Fertile ground

January 21, 2010

I am fortunate to live in a very southern climate.  While it can dip below freezing in the winter, we also have many days that reach the mid-seventies.  Today was one of those days.  

Because of our mild climate, we are, in this area, able to garden year around.  In the past, there was always something growing in the little patch behind my house whether it be tomatoes in the summer or lettuces in the winter.   Unfortunately last year with my mother ill, my garden went dormant and remained so for a year, which also means it went to weed.  I considered yanking the whole thing and starting over in nice boxes that might save me some time weeding and hoeing and tilling up natures annoyances.  But I changed my mind and after today I am glad I did. 

Why?  Simply put, when I pulled back the pine straw that covered most of the garden I found a veritable metropolis of life.    Once upon a time I would have cringed to see the earth moving or have bugs crawl over my hand as I rested it on the ground.   But today I sat in the watery sunshine of a fine January day and rejoiced that the soil I have tended and nurtured over the last five years is still fertile.  Fertile enough to support an abundance of life.  Fertile enough to support the plants I wanted to sow. 

The thing about organic gardening is coming to terms with nature.   It is all the craze to build boxes and get your gardens up out of the dirt.  But I don’t like that and until today I couldn’t put my finger on why (well, other than the cost!)  It may save some time but it also creates a barrier between the earth and your food.  Weeding is never fun but you have to give credit to those little plants with deep roots that struggle just for survival only to be ruthlessly yanked from their homes and left to die. 

Today I planted about 100 white and red onions.  I am looking forward to pulling the young ones out of the ground for shallots in the spring and the big bulbs in the late summer and fall.  For some time I avoided the garden because of the work involved in reclaiming it but the fruits of my labor will certainly be worth it!

Sustainability

December 29, 2009

“When we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world.”
– John Muir

I recently had lunch with a colleague who has left telecommunications and entered the world of bio-fuels.  Producing leaner, cleaner fuels to run our cars, trucks, trains and ships.  It’s renewable rather than depleatable like fossil fuels.  It leaves us much less dependant upon OPEC and the Middle East.  

Sounds great right?  I thought so too until we started discussing how much acreage is needed to produce bio fuels.   Bio fuels produced from palm oils would require thousands upon thousands of acres of rain forest to be cleared and planted with palm trees.   Rain forests aren’t just some neat place to vacation every now and then, they are vital to the earth’s ecology by recycling carbon gases into oxygen, helping recycle water from the earth back into the atmosphere to have it fall back down again, which makes them critical for weather patterns.  

Then there are biofuels produced from algae.   But they require a shallow area in the sea so they can get sunlight – an area about the size of Rhode Island.  Imagine how giant floats of algae would alter the ocean ecology. How many species would die from oxygen deprivation due to clusters of algae like the infamous red tide? 

And then my favorite, someone has figured out how to separate the oxygen and hydrogen components of sea water and make it burn.  Imagine, they say…using sea water.  How great, it is not depleatable! ….Or is it?  If we pump billions of gallons of water out a day  or a week or a month, how would that again alter weather patterns?  Would we one day reach the bottom of the well?

The one thing that struck me and struck me hard during that lunch the current American lifestyle is simply not sustainable.  For the sheer fact that, as John Muir states above, when we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to other things.

Change, Change, Change

December 8, 2009

I have had a lot of changes in my life recently. Changes that forced me over a year ago to abandon this blog and focus inwardly on my life, and culminated in the loss of my mother to breast cancer.  No one ever wants to lose their parents, especially when their parents are still so young.  But with my mother’s death, I was given an amazing new insight and clarity about life that I didn’t have before. In other words,  with my mother gone I am officially a grown-up.

Yes, I realize that since I AM 38, I should have realized I was grown up a long time ago.  But you really never feel that way until you can no longer pick up the phone to call your mom.  Despite whether you had a good or bad relationship, rocky or smooth, your mother is the true umbilical cord to your childhood. 

And so with this growing up, I am making more changes. Positive changes.  First and foremost, I am changing the name of this blog to “Simply Green”.   The former name is long and unwieldly.  Simply Green, however, aptly conveys my quest to live simply, live green and to save money (green being a double entendre for both the green movement and money).

Not all changes have been as hard as caring for and then losing my mother.  I have made a great many positive changes in my life over the past year and I am excited to tell you about them and I will start tomorrow.

Take care and keep watching.  Simple living is back.

