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.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

pantry challenge, week 2: settling in

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.

After last week's mad veg-acquiring rampage, between the market and the CSA, we really didn't need much fresh produce this week.  We did go to the market on Saturday, but mostly just bought a lot of eggs.  We didn't even feel the need to place a CSA order this week.  It has provided a great opportunity to clean out the random bits in the fridge, and there's actually some elbow room in there!  It's a rather odd state of affairs for me.  I'm far too accustomed to a fridge that is bursting at the seams, often with a tendency to attack when opened.

Wednesday saw a stop by a real grocery store on the way home from work, largely because we needed more food for the pets.  While there I did pick up some baking soda, but it is a standard baking resource and we were only out because I used it up for scrubbing out the bathtub.  I'm a fan of cleaning products that don't contain noxious chemicals.

This week, we've used up:
  • some leftover frozen lentils and quinoa from various salads I made for a camping trip several weeks ago; they went into homemade carrot burgers and a sort of a dill-yogurt salad for a lunch
  • a container of ends of veggies, used to make stock
  • a bag of hamburger buns, frozen for who knows how long
  • a bag of mustard-flavored pretzels
  • a jar of home-canned green chile, and one of peaches
  • 2 lbs. of ground lamb; it became a delicious mediterranean meatloaf, that was then repurposed into pseudo-gyros

food budget tracker: week 2
farmer's market: ~$25*
grocery: $58.11

total: ~$83.11

* Farmer's markets are inherently cash-based expenditures, and unfortunately I didn't keep terribly good track of how much was spent this week.  Bad me.  But that's a pretty good estimate, based on what I remember getting.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

today I love...

...this guide to organizing a kitchen.  Check it out!  Shortly after changing my name, I write about geeky organizing.  Go figure.

I've moved a lot in my life, and consequently have set up quite a few kitchens.  Like the author of this article, I've pretty much always used the 'where will it physically fit?' method of deciding where things go.  Perhaps it's silly, but I find the notion of consciously organizing the space in order to group things near where they'll be needed and with the other objects they're used with seems pretty radical.

Kind of makes me want to reorganize the kitchen.  I get urges like that a lot.

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 11, 2012

american dream

'The term "American Dream" implies a paradigm of unlimited growth, insatiable consumerism, the continued expansion and plundering of our Commons, and the manufacturing of more and more stuff. There needs to be a new model of living based on having enough and sharing. Of course, there was a model of living based on having enough and sharing but we annihilated all those people.(Indigenous tribes, Native Americans ring a bell?)  
The American Dream suggests we take what we want, at any cost to other humans and ecosystems, in order to keep up with a lifestyle based on acquisition and wealth.  All the wars we hate so much, the ones about which so many of us are objecting to in various articles in here, they have a whole hell of a lot to do with keeping the American Dream alive. You really want that dream?
Many of the posters in here already know that countless scientists, authors and environmental educators have warned that the definition of the American Dream is what is decimating this planet. If all other developing countries wanted to emulate our lifestyles we'd need four more planet Earths. That's not a dream, that's a fucking nightmare come to life. 
The American Dream is synonymous with ecocide and genocide. I don't want that dream. Yet I don't know how one begins to penetrate what has amounted to years of systematic conditioning and brainwashing that "more is better". It's a monumental task of herculean proportion to change that identification. But one small way to begin might be to lose the term "American Dream". Nobody really wants that "dream" at all.'  
--Elizabeth Tjader

I came across the above statement in the comment section of an article about inequality.   I hope that Ms. Tjader doesn't mind my borrowing her quote.

It elucidates, better than I possibly could, everything that's wrong with the 'American Dream.'  The completely divorced-from-reality concept of unlimited growth, excessive consumerism as the definition of 'success,' inherent ecocide.  Disgusting, counterproductive, impractical, unfulfilling, and ultimately suicidal as a species.

Perhaps the 'American Dream' used to refer just to financial security, the opportunities of a meritocracy, and hope for desperate immigrants.  These are all good things.  But it's been co-opted so thoroughly by corporate culture that it's morphed into a mantra of 'Buy more!  If you own more things you'll be happy!  You're worthless without this object!  Go deeply into debt; it's worth it!'.  Not so healthy.

So what, you might ask, am I doing in my lovely oversized house in the suburbs, making car payments, and owning so many things that my husband feels quite strongly that we require even more space?

That's a really good question.

Friday, June 08, 2012

pantry challenge, week 1: reframing

On the first of this month I issued a challenge to my household: we would refrain from buying anything that resides in a package, to clear out pantry clutter.  On the very next day, I found myself at the farmer's market and looking at my beaming husband, who was proudly showing me the local artisan dry pasta he'd just bought.

