Archive for December 2010

Super-Splurge Self Pampering   2 comments

Every time I come home to Albuquerque, I have to make an appointment for a massage at Betty’s Bath and Day Spa, where I can soak in a hot tub or sit in a sauna before the massage. In my humble opinion massages are sooooo much more effective when preceded by heat therapy. The heat therapy takes care of the surface tension of the muscles, and so when you go into the massage both mind and muscles are better able to be treated by the massage. Unfortunately, I have yet to find somewhere in Sacramento where I can experience the same. Arden Hills Spa does allow spa patrons to use the hot tub and sauna in the club, but that place is somewhat pricey and I had a rather bad experience there for my pre-wedding spa party. So I splurge when I come home. It is a case where an egregious use of energy (to heat the water in the hot tub or keep a sauna at temp) is perfectly ok in my book. Maybe it is hypocritical of me, but I really value the heat therapy on a spiritual level and not just the physical/mental level, and isn’t one of the main purposes of life to enjoy living?

This time, I added an extra splurge. They were featuring a holiday special of a 1 hour massage and 1 hour facial, and since I have a backlog of 3 body treatments (goal rewards), I decided to go for it. I haven’t gotten a facial at a spa in several years because I am usually content to do it at home. It was nice and very relaxing to have the facial treatments done to me, and I think I dozed off at some point (This was after 15 minutes in a sauna, 15 minutes in a hot tub, a few minutes of stretching, and a full body massage). But there were a few times during the treatment when I remember thinking, “What is she doing now?”. She went through lots of cotton and tissue, and I lost count of how many different products she used. It was the nicest feeling facial that I’ve ever paid for, but looking at the shelf covered with open bottles for all of the products that she used I decided that I still prefer doing it my way at home.

The professional way means using a fancy steam machine, lots of cotton, tissues, and hot washclothes, and using countless products. All of those products required manufacture, packaging, and shipping. And I’d be surprised if most of those products actually DID anything during the treatment. Call me a sceptic. When I give myself a facial treatment at home it is simple and cheap. I need a pot with boiling water, dried herbs (mostly lavender, rosemary, and fennel), essential oils (mostly lavender, tea tree, and bergamot), a ground oatmeal scrub, dried buttermilk or plain yogurt, and clay. One tub of clay may be pricey, but it lasts for years. I tried grinding the pure clay kitty litter to save money but found that I just couldn’t grind it fine enough to really work well. Most of these ingredients are already in my pantry and require very little energy or packaging to prepare and store. So maybe in five years I’ll get another professional facial, but until then I’ll stick to my homemade pampering.

Posted December 28, 2010 by mayakey in frugal living, personal care, resource use, self-care

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The Absence of Gift Exchanges   Leave a comment

This year we experienced a Christmas with “no” gift exchanges, and I have to say it has been a nice reset year. I’ve always been a big gift-giver; and of course in the past I enjoyed receiving gifts, too. Recently Christmas gift giving has become a harrowing experience for myself and those around me. It was one of the casualties of my journey that slowly evolved into a major problem. As I have progressed on my journey, it became much harder for people to shop for me. Even my mother and husband had trouble. I’ve always been picky, but when you add my commitment to organic, fair trade, clutter-free, artisan-made, etc. etc., it became difficult for other people to buy me things. And that left me feeling guilty that I was inconveniencing other people, and unhappy when/if I had to accommodate a gift that did not fit within my spiritual calling. From there it was a spiral downhill, and the process of developing christmas lists devolved into a night of crying and feeling torn inside. Plus, while originally I was able to buy “conventional” when buying gifts for other people, I had reached a point where that was breaking my heart and my favorite part of Christmas became miserable and conflicting. I had started dreading Christmas.

When the suggestion to skip the gift exchanges this year was brought forward, it was embraced by all (or mostly all). To be completely honest there have been some exchanges because we do have people in our lives who, like myself, love to give gifts. But by eliminating the expectation of gifts, this holiday season has been filled with a new sense of freedom. I don’t know what will happen next year. I hope that we do go back to gift exchanges, because I do love giving people gifts. But I also know that it will be different. I know that many people are having similar Christmases this year due to economic difficulties, and I hope that the experience is similarly refreshing for them. It is time to hit RESET and rethink the modern culture of Christmas gift exchanges.

Posted December 26, 2010 by mayakey in frugal living, unshopping

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The Opposite Of A Christmas and Easter Catholic   Leave a comment

So if the term “Christmas and Easter Catholic” is used to refer to Catholics who attend Mass one or two times a year, what is the term for someone who attends Mass every week but is NOT going to Christmas Mass?

