Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Yes, we really only own one car

Our car is in there somewhere.  (Credit: AMSmith)
I have been trolling the social science data sites lately for a data set that relates to minimalism that I can use for my statistics term paper.  Yes, I know that this is incredibly fascinating.  Insert sarcasm here.  Before you abandon ship and decide that my blog just took a turn for the yucky because I used the word statistics, let me tell you two things: (1) This isn't a stats post and (2) 9.8% of those sampled for the General Social Survey (for all years) do not own a car.  Isn't that amazing?

This is actually a post about the awesomeness of owning just one car.  Hubby and I own a 2007 Chevy Aveo5.  We are the original owners and we love the heck out of our little car.  I do enjoy the looks I get though when it comes up during conversation that we only have the one vehicle.  The first question people ask is, "How does your husband get to work?"  This usually comes up in conjunction with the fact that I commute 160 miles round-trip twice a week to school.  As hubby likes to put it, he takes the shoelace express to work -- otherwise known as walking.  We have been doing our best to not acquire another vehicle until it is absolutely necessary.  Therefore, when we were looking for a new apartment, three conditions had to be fulfilled:

  1. The apartment had to be within a 20 minute walk to hubby's work.
  2. The apartment needed to accept cats and have a reasonable pet rent/deposit set up.  (We couldn't leave our kids homeless now could we?)
  3. The apartment had to have easy access to the freeway for me.
The requirements quickly narrowed our search down to three possible apartment communities in the area.  Since we were (and still are) adamant about only having one vehicle, the first requirement for our home was an absolute must.  

Owning one care is pretty awesome though.  We only need to insure and maintain the one vehicle.  To be honest, I couldn't imagine keeping up with the maintenance on two cars.  It seems at this point in our car's life that we are at the shop every three to four months for oil changes and other stuff.  Also, owning one car means that hubby and I communicate A LOT about our transportation needs and can usually work our way around any issues that crop up.  Each semester, my schedule changes a bit, but since we live so close to his work that's never a problem and he rarely takes the car to work if I don't need it that day since walking is one of his main forms of exercise.

Obviously, issues do come up every so often.  On my first day back at school this semester, I was driving home and the check engine light came on.  Luckily, I hadn't left town yet, so I wasn't in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.  Hubby called AAA and arranged for the car to be towed back to our shop and I rode home with the tow truck guy.  Was it a bit awkward?  Sure.  But, at least I didn't have to worry about where I was staying that night or with arranging for the car to get fixed.  Luckily, it was just a cracked hose that probably did something important.  (I don't really know all that much about cars, that's why I have AAA.)

All in all, the single car lifestyle works really well for us.  We're able to save the money that we would otherwise spend on a second vehicle and do our part for the environment.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Valuing my time

As silly as some of the minimalist challenges are (such as paring down one's possessions to 100 items or only wearing 33 items for 3 three months -- both of which sound really cool to me for various reasons), one of major benefits of minimalism for me is learning to value my time.  

The truth is that we all have the exact same twenty-four hours in a day.  I'm sure that this isn't earth shattering news to anyone, but sometimes I think it helps to be reminded of these things.  This isn't one of those blog posts in which I tell you how awesome I am because I am a time management rock star.  Newsflash, I suck at managing my time most of days -- Or how I've come to think of it, I'm really good at using my time for the things that interest me.

Hubby will tell you that every six months or so I make a commitment to become a morning person.  Bless his heart, he has yet to laugh at me and say "Yeah, right..."  Instead he asks when I am planning on getting up in the morning and if he should make coffee for one or two people.  I usually tell him in my most convincing voice, "Oh, I'll be up around 6AM."  And I might do that for one, or two, or (and this is my longest streak) three days.  But, I have come to realize that I need a solid eight hours of sleep.  Whoever said that we need less sleep as we get older was a little off the mark.  In order to wake up at 6AM, I need to be in bed and asleep by 10PM.  This just isn't going to happen.  Especially with my school schedule of being on-campus from 12:30PM to 9PM bracketed by a 1.5 hour drive on either end.  And so, I realize that I value getting a full night's rest.  Therefore, leaving me with 16 hours in a day.

