Sunday, April 23, 2017

Spring flings

This spring feels like a personal awakening as well as a seasonal one. After years of not feeling quite myself due to this and that, I feel like my petals are slowly unfurling along with the daffodils and tulips.

I've been enjoying more time in the garden, even the weeding.

I planted more spring bulbs for the first time in years and they've added a lovely bit of early color. 

The apple tree didn't bloom last spring, but t put on quite the show this year.

We've also been getting out an about. This weekend we saw Kedi, a lovely, touching documentary film about the street cats in Istanbul. It was better than expected and I had high hopes to begin with.

Then today, on national picnic day, we had a picnic in Inniswoods Metro Gardens and admired their spring blooms.

Entrance to the Secret Garden

Inside the Secret Garden

Earlier this spring there were more cat capers with a visit to Eat, Purr, Love, the first cat cafe in Ohio which opened right in our neighborhood. A very zen place for cat lovers.

All the cats a up for adoption and 120+ have been adopted since it opened last August.

How's your spring going?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

What I bought: Clothing purchased in 2016

Girdwood, Alaska

Ever since reading that the average US shopper spends $1,100 per year on clothing and purchases 68 items plus 8 pairs of shoes (Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline), I've been curious of how I measure up. I've taken a mental tally the last few years, but apparently I haven't officially tracked it since 2013This year, inspired once again by Exacting Life, I've dug out my receipts to add it up once again.

In 2016, as in the year before that, many of my clothing purchases were made in preparation for another trip to Alaska (hence the photos). So most items were casual or outdoor wear. Luckily I purchased hiking boots and a good raincoat for my first trip in 2015 so those were covered. I also purchased two dresses and earrings for my cousin's wedding and rehearsal dinner, but luckily I found both on clearance. And, bonus, they're both suitable for work as well so I've worn them each a few times.

Portage Glacier

Items purchased in 2016:

  • Convertible hiking pants: $37.43
  • Red dress and black and white dress for wedding: $88.29
  • Black and white dress: $26.98
  • Two sweatshirt jackets: $38.68
  • Blue Style & Co. sweatshirt jacket: $28
  • Four t-shirts: $24.54
  • Two souvenir t-shirts: $10.99
  • White cardigan sweater: $26.88
  • Black and white blouse: $16.11
  • White blouse: $12.99
  • Tan blouse: $26.98
  • Black work shoes: $42.99
Total spent: $320.57
Total items: 18

Accessories purchased:
  • Gold earrings: $6.72
  • Silver pendant necklace: $8.00
Total spent: $14.72
Total items: 2

Homer, Alaska

I'm happy with my purchases this year., although the number of items is always higher than I'd guess. I've worn all the clothing multiple times, except maybe for the tan blouse. I like how it looks, but the fabric traps heat so there's a limited time period when I can comfortably wear it.

I don't set strict budgets for my spending, but instead keep a watch on my monthly credit card bill. Everything possible goes on the card and is paid off monthly. If I have a high month, I tighten the discretionary spending for the following month or two. It might not be textbook, but it works for me and I'm still able to save a significant portion of my income.

Seldovia, Alaska

After several years of relatively low spending on clothing, I suspect this year will be higher as I really need to replace and supplement my summer wardrobe, both work and casual.

I am curious to see how my overall clothing inventory numbers compare to last time, so stay tuned for an upcoming post.

How does your clothing spending compare to the average?

Friday, January 27, 2017

Focusing on healthier eating

roasted broccoli, beets and sweet potatoes with couscous

I'm not big on setting new year resolutions, but I do often pick an area of my life that I want to focus on and improve. This year, I'm focusing on eating healthier.

This is a big challenge for me because I've never loved cooking and for the last few years I've barely cooked at all. Not that we eat out every night, mainly on weekends, but I've been living on salad, pita and hummus, canned soup, frozen pizzas and frozen dinners for far too long. Because I eat veggies and fruit pretty much every day, I always thought I ate pretty healthy. In reality, however, my diet was far from it and I was ready for a change.

My main inspiration for this change comes from 100 Days of Real Food. Blogger Lisa Leake advocates for a real food diet that includes lots organic fruits and veggies, full-fat organic dairy, locally-raised meat and whole grains. Read real food defined for details.

I've been eating pretty simple meals. A lot of roasted veggies, including sweet potatoes, broccoli and green beans with couscous or quinoa. Grilled chicken wraps with lots of veggies. A few stir frys. And of course my salad, pita and hummus habit, while reduced, is still going as it's quick, easy and is real food.

My little buddy Lucy loves my new frequent
dish-washing routine and has to supervise every. single. time.

This has been a big change and yummy though it's been, it hasn't been easy. Even with sticking to simple meals, cooking and then cleaning up most week nights takes up an hour or more of my free time after work.

I'm also taking a "small changes are better than nothing" approach, which is a challenge for this perfectionist. I'm aiming for real food 80% of the time, but I'm not there yet. Still, there has definitely been progress.

