Snowy Day and New Year’s Resolutions.

snowy day

It’s been snowing all day, and I’ve spent most of the day with the baby or reading children’s literature. I read the first book in the Winnie-the-Pooh series and am now working my way through Dr. Seuss. I hated Dr. Seuss as a kid, but as an adult I kind of love his work. Just one of those cozy days: light snow falling all day, curled up inside with a book.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions very often because I rarely do any of the things I say I’m going to do, and I end up disappointing myself. But I figured I’d give it a try this year again. Plans for this year:

1.) Buy myself a nice pair of emerald earrings.

2.) Establish family tradition, such as “bagel day” or “breakfast day” on weekends my husband is off.

3.) Find a volunteer opportunity, preferably at a park I love.

4.) Find a playgroup for the baby and my mom.

5.) Find a book club that’s a good fit and commit to it, even if I have to drive 30 minutes.

6.) Read at least 25 books by writers of color. I tend to gravitate toward white women writers, and I’d like to read other perspectives.

7.) Make an album of baby’s first eight months; make framed collage for my mom, sister and aunt.

8.) Paint at least three completed water color pictures.

9.) Completely finish one short story.

10.) Actually finish C25K. I’ve gotten close, but I’ve never actually finished.

That’s it for now. Some are pretty doable, some are a reach.

Family Hike

On Sunday, my husband, the baby and I went on a short hike at a local state park. The scenery was pleasant but nothing special: lowland forest, a small marsh, occasional bay views, squirrels and woodland birds. But the way sunlight filtered through the trees, the way the marsh waters glittered and the sun made the tree bark shine…it was so beautiful it almost made me cry. I rarely experience that kind of appreciation of nature in winter.
My husband had the baby in the carrier and we put a knitted pink hat and fleece blanket on her to keep her warm. She looked around like she was seeing everything for the first time because she was. The ground was so saturated from the relentless rains we’ve had the leaves didn’t even crunch beneath our feet. My husband, who grew up in the rain forest, pointed out a bald eagle gliding a few hundred yards above us and a blue jay flittering from twig to twig in a thicket of dry sticks.

It was the first time it struck me that we – me, my husband and the baby – are a real family, and it made me so happy to see us in this light. We are a we; our very own unit.

Before our family hike, we had lox bagels at a strip mall bagel place, and afterwards, we went to REI and picked out a bike rack for our new car. It was such a great day.

Harm Reduction

I’ve taken a harm reduction approach to my eating habits. I don’t buy soda from the vending machine anymore. I don’t go out to eat, except to a nice restaurant once a month with family/friends/husband. I don’t stop at 7-Eleven for chips or ice cream on my way home. If I’m going to overeat, I’m going to do it with whatever not-very-exciting food is available at home. I’m letting myself “binge” on a pint of very rich/sugary/fatty ice cream OR on fresh mozzarella once a week, because when I try to control myself too tightly, I inevitably end up going off the rails for longer than I’d like. I don’t know if this will make a difference health-wise, but I think I feel better this way. This approach doesn’t seem undoable.

Back in Time.

From time to time, I like to walk around the old neighborhoods of my town, the ones that were there before the entire town became a suburb.

There are a handful of streets that are still intact. These retro houses are squat one story affairs on half acre lots, hitch trailers and American made-made cars in the driveway, pink flamingos and white statues dotting the front yard, and a tangle of old, peeling silver maples in the back. It’s a marvel these houses haven’t been knocked down to accommodate two-story, four-bedroom colonials. Whenever I walk down one of these streets, I feel like I’m recapturing a small fraction of my early childhood.

Guilt

I am lucky. Because my mom is providing full-time childcare for my five month old daughter, I didn’t experience too much guilt or sadness when I went back to work. I know she’s in good hands. But over the last few weeks, guilt’s been creeping in. I feel bad that I leave my house at 8:30 and don’t get back until after 7 some nights. It’s just kind of this general guilty malaise. I know my baby is just fine, but I only spend about two hours a day with her during the week when she’s awake. I guess right now, the only thing I can do is focus on making the best of those two hours, and spending quality time with her on weekends.

When I first came back to work, I was feeling pretty smug because I wasn’t overly sad or heartbroken about returning to work. One of my coworkers told me something to he effect of: “The mom guilt is nonstop. It’s unbelievable.” I guess I was naïve to think I wouldn’t experience the same thing.

One Week, no Eating Out.

So I’ve survived a week without buying any non-grocery food items. No vending machine sodas, no lox bagels, fast-casual lunches or Starbucks cappuccinos. I estimate I saved about $75. That’s $300 a month, and basically, a car payment.

We have my dad’s retirement celebration coming up at a nice restaurant this week, and I find myself really looking forward to that. I think that when you’re not spending money on restaurants/coffee shops everyday, eating out takes on a new and exciting significance.

I’ve made a bunch of pre-packaged food, so I have no excuse to go out.

F.I.R.E

I read a lot of blogs about frugality, minimalism and FIRE (financial independence, retire early). These philosophies appeal to me the way kayaking in an Alpine lake or doing a 3,000-mile Wild-inspired hike appeal to me: aspirational, but more theoretical than likely in my life. A common thread I’ve noticed is that these bloggers and/or lifestyle/financial gurus are often able to achieve financial independence by investing heavily in the stock market early in their careers, and then withdrawing a certain percentage of their investments every year to live off of. 

The part that makes me uneasy, the part I have difficulty reconciling is the following: Many of these individuals value extreme frugality and appear to wholeheartedly believe that capitalism and the ensuing culture of consumption it entails are a major part of what’s wrong with America, and, increasingly, the world. Yet, these individuals are often able to achieve financial independence and early retirement by taking advantage of our collective consumerism, the very consumerism they often rail against.  What is the stock market but consumerism embodied? 

I’m not personally against investing in the stock market. I’m not against buying stuff. But is it ethical to achieve your personal financial independence (when rooted in the ideas of frugality, minimalism and anti-consumerism) on the speculation that the rest of us will continue buying so much stuff that the stock market will continue going up over the long-term? Is it OK to benefit from a system you believe is deeply flawed? Sometimes I feel like some of these individuals have shunned “the system” in their day-to-day lives, but depend on the rest of us to continue with our conspicuous consumption in order for them to continue living off of their 4% portfolio withdrawals.

Don’t get me wrong. A lot of the ideas espoused in these blogs are intelligent, inspirational and retro-radical. We really don’t need to buy so much stuff. It wouldn’t hurt us to be more deliberate about our purchases. We can probably live on a lot less than we think. We are destroying the environment with our festering piles of bottomless stuff. 

But to rail against — and simultaneously rely so heavily on — a financial system? Maybe these people are just pragmatic. Or maybe you can have your cake and eat it too?