TAGS :Viewed: 7 - Published at: a few seconds ago

[ 50 Unsolicited Recommendations ]

A month ago, I wrote 50 how-to mini-essays, and I thought it was fun! So for April, I figured it might be worth reprising the topic, and writing 50 mini reviews, all of things I would give five out of five stars. Maybe there’s something on this list you’ve never tried that will make your life just a tiny bit better! I do believe that people living lives full of pleasure and joy are people who have more capacity to do the really important work in the world without getting burnt out. If you feeling your ends getting a little frayed because of all the things you have to do, try something on this list. The goal is to settle a little into your body; to bring something nice into your one precious life. Now, things are superficial, and there’s no thing in the world that can fill a need-based deficit. If you need sleep, attention, love, time, food, water, or shelter, prioritize getting those needs met first. This list is supplemental, for when you are craving a little something extra. Also, using things to feel better is often (if not usually) a total dead end. That’s how capitalism works: companies make you think that a thing will make you feel better, and then they find ways to make you think you need to buy more and more of that thing, until you are dead. And still unhappy. The companies don’t really want to make you happy. Happy people don’t buy very many things. Everything on this list is either free (a nice place in your imagination), something you should only have to purchase once (a good chef’s knife), or a brandless staple (blueberries). I have tried to choose things around which I don’t have ethical qualms, although there are four things that are made of plastic, one brand-specific item, and a few things that might create waste. They are all things, however, that I have used and noticed myself thinking, “Huh! This thing strikes me as purely joyful. I wish everyone could have this thing.” Take what you can, leave what you don’t want. I am hoping there’s something here for everyone. All illustrations by Sophie Lucido Johnson. 1.Blueberries. Let’s start with something so amazing, so perfect, that I honestly can’t believe it’s real. The blueberry is a feat of natural design so extraordinary that it feels like it must somehow be a trick. How can something taste so sweet and bright and still be so good for you? Blueberries are filled with immunity-boosting nutrients and they strengthen your metabolism and they can reduce the risk of heart disease. Friends, I’m not making this up. A good blueberry is as satisfying in size as a hefty marble. A bowl of firm blueberries is the summer breakfast of royalty. Have you ever put a pint of blueberries in a Zip-Loc bag in the freezer? Blueberries turn into a whole different FOOD in the freezer! They become an indulgent dessert! How is this possible? Nature MAKES THESE! All by itself! As a bonus, going to a farm to pick blueberries in the summer with your friends and then swimming in a nearby lake is the perfect day. A gallery in my bedroom of people I love, made of a pastiche of thrifted frames. 2. Picture frames from the thrift store. Every picture you love can be elevated with a picture frame. Frames can be expensive, but at the thrift store they’re cheap. You can get four perfectly fine picture frames for a dollar! Frame birthday cards you like, or pictures from magazines for a sort of chic vision board. Decorate the entire wall of a boring bathroom with images from a book about birds (that you might also find at the thrift store), individually framed and gallery-ified. 3. A button that screams, for you to put on your table. Last year, my friend and roommate Bethany bought me a small screaming goat from the novelty section of The Paper Store. Initially skeptical, I placed the goat in the center of the dining room table. Sometimes we are sitting around the table as a house talking about something tense — like the electric bill, or whether we should get rid of our front door wreath — and the tension can be immediately diffused with one push of the goat. Or maybe I’m sitting at the table trying to explain to my husband about how stressful school was that day, and he is just not getting it, and I am not doing a great job of explaining it (it’s hard to talk when you’re stressed!), and I push the goat in frustration, and he understands. I have seen a lot of screaming / shouting buttons in novelty sections of other shops — there are even ones you can record yourself. Everyone should have one of these. 