What to do with all the BOOKS?

We won't be in this particular apartment for much longer, and when the time comes to move, we want it to be a simple process.
One of the things we love about living in an apartment is that it forces us to live simply.
We can't accumulate too much stuff, because frankly there's no room for it! My husband always says his ideal vision of living is to be able to pack all our belonging in the car and have the freedom to just go anywhere.

 That might not be to far off from reality- the having to pack it all and go part, at least. . . I don't know about everything fitting in ONE car. . . maybe a couple of 10 passenger vans. . .

Confession: we have managed in a year and a half to accumulate way too much stuff. (I'm great at shoving and hiding) so it's time to get back to basics.

This weekend we started thinking about our bookcases. We LOVE our books. What do you expect out of a liberal arts degree-holding couple?  We just love holding, smelling, perusing and devouring those books and don't see ourselves transitioning into reading screens over paper anytime soon. Not that we have anything against it- I am tempted by the convenience, but it's really not our style. Not to mention, we already own so many wonderful volumes and we are not about to start re-buying electronic versions. That's not what I call simplifying.

We did, however, have to ask ourselves, do we really need to have ALL our books with us right now? It's extremely hard for us to say NO to this one. But if we move into a smaller place than we have now, then this won't even be an option.

One day we will have our library, and it's been fun for now to have a mini one. But it will NOT be fun to pack, carry, move and unpack all these volumes.

We began by getting rid of all doubles, or books included in anthologies and in compilations we already owned. This was hard because who wants to read from a massive book when you can have the freedom of simple portability? Yet, it is nice and convenient to have all the works in one place, too. . . Convenience and practicality beat freedom and portability this time around.

Next we sorted that get-rid-of (for now) pile. The doubles will find new homes via friends, Half Price Books, and then the last of the rejects via Freecycle with the following in the title: "must take all- freecycle the rest!" The others we still can't bear to part with will go into the handy storage spot that is my MIL's basement (pending approval). We (and our future children) will give them plenty of love again one day.

There was a second pile to sort as well.  For this one, we doubled up on Trade Joe paper bags and filled them with all the books that we had "borrowed"(I say that loosely): library, parents, relatives, friends. Sorry everyone! We've been hoarding reading all these for months. . . ! We really need to work on reading one book at a time (then we'd finally stop tripping over them in every corner and not have to deal with the embarrassment of being dubbed book thieves!)

We still have a long way to go to pare down. Our mess progress is looking something like theirs:


Decisions, Decisions: Shopping Organic Vs. Non-Organic

One day we will be able to afford exclusively organic and non-GMO foods. We are trying to get back to the best roots of true nourishment! We are not worried so much about the “organic” stamp [which often doesn't mean anything] as much as whether or not the food is grown/raised hormone, pesticide and herbicide free.
We try to understand the food labels to make sure we invest in the right place:
  • Products labeled "100 % Organic" must contain only organically produced ingredients.
  • Products labeled "Certified Organic" must contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients.
  • The label "Made with Organic Ingredients" can contain anywhere between 70 to 95 percent organic ingredients
In order to ensure you're actually getting your money's worth, you need to make sure the food you buy bears the "100% USDA Organic" label.  [source: mercola.com]
By the way, did you know that the U.S. does not require by law for GMO foods to be disclosed in the labels?

In the meantime, we certainly are willing to make a few sacrifices for our health (like when it comes to pure water, fish oil and coconut oil), so we try to prioritize where we’re willing to invest. We wanted to get the best bang for the buck when it comes to organic versus non-organic produce.
Unfortunately, non-organic fruits and vegetables are grown with potentially toxic chemicals, including pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. Those chemical residues remain not only on the skin of the fruit, but also can be absorbed into the inner flesh. 

Other studies have also linked pesticides to health problems including:

  • Cancer
  • Fertility problems
  • Brain tumors 
  • Childhood leukemia
  • Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
  • Birth defects
  • Irritation to skin and eyes
  • Hormone or endocrine system problems
  • Nervous system damage
Children, whose bodies are still developing, are especially at risk from pesticides, as are pregnant women, whose unborn children are extremely susceptible to damage from these toxic chemicals
According to Hazardous Pesticides in the European Parliament, released October 2007, the eight food samples they tested, which ranged from oranges to strawberries to grapes, contained 28 different pesticide residues, with an average of almost five per fruit! 
Among them were 10 known carcinogens, 3 neurotoxins, 3 reproductive or developmental toxins, 8 suspected endocrine disrupters, and 2 contaminants classified as "Highly Hazardous" by the World Health Organization.
Three of the eight food samples contained pesticide residues so high they were technically illegal to sell, and the oranges contained illegally high levels of imazalil, a carcinogen. By eating just one orange, a 5-year-old would receive 70 percent of the "Acute Reference Dose" for that chemical.

