Time is a River, an Ocean

May was a busy month, but honestly – they all are.  I found myself learning to give up more quickly on things when I hit a brick wall, and allowing myself to rest more often.  This is partly because I did my Time Inventory, searching out wisdom related to what makes a good time manager, and what little tips and tricks can help us make the most of each minute –  those elusive building blocks of life, those fleeting drops of water.

In the journey to discover these things I spent long moments in solitude and reflection.  At times I was so exhausted from digging into my brain that I fell into a near stupor on the couch reading dystopian novels about virtue and valor.   The more of these inventories I do, the more I realize the process of taking stock is two parts theoretical and two parts practical. What do I believe about time?  How does time work? (Very old questions, Plato wrote whole books about them, Augustine too.)  And then, How do I already manage my time, and how can I do it better?

In that quiet space of discovery and self-examination I learned that if your brain is ordered (or your heart, or your gut, or your soul, or whatever other body part you identify as the control center of your actions) then you will find your time management to be easier.  That week I took Proverbs 4:23 into my brain and made this little collage to serve as a reminder of what I was reading.

I also made this little sign to put on my desk table, where I do my work.

How do you order your brain?   I sorted through my priorities.  They are simple ones if you put them broadly enough: Taking care of my body and soul through healthy living, good relationships, and placing myself in a zone of proximal development as much as possible.  It is focusing on my family by extending grace, hospitality, and a listening ear or good lunch.  It is participating in church, community, prayer, and Bible Study and spiritual growth.  It is looking forward to making a small mark on the world though a not-yet-realized career.

Choosing what to pursue isn’t a matter of separating bad choices from good choices.  It’s a matter of discerning the best choices in an ocean of good choices.

These were some of the theoretical implications of time management.   The pragmatic?

There are only so many hours in a day.

And sometimes, you are too tired to do what you want to do.  As always, the key is balance, but the ability to gently say “No” to the things that don’t match up with our priorities helps too.  So does focusing on one task at a time or doing your hardest work when you’re freshest.  It involves deciding sometimes to do standing work, and other times to do sitting work.  It involves delegating some tasks to others more suited, or simply being content with something the first time you do it.

Where does the Money Go?

In April I wanted to do a money inventory.  Budgeting, recording, penny pinching – none of these things are new to me.  Over the last five years of my life I’ve gotten fairly good at sticking within budgets I’ve set, so I wasn’t really interested in how much we spent, so much as I was interested in the ways we spent it. After all, you can tell a lot about what a person values by observing their spending habits.

Well, these are some of the things I would say I value that I think money can buy:

Preparedness and Peace of Mind

Family Memories

Friends

Community

Health

Education.

But, as it turns out, do I spend my money on these things?

When it comes to Peace of Mind – I spent a fair amount of money this month buying up tools for organizing the house.  I mentioned that I read some books about organizing, and after doing the types of assessment recommended – such as figuring out problem areas – I purchased some storage containers and made plans to buy a cart to store our “current projects.” It turned out organizing gave me a lot of peace of mind.  I had been thinking we needed to move before we could deal with some of my house woes.  Actually, some of them were just the result of, to put it one way, bad design.

My new craft space

We spent money on friends when we went out to eat once, and when we took a hike in New Hampshire to celebrate my birthday.  But… that was it, and it wasn’t that much.  Actually, seeing how few times we spent money buying gifts for others or taking others out to eat (or even inviting them over to eat) made me remember that I want our main family mission to be hospitality – and we’re not living up to it.  We can do better – we just have to figure out how.

The Fire Tower at Pawtuckaway State Park, NH.

Healthwise I finally buckled down and made a purchase during the last week of April I’ve been contemplating for about 6 months.  I bought the p90x DVDs used on Amazon.  This is cheaper than a gym membership and the odds of me doing it are very high.  I’m pretty motivated when it comes to doing exercise DVDs, and I’m planning to start the program on May 14th.

But… we didn’t spend much on family memories, community, and education.  When Steve and I first got married we joked about eating ice cream every Monday at the ice cream store for the rest of our lives.  We had just spent a blissful summer doing that and it is a really good memory.  Thinking back on that I really want to bring it back.

