Posts Tagged ‘simplicity’

Some of you might be saying, “The holidays?  Already?  Isn’t it too early for that?”   I’ll admit that I don’t like hearing Christmas carols in the grocery store in October or walking past rows of Christmas trees before the leaves have even fallen from the trees outside, but if you are thinking about planning holiday events and parties – now is the time to begin.

 And this is one of my favourites. 

 What is a “New-To-You Gift Swap?”

It is similar to the standard office party/large group gift exchange, where everyone brings a gift to the event, and everyone takes a different gift home.  The big difference is that the gift you bring is something you already own. 

What types of items do people bring to a new-to-you exchange?

It could be that beautiful Christmas ornament that you just never put out, or that scarf you were given that you never wear because it doesn’t match your coat, or that game you thought you’d love but your family never plays.  It’s something that you don’t use anymore, but you think someone else might love.  This leads to a whole lot of variety, and a whole lot of fun.  One year one of the party-goers in my group of friends wrapped up a tacky Christmas sweater as her contribution to the exchange.  What a laugh we had when that gift was opened!  It was quickly followed with a photo shoot of the recipient modeling the “beautiful” sweater.  It was such fun that it has become a tradition and there always seems to be a festive sweater hidden in the pile each year (and with the popularity of “ugly sweater” parties, it has actually become a very useful gift!)  J   Of course, if you only want pretty things or useful things at your party, you can just say so in your invite.   

Why bother?  Why not just buy something new?

In my group of friends, the gift exchange started as a way to share the joy of gift giving with each other, without having to add another item to our long “to buy” lists.  For those of us concerned about the environment, it is a way to reuse and recycle and lesson the “consumer” aspect of the holiday season.  But most of all – it’s fun!  The selection of gifts is always varied and it’s exciting to see what items will appear in the gift exchange each year. 

How do you decide who gets what gift?

This is the fun part!  We play a game commonly called a “Yankee Swap” around here.  (I have no idea how it got that name.)  You can find the rules here.  It’s the swapping and exchanging part of this gift-giving game that makes it so enjoyable – and it’s always interesting to see which gifts are the most popular and most often swapped.  There are other ways you could hand out gifts, of course.  But adding a game aspect adds to the excitement. 

What would I write in an invitation?

On top of the usual “what, where, when” here are some things you might include:

You are invited to a “New-to-You Gift Swap” – a gift exchange party without the stress of buying a gift!

As part of this evening of fun and giving, each person will give a gift, and go home with a different gift.  The only rule is – the gift must be something you already own.  Maybe it’s something you have, but never use.  Or something you love, but don’t need anymore. It doesn’t matter what the item is, as long as it is something that can be used by someone else.  The variety of gifts is half the fun!  Don’t forget to wrap it up!

Take it a step further

Are you loving the swap idea?  Here are a few ideas to take it a notch further:

  • Have a tacky swap party.  If laughs are more important than the gift, have everyone search their houses for the tackiest thing they can find and wrap that up!  This might be a great accompaniment to one of those “ugly sweater” parties!
  • With a really close group of friends you could go in the other direction and have everyone bring something they own that they really love.  This is the true spirit of giving, isn’t it?  Giving things that are important to us to those we love!
  • If you really want to make this an earth-friendly party, you could also encourage reusable wrapping for your exchange gifts.

Time to Party!

Does anyone else host these types of parties or plan to hold one this year?  Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments!

 I was inspired to write this post after “meeting” Amy from  Joy to the Earth.  Her plan for a more joy-filled, less commercial Christmas really resonated with me.  It reminds me of the story of the Grinch – where Christmas came to Whoville even without the presents, the decorations, the roast beast.  That’s the holiday I am celebrating this year – the one that makes us sing for joy no matter what is lying beneath the tree!  Happy party planning!

