Monday, February 27, 2017

Means and Motive

Today I was late to work.  This isn’t actually a common occurrence.  I’m usually on time or a few minutes early.  Today, there was just a perfect storm that ended up with me deciding to shower instead of coming to work with greasy hair, and clocking in at 6:38 instead of 6:30.

My coworker commented on my having supposed to be here at 6, instead of 6:30, to which I replied with a quip and moved on with my day.  Cue to 7:00 when my supervisor came in and said, “Did you get my texts?”  Texts?  Nope.  He pulled up my phone number in his phone only to find that it was a digit off, and the text he had sent me on Saturday had gone off into the nebulous of un-owned phone numbers and floated away, presumably to seek out strange new life and to go where no text message has gone before.

When I asked my coworker if my boss had told him that he texted the wrong number, his reply was something like, “Yeah, but you’re supposed to be here at 6:30 ready to go, not roll up at 6:35.”


You and I are smart enough to know that he’s not mad that I got here a few minutes late.  He’s mad that he was here at 6 and I wasn’t.  The difference in time is inconsequential.  But for 35 minutes, he had the luxury to sit in his loader and first wonder why I wasn’t at work yet, then become annoyed, and finally decide that I was a horrible person for not having been there when he was.

He made the assumption you or I would probably make in the same situation: that his coworker just slept in, and instead of hurrying to work and apologizing for being late, just came back with a snarky reply when called on the bad decision.

We all make bad decisions from time to time, but more commonly, we make decisions we believe are the best given the situation.  The reality is, I made it to work in record time today.  I thought about calling him, but believed that our usual start time of 6:30 stood, and that a few minutes wouldn’t make a difference.  Even had I known, as I walked out the door, that I needed to be at work early, the knowledge could not have gotten me there any earlier.


Let’s talk about another situation.  I pulled out of work to go get lunch one day, and rather than turning ahead of a vehicle that was up the road a little way, I waited for it to go first.  But as it approached my position, it slowed considerably, and considered to drive slowly.  When it got to the end of the road, where a left or right turn is the only option, the woman driving it angled to make a right-hand turn.

Cool, I thought, she’ll turn and I’ll be able to get out from behind her.  But as I watched, she sat for a long moment with no motion, and finally put on her left turn signal.

OMG!  WHY DOESN’T THIS WOMAN KNOW WHERE SHE’S GOING?

We sat for what felt like three or four minutes, myself unable to make a right turn because she was pulled so far over, while she missed opportunity after opportunity to turn.  Finally, I did the unthinkable.  I honked at her.

The driver flapped her hands in an angry gesture, which I returned with a poorly-chosen single-finger salute of my own, and she gunned it and finally turned left.  I turned right with a sigh of relief and was on my way.

While it’s probably fair to say that she and I both made poor decisions in that circumstance, my real problem isn’t with her; it’s with my own decisions, which started with my impatience when I got in my car.  For all I know, she may have been taking directions from a child in the back seat.  She may have felt nauseated or dizzy, and needed to sit still for a moment to prevent having an accident.  She may, it’s true, have just been a poor driver.

But I had decided she was driving inconsiderately and that inconsideration was intended specifically to prevent me from getting to lunch.  I decided that because, when I get in a car, I make it a point to know where I’m going and how to get there, and if I drive slowly and give wrong turn indications, it is with the express purpose of annoying the driver behind me.


See, we judge others based on our own motives.

Let me say that again.

We judge others based on our own motives.

When a jury is selected, it isn’t just random people who are called into a court room.  The candidates answer a series of questions, and based on their answers the prosecuting and defending lawyers discard individuals.  What they try to do is get as many people on the jury as possible who they feel will judge the motive of the accused sympathetically to their own position.

The outcome of a jury trial is decided when the jurors come to a consensus in their opinion about the means and motive of the accused.  We have different levels of murder in our legislation because, as people, we understand that there is a difference between a man who hunts down people with the express purpose of killing them and a man who causes a death by making a mistake while driving.

We understand this in a legal sense, but very rarely do we understand this in a personal sense.
When someone mistreats us or says something harsh to us, we most often judge them as harshly as possible.  Very rarely do we take into account that the last 24 hours of their life may have been miserable.  Almost never do we stop and ask them, “Why did you do or say that to me?”



