An Early Morning Baker’s Shift

I’m no longer what the patisserie world would consider an early morning baker, even though to the rest of the world, I qualify simply because I rise at an earlier hour to bake. But I have been meaning to share my experience as an early morning baker for a while, if only to reminisce on what I remember as some of the best mornings of my life.

I was working for RyeGoods back when they were slinging bread in a garage-turned-commercial-kitchen behind a blue house with an orange tree located at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac. We were a band of misfits in the most positive sense – dreamers creating magic. Headed by a pastry chef who disliked sugary treats and a carpenter who built out everything we worked on, the crew was made up of a business major who decided to quit paper to help his sister fulfill her dream, a surgeon’s son who fell in love with bread at a pizza restaurant, a chef who was interested in the mission of the bakery, two ladies who were also doing their own cottage food endeavors, and myself, a dentist who wanted “something more” in life. To be honest, I was probably the less fitted to the band of misfits – a straight-edge with neither tattoos nor insight into sports or pop-culture, and no formal training in the restaurant industry. I was there because I bake sourdough bread at home. But even misfits have families, and this place felt like home. We came together under that roof called upon by a shared love of what we do and a belief in the mission – make healthy, delicious REAL artisan bread using traditional methods while supporting local farmers preserving ancient heritage grain.

My shift began at 2 am in the morning, and I worked three days a week. My alarm was set at 1:40 am, in order to get the most out of my sleep. On weekends, it was around the time the bars outside my window would close. While others went home to sleep, I left home to start my day. Theo, my cat, would clamber into the warm spot that I’ve just vacated, as if to say, “I’ll guard this until you return.” By the time I’ve slipped on my baker outfit (an old pair of jeans, a New Zealand hat, and a Krochet Kids tee), he’s already drifted back to sleep. I’d hop into my car and drive the ten minutes to our bakery, avoiding indecisive rabbits and sleepy eyelids. I would park in front of the fenced yard where the orange tree sits, and walked down the long driveway surrounded by mist, past our delivery truck and into the beloved garage.

The shift consisted of myself and the surgeon’s son. Since I am always late, he’d have switched on all three ovens and loaded two of them with sixteen lodge pans. It won’t stay cold here for long.

We remove pre-shaped pastries from the fridge – sleeping babies awaiting us to give them life. All goods made with croissant dough are placed in the proofer to rise. The others await the pre-heating ovens on a baker’s rack. These first few moments are the slowest, giving our bodies time to wake. He usually checks the bread bake for the day as I pull out the banana bread loaf pans. Once loaded into the ovens, I return to mix vegan loaves. It takes about fifteen minutes. Divvied up into their pans, they join their bread counterparts in the ovens and are forgotten about for the next fifty minutes.

Next on my list of tasks is the assembling of pop tarts. Flour the surface, sandwich jam between dough sheets, and crimp with a fork. This repetitive movement was very calming to me, along with the background noise of clanging combo-cookers, a signal that the first batch sourdoughs were being scored and loaded.

The clock hands move slightly faster.

Occasionally, one of us will ask a question about bread, share some insight, or talk about a recent experience outside of the bread world. But most times, we worked in silent understanding of the roles that we’ve fallen into. We were both working 60-something hour weeks, having picked up midnight shifts like a pair of crazies, for the love of bread. For those four months, our thirty minute conversations qualified him as my only friend. We started work the same week, “the last of the OG’s” as the carpenter would say, and leaving the system we’ve made was the hardest part.

At around this time, we begin juggling roles. Whoever was free checked the state of the croissants. When they were ready, we shuffled around each other, egg washing, sugaring treats, loading pastries, all while eyeing timers. When a timer would go off, we just needed to look at each other to know which of us was leaving to check the ovens.

At 4 am, one of us feeds the starter and mixes the levain. The other holds the fort.

There’s still the cookies to be squashed, icing to be made, lavender sugar to be sprinkled on blueberry scones, and more loaves to be pulled out of the fridge. If we could sacrifice an oven for a larger bread production, we would, but often times, pastries were a priority as it neared delivery time. Our brains are calculating minutes as our muscles mechanically move in routine rhythms.

At this time, an occasional step outside may be necessary, as the tiny garage has turned into an oven itself. The pastries fill the space with that familiar scent of a grandmother’s kitchen. The outside air in February is the perfect contrast to the passion we had for dough. We stripped sweaters and wiped sweat from our brows. But we can’t stay away from the ovens for long.

