Intentional Living: Switching the Lens

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My birthday is a gift in that it falls in the middle of the year. I use it to re-assess not so much what I have accomplished, but rather, where to steer life’s trajectory. With this framework, we look on the bright side of things while avoiding the guilt of not being where we thought we were meant to be. We are always where we’re meant to be. We just need the occasional shift in perspective, is all.

Retrospection is one of those practices that can be likened to a double-edged sword. In one respect, we need to be wary of the tendency to live in the past, the mulling of our histories which prevents us from living out the joys of today. When the retrospecting is on something not entirely good, it can put us in quite a rut. A reminder hence that sometimes, the best course of action is to live and let go. On the other side of the coin, however, is a warning against racing haphazardly onwards without direction. As freeing as that may feel, perhaps a moment’s pause would be beneficial, and also, necessary. As always, striking balance is just the stuff. Myself, I lean towards retrospection partnered with a ridiculous will for chasing what I want, so in that way, I suppose I find balance. Retrospection to me doesn’t require so much the mulling, but more so a switching of the lens.

In this re-assessment, I make a list of actionable steps. Minor tweaking of daily life practices, with deeper intentionality behind each one. For example, a desire to physically switch my camera lens from the standard one to a fixed 50 mm lens for the rest of the year. Reason being…? Reason being that the 50 mm lens forces me to switch my camera to a manual setting, thus avoiding the automatic point-and-shoot capturing of daily life. In this single action, I am inserting a forced habit of creativity. I make photographing a bit more difficult. I slow the process. I make the framing more intentional. I have to take the time to focus the lens on what I want to see. A method of mindfulness.

This and others. Here, a short list.

  • Switching the camera lens and turning the manual switch on (to instill mindfulness in creativity).
  • Spending the first thirty minutes of being awake writing, reading, or creating (for better mental health).
  • Applying moisturizer and sunscreen daily (as an act of self-care)
  • Plugging the cell-phone in once I enter the home (and leaving it there).
  • Keeping the lights turned off as far into the evening as possible (and substituting candles in its wake).
  • Read more (mindfully).
  • Sleep 8 hours every night, uninterrupted (like I used to).
  • Keeping clear surfaces around the house (for more clarity).
  • Switching to decaf … or no caff … during the week (now that I’ve cut the midnight shifts).
  • Carrying around a notebook (in the hopes of jotting down more introspections such as these).

How about you guys? Birthdays not required, what are some ways you hope to change trajectories for the rest of 2019? 

Intentional Living: Gift-Asking

Gift giving has been a difficult topic to approach these last couple of years. I’ve written previously about my thoughts on gifts and my no-gift-giving letters, all efforts to eschew the matter entirely. I’ve written gift guides that hopefully elicit mindfulness. I’ve written how we can change the way younger generations view gift-giving. But still, the separation between theory and practice has been hard to achieve. Despite efforts on my family’s side to comply and efforts on my side to be understanding and grateful, disparities can be quite discouraging for both.

I had an aunt once thoughtfully purchase bars of soap without the wrapping, only to hand the stack of them surrounded by a wad of the thickest cellophane I’ve ever felt and, I kid you not, a number of bows, all in the name of “proper presentation”. And so I wrote about alternatives. I’ve had cases where family members would hear in passing of my desire for an article of clothing, and in an effort to give me my wish, they bought me a knock off of similar variety without any history regarding the maker, the working conditions of, or the source of material, all of which I heavily research before choosing to purchase. Likewise, there have been gifts that people thought would add to my home, but which unfortunately detracts from the peace.

I liken the experience to my childhood, when I would sit in a corner to read a book and all the well-meaning adults would send the kids my way to ask me to play. A declined invitation attributed to shyness. Stillness mistaken for boredom. Solidarity confused with loneliness. A personal preference completely misunderstood.

Despite all of this heartbreak, over the years, I’ve slowly learned. Not just on how to communicate better, but on how to re-frame all-together. Because at the root of all the misunderstanding is an honest desire to show love in the only ways people know how. I’ve found that sometimes asking for nothing isn’t the best course of action. This is because people are socially wired to give, with the act of giving tired to affection. So instead of saying, “Give me naught”, maybe the answer lies in the complete opposite. “Give me only one thing that is so specific it cannot be mistaken as something else.”

Case in point: last year Mike and I shared a joint birthday that was wildly successful. In it we requested that all gifts come in the form of a donation to an organization of our choosing. We wrote them a letter detailing the specs of the event, which you can find here. In exchange their donation bought them a ticket to a brunch at our house featuring the morning buns and croissants that would later become a favorite at the bakery. Together we raised enough money to feed 3,285 meals to Americans with food insecurity!

