Wednesday, October 24, 2012

today I love...

...this little kid.  At the ripe old age of eight, she's decided to not only express herself in a fun and unique way through fashion, but is doing it in an inspiring crusade of historical education.

Check it out.

Every Wednesday, I write about something I love that day.  It doesn't necessarily have to be remotely related to anything; it just has to be fabulous!

Monday, October 22, 2012

new systems

As you know, I recently got rid of between a third and half of my entire clothing collection, which was no small feat.  I collect inordinate quantities of apparel.  It's not too hard on my wallet or financial plans, because 98% of it comes from yard sales and thrift stores, but it still takes up a ding-dang lot of space.  And it was frustrating because I could rarely find a particular piece that would be buried under everything else, and/or I wouldn't even really know what all I had!   I longed for a more curated wardrobe.  

So I went through the Great Purge of 2012, and boy did it feel good.  In the wake of that, I've been iteratively tweaking and reorganizing what's left, as well as removing the occasional unused item that's still hanging around, in order to optimize the overall system.  

Today I'm going to share what seems like a silly and insignificant little lesson, but that I absolutely love. 

I recently learned how to fold. 

Okay, that sounds even less climactic than I'd thought it would be.  Everyone knows how to fold clothing right?  You learned when you were seven, and your mom couldn't stand your habit of storing everything in a pile on the floor.  Or at least you shoved your piles into drawers.  I'm not judging. 

I'd kind of thought that all ways of folding were essentially equivalent.  Take garment, make flat and reasonably neat, stack in a pile.  Take things from pile.  If you want something at the bottom of the pile, you pretty much have to take the top part of the stack off, play a precarious game of jenga and caaaaaaaarefully extract what you're after, or cause the whole thing to topple messily and ruining your organization scheme in the first place.  Oh, and if it's all in a drawer, the stuff at the bottom is nearly impossible to see anyway. 

It's a small thing, but that little bit of frustration every day can get to a person. 

Recently, via this article, I came across a different way of both folding items and of packing them into drawers.  It involves 'filing' your clothing, so that each thing is both visible and easy to extract without disrupting the overall system.  As a bonus, it turns out that you can fit SO MUCH MORE stuff in a drawer, while simultaneously making it more accessible.  Oh Ceiling Cat, what a revelation.  

This drawer, previously only holding pajamas, now holds pajamas, my swimsuit and cover-ups, long underwear, T-shirts, and tank tops.  It's not perfect, but hot damn if it isn't incredibly convenient.  

Yes, these are my socks.  Yes, they're folded and sorted into rows.  Don't judge me.   

A combination of the Great Purge, implementing a seasonal wardrobe scheme (more on that later), and this new folding method has allowed me to completely empty out my enormously bulky and heavy Dresser of Doom.  My entire wardrobe is in the closet, in a container under my bed, and in two little drawered nightstand things.  They work well enough, but ultimately I'd love to find a small dresser with more shallow drawers in it.  The contents of both nightstands could easily be combined into one piece of furniture with similar overall dimensions as one of them, if it had shallower drawers, and hence more of them.  This system leads to a lot of wasted vertical space, even as it facilitates fitting more into the drawers overall despite that limitation.  Imagine the sheer optimizing power of the filing system deployed in a more ideal environment!

Sorry, my geekiness is showing there.  

Even my underwear are folded like this.  Previously, I was of the toss-it-in-the-drawer-and-smash-it-closed persuasion, as I'd given up on any sort of organization for drawers.  But this pervading sense of order, coupled with the ability to see and get at any particular article of clothing, really makes me happy.  It's the simple things.

Friday, October 19, 2012

finding passion, part 7: flow

I'm working through the '27 Questions to Find Your Passion' worksheet from Live Your Legend, a fabulous site devoted to encouraging people to discover their passions and pursue them.  Join me!

Question #7: When was the last time you were in a state of flow, in the zone and totally lost track of time? What were you doing?

To be quite honest, I'm having a difficult time remembering the last time that happened on any significant scale. Perhaps that's a sad commentary, but it's been quite a while since I was so into something that it absorbed me completely.  I find the current lack of that in my life rather disquieting.  

But the question is not asking how long it's been; it's asking what the activity was.  So I shall attempt to summon an answer. 

Editing, I suppose.  As in part 6, I can easily get into a sort of flow regarding the editing/typesetting of documents.  Also, I used to become absorbed in math projects/research/homework when in school, and I do still get some of that same excitement and engagement when one of my grad-school friends asks me a crunchy math question.  

And, of course, dance.  For sanity maintenance I go out dancing once a week, and usually have no idea what time it is until they call for the last song.  Dance is a huge part of who I am.  It rejuvenates me, it makes me happy, it connects with me on a very visceral level. 

Previous questions: part 1:happiness , part 2: invincibility, part 3: gratitude, part 4: skills, part 5: heroes, part 6: obsession.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

today I love, jumptoast edition

When sitting in a toasting circle around a campfire, there's a phenomenon known as the 'jumptoast.'  That's what happens when it's not really your turn with the bottle, but you claim it anyway, for Very Important and time-sensitive reasons.

This warrants a 'today I love' jumptoast, despite today not being a Wednesday.

Today I love the internet.

Most of the time it's hideously offensive and thoughtless and cruel, but occasionally something really awesome turns up.

This summer, BIC came out with silly 'for her' pens (annoyingly implying that we girly-types are completely incapable of using Normal Manly Pens), and Amazon reviewers responded in a marvelously snarky fashion.

Now they've gone and done it again.

Even the notorious cesspool Reddit can occasionally be decent.

The internet is an amazing tool, and it's truly up to us how we use it.  I'm all for making it a safe space to actually talk about important stuff when needed, and to enjoy humor when that's needed.  To find like-minded folks to remind you to appreciate what you have.  To celebrate the people and things in this world that aren't shitty instead of just complaining about the things that are.  To embrace the fabulous.

