Friday, May 20, 2016

Book Review: I Am Not A Minimalist...Or Wait! Am I?

I would never describe myself as a minimalist.  I have had my life enriched by voluntary simplicity, sure and can be a little old-fashioned, too.   But I've got an abundance of stuff.  In fact, a lot of it comes along with our DIY, simple lifestyle.  I've got sewing supplies, garden supplies, canning supplies, cooking supplies, soap making supplies, knitting supplies, tools, musical instruments, etc.  I love art in all sorts of mediums and have countless pieces displayed around the house--on the walls, shelves, windowsills, and so on.  It's not sparse.  It's not blank.  It's not bland.
Gee, "sparse, blank, bland."  That makes it all the more clear to me that I've been holding a very limited view of minimalism in my mind's eye.

I recently finished this book, The More of Less by Joshua Becker, and it sort of hit me.  I guess, I am a minimalist.  Huh.  That was surprising.  I mean, I knew I liked things clear and tidy.  I knew I was organized.  I knew I didn't enjoy shopping and prefer to spend my money on experiences rather than things.  I knew I valued quality over quantity.  But still....I was indeed surprised, somehow, by this realization.  Me, a minimalist!  Ha!
I guess I was forcing minimalism into a one-size-fits-all sort of approach, which, the book made abundantly clear is NOT the case.  There are loads of ways to practice and live minimalism in the day-to-day.  That was pretty revolutionary thinking for me.  Why did I always think it involved so much whiteness...?  Turns out that minimalism is really about removing unwanted, non-essential distractions and clutter so that we're free to focus on what we really love.  The emphasis should be on what is kept, not what is given away.  That definition makes sense to me.
Joshua Becker is a blogger and this is his first book.  Unlike my ramblings here, his blog has a very clear theme--minimalism.  More specifically I think Joshua is trying to save the world by making people realize enough is enough.  That by having too much, likely that means someone else doesn't have enough.  That we can all make a difference just by buying, storing, and using less.  I'd never heard of Joshua or his blog before I selected this book through my Blogging For Books connection.  It is a good message though and one I am totally on board with spreading.  We (most of us) live surrounded by too much and rather than making us happier its making us more tired, crabby, disconnected, harried, and discontent.  And its ruining the planet, too.
The short review of The More of Less is that it is a very fine introduction for those who are tired of perpetually chasing the so-called American Dream with a credit card.  It was easy to read and offered practical places to start and answers to common questions.

The long review is more complicated and much more personal.
The book wasn't terribly thrilling for me and in the end I realized it was because a lot of it was, well, old news.  I don't have a closet overstuffed with clothes.  I read advice in the section about creating routines which prevent clutter from rebuilding once you've minimized and was already doing them.  One of the examples was just taking the two minutes to drop all the junk mail in the recycling bin as you sort through the mail so it doesn't just pile up on a table or counter for days or weeks.  I'd never thought of it as clutter control or minimalism.  I just put rubbish where it goes and straight away--because who likes looking at a stack of auto flyer and pizza ads?
Additionally, I found much of the advice not super applicable to the life we lead today.  We don't eat out.  We don't got to the mall.  We don't have cable.  We only have one car.  Heck, we don't even have the internet.  At one point I was reading about a couple who realized they'd spent $10,000 on online purchases over the past four years, none of which were more than $40.  I've heard about the hazards of One-Click-Shopping from friends and colleagues, but it's not something with which I have much personal experience.  The idea of frittering away $10,000 like that on small, inconsequential household purchases, how I else can I say it.  It makes my brain say:  Does Not Compute.  It is too far from my life.
This is the same thing that I feel when I cycle past a garage that is packed to the brim with boxes and stacks.  I don't get it.  I just don't get it.  And I am thankful for that because according to some stats from The More of Less, this is a fairly common problem for the average American--25% of those with two-car garages cannot park even one car in there on account of all the clutter and an additional 32 % have room for only one car in there.  That blew my mind....until I remembered all those garages I've passed on my trips through town.
I found a lot of the advice and "revelations" just a couple years too late to be super helpful to me.  That said, I could see how it might benefit many other people I know, people at an earlier stage in their quest to simplify, reduce, and refocus.  I think we all know people who have very good paying jobs, but never enough money for what they want.    People who are always getting the newest tablet, smartphone, etc, even though theirs is still perfectly good.  People who watch hours and hours of television a week and complain about never having enough time to practice their art or take more vacations or spend more time with family.

