as summer comes to an end…

I apologize for my absence. I don’t know what happened to my blogging mojo in August. I had been working on 4 different posts, and when I got them done I closed my wordpress dash and never came back! I even have a few things noted and bookmarked to talk about, but I’ve not made it all the way to writing a post.

So what better to write about now than getting organized to get things done in September?

late summer garden left

We’ve had a lot of hot sunny weather lately and I’ve not spent much time in the garden since Mimi had her surgery in June. I’ve watered and tried to keep everything alive through our 2 months of drought (as always my garden is so parched!), and I’ve done a couple of quick weeding tasks on the patio and tied up some things that were falling over, but for all intents and purposes I’ve left my garden to its own devices. That’s not going to work long term. I lose interest in the garden every fall, and pay the price every spring. So this year I’m going to set very specific goals for September – the month between the hot summer weather and the cold wet fall weather. I figure if I can get a few key things done before the weather turns I will be ahead of the game come spring.

The preliminary list:

  • clear moss off pathways (so it can start accumulating again in our 9 month wet season!)
  • clean green gunk (PNW algae) off gates and the fence (ditto)
  • cut the lavender
  • clean the flag (if hubby will get it down for me)
  • prune the rhodos and the rose of sharon
  • prune the flax where it’s sticking into pathways
  • transplant a small hydrangea that I thought I had killed (it’s alive!)
  • plant a couple of things I had in pots that I have almost killed
  • plant some bulbs 
  • WEED! (yes, still, and again….) 

right side gardenSome of these tasks are quite quick and easy – if I grab a tub/bucket and the pruners I can easily take care of the pruning in an hour or so. And as long as its dry I can cut the lavender at the same time. (Note to self – cut the lavender the next dry day we have, maybe even this afternoon. Delaying because it’s prettier to have lavender in the garden doesn’t make good sense. It’s already past its prime and it’s more important to get it cut while it’s dry so I can use the buds). 

The flag requires marital cooperation. It’s low on the priority list because I can’t reach it myself and I’m not going to ask hubby to do it when he’s busy with business stuff. But if he does get it down for me I can try to de-algae-fy it. (If you stand on the north side of anything for long enough around here you’ll grow moss. We’re the Ever-green state.)

Transplanting is a good idea as soon as the rain looks ready to start, although I’d rather do it in the sun. I had a list of things to move in the spring, but a lot of them depended on moving one thing to make space for another. I’m going to make another list and see what needs to go where. I have struggled to find a good spot for that hydrangea. It’s in a terrible spot right now, barely visible. But it gave the plant a chance to recover and grow and I think with some planning I can find a new spot for it where it will be happy. The bigger issue of moving my big hydrangea to a spot where I can see it more clearly will take more planning. It’s hidden behind a 10 foot flax right now! I need a spot that won’t be too hot and dry, but has plenty of space. The hydrangea is one of the first things I planted in my garden, back when the porch gardens were sand, paint chips and weeds. It’s amazing how much things have changed. One or both hydrangeas might end up in the back yard. 

can you see the hydrangea?

My cherry tomatoes have been producing like crazy this summer so I need to plan to leave space for them in the front yard for next summer too. I’ve only ever grown tomatoes in pots before. Growing them in the yard works so much better – I don’t have to water as much and I get a lot more fruit. (I’ll share my tomato relish making adventures in the next couple of weeks). 

tomato garden

I have a bad habit of keeping old to do lists that I haven’t finished so I’m going to go back and see if I have lists of all the things I intended to do in the spring that I still need to do. I think I know what most of them were – transplanting the hydrangeas, some of the clumping bamboo, digging up the elephant grass which has been engulfed by free grass and can’t be weeded (because it’s grass growing in grass…), and probably moving some lavenders around. Planting some things in bare spots and moving some things out of overgrown spots.

I think if I can get into the garden at least 10 days next month I can get everything done. If the weather is fairly decent, that shouldn’t be a problem at all. I’m not one to garden on cold or wet days. Fingers crossed that we have a bit of an Indian summer!  

I’m going to try scheduling myself a little time to do priority tasks like gardening (and blogging!) each day. I’m not good at schedules, but I can try to find a way to make it work. 

For now I’m going to take a few pictures to add to this post and while I’m out there I’ll cut the fragrant lavender. 

cut lavender - my first to done

Hey, I got something done!

