Archive for the ‘ simple living ’ Category

On Worth

What is the worth then
of rain glinting silver
when it falls, or boys
split out with laughter?
We banter on the word
weird, while the huddle
of science texts, glowing
invitational, stuns me as
deep as our planet’s
gravitational stability.
.                If I study lips
lined with chocolate
cake, or sobs that rock
the souls of the oaks,
have I saved a child
from the plague—have I?


discovering snails

We are gluttons for Fall.
We drink in the last days,
on lush carpets of leaves
among a tangle of branches.

*          *          *          *          *

I tied a scarf around my head in the style of Rambo — only it looked more feminine.  The tie-dyed material pooled on my shoulders and swung down my back, and dreadlocks peeked out from underneath.  I knew I either looked brave and completely stylish in my accessorizing, or else I looked completely clownish.

Five seconds at Arbor Hills, I realized it didn’t matter at all.  This outing was all about how everything else looked.  We escape here often, usually bypassing the monstrosity of a jungle gym for the “natural unpaved trails for pedestrians only.”  Isaiah has developed strong footing on the rooted paths.  He ambles down declines and doesn’t care too much if he falls down.

We twist in and out among the trees, finally settling down in a little clearing.  We come here — to nature — because Charlotte Mason says so, and she makes more sense to me regarding loving and educating my child than anyone else ever has.

Isaiah collects sticks, and I sit down with my book.  Isaiah shoves it away, and perhaps it’s his intuition that tells him nature is too big and full of life to have to read a book in it.  So we play in the dirt instead.  I find five snail shells — empty homes that now decorate the forest floor.  We talk about what all God made:  plants, dirt, and Elijah.  I search for more shells; Isaiah gets bored.  A dead tree trunk leans across the clearing where we play.  Isaiah rides it like an airplane, and I read my book again.  Isaiah wants me to stop again.  I show him what bark is.  We lift up pieces of the skin of trees, and there is more to discover.  Living snails cling to the cold, wet underside.  I lift one off and hold it in the sunlight before Isaiah’s face.  The snail stretches out of its home, pointing antennae into the air, trying to find its place again.  Its sticky face finds my thumb.  I return it to the wet bark.

There are snails everywhere.  I find myself as entralled with life as Isaiah has been the last two years.  I pick up more pieces of bark, finding the snails’ empty homes.  I collect the architecture in my palm.  I could find a thousand shells if I were here all day.  I climb the little hill and clear away the leaves to find the dirt of the forest floor.  Inspired by natural sculptor Andy Goldsworthy (Netflix subscribers, watch the documentary Rivers and Tides online for free, if you’re interested), I build a snowflake out of 58 empty snail shells.  It is my bit of graffiti art along the trail.  I leave it as tribute to the unobtrusive snail, and as a monument to God.

A whistle breaks through the quiet crackle of the trees.  I decide it must be a signal for twelve-o-clock, although I didn’t need the reminder.  We were hungry and tired anyway, and the sun was high enough that I knew it must be time to leave.

When we step back out onto the paved trail and drive home in an automobile, when I see the streets and buildings crushing out nature, everything in the forest seems like I dream.  I touch and feel plastic, concrete, manmade things, and it all feels like such a joke of a world.  I stop at the grocery store on the way home to get a candy thermometer.  I walk down a towering isle of boxes and jars and packaged, processed food, and I think: perhaps this is the dream.  When can I wake up from my mood being set by Christmas carols piped over the loudspeaker?  When will the snails raise their voices and say, “Here!  We are here by the millions, billions, trillions!  We scatter the forest floor everywhere! We are everywhere!  Won’t you look?”?

an update on nothing

Well, this is a post on something, after all.  It’s a much-belated update on my 30 29 Days of Nothing.

What a month this has been!  Full of blessings and bounty — far from nothing!  There was so much bounty, in fact, that I expected to look back at my five resolutions in my original post and have to tell you that I failed at nearly everything.  But today I read my resolutions again (they had always been in the back of my head, but I couldn’t have told you exactly what they said), and I realized we had met almost all our goals!

1. No lunches out except Sunday.  One dinner out per week, with no drinks or appetizers: On this one, I messed up twice, I think, with the lunch thing.  But the lunches were not unplanned splurges in a moment of weakness.  They were both lunches out with friends, for social and relationship-building purposes.  Justified, or not?  (I could have cooked those meals, after all.)  As for dinner, I think I succeeded 100 per cent on that one!

