Wide pan of shelves full of books

Knowingly breaking the rules…thrice.

Using the word “rules” sounds much more punitive than it really should be.

At the start of 2018, I set an intention to not purchase any books in the year ahead. I own too many already; I have access to a wealth of books through the public library, not to mention family and friends.

Still, I knowingly and willingly broke my “rule” three times. Here are my confessions.

Stacks of books where titles are visible.

All three transgressions took place in the last quarter of the year. The first occurred in the most capitalist way imaginable: utilizing Amazon Prime for that free two-day shipping of “The House on Tradd Street.” Why did I knowingly participate in the transgression? My reasoning was two-fold:

  • First, the Durham Public Library did not offer a non-digital version of the novel. I know myself well enough at this age to recognize the need for paper.
  • Second, I wanted to have the book ahead of my air travel to and from Phoenix. I did check out the online search options for the local Durham bookstore; alas, it came up empty. Thus, you find me opening my Amazon app (so dangerous) and securing a used copy of Karen White’s novel in advance of my vacation.

In my opinion, this is the most egregious, blatant disregard for my own modus operandi. If I had planned better, taken a bit more time to seek out alternative sellers, I may have easily avoided the online megalopolis that is Amazon. But, I didn’t. And I panicked. And I didn’t have any credit card reward points available.

So it is written. So it is done. Perhaps I would feel less guilt about this transaction if I had found the book to be remarkable/life-changing/enlightening. Unfortunately, I found none of the above. A mediocre story to appeal to mass audiences narrated by an unlikable protagonist whose doughnut lifestyle never seemed to manifest in any negative repercussions in her form or fitness.

Spare me.

In contrast, the other two times I knowingly broke my own prescribed rule failed to invoke the same level of guilt/shame. The main difference: partaking in said purchases through local, independent bookstores.

It requires little effort for me to justify spending money at Changing Hands in Phoenix or Letters Bookshop in Durham. Both offer incredible selections that complement each shop’s physical space. Additionally, both house new and used titles, giving this avid reader opportunity to cash in her own books that have been read and shelved in the home library. Store credit? Yes, please.

Also, when Michelle Obama drops a book where she unveils her journey through infertility, how could I not want for those words and emotions to hold in my grasp? Each reveal in this space is so precious, so meaningful. I don’t want to share it with strangers in the public library system. Nor do I selfishly want to wait for it. I am no Aaron Burr. When it comes to the quest and quench for writing, consider me a modern day Alexander Hamilton.

I will experience zero consequences for my defiance (outside of the financial investment). At this point, I do not anticipate engaging in this behavior anymore in 2018.

How formal I’ve become with myself. Establishing rules. Holding myself accountable. Purging my guilt through a public admission. Where do all of these feelings live during the day-to-day of life? Do they bury themselves deep within the self or stay closer to the surface, at the ready to reveal themselves at a moment’s notice? I like to think of my guilt sitting deep in an internal well; but as often as such emotions arise, it seems hard-to-believe they could resurface so quickly, and so often, unless they set up camp just underneath the skin.

I should not feel guilt in my hungering for the written word. I should not feel shame for indulging in the brilliance of writers who inspire me. I feel guilt for hungering for the written word. I feel guilt for indulging in self-satisfying transactions that remind me the number of opportunities I chose not to engage in furthering my dream of authorship.

How I will re-think shopping this year

Do you have the Amazon app on your phone?

How often have you opened the app while waiting in line/hanging out with friends/out at an event/sitting on the toilet and ordered something?

These questions are asked without judgment as — confession time — I have been/am a habitual, knee-jerk reaction shopper became it is so convenient.

Oh, we’re out of cat food?

Click.

Gosh, I really want to read that book I just heard about on NPR.

Click.

Even better: options like Subscribe & Save take the effort of remembering to purchase a new bottle of shampoo or more coconut oil every other month!

