Excuses

I went to Easter service at the church I grew up attending. It’s a beautiful, turn-of-the-century brick church. The bricks were locally made, the stain glass windows are gorgeous (re-done in the 1980s), and the bells loud and clear. I have vivid memories of watching the women in the quilting bee, attending co-op preschool, and eating church dinners between its walls. I love this church.

Unfortunately, few people love this church anymore. There were maybe 25 people at the service. Easter service. A service that’s generally busy for most churches. Not this one, anymore.

I grew up in a small town. Just a couple of thousand people. Very Mayberry-ish. In the 1980’s, my home town and all of the small churches were still viable. There was a perfect mix of families with engaged parents and elderly old-timers. Events and activities were well attended and enjoyed.

Then the kids of these active parents left. I was one of them. I couldn’t wait to leave. Some did stay, but most of us left and never went back permanently. My hometown is still—largely—viable. All of the basic amenities are there, which isn’t the case for most small towns. But the churches are dying. And although I’m no longer an active church member anywhere (small churches are dying in Sacramento, too), this makes me sad.

I know I could do something about this. I have a spiritual life, but it’s not with a congregation. I grew up Methodist—a denomination who’s politics I can still largely support (as a gay woman). There’s a definite sense of community that comes from attending church. And I would like my children to have at least a basic understanding of Christianity, regardless of what they ultimately decide to believe and practice. There are always excuses, however. So many excuses. No right or wrong or guilt. Just excuses.

Going home always pulls my heartstrings. Part of me wants nothing more than to move back home. Homestead. Be part of the rebuilding of this community (and not just the church community). But, still, excuses and reasons why not. Again…no right or wrong or guilt. Just excuses.

Advertisements

Confidence in my values

To keep me company last weekend while driving to and from Mendocino alone, I picked up a book on tape at my local library. I wasn’t terrible excited about it but had heard of the book and decided to take the risk.

The book, No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process, follows one man’s (and his wife and child’s) efforts to live without a negative biological footprint for one year.  I’ve largely stopped reading books like this. I’ve become tired of the whole one-year experiment, get a book-deal thing. But…it’s what was available at the library.

The book turned out to be really well researched and thought out. It was a bit sappy at times, but it took an honest look the planet and the actions we take for granted on a daily basis. What struck me the most, however, was how hard it is to live this way. And not how you think. It’s not difficult to stop using plastic, to compost, to ride your bicycle everywhere. No. That can be managed. What’s difficult is living outside of society’s norm. This is something that I’ve been struggling with and listening to this book helped me put a finger on it.

You see…for the last couple of months I’ve been researching opening a fabric shop. I love fabric.  I’ve always wanted to run a business. And I’ve been wanting to find a role for myself besides mom and wife (see previous post).

So…fabric store. Our favorite, local store just closed, and I thought, “Hmmm…I could do this.” The thing is, opening a store totally doesn’t mesh with how we want to live right now. Margie I and value locally and seasonally-based home cooked meals eaten together; spending time out of doors; being with our children; fostering creativity; living without too much waste.  We also try to limit our spending. We have to think before we make our purchases and decide what else we won’t be buying.

It would be one thing if both of my kids were in school full-time and I had a bit more time to spend at a store, as well as cooking meals, cleaning the house, and being home with the kids when they weren’t in school.  Or if Margie was no longer on furlough pay. But my kids aren’t in school full-time and they won’t be for another 3-4 years…and we can’t afford to be mass consumers.

This fabric store idea followed closely on the heels of my last great idea, which was to turn our backyard into a little homestead (see this post). Yeah…a store doesn’t really jive with running a homestead, either. So, why this store? Why now? Why not be content with my previous, awesome, value-supporting plan?

A fabric store—a business—is mainstream. I’m putting money in the bank (well…after a few years, hopefully). It’s not granola. It’s not counter-culture. It’s economy-enriching. It’s material based (literally and figuratively).

Turning my yard into a homestead with a flourishing and productive garden, chickens, fruit trees, composting, water saving, and the like isn’t mainstream. It’s doesn’t pump money into the economy. It doesn’t support industry. It places me more in the fringe.

Listening to this book made me realize that I have some unresolved issues with this. I don’t know why. But now that I’ve identified the real motivation behind the store—not to be different—I’m at peace with not opening the store and focusing on my homestead. I’m okay (at least tonight…sigh…I won’t always be) with being granola. With living frugally and sustainably.

I grew up at a time when our society didn’t understand the ramifications of waste and over-consumption. That was also a time of economic growth and relative wealth. Things are different now. We know that there’s too much plastic in the world and that way too much petroleum and coal is being pulled from the earth—from both resource depletion and climate change perspectives.  We also know that middle class families like ours can’t spend money with abandon. Not if we want to keep roof over our heads and send our kids to college. And my kids need to know and understand these things.