While it’s true that my coworker hurt my feelings with his sharp retort, I am forced to consider that I could be perceived as having “started it” with my glib reply at 6:38 this morning.  While I might feel that the “right” thing would be for him to apologize to me, I know that the best thing would be for me to apologize to him.

That is, after all, what I would want if I were in his shoes.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Life Goals are Overrated

Forget your goals in life.  What is the best thing for you to do today?  It could be writing a blog, or just getting out of bed to go to work.  It could be setting aside a little time to spend with your spouse, or it could be taking the dog for a walk.  It could be learning to play the guitar, or it could be giving yourself a brain break and playing Guitar Hero for a couple hours.

I have struggled with goals lately because I've been feeling like I've achieved all of the really important ones.  Okay...there's one left but it's pretty close to happening, so it's at the 90% mark and I'm not stressing over it anymore.

I'm not stressing over it.  That may be the first time I've thought of my future in that phrasing.  In fact, it's a little scary to feel content with life as it is.  Is my life perfect?  Nope.  Am I in the middle of a big argument with my husband that we're still working through?  Yup.  Am I confident we'll come to a peaceful resolution?  Eventually.

There simply isn't anything in my life to be freaking out over right now.

I'm in a lull.  You know those moments you usually don't recognize until the next storm hits and you go, "Why is everything bad happening at once?!"  This is that moment.

So rather than searching for a new goal to freak out about, I'm going to take today and use it for today.  Sure, I'll get my gym time in, and I'll probably waste some hours this evening.  But those things are okay.  Because right now I'm recognizing that things are good and making the conscious decision to enjoy them for a little while.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Renaissance Man

“You don’t even like that one,” I told my friend, as he held up a too-large T-shirt.

My friend – we’ll call him Teddy – stared at me, surprised, and asked, “How did you know that?”
We had already gone through about half Teddy’s collection of clothing by the time we got to T-shirts.  A first-item on most people’s decluttering lists, I felt that T-shirts were likely to carry emotional attachment for my friend, much as they do for my nerdy husband.

As he had gone through each item, it had become easier for me to read Teddy’s expression and body language, though I could not explain specifically how I knew that he liked one shirt and disliked another.  When he held up a Pinky and The Brain shirt, I automatically said, “You love it, so keep it.”

The exercise had been sown at a party earlier in the week when, amidst a few hard ciders, I had eyed him and said, “I could help you dress better, if you want.”  I never imagined he would actually take me up on the suggestion.

But while we went through every item of clothing, the evidence of weight loss and lifestyle changes literally piled up as we delegated most of his clothing to the “donate” pile.  While my rule for myself is to keep only what I love, we retained a few items for his use simply for the reason that he had to have something to wear without going out and spending a cool grand on a completely new wardrobe.
After about two hours of sorting and trying on item after item, Teddy’s wardrobe consisted of a half-dozen T-shirts, two pairs of jeans, three pairs of slacks, a few polos, and three button-up shirts.  Several of those items were too large, but clearly denoted to be cycled out as his budget allowed for the purchase of new items.

Once lunch was procured and ingested, Teddy and I headed to a few stores to replace his over-sized wardrobe with a few classic, but still trendy items.  Two pairs of jeans, a button-up, a few polo shirts (size M instead of XL), and a pair of slacks were joined by the unexpected find of a sharp-looking coat that could serve for both casual and more formal events.

By the time we were back to Teddy’s house, we had spent ten hours on refitting him for comfort and style.  Styles he could not have comfortably worn at a heavier weight were now not only available to him, but flattering as well.

Before I left his house, I had Teddy change into some of his new clothes – one item of which he admitted he didn’t feel completely comfortable in.  I encouraged him to live in those clothes at home for a while, after which they would begin to feel like “his” clothes and not just clothing he had bought.  He had positive feedback on a photo from two other friends before I left his house, and texted me with a third response after I had gotten home.  All the encouragement seemed to help him gain confidence in the choices he had made.

