Tag Archives: simple

Looking Out

5 Apr

I like to look out the window. I don’t always know what I am looking for, but it gives me a specific perspective. Taking photos is the same. I find a perspective in it. The world looks different when viewed through the frame of through a window or a camera lens than it does when I see it all at once. It can be too much to take in. I like a small piece of world to focus on.

A patch of sky with silver clouds. A blowing branch with red buds on it. Peeling paint. Someone dropped a piece of paper on the grass. One of my lovely starlings has landed, its beak yellow and its feathers turning black for the warm months, but still speckled. The nails embedded in the weathered wood. A drab Honda nearby, parked alone.

My starling is gone. I wanted to film it for you. They always fly off. They don’t like the camera. I have learned something from a bird watcher. The glass reflects light and it can startle birds, just as movement can. Maybe it even blinds them momentarily. They don’t know what it is.

I need to make better use of the zoom feature, keep my distance. I might need to step into the big world to get the starling’s perspective. It is a lot to take in.


“Montreal” Spicy Potatoes and Onions

3 Aug

I like short recipes with very few ingredients. I own a cookbook called “The Best Ever Three & Four Ingredient Cookbook” but I rarely use it, because I often make up my own recipes.

One of my simplest personal recipes is a potato and onion dish. It has four ingredients.

Before it cooks, it looks like this:

“Montreal” Spicy Potatoes and Onions

potatoes (unpeeled)

onions (any color)

olive oil

Spicy Montreal Steak seasoning (by McCormick ‘Grill Mates’)


Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Cut the potatoes and onions in slices or chunks. (Thickness of the potatoes will determine the cooking time. Leave the onions thicker than the potatoes because they cook faster and you don’t want them to burn.) I like a mix of approximately 3/4 potatoes and 1/4 onion. Use a baking dish large enough to allow for stirring without overflow.

Mix the potatoes and onions in the baking dish with enough olive oil to coat them. Sprinkle generously with the Spicy Montreal Steak seasoning and mix well.

Bake, stirring every 10 or 15 minutes. The time depends on the thickness of the potato pieces and the size of the baking dish. I have found that a convection oven works well and takes about 40 minutes, but the potatoes are less browned than they would be in a traditional oven.

Dear Corporations: Think Simple

29 Jun

I like small, clean stores with employees who don’t hate their jobs.  I like websites that answer my questions.  I like well constructed products that make sense and do what they are meant to do, all without straining my muscles, wasting my time, or using unnecessary space in my home.

Low on storage space in the bathroom? This product can help solve the problem.

Have you ever felt confused or frustrated by the counter-intuitive design or poor functioning of a product?  Of course you have.

Happy customers are the best advertisements…so why do businesses make us unhappy?

Why not inspire loyalty and referrals through simple design and clear communication?  Is that so hard to do?

Who wants a product that looks impressive but turns out to be heavy, slow, complicated, or just flat out annoying?  Customers want products that make life easier, not more difficult!

Dear corporations and engineers:  If you make it simple, customers will come.


This post was partially inspired by the fine blog posts shown below.

The Elegance of Simplicity | Laurie Foley

Fifty-eight (!) Buttons. Not remote(ly) Sane.  > Snoring Dog Studio

This Vacuum Cleaner Sucks. And Not in a Good Way > Snoring Dog Studio

Skipping Through Life (quick potato soup)

4 May

I have set a new goal for myself.

Each week, I want to find at least one way to simplify my life — by skipping something.

I might skip an entire task, or just one step from a complicated one.  I might skip an ingredient in a recipe, if I don’t have it and I don’t feel like driving to the store.  Frankly, sometimes I find that a recipe is better without the missing ingredient!

I already thought of something to skip this week, but I promptly forgot it again.  Forgetfulness doesn’t count as simplification, in case you were wondering.  Now I need to think of something else to skip…

In the meantime, I will share an example from the past.

I love potato soup; my mother made some great soups, and that was one of her specialties.

Please note:  My mother is alive and well, but she doesn’t cook as much these days, which is why I am speaking of her in the past tense in this particular context.

My mother used a fairly long process to make her potato soup, including using an old hand cranked food mill to break down the potato pieces.  This food mill was some kind of antique; as an adult I combed antique stores until I found one like hers.  I believed that this device was somehow key to the potato soup making process.

