Hello all - I've moved! Please do come over and visit me at the new site:
I'm still messing about, but it's up and running and subscribers should recieve the blog as usual!
Thanks for reading,
Hello all - I've moved! Please do come over and visit me at the new site:
I'm still messing about, but it's up and running and subscribers should recieve the blog as usual!
Thanks for reading,
Food is such a complicated and touchy subject. At some point in the quest for simple living, the subject of what to eat will come up. People often make judgements about someone's lifestyle by how they eat, just as they do with raising children, watching television, keeping a supply of reusable bags ready to go, driving a hulk vs. a compact, or anything else. It can be used as a sort of barometer about where our mindfulness lies. Of course, people are quite often wrong about these stereotypes, but it doesn't stop them making them - and food can be explosive. Anyone who has stumbled upon an argument involving Weston Price followers and vegans/vegetarians knows this.
My upbringing and background are very health conscious, so it's natural that I would be actively seeking to improve my family's diet now that I'm older too. The question is: Just what is the best way to eat?
We eat a diet of whole foods, mostly plants, some dairy, a little fish, very few sweets. I think our biggest vice is our overindulgence in bread. Just as I believe there is no one way to raise children, be a minimalist, worship, or live I don't believe there is one perfect way of eating that will satisfy and nourish all human beings. Because, um, we're all different and live in different places. I base my views on eating firmly around logic, and I'm certainly not going to expect Laplanders, Inuits, or Saharans (or anyone else, for that matter) to become vegetarian in climates that clearly cannot support growing produce for much, if not all of the year. And no, I have heard the argument that they could import these items - I see that as completely unsustainable, both economically and environmentally.
We are bombarded not only about what food is better to eat, but also the pros and cons of certain foods, sometimes backed up by scientific studies, often not. I find it incredibly difficult to wade through the chaff sometimes. For instance, a few years ago, after reading a series of articles about soy; I cut our consumption back to only one block of tofu a week for the four of us. While I was concerned about The Simple Man possibly getting too much estrogen from soy, I was more horrified by the suggestion that it might block nutrients from getting to the thyroid, causing it to glean what it could from other sources, as in nuclear. We in Philadelphia are surrounded by working power plants and the rate of thyroid cancer in our area is 42% higher than the national average, and is thought to be linked to the plants. BUT THEN, Leo Babauta wrote this fantastic article about soy, and I'm completely rethinking my views on it. I still don't want to eat highly processed soy, but I'd definitely add more tofu, which we all love, back in, and not be so wary of other soy products. I had no idea there was such an underlying agenda against soy, but I realized how clear it was after reading his post. All this is to say, at least in my case, instead of truly researching new information (which, frankly, I don't even know how to do, especially when we're talking about peer reviewed studies . . .blahblahblah) I just believed. Hmmm.
Another food I quit buying was agave syrup. Again, I read some eyebrow raising facts about it, such as it being anywhere from 50% to 90% fructose (HFCS is only about 45%) and how refined and processed it is. I really loved it too, but I gave it up, worrying about the fact that fructose is processed in the liver. A friend recently asked, on this post from last year about jaggery (unrefined sugar) whether raw agave was better than regular. I don't know, but I started reading about agave again. While it's been proven that a steady diet very high in HFCS will damage the liver, will eating a few tablespoons of agave a day harm you? Just as consuming some dairy and meat? Or soy? And after all, a lot of fruit has a very high fructose content, and while fruit is in it's original form, I still wonder.
I don't know the answer to this. It seems that in our society we want to be able definitively label foods good or bad according to our own agendas and beliefs. I'm also backing away from information propagated by groups who are dogmatically attached to a certain way of eating no matter what. I'm beginning to think that's simply not the way to choose what to eat. Naturally I'm not talking about highly processed and refined foods, but rather the arguments for and against meat, dairy, various sweeteners, lowfat vs. regular fat, soy etc. I've even recently seen articles advocating against honey because it's too sweet and I just have to say, seriously, give it a rest people. Honey is like a magical food, I will believe nothing else!
I'll end my food musings here, and just say that this post is about health. Also, I know there are people who feel it's wrong to eat animal products, just as there are people who feel that animals were given to mankind in order for us to eat them - I respect both positions, while not adhering to either one. I prefer not to eat meat that isn't fish, and that feeling is primarily compassion based, but I'm flexible, and if I were truly starving, I'd have no compunction whatsoever!
