My Excuses

I’m one of these poor souls who gets into the Christmas spirit early. I usually start listening to Christmas CDs in my car around September. It’s really not my fault. There are two good reasons for this: 1) I’m a seamstress/quilter/crafter. 2) I’m a choir director’s daughter.

Everyone knows if you make some of your Christmas presents, you have to get started early. Many years have I ignored this caveat and spent late nights with little sleep trying to finish a project near the deadline. (Projects invariably take longer than I assumed they would.) So, as much as I get frustrated with seeing stores change over to Christmas merchandise the day after (or day of or days before!) Halloween, I need to get in the Christmas spirit if I am planning to make one or more of my gifts. I also need to be able to buy the holiday-related materials for my projects.

On top of that, I’m a choir director’s daughter. Choirs always have a Christmas program, and, well, you need lots of weeks to practice, so as a choir member, you’re used to singing Christmas music starting in October.

Now, we hear all about how hard it is to be a PK (Preacher’s Kid - just ask Matt and Rachel), but nobody ever talks about the wild lives of a Choir Director’s Kids. Here is a rundown of what you would have done as a CDK growing up in our family: For one thing, you're inducted into the choir early - like 12 years old. The choir needs another soprano or alto, and the choir director's daughters just fit the bill. If you play the piano, you will have to fill in for the organist when a substitute cannot be found. Church is your second home - Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, Wednesday nights, and some weekends. Your parents take you to the church on some Saturdays, where you go into the tiny dark choir room and take music out of file drawers and stack it in piles on a long pew in the sanctuary. Then you take all the sung anthems (choir music) out of the folios (music holder folders) and place the new anthems in said folios, in the order in which they will be used. While you’re there, you are even asked to tidy up the place! But it’s not all work and no fun. You can always find a few minutes to stand at the pulpit and pretend you’re the preacher. You can do a lot of things when you’re the only people in the building.

Of course, Christmas at church was special for Joy and me. I mean, really - the choir was singing our names! “While by our sheep, we watched at night, glad tidings brought an angel bright. How great our Joy! (echo: Great our joy). Joy, Joy, Joy! (echo: Joy, joy, joy). Praise we the Lord in heav’n on high! (echo: Praise we the Lord in heav’n on high!)” I’m not counting, but that’s 7 Joys in each refrain. My sister en”joy”ed every moment. I got her back, though, when we got to “I heard the bells on Christmas Day, their old familiar carols play...” Of course, those are within the lyrics - but titles were actually in the bulletin, where we could see our names in print. She got “Joy to the World” in the bulletin, but I got her back with “Carol of the Bells.” (I just don’t understand that nasty rumor that Joy and I were always competing.)

The sad thing is - I work on Sundays now and haven't been in a choir in over a decade. I also don't know if I have enough time to make any of my Christmas gifts this year. Nevertheless, it's in my genes to have my eyes focused on December 25 months ahead of time.

Halloween will be over tomorrow night, then it’s all speed ahead!


One of the best and simplest things we can cultivate is friendship. I'm not talking about the user and losers who use you and lose you - I'm talking about the ones who celebrate with you and pick you up when you fall down.

These blogs, like a lot of things online are about friendship. We enter into each other's lives in a way heretofore unknown in our world and have a choice as to whether or not we can benefit from each other.

One way to help each other is called quid pro quo. By viewing each other's blogs and sharing them with others we not only distribute the wealth and knowledge around, but we help the blogger by helping them maybe earn a penny or two for the time they invest in this online medium.

Another way is to reward the blogger with a simple comment letting them you that you've been there and either agreed or disagreed with their statements. A simple smiley can go a long way for a discouraged blogger!

It has taken me a while to realise this simple truth. I would read blog upon blog without a thought of the love being poured into them and quickly move on to the next one.

As I also write for Associated Content, and soon for Demand Studios, it dawned on my how much it meant to me personally when someone made a simple comment on one of my pieces, or on this blog. I have started making a point of promoting the work of other online writers as a "thank you" for generously reading my stuff, and intend to continue that here.

Please, if you read some one's blog you like, if you read an article or a poem - good or bad - please consider leaving a small mark so that the author knows that you have been there. If you really like it, share it with some of your friends and ask them to comment if it pleases.

We may all be online - we may never meet each other - but that doesn't mean that we have to pretend that the other does not exist while visiting places online. Can we share the simple wealth of friendship by leaving an occasional comment?

Here in the future I want to promote that friendship by highlighting blogs and pages that you may be interested in. I hope that you will do the same by sharing things you enjoy with those around you as well.

Paying the Bills...

Bills. It really should be a four-letter word. Those evil little slips of paper that land in your mailbox are just foul. Because of them we have to do another four-letter word: work. Nasty words, both of them!

Anyhow, to simplify my life I have been taking steps to work at home and spend more time with my daughter. I have published on Associated Content for most of a year now, and tonight have taken another step toward freedom: I have applied at Demand Studios for a position either writing or copyediting.

I am terribly nervous, and hopeful at the same time. They pay on average about $15 an article and would be a great way to not only build my readership but pay those four-letter words off, you know? I could write whenever, wherever - however!

Please send a wish out that I get a position with this company, and can continue my dream of freedom!


Urban Simplicity

Most books and newspaper or magazine articles conceptualise living simply in a rural environment – back to the land.

Living simply is popularly seen as wabi-sabi and vaguely muddy: an exercise requiring gum boots, and probably a dog.

There is a great difference between England and America here (and obviously other parts of the world too), centring mainly on the issue of space. The American tiny house websites often show pictures of enchanting little dwellings only X square feet, squeezed in impossible nooks between larger houses. In England, most ordinary people’s houses look like that anyway. Land is at a premium, because there is less of it, and what there is either belongs to an individual or the government; so you can’t build on it or camp on it or stop a trailer on it overnight.

This means that in England living in the country is not as it was in Jane Austen’s novels, what you did when you ran out of money. It is now what you do when you win the lottery.

