What You Should Stop Stressing About Right Now: #3 Your Expensive Gadgets

Oh! How we get attached to our fancy gadgets.  It’s pathetic.  I get it though, because I do it too. We spend $199-$399 on a cell phone and then all of our hard-earned money goes down the drain when the screen cracks. Or it falls into a huge sloshing puddle when you get out of your car on a rainy day. It’s ruined, you didn’t buy accidental insurance, and you have to wait 15 months before you can get a new one without paying full price.

Think about the anguish you felt when your last expensive gadget broke before its time. That’s a lot of emotional energy for something that will be rendered useless in 2-8 years from the date of purchace.  The gadgets that we own have fleeting value. The phone that you cared for like a newborn baby will be treated like a hunk of junk in a few short years. Maybe sooner. That emotional energy that you are dedicating to a thing could be used for loving another human being or animal.

I’ve had people snap at me over “misshandling” their items. I’m probably guilty of it too.  Think about the anxiety you feel when a child picks up your brand new iPhone. (Curse those sticky and clumsy hands!)  All you want to do is snatch it back from them because it might get broken.  Real mature, right? Ever notice someone carelessly carrying a cup of liquid around you and your new suede loafers?  How quickly do you get away from them? We all have our items that we protect ruthlessly from damage.  At the end of the day, these expensive things will eventually become outdated, worn out, broken and in a dumpster.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t care for your items. You should take care of them, but don’t idolize them and carry them around on a golden throne. These items are not kings and queens so stop treating them like royalty. Actually, these things are here to take care of you. I’m not just talking about gadgets. Anything that you might have splurged on: a pair of shoes, a purse, a leather jacket, a GPS device, is here to help you and make your life easier.  Nonetheless, you functioned perfectly before you found those items and can function just as well without them.

I’ve been trying to stay away from expensive gadgetry because I know I may get a little too attached to it, and worry about its well-being a little too much.  The screen on my Samsung Galaxy Player recently cracked from a 1.5 foot drop. It reminded me of the short life of these items and that I shouldn’t value them over time spent with loved ones. Sometimes it’s easier to have a lower-end phone because I have no desire to worship it.

In the end, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have any of these things because expensive and high quality items serve their purpose while they’re still functional. I’m just suggesting that you choose your gadgets wisely and understand their fallibility before spending your money.

What You Should Stop Stressing About Right Now: #2 What to Wear

Clothing is a mode of personal expression, personal style, culture and history.  They keep us warm and dry. And without clothes, we’d all be walking around naked. We cannot escape these simple facts.  For me, however, I’m starting to feel like making clothing choices is taking too long. As I researched my Fashion for Minimalists post and began a massive clean-out of my closet, I realized it doesn’t matter if I have fewer clothes if I’m still spending all that time pondering what to wear.

Yesterday morning I changed my outfit three times. If I hadn’t, I would have been on time to work. Living a slower-paced lifestyle to me is about spending more time on things that matter and less time on trivial  things.  My only requirements for work clothes is that they’re comfortable, cute, modest, and keep me from being mistaken for a high school student. And even with my new reduced wardrobe volume, I lose 3.5-4 hours a week thinking about clothing, trying to figure out what to wear, changing outfits, and changing back.  I could have been writing, sleeping, or making breakfast. How much time do you spend picking out your clothes?

As most people in the USA probably have noticed, most guys take five minutes in the morning to get dressed.  Why is that? It can’t be that most of them are dirty, stinky slobs. No, many of them just don’t value the meticulous coordinating that women do. My boyfriend has 10 of the same shirt he really likes but in different colors; many men do this.  It is simple to get dressed in the morning if all you have to do is choose one of those shirts; you just go with whatever one is clean. Yet every single article currently in my closet is different in style/shape/color than every other article.  It’s quite silly really; having such a wide variety of clothes seems ostentatious when I think about.

This past weekend, I was staring at my closet after the massive clean out I was telling you about. It was pretty empty. And I thought to myself, “What a beautiful, stress-free wardrobe!” I had to keep myself from getting too relieved because I had a good amount of dirty clothes that needed to be laundered and put away.

Still, I saw the light.  I’ve realized the potential in having fewer options of what to wear. When I researched my Fashion for Minimalists post, I wondered if other people would wear the same clothes every day. Apparently they do. Johan Woods, in his article “Why Mark Zuckerberg Wears the Same Clothes Everyday,” says:

By turning daily choices into a routine (like how you dress), you free up mental and creative energy to be used for higher priorities.