Tell me how you eat and if it's related to simple living. Are you eating the way you want to? Are you confused about what's healthy or not? Strong feelings one way or the other?
Edited to add (8/18/2011): Two things - first of all, I think it's so great this discussion has been so civil! I was worried because a lot of people unsubscribed when this post came out and I thought maybe it was offensive, but everyone's comments have been so interesting, so I appreciate it!
Secondly, I mentioned that I don't know the answer to the agave question. Just this morning, though, I came across an outstanding series of articles on it and felt I had to share, since it was agave that sparked this post. Below are the links:
Go forth and be informed! Or maybe more confused, but hopefully not!
Our goal of having the kitchen finished by August died an expected, but painful death as The Simple Man and I looked at each other in quiet desperation over the weekend and saw the truth in each others eyes.
The largest projects are finished, but as anyone who has ever remodeled knows, there are numerous smallish tasks to do before it is totally complete. A partial list (I know, so boring):
The floor tiles have ended up being both more delightful than I thought and a real pain. They have pits in them, and if we'd researched more thoroughly, we would have known 1) that it would be a mind/back/butt numbing job getting all the grout out of them or 2) to choose a darker grout. We chose a medium gray grout because we thought it looked more rustic than, say, mocha - and therein lies the error of our ways. The gray grout looks fine with the tiles, but ON the tiles, filling the pits, it looks rather horrible. I have to squat, with q-tips, a scrubby brush and a gallon of white vinegar over each tile, dabbing straight vinegar onto the pits, letting it dissolve, then scrubbing the grout out. Rinse with water. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Should have gone with the mocha.
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I cleaned my refrigerator this week in preparation to move it back into the kitchen. Found a gallon of organic, raw milk, from grassfed cows raised by the local Amish, costing six dollars a gallon, a day or so away from fermentation. I went into full Dairy Frenzy. How to render a gallon of milk about to turn, usable for the next few days to a week? My answer was pudding and yogurt.
I'm not hardcore enough to use the cooler packed with blankets incubator method; I've been using the Euro Cuisine yogurt maker for years. We aren't a big family and The Simple Man isn't Yogurt Man and my eldest has suddenly been stricken with dairy intolerance - so this is a good weekly amount for the toddler and me.
With the rest of the milk I made pudding from this recipe. I made chocolate and vanilla, doubling both recipes in order to use up all the milk. After that I made pudding popsicles, which were quite a hit. I haven't made popsicles since I left home because I didn't want to use plastic. There are some really nice stainless steel molds, but they are incredibly expensive - I can't justify it for popsicles. Then one day I came across a food blog using some kind of long narrow glass for popsicles. We aren't drinkers, and never have been, so I had no idea what these glasses were. Fifty comments later someone exclaimed what a great idea it was to use tall vodka glasses for popsicle molds. I went right out and found some. They had coloured bottoms, which delighted the girls, but for some reason made me think of those pornish looking lucite high heels. We used bamboo skewers for the holders.
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I like to start habits on the first day of a new month. A new week will do, but it really satisfies me to begin with a new month. I recently discovered the blog A Big Creative Yes and it has made me think about the barriers I put up around making art, or really doing anything that isn't "neccessary." I guess it would be too much to ask you all to pretend that you didn't notice how I put off creating until the beginning of the month? I thought so. But that's exactly what I'm talking about. There will always be something else to do, a chance it won't work, possible frustration, and countless other fears and obstacles. So I've been inspired to take the advice I've found there and put it into practice. Instead of waiting for that fantasy day where I might have a few hours to sit down and do something, I'm going to simply set myself a goal of 15 minutes a day to just create. I use the term loosely; it could be painting, sewing, pattern making, writing, building, or something else I haven't even thought of yet. It make take many 15 minute sessions to finish something, but at least I will be doing something other than whining that I never have time to do anything!
And that, friends, is how my August is looking!
A quick sketch of me, done by my Grandfather when I was five
Let's imagine what "the collected letters of so and so" would look like if email, texting, and social media had existed for hundreds of years.
