Tag: lifestyle

mo money mo problems or stumble out of bed and bumble to the kitchen, poor myself a cup of ambition*

gardening, green living, lifestyle, Uncategorized November 29, 2013

I had a long talk with my husband today about where we are going and what we are doing and why. We have a problem with money. We don’t have enough of it. However, when I think of the life that I truly want to live, money doesn’t figure in too much. So, what is it that we need money for? Food, shelter, healthcare, entertainment. That just about covers it right? Oh, education. Yikes, that’s a big one that we will be paying a for a long time.

On the other hand, what are some of the ills that plague modern life, ills that may require more money? Stress. Boredom. Poor health. Lack of exercise. Sedentary living. Not enough time with family. Not enough time doing things we enjoy. Low quality food. Lack of sleep. Anxiety. Depression. Alcoholism. Obesity. These are huge. These ills are in the newspapers every day. Enormous amount of ink is spilled and money spent on mitigating these side effects of our lives.

The majority of these negative by-products of our lives are the direct result of earning money.

When I think of the job I left, my life looked like this: Get up early, hear the alarm, fight the feeling that if I could only sleep for 45 more minutes everything would be okay. Convince myself to go on a run/do 30 minutes of yoga. Shower, get dressed with an eternally insufficient wardrobe, drink coffee, pack a lunch, eat a quick breakfast, kiss my husband and out the door for an hour commute. Try not to get to angry about the other drivers on the road, try to enjoy the sunrise, try not to be impatient. At work a strange combination of intense boredom and intense stress. Constant onslaught of deadlines and ticking clocks. Excitement in the courtroom, adrenaline, fast thinking and talking, satisfaction with occasionally helping make something better, frustration with being unable to make more things better. Intensely draining responsibility. More filing and boredom. Back in the car for an hour. Home, not as tidy as I’d like, fight with husband over that fact, figure out dinner, watch TV, drink beer, go to bed. Wash rinse repeat. Every day counting down the minutes until 5 o’clock, the hours until Friday. Weekends clean the house, do the shopping, drink a little too much one night, try to do something fun with husband (such as go to Target or a local nursery), go on long run, Monday comes too soon.

My life was a constant battle between not having enough time to do any of things I needed to do, and not enough time to do any of the things I wanted to do. Sure, my job was exciting, sometimes fulfilling, often stimulating, and I didn’t hate it. Was I living the life I really wanted? No. Did I even know what that looked like? No. Now that I have had so much time to think through all of this, I realize that maybe it isn’t just a necessary evil. Maybe a 8-5 life, living on weekends isn’t an inevitability.

So, we were talking about it today. If I really am not going to go back to law for a while (maybe ever), then I need something to do. The first step is to figure out what we can do to lessen our dependence on money. We still need to earn it, and hope to earn enough to pay for a good education for our son and the ability to travel. We are working towards going into business for ourselves in landscaping, but that is still in the future. If my time and energy is not going to be spent earning money, then I need to be doing something to partially replace the need for it. I am doing that first by providing child care for our son. Our next biggest expense by far is groceries. The plan is to build a greenhouse and actually try to pull off growing enough food for our family to eat. People have done it in the past, people do to now. I’m fairly confident I can pull it off. We are planning a solar powered greenhouse that can grow year round. (We live in the mountains and have a shortish growing season and cold winters). I need to grow enough, consistently, and with enough variety to keep us satisfied. Me managing a large year round garden has benefits that extend beyond the food production and cutting costs. It is something I enjoy, it is a source of exercise, it will give me an opportunity to teach my child about many things, it will fight cabin fever, it will give us another beautiful space to spend time, and it is good for the environment. So there it is, another step towards a big shift and an attempt to escape the 8-5 gerbil wheel and all of the woes that accompany it. It also takes care of one of the two necessities according to Cicero and provides a food source for the zombie apocalypse.

Here is a link to the greenhouse we are looking into. It is a relatively expensive investment on the the front end. It won’t be expensive to maintain once built and established, and will quickly earn it’s keep in saving us from paying for child care and all of those expensive organic, locally grown veggies that we buy. growing spaces

I leave you with the following thoughts from the great Herman Melville:

“There is all the difference in the world between paying and being paid. The act of paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable affliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon us. But being paid- what will compare with it? The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvelous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!”

