Friday, March 28, 2014

introverts


First, let me say just how much I love to read. I remember going to story time at the library when I was a toddler. Mom even took me to both the town and city library story hours. Hey, they were free. When old enough to check out books myself, I would plow through stacks of them. In middle school, I dove into non-fiction and have never quite come up for air since. Sure, fiction is fun sometimes (especially when set in a different culture or historical time), but I want to read about real stuff.

Back to toddler-hood for a moment. I was an only child back then (until I was 10), and apparently shy enough that I failed nursery school. There were so many kids there that I didn't know quite what to do, I guess. I did excel at playing quietly by myself, though. In school, I preferred to sit in the front of the class. I was still shy, but sitting in front meant I didn't have to see all the other kids and I could pretend it was just me and the teacher. Ok, it also might have been the nearsightedness. I have since learned to participate in discussions, lead groups and speak publicly, but these roles didn't come naturally.

I still spend the bulk of my time in solitary pursuits. I like having other people around, I just like to be doing my own thing. The things I love to do every day: walk, yoga, read, write at coffee shops, stitch on tiny quilts and cook are pretty quiet. I also like to bike, hike, ski, and sail. None of these activities are particularly social. It's not that I avoid people, I just have to remind myself to seek them out. I'm very lucky to have a companion that plays quietly by himself, too.

I first happened on the TED talk by Susan Cain about introverts and really enjoyed it. She validated a lot of what I already knew about our kind of folks. So, when I saw the book on sale on Power Reads, I clicked. 

It's a very enjoyable read, her style keeps the facts flowing and the analysis and interpretations are right in line with my gut instincts. Especially interesting to me is the discussion on creativity and introversion. According to Susan, many inventors and artists are introverts. Problem solving and designing can pretty much take over my entire brain if I'm left alone. I may not produce many solutions, but the thinking part is addictive.

Another point she makes about group collaboration also hit close to the mark for me. I spent my working career at one of Fortune's top 10 companies. Ms. Cain speaks of the bias that US corporations have for extrovert personalities. We actually had to rate candidates for employment on their "energy level". Yet many introverts, who may not exhibit much "energy" in an interview, may be more productive and valuable employees. She also discussed group collaboration techniques, such as brainstorming sessions, team assignments and open office plans as endemic in US corporations. She then presents research that proves those methodologies actually don't produce results as well as letting people have space and time to work on their own. Thankfully, I left my company just as the walls of my office came down, making way for 40 people to sit in open cubicles all day. The introverts on our team spent time finding places in the library or down in the labs to work quietly. The extroverts just talked all day.

Ms. Cain then discusses several characteristics of introverts, from our sensitive physiology, to blushing, to our risk-averse behavior. She uses historical examples of introverts in science, politics and art. She takes the reader on a journey to other cultures where quiet and the characteristic studiousness of introverts is revered, unlike the extrovert-enamored US. 

Reading this is helping me to understand how much of my nature is shared with other introverts: things like feeling uncomfortable wearing costumes, wishing to avoid arguments, and needing restorative solitude time. I always wondered why I was interested in the occasional leadership position (yet embarrassed to have it mentioned). Turns out introverts can excel in leadership roles because they are often trying to make something work the way they envision it. It's not about leading the people, it's about the leading the processes.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to explore a deeper understanding of personality types, on the continuum from introverted to extroverted. It has certainly made me more mindful of people's differences and strengths.




Wednesday, March 26, 2014

taking the bus

We had an awkward errand the other day. We had to take a 90 lb. bundle, a rolled-up inflatable dinghy, 15 miles to a repair facility. We have no car. We usually take the bus or walk wherever we have to go. Normally, we don't have a 90 lb. bundle with us. How were we going to accomplish this? First choice was the city bus, $2.25/person.

We have the transit app on our smart phones and using this, we determined that we had to walk about 4 blocks, catch the #22 bus and stay on that for about 1.5 hours as it trudged up 22nd Ave to an industrial area that housed the repair facility. We had a one block walk from the bus stop there to the facility. Perfect!