In a similar line of thought, this year I requested that loved ones support the bakery by purchasing baked goods. All profits will be put back into expanding the bakery in the form of buying utensils or ingredients, or paying for licenses and marketing. Although I took the month off to focus inward on my life journey thus far, I allowed for this one catered event to take place and am using the bakery as my way of thanking the ones I love most dear for being a part of my life. It’s a win-win system in that the guests get to take home something made by myself for their own families, and I feel as if my gifts are well-earned. Additionally, it makes it easier to sleep at night knowing that their gifts create a meaningful impact without harboring waste, impact which include the supporting of local farmers and projects preserving ancient heritage grains, as well as the spreading of healthful, gut-friendly bread.

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Which goes to show that maybe telling people how to show affection isn’t as effective as showing affection in return. With these last two birthdays in tow, I think we are finally moving the needle forward.

For other specific asking of gifts, try here.

 

Intentional Living: Regaining Tidbits of Our Power

Amidst the chaos surrounding the recent announcements regarding limiting abortion in particular areas of the United States, there surfaces this topic of maintaining our individual rights in decision-making and control over our own bodies (read as: lives). And while it may seem as if we are powerless in our ability to do so, wrangling against governmental institutions, societal norms, and even local community judgement, it is important, now more than ever, to acknowledge our own innate capabilities (women, especially). Instead of worrying about the goings-on of our surroundings, may I suggest starting from a place of here-ness, with our individual self in the very center. Instead of focusing on the things we are told we cannot do, let’s focus on the things that we know within ourselves that we can. Let us regain tidbits of our own power, and trust that in doing so, the world begins to move around that tiny action, regardless of what our society dictates.

There are two ways in which I think people can start regaining tidbits of their power. The first involves being mindful about what we choose to consume. I’ve always been of the mindset that if you are not happy with how you feel about something, change the contexts and the inputs that are coming in. It’s that law of theory that whatever you focus on, you attract more of. Start by making your inputs positive. Be intentional about what you choose to fill your feed. Make them things that connect you to like-minded people, or things that inspire, or make you happy. We need to be more selective about the inputs we are allowing into our life. We are in control of making the situation worse (or better).

Following people who make you feel bad (even those who do so unintentionally) by whatever they are “selling” is not really what you need. Likewise, by following news such as abortion laws and by following Instastories of other people protesting against such news, you are allowing all that negative energy into your world which does not really have a direct effect in your life. In reality, we know what is possible and regardless of how you feel about it or which camp you sit in, the choice is ultimately up to you and if you think a location can prevent you from accessing that, then you are already succumbing to a little bit of the control that you are trying so hard to escape from. On the flip side, by removing those inputs all together, by ignoring the goings-on in that system and trusting in your OWN system which is led by your inner guidance, we are creating a place that is ultimately uplifting, and may I say, more applicable, let alone real. As a true believer in our realities being shaped by our own minds and belief systems, I don’t spend my time or energy wasting on the rest.

The second way to regain our power centers around how we react to what we do end up consuming. Some have a difficult time dissociating from the external goings-on of the surrounding environment, or some simply choose not to (which is by no means an incorrect way to live but rather just a different one), and for these people, the second way to regain power involves the following advice.

You have ultimate control over what you choose to infiltrate your boundaries and give your power away to. If you think about the colleague or friend that is continually putting you down, pointing out your flaws, or instilling some insecurity, you have two choices. You could make what they say or do mean everything to you, or you could make that mean nothing. We need to start empowering women by having them visualize how many people currently hold some of their power in this way. How many people (and places and things) holds little bits of power – where you are waiting for THEM to change and respond differently, to make YOU feel better in your body? And when you think about it like that, you realize that YOU have given all of this power away, to people who YOU have decided has a right to a say. With this really simple visualization, you can call it back in. You need to take the dependency that is scattered among other people, those little bits of yourself that you’ve allowed other people to affect and control, and reel it back in. We need to remember that NO ONE is going to ever change enough to get the anxiety out of our own bodies. This is how we’ve been keeping ourselves powerless, in a way. Able-bodied woman have choice far beyond other people and so we need to look for where we’ve intentionally given that power and where we can easily call it back.

And so I guess, in much the same way, the latter advice follows the former.

As you can see here, worrying about what someone says we can and cannot do is yet another way we give away our power. Interestingly, as more and more people “stand” up against the injustice of this recent abandonment of women’s rights, more and more people are giving up their own power by acknowledging that it is so, and by assuming that we can’t do differently, if we wanted to. In essence, our acknowledgement is actually what is causing the very things we wish to change to be. What our minds believe to exist, does, and likewise, the opposite is true.

