Archive for the ‘Living’ Category


There’s a certain degree of hubris in writing about the things we accumulate. George Carlin pretty much said it all. (Caution- link contains strong language).

I throw stuff away– I joke that I spend an embarrassing amount of time going through the trash for the stuff I should have kept. But I’ll tell you, in two weeks I will be wracking my brain trying to remember what it was I needed so badly that I dug through the garbage looking for it.

There’s a nostalgia to stuff– who doesn’t love going into the attic or the basement (or better yet your mother’s attic or basement) and finding that childhood stuff that you had forgotten about. Or even just that blouse that you loved 8 years ago, which is hopelessly out of fashion or never going to fit again. But the thing with stuff like that is that if you didn’t know you had it, you don’t need it.

When the kids were little and apparently unable to ever put their stuff away, we would pack up the clutter in paper bags. If they didn’t ask for it in the next three months, we’d chuck or donate it. I cannot remember a single instance of my kids ever saying “hey, what happened to…”

Some of those forgotten items you should keep, for future generations. If you find something from a prior generation, I guess I’ll let you keep that, on the theory that in another 2 generations it will be a best-of on Antiques Roadshow. But your stuff? Don’t put it away, throw it away.

I’m the child of gypsies– both sides of my lineage were immigrants who came to America with the things they could carry, and then spent the next two generations moving from one place to a better place, so I suppose I’m culturally, if not genetically disinclined to save stuff. When you move a lot, you don’t accumulate things, because you’re just going to have to pick it up and carry it with you the next time you go, and there will be a next time. By the time I was 30, I had lived at 11 different addresses, moving on average once every 2½ years before I graduated high school. The longest time I lived anywhere before my current address was seven years, and that was in my late 20s. Growing up, the record was four and a half years.

After I left home, my parents didn’t stop moving either. My father has lived at nine different addresses in three different countries since 1978. That’s a move every 4 years. He once moved to England with only the things he could fit stuffed into a single carry-on and the sleeves and zipper lining of his trench coat.

After 30 years at this address, I feel now like I have more stuff than I can handle. When you don’t move, the dust settles. But I have friends whose every closet is packed like McGee’s, with drawers stuffed to uncloseability, and every surface covered. You just never know when you might need that jar (never).

Give it up, throw it out, don’t make it do, just do without (with apologies to grandmas everywhere)

Are you a keeper or a tosser?

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I really liked the theme of our Sunday Photo post this past Sunday – Time!  I am all over the board when it comes to all things “time.”  If I have a meeting or appointment, I am an on-time kind of gal. Arriving somewhere 5 minutes early is quite late for me. While I still am on time for those things, I am here and there and everywhere on so many other time-related things.

Starting more aloe plants for swapping

Starting more aloe plants for swapping

I am a potterer (is that a word?) I potter around, in that aimless way (sort of). There is a method to my madness most of the time, but I do get distracted easily and find myself working on something completely different than the task I started on initially. I get things done (for the most part.) So many things are on the big “list of things to do”  and I will chip away at it. Some of the projects I can do quickly, others are ongoing and just take time. Heck, everything since January takes a lot more time than it used to. That alone is a new concept in and of itself.

I am a list maker. Always have been, although the older I get the more important it is. I was one of those people that used to remember all the details like phone numbers and little tidbits. I had several jobs working phones. One was a switchboard with 10 incoming lines for a international music company where I knew most of the extensions to everyone in the building. I can’t remember how many employees there were, but I’ll take a guess it was more than 300. I also worked on a switchboard after-hours at a medical clinic where patients would call in to get a hold of the on-call doctor.147

Getting back to how this all relates to the concept of time…. Somewhere in my 30’s I decided that if I had this stuff written down somewhere I wouldn’t have to remember it, clearing up all that brain power for other things! I find that with all the changes and advancements in technology I barely know anyone’s phone number at all anymore. they are all in that little Rolodex called a cell phone!

Some days time just flies by, other days it really seems like the day is longer. Not dragging on, just longer and it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with how much I get done or even how much energy that I have. Before I know it, it is the end of September. Some days are still go go go, and others I can just get lost in what I am doing. Taking plant cuttings and potting them up, starting seeds, planting things, or working on a sewing project or making cards.

Where does the time go? It is filed into the memory banks of our mind I guess.

How do you manage your time?

Sincerely, Emily

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On days like this I wonder why we greet the first day of spring with such glee, yet dismiss fall’s first day as just the awful downturn into winter. The spring equinox is muddy, cold, and grey and the trees have no leaves; fall is brighter and warmer, green and gold and full of food and life. It is the second harvest (the first is Lammas in early August) and the promise of a healthy winter. At Spring the stores are low, at Autumn they are bursting– I’m running out of shelf space.

By common law tradition, the autumn equinox is a “quarter day”– Michaelmas or the feast of the angels, a time for fairs, marriages and pay day.

I sit here writing this at approximately the moment of Equinox (and by the way, when did we start thinking of the Equinox as a “moment”), looking at the astonishing blue of the sky and the clarity of the light. There is nothing like the clear intensity of light on a cool autumn day.

I run my hands through the beans drying on the counter, loving the gentle music they make. The rattling of beans on the vine is one of those sure signs of autumn. Every year I face the dilemma– mix all the varieties together, or separate them? This year I’ll separate by color only- reds in one jar, whites in another. I grew Christmas Limas for seed for Peterson Garden Project; they’re all supposed to go to next year’s garden, but I think I’m going to need to siphon off a half cup to cook (for science, ahem). Plus 25 to grow in my own garden. The rest will go back into the project (pinky swear).