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Taking Time

I am the first to admit that I like to be busy.   As wild and crazy as life can be, I am the one who most often chooses to make it wilder and crazier.  I do this almost without thinking about it, as I pile my already full “plate” with more projects, new hobbies, and a long list of “shoulds.”  (Kind of like the way your eyes get bigger than your stomach as you pile your plate high with amazing food from the buffet table or potluck.)  Although in moments of being overwhelmed by a huge “to do” list, I sometimes forget that I had a choice in the matter. 

But choice I do have, and in the midst of my many self-induced (and very exciting!) projects, I am also making a conscious effort to take time.

Time to read a book.

Time to visit with family.

Time to meet with friends.

Time to listen.

Time to rest.

Time to leave the projects half-done to sit with a good cup of tea in front of a fire and chat with my husband. 



And as much as I am in the habit of saying “yes” to so many projects, I am also in the habit of saying “no” to so many other good things which don’t quite seems as “productive” to my task-oriented mind.  When friends ask to spend time together, the projects and due dates always seem more pressing and besides, there will be other times to get together, right?


But sometimes those next times just don’t come.


So I am practicing saying “yes” more often. 


Yes to going out to dinner with friends.


Yes to visiting.


Yes to get-togethers.


Yes to just “hanging out.”


And although the projects still exert a strong pull, somehow I know, deep down, that these moments spent with others add up to much more than any other goal or achievement. 


It doesn’t mean I am giving up on my dreams and goals and aspirations.  And it certainly doesn’t mean I am going to give up being “busy.”  (What on earth would I do if I didn’t have 10 projects on the go???)  It just means, that when the question of how to spend my time today comes up, I will try to base my answer on what is most important, and that may not always be that new project I’ve just begun.

My brain may have it backwards, but my heart knows what is right.

In the midst of all the busyness of life, what are you taking time for this summer?

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Simple Beauty

Hubby and I have discovered a new place to walk.  It’s a bit unconventional for this girl, but it’s quiet (except for the odd woodpecker and rooster) and it has some beautiful scenery.

Sometimes it pays to walk off the beaten track.  This “trail” starts a 5 minute jaunt from our house and we’ve walked the bridge over it more times than I can count.  And then one day we decided to walk beside it.  It’s amazing the beauty you can find when you aren’t necessarily looking for it. 

Where is there beauty around you today?

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A good book should leave you… slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it. ~William Styron, interview, Writers at Work, 1958

As my life seems to be getting busier and busier I am finding it even more important than usual to carve time out of my day to read.  Living vicariously through the lives of others gives me a wee break from my own thoughts and worries and tops up my tired brain with new insights and ideas.  Here are a few I have been pondering over the last month or so.

Better Off  byEric Brende.  I loved this book.  Probably because sometime in my early twenties I decided that I was born in the wrong century and really wished I could spend my life on the ‘ol homestead.  At its core, that is not really what this book is about, but it is what got me hooked.  The author takes his brand new wife on an 18-month adventure  living in a rural community without electricity or electrically controlled mechanics of any kind.  He explores what it really means to be “self-sufficient” and how “work” can become something that doesn’t feel like “work” at all.  He tries to answer the question “Is there such a thing as too much technology?” and what he discovers resonated with me.  (But I still love my computer.)

Thunder and Lightening by Natalie Goldberg.  Having devoured Natalie’s earlier books Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind several years ago, this one came as a bit of a shock.  There is a hardness, a sadness, to Natalie’s voice that certainly did not appear in her earlier works.  But there is a deepness there too.  In some way I believe (at least in my mind) that she has moved from encouraging teacher to wise writing mentor, and although I miss the upbeat positivity I remember from her earlier works, there is the truth of “Real Life” that resonates through this book that I can’t ignore.  In its serious and sincerity, I am reminded that there is a lot of work I still need to do. 

29 Gifts in 29 Days by Cami Walker.   I am not sure how this book came to be on my reading list.  I think it was one of those Amazon “If you liked this book, you might enjoy this one” (which I always take to mean…if you liked this book, see if the library has that one…)  or perhaps it was a suggestion I read on someone’s blog post?    Regardless, it got moved way up on my reading list for the sole reason that the library, indeed, had a copy and it was available right away. 

