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Posted on Nov 13, 2013 in Inspiration

Many Hands Make Light Work


There are many things I like to do by myself.  I like to get lost in thought while working in the garden, sing out loud to the radio while driving, and read a great novel or scientific article (wait, is this just me?)

But, some things are chores when I have to do them myself, and I don’t mind them at all when I’m with a friend.  Folding laundry and shopping in big-box stores, for example.  Doing dishes is a chore in my kitchen, but sort of fun with help.  Even better, I enjoy doing dishes in someone else’s kitchen.  Why is this?

It’s less work when you have help.

This is definitely part of the picture.  Still, I would not enjoy doing half of the dishes at my own house.  Maybe I’ll give this a try.  If I’m putting off a chore, try doing half of it.  I think it would be more likely to get me to finish if I get started, but I don’t think it would make it fun.

It’s less tedious when we have someone to keep us company.

True, but then watching TV or listening to music would have the same effect.  Connecting with another person over a shared activity is different from just distraction, though.  Sort of bonding over a less-than-pleasant activity.  The dishes can be an excuse to spend time with someone, too.

It doesn’t seem as bad if someone else likes the activity.

It’s true that enthusiasm can be contagious.  It worked for Tom Sawyer, right?  But, this effect works even if both parties are doing a tedious job.

It’s more fun to do things for others than ourselves.

I think this is the big reason for me.  I enjoy doing something without being asked to make someone else happy or reduce their work load. Now, how do I learn to enjoy doing this for myself?


 Photo credits: peapod labsowlpacino
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Posted on Nov 10, 2013 in Menus and Recipes

Soups to Warm the Cold Days


Photo credit: emmadiscovery

Photo credit: emmadiscovery

On a cold and rainy day, nothing is nicer for lunch than a bowl of soup. Today, I’m making three kinds of soup for the freezer, and for lunches all week. The great thing about soup is that you can make them from almost anything, even leftovers in the fridge.


Lentils and Leftovers Soup

  • Bones from a roasted chicken, or cooked chicken, bones in
  • 2 qt water
  • 1/2 lb brown lentils
  • 1 c carrots, chopped
  • 1 zucchini, chopped
  • whatever veggies are in your fridge or freezer, chopped
  • 1 T Italian herbs
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1T tomato paste or 1/2 c tomato juice (spicy or V8 is fine)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Bring water and chicken to a boil, bring down to a simmer for 45 minutes. Remove chicken from stock, and set aside to cool. Add lentils, veggies herbs and garlic to stock, bring to a boil again, and cook for 30 minutes. Remove bones and skin from chicken, and add shredded chicken back to soup. Add tomato stock, and season to taste.


Summer Chicken Soup

(Hang onto the memory of those long days)

  • One roasted chicken, with juices
  • 2 qt water
  • 2 cloves garlic, whole
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped finely
  • 2 c fresh or frozen corn
  • 1 c green beans, cut in 1/2 in pieces
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 c chopped parsley

Place whole chicken and garlic in water, bring to a boil.  Simmer 45 minutes.  Remove chicken and set aside to cool.  Add pepper and veggies to stock, and simmer for another 10-15 minutes, until beans are cooked, but still a bit crisp. Remove bones and skin, and shred chicken and add back to soup.  Zest lemon. Add juice of lemon and parsley just before serving, and garnish with lemon zest.


Butternut-Fennel soup

  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 qt chicken stock or water
  • 1 large or 2 small heads of fennel, cut into 1 in pieces
  • 1t thyme leaves, crushed
  • 1T red pepper flakes or pink peppercorns
  • sour cream or crumbled goat cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut squash in half and scoop out seeds. Place cut sides down on cookie sheet and bake 30 minutes-1 hour, until squash is soft. Put fennel in stock and boil 15 minutes, until tender. Add cooked squash, thyme and pepper, and heat for another 10 minutes. Puree soup with a hand blender or in a blender until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve with sour cream or crumbled chèvre as garnish.


Photo credit: PAVDW

Photo credit: PAVDW





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Posted on Nov 8, 2013 in How to simplify, Resources

Simplify Your Holidays With Gifts That Are Not Stuff


The Holidays can be a dilemma if you are trying live a simple life.  How do we reduce our focus on material possessions and spend time and energy building a more meaningful life this time of year?  First, it seems that the shopping season comes earlier each year.  The time we set aside for our families are now becoming specified as shopping days.  You can reduce this stress and purchase gifts online, and you are not limited to just gift cards, toys and other things that add to clutter.

How can we show our family and friends that we care without adding stress to our lives, and theirs?  The classic answer is to give on their behalf to a charity. If you want to give a gift to them instead of giving a gift for them, there are still a lot of choices.