In recent years, it occurred to me that my food mill took too long to use, and far too long to clean.  I got rid of the food mill.  First, I switched to my modern electric food processor… now I use only a spoon! 

What could be easier to clean than a spoon?

I skip a step in the potato soup making process, thus making a spoon as useful as a food processor.  I cook the potatoes directly in the chicken stock, instead of combining the two after cooking the potatoes, as my mother did.

I slice the potatoes, chop some onions, and dump them all into a pot with some chicken broth, salt, pepper, and whatever other seasoning I may be craving on that day.  Then I boil until the potatoes are just soft enough to crush and crumble with a wooden stirring spoon.  I add a little bit of half-and-half  for creaminess (if this ingredient is not handy, I might skip it!  Who needs the fat?) and serve the soup with a topping of cut chives.  Sometimes, I substitute green onions for chives, but chives are really the best for potato soup.

My methods can alter the texture of the soup, leaving it a little starchier, but it tastes just as good.

By skipping steps, I can make a quick batch of soup for one or two people, in only one small pot, using only a vegetable peeler, a knife, a cutting board, and a wooden spoon.  The clean up is a breeze.

The cold, hard truth is that if I had to make the soup the way my mother made it, I probably would not make it at all. 

I would skip it.

No wonder my mother doesn’t cook as much as she once did…she’s skipping it, too.

On the Subject of Simple Communication

17 Mar

Is communication ever simple?

When we communicate with our fellow humans, so many things can go wrong.  We may say too much or too little.  We may use the wrong tone of voice or make incorrect assumptions about the listener.  We may thoughtlessly spread casual gossip.  We may unintentionally hurt, offend, confuse, mislead, deceive, interrupt, baffle, insult, ignore, irritate, or simply bore our audience.  When it comes to blogging and social media, mindful communication becomes even more of a concern.

I came across this verse in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little Town on the Prairie, and I think it speaks for itself in any century.

If wisdom’s ways you wisely seek,
Five things observe with care,
To whom you speak,
Of whom you speak,
And how, and when, and where.
~Your loving mother, C. L. Ingalls, De Smet, November 15th, 1881

Even in the days of covered wagons, communication was complicated and had to be handled with care.

While considering the complexity and perils of modern communication, I discovered some other interesting advice. (The quotations below are from thinkexist.com)

Good communication does not mean that you have to speak in perfectly formed sentences and paragraphs. It isn’t about slickness. Simple and clear go a long way.  ~John Kotter

To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.  ~ Anthony Robbins

The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives.  ~Anthony Robbins

I especially like the Anthony Robbins quote about communication and differences in perception, because I find that some people respond poorly to my verbal communication style, which is more straight forward than my writing style.  I believe that honesty is the simplest policy, in most cases.  Much fuss has been made about the differences in communication styles between men and women, but I find as much difficulty – if not more – between the communication styles of different generations and different cultures, and also with a number of individuals who plainly do not share my direct approach.

When have you had trouble communicating because of differences in communication style?

Have you attributed the difficulty to sex, age, culture, or individual perspectives?

A Peek at a Blog Called “Life With Lindsay”

7 Mar

In times of chaos, looking at images of organization, simplicity, and beauty can help inspire us to find these qualities in our own lives.

I recently came across photographs of the home of a blogger named Lindsay Meyer.  What impressed me is that Lindsay’s home appears very organized, open, and simple, but it still has a personal and comfortable look to it.  The link below will take you to Lindsay’s post, so you can be impressed, too!

sneak peek: my little marina studio «.

Looking around at the chaos of moving boxes recently, I found a fragment of beauty and simplicity, a spot still untouched by moving preparations.  Instead of looking at all the boxes, I chose to look at this

The cymbidium orchids are from my mother’s garden.  They last quite a long time, so I expect to be able to take them along when we move.  I won’t have a mantle available to me anymore, but there will be a place for flowers no matter where I go.

My last blog post, Lessons From a Life on the Move, was unexpectedly featured on Freshly Pressed, and I received a large number of views, comments, and also new subscribers as a result.  I want to give a very warm welcome and thank you to all of my readers for visiting, commenting, and subscribing.  I appreciate the community and the support, right now more than ever.

