Dec 31, 2009


I spent a lot of time this week focusing on what the coming year will bring. Then, thanks to some wonderful blog posts (which I promise to link to and credit in the near future), I shifted gears and started to reflect on what the past decade has brought into my life. I started with thinking about what I've done, where I've been, who I've met. What I realized is that I have so much to be thankful for. For all its trials and tribulations, the past decade has been a pretty incredible one. Here are some of the highlights for me, mostly inspiring, a few sad, in no particular order:

1. I earned 3 different college degrees, including the last one which I think - at the beginning of the decade - only my dad could have foreseen.
2. I started a career in education that has truly altered the lens through which I view everything in my world.
3. I watched my brother become an incredible adult who not only inspires me to no end, but also makes me realize how lucky we both have been to have the family that we have.
4. I lost two of my grandpas and two of my grandmas, yet because of the intricacies of my family structure I still have two grandmothers and a grandpa alive and well.
5. I visited Europe twice, the first time on a study abroad program in college and the second time with my parents and some good family friends. I learned a lot about myself, the culture in which I grew up, and the inherent beauty of the human spirit.
6. I competed in my first (and second) long-course triathlon and my first half-marathon.
7. I gained 30 pounds, lost 35, gained 5, and finally began to develop a better sense of both who I am and how amazing this body is that I inhabit.
8. I gave up eating turkey and chicken. Then I gave up fish. Then I gave up dairy. Then I became a vegan. Then I realized that there is no way I think I would ever NOT be a vegan again. I know too much. I care too deeply.
9. I loved a lot, lost a lot, and found someone who completes my soul. In the process, I also quit my job and moved across the country.
10. I learned that my mom can not only be my inspiration, but can also be one of my best friends. And I learned that my dad will be my biggest supporter... no matter what.
11. I've stood by some of my best friends, including my brother, as they exchanged wedding vows. I also gained an incredible sister in the process.
12. I've learned that life is forgiving and for giving, that nothing hard will last forever, and that time really doesn't wait for anyone...

I could go on an on, but instead I think I'll stop. Happy New Year. Here's to a wonderful decade past and an exciting one ahead. Now it's 9 p.m. on New Year's Eve and I think it's time for bed.


[Image available at]

Dec 30, 2009

Since Today is Wednesday...

Since today is Wednesday, I thought I might actually write about what I said I'd write about on Wednesday - Financial Simplicity and Social Justice.

The truth is, I've been struggling in the area of financial simplicity all fall, which probably explains why I've been writing about it very little. I have, however, been reading and reflecting a lot about what I need to do to get myself back on track. It's amazing how the busier my days are the easier it is to give into those little temptations, like the Starbucks' drive-thru on the way to my early morning shift, or some new, adorable baby clothes for my best friend who is expecting a baby this spring.

That being said, I'm gearing up again to do the Compact beginning January 1st. I'm going to try it for a month, see how it goes, and then see whether or not I am going to extend it past that. A month of buying nothing new (besides food, clothes, toiletries, etc.) seems doable to me... especially after a holiday season where I realized time and time again how blessed I am in my life and how I have way more stuff than I need or even want.

I'm also going to continue paring down my personal possessions. Starting on Monday, I will resume giving away or donating 10 items a week. I already have a bag half-full of donation items sitting in my dining room.

Another thing I am going to focus on is reducing my grocery spending, without sacrificing quality. Since I've become a vegan this past fall, I have given myself some time to just adjust without focusing too much on how much I've been spending on groceries.

This may seem like a lot to tackle all at one time, but I really think that right now committing myself to doing these three things will get me back on track. I do want to be debt-free, and I know that to do that I will have to focus on reducing my spending and paying off those darn student loans.

Peace and Happy New Year!

[Image available at]

Dec 23, 2009

Christmas Wishes...

Manifest plainness,
Embrace simplicity,
Reduce selfishness,
Have few desires.
Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen. ~Author unknown, attributed to a 7-year-old named Bobby

[Image available at]

Dec 13, 2009

What I Have Been Doing in the Absence of Writing

I've been visibly absent from my blog the past few weeks. But I sure haven't been absent from my life or from my journey along the path of voluntary simplicity. Here's a little bit of what I've been up to...
I've been spending time with family and friends and enjoying the beautiful simplicity of being surrounded by so much love and acceptance. I've been reconnecting with my grandma who suffers from dementia. I've been learning that you can lose your memory without losing your spirit. I've been relishing in the little moments spent with her, realizing throughout the process that life is short and the ties of family run deep.

I've been reflecting a lot on how time and place are relative things and that, for the most part, I can find happiness in different places for different reasons.

I've been truly enjoying the work I've been doing and the freedom that it has allowed me to focus on me. I've been enjoying making small differences in the lives of young people who have so much to offer to this world, but who have been dealt life circumstances that most adults I know would struggle through. And I've been inspired by the way these young people get up every day and make the best of the hands they've been dealt.

I've been adjusting to weather in a place where it isn't warm and sunny everyday. I'm been learning the art of layering clothing.

And I've been thinking about the future direction of this blog and my commitment to write something of meaning everyday.

I hope you are finding peace in all of your days...

[Image available at]

Nov 30, 2009

The Simplicity of Unplugging...

I've been largely "unplugged" from the computer and my cell phone for almost a week now. And it's been nice. I'm enjoying the vacation and the simplicity that I've found in exercise, in engaging in long, face-t0-face conversations with family and good friends, and in floating through the days lazily without much concern for what time it is or what I'm doing next. I have another week of vacation, so you might see a post or two if I feel like it. I will be resuming more regular posting next week.

[Image available at]

Nov 27, 2009

The Day after Thanksgiving

Instead of going shopping, why don't you participate in the National Day of Listening? Take the time. Listen to a story. Learn something new. Brighten someone's day. Preserve a memory. Make a difference.

Nov 25, 2009

Join this Challenge. Do it now...

Here is an excellent way to pay it forward! Join this challenge. Do it now. Share the information with those you know... I'm joining the Zen Habits team. Join on up. Or start your own team.

And have a happy holiday weekend with those you love.

