Saturday, December 3, 2016

Despair, But Don't Give Up

Think critically about what I bring into my living space, and whether it's improving my life.

Is my attitude helping me?


It's so easy to be negative. The house is in shambles. The world is in shambles. Watching youtube channels for vegans is like watching eleven year olds argue. This movement, which I view as one of radical kindness and compassion, is overwhelmingly childish. I despair.

As a country we are failing to protect our rights, our resources and our indigenous people.

I am sad, and I am drained, and all the things I want to do to save the world require me to move and interact with people when, really, I just want to go back to bed for the next four years.

I have lost my ability to even.

It's so easy to be negative. But then, sometimes, life offers you a new perspective. I was writing the above, having just watched and read story after video after facebook post of anger and idiocy and cruelty and generally poor demonstrations of humanity, when my sister called.

About a month ago, my dad was diagnosed with cancer (round three) and a pulmonary embolism. He started chemo yesterday, so she wanted to give me an update. She's pretty awesome that way and it saves my mom from having the same conversation twelve million times.

So, apparently, the story goes, the car overheated on the way home from his chemo appointment, and my parents were stranded on the side of the road. They got picked up and towed to a local shop and explained their situation, and the shop worked quickly to fix the issue, get the leak filled, the car's radiator refilled and the hood fixed.

All of the staff there seemed to have some experience with cancer (most of us do at this point, don't we?), and when all was said and done, they sent my parents on their merry way, free of charge. That, my friends, is humanity.

And so – my house is a mess, and I'm tired and sad. But there are people out there who are willing and able to make a difference. Not to the world, but to an individual who needs it. And that is worth remembering. I don't have to fix the world. I don't need to despair that there are people out there who behave in a juvenile and cruel way. Because there are good people, too, and I can choose to be one of them.

One of the hardest lessons I'm learning is a lack of control. I can't control other people. I can't control situations. I can't control cancer. But I can control my reactions to these things. I can focus on being constructive when others are destructive. I can focus on being kind when others are cruel. I can focus on being positive when others are negative. It won't change the world, but it might change one person's day. It will almost certainly change mine.

I want to leave it there – vague, feel-good promises are always the best, aren't they? But I feel like it's not the idea that's the problem, it's the execution. So, let me tell you what I've done in the past to try to be positive and supportive. And, please feel free to offer up the same in the comments. We can do with more kindness in the world today. And every day.

  • I try to take a deep breath before I say things in anger.
  • I concentrate on ways I can help instead of ways that something is wrong. This means that, at work, I try to focus on how I can improve a situation, rather than just complain about what was done wrong. This is something that is successful about 50% of the time. But I keep trying. It also means that I don't rail against cancer or habit or the economy. I give what I can to help – food, love, support, comfort, boundaries.
  • I give money. When people post go fund me accounts, I give money. I contribute to refugee support organizations. I sponsor a child through Plan International. It's not my time, which in so many ways is more precious. But I have the ability to give money, which many people don't, and so I do that.
  • I make quilts. It's a small thing. Like everything I do, it feels insignificant. But I have the ability to make them, and it brings me joy. I have felt the significance of something made with love, and so I pass that along. I have make quilts for people I don't know, and quilts for people I love, and I consider all of that a way to spread love and positivity and creative energy in the world.
  • I have kept Subway gift cards in my wallet to give to people who ask for money. I don't feel comfortable giving cash for various reasons, but I'm comfortable giving food, and this is a compromise I can work with. It's not about being someone I'm not, it's about doing something within my comfort zone which also helps someone else.
  • I give away things I don't need or want anymore, so that other people can use those things to improve their lives.
  • I try not to buy things that are excessively packaged, especially in plastic, to reduce my impact on the earth. I try to be aware of how much I am using, where I am wasting, and how to improve that. The goal is not perfection. It is improvement.
  • I don't eat meat. Factory farming is a cause of great pain and suffering to animals, and creates a huge amount of greenhouse gas. It is also a poor use of our limited resources – both growing and feeding grains to animals, and then shipping the grains, the animals, and their waste products using massive amounts of fossil fuels.

