Beautiful and joyful

Historic furniture on display at Philadelphia Museum of Art, July 2007/

Historic furniture on display at Philadelphia Museum of Art, July 2007

“Frugality is one of the most beautiful and joyful words in the English language, and yet one that we are culturally cut off from understanding and enjoying.  The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things.”Elise Boulding

I have been thinking that one of the reasons we rush about with so many activities during holiday seasons, is the sheer bliss of the relative calm when that rush is over.  Several people have spoken recently about the restful serenity of Christmas afternoon, and I have to admit that the older I grow, the more that respite becomes the sweetest part of the season for me.

In the same way, the over-abundance of blessings we feel at holiday seasons — food, gifts, joyous and lively time spent with loved ones — seem to lead naturally to a craving for quiet days and an almost sparse existence, at least temporarily.  Our thoughts may turn with some enthusiasm to our plans for clearing out our possessions, eating more sensibly, getting more rest, and making time for contemplative walks, thoughtful reading or daily devotional breaks.  We begin to sense the happiness of not having things, as Boulding described.

Perhaps this is part of the impulse that underlies the tradition of New Year’s resolutions, but such aspirations need not be formalized into well-defined goals.  We can use the natural rhythms of the seasons as a context for easing into neglected tasks or important plans that have been pushed to the back burner in the busyness of past weeks.  I hope you will find a way to bask in times of stillness during the final week of the year, and take at least a partial break from the typical day-to-day stress that crowds out nourishing rest, resolve and reflection.  May 2014 bring all of us increased awareness of the joys of frugality.

One year ago today

To select well


  1. My story is the other way round.
    Last two weeks we hadn’t touched any non-veg food. Our staple food is rice with which we normally need two/three different dishes, one of them preferably non-veg. Yesterday I made some chicken curry (which turned out to be a great hit) and I felt so gratified to see the kids relish it with compliments as if it was a sumptuous meal. I was wondering what made them do that (usually they either grumble or disregard). And now I get the answer – the happiness of having a little bit after a brief period of frugality. Relax, reflect and get rejuvenated!

    • Bindu, I love that story. I was just telling our older son yesterday how I got tired of cooking during the years they were teenagers and seemed to complain about or disregard my meals (“Are we having this AGAIN?” 🙂 ) It does make a difference to go without something for awhile. I could go on for hours about how many ways being frugal improves life. Appreciation is just one of them. Thanks for being here, and I hope you have a beautiful day today!

  2. Ann

    This year’s blog fits nicely with last year’s blog AND this year I really am going to purge my closet!

    I don’t mind giving things away but I hate throwing things away. I retired two years ago and still have a closet full of ‘work’ clothes and shoes and purses!! My plan is to donate them to Cooperative Ministries, an organization in our city that will give them to women who need appropriate clothes for job interviews etc… Thanks for spurring me to action!

    Now that I’ve written this, I will have to put the plan in action.😀


    • Yes, Ann, I think we all have that disconnect between intentions and action. I too HATE to throw things away. I was so happy when I called Goodwill to find out if they had any use for very old clothing (I don’t want to just pass my garbage on to agencies that can’t use it) and they told me they use the very old clothes to make rag fiber. That was years ago, so I probably need to call them again to make sure before I drop off any well-worn things. By the time I’m ready to get rid of something, it’s usually SO OLD that nobody else would have any use for it! I love my paperback swap (see icon at the right side when you scroll down on the blog) because I get a big kick out of sending a specific title to someone who is looking for it – so much more fun than pitching a book, even an old one. We will have to keep each other “on the wagon” with this cleaning out business. And I highly recommend you check out Organized at Heart written by Alys, a fellow blogger who is a wonderful cheerleader for those of us who need to get and stay motivated! Feel free to check in with me and hold me accountable for cleaning out my closets, cabinets and drawers! My husband will thank you! 🙂

  3. Excellent post. Very appropriately drafted.
    Well the conclusion.

    • Thank you, lvsrao, I am so happy you like it! I hope you have a wonderful year in 2014. I appreciate your visits here.

  4. Beth

    Want what you have. 🙂

    • Beth, so true! Perhaps the key to happiness, in a nutshell. My only problem is wanting LESS of what I have…makes it hard to throw things away! Hope you are doing well and having a wonderful holiday!