EEEEK!! And there's plenty more of this type of information. . . 

So what do we do? How can we take care of our health with a limited budget? Which Fruits and Veggies are MOST Contaminated?

The MOST Contaminated Fruits and Veggies (Buy These Organic)

On the flipside, the produce with the LEAST amount of pesticide residues:

Sources:  SixWise.com   Mercola.com
That second list especially is such a relief!

We began doing this a few months ago, so soon we will see how much of a change (if much) it makes on our grocery budget. One huge difference we noticed (and trust us, it’s not in our heads) is the TASTE- the biggest being the potatoes and carrots- so much more flavorful!

A fun idea is to make shopping an outing with the family or friends or even a date! Once the snow clears, I can't wait to start seeing all the Farmers' Markets again! It's so nice to be out in the fresh air, and usually there are more interesting things than produce to see and experience.

Another option we might be doing in the future is joining a co-op for a produce box. What’s keeping us back right now is not only the expense, but the fact that you get seasonal items, which is great, but with both of us working full-time, we just don’t have the time realistically speaking to “try” and “experiment” so much at once. We would hate to waste! For now, we are sticking to purchasing just our authentic half gallon of heavy cream once a month from the co-op.
wint09_092 The best option is obvious- grow your own produce! This way you know exactly what's going on! We are purchasing heirloom seeds and are waiting until March to start our mini herb and vegetable garden indoors! Last year's garden was a fun experiment and we learned much. You can check it out here, here and here.
Whether we buy (or grow!) organic or not, we certainly make sure to thoroughly WASH all our produce before eating or cooking with it!
Here’s a cheap veggie and fruit wash formula you can make at home:
“Fill two spray bottles, one with vinegar and the other with hydrogen peroxide. You spray with the vinegar and then with the H2O2. It is cheap and natural. You can use this for disinfecting surfaces too.” - My MIL (Check out her health blog here.)
In addition to the above-mentioned organic list, I now add eggs and butter. I don’t saw milk because we get it RAW, which is best!

I can’t wait to be able to add organic meats. . . but for now, we stick to places we trust and look for hormone-free, cage-free/ free-range and grass-fed in the label.
I always keep that list of what to buy organic handy on a specific page in the back of my little Moleskine planner so I don’t get confused, along with notes on non-GMO Shopping from this brochure.

And for you I-phone/ Smartphone toters, (I include myself since I always have my I-pod Touch with me hehe) there’s a free non-GMO Shopping Guide App.
Every year the list changes based on research and this happens to be the latest one I found, so if you know of something that should be on the list, please share!

*edited 03.29.11 to add*
Another major organic rip-off is organic milk. Because while organic milk must come from a cow that hasn't been fed artificial growth hormones or pesticide-laden feed, they're not necessarily pastured, or grass-fed cows. And worst of all organic milk (unless RAW) is still pasteurized, which destroys vital nutrients. -Mercola.com


Pleasing to the eye: a better (and personal) room focal point

One of the hardest things about living in small spaces is to have a well balanced focal point in the room that still serves a practical purpose.  There’s no room for fancy pieces that hold collections of pretty, shiny things that one switches out with every season. Usually, the TV is what is directly in front of the couch. Whatever the piece happens to be for tiny home dwellers, it ideally has some storage.

For us, it happens to be this $10 antique bookcase. . . and it holds. . . our treasured books (We don’t own a TV!) For added interest, however, we have our super old books on the open shelving. I also love the doors on the bottom for hiding other books and DVDs.


Here’s what I started with after Christmas:


The goal was to not have it look knick-knacky. . . I suppose that candle could go, but I purposely wanted the Crucifix and the wedding picture of us in the Church where we married to be at the center, rather than the clock, or else the Crucifix would get lost. Maybe that family wedding picture could go as well to simplify things, but again, I just love glancing at it!

I spent a good 20 minutes the other day thinking all this through. Here’s the breakdown.



Ideally, I’d love to have that fishbone  Don Quijote in the study, but with all those books jam-packed into the bookshelves, it’s not happening.  Besides, it reflects my passion for language and literature.

Isn’t that the point of home decor: to reflect your personality?

[Hmm, he still needs a spear.]


On the right side, more old books with a fun Coliseum bookend I found for $2 at TJ Maxx. We love architectural details.


