Small Measures — A.K.A. How Losing at Scrabble Taught Me to Bring My Own Leftover Containers

by Katy on September 29, 2009 · 15 comments

Ashley English

I went to a very small liberal arts college in Nowheresville, Ohio. There were just a few hundred students on campus at a time, yet somehow each and every one of us seems to have shown up on Facebook. This re-connecting has actually been quite interesting, as many of my past friends and acquaintances have gone on to lead very interesting lives. Television producers, writers, professors, music bigwigs and even a trophy wife or two.

One of my favorite reconnections has been with Glenn English, a man I hardly knew, yet he somehow beats me soundly at online Scrabble on a regular basis. (I know he’s cheating, I just can’t figure out how!)

A wonderful side affect of this relationship is that I discovered that Glenn’s wife, Ashley English writes a wonderful blog called Small Measure. Ashley is:

Making an attempt to craft a good life in a small mountain community. I find pleasure in the light at dusk, atlases, hard cider, cat antics, dog breath, homemade ice cream and snorty laughter. I’m in the process of writing a series of books, entitled “Homemade Living,” (Lark Books) about the ways people are reconnecting with their food and food communities and taking up sustainable food practices. I also host a weekly column every Friday on Design*Sponge:

Ashley writes about cooking, chicken tending, canning, gardening and bee keeping. But there’s one feature of Small Measure that caught my eye, which is an occasional after-note where she suggests one small change to make. These little blog-lets are simple, yet very appealing.

Ashley, Thank you very much for sharing your Small Measures!

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

Small Measures:

Small Measure: Find beauty where you are. It’s everywhere, no matter where you’re calling from (this post’s title is based on a Raymond Carver short story as well as a collection of short stories by the same name; R.C. is an old favorite, a sort of Tom Waits literary kin).

*Small Measure: Plant flowers for bees! If you have access to some grass or lawn or even an abandoned lot, stoop, or balconey (even a median strip will do!), consider sowing some nectar-producing seeds for honeybees and other pollinators. They’re particularly found of bee balm, mint, anise hyssop, borage, catmint, echinacea, buckwheat, yellow mustard, and basil. Bees get a source of food for transforming into honey, humans gain access to some amazing culinary and medicinal herbs-everyone wins!

Small Measure: Play board games. Decidedly low-fi, board games are a great way to entertain groups of varying ages, political persuasions, and degrees of raucousness. Laughs are usually had, brains are usually given a workout, and allegiances are usually forged. Besides, on what other occasion might you witness your step-mother imitating Cosmo Kramer, your Pop humming “Hound Dog” (while gyrating, for, you know, emphasis), and your husband sculpting a television out of clay (Thank you, Cranium!)?

*Small Measure: Bring your own to-go containers. While I love the occasional Chinese or Mexican take-out, I don’t so much love the styrofoam that such cuisine is sometimes packaged in for transit. So, instead, I schlep my own to-go containers in with me. Most restaurants will gladly accommodate the request to pack your victuals in any clean container you provide. Much like keeping canvas shopping bags in the car at all times, I keep metal Sigg containers on hand so that, should a sudden hankering for lomein hit, I’m prepared to cart away my food in a reusable vessel!

*Small Measure: Visit local farms. In fact, this weekend, the annual Family Farm Tour was happening. I had too much going on to attend, but we actually visited one of the participating farms during the Lavender Festival. Local farm visits, especially during Summer months, are fabulous ways to harvest produce at its peak, both nutritionally and flavor-wise.  Check out pickyourown for locations of local farms in your area.

*Small Measure: Wild forage! It’s entirely possible to eat for free more often than you might think. Fruits that have fallen off the vine, berries growing determinedly in wild bramble, dandelion greens peeking through parking lot cracks, chickweed spreading itself along sidewalks-it’s all there for the taking!

*Small Measure: Plant organic seeds. I opted for Johnny’s and Territorial, as well as High Mowing. Heirloom company Bakers Creek is a perennial favorite as well (be forewarned-their catalogue is straight-up produce porn; you will want everything you see!). Purchasing organically provides you with a foundation of clean, healthy plants, ensures financial viability for organic producers, and promotes genetic diversity.

*Small Measure: Use biodegradable dog and cat waste bags.These break down over time and won’t choke up the landfill. While the dogs don’t have a need for these bags out here (the forest is pretty accepting), the cats’ waste (we have 5!!!) goes into these bags, and then into a reserved pit in the back of the property to decompose. Good sources include Biobags and Four Paws.

