Everyday Style: Essential Self Love Edition

It’s been a rough week.  I don’t really want to get into the down-and-dirty details, but suffice to say I need a little extra kindness this week.  At times like these (and I have a lot of times like these, in between those wonderful times where I can conquer anything and everything) I always slow down, prioritize taking care of myself.  I get my work responsibilities taken care of, and then I relax.  I read a book.  I cook food I love.  I watch movies.  Sometimes I set a date that I will snap out of it by—this time November 1st.  Sometimes it works.

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Here are some of the ways I’ve been extra kind to myself today:
I bought a tray for the French press and coffee mugs to sit on, so that our glass table would stop getting coffee-stained.  I dressed in an outfit that was both very cute and extremely comfortable.  Afterwards, I took it off and put on a favorite sweater.  I made myself lemon tea, which I’m sipping right now.  I read the rest of a book I’d gotten too busy to finish.  I did yoga.  I went for a long walk with my husband.  After I woke up this morning, I lay in bed for another half hour, cuddling and allowing myself to ease into the day.  I listened to the latest episode of the Mustard on Movies podcast while I cooked dinner.

I don’t always have time to be so gentle with myself.  Next month I’ll have precious few days to devote to myself, as my students turn in assignments and I try to finish my novel while grading them.  When I have the opportunity, and when I feel the need, it’s important to allow myself these little luxuries.

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I’m a big proponent of the power of positive self-talk, too—which frankly hasn’t gotten enough play with me this week.  So here are some of the nice things I have to say about myself right now:

I’m comfortable in my body, even confident in it sometimes.  (A big and ever-evolving feat.)  I’m getting pretty damn good at cooking, even with no recipe, even with no plan.  I’ve been doing really well in Chinese class these past few weeks, impressing my teacher with my reading, writing, and pronunciation.  I taught a very good lesson in Academic Writing this week—both of the teachers I’m cooperating with praised it, and the students improved quite noticeably from the beginning to the end of the class.  I looked hella cute today.

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I’m the type of person who will work myself to the bone, drive myself insane just to get the results I want.  I have to be careful not to burn out.  I know from experience the importance of taking a step back, being kind and compassionate with yourself, because I’ve been harsh and strict with myself for much, much longer.

It’s all about balance, really.  I’m always learning and re-learning these things.  I’m not naturally a very balanced person—but I believe you can be most things if you cultivate them.  So be kind to yourself, but also be strict with yourself.  Be compassionate, but don’t give yourself excuses.  Be loving with yourself, but be honest about the ways you need to improve.  Be forgiving of yourself, but hold yourself to high standards.  Be the best you can be, and do it with love.

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The Look:
Denim dress – thrifted (G.A.S. Co.), white shirt – thrifted (Decree), black faces shirt – thrifted (The Big Shirt), green thigh-high socks – Sock Dreams, booties – Target

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Follow me for more fashion posts, as well as posts about vegan health and cooking, travel, the writer’s life, and more!

 

Energy Saving Tips: How We Made One Month’s Electricity Last FIVE Months

My husband and I live in China, which you’re probably aware is one of the most polluted countries in the world right now.  Is it as bad as the media makes it sound?  Well… sometimes.  We live in Chengdu, which has relatively clean air for its size (fifth largest city in the country) due to its propensity for rain and the mountains that surround it, but even so, Nathan wears a mask all winter long.  In the past year, I only wore my mask a handful of times—but I did get sick from the pollution almost as many times.

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We did have one or two days of “hazardous” air quality last winter.

Before we moved to China, I was very concerned about climate change; my senior year of college I wrote my 100-page creative writing “thesis” on climate change in the Midwest, and it was my second major climate-related writing project.  I have a third in the planning stages, incidentally.

But when we moved to China, our focus on the environment really sharpened.  It’s easy to ignore environmental problems when you live in a developed country.  It’s a very different perspective when you live next to a waterway that alternates between olive green and dog-poop brown, when you have to boil the tap water before you can drink it*, when you might get food poisoning from eating the vegetables raw.  When breathing the air can make you sick.

*even then it might not strictly be safe—I had a student miss class last semester because he had to have surgery to remove collected sediment (“small rocks,” as he put it) from his stomach.