Well, damn.  

But instead of admitting defeat, I shall simply change the rules.  My blog, my rules.  New rule: 

  • Anything purchased at the farmer's market or CSA is fair game.  Even if it's in a box. 

There.  I feel better now.  

On another note, remember how I wanted to avoid supermarkets this month?  Yup, that one fell by the wayside, too. I have a pesky orange juice addiction, so I found myself scampering into the local megamart while out running errands.  But I only bought juice, so it's not too bad.  And it's at least a pseudo-fresh food, so it's close enough to fitting in the approved list for this challenge.  Oh, what I wouldn't give to live in a place where citrus could grow again, and to be able to procure actually fresh OJ.  But such is very much not the case out here in the desert.  

It's time to adjust expectations.  But then, that's kind of the point; this is an experiment.  Sure, there are rules, but I made them, and I can change them.  As long as we come out ahead in at least some of the fundamental goals of the challenge, I count it a win.  Other than that, it's an exercise in self-observation, much like my spending tracking project (more on that later).  

This week, we've used up: 
  • freezer: lamb chops, 2 lbs. ground lamb, a lonely frozen half banana, an entire jug of homemade stock*, and some random frozen mixed veggies
  • pantry: the last of the chocolate chips**

food budget tracker: this week
farmer's market: $62.50
CSA: $52.96
grocery: $7.18

total: $122.64 

* We habitually save the end bits of veggies and meat bones in the freezer and then make stock in the crock pot.  Homemade stock is delicious, and this way it's free too.  Unfortunately we have a pesky tendency to make the stock, fill old orange juice jugs with it, toss them in the chest freezer, and forget about them forever.  There are like three jugs still in there, plus several gallon-sized plastic bags of the stuff to make even more with.  It's kind of ridiculous.  Actually using it is a major win.  

** The Guy went to Costco the other day, and came home with a replacement bag of chocolate chips, claiming that it was because he had planned on making his famous chocolate torte for his coworkers.  This highlighted the fact that we've had insufficient communication about this endeavor, as the point of the challenge is to see how creative we can get at coping with not replacing staples.  Plans will need to be modified if we're out of something.  That's what makes it a challenge!  But the chips are purchased, and the torte will be made.  Learn from it and move on.  This doesn't get a rule adjustment; it's just a learning experience.  

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

today I love...

...this choreographed marriage proposal.  I can't get over how unbelievably fabulous this is.  It must have been so much fun to put together!  Go watch it.  Really.

Okay, so mine was pretty epic too: sunset, castle, bonny banks of Loch Lomond.  But I can still appreciate some rockin' amateur choreography.

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, June 01, 2012

a challenge

Good food is one of life's great pleasures.  Unfortunately, food procurement can get out of control, and completely take over the available storage space.  Our various pantry cabinets are overflowing, and I've no idea what might lurk at the back of the shelves.  Consequently, I might be re-purchasing things we already own!  Food that's not known about and/or impossible to access serves no real purpose.  Money was spent on it, but it doesn't go on to fulfill its nutritious or tasty purpose.  

The chest freezer, likewise, always seems to be full to the brim, and it's generally a challenge to fit anything new in there.  

Last year we tried organizing everything and making inventory lists.  However, we weren't too good about updating the lists when something was used up or purchased, so they quickly became out of date and the system proceeded to assume its previous cluttery low-energy state.  It was a good try, but now it's time for a new plan.  

Besides, organizing isn't the point.  Minimalism is the end of organizing, and if we can have a less excessive quantity of food around, I suspect that we'll be able to find what we're looking for, not re-purchase things we already have, and even have more space to work in in our not-too-huge kitchen.  These are all very good things.  Perhaps it'll even force us to be more creative and come up with some new meal ideas.  

New perspective, new goals, new mission. 

So, for the month of June, we're instituting a pantry challenge.  For one month we will not buy anything that sits on a shelf or goes in the freezer.  

What we are allowed to buy: 
  • fresh veggies & fruit
  • dairy (milk, eggs, cheese, etc.)
  • pet food

That's it.  Other than that, we'll have to scrounge through the packed cabinets and freezer when it's time to determine the contents of a given repast.  This should lead to some significant creativity toward the end of the month!

In terms of shopping locales, I have a strong preference toward buying everything we can at the farmer's market and local organic CSA.  It would be a fabulous bonus if we managed to not set foot in a traditional supermarket for the course of the experiment.  We'll see how that goes, but with it being summer it should be quite feasible.  