Claiming a little corner of it is the first step, and I'm very happy that I have the opportunity to that.  I'm learning more every day about what I want to create, what I feel like the world needs, and how to make that happen.  Thank you for coming on this journey with me.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

today I love...

...this amazing artist.  He makes these incredible mandala-like scenes and sculptures out of... table salt.  In a squeeze bottle.  Dude.

Every Wednesday, I write about something I love that day.  It doesn't necessarily have to be remotely related to anything; it just has to be fabulous!

Monday, October 15, 2012


I love gardening.  There's something magical about being able to see gorgeous plants grow out of virtually nothing, keep them healthy, and be rewarded with the most local food of all.  

Okay, so The Guy actually does a lot of the plant maintenance.  That's not my fault!  I have a longer commute.  And stuff.  

Anyway, I wanted to take you on a mini tour of what we've got growing.  

First up, we have the Great Tomato Jungle on the back porch.  The seedlings were originally purchased from the farmer's market, and were mislabeled.  I thought I was getting heirloom tomato plants (the ugly, bulbous, multicolored, ungodly delicious ones), but they turned out to be cherry tomatoes.  And as it turns out, cherry tomato plants like to take over the universe!  It's unreal.  We have our very own thicket of tomatoes.   One was also planted in an upside-down-tomato thingie, and it promptly grew all the way down to the ground.  These plants are unreal. 

So, so many tomatoes.  These pictures were taken a little while ago, when they were just starting to think about ripening.  We'd had to continually pinch off the flowers to keep them from over-extending themselves even more.  Lately we've been getting buckets of the juicy little ripe tomatoes, and have taken to throwing them in everything, and to grilling 'em on skewers for tomato sauce.  Yum.

Then there's the herb trough.  It's a nifty metal animal-watering sort of thingie, that we filled with dirt.  Grows stuff like you wouldn't imagine.  Earlier in the summer the chive plant set off on its own world-conquest plan, and we harvested armfuls of the stuff.  Much was chopped and dried --- one handy thing about the desert is that anything placed on a metal tray in the sun becomes beautifully dried in about an hour.  The porch table becomes practically a cooking surface.  The rest of the chives were mixed with butter and frozen, for a ready supply of chive butter.  Makes everything better.  That's a fact.

After the chives were thwarted in their evil plans, the basil plant took the opportunity to thoroughly dominate the herb-trough population.  There's also oregano, marjoram, and quite a lot of Italian parsley, but they're all eclipsed by the basil.  The only thing that's immediately apparent in this picture is some of the baby lettuces developing at the edge of the trough.  Witness the quite upwardly mobile basil:

And its cousin, across the yard.  Yes, that's a basil shrubbery.  I, for one, welcome our new basil overlords.

Ah, summer.  Grilled superfresh tomatoes + all the basil you can carry = the most delicious pasta sauce ever.   As autumn comes upon us, we will have to harvest the glorious basil, and it will probably be made into pesto.  Also, proto-pesto basil cubes, made by grinding the basil up with olive oil and freezing the concoction in ice cube trays, then popping them out into a freezer bag and tossing in the deep freeze.  Instant basil punch to whatever you're cooking!

Friday, October 12, 2012

finding passion, part 6: obsession

I'm working through the '27 Questions to Find Your Passion' worksheet from Live Your Legend, a fabulous site devoted to encouraging people to discover their passions and pursue them.  Join me!

Question #6: When was the last time you massively over-delivered on something?  What was it and why did you work so damn hard?

For work, I think this would have to be a recent powerpoint presentation I had the opportunity to put together for a long-term project.  I spent days obsessing over very specific animations and tweaking everything to deliver the information in the best possible way.  I got completely absorbed in the design of the thing, and even spent a lot of my own time at home and on my commute working on it, and I was inordinately proud of it. 

Why did I work so damn hard?  Because it was fun.  Because for whatever reason I intensely enjoy reformatting data into digestible forms and designing visuals to succinctly convey information.

The last personal project that I remember becoming completely obsessed with was when I was rewriting and reformatting my résumé.  I'm a huge fan of LaTeX, an incredibly powerful typesetting system, and wrote my own style file for my household's résumés.  Again, I spent tons of time at home and on commutes working on it and tweaking all the fiddly bits.  I'd spend hours researching online about effective résumé presentation guidelines and principles.  I'd look up and hours would have passed while I was absorbed in the project.  

Why did I put so much work into that?  It wasn't really because of how important a résumé is in one's professional life, though that's a perk.  Fundamentally, it was because of how passionate I felt about presenting the requisite information in the most effective way possible.

Hmm.  There seems to be a trend here.  

Previous questions: part 1:happiness , part 2: invincibilitypart 3: gratitudepart 4: skillspart 5: heroes.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

today I love...


Every Wednesday, I write about something I love that day.  It doesn't necessarily have to be remotely related to anything; it just has to be fabulous!

Monday, October 08, 2012

weekend project: noms!

I love to cook.  So does The Guy.  We have gazillions (yes, that's a technical term) of cookbooks.  We also have so many recipes that have been cut out of magazines, printed out and folded for years, or scribbled on the backs of grocery lists.  He's had a pile of recipes on scraps of paper that have just floated inside a cookbook, sandwiched behind the front cover.  It was a bit of a deathtrap, admittedly. 

A while ago, I got fed up with that.  Finding a particular recipe was rather difficult, and they kept falling everywhere.  Enter The Great Recipe Organization Campaign of 2012.  This started a few months ago, wherein I began corralling stray recipes in a box, and going through our stash of back-issues of Bon Appétit for ones worthy of cutting out.  I was inspired by so many other projects like this out on the interwebs.  I found a nice big binder for the finished product, and a bunch of page protectors.  

Then all of that sat in the back room and was completely ignored.  

Until this past Sunday morning, when I hauled it all out and spread it on the kitchen table, sorting into piles.  The Guy pitched in, helping decide which ones to keep and what categories they should go in, and digging out his old family recipes from their hiding places for me.  