[Image available at]

Nov 20, 2009

Here's a Cause I Believe In

I'm working on becoming a vegan. And I am proud to say I'm getting close, thanks to my brother's inspiration and one of my new favorite websites and blogs, Speaking of, Susan wrote about a great cause sometime back. This is something I believe in. Check it out if you are so inclined.

[Image available at]

Nov 18, 2009

A Great Link to a Post on Experiential Gift Giving

... And yet another great article on non-consumer gift giving. Check it out here.

[Image available at]

Nov 16, 2009

The Anti-Stuff Holiday Gift Guide

Get Rich Slowly wrote a great bog on alternatives to traditional holiday gifts. Check it out here.

[Image available at]

Personal Challenge #2: Yoga and Quiet Contemplation (Week 4 of 4)

This personal challenge will focus on inward simplicity. I am committing to ten minutes of yoga and/or quiet contemplation every day for the next four weeks.

As this challenge comes to a close, I'm struggling with how to measure how successful I was. I think I spent more time THINKING about the act of quietly thinking than I did actually engaging in the quiet contemplation activity. I did do some more yoga and am working to make that a weekly, if not daily, habit. I have also become far more mindful of the value of quiet space - both physically and mentally - in my life.

That being said, I'll leave this challenge with the following musings...
Every week I look forward to Rowdy Kittens' Simple Living News Update. On Mondays, without fail, Tammy compiles some great resources and articles on different aspects of simple living. The link that really struck me this week was a post at Far Beyond the Stars entitled "How Creating Space Can Lead to a Healthy Creative Habit." Reading this article made me think about how my first two personal challenges have both been efforts to create more space in my life. I know I have a long way to go, but I feel like most of the time I am walking along a healthy path.

As an aside, I have remained committed to donating 10 items a week. I am going to continue the challenge, along with this yoga/quiet contemplation one, indefinitely. I'll post about my progress from time to time.

Next week I will start a new challenge that focuses on giving back. Stay tuned for more details.

[Image available at]

Nov 13, 2009

Saving Money on Organic Food

I just read this article on 12 ways to save on buying organic food. I thought it was worth passing along. Happy reading.

[Image available at]

This Week...

I guess this week I have been in a "less writing, more doing" frame of mind - which, when I think about it, is pretty ironic because I haven't even done that much. Maybe I've been in a "less writing, more thinking" frame of mind. Either way, here's what I have been up to this week:

1. I have been reading up a lot on the voluntary simplicity movement and have been especially intrigued by the way different blogs about simplicity and minimalism have approached the subject. I was going to link to a bunch of those blogs here, but I think in the effort of simplicity I'll save those links for a later post. Frankly, I have a new book that I want to start and I'd rather devote some time this morning to that activity.

2. I've also been doing some background research for the book I am co-authoring. What I've learned is that I am about to enter an entirely new realm of writing. It's exciting, but it's also scary and a bit overwhelming. My focus right now is to learn enough to be able to streamline the process. I keep reminding myself that if I want a life of simplicity, I have to infuse my life with simple patterns and simple actions.

3. I failed miserably at my trash-free challenge for the week. It was WAY harder than I thought it would be to buy groceries without any packaging. Among other things, it has given me a newfound respect for Colin and his No Impact Man project. I also learned that if you approach grocery shopping with intention, you will realize the inverse relationship between packaging and food health and quality. I already try to stick to the perimeter of the store as much as possible, but I found that focusing on products with less packaging automatically increases the amount of healthy fruits and veggies that end up in my cart.

That's all for now. I'll be back later with a post on exercise and nutrition, since it is Friday.

Nov 9, 2009

Personal Challenge #2: Yoga and Quiet Contemplation (Week 3 of 4)

This personal challenge will focus on inward simplicity. I am committing to ten minutes of yoga and/or quiet contemplation every day for the next four weeks.

My inspiration this week comes from Rowdy Kitten's post entitled Lessons In Simplicity: Practicing Yoga. The four things she's learned since she started practicing yoga really speak to me. She's learned that slowing down is okay, falling down is not a bad thing, meditation and simplicity go hand in hand, and yoga is a fantastic workout and a great substitute for running. There we go... no need for me to go on and on about what I've learned so far, as I think Tammy said it pretty well.

My most humbling experience this past week was a 90-minute yoga video workout I did (or tried to do) in my living room. I am in awe of the strength and balance needed to complete some of the poses that look so simple. Although the workout was hard and I couldn't hold all of the poses, I did finish it feeling much calmer and more in control than when the video started. It's a good reminder of how strength comes in many different forms.

My most calming experience was the ten minutes I spent lying around in the grass at the park. I had just finished a hard run and was about to rush off to do some errands, when I stopped myself and just plopped down in the grass. I enjoyed hearing the leaves rustle in the wind and listening to the sound of the creek behind me. I enjoyed watching the squirrels play and the kids run around and the adults walk, talk, and laugh. I enjoyed being with myself. Just being present.

I'm still working on my first personal challenge of getting rid of/donating ten items a week. I cleaned out my office again on Friday and found about 12 books that were ready to go to new homes. This morning, I'm tackling the closet again and am committing to finding at least five items that I haven't worn in the past year. They are going out with the other donations.

I'm also committing to going trash-free with my diet this week, meaning that I will buy nothing from the grocery store that comes in packaging of any kind. Stay tuned for future posts about this progress.

Feel free to comment below by clicking on the COMMENTS tab. I'd love to hear from you.

[Image available at]

Nov 6, 2009

The Trash-Free Diet

I was thinking about what I wanted to write about nutrition and/or exercise this week, and then I read this article. Colin, also known as the "No Impact Man," wrote a great article about how if we ate a "trash-free" diet, we would become healthier because fresh, healthy foods are usually free of all packaging. What a simple, yet profound idea.

I heard on NPR today the statistic that today 1 in 4 young people are obese, which is up from 1 in 20 only a generation ago. When are we, as a society, going to do something about this epidemic that makes a difference on a large scale?

I think it starts with awareness, education, and individual choices. Next week I will try going trash-free, meaning that I will not purchase anything from the grocery store that comes in a package. Anyone care to join me? Share your comments below.

