Saturday, October 1, 2011

Waste Not, Want Not

Like most people of her generation, Grandma was never one to let anything go to waste. Especially when it came to food. If fruit got a bit too ripe to eat, she'd peel it, puree it, and dehydrate it into homemade fruit leather. Any leftover vegetable trimmings or meat carcass/bones went into a bag in the freezer for future soup stock. Bread that went a bit dry was cut-up and frozen for future puddings or stuffings. Seriously everything in her kitchen was eaten, stored, or processed before it went truly bad.

But the secrets to her lack of food waste weren't earth shattering: she had a deep freeze that she used religiously, she kept close tabs on her food expiration dates, and, more importantly, she never purchased or harvested more food than she could use.

I was raised with the "if in doubt, throw it out" mantra so as a young adult, I had to learn to identify when food was truly bad verses just a bit unattractive, and had to teach myself how to purchase, store, and process food properly. These lessons were a way of life for people like my Grandma; but sadly, some of us seem to have lost or devalued those same learnings. I hope very much to reverse that trend.

It was with these thoughts and a few extra hours this morning that I set out to finally make bread from some overripe bananas I've been collecting. 

A few month's worth of overripe bananas that I've been stashing away in my freezer

On first glance, yeah, they are totally ugly. But look at the potential underneath.

Shucked bananas ready for mashing

After mixing these babies with butter, sugar, eggs, and flour, I had myself three loaves of a very tasty treat.

Finished banana bread, warm from the oven

By not throwing out those bananas, I not only saved them from the landfill, I also gained some very delicious bread. By not wasting, I actually want for even less. Pretty cool, huh?

For me it is less about cost savings and more about being less wasteful. I see myself as the steward of what I buy and so I feel responsible for how it is used. If I make a mistake and buy too much of something and then don't use it, I feel like my error costs someone else the benefit of using that resource. As if I've upset the balance of taking only what's needed and leaving the rest for someone else.

How do you feel about buying and using food? What methods do you use to help limit your own food waste?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Craving "Custom Fit" Communications

Social networking seems to be the method by which most people I know communicate. And that trend doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon. With the recent introduction of Google + and the new timeline and ticker features changes announced last week by Facebook, it is becoming easier than ever to "like" these services. Any why not? You get more bang for your communications buck: with a few swipes of your finger, you can update everyone at once about your life and be updated on their lives in return. What's not to like?

Well, for starters, social networking is built around the concept of broadcasting a single message to a very wide audience. Everyone from your mom to your coworkers consumes the same end-product, regardless of their needs or expectations about communicating with you. This is kind of like sending out the same-sized T-shirt to all your friends as a gift. Sure, it might fit a few people but for the most part, it will either be too small or too large to do your friends much good. And, more importantly, what kind of message are you sending to your friends when you give them something that doesn't fit? "Hey, I know you're a size 6 but I only have time to give you this other thing. Hope you like it!" This whole concept has never sat well with me.

Long before the advent of social networking sites, my Grandma Mary Jean used a variety of different methods to keep the people in her "network" informed: hand-written letters and cards, telephone calls on the party line, in-person visits, and so on. Sometimes when pressed for time, she'd employ the "one-size-fits-all" method of carbon-copied letters, but never as an only means. And when she did employ that method, she'd always include something personal with it--a jotted note, a new recipe, an article clipping--something that made her communication unique to that particular person. It took time and a little effort but it was important to her and ended up strengthening her ties to her friends in the process.

I think Grandma, like me, would have a bit of trouble adjusting to the communications methods employed by folks today. In our haste to make information available in as quick and efficient a way as possible, I fear that we've lost that personal touch that make passing on information meaningful and worthwhile. Social networking has become that carbon-copy letter my Grandma would sometimes write, only employed more frequently and often without the extra note or clipping that makes it unique to the receiver. Delivered in this way, the message becomes impersonal and often times ill fitting. No longer are you writing with a particular person and their personal interests in mind; each person in your network is merely a part of a whole, destined to consume the same message no matter your closeness to them as individuals.

Several years ago, I was frustrated enough by my experiences with the medium that I chose to leave social networking altogether. I knew that by doing that, I would lose contact with many of the more distant people in my network, and I did so without regret. What I didn't expect was that I would lose a level of communications detail with the people I cared about most--my closest family members and friends. Though I still communicate with them in other ways, I find that I am still missing details of their lives that they now post only to their social networking sites. These messages, photos and such aren't reproduced in other communications methods because it would be inefficient to do so. The simple truth is that by not being a part of their network, I end up simply missing out.

