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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wishing you a New Year with LESS

Now that the holiday gift giving season is over, how much additional “stuff” do you have in your house? How much of it do you really want or actually need? And how much did your own gift giving add to the clutter and waste in the world? On this last day of the old year, and eve of the new, my biggest resolution for 2009 is to live with LESS. I mean less spending and consumption, less clutter, less to care for and store, and less stress, resulting in MORE of my most precious resources: time and energy to enjoy my life.

As a young child in the late 1950s and early ‘60s I loved looking at the Sears and Roebuck Christmas Catalog and coveting all those new toys. At the same time I’d hear “old” people say they didn’t want any gifts because they already had everything they needed. To me that sounded just plain CRAZY. In my teen years it seemed embarrassing that my mother did things like saving buttons off worn-out garments before tearing them up into cleaning rags, or using vinegar and water to wash windows instead of buying Windex. It took her awhile to accept the idea of paper towels people just threw away after using, and the same with plastic packaging and disposable diapers. If some old apple tree produced nothing but wormy apples she’d cut off the salvageable parts and make applesauce. I blamed it all on the fact that she’d lived through the Great Depression, but wished she’d “get with it”. Mom was so old fashioned.

Oh my, if only she had lived to see me now…

My mother was right. I have my own jar of used buttons and a “rag bag” and more. Sorry Mom, but by now I’ve surpassed even you, in the recycling department, and when I use up this last roll of plastic wrap I’m not buying any more, even though I‘m kind of “clingy” in my relationship with that stuff. My friends and I get excited about discovering bargains and brag to each other about our thrift store and yard sale finds. It’s a big thrill to make something from nothing or find clever ways of reusing things. My husband and I love poking around architectural salvage places like Second Use, where we’ve found old bricks from Seattle’s original streets for a garden path, and a beautiful antique light fixture for our entry. Similar items show up at Tacoma’s Habitat for Humanity ReStore. It feels good to give new life to old things or pass along what you don’t need to someone who can use it.

When I visited Telluride, Colorado a few years ago (where there’s no shortage of money) I discovered the town had a “free box”. People leave things they don’t want or need, like clothing, household goods, books, tools, etc. and anyone who comes along is welcome to take whatever they want. I loved that idea and would like to see other communities start it up. But on the internet I found a bunch of fun and informative sites with the same treasure hunt appeal.

So… in honor of the memory of my mother, here’s a list of some great web resources for recycling, reusing, trading, bartering, and reducing waste, I hope you’ll enjoy.

Second Use Building Materials

Tacoma’s Habitat for Humanity ReStore

Habitat for Humanity U.S. directory of stores
with many in the Pacific Northwest. Look for one near you.

Olympia Salvage



The Re-Store (Bellingham and Seattle, WA)

Hippo Hardware in Portland, OR

Earthwise Salvage

Remember your local used book stores. In Tacoma try:

Kings Books, Culpepper's, Point Defiance Books, and Half Price Books
Book Mooch


Planet Green

Simple Living-"30 days to a simpler life"

More Life Less Stuff

Earth 911

Green Yahoo

And this one is full of fun ideas…
Check out the topics called “Recycled Goods” and “Crafty Recycling” for some interesting projects you can do, some suitable for kids.

Enjoy! Here’s wishing you a great new year with less of what you don’t need and more of the things that matter.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Three Little Words

Dear Readers,

Between snow and Christmas I'm two days late for my weekly blog post, but I've been thinking of you, hoping you and your loved ones are well, warm and happy. I'll be back on schedule next Wednesday and looking forward to all the pleasure coming my way in 2009, through sharing interesting stories, humor, and inspiration with you, and hearing your comments, on Good Life Northwest.

As you drive through slush this weekend, I hope you forget the inconvenience and remember how magical snow can be. My husband snapped this Tacoma photo on his early morning walk a few days ago and discovered an interesting light effect with the falling snowflakes. We wanted to share it with you.

So what "three little words" does this title refer to? They are my wishes for everyone everywhere: Peace, Love, and Joy!

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope the new year brings you many opportunities to appreciate the "Good Life" here in the Northwest or wherever you live.

