Archive for October, 2010

A friend posted as her Facebook status yesterday,

Yes, or no?  That is my question.

One of her friends responded that she should say yes, because yes keeps the doors open.  I essentially responded that she could say no, because that will also keep her options open.

That got me thinking about something that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about – My “No” list.

I will never play rugby. That's my brother on the right. They hoist you by your underwear, and they crack each other's bones. No appeal to me.

The no list was formed, because I found myself wanting to do everything. Those who know me, know that I am ADD; not the hyper kind– the disorganized, sleepy brain, that is always doing something, but usually just spinning her wheels– kind.

In high school, I didn’t know that I had ADD.  Looking back it makes a lot of sense.  One of the symptoms is the inability to prioritize.  This has been a constant problem for me.  Everything, and I do mean everything, sounds like it’s just as great of an idea as anything else.

I signed myself up for Drama Club, SADD, Honor’s Society, Future Professionals, Cross Country, Track, Art Club, and anything else that sounded interesting.  At the time they all sounded wonderful and great.

Who was I kidding?  Is Future Professionals really as fun as Drama Club?  Nope, but I signed up and spread myself too thin anyway.

In college I worked three part-time jobs, and volunteered whenever I was asked.  It finally came to the point that I was letting everyone down because I was stretched too thin.  I couldn’t prioritize, so I quit most of the activities at that point.

Later, in my adult life, I’ve had to make major choices about career, household, marriage, etc., and it’s been difficult because I can see equal good in both choices.

Making decisions is hard.

Saying “No” is hard.  It shuts a door.

My Bucket List

As a kid I started a list of all the things that I wanted to do before I died.  I kept adding to it.  But the list brought me anxiety.  Were all the things on the list really worth doing?  Did I want to do each thing a little bit? or get good a just a few things on the list?  I was beginning to realize that I had to start taking things off the list if I wanted to make sure to get to all of the worthwhile things in my lifetime.

And the Anti-Bucket List

I started a “Not Gonna Do It” list.

A few of the things on the list are old dreams that don’t really seem important anymore.  A few are things that other people think are great fun and try to talk me into trying, but can be real time suckers.  And on the list are some things that just don’t appeal to me.

Not Gonna Do It

1. Scrap-booking. I love to be creative, but I would rather spend hours and hours of creative time doing something that is more meaningful to me, like photography or painting. Scrap-booking would bring a huge amount of guilt into my life (for the unfinished projects), a lot of clutter, and wasted money.

2. Voice lessons. When I was a kid, I secretly wanted to be famous.  I wanted voice lessons.  My voice just isn’t very good.  I might sing in a choir again someday, but that may go on the list too.

3. Stained glass. This one was a difficult one for me to add to the list.  I think stained glass is gorgeous.  My mom is into it.  It’s just another hobby that would require more supplies, and I really don’t like the way the edges of the glass feel.

4. Sky Dive. Duh!

5. Scuba Dive. I don’t like the water all that much.  I might go on a glass bottomed boat though.

6. Spelunking. I get claustrophobic.

7. Be a size 6. Why kid myself?  I’ll work on being happy with who I am, eat healthier, and try to move more.

8. Be a child star. *sniff* *sniff*.  I wanted to be like Punky Brewster.

9. Open a cafe. Too much work.

10. Read all of the most famous works of fiction. I’m a non-fiction junkie.  I just can’t get into stories all that much.

There’s more, but that’s all I’m going to share.

Don’t feel sorry for me for having an anti-bucket list.

People are all the time trying to tell me that my list keeps me from keeping my options open-from letting opportunity strike.

I think my list keeps the door open for opportunities that I really want to come into my life.  My Anti-bucket list keeps me focused on what I really do want to learn and explore.

What is on your Not Gonna Do It list?  Or, let me rephrase…What should be on your Not Gonna Do It list?

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A look from above of just a few of Better World's Books (photo from Google Maps)

I originally wrote this post on September 1st, and never published it.  I think it fits in well with yesterday’s post, so here you go…

I am sitting by myself in the lowlight of a local bookstore after hours. Not entirely by myself as my husband and his friends are upstairs picking their fantasy football teams. This place is everything you would want in a bookstore. It’s in an old storefront with tin ceilings, brick walls, and creaky old wooden floors.

And, it’s a business built upon values.

The shelves are packed with best sellers and a great selection of used books. Our town is unique with a large proportion of Amish, Mennonite, and Mexican immigrants. Many of the used books reflect the values of our community. There is a large selection of religious books, local culture, and my personal favorite: environmental and sustainability titles.

