Posts Tagged ‘Simplicity’

Quick Check-In

Just a quick check-in from the winter wonderland of New Jersey. We’re out here on our annual holiday vacation visiting Rob’s side of the family, and having a great time. Hope you all had a wonderful holiday and are anticipating the new year with joy and hope.

Rob and I are preparing for a talk we’re doing on Sacred Simplicity on January 9th. I think I’m going to go back and check out some of my own meditations on the topic from 2008 (“The Complexity of Simplicity” Parts One, Two, Three, and Four)…regardless, we’re excited to be speaking together again. The last time we did a talk together was for an LMU retreat. We spoke to about 60 college students about Sacred Sexuality. I love speaking with Rob, and I think we make a great team. Now it’s just a matter of getting our thoughts organized on paper!

Finally, we’ve also been spending some of these last days of 2009 considering our blessings from this year and our hopes for the next. We’re excitedly thinking about our future garden, about ordering bees, about expanding our family (both animal and human). 2009 was quite an adventure, and now with our new homestead, I am certain that 2010 holds many memories yet to be made.

I love this time of year because of all the potential it holds. So many things held in the tension of hope and wondering.  So many opportunities yet unknown. Fears will be conquered, barriers will be crossed, all while we continue the journey of expanding ever-outward. So, as we journey together into 2010, I pray that we each have the courage to go willingly where God takes us. Sometimes that’s scary, sometimes exciting, but always blessed.

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Stuff Diet in Review

From September 17, 2008 until September 17, 2009, Robert and I decided to go on a self-entitled “Stuff Diet.” Here is a quick overview of what that “diet” entailed (taken straight from the document) and some of our reflections on how we did.

The Stuff Diet Explained

Our Intent: An attempt to exercise our preferential option for the poor by recognizing the role of consumerism in our lives, our participation in it, and our attachment to it. This is our attempt at lessening that attachment.

Actions Involved: 

  • Restrict purchases of new items
  • Avoid products from corporations that do not have an ethical focus or operate locally
  • Simplify our living space by recycling, selling, or donating items that we don’t use or use and feel called to share with others
  • Anything purchased outside of textbooks and/or food needs (and items necessary for safety), to be discussed with the other person before purchase
  • Develop a budget that allows us to: (1) live within our means; (2) save money to pay down debt, and (3) donate to worthy causes
  • Take inventory of our entire home, identifying items that can be sold at a garage sale, donated, etc.
  • Commit to taking an inventory of at least one room a month
  • Limit eating out to special occasions (family birthday, etc)
  • Require a one day waiting period on all purchases (other than food, household necessities, or time-critical items)

Category Specifics

Food: 

  • purchase locally produced food
  • make weekly menu/shopping list to avoid over-shopping
  • waste as little as possible
  • clean out pantry of things not used/unusable
  • donate unnecessary cans in pantry
  • once all donate-able items are gone, buy 1 food item per shopping trip for food donation

Clothing:

  • No new clothes purchases with the following exceptions:
  • underwear
  • socks
  • walking shoes
  • clothes bought with gift cards (see below)
  • necessary clothing items, as appropriate (worn out belt, etc.)
    • Thrift shop/fair trade/ethically produced clothes may be an exception if discussed with other and 1 day rule applied
    • Material for sewing clothes okay

Entertainment/Media:

  • No new CDs/DVDs
  • No new downloads unless they are free and legal
  • No new magazine subscriptions/cancel unused ones
  • No non-educational software for computer unless health related
  • If we are going out for a celebration, commit to sharing a plate
  • No movies except for celebration/invitation purposes

Electronics/Tools:

  • No new electronics except to maintain functionality of current computers
  • Only new tools allowed are ones that are necessary to continue to sew clothes

Education: 

  • Textbooks for classes okay
  • Textbooks that supplement course load okay
  • Educational software okay
  • School supplies okay provided they are not available in any form at home

 Cosmetics:

  • No new cosmetics except to replace used up or unusable cosmetics
  • Any new purchases should be cruelty-free where possible

Trips:

  • Trips okay under following circumstances:
    • special occasions (Congress)
    • visiting family or friends
    • school
    • spiritual nourishment

Health/Medicine:

  • No restriction on prescribed drugs or vitamins
  • Commitment to go to doctor when necessary—no skimping here
  • Cat health included in allowances
  • Gym membership okay unless deemed otherwise by mutual agreement
  • No new fitness purchases

The Stuff Diet in Review

Overall, I think we did very well for a first-shot, sustained crack at something like this. One year is a long time! Although we weren’t able to do everything exactly as we had hoped, we did a heck of a lot better than if we hadn’t decided to undertake the Stuff Diet in the first place.