Of course what I really want is to be included on the details of my loved ones lives in a personal way: I want that phone call, that e-mail, that letter (or hey, even that text message!) written with my interests in mind. I want to be important enough in my loved ones' lives to warrant that extra effort. Like my relationship with each of them, I want the communications between us to be unique. I want, sometimes, to give and receive something that fits.

But I fear in these fast-paced modern times, that is just too much to ask. And I am only punishing myself by continuing to be so stubborn. It is better to give and receive a poorly fitted T-shirt than to have no T-shirt at all. But that won't stop me from wanting my custom fit.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Art of Changing Directions

"Spilling/Spinning" - Brandon Boyd

I found the above image in an Internet search related to "art" and "changing directions." At first, I didn't know how it related to the theme I wanted to write about today--I just fell in love with the elegance and fluidity of the piece. But after staring at it for a while, I'm beginning to wonder if there's not something to be said here about suddenly changing directions and immediately finding yourself both blind and mute, at a loss of your senses, and yet accepting it as temporary payment for the gains the change in direction provides.

Something about the way the subject casually holds her cigarette while her eyes are covered and her mouth is full tells us that she expects her situation to be only fleeting--she'll have her senses back soon enough. Further, her lack of alarm communicates that she expected her losses all along. Is this a reflection of faith--expecting something good will come out of something lost? Or is it more of a yin/yang thing; an exchange of loss for an exchange of gain?


It's been 9 months since I've posted an entry and a lot has changed in that time. After taking a hard look at our life goals (having children, saving for retirement, more time for recreating) and contrasting them with our current reality, my husband and I realized we needed to make some big life changes. And when I say big, I mean BIG.

"Little House on the Prairie" - Jim Lamb
Gone now is the struggling home business; hello full-time job with medical benefits and retirement. Of course, securing that job meant selling our home and moving away from the little town we've grown to love. So also gone is the little house and garden on Prairie Street and our quiet, small-town life. We've replaced that, with no small amount of grumbling on my part, with a newer rental house in the suburbs with zero maintenance.

"Leisure Time"  - Dominique Amendola
Life is completely different. We have economic stability now, a plan for the future, and room for a family. We're also closer to our parents and siblings, which brings its own pluses and minuses into the mix. And without the two huge time drains of a home that needed near constant maintenance, and a business that needed near constant nurturing, we find that we have much more leisure time. In a very real sense, we have lined up our lives and have met our goals within the span of just a few months. Quite the accomplishment, really.

So what have we given up for these goals? Well, like the girl in the artwork above, we knew there would be losses. Our beloved home was one of the biggest. A close second was the sense of independence offered by owning our own business. We got a lot of satisfaction out of growing and nurturing both and the successes and failures of these endeavors made up a big part of our personal identities.

"Art Goals"  - Rachel M. Cotton
But though our big life changes came with these losses, we knew they would be only temporary, soon to be replaced by the gains we received by meeting our goals. And though I think the gains and losses might currently be balanced, I believe we are now better situated to turn some of those losses into opportunities. And what more can you ask out of life than that?


So how does all this relate to the purpose of this blog? Well, I initially believed that our moving away from our small town life and getting full-time jobs meant the end of this blog. After all, I won't have as many opportunities to talk about writing, bakingsewing and all the "simple life" things that I so associate with my grandparents.

"Simple Pleasures" - Renee Dawson
But after some further pondering, I realized that none of those "simple life" values I so cherish in my grandparents have changed for me since our move. In fact, they've only become heightened as I'm doing them not so much out of necessity, but out of desire. That's a big distinction for me, and one I'd like to explore.


How does change play a part in your life? Do you seek out opportunities for change or are you more likely to resist? Why or why not?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Eating at Home

H. Brispot - Le Roi Boit!
Just a few years ago, it wasn't uncommon for my husband and me to eat out four or five times a week. That sounds like a lot to me right now but trust me, it added up quickly: a couple weekday dinners out, a lazy weekend breakfast, a quick lunch or a stop for fast food after shopping. (And let's not forget the "special" meals out--birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, graduations--need I say more?)