The best moment of my evening came when, just before I left, he agreed to try on the coat again and, upon pulling it on, he said, “Do you think it’s a little too big?”  Sure enough, he was right.  The next day, he texted me a photo of its replacement – the same coat sized Medium instead of Large – and I knew my work was done.

While this is something of a brag post, I found myself giving Teddy advice both while we were weeding out his closet and while we were shopping.  My goal wasn’t just to dress my friend up, but to give him information that would help him make good decisions moving forward:

  • You don’t have to buy expensive clothing to look put together.
  • The fit of a piece of clothing is more important than its brand.
  • If you love something, it's okay to keep it.  However, instead of wearing it, you may want to relegate it to a keepsakes box.
  • When we look in the mirror and are unhappy with our appearance, we usually think, “I don’t look good,” when the truth is, “This item of clothing doesn’t fit me.”


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

I'm Special...Like Everyone Else

I like to talk about going to Patagonia this coming November, and the training and planning that is necessary for the trip.  Among the requirements for the trip is a fairly strenuous training schedule, about which I occasionally feel either extremely optimistic or completely lackadaisical.

In the instances when I feel very optimistic, I do things like Google “yoga body” or “21% body fat.”  When I feel very lackadaisical, I spend my time giving people advice on interior decorating or learning how to read an electrical blueprint.

On one of my more optimistic days, I was driving home from work, considering my amazing plans for working out over the next week, and the perfect body I was going to achieve, when a though struck me.

I am not special.

I know, that sounds really depressing.  But the process that led to this realization was extremely encouraging to me.

My sister once told me, "You have a big head.”

“Thank you,” I said, not at all in a grateful way.

“I just mean,” she said, trying to improve the situation, “That I always thought you were heavy, but you’re just big-boned.”

“Thank you?” I said again, still not impressed.  Although I knew this was an epiphanic moment for my sister, I accepted the fact that I, and some other members in my family, have big heads, so I wasn’t likely to reach a really exceptional state of fitness.

Driving home from work, I suddenly realized that I am not special.  That is, I don’t have some predilection to heaviness any more than any CrossFit champion does.  CrossFit gurus simply have a fantastic level of fitness because they spend most of their time getting fit.  Current CrossFit Champion Katrin Daviosdottir started training in CrossFit nine years before she won the Championship title.

While Katrin was doing pull-ups, I was writing prose.  I have written four books (none of which you will find published at this date), but Katrin, to my knowledge, has written none.  The trade-off of becoming a CrossFit champion rather than a writer has led her to where she is, and led me to where I am.  (If you haven’t read Mark Manson’s article on the Disease of More, now is a great time to do so.  Or rather, right after you finish reading this article.)


Realizing that I’m not special has led me to the understanding that I have the ability to do anything I want.  Not tomorrow, per se.  But over time.  I am able to climb a mountain.  I am able to complete an ultra marathon.  And I am even able to achieve that perfect body…if I’m willing to put in the years to do so.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Fear Sells

In the last month, what have you bought because you were afraid?  If you’re like me, your knee-jerk reaction is to say, “Nothing!  I don’t buy things because I’m afraid.”  You probably believe that all your choices and actions are based on well-founded logic, and that your emotions don’t drive your actions.

But what about being afraid that other people won’t like you?

What about being afraid that you won’t meet a goal?

How about being afraid that you can’t make the changes you want to make?

What about the fear of being stuck where you are and never getting out?

All these fears are sold to us on a daily basis.  Mark Manson writes, “A capitalist system markets to everyone constantly, therefore it promotes a society where people constantly feel inadequate, and inferior.”  We are told that we’re unhappy because we don’t own this product.  Or we are sold the idea that we can’t succeed at our goals without this special item.

The number one reason people abandon diets and budgets is not because they can’t reach their goal.  People give up when they make a mistake, that mistake leads to a fear of failure, and that fear leads to the decision to give up.

People don’t give up on goals because they can’t achieve them, but because they are afraid they won’t be able to achieve them.  Fear is what prevents people from improving their lives.  And yet we are sold fear by marketing agencies and even our government.

How would our country, our cities, our families, and even our individual lives be different if we took the time to build up and encourage ourselves and others, and to break the cycle of fear?  How would our need to buy change if advertisers were forced to use absolute truth in their commercials?
What if marketers had to admit that, by the time you got home, you would already know that what you bought wasn’t able to make you permanently happy?