Croissants that have cooled need to be twice-baked with almond filling, pop-tarts need to be iced, and cookies need sprinkling with maldon sea salt. Meanwhile, the banana and vegan loaves require slicing. I’ve honed in on the ability to slice them into equal portions using my two finger’s width to measure. We send the end pieces out for the baristas to enjoy. Whoever was free can bag the bread loaves and load them into the truck. We had worked out the system where pastries would be ready and the area clean so that once our delivery guy walks in, he would be able to box and prep efficiently. But on some days when the bakes were heavy, the arrival of the delivery guy will indicate our need to double our speed.

Throughout all this, we’ve tried to keep up with the piling dishes during whatever down time we had. We knew it was a good day when the dishes were low once the packaging and delivery crew arrived.

Sundays, though, were my favorite. Sundays were bagel days. We would rush to get everything done and out of the way to make time for bagel prep. Standing side by side shaping bagels in silence was something I think we both relished. It was the part where everything slowed down, and when I felt like I was really in my element. As much as I liked pastries, bread was really my calling, and that translated when I started my own bakery. Pastries were oh-kay, and I somehow landed the job of pastry prep along the way, but shaping bread was where everything lined up. After letting the dough rest, we would poke holes with our thumbs and spin them around thrice to enlarge the dough to the correct size. We set them on floured trays and once they were all prepped, we would take each tray into the back part of the house where a pot of boiling water sat on the stove. It was here, in the dim morning light, that the idea of Aero Bakery was born. As we were leisurely boiling bagels (six at a time because that was the biggest pot we had), we talked about how Rye Goods started, and I learned of cottage food operations. We were dreamers, after all, and my dream was born here. I remember everything about that back house. The way the darkness slowly faded away, the creak of the wooden floorboards, the direct view you had from the kitchen window into to bustling garage. I can still smell the mist and the bread, the morning fog and the stove top heat. Nothing made more sense in my life than those few moments of peace.

I left earlier than the other guys, committing to work only until 6 am. Before leaving, I loaded as much as I can into the trucks. We wanted the delivery guys to be out around this time, too.  I grabbed my sweater, waved goodbye to my fellows, and would slip into the morning dawn. Birds are chirping, the sun is rising over the palm trees, and there was bread in hand (when there were extra). My whole body is warm and humming, just like the ovens. My skin is crackling, just like bread cooling on a rack. My brain is light, like a bird’s feather, floating free.

I joined the “early birds” on the freeway heading to work before the traffic starts. I enter my home to a meowing cat, ready for food. Sometimes, my husband and roommate are already in their respective showers. I clamber into bed and wait for breakfast, when I turn on the kettle to make a cup of coffee.

When I quit, I told myself I will never put my body through a sleep schedule like that again. I also know that I will never feel that alive, unless I do.

Frugal Challenge: Practice Minimalism

In my life (as it is now), minimalism came first. By practicing minimalism, everything good in my life fell into place, financial clarity being one of them. Every time I choose a life of less stuff, I enforce a habit of not relying on external stimuli to make me feel whole. I am also deconstructing a fallacy that we were taught from birth, one that says we can buy our way to happiness. Minimalism is, after-all, a modern by-product of Zen teachings on how happiness resides within ourselves and the worlds our minds create. Any external stimuli only prevents us from tapping into our inner state of calm or peace by acting as a distraction from true happiness. Without the material things to distract me, I am able to focus on the more important (non-material things) in my life, such as paying down $575k in student debt! I can confidently say that I would not have been as successful with finding frugality and working towards financial independence without first practicing the art of saying Goodbye, Things.

My frugal challenge for the month of October is to start practicing minimalism. After all, it goes hand-in-hand with frugality. Practicing minimalism can cut down costs in many ways. Here are a few!