So, we loaded the huge mass (about the size of a short, fat person) onto our foldable cart and walked the 4 blocks to our stop. Along the way, we discussed our options if the driver refused to allow us to board with this HUGE parcel. We could call a cab, walk over to the rental car agency, call friends who have cars... none of these options are great, but all have possibilities.

Miraculously, the driver did not bat an eyelash as she slowed to pick us up. We heaved it aboard and sat with it taking up half the aisle. No one cared. Then came the fun part. And I do mean fun. It was going to be a long ride and I love people watching. 

People got on the bus without the right change. No problem. They just asked around and other people came up with the change. It was as if it was expected that you carried change for other riders. I had my entire laundry coin purse full of quarters, so was able to help out sometimes. 

People got on the bus with little children. No problem. Other people made room for them, picked them up and plopped them on the seats when Mama's arms were full, made sure they were safe.

People got on the bus in wheel chairs. No problem. The driver hopped up, smiled, deployed the ramp and configured the front seats to accommodate the chair, strapped it in and on we went. When the seated person needed to get off, they pushed a special button alerting the driver that the wheelchair lift was being requested. People were patient and kind.

People got on the bus who needed assistance. No problem. A women with difficulty walking got on, and a young man hopped up, gave her his seat and put her fare in the machine for her. She tried to tip him and he refused to take it. He was happy to help out.

People were friendly. Conversations blossomed in Spanish and English the whole trip uptown. People met friends and hugged each other. At one point a woman was so excited about meeting her friend on the bus, she called a mutual friend and both women shouted into the phone how happy they were to have met up on the bus.

Counting both ways, we were on the bus for a little less than three hours. It was a slice of community that you can't see any other way. Wouldn't have traded it for a boring car trip any day.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

car sharing

Personal cars are so last century. Ok, this one isn't about walking, so much.

Two years ago we sold our truck. It was part of the grand plan of living more lightly on the planet, simplifying our finances and becoming more flexible. Flexible, in that we can move around the coast without having to worry about moving, registering, insuring, and parking a car.

We walk for most of our errands. That has an added benefit of helping keep the shopping to a minimum. We don't go shopping for recreation. We have bikes if we need them for a longer trip or just to tool around. 

We take the bus or local train. Public transport gives us a great view of both new scenery and our neighbors. No driving to worry about, just relax and enjoy the ride.

We rent cars when we have to go medium distances. Recently, we got a call from our daughter that she was on a business trip about 100 miles away from where we were camped out. Called our buddies at Enterprise (we like them because they come pick us up) and we were there to have dinner with her that evening. Simple, flexible.

We fly when when we need to go cross country to visit family. Yeah, I know how bad that is for the environment, but you can't beat the convenience. My favorite is Southwest, when we're in one of their hubs. I like the open seating and the humor they add to the travel experience.

But what I really wanted to talk about is the new thing I just tried, car2go. I like the idea behind car sharing. It's an industry sector I've been watching for awhile to see if it would take off. When we got to Miami, I noticed the cute blue and white Smart cars around while I was out walking. I checked out the website and read the rules and reviews. It is SO easy. 

Once you have your membership card ($35 and a week's wait), you walk up to a car (found on your convenient smart phone app), place your card against the window reader. The door unlocks and you get in. Walk through a few questions about the condition of the car and you are on your way. When you are finished, you leave the car in an approved parking location, get out, swipe your card on the reader and walk away. Parking rules are published for each city. In Miami, it's any street spot or municipal lot.

The cars are only in a few US cities so far, so we will only be able to use it in on the east coast in Miami and DC, and on our vacation to Portland OR this summer. Hopefully, it will become more popular. It's not cheap, but it could be very useful for a specific kind of trip that public transport might not fit. 