Not being able to buy new clothes whenever I wanted was a surprisingly hard experience for me. I didn’t realize how often I bought new clothes. Certainly not every weekend or anything, but I definitely was used to getting a new outfit or two every couple of months. More than once I had to recognize that I wanted it but didn’t need it; furthermore, it caused me to take stock and appreciate the clothes I would come home to.

Speaking of clothes, I was surprised to realize that I, like most Americans, was only wearing about a quarter of the clothes in my closet on any consistent basis. The clothes I wore, I wore a lot, and about 1/3 of my other clothes were usually “specialized” types of clothes, meaning, only for a particular season (I had a lot of jackets), or for a special occasion (I had a lot of dresses). Since my knee surgery, I didn’t wear high heels as much anymore, yet I had plenty of them in my closet. So after several trips to the Good Will and lots of honest closet scrutiny, I finally got to a place where I could say I wore most of my clothes, most of the time. Still, every time I go back to reconsider if I could take more to the Good Will, I find at least 4 or 5 pieces that I’m holding for silly reasons, so this is a constant process.

We didn’t do so well with the inventory taking, although we did do some of the house. We did the living room and the kitchen as well as our guest bedroom–I suppose that covers about half our stuff, because it leaves our bedroom, the office, and any common areas or yard stuff. Inventorying was an interesting thing, because I wrote down every single thing in the room. Every. Single. Thing. Then, on the right hand side, I had written columns about how much we want the item (on a scale of 1 – 10) and how much we need it (same scale). When we inventoried our kitchen, we ended up taking 12 boxes to the Good Will that day. So it was an important exercise, one I hope to continue.

As far as food, we followed our argeement in ways that were certainly unexpected to us. We joined a CSA, began to develop relationships at farmer’s markets, and became very good at planning our meals to reduce waste. The one thing we didn’t do very well was to buy an item with each shopping trip to donate to our church’s food pantry. We cleaned out our own pantry and donated a lot from there, but it didn’t really become a conscious part of our food shopping. It’s something we’ve both talked about and are going to try to work on as we move forward.

Electronics, health, and trips more or less followed our agreement. We did probably eat out more than we anticipated, but we started sharing a plate almost every time. This has had side benefits as well; it just feels more intimate! So in addition to appreciating the dish together and collaborating on what to choose, we also truly share the meal. It was a beautiful aspect of the agreement.

I’m going to wrap up, because it’s time to head into class. Suffice it to say the Stuff Diet was enlightening and challenging, and we are working on how to move forward with what we have learned in continuing a lifestyle of more simplicity and consciousness.

The August Experiment

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As August comes to a close, it’s time to reflect on our one month experiment of going through the month of August with only one car. This has been part of our deepening commitment to simplicity, sustainability, and solidarity–and the challenge was to figure out a way to live in Los Angeles and simplify down to only one vehicle between us.

I think this month has been full of both unexpected delight as well as expected challenges.  Certainly it wasn’t always convenient to only have one car, especially when we needed to go in two different directions at the same time. In some ways, August was an easier month to undertake this challenge, because I haven’t started the Fall quarter yet and didn’t have to be 30 miles away at any given time. But, on days when I had to run errands, or go to tutor my brother 40 miles away, we definitely had to figure out what to do.

Our solutions were a mixture of coordinating schedules, reconfiguring the order of when to do things (sometimes to a time of greater inconvenience, but that was part of the challenge), walking, and riding our bikes. My husband and I both wrote about our biking adventures, which can be found here (his) and here (mine).  About halfway through the month we realized that if I dropped him off and work and picked him up, I could use the car to do errands during the day if I needed to. Sure, this took a little bit of timing and planning, but all in all, I think it worked out just fine.

One of the greatest benefits to this experiment was a feeling of unity with my husband. It wasn’t always convenient, and sometimes it felt like a pain in the butt. But we worked together on this commitment, and I really liked dropping him off at work and picking him up. I was able to see him off to the very last moment and be the first one to greet him at the end of the day. I felt honored and blessed to be able to have just a few more minutes of my day with him. In addition, I felt that putting ourselves in solidarity with families that must face these circumstances involuntarily also put us in closer solidarity with one another. I appreciated that we were in it together…it deepened my respect for him and for his character. It was just one more example of the things I love about him.