[Image available at]

Nov 5, 2009

A Book in the Works

My cousin and I are co-authoring a book about education. It is slated to be finished by the end of 2010. Stay posted for updates on our progress as the project unfolds. We are both very excited to be moving forward with this idea!

[Image available at]

Nov 2, 2009

"Simple Living is Not the Path of Least Resistance"

I stumbled across this post yesterday. The author's observation that "simple living is not the path of least resistance" really struck a chord with me and got me thinking about how sometimes the most difficult choices we make end of being some of the best ones.

One personal example that comes to mind is my decision to quit my full-time teaching job two years ago. I loved my work and I loved the students I worked with, but I did not love the constant stress of having to juggle a full-time teaching job with multiple coaching positions and other campus obligations, a full-time school schedule, and my personal life. It wasn't working, my health was suffering, and something had to give.

It was not an easy decision to make, but three years later I would not have changed that decision for the world. It allowed me the opportunity to focus on my coursework and complete my last degree in three years. It allowed me the space to breathe, to spend more time with family and friends, and to refocus on what is most important to me in this world.

Care to share about a time when you made a difficult decision in an effort to simplify your life? What motivated you to make the decision and what has been the result? If you could go back and do it differently, would you? Please comment below.

Personal Challenge #2: Yoga and Quiet Contemplation (Week 2 of 4)

[Image available at]

This personal challenge will focus on inward simplicity. I am committing to ten minutes of yoga and/or quiet contemplation every day for the next four weeks.

O.K. I'll admit it. This challenge is HARD for me. Ten minutes a day? I know. I know. But it is. It's easier for me to write twenty pages, run six miles, or climb a mountain than it is for me to just sit still for ten minutes and think... or do ten minutes of yoga. That being said, I did manage to do yoga breaths one day and quiet contemplation four days. Five out of seven isn't bad for my first week, I guess. And I've been seeing a lot on the internet lately about how yoga and meditation fit well into a minimalist, simple lifestyle. My favorite thing I happened upon what this creed, from Yoga to the People's website. How simple. How just.

There will be no correct clothes
There will be no proper payment
There will be no right answers
No glorified teachers
No ego no script no pedestals
No you're not good enough or rich enough
This yoga is for everyone
This sweating and breathing and becoming
This knowing glowing feeling
Is for the big small weak and strong
Able and crazy
Brothers sisters grandmothers
The mighty and meek
Bones that creak
Those who seek
This power is for everyone
Yoga to the people
All bodies rise

I've been very inspired by the comments, feedback, and advice I received in response to my Paring Down the Stuff Challenge. I will continue to donate or give away 10 items a week until I am down to a place where I feel comfortable and at peace with my stuff. Stay tuned for future posts related to my progress. Another ten items - including some highly processed and sodium-filled canned food items from my kitchen cabinet - gone, donated, given away to a better home.

Oct 30, 2009

World Gym: Making the Most of Our Beautiful World

A friend mentioned the idea of a world gym the other day and our conversation got my wheels spinning. The concept of a world gym as it relates to voluntary simplicity is simple - if we view the natural world around us as our own personal gym, we might be more apt to get active and be happier as a result. It's all about a shift in perspective. Instead of complaining about not being able to find a close parking spot somewhere, challenge yourself to park as far away as possible from your destination, take a few deep breaths, and enjoy the benefits of a little sunshine and extra walking.

What do you think? How do you maintain your fitness by using the natural world around you as your gym? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

Oct 28, 2009

Start Somewhere. Do Something.

Procrastination is a specialty to mine. One of the most pertinent lessons I've learned about voluntary simplicity and social justice is that when it comes to some things, there really is not time to wait. So start somewhere. Do something. Here are two things you can do now to start simplifying your life, while simultaneously contributing to a more socially just world.

1. Educate yourself about the food you use to fuel your body. Read The China Study.Read Fast Food Nation. Watch Food Inc. Do all of these texts have social and political agendas? Sure they do. For the most part, they are political and social agendas I happen to believe in. You can and should read them with a critical eye. I try not to take in any information I absorb at face value any more. Ask questions. Visit your local farmer's market. Talk to the farmers and ask them about their farming practices. Plant something. Find out about CSAs in your area. Buy organic AND locally grown when at all possible. The organic produce section in my local grocery store keeps getting larger and larger and the price differential between the organic and non-organic products keeps getting smaller.

2. Buy used, borrow, and share goods whenever possible. Really. Advertising is a powerful, powerful thing in U.S. society. Most of what we are told we need we would probably be better off without. Think critically about what and how you buy things. Boycott buying from companies that exploit workers. If that seems to daunting, pick one company that you frequently purchase goods from and research its business practices. Share what you learn with those you love and then adjust your purchasing, or lack there of, accordingly.

Oct 26, 2009

Personal Challenge #2: Yoga and Quiet Contemplation (Week 1 of 4)

For the next four weeks, my personal challenge will focus on inward simplicity. I am committing to ten minutes of yoga and/or quiet contemplation every day for the next four weeks.

For some, this challenge might not even seem worthy of the title "challenge." However, in our modern day of technology and constant productivity, I think it is easy to forget the value of slowing down. (Speaking of slowing down, Leo over at Zen Habits just wrote another great post today about the Slow Food Movement. Check it out. It's great.) Anyway, I read an article not too long ago about the intention of breath that made me realize that even when I think I'm slowing down or resting, rarely do I take the time to just breathe and be.

I'll be updating my progress on this challenge every Monday for the next four weeks, including reflections on what I've learned and how it connects to voluntary simplicity and/or social justice. Please join me in this challenge and share your progress in the comments section. I'm also looking for tips from those who have a lot of experience with yoga, meditation, or any other form of quieting the body and mind. Share away.

I've been very inspired by the comments, feedback, and advice I received in response to my Paring Down the Stuff Challenge. I will continue to donate or give away 10 items a week until I am down to a place where I feel comfortable and at peace with my stuff. Stay tuned for future posts related to my progress...