I personally believe that everyone, of any religious tradition, needs to take time off every once in a while. I don’t just mean skipping a service when traveling or otherwise unable to attend, I mean just taking a week or two off. I took a couple of years off back when I was in high school, and found that my faith was absolutely strengthened by that experience and the joy of coming back “into the fold”. I remember how happy and excited I was when I was on my own in college and could go back to Mass. Ever since I have made sure to just skip Mass for no reason a couple of times a year because then it doesn’t just fade into the background of life, and it doesn’t become something I “have” to do. Take a break in order to keep it special.

One of my many mantras is: “Everything in moderation, even moderation.” In an odd way, I think that applies to the issue of religious traditions. Sometimes you have to do something extreme for reinvigoration, and sometimes you have to take a break for the same reason. Once a tradition looses its meaning, the tradition has lost its soul. I have no time or energy for soul-less traditions. So I come to my decision this Christmas. I’m not sure, but I think I may have missed one Christmas Mass in the last 10 years. But this year since I’m not in the choir and can’t attend at my home parish, and would have to sacrifice family time for church attendance, I decided that it is time for a break. After all, now that I sing in the choir, I can’t just wake up on a Sunday morning and decide that I don’t want to go. My ability to skip Mass for no reason has been severely compromised, so I’ll skip a Mass that I don’t HAVE to attend, and that would be Christmas. Easter, however is a whole different matter.

Posted December 24, 2010 by mayakey in musings, psychology, spiritual practices

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Happy New Year (Yuletide Greetings)   Leave a comment

I celebrate the winter solstice as the end of my personal year and the start of the next, so happy new year to all.

I have ended the year with a month-long purge of stuff in my life in order to make room for the new that is to come. Now we will light candles in every room of the house to bring light into this longest night of the year and bless the home with the positive energy for the coming year. I pray that the positive energy extends out to everyone that I touch (figuratively).

Posted December 21, 2010 by mayakey in spiritual practices

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Purge To a Simple Life?   2 comments

During this year’s winter purge/Advent season I have also been thinking about discernment of my calling. I feel very strongly drawn to simplifying my life, and in the last few years have been working towards that overarching goal. I thought maybe this year I’d look at purging not just my physical stuff, but also my routines and commitments. Unfortunately I have a really hard time with this kind of purging.

A couple of years ago I started shedding myself of commitments, and at the time all of my commitments were shed-worthy. They were organizations that just weren’t justifying my level of activity, so I dropped them or significantly curtailed my activity. Now, however, I have picked up new commitments (nature abhors a vacuum?) that I love, and so I am torn between conflicting desires. For years I have wished every week at Mass that I could sing in a choir again, so when the opportunity arose I jumped at it. It’s most certainly not an ideal situation since I end up cantoring much of the time and I am not happy/comfortable with that, however, since the alternative is to give up something that gives me great joy and go back to wishing that I were doing what I am doing right now… I think putting up with a non-ideal situation is best because at least then I do get the times of pure unadulterated joy when I get to sing my heart out. Similarly, I have wished for a setting for group prayer since college and finally last year I realized that I need to step up and organize it instead of wishing. So now I am nominally in charge of a weekly prayer (intentions, contemplation, and meditation) group. Unfortunately, these things pull me away from home, and I am a homebody at heart. Being away from home is stressful and one of the hallmarks of a simpler life is to not be always rushing around to outside commitments. I don’t know how to balance these competing desires.

And then there’s simplifying life in the home. I know that I should theoretically be able to do this. I am notorious for making life difficult on myself, and that is the root of the problem. This is a very long process and I’m barely in the middle of it. As much as requesting help would be a good idea, I also know from experience that I’ll get defensive and resistant to any help that might come my way. I guess that’s part of the challenge of life: the things we most need help with are the very things that we are least willing and able to accept help with.

Posted December 21, 2010 by mayakey in musings, psychology, simple living

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A Whole-Wheat, Fairly Traded Baking Party   Leave a comment

At the moment I’m procrastinating the prep work for my holiday party. I should have started the cake for the Buche de Noel already. This year’s theme is the oven because in our new house we finally have a normal non-disgusting oven that doesn’t set off the fire alarm. So I’m planning to bake all day. Some things will be savory, but there will be plenty of cookies, and the Buche de Noel. I’m hoping that people like the goodies, but it’s not a given because of two things: I haven’t baked a cake or cookie in over a decade, and I don’t cook with bleached wheat flour.

