Friday, June 28, 2019

40 Proven Stress Busters

For many of us, the end of the school year equals the beginning of summer vacation.  Even if you don't have kids or grandkids, the longer hours of daylight mean that you have more leisurely evenings to spend with friends, go to a barbecue or picnic, attend an outdoor concert, or enjoy a long after-dinner walk.

Photo by Hello I'm Nik on Unsplash

Yet on a day-to-day basis, we still have work and errands and other responsibilities, and the stresses of those things can still get us down.

Relaxation and stress relief are what we hope to gain from leisure, and the following ideas can also be helpful.  And since minimalism is about making space and time for what is necessary and valuable, and removing what isn't, it too is a proven antidote to a stressful life.

Eat or drink:

1.  Drink a glass of cold water when you're feeling stress.  Your problem could be dehydration rather than stress.
2.  Migraine headache?  Eat some spinach.  It's full of magnesium, which is used in the ER to treat migraine attacks.
3.  Eating 10-12 raw almonds is the equivalent of taking two aspirins for a headache.
4.  Chew on a mint leaf.  Mint has been proven to reduce stress levels.
5.  The amino acids in one cup of yogurt have a calming effect.
6.  Avocados boost serotonin (your body's natural "happy drug").  Eating them regularly will improve your mood.
7.  Have a square of dark chocolate.  It contains phenylethylamine and tryptophan, which release serotonin.
8.  Eating a banana helps your mind relax, which will leave you feeling happier and stress-free.
9.  Ginger tea will help a headache.
10.  Sip on some hot chocolate.  Studies show it increases blood flow to key areas of the brain, boosting mood and alertness for up to two hours.

Move your body:

11.  The way you start your day can affect your reactions to stress that day.  Before you do anything else in the morning, take 5 minutes to do stretching exercises.  Stretching helps relax muscles, which can reduce feelings of stress.
12.  Even 5 minutes of vigorous exercise will increase your endorphin levels and lower feelings of stress.
13.  Squeeze a stress ball.

Take a break:

14.  Take 5 minutes to sit and relax in silence.  Find a comfortable position and just let your mind wander.
15.  If you're stressed at work, step away from your desk and take a short walk around the office or up and down a flight of stairs.  Stop by the drinking fountain on the way back to your desk.
16.  Run your wrist under cold water for 5 minutes.  It will cool your blood.
17.  Turn off technology for a few hours.  No phones, computers, or TV.  A break from bad news, gossip, obligations, or FOMO can really lift your mood.


18.  Hang some cuttings of eucalyptus around your shower head.  The steam will release a refreshing, invigorating fragrance and beneficial oils every time you shower.
19.  Use the "square breathing" technique anywhere at any time:  inhale deeply for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, wait for 4 seconds.  Repeat.
20.  Put 2 or 3 drops of lavender essential oil in your cupped palms.  Inhale deeply to draw the scent all the way to your amygdala gland (the emotional center of your brain) to feel calm.  Then rub the oil on your temples, neck, or wrists for an immediate calming effect on the body.
21. Sniff a lemon.  Studies show the fresh citrus fragrance will immediately improve your mood.
22.  Yawning cools your brain, which helps release stress.  Can't yawn?  Try just thinking of the word "yawn."

Be in nature: 

23.  Have you had your vitamin D levels checked?  Low vitamin D will make you feel lackluster and out-of-sorts.  Spend 5-10 minutes sitting in the sunshine with your face and hands exposed.
24.  If it's cloudy or raining, boost vitamin D with a daily 2,000 IU supplement.
25.  Being in nature increases calmness and vitality.  Go for a walk, sit in a garden, climb a tree.  Lay in the grass and watch the clouds.

Enjoy positive interactions:

26.  Give a sincere compliment.  Being kind boosts serotonin and dopamine levels, which will increase your sense of happiness and well-being.
27.  Smile, even when you're in a bad mood.  Using these muscles is enough to trigger the happy chemicals in your brain.
28.  Exchange neck and shoulder massages with a friend.
29.  Spend some time with your pet.
30.  Want to feel better instantly?  Hug, snuggle, or kiss someone you love.  Not only will you feel loved and loving, but it's been scientifically proven to lower blood pressure.

Think positive:

31.  Give a dollar or all your spare change to a homeless person.  Remember that you have enough for your needs.  This can reduce anxiety.
32.  Start a gratitude journal.  At bedtime, write down people, events, opportunities, and comforts you appreciate.  Ending the day on a positive note will not only help you sleep better, but will eventually change your entire outlook.
33.  Practice affirmations.

