Before smartphones, there was mom.

We’re plugged in 24 hours a day now. We’re all part of one big machine, whether we are conscious of that or not. And if we can’t unplug from that machine, eventually we’re going to become mindless. ~Alan Lightman

Lately, I’ve been trying to think of ways to resist the constant pull of technology and social media. I’m planning on deactivating my Facebook account in February…whether that will be a permanent thing, or just temporary, has yet to be determined. All I know is that I need a break from it. It has become nothing more than a platform for people (myself included) to voice their complaints on everything from their relationships to traffic and – especially this time of year – the weather. I think I can do without that for a little while.

Another idea that keeps popping into my head is getting rid of my smartphone. So far, I’ve talked myself out of doing that, since I use it for absolutely everything…it’s my camera, GPS, encyclopedia, and radio. I download books to my Kindle app for my monthly book group. I have a special trails app for all the hiking we do. I have a tabata app for when I workout at home. I use this thing for far more than just calling and texting people. Could I live without it? How DID I ever live without it?!

I’m trying to think back to the days before smartphones. I remember when I had my teeny little Ericsson flip phone about 15 years ago, that at the time seemed so advanced, though I couldn’t even text with it. How did I ever get to where I needed to go? What if I got lost? And what did I do when I absolutely had to know, RIGHT THEN, who invented those crazy elaborate devices that performed simple operations by sending a rubber ball through an insane sort of obstacle course (answer: Rube Goldberg)?

I called mom.

My mom was the reference librarian at our town’s public library for many years. She is a veritable encyclopedia of information all by herself, but armed with the infinite amount of information available on the Internet, she is absolutely un-stump-able. I would frequently call her long-distance (back when that was a thing) whenever I had a random question about a movie/book title, or the spelling of a particular word. Oftentimes, the questions were much more complicated than that, but she was always able to give me the answer very quickly.

I called her numerous times when I was lost in Boston, and she would patiently give me turn-by-turn directions (from memory) over the phone until I found my way to Storrow Drive, whence I could find my own way home. When I moved to Indiana, I would continue to call her whenever I was lost in the maze of neighborhoods full of identical mid-century houses, nary a landmark to be seen. I would give her my cross-street, and she would plug my coordinates into MapQuest and get me wherever I needed to go.

My mom never seemed put out by any of these requests, but she loves solving puzzles, so it’s in her nature. I like to think I take after her in that regard, and I think the hours I spend researching various topics online out of my own curiosity is a clue that I do. Unfortunately, the ability to access all of this information from a handheld device has taken me away from the people right in front of me, on so very many occasions.

I’m not sure how practical it would be to go back to the days of a simple talk/text cellphone…the days of calling mom whenever I got stuck. I know she wouldn’t mind, but my parents are far better at unplugging than I am. I wouldn’t be able to guarantee that I could reach them. They are often without a cellphone, and don’t even have a voicemail box set up. They are also completely unapologetic about this, as well they should be. On the rare occasion they are questioned about it, they simply ask “What did people do in the days before cellphones??”

What DID we do?

We got lost. Sometimes we were lucky and had a map in the glove box. Other times, we had to – the HORROR – stop and ask someone for directions. We had to actually consult another human being. I often wonder if my shyness and introversion is exacerbated by the fact that there is very little need for human interaction these days. I can do everything online – I don’t even have to call and TALK to anyone. It is both a blessing and a curse.

Long story short, I’d love to disconnect. I’m just not sure how far I’m willing to go. I’d like to get out of my comfort zone, but it’s just so damn convenient living this way. But perhaps, it’s not as much of an adventure. And that’s something that everyone could use a little more of.

You know...that THING?! With the things??

You know…that THING?! With the things that move and it does something at the end? You know??

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Beginning again

A simple life is not seeing how little we can get by with – that’s poverty – but how efficiently we can put first things first…When you’re clear about your purpose and your priorities, you can painlessly discard whatever does not support these, whether it’s clutter in your cabinets or commitments on your calendar. ~Victoria Moran

I know spring is generally the time for renewal, but I feel like this fall has been full of restarts and second chances. Maybe I’m just subconsciously getting a jump on some New Year’s resolutions, though I’ve never been one to commit to those, anyway.

I’ve been trying to implement some lifestyle changes…just little things that I can improve on to get me closer to the life I feel I should be living. We’ve been doing a lot more cooking at home, eating healthier, enjoying the great outdoors, and spending time with family. I’ve gone from hitting the gym 2-3 days a week to a pretty consistent 4-5 days. I’ve even started running again here and there, though not for any great distances.