Oct 21, 2009

Lessons Learned about Saving

I knew, a few years back, that I wanted to take a year off of full-time work to finish up my last degree. I also knew that I needed to be able to save up a substantial amount of money in a very short period of time to make this wish a reality. Before I set my mind on this goal, I had never been much good at saving money. At all. And yet in six months, with a little effort and a few lifestyle changes, I was able to slash my expenses and create a savings account with twelve months worth of living expenses. I adjusted so well to my frugal lifestyle that I didn't even spend all I had saved last year and still have six months' living expenses in a nice CD earning some interest. I'm not writing this to brag about my ability to save money, but I did want to reflect on my accomplishment to say that if I can do it, anyone can. I will admit that there were certain circumstances in my life that made the accomplishment of my goal easier than the challenges that a lot of people face. Aside from some astronomical student loans, I didn't have any other debt at the time. I was also living rent-free. Yet I had been living this way for two years already and hadn't managed to save the money. So what changed in my life that helped me go from being a consumer with no savings to a frugal spender with a substantial amount of savings? I can point to two things that jump out at me the most:

1. If you have a tangible financial goal to work towards, it makes saving money a lot easier. Pick your goal, whatever it may be. My only suggestion is that it is somehow tied to your own happiness and freedom. If you cannot make the connection between your financial goals and your personal happiness, I think it's a lot harder to have the discipline to save and cut in the ways you need to. For me, the dream of being an almost-full-time student for one last year of my life was all the incentive I needed to buckle down, cut my expenses, and save away.
2. Write down every penny you spend. Writing down every penny you spend can be an eye-opening experience in and of itself. And if you are able to connect your expenditures to your values and goals, or lack-thereof, I think you can learn even more about yourself and why you are in whatever financial situation you are in. There is so much that is out of our control when it comes to financial circumstances, but there is also so much we CAN do to control where we spend our money. I truly believe that how and where we spend our money speaks volumes about what we value and what type of world we want to leave to future generations. A few changes I made right away were that I cut out daily trips to Starbucks (now an expensive cup of coffee feels like a luxurious treat instead of a daily habit) and stopped going shopping. I wasn't a big shopper anyway, but I found that anytime I walked into Target, the lure of persuasive advertising and the feel that there was something that I just needed to have would get the best of me. So I stopped. I can honestly say that my life was only enriched as a result. I found that instead of feeling deprived, I became empowered by taking control of my finances and understanding where my money was going and why.

Oct 20, 2009

Don't Get Organized?

Don't get organized? That's right! The Happiness Project just published a great post that advocates getting rid of things instead of organizing them. I found this post compelling. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Oct 19, 2009

Changes: Paring Down the Stuff Update Week 4 of 4

"Everyone thinks of changing the world,
but no one thinks of changing himself."
- Leo Tolstoy

I committed myself to a "Paring Down the Stuff" challenge for four weeks. The premise was simple. I was to give away, donate, or otherwise recycle ten items a week. The challenge itself was pretty simple, but I did learn a lot about myself in the process. I found that every week it got increasingly harder to find ten items to part with. This was unexpected for three reasons. First of all, as I've written before, I've already donated over 50% of all my personal possessions in the past year or so. Secondly, I like giving things away. It gives me a little rush. Third of all, I write and think frequently about simple living and I know that I still have a long way to go in so many areas, including paring down my things.

So, why was it so hard to find 40 items to part with? I can't answer this question, but I can reflect on the words of Tolstoy, who wrote that "everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." Although I don't agree wholeheartedly with Tolstoy's claim, I will contend that it is often harder to look at your own life than it is to talk about larger societal problems. That being said, this is what this personal challenge has taught me:

1. Most of the time, it is easier not to buy things in the first place. Yes, getting rid of things can be fun. But culling through my clothes again and again has reminded me that had I not stepped into the store to purchase some of these items in the first place, I would not have to be sorting through them... and getting rid of them... and wondering how much money I have spent on unneeded clothes over the past decade.
2. We all have a weakness when it comes to accumulating stuff. Mine happens to be books and things related to exercise and fitness. Of course, since exercise and reading rank in my top five preferred activities, I feel okay about this... right now. I actually had a lot of fun going through books, reminiscing with myself about what I've learned from all I've read, and what I've been able to teach others about life through the medium of great literature. Oh, and the exercise stuff... I was able to get rid of some old race t-shirts, but for some reason I still think I need to have two weeks worth of exercise clothes in stock. You know, just in case the washing machine breaks or something. I don't like to work out in sweaty or stinky tops. Before you pass judgement, remind me about hand-washing clothes in the sink, or suggest that there are worse things than wearing the same running top two days in a row, I want to remind you that I said I had a long way to go with some of this stuff...
3. Consciously thinking about our spending and accumulating patterns can teach us a lot about ourselves and our role in advancing social justice in our world. I believe we need to advocate for a more equitable distribution of resources throughout our world. And I think we need to use our buying power wisely, making sure that when we bring items into our home we are making a positive and proactive statement about the kind of world we want to leave for future generations.

Have you been working on your own "Paring Down the Stuff" challenge? Share your successes, challenges, and tips in the comments section below. And stay tuned as I embark on a new personal challenge next Monday. Without revealing too much, this one is going to be a shift from the focus on my external environment.

Peace and Simplicity,

Oct 16, 2009

Now and Then...

... life necessitates a little blogging vacation. I'll be back next week with regular daily posts.

[image available at]

Oct 11, 2009

Paring Down the Stuff: Week 3 Progress

Here's an update on the third week of my first personal challenge, which is to get rid of (through donation or other means) ten items a week and then reflect on the process and its implications for both voluntary simplicity and social justice.

I'm not feeling that inspired by my challenge this week. Maybe it's just that my energy seems to be elsewhere right now. But since I told myself I would commit to a month on the challenge, and because I still have a lot of treasures to give away, here we go. My ten items this week are as follows:

1-2. Two t-shirts
3-5. Three pairs of socks
6. 1 paperback novel I just finished reading

That's it... I got to six items and just couldn't come up with anything else to give away. So I gave the challenge a rest and started thinking. Then I wrote...