Be creative:

34.  Doodle or draw something. 
35.  Singing releases a large number of endorphins and can make you feel better almost instantly.  Play your favorite song and sing along!
36.  Find a distraction.  Do something that will take your mind off stressful thoughts for 15 minutes, such as playing an instrument, coloring, origami, or knitting.


37.  Lack of sleep increases stress.  Make sure you're getting at least 7 solid hours of sleep every night.
38.  Take a nap.  Even 20 minutes can improve metabolism and the quality of sleep you'll get at night.

Just let it out!

39.  Make a to-do list.  Simply getting the tasks you need to finish out of your head and onto a piece of paper will make you feel less stressed.
40.  Let out stress the old-fashioned way by yelling.  Go to a closet, or your car, or anywhere away from people, and just let it out.

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Monday, June 24, 2019

Lighten Your Load

I'm very pleased to feature this guest post by my husband Jon.

John Muir Trail
by Chris LeBlanc for Austin American-Statesman

As my wife has written many times, minimalism isn't about having zero possessions or living a Spartan existence in a spare room or a remote cave.  As minimalists we value and use the essentials, realizing that we need some material things to facilitate our lives.  Ah, but "essentials" can be a tricky word.  What one considers essential, another may consider extravagant.  Hmmm... perhaps insight may be gained by comparing minimalist thinking with prepping for a wilderness backpacking trip!

Why backpacking?  For many, it is the ultimate getaway.  You make your way on foot from point A to points B, C, and D while carrying all your essentials in a pack on your back.  No phones, no emails, no distractions.  Just yourself, your companions, the challenges of the trail, and the glories of the natural world.

To start with, basically, all we need is food, water, and shelter.  Fortunately the load we carry can be minimized by the careful choices we make.  These can range from extremely simple to unnecessarily cluttered (and heavy).

On his first backpacking trip, my high school friend Randy carried his own four-man tent, air mattress, and large am/fm cassette radio (it was the mid '70s), in addition to his clothes, food, stove, and fishing gear.  We teased and joked as he heaved his load up the trail, but he had the last laugh.  Shortly after setting up camp later that day, Randy sprained his ankle slipping on a snow patch... and we had to lug his stuff out for him the next day while he rode a mule... no joking matter this time.

On the opposite end of this choosing-what-to-bring spectrum is what naturalist and conservationist John Muir famously carried on his High Sierra excursions.  Often Muir would simply roll up some bread, tea, sugar, and a tin cup in a pair of blankets and set off roaming the high country for days.

Obviously, as you plan your trip, what you choose to take will land somewhere between these two extremes.  My advice?  When backpacking, keep it simple and keep it light.  If your pack is so cumbersome and heavy that it wears you out and distracts you from enjoying the natural beauty around you, what's the point?  You're carrying too much stuff.

In the same way, before you start your minimalist journey, set priorities.  Think about must-haves versus nice-to-haves.  If our lives are over-extended, over-scheduled, and over-cluttered, our attention will be on the pain and soreness of these burdens, and we will miss out on the beauties of everyday life.

Of course, choosing what is absolutely necessary for a multi-day-and-night hike into the back country requires careful planning, and there are plenty of resources out there to help you prepare for your wilderness adventure.  You'll need to consider where and when you are hiking, if the weather will be wet or not, and the personal preferences of your group.

As with minimalism, you'll want to carry everything you need, but nothing more.  If you add too much to your pack, each overloaded step will get heavier and more uncomfortable.  What started as a blissful sojourn into paradise will rapidly devolve into a staggering struggle to get your gear around the next bend in the trail!

Growing up backpacking with my father and three brothers, the fun challenge was making our packs as lightweight as possible.  Dad, of course, carried the heaviest pack, older brother the next heaviest, and so on down the line.  Hiking with several people in our group allowed us to work together, and spreading the weight around made everyone's burden lighter.  As you hike your minimalist path, find others in your life -- family, friends, loved ones -- to support you and share your adventure.

Finally, don't forget that your most important assets in backpacking are your mind and your heart.  You can have the best gear and be in the best physical shape, but those things will not help you deal with the pesky bear that wants your food the first night, the huge snow patch near the pass that is normally melted by now, or the sudden afternoon thunderstorm that traps you above the tree line.  More possessions, a bigger income, and Ironman fitness cannot replace your knowledge and preparation, your anticipation of challenges you may face and your resourcefulness in dealing with them, the attention and awareness you give to your surroundings, and your calm and positive attitude.

Backpacking can be freeing, fun, and rewarding.  Simplifying our lives can be too!

