January 31, 2010

Gratitude Is A Powerful Thing - Being Grateful Can Change Your Life

Gratitude, I've found, is a powerful thing.  When I was younger - working as a lawyer in a swanky downtown law firm - I didn't think about being grateful very often.  I was too busy, living that anything-but-simple lifestyle.  And if you'd asked me, I probably would have thought it was a sweet idea, somewhat corny, maybe I'd get around to it later.  I probably would have put "remember to be grateful" on my To Do List.

Today, I know better.  Being grateful for what you have is a very wise thing to do.  It lessens your stress, it helps you focus, it makes you happy and content.  Yes, no matter how bad a crisis you are in, stopping to be thankful for what you have at this very moment is important.

I also think it's essential to integrity, and honor, and courage ... but that's too much for this little blog post.

So, how to be grateful?  There are lots of books out there, both Christian and not, that give advice on learning this gratitude habit.

For me, it's a matter of every morning (for sure, because you start the day out powerfully) and periodically throughout the day, I thank God for as much as I can possibly recognize as a good thing in my life, and nothing can be too trivial.  Here's some of the things that I thank God for:

  • hot water
  • a shower
  • shampoo and conditioner
  • a washer and dryer 
  • a washer and dryer IN MY HOUSE
  • a roof over my head and sound walls that keep the rain out
  • that peaceful, cozy feeling of listening to the rain falling outside, while I'm toasty warm under the covers
  • my bed 
  • my pretty quilt and comfy sheets
  • coffee
  • a fridge 
  • electricity
  • the ability to think
  • the ability to pray
  • that He listens to me
  • that He gave us the Bible
  • that there are churches and missionaries and charities to help people
  • that I can see, and hear, and speak, and think
  • that I'm healthy
  • that my loved ones (including my pups) are healthy
  • that I write for a living
  • that I love what I do for a living 
  • that I live in the city and state and country that I do 
  • for jokes
  • for laughter
  • for books
  • for the ability to read
... well, you get the idea.  This is all about gratitude, now.  My prayers asking that someone be helped, or comforted, etc. aren't part of this topic - so, yeah, I talk to God a lot when you start breaking all this stuff down.  Good thing He created patience, right?

However, the power of gratitude isn't exclusive to followers of Christ.  There is an energy that comes from stopping to survey where you are, in the very present moment, and see everything that is good in that moment and appreciate it, that is positive and electrifying.  And clarifying.

Really want to rally yourself into moving forward into a happy day?  Go thru all you can think about to be grateful for this very day, and ponder Haiti for a minute.  Now, all that consideration of electricity, and a coffee pot, and hot water for a shower doesn't seem so trivial does it?

Things are good, and everything's going to be alright.  Get out there and live a quality day!!!!

For more on gratitude:

1.  Books to Read

Gratitude - A Daily Journal by Jack Canfield

Thank You Power: Making the Science of Gratitude Work for You by Deborah Norville

Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy by Nancy Leigh DuMoss

2. Studies to Review

Emmons, R. A. & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-389.

"Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus." - 1 Thess. 16-19 NLT

January 30, 2010

Buyer Beware: Water in Boxes - But It's Just Tap Water (Like Dasani and Aquafina)

In response to the ecological impact all those bottled water plastic bottles have (they even have television commercials about this now), there's an innovative company over in Great Britain that has come up with a great new packaging gimmick:  they're selling water in BOXES.  You know, like milk and juice.  And wine.

Sounds like a smart thing, right? Well, that's until you learn that what they are packaging in the boxed water is just treated tap water.  London tap water, to be specific.  Just like Coca-Cola does with Dasani and Pepsi-Cola does with Aquafina.

So, while the box may solve the plastic issue, it's not doing much for the contents debate - the water itself.

In a study done by the Environmental Working Group of  the top 10 bottled waters sold, lots of bad things were found. Two of them were no different than tap water in their components. One had levels of bromodichloromethane at levels exceeding the legal limits for cancer-causing chemicals under California law, and EWG was planning to sue on that one. There was more bad stuff, too, in the other bottled waters - not one of them was found to be as promised on the package: clean, pure, safe. 

What About Your Own Tap Water?

Call your local water company (get the phone number on your bill) and ask them for their annual water quality report.  Under law, every water provider must check the contents of their water supply and then complete a report that details what they've found.  And you're entitled to see that report.

You can also check comparison studies of city tap water like the one using data collected by EWA and see where your town's water supply is listed.  I was happy to see that San Antonio, Texas, was number 7  --  one of the leaders in water quality.  Good news!!!

January 29, 2010

103 Things You Can Do to Reduce Your Stress

ARRRGGGGH!!!!  What do you do when you feel like pulling your hair out, or better yet, like this wet cat?  It happens to all of us, but stress is bad for you in so many ways, and living a simple life means living a peaceful one.

How to beat stress?  Okay, I didn't make up a new list on my own, because lots of great people out there have already made several excellent compilations of advice and guidance on stress reducers.  What I'm providing here is a subset of that stuff on the web -- lists that I found helpful, and a little bit different, coming from different sources.  Sure, they may have some overlap on the most obvious tips, but each has something good to share.

