Monthly Archives: June 2015

How it Works: Time Management

It’s no secret that time management is a work in progress for me.  I know that through prioritization and better use of the gift of time, I should theoretically be able to accomplish everything I need to on a daily basis.

And yet…I still find myself struggling to stay “on task”–something that is, arguably, a bit difficult when you don’t work in a traditional work setting (with a manager, task lists, etc.); taking the initiative to get things done on your own can be a bit of struggle for some (*raises hand*).  Odious tasks may sit on your list, playing a distant second to activities like social media or TV (hello folding laundry)  Since welcoming our two children, I have become much better at managing my time, but still have  ways to go.

If you struggle with time management as well, here are three  things I have found helpful to keep in mind.  I hope they help you, too!

1.  Take advantage of your “peak time.”  For some, mornings may be the best time to tick things off a to-do list.  For others, late at night may be the optimal time.  Be you an early bird or a night owl, or something in between, chances are good you know when you function best–your “peak time.”

I’ve found I accomplish more to-do list items early in the morning, before the kids are awake.  I am also able to do things after the kiddos are in bed, but I am usually tired myself at that point, so try to ensure I get things that require optimal brain function done early in the day.

2.  Make a list.  This isn’t something that only Type A personalities do–it’s something most of us can benefit from.  I prefer the old-fashioned way of list-making:  I use a planner and a pen.  My to-do list for the day is usually a visual disaster; the shorthand alone makes my husband cringe, and at some point I may utilize an electronic list method, but for now, if it ain’t broke…

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Do all of the items get crossed off each day?  No.  It’s more of a list of goals, but when I have them written down, I’m more likely to accomplish them all.  Lists also make #3 easier…

3.  Prioritize reasonably…and practice grace.  That dental appointment you have on Tuesday will probably take (SHOULD take) priority over, say, finishing up a library book due next week.  Figure out what absolutely must get done, and make it happen.  At the same time though, give yourself a bit of grace if you don’t finish everything.  It’s okay.  Dust yourself off when those days come (and they will…a lot) and start fresh tomorrow.

…with a new list!

And on our list next week is a little break.  We’ll be back again with fresh posts the week after next.  Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out!

Praises of the Bean

beansGrowing up, I remember disliking beans, except for baked beans and the occasional bean in chili.

I think us Americans often discount beans for being the food of the global poor. But we’re no better off for eschewing this humble food.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve come to appreciate this  basic food substance. I even considered challenging myself to eat beans every day for a month, but I don’t think that a gimmicky challenge does the bean justice.

Instead, I’ll share my favorite things about beans:

1. They’re cheap. I buy mine dry from Walmart. The most expensive bean among my regulars is the black bean, at $0.17 a serving (1/4 cup dry beans).

2. They’re easy to prepare. The crockpot is my friend. After soaking the beans overnight, I throw them in the crockpot on high with some spices and some veggies. Stir every hour, and they’re ready in 6-8 hours. It’s really that easy.

3. They’re versatile. Of course I’ve made beans into chili. I’ve cooked them with cumin and thyme for a Mexican flavor or with oregano and basil for an Italian one. I’ve prepared them with corn, tomatoes, onions, peppers, carrots and celery. I’ve cooked kidney, black, pinto and lentils. I’ve eaten them with rice, corn bread or standing alone.

Even then, I’ve only scratched the surface of possibilities.

4. They’re filling. Beans have a great combination of carbohydrates, fiber and protein to get me through the day.

5. They are healthy. Obviously, the fiber and protein is good, but so are the vitamins.

Do you eat beans? If so, how do you like them?

On Community

download (1)Recently I read Creating Community Anywhere:  Finding Support and Connection in a Fragmented World, by Carolyn Shaffer and Kristin Anundsen.

Usually I take what I need or want from a book and run with it, rarely thinking about the source of the information again.  In the case of this book, because there is so much to absorb and because nurturing the relationships I have been given is a constant project for me, I have found myself spending a rather inordinate amount of time pondering the material I read.

The title alludes to the topic at hand:  that of community.  Here are a few thoughts I had before reading the text (in bold) and after reading (in standard text).