The Emails and Text Messages of Vincent Van Gogh
met awesum prosty. she feeds me.
theo. yo. crap... ear still jacked up - c u soon
Select Emails from Jane Austen
met this really cute guy. lol. think he lives over the way. gonna tryn c if i can get new frock. am writing new story, i think it sucks. try to call on you l8r!
b in bath in 2 wks. you cum ova?
Communications of the Borghia Family
dam pregnancy mite screw up anulment plan
cesare. i hav sum poisin in a ring - will giv it a try?
Yes, this would be laughable. These would not be the somber, the mundane, the poignant, and the sometimes piercing insights we now get from collected letters of various people. There would be no striving to connect emotionally with the recipient of the letter, no one would have bothered to finesse their script, to draft and re-draft a beautifully written and coherent missive. It was almost a craft, and now it's dying out, literally. People are losing the ability to write anything beyond absolute basics, and it's often done with a complete lack of grammar, and a lot of bizarre and unintelligible (to me) abbreviations. It lowers communication skills to that of a poorly educated small child. It makes me very droopy and irritated. Here's a real excerpt from the book Dear Theo, Van Gogh's letters to his brother to illustrate my point:
I got a deeper insight into my own heart and also into that of others. By and by I began to love my fellow-men again, myself included, and more and more my heart and soul revived, that for a time through all kinds of great misery had been withered, blighted, and stricken. And the more I turned to reality and mingled with people, the more I felt new life reviving in me, until at last I met her.
It also makes me feel sad that many people, particularly younger ones, have not ever experienced a real letter. Pages full of exquisite food eaten, a provocative book read, how the breeze smells coming off the ocean right at dusk. These kinds of letters.
My box of letters and cards is no bigger than a shoebox, with room to spare. I know this type of possession is exactly the kind many minimalists rid themselves of, but mine is small enough, and precious enough, to keep. It's of no value to anyone but me, but I derive great pleasure from it. I appreciate looking at artwork that someone chose while they were thinking of me, wondering if I would love it, or knowing it was perfect. I am a word child (any Iris Murdoch fans here?) and I savour every morsel of prose in those letters. Of the wishes to me on my sixteenth birthday, the anxious but proud tone of my grandparents on the eve of my trip to Europe alone, my last birthday before I traveled nearly 800 miles away, to where I knew almost no one, to live and learn, and eventually love, marry, and become a mother. My mother's constant acknowledgement of my love for the outdoors, evidenced by pictures of fantastic tree houses, gardens, weeds, or the sky. To me, this box isn't a box filled with old papers. It's a box filled with the voices of people who loved me even as I was a wee clot of blood inside my mother. It's the calls of my little sisters on hideous Lisa Frank stationary. The chatter across oceans as friends in far away places. This box means a lot to me.
A card, also sketched by my Grandfather while in Japan
When my Grandpapa, an artist, sends me a card with a sketch of his on the front, I find it amazing and delightful to receive such a thing. It sets me to thinking, as I look at the inky details of some horticultural garden in Japan, dated just a few months before my birth. I wonder how he felt about becoming a grandfather. Did he ever imagine that he'd be sending his granddaughter a copy of this little drawing for her birthday thirty years later?
The last birthday card I received from my family before I flew the coop
When I was writing this post I found a card given to me by a then-new friend, dated more than a decade ago. That friend is now one of my closest friends, our firstborn daughters are exactly one week apart, we have traveled (and continue to) much of this marriage, motherhood, morality journey together. The card instantly brought back the hours upon hours we sat in the leaded glass windowseat of my rented room and talked until we were hoarse, building this friendship.
I'm not a perfect writer (I do edit - but still make mistakes!) and I do like email, I even occasionally tweet and text, but they don't replace the humble letter or card. It doesn't provide the same type of connection unless you choose to use it that way, and most people don't. It's often just a means of conveying the necessary, which often, to my mind, leaves out the beautiful, the harsh, the fun, the sorrow. I "get" the convenience of e-cards, emails, and texting, I just hate to see it crowd out what I consider to be a more sophisticated and fuller form of communication.
How do you feel about the death of letter writing?
