Simple Summer Pleasures

Simple Summer Pleasures

When I first got to Massachusetts ten years ago (how did that happen?), I was so enamored with spring and fall because all my life they had been novel, abstract concepts. Growing up in Hawaii, I loved grey, cool, rainy days. I loved any opportunity to wear a sweater (usually because of air conditioning). I loved reading books where characters took long walks with autumn leaves underfoot and ate hot things out of checkered thermoses.

Fall is still a special time—we got married in the fall, we go to Vermont in the fall, and now I even host a small blogger event in the fall—but over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate summer more and more. I used to be confused about why James was reticent about welcoming fall. He’d say, “It’s because winter is right behind it.” And, for some reason, at the time, winter didn’t bother me that much. But now, after the crazy winters we’ve had, I understand.

When I was little, my mom read us the Little House on the Prarie books, in which Laura Ingalls Wilder talks about their long, hard winters. She would probably scoff at my idea of a “hard” winter, which includes heat at the flick of a switch, four wheel drive, and my idea of “hard decisions” like whether to make pot roast or chicken noodle soup (with ingredients simply plucked from shelves and refrigerators). But winters are still very long. So long, in fact, that I’ve begun to worship summer like a true New Englander!

Simple Summer Pleasures

If we learned anything from the French while we were in Paris, it was how to take the time to enjoy simple pleasures. Summer in New England is abundant with these. It’s because of winter that even the mere act of opening the windows seems luxurious.

One of the simple things that I indulge in is podcasts, and my favorite is Happier with Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project) and her sister Elizabeth Kraft. I loved their recent “Try This At Home” tip, which suggested that listeners take advantage of the “amenities” of their homes. So often, people buy homes because of their great screened in porches, swimming pools, or man caves, but in the busyness of everyday life, they forget to use them. For us, it’s our balcony.

We’ve long thought of our balcony as a bit of a joke because it’s so narrow. To fit on it, normal-sized people have to sit sideways. Kona takes advantage of our balcony all year long–in the wintertime, when she gets hot, she paws at the door so that she can go out and tromp around in the snow (her favorite!). But the humans of this household almost never go out there. I’m a lounger, so buying a bistro set never really appealed to me. But then it came to me: a hammock!

Our contractor/handyman will come and put in the hooks for us this week (our building is made up of metal and wood studs, so it seemed safer not to DIY this time). In the meantime, Kona and I have been hanging out on the balcony, armed with pillows, library books, and blankets. In fact, as I write this, she’s curled up by my feet, breathing in the cool June morning air and occasionally lifting her head to look at our neighbors walking by below. I’m drinking my coffee. For me, there is so much pleasure to be found in not being rushed.

Simple Summer Pleasures

What simple pleasures are you finding in your summer days?

Love, Joy

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The $8 Product That Saved My Skin

For as long as I can remember I’ve struggled with my skin, and as a result I’ve tried just about every skincare regimen under the sun. And while my skin has become easier to manage as I inch toward my 30s, for awhile I was still having trouble with the texture of my skin and clogged pores.

Then, I began to include jojoba oil as part of my nightly routine, and my skin immediately felt better. While I was using those Biore pore strips on my nose two or three times a week, I now only need to use them once every other week, if that. After all the thousands of dollars I’ve spent on skincare over the years, it’s incredible that this single $8 product has made such a huge difference in my complexion.

Though I have combination skin, this oil is used by people with all skin types. It combats dry, flaky skin as well as over-productive pores. Want to try it for yourself?

Wash with a mild cleanser. After trying a huge range of cleansers, I’ve found Cetaphil to be the gentlest. Use warm, not hot water.

Turn on the television. The jojoba works best if you massage it into your skin for at least 10 minutes, so find a comfortable place to sit where you won’t feel inclined to do anything else. While this might, at first, be difficult it’s actually a great way to begin unwinding before bed.

Put three to four drops of jojoba oil on your fingers and massage into your skin. I begin with my T-zone, then work outward. You may feel little hard bits beading up under your fingers — that’s oil and dead skin coming up! Add more oil as needed.

After 10 to 20 minutes, rinse off the oil with cool water. Then use a damp washcloth to make sure all the oil is removed, moving the washcloth in small circular motions over your skin. Be gentle.

Use your nighttime moisturizer.

Voila! Your skin will feel instantly softer and smoother.

5 Simple Travel Tips

Five Easy Travel Tips

Our trip to Hawaii was a whirlwind. If any of you are following me on Instagram, you know that we first stopped in Portland for just a day so that I could say hello to Lindsey’s brand new baby girl. Then we hopped on over to O’ahu for four days with my family, and then over to the Big Island for a day in Waikoloa. I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

Travel, with its many varying components, can quickly become complicated. Since I’ve done a lot of moving about over the past decade, I’ve discovered a few techniques to simplify travel and I thought I’d share them with you.