Here's 103 Stress Reducers, with my take on each of these lists:

6 Natural Stress Reducers
What you would expect -- music, laughing.  Some not so easy to do when you're stressed, like "think positive"....
52 Proven Stress Reducers
No big explanations, but some good stuff.  Like getting up 15 minutes earlier, that works for me.  Actually, I love this list.  Good stuff here - like don't hang around worrywarts, and unplugging your phone.
37 Ways to Calm Down Fast
I like the title here, a positive attitude right off the bat.  This list is from Reader's Digest, and it's got a few gems (although all these lists do overlap after awhile, of course).  Some tips I thought were really useful:  buy yourself flowers for your desk every week; several that deal with how you start your day -- rituals, etc.; finding a personal credo (I've got to find mine).
8 Immediate Stress Busters
This is a list made by physicians, and it's got good practical advice in it.  Like checking your posture, consciously slowing down your speech, and eating little snacks of nutritiously-dense foods along with drinking plenty of water.  And a fun one: plan on giving yourself a little reward at the end of the day.  Nice doctors. 

January 28, 2010

The Low Down on Living as an American Expatriate - Talk with Americans Living Overseas

If you're pondering living overseas for an extended time period, if not permanently, then you've probably been surfing the web looking at sites like International Living and Escape Artist.  That's good, they have lots of information.

However, ExpatFinder has created a list of 100+ Twitter accounts of real, live people living in all parts of the world as expatriates.  Connect with folks like these, and get the inside scoop on your dream destination:

dougiegyro http://twitter.com/dougiegyro 
Location: Prague, Czech Republic
Consultant, tech activist, expat American, translator, DJ
Kory Kessel http://twitter.com/kory
Location Paris, mostly
Chicago-born Cubs fan with roots in Texas and New York; it’s all about family, friends, music, food, art, and travel

Joel Smith http://twitter.com/MejicoJo
Location Lake Chapala, Mexico
Retired @ 46, Moved 2 Mexico. ♥ Suzy, Dance, Good Food, Travel, Sunsets, Sandy Beaches, Mexican People + Shih Tzus! Link tells U more
Julia Evans http://twitter.com/jooliagoolia
Location Buenos Aires, Argentina
american expat, content developer, soon-to-be librarian, fabulous person
I haven't contacted anyone on the list of 100 expats that the ExpatForum has collected, but I've selected the few samples above to demonstrate that ExpatForum has quite the crew there -- expats living all over the world, doing all sorts of things.  And with Twitter, it's so easy to start up a conversation, you should have lots of fun making friends with these folk!

January 27, 2010

Portion Control - Good for Your Budget and Your Health

It's amazing to me when I compare the set of dainty cups and saucers that I have in the cupboard with the big, beautiful blue coffee mugs that I got as a gift last month.  The mugs seem standard size for today; the cups and saucers remind me of my dad, drinking coffee with the paper when I was very little.  I'm probably dating myself here, but what the heck.

Plates and Cups Got Bigger!

What I've discovered from this comparison is that not only have serving sizes in our restaurants increased over the past few decades, but the actual dishware that we buy has increased in size, too.  Wow.  Plates are bigger, glasses are bigger, salad bowls are bigger, ... you get the idea.

It amazes me how subtlely we're all encouraged to buy more, more, more ....

We buy more, we eat more, we toss more.  So, learning portion control not only helps our budget, and our waistline, it also helps the environment.  How much should we eat?  On the web, I found this great video that not only explains what proper portion size should be, it also has a great example of how dishes have expanded in size.  Less that 3 minutes, it's worth your time to watch.

January 26, 2010

Reba's Thai Peanut Pasta

There are times when you need to cook something up and you don't have time - or the desire - to run to the store. Company's coming and it's not part of the weekly menu/budget plan.

If you keep a stocked pantry (see earlier posts on that), then you can have the thrill of being able to throw something together that tastes great from the stuff you find on your shelves, and in your fridge. Plus, you get that amazing feeling of creating something ... and a mysterious appreciation for the Iron Chef America competitions.

Here's what I brewed up over the weekend, and it was lick the bowl good:

Reba's Thai Peanut Pasta

1.5 cups peanut butter
1/2 cup coconut milk
3 T soy sauce
4 T water (play with this, you don't want it too thick or too runny)
Tabasco or red pepper flakes to taste (whichever is in the pantry)
1 T minced ginger (fresh is good, I used the crystalized ginger from the fridge because that's what I had)
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped leaves
2 chopped scallions
pasta that you've got on hand (I used wide fett noodles b/c that was in the pantry)

Mix all this stuff together except for the peanuts, 1/2 of the cilantro 1 of the scallions, and the pasta. When you're ready to serve the stuff, cook the pasta al dente, heat the peanut sauce, toss them together. Scatter the held-back cilantro and scallions along with the peanuts over the top. Yum.

(This peanut sauce is good over chicken too, cut up the cooked chicken, toss with the sauce, use the same toppers (the peanuts and such) and serve over a bed of rice.)

January 25, 2010

FBI Warning: Watch Out for Haiti Scams When Giving Money

 Sadly, there are those unscrupulous folk who try to profit off of another's suffering, and the Haiti tragedy appears to be fair game.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation has issued an alert for scammers:

The FBI today reminds Internet users who receive appeals to donate money in the aftermath of Tuesday’s earthquake in Haiti to apply a critical eye and do their due diligence before responding to those requests. Past tragedies and natural disasters have prompted individuals with criminal intent to solicit contributions purportedly for a charitable organization and/or a good cause.

Therefore, before making a donation of any kind, consumers should adhere to certain guidelines, to include the following:
  • Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming e-mails, including clicking links contained within those messages.
  • Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as surviving victims or officials asking for donations via e-mail or social networking sites.
  • Verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations by utilizing various Internet-based resources that may assist in confirming the group’s existence and its nonprofit status rather than following a purported link to the site.
  • Be cautious of e-mails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files because the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders.
  • Make contributions directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf to ensure contributions are received and used for intended purposes.
  • Do not give your personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions: Providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.
If you think you've discovered one of these evildoers, please report it to the proper authorities at www.ic3.gov.