I do not consider my on-campus days to be my own.  From the moment I step on campus until the time I head out the door, I am not on my own time.  I am at the whim of my professors and as any graduate student can tell you, these are the people that you want to keep happy.  On the upside, my advisor understands my schedule and has committed to not being the person who has me on-campus for a third day.  She is so amazing that she moved a spring semester class to line up with my teaching schedule.  I feel blessed to have someone who values my time as much as I do.  She also leads by example.  Recently we were trying to find a time that works for both of us to meet, I suggested that we meet on a Monday and she quickly replied, "Oh, I don't schedule meetings on Mondays."

With these two days-a-week on-campus, I have 5 16-hour days (or 80 hours) to accomplish my school work (reading and paper writing), professional activities (volunteering, outside writing, and service work), course preparation (fine-tuning lectures, grading, communicating with students), housework (someone has to clean up the fur balls), spending time with hubby (who has time commitments of his own), and seeing to my own needs (showering, eating, yoga).  I am not listing out what I do to show how busy I am, rather I am happy that my life is full of meaningful activities.  I enjoy the work that I am doing and look forward to taking the next step.

On the other hand, being content with the level of commitments that I have means that I have had to learn some hard lessons.

  • I tell people no.  I try to be friendly, but firm.  I have to be fiercely protective of my time and spend it wisely.  I may not have many physical possessions, but I choose how to spend my 80 hours.
  • I try not to beat myself up when everything on my to-do list doesn't get done.  Just like the dirty dishes, the reading that I didn't finish or the email that I didn't send will still be waiting for me unless someone knows of a "to-do" list fairy?
  • I have to set boundaries.  I tell my students that I will reply to them within 24 hours Monday through Friday and that my weekends are mine.  I also push back when my students try to get an answer from my sooner because I don't want them to expect that I will drop everything for their every whim.  
  • I try not to over schedule myself with meetings and appointments.  I take on maybe one extra appointment a week.  That way I don't feel like a crazy person running around.
I used to try to be everything to everyone -- perfect daughter, a perfect wife, a perfect sister, a perfect student, a perfect teacher -- but it turns out that none of the people in my life expect that I'll be perfect.  The expect me to be the best that I can be and realizing that has made me value my time all the more.

Friday, September 21, 2012

On-call Chinese food

Part of being an on-call victim advocate volunteer is patiently sitting by my phone for an entire night.  On one hand, I dread hearing the phone ring because it means that I'm going to have to go out -- usually in the middle of the night -- to respond to something horrible.  I hate the feeling of dread that I have because I know that I am privileged by the fact that I get to sit at home and not worry about something awful happening to me 365 days a year.  On the other hand, I dread sitting through an on-call shift and not having my phone ring once because I know that just because my phone didn't ring something bad probably happened to someone.  Maybe next time they, or their neighbors, will have the courage to call the police and maybe next time I'll come out to help them through a tough situation.  This is my on-call mantra (and it really applies to most of my life):  Plan for the worst, but hope for the best.

So, how do I deal with these conflicting emotions and the knowledge that I cannot help everyone who needs it?  I think the title of this post says it all.  I order Chinese take-out.  Well, to be fair, hubby orders Chinese take-out.  It has become one of my on-call practices.  Every time that I am on-call I make sure that I'm dressed comfortably without any of my jewelry, the car has gas, and my cell phone is charged.  I make a stack of school work that needs to be done.  While munching on my tasty treat, I meander through the pile of work.  I try to pick work that can be set down at a moment's notice and that doesn't require me to be overly involved.  This means no heavy ready or online quizzes.

The work that I do is emotionally draining, even if I am not called out.  I feel on edge and alert for the duration of the shift.  Tonight, I made my pile of work and had a hard time getting motivated to start.  I commented to hubby that I felt lazy because I wasn't working.  He told me, "You're on-call.  No matter what you do tonight, you ARE working."  It made me feel really good knowing that he supports what I do, even if he doesn't always understand.  At least he does understand that all I need from him on these nights is a listening ear and tasty Chinese food.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Obsession with white

**Today's post is more of a thought experiment than anything.  I blame my time in academia for my focus on definitions and meeting people where they are.  Proceed with caution.**