We’ve been playing a lot of disc golf on the weekends, and have played courses all over New England. I’ve improved quite a bit since I started, but am definitely still a novice. Mostly, it’s just fun to get outside, and the courses are beautiful and full of pine trees.

Curtis and I have both been struggling with trying to “unplug”…we have realized how utterly dependent we are on our smartphones, our cable TV, and the Internet. We have been a bit better about not using our phones while out to dinner, and at night before we fall asleep, but it’s a challenge…the temptation to use it is always there. On the rare occasions I am forced to go without my phone, I feel like I am experiencing things so much more fully. I am hoping I can continue to chip away at the time I spend with that thing in my hand.

I think the biggest challenge I’m facing right now is finding time for friends. With work, gym, and weekly visits with both our parents, there isn’t much time left over. I feel like I need a full day to recover from the work week, and then when Sunday rolls around, we are preparing for the beginning of another week. It never ends. I’m not sure how to make time for people, unless they book me in advance, and it seems a bit presumptuous to expect that of my friends. I wish I could be more spontaneously available to them, but I am a creature of routine.

Fortunately, November is a month full of birthdays, and my calendar is slowly being filled up with dinner dates with the girls. It will be nice to catch up with all of them…we live such different lives these days. Some of them have a house full of kids, some are trying to, one is eternally single, another is a serial romantic…and here I am, married, still living in an apartment, and no plans to have children. It definitely makes for interesting conversation.

My main priority right now is simply trying not to stress out too much. There are things that I want in life that I do not yet have. But that will always be the case. As easy as it is to find things to complain about, I think it’s better to celebrate the good in life. I have a roof over my head, a wonderful husband, a supportive family, and two cats that keep me entertained. I eat well, and I have fun every weekend (sometimes, a little too much fun). It’s a good life.

Mt Washington

We finally hiked Mt. Washington. 2 hours, 20 minutes to the summit!

Hammock

Relaxing in Maine at my parents’ cabin. Good times.

Pumpkins

Annual pumpkin carving with the in-laws!

CrossFit Cape Ann Halloween Party!

CrossFit Cape Ann Halloween Party!

Reboot the mission

Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for – in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it. ~Ellen Goodman

Many times lately, I’ve found myself sitting in traffic on the way to and from work, thinking about what my life would have been like if I’d discovered minimalism ten years ago. I have to laugh at the absurdity of it all. I decided to go to school when I was 25, years later than most of my friends. I’d been working in libraries since the day I turned 14, and LOVED my job, but I knew that I would never make enough money to get by unless I got a degree.

At the time, I was very ambitious…freshly divorced from a man who was adamantly opposed to my being successful at anything outside of the kitchen, I wanted to go all the way. I wanted to get my bachelor’s in technology, then go on to Simmons for my Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree. This would be the safest way to stay relevant in an age when libraries are becoming increasingly under-appreciated. I was hoping to follow in the footsteps of some of my colleagues who had worked tirelessly to reinvigorate the image of the public library and promote its relevance in today’s world by using the same technologies that were supposedly rendering us a thing of the past.

I began my education at ITT in June 2007. I was a good student, and was selected for an internship with a government agency in Boston. I worked at their help desk, answering phones, and responding to a variety of complaints (usually, I just told the user to reboot). For 8 months, I worked 60+ hours between my library job and my internship, on top of a full-time course-load at ITT. I was burnt out. Just when I was about to completely unravel, I received full-time job offers from both my employers simultaneously. I had to choose between a job that I loved, and one that I knew would guarantee my financial security.

I chose the money. My heart wanted to stay at my beloved library, with my wonderful patrons and co-workers who were like family to me. But, my brain knew that my student loans hung above me like an ominous raincloud, just waiting for their opportunity to crush my American dreams. I began working in Boston full-time, though I was still an intern. I received my associate’s degree, then continued on with the bachelor’s Information Security program. And then, the government imposed a hiring freeze. I was next in line for a permanent position, but found myself facing possible unemployment once I graduated, as one has to be in school to maintain internship eligibility.

Somewhat miraculously, one of the telecom contractors was retiring about that time, and they asked if I would be willing to replace him. It would mean going “to the dark side”…contractors are treated as second-class citizens in federal buildings, receive little to no benefits, and there’s pretty much no going back. But, I nearly doubled my salary. Once again, I sold my soul to get more money. In my mind, I was doing the right thing for my future.

Today, I’m making more money than I ever thought I would. But those pesky student loans came due, like clockwork, 6 months after I graduated. Since I have to drive to work (my company pays for parking, but not public transportation), I had to get a reliable car. Between student loans, car payments, and hundreds of dollars a month in gas, I find myself feeling more broke than ever before.

