Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Magazine Wisdom

Image courtesy of Boskke

Magazines are one of my favorite indulgences. You wouldn't really be able to tell by looking at our living room table. Sure, I have magazines, but they're mainly things about teaching and learning.

When I accompany Matt home to Indiana, however, my true colors shine through. I can easily spend an entire day reading Real Simple, Living, O Magazine, Redbook, Better Housekeeping, Southern Living--the list goes on. I don't even mind reading a feature about "Hot Drinks to Keep You Cool This Summer" in the middle of a snowstorm.

I feel like I learn so much and generate so many next steps. However, if I don't read them with a pen and notebook in hand, I can easily forget everything I just learned.

Here are some of the next steps I culled from my most recent foray into Magazine Land:

  1. Don't brush my teeth after drinking orange juice. The acid weakens the enamel, and it's bad to brush immediately. Instead, it's better to rinse with water.
  2. Get a cell phone ear piece (not a Bluetooth). The data about the long-term effects of cell phones is inconclusive. It's better to be safe than sorry.
  3. Use my neti pot regularly to prevent allergens from building up in my sinuses.
  4. Start taking Omega-3. It has a ton of health benefits.
  5. Start eating steel cut oats rather than rolled oats for breakfast.
  6. Consider buying an upside-down planter for our kitchen.
  7. Use this resource to find an organic Christmas tree farm next year.
  8. Remember: "The recipe for your best life is deliciously simple: Do a lot more of what makes you happy."

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ideas: Updating an Old Sweater

Photo courtesy of sweet sassafras

I am smitten with this idea from sweet sassafras. She tailored an old sweater and then used the leftover materials to make a flower for decoration. So cute!

This might just be my Lovely Craft #2 after I finish my bag...

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Crafty Plans

Photo courtesy of Oh! Fransson!

We're in Bloomington, Indiana, visiting Matt's family, and my San Diego self is freezing. Seriously!

It's tempting to stay inside in my pajamas (and warm socks) all day. (By "tempting" I mean that's exactly what I've done.)

I had a good excuse this morning because I had to work on a 6th grade reading unit plan about theme for some consulting I'm doing. And then I decided I needed to clean out my e-mail inbox. Then I started planning my craft projects for the new year. My first project is going to be a bag for my new water bottle, writer's notebook, wallet, cell phone, and pen.

Since I'm always trying to save money (I only get $70 a month for my personal allowance!), I was ecstatic to find this free pattern. I hope to customize some of the pockets inside the bag to fit my iPhone, water bottle, etc. I also think I'm going to use a magnetic snap instead of a button closure. I think it will fit into my lifestyle a little better.

I e-mailed one of my friends to see if she wanted to set up a crafting date. As pathetic as it sounds, I find that I'm much more likely to make time for crafts if I schedule something. I'm excited!

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Living, Growing Scrapbook

I'm finalizing the present situation for this year. I've managed to pull it together, despite my rather lax attitude toward the holidays this year.

I still have a few more presents to go, namely for my beloved, Matt. I'm going to register him for a woodworking class, since he's been obsessed with the idea of using power tools to construct something for a while now.

I'm also thinking about putting together an album to chronicle our life together. We have so many pictures online, but it would be nice to have something to curl up with on the couch and flip through.

I was inspired by this post from Progressive Pioneer about pulling together a scrapbook without all the fanfare. Here's what she had to say:

I've tried to be diligent about recording Sam's life from the beginning. I decided early on that the most important thing was to simply record the important things, not to have a perfect, charming-looking album. I knew if there was too much pressure about how it looked that it would never get done. But if I could just jot things down here and there, there was a much better chance that in twenty years Sam would have something to look back on.
I feel the same way. I know I have to free myself from my perfectionist tendencies or I will never get it done.

Plus, I want a living, breathing object. One that expands and develops as our family expands and develops. I'm thinking about using a 1.5 inch binder and making a pretty binder label down the side (probably from my old Nikki McClure calendars). We can label them (probably in five-year increments?) and watch our collection grow.

I'm thinking cardstock, sheet protectors, and photo corners. I've never used photo corners in my life, but they seem like a good option. Or maybe double-sided tape? Is that archival quality? It's got to be cheap and easy...

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Holidays!

My best friend is on a cooking kick. My original present idea was to make him a binder of recipes. Matt and I keep our favorite recipes in a binder for easy access. If we find one online, we print it out and stick it in. If we get it out of a book, we zerox it and add it to our collection. That way, when it's time to plan our meals for the week we have a cadre of tried-and-true recipes.

