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New mortar & pestle!I used to be a collector. Not a collector in the traditional sense where one focuses on a particular hobby like stamps or coins or tea cups. I mean where if I started to get one of something and there was more variations of it, I felt almost compelled to get the rest, even if I realized I wasn’t going to use them. I have quite a few chess books because of this.

My compulsion to want to “complete the collection” also fed into the desire to get the latest and greatest. Case in point: video game consoles. I had a Super Nintendo as soon as I could “afford” one, I bought a Sega Saturn because of Nights Into Dreams, I made sure to be one of the first to get the Playstation when it showed up and I got lucky and was able to find the Playstation 2 in a big box store where they didn’t take pre-orders. A friend won a chance at an XBOX 360 pre-order but he didn’t want it, so I bought it off of him. That last one may have been the best thing I ever did to break these habits.

At the time, there were only one or two games suitable for young children on the XBOX 360. This was before Viva Pinata! The only game we cared about was King Kong. And for a good long time, it was really the only game we cared about available for XBOX 360 for young kids. Eventually, a co-worker offered to buy the 360 off of me because it was just sitting there collecting dust. I sold it and realized I didn’t miss it. That’s when I realized I didn’t need the latest and greatest. Yes, we have an XBOX 360 again, as my boys are teens and there is Viva Pinata and Kinectimals and other titles intended for a younger audience. However, I’ve still not picked up a PS3 and I’ll probably wait a while on Nintendo’s new Wii offering.

Why does all this matter? Because plenty of folks who were happy with their purchases when they made them are unhappy when they are not SOTA (State of the Art – thank you Shadowrun) any longer. For something like the iPad 3, that SOTA period was about 7 months. And that’s spurred the following posts:

My family’s iPad 3 is only a few months old. We obtained it for homeschool and entertainment and at the time we purchased it, it was more than enough for us. How much have things changed with the announcement of the iPad 4? Nothing has changed. It is still more than enough for us. And the thing is that I bet for all those iPad 3 owners out there, they were fine with their iPad 3 until the iPad 4 announcement. So what changed? Only attitudes and desires. The iPad 3 didn’t suddenly rust and corrode and fall apart. It is still just as capable and powerful as it was prior to the announcement.

When we have something that does the job or more, then it’s perfectly fine not having the latest and greatest. We don’t have to keep up with SOTA. In fact, keeping up with SOTA can cause a lot of stress and worry and certainly impacts our finances. There are better places to spend the time and money. Now, if you’ve got something that’s not doing the job or you had already decided to treat yourself, that’s a different story. But if what you have is working for you, be satisfied with it.

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Experience IceeIn our lives we’re too often focused on the big things: savings, retirement, jobs, houses, vehicles, finding the right one to marry, etc. We can and do miss the little things. However, the little things matter. They matter an awful lot more than we give them credit for.

This past weekend I dropped off my wife and daughters so they could attend a birthday party. My boys and I spent the afternoon geocaching and we trekked through a suburban shopping center and into a bit of wilderness near by, all in 100 degree weather. We love to go geocaching and the boys and I have found that it’s a great bonding experience. All in all we had our best day geocaching ever, knocking out 10 geocaches, including 3 found earlier in the day when the girls were with us. But that wasn’t the best part.

The best part, I think, was when we went back to that suburban shopping center hot and thirsty looking for refreshment. We stopped at a place known mainly for cookies and ice cream because I remembered that they had Icee treats. The boys and I ordered our cool refreshments and then got back into the van to go get the girls. The Icee treats were naturally a big, big hit.

Why do I think that the Icee drinks were the best part? Quite simply, when both boys separately told me what a wonderful day they had, the Icee was mentioned first. I had some left over when we got the girls and I gave it to my 7 year-old daughter. At the end of the day, birthday party included, the thing she talked about the most was the Icee. She didn’t get a full one yet it was the highlight of her day. If you had asked me when the day begun would I have ever thought an Icee would make that much of an impact, I would have said, “No.” If you had asked me after ordering and receiving the Icee treats if I thought they would be the highlights of the day, I would have responded the same way.

Don’t get so caught up in the big things that you miss or overlook the little things. Even worse, don’t become so consumed with big goals and big dreams and big objectives that you neglect the little ones. If you do, you’ll likely find that some little one was really a big one in disguise. That day I just described it was that Icee, which represented the star on top of the Christmas tree, the finishing touch to a great day. It could be anything.

It could be a brief conversation with someone you don’t know that well which leads to a lifelong friendship. It could be offering a helping hand to a neighbor who returns the favor when tragedy strikes in your life. It could be a memory you’ll retain forever of watching your daughter splash in a $5 pool bought at a local big box store. These are all examples of how little things are really big things. Don’t neglect the little things.

 

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I picked this up on Sunday: a simple pressed metal lantern with all the sides enclosed. It is designed to hold a candle of a decent size. The one seen burning here is rated for 35 hours.