There are people who live simply and don’t have much money in the English countryside. Some have inherited farms. Some work as volunteers in retreat houses, or are part of intentional communities or New Age groups that have won the planning consents battle to settle (like Tinker’s Bubble). Some are very old people who have lived there since before the price of accommodation was pushed sky-high by the feminist movement with its working women moving the goalposts so that house mortgages were set to factor in two incomes. Some are people who had a lump of capital to spend on a house but do not have high incomes. Some have high incomes entirely absorbed by massive mortgages.

But people who have not inherited houses in the countryside, do not have and do not aspire to have the kind of jobs that attract high wages, are plain individuals not part of an intentional community or staff of a country house, probably live in the town.

In the English villages, the shops, post offices, pubs, schools, chapels, public transport and other facilities have gradually dwindled away. So people for whom living simply has an important Earth-friendly component, and who therefore want to live without cars, almost certainly (though not always) live in the town.

When television programmes discuss Earth-friendly initiatives and lifestyles, and look at choosing to live simply, generally keeping hens and installing solar panels and large underground rain-water reservoirs and wind turbines come into the equation.

All very interesting, but involves the living-simply-by-accumulating-gadgetry-and-accessories approach that is likely to appeal in a consumer society.

Urban simplicity is a far more practical proposition for young people starting out (with no inheritance) or for people who have been divorced and lost half their assets at a stroke, or who have been made ill by the rat race and forced to drop out and seek something richer in peace and poorer in finance, or who earn only enough money for a modest home for their family and can afford either for everyone to get weekly bus tickets or run a car but not both.

For people who cannot even consider the cost of installing photovoltaic panels and wind turbines, Earth-friendly simplicity is made possible in an urban setting. Here are some of the strategies.

• Ditch the car. Walk, use public transport. In some towns bikes are really good. I went everywhere on a bike when we lived in Bromley, because the terrain was even, the roads were wide and the people lived in big houses with off-road parking. In Hastings I don’t cycle: the hills are very steep, the roads are narrow and lined with parked cars because the houses are small and close with no off-road parking. Cycling here is for the bold and intrepid and the very fit. I get a £9.50 mega-rider bus ticket once a week, which takes me anywhere in Hastings and out as far as Bexhill (the next town, five miles along the coast). If you live in a town, you don't have to run a car. If you live in the country you almost have to have one (or someone does, to give you lifts).

• Share accommodation. We have sometimes had lodgers, and are currently in process of setting up a household of 5 adults, all family members. Living by cultural norms, those people would have 4 (there is one couple) sets of rent/mortgage, 4 TV licences, 4 sets of council tax & utilities, 4 heating and water boilers running, 4 stoves on for supper, 4 computers, 4 TV sets, 4 fridges, 4 freezers. So we shall have reduced all that by 75%, except the council tax which will be a little higher than for the sort of dwelling one of us would have been able to afford – but still much lower than 4 separate ones.

• Share costs and possessions. We shall have a car (a Toyota Prius) for our household, paid for by the company one of us works for, but we probably won’t run a second one. We certainly shan’t have one each!! We shall have a little more furniture than each of us would have had alone, but nothing like as much as all of us would have had living separately. Shopping, eating, cooking and utilizing garden produce is more economical per capita as a big household than as a household of one. One Christmas tree. One wood stack. One DVD to watch in the evening. Und so weite.

• The usual mantra – repair, re-use, recycle. The towns are rich in pickings of second-hand stuff. Hastings is stuffed to the gunwales with second-hand furniture shops and charity shops, and if you live locally they will deliver your purchases free, and if you only bought a small thing – a stool or shelf – there is a bus to take it home on or home is not too far from the shop to walk.

• Wholefood shops and co-operatives tend to centre in towns, just because there are more people there to make them viable.

• I get a lot of things on ebay. Recently I got a warm winter coat with a glam faux-fur collar on ebay, for £8. When my children were small, we got almost all their clothes second-hand. Their winter coats we acquired at the end of the summer term (the end of the school year), when all the items languishing in Lost Property were put out to be claimed or moved on. Some of the wealthier children had in fact not lost but dumped the new coats their parents had bought them, because they were not fashionable. We waited for those. We never had to buy a winter coat for our children until they all moved to a school where a uniform coat was required, when I became chaplain there. So we had to buy them second-hand coats but we did get a free house, so that was OK. But the thing about second-hand clothes is you depend on what’s available more and can be less demanding about what you want (unless you are mega shrewd and patient). We found that hardwearing practical clothes came up less often – when they were little our children’s everyday wear tended to be other people’s outgrown party-dresses because the track suits never made it to the charity shops. This means it’s easier to be a Second-hand Rose in the town, where the environment doesn’t need special shoes etc.

More thoughts on same subject to come…

A Simple Breakfast

For those days you want something quick and simple, try a smoothie. The simplest versions are composed of simply a cup of milk and a cup of fruit tossed in a blender, while the more elaborate include a cup of ice as well.

This can be any type of fruit or a combination - just whatever you have available. This morning we took a can of pineapple, some ice, a cup of milk and a bit of powdered milk to make it richer and tossed it in the blender. In less than a minute my daughter and I are eating a fruity breakfast, and I didn't have to beg her to try it!

We made ours as a late breakfast, but you can make this any time you need a quick pick-me-up. Make this with soymilk and it would be dairy-free, and it is naturally caffeine-free.

Do you have any favorite smoothie recipes to share? Post them in the comments for all of us to enjoy!

Welcome to!: Best SEO Practices to Get Traffic to Your Website by Donald Pennington on

Welcome to!: Best SEO Practices to Get Traffic to Your Website by Donald Pennington on

Take a Break and Have Fun

The main purpose of simplifying our lives is so that we can relax and have some fun. So when you kick back to enjoy that time you used to spend cleaning or working, go visit

Right now he is running a social experiment to see if social networking can make an unknown author that has never published a book bigger than Stephen King and Anne Rice combined. Why not see if he can do it?

Then there is

He's a law onto himself. One never knows what you will find on his site.

Have fun!

Dear Charities:

Dear Worthwhile Charities:

I understand your need for money. Indeed, times are tight for all of us. We all must step up to the plate and help our fellow man/woman. I give regularly to several charities, and have for many years, the primary two being Habitat for Humanity and Komen Breast Cancer Research. I understand that if I give you $10 one year, I am on your mailing list for the rest of my life. I appreciate your return-address stickers, your labels, your little cards, your calendars, and your heartfelt letters stating your cases.