I also recently came across this website, and I'm on the lookout for something small to get me started: https://www.onlinevolunteering.org/en

What have you done to improve the world recently? Small or large, in your community or from your home? Everything counts. Big or small. Local or international. If you smiled at a stranger or gave a friend a ride, or donated a suit that didn't fit anymore – you did something good. Tell me about it.

Monday, November 14, 2016

You Don't Have To Do It All Today

Tried to define what freedom is for me, as a person.

Finding freedom from that little voice that says you're not doing enough...


I hate to clean. I really do. But when I don't (which is most of the time), I always have a voice that tells me I should be doing dishes or laundry or vacuuming or...something. It never stops. Every time I sit down to relax, I feel guilty.

It's been a frustration that I've struggled with for a long time - hating to have to take hours every week to do something I hate to do, just so my brain can give me a real, actual break. There have been times I've found ways to keep up on it, and times I've really struggled. Lately, it's been a struggle. So, here is what finally happened to change it all! (Until next blog!)

Three weeks ago we had family come to visit, and we did what I think (hope!) a lot of people do to prepare - we ran through our house and cleaned like mad people, making up for months of just barely keeping up.

But I loved having a clean house, and my partner and I decided to make this the springboard of the new clean. And, three weeks later, it is still clean. Not perfect. I think we've established that perfect isn't even on my measuring stick of success. But clean enough that I'd let someone in if they were on my doorstep unexpectedly, and I wouldn't be ashamed. Now, to clarify, when I say 'the house' I mean the main rooms that people see. Please don't come over and start opening doors...

But, I'll be honest. It was a struggle. Getting started in a routine was tough. The first week, I started daily maintenance. This meant getting up a little bit earlier, and spending a few minutes doing dishes and vacuuming if it was needed. In this first week, I wanted zero distractions. I didn't want to load up on more things to worry about, so, even though I wanted to start eating better and exercising, and changing the world, and quilting, and painting, etc! I did none of those things. I set one goal, and everything else got pushed aside for that one week. We ordered food almost every night. I didn't cook because I didn't want to create more dishes to keep up with. Counter-intuitive if you know me, right? Because I love the environment, and I want to eat healthy foods and take out is none of that.

Week two, I started to cook again. Twice a week, I cooked big meals, and then I did the dishes right away, wiped down the kitchen, and voila. Clean again. And fed.

Week three, I started shopping carefully. Bulk shopping. Natural foods. Farmer's markets. I've reduced the waste I create with food packaging, and I make better food for us.

Here is the take away for today. It may not be relevant to everyone, but I think this was key for me. I made sacrifices in order to focus on one important thing, and to allow myself time to create a habit. I knew that if I tried to do it all, I would likely fail, and no long term solution would be possible. But, if I sacrificed now, in the short term, I had a better chance of building up to doing it all. I improved my chances by limiting my focus and not adding more difficulty to a new habit.

Granted, it's only been three weeks, but it's been a good three weeks. The house remains clutter free and I had an entire day last week where I had no anxiety. No feeling that I should be cleaning instead of watching videos. No feeling that I should be calling someone or being social when I was painting. No feeling of needing to do the laundry when instead I was being 'lazy.' Nope. I had an entire day of just doing what I wanted without guilt. And it was stunningly beautiful. I did a few dishes in that day, and it was nothing. It took a few minutes each time, and then I went and had a cup of tea. I don't notice it anymore. It feels like a choice I've made, not an obligation I hate.

I discovered that I don't like doing anything for a very long time. I don't like doing 3 loads of dishes at a time, so I do them twice a day - in the morning and evening, and then as I cook. I don't like folding an entire load of laundry, so I schedule loads so that I finish the load in the evening, fold and put away half of it in the morning, and take the rest out of dryer, fold and put away in the evening. I don't do loads back to back because then it feels like work. I have literally never known that about myself.

