Monday, February 27, 2012

Ever have one of those life periods where you find the same message in everything you watch, read and do? I think I'm in the middle of one.

Here's the list:
- The Ceejus, my sister, my cousin and I had a conversation a week ago about how we live in a society where most systems - including food supply - are crafted to benefit an elite few.  Not all these systems are inherently bad or evil, but they certainly don't prioritize the interests of those of us at ground level.

- My wife and I flew to Denver this past weekend, and we stayed with The Ceejus' friend and her boyfriend.  The friend is a professional organizer - and regardless of how anyone may feel about unions, this friend often takes very unpopular stands against unfair labor practices.  Not to mention the two of them are among the most generous and gracious hosts I have EVER encountered.  They do what they think is right, regardless of popularity and/or cost.  I admire them for that.

- On the flight back from Denver I started reading the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy.  ***partial spoiler alert***  At my current point in the book, Katniss is struggling with a crisis of conscience.  Does she run for the woods and hide from "The Capitol," saving herself and her loved ones?  Or does she take a stand against the Capitol's tyranny and start a full-fledged revolution?  She's starting to realize that regardless of how difficult it is to stand up against the status quo, she must - because the status quo is killing people just to keep society under control.

- Ceejus is reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and we're watching the corresponding movie at the conclusion of each book.  Last night, at the end of the second movie, she had an epiphany similar to Katniss' based on a comparison to Middle Earth's potential capitulation to Sauron - essentially that it would obviously be wrong to join evil's side just because it looked like evil might win.  Yet so many people do that in our world every day - compromise morals because it's hard to fight against what seems like the natural flow of society.

From my perspective these things all deliver the same message - one must assume complete command and control of one's own life in order to avoid being caught up in a river of poor values that are so easily assumed and assimilated from society at large.  I acknowledge that this post risks seeming cliche and therefore trite - but I assure you that it's not.  When was the last time you stepped alllll the way back from your present life and really looked at it?  Are you doing what you want to do?  Are you compromising your most important values because it's easier than fighting the current? 

Are you assuming active control of your own life?

Think before you answer.

I'm thinking long and hard about my answer. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Ode to nothing

Or at least almost nothing.  When it comes to living space, I consider myself a moderate minimalist.  I like empty floor space, minimal decor, and only as much furniture as I need for me, my wife and maybe another couple (out-of-town guests, for example). 

When we bought our house a little over two years ago, I learned that I'm not an extreme minimalist.  I do like "just enough" furniture to make a house feel like a home.  So I went on a bit of a craigslist binge and snapped up a bunch of furniture to fill in the empty spots in the house where I thought there "should" be a certain item (e.g. - a completely empty wall in the living room probably needs a bookshelf).  These were silly, arbitrary rules and as a result we ended up with more "stuff" than we needed. 

-- Side confession:  I'm a hypocrite.  While I do hate clutter, I sometimes fall into temporary bouts of hoarding.  And that's really what happened when I bought my house.  I suddenly had a fortress in which to keep my treasure, so I sought out more treasure. --

We recently moved into a rental condo/townhome, and I am desperate to get rid of anything that we don't need.  We have just the right amount of space for our current lifestyle, and so we do not need anything that does not fit comfortably into that space.

This will be a bit of a struggle, as we have boxes upon boxes of mementos, "stuff we might use for a project," pictures, too many linens and other excessive stuff that we simply do not care about or needSifting through each box will take a while, and we risk falling into the "what could we do with this?" trap. 

That said, I found these quotes - stolen from this post on Apartment Therapy - very inspiring, and I wanted to share them here.  I particularly like number 4, although there are many things I find beautiful.  But to curate is the key.

1 You know you have reached perfection of design not when you have nothing more to add, but when you have nothing more to take away. - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

2 Small rooms or dwellings discipline the mind, large ones weaken it. - Leonardo Da Vinci

3 The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less. - Socrates

4 Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. - William Morris

5 Live simply so that others may simply live. - Elizabeth Ann Seton

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Organizing for Action doesn't always refer to unions

New year, new post.  That's how this works, right?

I want to accomplish so many things this year, this month, this week. 

I think the thing I want most is not to forget about things that I want to accomplish, so it's tempting to blog a list, but I know all too well that blogging a list is the modern equivalent of lip service with no action.

