Saturday, December 24, 2011

They are a changin'

Some changes are on the horizon. You can see I've been playing with the template, but wait--there's more!

1. A call for submissions! I'd really love to get some guest posting going on here. Tell me about living simply, or about not living simply if that's where you are. If you have an idea or story to share, please click on my profile to the left and send me an email. This offer doesn't expire.

2. I'm thinking of doing monthly themes starting in January. I like the idea of focusing on one kind of task for 30 days. I hope you'll join me in this.

3. You might have noticed that I added a page to the blog (see above). Check it out!

Happy holidays, folks. Wishing you the best.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Lovely readers: It's come to my attention lately that I apparently have more readers than the number of comments would suggest. I love comments! But I know that it can feel funny to comment if you're not used to it or if you're the only one. So I have no shame in asking this: Please, if you read this post, would you leave a comment? Just say hello. Let's break the ice.

I know, I'm SO original here, posting new year's resolutions. But I do like the spirit of the new year's resolution. Of course I know that most people don't follow through on them--I mean, if it's something you really want to do and are committed to, why are you waiting for a special day to start doing it? At any rate, the idea of a fresh start to set things right and improve upon oneself seems like a pretty neat idea, and sometimes the symbolism of a special day is motivational. This year, I've already spent half the year trying to set things right, and I believe I'm on track. Now it's time to set some goals and make plans.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

On Recognition

First things first: I got one of the jobs I was interviewing for over the past couple weeks. I'll be working for a marketing agency in a neighboring city doing some writing and editing and assisting the owner the of the agency. I'm really excited about it but also really nervous. I think I'll get a lot from this position and from the direction my career could go from here.

In other news: Ah yes, another worm-in-horseradish moment. Lately, I've been thinking about how important recognition is, and then I read an article on LinkedIn about ways to motivate employees. At the top of the list? Praise. Recognition.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The plan

I think I'm finally getting the concept of being "in the moment." Not that I have internalized this idea (yet)--I just understand it better now. So much of my time is spent worrying, not just thinking, about what-if scenarios that I don't reflect on the past or enjoy the present. What I tend to see as practical (If I don't worry about every single thing right now, I'll never be prepared!) hurts my ability to effectively handle problems as they come.

Again, there's a difference between thinking and worrying. Thinking is practical. Worrying is a waste of time and energy. Thinking is something I do actively; worrying is something I do compulsively.

I've started to worry again about my future in terms of my career, my imminent lack of health insurance, and my choice of where to live. When my marriage ended, I gave myself a year to live in Monterey and see if I could thrive here. May seems like a long time from now, but it's really only 7 months. The compulsiveness is setting in, and I've started the manic searches online. But on the drive home from one of my three jobs today (before I headed off to my next job) I came up with a plan to keep me sane and get the most out of the present:

(First, a little background. I have about 7 weeks left for the current semester. The plan goes into effect at that time. What I have lined up for sure is one part-time teaching job at the college along with 2-3 steady Zumba classes each week at the gym. I can survive on this income January--May. Next summer might pose a problem since my income from the college will be less. I have money in savings for the proverbial rainy day.)

  • I'll job-hunt only on certain days of the week, so I don't torment myself day after day. If I set aside specific time, I can put more thought into the documents I'm sending to potential employers rather than just firing off emails 10 minutes before I have to go somewhere, and maybe I can take the time to think more creatively about where I should be applying. 
  • I'll look only for career-building jobs. I will only consider jobs that I believe will help me advance in a field that I actually want to advance in. My choices are to find a part-time job that fits this description to supplement my other two jobs, or find a full-time job that replaces the job at the college. 
  • I will not look for jobs outside the Monterey area. The point of my choice to stay here is that I want to stay here. That's the goal. If I start thinking about other places, then I'll lose focus on that. Plus, preference is almost always given to local applicants. If I want to get a job somewhere else, I'll probably need to move there first or have an inside connection. That was one of the reasons I stayed put--my recent job experience is here, so I'm more likely to get hired here than somewhere else.
  • If I cannot find a career-building job, then I will use the extra time in my schedule for me-building. Maybe I'll take some workshops, attend lectures, volunteer, read, work on hobbies, network, and enjoy the Monterey Peninsula. This part of the plan is really important. I want to feel like regardless of my job or financial security, I am growing and improving. This is where living in the moment comes in. 

In May, I'll reevaluate my situation if I haven't found a long-term, sustainable career and income. But not until then. Until then, my goal is being worry-free.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Occupy Santa Cruz

Yesterday, I went with a couple friends to occupy Santa Cruz. The timing was perfect because the group marched at about 4:00--just in time for the start of rush hour.

 My friend Ruth's sign.

The march lasted for about an hour, and we went to three banks in Santa Cruz. We stayed in front of each one for a few minutes and then continued on. The best part were the drivers who passed by and honked, waved, or gave us the thumbs up. Their enthusiasm for what we were doing made it all worth it. We had police with us the whole time, but they didn't give anyone any trouble. We were a very peaceful group.

