Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What Are You Willing to Put Up With?

My life is... well, I guess you'd say it's unconventional. I'm still trying to figure out how to describe my lifestyle. The word "minimalist" is very popular these days. But when I think of a minimalist, I picture someone in a very neat and tidy house, with very little stuff and... well... um... I try... but... er... let's just say that's not really me.

I guess the only aspect of my life that I could accurately call "minimal" would be my need for money. So maybe the word is "frugal." But, the thing is, to me, "frugal living" always seems to conjure up an image of someone who spends a great deal of time actively involved in the process of saving money, stretching dollars, and trying to live a typical American lifestyle with less money.

And, well... the truth is, that I'm just not really interested in living anything remotely resembling the "typical American lifestyle."

So maybe I'm a hippie. But, in reality, I'm about 20 years too young to be a real hippie. Plus... well... I don't know... but to be completely honest, I'm just not up for the idea of living in a bus with a bunch of other people...

I mean truly, I don't have the stomach for more than a handful of social gatherings per year... and when it comes to being part of a political "movement"... oy vay! Don't get me wrong, I totally admire people in the occupy movement, and others with the gumption to stand up for what they believe in... but when it comes right down to it, while I'd really love to see the world organized in a different way, I just don't relish the idea of spending my life bashing my head against that particular brick wall.

I guess on some level, it's all about choices, and what you are or are not willing to put up with.

I mean, when people look at my lifestyle, I generally get one of two reactions. People tend to either be jealous of my no job, get up when I feel like it, no time commitments sort of existence - they look at me and think that I've got it really easy and they sure wish they did too...

Then there are people who see me living without things like smart phones, and fancy clothes, and home decor, and expensive vacations and think that I must be somehow suffering and living a life of hardship and deprivation.

But in reality, it's all pretty simple. I've just made conscious decisions about what is and isn't important to me.

There are a lot of things that I'm willing to live with that other people aren't... but the opposite is also true. There are plenty of things that most people tolerate on a daily basis, and I'm just not willing to go there.

For example...

Cars and Transportation
I am willing to walk to the grocery store about once a week. I actually accomplish most of my day to day errands on foot or bicycle. I consider it all a great excuse to get outside, enjoy the fresh air and go for a walk. But inevitably, some neighbor will see me hauling a few bags of groceries and stop to offer me a ride. It's sometimes difficult to explain, that this is what I want to be doing.

On the other hand, I'm not willing to sit in a car in traffic... I'm just not. I've never been willing to have a job that was more than a few miles from my home. I HATE the highway, and consider it a last resort. I generally won't go shopping if it means driving across town... I just hate it and refuse to do it.

So this all means that I have a 21 year old Honda that has less than 85K miles on it, and I fill up the gas tank about 3-4 times per year. It's a great savings... but it's not like my decisions are based on some higher moral purpose or anything like that... I just don't see the logic in spending a pile of money to participate in an activity (driving) which I totally hate. I just ain't gonna go there!

Vacations and Free Time
I have taken only one real vacation in my adult life... This was when I was with BeerMan and we spent a week on the beach in Mexico. Other than that, CatMan and I have gone camping once or twice, but generally, we just don't vacation.

People are usually incredulous when I tell them this, but it's not something that I view as any sort of hardship or deprivation. The truth is that I traveled extensively when I was younger... went to Hawaii, California and New Zealand as a kid, spent a year living in Norway, traveled all around Europe in college... and I dunno... when it comes right down to it... places are just places. Going somewhere new won't make you into a new person, it just means that you have to get up early, deal with hotels, get car sick, eat crap food at restaurants, spend lots of time getting lost, and... oh I don't know, it's just such a hassle.

Back when I still had a job, many of my co-workers would save all year for their annual vacations. This all really baffled me. I just couldn't imagine working all year just so you could enjoy one week of escape. It just always seemed to me that I'd much rather spend my time, money and energy creating a life that I didn't feel the need to get away from. And the truth is, why bother going somewhere else, when everything I want is right here?

Houses and Stuff
This is one area that's just mind boggling to me. I often read things on line about people who have refinanced their mortgage and are now saving $1500 per month. Holy Moly! My entire mortgage is only $450/month. I can't even imagine how big your payments must be if refinancing could save you $1500.

I often see things on the news these days about struggling American families. And, it's not that I'm unsympathetic, but when I look at the pieces, I see people living in houses that are virtual mansions, full of fancy expensive furniture and decor... I mean no wonder they're broke! I'd be broke if I tried to live like that!

