Maintaining the “Slow” with a Full-time Job

Crossvine Blooming

 

How to live slower while working full-time? This is my new concern since I started a full-time contract position in February. First off, I want to state that I don’t regret making this change. I am really enjoying being back at AllClearID, a company I was employed at previously. I feel challenged and valued, both positives in my book, and I am earning more, which is great considering we’ll have two kids in college come this fall.

However, I don’t want to lose what I’ve been working toward over the last few years. I’m trying not to get back on that hamster wheel or fall back into patterns that caused stress and an unhealthy lifestyle. So, considering this, I am trying to stick to certain habits.

Menu-planning

I think this is vital. Over the years one of my top stressors each day was deciding what I was going to make for dinner. I now schedule menu-planning for Saturday and try to do a big shopping trip on Sunday. I don’t end up having to plan every meal because we have more left-overs now that fewer family members are home.

Working from home twice a week

One of the reasons I considered this new job was the twice-a-week work from home policy. So far I’ve only been WFH on Thursdays, but I’m planning to add Mondays soon.

Taking Mass Transit

Once again I have opted out of having a downtown parking spot and I am continuing to take the bus to work. This takes longer but helps me be “green” and enforces patience and tolerance. I can also start biking (my employer encourages it) and I’m going to try walking one-way (4 miles) several days a week to train for our upcoming pilgrimage.

Exercising

I will not sacrifice my personal training appointment or my Hot Barre gym class. I was able to re-schedule my personal training to another morning to accommodate a daily work meeting and I work from home on Thursday so that I can continue attending my Hot Barre class.

Keeping weekends and evenings open

Now that the kids are independent I actually have free time in the evening and weekends and I’m trying to keep it that way, except for social commitments such as church Supper Group. I have bell choir practice in the evening twice a month and have another volunteer responsibility for a couple of hours the first Saturday of the month.

Getting extra help in the yard

I hired a yard guy to help with the grunt work in the yard on a regular basis. Now I can enjoy the creative gardening and not worry about mulching, mowing, edging or leaf blowing.

Keeping up my use of 2Do.app

I wrote about this app in my post Finding a Daily Rhythm. It continues to help keep me on track and not let the house work get behind. It also reminds me of the pets’ monthly meds and tasks like turning the compost or watering the plants. The lists I have currently configured include Home (repeating household tasks), Grocery Needs, Decluttering Tasks, Home Repairs and Week’s Meals.

That’s it for now. Life is always evolving and this is just a new set of transitory conditions. I’m hoping to maximize the positive and remember what is important.

Reap What You Sow

First Carrots

The final fruits of the winter garden are ready. Carrots, green onions and beets are now on the menu! I’ve got beds prepped with fresh compost and the onion crop is in (although it had a set-back because the grackles ate the tops off of all the onion sets). The heirloom tomato sale was last weekend and I’ve got some interesting new varieties to try. Here’s what I’m growing this year:

  • Morgage Lifter – I had to try this large pink tomato just because of the name
  • Cherokee Purple – very popular around here
  • Amish Paste – I’ve never tried a paste tomato, so I’m excited to try some making some sauce with this
  • Flamme – I’m hoping this is the Jaune Flamme I grew last year which produces super tasty sald size orange tomatoes
  • Isis Candy – this is a cherry tomato with a cat’s eye on the blossom end
  • Cream Sausage – creamy white paste tomato. How unusual!

For peppers, I’ve got the usual bell peppers, sweet banana, poblano (for migas breakfasts) and then I’ve got the standard Black Beauty eggplant. I usually plant green beans too. I guess I need to get those seeds in!

It seems like Spring came very early this year but I’m delaying planting the transplants until next week just in case.

I’ve got an update on one of my goals for the year -“Goal 4: Increase Income”. I’ve gone back to work full-time at a former employer and I’m really enjoying it. It going to take some work to keep striving for a slower, simpler life though. I’ll post more on that soon I hope…

 

Getting More Organized in 2017

 

First Signs of Spring

I’ve taken a while to try to get my thoughts in order around my goals for the year. In the end many of my goals are continuations of last year’s, with a bit more structure involved.