I ended up with five categories: new stuff to try, savory, sweet, old family recipes, and concept pieces.  I used write-on-able sticky tab thingies put right onto the sheet protectors to delineate the sections, but there are all kinds of tools for that sort of thing.  

All except the 'to try' and 'concept' categories exclusively contained tried-and-true recipes that were known to be delicious and we'll definitely want to make again.  Stuff from the 'to try' section will be moved to savory or sweet, as appropriate, once they're made and declared to be worthy.  The 'concept' section is for ideas that were kept just as notions, but not necessarily as whole recipes as written.  The idea of making a semi-frittata out of fettuccine is more important than the magazine's exact recipe for the tomato sauce to go with it.  We're semi-accomplished cooks, and free-lance off of recipes anyway.   Once tried, incorporated, and remembered, the 'concept' recipes will probably just be thrown away, but in the meantime they serve a useful purpose as a reminder of new ideas to try.  

Others might have different categories, of course.  Main courses, sides, breads, etc.  But for our purposes, and because I didn't really feel like sorting through with that fine-toothed of a comb, I stuck with some pretty broad categories.  It all depends on how you cook, what sorts of recipes you've got, and how finely you want to split hairs.  Perhaps as the book expands it'll undergo a reorganization at some point.  Who knows?

Here it is.  I've taken to calling it The Book.  

If a sheet protector didn't contain a full-page printout of a recipe, I stuffed in some blue paper I found in my craft stuff to serve as a backdrop.  Then recipes were just layered on top of the backing paper in whatever configuration made sense.  I found that they didn't even need to be glued down, which made the whole thing simpler as well as more modular.  If they shift around too much over time, some gluing-down might happen, ultimately, but for now it seems to be holding just fine as is.

The beautiful thing about The Book is that not only do we no longer have to dig through stacks of papers to find a particular favorite recipe, but the sheet protectors mean that the things are largely water-resistant.  This is good in a kitchen, as they'll be less prone to getting destroyed by water, blobs of cookie dough, and bacon grease.  To be fair, many of the recipes in The Book already have spots and stains from just such treatment, and I didn't bother to retype them or anything.  I think it lends character.  But the water resistance will add to their longevity, especially for those multiple-decades-old papers for old family recipes.  

By the way, we've already started using The Book.  Thy Guy made a delicious pilaf for dinner last night, cooking out of the recipe I'd transcribed into the book.  In case you're curious, it's originally from Alton Brown, the science nerd of food.  So tasty. 

And that's my weekend project.  I love it, and it's nice to actually finish something for a change.  Here's to many years of yummy cooking, expanded recipe collections, and good organization!

Friday, October 05, 2012

finding passion, part 5: heroes

I'm working through the '27 Questions to Find Your Passion' worksheet from Live Your Legend, a fabulous site devoted to encouraging people to discover their passions and pursue them.  Join me!

Question #5: Who do you look up to?  Who are your mentors?  Who inspires you?  Why?

Aaaaaand we're back.  I've been a bad blogger about updating for a while now, and it's time to pick up this thread again.  

In no particular order, these are the people who I feel admiration for today.  The list might change tomorrow.  These are the people who make my heart catch in my throat if I imagine that I have the opportunity to sit down to lunch with them.  
  • Robert, the best tango instructor in the universe.  Maybe in other universes, too. 
  • Don, my kick-ass math tutor and friend from my undergrad years.  He was in the military, and then decided to study math.  'Cuz it's fun.  He helped me to truly grok a lot of the higher-level coursework, and we had so many great discussions.
  • Melissa, my feminist blogger hero.  She has so much strength, the ability to beautifully articulate so many important sentiments that can be so darn hard to express, and has put so much work into making her blog into a safe space for everyone.  I admire her from the very depths of my being.  
  • Leo, of course.  All bloggers everywhere admire Leo, as far as I can tell.  For his success, for his eloquently simple and peaceful perspective on life, and for his ability to cut out all the noise and focus on what's really important. 
  • My grandfather.  He's incredibly strong, kind, and perseverant.  With a snide sense of humor so subtle that it can take days to even realize he'd made a joke.  But it was a damn good one.
  • Gala, for being unabashedly fabulous, glittery, and in love with herself. 
  • And of course, Nikola Tesla.  For being an amazingly radical scientist whom history seems to have largely overlooked.  Also Barbara McClintock.  Same reason.
Who inspires you?

Previous questions: part 1:happiness , part 2: invincibilitypart 3: gratitudepart 4: skills.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

today I love...

...this wardrobe grid.  The author took sixteen pieces --- four each of tops, bottoms, shoes, and accessories, and arranged them in a cute little four-by-four matrix.  Then outfits are made by choosing arbitrary rows, columns, or diagonals.

I adore this.  This concept just might wind up being incorporated into my obsessive planning stages before travel from now on.  I always work hard to mix and match pieces such that I can take as little stuff as possible, and this provides yet another tool to assist in that.

Simple and brilliant!

Every Wednesday, I write about something I love that day.  It doesn't necessarily have to be remotely related to anything; it just has to be fabulous!

Monday, October 01, 2012


I like shiny things, and I like pretty jewelry.  My stuff is mostly of the gaudy costume variety, but it's lots of fun.

However, I had a problem.  All that prettiness was jammed into a too-small jewelry box, and the process of finding, extracting, and detangling a given piece was nigh unto impossible.  It consequently never got worn; such a waste!  I simply (I thought) had too much of it.  Then the Great Jewelry Purge of 2011 commenced.  I took over the dining table for a day, went through every piece, and only kept the ones that
  1. were in good shape,
  2. fit my current style,
  3. actually went with at least something I owned, and
  4. I absolutely loved. 
The theory was that if I could actually find and access the stuff, it might actually get worn for a change. 

I even took the better pieces to my jeweler to get them a sonicator bath to clean 'em up.  The purged rejects, still comprised of fun and funky bling, went to a friend's party where all the people there had a grand time going through 'em and picking out new favorites.  It's fun seeing my old jewelry proudly displayed on my friends. 