Minimalism, for me, is about emphasizing increasing the amount of joy that I have in my everyday life.  I do this by decreasing my dependence on consumerism and working towards valuing the things that I already own.  This does not mean that I eschew owning things.  Rather, I (try to) only own things that add value to my life.  I think that minimalism gets a bad wrap because many people seem to conflate the meaning of minimalism with other "isms" including modernism, environmentalism, anti-consumerism, etc...  To complicate matters further, in trying to make minimalism palatable to a wider audience, many minimalist bloggers and authors write about "how to be a minimalist" and create lists and rules to live by.  While usually helpful for the beginning or budding minimalist, these how-to guides tend to force a certain amount of rigidity on the idea of minimalism and seem to forget that minimalism might mean something different for everyone.  I am more than happy to talk with people about my ideas about minimalism and the blogs/books that I have read about the topic, but encourage those interested to come to their own conclusions.

One common theme that I have noticed lately in the minimalist movement is an obsession, or deification, of the color white.  Some advocates of minimalism have encouraged readers to paint their walls white, own white belongings, etc...  I find this to be interesting for several reasons.  First, those who equate minimalism with environmentalism (M-E) might reject the color white as it rarely appears in nature and imposes a sterile feeling (instead of a natural feeling) to a room.  On the other hand, those who equate minimalism with modernism (M-M) might embrace the color white because it fits in with that overall aesthetic.  Second, advocating for owning white belongings seems contradictory because it doesn't meet people where they are. Essentially, encouraging people to replace what they already own in order to achieve a particular look.  The anti-consumerist minimalists might certainly have something to say about this.

Further, and perhaps more convolutedly, the color white as I have been referring to it is not really a color at all.  White, depending on the angle you take, either indicates complete color saturation (think about the white spots you see when you look at the sun) or complete absence of color.  If one takes the saturation point of view, striving to achieve complete white seems to imply striving for more ownership.  Taking the opposite point of view of absence, white seems to imply owning nothing.  I think that minimalism falls somewhere in between.

For me, owning white belongings and/or having white walls goes against my brand of minimalism.  It offends my anti-consumerist tendency because in order to comply with this rule or achieve this standard I would need to get rid of the majority of my belongings and start again.  Also, white belongings tend to show wear and stains more readily than other colors.  Thus defeating the pristine aesthetic and necessitating additional consumption.  My environmentalist tendency is against this standard because white doesn't occur often in nature.  Consider the rarity of albinos for most mammals, the varieties of flowers that are white, etc...  I am more likely to embrace a more natural color scheme rather than a white one.  I tend to decorate in earth tones with the occasional pop of color.  I am also a fan of un-dyed linen.  In the end, I think the over-reliance on modernism is what leads to this "rule" of white.  I do not necessarily identify with this component and thus I struggle with being the best minimalist that I can be.

Maybe I have over thought this obsession a little bit.  What do you think?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

You are not a special snowflake

We live in a world where people are constantly inundated with the message that they are special, unique, or one of a kind.  This occurs so often that people have become to think that they actually are a special snowflake and that their particular specialness should entitle them to concessions made by the rest of society.  Yes, this is going to be one of those rants.  If you aren't up for listening to me rant, today would be a good day to skip my blog...

Parking, from what I can tell, has always been a nightmare at my apartment building for various reasons.  Tenants can choose to park on the street level for free or they can choose to pay a monthly fee for the privilege of parking in the basement.  Hubby and I chose to park in the basement after witnessing the overfull street-level parking.  Imagine a parking lot that has normal pull-in parking on one side a parallel parking on the other side.  Now, imagine that the lot is completely full with SUVs and pick-up trucks turning the parking lot into a one-way street that dead ends into the garage door for underground parking.  It was quite the mess.

About a week ago, my apartment management company decided to do something about the parking mess and installed a fire lane.  Essentially, they painted the curb read, stenciled "fire lane" in red on the ground, and painted over the original parking spot lines.  Now, a reasonable person would come to the conclusion that one shouldn't park in the fire lane and that those parking spaces no longer existed.  However, that reasonable person would be wrong.  Several people decided to ignore the fire lane restrictions and park there anyway.  Mind you, there is more than enough parking available on the premises.  The issue is that people can no longer park directly in front of the lobby doors and must now walk (gasps) to the building entrance.  I can understand making the mistake of parking in the fire lane once.  You might be used to parking in that particular spot and might not have noticed the changes, but several times over the course of a few days is inexcusable.  Eventually, management sent out an emailing warning people that their cars would be towed if found in the fire lane.  At least one person received notice that their car would be towed.  I know this because they retaliated by removing the ugly orange tow sticker from their vehicle and placed it on the lobby doors like a CHILD.  This person couldn't follow the rules and decided to have a temper tantrum.

