Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Christmas came early

Behold, my Christmas present to Garrett: a ukulele!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Massachusetts Institute of To-do-ology

When we aren't living minimally, we tend to maximize the stress in our lives. There is always something to do -- whether it be related to work, school, family, the house, or one's hobbies. This seems to be true especially during the holiday season, which is upon us!

Remember the minimalism philosophy? First, identify what's important to you. Second, eliminate everything else. This is a helpful perspective when creating to-do lists.

Garrett and I got this idea from zenhabits. Create focus (and success) but identifying the three most important things you want to accomplish each day -- your MITs (Most Important Tasks). You may accomplish more than just three goals for the day, but if you can tackle your three main objectives, then you should feel a sense of fulfillment -- and pride!

Personally, I love to-do lists. I live by to-do lists. Writing this blog post was on my to-do list. But my organization and forethought can be my downfall. My to-do lists quickly snowball into lengthy scrolls. As I cross off one task, I add three more. I rarely feel that I am "finished." I usually feel guilty or disappointed at the end of a day when I haven't crossed everything off my list.

About a month ago, I started implementing the MIT philosophy at work, where I type a to-do list each day. This used to be a monstrous list of 10-20 bulleted points. Rather than helping me focus my energy, this kind of list left me frazzled and disoriented. So I began to choose my three MITs each day -- three and only three! At the top of my list, I prioritize the three tasks that I must accomplish that day -- meeting with a teacher, finishing a report, testing a student, filling out a special education form, etc. And then I tackle them, one by one. This keeps me from going cross-eyed, scanning through 20 tasks. On most days, I can accomplish my MITs, and then a few extra tasks that are bulleted below my top three. That's like icing on the cake!

Being organized in this fashion decreases my stress at work and at home. I usually write my 3 MITs for tomorrow at the end of today's work day. That way, I leave work with a clear head. I'm less likely to stress about work at night if I have already laid out my plans for the next day.

Garrett and I have recently started using this strategy on the weekends. Rather than put pressure on ourselves to do all of the things we meant to do during the week but didn't, we chat over Saturday breakfast, naming a few simple goals that are related to both errands and leisure time. It helps! A to-do list shouldn't get the better of you -- especially on the weekend.

Whether you're in Cambridge or Texas, let MIT into your life.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Happy Halloween!

It's Garrett's favorite time of the year! We spent Halloween eve at a party at Beth's apartment, followed by a pub crawl in the area of Houston known as Montrose.

Here's Indiana Jones and his goddess! This year's addition to Garrett's costume was a handmade fedora -- from scratch! (Or "from felt.") He worked very, very hard on it, and the end product is fantastic. Soon I'll be putting together an online photo album to document the making of the hat.

Beth dressed as a sailor, and Stephanie was Miss Piggy!

Even Lucky had a costume. He was supposed to be a dinosaur, but has also been described as a Reluctant Dragon.

Chris is an engineering student. One of his hobbies is making speakers. It took him about two hours to construct this mobile boom box, using an iPod, some wires, a lot of duct tape, and the speaker from his guitar amp. He was the most popular member of our group on the pub crawl, blasting music wherever he went!

After several hours at Beth's place, we went out to the pub crawl. There were tons of costumed people roaming the streets. Here is Laura, Patricia, Spencer, and me. Laura and Spencer are teachers at my school.

I didn't get any photos of them, but some of my favorite costumes were Quail Man (from the Nickelodeon cartoon "Doug"), Tippi Hedren from "The Birds" (a blue dress with birds attached to it, and scratches on her face), and Mormon missionaries (two guys wearing white short-sleeve button-up shirts, ties, nametags, black pants, backpacks, and bike helmets). Finalists in the official competition included a group dressed as the cast of "Spaceballs."

We ended the night at the Firkin & Phoenix, a pub next door to Beth's building. She goes there on a regular basis and knows the staff -- it's her "Cheers"! Yesterday the bartender presented her with her very own mug, which sits on the Tuesday shelf. She is very pleased.

We plan to go on a walk this evening around dusk to check out the trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood. Have a spooky day!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Down in Frugal Rock

One of the key tenets of minimalism is frugality. This doesn't mean that Garrett and I aspire to live in a cardboard box (though he sometimes fantasizes about living in a van). It's more about resourcefulness.

