Live Simply With Style

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Make Time Into Your Friend

All of us are given the same 24 hours a day to manage. Those who are successful at living simply with style handle their time allotment so they are seldom bored or frazzled.

The first notion of time we must accept and practice in our lives is that it’s never too late. We may have procrastinated in the past, but we can begin to take action today. Want to write poetry? Jot down a rhyme. Desire to lose weight? Change an eating habit over the next couple of meals. Thinking about a computer? Devote some time at a public library with a terminal. Have an unresolved conflict with family or friends? Pick up the phone or pen now. Come up with solutions to your usual excuses. Take advantage of that special gift, a second chance.

The other aspect of time is to understand how to hurry slowly. Savoring the moments, slowing down, and spending half our hours in quiet and calm—all depict a person who is living wisely. Some people are able to discover this reflective pace by adjusting daily schedules. Others need to allocate special days for these peaceful pleasures. Treat yourself kindly.

When we find things we really want to do, we’ll find the time to do them. This is one of life’s difficult lessons: No matter what people claim their dreams might be, their real dreams and values are expressed by how they spend their time. We may not be able to instantly achieve a dream, but if we’re serious, we can take the first steps. If we truly desire to travel, we’ll make an excursion, even if it’s to a nearby park rather than around the world. If we have a passionate desire to read, we’ll do it even if it requires reserving a small block of time in our schedule. If you’re still struggling, create a deadline or have a reward ready for taking action.

An eye-opening exercise is to discover how you spend your days. If you’ve kept an appointment calendar, you can look back over the past year and made a list of things. Put them in two columns, fill one with the less-than-wonderful experiences; in the other, list the rewarding events. You may be surprised at how much time was squandered on the trivial and how little on your passions. If you don’t have the appointment calendar to review, start making notes each day on how much time you allocate to each activity. Naturally, the goal is to identify the times you’re happiest and expand them, while noticing times when you’re least happy and reduce them.

Be wary of common time leeches. Too much attention focused on items such as TV, the news, gossip, complaints, celebrities, social networking, etc. can drain much of your energy with little positive to show for it. Put more effort into choices that reward you emotionally, physically, or financially.

Our lives blossom when we carefully nurture how we use our time. When we balance our reflective moments with our active ones, when our stated priorities coincide with our usage of time, we find that time becomes our trusted friend.

Editor’s Note: The Smiths have two new websites for their two new books: and Both books are for sale at The Book Shelf in Tryon.


Relax! (And Lower Stress)

All of us know how to relax, right? Perhaps not. There’s an immense difference between effective relaxation and taking a nap or kicking back and watching a movie. Relaxation involves a person concentrating so well that the heart and breath rates slow, blood pressure lowers, muscle tension and pain decrease, blood flow and alpha brainwaves increase, and a sense of well-being floods the body. As the stress releases, soothing feelings intensify. Our concentration improves; our anger and frustration disappear; our confidence is boosted.

From birth, some of us have more of a tendency toward tension than others. We readily see differences in temperament among small children. Among adults, we hear of type A personalities and their tendency toward heart attacks. Vividly, we recall our own moments of tension, anger, and high stress. We’ve all experienced that edge, the times when we’ve been acutely uncomfortable, almost out-of-control. The good news is that even if we tend toward a high-stress, high-tension profile, we can dramatically lower those sensations with learned techniques.

Relaxation techniques have many names: meditation or prayer; yoga, stretching, or breathing exercises; tai-chi; sensitivity training and self-hypnosis; massage; communing with nature. The underlying component of all of these is: the individual’s inward focus is toward a calming state. Let’s take a simple example — breathing. We all know how to breathe; it’s automatic. When we focus on the breath, however, we begin to sense a change. We feel the breath; we shut out distractions.

Basically, there are two types of relaxation: autogenic and progressive. Autogenic comes from within us. Repeat a mantra or visualize a beautiful place. With progressive, the focus is on slowly tensing and then relaxing each muscle group, starting with your head and ending with your toes.

Other techniques include: looking for good news, smells, and tastes. Reading a popular novel, listening to music, smelling the coffee, and eating dark chocolate can be beneficial, too. Related to reading is keeping a journal, especially noting the best moments of a day. Another venue is: getting out of town. Often, this change of perspective can bring good feelings as well as good times.

It’s positive news that almost everyone can learn to relax. If in the past you’ve had difficulty relaxing, there are guided programs that can teach you the process (search on-line for “learning relaxation techniques”). In addition, there are musical and other sound recordings as well as white noise machines, fountains, even, foot massagers.

All relaxation training helps us achieve a calmer, centered state of being. With regular practice, relaxation dramatically improves our health and our lives. It’s used by athletes to enhance their performance. It’s used by the devout to feel closer to their religion. It’s used by the fearful to release their fears. It can be used by all to simply feel better and more in control of their day-to-day lives.