Branching Out

3 Feb

A free table arrangement.

While walking on my block last week, I noticed some cut branches piled at the curb.

This not unusual.

In our city, yard waste is picked up from the street with a mechanical scoop, something like a forklift, but with a spoon instead of a fork.  The spoonlift deposits the leaves, sticks, and grass clippings into a larger second vehicle.  Some cities have bins and only one machine, which seems more efficient from my point of view, but I will admit that the spoonlift is fun to watch.

These particular branches caught my attention because they had buds on them.

I worked at a florist shop for several years, where we sometimes used branches in our arrangements.  Cuts of bright yellow Forsythia and flexible, curly willow would blossom or sprout leaves when left in water, adding structure and a touch of Spring to any arrangement.

I had found a free centerpiece, lying in the street!  It was my lucky day.

I had just passed by an hour before, and the branches had not been there, so I knew they were fresh.  I took the smaller branches home and cut them for use in a vase.  The remaining branches were soon collected from the street, and I counted the blessing of my good timing in finding some to take home before they were scooped away.

I have had the pleasure of seeing the branches bloom and sprout this week, and would like to share my pleasure with you.

Have you ever wondered how Navel Oranges got their name?

Day two. A cluster of buds.

The oranges came from our dwarf orange tree.  Our recent weeks of frost have made the fruit bitter, but they still look good in a bowl.

Day five. Blossoms are starting to show.

Day five. The same cluster of buds.

The buds started white, turned pink, and then whitened again as the flowers opened.  I suspect they are apple blossoms, or maybe pear.

Some people do not have the patience to wait for flowers to open slowly.  At the florist shop, we sometimes sent out budded Cymbidium orchid plants, staked with willow branches, tied with a ribbon and nestled in moss.

We received calls from irate gift senders, demanding to know why their money had paid for only “sticks in a pot”.

We might try in vain to explain that the orchid plant would hold its elegant blooms for three months, and that it would only take the flowers a few days to open, but the explanation usually didn’t satisfy them…even when we told them the plant was worth more than they had paid and they had gotten a deal.

Some customers would rather give older flowers, those that have already reached their peak and will soon be past it.  They want instant (short-lived) gratification.

Day six. Starting to open.

I have tried to educate friends and family about choosing flowers with an expectation of their future potential.

A bundle of small, green, stubby tulips will not remain so.  It will grow and change with each day, with stems lengthening, buds changing color, expanding, and twisting toward the nearest light source.

This process, to me, is infinitely more interesting than a bundle of fully colored, fully open tulips that will fade and drop their petals in a day or two.

I appreciate the surprise of not knowing for certain what the color of the blooms will be.

Day six. Afternoon, fully open.

The stages of growth in a flower are like the stages of growth in a child.  I am not attached to a single stage; I find them all intriguing.

The next time you purchase flowers, let them be a little bit green, a little bit tight.

Day seven. Spring has arrived.

When you look at the trees or shrubs in your yard, keep in mind that most clippings will look good in a vase, or even a jelly jar.

Any Fall leaves, Spring growth, flowering branches, and even dry twigs can be beautiful — especially mixed together in varied textures and colors.

Day eight. Gorgeous.

And you can’t beat the price:  free.

Pomegranates: Simplified

12 Jan

When I was young, long before I knew of the various health benefits of pomegranates, I loved to eat them. 

I have not eaten many poms in adulthood, however, because of the hassle of opening them. I guess I’ve gotten lazy.  Or, maybe it has something to do with the fact that adults have to clean up their own messes…

If you have never tried to separate one yourself, and have only bought the bottled juice or the ready-to-eat arils, you may not know how messy and awkward opening a pomegranate can be, or about the dark juice staining your fingers and clothing… and, oh, whatever else it may touch.

Then again, perhaps you have heard about it, and that is why you never bothered to attempt it.

Once, I cheerfully bought a package of ready-to-eat pomegranate, cleverly saving myself the trouble.  Sadly, I wasn’t able to eat the entire package on my own, and I don’t like to waste food, so I encouraged one of the children to try some.  Well, he tried some alright, but unbeknownst to me the arils had been in the refrigerator too long by then, and they had fermented.  Pomegranate wine, anyone?