The parent company, Better World Books, was started in 2002 by Notre Dame students, as an online business. The founders had the goals of being a profit-making company and bringing literacy to the world.

While it is a business, and not a non-profit, the original founders of the company had doing good in mind from the beginning. So far the parent company has raised almost $9,000,000 for global literacy and has saved 26,000 tons of books from landfills. They ship their books for free and ship with carbon offsets from the Carbonfund.org.

Brad and Missy of Better World Books, Goshen (Who wouldn't want to buy a book from these two?) full disclosure: I swiped this photo from Missy's facebook

A couple of years ago, Brad and Missy Weirich opened the first and only retail storefront for Better World Books, in Goshen. It combined a dream of working with people, talking about books, and running their own business.

Today, the Goshen Better World Book’s store is an integral part of our community.

Better World Books in Goshen is the “Cheers” of the bookstore world.

Brad and Missy are quick to offer suggestions, track down hard to find special order books, offer to go above and beyond, and greet their customers by name. Sure, we might (and that’s not likely) save a few pennies by ordering on Amazon, but that would be one less excuse to go browse at the bookstore.

The way these folks run their business is exemplified by the way they make their customers feel.

Several months ago I overheard Missy talking with a customer who was from out of town.  The customer was leaving the next morning and wanted to purchase some books, but had forgotten to bring her wallet.  So Missy offered to open the store early the next day, so the out-of-towner could purchase the books she wanted.

My daughter placed her first pre-order of a book with Missy. When the book arrived, as she walked through the door, Missy had the book on the counter waiting for her. When my kiddo missed the deadline on the Library read-a-thon, Better World gave her the same discount the read-a-thon kids got. What a way to make a kid feel special!

Better World Books from the street. Isn't it charming?

Better World Books steps up and supports local downtown events. Sure, it’s good business, but it’s also good for the people of our community.

I’ve never seen the mission statement for our local store, or read the store’s goals, but I bet they go something like this: Bring the joy of reading to all people, be a positive force in the community, and help customers find what they need (not just what they want) through the vehicle of this business.

Thanks Brad and Missy for providing a key ingredient to our community.

Next time you want a book, stop by Better World first. Or find them on Facebook.  If you don’t live near Goshen, get on the website to scout out some great deals on books and do some good for your world.

Better World Books’ Online Store

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A couple of weeks ago, I spent a couple of hours putting together a really great post, only to lose it to the computer abyss.   I’ll let you imagine a well researched post about how Sunchips was dumping their compostable packaging because loads of people thought that bag was too loud.

Can you imagine it?  Good post, eh?

There was a big campaign from angry customers to lose the noisy packaging.


Using packaging that is a gentler on the earth is too difficult, because the bag is too crinkly.

I don’t get it.  Can’t people just dump them into bowls so they can’t hear them crunch?  Oh, right, we’re Americans.  We want to dip our hand into the bags, watch our favorite t.v. show, and crunch our chips at the same time.

This is a case where the value of noiseless eating trumps any environmental values.

So, the day that I wrote my oh so well written and forever lost post lamenting the demise of the Sunchips packaging, I came across this photo on one of my facebook feeds. It sort of put this nonsense into perspective.


From Belete, who received a new pair of TOMS: “Now I will be healthy and clean!” From the Tom's Shoes facebook page

This child got his first pair of shoes from Tom’s Shoes.  The shoes were not about fashion or perfection.  The shoes were about keeping this kiddo healthy and clean.  I love this photo. You can see the joy because of a gift.  When was the last time one of our kids got this excited about their new shoes?

We take a lot for granted.


From Toms Shoes Facebook page

Tom’s shoes was started by Blake Mycoskie, a former Amazing Race competitor.  While he was traveling around the world he saw a need to provide shoes for the poorest children in developing nations.

He returned to Argentina, with the hope to provide 250 pairs of shoes for the locals there.  But, instead, he started a self-sustaining, profitable business model that donates one pair of shoes for each shoe purchased.  Recently, Tom’s Shoes donated their 1,000,000th pair.

So what’s the big deal about shoes? Most of us probably have several pairs littering the bottom of our closests.

From the Tom’s Website:

Why Shoes?

Many children in developing countries grow up barefoot. Whether at play, doing chores or going to school, these children are at risk:

A leading cause of disease in developing countries is soil-transmitted diseases, which can penetrate the skin through bare feet. Wearing shoes can help prevent these diseases, and the long-term physical and cognitive harm they cause.