And I feel like I have more time. When I want to paint, I just do it. Things are caught up enough that I don't feel like I'm 'cheating' on housework. When I want to take a day off and just watch some videos and play on the internet, I do that. And I'll usually do some dishes if they're there, because having the kitchen clean makes me happier. But it's not because I have to. It's because I like the end result. And because it's not too much. I'm not overwhelmed with a mess. My partner helps out as well, and I like to think that he feels the same - that it's not too much, that it's easy when it's just putting dishes in the sink, taking out the compost every few days, hanging up a coat. When it's not overwhelming, and he does it on his schedule.

Anyway, this is the short term transformation of always playing catch up to always being caught up. There hasn't been time for curve balls, so it'll be interesting to see how the routine changes over time, but I'm excited again, and I feel...capable.

I'm slowing building up to a better me. Next week, exercise. The following week, save the world. Baby steps, right? :)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Quick. Healthy. Vegan. Bloomin' Onion!


Eat food that is good for me and my environment.

...and tastes so good.


There are a million and one recipes out there for bloomin' onion knock offs. But here's the thing. They take time. They have a lot of ingredients. I'm not feeling any of that. I want something quick and easy that doesn't involve multiple dishes. After all, I've just started keeping up with the dishes on a daily basis. I don't really want to begin a downward spiral.

So, my solution is super tasty, a little messy, and so easy. It requires one bowl, one cookie sheet, and five ingredients. The End. (Well, plus the sauce.)

Also, while this recipe uses chickpea flour and tumeric (things not every person has lying around), I'm pretty sure you can replace the flour with any flour you have, and the tumeric can be left out or replaced with...smoked paprika, curry powder, ground mustard...pretty much anything you like. This is really more suggestion than recipe, if we're honest.

Bloomin' Onion Bits

  • Chickpea flour 1/2 cup (heaping)
  • Tumeric (optional) 1/2 teaspoon
  • Kosher salt 1/2 teaspoon
  • Garlic powder 3 teaspoons
  • Onion 1 medium
  • Water 1/4 cup
Saucy Sauce
  • Mayonnaise
  • Frank's Red Hot or Sriracha

For the batter, mix the flour, the tumeric, the garlic powder, the salt, and the water. You don't actually need to follow the measurements. I never do. But your batter should be about this consistency:

Slice your onion into thin discs, 1/4 inch thickness or less. You can separate them, but who has time for that? I just toss them in the batter.

Mix with vigor! This is where I try to separate the rings and coat each one with batter. This is not a precise science.

Dump them out on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper which is coated in olive oil. If you don't have parchment, you can use aluminum foil or just a plain old cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees.

Flip the onions over and bake another 15 minutes.

Mix the mayo and red hot/sriracha however you prefer. I start with about 1/4 cup of Just Mayo and then about 2 tbsp of Frank's. But, you do you.

Eat them immediately, while they're crunchy and warm. And don't even feel guilty. I read a million internet articles that said I should eat an onion a day for my best health, and I am taking that very seriously! I've made this about 5 times in the last week. I mean, c'mon. It's for my health! It's for our health!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Letting Go of 'Someday'


Get rid of the stuff that's weighing me down.

Some of letting go is knowing who you are – not who you wish you were.



I love books. When I walk into a book store or a library, I get a thrill of giddiness that stays put until I leave the store. I think of it as a religious experience! So you can see where books are a difficult place to declutter for me.

But here's the thing. If I'm honest with myself, I used to read voraciously! I don't read as much anymore, but I still have that thrill, and I WANT to read more. I want to find that time and I want to want to read again. But, things have changed for me and I just don't read books as much. I've had books for years – potentially decades! - which I haven't read, but I keep them anyhow. Igot rid of a lot of books in my last apartment, but when I moved, I found that I had multiple books of boxes I hadn't sorted at that time.