  5. Jack

    I’m heading to the woods for 3 days (the “woods” are a farmhouse with cable tv) to hunt, walk, watch football, knock around the house, my vacation from the excesses of the last week or so. If I’m lucky, I can get by on about $30 for some fixings for the chili and duck gumbo and ham and butterbean soup, a little breakfast food, a loaf of bread for the ham and turkey leftovers and a couple of other odds and ends. My kids think I’m cheap; I think being frugal is a virtue. The truth probably lies somewhere in between but leaning toward the cheap side.

    • Jack, don’t get me started on the joys of being frugal. I think it’s the best way to really enjoy life. So many people are in economic slavery because of being unable to pay their bills. There are many reasons for this (including a bad economy and poor job opportunities) but one beautiful way to cope is to learn to live really well on next to nothing. And it’s not impossible! I am so thankful that Jeff and I had four very lean years when we were first married, while he was in dental school and I made barely above minimum wage. We learned a lot of habits and preferences that remain with us to this day.

      I can say in all honesty that butterbean soup sounds better to me right now than a steak or lobster dinner would – in fact, I don’t eat either even when I have the choice. Many people would think that means I’m crazy, but I think it means I’m lucky! My favorite meal is skillet cornbread and just-picked vegetables from my Mama and Daddy’s organic garden. Cracker Barrel is my favorite restaurant because that’s the closest I can come to the kind of food I grew up eating.

      Incidentally, my brother Eric’s home in the mountains is named “The Woods” and I think it’s partly because he and my Daddy and younger brother and friends think of the woods as their favorite place to be! I am happy you know how to enjoy it there as well. Have fun and know that YOU ARE RICH in the best possible way!

      • 🙂

  6. Michael

    Malls are open today for early returns- think I will go for a contemplative walk instead.

    • Sounds good to me! I think I’ll do the same. It’s sunny here, and colder – perfect for a winter walk and coming home to a cup of hot tea.

  7. Michael

    I do have to refill the Hummingbird feeders today.

    • That sounds like a rewarding task. Maybe this year I will get my Hummingbird feeder filled and put it to use after at least four years of good intentions. I love to see the birds at my sister’s Hummingbird feeders.

  8. raynard

    Julia thanks again for the card.have not left my house in 2days.Trying to start new year off with clean laundry and house. A tradition since the 90’s.Our shredder is working overtime and no returns to the malls which I never like and I managed to stay out of Wally World also I mean Walmart. Lol .Working on 3 movies,my wife’s blankets and pillows she makes .Then there is my cakes and flower show on the lookout for a sneak peek preview.I was watching one of those shows about hoarders and got clustphobic. Yes that is my motivation for cleaning along with the dream about being trapped in a sewer barefoot while being splashed with domestic wine.. Lol. Be blessed

    • Hi Raynard, congratulations for avoiding Wally World. Just today I was telling Jeff how happy I am that we have managed to do that very same thing for the past couple of weeks. Walmart in December is not for the faint of heart. Sounds like you have some fun winter activities going. Maybe I need to watch a hoarders show to give me some extra motivation to clean everything up! Blessings to you and your family too!

  9. Connie Reed

    I am learning more and more with each blog. So much fun reading your day’s thoughts. I now know I would like to find a good recipe for butterbean soup. I also learned that your husband is a dentist. I have been in dentistry for 35 years in May (what a small world!). I also get that sudden urge to lose 100lbs and organize my whole house in the 4 days remaining of my Christmas vacation. I better go get busy! Love and good wishes for you all and Happy New Year. But, most of all, prayers and good health for Jeff in the coming year!

    • Thanks so much Connie, I had no idea you and Jeff were in the same field! As for the butterbean soup, I’d settle for just being able to get butterbeans; I can’t seem to find them anywhere except occasionally in a can. They must be mostly in the deep south? In any case I love them. Maybe Jack will share his recipe here. Thanks so much for your good wishes and prayers. We wish you and your family and happy and health 2014 also!

      • Jack

        Sorry for just now seeing this. I use Paula Deens recipe, simple to make, very filling and great in cold weather. Just google “ham and butter bean soup”, go to the link to Paula’s recipe and voila, you’re an hour or so from some good eats!

        My duck gumbo is to die for too!

