Sunday, December 13, 2009

"Here is the mother of humanity..."

It's been a while. Life is moving quickly now, with all the pieces falling beautifully into place for us.

I went back to work for a couple of weeks...hence my absence. I was doing a subbing position for a teacher whose lovely wife just had their first child. I am relieved to be done, and relieved for the boon of income that will arrive just in time for the move.

We've all been sick around here--a funny illness that takes your voice first, before any other symptoms arrive, but the last couple of days, I've been coughing and tired. The New Guy is coughing too--I lay awake in the night listening to him breathe. I am sleeping less than I ought, but one of these days he'll be too big or too far away for me to listen attentively to his little snorts and snuffles or worry over a few coughs in the night.

Today was our last day at church before the move--we'll be in Utah for a wedding next weekend, and on our way to our new life the weekend after. It seems crazy to know that after all these months of the unknown, its all really here. So much left to do...

At any rate, I am so grateful to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. One of the most comforting things for me, in uprooting my family from the only home they have known and the extended family around them, is that in our new place, the Gospel will still be true, we'll still have the same support system, and that even the lessons here will be the same as they are there. I know this organization is divine, and I will feel a piece of home--my Father's home--in any place I find the Gospel.

It was an exhausting day for me. In spite of the fact that my voice is on sabbatical, the Mister and I had to give the talks in sacrament meeting today, and being that it was our last week in our wonderful ward, it made it that much more difficult. I spoke about the value of women, about our sacred and divine roles in Heavenly Father's plan for His children.

As a youth, and through my college years, I was never really enamored of this idea of becoming a mother. I knew how valuable a role it was, and in theory I understood and appreciated it, but the practical application of motherhood in my own life seemed, frankly, too big and scary of an idea. I had never seen myself as being particularly good with children, and excepting my own nephews and nieces, I didn’t really enjoy being around them all that much. By some standards, the Mister and I waited a long time to start a family after we married, and he was certainly ready to do so when we married. But he was very patient, bringing up the question from time to time, and letting me know that whenever I felt like it was time, he was happy with that.

Ultimately, one of the reasons I have loved this ward so very much is because it was the influence of the wonderful women in this ward who gave me the courage to become a mother. The world is a big and scary place, and I was afraid of not being able to do right by the precious spirits God would place in my stewardship. Thankfully, I saw the children in this ward who are so blessed to have such wonderful, righteous women bringing them up in the safety and security of the Gospel. Without the influence of the amazing women in the ward we have been the last few years, I don't know that I would even yet have the two most remarkable gifts of my sweet children. I thought I understood the doctrine of motherhood, but it is far more than I could have imagined, and being in precisely this place, with these women, helped me to see that. Another piece of the puzzle--another testament of the Lord's hand in my life. I always thought we ended up here out of circumstance, but I see His plan in all of it now.

I found this lovely quote from Sheri Dew, a former General Relief Society President, and I just love it.
"When we understand the magnitude of motherhood, it becomes clear why prophets have been so protective of woman’s most sacred role. While we tend to equate motherhood solely with maternity, in the Lord’s language, the word mother has layers of meaning. Of all the words they could have chosen to define her role and her essence, both God the Father and Adam called Eve “the mother of all living”—and they did so before she ever bore a child. Like Eve, our motherhood began before we were born. Just as worthy men were foreordained to hold the priesthood in mortality, righteous women were endowed pre-mortally with the privilege of motherhood. Motherhood is more than bearing children, though it is certainly that. It is the essence of who we are as women. It defines our very identity, our divine stature and nature, and the unique traits our Father gave us."

I know that the Lord knows me. I have always known that, but I know it again. I have always had Him answer my prayers, but know He answers me further. I have always felt His presence, seen Him perform miracles in my life, and now He continues to be there, to guide me, to give me far beyond any possible right I might have. And even now, as I look back on my life, more miracles emerge, more beauty, more influence, more love showered upon me by the Savior of my soul, and the Father in Heaven who know me.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"..wherever there is beauty, he will find a home."

I left my home today, for the last time, as my home.

I've been looking forward to it. I've been ready for it.

In truth, its not like we've even been living there for the last few weeks.

But tomorrow our new tenants move in, and then it will be their home.

We cleaned, we scrubbed, we carted off the last of our belongings, we made way for someone else's belongings, made a place for them to have their own memories.

I didn't think I'd care. But as I walked through that little home, turning off lights, I was reminded...

I ran my hands across the words, "Live in the Sunshine" on my daughter's bedroom wall.
I looked at the four square walls of our now empty bedroom, thinking of our family of four piled in the bed, nights laying awake and watching my husband snore, sleepless nights of sick babies.
I saw where I laid my children, this being the place I brought them home to.
I lived there alone a few months, the Mister and I separated while he waited for our house in Virginia to sell.  I thought of the long nights on the phone, his surprise visit--just like dating again...

I walked through each room, running my hands along the walls, thinking of how this home had seen us through nearly every stage of our family thus far.

A friend of mine, when I mentioned this difficulty, shared a thought her mother had shared with her: "Change, of any sort, requires courage."

So I girded up my loins and breathed deeply of the history of this home.

I loved it suddenly then, more than ever, and I think I shall love it always.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've imagined."

This is perhaps the best Thoreau-ism of all time. It speaks to me louder than any other tidbit the man wrote in Walden (and believe me, there are gazillions). In fact, I have, since visiting Walden Pond at age 19, kept a framed version of those words in my home.

And yet...
               and yet...

My husband and I, we hadn't been living the life we imagined.

The Mister and I are sometimes referred to as optimists, hippies, free-spirits, etc. All of these words in some way or another really just mean that we are dreamers, at least to a degree. We imagine a better life for our family, a better world in general, an unconventional style of living for ourselves. For one reason or another though, we have always had a tendency to simply go with the flow. This hasn't always been a bad thing--we have been presented with many wonderful opportunities and have lived a happy and comfortable life. We have a joyful marriage, delightful children, and a peaceful home. However, in spite of all this, we weren't living the life we imagined. And we were sort of circling around our dreams, not walking confidently toward them. An opportunity would arise, and providing it made sense, we'd take it.

Turns out, we're kind of chicken.

For several years now, I have been teaching high school. And although it is a job I enjoy, and a job which I know I am very good at, my heart wasn't totally in it. After I had my daughter, this became even more apparent, and through my pregnancy with my son, I knew that what I really wanted was to simply be a mom to my children. At the end of the last school year, that opportunity became a reality. Originally, the choice had been made for me--like many of the choices we had fallen into over the years. My position was no longer available, and it seemed to make sense. However, as more positions opened in my district and I was being offered them, the idea of staying home became more and more difficult to wrestle with. I was no longer forced out of my position; I had to make a choice. Ultimately, we decided that we would somehow make ends meet, and followed the very strong spiritual promptings that I should leave teaching. It was one of the first real "leaps" we had taken in our marriage--a first, confident step in the direction of our dreams, and the catalyst for the pathway that opened up for us.