*title credits: The Notorious B.I.G., Aesop Rock

black friday

lifestyle, minimalism November 29, 2013

It is the day after thanksgiving. Many others have already pointed out how interesting it is that we celebrate our blessings, then go shopping. I have never participated in Black Friday, and I assume there are a great many Americans out there who haven’t either. That doesn’t make me immune to the consumerism that underlies it. (Off the subject, I am finding all of the self righteous anti-black friday ranting almost as distasteful as wallmart itself.) In fact, I spend a great deal of time online shopping. I don’t actually buy things all that often but I do spend time looking at things, thinking about things I want.  This is at complete odds with my ideals, and yet I enjoy it. Is it wrong for me to enjoy it? I don’t know, probably not terrible, I do know I should probably be spending my time doing things that are more enriching, more fulfilling, more wholesome. I’m not sure if I am giving myself too much of a hard time, or not enough.

Part of it is that it is just so accessible. Iphones, tablets, laptops, even good old fashioned catalogs. There is also something about desire itself that is seductive. I don’t actually gain too much pleasure from owning, I actually derive a decent amount of satisfaction from ridding myself of possessions. What it is it exactly about wanting? We learn from Buddhism about the idea that desire and expectations lead to stress/dissatisfaction or dukkha. As we approach the holiday season and as I continue writing, I am thinking hard about how to raise my son free of this burden of wanting. I also need to rid myself of this burden somewhat if we are to continue living on one income, and not a generous one at that! I am not sure I know how to do it since I spend so much time with desire myself. On the other hand I want to give him things, and there is a pleasure in giving and receiving gifts. I don’t want to be so strict in this line of thinking that I do away with some good things as well. Further though my family isn’t particularly extravagant about gifts, people like buying things for children and I don’t want to be the mother that takes gifts away from her child. This like so many other things seems to require balance.

One of the most striking memories I had was upon returning from Africa had to do with this. When there I barely had internet, no TV, and no cellphones. (That was before smartphones anyway). I had books, and those were even somewhat difficult to come by. Once I returned to the states I was inundated with TV, billboards, radio ads, and whatever else there is out there constantly working away at our minds. Almost immediately I decided that I wanted a new lap top. Then immediately after having that thought, I was shocked with myself. Both for having had the thought (I didn’t really need a new lap top), and for the lack of having such thoughts while I was gone. It was probably a combination of being immersed in a different, less consumer driven culture, a lack of constant exposure to advertisements, and being surrounded by real need that drove back all of those wants and desires for things that plague me today. (Most of my desires were for things like hot showers and cheese pizza). The fact that I lived quite happily without much and without wanting much for quite a while reminds me that it is possible.

How do I create a world for myself where these needs and wants do not exists, or maybe are just quieted? I think it is probably part discipline and part habit. So for the weeks leading up to and during our biggest buying season, I am going to try to turn a blind eye to the sales, stop making wish lists, and go on a fast from wanting. I will still get presents for my family of course, but I already have those mostly figured out no shopping required. My son will get snow boots and a kitchen stool. For now however, I am not going to flip through the ikea catalog dreaming of a beautifully appointed home or browse amazon for whatever random things I feel I need from those warehouses. I will delete emails with special deals. I will be happy with what I have, and if I need to imagine improving my situation as daydream fodder, I will imagine improving by doing not buying. I WILL sort through the difference between need and want. Perhaps if I can break the habit of wanting, I will be more free to enjoy what I have. My blessings are many after all, a lovely family, a lovely home in a lovely town, a dream to reach for, very naughty pets, and loved ones within reach. In addition to those wholesome things, I have plenty of kitchen gadgets, a tablet and an iphone, attractive boots for the winter, a good car and any number of the other more base material things that populate our modern lives. (Are snow tires a need or want?) Besides the spiritual freedom from the constant dissatisfaction of not having what you want, there is a practical aspect of not wanting what you can’t afford! Anyway, here’s to fasting until christmas at least, happy holidays, and Black Friday.