Last week I had an eight year old and now she's nine. Our birthday celebrations have always been simple, and this year was no exception. We're a family of shy introverts; planning the kind of birthday party that is common today in America is beyond my reach and desire. So perhaps I fail in this part of motherhood. I don't think I care. My girls are still floating and dancing and giggling and shrieking, so I hope this is not creating a dark scar on their hearts to share with therapists in later years. It's our tradition, an understated, family oriented gathering, focused on the food that someone spent the day creating - kneading, pouring, grating, and whipping their happiness at this person's existence into deliciousness. My mother's family had these kinds of birthdays, and when we came along, her five girls, this is what she gave us.
Consequently, we've raised our children to have, well, low material expectations on their birthday. They are both blessed to have been born in beautiful months, months that invite humans out to play, walk, forage, run, and bike. We've shown them that they have our attention on their birthdays. They have our time and skillset for whatever they are creating that day. What they consider to be gastronomically delightful will be served with a flourish. We'll all spend time together. We're very casual about gifts; this year I'm planning on taking my brand new nine year old out to pick up some art supplies later in the week. I would say that our focus is less of a celebration of the day one person in our family was born and more of a celebration about the role and space that person occupies in our family and our appreciation of that.
This is not a minimalist rant against birthday parties. I'm just sharing an aspect of our lives that has always been minimal and is probably even more so lately. I have been to some fantastic little parties; they were small, focused on playing rather than things, and not heavily structured. It's so easy to get carried away today - where only a 2K weekend in Manhattan with a gaggle of teens will do. Where some girl whose parents fall on the lower end of the income spectrum feels stigmatized because she doesn't have enough money to chip in on a piece of expensive jewelry for someone in her cliques birthday. That's a shame. A birthday, to my mind, has very little to do with belongings and places and everything to do with gratitude and love. If a length of streamers and some friends helps celebrate that, good. If debt, anxiety, and the feeling of being overwhelmed swamp you - not good.
For us, it was a lovely birthday weekend.
A sunflower bloomed after nearly a week of constant checking on its tightly closed status. To me, auspicious. She's a sunny, mild child. Sweet mango juice runs through her veins. Her face is round and open; I hope this is never lost. I also hope her days are filled with the splash of joy an open sunflower brings.
Balloons, a novelty for the toddler; she called them her ears (WTH?).
Requests for Key Lime Pie. It's a fresh favourite and pairs well with our weather now.
Homemade pasta; a true sign of love as our kitchen is still dismantled and pasta paraphernalia was strewn across a messy table.
Nine candles. I'm happy. I'm wistful. Her feet long ago shed their dinner roll chubbiness and now her mind is maturing - it's always too fast, yes?
Blow by blow accounts of what my uterus was doing at this time or that time 9 years ago.
Repeated trips with just Dad/The Simple Man to the hardware store. They come home with bits and bobs, copper tubing, wire, dreams of projects. Oh, and kitchen tiles. Lots of tiles.
How do you celebrate birthdays?
Tiles down. Gray grout to be applied tomorrow. White paint finished, mostly. That light fixture will go, we'll be getting a ceiling fan, which should be nice in this weather. Still a long way to go!
Last week was so busy I couldn't blog. The Simple Man laid the floor, a tile very deliciously named Rialto Terra. I have spent most of my life never seeing my name outside "Terra Cotta" (gardening pots and tiles) and "Terra Firma" (old maps), and now my name is impossibly hip; it's on anything and everything eco-conscious and chips and God only knows what else. It's very disconcerting. Anyhow, then I primed and painted the walls ULTRA. BRIGHT. WHITE. Yes, you read that correctly. I was hesitant about going this white, but my eldest was adamant. "Mom, this one is CLEANER. BRIGHTER. AIRIER. YOU WANT THIS ONE!" I cannot argue in Lowes with a 9 year old while my two year old is trying to eat grout powder and hide in a bidet. We purchased a no VOC paint and primer, both by Olympic. The primer didn't smell until you put your nose right in it, and even then it was mild. The paint was definitely stronger, but even then, if you walked out of the room, you couldn't detect any odor at all. I was really pleased because I wanted no VOC paint, but I didn't want to pay sixty dollars a gallon. While I painted I think the whiteness overwhelmed The Simple Man because he kept mouthing "insane asylum" at me and shaking his head. I refrained from a lecture on sensitivity because, well, he lives with me so he kind of knows what he's talking about. And he's building me a new kitchen. And I was happy.
I think I'm really going to love the white.
