Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wardrobe Basics: The Gaps

With all my informal research on minimalism, I have discovered that most people looking to simplify eventually end up drastically paring down their wardrobes so that they mostly include well-made classic pieces and just a few "fun," trendy/colorful items.

As my own look has evolved from mostly t-shirts and jeans to a more professional, adult-appropriate style, I have found myself parting with a lot of the cheaper-looking pieces in my wardrobe and gravitating toward things that will last me for a good several years more at least.

Of course, there are a couple problems with that ideal---

One, I'm a bit restricted on budget. Since we've been trying to save up money for when Matt gets into grad school and when we one day start a family, I haven't allowed myself as much money to spend on clothing as I have in the past.

Two, there aren't many places in Logan that sell reasonably high-quality pieces, and whenever I go down to Bountiful, I usually prefer to spend my time with family and friends rather than go shopping. (I guess I could online shop, but that always makes me wary because a good fit is something I'm really trying to invest more in.)

But as I was going through yet another closet downsizing this last week, I noticed that there are a few pieces I would really do well to invest in:

- a well-made white t-shirt that fits well and that I actually like (instead of the 8 or 9 I have that are "just okay" but that I don't WANT to wear that often)
- solidly made knee-high boots that will last me for the next ten years (I've bought myself 3-4 pairs of inexpensive boots, and boy are they looking shabby after just two winters of wear)
- a three-quarter sleeve blazer (I like my full-length black blazer all right, but I know I would wear a 3/4 sleeve blazer more often since I'm not a huge fan of long sleeves)
- grey skinny jeans (I wore out my favorite pair from Old Navy in about a year, and I'm desperate to find a better-made pair, and pronto)
- a structured dress in a neutral color (like black or navy) that makes me feel like a million bucks
- a swimsuit that actually makes me want to GO swimming
- comfortable black flats that will last me longer than the ones I currently have (which didn't even make it a year from all the walking I do while teaching)
-close-toe black heels that are dressy but reasonably comfortable and easy to walk in (my one really well-made pair finally gave out about 6 months ago after almost ten years of constant use)

I'm thinking that maybe I'll start spending about $100 every 3 or 4 months or so and start picking up some of these classic pieces.

I have two questions for you---

First, what stores and brands do you know of that produce high-quality clothing at semi-reasonable prices? (aka, about $100 (or less) for an item of clothing and about $200 (or less) for a pair of shoes/boots?)

Second, have I skipped over any other essentials? Anything that my list is lacking? (you should know that I already have a beautifully fitting winter dress coat, a decent white button-up, a black pencil skirt, and nice dress slacks)

This post inspired by this post that I ran across today

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Scenes From Our Easter

Last weekend was charmingly simple---we didn't have much going on, which is how I like it sometimes. Sometimes the social media world at large (I'm looking at you, Pinterest!) makes us think that we have to go all out for every holiday in order to maximize the enjoyment and show the world that we know how to really live it up.

But since I've been trying to consciously put less needless pressure on myself, I've simplified a lot of our holiday routines. Thus, Easter this year was spent going to church, enjoying a delicious (but simple) meal of slow cooker pot roast, roasted vegetables, and homemade rolls, and playing games with friends.

The simplicity of the day encouraged me to be a little introspective than usual as I thought about the idea of new life rising up from the ashes of death---Christ's resurrection has always been one of the most glorious and most comforting truths in my life, especially as more and more of my loved ones each year pass on to the other side.

Just as we watch the world come alive again every spring, so will each person rise again from the dead--that is the glorious promise given to all men (and women). Likewise, I tend to take the idea further---often, with each "death" of certain seasons of our lives, there is inevitably a rebirth--a chance for us to rise again, a better and more glorious version of ourselves. And thus we find ourselves constantly growing and "hatching" into more and more progressive versions of ourselves, much like a hermit crab "graduates" to bigger and better shells.

