Tuesday, December 07, 2010

A Good Start to a New Week

image from themagazine

So, I'm 2 days into my new job at BHI, and it's been a pretty positive experience. Even though I am hourly, I am treated like a full-time employee in that no one is looking over my shoulder to make sure I'm occupied each minute. Also, my team has a great connection and people are either joking around or speaking freely about office politics. And I get to bounce around in a sweet Herman Miller Aeron chair. It's in the MoMa Collection, for Pete's sake! There is also much work to be done. The amount of information about messy processes I have let in on is somewhat overwhelming, I must admit, but I have ample time to play around and figure out how to eliminate efficiencies so that we can all use our time for better purposes. That's my job in a nutshell- to improve on the current processes. It all boils down to the main underlying goal of all business actions: to get more profit. In fact, everyone in any position or industry is responsible for keeping this in mind. Stagnation and complacency is the mark of a bored, burnt out, or defeated worker. Not good. Do people reserve the same amount of energy and determination to effect a similar result in their personal lives? Should they? Should I pore over my financial documents, charts, and ledgers with the aim of reducing waste, charting overspending, and maximizing savings? Or should we be looser about living and seek to be happy and not so intensely attentive to every single detail.
Same thought goes out to entrepreneurs, who are always looking for the next big moneymaking thing. Is this a hobby of some people? What is the point of making more and more money? That is something I cannot wrap my head around. Make enough to live on, enjoy fancy food, travel occasionally, build some savings, clothe the children and send them to college. That's really all I desire monetarily. Don't want a huge sum looming over prodding me, "How are you going to manage me for the rest of your life? Don't screw it up!" Simple is better.
It's a real luxury getting to work 2 jobs. Because today I worked all day, felt a bit tired and used up, and cheered up at the thought of going in for only a half day tomorrow. Having some variety is good for my soul and attention. I don't have time to frequent the grocery store every day anymore, but I can go every other day. I swear, Natural Grocers has become my second living room, or a late afternoon destination (since I can leisurely walk there from our house).
On an unrelated note, I have been getting some heartening comments on my other blog. I am aware that it has a readership of sorts, but receiving positive feedback is truly instrumental in encouraging me to keep it up. Half the time I wonder to myself, "Why am I even keeping it up? There are a slew of fashion blogs and websites with similar items. What do I have to offer to the landscape?" I love to do fun things just for myself, but how much more awesome it is if other people find them useful or interesting.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

You Gotta Try

Mulling over this quote by Teddy Roosevelt. Oh worthy cause, which one are you for me?

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Surviving is Easy

image source

Today at work, I had the singular opportunity to don a chemical warfare suit to practice for a listening test. This was the first time I came into contact with the company's clients, which happened to be the U.S. government this time. It was a challenge getting into the mask, as there was a long rubber seal at the neck, much tighter than the tightest turtleneck, and I had to smother initial panic at the little space I had in there. The breathing, speaking, and listening apparatus was identical to what pilots use, so what made up my soundscape was a microphone squealing and ragged breathing noises. My partner put on the suit as well and we took turns reading out words and choosing them from out of a list. It wasn't too difficult, but the feeling I came away with was, surprisingly, adrenaline at the thought of people actually using these suits in the wild. And I really wished during that hour that I was doing something exciting and dangerous in the getup. Pardon my naivety, but my brain raved, "it's so cool that people in the military gets to use stuff like this!"
Life here is so very civilized and safe. Is this why we invent and play complicated survival and military video games and are drawn towards zombie apocalypse shows and movies? Does that contribute to the military's allure? Is it positive for our mental and psychological health that we will probably never have to worry about surviving? Have humans developed this far to sit at mundane office jobs for the majority of their adult lives? Now I'm not complaining about my wonderful, cushiony existence. It's just that I felt something alive today that was markedly absent from my daily experience, and it was powerfully attractive. Adrenaline, for starters. Is that sick, pondering this while people across the world are actually under threat of death and injury? It's so foreign.

Jerk me back to reality, Internet. Here we have a frosting decorating pen recommended by The Kitchn. Ooh fancy!

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Workyear Begins

It's a Monday night, and I have it all to myself, as usual. B's out playing games and I'm practicing learning how to entertain myself. You'd think that by 25 a person would know him/herself well enough to do the things he/she likes. Nope, not here. For some reason, I have a hard time enjoying myself these days. I get discouraged easily, defeat plans with negative self-talk, and wonder at what I could be doing or be involved in that would be fulfilling. I am aware of all of this- the trick is to put an end to it. Chill out! Life is good.

Happily, last week I secured a part-time job that will allow me to keep my current one and have me working 40 hours a week. The company is a good deal further away (off 620), but traffic isn't so bad going that direction, and I am sort of excited about the work I'll be doing. 0 client contact, data and operations management, using Salesforce, Basecamp, and Excel to improve on processes and assist in the data entry and project creation aspect. I have some experience doing this, which is what helped me land the job, but in this position, I'll have a more autonomous and independent role. Is this my one true passion? Who knows. But I feel confident enough of my grasp of the software and their expectations that it will keep me pretty occupied. Plus, it gives me another chance to be more creative and reflective in my work, even if it not a "creative field." A good thing to practice in all aspects of life. This is so critical to personal happiness, imo. I start next Monday. In the meantime, I'm gonna bum around and savor my last sleep ins.
One thing that is always on my mind is finances. I can't help it- I worry over the large purchases (necessary or frivolous) and wonder how we could save more. Luckily, we have always been able to pay for emergency purchases, yet I know we could do so much better. Most financial experts say to aim for 6 months of expenses in your emergency fund; this year, due to lack of not much adjusting during my unemployment and kickstarting student loan payoffs, we've never had more than $1000. Naturally, this deeply bothers me. It's so difficult and time-consuming anticipating monthly bills, purchases, and setting aside the extra for savings. The main problem is that we think we have money in the bank (which we do), so we splurge on eating out or getting a new piece of furniture, when that money was saved for a future bill payment. So then we end up having to borrow from savings (really, ourselves), and that's how it stays low. This is hugely frustrating to me, because we don't spend loosely on small things, like most Americans might have used to. A latte here, a snack there, a soda later, a few dollars each day add up over time. We don't fall into that trap. While I am bordering on neurotic about money, B is the opposite. He takes it easy and finds it easy to forgive (himself and) us when we overspend. Psychologically, he is much better off. Yet I don't want to miss out on reaching big financial goals because we ate out too many times a week or kept buying stuff we didn't need our whole lives.
I've been flipping through my copy of Smart Couples Finish Rich. It's a pretty good primer for people (not just couples) interested in getting their finances off to a good start. Nothing in there that I don't already know, but it's good to remind myself to stay on track. One of the points was that as a couple, you need to get together and discuss your dreams and set common goals. I don't think we've really done this beyond occasionally talking about leaving Texas and moving to Sweden one day, which I've realized, will never happen unless we start doing something to make it happen. We also talk about shorter term goals, like visiting my cousin in New York, or taking a road trip out to West Texas, both of which are entirely doable. It takes money to travel and to fulfill some big dreams. I think we need to start putting aside money to make these trips, alongside building our emergency fund. This will take a great deal more discipline and a full-time job on my part to achieve. B, if you are reading this, let's get on it!! Part of the problem has been that I have the vague notion that we should be spending less money, but we have no specific alternate purpose for it.
One thing I have to watch out for is being too extreme. I have a tendency to be very black and white about things, taking frugality to the point of ignoring my wants. Likewise, B has the opposite tendency. I know this is common for many couples, and I really hope we can smooth out our philosophies out and one day make a shared one. Well I really started this post to write about a handful of updates, but I guess it took a turn to the moneysides. What else...
Snorri has been really lethargic these past 24 hours. He didn't move from the couch the entire 9 hours B spent there playing Fallout 3 (that's another topic). Usually he is pretty active in chasing Boyd around or playing with his toys. I decided to take him to the vet today and see what was up. I pushed him into the cat carrier and he yowled mournfully during transit, completely unresponsive to my reassurances. It was really disconcerting hearing him like that. Even though it wasn't walk-in hours, the clinic squeezed us in between appointments and after inspection, the vet declared that Snorri was physically fine. I wonder if something happened during the 3 days we were out of town for Thanksgiving. It's a mystery!