It was such a Sconeday— crisp and still– so I made scones– a rolled raspberry version made with half white and half oat flour. It seemed appropriate to use the last of summer’s raspberries, frozen since July, for the first day of autumn. I flavored them for the memory of summer-with orange zest, orange extract and coriander, and glazed with a little bit of peach preserve left over from the peach syrup I made a few weeks ago.

The afternoon will be spent transplanting two small caryopteris bushes to a sunnier spot in a friend’s yard, where I think they’ll thrive better than in the shady spots they inhabit here. She’ll get some divided white iris and phlox as well. I’ve run out room to divide in my own yard, and can’t bear to just toss them. The weather is slated to warm up later in the week, the perfect transplanting formula.

I’ll walk to the lake, as always, towards the end of the day, to honor the horizon and to hear the sound of angels’ wings that is the waves rolling onto the beach.

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Day Tripper

Sunday driver, yeah.

I work freelance. No sick days. No vacations. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid, so vacations of the take-the-family-to-Disneyland, rent-a-beach-house type just don’t happen.  The last time we took an actual trip was in 2007, when we went to see my daughter in California when she was on tour with Disney On Ice.

So I’m the master of the day trip. (I refuse to call it a staycation, a dreadful neologism that just makes my teeth hurt.)

Daytripping can happen a mile from your house, or across the state; the key is there and back in 24 hours. It might include a stay at a hotel, or it might just be “Tourist Day” downtown, where you ride the double decker bus, go to the top of the Sears Tower, have lunch at the tourist trap and buy a fake Chicago street sign for a souvenir.

Or it might be a concert in Woodstock Illinois, where they filmed Groundhog Day, about an hour out of town. Or lunch with a friend who has managed to actually retire.

I like to take “mental health days” since “weekend” is also an elusive concept when you’re self employed. You work when there’s work, not because the calendar confers some magical income-freedom on Saturday and Sunday. So you head to the museum, or the prairie bike trail, or the nature preserve.

And if you’re lucky enough to live in Chicago, you can even walk to the beach.

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When I was in college and living by myself, I used to make a big pot of something– spaghetti sauce, pea soup, stew– on Sunday nights, and then eat it all week.  I mostly did it because then I didn’t have to cook all week.

Here at the other end of my journey, I find myself in the same predicament, but it’s more because I just can’t get the hang of this cooking-for-one-person thing.

I’ve actually come up with strategies– I work late on Tuesday and Wednesday, so I need something easy to fix when I get home at 8:30. I need leftovers. So I make my too-big meals on Sunday and Monday, and reheat on Tuesday and Wednesday. This doesn’t help much with Thursday, when I work at night, and have to come up with something early, which I hate to eat early, and I end up having cheese and crackers for dinner at 10 p.m.

Which I suppose is a step above a bag of oreos.

One of my cooking-for-one innovations (you’ll be amazed to hear this is my own innovation; no one in the history of living alone has ever come up with this, in case you need to know who to credit), has been the amazing ability of the top of the fridge to actually freeze things.

I mostly use this for breads. I’ve discovered (NO, I did not read this in Barbara Kingsolver, okay maybe a little) that you can make pizza dough in large quantities ahead of time, divide and freeze, then just pull a single-pizza size out of the freezer a couple hours ahead of cooking, and voila– pizza! Same thing with pita. Since I make it myself, it was such a drag when it would go moldy or stale on me, until I read on the internet figured out (ahem) that I could bake them one at a time. Of course, you have to heat the baking stone at 450 for 45 minutes, so it’s not exactly energy efficient, but I don’t waste pita anymore.

It works for scones, too, which I learned from a scone-baking class, figured out about a month ago! This is helpful not so much for the problem of scones going bad, as for the problem of scones going in my mouth a dozen at a time, because I’m really good at scones and they are delicious.


What are you (not) cooking?

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1. Move to a farm, so there are actually things to do at 5 a.m.

2. Check the garden to see what the rabbits destroyed overnight.

3. Check the weather report at 5 or 6 different sites, to see if they agree.

4. Depending on your mood, believe either the worst or the best of them.

5. Try to go back to bed.

6. See if you can identify how many robins are currently singing.

7. Get up and wander around looking for something to do.

8. Realize if you were a slightly better person you’d wash the dishes you left in the sink last night.

9. Admit that if you were a much better person, you wouldn’t have left the dishes in the sink last night.

10. Discover that early morning talk radio is even more awful than midday talk radio.

11. Go back to bed

12. And NPR’s not much better.

13. Decide that the basement is still too creepy at this hour to go and fold the laundry.

14. Absolutely, positively DO NOT CHECK YOUR EMAIL, for pity’s sake, you are pathetic.

15. Check your email

16. Realize that if you brush your teeth, it means you’re not going back to bed.

17. Brush your teeth.

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Things he now has to do for himself:

Make the bed

Wash the dishes

Write a budget

Call friends

Pay taxes

Balance the checkbook

Go grocery shopping




Find a plumber (and an electrician)

Plan entertainment

Water the plants

What would you hate having to learn how to do, or do without, if the housekeeper your spouse wasn’t around anymore?

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