I have a feeling that I have my own "rebirth" coming up here in the next little while as we prepare ourselves for some upcoming changes (which I'll post about a different time).

The weekend also was a bit of a "calm before the storm" --- we have a LOT of  important events coming up, like my half marathon on Saturday, Matt's completion of finals next week, our 3-year anniversary, and several end-of-the-school-year festivities (and stresses) for me (along with those changes mentioned earlier).

I kind of have a feeling that life isn't going to slow down much until June, when I'm finally done with the school year and have settled into some of the changes and have had time to catch my breath.

But such is life---always providing us new environments and experiences to force us to rise from the ashes of our old selves and grow into something new.

Hope you had a lovely Easter!

Monday, April 21, 2014

When Setting a Goal = Failure

image via Runner's World

My half-marathon is coming up on Saturday, and with a 10-mile run last weekend that went superbly, I'm feeling a lot better about the upcoming race. It had seemed like all of my long runs (just about, anyway) during this bout of training had been uphill battles that I was continually losing---I seemed to lose energy, get terrible side stitches, and feel like throwing up every time I laced up my sneakers.

Last Saturday's long run finally went as planned, which gives me hope that I might be able to get through the race this week with my  head held high.

I once read somewhere (probably in Runner's World magazine) that it's unwise to set just one goal for yourself for a race. Many times, serious runners (a category I now have to class myself with) get so latched onto one "dream time" for their race that they will often feel like failures if they don't hit that number, even if everything else about the race (or training!) had gone well.

So, in order to not be classified now or ever as a "foolish runner that is setting herself up for failure," I have set three possible goal times for my upcoming half :

1. My "if-the-stars-align-and-I-magically-feel-like-I-can-fly" time,

2. My "tough-to-reach-but-actually-really-do-able time," and

3. My "I'd-better-get-this-time-or-else-I'll-beat-myself-up-for-weeks" time.

My out-of-this-world time would be 1:59:59 (aka, anything under two hours, which is one of the goals on my life's bucket list). Considering that this goal would require me to average about a 9-minute mile the whole way, it's still pretty "out-of-this-world" for my current body and speed. Like I've mentioned before, I may be a devoted runner, but I'm not exactly fast.

My hard-but-possible goal is 2:07. On my 10-mile run last Saturday, I ran 9:30 for about the last 6 miles, which should set me up nicely to do a 2:07 (if I can average the rest of the miles to be at about 10-minutes apiece). I will seriously be thrilled if I hit 2:07 on Saturday because it will mean that everything has gone really well.

The time I'm absolutely going to force myself to beat no matter what is 2:17, which is half of what my marathon time was two years ago (4:34). Considering that I'm overall faster than I was two years ago and that I'm only running 13.1 miles instead of 26.2, I really better beat that time.

The race is this Saturday at 7 AM, so here's hoping I cross that finish line at 9:07 or earlier!

Have you ever run in a race before? Do you set time goals for yourself? Or is your general goal just to finish?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

To Move or Not To Move

We have been living in our current apartment for almost three years now (it will have been three years in about 3 weeks), and here is the sad truth:

I've kind of hated our apartment almost since day one.

At first, my twitterpated newlywed self could easily look past the many indiscretions and blemishes of the place, including the non-washing dishwasher, cat-scratched bathroom door, lingering pet dander smell, and urine-colored walls. With our small collection of artwork and family photos, we were determined to bring some cheer to what was clearly a pretty ghetto apartment.

And I have lots of wonderful memories in this little place, scraggly carpet and all.

Then more stuff started going awry---

-asbestos in the ceiling,
-the dishwasher breeding what sounds like an angry gorilla with a head cold,
-stained kitchen tiles (since the grout was never sealed),
-a non-working doorbell,
-flickering electricity that sometimes just cuts out for no apparent reason,

and on and on and on.

Now, if we were still getting the sweet deal we were originally getting on the place ($500/month with included heat and Internet), I would be here til the cows we never had came home.