However, it dawned on me that he is not a binder person; he is a computer person. So, instead, I scanned in all our favorite recipes and burned them onto a disk so he can download them to his computer.

While I'm at it, I figured I would share them with you! (You should be able to click on an image and enlarge it to a legible form--fingers crossed!)

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Clearing Out the Clutter

Clutter stresses me out.

It does not stress out everyone, but it drives me crazy.

And yet I often let our office/craft room get cluttered (it's easy to do because we have three tables that make a giant L-shape against the walls).

Ironically, it takes approximately 6 minutes to clear off the clutter entirely. It usually entails putting away a few books, recycling some trash, and filing a few papers.

And yet here I am, trying to write my lesson plans for the first week of school in January, and I'm mired in clutter. Ugh!

Okay, I am going to spend six minutes clearing it off, so the rest of my time will be more focused and productive (and maybe I'll stop procrastinating by writing blog posts...).

You could do me a huge favor by occasionally leaving a comment that asked, "Sara, is your office organized?" I need that kind of external accountability sometimes. [insert sigh]

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

It Pays to Discover

Okay, I can't believe I just used a capitalistic, consumeristic tagline as my title.

But seriously, friends, it makes so much sense to use a Discover credit card for as many monthly purchases as possible and then earn money back.

Disclaimer: Only use credit cards if you can pay off the entire balance each month! I am not advocating that you start racking up credit card debt. On the contrary! Credit cards can be super-dangerous because they can deceive you into thinking you have more money than you do. And honestly, it's stupid to pay money for money (which is what we do if we carry credit card debt) unless we absolutely have to (e.g., student loans, car loans, mortgages, emergencies, etc.).

I don't mean to pontificate from my soapbox. It's your life. I'm just saying that Matt and I received $571.90 from Discover because we put everything on our Discover credit card and it helped us accumulate a serious cashback bonus after a significant amount of time.

I have no idea how long we've been accumulating that bonus, but I do know it's completely free. We don't even pay for the cost of a stamp to send in our bill each month. Instead, we send an electronic check from our ING Direct account. Voila!

I know some people like using debit cards or cash in their wallets because there's a finite amount of money and they can see the supply getting depleted each time they buy something. I like that feeling, too, which is why I keep an index card in my wallet and keep track of how much I'm spending. I start with our month allowance for groceries, joint entertainment (including dinner out), dog bills, medicines, hygiene, etc. (which is $1,060, in case you're curious) and subtract the cost of whatever we spend. That way, I get the feeling of a finite amount, but I can still use my Discover card. I even try to pay some of our bills on our Discover card.

The only hitch is that Discover isn't accepted everywhere (like our favorite ice-cream store), but we just carry a backup Visa card and use it whenever necessary.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Authentic Moments

In one of my Writer's Notebooks, I have a place to record my most authentic life moments--those moments when I was doing something that made me feel most aligned with my authentic self. I entitled it, "Butterfly Specimens." It was a place to collect those rare, fleeting, but beautiful specimens.

I used to obsess over finding and cultivating those moments.

I had one of those authentic moments tonight. Matt and I went to a party (at 9pm on a school night). I reconnected with an acquaintance I met a long time ago and could immediately tell we should be better friends. And, luckily, her partner seemed completely awesome (and got along really well with Matt).

And then I joined two people I know but don't talk to very often, and we got into an amazing conversation about race, socio-economic class, hegemony, choice, passion, identity, and the role education plays in it all.

Normally in social situations like parties, I satiate myself with food. I snack on chips and artichoke spinach dip and cookies. Tonight, I satiated myself with conversation. I realized the primary difference was that the conversation was generative rather than regurgitive. We didn't just sit around waiting for a break in the conversation so we could outdo each other with witty stories about our own lives. Instead, we listened to each other's insights and used them to think new thoughts. Thoughts of revolution. Thoughts that make me feel really alive and inspired.

And I don't get enough of those conversations. Rather than feel sorry for myself or wallow in despondency, I'm going to work hard to cultivate those conversations and those authentic moments. I'm going to:

  1. Invite Bonnie and Mark over for dinner in January, so we can get to know them better
  2. Call Phil to go on a picnic or walk or something that will open up lots of space and time for good conversation
  3. Be spontaneous and go to other things that come up (even if they start late in the evening on a school night)
I also need to:
  • Spend some time reading through all my Writer's Notebooks and looking for patterns
  • Get a new Writer's Notebook for the new year

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mustering the Motivation

Oy vey. I struggle with motivation. I really do.