Mail your clothes. Raise your hand if you always end up trying to do all your laundry the day before a big trip? Yeah, that’s me, too. I’m also the person whose luggage gets lost by the airlines all the time. Whenever I can, I ship my clothes out at least a week in advance of my departure so that I don’t have to worry about finding myself in either of those sticky situations. On top of that, I love the freedom of breezing through the airport without stopping at baggage claim.

Dress in layers. It seems to be that airplanes are either too hot or too cold, so I’ve finally developed a pretty good outfit for combatting either of those situations. Leggings, a tank top or sleeveless dress/tunic, a cardigan, and ballet flats. The flats also make it easy to go through security. Oh, and always pack a pashmina — airlines never seem to have blankets anymore, and even if they do, who knows how clean they are?

When possible, opt for rentals over hotels. For one thing, vacation rentals usually have a kitchen or kitchenette of some kind, so you can prepare some of your meals rather than eating out every single time. I’m also so much more interested in what locals do than going on sightseeing missions, so I try to look for rentals outside of the big tourist traps.

Pack a bag within your bag. I never have enough room in my small, under-the-seat carry on for everything I need during a flight. This might be because I’m kind of a high maintenance flyer — at any given moment, I may pull out socks, snacks, bulky noise canceling headphones, a book, a magazine, moisturizer…the list goes on. But I can’t to be one of those people who stand in the aisle to dig through their bigger carry on before hefting them into the overhead bin. I put whatever I may need in a handy, collapsible Envirosax bag at the very top of my big carry on, so I just have to pull out one thing before finding my seat.

Bring a thermos. When you’re trying to handle two carry ons and your tickets, things can quickly get messy with the addition of a drink. A few years ago, a friend gave me this vacuum tumbler from Tiger and I take it everywhere. It’s spill proof, and it keeps things at their original temperature for far longer than you could imagine. For early morning flights, I often ask the Starbucks baristas to mix their oatmeal in this thermos, which gives me something nice and hot to eat on the plane (just don’t forget to pack a long spoon!).

What tips can you share for the busy holiday travel season?

Five Simple Truths for a Happier Life

Janae is the founder of the health and lifestyle blog Bring Joy. There, she develops fabulous vegan and gluten-free recipes, exercise videos, and posts about her life as an Air Force wife and mother of four young children. She’s currently living in Washington State as a temporary single parent while her husband completes JAG training; the family will soon be moving to Texas.

Janae is one of those inspiring, deeply honest women who I know could run the world if she chose too. Here, she’s sharing five truths she’s discovered to live a simpler and more fulfilling life.

This summer my husband and I took our four kids on a road trip. It was a time of family, of being completely disconnected from our routines.  In three weeks, we traveled over 3,000 miles and passed through five states.  You could say it was our time to just be.

While my husband has been away on active duty military training, I have had time and space to think about what it means to live simply. For the past six months, I have had none of my personal belongings, other than a few sets of clothes and pairs of shoes.  My kids only have some of their books and clothing.  We’re living in my parent’s basement.  It’s odd, once you have separation from things, what that does to you.

On our road trip, one of our favorite places was the beach in southern Oregon.  We had come from the crowded beaches in California.  In Oregon, at least where we were, there was no one in sight.  It was just us, with the sand and water stretching into the horizon.  My boys could have spent the whole day there, playing tag with the waves, digging holes, running along the shore.

I’ve thought about that place often.  How that simplicity brought us so much joy, and how nature has a way of smoothing out the roughness of life.  And how I have filled my day to day life with things that only add clutter and chaos, when what I desire is simplicity.

I guess you could say I’ve been forced to scale back.  Without a home to care for and classes to teach (I used to teach a dozen fitness classes a week), my world has become open and rather simple.  I’ll admit that it’s taken a few months to get my bearings.  I’m a bit like a fish out of water, learning, discovering the answers to these questions: what do I really want out of life?  What is most important?

Here are five of things I’m discovering:

1.  Time is a finite commodity & my most precious resource.  Can I do something in a more efficient way?  If yes, will it be at the expense of my relationships?  If no, I know I need to do it.  I love social media (Twitter is my fave) and blogs.  But I’ve realized that the people and blogs that are important to me — the stuff I really care about — will rise to the top.  The other, non-essential stuff I’m not really all that passionate about will fall by the wayside.  Spending time online, unlike most other forms of media, have no end.  There is no end on the internet.  If you are an adult, there are no parental controls or limits on how much time you can spend blog hopping, tweeting, and facebooking.

2.  Real face time trumps all.  Eye connection, a person’s warmth, a handshake, or hug —  these things are far more valuable than a text, email, or tweet.  I strive to get as much face time as much as possible with the people who matter most.  That physical contact is a key component to happiness and security, which is missing in our modern lives.