I’ve been told that I tend to live in my own world. Which is partially true. I refuse to partake in keeping up with the news or choosing a political party or what have you, because as far as I am concerned, none of it affects me. And people have resisted this notion, calling this mindset privilege, which it possibly is, but I simply believe in an individual’s ability to do as they please. That’s always how it’s been for me. Some may call that courage and others ignorance. But by being even a tiny bit involved (emotionally, physically, mentally) in the government systems that are in place, we are ultimately following THEIR system and allowing them to do what they had set out to do, which is to have power and control. Instead, I just ignore it and live my truth. I follow only one system, and that’s my inner guidance system. If more people did the same, there would be no need to stand up to a government that does not have the power to control anyone. We regain our power by beginning with ourselves, and living life with our self in the center. I trust that the world will move around us.

Less Waste: Compost Bins

It’s been a while since I’ve touched on the topic of less waste, but there’s nary a day when I don’t think about our environmental impact nor is there a day that I haven’t spent every fiber of my being to reduce my own carbon footprint. We’ve cut our plastic purchases drastically since starting this intentional life, refusing to buy groceries in plastic packaging, avoiding takeout, and carrying our own reusable cups, utensils, and to-go containers. But still, I wanted something next level. What many people view as waste is actually a source of nutrients. The only real waste is the by-product of non-organic and non-biodegradable stuff, which we’ve tried to cut out of our life. Now that we’ve limited non-organic materials in our household, it’s time I turned my eyes, and this blog’s attention, towards composting.

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It isn’t something recent. I have been in search of composting options in Orange County for almost a year. Tales of composting services in grander metropolitan cities had me enamored. I was imagining a life of compost bins in freezers with weekly (or monthly, I’m not picky) pick-up services. I was drooling over the idea of a local drop-off site that I could walk to. Alternatively, dreams of connecting with local farmers as I help create fertilizer for their fields materialized.

Unfortunately, those thoughts were immediately dashed upon the realization that there are no public composting options in Orange County, AT ALL. I had called the Department of Waste Management, admittedly on multiple occasions, only to be told that there is no current existing composting service and neither will there be one in the near future. I asked the HOA if we could create a composting program in our community. I reached out to local farms, and despite having their own composting activity at their site, they could not welcome more composting from the public due to limited facilities. I read, called, spoke, to no avail. It was time to take matters into my own hands.

We currently live in a two-story loft with no land of our own. Research regarding composting generally led to the reminder that we are lacking garden space (see also: fruit and vegetable garden patch dreams). And while I’ve come across posts on how to compost in a plastic bin numerous times, I had my doubts. Yet, here I am. Desperate times, I suppose. Or rather, it’s about time I stopped wallowing and started doing.

As with any first-time experimental venture, I did “extensive research”, which really only entailed googling the words “at-home-compost” (or something to that effect) and reading the first few websites. Thankfully, a sweet girl that I had met at a local farm tour dedicated some time to walk me through the entire process and patiently answer my questions. She began the conversation with, “For many people, it is very difficult to get composting to work in an apartment space.” Challenge accepted.

I purchased a lidded plastic bin (the irony doesn’t escape me), with drill holes in the bottom of it that remains open to another tub that catches, who knows what. Dirt perhaps? Runaway worms?

Oh yeah. That’s the part I forgot avoided to mention. It’s a worm bin. I took some dirt from the aforesaid farm’s existing composting site at the lovely girl’s suggestion, in the hopes that I’d also gather some hidden worms in the process. To my dismay, they weren’t so hidden. To my other dismay, they also weren’t quite enough, which then required me to purchase worms from a farm supply store in Orange County. I picked up 300 Red Wiggler Worms, and the name itself gives me the goosebumps. I’m not the girliest of girls, but snakes and eels are my biggest fears, and worms and other legless things are close contenders. But they are enthusiastic eaters, eating their weight in waste per day, so I knew they had to be the ones. I walked away from the farm supply store holding a bucket of worms at arm’s length. That’s how determined I was, yet not so determined that I didn’t wait for my husband and roommate to get home before having THEM do the transferring of worms from one bucket to the other.


Before detailing how to fill the bin, may we dissociate from what can and cannot count as compostable materials? Two types of waste can enter the bin: green waste and brown waste. Green waste includes things like coffee grinds (aplenty at our residence), egg shells (a common by-product of a baker), and vegetable and fruit peels and scraps. It is imperative to point out that not all food waste can go into a composting bin. Meats, dairy products and oils are foods that one must avoid putting in the bin. Brown waste, on the other hand, involves things such as egg cartons, cardboard, paper, and dead leaves fallen from indoor and outdoor houseplants. It should go without saying that anything with a plastic film cannot be de-composted.

Setting up the bin is theroretically easy. It involves a layering process. The formula that I followed was a layer of brown waste at the bottom, followed by a layer of dirt from the farm. I then placed a layer of green waste, followed by Red Wiggler worms. After the worms, I added a layer of moist brown waste that covered the bin entirely and was at least 2-3 inches thick.