Homemaking

Goal 1: Get More Organized!

To this end I have decided to follow the Home Organization 101 14-week challenge from www.abowlfulloflemons.net (Challenge guide here). I’m going to have to customize it a bit, because I already know that some of the tasks are going to take me longer than one week – but I’m going to stick as closely as I can and complete this challenge! I will get my house clean and organized and feel like I’ve really accomplished something.

Goal 2: Declutter!

I’ve added a Decluttering Task list to my 2Do app to help me out with smaller-sized decluttering tasks based on Abby Lawson’s 15 minute organizing task list (Tasks PDF here). These are smaller tasks that can be done anytime with minimal time investment but big impact.

Goal 3: Digital Organization

I need to choose a password manager and organize and reset all of my passwords so that they can be secure. I’ve put this off for too long.

Career

Goal 4: Increase Income

Last year wasn’t so great for income, considering I didn’t have much work in the fall. We’ve got tuitions to pay for, traveling during Rich’s sabbatical, and helping with the cost of a new living community for my mother. This means I’ve got to increase my work hours this year, without sacrificing my quest for a slower life.  If I go back to working full-time I need some work-from-home time AND I need to have evening meals pre-planned and prepped. This means that I need serious menu-planning action.

Personal Health

Goal 5: Determine how I want to use my Fitbit

I received a Fitbit from Santa this year. I’d like to figure out how to use it most effectively. I’m currently using it to track steps, activity, and heart rate but would like to explore using it for calories, water consumption, and mindfulness reminders. We might use it for mapping our progress when we’re walking the Camino De Santiago in Spain next fall.

Goal 6: Modified Whole 30

I’d like to find a sustainable dietary change that I can stick with. The Whole 30 worked great last year, but I regained the weight, so I need  a PERMANENT change like when I gave up soda one Lenten season and never started drinking it again.

Green Living

Goal 7: Use less Plastic

I intend to research and choose a way in which to reduce our plastic use.

Goal 8: Conserve More Water

I’d like to add timers to our showers (although I haven’t found any useful ones yet)  and possibly replace our toilets.

Spiritual

Goal 9: Prepare for Sabbatical

I’m looking forward to planning our trip to France/Spain for walking the Camino and taking practice walks in preparation.

Goal 10: Altruism

I intend to continue knitting hats, this time for homeless youth here in Austin.

Other

Goal 11: Finish a craft project

I’d like to finish a cross stitch or knitting project started years ago, doesn’t matter which one.

 

Women’s March on Austin 2017

Proud to take part in the Women’s March yesterday at the Texas Capital.

Be Clever

Intelligence is, at its bones, the ability to learn well. But cleverness is the ability to apply intelligence. Understanding alone is no help if one does not apply it.
K.M. Shea in her book Sleeping Beauty

My Christmas Gift Bag of Home-made Goodies

My little Christmas gift bags. Each bag contains one of my cold-process soaps, peppermint lip balm and rosemary-mint massage oil – all home-made from natural oils and scented with essential oils. These were a lot of fun to put together. I found the gauze bags for the soap at Jo-Ann Fabric’s in the bridal section.  The template for the lip balm label was found online and I made my own label for the massage oil. The absolutely adorable tiny bags were from Dollar Tree.

#25000 Tuques

Hospitality

Version 2

‘Tis the Season…of holiday parties and get-togethers – a time for sharing and fellowship with family and friends. It should be a joyous time, and often is, but I have to admit that sometimes hostessing one of these events stresses me out.

Hospitality is an important duty in Christianity, especially when offered to the traveller and stranger. I think about past times in human history when a stranger’s hospitality could have meant the difference between life and death. Offering food, shelter and drink was the moral thing to do. I’m sure it was also a source of pleasure, an opportunity for sharing news, stories, and experiences and meeting new people.

So why do I find offering hospitality so daunting? My mother-in-law blamed Martha Stewart! Martha’s brand is based on the illusion that the modern woman can be all things – career woman, brilliant hostess, accomplished cook, stunning decorator and creative homemaker. It’s impossible to live up to these glossy standards. Now, realistically, I know my guests probably aren’t judging my decorating, or running their fingers across my furniture checking for dust, but I still can’t help but see all the faults in my home when I am faced with the prospect of welcoming guests into it. The combination of an old house and two furry pets certainly makes spiffing up the house a big job.