I remember a letter to an advice columnist a few years ago from a lady who received such "gifts" in the mail. She said she felt guilty keeping them if she didn't send any money back, but was she supposed to just throw them away? The columnist said the items had not been solicited, and therefore were hers to keep and do whatever she wanted with them.

Knowing that I cannot possibly send money to every charity that writes me, I have to selectively choose which ones to support. For every one I support, there are at least 30 more of you that send me solicitations. It seems like such a waste - you are paying for envelopes, paper, plus your little "gifts," and I am sending you nothing. I guess it is just a risk you take. Maybe you feel that people are more likely to send money when they receive a little nicety.

But this year you have gone too far. You are sending me nickels and dimes. You state, "Just send this nickel/dime back to us with your check." Now this really upsets me because it puts me in a quandary. I don't like quandaries. I like to do the right thing. I certainly don't like guilt. Yet, here I am with these nickels and dimes. I can't afford to support your charity, so I can't send a check, yet I have your nickel or dime. I don't really see the value in paying 43 cents postage to mail back your 10 cents. I certainly can't throw it away.

I'm sure you started this gem of salesmanship because your marketing guys thought it was a great idea to pour on the guilt. I'm sure they did research that says people will feel guilty enough to write a check twice as fast if they get a nickel or dime than if they get some labels. You are deliberately putting people in a quandary. I may not be able to afford to donate to your causes, but I certainly don't want to take money from you instead!

So here is my compromise. We are keeping a jar of all the nickels and dimes from you good charities that we receive. When the Salvation Army bell ringers appear, we will take the jar and drop its contents in their kettle. That way, the money still stays in the charity realm. It just changes hands.

Now, honorable charities, I would really appreciate it if you ask your marketing guys to use their collective genius and think of another way to ask for donations, because your current method is not playing fair with our consciences. Take a cue from our Good Shepherd Food Bank here in Maine. They sent me a 3 x 5 card with an envelope. No gifts, no gadgets, no guilt. In 12 precise sentences, it states the facts of their need far greater than your 2-page letters and stickers. I am sending them a check next week.

Keep up your good work, my friends. I hope you prosper. But please - nix the coins. Thanks.


Carol Tiffin James

Homemade Donuts?

Good evening!

Katie came home in good spirits today, talking of Yu-Gi-Oh cards she trades with her friends. Surprisingly, she played at my feet and in the living room for most of the evening without even asking to get on the computer to check her Webkins or watch a show!

I finished a book entitled Affluenza, which was a wonderful companion to the movie they released a few years ago. If you ever stumble upon it at your local library check it out.

Rummaged through my cabinets and found a can of pumpkin pie mix, so I found a simple pie crust recipe and made a pie. Katie was delighted, and ate all of her dinner in exchange for a piece of pie. Of course, my crust wasn't as pretty as those in the store (the crust recipe didn't quite make enough crust to do fancy edges on my 9.5-inch deep dish pan) but that's okay. Next time I'll know to make a double batch and use the leftover crust to make monkey bread!

My sister has stumbled upon what she considers a great inexpensive treat: home fried donuts using ready-made biscuit dough. She says she makes a hole in the center and fries them in a bit of hot oil and sprinkles them with powdered sugar, only frying what she will eat and saving the rest of the can of dough in the fridge. Considering that a can of biscuit dough costs about a dollar and makes 8 fresh donuts but a dozen of stale donuts costs $2.50 on the clearance rack, she does have a point.

I don't feel like running to the store yet so I'm going to look in my cookbook to see if I have the ingredients to make some donuts from scratch without buying biscuit dough. If I could make a batch but only fry them as wanted, we would have a fresh treat on occasion without having to eat a large amount of donuts before they get hard...

Anyhow, the dishes are washed and I am beat. Goodnight for now!

Out of Butter

Last night I sat down to watch The Crow and ended up blowing off washing dishes. That movie was an excellent film - I was pleasantly surprised! I should have done them, there weren't that many to do, but I was just lazy! This morning I woke up and knocked them out in just a few minutes, annoyed at myself for not getting off my butt and taking care of them last night!

After Katie went to sleep I watched that movie and slipped outside to walk to dog and watch the meteor shower. I only saw a few shooting stars, but it felt so nice on that dark path, standing there in the dark and making wishes! The silence was so strong, only broken once by a train passing through in the distance.

As I stood there in the dark just me and the dog everything felt so right with the world I wanted to start crying. I didn't actually tear up, but the urge was sure there. When I was a child I would lay out in the yard just watching the stars. We didn't have street lights where we lived in the country, and the stars would just wink at you in friendliness.

This is my life. No rushing, no grabbing. Sitting at the kitchen table for hours with my daughter after school while she talks about her day and shows me magic tricks.

I actually ran out of butter yesterday. I had used up the very last stick the night before and didn't realize it. When I went to get some out to butter my homemade bread there was absolutely none to be found, not even in the freezer.

At first I was annoyed, but then I just had to laugh. I was just out the day before, and at Sam's a few days ago but had no clue I was so low on butter. This is the first time I have ran out of butter - totally ran out almost a decade and it took me by surprise.

You know what I did? I ate my toast laughing sans butter. I don't think I'm going to go out and get any today, either! It feels so liberating to be out of something and NOT run to the store and get it, to KNOW that I can go but choose NOT to. Instead we will do without for a couple of days.

Instead I have it on a list with a couple of other items. I'll pick it up later in the week when I head out for something else. My daughter expected me to follow my old habit of rushing out to the store to grab just that one thing, and was shocked that I did not. I'm kinda shocked as well, to be honest.

The day after Thanksgiving has been designated as a "Buy Nothing Day" by Adbusters. I had one of those yesterday and the day before as well without even trying! There was a time when it would have felt like an impossible goal.

Life just keeps getting better.

Accomplishments, Computers and Clutter

So far I have managed to reasonably maintain my goal of washing all the dishes before bed; the other night I did forget to wash the dog dish as planned and I left it until the next day. Once I was ready for bed and remembered my promise to myself, so bedtime was delayed while I washed up.