1.  How sad a book like this even had to be written.  Upon reflection, I can’t say I’m terribly surprised we need a how-to book about building community.  For starters, we live in an era of physical distance; my own little family lives several hours away from parents, siblings, and extended family for a variety of reasons and this works well for us.  But is that a reason to distance ourselves from creating a different sort of “family” comprised of friends, neighbors, and others in the area we currently are?

Shaffer and Amundsen sum the answer up succinctly:  “…community is no longer a given, and the old forms do not fit current realities.  If people want community today, they have to find new ways to create it for themselves.” (page 5)

2.  I’m introverted, so this book doesn’t really apply to me.  Truth:  I am as big of a hermit as they come.  This is one reason why you read my thoughts on a blog instead of hear me speak to hundreds from a stage.  I like my “me” time, and do think it’s essential to be at peace with spending time alone.  I love seeing movies alone, and enjoy eating out alone.  I enjoy solitary hobbies, such as reading.

But maybe the authors have a point when they say we “cant ignore our interdependence” (page xvi).  Even an introvert like me needs community, in the physical sense (in addition to the virtual sense).  Proof:  I am involved in both our church and the community chorus, as well as our neighborhood.  On a smaller scale, I am married, and I would argue that is also a form of community, albeit a small (population:  2) community.

3.  What can I do/what do I already do to nurture community? As mentioned above, I already participate in the larger communities of church, choir, and our neighborhood, but as in other areas of stewardship, rest assured there is room for improvement!

A few months ago, I read about the 1,000+ Coffees project–the premise being that this particular gentleman made it his goal to have a cup of coffee with each of his 1,000+ Facebook friends, ideally within three years.

This idea appeals to me, and since I have far fewer social media friends and yet still spend an inordinate amount of time online, it is definitely within my realm of possibility.  It would be a great way to marry my online community to my real-life community, at least!

What are your thoughts on community?  How do you “find support and connection in a fragmented world”?

Lesson of the Lunchbox

A few weeks ago I tried doing mason jar salads for the first time. As someone who loves mason jars and making my weekday meals ahead of time, it seemed like a logical thing for me to try.

It turned out really well. I highly recommend this page as a tutorial for how to organize your salad layers, as that is the most important thing for fresh mason jar salads. When it’s time to eat, I simply dump the contents of the mason jar onto a plate and have a healthy, delicious meal.

But this post isn’t about mason jar salads.

One day a couple of weeks ago I unexpectedly had my work meal provided for so I didn’t need my mason jar salad that day. I left it, my plate and fork (the real stuff) in my lunch box in the fridge for the next day.

The problem is, it was a Thursday.  I left those items in the fridge that gets cleaned out on Thursday nights (when they decide to do so). When I went in the next day, there was no sign of my lunch box.

Or my mason jar, plate or fork.

I was, understandably, upset. After all, I strive to be a good steward of my belongings (hello, blog title) and losing these items was not being a good steward. To make it worse, most likely those still-wanted items were on their way to a landfill.

It was really easy to get mad: at the cleaning crew and at myself. But then I realized that I couldn’t change what happened by stewing on it further (I had already checked with the cleaning crew and they no longer had it). So I had to give myself grace.

I do want to  be a good steward of my possessions, and there is certainly room to improve in that. But I also need to recognize that the goal is not to be perfect in my stewardship. No one is saved by my frugality or eco-friendliness. While I do hope that there are positive consequences for others by my actions, that is my secondary motivation.

My primary motivation is to be faithful to the God who was first faithful to me. If I beat myself up about not doing this or that, I’m not honoring God who already did all the work for my salvation.

I hope that every time I look at my new lunch box or at my 7-plate dinnerware set I will think of God’s grace for me.

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My new lunch box is a little bit bigger, as it also doubles as my cooler.

Free Kiddie Entertainment

Summer is almost upon us, but as I write this at the end of May, the weather here in the Midwest hasn’t gotten the memo.  It’s hard to go to the pool when there is yet another thunderstorm on the horizon, or the temperature is barely above 65 degrees!

This weather has gotten me thinking about alternative, free ways to keep my young ‘uns occupied.  I’m a big proponent of independent, creative, electronic-free play in part because–let’s face it–I won’t always be around to serve as a constant source of entertainment for my children, so they need to learn to entertain themselves without me hovering over their every move.  Likewise, there may also be times when (gasp!) technology is not feasible or available.