  • LESS SHOPPING, ERGO LESS SPENDING: After you’ve de-cluttered a lot of your items, you will naturally develop a hesitancy with buying something again (unless it’s something you realized you really need or want). The de-cluttering process, when done right, is a tedious process for the average American because of how much stuff we tend to accumulate. I guarantee that once you’ve really pared down, buying things is not as attractive as it once was, which means you will spend less money on shopping.
  • LESS STUFF MEANS LESS LIVING SPACE: Having less things allow for a smaller home, which usually leads to cheaper rent! Many minimalists find that once they are freed from the burden of material objects, they are suddenly free to live alternative lifestyles, such as pursuing the small space movement! Housing is one of the largest expenses in most people’s budget, so reducing the cost of housing will greatly catapult your path towards financial freedom.
  • LESS UNNECESSARY SPENDING FOR REPAIRS AND REPLACEMENT. Minimalism is a lesson in being grateful for the things we already have. Because minimalists surround themselves with only their most beloved things, they are more likely to preserve, mend, and fix a broken thing than they are to throw it away and replace it. They aren’t going to buy things for convenience sake and they are more invested in maintenance. Because of this, they save more money.
  • LESS KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES’S: Minimalists do not participate in keeping up with the Jones’s. In fact, they think the Jones’s are making a dying, rather than making a living. And minimalists prefer to live life rather than work themselves to death in order to buy material goods. And since minimalists do not participate in upward social comparisons, they are not as easily influenced or frequently bombarded by and with advertisements. They aren’t called upon to be consumers. And if they are, the calling is easily ignored. Overall, they don’t spend money in order to keep an appearance. Minimalists save their dollars, preferring to build wealth rather than build social status.
  • LESS STRESS RELIEF BINGES. When we are stressed, we tend to spend in order to make ourselves feel better. We want to take a vacation to run away from stressful work. We go out to drink during happy hour after a difficult 8-5. We binge on food and eat our misery away. We even have retail therapy. A practice in minimalism leads to more space physically, emotionally, and mentally. Minimalism reduces stress by reducing the external stimuli in our environments. With all this Zen, there is less cost dedicated to stress relief practices.
  • NO EXPENSIVE FRIVOLOUS EVENTS. Minimalists do not want to celebrate big life events with lavish parties, nor do they want to receive a tower of gifts. What will they do with all of this stuff? I may be speaking for myself, but my ideal celebration involves people and homemade food in a warm setting. I like gatherings in small spaces because you can feel the presence of others and there’s no nooks and crannies to hide in and stare lovingly into your phone. A good example of this was our wedding. We got married in an empty warehouse and the decor was handmade. My father tied gold streamers onto a string, and I made a backdrop for the photobooth area. My aunt collected wild flowers and put them in vases, and Mike’s grandmother made cookies and her famous magic bars. Our friends provided local beer for the reception as their wedding gift. We hired a taco truck and had donuts for desert. I’d imagine the same would go for children’s parties, funerals, graduation, & c. No frivolous events means no expensive events!

These are just a few ways that minimalism can help build a frugal lifestyle. The truth is, minimalism goes a step further than frugality. When I became a minimalist, I reduced the distractions in my life. I honed in on who I was and what made me happy. Because of this recently tapped in energy, I performed better at work and increased my income. I then found a few interests that became side hustles (writing being one of them). This further allowed me to make more money. And as I became happier, I also became less dependent on buying my way to happiness. My work made me happy, and I funneled even more time into my passions. And so the cycle snowballed, and slowly, our debt repayment changed from 25 years to 10 years to 9 year, to 7 years, to hopefully less than 6 years! All because I got rid of my things.

As all minimalists argue, if minimalism involves shedding physical burdens in the form of material possessions in order to be liberated to live the life that really matters, why isn’t is called maximalism? Frugal maximalism.

FREEDOM: Getting Out of a Rut

Alright, I’ll admit it. I’ve been in a rut. It took a long time to recognize it (too long!), but it is quite obvious to me that I’ve made a false start. I began this year with the intention of writing a course. It’s September and it’s 80% written but yet to be published. Meanwhile, it’s been slowly eating away at my bank account as I use a program that is useless without the course itself. Not only is it nibbling away at my account, but also at my inner peace. My mind is always thinking about the course. More accurately, I am always reminding myself that it has yet to be finished. Something is always nagging me, competing for attention space. I’m split spiritually, trying to go in two directions as half-ghosts of myself struggle in confusion.

The course is on budgeting. I wanted to write it to help people get out of their debt, much in the same way my CFP helped us get out of mine. But since deciding on helping people with this, my world was drastically changed, by BREAD no less! My focus is no longer on teaching people finance in a virtual space but on creating a local community around bread in my physical space. And still, I didn’t abandon the course.

I was essentially in denial. I made excuses such as, “I’ll work on it eventually”, “It’ll be worth my time”, and “People need me”. In all my self-glorification, I was disillusioned into thinking people’s budgets were in my hands. I’ve started to learn lately that that’s a big flaw of my Enneagram type 1 personality (more on that later, perhaps). After I got over myself, I finally realized what this course was:

  • A good idea, AT THE TIME. But the times have changed.
  • A self-glorified belief in my ability to help people and “set things right”.
  • A long withdrawn denial that this isn’t working out.
  • A hindrance to my advancement with what’s really interesting to me now – this bakery.
  • Unhelpful to me, unhelpful to anybody.

At times like these, we need to be brutally honest. I had to metaphorically stare myself down and say, “This is not YOU”.

There are three steps to getting out of a rut. The first is to see the rut. I see my bank account. I see my half-finished write-up. I feel nothing towards this course. The fire has gone out, which tells me it’s time to move on. Next, is to admit I’m in a rut. Which is why I am here. Forget all the assumptions I made about how beneficial this course will be. It’s just not happening. And thirdly, get out of the rut. The hard part. After spending hours of my days writing what must be a mini-novel on budgeting, I need to just abandon ship in order to save myself and get me moving again.

