After Wednesday’s Blizzard

The article was accompanied by a dramatic photo of cars buried under snow, and included a partial quote from the Denver Public Works spokesperson Nancy Kuhn that the Post put in quote marks like this:

Kuhn said the decision not to deploy residential plows came after “careful consideration.”

My Second Mistake

I don’t know what possessed me, but for some reason I clicked on the Comments section of the article and began reading the various remarks. (Is this ever a good idea? I read somewhere that you lose a minute of your life for every minute you spend reading online comments – ha!)

Here’s an example, from someone whose forum name is Tony T.:

“You’ve got to be kidding me. It’s going to snow again on Friday night, so they’re just going to shrug their shoulders and hope it gets warm!? This isn’t the first time they’ve tried to pull this crap, and it won’t be the last.”

It bears mentioning that we don’t live in Denver proper, and the main street circling our neighborhood was plowed. However, I was steamed as I tromped out and began shoveling the driveway.

My Third Mistake

I felt increasingly indignant as I shoveled. My mind latched on to this issue and filled my head with angry thoughts. How dare the city not plow and help the residents of Denver? Why don’t we have the budget for proper plowing? What about all the new tax revenue we’re supposedly generating with marijuana sales? 

The problem soon escalated to much larger-scale thoughts like: Our government is such a mess. Our infrastructure is crumbling and cities are going bankrupt. In this day and age, why is it so difficult to find good political leadership? And so on, and so on…

Does your brain ever lapse into an endless loop of negativity like this? I hate when that happens!

What Brought Me Back

The snow started melting quickly yesterday (part of the reason Denver Public Works decided not to plow) and a large, wet clump fell off the front locust tree and hit me right in the face. What a blessing! The friendly snowball made me laugh, and it also knocked some sense into me. What was I doing? Why was I in such a huff?

I re-set my mind on the glorious sunshine and glittering white landscape against a blue, blue Colorado sky. I sent thoughts of light and love to the DPW spokesperson Nancy Kuhn, who must need extra grace and a thick skin sometimes to defend the city’s actions. I vowed to stop reading anonymous online comments.

And I decided to save figuring out the world’s problems for another day.

Hugs and happy Easter,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

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

A Springtime Strawberry Tart

Strawberry tart | Happy Simple Living blog

I’m working on a new cookbook this spring that will be all about beautiful BERRIES. I’m having such a good time tasting and testing blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cranberries, and of course, luscious strawberries.

This is a simple recipe that combines a crunchy, lightly sweet, shortbread-y crust with a creamy filling and fresh strawberries. Even though it’s very easy to make, it looks spectacular — my kind of recipe! Here’s how to make it:

Springtime Strawberry Tart

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup cold salted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, divided
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 12 ounces strawberries, hulled and halved

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a food processor, pulse flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, and cornstarch until combined. Add butter and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and pulse until fine crumbs form and dough just begins to come together. Press evenly into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch round tart pan with a removable rim.

Bake until edges are golden, about 20 to 22 minutes. Let cool on a rack, then remove tart crust from pan and transfer to a serving plate.

In a bowl with a mixer on high speed, beat the cream until soft peaks form. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and remaining 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and beat until thick. Gently fold the sour cream in the mixture and spread in cooled crust. Arrange strawberries in circles on top. (If you want to create the same effect I did in the photo above, you can alternate the cut sides down and up.) Cover and chill the tart for 3 to 4 hours to firm up the filling. Cut in slices and serve. Makes 8 servings.

My friend and fabulous photographer Alan Hill took the beautiful image of this tart, and I am grateful for his talent.

Hugs and happy Easter,

The signature for Eliza Cross

 

About Eliza Cross

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

The You’re Not Doing Enough Club

Let go of not doing enough | Happy Simple Living blog

No matter how much I accomplish in any given day, I notice that I often carry around a vague sense of Not Doing Enough.

I might have had a pretty good work day, but I didn’t exercise. If I spent quality time with my family, fifty unanswered emails are waiting in my InBox.

I’m a sucker for articles and books about increasing productivity. A headline like “5 Timesaving Apps That Will Change Your Life!” will get me to click every time.

Because I’m a Type A but also prone to distraction, I’ve tried keeping a little chart to track daily tasks like exercising, meditating, writing, flossing, and organizing. It’s a rare, rare day when I circle every task on the chart.

I write books and articles, and the only way I can meet my deadlines is to break up the work in daily chunks. So I’m constantly setting word counts for writing and editing. When I miss my goals, which is frequently, I pay the price with increased pressure.

Like many of you, I also work full time. I’m a parent and a pet owner, with a house and yard to maintain.

The Martha complex

A recent article I read about Martha Stewart quoted her as saying that she brushes her dogs every day. Every day! I thought, and a wave of guilt swept over me. I should be brushing our dogs every day… poor mutts.

I attended my son’s parent-teacher conference last night, and his English teacher said, “His reading comprehension needs work, but we’re grateful that you’ve been doing the nightly 15 minutes of parent-student reading together.”