The remaining jewelry (about a fifth of the original quantity.  I'm down to five pairs of earrings.  Five!) was lovingly placed back in the jewelry box, where it promptly tangled into a hideous mess again.  

Well, damn.  Apparently I missed something.  

Then I found all kinds of nifty inspiration on the trusty interwebs.  People were conquering their disorganized jewelry realities with corkboard and picture frames, ribbons and drawer handles, cake stands and deer antlers.  Antique display cabinets.  Burlap.  Driftwood.  Old printer's cases.  Surely I could come up with something. 

I didn't need a lot of ring/bracelet/earring storage, because most of my collection is of the necklace variety.  And I wanted something to hang on the wall instead of taking up surface space on furniture. 

Poking around the garage, I found a little knick-knack display shelf that we'd bought and never gotten around to putting up.  Its white surface was a little marred, but I also scrounged up some black spray paint, and that took care of it.  Digging through a tub of hardware turned up a box of cup hooks.  My very small antique teacup collection perched on top of the shelf, for rings and such.  And then... voila!  A nifty jewelry storage solution, effectively for free. 

Incidentally, it turns out that cup hooks don't like being driven into wood without pilot holes being drilled.  Frustrating.  But on the plus side, I got to play with power tools!

Now I can actually see what I've got, and consequently it gets worn much more often.  It's a small thing, yes, but it makes me smile every time I look at it.  Sometimes small but brilliant solutions are plenty significant.  And hey, I got a whole five bucks for that unneeded jewelry box at my yard sale. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

today I love...

...this love story.   No matter how you feel about the war and the people fighting it, this is beautiful.

Every Wednesday, I write about something I love that day.  It doesn't necessarily have to be remotely related to anything; it just has to be fabulous!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

today I love...

...this beautiful video* about being alone.

I've never lived alone, and generally have had issues with being alone in general.  I dislike coming home to a dark, empty house, and prefer to have people around. 

I think that finding peace in just being with myself would be a good thing to work on. 

Every Wednesday, I write about something I love that day.  It doesn't necessarily have to be remotely related to anything; it just has to be fabulous!

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

today I love...

...this dad.   He showed his son such beautiful acceptance with a little act of fearlessness.  He stepped up and became the role model his kiddo needed.  Beautiful.

Rock on, dude.

Every Wednesday, I write about something I love that day.  It doesn't necessarily have to be remotely related to anything; it just has to be fabulous!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

today I love...

...hobbit houses.

Self explanatory.  I want one retroactively to play in as a kid, and I want one now to play in as a grown-up.

Every Wednesday, I write about something I love that day.  It doesn't necessarily have to be remotely related to anything; it just has to be fabulous!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

today I love...

...this narrative of the difficulty in navigating the waters of healthy eating culture.   I like to think of myself as a healthy and ethical person, and I deeply enjoy cooking with local produce.  I adore Michael Pollan's sensible way of approaching food.  I do my best to ignore silly food trends.

But sometimes it's hard.  Sometimes the research is a trap.  Sometimes I just need to step back and regain perspective.

Every Wednesday, I write about something I love that day.  It doesn't necessarily have to be remotely related to anything; it just has to be fabulous!

Monday, August 20, 2012

out of sight

I've recently observed an interesting phenomenon when it comes to my own perspective on stuff:

  • Is it out where I can see it, on a shelf/hanger/pile on the floor/hook where it usually lives?  Then I'll probably pass over it when decluttering, and will come up with all sorts of rationalizations as to why it should stay. 
  • Has it been moved into a go-away box or pile?  Then I cease thinking about it entirely and can easily let it go.  

Let's call it Mindless Clutter Effect.  MCE means that simply walking into a room and declaring a decluttering mission by looking around (at least for me) is probably doomed.  But if I physically touch an object, and maybe move it to a different place?  Whole new ballgame.  Let's look at an example. 

For the past few months, I've been continually pulling things out of my closet and depositing them in an ongoing 'donate' box.  Every once in a while the box got dropped off at a thrift store.  The selection process was fairly random, and just happened whenever I'd think of something that could go.  I had to work up the motivation to actually remove the thing from the closet, while leaving everything else behind.  I even tried the backwards-hanger trick, but I tended to wear everything eventually if it's there for the wearing, so that was somewhat self-defeating.  Every thing gotten rid of this way required effort to move it. 

I managed to purge maybe 20 items in several months.  

A couple of weeks ago, some friends came over to help me in my closet-cleaning mission.  We physically removed every single thing from the closet (in batches by category) and laid it all in big piles on the bed.  Then every item was held up, maybe tried on, and voted upon.  Anything with any doubts about it (poor fit, unflattering, not something I've actually worn in a while, a generic 'blah' feeling) went into the go-away pile.  The rest was looked through again briefly to see how many were left, the less-awesome pieces were revisited, and then the stuff to keep was put back into the closet.  Each thing to be kept required the effort of putting it back in the closet.

The clothing was removed from its natural habitat and backdrop (the closet), and put into a new context (on the bed).  Such a simple change, but it (along with the support of having people there to help, of course), allowed me to remove at least a third of my entire wardrobe.  The pile above is what'll go into my yard sale when I get around to having one.

What's interesting is that even though the pile has been sitting in my bedroom, totally accessible and visible, I've felt no urge to pull anything out of it.  Things in the pile that I'd previously been unable to imagine getting rid of have become irrelevant.  MCE defeated.  

The moral of the story?  Try pulling clutter out of its original context.  You might be surprised at how much easier it is to part with unnecessary stuff.  Also, have fabulous friends who think going through someone else's closet is fun!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

today I love...

...this periodic table.  Yeah, I went there.

Every Wednesday, I write about something I love that day.  It doesn't necessarily have to be remotely related to anything; it just has to be fabulous!

Friday, July 27, 2012

finding passion, part 4: skills

I'm working through the '27 Questions to Find Your Passion' worksheet from Live Your Legend, a fabulous site devoted to encouraging people to discover their passions and pursue them.  Join me!

