The Plague

simplicityI’ve been avoiding this blog like the title. But I shouldn’t have been. Since school let out for the summer, we’ve had a lot of unstructured, relaxing, recovering from the stress kind of time. And so I haven’t written because I haven’t “done” anything interesting. I’ve been sorting, sifting, throwing – how boring is that?

Foregoing the writing, however, is a mistake. I think back to the reasons I started writing this blog. The main reason wasn’t so I could “wow” any of my readers. It was so I could have a place to journal my thoughts and feelings as I strive to achieve a life that is more simple and satisfying. So today I’m simply recording some self-analysis.

  • Every day I’m faced with dozens of choices about how to spend my time. If I don’t accomplish what I want to, it’s because of the choices I make.
  • My action item list changes the way I spend my day. Even if it feels silly to write “laundry” on the list each day, writing it actually helps it get done.
  • I’ve perfected the art of avoidance. I can avoid a project I don’t want to do for days – by doing other “good” things that “need to get done.”

Which brings me back to the first thing – every day I’m faced with dozens of choices. Even when I’m faced with challenges (like headache pain which I’ve been struggling with for about 12 weeks) – still I can choose to do something every day which brings me closer to my goals. And so I choose to:

  • keep up my action item list
  • keep eating for my health and getting daily physical exercise
  • start putting my hands on an unwanted, despised project every day – even if it’s only for ten minutes.

And so, dear reader, I start in the right direction yet again. As long as I don’t quit, I won’t fail.

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Day 116 ~ All Things (well – Something anyway) Made New

I’ve made some measurable progress this week. For one, I finally – with my husband’s help – got several bags ready for charity. We’re keeping the cat.

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I’ve also been practicing Redeeming the Time – you know, grabbing ten free minutes here and there to do little tasks. By using this approach I’ve reclaimed a small counter in my kitchen. Now, I must explain, there is a deep-seated problem that resides within my very soul that leads to a counter that looks like this. It’s hard to see, but under the clean food containers and the bread items, in the back, is the epicenter of this mess. It’s a wire basket full of junk. Well, not junk really, but stuff. I toss things in there, like coupons, business cards, things I want to look at later. (You can see how accessible it is. And please understand, my whole kitchen does not look like this). But the problem (the one in my soul) is this – pretty soon the basket is overflowing, I never pull anything out to look at it again because it’s disorganized, and soon it becomes a permanent fixture in my decorating scheme. I walk by it 18 times a day, and never, ever look at it. The result? I’ve lost the counter.

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So I finally did something about it. I got a three-ring-binder, I put tabs in it, and I now have a place for – – > current coupons, reference information, take-out menus, and contact information. And it fits next to my cookbooks on the bookcase. Now the basket has oranges in it and is sitting on my dining room table. I don’t know why it took me – you know – YEARS to take care of this. But now it’s done. My counter is new. And I am happy.

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Day 72 ~ Stollen

Today, my older daughter had to bring a food to school representing her ethnicity. With all the blue eyes and fair skin in this family, that landed us in the north – either the British Isles, Scandinavia, or possibly Germany (on her papa’s side). Since my Scandinavian mother taught me to cook, I told my kiddo to pick something from Norway or Sweden.

She immediately jumped to lutefisk. If you don’t know lutefisk, count yourself lucky. (To all our Scandinavian friends who eat this stuff by choice, please forgive me). Lutefisk is a white fish, preserved in lye, with the consistency of the jelly that oozes out when you open a canned ham. Seriously.  If you think I’m kidding, this is the definition in my dictionary: a Scandinavian dish prepared by soaking dried cod in lye to tenderize it, then skinning, boning, and boiling the fish to a gelatinous consistency. Yum. I’ve eaten lutefisk many times out of duty, but wasn’t about to cook it. So I made some suggestions, and she chose Stollen, a bread eaten by both Scandinavians and Germans and which I’ve made before with my mother for Christmas.

Normally, since this was her school project, she’d help me. But yesterday was the Colorado Poetry Out Loud state finals, and my daughter, having won her school competition, got to attend. At thirteen, she was the youngest participant and we are enormously proud of her performances. (The mama in me had to give a shout out, because she did great). But … this meant I had to make the bread alone, and because I hadn’t thought through the timing, I almost didn’t start in time to get it done before the competition. So today, I’m writing about the Stollen, because that’s all I did yesterday (besides hours of poetry).

Stollen is a mildly sweet, glazed yeast bread. It is filled with currants, dried or candied fruits, almonds, orange peel and lemon peel; and it’s seasoned with cardamom, a spice frequently used in Scandinavian dishes. I considered cleaning up before I took the picture, but this is more authentic. I was in such a rush putting it together that my kitchen looked like something exploded by the time I was finished. My house smelled deliciously of oranges though, which is so much better than the smell of lutefisk…

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Stollen

4+ cups of bread flour
1 package active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
salt
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup currants
1/4 diced dried cherries
1/4 chopped blanched almonds
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 tablespoon lemon zest

Glaze:
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
2 tablespoons hot water
1/2 teaspoon butter

In a saucepan heat and stir milk, butter, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt till warm (120˚ – 130˚). Butter will be almost melted. Add to yeast in a large mixing bowl and stir. Add cardamom and 4 cups flour, and stir until combined. Add additional flour until dough comes together without being too sticky. Stir in currants, dried fruit, almonds, and orange and lemon zest.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough that is smooth and elastic (5-8 minutes). Shape into a ball. Place in a greased bowl; turn once. Cover; let rise in a warm place until double – about 2 hours.