Friday, June 21, 2019

Keep Free Time Free

Photo by Kris Atomic on Unsplash

My friend makes amazing costumes for a small theater troupe in Chicago.  It's a non-profit, church-based group, and she donates her time and skills.  She's incredibly talented, and finds the most exquisite fabrics and trims at clearance prices.  I've seen photos of the finished creations, and having worn many costumes for plays and operas, I can see that the ones she makes are of better-than-average quality.

I once suggested that she should have an Etsy shop geared toward cosplayers.  My son and daughter both enjoy cosplay, and usually make their own costumes, which are good but not as detailed and professional as what my friend produces.  My friend could definitely make some money with her work.

She's justifiably proud of her creations, and loves doing the work, but when I suggested an Etsy shop, all the light went out of her expression.  She apologized and said, "Yeah, everyone keeps telling me I should do that, but it would mean a lot more time, and I don't think I could make it work."  I recognized the look of a woman burdened by people's expectations of her.

"You don't have to," I assured her.  "It's wonderful to do something you love, just because you love it."

You don't have to monetize your joy.

I'm sure you've heard the phrase, "Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life."  I remember encouraging my kids to view any of their interests or talents as a possible career.  That's not bad advice, but now I wonder if I inadvertently sent the message that we should evaluate everything in terms of its money-making possibilities.

We live in an era where everyone's encouraged to have a side hustle.  I've even told my son-in-law that he could make good money with his increasing skills as a baker (even though his profession as a clinical laboratory scientist engrosses him, is valuable work, and pays extremely well).

But I've had to reconsider my comments, because I realized that every time we feel required to capitalize on something we love, we validate the idea that financial gain is the ultimate pursuit.  If we're good at it, we should sell it.  If we're good at it and we love it, we should definitely sell it.

The reality is that for most people who turn their hobbies into a hustle and manage to live on the proceeds, several things happen.

  1. They become their own boss and may even create jobs for other people (pretty cool).
  2. They work constantly at their craft because now their livelihood (and perhaps the livelihood of others) depends on it (might still be a good thing).
  3. They rarely if ever have true leisure time any more (not so great).
  4. They have no boundaries between work life and private time, because that's what it takes to create and run a business (uh oh).
  5. The joy of creation is eclipsed by the need to meet the demands of their customers and to tailor their creations to the tastes and requirements of others (so maybe the joy dies).
  6. They ultimately spend more time managing and expanding the business than crafting their product (so now it's just another job).

Monetary success might come at a pretty high price.

Guess what?  It's okay to love a hobby for its ability to enrich your life without trying to make money from it.  It's okay to devote time and attention to something just because it makes you happy, because it enables you to recharge, and because it satisfies your urge to create.  

It's no surprise we feel pressure to monetize our spare time.  Busyness is one of the most toxic aspects of our culture.  Searching for ways to get ever more done in ever less time has become the norm.  And turning every activity into a hustle is considered smart.  But if we choose to capitalize on all of our time and talent, if we use every resource we have to make money, when do we have time for ourselves or anyone else?  And what does that say about our life's focus?

We may have more possessions and luxuries than any people who have ever lived on this planet, but we also have more stress and less satisfaction.

Unstructured time is an increasingly rare commodity.  We always feel an obligation to make good use of it.  We might even feel that at least we should be cleaning or decluttering.

Even a vacation can become a to-do list.  I've been on "vacations" like that, where every minute is planned, and you must constantly hurry through something you're enjoying so you won't miss some other "must see" attraction.  Where every day is just as crammed as a non-vacation day because you have to make your time "count."  Where there's no space between activities, no opportunity to savor or reflect on anything you're doing or seeing before it's "on to the next!"

And you return home as stressed and exhausted as if you never had a vacation.

Don't let your free time be so full of things you have to do that there's no room for things you get to do.  And don't fill your kids' summer break so full of planned activities that they have no unstructured time to think, dream, explore, imagine, or play.

I'm sorry that I could look at my friend's lovely costumes, or my son-in-law's delectable bread, and somehow make them feel inadequate because they made those things for love and joy rather than money.  Shame on me.  Hobbies don't have to fulfill any purpose beyond our own enjoyment of them.

Joy is purpose enough.

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Monday, June 17, 2019

6 Reasons to Make Something This Summer

Mass production makes everything transitional and disposable, but the handmade object is personal.  It takes times to craft, which gives it a permanence that factory-made objects do not have....  The handmade object, created with care and detail, embodying a history and tradition, is enormously powerful.                                                                                 
          Eric Gorges

When we only buy mass-produced items, or only buy with a click on the internet, we become merely passive consumers.  We're removed from the process of how things are made, how they work, the people who make them, and the raw materials and energy that go into their production.  We're distant from all of these things and people, and in a sense from the real world.