4. Your own jigsaw. Not to be confused with a jigsaw puzzle (also a good thing to have), this elegant power tool is a must-have for all adults. It is easy to hold and easy to use, and it makes you feel POWERFUL. Sure, you can use it for practical things: cut the excess off a bit of wooden furniture that doesn’t fit in your room, or trim a thick stick that’s too long or poky. But you can also use it in the afternoon after a hard day to cut a salvaged piece of wood into a weird shape (human head? Butterfly wing? State of Oregon?). This will calm you. I don’t know the magic of how that works, but it does. And, bonus: your new state-of-Oregon piece of wood can be stained and finished and given to your friend in Oregon as a cheese board birthday present! 5. Skirts. In eighth grade I decided that no matter how cold it got, I would only wear skirts. I was going through a growth phase and my body was not easy to predict, size-wise. A skirt accommodates days where you are bloated and days where you wake up feeling thin and come home from a long day feeling like you gained 90 pounds; just pull the skirt up and down accordingly throughout the day. In the summer, a good skirt allows for a nice breeze exactly where you want it. In the winter, a good skirt doubles as a blanket over a pair of wool tights or leggings, and keeps you snuggly and warm. My one caveat is that a long skirt on a bike can be a vibe-killer, so tie your skirt in a knot on your waist and wear bike shorts. 6. Bike shorts. My husband says these are the ugliest clothing item and no one can look good in them. Luke, they are not there to look good in; they are there to be soft and practical. You put them on underneath anything, and now you can do a cartwheel, or sit cross-legged on a carpet, or experience a gust of wind from a subway grate, and no one will be offended. 7. A visit to the chiropractor. I am a human being, and so I have lower back pain. It took me years to finally swallow my pride and go to a chiropractor. After Keith the chiropractor stretched me out and twisted me around and pumped my muscles with a bordering-on-sensual-looking metal knife, I climbed off the table and stood a full inch taller. The pain was gone. Without insurance, this cost $50. I hated myself for waiting so long to do this for myself. 8. And while we’re at it, a kneeling chair. I bought a cheapish one that rocks back and forth. It isn’t especially comfortable, but I swap it out for my comfy chair whenever the low back pain comes back up, and within three days of using the kneeling chair, the pain is gone. 9. Chickens. What a journey I have been on with my flock of chickens! Many horrible things have happened to the chickens. Dogs have happened. Maggots have happened. Old age has happened. These are hard things to which one must bear witness, but on the other hand, life is full of hard things, and chickens are a relatively easy way to learn how to endure a little ugliness. But maybe the main thing is that our neighbors love to look at the chickens, and I have had the chance to meet so, so many neighbors because they stop at our house to talk to our chickens. I think it’s quite important to know one’s neighbors. This is how we take small steps towards a more empathetic, more peaceful world: we learn about the people with whom we share space. Sure, I could have made 35 casseroles and brought them to all my neighbors’ houses, and I would have met and ingratiated myself to many of my neighbors. But you never know about food allergies these days, and honestly, chickens are easier. Plus: farm fresh eggs every day! 10. Hand lotion. Once, my mom spent a lot of money on some hand lotion from a boutique store at the mall. It was called “gardener’s hands luxury lotion,” and I felt startled by its price tag. Later, secretly, I put some on my nine-year-old hands, and I was startled again. How could anything feel so rich and soft and thick and smooth? It was worth every penny, I decided. In my thirties, I started investing in good hand lotion, too. I read a little about pressure points in the hand that relieve stress, and I started taking ten-minute breaks to rub the fabulous cream into my knuckles and wrists, pressing into the parts that are connected to the brain, self-soothing and quietly humming when things were particularly bad. It is worth every penny. 11. A better can opener than you have. Maybe this is just me, but I feel like whenever I go to someone’s house and am helping them cook, I go to open a can and hear them say, “Our can opener is kind of shitty, but it’ll get you there.” A good can opener is like $12! And the satisfaction you get from easily opening a can with no struggle is worth that amount or more. You don’t need a fancy electric can opener or anything like that: just one that feels good in your hand, with a sharp blade and dynamic gear, so opening cans might be a pleasure and not a persistent annoyance. 