The article, and that quote expresses my sentiment exactly. Spending time selecting clothing, especially for someone who is already pressed for time and energy, is a waste of time. Thinking more and more about it, I realized I WANT THAT! In theory, it seems so easy, so effortless. I want to get up in the morning, take 2 minutes to put on my clothes, not even thinking about what I’m wearing,  and get on with my day.  Well not the exact same clothes, but the same outfit.   Now I’m not going to strip my wardrobe down to 7 identical tops and 7 identical bottoms because I’d like some variety when I feel like getting dressed up.  Maybe one day I will. For now, I am going to make more changes that involve limiting the diversity of my wardrobe.  (I’ve realized that I have some transitioning from grad school clothes, to grown-up/professional clothes and therein lies part of my clothing issues…)

I decided that having multiples of my favorite pieces and wearing those often is the way to go. I’ve purchased two of the exact same black skirts that I’ve been rotating along with some other maxi skirts; getting dressed in the morning has become a lot easier.  The black maxi skirt is pretty neutral piece that can be dressed up or down. All I have to do is pair it with one of the bazillion (smh) shirts that I have and I’m good to go. Once I get my shirts paired down to the essential few, for work and for weekends,  I’m good. The idea to never have to have that issue, “What am I going to wear today?” take up more than a few seconds of my time.

Stressing out about clothing is really a pointless endeavor. While our society is vain, judgmental, and probably cares too much about what people wear, don’t you want to wear something that fits within your lifestyle? That is what this is about for me. I could try to coordinate many different outfits and keep up with the latest fashion trends, but it hasn’t been working for me. I’ve often gotten stuck wearing things I don’t want to wear because my job requirements, or its so freaking cold in the office that there isn’t a choice… I’m just trying to get to the point where I can wear what I want without it requiring any extra thought or effort on my part. Time and energy conservation is all part of the slow life.

What You Should Stop Stressing About Right Now and Why, #1 Your Weight

I wanted to do a 10-part series on the things that we stress over but really shouldn’t.  Over the next five weeks, I’ll cover Ten Things You Should Stop Stressing About Right Now and Why. I’ll post one every Monday and one every Thursday. (Yes, I’m getting started a little late, but why put my first post off until Thursday?)

I didn’t actively start caring about my weight until the summer before I was going to start college in 2004. By actively, I mean dieting, working out, and criticizing every lump, bulge, or pudgy roll. I knew I was a little chunky, and I noticed that a week of volleyball tryouts and church retreats (where I ate nothing but salad because there weren’t other choices for vegetarians) made me lose weight; I liked the weight loss. But like I said, I didn’t do anything on purpose to lose weight. Furthermore,  In high school, teachers made a point to convince us that that Twiggy-esque models in magazines were a minority and far from reality. At five foot one, I never wanted to look like those tall, skinny models anyway. Like I, said, I didn’t think about weight, or my body size all that much.

Nonetheless, the summer of 2004 I decided that I wanted to look good in a bikini when I went to Miami for college.  I started working out and going to the gym. I did a little dieting, but nothing too extreme.   Fast forward 9 years later, I’ve become weight and appearance obsessed.  I don’t know whether I ought to blame it on the media, the culture that surrounds me, or the fact that I have to wear shorts, skirts, dresses and tank tops 9 months out of the year in order not to sweat to death.  I cant say exactly when the obsession started. All I know is where I ended up.

I was looking for a specific number under 120 pounds.  In all this time, there were about 3 occasions in 9 years when I saw that number. During those occasions I was extremely active because I didn’t have a car and walked/biked everywhere. But outside of those times, I was focused non-stop on my weight.

Meal times are the three (or more) times a day I would stress about what I’m eating and whether or not it would make me fat.  You all know how frustrating and stressful it is to worry about weight.  The thinking, planning, organizing, counting, calculating, shopping, and the exercise routines from magazines… The rules, the internal debates of what I should and should not eat.  It is agonizing to see the scale go up two pounds after working out hard all week.

The only time I ever lost weight, was when I stopped worrying about it.  Nowadays,  I make sure I eat as healthy as possible (no wheat, few processed foods, no refined sugars etc.) and my body adapts accordingly by shedding extra pounds (on its own time).  It’s really that simple. You can do it too.

It’s time for you to stop worrying about a number on the scale, your BMI or body fat percentage.  Chances are, you already know the number of one of the three. But how does knowing that number help you right this second? It doesn’t change what clothes fit you, right now; it doesn’t bolster your self-esteem. It may momentarily motivate you to get in shape, but when that number doesn’t get lower after you diet and work-out hard for a few weeks, then what?  You need to forget that crap and simply focus on getting healthy.

The reality is, you know if you are doing the right things. And if you  are doing the right things your body will find a healthy weight. I’m not a doctor, and I’m sure there are exceptions, but eating right and staying active will eliminate weight problems. The number on the scale may not be a number that you like, and the “weight loss” may not happen on your schedule, but it will happen, and you will be healthy.