Question #4: What are you ridiculously good at?  What are your precious gifts?

Hoo boy.  These certainly are getting to be trickier.  I don't know that there's anything I'd describe myself as being ridiculously good at.  So let's drop the modifier for now.

What am I just good at?  No matter how silly or seemingly irrelevant it is?

  • dancing, in various forms
  • working with some animals (mostly horses)
  • cooking
  • writing
  • proofreading/editing/typesetting
  • presenting
  • throwing parties
  • planning events
  • grasping abstract mathematical concepts
  • seeing patterns
  • listening to people
  • DDR (yes, really.  Silly but true)
  • touch-typing
  • giving massages
  • being a student
  • making lists
  • memorizing things

It seems that I'm good at physical expression, learning, planning, and working with words.  Hmm.  This... will have to do for now.  Next!

What are you good at?

Previous questions: part 1:happiness , part 2: invincibilitypart 3: gratitude.

Monday, July 23, 2012

small space fetish

I have an odd fixation on the notion of living in a small space in a city.  I romanticize the notion of being close to everything, having real public transit options, and being forced to seriously edit my mountains of crap.  To have everything I own be something I absolutely love.  To be absolutely ruthless about what is in my home.  To spend less time cleaning and organizing, and more time living.  To abolish clutter.

Granted, in reality city living is cramped, dirty, loud, and has all sorts of downsides.  My fantasy doesn't necessarily take those into account, hence the romanticization.  But fundamentally, I find myself desperate for change of some sort.  I want... different.  

Part of why I'm so obsessed with decluttering is that it feels like a step toward that goal.  The less stuff that has to be lugged around, the more freedom we'll have to jump when the next life change opportunity comes to call, whatever form it might take.  

All my life, whatever household I've been a part of has required a fairly sizeable house.  Not necessarily for the people, but for the stuff.  For some reason, saying 'this one won't work; it isn't big enough to hold all our stuff' seems perfectly reasonable in this country.  When did we start adjusting the houses to fit the accumulated junk, instead of simply living in a reasonable amount of space?

Though the average American family size has decreased about 30% since 1950 (from 3.8 to 2.6), average house size has increased more than 2.5-fold!  This is ridiculous!  That average 1950's family was living in under 1,000 square feet of space, but we still seem to be always upsizing and expanding.

Always needing more, more more... how about opting out and downsizing instead?  Living with less doesn't signify failure, and renting isn't a sign of having given up.  These things only indicates breaking free of the outdated American Dream.  What worked in the fifties due to some rather unique circumstances (the GI bill, a time of major economic prosperity, plenty of jobs, etc.) is a silly standard to still hold ourselves to.  In the current economic climate, maybe owning a house with a white picket fence no longer makes sense!  Make your own future.  Figure out what works for you.  The real you, not your fantasy self that throws perfect dinner parties and has 2.5 children.  Or maybe the fantasy self tours around the country playing the washboard in a zydeco band, but you're happier staying in one place, hopefully in a smaller (and cheaper) house than you can afford.  The point is to move beyond mindless plodding toward an outdated goal that may or may not be applicable to your unique circumstances.  

For me, I want out of the upsizing cycle.  I want the freedom that comes from focusing more on people and experiences rather than stuff.  To have more time, energy, and money not spent on maintaining/acquiring/storing stuff.  To prioritize the aspects of life that are actually important.  

Maybe this is a silly romantic notion, and maybe I'll never make it to my fantasy city.  Maybe I'll always live in three-bedroom houses.  But in the meantime, I'll keep 

But hey, a girl's got to dream, right?

Friday, July 20, 2012

finding passion, part 3: gratitude

I'm working through the '27 Questions to Find Your Passion' worksheet from Live Your Legend, a fabulous site devoted to encouraging people to discover their passions and pursue them.  Join me!

Question #3: What do people thank you for?

This one was exceedingly difficult.  I am generally rather unobservant when it comes to myself, and so at first blush I couldn't think of a darn thing in answer to this question.  I'm sure it's happened, but I don't seem to have remembered any instances of it.

After chatting with a few people and doing some deep introspection, I came up with this marginally satisfactory assortment of items:
  • listening/discussing life issues
  • emotional support
  • cooking
  • hospitality (throwing parties, having people over, etc.)
  • helping work through problems
  • being a sounding board/devil's advocate
Most of these items seem to pertain to conversations.  There is likely to be some serious sample bias base simply on what I was thinking about today and the interactions I've had in the past short while.  However, it's still an interesting result, and hopefully will yield further insights down the line. 

What are you thanked for?

Previous questions: part 1:happiness , part 2: invincibility.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

today I love...

... Julie D'Aubigny.  She was a totally rockin' 17th century lady who kicked a whole hell of a lot of ass.  It's well worth reading about her ridiculously impressive achievements.   She's my new hero for badassery.

Every Wednesday, I write about something I love that day.  It doesn't necessarily have to be remotely related to anything; it just has to be fabulous!

Monday, July 16, 2012

5 things I've learned about student loans

I'm not going to talk about prohibitive college expenses, interest rates, or loan marketing.  Nope, I'm just going to talk about my own experience with student loans, and what I wish I'd done differently.

Some background: I attended a ridiculously inexpensive university, and managed to escape with only a small (under five figures) amount of loan debt.  I know that many, if not most students, have a much more difficult time and wind up with truly unmanageable mountains of debt.  My rambling in no way is meant to belittle that abysmal situation or to put my burden on the same scale as those who've had to work much harder to scrape by.  

Some of these might seem obvious, but they are all lessons that I had to learn the hard way.  

1) If you can possibly get by without loans and not actually starve, do it.  

For the first few years of my undergraduate career, I got by on scholarships, my part-time job in a laboratory and some support from my parents.  In my fourth year or so, I scored a much better paying student internship.  However, after five years (yeah, I know, it's only supposed to take four), my scholarships dried up.  Suddenly the school actually wanted me to pay them to go to school!  Can you imagine.  