Ruth led everyone in a chant of "Stand up, fight back." She was great! I didn't know where she'd gone until suddenly she was addressing the crowd. Did I mention this was my first protest? It wasn't her first.

One news story I saw said that we had 200 people, but that figure seems a little high. I do think it grew as we marched. Maybe we picked up some people along the way. When I saw that Santa Cruz had an Occupy protest, I decided to go because I wanted to do my part for something that I believe--just maybe--has the power to influence real change for once.

If you are looking for an Occupy event near you, I suggest looking here first. As someone at the march said, "Join us! Don't just watch us on the news."

I am a regular person. I am hardworking. I am employed and financially stable (for now). I am insured (until December). I am generally a law-abiding citizen. I am compassionate. I am pissed off about our government that does not represent the will of the people or the spirit of our constitution. I am not Robin Hood. I am concerned about the prosperity of our nation. I am the 99% and so are you. 

Monday, October 3, 2011


I've just spent the last 20-30 minutes reading this page, dedicated to the 99% and those who are occupying Wall Street now. When I read this post in particular, I cried.

I don't even want to say much more, except this: Whatever your political leanings, don't be dumb. Just because you're "lucky" now, just because you're employed or without much debt doesn't mean that this doesn't concern you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The 5k & Antique Shopping

There's a part two to my last post about dreaming big that's in the works. I have some new theories :) Before that, though, I thought I'd share some recent activities.

Early Sunday morning--No, wait: E-A-R-L-Y Sunday morning, some friends and I ran a 5k. It was a little bit of a joke because there was this big triathlon going on both days this weekend, and we were like the pre-game show with our little fun-run. Plus, I hadn't even been running very much lately due to my 4 jobs and a recent cold. Yet, miraculously, all three of us ran like the wind and came away with great times!

Here's the action shot. I was rounding the corner to start my final lap. In the background you can see my time for the first 2 miles. I ended up finishing in 28:35, which is the fastest I've ever run a 5k.

Later that day, after breakfast and a long nap, I went with a friend to Santa Cruz. Before we left, I checked some events calendars to see if anything in particular was going on. I saw an "antique fair" listed, but it didn't strike me as something we should try to find. We ended up just walking around downtown and accidentally finding this fair after all, and it turned out to be pretty interesting.

Something in particular caught my eye:

Right? Doesn't every writer want a typewriter? Did you know that typewriters are no longer being manufactured anymore, anywhere? I decided to take a picture of them instead of giving into impulse and buying one.

Other highlights included records, rotary phones, player piano music rolls, some Corningware that I was oddly attracted to, and a Catwoman mask (that some crazy person referred to as Batman). Is this what antiques are all about? I always thought they were much older and more fragile items, but this stuff was all from 1940s--1970s. I'd call it "vintage" before "antique," but maybe I'm misinformed. It ended up being a good way to spend the afternoon and a fantastic day overall with good people.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Adventures in pumpkin!

I was excited when I saw that pumpkin puree was on sale recently at the grocery store, so I picked up two cans. I make a mean pumpkin bread, don't ya know.

Of course, what I really bought at the store was pumpkin pie filling, not puree. Imagine my disappointment, especially considering that I'm not a big fan of pie. What to do! This isn't the first time this has happened, either, and substituting pie filling for puree in pumpkin bread doesn't work (trust me). I decided to experiment, and here's what I came up with.

Kate's apple-pumpkin crisp:

For the gooey part
1 15 oz can pumpkin PIE FILLING. Not puree.
2 smallish apples, cut into bite-sized chunks
about a spoonful of brown sugar (my apples were a little tart, those naughty fruits)
ground cloves, cinnamon, and allspice to taste

For the crumbly part
3/4 cup of flour
1/3 cup of sugar
1/3 cup of butter, softened

Combine the ingredients for the gooey part in a saucepan and cook on the stove until the apples are softened.

Meanwhile, combine the ingredients for the crumbly part. I use my hands for this, but I'm sure there's a daintier and more sanitary way to do this. Anyway, you should end up with little crumbly balls (heh heh) when it's ready.

Lightly grease a square baking dish. Sprinkle some of the crumbly bits on the bottom, then add the gooey mixture. Then sprinkle the rest of the crumbly bits on top.

I ended up fiddling around with the temperature on the oven because I was modifying a larger-portioned recipe. I started at 375 and let it bake for almost 20 minutes. Then I turned it down to 325 and let it bake for another 6-7 minutes. I'd say next time I'll put it on 350, and it'll probably be good to go for 25-30 minutes.

It came out pretty tasty after all. I mean, if you like pumpkin pie, then there's really nothing to complain about here. The apples have a way of dissolving, but they make me think I'm eating something with nutritional value anyway. Also, the gel-like consistency of the pumpkin mix held everything together. I forgot to take a photo of the finished product, and my two friends and I pretty much finished it all immediately, so apparently my baking skills outperform my photography skills.