Living to Work

May 14, 2009

This past weekend one of my husband’s co-workers passed away.  He was in his 50’s, in seemingly good health and fit.  It made me think of all the professionals I know that spend 10 or more hours a day, not including their commute, in the prime of their lives (their 30’s) and the youth of their children’s lives, at an office away from their families.  Many miss important milestones hoping that some day, all their hard work will pay off and some day they will have time to relax, travel and experience fun.  Some day typically means retirement.

I have to ask…… why?  At the end of the day, the golden years often aren’t very golden.   In fact, if we are lucky enough to make it to retirement, not having been stopped by the two biggest killers in the US  heart disease or cancer, we will likely not have the energy or the money to just do what we want.    Why wait until our kids have kids to enjoy spending time with a child? 

I say work less now, pare down expenses to live on less, take time out for our children now while they are young and developing, take time to travel now while you can enjoy the experience without fear of health issues and fixed incomes weighing on your minds. 

I hate to break the bad news but you can’t bank time and experiences to be saved up and used when you are ready for them.  You either live now….or you don’t.

After a very long absence due to family illnesses, I have returned. I hope to restart this blog and resume my place as a guide to creating a work-life balance now that my own life has settled down. I hope to see my readers back as well.

I do have something to report.  During my absence here my family radically altered our lives once again to find that elusive work-life balance.   My husband left his stressful, job with long hours as an engineer in the private sector and returned to his first place of employment – a state agency.    Three years ago, we were both lulled by the siren song of high pay opportunities and he left his job at the state agency for the private sector.   Three years later, he had seen the sun come up at his office more times than either of us care to think about, he worked six days a week and thought about work 24/7.   Our lives were unravelling. 

We looked around at friends who are also engineers and realized it would be years before he saw any relief, if he ever did.    We had to really focus on whether the money was worth him being an absentee father and husband in order to join the ranks of the upper middle class.    Our decision….the money wasn’t worth what we were having to give up. 

Today my husband is back at the state agency.  He will never earn six figures.  His job isn’t sexy or glamorous. But he goes to work at 7 am and comes home at 4 pm.   Without exception.  I have my husband back.  Our son has his father back.  And the state has a damn fine engineer. 

This means we will never be able to move into the tonier part of town…but we like our small home in our modest middle class neighborhood.  I will never have granite counter-tops or a pool in my back yard nor will I be able to quit my own job to devote my time to writing…but my question is…why should I be able to pursue my dreams at the expense of someone else, namely the man I love?   Everything requires sacrifice, who better for me to sacrifice my dreams for but the man I love and with whom I intend to spend my life?   And I still get to write, I just have to juggle it with my job. 

So there you are.. I put my money where my mouth is and you know what?  Life is sweet.

The third step in simplifying your life is to look at your obligations and prioritize them.   Once you have prioritized your list, eliminate anything that isn’t a required obligation.  For instance volunteering, book clubs, bunko groups, birthday parties, etc. etc.   You won’t have to eliminate these things forever, just long enough to regain control over your life. Once you have freed up time and money, you can bring back the things that are most important to you.

Below is a look at some of my obligations and the changes I made:

Most of us have to work in order to feed and cloth ourselves so obviously work goes to the top of the priority list.  But you will find that as you simplify your life, you need less money and you may be able to work less in the future.   However, there may be things you can do today to lessen the burden of a stressful job.  Can you work from home, eliminating a commute and possibly reclaiming two or more hours a day?   Can you work part time, freeing up more of the day to put toward the wants in your life?

Volunteering is important but it can be put off until you have achieved balance and simplicity in your life.   I have always volunteered.  In the past I was on a homeless feeding group, I was on the board of my son’s daycare center, I was on the board at church to establish a mobile homeless food canteen and I volunteered at my son’s elementary school.   In the end, I had to drop every single one of those until I had gotten my life where I felt I needed to be.   Today, I have a saner volunteer schedule.  I volunteer weekly in my son’s school on a program that early identifies and early intervenes in dyslexia and other learning disorders but don’t volunteer for things like parties.  I do try to make one class trip a year because it makes my son happy for me to be there.   I am slowly getting back into my homeless causes, something that is very important to me.  I will realign those and re-volunteer because now I have the time to devote to it without feeling overwhelmed and pushed.