See you back here soon,


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Project 333 July – shopping and new things

I haven’t been doing much clothes shopping this year, despite having several things that I “need” to buy to fill some wardrobe gaps. Although I have this list of “needs,” I find that on a day-to-day basis I can manage just fine with what I have, so I have very little drive to go shopping most of the time. It’s a good feeling.

Last month I took some advice from a style blogger and ordered a bunch of things online in different sizes to try on. Unfortunately I need to face the reality that I can’t wear that particular brand. Everything had to go back. I had a scare when the return package got held up in the post, taking 22! days to reach its destination. That’s not a good feeling when the goods inside cost close to $500… But I got my refund in the end. I’ve already asked that company to stop sending me catalogs. If they keep coming they’re going straight into the trash. I’m not buying the fantasy life they’re selling any more. Their clothes are just not cut for my figure.

(I’m not sure that I know very many brands well enough to risk doing much more online shopping. I should have taken more notice of that bloggers advice about buying from brands you know work for you, but when it comes to online shopping I can be quite the optimist!)

Luckily, after I mentioned to my friend that I had ordered a bunch of exercise skorts and had to send them all back she mentioned that she had recently found some at Costco for $5. She gave me 2 of the 4 she bought :) and they fit a lot better than the really expensive ones I ordered online! And they didn’t cost me anything (although I happened to find two items in my donate pile that suited my friend, so I gave them to her). I haven’t decided if I really need two skorts. I can wash them out in the sink after wearing and they dry really quickly, but having two would be justifiable. They work well for walking for exercise, but they are cute enough to wear for casual as well.

JulyNewThingsI did do a little more online shopping last month. The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale is worth making an exception for. Nordstrom is a local company with an excellent return policy, free shipping and free returns, but I can also easily visit to return things in person. It’s not somewhere I want to go during the thick of this massive sale though. (I used to work that sale – I don’t need that kind of chaos in my life any more!) I had early access to the sale because I have a store card. And most importantly, the sale has excellent discounted prices on my favorite bras, so I was able to replace mine and order a couple for a friend too. We saved some good money!

I also bought a few clothing items to try. First, a pair of linen shorts that weren’t actually on sale. They were actually fairly expensive. I had heard about them a few weeks ago when I was reading this great blog post written by someone who is built like me. She recommended the shorts specifically, so I thought it was worth trying them on. They fit well and they are probably nicer than any pair of shorts I’ve ever owned (even though they don’t look like it in the picture I took!). I don’t usually wear shorts in public, but I wore these linen ones into the city the other day and felt quite comfortable in them. So that really makes them worthwhile. They’re short but not booty short-short and they have 4 pockets! Who could ask for anything more?

I also bought two polyester “fancy” blouses and a chambray shirt that were part of the Anniversary Sale. The fancy blouses are going straight back. The sleeve/underarm/boob area wasn’t flattering (I think it might have been a slight dolman sleeve) and they just didn’t do anything for me. I need a set-in sleeve and more draping or a lower neckline.

I’m still undecided on the chambray shirt. It’s hard to judge it at this time of year when I can’t wear it, but it does seem to have some points in its favor. I think I’m going to need to try it on with my cool season clothes to see if it really works. And I’m going to need to buy some new things this winter. Honestly, right now I have very little to wear with this shirt. But the things I would need to go with it would fill some major cool season gaps and make my whole winter wardrobe work better. Luckily there’s no time limit for returning things at Nordstrom so I can take my time deciding. When the fall fashions come out everywhere I might find something else that works better.

The last thing I bought in July is a grey jersey knit dress from the thrift store. It’s going to be a house dress and nightgown. It’s not a very flattering shape on me (another odd sleeve shape) but it’s a really good quality heavy weight knit. I don’t think I would wear it outside of the house, not even for dog walking. But we’ll see. In winter it may work with other pieces layered over it.

I’m going to update my “to buy” list as summer comes to an end. At some point soon I am going to need to go to a store and try on some winter jeans and boots/shoes. ugh… Shopping sounds more and more like a chore to me. I have very little patience for it. And ideally I would prefer to get second hand jeans after reading about how much pollution results from creating a pair, but that’s a real chore.

Anyway, I’m in no hurry for summer to end!

Right now, I have some sun-dried laundry to fold and put away and some dress shirts to iron. I’ve decided that ironing is more fun if I’m re-watching episodes of my favorite show, so I’m almost looking forward to that. I’ve spent the day puttering around, cleaning up this and that, taking care of business. It’s a good way to spend a sunny Sunday.