Over this past summer, we received a major shock. My husband's own teaching position--a position which had literally fallen into his lap--was in serious jeopardy. He had been teaching woodshop at the high school level for the last few years. And while he enjoyed it greatly, he had originally taken the job in hopes that it would open up his schedule a bit more, allowing him to finish his own college degree. However, what we really ended up doing was enrolling him in a lot of classes to keep up with his teaching requirements, which hardly pertain to what he really wants to be when he "grows up." At any rate, at the end of summer, it became very apparent that the work he had put into maintaining his teaching certificate may have turned out to be in vain. We were, quite simply, put into a tailspin as our sense of security, our ability to provide for our children, and our general complacency went out the window.

We struggled through those few days. We wondered why, in His infinite wisdom, the Lord would have prompted us so strongly for me to leave my teaching position, if this was coming down the pipe. We wondered why He prompted us so strongly to push my husband through a series of summer courses for his teaching certificate that were intense--academically and financially--if there would be no job for him to use them. Finally, once the shock began to wear off, we got down to business and started addressing the situation. We turned to the Lord and quit asking "Why did this happen?" and started asking "Where do we go from here?"

We started looking for jobs (hard to come by for teachers at the end of summer) and exploring options. We asked ourselves the questions that really matter--what do we want most?--and came up with nearly identical answers--space for our kids, simplicity, nature, and for my husband to finally be done with school. We realized the things we wanted most, were things we didn't have.

The idea of my husband going back to school came up, and while it seemed crazy--to pick up our kids, sell everything we owned, and go back to the poor student lifestyle--it became apparent that this was precisely the opportunity we had been given. The Lord, in His infinite wisdom, had given us a chance to really make our choice--not to fall into something, but to make a choice. We realized that my husband could continue to pursue teaching--something he enjoyed, but wasn't his dream--, or he could go back to school and live the life we imagined. And we KNEW that whichever choice we made, things would start to fall into place, because both were equally worthy in they eyes of the Lord.

Once we chose to send my husband back to school, miracles began to happen. The night we decided, we both came up with the name of the same university--a place neither of us had ever given much thought to. That night, I found a job posting at the university that fit my skills perfectly--it would also provide free housing and income. Those summer classes he had taken for his teaching certificate? They put him over the edge to qualify for a full-tuition scholarship, thanks to his perfect grades. The impending move let us start letting go of the things we thought we needed--we were finally starting to kick the consumer habit. He was able to keep his teaching position through December, accepted to the University for January; I got the job (hooray for a place to live and income); some dear friends approached us about renting the home we own in Arizona.

The list of blessings goes on, but suffice it to say, once we started asking the Lord the right questions, the "why" became apparent. Here was an event, originally seen as disaster, that instead turned out to be a miraculous gift. He knew the desires of our heart--He knew of the life we had been imagining. And all He wanted to do was give us the confidence to head that direction.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What Thoreau Didn't Know Wednesday

It's WEDNESDAY! You get to read my droning on about my awesome kids.

It's happened. The New Guy has been taking his first steps, officially. Until this week, I have been considering any steps (only 1 or 2 at a time) mostly flukes, but this week, he's gotten as many as seven in a row, AND he is starting to catch his balance on his own when he loses it, instead of just falling on his bum. This kid will be fully walking on his own by Christmas, methinks. He is hysterical too--the number one reason he does end up falling is because he gets far more excited than his little body can contain. This kids just explodes with joy every minute.

Big Sis is lately very particular about the song I sing her at night. Usually, she has a whole laundry list of songs she begs for before bed, but recently, she asks only for "Lullaby" again and again. It's actually an old song I sang in a choir, with the lyrics pulled from a William Blake poem called "Augeries of Innocence" (Dr. Dransfield, be proud!). It's actually kind of nice to know that she loves the song as much as I do, though it has confounded her father a bit, now that she is only asking for the obscure "New Lullaby" when he tucks her in.

Man, I love these kids! Seriously, don't know what you missed.

Feel free to share the "inexplicable joy" your own children or family brings to you. I'd love to hear all about it. :)

And hey, if I get too caught up to post, have one fantastic Thanksgiving Day! 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Things do not change. We change."

Soooo....the problem with kids' toys these days is how incredibly useless so many of them are. I admit I fell prey to a lot of lame toys with my daughter, seeing as she was the first and I didn't really have much experience knowing how kids play, and at what ages. With my second, to be frank, he has many fewer toys--basically just hand-me-downs from his sister, and only the ones that were any good at that.

Now that I have a little more mommy-savvy under my belt, it is becoming increasingly easy to recognize DUMB toys when I see them. Most often, these are toys that a) eliminate (or at least greatly reduce) the need for imagination; b) eliminate (or at least greatly reduce) the need for physical activity; c)have lots of parts, but no purpose; or d) try to make a perfectly good, toy-free game into something new (usually by employing any or all of the aforementioned methods. 

Case in point (Disney...I really am a fan, please don't sue me...):
The Mickey Mouse-ke-TAG system, as seen here. It's a game--of tag (see note D). Only instead of using friends, or your imagination (see note A) to invent endless versions of the game, one lonely child is told by Goofy which toy piece (see note C) he ought to "tag."

I really don't get this...why can't I just yell, "TAG! You're it!" or "Definitely do NOT chase me!" before I take off running away from my toddler?

Here's another recent "invention" that has popped up recently: talking everything. Like this Dora Talking Kitchen. Why does a kitchen have to talk? Isn't the whole point of pretend play for kids to get lost in their imaginations? To be in a pretend world, which they alone construct? To problem solve and think, not be told what to do or have sounds made for them? My daughter, as lame as it is, has a "kitchen" that is made out of an old shoe rack with a stove drawn on top, and an old toy box turned on its end for the fridge. Many a delicious gourmet meal has been cooked for me in that kitchen. And while we are getting her a wooden play kitchen that is slightly more realistic than her shoe rack for Christmas, it will certainly not talk for her. In fact, it won't even hiss, beep, count, or ding.

Actually, as I wander through the aisles of my favorite stores of late, I have noticed a LOT of this. And I have been wondering, is it the world that is getting more obvious with the bombardment of useless consumer items, or am I the one who is changing? Is it just the fact that I am becoming more aware of my purchases, my home, my children, my world that is causing me to notice these things?

So parents...please avoid useless toys this Black Friday! Don't bring them home. Stop, think. CHANGE!

And, just for fun (and as a helpful hint too!) please, please tell me what useless toys you know of. It would be a great way to start the shopping season to avoid these things! (Or alternately, if you know of an amazing toy, post that too!)

Happy Shopping!

Monday, November 23, 2009

"If you give money, spend yourself with it..."

Oh. The holidays.

I should say that I LOVE the holidays. I love the purpose, the traditions, the spirit of it all. But like many Americans, I sometimes fall prey to the trappings of consumerism so neatly laid out for me.

As a kid, our holidays were the usual display of gross excesses.

So. much. STUFF.

As an adult, I am trying to eliminate that, to build my children's memories on activities and traditions, not stuff. Last year, my husband and I signed the handmade pledge. It was really amazing. Everything we gave to our children, friends or family was made by us, or bought from an artisan. I was completely and utterly surprised at how many beautiful, thoughtful and unique gifts we were able to give! It was the perfect system shock that we needed to help us remember what Christmas is REALLY about.