My friend Cassie shared on Facebook Ann Patchett’s New York Times opinion piece “My Year of No Shopping“, and I read it with eyes wide open. I used to be a serial shopper. Hello, I was raised in the 90s! The mall was the place to see and be seen. At least, in my case, the only things I was looking for were the latest Babysitter’s Club paperbacks at Waldenbooks, a sassy shirt from the Rave, CDs from Sam Goody’s, and giggle-inducing adult toys at Spencer’s Gifts (those lava lamps were like a Siren’s Song).

Shopping — even just window — was a coveted weekend activity during my formative teenage years. So, it seems reasonable that I would continue such habits into adulthood. While I can attest to shedding much of my previous shopping identity (or even the desire to wander through the mall for hours….where malls still exist), online shopping quietly took the throne as the activity that doesn’t quite feel like shopping but absolutely is:

Image of woman sitting behind computer with text: "Why yes, I will spend $50 more to get free shipping to avoid paying $3 for shipping"

How quickly those seemingly one-off purchases add up! Not only financially but they take up physical space; they add weight to our consumer-driven lives. They may shape our identity, or our perception of reality. They project values and priorities. Do they project the values and priorities we want to reflect? That’s up to you.

After reading Ann’s narrative on her year of not shopping (inspired by her friend Elissa’s commitment to negate purchasing clothes, shoes, jewelry, and purchases), I took a little self-inventory on my own shopping predilections and where I could make change. One of my goals in 2018 is to save more money — and I realized that I spend money on things that I don’t really need anymore.

As Ann works on following her self-determined shopping rules and begins to run out of certain items, she writes that she makes “gleeful discoveries” of lip balms, lotions, soaps, and other tucked away products that have consumed space under the sink for years.

Y’all: I have four boxes of shampoo + conditioner in the bathroom closet now. How did that happen?

For me, shopping — the act of acquiring new items based on a sense of need or want — had become a non-mindful activity. Even at the grocery store, which is one of my favorite places to spend money, I move through each aisle with my list in my hand…but always with a swift justification ready in case I want to pick up a few additional items not written on the aforementioned list. (Oh, my favorite Kombucha is only $3.25, not $3.50 — I can totally put it in the cart now!)

I want to make it clear: there is zero judgment regarding feelings of joy connected to shopping. In fact, shouldn’t shopping be joyful in some ways? If we’re able to shop, that means we have economic resources to make choices. Many people in this world do not. What a privilege for me to wander around the Kroger, the Whole Foods — wherever — and have essentially limitless options.

This is what I want to work on moving forward this year:  I want to be mindful of the act of purchasing products. I want to think about the impact it has on my own budget; on my life with Aaron; on my ability to make other financial choices down the road. I want to be mindful about the impact my shopping choices have on my community; on the people who produced the product; on the people who will benefit from the purchase of this product. I want to think about the impact my purchases have on the environment; on labor; on the health and well-being of people that I may or may not know. I want to be present during the act of shopping — whether it is online, offline, local, or international. I want to shop less and give more. I want to find more opportunities to shop in places that bring positive change to the lives of others.

The one item — the onnnnnnnnnnnnnne item — that is going to be the hardest for me to let go of purchasing at whim:

Me reading a book on a train

No, not ridiculously large plastic waterbottles (but no, I won’t be buying those in 2018 or ever again). It’s books. I love books. I love them so much. I like the way they feel, the way they make me feel. I like the way they draw me in, sometimes slowly, sometimes from the start. They rarely let me down; they comfort me when I’m sick or stuck on an airplane.

But, I have so many books. SO MANY BOOKS. And so many unread books.

This is it, my dear readers. If it’s on the Internet, it must be true right.

Sigh.

I will not purchase a book in 2018.

My intention for this year is to become more mindful throughout all aspects of my life. More to come on mindfulness in my next post after having the pleasure of attending a workshop this weekend with mindfulness/yoga/Type-A/leadership guru Robyn Fehrman.