But no---we are now footing nearly $150 extra on our monthly rent and utility bills since the new owner stopped paying for Internet and heat.

So it's basically come to this---stay in a ghetto apartment and pay nearly as much as we'd pay for a nicer one, or bite the bullet and pay an extra $40 or so and move to a more well-kept place?

On Sunday, after my entire plan to overhaul my life (see last Sunday's blog post), I was in the mood for some serious overhauling of everything, including my job, apartment, and general leisure time. And though I actually did try to apply for another job, it's not looking like it's going to pan out, so it looks like my focus will have to go elsewhere.

The problem is, I originally wanted to move to SAVE us money since I've been complaining like crazy about the extra $150 we've been paying. But on Monday, Matt and I went to go look at some super nice apartments just a couple streets down from ours, and we were a bit smitten with the fresh paint, clean carpet, and ample storage space. Writing everything down, it will figure that if we move there, we will pay around $30-50 more a month than what we pay here, but for a place that's twice as nice.

So here's the real question----to move or not to move? Or should we keep looking around to see if there's something cheaper (even if it means trading one ghetto apartment for another)?

What would you do?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Thoughts On Simplifying & Taking Back Control of my Life

If you've been a blog reader of mine for a long time, you might remember my post on minimalism last summer or even my whole 50 Weeks to Organized project I worked on all last year. Basically, the drive behind both of those was that I was feeling an intense desire to simplify my life and make sure I had all my priorities straight--I wanted to make sure I was focusing on people, not things, and on meaningful experiences, not time-wasting activities.

As with any worthwhile pursuit, these kinds of aims couldn't come overnight--while I've gotten much of my clutter (kinda) under control and cut out some of the unnecessary fluff, I haven't been able to shake the overwhelming feeling that my life isn't exactly going the way it could be and the way I want it to be. And it's not because the solid foundation isn't there---I've got all I need for a happy, fulfilled life.

The problem is me and the way I'm choosing to spend the 2-3 hours of free time I have each night.

Luckily, I know from past experience that the power to change all that is entirely within my reach.

I've been asking myself a lot of questions lately---things like:
-What makes me happy and brings me a sense of fulfillment?
-What brings me joy?
-What are the goals and dreams I have that are truly worth pursuing?
-What are the goals and dreams I'm willing to put forth the effort to achieve?
-What is holding me back from striving harder to reach those goals and dreams NOW?

Some of the answers haven't come easily, and some of them haven't been easy to face.

For example, one of my goals three years ago when I first discovered that bloggers could actually make money blogging was to make money off my blog---I read up on sponsorship and creating quality content and I even bought myself a nice camera and learned some photography tips along the way all in my quest to have the kind of blog that could grow into a money-making pursuit.And  I wouldn't trade those skills I gained along the way for anything.

But I've been thinking long and hard about what making money off a blog would really mean---namely (among others), an obligation to write nearly every day (whether I felt like writing or not), an obligation to my sponsors to sell their content or their product (even if in my heart of hearts, they didn't really have my full support and enthusiasm), and the constant nagging worry at the back of my mind about the numbers--how many new readers am I getting? How many readers did I lose, and what kind of posts drove them away? Which posts are getting the most hits?

And it's come down to this--

Blogging for money, at least the way I understand it now, is not something that I think will be worth pursuing for me or something that I'm willing to sacrifice more for. Since I'm trying my best to move towards less stuff and fewer time commitments, it would hardly make sense to try and get into an industry that would basically require a constant time commitment as well as a constant need to promote the materialism I'm trying so hard to avoid right now.

Even though it probably seems so silly, it's still a tough dream to let go of---after all, I've been working toward it for over three years and have invested countless hours to reach that particular goal.

So what does this mean for the blog?

Well, I will keep blogging because I get an innate satisfaction out of expressing myself, conversing with the blogging community, and finding creative ways of presenting my ideas. I also believe that regular blogging has helped to develop my level of comfort with writing, which is something I've been trying to work on since high school.