In some ways it seems to be getting easier, but in others it is still hard. Tonight I was getting ready for bed when I remembered - I washed them all then sat down to update this blog.

Today I tried another change in routine - I promised myself no computer until after I finished cleaning on my house. I chatted with my beloved Auntie while drinking my morning coffee instead of checking my email, and while on the phone with her made a pleasant discovery - beneath the ratty wallpaper in my kitchen lay another layer of wallpaper in good condition! While talking to Auntie I peeled the ratty layer off and gaped in delight at the treasure! I am so happy to have that stained wallpaper gone with such little effort, and the layer beneath is so much more pleasant to behold!

I washed laundry and actually managed to totally clear off the top of my dryer! It was piled high with miscellaneous items and was driving me insane! Now instead of scooping out a small amount of laundry detergent from my big bucket and putting it in a smaller tub on top of my dryer I just leave it in the big bucket, which is now placed on the floor beside my dryer. On top of it is another repurposed laundry detergent bucket which now contains my bleach pen, stain stick, liquid blueing and dryer sheets. The hamper is stowed in the bathtub with the shower doors closed when the bathtub is not in use. When we take a bath it will be a simple matter to place the hamper on the dryer. I would keep it on the dryer but that is what started all the dryer top clutter to begin with!

I also eliminated the useless curtain rod and the curtains I had mounted to hide the mess on the dryer. It's funny - I mounted those curtains to hide the mess and make my life simpler instead of addressing the mess itself! I've now addressed the mess and feel so much better as a result!

I put the curtains that were attempting to hide the mess in the bathroom immediately into use. The door to my daughter's bedroom is in sad shape; the previous occupants not only removed the doorknob but knocked several holes into that pitiful excuse for a door. I located a knob here but it would not fit in a functional manner (it was an outside knob). That door is an eyesore, and since space is at a premium we really don't want to lose the space a door needs to open and close so I hung those curtains at her door. At a later date I will remove the door and either burn it or just put it in the storage building just in case I ever decide to sell this place. Should I manage to locate a bead curtain that would be perfect for her!

I also went out into the storage building outside and not only rearranged a bit to make it more accessible but gathered a few things that will be handy for the house. I have one of those microfiber "mops" that you can buy in the automotive department for washing your car that my daughter suggested we use as a dust mop for the kitchen floor so that item is getting pressed into service instead of sitting uselessly in the shed. The head on it is machine-washable so it will be perfect to use - just like a swiffer, but without having to buy any cloths!

In the hallway floor is mounted a return duct for a central air unit. It had been blocked off, but the tape used to hold the board up had given out. I wanted to seal this hole up and insulate it against the weather better than the thin plastic layer already there. Since it was obvious that tape was not a good long-term solution, I took some bricks I have laying around here and used them to brace the board against the bottom of the duct. Nice sturdy way to keep it sealed! Then I went inside, lifted the grate and filled the blocked-off recess with every single plastic shopping bag I owned as a layer of insulation, then took old newspapers crumpled into balls to finish filling up the hole before replacing the plastic covered grate. No one will fall in, the hole is sealed from both bottom and top and now there is a layer of recycled paper and plastic to keep cold air from seeping into my house. Life is good.

All that is left before bed is to fill a pitcher with orange juice for my daughter so she will have it in the morning. The sink is clean, dishes are done, house is tidied - I even managed to finish a book tonight and work on an article for Associated Content! Life is cleaner and simpler, and I still checked my email and updated my Facebook.

I really love this life!


We have holidays to honor mothers, fathers, grandparents, bosses, secretaries, plus the usual weeks to honor various careers. (A favorite topic on MT Chat is “What did your company do for Medical Transcription Week?”) I saw a topic on the web today that asks this question: If you could create a new holiday, what person or event would it honor and how would you want people to celebrate it?

I didn’t even have to think about it. I would create a “Tell the Boss Day.” Let me explain. I read a letter in one of the national advice columns years ago that said something like this: “If you find that someone in his/her employment capacity did an outstanding job, went above the call of duty, helped you in some special way, or represented the company in an admirable manner, complimenting that employee is a wonderful think to do. But go one better - TELL THE BOSS.”

Ed and I have done this many times. It’s the best feeling in the world to go “up the ladder” and tell a restaurant manager that our waitress did such a great job. Sometimes we do this in front of the employee; other times, we don’t know if the employee ever realized our intervention. People tend more to complain than to compliment, so when a customer makes a boss aware of an exemplary employee, I imagine that would brighten the boss’s day too. Everyone involved - the complimenter, the employee, and the boss - can benefit from a major attitude shift toward the positive. Most of the time, it involves just a little effort to pass on the commendation.

At my job, I try to go the extra mile if I can, especially as our hospital’s mission is quality, timely patient care. For instance, if a patient is admitted and a recent office note has not been yet transcribed and the dictator verbalizes how helpful it would be if she had access to that note, I will find the note and transcribe it if possible, then send an e-mail to the dictator that it was ready to view. I will most of the time get a gracious thank-you. On other occasions, I have sent e-mails to doctors asking for clarification on a misspeak in their dictation - and they write back that they are so thankful that I was paying attention enough to catch the error in question. Those are very satisfying moments for me, of course. Any MT will tell you that a compliment from a practitioner is always well received. However - if that practitioner had actually contacted my boss to relay the “job well done” message, that would have been even more exciting!

(Oh, and by the way, this works with parents, too. There is nothing in the world like having a stranger, friend, teacher, or whoever, come up to you, stating, "Your child has such nice manners!" or other such compliments.)

So since my suggestion for such a national holiday is unlikely to be granted anytime in the near future, I propose that we all take advantage of our opportunity to make every day Tell the Boss Day. Pass it on!


Tonight I watched my daughter enjoy watching the season of The Saddle Club that she checked out from the library today. She watched every single episode, and one episode twice!