12. Ribbon. Many times I have said to myself, “I am so glad to have this large box of errant ribbons,” while digging through my ribbon box. Here are examples. I’ve wrapped a present in a shitty newspaper, and it looks bad and dumb, but a ribbon elevates it twenty-fold and makes the present INSTANTLY look fancy. (Is this where the phrase “ties it all together” comes from?) The cucumbers are growing faster than I am prepared for, and they need somewhere to go! I tie some ribbon to the stake and then attach that to the fence, and the cucumbers take to it like a kitten to a cream bowl. It’s a costume party, and my hair needs a little something extra. The cats are bored. Luke with our cheap sled on a snow day before work. 13. The cheapest plastic sled. I’m talking about the $3.99 saucer sled from the hardware store that looks like it was designed to go straight into a landfill. Put that in the back of your car and forget about it. Then, when it snows, and you’re driving home from the doctor’s office, and you see a little hill in the distance, you can pull over and take your saucer sled out and experience a little burst of joy. You deserve it! You just went to the doctor. 14. A bowl specifically for popping popcorn in the microwave, or a lot of lunch-sized paper bags. I grew up with a fancy 1980s-style air popper for popcorn. Later, my hippie friends taught me how to make popcorn with oil in a pot. I got in my head that popcorn had to be the slightest bit complicated. It BLEW MY MIND when I found out you can just put a third of a cup of popcorn kernels in a paper lunch bag, fold it closed, and microwave it for three minutes. Truly: that’s ALL YOU HAVE TO DO. No potential burning, no cleaning out of a pot or a popper — just a paper bag and some popcorn kernels and you have a perfect bag every time. I started doing this so often that I started to feel a little guilty about the speed at which I was going through the paper bags, so I bought a collapsable, microwavable bowl with a lid that did the exact same thing as the paper bag. 15. White pens. White gel pens are great for writing on brown paper bags or darker envelopes, adding a little light glimmer into the dark eye of a bird you’ve drawn, or creating crests on waves. I use my white pen every day. 16. An outdoors chair you love. Sometimes the weather is great, and you want to sit outside. Have a chair that leans back a little bit and is conducive to reading. The chair should be only for outside. Ideally, you never have to bring it in. Even if you live in an apartment, put this chair in some public space where you like to sit outside. Usually, people will leave your chair there. They’ll be grateful there’s a chair. But, just to be safe, make your chair cheap so you won’t be sad if you lose it. This is an item to which it is best not to grow too attached. 17. Field guides. The world expands when you can identify and differentiate between living things. Learning the names, shapes, colors, and habits of birds, animals, mushrooms, and plants is perhaps the single greatest gift you can give to yourself while you’re alive. Apps that help you identify wildlife (like Seek or Merlin) are terrific places to start, but actual, book-format field guides are more comprehensive and will be there for you when you’re like, “This robin-sized bird has a long neck!? And Merlin has no idea what I’m talking about?!” Use a sketchbook and draw pictures from the pages of your field guide to learn intricate details about stripes and curves that you’d miss when just flipping through. One of the best field guides I ever bought was about spiders. Spiders are quick and silent and inherently a little scary. But reading about them and learning their differences changed them for me. They became creatures of curiosity, divorced from fear. The difference between being a person who reads field guides and being a person who does not is the difference between going on a walk and seeing snowdrops, startling daffodils, delicate primroses, winter aconite, bowing crocuses, Siberian squill, and grape hyacinth; and going on a walk and seeing a bunch of flowers. 18. An excellent chef’s knife. These are expensive, but if you do it right, you’ll only ever have to buy one. (Get it sharpened at least once a year, never put it in a dishwasher, and always hand-dry.) It isn’t just the feeling of ease and wonder when you slice through a hunk of ginger like it’s warm butter; it’s the amazing texture and smell that you can only experience this one way: with the startling sureness and quickness that takes a root vegetable by surprise. 19. Lip balm. I’m going to advocate for spending a little money in this category, too. Lips are like hands, in that they love to be touched; they love to feel soft and nurtured. A pot of semi-fancy lip balm will go a long way in terms of simple, sensual pleasure. I keep a supply by my bed and I can’t sleep without spending at least a dozen seconds giving some deep attention to my lips.