All the best,

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Toy Rescue Mission could become "Mission Impossible"

Coming through the door of the Tacoma’s Toy Rescue Mission yesterday, from the frigid air outside, I relished the warmth; but next Christmas that space could be cold and empty. For eighteen years TRM has recycled “gently used” toys, inspecting each one for safety, cleaning, disinfecting, repairing, and restoring, bringing joy to thousands of local disadvantaged children. Now Toy Rescue Mission itself, just like the dolls with disjointed limbs, or little trucks with missing wheels, desperately needs to be rescued. The cash reserves of this successful non-profit, this ideal expression of American volunteerism, will run out in about six months unless help arrives. “Do you think you could write about them in your blog? NOW?” my friend Jan asked. As a member of Soroptimist International Tacoma she’s worked with TRM to provide toys for children helped by Shared Housing. “Of course,” I said. I hope by sending out an S.O.S. through Good Life Northwest, my readers and I can throw these valiant volunteers a lifeline before Recession claims another shipwreck.

In the “work room” bins of spare parts and toys yet to be repaired line the walls. TRM provides toys all through the year, not just in December, but despite the invaluable team of volunteers, requests for toys before Christmas make the month pretty intense. They are contacted by over 150 agencies but can only work with about 20. Overhead hurts, little as it is. The benevolent building owners charge a tiny fraction of the rent they could expect from someone else, because they want to support the “mission” of Toy Rescue Mission, and they also did $14,000 worth of repairs to make the space more comfortable and pleasant. Without that generosity it couldn’t exist. But along with lights, heat, phones, garbage, administrative expenses, and minimal salaries the budget exceeds income. If you’ve never heard of Toy Rescue Mission it’s because they don’t have money for fancy advertising like some other charities.

So why should you help Toy Rescue Mission? First of all, for children. As the TRM brochure states, “TOYS are the TOOLS children need to carry out their all-important task of playing. The act of playing is as important to a child’s emotional and mental development as food and shelter are to their physical well being.” Toy Rescue Mission also helps the elderly, providing lap robes and even toys for seniors in care facilities. People suffering from dementia often benefit from dolls and stuffed animals. Other programs give youth the opportunity to do community service projects coordinated through schools, churches, or even families who want to raise their kids with the idea of helping others. TRM gives people a fun place to volunteer, contribute to society, and make friends. It benefits huge numbers of citizens of all ages.

During my visit a group of teens and their adviser, from Truman High School in Federal Way, helped a family select toys, and I spoke with a young man named Nick Lewis as he worked at fixing a toy fire engine. He’d started out through his school but went on past the required time and has contributed about 20 hours of volunteering in the past three weeks.

I also heard, in a conversation with President Karol Barkley, about a local Eagle Scout named Issac Smith. She wants the community to know what he did. Issac independently organized a spaghetti fee, raising an astonishing $4,000.00. The cook graciously donated her time and effort to cook all the food. He used about $3,000 to buy toys for the TRM kids, then donated the remainder (after being reimbursed for his food costs) to TRM.

Another lady kept busy in a back room, bagging up the hundreds of stuffed animals she has personally cleaned by hand. All of them inspired in me the greatest respect and appreciation for good people quietly doing great things, the way Americans have always risen to meet challenges in our society.

Before I left a young mother came in with a baby in her arms and a son about four years old at her side. I’m not sure how she'll explain it, but “Santa” came through for those kids. I left then, hoping I could write words that would make people care about the things I’d seen and heard. The temperature outside remained well below freezing, but the warmth I experienced at Toy Rescue Mission stayed with me all the way home.

Note: Toy Rescue Mission is located at 607 S. Winnifred St., Tacoma, WA 98465, next to Tacoma Boys on 6th Ave. Please look at the website,, or call the business office, 253-460-6711, to offer your help in the form of money, volunteer time, or gifts-in-kind so this good work can continue. THANK YOU!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Eye-Opening Gig as a Street Corner Musician

Sometimes all you can do is choose the least uncomfortable situation, then make the best of it. That thought literally blasted me in the face while I asked my husband, as we set up to play Christmas music on a Tacoma street corner, “Should we be on the west side with sun but more wind, or the north side with cold shade and less wind?” We weren’t “busking”, uninvited and playing only for tips. We’re professional musicians and had been legitimately hired by a local business district, along with several other small groups, to provide seasonal ambiance for shoppers. Playing outdoors is always risky and that day the wind was C-O-L-D. It isn’t easy to play banjo or upright bass with stiff fingers.