What if people could stop speeding to work out of fear of a job loss, because they had no debt and had money in savings?

Where would we be as a society if, instead of telling people to acknowledge and fear other races, our government stopped mentioning race altogether, but simply served all its people?

Would you treat others differently if they treated you like a friend instead of an adversary?  Would they treat you differently if you did likewise?

How would your life be different if you held onto the truth that the life you have is already beautiful, without the constant purchase of gimmicks and status items?

Take 60 seconds today to think about one thing in your life for which you are grateful.  If you struggle to think of something, then take a minute to stand outside and look at a tree, the sky, running water, or a flower, and appreciate the beauty we still have in the world.


“The antidote to fear is gratitude.”  Tony Robbins

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Expense of Minimalism

As soon as a movement appears its opposition starts picking it to pieces.  This is true of minimalism.  One of the recent arguments against minimalism is that it’s too expensive.  The most minimalist gadgets are far from affordable, so how can anyone possibly afford to be “truly” minimalist?

The truth is, there are some costs to minimalism.  But to help you navigate the financial requirements of being a minimalist, I have endeavored to collect a list of what you need to either purchase or already own to be minimalist.  Here goes.
  1. A bowl.  Minimalists do eat, so you do, in fact, need a piece of dinnerware in order to be a minimalist.  I picked up my bowls from the Dollar Tree before being gifted a dinnerware set for my wedding.  Or you can buy this tiny, $36 million bowl.  Either way, you can eat very well out of one bowl, as proven by Food Network’s article delineating 88 One-Bowl Dinners.
  2. A bed.  This one is probably up for debate, as there are minimalists who don’t own a bed.  However, owning a bed does not preclude you from being a minimalist.  In fact, my husband and I own a very expensive bed from Sleep Number.  But you aren’t required to own an expensive bed, either.  Joshua Fields Millburn, one of the two kings of minimalism, actually owns a bed, though I have no idea how much it cost him.
  3. Clothes.  This is another item that is up for debate.  MapMuse hosts lists of nudist colonies by state in the US.  However, in most cities and, indeed, countries, clothing is required to be worn in public by law.  Do you have to buy this really ugly minimalist dress for $3,410 from La Garconne?  No, thank God, you don’t.  You can take a page out of Jessi Arrington’s book and wear a different outfit every day, or you can wear the same 33 pieces over and over with Project 333.  Whether you choose to shop vintage, consignment, or designer, clothes are a basic necessity for nearly all minimalists.
  4. Transportation.  Yes, the Tesla is the car of choice for…well…just about everyone right now.  Especially since Elon Musk offered to cover all expenses to repair a car belonging to Manfred Kick, who damaged his Tesla to save another driver’s life.  Kudos to Mr. Kick.  However, you don’t have to spend $60,000-$100,000 on a car to be a minimalist.  Lots of us get around on our feet, a bicycle, public transportation, or even a fully-paid-for Toyota Corolla.


That about completes my list of what you really need to have to be a minimalist.  I recommend a few other items, like a toothbrush, deodorant of some sort, and maybe a backpack to carry your 15 things…bearing in mind of course that Andrew Hyde has only one of the four above items in his list of minimalist necessities.

Friday, February 17, 2017

I Am Happy

I am happy.

Like most people, I fell into the daily grind.  After moving back from Japan – what I call my Neverland experience – I went to work paying on credit cards and hoping to meet the man that would start my life fulfilling all the promise I had been told for years that it held.  From the ages of 27 to 33, I lived.

Just as many people who grew up in church, I felt like I didn’t quite love God enough, but I was trying.  I felt like I had no reason not to be happy, but although I wasn’t unhappy, I wasn’t happy.  I lived day to day trying to do and be what I was supposed to do.

When I was young, well-meaning friends of my mother would occasionally tell me that God had an amazing plan for my life.  They failed to qualify “amazing,” and so I kept looking for it, expecting a bolt-from-the-blue experience that would tell me I was finally on the right path.  You may not be surprised to learn that it has never happened.