if you have a garden and a library…

lifestyle, minimalism November 26, 2013

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. – Cicero

When I was a teenager, I had a trunk in my closet filled with my most prized possessions, in case I had to take off at a moment’s notice. I left college and moved back to my home state with only what I could carry on an airplane. While traveling I relished living with only what I could hold in one back pack. During grad school, I lived in a one bed room apartment with a blow up mattress and an easel as my only furniture. I could be packed and moved in one day using one trip in my small sedan. I loved it. Up until now, my possessions have been limited. I now live in a three bedroom house with a carport, a garage, a barn, and a multitude of closets. We have furniture galore and a billion random things. I am continuing in my quest to reduce this burden. I have made it through the kitchen, living room, and dining room. So far I can say this, the space is easier clean and more pleasant to be in. However, i will never be able to move quickly because I have boxes and boxes and shelves and shelves of books.

Books. How do we deal with books? They have an inherent value, they are attractive, and we tend to get attached. Nothing will ever make me get rid of my duct taped copy of Aristotle’s works. Who doesn’t like to flip through the federalist papers during election season? Let us be honest, aren’t we proud to have all the books we have read, whose content or point we have long forgotten, on display? Or is that just me and my base prideful self? In any event I have managed to pare my books down to two categories: classics and books I have yet to read. Cook books, art books, and gardening books are exempt. One reason I keep the classics around is that they are classics. Just that. Sometimes I like to re-read, sometimes I like to search for a quote. Mostly I just look at them and try to remember. Also, when I was a little girl I used to love perusing my father’s book shelves. I would look forward to the days when I could tackle the more mature reads, and was proud when I could enjoy something from that shelf rather than limit myself to the brightly illustrated covers at the school library. I’m not positive if having all these books around will inspire my son to take pleasure in the one way we can truly experience the world through the eyes and mind of someone else, but it couldn’t hurt and may help. So there it is, I have talked myself back into my library, the books stay. How else could I remind myself about the virtues of Jack Kerouac’s rucksack revolution of the Dharma Bums without it?

The temptation to only have the bare necessities is so strong that it is at constant tension with the pleasure and perhaps necessity of having some things. Part of this exercise of editing the dependence and attachment to physical things in our lives involves deciding what should remain. Here is another reason to keep the classics around, because Cicero offered some excellent guidance to this end!

So here I am. I am in my 30s, I have a family and am a mother. I can not jet away at a moment’s notice. My rucksack revolution has taken a different form. The wandering is over for now, I have different things to explore than the curves of the earth. My books are my roots, not shackles. Now for the garden…

living with less

lifestyle, minimalism November 12, 2013


I have been thinking about how to spend my time pushing our family towards our goal. What is our goal exactly? To spend more, if not most of our time doing things we love or enjoy… Making our short lives meaningful. There are blogs in the gazillions about homesteading, minimalism, mindfulness etc. I suppose if there are so many people writing about this, it could indicate a small cultural effort to re-define purpose and time. I don’t feel like I am writing sentences that haven’t been written a hundred times already. I know I am a chicken raising, organic food buying/soon to be growing, cloth diapering, yoga doing, apple (the company and the fruit) loving, lifestyle blog writing cliche. I also drive a clean diesel station wagon, sometimes I mock myself.

It doesn’t matter though. These are good trends, even if they are marketed and packaged and adulterated and whatever. It is happening, and each minute I spend writing or doing one of these things is one I spend doing something I enjoy, something that is good for me and something that teaches my son a little more about trying to focus one what is important. I am not above television marathons, and I check my Facebook feed probably as often was most teenagers. I like eating greasy pizza and sitting on my butt. I am just trying to not take myself to seriously, to fall into self righteousness and holier than though writing. It is annoying and there is plenty of it out there. I am not sure anyone will ever even read this, and if they they do, I am not sure that they won’t shake their head and move on to Facebook thinking that they just lost 5 minutes that will never be retrieved. Moving on. Living with less.

When we moved into this house, it was more or less just as my stepmother left it when she left for the Mayo clinic not knowing she was never going to return. Some of her family had come in and organized some things, but her make up was here, her dish washing sponges in the sink, and salmon was in the freezer.