Here are a few ways to get out of a rut.

  • Make a list of new ideas. Brainstorm what can be done with one thing – see where it takes you.
  • Change your environment. Take a walk, get outside, go to a coffee shop. Sometimes we’re in a rut because too much is familiar and inspiration just can’t strike.
  • Challenge assumptions. Figure out why you can’t keep going, or why you are holding on. Challenge those reasons.
  • Just DO, as in DO ANYTHING.

The beauty of a creative life is that the path is never straight. It’s never carved out for you. It’s scary and confusing and downright dangerous. It’s hard work and frustrating and unclear. What it is not, however, is torture. In this experience, I am reminded of something my mom used to say. “We only torture ourselves.” You will know when you’re in a rut. You may also resist, at first, like I did. But eventually, there will be no hiding, and we have to be good at letting go.

We need to believe that part of the creative life means your work doesn’t depend on the first idea, but rather, the LAST. I see now that my new idea is being a baker. I see that my preconceived notion of writing a course limits my pursuit of bread-baking. A creative life will end if I cling to the first idea. My advice, always run with the last.

 

Intentional Living: A Separate Peace Space

Growing up, I thought working from home would be a dream. However, I craved it not unaware of its demons, too. When I was fifteen years old, my father who had always worked in a small cubicle as a sales engineer began working from home. Some benefits of this change included nixing the daily commute, always having a pitcher of brewed coffee at arm’s reach, having access to isolation or silence when needed, avoiding work drama, and having a flexible schedule that made him available when we kids needed him. Ironically, its shortcomings also include having a fridge full of food at arm’s reach, having family drama, and always needing to be available once the kids got home from school. I watched him struggle between sitting down to get a block of work done and getting up to complete a list of chores before my mom got home. I saw him cringe every time the dog barked as one of us strolled through the door while he was taking a conference call. He prepped breakfast and lunches in the morning between emails, spilled coffee around his work laptop, and took breaks a few too many times walking the dog and turning on the TV.

So here I am, fifteen years later, double the age I was then (GULP!), following in my father’s footsteps. When I’m not at my dental office taking care of teeth, I am working from home as a writer for this blog and other blogs, and an at-home baker for a bakery that I dreamt up out of nothing. Sometimes, my writing gets interrupted by a mid-morning snack, while other times I feel the need to complete household chores in between bread turns. I am going through similar difficulties with creating a healthy work environment at home as my father before me.

Of course, the situation looks much different for a person without kids. I can find silence easier, have more isolation, am without the family drama, and have a flexible schedule. It helps that one of my days off lands on a weekday while the other members of our household are out of the home, giving me full reign over my own space. Yet it still takes a certain level of discipline to resist the calling of a sink full of dirty dishes, the running of a vaccuum, or the organizing of an entire home … a discipline which is not as strong as I would like for it to be. It requires a delicate balance for switching on and switching off. For the sake of productivity, it is important (for me) to follow a set number of guidelines that create a division between my work environment and my home environment, the most important of which I suggest here. A separate space, for a separate peace.

Create A Designated Work Zone

The best part about going to work is the fact that the environment you enter is strictly professional. You dress professionally, act professionally, and speak professionally. At home, however, you are dressed in your sweats, you act as if no one is watching, and you mutter curses under your breath. When your work zone consists of a bed or a couch rather than a designated desk, the productivity greatly decreases lest you feel too comfortable in the sheets or fall asleep amongst the pillows. And just as we isolate ourselves to a place of work when we commute, it is equally important to isolate our work to a designated space when we don’t. The physical boundaries between work and home are imperative. My father struggled because his work desk was at our dining table, where us kids always gathered to eat, do homework, and watch TV. He set his laptop in the middle of our home to be more involved with family life, not realizing how much it disrupted professional life. I am lucky in that the distractions are much less when I type from the edge of a dining table. A table itself is my designated space. Whether it be at the edge of the dining table, at my husband’s unoccupied gaming desk, or on the table on our patio, the designation itself lies in the physical object. When it comes to baking, it is even easier since I must work within the confines of my kitchen.

Keep a Tidy Space

The habits that make up a creative space certainly includes tidyness. Keeping a tidy space helps with clearing the mind. The less the mind has to process, the less it is distracted, and the more open it is to insight, imagination, and order – all ingredients to productive creativity. This is part of the reason why I keep bare walls in my home. Since it is also my work space, I need it to be conducive to work. The same goes for when I bake. I need to first put away everything in the kitchen that does not involve baking. I cannot bake for the bakery and cook my own meals at the same time. Once dishes are used for the bakery, I have to wash them right away, which is unlike my methods when I cook for myself. Tidyness is a bigger key to a successful at-home work environments than most people think.