Nevertheless, you are going to trip-up.  Lately, I’ve veered off my diet a little bit, and I’m suffering the consequences.  Still,  there is no need to beat myself up about it.  Maintaining a healthy body is a life practice.  Just as I try to get enough sleep every night, but don’t, I also try to give my body enough nutrients by eating good foods.  If I want to live a long time so I do my best, and that’s all I can do. I don’t want to stress time and energy about a number on the scale.

***

Furthermore, you have to stop worrying about how fat you think you look. As you probably know, poor self-esteem about weight and physical appearance is largely manufactured by the images we see in the media. Every day I’m reminded that if I look a certain way, I’ll be sexy. But the media’s definition of  “sexy” is wrong, and neither you nor I will ever look that way. Nothing you can do, besides having a photograph of yourself airbrushed, will remove all of the real or imagined weight-related imperfections that you have. Even if you are 400 pounds, nothing can change that in this moment. What you look right what now, is what you look like, and  you have to be confident regardless of your size.

I say, take care of your body, and your body will take care of the rest.  All it takes is healthy food and physical activity to get everything in order. What the numbers say doesn’t matter. Your body will shed any excess fat without you trying to will it away.

On a related note, I’ve realized that how I dress myself influences how I feel about my weight and/or size.  Now I’m not talking about being fashionable or frumpy. I’m talking about how tight or revealing my clothes are.  Tight jeans and t-shirts offer very little flexibility in terms of weight gain or loss. Three to five additional pounds can make a pair of pants too tight on me.  And too-tight clothes make me feel fat and worry about my weight, food choices, and exercise frequency. Furthermore, I feel that all my “fat” is exposed when I wear revealing clothes.  I’ve started wearing maxi skirts a lot now, which “hide” day to day changes in my body weight, size or shape. Quite frankly, I don’t want to go back to jeans…And over the last week, I feel that my self-esteem about my body weight/size has improved just by wearing modest skirts. Obviously, that’s not for everyone, but it works for me.

I do want to talk more about clothing, but that will have to wait until next time.

Must Be the Feeling: A Romance of Stuff

my thoughts exactly…

Annamal house.

There are few things I love more than spring cleaning. Something about cleaning house from floor to ceiling and hauling away boxes of junk fills me with an indescribable sense of serenity and relief. Perhaps it speaks to a deep need for order in my life, but something about walking into a clean, organized room fills me with the same excitement I get whenever I get to buy a new notebook.

The process of cleaning and removing stuff is rarely a simple one.

Every time I do a thorough clean-out, I’m forced to reflect on my relationship with stuff: our long history, and all the hopes and expectations I have surrounding it. I have courted stuff my whole life, and it has courted me. It has called to me, tantalized me, and I have pursued it with passion, only to feel disenchanted…and yet determined to pursue it further. A kind…

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Slow-Paced Careers

The American workplace simply isn’t cut out for stress-free, slow-paced living. Yes, you can argue that how you perceive and respond to stress plays a big role in how a job feels, but it is unlikely that you’ll find a slow-placed, low-stress career working for somebody other than yourself.

Employers, by their very nature have needs, and as their employee, it is your job to take care of those needs. They are not paying you to take care of your needs. They are not paying you to move at your pace and enjoy life on your terms. Companies are set up to serve the needs of the owners and/or investors, etc. You and I, my dear readers, are just the cork in the wheel of big business.

Think about it: if you are the manager of a company, does it really matter if your employee needs to take a day off because her car breaks down? And her kids got sick? And her kids got her sick? And a relative passed away? And her menstrual cramps hurt so badly it renders her incapable of working for a couple of days? No, you just need her to come into work because you have to answer to the higher-ups. You need someone who will do the job, regardless of what’s happening at home. Business is so impersonal, that if an employee has too many personal problems, she will be let go for not prioritizing her commitment to the job.

How many times have you heard bosses say, “Check your personal problems at the door?” If you are going through a divorce, is your boss’s request truly realistic?  Regardless, the business just needs somebody who will work like an unemotional machine that just needs to be oiled a couple times a day (15-30 minute lunch breaks, anyone?)

I remember working a variety of different customer service jobs and the feeling was this: if you want to earn more money or get a promotion, you must come-in early, stay late, work through lunch and come in on your days off to prove your dedication. You had to forgo all needs in your personal life if you want to get ahead in your career. That is not a slow-paced career.
Now, if the job is your company, you care about the company’s needs. Sure, there are limitations, because of client obligations, but you can always delegate…

A slow-paced career to me, is working when you want to, and not working when you don’t or can’t. It’s not always that simple when you own your own company, but you have significantly more flexibility when you can decide to work between 7am-9am (or 7pm-9pm), in your pajamas, from your couch. When you own your own company, you are the boss. By that virtue alone you can eliminate people and situations that cause frequent stress. Do you have a client that stresses you out? Break-up with them. You don’t need their business. That energy could be better spent finding new, less stressful clients. Do you have employees who are lazy, annoying, or poor communicators? Let them go.