I hadn't had the foresight to save up tuition money over the prior years, despite the surplus from my scholarships (yep, they literally cut me a check each semester, which I promptly spent on... I have no idea what).  The school wanted what seemed to be a large lump sum of money that I didn't have, so I figured I'd need a loan.  

Now I wonder about that.  Maybe I could have borrowed from my parents or a friend, and then paid it off over the course of that same year.  Maybe there were deferment options.  Maybe I could have scraped the cash together somehow.  Who knows?

What I do know is that I'd be so much more happy now without that particular, maybe unnecessary debt.  If I had to live a bit leaner in the meantime, so what?  Students are famous for being poor, and yet I suspect I maintained a higher standard of living than was strictly speaking necessary.  I wish I hadn't sacrificed my future self's (that would be now-me, writing this article) income and sanity for my standard of living then.  

2) If you have to go into debt, loans >> credit cards. 

During those same late-undergraduate years, I racked up an embarrassing amount of credit card debt.  I splurged on parties, I bought so many presents for friends, I went to Europe.  Maybe those loans were needed after all, and though I'm potentially contradicting the advice above, maybe I should have taken out more money than I did.  Interest rates are lower on loans than on credit cards in general, and I probably would be paying back a slightly lower total balance now.  

Avoid credit cards like the plague, especially when you feel like you don't have much money.  If you can't afford something, you certainly can't afford to pay even more by financing it.  Don't do it.  

3) Figure out what you actually need. 

When filling out loan paperwork at the financial aid office, I simply guessed at a number and wrote it down.  Okay, so tuition and books are reasonably predictable expenses, but I had no idea at what rate I was otherwise hemorrhaging money.  That information might have been useful.  Maybe I could have taken out a bit less, and accrued less interest.  Or maybe I should have taken more, and thus avoided high-interest credit card debt.  Or maybe I should have done the damn calculations just as a reality shock to myself, to get me to pay better attention to my finances.

4) Shop around.  Know interest rates. 

Ah, yes.  Being in a research field, one might think that I would have found all the reference materials available about loans and educated myself ravenously.  I would have found out who the different lenders were, what their practices looked like, their interest rates, their policies.  

I did none of that.  

When it came to selecting a lender, I quite literally checked a box at random. 

When my husband and I were comparing finances, I learned that the interest rate on his student loan was something like four whole percentage points lower than mine.  That's a huge difference when it comes to the evils of compounding interest. My interest rate looks more like it belongs on a credit card, not a student loan.  

Research.  Educate yourself.  This stuff is important.

5) Think about the options.

At one point in the consultation, the loan officer asked me if I'd like to pay off the accrued interest while still in school.  

Hell no!  Are you crazy?  I don't want to have to pay you now --- I'll be living on that money!  I'll deal with it after I graduate, thanks. 


Fast forward: after two years of paying down the loan, I have the balance almost down to the original borrowed amount.  That's as though these two years of money have only gone to the interest I avoided paying at the beginning.  The amounts would have been relatively tiny, and paying then would have kept the compounding in check, resulting in a much lower total payback amount.  And then I would be where I am now (owing approximately the amount I borrowed) two years ago when I graduated.  And I would be that much closer to debt freedom.  

Know the options.  Actually think about them, and examine your knee-jerk responses.  Second-guess yourself.  Your future self will thank you.  

Friday, July 13, 2012

finding passion, part 2: invincibility

I'm working through the '27 Questions to Find Your Passion' worksheet from Live Your Legend, a fabulous site devoted to encouraging people to discover their passions and pursue them.  Join me!

Question #2: What do you do that makes you feel invincible?

Invincible, in this context, I take to mean guaranteed of success, unable to fail.  Feeling so good that nothing could possibly go wrong.  This isn't a feeling that I'm especially familiar with, outside of the bliss of losing oneself in a dance with a great partner and a great shared dynamic.  But let's see what I can come up with.  As with all of these questions, I'm doing my best to not over-think the answers, and just write down whatever comes to mind.
  • dancing
  • climbing to the top of a mountain on horseback
  • massive decluttering
  • editing
  • writing, to a lesser extent
...I'm not entirely sure what conclusions to draw from this particular list.  Hopefully it will all come together further along in the process.

What makes you feel invincible, dear reader?

Previous question: part 1:happiness.

Friday, July 06, 2012

finding passion, part 1: happiness

The other day, I stumbled upon Live Your Legend, a fabulous site devoted to encouraging people to discover their passions and pursue them.  To stop being mediocre.  To release other people's dreams and find their own.  Good stuff.

If you sign up for their email list, you get a bunch of nifty pdf resources.  Normally I resent content being held hostage for my email address, but I feel like this one may actually have relevant and useful emails.  We'll see.

Regardless, the free-but-with-a-catch documents are remarkable, and I'll be working my way through some of them in the coming months.  Today I want to embark upon a beauty called 27 Questions to Find Your Passion.  As you know, my sense of dissatisfaction and ennui is the driving force behind this blog, and I need to get serious about figuring out what I am actually here to do.  Passion-finding resources seem like a good place to start.

So, we have question #1: What makes you happiest in your life?  What excites you?

Without thinking too much, I made a list.  Much on it is silly, some is obvious, and some seems strange.  It's in no particular order, unless you count the order in which items occurred to me as I was writing.  It's incomplete and changing and comprised of the things that I happened to write down one afternoon.  Here goes.

Things that make me happy:
  • dancing
  • cooking
  • good food
  • cloudy, gloomy skies
  • good company
  • hot baths
  • stretching
  • sweet-smelling flowers
  • acceptance
  • fuzzy socks
  • cuddles
  • reading a good book
  • music
  • creating
  • making a positive impact
  • wearing fabulous hats
  • feeling exhausted
  • the smell of horses
  • spontaneity
  • fresh air
  • cold drinks on a hot day
  • planning
  • going new places
I find it interesting that most things on the list have nothing to do with material possessions.   Presumably as long as I have enough socks, hats, and a kitchen to cook in, I'll be perfectly happy with my stuff.  Interesting.  My happy list is mostly about doing things, getting outside, traveling, and being with people.  

