Archive for November 2010

Refreshed   Leave a comment

It’s amazing how much of an energy boost a refreshing holiday weekend is. I feel absolutely invigorated, and my ability to be productive is back. That’s one thing I’m horrible at: quality relaxation. Especially when things get busy, and I need the relaxation the most, it is hardest to make myself really relax.

Like many people, I tend to come home tired after a full day at work, and after running and making dinner I end up sitting in front of the TV to “relax”. For me watching TV is not particularly relaxing, though. For the first few minutes of an enjoyable show it is great to lean back in the couch and let go. After about a half hour I’m as relaxed as I’m going to get in front of the TV, and from there on out I’ve got diminished returns. Unfortunately, most dramatic TV shows are an hour so I spend the last half hour torn between missing the end of the episode and wanting to do something. That’s not conducive to relaxing. Plus, I’ve seen newspaper and magazine articles summarizing studies about TV watching that basically find that the visual and auditory stimulation of the TV does not actually allow the brain to relax. So apparently it really is more relaxing to sit and read than watch TV, but we are just drawn to that stimulation.

This past holiday weekend was full of hiking, family time, couple time, reading, puzzles, running, walking, getting massaged, singing, yardwork, a little bit of TV, and just plain introverted home/me time. Plus with “no” pressure, I started working on my winter purge, which always makes me feel lighter, and one of the projects that has been looming over me, thus hopefully making this week less stressful.

Posted November 29, 2010 by mayakey in musings, self-care

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Iiiiiit’s Purge Time   Leave a comment

This weekend kicked off my annual winter purge. Between Thanksgiving and Winter Solstice every year I go through the entire house searching for things that are no longer needed/wanted. This is a tradition that I started when I was first living out on my own, seeking to define my personal traditions. It started as a quest to give meaning to New Year’s, which wasn’t working for me deep inside. I’m not a fan of tradition for tradition’s sake, or doing something because that just what you do. New Year’s seemed arbitrary and meaningless in my life. Since I establish goals on my birthday/half-birthday (February and August), I can’t even remember the last time I did typical New Year’s resolutions. Also, I consider myself somewhat of an earth-child, so to me the new year starts on solstice when the days start getting longer. I studied lots of cultural traditions and decided that I like the Chinese and Jewish traditions of cleaning the entire house to start with a literally clean slate. But cleaning makes more sense to me in spring and fall, not when it is truly freezing outside. De-cluttering makes perfect sense to me, though, especially in light of the gift-giving that occurs a few days after the solstice on Christmas. Instead of getting rid of dirt, I am getting rid of clutter and excess so that I can make room to accept what comes my way in the new year (literally and figuratively).

One of my personal frustrations is STUFF. I feel like I just have to much stuff and clutter around, but can’t seem to just clear it all out. This exercise is very liberating for me where I make myself look at every single thing that I own and make a conscious decision to keep it. It’s amazing that after 8 years I can still walk into a room, look around and see something that makes me think, “Why do I still have this?” Even after last year’s extra-large pre-move purge, then the inevitable packing and unpacking purges, I have already found things in the bedroom and kitchen that can be given away.

It’s Saturday evening right now, and I’ve already gone through the easy rooms: bedroom/bathroom, living room, and kitchen/dining room. Those aren’t the rooms where stuff accumulates. I am very conscious of the negative feng shui of clutter and typically do a good job of keeping clean the room that I wake up in and the room where I spend my relaxing time. My curse: the office. I am a paper clutterer. I keep newspaper articles and magazines. I have piles of stuff on my desk that are paralyzing me right now and making it nearly impossible for me to manage our finances because of the resulting mental blockages. It will probably take me through December 19th to finish this one room.

Posted November 27, 2010 by mayakey in cleaning, conscious living, musings

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In Thanksgiving   Leave a comment

I’m on my Thanksgiving hike right now, or chowing down with my husband’s extended family, but I’d like to extend a thanks to those who read this blog. Blogging has definitely helping me a lot in my journey these past several months by making me “publicly” accountable. I hope that others are getting something out of my writing as well.

Enjoy your day, however you celebrate!