My goals for the month: 

  • use up the majority of the forgotten food
  • temporarily reduce the grocery budget
  • create more space in the kitchen
  • gain a better awareness of what we have

Some 'before' pictures of the excessive food stockpile: 

the pantry

See the papers taped to the inside of the pantry doors?  Yeah, those are the year-old, grossly-out-of-date inventory lists.  It was a good idea, but the evidence of failed organization missions does have a way of coming back to haunt one.


This is the cabinet above the stove.  It contains what doesn't fit in the reasonably-sized pantry area.  It's mostly pasta and packaged things.  It's kind of silly that this overflow space is necessary.

indoor freezer

I reorganized the indoor freezer recently, so it's not as packed as it usually is.  However, 'organizing' in this case is code for 'shoved more things into the garage freezer so there's space indoors.'

garage freezer: full to the brim

It takes some mad 3D tetris skills to locate, extract, or replace anything in the garage freezer.  I call looking for things in there 'spelunking,' and generally wear winter gloves for it because I know I'll be removing everything from the darn thing in order to find whatever I'm looking for.

garage freezer: perspective

The freezer is rather tall.  That's a lot of space that's packed very efficiently with... stuff.

Here goes!


Today I discovered a remarkable project that's going on.  A group of people traveled around the country, interviewing people who had become dissatisfied with the 'American Dream' and embarked on their own path.  They're making it into a documentary, and it's about the tragic complacency that infects those who go through their lives on autopilot and forget to actually live. 

They're looking for funding through kickstarter to edit and produce the thing.  I'll be tossing something into the kitty for such an inspiring project.  I want this documentary to exist, because I believe it's an important issue, and it's more than a little bit personal to boot.  For a $5 donation you get a digital download of it once it's finished, too.  Perks are nice.

The kickstarter page and remarkably inspiring preview are here, this is a beautiful article about the project, and here we find an interview with one of the founders of the initiative.

To be clear, they (and I) are well aware that prerequisites to this complacency are living in a developed nation, having a job, and generally having decent lodging and plenty of food.  Most of the world is not that lucky, and that's a critical issue of any time.  Dealing with world poverty and hunger is incredibly important.  Fundamentally, we're unbelievably fortunate to be in the position of disliking our 9-to-5 wage-slave job and not living up to our potential.

But that's no reason to accept it as inevitable.  

I've struggled with this myself, over the past few years.  When I was in school, my direction was clear.  Take more classes, learn more things, eventually graduate.  Now what?  Now I've got a full-time job in my field with a good salary, a gorgeous (rental) house, a husband, dog, cat, and practically an iconic white picket fence.  I'm paying off debt, and we have an emergency fund.  Eventually we'll probably be able to afford a house.  That's great!  It's the American Dream, right?

...really?  Being chained to one place, ear-deep in a mortgage, and owning stuff is the point of everything?  When did we start buying this story?  Surely there's more to life than consumerism and mowing the lawn on Sundays.  Why are we so willing, as a culture, to sacrifice so very much time, energy, health, relationship quality, sense of purpose, and potential usefulness at the alter of... what?  Money?  Having a bigger house than your neighbor?  2.5 kids and a car payment?

Surely there must be something better. 

I'm battling the exact sense of complacency that's examined in this movie.  I resent it, and I'm fighting it.  Perhaps the ennui hasn't thoroughly set in yet due to my being relatively new to the workforce, or perhaps it's my tendency toward spontaneity and whimsey that's keeping me fighting.  But I can feel the pull, and know that if I stay on my current path I will lose eventually.  But I've felt guilty for whining about it, for the reasons stated above.  Who am I to complain?  There are lots of people in worse situations; those without enough to eat, a roof over their heads, or the ability to find work.

Very true.  But I don't think that justifies a slow death of the soul, just because no one wants to hear about it.

So what's the solution?  To stop whining and to do something about it.  I don't know what that will look like, exactly, but thinking about the possibility of escaping this pre-set script fills me with anticipation and joy.  And anything that does that deserves a second look.


Welcome.  Whether you've arrived here by following my previous blog, The Organized Geek, or are finding this blog for the first time, welcome.

I may port the old posts over here, or I may take the transition as a clean slate and only move forward.  I'm not entirely sure yet.

In this space, I will document my journey toward debt freedom and a decluttered existence, write about designing a remarkable and happy life, and round up fabulous resources from all over the interwebs to serve as reference and inspiration.  Above all, it's about finding freedom.  Whether it's freedom from debt, from a career that keeps you unhappy, from rampant consumerism, or from personal issues and blocks to contentedness, we'll talk about it here.

Join me.