In related news, friends have made some good suggestions for what to do with the extra pie filling (since I still have another can) including adding it to pancakes. Yes, I'll definitely be doing that.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A life less cellular

At the end of June, my cell phone contract expired, and I decided in the name of simplicity to go cell-less and just have a home phone instead. My decision was based on a few factors:

1. A home phone is cheaper.
2. I was at the point where my mobile phone was used primarily for texting, and since I am paying for internet, texting can easily be swapped for email or Facebook messages. I also discovered that I can kind of text using my email account.
3. I can always get a pay-as-you-go phone if I feel I need one for emergencies, and then I don't have to commit to monthly charges if I need to save money.
4. Without a cell phone, I will never get a ticket or cause an accident because of the phone.
5. I will never ignore the friends I'm with so I can take a call or respond to a text, and my friends will understand that they will not always be able to reach me or hear back from me right away.

Some people have asked me what life is like without a cell phone. Not to be sarcastic, but does anyone remember pre-2002? Life is pretty much like that. The hardest part about it is that everyone expects me to have a cell phone, and they look at me like I'm crazy when I tell them I don't.

The second hardest part is the planning. There is no "Just call me when you get there/get off work/are almost here/are on your way." Sorry, we have to make an actual plan.

I would not say that everyone should do what I'm doing. Cell phones are handy, and I do feel a little funny when I think about my car breaking down or some such thing. But, again, we survived without them not long ago, so I'm sure I can manage.

The best part is being able to disconnect. It's easier to deal with things on my own time rather than whenever someone else wants me to. Also, since I only make calls from home, I find that I'm more comfortable talking on the phone and getting things done that way instead of relying on email to avoid having to talk on the phone. When people call me, they know I'm at home and available. Lastly, the extra planning is kind of nice. I feel more dedicated to the people I spend time with.

So, there you have it. It's been 2 months, and I'm still alive.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Firsts and lasts

Today I made pancakes from scratch for the first time using this recipe. It's always seemed strange to me to use pre-made mix, since the mixes don't seem to have any magical properties. They turned out great, although I think I needed slightly more milk.

I also made hummus for the first time. It wasn't from scratch because I mixed in a store-bought pesto. I didn't look at any recipes beforehand, so all things considered, it came out pretty good. Next time, I'll probably follow a recipe, though.

Today was my last day teaching Zumba at the community center. One person showed up. That should tell you all you need to know about why I decided to stop teaching there. It's a bit of a weight off my shoulders, and now I can focus on the more rewarding aspects of my life.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Nom nom nom

I'm starting to get the feeling that this is becoming a food blog. I guess when I said I needed to prepare more meals at home, I really meant that I'm not going to think about anything else.

Anyway, I was inspired once again by Poor Girl Eats Well. This lettuce-wrap dish was a blissful union of tomatoes, red onion, cilantro, black beans, and quinoa served over lettuce with a little bit of olive oil. It allowed me to use up some ingredients that were in danger of going bad soon, some stuff that's been sitting politely in the pantry waiting to be consumed, and lettuce purchased earlier today from the farmers market. So fresh and easy and tasty. I think I'll have it again tomorrow.

Because lunch was kind of MIA today, I was still hungry after dinner, so I had a bowl of fresh fruit (again from the farmers market) with some honey and sliced almonds.

Sometimes, life's pretty good.

Monday, July 18, 2011

In the kitchen, part II

The domestic goddess strikes again! I don't know what's gotten into me. I'm unstoppable!

Yesterday, it was banana bread. I have a love-hate relationship with bananas. I love their portability and how tidy they are to eat, but I hate that I have to taste them all day long after just one bite. For that reason, I've never made banana bread before, but I had some bananas that I had a feeling I wouldn't eat before they went bad, so I decided to go ahead and make some.

By the way, how lucky are my friends who I'm sharing this great stuff with?

I used this recipe because it was simple and I already had all the ingredients, although I decided to mix in a little whole wheat flour--you know, to make it healthy. Never mind the metric ton of butter in it :) It came out okay. If I hadn't put in the wheat flour, it would have had more flavor. I also should have given the bananas another day or so. All in all, for my first time making it, I'm pleased.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

In the kitchen

Last night, I suffered from a fit of domestic inspiration. These are the results:

Another batch of vegetable broth made from scraps.

Then I saw that I had a bunch of zucchini and summer squash that wasn't getting any fresher, so I decided to make zucchini bread. Technically, I suppose it's zucchini-squash bread, but it's all green, so does it matter? Anyway, it starts with 2 cups of grated zucchini, which just looks like a bunch of slop.

Then, it becomes a sloppy-chunky batter. By the way, the oven in my apartment doesn't have a light inside! I would probably be more annoyed if I actually used my oven very often :)

Then it becomes delicious! Sadly, I realized too late that I forgot to put in walnuts.