I also was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed riding my bike. It slowed me down, it made me conscious of the earth and my body. It made me value the work that it takes to get me from one place to another–work I often take for granted.  It was yet another unforeseen blessing.

I have a feeling that, just like with the Stuff Diet, when our personal challenge is over that we may very well carry the lessons learned and habits formed into our “regular” goings-on. It seems to be part of a constant awakening to what we want and what we really need; what conveniences we become used to and, in the process, what mini-blessings we miss out on. On September 1, I hope to take my husband to work, even though our challenge will be officially over. Not because I have to, but because I want to. In this, I suppose we also continue our practice of sustainability…because it helps to sustain and nourish our marriage as well. Who would have guessed?

Guest Post: Overcoming Inertia

Here’s a post from my husband on his bike commute to work yesterday:

As part of our commitment to a month with only one car, I knew I wanted to do something that I’ve been meaning to do for a long time, but never had the courage to try–bike to work. As far as commutes go, I have one of the easiest in Los Angeles. In a town where people regularly sit in one to two hours of traffic, I am blessed to get in my car, and drive less than 10 minutes. Furthermore, the route that I take is also one of the easiest to bike: it is almost entirely flat, near the ocean, with a dedicated bike lane the entire way. LA is definitely not known as a bike-friendly town, which makes this all the more remarkable.

So why did it take me so long to start biking in to work? Mostly convenience, partly inertia, and a little bit of trepidation starting out on an unknown adventure. Even with the one-car commitment, I was more than happy to be driven in to work rather than go to the trouble of filling my tires, packing a change of clothes, getting up a half hour early, and rolling out the door on my bike.

But one of the great blessings of married life is that you are never alone on an adventure into the unknown. My wife, somehow sensing my reluctance, suggested last weekend that we take a ride together to a place that’s in the general vicinity of work. Once I saw that the ride was manageable, I knew I could summon the courage to face it on a workday.

I headed out on the road this morning and discovered that not only was there nothing to fear, but that it was downright enjoyable. It’s funny how a change in context brings things into focus that we formerly ignored. I was conscious of every crack in the road, every conspicuous stone, every bump and rise of the road in a way that I never am in a car. Also, without the distraction of the radio, I was alone with my thoughts, my exertions, my sensations. How often do we turn on the radios in our cars without even thinking about it, not really embracing the possibility of a small moment of solitude?

As I made my way along the route, I came to a red light where another biker was also waiting. He was dressed in racing gear and had a professional looking bike. He was a Serious Biker. This is the kind of guy you see traveling in a flock of multicolored bike riders on a Saturday morning; but he was traveling alone today on his own commute. I said good morning, but he did not acknowledge my presence. Perhaps, he was still mentally in his car, shut off from the other commuters, safe behind close windows and air conditioning. Or perhaps this was a meet-not. In romantic comedies, there’s always the meet-cute, that first memorable time the two main characters encounter one another. Los Angelenos have mastered a whole new technique: avoiding actual connections with people by pretending that they just don’t hear them, or see them. The typical reaction one gets walking past someone on the sidewalk is no eye-contact, no words spoken, no acknowledgment when you say hello. They do not want to meet you, even at the most cursory level.

After my meet-not with the Pro, he took off at a faster pace than me. That was fine with me, since we were coming up on a small rise. Even a small hill still poses a challenge for one of my modest abilities, so I was happy not to have someone stuck grumbling behind me. Yet once I crested the rise, I saw that he had stopped and was drinking some water. Was he catching his breath? Maybe he was showing off and ended up over-exerting himself. As I passed him, I felt a small tug of pride–I had overtaken the Pro. I rolled down the other side of the rise and came to a stop at the traffic light, waiting for it to change. When it went green, I started pedaling, picking up speed, when I felt the whoosh of air beside me as the Pro flew by. He had been waiting at the top, timing his descent for the change of the light. All my pride was deflated in that moment, which was probably the best thing the Pro could have done for me.

