Monthly Archives: February 2009

‘Tis a gift to be simple

In the past six months or so, I have become a blog addict. (My favorite blogs are over on the right-hand side, if you want to check them out.) At first I was looking for green blogs, but that slowly emerged into green/housemaking blogs, and then into housemaking blogs. But no matter what the focus is of these blogs, one thing is characteristic of all: they stress the need for simplicity. Whether in cleaning, in eating, or in decorating, these blogs all focus on how important it is to live simply and enjoy life without all the EXTRA stuff. 

Needless to say, I have become really inspired by these women and their blogging. I love the idea of living simply and thriftily but not in an uptight, out-of-control way (for example, because you are constantly stressing about money all the time), but rather in a way that reflects the thoughts of “I don’t need all the extra clutter in my life. I don’t need to spend money on things I don’t need. Yes, I can have nice things, but there are different ways to go about that.”

For example, cleaning products. I am really trying to streamline my cleaning products. Right now I use on a regular basis vinegar, baking soda, Mr. Clean magic erasers, Lysol (for those really gross things, usually related to dogs) (although I’m still experimenting with floor cleaners – haven’t found an environmentally friendly one yet that I like). I really like the simplicity of using some microfiber cloths, and vinegar/water combo to clean almost everything. It just seems so simple and so . . . fresh. Simple cooking is another aspect. I love the idea of cooking with few, fresh, wholesome ingredients. Now, due to lifestyle, sometimes that is not always possible, but when it does happen, it feels really good.

Buying products is another thing. I have found myself become very interested in antiques and second-hand items. I am starting to love the look of vintage items, but I don’t just want the LOOK, but the actuality of it too. It seems silly and wasteful to me to purchase a brand-new product when you can get the original one (and often for less!). Plus, there seems to be something rewarding in finding a “treasure” when you are at antique stores and second-hand shops. 

I am going to try to live my life a little bit more simply now – perhaps less “noise,” less “clutter,” less “junk.” I still want to have a beautiful home, but hey, if I don’t need something I should get rid of it – but not throw it out! Donate it or regift it (!). It seems like a lifestyle that really makes a lot of sense to me, and, I got to admit, perhaps those Shakers knew what they are singing about.

P.S. I updated my links with some of the new blogs I just discovered – check them out!

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Yummy, yummy, yummy, I’ve got love in my tummy

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Since Valentine’s Day was yesterday, I thought I would do a little post in honor of that famous four-letter word (no, not THAT four-letter word). I promise I’m not going to make this mushy; rather, I want to reflect on all the little (and big) things in my life that I love. So here goes: my love list. 

I love . . .

  •  Lying on the couch with my husband watching our favorite television shows (Jon & Kate, Lost, Top Chef) after a long day at work . . . and I especially love it if he tickles my feet.
  • When my not-a-lapdog-sized dog tries to sit in my lap.
  • The smell of coffee in the morning
  • Having a piano in my living room ready to play at any time, at any moment . . . and the fact that it has been my piano since I was six years old
  • Bookshelves full of books
  • Down comforters and down pillows
  • Warm, sixty-degree days in the middle of February – proof that winter will not last forever and that spring will come soon!
  • The St. Luke family and going to church every Sunday . . . and the fact that even though my dad is not the pastor anymore there, I can still feel comfortable attending and being involved
  • My Complete Collection of Calvin & Hobbes (in three beautiful hardcover books)
  • Listening to NPR in the mornings on the way to work
  • Tranquil Mint and Eucalyptus Spearmint body wash, lotion, massage oil, hand cream, hand soap  . . . okay, basically anything in those scents . . . from B&BW
  • Stewie from Family Guy
  • My co-workers who keep me sane and let me know I’m not alone
  • Pasta, pasta, and more pasta
  • Our house that J and I are working more and more at to make a home (and getting our tax return soon will help us with that!)
  • Ben Linus from Lost
  • Being able to blog about whatever pops into my mind
  • Finding more and more ways to be eco-friendly in our everyday lives (and, coincidentally, wallet-friendly too!)
  • My family and J’s family
  • My friends

These are just some of the wonderful things in my life that I love . . . and no, don’t read anything into the fact that I stuck our family and friends at the end (I save the best for last, of course!). Anyway, it’s a wonderfully positive thing to list what you love, and I urge everyone to do so, on a frequent basis. I think I’m going to try to start working on a list of positives once a week to keep me focused on what’s really important. A blog I just started visiting does this weekly and calls it Grateful Sunday. . . perhaps I will follow suit.

Happy Love Day, everyone! Make every day full of love!

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“How can I plan for the future if I can’t afford today?”

So if you make money
You gotta save money
It goes fast, no cash . . .

 Ah, sing it, John Reuben.