In this autobiographical work, the author shares how she moved past her struggles with MS by cultivating a giving attitude in giving 29 gifts in 29 days.  The spirituality in this book is definitely not my own, and the foul language that appears in parts of this book grates on me,  yet there is something compelling about this story.   I think there is truth to her words in how focusing on giving to others changes who we are and what we believe about ourselves and our lives.  I love that most of the gifts are not monetary, but gifts of time, compassion, a listening ear.   Her idea obviously resonates with many as it has grown into a worldwide movement of giving documented at 29gifts.org.

What about you?  What books have you read recently?

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I wanted to try something different today, so for this blog post I bring you….

My first video!

On which I share with you one of my favourite kitchen tools (I can just see you jumping up and down with excitement right now!!  Andi’s talking about kitchen tools – woohoo!)

Seriously, though, I do love my mortar and pestle, and for a relatively small investment it can dramatically change the flavour of your cooking. 

Check it out:

Not bad for my first video, right?  (Humour me, ok?) 

As well as spices you can also use a mortar and pestle to make pastes from fresh herbs (like pesto) without turning the leaves brown, pounding garlic, or breaking up nuts into small pieces.  I’ve also found that I’m not alone in my love of the stone over ceramic,  many chefs agree that the weight and roughness of the stone makes for the best pounding and grinding action. 

And this tool has certainly stood the test of time.  There are apparently references to its use in Egypt in 1550 B.C.  I wonder if the food processor will make it that long…..

What’s your favourite cooking tool?

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Turning off the TV

We lost our TV a few months ago due to our ongoing house renovations.  (We still own it, it’s just dusty and dirty and the only place to sit and watch it is just a few centimeters from the screen.) 

And I haven’t missed it. 

Not that I have ever been a big TV watcher to begin with, but when it was there to be watched, and there was something interesting on, there I would be, hoping to see something new, or informative, or entertaining. 

Now that it’s not there, I have missed every “interesting” program that has been on in the last three months.

And I haven’t given it a second thought.

When we had a TV, and I came home from work exhausted, I would sometimes plunk myself down in front of the thing “just to relax.” 

Now I curl up with a good book, catch up on my favourite blogs, sew, or write. 

When we had a TV, I would often cuddle up next to Hubby in the evenings, just to be near him and watch whatever he was watching (although I might ask  him to change the channel first…..)  And then I would get hooked into the program and convince myself it was ok to stay up late to see it to the end…. and another night would go by when I wouldn’t get enough sleep.

Now there are nights when hubby and I cuddle up in bed with our books, two bookworms enjoying the written word, and each others company.  And when I’m tired, the bookmark holds my place until the next night.  

It’s funny how you never realize how something impacts your life, until you experience life without it. 

And I hope when it returns (and hubby assures me it WILL be returning) that I will remember that I am happier without it.

Have you ever had something removed from your life, only to discover that you didn’t really need it the way you thought you did?

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Real Life happens at the kitchen sink

I spend a lot of time here, at the kitchen sink. 


When hubby and I were looking for a house, one of the things we decided we didn’t need was a dishwasher.  

There are days I regret that decision.

 Days when I just want the pile of dishes that snake across the counter to magically clean themselves so I can move on to “Real Life.”

In the same way that when I was 6 I wanted to be 10, and when I was 10 I wanted to be 16, and when I was in university I just wanted to be working. 

We push past where we are now, and start to resent the simple everyday moments, hoping to spend more time on the Real Things of life, whatever those things may be.

But I am discovering that perhaps, Real Life happens during those everyday, seemingly tedious activities, like doing the dishes.

Standing at the kitchen sink I am reminded of many hours spent in a similar fashion with those that I love.