View a gallery of subway tiles in kitchen here
I also want white subway tiles for the back-splash. This presented a conundrum because our base cabinets won't be fitted into the wall, so do we tile the whole lower wall or just the foot or so of back-splash? I poked about on the internets, but all I could find was that it was better and typical to tile all the way to the floor behind the stove since it can be moved. So we decided to tile all the way down to the floor across the whole wall because it seems like it would look ridiculous to see a 12 inch span of tiles half way up the walls. Of course, after we made that decision, I saw several kitchens (mostly in Europe - all free standing) that had back-splash tile to the floor behind the cabinets. We were also a little worried about the subway tile because it's common in bathrooms, but I found a lot of great pictures of kitchens that use it, so I think it should be alright. We'll be using very white grout also; I saw some with darker grout, but dang if that doesn't look dirty to me. We haven't bought it yet, so if you can think of any enormous reason why this wouldn't be a good idea, please feel free to chime in.
The cabinets. Gah. I went to Ikea to drag my exhausted self around their Swedish exuberance and I just can't get into the kitchen cabinets at Ikea. There were some I liked, but to be honest, I imagined my kitchen to be free of textures and materials not found (fairly) directly in nature. We'll forget the liquid nails, cement board, and five gallon buckets of joint compound and focus on what my family will actually be running their fingertips along in the end. I wanted wood, rough linen, earthen tiles, glass - I did not picture laminate. It's a laminate lament. I might have to cave and get them; it's basically what we had planned when we started, but we'll see. We still have a bit more to do before thinking about it becomes crucial, and even if the kitchen is ready for the cabinets, I have an island I can move in there for counter space and my makeshift sink - so that gives me some time to think about it.
* * * * * * * *
Other happenings around our house? Our neem tree has exquisitely tiny white flowers blooming on it, and the scent is heady and exotic. It's similar to lily of the valley but with an intense, but light, green note. Our entire front porch is olfactory heaven.
The Simple Man has a miniature pomegranate tree. It was poorly looking all winter, being inside and everything. The moment the weather warmed he put it outside and now it has these amazing buds/flowers all over it. I'm not sure we'll actually get edible pomegranates, but it's look alone is worth it.
Made my own mayonnaise. This was more out of a desire to placate a hungry horde and cover up my inadequacies in grocery shopping than some foodie wish. BUT . . . this is the third time, and it's so easy, and inexpensive, and yummy that I've just stopped buying it. ETA: The recipe I used is from the fabulous and local (to me) Food In Jars blog. Many delicious canning recipes on there. I differed from the recipe in that I whisked my eggs with about a Tbsp. horseradish mustard. Nom. Nom.
Each year my neighbor, whose entrance adjoins mine, has this hydrangea bush that explodes in the most perfect, purplish blues. I've sadly killed about six of my own, hoping to recreate her magic, but now I just enjoy hers.
The delight of finding wild raspberries in the wooded park near our home. It was particularly awe inspiring to the toddler to find food in the "foyest" - she didn't want to leave.
Knowing that this small, pale, lavender coloured flower is going to be an eggplant sometime soon.
Our mint is flowering. Looks wonderful. It's amazing how incredibly lovely fruit, vegetables, and herbs can be in the various stages of their life.
And that is that. We hope to be finished by August, or at least mostly finished. We're both heartily sick of the kitchen, though we know it will be worth it, and I am about tolose my mind with all the mess it's made! Want to get back to normal!
Of course that title is a joke because I don't actually have a kitchen. My kitchen right now is a functionless room containing a hunky, sweaty man with a disgruntled expression on his face making a lot of noise with saws, drills, and heavy sighs. We are, however, at the point where there is no more demolition. The dry wall is all up, it needs a little more joint compound and sanding, and there is only a bit more of the subfloor to screw down before we start painting and laying the tile.
A few things we've decided on:
Some inspiration I found helpful:
This is basically what we'll do, with the white, wood, and terra cotta.
This kitchen almost made me rethink my white tile back splash. In fact, I really can't look at it for too long without becoming all confused again because I love that shade of green.
This kitchen is a little bit too country for what we're doing (no beadboard!) but I still like it.
A very small kitchen; I love the colours, and again, the lack of upper cabinets makes it feel more airy.
I still come back to white. It just makes sense.