Furthermore, you don’t have to prioritize your “business” over the rest of your life. You don’t have to convince anyone of  your dedication to the company by working unpaid overtime. The business is your baby, of course you love it, but if you need a personal day, you can take one; you can organize your schedule around the way you work. Also, you don’t have to run your company like a mega-corporation. You can create a work-life balance for your employees and provide a slow-paced and low-stress environment.

Now as important as it is to me to own and run my own business (aka do what I love), I’m in a financial situation where I need to work for somebody else. Thus, I find jobs that fit within the parameters of what I enjoy doing.   I like working with kids; I like reading and talking about literature, so I’m going to teach English a high school in the fall. It’s not really a “slow-paced career,” but I’ll have some flexibility as to how I run my classroom so that it suits my needs.

Anyway, I recently found out that the school where I work pays an extra $5000 a year for teaching an extra class period and not taking a planning period. I don’t know if it’s optional or not, but if it is, that money is incredibly tempting if you start to think about what it could pay for. Nonetheless, I think it’s foolish to take the extra money over the extra time. (I nearly always pick time over money.) See, by taking the planning period, there’s an extra 5 hours per week (where you have to be at school either way) to grade papers, create lesson plans, and deal with all the other administrative stuff that comes with being a teacher. If you don’t take the planning period, you end up spending those 5 hours teaching and making more work for yourself, i.e. more papers to grade. That’s a total of 180 hours during the course of the school year that will move into your personal time. Yes, you might need the money to pay for some things, or support a one-income household, but forgoing planning period will burn you out so quickly. You could get sick and have to spend the extra cash on medical bills for a stress-related illness. I think there are ways to cut expenses so you don’t need that money. In the end, you’ll have more time for yourself.

***

Don’t you realize, the whole point of having a job is so you can buy stuff to keep your employer in business. Why do you think we got extra tax refund money the last few years? So we could “stimulate the economy” by buying stuff.

You may not benefit your company directly with your expenditures, but your spending will find a way to benefit them. For instance, lets say you work as an claims adjuster for a car insurance company. The money you earn there seems as if it can in no way benefit your company. However, you bought a car didn’t you? You are required by law to insure it, aren’t you?

Buying things keeps us permanently enslaved to our jobs. I’m always looking for a way that I could live exclusively off of part-time income. Unfortunately, my student loans won’t allow me to do that (a story for another time). But the money I’m not spending on an iPhone (or iPhone data/cell plan) and lavish television services, saves me money at the end of the month. Imagine what I would add to my expenses if I had a car payment?

I guess I just want to conclude by saying this: There is no one fits all solution to a slow-paced / low-stress career working the night shift as a security job. For others that might mean substitute teaching (no papers to grade).  A slow-paced career may mean not taking on more than you can handle in your present position. For me, that means working for myself and choosing “writer/editor/blogger” as my career.

What slow-paced job do you have? How do you keep your current job from becoming too stressful? 

Fashion for Minimalists: 10 Rules

I’ve always been intrigued by fashion, and how some people manage to look so put together, all the time.  I don’t want to say that I was ever too poor to have a cute outfit, but as an adult, I feel like I’m just figuring out how to dress myself.

The more I’m inundated with impeccably dressed people, in their pencil skirts and tight blouses, outfits coordinated with matching shoes and handbag, I feel insecure.  I feel sloppy, messy and uncoordinated. It’s not that I have bad taste…or maybe I do. I went through this phase where I liked ugly stuff just because it was different. I adopted this ugly-as-cute attitude. And now, I just can’t look put together.

Coming up through college I had people tell me I need to dress a certain way. I bought the different colored New Balances because some guy said I should. When I arrived at college I had these giant hoops that I was content to wear every day until he told me I should wear different ones.  Thus I succumbed to peer pressure because I wanted to be liked and look more glamorous.  I wasted my money on these cheap but costume-y earrings from the vendor who frequented our campus. My style then became an amalgamation of what other people thought I should look like.

Walking around this ritzy private college, with their 40 thousand dollar palm trees (it was a running joke that they spent as much on those trees as we did on tuition, room and board) I admired the style of the trendsetters on campus.  Miami, and the university by proxy had indoctrinated me, further, with the importance of fashion, and looking amazing, put together and fabulous all the time. I thought wearing designer clothing was the only way to appear fashionable even though I never believed that a label on a piece of clothing made it worth it the hundreds of dollars required to wear the exclusive brand. I was just unfashionable.