We tried car2go on a recent errand, just to get a feel for it. We could have taken the bus, but I wanted to try this. Really easy and fun. Nice to know we have another option in the simple, green and flexible transportation choices. And, since it's been almost a year since I borrowed my sister's car, it was good to practice driving again.

This was the foldable info packet that my membership card came in.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

legacy



I don't think of myself as a writer. Just as calling myself an artist somehow implies being good or getting paid, it's difficult to call myself "writer".  Yet, I easily call myself a pedestrian. Walking, writing, making art - these activities are how I spend a chunk of my day, so I guess I'm a writer. I write, therefore, I am?

My mother, Amy, wrote daily. Her mother, Charlotte, wrote daily. It was only a matter of time until I figured it out. Writing is getting easier now that I'm practicing steadily. It's helping untie the knots in my brain.

My grandmother wrote letters to family and friends in long hand, on stationery peppered with flowers or birds or little snippets of psalms or proverbs. I know because I often supplied the stationery as her birthday or Christmas gift. She kept an active correspondence with dozens of people. Her letters were cheerful and full of her observations about the natural world around her; the birds she identified and counted, squirrels playing in the trees, stray kittens she fed, mountains and valleys she passed through. My mother or I came up in her rotation at least once every two-three weeks, so there was always a new letter to read. We'd read them to each other when they arrived.

She also passed on the family news. She had 10 siblings, so there were lots of family members to pass on news about. In fact, the family news was so important, there was an official family letter that moved through the family once a month, making the complete round every year. Each family elder gathered the news and letters from their clan, added photos and kid artwork into their section of the notebook and mailed it on to the next elder in line.  We use email now, and the letter goes through one family member who acts as both reporter and distribution system (Thanks Becky!!). 

My grandmother also wrote travel articles. She and my grandfather lived in a travel trailer from the late '60s through the early '90s. I can't remember how many articles (if any) were ever published or by which magazines, but she always had two or three in the works at any given time. She had a huge folder of maps, magazines, guidebooks and pamphlets that she was always using for research.

She wrote biographies about her ancestors, too. She published three volumes of family genealogy that she wrote during the years they traveled, doing their research in city halls, graveyards and by seeking out the living. She used the genealogy project as her excuse to travel. 

My mother wrote every day, too, but not letters so much as journals. She kept detailed daily entires on everything she observed around her. Nature was a favorite topic, but hers was a restless soul and she often wrote about imagined persecutions and ill health. My sister and I both tried to read some of her journals after she passed away, but they were too raw and painful for us.

When she was feeling optimistic, my mother wrote about birds and insects. She was a keen observer and always interested in the comings and goings of birds and bugs. She took several magazines on ornithology and entomology and had shelves of weighty tomes, along with file cabinets full of articles she'd saved. She wrote article after article on behavior, anatomy and taxonomy, but was very rarely satisfied enough with her writing to submit the finished pieces for publication. Well, maybe because they were never finished in her mind.

One of the hallmarks of my mother's scientific writing was that she delighted in coming up with article titles. She'd tell me the titles that she had dreamed up and tell me a little bit about what she would write about. I think I even remember seeing a list she'd been keeping of all her ideas. The reason I was remembering this the other day was that it hit me when I looked at my 1womanwalking drafts folder. There were 21 drafts in progress and another 40 or so topics on a list. Here I am, just writing down titles. I have hundreds of bookmarks in my browser on references I want to use. Guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Gram and Mom, thanks for all you wrote.


Charlotte and Amy, birding, sometime in the 1960's.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

not buying

This year I'm making a concerted effort to cut down on purchasing things. It's for several reasons: I've made a financial commitment to support a non-profit on a monthly basis, storage constraints, a desire to create less packaging waste and to simply live with fewer possessions.

While the benefits of not buying stuff are compelling and described eloquently here at Becoming Minimalist, it's the day to day, how to stick to the goal that keeps the wallet in the pocket.