*Small Measure: Sow the seeds you want to see in the world.I’m borrowing a bit liberally from Ghandi here, but I think he would approve. If you see something that needs to be done, hop to it!

*Small Measure: Eat a rainbow of colors at each meal. I realize that while this isn’t always achievable, it’s definitely goal-worthy. Different foods pack in different nutrients and eating a variety of hues at each meal goes far in offering an assortment of essential vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. Plus, they make meals more visually arresting, and I think we could all use a bit more visual arrestment in our lives, no?

*Small Measure: Make slow purchases. Take your time when opting to bring something new into your home, whether it be an armchair, a drinking glass, a canister, or pillow. See what might already exist in your community. Find ways to repurpose items gathering dust in your basement, spare room, or nearby antique store. Check the local paper for estate sales and auctions (a riot of fun, especially here in the south-I mean, have you ever actually heard an auctioneer do their thing? It boggles the mind.) You could even simply rearrange your furniture if you’re anxious for a quick, albeit “slow”, fix, which my mom did ALL THE TIME when I was growing up. Whatever you do, just do it thoughtfully. Speed isn’t everything. Like the Aesop fable “The Tortoise and the Hare” indicates, “slow and steady wins the race.” Ready? Set? Mosey…..

*Small Measure: The best things in life are free. That’s it, plain and simple. Hugs, kisses, a hummingbird’s buzz, a wink from a strange old lady-no benjamins necessary.

*Small Measure: Grow something! It needn’t be grandiose or even abundant. Start small if all you have is a windowsill. I once grew beans and tomatoes inside a 3rd floor apartment from the light provided by a skylight. Growing something yourself obviously shortens the transit necessary for foods to reach the table, but it also presents opportunities for eating foods at their peak of ripeness. Growing foods also forces you to slow down. Healthy growth takes time, patience, and love.

*Small Measure: Use cloth napkins. They’re inherently more absorbent than their paper cousins, definitely more attractive, and don’t need to be tossed in the garbage at the end of every feeding session. We keep a large range and use them at every meal. Once they become oil-stained, or have one too many enduring marinara streaks to be guest-worthy, I transition them to the kitchen cloth stash, which, in a similar fashion, I use instead of paper towels. Plus, they give you a polished edge, even if you’re slurping up pizza in your jammies.

Small Measure: Air dry your laundry. You don’t need a backyard or a clothesline to showcase your business either. If you live in an apartment, simply throwing open the windows and spreading your garments over the backs of chairs or atop windowsills works splendidly. Country or suburban dwellers, well, you’ve got some room, no matter how diminutive, for even the most humble of taught lines to be hung. There’s such easy comfort that comes from watching your things, mentionable and otherwise, blowing in the wind. Plus, it’s good exercise, what with the bending over, pinning up, removing, and folding. As a bonus, you’re saving money-a perk, no doubt, but definitely not the be all, end all. Clothespins up, pin onward!

Small Measure: Carry a hankie (that’s a handkerchief, for those of you not down with nasal cloth colloquialisms). ‘Specially this time of year, when so many folks have colds. My dad has been a life-long proponent of the hankie. Of course, you’ll need more than one, as they get pretty rank pretty fast, but hankies are a much sounder choice than kleenex, environmentally-speaking. Plus, there are some pretty cool ones out there, so, depending on your predilection, you could deposit your precious nasal knowledge into a camouflaged, John Deere, paisley (Pop’s choice), or floral hankie. Allow the hankie to make a statement, about your environmental AND design choices.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

'Aunt Amelia' September 30, 2009 at 5:54 am

I already follow her blog. 🙂


Thank you for spreading knowledge of this gal’s blog, via your blog!

Aunt Amelia


Taryn September 30, 2009 at 6:42 am

Katy, in regards to Facebook Scrabble, people do often cheat with sites like, which does pretty much what it says on the tin:). It builds words using the letters you put it. You can also make it search for certain suffixes, prefixes, and/or put in “?” for blank tiles/wildcards.

I mean, I’m not saying GLENN cheats but…. :).

Often, I ask people to “play cold” and not use sites like that when I’m looking for a real game. When you start seeing killer words like “expiable,” you pretty much know people are cheating. I’m an English prof and I very rarely hit words like “expiable” (lol).