By the way, she and my dad had been divorced since I was in college. I suppose this makes her my ex stepmother, and she and I never properly reclaimed our relationship after the divorce. However, she very much raised me, and sadly it wasn’t until after the sudden death of her son that she and I slowly started moving back towards eachother. Something I had hoped would be aided by birth of my son, whom she was apparently never destined to meet. Anyway, to quote the movie Clueless “you divorce wives, not children.” She is and was my stepmother.

So, when we moved into her house 8 months after she passed there was a great deal of emotional and physical baggage that accompanied it. I was overwhelmed by the endeavor, my husband was working long hours, and I had a small baby to care for. My wonderful friends, the same I endured high school with, gathered to help. We went though everything. Silverware, old medication, boxes of photos, dog leashes, cleaning items, old journals, several old printers, you name it. It was an enormous task. My stepmother lived in this house since my dad built it 20 years ago. Before she died, one of the things she said was, I can’t go, I have left everything a mess. Things were a mess, but it got me really thinking about all the stuff we leave behind when we die. All the things the we bought. For each item, she spent time working to earn money to purchase it, only to have me throw it out or deliver it to good will. It seemed disrespectful of me and at the same time, it made the act of acquiring things seem all the more pointless.

I do not mean this to be in any way and indictment of how my stepmother lived, she was a beautiful person who was dealt a painful hand, but still managed to live her life well. Perhaps better than most, but my authority on the topic is lacking. I am commenting on how we all live. Do you or do you not have a defunct printer in your garage, or some expired medication in your bathroom?

I entered this house bringing with it some baggage of my own. At some point in my legal education, I developed a horror of clutter. This was furthered as I entered a job where my caseload was borderline unmanageable. It definitely had to do with the hyper organizational legal thinking that is the benefit and bane of a legal education. It was also a survival tactic, the only way to tackle something unmanageable is to take it bit by bit and to prioritize, especially with a constant onslaught of deadlines and actual potentially dangerous (to someone) consequences. So, efficiency and organization became important to me. Couple this with living amidst someone else’s lifetime worth of stuff, and you have a really crazy making situation. Oh, and add a new baby and all the new mom nesting tendencies that go with it.

I got rid of things by the truckload. Our things, her things, things people inadvertently left on the countertop, my cat’s things. It all had to go. Much of it did. Here I am, nearly a year later, and we still have so so many things. We kept many of the the nice things, potentially useful things, random sentimental things, still so many things. Now I am on the verge of another purge and I truly want to simplify, get us down to only what we really need and really love. This is partly because I hate clutter, this is partly because I like a tidy house, and this is partly because I have a sneaking suspicion that the less we have, the less we will think we need. This is one more step closer to less dependance on the two societal shackles whose grip on us I am seeking to loosen Money and Insurance. I am not sure how stuff and health interacts, but I am not working on developing a dogmatic system here anyway.

I started with the kitchen. When I clean my closet I use the ‘have I worn it in the last 365 days’ rule. I used some tips from the all knowing Google to build on this. Kitchens are an easy place to collect stuff. There are a lot of potentially useful items that you really don’t ever use. New York Times article on point. “I’m looking at you, garlic press.”

So here are the questions I asked myself:

1. Have you used it in the past year?
2. Do you have another item that serves the same purpose as well as others? (Knife vs. garlic press).
3. Is it beautiful AND you love it or use it?

the choice

lifestyle November 10, 2013


Here goes. A little over a year ago, I was a young attorney with a budding career and a plan. My husband was a graduate student in a Landscape Architecture program. We had a house, we had a trajectory, and then we had a baby. When our son came along, things started to change, predictably, priorities began to shift. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were in the middle of a massive change. I cried every time I thought about going back to work after three months of maternity leave. My husband was gone for long hours, stretched too thin, and we fought. We fought a lot.

Gradually, some ideas crept into our heads. I could NOT go back to work. But I had been working towards that job for years. But where would we get money, insurance? How would we pay my loans? Jim could drop out of school. But he had been working so hard to get there. What else would he do? What about our plan? Our vision, as a professional couple, me a fast paced trial attorney and him a landscape architect changing the landscape of our city, began to crumble. We realized that the vision left very little room for what we really were: a family.