I figure as we get older, and our kids get older, the handmade pledge will be harder and harder to carry out. After all, I have a limited amount of talent at craftiness, and as much as I love, it isn't long before you start to cross over into the land of the creepy craft over there. So, our compromise was to incorporate the handmade pledge into every Christmas.

We've decided, that in order to keep the consumerism to a minimum (and our gift buying careful and thoughtful), we would limit gifts to the kids to three each, to represent the three gifts brought by the wisemen to the baby Jesus. AND that one of those three gifts would be handmade. I am currently working on blankets for the kids....I was hoping to have them finished by this Christmas...maybe by the time they graduate high school will be a little more reasonable.  At any rate, we WILL be doing handmade for at least one of our kids three gifts. And honestly, if you haven't tried the handmade pledge, go for it! It's awesome and inspiring!

More on Christmas (and toys!) in a few days...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What Thoreau Didn't Know Wednesday

Today is Wednesday! The day I get to brag shamelessly about the one thing Thoreau didn't share much wisdom about--our children! Feel free to share too!

Let's see...this week in the world of my crazy kids...
The New Guy is trying to walk! Two steps at a time, and then he becomes so excited that he can't stand up any longer. He is such a crack up. It is entirely impossible to explain how incredibly happy this child is. He has this way of smiling with his mouth open so enormously wide. I really think it is because he just can't smile as wide as he is happy, and to look at him just fills you with joy right down to your toes.

The kid is also completely crazy about his Daddy. Every afternoon, when the hubs gets home from work, this little man starts hopping up and down, giggling, and smiling that uncontrollable grin. I know it makes Daddy feel awfully good about himself.

Big Sis has been cracking me up with her pretend play. Here's a great example from an episode this week:
Sis, calling from the table: Mommy, you want da hamburger?
Me: thank you!
Sis: Yeah! You want um hamburger!
Me: Oh, okay. I'll take a hamburger.
Sounds of rustling and clunking in the kitchen.
Sis: You want some sauce wit dat?
Me: Oh, yes please.
Sis: Oh! You fork!
She comes running over with a plastic bag. Inside the bag is a fork, napkin, orange, and bottle of maple syrup.
Sis: Here you hamburger.
Me: Wow! Thank you! Looks delicious!
Sis: have nice day. You drive away now!
I pretend to drive away, while she slowly backs up out of the room, saying, "You have nice day!"

She cracks me up. And the whole "You want some sauce wit dat?" just makes me realize we eat too many chicken nuggets around here!

Have an awesome week and share your stories with me!

Monday, November 16, 2009

"The world is but a canvas to our imagination."

My daughter has a LOT of toys. A lot. A whole heaping mess of toys.

She doesn't play with them.

One thing I have noticed in the weeks away from home is how few of her toys she is actually all that interested in. At home, she would dig through her toy boxes aimlessly, trying to sort out the mess. Here, she mostly spends her time outside, or when she is indoors, in pretend play. One Little People set, a few stuffed animals, and some of her little brother's clothing serve to keep her quite busy most of the day. The one thing I know she misses is her kitchen stuff--play food and tea set and pots and pans. Sometimes she tells me she needs to go home and get it. I know there is a good chance it will get lost here, just like it always seemed to be lost in the tangled mess in our home, so I am leaving it tucked away until we finish clearing out all the stuff she doesn't miss. But aside from her pretend food, she doesn't care one bit about what has been left behind.
She plays all. day. long. She stays busy doing a million different things, and most of those things don't require games or toys at all.

It makes me wonder when I stopped giving her the chance to just explore. I wonder when the toys became overwhelming for her. I can clearly picture her, sitting in her toy room, looking perplexed. I used to think she was bored with the toys she had, thought maybe I ought to get her some more. It turns out, I think she was actually just perplexed about what to do with all that STUFF. Sounds familiar, no?

It makes me wonder when my own imagination died. If I wrack my brain, I can only think, at best, of two or three toys that I played with as a kid, and those two or three were toys I really loved. The rest of my childhood is full of pretend games, active games, forts, reading, drawing, creating. I wonder when I decided that I needed stuff to fill my time and attention, when flashing lights and whirling gizmos took the place of a good old book, an invisible tea party, or just making something with my hands.

And I wonder how on earth did this world actually manage to get me to start passing that on to my kids? I'm so grateful that every day is a new one.

Friday, November 13, 2009

"There are such words as joy and sorrow."

I have beautiful children. Really, I know all moms say that, but I can't help it. They're beautiful. They are the joy of my heart and the light to my day.

(I told you...beautiful!)

When my daughter, now 2 and almost a half, was born, I remember sitting for hours, just staring at each other. Day after day was filled with this most mundane, but delightful of activities. Many times while we sat and stared at each other, I would take picture after picture of her many expressions. I have picture and video of everything she did from the beginning--oodles of digital and real space brimming over with photo-documentaries of my first born.

Then along came the New Guy. I always promised myself that I wouldn't ever let my child suffer from "Second Child Syndrome"--that curious lack of photographs of the second child. Obviously, I would love them both equally and each moment would be as important to me with him as with my daughter. We did great at the hospital--got lots of photos of him, even more than we had of my daughter. And for the first couple of months, we did pretty well too. We sat and stared at each other (when big sister would let us). I worked on catching his first smiles. But things are busier when you have a toddler as well as a newborn...and then the clutter began to take over again.

I had a serious nesting phase before each of my children were born, and with my second, I eliminated a lot of clutter and STUFF before he came because I felt like we definitely needed to "make room" for the new addition. However, just a few months after he was born, the house started to fill again, and I, caught up in this new world of two children, was letting things slide. I found myself doing something that I now think of as unforgivable...something I only just realized I had been doing. I was skipping over memories because I was too ashamed of the STUFF.

As I look through the photos I have of my children, I realize that my son does indeed suffer from Second Child Syndrome. There are very few photos of him, at least in comparison to his older sister. I used to think that it had more to do with how busy I was, or the fact that I didn't notice the milestones as much with him, since she had already been through them.  As I look back, though, I realize that isn't the case. I also started to notice a sharp decline in the number of recent pictures of my daughter. I can look back and think of all the times--many times, too many times--that one of my children in the past few months has done something adorable, or picked up a funny habit, or hit a new milestone, and instead of grabbing the camera to record it, I have thought to myself, "Ugh...this house is too big a mess. I'll get a video of this once I get it cleaned up." It turns out, I just let a lot of precious memories slide. The piles of books stayed piled up, the too-much furniture stayed in the house, the baskets designed to organize just filled with more STUFF.

All these things I bought, I see now, out of pride. Magazines, television, they told me I needed things to be a better person--to look better to those around me. Unfortunately, all those things did was make me ashamed of my own home, of my gross excesses, of my inability to reign it in. Now I've sold and tossed and donated most of the stuff that was once in my home...and the only things I want back are the memories of my children that I let slip away in exchange for all the garbage around me.

Sorrow for lost joy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What Thoreau Didn't Know Wednesday

On Wednesdays, I like to take a little time to focus on something Thoreau didn't know, and babble on about the best thing in the world--my kids! Join in if you like! (about your own kids, of course...though I won't hold it against you if you say sweet things about mine, either!)