Thanks for stopping by!


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Summer Project 333 – July in review

And suddenly, it’s August!

This month has flown by.

It’s been very hot for most of the month – 88-91F many days and we don’t have air conditioning, so that means 77-83 in the house, but we did have a break last week with 60 degree temperatures, clouds, and a day of pretty steady rain. We had a 30 degree F temperature swing, which is not really typical for this area in late July. But don’t get me wrong, we’re having a beautiful summer. We even had nice weather before the 4th of July!

I’ve been doing my usual things – spending a lot of time at home, walking a lot, and no special occasions. I haven’t had any major wardrobe challenges this month besides the heat. I’ve just been wearing whatever feels comfortable and that shows up in my tracking.

My most worn pieces this month:

My striped tank dress (usually a house dress, although I sometimes wear it as a tunic), blue cotton knit dress, pink sweatshirt, darker purple tank, basic black and grey tanks (almost always for layering outside of the house), blue capris, denim skirt and my jeans (not pictured). Each was worn 4, 5, or 6 times, or at least once a week.

July most worn

I actually thought I had worn that blue dress even more than I had. I’ve been reaching for it more often than I ever have before. It has a nice high back so I don’t have to worry about getting hubby to sunscreen on me (another favorite dress has a deep v back). It fits well. It’s extremely comfortable. And it’s cotton. I was going to try to shorten it last year but I’ve gotten used to the midi length (I think that’s what they’re calling it this year – look at me falling into fashion by accident!) This dress was one of my luckiest thrift finds.

It always surprises me that even when I feel like I’m reaching for the same things over and over, I’m actually not. As I reached for the blue print dress today I wondered if I had worn it to the library too many times this month. I decided I didn’t care, but the truth was that I’d only worn it one other time. It just felt like I was “always” wearing it.

These are the things I didn’t wear at all:

July zero worn4 of my dresses and my green polka dot top. The 3 dresses in the middle are the ones I wasn’t sure quite fit me any more. So far I haven’t chosen to wear them. I’m inclined to donate the chevron one before chevrons totally lose their appeal (they’re on their way out already). The black dress is one of my favorites for very hot weather. It was particularly nice to wear last year when we went out to dinner while vacationing on Maui. But then again, I don’t live in Hawaii. The maxi dress and the bright blue dress were both very useful last year so I’m not keen to get rid of them yet. But then again, they are looking a little tired, so we shall see. I’m not sure why I haven’t worn the emerald polka dot tank. It’s a pretty top and it’s good quality cotton from Lands End.

I didn’t need anything from my special occasion capsule, but that was to be expected.

Everything else got worn 1-3 times. Once a month means wearing a garment 6-12 times a year. That’s not very often. Those things might be unnecessary, or they might meet a specific need that doesn’t come up very frequently. I also cycle through things during the year – that grey sweatshirt I only wore once this month got worn at least once weekly during spring. That’s why tracking what I wear long term could be very helpful. At this point tracking is pretty easy and I quite enjoy seeing how things add up at the end of the month.

I know I could reduce my wardrobe further than I have, but I’m fairly satisfied with where I’m at.

I have a quick update for next time about a few new things I’ve acquired.

Thanks for stopping by!



My tracking spreadsheet is here if you’d like to take a closer look.




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story, meaning, to do lists, and Viktor Frankl

I hope this doesn’t turn out completely rambling! This post is a little bit of an introduction to some ideas I really want to come back to in the future.

A while back someone recommended listening to a podcast called Beyond the To Do List, and in particular an episode about story featuring Donald Miller.

He is the author of several books, including multiple New York Times Best Sellers. Donald is also the founder of Storyline, an organization that helps people live better stories. He’s helped thousands overcome a sense of meaninglessness by helping them create their Storyline life plan. If you’re struggling with a sense of meaningless, pick up Storyline today.

Miller talks a lot about Viktor Frankl and his studies of meaning in our lives. I remember my mother talking about Frankl, a neurologist and psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor who wrote “Man’s Search for Meaning” after his experience in concentration camps showed him that if people have a sense of meaning in their lives they will want to live even under the most horrific conditions.

There are 3 factors in living a meaningful life, according to Frankl (via Miller’s blog).