Presumably, the questions will get progressively more challenging to answer.  I'm endeavoring to not read ahead too much, and to just address each question.  

What makes you happy?  

Thursday, July 05, 2012

today I love...

... this video.  A video blogger apparently got a bunch of 'fat-shaming' feedback, and this is her response.  This is the best thing I've seen in a long time.  You, my dear, totally rock.

Wednesday's normal 'love' feature is a bit late this week, due to the holiday.  Enjoy!

Every Wednesday, I write about something I love that day.  It doesn't necessarily have to be remotely related to anything; it just has to be fabulous!

Monday, July 02, 2012

financial retrospective: june

June was a mild financial success.  I've got that pretty purple 'savings' wedge on the pie chart, indicating that the Master Equation (spending < earning) has been adhered to.  It's nothing dramatic, but it's a step along the way to financial freedom.

This month saw a few atypical expenditures, mostly pertaining to a replacement futon frame (the old one was literally falling apart, and the 'new' one is a Craigslist find, touched up with a stain marker), a housewarming gift for a good friend, and an oil change for my car.  I did contribute to our shared checking account to help with bills and such, and even threw a little extra money at my credit card balance.  All these things still didn't manage to throw me into the negative, so I call this a win.

Another month closer to December 2013, my projected month of achieving debt freedom!

pantry challenge, final

This month I issued a challenge to my household: we would refrain from buying anything that resides in a package, to clear out pantry (and freezer) clutter. 

June has come and gone, and with it, our silly little pantry challenge.  We managed to get through the month without killing each other over shopping lists, so that's a plus.  Let's revisit the original goals for this project: 

use up the majority of the forgotten food

I must confess that we didn't manage to use up nearly as many stockpiled food items as I'd hoped.  As I mentioned last week, one revelation during this challenge was that we simply don't seem to do a lot of cooking from the pantry, at least in the summer when fresh veggies are plentiful.  This means both that we could probably make do with a much smaller 'stash,' and unfortunately that it will take a lot more than a month to go through the extra.  

temporarily reduce the grocery budget

Viewed from a strictly budgetary standpoint, the experiment was a dismal failure.  As you can see at the bottom of this post, I spent nearly $500 on food this month, and that's rather higher than my monthly average of around $350 ($368.25, if you're into precision).  So... goal #2 was not particularly successful.  But we did eat better, with a focus on the fresh food available at the farmer's market.  I'm mildly disappointed that we didn't manage to save any monty this month, but the lack of actually using up cupboard materials quite sensibly correlates with a lack of reduced expenditures. 

create more space in the kitchen

While there's a little more wiggle room in some areas, it's not necessarily noticeable.  No significant elbow room gain has been realized.  

At this point, it seems that the project has failed on all fronts --- we've still got a lot of ignored food to use up, June saw a rise in food expenditures, and the kitchen is no more livable or organized.  However, this brings us to goal #4...

gain a better awareness of what we have (and what we buy)

...and this is the real triumph.  Through the month we've poked through cupboards and freezers, can see what's behind where the 'staple' items customarily live but have not been replaced, and we now have a pretty solid idea of how much food we've got stashed around the kitchen.  If June was a failure in terms of money and actually using up extra items, it was a definite triumph in terms of mindsets.  By focusing out attention on the issue for a whole month, I feel that we've come to have a subtly different outlook when it comes to shopping. 

The original stated purpose of the challenge was to do a one-time clean-out, and wind up with less stuff.  That didn't happen, but we gained the infinitely more valuable shift in outlook that will be needed to change our food-buying habits and be just a little more sensible about stocking the kitchen and avoiding some of the excesses of consumerism.  Instead of a single massive purge, I suspect that we'll slowly whittle down the superfluous, and the problem will self-correct over time.  With periodic reality checks, of course.  Habits can be tricky to change, but it's never too late to tackle them.  

Yesterday my husband asked me to add dijon mustard to the list for the simple reason that we were out of it.  Then a bit later he crossed it out and declared that we could simply  use up some of the fabulous gourmet mustards lurking in the cabinet.  When at the store, I actually think about each thing I'm getting, not just in terms of price but also whether we actually need the item, and if anything else could possibly substitute.  

Shopping is no longer done on reflex.  I kind of like that. 

food budget tracker: week 2
farmer's market: $12
grocery: $109.66
other (kettle corn): $11

total: $132.66

grand monthly total: $497.16

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

today I love...

...the best halloween costume ever (via Already Pretty).

Just go see it.

Every Wednesday, I write about something I love that day.  It doesn't necessarily have to be remotely related to anything; it just has to be fabulous!

Monday, June 25, 2012

be the change

"Be the change you wish to see in the world."  ---maybe Ghandi, but definitely a nice-sounding bumper sticker

I have issues with embarrassment.

I'll often be furtive about or even completely hide some things I do from view, because of fear of embarrassment.  And no, I didn't mean that.  Get your mind out of the gutter.

I'm talking about little things.

  • I time my afternoon walks such that I can slip out and back while people are at lunch.  There's no work-related problem with my taking these breaks; I just for some reason choose to be subtle about it and avoid the topic with coworkers.  
  • When shopping, I pick up travel-sized foods like easy-open cans of beans and packets of nuts that are on sale, and then make little packets to give out to the homeless I drive by in my city.  I can't simply ignore them, but I hate the impersonality of just handing over a few dollars.  I like being able to provide something a trifle more thoughtful, something that might offer a little decent nutrition in a lifestyle that probably doesn't afford much by way of real food.  Besides, I buy the stuff on sale when I'm at the store anyway, so it's a dirt cheap little hobby.  But I hide the packets under the passenger seat, and won't stop to hand one out if anyone else is in the car.  
  • When out walking by myself I automatically pick up any litter I run across, but if I'm walking with company I'll usually walk right by it, pretending not to notice. 