It turns out that my kids are FINALLY starting to like each other. (Ok, okay...the little man has been enamored of his sister pretty much since the beginning...but our eldest has not always been as impressed with her little brother. )
Here is a picture from when the new guy was just a few weeks's pretty representative of their relationship thus far:

But today, they were like best friends. They were playing and giggling at the bank, she was nicely trading him for toys (instead of screaming bloody murder at the sight of him with one of her "people"), and at bed time, oh, the sweet sight of them hugging and kissing. Of course, this final interaction did end up with him not wanting to let go, and her turning to us with a look of sheer panic and yelling "I need to run away!" before doing just that...but hey...progress is progress, and I ain't gonna knock it. One of these days, maybe the love will last long enough to get a picture of the two of them in the same frame. A picture that doesn't look like the one above.

The New Guy has also been a crack up the last couple of days. He's just coming out of a battle with getting in his first two teeth, and hasn't quite decided whether or not to cut down to three naps, so it is nice to have his personality back this week. The best thing about my son is that he thinks EVERYthing is hilarious. The child is deliriously happy. He is also exceptionally busy and has learned how to pass over the open baby gate rather stealthily. So this week has been full of a hysterical game of sneaking away from mommy. He laughs like a madman every time I come around the corner after he has snuck through the gate, and I can't help but laugh with him.

One of my favorite things about staying with my parents the last couple weeks, is listening to my dad and my two year old.  He's retired now, and so he is home all day. She never tires, and can be rather mentally exhausting. (The adjective most often used to describe the child is "busy", and that barely seems to cut it some days.) However, he is so funny with her, showing her pictures of animals on the computer, making her a sandwich, pushing her on the swings, helping put her pajamas on her animals. The best part is the conversations. She'll talk on and on about the dog, her brother, daddy at work, a playdate with her cousin, and while I am pretty good at interpretting, he has a hard time understanding her sometimes, but all the while, "Ah"s and "oh"s and "uh-huh"s her endless conversation. They are becoming best buddies, and I love it.

Hey. Have a terrific day! :)

Monday, November 9, 2009

"Before we can adorn our houses with beautiful objects..."

"...the walls must be stripped, and our lives must be stripped, and beautiful housekeeping and beautiful living laid for a foundation."

A fascinating thing has begun to occur since I have been out of my home. It is becoming beautiful again.

In the last several months, my husband and I have started to loathe our home. We talk about how small it is, how much we have outgrown it, the lack of storage space, the amount of STUFF in it; we have even (entirely in jest, I assure you) discussed burning it to the ground in various manners.  For a while, I really thought it was the house, that it really was too small. But as time has passed and I grew closer and closer to the pinnacle of frustration that set me off, I realized it is not so much the house, but all the stuff in it that I was hating. It is not unreasonable for a family of four to manage living in a two bedroom home. People do it all over the world. Indeed, in some places the amount of space we have would be down right luxurious. The fault lay not in our home, but in us.

I'm back to our home pretty much daily, sorting through things, packing, grabbing an item here and there. And when I enter lately, I am sometimes simultaneously pleased and saddened to note that we really do own a sweet and lovely little home. Without all the clutter and chaos, it suddenly takes on the look I fell in love with in the beginning. It is well laid out, feels larger than its size, and has a certain charm to it that is coming out of hiding. In fact, the hubby and I were sitting in the living room today, after spending a couple of hours boxing things and vaccuming (just for your is unwise to purchase a home with black carpet when you have two light-haired pugs who shed prolifically...), and we looked around, and I felt peaceful--really peaceful--in my home, now devoid of an incredible amount of STUFF, as well as much of the furniture. Who knew? Here I was, all this time thinking that I needed more space, more storage solutions, a professional organizer, when all I really needed was to take a deep breath and let go...and I don't even have to burn down my cute little house to do it. :)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What Thoreau Didn't Know

I like bragging on my kids. I mean, they are seriously cute, a tiny bit naughty (just enough to make me have to turn my back and laugh a lot), and incredibly goofy--so who wouldn't want to brag on them? For that reason, I've designated Wednesdays as a day to celebrate what Thoreau didn't know. H.D. never had kids (or a spouse of his own), so if you like (seriously, if anyone even reads this! :P ) take a second to add or link to your own moments of joy caused by your children--tell me about what Thoreau didn't know.

My 2 year old daughter is so excited about cowboys this week. She's been trying to ride the dogs and her stuffed animals and has been saying "Ride 'em cowgirl!" I think she must have forgotten overnight about the word "cowgirl" because she spent a considerable amount of time today telling me, "Mommy, I a sister cow!" It took me a long time to figure out where that was going, so I asked her if she was a cowgirl, to which she replied, "Ohhh...yeeeaaahhh. I a COWGIRL!"

HALLOWEEN! October 31st is pretty much our favorite day of the year.  My little princess was Little Red Riding Hood (in a homemade costume which I am oh-so-proud-of, that cost about $3.00), and my little monster was, well, a little monster (a hand-me-down courtesy of an older cousin)! Both of those costumes are a big deal to me, because I am the type that would love to run out and spend a fortune on a ridiculously large and expensive costume that would be worn once. But not this year!

Here's a couple photos for your viewing pleasure (not the most flattering of me, but hey, the kid is cute!)


 The last little thing I want to mention is a conversation my daughter and I had the today. We were stopping by our townhouse to pick up something (b/c we have been crashing with my parents a few days while we sort through everything), and it's been looking a lot better. When we walked in, she took a deep breath and said, "Oh mommy! You clean it? You clean my house?" I told her yes, that Mommy and Daddy had been cleaning things up. To this she replied, "Oh, I love it! I love you! Is so nice our house!" Granted, there is still a pile a massive pile of stuff on the couch and boxes laying around, but I was really struck by how happy she was about it. It really hit a nerve, as I have been working on a post for a while now about whether I had been hurting my kids by having a cluttered home. Here is this precious little two year old--an excellent mess maker and collector of fine, shiny things herself, expressing such tremendous joy at having a home free from STUFF. Thoreau might have thought that a family would tie him down, but mine is giving me the push I need to keep moving forward.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?"

I love--LOVE--this Thoreau-ism. 

One of the things that upsets me most about how things are right now for us--the overwhelming amount of clutter in our home, the lack of peace I feel because of the chaos around us--is that it isn't what I wanted. It has never been what I wanted. I have always wanted a clean home, a simple home, a sanctuary from the outside world. Instead, my home is a reminder of the fast-paced world drenched in consumerism. It is filled with stuff, most of which I don't even care about, much less need. I feel like the busy Concordians Thoreau observed--I have been possessed my some demon, and it has caused me to behave well according to the ways of the world.

It's interesting to me, really, that someone like me, who by many standards lives a pretty virtuous life, has bought in, so whole-heartedly, to a system of ideals that is very far from the religion which I love. Search the doctrine of Mormonism, or Christianity at large, and there is nothing instructing us to seek to obtain more or fill the emptiness we feel with items. Quite the contrary, we should be laying up treasures in heaven and seeking to place Christ at the center of our homes and hearts. Shamefully, there have been times when I have received bad news, or had a rough day, I have turned to "retail therapy" or internet window shopping, rather than turning to the Lord to seek counsel and peace. I have been following the advice of the world; I obeyed when the world told me I needed more, or needed something new, or needed something better than what someone else had.