Rules and laws exist for a reason -- particularly traffic rules.  All of us would prefer to make it to our destination in one piece.  Therefore, we should adhere to traffic rules as they are designed to keep us all safe.  This also applies to parking.  What if the building caught on fire?  Where would the fire truck park if someone's car was in the fire lane?  These are the same people who would rather not "waste" money paying for renter's insurance and then scream because all of there stuff was destroyed.  So sad, too bad.

I probably sound rather cranky about this, but realize that I'm the type of person who follows rules to a fault. I refuse to cross the street unless I am in the crosswalk and walk indicator is lit up.  I refuse to walk in the grass if there is a sidewalk available.  I refuse to text message while driving.  Heck, I even felt bad requesting an exception for my PhD program of study for a class that I had already taken because it was required.  So you see, I follow rules.  When a rule doesn't make sense to me, I try to make sense of why it was put in place.  I research the rationale behind it and try to see it from the rule maker's point of view.

Not too long ago, I read a newspaper article about snowflakes.  As kids, we are taught that each snowflake is unique.  However, this article was describing research that indicated that snowflakes can look the same and that there are only so many geometric combinations that snowflakes can occur it.  Therefore, snowflakes can look the exact same as other snowflakes.  If even snowflakes can't have their own shape, what makes us think that our particular brand of specialness should entitle us to not need to follow the rules?

Monday, September 10, 2012

DIY Spice Containers

Sometimes I truly wonder what I did in my previous lifetimes to deserve such a kind, patient man for my husband.  Throughout the summer I rummaged through all of our belongings and decluttered, rearranged the furniture in our apartment at least three times, and most recently I set my sights on organizing the pantry.  He has taken all of this in stride and repeatedly assured me that I haven't gone "too far."  Luckily, hubby (and the kitties) are secure in their knowledge that they will not be decluttered.

The first set in "Project Pantry" was to tackle the ridiculously overstocked shelf that we refer to as the spice rack.  I have been searching for a new way to store our spices that doesn't take up real estate on the counter top and that doesn't look like a cluttered mess.  After much googling, I came across the idea of storing the spices in a tin and "sticking" it to the refrigerator with magnets.  It seems like a great idea to me because then my spices will be portable in future moves and all of the jars will match.  (I'm a little obsessed with making things match as hubby can attest to.)  Now, there are several websites that are willing to sell me stainless steel magnetic jars for a fee.  However, who really wants to pay $3 - $7 for a metal tin?  Not this lady!

Going Clockwise:  (TL) The dreaded spice rack; (ML) Glue gun and magnets ready for action; (TR)  Three magnets glued to the bottom; (BR) First filled jar; (BM) Jar with lid; (BL) Jar attached to side of refidgerateo; (Center) Mostly finished project. (Credit: AMSmith)

So, hubby and I went to our local craft store and bought metal tins and magnets.  We already had a glue gun and extra glue sticks at home.  The store didn't have enough tins stocked for me to complete the entire project, but getting the first seven done was a good start.  For about $30 (total) and an hour of my time, I was able to create a cute and functional way to store my spices.

I'm not sure what I'm going to use the existing spice rack/shelving for after the project is done.  Any ideas?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Eating with SuddenlySusan

Credit: AMSmith
Let's just be real.  I am a fan of eating.  It's my favorite thing to do.  I love buying ingredients, making tasty meals, and eating them.  And it turns out that SuddenlySusan likes to eat as much as I do.  During her visit we ate until we couldn't eat any more.  Thank goodness we went for walks every day.

On the first night of her trip, hubby and I took her to our favorite burger spot.  It's a tiny restaurant down the street that serves the most delightful burgers.  My favorite thing to get is a build-your-own burger with lettuce, tomato, onion, and thousand island dressing.  It tastes just like an In-and-Out burger.  Since moving to the Midwest, I've been searching for a burger that would fill that craving and this one hits the spot every time.  Both mom and hubby got specialty burgers.  The names of their burgers escape me now, but they said that they were very tasty.