We may not realize it, but we're surrounded by the hard work and innovation of people who came before us.  The chair and desk at which you sit, the lightbulb in your lamp, the glass in your window, the book on  your shelf, your pen, your eyeglasses, the qwerty keyboard on your computer.  The coffee in your cup, and the cup itself.  You're surrounded by history.

Crafts are pieces of history and tradition passed from one maker to another.  My grandmother taught me to crochet, and I taught my daughter.  My sister-in-law taught my son to knit.  My husband learned to refinish furniture from a friend of his family.  He'll probably teach our grandson model-building.

Have you read Little House in the Big Woods?  The range of skills possessed by Ma and Pa Ingalls is astonishing.  My grandfather did his own carpentry and engine repair, was a self-taught gunsmith and surveyor, and played several musical instruments.  My grandmother grew a garden, raised goats and chickens, made cheese, preserved food, sewed, embroidered, crocheted, and quilted.  These skills were not unusual for people of their generation, but their children used only a few of them, and I know fewer still.

We lose something when we stop creating.

At the very least we lose independence and self reliance, but it's possible we lose even more.  Humans are supposed to create and innovate.  Anthropologist Augustin Fuentes, author of The Creative Spark: How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional, says that "without art, we're not human."

It seems that there's a lot about modern culture that is dehumanizing.  There's an old saying, "How we do anything is how we do everything."  What I see in myself and others is that we want everything to be fast, even instant.  We rush, we push, we're impatient, we "just want to get it over with." 

Wow, is that life?  Do we want to just "get through" our lives?  Are we happy to waste what we've been given, with no appreciation, care, or attention?  Really?

I think we'd be happier finding some purpose in life.  When we imagine something, and then make that a reality, we're doing something distinctly human.

Working with our hands gives us meaning.

  • It slows us down in a hurried world.
  • It teaches patience, perseverance, and deferred gratification, values that counteract our speedy, busy, frazzled society.
  • It keeps us active rather than passive; productive rather than pointless.
  • It requires an investment of time and energy, so in order for us to commit ourselves to a project we must enjoy the process itself.  Satisfaction is found in the work as well as the outcome.
  • It obliges us to accept that perfection is an illusion, but that something serviceable and attractive doesn't have to be without flaw.
  • It reminds us that we are capable.  No one is born with the skills of a craftsman, and it's not magic.  But with practice, passion, and time, we can create something useful and beautiful.

So what can you hand make this summer?

You can sew, quilt, embroider, knit, crochet.  Maybe you can learn to spin and hand-dye your yarn (or purchase your supplies from someone who practices those crafts).  I have a friend who creates exquisite costumes for a theater troupe, and my son has made several detailed and inventive outfits for cosplay.

You might not be a woodworker (or maybe you are!), but if a chair, table, or dresser is well-built from wood to begin with, you can refinish or paint and embellish it.  My husband enjoys this work.

You can draw or paint or do calligraphy.  You can make and illustrate your own pop-up cards or even a picture book (my daughter made several when she was in her teens).

I have a friend who creates stained glass.  Another took ceramics classes at the local community college and has made some good-looking bowls, crocks, and mugs.

You can write a story or a poem or start a blog.

You can grow a garden, make jam or pickles or your own lavender sachets.

You can play an instrument, maybe create your own music or learn to improvise.  I know people who play with jazz and oldies rock groups, and have many friends who sing and act in theater and opera productions.

You can pick up a hammer and build houses with Habitat for Humanity, or hammer out a dent and touch up the paint on your teenager's car.

You can figure out ways to reduce your monthly expenses and write out a new budget which allows you to pay off debt, invest for retirement, or start saving for that trip to Paris.  And before you go, you can learn to prepare coq au vin and ratatouille and a perfect soufflĂ©.

Or maybe you'll bake delicious artisanal sourdough bread using wild-caught yeast in your carefully nurtured starter, as my son-in-law has learned to do.

Why not make a pot of tea and hand write a letter to your elderly aunt who doesn't do email?  Or to your pastor, thanking her for her ministry?  Or to your husband, telling him why you still love him after all these years?

Do you have other ideas?  Please share in the comments below.