I'm discouraged today. We went through our home this past weekend and really pulled out so. much. STUFF. We had another massive garage sale. We sorted things into piles of keep, sell, donate, trash. We hauled a truckload to a drop-off donation. And there is still so much left. There are mountains of STUFF in my home. I don't know how I got here...

I am ashamed that I wasted time in a job I didn't love, money on things I didn't need, and energy on thoughts that failed to give me comfort, all because I was possessed by this demon called "consumerism."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My Progenitors....

“What old people say you cannot do, you try and find that you can. Old deeds for old people, and new deeds for new.”


People, listen. I'm fighting heredity here. I'm fighting genetics. I am fighting the code that lives in the deepest part of my DNA. I'm not just fighting society; I'm fighting the evolution of my family line. And somewhere along the line, "survival of the fittest" obviously morphed into "survival with the most." 


I hope my parents, if they even read this, will forgive me this intrusion, but as we have been staying with them the last few days, something has struck me: I was not just born this way; I think I was bred this way. 


If it seems unbelievable, just click on the photo to see it in startling detail. 

And please keep in mind, this may be a photo of the garage...but it is a small piece of the puzzle...



I don't really have anything I think that I can add to they say, a picture speaks a thousand words--and in this case, maybe 127,000?


I have, of course, been too chicken still to post pictures of my own disasters. Thankfully, I have not, like my parents, spent 23 years living in the same house. Since I am such a chicken though, I will show you an "after" photo--a photo of what the babies' armoire looked like after I managed to part with so many of their belongings. 



Looks good, huh? Yeah, I'm feeling better and better about that one every day now. 


Time is a little short today, but I also wanted to share this article--an awesome, succinct piece about one writer's transformation from "unaware purchaser" to "conscious consumer". I love it!  I hope to find myself among her ranks at the other end of the spectrum one of these days. 



Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What Thoreau Didn't Know

Wednesdays around here are dedicated to what Thoreau didn't know. He knew how to live simply, to commune with nature, to live free from burden and the slavery of belongings. What he didn't know, was the joy of a family. Each Wednesday, I'll spend some time sharing a few of the moments with my own children and husband that have brought me "inexplicable joy". I hope any readers will add a few of their own week's joyful moments, either as comments here, or as links to posts on their own Twitter or blog.

My own inexplicable moments in this past week:

My 8.5 month old has started saying "Mamama"--he only says it when he is sad or needs something, but it still warms my heart that I am the one he is asking for.

My 2 year old daughter is very into magic wands--she calls them her "sparkles." Anything from straws to forks have been carried around lately, having been pronounced her "sparkle" of the moment. I love seeing her dance around, waving a fork over the dog prounouncing "Sparkle Power!" as she apparently attempts to turn the poor critter into something more extraordinary.

My daughter is also very into singing...about ANYthing. I love to listen to the songs she makes up, alone, or with her cousin of almost the same age. A scene from a recent jam session with the two of them, after a rousing round of "Old MacDonald":
R (her cousin): What sing next?
A: Hmmm....sing "A"!
R: Okay! (Strumming the prop ukulele they carry as their main instrument of choice) A-A-AAAA-AAA!

Again to the 8.5 month old: He is apparently going through some terrible sleep regression and absolutely hates napping lately--as I like to put it, he fights naps like a ninja. After what seems like hours of rocking him to the brink of sleep over and over again, he starts to reach a state of delirium. No matter how frustrated I am at my inability to get him to surrender to sleep, there is something that just makes me forget all about it when he reaches that point--it must have something to do with the smile behind the pacifier and sly side looks as he giggles about the rocking motion that is supposed to put him to sleep.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you'll share a little piece of your joy with me today!

Friday, October 23, 2009

"I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately..."

" front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

In July of 1845, Henry David Thoreau moved into his self-built one room cabin to begin his experiment in simplicity, Many thought that Thoreau was taking a tremendous step backward in doing so, leaving behind the comforts and conveniences of life at the time, but it was through the experiment that Thoreau was really able to live his Transcendental ideals. Thoreau is the father of American conservationism, a philospher, a naturalist--and all of these roles came to him largely because of the voice he found in his time at Walden.

Well, we too are now embarking on a little experiment of our own. It may seem like a big step backward, but we hope it will give us the perspective we need to find the right way to do things--we are sort of hitting the reset button on our lives. Today, we moved back in with my parents. Yep, a couple of twenty-somethings with two kids and we are back in with mom and dad for the next few weeks. There are some other reasons for this, but suffice it to say that we needed the distance from our own home to decide what stuff we need, and what stuff we need to let go of.

Today we packed up the things that we knew were absolute necessities to get us through the next weeks--beds, clothes, toiletries, etc, and we moved into my parents' guest room. We have been planning this for a couple of months, but when we walked into our home today with the real intent of only taking our most basic necessities, I was surprised at how much our perspective had already changed. It's remarkable what can happen when you get a new perspective; it really is like getting a fresh pair of eyes.  As we moved from room to room, gathering essentials, it was almost surreal to move among the many piles and boxes of stored up junk, knowing that we would be leaving them behind--and even more, it didn't bother me one bit.

Last night, after the babies were safely tucked away in bed at my parents' house, my husband and I went home to start separating out the junk. We decided it would be best to tackle one room at a time, moving from one side to the other and sorting things into three piles: toss, keep, and sell/donate. We managed to get the living room done--all 15x12 feet of it. And we hauled away 4 bags of garbage--four industrial sized bags of garbage. I don't even know how that happens. I don't even know where it all came from. But I know that I am OVER it. I know that every bag of trash thrown out, or every box of items to donate, lifts a weight off my shoulders I didn't even know was there. We still have a long way to go (and another huge yard sale coming up, if you need anything...), but we are slowly plodding along.

I took some pictures yesterday. My husband, who generally tends to shy away from influencing the blog in anyway said sharply as I was doing so, "You better not stick these on the internet." We'll see if I get brave enough. But either way, I will keep them and they will serve as a reminder to me to NEVER get back to this place again.

So, just as Thoreau required separation to live out his life in the order he craved, we are doing the same. I find his statement fits us in just the same way: We went back home because we wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if we could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when we came to die, discover that we had not lived.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What Thoreau Didn't Know

Thoreau was brilliant. He was progressive. He had foresight that few men have ever possessed. But there is one thing he got wrong. I've been reading a couple of biographies about Thoreau, and for all his brilliance and desire to live deliberately, he missed something--took it just a step too far. Thoreau perfected the art of bachelorhood; he never took a bride and never knew the joy of offspring. He valued his parents--returning after his experiment at Walden to their home and working for his father's pencil-making company--but never had one of his own. And here, I think, is where he missed the mark. For all his talk of breathing deeply the air of one's own life, he missed out on the one thing that makes me stop most days and really absorb the beauty of my life.

With that discovery, I have decided to devote Wednesdays to what Thoreau didn't know. Each Wednesday, I'll share the joy in the little moments of family life--the moments that speak to our hearts the "inexpressible delirium of joy".  Please join me by sharing a few moments from the past week--moments with spouses and children--that Thoreau just wouldn't understand. Share them here in a comment, or link to your own blog or twitter page!