My actions and my families’ economic decisions may be only one drop in a very large bucket. But…I don’t care. I feel better about myself for living this way. And that’s all that matters.

For now, I’m going to try to be content with not being a consumer. And with not encouraging other people to be consumers (by opening a shop). Some days this will be easy. Other days—when I really want some new fabric or a great pair of shoes (which, umm…is right now…I have a couple of dress-up functions coming up)—it won’t be. And one day this may all change, and I’ll open the store. But, for now, homestead, here I come!

*****************************************************

I could go on in this post to discuss the negative impacts of commercialism, media, and industry. At some point I might. But for now, this is enough.

Creating and dreaming

I’ve been thinking a lot about embracing creativity. Or the need to be creative. Fully accepting these creative cravings and the urges. Making the time to write. To sew. To knit. Perhaps even to art journal.

I fully encourage our children to be creative. Art supplies are always ready and available. In fact we have an entire cabinet dedicated to all sorts of mediums and supplies, and pencils, crayons, and paper are always on the kitchen table. I, however, don’t always create. This, despite the fact, that I always feel better after spending some time with my knitting needles or with some fabric. Being creative is calming and meditative.

As a child I was quite creative. I wrote stories and poems. Somewhere along the way I got away from that. In the last few years I have begun to create again. Clothes for my children and occasionally myself. Things for our home. Knitted items for friends and family. And a bit of writing here and there.

Perhaps embracing creativity means finally accepting that I need something to do outside of the house, as well. I’m still committed to making our backyard more productive—dare I say more homesteadish. I’m also still committed to being with my children, but something else is calling to me. So many thoughts flow through my head about what this could be. I’m trying to be patient and let what will be, be. Exploring things here or there, but not rushing to make decisions.

Recent blog posts from Shivaya Naturals and Which Name? discuss similar thoughts (and much more eloquently so). In Shivaya Naturals, Heather talks about daring to dream. Accepting dreaming as an integral part of the here and now and not being scared to continue dreaming and fine-tuning our aspirations. One paragraph in particular, really caught my attention:

“I like to dream, and I like to dream big. I believe that what makes me a happy person is my desire to live out the wacky and sometimes unattainable dreams that I have come up with through the years. Some people may look at my life and feel like I have been all over the map with who I am,  or what I “do”, but for me, it is what has brought me the most amount of joy.”

That’s me. I often feel that being a stay-at-home-mom suppresses this. This one aspect of myself that eternally brings me joy. I’m ready to stop letting it suppress me. It’s all in my hands.

I suppose this is a resolution of sorts for the new year. Or perhaps an intention. To embrace creative urges. To follow my instinct and curiousities a bit more. To say yes more often than no.

Just as I am

I recently finished reading Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes.  Using a couple of dozen case studies, Hayes argues for a return to a more traditional home life that doesn’t depend on two incomes, over-scheduling, and consumerism. Instead, she encourages a re-thinking of needs—financial and material—that—as a result—honors the environment, increases self-reliance, and better fosters a sustainable economy.

I love the idea but struggle with it on a day-to-day basis. As a society, Americans have become far too disconnected from the food chain, buy more than they need simply to spend money (myself included), and equate stuff with happiness. As a family, we try to eat in a sustainable matter, purchasing roughly 90 percent of our food locally. We use the library in lieu of buying every book we need. We garden, bake our own bread and make our yogurt, limit our children’s television viewing, and strongly limit the types and number of toys our children have in our home. We develop a budget at the beginning of every year and again at the beginning of every month, and we track our spending almost daily.

I’m not writing all this to make myself sound good—or feel good—but to try to understand the right balance given the society in which we live. I’m also writing this to try to start understanding how to reconcile this type of lifestyle with the one I always thought I’d have.

I never thought much about having kids—until I had them. I never thought much about home ownership—until I owned one. I never thought much about domestic arts (despite being exposed to many of them while growing up)—until I started doing out of necessity and interest.

I thought about traveling, a lot. I thought about buying all the clothes and shoe that I wanted and liked. I thought about having an interesting career with business lunches and work travel.

But now, here I am. A 35-year-old stay-at-home-mom (SAHM).  I knit. I sew. I bake. My family and I are living a quasi-radical homemaker lifestyle. With two kids and a spouse that works outside the home full-time—and travels for work—I can’t imagine a different lifestyle. As I’ve posted before, my rhythm and my family’s rhythm wouldn’t work so well if both my wife and I were working. Despite that, this SAHM, radical homemaker rhythm doesn’t put me completely at ease either.

It’s hard to forget about the excitement found in planning and going on a trip somewhere. Or the joy from finding a fabulous pair of shoes, the perfect skirt, or an intriguing novel that must be read immediately.