The truth is that I'm happy with my 900 square foot house in one of Denver's poorest neighborhoods. I don't relish the 40 year old avocado green shag, but it doesn't really bother me either. I've only purchased 2 pieces of furniture new in my entire life... an entertainment center and a CD shelf. I gave the shelf away because it was just clutter, and the entertainment center I only bought new because it was easier to haul it home in a box as opposed to trying to figure out how to fit a fully assembled one into my car.

I read things on line about people spending huge amounts of time redecorating, or remodeling, or otherwise making their homes look just so... and I dunno... I mean I suppose part of me can understand the desire to have everything look the way you want it to, but is it really worth the time, money and energy?

Seriously though... I just can't figure out what goes on in people's minds. Is the "pretty picture" really so important to people that they're willing to work their asses off their entire lives in order to pay for it all?

Jobs and Work
You've probably figured this out already, but I hate working... at least I hate working for someone else.

The closest I ever came to a "real job" was running a non profit folk music school, and even that proved to be more than I could stomach. I'm not sure why, but I just really resent the whole idea that some person or entity thinks they have a claim to my time and energy.

It's not that I don't make some money. Technically, I am self-employed... but the truth is that I don't really work very hard. My current money making scheme is that I own a handful of web pages - mostly focused on photography and graphic design. I take pictures, design funny graphics etc, post them on line and make money from the ads.

I don't make a lot of money, but it's enough for me, and hey... if it means I don't have to have a job... I'm IN! I don't really see this as a "career"... the truth is that it's just a model that I stumbled upon that seems to work well for me... but there are thousands of other ways I could make money if this didn't end up working out.

But it's not all lollipops and roses either. Along the way I had to learn how to do my own taxes, how to write software, design databases, design web pages, do server management and a whole host of other things. But I am more than willing to do all of that.

What I'm not willing to do is get up at the crack of dawn every morning, wear pantyhose and uncomfortable shoes, be busy all the time, and have a boss who can tell me what to do.

OK... I think I could probably go on forever in this vein, and this post is already WAY too long. I guess when  you get to the bottom of it, it's really just a matter of priorities.

And in the end, I don't consider my life to be overly easy or overly hard... I just consider it to be thoroughly mine.

So how about you? What are you and aren't you willing to put up with?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Biking Butt Bliss has been Achieved - FINALLY!

Aside from a few crazy snow storms, it's been an unseasonably warm autumn here in the Mile High City. This has meant that I've enjoyed plenty of long bike rides. Unfortunately, it's also meant that my rear end has been in a considerable amount of pain.

I've sort of avoided writing about this long saga because I wanted to have a nice conclusion before I just started whining.

So the long and the short of it is, that after getting hit by a car on my bike a little over a year ago, I finally overcame my fears this summer and started enjoying bike riding again... sticking mostly to the bike paths this time around. In fact, I've probably ridden more this summer and fall than the whole rest of my life put together... which has all been totally great... except for one tiny thing.

Bike riding can be a real pain in the butt!
The first problems started happening with rides over 10 miles or so... I started noticing a distinct and severe pain in the... um... girly parts. Let's just say I was starting to fear that I'd never have an orgasm again.

Anyhow, CatMan suggested that I try an anatomical saddle. For those of you who don't ride, that's basically a bike seat with a strategically placed hole to relieve pressure on the sensitive areas. So... I went over to my LBS (that's code for "local bike shop" - learned that from cruising the cycling forums) and purchased a ladies saddle with a cut out.

And the results were great! Well, sort of.

Once I had relieved the um... feminine pain, I was able to ride longer... and discovered that somewhere between 15 and 20 miles, a deep and abiding pain started forming in my sit bones. Everyone I talked to said that I just had to toughen up and it would get better.

So I tried to tough it out...

and I tried...

and I tried...

I bought every kind of underwear known to mankind, and even tried riding without it... no luck.

I even bought some really expensive biking pants with a HUGE gel pad in the rear... seriously, it felt like I was wearing diapers, but to no avail.

I read all about proper bike seat adjustment and made some changes which helped a tiny bit. But finally, after returning home from several long bike rides in so much pain that I was literally in tears, I decided that something was just not right.

So I hit the internets and did as much research as I could. Everyone said that finding the right bike seat was a very personal journey, and you pretty much just have to keep trying until you find one that works for you. Now, being the cheapskate that I am, the thought of buying a bunch of bike saddles didn't really sit well with me (yuk, yuk) but I was at my wit's end.

So I bought one...

and another...

and another...

I even went so far as to have my sit bones professionally measured to make sure I was buying the right sized seats, but all to no avail. I just couldn't escape the feeling that there was simply "no place to sit" on any of these saddles. But according to the measurements and the charts, my sit bones were positioned correctly.