What’s more is: People who engage in regular relaxation improve their mental as well as physical health. So, get out there – and practice relaxing!

Editor’s Note: This article is based on one of Mara & Ford Smith’s 101 Secrets for a Great Retirement. That book and others by Mara and Ford are available at Tryon’s Book Shelf.



An essential part of living simply with style is giving. You can give money, donate time, support a cause, share your skills, even, leave a legacy.

The vast majority of Americans (more than 70%) give money every year. Of course, you want your money spent efficiently. A great source for investigating various organizations is the web site: For almost ten years, this group has evaluated non-profits both on overall as well as fund-raising efficiency.

If you want to provide funds for emergency assistance, a local option might be Steps to Hope (countering domestic violence). An effective national group, Feeding America, provides most of the food used in food banks such as Manna in Asheville and Thermal Belt Outreach in Polk County.

Perhaps you can give the gift of time. Organizations such as Americorps, Peace Corps, Make a Wish Foundation, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and Hospice can effectively use your skills. Also, you could tutor, deliver for Meals On Wheels, perform roadside or creekside cleanup, or assist with maintenance for a worthy cause.

You might want to contribute to groups that support others in a more long-term manner. If you go to, you can participate in their microfinance effort. Kiva's mission is to connect people, through lending, for the sake of alleviating poverty. Another effort is Heifer International where you can fund farm animals that allow the poor families to raise their level of sustainability. Then, they help others by “Passing on the Gift.”

After the Haiti earthquake, one person’s plan for long-range development gained some publicity. Abe Valentin has created self-sufficient fish hatcheries that are being deployed among the poorest villages, enabling them to dramatically raise their meager cash flow. You can read more at the Social Enterprise Fund’s web site.

Perhaps, you’ve heard of Craig Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, and his efforts to help Pakistanis and Afghans build schools for their villages (especially for girls). Pennies for Peace, created by U.S. school students, has raised thousands of dollars for the effort.

With a little research, you could discover Ashoka, an ambitious organization that supports third-world entrepreneurs. The success of its fellows over the last eleven years is impressive. You can donate or volunteer.

Another way to give is by conserving land for future generations. Sign a conservation easement or work with the Pacolet Area Conservancy. Look at Walnut Creek Preserve in northern Polk County. Visit nearby Hatcher Garden in Spartanburg to learn what one couple created from farmed-out, red dirt cotton fields — with minimum financial resources.

You can also donate goods to thrift stores administered by various non-profits. You can even sell items through Ebay’s Giving Works section and allocate all or part of the proceeds to your favorite charity.

At some point, you might consider leaving a long-lasting legacy. You could tell or write a story, create a visual record, or learn to pay it forward. Consider Warren Buffet’s example of pledging to have 95% of his fortune given away to favorite causes after his death. Endow some scholarships. Create a fund administered by the Polk County Community Foundation.

We can choose to live simply, but learning to give generously has style.

Editor’s Note: Mara & Ford Smith hope to leave a legacy with their writing and photography. Their books are available at The Book Shelf and their wine list at La Bouteille. Their photographs can be seen at Kathleen’s Gallery, The Purple Onion, and the Saluda Inn’s wine cellar. This article and earlier ones can be found on their web site at

A Great American Cookout

Cookouts have been happening all over the world since man discovered how to create fire on demand. Without refrigeration, meat had to be either cooked and eaten quickly after slaughter or preserved by a spicing or smoking process.

At cookouts, people gather around a fire or grill to watch, smell, then eat. Like the fires of prehistory, this is also the place to drink, sing songs, and tell stories. The cooking can mean barbecuing meats or grilling vegetables, breads, even, desserts!

Burgers have become an American summer tradition. Whether you choose classic charcoal or easy gas, the aromas and ambience of outdoor cooking create a wonderful, warm-weather experience. In this column, let’s raise the taste levels to new heights.

A Great American Cookout

The menu starts with an appetizer featuring fresh crudités. Choose from celery, jicama, peppers (green, red, and yellow), broccoli florets, cauliflower, zucchini, baby carrots, and cherry tomatoes — cut as needed to work as dippers. Prepare two wonderful dips that are somewhat unusual but tasty, a smoked oyster-ripe olive and a dill seed. (These recipes and the following ones are free under Foods & Wines - Entertain on

The main dish features burgers — either a blue-cheese hamburger or a spicy black-bean vegetarian option. (Take a shortcut by purchasing the delicious Morning Star Chipotle Black Bean Burgers.) For meaty hamburgers for four, take basic ground chuck, add a few spices and a surprise filling. This recipe is adapted from ones served at La Maison Troisgros in Roanne, France and Club 21 in New York.

