Friday, December 30, 2011

New Years Resolution

from the
I only have a single resolution to make this year.  I had been wondering what to do and I got my wakeup call in this article from the nytimes.  What I want in 2012 is to remember the really important things in life and help make the world a little better.  To make sure that others have the right to live as I do, in peace and security and with freedom, to be fully human.  I've been making efforts toward a minimalist life, but it was effort without true purpose.  I think I have a purpose now - the goal of this minimalism will be to live more simply so that I can give my excess to others in need.  I can only give my dollars, but hopefully they will allow others to directly help people in my stead.  As women's rights is something I feel extremely strongly about, I will likely focus my giving to these groups.  My charitable giving in the past has been mostly sporadic, sparked by some catastrophic event (earthquakes, tsunamis, etc), so I need to institute a system and schedule.  I'm thinking to start reasonably within my budget at first ($100/month) and then see if I can add to that.  My clothing budget is probably the most frivolous, and I think I have enough to wear certainly, for a year.  So whatever I can manage not to spend in this category will be funneled toward charity.  I want to be less selfish, and when I look back at the end of 2012, to see that I've done a little good, the best I can.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Homemade Chinese Noodles

I am a noodle girl through and through.  In the wide world of noodles, I have a particular weakness for noodle soup.  The other day in lab, while waiting for some samples to incubate, I started an idle search for Japanese ramen recipes (I looooooove ramen).  The first hit was this instructable on how to make the noodle.  Now I have to say that the end result doesn't taste the way a true ramen noodle ought to taste, but it's a very nice noodle nonetheless and I am finding it a good Chinese noodle substitute.  The texture remains nice and chewy all the way to the end (soggy mushy noodles is my pet peeve).  Since I have a pasta maker, this recipe is a cinch to make, and I've been making up little batches of noodle soup in less than an hour.  Delicious.

Homemade Noodle (adapted from Neryam)

3/4 cup (3.8 oz) flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 egg mixed with 1 tbs water

Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl, make a little well in the center and add the egg mixture.  Mix everything together and form into a ball with your hands.  Sprinkle some flour on the counter and knead until it feels fairly stiff but still a little sticky.  I always have to add a bit more flour to get it right.  If you press your palm to the ball and lift it up, it should stick to your hand for a second and then fall off.  Cover the ball with a slightly damp towel and let it rest at least 30 minutes.  

Split the ball into two and flatten with your hands.  It doesn't have to be so thin because we will roll it out with the pasta maker.  Sprinkle each side of the sheets with flour and then starting from setting 1, roll each half of the dough through.  Repeat, increasing your setting each time by 1 finishing at setting 5 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Make sure to flour very well each side of the sheet and then cut your sheets.  Otherwise your dough will stick and not cut well (ask me how I know this).  I have an attachment that cuts fettucine width or spaghetti width so I just went with the smaller and cranked each sheet through.  

Bring a little pot of water to boil.  Toss in your noodles and stir around a bit.  I give them a bite after about a minute or two and that usually seems ok to me.  Combine noodles with broth (userealbutter has a nice broth recipe here) and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Beginning of a Minimalist Life

I think my move from Philadelphia to Portland really opened my eyes to how much my stuff had been weighing me down.  In preparation of the move, I did a ruthless cull of my belongings; little did I know what it would be the start of!  The hardest part of that first purge was books.  I was very attached to my books, lugging them around with me everywhere I moved, whether or not I ever reread them.  To me, the books represented my wish to be seen as an educated, interesting person and reflected my love of reading.  In getting rid of these books though, I realized that I didn't need to prove anything to anyone.  The only people I ever invited over were friends, and they already know I'm educated, already find me interesting and are fully aware I love reading.  In other words, I don't need my things to say anything about me, I am what I am, with or without these external things.  So I kept the best loved books, the ones I returned to again and again and donated/gave away the rest.

Since moving then, I've continued to declutter and refine my belongings to only items that are in regular use and/or beautiful.  I try to be fanatic about what I bring in and beg everyone I know not to give me things.  Every time I take another bag to Goodwill I start filling another.  It's funny how much easier it is to part with things over time.  After a while, it is apparent that I really never wear that skirt, even if it's lovely and the material is so fine - it doesn't fit quite right and I don't feel great in it.  Same with the sweater that's 100% merino and feels so soft but looks so awkward on.  In the process, my house and life feel simultaneously more serene and also more focused.  I am never searching for anything because I know what I have and better yet, where it is.  

