Simple Pleasure: A Spot to Read

The simplest pleasures are the best pleasures.  My simple pleasure to share with you this week is: A Spot to Read.  Everyone, young and old, needs a special spot to read.  In the winter it can be indoors, and in the summer it can be outside, but everyone needs a spot of their own to read whatever they like.  Just as a woman needs a room of one’s own to write and think, one needs a spot to read and think as well.

There are other places in my home that would seem to be good contenders for indulging in one of my favorite activities, but it seems that I always come back to this same spot.  It has good light, I can put my feet up while I read, and there’s a table nearby for my cup of tea.  I add a sheepskin and a throw in the winter just to make it extra cozy.  Probably most importantly though, it’s a spot in the house that has few distractions, except for a view of the mountains; and while it’s somewhat private, I’m not completely sitting in a room behind a closed door, so I’m accessible if others are around, but I’m not in the middle of all the action if I need some quiet.

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Whether you sit down to read every day or just once a week, make it somewhere you look forward to being.

*The book I just finished reading is Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard.  I’ll write a bookshelf review of it in an upcoming post.

What a Buy Nothing Month Taught Me

I’ve always been intrigued by the Buy Nothing movement’s challenge to buy nothing new for a year.  But a year is a long time.  After buying a new home in a new city last fall, my husband and I fell off the frugal bandwagon.  We’d been saving our pennies for so long towards this goal of home ownership that once we wrote that very large down payment check, it seemed like all our will power went out the window.  And with our will power, a flood of money.  Realistically, the new house needed some updating and lots of paint, and we simply didn’t own some of the things we needed to take care of it—like a lawn mower.  But I also readily admit that I enjoyed doing some decorating and buying some new furniture.  Moving into a home that is twice the size of our last place in California meant we had some empty rooms.

Interestingly though, I noticed that loosening our financial restraint in one area also spilled over into a loss of restraint in other areas of our finances, like groceries and clothing purchases.  Now that we’ve settled in, and our big painting project is over, it was time to catch our breath.  I love new beginnings and challenges, and January seemed the perfect time to start fresh with our finances.

I also really needed to know what our expenses looked like in this new house, and this new city, so that we could start setting new financial goals.  The rules of our Buy Nothing Month were simple.  Besides our regular bills, the only things we would spend money on were things that were absolutely necessary.  For us, this was mostly food and home supplies, but we also brought home a new puppy in December, so there were vet visits and pet supplies.   Anything else we wanted to spend money on, including entertainment, was put on a list on the fridge to be reconsidered in February.

So how did we do?  I’d say we did pretty well, but I can see now what our weaknesses are. Our only major purchases that broke the rules were to celebrate my birthday—and it was a milestone one, so my husband insisted on celebrating it with dinner and drinks out and some nice gifts that were actually very practical and very much appreciated.  I would have been happy with a more frugal celebration, but we did enjoy ourselves and the evening out felt special and definitely celebratory.  I also had to get my hair cut and replace a lost hairbrush, only because I was going for an interview and really needed some sprucing up.

Here’s what made it onto our “wait and think about it” list and what our final decisions were:

Haircuts for my two daughters (not necessary for now-maybe in the spring)

Pet food can covers (a piece of foil over the can works well, or just putting the food in a jar with a lid)

Clinique Cityblock (will buy soon, though I’ll maybe shop around online before heading to the mall-my least favorite place in the world)

Millet for our parakeet (researched this online, and found that millet is sort of like candy for a bird, definitely not necessary.  I’ll make sure she’s getting plenty of her favorite spinach instead)

Large mat for the back door (lots of muddy paws) (will stick to the old towel in front of the door.  It doesn’t look great, but it works.)

License plate mounting hardware (Idaho requires plates on the front and back of our car—something we didn’t have before) (will have to buy this)

CO2 detectors (still deciding if these are necessary…)

Maintenance service for our twenty year old car (Mr. Simple Word will continue to do what he can himself for regular maintenance, and we’ll probably have a few less expensive things done in the future)

Bottle of gin (a luxury, but not necessary.  Or is it?)