So in the end, this whole concept of simplification boils down to who I want to be and what I'll need to give up to get there---

-I want to be the kind of person who takes walks after dinner, perhaps with a camera in hand, to regularly enjoy the beauties of nature and reflect thoughtfully on her life.
-I want to be a woman who continues to develop her talents throughout her life instead of relying on all the frontloading she did on them as a teenager
-I want to be an adult who doesn't just consume (esp. mindless media), but who creates
-I want to be a go-getter who isn't afraid of going for her dreams (even when they scare her)
-I want to be a disciplined disciple of Christ who spends time daily in meaningful spiritual and soul-feeding pursuits
-I want to be a reader of classics and poetry and philosophy, not a reader fed on a junk food diet of pop culture, social media feeds, and the kinds of blogs that only leave her feeling like something is lacking

Each week, one of our friends (Jon) sends us a weekly email updating us on his and his family's life down in Texas. At the top of each of his emails, he'll include inspirational quotes that I always take great pleasure in reading. One quote in particular has truly haunted me ever since I read it, and it goes like this:

"If you have a twenty-hour-a-week television habit and would repent and convert it into a gospel-study habit, in one year you could read the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the entire Bible. In addition, you could read Jesus the Christ, The Articles of Faith, Gospel Principles, the basic priesthood manual, the basic women’s manual, the basic children’s manual, all three volumes of Doctrines of Salvation, The Miracle of Forgiveness, The Promised Messiah, and Essentials in Church History, and could then reread the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. This would still leave time to read the Ensign, the New Era, and the Friend each month and the Church News each week. This is based on your ability to read only ten pages an hour. The average person can read twenty pages or more an hour. If you are average, this leaves you with ten hours a week to govern yourself in other kingdom-building activities, such as keeping a personal journal, genealogy and temple work, improved home teaching, welfare services, civic and patriotic involvement to protect our freedom, and much more."
                                                                                                               - William R. Bradford

Although Matt and I actually don't get live t.v., we are constantly playing movies (usually in the background) and connecting ourselves to social media sites, playing mindless games on Facebook (Candy Crush, anyone?), and surfing the Net (and often doing all three at the same time).

I've known that I've been needing to change that soon, but I've kept putting it off over and over again, reasoning that those activities were "how I relaxed" from the stress of my job, even though they ultimately have never left me feeling as satisfied as more worthwhile pursuits, like keeping a tidy house, reading a good book, or serving others.

No more. 

We always encourage kids to have "TV-Free" week and are always hearing in the media about the "atrocious amount of time" that average teens spend consuming media every day. But what about the adults? What about the rest of us? Aren't our futures just as important? Perhaps people reason that if kids form good habits when they are young, they are less likely to fall into bad habits later.

This is true, to a point.

But I hardly watched t.v. as a teenager and spent my time overall in much more worthy pursuits. It's only been since I've become a full-fledged adult that I've managed to let myself get sucked into the time-wasting black hole of constant entertainment.

No more.

So folks, here's the final verdict:
*I am deleting my Candy Crush from my Facebook
*I am severely going to cut back on my blog/social media feed
*I am going to severely cut back on my movie/t.v. watching (I just haven't decided on a good number yet, but I will)
*I will only blog when it will be truly authentic, instead of blogging just because I feel like it's an obligation. Some weeks, that might mean I still post five times a week. Other weeks, I might only post once.

The time has come to live a different sort of life, to be a better sort of person.

I hope this helps do the trick.

If you still want to come along for what could be a very sporadic ride, I would love to still have you around :)

Friday, April 11, 2014

5 Things

1. My goal to lose 5 pounds before the half marathon is going splendidly---something I forgot with weight loss is that two things really help me out: one, if I track my calories via myfitnesspal, and two, if I am able to see results relatively quickly. My problem before was that I wasn't seeing enough progress through exercise alone to make me want to make any more drastic changes, which only led to me gaining weight. Once I saw two pounds come off in the first week of counting calories, I felt much more enthused about continuing with it. Who knows? Maybe come half-marathon time, I'll even be 7 or 8 pounds down. That's a possible 16 seconds faster per mile, people!