On to the seconds shelf:


Adding another picture enhanced the look. We wanted architectural shots that complimented each other: a downward perspective of the Vatican Museum Staircase [Rome, ‘06] and an upward perspective of the ceiling of the Pantheon [Rome, ‘06].  I think the black and white on the clock and candle play nicely with the picture frames. The gold leaf and berries on the candle add some color played up by the books below.


On the third shelf I decided to rearrange a few books (I put the religious ones on the left and separated them from the literature ones on the right by stacking a few.


This wooden (and silver) Crucifix is hand carved from Argentina. It was a wedding gift. It is  “El Senor de los Milagros” (The Lord of the Miracles) and also known as the “Black Christ.” There’s a beautiful legend about this image and it’s famous in South America.

The Crucifix was getting lost in the taller shelf because of its size. This picture doesn’t do it justice, since it is near eye level when one sits on the couch directly opposite it.


The bottom shelf is reserved for my husband’s collection :)

It may not look much different to you, but honestly to me it’s making the biggest difference in the room! I may continue tweaking and simplifying more, but for now I’m loving it.

I love noticing the personal touches in people’s living rooms that reflect their interests.  Maybe it’s a piano, or perhaps a large painting, or a picture collage of the past and the present, or maybe a beautiful icon. I think there should always be personality in the home because homes are the reflection of persons, not materials.


How to Buy Cheap Airfare

Basically, it's all about timing. Research shows that Tuesdays at 3 p.m. ET are the best days (though Wednesdays are a close second). Why? Because airlines like to discount the tickets and show a new sale for the week starting on Mondays (usually the day when you get your fare alert emails), and then discount competitors like Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, etc, try to match them on Tuesdays. By Thursday and through the weekends, the sales have mostly expired, so don't bother fretting if you need to buy a last-minute flight late in the week. You're going to pay top dollar no matter how you look at it or what time of day you buy.

Read the entire Wall Street Journal article I'm quoting: "Whatever You Do, Don't Buy an Airline Ticket On … " by Scott McCartney here.
"In addition, airlines don't manage their inventory as actively on weekends, so if cheap seats sell on some flights, prices automatically jump higher. Fare analysts may decide later to offer more seats at cheaper prices, but not until they come back to work on Monday, according to airline pricing executives. So a ticket can be $199 certain days and $499 other days even months ahead of a flight. "
But apparently, in the near future things may not be as predictable. . . (Actually, I'm still getting over the shock that flights were somewhat predictable!)
"Some airlines say that social-media outlets, such as Twitter and Facebook, are beginning to disrupt the cycle. Some airlines are sending sales out directly to customers at all hours, making pricing far less predictable each day. Or carriers may tweet an hour-long sale. As a result, airlines can match competitors more nimbly, sneak sales under the radar of competitors and send deeply discounted offers anytime to customers who sign up for fare alerts.
Hear that? Sign up for fare alerts!

On many airlines you can customize a travel agent type of thing. I have my favorite destinations and closest airports flagged as well as alerts set up to send me an e-mail if prices drop to a certain level.  (and believe me, I have some ridiculous thing like a $150 roundtrip). I know I shouldn't look any time soon for some major deal to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico (though it did work for our honeymoon!) or some dreamy destination like the Caymans, but then again, you never know!

Here are two other favorite sites of ours to check for good deals:

[source: bing.com/travel]

  • bing.com/travel
    • Know when to buy or wait based on a pattern of price fluctuations for flights -what a stress eliminator! AND it doesn't track your trip wish like the other sites- ever notice how the prices just seems to increase with every page refresh on some sites?
This month we are going to enjoy our vacation and the fact that we saved over $300  with these tricks!


I hit the Martha Jackpot!

[insert angelic voices]

Tip #1: Be sure to share your tastes in periodical with your friends. You just never know who might be decluttering a gold mine!

Tip #2: This is a great example of a freecyle item to either get rid of  or ask for!


How to Freecycle

A few of you have asked me what Freecycle is all about.

Basically, if there are  no good garage sales or thrift stores by you, or you don’t have the time for hit-or-miss outings, it’s your best option!
Freecycle is a "nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It's all about reusing and keeping good stuff out of landfills."

It works through Yahoo Groups and you can score some awesome stuff or get rid of bulky, heavy things without having to move them yourself!  Search first on the original website freecycle.org by using your zip code. (hint: if there’s a “nicer” (ahem more wealthy)  area near you, often you can request to join that group as well if you live nearby). Once you know the name of the particular group(s) you want to join (usually the name is related to the city or town you live in), you can move to the next step.

