Let’s Explore the Incredible Power of Fifteen Minutes

Write every day

Photo: Rui Fernandes


“I’d love to write a book someday, but right now I don’t have the time.”

I hear this often when I teach writing classes. One of my favorite exercises to do with beginning writers is a timed sprint. We set a timer for 15 minutes, and everyone writes as quickly and unconsciously as they can.

When the timer goes off, these writers are often astonished that their average word count comes in at about 400 words. Then we do the math:  if we write just 400 words a day for five days a week, we can write a 60,000-word draft of a novel in about seven months—and still have weekends off.

I’ve learned that doing big things in small chunks of time can be incredibly productive. With this in mind, how would you like to join me in an experiment this week? If you’re game, let’s commit to 15 minutes of one activity for the next six days. We’ll start Monday and end Saturday. The only requirement is that we state our intentions below and check in every day for six days after we complete our activity. By Saturday we’ll have devoted an hour and a half to something meaningful, and we can share our results.

Creating art at Happy Simple Living

Photo by Stephen A. Wolfe

Here are some ideas:

  • Organize
  • Meditate
  • Practice gratitude
  • Exercise
  • Create a scrapbook page
  • Pray
  • Write in a journal
  • Beautify a space
  • Learn foreign language words or phrases
  • Read to a child
  • Create art
  • Memorize a scripture
  • Write a letter
  • Take a walk
  • Reach out to a friend or loved one
  • Take photographs
  • Work in the garden
  • Write a story or begin your novel

If you’re “in,” leave a comment below about what you’ll do for 15 minutes a day this week. Then, just reply to your own comment each day you complete the activity.  You can just write “Done,” or tell us more about what you did, or how it’s going.

The Quinoa Quookbook

Just for fun, I’ll choose a random name from those of you who participate and give away a signed copy of The Quinoa Quookbook at week’s end.

Are you game? I’ll get the party started and leave the first comment.

The signature for Eliza Cross

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.

Free Giveaway of Block Island Organics Sunscreen

Block Island Organics

Just in time for summertime sun, the nice folks at Block Island Organics have generously offered to give away two full-sized products to one lucky Happy Simple Living reader in the U.S.

If you’re a regular reader of Happy Simple Living, you know I rarely endorse products. Although an astonishing number of companies write and want to host sponsorships and giveaways, somehow loading you up with more stuff seems counterproductive to the purpose of simple living. But Block Island Organics got in touch right after I’d read about the hidden dangers of commercial sunscreens, and I was looking for an alternative.

Block Island Organics’ sunscreens are non-toxic and mineral based, not chemical based. The company’s products are non-comedogenic, vegan formulated, paraben free, phthalate free, nano particle free, artificial fragrance free, non-eye irritating, not tested on animals, made in the USA and highly rated by the Environmental Working Group. Whew, that’s quite a list of good things! Their offerings include a Baby SPF 30, an SPF 15, SPF 30 and SPF 40 product, and a Sunburn Relief lotion.

I agreed to try a sample, with the understanding that I would only sponsor a giveaway if I personally liked the product. They sent me the Baby Block SPF 30, which is a gentle, zinc-only formula that adults can use, too. The product is a broad spectrum sunscreen, meaning it protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

I tested it on mid-day walks in hot sun, and at all times of the day working in the garden. This sunscreen really did the trick and made my skin feel nice, too. The product is creamy and it absorbs easily. I’ve been using it on my face and hands every day, and because it’s non-comedogenic it doesn’t cause breakouts.

They also sent me a bottle of Sunburn Relief, which is a light gel made with soothing ingredients like aloe, cucumber and glycerin. Since I’ve been fortunate not to have any sunburns, I tried it after a shower on my garden-ravaged hands and they instantly felt smooth and soft.

Would you like to try these products, too? If you win the giveaway, you’ll receive full-sized bottles of the Baby 30 zinc-based sunscreen and Sunburn Relief.

To enter, simply answer this question:

What simple pleasure have you been enjoying this summer?

Have you taken a picnic? Watched a sunset? Wiggled your toes in the sand? Whatever you’re doing this June, just dash off a quick response in the comments below and you’ll be automatically entered. The giveaway is open for readers living in the United States, now through Wednesday, June 25, at midnight MST.

Thanks so much to Block Island Organics for sponsoring this giveaway!


The signature for Eliza Cross

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.

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!


The signature for Eliza Cross


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.

Pine Needles for Mulch and a Garden Experiment

Tomatoes mulched with pine needles

I recently had the opportunity to speak with David Salman, Founder & Chief Horticulturist of High Country Gardens, for a short gardening article I wrote for Sunset. Being the opportunist that I am, I couldn’t resist asking him an off-topic question about my own garden. “What do you recommend for mulch?” I asked. I was curious because I’d tried grass clippings, leaves and wood chips and none really seemed to keep the plants happy and cool while fending off weeds.

“Pine needles,” he said, without hesitation. I was surprised, having always thought that pine needles (also known as “pine straw”) were too acidic for mulch. But he thought they were fine (he suggested pecan shells, too), and my research confirmed that the needles’ high acidity is a misconception and generally isn’t an issue. We have a large Ponderosa Pine in the corner of the yard, so I have a ready supply of pine needles that have been rained and snowed on for several seasons.