So, I was feeling pretty lame about my progress this week. And then I happened upon this article by Penelope Trunk entitled Five steps to taming materialism, from an accidental expert. She got me thinking about how much most of us have and how little most of us need. I think that most of my barriers to my challenge this week were mental, not physical. I somehow convinced myself that the reason I couldn't come up with ten things to give away was because I had already given away over 50% of my possessions in the past year or so. I convinced myself that I just didn't have that much else to give away. Really, that couldn't be further from the truth.

Wayne Dyer talks about giving away the things that you most love, instead of your "junk," as a way to detach from the material. So, I found four books that I really love and I added them to my donation pile. Then, I went back to my bookshelf and found three books that I really didn't like and swapped them out for the ones I loved. I KNOW that's not what Wayne Dyer was advocating, but it got me to my ten items and made me realize that most challenges in life are as much about perspective as anything else.

It became much easier to give away items when I really started taking stock of what I treasure and why. The Holocaust memoir Night was in my stack of favorites, but I just couldn't bear to part with it. It became very easy, then, to donate another book taking up space on my shelf that didn't carry with it the same sentimental value. I have taught Night to high school sophomores for a number of years and through the process have been continually inspired by the compassion and intelligence of fifteen-year-olds to talk about and wrestle with some of the deepest questions about the human condition. That is all really the topic of a future post, but it did prompt me to get to my ten items this week.

1-2. Two t-shirts
3-5. Three pairs of socks
6. 1 paperback novel I just finished reading
7-10. Four other books that, when all was said and done, didn't mean anything to me by comparison.

What have you given away recently and what have you learned in the process?

[Image available at]

Oct 9, 2009

What I've Learned...

Tomorrow I'm running my first half-marathon. I've run on and off throughout the years and competed in a couple long-course triathlons. I have a background in swimming and water polo, having both competed in and coached both sports. I enjoy rock climbing with my mom every once in a while, and love to cycle and hike when I have a good partner to keep me company.

However, over the past few months running has taken over as my primary form of exercise. And I have really come to enjoy the simplicity of the process. You can do it virtually anywhere. It requires little fancy equipment, aside from a good pair of shoes and some comfortable attire. If the weather's nice, you can run outside. And if the weather isn't, you can still usually run outside if you're willing to brave the elements (which sometimes I am not). You can run in the mountains, at the beach, in your neighborhood, in the park, in the city, in the country... Well, you get where I'm going with this. I'm not yet ready to claim running as my favorite form of exercise, because nothing competes with how happy at at home I feel in the water, but I am finally able to say I enjoy the process and I value the simplicity inherent in it.

Running has taught me to pay attention to my body and the world around me. Running on the beach at high noon with temperatures nearing 90 reminded me how powerful nature really is. And running in the local park, with leaves beginning to fall and people enjoying the simple pleasures of the day, reminded me how connected we are to our earth and to each other.

Whatever happens out there on the course tomorrow, I'm looking forward to it...

Oct 8, 2009

What I Believe

I believe in an educational system that values critical thinking above rote memorization, creativity above test scores, and thoughtfulness above compliance. I believe in schools being community centers where people enjoy spending time, sharing ideas, and expanding their world-views. I believe in giving every young person a fair shot, recognizing that not all children come to school equipped with the tools needed to navigate the U.S. educational system. I believe that it is the job of educators to give students what they need, without judgement, chastisement, or resentment. Most of all, I believe that everyone has a story to tell, a life to share, and a future worth believing in. I envision an educational system that values these stories, lives, and futures in ways that give young people the hope needed to believe in their own dreams. And I believe we have a long way to go.

What do you believe? Share your thoughts by hitting the COMMENTS tab below this post.


[Image available at]

Oct 7, 2009

Reducing Grocery Costs without Sacrificing Quality

I'm working on finding a balance between reducing our grocery spending, while also maintaining a vegetarian (nearly vegan), gluten-free diet full of healthy, tasty foods. I stumbled across this post at Choosing Voluntary Simplicity today that outlines seven grocery shopping strategies that work for someone who advocates living a simple, healthy life. In addition to her seven tips, here are some other things I try to keep in mind:

1. Only clip coupons for items you use. Since I try to stay away from most processed, packaged foods, most of my coupons are for household items (toothpaste, etc.) instead of groceries. I used to keep a fully-stocked coupon file of coupons for items I might possibly buy one day if I could get them for next to nothing. I've found it doesn't need to be that complicated. I've simplified my coupon-clipping and saved both time and energy in the process.

2. Shop mostly in the perimeter of the store. These are where you will find your fresh, non-processed items. 90% of the items in the isles is overly processed junk. Really it is. Read the labels. Challenge yourself, if you haven't already, to eliminate high fructose corn syrup and overly-processed grains from your diet. You won't find much up and down the isles that you can eat.

3. Whenever possible, buy organic and locally grown. Use your buying power to make a statement about the types of foods you want and need your local grocery store to carry. Better yet, shop seasonally at a local farmer's market and buy directly from the farmers themselves.

4. Eat at home. Cook from scratch. People who have known me my whole life might have a hard time believing that I am enjoying spending time in the kitchen, cooking from scratch. But I am and thanks to the help of Susan and her website Fat Free Vegan Kitchen, I have mastered a couple of pretty good meals.

5. Become or remain a vegetarian or vegan. There are so many reasons I believe in a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, but looking at it simply from a financial perspective - meat and dairy products are expensive. Really expensive. And if they are not expensive, they are probably not free-range, grass-fed, or organic. I will come back to this point frequently in subsequent posts, especially as I continue to transition from a vegetarian to a vegan. I'm getting really close, but more on that later.

What do you do to save money on groceries without sacrificing quality? Leave a comment and let me know.


[Image available at]

Oct 6, 2009

Paring Down the Stuff: Week 2 Progress

Here's an update on the second week of my first personal challenge, which is to get rid of (through donation or other means) ten items a week and then reflect on the process and its implications for both voluntary simplicity and social justice.

For some reason, this week it was much harder to find ten items to get rid of. Here's what I ended up getting together (I still have to drop off the donations in their respective locations):
1-2: 2 paperback books I've already read;
3: Old SAT study book;
4. A t-shirt from a triathlon I completed a few years ago;
5. A road map;
6-12: Duplicate copies of Cliff Notes (Yes, I still have a hearty collection of Cliff Notes that have ended up being pretty decent teaching resources).