  1. - have a project that you’re working on that requires your unique skills and abilities. And preferably a project that helps others.
  2. - share your experiences within the context of safe, loving relationships.
  3. - find a redemptive perspective on your suffering and challenges.

Miller said he found Frankl’s work during a period of crisis in his life when he’d had some major success as a writer but didn’t feel like he could live up to what he had achieved so far. He spent too much time inside his head and ended up not being able to write. He was having an existential crisis, wondering what the point of it all was. Frankl found that many people fall into this state of “existential vacuum” especially in the US.

Miller talked in the podcast about creating a new way to structure his day, built around his most important priorities. He took time each day to decide what the most important 2 or 3 things he wanted to achieve were and scheduled the best part of his day to work on those things. He also thought about what he would change if he was to live this day over again (in a kind of Groundhog Day movie scenario). Even before his day began he wondered what he would do differently, what he would regret doing or not doing if he got this day to do over, and modified his schedule to reflect what that told him. In the podcast he offered a free day planner sheet to print out asking these basic questions, but sadly in the months since then that is no longer available. But I believe it was that simple – 3 goals for the day, and what would you do differently? And that process, tackled daily, turned his life around. He wrote a lot more and had more success, created a community of supportive people around him, and reframed some of the challenges he had faced and his attitude towards them. His venture, Storyline, aims to help other people do the same by thinking about the story they are writing in living their lives.

By the way, I’m not writing this to promote Storyline. I have no idea what it is or if it works. I haven’t signed up for the course or read the book.

But it started me thinking about to do lists and how we spend our days, what kinds of goals we set for ourselves and what it means to achieve them or not, and what kinds of pursuits are meaningful and fulfilling and what leaves us empty. We’ve all heard it said that no one wishes on their deathbed that they’d spent more time at the office, but does that mean that work isn’t important and has no value? Our society tells us the opposite – after introducing yourself to someone new the next question is usually “so, what do you do?” and they’re not asking about your hobbies.

Sometimes our work is tedious and meaningless, although most people can find value for themselves at work, whether it’s taking pride in their skills (whether it be customer service/friendliness, efficiency, accuracy, or something really big like actually being able to save lives) or being part of an organization that does something worthwhile in the world. I suspect that people doing factory work making weapons or butchering factory farmed cattle might find less meaning in their work than the average person, but even they would surely look for value in their skill in doing the job, or in providing for their family, to get them through their day. Or people might find their value in their religion, fulfilling the role that they believe their god has set out for them.

Humans search for meaning in everything we do – without meaning, what is there to live for? Depression isn’t sadness so much as an absence of meaning or emotion, a feeling that everything is empty and pointless. That’s why it is such a dangerous condition.

As I said, I don’t know how Storyline uses story to create life plans, but I was thinking about how it might work. The human brain runs on story. Try going an hour without telling a story to yourself or someone else and you’ll see. Story structure is a huge part of the way we think. We all know how a story goes – there’s a person living their life, something happens that messes things up and they have to find a way to overcome that challenge and handle whatever went wrong to get back to the bit where they’re just happily living their life. Usually they come out the other end changed, hopefully for the better. Even if they didn’t succeed, even if they lost the battle in the end (as we all will at the very end), they gained something, some insight or something that made it all worthwhile. Isn’t that how we tell the stories of our lives?

So life is about challenges and struggles. We handle them the best we can and then we explain to ourselves why it was good that we suffered through the hard times. We manage the hard times with the support of the people we love. We work through our difficulties. (No one is really much impressed by or interested in a story where the protagonist is passive and does nothing while everything changes around them, someone who just hopes that everything will settle back down without them having to change or do anything. If you don’t fight for anything how can you claim victory or growth at the end.) We can handle unimaginable loss if we have something to work on and strive towards, people we love who love us (whether present in fact or only in spirit), and a larger purpose to it all.

Challenges are not always bad things either. Some challenges come from our circumstances, but others we set for ourselves. Self esteem comes from achieving something you didn’t think you could do (not from smiling at yourself in the mirror and affirming your true beauty, although the media and some misguided people would have you think otherwise). So setting goals and shooting for something a little bigger than you think you can achieve is an important part of living a more meaningful life.