Be Near the Light

When I listed my three favorite places to write, I listed the three areas in our home closest to natural light. It has been said that light positively affects our mood and productivity due to our intrinsic, age-long connection with its presence and however apocryphal that may be, I would agree that when it comes to creative work, this is especially true and applicable to me. When it’s dark and gloomy, my mind tends to cloud over too. I lose the heat that makes my joints want to move. When there’s light, I feel motivated and inspired. So I set myself up for success each time. I choose work spaces that feed my creative soul. I position myself wherever there is the most sun, pull back the blinds, pull aside the windows, and shun the dark. And then, I begin.

Respect Timelines

This is by far the best advice when it comes to setting a boundary between work and play. It is also the most difficult boundary to achieve. A certain level of resilience is required in order to successfully switch on and off between tasks. I’m the first to admit that I fail sometimes. It’s so easy to think of something to write about and to ignore the time set aside for reading a book before bed in order to chase that thought. It is easy to all of a sudden accept a bakery order because you are at home anyway, technically available to bake, even if it means sacrificing your personal time. I’ve cancelled staycation plans, plans to watch a movie at home with my husband, coffee dates with colleagues, all because something came up “at work”. But working at home means that you DO have the final say. You ARE in control. Until you ignore all timelines, and then you are not. Something that I have learned but have still yet to master. My suggestion? Be intentional with your timeline rules. Be strict and treat yourself as both an employee and a boss by holding yourself accountable. Learn how to say no. Learn how to switch off. It takes great will power to create mental barriers, but create them we must, or else we may fail to create at all.

How about you guys? I would love to hear of ways in which you create a boundary between work and play. Feel free to comment below!

Recent Reads: The Creative Habit

Twyla Tharp’s guide to The Creative Habit has got me analyzing everything about the way I process the world and my art. The book details steps in which we can unravel our creative intricacies and understand the ways in which we work best. It also provides exercises that hope to unlock even more of our potential, as well as unnerve some of our fears. Below, I discuss some of my most recent thoughts as to how I live a creative life under the guidance of well-formed habits, and I study my own battle between being an artist and honing in that artistic quality into something more productive.


My whole life, I’ve struggled with choosing between following good habits for structured creativity and the transience of going with the flow. I  lean towards following the former although my natural tendency is the latter. The dichotomy is what makes my life so productive and my art good but internally, it’s chaos.

It is now obvious to me that I was born with a creative soul to a mother who preferred a rigid structure. Growing up, I must have not been very good with a linear way  of thinking, which explains why so much of my mother’s energy was spent on teaching me focus. My sister, to whom all subjects came naturally,  was allowed to run more wild as reward for finishing her tasks efficiently. I was the child who was not allowed to get up from my chair until my work was done (and re-done) to standard, until all the food was eaten from my plate, until all the boxes were checked off of the list. My daydreaming always got the better of me, and I would watch my sister run off to play while I soured in acknowledging that it was my own darn fault  for letting my imagination take the best of my precious time. My observant mother saw that my tendency to dawdle and dwell would hinder my ability to get anything done. At a very young age, she taught me some of my best habits for a productive life.

  • Sit down and focus.
  • Mute all distractions.
  • Create a plan at the very beginning of your day.
  • Make a strict timeline for all tasks.
  • Aim for improving your efficiency.
  • Figure out your weaknesses, and tackle those first.
  • Do one thing at a time.
  • Record every step.
  • Re-assess (for improvement, always).

Eventually, I learned how to follow the lines, I learned how to ignore all distractions, and I learned to reject play. I was taught that if I just focused hard enough, I could finish sooner and would therefore have more time to do what I wanted. Ironically, once I developed these habits and became efficient, what I wanted to do started to embody exactly what I have been doing to be free. In other words, I spent my free time following the steps I was taught, making plans and listing improvements, and it was my sister who ended up having bad focus and less discipline (she’s still efficient though!).

Yet I see that structure is not my most natural way of unfolding. It’s evidenced by the fact that I am always late (to work, social obligations, class, et cetera). I tend to want to do things sporadically, out of order, based on emotion – so it’s great that my mother taught me how to prioritize and make lists, otherwise I would never even make it to work. Real work to me is not a job. It is the work inside of me. I see it in the tornado I leave behind on my days off when creativity strikes. I hear it when my excitability gets the best of me and my conversations jump from thought to thought. Sometimes it drives my husband bonkers, because I’ve asked seven questions before he can even get a word in. Structure is no good to me and I don’t like people telling me what to do or having society define my life. I know this is true when my math always requires a paper and pen. Don’t get me wrong, I was the best at it when I did it, but without every step written out, numbers got lost and left behind unlike words which I could always keep track of even if they’re left floating in my head, even when the sentence runs on and on. Most of all, I know it is so when I explain emotion with color, when I feel a connection with dough, when I empathize with a wilting flower or a forgotten pen.