Then one day, after returning from a bike ride in so much pain that I literally had a hard time sitting in the bathtub, it occurred to me... I don't really need fancy measuring devices to tell where the pressure points are... it's frickin' bleeding obvious at the moment, because those are the two points from which all pain in the universe is currently emanating!

So I measured from pain point to pain point and it came out to 160mm! 160mm?!? That's a good 20mm wider than what the fancy measuring device had shown, and significantly wider than your average female sit bone width, AND, about 5mm wider than all of the anatomical saddles I had purchased! Suddenly it all started to make sense. Apparently, I just have a big ass!

Soooo, the next day, having finally decided that if I could afford to buy a zillion bike seats, I could afford to treat myself to socks without holes in them, I ended up at Target. While I was there, I wandered past the bike section and noticed a cheap seat that looked much larger than all of the expensive saddles I had been trying.

It was big and heavy and made by Schwinn... which CatMan said wasn't a very good company, but it had the strategically placed hole, and actually looked like it might be wide enough for my portly rear end.... and at this point I figured I really didn't have much to lose.

So I brought it home, stuck it on the bike and.... It was better... MUCH better!

Except for one little thing... It just felt like the darned thing wasn't on straight.

I kept checking and checking to be sure that it was... but I still kept feeling some pain in the right side of my rear end. Finally, after putting about 50 miles on the thing I decided to try something seemingly crazy.

I turned the seat so it's angled a bit off to the right... and amazingly... THE PAIN DISAPPEARED!

I have absolutely no idea what conclusion to draw from this... I do have LOTS of problems with my right hip, and my right knee is the one that I blew out a few years back, so maybe I'm just built a bit crooked.

All I know is it sure is nice to be able to ride 30 miles with no pain.

I guess in the end, after six bike seats, two pairs of bike shorts, every kind of underwear ever made, and a total sh!t-load of pain, it all boils down to this...

I'm just a big-ass woman who's slightly off center.

No surprises there!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

On my Mind this Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving one and all! 

I thought I'd take this opportunity to participate in Rhonda's On My Mind series. She posts a single photo on her Down to Earth blog each Friday (it's already Friday in Australia) and asks her readers to join in.

So here's what's on my mind today:

I know this totally makes me sound like a crazy cat lady, but I just can't help it. It just makes my little CatLady heart swell with gratitude to see all of my babies safe, happy, healthy and enjoying their Thanksgiving supper together. And I can't help but remember the moment I found each of them... cold, frightened, hungry and homeless.

I may not be able to affect much change in this crazy world of ours, but at least I can ensure that none of my babies will ever have to be out there fending for themselves again. And for that, I am truly thankful.

So Happy Thanksgiving from Jasper, Smoky, Princess, and Sputnik VonWiskars.... and of course, from me too!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Why Alarm Clocks are the Root of All Evil

OK, at the risk of sounding like a broken record (does that metaphor even work these days?)... well, anyhow, I'll just say it again: I AM NOT A MORNING PERSON!

My hatred of mornings dates back just about as far as I can remember. Even as a small child, dragging my little body out from under the covers was tantamount to torture. BTW - for those of you who are parents... if your child has trouble getting out of bed in the mornings, tearing off the covers and throwing ice down their pajamas is probably not the best method for waking them... just sayin'...

At any rate... it seemed that throughout my childhood I was always dogged by the morning demons...

My parents divorced when I was quite young and my mother went back to work full time when I was in the first grade. Aside from all the other implications, this meant that summer vacations for me were not a time for relaxing and sleeping in... oh no. My brother and I had to be carted off to summer day camp... which, of course, meant that we had to get up an hour earlier during summer vacation than during the school year. I HATED summer vacation.

When I got older, one of my neighborhood buddies and I were always full of "get rich quick" schemes. One of these was the infamous paper route. It seemed like such a good idea. At the time the Denver Post was an evening paper, so it was a nice, fun little after school job riding my bike around delivering papers.

Of course, within months of my getting the paper route, the Post switched to being a morning paper. AAAARRRRGGGGHHH!

This meant that I had to drag my sorry ass out of bed at around 4:30 every morning. Oh, how I hated it. If I'd had any sense I would have just quit... but that didn't jive with my uber-achiever mentality, so I suffered through. At the time I had a clock-radio type alarm clock. When the alarm would go off it would make a loud click before the radio came on. Oh how I grew to dread that little click. I even got to the point where I would wake up in a panic about a minute before the dreaded click so I could shut it off before it assaulted my poor little sensibilities.