January 24, 2010

5 Things to Do When It Gets Hard to Live A Simple Life

We are in tough economic times, and combined with that, we've got terrorists roaming the country and news that the likelihood of another major attack within our borders isn't a matter of if, but when. When you add to that the stress of changing your lifestyle to one where you're living more simply, things can get dicey pretty fast.

It's not easy to take the road less traveled.

Family members and friends aren't necessarily supportive, and there are lots of folk out there who just don't get why you're not wanting to go to the mall, drive the latest model car, have an IPhone. Yes, Dear Reader, living simply will mean that some people will mock you, some will pity you ("the poor thing, she probably can't afford a smartphone"), some will start to avoid you.

I think this reaction is true whenever you change your life. I know this is all true when you're voluntarily simplifying -- when it's a proactive decision on your part to change and live more simply. It can make you sad for a bit. Why don't they get it? Why aren't they happy for me? It can be downright depressing for those who are having to be frugal because of economic downturns, those forced into simplicity. Why can't they be supportive? Why can't they be kind?

It's Tough For All of Us

On a good day, it can be easy to laugh at the lemming who feels sorry for you because you're not living just like he (or she) is ... you can just shake your head and go your merry way. Here in the South, we tend to add "God bless his heart," to this. It helps.

On a bad day, when you can't think of what to cook with that rice or the kids are whining about not having a Wii or the car breaks down and you remember what it was like to always be driving something flashy and new -- well, it gets harder.

It's especially horrible when you don't have the money to pay the utilities, or the mortgage, or the car payment, or the doctor bill. That's when you're cruising close to Despair. Dark, black despair that can settle down for a long visit.

So, what to do when it's getting to be very hard to live this way?

Dear Reader, I don't begin to think that I know all the answers to this question, and I welcome your contributions in the comments. Having been on this road for awhile, I'm sharing what I've learned so far when it's a Bad Day at Black Rock for me:

Don't Doubt.

1. No second-guessing. For me, voluntary simplicity was - and is - the right decision and I'd be foolish to ignore all the lessons I've learned by living simply. I am committed to this lifestyle because it's wise and it's smart. I don't want to be a marketing pawn, etc.  And, importantly, this is part of my Faith Walk.  I'm here because I know it's where God wants me to be. 


2. Pray. Every morning, I ask God for as much wisdom, discernment, grace, favor, power, love, and self-control as I can possibly handle. I ask for His Will, not mine, in my life. I thank Him for everything that I can think of that morning (which can be hard when you're burdened down), and I ask for help. Help! is a great prayer. Sometimes, I pray that prayer periodically, all day long, on a bad day. (Remember, I represented abused and neglected kids in CPS cases for three years, so I have had some painfully bad days.)


3. Laugh. This is a tough one when you're already bummed or hurting. But you've got to laugh -- it's powerful stuff. If you can't find the humor in your current situation all on its own, then get yourself an arsenal of Funny Stuff so you've got some weaponry at the ready for times like these.

What makes tears come to your eyes may not be the same as mine. I do not understand the Three Stooges, for example. For me, I listen to Bertie Wooster's antics in audiobooks written by PG Wodehouse; I watch A Fish Called Wanda, or Monte Python and the Holy Grail. The Spam skit can get me chuckling no matter how many times I've seen it -- and I'm laughing now remembering that scene early on in the Holy Grail, Repression is Nine Tenths of the Law, ("I didn't know we had a king, I thought we were an autonomous collective.")

Do Something Proactive -- The "So There" Secret Weapon

4.  After undertaking one or all of the three steps above, then I find that it's important to get moving forward again, happily and peacefully, by actually taking action down your new lifestyle road.  Not for them, for you.  To get yourself back on course and not stuck fighting the bad vibes or muddled in anger, resentment, sadness, etc.  Again, what you do and what I do may not be the same thing.  Probably won't be.  And, you'll get more options on this list as time goes on.

For me, I go buy daisies for my desk at the wholesale florist.  I take my dogs for a walk at the park right by the zoo, because they are hilarious as they can smell and hear all the wild things and they're so brave and bold outside the big, tall, sturdy fence.  Sometimes, I'll cook up something trustworthy and invite friends over for a movie.  They'll bring stuff too, good folk that they are, and we'll all have a good time.  And, sometimes, I take a drive through the Hill Country and listen to Christian stuff -- music, or teachings, or just a reading of the Word.  Singing in the car is a really good way for me to get myself back into the fun of simple living.

Talk to Someone Who Gets It

5.  Confiding about what's going on with a trusted friend can be very freeing, too.  Just last week, I was honored when my friend Don talked with me about how some old friends who he treasured then and treasures now, are distancing themselves from him and he's hurting.  It was comforting to Don when I shared how I'd had this experience, too -- and I think it helped him just to get it out there, outside his head where things can get disproportionate in importance.  Maybe Don will lose some old friends, but in his new career path, he's already made so many new ones.  So, find yourself some friends who know what it means to change your life, and share with them your difficulty.  And, always remember -- I answer my email, so feel free to write (rkennedy at texas dot net).

January 23, 2010

Is Butter Good for You? Yes.

Is butter good for you? Butter's got a lot of bad press in the past, but was that all wrong? Maybe so.

First of all, let's consider butter in all its forms. Basically, butter is cream after you've churned it for awhile. Churned meaning stirred steadily, kept it moving. You've seen those old butter churns in the antique shops. Usually, this cream is from a cow.

Types of Butter

After that, there are different types of butter. Organic butter leaves it at that: churn the cream, you're done. Organic butter also uses cream from cows that have been fed carefully, i.e., organic cream is the basis.  Sometimes, buttermakers add yellow food coloring to the butter.

