Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Thoughts After A Week of Travel

Airline's exorbitant rates for checked baggage has awakened many people to the philosophy of minimalist traveling. I consider this to be a personal challenge: can I pack in 1-2 carry-ons? During my recent travels, I began at a business conference in California, then spent several days in Texas with my family, thus needed to pack for two different environments with the prospect of church, tennis, working out & relaxing. I did it! All hail the mighty mix-and-match wardrobe!

Also all-hail the fact that I was going to a computer programming conference, thus no one particularly cares what you're wearing, they only care what programming languages you know. Also all-hail the ability to do laundry halfway through the trip. Ok, so I kind of cheated at this.

But it worked out quite nicely. My monkey-decorated hotel room was more like a huge one-bedroom apartment (it had two toilets, see, one, two).

I was also blessed with the previous tenant's forgotten gym shorts, tucked away on a shelf hidden by a door.

I left them for the next tenant to enjoy, possibly irresponsible I know.

One thing about conferences I haven't understood is the need to create event-specific give-aways. Cups, mugs, shirts, bags, balls, picture holders, compasses, watches, etc. This time I got a notebook (can be useful), a pen (useful), a sticker (already put on file cabinet with all the other stickers), a bag (useful) and a Rubik's cube (not useful & quite annoying). I will be parting ways with the cube very soon. Also at conferences, I hate wearing event-specific name badges attached to event-specific lanyards that get in your way constantly & make completing simple tasks difficult, for example washing your hands. Event-specific is wasteful.

After the conference though, I got to spend a long weekend with my family & that was great, especially seeing my six-month old niece & getting to spend some time catching up with a good high school friend. Also, we have some great cooks in the family, so our food was amazing! Here's the grilled chicken with grilled veggies, seriously good.

But now it's back to normal life, and I am going to another conference tomorrow. Maybe I'll get another Rubik's cube?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Minimalism Motivation: Part Deux

I think the Easter bunny puked or something.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Someone Else's Simplification Suggestions

Becoming Minimalist had a great blog today about the 10 Most Important Things to Simplify in Your Life.

I thought the list was great & agreed with many of the suggestions, particularly time commitments & extraneous possessions. A few were new to me though & made me start thinking!

Goals: I started thinking about the goals I have. Long term: I'd like to take vacations as much as possible, own another dog at some point & to someday live in a place at least 300 ft away from my neighbor's house. Shorter term: I want to hike a 14er this year.

Thinking back to high school guidance counselors, teachers, speakers, & everybody else, isn't goal setting something important? Why don't I have more goals? My theory in progress: A lot of people set goals about careers (I want to be a doctor), money (I want to make at least $80K a year), fitness/weight loss (I'm going to run a half marathon) & family situations (I want to get married and have # children). But I haven't decided what I want to do when I grow up, how much money I need to be "happy", why I should want to run a marathon or if the family track is the right direction for me. I much prefer sitting the fence on most issues & letting the big things of life just happen. Yeah, I know I have a lot of people fooled on this one, but here's the difference, I am a driven person when it comes to what I'm doing at the moment; however, I probably didn't set a goal to do that particular thing.

Your Negative Thoughts: Yeah, this could use some help, it just takes a lot of WORK. Being somewhat of a control freak, I tend to think my way of doing things reigns supreme & anything else is inefficient & usually illogical or irrational. I need to get over that & replace "They're doing it WRONG!" with "Hey, they're doing something!" A good general rule for me (hey, maybe something like a goal!) would be to stop making so many comparisons between myself & other people since comparisons typically lead to one of the following thought processes:
  • Theirs is better than mine! Not fair! I want it too! (jealously, envy, resentment, etc.)
  • Mine is better than theirs! Mwahaha! I WIN AT LIFE! (pride, being really annoying, etc.)
Hopefully, my lack of goals will make conquering negative thoughts easier since I have more mental processes available to devote to that project (heh, nerd alert, like reallocating processors for virtual servers with heavier loads, but I don't know if my brain really works like that).