Do you practice mindful shopping? After reading Ann Patchett’s piece, are you inspired to re-evaluate how you shop and what you buy? How can you free up space in your mind in 2018?

What if you did win the Powerball?

Since I’m still writing in this blog, consider this my admission that I was not a major winner in Saturday’s record-breaking Powerball jackpot.

But, I can say that I am walking away with more money than I invested. Thank you lucky number 13.

What will I do with that $12? Don’t worry – I won’t spend it all in one place. While it could purchase a six-pack of beer, it will likely end up in the “kitty” where stray dollar bills end up. (Previously, this was our swear jar when Aaron and I were trying to kick the habit of one particular word in our vocabulary. I can’t speak for Aaron, but I can say that having to put money where my mouth was did help curb the frequency of usage of that particular word. Have I been as faithful to following protocol as of late? Not really. Add it to the resolution list.)

Let’s play a visioning game for one moment. Now, the Powerball for Wednesday night is $1.4 billion. Granted, if you opt for the 30-year payout (which would carry me to retirement), that overall winnings are reduced to $868 million. Plus taxes. But, at least in this country we have all those loopholes for wealthy people, right?

This Wired article walks through the various deduction scenarios, projecting a final payout of $394 million. That leads me to ask you:

Dirty Harry aside, can you actually imagine having $394 million dollars? What would you do with such a sum of funds now overflowing sock drawers, bank accounts of the Cayman Islands, etc.?

I can barely imagine having one million dollars. Of course I’m a nonprofit professional because I don’t want to make money.

[cut to: tumbleweeds rolling through the desert]

Fact check: not true. 

Back to winning the Powerball though because it’s fun to fantasize about the Amazon shopping spree that would await me. [Glass Pyrex containers for DAYS!] Think of all the books I could buy! And then I would need more bookcases and shelves to put them on! And then more lamps to read by!

In truth, if and when I can make more money or win the Powerball, I want to give it away. No, not all of it. Please. I can be a selfish human, and I have a family and want to see the world. Still, I recognize the constant need in our society for additional resources – from  providing funding for pre-K and after-school programs who success rates are rooted in evidence-based practices to increasing access to health care resources for vulnerable populations/rural communities to investing in clean energy technologies that allow us to reduce our dependence on dangerous fossil fuels.

And more. Helping to support animal shelters. Investing in racial equity training to dismantle our white supremacist systems. Supporting scholarship programs to vocational and university programs. Increasing access to the Internet. Putting music programs back in public schools. Oh, this list could go on and on and on…

Sure, I would mind overthrowing a corporation or two, or trying to compete with these guys in the 2016 Election:

kochbros.jpg

But that payout..it’s really just peas and carrots when you step back and look at our political landscape…which is scary.

So, in the meantime, I’ll put my money where my mouth heart is – investing in creating a more equitable, sustainable future for all people, not just the privileged, not just the ones who can and have access to the right resources. Money can’t fix problems, but it sure can help support the people on the ground, in communities, committed to helping build a better quality of life for all.

And take that trip to Ireland. Because, you know: #yolo.

 

 

Vol I: 5 things that made me happy this week

As an homage to my “friends” at Pop Culture Happy Hour (oh, how I wish we were friends in real life!), I’m going to try and do a series of blog posts reflecting on aspects of my previous week that made me happy.

My friend Liza mentioned that one of her goals for 2016 was to “celebrate accomplishments in a more meaningful way.” What a brilliant idea! Most of us focus solely on our failures and mistakes and brush off accomplishments nonchalantly.

While “what is making me happy” may not fall under the definition of accomplishments, I hope it will serve as a positive reminder for me – and maybe you – that so much in our lives can and does bring us joy. Sometimes, we just forget about it.

  1. Old School Hip Hop jams

This actually started the night of New Year’s Day. In previous posts, I had noted that Aaron and I used to have some epic dance parties. Unfortunately, those had fallen by the wayside over the last couple of years. Then, 2016 happened. And, after some wine and a game of Scrabble, we threw down thanks to the power of YouTube bringing us some classic videos like these:

and:

The beats of ole kept on rolling this week thanks to a Spotify playlist (and the fact that my co-worker was 100% on board) on our trip back from the coast.

