Wise Words from Thoreau: Eat Apple Fritters

“Our life is frittered away by detail.” –Henry David Thoreau, Walden

If I’m being honest, the first thing that comes to mind when I read this sentence is . . .

apple fritters. (Yum.)

But if you’ve loitered around on my blog at all, you know that simplicity is something I strive for — both in my belongings and my goings-on. Thoreau (bless him) had a nice chunk of money that enabled him to simplify — to leave the conventional world, to burrow away on a farm, to ponder life’s mysteries. How nice for him. Most of us don’t necessarily have the gold bars to provide us with that. And I don’t know that I’d want to leave my family and friends to walk around a property philosophizing about poets putting farms to rhyme, metaphorically skimming the metaphorical cream off the top of the metaphorical farm-glass-of-milk and leaving the farmer with the metaphorical skim milk. Metaphorically speaking, of course. (Read the entire text here, thanks to Project Gutenberg.)

Metaphors and cream aside, details do seem to have a way of scurrying around in our lives, causing us to feel rushed and frenzied and stressed. The devil’s in the details, as they say. How very true.

And I don’t like the devil.

So onward! Onward, that is, with fewer things and fewer plans and fewer details and maybe without the devil. Feeling good about this. And looking at the denotation of the word “frittered” (used as a verb, not as the donut-noun), we see that it basically means to waste, little by little. The definition I linked also uses the word “squander” — oof, harsh. (I like it.) I don’t think anyone wants to squander or waste their life.

So why are we letting the details of our lives do just that? Time to follow Thoreau’s sage and philosophical advice — advice that probably took months to manifest into one word:

“Simplify.”

Perhaps he had simplified a wee bit much, though, in his own life as he found himself likening a mosquito to Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey:

“I was as much affected by the faint hum of a mosquito making its invisible and unimaginable tour through my apartment at earliest dawn, when I was sitting with door and windows open, as I could be by any trumpet that ever sang of fame. It was Homer’s requiem; itself an Iliad and Odyssey in the air, singing its own wrath and wanderings. There was something cosmical about it; a standing advertisement, till forbidden, of the everlasting vigor and fertility of the world.”

(When I simplify my life so much that I start befriending and anthropomorphizing mosquitoes, please — someone, anyone — intervene.)

Let’s find a nice, healthy balance between allowing our lives to be frittered away by detail and buying best-friends-forever necklaces (like this 14K beaut on Etsy on sale for only $114) for our mosquito BFFs.

It’s all about balance.

And speaking of balance, my four-year-old is adeptly riding a pedal bike sans training wheels. Because he started on a balance bike (linked here), which is basically a little bike with no pedals, he got the feel for the balance it takes to ride a bike and transitioned very easily to a bike with pedals. Highly recommend this method for kids. Dare I say he didn’t need the added detail of the training wheels.

So even those “details” designed to make our lives easier (simpler??) sometimes add an unneeded layer to the already sweet and savory parfait of our lives. (“What’s not to like? Custard? Good. Jam? Good. Meat? Good.” –Joey Tribbiani, Friends)

Take a moment to think of the tools or gadgets or apps you have that are specifically marketed to make life easier and simpler. I think of some of my kitchen tools:

  • bench scraper: I use this to slide underneath sticky bread dough to cleanly remove it from the counter. I like this. I use it. It makes my dough much easier to split and to handle.
  • KitchenAid mixer: I use this when I make big batches of sourdough. I like this. I use this. If I hand mixed, it would take more time in the actual mixing and the cleaning up of the inevitable mess.
  • standing grater: I use this for grating cheese and zesting lemons. I like this. I use this.
  • mandolin: I use this for . . . I don’t really use this. I thought I would use it for thinly slicing carrots or potatoes. And I did a couple of times. But then it was too much of a nuisance to put it together and then take it apart to clean and then put it back together to store.
  • salad spinner: I use this for . . . I don’t really use this anymore. I did use it occasionally, but now I’m mostly too lazy to rinse my pre-rinsed mixed greens. Or I rinse stuff from our garden and then just plop it onto a towel on the counter for a few minutes.

