Category Archives: hello


My theme of the month is SPEND OUT. I want to wear dresses even on weekdays, use up the markers and notepads I have stashed around the house, and make sure to eat all the delicious fruit before it goes bad. I want to finish up gift cards I’ve been hoarding and read the good books I’m saving on my shelves. I want to spend it all, these resources I have stockpiled and these things that I have somehow come to believe should only be trotted out on rare and special occasions. What am I saving it for if not to enjoy today?

ABUNDANCE! I want to live in abundance mentality, not in fear of scarcity.

[Hat tip to The Happiness Project for the challenge]

Also, this wonderful little video is charming me today:

via @swissmiss

Well, that’s a change!

We’ve had an interesting couple of weeks over here in debt repayment land! Last Monday morning, after I delivered Ali to the Portland airport for his trip to Iran to visit his family, I received news from my boss that my job as an Office Manager was being eliminated due to budget constraints. I had five hours’ notice to finish up some work and say goodbyes to my coworkers. It was a bizarre feeling to be laid off; I have never experienced that situation before. Worse, I wasn’t able to tell Ali for a couple of days since he was in international transit mode. That was tough.

While I look for another job, I am going through the process of applying for unemployment benefits. Since my previous employment was not terminated due to performance weaknesses, I am eligible to receive up to 60% of my salary from the State of Oregon on a weekly basis, dependent upon an entrance interview and weekly accountability that I am actively seeking employment.

I have been through a wide range of emotions about this situation, and I am surprised by the amount of awkwardness I experience when sharing the news with friends and family. It’s uncomfortable to talk about being laid off, because people instantly register pity and I always wonder if it seems like I was fired because I wasn’t doing a good job.

Unemployment benefits are another source of awkwardness. It’s not like we wouldn’t be able to eat or pay the rent if I did not collect the benefit, and I know people in other circumstances need it much more than we would, but on the other hand it’s proper use of an insurance against this unexpected loss of income… and I have been paying taxes in some form or another my entire working life [eta: note that unemployment insurance funds come from employers who pay into it as part of their quarterly payroll tax].

At the risk of offending readers, I feel like I have some sort of “white guilt” class guilt surrounding the situation. (Am I using that euphemism correctly?)

I wonder why nobody really talks about unemployment benefits, or being laid off? Is it embarrassing?

Today, we bought a $60 book.

Mumsy is in town for a few days visiting Portland for the first time. We had a wonderful first day together – food carts for lunch, farmers market for fun samples, and walking Alberta to give mom a taste of local culture and people.

Along the way we visited so many delightful artisan markets. Alberta Street has a vibrant culture, rich in experience and flavor. I loved having an excuse to purchase a couple of Mel’s hilarious, whimsical, charming art cards from Redbird Studio and always enjoy the ambiance of the store – celebratory bunting, natural light, and beautiful art colors. I’m so glad we found them through Supportland! I also have a $20 gift certificate from an IHEARTARTpdx lucky win for collage so I was going in to check it out for the first time. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t expect a “scrapbooking” store to be so well curated. Lots of fun bits to spend out my prize in a future shopping spree. Well done, collage! And thank you, iheartart! Finally, we wanted to stop by Back to Eden vegan bakery for a cool drink on the way back to the car, but the line was too long and we didn’t see tea on the menu. Luckily, next door is Townshend’s Tea. (Follow them on twitter! Check them out.) Ambiance, comfy seating, natural light, mellow vibe, a huge tea list and ridiculously affordable prices mean that this is one establishment I will frequent. Thank you Townshends People — I am happy to meet you. Mwah.

The reason I am sitting down to write this post is that I recognized a brand from yesterday’s work-related research of Portland-area designers. I really liked the name and branding for Ampersand Vintage (Twitter here). Highly recommended, whether entertaining your mother or just out to explore.

In Ampersand, we bought a book for $60. I didn’t hesitate to spend that much money on a book, and didn’t even want to go buy it from Amazon for half the price. The reason I immediately, unhesitatingly shelled out the money is that as Ali was browsing the book stopped him dead in his tracks. Asking questions about the product, his voice quavered a little and he said “this is beautiful.” We often joke about Ali’s lack of accessible emotions versus my constant life drama. We balance each other well, but when he sees me tear up when I walk into Therese Murdza’s art studio or when listening to a poignant moment of a soviet-era symphony, I think he is a little bit jealous because he doesn’t really feel things like that. Today in that little curiosity shop, looking at a well-designed book about math theories, Ali was moved. And that $60 to our new curator friend is a small price to pay for setting the stage for my husband to get a little bit emo. Thank you, Ampersand, for your well thought collection and artful displays. You helped set the stage for a milestone.

the elements of Euclid

and, in Portland Rhino news…

photographer unknown

Pete, the Oregon Zoo’s black rhino, can expect some company soon. Zuri, a 3-year-old female rhino from Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, arrived in Portland last week on a breeding loan and will be joining Pete on exhibit sometime in the coming months.

“Black rhinos are among the most endangered mammals on the planet,” said Kim Smith, Oregon Zoo director. “We are thrilled and privileged to be given an opportunity to promote the survival of these amazing creatures.”

In the wild, habitat loss and poaching have pushed the species to the brink of extinction. The world population of black rhinos has plummeted from an estimated 65,000 in 1970 to fewer than 3,700 today.