2. The return to public transit

gotriangle.jpg

Driving was once one of my favorite activities. In the last few years, it has become a dreaded routine, and, some days feeling like survival of the fittest. With free WiFi and relative peace of mind, I was able to hop on one of GoTriangle’s regional transit buses both Thursday and Friday this week, giving me an extra hour where I could choose what to do: work, read, not have to worry that the driver next to me glued to their iPhone won’t nudge me into the guardrail.

3. Curling, eh?

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Yes, the Triangle has its own curling club (appropriately named the Triangle Curling Club). On Friday night, the group held an open house, offering some hands-on introduction to the sport of curling.

Note: it is MUCH harder than it looks. The power comes from that back leg pushing off a starting block. But, then you have to transfer all of your weight into your other leg, kept in a perfect 90 degree angle. Oh, and then you have to get this 44lb stone closest to the “shot rock” at the other end.

From the initial taste, we are hooked. We will be back, especially since it is just a hop, skip, and jump away from our home.

4.Reminder that some politicians are human

Not that I have doubted President Obama’s sense of compassion, but his speech this past week on taking executive action on curbing gun violence in our nation moved me immensely.

All of us should be able to work together to find a balance that declares the rest of our rights are also important — Second Amendment rights are important, but there are other rights that we care about as well. And we have to be able to balance them. Because our right to worship freely and safely –- that right was denied to Christians in Charleston, South Carolina.  And that was denied Jews in Kansas City. And that was denied Muslims in Chapel Hill, and Sikhs in Oak Creek.  They had rights, too.

Our right to peaceful assembly -– that right was robbed from moviegoers in Aurora and Lafayette. Our unalienable right to life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -– those rights were stripped from college students in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara, and from high schoolers at Columbine, and from first-graders in Newtown. First-graders. And from every family who never imagined that their loved one would be taken from our lives by a bullet from a gun.

And, the response to critics of President Obama’s emotional response during his speech from the Daily Show’s Trevor Noah was spot on:

5. To Read: Little Bee

LittleBee.jpg

I finished Chris Cleave’s 2008 novel to start off the new year, and it was achingly beautiful and painful. It tells the story of two people, brought together by tragic circumstances, and how they unpack the history that led to their connection, and also how they move forward together…or not. Could I be more generic in the description? Probably. I don’t want to give anything away about Little Bee and her struggles and triumphs in this incredibly well-written story.

So, what’s making you happy this week?

Six things I am crushing on this week

To start with a bit of cruel irony: after noting in my post yesterday that I had yet to succumb to slipping on ice during any training runs, I was four-tenths of a mile into my 8 mile run and…you guessed it:

polarbear

I ate it. Luckily, I performed the classic Hollywood fall of my legs flying up in the air and landing on my butt.

After a quick curse word and a double-check of all limbs, I proceeded on to knock out the remaining 7.6 miles amid much more ice. It was a very jilted run in regards to my route – a lot of U-turns. And, sadly, this morning’s freezing rain will be pushing my run today to…this afternoon? To the “wish I could” history books? It’s March. It’s time for spring.

I feel compelled to touch on a variety of topics this morning, so I have opted for the infamous list post in order to fulfill my own whims. From literature to legumes, here are six things I am crushing on this week:

#1: Chickpea cutlets from Post Punk Kitchen

chickpea cutletsLike mini-chickpea burgers of love

In need of something meaty, crunchy, and delicious? These cutlets – with their hint of lemon – will rock your world. They are easy to make and require few ingredients: chickpeas (duh), wheat gluten, bread crumbs (I use Panko), some thyme/paprika/garlic/sage, a little lemon zest, soy sauce, olive oil – BOOM! You have a chewy plant-based steak. I have fried them both times (it’s all about that crunchy, baby), but baking the cutlets in the oven is an option as well. You can find the recipe here.