My grandfather was the dish washer in my grandparent’s household and when I would visit and we would do dishes together, he would sing to me.  In the silly way that life works it is one of the few times I would hear him lift his voice and sing as I would be serenaded with renditions of “A Bicycle Built for Two” and “Jeepers Creepers.”  It is a side of my grandfather I may not have seen without meeting at the kitchen sink.  Sometimes when I am doing dishes it is almost like having him back again as I see him in my minds eye dancing and singing and scrubbing at the same time. 

Sometimes, at my own house, when the whole family was gathered together, I would be given the night off from dish duty if I would sit at the piano and “play us a tune.”  On those days my memories were of music and the sound of many voices and laughter wafting down the hallway from the kitchen, and, especially at Christmas time, singing voices of all kinds lifted in cheerful song.  

When I moved far from home, dish time became phone chat time, and although my grandmother left this earth over a year ago, there is hardly a time that I pick up washcloth and soap that I don’t long to pick up the phone and hear her voice once again.  Sometimes I can still hear her in my head, chatting about the ladies at quilting, the goings-on at her church, and the amazing meals she had the joy of partaking in (my grandmother always did like to talk about food!) 

And dish time is still a time to chat with my mother.  Often she is doing dishes too as we talk, and we are connected by that daily task of soaping and scrubbing, drying and putting away.  The clink of the dishes, the splashing of the water, the closing of a cupboard door are the background music to our weekly conversations.  

And dish time in my house is also alone time.  A time to pray.  To reflect.  To think.  To ponder.  To sing.  To be quiet.  To enjoy good music.  To talk.  To learn.  To laugh.  And even…. To cry.  To be angry.  To let frustrations out.  To calm down.  To get worked up. 

To live. 

This daily task is a part of the rhythm of my life.  It is the connecting tissue of some of my fondest memories.

Who knew there could be so much power in a sink full of dirty dishes? 

I’m not saying I rejoice when it is time to do the dishes.  But I have a better appreciation for how Real Life happens in the small, everyday, moments, and I stop wishing the time away, and start accepting it as part of a full and beautiful life. 

What about you?  Do you find ways to savour the everyday moments of life?

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Absolutely nothing but snow! 

We haven’t seen snow like this in a while.  Usually it snows and melts snows and melts.   But this year it snows and snows and snows some more.

That’s the picnic table under there.  Anyone up for an alfresco dinner?

What’s that?  You’re up for a snow picnic?  Well…first we have to get out the door! 

It’s the perfect weather for building a snowman, snowshoeing and snowball fights.    We’ll be giggling and smiling in the cold air as our boots crunch in the snow, snowflakes tickle our faces and our cheeks turn rosy red.    And then we’ll put another log in the wood stove and cuddle under a blanket with a good book. 

Today I am relishing the joys of a winter wonderland.   How about you?

Winter came down to our home one night
Quietly pirouetting in on silvery-toed slippers of snow,
And we, we were children once again.
~Bill Morgan, Jr.

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Why Do We Have Winter?

There is a reason that I don’t mind having to shovel several feet of snow off the front walk; that I am not concerned that if I walked out onto the back porch today I would be buried up to my neck in snow; and that I come to school each day toting a hat, thick mittens, giant wool socks, snow pants, coat and boots, just so I can go outside with my students and not turn into a popsicle. 

Although I love to snowshoe, it is not for that reason that I am finding joy in the wintery weather today.

And as much as I enjoy being toppled into snowbanks by my fun-loving hubby, it is not for that reason either that I have decided to sing Winter’s praises.

It is because I know

That in about five months time

It is going to make this moment

That much sweeter.

Wishing you sunshine today, whatever the weather might be!

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Sometimes it is the little things in life that you just have to stop for a moment and appreciate. 

Hubby made chocolate sauce today.  This is a fairly normal occurence.  But take a look at the bottle he found to store it in.

 Chocolate syrup, or top-secret potion?   Perhaps when I think he is making chocolate sauce he is really brewing some kind of secret elixer….I know I will smile whenever he takes it out of the fridge. 

What little thing made you smile today?

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