I started this blog post a couple of weeks ago after I listened to the podcast. I started off interested in the idea of the to do list that Miller described and how I might use that idea in my life. Then I read a little bit about Frankl and decided that his ideas were worth a lot more investigation (I borrowed his book as an ebook from my library and have read some of it). Then I started writing about the wildfires and living a life that had been stripped bare which took me in some other directions thinking about loss and what things are necessary to living a happy life. I followed a link in a P333 blog that was about living a more “full” life and saw myself reflected in some of this blogger’s feelings of not doing enough. I also heard from a friend who was struggling with not being able to follow through with specific athletic goals because of an injury, and then I read an article about a different way to set goals. Just in writing this post I started to spin off into thoughts about the human mind as a story telling machine, which is a topic I am fascinated with. And talking to a friend at the library the other day I started thinking about why her hobby is such a passion for those who take it up and why another former coworker was dreading retirement because she didn’t have any hobbies or interests.

Everything kept coming back to these ideas of Victor Frankl’s. I’m going to be writing a few more pieces influenced by these ideas, I’m sure. Definitely one about the goal setting article I read, and another about what makes a hobby feel worthwhile.

I will also be back with Project 333 stuff – it’s almost time for another end of month review! Can you believe that in a few days tomorrow it will be August?!

Thanks for stopping by,



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stripped bare

I recently came across a great blog post titled What Would Happen if You Stripped Your Life Bare? on Love Minimalism. I think it must have been one of Courtney Carver’s P333 links on Facebook (a great way to find new blogs, and perhaps the reason some of you are here reading my blog today – hello, welcome, and thank you!)

Love Minimalism’s Faye talked about reading Dusti Arab’s ebook Conquer the Clutter and considering what her life would be like if she stripped her home bare. Dusti says that all we really need is a roof over our heads, clothes, hygiene items, some kitchenware and a bed. That’s the bare minimum for health and safety. A table, a sofa, storage cabinets, a TV… all are non-essential, although they may make our lives more comfortable.

Now before you panic and argue that you love your stuff and you’re not giving it up under any circumstances, think about your house if somehow you did only have the true essentials.

barest essentials

From Faye’s blog post:

“Imagine your house bare of everything except those things above.

Aside from the massive space you would suddenly find yourself living in … what would happen to your life?

You’d need to do something with your time, so what would you do?

You would probably end up buying things, so what would you buy?

What kind of life would you build if you started all over again?

Would it look anything like what you currently have, or would it be something completely different?


The beauty of this kind of exercise is it temporarily frees us from everything we have and allows us to imagine something completely different.

Who would you be? Would you still be the same without all of your things?”

just moved inI thought these were some really interesting questions.

I was looking at pictures of our house when we first moved in and it was brutally empty. If we didn’t have this much space we wouldn’t need so much stuff (and if we didn’t have so much stuff, we wouldn’t need this much space). I’ve often said that we don’t really need 800 sq ft plus a basement – that we could live quite well in 600 sq ft or a little less. Lately that notion has been challenged by starting a business, storing a lot of business supplies in our home, and having hubby working at home at least half of the time. The dining room and extra bedroom have become essential for storage and work space, and the basement has been very full. Without those spaces we would have been overwhelmed by this business, or we would have been forced to rent storage space. We’ve lived in less than 400 sq ft, so I know what that’s like, and it wouldn’t be right for this season of our lives.

I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have my Things around me. Go a little crazy, probably. I’ve lived with very little before and it’s not comfortable. When I moved to Japan I really only had the barest essentials* and although it was exciting, it was also quite unsettling and uncomfortable. Maybe that unsettled feeling was compounded by being unsettled by culture shock and leaving home for the first time, as well as living alone in a space intended for a family. I guess I would go out a lot and try to find things to do, and lots of things to buy. I wouldn’t necessarily buy the same things again, but I would probably buy things in the same way, a little at a time, finding and buying things that are good enough but often not quite right because I am impatient and I don’t like big empty spaces. I wouldn’t splurge. I don’t think I could furnish a whole house in one shopping trip, as tempting as that sounds sometimes.

Japan, just moved inI sometimes think about what it would be like to do over my experience of moving to Japan. I wonder if I would have a different attitude and approach if I went there now. I’m sure I would, since I am 16 years older than I was then! If I went back and found myself living in the same circumstances I don’t know that it would be completely different though. Of course I would have the internet and the opportunity to blog, which really would change everything (I didn’t even have regular access to email when I moved to Japan in ’98) and I would pack very differently if I was going there now with the experiences I’ve had there and since. Yeah, hindsight is 20/20!