Wearing shoes also prevents feet from getting cuts and sores. Not only are these injuries painful, they also are dangerous when wounds become infected.

Many times children can’t attend school barefoot because shoes are a required part of their uniform. If they don’t have shoes, they don’t go to school. If they don’t receive an education, they don’t have the opportunity to realize their potential.
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Small things can make a big difference.

Recyclable packaging reduces our carbon footprint and the amount of material that ends up in dumps.  Donating our old coats to our schools so that kids can be warm while they wait for the bus makes going to school more bearable.  Buying from companies that make intentional business plans that tread lightly on the earth, treat their employees well, and give back to their communities, doesn’t take a whole lot of extra effort on our part.

Businesses making a profit is not a bad thing. One doesn’t have to start a non-profit to give to others. What if companies started making giving-back a part of the business model?  Being profitable makes companies sustainable. Being profitable provides living wages for employees.

Here is your mission for this week should you choose to accept it.

Think of something you really, really love.  Maybe it’s shoes, fashion, books, food, make up, movies, etc., and investigate a company that is doing good for the community (locally or globally), making a profit, AND providing something that makes your day a little bit happier. Report back and let us all know what fantastic companies you’ve found.

As for me, I’m going to forget about Sunchips for a while and stick with Baked Kettle Chips for now.  (7.8 on the Goodguide, Genetically Engineered Free). Using wind and solar power to help satisfy my salt needs is a plus in my book.

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I can’t believe that I forgot to include security in my values post.

Security always rears its head my decision making process.  I would like to think that time with the family, and creativity would be tops on the list.  But, when it comes time to make scary decisions, security bubbles up to the top and pushes the other values down a few notches.  Security is also lingering in the small decisions, like when I choose the cheapest meal on a menu to save a few bucks, or get whiny about wasted food and making the kids change into play clothes.

What does security do for me?

Well, it helps me make responsible, adult decisions needed to provide for my family and myself.  And by provide, I mean it gives me the financial resources to keep a roof over our heads.  Security = stability for me.  The value of security is also the hidden value that is leading me astray from my other core values.

By choosing the secure path, I am depleted at the end of my days from a job that sucks my energy.  The financial security that I bring to my family is also hindering my ability to fully provide the emotional support and quality and quantity time that the kids need.   Security brings with it fear of failure…a fear of trying new things.  By falling back on “secure” decisions, I am keeping the fun, creativity, and family time out of a primary spot in my life.

Wow, how did I miss this?

Valuing security is not very glamourous.

It’s sort of like someone that values fashion, says it’s not an important value to them, but spends most of their disposable income, shopping.

Or someone that says beauty isn’t important, but is always on a diet trying to lose weight.

Security is a hidden value for me that I wish would go away.  It’s the value that for whatever reasons, is part of the baggage that I carry that I just can’t set down.

So, what are your hidden values?  What comes up when you are most raw in your decision making processes-big or little?

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My Habit…


Indian Corn; Jenny Frech 2010


I’m really excited that some of my photographs are getting a little notice. I’m shy and self-conscious about my work, so it feels good to get a few kudos.

My Indian Corn photo was featured in a treasury on etsy this week, and then another blog found the treasury and posted it on their site. It’s a beautiful blog. That’s kind of fun.

I also received my complimentary issue of November/December issue of Grit, that has a photo I took of my old ram, Coal.  I sent a request to ask to be on the photo call out, the editor asked for samples, and they bought one right away.  That really was energizing.

If you see any photos that you like on my blog, most of them are available for sale in lots of different sizes. You can also purchase my photographs at my etsy store, Blewe.

And the bonus links

My friend Brooke wrote a poem about fall and dedicated it to me on her blog.  Thanks Brooke!  She has been trying to convince me that I should love fall, and this gorgeous October weather we’ve been having may be enough to do just that.

Check out Low Impact Betty’s blog, she has lot of DIY simple cleaners and easy ideas to get you started on a lower impact lifestyle.


Check out the November/December issue of Grit to see my old Ram Coal, Jenny Frech 2008


I love Frugal Girl’s blog too.  She discusses all kinds of ways to lower our expenses, create less waste, and she even has a series on contentment.  She is a great photographer.  Check out the pictures of her baked goods.  Jeremy got in trouble when he said he wished his wife could bake goodies like that!

This link is for my teacher friends.  Ittybiz links marketing advice with building relationships with students.  Very clever, and so so true.

Way cool paper-thin solar panels are being developed. Imagine the possibilities!

