Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On my mind

I stumbled across this article by Dean Anderson on SparkPeople today, and it covers so many things that I'm thinking about and trying to address this year that rather than try and say it all myself I thought I'd just post it instead. It's a nice introduction not only to voluntary simplicity (without freaking you out) but a reminder of why we tend to overindulge in the first place.

Some highlights that really resonated with me (italics are his, bolds are mine):

"Voluntary simplicity is less about doing without certain things, and more about having just enough. It’s about living a full life by intentionally designing your life so that you don' t have to sacrifice anything important or waste your time, energy or material resources on things you don't really need or cherish. It’s also about integrating basic ethical concerns such as fair distribution of labor and resources and the well-being of the natural world into your personal choices. "

"The first step towards constructing a voluntarily simple life is to gradually begin paring your life down to basic essentials—the things, activities and relationships that you truly need or genuinely cherish... Here’s a short list that many people focus on while trying to move towards voluntary simplicity:

  • Limiting material possessions to what is needed and/or cherished
  • Meaningful work, whether paid or volunteer
  • Quality time with friends and family
  • Joyful and pleasurable leisure activities
  • A conscious and comfortable relationship with money, charting a course between deprivation and excessive accumulation
  • Connection to community, but not necessarily in formal organizations
  • Sustainable spending and consumption practices, such as recycling and supporting local, community-based businesses with fair labor and environmental practices
  • A healthy lifestyle, including exercise, adequate sleep, and nutritious food
  • Practices that foster personal growth, an inner life, or spirituality, such as yoga, meditation, prayer, religious ceremonies, journaling, and/or spiritual reading
  • A connection to nature, such as spending time outdoors regularly
  • Aesthetic beauty in personal environment"

"The practice of voluntary simplicity helps you reduce the influence and power of unhelpful cultural biases and habits, and gives you room to develop better alternatives for yourself and others. The better you become at simplifying your life and letting go of what’s not important and what you can’t control, the better you'll be able to fully experience what you are doing in the moment, and take what it offers you without being distracted by worries about what happened earlier or what might happen next"

Good stuff, good stuff.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I was on board until the lead-in by Leonardo DiCaprio...

So.  We have a new president.

Like so many others I took a break from my desk today to make sure I witnessed the swearing-in of our 44th President.  A historic event on many levels, I think.  I was surprised to find myself moved by the ceremony, not so surprised to find myself offering up a silent prayer for our country and this new leader, that he be blessed with wisdom, bravery, and perseverance.  

Rob and I have talked a lot the last couple days about the coming days and an Obama presidency.  We didn't vote for him, and I am trepidacious about some of his policies and agendas.  Still, I have nothing to gain by hoping he fails.  I would love to be surprised by his success.  This is one thing that I have been most troubled by over the last eight years -- the position taken by many (yes, even by some who I admire very much) that belittled our Commander-in-Chief, blasting him as an idiot or rube whose time in office did nothing more than drag us into an "unjust" war and economic failure.  

I think that's over-simplifying, and I think it was unproductive.  I also think that fueling yourself with vitriol is not nearly as powerful as hoping for success despite your fears to the contrary.

And so I am choosing to hope and pray, and believe that this man who did not earn my vote --but always had my respect -- will ultimately earn my support as well.

I'm also hopeful that he, more than any other politician in recent memory, can change our fundamental attitudes about this country, the privileges and responsibilities of being an American, and the possibilities that are still available to all of us.  If he can do this he will have done more than most, and it will go a long way toward shoring us up and turning things around.  (And so for this, I am glad that Obama is our new president.)

Sadly, I write all of this as I watch the evening coverage of what has become a civil servant's coronation of sorts:  Countless celebrities, a backstage interview with our new president, journalists in ball gowns and tuxedoes, discussions of what designer the First Lady is wearing.  When the anchor threw it over to Leonardo DiCaprio to cover the crowd on the floor...  well, that's when they lost me.  I watched the Golden Globes last week; I really don't need a repeat performance again tonight.

I hope the significance of this day and the promise of what this particular man can do isn't eclipsed by the star-studded after-parties and (newsworthy?) interviews with the cast of NBC's Thursday-night line up.  I'm worried that it is.  I'm disappointed already, and we're only 10 hours into his presidency.

Let's not squander another opportunity to allow our President to succeed and lead as we have asked him to do.  Let's respect the office and the man who fills it, regardless of our politics.  

And please, let's leave Leonardo out of it.

Ramen? Really?