Examining the material goods you own is a good first step on the path to minimalism. When you think about it, a lot of the stress (and debt) in your life can be attributed to THINGS and the pursuit thereof. Our obsession with acquiring things can be harmful to ourselves and to the environment. (Check out "The Story of Stuff" for more insight.)

It's rewarding to look through your belongings and think seriously about why you own them. Ask yourself:
1) How often do I use (or wear) this?
2) Have I ever used this?
3) Will I ever use this?
4) Is this broken?
5) Don't I have three others of this?
6) Could I put this closet space to better use?
7) Could someone else enjoy this more if I donated it or sold it?
8) Do I really want to pack this when we move again?

Bit by bit, Garrett and I have gone through most of the corners of our apartment. Such a task can be overwhelming, so it's best to break it down into more manageable chunks. Start with one bureau. The next day, move onto one closet. Later, tackle a drawer, cabinet, or bookshelf. Another strategy is to choose a surface area (say, a desktop or a tabletop) and clean it. Not just take things off it and stuff them into drawers, but really look at them and decide if they're worth keeping.

As part of our downsizing, we've donated clothes, shoes, and hats to Goodwill. (They'll even take your used eyeglasses.) We've trashed odds and ends that were just taking up space. I recycled old papers I haven't touched since filing them away. I gave half-used-but-still-fresh beauty products (shampoos, hand creams, etc.) to friends and co-workers. We've given blankets and towels to the Humane Society. (We had enough sheets -- if not enough air mattresses -- to sleep a family of ten.) I've sold a number of books to the used bookstore around the corner -- though you'll never catch Garrett doing that!

I've also tried to minimize the amount of trash I produce by recycling even more. I placed a gift bag next to my desk for scraps of paper (old to-do lists, receipts, etc.), so that I will recycle them instead of throwing them in the nearby wastebasket.

Of course this system doesn't work if you turn around the next day and buy a bunch of new things. The other side of the frugality coin is to think seriously about your purchases. When Garrett thinks about a big purchase, he writes it down, along with the date. He revisits the note 30 days later to decide if he still wants it. That's restraint! Other bloggers have suggested that, if you buy something new, you should donate something old -- so it balances out.

You can take the project as far as you'd like. Some people set a cap at 100 personal items. I'm not ready for that quite yet. Our next project might involve bigger items, like a sofa.

By reducing the number of things we own, we've added to our serenity. Our place is neater. And, hey, there are fewer things to clean! There's also a light, happy feeling that goes along with getting rid of THINGS.

We're moving towards independence by limiting our possessions. Most people work long, hard hours so they can buy cars/video games/clothes/etc., and then they work longer and harder so they can earn more money to buy better cars/video games/clothes/etc. When you limit yourself to the essentials, you can be satisfied with what you have. You can step off the consumerism hamster wheel!

Alright, I'm stepping off my soapbox for now. Enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Independence, Meaningfulness, and Serenity

The blog is back!

Apologies to friends and family disappointed by the lack of posts since July. I'd like to think of it as a sabbatical. We now return to blogging with a sense of eagerness and purpose!

At the beginning of September, Garrett and I embarked on a journey. As we started our third year in Houston, we reflected on where we had been and where we would like to go from here. Thus began Project: Minimalism.

Prompted by a news story, we started exploring blogs about living simply. One of our favorites is Zen Habits. As stated on that blog, the philosophy underlying minimalism is this:

1) Identify what's most important to you.
2) Eliminate everything else.

Simple but powerful!

I'd like to use this blog as a forum to document our journey and explain our rationale.

In the first few weeks of minimal living, we identified our goals. Here are our lists --

1) Nurturing my relationship with Garrett
2) Working with and on behalf of children, especially those with disabilities
3) Staying fit and healthy
4) Living near nature, among a community with shared values
5) Living a debt-free life

1) Kristin
2) Finishing my PhD
3) Becoming more autonomous
4) Being healthy
5) Being creative

Together we decided that our mantra will be "Independence, Meaningfulness, and Serenity." When we examine how we spend our time, energy, and money, we will ask ourselves, "Is this helping me achieve independence, meaningfulness, or serenity?" If the answer is no, we should probably place our efforts elsewhere.

I hope that this blog will add to the meaningfulness of our lifestyle -- or at least some clarity! Stay tuned for more ideas and achievements.