Three sources that discuss Monsanto’s Round Up Ready problems:  The Atlantic discusses “superweeds“, Grist’s blog post about Monsanto paying farmers to spray competitor’s pesticides, and Eco-Steps blog also discusses GMO’s failure to increase yields to help feed the hungry.

Thanks to everyone that’s visiting.  If you like what you find here, share it with others, and let me know what you enjoy most!

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This is a time of course correction for me.

What do you value? Fashion? Fun? Modeling?

When you drive on a curvy road you can’t keep going straight  and expect to stay on the path.  That’s how it is in life.  Only some of us (self included) have forgotten to make the turns that we needed at the right time, and now have to try to get back on the right road.  Sometimes it’s a simple turn, and other times we realized that we were reading the map upside down and have to turn all the way around.

Personally, I am pretty content with most of the aspects of my life.  The one place that I am trying to course correct is to better align my life with my core values.  Prior to the last two years, I spent a lot of time in survival mode.  

Of course, my priorities will shift as I move through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  When I was a stay-at-home mom I worried about how we would pay the bills, which led to me taking a job to pay them.  This wasn’t so much in line with my core values as it was a necessity, and I valued having a roof over my head.

I do feel good about the direction my life is headed.  My family brings me joy and I appreciate my strengths.  But, my life was not deliberate.  Lots of “stuff” (things, activities, occupations, etc.) just sort of rambled into my life.

Now it’s time to evaluate my values and realign certain aspects of my life to match them.  I tried making a list of values last night and realized that I could come up with dozens.

Hmmm? So how am I going to prioritize dozens?  I’m not going to.

I’ve prioritized my core values.

1. Loving family life

2. Marriage and being a good partner

3. Parenthood

4. Time

5. Treating the earth and earthlings with kindness

6. Creative Expression

7. Frugality

What am I doing that is in line with these values?

1. Loving family life: We’ve given up the television as a background noise box, and make a plan a couple of times a week to snuggle on the couch and watch Muppet Show or Little House on the Prairie DVDs.  We also sit down to dinner together most nights.  (Quite a change for me when the first thing I did when I came home from school was turn on the t.v.)

2. Marriage and being a good partner: We communicate all the time, even about difficult issues.  We try to nip them in the bud early on while the issue is still teeny and weeny.  We also laugh as much as possible.

3. Parenthood: Making snuggle time for my kiddo, and recognizing the individual needs of all of the kids and giving them what they need.

4. Time: I am starting to steal micro-moments of time with my husband, kids, and friends.

5.Treating the earth and earthlings with kindness: I carry a water bottle now, hang my clothes out to dry, and recycle.  On most days, I am relatively patient with my students.  (Visit me 7th period, and you will see that patience in action)

6. Creative Expression: Currently it’s in the form of photography for me, but we also encourage it in the kids too.

7. Frugality:  I am cheap, and like to save money whenever I can, but NOT neccesarily however I can.

How do I better use these values as a guide?

1. Loving family life: Because I have the patience of Job at my job, I often come home like Oscar the Grouch, grumbling at everyone in my path.  I’m not crabby with them, I’ve just kept it pent up all day.

2. Marriage and being a good partner:  See #1

3. Parenthood: I can get wrapped up with my pictures, blog, or own sheer worn-outness that I miss out on good opportunities for bonding.

4. Time: The passing of time brings anxiety.  I spend too much time spinning wheels trying to get things done.  I need to figure out how to be present in all moments, not just a few.

5. Treating the earth and earthlings with kindness:  I still consume too much, have some products that need to make the big switch over to something greener, and have items that need to be given away.  I also hope to be a more gracious person.

6. Creative Expression: I need to make time for this.

7. Frugality: I can get caught up in the moment and buy too much of a good bargain, or buy too cheap of a product that breaks right away, instead of the item that I really want or need to begin with.

Whew, that was probably way more than anyone wanted to know about me.

If you don’t have your prioritized list yet, take some time to write down what is really most important to you.

I leave you with a very small example of how I used my prioritized list this weekend.

Hubby and I were at Walmart.  (Don’t judge me about big Wally…let me finish the story).

So, we were buying some yogurt.  We put into our cart 3 store brand 4-packs of raspberry yogurt that were a good price.  Then, as I was walking along the aisle, I spotted Stoneyfield yogurt.  It was about 20¢ more per serving.  However, I had read a bit of the biography of Stoneyfield’s founder, Gary Hirshberg.  His vision was to build a company that was sustainable, treated people fairly, and could make a difference with its profits.