This wasn’t the first time a child in this house acted like I had poisoned him.  I am a good cook — a safe cook! —  don’t worry.  There is simply a flair for drama around here.  But, you never can tell when it might be a legitimate response, so I ate an aril myself, just to prove that I think they are very tasty, and it wasn’t some kind of mean trick I had played on the kid.

The taste was similar to the smell of rubbing alcohol.  Just…so awful.  I probably made the same pained face that he did.  Another lesson learned.  Now I always taste things before offering them.  Oh, and I don’t eat pomegranate arils if they are purple instead of red.

Oops!  Now I’m making pomegranates sound very unappealing with my anecdote.  Normally, poms are great, I promise.  I especially enjoy them in salads, but I’ll eat them straight. 

Someone recently told me about an underwater method of preparing pomegranates and I decided to try it out.  I was quite pleased with the results.

If you have ever been tempted by the sight of a whole pomegranate in the market, but felt intimidated by it, you might be interested in trying this method.

Basic directions: Cut off the top or crown of the pomegranate and make shallow cuts in the outside peel, following the natural sections of the fruit.  Fill a large bowl with water.  (I used a pot.)  Pull apart the sections and loosen the arils in the water.  The white membrane will float and the arils will sink.  Remove the membrane and strain the arils.  Enjoy.

Readers who prefer to SEE the process can find some illustrated directions here.  (Thanks to eHow.com)

I tried it with a hardened, older pomegranate which is why I didn’t take pictures of it myself.  Mine had lost its luscious red color and looked dry and highly unsuitable for promotional material.  Opening my particular pomegranate was a bit tricky because the skin was no longer flexible.  Ideally, I think the peel should bend back.  It was more of a breaking apart process with my hardened peel, but I was still able to remove the arils underwater without a mess.  I’m sure it would be even easier with a fresher pomegranate.

I tested an aril just to be safe (like I said, lesson learned), but truthfully, I didn’t have a use for so much pomegranate today.  Since I had opened an older fruit to begin with, I was obviously concerned about repeating the fermentation incident.  Luckily, pomegranate arils can be frozen or dried.  I decided to freeze the arils to toss into some muffins at a later date.

Persimmons are pretty good, too… but, I haven’t figured them out yet!

Henry David Thoreau: Wise Philosopher or Ugly Skulker?

6 Jan

Once upon a time… during the year 1845, to be more precise,  Henry David Thoreau — following the excellent advice of his best friend, poet Ellery Channing — set off to build himself a tiny house in a quiet spot near Walden Pond, in his home state of Massachusetts.

He intended to stay there alone and live in harmony with nature, wishing to experience the stripped-down essence of life, and to accomplish some serious writing.

Fulfilling his intentions, Thoreau wrote a little book called Walden, about his experiment of conducting life in a simple, natural, and self-reliant manner.  He advised his readers to simply, and to reduce whenever possible.  In America’s current sad economic state, and in our modern, wasteful and multi-tasking culture, this is good advice indeed.  However, I suspect it to be something that happens more often through necessity than as a result of philosophical design.

In my high school Literature class, this account of simple living was required reading.  Interestingly, I don’t remember all the volumes I was asked to read for school, but I do remember this one.  Looking back now, I recall that as I read through the book, I observed Thoreau’s timeless wisdom and his clear practicality —  but I also found Walden to be one of the most (ironically) long-winded and boring things I had ever read in my life, up to that time.  Many of the included details felt completely unnecessary to me.  For example, I did not yearn to know the price of the lumber he used to build the house, but I think he devoted an entire page to it.

I have very recently been thinking of giving Walden a second look, a second chance to win me over.  I enjoyed some of Thoreau’s other material, and in fact I found his essay Civil Disobedience particularly inspiring.  I wonder if perhaps Walden might resonate more with me, now that I have more life experience.  What does a teenager know about solitude, simplicity, and frugality?  Answer:  Not very much!

This is not Walden Woods, but I once found it to be a good "thinking spot."

Now, instead of being a teenager myself, I am a parent of one teenager and two preteens.  Life has changed, or to be more accurate, I have been changed by life.  I certainly spend far more time thinking about simplicity now than I did when I was younger, and I even write about it.  I regularly search for ways to make life simpler and more efficient, not to mention less expensive.  Sometimes I even use up my free time in pursuit of creative ways to create more free time.  I admit, there may be something wrong with my math in that equation…

“Our life is frittered away by detail,” Thoreau wrote in Walden.

