Living simple is complicated

After returning from a weekend trip away, the cupboard is bare. I always make a point before traveling of using up any fresh ingredients that might spoil while I’m away. But this was a rather whirlwind trip, and it didn’t occur to me that (1) it wasn’t really long enough for everything to spoil, and (2) there was no time before returning to work to go to the store and replenish the bounty.

As a result, the past few days have been really-creative-meal wise. Determined to eat at home and not order food (having eaten in restaurants for the entire weekend), I was nearly brought to tears standing in the kitchen at 11:30pm on a Tuesday night mashing pinto beans by hand into refried beans (for which I have no salsa or chips) with a red sauce made from frozen tomatoes and a slightly past-peak summer squash on the stove, and a mystery casserole in the oven.

Tears of joy, or tears of pain?

It feels pretty good to take a pantry of nothing and freezer of next to nothing and make four full days of food out of it. It is envigorating to make things from scratch; if I have one goal in life it’s to make as many things from scratch as possible. And, I feel as though I could definitely survive an atomic bomb or the apocalypse given my uncanny ability to create a variety of meals from dried beans, rice, chicken, frozen tomatoes and slightly off squash.

On the other hand, no one should be mashing beans after 9pm on a school night.

When people lived in a time where everything was made from scratch they had the whole day to mash beans, churn butter, bake bread, whatever. I, on the other hand, am required to spend eight hours of the day with my butt in a chair and have few precious moments between, say, 8 and 11pm to try and “live simply”. I’m not saying I work harder; butt-in-chair is not hard, it’s just extremely time consuming.

So what, then, is the point? Why do I do this to myself when I could, with a lot less effort and a roughly equal amount of money, eat a TV dinner every night? It almost feels like in this day and age, living “simply” is less simple than living a technological, busy-body, microwaved life. Why does everyone say “I’m so busy,” or “I don’t have any time” when we spend SO much time sitting on our butts?

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Lauren Warnecke is the dance critic at the Chicago Tribune and editor/senior writer at See Chicago Dance. Her writing has appeared in Chicago Magazine, Milwaukee Magazine, St. Louis Magazine and Dance Media publications, among others. Lauren is an adjunct faculty member at Loyola University Chicago in the dance and exercise science programs. She has been a writer-in-residence at the Bates Dance Festival (Lewiston, ME) and the JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience (Durban, South Africa), and was part of the first low-res dance writing lab cohort at the National Center for Choreography in Akron, OH. Since 2009, Lauren has blogged about dance and performance in the American midwest at

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