[Sidebar:  One of the new-to-me ideas I found most interesting was the difference between "functional obsolescence" and "technological obsolescence."  The former is when a device stops working right and prevents you from performing needed tasks so you "need" to buy a new one.  The latter is when the next upgrade gets released and makes your current device out of date so you "want" to buy a new one.]
I think the message that makes this book different from any other cluttering/minimizing/organizing type book or article I've read is Joshua's insistence on service to those in need, that it's not just about improving your own life, but the lives of others.  He goes beyond just telling you to donate your extra stuff to service organizations and urges people to realize that the less stuff you own the more time and money you have to make a difference in the world.  He advocates starting to volunteer and make donations to charities a part of daily life, even small contributions.  I liked that a lot, even if it did get, well, a little preachy.  Its good stuff.  I volunteer a couple places and donate, very sporadically, to charities.  I can totally see how it's a circle of goodness.  I feel good helping and others benefit from my help.  Still, this is something I'd like to place an even greater emphasis on in my life.  That chapter has given me things to think about.
I also really dig how much emphasis Joshua places on meaningful relationships.  His own journey into minimalism starts because he's too busy trying to clean out the garage to play ball with his son.  Clearly, his son is more important than a bunch of stuff he didn't use.  So, he got rid of it and found more time for his family.  In a world where people are feeling more often isolated and disconnected from people I thought this was a refreshing perspective.  And a simple one.
There is a Christian tone to the book which I wasn't expecting.  Its not a book that's trying to convert anyone though.  That is the background Joshua grew up in and is active in to this day.  It makes sense he's made it jive with his minimalist lifestyle.  I mean, I doubt Jesus would be living in a big ol' house, buying new sandals on eBay, even if he had the chance.  So, the Christian element was neither a deal breaker or maker for me.
I'm going to pass the book along to someone who I think would get a lot out of it.  I don't know who yet and am giving it some thoughtful consideration, but I am certain it can serve someone I love well.  I'm glad to have read it, but don't see myself referring to it often enough to justify its shelf space.  (Hmmm...there I go again with my, apparently, minimalist tendencies....).  And I can always check out his blog.  That seems just like what Joshua would want me to do.
Having less really is more, I know that.  Its been a blessing in my life to come to this realization.  There is so much freedom and joy in simplicity.  Or minimalism.  Or whatever you want to call it.  Less is more.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book through Blogging for Books in exchange for my review.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Me-Made-May: Week Two Photo Round-Up

Below is my photo round-up for the second week of my Me-Made-May Dresses challenge.   This week I wore quite a few dresses which its turned out I've never really blogged about--the Hiking Dress, the Charcoal Dress, the Tie-Dyed T-Shirt Dress, the Blue Floral Slinky Dress, and the Yellow Dress.
May 8: I wore The Hiking Dress, a base layer of black leggings and long sleeves, and my newly beloved leopard print scarf.  We spent the day on a long dayhike toward Cache Lake in Yellowstone National Park.  We got less than 1/4 mile from the lake before the waist deep snow finally made us stop.  We had a fine time basking in a sunny meadow, drying off, and reading.  I did learn that The Hiking Dress is not idea for wet conditions.  Its made of a thick, durable cotton duck material.  The skirt was quite wet from the knee down.  Fortunately my gaiters kept my actual legs quite comfortable.  The Black Dress, while made of a less sturdy fabric, dries so much more quickly.  That was a good realization for any future outdoorsy dresses I make.  
May 9: Man, was I tuckered out from the twenty miles of hiking over the weekend.  I blame it on all the miles we tramped (or more accurately, post holed) our way through the snow.  Whew!  I was whipped!  As such, I spent the day being lazy in The Charcoal Dress, a double knit number that I quite, quite like, with a paisley scarf and my standard black base layer.    I even, gasp, drove to work instead of walking or cycling.  That is how I can tell I am bushed.
May 10: With my legs feeling pretty much back to normal I wore The Thanksgiving Dress as I cycled (through the wind and rain) to and from work.   Matt and I spent the night tidying the house and then, following a change of clothes on my part, worked on a bunch of tie-dye in preparation for our upcoming vending season.
May 11: My friend, Kelly, has a birthday the day before mine.  We usually try to do something together to celebrate.  This year I attended our double birthday dinner party in the Yellow Floral dress.  This one is probably my favorite dress of all.  It just fits great and is so bright and lively.  Its made from a bedsheet I bought at the Salvation Army thrift store when I still lived at home.  I should make some more bedsheet dresses.
May 12: I wore the Slinky Blue Floral Dress while I worked, came home to hurriedly mow the lawn, and then get packed for my birthday weekend excursion to Yellowstone.  It was a very nice, lightweight dress to mow the lawn it, I must say.   I was disappointed to find a run in the slinky fabric already.  Its so pretty, but this dress may prove to drive me over the edge.  Memo to Beth:  Choose your fabric wisely.
May 13: Technically I failed to snap a photo of my outfit on Friday.  I do have this one of my lower half though so....  After getting off work we headed for the mountains and camped at a forest service campground north of the park.  I was wearing the Tie-dyed T-Shirt Dress.  The dye pattern didn't turn out quite like I'd hoped since the material is a blend of natural and synthetic fibers, but is sure is a comfy dress.  In fact, I wore it all weekend long.
May 14: As just mentioned, I wore my Tie-Dyed T-Shirt Dress on Saturday, too, as we spend the day cycling and hiking in Yellowstone.  We'd never had our bicycles in the park before.  It was incredible.  Both days it was paired with my black base layer and a blue-black-grey scarf.  Again, I technically failed to snap a photo of my outfit so here is one with my upper half.  Put the two days together and I'm all set!  :)