Stoneyfield was one of the first organic companies to push its way into Walmart.  He is one of the folks with the vision to change the way the big box stores do business.

So, in this case, value #5 Treating the earth and others with kindness won out over value #7 Frugality, as it should.  Now, if there had been $1 more per serving difference I would have had to make some choices.  Keeping in mind the order of my values, I should either buy less of the original yogurt or none at all.

The problem that I have using this method, is that I have a very difficult time distinguishing between important things.  What is the most important to me can get cloudy when I’m in the midst of a big decision, or there is some glowing glimmery end goal like a shiny new house or how-to books.

For those of us that feel like we are just treading water, we can start making course corrections right now.  I may not be able to make major changes, but even the slightest turns, when made time after time, can turn me around in the other direction.

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but tossing and turning instead because my brain won’t turn off.

As I was lying in bed last night, I was thinking about yesterday’s post and how complicated my life really is. Today, on Facebook, three of my friends were lamenting Monday, and realizing that somewhere along the way, we have forgotten how to live.

The  joy has been sucked out of our lives with busyness: long commutes, needless paperwork, unpaid overtime, too many papers coming home from school, soccer games, and lawn mowing.  Even 13th Century peasants had 80 holidays per year, and slowed down in the winter long enough to mend their socks and make babies.

Some people are lucky enough to be in the financial situation to be able to do what they want, and others of us, are treading water, trying to get the bills paid. I know some will say, “follow your bliss”, “quit your job and do what makes you happy”, “sell your house and your car and everything will be okay”.

Some of us are just not in the financial position to do that.  I’ve been reading a lot of blogs about simplicity, and there are  a lot of hardcore, all or nothing types.  Either you sell your t.v. and your car, or you might as well give up your quest for a simpler life.  That’s just not possible for all everyone.  Some of us have child support to pay;  a significant other in school; are under or unemployed; have houses that won’t sell in this market; or are up to their eyeballs in student loans and credit card debt.  Maybe we live in places that have no public transportation and eight-year-olds that can’t ride their bikes 10 miles to town and back. What about us?  I am hopelessly optimistic.  I just think we will have to be ultra creative to figure this all out.

What do those of us that want a simpler life now do? In our minds we see how we want our lives to be, but aren’t sure how to get there.  Maybe we don’t even know how we want our lives to look yet, so we can’t even begin to make a change.

Eight years ago, I knew that something wasn’t quite right in my life. I really felt stale and stagnant.

So I took the following steps to make some changes. I…

  • learned to oil paint. I had always wanted to learn to paint, so when my daughter was just about a year old, I took an oil painting class.
  • threw pots on a wheel at a pottery studio. Let me tell you, pottery can be therapeutic. The other major and maybe the most life transforming thing that I learned was: Don’t be afraid to look like an idiot and ask questions. People want to help you.
  • came to terms with the thought that I wasn’t crazy, just creative. I saw a counselor for a while, but I think anyone could have filled the role of letting me know that I wasn’t crazy, just different from the mainstream. Who wants to be like everyone else anyway?
  • tried every thing I could think of to save my marriage. I didn’t bolt, and suffered for a while, but I wanted to make sure every step had been overturned before I left.
  • found people in my tribe. This included people from age 21-76. Age doesn’t matter, heart does.
  • made a plan. I went back and got my teaching certificate for High School science so I could find a job with a paycheck that could support myself.
  • finally learned how to use my camera which is by far the most fun I’ve had so far.
  • met a great friend that shares my lust for learning, so I married him.
  • really started evaluating what I eat, buy and otherwise consume, and have started making some difficult choices in my behaviors to match up with my values.

So, that’s what I’ve done so far, not all at the same time mind you-over the course of the last eight years. I’m not there yet, far from it. I still feel like there is a lot more for me to learn.

The last ten years have beat me up in a lot of ways, but I wouldn’t trade them because I learned too much about myself. If I hadn’t have had troubles along the way, I would still be stupid 26 year-old Jenny, and not mildly jaded 36 year-old Jenny.

So friends, what are we going to do to find the simplicity and connectedness in our lives that we want?

Step One: We have to evaluate what our values truly are. What do we hold dearest to us in our lives?  How can we better show through our lives what is most important to us? And then, this is the kicker…we have to prioritize those values. Put them in 1,2,3 order with one being the most important to you.

I’m going to sleep on this one tonight, and post more about this tomorrow. If you are courageous, post your values in order in the comment section on the blog, and maybe we can help each other out.

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