1 pound ground chuck, shaped into 8 patties (about 6" diameter and ¼" thick)
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground pepper
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
4 Tablespoons crumbled blue cheese
4 whole-wheat sourdough English muffins
2-4 leaves of romaine lettuce
1 large tomato, sliced into 4 slices
1 Tablespoon prepared mustard
1 Tablespoon mayonnaise

On one of the shaped patties, sprinkle a tablespoon of blue cheese. Top with another patty and seal the edges with your fingers. Continue, making three other "sandwiched" patties. Dust the formed patties with salt, pepper, garlic, and dry mustard.

Cook the burgers outside on a grill, times vary depending on which method you choose. As a guide, allow 10 minutes per side in a slow charcoal smoker or 5 minutes per side on a hot charcoal/gas grill.

As the burgers are cooking, toast the muffins on a baking sheet under the broiler. 1 or 2 minutes will turn them golden brown.

Spread mayonnaise on each muffin half, put on a burger and a dollop of mustard. Add lettuce leaf and, finally, a tomato topped with caramelized onions. No matter your preference (meat or vegetable), you’ll find the topping of caramelized onions on a fresh tomato slice to be incredible.

For a hot summer day, the perfect low-carb side dish is a garlicky green bean salad. And, a beautiful dessert course features Red, White & Blue Parfaits — sweetened cream with ripe strawberries and blueberries. To quench your thirst, serve luscious lemonade or a selection of domestic beers.

Editor’s Note:
Remember that all the recipes mentioned in this column (sized for 12 people) are free, available on-line at When you enter your e-mail address, you’ll receive the shopping list and be able to download the whole plan. Find more of Mara & Ford Smith’s nonfiction works at Tryon’s Book Shelf.

Travel with a Focus

There are numerous ways to take a trip and the travel industry will be happy to sell you a few. What is often overlooked is how to travel simply with style.

Travel is all about time — and taking time can lead to many broadening and fulfilling opportunities. All your experiences will be firsthand — far richer than what can be obtained from brochures, guide books, or videos.

For example, a wonderful exercise is to buy enough food supplies for a couple of weeks and then escape to a remote, beautiful location without phones, newspapers, radio, television, and the like. Take books, hiking shoes, perhaps, a canoe for “entertainment.” Then, relax and live day-to-day. Give yourself permission to enjoy the natural world. When successful, this cold-turkey withdrawal from modern society opens you up to how little is needed for memorable moments.

Traveling with style implies having a purpose other than gawking at the natives, touring all the museums, or shopping for souvenirs. This focus might be finding Native American rock art; visiting historic or archeological sites; learning about wines or regional foods; walking among geological wonders; hearing folk songs or stories; photographing events, people, animals, landscapes, or flowers; trying to spot a rare bird; touring scenic byways; following in the footsteps of explorers; visiting places of “power.”

If you schedule your journey with extra time, impromptu side-trips can provide long-lasting memories. You may find a stone ledge overlooking the North Platte Valley in Nebraska and watch hundreds of spiders ride gossamer threads on the wind. Or, you could take an unplanned turn at a brown sign to discover Sheep Creek Canyon, a geologic treasure in Utah’s Ashley National Forest. Perhaps, an unsafe bridge will make you detour down a seldom-used Mississippi road through loess (from ancient dust storms) that’s taller than your vehicle. Along the way, you’ll find a Presbyterian Church with a Civil War cannonball in its brickwork. The shot came from the Federal gunboat "Rattler" on the Mississippi River.

Mara and Ford in front of Smithsonian Butte

You can plan exotic experiences, such as paddling or rafting the Grand Canyon, bicycling Shark Valley in the Everglades, walking across a volcano in Hawaii, taking the Polar Bear Express train to James Bay on the Hudson Bay (hundreds of miles from the nearest highway), sailing the Caribbean, horseback riding in Monument Valley, snow skiing in the Grand Tetons, or sea kayaking in Alaska’s Lynn Canal. And, you can do all of this in North America, if you consider Hawaii to be North American.

Mara at Shark Valley in Everglades NP
The Polar Bear Express

Of course, there are many places to stay, too: campgrounds for tents and RVs, youth hostels or Ys, bed and breakfasts, motels, hotels, resorts, cruise boats, institutes, even, convents and abbeys.

Many people perform services or volunteer work as a way to see the world while giving something back. Others vacation for personal development or adventure. However you travel, have a focus, keep it simple, and enjoy!

Editor’s Notes: Go to parody to see the Smiths’ photo-parody of “How the West Was Camped.” If you’d like to learn what the Smiths have learned about wines in their travels, pick up a copy of their “Winning Wines: Medal-Winners for $12 or Less.” It’s at Tryon’s Book Shelf, across from the Tryon Post Office.