Friday, July 23, 2010

These are the objects in my neighborhood

On a walk yesterday, Garrett and I discovered this casa, decked out to celebrate Spain's victory in the World Cup.

On an unrelated note, I purchased a field guide to trees about three months ago. Since then, Garrett and I have been becoming experts on the flora in our little Houston jungle. I admit it is a nerdy hobby, but I find it very rewarding! It's like our own little CSI. We get quite excited when we solve the riddle that is an unknown tree. So far, we have identified more than 30 types of trees!

This tree is one of my favorites, because it is so unusual! It is a Northern Catalpa, also known as a Cigar Tree.

The leaves can grow up to 12 inches long, and the podlike capsule that contains its seeds can grow up to 20 inches long!

Wish us luck as we continue our identification endeavors! We hope we can leaf our mark on Houston.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Even Garrett gets the blues

In a fit of creativity and good ol' hard work, Garrett recently made himself a cigar box guitar!

He turned a corner of our apartment into a workshop.


Next project -- learning how to play it!

Monday, June 21, 2010


Last weekend, I visited my friend Faye and her family in Austin. It was a great time! Here are some scenes from our walk around Lady Bird Lake.

These adventuresome Austinites are practicing the art of stand up paddle surfing. Amazing!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Nothing is certain but death and TAKS

TAKS week is nearing its end! Students across the state took the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills this week in a variety of subject areas. At one of my schools, the third grade hallway was decorated in celebration -- stars and paper chains hanging from the ceiling, glittery good luck wishes from parents prominently displayed, and handmade posters by the students along the lower part of the wall. Though there was a "block party" in the hallway last week, I didn't take a close look at the posters until this week. It's one thing when I rant and rave on the blog about standardized tests; it's another thing to see how the kids really feel about them! Should I notify a psychologist?

The last one reads (or can be translated as), "The TAKS has been terminated! And I got commended." Some students receive "Commended Performance" for very high scores. But it looks like that TAKS got commando-ed!

Making it official

Rice recently opened up a shiny, new gym facility. Thoughts of the upcoming summer caused me to wonder if I, somehow, could have access to such riches. A few e-mails and a few weeks later, Garrett and I found ourselves at the Rice police station, making it official. I am now the proud owner of a Rice Spouse ID card! This means I can access, among other things, the gym and the library at Rice. Woohoo! "Domestic Partner" was the phrase Garrett chose when filling out the form -- it was he who had to sign off on the card and swear that he would assume financial responsibility for any damages or fines I may incur while assuming my Rice identity. Afterwards we tossed around other phrases, such as "Sugar Mama of Garrett Grolemund" or "Personal Servant of Garrett Grolemund." The ID is valid for one year, so we have plenty of time to brainstorm.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Deep thoughts, by Kristin

I like to study language. Whether it's when I'm reading, when I'm listening to NPR, or when I'm having a conversation, I sometimes lose track of what people are saying and begin focusing on how they're saying it. So I've made a decision to write a brief post on it. Or did I take a decision to do so?

Turns out that in Spanish and in French, and in British English and Australian English, people say "to take a decision" instead of "to make a decision." I think this is fascinating. Why the distinction? Does it have a cultural significance? Is it the difference between a more laidback, or passive approach to decisions -- and a more trailblazing, defining, aggressive approach to decisions? "Taking a decision" conjures up an image of an array of choices that are already laid before me on silver platters -- and that it's just a matter of selecting which is the best fit for me. "Making a decision" conjures up an image of a sculptor carving out his destiny -- of seeing something one wants, and going out and seizing it. This seems to me to be a division of temperaments -- European vs. American. Are we as Americans obsessed with creation and progress and the idea of the self-made man? Is making more empowering than taking?

William Safire wrote a column about such "Britishisms" in the New York Times more than 20 years ago. Read it here! I like that he compares "taking a decision," "taking tea," or "taking your point" to accepting a serve in tennis.

What do you make of that? Or, what do you take away?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Spring has sprung!

Garrett and I are giddy! The weather in Houston can be described as sunny, 70s, sublime! We went on three separate walks this weekend to take it all in. Here are some snapshots from our neighborhood. I heart flowers!

I match the azaleas!