The second day we had hubby's french toast with homemade bread and fresh strawberries for breakfast.  My hubby makes the most delicious french toast.  For lunch, we went to a local diner.  This is one of those hole-in-the-wall restaurants that will simply knock your socks off.  The kitchen is right in the middle of the restaurant and you can see and smell every dish being prepared.  After lunch, we went to the chocolatier next door and picked up desert.  Yummy!  For dinner that night we made fajitas at home with homemade flat bread.  For desert, we had homemade raspberry sorbet.  Everything turned out super well.

The next morning, I made pancakes while hubby made bacon.  As usual, hubby had to make the entire continuum of bacon as I like my bacon to be floppy and mom likes her bacon to be crispy.  He's such a good sport about making everyone's bacon the way that they like it.  For lunch, we went to a local restaurant called Meat.  You guessed it, they serve BBQ meat.  We had slow-cooked brisket, pulled pork, hot wings, and a hot link.  All of it was absolutely amazing!  After running around all day, none of us were particularly interested in dinner, so we had sorbet.

The next day we took it a little easy in the food department.  It was the last day of mom's trip and the leftovers were starting to overflow.  So, we decided to have leftover pancakes for breakfast since I had made a double batch the day before.  Then we packed a picnic lunch with our Meat leftovers and some dried fruit and some apples.  Finally, we ordered pizza from our local delivery place and called it an evening.

Looking back at mom's trip, it's a wonder that we didn't all gain five to ten pounds.  I'm happy to report that my pants still fit and that the leftovers have all been eaten.  It was super fun showing mom some of our favorite places to eat and to adventure with her.  

If somebody is visiting you for just a few days, where would you take them to eat?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Borrowing ebooks from the library

Reading with Scooter (Credit: AMSmith)
I'm sure that you all have noticed by now that I love to read, which is a good thing considering I'm an academic and reading is a major part of what I do.  However, when one reads as much as I do the cost of reading quickly starts adding up.

Earlier this summer, my classes were winding down and I had a little more free time, my fun reading went into overdrive.  I managed to read the entire Dune series (six books) in about six weeks.  At one point, I actually said to hubby, "I don't think I can afford my reading habit."  Thinking back on that, I should probably have entered a program for my addiction to reading.  The rate that I can churn through fiction amazes me because I'm able to remember most of the plot lines and characters (probably a skill I picked up from all of the non-fiction reading that I do).  So what is one to do when new books are expensive?  The easy answer is to go to the public library.  However, I love reading on my kindle because I can read in bed without needing a light on.  Also, I can take notes and annotate the book without being hunted down by a librarian later.

In a stroke of genius, I remembered that my local library lends ebooks.  When I first tried the service two years ago, they only lent out epub ebooks (Adobe ebooks) that could only be used on a computer or a compatible device.  Sadly, the kindle is not compatible with the epub format and since it is DRM protected I cannot convert it to a usable kindle format.  Since reading on my laptop is not nearly as comfortable as reading on my kindle, I stopped borrowing books this way.  About six months ago, Amazon began partnering with libraries across the nation in an effort to increase access to kindle ebooks.  My libraries was one of those to participate which made me very happy.  I do wish that I had realized this before purchasing the entire Dune series, but lesson learned.  I was able to catch up on the Dragonriders of Pern series for free (and I'm even on the waiting list for the most recent book published).

This is not to say that borrowing ebooks is all kittens and rainbows.  Often, there are waiting lists for the books that I want to read and sometimes the book is only available as an audiobook.  However, beggars cannot be choosers -- or so the saying goes.  To be perfectly honest, I would rather read a book than listen to it, but it's free and still well within my priorities of being able to relax in bed with a book.  Also, while many fiction books are available for checkout as ebooks, finding any of my academic books in this format has been next to impossible.  Even though many of my non-fiction books are available as kindle books from Amazon, my guess is that the demand does not exist for my local public library.  Somehow, I'm not surprised.

I'm glad that I remembered to check out this free resource because now I can afford my book habit and feel a little less guilty about all of the time that I spend reading.  Feel free to drop me an email if you want to know more about checking out ebooks from your local library.