• Reducing Clutter

    “Since my house burnt down,
    I now own a better view
    Of the rising moon.”

    ~a haiku by Basho

    Living as a minimalist is a way of life.  There are many components of the lifestyle which Leo Babauta does a great succinct summary of here.  Everyone has their own reasons for subscribing to this philosophy but mine is for simplicity, and for letting the possessions and activities I love shine through instead of being cluttered with the stuff that doesn’t matter.  It’s also a way to make me feel like I’m making less of an impact on our planet.  Whether or not my efforts are just a drop in big nasty bucket doesn’t matter as much to me.  It’s about how it makes me feel like I’m doing my part.

    One component of a minimalist lifestyle is simply about not having too much stuff.  Because of the consumerist lifestyle that society pushes on us, usually the first step is to reduce clutter that we already have.  There are other components of the lifestyle that address how to limit acquiring future stuff that I look forward to addressing in later posts.

    What’s so bad about clutter? The obvious outward appeal to being a minimalist is that it is aesthetically pleasing.  Just take a look at a decorating magazine or one of those fancy modern homes.  No clutter, right?  And if that relatively shallow reason doesn’t appeal to you, there are other more profound reasons.

    Decluttering is an emotional process that helps people thrive.  You may be hanging on to clutter because there are times of your life you can’t let go of.  Sometimes, though, these past lives need to be released before a person can move forward to what is waiting for them.  What new hobbies might you pursue if you had the space to do it?  Which goals could you accomplish if you spent less time acquiring and maintaining your stuff?  How much more time could you spend with your family and friends if you weren’t so busy with material possessions?

    Clutter is a constant reminder of a scarcity mindset. A person who has too much stuff might feel like they can never have enough or are about to lose everything they have, so they overcompensate and try to insulate themselves for the possibility.  This scarcity mindset can set up limiting beliefs.  You need to believe you will have everything you need to succeed.

    What does creating space give to you?  Well, couldn’t we all use more space?  We are crammed in to this world of 7 billion people, constantly surrounded by light and noise pollution, we’re bombarded with advertisements about what other stuff we should want (presented as though they’re things we actually need), our schedules are packed full to every last minute, not even leaving us enough time to sleep until we’re rested or take 10 minutes out of our day to meditate or journal and reflect on what the hell it is we want in life.  How many weekends are spent running to discount stores, electronic stores, having our cars taken care of, trying to figure out what to do with that crap in the garage that is collecting dust?

    We could all use some space to figure out what it is we really want in life.  When your house is relatively empty, it’s hard to escape yourself and your real needs and desires.  Reducing clutter gives us more space to create and to relax and to love.  We could all afford to feel a little less untethered to and ruled by our STUFF and more in touch with people and experiences.

    Your stuff does not make you who you are.  The guy that drives the orange Lamborghini around my neighborhood is still a prick even though he has an orange Lamborghini.  The acquaintance that buys oodles of designer handbags doesn’t suddenly become classy.  The person with the fancy house and garage full of toys doesn’t suddenly start being fun and interesting.  In fact, people often seem to become the opposite of the thing they are trying to possess.  It’s as though they are acquiring and showing off stuff in a desperate effort to get people to think of them in a certain way.

    Sentiment does not need to be in the form of stuff.  This often comes in the form of gifts or things that were handed down to us through the family.  We feel that keeping something is necessary for preserving evidence of a relationship or an existence.  In some cases, you may want a few mementos, definitely.  Sometimes, though, one teacup could remind you of the way Grandma would wrap her hand around it and chatter in her singsong way.  Maybe you don’t need every last piece of chipped dishware. Or instead of keeping that horrible sweater your mother-in-law gave you to prove you are a patient and tolerant person, could you just get one of her best recipes?   That would be a much better way to reminisce on her great qualities as you share the food with friends.