Photo by Nadya Spetnitskaya on Unsplash

P.S.  This post contains paid links.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Summer Reading

It's time to plan summer reading!  Beach reads.  Or maybe for you they're porch reads, or (my favorite) charming-little-cafĂ© reads.  Wherever you love to curl up with a good book when it's blazing hot (or if you live in the southern hemisphere, cold and stormy) outside.

I'm always on the lookout for a good book, but many of the books that receive the most hype are disappointing for one reason or another.  Leisure reading should be a joy, not a self-imposed obligation to finish the latest "must read" title.  It should be relaxing and enlightening, not a chore.

According to there were over 328,000 new titles published in the United States in 2010.  That's just one year.  Hundreds of thousands more will be added every year, and that doesn't count all the great classics from the 19th and 20th centuries and earlier.

How many of those books will you actually read?  I'm a fairly committed reader, and I probably read 60 to 70 books per year (plus my Bible, some magazines and about a dozen blogs I follow).  A handful of those might be favorites I'm rereading, so not all of the titles will be new to me.  You may read more or fewer books than I, but the comparison is clear.  A million books clamoring for attention vs. fewer than 100 I will actually read.

Obviously, I can't possibly read even a tiny fraction of what's available, so why should I waste my time on a book I'm not enjoying and learning from?  I never feel guilt about deciding not to continue with a book.  I'm anxious to get on to books I will love.

Like a good minimalist, I'm going to use my time and energy wisely to get the most satisfaction and value from what I read.

That definitely means I don't bother with click bait, and I don't spend a lot of time scrolling through social media feeds. indicates that so far today (it's 7:17 a.m. as I'm writing this) over 223,000,000 tweets and 76,620,000,000 emails have been sent.  (How much spam is that?)  That's mind-boggling and crazy.  No one can possibly worry about all of that. 

So I'm very old-fashioned.  I call and text and email a few friends and family members, religiously unsubscribe from most email lists, and limit the time I spend on social media.  I want to have time to read my 60 to 70 books.

So what do I have in mind for summer reading?  For me that will be 12 to 15 books, mostly fiction, nothing too heavy.  I used to look forward to the latest Maeve Binchy (alas, she passed away in 2012).  But maybe this summer I'll reread one of my favorites, Evening Class or Quentins or Circle of Friends.

Sometimes an old-fashioned romantic thriller is fun, such as Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca or The Moon-Spinners by Mary Stewart.  Both of these books (and others by either author) are beautifully written, with taut suspense and tons of descriptive detail that makes you feel that you are there with the characters.

I also enjoy novels about books or bookstores (though I haven't liked all of the titles that fit this description).  My favorites in this realm are Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader, and the wonderful memoir 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff.

A few newer novels have caught my interest, and I will certainly give them a try (and maybe be rewarded with a great read).  They include Harry's Trees by Jon Cohen, Karen Thompson Walker's The Dreamers (I enjoyed her debut novel, The Age of Miracles), and The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware (who's been called a modern Agatha Christie).

There are a lot of classic works I haven't read, and even though they might be a bit more of a challenge, they are often so worth it.  Alice Walker's multi-award-winning The Color Purple is on my list this year.  I love the BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South, but I've never read the book, so I'm interested in that as well, along with The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017.

And for non-fiction?  Tara Westover's memoir, Educated, has been recommended to me by two different friends.  It sounds both infuriating and inspirational, so perhaps I'll balance that with autobiographies by two smart and funny ladies, Yes Please by Amy Poehler and Bossypants by Tina Fey.

So many people have recommended Brene Brown's work, and I've never read anything by her.  I think I'll start this summer with The Gifts of Imperfection.  And I'm absolutely excited to read The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction by Meghan Cox Gurdon.  I think this is one book that will become part of my home library.

Time to order these books through the inter-library loan system.  Hopefully I'll have one or two to pick up in the next few days!

Are there any books you're looking forward to reading this summer?  Please share what's inspiring you in the comments below.

Monday, June 10, 2019

My Favorite Way to Travel

You can travel like the Crawleys from Downton Abbey** with piles of leather trunks, suitcases, hat boxes, and your maid to hold your jewelry box.  You can travel first class, with no expense spared.  You can let yourself be pampered and waited upon, and that may, perhaps, add immeasurably to your experience.

photo by Jack Anstey on Unsplash

Or you can travel light, with a backpack or a carryon, prepared to experience your destination as authentically as possible.  As you walk the streets, or ride on public transport, you can interact with real people not as someone they should be ready to serve, but as someone they can simply be friendly with.

You can be weighed down, or you can enjoy the agility of minimalism.