Subsequent additions to the compost bin require a layer of green waste, topped by 2-3 inches of brown waste. Since our bin has limited space for a household of three people, we maximize our layers by placing a bowl in the freezer to collect green waste over the course of a week. The freezer keeps the green waste from rotting until we add it to the bin. Junk mail and egg cartons as well as cardboard have been sufficient in providing the necessary brown waste, which we collect in an old shoe box in the garage.

Aforementioned research indicates that frequent turning of the soil will improve the de-composting process. We plan to turn the soil at least once a week, just before adding more green waste, using a trowel. For the brave, bare hands or a stick will do.

Airflow is equally important. By using brown waste that are a bit bulky (shredded newspapers and weirdly shaped egg cartons), we allow air flow to occur. We never mash down the brown waste when we add it. I have also read that too much of one thing will prevent a successful compost bin. You don’t want a bin dedicated entirely to coffee grinds. It’s helpful to add a variety of green waste, to provide a large array of nutrients to the soil.

So now the question to address is where to keep such a bin in a tiny home? Suggestions included underneath the sink, but the thought of flies and bugs and worms in the kitchen will prevent me from peaceful sleep. Another suggestion was outdoors, but since we only have a tiny balcony, we decided against it. Plus, I think outdoor bins may attract more bugs and flies than indoor bins. Eventually, we settled on the garage, in the hopes that people were honest in saying that composting does not result in flies or stray worms. Only time will tell.

Overall, the process to set up was easy. I think the hard part comes next. Just as learning to understand plant growth takes time and experience, so too will composting have a learning curve. Some cons include limited space in our bin, which may run out more quickly than in other households considering how we cook everything from scratch. Another downside is the need to spend money in order to get this set up. It isn’t expensive by any means, but it isn’t free either. Lastly, the need to purchase a bin of some sort irks me. Plastic seems to be the best material, but I haven’t calculated whether the composting process would offset this initial ‘investment’, if successful.

Updates coming your way soon.

For those in OC wondering where we got our bin, visit the ecology center in SJC.

Slow Living: Early Morning Routine

Early mornings speak to me, and always have. This isn’t to say that I have always been the first one up at the crack of dawn. That would be my sister. And admittedly, I have a history in my family of sleeping in when I can. But I am the person who is quick with getting up. Not in the rushed sort of way, but when my eyes flutter open and I wipe away the sleep, my energy levels are already almost at one hundred percent. There isn’t any need to roll around in bed, dawdle in the covers, pretend that it was still night time. And stepping outdoors in the wee hours when the sun has just peeked over the horizon to lend the few stray rays of light is probably one of my favorite feelings in the world. Granted, it’s California, and there’s no need to fight off a bone-shaking cold (most of the year, anyway), but there’s something about the way mornings smell that really attracts the soul. It smells fresh, and full of opportunity.


As of late, I’ve definitely honed in to a new early morning routine what with taking on the early morning baker’s shift at Rye Goods. Three days a week, I begin my days at one thirty in the morning, early enough for the late night party-goers in downtown Santa Ana to still be mingling back to their cars on their way home. Although the getting up is a bit rough, I set my alarm at the very last second so that there isn’t any other choice but to get up right away, and once I’m up, I’m going. My first few hours of the day entail baking off over one TWO hundred pastries and loaves with a fellow baker. This may seem like a fast-paced job, but there is a slowness to bread that only a baker will understand.

Our mission: to be finished with baking by five thirty in the morning so that the delivery crew can get these baked goods to local coffee shops in time for opening.

Our job: a smattering of duties that requires presence of mind, but at the same time, has become memorized by rote motions. The danishes get a dash of sugar, the cookies get sprinkled with sea salt, but oh, do remember that there are five minutes left for the pop-tarts before they start to turn too dark of a color. We have a timeline, but the baking can’t be rushed. The pastries will proof on their own time, the bread will take almost half an hour to rise, and you can’t cut the banana bread until it’s calm and cool.

At six in the morning, I leave the bakery smelling like bread, and you would think, tired from lifting trays of pastries, juggling sixteen lodge pans, and washing a ton of dishes. But in general, I walk out with a smile on my face to the sound of birds chirping as they wake to greet the morning sun. I see the lights inside neighbors’ homes, turned on as they prepare for a day of work. I catch a hint of the first few rays of morning light. Sometimes, I even finish my shift before the sun is ready to get up. I walk to my car with a sense of peace.

On these mornings that I bake bread, I come home to a cat, ready and begging for his breakfast, and a still sleeping husband who stirs when I walk up the stairs. I feed the cat, turn on the coffee machine in case it’s an espresso kind of day to allow it to heat up, and feed my starter. I’ll either do a smattering of movements around the kitchen, like put away last night’s dishes or organize a few things, or sometimes I’ll change out of my bakers clothes and sidle into bed for thirty minute rest before my husband wakes.