Positive changes:
  • Trying new recipes: I've gone from a menu rut to trying several great new recipes, including sweet potato and black bean quinoa bowls, roasted vegetables, white chicken chili and chicken stir fry (I love the sauce and not having to rely on the bottled stuff).
  • Eating new foods: I've gone from never cooking and thinking I didn't like sweet potatoes to eating them 2-4 times per week (probably too much, but they are delicious roasted). I've also tried beets and quinoa for the first time and found that black beans are a tasty and easy addition to dishes.
  • Less food waste: Even though I've been buying more produce than ever, because I'm cooking more very little of it is going to waste, which is a big change from before. 
  • No more added sugar: I stopped adding sugar to my morning coffee, opting instead for a teaspoon of honey and milk in my first cup only. As a result, the jittery low blood-sugar feeling I was experiencing during late mornings is history. I also cut out the sugary-filled flavored yogurt and cereal I was eating for breakfast, opting instead for plain greek yogurt with fruit, honey and granola. Although this week I caved and bought some flavored yogurt. It tastes almost sickly sweet.

Areas for improvement:
  • I haven't been able to quit my weekly frozen margarita pizza habit or my "more times than I should per week" ice cream habit. But, I'm not having pretzels as soon as I get home, candy and an ice cream every night so this too is progress.
  • Organic food only - Leake advocates for only eating organic food and especially organic, grass-fed meat. I'm experiencing sticker shock at the price of an all-organic diet, so while I'm buying more organic than ever (which was almost none), it's not even 50% of our food. And I haven't bought any organic meat which tends to be 3-6 times more than even the natural meat at our healthier grocery stores.
  • Whole grain breads - I'm also struggling to find pita bread, tortillas and bread with whole grains and five ingredients or less so I've been continuing to eat the standard stuff. I plan to make a trip to Trader Joe's tomorrow to see if I have more success there.
  • Meal-planning - The first week I committed to cooking only real food, I went to the grocery four times for this or that. Lately I've cut back to just two, but it would be nice to get down to just one trip most of the time.
  • Frozen lunches - I've been taking leftovers from dinner 2-3 times a week, but on the other days I'm still grabbing a frozen dinner for lunch, which doesn't meet the criteria for real food.
I'll also admit that I was hoping that if I switched to a real-food diet the extra pounds would just start melting off and, sadly, that hasn't been the case. I've been losing and then gaining the same 3-4 pounds since the beginning of the year ad not really making progress. Maybe it's because I'm not following the plan strictly. Time will tell.

Is anyone else trying to eat healthier these days? Any challenges or recipes to share?

Monday, December 26, 2016

A minimalist Christmas

It seems like as time goes by our Christmas celebrations have been getting more and more simple and this year was the simplest yet.

I just didn't feel much like decorating this year and the cats would have destroyed a Christmas tree anyway, but I do enjoy having some extra lights around during this time of year. So in the end I decorated the mantle with lights and silver garland, put two electric candles in the front windows (which looks surprisingly festive for very little effort), and added a string of paper star lights around the doorway. For comparison purposes, here's a glimpse at past Christmas decor.

The giving of gifts
Gift-giving was also simplified this year. After the boyfriend and I discussed it, we realized that neither one of us had anything we really needed or wanted for Christmas so instead we exchanged small gifts worth no more than $25. We've done this before and it allows us to celebrate a bit without the stress of having to find the perfect gift. The boyfriend got Trinidad scorpion hot sauce (he likes freakishly hot stuff), hair goop, body wash and a Google play gift card. I got the one thing I asked for and am pretty excited about:

See it? Probably not, let me zoom in.

Sticking with the theme of this post, you could call this minimalist bedside storage --it's a felt pocket with a flap that hides between the mattress and box springs and has plenty of room for the remote, my ipad and phone. There's no room for nightstands in the bedroom, and I really don't miss them much anyway, but it is nice to have a place to put these things so they don't end up flung on the floor or plastered to my face in the middle of the night. And as you can see above, it's pretty unobtrusive.

Beyond the boyfriend, my mom and I agreed not to exchange gifts this year, so that only left my grandma (who loves her annual gift of an Amazon giftcard which she uses to buy ebooks), and presents for the kids (I went with cash this year and hope they'll spend it on doing something fun). So shopping was pretty minimal.

It's not Christmas without sugar cookies
I'm kind of known for my Christmas cookies, and I enjoy eating them as well, so I still made those. But I stuck to the basics: peanut butter blossoms and iced cutout sugar cookies. And they are delish.

The big day
My mom decided she wanted to keep things simple on Christmas day so she came to our house. We made a fairly low-key lunch of steak, baked potato, salad and rolls, played games and watched a movie. There was no drama and little stress -- a definite win!

It was good to experience for myself that even without a bunch of preparation, buildup and effort, Christmas can be fun and festive.

How was your holiday? Do you prefer action-packed holidays and big gatherings or something more low key?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Minimalism and privilege

Cait Flanders' post about minimalism being a privilege got me thinking so much today that I wanted to blog about it.