Here is a NYT article I read today about a 91 year old athlete who is super fit. Above is a photo of a similarly fit Japanese octagenarian, Mitsu Morita. The article investigates the link between rigorous exercise and a healthy, long life. All the more reason to take the time to develop a lifelong disciplined exercise regime.

Today I watched part of a debate (Youtube clip) between former British prime minister Tony Blair and author Christopher Hitchens on whether religion is a force of good or evil in the world. We watched a similar debate on the BBC last year, on the Catholic church in particular. In both cases, the audiences at the end voted that religion/Catholicism was not a force for good in the world. Very interesting turn of events from a generation that was largely brought up to be god-fearing. What is not debatable is that many crimes and stupidities have been committed in the name of religion. And that one does not have to be religious to love his neighbor. And it's easy to see politicians driven by their religious fanaticism ruining the landscape of American politics these days, which is truly unfortunate.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


my lack of updates as of late. I've been thrown in a whirlwind of open doors, closed doors, government regulations, and looming deadlines, as it relates to job opportunities and the terms of my unemployment benefits. I know I'll come out of this with something, but I'm trying to secure the absolute best something possible. What Color Is Your Parachute? is my study guide. Wish me luck!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Next Level

As I may have mentioned before, I've been going on Monday Night Rides with whomever is available, going 25-30 miles in and around town. They've really been boosting my aerobic endurance, as I have given up my hatred for hills and and am coming to accept (if not enjoy) them. At 54 degrees, tonight marked the first chilly ride. It also offered some new lessons. I layered up with an Under Armour polyester base shirt, an American Apparel (55% cotton, 50% polyester), a jersey knit scarf, and my Marmot windshirt (100% polyester). Bottoms consisted of cheapo long black cotton leggings from Forever 21, AA poplin shorts on top for modesty, and SOS North Carolina cycling socks. No wool yet, as I am not too eager to provide more luxurious munchies for our resident moths. I might try wool blends first. The scarf was a lifesaver, as I flipped it over my mouth and nose because the cold air was reviving my cough. I ended up only unzipping my jacket a few inches after heart-pounding climbs, never overheating.

Here's the route Tyler, Stephen, and I took. 15 minutes in, I noticed that my handlebars were noticeably tilted to the left. My bike fell over while I was waiting for my ride partners at Quacks, and apparently the stem was not bolted on tight enough. It was folly to not bring my newly acquired (and effing awesome) Leyzne multi-tool, as I was running out of space in my bento box. Always pack the multi-tool! And I gotta get a handlebar bag or remember to wear my jersey. I wasn't able to bring a pair of gloves and my keys, phone, wallet and Clif bar in the bento box made a ruckus on bumpy surfaces.

In hindsight, I am happy that I got rid of my large, wide English saddlebag. Only the smallest seat bag (the one I found off Craigslist is Banjo Brothers Mini) won't get in the way of my thighs. To me, the balance of carrying just enough stuff is a challenge to figure out in the beginning. I want to have a rear rack for strapping on a jacket or extra layers that I get rid of during the course of riding, but if I rarely use it, that's 1 or 2 lbs of extra weight I'm hauling up a hill.
Other additions that would have helped: seamless undies (!), not wearing the shorts on top (extra fabric and seams really rub after 10 miles), a warm cap to put under my helmet, plastic toe-clips that actually fit, bar-end shifters. Articles of clothing that did not reek afterwards: thermal shirt, leggings, jacket, scarf. Not bad at all. The Under Armour shirt was pretty cold on my skin when I stopped- it's definitely part of their "heat gear" collection. It's pretty neat to put my setup to the test and figure out better ways of dressing. I'm trying to "deserve" my gear, which will help me decide what is truly useful and what is vanity. Ah, I'm gonna be sore tomorrow for workout...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Model for Living

"Comparison is the thief of joy." Somebody said that somewhere and it is meant to encourage us to, well, stop comparing ourselves others and try and be happy with our lives. Lately, I've been examining other people's lives, people I know and people I've only heard about, in an effort to look for a loose model on which to base my own. Let's face it, neither you or I are going to craft a totally original, completely off-the-wall life. We aren't all that different from the average of those around us. Right now, I feel like I'm at a standstill, having had plenty of time to reflect on my personhood. If I continue to be lazy, comfort-seeking, and dependent on preset paths, I won't do much at all in this lifetime and I'll face an unbearably crushing amount of regret on my deathbed. Definitely one of my biggest fears. Also, the existence of too many choices is crippling. I also wonder at my avoidance of risk, how it would lead to less opportunities and a less fulfilling life. So many self-help/ business articles urge you to take risks to reap huge rewards. So, who's it gonna be?

My mother. In many ways, I have missed my chance to start out like she did. An immigrant from Hong Kong, she completed her bachelors and masters degree in CS in the states early, and toiled as a test engineer my entire childhood up until I left for college. (She took 5 years off when I was born.) When she decided that she paid her dues and had provided a comfortable environment for her children, she started pursuing a masters in counseling a few years back. She loves helping people, has a heart for the suffering, and is currently amassing her practicum hours in a school talking to at-risk teens.
My father. He had a similar path to my mother, working as an engineer for a defense company for 20+ years. After a religious epiphany (also spurred by the 2000 tech bubble), he switched to a polar opposite field by attending seminary and becoming a pastor, later reverend. In my mind, seminary is no walk in the park with all the dense theological texts you have to absorb, and also learning Hebrew. So for my Dad, a non-native English speaker, this was no easy feat. He was employed at our home church for nearly a decade and cultivated quite a number of fans from the congregation, due to his humor and charisma. He recently accepted a position in the largest church in Hong Kong, citing his boredom with DFW and his desire to travel the world as reasons for the change. Better late than never, huh?
My friend B.W. A recent graduate in film, she works contract editing jobs while shooting independent projects and researching for her sometime feature film in her free time. In short, her life is all about film, a she has realized her passion since childhood. She doesn't have loads of cash and has a tight budget, but she loves what she's doing.
My friend E.W. He is currently in Afghanistan working for a NGO, learning the language, traditions, and cuisine. I have no doubt that he is having the time of his life, and he is growing in ways that I can't even imagine. In a society where college grads are expected to get good jobs and start saving for a house and family, he chose a starkly alternate path. One much less comfortable, more illuminating, more dangerous, one which promises nothing certain in the future. In reading his blog and seeing his photos, I gather that he is experiencing things and gaining a valuable perspective most Americans will never come across or adopt.
My friend T.P. She is a super-busy mother of 3. Her life consists of making sure her kids are fed, clothed, and safe, the errands run, and the house kept relatively clean. Once I asked her what her career goals were, and she paused and admitted that she had not thought about them in years. Nursing, she responded.
My friend L.G. He owns a small bike shop in East Austin and works more than 40 hours a week. This dude's life is all about bikes. He is an integral part of the community, has spent decades working on bikes, and is well-known for his excellent service.
And, some people I don't know. Keith Malloy, a badass Patagonia ambassador who surfs and tackles environmental issues. The grizzled guys at Austin Metal Authority, who hammer and shape metals into functional and ornate pieces at their East Austin studio. Trent, the author of financial blog, The Simple Dollar (that's his full-time job).
Honestly, I can't any see a hint of myself in any of these examples. Alternatively, I could just get pregnant and take on motherhood as an identity and job and relieve myself of this hard reflection. Haha nope.
[As a note, I began writing this blog post as a way of procrastinating learning about accounting basics in preparation for a phone interview tomorrow. Tsk tsk!]