Originally posted at Portland Observer by Mindy Cooper

January 2011: challenges

January was a tough month. After holding out for so long I finally hit a wall– after my little happy hour breakdown halfway through the month…. downhill from there. Suddenly, it seems like I should “just this once” indulge in things – whether at the grocery store adding a few too many luxury items to the cart, or sliding into a booth at Burgerville that one lunch hour when I was really hungry. It strikes me that this is a really basic principal of frugality at work — that when you try to deny everything, your willpower breaks down and the flood lets loose. (Reader Micah also pointed this out on the 1/15 post).

Being prepared with food is the best way for me to avoid extra expense incurred by eating out. Ali is my personal chef and gets lunches ready every morning, I’m thankful for that. I also try to keep some packets of cashews or almonds, along with fruit snacks in the car for emergency blood sugar situations. Having a plan for dinner – something in the slow cooker or an idea of what I’m craving that day – also helps avoid thinking too much about eating on the way home. I don’t WANT to think about food so much, and I’ve never had a problem with food aside from needing to make sure to regulate blood sugar. But this longing for what I’m not supposed to have goes deep – a little bit of the ol’ “forbidden fruit” mentality? Definitely a little of “awakening the dragon” and a little bit of boredom (beans in a crock pot only stay exciting for so long).

What should I do about this food issue? I have been thinking about food a lot lately. I think the denial of eating out in some way triggers a little bit of survival instinct (scarcity mentality), which is a tiny bit ridiculous since our fridge and cabinets are full. I have thought about giving myself one day a week to eat a moderate lunch out… I may try this for February and see if I can curb some of the appetite for luxury and convenience  – or maybe that will make the longing worse. We also have a gift certificate for a really excellent restaurant a client gave me as a thank you for doing some family portraits, so I am looking forward to the opportunity to use that.

Any other suggestions? I am fascinated to explore these new and unexpected issues — the psychology behind desire, contentment and longing, and reaching for a big goal that necessitates lifestyle shift. The goal is abundance mentality in all areas of life.


Many people view education debt as good debt; we don’t believe this to be true. Although education loans often sit at lower interest rates than credit card loans or mortgages, they encourage borrowers to make minimum payments for many years, accruing lots of interest while continuing to purchase new cars and houses and living life as if any money that comes into their hands is not already spoken for.

We have a pretty huge goal. We are planning to pay down the remainder of our student loans by December 31, 2011.

Ali and I have been thinking about this idea and preparing our lifestyle since we moved to Portland in August. We have been experimenting with levels of frugality, envelope budgeting, and finding areas where the money leaks out. We’ve been making a grand attempt to “right-size” our lives, taking into account the fact that we don’t need as much as we think… and most of all finding ways to live in abundance mentality. Finding joy in what we have rather than concentrating on anything that seems to lack seems to be the key to success.

Frankly, we find it surprising that so few in the US talk about personal finances. We think about money constantly, but few people share details of their budgets. Since the US is at the absolute front row when it comes to personal spending, disposable income, and consumer mentality, we should know the most about how to handle our finances. And yet, few people even know how to live within their means let alone think that’s a good idea.

We’re going to open up this space and share some real numbers with readers in an attempt to encourage others who may be in similar situations. We’re withholding specifics on our salaries, but will share details of the loans and our spending/saving patterns. We understand this may draw criticism on all sides, but we’re hoping for the grace that comes from knowing we are doing our very best to make decisions that will take our little family in the direction of true freedom.

As of December 1, 2010 our loans total $69,176.76.
We have $0 in credit card debt (we no longer use credit cards), our car is paid for, and we do not have a mortgage. When we pay off our student loans, our goal is to be completely debt free.

This blog is an invitation to readers to join us as we fight our ingrained overspending tendencies and battle our student loans to the death. Are you ready for an epic journey?

If you’d like to join in the fun, we’re going to take reader submitted questions in old-school mail format. So once a week or so (or however often we get them) we will post reader questions and challenges for us and for Spencer. The more entertaining, the better! Find your stash of stamps and envelopes, and submit your message:

Ali & Rachel H
PO Box 11506
Portland, OR 97211

For future reference, you can always find this address on the ABOUT US page from the blog menu.

settled in Portland, Oregon

It’s been awhile since we’ve posted an update, but I wanted to let everyone know that we’ve settled in Portland, Oregon. So far, so good and we LOVE the vibe of the pacific northwest. Ali is consulting for a technology company in Beaverton and we found the best little garden cottage to rent while we get our act together. We’re currently living out of 364 square feet… and loving it! It’s been a sort of trial of minimalist living. If you’re interested in seeing more photos, check our facebook albums.

minimalist workspace

job search strategy change

Since our European job options aren’t looking very promising, we have shifted the focus of the job search to US cities. We’re interested in living in the pacific northwest, and hopeful about an upcoming job interview in Portland. It’s tomorrow, actually!

Wish Ali luck as he flies in and does a whirlwind tour of the city and visits with a few companies.

happy new year!

eide shoma mobarak

Eide shoma mobarak everyone! It’s Nowruz time, the biggest celebration of the year for Persians. They set a special table called haft seen with symbolic items and gather around with their families to exchange blessings for the new year. I wrote more about it at my personal blog, refreshrenewexplore (link). Listen in on Obama’s Nowruz address to Iran here (link).

We’ve been asking friends and family to pray for us as Ali continues to apply for jobs and we hope to be connected to a great place in coming months. Great news – Ali has a third interview with a company who will be flying him over to Belgium in a couple of weeks, and he is doing other interviews via telephone and skype intermittently. Thanks to those of you who have asked blessings on our behalf.

Finally, a few photos from our Nowruz celebration. There were many more people around the edges of every photo, though these make it look like a calm house.

eide shoma mobarakeide shoma mobarak