I could go on and on and on — I have LOTS (read: too many) kitchen tools and gadgets. I think the mandolin is still squatting somewhere in a deep, dark cabinet, but the salad spinner has been gifted and is gone.

Hopefully by now you’ve thought of some stuff or some apps that you have, so take it one step further. Ask yourself (honestly): Is this thing or app actually simplifying my life? Or is it cluttering. And if it’s cluttering, it’s frittering and not the yummy donut kind of fritter. Remind yourself, too, that if you have stuff that is simply cluttering (that is, it’s just sitting somewhere gathering dust and it’s not sucking any life or time from you), someone, at some point — whether it’s you or probably family — will have to deal with it. My life was cluttered frittered away by detail when I had to get rid of literally every thing in my dad’s house after he passed away. I remember trying to gather some stuff to donate while he was still alive, but he wouldn’t let me. Then I ended up taking care of it anyway. (And as an important clarification and side-note: My husband — bless his SOUL — worked very hard (harder than I) on clearing out my dad’s house and cave of wonders garage. Without him, I might have gotten sucked forever into the vortex of dusty Hudson and Saab manuals behind the Maico dirt bike out in the garage. So to my husband I say Thanks a bunch.)

Time to get rid of some stuff. And some apps. And maybe even some — gasp — books. We have public libraries, and unless it’s a book you read weekly, there shouldn’t be a huge need to keep it. (That said, my husband and I do have books in our home that are not on loan from the library. But we’ve pared them wayyyy down and we continue to do so. It’s a work in progress.) Books collect dust and silverfish and those icky little pincher-bug thingies — and no one wants those in their house. Keep a few cool ones (books, not bugs), and get rid of the rest.

Simplify your home, simplify your phone, simplify your life. Use those gadgets and apps that are meant to simplify to do just that. And if you find they aren’t actually simplifying, TOSS THEM AND DON’T LOOK BACK. (“No Ragrets“)

As a wild side-note, as I was writing this post, I came across an article in The Atlantic titled “Why Americans Are Always Running Out of Time.” It’s right in line with what I’m saying, and it gives lots of fun research to back up the ideas (there we go with that logos). Derek Thompson writes, “In the 20th century, labor-saving household technology improved dramatically, but no labor appears to have been saved.” Well huh. Why is that? He writes that it involves our shift in what we want and what we think we need. He talks about how before the advent of automatic washers and dryers, “humans blithely languished in their own filth.” As in, humans used to be perfectly fine in their own filth and the filth of others.

And while I’m allll about personal hygiene, I have to wonder if we’re a little quick to throw that pair of pajama pants into the dirty clothes hamper after a single wear. (My sons LOVE to throw a pair of pants they wore for an hour — if you have kids, you know that this just happens some days — into that hamper when they aren’t at all dirty.) If you’re familiar with my Instagram stories, it’s turned into a kind of game to spot the laundry basket lurking in the shadows in all my pictures and videos. So much laundry always . . .

In writing all of this, I have one simple request of you (well, two, actually, because I’d ask that you go back and read that Atlantic article): be mindful of the stuff you use (and enjoy) and try to get rid of the rest. If you don’t, someone will have to. And that’s just rude to let that fall to someone else.

Let’s not let our lives be frittered away by detail (or anything else, for that matter).

Thanks for reading, friends. Now go support your local donut shop by getting a delicious apple fritter. My favorite is Donut Wheel in Cupertino, California — open 24 hours! Enjoy.

How to Find Your Purpose in Five Easy Steps

“When God brings the blank space, see that you do not fill it, but wait.” –Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

On January 4th, page 4, God is moving. God is moving blank space into our lives, and we have to figure out what to do with it because as mere mortals we must take blank space and hurry-up-fill-it-up and move on to the next space and fill it and move and fill and move and fill and move and fill.