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I wouldn’t want to drink that water…

We quit eating animal products in January, after learning that animal agriculture accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than all transportation combined.  And when we learned that more than 70% of Chinese electricity comes from coal, we resolved to do our part in reducing that coal burning by drastically reducing our energy consumption.

In fact, we reduced it to less than 1/5 of what it was before.

For a little context, we receive a 300RMB energy allowance per month—evidently the average monthly energy consumption of a three-person Chinese family.  When we first arrived, we used that amount approximately monthly.  But in February we decided to take seriously the environmental burden of our energy consumption, and we took some big steps to cut back.  This is how we used less than one month’s energy allowance (200RMB) to last us five months—without sacrificing our comfort.

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We turned off the lights.

This is such an obvious solution, it’s the first energy-saving measure you hear: turn the lights off when you leave the room.  But why can’t you turn the lights off while you’re in the room?

We don’t get great natural lighting in our apartment.  In fact, our natural lighting situation is pretty abysmal.  Our apartment’s windows face away from the sun, a few hundred feet from the next tall apartment building, with trees in between.  Add that to the fact that Chengdu has fewer sunny days than Seattle, and you’ve got a recipe for a dark apartment.

But you know what?  We can still see.  We rarely turn the lights on before 7 or 8pm, except for the bathroom light and a small LED lamp that Nathan uses to study Chinese by.  Low light is easy to get used to, even a bit relaxing.  And if you have bad eyesight or find it hard to focus in low lighting, a small, energy-efficient lamp that lets off cool-colored light will be at least as effective as an overhead light.

At night, of course, we do turn on lights—but only the lights we’re actually using.

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We turned off the A/C and the heater.

This one is a little conditional, and it’s the one that makes people think we’re crazy.  It only gets down to about 40 Fahrenheit (about 4 Celsius) during your average Chengdu winter.  I grew up in Wisconsin—40 Fahrenheit is a balmy spring day to me!  But the climate control in our apartment was our biggest energy sink by far, so it was an obvious choice to stop.

That said, not using the heater still took some adjusting.  Even if, like me, you don’t think 40 degrees is a big deal, people expect to be warm and comfortable in their home, and after a few days at those temperatures, you start feeling cold to the bone.

But there are easy solutions to this that are much more energy-efficient than using your heater!

For one thing, long underwear.  Buy a comfortable, high-quality pair of long underwear.  Mine is purple and lined with synthetic fleece inside.  They’re comfortable, cozy, and oh-so-warm.  And I wear them all winter.  If long underwear alone isn’t warm enough, layer on those sweaters!  Who doesn’t love an oversized sweater?  I mean, really?  Shouldn’t you be celebrating the excuse to walk around basically covered in blankets all day?

For another thing, we bought heat fans.  This is something I’ve never seen in the United States, but they’re everywhere in China.  Now, these still use electricity to run, so we do try not to use them too much.  But because you’re able to focus a blast of heat directly onto your body, you don’t need them on for too long.  You can turn one on facing you until you feel nice and toasty, then turn it back off until you’re cold again.

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We don’t use a dishwasher or a clothes dryer.

Okay, that’s mostly because we don’t own either one, and if I had access to a dishwasher I would definitely use it.  But I don’t particularly miss a clothes dryer.  We just have a line strung up in our laundry room, and we keep that small window open to dry our clothes more effectively.  (We close the door to the laundry room during the cold months to try and contain the cold air.)

Additionally, our refrigerator is very small—it doesn’t even come up to my shoulders.  How do we live with a small refrigerator?  Easy: we eat a fresh diet of plant-based whole foods.  We don’t waste space on drinks like milk, juice, or soda.  We keep almost exclusively condiments and leftovers in our refrigerator, because the fresh produce that makes up a majority of our diet is by and large purchased within a day of when we plan to eat it, at one of the markets within a 15-minute walk of our apartment.

We made DIY dehumidifiers.

Chengdu is extremely damp.  When we first moved into our apartment, it had a horror-movie mold problem, which it had evidently cultivated over the course of just one rainy, humid summer sans inhabitants.  Aside from plugging some holes with spray foam and scrubbing the shit out of our walls with bleach water, we had to find a way to dehumidify our apartment.  But we didn’t want to buy a dehumidifier, for both cost and environmental reasons.  So instead we bought a few cute buckets, some colanders that approximately fit the mouths of the buckets, and some bags of calcium chloride.  You just put the colander inside the bucket and add calcium chloride to it—and boom!  Instant energy-efficient dehumidifier.  The bucket collects the water from the atmosphere.

