Food, Simplified

Food.  So. Very. Tiring.

Have you ever felt like you have reached your limits when it comes to healthy eating?  Like if I have to come up with one more new idea for dinner, I am going to lose my mind?  Like I can’t even read on more click bait article on the latest nutrition trend without skimming it and thinking, ‘blah, blah, blah’?  That’s kind of where I am right now with food.

There is no place in my life where I currently crave the benefits of minimalism more than in my food choices.  This has led me to lots of recent experimentation in my relationship to food and eating.  Food required way too much of my energy and focus, and I felt ready to put eating on auto-pilot in favor of more rewarding pursuits, like living life.

I think it’s helpful to periodically swing the pendulum of your behavior in the opposite direction.  By experimenting to live with too little, we can gain perspective on where a comfortable medium exists.  Here are a few small experiments I have done recently to lessen the role food has in my life, and to help me gain clarity on that balance:

Only buy one food from each category when grocery shopping (one grain, one nut, etc.)

Setting limits on grocery spending or number of items per trip.

Drastically buying less food…no duplicates, no bulk stockpiles.

Fully run out of something before restocking it.

Eat the same thing for breakfast every day.

Salad for lunch, any type.

Eating raw for breakfast and lunch.

One night per week off of cooking to enjoy a restaurant.

Avoiding snacks, and environments/situations where I typically snack (that’s you, TV).

Drinking only water, coffee, and tea.

Eating 3 satisfying meals or less per day.

Limiting sauces and condiments to a few favorites.

Intermittent fasting on travel days or long car rides.

Eating slowly, chewing more.

Repeating meals with batch cooking and leftovers.

Allowing my pantry or fridge to look bare, knowing I still have enough.

Cooking based on ingredients on hand vs. recipes, and trusting my intuition.

Avoiding packaged foods, and my own personal irresistible foods.

Eating larger quantities of fewer, simpler things.

Avoiding cookbooks and recipe blogs, keeping my focus off food during non-meal times.

Asking myself how else I can fill myself up.  Friendship?  A Hug?  A Walk?

All of these small focuses over the past few months have helped move food to the ‘back burner’ of my life.  I certainly did not undertake every focus at the same time.  I simply reflected on where I felt I needed help, and chose one or two focuses per week, maintaining those practices as long as they served me.  Perhaps some of these experiments would work for you, or inspire you to come up with your own ideas for small personal challenges.

After all, food is meant to fuel your life, not be your life.

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Go With The Flo

I said I was taking a Gap Year, and I meant it.  Meaning, I decided to pursue a longtime dream of downsizing and living at the beach (at least part time).  I’ve been planning this since I was approximately 8 years old, but more seriously since 2005.  I’m mentioning this to be transparent, because sometimes you read things on the internet and feel that it’s unfair how quickly and easily things come to certain people.  The beach did not come easily to me.

After deciding to live at the beach at age 8, there was a little waiting involved, due to lack of money and autonomy in my underage lifestyle plan.  So, at age 17, I entered college majoring in Finance and Real Estate, intending to make said beach plans come true.  Later, after graduating with even less money and new student loans, I took a very tiring job with very long commutes and night shift hours, followed by much crying, a little soul searching, entrepreneurship, and good timing.

I was able to buy my first home in 2000, and later sold it during the real estate bubble in 2005.  The profit afforded me a small sum with which to invest in beach property.  Speaking of small, I literally could only afford the smallest house in said beach zip code.  I took on a second mortgage, and a summer rental income to finance this dream.

I rented the house for 12 years, diligently reinvesting the rental income.  Once the mortgage was paid off  *insert happy dance*, I vowed to allow myself to spend the summer there.  A few weeks after removing our home from the rental program in 2016, my teenage daughter decided to join a traveling drumline out of state, a family decision which translated into me trading summer at the beach for long drives on the New Jersey Turnpike.  Every weekend.  And so, my little cottage got put back into the rental program for 2 more years.  And I waited.

Until this week.  I am an empty nester now, rental season #14 has ended, and now it is my turn.  I felt scared to finally make the move after so many years of waiting, but this past Saturday, I threw all my clothes into the car and drove to the beach.  48 hours later, I got word of the mandatory evacuation for Hurricane Florence.  And so, the universe delayed my beach plans once again, and I drove away later that night.

What is there to do in this situation but Go With The Flo (clever Florence reference)?  Do I worry about my home being damaged?  Yes, but I accepted that this property is at risk of flooding and wind damage when I bought it.  I’ve also since taught myself the proper place that material possessions hold in the grand scheme of things.  What I’m reflecting on most during this evacuation is the patience one needs to let life unfold, and holding onto a positive mindset during uncertainty.