I don't know why it was so difficult for me to find ten items this week. I still have way too much stuff and I know I have a lot more to give away, but I found it hard to go through clothes, books, or other personal items. I kept finding myself doing the "well, maybe I might need this one day" rationalization. That being said, I did find some resources to help me out this next week. Here's links to a few of them:

Do you have a great resource to share on how to sort through stuff, get rid of things, and/or pare down your personal possessions? If so, please leave a comment.

Voluntary Simplicity Resources

Curious as to what this voluntary simplicity thing is all about? Here's a collection of resources I've put together for your perusal. There's a lot going on out there in the world of voluntary simplicity, and I think it's exciting to see how some of the concepts you'll read about in these resources have started to enter the mainstream media. I'll definitely be writing a future post on how voluntary simplicity is becoming more mainstream in a future post. But for now, here's to some happy reading and thoughtful perusal.

The simple living network is full of resources, including books by some of the founders of the voluntary simplicity movement and a free on-line newsletter that is published once every couple of months.

A definition of simple living can be found here. How does this definition align with or diverge from your own thoughts about simple living.

Choose simplicity explores the differences between voluntary simplicity and frugality.

What is voluntary simplicity? Read this article by Linda Breen Pierce here.

Check out the voluntary simplicity course that the Northwest Earth Institute has put together.

And if you are interested in a model of a locally-run group, check out the San Diego Voluntary Simplicity Group.

Oct 5, 2009

One More Day...

Tomorrow I will post an update on my "Paring Down The Stuff" Challenge. I need one more day on this one...

Oct 2, 2009

Keeping it Simple and Starting Small

When it comes to nutrition and exercise, all the information out there may seem like these are areas of anyone's life that are bound to be anything but simple. I agree that we are bombarded with conflicting information that is often benefiting the special interests behind the information more than the people the information is claiming to want to help. That being said, it doesn't have to be that complicated. Really, it doesn't. Chris Lopez of Fit and Busy Dad wrote a great guest post on Zen Habits not too long ago that covered 7 essential rules to optimum health. Along those same lines, I'd like to offer a couple of my own tips for keeping exercise and nutrition simple and starting small. I will be coming back to this topic again and again in later posts, especially because exercise and nutrition are two things I am very passionate about.

1. Start moving. A little movement is better than nothing, a lot of movement is better than a little. You don't need to join an expensive gym, buy a lot of fancy equipment or a whole new exercise wardrobe, or stock your shelves with the latest exercise DVDs.

How about starting with a nice long walk after dinner? Or maybe take your kids to the park to play instead of taking them to the movies or buying them a new video game.

Now, if you already consider yourself an athlete, the gym membership, or new weight bench, or new exercise top may be in line with what you want to help increase your performance. But the reality is that today many people are far too sedentary. The reality is we just don't move enough. And often times the movement we do do is offset by bad choices, misinformation, and hype. I cannot tell you how many people I see at the gym (yes, I do have a gym membership, but that will be the topic of another post) who come in, drinking their high-calorie energy drinks and polishing off their chemically-laden "nutrition bars." Many of them then jump on the treadmill for a while, or do a circuit on the weight machines, and then leave... Often, it is these same people who wonder why they are still obese, or out-of-shape, or both.

I am NOT faulting these individuals. But I am suggesting there is another way, a simpler way to start and maintain an exercise routine. Start walking. Today. If you don't have a good pair of running or walking shoes, make the investment. Instead of visiting the nearest corporate shoe store to find the best deal, visit a local running store. More often than not, local running stores are staffed by trained professionals who will take the time to make sure you find a shoe that fits correctly. And then, start walking. Ask a neighbor to join you, or your spouse, or your kids. Or walk alone and enjoy the solitude. Walking is great exercise and it is simple exercise. Start small and enjoy the journey.

2. Eat whole foods. Period. Anything that comes out of a box or bag in fancy packaging is not whole. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans are just some of the many whole foods that are available to most everyone. If you have access to a local farmer's market, check it out. Meet the farmers who are growing locally in your area. And ask them if they take food stamps. If they don't, organize or join a grass-roots effort to make this happen. Good, wholesome food should be accessible to everyone.

At the grocery store, stick to the perimeter of the store. Avoid the isles. Avoid the diet foods. Don't buy into the corporate, profit-based model of food that has overtaken our food industry in the United States. Educate yourself. Read about the benefits of whole foods; subscribe to blogs, like this one, that feature wholesome, easy-to-make recipes. As anyone who knows me can attest to, I am no genius in the kitchen. However, every vegan, gluten-free recipe I've tried from Susan's collection has been wonderful.

Eating whole foods does not have to wreak havoc on your budget either, especially if you choose a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Meat is expensive. Vegetables and fruits are not. If you feel like you cannot give up meat, make sure you know where your meat is coming from. Read a variety of sources, and question everything. Do not just assume that because the meat comes in a package with a picture of a pasture on the front that the meat you are buying came from anything that even remotely resembles a pasture.

Start with where you are at and commit to making one small change a day, or a week, or a month. Your body and your planet will thank you.

Peace and Health,

Oct 1, 2009

Listen to Children

One of the biggest challenges plaguing our educational system today stems from the simple fact that we do not spend enough time listening to the young people that we are supposed to be educating. Children are smart. They have interesting lives to share and heartfelt stories to tell. They have beliefs, and truths, and dreams that need to be nurtured. They have ears to listen with - and they DO listen, even when it seems like they are only staring out the windows, sending test messages on their phones, talking to the people next to them. They listen and they absorb information and they watch and they learn and, I think, they hope that we really have the tools to help them in all the ways they need to be helped and the hearts to care in all the ways they need to be cared for. What would happen if all of the people making the most important educational decisions in the United States today took the time to talk less and listen more. I wonder if we wouldn't start to see some of the changes that we so desperately need. I wonder what kind of humility these kinds of leaders would possess and what kind of respect they would earn from the young people they serve.

