Monthly Archives: April 2016

Joint Book Review: How to Be Alive by Colin Beavan

how to be aliveIn How to Be Alive, Colin Beavan helps his readers to live their lives in accordance with their professed beliefs, with a goal of having a better life and a better world.

Amanda’s Take

I first became interested in this book because of my familiarity with Colin Beavan’s No Impact Man project.  Because I really enjoyed both the No Impact book and movie, I was excited to delve into a more recent project of his.

Much of what Beavan notes within the text is common sense, but certainly bears repeating, such as how small steps can and do make a difference in improving one’s quality of life.  I appreciated that the book went beyond the typical self-help realm, and actually tackled some bigger picture/beneficial-to-humanity topics, including social justice and service.

Although a bit on the lengthy side, How to Be Alive is a great book for those readers wanting more than the usual self-help fare.

Ronnica’s Take

I found a lot to like in this book, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I didn’t read it right on the heels of Living Forward, a book on the same subject that I found much more straightforward and inspiring (review to come).

Back to the book at hand. How to Be Alive almost felt like two books: one talking about living your values and another about how to live his values.

I really like the idea of practically working through what it would mean to live in accordance with your beliefs. This is something that I’m always circling back to. To that end, I think that this book is helpful. I also didn’t mind the values that Beavan was encouraging, and he has good suggestions. I just found the two combined to be a bit muddy. (But to be fair, I read the first third of this book while staying up all night traveling).

I did find this book inspiring in my journey to live true to the purpose I have been given.

“The question is not whether you can make a difference to the world and build a wonderful life for yourself while doing so. The question is, do you want to be the type of person who tries?” – p. 78

Another Year Older

1909985_546122279579_2351_nI turn 31 this week.

Depending on who you talk to, I am either ancient (like my daughter thinks), or a young ‘un (usually viewed this way by those of my parents’ generation or older).

As I am piggybacking off of Ronnica’s blog post from her last birthday, I, too, find myself in a more contemplative mood as I turn another year older.  I don’t really feel the need to delve into what areas of growth or areas of improvement I have though, since these are addressed quite often in this blog.

Instead I would like to share an insight that was first imparted to me by my late grandfather, a Lutheran pastor like my father–a profession that often deals with dying and death:

The alternative to growing older is much worse.

The alternative to growing older, though not directly stated, is dying young.  Although poorly paraphrased here, this is a tidbit I often wish I had the courage to share with those who gripe about getting older.

I confess it really bothers me when people relate how much they hate growing older, or that they refuse to share how old they really are, or that they now qualify for a senior rate. Likely I am more sensitive to the gift of aging, since my mother died so young, and because I have lost so many people, seemingly before their time.

To be sure, aging involves losses of its own (physical issues, mental issues, etc.); these losses can be hard to accept.  But as Ronnica has noted on here before, each day is a gift from God.  Aging should be celebrated!

My birthday hope for myself is that I continue to view ageing as a gift of which I need to be a good steward.  Certainly it is something to strive for.

 

Environmental Pet Peeves

Tomorrow is Earth Day. Just like we say about Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, we should love the earth every day. Please don’t allow this day to be the only day you think about your personal environmental impact.

In honor of the holiday, I’m going to use today’s blog post to share my earth-related pet peeves. I’m the first to admit that I can be a hypocrite and don’t always practice what I believe, so if you do any of these things, don’t think I think that you hate the earth. Still, I would ask you to reconsider.

My environmental pet peeves:

water bottles1. Bottled water. I try to never use a plastic disposable individual bottle of water. I bring my own water bottles wherever I go, and much prefer to drink from them. This also helps my wallet: a bottle water costs significantly more for something that is likely to be someone else’s tap water, anyway.

2. Throwing away recyclables. If you want to bug me further, throw that disposable bottle in the trash. I’m thankful that recycling options are so common these days. Even if you have to go out of your way to do so, please toss recyclables in the right container.

3. Leaving the light on. Here’s looking at you, Motel 6. I get that not everyone wants to live in the dark as much as I do, but even if you desire a room to be institutionally-bright, you don’t need it to be so lit when no one is in it. Turn off the light.

4. Leaving a car running while parked. Except when it’s extremely hot or cold, I don’t get this.

5. Excessive packaging. This isn’t an individual issue, but a manufacturer issue. We’ve come to believe that everything must come in a package. I hope to buy more and more that comes in green packaging (most preferably, no packaging).