The universe has plans for us all, and sometimes those plans do not happen within one’s own expected timeframe.  Sometimes we must wait, and often without answers.  I’ve so desperately wanted to make changes in my life, but at times, progress is slow.  I hope this personal story helps give you the patience to Go With The Flo until your own dreams come to you.

Gap Year Has Begun

It’s Day 2 of my Gap Year.  48 hours ago, my husband and I dropped our daughter off at her college dorm room.  The nest is officially empty, and so it’s time for me to fly.

I’ve spent the past 9 months enjoying mom life to its fullest, setting personal plans aside to soak up the remaining time with my daughter at home, never questioning whether I was being unproductive, even though she didn’t need me much of the time.  I just savored being there, and watching her become independent in so many small ways.  I knew I’d have the rest of my life to be me, so for now I am giving thanks that I slowed down long enough to savor that time with her, and to reflect on how much I love her.

During the big dorm move-in, so many friends and family reached out to wish her luck, but also to check on how we were feeling, gauging our emotional barometer.  I’m happy to report that the overall mood of the day was joy.  Joy in anticipation, joy in uncertainty, and joy in simplifying life down to her half of a dorm room.  I set her free with a few fairy lights and storage bins, knowing her life was about to be focused outside of those four walls, and her wealth was going to be measured in relationships and experiences for the next four years.

And so it goes for mom on her Gap Year.  Can I spread my wings, too?  Can I measure my life in relationships?  Will I have the courage to reach out to new experiences?  Am I bold enough to ask questions, fail, and learn?  Will I take risks?

I never felt sad saying goodbye to her.  How can there be sadness in growth and change?  Minimalism has taught me that the present is our most precious day, and that we have everything we need in this moment.  And so, even with her far from home, I know we are both right where we need to be.

Gap Year

Yesterday, my daughter hit ‘submit’ on her online college application, which means graduation is on the horizon for my oldest child and with it, choices about how to begin life as a young adult.  This past year, we tackled the infamous, “Where do you want to go to college?” question, and discussion of a contemporary trend, the Gap Year.

The Gap Year is the period of time between high school graduation and freshman year at a university of choice.  It is an opportunity for young adults to take a sanctioned break from the academic system to explore, work, learn, grow, and get to know themselves.  The reasoning is that life experience, self-discovery, and a broader perspective on the world will benefit them as they enter the higher education system.

In my opinion, Mom & Dad are the ones deserving of the Gap Year.  I mean, by your forties (or later), you have a pretty good idea what gaps exist in your life.  It’s time to start rekindling that sense of adventure you lost the minute you graduated from college and set foot in your first cubicle.  In my case, immediately after fleeing said cubicle, I chose to start a family, which led into an 18 year blur of exhaustion, culminating in my daughter’s current college application process.

During that time my children grew up, a few dreams and travel plans were deferred.  A few friendships fell by the wayside, as we were all too busy with travel soccer practice to prioritize our own social lives.  A few business ideas sparked, but have not yet had time to ignite, as my changing worldview slowly shifts my focus from income potential to social good.  And one more thing, I need rest and relaxation like I need air and water.

Most of all, I crave uncertainty.  Not recklessness, but rather the potential and opportunity of being less defined.  Now I am older, and more financially secure, but I remember how it felt to feel so ungrounded at age 22.  My 20s were financially tight, but I was secure in my relationships.  How fluidly I moved with less burden, and how invigorating it was to be experimenting with my life’s path.

I have big decisions ahead of me, as does my daughter.  Of course, there is a standard path in front of me.  Continue paying the mortgage, build the nest egg, live safely and comfortably, but feel stagnant.  But there is another way.  Make changes, shake things up, take some risks, but feel fear.  My daughter plans to start college next fall, but Mom has her eye on the Gap Year.

Moving Meditation

Leafy trail

Life is in constant motion.  From the rotation of the Earth, to the falling leaves, to the blood coursing through our veins, to be alive is to move.  The same can be said for our bodies and minds.  Achieving complete stillness is impossible, so instead, stillness is more of a balancing act, or at least an alternating practice.  When I move my body through running, I am able to reach a point where my mind becomes quiet.  When I stop moving my body, my mind races.

I think for this very reason, I struggled with beginning a traditional meditation practice.  I lack the capacity to quiet my mind.  The moment I sit in stillness, I cannot not stop the flow of thoughts through my head.  Stillness feels sluggish and stagnant, and mind chatter feels draining.  I struggle with yoga, and sitting, and anything less intense than long runs that leave me sweaty and depleted, but blissfully still and content.

Perhaps you are one of these people, like me, who thrive on and tolerate vigorous activity.  Perhaps sitting isn’t what you need at this moment in your life.  If so, I say embrace the run.  Let your morning workout be your meditation for now.  Let stillness come to you on the trail, amongst the trees, with the breeze and sunlight embracing you.