Sooo... as I got older I decided that there had to be a better way... so in my infinite teenage wisdom I decided to take a fast food job working for Jack-in-the-Box.

Despite the grease and the disgusting food, things were OK until.... Apparently I did such a good job impressing my supervisor that she decided I was the only one capable of working the "one worker" shifts... which mainly occurred at... get this 4:00 in the friggin morning!

AAAARRRRRGGGHHHH! But did I quit, noooo... still too caught up in being a good little achiever for that. So once again I suffered through.

OK... I fear this post is degenerating into a bitch session about my sleep deprived youth, which may be satisfying, but doesn't really get my point across...

So here's the deal. Aside from the fact that being tired all the time really sucks, I believe that forcing your body to awaken before it's ready, really does us all a profound disservice. It's not just that most Americans don't get nearly as much sleep as they should... which leads to untold health problems, it's that using an alarm clock teaches you to override one of your body's most basic signals.

We live in a culture that teaches us that if you don't pop out of bed first thing every morning, you are lazy. What is the message here? Seems to me that any way you slice it, the message ends up being: if you honor your body's needs, you are a slacker.

And truly, alarm clocks are only the tip of the anti-human iceberg in this culture. I mean really... we are systematically taught to deny, control, ignore, or otherwise override pretty much everything that our bodies are telling us.

Just think about it for a minute... We routinely teach our children that they're not supposed to express their emotions. You're not supposed to cry, especially if you're male, and you're not supposed to get angry, especially if you're female, and don't EVEN get me started about all of the normal sexual feelings that we're all not supposed to have.

We're assaulted from day one by artificial flavorings which override our taste buds' natural signals about what is and isn't good to eat.
Our bodies are pumped full of sugar which sets us up for a roller coaster ride of high and low blood sugar, which totally messes with our body's natural mechanism for regulating hunger.

We spend the vast majority of our lives chained to desks of one variety or another, and children are routinely scolded for not sitting still. 

The media has us all convinced that danger lurks at every turn, so most kids aren't even allowed the simple pleasures of playing outside by themselves, or walking to school anymore. I mean, how crazy does a culture have to be for it to require a national campaign in order to get our children to go outside and play for an hour every day?

Is it any wonder that we have issues with exercise in this country when all of the natural movement has been systematically disciplined out of us?

And then there are the time issues. The schedule of the modern American is nothing less than dizzying. Seriously, most people live their lives rushing from one commitment to another, constantly being assaulted by beeping little devices of one sort or another. Is it any wonder that we can't listen to our own bodies? How on earth can our natural signals ever hope to make it through the background noise that constantly surrounds us?

So, you might ask... what is the problem with all of this? I mean is it really so terrible that we as a culture have decided that we know better than our bodies... what's the big deal?

The thing is... our bodies' signals aren't just random annoying things put there to make our lives inconvenient, they serve a purpose. They keep us healthy, they keep us safe, the allow us to distinguish between that which will do us well and that which will do us harm. Really, truly, our natural state is health, and our bodies already know what we need.

And aside from the whole health aspect, look at the emotional side. If I had a nickle for every person I meet who is spending their adult life acting out childhood emotions, I would be a rich woman indeed. I mean, just because you don't want to feel something, doesn't mean that it goes away. It often seems to me that we live in a culture full or people who are all walking around with a huge pile of festering unexpressed feelings of one sort or another.
While this sort of emotional denial often only harms us personally, or those closest to us, it also creates people who feel justified in amassing huge amounts of power, wealth and privileged at the expense of their fellow human beings. It doesn't take a genius to see that Adolf Hitler was a dude with some seriously unresolved pent up feelings. And while I know it's not kosher to drop the Hitler card at every turn, I think there are lots of little Nazis inhabiting all of us these days.

I once read an article by a woman who was struggling with many of these issues. She was trying really hard to treat her body as sacred. So she decided that she would imagine a sacred being inhabiting her body and then try to treat herself the way she would treat that sacred being. So, the most sacred person she could think of was the Dali Lama. I don't remember the whole article but the part that stuck with me went something like this: "If the Dali Lama really were living inside of me, would I really refuse to let him pee because I had too much work to do?"
So what's the answer? Well aside from a complete culture transplant, I don't think there are any easy ones. My solution has basically been to tell society to go jump in a lake.

Of course I realize that not everybody wants to live my nouveau-hippie lifestyle, but I do think that we'd all be much healthier and happier if we paid less attention to the chaos around us and focused more on listening to our own bodies, and honoring our own selves. On some level, you already know what you need.

So honor your inner Dali Lama, I say...

and never, EVER forget where the true evil lurks...