#2: Hot jams: Ibeyi, “Ibeyi”

ibeyiPhoto via NPR’s All Songs Considered blog

Twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz first blew my musical mind on NPR’s First Listen with then soon-to-be-released album Ibeyi. Their playful, sensual, and haunting French-Cuban ballads are enhancing and evocative. I immediately pre-ordered the album, which is NOW available for your listening pleasure! Right now, I have “Ghosts” on repeat, which is the third track.

#3: Sold – Patricia McCormicksoldPublished back in 2006, this novel explores the horrific world of child trafficking, in particular from Nepal to India. Through the eyes of Lakshmi, a 13-year old Nepalese girl, we journey with her as she is sold into the sex industry by her stepfather as his gambling habits have netted the family a debt they can no longer pay with their crops. It’s written in almost a verse format – short bursts of text tracing Lakshmi’s experience, her naivete, and her realization of her new reality. The novel is raw and unapologetic in telling her story – as is the story of thousands of young women in this part of the world. I highly recommend reading it, as it will educate and anger the reader (well, it did me). This was in my 2015 reading stack, and it was one I had difficulty putting down.

#4: Another glorious Costco find – red lentil pasta!

RotiniOh Costco – you did it again! Chocked full of protein and fiber, this red lentil pasta proved to be an excellent substitute to the standard durum flour variety. It doesn’t boast any overpowering flavor. We topped the noodles with a marinara sauce one night and a peanut/ginger curry a few nights later. Great texture and very filling.

#5:  Dreaming of house decorating

After abandoning Pinterest for the last month or two, I jumped back in headfirst on a quest to find barn doors. When Aaron first mentioned these as an idea to close off our dining room, I was a little on the fence. Barn doors? This coming from the woman who had burlap a plenty at her wedding, I know. But, I am now 150% on the hunt for a barn door-esque look for our dining room. Here are some that I have just fallen in love with:

barndoor4I also love the fact La Croix is in this photo

barndoor3Likely no animal head behind our future door…

barndoor2Does the dog come with the door?

barndoor1It just screams GREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEN

#6: The powerful medium that is Twitter

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Yes, tweeting road conditions in the Triangle may earn you five seconds of fame too. Twitter – from questioning dress colors (which I honestly did not follow nor care to follow) to breaking international news to chronicling a llama escape – this social media platform continues to amaze and bewilder me.

Alright, those are six things that I am sharing with you. Would you be kind enough to share something YOU are crushing on with me?

Day twelve of vegan challenge: throwing in a non-food resolution and then joining the gravy train

In the midst of this self-imposed #Veganuary recipe challenge, I missed an opportunity to jump on the new year’s resolution post bandwagon. Last year, I set several personal growth goals for 2014. After reviewing the list, I feel that I accomplished several of them (more yoga, growing in my relationship with Aaron, hiding my smartphone at night) while others will circle back for a soon-to-be-written 2015 goals to espouse post (I MUST GET TO THE RAMP FESTIVAL!)

To indulge my Instagram addiction (and to diversify my posts beyond food and beer), I am participating in the #npcommpix challenge sponsored by the team at Nonprofit Marketing Guide under the leadership of communications guru Kivi Leroux Miller. Check it out:

npcomm

So, for yesterday – Resolution – I literally looked over my shoulder at the bookcase full of spellbinding and unread books. I. love books. It’s impossible for me to walk into a bookstore (especially used) and not walk out with something. Unfortunately, the pace of reading said books has not kept up with the purchasing, therefore leaving me with a bookcase full of unread books. Ding! That lends itself to a perfect (and I believe attainable) 2015 resolution:

booksThis is my kind of stacks on decks.

12 books. 12 months. Seems feasible. Based on Instagram feedback, I’ll be starting with “The Girls of Atomic City” by Denise Kierman. Any in this photo that you have read and would offer feedback on?