Every time I see a “news article” commenting on how Michelle Obama or Kate Middleton have repeated an outfit, I want to slap the writer who conceived of the article and punch the editor who let it go to press. Seriously, what is wrong with wearing clothes more than once?  I guess these articles are congratulatory in nature, making “celebrities” seem just like us. Yet, it inadvertently suggests that being seen in the same  dress more than once is odd, or unusual. Why do we buy clothes? To wear only once? That notion has pervaded my shopping decisions on an unconscious level ever since I was old enough to spend my own money.

For the longest, I have bought clothes, shoes, or purses because they were cute. Even if it matched only one other article of clothing that I owned, it wouldn’t stop me. I had to have it.  There was no consideration for repeated wear.  This attitude speaks volumes for the shallowness of our society. Yet for a long time, I was obsessed with this idea. I still don’t want to re-wear an unusual shirt or skirt that I just wore the week before.  I need people to forget the outfit the complimented me on. Thus, I bought clothing that simply wasn’t practical for my style.  I had green and white striped wedges, and uncomfortably high, strappy sandal stilettos. My entire wardrobe was formed with an eclectic collection of “cute” shirts, pants, dresses and shoes.  The object was to have as many articles of clothing as possible. There weren’t any outfits in there.  I never saw the big picture.

By now, you probably think I’m a fashion hater, that I’m bitter.  I promise, I’m not.  I like fashion. I love to look good.  I’ve just figured out that the way I go about fashion: overly-consume-until-I-have-enough-options-to-make-me-look-amazing, simply isn’t working. I hate having all these clothes, but nothing to wear. The concept is absurd really.

I’ve been cleaning out my closet since I moved last August. Yet some how, I’m never in a position where the clothes I have are working for me.  I started cleaning it out again and here’s what I’ve figured out about myself. I fit in that category of people who don’t like to get rid of clothes because 1) I spent good money on it, or getting it tailored; 2) I might want to wear it one day; and 3) I’m going to eventually lose the weight. (Really, truly, I’m almost there!)

My biggest problem, however, was buying cheap clothes from stores like Ross, T.J. Maxx, New York & Company, and Wet Seal (and based on their recent racial discrimination lawsuit, I won’t be shopping there ever again).  While they may be cute, they just wouldn’t last more than a few months.  Lately, I’ve been better about buying clothes that are high quality, but it still hadn’t solved my lack of stylistic coordination problem.  Also, I’ve noticed that it’s harder to find cute, high quality clothing, even from stores like Macy’s and JCPenney.  (On a side note, I wonder if I should shop thrift shops for older, higher quality items… blog post in the future maybe)

***

So in my latest spring cleaning efforts, I’ve drummed up all of my minimalist resources for inspiration and encouragement. (see the bottom of the page for more info) I repeatedly refer to the book The Joy of Less by Francine Jay (Click Here for her blog). Last weekend I spent some time on the chapter on wardrobe. Getting rid of the cheap and worn out clothes was relatively easy. Getting rid of stuff that doesn’t fit was harder, but I managed to toss some of it in the donation bag.  Then, there were a whole bunch of clothes that I was planning on keeping, but because of Miss Jay, I actually tried them on and realized I didn’t like them as much as I thought I did. More for the donation bag!

Another issue that The Joy of Less required that I address, is What is my style and color palate? Well, my style is comfortable and cute.  I love a bohemian style– you know, long skirts and maxi dresses. And I love to be comfortable; I could live in a t-shirt or a long flowing shirt and jeans. And as for my color palate, I like bright colors, and black.

The problem with my “style” is mostly when it comes to what I wear to work. American “professional” style operates in complete opposition to what I like to wear.  Slacks, button-down shirts, cardigans, blouses, blazers, suits, etc. are so uncomfortable.  I’ve bought these things because I have to try to look professional in the workplace, yet these things just don’t look chic on me. Typically, it’s in the workplace where I wear a hodge-podge of clothes because I’m trying look professional, cute, and keep warm in the giant refrigerator classrooms. 

But then I got to thinking. Maybe I could assimilate my style into my work wardrobe.  If I flesh out my BASICS for work–get some nice sweaters that I can wear with my long skirts and other clothes, maybe I can make it work.  Because honestly right now, I really don’t have very many high quality, work/teacher-appropriate and warm work clothes.

So far, I’ve pared-down my wardrobe to the clothes I wear.  Jeans that fit, t-shirts I love and still fit. Dresses and skirts that I like to wear.  I’ve kept one suit, even though I didn’t want to, because you never know, and I’m not buying another suit.