Your Connections to the World: Simplify email, Facebook, texting, & calling people? I'm not fully convinced of this one yet, since I have enjoyed my simplified life of late as a way to better connect with people. By simplifying my time commitments, I'm free when a friend makes a surprise visit to Lawrence. By simplifying what comes in to my email inbox, I'm able to see when a real friend emails & can promptly & thoughtfully respond. By simplifying my life, I no longer start every conversations with "I'm SOOO busy! I've been SOOO stressed lately," and can instead talk about real life. By simplifying my life, I have time to blog about simplifying my life. However, with Facebook, I'm not always spending time really communicating with people, but instead spacing out while looking at people's statuses & photos. That's when I need a blinker to show up on my computer that warns "Time suck! You aren't actually DOING anything!"

I'm really wanting to hike a 14er now.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Anti-Procrastination Tuesdays Part 2

This Tuesday went much smoother than last Tuesday! Here's my second attempt at Amy's suggestion at New Nostalgia of Anti-Procrastination Tuesdays. Instead of just Tuesday though, my anti-procrastination spread into the whole week!

One of the biggest accomplishments of last Tuesday was actually making a list of what I needed to do- The Ultimate ToDo. After carrying around a list for a few days and continually forgetting the list, I decided to migrate to The Ultimate ToDo to the slick little "Tasks" tool inside my gmail account. Not only can I create tasks, check off tasks, & archive tasks, I can view all of my accomplished tasks! This is very handy, since right now I'm thinking, "I did a ton of stuff! I was so productive!...........um........what did I do?"

Some projects I accomplished in the last week:
  • Returned hand x-rays to the doctor's office (oops, had those sitting around about a year)
  • Returned several borrowed items to my parents
  • Scanned about 300 pictures from high school / early college (this was a huge project! I'm so happy I got it done, I've been putting off that project for quite some time. Plus, I did it while watching KU beat KSU for the third time this season. Rock Chalk!)
  • Made first 2010 Roth IRA contribution
  • Subscribed to Netflix so I can watch Big Bang Theory Season 2
  • Tried two new recipes from the More With Less cookbook
  • Vacuumed car in prep for getting the raccoon-destroyed bumper replaced
  • Oiled the squeaky coat closet door (with cooking spray because I didn't have any WD-40 & didn't want to go buy any)
  • Lifted weights TWICE, walked the dog a lot
  • Researched apartments for next fall
  • Ordered replacement dryer door handle
  • Checked out new audio book CD
So now I'm quite happy to relax this evening & enjoy cuddling with the Jack Russell! My continuing goal is to add items to The Ultimate ToDo as soon as I think of them. But for you to also enjoy my anti-procrastination, I present one of my scanned photos from a girl's sleepover in high school...

Monday, March 15, 2010

KJ's Guidelines for Discovering Good Restaurants

Eating out, particularly when on vacation, can be something of a project especially when trying to avoid restaurants that are at best mediocre. My parents started observing restaurants & general trends that point toward great food, & thanks to a lot of business travel, I've been able to add some of my own observations.


  • The best restaurants with best prices are typically in strip malls.
  • I prefer the restaurants where you order at the counter & they bring it out.
  • An open or semi-open kitchen is a good sign they are making your food fresh.
  • It's a good sign if Chinese/Vietnamese/Thai people are eating in the restaurant.
  • As much as possible, 0rder according to the nationality of the owners. For example, at a Vietnamese restaurant, you have a much better chance of a great meal when ordering pho versus ordering sweet & sour chicken.
  • Unmatching silverware is an excellent sign that your food will be good.
Mediterranean/Greek/Middle Eastern
  • These restaurants are also often in strip malls.
  • Look for restaurants that have a food mart attached. This often indicates that those particular cultures will not only shop there but eat there as well.
  • In my experience, many of the great restaurants have TVs showing Arabic music videos, Al Jazeera, or something similar.
  • For the most authentic food, look for restaurants that have a primarily male wait staff.
  • If the salsa isn't tasty, the food probably won't be tasty. Get a margarita pronto!
  • Avoid restaurants that use self-promoting awards as their only form of interior decorating.
  • If the parking lot is full of Cadillacs & Lincoln Towncars, the food will most likely be either traditional or Italian fare.
  • Approach seafood specials with caution since sometimes it indicates the kitchen is trying to get rid of rather old fish.
  • Unless you want an extended, possibly frustrating meal, avoid sit-down restaurants with "Help Wanted" signs.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

New Zealand Whole Wheat Crisps

Another great recipe from my favorite More With Less cookbook! Unfortunately, the cookbook gave no reasoning why these cookies are attributed to New Zealand. However, they are light, slightly crispy, slightly chewy cookies that are quite easy to make and use no egg so you can feel safe sneaking the batter!

