Monday, December 30, 2013

You Can’t Steal that Which is Freely Given

Evening Flight Back to Texas{Sunset from the plane window}

Best Book of the Year{Planeside reading}

I’m back in Texas now, safely ensconced in my little kitchen.  The recipe queue is full of things to make this week, and my apartment smells like peanut butter bars.  Paul came came over last night, and we made a very tasty pizza.  Life is good.

Last week, I mentioned the book I’ve been reading.  Did I mention that it’s blowing my mind?  Just when I thought nothing could top Pale Blue Dot and our beloved Carl Sagan, along comes Charles Eisenstein with his clear articulation of the relationship between our connection to each other, money, and why our current money system must evolve or die trying.

One of the ideas in Sacred Economics is that of a gift economy: we give to one another so that we can meet the needs of all.  Giving is about providing for each other.  It is an expression of care for our collective well-being.  It creates a community because she who receives is now indebted, by social bonds, to pass it on.  There aren’t always strict rules about how and when you pass it on but simply that you do.  This, I think, is the origin of family obligations: the gifts of love and care we received are never truly repaid.  Instead, we pass on the gift by caring for the newest members and renewing our family bonds.

It’s not clear to me exactly how my life will change after I finish Sacred Economics.  It’s one thing to declare that the current money system is unsustainable and immoral; it will evolve, whether through peaceful change, violent revolution, or a complete toppling under its own weight.  It’s another thing to be out and about in the world: working, spending money, making life decisions.  Money is still a very real force in my life, and I assume the same is true for most of you.

But as one small gesture toward the gift economy, I’ve decided to relinquish ownership of the text and photos that I’ve shared on this blog.  The blog is still “mine” in the sense that I have created the contents and plan to continue doing so.  But I rather like the idea of seeing my work here as being part of the gift economy; it’s yours too, because you found it.  I think it's reasonable that if you choose to use a photo or text from this site that you credit your source.  It’s the nice thing to do.  But you don’t need to ask my permission because here I have given it to you explicitly.  Go forth and create!  Sharing is caring!

You can’t steal that which is freely given.  Charles Eisenstein, the author of Sacred Economics, has made much of his work freely available through his website, which I encourage you to check out.  As for me, I’m pursuing some new opportunities for blog sponsorship, which may or may not generate income.  We’ll see.  I’m occupying a strange territory where I’m not exactly anti-consumerism or anti-blog sponsorship.  That’s part of what “This Week in Thoughtful Consumerism” is exploring.  I feel like I’m trying to figure out exactly what my message is.  My worldview is changing, along with my career, my ambitions, and my sense of place in the world.  But this blog has always been a place to foster self-growth for me, so I feel comfortable telling you that I don’t know where we’re going!  Maybe that’s the fun of it: to enjoy the ride and to find out where we’ll land.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Here’s the Thing

Here’s the thing: I split my heart so I could be in two places at once.

So I could be here, with these fine folks.

Theresa and Scott Close Shot

Devin on Christmas Morning

Lydia on Christmas Morning

And to see some snow, of course.


But truth be told, part of me wanted to stay in Texas.  I wanted to pet my cat, make soup, and go to a cabin in Wimberley with friends and Paul on Christmas Day.

But here’s the other thing: I never, ever regret a trip to Michigan.  Each trip is a little different.  I change, my family changes.  We grow.  We become the newest version of ourselves.  The kids get taller, the grown-ups…well, we note the passage of time.

I did something unusual this time.  I let other social obligations lapse.  And I don’t know exactly how I feel about that.  On the one hand, it’s nice to simplify.  If there’s one thing I have not done this year, it’s simplify my life.  So it was nice to let some of the usual events slide.  I stayed in on Christmas Eve and read my book.  I didn’t make an effort to see other friends whom I would normally see while I’m in the mitten.  These friends are, I presume, busy with their own family obligations, caring for the children in their families.  And maybe it’s okay to not push quite so hard on all relationship fronts, especially during this season in my life when dating one person means cultivating relationships with his family.

I tend to take a somewhat karmic view of the universe.  Life feels circular to me; people move apart and come back together.  Old friends drift out of touch and swim back into contact.  New friends are pulled together by the gravity of shared values and a shared vision.  I don’t believe that there’s a guiding hand to all these movements.  But maybe part of a lifelong friendship is letting go…for a while.  Long enough to let each other fully inhabit the new roles that we have chosen.

Tomorrow I return to Texas, and it’s bittersweet.  I know I am extraordinarily lucky: I have a family with whom I genuinely enjoy spending time.  Sometimes, like this month, I fly north because I feel obligated to do so.  But when I think about not spending Christmas with my family, I feel strange and empty.  There is something to be said for having rhythms in life that transcend the changes.  I know I might not always be able to spend this holiday with my family.  Circumstances might make such a thing harder in the future.  So I had a sense this year that I should try to really soak up every minute of this visit.