Yes, actually -- really.

I am constantly looking for a way to make vegetables more interesting and fun to eat.  I don't really dislike them, I'm just not excited by them.

(Note to self:  Um, you have some emotional food issues.  Food should not have to excite you to be eaten, it should nourish your body.  Add "dealing with food issues" to your to-do list.)

So anyway I try to keep veggies appealing by choosing multi-colored carrots over the standard orange ones, mesclun salad mixes over iceberg lettuce, yellow and purple tomatoes over plain old red -- you get the idea.  Plus, I have a three-year-old and an admittedly culinarily unadventurous husband to feed so variety is important in our house.

Enter:  ramen.

I mixed up a salad last night that was so good I made it the entree for dinner tonight.  Didn't help that the husband was out this evening & my sister was here so the only ones duplicating were me & my daughter (and she's not going to rat me out).  Anywho, here's the scoop:

6 cups of your favorite mixed greens

Whatever salad veggies you have on hand -- I used red & purple carrots, scallions, and celery

About 1/4 cup of pine nuts (available pre-toasted from Trader Joe's!)

One package of ramen noodles

Low-fat asian salad dressing (below)

6 ounces thinly sliced flank steak (mine was left over from last night - teriyaki!)


Throw the greens, veggies, & pine nuts in a nice big bowl. 


Break up the ramen into small pieces (but not crumbs) and toast it in a dry non-stick pan for a couple of minutes.  Add hot water to the hot pan, just enough to float the ramen, and let it cook about 2 minutes -- til it's soft but not mushy.


Drain off the excess water and let it cool while you make the dressing:


1/2 cup fat free balsamic vinegarette (keep it basic)

~ 1/2 tsp crushed garlic

~ 1/2 tsp fresh grated ginger

~ 1 tsp toasted sesame oil

~ 1 Tablespoon sugar (or you could substitute the sweetener of your choice)

Whisk together with a fork & you're done!


Add the ramen and dressing to the veggies & toss.  Plate it up and top with the flank steak.  This will make two REALLY BIG adult salads as well as an appropriate plate for a three-year-old. 

Delicious!  My daughter digs it because of the ramen and "purple carrots and purple leaves."  (We are VERY into purple these days.)  My husband likes it because it seems less like a salad with the noodles mixed in.  And I love it because it's tasty and filling and is only about 375 calories for the whole meal.

I know a lot of the ingredients may not be things that everyone has on hand, but if you like Asian foods and want to stock your pantry I highly recommend the toasted sesame oil -- TONS of flavor by adding very little oil.  Pine nuts could easily be swapped out for another nut of your choice -- almonds come to mind first, but I'm sure others would work too.  You could also use any protein you like (chicken, seafood, other cuts of beef) as long as it wasn't seasoned too heavily with competing flavors.


And the ramen?  Come on.  You're probably got some hidden away, right?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A new approach


I've never been a fan of the New Year. I tend to cling to the old rather than embrace the new -- it feels safer, I suppose.

But it's hard to start a new year without at least thinking about what you hope will be, or hope to change, or hope to do. And inevitably, when you're me, that leads to thoughts about health and fitness and weight loss.


2008 was not a banner year in that regard. In fact, I pretty much wrote it off last year. It is a bad place to be, believing that you are fated to a lifetime of obesity (there, I said it). It is depressing, and scary, and paralyzing, and is a sure-fire way to seal the deal -- and fast.

This year I'm thinking about things a little differently. Rather than approach this lifestyle change bluntly, struggling every day (every minute) to Do The Right Thing, I'm working on the smaller habits that will get me there. So I'm not intentionally making big changes to my diet -- but I am keeping a food journal, a habit that not only keeps me accountable but also makes me mindful of what I eat. I'm not creating a rigid schedule of workouts and weight training, but I am getting my ass out the door to take a walk around the block with my family. I'm not broadcasting my efforts and preaching What's Right to everyone I meet, but I am intentionally connecting with people who understand my struggles and encourage me to continue fighting the good fight.

I've finally, finally realized that big changes don't -- can't -- come about with one or two major fixes. They have to come about through layers and layers of little ones. Some might seem insignificant, but I believe they will be the foundation for bigger and better things to come. I have to believe this. There aren't many alternatives left.

In a lot of ways I'm applying these principles to all sorts of areas in my life -- our home, my future garden, hobbies, friendships, new skills I'd like to learn, new ways to earn a living. I'm not just going to take the sewing machine out of the box & whip up a ball gown. But I do need to get it out of the box, right?