I don't want to give the impression I have NO stuff though.  Compared to someone like Miss Minimalist, I have a lot!  But I'm totally ok with that because as Miss Minimalist would be the first to say, minimalism is really all about tailoring your possessions to only what you truly use and love.  It'll mean different things for different people.  Since I have done a lot of decluttering in the clothes department, here are a few tips that have worked for me in my journey so far:
  • Do not fall for sales (especially with clothes).  It does not matter how much it's marked down, evaluate it as if you would have to pay full price for it.  There are so many clothing options out there that there is no reason to settle.  The only exception is if you lost all your clothes and you literally have nothing to wear!
  • On a similar note, be aware of price/wear.  I no longer buy anything from H&M because frankly they don't stand up well to washing in general.  I've had too many $15 shirts/dresses (so cheap!) that shrunk peculiarly after a single wear.  $15/wear is the opposite of cheap.  People say this everywhere but it's really true - stick to a small wardrobe of high quality clothes and you will save money and look put together all the time.  Chances are, you are wearing only a small portion of your wardrobe anyway, so you might as well do this consciously and deliberately.  It will enable you to get nicer things upfront.
  • Take care of your things!  Namely your sweaters.  I'm someone who is cold pretty much all the time so I'm constantly in a sweater or cardigan.  Before the great decluttering, I had too many sweaters and most of them were not worn on a regular basis.  Since all of my sweaters were kept together and they were all made of natural fibers, you can imagine the lovely moth community I was maintaining without my knowledge.  This is a great argument for keeping only what you wear - infestations like this cannot gain a foothold if your sweaters are in constant rotation.  In the summer, make sure to put them away safely and they will greet you like old friends come winter (or in my case, don't put them away at all because you will be wearing them in Portland year round!)
  • Wear all of your clothes and you won't need so many.  My exceptions are my suits, the two dresses I wear to weddings and my workout clothes.  Everything else I can wear and I do.  My regular style tends to be a little bit dressier than is average for my work place but not inappropriately so, and these outfits take me easily to any social event as well.  
  • Base your entire wardrobe on a strict color palette so everything matches.  For me it's black, gray, white, blue and darkish purple.  This seriously makes shopping and dressing 1000x easier and these colors happen to be flattering on me as well.  What you wear should make you happy not tortured, so pick colors accordingly!  The place where I make exceptions is shoes.  For instance I love red, but it looks terrible against my face so I relocate the color to my shoes.  And for me, I have found that red shoes go with every outfit I can put together so they are just as versatile as black shoes.
None of these tips is particularly novel, but the reason you encounter variations of this advice everywhere is because they're true and effective.  Simplifying my life is something that's very much on my mind these days so "Minimalism" will be a regular sort of feature from now on.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bar Method Five Months
By the time I realized that I had forgotten to post my four month update, it was close enough to five months that I figured I'd wait.  So here I am again with another progress report.  Actually, I don't really have any concrete progress to report, so here are some musings:
  • I'm still on the same weights and using the strap for round back. I thought I'd be able to move up by now, but I'm sticking to the same weights because they're still challenging.  The interesting thing is that while I definitely feel stronger, my form during exercises got a bit better with time and so the same exercises  feel harder.  Small adjustments in position really make a difference.
  • It's incredible how challenging the class is still.  In my previous attempts at exercise, I might be sore for the first week or two but then my body adapts and the soreness subsides.  This is not true at all for bar method.  I am always always sore after a class and sometimes remarkably so, considering how long I've been going.  I'm not an exercise person so I have no idea if this is typical, but it makes me feel great that my body is still responding to it and reshaping.
  • I'm not going to lie, it is really hard to go to class in the mornings now that it's so cold.  I'm still going four times a week, but this week and last week I only attended three times/week...Still, that beats last year's exercise record by a million and I must say, once I manage to get to class, it feels awesome and I'm proud of myself.  The instructors are also always full of energy and super encouraging, which generates a great atmosphere.
  • Since my last update, I've been trying very hard to push on through tricep dips and I'm getting better! Sometimes I still have to collapse for a moment, but it's better than before.
  • One of the nice things about bar method is the constant stream of instruction.  The only decision I have to make is getting myself there, but once I'm there I just follow orders.  Considering how many decisions I have to make at work and in my life in general, this is actually really relaxing.  
That's all for now.  As I write this, my butt, arms, legs and abs are all sore from this morning's class.  Crazy.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Early Resolution #1

I ended up not making any New School Year Resolutions after all, but while setting my apartment to rights tonight I thought of a good one for 2012.  It's one that I'm always half-heartedly trying to make, but this year I will officially resolve to do so and keep myself accountable.  It's not an easy one...

1. Make sure the kitchen is clean before going to bed.  

While I am generally ok at keeping my kitchen tidy, it's the main thing that falls to pieces when I'm busy.  And once it gets messy, I am loathe to clean it because it seems so daunting.  The worst situation is when the following happens: a) clean dishes are in the dishwasher waiting to be unloaded, b) dirty dishes are in the sink and also on the counter because the dishwasher is full of clean dishes, c) I can't unload the clean dishes because the counter is full, d) dirty dishes accumulate.  I also like to wash my pots and pans by hand because my dishwasher doesn't get them clean enough so I usually have a stack of clean pots/pans in the right-hand sink and for some reason those can just sit there for days until I finally put them away.  It's really silly.

So from now on, I get everything washed and counters wiped down before I go to sleep.  Dirty dishes can hang out in the dishwasher until it's full.  And then in the morning, I will put away the dried pots and pans from the right-hand sink.  I actually used to be quite good about all of this when I first moved in, but I think that was partly because I was a lot less busy.  But a nice clean kitchen makes me feel SO much better so I think it needs to be something I devote effort to maintaining.  And hopefully after a while it will be so engrained that it's something I absolutely have to do.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Scrapbook Page: Arch Cape

I think I still need to go around and add a few elements (pins and staples or stitching) but I quite liked how this one turned out.  I was still on a scrapbooking high and cranked this one out very fast.  And I realized that it's kind of great just having a very simple page sometimes!  I was constrained by the photo sizes because several of these photos were from a friend's facebook album so the resolution was small.  But it was so much fun looking at these photos again; that's one of the best aspects about scrapbooking I think - reliving happy memories.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Scrapbook Pages: Mommy and Jiyi Visit Portland

Papers and elements downloaded from Shabby Princess

It's been an embarrassing age since I last made pages for my album but nothing like an important work deadline to bring out all of my procrastinating inclinations.  Fortunately, I met my deadline with time to spare and finished my layout to boot.  And I love it!  My aunt (jiyi means second aunt in Taiwanese) has been visiting the US because of the baby and she and my mom took a two week trip to see me.  They both marveled so much at the Fall foliage that I thought these colors would be especially suitable.  As usual, I am leaning heavily toward squeezing in as many photos are possible, but I really like the effect.  I do wish I had more space for journaling though, it's so tough to pare down my words so much just to make it all fit.  However, a picture is supposed to be a thousand words so...enjoy!