But I think my basic nature would still win out – a preference for home over out, a need for a certain amount of stuff to feel comfortable in my space, a general tendency to wanting more and better.

I wonder about how life would be different if I lived in a really vibrant city, some place really densely packed with things to see and do. I have heard many New Yorkers say that they don’t need a big living space because the whole city is their living room, the parks are their yards. They outsource many aspects of their lives and use communal resources. I wonder what kind of “nest” I would create for myself in that kind of context. I am so used to living in areas outlying major cities. Even in Japan I was stuck out in the boonies. I’m always a good hour away from the major cities I have lived – what’s up with that?! I guess I was closer in when we lived in Seattle, but maybe not quite as close in as I would have liked. And I might not have been quite in the right mental space for that city experience. Or maybe I never will be. Maybe I’m just a suburban girl…

Where would you start if you were starting over with only the bare necessities? Looking around your home right now, would you end up with the same stuff, assuming you could get it back? Or would you choose entirely different things? Does stripping your life bare sound like an exciting opportunity or a nightmare? 

By the way, I started this post a few days before my last post about the WA wildfires. While I was writing it I was thinking about 2 people I know who have recently been forced to start over again after fires. They had no choice but to start from scratch with what they could salvage from the debris of their homes and the charity they received from the people around them. I don’t think anyone would want to be in their shoes. Hopefully living with less allows us to be more generous with our possessions, time and money when people need help.

Thanks for stopping by!

Bye for now,


what I bought with me


*I moved to Japan with 1 suitcase weighing 30kg and 1 small carry on bag. My apartment was outfitted with 7 things – a futon/comforter/pillow set, a phone, a fan, a fridge, a gas cook top, some curtains, and 3 ceiling light fixtures. No, apartments in Japan are not rented with any of those things included – they were provided by my employer.

All the other basics (a kettle, plates, cups, a broom and cleaning supplies) were given to me by a kind teacher. I had to buy everything else, starting with spoons, sheets, a table, and something to store my clothes in.

It was a crazy experience.

Posted in blah blah blah, less, linkage, stuff, what I'm about | 4 Comments

everything that makes you who you are

Eastern Washington is in the grip of several terrible lightning-sparked wildfires this week. The largest in the state’s history, the Carlton Complex fire, has destroyed at least 200 homes and burned an area 4 times the size of the city of Seattle (maybe more, as I edit this post several days later). One person has died while protecting his home. My friend’s in-laws lost 2 homes and a mobile home park they owned, while another relative’s house right next door was untouched. Many generations worth of memorabilia and belongings were lost to the firestorm.

I was watching a TV news story about the fire destroying the home of a 93 year old lady, a home her family built 71 years ago, where she had raised 5 kids. She never believed it could burn down, but the family was forced to evacuate when they heard the fire was approaching them fast. Almost nothing remains.

“Everything in a matter of minutes just went up,” said her daughter-in-law Mary Campbell on King5 news the other night. “It is everything, everything. Every memento, every memory, everything that makes you who you are is in five minutes, gone.”

The 93 year old Twisp woman escaped with just the clothes on her back, but some of her granddaughters were able to load up a vehicle with pictures and albums. The fire destroyed her home and the home of another family member, but skirted the house of another.

I don’t want to deny the terrible pain of losing 4 generations worth of belongings and mementos, or how much this pain will resonate through these people’s lives in the future, probably hitting them hard at unexpected moments for the rest of their lives. I can’t imagine how terrible it would be to have everything lost so quickly.

But I noticed something. Nobody in the family was crying. I imagine they were somewhat numb, although they didn’t seem numb either. The 93 year old said she hadn’t been back to see the property yet, but when things cooled down she would go and see what was left. The family seemed sad, and maybe annoyed, but not devastated the way they should be if what they had said was actually true – if they had lost every memory, everything that made them who they are. 

I think we believe that our possessions are more valuable to us than they actually are. We tend to believe that our memories are contained in the things that trigger them, the things that remind us when we haven’t been thinking about them.

But fortunately our memories are stronger than that. All kinds of things can trigger a memory – a sound, a smell, a story. If we make an effort we can remember things we would never imagine are still in our minds (something that people find if they start to write down the story of their lives). Spending time telling stories with family members and friends can bring countless memories to the surface, including many we would rather forget.