Sometimes, they add salt - salted butter was necessary long ago, to keep the butter from spoiling. European-style butter is regular butter, but a live culture is added to the cream before it's churned.  This not only makes it friendlier to sensitive digestive systems, it makes the butter sweeter, too.  Used a lot in baking.  The most popular type of butter in the United States is unsweetened, unsalted, uncultured butter -- sometimes labelled "sweet cream butter," it's the basic stuff.  Whipped butter has had nitrogen added to it, so that it's texture is altered and it is easier to spread. 

Butter is Fatty - But That's Not All

A couple of years back, butter got a bad reputation for having lots of those evil trans-fats in it.  That's true, pound for pound, if you compare butter to red meat.  But no one eats that much butter in one setting, and one tablespoon of butter has a scant .39 grams of trans-fat in it. 

Meanwhile, butter also carries with it lots of very good thingsButter is an excellent source of Vitamin A, Vitamin E and selenium.  It also contains lecithin and several anti-oxidants, and components of real butter have anti-cancer properties. 

So go ahead, have that butter on your toast.  It's good for you.  

January 22, 2010

Video: How to Start Your Spring Garden Now Indoors From Seeds

Maybe it's the sunny, springlike days we've had this week, but I'm already thinking about pretty flowers in the yard, and fat, homegrown tomatoes. Here's a great video that gives step-by-step instructions on how to grow seeds indoors into little baby plants ("seedlings") that you can then plant outdoors in your cool garden:

January 21, 2010

Becoming an Expatriate: Health Care in Other Countries

For some, traveling to other countries for medical care is their sole purpose in visiting the country, and medical tourism is becoming more and more popular here in the United States.  That's a different issue for a different day (other than what I've already written about it, if you're interested in that subject).

Medical Care for Expatriates - Not Medical Tourism

When you're pondering living for an extended time in another country - e.g., a retired snowbird following the sun, a young adventurer wanting to see the world, a family following a corporate job - one of the big issues will be the kind of health care that you'll get, how much it will cost, and how best to plan ahead to insure that you're covered from the minute that you hit your new shores.  Each country is different, and different expatriates may qualify for different levels of care in their new homeland. 

Here are some good resources to start your studies on expatriate medical care:

  1. TransitionsAbroad.com has tons of information about this topic in a series of articles covering Health, Safety, and Insurance for Expatriates.
  2. For those who like lists, ShelterOvershore offers a short, smart overview in  Expatriate Healthcare Checklist with five articles providing more details on the topic (like whether or not you need insurance coverage before you go overseas) in the site's right sidebar. 
  3. A huge list of insurers provided international medical coverage has been collected at expatriates.com.
  4. An expatriate in Spain gives first hand information about medical care in Spain with lots of details in a great blog, SpainExpat.
  5. A great discussion of a British expat's life in Greece can be found at Living in Greece.  Pauline describes the ease with which she gets her high blood pressure medication and how efficiently her husband's athlete's foot was treated.

January 20, 2010

Internet Explorer Not Safe from Hackers - Beware!

It's gotta be serious when the citizens of both France and Germany are being advised by their governments NOT to use the Internet Explorer web browser.

Microsoft is responding by saying that it's only version 6 that's vulnerable, and that Internet Explorer 8 remains safe.    Microsoft is claiming that IE8 is the safest web browser out there, but is it really? 

This is really, really serious situation and it's impacting folk worldwide.  Especially now that the code used by the hackers has been placed upon the web for anyone to access and use.  Scary, right? 

The Scandal of China Hacking into Accounts Via Security Holes in Microsoft's Internet Explorer

It's all very fishy.  Apparently, there was a weakness within the Internet Explorer browser that allowed someone to exploit it and access Google's proprietary information as well as many other companies.  Technology and intellectual property have been stolen.  Gmail accounts have been invaded (although press reports are that these are a select few), and curiously a lot of these email account holders are human rights activists.  Yesterday, there were news reports that journalists' email accounts at Beijing foreign bureaus were hacked.

And all fingers are pointing to China. 

China could run but not hide from Google techies, who successfully thwarted  the Chinese geeks' web of email and web addresses, as well as their fake names, to find that the source of the hacking against Google and others via this IE hole was originating in China.  If you want to know all the gory details, track The Dark Visitor.  The Dark Visitor is an American blog that reports on Chinese hackers.  (They're sophisticated, and they've been at this for awhile.) 

What About Finding a Solution?

What's the latest?  According to the BBC today, Microsoft is fixing the problem and that a patch will be issued as soon as they can get it ready.  Until then, better safe that sorry right?  Firefox is a great, and fast, alternative -- and it even copies your bookmarks so you don't have to remember all those links.  Nice. Unless you trust Microsoft so much that you're willing to ride the storm out with an upgrade to IE8.  It's your call. 

Note:  You can keep up with Microsoft's work on fixing this problem by reading their latest Advisory

January 19, 2010

Pot of Beans on a Wintery Day - Reba's Tex-Mex Pinto Bean Recipe

I remember going to visit my uncle when I was very little, the one who was named for an Indian Chief and therefore, very mysterious and all-knowing.  My parents, uncle, and aunt would all set in the kitchen while we kids played out back, with the big dog, Monster, and the little runt, Pretty.  They'd drink coffee or iced tea, and periodically we kids would hear all of them laughing together - the sounds of my dad's big guffaw bouncing out of the screen door and into the back yard, under the pecan trees where we huddled in the low-lying branches.  And all the while, setting on the back burner of the stove in my uncle's special clay Bean Pot were his special pinto beans. 