Any toys or activities that serve to further that goal AND are free or cheap are highly sought-after in our house.  Here are a few we have come up with and greatly enjoy:

11170351_10102820382682459_4732335436343756587_n1. Take a book and read it.  Free.  When I was in elementary school, we had silent reading time each day.  I had a teacher who called this time TABARI–which literally stood for “Take a Book and Read It.”  Another teacher called that time DEAR–which stood for “Drop Everything and Read.” In our house, we just call it “reading time.”  Bean will usually snuggle up in her room with a big pile of picture books, while Peanut will sit on my lap and read with me.

2.  Cardboard appliance boxes.  Free if you do your homework (or are installing a new appliance!).  We have a neighbor who does construction on new houses, so whenever we need a new box to play in, I check with him and he not only obliges, but also brings it over to our house in his pickup truck.  Win!  Many appliance stores will also set aside a box or two for you if you ask; oftentimes it saves them the extra step of breaking down the box for recycling.

3.  Cardboard canvas.  Free, once you decide you are tired of having your living room overrun with appliance boxes.  Simply break down the aforementioned box, give the kids art supplies, and let them create away.  Side note:  this is also fun for parents too!

11044640_10102722494126909_8908845080738783927_n4.  Play outside.  Free(ish).  For whatever reason, it seems like playing outside seems to get a bad rap these days.  I’m not comfortable with our kids playing outside on their own (they are only three and 18 months, after all), but a little sunshine (or rain, depending on the weather) while they play outside is good for me, too!

For a nominal cost, sidewalk chalk and sandbox toys can be acquired, as can sunscreen and bug spray; old dishes and silverware can also fit the bill for those kids who like to dig.  Fancy toys like the car in the picture are certainly not required! One could argue the cost of fixing filthy, torn clothes could add up, but we have gotten around this by having dedicated “play clothes,” which are worn only when playing outside.  Also, I don’t know if there is any scientific evidence to back this observation up, but I have noticed our kids not only sleep better after playing outside, but they also are in better moods…and so am I!

What free (or inexpensive) activities and toys can you think of?

Anti-Anti-Aging

If I were to take my social cues from reality television, advertisements and social media, I, as a 32-year-old woman, should be starting to obsess with not appearing to grow old.

A quick Google search reveals that since I’m in my 30s I should now be seeking micro peel, facial oil, skin brightener, retinol eye cream and wrinkle repair…and that’s just for my face. No, I don’ t really know what those are, either.

I think I look pretty good with gray hair (this was for Halloween 2013).

I’m also supposed to be covering my growing number of gray hairs.

[Truth: I’ve done it before. But I’m choosing not to anymore as I can’t align that decision with the way I’ve chosen to live.]

And that’s just for the average woman: if I were interested and wanted to invest in my looks, I could also start looking into various nips and tucks and lasers, too.

I don’t buy it. I want to celebrate age, not youth. After all, each day I have is a gift from God, so why should I try to hide the evidence that I’ve lived those days?

I hope that fashion comes around and recognizes the foolishness of glorifying young looks. But I can’t wait for it to do so.

Benefits of being anti-anti-aging:

1. It’s simpler. My beauty routines are already more simple than average, and I’m only making them simpler.

2. It’s cheaper. I don’t even know what I could spend on anti-aging items, but let’s say that I only purchase them moderately, at $25/month. If I were to live an additional 50 years, that is $15,000. If I had stuck that $25/month in a savings account instead, I’d have over $18,000.

3. It takes less time. All the above treatments take time. I’d rather use that time to pursue other interests that I find more worthwhile.

4. I have better things to think about. I don’t  waste time wondering if others can see my gray roots or if I have a new wrinkle.

What are your thoughts about the anti-aging industry? Am I being naive?

How it Works: Selling Stuff

I once had an English teacher who said one of the worst words a writer could use was the word “stuff.”  (The other one, in case you were wondering, was “things.”)

That said, “stuff” is going to be discussed at length in this post, because one of the easiest ways to live out minimalist values and make a little extra money (to build up an emergency fund or pay off that pesky debt) is to sell “stuff.”

Of course, one could always sell body “things”, such as plasma, but since I have no experience in that arena, let’s talk instead about something I have actual experience with:  clearing out clutter and getting cash for it.

