Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ongoing Minimalism & a Mini-Fail

My minimalist philosophy follows the thinking, "Don't own stuff you don't like." I've done pretty well with stuff, but read a blog entry a while back about digital clutter (sorry, don't remember the blog so no link). Digital clutter can take the form of either programs or data we don't like or need.

A few weeks ago, I tried cleaning up the programs on my netbook. It went extremely well until I accidentally deleted my audio drivers (yeah, and they let me write code & access servers at work, mini-FAIL for me, but I fixed it).

My first data step was getting over denial that I have data clutter: I know I have a lot of data around, but it's all on the external hard drive, so out of sight out of mind? It's kind of like that "drawer" or that "closet" where we continually throw stuff and shut the door to forget about it. But it's still there. However, uncluttering digital stuff is just like uncluttering stuff stuff. Start small & do it in increments.

My first step was music since I could easily approach it with the philosophy, "What songs do I always hit NEXT when my iPod is on shuffle?" I deleted roughly 10% of my collection, not too shabby!

Next battle: pictures. Then: papers I wrote in high school & college. After that: personal email and I'm working on a new email philosophy in the process- email is not data storage, it's temporary, disposable correspondence.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Ten "Unchangeables"

Several weeks ago toward the conclusion of an eight-week session I took in Middle Eastern Dance (aka bellydancing), a girl in the class decided to share a great mental stress she has been carrying around for quite some time. "My belly button is way too high on my body!!!!"

Huh? I guess I had never stopped to consider that aspect. But then I thought, "How much time do we spend stressing out about things we didn't choose & can't necessarily change?"

Many, many years ago when I was in elementary school, my family participated in a seminar that outlined 10 things we were never given a choice about (note: these are technically called the Ten Unchangeables and some can argue the changeability of some of these, but that's really not my point). We learned these in a song that follows the tune of "Anchors Aweigh" but unfortunately, I don't believe the seminar-giving organization believes in YouTube (and would probably not be happy about bellydancing). Despite that, the list is pretty good & outlines the things in life that we were never given an initial choice about.
  1. Parents
  2. Physical Features
  3. Gender
  4. Brothers & Sisters
  5. Birth Order
  6. Ethnicity
  7. Place of Origin
  8. Time in History
  9. Mental Capacity
  10. Aging & Time of Death
So why stress? Those are 10 more things we don't have to worry about.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Living in Crisis Mode

Feeling freaked out with life? I recently finished a book lent to me called "Fit to be Tied" by Bill & Lynne Hybels. It's a relationship book, but it did have one chapter that to me is applicable to everyone- Living in Crisis Mode.

"Crisis mode living is when you spend every waking moment of every day trying to figure out how to keep all your balls in the air and all your plates spinning. Most active people have to spend a certain amount of time in crisis mode. Life just turns out that way. The problem arises when you spend too much time in crisis mode. That's when crisis mode goes from being a season of life to becoming a way of life."

The Hybels outline two major areas of life that become shortchanged when we operate in crisis mode: we start skimming relationally & emotionally. Instead of engaging with other people, we chose to pursue the activities that will simply get the job done. Instead of allowing ourselves to process situations emotionally, we simply shove emotions under the rug. As they say, this is allowable for a season of life, but when it becomes a way of life, something needs to change.

I definitely agree with their suggestions for readjusting a life that is in continual crisis mode. First, life must be readjusted to a level of acceptable sanity as well as the attitudes toward the things we are doing. This can only happen when we are ready to let go of what has created the crisis mode in the first place. There's no point in trying to adjust the schedule if an adjustment in the attitude toward life hasn't already occurred. If the thought of an activity brings up stress, resentment and bitterness, it's definitely time to decide why we are doing that activity and see if that motivation is worth continuing that activity.

And if the motivation for doing something is purely to look better in the eyes of others, drop it immediately.

The goal of reorganizing our schedules is not to get the calendar down to one consecutive event after another. The goal is to get the calendar down to a place where we actually have pockets of free time- margin.

After deciding to adjust our attitudes, accepting the fact that we cannot continue life as it has been and reorganizing our schedules accordingly, it's time to start recharging our batteries. There is no instant recharge and anything that poses as such will probably be a let-down. One of the best ways to slowly begin to recharge is to make time for doing activities we actually enjoy. Hiking, fishing, knitting, watching movies, exercising, playing with the kids, going out on a date with the significant other, skiing, boating, dancing....yes, RECREATION! There is no shame in doing an activity you love.

Some may think that enjoying life and creating margin is selfish & that to truly live, we must fully sacrifice ourselves to others. I compare that philosophy to a coffee pot. How can coffee be continually poured out if water and coffee grounds aren't regularly added in to the coffee pot? How can we continually sacrifice ourselves to others when we aren't receiving any form of positivity into our lives?

There's nothing wrong with realizing our lives have moved into crisis mode. We aren't super-people; we weren't designed to be super-people. We are humans and can get overloaded. There's no shame in taking back our lives and creating boundaries. And there's really no shame in choosing to do activities we love to get the positive juices flowing in our lives that bring rest & vitality.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Getting Offended

In the last few months, I've had a lot of thoughts about entitlement. We can so easily think that the world owes us something or that we are so freaking amazing that we, of course, deserve every passing whim. Mostly we equate entitlement with material possessions, life achievements, or relationships, but then listening to the radio one morning, I heard a new area of life that people definitely feel entitled to.