When he gets up for work, I usually get up, too. I prepare breakfast, pour coffee if needed, and write down a to-do list in my planner. We prepare our lunches (usually, baker days are my days off from dentistry), sit down for breakfast, and talk about what we have for the day or what we dreamt of at night while sipping from mugs of coffee. Occasionally, our roommate joins us as she prepares her lunch prior to heading off to work.

By eight thirty, they both leave for work, and I wash our dishes, pick up the the cat litter, clean around a bit while my energy is still high, and then when the house has quieted from the absence of both my husband and roommate, I lie down to make up for lost sleep and nap for a few hours.


On days when I am not a bread baker, I also practice slow mornings. After a good night’s sleep, I wake up around the same time that I would be getting home from my bread baking shift. If I am a bit sleepy, the cat is sure to let me know that it’s time to eat. I usually slip out of bed, and the first thing I do is pick up the glass of water by my bedside. I finish the left over water, which usually is full from when I’ve placed it there the night before, and walk to the kitchen counter while the cat runs and meows. I refill his kitty bowl, and when he’s busy eating, I refill my glass, and walk slowly back to bed. The cat will join us when he’s done.

It is at this time that I pick up the book that I had lain on the floor by my house slippers, and open it up to read. If I’m lucky, I’ll get thirty minutes before my husband wakes. Thirty minutes of reading is a habit that I started to require of myself this year. It’s a way to give myself that self-care. Thirty minutes is never enough.

By the time my husband is out of the shower, we repeat some of the same activities that we do on my days off. However, once the morning conversations and tidying up has ended and the house is all to myself once again (my dentistry shifts don’t usually start until 11am), I usually sit down on my yoga mat and do my daily hour of yoga in the first few hours of my day. (On baker days, I reserve yoga for the first few moments after I wake up from my morning nap). I don’t do yoga as a chore to be done, another check box to be addressed, another golden star next to my name. I do yoga to take stock. To notice how my body is feeling, to gauge how I should treat myself for the rest of the day. If there’s a soreness, then I need to be slower in my movements. If there’s a tension, then I need to be lighter in my mood. If there’s impatience, then it’s a day to practice grace. Once I’ve figured out what I need for the day, it begins.

I sit down at my computer and write. Not always for this blog. Sometimes for others, sometimes, only for myself. Sometimes I pick up a pen, and other times, I turn on the screen. Not always in paragraph form, sometimes I write short poems to share, mini-monologues for Instagram, lists of dreams for my planner. Sometimes, I even do the bland and write e-mails.

And therein lies another habit that I gift myself. First the reading, then the yoga, now the writing. All of these I try to do daily, and all of these I sneak into my morning routine. Notice that when you add bread to the mix, I essentially do everything that I love in during my first few waking hours. I set up my day not for success, as would be ideal for most people, but for a bit of happiness, a bit of calm, and a whole lot of life.

I make a huge effort to not pick up my phone in those first few hours. The phone used to be the first thing I touched when I opened my eyes. It’s the first thing people do, judging from how many people view my Instastories after an early morning baking shift. Don’t worry, I’ve been there too. But embracing slow-living means avoiding the fast-paced interruptions of social stories, advertisements, and overall digital consumption that goes hand-in-hand with a phone. In fact, since we’ve moved to this home (six months ago!), my phone has not rested at my bedside table, but rather, at a far-away-sill where one must get up with awareness to go and pick it up.

I also make an effort to not open my emails until I’ve done other things. I’m not ready to jump straight-away into doing what other people need from me. I want to have the time for myself, for my life. The e-mail requests can wait a few hours. My mind needs the reset.

Lastly, I like to avoid additional noise. My sister and brother love to turn on music in the mornings, especially during their morning shower. My husband loves to peruse reddit and watch videos once he can pry his eyes from sleep. My dad turns on the TV. I avoid all forms. I’m not exactly a music hater but for the past few years, I’ve really embraced the silence. Even my commute to work is quiet. I would occasionally listen to a podcast, but most days, I drive without distraction. I’d prefer to be without cacophony. So it makes sense that no music plays in the early mornings. The sounds you would hear would be the birds chirping, the cat meowing, the cars on their work commute driving by the window, the keyboard click-clacking, the coffee dripping, the sound of me crunching on a slice of toast, and maybe the computer humming.

It goes without saying that the early mornings are for me, and me alone. And that slow living requires not so much that you do things slow, or that you do less. Only Instagram would have you believing this is so. Slow living is really, at the root of it, about intentionality. And I live every morning with as much intention as I can muster. Only the most important things are allowed in those first few hours. It sets up the rest of your day for, maybe not success, but something much more important which is happiness.
Whatever happens to the rest of the day happens. But it’s nice to know that by 9am, you’ve already lived your very best.