You can find services online to design or create wonderful gifts.

  • Commission a drawing of a cartoon character in any style for your friend
  • Have a love poem written, or a song performed (write one yourself and have it written in calligraphy)
  • Record a white board or stop motion video and deliver a message
  • Have a sketch or caricature drawn of them, their children or their pet
  • Have a video game or app with them as a character
  • Have their horoscope drawn up

These can be competitive and professional (99designs, etsy) or simple and inexpensive (fiverr).


This is a nice way to spend some time with the person you are giving to.  You can give something as simple as a card with a note promising the recipient with a trip or ticket, you can find a picture or brochure for the event and wrap it up. If you are giving the gift, but not participating in the event yourself, buy tickets and wrap them up as a gift. There will be a box to unwrap, and they will never guess this.

  • Theater
  • Concert
  • Sporting event
  • Sport participation (Ice time, climbing gym, trampoline park)
  • Movie (blockbuster, chick flick or film festival)
  • Museum exhibits
  • Zoo
  • Water park
  • Lift tickets
  • Tee time


Who doesn’t love to know that they are part of something great? Memberships give people a sense of pride and connection to something that is meaningful to them.  As a bonus, memberships often give free admission all year, discounts for services and priority access to events.

  • Museums
  • Zoo
  • Public TV or radio
  • Conservation
  • Service organization


This can make someone’s dreams come true, or it can be a burden. Make sure your message is “I want you to have time to do the things you love” rather than “you could lose a few pounds!”  You can give lessons together to spend some time doing something you both love, or you could give them some time for themselves following their own dream.

  • Art (drawing, painting, pottery, glass blowing)
  • Sports (Tennis, golf, swimming, archery, fencing, race car driving)
  • Music
  • Personal trainer
  • Cooking (choose something fun or exotic, or something they have always wanted to learn, like decorating cakes)


Everyone likes food, and there is a special food gift for everyone, regardless of their diet or location.  You can make them yourself, use a kit, or buy them.  This can be nice at a time of year that everyone is short on time and planning a lot of dinner celebrations.

  • baked goods, candy or cake, baking kits
  • snack basket, care package, pet treats
  • jams, jellies, pickles
  • home-made liqueurs
  • Coffee, wine, tea

If you can’t make them yourself, get them at the farmer’s market or local farm stand.


This could be simple, like lunch or dinner.  But maybe something different:

  • Brunch
  • Drinks in a fancy wine bar
  • Tea and finger sandwiches
  • Tour of local food trucks

Something cozy and warm or fancy and special.  You can give a gift card, or make it a date and take them yourself.  Make sure it is a special gift, not just your regular Friday night pizza!


You can reduce their stress and give them more time to enjoy by reducing their household chores all year.

  • Gardening
  • Lawn care
  • House cleaning
  • Shoveling or plowing snow

If you are promising to do these yourself, make sure you can live up to the commitment!  Don’t leave them snowed in when you are on your winter holidays!


You can give to a charity that is meaningful to the gift-ee.  Here are some that might make them happy.  Here are some resources that allow you to find charities by topic (here and here).  There are also sites that rate charities for efficiency (here and here).  You can make it local, or change the world.  Remember to choose to feed the recipient’s dreams, not yours.

  • Animal shelters, ASPCA, PETA, Greenpeace, your local zoo or your favorite animal rescue (here is mine: Greyhound Pets of America).  Maybe instead of money, you could drop off a couple of bags of food, kitty litter or collars to a local shelter.
  • Museums, dance company, after school art programs, mural projects, open studio programs
  • Public radio, symphony, opera company, Donate an instrument to a public school
  • Soup kitchen, food shelf

You can combine charities with action by volunteering to participate with the recipient in an event for charity. Make the arrangements and pay the entrance fees, of necessary.  Pack a snack and work out parking for them.  Make it for them and for the charity.

  • Race or walk (do the walk or help out with the event)
  • Religious group or mission
  • After school activities group like Boys and Girls Club, Girls Inc, Boy or Girl Scouts
  • Senior centers
  • Habitat for Humanity building event
  • Beach, park or community cleanup
  • Food kitchen or food shelf event
  • Care package preparation for those serving in armed services or missions abroad

Plan ahead to give, so you can get the thank-you note to wrap up for the recipient.  Some charities even have special cards you can

I hope you have a lovely holiday season this year.

Any ideas?  Add them in the comments!

Update:  Some ideas for simplifying your holiday parties and in this new post. Enjoy!