Sep 30, 2009

Frugality Bloggers

Katy over at The Non-Consumer Advocate just republished a great post where she asks some fellow frugality bloggers about their experiences. As I still consider myself a novice when it comes to topics of financial simplicity and frugality, I am relying heavily on the wisdom and experiences of others to get me going. So check out Katy's post and let me know what you think. What are your experiences with financial simplicity and frugality? What triumphs and struggles can you share with the rest of us?

Sep 29, 2009

Simple Living Through Social Change - Great Resource and Interview

You can read a great interview here about one person's perspective on and experience with simple living as a way to affect social change. Here's to some thoughtful reading and reflecting.

Sep 28, 2009

Personal Challenge: Paring Down the Stuff

Here's an update on my first personal challenge, which is to get rid of (through donation or other means) ten items a week and then reflect on the process and its implications for both voluntary simplicity and social justice.

I dropped off a nice bag of clothes at Goodwill, sent a few books to family members and friends to keep the books in circulation and clear up some bookshelf space, and sent some cards that I've been meaning to get in the mail for a while. (I'm not counting the cards as part of the 10 things, although my desk does look cleaner without them there.)

I've noticed that since I began making a habit of culling through my clothes and getting rid of things on a regular basis, the process has become easier and easier. With the exception of a very few items, I could almost just go into my closet, randomly pick out a few items, throw them in a donation bag, and never think about them again. This realization got me thinking. What is it about our stuff that we get so attached to and what can we do to detach as we move towards a simpler lifestyle?

One of the primary reasons I think we get so attached to our stuff is that we never stop to think about it. It's as if at some point most of us have jumped on the never-ending treadmill of consumerism and waste and never stopped to think about what we were buying or why. Of course, there are many, many people who are exceptions to this generalization. If you are interested, here are a few links to check out people who advocate and live a non-consumer lifestyle:

But in general, this blind consumerism combined with our susceptibility to advertising and "Keeping up with the Jones" and here we are... in a mess.

At one point in time my parents, brother, and I lived on a 27-foot sailboat. We had very little stuff. Now my parents own many cars, many homes, and many things to fill all these homes. I am not pointing this out to be critical, but rather to show how it is so easy to go from so little to so much in a relatively short amount of time. 20 years is a short amount of time in the whole scheme of things, I think. The ironic thing is that as a general rule, more stuff does not equate to more happiness. There are numerous studies that have shown this. Relative to the rest of the world, most people who live in the United States have A LOT of stuff... and yet we as a society are not happier than people in other parts of the world who live with less.

Moving beyond my political rant, I also want to recognize that there are many other valid reasons that people get attached to stuff. Our stuff has sentimental value. Ask me to go through and get rid of my photographs, or some of my most treasured books, and I will look at you like you have asked me to sell my soul. Seriously. And there might have been a point in time when I felt the same way about some of my clothes (which seems ridiculous to me now). But the more I've given away, the easier it becomes. Every time I drop a bag, or a trunk-full, or a truck-full of stuff off at a donation center, I can immediately feel the elation, the sense of peace, the space that I know I have now cleared in my life. So I guess the point of all this is that the more you give away, the easier it becomes. Try it. See what happens. Leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts. Why are we so attached to our stuff and how can we detach? Do you think you could participate in the 100 Things Challenge? This guy just took up the challenge. You can follow his progress here.

Sep 24, 2009

Jonathan Kozol and Educational Justice

There are some wonderful educational justice advocates out there who are writing about the gross injustices in our school systems. One of my favorites is Jonathan Kozol. If you are not familiar with his work, start here. Kozol tackles issues of educational inequities by speaking with and writing about the experiences of children. It cannot get much simpler and more complex than that. His messages are clear, his insights profound, and his stories haunting.

Here's a few more links for your perusing:

And some videos:

And, of course, some:

Sep 23, 2009

Maybe This Is Not Supposed to Be a Race

One of my favorite blogs on financial literacy is Get Rich Slowly. The writing is concise, yet thorough. And the author makes financial issues seem less scary than a lot of other experts who write about similar topics. Plus, I like the honest focus on taking things slowly. I think that part of living a life of voluntary simplicity is taking the time to slow down and to realize that maybe this journey we are on is not supposed to be a race. I applaud Get Rich Slowly for tackling financial issues in a novel and refreshing way.

Sep 22, 2009

Cecile Andrew's "The Circle of Simplicity"

A few years ago, I happened to pick up a book that was sitting on my dad's coffee table. Something about the book drew me in immediately - maybe it was the soft yellow cover, or the word simplicity in the title. Whatever it was that drew me in, once I started reading it I became immediately hooked. I actually found my self nodding during certain passages. It was like Cecile Andrews' book had landed itself in my lap at a time when my life was otherwise in a state of complete chaos. I was wearing so many different titles I couldn't even keep them straight in my own head. I was a full-time doctoral student entering my second year of coursework; I was a full-time high school English teacher responsible everyday for 180+ students; I was a head coach; I was a girlfriend, a daughter, a sister, a friend... I was in over my head and was drowning quickly.

Reading The Circle of Simplicity gave me a new perspective on life. I began to slow down immediately. I cleaned out my personal and professional possessions. Then I cleaned them out again, and again, and again until I finally felt like I had spaces that were workable and peaceful. I started a simplicity circle with one of my colleagues from school. We focused on how we could simplify our lives amidst the seemingly never-ending chaos. I began to once again place my own needs above the needs of all those around me. I started saving money so that I could take a year off of work to finish my dissertation. I began to run again, and cycle, and do yoga. I started treating my body better, slowing down when I ate, fueling myself with healthier, whole foods. I lost thirty pounds. My anxiety began to lessen, my chest pains went away, I began to sleep better at night. I started to incorporate the ideas and ideals of the voluntary simplicity work into my doctoral coursework on social and educational justice. Maybe I started to smile more.