Because of this dichotomy, I am constantly at war with myself. I wish to write, but I have a million ideas. I’ll want to pull out pen and paper, type on my phone, grab my camera, pull up social media, and soon enough, I’ve got a “text cursor” blinking forgotten and every art supply laid on my desk because somehow what I was typing about gave me an idea that I jotted down on paper which reminded me to take note of it on my phone but upon getting up to grab my phone from the sill I saw something that I wanted to photograph and put up on social media where the first image on my feed called for inspiration to pull out a pencil and draw. Such is life.

Or, I’ll pick up a book to relax but read a line that touched me enough to draw my head up to ponder and then see a bird outside my window that reminded me of a time when we were in New Zealand which made me feel like being an expat and now I am drafting a new plan to make my loans paid off faster to pursue the expat life – and how can I get my baking gig to take off to supplement this dream? And so you see the way my heart works.

Now imagine my mind trying to wrangle all that in. I pull myself from my drawing to relocate myself to my desk where the blinking cursor awaits. But now there’s a mess on the kitchen table and I cannot focus so I get up to clean the mess so that I get rid of the distraction even though the getting rid of  distraction is distraction itself. I make a strict timeline for the writing to be done but because of all the creative interruptions, I am missing my marks. And because of all the structure, I am impeding my creative flow. So I try to chase my thoughts but it hinders efficiency thus in order to be efficient I force myself to do one thing at a time. Somehow between all this warring, some things get done. It’s a crazy back-and-forth process, but I do believe that this defines efficiency for a creative life.

I know people who are creative at their core, but unproductive in the real world. I know of people who have brilliant ideas, but also brilliant fear – without the structure to dismantle that fear. I know people who get bogged down by emotion but cannot find a release. It’s a shame when that energy burns a person from the inside. And so it goes that a creative person will not create without having the habit of creating, which is, simply put, good habits.

And after that stressful narrative of the inner workings of my mind and soul, I find comfort in knowing that somehow, I’ve got it right. The balance, which off course runs differently for each person. If you’ve got some creative juice in need of direction, I would highly suggest reading this book. It has a gold mine of thoughts and exercises which may change the way you pursue your most creative aspirations. If anything, I hope it brings you a closer understanding of who you are, as it did me. I highly recommend!

Words of Affirmation

Some days just don’t turn out right.
The bottom of the bread burned,
You didn’t meet the patient’s expectations,
The oat milk flowed over the latte mug,
It might as well be
The sun didn’t rise.

For a moment you feel all the disappointment,
You worry about the loss,
You apologize for the short coming,
You clean up the mess.
Then the moment passes
You’re standing on your own two feet.

It is here you see the sliver of sun.
How good is life that you can connect with bread,
Help others heal,
Make art in your drink.
How good is life that you had a choice
About how to spend it
And how to react
And who to be.

Rise my darling.
You are the sun.
You make the light.
It’ll be all right.

De-cluttering Photos

The past few weeks have been spent revisiting the act of de-cluttering. I came to the realization that while I followed Marie Kondo’s rules about the severity with which to get rid of stuff and the order in which to let go of items, I never did really finish the work. Sure, I de-cluttered my stuff. It was easy to “touch up” on the physical things, since I no longer own many clothes or books. Our furniture and rooms are sparse. The kitchen items increased in volume after the wedding with gifts that I now regret adding to the registry but those were quite easy to acknowledge and forgive. It took less than half an hour to reaffirm the bathroom has only what we need. In the physical realm, it was easy to make everything right.

However,  there are two categories that still remained untouched – digital clutter and sentimental items. Marry the two together, and I am now faced with the sorting of digital photos with a sudden realization that I am a photograph hoarder. I have always had a careless way with the camera, snapping picture after picture desperate to freeze moments in time. Likewise, I struggle with letting these so-called memories go. Many excuses come to mind, such as, “What if I write a blog post about that sometime?”, or “How will I keep track of every place we’ve ever traveled to?”. “What if I need more photos to showcase my bread?”, or “What if I get forgetful one day and want to remember even the smallest span of time?” I didn’t know until now how much attachment I felt towards pixels on a screen.