I've already set aside one loaf for friends, so I can't just accidentally scarf down both loaves within a 24-hour timespan. Not that I would do that.

It was nice being in the kitchen again and really getting to work. I should have taken a picture of the mess I made--have I mentioned that I am the world's messiest cook? Anyway, the apartment still smells yummy the morning after, and now I'm getting ready to make some chili in the crock pot for later. Domestic goddess indeed!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Starting with 30 days

Matt Cutts: Try something new for 30 days | Video on

This video isn't long at all, but if you still don't want to watch the whole thing, it boils down to this: challenge yourself to do something you've been wanting to try for 30 days. It's not so much time as to be terribly painful if you end up really disliking your chosen activity, but it's enough time to make an impact on the way you live. I know it's not a new idea, but it's a welcome reminder.

It's part adventure and part discipline--both concepts that I fully support.

A couple months ago, I did my 30 Day Simple Living Challenge, and it was helpful and insightful. I'd like to try to another 30 day challenge, but I have to give it some thought. What could you do for 30 days?

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Several nights ago, a friend had his front wheel from his bicycle stolen while he was at work. He had a much better attitude about it than I did--having something stolen is just the worst, I think. Despite his good nature, though, he still needed a way to get to work.

I don't know if you know this about me, but I love a good hunt, especially if it's for the benefit of someone else.

We looked at Craigslist for a bike, but there wasn't much there that was the right price. I told him about Freecycle, but there were no bikes currently posted. I knew it was a long shot, but I went ahead and posted a "wanted" ad there.

Lo and behold someone replied! What luck!

We set up a time to go and pick it up at a local school, and my friend and I arrived to find a man sitting in an SUV in the parking lot. Assuming it was the bike-owner, we approached him, and he got out to greet us. That's normal, right? So, I said something like, "Are you the person with the bike?" Then it got weird. He didn't know what I was talking about. Of course, I was a little embarrassed, so I jokingly asked what he was waiting for--as if maybe he was waiting on some special delivery too. He said he was just parked there. At a school parking lot at 7:00 at night with no one else around? Then he walked across the street to a house that he was apparently familiar with and started talking with someone there.

I couldn't figure out why he would have looked like he was expecting us and gotten out of his car to, as far as I could tell, talk with us. Then I started wondering if he was up to no good--like maybe he was the one who emailed me, posing as someone's wife, and he was hoping I'd come alone. We never did see the person with the bike, so we left.

When I got home, I emailed the person again, and thankfully, she responded saying that she had forgotten. We decided to try it again the next day (yesterday), and this time the woman did show up with the bike as planned.

The bike is totally functional, although it's a little small. I think it'll do just fine at least until my friend has the means to buy a bike of his choosing. The great thing about Freecycle is that if you end up not wanting the item, it's easy to just pass it on to the next person who might actually want it.

I feel good about this, not because I believe I deserve some pat on the back or something, but because it feels good to be rewarded for doing "the right thing." So often, I feel like I'm slapped in the face when I try to help someone, and I thought with the creepy SUV guy and everything that this was going to be one of those times. Instead, it makes me want to reach out more to discover what other answers and opportunities there are out there.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Keeping life simple, even when it isn't

Life is slowly becoming normal again. Or, I should say, I'm slowly developing a new sense of normal. Still, there's an undercurrent of anxiety in everything I do. How will I support myself? What direction is my life going to take? What should I be doing with my life? While I've always asked myself these questions, there is an urgency to answer them that wasn't there before. I'm trying to take things one step at a time, but it's hard not to be consumed by the big picture. To keep myself healthy (in more ways than one), I'm focusing on a few things right now:

1. Exercise. At first I thought that I might need several days, if not weeks or a month to be a slug. I know people say to take care of yourself physically when you're going through emotional stuff, but I assumed that I would shrug off the advice and gain 20 pounds just to prove how miserable I was. It turns out, I feel better when I'm moving. I've started running again, and of course I still have Zumba. My apartment is ridiculously close to my college, so I now commute on foot. Putting furniture together and making frequent trips to the dumpster/recycling/laundry room on a regular basis keeps me on my toes too.

2. Eating healthy. Again, I assumed that I'd give in to whatever craving I had. Who knew I'd be craving fruit and vegetables? Seriously, I get excited over salad.

3. Work. It's the end of the semester this week, so I'm grading, grading, grading. It's keeping my mind on the task at hand. Plus, I only have one week off before it's time to start the summer class, so I have more planning to do. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the big questions, but mostly I just keep my mind focused on the next thing. What else can I do? Life has to move on. I have to keep showing up.

4. Reading. Okay, so I'm reading about divorce, which seems somewhere between smart and tragic, but reading other people's words helps me focus my thoughts. Instead of just flailing around in despair whenever I feel like it, I have a time and a place to devote to thinking about my situation. I'm not avoiding it; I'm just trying to gain appropriate perspective.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

No more elephant in the room

After almost 9 years of marriage, Rich and I have separated and intend to divorce. We've been struggling for the past couple years, and we've come to a point where we are without any hope for happiness together in the future. We've agreed that it's time to move on.