Baby steps, baby steps.

Happy New Year!

Addendum: An article that was helpful for putting things in perspective. Yes, it's from O. Love her or hate her, Oprah and her minions always have something to say!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

One less thing to feel guilty about

Our dirty little secret:

While Skip was here & time was tight, we became regular users (and possible abusers) of paper plates. Chinet paper plates, to be specific. And though we have cut back our consumption of these no-need-to-wash-them! delights, we are still occasional users.

I wonder what kind of drug they give you to come off your no-dishpan-hands high? Methascrub? Washadone?

Anyway, as I was washing the dishes tonight I was looking at the (brand new, economy-sized) package of Chinet and saw that not only is it made from recycled materials it is also biodegradable in home composting.

And my first thought was -- cool! I'm not as much of a slacker as I thought. (Not as much.) I'll be sure to add future plates to the compost bin.

And my second thought was -- really? What a weird thing to emblazon across the front of their product. Because honestly, I doubt that most home composters are likely to buy disposable plates, and I doubt that most users of disposable plates are home composters.

Except us, of course.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Borrowed blog

I just put this up on the site recording our renovation project, but thought it seemed appropriate to post here, too.

Taking a look back

This house of ours holds a lot of memories.  Seeing it now, in it's mid-demolition, torn-up state (like a Pheonix, I keep reminding myself) it's hard to imagine it's past life.  But I'll try anyway.

Our neighbors to the north and south sit fairly close to use, but we do have a nice deep yard.  The front yard slopes up from the sidewalk about 4 or 5 feet and was always good for rolling down in the summer or sledding down in the winter.  When I was a kid there were two big maple trees flanking either side of the front walk -- not particularly good for climbing but lovely nonetheless.  I remember when Dad took those trees down (and the ER visit that followed).

The back yard was always a lot busier:  vegetable gardens, flower gardens, barbeques, soft ball, tree climbing, countless auto repairs, refinishing old treasures from the attic, trying to dig my way to China -- I could to on & on.  As I look at it right now, from my sister's dining room, I see pulled-out railroad ties that were once used to construct our patio, fallen limbs, and earth mover, debris of all varieties, a dumpster, and lots & lots of mud.  Mom's old white pine, the one she brought back from Maine when she was a kid and moved to this house when she got married, still stands in the back corner, oddly-shaped from storm damage more than 20 years ago but holding it's place of honor regardless.  None of us has the heart to take that tree out, so I suppose it will stand there until another, stronger storm comes along and does it for us.

The peonies are awaiting their return next spring, right now tucked in under quite a stack of firewood.  I always loved the day the peonies bloomed, because I knew the end of school was right around the corner.  Now I love them because of their heavy, frilly blossoms & familiar, comforting scent.  Another reminder of Mom, too.

Dad's vegetable gardens are lots in the track marks left by the parade of machines we've seen over the last few weeks.  I think we're going to try something new (raised beds and "square foot gardening") but just the sight of sprouting seeds and ripening tomatoes will be enough to keep Dad's memory alive for me.  Sara is so excited about this, too -- she asks me every night to tell her the story about the garden, and wants to plant every tomato she sees in my seed catalogues.

We have big dreams for this yard of our, most of them new twists on old themes.  We'd like a new patio, this time with a pergola, and of course a nice big garden.  We'd like a play set for Sara and her friends in the neighborhood and feeders to lure back the birds that Mom spent so many years feeding herself.  We look forward to barbeques and blooming peonies and another 30 years with that old white pine.

Everything old is new again.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

On my mind

  • Tile:  floor, wall, porcelain, ceramic, hex, subway
  • Gardens:  vegetable, flower, square foot, tidy, productive
  • My eye:  watering, and a little sticky?
  • Work:  necessary, uninspiring, windowless, resuming soon
  • Home:  underway, exciting, slow, hopeful
  • Walking:  a pleasant nightly stroll
  • Swimming:  necessary, mortifying, hopeful, relaxing
  • Squash:  tasty acorn
  • Vacations:  are nice I hear
  • Carpet:  or hardwood?
  • Photography:  more time, enjoy it, how about some still lifes?
  • Sleep:  elusive, anxiety-inducing
  • Sara:  infuriating/heart-swelling, frustration/pride, stiff-necked/tender-hearted -- overall, awesome
  • Rob:  see Sara
  • God: still, quiet, listen
  • Simplifying:  everything