What about you, what are your environmental pet peeves?

Photo by Daniel Orth

The Art of the Staycation

A highlight of our recent staycation was the zoo!
A highlight of our recent staycation was the zoo!

It was spring break for Bean recently.  After some tears upon realizing she would not be in school for a full week and a half (parent-teacher conferences were a couple of days before the break), she inquired what her classmates and beloved teacher were doing.

I happened to know:  they were going on vacations.

And not just any old vacation–some of these trips were quite exotic.  I should not have been a bit surprised when the first question out of her mouth was this:

“Well…where are we going on vacation?”

I had to break the news to her that not many people are able to take vacations over spring break; perhaps someday we will be able to, but Daddy’s work and the family budget mean that we cannot go on vacation. But I emphasized that didn’t mean we couldn’t have fun.

And boy, did we have fun.  That’s one of the perks of having a staycation in a major metropolitan area–we had lots of fun opportunities available to us, including the aquarium, the children’s museum, the zoo, and grandparents coming to visit for a couple of days.  The days blew by.

Here are a few generic staycation tips–may they work for you, too!

1.  Plan.  Just because you are staying close to home doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan.  Quite the contrary–you may need to purchase tickets for certain attractions, you don’t want to over- or under-plan, and of course, without planning, you cannot…

2.  Budget.  Staycations defeat their primary purchase of saving money if you don’t set aside a certain amount to use.  For our four main activities, we budgeted a total of $200.  Not bad, especially considering where we went, and compared to a typical vacation for a family of four for the same length of time. (Hint:  Coupons helped!)

3.  Meals at home (when possible).  Along the same lines as budgeting, try to eat in as much as possible.  A meal out for a family of four can exceed $30 or more in this area, and that adds up if eating out for all three meals a day.  It may not be as much fun, but limiting your eating out to just a couple special meals can make a difference in the bottom line.

Got any staycation tips?  Please share them with me!  With summer vacation coming up, I’m eager to get a start on planning some fun family activities.

Celebrating One Year Debt-Free

A year ago this month, I paid off the last of my student loan.

Since then, my net worth has more than doubled, now at 85% of my income. More than the positive influence on my net worth, being debt free has provided a degree of flexibility and freedom that I didn’t have before.

For example, I flew back to North Carolina earlier this month. This is a trip that I’ve wanted to do for over a year, but I couldn’t justify slowing down my debt payoff to save for it. Now debt free, I can enjoy such trips without guilt.

Another benefit I see to being debt free is that interest is now my friend. As I was filing my taxes for 2015, I realized that this was the last year I plan on reporting paying more interest than I have received. (Well, at least until I get a mortgage. But I revel in being fully debt free for now.)

While I still practice a tight budget, I much prefer to see the balance of my saving accounts going up to the balance on my student loans going down. I can easily imagine each of those dollars playing their part in buying my dream urban homestead.

I’m anxious to take the next step in my financial plan: buying my house, but I know that I will best be served by preparing first. If I do, I should be able to be permanently debt free in less than a decade after I make that large purchase.

Visiting the beach debt-free doesn't keep it from being a rainy day.
Visiting the beach debt-free doesn’t keep it from being a rainy day.

Making the Cut: Spring Cleaning Edition

I tend to fall on the “fan of organization” end of the spectrum.  No big secret there.  I have written more than once about what fall and spring cleaning looks like in our house, even down to my “rules.”

But what do those rules look like in action?  Below is a list of some of the things that made it during spring cleaning this year…and those lucky items that are off to people who can actually use them.

11178539-6386-4f83-8a02-ad17cc4386871.  Favored toys:  Safe.  I’d have been in some pretty hot water if I’d tossed Peanut’s beloved Baba (pictured here), or any one of Bean’s baby dolls, so those highly preferred toys definitely stay.  Still, there were some that were either no longer age-appropriate, were duplicates, or long forgotten that are on their way to the thrift store or nearby charity.

2.  Devotional materials:  Safe.  These are getting a boatload of use since we implemented family devotional time in the evenings.  The only reason they were briefly considered for disposal is because they are getting a bit tattered and worn.