"No one has the right to not be offended."

We all make choices. There will always be people in the world who don't agree with our choices. There will always be people in the world who will loudly vocalize that they don't agree with our choices. Are we entitled to having our choices insulated from criticism? Nope. Whether we choose to wear floor length dresses, are gay, exercise, are a vegetarian, abstain from alcohol, party non-stop, have short hair, have long hair, worship God, worship Buddha, worship stuff or pitch all our stuff to travel the world, our choices are not exempt from other people's opinions. (side note: especially if every little thing is posted on FB, Twitter, blogs & the moon, expect to get some offensive feedback)

Then on the flip side, I started noticing the "watchdog" groups that can't wait to get offended (remember Don Imus?). The Democrats, Republicans, Christians, Muslims, modesty groups, feminists, LGBT, academia, unions, sports nuts, etc. all watch each other and end up sitting around just WISHING to be offended about something. There's no better way to complicate life & invite unnecessary drama than to sit around asking to be offended. Besides, it instantly puts us in the role of the victim.

There's a balance between expecting 100% acceptance and expecting confrontation. First, be careful where information is spread and absorbed. If you aren't ready for critical feedback, don't put anything out there and don't expose yourself to groups or people you know can easily offend you. When offended, it's time to evaluate:
  • Was this healthy criticism that can help me or is it nastiness for the sake of being nasty?
  • If I started it, was my original statement intended to offend or make fun of someone?
  • Why did this offend me?
  • Waaaahh! I feel bad! Help, help! I'm being repressed!
And then it's time to get over it & move on with life. We do not have the right to not be offended, but we can't sit around just waiting to get offended.

Next time you feel offended, please picture the offender with this tone of "voice". It might just help with the getting-over-it bit:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Back to Scratch- French Toast

Last January, I blogged about the Eat From Your Pantry concept. It's amazing how quickly I forgot about that, remembered it about a month before I moved in August, then forgot all about it again.

A few weeks ago, my new house was without electricity for about a day. Yep, just long enough to make me really nervous about anything that had been opened in the fridge. It was quite frustrating to have to go through the fridge & have to throw away food. I LIKE food. But I had also spent the previous few days eating out & it brought to mind the concept, "Eat the food you already own!"

So in an effort to eat up what I already own (and inspired by my nanny experience), I made French toast for dinner tonight. Not just any French toast, this is the seriously good stuff. My mom enlightened me to the secret of seriously good French toast a few years ago. Handing me some leftover crusty bread, she instructed me, "It makes the best French toast. Or freeze it, then make French toast." Yes, crusty bread, baguettes, French bread or Italian bread make the BEST French toast. Wonderbread only makes OK French toast.

Most people know French toast, but just in case, here are the basics-

Heat a frying pan to medium heat and when hot, add 1-2 tablespoons of vegetable or canola oil. In a shallow bottomed bowl, beat up a few eggs with a fork. If you feel very fancy, add a few shakes of cinnamon to the egg mix. Some people also add milk. Drop a slice of bread into the egg mix and completely coat both sides. (I had some baguette slices in my freezer I defrosted)

Once fully coated, put the bread in the pan & cook one side until it's a nice tan/brown color, then flip & cook the other side the same. Repeat until all the bread or all the eggs are used up. Eat with syrup, fruit, whipped topping or all of the above.

PS-It's simple tasks like making French toast that are bringing my mind back to sanity after having a series of stressful months. I guess I chose to incorporate the recent stresses into my life instead of letting them control my decisions. I don't think it's just coincidence that I keep coming back to simplicity for sanity.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Back to Scratch- Taco Seasoning

I was reminiscing the other day about the summer I spent as a nanny. One of the first days on the job, I checked around the fridge & pantry for breakfast options then asked the kids (ages 8 & 10) what they wanted and gave examples such as cereal, toast or french toast. They replied, "We don't have any french toast."

"I saw you had bread and eggs, but you don't have any french toast?"

"Nope, we ran out." They had only tasted french toast that came out of a frozen package. So I made them real french toast. I made a lot of french toast that summer.

And it got me thinking. What do I get pre-packaged that could be made using simple ingredients I already have? First idea- taco seasoning! I knew it could be done since I'd seen my mom do it before, but in college I took the path of El Paso. A simple Google search yielded like 240,000 results but the first one I tried, I liked & have made 4-5 times, so here it is.

The recipe didn't specify the quantity of meat, it seems to work for 1-1.5 lbs of ground meat. It's flavorful & a bit spicy, but to me that's tasty!

Taco Seasoning
1 T chili powder
1/4 t garlic powder
1/4 t onion powder
1/4 t crushed red pepper
1/4 t dried oregano or Italian mix
1/2 t paprika
1 1/2 t cumin
1 t sea salt (or normal salt)
1 t black pepper

I dump all the ingredients in a small plastic Rubbermaid-esque container then seal & shake to mix. After browning the meat, add the mix & 1/4 to 1/3 cup water. Stir up & simmer 5-10 minutes.