I've moved out, but I'm staying in Monterey. This was a difficult choice to make. Essentially, I had 3 options: move near my parents (or in with them), move to another city where I could see myself settling down permanently, or stay here and try to make a life out of the pieces I already have. The truth is that I like it here. I'm tired of moving, and I could see Monterey being a permanent home. If in 6 months or a year, I don't feel like I'm thriving, then I can reconsider, but I'll enjoy it while I can.

If there's a bright side, it's all the support I've received from family and friends. I've even strengthened some friendships over the past couple weeks. I suppose I was worried that people would scorn me or distance themselves from me, but I think the opposite has been true. Even my boss at the college was kind and happily gave me two classes to teach in the fall and a summer class. All of this has given me hope that I can pick up these pieces and keep on going.

There's so much more to say, but I'll leave it at that for now. Thank you for reading.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Won't you be my neighbor?

What do we lose when we don't cultivate relationships with our neighbors? More than we might think.

I just read an older post by Peter Gray, and it brought to mind the class I taught last summer where we talked about what "community" means and the implications of having few or weak relationships with those who live closest to you. Often, we are content not knowing our neighbors because we don't see a need for it. In fact, many are thankful that we don't have to rely on each other for survival the way we used to, and now we can easily pick and choose our acquaintances. You never know what weirdos might be lurking in the house next door--better to stay inside, right?

Gray's article would have been perfect to bring up then. In his article, he links the decline of free play (basically, kids playing outdoors, generally unsupervised) with the increase in obesity, depression, and suicide. He goes on to say that the reason parents keep their children from free play is the fear that their children might be harmed by strangers.

It's no wonder; if you believe that your neighborhood is full of strangers, then you'd be crazy to let your kids run wild among them. But is the answer to keep kids in adult-supervised activities all day long? Or is the answer to decrease our feeling that all those people out there are strangers?

I live in military housing, and kids are everywhere: in their yards, in other people's yards, in soccer fields, on playgrounds, and sometimes in the street. One neighbor kid, who I learned later is autistic, even walked into my house uninvited in order to chase after one of my cats. For someone without kids, frankly, it can be annoying, but this annoyance is also reassurance. People around here obviously trust one another, and even though there might be some unsavory individuals here, the good ones outnumber the bad, and we look out for one another.

Gray's article includes some suggestions about having more community centers. I'm not opposed to that, especially in areas where yards and communal spaces are minimal, but I think the key here is to create environments where neighbors can meet and forge a sense of trust and alliance. For example, some community centers might still fail because parents don't trust that their kids are safe there with little or no supervision. Therefore, the community centers must be places that give adults, teens, and kids something to do and opportunities to meet. Only then will everyone feel they are safe places to be.

If no funds are available to create these places, then residents might have to work a little harder to get out there and meet their neighbors, but it seems like it's worth the effort when the consequences of continued isolation are obesity and suicide. Additionally, I don't think it's a stretch to say that adults (parents or not) would feel safer and less lonely if they had stronger ties to their physical communities. So, what can we do to strengthen our relationships with our neighbors?

1. Recognize that people (Americans especially, I think) fear rejection and often won't make the first move; however, they will probably respond positively if you initiate friendship.

2. When new residents move in near you, welcome them. Introduce yourself and give them a card with your name on it (phone number, email address, and family members' names if you're comfortable with that) and a list of local businesses that you recommend. Also, if there's anything you wish you would have known about the area when you moved in, let them in on that information.

3. When you move to a new area, because of #1 above, don't wait for your neighbors to make the first move. Go door to door and introduce yourself. If you're having a housewarming party, invite your neighbors as well.

4. Be helpful. An invitation of "let me know if you need anything" only works when you truly mean it. If you see someone who looks like they could use a hand, go over and offer your help. If you know you have an elderly neighbor, go over once in a while to see how s/he is doing.

5. Be visible outside your front door. This can take different shapes depending on your living situation. If you have a front yard, mow it or work in a garden. Set up some chairs outside. Walk, jog, or ride a bike in the neighborhood. Take advantage of communal spaces or community activities.

6. Overall, take initiative. If you'd like to see a change in your neighborhood, then start it. The more people there are participating, the more that will want to join. It's all about taking the first step.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Running & simplicity

Yesterday, I ran a 5k with a friend, and it got me thinking about the way my relationship with running has changed recently. What started off as something that kept me from accepting myself has turned into an activity that helps me participate in my life more fully and connect with others.

When I was a teenager, my brother got me interested in running. I didn't take it seriously, usually only running for about a mile at a time and only in the summer months. In college, I didn't run very much because I was busy juggling school, work, and friends, but I always thought I should run more. After college, though, I started running regularly, gradually working on running longer distances. I worked up to running 3 miles (5k) and eventually 5 miles (8k). I even ran a couple races.