Three of the more lucrative household items I have found to clear the most room AND give the most money are clothing, books and paper products, and “dust collectors”–also known as knick knacks, tchotchkes, and trinkets.

 20150301_2222531.  Clothing.  One of the biggest things to remember about selling clothing is that if you wouldn’t buy it, then neither will a secondhand clothing store.  Typically stores that buy clothing want on-trend, good quality clothing; depending on where you are selling, brand names will matter.  My experience has been they will pay based on what is in their current stock; if they have a glut of shirts, for example, then they won’t pay top dollar for yours, if they take them at all.  Selling a few clothes at Plato’s Closet yielded us around $50, but again, this can vary.  Some stores will also offer you store credit in lieu of cash.

2.  Books and Paper Products.  My first experience selling books was in college, where I hoped I would get a little money back for textbooks that may (or may not) have seen a great deal of use during the semester.  I have continued to sell books and other items periodically, especially if I happen to have duplicates of a book, puzzle, or calendar.  Selling books is similar to selling clothing, as far as requirements are concerned.  Quality books, puzzles, and the like can be sold online or in a traditional used book store, with cash back varying widely.  I confess I never make huge amounts of money doing this, but it’s nice to clear off my bookshelves and get a bit of money for a special treat!

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An example of the tschotskes that made the cut.

3.  Knick-knacks.  In my mind this is the trickiest of the three:  how do you know what is best to donate to a thrift store and what is worth the time to try and sell?  I’ve found that if an item is rare or a collectible, it is obviously worth the time to try to sell (usually an online venue is best), but so too is the item that would appeal to a certain population.  I used to collect dog figurines before I realized what a chore dusting them really was.  I sold them online to people (typically fans of the dog breed depicted in the statue) who would enjoy and appreciate them more than I was.  Depending on the item, this can yield a good chunk of change.

What “stuff” have you sold?  What was your experience like?

Making Your Own Mixes

Several years ago I remember thinking that anyone who made brownies or cakes from scratch (rather than from a box) were crazy. Why work harder than you have to?

Then I started to care more about cost and ingredients. My desire to cut out over-processed, white flour led me away from boxed mixes.

For similar reasons, I’ve moved away from spice mixes and store-bought dressings. By mixing them myself, not only do I save money and use spices and herbs that I already have, while they’re still potent, I can mix them to my tastes. Soon, I hope to be able to grow most of my own herbs as well.

I’m thankful for the Internet for helping me figure out recipes that work for me. I’ve including the links to these recipes below as well as my thoughts on them.

Baking Mixes

Yellow cake mix – One of my favorite type of muffins to make have 2 ingredients: a can of pumpkin and a box of yellow cake mix. This is the  recipe I use to replace the yellow cake mix.

Jiffy corn muffin mix – Jiffy cornbread is my favorite thing to eat with chili. Homemade vegetarian chili and homemade muffins is a very filling, cheap and healthy meal and easy to take to work.

Bisquick – I’ve only ever used this to sausage balls. If you do what I did and replace the flour with white whole wheat flour, you’ll want to reduce the flour a little to make the balls easier to form. I’ll add a little flour at a time next time.

Brownies – I live in Denver, so I use this high-altitude recipe. When I get more comfortable baking at the high altitude I will be swapping the eggs out for applesauce.

Spice mixes

Taco seasoning mix – I’m a weenie about spicy food, so this allows me to up the flavor without the heat (I make it without the red pepper flakes).

Chili powder – Before I found this recipe, I had never thought about what “chili powder” really is. Again, I can decrease the pepper to make it more palatable for me.

Ranch mix – I use this to substitute dry ranch packets in recipes (like ranch potatoes). But for ranch dressing…

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Ranch…yum!

Dressings

Ranch dressing – Ranch is my all-time favorite dressing and goes with just about everything. I’ve tried other recipes before, but this is the first one I can see giving up the (ranch) bottle for. I throw everything in my Bullet (a half-batch at a time) so it’s super easy, and I use it up in a week.

I hope to start tweaking it to replace the sour cream with Greek yogurt to make it healthier.

Ceasar dressing – This dressing recipe is super easy and tasty.

Cilantro lime vinaigrette – This is a good summer recipe and hope to making it soon with fresh cilantro over garden lettuce and radishes.

How about you? What have you learned to make from scratch?