Posted November 25, 2010 by mayakey in musings

SRI Is Not All Negative   Leave a comment

I recently read a magazine article that mentioned and dismissed SRI on the grounds that negative screens aren’t a good tool for finding good investments (in all senses of the word). I am so sick of seeing and hearing SRI dismissed as useless because people only think it involves negative screening! Or I’ll have someone tell me that SRI funds invest in Wal-Mart (or whatever), proving that they’re no different from any other fund. Yes, they do invest in Wal-Mart (or whatever), so that they can engage in shareholder activism.

For those not familiar with the terms, SRI means socially responsible investing or sustainable & responsible investing.  It is essentially based on the theory that companies that do good (or don’t do bad), do well financially in the long term. It is also based on the theory that as part-owners, investors have a responsibility to push companies in a positive direction. This usually revolves around social, environmental, and corporate governance issues. There are three basic strategies to SRI: negative screens, positive screens, and shareholder advocacy.

Negative screening means excluding companies that do not meet a specific criteria. For example, there are funds that exclude companies involved in tobacco or weapons manufacture. Or divestment strategies like the one used to help bring about the end of apartheid in South Africa, where investors stopped investing in companies that supported the apartheid.

Positive screening means including only companies that meet specific criteria. For example, investing only in companies that have effective pollution prevention programs or that have good health and safety track records. Some funds invest only in companies involved in renewable energy, or companies demonstrating gender equality around the world.

Shareholder advocacy means using the power of part-ownership to push for change. Shareholders can introduce and vote on shareholder resolutions. I’m not well versed in the rules for such things, but apparently if a shareholder resolution wins as little as 10-20% of the vote that is usually enough to cause the company’s management to address the issue. Shareholder resolutions can be about things like preparing a greenhouse gas inventory, limiting executive compensation, or promoting diversity.

Personally, I just invest in a couple of funds that use SRI strategies since I’m not comfortable getting into individual stock investments with my limited knowledge (and time). There are lots of options, and you don’t have to sacrifice financial returns. The green fund in my retirement plan at work is recovering from the recession more strongly than the other funds in the plan. It really is possible to have your cake and eat it too. Check out the Social Investment Forum for more info.

Posted November 24, 2010 by mayakey in advocacy, conscious living, money

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Ecstatic at 64 Degrees   1 comment

This weekend has, in once sense especially, been an absolutely awesome weekend. The temperature of our house has not dropped below 63 degrees! I actually did little dances of joy a few times when I walked by the thermostat. Why is 63 degrees significant? Because our thermostat is set to 60 degrees (55 during the day on weekdays, it’s a programmable thermostat), so it never turned on all weekend long. That is despite outdoor temperatures in the 40’s and 50’s and lots of clouds. We haven’t even winterized the house yet! In our previous house the heater would have been on almost constantly during a weekend like this. The highs over the next couple of days are not forecast to reach 50 degrees and there is still a good chance of more rain, so we’ll have to see if we can keep the heater off with an ambient high below 50 degrees.

I realize most people got to “our thermostat is set to 60 degrees” and choked. But really, it’s not that bad. My husband and I have an agreement since we have opposite temperature ranges. He gets uncomfortably hot easily, and I get cold easily. So in the summer he controls the temperature and sets it as high as he can tolerate, and in the winter I control the temperature and set it as low as I can tolerate. In the old house I was stuck paying over a hundred dollars a month to heat a house to 65 degrees, so I refused to set the thermostat any higher than that. When I lived by myself I was literally non-functional below 65 degrees, and my finger joints always ached. Since my husband moved in with me several years ago I found that I could decrease the set temperature and still be comfortable. I’m not entirely sure why another person’s presence makes 60 degrees feel like 65 degrees alone, but it does for me.

My coping strategies for a cold house are 2-3 clothing layers including at least one sweater/sweatshirt, wool mules with a cork sole, a wool blanket on the sofa, 3-4 blankets on my side of the bed, and really hot showers at night before bed. At least in my opinion, none of those things inconvenience me. Since I love cuddling up under a blanket I would be doing some of them no matter what the set temperature. After a while you get used to the low temperature.

I would like to set a challenge to anyone to lower their thermostat setting by a couple of degrees this winter. Leave it lower for at least a month to give yourself a chance to get used to it. You might surprise yourself. I’m not saying that you’re going to like 60 degrees, or even 65 degrees, but find what your lowest comfortable temperature is. There is a certain magic to living seasonally, and by that I mean actually experiencing each season and not just watching it go by without experiencing it.