Yup, I’m going to attempt to feed a bunch of non-hippies whole wheat flour desserts. I’ve been using whole wheat flour for my scones, so I think it is doable for cookies. I bought some whole wheat pastry flour, and I know that I will need to adjust recipes on the fly a bit to add a little bit more moisture to compensate for the different flour. I’m not too worried about flavors since everything planned is filled with goodies. Even the cake recipe that I’m using has orange zest, orange juice, and almond extract. The cookies will be oatmeal cookies with goodies in them, plain cookies with white chocolate and cranberries, and peanut butter cookies (or at least that’s the plan). Why not just use regular bleached flour? Because I don’t think I should have to. Whole wheat flour seems more real and down-to-earth to me. I think that with the fiber included in the flour, the resulting cookies are a little bit better on the blood sugar levels, too. My mom has tweaked several recipes to reduce the fat and sugar, and as a result we call them “breakfast cookies” because they are healthy enough to eat for breakfast. I hope that with the addition of whole wheat flour that is even more true.

Not only am I trying to be healthy for this party, but I’m also trying to be an example of shopping with conscience-ness. It will be as fair trade of a party as I can make it, which is unfortunately less fair trade than I’d like. I only buy fair trade sugar, partly because I support fair trade standards and partly because I am so opposed to the ridiculous sugar quotas and tariffs in the US. So we have coarse raw cane sugar and fine sugar that are both fair trade. Unfortunately we weren’t able to find fair trade confectioner’s sugar. Likewise the semi-sweet chocolate chips are fair trade, but the baking chocolate and cocoa are not certified (but they claim to be fairly traded), and I was not able to find fair trade cocoa nibs or white chocolate. That really disappointed me because I know for a fact that I have purchased fair trade cocoa nibs before. I do what I can, and unfortunately when shopping at the last minute options are limited. One last ingredient, the vanilla, is real, organic, and fair trade certified.

Posted December 18, 2010 by mayakey in conscious living, fair trade, food, health, shopping

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My Prom Dress Is Off On A New Adventure   2 comments

I have finally managed to donate the dress from my senior prom. This has been a long saga. A couple of years ago I realized that I no longer fit into my prom dress, and that I didn’t need it any more as the stock formal dress in my closet because now I have my wedding dress. I had somehow heard about an organization called Cinderella’s Closet here in Sacramento that provided prom dresses to teens who could not afford them otherwise, so I looked into it. Their guidelines did specify dresses only a year or two old, but I figured I would try to donate it anyway. My mom and I had purposefully selected a classic (read: timeless) style dress that I could (and did) wear as a formal dress for other events into adulthood. (And as I mentioned above, I continued that mentality by buying a wedding dress that I can and have worn to other formal events; what’s the point of a one-time-only dress?) So I took the dress to the drop off location and was told that they were no longer accepting dresses. Shortly thereafter the organization apparently folded, and now the parent organization is also no longer around.

Left with a dress that I was all geared up to donate so that it could get a second life, I hung it on the shades in the computer room so that I “wouldn’t forget it”. But with no other place to specifically donate formal dresses so that girls with no money could still go to The Dance, I didn’t really know what to do with it. I didn’t want to just drop it off at Goodwill. But my aversion to shopping apparently extends to an aversion to finding a consignment store that would sell the dress. Plus, I would rather give the dress to a girl who needs it than make a few dollars selling it, but that’s just me. I might have felt differently if the dress was only a couple years old, and not a decade and a half. This purge time, I have finally found a new place for the dress. It has also been joined by a maid-of-honor dress that no longer fits.

Snowline Hospice Thrift Store in Folsom has a program called A Prom Dress To Remember that provides dresses to girls who would otherwise not be able to afford a dress. When I called to verify, I was told that they would happily accept both the (old) prom dress and the maid-of-honor dress. So now both dresses are at the thrift store eagerly waiting for spring to arrive when they will adorn an excited young girl for a night of fun and memories. It is a great feeling to give new life to things that held good memories for me in the past, and to help someone else enjoy a special event as well.

Posted December 14, 2010 by mayakey in unshopping

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Put Your Money Where Your Values Are   1 comment

This time of year the air is filled with… “donate now and save on your taxes.” The emphasis on donating near the end of the year has always amused me. The holidays are already busy, so why add the stress of last-minute charitable donations? For me personally, a system of donating throughout the year works quite well. With a few tweaks here and there I’ve been using the same system for the last decade.

After I graduated from college I quickly learned that it is really really easy to get inundated with requests for money from both good and questionable organizations, and that a strategy was necessary to balance limited money/requests for money. I decided to go with a charity-of-the-month type system. It allows me to donate small amounts of money to a variety of organizations; and it gives me time to research those organizations and an excuse to say “no” to the more questionable organizations.