I still have one large bookcase full of books. But I found a few changes in mindset that helped me clear out a few large boxes of books, and have allowed me to loosen my hold on some of the books I still have. Next time around, I'll have more books to let go of.

It made sense for me to make a list of reasons I keep books I don't read. I hadn't really thought about it in detail, and, as it turns out, that was the key!

Most of my books fit in one of the follow categories:

  • I love them and plan to read them over and over.
  • I loved them and want other people to be able to read them, but I probably won't read them again. This includes some of my most precious children's books, and a lot of the fantasy/sci fi I loved in high school. These books were my friends and my escape.
  • They are now out of print.
  • I want to read them at some point.

Once I defined the groups, I was able to evaluate them more clearly. The books I plan to read again? I'll keep them! They bring me joy now and I expect them to bring me joy in the future.

The books I loved at one time, that I want to loan out or pass on? I have loaned out two books in the past ten years, I think. Two. I'm not doing very well as a lending library. When I'm honest with myself, my best chance at having someone else read these precious books is to pass them on. To friends, to family, or to the library or Goodwill. They are literally doing no one any good on my shelves.

The books that are out of print are hard. I spent a lot of effort collecting them, and I did it because I loved them. Those, I'm keeping for now. Maybe, in the aftermath of this latest purge, I'll be able to let them go. But in the meantime, I have a better space to keep them in, where they're not overcrowded.

The books I want to read were the most significant change. Isn't it funny what we think we want to do, but somehow we're never in the mood or the time isn't right? I realized that I didn't really want to read any of them all that desperately. What I really wanted was a place holder – a reminder that this was a book I wanted to read at some point. With that in mind, I made a list on Goodreads, and I let those go. So many people could enjoy that book in the time that it took me to get around to it! And all of those books should be available from the library when I decide that I want to read that particular book that particular week.

In each of the groups above there are exceptions. I kept things that I was really uncomfortable getting rid of. There's no reason to stress myself out right now by making hard decisions when I have easy ones that can be made. In a month or a year, it might be easier, and I'll make that decision then. I don't want to force anything at this point. I find that my ability to let go naturally improves with practice. So, I proceed with kindness and a heavy dose of logic, and I've made great strides without forcing myself into any incredibly difficult decisions.

Give it a try – make a list of the reasons you hang on to certain things, and see if there is a compromise you can make with yourself. At the very least, you learn a little bit more about yourself – and that's a side of minimalism, too!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Enjoying the Journey


Think critically about what I bring into my living space.

Sometimes, what you bring into your living space is people, animals, and new ideas.


What an adventure life is! I look at the goals I laid out three years ago, and I'm thrilled to see that the core values remain. I've succeeded, I've faltered, I've re-prioritized, I've adjusted...I've lived.

In the six months following the last blog post, I made a lot of progress. I became more active, became almost completely vegan, cooked regularly at home, was moving toward a zero waste lifestyle, and was about 90% of the way to getting all of my belongings into my living space.

Then life threw me a beautiful curveball in the form of my partner. Two and a half years of courting, moving, adopting animals, cooking for two, finding out what was important for the two of us to have...it was bound to cause a hiccup or two.

However, coming back to the blog three years later, I find that I'm closer than ever to the goals I set and newly motivated to keep moving! My debt is limited to my car and my house. My house is on the market. I just got rid of seven boxes of stuff I don't need. I still have things to bring to my partner's house from mine, but I'm more sure than ever that I don't need a lot of those things, and they will likely go directly to a donation box. We agree that a small house with a lot of land and a garage for hobbies would be ideal – my partner makes furniture and I have picked up quilting and painting as hobbies. Keeping those separate from the main house would allow us to save on utilities, and to keep our living space (the space that needs to be cleaned regularly!) to a minimum.

I remain vegetarian, and I'm slowly making attempts to move toward a lower waste lifestyle.

My partner has a lot of tools, but very little else, and hates shopping with a passion. I could not have found anyone better to explore this minimalist lifestyle with! Our minimalism doesn't look much like the minimalism you see on the internet – we have a project room filled with art supplies and fabric – all of it loved and used! We have a lot of collected art on the walls. We have a bright green kitchen. But we are intentional. We don't have things just to have them. We have them to live the life we love, right now.