Those are some of the personal benefits I received from reading Andrew's book, creating a simplicity circle, and putting some of her suggestions into practice. Here are some of the book's highlights, in no particular order:
1. The focus on community - Andrews is a big advocate of people getting together to talk about their journeys toward simplicity (thus, the mention of "circle" in the book's title). It's about sharing our stories, but I also think it's about accountability to ourselves and others.
2. Andrew's honesty with sharing her own story - Now THIS is something I can really relate to. It's always nice when authors are honest, yet humble, about the journeys they have traveled. Andrews is one such author.
3. The quotes - There's some really good quotes in this book. I'm sure I'll be citing them frequently throughout my posts.
4. The fire metaphor - For some reason, this is a metaphor that works. She compares the journey towards simplicity to the lighting of a fire.

Andrews has a brand new book out. It's a collection of essays and mine just arrived in the mail yesterday. I look forward to sharing my thoughts on this book in a later post. If you haven't read The Circle of Simplicity, though, go to your local library or used bookstore or whatever source you have for getting good used books, find the book, take it home, and curl up on your couch with a blanket and a nice cup of coffee or tea. Happy reading.

Sep 21, 2009

More and Less

Eat less. Exercise more.

Buy less. Give away more.

Work less. Relax more.

Stress less. Smile more.

Talk less. Listen more.

Spend less. Save more.

Watch less. Read more.

Personal Challenge: Paring Down the Stuff

I still have too much stuff. I have been simplifying my personal possessions for the past couple of years, but I still have more things than I need and/or want. And so my first personal challenge is going to be to donate 10 items a week. I am starting small with this challenge, because part of my personal quest to live a simpler life has been to let go of the need to be perfect and to overextend myself with unrealistic expectations. So 10 things a week it is.

Some people might ask what getting rid of stuff has to do with voluntary simplicity and social justice. So here are a few of my musings on the topic:

1. The more stuff I have, the more I have to worry about taking care of it, cleaning it, organizing it, moving it, storing it... I could go on and on. Living a simple life is about more than just simplifying and getting rid of things. However, I've found that clearing away the external clutter naturally leaves me space to work on the internal stuff.

2. As long as I have too much stuff and others do not have enough stuff, I feel that I should continue to do my part to help distribute resources more equitably. And if I have something that I can donate to Goodwill or another donation center, then not only am I helping to provide a solid organization with the resources they need to be sustainable, I am also hopefully providing an individual or family with something they can put to good use.

3. The more we buy used goods, the more we are helping our environment. If you haven't already done so, check out The Story of Stuff. We are all connected to each other and the Earth. I think it is important that I continue to take steps to help contribute to a more sustainable and responsible model of consumerism.

I will update my progress on this challenge for the next month or so, when I will probably pick a new challenge to focus on and write about. This post was inspired by this one... and this one.

The image published with this post is available at

Sep 19, 2009

Reflections on Humanity

This is part of a post I am reprinting from a previously-published post on my other blog.

I have come to believe that we are all so much more connected to each other, to the earth, to the past, and to the future than we generally act like we are. I have also come to believe that, as a whole, people have come to live lives that are too disconnected from each other and the world in which we all share. However, humanity is everywhere...

I have seen humanity in so many teachers who refuse to give up, no matter how difficult the education climate in this state has become, no matter how many times they are told to do things that go against what they know to be good for children. These teachers continue not only to show up everyday, but to love and believe in their students in ways that lift these young people to heights previously unimagined.

I have seen humanity in the way that some people remain hopeful in the face of all kinds of adversity, who believe that they are on this earth to serve others, and who selflessly give of themselves without sacrificing their souls.

I am learning more and more that one of the most beautiful things about embracing voluntary simplicity is that by being true to myself and my own values, I can also free up resources that others might need. I've learned that poverty and voluntary simplicity are two very different things. I have never been poor, but I have worked with countless students and parents who, although impoverished in terms of their economic situations, were rich beyond measure. How can so many of us continue to live with such excess, while so many in this world cannot even afford to meet the basic human needs of themselves and their families?

To be human means to look at all other humans as equals. Period. It is as simple and as complicated as that. I'm working on this equality thing, because I don't think that we are brought up in this society to learn how to treat each other as equals.

To be human also means to be aware of how our decisions affect ourselves and others. I think that if we were to truly learn about where our food comes, how it is manufactured, and how we are fed so many lies in the name of profit and big business, we might begin to work towards a healthier world. I am proud to say that I have not given one penny to the fast food industry in a number of years, and if I could take back all the money I gave to them years ago and instead give it to local, organic farmers I would in a heartbeat. I am also proud to say that I continue to educate myself on where my food comes from. I am a vegetarian who tries to buy locally grown and organic when I can. I know I can and should do more. And I do not admonish those who choose differently than I do. But I do believe strongly that if we knew more we would make different choices and begin to change the course of history.

And I believe that to be human means to believe in the possibility of hope and change.

Aug 26, 2009

Under Construction

I am giving myself a week or two to get this blog fully up and running. By then I should be ready to start posting daily. In the interim, I will be working hard (but not too hard) to compile some resources and organize some content that I am currently writing.

Aug 24, 2009

Taking a Moment to Reflect

Photo available at tag/Nature
As this blog journey commences, I'd like to start with a little reflection. I know it may sound counterintuitive to be looking back back before I've even begun. However, I do believe, in the words of the Roman philosopher Seneca, that "every beginning comes from some other beginning's end."

So at the beginning of this new journey, I just want to reflect upon what I've learned in the past couple of years about voluntary simplicity and it's connection to social justice. To me, voluntary simplicity is about clearing away the clutter in your life and in your mind so that you can live a more conscious, socially responsible life. It is about not using up more than you need and about giving freely so that others might have a chance to have enough. It is about purpose, justice, choice, and respect - for ourselves, for the Earth we all share, and for each other. It is about health - both physical and mental. And it's about growth, change, forgiveness, and humility. I do not have all the answers, but I do hope that I can help facilitate a forum for thoughtful discussion and reflection.

I am still working on the format of this blog, but my tentative plan is to devote each day of the week to a different focus (i.e. Mondays might be devoted to personal challenges I am undertaking and my progress; Tuesday might be devoted to highlighting outstanding blogs and/or reviewing articles or pieces of literature related to voluntary simplicity and social justice, etc.).

Stay tuned and feel free to offer any comments and/or suggestions you have.