Family and friends.  I used to be involved, along with  my crazy volunteering schedule, in many neighborhood activities like a book club and a bunko group as well as sitting on several committees for our neighborhood association.   Many women in my neighborhood enjoy this time out.  But I found it became mostly an opportunity to complain about their lives, their husbands and their children.  I wasn’t comfortable in that environment because my husband has always been my refuge so, after deciding I wasn’t getting anything out of it and spending money on hosting or providing entry fees, buying books and the obligatory holiday white elephant gift exchange, I dropped them all.   We try to spend more time on what really matters,  family members and close friends.   We have a standing Friday  night date with our son for dinner and a movie – we cook at home and watch a family movie from Netflix.   We reserve Sunday as a time for just us and our son because it is easier to do without interrupting his time with friends.   Most importantly, we remain flexible and if he has a Friday night sleepover with friends, my  husband and I lock the door, light candles and enjoy being together.

Incessant child parties, and adult parties for that matter…We completely eliminated these.  We don’t even go anymore.  With 22 kids in our son’s class, we could be having at least two parties a month (and sometimes we did).   This costs money for gifts that the kid probably doesn’t need and won’t play with more than once, money that you could be saving for something far more worthwhile.   It also takes time and lets face it, with a large, rambunctious party the kids aren’t really attending to developing meaningful relationships.   We usually RSVP with regrets that we have a conflict that cannot be avoided.   That conflict may be us staying home and riding bikes together, the host doesn’t have to know and I don’t feel I have to explain.  I haven’t seen where this as unduly affected our son’s friendships.  We make sure to organize meaningful time together with friends so he  can build relationships and spend meaningful time on friendships that are very important to him.

Grocery shopping.  Many of us live in areas that have grocery delivery.   If you do, take advantage.  Shop on the internet and let the groceries come to you.   If you can’t, plan well in advance what you need and minimize your stress level by going at an ‘off peak’ shopping time – I used to leave my husband and son home and shop at 9 pm because I knew the crowds would be at home getting ready for bed.

Kids activities.  These need to go right now.  Yes, extracurricular activities are important but in America we have over scheduled our kids to the point they need their own daily planners.   Our child actually did this for us when he broke his arm so spectacularly that he couldn’t participate in anything for three months, it was during this time we realized how crazy his life had gotten.   Once he was able to rejoin extracurricular activities we decided to limit it to one a semester.  Instead of robot club and chess club after school, music lesson and baseball – most of which he didn’t care about, we now focus on one activity.  If he really wants to join a second we probably wouldn’t stop him but we encourage him to rationally choose what he wants to join, keeping a balance between activities and school work as well as prioritizing free play.   He chose to drop everything except music lessons.  We have one music lesson weekly — for 1/2 hour plus his daily practice sessions.  The rest of the time he spends time with friends and free play activities like riding his bike or scooter around the neighborhood or playing legos or games indoors.   There is nothing quite like the shock on your drum instructors face when he shamefully asks if we can accommodate a schedule change and we happily say “Dave, we are at your disposal, you are our only obligation on Saturdays….”   There is also nothing quite like the beauty of waking up and knowing we don’t have anywhere to be on any given Saturday or Sunday with the exception of our one half hour commitment.  Again, we have freed up more money by not being involved in many organizations that each require a fee and support throughout the season.  Kids don’t need a host of activities to be happy and healthy or have strong sense of self and accomplishment.  That is an adult creation and a fairly modern one at that.  I believe kids need far more free time, down time and opportunities for free play than they need soccer three times a week.

I know, I am slightly late a day late posting the second step to simplifying your life.   Last week, you should have been focusing on identifying the things you want in life, from big to small, the things that you think will make you happy.  

This week, the focus is on obligations.  We all have them.  These are the things we either think or know we cannot avoid.  In order to get to the next step and set priorities, you first have to know what you want out of life and what you have to do to get those things but you also have to recognize when there are activities that cannot be avoided that you must account for in your quest to simplify.  In a later post we will talk about how to make those obligations as simple or as enjoyable as possible.

Here is a sample list of obligations that you feel you cannot avoid.

  • Work – most of us are not fortunate enough to have been born with enough money to simply float through life doing what we want.  Generally, in order to live or survive, we have to work.
  • volunteering – whether it is with your child(ren)s school or the community, many people feel that giving back to the community is a “must”.
  • family
  • friends
  • social or adult “playdates” – these are those little things like bunko with the girls or poker with the guys.  They build community, relationships and help you unwind or even required attendance for work like cocktail parties or those awful holiday parties
  • vacations – everyone needs time off – even if you just stay at home
  • our children’s obligations – sports, theater, dance, etc.

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