    If you decide reducing your clutter could help usher you toward a more minimalist lifestyle, try the following:

    Do a walk through of your habitat.
    The first step in minimalizing is to have a conversation with your stuff.  Remember, this is where you LIVE.  It’s not just a place to store your STUFF!  I will copy an example of the questions you could use verbatim out of a book I love called The Joy of Less:A Minimalist Guide to Living:

    ‘Ask yourself these questions: As you walk around your house, have a conversation with your stuff. Ask each item, “What are you and what do you do?” “How did you come into my life?” “Did I buy you, or were you given to me?” “How often do I use you?” “Would I replace you if you were lost or broken, or would I be relieved to be rid of you?” “Did I ever want you in the first place?” Be honest with your answers—you won’t hurt your stuff’s feelings.’

    You might be surprised at how many of your possessions kind of appall and annoy you.

    The best defense is a good offense.
    In other words, just don’t bring home crap you don’t need.  If it’s something that you are only going to need about once or twice a year, do you really need to buy a thing to maintain and to store?  Could you borrow a gravy boat from a neighbor or friend?  Could you rent a power washer from your local hardware store?  Could you decorate with seasonal foliage or fruit instead of buying disposable holiday decorations made in a Chinese factory?  In the case of gifts, could you express preferences for consumables or experiences or donations in your name?

    Decide what to keep instead of deciding what to toss out.
    It’s easier this way.  Only keep the stuff you love.  It’s pretty simple.  All moves or major life changes are great times to do this.  Often times moves come along with life changes.  If you don’t have a move in your future, try to choose one drawer or area per day or weekend and slowly chip away at it.

    Do not feel guilty about throwing away stuff you spent money on.
    Let this be a lesson to you that from now on, you aren’t going to buy something unless you love it or you absolutely need it.  If you don’t wear it or don’t use it, keeping it isn’t going to suddenly going to make it worth it to have purchased it.  Feel good about donating it, selling it on Craigslist, or using an organization like Freecycle.org to find someone who might be seeking the exact item(s) that  isn’t serving you anymore.

    Enjoy without owning.
    This was another great idea discussed in the Joy Of Less book.  It is essentially the theory that you don’t have to re-create the world around you inside your house.  Chief and I live in a small apartment with a lovely garden in a funky neighborhood near the center of town.  We have no garage, no attic, minimal closet space, no TV, one car.  We actively work at not acquiring and consuming.  It requires constant vigilance!  We don’t buy things we don’t need, we don’t try to impress anybody, and we work hard at the principle of enjoying without owning by spending out to our neighborhood.  For example, instead of buying an espresso machine with all the bells and whistles, we go drink an espresso out of a glass cup at our favorite shop three blocks away.  We don’t need a fancy wine fridge because we can go down the street to have a pint and meet our neighbors.  We don’t need a home theater because we can go out to the local theatre and take in blockbusters and local plays.

    Reducing clutter has allowed me so much space and light in my life.  It’s made me focus on what really matters and allowed my creativity to thrive.  I hope it can do the same for all of you.



  • Where Do the Women Scientists Disappear To?

    “I have a great deal of work, what with the housekeeping, the children, the teaching and the laboratory, and I don’t know how I shall manage it all.” ~Dr. Marie Curie

    Obviously, Marie Curie did manage it all since she went on to become the first woman to win a Nobel Prize (in both Physics and Chemistry), but not all women seem to succeed at juggling it all.

    Women, more than ever, have the opportunity to do whatever they want career-wise.  We are being encouraged to follow math and science oriented careers and are often given great opportunities.  It seems a lot of women are taking society up on this challenge and majoring in subjects like natural science, economics, and mathematics more than ever.  I’d say at least 30% of the people I started my career with are women.  What I have lately felt compelled to explore is the reason women seem to eventually leave the career though.  Why is the top tier of my industry only about 5% women?  Is society missing out on some of the most important intellect it has ever developed for some reason that can be addressed?

    I haven’t really worked in another profession or industry, so I am curious if other women who are in technical or scientific fields tend to notice this same pattern.  I’d also be curious to know if women in more female-dominated careers have noticed anything like this?  Based on my outside observation, I would venture to say it’s not as commonplace there.  So allow me to explore the field I do know about.

    Working as a corporate scientist, I can’t help but notice when I look around during the scientific presentations that there are only about 10% of us present that are females.  When I take a closer look at the women that are present, it seems that half have not yet had children.  I’ll first explore this half without kids.