It takes constant reality checks and reminders of how good I have it to keep the balance. Perhaps these sound like the musings of a former spoiled child just now learning to live within her means. There is some truth to that (although not spoiled while growing up, I wanted for nothing).

Although I’m proud that we live within our means and are debt –free (other than our mortgage), it’s still hard not to be disappointed every once in a while that I don’t know when I’ll next leave the continental United States and that I have to consult my budget to determine when and if I’ll be able to buy a new dress for an upcoming fundraiser.

I read a couple of things recently that helped me put some of this in perspective. From Pema Chodron, “Practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already. The ground of practice is you and me or whoever we are right now, just as we are.”

And from Cyndi Lee, “When we recognize that the fight we are engaged in is only a fight with ourselves then we understand we can take responsibility for creating our own happiness.”

For ease of mind and feeling like I belong somewhere, I’ll keep trying to accept where I am right now—quasi-radical homemaker or not. I’ll keep trying to simply be where I am right now. To stop thinking about what I else I could be doing. To create my happiness here and now.

***********************************

Upon completing this post and re-reading it a few times, I realized how incredibly whiney and spoiled I sound. I’ll accept that and post this anyway. I know I’m not the only one that feels this way from time to time.

New things

I really enjoy shopping and spending money. I don’t, however, like waste. Of any kind. I also dislike clutter and spending money  unnecessarily. This dislike of waste, clutter, and thoughts of the bottom line make shopping and spending money a bit difficult and not nearly so enjoyable.

Enter an iPhone and a new bicycle. Neither have been purchased, but I’m shopping around and considering purchasing both. Waste would be created by making either or both of these purchases.

I have a cell phone. It works just fine. It’s small enough to fit in my pocket. It’s only been dropped a few times. It’s completely functional. But…I also want–and would find it helpful to have–an iPod for my yoga classes. Some of the iPhone apps would also be very helpful, especially given some of our summer travel plans. The thing that worries me most about having an iPhone, however, is the potential to use it too much. I also don’t want to pay the monthly data charge. The data charges now start at $15 a month, but that adds up to $180 a year. That’s $180 that could be better used especially if I don’t want to be using the wi-fi much, anyway. And then…my current cell phone would be waiting to be recycled or placed in the landfill. Additionally, electronic gadgets have such high turnover. I could be very tempted purchase another cell phone in a couple of years, continuing the cycle.

I also have a bike. (Two, actually, but one is a road bike and is only used for long rides without the kids). It’s a hybrid that I’ve had for almost 15 years. It’s really heavy.  I currently tow my kids with this bike and it’s getting difficult (together, they weigh 80 pounds). The weight also makes it hard to lift it and place on our car’s rooftop bike carrier. But…this bike still gets me from point A to point B. The brakes and the gears work, more or less. And our days towing both kids are numbered as they both get too heavy for our bike trailer and Bennett gains confidence and endurance riding his bike. And then…there’s an extra unused bike in the world. I’m sure I could find someone who would like it and use it, but I’ve still purchased another consumer item at the expense of something else. Unlike the iPhone, however, bicycles are more durable goods. I will likely have this new bike for the next 15 years, if not longer.

Considering these purchases makes me wonder at what point is it enough? At what point do I make do? At what point is peace finally found with what is in front of me. It doesn’t help that our culture embraces things and products with very little regard for the aftereffects. I don’t watch much t.v., but I am on the internet a couple of times a day. I read a newspaper and magazines. It’s nearly impossible to ignore and put aside all of the stuff that is out there in the world to purchase that will–supposedly–make my life better.

How do you reconcile such conflicting thoughts? When is it the right time to be a consumer and when isn’t it?

Take a walk

A couple of blogs I read have had recent posts that I really want to share. They both honor place–in terms of appreciating your physical place and utilizing it more.

The first is from New Urban Habitat. The post focuses on walking and more specifically just how walkable your community is. The post links to Walkscore, an online app that will tell you how walkable your neighborhood is. My neighborhood rates a 57.

The second link is from Hip Mountain Mama. It’s a challenge to explore something new in your own backyard. It’s a great reminder that there is always something to be found just outside your door.

Enjoy!

Celebrations

Much celebrating in our house this week. Today is my birthday. Wednesday is my daughter’s.

For some reason birthdays are always a bit strange for me. I like to think that I’m a half-full kind of person, but when birthdays roll around I can’t help but get a bit meloncholy. It doesn’t help that it’s an overcast day here in Sacramento. Don’t get me wrong, I’m having a lovely day. The family has been wonderful. We’re going out to dinner tonight. But you know…while I’m very excited about the years to come, it’s hard not to think about the time that has gone past.