2. Meals planned around grocery store sales. Eh, I tried.  But I don’t really enjoy going through fliers.  So, how’s this?  I planned a meal, and then found the grocery store that had that item on sale — beef stew meat, for instance.  Since I have decided that buying all organic produce is not conducive to saving for an adoption, I am buying most of my conventional produce at the dirt-cheap Korean market.  Meat, though, kind of freaks me out at the Korean market.  So, I’d either bypass the meat altogether, justify a really good meat sale at Kroger or Albertson’s in the name of frugality, or when feeling particularly sustainable, I would go to Whole Foods to get a small serving of the good, organic, free-range stuff.

3. Stay under budget on groceries by at least $50. Everybody say “Wooee!”  Wooee! I am officially done getting groceries for the month.  And guess what?  I am under budget by $105.  Yeah.  I will attribute this in part to the bounty of food my parents brought from Kansas, but I could also argue that our grocery budget was more stressed because we had two weekends with houseguests.  It all balances out.

4. Limited electricity use, including air-drying clothes and turning off lights. I’d say the month was about average in this department.  I wasn’t exactly a stickler about turning off the lights — not more than usual anyway.  But just to make up for it, I am sitting in the darkness with my laptop right now.  And then there was one weekend I totally broke down and used the dryer for two loads of laundry, which I almost never do.  I enjoyed the luxury and felt little guilt.

5. Cloth diapers. The next weekend I broke down and used disposable diapers on Isaiah during the day.  I did feel guilty about that.  Other than that, I stuck to my guns.

As I’ve said, I didn’t feel very deprived during September.  I received bounty.  The hardest moments were in the late afternoon when I was tired and felt like doing anything but cooking.  Those will always be the hardest moments.  Perseverance is rewarded when I realize that in our budget, we were able to pay for a three-night stay at a condo in Breckenridge, where we’ll be two weeks from tonight.  If I had planned better, maybe that money could have gone to someone in need, rather than to give ourselves some late luxury that we missed out on this month.  But whether we had done this experiment in September or not, we still would have taken our mini-vacation in Breckenridge.  And now it’s paid for.

I believe these exercises can and will become habit for me.  In the kitchen, I have become less scared of cooking from scratch.  I have learned a little more about balancing frugal shopping with ecologically responsible shopping; I don’t have to feel guilty about buying organic milk or zucchini.

But I can do without a weekly coffee shop indulgence.  It’s a nice and perhaps much-needed reward on occasion, but I don’t have to do it to satisfy my consumerist cravings.  As Suzy recently reminded me through the words of Gandhi: “We must live simply so that others may be able to simply live.”

All discipline is hard in the outset.  But the fruit it bears will sustain not only our family but maybe also many others.  That’s my dream.

resisting the “blue-screen universe”

This is the time when Isaiah lies down for his nap, and all I want to do is quit… for hours.  The avalanche of undone work may pummel me when he wakes up, but for now, all I can think of is the moment.  I decide it isn’t worthwhile to fight.

Tonia from study in brown had this to say today:

“our modern world homogenizes the years: air-conditioned, ever-green, halogen-lit.  we rise to the beep of an alarm clock and not the sun, stay awake late by the light of a blue-screen universe, measure progress by the numbers in our checkbook.  but we were not made to live this way.  though the circle of time and season is written in the heavens, laced through the branches of every tree, carved into the earth by seed and stalk and fruit and grave, we have forgotten how to join it.

every day is not the same day; the cycles of the sun and the moon and the twirl of the planet are a cadence on which we can be carried, a beat we can lean into, pulse, sway; a rhythm we can dance with instead of resist.”

Maybe tomorrow will be a day of rest.  But today I will dance.

trash-picking: mission failed

I chickened out.  I’m kicking myself over it.

Monday morning is the best morning to take a walk around the neighborhood because that is the day all large “trash” items are put out on the curb to be taken to the landfill.  It’s sick really, to see what people consider trash.  Oh, there is honest-to-goodness trash out there: limbs from trees, splintered boards, packaging (though even that could be reused; almost everything can be reused).  But sometimes there’s perfectly good stuff.

One day I picked up an old wooden ladder and a plastic frog sandbox… and proceeded to drive away with such excitement and embarrassment that I whipped out in front of an oncoming car.  The car was going slowly enough to wait for this crazy trash-picking lady.

But seriously, what are people thinking?  This morning, one house had an overstuffed armchair, at least eight plastic patio chairs, a glass patio tabletop, and a couple plastic trashcans.  Come on, if they haven’t heard of Freecycle, couldn’t they at least donate the stuff?

It was that armchair I was eying.  I was imagining how I singlehandedly would lift it into the trunk of my car, grab a few patio chairs to stuff next to Isaiah in the backseat, and drive away with glee.  But there were cars in front of the house, and I just knew someone would see me.  I know.  Dumb.  What a weenie I am.

Too bad I wasn’t sensible enough to use my courage to just knock on their door and ask them if I could take a few things off their hands.  Is that the first step in combatting America’s waste?