Unclutter Your Home

Phyllis Diller wrote in her Housekeeping Hints, “If your house is really a mess and a stranger comes to the door, greet him with, ‘Who could have done this? We have no enemies!’” That may be amusing once or twice. In the long run, though, it might be better to get organized.

When organizing your home, a good place to start is to walk around with a pad and pencil. Ask yourself: What is the purpose of this room? After deciding each room’s role, remove items that do not belong. Perhaps you want your bedroom to be a place of tranquility, using it only for sleeping and dressing. If so, move out the television and the telephone. Other rooms can be centers for multiple activities. The family room can have the television, the stereo, the telephone, the bookcases, the storage for giftwrap....

Also, it pays to have a system to handle everyday clutter. How do you deal with mail? How do you manage recyclables? How many stuffed animals or plastic toys does a child need? How many objects do you need on your kitchen counter tops? How many clocks do you want to reset when electrical power goes out?

For mail, sort it immediately, making stacks such as bills to pay, newspaper or magazines to read, letters and advertisements to consider, envelopes and other paper to recycle.

Recycling is easy these days. Keep handy reusable bins for paper and cardboard, plastic and glass bottles or aluminum cans. Learn what materials can be recycled at your local landfill and sort accordingly.

Too many toys or electric gadgets may be indicators of a homeowner with more money than sense. Know when enough is enough.

If you feel as if you’re drowning in stuff, edit! Pretend you are moving across the country. Would you really want to take this item with you? Make four piles: one to keep, one to repair, one to donate to a worthy cause, one to trash. It’s a good opportunity to get rid of no-longer-worn clothes; chipped dishes; unused small appliances, baby equipment, sporting goods, and children’s playthings. Go through the repair pile a second time. Is that article really worth your effort or money? Some of it may need to go into the trash pile, too.

Okay, you’ve purposed your rooms and you’ve edited their contents. Now rethink storage. Even if you have lots of closets, you may want to add shelves. Containers such as covered boxes, bins, hampers, baskets, bags, even, jars and other dishware can help you organize necessary stuff. Hooks can be helpful too — for towels, robes, jackets, scarves, umbrellas, hats, aprons. . . .

If there is more than one person living in the same space, it’s a good idea to have agreed-upon places for essentials. The hammer may be stored in the toolbox. The emergency flashlight might be in the hall closet. Scissors will be found in the miscellaneous drawer. Designated places can save everyone a lot of time and frustration — almost every day.

Editor’s Note: Mara & Ford Smith’s non-fiction books are available at The Book Shelf. This article and earlier ones can be found on their website at


“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times . . . ” to paraphrase Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities. When your life is relatively free of crisis and worry is the best time to prepare, but human nature appears to resist facing potential problems.

On a personal level, you know theft, fire, sudden illness, harsh weather, an energy crisis, even, a terrorist attack can occur at any moment. Do you have immediate access to all your bank cards, medical information, and important documents? It takes very little time to digitally photograph or scan the front and back of all these items to store on a USB flash drive or a CD. Another option is to simply print copies and file them in a fireproof safe or safe deposit box. Then, no matter what the catastrophe, you can retrieve critical information.

If you’re using a computer, the possibilities of identify theft multiply. Insure you use a very personal password (one you can remember but is extremely hard to break). Perhaps you’ve chosen red tulip since that’s your favorite flower. The password redtulip is reasonably easy to break but rD&tUlp is far more difficult (notice dropping two vowels, using unusual capitalization, and adding at least one special character).

For medical emergencies, do you and your health care provider have a copy of your medical durable power of attorney? Forms for your state are generally available free on-line or from a local hospital. Do you know what to do if someone else is having an emergency? Basic first aid skills and the latest CPR technique (from the Mayo Clinic) are easy to learn and help you feel secure if you need to act. And, don’t forget the mantra of healthy diet and regular exercise to minimize future problems. Consider adding green tea (steeped for ten minutes), 2000 IUs of Vitamin D3, and 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric as supplements to make it harder for cancer cells to develop (from Anticancer: A New Way of Life by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber).

Turning to your home and your possessions, analyze your “when things go wrong” plans. Are all the critical files on your computer backed-up frequently with a copy stored away from your home or office? When the power fails, do you have alternate methods to cook, a way to keep warm, means to prolong foods in the refrigerator, and a source of drinking water? In case of traumatic events such as theft, fire, wind, or water, do you have an updated home inventory with images, video, or computer descriptions? Do your smoke detectors work? And, especially for families, do you have an emergency exit plan — and have you run the drill?

Your vehicle can use a few moments of your consideration. Store a spare tire, a jack, extra fuses, water, wrenches, screwdrivers, cord (can work as an emergency fan belt), a quart of oil, and duct tape. In winter, add a sleeping bag or space blanket.

Face the possibility of having your income suddenly change (loss of job, vacant rental units, declining stocks and investments). A rule of thumb is to hold in reserve at least six months of cash at your current living standard. If the shortfall looks more serious, cutting expenses can prolong your reserves.