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thoughts on Twitter

Now that I've been using it for 881 days, here are some of my conclusions:
Everyone wants to yak, but few people tweet anything worth reading. This is why I try to keep my tweets per day down to a minimum- even I usually almost don't care about what I'm about to say. And the people who don't tweet very often? They are most likely too busy living life.
For every captivating tweet, I will ponder it for 5 minutes, max. There's a live feed competing for my already too-short attention span. I get on Twitter for quick friend life updates, and the occasional newsworthy link. That's it. Life prefers to carry on without distraction. At least for me, this sort of distraction is the "enemy of purposeful action."

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Plaguing Thoughts

extreme introvertedness
necessity of networking
seeking community
the point in talking to people you don't like
benefits of trying/ trudging ahead
importance of belonging

life calling as a myth
role of failure
is it really OK for women to not have grand careers
is relying on the outside world for structure weak
what creates drives in others

limits of effort
looking-glass self
comfortableness as anti-growth
causes of success
meaning in expertise
accept or try to improve weaknesses

too much entertainment
too little enlightenment
lack of respect for art due to information overload
real benefits of strongly filtering media
real benefits of being very culturally informed
right balance of consumption and creation

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Apple Cider Vinegar

I bought a bottle of Bragg's apple cider vinegar from Wheatsville, thinking that it would be a healthful addition to some of our dishes. Turns out I couldn't really think of what dish I wanted to taste more sour (none, really), so it just sat there for a few weeks. Additionally, there is no evidence that this folk remedy liquid is beneficial for your health. Fast forward to 2 weeks ago: I purchased some canned black and red beans for a protein source, as we have currently cut out red meat in our diet. Problem was, excluding for the exquisitely homecooked beans and rice I had at Willie Mae's Scotch House in New Orleans, I have never liked a bean dish. Living in Texas, I can't understand how people regularly consume the gritty mush that is refried beans or sugar-loaded baked beans. True, I have in my possession a 3rd generation family red beans 'n rice recipe from kronicred that I will try once I devote a day to the slow cooker. Anyways, I had to figure out a way to make these mostly flavorless legumes palatable to us. After 2 rounds, I have come up with a winning umami-ful recipe that uses apple cider vinegar I'd like to share here. And if you have a problem with beans and gas, you can try soaking them in a water and apple cider vinegar mixture the night before.

1 large can of organic black beans (Eden Foods cans are BPA-free), drained and rinsed
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium bell pepper, diced
2 stalks of green onions, chopped (optional)
a few springs of parsley, leaves removed from stem (optional)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c chicken stock
1 tsp apple cider vinegar, to taste
2 tsp soy sauce, to taste
dash of salt and pepper

Pour a bit of oil into a non-stick pan, turn heat to high. Drop the garlic in and sautee until fragrant. Add onions and turn down heat to medium. Sautee until translucent. Add bell pepper, sautee for a few minutes, then toss in all other ingredients. Stir gently. Remove from stove once the beans have absorbed all liquid and are beginning to turn soft. Serve hot.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Some Thoughts

• Right now, I'd rather spend money on novel experiences than on acquiring new things. Some friends' experiences I envy: camping in Scotland (while roaming Europe), visiting remote areas of Afghanistan, working and cooking at an "eco institute."
• Physical possessions, save for wear and tear, don't change; we change. That is why an item will never hold our (my) complete interest for long. That is the main reason I've come to abhor shopping: it offers the promise of happiness, which I see through immediately, yet am not immune to. The best we (I) can hope for in a physical belonging is that it will do its job for as long as possible, and look good doing it.
• I like to bake because it usually results in me making something good. Yet, following the same recipe each time does not lead to flow (this requires challenge and creativity). I must push myself more somehow, because my natural state is inaction. I can really sympathize with Jonathan Swift, to whom this quote is attributed: "I hate to write, but I love to have written."
• Right now, I am in the most self-centered phase in my life, not only because I have no dependents to take care of or authority figures to be accountable to, but also because I have the monetary means to do whatever I want. Yet, I feel that when I'm not going after my own pursuits, I should serve and give to others. It's a struggle to keep up regularly with friends, as everyone is busy and/or across town. One thing that stands out to me in my childhood is the occasion homemade meal, dessert, or even backyard garden harvest from church friends that we were able to enjoy. An unexpected tasty morsel made up of the labor of a loved one is something that money cannot buy. So, hopefully with my baking habit, I can bring some of this feeling to others.
• I have mulled over the handmade homelife and have come to the conclusion that I am grateful for our modern conveniences and factories that make food for us. I tried coconut yogurt for the first time yesterday- it was fantastic! There are posts online about how to make it and coconut kefir yourself, but I admit that I have little interest in doing it. Call me lazy, 'cause it sounds like work. I have a mountain of respect for people who make the majority of their food and eschew processed foods, either because they have to, or they find it fulfilling. But that's not me.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

No Collective Wisdom

I have been reading, no- savoring The Omnivore's Dilemma for a few weeks now, and I brought it along to Portland. It is all about food, an integral part of human life, especially modern American food, something I have a love/apathy relationship with. Having been prepped by watching Food, Inc., I knew that as a nation most of us were walking corn#2people ("you are what you eat!"), that obesity levels are at an unprecedented high, and that conditions in most feedlots are unspeakably unsanitary, cruel, and artfully hidden. The way I have dealt with this thus far is to avoid all processed foods with HFCS, join a boot camp, get produce on occasion at farmers markets, and purchase meat from a local co-op that only stocks what is "natural," "antibiotic-free," "free-range," and whatever other catchphrases they use these days. But we still eat out at restaurants who don't serve food at this standard, because we like eating out. B, especially, delights in trying new foods and enjoying old favorites as if it were a hobby of his. If we limited ourselves to restaurants that sourced only local and organic plants and humanely treated animals, our choices would be limited to a handful of places, mostly on the $$$$ side. We throw our hands up in the air about that.
But should we be cooking and eating in more? Or looking to move to a place with more of those options (like Portland)? I've had more than enough time this year to cook dinner for us each weeknight. I go to the grocery store every other day to get the freshest greens. I don't recall the last time I threw out expired veggies or fruits. (That was a weekly occurrence during my college days, where 4 girls shared a cave of a refrigerator and went to the HEB once a week). It feels good to be able to provide a healthy, hot meal for us. I have even started using the oven again to bake no-knead bread and desserts. The bread-making was spurred by the realization that the $3 rustic loaves we get from Central Market probably aren't that hard to make. And they cost like 12 cents in ingredients. It took exactly 3 tries of dense loaves for me to figure out that I need to let the dough rise twice as long as the recipe stated, so that it would acquire that chewy, airy texture. I also started making these for my local bike mechanic, who has been a valuable resource in fixing up my recently acquired vintage Bridgestone RB-3 road bike. It takes me 8-12 hours of rise time to make a loaf (actual labor time: 15 minutes?), and while I go to my job and do other things during the rise time, it is still an amount of work. It is not very convenient, and part of me would rather continue to buy these from local bakeries, but as my last yoga class taught me to do, I withhold judgment and reflect on the inconvenience. I certainly do not want to succumb to the unhealthy and expensive fast food lifestyle, where everything I consume is processed or pre-made. I see one of my employers going down this path, even though he has started exercising, he doesn't have time to eat, much less make food, because he is an endlessly working small business owner. I look at the Amish/old-timey/survivalist Lehman's catalog and see human-powered food-making machines that aren't really for timesaving. Not that I scorn technology and wish to live life the way they did 100 years ago: short lives with days full of meticulous, backbreaking labor. And yet, it could be more meaningful than the life some people live now. I'm not sure what exactly I'm trying to say; perhaps that I am being made aware of how I need to be here now and seek meaning in seemingly menial and labor-intensive tasks like cooking, baking, cleaning, gardening, and mending.
The subject of this post is inspired by a recent section in the book. That as Americans, we do not have a national cuisine to draw from, and that is why we have a "national eating disorder," says Michael Pollan. We are yanked this way and that way each few years by the newest diet or superfood. I am prey to the hype each time and indignation at this has been building up in me. We do not have the collective wisdom of other cultures, many of whom have been eating the same way for generations. What tastes good is usually also healthy. Think tofu in China, kimchee in Korea, sauerkraut in Germany, cured fish in Scandinavia. This is why I feel a more pressing need to learn more traditional dishes from my mom, and explore foods that I have grown up eating and no longer excite my taste buds. This is why I cannot love food magazines like Everyday Food, because the recipes, pretty as they are, have vague influences from other cultures and have been modified to be healthy by the editors. I'm fine with healthy. I just feel unsettled that we have no strong food traditions from which to draw. It may sound like I am against reinvented and modern foods. I am not, but there needs to be a foundation. I don't want my kids growing up eating fish sticks, frozen pizzas, McDonald's, soft drinks, and Cheetos like I did. Besides zero nutrition, there isn't really a story behind those foods. Not one to be proud of and cherish anyway.