We went to Sam's Club to purchase potatoes, yeast, baking soda, brown gravy mix, vinegar and some meat. Total bill was $36 and change. Not bad for what we got. Everything but the potatoes and meat will last for a long time, some of it over a year. That may seem strange to stock up like that while trying to simplify but I consider it that many less grocery trips we will have to make - and the items won't go bad if stored properly. As for brown gravy mix, I cannot make that from scratch worth anything or I would - and four dollars for a container that will make several gallons is a whole lot better price to pay than a dollar for a little pack that only makes two cups!

I have kept to the goal I mentioned earlier, so in the morning I will awaken to a clean kitchen. I also managed to wrap the windows in the living room with the bubble wrap, sealing off a decent-sized air leak around the air conditioner. A quilt has been hung up over the door leading to the back room to seal it off better, and in a few days I will care for the windows in that back room. It isn't that cold yet, so no point in stressing and getting in a big hurry to finish.

I have turned the thermostat down to below 60F for the evening, and am preparing to snuggle down for the night. The kid is already in bed and I am enjoying the silence. Shortly she will be back in school and life will be back to "normal." - I will miss having her around, but will also be glad to have my quiet time back again.


Bubble Wrap

Once again I have managed to achieve my goal of washing the dishes before bed. Maybe I'm starting to get the hang of this!

My daughter and I spent the day watching movies - though I took some time out to grab a snack for dinner. Simple snack of summer sausage with cheddar.

I used bubble wrap to line the windows in the kitchen today. I want to see if what they say about it keeping in more heat is true. I don't know yet but I don't feel as chill sitting by all of these windows in the kitchen now. I will miss my view here in the kitchen. I don't look out the other windows so they won't be missed.

I am hoping to have enough bubble wrap to give two layers to at least some of my windows for added insulation. They say that a single layer of bubble wrap will add an extra R-factor to the insulation value, so I am hoping it will help my single-pane windows.

I was going to just put some plastic on them, but cannot locate it since the move. Figured since I had to go purchase something, might as well try something new, you know?

Just a sign that I have too much stuff. If I didn't have so much I wouldn't be so disorganized!

Here in the kitchen the thermometer on the fridge says it is 65F in here, and the one near the ceiling says 68F. I will turn it down lower tonight and raise it back up in the morning. Thankfully we keep a stockpile of quilts.

I am a touch nervous about the first heating bill here, so we are keeping the heat low at first. I have been told that the highest heating bill here was $184 one month, but one never knows... I have lived in places and had $600 heating bills, so I want to make sure this place isn't one of them.

When we lived in a 10x50 mobile home, even with horrible windows (with plastic you could still feel a breeze) the highest electric bill for heating was slightly over $200, but that was several years ago. I am heating 576 square feet here, not much more, and this place is in much better shape, especially the windows.

It will be okay.

Let's just face it: I'm cheap.

Right now I would feel soo much better if my daughter and I were living in a tumbleweed house: she could have the attic, and I could sleep in the living area like I do now - and live in the kitchen, like I do now! It would be much less expensive to heat this winter, and I could pack up my whole home whenever I wanted to travel to visit my family!

Ah well - I'm happy nonetheless. I am living my version of the American Dream sans house and car payment - doesn't get much better than this! But we all have little things we like to think about!

It is late, so time to walk the dog and hit the sack.. Goodnight everyone!

The Elimination Game

One thing my daughter and I love to play is The Elimination Game. The object of the game is for each of us to eliminate just one thing from our lives.

This is frequently played whenever there is a disagreement on what to watch or where to go - or even what to do. The one to figure out something to toss first gets to make the choice!

Can you play the game today? Pick out just one thing and toss it - perhaps list it on Freecycle if somebody else can use it.

Chances are high you will never miss it - and someone else will appreciate your generosity!

The Living Room

Once again I have managed to get all of the dishes washed after dinner. It is a relief to know that another day has passed in which I achieved my goal of having all my dishes washed before bed.

I have taken a few new pictures of my living room. I have a kiddie pool to house the guinea pigs that I spray painted black to blend in a little better with the living room. Much better to spend ten dollars on a kiddie pool then let them stay in an overcrowded cage - traditional cages are ridiculously expensive, and as I have no cats or animals that would harm them the kiddie pool is a perfect guinea pig pen!

I have placed my futon in the living room and closed off my bedroom in the back, reducing the area we have to heat this winter from 720 square feet to 576 square feet. I am seriously considering investing in a quality futon frame, but I really don't want a full-size couch in the living room. Perhaps one of those frames that fold into three? What we have works for us right now, but I wonder if it would look better if it were off the floor a touch.

We moved the shelf into the unused back room and moved the computer desk into the living room. This is perfect because now I can better watch over my daughter while she watches her shows or plays games online. Also we can snuggle on the futon and watch shows together better now!

I now have stools for the bar area, and am considering eliminating the washstand. It is beautiful, but I honestly do not need it.

I am thinking of eliminating the curtains in the living room and going with simple mini blinds instead. I feel it would better fit with the minimal appearance I am working to achieve. I have already replaced the curtains in the kitchen with mini blinds and plan to live with them a bit before making a decision on that subject.

As you can see I practice what I preach as far as simplicity goes - that computer is our television, our phone, our electronic photo frame, our clock, our bookshelf, etc. What is the point in spending money on several items when one device like the computer will do it all? I personally see no logic in it. As for the movies, we are a big fan of watching movies, and I am in the process of copying all of them to a large hard drive so that we can put the originals in deep storage. Eventually we may eliminate the originals entirely but I worry about legal repercussions so if we do it won't be for a long while!


I’ve been listening to two new Christmas harp CDs I bought last week. The performances are incredible! I can picture in my mind those professional, talented fingers just gliding over the keys, seemingly effortlessly. They put my poor attempts at harp-playing to shame.

I used to wonder why I even try to play the harp. If I want to hear harp music, all I have to do is pop in a CD and hear professionals execute exemplary form, perfect rhythm, and flawless technique. I’m also an adequate pianist, but why spend time playing on my old digital keyboard, when I can download from iTunes the great Van Cliburn playing a Steinway?