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You can buy calcium chloride quite cheap online, at least here in China!

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And here we are, living in comfort with low energy costs!  I hope you’ve found this post somewhat informative!  Make sure to follow me for more posts about living low on the food, energy, and generational chain, from vegan health posts to cheap and ethical fashion and lifestyle posts and more!

Clarity on Chunxi Road – Style for Savers

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It’s the National Day holiday in China, so I have the week off work.  Originally I was planning to take this opportunity to dip down to India for a week (check one off my travel bucket list, aka the world map!), but a few weeks ago Nathan and I decided to stay in Chengdu.  For one thing, we have a lot going on here right now.  He’s working on early decision grad school applications, and I’ve got about a thousand balls in the air right now between teaching at the university, teaching teens, teaching kids, writing a novel, writing a textbook, writing this blog, planning my future…. But to be totally honest, we partially made the decision to stay because we were so damn tired of travelling.

Yeah, it happens!  This summer we spent two months in America, and even though a couple of weeks of that time was spent at our respective parents’ homes, the whole thing felt like travel.  When we were camping in California for several weeks, that was definitely travel.  When we stayed in Colorado for almost a month, that was definitely travel. But this was also the first time we’ve been to our parents’ houses and had it distinctly not feel like home.  (Makes sense, since we’ve been married and living 7,000 miles away for a year.)  Then, when we finally did come back to China, we spent several weeks travelling around and hosting Nathan’s parents.  Travelling is amazing, but it also gets fucking exhausting.  I mean, at a deep level, in your soul.

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In any case, I’m four days into our staycation now and I have to say we definitely made the right choice.  It’s been a blast, and I’ve hit exactly the right balance between relaxed and productive—Saturday I spent hunched over my computer in my underwear all day, working, but Sunday I spent people-watching and strutting my stuff in one of the major shopping districts in the city!  See?  Life is all about balance.

Going to Chunxi Road (and the surrounding area) is a lot of fun because it’s always completely packed, and everyone is dressed in their best.  People-watching is lowkey one of my favorite hobbies.  It’s fun anywhere, any time, but it’s even more fun when you get to see people present their idea of their best selves.  You can really tell a lot about a person by what they wear to impress others.

I wonder what you can tell about me.

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The real reason yesterday was so much fun, though, is that I’m feeling really psychologically rejuvenated!  This staycation gave me the time and space to figure some things out.  You could say I’ve had an epiphany—or two!  There’s no feeling like realizing that one phase of your life is over, and that you’re ready to move into the next.  And there’s definitely no feeling like realizing that, for once, you have a really good idea of what that next phase is.  It feels good!

And one thing I’ve learned in my life so far:

Feel good, look good.

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The Look (under $40 total):
Red crop top – Forever 21, white lace top – a discount clothes market near Chunxi Road (no tag), black pencil skirt – Goodwill (Body Central), black top tied over skirt – St. Vincent’s Dig and Save (The Big Shirt), shoes – Target, purse – a hole-in-the-wall shop in Chengdu, sunglasses – Goldmine Vintage in Boulder, CO

Journaling For Success: 4 Tips To Make Journaling Work For You

Look, life is complicated at the best of times.  At the worst, it’s downright overwhelming.  If you’re anything like me, it can be really hard to keep your feelings and your goals straight in your head.  Maybe you’re one of those people who keeps thinking “I should start meditating,” but gets discouraged by the barrage of thoughts that comes barreling into your head when you try to empty it out.  Maybe you’ve tried manifesting success, but you didn’t have the focus and quit before you had a chance to find out if it worked.  Maybe you wrote a journal as a child, but quit when life got busy.

Well, all of those apply to me, and those are all the more reasons to journal as an adult.  I’ve discovered that journaling can be your meditation, can be your manifestation and visualization.  You just have to change your attitude about it.