Back from the City of Roses, #2

And... we are back from 3.5 days in Portland with B&K. We had a relaxing time with them in transit and also during downtime. Their apt is furnished with mid-modern century Craigslist and Ebay finds, and also (the other) B's geometrical artwork. It was nice to be able to leave the windows uncovered all day and have thin, unobtrusive sunlight stream in. Very atmospheric. The trip was filled with shopping at downtown boutiques (best: Lizard Lounge- like Stag but with women's clothing too), eating at local favorite eateries (highlights: Broder Cafe- delightful Scandinavian cuisine, Little T Bakery- best baguettes, Pambiche- Cuban food made with love), and a generous heaping of walking about. No joke, each day my pups ached something sore after a few hours of wandering, regardless of whether I wore my beat-up Vans Authentics or VFFs. Either my feet muscles are somehow largely underused, or walking shoes do really have a purpose. Our main form of transportation, besides our feet, was the bus, and then the MAX light rail, and then streetcar.
There were a few times I strongly felt the absence of my bike (most exciting way to explore this flattish city, imo), but really, there were not as many bike lanes as I had expected. Also, you must have fenders (full is best) to ride through puddly days, since most people there commute. No wealthy white-collar triathletes or weekend cyclists with carbon bikes here. (Or at least I did not see any). Having such a significant proportion of cyclists made me wonder how the marketplace for used bikes kept up, as most bikes I saw were scuffed up vintage types with original components. And the other B pointed out, there is a continuity between generations who exist in harmony by sharing a deep love for the outdoors. I knew I was in the Pacific Northwest the minute I stepped out of the airport and saw an octagenarian clad in Keens and synthetic rain gear. Awesome.
The particular neighborhood we stayed in was Sunnyside in SE Portland. Apparently not the current hip district (that would be Mississippi Avenue), it boasts blocks and blocks of restored bungalows sprinkled with bars, shops, small apartment complexes, a library, a food cart park, and really good restaurants. Each space is used up, and there are no unsightly weedy fields, bustling major streets, or massive parking lots (except for the Walgreens') that you would find in a state like Texas, where space is not so much a rare commodity. And I saw people outside! On their lawns, mowing or putting up extremely early Christmas decorations, on their porches watching passerbys, or pushing their kids in strollers. The oppressive and long heat wave called summer we bear each year here keeps up cooped up in our houses, cars and other buildings. This is not good conditions for cultivating community at all. Which is why I felt a slight connection to the strangers going about their business outside around me, even as I was only a visitor. The green everywhere was also a welcome and calming sight. Passing by front yards wildly overgrown with native species, I couldn't help but feel excitement at the lush life that seemed to spill out from the land.
B got to do a fair share of checking out mens' shops here, as there are only a few menswear places in Austin of repute. He also picked up about 7 used books (they put them next to new books) during our tour of Powells; I had to literally drag him out of there. And on our way back from brunch in the neighborhood, we drove past Beckel Canvas, the maker of my rugged canvas luggage. We returned a few days later, and I had the pleasure of chatting with Kathy, the 3rd generation owner of the company, and picking up a red toiletry/ necessary bag. The company has been around for 46 years, faithfully making durable, no-frills tents, bags, and accessories. Their bags have seen a gargantuan surge in sales due to the Americana/ made in USA movement- good for them! And their tents? Steady in sales, as they are a favorite equipment of hunters and outdoorsmen who go on weeklong trips. Pretty hardcore.
I also planned a lunch with one of my old roommates who now works for the reputable design firm, Wieden+Kennedy. She took up atop the super modern building, where we enjoyed food truck cookery with a five-story high view of the mountains and trees. Lightly treated thick wooden beams, concrete, and stainless steel made up most of the workplace. Definitely the coolest, most modern office I've ever stepped foot into.
The photo above is from a photobooth in the swanky Ace Hotel. I was putting B's Stumptown coffee down when he scanned the credit card, and realized that the shutter was clicking. It made for a solid narrative though: B is alone. F comes into the picture. B whispers something into F's ear. They fall in love. : )

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Shop the Photo

For the past two days, I've been going through Photoshop tutorials and trying to pick up some necessary basics. I have only used it before for lightly editing photos, even though I generally abstain from digitally altering film photos. (It just seems so unnatural and wrong.) It was high time for me to dig into this tool, as I drool over good design without giving it much thought about how it was even made. Sometimes I have an idea, but then I feel completely stumped when I do not have the learned skills to recreate it outside of my mind's eye. But we all know that is an excuse to be lazy, so here's to not being lazy. Hopefully I can pick up a few golden tips from Kronicred in a few weeks. And if the interest remains, I'm eyeballing the ACC Visual Communication program- 'cause at $42/ hour, it's a steal!

I am so inspired by ISO50's posts on classic, minimalist design and his own work. I really want to know how he achieves the vintage/grainy color and texture effects. Right now, I'm keeping it simple. You can do a lot with text and basic shapes. You can also make something very uninspiring and boring. I'm very afraid of the latter. I want to eventually feel good about what I create, knowing that it has that special artistic pop to it, where when you glance at something, you know that everything is in its right place (!!), and it couldn't be improved on. Dunno how to do that practically beyond using a grid and color theory, but I guess that is what design books are for. Sure hope that skill can be learned. And then there is complex, beautiful stuff that I would never dream of being able to create, because I am too impatient, and that is OK.