So while I am going to blog an unordered list in a moment, let me say that my most desired goal this year is this:

An original, personalized system for organizing my ambitions.  The clincher: the system should focus on and facilitate action, not simply an empty sense of organization.

That said, here are some things that I want to use such a system for:

- Renting out our Delaware home

- Saving toward a down payment on a new property

- Saving toward a Volvo plug-in hybrid to be purchased in 2014 or 2015, goal is cash payment

- Learning to code - web and iOS

- Designing and identifying material sources for our self-built dream home - Keep in mind Tiny House

- Consider Tiny House as options for facilitating Tyler Pell compound

That's it for now.  This is just a small sample of what I want to work on this year. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Where was I, again?

That last post kind of got away from me, so let me clarify. 

All I really wanted to say was that I love self-sustenance.  I love cooking for myself, making smart financial decisions to avoid debt, growing my own food whenever possible, supporting local suppliers for things I can't produce myself, building my own furniture, repairing my own home, and basically making myself as independently capable as I possibly can.

My siblings and I have this dream where someday we buy a big plot of land where we can all build homes and live together.  We'd have livestock, crops, honeybees, vineyard, etc.., and we would essentially be an entirely self-sustaining family compound.  I know it sounds cult-ish, but it's not.  Think of it more as a farm. 

Anyway, the reason I was so excited about my dinner is that it was all either self-generated or locally-grown (except the fish). 

It's a small step, but ultimately even small successes are inspiring toward my larger goal.

What have we learned?

I take in useful information all day, every day.  I listen to NPR and learn about world events, new medicine, and new perspectives.  I read blogs about personal finance, cooking, technology, business writing, DIY, the local scene, and even a blog by and about my fiance.

(Side note: I hadn't actually been to several of those URLs in months.  I read most of my blogs through Google Reader, which you should use because it's fantastic.)

So I take in a lot of information and ideas every single day.  Creative recipes, building plans for furniture, financial advice, which new tablet is best, etc...  The challenge I set for myself is sifting through all of it and figuring out how to use these ideas to best live my life. 

So that said, I love those moments where I'm able to use several ideas at once and make a really good decision, even a simple one.  These are the moments when I really feel like I'm following through on my beliefs - which otherwise seem to go so easily out the window in favor of convenience and/or money.  (I know, I know - it's terrible.)

This is all to say that last night I had one of those "on" nights, and all it took was making dinner.  Basically I wanted to use the vegetables Ceejus and I got in our first CSA share of the season, and so I made a garlic scape pesto, using CSA veggies and some basil from our balcony garden.  I put the delicious sauce over some fish and jasmine rice, and used the remaining vegetables for side salads.

Simple enough, right?  So why did I feel so good about it?  Well here are some principles I was able to stick to through my homemade masterpiece:

  • I used the resources available to me rather than spend time and money getting new stuff.
  • I ate healthier.
  • I prevented my veggies from going bad, so I didn't waste food.
  • I gained the satisfaction of making a delicious dish.
...I have officially lost interest in this entry, so I'm cutting myself off.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Random things I like...the first edition

John Cusack said it best in High Fidelity:

"...what really matters is what you like, not what you are like... Books, records, films -- these things matter. Call me shallow but it's the fuckin' truth..."

I think people have a natural need to belong to social groups, and this leads people to define themselves by things they're into.  "I'm a runner," "I'm into horror flicks," "I only eat at independent pizza parlors."

I see no problem with this whatsoever.  The world is awash in stuff that we've created (and stuff that we haven't), and with so many things to try, I think it's cool to consider the items that have really made a positive impression on your life - even at a superficial level.

So without further adieu, I present a random list of things I've found in the world that make me happy:

  • Mountain Dew - mostly the original, but LiveWire's great too
  • Taco Bell
  • RC Cola is totally underrated, but that's what I like about it
  • Frisbee - I can play for hours and somehow I don't get bored
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • Vibrant colors - really in any context other than my own clothes
  • Rich desserts, specifically Chocolate Mousse, Lemon Meringue Pie, and Key Lime Pie
  • Early Grey tea with milk and sugar
  • Sour gummy candy
  • Telling a good joke - a rarity for me
  • Picking and using aromatic hand or body soap - I get wayyy too excited when it's time to pick a new one
  • The beginning of a road trip
  • Long-form snack time
  • The feeling of having "earned" a meal, usually from intense or extended physical activity
So a lot of this list turned out to be food.  I guess I take a lot of joy from eating.  It's true, actually.  I love to eat.  Usually after a meal, it takes about 45 minutes until I'm wondering about the next one.