When I was a kid, I used to write an exhaustive journal covering every detail of my daily goings-on.  That’s fine when you’re a little girl living in the countryside, because frankly there’s not much going on.  But as you get older, that gets to be… pretty much impossible.  That kept me from journaling for a long time.  I’d start a journal here and there through college, any time I found a cute notebook or felt overwhelmed by my life, but invariably the task became overwhelming itself as I fell further and further behind in my exhaustive recounting of events.  I put pressure on myself to record my life in this way in case I ever wanted to go back and remember.  But I’ve realized recently that I was going about it all wrong.

So what’s the right way to journal?  Like so many things, the right way to journal is immensely personal.  But I think the way I’ve settled on is pretty damn good.

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A beautiful notebook and a trusty pen: the most important tools you can have in life.

Every couple of days, I sit down with a felt-tip pen, a beautiful journal gifted to me by my father-in-law, and a strong cup of coffee, and I write.  I don’t waste any time at all on the events of my day (let’s be honest, I was never going to reread it anyway), but I use the journaling as an opportunity to concentrate on what really matters to me.  I write about feelings that I’m struggling to sort through or make sense of, but more importantly I write about my goals, and what steps I should be taking to move towards those goals.  I write about what’s worrying me, and about how I can prevent the negative outcomes that I’m fretting about.

Writing about these topics means that journaling itself is meditation for me.  It empties my head of everything that doesn’t deserve my full attention.  It’s manifestation, it’s visualization of success.  It’s a great way to focus on my goals.  Whenever I do it, I come away feeling a thousand times more clear-headed and motivated.  So I thought I’d share some tips on how to make journaling work for you:

  1. Identify your purpose.

Figuring out your reason for journaling is the most important step to turning your journal into an effective tool for self-improvement and motivation, because it shows you what to write. I don’t journal to remember things.  I don’t journal to confess my secrets.  I journal to keep my head clear and my intentions focused.  This completely shapes what I write in my journal.  I recommend using your journal as a safe space where you don’t harshly judge yourself, but you are honest with yourself about what you do and don’t want, what you are and are not accomplishing, and in what ways you could improve.  If something isn’t important, don’t write about it.  Only writing about the important things will help you stay focused on them throughout the day.

  1. Make it a habit.

Choose a time that works for you—a time when you’re motivated but not busy, a time when you can isolate yourself a little bit and focus—and build journaling into your routine for that time.  I like to journal in the morning, every second or third day.  By doing it in the morning, I’m awake and I can harness the focused energy I get from journaling to motivate me for the rest of the day.  By doing it every other day or so, enough time has passed that I have more thoughts crowding into my head, but not too much time has passed, so I’m not overwhelmed by the amount I feel I need to write down.

This is easy for me to do, because I have a job where I only work two days a week (I’ll write a post on how I live comfortably on two days’ work a week soon), but it may not work for you.  It may be better for you to write in the evening, or the afternoon, every day or only once a week.  There’s no right or wrong time to journal—as long as you choose a time where you can breathe, relax, and concentrate on yourself for a little while!  Just make sure you keep doing it regularly.  It’s the same as anything else: you need to be consistent to see the benefits.

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I need to be alone when I journal–but it’s okay, the stuffed animals can watch 😉

  1. Do it in a special space.

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but having a specific place where I journal helps me get in the mind-examining mood.  I like to do it in my bed—the only thing I do in bed other than sleeping and sex.  (By the way, staying out of the bed when I’m awake is one of the most life-changing habits I’ve quit, but that’s a post for another time.)  I sit on top of the covers, with the pillows piled behind me, the curtains open so the weak morning sunlight spills in, and my coffee on the bedside table next to me.  It’s a place where I can be alone and feel comfortable.  Since I don’t usually hang out in my bed, it feels like a special, pampering event.

  1. Don’t feel pressured to journal in any specific way.

Don’t think you need to write “dear diary” at the beginning of your entries, or sign your name at the end.  Don’t think you need to address your entries to anyone, or even write in paragraphs.  If you want to make a bulleted list or draw a picture, go for it!  This is your space.  Take liberties.  Do what feels right to you.  I personally write in straightforward stream-of-consciousness paragraphs, but that doesn’t mean you have to!  Experiment, and find out what style allows you to express yourself freely and honestly, without distraction.  Remember: it’s all about your goals.

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Now, go on!  Crack open a notebook and start writing your way to success!