By Gretchen Wehmhoff 

I’m pretty simple. I don’t have a simple life, but when the world around me is off balance or moving fast — staying streamlined is my best chance at survival.

I like my coffee black. Simple. I don’t have pierced ears. Simplifies the morning. I don’t get hairstyles that require dryers and curlers. Simplifies the day. I wear a pair of pants and a top. Simple. I wear the same pair of shoes every day unless I need my boots. Simple. 

In my 20s I got into make-up. It was fun and made me feel good. There is a sad irony that when our skin is blessed with youthful radiance, we cover it with make-up. As I aged and my skin started looking more wise, I dropped it off the “getting ready for the day” list. I still appreciate a good eyeliner and mellow shadow, but my make-up, once stuffed into a Caboodle box, fits in a small Ziploc bag that is opened once or twice a year. Simple.

Since I traveled quite a bit, even before I started coming to Skagway, I’ve had a packing system that is easy. If it doesn’t fit in its assigned spot, it doesn’t go. Key things to remember are ID, passport, medication, credit card and electronics. Anything I might forget can be picked up along the way with the credit card, or I learn that I didn’t need it anyway. 

Now I pack for extended stays in Skagway. I created a “go bag” of medical stuff, toiletries, rain gear and things I need on the road, such as dog poop bags, duct tape and bug dope. I never empty it, accessing it at home and in Skagway. Load it in the car. Load it into the newspaper office. Load it into the car. Load it into the house. Repeat. Simple.

I can eat the same thing for several days. I remember eating canned chicken and avocado on rice cakes for days at a time.  If I made a pot of chili, I ate chili all week. Not a lot of variety, but fewer choices took less time and met my needs – simple. Now my husband cooks for me. Simply  better.

Food allergies contribute to my “simple” lifestyle. Because they eliminate more than two thirds of menu choices at restaurants, I get to spend more time visiting or dealing with business. I like that. I watch my friends grapple with tough choices: fish or crab, cheesy or creamy, chocolate or flan. It looks so stressful. Sometimes I feel bad that it is so complicated, other times I get a bit annoyed because it takes so long.

Sometimes simple doesn’t happen. Especially in the search for favorite snacks at convenience stores. Inventory at chain convenience stores reflect high turnover. If it’s popular, it’s on the shelf. If it isn’t … well, it’s not.  

For example, take original Doritos. I loved those. Doritos means “little golden things” in Spanish. The ingredients were simple: corn, oil of some kind and salt. As an avid reader of ingredients, I like simple.

In 1968, Frito-Lay decided to spice it up with taco flavored Doritos, and with that, the charm of simplicity was broken. There have been over 100 varieties of Doritos in the U.S. alone. The original toasted corn flavor with the short ingredients list ranks #46 in the most purchased packages. 

Naturally, toasted corn is the ONLY flavor I can eat and it doesn’t make most shelves. A simple snack destroyed by the need for variety. Even the ingredients are not simple. There are ten words in the ingredients list for Toasted Corn Doritos. The number of words in ingredients of the most popular nacho cheese flavored Doritos is 100. Not simple.

Granted there are other brands of plain chips and Frito Lay has brought in Tostaditos, a plain chip made with white corn, but it’s not … “little golden things” simple.

Other favorite snacks are headed in the same direction. On a long road trip I looked for the Kellog’s Rice Krispie Treat bars at the gas station.  There were seven choices. Three “dunk’d” flavors, a chewy chocolate, rainbow M&M and a regular chocolate chip. The box of the original flavor was empty. 

Even Smart Water left the world of simple in keeping up with the competition of flavored waters. I looked at the rack. Not only were there four or five new flavors of Smart Water, such as cucumber lime and watermelon mint, but I could also choose which mood I would like to drink with choices like Tranquility, Renew and Clarity. Clarity? I wanted a bottle of water that I knew would fit in my car holder. Smart water. — cool bottle, easy choice. There was no clarity in my choices. There was no “regular” water on the rack. I chose pineapple-kiwi, jerky, dog treats and coffee then headed up the highway.

I may sound kind of picky, but in my roller-coaster life, I need to keep my arms and belongings inside the car. If it’s in my backpack, it’s simple. If it’s loose, it gets left behind. Maybe it started when I became a teacher, or a stepmom. Maybe from my years of travel. Or maybe I perfected it while I cared for my mom during her 14-year journey with Alzheimers. Simple is the only way to go in that world.  

Now I think it has more to do with maximizing the time I have left on this planet. The simpler my world, the more time to enjoy the opportunities and risks. Actually, it’s pretty simple. Get a good night’s sleep, drink coffee with your partner, run your day like a productive wild woman, slip into your recliner with a cup of coffee next to your husband and … repeat. Simple.