As far as I could tell, all the musicians put out containers for tips. We’d been encouraged to do so by the organizer, even though we were being paid. It’s a common practice and usually well supported at places like farmers' markets. But it left us with a lesson in human nature and a few questions, like “Are we seeing some kind of Recession Mentality?” Despite the fact that we played our best, the old tip basket had more open space in it than a mortgage broker’s appointment calendar. Every once in awhile some kind person would drop something in, but not like you would expect.

I know people liked our music. Every time cars stopped for a red light at our corner, windows rolled down and smiles and waves appeared. Some drivers even got honked at when they paid more attention to us than the fact that the light had turned green. But they were safe in their cars and not expected to tip us. In the cold reality of life on the sidewalk we were a little too close for comfort to some people, close enough to maybe require eye contact or greetings. Many, even those who appeared well-off, hurried by. One couple came out of a nice restaurant a few doors down, started in our direction, then stopped and went the other way.

“Maybe we dressed too nicely,” I joked with my husband. “Like we don’t need tips.” He looked good in his layers topped by a corduroy sports coat and wool cap. I wore black slacks and a red wool blazer, a lot warmer looking than it really was. We thought we’d dressed appropriately for the job we’d been hired to do. But I don’t think it would have made any difference. The kind of people who are always “givers” gave, and we did meet some of them, like the nice lady who wanted to treat us to hot coffee. But this year, (and I’m not imagining it) there were more people who just didn’t want to part with a dollar, or even small change. You could see it in their faces and body language. Our presence made them as uncomfortable as the cold made us, even though we didn’t smell bad, look threatening or hassle them. What were they afraid of? That there isn’t enough to go around so they’d better not turn loose of what was theirs?

I can’t say if my eyes started watering from the cold wind or the realization that I at least had a warm house to go home to, and people living on the street do not. I shuddered thinking of spending a night outside in the winter. Then I met two people who might have faced that very thing. A couple got off the bus and came over to listen to us, through several tunes. They smiled and chatted, and offered nice compliments. They looked very, very poor. The man felt around in his pockets. He found two one-dollar bills and I watched him study them, briefly hesitating. Then he looked up at me and smiled and dropped them both in our basket.

“Thanks for the nice music” he said. He gave up money I was pretty sure they badly needed. I wanted to thank him and yet not take it, but seeing in his eyes the dignity with which he’d given the gift, I knew refusing him would be an insult. He was comfortable with his choice. We thanked them both sincerely and watched them go on their way to who-knows-where. I just hoped it was some place warm.

When we finished we spoke with other musicians who’d done about as well or even less so. It wasn’t that any of us were desperate for those tips. But the lack of holiday cheer did surprise us. Is everyone buying into the media hype that the world is coming to an end? We weren’t panhandlers. For less than the cost of a latte’ they could have shown a little appreciation for those struggling to play musical instruments in the cold for their enjoyment, or been a good example to their children, or taken part in a small act of kindness that might have made them feel a bit more like part of humanity. We need not be afraid to share.

Monetary wealth can be shown on a bank statement, but abundance is a state of mind. Times are tough, true. But even if you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation you can still be positive and make the best of it, and even share. In this season, this year, when food bank shelves are bare and some families can’t afford gifts, dwell on goodness, generosity, and gratitude for what you do have, and you’ll magically find out that a kind heart makes you feel as comfortable and cozy as the imagined bliss of Eilza in the musical “My Fair Lady", who just wanted a room somewhere, far away from the cold night air. If we could feel safe, comfortable and happy with only what we really need, wouldn't it be lovely?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Best Christmas Shopping in the Northwest- (plus a FREE GIFT for you)