So true.  How many details are frittering our lives away?  This statement may be more true now than when it was originally written.  Personally, I feel pretty frittered.  How about you?  So you can understand why I started thinking, “Hey, maybe old Henry David Thoreau wasn’t so dull after all!” 

The man was called worse things than boring during his lifetime, I have learned.

If you look up Thoreau on Wikipedia as I did, you will find an early photograph of him (an 1856 daguerreotype) that suggests he looked a bit like Ellen Degeneres with a neck-beard.  There are also some quotes to be found from Thoreau’s contemporaries, many of them very emphatically calling him “ugly.”  I would like to note here that the image in which Thoreau seems to resemble Ellen Degeneres is by far the most flattering image of him that I have seen.

Although Thoreau was not as popular in his lifetime as he has posthumously become, some supported his writings and his actions.  One of his more notable benefactors was Ralph Waldo Emerson, who befriended Thoreau and took him home to tutor his children and perform other helpful tasks while living with the Emerson family.  Emerson employed him for years, spoke well of him, and also made available to him the land on which he lived for more than two years while writing Walden.

Others were not as generous as Emerson, and certainly not as friendly.

Robert Louis Stevenson considered Thoreau to be a “skulker“, and suggested he was not only very ugly, but also effeminate, anti-social, and humorless!

I suspect that Stevenson had a personal grudge against Thoreau, as the majority of quotes about him are more positive, save for the general consensus that he was ugly.  Thoreau’s lifestyle choices were unconventional enough that a few other writers believed it would be more appropriate for him to get a job and act like a civilized person, instead of living alone in the woods like a savage heathen — but many others seemed to find his thoughts interesting.

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” This quote from Walden suggests that Thoreau understood the negative perception others had of him, and was more concerned with being true to himself than with improving his public image.

In reality, whether or not Thoreau was ugly, whether or not he stepped to the music of a different drummer, he was neither lazy nor savage.  He studied at Harvard university for some years and spent much of his adult life working in his family’s pencil factory, where he involved himself in upgrading and modernizing the facility.  I found this last piece of information surprising.  I am having difficulty envisioning Thoreau working in a factory of any kind, after reading his work.

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. “

~ Henry David Thoreau (from Walden, 1854)

I don’t think he was a skulker at all.  I think he was a dreamer.

Thoreau has long been a famous success, praised by many writers and other great minds.  His writings have influenced important leaders like Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr., his works have been assigned in public schools, and his philosophies are quoted across the internet. 

Take that, Robert Louis Stevenson!!


The quotes and information summarized above (along with further information) may be found on these pages:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_David_Thoreau (life, critiques of)

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Henry_David_Thoreau (further quotes by, and quotes about)

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Walden (Walden quotes)

Less is More: Part Two

26 Jul

As I continue to find ways to simplify and get more results from less effort, I begin to wonder if I am being clever, or just very lazy.  Maybe both.

Recently, I made a baked peach dessert that looked very promising on paper,  but sadly it failed to live up to its promise.  My kitchen was a sticky shambles, I had spent a lot of time, and all I had to show for it was a high calorie dessert that I didn’t really like.

Leaving that experience behind, I found a delicious baked fruit dessert that takes less time, less effort and fewer ingredients.  The original recipe (from a British cookbook called Best Ever Three and Four Ingredient Cookbook, by Jenny White and Joanna Farrow) calls for apricots, sugar, cream cheese and gingersnaps.  It’s easy enough.  And yet, I wanted to make it “less”.  Apricots were not handy, so I went for peaches.  Cream cheese is fattening so I went for the 1/3 less fat variety.  I also cut the sugar in half, and I didn’t use the special superfine sugar called for in the book, just some regular grainy sugar from Costco.

I loved the flavor contrast, but it must be eaten fresh from the oven or it separates, leaving the ginger crumb topping a soggy mess.

So, outside of party planning, I will opt for reducing it to cut fresh peaches with crumbled gingersnaps, straight to the plate.  Less time, and a cleaner kitchen will result.  No cooking, no mixing, no fat…  Okay, maybe a small scoop from a tub of whipped cream cheese if I feel decadent.