We could certainly spend more money in our community – not just by giving to charities but by purchasing more things downtown.  In Salem I bought a few things at Scrub, Lifebridge, and of course my weekly coffee break at Jaho, but not too much more.  As I’m looking to upgrade my wardrobe this year, I want to make more of an effort to purchase clothes at some of the boutiques downtown.  I probably also need to look into some of the other non-tourist non-eatery type businesses downtown as well so I can get an idea of what else I could buy there, instead of at Target or on Amazon.   Spending money within the local downtown helps out businesses and the community.  If you want to know more about this, I wrote a post about it here.

How do you match up your values with your spending?  What areas could you improve on?

Try to catch me Ridin’ Dirty –

This is our little car.

It’s pretty reliable, although, please excuse the humming on the right side, that’s the air vibrating against the slightly separated front bumper.  If you happen to hear a squeak when I break, don’t worry, the mechanic said it’s normal for brakes to squeak when they are wearing in.  Whether they should be doing it when they are eight months old of course, is anyone’s call.  And sometimes the transmission whines, but so do I, so I call it even.

Facts:

In March I asked my car for about 44 trips there and back again, racking up a total distance drove for the month of 672 mi. The shortest trip I took was to Salem State (literally blocks from my house.  I’m almost ashamed to admit this one) – Round Trip less than 1 mile.  The longest trip was to Hudson, Ma to visit family – Round Trip this was 87 Miles.

Breakdown of the 44 Car Trips:

15 were between 0 and 5 miles roundtrip

25 were between 6 and 20 miles roundtrip

3 were between 21 and 50 miles roundtrip

1 was between 51 and 100 miles roundtrip

During the 31 days of March there were 4 days the car never left the driveway, and 11 that it left on more than 1 trip.

This is my other car.

I took between 10 and 15 trips with this one, all less than 2.5 miles roundtrip, all into downtown Salem, or the Forest River Park.

The average American household seems to own between 1.8 and 2.5 cars, my family owns an even 1.0 Yeah, that stroller doesn’t really count, ain’t got no engine.  How does my husband get to work?  For the last year he has taken the train, but in the near future, this will change.  As you would suspect, the place where the fewest people own cars is Manhattan with 75% of households car-less.

If I drove 700 miles in my car every month, this would be 8,400 miles per year.  Depending on who’s calculating average, that number can fall between 10,000 – 12,000 miles per year on a passenger car.  Most cars emit 0.86 pounds of CO2  per mile driven, or about 7,500lbs/yr.  (On a side note: Sometime I’m going to go through and calculate all our household emissions, but, not today.)

Analysis:

Are we less than average? Yes, but not by much, and when we start to use the car to commute, it would definitely bump up into the “average” range, although we would still try to avoid purchasing a second vehicle.

It would probably be possible to halve the amount of trips I make that are less than 5 miles round trip (going from 15 trips to 7) by getting a bicycle, something I hope to do this year or next. (I’m stubborn and want a new, name brand one.)  In general, I’ve found that walking more than 1.5 miles to get somewhere is “too long” to walk unless you really want the exercise, so a bike is necessary for those trips.  As it is though, we live in a fairly walkable area when it comes to getting entertainment.

The Howling Wolf Taqueria, where I went for my birthday

One strategy for reducing frequency of trips which I use is to cluster trips together so that you can run errands all at once.  This is something I definitely try to do when I head to the malls, Babies R Us, or Savers, and I usually employ this tactic after my son is in bed so that I reduce the frustration of hauling him in and out of the car seat.

Anyone else have an trip saving tactics, or other tips for decreasing car usage?

Water Water Everywhere…

The capricious whims of the weather have finally dealt some precipitation; snow, sleet, and rain, again, all forms of water.  Which, hails me into my February water report.

We use water in pretty mundane ways, we’re not filling up swimming pools, watering our secret hog farm, or growing certain herbs for our personal use.  In face, our usage of water is very modest, so, you’ll probably find this a little boring!  It was harder to measure how much water we use because a) we don’t pay for it, and therefore aren’t billed directly, and b) calculating water usage is a little trickier than you’d expect. Therefore I’ll paint in broad brushstrokes the general categories of water usage at our home.

First, we consume it.  I drink most of the water, averaging about 6 glasses of water, another 2 of tea, and 2 of coffee every day. My husband drinks about 5 glasses per day, and my son about 32 ounces of formula. (or 4 glasses)  Cooking wise, we boil water for rice, pasta, oatmeal, and soups. For such an important aspect of living, (yes, humans can only go about 3 days without drinking any water before they extinguish), this is probably the category with the least water usage.