To help your partner and family, take time to set up a will and living trust. It will significantly smooth the settlement of your estate. If your situation is reasonably straightforward, free on-line forms can handle the situation. In the case of living trusts, remember, first, you create the trust and, then, you change each account or deed — for example, the Mary and John Doe Account becomes the Mary and John Doe Trust Account.

Perhaps the single most important act you can take to simplifying your preparedness for the future is to de-clutter and rationally organize your life. Out of the maelstrom come peace and serenity.

Editor’s Note: Mara & Ford Smith’s non-fiction books are available at The Book Shelf. This article and earlier ones can be found on their website at

Gardening Simplified

Garden for the joys in it.

In your landscape, whether you’re starting a new garden or altering the design of an established one, check out what grows well where you live. For example, in western North Carolina, indigenous trees are redbuds and dogwoods. Shrubs that thrive include azaleas and hydrangeas. Some of the flowering plants that love the area are: black-eyed Susans, purple coneflower, orange daylilies, yellow tickseed, and multi-colored sweet William. Bulbs and tubers include daffodils and irises. Broccoli, tomatoes, and watermelon help make up the vegetable patch.

Take walks and drive around. Peer into other gardens — maybe, take a few photographs to help you identify what’s growing, blooming, and setting fruit. Go to farmers’ markets. See what produce they’re selling. Sometimes, there you can even score seedlings or cuttings.

Look at plans for other gardens. Analyze what you like and don’t like. Do you like shrubs growing close to the house or do you prefer a feeling of expansiveness? Perhaps, you love gentle curves and abhor straight lines. There are many types of gardens: formal and informal, rock, xeriscape (conserving water), woodland, cottage, vegetable.... Figure out the effect you want before you start planting.

Then, watch where the sun shines — and doesn’t. Track its path during a day, during a season. Too, watch where water runs in a rainstorm. Do you need to remedy any drainage problems? Another element to pay attention to is wind. Some plants such as gardenias and dill weed are sensitive. For wind protection and, sometimes, for nosy neighbors, you may want to add screening.

Of course, test your soil. Usually, that service is free at the county agriculture extension service. When you get the results, improve the soil as needed. Often, that simply means compost (what you dig in) or mulch (what you put on top).
At this point, you may feel you need help. There are many books at the library, knowledgeable people at nurseries, classes at the community college, master gardeners at the extension office. Of course, other gardeners are great resources for information and, sometimes, free plants.

Now plot variety in heights, foliages, and blossom colors. If buying perennials, buy one of each. Watch what grows this year and what comes back next spring. Then, buy more of what does well. Whatever you choose (annual, perennial, or vegetable), make sure it will grow in your hardiness zone. Then, follow directions: how much sun, how much water, how far apart....

If gardening with poor soil or hungry critters, think raised beds or containers with drought-tolerant plants. Lots of herbs, lettuces, tomatoes, and peppers can be grown in containers. You’ll enjoy the feeling of satisfaction, even luxury, when harvesting and eating your own herbs or produce.

Add paths for easy maintenance. One thing is for sure: the weeds will grow and you’ll want to be able to remove them without stomping your other plants.
Maybe you want a focal point such as an arbor, inviting guests to walk through it and into your garden. Add a table and chairs for al fresco dining, chaises for relaxing, perhaps, a bench in a secret spot. Too, add the unexpected — a scented flower, a water feature, or a sculpture. Make your outdoor space enjoyable!

Monica Jones and Terry Ackerman's Garden

Raised Beds at Monica Jones and Terry Ackerman's garden

Editors Note: Many of Mara and Ford Smith’s flower photos can be seen on their website,, and at Kathleen’s Gallery and The Book Shelf.

Shop Smart

Are you looking for ways to keep more money in your wallet and bank account?

Housing and housing expenses such as utilities, maintenance, insurance, and taxes can eat up 85% of your budget. Make your place as energy efficient as possible. Take a home energy audit from your power company. Buy a programable thermostat then program it warmer in summer and cooler in winter. Drop some of those monthly fees off your phone bill. Compare insurance packages and rates. Cut your property taxes if you’re 65 or older with a limited income, disabled with a limited income, or a disabled veteran.

Now learn to control the remaining 15% of your budget! Buy only what you need — not everything you want. Rethink what is a “must-have” and learn to recognize impulse buys.

On major purchases, do your research. You can find ratings and reviews on-line or in magazines such as Consumer Reports. Use all the internet and library resources available to you to help you purchase quality products that will last longer with fewer repairs.

Once you’ve decided on any major purchase, compare options. When a local price is “in- range,” buy it. Also, inquire if a nearby business will match a nationally advertised price (for example, on an appliance). Only when local alternatives are “out-of-range,” buy through the internet or a “big box store,” if multiple errands warrant the gasoline expense.