Posted November 22, 2010 by mayakey in energy use, home

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First Cold of the Year Averted   Leave a comment

This past Monday I got those first hints of a cold coming on. I hate the whole “treat the symptoms” thing, so I immediately went on the offensive to strengthen my immune system and flush out an invaders. It was a three pronged attack: echinacea and peppermint teas, Neti pot, and a couple days of (marginal) rest. I say marginal because while I didn’t go running, I did dig two 4-foot diameter holes for our new trees, and I may have gotten an extra hour of sleep in the three days.

One thing that cannot be reiterated enough regarding echinacea tea: IT IS NOT A TONIC HERB. I hear about people who take echinacea every day for the entire flu season and then wonder why they get sick. If you take echinacea as a tonic you are actually hurting your immune system in the long run. Echinacea essentially revs up the immune system, so it is effective when taken at the first hint of illness, but taken over a long period of time it will eventually “wear out” the immune system and lead to a crash in your body’s ability to protect itself. So never take echinacea as a preventive measure, that’s what vitamin packed foods and moderate exercise are for.

Previously, I didn’t bother with the Neti pot until the end of a cold in an attempt to help it go away faster. Only recently did I come to understand the preventive nature of the Neti pot in helping to rinse away any viruses in the sinuses to sort of reduce the load on the immune system. Apparently some people do that every day. That seems a little excessive to me, and maybe unhealthy actually. If a healthy immune system is partially developed from successfully fighting off the multitude of invaders that we are exposed to on a daily basis, than wouldn’t using a Neti pot every single day be a crutch? Akin to my father’s admonition not to wear an ankle brace on an uninjured ankle because then the muscle gets weak and is more prone to injury. Using it as a preventive measure at the first sign of a cold does make sense to me, though, and at least in this case it worked. In one day I went from congested to clear, and now I actually feel better than I had in about a week.

Posted November 19, 2010 by mayakey in health

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Mastering The Art of The Smoothie   Leave a comment

Since July I’ve been drinking smoothies for breakfast most mornings. They are prescribed by my naturopathic doctor, although I had long been interested in the practice of making smoothies for breakfast. She has a few reasons for prescribing smoothies: 1) They can be a very healthy start to the day, 2) It’s easy to add supplements to a smoothie (except fish oil, that didn’t work so well), 3) If/when I get morning sickness the smoothie will be something I can work on getting/keeping down all morning while getting my vitamins and protein. Making a smoothie every morning has taken some getting used to, and it is not as time-consuming as I had been afraid. Actually, the most challenging part has been cleaning the blender every night.

My doctor’s original recipe was:

1 banana
1 cup frozen fruit
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 Tbsp peanut butter
1 to 1-1/2 cups rice milk
1 scoop whey protein powder
1/2 cup granola (optional, for texture)
1 tsp fish oil

I quickly learned that I am not one of those people who can consume fish oil mixed with food (or straight for that matter). I also found that to me peanut butter does not taste good in a smoothie. Because of my focus on eating local seasonal produce, the banana is problematic as well. My husband eats a banana every day at work, so I can occasionally steal one from him when he skips a day, but a banana every day is not going to happen.

This was a forced experiment at first, but I’m getting the hang of it and now have my own recommendations for smoothie ingredients:

Fresh fruit. I hit on this during the summer when it dawned on my how silly it is to buy frozen peaches when fresh peaches are available at the farmer’s market. The bonus for me is that it gives me a way to eat fruit that I like (or don’t) that is just too big. I can’t eat an entire large peach or apple in one sitting, but I can drink it in a smoothie! So for me all summer my smoothies had a fresh peach base. This fall they have a fresh apple base. I figure that during the winter I’ll experiment with a fresh citrus base. And I’ll worry about spring later. We do have strawberries at the farmer’s market, but I’m concerned about pesticides and none of the vendors mark their strawberries as “pesticide free”. I tried mango once when we missed the farmer’s market, and it was interesting.

Frozen fruit. In addition to the fresh fruit base, I usually add some frozen fruit as well. Mostly berries like blackberries, strawberries, or cranberries, but pretty much anything could work. I’m thinking of trying frozen mango, since I think the “fresh” mango wasn’t really ripe. Sometimes for variety I do a frozen mixed berry smoothie with no fresh fruit at all.