Of course, no one wants to lose everything. We all want to have a certain amount of stuff around us that reminds of where we come from and who we think we are. But if the worst happens and some or all of it is lost, be assured that life will go on and there will be chance to reconstruct the “memories” lost and make new ones.

Which reminds me, scan your photos and back them up externally – print them, send them out to family and friends – spread the wealth! Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. But also, play with them, look at them, write about them, talk about them – cement the best of them in your memory. Put them up on your walls where you can enjoy them. Also, check your insurance coverage. 

I certainly don’t mean to deny the loss that these people have suffered. I have been lucky so far in my life to have not suffered this way. Touch wood, my luck continues. I know a couple of people who have lost almost every Thing they owned, and it’s really sad to consider. I think it’s worth giving a thought to though. Nothing lasts. But they go on with the support of family, friends, and community, and the knowledge that they are not what they owned.

You are more than your photos, more than your china, more than your books, more than your treasures. Your memories are a part of you even if your Things are gone. I have read many a biography or memoir where people lost more than I could imagine a person could lose and keep on living. I think of war and Holocaust survivors who have lost their Things, their homes, their countries, and most of their family and friends, and yet, they go on. This kind of resilience is amazing to me. I have another blog post in the works about that, about what makes our lives meaningful, based on the work of Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl. It’s taking me some time because it’s such an important topic and it is becoming more than I intended to write about when I first started the post. It’s funny that this was one of 3 related posts I drafted this week – topics I didn’t actually notice were related until I started fleshing them out.

See you back here soon? …if you can handle a little more philosophical stuff before I get back to the Project 333 and Project Life…





Posted in blah blah blah, in the news, less, stuff | 1 Comment

waste not

I saw a new public service announcement ad the other day. King County wants to stop people from wasting food, which is a problem a lot of us struggle with (a true first world problem). They had some advice on how to do that… 

1. check to see what you need before you go shopping
2. only buy things you need and learn how to keep it fresh and 
3. eat everything you buy.

If only I had realized it was so easy! 

(oh wait – that’s all f-ing obvious stuff that doesn’t really help me on a practical level! I hope they have a website or flyers that actually offer useful advice on how to achieve those things. It’s definitely something I need to work on.)

That’s what I wrote on Facebook after I saw the ad. It seemed a bit pointless really. Of course you can stop wasting things by only buying what you need and using it all up. That’s what not wasting things means. But it turns out they do have a website and further resources to help people cut down on the amount of food they waste.

From the website:

“Whether it’s moldy cheese, limp celery or those long lost leftovers in the back of the fridge, chances are you’ve wasted food this week. And you’re not alone. Americans waste about 25 percent of all food and drinks we buy, adding up to more than $1,600 each year.

It’s a growing problem with profound financial and environmental impacts. When we throw away food, we also waste all the water and energy used to produce, package and transport food from the farm to our plates. Uneaten food accounts for 23 percent of all methane emissions in the U.S. – a potent climate change contributor.”

wastenotwasteI know I waste food. Hopefully not 25% of my food (we bring home 4 bags of groceries most weeks – I hope we don’t throw away one bag’s worth!) I buy things that I think I need, that I want to use, or want to want to use… And then sometimes they go bad before I get the chance. Sometimes I simply forget what I have until it’s too late to eat it. Sometimes I don’t like the food I’ve bought. We have a lot of food in the house, maybe not compared to many Americans, but certainly compared to most people in the world. We keep a decent stock of pantry staples on hand, and a bulk supply of the things that we use all the time. But of course those are not the things we waste, because they generally last a long time.

wastenotpantryThe things we waste are the fresh foods, the things that are so full of vital nutrients that they need to be eaten as soon as possible. The best, freshest foods are the ones we most need to eat and also the ones most likely to go to waste. I walk a very fine line here – I try to buy fresh fruits and vegetables because I want and need to eat them. But I try not to buy too many because I don’t want to waste them.

I’ve been thinking about why this happens so much, and one part of it is because where we live isn’t handy to a green grocer or market, so we shop weekly. The food I think I will eat on Sunday morning when we shop is not necessarily the food I think about preparing at 6pm on a Thursday after a busy day. I need to make sure I have a variety of things to cook from during the week – so many meal plans are thwarted by not having the right fresh ingredients available when dinnertime rolls around. But more often than not I am overly optimistic about how much cooking I’m going to do or the variety of meals I’m going to make, in which case I find myself on a Friday having not touched the lettuce or the bell peppers or the snap peas or the mushrooms all week.

