Doing Without?

Composition No. 10 by Piet Mondrian. An excellent example of minimalist art

There is a minimalist living thread on Talking Time that I occasionally read. A poster recently linked to a post on mnmlist which is a blog on minimalism (not the art style but the way of living.)  The post asks what you could live without accompanied with a list of examples. After thinking about it some I came to some conclusions, here they are:

  • Cable TV – living without it now. Not for miminalist reasons but because it’s a horrendous waste of money and time.
  • A smart phone – Nope. This thing in large part is replacing my computer for many things.
  • Any kind of cell phone – We don’t have a land line a cell phone is the only way for me to stay in touch with friends and family.
  • Any kind of TV –
  • An Internet connection –
  • A couch – We could get rid of the couch but I don’t know where guests would sit when we have them over for dinner/parties.
  • More than one pair of shoes – I probably do have too many pairs of shoes. I could cut down to three pairs: work, exercise, and regular.
  • More than a few shirts, or pants – Another area where I could cut down, somewhat. My work though requires a lot of formal wear.
  • A microwave – For a while we didn’t have a microwave and got along fine, it is convenient though and makes cooking/baking easier at times.
  • A car – fixing mine up to sell now.
  • Sweets – I don’t understand why you’d want to get rid of this? Food is one of the best, and simplest pleasures in life.
  • More than a handful of books (at a time) – I try to only keep books that I go back to again and again. This is a slow process of removal. I’ve made a lot of progress in the past year or so having donated/recycled more than ten boxes of books.
  • Makeup – don’t wear any.
  • Hair – How is getting rid of your hair minimalist? I honestly do not understand this one
  • Mementos – Outside of photographs, not really.

I’m sure some people “score” better than I do and some worse. I understand that the author’s point wasn’t to judge or imply that use/possession of items on the list above is wrong or bad, but rather to consciously think about the stuff we buy/have. Some of it though makes little to no sense, “hair” being the best example. I have a hard time seeing how having hair could distract you from the goal of conscious living, even people who take time to do their hair aren’t letting it control their life, if they are “stuff” isn’t the problem they should be focusing on… “Sweets” is another example, what does that mean? Candy bars, sugar, fruit? Why remove those things from your life? They are simple pleasures that can help us escape from a bad day.

I think my real gripe with aspects of minimalism is the focus on necessity. Again, from the mnmlist blog post: “just as [sic recte ask] yourself the questions. Is it really necessary? Can you live without it?” This is not the question we should be asking ourselves! Why? Because it leads down a destructive path. The fact of the matter is that humans can live without everything but water, food, and some form of shelter (and not even that depending on climate.) The human experience is not a race to the bottom. In fact by our very nature we collect and by collecting we can create and through creation humanity has bettered its state over and over again. Do modern people have a problem with consumerism? Yes. Can people become a slave to the things they own? Yes. The answer though is not to throw all that away. The answer is rather to live consciously, be aware of what you have, why you have it, and the costs associated with it. If you do that then you’ll be fine and you won’t have to live like a cave hermit.

And why would you? Those guys smell!


Sun Tea Season

Almost looks as good as it tastes

Spring (or is it summer) came late to Northern California this year. But, despite a 4 week delay it seems to finally be here now with temperatures rising to the high eighties and low nineties. Spring and Summer have a lot of things going for them; one of my favorites though, is sun tea. What is sun tea? Well it’s tea, usually herbal, you brew in the sun. I suppose most people just call it iced tea but I like the phrase ‘sun tea.’  ‘Sun tea’ conjures up images of a blue sky, mild breeze, blinding white walls, and sparkling pools. Oh, and the delicious taste of ice-cold tea!

Sun tea is really easy to make. You don’t need any fancy teas or tea bags (though you can use these things! Lipton is the blandest of teas and there are so many great flavors out there!) Here’s how I make it!

This is an Orange blossom, clove, and cranberry tea. I bought it in bulk from my local grocery co-op

You’re going to need some tea, a tea bag (if it isn’t prepackaged tea), and a large water jug. My jug is an old Santa Cruz Juice gallon jug.

I find it easier to place the tea bag in the jug before you put in the tea

I fill the bag up as much as possible

Once you have the tea bag full, make sure you close it tight. The bag is going to be submerged in water for several hours and you don’t want it spilling out into the water.  The tea won’t be ruined if it is but you’ll have to pour everything through a strainer, you can save yourself the hassle by making sure it’s closed tight.

Push the tea bag into the water. Make sure it is fully submerged

Once the tea bag is in the water, make sure the strings are still hanging out of the jar’s mouth and that the bag has plenty of slack, seal the jar and set it out in the sun.

Place in a spot where it will be fully exposed to the sun for at least 3 or 4 hours

After the tea has been in the sun for a sufficient period of time (the longer it’s exposed the stronger the tea’s taste) bring it inside, remove the tea bag, and chill in the refrigerator.  I rarely, if ever, add sugar, honey, or other sweeteners to my tea but you can of course.  If you feel fancy enough you can mix sun tea with a simple syrup for some Sweet Tea.  As you can see from the first picture I enjoy mine over ice with some lemon juice and a slice or two.  Sun tea is best enjoyed anywhere summer is happening.

Anything in particular you associate strongly with the summer season? Share it in the comments below!

How My Garden Grows: Spring 2011

Bumping? Can gardens be bumping? 'Cause mine is

Now that all the weird weather seems to have come to an end (really, hail in June? That’s uncalled for!) The garden has really started to spring into action. The tomatoes and zucchinis are blooming, the beans and cucumbers are sending out creepers. I imagine in two or so weeks we can start harvesting veggies from it.  I can’t wait to make bread salad using only vegetables I’ve grown and bread I’ve baked. D and I are hoping that we’ll get enough tomatoes this year to do some canning as well.

Zucchini blossoms


Green beans. By the time their done those creeping vines will be all over the place...

Tomato blossoms

So far, there hasn’t been much of a problem with pests. I don’t know if it’s because of the beer traps or the heavy doses of Sluggo I used early on.  Not pictured are the cucumbers, eggplants, basil, and spinach (that last one was inadvertent, it was in the winter garden and must have seeded at some point.) The cucumbers are at the very back of the box next to the fence and we’ve hung some netting between the garden box and the fence so they have something to climb. If the beans get out of control we’ll also direct them towards the netting…

Here’s a tip for those of you gardening from home as well, don’t get your blossoms wet. This has a tendency to insure they never fertilize or bear fruit. We lost out on have a season of tomatoes because of this last year. Also, don’t let your tomatoes bloom too much. All that flowering will take energy away from making nice big fruits. So once you’ve got some tomatoes on the vine cut back some of your blossoms…

If you’re lucky enough to be growing some of your own produce I’d love to see some of your pictures or hear any tips you’ve come across! Share them with me in the comments.