3.  Wedding dress:  Safe.  Sigh.  Read all about my quandary here.  The dress is safe…for now.

05d5d770-1bed-4cf0-af6a-6c44084e49914.  90% of school papers:  Gone.  As hard as it was to get rid of the dozens of scribbled coloring sheets from Bean’s first year of school, I also know that we have over a decade left of school papers to look forward to, not just from her but from Peanut as well.  I kept the super special ones, like this artistic rendition of a lamb, but everything else got recycled or given to people (ahem…grandparents) who may get pleasure from them.

5.  Holey blankets:  Gone.  I don’t know why I didn’t donate our “loved” linens to the local animal shelter sooner–perhaps I was attaching too much sentimental value to them–but these are gone, and our hall closet is far more spacious as a result.

6.  One of our coolers:  Gone.  I’m still baffled as to why we had two coolers, but now we are down to a much more manageable number:  one.

What made the cut in your home this year?

How It Works: Saving on Electricity

energy usage chartI don’t spend much on electricity. Since I moved to Colorado, I’ve not used more than $30 worth of electricity in any given month. While I’d love to have solar panels one day and get that down to $0, I’ll continue to seek to cut my energy use for the sake of both my wallet and the environment.

This is how I’ve kept my electricity bill low:

1. Trade out any provided light bulbs with energy-efficient ones.

In the last 2 apartments that I have had, I have unscrewed existing light bulbs and replaced them with my own CFLs. Then, when it’s time to move, I just switch them back.

I have saved particularly in the bathroom, where regular CFLs replace inefficient vanity bulbs. When you do this, make sure you do the math: you probably don’t need to fill every light socket, as a 26W CFL gives off the equivalent light to an 100W traditional bulb.

If you’re scared of CFLs, jump straight to LEDs. I’ll eventually replace my bulbs with LEDs, but I’ve never had one burn out yet.

2. Use natural light, whenever possible.

I do my best to do my chores during the day, so I don’t have to use any artificial light. A big part of this is considering a home’s sunniness when you are choosing where to live.

3. Turn things off when they’re not in use.

This is an obvious one that we don’t do enough. For me, this includes turning off the microwave clock display, flipping off my power strip when I leave the house and not using more lights than I absolutely need.

I know it’s weird, but I just don’t have lights on in my house, unless I absolutely need them. If I’m sitting in my “spot”, I really only need light when I’m reading. I have a night light in my bathroom, which means I only have to turn on those lights when I’m showering.

4. Store your emergency water in the fridge.

If your fridge isn’t always full, store a few gallons of water in the back somewhere. The US government recommends storing 3 gallons of water per person for emergencies. To save money (as well as space), mine are in the fridge.

Liquid holds it’s temperature better than air does, so my fridge heats up less every time I open its door than if I did not have that water in there.

I’m sure you could do the same with a freezer, if you had the space there. Just make sure you pour out some of the water so that it does not expand out the top as it freezes.

5. Designate a baking day.

I do all my baking and the majority of my cooking in one day. By baking and cooking things in my oven back to back, I save energy by not having to warm up my oven each time.

What ways have you found to save electricity?

The Wedding Dress

Depending on how you look at things, I may have a problem.

I have made it known on this blog that I appreciate a good possession purge now and then, and clothing is no exception.  We live in a relatively small house, and my closet is downright minuscule by 2016 standards.  I don’t have a whole lot of wiggle room when it comes to emotional attachment; if something doesn’t get used, then out it goes.

Therein lies the (possible) problem:  I have little emotional attachment to my possessions. (Side note:  the exact opposite is the case for my kids’ things.  I have the hardest time ever letting go of their little baby clothes or former favorite toys, so I tend to hang on to those things…please tell me I’m not alone!)

The possession that dredged all this up?  My wedding dress.

22671_789325573229_4975297_n

I spent four figures on this little beauty of a garment, which also includes not one, not two, but three veils of differing lengths, a tiara, black sash, and “sash pin.”  Not included in that four figure price was the cost for preservation and shipping this grossly overpriced dress to my home after our nuptials.

Four.  Figures.  Four figures for a dress I will never wear again, that is taking up a lot of valuable real estate in my closet, and truly has no bearing on my marriage at all–we will be happily married regardless of the dress.  I wish I could go back in time and tell my 24-year-old self to take the clearance rack purchase, but what’s done is done.

So why hasn’t it gone the way of other clothing items?  Our daughter, Bean.  Because one never knows if she may want to have the option to wear an outdated dress when or if she gets married.

I’m still waffling on this one, though would not be surprised if the dress continues to collect dust in my closet; some things are just harder to let go of than others, even for a professed minimalist.