I can never remember a visit where those pinto beans weren't bubbling in the background, rain or shine, summer or winter.  Perhaps it was because my uncle (the oldest of many brothers, my dad being somewhere in the middle) had lived through the Great Depression (you know, the first one) and it was a good thing to always have something tasty cooking on the stove. 

Over the years, I've monkeyed with his basic bean brew.  Basically, I've added some "Mex" to the "Tex" and I think my uncle would approve -- and I know that lotsa folks ask me how I make these beans, so I'm thinking they're worth you giving them a try.  Maybe my fond childhood memories do sway me, but there is something very nice about having a pot of beans simmering on the stove when its a grey, chilly afternoon that makes everything cozy and nice.  Peaceful, even. 

Reba's Tex Mex Pinto Beans

2 pounds pinto beans, dried (soaked overnight after being culled through for rocks or bits of dirt)
1 package bacon, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 bunch cilantro, leaves chopped and stems discarded
3 big tomatoes (homegrown is best, use 4 if you go with Roma or a smaller fruit)
1 Texas Sweet onion, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 serrano chilis (seed them even if you like fire, otherwise they'll take over the pot), chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine
1 T comino
1 T chili powder
salt and pepper to taste

It's really important to get the dried beans right.  Soak them overnight means a good 12 hours, and making sure that you've checked for the rocks and things.  Drain off the water that they soaked in.  Don't use it.

Put the beans in your big pot, cover with water.  Add enough so there's a good couple of inches of water above the beans, give them room to move.  Bring the water to a boil, then lower your heat so that it's a very low simmer. 

Now, add all the ingredients listed above, except for the cilantro.  And yes, you'll want to use fresh cilantro.  Some may tell you that dried coriander and fresh cilantro are the same thing, but I don't believe it.  They taste different.  Go with the fresh cilantro here.  And no, you don't cook the bacon before you put it in the pot.  That bacon swimming thru there flavors the beans and no, there isn't a fat layer on the top when the beans are done.  I never said these were low-cal beans. 

Add more water to the boil as needed so they don't boil dry.  If you're losing water too fast, your flame is too high.  You want these to cook slowly, let all the flavors meld. 

These are great with homemade cornbread, just by themselves in a bowl, or you can serve them as a side with things like barbequed brisket (the Tex part) or cheese enchiladas (the Mex part).  Yum, yum. 

January 18, 2010

5 Baby Steps in Simplifying Your Life

There may be those who make sudden and drastic lifestyle changes, quiting jobs and selling houses, moving forward rapidly in their pursuit of a dream.  For most folk, simplifying life isn't that speedy or smooth.  It really is taking a step at a time, one day at a time. 

Here are five baby steps toward simple living:

1.  Cut the splurge buys.  Yes, this means eating breakfast at home and not buying fancy coffee.  No Starbucks except as a special treat. 
2.  Organize your weekly errands. Make a list of your errands (bank, post office, etc.) and do them all at once, planning your route to maximize your time and minimize your fuel expense. 
3.  Investigate free events in your community.  These can be rewarding for members of the whole family, and lotsa fun.  Check out the local paper and the public library website.
4. Respect your Sundays.  For Christians, Sunday means church and usually, a nice lunch afterwards.  For everyone, there is wisdom in taking this one day of the week as a day of rest.  The big family meal on Sunday is a wonderful thing, everyone gets a chance to catch up with the others.  Especially when everyone works together in cooking the food. 
5. Rethink fashion.  Scrutinize your wardrobe and ask yourself how much you really need designer togs and to the extent that you do, why?  Simplifying life means stepping aside from the Fast Track, the Rat Race, the Keeping Up with the Jones approach to things.  This doesn't mean sacrificing quality, it means taking your fashion sense to a whole new level. 

January 17, 2010

Sunday Inspiration for Simple Living 2 - Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Many, many years ago a friend gave me a pretty gift-book copy of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea., At that time in my life, I was more fascinated with the author and her history as the wife of Charles Lindbergh and the mother of the baby kidnapped and killed in what still may be the most famous kidnapping case in American history.  Surely you've heard of the Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping, still refered to as "the Crime of the Century"? 

Anne Morrow Lindbergh - aviatrix, author, wife of Charles Lindbergh

I looked to Anne Morrow Lindbergh as someone to admire, a role model of sorts.  Back then, perhaps I needed to find admirable, courageous people for the lessons their biographies could teach me.  I was looking for my path. 

Today, I'm older, hopefully wiser.  I've found my path and I'm walking on it.  Now, I'm more interested in the words that Anne Morrow wrote in her books than in the biographies describing her eventful life. 

Gift From the Sea is wonderful.  Physically, it's a little book which makes it all the more the masterpiece, considering the wallop that it packs.

January 16, 2010

January is National Radon Action Month. Check Your Home! 1 in 15 Homes Have Too Much Radon

January is National Radon Action Month.  Radon is a gas that you cannot feel, smell, taste, or see -- but it can be present in your home, condo, or apartment and is a lot more common than most folks realize.

Radon kills people. It is a cancer-causing radioactive gas. According to the Surgeon General, RADON is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today. Who knew, right?  

So where does it come from? Radon comes into your dwelling via the ground underneath your home; or through the groundwater (waterwells can be a source of radon), or via building materials. Radon decays over time.

January 15, 2010

The Difference Between Tiny Houses and Small Houses - The Small House Movement

Okay, "tiny houses" are adorably cute and understandably growing in popularity.  You can even buy building plans for them at Lowe's. 

However, there's also a lot of interest in "small houses," and even though both are dwellings with minimum square footage, they are two very different things.  Technically, while all tiny houses are small houses, not every small house is a tiny house. 