Home Maintenance

It has been right about five years since Riley and I became homeowners, and if health is one of the life aspects where “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies, then I would argue so is home ownership.  It is cheaper and less time-consuming to practice prevention than it is to solve the problems as they crop up.

The gift of homeownership comes with certain duties and responsibilities (as well as the never-ending list of home improvements):  home maintenance.  This is far from a comprehensive list (click here for a good start), but hopefully serves as a good reminder of the (many) things that need to be done to keep a home running in tip-top shape.

1.  Check air conditioning and heat at the change of seasons.  This can not only prevent environmental problems like freon leaks, but can also spot potentially life-threatening issues, such as cracks in a furnace (which can cause lethal carbon monoxide poisoning).

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I speak from experience on this:  it was through an annual tune-up that we learned of hazardous cracks in our ancient furnace (seriously…it was 35+ years old), and if we turned it on, carbon monoxide would leak into our home.  We promptly got a new unit!  Those few minutes and dollars spent on a tune-up are well-worth it, and if there happens to be a problem, you become aware of it before it is too late! And on the subject of carbon monoxide…

2.  Check the batteries on carbon monoxide and smoke detectors twice a year.  This is something that can be done whenever the clocks need to be changed.  It’s easy to let this slide until an obnoxious little beep wakes you up at night, but as with a furnace tune-up, this little home maintenance tip can save lives.

3.  Vacuum refrigerator coils.  This one seems minor, but since your fridge sucks up a lot of energy, it behooves you to get rid of the dust and gunk that collects in those coils.  Doing so not only helps conserve energy and helps the environment, but also helps your utility bills.  Add it to your spring cleaning list!

What home maintenance projects do you recommend?

Minimum Clothes Count

I’ve seen a lot lately about how to create more outfits with fewer items of clothing. I love the idea of minimizing any area of “stuff,” but I’m concerned that this is shaping minimalism to look more like the rest of our culture. Why not proudly wear the same outfit over and over again?

I will readily admit that I have more clothes than I need. I don’t mind getting rid of what I don’t like, doesn’t fit or is unusable. But I struggle with getting rid of extras of things that are perfectly good.

[Sidenote: When I actually took the time to count my clothes, I do think I could get rid of some things. I will be working on that soon.]

Of course, it’d be better not to have accumulated extras in the first place.

I finally wore this skirt out after an estimated 600 wears.
I finally wore this skirt out after an estimated 600 wears.

So instead of getting rid of usable clothes (or worse, buying more duplicate items), I’ve decided to come up with a list of the minimum amount of clothing items I can make do with.

While I’m sharing my list below, I think everyone’s will look different. Because I like to have a full load before I use the washer, I used 2 loads of laundry (one light, one dark) every 2 weeks as my baseline. While I can get by between laundry days on my current level of unmentionables, I will start washing them by hand once a week when I get my pile whittled down closer than my goal minimum.

As my clothing preferences and circumstances change, I’ll revisit this list. For example, when I buy a home, I’m considering buying an electric-free washer which in addition to other benefits, will also allow me to get buy with fewer items as the loads are smaller.

For now, here’s my list:

Item (current) – goal minimum
Sweaters (14) – 4
Sweatshirts (3) – 1
Long-sleeved shirts (9) – 4
3/4-sleeved shirts (10) – 8
Short-sleeved shirts (15) – 10
No-sleeved shirts (3) – 0
T-shirts (14) – 6
Dresses (5) – 2
Skirts (5) – 3
Pants (4) – 2
Jeans (1) – 1
Exercise pants (6) – 2
Exercise shorts (4) – 2
Undershirts (black) (2) – 2
Undershirts (white) (12) – 2
Undershirts (other colors) (2) – 0
Tights (10) – 5
Hose (1) – 0
Bras (8) – 3
Exercise bras (7) – 3
Underwear (23) – 8
Socks (18) – 4
Exercise socks  (9) – 5
Slipper socks  (2) – 0
Sleep shirts (14) – 4
Summer sleep pants (8) – 4
Winter sleep pants (8) – 4
House jacket (1) – 1
Cardigans (2) – 1
Jackets (2)- 1
Coat (2) – 1
Gloves (5) – 1
Scarf (1) – 1
Swimsuits (2) – 2

What’s the minimum that you can get by with?