More importantly, what about you guys? Morning routines to share?

The Practice of Hair Humility

Every two years, around this time, I chop off my hair. I have been doing this since I was in my early twenties. It’s an act against vanity, as well as a reminder to be gracious, giving, and humble.

When I was a really young girl, I was always asked the question, “What do you love most about yourself?” Not socially aware enough to say non-physical traits (I wish I was wise enough to say “my smarts!” or “my courage!”), I always answered with “My hair.” Mostly, it was socially learned. Adults would always croon over my hair, begging to braid it or comb it. They’d exclaim how long, straight, and glossy my hair looked, how well it behaved. No one ever wanted to croon over my smarts.

In middle school during my pre-teen years, I would wake up at 6 a.m. every day and curl my hair with a curling iron. I learned how to curl my hair at 12 years old. It would take me an hour or so, which wasn’t bad considering I had so much of it and I had not-so-nimble child-like hands. My hair is stick straight, so by the time I showered after school, I would have straight hair again and I couldn’t wait to re-curl my hair the next morning. Oh the joy of being young and having so much time on your hands! When I started high school, I always had my hair done up. I would check my hair during every break to make sure it still had volume, and would curse the weather (or the gods) whenever my hair fell short. I took pride in getting haircuts frequently, every month or so, and changing up my hairstyle often.

At some point, in high school, I read the book The Little Women. When I read of Jo sacrificially cutting off her long locks in order to buy medicine for ailing Mr. March, a chord struck. I started noticing advertisements of children with illnesses, adults with cancer, elderly people suffering from alopecia. I felt oddly sickened by my own behavior towards my hair, the way I prize it, revere it almost. In a way, I was made aware of my vanity, and knew that I wanted to live a different way.

So I chopped off my hair. I packaged it neatly and sent it in to Locks of Love. The first time I did this was in my late teens.

In my early twenties, I decided to start making it a habit. I would dutifully grow my hair to a long length, only to cut it again. Typically, it takes me two years, and the yearning to cut it falls somewhere around the New Year. Sometimes, I want to cut it or trim it when it’s in it’s awkward stages, but doing so slows down the re-growing process, so I resist. Sometimes, when it’s short, I want it to stay short, but I don’t allow myself the luxury. And sometimes, when it’s long and I am heading in for a haircut, a small part of me wishes I could keep it long for a while longer. But the urge doesn’t last.

Cutting my hair keeps me grounded, and it keeps me humble. Additionally, it simplifies my life. I generally know when to cut my hair, and when to grow it. When I do cut it, the options are limited. Most times, the minimum required length determines the hairstyle I receive. I usually don’t care too much about it. I try to remember that hair is just hair and it will grow back. The act of cutting my hair reminds me to care more about who I am and how I treat others than about how I look. It’s an extreme form of intentional action. I am grateful for the gift of hair, but am even more grateful that I am able gift it and let it go. It’s all just another part of creating a lifestyle by design.

Beginning with the End

We all think that with the holidays ending, there’s going to be an opportunity for slow. A blank canvas for mindfulness. A time for new beginnings, ready to leave the hectic, rushed and busy season behind.

Instead we find ourselves diving headfirst into the list-making. Maybe not for gift-giving for others this time around, but rather, gift-giving for ourselves. For the life we want to lead. We drive to the car wash, rush to the hair salon, hit the yoga mats. New year, new me. Old rhythm.

Here’s the thing. Beginning with the beginning is the same as beginning the way we always have. We have new hopes for a bright future, but our tendencies keep us from making any real change. Some New Year’s advice? Go backwards. Beginning with the end changes everything.

If you interview anyone who ever experienced a tragic event, an untimely death, a natural disaster, they will likely begin their story in much the same way.

“It started like any other day.”

That single sentence alone tells us all that we need to know. It tells us of the ordinariness of events. It tells of the human tendency to take daily occurrence for granted. It tells of a mortality that easily escapes us. And it tells of the unexpected end.

This year, I implore you to begin at the end.

Right before we began our married lives, a few months before we embarked on our journey to freedom, we invested in our finances. The value of having a CFP such as Andrew could not be over-emphasized. The most important thing Andrew did for us had nothing to do with money. The first exercise we did together involved sitting down at a turquoise green dining table that I scrounged from a consignment store five years earlier and beginning with the end.

In lieu of marriage counseling, we were talked about our deaths.

We were asked the difficult questions. “If you would fall ill, and knew you were to die in a year, what would you like to do with your remaining time on Earth?”

If it were only a month?
If you were to die tomorrow?
If you died right this second, what would be your biggest regrets?

