Sunday, January 31, 2010

Communication & Uncomplication

I stink at everyday communication. I'd like to believe everyone should be able to read my mind & adjust accordingly. I also like to make assumptions about people & situations, thus doing poorly on one of my goals for this year of "Don't make up random crap in your head." When my desire for telepathy meets my making up stuff, bad things happen and those bad things can get complicated. Since you can't read my mind, I'll be direct: I want complicated to go away.

So, I decided that February should be the month for me to start effectively communicating with people, or at least making a decent attempt. My goal for this communication effort is to be on the same page as other people to hopefully avoid misunderstandings and the resulting fallout. In addition to being on the same page, I want my communications with others to be encouraging & edifying. The world is a tough enough place, my friends & colleagues don't need another source of angst & frustration. And of course, I need a list for myself:

  • Ask more questions about people
  • Ask more questions about events
  • Ask more questions about feelings (this is seriously against my nature, this will be a stretch! I prefer the fact-finding, non-touchy-feely questions)
  • Explain what I am understanding a situation to be, then ask for confirmation
  • Don't make up random crap
  • Particularly in situations of misunderstanding, listen, think, listen, think, think, then talk
  • Initiate communication
  • Readily admit your mistakes
  • Don't get discouraged, remember this takes practice

And please feel free to keep me accountable for my communications!

Friday, January 29, 2010

My Lunchbox

Every now and then, you'll find some item you end up using roughly 252 days of the year. I bring my lunch to work for several reasons:

1. It's a LOT cheaper to pack leftovers than to buy a $6 lunch every day
2. For me, it's healthier & I feel better. I can control what goes in my food & the portions I give myself. Today was a prime example. I got a huge hamburger from a local restaurant. I had heartburn for like 4 hours. I learned my lesson.
3. I have a seriously cute lunch box!

I found this little piece of fantastic at Khol's while Christmas shopping last December. My previous lunchbox was breaking into little bits of padding & zipper, so I figured it was time to replace it. From the BYO brand (Bring Your Own), it's made out of neoprene and stretches quite well to be able to fit all kinds of plastic containers. It's quite sturdy, has great handles, looks super cute and when you bring it home, (this is my favorite part) goes flat. I like my lunchbox.

Chicken Verde Soup

My family loves food that is delicious and simple. My sister made this soup for my parents, then my mom made it for me, and now I'm sharing it with you! If you're a fan at all of Mexican food, tortilla soup or easy recipes, you've got to try this one.

1 box chicken stock (32 oz-ish)
1 jar/bottle verde salsa (14-16 oz)
1 rotisserie chicken: chopped or shredded
2 cans white beans, drained
2 T cumin

Heat & eat. Tastes really good with tortilla chips crumbled in. Sour cream & cheese are also good topping options for the lactose tolerant.

You can't beat a recipe with only five ingredients! When I made this recipe, I shredded my chicken a few days in advance then decided to make my own broth with the bones as described at the end of this post on my friend Amy's blog New Nostalgia. I didn't have all the veggies & herbs on hand, so I skipped those & added a few sprinkles of general purpose Italian seasoning & it turned out quite well! I prepped my soup about an hour before serving and let it simmer until dinner time just so all the flavors would have plenty of time to combine.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

why is wanting simple so complicated?

Maybe it's Murphy's Law, but some things in life just don't want to be simplified. This weekend, my dog nipped someone at a party I was hosting. Last weekend during the intense fog, I hit some kind of animal thus losing a chunk of my bumper & a wheel well. So now I must work on training my dog & finding the time to get estimates & such to get the car fixed.

However, some complicated aspects of life are my own doing. For example, my schedule seems to fill quickly with events that require some level of responsibility or action investment. I constantly use the excuse "It's all fun stuff!" (which it is), but it's still filling up my schedule. I honestly have no clue how working people with kids can function.

And then there are the indecision complications. Do I go to grad school? Where do I go? What program would be the most beneficial or would it be best to just keep working?

I guess if I truly wanted simple, I would just work my 40 hours a week, never go anywhere, never invite people over, and navel gaze during my free time. But that kind of simplicity wouldn't bring me much satisfaction. I like people, having an active life & moving forward with personal goals. But why can't something just be easy & uncomplicated for once?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Minimalist Blags

I had a request for some of the minimalist blogs I read. Some I subscribe to, some I just check out when they pop up as recommendations on my Google Reader page.