The next step is to make a Yahoo e-mail account. Trust me, you want a separate e-mail for this kind of thing because there will be many e-mails involved.

 Once you set it up, then search in the Yahoo Groups search box for the name of the particular Freecycle Group you want to join, then request to join and fill out the application.

Usually there are specific rules for specific groups to follow such as putting an “offer” of something you’re willing to give away before starting to ask or post “wanted” items. The moderator will send you an e-mail with instructions and "etiquette" of how they prefer posts to be worded, so make sure you read it! They might also want you to verify your zip code, etc. and if you don't reply, they will not allow you to join the group.

Once you've been accepted, when you search on the yahoo search box (on the top right of your inbox) for your group, you will see the freecycle welcome screen. On the top left menu, "Messages" is how you can see what everyone else is posting."Post" will let you post your "offer" or "wanted" or "taken" item(s) (yes, post it's been "taken" once someone picks it up that way you don't keep getting a hundred-and-one e-mails!)

I tried my luck a few month ago. I posted my in-laws’ working dryer (they replaced it for a better model) that had been sitting in the garage for months. It was gone within a day!


The next thing I asked for was back-issues of Cook’s Illustrated, our favorite cooking magazine. About a week or two went by and I forgot all about it until I received an e-mail from a nice lady offering them to me! She kindly left them by the side of her garage and my husband picked them up on his way to work. She gave us 20 issues (all within the last 2 years). Unbelievable, especially considering they’re $5 on the newsstands!

Freeycle is also super helpful if you have college friends or siblings who are looking to get or get rid of stuff fast!

Try your luck! You can ask for the most random things such as umbrella stands, computer parts, specific things like a halogen torchier lamp (yes, I posted that!),  furniture pieces, etc! Best of all, everything is FREE!


Big Berkey Questions Answered

 Remember how excited I was when I first brought Big Berkey home?

Think about how much water we drink. . . and where it comes from!

If you're drinking tap, or bottled water (many brands of which are just tap or old water full of chemicals!) chances are it's contaminated with:
  • parasites
  • chlorine
  • fluoride 
  • dioxins
 . . . not to mention hormones and crap from all those birth-control-peeing women and people who dispose of their medications down the drain.

Megan, from Megan's Little House agreed and now has a Big Berkey, too. After trying it out she asked some important questions, some of which I've been asked already by a few other people, so here are the answers in a follow-up post.

Question: You mentioned the best kind of water isn't distilled or water purified by reverse-osmosis, but water with trace minerals in water. What do I need to add to the water to make sure I am getting the essential minerals?

Answer: Nada! Nothing! That's why Big Berkey is better than reverse-osmosis or distilled water which removes even the trace minerals (magnesium, calcium) and electrolytes (sodium, potassium, chloride). Water filtered through reverse osmosis tends to be neutral and is okay if minerals are supplemented (you can buy these in drops from health stores).

The ideal water for the human body should be slightly alkaline and this requires the presence of minerals like magnesium and calcium.

Question: Is it supposed to take a long time to filter in the beginning?

Answer: In our experience, the first time took forever! But after that it went pretty smoothly. If it stops filtering or isn't filtering, here's what I found:

Typically the problem you are experiencing is due to high water tension, which prevents the air from being purged from the micro pores of the new purification elements. Included with your Black Berkey® elements is a priming button and instructions for use. Please remove and prime your purification elements, reinstall them and that should fix the problem.

Question: What's the white flaky stuff floating in the filtered water tank?

Answer: I actually hadn't looked inside. . . boy was I shocked and grossed out at first! But it didn't make sense! I could tell the water tasted better! Here's what my husband found when he googled it to put us all at our ease.

With respect to the little white floaters in the water, it is not bacteria but rather a problem that sometimes occurs with hard (heavily mineralized) water. When water is filtered through your system, the Black Berkey® purification elements actually increase the PH of the water. This is healthful as Pathogenic bacteria and viruses thrive in acidic environments and conversely have difficulty surviving in alkaline environments. This is also true inside your body. When the PH level of the purified water is raised, the acidity of the water goes down and the water is no longer able to hold as many minerals in solution. When this happens the minerals begin to precipitate out over time and depending on the mineral composition they will either sink to the bottom or float to the top. This process is known as flocculation and the precipitated minerals are usually referred to as "white floaters". The bottom line is that this is nothing to be concerned about, the white floaters are minerals that were already in your water; they are now simply visible whereas they were previously invisible due to their suspension in an ionic form.
Question: Should I get the Fluoride filter for the Berkey?
Answer: YES! It is an unhealthy, toxic industrial chemical!
  • inactivates 62 enzymes (Judd)
  • increases the aging process (Yiamouyiannis)
  • increases the incidence of cancer and tumor growth (Waldbott/Yiamouyiannis)
  • disrupts the immune system (Waldbott)
  • causes genetic damage (Tsutsui, et al)
  • interrupts DNA repair-enzyme activity (Waldbott)
  • increased arthritis and
  • is a systemic poison. 
Read more about the dangers of flouride here

Questions: How can I test it's properly working?