I love the minimal completeness of packing for travel.  You have to consider carefully which clothes you'll need, which toiletries and accessories.  You might bring a book or a journal; you'll surely bring your phone.  You have only what you've chosen to take with you.  It's the ultimate in decluttering.

There's something very freeing about having only a fraction of your possessions with you.  You have mindfully curated a collection of the things you love the most and which you think you will need.

I recently saw this quote from the book Intimate Chanel, written by Isabelle Fiemeyer with Coco Chanel's great-niece, Gabrielle Palasse-Labrunie.

Coco Chanel had a wandering spirit but lacked the curiosity to travel the world, preferring the world of armchair travel, of journeys of the imagination and daydreams, and prompting her to declare:  "I make all my best trips on  this couch."

This is me!  I'm not a fan of overseas travel, as I find long plane trips extremely uncomfortable.  I have sciatica and Restless Leg Syndrome, and the confinement can be unbearable after more than a couple of hours.

I much prefer staying close to home, perhaps adding "staycation" perks like tickets to a Broadway theater production that has traveled to Sacramento (40 miles/64 km from my town), or a visit to art museums in San Francisco (125 miles/201 km away).  Indeed, since I'm fortunate to live so close to the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area, a travel destination for people from all over the world, why would I need to go further?

I know there are those who live to travel, but I am not one of them.  And yet, I almost feel ashamed of admitting that, because keeping travel plans small and making the most of what is right around you probably seems boring to most people.

But I think it's one of the secrets to happiness.

When I was in college I spent two summers traveling all over the western part of the US and Canada, singing with a choral group.  I took the ferry from Seattle to Victoria BC, saw snow falling on hot springs and geysers in Yellowstone Park on July 4, toured the amazing Carlsbad Cavern in New Mexico, and hiked the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Fall in Yosemite, as well as singing concerts in nearly 150 venues.  I lived for ten weeks at a time out of a single suitcase and a garment bag.

After my junior year of college, I spent the summer in a small town in Leicestershire, England.  I was able to travel all over the Midlands, and spent time in London as well.  I adored the ancient villages, churches, and castles, the rolling green countryside, the poets' and writers' homes, the accents that varied from county to county, the weird and wonderful place names.  I learned to make a proper pot of tea.  And I attended the Queen Mother's 80th birthday parade, an unforgettable highlight of the trip.

So I've enjoyed some very special travel adventures, and I don't feel in the least deprived.

I can simply imagine a trip to England, make tea in my Blue Willow teapot, find gorgeous photographs online, read travel memoirs such as Susan Branch's A Fine Romance or Bill Bryson's The Road to Little Dribbling, and binge-watch The Crown or Foyle's War.

But if I want to travel... a night at The Pelican Inn near Muir Woods in Marin County will give me a little flavor of England only 135 miles/217 km away!

And for that I only need to pack a change of clothes, a light jacket, sleeping attire, underthings, minimal toiletries, a novel set in England (such as The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan), a notebook and pen, my purse and phone (although there's no reception at the Inn).

Even if I went for a week I wouldn't need much more: additional underthings and two more outfits.  One outfit could be a simple tank-style dress instead of the trousers and top I usually wear, just in case I needed to be a bit more dressy.  To augment the dressiness (if necessary) I could add a silky wrap or a lacy cardigan and some sparkly earrings.

Actually, it's a great idea to go through your closet and remove items you don't love or wear regularly right after returning from a trip.  When you live for a week with a small suitcase of clothes, you're reminded of how little you truly need.  You also have a clear sense of which clothes fit well, flatter your body and your coloring, and are comfortable and easy-care, since that's probably what you traveled with.

So do you have travel plans for this summer?  Or favorite ways to take "journeys of the imagination?"  And what are your indispensable travel items?  Please share in the comments below.

**I freely admit that traveling by antique steam train, as the Crawleys do, would be incredibly romantic!

Friday, June 7, 2019

The No Money Weekend -- Part 3

Photo by Gary Sandoz on Unsplash

The No Money Weekend is a challenge suggested by Trent Hamm of  Today I'm posting a final 20 ideas for this challenge.  By this time you've probably thought of your own no-cost ideas, so please share them in the comments below.

36.  Swap entertainment.

Increase your entertainment options without shopping.  Invite a friend to bring over some books, DVDs, CDs, or video games they think you'd like.  Provide a pile of your own and agree on a time table for a temporary swap.

37.  Shrink your "to do" list.

Everyone has a list of household projects waiting for free time.  Declutter a closet, wash the windows, install that ceiling fan, or sand and paint that old dresser.