I know my face betrayed me.

 

Dog with tilted head | Happy Simple Living blog

“Say what?”

My friends, we are seven months into the school year and I somehow missed the directive that my son and I are supposed to be reading together for 15 minutes each night. No wonder his comprehension needs work! 

I’ve always suspected that other people had the productivity thing down. But I might be wrong. In talking with a number of my friends, I have yet to hear from anyone who does not feel, some days or many days, as if the things they accomplished are somehow lacking.

“At the end of the day, I always feel like I let someone down,” one busy mom of four told me.

What about you, dear ones? Do you belong to the You’re Not Doing Enough Club?

Searching for answers

When I prayed and meditated about this question, what came to my mind was the image of Mary choosing to sit on the floor and visit with Jesus. Remember that story? Meanwhile, Mary’s sister (named Martha, ironically) bustled around cleaning, cooking, and feeling overwhelmed.

I want to be more like Mary. I really do. At the same time, I can sort of relate to Martha in this story. As a food lover, I can imagine wanting to prepare a good meal for the great teacher. I’d be in the kitchen making fresh pita breads and pouring wine and wanting everything be just right.

Jesus died a short time later, and then the meal really didn’t matter. I can imagine poor Martha feeling such regret that she was stressed out and distracted during that final evening with her friend.

Is it possible that the vaguely unsettling cloud of Not Doing Enough is creating daily unhappiness, and that the thing we might need to do most is… to do less?

To be present?

To let some things go?

To seek that which is truly important?

It is finished.

If you have been a member of the You’re Not Doing Enough Club, I have news for you: The club has disbanded. The gig is up.

You and me — we’re not going to do this any more. Okay?

The next time we feel those clouds gathering, let’s fight back.

Pause, and think about what really matters.

Give yourself permission to slow down.

You are doing enough.

Take a deep breath.

Be easy on yourself.

You are amazing. 

You really are.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

 

Grateful thanks to Henric Silversnö for the use of his wonderful dog image.

About Eliza Cross

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

How to Put Yourself on a Money Diet

Put yourself on a money diet | Happy Simple Living blog

If you’re in Colorado, you may have heard me talking about money diets last night and this morning during a spot on CBS-4.

The producers heard about our annual January Money Diet, and asked me to share some of the top ideas we gleaned from our 30-day spending break. You can watch the clip here:

The beautiful thing about going a money diet is that you can do it any time you need to hunker down and save some cash. Here are some easy ways to save money while you’re dieting:

  1. Cook at home. This is a big area of savings for most families. Try making homemade pizza instead of paying for delivery. Here’s my easy pizza recipe, including two types of dough, homemade sauce, and dozens of topping ideas. It’s yummy, fun to make, and inexpensive. Other saving strategies include cooking double recipes and freezing half, using leftovers in soups and casseroles, and cooking less expensive cuts of meat in a slow cooker.
  2. Go on a scavenger hunt and “shop” at home. Most of us have lots of goodies hiding in our cabinets, pantries and freezers. Use those items during a money diet, and you’ll save money and free up space.
  3. Use and maintain the things you already have. We may live in a disposable society, but we honor our possessions when we take care of them. Perhaps you could make your scuffed boots look new with shoe polish, or sew the missing button on your sweater, or clean up your gardening tools. These are joyful tasks that can bring so much satisfaction.
  4. Explore your local library. We are amazed at the cool things we can borrow from our library, from energy meters to solar light bulbs to Nooks. We can even download free, current eBooks and magazines from home on our Kindle. Plan a visit to your library during your money diet, and see what you can check out for free.
  5. Finish something. From stalled home improvement jobs to crafting projects, a money diet month is the perfect time to enjoy the benefits of completing a task.
  6. Declutter and give things away. Even though we’re on a money diet, we can still be generous. A money diet month is a perfect time to go through stuff and give things we no longer need to our favorite nonprofit. The side benefit is a more peaceful, organized home.
  7. Find ways to splurge so you don’t feel deprived. Give yourself a pedicure. Take a nap. Use the fancy shaving brush you got for Christmas. Soak in a bubble bath. Be good to yourself while you’re not spending, and you might not even notice you’re on a money diet.

Have you ever gone on a money diet? What are some of your favorite ways to save? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

If you’ve just discovered this blog and want to receive more simple living tips, you can subscribe to Happy Simple Living to have the  posts conveniently delivered to your e-mail InBox. (It’s free and we never, ever share your information.)

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

 

About Eliza Cross

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

When Life Isn’t Happy or Simple

Michael, Jose and Gracie - Easter 2015

Michael, Jose and Gracie – Easter 2015

Last Friday evening, my former husband Jose passed away of a heart attack. Although Jose and I had divorced in 2006, we remained good friends and celebrated holidays and family birthdays together. He was a good dad to our son and a good stepfather to my daughter, and we are all still reeling.