Second we cleanse our bodies with it.  During February we took a total of 39 showers, and 27 baths.  Shower times ranged from seven minutes, to as long as fifteen.  Since travelling to Guatemala last year, I know I appreciate every single warm shower I take.  (Really!  Every one of them!)  We also brush our teeth about once daily each (I know, we could do better), and wash our faces once each day, and I know I wash my hands approximately 6-12 times each day (but can’t speak for the husband).  There’s also the small matter of the wonderful excretory/urinary system, which adds up to about a dozen “flushes” each day, even when we do adhere loosely to the “if it’s yellow…” system of things.  (TMI?  Yes, Definitely!)  This is probably our most prolific use of water overall.

Third, we cleanse our belongings with it.  We average about 2.5 loads of laundry each week, for which, of our monthly 10 or so loads, 8 are done on the cold cycle.  In case you didn’t know, this is more friendly for your clothes, as well as the environment.

We wash our dishes by hand, usually once per day, which takes about 25 minutes of consistent water usage.  We’re not the most conservative of wash-ers, since we leave the water running at a low rate the entire time, this would be the easiest way for us to conserve water.  (That and for me to halve my rate of bath-taking)  If  I do a little washing in the midst of the day, it’s usually only one time, for less than 10 minutes.  That’s the bulk of our water cleansing, with the very sporadic mop thrown in there about once every other month.

We live in an apartment without a backyard, and don’t garden, but if we had the space I definitely would.  If that’s you, you could always consider a rain-barrel

The average American household uses water each month, sometimes to the tune of 100 gallons of water per person per day (according to the epa, this seems extravagant to me…) and here’s their breakdown of water usage, which, turns out to be pretty much what I just said.

Taking out the Trash

Getting down and dirty with the trash in our house.

As a part of trying to use resources (the earth’s, and my own) more sustainably I decided I would do an inventory each month of a certain aspect of life to see what our impact was when it came to consumption.

In January I took a good look at what goes out of my house during the course of the month.  That’s right, the Trash.  I don’t want to turn this project into a legalistic minute measure of everything, merely gain some broad understanding.  So, I did the simplest thing I could think of with the trash.  I took thirty seconds every three or four days to photograph my trash can and recycling bin to see how much effluvia gets cast from the house.

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It turns out we throw away about 3 bags of kitchen trash a month (with the fourth being almost full now, in part because of the party I hosted over the weekend), and recycle 4 bins full of bottles, cans, and papers.  In addition to this, we also throw away 2 bags a month of disposable diapers. Lets say then we probably throw away about 150 gallons of trash each month, and about 150 gallons of recycling.

Internet Research turns up numbers all over the place on how much Americans may or may not generate tons of trash.  Some say, we can’t know, it’s too hard to track.  Plenty of other websites toss out a number around 4-5 pounds a day.  These numbers probably come from these EPA studies conducted on municipal waste charts.  If this is true, our family of three is around 35% of what the average American throws away (about 5 pounds per day or 1.6 pounds per person, compared to what would be 13.5 pounds for a 3 person family.  And seriously, an 8 month old is a full person in the trash generation world with all their special foods and wastes.).  What’s getting thrown away is mostly food scraps, and bags from food, such as bagel bags, cereal bags, and French fry bags.

By and large what’s getting recycled is bean cans, cereal boxes, and seltzer bottles.  But mostly, lots and lots of Goya bean cans.  If I was going to reduce the amount of recycling I make, this would be the biggest thing to tackle.  A solution to this would be to buy beans in bags and in bulk.   In order to accomplish this type of transformation I would need to learn how to soak beans in a way so that I enjoy them.  So far, I really do prefer canned beans.  So, I’ll need to experiment with a couple methods before I can permanently reduce my can use.  This Grist article is really useful if you’re looking for ways to reduce purchasing packaged foods.  The first two are about soup, perfect tie in with my other January activities.

The two (or three depending on how you count) biggest questions that came of this were –  (1) does Salem have a composting program, or a place to bring compost, and how can I find out? (2) Should I finally switch to using cloth diapers?  I always thought I would when I had a kid, but it’s harder (mentally) than I thought it would be.  Hopefully I can get these questions answered in the next few weeks to my own satisfaction.

In the future I’m planning to inventory some of the following things in my life, maybe you want to join me?

February – Water. March – Trips.  April – Money/Purchasing.  May – Time.  June – Entertainment.  July – Food.  August – Clothing.  September – Friends.  October – Health.  November – “What’s New?”  December – Energy.