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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Big Little Change digest - October 2, 2013

Weekly challenges

Week 1 - financial discipline.

Now, now, don't groan at me. I am not going to bombard you with bank speak or any of that. No. However, I do want to ask you a question - and request an honest answer: how do you keep track of your finances? Do you still balance an old-fashioned checkbook? Do you keep a spreadsheet? Or do you do the "oh, I just keep the tally in my head" thing and are constantly (and often unpleasantly) surprised at the end of the month by a bounced bill payment or rejected debit card transaction?

My husband and I lived on one salary - mine - for several years, until his business started taking off. The only reason we survived, with lights on, internet service and roof over our heads, is because I ruled the budget with an iron fist. And used the same discipline to this day to keep things in order.

All transactions are recorded. All accounts are balanced monthly against the statement. All the essential bills and savings are subtracted from the income at the beginning of the month - that way, there is no chance of accidentally spending them. I am not saying that it's easy, but it certainly has worked and continues working for us. After years of just barely keeping our heads above water, we are able to beef up our charity donations, aggressively pay off our debt and stash aside some serious cash for household projects. Oh, and we just replaced Gerry's almost-dead car with another one, for which we paid cash.

Money can't buy happiness, in the emotional sense. But there is a reason why majority of divorces take place due to money problems. We all need to eat. We all need to live somewhere. We all need clothes. We need companionship and information. Money buys all that. So, perhaps, now is the time to stop regarding money with hostility and start considering it a useful tool in what you want to achieve for yourself and your loved ones.

Week 2 - your place in line.

Believe me, I know all about after work grocery shopping - tired, hungry, stuck behind a bunch of people with outdated coupons and cranky children, NOT looking forward loading 40-pound bags of dog food and cat litter in the rain, the works. I know.

That said, how about we summon our willpower, pay attention to our surroundings and, if the person behind us only has a couple of items, let him or her go ahead of us? Yes, I know you want to get out of there ASAP. I understand. But watch the face of that person you allow to get ahead of you in line. How their eyes light up, how they smile. It's worth it.

Week 3 - be nice to your car.

"WHAT?!" you might ask. "Weren't we all about saving the world and all that? What does that have to do with my car?"

Consider how much time you spend in your car. How do you feel when you have a long drive coming up? Is it something you look forward to or is it more like a sense of dread, complete with hamburger wrappers and water bottles on the inside, and a layer of last spring's pollen on the outside? And how long has this "check engine" light been on?

Your car is a part of your environment. So, make it the kind of environment that allows you to focus on your way to work and relax on the way home or to a vacation. Clean it out, discipline yourself to budget for regular car maintenance, find a car wash in the area, and give it a $5 wash every 2-3 weeks. You'd be amazed at the difference having a clean, well cared-for car can make in your mental state.

Week 4 - exercise your mind.

My dad always said, "Mathematics is gymnastics for the brain. When you exercise, walk, or lift weights, you might not be training for the Olympics, but it's still a good idea, because it helps you stay healthy and strong. It's the same way with mathematics. You might not be going for the Nobel Prize, but it's still a helpful thing to do for your mind."

I am not asking you to start solving systems of differential equations for fun - that's my job. And I know some of you would rather fold fitted sheets than do anything mathematical. However, I do encourage you to find a series of things that help keep your brain in shape. Crosswords. Puzzles. Sudoku. Memorizing and reciting poetry. Playing adventure games with lots of riddles and hidden object scenes. Reading books that challenge you and make you think. Find SOMETHING.

There is a lot of research out there that suggests that exercising and challenging our minds in a variety of ways helps stave off aging and the onset of dementia. So, let's do ourselves a favor and start whipping our brains into shape.

Member stories

Can I introduce you to a favourite company of mine who supply some of the very best incense sticks I've ever used? They're a fairtrade company too, if the scent of the incense is not enough to recommend them. I use incense as a means of purifying air and atmosphere, which is much nicer than chemical sprays as well as much safer. These ones are made with very pure ingredients and seem to affect folks with asthma much less than other brands. greatergoods.co.uk

Some very important things my parents taught me before I was 16. These are almost never too early and definitely never too late to learn:

- Reading a lot.

- Cleaning without any electrical devices (dusting, sweeping, mopping).

- Doing laundry by hand, ironing, folding, and putting it away.

- Putting my stuff away in its proper place in a timely manner.

- Basic sewing with and without a sewing machine (buttons, button holes, hems, zippers, patches, belt loops, darts).

- Changing a lightbulb.

- Using basic tools - a hammer, a screwdriver, a wrench.

- Basic cooking.

- Doing the dishes and putting them away.

- Setting the table nicely.

- Shining shoes.

- Doing basic arithmetic in my head.

- Doing basic algebra and geometry with paper and pen - without a calculator.

- Growing, harvesting, and preserving edible things.

- Being a responsible pet parent.

Fantastic and comprehensive article about various aspects of depression.

Some great ideas on making your daily life a little easier and a little better.

If you live in Texas, this is a company that deserves your patronage. In addition to its existing reputation for community involvement, including during natural disasters, HEB has been working for months to implement Obamacare and made it abundantly clear that employees' wages would not be cut and no other benefits would be sacrificed.

Very good, intelligent, comprehensive overview on the bee situation.

Public Service Announcements

Experience environmental research firsthand - NOAA has both career and volunteer opportunities in multiple locations: general information, specific jobs.

If you want to help the victims of the recent horrendous floods in Colorado, here is how.

If you have college-age kids looking for internships that are not just reasonably paid but are also with organizations they want to support, here are some opportunities with Doctors Without Borders.

Heads up, fellow gardeners!

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