The look we're aiming for is small, a little rustic, and simple. It goes with the rest of our house and it's something we can both agree on, unlike any other style. I found it difficult to find a lot of small kitchen inspiration online because "small" in designer speak is usually quite a bit larger than my kitchen and an enormous farmhouse kitchen with islands, a butler's pantry and two ovens is not really helpful to me. I did end up finding lots of partial shots of smallish kitchens that helped me understand more of what I wanted. I loved the colours in some of them, but I've committed to white because I like it, but also because trying to match colours sends me into the fetal position. I feel paralysed and I also don't like being tied to a certain colour scheme due to permanent fixtures, like cabinets.
My uber nifty makeshift sink. It's very high and it makes doing dishes much, MUCH easier on the back. I even debated making our kitchen sink this high, but decided it would be too weird. I don't know how you tall people wash your dishes without aching all the time! Also, please ignore the mess, we have the kitchen crammed into the dining room.
I have to really hand it to The Simple Man. He has done everything in his power to make this easier on the whole family. In the beginning, we were thinking it was possible that we were going to have several weeks without running water downstairs or a range. Well, so far I've spent exactly a half a day without water and a few days without the range. He spent extra time rigging up an ugly but perfectly functional sink in our dining room, made out of our old sink, leftover decking, two hoses, and hose nozzle head. While it's not very easy to wash dishes without a counter, it's a thousand times better than lugging them up to the bathroom, which I was having mental issues with anyway. He also put our range out on a small porch we have next to the kitchen and hook it up from there so I can still cook and bake. Plus, he works almost ten hours a day in a physically taxing, dirty and dangerous job, then comes home and works some more on the kitchen.
In a few more weeks we should be all finished, and it can't come soon enough!
Whole Foods just isn't cutting it for me. I'm warning you now, this is a rant/lament.
The Whole Foods five minutes from my house is located in one of the wealthiest suburbs in the US. As if Whole Food wasn't intimidating enough with its slick and expensive hipness, I have to go and live near one where almost every customer and I are separated by an annual income of several hundred thousand dollars or more. I have more in common with Cajun gator hunters than I do with these people. A lot more in common.
We drive up in my car, one that was considered a luxury vehicle fifteen years ago but now boasts ripped leather seats and hopeless outdatedness. My children are in day old braids, wisps making a halo around their faces, clothed in an eclectic and slightly filthy mix of handmade, hand me downs, and deep discount; they're like the bright little gypsy girls you see in the Paris Metro, delightfully disheveled, bobbing up and down, hands open like butterflies. No Lilly Pulitzer or Hannah Anderson here, and I'm wearing the same Old Navy jeans I've worn every single day for 6 months.
I am self-conscious about going there. It is crawling with elephantine Lexus and Range Rover SUVs. Moms are lean and toned due to the personal trainers who work with them while their children attend 30k a year private schools. They come shopping in their insanely expensive Yoga pants, planning their next holiday abroad on their phone during checkout. Every park in the area is packed with the nannies who care for their children and at 4PM there is a veritable exodus of household workers plodding tiredly down the street to catch a bus that will carry them back to West Philly and beyond.
It's usually tense inside Whole Foods, because a lot of privileged people have privileged places to go and they want you out of their way. Immediately. And they can see, hear and smell that you are not one of them. The difference is palpable, reinforced by ageless class struggles, resentments, and disdain. It's so clear that the cashiers will ask if I really want to buy something if it rings up at an extravagant price, like seventeen dollars for bing cherries, but do not ask those who can obviously afford it. I certainly do not want to spend that much and they know it; the cashiers usually hired are from my neck of the woods.
Mine is a beautiful life. There's dirt, hard work, grease under the fingernails, laughter, spats, gypsum dust freaking everywhere, toddler talk, sweat, and happiness. I don't wish to live in anyone else's life, nor am I ashamed of who or what we are. I don't want to fit in, but I don't necessarily want to be noticed. I'm a naturally shy person and now that I'm in my thirties and over dyeing my hair the colour of flowers and rocking a septum barbell, I prefer to live under the radar as much as is possible.