Some time during that fitful period of fear and uncertainty, I read an article from the New York Times about longevity in Greece. It wasn’t the longevity that I was interested in, it was the lives in the article that were so captivating…these particular islanders described a life of waking naturally, gardening, cooking, drinking wine with friends and early nights to bed. Sigh, if only. We started to think, why not? Why if that was the life we really wanted, why couldn’t we have it? Money. Insurance. The idea would not leave our heads. The alternative, our alternative, our reality was so different. Early waking for a bustle of activity, preparing ourselves and our child for the day out of the house, away from each other. Dressing, brushing teeth, diapers, breakfast, then out the door, our son off to be raised by strangers, my husband and I off to our grueling days. Exciting, stimulating, even rewarding, but grueling. Then a return home to repeat the process in reverse in preparation for sleep. A life to be lived on weekends, where we would squeeze family time in with chores and the occasional recreational activity. Friends? They had already begun slipping away in the sleepless frenzy of very early parenthood and graduate school. There had to be another way. Was there another way? Here is a spoiler: at this very juncture, we haven’t found the other way, but we are still trying.

These crazy ideas, quitting school and jobs, leaving our newly remodeled home, began to form into plans. Finally, the decision was made. The notices sent. We moved from the relief of release of anticipation into the frightening clutches of uncertainty. We turned our lives in the city upside down and move to the small town I grew up in. Mountains, fresh air, my family and lifelong friends close by, a step towards Ikaria. The all important question remained, what were we going to do about Money and Insurance? insurance was obtained with the help of the federal government. My husband got a job in the local ski area while we waited for my recently departed step mother’s house to be vacated so we could move in, next door to my father and on the very same road I grew up on. I stayed in the city with the baby, two and a half hours away, while my husband worked long hours on the mountain for $8 an hour. He missed our son’s first christmas. Finally in the middle of February, we made the haul north to the mountains.

So here we are, a year after our son’s birth. I became ‘just’ a stay at home mom. My husband went from graduate student, to a landscaper. We struggle with money. I struggle almost daily with the loss of our vision, our plan, and am constantly tempted back into it. If I took a job as an attorney, we could be financially secure again, I would no longer be ‘just’ a stay at home mom. My husband wouldn’t have to work in retail over the winter. We would be step closer to the old reality and a step farther from our Ikaria. I would miss the sometimes very long days I spend with my son, the breakfasts we enjoy as a family before Jim goes to work, and the energy I currently devote towards motherhood would be spent on trials, police officers, judges, and other attorneys.

I sometimes feel crazy, I spent all of this time and money to become an attorney, and the law degree sits in the closet with my other degrees, collecting dust and interest. Other days I feel completely confident that what I am doing is right. I am spending my considerable energy on the dearest things in my life, my son, my family, my home. In discussing this struggle the other day with another stay at home mom, we came to the conclusion that in this day and age, we are the radicals. We are forgoing all the fruits of a rewarding, and hard won career, fought for by generations of women before us, for the pleasures and struggles of a life at home with a child. Vacuuming, diapers, and cooking have replaced suits, deadlines, and constant interaction. Sometimes I feel isolated. Sometimes, I feel bored. I do tear up, however, when considering leaving my son in the undoubtedly capable hands of a local day care for 40+ hours a week.

So here we are, I recently turned down what was previously my dream job. My husband makes a whopping $14 an hour. We are trying to figure out how to bring our grocery bill down without compromising the quality of food we eat. The dream of our grecian island life hasn’t left us, but logistics remain an issue. One thing I have to confess is that we are blessed with some capital. I inherited money from my step mother, had some money invested that was gifted to me by my grandparents, and my family continues to help out. They have been extremely supportive of our probably irresponsible decision to cast ourselves into financial uncertainty to allow me to be home with our son. For these reasons, though we struggle, our standard of living is way above what would otherwise be possible, and really we are quite comfortable. I am afraid that we wouldn’t have had the courage to make the changes we did without this considerable safety net. The problem remains, we obviously don’t want to live off more than we can bring in and are trying to save the money we have for our son’s college etc.