Kale in Winter

And yet.  Introvert me has limits to how much family time she can enjoy.  So I retreat into my books or my computer.  And I feel guilty about it, fully knowing that I will go CRAZY(!!!) if I don’t take steal the time to recharge my batteries.  So I live with the tension of feeling bad that I can’t focus every waking moment on family, while sneaking away and shutting the door on the noise and chaos.

Maybe all of this means that I’m just a perfectionist who has some vision of what Christmas or family visits should look like.  Maybe it’s really okay to have more realistic expectations for seven days spent mostly with small children.  Maybe this is a sneak peek at motherhood: the feeling that if it’s imperfect, it must be my fault.

Maybe I should just get over it.

At any rate, tomorrow I fly back to Texas, and the sweetness of my return is that I get to see this face.

Oh Man

Well, maybe not that face exactly.  (That photo always makes me laugh, so I thought I’d share it with you.)

See what else Paul does in photos that makes me laugh?  I have to politely ask him not to flash me the bird when I want to take a nice photo of him.

Such a Stinker

What a stinker.  (He’s so cute.)

Heart, prepare to leave one set of loved ones and return to another.  I simultaneously can’t wait and can’t bear the thought of it.  Leave, return, home, away: maybe I’ve finally become the migrating bird I’ve dreamt of being.

See you soon, Texas.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

This Week in Thoughtful Consumerism, Vol. 5


On Christmas Eve Day, I confess to you that I am waiting for more gifts to arrive at our doorstep.  I feel like one of those people.  Friends, this is what happens when you don’t start thinking about Christmas until the middle of December.

But today, in lieu of links or deep thoughts of my own, I want to share an excerpt from the book I’m reading now, Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein.  It is the sister book to Saved by Ben Hewitt; indeed, much of Hewitt’s writing in Saved is inspired by ideas from Sacred Economics.  My friends and I are having an unofficial book club for this book, which is the best kind of book club in my opinion.

I’m going to take some liberties with this excerpt by changing the order a bit.  So here we go: a few thoughts on abundance and scarcity, on Christmas Eve, from Sacred Economics.

Economics, it says on page one of textbooks, is the study of human behavior under conditions of scarcity.  The expansion of the economic realm is therefore the expansion of scarcity, its incursion into areas of life once characterized by abundance.  Economic behavior, particularly the exchange of money for goods, extends today into realms that were never before the subject of money exchanges.  [Here, Eisenstein offers two examples: bottled water and childcare, both of which are commodified forms of things that have been abundant in human societies in the recent past.]

* * *

Amidst superabundance, even we in rich countries live in omnipresent anxiety, craving “financial security” as we try to keep scarcity at bay.  We make choices (even those having nothing to do with money) according to what we can “afford,” and we commonly associate freedom with wealth.  But when we pursue it, we find that the paradise of financial freedom is a mirage, receding as we approach it, and that the chase itself enslaves.  The anxiety is always there, the scarcity always just one disaster away.  We call that chase greed.  Truly, it is a response to the perception of scarcity.

For me thus far, reading Sacred Economics is Charles Eisenstein attaching words to feelings that have haunted me for much of my life.  He takes the ideas of abundance and gratitude to new heights.  Even just thinking of your life as being full of abundance has the power to shift attitudes, to change hearts and minds.  Monetary abundance is but the lowest form of it.

In keeping with the ideas in Sacred Economics, Eisenstein has made the book available on his website.  It’s a full-length version!  I highly encourage you to check it out.

May your holidays be filled with joy and an abundance of all the best things this life has to offer.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Searching for Christmas

The Christmas spirit has been MIA this year.

I blame it on a year of Too Much.  Too Much of everything, and I’m left wanting nothing but to be at home, petting my kitty, thinking about silence and white walls and the hush of finality.  Instead, the calendar announced “December!” so I boarded a plane, flew north, and landed in the Mitten.  We’ve got snow on the ground here, presents to be wrapped, and a family that is not quite ready for Christmas.  It’s a minor miracle that I even have presents to wrap: I started shopping last week.  I am not kidding.

So today, on Christmas Eve Eve, I went searching for Christmas.  I found it inside, hanging on the tree.  I found it outside, on trees decorated and lit up in the middle of downtown Plymouth.  And I found it in the elves’ workshop, as we wrapped and labeled and bowed and stacked.


Gold Leaf

In the Elves Workshop


I figured that as long as I’m in Michigan for Christmas, I ought to get into the spirit of things.