        • Thanks Jack, we will hunt for that recipe (no pun intended) although I’ll pass on the duck gumbo. I’m sure it’s delicious, but I generally prefer soups without meat and would probably even leave the ham out of the butterbean soup if Jeff would let me 🙂 . The one exception is chili, which I like with extra-lean ground beef. Around my parents’ home you’d be more likely to get ground vension. I’m not sure if they ever have duck but they will eat almost any kind of game.

  10. Larry

    My memory goes back to the Sunday afternoons coming in at lunch time to Daddy Oscar’s and Mama Ruth’s. Driving up to a small white house, tin roof and porch swing out front. Entering inside the quaint 5 room dwelling, modestly furnished and being greeted with the best question each week. “Did you jar the mast off the trees today Son?” Mama Ruth sitting there in her rocker by the wood stove wanting to know who all was there today. Always knowing that the house was rented and the furnishing were simple. A simple, quiet and peaceable life was led there. Many days coming in unannounced and finding Daddy Oscar with Johnsons Commentary reading about the bible. Oh what a simple life and so full of blessings did they live. We too can take great example by their lives lived for us to follow in their footsteps. Does Jeff remember those days as well?

    • Yes Larry, Jeff and I both remember many an afternoon, especially on Sundays, with Mama Ruth and Daddy Oscar. What I remember most is how Daddy Oscar was always saying “God has really blessed this family.” It seems that he said that at some point every time we all got together. I remember how I loved the heat from that wood stove (and the time they set the smoke alarm off with it)! I remember watching Jeff split wood for them, something he was very good at doing. I also remember the many times in years past when Daddy Oscar would come out the door to meet us when he heard us coming up that long gravel driveway. Somewhere I have a photo of the kids running to him; if I can find it I will post it here.

  11. Michael

    Reminds me of the song,” Tis a gift to be simple and a gift to be free.” Amish folk song? Frugality gets a bad rap this time of year with adds for new cars every 15 seconds on T.V. Verie and I also went through scant times in school, but I am afraid the lessons have gone by, although we do try to live,” below our means.” Cracker Barrel is nice but we did have prime rib for Xmas, I confess. And I don’t recall Butterbean soup. Have you had Roosevelt beans? I had this for the first time in Hawaii of all places. I never found a recipe for it, but did enjoy. I would not mind hearing more about frugality, which reminds me of that Roman’s verse,” do not be conformed to the patterns of this world.” Living a frugal life flies in the face of this consumer society and another quote comes to mind, “live simply so that others might simply live.”

    • Mike, I think “Simple Gifts” is a Shaker song but it definitely has American folk origins. I have never even heard of Roosevelt beans (I need to look them up!) but in Hawaii we did eat Azuki beans all the time. I would buy them dry at the health food store, and then soak and cook them all day. We would have them with baked potatoes and spinach. I don’t ever see them here on the east coast, although I could sometimes get them in California. At one time I thought about doing a whole blog or website on budgeting and frugal living. It’s possible to have quite a grand life without ever spending much. Of course, one may need to adjust one’s definition of “grand,” but life is full of enjoyment that is free or very inexpensive. To name just one example, the public libraries are sources for endless books in any format, music, movies, classes, and other offerings, all without cost. I have enjoyed hundreds of unabridged audiobooks without ever needing to buy any. But so many people I know never use the library at all. I guess I better not get started talking about this topic, I’m short on time right now 🙂 …

  12. Hello Julia, I’m playing catch up. but couldn’t resist the butterbeans and cornbread! I also prefer them to steak or lobster. 🙂

    • Yes, for me that’s about as good as food gets! And I love food!

  13. Michael

    Azuki beans are the ones they put on top of the shave-ice? Kind of sweet?
    Roosevelt beans is not a kind of bean but a recipe for kind of a bean stew. WIll try and find a recipe.

    • I have heard of them being used in desserts, but we never ate them that way. They don’t taste sweet naturally, as far as I can tell. They are basically like tiny red beans, smaller than black-eyed peas but with a similar taste and texture. I did search for Roosevelt beans and as you say, what I came up with was lots of photos of stews. It looked as if they were all made with white beans (often called great northern beans) which I love but Jeff doesn’t. Maybe in a stew I could sneak them past him :-).

  14. Michael

    And have the ask the meaning of phrase,” Did you jar the mast off the trees?”

    • I myself wondered that, and could not come up with the answer in a brief online search. Larry, can you enlighten us? or is that something that only Daddy Oscar could have explained?

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