Engraved dog tag (Instead of buying a dog tag, we just wrote our phone number on the back of puppy’s rabies tag)


As you can see, some of the items and services are being postponed, and some have been substituted or declared unnecessary. So though there will be some purchases made, there will be fewer.   I was surprised to see that  our “wait and think about it” list wasn’t full of too many frivolous items.  For the most part, we have what we need, and don’t want too many useless items, which feels good to say.  I also learned that the “wait and think about it” list is a really, really good idea.  It forced our whole family to delay purchases (like the haircuts my daughters felt they needed, but which haven’t been mentioned since), and either think of a substitute, figure out a cheaper option, or rethink the purchase entirely.

We also learned what we couldn’t live without, and what would make us feel deprived.  For us, that mostly revolves around eating well at home.  I’ll give up restaurants and cafes, bake my own desserts, and make my own mugs of hot chocolate, but I still want and enjoy good food and the occasional treat.

The biggest lesson though, was that our Buy Nothing month simplified decision making.  There was no debate about whether to walk to our favorite café for breakfast, or whether or not to buy more clothes during the after Christmas sales.  We just weren’t buying anything we absolutely didn’t have to, and this became the default.

It actually felt very freeing to have spending decisions on autopilot.  Instead of constricting us, we got creative and appreciated our small pleasures.  The “wait and think about it” list will definitely be a regular fixture for us.

What about trying a “wait and think about it” list yourself?  Let me know if you learn anything about yourself.



Simple Skin Care

Beauty may be only skin deep, but  doesn’t our skin say a lot about us?  It shows our age, our love of or aversion to the sun, whether we’ve smiled a lot in our life or whether we tend to frown and worry.  Nothing completely erases our past from our faces (except plastic surgery), but there are some simple ways to take care of our skin, so that it radiates our inner beauty.

My own quest for clear healthy skin has been ongoing since pimples became a part of my life at the beginning of puberty.  And though breakouts aren’t an issue anymore, I still work on my skin and have come to see it as another part of my health, rather than something to be battled.  Honestly, it’s only been in the last few years that I feel like I’ve figured it out, and as I help my young teenager deal with her own skin issues, I’d like to share what I’ve learned.  According to many skin care product companies and women’s magazines, having beautiful skin is a complicated and expensive undertaking.  Ultimately what I’ve learned is something that should have been obvious a long time ago–simpler is better.Handmade sopes with lavender

Six Simple Steps for Beautiful Skin

  1. Cleanse Gently.  We all know this–wash your face every day, especially at night, and never go to bed with makeup on.  The trick is to clean gently, so that our skin is clean without being stripped of its natural oils that help heal and protect our faces and bodies. For your face, use a gentle cleanser and nothing hotter than warm water.  For bodies, use soap just in the places where you’re dirty or smelly.  There’s no need to cover your body head to toe in lather.  The simpler the product you use, the better.   There is also no need to spend lots of money on cleansers.  I use Cetaphil ( or a generic version) for my face, and unscented Olay soap for my body.  I also use it for shaving my legs, etc.–don’t bother with expensive cans of shaving cream.  If your skin is prone to breakouts, you may want to consider something stronger.  But it should never sting or contain alcohol or leave your skin feeling tight and dry.  That’s only going to cause your skin to produce more oil. You may have to experiment a bit, but anything you don’t like for your face can be used up in the shower for your body, so it won’t be wasted.
  2. Exfoliate.  Our skin is the largest organ of our body, and besides our digestive system, it’s the only other way for our body to get rid of toxins.  Exfoliating allows our skin to breathe and helps to reduce the likelihood of clogged pores.  There are lots of simple, inexpensive ways to exfoliate.  For the body, a stiff brush, scrubby gloves, or a homemade sugar or salt scrub work wonderfully.  I have a pair of gloves that I use on my body several times a week, paying special attention to rough spots like my elbows.  While you can be  pretty vigorous with scrubbing your body, take it easy with your face, chest, and neck.  For these areas I would recommend a chemical exfoliant, like an AHA or salicylic acid, or just a paste of your regular cleanser mixed with baking soda.  Depending on your skin type, do this once or twice a week.  Using a soft clean washcloth when washing your face at night is also a gentle exfoliant, and I use this on the nights I’m not using my AHA treatment or baking soda paste.dew_on_grass.jpg
  3.  Moisturize.  Slather your body with unscented lotion every time you bathe, or whenever it feels dry.  Face creams can be a bit tougher to find the one that’s best for you, but go with something richer if you have dry skin, and something much lighter if your skin is oily.    Even if your skin is oily, it still needs a little moisture and protection.  Either way, it should be gentle and unscented.  If you end up trying a facial moisturizer that doesn’t work out, use if for hand cream before bed or before putting on your gloves for a walk. At least that way it won’t be wasted.  Face creams are the only product that I’m willing to spend a bit of money on, and I would encourage you to be willing to do this too.  A good moisturizer helps heal, protect, and smooth the skin on your face.  Having something that really works is worth it to me.  With that said though, I’m not convinced that a $100 face cream is better than something that costs $30.

