Tag Archives: Simplicity

The Tale of the Coveted Cookies

No, this is not the beginning of a fairy tale. It really happened years ago when I was a teenager, and I thought it would be an amusing story to share with you as the holiday season ramps up.

My mom comes from a fairly large extended family. Both of her parents had many siblings, so both sides of her family tree used to have large potluck dinners every December to give everyone a chance to spend time together over the holidays.

 My maternal grandmother’s side of the family included a White Elephant gift exchange in their gigantic Christmas get-together. Every family unit – which was roughly defined as a couple (or single person) and any children under the age of 20 they may have – was asked to bring one wrapped gift that would appeal to an adult of any age.

One year, mom had no idea what to bring for the gift exchange. What she did have was a little extra time on her hands and an empty decorated tin from a previous Christmas. She whipped up a quick batch of chocolate chip cookies and put as many of them as would fit into the tin. It was such a pretty box that she didn’t bother wrapping it in festive paper.

In a white elephant gift exchange, a member from each family is allowed to choose one wrapped present. Everyone then sat in a semicircle of chairs. One by one, they opened their gift and then decided whether they wanted to keep it or trade it for one of the other opened presents.

This was a decision that could be made only once. After your turn ended, you’d either hold onto your gift for good or have it “stolen” by someone further down the line who preferred it to whatever it was they had unwrapped.

When mom’s gift was opened by a cousin, he grinned. The next person to open their gift quickly “stole” the cookies from the first person.

This happened a few different times throughout the course of the game. I don’t remember who finally ended up with them, but it was funny to see adults become so playfully competitive over a tin of cookies. (Granted, they were delicious cookies!)

While I haven’t participated in a gift exchange in many years, I think of this story every December.

Sometimes the best gifts really are the simplest ones.

If you’d like to make these cookies for yourself, here is the recipe. It’s every bit as delicious as it sounds, and the cookies are quite easy to make as well.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 1/3 cups Crisco (or margarine)
2 cups sugar
1 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons vanilla
4 1/2 cups flour
1 package chocolate chips (about 340 grams or 12 ounces)


Mix the Crisco, sugar, brown sugar, and eggs  together until fluffy.
Add the baking soda, salt, and vanilla. Mix well.
Add the flour in one cup at a time. Mix well.
Stir in the chocolate chips.

Spoon the dough onto lightly greased cookie sheets.

Bake at 350 Fahrenheit for 6-7 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes about 6 dozen cookies.

Now Is the Perfect Time to Start Practicing Mindfulness

The autumn and winter holiday season is right around the corner.

In the past, I’ve felt kind of like discombobulated like the glass of water in the picture on the left for several different reasons: I’ve felt pressured to participate in religious rituals I disagreed with; I do not enjoy the wasteful, commercialistic side of the holiday season; I miss the sun when sunset begins to happen before 5 pm in November and December.

Whether you love the extra hours of darkness and the festivities of this portion of the year or, like me, are not a big fan of them, they’ll be here before we know it.

This will the first holiday season I will have ever been through as someone who meditates and practices mindfulness regularly. I have already seen positive changes in my life as a result of these new habits. It’s going to be fascinating to see if they make the end of the year more enjoyable for me. My best guess is that they will be!

If you haven’t started practicing mindfulness yet, now is the perfect time to begin. Let’s talk about why this is so and what to expect if you decide to add this habit to your daily routine.

Mindfulness Isn’t a Quick Fix

No, this isn’t going to be one of those blog posts that promises to improve every part of your life in five easy steps. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of that writing style or of the idea that reading a single article is all someone needs to make big changes in their life. Few people are that simple or that easily swayed.

There is also the fact that learning how to stop and focus on the present moment takes time. While I am gradually getting better at brushing away unhelpful thoughts and keeping my mind focused on what is currently going on, I still have a long way to go.

This is by far the biggest reason why I strongly recommend getting started with this habit as soon as possible if it’s something you’re hoping to get benefits from over the next few months.

If you want to be able to live in the moment at the end of the year when you’re at an event that you find stressful or over-stimulating, practicing now will make that day easier than it might have otherwise been because you will have already gotten into the habit of quietly focusing on the moment instead of thinking about what happened in the past or what might happen in the future.