What Thoreau Didn't Know--
Thoreau didn't know about the kind of laughter the love of your life can elicit, even after 6 years of marriage.

Thoreau didn't know that two year olds will eat fists full of powdered sugar when given the right opportunity.

He didn't know that an 8 month old will make a beeline for his sister's high chair every. single. time. she sits in it to eat. Or about the hilarity that ensues as you try to pry his fingers off of it, one by one, amidst great exclamations from both.

Thoreau didn't know that sleepless nights often lead to afternoon naps with sweet baby sighs in your ear.

He wouldn't understand why the best birthday in my memory consisted of a movie with my husband and homemade cake with my children.

He didn't know about the "delirium of joy" that comes from the thousand little accomplishments that happen every day: the little man taking a step on his own, my daughter actually sharing a toy on her own with her brother (finally!), climbing ladders and sliding down slides at the park, and always the sweet smiles that come to me for no other reason than the wondrous fact that I am their mother.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me."

I woke up this morning feeling much better than when I went to bed last night. Sleep is like that, you know. Some whirring mechanism of peace takes our pains and puts them into perspective, relating them to other events, stories and literature we have encountered. This morning, I woke and walked into my daughter's room, saw the pile of clothes to be discarded, and rather than anger or sadness, there was peace. (Again, the hardest part is the decision to let it go.) The dawn in me this morning came in the form of a story that popped into my mind as I looked upon the wreckage of yesterday's emotional crisis.

When I was seven or eight years old, I was traveling home from a friend's house on some ridiculous 90s contraption that consisted of a triangle seat, 3 tiny wheels, and a set of handlebars. As I rolled over a crack in the sidewalk, the tiny front wheel caught, and the seat launched me, face first, into the concrete. I barely made it home for the nausea, and for years, the splattered drops of blood that poured from my nose onto the sidewalk remained visible. (I remember looking for them each day on my walk home from the bus stop.) Many years later, I would look back and realize that I had most likely broken my nose rather badly, but at the time, I lacked the perspective to recognize the injury for what it was.

From that time until I was 16 years old, I was frequently ill with chronic sinus problems. Often, I would experience a separate sinus infection every 2-3 weeks. I probably spent half my teen years on prescription antibiotics. Finally, after 2 weeks out of school for a sinus infection that had spread to my tonsils and my throat (and after being told by an orthodontist that braces would do me no good if I didn't fix my breathing issues), I saw an ENT and made the decision to undergo a septoplasty--a surgery to repair my very deviated septum.

Modern septoplasties tend to go very well. Mine did not. As it turns out, my nose was substantially worse than my doctor had anticipated, and he ended up re-breaking my nose in two places. It was the only course of action he had to straighten things out and finally give me a chance to breathe. For weeks, I was swollen and bruised. I had one black eye, and a nose twice the size of normal. My face was a bloated, weepy mess of tenderized meat. What's more, when the swelling finally came down and the splints were removed, I had an entirely different centerpiece to my face, one that is certainly not aligned to any standards of traditional beauty. I often jokingly refer to my surgery as my "nose job" because I enjoy seeing the reactions of people as they wonder how awful my schnoz must have been before, for me to pay to have it look like it does now. Beyond the weeks of bruising and the more prominent proboscis, I also suffered years of increased sensitivity. Thanks to my clumsiness (demonstrated by the original incident causing the nasal mishap), I often experienced intense, shocking pain to my face from any number of small accidents that would never have bothered me previously.  However, in spite of this somewhat unsettling change, one remarkable difference was all that mattered: I could breathe. The infections stopped, I slept more soundly, and I spent more time being myself, unencumbered by the fatigue that had long accompanied me. Perhaps most importantly, I have learned to love my face, even if it isn't the one I had always expected to have. I can look in the mirror and see beauty outside of what the magazines tell me the boundary is.

This morning, I realized that I am journeying through a similar, though more emotional, exercise. Somewhere along the way, my sense of what I need has become "broken." I ran face first into the lies society has been serving me, and though there have been signs and symptoms showing me that I was not well, I never recognized them for what they were until I was too sick to even breathe.

Now, slowly, I am breaking things back down. A simple attempt to clear out my home has revealed that things are far worse than I could have anticipated. This, in many places along the road, may be more painful than I thought. And the result will not conform to what society deems worthy of its praises. My life will not be beautiful to outsiders who have no knowledge of the life before. In fact, even after this transformation, I imagine there will be accidents, steps backward and shocks of pain as I struggle to heal the severed ties to my previous ideals. But to me, there will be that one great accomplishment: I will be able to breathe. I will be able to look around my home and see peace and space and freedom from my belongings.

And it will be beautiful, even if I'm the only one who sees it that way.

Monday, October 19, 2009

"Simplify, simplify."

Well, I cried today. Those who know me know that this is a rare occasion indeed.

Today, I went through my children's outgrown clothing. This was especially difficult considering the fact that just a short time ago, I had gone through my babies' things and had pared it down to what I thought was a reasonable amount. Yet, the drawers still spilled over, things vanished in the mass, and I could not find some items for the chaos. So I pushed on and tried again--compelled to eliminate these tiny tumors of cloth and thread from my new world of simplicity. It took a long time, and it was HARD. Every little piece of clothing was so closely tied to a sweet image in my mind of one of my children at an age and a stage of development that I will never again witness that it felt as though I was throwing those perfect film reels of memory out as well. I wept over a little car-covered Hawaiian shirt, a polka dot Easter dress, a cow-print jacket, a pair of dinosaur socks, a single tiny blue shoe made from an old sweater, the list goes on....

I chanted my mantra of "Simplify, simplify." I reminded myself of the environment I was cultivating; I told myself they were just things, that the memories themselves weren't tied to them; I thought of how Thoreau could flippantly toss his beautiful rocks out the window. And you know what? None of it made me feel any better. And I'm mad at stupid H.D. tonight, too.

Thoreau threw his lovely chunks of limestone out the window, and then he got to walk by those three hunks of stone every day on his morning and evening walks--so at least four times a day, even if that was all he left the house for. He could watch them gathering moss; he could stack them into a little rock snowman; he could see the birds perch upon them. And even then, they were rocks and nothing more. When I expel these sweet garments, they will be gone from me forever. Tonight I am angry at Thoreau for his lack of sentimentality, and the implication that we should all be as equally unsentimental. He had nothing to be sentimental about. He never understood the simultaneous joy and grief a mother feels at watching her children grow and learn and improve, witnessing moments as static as quicksilver slipping through her fingers. He never put a baby to bed in a pair of pajamas one night, only to find that the legs can no longer fit by morning. He didn't see the speed at which my children, my precious children, are steadily marching toward independence.....

And yet, I did it. I kept so little that it almost makes me sick to think about it: the outfits I brought them home in, their blessing clothing, heirloom pieces made by my mother, their first Sunday clothes. That's it. That's the list. The strange thing is that now, even though it hurts, they feel more special. It feels like these little articles of clothing are finally getting the attention they deserve. They aren't crammed into a drawer with hundreds of other pieces of clothing. I know where they are, and because I have cleared away the things that are far less important, I am able to treat these items--items I will pass on to my children's children--with more tender care.