If you’ve ever gone through something like this, you may have discovered that even in the midst of your grief you will be called upon to do impossible tasks. Our son Michael has already had to spend hours going through things at his dad’s house. He’s had to make a staggering number of decisions while grieving, and he’s only 14 years old. But we have no choice; the apartment has to be vacant by month’s end.

When your sweet son lost his dad six days ago and he wants to bring a lot of his things into the house, the only answer is “Yes, of course.” In a matter of days our house has become a very full house … and that’s okay.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the minimalist lifestyle this week, and realizing that those concepts about which I often write are all relative. I’ve expanded my definition of ‘simple living’ to include sensitivity and comfort and gentleness, and letting go of perfectionism.

These are some of my other thoughts after this week’s sad events:

Minimize regrets. Many people expressed sorrow that Jose was gone so young, and talked of plans they’d had to reach out. The takeaway for me is to do all I can to express love to the important people in my life, and act on those urges to get in touch.

It’s worth the effort. It wasn’t always easy, but now I am so very grateful for how Jose and I worked hard to communicate and have a friendly relationship. We all got to share important family occasions together, and the kids and I will always cherish those special memories with Jose.

Comfort in. I recently read this very practical article in the Los Angeles Times, “How Not To Say the Wrong Thing.” I highly recommend it. The advice is simple to remember, and so helpful during a time of crisis.

Pray for grace. Along with all of the grief and emotion that accompanies a death, there are a multitude of hard things to discuss and decisions to make. Abundant grace is the only way through the difficult path.

Seek out the strong ones. Jose’s siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins were rocks this week. I felt prompted to check in with them and see how they were doing, and was glad they could talk privately about their feelings. In a time of crisis, the strong people need support, too.

Don’t underestimate the stepparent relationship. Jose was an involved and loving stepfather to my daughter, helping her move numerous times, sending her funny e-mails, and always bragging about her accomplishments. Gracie is grateful to those who have acknowledged her loss and supported her in this tough time.

Organize papers. Jose kept his papers in tidy, neatly labeled files. Even so, it’s been challenging for his siblings to figure out some things. Of all the organizational tasks we can undertake, I’ve come to realize that this one is the most important. Clothes and furniture can be packed up and given away, but no one else can decipher our paperwork. If I passed, could someone figure out what bills I owe and find my will and other crucial documents? I’ll be working on this task in the days to come.

Let’s not feel guilty about our stuff. Sometimes having special objects around helps us feel connected to people we love. Real life isn’t a magazine spread, and sometimes we just have to do the best we can and let go of impossible ideals.

A sudden, unexpected death brings sharp, narrow focus to what’s really important.

I know we will learn more lessons in the coming days, but I’ll leave you with this: Life is short, so live today to the fullest.

Reach out today to someone you love.

No regrets, dear ones.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

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

Win a Copy of the New Book How To Be Alive

howtobealive

This week, I’m giving away a brand new copy of Colin Beavan’s new book, How to Be Alive:  A Guide to the Kind of Happiness That Helps the World. Colin gained notoriety when he wrote No Impact Man, a book about his year-long experiment to lead a zero net-impact existence in the middle of New York City.

If you’re reading this blog, I know you’re going to love How to Be Alive. Colin has a very friendly, engaging writing style, and I quickly connected with his premise. He challenges each one of us to figure out how to live truly happy and fulfilling lives, so we don’t leave this planet with deathbed regrets.

Beyond figuring out our own true needs and desires, he encourages us to find our calling and consider what we might do to improve things around us. He explores many spiritual concepts throughout the book, without ever being the teensiest bit preachy or judgmental—an approach I found so refreshing.

Author Colin Beavan

Colin Beavan

I loved reading Colin’s personal experiences woven throughout the chapters, like the story of when he decided to buy a boat and how boat ownership was so different from his original bliss of being out on the water on a friend’s boat. Haven’t we all experienced disappointment about a possession we bought thinking it would bring us joy?

This is a book that covers many deep topics, and yet at its heart it’s a surprisingly practical guidebook to help us figure out and map some of life’s big decisions. In fact, one of my favorite sections of the book is “Bootstrapping Your Way to Where You Want to Be” about small, low-risk steps we can take now to move us closer to thriving and crafting more meaning in our lives.

As a writer, I loved the exercises throughout the pages that challenged me to consider my life’s trajectory. What would I save in a fire, and why? What could I do to be more self-reliant? What is the gift that I want to give my community, town, state, or country?

If you’d like to win a hardback copy of this wonderful book, just answer this question on the Comments section of this page:

What is one improvement you would like to make in your life?

The drawing is open to readers in the U.S. who reply between now and Thursday, February 18 at midnight MST. I’ll do a random drawing and announce the winner the following day.

Grateful thanks to Colin Beavan, TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins Dey Street Books for providing the book for this giveaway.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Colin has a great blog, too. For a laugh and some excellent advice, you might enjoy starting with his post “No Impact Man Gets a Colonoscopy.”

 

About Eliza Cross

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