1/2 c. melted margarine (I used butter)
1 T. corn syrup
2/3 c. sugar

1 c. whole wheat flour
1/8 t. salt

1 t. baking soda dissolved in

2 T. water

Mix well. Stir in:
2/3 c. coconut
2/3 c. chopped nuts
(I didn't have any nuts, so I used 3/4 c. coconut and 1/8 c. wheat germ)

Drop by level tablespoonfuls 2" apart on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes.

Notes: I would probably make these smaller next time, since I usually prefer cookies in 2-bite size. I didn't know they would grow so much horizontally, but it makes sense because they don't have any egg in them (which makes cookies grow vertically). I also learned that coconut has a ton of fiber in addition to having many other health benefits.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Make In The Microwave: Baked Potato Soup

I tried this recipe with low expectations, but it turned out quite tasty! Here's the full recipe at kraftfoods.com. (note: I always adjust these recipes since I'm lactose intolerant)

2 baking potatoes cubed
1 can chicken broth (I used some leftovers of chicken broth I made for chicken verde soup)
1 cup milk (I used soy milk. And vanilla soy milk at that!)

And please note the rooster-shaped napkin holder in the background that once belonged to my great-grandmother Mabel. Great woman & great napkin holder!

Stuff for toppings like:
Bacon bits


Sour Cream

Put cubed potatoes in a large microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 5 minutes, stirring after 2 1/2 minutes. Add broth & milk. Microwave for 10 minutes, stirring after 5 minutes. Try mashing up the potatoes with a potato masher (I tried a spoon since I've never had need of a potato masher before) and if they don't mash well, microwave it for 3-5 more minutes until the potatoes mash like you want them to mash. I ended up with some potatoes mashed and some potato chunks.

I was in great doubt of this soup's flavor capacity so I was ready with my arsenal of appropriate spices (and also having been slightly bored during the extensive microwaving of the soup).

For my taste, the soup ended up only needing some cracked pepper & some bacon bits, only because I went to the trouble of finding bacon bits during my monthly grocery shopping. I really don't like bacon bits much; the soup would have been just as delicious, if not more so, without the bacon bits.

Sorry, there are no pictures of the final product since I couldn't get one that actually looked appetizing, but I assure you, I found it to be a tasty recipe, especially for a rainy Monday night!

Seriously Easy Hearty Veggie Soup

I'm a huge sucker for recipes with less than five ingredients. I found the full recipe for this soup on kraftfoods.com, but then tweaked it a bit when I realized it could be easily simplified and reduced to 5-6 servings instead of 12.

Here's my version:

1 package frozen veggie soup/stew mix
1 potato cubed (probably optional though)
1 box beef broth
3/4 cup pasta sauce (I used some leftover garlic & herb sauce. I didn't have to add any spices to this soup!)

Combine all ingredients and heat to a boil. Simmer 20-30 minutes. It was pretty tasty!

Walk Across Kansas

Ah, healthy lifestyle challenges! The concept is good; put people on teams and give them points/positive reinforcement for achieving healthy lifestyle habits for a certain period of time. I am a sucker for these since I often need a bit of motivation to eat correctly, particularly getting enough whole grains, fruit & veggies.

I have already done two challenges so far this year, and now I'm on a team for the Walk Across Kansas challenge put on by the K-State Extension office. This eight-week challenge focuses on increasing activity by setting the goal of each team of six people doing activities equivalent to walking across the State of Kansas, a goal achieved if each team member does at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week. Each person also counts their daily servings of whole grains and fruits & vegetables.