Watch your dollars! Refrain from recreational shopping. (Try not looking at television ads or circulars.) Pay bills promptly to avoid interest charges. Brew your own coffee and carry a travel mug. Take your lunch to work. When you’re too tired to cook, consider using the microwave instead of the drive-thru at a fast-food chain.

Know prices of products – especially those on your “Pantry List.” When going grocery shopping, make a list. Buy fresh, in-season foods. Shop farmers’ markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms, and U-Pick sites.

When frequently used items are on sale, stockpile if they store well. Use coupons and rebates. Often you can find these in groceries, newspaper circulars, or websites such as Also, realize savings in generic brands.

Buy used articles at thrift stores and garage sales. Children’s clothes that are outgrown before worn out are especially good buys. In adult sizes, classics are always in style. In home accessories, it’s true that someone’s “trash” can be someone else’s “treasure.” For exercise equipment, buy only what you know you will use.

For recreation, check out the library for books, magazines, CDs, DVDs. Enjoy games such as cards as well as board games like chess, checkers, or Clue. If you want to eat out, remember lunch will be cheaper than dinner. Throw your own parties. When planning a vacation, think close to home and consider camping.

For gifts, listen to what people say they want. Imagine something outside the giftbox – for example, fill a mug with teas. Around the holidays, devise a plan and stay focused.

Run errands efficiently. First, determine if you can walk there. If driving, implement a 3-destination rule and good gas mileage techniques: reduce weight in the vehicle, increase tire pressure, keep rpms low, and buy regular gasoline at best available price.

Avoid scams. Recognize these by high pressure tactics, sob stories, vague descriptions, and names similar to other people or organization names. Enroll in the Do Not Call Registry. Not receiving unwanted calls will save your time, frustration, and, perhaps, money.

These are a few ideas to help you find additional funds in your budget. Enjoy the process of learning how to live more simply – and with more style!

Get Inspired!

Will winter ever give way to spring? It’s a good time to look for inspiration wherever you can find it.

In the natural world, take a different route home — perhaps, even, “get lost!” Take an hour or two for a hike — perhaps to a nearby waterfall or mountain vista.

Catalogs, magazines, and books can suggest ideas. Catalogs could be for seeds or for arts and craft supplies. Magazines may present budget make-overs of various rooms in your apartment or house. Books could be favorite reads or new ones. A cookbook might offer new meal plans and recipes to get you out of a rut. Maybe a how-to book that could serve as your personal coach. Let publications challenge you.

Of course, in your car, you can listen to audiobooks. At home, you can give your attention to first-rate performances on your stereo system and watch DVDs on your television screen.

Attend plays, concerts, lectures, and art exhibits. You may see an internationally known performer or your neighbor in a great performance. Lectures and art exhibits may open you up to new concepts – ones you might be able to incorporate into your own life.

Thinking about greatness, you could start your own collection of meaningful quotes. You could include memorable movie lines or book passages.

There can be a lot of inspiration in everyday matters. An overheard snippet of conversation or a newspaper article could become the basis for a poem or it could become dialog in a short story, play, or novel.

Enroll in a class. That’s always a good way to master a new skill. It could be a computer course, a writing seminar, a photography workshop, an art exploration, even, a fitness session.

Try a new endeavor or hobby. You may find fulfillment in volunteer work for your community or a non-profit organization. You could discover satisfaction in researching a family tree or creating a scrapbook.

Spend a few minutes with younger people. Kids still say the darndest (and funniest) things. Enjoy laughing together.

Too, you may find pleasure in helping mentor a younger, inquisitive individual.

Explore websites of interest. Here you may want to limit your session. Set a timer and see how many substantive ideas you can find in one sitting.

Make a list of items you want to get done. Categorize them: “Things I Really Want to Do” and “Things I Don’t Really Want to Do.” If it’s practical, forget those “Things I Really Don’t Want to Do.” Now you may find that you need to create a category for “Things I Don’t Really Want to Do — But I Have To Do.” Figure out ways to do these tasks in as short a timeframe as possible. This exercise may help you stop spinning your wheels and start moving forward.

Most of all, look to inspire others. If you smile, will others smile? If you’re cheerful, will others respond accordingly? If you show a sincere interest in others, will they reciprocate? Usually, the answer is yes!

Editor’s Note: Mara & Ford Smith’s next article will compile some of the best practical solutions for saving money. If you have one you’d like to share, e-mail it to: Meanwhile, you can find more of Mara & Ford Smith’s works at Tryon’s Book Shelf.