It’s no surprise that a money post should emerge sooner or later. I mean, turn on any news channel, and the economic status of our nation is 9 times out of 10 the talk of the show (and NEWSFLASH: We’re all DOOMED!). However, I guess it is a bit of a surprise that it would take me this long to talk about money, considering that said news channels have been broadcasting this information for the past 8 months or so. However, as the nation’s (and world’s, for that matter) economy gets worse and worse, it only seems fitting that I should blog about it.

I should preempt this by saying that, as a couple, J and I are relatively off financially, especially for a young couple just starting out. I mean, we’re not millionaires or anything, but we make a pretty good living. Plus, both of our jobs are jobs that are relatively secure despite the high rate of unemployment, unless things get so bad that nursing homes and schools have to start downsizing (which I guess is not totally out of the question). However, even though we’re making okay salaries, we have also spent A LOT of money this year. A LOT. We used to have about $25,000 in savings between the two of us, but that money has been flushed down the tubes. However, I guess this is to be expected when you look at everything we have purchased/spent money on this year: a wedding, a honeymoon, a HOUSE, appliances, and furniture. Plus, the expenses don’t stop coming once you have those things: every month, we still have a mortgage, oil bill, electric bill, internet bill, TV-satellite bill, gas for our cars, and groceries. Lots on groceries.

Groceries . . . I guess that is from where this post stems. It seems as though every week, J and I plan our grocery list to a T. We ALWAYS make a list, we ALWAYS plan our meals for the week (sometimes to the day). In the beginning, we used to just plan our meals regardless of the ingredients, but then, as bills piled up and we realized we needed to cut our spending, we started planning based on what was on sale in the flier. I started clipping coupons. We started looking for deals. My “going green” also helped: now that I’ve been cleaning mainly with water, vinegar, and baking soda, we haven’t spent any money on cleaning supplies, hardly (a bottle of Lysol here and there). Last week we went to the grocery stored armed with 10 coupons, our bonus card, a (relatively) small list, and the Giant sales flier in hand . . . and walked away $120 lighter.

WTF, mate? How can we work so meticulously to save grocery money and yet still spend so much EACH WEEK? We don’t buy anything extra – we don’t stock our pantries. We buy food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus a few extra snacks (but not much!). By the end of the week, we’re literally scrounging for food; our cupboards are bare. Now, this week I did stock up on extra chicken and hamburger that was on sale, because we will use it for future dinners. However, every week when our bill is high, we say, “Well, we bought toilet paper and dog food this week, so it will be less next week.” But every single week there is something on there, something necessary, that makes our bill seem high. Or maybe it’s all the stuff added up? And then we think, how are we going to afford groceries when we have kids? It is just the two of us right now (plus a bag of dog food and some dog bones once a month) . . . what happens when our family doubles? 

We try not to spend money on superfluous items. We do eat out occasionally, but it’s not like we go on shopping sprees every week or even once a month or every two months. We do have some luxuries, like satellite television and an SUV, but it’s not like we’re trying to spend extra money. Yet I don’t feel like we’re saving anything . . . we live paycheck to paycheck . . . where does all the money go?

I know there are ways that we can decrease our spending – cell phone packages, satellite television, no eating out, no brand name foods, no alcohol. And yet, I don’t think we’re willing to cut out that stuff. We like our lifestyle the way it is, is that so bad? Hmmm . . . I guess when the Great Depression II hits, we’ll find out, huh?

John Reuben, I need to take your advice a little more, I guess.

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Book Blog I

**Note: I began typing this on January 25, hence the discrepancy with the dates.

Books Bought/Received This Month:
The Constant Princess, Philippa Gregory
The Boleyn Inheritance, Philippa Gregory
The Other Queen, Philippa Gregory
The Wise Woman, Philippa Gregory
The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri
John Adams, David McCullough
1776, David McCullough
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, Mark Haddon
Daniel Isn’t Talking, Marti Leimbach
Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin
The Tales of Beedle the Bard, J.K. Rowling

Books Read This Month:
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time
Daniel Isn’t Talking
The Boleyn Inheritence
The Constant Princess

My husband told me I should post my book blogs around the 25th of each month, since Christmas is on the 25th of December and that’s when I got a majority of the books for this month. Of course, he suggested this to me this morning, and then I realized, “Hey, today is the 25th. I better get posting.” So here you are with the first book blog (hence the name, “Book Blog I”).

 Okay, so I got a lot more books than I have read so far. But I am also halfway through two other books, but I surely can’t post about them until I finish them. Plus,  I read four(and a half) books so far this year, which means at this rate I am well on my way to reading at least 50 books this year, and that’s pretty cool. However, reflecting back on my first month’s reading, I realize that I might have to keep a reading diary to help me remember what I read.