The yard is also a big stressor. We love our screened in porch and have a nice deck in the back yard. So, every time we are going to host a dinner or party, we straighten up the yard, clean off the outdoor furniture, prepare mosquito repellant torches and set up lighting, etc. so that folks can enjoy the backyard. It can take me one to two weeks to clean up the yard, depending on the time of year. Ironically, during a party we hosted last month the weather was perfect, the yard was welcoming, and yet, not a single guest stepped outside! Everyone preferred to congregate inside.

All of this leads to a tiny bit of dread when it comes time to host — but I am working on controlling this reaction and trying to be more relaxed about entertaining. I know I always enjoy having guests over and I’m always glad in the end that we did it. I also really wish we had family in the area, as I would love to have my relatives over, and I wouldn’t care in the slightest if the the floor hadn’t been swept!

Finding a New Normal

Crepe Myrtle blossoms carpet the garden

I’ve been feeling unsettled lately. Things in my life have been changing and I’ve been patiently waiting for a new normal to fall into place and that just hasn’t happened yet. See, I don’t have much contracting work at the moment. My main source of work has dried up, although I still have steady work one day a week. This leaves me with the dilemma of choosing between seeking a new full-time position and abandoning my “downshift” or waiting for another contracting opportunity to present itself. For the past few weeks I’ve been taking advantage of some extra work load from my remaining client and I’ve been working 3 days a week, on site. That’s been kind of cool, actually, because I’ve gotten back in touch with the co-workers that I’d been feeling distanced from. I’ve been working for that employer for four years, so it’s almost like stepping back in time to when I worked there every day. But eventually I may just have to start interviewing again if my budget can’t handle the lost income.

In the meantime, life continues… I’ve got my fall garden planted. Broccolis, cabbages, and kale all went in as transplants. The green onions are popping up and today I saw my first sprouts from the rows of lettuces that I planted. I’ve put in beet seeds, too, and prepped two of the beds for carrots and bulb onions.

My son Tristan is in the midst of college applications. I can’t help but nag. It’s my job 😉 and he has a tendency to procrastinate, but I don’t think he’s too happy with me right now. Tomorrow is the mid-semester break for my daughter Genevieve and she’ll be coming home from college. I’m looking forward to seeing her again and having the whole family together.

Super Easy Cold-Process Hand & Body Soap

soap

Have you wanted to try making your own soaps but you were intimidated by the process? I wanted to replace our commercial bath soap with hand made soap, but I was NOT keen on heated pots of oil and caustic lye. I also didn’t want to invest in a huge amount of soap, only to find out I didn’t like it.  Luckily, I located a super easy method at www.diynatural.com that uses the microwave and makes nice small batches, and I’m going to share my experience with that today.

This recipe makes nice hard cream-colored bars with a creamy moisturizing lather. It’s great as guest soaps and really nice as a bath soap. The main ingredients are olive oil, coconut oil and grapeseed oil. The olive oil makes the soap harder, the coconut oil produces a great lather and grapeseed oil is a good conditioner.

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup coconut oil
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 2/3 cup grapeseed oil (or almond oil)
  • 1/4 cup lye 100% sodium hydroxide (available from Amazon here)
  • 3/4 cup distilled or purified water
IMG_0906
Ingredients

Materials

  • soap molds (like these from Amazon guest-size, bath-size)
  • a pint mason jar (from thrift store)
  • a quart mason jar (from thrift store)
  • 2 cheap thermometers (the one for the quart jar needs to be long, like a candy thermometer)
  • a deep-sided mixing bowl made of Stainless steel, tempered glass or enamel, only to be used for soap making  (I got a heavy glass bowl from a thrift store)
  • two styrene plastic or silicone spoons
  • a 1/4 cup measuring cup (stainless, plastic or glass, dedicated for lye only)
  • long rubber gloves
  • safety goggles (like these)
  • hand blender (optional, but it is really helpful here, again dedicated only for soap-making)
  • a spray bottle of vinegar –  for neutralizing lye if some spills
  • newspaper
soap_materials
Materials- 1) jars/thermometers/mixing/measuring, 2) molds, 3) safety goggles and gloves, 4) vinegar for neutralizing a spill

Really most of the cost is in the lye (~$17),  goggles (~$10), hand blender (~$15) and molds ($5-10). The rest of the materials you either probably already have or can get at your grocery store or thrift store.