Ones I subscribe to:

Becoming Minimalist is about a family of four in their project of adopting a minimalist lifestyle. I like this blog because they approach minimalism from a very practical perspective instead of a militant, theological view.

The Everyday Minimalist is by a young woman who has lots of good ideas about minimalism and includes lots of great pictures in the blog too. She has some entries about practical minimalist steps but also addresses a wide range of minimalist topics.

An Exercise in Frugality isn't directly a minimalist blog, but the concepts of using what you already have and making a conscious effort to stop/reduce shopping go hand-in-hand with many of the minimalist philosophies.

Blogs I read occasionally:

The Minimalist Path has some good, practical suggestions, but the hardcore approach can be a bit much for me. is by the same guy who blogs Zen Habits.

The Minimalist addresses a lot of global over-consumption issues.

Simple. Organized. Life. is not strictly minimalist, but like An Exercise in Frugality, shares many of the same concepts.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

More With Less: A World Community Cookbook

Growing up, my siblings and I frequently asked my mother where a certain recipe came from. More often than not, she would reply, "From More With Less." I knew it was a cookbook and the things she made were tasty, but it wasn't until she gave me a copy after college graduation that I really understood what this cookbook is all about.

It has no pictures. The first 50 pages are a dissertation on world hunger, American's habitual resource over-consumption, nutrition, and spirituality. Spirituality in a cookbook? Yeah, it was written by Mennonites. But if you've been around Mennonites, you know they are notoriously good cooks & bakers plus they make a serious connection between their eating habits, their worldview and their relationships with God. "We are connected to our food- cultivating it, preserving it, and preparing it. We are nurturers instead of consumers. This shift affects our relationship to the Giver of our daily bread. We become co-creators with God and stewards of God's garden," (pg. viii, props to you if you can read Roman numerals).

But the Mennonites were way ahead of the game in their approach to food. The cookbook was first published in 1976 following a challenge for Mennonite families to reduce both their food budgets and food consumption by 10%. What if a modern church did that today? Riots I tell you, riots! But back to the Mennonites. The goal of the cookbook is to provide recipes (and a crap-ton of recipes at that) for families that combine basic, un-processed ingredients into tasty, nutritious meals. It's not showy and it's really un-complicated!

There's even a heading in the dissertation called "Overcomplicating Our Lives" that addresses how we have turned eating into a superexperience, particularly when eating with other people. "Serving guests becomes an ego trip, rather than a relaxed meeting of friends around that most common everyday experience of sharing food. Gathering around the table in fellowship turns into entertaining. We eat out for something to do, not because we find ourselves on the road at mealtime," (pg. 20). I have nothing against eating out or fixing a better meal when guests are over, but so many times, those experiences become a distraction from the true purpose of sharing meals: getting to know people better and spending time with friends. Plus, eating out generally involves spending too much money for more food than you really physically needed. "Overeating wastes food," (pg. 15).

As for the recipes, it's amazing what basic, un-processed, un-complicated ingredients can combine to create! In addition to traditional recipes, it includes a wide variety of international recipes & vegetarian dishes. I've made many recipes in addition to the ones my mom has made and it's always great to know that you've made something not only tasty, but easy, nutritious & that supports simple lifestyle. Plus, the cookbook's format is basic, easy to read & on normal paper so I don't feel bad about writing in my own notes. Not sure if I'm ready to try the Formosan Fried Cabbage, but the Hearty Lentil-Sausage Soup is amazing!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Homemade Granola

As promised, my favorite granola recipe! It's not a crunchy granola unless you bake it forever. I'm putting in the full recipe, but since it's only me, I usually do a half recipe and it lasts me like two weeks. I don't do dairy so I top it with vanilla soy milk, a wonderfully sweet breakfast that isn't a sugary, processed cereal!

Chunky Granola

Preheat oven to 350F
Place in ungreased 9x13" pan:
6 c rolled oats
Bake 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and stir in:
1/2 c. sunflower seeds or nuts (I leave this out)
1/2 c. coconut
1/2 c. wheat germ
1/2 c. powdered milk (I leave this out too)

Add to dry mixture:
2/3 c. honey
2/3 c. oil
1 t. vanilla

Stir until toroughly coated. Bake 10-15 minutes, stirring every 3-5 minutes until uniformly golden (I do 4min-4min-3min). Do not overbake. Let cool in pan undisturbed, then break into chunks.