But Chambers, with his adept use of the adverb not, clearly advises against just that. Do not fill it. But wait.

And waiting is not something we like to do. As Ariana Grande puts it, “I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it

(yeah).”

But poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (whom I love and wrote about here) ends his poem “A Psalm of Life” with a simple command:

to wait.

Conflicting messages (what’s new) crossing generations (what’s new) muddy the waters for us. Who should we trust? Ariana Grande? Longfellow? Chambers?

Chambers also writes, “There are times when you cannot understand why you cannot do what you want to do.” I think even in the bubbly glitz of celebrity, Grande would resonate with that at times.

But in the blank space of your brain that doesn’t understand, that doesn’t have the answer, that doesn’t know the way — what if that’s where the magic happens?

This morning, I woke up, changed my 10-month-old’s diaper, made myself a french-press coffee, sat down in the living room, and just watched my boy-child. The older two boys were still sleeping, and my husband was volunteering at a 5K race, so aside from the baby chatter, the house was quiet. Normally, I snatch any time like this (read: those times the kiddos aren’t climbing up and on me like I’m a tree fort) to read. But this morning, I just sat. And watched. Life during those moments was simply about watching a baby explore. I didn’t even make mental plans for the day. And what a lovely morning it was.

I venture to say that quite a few people would enjoy a morning like that.

So it’s not that kind of blank space that we take issue with. It’s the kind where we feel like we’re taking an exam full of questions we don’t know the answers to. The kind of exam with questions . . . and then a lot of white space. Put in that way, it’s understandable why we’re so afraid of the white space.

So if life is like a written exam, I guess we know some of the answers. And some . . .

we do not. And maybe that spooky scary essay question on the last pages of the exam — the question is at the top of an otherwise blank page, and the other pages are white space for you to type all your paragraphs — is a question asking you to explain in 1500 words or more your purpose in life, using relevant examples and textual support, of course, and in MLA format, of course. Spooky scary!

Though counterintuitive to wait when we don’t know the answer, sometimes that’s the best thing for us to do. Even on an actual test, the best strategy oftentimes is to answer the questions we know first and wait on the ones we don’t know. Sometimes after doing the easier ones, our brains have made some connections for us to be able to answer the more difficult ones.

This takes on such a beautiful application to life. Perhaps when we get to a sticky point in life — one that asks us a question we don’t know the answer to — we should simply wait. Maybe answer some “easier questions” first. (For me, the answer to life’s question of how should the house be cleaned today is always vacuum! So as I embrace the vacuuming, I congratulate myself on doing something I know needs to be done. Then maybe after that, I’ll receive some enlightenment on the more difficult questions in life.

And then again, maybe not.)

Perhaps another reason blank space is so scary is that we are simply not used to it. We are busy people living busy lives every single busy day not leaving any room for fill-in-the-blank. We love filling in those planners (I do.). We glorify busyness. We complain about chauffeuring our kids to one event after the next, but we keep doing it. So when God brings blank space, we crumble. We need to know God’s plans for us — immediately. We need to have our black and white, fundamental answers. We need to hear the clear voice coming through the clouds telling us what to do next.

But knowing all of that would make us . . . God. (Or, I guess, Taylor Swift, who acknowledges a blank space and thence a name to fill into said space.)

So can we as mere mortals (Taylor Swift exempted here) do anything to make the inevitable blank space more tolerable? I, like Emily Dickinson, believe there is hope, even for mere mortals. So what can we do to preempt the crumbling of our souls when God brings confusion and misunderstanding and gray areas and doubt (i.e., blank space) to our lives? Take a quick look at these five easy steps!

Because sometimes, we just have to be OK with confusion and misunderstanding and gray areas and doubt. Sometimes there is nothing to do.

But wait.