Note: I am quickly learning that copy is just as important as the graphics. Random phrases really won't cut it? Aw, man.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Work Doodles

I forgot to bring my magazine to work today, so I doodled instead. The decision was very much influenced by the quality drawings in this good book, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet.
1: I didn't get to sit next to KK today. That took a lot of fun out of it. Rahn's the creepy guy they had to draw up a company sexual harassment policy for. And the sentences at the bottom are samples of phrases we get to test.
2: Yesterday's purchase
3: Dynastat office quirks- I always get the urge to pull the glass door handle when it should be pushed, and vice versa...
We were treated to free Amy's ice cream during a break. I haven't been 2 weeks yet and I get to enjoy this yearly perk. Like! I got the apple ice and as I wasn't going to subject my digestive system to the supremely delicious, utterly creamy confection that is mexican vanilla. Odd fact: one of my next door neighbor college students works there as well. Very coincidental, as only 10 people in town are sound testers there.
1st time: Cooking dried beans! They are cheaper than canned beans, and cans have BPA. I got large bag of 'em from my new favorite and even closer grocery, Natural Grocers. Now that I am better friends with an employee there (the gf of a bike friend) she kindly applies her employee discount to my purchases on occasion. I soaked them overnight, tossed them in the crock pot, covered them with 2 inches of water, turned the knob to low. Worried about them having no flavor, I added in some sliced yellow onion 4 hours later. I didn't have a ham hock handy. Does the flavoring come in after they are done? Does cooking them with salt make them tough? I haven't done too much research, but I'm trying to incorporate beans into our diet, so we are able to eat less meat and get enough protein.
1st time: Bought a fresh jalapeno to use in cornbread. What do I do with it? Would it be too spicy to add chopped raw into the mixture? Over the past year, I have amassed a decent herb and spice collection, and I have found that fresh herbs and spices pack more punch, flavor and brightness than dried ones. One day I will keep plants alive (even my succulents are looking dry), and when that day comes, I will have a herb and pepper garden.

Edit: I cut and seeded the pepper without gloves, and then touched my face! Intense burning for about 45 minutes only, thankfully. Tried lemon juice, baking powder, rubbing alcohol, ice. Only time seemed to help. So that's why I don't buy fresh peppers!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Living Design

Following the theme of the previous post, have you ever thought about how you would customize your current home to make it more functional and livable? Too often we take for granted bad house design, lamenting poor decisions in our rented or owned homes made by "architects" and paying the price with unease and wasted space. B and I have applied a critical eye to our early 1900's duplex and taken to heart a list of changes we would make to improve it. I'm not a fan of all modern architecture, especially buildings that have blindingly white interiors, overly dark tones, or randomly placed windows. But I appreciate breaking the rules of the old architecture in the name of efficient storage, light and space. If you could build a custom house from the ground up, based on your experiences in the homes you've resided in, what are some of the characteristics it would have? RB and I had a ball playing around with ideas this morning as we hiked the Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park. Here is my running list, which is heavily influenced by a number of online sources. For a lofted ~400 square foot dwelling:

- Reclaimed/ salvaged wood ceilings (knotted, preferably)
- A bedroom for sleeping only
- Toto (bidet) toilet or composting toilet
- Separate toilet and shower area
- Shallow, open kitchen shelving, or a dual drying rack and shelving unit above sink- why move the dishes twice?
- 2-burner stove- we never use the back ones
- Integrated countertop and dining table
- Lots of blue! Our orange cats look great against it
- Jumbo wide windows strategically placed next to foliage
- Office or lounge room that morphs into a guest bedroom somehow (bed folds into the wall?)
- Overhanging dresser units from the loft walkway, like in our friends' old abode, Avenue F Studio, photo 03
- Lots of shelving for books and craft materials (minimal amount of furniture that rests on the ground- makes cleaning easier)
- Toying with Japanese influence: raised floors- eliminates need for chairs, provides underneath storage, shoji screens instead of doors
- Built-in entertainment system storage, maybe
- Glass tile? I feel strangely drawn towards it, as more and more people are remodeling their kitchen and bathrooms with it
- Shared lot with a set or two of friends, shared garden, chicken coop/ fish pond, and yard

I'd much rather have a thoughtfully customized small house than a run-of-the-mill larger one, wouldn't you? It's your home, your sanctuary, and you should feel like yourself in it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Shack Plans

Alright, the time has come to reveal what has been the source of my insomnia for a few days last week. The tentative plan to build and live in a tiny house in Austin! I've written about this topic before. At least this is how it plays out in my mind:

Build a tiny house on a trailer bed using this plan and these guidelines. Materials will cost less than $10,000. (Save up first.) Find some friends on the Eastside who would let us park the house in their large yard. Get rid of most of our stuff, except for some clothes, books, camping gear, and kitchen essentials. After everything is paid for, pay no rent!! And only like $20/ month in utilities. Feel good, clean less, and spend more time with other people outside.

Yeah, yeah?? I ran the idea past B and he barely batted an eye. (His remained glued to his iPhone.) It's hard to let go of private space. I even pointed out that he only truly uses like 100 square feet in our duplex: the couch, his computer chair, the area in front of the stove, the bathroom, and the bed. I also have no idea how the two cats would fare in a dramatically reduced space. Anyway, I wanted to put that out there, as an alternative to buying a house or renting regular (poorly designed) properties, because just think about how much money you could end up saving. And an exercise in minimalism could really help our engorged appetite for material stuffs.

I was chatting up C today at work about housing. Usually it's just the two of us in a small office suite, and we let loose on whatever is going on in our heads. I am generally not great at opening up to coworkers, especially ones who are older (her kid's in college), but the work is so dull that I can't help myself. C lives in a suburb of Austin and commutes 30-40 minutes to work each day. I was relaying the benefits of small communities and small houses, and I got to see the wheels start turning in her head. She agreed with me that living in a 3000+ square foot house was a waste of energy, and having a car per person in the family was also supremely wasteful. "So much of our political issues are tied to oil, we use so much gas and I'm not sure I want my money to go there." As a consultant, C used to travel extensively for her work, and thus lived in hotels most of the time. The idea of tiny houses resonated with her because she knew that she could live with a few number of possessions and still be happy. It's heartening to see someone so mired in living out the American Dream rethink their priorities and needs. I know there are more people like that who live in Austin... it's just that so much has to change here for it to reach the standards of green, minimal, community-oriented living. I am definitely not willing to wait a lifetime for this to happen. In the back of my head, there is an Austin exit strategy waiting to emerge once conditions get fairer.

Monday, August 09, 2010

August is Here! Yowz.

Above is a video by Little Dragon, fronted by a shockingly soulful Swedish-Japanese singer. I freely admit that I poo-pooed their music the few times it came up on B's ipod, but after watching their live videos, I became very impressed. I spent about an hour savoring a handful of songs; you could say I was in a state of flow. What is flow? Read the article. Coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, it is a state of concentration and action, where you possess the skills to surmount a challenge. You lose track of time and are immersed in a state of active pleasure. To me, this is the holy grail of your life's actions. To achieve flow in both the workplace and in leisure is supremely rewarding. I never once encountered it when I was working, and that was partly due to my stubborn unwillingness to seek it out. I have experienced it when hearing a catchy, moving song for the first few times, and also when digging into a newfound hobby. Both occasions are short-lived, for the simple fact that novelty fades. The song becomes too predictable, and the skill or art presents challenges that seem too high to surmount. And I suspect there lies my problem in motivation. I would not go so far to call myself a Jill-of-all-Trades (except that I have in cover letters), but I do possess a shallow to moderate knowledge of most subjects that aren't overly technical or dry. It's easier to move on to something else when things start getting complicated, yeah? The only times in my childhood I have been instructed to dig deeper was in school and in orchestra. If it wasn't for the structure of schooling, I would have never been exposed to biology, music theory, grammar rules, social theory, etc. Wherein there lies the problem; it was all forced/ expected. I stopped thinking when I fulfilled the minimum requirements. Now that I have exited the system with a semi-valuable piece of paper, I find that I have no inner motivation outside of wanting to satisfy my basic needs. My most common response is to want to curl up and disappear, but this is clearly illogical and life is only getting shorter. I feel so ill-equipped for success, even for personal satisfaction. I see others pursuing their passions, taking risks, learning from failures, creating change, and talking openly about it. That's the definition of living, huh? I have always seen them from beyond a thick-paned sheet of glass, and I almost lionize them. I find that the more I think about these things, the less I act, and the more unhappy I feel. There is an infinite amount of distraction available on the internet that I've been numbing myself with (facebook, twitter, online shopping). And I'm getting tired of it. I'm lazy, freaked out, confused, scared of failure, and a neurotic perfectionist. They say it's the journey that is valuable, not the end product/ solution. If I can accept that, and also quit elevating others above me, then I have hope. Countless others have come into their own while going through a variety of challenges that are not present in my life. It seems stupid to write about this, and I apologize for the loads of self-help thoughts you readers have to slosh through. I'll be honest: I have no idea what I'm doing and approaching that realization causes me great anxiety. I hate that it does, and am trying to manage it the best that I can. I feel light years behind other people, yet I know I will be forever behind if I continue to choose inaction.