Was any of this necessary? Couldn’t I have lived more simply, and continued doing what I love? Would I have been happier? Have I wasted the last 7 years of my life chasing someone else’s idea of “success”? These questions torture me daily. At this point, it’s futile…I have to make peace with the decisions I made years ago. And I firmly believe that all of the choices we make – big or small – determine the course of our lives. From meeting my wonderful husband, to being able to make that trip to Sweden, there is definitely some good that has come from my decisions. Would I do it differently if I had the chance? Absolutely.

For now, I will look at my job as a means to an end. The bills will all be paid off in time, and that will enable us to live more freely. And the more simply we live now, the sooner that day will come. This whole epiphany has only strengthened my resolve to pare down my possessions and my lifestyle. I would be just as happy with a meal at home and a walk on the beach as I would eating out at a fancy restaurant, if not more so. And I really, REALLY don’t need another pair of shoes. Much as I want them. Making these small sacrifices daily will make a big difference over time.

It’s time to reboot!

Sweden!

When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money. ~Susan Heller

We returned from our two-week vacation on Sunday night. Sweden was absolutely amazing. It was so wonderful to catch up with my family, and finally meet my cousins’ spouses and children. They were all amazing hosts, and made us feel so completely at home. Quality time with extended family is so rare for me, since both of my parents are immigrants, so it’s very special when I get to spend any amount of time with my overseas kin.

Despite having months to plan, in typical fashion, I packed at the last minute and brought much more clothing than necessary. I brought jeans that no longer fit me after a few days of indulgent eating, packed far too many t-shirts, and inexplicably brought two bulky hooded sweatshirts, when clearly one would have been sufficient.  Miraculously, I was able to fit everything in a carry-on sized suitcase and a shoulder bag, so we did not have to check any luggage.

My cousin Fredrik picked us up at the airport on Saturday, and we stayed with him, his wife Anna, and their two adorable kids for the first 4 days. The second day we were there, everyone came over and we enjoyed a delicious meal in the backyard. Not even a brief sun shower could spoil the experience for me – I was just so excited to be surrounded by my family. We had a great Monday night out in Stockholm with Fredrik, which included an amazing dinner of game meat at Ardbeg Embassy in Old Town. We had some mead at the place where he and Anna had their wedding reception (which I’d missed), and then rounded out the night at a couple Irish pubs before taking the train back home.

For the rest of the vacation, my aunt Lena and uncle Anders’ house in Ekerö was our home base. They brought us to a traditional Midsummer celebration, and then we went home to feast on an amazing dinner that Lena had prepared. On Saturday, we had an overnight with my cousin Jessica, her husband Johan, and their two hilarious children, and they took us on a ferry to Utö. We had a lovely picnic on the beach, went for a swim in the Baltic, then meandered around the island for a bit until the ferry returned to bring us back to the mainland. We had a relaxing Sunday evening with Lena and Anders, then headed into Stockholm on Monday to do some sightseeing.

We decided to hoof it to the Vasa Museum, since we needed the exercise. The museum did not disappoint…the ship was so massive, I couldn’t get a picture of the whole thing. We spent a good couple hours there, before hunger got the best of us and we moved on. After walking all over creation, we ended up back in Old Town at a “Mexican” joint where we had a couple Coronas and some rather interesting tacos. We walked all over the city, then made our way to the Ice Bar (can’t visit Stockholm without going to the Ice Bar!). They provided capes and gloves, which kept us mostly warm, but we were satisfied after one drink and called it a night.

The next few days we had a mini-getaway on our own in Åre, a few hundred miles north, but that adventure probably deserves its own blog post, so I’ll write about that later. The day we returned, we met up with Fredrik and Anna, and my aunt Elisabet and uncle Leif, and had a fabulous lunch in downtown Stockholm. We felt badly that we didn’t get to see as much of Elisabet and Leif as we’d hoped, but we promised to spend some time at their place in Katrineholm on our next visit. Hopefully it won’t be another 18 years!

The last few days of the trip flew by. We had a fabulous dinner with the neighbors, Leif and Pia. Leif is from Estonia and has an impressive stash of high test liquor and game meat. This guy definitely knows how to entertain. We ate and drank far too much, but enjoyed every minute of it. The hunting dogs (Aya and Ellie, and Leif’s dog Trigger) provided much entertainment and gladly assisted with leftovers. We discussed taking a cruise to Tallinn from Stockholm the next time we come, which sounded like a lot of fun.