I'm on the dream team & we're going to WIN. Our goal is not to simply walk across Kansas, but to walk across & back. I really like being active, so I'm not too worried about the fitness goal. Eating habits, however, could use some work. So how can I simplify getting lots of physical activity minutes & remembering to eat lots of whole grains, fruits & veggies? A lot of it revolves around planning ahead.
  • Walk the Jack Russell at least 15 minutes every morning & afternoon in addition to any other physical activity
  • Keep a pack of whole wheat tortillas or a loaf of whole wheat bread around, ready for consumption
  • Eat whole grain oatmeal or granola for breakfast
  • Keep around easy-to-grab-and-eat fruits & veggies like baby carrots, clementines, pre-washed grapes, & apples
  • Adopt the frame of mind "If you're going to eat something, eat something that will count toward your points!"
  • Enter points asap into the magic, calculating spreadsheet so I don't forget about anything
Uncomplication tip for life: spreadsheets greatly simplify my life.

Anti-Procrastination Tuesdays Part 1

So Amy over at New Nostalgia came up with the progressive idea of Anti-Procrastination Tuesdays. Not sure why it's Tuesday, but I suppose it's about as good a day as any.

First item to anti-procrastinate: think of things I need to do and make a to-do list.

So after hitting my snooze two too many times, walking the Jack Russell Terrier (she procrastinates as much as the Energizer Bunny), showering and getting dressed, I made my to-do list. Woot! I realized most of the items were fairly minimal, no huge projects, just things I need to take the five minutes to sit down and do. However, taking the five minutes to create my t0-do list (or realistically hitting the snooze too many times) made my morning a tad behind schedule and I was forced to eat my breakfast of whole grain oatmeal on my way to work. Fortunately, my oatmeal didn't cause any negative traffic situations, but I do recognize that eating while driving is an unsafe habit.

Once I arrived at work, I was ready to start on my work to-do list! Oh crap, I left my cell phone at home in my jacket pocket after walking the Jack Russell. Nar! Fifteen minutes after sitting down at my desk, my boss rushes in, describes that one of the servers is on its last leg and is sounding some kind of obnoxious alarm, then rushes out to save the sick server. My to-do list flew out the window as I attempted to back up critical data to usable servers, contacted users that might have data on the beeping server and tried not to freak out since I didn't really know what was going on. During those tense moments, I received an email saying that the local school board was considering cutting all elementary school instrumental music and the jobs of my former band and orchestra directors. I added "email school board members a persuasive note advocating reconsidering that horrible choice" to the to-do list.

After they bandaged up the ailing server to last for a few more months, I accomplished several of the items on my to-do list and felt pretty good about that, including emailing the school board members (and I just found out that the board took elementary music off the chopping block! Woot! Hopefully they won't think about cutting that again in the next few years or ever!).

After work, teaching kickboxing, and again walking the Jack Russell, I arrived home to find I left my to-do list at work, and because my memory is terrible today, I can only remember two items on my to-do list. This might become Anti-Procrastination Tues./Wed. not because I have trouble getting things done, but because I have trouble remembering what I need to get done. Ooo, just now looking around my desk, I remembered two more items on the list! I just wrote those four items down on my gmail to-do list so I won't be crippled by forgetting little pieces of paper.

So providing I can remember what I need to do, I will be a happy participant in Anti-Procrastination Tuesdays!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

They Paved Paradise

Well, it's hardly paradise, but it's the closest place to my house I can walk my dog without fearing to trip over armless Bratz dolls on the sidewalks or weaving through an endless maze of on-street parking for the endless strip of copy/paste duplexes developers decided would provide an excellent buffer between commercial zoning & single-family residential. I'm happy I live on the "nice" end of the street. I have at least 20' between me and the next duplex!

The piece of property that is greatly saddening me has previously looked like this-

This was Doolittle Farms, a bit over 5 acres of open greenspace. Now, however, it has been transformed into Doolittle Farms Subdivision. The aerial photography doesn't show this, but all of the farm buildings are gone & all of the roads have been paved. Here is the current plat-

Doolittle Farms Subdivision has 42 lots. So act now! Doolittle Farms is a subdivision providing housing in the low $180's and the developers will build to suit! Currently, three lots have houses. Today on my walk, a bulldozer was working on the foundations for houses #4 & #5. I don't think it will be long before houses #6-#42 are under construction. Seriously, Lawrence can't sell the houses they already have, let alone new ones. Half these properties back up to low-income rentals with barky pit-bulls & busted up plastic playlands. Would you pay $180,000 for a backyard that looks out on that? But hey, at least there's about 20' between the Doolittle houses! I'm not anti-development; I think city planners should include more open space (yes, I do recognize open space doesn't generate property taxes). Actually, I really just want my greenspace back.