Investigating the difference between the two, I was happy to learn that I'm living in a "small house" and technically, I'm participating in the "small house movement" even though I'm not building a tiny house anytime soon.  Maybe you'd like a small house, too. Maybe you're already in one.

Tiny Houses v. Small Houses

1.  Different sources will give you different dividing lines between a tiny house and a small house.  It's a matter of square feet   For example, TinyHomes splits the two at 1000 sq. ft. - anything 999 square feet or smaller is a tiny house; 1000-1200 is a small house. The Small House Society explains that there is not any set square footage for a "small house," and distinquishes a "tiny house" as anything under 500'. 

January 14, 2010

Shred, Cube, or Dice Your Own Cheese If You Don't Want the Additives

Shredded cheese may be a time-saver, and it sure is popular -- all those varieties hanging up there, on the store displays.  Low-fat, 8 ounces, 12 ounces, Mexican Blend, Pizza Combo, ... and I admit to grabbing a bag or two in my time. 

No more.  I admit it: I first heard about this (and I'm getting to the "this") while listening to Wolfgang Puck sell his wares on television (I like to have HSN or QVC running in the background sometimes when I'm writing.  I'm not sure what this may mean to psychologists, since I'm a simple living fanatic.)

Suddenly, Wolfgang catches my attention.  He's grating some beautiful yellow cheese, and he's explaining that he always grates his cheeses because he wants to avoid the additive that is used to keep shredded cheese from clumping up in the cute litte bags.  He says "clumping" in a very endearing way, in that nice accent he has.  Still.  What? WHAT did he say? 

January 13, 2010

Changing Your Life Via Downsizing, Anti-Consumerism, Slow Movement, Simplicity, Frugality, Going Green - What Are They?

Changing your life to a simpler lifestyle can be achieved in many different ways, for many different reasons.  And there are lots of different names being tossed around the web these days as lifestyle options: e.g., downsizing, downshifting, anti-consumerism, the slow movement, voluntary simplicity, going green, being frugal, or simple living, to name a few: 

Political and moral stance against consumerism and materialistic societal norms.  Activist outlook on living in a way that does not promote consumer-driven marketplace goals.  Conspicuous consumption is rebelled against by anti-consumerism, and lifestyles are changed accordingly. 
Considered by many to be a precursor to full Voluntary Simplicity, a.k.a. "simplicity lite."  Downshifters alter their lives to a more managable lifestyle without taking drastic measures of change.  For many, this is a transitional period where there is a commitment to "the best things in life are free" before more the drastic steps found in voluntary simplicity are undertaken.  A mother who changes her job to part-time so she can have more time with the kids is downshifting; parents who go to one-income and accordingly, sell their house to avoid their high mortgage are voluntarily simplifying (see below). 

Commonplace among empty-nesters, lifestyle attitude isn't changed so much as physical environment is altered, i.e., moving to a golf course condo from large family home, etc.  Ecological concerns, cost-cutting measures, political stance are not motivations here so much as increased free time, less responsibility for material things, preparation for retirement.

January 12, 2010

The Danger of Shopping With Coupons

There in my Yahoo inbox this morning was my weekly message from Coupons.com, giving me some "piping hot offers."  I've subscribed to Coupons.Com for a long time, and I still get that thrilling thought when one of these e-messages arrives:  THIS may be the week when I'm going to walk away from the grocery having paid diddly for baskets and baskets of basically free food.  (You know, like they do on TV.)

Because coupons are, after all, free money - right? Wrong.

Coupons are free money to me, and to you, only if they allow us to have things that otherwise we'd spend real currency to purchase.  If they replace our dollars, then they act as substitute currency and we're wise to use them.

Coupons are also incentives to try things, particularly new products. 

The big companies that provide these coupons (along with rebates) are trying to build customer awareness as well as their consumer base -- they are for-profit organizations, there is method in their madness.  They aren't offering coupons as some kind of friendly endeavor, just because they like us.  They're using a marketing tactic called a "coupon campaign."

January 11, 2010

10 Ways To Avoid Overspending at the Grocery Store

Let's face it -- grocery stores want to make a profit just as much as any other business, and while their profit margins are notoriously low, they can and do have lots of subtle ways to get you to spend cash on their products. 

Here's 10 ways to stop yourself from spending more dollars than you should at the supermarket:

1.  Never go to the grocery store hungry.  If you're parking in their lot and your stomach's growling, then take the 5-10 minutes to chow down on a snack at their little cafe or deli (most of them have these now), or get a yogurt smoothie, cold organic juice, or protein drink and guzzle that down (show the empty container to the cashier at check-out, you're not going to get stopped in the store for drinking the stuff while shopping).  Don't roam those aisles on an empty stomach!

2.  Shop once a week for perishables, biweekly or monthly for staples.  Fresh fruit and veggies need to be replenished more often than toilet paper, but not every trip to the grocery has to be a Major Event.  Have a plan for your non-perishables (personal hygiene items, canned goods, etc.) and buy them once or twice a month.  Bigger packaging means less cost per ounce, etc. but make sure to check the unit price on the item, don't just assume bigger means cheaper.  CostCo and Sam's are great places to buy things like this -- toilet paper, pickles, beans, rice, things like that.  Have a weekly run for the stuff that goes bad -- bananas, milk, stuff like you want to eat fresh. 

3. Never enter a grocery store without a list.  Make a list of what you need -- go thru the house, keep a running list on the fridge.  When you're in the store, only buy what is on the list.  If you're new to this, trust me -- it gets easier over time. 