While I don’t quite have my closet where I want it, and still have more paring down to do (haven’t even touched my shoes yet), I’ve done my research and found that minimalist fashion comprises of these ten tenants:

  1. Buy high quality basics
  2. Ignore fleeting fashion trends
  3. Follow the one in, one out rule
  4. Stick to a simple color palate
  5. Don’t buy because you love it; buy because it’s useful, enduring and you love it
  6. Develop your own style
  7. Don’t compare yourself to other people
  8. You waste money when you buy useless crap, not when you get rid of it
  9. It is okay to repeat outfits, most people are too self-absorbed & self-conscious to notice.
  10. Wear clothes that are comfortable and make you feel great

 More Resources:

Stylist and Broke: http://www.bridgetteraes.com/2013/01/09/beingstylishandbroke/

Wardrobe Mentality: http://www.bridgetteraes.com/2013/05/03/wardrobementality/

Wastefulness of Decluttering: http://zenhabits.net/simple-wasteless/

How Stress Affects the Body

So I recently saw this awesome infographic on the Secrets of the Fed website. I know the site can be a bit provocative, but you really cant argue about this image. Every time I see something about the negative consequences of stress, it reminds me to stay focused.  I’m minimalizing and slowing down for a reason.  I need a clean & calm home environment, a healthy body, and positive attitude. The only thing I can do is be prepared for stressful situations by fortifying  my mind, body and spirit, so I can handle the physical ramifications of stress.

See the infographic below:

Courtesy of SecretsOfTheFed.com  No copyright infringement intended

Courtesy of SecretsOfTheFed.com No copyright infringement intended

On a tangent here… I’ve been reading this book on holistic treatments for pet health. It’s called The Nature of Animal Healing by Martin Goldstein, DVM.  And Goldstein poses the question: why do some people and animals get sick and not others? He says that traditional medicine treats the specific illness, not the reasons why the person go sick in the first place. He suggests that illness happens not just because evil bacteria and viruses invade the body. It happens because the body is ill-equipped to deal with the evil bacteria and viruses that invade on a daily basis.

Following his reasoning, stressors weaken the body and make it susceptible to illness. Still, there will always be stressors.  I will always experience crazy drivers on the highway and annoying people who have to have their way RIGHT NOW. The only way I can deal with all of that is by strengthening my body with healthy foods, making my environment one that is supportive, and managing  my reactions to the stressors.

How to you avoid the physical consequences of stress?

Making Time to Cook and Eat

If you don’t mind my ramblings, read on:  Right now I’m on a no-chemicals, all-natural foods diet. Actually, I’d really like to make this a permanent thing, but I have to cook everything; it is so time consuming. I’m not complaining, I’ve lost weight and I feel wonderful. Yet, it really got me thinking about how we never really get the opportunity to sit and enjoy preparing and eating our meals, as we do around the holidays. Cooking and eating is just a secondary activity, that on most days I wish I could forgo.

Our society is now designed for fast food culture.  There just isn’t time to really eat and enjoy.  The school where I work schedules 40 minutes for the students and teachers for lunch.  By the time I settle down from my last class and consume my food,  lunch is over. It’s too fast.  When I used to work at part-time in retail, I’d only get 30 minutes for lunch. If I didn’t bring an already prepared meal (that didn’t need to be heated), I would barely have enough time to scarf down my food. What has happened to this country that we don’t respect the lunch hour anymore?

The amount of time we spend at dinner has been truncated as well. When I get home from work, I start cooking by 4:30 or 5:00. If I cook everything from scratch, eat dinner and then clean-up it’s about or 7:30pm or 8:00pm. And this doesn’t include the time it takes to prepare my lunch for the next day. If I want to wake up rested the next morning, I need to be in bed by 9:30pm. Wash, rinse and repeat.  What kind of life is that? When do I get to relax and unwind from the day? It would be infinitely easier to stop a restaurant and pick up food on the way home. Yet, if I did that every day I would be fat and sick.

To complicate my conflict with the status quo,  I have become obsessive, almost, on how my foods are prepared.  Nowadays, I do everything pretty much the old fashioned way.  I wanted to eat healthier and improve my health.  So, I’ve been paying attention to the ingredients in the food I buy, and decided I didn’t want to continue to consume the chemicals in processed foods. I decided to eat more naturally and healthfully.  These changes extend to how I prepare my food as well. I’ve abandoned the microwave after seeing this Facebook meme… If this is true– I actually want to do my own experiment to confirm–we need to rethink how we prepare our food. So as a safety precaution, I’m not microwaving.

https://i1.wp.com/farm1.static.flickr.com/90/224218110_795ba8fffc.jpg

Nonetheless, reheating food on the stove takes longer; as does many of the other old-fashioned cooking techniques. Making your own breads takes a few hours. I’ve recently discovered this gluten-free honey oat-bread that is absolutely amazing (I usually leave out the xanthan gum since I don’t have it). Making this bread takes a while especially if I’m turning instant oats into flour at home. Labor-intensive, from-scratch cooking doesn’t work well for the modern, working woman. However, my health is more important to me than any damn status quo. And quite frankly, homemade foods, once you get used to them of course, taste much better than any processed junk out there.