Ashley English September 30, 2009 at 8:08 am

Thanks for this, Katy! Oh, and for what it’s worth, Glenn doesn’t cheat. On anything. Ever. He’s an avowed defender of truth. I can’t even tell a little white lie because of him. Seriously.


glenn September 30, 2009 at 8:53 am

For what it’s worth, on Scrabble cheating and anagram sites… I have no doubt that many people use them. The most obvious way to tell isn’t from seeing that someone is playing obscure words per se, but that they are playing obscure words from low probability tiles (tiles that show up in far fewer words than high probability tiles) despite the fact that they make novice tactical mistakes. No matter how obscure the words, it would be very hard to know whether an advanced player was cheating or not.

I Gibsonized the last tournament that I played in, which means that I won the tournament before it was actually over because I was undefeated and my point spread was so far ahead that no matter what happened, I would win. The term Gibsonization was named for the all-time high-winning player in the world, David Gibson, who has been in that position in tournaments a number of times. I have only played David once, and he beat me (by about 50 pts as I recall) but I actually beat the player who beat him in the same tournament. Gibson is actually a mathematician. At a high level of play, it becomes a mathematical, not lexical game.

You never have to know what the words mean to use them. Many of us spend a lot of time memorizing high probability sets and obscure front and back hooks, which include a lot of really outlandish looking words. That’s why a word like ESTRIOL will look bizarre to a novice player, but most advanced players will know that it is part of the set that also includes LOITERS and TOILERS.

A couple times a week I play some of the top players in the country in person. If you saw their words in live games on an online game, you would probably guess that they were cheating, because they are remarkably obscure. For example, yesterday in a game that I had with a friend who has beaten many of the top players in the world, he played AENEOUS, LORIMERS, ADENOSIS, and HURDIES, VOX, and ZILL.

In facebook scrabble, things are a bit different because it’s legal to use a dictionary, which would of course be cheating in live scrabble. If there is a word with a common suffix or prefix, I am probably going to find it no matter how obscure the word, because there is no time limit and I can just check the most likely possibilities against the dictionary. Those are the reasons that I come up with some remarkable words.

I hope that made sense 🙂


thenonconsumeradvocate September 30, 2009 at 9:12 am


I was joking about the cheating tendencies of my friend Glenn, who is a serious Scrabble player and spends his spare time attending Scrabble tournaments. He is an encyclopedia of Scrabble strategy and knowledge and is always generous with tips and ideas for how I can play at a higher level.


He and I are always joking about Scrabble conspiracies, (yeah, I am THAT much of a geek) so this dovetails in nicely.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


glenn September 30, 2009 at 9:56 am

No worries; just thought I would take the opportunity to geek out on Scrabble theory.

It’s really cool to see all of those small measures succinctly lined up like that. Fits so well with the nonconsumer advocate ideals, which is why we like your site so much 🙂


'Aunt Amelia' September 30, 2009 at 10:07 am

I put a link to this post, in my today’s posting, on my blog.

Aunt Amelia


karen September 30, 2009 at 11:39 am

I have created a separate file for all of your wonderful tips, websites, blogs, etc…. & in turn have become a ‘clipping service’ to people on my email list, lol. Usually the header reads “another great idea from Katy”…..keep up the great work!


Greta September 30, 2009 at 5:46 pm

How wonderful to find Ashley’s blog through Katy! Thank you.


Tara Morrison September 30, 2009 at 5:56 pm

I will be following this blog in the future and ironically picked up my copy of Where I’m calling from the past few nights as I am in between books. I have to get to the library to pick up my reserved copy of no impact man.


Magdalena September 30, 2009 at 5:58 pm

Love the snips – right now I’m looking for city-homesteading advice as we may be citified for a little while awaiting Nicholas’s medical care. I used to dry clothes by putting the broomstick across the backs of chairs and draping stuff over that. As soon as we’re settled I’m definitely gonna grow something in a pot, jar or coffee can! I miss gardening.


shelleybakes September 30, 2009 at 6:43 pm

Katy – I really enjoyed this post … it resonated with me in so many ways. Thank you!


mere September 30, 2009 at 8:02 pm

Here from Aunt Amelia’s. Love the hankie idea!


SNS February 3, 2018 at 10:55 am

Almost 10 years later and I still learned something today. Thanks for this Katy


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