Sunday, September 2, 2018

Saving Money Without Thinking About It

Buy land and build/refurbish a very small house.

Buying large things means saving a lot of money...over a lot of time...

I've been depressed, stressed, overwhelmed, overjoyed, excited and so much more over the past five years. In that time, there have been months that have gone by that I haven't thought about the goals I set down in 2013. Even so, I've still managed to get out of debt, save money, increase my 401K contribution, and remain living within my means.

How have I done it?

It's not a secret, and it's not willpower - willpower is how I stay skinny. And guys, I'm not skinny. Willpower only works when I'm actively motivated and thinking about it. The thing that has completely changed me is my mindset. My lifestyle. The things that make me proud and excited and tickled to be in this world.

It used to be Starbucks Coffee and carefully mismatched plates, and cute finds from Marshalls, and a great deal on shoes.

And now, I've become proud of being more minimal. I'm proud of needing less, and wanting less, and having less. It's not willpower that makes me want less. It's just that I don't see the value in those cute little knick knacks I used to love.

A lot of things fed into this. Youtube and articles about minimalism. Documentaries. Seeing how minimalism aligns with what is important to me. Seeing the benefit of shopping less and having less to clean. Having a calmer experience living with less. It's not the 'less' you'd typically associate with minimalism, but it's a 'less' that I really enjoy. And there is that 'keeping up with the Jones' feeling for me, but it's more of a 'reducing with the Joneses'. The people I follow and admire are now people who have less, and when I have those moments of envy, they're not related to wanting more.

This tendency - that in my weak moments, I typically want less, not more - is my secret. And I don't know how you get there. Maybe you don't get there, exactly, but a little self examination while you're motivated cannot steer you wrong. Find what's really important to you, and you ask more questions about what will get you there. For me, it was a true change in my priorities, to the point that my moments of weakness no longer lead to buying things. And it's not 100%. Of course I still have small hiccups. But they're much smaller than they used to be - fabric instead of a T.V., for example.

For me, it was the environmental impact - having a lighter footprint on the earth, causing less harm. And the other thing was money. Freedom. After being diagnosed with MS in 2010, I realized that there were things I was counting on that were not guaranteed - my health, my ability to work for a living, my status as an able bodied and minded person. There is a great amount of privilege that we all have and take for granted if we are basically healthy. When I was diagnosed, that rapidly became apparent. My vision was affected, and I wasn't sure if I could work blind. How would I walk my dog? Keep my apartment? And while I realize this is absolutely possible (people do it every day), it broke through the veneer of safety I had, and opened me up to the idea of hedging my bets and making sure I'd be okay No Matter What.

Today, MS is significantly less scary. I'm not constantly reminded that the security of my job, my health insurance, and my life as I know it is fragile. But, I have retained the desire and drive to save money and to avoid things that don't matter in the long run in order to save for that unforseen rainy day

There are any number of ways to the lifestyle you want to start. But find something that resonates with you on a deep level. Something more meaningful than how you look in a mirror or what the people next door think. Something central to the you-ness of you. Set those goals down. Think about them. Think about what they mean. Find people who think the same way, and can normalize that mindset for you. And be proud to be you, pursuing a better way to be completely yourself. And then you may find, as I have, that it's actually pretty easy, even when you're not thinking about it.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Explore the Dark Corners

Eat food that is good for me and my environment.

...and sometimes everything that isn't nailed down.

Challenges are meant to make us see ourselves more clearly. Understand how we can rise above - to recognize our own strengths, independence, gumption. Give us confidence and renew our convictions.

All the challenges I've undertaken have done that, and it's a wonderful thing. But there can be a dark side to them, too. Because challenges can give you a line of sight to corners of yourself you aren't necessarily excited to see more clearly. Generally, you keep those corners in shadow for a reason, and it's not fun to be forced to look at them more closely.

As I got to the mid-way point of my shop-the-pantry challenge, I found myself over-eating. The challenge was supposed to make me more aware, more mindful, more healthy and more abstemious when it came to my food. I thought I would recognize how precious it is, and that would somehow improve my portion sizes and help me eat less.