So, how does one accomplish this not buying? Logically, to not buy, one must surely start by not shopping, right? Turns out shopping is really fun. Retail therapy produces an actual measurable high in the brain. Early man was adept at searching for food. I think it's that basic instinct of gathering things that comes up for air when we shop. But it's the shopping that produces the high, not the buying. Buying things can actually make you unhappy. 

It's ok to shop, just not buy. I've discovered a few ways to do this. I use Pinterest to collect pictures of things I like to shop for. I can not buy dresses for hours. This has turned out to be more fun for me than actually buying dresses. I don't have to find my size, I don't have to justify any expense and the dress doesn't have to look good on me. I can visit my dress collection anytime and I never have to wash any of them.

Another not buying tool is to create a wish list. I have wish lists for all kind of things, mostly books. Adding an item to a wish list lets me acknowledge that, yes, I'd like to have the item. The key word here is "like". Just because I want an item, doesn't mean it has to be purchased. Lists are all about prioritization. Once an item has a place on a list, it can just hang out there. Usually it lives on the list long enough for me to realize that I really don't want the item that badly after all. I have wish lists and abandoned shopping carts in every corner of the internet. The "gimmies" eventually pass on.

The best not buying tool I've found, though is the tradeoff concept made popular in the early 1990's by the book, Your Money or Your Life. The authors looked at income and expenses in terms of what they called life energy: how long it takes to earn the cost of the item you are thinking about buying. I customized this approach to make it more meaningful for me. I think about the item I want to buy in terms of beers (for smaller items) or visits to family (for large items). For example, would I rather have this dress or 4 cases of craft beer? Beer usually wins. Would I rather have this awesome folding bike or visit my family? Clear winner there. (just for the record, I would get the bike in the orange/pink combo)

Eventually, though, not buying does come around to not shopping. Happily, I've found the shopping urge starts to atrophy. It has become boring to go into a store. I'm not spending so much time on the usual vendor sites online. It's March and the overall wish list I created for 2014 has only a few items on it and I already know that most of them are never going to get purchased. 

I'm shopping less. 
I'm buying less. 
I'm reading more. 
I'm writing more. 

I'm outside walking.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

three bowls = cookies

full disclosure: 
If you are content with store-bought cookies, you can stop reading now. I won't be offended.
I'll be mentioning brand names.

Our crew likes to partake of fika in the mid-afternoons. A cookie is our usual choice. A home-baked cookie.

Baking cookies from scratch is well worth the time and energy, IMHO. The right ingredients are a big part of why the effort is appreciated. Here is my rant on the humble chocolate chunk cookie.

Assemble the tools: three bowls, a stirring spoon, measuring cups and spoons, a 9" x 13" baking pan, an oven.

Assemble the ingredients:

Bowl one:
1 and 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour (King Arthur)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Bowl two: 
1/2 cup softened butter. Real butter. If it's a sunny day, I let it get soft in the sun, only takes a few minutes. Use a bit of the butter to grease the cookie sheet first.
1 cup white sugar. I haven't ever bothered to test the difference between sugars. I buy store brands or whatever is on sale. If you are partial to brown sugar, go ahead and use that and ignore the molasses.
1 Tablespoon molasses
1 egg.  Organic, cage-free, free-range, omega-3 fed, yadda, yadda, yadda
1 teaspoon vanilla. Real vanilla extract, not imitation.  

Bowl three:
1 and 1/2 cups of your preferred fixings, chocolate chunks, chopped nuts, coconut flakes, whatever. In my book, cookies are only the medium for fixings. A cookie without nuts, is, well, why bother?

A note about baking chocolate. I recently did a taste test comparing Ghirardelli and Scharffen Berger. The Scharffen Berger was the clear winner for me. It has more robust flavor than the Ghirardelli. I use the 70% bittersweet bars. 