It all makes me very much miss the co-op I grew up in. I miss the customers, who were an explosion of such variety that everyone "fit in."The woman who actually bothered to figure out what percentage of her taxes were going to support what, and then didn't pay for those she disapproved of or considered unethical. She miscalculated one year and the IRS sent her a "HA HA! You paid us!" letter - she fumed at the register about it. The radical feminist who couldn't understand why we kept taking down her anti-porn flyer that depicted a naked woman bound to a chair (we thought it wasn't, um, kid friendly enough), the enormously tall transgendered male to female who effected this change over years and was gracious when I apologetically got my pronouns mixed up and couldn't remember her female name. And the usual assortment of tiny girls with giant dreads and hairy armpits, Rastafarians, bearded bluegrass musicians, and jocular, butt pinching pagans. It was like going to a circus where Tom Waits was the ringmaster.
I miss the comfortableness of it. Jokes such as putting the nightly floor sweepings in a package labeled Floor Granola: Dust, oats, mud, dessicated spider...Or the closing time log that began as a way to communicate what we had done during the day but ended up being a raunchy, swear fest of a throw down between made up characters who wrote in impossible dialect. The 5 gallon bucket of homemade bulk tofu people raved over until we weren't allowed to sell it anymore due to "health regulations." The itinerant assistant manager, moonlighting as a puppeteer, teasing me at seven, and deciding that at fifteen I was old enough to be told, in a softly Georgian accent, that boys can't always be believed. All with a fatherly expression, while wearing a yellow baseball hat with silver wings, REM wailing in the background.
The people who worked and shopped at the co-op mindfully chose a lifestyle that set them apart from others. Most embraced living outside the mainstream and their choices were often not the easiest ones. Like feeling that the best way to cut down on your waste, carbon and household, was to bike miles to your co-op, laden down with glass containers, so that you could fulfill your volunteer work for the week and then go bulk shopping. Or to not partake in the status quo of anything, including: gender roles, religion, sexuality, employment, lifestyle, food, consumerism, etc. They were non-conformity warriors. Our co-op and what it represented was what these people believed in; it was never just a place to buy food. It was a community for those of us who either couldn't or didn't want a place inside the norm. It was interesting and alive and my education. Co-op life was like a souk, bursting with hawkers, vibrant goods, and lively clientele. Whole Foods is like going to the mall.
I miss you, Good Neighbor Co-op. If there's a co-op heaven, I know you're there. Sniff.
My goal as a child was to soak up every livable outdoor minute of the day that I could, pausing only to chew and swallow what my mother handed me, and ignore her warning calls in the gathering dark. I lived outside. I did not imagine, even as a teen and adult, working 40 + hours a week that I would not spend my life outside when I could.
My vision of the future has obviously changed over the years, evolving from the bizarre; me as a sharpish Katherine Hepburn type, living in an isolated cottage but needing a butler (?!), to the simple - my plan of just backpacking continually until one day I collapsed, died, and decomposed on a moor covered in heather.
I ever only planned the outdoor spaces that would be mine. Interiors were fleeting thoughts . . . windows, reading nooks. As a young teen I had a folder, plump with scissored pictures from discarded gardening catalogues; over and over again I cut out tiny shots of teak benches beneath drooping wisteria. I thought I would live in an actual greenhouse, wending my way through a tangle of plants to the kitchen.
As I grew older, my future environment became more ordinary. I would have a potato field. I would wear boots and overalls for the rest of my life. I'd grow asparagus and brush my face against their feathery tops. My plan, up until the moment The Simple Man squeezed my heart with his calloused, tobacco scented hand, was to graduate, buy a truck and Go. Go drive around the country: Biloxi, Texas, Savannah, Oklahoma, the Badlands. Then I would return to my first real land love, Scotland. What I would do once I hiked out of Glasgow (don't let anyone tell you Edinburgh is better, if you want real, and you like grit, Glasgow is it) no longer matters because it's been replaced with my life now. I have only a handful's worth of mourning in me over missing out on my wee adventures, because it's all been so, so good.
Good except for where we live. One third of my life has been spent in the urban northeast, an area famous for unrelentingly smashing humanity together as close as possible. I think I'm suffering from a deficiency in greeness. I am advised to take advantage of the park. This isn't what I wanted. I want to live outside. I want to cook outside. I want to grow my own food outside. I want to camp in my garden. I want to fold my laundry on a broad tree stump. I want to send my children outside. I don't want to stroll through the park a few times a week and then watch my kids scatter around the playground. That's visiting outside, not living outside. I want my children to live the seasons, not merely watch them from a window and feel their differing temperatures on their skin.