Monday, May 16, 2016

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Trout Lake Loop

Its Yellowstone season again for Matt and me.  Huzzah.  We've already got several swell hikes under our belt for the year.  We had to buy a new guidebook, actually, as we've systematically worked through nearly every hike in our old book.
Trout Lake was a secondary dayhike for us a couple weeks ago.  At only 2 miles round-trip its a super easy one to tack on when a morning hike is over, there is still plenty of afternoon left, and you're not quite ready to call in quits for the day--but also not feeling ambitious enough for something more strenuous.  Additionally its a mild, easy enough stroll as to make a keen picnic spot, too.
The trailhead is in the beautiful Lamar Valley in the northeast portion of the park.  There is a turnout at the trailhead located on the north side of the road, almost 19 miles east of Tower Junction.  From the pullout the trail climbs for a half mile through the forest gaining about 120-125 feet of elevation--and after that it was flat, smooth sailing.
The Soda Butte Creek is not too far below the trail and its sound kept us company as we hiked.  Always a delightful hiking companion, those rustling mountain streams.  There were lots of humongous trees, though most of the largest were also dead.  Even dead the were mighty impressive.
The Trout Lake Trail is a lolly-pop loop around Trout Lake.  I really like loops and a loop ringing a lake is certainly splendid.  It allows so many different vantage points from which to take in the quiet reflection and ripples of Trout Lake as well as offering chances to observe waterfowl and other critters along the shoreline.
Trout Lake is one of those interesting demonstrations of how the park service has adjusted its management policies to be more ecologically minded.  Trout Lake was once home to an in-park fishery and the lake stocked with Rainbow Trout.  These trout have bred with the native Cutthroat Trout resulting in a hybridized subspecies--the Cutbow.   The emphasis has shifted from more-fish-for-people-to-catch to preserve-native-species-and-habitats.  Fishing is still allowed, but is not unnaturally inflated with non-native game fish.  The park is still working to repair some of the damage done.  Cutthroat Trout are strictly catch and release at Trout Lake.  Rainbows and Cutbows are allowed to be kept because they really shouldn't be there in the first place.  I've read that the trout spawn in the creek on the north end of Trout Lake during the early summer, though I've not seen it myself.  We might try and catch the spawning here in a couple weeks, time permitting.
We sat on a fallen log which rested on the grassy banks of the lake and enjoyed a drink and snack.  There were lots of birds to watch, most notably a nine-pack of the fabulous Eared Grebes and a Mountain Bluebird singing his heart out.  Those grebes were simply stunning.  We also saw plenty of fish jumping.
It was so quiet.  So still.  The day was quite grey, but the smooth, still water managed to reveal itself a lovely, deep, emerald green nonetheless.
The trail along the west bank of the lake was still quite deep with snow, but we followed in the footsteps of those who went before us and managed to keep it out of our boots.  I guess that comes with the territory when mountain hiking the last weekend of April!
Just as we were planning to head back down the trail Matt ran into someone he knew!  What a small world!  One of Matt's "regulars" from the tie-dye business was accompanying her son and his AP Biology class on a trip through the park.  For such a large park and so many places to go it was rather bizarre to cross paths with her.  Of course, we ran into a class from the college where I work in the park last year.  This past weekend we ran into a friend on the boardwalks in the Upper Geyser Basin.  Its a small world indeed.
After concluding the loop around the lake we crossed a footbridge and returned to the road via the stem of the lolly-pop trail.  Short and sweet.
I had to marvel at the fact one can find such a quiet, little lake packed with so many birds, and so much tranquility just a mere mile from the roadway.  It was a splendid place to spend a few hours, soaking it all in.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Me-Made-May: Week One Photo Round-Up