Goals are great, and they've gotten me far. But the last three years have taught me to go with the flow, enjoy the detours, and love the now.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Being Broken Makes Me Whole


Get rid of the stuff that's weighing me down.

Sometimes, that 'stuff' is beliefs that have outlived their usefulness.



I spent most of my childhood fighting a feeling of being broken. As a teenager, I was broken a majority of the time, and became convinced that I needed fixing. In my twenties, I was pretty sure I'd smoothed over all the broken spots and was healthy and ready for adulthood.

Throughout all of it, I thought of broken as a weakness to be hardened, avoided, fixed, overcome. It was never something I was willing to accept as a part of life.

Just recently, I've started looking at my brokenness in a new way. Being fragile and vulnerable to cracking makes me open to possibilities. When I am willing to hurt, that allows me to feel more freely, to be more honest, to examine and discard old beliefs that no longer serve me.

Imagine a hollow ceramic ball with a clean white glaze. There is a light inside, perfectly preserved. It won't be changed by any external force, because it's completely enclosed.
These are the beliefs we hold – the ones we develop over time, that have been proven out by our experiences. We don't need to reexamine these beliefs because they've been comfortably contained. They've become part of us.

It's not until the ball is cracked and light shines through that we have the opportunity to examine the beliefs we took on long before, and haven't thought about since. On top of that, we are vulnerable to the things outside that sphere - we have the chance to live new ideas and new ways of looking at the world.

Change is hard. By it's nature, it creates cracks in what we were in order to make room for what we're becoming.

Suddenly, being broken and fragile are no longer things I need to overcome. My ceramic fortress has become an eggshell – a way to be reborn, repeatedly, into a greater and fuller life.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Goal Behind it All



Being free is still what I want.

Blog post #6 - In which I get a taste of freedom...




When I laid out my goals a month and a half ago, they were all (ironically) about doing things. My journey from 'human doing' to 'human being' was defined by 'doing'.

But I realized recently that everything I'm doing and aiming for are just symptoms of what I'm really looking for. A goal that, until a week and a half ago, was unspoken and unformed.

And then I bought a train ticket on a whim, and took a two hour ride along the river down to the city. I met a friend I hadn't seen in years. I put away my phone. I refused to put any item or any fear between myself and that day.

It was amazing. Vibrant and alive and thought-provoking and life-changing and poignant. I have no pictures of it except one – a picture of my latte with it's perfect drinkable fern. Somehow, it seemed unimportant enough that I wouldn't lose the moment by taking a picture. It was meant to be a memento of the day.

I don't need it.

I have the day in my head. I wrote it down later, thinking back over the textures and emotions of the day, recalling the feral joy of being open and without expectations.

I haven't felt anything like that since I was a teenager, staring up at the stars late at night and feeling utterly overwhelmed by the expanse of sky and milky way and universe.

Then I 'grew up' and let responsibility and other people's opinions matter more than my own sense of wonder.

By being open, with no expectations, distractions, or motives, I got it back.  Just for a little while, I was open to what was in front of me. I chose to set aside the lenses of cameras and expectations and fears and responsibilities.

Awareness is (they say) what minimalism is about. Get rid of the distractions and what you have left is life. Pure. Vibrant. The way Van Gogh saw sunflowers and night skies.

The way I finally saw a valuable friendship and Van Gogh and Rodin and Central Park for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon.

I understand. More now than when I started, I understand why I am on this path and why I am working toward this life of less.

There is so much more than expectations and responsibilities and things and filters and lenses. Brush all that away and you have the undiluted, awe-inspiring rawness of living.

And a day of it – just that single day – was worth more than any object I could ever own.

There are still steps to take, still doing to be done and things to get rid of.  But the goal is clearer than it's been in a long time, and it is worth it.