Also, I will start posting more than once a week.  I just need to get in the habit of "just doing it."

Which reminds me...
  • Nike running shoes...mostly because they run narrow with good arch support

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011

    Tania is a freaking machine...

    A few days ago I learned that the Insanity workout, which Ceejus and I have been at for about two months, has a sequel. 

    Wait...not-so-quick recap: 

    I learned of the Insanity workout months ago, first online, then through a friend who had completed it.  I'd been working out steadily but wasn't feeling particularly challenged, so I was looking around for a more challenging workout. 

    Ceejus was joining gyms, taking classes, doing yoga, and really working her butt off.  I was just going to our apartment's gym for some running and weights.  Prior to that I was just running - I completed two half-marathons in two weeks, and a ten miler with Ceejus several months later.  But I still felt like she was working much harder than I was.  I knew I was taking my natural fitness for granted.

    Then one day we both got free trials to a high-end gym (Equinox - an amazing facility, but really expensive).  I took a spin class with her, assuming it would be no problem - but I couldn't finish.  I could barely start. 

    What the hell?  I could run 13 miles, but I couldn't bike for an hour?  Something was seriously wrong. 

    And this wasn't the first time I'd had my butt kicked by "just a class" either.  I'd tried cardio kick-boxing with a friend of mine years ago, couldn't finish that either.

    I was complaining about the spin class experience to a co-worker, and I said "I'm in really good shape, so I assumed it would be no problem!"

    She said: "You're in good shape according to whom?"

    Good point.  I LOOKED good, I felt pretty good, I could run for miles, and I could lift weights - but I'd never completed a workout program led by someone else - except for those classes, and those didn't end well.  And I'd never really had my fitness "officially" confirmed outside of my own perception.

    So I resolved to complete a workout program that I hadn't designed myself. 

    I was still pretty cocky, though, and I needed a workout I could brag about - I wanted an advanced workout that instilled fear in mere mortals.  I'd heard hushed whispers about how awful Insanity was, and that it was way harder than P90x.  On top of that, I KNEW I was in better shape than my friend who completed the program.  There was no way I was going to let him have that title.  So Insanity it was.

    In short: the first two weeks were painful.  Squats, jumps, sports drills - my quads hurt so much that I wondered if I'd ever used them before.  But after two weeks my body adapted.  I recovered more quickly after each workout, I became more flexible, and I felt AMAZING.  Energy was up, and my body was visibly transforming.  I lost fat deposits from places I didn't even know I HAD them, I dropped multiple belt notches, and my legs look more muscular than they have since I was in high school.  And again - I FELT good. 

    In fact...I felt so good that I started to wonder what else I was capable of.  Which brings me back to the point of this post.

    -End of Recap-

    Next week is our last week of the 60-day Insanity workout.  At this point I've made so much progress in spite of believing that I didn't have much progress to make.  Plus I feel that I've done so well at the Insanity workouts that I want to see what else I can do.  I've always self-identified as super-healthy and super-fit, but I'm finally realizing that I wasn't, and that I do have to work at it.  That said, as an individual I still believe that I'm particularly well-suited to get great results.  I think I'm well above average in terms of my physical ceiling and my mental toughness for physical strain.

    So now I want to step it up...and Insanity: The Asylum is a 30-day sports training program designed to take my Insanity results and leverage them beyond general fitness and into athleticism.  It's definitely a path I want to pursue.  I think I can turn myself into athlete-level material - at LEAST amateur athlete.

    But Ceejus wants something different, and therein lies the rub.  See, she works her butt off, not for dreams of becoming a pro athlete, but for long life, good health, and beautiful limbs.  So for her, elevating to sports training doesn't make sense.  We've talked about moving to P90x, which is lower-intensity, but more variety, including weights.

    So why don't we each take our own path?  Because we're both concerned that without the other one for support, we won't actually do it.  Plus we have limited time to work out, and squeezing two separate workouts in would be really tough. 

    So now I'm wondering if I can keep working out with her, and do Asylum on the side.

    ...Insanity indeed.