In my family, we’re doing a smaller Christmas.  For those of us around my age, we picked names and focused our gift-giving powers on one special person.  I know a lot of families do that, and it’s been a long time coming for us.  It was weird to not buy gifts for all my siblings and their partners, but I think this is a change we can all embrace.  Down in Texas, Paul assures me that all of his presents to his family are from us, both of us, and that warms my heart.  I’ve never been part of an “us” that compares at all to Paul and me.  It feels deeply right to me, because he feels deeply right with me.  I’m sad that I won’t be there for his family celebration, but Paul’s family is the one that’s local to us, so we see them much more frequently than I see mine.

It’s been such a turbulent year for me in the best and worst ways.  I wonder if I’ve been struggling to stay present in the moment because I’m just ready for the fresh start that 2014 will bring.  I’m already thinking about new goals, new work, a freshly cleaned apartment, and the chance to begin anew.  I fell far short of reaching all my 2013 goals, but I feel like I learned something valuable from them.  I hope to use those lessons to embrace opportunity when it presents itself.

But before we turn the calendar to 2014, there is Christmas and family and a final ~HURRAH!~ for 2013.  I want to be part of that.  So this is me, recommitting to these final days of the year.  About five more days with family.  One more multi-destination trip, during which I will welcome 2014 in the company of dear friends.  Who knows how many moments to live that old cliché: they call it the present because it’s a gift.

Merry days to you and yours, dear readers.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tuesday High Five, Copycatted!

I'm Ready to be Packed{Lucy is ready to be tucked into a suitcase for our weekend trip.}

Last Friday, Chrissy posted her Friday High Five, and I immediately started writing a copycat post.  Then my to-do list intervened, and Paul and I left town, and whoosh, it’s Tuesday and I still haven’t finished my post!  So today I bring you Tuesday High Five, with a nod toward Chrissy and the inspiration.

I’ve been feeling a bit absent from this space in the sense that I haven’t been writing about what’s happening in my life.  That feels wrong to me because this is a personal blog.  I want to give you a few glimpses into what’s up these days.

{1}  Today Friday I began the bureaucratic process of starting a new job.  Yes, A NEW JOB!  ANUSTART!*  I’ve decided to work part-time in a honeybee lab in the Entomology department here on campus.  It’s actually in a friend’s lab, so she and I will be forming a professional relationship in addition to our personal one.

* Sorry, I couldn’t find a good ANUSTART clip. So how about a montage instead?

{2}  In addition to my part-time job, I have started working as a private tutor for biology and writing students.  It’s been great so far!  My first students found me last month through a tutoring site called WyzAnt Tutoring.  The site does some of the work of vetting tutors and it takes care of the billing painlessly—in exchange for a cut of my tutoring rate.  For me, as I’m starting out, I think it’s worth it.  I’ve also been posting ads on Craigslist to advertise my services, but so far, all I’ve gotten are spammy responses.  What’s great is that when I do receive spammy-sounding responses, on the off-chance that they are legitimate, I can just refer them to my WyzAnt profile.  It’s much safer for me that way.  I’m pretty pleased with that solution to the Craigslist dilemma.

{3}  Over the weekend, Paul and I visited his parents at their new house.  For the first time, I saw a photo of Paul’s dad, taken when he was a bit younger than we are now.  Paul’s dad, John, passed away when Paul was a little boy, so I will never know him.  It’s sad to think that that connection is now lost to us forever.  But in the photo, the resemblance between Paul and John was unmistakable.  What’s even sweeter is listening to Paul’s mom, Pam, tell the story of falling in love with John.  They met over computers and felt an immediate spark; they married six weeks later.  They were together for seven years before John passed away.

Pam and I talked about character, about how sometimes you meet a person and they are honest and kind and genuine.  They are exactly who they appear to be, and it’s easy to trust them because they just seem so pure of heart.  That’s how Pam felt about John, and it’s how I feel about Paul now.  So it seems to me that Paul has more in common with his dad than just his dashing good looks.

{4}  Part of our weekend trip was a drive over to Galveston for the Moody Gardens Festival of Lights.  Paul and I are not religious, so we’re feeling our way through the Christmas season, trying to decide if and how we want to celebrate it.  I’ve always loved holiday lights, and to me, it feels appropriate during this season of darkness on my part of Earth.  The festival was lovely and low-key, and we both enjoyed strolling through the exhibit.


Snail at Moody Gardens

{5}  Paul made his now-famous tofu migas recipe for his mom, and she loved it.  She was really open-minded about the tofu and other vegetarian ingredients and cooking tricks.  I think the next time we visit his parents, we’ll make a Middle Eastern-influenced dinner.  I can’t wait to share that with them!  I felt very loved and welcome in their house, which is just about the best feeling in the world.

I’ll be sharing Paul’s migas recipe soon.  He’s gotten several recipe requests, and he even let me photograph him making it a few months ago.      