In all these early years, even though I knew I was doing something good for my body, my relationship with running was not particularly good for my body image. My thinking was, "I want to be skinny. Running will get me skinny." I hated running aside from the hope that one day it would make me "skinny." Well, I never did get skinny, and the devastation of not living up to that unrealistic goal fueled my dedication to running. The more I felt disappointed in myself, the more I ran, and the more I ran, the higher the expectations became. Participating in races was kind of fun, but mostly it was just tense because I felt like the slowest person there. Overall, running was about hating myself and others (for being better than me) and being out of touch with everything around me.

After being a runner in one capacity or another for several years, I woke up to what it was doing to me emotionally, and I stopped running for about 5 years. It was a great 5 years. I focused on exercising in a way that allowed me to respect my body and not compare myself against others too much. I literally slowed down. I paid more attention to my body and to my surroundings, including the people I exercised with. I tried a variety of activities and learned a lot more about health and fitness than I ever did running on a treadmill mile after mile.

Then, in November, I suddenly felt like running. And so I did.

I saw a friend of mine out for a jog in our neighborhood, and I felt pride for her. I didn't compare myself to her, judge her, or think, "Boy am I glad I'm not doing that." I didn't know it at the time, but I think watching her run struck me suddenly as being utilitarian--using something that she already had that was essentially free and using all of it. It just seemed so simple, and I thought I'd give running a second chance.

This time around, it hasn't been about any particular goal. I run because I genuinely want to, because it feels good. The result has been that I'm more in touch with the earth, with fellow runners, with my fears, and with my body. Running used to be a symptom that I was out of control; now it helps me to be in control. Fear is less of an issue because I have respect for myself. I can more easily accept who I am, and I also accept and care for others more instinctively. Yesterday, during the race, some people near me tripped a little. In the past, I might have just kept going without much thought, but this time, I actually paused and made sure they were okay before continuing. Running is a great way to participate in charity events and explore new landscapes as well.

I know for a lot of people running certainly does not feel good, so I would never say that everyone should do it, but I do think it's important to use up what we have physically, mentally, and emotionally, so we know what we're capable of as individuals and as a whole. When there is a challenge, there is a potential for community and understanding.

[The above photo was taken before the race. This was my fundraising team, and we raised $3,000 for Camp Okizu--a camp for kids with cancer and their families. Because of the 6 of us, 2 more kids will get to go to this great place.]

Monday, February 28, 2011

Tex-Mex pork and corn Soup

Normally, I don't like reposting published recipes, but I found this recipe reproduced on several websites, so I can't feel too bad about it. It's originally from Better Homes and Gardens Eat Well, Lose Weight. I don't have a picture of it, but if you really want the visual, you can Google the title of the recipe, and you'll see other sites with the recipe and the photo that appears in the book :-)

1 tablespoon olive oil
12 oz. pork tenderloin or lean boneless pork, cut into bite-sized pieces.
1 cup chopped onion*
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 10 oz. package frozen whole corn
2 14 oz. cans of reduced-sodium chicken broth**
1 cup chipotle-style salsa or regular salsa (I used Trader Joe's garlic chipotle salsa)
1 cup chopped red or yellow sweet pepper***
1/2 cup chopped tomato
1/4 cup snipped fresh cilantro****

*We're not big onion people, so I used about 1/2 a cup.
**I used half chicken broth and half vegetable broth.
***I used an orange pepper!
****I couldn't find cilantro, but the soup was still great.

In a large saucepan heat oil over medium-high heat. Add pork pieces; cook and stir for 4-5 minutes or until brown and juices run clear. Remove pork from saucepan and set aside. Add onion and garlic to saucepan; cook and stir for 3-4 minutes or until onion is tender.

Add corn to saucepan; cook and stir for 4 minutes (I had to skip to the next step right away because there wasn't enough oil in the pan and the corn was starting to burn a bit). Stir in chicken broth, salsa, and pepper. Bring to boiling and reduce heat. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Return pork to saucepan and heat through. Remove saucepan from heat and stir in tomato and cilantro.

Serve with tortilla chips and sour cream if desired.

It came out really tasty! I think it helps to have a good salsa, and I took a risk by going with a salsa I'd never tried before. The only complaint is that the pork came out a little rubbery. I might have cooked it too long, or it might just be that lean pork is like that. Either way, though, I'll be making it again.

I think I've talked about this cookbook before, but it's worth mentioning again. It's about $22 if you buy it new, but it's on for $4.00. I recommend it. I think I've enjoyed everything I've made from it, and the book itself is handy because it's one of those spiral-bound books that lies flat on the counter--bonus!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Saving trees one meal at at time

Recently, I inadvertently made a move towards switching us from paper napkins to cloth napkins. I've been meaning to make the switch for some time now, but I've just never gotten around to it. That changed when I spilled something all over our remaining, albeit short, stack of paper napkins, which forced me to make a decision one way or another.