    Of those that end up leaving the profession before they have children, why did they go and where did they go?  Most of these women seem to leave this field to pursue professions or a lifestyle that somehow helps people and/or encounters less male-dominated ego posturing. This could be interpreted to suggest that women find other careers or ways of life more satisfying than science.  Or perhaps there is some undermining that goes on subconsciously in the minds of both males and females that creates a hostile work environment for women in this profession.  I wonder if there is some lack of satisfaction women encounter because of their job as a scientist and if they are able to find it elsewhere (as a teacher, stay-at-home mother, healthcare, etc.).  I don’t know the answer.

    Of the half of the women I work with that do have children, a significant proportion of them have husbands who are the primary caregiver. The women in my profession who take care of the “traditional” domestic obligations as well as the more tradtionally masculine role of being the “breadwinner” are a very small proportion.   I could interpret this to mean that being a mother and being a top scientist aren’t particularly compatible (unless someone has family or a father/partner and/or nanny to be the primary caregiver for their child).

    Many women do leave the profession around the time they start a family.  So if the timing of their exit is coincident with child-rearing I would venture to say, based on observations, that for a woman to be top-performing among her male peers and to be a happy and satisfied scientist, she feels she can not also be all the parent she wants to be.

    Does child-rearing cause a woman to suddenly lose the energy, interest, and commitment to invest the brain power in performing good science and working in a competitive environment because biology requires her attention is somewhere else?  Do repeated failings (usually accompanied with snarky comments) in this competition eventually wear down her spirit so that she finally decides to screw it all?

    Every stop toward starting a family might cause a woman to fall a little further back.   Perhaps I shouldn’t admit this publically, but I can’t tell you how many hours of work I’ve lost wondering if I was pregnant (15 of 30 days every month), being pregnant, miscarrying, and feeling shitty and hormonal.  And that’s months before real motherhood duties appear! Then mothers go on to go through the exhausting ordeal of labor.  They spend the next year physically and mentally wiped out from lack of sleep and adjusting to motherhood or a new member to the family, and possibly pumping or breasfeeding numerous times throughout the day. Their relationships with their spouses change, their relationships with their parents change, and their relationships with other women change. So I understand how commitment to work and important facts slip away; these same facts that the male counterparts always have at the ready to use as speaking points in meetings and in debates.

    Is there something that can be done about this?  Do women want something done about it or do they find happiness when they move on and stop caring? Is our system failing because women who invested so much time and passion in to a profession suddenly realize their needs as women/mothers cannot be accommodated?  Are our companies and professions missing out because women are leaving positions that could have been great ways to bring something different to a male-dominated environment just as they are getting started?

    I am not meaning to put down the hours men spend worrying about these same things or attending to starting a family.  I know a lot of men invest a lot of time and help with these things.  Biologically speaking, though, it is the woman that is responsible for the lion’s share of having a child.  And it is more often a woman whose self -esteem might suffer if her job doesn’t somehow involve helping people.

    I worry about what will happen for me professionally when I have a baby.  Did I make a mistake pursuing something that isn’t very accommodating for women who want to do both?  Is there something inherent in femaleness that make the vast majority of women want to pursue careers that are somehow related to caregiving or provide flexible hours?  Have I screwed myself?  Is that the only reason for the lack of women in my work environment?

    Sometimes I feel a frustration too that many of the highly successful men at work have someone devoted to taking care of their home and their children and, frankly, of them.  I have very seldom known a high performing man that didn’t have someone else taking care of him.  These guys are able to focus only on earning during the day while the woman takes care of the matters of the home.  He is throwing his energy in to performing well at work.  He has his role.  It makes me wish I had a stay-at-home wife!  How can I compete with this?

    So I’m confused.  I feel pride and excitement about my career because I’m doing what I’m good at.  But is it sustainable if I were to be blessed with pregnancy?  How do I reconcile my feminism with feelings that are, I hope not misogynistic, but steeped in what society has considered to be typical roles for males and females.  Are my chances of me being ultra successful and respected in my career limited if being a devoted mother with a working spouse is also in the cards?