2. This week back at work after spring break has not been great. Surprisingly, it's actually not really due to the students like it usually is---in fact, I think I've pretty much reached the point where I can tolerate quite a bit before it tips me over the edge for the day (like I was able to tolerate--and even laugh about-- kids taking off their shoes and licking them or putting sticks into their mouths or stirring up a mutiny against me when I tried to make them learn to dance salsa in Spanish, all true things that have happened in the past 5 days). No, it's the drama that's been going round and round in the typical politics of the school, and somehow I found myself present for far too much of it.

3. I made the most delightful apple-and-carrots dish today that was simply divine---think softy and gooey with flavors of orange, nutmeg, and butter. Amazing. It was really all I felt like making after a long last workday of the week (and after donating plasma---which I can finally do again!---and going grocery shopping). It is basically because of that fatigue that I didn't do a Financial Friday post as planned today (sorry, folks! those recipes will be coming next week).

4. On Monday, I went into the Instacare to have my ear blown out again since the buildup had become so bad that I couldn't hear for about 3 days straight. I'm pretty frustrated by it, actually, because I never had any problems with my ears being too waxy until last year, and then the doctor told me I should never, ever use Q-tips (which I've been using regularly all my life). So I didn't use them at all and tried some of the other methods (like washing them out in the shower or putting in ear drops), but it only meant that I was back in the doctor's office 6 months later getting them blown out again. Basically I've decided that I'm just going to keep using the evil ol' Q-tip and see if the problem is fixed. Doctor's orders, schmoctor's orders. I'll do what I want.

(Although I'm curious---do you use Q-tips or do you go an alternative route?)

5. Around these parts, Matt has been sick all week and I haven't done the dishes at all in days. I hope the two aren't related.

Happy weekend, friends!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Utah National Parks: Golden Spike Monument

Since one of my bucket list items is to visit all the national parks in Utah (all 18 of them!) with Matt, I figured we'd best get a move on with the ones closest to us first.

I knew that the Golden Spike Monument was west of Brigham City, so I figured it was pretty close---maybe about a 35-minute drive from Logan.

Yeah right.

The monument is out in the middle of nowhere, and it was easily an hour and ten minutes from Logan, which made us a little more pressed for time than we would have liked to be. Both Matt and I had been to the monument when we were significantly younger, so we had forgotten a lot. (And when we had both gone before during the summer, the trains were outside on the tracks and provided a backdrop for a little live skit they put on; since we went at the close of the winter season, we got taken back into the workshop where they work on polishing up and repairing the trains, which was pretty cool.)

Facts you need to know:

-The Golden Spike Monument is the place where the final railroad tie was laid that connected the East and West coast by train. It was a monumental feat born from the sweat and lives of thousands of workers (many of them Chinese and Irish immigrants), and with the technology available at the time, the feat has been called the equivalent of man walking on the moon.

-Cost to get in: $5.00 per vehicle

-Things To Do:
*see the short skit re-enacting the historic event (May - October)
*watch the 20-minute historical documentary
*take a guided tour of the train repair workshop (November - April)
*check out the gift shop
*walk around the small museum featuring artifacts and interesting details about the time period
*watch the steam train demonstration (May - October)

Another thing you need to know:

If you look closely into the picture below, you'll see Matt and me reflected in the brass.


And that's about it, really---visiting the park was a fun little day trip, and the hour and a half we had before closing time was plenty of time to see all there was to be seen. If you visit during the summer, you'll want to plan your visit around when they do tours because the people who worked there and the tour guides were my favorite part.

What national parks have you been to in Utah? Which one should we visit next?
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