After questioning myself, I cannot deny that the above statements are logical and practical. But beyond logic and practicality, there is something else going on here. It’s the ability to create. To lean the harp against my body and pluck one string after another and hear them vibrate their beautiful sounds - there’s nothing like it. To sit down at the piano and be able to play “Moonlight Sonata” or “As Time Goes By” as I touch the keys and give my expression to the pieces - wow! Oh, certainly, I wish I knew more of what I was doing. I wish that on piano and harp I used the correct fingering, hit all the notes I should, and could create a seamless performance. But perfection is not the goal here. It is creation.

Ed and I recently watched a show on PBS about crafts in America. The show highlighted the apprentices and masters still in this country who try to create objects of beauty, from jewelry to pottery. The section that impressed me most was the part featuring people who make violins. I never thought about where violins came from or who made them - at least the non-mass-produced kind - but the whole process looks intriguing, starting with a cutout of a violin-shaped piece of wood and taking it from there. I could see the pride in their work, their joy at creating something so beautiful. Each violin is its own unique self.

And so are my performances. Every piece I play is different - it has its own beauty and imperfections. But it’s mine - I own it - I create it from the depth of my soul. I take an inanimate, silent instrument and bring it to life. I take various fabrics and sew them into a one-of-a-kind quilt. I take flour and water and salt and a couple of other ingredients and bake a loaf of bread that didn’t exist yesterday.

God has many nuances, but one of those is the Creator. Ed always said that when we make something in this world, we are co-creators with God. We see the joy of bringing something to life with our stamp on it. It doesn’t matter who wrote the music, built the harp or piano, wove the fabric, or grew the wheat - the bringing it all together is the thing that brings me incredible satisfaction.

An old “rule” for quilters is that you leave one error in your finished quilt - to remind you that only God is perfect. In other words, give up trying to make the perfect quilt or play the perfect song. The satisfaction is from the creating, not the perfection. Those harp CDs are lovely, but actually sitting down to a harp and plucking it - that’s the real joy!


It is 8:30 pm here, and I have managed to wash all of the dishes for the evening. The kitchen is clean as a result, and I can breathe easy knowing that a night has passed and my goal has been met.

I look forward to the day when getting all of these dishes washed every night is a habit! It will be sooo pleasant to wake up every morning to a clean kitchen!

On that note, the two mini blinds I scrounged up looked so great in the kitchen I bought one to finish out the other kitchen window and mounted it this afternoon. This one I mounted inside the window frame as opposed to outside (like the ones I scrounged). It gives a cleaner look to the window now that all of the brackets from years of curtains and blinds have been removed! I had to remove part of the window trim to place it (and a really ratty piece of trim on top broke off as a result and I tossed it) but I really like the clean minimal effect. I chose off-white for the color instead of bright white, so it blends in with the paneling better. The best part is that the shade is recessed so we won't be knocking it.

I plan to replace the trim on these windows after some more important things get accomplished. They aren't pretty, but considering that I paid cash for this home, I am NOT going to complain!

I am going to live with the mini blind look in the kitchen for a while. If we like it then I will put them on other windows as well.

Electric usage and Mini blinds

For those who are curious as to how much electricity a device uses, I found a post where someone checked just that. I was surprised to discover that the microwave used less electricity than an electric oven, considering that I have heard that 110 will always use more than 220 in terms of electric devices. Hmm...

I have scavenged two mini blinds and placed them in the big window in my kitchen, where I spend most of my time. It seems soo much lighter and cleaner in here with just that small change! I have one more window here in the kitchen, and I am debating on whether or not to go ahead and purchase a mini blind for that window as well.

My concern is the dog. I fear she will destroy them as she has destroyed mini blinds in the past. Personally I prefer open miniblinds combined with a sheer curtain to not only let in light but give privacy as well, or just plain mini blinds in areas where people looking in are not a concern. In summer when you want the light blocked out the white is great for reflecting the heat, and sometimes I will put up simple black curtains. Before anyone asks, I gave up on colors several years ago due to an inability to mix and match the colors and patterns just so. Besides, simple solids are just peaceful.

Time to go back to cleaning. One benefit of minimalism is less to clean, unfortunately I'm not quite there yet.

First Night Failure

When I posted that goal for all the world to see, I set myself up for failure.

Knowing that the whole world could read that I just wanted to have my dishes washed before going to bed, I put it out for the world.

Then I cooked a bbq chicken with tons of fixins.

Yup, big messy meal with big messy dishes.

I know better, but I did it anyway. Then after that, instead of getting off my butt and cleaning the kitchen, what did I do?

I watched a movie, that's what I did!

So this morning I have washed and scrubbed, and have two pans left to wash after they soak a tad.

I'm kinda ticked off at myself.

Oh well - this too will pass. I wanted to be honest and let everybody know how I did on the very first night!

Funny thing is - I was doing pretty good about washing them before bed - before I posted it online that is!

Let this be a lesson as to why you should only pick ONE thing to change at a time - could you imagine how chaotic my life would have been if I had picked more than just one?

Alright, I can't stand looking at them any longer - time to scrub up those last two dishes!

A Simple Goal

In order to simplify one's life without going insane one must start small. Only by taking small bites can one even hope to begin corralling the chaos that rules so many of us. Each of us has different needs, different lives - as a result our steps will be different from each other. What one thinks is laughable another will think essential. It is all part of our uniqueness.

I have decided to take one simple step. This is my goal for the next few months - a habit I wish to develop to simplify my life.

I have set a goal to have all of my dishes washed before going to bed every night. Period. Not washed and dried, not put away - just washed and placed on the drainer to air-dry.

This goal is the most important habit I wish to gain right now, for by having all my dishes washed when I go to bed I will not be greeted by unwashed dishes when I wake up, thus making a better start to each day.

This also means that I won't have to wash dishes before cooking breakfast every morning (an unpleasant ritual when you're hungry), and a more pleasant kitchen overall.

Each person has something that is important to them, and this is important to me.

For accountability I plan to post how well I'm doing here on the blog, and when this has become second nature I will move on - but only then.

For tonight the dishes are washed, the sink is cleaned, and life is good.

Goodnight, fair world!

Winter Conservation and Solar Homes

It was rainy this morning. My daughter had set her alarm and was getting dressed in hopes that I would let her go to school, for they were having a play today. The child slept most of yesterday and was obviously still ill, so I kept her home. She cried and was upset. I am so thankful that I have a daughter who wants to go to school!