However, in a year chock full of employment possibilities and ensuing disappointments, I have a positive report! I got a part-time job working with my friend Kristi testing the quality of sound clips. Very random, I know, but I somehow managed to pass the very difficult test after two tries. At a rate of 1 word per 2 seconds, you listen to a series of spoken words (masked with varying distortion) and choose which one you hear out of two very similar-sounding terms. Ex. chad/ shad, bat/ gat, choose/ shoes. It's sleep-inducing after about 30 minutes, but having a solid part-time job will keep me busy and with maximum unemployment benefits through the year. I'm brainstorming ways in which to encourage flow in this situation, and the best I can come up with is to attempt deep thoughts in tandem.

Change happens when the desire for gain is greater than the fear of loss.

Monday, July 12, 2010

On Certainty / On Creativity

In this time of drawn-out unemployment, I've gotten used to the cloud of uncertainty about my career direction that hovers over me each day. It had plagued me much more seriously a year or two before, where I would work myself up and want to scream out in frustration. Instead of continuing this way, I took a step back and examined what was buried behind my confusion and fear. Looking back, I see that all the major decisions in my life were made somewhat haphazardly, without too much research or deep thought, and I have usually acclimated myself to how it changed my life. Overall, I am satisfied with those decisions, even the ones that were most heavily influenced by others. I am just not someone with a raging individuality. (Yet I am enticed by people with that personality.) Although I have come to terms with this, relaying to this a prospective employer usually doesn't help me along. From my interview experience, I gather that most employers want to see that you have a business-oriented passion, and then have you direct that passion towards the company's success. So, I need to change my game plan by either a) picking a career based on some research and cultivate a stronger interest in it, b) picking a career, any career, and practice getting good at faking passion, or c) if there is nothing out there I can get, create my own job.

Job articles are constantly going on about how to set yourself out from the crowd using creative methods. I have done that before, and even thinking about it makes me tired. I do not consider myself a "creative person." Sure, I have created things before, some of which I liked, some of which I felt were failures. My mind does not think outside its box on a daily basis; it is lazy in that area and I was not brought up to stretch myself that way. Success meant doing what you were told and getting A's in school. I tend to look at famous artists and artist friends alike with a mixture of wonder, jealousy and longing. How are they like that? In college, I had a friend who was so imaginative and was always coming up with neat projects for us to do while hanging out. I really craved that creative companionship, because it took all responsibility off myself to learn how to entertain myself. Now I see that it's possible to take the reins and be OK, even proud of my ideas. Reading this article helped me to see that instead of judging and censoring my occasional creative thoughts, I need to loosen up, stop comparing myself to others, just create and not stop. (My self-worth is not based on the quality of my output... or is it? And by whose standards?) As a child, I had perfectionist tendencies, as my world was so small things could often be done 100% correctly. I can honestly say that because I could not stand to not be the best at something, I could not choose a career path in college. Clear-cut success or I'll have none of it. There is no transition from being a star child to being a mediocre, ordinary adult. What a blow to my complacent ego. Obviously, that has been debilitating to me in entering adult life, and I hope to move past all that soon, and find personal meaning in my actions. In terms of a job, that may mean that I do something now to pay the bills and know that I probably won't be doing it forever. I have to be aware of the options available to me at the moment and take advantage of them while they still stand.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Ode to Boo

It's a dreary, grey, dripping wet afternoon here. Natural light, come back. Texas is weird like that. The cats have been napping lazily all day. They certainly have the right idea. They have been a constant source of companionship for me these months, when I am usually home for half a day. Especially Snorri (Boyd had his turn late last year), who has grown into a half-sized, ever-playful kitty. I've been calling him Boo as of late. I love that he is still small. It fulfills my wacky desire for a perpetual kitten. I love that he is a downy soft white with large orange patches of fur, which is funny, because I thought he was one of the uglier kittens at the shelter when I was first choosing one out. He looks fabulously contrasty on our dark blue bathroom mat and on our wood floors. I never thought I would enjoy having a pet so much. The only pet I had before (besides roommate ones) was a beagle when I was about 10 or 12. Half the time of I was afraid of it chasing me around the yard and nipping at me. And he was so stinky, as outside dogs can be. Spud met a sad end one scorching summer a few years later when he knocked over his water bowl and the heat got the best of him. We grieved for a bit, but even my mother was openly relieved about not having to scoop poop every day anymore. That is my least favorite chore by far, but it's still very doable because it is contained a box. Besides that and needing to sweep up wisps of hair every other day, I can enjoy picking up a soft, warm, cuddle-monster whenever I like. Bonus: when we lay on the couch, Snorri will jump up and make himself comfortable on top of one or both of us. He is fair like that. And there are few grown things cuter than a sleepy, cozy cat. They are an animal of beauty! I find myself constantly entertained by their graceful (and sometimes not so graceful) movements and positions. I am also careful to refrain from gushing about them to guests and friends, yet it is somewhat unnerving to find myself acting like a new parent might. My cats, my husband, and a humble abode, what more could I want in a home?

custom stamp by kozue

Saturday, June 26, 2010

On Energy and Food

It's 5 PM and I'm resisting the urge to throw myself on my cool, inviting bed. A deep fatigue has permeated my limbs and muscles and is also affecting my thoughts. Today we biked to our regular Saturday morning workout since we didn't need to bring our weight bars and the location was at UT. I won't go through the details of the workout, but it was quite brutal in the unrelenting sun. I knew it was a mistake to pop just two 20 calorie shot bloks before heading out, mainly because the night before I experienced a massive hangover-type migraine after only 1 liquor drink and a full day of being dehydrated. I shut myself in a dark room at 9 PM, emerging only to stumble to the kitchen to get more water and eventually expelling the contents of my stomach. I dunno why throwing up relieves head-related nausea, but it tends to do the trick for me. It was also the first time I had experienced vision impairment, white flashes of light in the center of my vision that preventing me from being able to read any text. I thought I was going blind for a good 30 minutes, which was more than enough time to imagine how much my life would change if it did happen. (Should've gotten that damn eye exam!) B was sweet to me the whole time I was feeling and acting so unpleasant, and when I woke up after an indulgent 10 hours of sleep, all was back to normal. Still, the close memory of being so incapacitated and unable to perform basic tasks shakes me each time. I am so thankful that I am generally healthy and have the luxury of fretting about petty things every day. At one point earlier in the evening, we listened to an NPR podcast interviewing a quadriplegic who lived each moment with "death on his shoulders." I did not envy his situation, yet he spoke with such gentleness and joy about how after he broke his neck, he became the person he had always dreamed of becoming, full of love, compassion and reflection.