Make Your Money Work for You

Last fall, the news reported America's current economic recession was "very likely over." Fast forwarding to the present, however, a lot of Americans feel they're not in such good financial shape. It's time to make your money work for you, making your lifestyle fit your resources. Here are some ideas collected from financial experts:

• Live on less than you make or receive as income.
• Save 10% of your income, or if you're young, squirrel away 25%–50% of each raise.
• Create a spending plan. Decide what's necessary and what's nice. For example, necessities include food, clothing, shelter (rent or mortgage), utilities, transportation, medicine, even, insurance. Look at what you've spent historically on these essential items and allocate those dollars. Niceties (or nonessential expenses) include entertainment costs such as cable or satellite television, newspapers and magazines, movies, restaurants, alcohol, cigarettes, and club memberships. Eliminate or cut back on these unnecessary expenses.
• Select a bank with good services, low fees, and convenient locations.
• Use credit and debit cards wisely.
• Accelerate the payoffs of any big debts such as an HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit).
• Sell your second car, if you have one.
• Realize it doesn't make sense to downsize your home until the real estate market improves.
• If you're considering converting your old gold into cash, know that you'll receive about half its fair market value. That's how the exchange makes its profit. Consider sentimental values before you act.
• Teach your children how to manage money. If you've been helping adult children, explain that you can't do it anymore.
• If you've received an inheritance, a lump-sum payout from your ex-employer, or a lottery prize, allocate it wisely. Put the money in a savings account. Take no more than 4% of the lump sum per year to pay the bills. (If you use too much, your savings will run out before you do.)
• Re-invest in stocks, mutual funds, or bonds only when your finances have stabilized. Even then, know financial advisors often broker financial products that provide them high commissions.

Most important is to set financial goals and figure out how to meet them. Create a record of what money comes in and what money goes out. You can use index cards, a legal pad, a spreadsheet program, on-line services ( or, free software (Money Manager Ex or Gnucash), or commercial software (Quicken). However you elect to track your money, pay attention. Calculate how to achieve a balance between your income and your expenses. As you do this, you'll realize time is money and you'll want to further simplify your life. (In a follow-up column, practical advice will be offered on how to help hold down your day-to-day expenses.)
Even if you weren't harmed by the recession, revisit your spending habits and pay down any debt. The whole idea is to spend less. Build up your savings for other economic emergencies or for niceties such as vacations. Being debt-free means being worry-free!

Editor's Note: For additional tips on how to live simply with style, check out Mara and Ford Smith's website, Their autographed books are available at The Book Shelf in Tryon.


Creative Valentine's Day Ideas for Couples

Thank goodness, Valentine's Day happens to alleviate midwinter. Its bright reds are cheerful; its chubby cupids are fun. And, as we all know, chocolate can be good!

We'd like to share a compendium of creative Valentine's Day ideas we've collected to live simply with style. Low cost ideas are especially important in an economic recession.

In food, there are a number of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) ideas. For example, you can create a red-&-white dinner. For a casual evening, make a white clam pizza or prepare a Neapolitan sauce with mozzarella over pasta. If you're looking for a more special recipe, try shrimp with Feta cheese.

Too, instead of buying high-carbohydrate, artery-clogging chocolate for your love, make an easy, healthy chocolate. Our recipe is called Nutty about Chocolate.

Photography also lends itself to DIY projects. Schedule a photoshoot with your boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse. Turn the resulting photos into special cards, magnets for home refrigerators or office file cabinets, even, computer screensavers. Have the favorite image of the two of you printed on two mugs for coffee or tea.

The Buy-&-Deliver-Yourself (BDY) ideas are more numerous. There are wines, plants, candles, books, CDs (or music downloads), DVDs, books, and lingerie to mention a few ideas. Choose one or two options for minimal expense and maximum enjoyment.

In wines, select an award-winning wine that suits your tastebuds. Here are a few suggestions:

Bogle 2006 Merlot (approximately $9)
Lindemans Bin 90 2008 Pinot Noir (approximately $8)

Fetzer 2007 Sauvignon Blanc (approximately $9)
HRM Rex Goliath 2007 Pinot Grigio (approximately $9)

Sparklings (champagne-types)
Ballatore Gran Spumante NV (approximately $8)
Barefoot Bubbly – Extra Dry NV (approximately $10)

In flowers, buy a blossoming plant. In February, cyclamen bloom in shades of white with red ruffles to hot pinks to reds. Another rewarding plant is an amaryllis. Select one in a shade of red. Both of these plants are pretty for weeks and, if you're lucky, they'll bloom again next year.

Candles come in a wide array of types, colors, scents, and holders. You may want tapers for the dining table or tea lights for the bedroom. Select a color that goes with your china or linens. If you select a scent, make sure it's one that both of you like.

Perhaps, as a couple, you have a favorite song. Research on-line may turn you onto a new-to-you music CD with that song. Another idea is to download a selection of love songs and create your own play list.