My goal is to run (well, jog pretty slowly) four times a week for about 35 minutes. I need to do this because a) it helps keep my weight in check b) my dog needs to release his energy and c) exercise is good for the soul (and hormone levels and general health and wellness).

On the other three days, my goal is to do 15 minutes of yoga.

It's an ambitious--yet entirely feasible--goal. I run on Saturday and Sunday mornings (which I actually love) and then on Tuesday and Friday afternoons. It's the weekdays that are the hardest for me. I have a gagillion excuses. It's too cold. It's too wet. I have a headache. I'm tired. I'm hungry. I have too much work to do. [insert a plethora of other excuses...]

I've tried giving myself stickers every time I run, but that incentive doesn't work. When it comes down to it, I simply have to establish a routine and stick to it. It also helps if I do it first thing when I get home. No snack. No e-mail. Just exercise. And then relax.

As we inch closer and closer to vacation, my motivation is slipping even more. I really couldn't bring myself to run yesterday. And then, by some miracle, I just did it. I looked at my sad dog's eyes. I got changed and went out. (For the record, I chanted, "I hate this. I hate this." for the first 1/8-mile of my run, but I did it.)


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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Natural Deoderant Recommendation

Matt is in the bathroom--literally as I type this--saying, "This is a revelation!"

He's talking about the new natural deoderant we share: Burt's Bees Men's Natural Deoderant.

The smell is pretty gender-neutral, as far as I'm concerned (although I do tend to prefer a more centrist position on personal hygiene products). To me, the smell is very light and spicy.

It still feels pretty sticky going on, but I don't notice it after I let it dry for a few minutes.

Matt and I joke about how his sperm are going to be better off because he switched to a natural deoderant. Although I don't believe we need to be draconian about switching to natural and organic products/foods, I do believe it makes sense to make the switch in as many ways as possible.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Delicious Recipe

Photo courtesy of fresh365

Matt and I have a good system going for meals. We try to cook together four times a week and eat out three. Ideally, we experiment with at least one new recipe a week and resort to our "Favorites Binder" for the rest of our meals. If we like our experimental meal, we print it out and add it to our binder. If we don't like it, we forget about it.

We've been so busy lately that we've resorted to our standbys instead of looking for new recipes. However, we finally tried a new recipe yesterday: Maple-Pumpkin Pasta with Blue Cheese and Sage.

We simplified the process by going with frozen rather than fresh pumpkin (but couldn't find pumpkin, so we went with sweet potato). Also, we used goat rather than blue cheese, due to personal preference. The meal was delicious! Mmm...mmm!

We're definitely adding it to the binder.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Plans for Festivizing Our Home (Next Year)

Matt cutting down the last Christmas tree we had (in 2006)

I am determined to be more festive next year. Don't get me wrong; Matt and I aren't entirely scrooges this year. We're going to nine holiday parties this season (including a hayride and a Winter Solstice party). It's just that our home doesn't feel particularly celebratory.

It occurred to me that if we're going to create a more decorated domicile next season, then we should probably start planning now. Everything related to the holidays will be on major sale starting December 26.

Usually, I am not one to buy things in advance. For example, I can't bring myself to shop for sweaters in June, even if they are on sale.

For some reason, I'm a little more inspired this time. Here are my ideas for next year's December decorating:

  1. Holiday bunting like this one. I think it might say "cherish" with a star on each side. Or maybe "nurture." Hmm...let me know if you have other ideas. We really only have room for a word that is about six or seven letters. Ooh, we could make another one to string across our kitchen doorway. That one will need a smaller word. Maybe "love"?
  2. A festive tablecloth to really transform our table
  3. A festive centerpiece--any ideas? Maybe glass ornaments filled with something colorful and displayed in a glass vase. Or maybe a branch spray painted silver with things hanging off of it.
  4. A homemade tree skirt. Has anyone seen a cool one floating around the blogosphere? I've only seen really cheesy ones.
  5. A tree decorated with something eco-friendly (check out this inspiration)
  6. A homemade wreath on the front door
  7. An advent calendar
  8. Some ribbon wrapped around the columns on our front porch

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Reducing Nasty Chemicals in My Life

Reading the recent New York Times article about working on marriage (well, I have to confess I'm only on page five), has reminded me that Matt and I want to solidify our marriage before we jump into the sea of parenthood.

We started the process by taking a marriage class back in August, but we haven't done much since then. We've been trying to enroll in therapy together for a while, but we haven't gotten around to finding someone.