At the end of my ride, I had spent 30 minutes on a bike instead of 10 minutes in my car, and every bit of it was worth it. Instead of the misplaced pride of my earlier episode, I felt the pride of work truly earned. I also felt a deep gratitude for the gift of being able to choose this for myself and not by circumstance. For those who cannot afford a vehicle, a bike is often also a luxury item. They must commute by bus, which may mean a significant amount of extra travel time. For example, the same 10 minute car commute would take at least 45 minutes with a transfer in between. I also felt gratitude for being able to face my day with the health required to make this ride, and joy in being able to share the experience with my wife, who was with me in spirit the entire way.

As my wife would remind me, we always have a choice about how we can approach something. Today, I chose to approach my commute with joyfulness, gratitude, and an open heart. I can only pray for the grace to live thus everyday.

Getting Creative

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We are currently swimming in zucchini from our CSA. It’s to be expected; after all, when the point in summer arrives that zucchini is thriving, it’s also taking over the garden (or, in this case, the farm). And zucchini is surprisingly versitile in its uses: fried with garlic, chopped up into soup, put into a zucchini parmesan (a variation of eggplant parmesan), put into casseroles. It’s wonderful. But…there comes a time when it’s hard to eat it fast enough.

Enter our wonderful guide to seasonal eating, Serving Up the Harvest by Andrea Chesman. If you want to eat seasonally, this is the book for you. If you have kids and you don’t know how to get them to eat their vegetables, this book is for you. And if you like good food, this book is definitely for you.

Chesman has a wonderful recipe entitled “Zapplesauce Muffins.” It combines all the yummy flavors of apple spice muffins–cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, and yes, butter–but instead of using apples, she uses 4 cups of zucchini. This certainly doesn’t make your ordinary zucchini bread. It’s fantastic. The true test was when I brought these muffins over to my friend’s house yesterday and her 3-year-old son at two of them on the spot. She asked if he liked them, and he couldn’t even tear his mouth away to form the words for his delight; all he could manage was a zealous thumbs-up.

As always, I find metaphor in this happy occasion to make muffins. Even though the bounty of zucchini is a blessing, it’s hard sometimes when we have too much of the same thing. It gets monotonous. It gets tiresome. We long for something new.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that we need the new thing. It might just mean that we need a little imagination, a willingness to tap into our creative forces. Often our culture tempts us with the thought that we need to buy the brand new thingamajig or that our 2-year-old perfectly good cell phone is soooooo outdated. We are in a culture of buy-and-toss almost as soon as we get our new goods home. We aren’t willing to use what we have in bounty, because we are already eyeing something newer, flashier, fancier.

I think that sometimes it’s just a matter of seeing things in a different way. Exploring their potential. Thinking outside the box…so far outside the box that zucchini could be turned into zapplesauce.

This is another aspect of simplicity: using what we have in new and creative ways. Seeing what we have as adequate but not tossing aside our natural tendency to fashion something new. In this way, too, we can see what we have as gift, and see our gifts as beautiful potential.

Attachment to an Outcome

Today was the first day that I really put our one-car-commitment to the test, biking farther than was convenient for me and, frankly, a little further than I mentally was comfortable with.  I had slept poorly last night, and woke up feeling cranky and tired. As I watched my husband drive away to work this morning, I was sorely tempted to just grab my keys and hop in my car. 

But a funny thing happened. As I rode, I felt my tension begin to slip away. I felt myself settle into the slower pace of the bike as cars zoomed past me. I became attentive to my muscles, especially my glute muscles, working to propel me forward. I found myself becoming proud of being a self-powered machine, crossing a distance that would have just been a 10 minute car ride.

Before riding back I had a great conversation with a friend and mentor. As we sat with coffee in our hands and the warm summer air filling our lungs, we talked about life and faith and everything in between. I love talking with her because I always learn so much from her; it’s just one more confirmation for me that we are all more connected than our compartmentalized-prone minds would like to think. She, a Buddhist, and I, a Catholic, share so much spiritual common ground. We may use different words or manifest it in different ways, but in the end it’s really all about love. A continual reminder that everything is gift.

One of the things we talked about is attachment. Why is it that we hinge so much on particular outcomes? Why are we attached to things turning out a certain way, or achieving some sort of contrived ideal? The thought occurred to me as we spoke that I would never fear failure if I wasn’t so attached to a specific outcome. If I concentrated more on the process, on the journey, then whatever happened at the end of the road would simply be an extension of the journey. There would be no “fail.”