Option: add chopped raisins, dates or other dried fruits

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Clothing Exchange!

In a few weeks, I'm hosting a clothing exchange! I love these.

The concept: invite lots of friends over, tell them to bring all of the clothing items & accessories they are ready to be rid of, serve some refreshments, set up some dressing areas & mirrors and try on each other's clothes for keeps!

Many items in my closet have come from previous exchanges & I have been able to get rid of many clothing items this way. Instead of having to worry about exchanging money for clothes, you get the satisfaction of knowing that your friends will be using these items just as you will be enjoying their items as well.

For my own personal preparation & to be rid of as many extraneous items as possible, I typically clean out my closet two or three times before the event. Last week I pulled several sweaters and skirts, then today I went through and found a pair of pants (orange ones, oh yeah), two pairs denim shorts, another skirt, my college ballet attire, a swim suit, several shirts & FOUR pairs of way cute shoes I don't wear (and pitched two more pairs of shoes. I'm always glad to get rid of shoes since they are heavy to move & take up lots of space).

Thus far, I am contributing a total of 35 clothing & accessory items & 6 pairs of shoes. Any remaining items will be donated to charity (despite my dreams of getting rich quick by selling them at a consignment boutique). I'll probably do one more sweep, just to make sure I'm really doing a thorough job of eliminating items I don't wear or want.

It's also great to pick up a few items at the exchange that I probably will wear & want for a while. And a major bonus about an exchange is, I didn't pay for it! So in a few months if it's just not working out, I'll put it in my "get rid of" stash and either make millions at Plato's Closet or take it to the next clothing exchange.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Addicted to Complicated

I honestly love complicated, but complicated rarely loves me back. Instead of providing all the happiness & joy that I think complicating life will bring, I typically end up stressed & feeling let down. So I'm trying to break up with complicated in pursuit of a simpler existence of appreciating & adopting a straightforward approach to life.

Somehow, complicating things makes me feel like I'm in control of the situation since I can dictate & adjust attributes of the circumstance. Maybe uncomplication boils down to me letting go of control.

So instead of finding my control through complicating issues, what if I try finding balance? Can I let go of my addiction to adding extraneous details, procedures, rules & endless analyzing? Will I be able to let something go and be able to enjoy experiences under the control of someone else?

Come to think of it, I am most relaxed when on vacation with my family since I implicitly trust my parents to be in control of the situation. They plan everything & I don't really even have the opportunity to complicate things.

So a goal for 2010? Detox from control; find balance.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

January Eating

Feeding yourself is complicated. You have to figure out what to eat, then what you need to do to prepare it, what ingredients you need, go to the store if necessary, spend time fixing it, feed yourself & then clean up. Repeat roughly three times a day.

So, uncomplicating the inherently complicated task of food. For January, I'm adopting an idea I read about in Amy's blog New Nostalgia: the Eat From Your Pantry Challenge. The basic idea is to plan ahead for your food & to primarily use items that you already own. It's such a great idea, I wish I had thought it up myself. I usually try to keep some canned & frozen items around for random use (I normally plan just a few days in advance for meals), but didn't think about planning meals to specifically use those items.

Thus, I planned ahead an ENTIRE MONTH for meals, basically taking about an hour of the month to be complicated so that the rest of the month is more-or-less uncomplicated. On the menu for January: pot roast, corn meal pancakes, chilaquiles (I'm a frickin' genius for that one!), stir fry, pasta, vegetable soup, chili, & a few other assorted dishes. I tend to cook large portions 2-3 times a week & take my leftovers for lunch at work.

For breakfasts & snacks, I like to make my own granola & granola bars (easy recipes coming soon...) and munch on fruit since it's so easy. I really like easy.

I went grocery shopping today to fill in some of the pieces that were not in my pantry. I'll probably have to go 1-2 more times this month for produce & soy milk replenishing, but I was pretty happy with my total bill today.......$40 for all my big meals for the month. Huzzah!

The difficulty will come when I have used up items in my pantry & must once again buy all my meal components. But until then, I will be extremely happy for the month of January.