In the spirit of moving past that and to try to be constructively introspective on my birthday, I’ve made a list of things for which I’m grateful and/or learned over the past 35 years:

  • Hair. I have great hair. I really do. It can be crazy some days and it seldom looks perfect, but it’s pretty great hair.
  • Body. I’ve always struggled–and still do–with body image issues. But I finally appreciate my body and am thankful for the amazing things it has done.
  • Kids. My kids are really cute. Seriously cute. Gerber baby cute.
  • Wife. She’s cute, too. She’s also smart, witty, committed, inquisitive, and a wonderful life partner.
  • Family. I couldn’t ask for a better family. My parents, siblings, grandparents, and extended family are all wonderfully supportive, loving, and accepting.
  • Food. So many possibilities! And to live in a place that supplies and celebrates local, seasonal food is a real blessing.
  • Yoga. I don’t even know where to begin, so I’ll simply state, yoga.
  • Nature. It fills the soul.
  • Creativity. In all it’s forms: writing, sewing, knitting, children’s art “projects.” It also fills the soul.
  • Being middle class. This may seem a bit odd. Given the current economic situation and the poverty rate throughout much of the world, however, I’m very grateful to have been born in a middle-class family and to still be middle-class. Margie and I own a good home. We have no problem feeding, clothing, and supporting our children and ourselves. I’m able to stay home with our children. Over the past 35 years, I’ve learned that these conditions are significant and should not be taken for granted.

Okay. That’s all. This is in no way an all-inclusive list, but simply what I had time to write in the 20 minutes or so I had at the computer. I promise to be more up-beat the rest of the week. Lots of pictures of 2-year-olds covered in ice cream to come.

The birthday girls.

Striving for balance

Since becoming a mom, I’ve been struggling to find balance between being home with my kids and the need for time to work and explore personal interests. My first attempt to find balance led to the decision to be a stay-at-home mom. Balance wasn’t found, which I discussed a bit—here—a few weeks ago.

My next attempt was yoga teacher training. The training was every other weekend for six months. It was a glorious six months. Mentally and physically challenging, yes, but glorious in the time that it gave me to pursue something I cared so much about.

I attempted to do contract and volunteer work in my old profession after my second child was born, but it left me drained. Simply staying home also left me drained. I knew there had to be a middle ground. That middle ground is finding activities that energize me and help me better appreciate this opportunity I have to be so involved in my children’s lives. With young children at home, I have found that whatever I do that isn’t directly related to them, has to be very personal. The time I spend away from them must be nourishing and it must—in some way—recharge me.

The yoga training and the resulting teaching opportunities have helped me see the qualities that need to exist for me to feel recharged by my non-family activities. I still question, however, what the right balance is. What is the personal time to at home with the family time ratio? Of course, this changes from day-to-day, week-to-week. I go through phases wherein all I want is personal time, and I really resent being home so much. I’ve also found that if I’m not home enough, I feel off balance. I need my home life to stay balanced, too. (The reason I chose to start staying home full-time in the first place.)

I also struggle to keep all of this in perspective. Many moms aren’t financially able to stay home with their kids. Many moms don’t have spouses that want them to have outside interests. And many moms don’t have spouses or any support structure that gives them the freedom to pursue other interests and find a balance.

I realize that much of this discussion is self-indulgent. Nonetheless, I struggle with it and it’s real to me.

I will continue to strive for balance. To remember to appreciate my current role in life. To understand that time passes and before I know it very little of this will be an issue.

Doing more with less

We own two cars. A  6-year-old Prius and a 10 year-old Ford Explorer. Both are paid off. The Prius still runs well. The Explorer has issues every so often. Combined they meet all of our transportation needs (that can’t be met via bicycle).

For the past year or so we’ve been discussing buying a new car. Selling both the Prius and the Explorer and buying a car that met all of our needs. Like most people, the needs are varied. Generally we only use our cars for grocery shopping, out of town trips, and in-town trips that are further than 5-10 miles. Most of the time we only drive the Prius. The Explorer is used roughly once a week. A few times a year, we need a car that fits more than the 4 of us. With company in town we generally have to drive both cars around.

After a year or more of discussion, we were finally ready to take the plunge. And then we changed our minds. After all of the discussions, saving, car clean-up, and mental preparation for dealing with car dealers, we changed our minds. And I’m so glad we did. Although we were prepared to pay cash, we decided that money in the bank and the flexibility to do other things with that money was more important.

Furthermore, not buying a car is more in line with our values as a family. We value not spending a lot of money on consumer products. We value having the financial flexibility to travel, take a college course, or open a business. We value riding our bikes places. We value having money in savings and teaching our kids that this is important.

We’re back where we started with our cars. As a family, however, we’ve obtained a greater understanding of our values as a family and that’s worth more than a new car any day.