Here are the ingredients lists of each:
G - unsweetened chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla, soy lecithin
SB - cacao beans, sugar, cocoa butter, non-GMO soy lecithin, whole vanilla beans

Not much difference, it would seem, but by calling out the whole beans, I think there is less processing of the basic ingredients and they might be fresher. There is definitely a taste difference for me and isn't that what making cookies is about?

Get the three bowls ready. Then turn on the oven to 350 degrees F. It takes much less time to pre-heat an oven than you might think. Better that you have to wait a few minutes for the oven, than waste energy heating an oven while you chop up a thick chocolate bar.

Mix the dry bowl into the wet bowl. Once they are blended, fold in the fixings bowl. Spoon out into the buttered baking sheet and mash it flat and even into the corners. Place it in the hot oven for 20-25 minutes. A 9" x 9" pan will work fine if you like them thicker, just bake a little longer.

Bar cookies are for the lazy efficient person, they are much less work-intensive to prepare than spoon/shaped cookies. They're just as tasty and I think it uses less energy to cook one full baking sheet than several sheets of round cookies. It's certainly less fuss. I can go off and do something else, rather than run back and forth to the oven.

Cool, slice and eat. Now, isn't that better than a packaged store-bought cookie? You can keep your little black, fake cream, sandwich cookie.





Tuesday, March 4, 2014

ode to a glass of water

Studies have shown that decision making is difficult. Our brains get tired of having too many things to choose from. We get overwhelmed. Routines and habits can help us focus on the important decisions we have to make. Once you have created a habit, through a conscious decision, you don't have to think about that one anymore. It's that way with me and a glass of water.

A trip to the grocery store is a wild ride for beverage choices. Whole aisles are devoted to trying to get shoppers to purchase processed beverages instead of choosing a humble glass of tap water. Trucks full of heavy beverages lumber down our highways daily, creating air pollution and using fossil fuels. The average US home has a variety of beverages in the general categories of milk, soda, fruit juice and energy drinks. (I'll discuss beer and tea another day)

Got Milk? It comes is a terrifying array of flavors, fat ratios and pesticide/hormone levels. The thing is, it's not that good for people over the age of two. Lucky for me, I'm lactose intolerant and hubby hasn't had a glass of milk since the last time we went to the dairy building at the NY State Fair. Passing up milk is easy.

Fruit juice is another common drink in the US. While we may think of it as healthy, most of the bottled "juice" on the store shelves is sugar and not so much fruit. Drinking 100% fruit juice is ok in moderation, but what's wrong with eating the whole fruit? Distilling just the juice from whole fruit is expensive in processing and transportation and the body loses out on all that necessary fiber. I'd rather have an apple any day than a glass of apple juice.

How about the soda industry? It's incredible what we have bought into on that one! Soda will make us more popular? We know it's loaded with sugar and chemicals our bodies don't need and yet still we drink it. My own father is a Coke fiend (the legal stuff, of course). Here's the really bad part about soda. To make a single 2-liter bottle of soda, it takes 132 gallons of my favorite, life-giving beverage. That's including making the plastic bottle, which really has to count, since my tap water doesn't require a plastic bottle. Not only does the soda industry use potable water to degrade it into a beverage that can kill us (albeit slowly), in some countries the water is diverted from villages and farms.

That leaves me with the energy drinks and all the rest of those boutique beverages. Some of those make sense when you think about them as medicine. I've been known to mix in some Gatorade powder (the plastic bottles are too expensive for my taste) into my glass of water when I've had a particularly hot walk and I've got the shakes. It does seem to fix the shakes. I'm guessing, however, that most people who are loading cases of energy drinks into their grocery carts are just drinking it for the sugar.  

A glass of water is so simple. It's so clear and clean. It tastes so good. It makes me feel good. It makes me happy and healthy. It's inexpensive in most places. It doesn't have any hidden calories. It's easy to obtain. It saves me from having to make a choice about what to drink. 

I'll just have water.

What do you choose to drink? How do you make that choice?