Which goes to show, I suppose, that it comes as both a blessing and a curse that the work is never quite done. You think you’ve reached a level of understanding about the world and yourself, and then you find some little part of your life you haven’t quite looked at before and discover still more improvements to be made. It’s a curse that personal growth never reaches an end because we spend our whole lives trying to figure ourselves out. But on the flip side, it’s a blessing because … what else would we do if we already knew everything?

Besides, we cannot maintain a level of understanding if we stop trying to understand. The world will change and us along with it, and the worst one can do is assume they’ve got everything figured out and stand still. How can WE figure it out when a lineage of ancestors could not? Surely, the beauty lies in the process.

Speaking of process, there I was the past few days, making grueling work out of organizing photos and getting rid of 80% of them (which was hardly enough as evidenced by five different storage drives) when yesterday, on my day off when I thought I would get the most work done, my memory card became corrupt and was reformatted. Which in layman’s terms meant that all data was lost. I couldn’t believe it. It was like some wind had come and swept everything I worked hard for away from me. Oh the lessons life had yet to teach.

When I finally overcame the grief thirty seconds later, I realized with shock the relief that overcame me. The heartache of the last few days’ work turned into excitement, when I realized there were less days ahead being wasted sorting that stuff out. I realized quite quickly how disengaged I was from those photos, how little of my heart they truly held. I had organized snapshots to keep, ones filled with smiling faces and beautiful scenery, but when they were gone I found that it didn’t take away from the fact that they’ve touched me somehow. I think losing all of that proved to me that our memories are not tied to paper or lit up screens. And if one day, I do become completely incapable of memory, well, then maybe I will finally learn to live in the present moment without anything to hold me back.

There are still 4 more hard drives to address. But after losing one fifth of my work, I continue the task with a lighter heart and an easier mind as I press the delete button with more frequency and delight. I will still enjoy taking photos, but the joy will remain in the act of taking photos themselves. By the time the images become registered, it would have already served its purpose. I finally understand what Marie Kondo was trying to say when it comes to de-cluttering photos.

“With this method you will only keep about five per day of a special trip, but these will be so representative of that time that they will bring the rest back vividly. Really important things are not that great in number. “

I’d like to keep that last part on repeat.

Minimalist, Sustainable, and Frugal Suitcases with InCase.

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My carry-on gave out. It was bound to happen. After all the years we’ve been through, hopping from AirBNB to hotel, thrown into multiple airline bins, and staying with friends and loved ones, it was time for my carry-on to move on with its life. Unfortunate that it happened to be as we were heading to our Alaskan destination, already at the airport and too late to do anything about it. Probably its way of protesting against being selected at the TSA check, inspected for “Taboo” of all things. (The boardgame, I mean.) Afterwards, the handle refused to unlock, as if to say, “Enough!” I respected its resistance. It was gifted to me by my parents when I turned twenty-one, right before Mr. Debtist and I took our first trip as a couple to Hawaii of all places. Nine years of hard work should always be respected. But as kids these days say, the struggle was real. I tried sitting on it and wheeling myself around like the five-year-olds sitting on their dog-leashed suitcases. I tried carrying it but obviously did not pack light enough and I did not go far. Mostly, I broke my back pushing it down airport hallways in this weird half-lift yoga position.

Since then I’ve had to do without, borrowing my husband’s carry-on thereafter and trying the hiking backpack strategy, without any luck. So when we were lounging poolside with a few friends at Santa Rosa on one particular wedding weekend, a friend of mine made a recommendation to buy an Away suitcase. Seemingly a very popular brand these days, I had to look into it. But despite all its allure as the suitcase every millennial needs, it just wasn’t for me. The price range was out of reach, even though affordability was one of its selling points. Additionally, research into the company yielded no efforts to be sustainable. And it was too trendy and not minimalist enough. But her comment did lead me down a rabbit hole, and I happen to find a solution with InCase.

I’ve heard of InCase previously as a company dedicated to creating cases for Apple products. That was as far as I went, since tech isn’t exactly my forte. Maybe I saw an Iphone7 case years ago when I went to Best Buy last, who knows. However, I was not aware until recently that they also make luggage. They have some really nice options for different types of people, including techy, minimalist, frugal friends, and environmentally conscious consumers. Okay, so it isn’t posh and trendy like Away bags, but isn’t minimalism its own trend these days? Seeing Marie Kondo on the cover of magazines and Netflix make it seem like so.

Regardless, I’m in love and I’ve jotted a few thoughts of my new InCase luggage below.