Now put it all together to set the mood for a romantic evening: clean the house, place the flowering plant, select the music, arrange the candles, maybe, set a fire in the fireplace.

Another angle is to have ready a boy-meets-girl movie that has been formatted into a DVD. For a light-hearted one, consider "Mama Mia," "Sleepless in Seattle," or "When Harry Met Sally."

If looking at playful books, consider one on massage. On this one, think outside the gift box and package it with a favorite scented oil. Another idea is a book on cooking together in the kitchen. Wrap it up in a new dishtowel.

And, of course, there's always underwear – for him as well as for her. Buy something red!

Editors Note:
Ford & Mara's complete wine list, Winning Wines: Medal Winners for $12 or Less,
is available for purchase at The Book Shelf, 90 Pacolet Street (across from the Tryon post office).


White Clam Pizza

The origins are obscure though the Mystic Pizza Company may have created one of the first white clam pizzas. This type of pie later garnered Esquire’s Best-in-the-US prize. Our version is versatile, simple, and satisfying.
3 Tablespoons olive oil - split into two portions
1 Tablespoon flour
½ cup white wine
1 (6-ounce) can minced clams - drain and reserve juice
3 cloves garlic - minced
1 jalapeno - minced
8-ounces jack cheese (with or without peppers)
1 pizza crust or 2 low-carb tortillas or 2 pita pockets or half a French bread baguette
Preheat oven to 425º.
Heat 1 Tablespoon oil in skillet, add flour, stir and cook for 1 minute.
Slowly add the clam juice to the roux, constantly stirring to avoid lumps. Stir in the white wine and continue cooking until sauce thickens.
Brush remaining oil on the bread of your choice. Scatter garlic and jalapeno on it. Spoon sauce over all. Sprinkle minced clams onto sauce. Coat with shredded Jack cheese.
Cook in oven for 10-15 minutes (tortillas and pita pockets take less time than pizza crust or French bread).

Neapolitan Sauce with Mozzarella

This simple red sauce is always a surprise (perhaps due to the use of mozzarella instead of Parmesan). Try it with or without the meat. Either way is surprisingly tasty.
2 Tablespoons olive oil
½ pound lean chopped beef (or 1 finely chopped onion)
3 tomatoes (or 1 can diced tomatoes)
½ pound mozzarella (cut into small cubes)
4 ounces dried pasta

Heat olive oil in skillet, add beef (or onion) and cook until meat is colored or onion is translucent (about 5 minutes).
Meanwhile start water to boil for pasta.
To skillet, add tomatoes and sauté another few minutes. Lower the heat and simmer for 12 minutes, stirring occasionally.
When pasta water is boiling, salt it, then add pasta. Cook 10 minutes.
Before serving, pepper the sauce, stir in the mozzarella cubes until they begin to melt. Drain the pasta then serve with the sauce.

Shrimp with Feta Cheese

This shrimp dish with its rich tomato sauce qualifies as a world champion. We've found versions in several restaurants and cookbooks. Naturally, we've incorporated all the best parts.
3 Tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic - minced
1/2 pound shrimp
1/2 to 1 cup onion (yellow or white) - chopped
1 (16-ounce) can tomatoes - including liquid
1 (4-ounce) jar chopped pimento
1/3 cup fresh parsley - chopped (or 2 Tablespoons dried)
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 dashes of hot pepper sauce
1/4 cup red wine
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 cups seashell pasta
1/2 pound Feta cheese - crumbled
Melt butter in a skillet. Sauté garlic and shrimp until shrimp are pink (2 minutes per side). Remove shrimp with a slotted spoon.>
Next, adding more butter if needed, sauté the chopped onion several minutes until limp and translucent.
Add the can of tomatoes and its juice, pimento, parsley, basil, oregano, Tabasco, wine, and tomato paste. Slowly simmer the sauce, uncovered, for at least 20 minutes. If it becomes too thick, add wine; too thin, more tomato paste.
When the timing is down to 10 minutes before serving, cook pasta in salted water until al dente (slightly chewy).
As meal time approaches, add shrimp to tomato sauce and sprinkle the Feta on top. Cover the skillet, allowing sauce to heat shrimp and soften the cheese.
Serve over pasta.
Variation: Add a jar of marinated artichokes (drained) for a smoother, richer taste.

Nutty About Chocolate

Delicious, though somewhat messy, these easy, nutty chocolate drops satisfy the urge for a sweet with incredibly few carbs.
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
⅓ cup peanut butter (or almond butter)
2 Tablespoons butter
⅓ cup ricotta
½ cup Splenda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or almond extract)
Melt the chocolate, nut butter, and butter in the microwave. Stir well. Blend the rest of the ingredients, and drop by spoonfuls onto wax paper (about 12 bite-size morsels). Chill in the refrigerator until firm (about 1 hour).


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