Nuts. This substitutes for both the peanut butter and the granola in the original recipe. My favorites are almonds and walnuts. While I love snacking on pecans I have found them less than stellar in smoothies. The nuts provide protein and flavor; and since I put walnut pieces or slivered almonds in the blender instead of nut butter they also provide some chewy texture to the smoothie. Some people probably prefer a purely liquid smoothie, and in that case nut butters would work.

Liquid. Milk, juice, whatever. The primary purpose is to help the blender, flavor is the secondary purpose. My doctor is one of those people who thinks that adult humans should avoid milk, so she put milk alternatives in the original recipe. I personally like milk, but since I can’t really taste it in the smoothie and it is a common allergen I figure that I might as well use a substitute. Being allergic to soy, and already having almonds in many of my smoothies, I settled for plain unsweetened rice milk. When I make a peaches and cream smoothie, however, I use milk. Juice also works. This morning I used orange juice since I’m in cold-ward-off-mode. Cranberry juice also works really well.

Yogurt. The yogurt is for both health and texture. At first I planned on using Greek yogurt. Yes, sometimes I am trendy. But then I discovered that my regular Whole Foods carries a “French-style” (whatever that means) yogurt from a dairy north of San Francisco (it’s within the 100 mile radius from my house that is typically used to define “local”) that is certified organic, and comes in returnable quart jars. Perfect! Since the yogurt has a cream top it also means that every few days I get a super creamy smoothie, too.

Whey protein powder. I think this may be the secret to why after getting my doctors recipe I was able to successfully make a smoothie, whereas before they were decidedly not yummy experiments. My understanding is that most whey protein powder contains lots of sugar and/or artificial sweeteners, so be careful. The powder carried by my doctor’s office has a little bit of fructose (2 grams per scoop) and the balance of sweetness is from stevia. The reason that I think this is the secret ingredient is because it is in powder form and blends easily, providing thickening and sweetness. My previous attempts at sweetening included nothing (fruit alone just doesn’t cut it), honey (didn’t blend so it was mostly unsweetened with the occasional super-sweet clump), and maple syrup (might have been ok if it hadn’t been slightly fermented, and maple rum is a weird smoothie flavor).

Other stuff. For variety and excitement there are so many possible extra ingredients. Cocoa is good. So are raw rolled oats (think peaches and cream oatmeal in a liquid form). Spices like cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger can add a little extra flair. I might try ground flax seeds. I saw a recipe for an apple spinach smoothie that I do not think I’m going to try. But if vegetable juice is your thing, why not?

Posted November 16, 2010 by mayakey in food, health, pre-pregnancy

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Our Trees Are Here! Our Trees Are Here!   Leave a comment

Last week we got our free shade trees from our utility company. I was planning to plant them this weekend, but I forgot to call Underground Service Alert (811 Call Before You Dig) on Wednesday so I have to wait until the end of Monday to plant. I am pretty sure that there is a water line and cable beneath our lawn, but since I don’t know exactly where I want the utility to mark the lines. Utility marking is something that I have to do all the time for work, but requesting a dig ticket outside of work is a new experience.

I’m pretty excited about the shade trees. Well, I’m ecstatic about one of them and hopeful about the other. Our local utility company (SMUD) has a program giving free shade trees to customers that request them. It’s a limited list of shade trees (no fruit trees or evergreens, and they have selected a number of species as particularly appropriate for the area), but I really don’t understand why more people don’t participate. I mean, it’s FREE. All you have to do is meet with an urban forester to select the tree(s) and the location, and then dig the hole and care for the tree. In a few years you get shade! We might not see much return on “investment” since the trees might not yet be fully grown before we move again, but since the “investment” was zero I can live with that. We’ll get some shade, and hopefully better resale value.

The tree that I am excited about is a native Valley Oak. It’s a large tree that will be planted out near the street. I am very passionate about native plants, and of all the trees native to the Sacramento area, the oaks are my favorites. I’ve been nervously mapping the location, though, because the location of this tree will be a huge factor in figuring out what area of the new lawn gets removed for xeriscape. Since a valley oak is a low water use tree, I’d like low water use landscaping around it. We’re going for improving resale value, though, and I don’t want to do anything that might have the opposite effect. Sacramento is a seriously water-guzzling town, and I’m afraid that removing all of the lawn will have a negative effect. Plus, I need to leave enough lawn accessible to the driveway for me to drive my car onto the lawn so that I can wash it by hand.