I completely agree that being able to intentionally declutter your stuff, simplify your life and commitments and so on is a privilege that not everyone has. If I need to replace something I've declutter, I can without any great hardship. Unfortunately not everyone can say the same.

There was a time in my life when, had you mentioned privilege to me, I would have immediately gotten defensive and explained how I worked hard, studied, made good, decisions, etc. to get where I am in life. And I did. But since then I have grown to recognize that other factors I had no control over also played a role. Where I grew up, the country of my birth, my family, and so on, helped put me on the path to success. While my family wasn't rich, I was never hungry or cold. I had everything I needed and most everything I wanted growing up. My parents valued education, working hard and getting good grades and taught me to do the same. There was never a question of if I was going to college, only where and what I wanted to study. Without that  upbringing and those expectations, would I still be where I am today? Without my mother's encouragement, and sometimes even well-timed threats, would I have finished college once homesickness sunk in or classes got hard? I don't know, but lucky for me, I didn't have to find out.

So there is absolutely privilege in choosing minimalism and we should all recognize that.

But the part of Cait's post that made me react the most was when she talks about questioning everything she's ever written and no longer wanting to write about "what items to declutter or her minimalist beauty routine." I too am turned off by the one-size-fits-all definition of minimalism, because there isn't one. What's just enough to me might be way too much for you.

But just because we don't all experience the same issues, or don't all have the same privileges, doesn't mean there isn't value in discussing your own experiences. There are a lot of privileged, overconsuming people out there and whatever makes each of us question our own choices is a good thing if you ask me. Maybe a post about decluttering will make someone donate some things that are just gathering dust, but that someone else could use. Or maybe reading about someone's simplified beauty routine will convince someone to stop buying products they don't really need, which will save some resources. Or hearing how someone cut expenses will help someone else do the same. And maybe that will lead to financial security, realizing you have more than enough and donating to others in need. Little steps can still snowball in the right direction.

I can summarize my definition of minimalism in two words: question everything. Experiment and re-examine what you do, buy, keep to make sure it's really important to you and adds value to your life. And then let go of the stuff that doesn't. It's not complicated, but that doesn't mean it's always easy. And share your experiences. Some of it may resonate and some may not, but I think there's more good than bad to be had by sharing and encouraging others to question things for themselves.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Tech-yes or tech-no?

I got my first smart phone two years ago, but only because I inherited it. My ipod is a second generation ipod nano. So saying I'm a late adopter is a bit of an understatement.

So when I came home one day to see this ultra mod black circle hanging on the wall, the first thing out of my mouth was, "What IS that hideous thing?" That blob marring the 1940s charm of min hus is none other than the second gen Nest. So needless to say, my first impression wasn't overly positive, but bit by bit the Nest has grown on me.

The good

The best part about the Nest for me is being able to check the temperature on the go. Worried about forgetting to turn the thermostat up or down before you left the house? Wondering what bill-raising temperature your significant other has cranked the thermostat to this time? No worries, you can check and adjust it from anywhere with just an app and an Internet connection. And believe me I do.

I'm also a fan of charts so the history feature, which shows how much energy you've used on heating or cooling each day is super motivating. This one showing no usage for a solid week is my personal best and you can bet I want to keep that streak a rollin'.

The not-so-great

The self-learning feature of Nest is one of the most touted yet so far I haven't found it to be super effective. Somehow it seems to learn the temporary changes I don't want it to while not quite picking up on our usual schedule. However, the Nest is also super easy to program so making fixes is a snap. Plus, the fact that there's no limit of how many changes you can make per day makes the Nest heads and tails way more effective than your typical cheap programmable thermostat.

But does it save you money?

Money savings has been a little harder track. My power bills this summer have been running higher than last year, but so has the average temperature. I am a little skeptical of how much money the Nest could potentially save, especially given it's much higher price tag than the typical non-smart programmable thermostat. But I've stopped overriding the program like I used to with the old system and I certainly pay much more attention to how much energy the HVAC system uses than ever before since getting it. And maybe that's benefit enough, especially since the boy got a deal on the Nest

Do you have a smart thermostat and, if so, do you find them an effective energy-saving tool?

Monday, July 4, 2016

Bathroom Redo

While I was away in Alaska for a wedding and vacation, the boyfriend tackled a full bathroom remodel in just one week. The fact that I had no idea any of this was happening was a sore point (to say the least) as it has become rather a bad habit of his to tackle renovations in secret while I'm away. But it was badly needed it and I wasn't sorry to miss all the mess, destruction and 99% of the work that went into it.

I've been planning to use most of these materials forever: subway tile in the shower, 1-inch white hex tiles on the floor and beadboard on the walls. All the essentials are new now, including the tub, sink and toilet.

I do love how it's turned out. After 10 years of dreaming about this it's still hard to believe it's real!

This floor is probably my favorite.

The shower wall tile goes all the way to the ceiling now, which I love.

He even built the medicine cabinet based on photos I saw online since nothing available would fit our oddly shaped opening. 


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