Mindfulness Is a Lifestyle Change

Think about practicing mindfulness the same way you would if you wanted to learn a new language, strengthen your muscles, or play a new instrument.

All of these skills take time and effort to master. I’ve never heard of anyone becoming fluent in a new language in a day or a week. The same can be said for learning to play the piano or swing a kettlebell.

While the basics can be figured out fairly quickly if you’re motivated, it will take sustained effort over much longer periods of time to really reap the rewards of your hard work.

Mindfulness requires that same attention to detail. When I first began meditating and doing my best to remain in the present moment when I wasn’t meditating, I didn’t notice any major changes in how I thought or felt.

It took a while for me to fall into the habit of doing it regularly, and even longer for me to learn how to use it to relax consistently.

Mindfulness Is Worth It

I wish I’d started practicing mindfulness regularly many years ago. There were several false starts over the years as I slowly figured out what did and didn’t work for me.

While I understand why it took me a while to where I am today, I sure wish I could have had a cheat sheet to both warn me about the techniques my brain would not find helpful well as to tantalize me with all of the positive effects of mindfulness if I kept plugging away at it.

If there were a way for me to give you a tour of my mind and show you all of the small but still wonderful improvements I’ve made as a result of this habit, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

Since that isn’t currently possible, I’ll tell you that my mind wanders a little less now than it used to. It’s easier to return to the present moment when it does go scampering off into the furthest recesses of my brain.

I’ve also come to love my daily meditation sessions and mindful moments. They are such a nice way to pause and immerse myself in the moment before moving on with my regular routines. It’s going to be interesting to see what other benefits I discover over the next few months as I become even better at the skills i’m currently practicing.

In short, mindfulness is worth every ounce of effort you put into it.

Try It Another Way

monday-blogs-1I’m going to get today’s point across by telling you a few stories.

The Dryer Game

The laundry facility I use is small, crowded, and often quite busy.

There have been times when every single washer and dryer is in use when I’ve shown up with my dirty laundry.

Once there was even a line of people waiting to snag a washing machine the second one became available. That was one overloaded day, pun intended.

Some people do like wait around for an available machine. After trying that once and getting frustrated by the folks who like to let their clothing hang around in the machines for hours after they’re done washing or drying, I started making rules for myself.

If all of the washers and dryers are claimed, do not pass go or unload your laundry basket. This game was doomed from the start.

If a few washing machines are free but all of the dryers have just been claimed, come back in 30-60 minutes. Some of the machines will probably be free by then. If they aren’t, try again on a different day.

If there are enough washing machines right now and at least one dryer looks like it will be free by the time you’ll need one, start the laundry immediately. Not everyone uses all of the time on their dryer, so you could end up with far more dryers than you actually need.

It’s easier to take your chances on this when a few of the dryers will run out of time in the next thirty minutes or so anyway.

monday-blogs-3Rethinking Steak

Those of you who have followed this blog for a long time might remember that I’m not a big fan of meat, especially red meat.

I react to it the same way many people seem to react to vegetables: a part of a balanced diet, but definitely not the fun or enjoyable part.

(When I was a kid, I actually ate a plate full of lettuce as my after school snack every day. That’s how much I liked and still like vegetables!)

The other night I went to a friend’s birthday dinner at a restaurant that is known for its steaks. There weren’t a lot of other dairy-free options on the menu, so I ordered a steak for my meal.

Historically, I’ve asked for well done meat because I thought that the red juice you see in cooked steaks was blood. The sight of it completely grossed me out. It was only recently that I learned what it actually is, though, so this time I decided to order a steak that was cooked to medium instead of well done.

What a difference that one decision made! My steak was juicy and delicious. It’s still not something I’d want to eat more than occasionally, but it was a much better meal than the steaks I’ve had in the past.

Tying It All Together

Sometimes trying things another way makes all of the difference in the world.

What problem or situation have you approached from a different angle recently? How did that work out for you?

There’s Such a Thing as Too Much Simplicity

Comic by Grant S.
Comic by Grant S.

Many visitors are surprised by how little my husband and I own.