It seems a bit quieter in here with one less computer running at all times. Every little thing I manage to turn off is one less thing adding to my electric bill. I tell myself this every day.

My microwave and toaster oven are both without those digital displays so common in the machines. My cookstove has an electric clock, but it is not digital. I wonder if digital one would use less energy but it would cost more to replace this perfectly functional stove than I would save. Perhaps one day should this one fail I can invest in a propane stove and oven. There are some videos about a man who has salvaged a propane stove and refrigerator from a camper and is now using them in a cabin he built:

"I have 6 video clips on you tube describing my simple solar homestead, solar cabin, and the systems I use to run the homestead.

Each clip is about 5 minutes long. you can watch them all or pick the ones you are interested in.

1- Solar Homesteading Introduction: com/watch? v=lXu45MHrnTk

2- Simple Solar Homesteading Intro continued... com/watch? v=QyPkT5P5ysQ

3- Solar electrical system: com/watch? v=KLnZLypphgk

4- Cabin Interior: com/watch? v=FacIm3bHbYc

5- Composting toilet and solar tv: com/watch? v=QdG6hOqFTd0

6- Loft and office: com/watch? v=UZLJ3CkgdZE"

I hope you like those videos! I hope to use some of his ideas to reduce my current electric usage more. Perhaps if I create a small solar setup I can use it to provide electricity to my smaller devices like the laptop and the cellphone?

My electric bill last month, even using air conditioning on the rainy (and sweltering) days was $51. That also included running the clothes dryer for my obsessive cleaning. I do not have extraneous items like electric clocks - my alarm clock is my cell phone and our two wall clocks are battery operated, only requiring a AA battery once a year (which I recharge). We don't have a television, DVD, VCR or game machines, but we do have a desktop computer that we use for radio, television etc. Eventually that desktop will be replaced with a more energy-efficient laptop. Since there are two of us and we both tend to use the computer simultaneously at times, two computers are a must at this point.

I am in hopes to keep it down year round, but all I have to go on is the previous occupant - he said the highest electric bill he ever had here was in winter - and that it was $184. The goal this winter is to keep from going over that amount. Perhaps by closing off the back bedroom I will accomplish that goal? The room is 12 foot square, so that will reduce the square footage by 1/5 if I close that room off.

I moved the coffee table into the back room yesterday, and have placed the rattan loveseat back there today and brought my futon out here and closed that room off. I will still have to go into that room for my clothes and various items, but if I keep the door closed it will still save energy. The living room looks quite bohemian! I took a picture of the new couch and uploaded it here. It is low-slung, but works for us.

I told my auntie what I was doing, moving my futon into the living room and closing off the back bedroom for this winter, and amazingly she thought it was a wonderful idea! At first that surprised me, but come to think of it my grandparents did the same thing in the winter - I remember going to their house and discovering a full-size bed in one corner of the living room - perhaps that is where the idea came from, just from watching my frugal grandparents!

I repurposed some white plastic bags to seal off the vent in the back bedroom, and plan to use more of them to insulate the area that contains an unused central air return duct.

I am researching more options to save on energy this winter. If anyone has any ideas please leave them in the comments.

Simple Progress

This morning the school called: my daughter had a fever - could I come pick her up? I was kinda disappointed for I had a special treat lined up for today, but such is life for a single mother!

Anyhow, a few clicks and all my current bills were paid - it feels SO NICE to no longer have to concern myself with a variety of websites and logins - just one place and a few clicks and I'm done! Such peace! I was finished in record time!

Also I called ATT and had my unused land line turned off. I have a cellphone that I use primarily, supplemented by MagicJack when I am watching my minutes. Now that I have voicemail set up on the cellphone I will simply have the Magicjack forward all calls to the cell, saving electricity by not having to have a Windows computer on 24/7. Those who know me understand how rarely I am actually on a phone, so it really was a waste of electricity to have it on when I have the cell as well. Since the cell is portable and also contains my clock, my address book and my brain it makes more sense to use it than a landline - especially since it costs less to use the cell than keep the landline lol!

I purchased a small jar of instant coffee this morning. Not bad. I put a bit too much in the cup but it still tasted okay. It felt good knowing that I no longer have to drag out the percolator (or a coffee maker if I had one) whenever I want the occasional cup of coffee. The tea kettle stays out from frequent use. What to do with an unneeded percolator?

My daughter and I discussed my sleeping in the living room over the winter. She thinks it's a "cool" idea, but suggested that for the winter we stash the rattan loveseat and coffee table in the back room and just use the folded-up futon during the day as a bohemian couch! It isn't like we have much company, and it would make for more space and ease of use while I sleep here in the winter!

Slowly, life is becoming less complicated. I have noticed that even with the lower income the bank balance is staying steady, yet all of the bills are paid. KGB will help increase that balance a bit, as well as any computer jobs I happen to get. I will be able to be home more for my daughter with this simpler lifestyle, and have more time not only for her but myself as well.

Life is good.

Coffee and Cold Weather

I have finally decided what to do about the coffee brewing dilemma: I do believe I'm going to attempt instant!

I have researched and read and frankly I'm tired of spending precious time debating over it! I don't drink that much coffee - so why not try instant on those days I'm in the mood for a cup? I'm already a fan of the instant cappachino, so what would it hurt? No percolators, no presses, no worrying about having stuff ground "just so," just coffee.

There! One more issue solved!

I have relocated the desktop into the living room, where it has been appropriated by Katie whenever she wants to watch a show or play a game. That means I still use the laptop in the kitchen, but at least now she is close enough it is a simple matter to see what she is doing and watch over her!

For extra money I have taken a position as a Special Agent with KGB, the Knowledge Generation Bureau. The flexibility of the schedule will be perfect for life as a single parent. I can work a bit while she is in school, and a few hours at night while she sleeps. As much time as I spend on the internet I may as well make a little money, you know?

A mad thought has came to me to save on heating costs this winter. We live in a mobile home; my room is in the very back. Why not bring my futon into the living room at night to sleep this winter and close that room off? I wouldn't have to spend the money heating it, and considering that the room is mainly used for storage these days I wouldn't have to look at it lol! It would not be an issue to bring the futon in here at night and put it away each morning - I do that anyway in my bedroom - the only difference would be location. Definitely a thought for when it turns colder...