The tree that I am not so excited about is the eastern redbud. We had been planning to get just one tree, but the urban forester took one look at our front yard and said we could easily fit two trees, a large and a small tree. They don’t have the western redbud on the list because for some reason it wasn’t deemed appropriate (size? color? root structure? branching? apparently they look at a number of variables). So she suggested the eastern redbud instead. To be completely honest, I’m kind of regretting that decision. Maybe we should have just gotten one tree and gone looking for a small native tree on our own. Honestly, though, I hope it’ll work because the small tree is the most important one for shading the front window. And I know full well that if we had gone the route of finding (and buying) a different small tree near the house, it wouldn’t have happened this fall.

Posted November 15, 2010 by mayakey in energy use, gardening, home

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A Smile Is Contagious   Leave a comment

When I was in college I used to play a game as I walked around campus. I would smile. I smiled and looked people in the eye, and I counted the number of people who would look me in the eye and smile right back. It felt good to smile. It felt even better to have a complete stranger smile back at me. It’s an experience beyond words. And there was an extra thrill when someone smiled back at me who had not previously been smiling, because I knew that I had brightened their day even if just for a second. Yes, there were many more people whose eyes were trained on the ground, or studiously avoiding looking at anyone else, and whose faces were intently serious; but it’s about quality, not quantity.

Smiling feels good. A smile is friendly, encouraging, loving, kind, peaceful, and relaxing. Even when the day isn’t exactly smile-icious, putting on a genuine smile can make everything brighter (probably because in order to make it genuine, you have to be conscious of the good things all around you).

Admittedly I don’t play the game as often now. It’s entirely different in an office of people I know and who know me, and it seems I’m always concentrating on something else when I’m in a public place. But every once in a while it is good to have a reminder that smiling feels good, and that it is contagious. When someone smiles at you, even if you don’t know them, smile back. You’ll make yourself happier and improve someone else’s day as well.

Posted November 12, 2010 by mayakey in musings, psychology

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The Carpet Is Finally Gone!   1 comment

The old carpet that we removed first thing upon getting our house back in July is finally gone! The whole process of recycling the carpet and padding could have certainly gone better, but it was also not as bad as I had thought it could be.

The first issue was schedule. In the first week of July when I was ripping out the carpet, I just wanted it out of the house. I was focusing on getting the house clean and ready for move-in and just didn’t have time to take care of carpet recycling research. So we rolled up the carpet and padding and stacked them on the concrete in the backyard. The plan was to recycle them before the rains came. In early July, October looks far away. Obviously that plan failed. We ended up with a pile of slightly wet carpet. All of last week our cars were in the driveway and the garage was dedicated for rolling out the carpet to dry since the recycler specified that the carpet be dry.

The second issue was the lack of recyclers. With no carpet recyclers in the Sacramento area, a trip to the Bay Area had to be scheduled. I have used up all my time off at work and the recycler is not open on weekends. Luckily my husband had taken a half day off and was willing to spend it driving to Oakland to deliver the carpet. I have an awesome husband. The carpet pad recycler is also not open weekends, but at least they were local, so I just took a long lunch to haul that load.

The third issue was meeting the requirement of the carpet recycler. It was related to the wet carpet in that we had to take the time to re-roll all of the carpet (even the dry rolls) because the carpet recycler specified that the carpet needed to be rolled yarn side out and tied off with a strip of carpet, not string or tape. That was REALLY annoying! I do not understand that requirement.

The cost ended up working out ok for the recycling, but steep overall. There was no fee for the load of carpet padding, and the fee for the carpet was $10. Considering that the disposal fee at the landfill would have been either $40 or $45 (depending on whether truck bed and cab filled with carpet rolls would have been considered a load or an overload) for the two loads, that’s not bad at all. The problem was that since we had to do both loads on weekday mornings (before 3 pm), we had to rent a truck. And since we weren’t able to get both loads in one day due to the early closing times, we spent $225 on pickup truck rentals (plus gas and bridge toll).

Posted November 9, 2010 by mayakey in home

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