We live simply in a very small apartment. We don’t own a car, couch,  dishwasher, washer, dryer, table, chairs, or a lot of the other stuff that most people have in their homes.

I’m happy with what we do own. It’s enough to cover all of our needs (and most of our wants), but it never feels overwhelming.

There are some people in the simplicity movement who’ve pared it down to just 100 items, including stuff like clothing. It works well for a lot of them, especially if they travel a lot or don’t make many meals at home.

For me, that would be too bare-boned. I don’t particularly like washing the dishes, but with my allergy to milk it would be tricky and expensive to eat every meal out. (It would also be much less healthy).

And I like owning enough clothing that I don’t have to do laundry every week. If a pair of socks counts as 2 items, you could only own a few of them before they took up too much space in the 100 item count.

The trick to any movement, I think, is to use it only to the extent that it works for you. I don’t talk about our voluntary simplicity on this blog as often I used to because it’s so well-integrated into our daily lives.

What about you? What movements have you dabbled in without committing to everything they have to offer?


Product Placement: The Future of Advertising?

About six months ago Drew and I cancelled our cable subscription. We’ve been watching our favourite television shows on our laptop.

Losing commercial breaks and all of the stuff advertisers want us to think we need was refreshing. I wasn’t expecting it to affect me as much as it did and does because when we had cable we rarely if ever paid attention to commercials. That time was usually spent by going to the kitchen for another snack or finishing up a quick chore.

Yet when we cut commercials out of our television habits I slowly noticed that I was less and less interested in new stuff just for the sake of having it. I’m happier to wear things out or use them up now. Even though I’ve never been the type of person to, say, buy a new wardrobe every year I did grow tired of what I owned more quickly than I do now.

And then I began to notice something creeping onto the foregrounds and backgrounds of some of my favourite shows:

Product Placement

A few characters gather together for a meal. Rather than sipping a cold drink from a glass tumbler they now drink name-brand juice or fortified water whose labels just happen to be in view of the camera.

They haven’t written what they are drinking into the dialogue (so far…) but until I train my eyes to only read on command I can’t help but know their beverages of choice.

Is this the new face of advertising?

If it is there is at least one advantage: the show doesn’t have to take a break to flash a product at us.

But every time it happens I’m momentarily jarred out of the world that each television show creates. When I watch a program I buy into certain assumptions about the way TV-land works:

  • Vampires were born to mope.
  • Female superheroes fight better in skimpy clothing.
  • Women who wander into dark alley ambushes need a man to rescue them.
  • If two people despise one other the first time they meet it means they are destined to fall in love.

Sometimes these assumptions are turned on their heads (see: Buffy the Vampire Slayer). At other times they are not (see also: Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

To this list I’d also add:

  • TV-land packaged food is manufactured by imaginary companies.

Part of the allure of fictional stories is the promise of escaping into another world for a little while. Product placement ruins this aspect of it for me.

The question is, in what other ways could products be marketed to us if fewer and fewer people are watching commercials?

What do you think?

Cable-Free: One Month Update

Now that we’re about a month into the new TV season I thought I’d give an update on our cable-free experiment. So far we have had little to no trouble finding most of our favourite TV shows. At times I do have to wait a day or two for certain shows to become available for… Read More

Scent Pollution

One unexpected advantages so far of not  having cable TV is that I no longer need to argue with the commercials. Candles. Dish soap. Body wash. Laundry detergent. Fabric softener. Deodorant. Hand lotion. Feminine hygiene products. Shampoo. Mouthwash. Toothpaste. Wood polishers and other cleaning products. Disposable dusting clothes. Everything is scented these days. If I want… Read More

Living More With Less

A few weeks ago Teresa from Thoughtful Eating recommended that I read Living More with Less by Doris Janzen Longacre, a book about the connection between social justice and simple living from a Mennonite perspective. This book illustrates a few of the many reasons why if I was ever going to go back to church it… Read More

On Not Celebrating Christmas

Growing up and into the first few years of adulthood I celebrated a more-or-less traditional form of Christmas with my family. I don’t observe it as a religious or secular holiday any longer for several reasons. Christmas and Religion. I don’t celebrate Eid, Hanukkah or Yule because I’m not Muslim, Jewish or Neopagan. Why, then,… Read More