    I don’t know the answers to these questions but I think about it a lot, mull it around and try and sample the people I know.  I would be very thankful for any comments or insights on this  – whether through life experiences in parallel but different fields or to learn about personal decisions (or forced situations) and how they did or didn’t work.  What was sacrificed, what was gained, and what might you have done differently knowing what you know now?

  • My Favorite Make-up Brushes

    In this post I highlight my favorite make-up brushes and provide a brief description about how to use them.  I used to be completely clueless as to how to do make-up and use brushes until I went to a MAC store for a lesson about 7 years ago.  It was a lot of fun and though I hardly wear any make-up these days, I’m glad I learned how to do it so I have the foundation for creating looks if the mood strikes me.  Because I started with them, I am most familiar with MAC make-up brushes, so those are the ones I refer to in this post.  There are probably other brands that make great brushes too, but this list can help give you an idea of the shape and density you are looking for.

    Check out my video (that I will probably update with an HD version) to see how I use these for a simple contoured eye look.  And for Pete’s sake, please blend your eye make-up better…I got distracted and accidentally skipped that step in this video!

    I used to love playing with makeup  but I’ve become such a homebody nowadays and very rarely go out.  When I do head out, I generally end up running out with wet hair and no make-up to have a pint at the dive bar down the street!  Nevertheless, I still like having all the tools in case I feel like being artistic or playing around and getting glammed up.  I feel like make-up, clothes, and nail polish are easy fixes to totally change your look for a day or night and then you can always revert to your “regular old self” when the fun wears off.  I like not having to make drastic permanent changes.

    It took me years to complete my brush collection as these aren’t inexpensive brushes, but they last forever.  I have bolded the ones I couldn’t do without for everyday makeup (Total = $225) and then listed the other ones I love having in order of importance (Total = $600).  As I said, my collection took years of spending about $25/month on makeup brushes and I baby them.  There are lots of collections out there that sell brushes in a bundle, but I find the collections rarely have everything I want and often are filled with a lot of things I don’t need.  All the brushes listed are linked to the MAC page if you click on the name of the brush.


    • Large Powder Brush – #134 $53 This brush is for application of powder.  It is a paddle-shaped brush with a fluffed rounded tip.  I generally use it for applying my BareMinerals powder foundation and all-over bronzer.
    • Powder/blush Brush – #129  $35 This brush is all-purpose brush for blush or face powder.  It works well for both blush and bronzer.
    • Duo Fibre Face Brush – #187 $42  I use this brush for blending and applying cream blushes.  It is generally used to create soft layers or add textures.  It’s a blend of goat and synthetic fibers.
    • Blush Brush – #116 $35 This brush is for shading and highlighting.  It’s somewhat redundant with #129 but allows for more precise application.
    • Shader Brush – #242 $25 This brush is listed under eye brushes but I like it for concealer. It is a flat brush made of synthetic fibre.  I tend to like the synthetic brushes for anything emollient.
    • Buffer Brush – #182 $53 This is a full dome-shaped brush of goat hair for blending powder and giving an immaculate polished finish.  I like to use this brush for finishing powder or for applying something like the BareMinerals Pure Radiance or Mineral Veil.
    • Foundation Brush – #190 $33 Synthetic brush for applying, distributing and blending liquid foundation.  I love the way this one feels on my face!  It makes me feel like one of the fur-covered seal-like species that evolves in Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos novel.  But I digress…
    • Small Duo Fibre Face Brush -#188 $35 This brush is for lightweight application and blending of any fluid cream, or powder.  I especially like to use it for applying liquid highlighter to the top of my cheekbones and just above my brows.
    • Duo Fibre Fan Brush – #184 $23  This brush is a blend of synthetic fibre and goat hair.  It gives a featherweight application and works to blend powders or as a tool to gently clear the skin of any excess product.  I also really like it to apply a very subtle shimmery powder on the top of my cheekbones.  It also works well for brushing off any fibres from other brushes that stick to your face.  That’s not reason enough to buy it, but an added bonus!
    • Large Angled Contour Brush – #168 $35 This brush works best for cheek contouring.  I usually use it to apply a little bit of bronzer under my cheekbones.  Use contouring to apply darker colors where you want a feature to recede.