38.  Start a gratitude journal.

It's easy to focus on the problems and disappointments in life.  Change that with a notebook, a pen, and some quiet time.  Think about people who have helped you, an opportunity before you, a specific comfort or beauty that you appreciate.  Make it a habit to jot some of these down every morning and evening.  The practice of gratitude will change your life.

39.  Write a letter to your future children or grandchildren.

We all have stories or words of advice we'd like to share, so why not take the time to write them down?  Your feelings and memories in your own handwriting will be valuable to your descendants, and the process of thinking them through and expressing them will be powerful for you too.

40.  Plan a trip.

Think of some options and start researching online.  Comparison shop for airfare, lodging, or vacation packages, and set up alerts for cheap deals and tickets.  Gather information, then have a family meeting to make final decisions.  Not only can advance planning save money, it's fun to do the research, and anticipation increases enjoyment.

41.  Hold a baby.

Feeding and comforting a very young baby can be wonderful when you're not sleep-deprived.  Imagine sitting comfortably in a chair with a soft, sleeping newborn in your arms.  If there's a new parent in your circle of friends or family, why not offer a few hours of free babysitting?

42.  Start a fantasy sports league.

Whether it's baseball, football, soccer, basketball, or hockey, there's always a pro sport in season.  If you're a fan, go to or and start a free fantasy league for you and your friends.  You don't have to place bets; you can just enjoy the competitive banter and discussion that will ensue as the season unfolds.

43.  Knit or crochet a gift.

If you do either of these crafts, you probably have some unused yarn, at least enough for a scarf or even a baby blanket.

44.  Start a blog on a topic that interests you.

You can start a blog for free using WordPress or Blogger.  It's fun to write about something you love, and it will improve your communication skills, put you in touch with others who share your interest, and maybe even generate a bit of income down the road.

45.  Help an elderly or disabled friend.

They may be too proud to ask, but make a short visit, pay attention, and you may find out about something they need that you can do.  It might be as simple as cleaning cobwebs from the ceiling, or a bit more complex, such as fixing a leaky faucet.  A little time and effort can make a big difference, and you'll feel great about it.

46.  Learn something new.

Check out the thousands of TED Talks online.  These short, dynamic lectures feature an incredible range of interesting subjects, including minimalism!

47.  Take a bath.

When did you last take time to soak in the tub?  Relax with your favorite music, a glass of wine, or even a book, and let hot water work its magic.

48.  Binge watch TV.

If you have a streaming subscription, you have access to tons of great TV -- without commercials!  This is the only way to watch TV, in my opinion, and the occasional binge is great on a stormy weekend.  Try Downton Abbey, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Parks and Recreation, 24, Sherlock, or old favorites like M.A.S.H. or Frasier.

49.  Explore a blog you like.

If you're reading this, you have at least a casual interest in this blog.  But you may not have explored everything I've written here.  Check the Archive and click on titles that look interesting, or browse the Labels to read a specific category of posts.  You can do this with any blog you enjoy.

50.  Attend a car show.

Local car clubs often sponsor shows that are free to the public.  In my town we've seen restored Model T Fords, Woodie station wagons, and customized 50s and 60s convertibles. Owners are always happy to talk about their auto and the restoration process, which is how my husband vicariously enjoys this extremely expensive hobby.

51.  Discover new music.

Try a free music service like Pandora or Spotify.  Pandora lets you enter a musical "seed" (a favorite band, song, or album) and generates a personalized radio station based on that information.  It's a great way to hear new music you'll love.

52.  Place a call.

In the Facebook Era, it's possible to go quite a long time without actually speaking to a loved one who lives in a distant city.  Unlike old-time landlines, a long distance cell call will strengthen your relationship at no extra cost.

53.  Attend a free class.

Some stores attract customers with free classes, such as a cooking demo at a kitchen store.  Home Depot workshops for kids and adults are excellent for increasing DIY know-how.

54.  Take a nap.

Seriously.  Most people are sleep-deprived, so why not snooze for an hour or two?

55.  Watch a sunset.

Find a comfortable spot to sit, and soak in all of the changing colors, especially if there are clouds in the sky or reflections on a river or lake.

Hopefully, you're inspired to enjoy many No Money Weekends this summer and in the future.  Have a great time!

Monday, June 3, 2019

The No Money Weekend -- Continued

Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash

The No Money Weekend is a challenge suggested by Trent Hamm at  Spend no money at all:  use food from your pantry, items you already own, free events and services, the company of other people, and your own ingenuity.

Today I'm posting another 20 ideas for this challenge.  Not all of these activities will be interesting or available to you, but I hope that some of them will inspire you.