My indoors would be small, but filled with light. There would be enough land to yield the bulk of our yearly food. A tiny orchard, a grape arbour, and a pond. Chickens or quail. Energy efficient - possibly off grid - that's not a deciding factor for me. I want to breath early morning air from my kitchen garden and hear the subtle but unmistakable sounds of nature beginning the day, unadulterated by humans honking, polluting, talking on cellphones, spilling Starbucks, and the ever present thumping of the bass that occurs at all hours of the day in my neighborhood. I want quiet.
When I look back, it's easy to see that a life of voluntary simplicity, minimalism, and environmentalism have always been in my nature. These are the directions I drifted until I became conscious of this and made it intentional. For me, they are all interrelated, though I understand if it's not that way for everyone. I see my best life as one that is low impact on both myself and the earth, where the superfluous has been excised, leading me to appreciate the rest. The good news is that I can live my best life anywhere, as most people can, the sad news is that I'm living it where I don't want to be living it. And that's what my struggles over contentment are about; where we live. What, you thought I was tired of The Simple Man?
As I read over this post, I grin at the irony because here I am, endeavoring to live a life of less, reducing my desires one at a time, and all I've written is "I want." So be it; I've made my peace with what I really want. It's something I can't entirely control, passed down in my mother's description of her Dziadek's potager, the warm raspberries my Grandpapa grew, the joyously intense look on my mother's face as she plans her own garden for this year and the future; it was born in me.
I consciously strive every day to want less, accept what I have, and be grateful for the enormity of what my life has been so far. But this is the one thing I cannot get over, give up, or forget about. I suspect most of us who are mindful of our wants have that one item, or dream, we refuse to give up. My dream of the future never once included a lifetime spent inside, which is where I am most of the time by default, since we don't have a real outdoors space to retreat to. The day might come when I have to realize that it's not going to happen and readjust my view of the rest of my life, especially as this isn't a monetary issue, but rather a spousal issue (he was born here; it's complicated!). Ahem. Until then, I'm still saving those inspirational outdoor pictures . . . digitally!
Do you have a dream that won't shrivel up and die no matter how much easier it would be if it did?
An issue I've dealt with for a good part of my adult life is contentment. Before you think I'm about to blast some Zen platitudes at you - I'm not. No one could be further from Zen than myself; I'm a worrier, a do-er, a planner, a can't sit still, frenetically paced sort of person. Though I see and understand the value of the sit and just "be" philosophy, I admit that my personality is particularly ill suited for it. Being content with something I feel could be ameliorated, however little, goes against my nature.
I have had, and continue to have trouble differentiating between contentment and what I think of as being either indifference or fatalism. If I think something needs to happen, I do my best to figure out how to bring that thing about. I've never understood inaction; it makes me uncomfortable. Now that I'm older, I realize that those feelings are due in large part to my inability to relax, breath deeply, and stop twitching, thinking, doing. I've always equated inaction with apathy, and many times it is, but it can also be a quiet assessment of the situation. It can be the ability to know that it won't work now, but might work later, so there is wisdom in contentment.
At this point, I'm trying to see contentment as a way of making the best of any current situation. I think you can actively be trying to change even while you are working on contentment. It's clearly a state of mind - contentment in what is now and what will come, while realizing that to get anywhere you must move forward.
It's hard to manufacture contentment, though. In many cases, it begins falsely, with you telling yourself that the now is just fine, until maybe one day it is. One of my biggest fears is that somewhere along the road of contentment, the ruts begin to get too large to climb out of. I'm terrified that in allowing myself to be content with the now, I will be "settling" for less than I know is possible in my life. I dread looking back on any part of my life with resentment towards myself (or others) over not trying hard enough. Yet at the same time, I don't want to be less than present and grateful for what my life is now.
So there you have it, my fractious feelings about contentment. I'm sure other people must feel the same way, especially as there is so much talk of contentment juxtaposed with an attitude that settling for less than anything you desire is cheating yourself. I don't necessarily subscribe wholly to either idea; I'm still at the mull and ponder stage. In fact, I might stay there my entire life.
What do you think about contentment? Do you believe that it's a must for a peaceful mind or do you think that rejecting it is the catalyst for change? Or perhaps you think I am completely mistaken on my definition of contentment?