There's no sensible reason to feel ashamed of these actions.  I'm not claiming they make me an awesome person, but they're certainly not shame-worthy.  So why do I go to such ridiculous lengths to hide them?  Because I'm afraid of a discussion about why I do them?  Because someone might think I'm weird?  Because I just lack strength of character?

Recently, I found myself hoofing it through a city with several family members when vacationing.  There was trash everywhere.  I walked past the first few pieces, while lecturing myself to get over the embarrassment and just pick it up.  I argued to myself that it would be weird, it would slow us down, it was silly.  Finally I bit the bullet, swooped down, and snagged a styrofoam cup as I walked past.  I carefully didn't look at anyone and put on my best impression of nonchalance.

Then the most amazing thing happened.  Suddenly, everyone was stopping to pick up bits of trash!  We had handfuls of it by the time we got to a bin, and my husband even pointed out a few on my side that I was in danger of missing.

Rather than earning criticism, my insignificant little act of bravery spurred more action in turn.  And that one stretch of sidewalk was made that much more pleasant.

This is a silly little example, and just illustrates how strangely my mind works.  But imagine what could happen if we all did exactly what we felt was right, without the fear of judgement.  Where might it lead?  Who knows, but it would probably make the world a little bit better.  Every bit certainly helps.

For me, I'm going to work on banishing my fear of embarrassment and behaving the same way whether I'm watched or not.  It won't be easy, but I think it will be worth it.

The challenge: do something you're afraid of.  Even if it's silly.  See what happens.  

Friday, June 22, 2012

pantry challenge, week 3: cruising right along

This month I issued a challenge to my household: we would refrain from buying anything that resides in a package, to clear out pantry (and freezer) clutter. 

I think we're starting to get the hang of this.  The copious pantry supplies don't seem to have dwindled dramatically, but we're definitely in a different frame of mind.  Meals are planned around what we already have, not what we could pick up at the store.  Going to the market every Saturday is a necessity.  I haven't had to stop for some last-minute ingredient on my way home from work all month.  Yesterday, The Guy found himself sorely tempted, when at Costco, to pick up a few pantry items, but just couldn't bring himself to do it.  Instead, he limited himself to the lettuce, mushrooms, and parmesan that were his reason for being there. 

Oddly, this challenge has highlighted for me the extent to which we don't actually cook from the pantry.  That is, most of our ingredients tend to be perishables from the fridge. From a nutritional standpoint, this is ideal.  The majority of our diet appears to consist of fresh (and this time of year, local) veggies, dairy, and meats, supplemented by just a few pantry staples.  The thought that we'd 'run out' of things and get desperate by the end of the month of only buying fresh food seems hilarious now.  We've (mostly) adhered to the rules of the challenge, are eating wonderfully well, and yet have hardly touched the pantry stores.  What this tells me is that we definitely don't need to be sitting on such huge stockpiles, or doing so much shopping!  We don't even use most of the stuff in everyday life!

All in all, I like this.  This cold-turkey 'challenge' approach seemed somewhat silly at first, and the strict rules led to a few arguments and some temporary resentment.  However, I suspect that it's doing a lot to affect our outlook on food, and may help maintain a bit more of an 'enough is enough' mindset instead of always stocking up whenever possible.  This could lead to more elbow room, fewer shopping trips, and maybe even more sanity in the kitchen.  

One more week (and change) to go!

food budget tracker: week 2
farmer's market: $36.50
grocery: $122.27

total: $158.77

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

today I love...

...Gala Darling's list of 100 things to do instead of procrastinating on the internet.

Like most of us, I've found myself wasting away more hours than I'd like to think about on lifehacker, various blogs, and very occasional flash games.  Plus, there's wikipedia effect.

What if we all got off our collective butts and, say, participated in real life occasionally instead of checking facebook?  I suspect the world would be a little bit of a better place.

Also, Gala Darling epitomizes my idea of fabulosity.  She's my hero.

Every Wednesday, I write about something I love that day.  It doesn't necessarily have to be remotely related to anything; it just has to be fabulous!

Monday, June 18, 2012

operation debt freedom: tracking

The other day, Credit Karma sent me my monthly reminder to update my credit score.  Credit Karma is a nifty little free online service that utilizes soft queries on your TransUnion credit report (that's the kind that doesn't impact the score to do) on a monthly basis, to keep you updated on what the credit agencies think about you.  It's not a perfect system, and the other two reporting companies probably have slightly different reports, but it's a nice little tool.

I've been subscribed to the system for quite a while, but hadn't thoroughly investigated its functionality.  I updated my score (up two whole points since last month.  Woo.), and also spent some time poking around a bit.  In addition to showing you a glimpse at your credit score, the system also provides a 'report card' that explains why your score is what it is.  It grades based on on-time payments, utilization, age of credit lines, etc.  I don't agree with all of it (it gives me a D on number of credit lines.  Apparently if I opened a bunch more cards and took out more loans, it would show that I'm a more responsible citizen.  Right.), but it's certainly interesting to know about, as these are the metrics that will be used to judge you when you go to buy a car or get a mortgage or such.

In my investigation of the resources offered, I came across various debt-over-time plots.  I was recently lamenting that I hadn't been tracking my exact debt levels over the course of my repayment mission.  Tracking things is fun, and yields pretty plots.  Sure, I can back-calculate based on my known payments, but this is easier.  Apparently Credit Karma was already tracking that for me!  Above is a plot of my total debt level over time.

As you can see, I had an annoying level of debt to my name already, as of July 2011.  My student loans are part of that, but I'd put far too much on various credit cards during school.  In November, I bought my car, so the car loan explains that huge jump.  In the following October, I got married, so there was a bit of ramped-up spending leading up to that.

Finally, in January of this year, we've got the launch of Operation Debt Freedom!  Just look at that gorgeous negative slope.  Progress is beautiful.