I was already 29 by the time I had my first boyfriend.  I wasn’t against dating, but I refused to date anyone I didn’t think I would marry for the first 29 years, and then realized I was nearly a decade older than my mother had been when she married, and the “chastity until marriage” idea seemed farcical.  I knew one girl from my church that was still a virgin at that age.  Even my sister, who had not had sex before marriage, married at 21.  I had already put off any sexual activity 9 years longer than her and my mother – easily twice as long as they had after puberty.

It seems impossible to talk about growing up without talking about sex.  But it had little impact on my life as I moved forward.  At 33, I met the man I would marry two years later.  We were friends first, and then dated, and married.  He was not the “strong Christian man” that I had been told to look for.  He was simply a person – what almost all men are – living his life in the way he thought right.
On the last day of our honeymoon, I received several phone calls, and upon calling my brother back learned that my sister had had an aneurysm burst.  She survived the event, but a series of strokes and medical issues left her severely injured and bedridden for over three months.  Her young sons were prevented from seeing her for over a month while she was in the ICU.  Over time, she has regained function in the left side of her body, but remains severely limited on the right.

The injury brought a shift to our priorities, and my husband and I decided to move closer to family.  He sold his company stocks to pay off our remaining debt, and we sold his house and purchased one with cash in Kansas City.

Today, we make about two thirds of the income we made before relocating.  But the lack of mortgage, an emergency fund, and being closer to family have had several positive impacts on our lives.  I miss being able to see my younger brother for coffee on Saturdays, but the shorter drive to my sister and parents allows me to have a closer connection with them and my nephews than was possible before.

My husband and I are not rich by American standards, but we are in the top 10% of wealthiest people in the world, simply because we own our home and have no debt.  We argue about details now and then, as most couples do, but do not have fights about major issues because we work together to decide what we want the future to look like – at least I think we do!

And then, a few weeks ago, I realized I was smiling a lot.  I mean, a lot.  I am almost never not smiling lately.  When I was in high school, people would occasionally ask me what was wrong, and when I would reply nothing and why they would say, “You’re not smiling.”  I haven’t smiled that much since high school.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve been happy since high school.

But I am happy now.  I am not happy because my life is perfect, but because… I have hope.  I do not feel like I’m failing God because I’m not fulfilling a Mother Theresa-scale “calling.”  In fact, I have come to the conclusion that, well-meaning though it may seem, telling children they are going to do something great for God is a horrible burden to place on them.

I could not be happy if I believed I was shirking some important calling from my creator.  I am not a person who feels comfortable with mediocrity.  But I do believe that I’m where I should be, doing what I am meant to be doing in this moment.  Should God call my husband and me to make another change and redirect our work, then at that time, I am confident we will follow those instructions.

The relief of not having to constantly be looking for the next good thing, or figuring out how to juggle a financial or emotional mess is immeasurable.  For the first time in a long time, I do not labor under the stress of feeling that I have to do something amazing with my life.  I’m allowed to just be happy.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Nice Guy Fail ... ?

Remember how I said I was going to be super upbeat on my Facebook page and only post positive stuff?  Well, yesterday I failed.

Lizard Boy told me about a TSA agent he works with who was spat on in a gas station parking lot.

Let’s examine this: An individual, presumably United States citizen, sees a man getting gas in a TSA uniform, and proceeds to approach and spit on him for something she thinks the President is trying to do.  This woman spat on a man who works in a thankless job day in and day out trying to prevent passengers on planes from being exposed to any malicious danger, and is concurrently spat on because of an executive order by a man he has never, and probably will never, meet.

I blew up a little.

You could argue that I made a bad situation worse.  But to quote Invader Zim:

Zim: I put the fires out.
Tallest: You made them worse!
Zim: Worse…or better?

Did I have the right to swear toward that woman on Facebook?  Absolutely.  Did she have the right to spit on that agent?  Absolutely…not.  Actually, that’s physical assault.

So now we have people committing assault because they are too ignorant to understand that individuals work for the government: people.  While they may represent a branch of the government, they aren’t the government.

There is a lot of protesting going on in the US right now.  Some of it has turned to violence.  Some of it is giving our country a bad reputation.