4. Sweat.  As I said above, our skin helps remove toxins from the body,     and one way it does this is to sweat.  The best way to do this is to exercise vigorously enough to sweat.  Not only does it help clear out our pores,  it also helps reverse the effects of aging on our skin, so that it is much more like  younger skin.  If you have access to a sauna or steam room, this is also another great way to sweat.  The locker room at my local YMCA has both of these amenities, which makes my already low cost membership that much more of a good deal.  nature_fruits_and

5. Eat well.  There are so many reasons to eat well beyond helping us have beautiful skin, but if you want clear healthy skin, you’ll have to pay attention to what you eat and drink.  Eat real food, avoid dairy and sugar, and drink alcohol moderately.  Fruits and vegetables are the “glow” foods, and eating a variety every day helps our skin get the vitamins it needs to be healthy. I add fish oil supplements to my diet for their health benefits, but I also notice that my skin and hair are healthier too when I take them.

6. Treat yourself to facials.  I used to think facials were a luxury, but I now see them as a necessary luxury (is that an oxymoron?).  You don’t have to spend a fortune on them either.  My skin care plan includes a facial every season.  For my teenager, who is starting to experience breakouts, she has started going every 5 weeks or so, which is what our budget allows.  In between professional facials, we do a mini facial as part of our Sunday evening routine, with a baking soda paste exfoliation and a clay mask.  This doesn’t take more than fifteen minutes, but doing it regularly makes a big difference.

These six steps are simple ways to take care of and improve your skin.  Of course if you’re dealing with more serious skin concerns like acne or eczema, you might need some professional help beyond what’s outlined here.  But ultimately, choose the simple over the complex and use your time and money for other more meaningful things.

What have you learned about skin care at this point in your life?  Do you think less is more?



There Is Beauty in Simplicity


Whenever I find something beautiful it is usually simple.  Often the ornate and showy are held up as something to aspire to, but I think we can’t really appreciate something until it is in its purest form.  A woman painted in layers of makeup with an elaborate hairdo and wearing clothes that scream for attention is not as beautiful as a confident, healthy woman wearing a sun dress and sandals.  A showy bouquet from the florist’s is just not as beautiful to me as a vase of wild sweet peas.  There is something calming and attractive about things in their simplest forms.  We can see their true natures–the materials they’re made of, their shape and texture.  Nothing is hidden from us.

When we say we’re seeking beauty in life, perhaps we should be seeking simplicity.


Which areas of your life could be more beautiful?  Your home?  Your schedule?  Your money?  Can you see a way that simplicity could make these areas more beautiful?

Choose the Simple Word


When I was helping students with their writing as an English professor, one of my students’ biggest worries  was wanting to sound more academic and have a better vocabulary.  Those are certainly noble goals, but what often  resulted was writing that misused words or was unclear.  The writer and teacher William Zinsser’s essay “Simplicity” argues for clarity over “…unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills, and meaningless jargon.”  And so, while I encouraged students to enrich their vocabularies, I also encouraged them to choose simplicity and clarity over meaningless fluff in the form of big words or complicated sentences.  And when in doubt, just choose the simple word.

I see this as an analogy for life.  Life can be more beautiful, richer, and more meaningful when it is simple. Perhaps it can be clearer as well.  Simplicity can take many forms-from how we live in our homes to how we spend our days, and even to how we think and learn.  This blog is about constantly asking, how can life be simpler, easier, richer, and more beautiful?

What areas of your life could be simpler and more beautiful?