However, I didn’t get it for the light it puts out, which is relatively little. Rather, by using a scented candle, in this case lavender, it adds to the experience of sitting on the porch at night. Because the only exit from the lantern is at the top, the scent from the candle is an occasional one when the breeze catches it just right. Therefore, it isn’t overwhelming. Couple with this that lavender is supposed to help one relax and de-stress, making it perfect to burn after a long day at work.

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Life isn’t fair. Bad things can and will happen. If we focus solely on these things, we actually worsen our health. The key is to consider things and reasons to be grateful. There is a health benefit, as described in this Psychology Today article from 2009. Not only does being grateful help our physical health, it helps our mental health, too, but we tend to feel happier, too. The circumstances don’t change, but the weight we give to the negative aspects lessens and this balances out our perspective.

One simple exercise given in Enjoy Every Sandwich is to every day think about 2-3 things to be grateful for. This allowed a doctor knowingly facing esophageal cancer (with a 90% mortality rate) to face life head on, to make the most of each and every moment he had left. It was a practice he had before that fateful diagnosis and it served him well as he fought a disease that he beat once but ultimately lost to. While Dr. Lipsenthal did this each night, it might be better to do this each morning, to start your day. That way you start it with the attitude of gratitude.

Take the time each day to be grateful. You will be healthier and happier for it.

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My family and I are actively looking at ways to “simplify life.” Here’s the thing about that phrase: it means something different to every person. So what does it mean to us? Let’s look at it one of the first areas we considered: our cookware.

A Basic Set of Tools

I am amazed at how many different cooking gadgets are now available at your local discount retailer. We’re not even talking about a store dedicated for that sort of thing. Let’s just talk pots and pans. So many different surfaces, sizes, etc. It’s flat out unreal. You can drive yourself broke “collecting” different types of these things. I realized that we had an assortment of 2-3 different pots and pans sets. They took up a lot of kitchen storage space. They got in the way of each other. And because we kept changing between different types of pans, it was hard to get consistency in the experience of cooking and preparing our food. We were spending cycles considering how the pans heated up, how each pan should be treated (no metal utensils on the non-stick pans, for instance), and what kinds of food could be cooked in what pot or pan. These were cycles I felt were wasted. So we got rid of them all and replaced them with a sturdy, stainless steel set that should last us for years. Yes, just one set. It has all the pots and pans we need for regular cooking.

The Exceptions

Do we have a few additional items? Yes, but they’ve been carefully considered. Here’s what we have:

  • Rice cooker
  • Large, oval crock pot
  • Smaller, rectangular crock pot
  • Dutch oven
  • cast iron skillet
  • Electric wok

The rice cooker is a no-brainer. I’m half-Japanese. I grew up eating rice. The rice cooker is such a huge time saver it’s not even funny. As for the two crock pots, the smaller one is our “travel” crock pot when we stay the day at church. It heats up faster, cooks a smaller portion, and I can throw the ingredients in and start things right before Sunday school and the meal is ready after morning worship service. Like the rice cooker, the smaller crock pot is kept around for our convenience. In this case, it’s to simplify life on those days where commitments require us to stay all day at the church.

The Dutch oven and cast iron skillet are admittedly specialty items that give us additional options for cooking. We don’t use these very often and I’ve considered doing away with both. They are used enough to keep around, for now, but I’ve begun to question their usefulness versus how much storage room they take up. There isn’t anything I can do in the cast iron skillet that I can’t do in the stainless steel cookware but there’s something about cooking meats, like chicken or steak, that is enjoyable and different than with the stainless steel skillet. The dutch oven is a little different, in that I can easily take a large dish and move it from stove top to oven without worry. The way it allocates its volume makes this doable. However, in considering our meals over the last six months, I can only think of one time I did this. Therefore, it might be on the chopping block.

As for the electric wok, it’s the only model wok I found that didn’t run on gas that I like. I can sear meat and that’s key. I can do things with the wok that while they are doable in a large, stainless steel skillet, are significantly more difficult. Cooking with the wok is quick and often very light. I can also take it with me, like I did this past Sunday when I needed to prepare dinner at the church for the family. I did all the cutting and chopping of ingredients at home (mise en place) and put them in a cooler to take with us to the church. At the church itself it meant that dinner was prepared in less than 20 minutes: a nutritious, but light and healthy meal consisting of a little bit of sirloin and a lot of fresh vegetables that tasted great. This beats fast food every day.

The Bottom Line

We have more storage space. We have less clutter. Since I do most of the cooking for our family (a passion of mine, so it’s a household task I volunteered for) I get the consistency with my tools that I want. This makes the overall tasks quicker (which my boys like because it means they get to devour the food faster) and more enjoyable for me. The exceptions we did make are all bound in solid reasons, even the case of the cast iron skillet (it provides a nice experience and if I had to push it… secondary home defense, maybe?), but we’re not afraid to re-analyze them and make changes.

 

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