On eating: B has no difficulty relishing flavorful, expertly-cooked dishes. For him, eating is one of the joys of living. I have given up my task meeting him at that level, and I accept that I will never taste food the way he does. For too long I have regarding eating as a means to break up the day, a response to boredom, an act for fostering social situations, and a way to arouse my tired taste buds. I can't help but feel a bit cheated. Each week I scan Yelp for hot new eateries to chase down elusive ultimate eats.

Since this morning, our bodies were screaming at us to replenish in calories. I've never really experienced this type of hunger before. Usually if I forget to eat a meal or have not eaten enough, I feel slightly lightheaded, and I can choose to ignore the signals for hours (bad idea, I know). Not today. I truly tasted and savored our meals today in the knowledge that I was nourishing my weak body. Local tortillas, bacon, tofu dogs, bell pepper, vidalia onion, red potato hash, avocado- tacos are not an uncommon meal for us. And yet it was wonderful, even more so than when we concoct a similar meal when camping, after we have hiked a few miles and labored setting up the tent. In light of this, I can't imagine what it's like for professional athletes or even ultra-active people like EW who engage in strenuous exercise several hours a day. To treat food as a source of energy and vital nutrients, and not just something to consume 2 or 3 times a day because that is how we were raised. You soon learn the limits of your body this way. I'm not sure yet whether I want strive for this level of activity, but the physical urgency regarding eating definitely intrigues me. In Omnivore's Dilemma (which I need to finish), Michael Pollan discusses his experience of hunting and gathering a complete meal. It was probably a singular experience for him, being so far removed from the act of ordering a meal of fast food. Perhaps I could reclaim the primal satisfaction of eating in one of these ways. It's an opportunity to connect with the daily task of feeding myself that does not involve seeking mindblowing flavors or gorging myself.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Other Blorgg

I started another blog about actual stuff, so I will no longer be bogging this blog down with talk about consumer goods. It has the word "two" in the name because someone else was originally supposed to join me in this venture. We shall see if she finds some time to turn unflaky. In the meantime, it's just me. I struggled a bit each time in the past when I posted about products, because, well, materialism is something I want to get away from. But I love well-made things, and if I don't talk about them, I will still think about them, so the best thing is to write about them and leave them on the page.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Oregonion Goodbye Video

I just saw E post a tweet with a link to this video. The HD quality is amazing and I think it tenderly portrays a melancholia tinged with peacefulness/ harmony with nature. I had to watch it twice in a row because it struck me deeply. That family is overflowing with talent- I'm so jealous! Great job, E!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Later Thoughts

Yes, this is adulthood, isn't it? Not being able to get what you want when you want it.

Some despair, but since I can't mope and give up for the rest of my life, I moved towards accelerating my efforts and raising my confidence.

In the meantime, I have encountered some creative spurts. Hooray for specific want-to-dos.
1. Carve more stamps using Mister Rob Ryan as my inspiration. I am not great, but I figure if I do it long enough I ought to improve.
2. Learn how to make a leather belt. I love handmade leather goods, and I made the trip to the nearby Tandy Leather Factory (it's next to The Christmas Store) to get my own belt-making supplies. Currently, I'm stuck on punching the holes, only because it is so loud and I don't want to grate on the downstairs neighbors, rude as they are to us (blaring whimsical music starts at 3 am most nights). First one is gonna be for brother. I plan on adding some Native American stamps to his, but in a modern way.
3. Learn how to make an end-grain cutting board. From watching videos and reading instructions, I already know how to do it. I am merely lacking a shop and tools. I really think there should be a community shop/toolshed in Austin.
4. Sew a modern quilt, a la Jimmy McBride. His work blows my mind. I love how it is based on space photographs, which are already eerie and, well, otherworldly. I don't want to copy his space idea, but the concept of creating an amorphous image with many pieces. I know there is some term for this (related to pomo art?). This bookshelf one may be easier. I'd love to hang that up on a wall, but it's not like we have room for another bookshelf.

In the meantime of the meantimes, I'm pretty much cooking and baking whatever I want to eat. This is usually a dessert item. After watching a Good Eats episode on bananas, I went out and got the ingredients to make vegan roasted banana ice cream. Check out that rich sauce! I also love bananas foster, but am too fearful of lighting the rum on fire.

Monday, June 07, 2010

School and Pre-24 Life Never Taught Me

How to deal with seemingly endless failure and rejection, despite my best efforts.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Boards by Joel

Photo from Canoe

I've been eyeing these absolutely gorgeous crosscut boards on Canoe (which is an awesome online shop in general). They ran out of the 12" board, but upon zooming in on the image, I saw that the lightly engraved words on it are "boards by joel." And lucky for me, because you can buy directly from boards by joel, a Minnesotan business. The 12" Ash board was a mere $20, and the coasters were $3.50 each. Definitely cheaper than buying from Canoe, as much as I like supporting Portland. I had to get them, not because I needed another cutting board (the cork ones are doing great!), but because I love love love solid pieces of grainy wood. Maybe I can hang it up in the kitchen.

I also made a quick trip to the Home Depot today for a canvas tool apron. It was a mere 77 cents, but it was also unfortunately made in China. I plan to test out the apron while cycling for storing my wallet, cell phone and keys. Objective two was to check out their Klein Tools selection. An employee asked if I was an electrician, and I remarked that I simply liked Klein Tools canvas bags. I got a zipper pouch. Also went across the street to Marshalls for an Anchor glass measuring cup and glass container with lid. I'm trying to slowly building my BPA-free food storage collection. Besides the apron, everything I bought today was made in the USA. Woohoo!!

I'm currently reading Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I definitely recommend it for a breezy summer read. It has all the catchy elements without being cheesy- intrigue, romance, drama, and book love.

Going to Dallas for Memorial Day weekend. To be honest, I never really look forward to the trip, but by the end of it, I'm always happy that we went. It is good to see my family and get to know B's family a tiny bit better. Last time, we took Mema to a highly rated on Yelp Japanese restaurant. What made it stand out were the $1 sushi specials and authentic dishes rarely seen in American Japanese places, such as okonomiyaki, ramen and oyakodon. I suspect we'll be going there again. Also, according to my brother, there is a stellar chicken and waffles joint as well. I'll report back on that. Oh, and I gotta remember to pack my sleeping pad and bag. Sadly, the guest beds at my parents' house are close to 20 years old. They are abysmally uncomfortable. Last time we tossed and turned for hours and woke up with searing neck and back aches. Not good. They may or may not be moving in the near future, so replacing those in not high on their list of priorities. We'll probably head back on Monday. Any readers up for an impromptu afternoon trip to Krause Springs or another swimming hole?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Life Less Stuff

These past few weeks, I've been looking for ways to reduce my usage and tossing of stuff, particularly plastic. The reports I've read of BPA, a synthetic estrogen, being not only in plastic, but in the lining of most metal cans are frightening. We've all grown up drinking canned sodas and using tupperware. It's still too early to tell what the long term effects of having it in our systems are, but the short-term effects are definitely not good. And then I got to thinking about landfills and my personal contribution to them. It's a lot. I prefer buying things online, because I can do price comparisons. But my packages come with so much extra stuff. Why not try to reduce for the good of people who have to live near landfills and for future generations? It's a no brainer. I hate thinking that in just a few generations, we have quickly turned parts the earth into an irrevocable dump.