16.  Host a film festival.

Invite some friends over and ask them to bring a favorite DVD and a favorite snack (whatever they have at home).  You provide the same.  Enjoy a lazy afternoon or evening just watching movies together.

17.  Beautify the neighborhood.

Wear disposable gloves, carry two trash bags, and walk through your neighborhood or the local park picking up litter and recyclable cans and bottles.

18.  Rearrange furniture.

It's amazing how you can refresh a room simply by rearranging furniture.  Put the couch or bed on a different wall and move the entertainment center or dresser.  Swap a chair in the living room for a chair in the bedroom, find a different spot for your desk, or swap wall art and throw pillows.  You'll see familiar furnishings in a different context, have a chance to do some thorough cleaning, and get a good workout as well.

19.  Attend a preview.

Some community or college performance groups have dress rehearsals that are free to the public.  It's a great way to enjoy the theater, ballet, or symphony at no cost.  Call the box office or check the newspaper.

20.  Read a book.

Borrow the latest bestseller from the library or reread an old favorite.  If you have kids, choose a book to read aloud, such as Charlotte's Web or The Indian in the Cupboard.

21.  Digitize photos.

If you have a digital scanner, why not scan your old photos?  If you don't have a scanner, try taking pictures of them with your phone (just make sure there's ample natural light).  Add them to a rotating screensaver on your computer, or attach them to personal emails.

22.  Talk with your partner about your goals.

Ask your partner what he wants out of life and what you can do to support him, and then share your own desires.  It's exciting to talk about how you can work together for your future.

23.  Do some puzzles.

I love hard crossword puzzles.  My son-in-law enjoys sudoku.  They're a great way to relax yet stretch your mind.

24.  Trim monthly expenses.

Shop around for a better auto insurance rate.  Ask for a credit card rate reduction or consider transferring to a card with 0% APR on balance transfers (try out this useful calculator).  Think about bills you can eliminate (excess cable or streaming services, magazine or other subscriptions, gym memberships, etc.), then take action to cancel them.  If you can trim even $25 a month, you'll save $300 this year with a few hours of effort.

25.  Check your community calendar.

Visit your town's website or the website for your area arts council.  Look for free art shows, concerts, parades, or other events.

26.  Volunteer.

A lot of worthwhile organizations would be grateful for your time and know-how.  You can do work for a cause that matters to you and meet other people who share the same convictions.

27.  Sort through your collection of DVDs or CDs.

Determine which ones you're likely to watch or listen to again, and donate the rest to the library.  You may find an old favorite movie to watch that evening, or pop in a CD and have a spontaneous dance party.

28.  Host a pantry potluck.

Invite family or friends to make a dish out of what they've got in their pantry or refrigerator, and come together for a meal.  Challenge everyone to get creative, and have fun using food that may have languished in the cupboard or freezer.

29.  Take some photos.

Use your phone or digital camera and take pictures of anything you find interesting.  If there are some woods or undeveloped land, a public fountain or garden, a district of historic homes, or even an old cemetery nearby, so much the better.  Take lots of pictures; you can go through them when you get home and see if any are beautiful or compelling.  These can be used for desktop wallpaper, homemade greeting cards, and other crafts.

30.  Share your photos.

You can post photos on Facebook or Instagram, but you can also sign up for a free Flickr account.  Spend time coming up with appropriate titles and captions for your best images, allow them to be used under a Creative Commons Attribution License, and your work will be enjoyed by many more people.

31.  Play in the dirt.

Do some research about trees, flowers, or vegetables that can be successfully grown in your area, and plan a garden.  Creating and working in a garden is good exercise, reduces stress, improves the air and soil, beautifies your yard, and produces shade or bouquets or healthy food.

32.  Exchange massages with your partner.

A trained massage therapist uses multiple techniques to increase flexibility, reduce pain, improve circulation, remove toxins, and promote healing.  But even without special knowledge, a foot, neck, shoulder, or back massage can be relaxing and comforting.

33.  Cook some meals in advance.

If you've already got the ingredients on hand, spend time preparing meals which you can freeze for later use.  This will give you a supply of convenient food that is healthier and cheaper than any other option.  Work together with a friend or family member and enjoy some social time too.

34.  Take a hike.

Research local hiking trails and get into nature!  Take your time, carry water, and pack lunch for a picnic.

35.  Attend a religious service.

Even if you're not a believer, attending a religious service can be a worthwhile experience, especially if you explore different styles of worship.  And if you pay attention, you'll probably gain some food for thought as well as some inspiration for the week ahead.