On Saturday, we saw a women emptying junk out of her garage. On Sunday, we saw that she had placed this scarecrow in a raggedy chair. If it's at the end of the driveway, does that mean he's waiting for the garbage truck? Or is it a piece of art, something about the scarecrow kicking back to enjoy spring since his autumnal duties are complete?

I like the ivy on this front porch.

The handiwork of our local graffiti artist! We noticed his (her?) work around the neighborhood during the 2008 elections, small "Tron" images that read "Vote Right" (like the one seen in the upper right corner of this image). This piece is on a non-functioning door on the back of a shop, in an empty parking lot. She has the presidential seal on her neck. Spring is an excellent season for smirking!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Where's the common sense-us?

I was actually excited to find an envelope from the U.S. Census in our mailbox this afternoon. As a freshman in college in 2000, I somehow missed the census a decade ago. I am now eager to contribute to such an impressive national project.

So imagine my surprise when I opened the envelope to find a single sheet of paper informing me that, in one week, I will receive a 2010 Census form in the mail. Huh? Is this how we're spending -- or wasting -- government funds? To preserve my sanity, I am not going to ask the statistician of the house to calculate how much paper this endeavor has wasted, or how much carbon dioxide was released during the delivery of this important news.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Flying saucers

Garrett and I went for a walk yesterday and discovered some beautiful and enigmatic flowering trees in our neighborhood. After learning on Google that they were saucer magnolias, we ventured out to get some photos today after a rainstorm. I think they're fascinating!

I caught this one peeking around a fence!

This is not a saucer magnolia, but some kind of sculpture that perhaps stands in honor of rodeo season. I call it "Surprised Longhorn."

Monday, March 1, 2010

Rodeo Tailgating

It's that time of the year again, when every Houstonian dusts off his cowboy hat and boots and the trailriders make their way into the city on their horses. It's the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo!

Garrett and I joined another couple this weekend for the rodeo "pre-party." Next to a carnival of enormous proportions lies the World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest. This is a sea of more than 400 tents, wherein various restaurants, individuals, and teams compete for a variety of BBQ trophies. Garrett was so excited to go, as someone who starts drooling at the mere mention of a pulled pork sandwich.

We were disappointed to learn upon arrival, however, that the average Billy Joe Bob who pays his $10 admission fee is admitted to only two tents! At the "Chuckwagon," the public can enjoy a free sandwich, baked beans, and chips. The "barbeque" sandwich, though, tasted more like the Sloppy Joe found in your local cafeteria. At the Hideout, Billy Joe Bob can drink overpriced alcohol. The remaining 431 tents are PRIVATE parties, which you may attend by invitation only. There wasn't even a stand where we could purchase some samples of these award-winning dishes. With no personal connection/hook-up, we spent most of the night wandering around, sipping beer, looking at tents, and breathing in the aroma of barbecue. We also enjoyed a nice funnel cake. Disappointed, we didn't even stay for the live music events.

The highlight of the evening was stumbling upon this tent, where whole pigs were being roasted on spits. We caught this chef putting an apple in the pig's mouth. Too bad there wasn't an accompanying spider web advertising, "Some pig!"

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Stopping by Woods on a Sunny Afternoon

Enticed by warm temperatures and sunshine, Garrett and I spent a couple hours getting lost in Houston's own Memorial Park. We encountered other hikers, and even bikers, but still managed to steal some quiet moments of solitude.

I spotted Bigfoot crossing this gully.

I was very amused by the fungi we saw on this trip. These mushrooms were growing on many fallen trees. "Oo!" I said. "They look just like oysters!" Garrett replied, "Yes, that's why they're called oyster mushrooms." That's my mycologist!

Here's a colony thriving on a partially submerged log!

This wet part of the park has been transformed into a swamp!

We made our way to Buffalo Bayou and took in the impressive real estate across the way. This house had what appeared to be miniature horses grazing upon the lawn!

Some of the paths were actually quite steep.

Many of the exposed roots on the path, having been traversed by hikers and bikers, looked buffed or polished from all of the action they've seen.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in Midtown though;
He will not see me stopping here
To take too many photos.

My boyfriend must think it queer
To stop without a landmark near
Between the woods and flowing bayou
The sunniest afternoon of the year.

He gives his pocket watch a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only sound's the sweep
Of pony tail and muddy lake.

The woods are lovely, bright and deep.
But I have blog posts to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.