Not quite the easiest questions to answer on the spot! I would recommend some serious mulling over, because these are questions worth answering.

This is why our journey is not just about numbers and money. This is why we focus on experiences over material goods. This is why the community we’ve built is more important than the accolades we’ve racked up. This is why the things we own must be only that which we love and nothing more, and the things that we buy must do good for others and for the planet.

Because if you ask people about their death, you will see that the life they wanted to have led does not line up with the way they are currently living.

They may say they want financial freedom, but refuse to manage a budget. They may say they want to lose weight, but refuse to go to the gym every day or alter what they eat. They might say they want to travel the world, but tie themselves to a 9-5 that only gives 2 weeks of vacation a year. They might say they want to focus on family, but focus on material goods instead, thus taking them away from their homes and forcing them to work for said goods. They may say they want to pursue a passion, but never invest, never take that leap.

I say, I want to live an intentional live.
I say, we aren’t promised tomorrow.
I say, it was never about us, for we are transient beings. It’s about what we leave behind.
I say, if you want to write real resolutions, you begin with the ending.

A practice that I encourage people to do is to write their own eulogy. If you were to die, how do you want people to remember you? What do you want people to say? Limit it to four sentences. Ideally, revisiting it once a year would be great. And then ask yourself, is what I am doing today reflecting what I want people to say?

I guarantee you that you will see your resolutions change.

Slow Living: Slow Dating Advice in a Fast Paced World

I am the first to say that I am entirely unqualified to be giving this advice. I have not been remotely near the dating scene since before dating apps were created. I met my husband in our college days, when it was still common (and easy) for you to meet a significant other at a party or a social gathering amongst your group of friends. It was a time in our lives when we still felt the presence of a local community, which commonly vanishes as younger generations age and pursue careers and passions that take them away from a core group. I am not qualified because, frankly, I have never swiped right.

Yet a surprisingly large number of people are inquiring about this particular topic, seeking sage advice. They ask how to be frugal and still date. They ask how to practice slow living while developing relationships. They ask how to pursue financial independence and not be weighed down by a partner’s habits. While I cannot guarantee you that I can fit the bill in answering all of these questions, I do have a few thoughts as to how would approach the scene today, as a person seeking slow-living, frugality, and financial independence.

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Where to begin? I guess I should start by saying that there is a difference between people who date so as not to be single, and people who date with the intention of finding a significant other. I am assuming that those people who are dating so as to not be single are not the ones writing to me for advice. I am speaking of a long-term relationship built on the intention of creating a deeper understanding of another human being. Here I will be discussing my thoughts on a number of different topics.

On Apps

It’s a fast-paced world. Our lives are muddled by obligations such as work, family, school, social events, social media, et cetera. Who has the time to sit down and actually get to know anyone anymore? Who has the time to be present and to simply observe, without feeling the need to make a move? Not many, I presume. Enter dating apps. The faster way to find your next life partner, amongst the millions of potential people.

The apps themselves try to speed up a process that is meant to be slow. You have two seconds to make a first impression on someone before they choose the direction in which to swipe. In come cases, that impression is based on something entirely physical, such as the photo you choose to share. I am not saying physicality has nothing to do with dating (it DEFINITELY plays a role), but the decisions being made are sometimes based on the physical aspect alone, which is hardly a strong foundation to build upon.

In other cases, the apps act like a filter. You read through a resume, like you would at work. You choose a person that seems to fit the bill. But even that isn’t enough. Despite the fact that you have similar hobbies, interests, or backgrounds, there are so many other complex parts of a human being that cannot be written in a resume. Some of which you need to discover on your own, in due time. Who knows how they will react to a certain situation that isn’t going to come up until a few years down the road? You may both love music, but one might need a larger amount of personal space than another.

Off course, it isn’t realistic of me to say that everyone should do away with the apps. I met Mr. Debtist in an environment that was very conducive to meeting new people wheras today, our lives are less conducive to seeing new faces. The problem is that as we become more focused on work and making money, on being self-absorbed in social media, on independence rather than community… we as a society are getting further away from any real human interaction. Here’s what I would have to say about dating apps.

If it were me, I would do away with apps. Instead, I would revert back to the olden way of doing things. Get out there, and truly socialize, not to meet people, but for yourself! Do things that interest you. Volunteer at events that you believe in. When someone invites you out with their friends, don’t deny them just because you won’t know anyone and would feel awkward. Be comfortable with putting yourself out there. Return back to being a social human being who thrives off of social interaction. What this does is it forces you to surround yourself with PEOPLE. Maybe like-minded people who you can easily connect to at a volunteer event. Maybe non-like-minded people who inspire you to look at the world in a new way at a friend’s gathering. Additionally, don’t approach meeting people like you would a job opportunity. Don’t talk about yourself and who you are and what you’ve accomplished. Don’t ask about their job. Talk about what fuels you. Listen to what fuels them. Discuss ideas, not people or things. Ask questions. Actually…  ask plenty of questions, even the hard ones. We used to know how to open doors by asking questions as children, and we need to learn it again as adults.