30… er, 29 days of nothing

My dear blogging friends, I am joining yet another challenge from the blogosphere.  Owlhaven is hosting 30 Days of Nothing, in which she challenges readers to cut back on all superfluous spending for the month of September.  Giving up a weekly latte or dinner out, saying “no” to snacks from the grocery store, cutting back on electricity usage — any and all of these things are fair game in order to participate in the challenge.  You can apply the challenge to as many areas of your finances as you like.

I wasn’t going to participate.  After all, I want a cute new skirt, and I would really like to pay somebody to help me with my dreadlocks this month.  But God spoke to me about money this morning when I was reading in 2 Corinthians, and I knew it was okay to give the challenge a try, even if I am a day late.  Looking cute will have to wait.

My 30 29 Days of Nothing will mean that I will plan low-budget meals, and try to only go to the grocery store once every week.  We will have meatless meals at least once a week as well.

I will refuse to eat a lunch out except for Sunday.  My single dinner out per week will not include the price of a drink, appetizer, or dessert.

I will plan my menus around grocery store sales.

I will NOT go over budget in my grocery store expenses.  In fact, I will try to underspend my grocery budget by at least $50.

I will be more diligent about limiting electricity use.  I will airdry all the clothes.  I will turn off lights when I leave the room.

I will be a stickler about making Isaiah wear cloth diapers during the day, unless he’s in someone else’s care.

That’s an intimidating good start, don’t you think?  I may make more resolutions as the month goes along, and I will try to post updates on how things are going.

In the meantime, and in other news, I am in the process of recreating my housekeeping schedule and developing new sleeping patterns.  (Don’t I have ridiculously high hopes for myself?  I never learn.)  I hope to post a copy of my insane task lists in the coming weeks.  My new sleeping schedule says I must go to bed now because I am tired.  So, goodnight!

three books

Drowsiness pushes its heavy shroud over my head, but today I will fight it.  If there’s one thing I learned in reading Don’t Waste Your Life (John Piper), it is that work is not a curse, as I’ve often treated it.  In my work I will have pain and trouble because of the Eden curse, but even without work, pain and trouble will plague me.  They are unavoidable.  And so I try to not fight work anymore.  I’m doing my tasks with my eyes on Father-Creator-God, trying to see laundry and cleaning as neutral tasks that can be transformed into God-glorifying actions.

When I read Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology, I started to wonder if, at the root of things, the desire for more and more technology came because of man’s view of work being a curse.  In the book, Eric Brende discovers that in the Anabaptist community in which he’s living and working, socialization comes during the lulls between loading the wagon with hay, and meeting new neighbors comes with a barn raising.  Rejuvenation comes with the morning light, from a body fed with healthy foods and exercised through daily work.

Brende discovers that when driving a car, anxiety levels skyrocket even if the driver feels completely relaxed.  Driving horses and bicycling and walking, however, do not result in such unnatural stress.  This idea fascinates me.  How many things that I have invited into my life in the name of convenience are actually tearing me apart from the inside out?

I enjoyed Brende’s book.  Brende’s prose can get a little dull at times, but the ideas in the book were invigorating for me.  Yes, they do make me want to move to the country to farm with motorless machinery and eat the fruit of my own labors.  Yes, they make me want to get a horse in exchange for a car.  Hey, maybe the horse manure could be my main source of fuel for cooking!  I don’t think there’s anything innately wrong with technology; after all, the horse-drawn plow was once a new invention.  I do think that humans need to create with more ingenuity and thought.  Does our technology make us more holistic individuals?  Or does it take away from our person in the name of ease or comfort?

The third book I’ve recently read is The Creative Family by Amanda Blake Soule.  It was a natural sequel to Better Off, and it was a much more practical resource to boot.  I didn’t want the book to end.  It is chock-full of ideas to help you and your children be creative together.  Soule recommends using nature and natural materials in play.  Plastic toys need not apply.  Sewing, dressing up, creating art with the best quality materials possible, enjoying nature, journaling, gardening:  these are activities that I want to make thrive in my household.  Had I read this book before writing my post on gift-giving on the Crunchy Domestic Goddess blog, I think my list of ideas would have been twice as long.

Back to Don’t Waste Your Life:  This wasn’t an “ah-ha!” book for me, but Piper did help me direct my focus back to God.  He is constantly preaching that God is to be glorified, and that we are to be joyful in Him.  His sections on taking risks, letting go of materialism and riches, work, and spreading the message of the gospel were the ones that impacted me most.

These three books have been inspiring for me.  They make me want to face my day with energy and enthusiasm for work and creating.  I’m excited to teach my children the wonders of living.  My greatest fear is that through mere habit, my ideas will not be transformed into actions.