It's so easy to skip straight to the baby stuff. I only meant to read a book or two about preparing one's body for conception, but I quickly realized that pretty much every pregnancy book has information about pre-conception. My most recent read--The Complete Organic Pregnancy--is all about trying to eliminate nasty chemicals from your life (ostensibly to be your healthiest possible self for a baby, but also just for you).

I wanted to capture my to-do list before I have to return the book to the library:

  1. I need to go to the dentist. I know this seems unrelated. But I haven't been in almost two years. I need to go. Period. I really want to find a biological dentist who runs a mercury-free practice. Gosh. I really hate thinking about dentists.
  2. Schedule a general check-up. I am behind on this front, too. Argh! I used to be so good about going to the gynecologist every year and the dentist every six months.
  3. Start looking for a midwife.
  4. Start visiting hospitals and birthing centers and exploring the home-birth option.
  5. Find a saltwater pool to swim in when I'm pregnant.
  6. Switch to all-organic body products (the book recommends the site for product recommendations).
  7. Get a vegetable brush to clean off wax and other crap from my fruits and vegetables.
  8. Get a device to remove chlorine from our shower (any recommendations?).
Phew. Thanks for letting me dump my to-do list here. I have to translate my next steps from a book into some sort of list or else I totally forget everything.

Oops. I almost forgot the marriage items:
  1. Find a marriage counselor.
  2. Start printing out copies of our photographs and putting them in an album or binder or something.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Oh, Christmas Tree

I feel like a delinquent blogger.

I have no beautiful advent calendar projects to share and no decorations to speak of.

Honestly, Matt and I haven't done a single festive thing around our own house (although we are going to an inordinate number of holiday parties at other people's houses this year--does that count?).

Like I said a few days ago, I miscalculated the amount of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. Matt and I should have done some holiday festification around our home the weekend after Thanksgiving. That way, we would have had three full weeks to enjoy it before heading off for the holidays.

But now it doesn't seem worth it (since the to-do list is chock full of other stuff...).

Plus, there's one other issue: Matt doesn't believe in Christmas trees. As an environmentalist, Matt thinks it is egregious to cut down a tree, stick it in your house for a few weeks, and then set it on the curb. Fake trees are equally bad with all the crud that goes into producing them and all the off-gassing that can happen.

I argue that Christmas tree farms are actually good for the environment because they generate a need for trees. Those trees grow all year (and even over the course of multiple years?) and pull carbon dioxide out of the air the entire time.

However, one could argue that all the pesticides that go into tree farming do more harm than good. Aaaackkk!

Anyway, I informed my beloved husband that next year I was going to get a tree. For sure. I tried to explain that having a tree is a tradition for me. It connects me to memories of family and community. It connects me to the cycle of seasons. He thought I was just justifying it.

But that's what our personal allowances are for, right? I can spend my $70 however I choose.

In face, maybe I'll go out and get one tomorrow night (I think our native plant store might just have organic trees...).

Any ideas for cheap/easy/aesthetically pleasing decorations?

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Monday, December 7, 2009

The Great Deodorant Debate

I've always been a sweater. In high school, I had to intentionally wear shirts that would not show my sweat rings.

Antiperspirant is really the only thing that works for me, although for years I've been trying to make the switch to more natural deodorants. The main ingredient in antiperspirant has been linked to Alzheimer's, and I wouldn't be surprised if it leads to other stuff too. I hate to put something on my body--day in and day out--that probably isn't very good for it.

Of course our bodies are designed to handle toxins, but we expose them to so, so much. I like to minimize toxins in my life in whatever ways I can.

So today, I reached for my natural deodorant: Kiss My Face. I've tried it in the past but have always reverted back to my regular stuff. It always feels so sticky, and I'm not sure that I like the smell. Maybe I just need to try other brands until I find something that works for me.

Any suggestions?

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Halloween in August?

I tend to forget that once the holidays start in the fall/winter, they pretty much come non-stop.

I always think I'm ahead of the game by starting my Halloween costume early. I start brainstorming ideas several months in advance and usually start making my costume at the beginning of October (even though I'm often rushing to finish it the night before or day of).

And then I start thinking about Matt's birthday and Thanksgiving. But by the time those two holidays have come and gone, I don't seem to have enough time to get ready for Christmas. Or New Year's!

Okay, I need to calm myself down. It's clearly not a big deal by any stretch of the imagination. The universe has a lot bigger problems. It's just that there are things I want to do for each holiday. I want to create thoughtful and handmade gifts for my friends and family at Christmas (I've decided to stop sending cards, which definitely takes a load off). Going into the new year, I would love to completely organize and clean my house.