Answer: This is awesome: put a drop of red food coloring in the water. . . and it should filter crystal clear! That's how powerful these filters are- it filters out something as  microscopic as that!

The Big Berkey® system removes pathogenic bacteria, cysts and parasites entirely and extracts harmful chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides, VOCs, organic solvents, radon 222 and trihalomethanes. It also reduces nitrates, nitrites and unhealthy minerals such as lead and mercury. This system is so powerful it can remove red food coloring from water without removing the beneficial minerals your body needs. Virtually no other system can duplicate this performance.
You can read more about how cool Big Berkey is and all it does in this post.
You can find more troubleshooting and basic questions via the Berkey site here.
Here are some other interesting articles about water (I know, they are all the same source. . . but Mercola is good about citing other evidence, opposing viewpoints, and sources).


Choosing a perfect planner

Anyone who knows me personally knows how much I love quality-made stationary items. I love to write everything down, and to do it as neatly as possible. I am known to use white-out on my planner pages! (go ahead, laugh!)  Call me crazy, but I like to be systematic about how I write things down, in what space of the page and in what color so I can find what I need to find quickly. This goes especially for my planners.

I know I have my handy mini chalkboard on my fridge for more visual reminders, but I also need to have something that's always with me since I am on-the-go 75% of the week.

Every year I make it a point to research planners to find the one that will work best for me.  I need durability since I carry my planner with me 24/7 and I like to be able to refer back to particular dates for events, appointments, etc from the previous years.

I need a particular amount and type of space. I keep my to-do list, grocery lists, garage sale/thrift store "to look for" list, a  reading and movie  list (I meet cool people on the train who read and watch cool stuff), gift idea list (ok the lists are endless!)  My planner tells me what to do everyday. It's my command center, that is, how I organize my mind, and I'd be lost without it.

I put much thought into picking out a planner particular to my current lifestyle.

For example, as a student I needed one with plenty of space on each day to write out my assignments and to-do things for the particular day, but it also had to be part of a week-at-glance.

I also wanted a separate month-at-glance section for the deadlines and appointments.
For this kind, I didn't mind a bright color so I could quickly find it amidst my pile of books.

For three years this Gallery Leather Desk Planners style was my constant companion.[sources: galleryleather.com]

Nowadays, I'm commuting to work and trying to squeeze in errands whenever possible into the work week, so I need a pocket-size one that easily fits into my small purse.

I start looking around November because by then the designs for the upcoming year are out. (ok, feel free to laugh at me some more here).  Another reason is because it is always at the top of my Christmas wish list.

I finally found the perfect one! The 2011 Moleskine Soft Cover Pocket Size Weekly.

As I was researching the different options, I came across this awesome video and it just sold me on its “awesomeness” !

There are several styles and sizes of these! [On sale at Barnes & Noble or Amazon (if they restocked it)]

I picked the weekly style that has the weekdays on the left side, and a lined page on the right side (free space to expand on lists, goals, and notes for the week!)


On the daily sections I write birthdays and my husband’s changing schedule in blue, deadlines in red, and everything else mostly in black. I keep track of things returned and cash spent on the particular days to keep a record.

On the right side of the page for that particular week I wrote a general weekly to-do list, and some blog post ideas, along with a note about a Photo Expo starting this week. (the pencil markings were for tentative stuff so I could erase it easily instead of crossing out or white-out, haha)

Here's the  monthly section. I can easily see birthdays, trips and appointments for the month at a glance.
As you can see, my February weekends are already jam-packed! 


I love the quality of the 'leather' binding (I don't think it's really leather, but close, and definitely not a real mole's skin!), the pages, the ribbon bookmark, and the convenient pocket tucked in the inside back cover-(perfect for my train schedule).


Best of all, it’s the perfect, portable size! (3x5)

There’s something about writing on paper that will never lose its appeal for me. It is a more definitive action than typing. It forces you to slow down a tad and think. It is memorable.  It is permanent.

I'd be disoriented without my planner! What’s your current companion like? Is there anything specific you look for or tweak yourself to accomodate your needs?
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