    • Eye Shader Brush – #239 $25 Soft and dense brush for shading with eye shadow.  I use this brush every day and it works well for building color if you want to make it intense.
    • Small Angle Brush – #263 $19 This brush is a firm, flat- shaped and angled brush for lining and shading.  It is made of synthetic fibre.  It makes a precise line and works especially well for dense application if it is spritzed with water or MAC’s Fix Plus.
    • Lash Brush – #204 $14 This brush can be used for grooming the eyebrows and separating the eyelashes.
    • Blending Brush – #217 $23 I love this brush for shading and blending.  Use it to add depth to contoured eyes or use it at the end of eyeshadow application for blending all colors together.
    • Pencil Brush – #219 $25  For precision shading and blending eyeliner.  It helps give a very nice smudged look and works great for doing sort of a sexy smoky eye.
    • Large Fluff Brush – #227 $31 Paddle-shaped dense brush for defining the eye with color.  This is the perfect brush for applying eye color in a quick all-over stroke.  I especially like to use it to apply a light color like MAC’s creme brulee or vanilla all over the eyelid.
    • Mini Shader Brush – #228 $20 This brush is round-tipped and firm and I really like it for applying a slight shimmer just under my eyebrows and around the tear duct to open the eyes up.

    I don’t usually use much in the way of lipstick brushes because I am more of a gloss kind of gal but I have had luck with MAC’s retractable lip brush when I have used it.  A great resource for trying make-up looks is the YouTube channel AllThatGlitters21.  She does a lot of good make-up tutorials and you can pretty easily accomplish a lot of the looks with just a couple of palettes.

    Happy make-up artistry!





  • I Held You Every Second Of Your Life

    I loved the months that I spent anticipating motherhood.  Knowing that a beautiful and profound change in my life was on its way floored me and flushed me with joy.  When you are expecting, every second of that time (waking and sleeping) is consumed with physical and emotional reminders.  Our baby was due this week.

    On Friday morning, May 18, I would post up the following:

    “She drove to work with a tired and tenacious energy that was echoed by the shirtless meatheads wandering the freeway to detect the source of the traffic back-up. The orange sun rose hot in the sky, the particulate matter that hung around the big city reflecting the harsh, yet glorious glare of entropy. She took a deep sniff of the coppery exhaust of mankind and smiled to herself, grateful for another day to dance in the acidic rain of life.”

    It was a day just like any other day and I was feeling exhausted but full of a life force to create and to make new beginnings.  At 3:00 pm that same day, I found out I was pregnant.  That rain of life would mist a precious new head.  Entropy suited me perfectly.  I vacillated between crying happy tears and frightened, shocked tears.

    Read more

  • Don’t Follow Your Passion – Do What You’re Good At

    I have heard that if you do what you love, you will never work another day in your life.  It seems to me that current think has twisted how you should apply that to your career. Current think will have you believe that if you do what you love, the money will miraculously follow. It will have you believe there is no way you can’t succeed both financially and as a contributing member of society if you just follow your dream.  But if you’re not really good at what you “love” or if you’re not a standout at your “passion” relative to all the other valuable people in the field/trade, …well then, the world doesn’t owe you anything.

    Understanding that I don’t necessarily need to do what I “love” has been a real epiphany for me lately.

    I went through a bit of a woe-is-me period not too long ago.  Because this “find your passion and the rest will follow” chatter has been so prominent in our culture lately, I had myself convinced that despite initially becoming a scientist because I found earth science fascinating, I needed to do something else.  I thought this because the popular advice I was hearing was that you should find the one thing in the world you absolutely love that doesn’t even feel like work.  Once you find That One Thing and then pursue it as a career, money and success will magically appear in its wake.  Did I embark on my career because I love sitting in front of a computer manipulating software in a windowless office for 9 hours a day?  No. OK, then.  So what do I love?

    Well, I’m excited by science.  I took a few geology classes and decided to major in it because I thought it was so cool.  The other things I love doing can be found on my About Me page.  I love hanging out with my cat and all animals.  Writing is something I do without expecting any pay (this blog).  I write because it’s a compulsion, and a form of self-expression and because I love the catharsis.  Other things I love are  being up in the middle of the night reading and philosophizing when the rest of the world is tucked away and then sleeping odd hours during the day.  And I adore hiking and yoga.  I love spending part of every day tinkering around in the kitchen.