For instance: Early last week I had microwaved popcorn. I know, I broke my no-microwave and homemade-only cooking principles. Why, though, did I have microwave popcorn? I’m not really sure.  I guess I  was hungry, really bored and freezing (I was in this ice-box for a classroom). Anyway, this popcorn was disgusting. I probably haven’t had microwave popcorn in a few years since I discovered popping it on the stove. I never really liked the filmy residue on microwave popcorn, but for the longest, that was all I knew. For some idiotic reason, I decided, “why not?” It smelled good, so it might be alright. This microwave popcorn was the nastiest, chemical-flavored crap I’d eaten in a long time.  The temptation of food in front of me, overtook my quest for healthy and homemade eating. I hope I learned my lesson.

This brings me to another point.  It’s ironic really, how we as Americans are always eating, munching, snacking, sipping, and tasting, but we don’t take time prepare and eat our foods at home regularly. The object is to get food to our mouths as quickly as possible, and have it constantly available.  Every celebration and social event is marked with something to put in our mouths.  Quite frankly, if we spent less time at office parties, and did snacking throughout the day, we might be able to have time for cooking delicious, homemade meals.

Nonetheless, cooking at home isn’t something that we all know how to do. When I had to stop eating dairy, I couldn’t prepare 85% of what I liked to eat/knew how to cook. And stopping with wheat/gluten brings a whole new set of challenges.  And without pasta-roni and other quick-prepare/processed foods, what then, am I left to cook? I was surprised to find their are many healthy recipes and creative and delicious ways to make foods that I love. I’ve worked past these challenges but I still don’t consider myself a well-seasoned cook.  Nonetheless, I’m much better than I used to be, and  I can finally make rice without it being under-cooked and burned.

Even still, cooking at home is time intensive. Soaking raw beans overnight (instead of buying canned) and then cooking them (don’t even talk to me about re-fried beans) is two day endeavor. And I make a huge mess when I cook, too. I’m getting better at keeping things clean, but when you use the masher, and the blender, and the chopper, and measuring spoons, and 2 or 3 different pans, and plates and forks, and spoons, and God knows what else, its easy for things to get a little out of control….

healthy oatmeal cookies

Here’s the thing with cooking at home: Sometimes your recipe doesn’t exactly work out.  Maybe you forgot an ingredient (btw I made the honey-oat bread without eggs and it still came out really good), got distracted, or maybe the recipe wasn’t that great to begin with.  While I’ve had some successes, gluten-free cooking creates additional challenges in and of itself. It’s a process. (I won’t show you the gluten free tortillas I attempted to make. They looked like (and tasted like

Taking time to prepare your food at home requires patience, hard work, and time.  I think though, I need to spend more time planning my meals so I’m more efficient.  Here are some things I try to do to eat healthy, home-cooked foods as much as possible:

  1. Plan meals for the week– I don’t have to worry about grocery shopping during the week, and saves time in the morning trying to figure out what I’m making breakfast & lunch
  2. Do some cooking a few days in advance or on the weekends– Sometimes I’ll make a mashed chickpea salad, or the oat-honey bread so I’ll have to take it for breakfast or lunch during the week.
  3. Cook a week’s worth of meals on the weekends, and then freeze and re-heat them during the week- I haven’t actually tried this yet, but I can imagine it saving a lot of time. 
  4. Cook simple foods-This is probably the easiest way to eat pure/homemade foods. Honestly, making foods with a three day process, like the gluten-free, refried bean enchilada, isn’t always practical. It takes much less time to boil some rice and add some canned Amy’s Organic curried lentil soup on top of it. It’s my favorite that I buy from Whole Foods.  I actually heated the leftovers up this morning and put it in a thermos for lunch. It tastes good and required minimal effort on my part. Now if I would sit and enjoy my food instead of eating during the period before lunch.
  5. Save the experiments/new recipes for the weekend– That way, if it doesn’t come out right, or you want to try again, you won’t be pressed for time. On a weeknight, if your elaborate new recipe is completely inedible (like those tortillas I made), you will be short on time and a hungry raging maniac, and more incline to just eat “whatever.”
  6. Make cooking healthy meals a priority–  If you spend 3 hours watching TV or browsing Facebook after work, you wont have time to cook.  You have to make a deliberate effort to add cooking to your day if you don’t do it already. Sure, it may feel like you are taking time away from other, more exciting activities. But just like an exercise routine, you have put it at the top of the list.
  7. Stop trying to be the perfect healthy eater– The reality is, sometimes it isn’t practical to make everything. I seriously may never make gluten-free tortillas again. You are going to make mistakes, and eat things you shouldn’t, and not feel like cooking. But that’s the reality of life.  Do the best you can.