The next day was my cousin Katarina’s 25th birthday, so we met up with her and her boyfriend Aleks for a tasty lunch overlooking the lake. The rest of the day was spent packing to go back home, a rather depressing task. Lena and Anders drove us to the airport on Sunday, where we bid them adieu. We had a brief layover in Iceland, which we wished had been longer after looking out the window before we landed. The landscape was incredible…breathtaking mountains and a craggy landscape that looked like another planet, and the huge thermal pools which probably would have been amazing for our aching muscles. I’m not sure where we will fit in all of these European trips (hoping to head to Ireland next year, too), but it looks like our dance card is filling up!

A few pics from our travels…my phone’s camera is having an awful problem with focusing, so my apologies for any blurryness! I’m hoping Curtis will share some pictures from his fancy camera.

Kanelbulle (cinnamon bun). The ubiquitous, unavoidable Swedish pastry that I ate far too many of.

Kanelbulle (cinnamon bun). The ubiquitous, unavoidable Swedish pastry that I ate far too many of.

Sign in downtown Mariefred.

Sign in downtown Mariefred.

Gripsholm Castle in Mariefred.

Gripsholm Castle in Mariefred.

Stockholm!

Stockholm! Or, “The Venice of Scandinavia”, as my cousin Fredrik proclaimed with a wink.

Good times at the Ice Bar.

Good times at the Ice Bar.

Utö.

Utö.

Drottningholm Castle.

Drottningholm Castle.

One of many, many Irish coffees consumed during our stay.

One of many, many Irish coffees consumed during our stay.

Traveling light

He who would travel happily must travel light. ~Antoine de St. Exupery

A few days ago, I switched to a much smaller handbag. It has been working out incredibly well. It’s so light, yet I’ve got everything I need in there. It got me to thinking about how I might apply some of the things I’ve learned when packing my bags for our trip to Sweden in a couple of months. My husband and I have done well the past few times we’ve taken plane trips, and have avoided checking baggage altogether. This has saved us not only money, but also precious vacation time that we would have spent waiting for our bags to appear (and worrying that they might not appear at all).

I would love to continue this practice when we head to Europe, especially since we will be stopping over in Zurich and that will only increase the odds of our belongings not making it to our destination safely. I realize, however, that a two-week trip to Sweden is a bit tougher to pack for than a 5-day stint in Aruba, or so one would likely believe. For Aruba, I packed mainly swimsuits and sundresses, some shorts, t-shirts, sandals, and one pair of jeans. What more could you possibly need for a beautiful Caribbean getaway?

Fortunately, we have a few things going for us that may help us to pack less than we normally would. For one, we will be going during midsummer, when the days are longest and the weather will be pretty nice. We don’t have to worry about bundling up for an icy cold Scandinavian winter. Also, we will be staying with family, so we will likely have some access to washing machines when the need is dire. Staying with family also means I might be able to borrow an item or two of clothing should an occasion arise that I didn’t adequately plan for, though I’m hoping I can make do with what I have.

I figure the earlier I start planning, the less likely I am to over-pack at the last minute, when I’m prone to panicking about leaving something vital at home. I’ve never been one to write up packing lists or really think too hard about what items truly deserve a spot in my suitcase, but perhaps it’s time I started.

Right off the top of my head, I know I’m going to bring the following:

  • White sundresses (one short, one full-length)
  • A couple of my favorite super-thin, soft T-shirts
  • A couple tank tops
  • One pair of jeans
  • One or two pairs of shorts
  • Yoga pants
  • A long linen skirt
  • A cardigan or thin sweater
  • One pair of sandals
  • One pair of walking shoes

We are planning on trying to visit a Crossfit box in Stockholm while we’re there, so I’ll need to bring at least one workout-appropriate outfit. If I bring my Chucks, those will do fine for that, and for wearing when we’re out and about. All of that should fit comfortably in a carry-on sized suitcase. I will probably bring some very basic toiletries, toothbrush, hairbrush, and makeup (thank goodness for my travel-friendly Bare Minerals!), but will be leaving out stuff like shampoo, body wash, and moisturizers…these are things I can pick up easily and cheaply once we arrive. I won’t be bringing a blow drier, especially since I’d need a special adapter to use it overseas. Besides, I can’t even imagine spending an hour blowing hot air at my head when I could be enjoying my vacation!

I’m really looking forward to visiting my family, and meeting some of them for the first time. It’s been 18 years since my last trip to Sweden, and I have been trying to get back there for a very long time. I can’t wait to enjoy all of the simple pleasures my mother’s home country has to offer…Swedes really have the minimalist thing down, and I intend to absorb as much as I can while I’m there. Perhaps, instead of souvenirs, I will return home with a better understanding of what I really need in order to live a happy life.

With mom in Dalarna.

Mom and me in Dalarna. Simpler times, for sure!