Thoreau wrote, "Our moments of inspiration are not lost though we have no particular poem to show for them; for those experiences have left an indelible impression, and we are ever and anon reminded of them." I have nothing to show for my memories. Nothing about which to say, "Look, my kid was darling in this sweater." I do, however, have that indelible impression. I carry with me the constant reminder of my children and the stages they have grown through. Every time I look into their faces, I see the film reel playback of smiles and tears and laughter and triumphs that is being added to every minute I experience them in my lives.

So it was that tonight I shed a few tears. I held the little rags to my face and inhaled the sweetness of each piece, a little poem unto itself. I carefully retraced those indelible marks on my memory, and I set them free.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

In my afternoon walk...

"In my afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to society."

If you've ever visited Arizona anywhere in the months of, oh, January through December, you may know that on a walk is one of the last places you might like to be in the afternoon. However, as the weather has started to drop to just 2 digits, I have made the effort to take my children out for an afternoon walk each day so that they may witness and experience the little patch of nature that is around us. It isn't much--just a few scattered trees among parking lot spaces and green areas between houses--but nature is nature and it's good for the soul.

We get our feet in the grass...

We lay on our backs...

...and look at the sky...

...and the occasional skeptic...

...and ride off into the sunset.

And H.D. is right. We walk out the door and leave our worries behind.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Simplify, simplify."

In Walden, Thoreau shares an episode he has with three rocks. He explains that he had collected three pieces of limestone and placed them decoratively on his desk, but later "was much terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily." At this discovery, rather than allow the rocks to begin to own him by requiring his time, energy and space, good ol' H.D. tossed them out the window.

I have heard tell of a television show on A&E called Hoarders. I have seen bits and pieces of the show, but cannot bring myself to watch an entire episode for one simple reason--it hits too close to home. Granted, I know that, primarily, people hoard due to mental illness, which, thankfully, I do not have. However, I think many Americans can recognize themselves in, or at least sympathize with, the compulsions shown on Hoarders. Their lives have slowly slipped away as piles and piles of STUFF have steadily been suffocating their freedom. They are oppressed by their possessions. The pursuit of STUFF has turned on them until they have become powerless to overcome the compulsion to hang onto things of nothing more than perceived value. Do we not all sometimes feel a bit burdened by the weight of our possessions and the cost it is to own them?

Do not suppose I am a hoarder. But do not suppose I am so very far off. After all, what is the difference between those who hoard, and those who live amongst an acceptable amount of clutter? It is often as simple as the passage of time and the struggles of life--loss of a loved one, or a job; a bout with depression; loneliness; retirement; empty nest syndrome; the list goes on. I think (wishful thinking, perhaps?) that there are many Americans out there like me, who live on the brink--who live just one disaster away from handing their complete happiness over to their possessions, from letting STUFF take over their lives. After all, as Americans, we have had the "value" of consumerism etched into our minds since birth. In America, consumerism and patriotism stroll down the lane of our ideals hand in hand.

In the spirit of H.D., this post will serve as the first of what I hope will be many that will chronicle the metaphorical hunks of limestone of which we are ridding ourselves. The gross excess you will find in these posts may horrify you. Or perhaps, they will hit a little close to home. I think perhaps you will be shocked by what you will see. But I also think for some, you may recognize a bit of yourself. "Simplify, simplify," is my new motto and will be used to signify my attempts to purge the STUFF that has been pushing in the boundaries of my freedom.

I have been conspicuously absent from the blog. I've been very busy. You see, in an effort to "simplify, simplify" we have been preparing for the yard sale of the century. Originally, the concept was that we would have plenty of time to purge the house, as well as the storage unit, to prepare for the sale. This proved entirely impossible, and we succeeded only in purging the storage unit. Please keep in mind that the storage unit contains only things that have NEVER been used in our small home. In this area were items that we either had no place for when we moved to Arizona, or are things which we have accumulated over the years here and never had an opportunity to even use. We spent a great deal of time sorting items, and eventually filled 3 truckloads and an entire 5 foot by 10 foot trailer completely full. Of our stuff. That hadn't been used in years, if at all. There was no one to blame for the orgy of consumerism laid out before us as we readied for our yard sale. No one but us to point a finger at when all the items lay out on display.

Below, you will find a couple pictures of the carnage, which was difficult to photograph accurately on account of its sheer volume (and yes, every item you see belonged to us, and had been sitting unused while we continued to fill our home with more useless things):

Amazingly, we managed to let many items go. Most remarkably, my husband set all his tools free--which had been trapped, useless, in a storage facility since our move. I managed to rid ourselves of a ridiculous amount of Christmas decorations, baby items, household items and a few sentimental things, which, when scrutinized under my new motto, I realized weren't sentimental at all. It was all just STUFF. The most difficult task, in spite of the hours and hours of heavy lifting and organizing and sitting in the sun, was actually just the mental disconnect from our belongings; the hardest part was deciding to let things go and not turn back.

And I must add, as we pulled away from the storage unit with an enormous load of junk, aside from the obvious horror at what we had amassed, there was the unmistakable feel of a tremendous burden being lifted from off our shoulders. It felt good to be liberated from all these things and to know that it was just the beginning. I wish to share that liberation with you, reader (if there be any), so a challenge: Find something and set yourself free from it. Look around you and see the "limestones" in your home that do nothing more than drain your resources and toss something out the window--give it to a neighbor, donate it, sell it, recycle it, or just put it in the garbage. There...doesn't that feel better? (Be sure to leave a comment sharing what you tossed!)

Friday, October 2, 2009

"Some of you, we all know, are poor."

"[You] find it hard to live, are sometimes as it were, gasping for breath. I have no doubt that some of you who read this book are unable to pay for all the dinners you have actually eaten, or for the coats and shoes which are fast wearing or are already worn out, and have come to this page to spend borrowed or stolen time, robbing your creditors of an hour."

Ouch, when he puts it like that. Yeah...we're working on this too. And interestingly, I think the knowledge that I would be staying home is helping us with that. Change the priorities, change the outcome. Relearn what you thought you already knew.

What I love about Thoreau is that he just says it how it is. Debt doesn't make us any wealthier. It just means we'll be working that much closer to the grave.

By the way, today's post is short to give you time to watch this. It is one of the catalysts for this blog. It is eye-opening, to say the least, and well-worth the 20 minutes. Pass it on if you can.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

"Shall we always study to obtain more of these things...

...and not sometimes to be content with less?"

Forgive me my ramblings, dear reader, in these next days. The song, though escaping the inner recesses of the soul, is still searching for the words and the tune that go together. There is, in every attempt to eradicate a problem, first the need to recognize it. There are many, nay, infinite, areas of my life which need a little recognition and sprucing up; I anticipate the next several days will be spent in laying my inadequacies wide open for the world so that I may better address them.