Forget about Santa’s workshop at the North Pole. The best gifts are made right here in the Pacific Northwest, and they’re waiting for you in an old brick building on the corner of 27th and Proctor, in Tacoma, Washington. It’s the Pacific Northwest Shop, one of my favorite places any time of year, but especially now. (Read on to find out about the totally FREE gift you’ll get just for coming in.) I stopped by today, greeted by the bell on the door, and a pretty display of lighted trees in the window, and owner Bill Evans. “Well hello there, Candace!” he said, while giving his usual caring attention to customers, employees, and boxes of new merchandise that keep arriving. I call him a friend, but so do hundreds of other local people, so it’s always “old home week” in the shop. Those four walls contain not only the bounty of the Northwest, but the spirit of this place as well: natural beauty, good taste, friendliness and warmth.

Every year I send gifts with a regional flavor and flare to places as distant as Denmark. It’s easy to find something special at Bill’s shop. If you’re reading this but don’t live near Tacoma you can even browse the vast selection on line and read about the products and their makers. I picked up a basket at the door (that is, a REAL basket, not a dirty plastic one) and started selecting gifts I wish someone would buy for me, and that could mean anything in the store.

Specialty foods tempt shoppers immediately. There’s smoked wild Pacific salmon from Kasilof Fish Company, local preserves, dried fruit, extraordinary chocolate, coffees and teas (try Enchanted Teas made right in Tacoma), soup and baking mixes, Dan the Sausage Man summer sausage, and novelties like Space Needle Pasta, or Huckleberry Salt Water Taffy. I wish I could mention them all. How about a Washington State wine? Delights like these end up in specially chosen or custom made signature gift boxes the shop sends out each year by the hundreds, if not thousands, all over the country. They do the packing and even take them to the post office for you. I love thinking of recipients in far away states, or right in town, opening one of those collections of treasures.

Man cannot live by delicacies alone, but must also feed the soul with art. I am madly in love with the exquisite fused copper and glass creations of Jones Glassworks in Seattle, with their classically Northwest salmon theme. “It’s two brothers, the Jones brothers,” Bill said. Knowing about the vendors means a lot to him. I relished the richly colored pottery by northwest potter Mark Hudak, and tiles by Paul Lewing. These combine form with function, but the shop carries framed artwork as well, with subjects like regional scenery, Native American images, maritime, etc. The artwork extends to greeting cards, calendars and more. How could I forget the jewelry? Oh my! Those silver pieces in Northwest Native American designs call to me every time, and I've bought a lot of the Jody Coyote earrings.

If you love art glass, in addition to Jones Glassworks’ wonders, you'll find a huge selection from Glass Eye Studio. Made from the ash of Mount Saint Helens, these gems are arranged in front of a south-facing window like one huge kaleidoscope in every color and pattern imaginable. Impressive bowls and vases sit on shelves, but for only $22 you can buy one of the hundreds of glass balls displayed hanging or heaped in a trunk. Call them Christmas ornaments if you wish, but I’d hang one in a sunny window all year around, and they’re always available.

Books make great gifts and the Pacific Northwest Shop is loaded with titles from local authors, on a variety of regional subjects: cooking, travel, nature, history, and more, including one written by the store’s owner Bill Evans himself, along with historian Caroline Gallacci. It’s a fascinating history, from the popular Images of America Series, called "Tacoma’s Proctor District".

What makes this shop so special is Bill himself. He loves supporting local artists, artisans, writers, photographers, and cottage industries, especially in small towns, with products ranging from foods, like Thorp Prairie Corn Bread to natural soaps and lotions of which he has a large selection. “Look at this,” he said, holding up a bar of handmade soap. “Shepards Soap Company, in Shelton, Washington. Aren’t these great?” What’s also great is the way Bill knows his vendors personally and sincerely wants to help their businesses succeed. ( I too, wish I had space to mention everyone by name.) You can feel the warm and giving spirit of this shopkeeper permeating the store, so if you need a dose of Christmas cheer, unique Northwest gifts, and old-fashioned customer service from a great staff, come on in, and… (here’s the surprise) If you tell him you read this blog post on Good Life Northwest he’ll give you a FREE package of Rocca Thins chocolate coated buttercrunch candy.

Hey Santa, you’d better watch out! With a red hat and a beard, this guy could have your job.