Punch dough down. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into thirds. Cover; let rest 10 minutes. Roll one portion into a 10×6-inch oval. Without stretching, fold the long side over to within 1 inch of the opposite edge – press lightly to seal. Place on greased baking sheet. Repeat with remainder of dough. Cover; let rise until double – another hour.

Bake in a 375˚ oven for 18-20 minutes or until golden. Remove to racks and cool for thirty minutes. Mix glaze and brush over the warm bread.

Day 57 ~ When the Day Gets Jacked

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Life is conspiring against me today. It really is, and I’m sure every one of you can relate to that statement.

For instance, I had planned on barbecuing a chicken outside today, because it’s a balmy 70˚ – truly beautiful Colorado weather. (Tomorrow will be 40˚ and snowing, which is also beautiful Colorado weather, in its own way). This involves cutting up a whole chicken – which I was sure was in my chest freezer. I was sure and I was wrong, so we had to do something else and this involved a trip to the store (which my husband did, bless his heart).

I realize this is not catastrophic. But then, I sat down to write my business blogs. These are scheduled posts that are mapped out a month in advance and clients pay for them, so there’s really very little wiggle room. After one post, my DSL connection disappeared. No internet. I unplugged the modem, unplugged the router, re-booted everything. No internet. So I called the provider and they couldn’t even check the connection because it was reading “error” on their end. Twenty minutes on hold, three phone calls, and two hour later – the internet’s back. My work is done, and it’s all okay, but my afternoon got totally jacked, if you know what I mean.

I realize this is not catastrophic either. But then, the lovely woman who comes in once a month on Thursday to scrub down my home, called and asked if she could come tomorrow (Wednesday) instead. This is fine, except the day before frenzy that I usually go through and had planned on doing Wednesday, had to get done today when my afternoon got jacked (see above) and I didn’t really have time for it.

Okay – this is not really catastrophic either. None of it was, but piled up together, I found myself wishing that something could go smoothly. But isn’t that life? Life is bumpy and things frequently don’t go according to plan. What I realized today is that as long as my heart is at peace (which it is) everything else tends to come out in the wash, so to speak.

I also had two beautiful epiphanies today. First, I was inspired to clean out my chest freezer and create an inventory list so I know what’s in it without opening the lid. I will cross things off when I take them out, and add them when I put them in. Never again will I be searching for a chicken in the bottom of my freezer.

Second, although I still had a day before frenzy, it was more like half a frenzy. The main floor living area required absolutely nothing. Well, almost absolutely nothing. Everything was put away except seven pairs of shoes. All the sprinting happened upstairs in the bedrooms and the office/schoolroom. This was thrilling for me, because I know that I know that I know that the work I’ve been doing is having an impact. If I keep taking back my life ten minutes at a time, I will achieve a peaceful home environment, one to match the peace in my heart.

Day 56 ~ Back on Track

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Mimi


I haven’t written for days, and some of you (I hope) are wondering what happened to me. I’ve had some weird virus that has me feeling completely depleted (better today though, so I’m hopeful). I knew when I started my life makeover that it wouldn’t be perfect every day. I knew things would happen to cause glitches. My greatest fear was that if I got sick, or something else derailed me, that I’d never get back on track. I was afraid of this because it’s happened before. For instance, I’ve done a consistent exercise program for a period of time, then I got injured and I just stopped. I never picked it up again.

The beauty of what I’m doing this time is this blog. Simply keeping the written journal has made me get back on my feet and start again on the things I was doing so successfully. This morning, because I could breathe through my nose (finally!!), I did my morning exercise for the first time in a week. At first, I felt like I might die, but about half way through I suddenly felt much better and was so thankful that I’d made myself do it. All it took was this one morning, and I know I’m back on track with it. So thank you, dear reader, for being my accountability partner in this.

While I’ve been sick and not doing much, I’ve been meditating on this quote:

“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” Edmund Burke

Although I couldn’t do what I really wanted to, I used the Redeem the Time method (10 minute blocks) to do what I could. We continued the 10-minute tidy and the daily laundry, and that kept things flowing so I don’t feel overwhelmed today. And since I was spending so much time resting, I took advantage of it and spent time in prayer and reading, so that even though it was a little, I was still taking steps toward missional, simplified living. Spending so much time in thought has motivated me to start the Redeem the Time method with our grocery budget (only I’m calling it Redeem the Dollar). I’m not great at couponing and that sort of thing. I once tried it, going all gung-ho for a while, but it about made me crazy. I don’t like to deprive my family of healthful food, I like to buy organic (although I do save money by buying seasonal) and, to be honest, I just don’t like to put in the work it takes to play the game. But … I figured if I only cut $10 per week, we would hardly feel it because $10 is nothing. And saving $10 per week adds up to $520 per year, which we will most definitely feel.

This is my plan. Almost every Sunday we get take-out, and we do it because it’s convenient to grab coming home from church. But, I’m more organized about my menu planning and grocery shopping now. In fact, I planned menus last night and shopped this morning. So I’m putting dinner in the crock pot Sunday morning before we leave for church. That one change, done every week, should easily find us the $10 I’m looking for. I know we’ll still do take-out as a treat sometimes, but I’ll feel much better about it knowing I’m consistently saving money (and being more healthful) by cooking at home. I’ll let you know how it goes.

In closing, you may be wondering why I started this post with a picture of one of my cats. Well, our dining room table sits in our front room right by a window. One of the unforeseen effects of feng-shui-ing my table is that periodically, when I come down in the morning, this kitty is sitting regally right in the middle of my table, gazing out the window, surveying what she thinks of as her kingdom. She never got on the table before I started feng-shui-ing. I find it funny, because (of course) she thinks I’m doing all this for her.