This is no less of a meditation than the one of your expectations, and it achieves a different, but wonderful kind of flow.  For some of us, life force, energy, and breath require movement.  Let’s embrace our nature and align with our instinct to move.  Moving meditation can be a starting point to other mindful practices.  So, if you are struggling to meditate, maybe your first step can be a 5 minute jog instead.

The Squirrel Incident

I look forward to the change of seasons each year, and there is certainly much to anticipate in the early days of autumn.  Cool air, cozy sweaters, crackling fires, and the beauty of the changing leaves.  Unfortunately, sometimes we anticipate the change of seasons through advertisements and holiday fantasies.  Starbucks will be soon be encouraging us to restart our Pumpkin Spice Latte habit.  Pottery Barn will send us yet another catalog, and in it, images of perfectly curated fall décor, along with beautifully adorned doorways welcoming trick-or-treating perfection.

I bought into this magazine lifestyle fantasy myself, until The Squirrel Incident.  Last September, my family was just finishing up a screened porch renovation.  Our 16 year old house was starting to show its age, and I thought we needed to get started on the ever growing home maintenance to-do list.  One item on that list included remodeling the screened porch.

Our home backs up to woods, and for years, squirrels have decided it would be more cozy to nest under the roof of our back porch than in the trees.  Over time, they ripped multiple holes in the screens and repeatedly tried to build nests, despite our efforts to wage all-out squirrel warfare as humanely and non-harmfully as possible.

We decided to repair the porch once and for all, replacing or repairing the floorboards, rails, roof, and screens.  The project was completed in early autumn, right as Pottery Barn was putting their summer outdoor furniture on clearance to make way for their new fall décor.  It occurred to me that we should own one of those beautiful outdoor sofas and chairs.  It would help us enjoy the new porch, I reasoned.  I wanted the magazine photo to be my reality.

Two weeks after the furniture was delivered, I innocently let the dog out onto our porch one morning, not realizing that a squirrel had torn through the new screen overnight, and was quietly perched on the back of our outdoor sofa.  The ensuing chase was chaotic, worthy of the squirrel scene in the movie ‘Christmas Vacation’.  Picture a squirrel running for its life, over every horizontal and vertical surface of the porch, my dog leaping after it over the new furniture, crazed in her single-minded pursuit.

Finally, I was able to separate the two animals.  The squirrel lived, my sofa did not.  The squirrel had dug its claws into the couch cushions as it ran, shredding the fabric, and leaving a trail of muddy footprints and urine (like I said, it was scared) across the pristine white Sunbrella fabric.  I checked the Pottery Barn catalog, and there were no squirrel disclaimers to be found, nor any tips on removing squirrel urine.

Turns out, life is not a glossy magazine photo.  Life is messy and imperfect and unpredictable.  I never imagined I’d be learning life lessons from a squirrel, but Mother Nature has a way of revealing her infinite wisdom in not so subtle ways.  I did not replace the sofa.  This fall, I will be sipping my (homemade) Pumpkin Spice Latte on the same ripped cushion I’ve been sitting on for a year now.  That’s life.  Messy, but good.

Affluenza Recovery

This post scares me.  Why?  Because it’s an admission of truth.  Uncomfortable truth.  The truth is that I’m not very good at affluence.  By chance, luck, or circumstance, it was unavailable to me as a child, but was given to me as an adult.  I guess I’ve seen both sides of the coin.  Maybe affluence isn’t the problem, so much as selfishness, greed, and envy.  I’ve tried all of those out, but each felt inauthentic and shallow.  In fact, affluence made me feel a little ill, but thankfully, I am now in the process of affluenza recovery.

This realization about affluence hit me over the head a few years ago, actually.  I sat counting the number of chairs in my house(s), along with the number of Facebook friends I actually considered my true friends, and the chairs happened to significantly outnumber the meaningful people in my life.  The rest of the people I didn’t really interact with, but I was definitely spending money on chairs trying to impress them.  Not many of those people ever did come over to sit in my chairs.

That is the essence of affluenza.  Not feeling secure in yourself or your relationships, and trying to find security in owning more things.  After all, chairs don’t judge you, and if you need support, chairs are always there for you.  Friends on the other hand, are more difficult to obtain, require regular upkeep, and therefore, feel a little more risky.  Sure, friends can also be bought, but not the quality ones.

So, I made a decision.  I started getting rid of the clutter on my chairs, followed by the chairs themselves.  At first, my life felt a little empty and I felt weak, but I’m now feeling stronger through life experiences and relationships.  Soon I’ll be moving on to downsizing the rooms and houses that hold the remaining chairs.  If affluence sticks around during that process, then perhaps I’ll now have the skills in place to use it for good.  Perhaps I’m building up an immunity to affluenza.  I suspect I’ll always own at least one chair, but until my friends outnumber my furniture, I have more work to do.