I don't know exactly why things changed. Was it a fear of scarcity? A lack of satisfaction? I ate more sweet things, too - the chocolate went faster than any other food item I had. I know that, when I eat a lot of sweets I crave them and if I can cut them out for a week, I don't crave them anymore. But there's something deeper that caused me to scarf up every sweet thing I could find in my kitchen, whether I was hungry or not. And while I started to see the outline of something lurking in that corner, I still don't really understand what it is yet. I'm still waiting for it to take shape.

I heartily dislike that I overate during this challenge that was meant to bring me to the other side of this coin, but I'm grateful for the opportunity to see and explore this unfortunate side effect. I know my relationship with food isn't the healthiest, but I'm hoping this will provide some insight and ultimately allow me to face this more squarely. Face and accept and temper. Maybe conquer. At least, hopefully, understand.

Sometimes challenges - chosen, or thrust upon us - bring out the best in us. And sometimes they bring out the worst. Either way, the test and truths are utterly worthwhile. Peer into those dark corners as you peer into those bright beams of courage, and take the opportunity to know yourself better. It's worth it to love and accept even the darkness inside yourself.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Mindfulness is Thriftiness

Eat food that is good for me and my environment.

Learning to love the one I'm with (food, that is)...

Shopping my pantry, week one (plus) complete!

I have successfully bought no things! No food or drink, and also no other things (except bills, obviously. So, I guess you could say I bought shelter. Though, really, I rented it. But I digress...).

It's been pretty easy, really. So far, I've made: chili, vegan butter chicken, purple sticky rice (...a very odd, licorice flavored rice. I will not be buying that again, but I was not going to waste it!), tortillas, custard in filo dough cups topped with aquafaba meringue (made from navy bean aquafaba leftover from the chili, definitely preferred over my previous attempt with chickpea water), salads, and some strange chocolate peanut butter stuff that I spread on graham crackers.

I did go away over the weekend, and I didn't bring food with me. I also eat snacks at work that are free for us to munch on, which are not remotely healthy, and I'd like to cut back. I don't consider that cheating because I didn't buy food, which was the goal. However, I will be officially cheating in two weeks, when I have a weekend away where I am responsible for cooking for the house one night. I don't feel comfortable asking everyone to eat my leftovers. But even so, I don't really consider it a failure because friends and food are really important to me. I may extend the challenge for an additional three days to make up that time.


The two things I've noticed in the past nine days are as follows:

Harvesting, even a tiny bit, feels like creation. Growing and foraging food is something we don't have to think about anymore. However, when I didn't have the option to go to the grocery store, my focus changed, and I decided to take another look outside. I have a garden populated with naturally seeded plants from last year's garden - some lettuce and tomatoes. Those are worth harvesting, for sure - the lettuce is going to be the only fresh produce I'll have for most of the month. But I've never really thought past that. That changed when I was taking the dogs around the yard the other day and noticed the black raspberry bush.

I knew it was there before. It just didn't feel like it was worth it to harvest the few berries that were ripe at any given time. But, with the change of knowing that I had no options but this for fresh fruit, it felt like an accomplishment - as if, instead of just picking a few berries from a bush, I had created them myself. I felt a burst of pride in my foraging (a whole five steps from my back door), a joy I can't really describe. In a few minutes, I collected half a cup of raspberries, perfectly sweet and perfectly juicy, and perfectly grown in my very own yard.

If you don't have it, make it. I don't have much in the way of starch. Having made the sticky rice, I only have about ¾ of a cup of rice and some pasta to keep me going the rest of the month. I was making tacos and nearly ran out of tortillas, so I decided to make my own. It was easier than I'd thought, they taste good, and I know exactly what went in them. Now...they don't fold well, but a few seconds in the microwave helps. I also have the option to make bread if I want it, and I will definitely be making seitan, because I have wheat gluten and it's burning a whole in my...oven. Or something. Making it from nothing but ingredients is another step in self sufficiency, and it feels amazing.

I'm really enjoying the challenge and I look forward to seeing how else my view of food changes!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Best Kind of Challenges

Eat food that is good for me and my environment.

Retraining my brain when it comes to food waste...