Birthday Reflections

There are two times every year when I reflect on my life, values, goals, weaknesses, desires, and priorities. One is, of course, on December 31. The other is September 27, my birthday. Hence, the following list of things I have learned in the last 12 months:

1. I don’t want to play for any more weddings. Most weddings are lovely, but the hassle of accompanying them on piano or organ is just no longer worth the trouble. I receive much more pleasure being just a guest and enjoying the festivities, rather than waiting for cues from the minister, wondering if the piano is in tune and if I have good lighting, trying to lengthen or shorten pieces according to the wedding party movements, and other distractions. I might consider singing for weddings in the future, as that is not so time-consuming, but I think I will retire my accompanist availability.

2. Speaking of singing, I have learned this year that I had no idea how important it was to me. I started singing at an early age, and my father, a choir director, roped me into singing in the choir at age 12, and I’ve been singing ever since. I’ve sung in churches, schools, nursing homes, and countless other places. I’ve sung with the choruses of two operas. I’ve sung as the mother in Amahl and the Night Visitors. I’ve sung in church dinner theaters. I’ve sung solos, duets, trios, quartets, in small choirs of 6 and larger choruses of more than 200. I’ve sung at weddings (including my sister’s) and funerals (including my father’s). I’ve sung in French and Italian. I’ve sung torch songs sitting on a piano in a sequined purple evening gown (see picture above, courtesy of the best photographer Memphis ever had, Earl Major), and I’ve sung stirring Mozart and Handel arias on Easter Sunday. I’ve always taken singing for granted...that is, until I had my thyroid surgery in August. I panicked when I tried my first note after the surgery, and even though the surgeon assured me that my voice would come back as the swelling went down and my tissues healed, I wondered what I would do if it didn’t. I can’t imagine a life without singing. As I gradually get my singing voice back, I think I will never take it for granted again.

3. I’ve learned if you have specialized shoes for playing the organ, and you don’t use them for over a decade and store them in a plastic bag which at times has sat in a storage unit between moves between houses, they will mildew and you have to throw them out.

4. I’ve learned that my electronic piano that I’ve had for 20 years sounds a lot worse than I thought it did, thanks to a week of playing my sister’s perfect, shiny baby grand piano. The comparison is simply incredible.

5. I’ve learned that instead of printing out family photos at Walgreen’s here in Maine, sticking them in an envelope and taking them to the post office to be mailed to my mother in Collierville, Tennessee, I can upload them to Walgreen’s online, pay for them, and request that they be printed out at the Walgreen’s store in Collierville, where my sister will kindly pick them up for her!

6. I’ve learned never to trust a corporation, specifically a credit-card company, because they will stick it to you no matter how good and reliable a customer you are.

7. I’ve learned that my sister Joy has more generosity, patience, and strength - and our mother has more resilience and determination - than I ever thought possible. For Joy to take our mother (and her dog) into her home after Mom’s wreck and surgery demonstrates a love that knows no bounds. Joy had to turn her dining room into a hospital room, put up with potty chairs and wheelchairs and sleepless nights and everything else to take care of Mother. For our mom to come through the trauma of an MVA at 85 years old, hip and ankle surgery, constant pain, immobility, and having to leave her own home and her independence behind - without giving up and staying in bed the rest of her life - awes me. She was determined to get out of that wheelchair and walk again, and now even does light household chores. What remarkable role models my family has in these two strong women!

8. I’ve learned that having grandchildren is fantastic, but having a granddog is kind of fun, too!

9. I’ve learned that remembering my age is much easier when I’m 55 than when I was 54. Those increments of 5 really help.

10. I’ve learned in reading a book about the beginnings of American exploration that Hernando Desoto joins many of his fellow conquerors/explorers in having carrying out horrible atrocities and now I wonder why they honored him with the Hernando Desoto bridge over the Mississippi River at Memphis. We have peculiar heroes.

10. Finally, I was astonished that America in my lifetime would elect a man of color as President of the United States.

So this is what I have learned over the past 12 months. Life is certainly full of learning experiences, and I'm sure there will be many more to come!

Is Frugality Un-American?

If the heat kicked on any last night we did not hear, which is a wonderful change from the apartment we inhabited for the past several years. There is a bit of a chill outside at 55 degrees, but while it is cool in here it is far from cold. The thermometer in the kitchen says it is 68F in here, which is about where I plan to keep it during the winter, except at night when we will be snuggled up in blankets and won't need so much heat.

Layer weather has officially arrived then. I am not one for wearing huge amounts of clothing, but in the winter I wear a t-shirt underneath my sweatshirts, though I sometimes rotate with a long-sleeved tee and a zip up sweatshirt jacket depending upon the weather and my mood.

My very favorite sweat pants are becoming worn and faded; I probably should dye them but I may just see if I can continue to lighten them instead. Some people would just toss them out given their condition but their just so darned comfortable I want to see if I can eke at least another winter out of them. It isn't like I don't have any other pairs of sweatpants, but these are my favorite, tattered though they may be.

With the change in weather has come a craving for coffee. I have used the percolator to brew a pot which I poured into a thermos to keep warm - why use electricity when you don't have to?

Here in a bit I plan to start rearranging this furniture. It won't be too bad - not near as bad as it would have been just a few short years ago.

I figured out how to make the guinea pig pen look a bit more stylish than a kiddie pool sitting in my living room. A small brick wall built around should give it some style and flair, and I can place my large mother-in-law's tongue plant as a backdrop when I bring it inside shortly. I may try to make it a plant area, but I have to be careful to make sure none of the plants drape in with the piggies just in case they are toxic. I have some bricks outside already so I won't have to purchase any.

I wonder: with the economy as it is and all the talk about needing to stimulate the economy, am I being un-American by wanting to use what I have and only buy when I don't have a choice? That random thought occurred to me as I was falling asleep last night.

I don't plan to change because I enjoy being more responsible, but I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts concerning the subject. Has it become un-American to want to save your money and live on less? What do you think?