It helped that my brother and his family use cloth napkins, and when I visited them in January, it seemed pretty natural and not a big deal. I guess I was thinking that cloth napkins were "fancy." So, I found some on clearance at Bed, Bath, & Beyond (because nothing says "not fancy" like Thanksgiving merchandise leftovers), and I was ready to go!

They're pretty awesome because they don't have to be washed every time I sit down for a meal. I noticed that sometimes I grab a napkin and just hang on to it without actually using it, and with a paper napkin, that means it gets thrown out for no good reason at all. Now, I can have my little security napkin in my hands and just put it right back on the table at the end of the meal. Also, even if I do use it, it can still be reused multiple times unless it's super grody. When they're ready to be washed, they just go in with our other laundry. Easy peasy.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Politics and simple living

You might have noticed that there's a lot going on politically these days, and I won't pretend that my simple living mindset is not related to my liberal political leaning. It absolutely is.

After reading this, I decided it was time to write this post. This writer explains something that I've always felt but couldn't quite put into words regarding the difference between conservatives and liberals. Basically, the conservative view point is one of self-interest, self-reliance, and self-discipline. If people are successful, it is because they have chosen to put themselves on the correct path. They are hard-working and have otherwise good moral standing, and they pass those qualities onto their children. People who are not sucessful are therefore lacking discipline and must get out of their problems independently by developing the qualities of the successful people.

This interpretation of the conservative perspective might not be the way that conservatives see themselves, but I do think that this is the way that liberals (if I must categorize us as one or the other) view conservatives. It is the way that I view the conservative perspective, and I have seen nothing to suggest otherwise.

I'm outraged at what I have seen going on with our country over the past decade. We believe that there is this great debt that we all owe, yet I continue to see people driving expensive vehicles, living in expensive homes, taking vacations, and buying, buying, buying. Yes, I believe we have been in a recession, but whose recession has it been exactly? Those at the top don't seem to be affected. How can that be if our entire nation is in crisis? Is it that the people at the top are more disciplined and hard-working as the ones who find themselves laid off?*

We are struggling with our budgets nationwide. But the responsibility we feel to correct budget problems shouldn't guilt us into taking money or authority away from schools, unions, or healthcare. There's a proposal in Detroit that would reduce the number of schools and push the number of students per classroom to 60. Sixty kids to one teacher. "Well, we have to cut somewhere." No, we don't; we have to gain somewhere. Instead of thinking about taking away, we have to switch to adding, to increasing the means of surviving and thriving. We're giving money to people and businesses that subscribe to the self-interest, self-reliance, and self-discipline way of thinking. By definition, they aren't interested in increasing our collective survival.

Schools, unions, and Planned Parenthood, though, are concerned with exactly that, by definition. These programs and institutions are designed to increase the means for surviving and thriving for everyone, even for people who could afford to do it on their own. The point is to increase our collective access to that which will allow us as a nation and a culture to survive.

What do we gain by taking from those who are already bled dry? What do we gain by limiting opportunities for those who already don't have them?

Simple living is more than a hippy-dippy lifestyle choice. It's about survival--not just my own, but all of ours collectively. I believe that what benefits my community also benefits me. I might want to have unpolluted air to breathe and parks to play in for myself or my family, but air and land is shared. Without community action, it'll never happen for me or for anyone else.

We are stronger when we act together.

For this reason, I just can't comprehend the direction our country has been going, and I can't comprehend the reasoning behind conservativism. It's counter-intuitive. The upside to all of this is that for a while now I've been sensing that some major changes are on the horizon for us. I've been feeling like the dam is going burst at any minute, and the protests that we've seen in Wisconsin, the revolutions taking place in other countries, and the general rise in political activism tell me that maybe we're on the eve of something really great. Maybe, if you push us hard enough, we'll finally push back and reclaim our democracy from today's tyrants.

*If you believe that, you're an idiot. And I'm not just name-calling here. There is no evidence that the people who struggle financially are any less disciplined or hard-working or morally good than those at the top. So, if you believe that all poor people got that way by being less righteous than rich people, then you are basing that belief on prejudice, not facts, and I can't think of a better definition of "idiot."

Friday, February 4, 2011

On movement

Monday evening I started writing a post about physical movement. It was a mess, and I ended up trying to rewrite it all week. Somehow, I can't quite put into words something that needs to be experienced physically.

This morning, I watched a TED video (one of my favorite websites--the link is below) about running. At the end of the video, McDougall says that we should return to the days where running was joyful. Suddenly, I was reminded of my crappy post, because that is the exact word that I kept using: Joyful.