How to select those 12-or-so organizations? That has been mostly half-hazard, and I’m not exactly satisfied with the current list. Every year I review the list, and it has evolved over time, but it really comes down to the fact that I’m not putting my money where my values are. At least not all of them.

In the category of education (and also the category of I-use-them-a-lot) is the local NPR station and Wikipedia. These are both invaluable to me on a daily basis, so I donate money to them. We don’t watch much PBS right now, but that may change in the future with kids.

We also give money to organizations that work to alleviate domestic and global poverty through active work, activism, grants and microfinance; that support victims of abuse; that provide college scholarships, and that support soldiers stationed abroad. Oh, and one environmental organization: California Native Plant Society, of which I am a member. Why haven’t I donated to Rocky Mountain Institute, or NRDC, or Environmental Working Group? I don’t know, since these are organizations that I support in theory. I do volunteer time with Weed Warriors/American River Parkway Foundation, but I haven’t donated any money.

And then there’s my church, which feels like a wallet vacuum cleaner, even though I know first hand that the money is desperately needed. It is definitely time for me to re-evaluate my list and make some changes.

Posted December 11, 2010 by mayakey in money

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Carrot Time   Leave a comment

As far as snack time goes, today was officially the first day of winter. Over a year ago I overcame my cracker “addiction” to switch to fruit and vegetable snacks as part of my pre-pre pregnancy prep, and since I only eat what I can get at the farmer’s market that means carrots in the winter. ( When I cracked open my container of carrots this afternoon “U Can’t Touch This” popped into my head, but I can’t write out the tune, so I put it in the title instead.)

We’re lucky here in the Sacramento area to have several year-round farmer’s markets so that we can always eat seasonally locally. Not everything at the market is organic, but much is at least pesticide-free (the difference is that they haven’t gone through expense of certification or that they don’t follow other organic practices). I generally figure that even if they do use pesticides, smaller farmers probably use less than big monoculture farms. As a result, I focus more on eating local, rather than organic. In California the vendors at the farmer’s markets have to be from within the state, but stuff from southern CA is not exactly local to Sacramento. (That doesn’t stop us from buying the avocados, though). Most of the vendors at our market really are local and come from our county or a neighboring county. From the Delta to the Sierras that means multiple climate zones and growing seasons. So after tomatoes are done in the Delta, farmers in the Sierras still have several weeks of production. Thankfully that is true, because otherwise carrot snack season would have begun in early fall.

So I’ll have a few carrots (thin ones cut shorter, not “baby” carrots; scrubbed but not peeled to save time and maximize nutrients) every weekday from now until late spring. Then I will avoid carrots for a few months while feasting on snow peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, and bell peppers. As part of my afternoon snack I also make myself eat fruit, which varies similarly. It’ll really be winter for my stomach when there are no more apples. Then I’ll have oranges/mandarins/etc and kiwis. Long after the time that I am thoroughly sick of anything orange-y or kiwi-esque, spring will bring cherries. That’s the light at the end of the orange tunnel. Cherries, and then apricots, plums, and nectarines. Heaven must have year round stone fruits. 🙂

Real Holiday Cards   4 comments

I know that many environmentalists are proud to announce that they do not send holiday cards but that they send virtual greetings instead. I’m not one of them. I’m proud to announce that I do send actual Christmas cards. Yes, they use paper and fuel, but the pros outweigh the cons in my opinion.

For one thing, I love receiving cards. I love looking at pretty cards, reading the notes, and looking at any photos. It just feels good, and that’s what life is all about, right? I have gotten virtual greetings before (and I’ve used them, but mostly for birthdays), but there isn’t as much thrill. Since I love receiving the physical cards, I prefer to send out physical cards as well. That’s the same reason that I (occasionally) send handwritten cards to family and friends during the year.

Secondly, “it’s good for the economy”, as much as I am sick and tired of hearing that phrase. Someone got paid to make the card, someone will be paid to transport the card, and someone will be paid to deliver the card. Someone got paid to make the paper, someone got paid to design the card, … you get the point. Some card purchases also benefit a non-profit organization, too.

To modulate the environmental impact of sending cards buy some recycled paper or non-tree fiber paper cards printed with soy-based inks. Buy cards from a small printing company, small shop, fair trade store, non-profit organization, or make your own. Skip the glitter, foil, plastic inserts, and anything else that renders the card non-recycleable. Insert a photo if you want, but don’t weigh the card down too much (I think that rules out those singing cards, too; does anyone actually like receiving a singing card?). A heavier card means more fuel required during transportation. Yes, I know the plane is carrying thousands of cards but imagine if each of them weighed an extra half ounce; it adds up.


Posted December 5, 2010 by mayakey in environment, psychology, resource use, shopping

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