I think this concept of attachment can really be a hindrance to many Christians’ sense of evangelization. I see so often that the evangelizers seem so attached to a specific outcome that it stops being about the people involved, about love, even about God. It becomes evangelizing for evangelization’s sake. One more notch for the Lord’s team, right? But this is wrong! Part of the whole purpose of evangelization is to spread love. If there is no love in the process, there can be no love in the outcome. So often we fail to accept where people are at because we are so fixated on where we want them to be. True evangelization is simply bringing people closer to a life fully immersed and exploding with love. It’s not about committing to certain practices or saying certain words or signing on the dotted line. It’s about love. Love, and love, and more love.

In any case, this message of detachment was further reiterated as I rode my bike home. Here I am, far from a avid cyclist and steadily pedaling along on my trusty Marin hybrid. I didn’t have any fancy bike clothes. To be honest, I know I kind of looked like a dork (and a slow one, at that).

As I went, there were several occurrences when sleeker, faster cyclists passed me at speeds that I thought were likely humanly impossible at the time. I was breathing heavily up a hill, happy that I had the guts to even stay on my bike, and three 20-something guys on fancy road bikes passed me easily, laughing and joking and making it look like it was the easiest thing in the world. It was tempting to be discouraged.

But I caught myself. What outcome am I attached to?, I thought, remembering the conversation I had had just a half hour before.  I am not attempting to achieve cycling perfection here. My purpose is to be in solidarity with those who don’t always have a car at their disposal, to recognize the value of physical work, to accept and embrace voluntary displacement.  I needed to be detached enough from the need to be “good” at what I was doing in order to get the good out of what I was doing.

In the end, the journey really was the destination, anyway…I just had to let go of the idea of “achieving,” sit back, and enjoy the ride.

Walking the Talk…As Well As We Can

I’ve gotten a few questions about the status of some of the things I’ve posted about, so here’s a quick update:

The Garden: The garden is doing great! We’ve been harvesting lettuce for our own salads and really loving it. We’ve let a couple of stalks bolt so they can go to seed–hopefully we’ll be able to try our hand at growing from our own seeds rather than seedlings next season. Our onions aren’t quite ready yet, but we’re willing to be patient. The thyme is fantastic; we used it just the other day for a risotto dish we made. The basil has begun to take over its container; even our Italian cooking can’t keep up with its growth! The strawberries are doing great; even though they haven’t produced fruit yet, the plants are healthy and sending out plenty of runners. I’ll try to post pictures of the garden soon.

The Fiddle: I am getting better and better. I wouldn’t call myself good, really–although I know two, very short songs quite well. I continue to work on my scales and am getting better at bow pressure and getting my fingers used to the positioning. In fact, sometimes I even find myself tapping my own foot when I play. Although this can be distracting and actually messes me up, so I have to be careful not to get too carried away. 🙂 Someday….! Here’s a picture of me playing at my sister-in-law’s house: IMG_4877

Life Without TV:  This hasn’t been easy, I’m not going to lie. Having never lived without TV, I find that it’s difficult not having it as an option. Admittedly, because I only gave up the cable boxes but not the ability to plug the cable directly into the TV (thus getting the network channels), I’m still not totally weaned. I would say at this point I’m still watching an average of 30 minutes a day on weekdays (none on weekends). But I’m slowly detaching myself from that habit, so hopefully within a month or so it will be down to nothing.

Life With One Car: We’re about one week into our one-month experiment and so far, so good. I’ve only used my car to move it off the street for street sweeping. There have definitely been moments when this was not convenient…but, I suppose that is part of the point. We’ve found a way to work with it, and none of our solutions have been earth shatteringly insightful; it’s just a matter of coordinated planning and a willingness to spend a little more time walking or biking. In a couple of cases, I’ve depended on other people to give me a ride because the car wasn’t available; in others, like today, I’ve walked. If I have to go out to Fuller I’ll take a bus and a train. So, like I said, careful coordination and planning. Certainly not impossible.  Throughout this week I’ve tried to remain mindful of those who don’t have the choice to limit their car use.

Quilting:   I am on to my second quilt! I finally got the proper foot for my sewing machine, a walking foot, and it works like a charm. I’m hoping to finish this quilt by Sunday so I can have it ready for my friend and her family–we’re celebrating the first birthday of her second child. I’ll post pics when its done.

That’s the quick update. I’ve been thinking about so many things lately–possibilities and opportunities. I’m excited to share the journey with all of you. Many blessings today!