    So this advice to do what I love had me really confused.  I was trying to figure out what I was doing wrong that would allow me to incorporate all these things that allow me to get lost in time into my career.  So, here’s what my imagined career started to look like:

    We live on a ranch (near a city so I have access to the cultural center but also near the mountains so I can hike).  We have maybe three dogs, the house cat (Dove), and a barn full of other cats I have adopted from shelters.  I have a herd of alpacas, a couple of goats, and some horses.  So that’s my workplace – an idyllic ranch.  Doesn’t it sound so much better than an over air-conditioned skyscraper, I kept asking myself?

    So, I make a little bit of money from the alpaca fleece.  But what else?  What else am I doing that I love that is going to wondrously give me satisfaction, pride, and that pesky little thing called money?  Of course!  I will teach yoga and meditation.  Perhaps this could be a getaway spa-type place where people come for rehabilitation amongst the fresh air.  A bed and breakfast type place where I lead the stressed-out city folk on revitalizing hikes and feed them from my organic farm.  And then, on the side, I’ll write an amazing book and it will be a best-seller and will support me for the rest of my life.  I would hate to give up science, so I guess I will have to start a center, maybe an observatory, or perhaps be a guide at a park, a consultant on the side, a teacher?

    After contemplating and cultivating this dream career for many years, I slowly started to descend in to a period of malaise, a strong distaste for The Office Job.  I started whining to my sister about it during a weekend we spent together with my mom up in Vail (a place especially conducive to one imagining The Dream Life) and she said I should read a book our dad had recommended to her.  It is called So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport.  He makes some really good points in the book.  One is that the world doesn’t owe you anything simply because you’ve identified your passion.  You need to create something valuable to give to the world after putting in the time to become good at it and only then will you receive something back.  In becoming good at something, that in turn stokes your passion for it.

    So maybe I can have my Land of Levity with birds chirping, beasts running wild and office refugees doing yoga, but the world doesn’t owe me that kind of life in the sense that it will “pay me out” as a career choice.  I could pursue the lifestyle, yes, but that doesn’t mean it will be the thing from which I earn money or be successful or feed my ego. The world has no career karma saved up for me just because I can envision my ideal lifestyle.

    So I have given up on this “dream career” for now. Why?  Because I’m a scientist.  That’s what I do.  It’s why I spent seven years in school and have arduously trudged up the learning curve in my field over the last nine years.  It doesn’t mean I can’t still find time to do yoga and read and meditate and spend time with Dove and volunteer and write when I’m not at the office.  And on top of that, I’m a good scientist.  I’d probably suck at doing the other things I imagine that I love, or at least suck badly enough that it wouldn’t earn me money because I’d be a novice, which in of itself would probably discourage me.

    I know what it feels like to be a novice in a field I know little about.  I know because I spent the first 10,000 hours of my career as a scientist (which pretty much just ended) until I passed over in to the “expert” category and feel proficient and confident (most days).  See Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers if you haven’t heard about this phenomenon.  It’s frustrating and it’s hard work to learn and prove yourself and grow both professionally and personally.

    And that is what I have come to discover.   Being good at something and having a coveted skill is what brings career satisfaction.  Being good at something generally requires an investment of time to develop that skill.  And you probably wouldn’t have invested in that skill in the first place if it wasn’t something you had a propensity for and an interest in.

    I now see why all these seasoned guys (okay, well maybe the seasoned ones are 5% women in my career…I discuss that more in this post on women in science) might really love their jobs and pop in to the office on their days off.

    If you love your work, great, but it is still something you are doing for yourself and/or your family to live.  Your work could be supporting you financially or psychologically, or both.  It’s still something you are expecting a reward from, whether monetary or pride or to feel valued to some extent.  If you happen to love every second of your career, you are still getting paid so it’s still technically work.

    Now, I’m not saying it never happens that someone is wildly successful at turning their passion in to a job or business.  All I’m saying is re-think what the world owes you.  Re-think whether or not it will feel like work if you throw yourself into something, passion or not.  And think about all those times that you started to enjoy something once you got really good at it.