January 10, 2010

Sunday Inspiration for Simple Living 1 - The Parable of the Rich Fool (or Greed is Stupid)

I'm going to try and provide inspiration every Sunday here at Everyday Simplicity, some words of encouragement in turbulent times.  It's been my experience that no matter who you are, there are times when you need someone to tell you "everything is going to be alright," and Dear Reader, please know that I'd be happy to relate that to you personally if you email me at rkennedy at texas dot com.  Meanwhile, I'm going to be offering an encouraging word or two every Sunday here on my blog. 

Why?  Perhaps you're into downsizing, the slow movement, voluntary simplicity, going green, being frugal, or simple living.  Heck, maybe you're just trying to live through this New Great Depression (look, we know that they say "recession" to try and keep fear levels down).  No matter your reason for altering your lifestyle away from living large, it can be hard to do - frustrating; at times, downright discouraging. Change is never easy. 

I know.  I love living a simple life, but that transition was very hard at times.  And it took me a lot longer than I wanted it to take. Sometimes, it's not easy now.  I wonder about the stability of the FDIC, for example, and what I should do proactively about that insecurity....

January 9, 2010

Stop With the Soft Drinks - Bacteria Containing Fecal Matter May Be in the Soda Fountain

You may not want to buy that soda from your local fast-food joint.  Today, there's growing news coverage that commercial soda fountain machines may contain "coliform bacteria" which is banned by the FDA since this type of bacteria may well contain fecal matter.  That's right -- fecal matter. 

Right now, this horror is based upon a study done of  a mere 30 soda fountains in the Roanoke Valley of Virginia.  However, statistics being what they are, many are extrapolating that study and seeing it as having national implications. 


What's causing this?  Apparently, there is a little plastic gizmo (i.e., nozzle) that connects with a plastic tube that carries the liquid from the storage container through the tube and nozzle, into the glass.  (Think about the self-serve fountains at the theatre or the convenience store.)  Just one "contamination" of that nozzle can allow the bacteria to spread and grow within the plastic tubing, and apparently, the tubing doesn't get cleaned all that often. 

January 8, 2010

Menu Planning for Those Who Hate to Plan

You know you spend too much money on food.  You want to cut back, but it's not that easy to organize and plan meals in advance.  Especially when fast food and pre-packaged stuff are so easy to grab. 

And you hate the idea of planning a menu for you and your family.  You won't know what mood you're in next Tuesday.  The kids are picky.  Still, cash is going down the drain so it's probably a good idea to investigate how to save some on your food dollars. 

Surf the web, and you'll find a lot of information regarding menu planning.  You can buy software, you can download templates.  You can read a lot of articles and blog posts offering advice on how to budget your grocery dollars. 

It can be overwhelming, especially if you don't have much time and you either can't cook, or don't want to spend lots of time in the kitchen.  Not everyone is a fan of the Food Network.

So, here's an alternative that's easy and fast.  Start with breakfast. 

That's right.  Breakfast is a simple meal, and for most folk it's probably pretty repetitive already.  The kids have cereal, you have a bagel.  Coffee, juice, milk.  Or you drive thru to get an egg sandwich or a taco on the way to work, forget even having food at home. Maybe you expand things on the weekend, serve up pancakes or Eggos or heck, even an omelette. 

Planning your breakfast food costs will save you money.  This is especially true if you're buying restaurant/fast food items.

So, begin your menu planning with your first meal of the day.  Plan in advance what works best for you.  Does couponmom have some deals right now?  Incorporate them.  On the weekends, can you make pancakes from batter instead of using frozen Eggo waffles?  (Pancakes are really easy, if you're not asked to flip them.)  Great! Making those pancakes will save money and it's more fun, too.  Plus, you can sneak in nutritional stuff like whole wheat, berries, and bananas into the pancakes and get some nutrition down the kiddos (and yourself) while you're at it.

Master breakfast.  And when you're feeling so proud of yourself about breakfast, ponder taking on LUNCH. 

You get the idea. 

For more information on menu planning, check out: 

Fifteen Tips for Maximizing Your Food Budget
Going Organic - Step One
Menu Planning 101
Menu Planning 102

January 7, 2010

Financial Planning: Pay Yourself First

It's the start of a new year, and for most of us that's a new fiscal year as well as a chronological one.  Without getting into fancy software options, tax strategies, or estate planning, let's consider this single change:

Pay Yourself First.

What does this mean? You know you've heard it before, it's not quite a bumper sticker yet (though it could be, I suppose).

When you're simplifying your life, it's easy to get caught up in paying off debt and focusing on the outlay.  Pay yourself first is just a reminder to save -- save something now, save something first.  Saving money is a new concept for lots of people in our American culture today -- and it can be hard to do. 

That's why you pay yourself first.  Stash the savings each month, or pay period, first and just don't look at it.  Auto-deduct it.  Stash it.  Find the method that works best for you, but put your future (and your family's) at the top of the budget.  And, don't be a snob about the amount.  Even the tiny amounts add up over time. 

It's important and you're worth it.

January 6, 2010

How to Painlessly Declutter Your Home - Reba's 10 Steps to Declutter Success and Downsizing the Stuff Your Life

Awhile back, I provided my system of streamlining stuff - aka declutter, downsize -- and I've had lots of nice feedback on how this system really works for others.  So, I'm providing the info again, in its own streamlined form:

Reba's 10 Step Declutter System for Stripping Away the Excess Stuff in Your Life That Really Works

Preliminary Advice:  Be patient with yourself. Task by task, step by step, you'll get it all done.  The Queen of England is NOT visiting this weekend. 

1.  Buy four large laundry baskets (different colors is great, but not absolutely necessary) - the bigger the better, I found some huge ones at Dollar Tree back in 2005 that I'm still using.  Baskets? Yes.  Their handles can be very useful, so I don't recommend boxes or bags here. 