Shifting gears back to the land of #Veganuary, today’s recipe is (confession) not one I have made personally. BUT, it was made for Aaron and I by our wonderful friends Jen and Chris. Inspired by a dish from The Grit in Athens, GA (which has now been added to the bucket list), this bowl of gravy-goodness is mind-blowing good. Rich and creamy, this golden bowl will do you right (and impress any guests you have over – this is vegan?!) I will note: this recipe takes about 45 minutes to an hour start to finish, so consider this one of your investment dinner evenings. I promise: it is SO worth it!

The Grit Restaurant Golden Bowl (via BigOven.Com)
Serves 4

the-grit-restaurant-golden-bowl-4Droooooooooooool

For Grit Yeast Gravy:
1/2 cup vegan margarine (Earth Balance rocks!)
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
1 cup unsweetened soy milk (almond could substitute)
1/4 soy sauce (or tamari)
3/4 cup hot water (or more depending on how thin you want your gravy)
1 tablespoon vegan worcestershire sauce

For Grit Style Tofu:
15 ounces extra-firm tofu
Vegetable oil (can substitute)
Soy sauce
Nutritional yeast

Sauteed vegetables:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (sub olive, sunflower)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small red pepper, diced
1 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and then sliced
6 medium button mushrooms, quartered (or substitute other favorite mushroom)

Preparation

GRIT YEAST GRAVY:
In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, melt the margarine completely. Stir in flour and yeast until blended and continue to heat roux until mixture begins to bubble. Use only enough heat to maintain vigorous bubbling, whisking constantly for 4 minutes. This is the time required to cook the flour to smoothness, and vigorous whisking is important to avoid burning.

Continue rapid, thorough whisking and add soy milk gradually. The mixture will quickly become thick and custard-like. Combine soy sauce, water, and Worcestershire sauce and add to gravy gradually. Blend well after each addition, and do not add liquid so rapidly that gravy is very thin. If gravy does become thin from the addition of too much liquid, continued cooking will thicken it.

Set gravy aside, and reheat before serving, or hold over very low heat while preparing the rest of the Grit Golden Bowl. Add more water as needed to maintain a good consistency if holding over low heat.

(note: I halved the gravy recipe in The Grit cookbook to come up with these measurements, so you might have to adjust the flour/yeast and water measurements a bit to arrive at the desired consistency (we always make the full amount, because we use the gravy on other things))

GRIT-STYLE TOFU
Cut tofu into cubes smaller than playing dice. Lightly oil a non-stick skillet and place over high heat. Allow oil to heat slightly, and add tofu. Saute, tossing with a non-metal spatula until evenly and lightly golden brown. Sprinkle lightly with soy sauce, saute briefly to further brown tofu. Remove from skillet, draining and discarding any excess fluid.

Rinse and wipe skillet dry, lightly oil and place it over high heat. Allow oil to become very hot and add tofu. Saute tofu, tossing with a non-metal spatula almost constantly until very well browned. Sprinkle with soy sauce to taste. Sprinkle with nutritional yeast to coat tofu cubes and, tossing vigorously, saute for a few seconds and remove from heat. Keep warm in the oven while you finish cooking the veggies.

SAUTEED VEGETABLES
Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil over medium-high to high heat. Add onions and saute until soft and translucent. Add bell pepper and saute for 1 or 2 minutes, until slightly cooked, but still firm. Add zucchini and yellow squash, and saute for another minute or two, until squash is slightly cooked but still firm. Add mushrooms and cook until they give up their water. (note- other veggies of your choice can be substituted; onions are always a good base, and the zucchini and yellow squash go well with the gravy, and so we always use these as a base, but we’ve also used other bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, and peas with tasty outcomes).

TO SERVE
Spoon 1/2 cup of cooked brown rice into a bowl, top with veggies, tofu, and gravy, and enjoy!

For a tasty option, you can also garnish with shredded mild cheddar. (Veganize it or just leave it off!) We had it without cheese, and it was perfect.