Confession time: I have not been doing well with my goals. I've been very stressed out, eating out a lot, slacking on low waste food shopping, eating foods that aren't good for me, ignoring housework... I've been living day to day and not working toward my goals.

However, I have taken on a challenge for July that should really help me get back on track.

July is Shop the Pantry Month!

This came about because a friend of ours was moving and gave us a lot of food he couldn't transport. And then I couldn't fit everything in the fridge, because there was too much. This is not a bad problem to have, right?

But it brought some issues to the fore. I have a lot of residual stuff in my fridge, and I forget it's there, and I don't eat it. So I thought to myself, 'Self, we should take this opportunity to get creative!' I love the challenge of limiting myself and then trying new things and thinking in a new way! It's that challenge mindset that helped me become debt free, vegetarian and minimal-ish. And now...more food aware!

The day was June 29, and I prepared by cleaning up and cooking things that were going bad, and committing to bringing no more food through the door until August 1st. This was only going to be a challenge if I didn't allow myself to prepare for it by buying more food!

So, here we are. It's July 1st, and the challenge begins!

Change One, Day One:

The first change was immediate. On the 29th, things changed. Foods I'd previously ignored were suddenly precious. I had left over Chinese food that I'd ordered, but I wasn't crazy about the sauce. It had been languishing in the fridge for a few days, waiting for my final decision. When I knew that tofu was going to be in short supply for the next month, those leftovers suddenly became quite appetizing!

Potatoes and squash that were destined for the compost heap got a second look. Not only for today, but also for the future – the potatoes got cut up, so the parts that were still good could be cooked, and the parts that were sprouting could be planted. I might be able to get more potatoes out of that little chunk in the next few months! Already, my mindset was completely different. The squash also got examined, diced up, and parts were either composted or thrown in a pot to cook up.


When you know you have a finite amount of food, and you want to make the most of it, it's vital to know what you have. I know it should be, in any case, but that just hasn't been a priority for me. Now, suddenly, it is. So, I'll be posting a full listing of the food in the house in a separate post, with some of my thoughts and changes in the way I view it.

What I ate today:

  • Large salad:
  • lettuce: red leaf from my garden (starting to bolt, so I had to pick it) and romaine from last week. It's packed carefully so it should last quite a while.
  • cucumber, carrot, avocado: leftover from sushi I made last week
  • tofu: I had a small sliver of tofu leftover from a recipe. Pre challenge this would almost certainly have gone bad. Not today, tofu! Not today...
  • pepitas
  • feta cheese: Another donation from our friend
  • balsamic dressing: It had been in my fridge for ages, and I'd forgotten why. This is why. I REALLY don't like it. Despite wanting not to waste food, I got rid of it. I was able to save the salad by adding more (very precious!) balsamic vinegar and some spices, but it was a close one!
  • Seltzer and grapefruit juice: I've frozen some of the grapefruit juice already because I love it in my seltzer and I want it to last the month. Pre-challenge, I would have just used more as it got closer to expiration, so as not to waste it.
  • triscuits and cheese: the cheese was from my friend, and it was one of my favorites, so I was pretty excited about it. I don't buy cheese for the house anymore. We keep some for the dog's medications, but I don't eat it. However, I really enjoyed this windfall!
  • coffee with almond milk: I have almost a full half gallon of almond milk, but I'm thinking of freezing some of it in ice cube trays so I have it for my coffee all month. Luckily I only drink coffee from home on the weekends. I'll be making coffee at work without milk all week (which is standard for me, the creamers there are just sort of gross).
  • Hell or High Watermelon beer: leftover from a pack my partner bought. He doesn't like fruit flavored beer and I found I quite enjoyed this one. Unless there's a blood orange one left, it is likely my last beer until August.
  • Taco:
  • corn tortilla: I only have a few of these, after this I'll probably have to make some whole wheat tortillas.
  • leftover potato
  • soaked dried mushrooms and tvp: most of my protein options are dried, so I'll be doing a lot of this.
  • feta cheese
  • taco sauce: one of 3(!) containers of taco sauce we have.
  • chipotle oil
  • olives
  • lettuce

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:

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!