Some people say that if they suddenly became rich, they would buy a huge house, a new Lexus, go on a shopping spree & take their momma to Disneyland. If I suddenly became rich, I would buy a fairly small house with a huge yard at least 300' away from any neighbors, preferably a 1/4 mile, and then take my parents to Disneyland (but how about Euro-Disney? followed by at least 2 weeks at a Mediterranean villa?) Until then, I guess I'll simply deal with navigating through Natty Lite boxes, paisley couches with the stuffing ripping out, and the Kool-Aid stained mouths of children asking, "Hey lady, can I pet your dog?" This is not the right neighborhood for a neat freak.

Monday, March 1, 2010

You, Me & Stuff

How do your friends affect your attitudes towards stuff? I had been thinking about that lately, then Becoming Minimalist posted on being minimalist if your partner isn't. My situation isn't quite like that, but it got me thinking about community & its relationship to stuff.

Side point: one of the HUGE perks about being single is not having to deal with someone else's stuff in combination with my own.

Real point: do the people we live with affect how we view stuff? Yes. Over the years, I have lived with at least 16 different people including my family & roommates. All of these people have had different views on stuff & have contributed to my current views on stuff. Here are a few of the highlights-
  • Freshman year: Buying Star Wars action figures doesn't bring long-term happiness. Don't own heavy furniture that must go up & down stairs when you move! (yep, it's a hidabed!)
  • Sophomore year: A 12X14 room for two people means you really shouldn't go shopping a lot. The more stuff you own, the more places you have to find to put it. We crammed out those 168 sq feet, it got really messy, but it was FUN.
  • Martinique Study Abroad: What?! You can function in life without owning a couch? What?! Your kitchen is less than 20 sq feet and you can make some of the best food ever? What?! You can live in a Caribbean climate without air conditioning?
  • Junior year: Also, owning lots of stuff means you have more stuff for roommates to abuse & destroy. Don't own nice stuff until you live alone.
  • Summer in Puebla: Living out of one suitcase in a hotel room with two other girls for 6 weeks can be difficult but hardly impossible! Since we all understood the situation, we all kept things clean & picked-up.
  • Senior year: Love your roommates; you don't have to love the existence of their stuff.
  • Post-College: Living alone rocks! However, living alone makes you feel like you need to get all your own furniture. This is not true.
  • Post-College Transition: Getting rid of heavy furniture is terrible! Hey, I can fit 70% of my stuff in a storage unit & not use it for a month...
  • Moving back to Lawrence: Crap. I own WAY too much stuff. Crap. How could I possibly have moved all this 10 times in the previous 4 years?
  • In my current duplex: Now is the time to really simplify & minimize! If I haven't used an item in the last year, do I really need to keep it around? Why do I have 3 crockpots?
  • Thoughts on books & movies: I thought these were necessary items to have around to have just in case I should want to watch/read them & to show guests my likes, sense of humor & dazzling intellectual prowess. But then I discovered a wonderful concept, borrowing!!! I haven't purchased a movie in over three years. Books I only purchase second-hand if I need it for a Bible study & a friend doesn't already own it for me to borrow. Most of my books & movies have been sold to Half-Price Books or Hastings & I don't miss them. I feel so relieved I don't have to move them again!!! And as for my intellectual prowess, does generating SQL queries through a VB.NET Visual Studio project really make for a good conversation starter? Or, "Oh, looks like you've read Chaucer. What do you think of his use of gender relations as a political statement or how his thoughts on property ownership compare to training your average canine? I have many leather-bound books & my apartment smells of rich mahogany"? My topics of conversation have been simplified & I'd rather not rely on my stuff to generate intellectual discourse.
  • Overall: Don't own stuff you don't like. Don't own more stuff than you need, but own stuff that makes you happy. If you hate moving stuff, get rid of it.