Directions

Note: These are the instructions and techniques given at http://www.diynatural.com/how-to-make-soap-2/ but I have modified them slightly in places, expanded them with some of my own thoughts and added all of my own images.

  1. Cover your work area with newspaper and put on protective gear (goggles, gloves, long sleeved shirt, making sure legs and feet are covered). Have a spoon ready. Make sure the room has good ventilation (open a window, turn on kitchen fan) and keep children and pets away.
  2. Measure 3/4 cup cool water into the quart mason jar. Carefully measure exactly 1/4 cup of lye granules. Pour the lye slowly into the water, stirring as you go. Stand back while you stir to avoid fumes. When the water starts to clear, insert the candy thermometer, allowing it to sit, and move on to the next step. The lye may be around 150 degrees at this point.

    lye_Collage
    Notice that the liquid level in the quart jar is low. You will need a long thermometer like the candy thermometer to be take the temperature of the lye/water.
  3. In the pint jar, add your three oils together. If the coconut oil is somewhat solid heat it in the microwave for a few seconds until it is all liquid before measuring and combining with the other oils. You should have a pint of oils. Heat the jar of oil in a microwave for about a minute, or place the jar in a pan of water to heat. I find the oil is around 140 degrees after 1 minute. Put in the thermometer.oils_Collage
  4. After about 30 minutes or so both liquids will be approaching the right temperature. I periodically stir the liquids and check the temperature, being very careful not to spill the lye. Wait for both to cool between 95 and 105 degrees. Make sure the your molds are near by and have been greased. Ready your mixing bowl (I actually measure my lye inside the bowl to minimize the chance of lye getting on the work area and I store my mixing spoons in the bowl). Make sure your stick blender is near by.
  5. When the lye and the oils are at the right temperature, pour the oils into the mixing bowl. Slowly add the lye, stirring until it’s all mixed. Stir by hand for a full 5 minutes. It’s very important to get as much of the lye in contact with as much of the soap as possible. After about 5 minutes, you can keep stirring or you can use an immersion blender. Be cautious with the immersion blender so that it doesn’t spatter caustic material out of the bowl. The soap mixture will lighten in color and become thick. When it looks like vanilla pudding it’s at “trace” and you’re good to go.

    tracing_Collage
    1) Stirring lye and oil mixture 2) Reaching trace with the stick blender 3) soap into the molds
  6. Add herbs or essential oils at the point, if desired. Stir thoroughly to combine. Pour the mixture into mold(s) and cover with plastic wrap. Set in an old towel and wrap it up. This will keep the residual heat in and start the saponification process, by which the base ingredients become soap. NOTE: if you are using really floppy molds like me, you’ll want to set the molds onto a hard surface, such as a cookie sheet or cardboard prior to filling. For my last batch of little hand soaps I put the molds into a cardboard box before filling, skipped the plastic wrap and towel and just closed up the box overnight as insulation.
  7. After 24 hours, check your soap. If it’s still warm or soft, allow it to sit for another 12-24 hours. When it is cold and firm, turn it out onto parchment paper or a baking rack. Allow the soap to cure for about 4 weeks, turning it over once a week to expose all sides to air.

    IMG_0871
    My little guest soaps curing on parchment paper.
  8. When your soap is fully cured, wrap it in wax paper or keep it in an airtight container to keep it from attracting dust and moisture.

Cleaning Up

I neutralize equipment that touched the lye by spraying it with white vinegar and then rinsing it out. For the bowl, spoons and hand mixer I set them aside for a day or two so that the soap mixture can fully saponify. At that point the soap residue will not be caustic any more and I just clean the equipment throughly in hot water.

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