The problem with my crappy post was that I was taking too long to say something simple, but the video helped me solidify my idea. So, here it is: Physical movement should be joyful, and it should be an integral part of our lives. As a culture, we are far from that philosophy. Most of us don't rely on our physical abilities for survival, so it's difficult to imagine why movement needs to be a part of our daily lives. We're given the choice between physical movement and stasis, and too often we choose stasis for all the wrong reasons, and even worse, we choose movement for all the wrong reasons too. I think McDougall explains it better than I do:

Christopher McDougall: Are we born to run? | Video on

I agree that we need to bring joy back into our physical movements. It might not be running for you, but we each need to find a way to move that brings us closer to our bodies, our surroundings, and other people.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

20 questions

My friend sent me this link to a CNN article the other day, and I thought it was pretty cool, so I'm passing it along to you all. It's "20 Questions That Could Change Your Life," although it seems more accurate to say that they are 20 questions to help you live a more fulfilling life. I think it's mostly targeting women, but I don't know why it wouldn't also apply to men. For your convenience, I've copied the questions here (with some minor changes to some of the questions):

1. What questions should I be asking myself?
2. Is this what I want to be doing?
3. Why worry?
4. Why do I like ___ more than ___?
5. How do I want the world to be different because I lived in it?
6. How do I want to be different because I lived in this world?
7. Are ___ better people?*
8. What is my body telling me?
9. What junk can I get rid of?**
10. What's so funny?
11. Where am I wrong?
12. What potential experiences am I sacrificing, and is the profit worth the price?
13. Am I the only one struggling not to ___ during ___?
14. What do I love to practice?
15. Where could I work less and achieve more?
16. How can I keep myself absolutely safe?***
17. Where should I break the rules?
18. Say my dream life came true...then what?
19. Are my thoughts hurting or healing?
20. Really, truly: Is this what I want to be doing?

I'm certainly not going to answer each question on this blog, but I do believe they're good questions to ask. In particular, I like the fill-in-the-blank questions. I also think as I read this list that the questions don't need to be asked/answered all at once. Sometimes just one of these questions can take us down a whole new path to living more deliberately.

*people we compare ourselves to
**my favorite question
***trick question

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Do you hoard?

I'm not talking about the wackos on TV who haven't seen the color of their carpet in years. I'm talking about those of us who believe we aren't wackos but who, perhaps secretly or inadvertently, collect certain items compulsively. I'm willing to bet that we have seemingly legitimate reasons for having said items, or at least we did at one time, and they probably aren't causing too much clutter in our homes. If they were that cumbersome, we'd probably be smart enough to give them up, but since we have the space, why not keep a slew of whatever it is?

Mine? Pens.

It might have started in 5th grade. I remember having a variety of colorful markers, highlighters, and pens because my friends and I would doodle and write notes to each other, and having a unique writing utensil was cool. This continued into middle school, and by junior high I'd become accustomed to having a variety of ink each day.

I used my book bag as storage for all my pens. I understood that I certainly didn't need a dozen pens with me each day; I just chose to keep them with me anyway. I didn't have a desk to keep all my spares at home, so I just stuffed them all into my backpack. In high school, it seemed practical because our lockers were basically a waste of space (they were never anywhere close to where our classes were), so the extra pens just went with me, and I was never caught without an appropriate writing utensil. I developed habits based on this, such as using a different color of pen for each day in my notes, so (I told myself) it was easy to see where one day's notes ended and another began.

Now that I'm a teacher, the habit is still with me a little bit. (I tell myself) I always have to have about 4 pens that are not blue, black, or red (for grading papers) in my stash, but I of course need blue and black pens for regular writing. I also keep a couple pencils around. I'm better about not carrying them all with me, but I'd say that in my bag at any given time, I have at least 4 writing utensils plus a dry erase marker. Right now, as I sit at my desk typing, I count 10 "spares" in my holder. That comes to 14 in my regular rotation.

Sadly, though, there are more than 14 pens in my possession. I keep a few in a kitchen drawer--not sure how many, but they seem to multiply without my consent. I also have one in my sudoku book in the living room. Then I think I have 2 in my purse and at least one in my car. And I just looked in a container with some extra paper and cards and found 5 more plus a purple marker. When I travel, sometimes I put a pen in my suitcase.

Just like before, I am completely aware that I don't need all these utensils. If I used just a few of them at a time until they were no longer functional, the other ones would surely run dry before I had a chance to get to them. Yes, having a pen with me all the time is not a bad idea, but clearly I have a problem. I just wrote 5 paragraphs on pens.

My point! Right! I'm going to get rid of my pens. I don't know what to do with them, though. I would bring them to class with me and give them to students, but classes don't start until Jan. 31, and I'd like them gone right now. Any ideas?

I've tried getting rid of pens in the past, but I usually end up just replacing them. I'm pledging to not do that anymore. Pens are especially tempting because they're cheap and sold in multiples, but I must remind myself that quality is better than quantity. I look around my house, and I think I'm pretty good about not accumulating stuff, but this is my one thing. I want to let go of it. By Feb. 1, I pledge to cut the number of pens and pencils I have by half or more.

Now I ask you: Do you hoard anything? Is there something you keep around only because it's a habit or because it offers a sense of false security? Can you let it go?