So, by the time the new year starts, I need to make time for the following:

  1. Make presents for my family, friends/colleagues, and students
  2. Wrap presents for everyone (which I might do here!)
  3. Buy two rugs to give our home a more complete look
  4. Get some basic issues resolved on our house (crack in bathroom ceiling, etc.)
  5. Do a Purge-n-Organize in each room of our house (luckily we live in a small house!)
  6. Finish my two consulting projects
  7. Finish the revisions on my book proposal
  8. Exercise regularly and eat healthy! (and stay hydrated!)
  9. Attend seven holiday parties
  10. Relax on a daily basis and enjoy life
I think I just need to elongate my holiday season a little bit. I might want to start Halloween a tad earlier and work on Matt's birthday farther in advance. I'll definitely have to start Christmas preparations before Thanksgiving. Hmm...maybe I'll just moosh together Thanksgiving and Christmas in my mind and start preparing for them right after Halloween.

Aack. I realize I am sounding like a big planning nerd. I am a planning nerd. I like to plan. I will actually bring more pleasure to myself by planning in advance.

I apologize for subjecting you to my nerdiness!

Now, I must print out this list to make sure everything gets done.

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Flying the Coop

Finally! Our chicken coop as arrived!

I say "finally" because we have been co-habitating with the chickens (yes, in our house--our dining room to be more specific) for the past week and a half. The first day, it was actually incredibly fun. We let them walk around our living room, and we held them in our laps. We invited our neighbors over to do the same thing.

And the sunny weekends were nice, too. When it's nice outside, we carry the chickens out two-by-two and watch them peck around on the grass. It's endlessly entertaining (oddly enough).

But the rest of the time, our four chickens have been cooped up in a box (luckily, it's a really big box). As they've grown bigger (and more courageous), they have started flying the coop. Since the box has an open top, they first fly up and perch on the edge of the box. Next, they fly from the top of the coop to our dining room table a couple feet away.

Free-range chickens are actually a great thing, except they are little poop factories. Seriously. They poop All-The-Time.

Needless to say, I am relieved they will be moving outside soon. It will be better for all parties involved. Matt and I had to drive to the Greyhound Station in downtown Houston to pick up our eglu. It arrived in two huge boxes that we unsuccessfully tried to cram into my Honda Fit. Plan B was to take everything out of the boxes and then stuff it in the car. Worked much better.

So far, we are enamored with our little coop that looks like a first generation computer that Mac produced for consumers (even though I had to take on an extra consulting job so we could pay for it). It honestly makes chicken raising seem like something we can seamlessly integrate into our quasi-urban lives. Since we won't spend a ton of time cleaning out the coop (just a rinse once a week and a more thorough clean once a month), we'll have more time to just bask with them in the sun (and cook omelets).

Now, if only it would stop raining and being generally icky around these parts!

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Breakfast of Champions

A couple of factors have led to a shift in my breakfast routine. For a while, I was making a delicious smooth with one cup of organic, non-fat, plain yogurt with a banana (the riper it is, the better for natural sweetness).

But then I got terrible sinus congestion and decided to lay off the dairy products for a while. Plus, it got cold.

So, back to the oatmeal it is. But I like Oatmeal Plus (or "Oatmeal on Steroids"). It includes things like raw pumpkin seeds, apples, dried cranberries, almond slivers and dried cherries. Delicious!

But I need more variety in my life for sure. What do you recommend for a healthy breakfast?

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I Think I Can, I Think I Can...

I really want to be the kind of person who runs and does yoga. In my mind, those two exercises are very complementary. Ideally, I would run at least four times a week for approximately 30 minutes and do 15 minutes of yoga at least three times a week. (Editor's Note: I realize 15 minutes of yoga does do real yoga much justice, but at least it's a start, right?)

The running part is the easiest because of our beloved bloodhound, Hoss. He needs to run every day, so Matt and I divide up who takes him. He's my responsibility on Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

The yoga part is a little harder. I love, love, love my video of Ashtonga yoga that includes 15-, 30-, and 45-minute versions, but yoga is hard for me (because I don't do it regularly--duh!). It's difficult to muster up the motivation to do it.

I think the trick might be to do it at the same time every day (on my non-running days). So, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, I should come straight home from school and do yoga. Period. Before my snack. Before checking my e-mail. Before calling my best friend. Y-O-G-A.

Okay, I'll give it a shot...

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