So this summer, I’ve mulched the tomato plants with pine needles and we’ll see how they do. This is our kitchen garden, which is right off the back patio:

Mulch tomato plants with pine needles

In addition to six types of tomatoes, plus basil and thyme, we have an aromatic section with chives, onions, shallots, garlic and leeks:

Onions, garlic, chives and leeks

I don’t mulch these plants because they’re pretty tough. Don’t you appreciate tough, hardy plants?

I’ve been working on this garden for nine seasons. When we bought the house, the space was filled with two huge dying fitzer bushes, myrtle and gravel. For years I’ve been digging in compost to improve the soil, and clearing out rocks, myrtle shoots, fitzer roots and hard, packed clay. I kept some of the myrtle along one edge, and it grows like Jack’s beanstalk in the summer so I’m constantly cutting it back. It’s so pretty in the spring.

Garden with tomatoes

The bamboo and fencing are to keep rabbits out, although they can still squeeze through sometimes. How about you? Have you planted your summer garden? Do you have a favorite mulch? Have you ever tried pine needles? We’d all love to hear your experiences.

Here’s to a happy summer, and good gardens this season for all!


The signature for Eliza Cross

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.

Tulips, Dandelions and Other Obsessions of Spring

Fringed tulip up close

Perhaps like me, you’ve read about the “Tulip Mania” that swept The Netherlands during the Dutch Golden Age, an obsession with tulip bulbs that left families bankrupt and had people paying ten times the annual income of a skilled craftsman just for a single rare bulb in 1637. Perhaps you’ve wondered how a people could become so nutty about a simple plant. Good thing we’re not that obsessive, right?

The other morning, I looked out the kitchen window at our back yard and was seized with shame because so many dandelions were suddenly blooming everywhere in the grass.

Dandelions and grass

I couldn’t see the inherent beauty in a field of yellow flowers with their faces turned to the sun. Instead, I saw work—endless hours of fruitless work ahead.

Since I’m an organic gardener, I have dug up thousands of dandelions. I have paid the kids to pick the flowers, which only seems to encourage the dandelions to bloom more. I have tried a dandelion killer made from organic corn gluten meal that costs $50 a bag, and I’ve never noticed any difference at all.

Having a small front yard makes it a little easier to keep the forward-facing lawn looking okay, but our back yard is big. We live in a neighborhood of nice lawns, and more than once I’ve fantasized about how much simpler it would be to replace the lawn with artificial turf—or volcanic rock, perhaps. I feel terrible that my dandelion seeds are blowing into the neighbors’ yards, too.

When I crouched down to shoot a photo of the yellow “weeds,” I saw the bumblebees buzzing about.

Dandelions attract bumblebees

And here is what I wondered, my friends:  Why have we, as a society, decided that dandelions are so very wrong?

Aren’t we in the middle of a bee colony collapse emergency? And yet, at least in my yard, dandelions attract all manner of bees. (When I pulled this photo up on my computer screen, I fell so in love with this little guy!)

A bee pauses above a dandelion

I’ve read that the reason dandelions and crabgrass and clover pop us amidst the grass is because our lawns naturally try to diversify. In other words, Mother Nature didn’t intend for us to have these large swaths of one single plant. Diversified plantings are hardier and less prone to disease. Why, then, have we decided that we must do whatever it takes to fight this natural order?


Terrible, rotten weed must be destroyed at all costs!

Five hundred years from now, will the history books say something like this?

“In the twenty-first century, the people had devastating weather events and clear signs of global climate change, the bee population was dying, and the earth’s groundwater supply was getting polluted from sources like lawn chemical run-off. Yet they continued to douse their turf with herbicides, and used precious, expensive water to maintain large areas of non-native grass, purely for decoration.”

Am I just trying to justify our less-than-perfect lawn? Maybe I am. Or does our country’s obsession with dandelion-free grass seem kind of nutty to you, too?

I’d love to reduce our lawn area and plant native, drought-resistant flowers someday. In the mean time, I do what I can. How about you—how do you deal with dandelions? I would so welcome your thoughts and suggestions.


The signature for Eliza Cross

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.

Searching for Inner Peace on a Windy Day

Dog in the wind

Photo: Mike Baird

In the movie Chocolat, Juliette Binoche’s character Vianne gets restless to move whenever the “sly wind” from the North blows in. I can relate, although I like to think that I personally could withstand a little wind to stick it out with Johnny Depp. But maybe not. What is it about the wind that stirs up unrest in my soul?

The last 36 hours were really, really windy here in Denver. On a conference call yesterday, colleagues in Sheridan and Jackson, Wyoming both mentioned that the wind was raging there as well. That’s a big wind.

After spending most of the day on edge, I tried to meditate about the good qualities of the wind and just accept it. Here’s what I came up with:

  • The wind dissipates smog and moves air pollution out.
  • The wind helps pollinate the plants.
  • The wind is a necessary part of weather patterns.
  • The wind cleared off our driveway, with no effort on my part.
  • The wind gives your hair that trendy, tousled look that movie stars favor.

How about you? Does the wind make you a little crazy, or are you able to appreciate its finer qualities and maintain your inner peace? I’d love to hear how you deal with a windy day.


The signature for Eliza Cross


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.