Last year I thought, "I should really take a photo of my Me-Made-May outfits."  And then I never did.  So, this year I thought I'd try again.  I have only forgotten one day out of nine so far.  Improvement!
May 1:  I spent the day in Yellowstone National Park wearing The Black Dress.  Most of the day I had leggings and a long sleeve shirt underneath of it, but by afternoon I'd ditched the base layers and was enjoying the sun on my bare arms.  I wore it with a leopard print scarf that I at first thought might not be my style, but quickly has become a weekly scarf staple.  Sometime I surprise myself.
May 2:  I spent the morning unpacking from our trip to Yellowstone and putting the house back together, in general.  I mowed the lawn and then worked the night shift at the library.  I was rocking my newest creation--The Slinky Blue Floral.  I love it now that its finished, but man, was it a pain in the neck to sew.  SO slinky.
May 3:  I wore The Coordinated Dress, which currently lays claim to the title of My Favorite Dress.  I played catcher for the faculty/staff vs. student softball game--where, I might add, I cracked people up diving after a pop foul ball.  I was told it "made my day" by one of my teammates.  Following the game we had a  sort of collaborative dinner party with some new friends. 
May 4:   I forgot to take a photo.  Ooooops!  It was The Blue Floral and Brown Wool number paired with the navy cardigan worn on May 3rd. 

May 5: I wore the Ruffled Blue Floral Dress.  Our friend, April hosted fajita night and we went over for dinner and to help her rerack her first batch of mead as it was, at long last, done fermenting.  We had a fire and played with April's adorable, wee little chicks!
May 6: We camped just outside of Yellowstone.  We had s'mores and a beer or two around the fire after setting up camp. Technically, I failed to take a photo of my outfit so this snap of me eating a s'more will have to do.  Its The Black Dress again, paired with a different scarf and then buried under two jackets--and overtop two pairs of leggings!  That wind was brisk.
May 7:  I don't really change clothes all that much when camping.  I fail to see the point, for the most part.  So, Saturday found me in The Black Dress again (or still, as the case may be) and the same blue-grey-white scarf.
That Black Dress is going to skew the stats, so to speak, on account of all the time I'm spending hiking and camping this month.  Its a fantastic camping dress.  That wasn't my intention when I first made it, but it really is.  Its lightweight, dries quickly, doesn't snag readily, is easily layered, and of course has deep pockets.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Birds, Bison, and Bears - A Yellowstone Weekend Round-Up

Black Bear
We were having lunch at the Yellowstone River Picnic Area and struck up conversation with the family at the next table.  They were wondering about this, "really big crow," and I taught them it was a raven--that's why it was so much bigger than normal.  The little boy asked me what was the coolest bird I ever saw.  That is a question almost impossible to answer.  I probably come up with a different answer every time.  The Dad asked if we'd come to Yellowstone to do some bird watching.  We told him we just bird wherever we go.  We came for the hiking and the birds are just a part of that experience.  It was a neat exchange.

Eared Grebes
As I've said before, my primary passion about Yellowstone National Park is the geothermal wonders--hotsprings, geysers, fumeroles, and all the other reminders of the rich (and ongoing) volcanic history of the area.  That said, its hard not to delight at the the critters.  Over the past weekend we were able to identify 39 different species--28 birds, 10 mammals, and one reptile.  A fairly solid weekend.
This Mountain Bluebird perched on the same fallen tree that we were using as a bench and sang his pretty heart out.
Bison are ubiquitous in the park.  Even still, they were just everywhere this past weekend.  There was almost always a bison in sight in one direction or another.
Eared Grebes have swell little crests, brilliant red eyes, and very fancy looking "ear" feathers.  Even just in silhouette I find them magnificent.   Those eyes are mesmerizing.  We sat on the banks of Trout Lake and watched them tool around the lake, back and forth.
Birds:
Common Raven
Sandhill Crane
Black-Billed Magpie
American Kestrel
Red-tailed Hawk
American Robin
Canada Goose
Barrows Goldeneye
American Coot
Mallard Duck
Northern Flicker
Mountain Bluebird
Williamson's Sapsucker
Common Merganser
Mountain Chickadee
American Wigeon
Eared Grebe
Ring-necked Duck
Clark's Nutcracker
American Dipper
Townsend's Solitaire
Osprey
Red-winged Blackbird
Trumpeter Swan
Bufflhead
Belted Kingfisher
Violet-green Swallow
Great Blue Heron
The same Black Bear digging from some lunch.  We watched from the roadside with a small group of other people.  We didn't see any bears all of last year.  This time we spotted one on our first trip of the season.
Mammals:
Elk
Bison
Red Fox
Coyote
Mule Deer
Bighorn Sheep
Antelope
Yellow-bellied Marmot
Black Bear
Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel
Some of this year's batch of fuzzy-looking, red Baby Bison were out, tagging along behind their moms.  We saw them nursing and romping and it was just about heart-melting.
Reptiles:
Bull Snake (a subspecies of the Gopher Snake)
(Matt and I took a bet on how long it would take for the ravens to come perch in the trees over our picnic table at the Yellowstone River Picnic Area.  They always wait, greedily, for people to leave so they can scour the ground for dropped chips, etc.  Or to see if they can convince someone to feed them (a bad idea, it goes without saying.)  My guess was they would be upon us in four minutes.  The first raven actually took less than two minutes to notice and join us.  The beggars....)