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WELL-PRICED

While Away has disrupted the suitcase market for its accessibility, I would love to point out that I nabbed my InCase Novi 4 Wheel Travel Roller at $59.99 when a similar carry-on from Away costs $225! You can also get the larger check-in versions of the Novi luggage at $67.49 and $74.99 now! Compare that to $275 and $295 at Away, and I think it’s pretty obvious which choice the frugalist would go for. At least, which one this frugalist chose. Plus, it’s quite simple to order online. Since the San Franciscan based company is only a short way from SoCal, I was able to receive my suitcase within a few days. Talk about accessibility!

TECH-FRIENDLY

Techy geniuses out there will also have plenty to appreciate with this brand. In particular, there are suitcases that open to display all your tech gear in a TSA approved manner without removing your digital-ware. Multiple pockets allow for easy organizing of chords, chargers, and other gadgets. As a blogger and photo-enthusiast who is always carrying around her camera, I love that their suitcases are well designed for tech. I also like that their cases sport a built-in TSA approved lock, which gives me an added feeling of security for my carry-on.

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MINIMALIST STYLE

In contrast to Away’s multitude of color options, the InCase luggage sports only a few neutral  colors. For example, the carry on that I purchased only came in sleek black or asphalt grey. As a huge proponent of eliminating the paradox of choice, I appreciate that the color choices are minimal, which prevents overwhelm (or worse, the feeling that you need a suitcase in every color to match your mood). I am a true believer in limiting options, to save our brain power for more important, relevant, novel, and progressive thinking. Their medium check-in luggage has more color options and to rid myself of the noise, I refused to even consider it. I chose the small carry-on in asphalt grey and am very happy with its sleek look. If you are worried at all about scratching the hard shell, the case comes with a fabric protector that you can slip on once everything is packed and you’re past the TSA check (assuming you don’t open and close your luggage frequently). Then you can throw it into the overhead bin with ease of mind. However, in my most honest opinion, I don’t think I’d bother. That’s just one extra thing you’d have to do (another example of intentionally saving brain power), and I greatly enjoy the aesthetics of the asphalt grey. Lastly, I am not a big fan of brand labeling and would much prefer the understated tiny font on the suitcase over the bold printed branding on the fabric cover. That may just be my own personal protest.

Other details include removable wheels in case you’re living in a tiny home with a lone closet and wanting to store a carry on inside a bigger luggage to save space (which I do). The interior the luggage is very minimal. It unzips in the center, and there is a mesh cover for the top half of the suitcase so that clothes remain well organized and intact upon opening. The center divider is a ziplock bag perfect for laptop storage, thus making it very easy to remove or access. The divider also doubles as a separator for the bottom half of the case. There is also a tiny pouch big enough to hold the most basic necessities (such as toothbrush and toothpaste). Some may argue that the interior does not have enough pocket space, but a minimalist would disagree. If anything, time to practice those light-packing skills and welcome to the club. The suitcase also comes with a draw-string laundry bag, which I love since we usually bring carry-ons on our longest of trips so it comes useful when separating used from fresh clothes. My only gripe with the case is that there is only one handle at the top, when I think a second one on the side would help with loading onto an overhead bin. But since I always travel extremely light, lifting the thing can’t be too much of an issue.

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SUSTAINABLE OPTIONS

Also, this case in particular was made with (dare I say it?) plastic! And while there was a more sustainable option within the company,  price and minimalism outwon sustainability. But, I still felt comfortable with my purchase knowing that it contributes to a company that is making efforts to be sustainable and eco-friendly. Their Ecoya line has a carry-on called the EO Roller that is catching the attention of many frequent fliers. It was voted a top pick by Business Insider and it’s easy to see why.

Ecoya fabric is used for this case which is created through an eco-dyeing process that introduces coloration in the raw material stage instead of at the traditional yarn phase. This process reduces CO2 emissions and uses 89% less water than conventional yarn dyeing methods. It also results in a more colorfast fabric that stands up better to light, water and washing.

AND MORE

In terms of practicality, I love the four wheels. The case glides very easily and doesn’t get hung up when I do 360 degree turns. In fact, the wheels are one of my favorite features. Hubless, they make the case feel much lighter, and the double wheel gives it a great aesthetic, and added bonus to its exceptional function. The handle easily unlocks with a simple push button. The exterior is hard cover but extremely light. I feel quite relieved knowing that the laptop lies in the middle divider at the center of the bag, so even if the case gets dropped, it will be cushioned in between soft clothes. And quite honestly, I like that it looks good. The asphalt gray reflects natural sunlight and has a sheen to it. It matches every outfit and is unlikely to get dirty. I expect scratches and scuffs to be better hidden in the gray than in the black. Overall, I know that I will be traveling well with this case and could not be more happy with my purchase.

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If you are looking to shop InCase for your travel needs, you can use my affiliate link and the code AFF151 to receive 15% off.

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