The other way we waste a lot of food is when I open up a jar or can of something and use half of it for a recipe. The other half goes into the fridge, sealed up in a glass container. And then time goes on, and I find I still haven’t needed half a can of refried beans or half a jar of spaghetti sauce again. More often than not I will make a point of using up the remainder before it spoils, but not always. I find myself wishing for half sized cans of refried beans quite often… (I need to start freezing the leftovers in single serve portions.) Sometimes the veggies get wasted the same way – I will use a handful of asparagus, but I don’t really want to eat a handful every day to use up the bundle. I’ve never used up a whole bunch of cilantro either, but conversely, I never have cilantro handy when I need it. I guess I need to grow a plant…

We are actually very good about eating leftovers for lunch or snacks. And I’m pretty good about making just enough of things that don’t reheat well – no one really wants to eat day old stir fry around here, but leftover fried rice or pasta or curry makes a great quick eat the next day or the day after. And we like to make bigger batches of some things to freeze for easy meals in the future.

Planning is a big part of using up what you have but I know I’m not good at planning. I’ve tried making meals plans for the week, but I just don’t stick with it. I like to cook and eat what I’m in the mood for right now.  I often make a list on my fridge whiteboard of the foods that need to be eaten soon, especially the ones that hide in drawers in the fridge where I can’t see them. King County suggests making a space in your fridge for “eat now” foods so they are more visible.

wastenotfridgeThis whole problem comes back to the excess, and excess of choice, we have in this society. Our supermarkets are full of options, we can eat almost anything we want at any time of the year, and if we don’t feel like cooking a meal we can eat out at any number of places (most of which are serving huge portions that could feed a person for several meals).

There’s also a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation on what ‘use by’ and ‘best by’ dates mean and how to tell if a food has gone bad – most people feel that it’s better to be safe than sorry, but sometimes that means throwing out food that really isn’t bad at all. Some of us have heard the adage that certain foods are ‘better wasted outside the body than inside’ so when we realize that we’ve bought a lot of junk food, throwing it out in a fit of regret or will power seems like a better proposition than eating it. But not buying crap in the first place is a far better option. If only food marketing wasn’t so darn effective!

The food waste campaign seems to be aimed at consumers buying and preparing food at home, but as is quite common with these issues the business side of things is probably a lot worse. How much food do supermarkets throw out because the stock wasn’t properly rotated? Do they really sell all of the produce they put out each day or does someone throw out a big pile of it at the end of each day? And restaurants must be a huge site for food wastage. Anyone who has watched “Hell’s Kitchen” knows how much food can be wasted in a restaurant kitchen – if something gets messed up or sent back the whole portion goes into the trash. And those huge portions don’t always end up in doggie bags to be eaten as leftovers (or thrown out at home 4 days later). I have been frustrated many times over the years by the lunch portions in food courts, far too big for a person to eat alone, and unsuitable to carry around all day – not everyone is heading straight back to a place with a fridge. I love places that serve sensible portions – that’s real value for money to me.

Thinking about this issue as I wrote and edited this post today, I looked in my fridge with fresh eyes. I saw a lot of different foods in there. Too many. I saw some produce that needs to be eaten today. I chose some of it for lunch. Now I just need to follow through at dinnertime too. I thought about planning my meals a little bit – at least so that we eat the most perishable things earlier in the week and save the longer lasting polish sausage and sauerkraut for later in the week. I need to give myself fewer choices too. I have already decided not to cook certain cuisines at home so that I don’t need to stock so many spices and supplies. I probably only need to plan 5 real meals per week. The rest are made from basics, leftovers, or eaten out. I’m already doing pretty well with using my freezer, portioning out meat, but there are probably more things I can freeze to save waste (those refried beans!). I could also do better by pre-prepping some foods on the weekend to make them easier to grab and go during the week.

My food waste goes into the yard waste bin to be turned into compost, but that is only slightly better than tossing it in the trash. I think I can do better about eating the produce I buy. At least we almost never waste animal products – the massive resources that go into producing a pound of meat makes that kind of waste truly obscene.

Do you have any good ideas for me?

Do you have any secrets for avoiding waste in your kitchen?





Posted in blah blah blah, food, less | 1 Comment