We weren't the worst offenders in our circle at the time but at the height of our gluttony, my husband and I were spending nearly 20% of our combined income on dining out. Think about that for a second: Twenty percent. That's more than many people spend on income taxes per year. That amount then was more than we currently pay for our home mortgage. It was even more than I currently make for my two jobs combined! (Ugg, let's stop there. Feeling sick...)

Yes, working full-time in the city and making more money than you need makes it easier to spend it. And being around people who spend money also makes it easier. But we knew what we were doing at the time. And we still did it.

Needless to say, things are different now. Not only don't I have a thousand extra dollars a month to spend on anything unnecessary, I no longer want to. For the past three years, we have eaten almost exclusively at home. And you know what? I like it better. Yes, I cook a lot. And yes, many times that cooking is nothing more than boiling water for a box of Mac 'N Cheese. And yes, we do have more dishes to do on a daily basis. But really, it IS worth it.

Grandma and Grandpa never (and I mean never) went out to eat. Not when they were working and raising a family, and not when they were retired. Breakfast was eaten at home. Period. Lunch was taken to work and eaten there or in later years, eaten at home. And dinner was always eaten at home with the family. For parties, they threw potlucks. When they traveled, they cooked in their RV. Holidays and birthdays were always spent around a table in the dining room, not a restaurant.

Our new habit of eating at home is one of the things I am most proud of when I think of our move away from the city. My sincere hope is that even if our situation changes, this is one of the things we will stick with.

How do you feel about eating at home vs. going out?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Visiting Traditions

Making fresh holiday wreaths
Every overnight visit at the Grandparents involved certain traditions: a visit to the state park, a walking tour of the neighborhood, signing songs on the swing, dinner of beans and cornbread, a breakfast of hotcakes, a game (or four) of hide-and-seek, and a craft project.

Grandma loved crafts. Sewing was her favorite but she’d occasionally branch out into other things. I remember painting rocks for the garden, making leather and bead key chains, and sewing plastic canvas calendars and coasters. Each visit, the project was a little different. Most times, we'd make gifts for our parents. Occasionally, we'd help Grandma make them for craft sales.

Since we’ve moved away from the city, we get more overnight guests than we used to. And more often than not, I find myself planning a craft project to do when guests are here, just like my Grandma Mary Jean used to.

Our guests have made fresh pasta and pressed their own apple cider; painted rock “love-bugs” for Valentines, carved pumpkins for Halloween, fashioned scarecrows for Fall, and made home-made wreaths for Christmas.

Doing a creative project with people you love is a fun way to learn new things, make memories, and provide your guests with something tangible to take home.

What sort of craft projects have you shared with others?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Classic Decorations

Left: 1962 "Popular Mechanics" magazine cover. Right: Hanging same Santa display in 2010.
 This entry is inspired not by my grandparents, but by my husband's. In the mid 1960s, his Grandpa was inspired enough by patterns published in the "Popular Mechanics" magazine to make his own outdoor Christmas display. With one 4x8 sheet of plywood, a jigsaw, and some exterior paint, he and hundreds of other folks like him created wooden displays like this one and hung them up year after year.

Believe it or not, this same Santa display decorated my husband's parent's house when he was growing up. And this weekend, it now decorates our house.

Yes, it is almost 50 years old. And yes, the paint is thin and flaking in spots. But you know what? It just fits. Unlike the blow-up snowmen and LED-tipped lights, this display will still be clever and appropriate in another 50 years. That's the beauty of sticking with the classics: they are always in style.

I feel the same way about my Christmas music, foods, crafts, and indoor decorations: the older classics just mean more to me this time of year. I guess because Christmas is the perfect season for nostalgia.

Here's hoping your holiday's a classic.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Air-Popped Corn

Poppin' corn
When I was growing up at my parents' house, popcorn was made in one of two ways: in a heavy bottomed pan coated with vegetable oil, or in later years, in the microwave.

The former invariably turned out scorched and the latter had a false texture and plasticy taste (probably from the artificial butter). Needless to say, I wasn't partial to either kind.

My grandparents, on the other hand, had an air-popper at their house. On visits, we'd get to watch as the hot air whirled those hard kernels into fluff that would float up and fall into the bowl. The hot mound would then be drizzled (liberally, of course) with melted butter and sprinkled with salt. (If you mouth isn't watering right now, you aren't human.)

My grandparents' popcorn, made in this way, was always light, flavorful, and delicious. This is the only way I make popcorn now.

How do you like your popcorn?