Our friends the Peters had just moved into their new house and decided that it would be a good time to implement changes they had been thinking about for while, such as eliminating all plastic from their kitchen and using cloth towels instead of paper towels and paper napkins. Of course, I got all revved up about it and thought of the stuff I'd go buy the next day to do the same. I realized that I would be buying more stuff, so it depends if the health risk of using plastics (and just not heating them up in the microwave) is worth continuing. I ended up snagging 5 Italian glass containers with BPA-free lids from Marshalls at a reduced price. B still uses our tupperware though. We also still have 4 fat rolls of paper towels to use up, so I have a bit of time to figure out a cheap but reliable alternative. Kitchen cloths are pricey, even at places like Walmart, so I looked in flour sack cloths and even hand towels. My friend Jocelyn pointed me to some cheaper toweling from her quilting company. I have yet to learn how to use my mini sewing machine, but if I can master finishing edges, then I'm thinking this will be the best and most enjoyable option.

Each trip to the grocery store, I pick up so much packaging, mostly plastic. I am aware that by buying less processed foods, we could reduce this. I have also stopped using those thin produce bags to separate fruits and vegs. It requires a little bit more work on the part of the checkout guy/girl, but they seem to be OK with it. The meat we buy comes in a styrofoam tray and is wrapped in plastic wrap. I don't see another alternative to this, except stop eating meat or asking the store to ask the farm to find other packaging. Because I am married to a diehard carnivore, the former is not going to happen. I pinged Wheatsville Co-op and this was their immediate response: "We package some and get some already packaged. The general consensus is that there isn't a very good quality choice for a greener package than what we're using. There are alternatives out there, but they have performance issues that concern us. Anything you buy from our full service cases are usually placed in butcher paper or can be for the most part." Hm. Well I am glad they have already looked into this.

I've been reading up on shampoo bars and the baking soda "no poo" wash. While the latter seems too intense for me, I ordered some bars from Chagrin Valley. Great name, huh? The soaps are packaged in paper, so no more plastic bottles in our shower if they work out. I've seen Dr. Bronner's bar soap mentioned as a replacement for dish soap too.

Also I did get around to getting a bucket for the cat litter so we wouldn't have to continue to collect plastic bags. I used to fake forgetting my bag just so I wouldn't get heat for bagging in plastic. Terrible, huh? So we bring our cloth bags to the store when we remember to.

I am aware that I could possibly not even need kitchen trash bags if we composted (and did not eat meat). But we do live on the 2nd floor of a house and don't have any ground space to do that. And I am grossed out by worms. One day, perhaps. It is largely dependent on if we decide to move in August. We are thinking 78704 or 78703, if we can swing it.

This blog, Life Less Plastic, has been an invaluable resource to me.

I'm trying not to stress myself out about this while I'm still figuring out what works for me and us as a couple. It also stresses me out thinking of people in general and people I know who don't care about this and continue to buy and toss. We are friends with a certain group of people we see regularly a few times a week; they don't recycle, drink HFCS, drink milk, eat conventional red meat, don't buy local, live in the suburbs- they don't embrace any of our lifestyle values. And I know it's unrealistic to stop using plastic and disposable items completely. I'm not ready to rethink toilet paper, feminine products, medical supplies, or floss just yet. Hopefully both companies and consumers will get on board and opt for greener and safer packaging. I just think the costs of rampant plastic usage, both hidden and open, are too great. Now, this isn't some personal passion of mine and I don't spend the majority of my time mulling over these issues. I know I can be a more responsible steward while figuring out how to live my life. And the real issue for me may be the 1st R: reduce. I love stuff. I love researching it, buying it, and using it. B made the point that he uses everything he buys, while I use one thing at a time and leave everything else untouched. This was in light of the new jacket I bought (it was more on sale), as if I needed any more. It's true that I tend to turn towards materialism when I am bored or anxious. Gotta work on that.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Toe Woe

That is my nasty looking big toe! I dropped a 15 lb weight bar on it yesterday during a class workout. I was about to laugh it off, but soon realized that the pain was deepening quickly. I laid down and managed not to wail in front of everyone while my trainer inspected it. Eventually, someone called B to come and pick me up. They suggested that I go to the ER because it was swelling so much, but I just went home. I'm still kicking myself for having this gap in health insurance. June 1 seems so far away... Anyway, I've been icing it, but it doesn't seem to be improving much. It feels feverish and kinda feels like it's going to explode. I'll try to go to my general practitioner tomorrow and possibly get it drained (subungual hematoma), though the thought of that still makes me squeamish. X-rays are expensive, and if it's broken, you just let it heal on its own, right? I've never broken anything, and I feel like a ninny for freaking out about this. I just don't like not knowing what is going on with my body when it's hurt. So far, the Shelleys aren't doing too hot in our boot camp. B has been out because he has knee pain due to weak hamstrings and strong quads. We were going to take a running clinic to Saturday, but I that's not going to happen. I really hate being lame, literally. Going to go pop some ibuprofen.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


In the spirit of Shit My Kids Ruined.

Note: I'm pretty much over all of this, because I had to for my sanity's sake. Nobody wants to be around a clean freak. Also, I very much love my cats and would be very lonely without their constant company. This is not an attempt to dissuade anyone from getting a cat. Be warned that there are some consequences, though. Like the inability to keep things nice and 100% hair free.

Hand towel.

IKEA cloth couch. We loved it so much when we saw it on display, but didn't think about putting a guard on the side until it was too late. Hence the lame tape strips, and what little is left of it. So much shredding action. The covers are quite expensive to replace too.

Moon poster (pre-framed). Somebody must've gotten bored.

Guest bed. It is their playground and main nap spot. We have to change the sheets *right* before anyone stays over, and make sure to kick the cats out of the room.

Inbox/desk. So much hair everywhere all the time! But Boyd's cuteness sorta makes it OK.

And all black clothing gets covered in hair! Thankfully, I finally convinced B to not pick up the cats before he goes to work, especially if he is wearing his black dress shirt.

Sunday, May 09, 2010


A large fault of mine is that I regularly become infatuated with consumer products that I heavily research, and it sometimes ends with me dropping way too many dollars on something that I promise to use for a lifetime. Because my tastes never change. (Wrong.) Like this kitchen knife. I drooled over it for two days, and then ordered it. It's a beautifully constructed tool, but I didn't realize how high maintenance it was until I used it. You must dry it immediately after washing, otherwise it will be corroded the next day. Lesson learned. I appreciate having two chef knives; however, my no-frills, black handled Spanish J.A. Henckels chef knife occupies the large slot in the knife block. (It is still a large step up from my old $15 stamped santoku knives that needed daily sharpening. Don't go this cheap!) Understandably, fine products take a bit of extra upkeep. Anyway, so I was going down this route with wood cutting boards. They can be such a work of art. I'd much rather hang it up than toss some raw meat on it and grind a blade against it. Then, I recalled how much fun I had building our two tables, and I decided to try my hand at making a cutting board. Get a piece of hardwood and finish it by hand. Can't be too hard, right? I bid on and won a large slab of curly black walnut wood on eBay, for $35. I got the seller to cut into 4 medium-size pieces of 14" x 9.5" x 1" before shipping it to me. If I had purchased something like that instead (4 of them), it'd probably cost at least $80.

This is the first one I sanded and finished with 3-4 coats of mineral oil. I'm still unsure whether it could serve as a cutting board, as it felt less smooth after a rinse. As I will probably give most of them away, the last thing I want to do is put anyone in danger by turning it into a bacteria pit. Bread/serving boards, perhaps?

The second slab I chose to work on still had bark on it. I know carpenters have some sort of special tool to remove it, but I had to painstakingly chip it off with a screwdriver. Whew!

Three sandings.

Halfway there. Fine sanding, then oil. Notice that little knob? It's part of the growth. But first, break. Sunday ride time!