The truth is, there isn’t a right side and a wrong side.  As in every disagreement, there is value to each position.  Right now, though, we have one group of people saying – yelling in some cases – that they’re right and any other statement is wrong.

Part of what has kept this country from getting breaking down in the past has been the fact that our society encourages new opinions and ideologies, and doesn’t punish individuals for speaking out.  Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying, “You can please all of the people some of the time, and you can please some of the people all of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” 
Therefore, it is a given that at points in our country’s journey, we are each going to be unhappy with an aspect of our government from time to time.

This should not be a surprise.

When I was a kid, this was the country where anyone could become the President.  The only thing that you needed was determination and the willingness to work hard toward your goal.  Today, though, it seems that is no longer the case.  Today, we have celebrities throwing tantrums and inciting riots because they don’t like the President.  We also have people protesting peacefully, doing the only thing they know to do to support people they feel are being marginalized.  One of these is a valid form of expression while the other is not.

I want to challenge my country to stop making an idiot of itself.  Before you repost something on Facebook, check a couple of unbiased news sources, like NPR or BBC, to find out the validity of it.  Before you stand in a group and block traffic to make a point, make sure that your sign says what you mean, and doesn’t simply slur other races.  Before you pick up a brick, or loot, or spit at another human being, stop and ask yourself, “Is this going to help the individuals of my country, or am I just throwing a tantrum and haven’t thought of a better way to express myself?”

I blew up on Facebook.  But in this case, expressing anger on behalf of an individual who was assaulted for the clothing he was wearing was the right thing to do.  It was as valid as standing with women who feel they have been marginalized, even though you your self have not felt marginalized. 


I’m challenging you, United States citizens and individuals of every nationality, to do the right thing.

Lazy Grazing

The variety of apps available for meal plans is staggering.  I’ve used a website to track my fitness, and it worked great.  The problem?  I hate taking the time to add in all my data.

If you were to tell me that I had to use one of those apps or die, I would probably go ahead and die.  Truthfully, my minimalism and my credit-cardlessness are both effects of this laziness.  If I don’t have a lot of stuff, I don’t have to tidy often.  If I don’t use credit cards, I don’t have to track them and make sure they’re not charging me fees out the wa-hoo.

So why should my food be any different?

My mother loves Weight Watchers, and I love their motto, “Eat to live, don’t live to eat.”  But what I don’t love is having to figure out how many points I get, how many points I’ve used, and how many points I have left.  For thousands of people, it has helped them get their weight on track.  To me, that just sounds like homework.

In reality, I want to be able to just say “yes” or “no” to food without having to think about how much or how often.  Enter the easiest “diet” ever.

Disclaimer: I hate the word “diet.”  I have a long history with diets, not because I’ve gone on them, but because I have a family member that has been on a diet since before I was born.  I don’t weigh myself, except to mark milestones, and I don’t “try out” different diets.  So moving forward when I say “diet,” I am only referring to the pattern of food consumption which one follows, not to a specific copyrighted plan.

In my opinion, Paleo, the Caveman Diet, or Processed-Food-Free, is the laziest diet ever.  And that’s why I love it.

Most diets tell you how much, when, and how many.  My personal introduction to Paleo came in three forms, and my favorite is on NerdFitness.com.  The winner in his explanation is where he explains that you can literally eat vegetables all day and never get fat.

I am an avowed grazer.  I don’t eat large meals, and I follow the philosophy of “stop eating when you’re full.”  Have you heard the expression that “if you sigh when you’re eating it’s your body trying to make more room in your stomach”?  Whether or not it’s true, hearing that expression helped me learn to be conscious of when I was full.  It started with recognizing that deep sigh when I was eating, and moved on to a viewing list full of documentaries about food production in the US.
You could say I have something of an addictive personality.

The thing is, gluten is a gateway drug for me.  If I eat cake, I want more cake.  If I eat cheese, I want more cheese.  If I eat vegetables, I want more vegetables.  Like being vegan, buying gluten-free processed foods leads to an over-consumption of sugar and starch, and ends up with me feeling like I just ate a big old stack of cardboard.


So while those fancy apps with their daily calorie counts look like a great option, an item is only effective if you use it.  Going back to being lazy is the best option for me.