2.  Take your laundry baskets and label them (yep, somehow this is important) KEEP, TOSS, GIVE, and PUT-AWAY.   I find masking tape wrapped around the basket handles with Sharpie marker labelling works just fine.  No matter how full the basket, you can see its label on the handles. 

3.  Give yourself a time limit. You can be sentimental later, you're just sorting right now.  And if you only have ten minutes today, that's okay.  Sort for ten minutes then. 

4. Start with a room, or a section of a room.

January 5, 2010

I Love My Public Library

I love books.  I love to read.  I love to write.  So, maybe I'm a bit biased in my perspective of my local public library.  Okay, fine.  I admit it.  I am totally, totally prejudiced about my library.  Deal with it, dear reader. 

I love the San Antonio Public Libary System, particularly the Central Library downtown (nicknamed "the Red Enchilada" because its facade is painted the exact hue of red enchilada sauce).  I've included a photo of it here - those big red concrete balls never move, they're perpetually cascading down that cement wall. There's a lot of art around the place.

You know, thinking about it, love isn't a big enough word.  I ADORE the Big Red Library we have here.  Why?

It's Convenient.

When I drive down to the Central Library, I get covered parking that's free for the first hour.  I never have far to walk to reach the front door (which is great when I'm lugging a load into the return desk). 

Holds are found on the first floor, near the exit.  Go there, and search the stacks for your last name and voila! Anything that you requested online be pulled for you sits there. Waiting for you.  Nice.

January 4, 2010

The Tiny House Movement - Really, Really Tiny Homes For Serious Simple Living

They look like children's playhouses to many folk, but these small little structures are growing in popularity among those who are serious about simplifying their lives.  They're commonly called "tiny houses" - sometimes you'll hear "small houses" - and many are ingenious and very, very cute.  In fact, they're the foundation of a growing movement in this country, the "Tiny House Movement."

What are "Tiny Houses"?

One man is repeatedly referenced throughout the web as being the founder of the "tiny house movement," Professor Jay Shafer of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company.  He's also one of the co-founders of the Small House Society, although the Small House Society isn't that narrow to focus solely on tiny houses, they're encouraging the downscaling into smaller square footage per person in a variety of forms. 

The Tiny Life involves living in a very small space that is cleverly organized and used.  How small?  Think walk-in closet for some people. 

The houses sold by Tumbleweed as well as Tiny Texas Houses are very, very small.  Tiny Texas Houses range in size from 160 to 336 square feet, although custom work is done and the company will work with you if you want to put two of their Texas Tiny Houses together to create one dwelling.  Tumbleweed will build a tiny house as small as 65 square feet and as large as 837 square feet.  Tiny Texas Houses are each unique to their owner, built as one of a kind homes using modern technology combined with high quality salvaged material -- antique doors and the like.

January 3, 2010

Free Online Daily Devotionals Delivered Every Morning to Your Inbox Instead of Buying the Same Thing at the Bookstore

If you want to spend some cash on a collection of devotionals, the market is ready to serve you. Over at Amazon, for example, you can get the following:

Morning &Evening by Charles Spurgeon (2003 Hardback edition, updated) $14.95

Day by Day by Charles Swindoll (2005 Paperback edition) $10.19

Today God is First by Os Hillman (2002 Paperback edition) $13.99

You can get these same devotionals for free online, which is such a gift from each of these authors (although I believe Spurgeon's work may be in the public domain by now). 

Many may find the online versions to be more useful than owning the paper version, since each day's message can be automatically sent to your email inbox. You don't have to remember to pick up the book, you just have to take the time to read your mail. Just sign up for the free service at Crosswalk.Com:

Morning & Evening - online

Day by Day - online version

Today God is First - online version

Image:  From the December 1870 issue of Vanity Fair, a caricature of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, author of Morning & Evening, his only daily devotional.  Famed as a orator, Spurgeon was pastor of London's New Park Street Chapel (lka Metropolitan Tabernacle) as well as being a traveling evangelist who is said to have preached to over 10 million people during his lifetime (1834-1892). 

January 2, 2010

Predicting the Future: Trends in 2010 According to the Experts - Faith Popcorn, NIC, Trendwatching

There are entire organizations built around analysis of the past and present in order to predict the future. For some of them, it's for advertising or marketing purposes; for others, it has more sociopolitical incentives.

Should you be interested in what these professionals are forecasting for 2010 and beyond, check out these sites. Of particular interest, Faith Popcorn (I've written about her before, when she predicted 2009 would be a return to simpler living).

In 2010, Faith Popcorn is taking it further, forecasting a growth in local culture and community involvement, from farmer's markets to much more. It's a trend that she's labelled "Local Cocooning":

Faith Popcorn's Brain Reserve

National Intelligence Council - Emerging Global Trends 2010


January 1, 2010

New Years Simplicity Resolutions - 2010

First things first, I think Lisa Scottoline has it right -- she's doing "unresolutions" again this year, and in her usual funny way, she's made a great point about this annual tradition.  Resolutions can be negative, even mean-spirited.  Never a good thing, but especially during times like these we all need to be as positive and upbeat as possible -- helps us to keep moving forward. 

Here are some suggestions for resolutions in simple living this year: 

1.  I will get outside almost very day - for a walk, a run, maybe just to sit in the backyard and watch birds fly. 

2.  I will thank God each morning that I'm here - I've got another day of living.  And mean it.

3.  I'll find things to laugh about -- I'm gonna look for it 24/7 and laugh long and loud when I find it. 

4.  I'll find bits of beauty in the world around me.  Maybe it's in a smile, or how the rooms fill with the aroma of coffee in the morning. 
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