On Frugal First Dates

There is an easy way to plan a first date. You take a pre-formed concept romanticized by media such as movies or music videos and you do exactly that. In fact, that’s what most people do. They meet up for coffee, or go to dinner, in the hopes of interviewing their way to knowing you. Some get more extravagant and include activities such as watching a movie or taking a cooking class. None of these ideas are frugal, especially when you expound it over multiple first dates.

Figuring out a frugal first date is hard. Most people do not feel comfortable inviting a stranger into their homes, so free activities such as cooking dinner or Netflix and chill isn’t exactly the best first date idea. And when I suggested to early twenty somethings to do what Mike and I did, which was to invite them out to a gathering with your already existing friends, they cringed at the thought. That’s how dehumanized we’ve become. Social interaction with your friends?! How intimidating! (See what I did there?)

Well here’s a thought. Get to know them before going on a first date. Seriously! Talk to them. Ask questions. See what they like to do. Figure out if there is a common ground, and then find a great way to start with that, instead of just plugging them into the automatic coffee date spot that you’ve taken everyone else. Mike and I talked for hours every night on AIM, which ages us I know. It took us five months of getting to know each other before deciding to date. Once you find a common ground, create an activity out of it. For example, did you both used to play soccer? Meet up at a park and practice. Do you both own pets? Take your dogs to the beach or a dog park. Go on a dog walk. A twenty minute dog walk gets the chore done and allows you time to chat. It shows you how you care for your pets.

Here is a short list of free frugal first dates, if you still don’t have a clue.

  • Go on a hike or take a bike ride.
  • Bonfire at the beach.
  • Find a free summer concert in the park.
  • Find an outdoor movie screening.
  • Check out a local farmer’s market. get to know the vendors, and try samples.
  • Volunteer together.
  • Wander art galleries (preferably on art walk, when they are free).
  • Walk or Visit dogs at the shelter.
  • Play a boardgame at the park (actually finish a Monopoly game!).
  • Build sandcastles at the beach.

Lastly, just do ANYTHING. Stop thinking so hard. Dates are highly romanticized acts. If it gets too complicated, you’re already taking away from any real connection. Is it bad advice to say, just meet up and talk? Why do younger gens writhe at the thought of inviting potential prospects to an already existing event, with family or friends? Mr. Debtist and I skipped all the superficiality and honestly, I think that’s why it worked out so well.

On Pursuing Financial Independence

So you pursue financial independence. How, then, to bring that up without frightening away any prospects. It’s hard enough bringing up the subject over happy hour with your closest friend, favorite cocktail in hand. Harder still when you’ve got to let someone know of your plans, if ever they want to be a part of it. Here’s what I got to say.

I do agree that your new potential significant other should know fairly early on your values, your goals, and your dream future. To withhold that from them would be unfair. But do so with your actions, rather than your words.

If you somehow meet a spend-thrift, don’t immediately assume that they can’t be the one. I am the first to say that I was a frivolous consumer, and had the IQ of a rock when it came to finance. But I changed too, over time. I changed as I spent more time with Mr. Debtist, who is the frugal OG, and I started to see the benefits of a financially independent lifestyle. You can have conversations about what you can both work on, but please keep the expectations at a minimum. Because the truth is, people won’t change for you. And should they have to? Rather, people change for themselves. They have to want financial independence, too, on their own terms. And if they don’t, then yeah it may make it harder for you or it may take you a few more years than you originally planned, but perhaps it’s worth it. As I say time and again, it isn’t all about the money.

Now, let’s say you are the stubborn type. You want to have financial independence gosh darn it, if it kills you. Okay, fine fine. There is a way, but it requires you to know your significant other really well. If you want to have them on board, you need to stop thinking and talking about yourself. You may want financial independence because you hate your job or want to pursue a different passion. But that’s not going to get your significant other to magically also want to quit work forever. Like I said, people change for themselves. You need to do some serious brainstorming and think of what your partner wants more than anything. Is it to be a stay-at-home-parent? Is it to travel the world? To work pro-bono in a third world country? Whatever it is, you need to convince them that financial independence can help get them there (because it can!). Andddd you need patience. Sorry, but it’s true! It isn’t going to happen overnight.

My most sage advice? Ultimately, it does not matter if they ever become a frugal weirdo or a financial freak. What matters most is that they are willing to compromise and to be supportive. That’s really all I have to say. It seems too simple to be true, but in my life, most things just are.