Other than making these small adjustments, the only way to truly take time to eat is to work for yourself. That way, you set your own schedule. You can set two hours in the middle of the afternoon to prepare lunch if you’d like.  I think, that every meal, or at least most, should be like the Thanksgiving Dinner meal.  Families should come together at meal time, and all help to put together the meal of the evening. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but if we were to all work on one part, a complicated meal might not take so much time.

What Makes You Feel Amazing?

I feel amazing when I eat healthily.  As a ploy to get my boyfriend to change his diet, I decided to change my own. As I’ve been mentioning lately, I’ve started this gluten-free, wheat-free, soy-free, diary-free, refined sugar-free, (already) vegetarian diet. My aim is to avoid nearly all processed foods that have ingredients that I don’t know what they are. Essentially all food that isn’t cooked at home has been banished from my diet.

And as challenging as that may be, I feel amazing. I’ve lost weight, I have more energy, and I recover from illness with lightning speed. Who knew that eating all natural, organic foods could make me feel so great? However, since the week before my vacation, I’ve been a little lax with my diet. I’ve been eating processed foods, wheat bread, and pastries; those foods have made me feel so bad.  I’ve never been so aware of how food makes my body feel.

When they say food is fuel, who ever “they” is, they weren’t kidding. Once you have REAL food for a while, its kind of hard to go back to the processed junk.  I mean, it’s not hard at all, as processed junk is readily available to jump down your throat at a moment’s notice. People are always throwing it at you. Last Friday  a kid offered me a chocolate cupcake, for free! Yet, when I look at the processed food, (today I made a naan pizza with sliced tomatoes and Daiya cheese), it doesn’t seem as appetizing as before. The flavor isn’t rich and fresh, and I don’t feel like I’m doing myself any favors.

My mom always says “Bless your food.”  She tells me to “not give power to the things of this world,” like food.  I believe her, but the facts don’t lie. I feel amazing when I eat natural foods that I prepare at home. I LIKE eating healthier. It’s strange, but I never thought I’d say that. And guess what? I don’t have to eat zucchini or mushrooms, either.  I eat all the stuff I love. Nit-picking chemical micro-ingredients, criticizing them, and avoiding them may seem like I’m giving “power” to those ingredients, but I’m not if I don’t focus on them. There are two ways to eat in this lifestyle. The first, is to think about all the foods you can’t have because these micro-ingredients are going to give you cancer or whatever.  The second is to think of all the possibilities that are available to you with the food you can eat. Cauliflower sauce instead of Alfredo, who knew? I’m still working on a recipe, but as soon as I develop one I like, I’ll share it with you.  There are so many foods I haven’t tried, and so many ideas I have coming to me

Of course this “restrictive” diet has many challenges and I slip up sometimes. Yet, my slip-ups give me something to remember: I don’t like the way the processed stuff makes me feel. So I work on sticking to the diet. The next step in this new dietary lifestyle is to adapt my schedule to fit the requirements of preparing these amazing foods. And this next step, my friends, is for next time.  Have a good night.

How Do I Get A Positive Attitude?

I recently took a staycation-vacation up in Hollywood Beach, Florida with my aunt.  During my vacation, I had an epiphany. I am so negative.  I never really thought I was.  I thought my outlook was pessimistic, but nothing to get up in arms about.

hollywood beach view from window

Yet, here I was, in Hollywood, Florida, staring out the window overlooking the ocean, and in my head, I was complaining about something.  I have this beautiful view, and all I could think about is what is wrong with the world/my life/people/etc.

People have called me negative before, but I never really saw it that way. I considered myself a realist. You know, if my professor typically rejects my first ideas in my paper, why would he just accept this one particular idea on this one particular day.  I always prayed for the best, but expected the worst.  It lessens the blow when a disappointing outcome does occur.

Still, when I consider my little amazing-view-but-bad-attitude scenario, I wonder, what’s up with that? I mean, maybe that’s what people mean when they say I’m negative.  That I’m so consumed with these other thoughts that I cant enjoy the moment.  Sometimes,  I do enjoy the moment, but it just hasn’t been happening on the trip.

hollywood beach

Don’t get my wrong, I am thankful for this trip, and I needed it badly.  But it took a while for me to relax into it.  Maybe it’s because I carry too much of the past around with me.  I drag my outside life with me to a place where I’m supposed to relax and enjoy life.

hollywood beach trees

I decided that I’m going to start meditating. Maybe more yoga too, but mostly meditating. That way I can deliberately focus on being in the moment and clearing my mind of any negative thoughts that float around.