3.  Free is free is free.  Did you know there are so many free, good things?  My faves:  the library, Pandora, parks, going for a walk, cuddling with my kids, doing my personal yoga practice at home.  And breathing deeply.  That’s free too, and that fresh air is good stuff.

4.  It’s much easier to reduce expenses than it is to earn more.  Readers of my blog know of my journey towards a debt-free life.  I’m realizing, in a very real, acute way, just how true this principle is.  I’m squeezing the life out of every penny that crosses my path.  And by golly, it’s making a huge difference.

5.  Ockham’s Razor just may be the answer.  Ockham was a mathematician who theorized:  “Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.”  In other words, when applied to science or math, if two competing theories make the same exact predictions, the simpler one is better.  I see these bizarre, complicated fad diets; ways to get rich quick; detailed and complicated parenting books — it seems as if we want to believe that the more complicated a process is, the more likely it is to work.  But experience has shown me, whether it be with weight loss, finances, or relationships, things are very simple.  It’s the simplicity of principles, not rigid, complicated rules, that set us free.

See more of Janae’s thoughts over at Bring Joy

More posts to love by Janae:
Pumpkin Caramel Blondie Bars
Workout Video: 5 Minute Abs
Get on the Debt Free Boat

You can also find Bring Joy on Facebook, Twitter, & Pinterest.  You can read more about Janae, here, & more about her family, here.

Words, Words, Words: Sharing in the Extra Ordinary

MJ is the author of Pars Caeli (“Little Piece of Heaven”), as well as a graphic designer and mother of three. At her blog, you’ll find all kinds of ways to discover good humor, thoughtfulness, and fun in the everyday. MJ is a fantastic writer, and I’m so glad that she’s agreed to share this story of simplicity with us. Thank you, MJ, for being a great friend, and for being a source of inspiration in happy living.

One year ago, we embarked on the journey of home renovation, and it was definitely an experience as much as an end product. It began as an effort to extend the laundry/mini-mudroom leading to the garage. The overflow of shoes, backpacks, and laundry baskets was becoming a fire hazard and an unwelcome greeting to our every entrance.

When we reviewed the plans, my husband and I realized we were beginning a domino fall. Move the laundry? Well, that means we should finish off more of the basement. Take down that wall? Move that stud? Well, you get the idea. In order to complete all that needed to be done, we packed up the playroom (you know that space that has every small toy, party favor, and leftover artwork in it?), and the contents of the entire first floor of our house. All of the stuff of our lives was distributed and stored upstairs in our bedrooms and bathroom, or the small storage space remaining in our basement. I’m not sure how many boxes it took, but I know that we made at least three trips to our local grocery store to snatch the last of the sturdy egg boxes. Those egg boxes filled up quickly.

My children, then 6, 4, and 2 were excited about all the change and new people entering their home. They were not delighted to pack up their toys or see them stacked to the ceiling in Mommy and Daddy’s bathroom, unusable until further notice. I was also more than slightly concerned with how this upheaval was going to affect the kiddos. How long would they peacefully go without a space to hang out? How long would we go without appliances and home cooked meals?

In my efforts to design more space and more openness and more, more, more, I discovered that what we needed was a little less and a smattering of simplicity.

One year later, what do my children remember from the renovation experience?: “Mommy, I wish we could all eat dinner on your bed like we did when our house was changed.”

Reworking spaces had us without a kitchen or the usability of our first floor so we all camped out together in the master bedroom, eating pizza on our comforter and giggling over the funny noises and strange new smells in our house. Polyurethane on hardwood floors moved us out of our house and into a local hotel for a few days, and my children love to talk about the time we spent swimming in the middle of winter and the silly trips on the luggage cart in their slippers before school.

Those toys we packed up in box after box? Most of them remain in the boxes a year later. They’re now ready for charity as my children have learned they didn’t really need (or want) all that stuff back in their shared play space. The playroom is brighter and bigger than it was before, and it’s also more empty, or rather more full of dancing space and room to create.

I have more storage space than ever, but we buy less now. We keep less. I think we’ve all learned that making fun moments together beats any mound of toys or books or craft supplies (ahem) that we might gather. Simplifying has created a renewed sense of peace and purpose in our home.

As the holidays approach, I remind myself of the laughter we shared skipping on cement floors and throwing picnics in the hallway. Our Christmas lists this year will include intentional moments together, sharing in the extra-ordinary. The requests for toys will be simplified–and the plans for holiday adventures will be amplified.

How has simplicity impacted the relationships in your life?

Check out MJ’s blog, Pars Caeli, for a daily dose of her happiness philosophies. And check out her Pinterest boards for inspiration of all kinds, including a thoughtfully curated typography board (my favorite!)

Photo by MJ of Pars Caeli

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