Photo credit: asenat29
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Posted on Nov 6, 2013 in Inspiration

Look Up, Please


I spend a lot of time walking outdoors.  Four times a day, I walk my dog, and I walk around campus during the day to get to classes and meetings at the university where I work.

In the mornings, my dog and I encounter people who are walking to the bus stop, and even walking across the river to work.  I love my walks, unless the weather is particularly terrible.  I like to see the animals and plants changing through the year, and the way my dog encounters the world through his eyes (only things that move are interesting) and his nose (some kind of doggie version of Twitter).

So many people are walking with their eyes on their phone or even a book as they walk along.  I don’t know how they manage this multitasking feat! Students regularly walk around campus, and even across busy streets this way. One student walked straight into the side of my car the other day.  I don’t know how many times I have been run over while standing in line at the airport by someone with one hand texting while the other rolls their suitcase along the floor.

Aside from the safety issues, seriously, how can you read and walk?  I can barely do one of those activities at a time!

The beautiful world is out there. Leaves are being blown into crunchy piles. How can you resist kicking them up when you walk through them?  Those puddles will not stomp themselves.  The last flowers are blooming.  New graffiti is popping up along the river.  Someone yarn bombed the fence by the railroad tracks. There is so much to be noticed.

Who’s with me?


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Posted on Nov 3, 2013 in Menus and Recipes

Easy as Pie


Something about the cool weather makes me want to bake.  I like to bake pies.

A long time ago, I made pies professionally.  Now, I do it for fun.  I don’t like to eat them very much, so I’m always looking for people who like to eat better than bake.  For people I really like, I will invent custom pies.

This part of my life usually works out pretty well.

In honor of a friend who helped me with a big project today (I love my new wall!) I am sharing two pies I invented for her.


Birthday Joy Pie


This first one is low carb and sugar-free.  You can use a sugar-free pudding mix if  you don’t like to make your own custard filling.  This microwave custard is pretty easy, though.  Try it, and you will not want to go back to the box.


  • 2/3 cup almond meal
  • 2/3 cup coconut (half coconut flour, half unsweetened coconut)
  • 1/3 cup stevia or splenda for baking
  • 1/4 cup butter or coconut oil, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix vanilla and butter (or oil) together in a large bowl. Add other ingredients and mix until moist, but crumbly. Press into a pie plate and bake for 10 minutes. Allow to cool before adding filling.  I struggled with the sweetener for this pie.  If you don’t like the flavor of stevia, try baking splenda.


  • 4 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons stevia
  • 3 3/4 cups milk
  • 3 oz unsweetened chocolate (use awesome chocolate)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large microwaveable bowl, whisk cornstarch, salt and stevia to combine thoroughly.  Add milk to dry ingredients and whisk until no lumps or dry spots are left.  Add chocolate pieces to milk mixture.  These do not have to be mixed in yet.  Place in microwave and heat for 1 minute, whisk to mix. Place in microwave and heat for an additional minute, whisk again to mix.  Heat mixture in microwave for 2 minutes, whisk, and heat for 2 minutes again until thickened. Add vanilla and stir to prevent lumps. Allow to cool at room temperature for 5 minutes before adding to crust.  Chill before serving at least an hour.  Serve with whipped cream or sliced almonds.

L’s Lemon-berry Pie


This one is also sugar-free and low-fat, but still tart, fresh and delicious.  You can make it conventionally by using sugar or honey instead of stevia.


One pie crust, baked blind and cooled.  Go ahead and use your favorite recipe or grocery store version. A graham cracker crust would be great for a non sugar-free, non low-fat version.  Or, make the crust with crushed shortbread cookies or gingersnaps.  You’ll love it.

I only have a hand mixer, so don’t think you need any fancy equipment to make this pie.


  • 8 oz. low-fat (or fat-free) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 8 oz. fat free greek yogurt
  • zest from one lemon
  • juice from one lemon
  • ¼ c. stevia (or sweetener of choice)


  • 1 ½ lb. small strawberries, washed, drained, hulled and cut in half
  • 4 T. unsweetened (fruit only) strawberry preserves

Beat cream cheese with mixer until light and fluffy.  Add stevia, lemon zest and lemon juice, and mix on low power until incorporated.  Beat in yogurt.  Spoon into cooled crust and spread to cover the bottom of the crust.  Starting from the outside, place strawberry halves around the pie on top of the filling. When this ring is complete, start another row inside of the first ring, staggering the berries to completely cover the filling.  Overlap rows until you reach the middle of the pie.  Place one whole strawberry in the center.  With a pastry brush, coat the strawberries with melted preserves to make them shiny.  Keep refrigerated.

If you try one of these, let me know how it works in the comments–especially if you make some changes!

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