{BONUS}  The winner of last week’s Saved giveaway is my dear blog friend Chrissy!  Huzzah!  Chrissy, I’m going to drop that book in the mail for you this week.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Full Moon Behind Tree{There was a full moon that followed us on our drive back to College Station.}

Have a great week, y’all!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

This Week in Thoughtful Consumerism, Vol. 4

Of course, of course: just when you shouldn’t be spending money, you find temptation everywhere.  Or is it just me?  (Sidenote: my apologies that this post is a day late.  I got caught up in talking to a friend yesterday, and the time just slipped away from me.)

This week, I have a mix of links, but our main focus is legs!

* I love this old post on Academichic about colored tights.  I’ve been washing all my tights to get them ready for action.  Last year, I bought a red pair, and I’m hoping to make good use of them this winter.

* I love the idea of grey boots, and these are pretty cute.  My sister pointed out that they would look awesome with colored tights, and I agree.

Nolan grey boots _cropped

{Screen shot from}

* I also like these dark grey “river gloves.”  The good/bad news about having a camping boyfriend is that you start buying things because you think, “That would be PERFECT for camping!”  Both the boots and the river gloves are vegan, too—made from synthetic materials instead of a dead animal’s skin.

River glove shoes_cropped

{Screen shot from}

* Speaking of camping (sort of), I just started watching Alaska: The Final Frontier.  It’s about the Kilcher family.  They live off the land on the coastline of southern Alaska, and it’s pretty fascinating.  (It’s heartbreaking, too, if you’re inclined toward compassion for non-human animals.  But I won’t spoil any plotlines here.)  Paul dreams of “living free” by living off the land, so this show reminds me of him.  Except I don’t think he’s planning to move to Alaska for his dream!  You can watch snippets of the show here; it’s also available for live streaming on Netflix.

Also, you’ve probably heard of one member of the Kilcher family: the singer/songwriter Jewel!

* I like Ashley’s series on automatic healthy eating.  I’ve been using a lot of frozen vegetables; they’re just so easy to keep around and throw in a pan when you’re ready to make dinner. 

(These days, I dream of having the time to make more elaborate meals at home.  But I did bake cookies over the weekend, so that feels like a win!)

That’s it for today.  Don’t forget about the Saved giveaway!  I hope to be back later this week with a newsy post about what I’m doing these days.

Happy Hump Day, friends! 

Monday, December 9, 2013

“the richness of interconnectedness” (plus a giveaway!)

Red Leaves Above

Ah, hello!  I didn’t mean to disappear on you last week.  It was my final week in my second postdoc job (which I wrote about here, but things took a tragic turn—more later).  As you all know, I have a tendency to ramble, and I’d really like to get the show on the road with a giveaway that I’ve had up my sleeve for—oh, I don’t know—FOUR MONTHS.  Ridiculous.

(You’ll be glad to know that whenever the topic of this giveaway comes up, Paul lovingly mocks me.  Hey, I’m an idea person, not a “get all the things done” person.  Maybe I just need a personal assistant…who is willing to work for free…)

Here’s the deal.  Several months ago, I was inspired to give away a copy of Saved by Ben Hewitt on this blog.  I wrote to Ben, and he let me purchase a signed copy of his book, which has now been in my possession for too long.  It’s not a stretch to say that this book changed my perspective on money.  My relationship with wealth is evolving in positive ways, and I do believe it is opening the door to a more authentic way of living.  One paragraph has lingered in my memory.  Today I share it with you.

Over the past century or so, and perhaps longer, we have been taught that to rely on others is to be weak and incapable.  The notion that we should be dependent on one another is almost antithetical to contemporary American expectations of autonomy and independence.  But in truth it is that autonomy that exploits and, irony of ironies, turns us all into dependents of the very arrangements that profess to offer independence.  It exploits our resource base, because it depends on each of us owning the raw materials that enable us to shun one another.  But even more profoundly, it exploits us, because it deprives us of the opportunity to experience the richness of interconnectedness and the meaningful relationships it gives rise to.  By striving to achieve the American ideal of personal independence, we wind up not just independent, but isolated. 

Powerful stuff, no?  There is so much to say here, but I think I’ll save my thoughts for a review of the book, which Chrissy suggested I write.  For now, if you’d like to win that signed copy of Saved, leave a comment below.  Tell me anything!  I’d love to hear what’s going on with you these days.

I’ll pick a winner in one week and send the book out before I fly north for the holidays.  And if you’re inspired to buy a copy of Saved (perhaps as a gift?), you can do so and support this blog by clicking here.

Thank you and good luck!

PS  I plan to be back tomorrow with another volume of “This Week in Thoughtful Consumerism.”  Yay!