So the first book I read was The Constant Princess, by Philippa Gregory. I actually started reading this book on Christmas Day, and finished a large majority of it that afternoon, while my husband was playing his new Wii games. This book was undoubtedly my favorite one by Gregory thus far. A bulk of Gregory’s writing focuses on the Tudor family of 15th and 16th century England: Henry VIII, Bloody Mary, Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn. This book was written from the perspective of Henry VIII’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon. In other books I had read by Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl), Katherine was featured but not prominent. The focus was more on Anne Boleyn, who ultimately steals Henry from Katherine and becomes his second wife. While I had some idea who she was and her story, this book brought her to a new light. I don’t think I have ever been so inspired by a book character than I was by Katherine in this novel. Despite the fact that her first husband dies and she is forced to marry his selfish younger brother, who is many years younger than her and blames her for not having a son, takes a mistress, puts her aside, exiles her from the kingdom, disowns their daughter, forces her to say their marriage was not legitimate, and ultimately causes her death, Katherine does not even flinch. She is graceful, selfless, and feels completely in the right. Her devotion to her religion of Catholicism, in a newly-formed Protestant world, is unwavering. Gregory takes a tragic historic figure and transforms her into a character that is charming, believable, and inspiring. I doubt I will find another Gregory book that I love so much.

The Boleyn Inheritence is the other Philippa Gregory book I got for Christmas. This book was interesting because Gregory wrote it from the perspective of three different characters: Jane Boleyn, sister-in-law to Anne; Anne of Cleeves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife; and Katherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife. I really found this book compelling because it helped us get more into the psyche of the crazy king, Henry. Plus, in this book, history really did repeat itself with the characters of Anne of Cleeves and Katherine – Anne of Cleeves is almost a mirror image of Katherine of Aragon, in both her manner and her grace; while Katherine Howard is not only a kin of Anne Boleyn, but as young and stupid as her predecessor as well. Plus, in this book, Henry is much older, much uglier, and – dare we say – much more, erm, sterile. However, in Tudor England, infertility is a fault of the women alone, so to understand what these women go through at the hand of their so-called husbands is enlightening. Of course, it also, as I told my husband, made me hate men a little bit more for what they put women  through during the time. My only issue with this book is that Jane Boleyn is a supposed “bad guy,” but her antagonistic ways were not very apparent to me. In fact, I did not even know that she was supposed to be a villianess until I was purusing Gregory’s website one day. 

The next two books I read I got while I was in Atlanta visiting my parents. I have recently become fascinated with autism and its different strands. I think much of this is due in part to the student I have mentioned with Asperger’s. So after getting $75 worth of B&N gift cards for Christmas, we decided to stop by the store near my parents house so I could redeem the cards. There was a book that I was interested in,  Look Me In the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s, by John Elder Robison, but apparently it has gained  a lot of popularity lately and they were all out. However, the friendly B&N Reference Center lady did recommend to me The Curious Incident . . .  so I decided to check it out. While there, I also found another book (Daniel Isn’t Talking) that was in the sale section for $5 (a hardback, no less! Score!) and decided for $5, I would give it a shot.

The Curious Incident of the Dog is an interesting book in the way it is written. It kind of reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s Breakfast of Champions but in a more likeable way. Like BoC, this book uses little anecdotes and less traditional ways of writing, such as math of equations actually written on the page. Plus, because the main character is a teenage boy with Asperger’s, it is difficult to get into his mind sometimes. You feel some distance from the main character, but I supposed this is the catch of this book, considering one of the main “symptoms” of Autism is the distance from other people and the lack of social skills. While I wasn’t necessarily WOWED like the lady at B&N said I would be, this was definitely an interesting (and fast) read; once I picked the book up, I didn’t want to stop reading. It also incorporates other life events in it as well – lying, affairs, snooping neighbors – so if you don’t necessarily have an interest in Autism like I do, it is still a good read.

The other book, Daniel Isn’t Talking, to put it bluntly, had me in tears at some points. Now, I have become more emotional in my young adult life than I ever was before, but it is hard for a book to make me want to cry out of joy. However, this book did just that. Unlike The Curious Incident, this book is told from the perspective of a mother who just found out her three year-old has autism. Despite this diagnosis, the mother, Melanie, strives to have a normal life for herself, Daniel, and her other daughter. Using a new sort of speech therapy to teach her son to communicate, and makes impressive gains with him without the use of a “special” school. Amidst this, Melanie has to deal with her jerkoff of a husband who takes off and starts dating his old girlfriend again (this book had me hating men for a while, too) and then comes crawling back to her at the end (I won’t spoil the ending . . . oh, okay, I will. I cheered for Melanie at this point!). I think what gets me the most with this book though is pure emotion this writing conveys (hence, the crying). The joy that Leimbach evokes as Melanie makes significant gains with her little boy is rather overpowering. This book definitely tops my list (and is now listed under My Favorite Books on Facebook).

Well, there you have it, the first book blog of the year. I already have my line-up for February going, and am well on my way for this month! It is my goal to read 50 books (at least) by the end of the year (100 would be better, although that might have to be my goal for 2010), and I think I am off to a good start, despite the fact that I bought way more books than I have read. Oh, well, as my Manteo Book Sellers shirt from the Outer Banks says: “You can never have too many books!”  🙂

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