The hubs and I have recently made some major life adjustments. The largest of these being that I left my job to stay home with our two children. I'm a former (on my third official day of freedom!) high school English teacher. Though there is nothing in the world I would rather spend my days doing than see to the raising of my own babies, I am not an excellent homemaker. This fact (and it IS a fact to which anyone who has ever been in my home can attest) is just one of the things that gave me doubt when we began to discuss the possibility of leaving my job to stay at home with the children. The other, I admit, was money. It was worry over not being able to provide my family with new clothes, a nice car, fun trips, and the myriad other things that I was, for some reason, worried about keeping. It was the pursuit of STUFF. I have long studied how to obtain more, and even while embarking on many short-lived attempts at living more simply, have never quite mastered the art of learning to live with less. I don't think that Thoreau means we ought to starve ourselves, or take up residence on the street without shelter overhead--even in his experiment at Walden, these needs were always met. But I do think that it is about deciding between what is needed and what is wanted, between convenience and necessity, between being "respectable" and worry about being "respected."

So the point is this: I am learning to rewrite the self-talk that occurs in my head. In the last months, I have quit my job, canceled the cable, and now drive a 20 year old van. There are many things I have been learning to do, most especially since having children, that I now see have been driven by this buried desire for simplicity. There are many more things that I have long aimed to do, but have failed because I have been too concerned with being respected. The trick is to undo all the learning and all the studying I have done over my life--to quit trying to obtain more and be content with less. As H.D. put it, “When any real progress is made, we unlearn and learn anew what we thought we knew before.”

Hey, while you're here, check out this fun link about a high school that studies Thoreau, sent to me by one of my favorite people. How awesome would it be to sit through school amongst the trees?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

“We are double-edged blades"...

..."and every time we whet our virtue the return stroke straps our vice.”
I started this blog in an attempt to rid myself of the vice of consumerism. To get free from the stuff with which I have fooled myself into owning, I am trying to cultivate the virtues of thrift, preservation, and simplicity. This is going to be harder than I thought.

Well, here's how deeply steeped I am in consumerism:

First, let me say I am excited and delighted to start this journey. I am heartened by the idea of a blog to keep me motivated, and decided that in order to do this the way I would like, I should re-read Walden for the fourth time--to keep my head in this game.

Why then, when beginning a journey to kick this plague of consumerism, did I decide that the best way to start was to purchase a NEW copy of a book I already OWN? I admit it. I am a bibliophile in the surest sense of the word. I used to nearly cry tears of joy at the beginning of each semester in college, delighting over the pages and bindings, and even the smell of the books I got to purchase every few months. But it is positively ironic that I would think the best way to start simplifying is to purchase something I don't even NEED!

Today, I made a specific trip, and I found myself wandering the aisles of a well-known book seller. I found a rather simple edition of Walden and Civil Disobedience, but was unsatisfied by it. I walked to the counter and after stuttering for a moment--trying to figure out how to verbalize what it was I was shopping for-- heard myself say to the associate, "I'm looking for a prettier edition of this." As soon as the words came out, I knew they were true, and I was ashamed of them--I had seen myself, really seen myself, for an instant. And it wasn't very pretty.

Out of obligation, I stood and waited for her to direct me to the "prettier" copies of Walden. I perused the shelf; I flipped through the pages. I tried justifying the purchase to myself with reasons like, "Well, you don't want that marked up copy--you need a clean slate for a fresh perspective," and etc. But in the end, I recognized the urge for what it was, set the books down (even the prettiest pocket sized one...) and walked out of there empty-handed, chanting my new mantra--"Simplify, simplify."

The next stop was my parents home, where boxes and boxes and boxes of MY books lie in wait in their attic. (This is to say nothing of the shelves and shelves and shelves of books in my home. Did I mention I am a bibliophile...and that I have a problem with stuff?) After just 20 minutes of digging, and one minor injury involving my toe, a thumbtack and a surprisingly large amount of blood, I emerged victorious with a rather bedraggled, but much-loved edition of Walden.

So, Mr. Thoreau--in paying homage to your writing, I will not be purchasing any more of it (not that you'd see the profits anyway--or even care if you did).

Kierra--1; Consumerism--0
(Or, if you rather: Virtue--1; Vice--0)
The battle moves forth.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"Men have become tools of their tools."

Not so very long ago, I was attempting to do some cleaning and organizing but found myself awash in the endless piles of STUFF in our tiny house (and yes, you can expect to hear many complaints about all the stuff we have milling about). I nearly broke down as a pile of said stuff fell from the top shelf of our hall closet, landing square on the top of my head, and in a fit of rage at having let things get like this, I shouted to my husband, "I am sick of all this STUFF in our house! We don't own it! All this STUFF owns US!" and in that very moment, I realized that I had hit upon as true an idea as I had ever had. I was absolutely right. Our lives were being run, and being run rather poorly, by all the things we had at some point thought we "needed."

We live in a small home, by American standards. Between the four of us (six if you count the fur babies), we share 840 square feet with no yard to speak of. We have a hall closet, and...well, that's nearly it for storage space. In such small quarters, it becomes very apparent, very quickly, that we are the tools of our tools. We seem constantly to be running through cycles of de-cluttering and re-organizing, only to find ourselves a few months later at the very same place we were before. We literally have days where we can't get from point A to point B because of all the STUFF around here. And truthfully, if it were all to suddenly vanish, I could count on one hand the items I would really, truly miss. So what is it all doing here?

We used to say we needed a bigger house. But now my feeling is that a bigger house would essentially do the same thing a bigger purse does--fill up. Have you ever noticed that when your purse fills and you get another, bigger purse, you suddenly have more than enough "essentials" to fill up the larger purse as well? And yet, the larger purse is only more cumbersome--the extra weight pulls your shoulder, the added depth makes it harder to find the few essentials that slip to the bottom, the papers you thought would be handy are suddenly crumpled into wastebasket-approved balls, and so it goes until your chiropractor is telling you he will be charging extra for your adjustments if you don't just "get rid of that thing." A tool of your tool.

I'm trying...trying to get rid of the things we must have once thought we "needed". Trying to keep only things that are truly essential. Trying to only allow things in our home that add to the vision of peace and simplicity we are working to cultivate. Trying not to be such a tool.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Lives of Quiet Desperation

When I was 16 or 17, I first encountered the genius that is Henry David Thoreau in a high school junior level English course. While my friends lamented what they saw as the pointlessness and tedious nature of Walden, with exclamations like, "Who CARES about ants in a fight?!?" and "Man, this guy sure likes to be alone...", I was struck in a way I was yet unable to understand by the simplicity, beauty, and absolute common sense behind what I was reading. Though it would take years for my youthfulness to wear away the many layers, from somewhere within, this song, awakened by Thoreau's writings, began the little scritch-scritch-scratch on the windows of my soul.

Some years later, as a college student in the great C.R. Cluff's American Renaissance course, I found the man again, and this time, it took. As I read Walden Pond, I found myself filling the pages with exclamation marks, highlights, post its and notes to myself--it was impossible for me to find the important parts, because frankly, it was all important to me. This venture into simplicity, this journey into the self and a quest for freedom from "convenience" struck me to the core. Though there have been moments where Thoreau slips to the back burner, he always finds his way forward again. And each time I am struck at the truth in his words--the wisdom, the reason, the simplicity that is found there. I find religion in what he teaches--I see in his words the things that the Lord would have me do. I find practical advice, and I find what my heart has spent so much time searching for. I realized that like the mass of men spoken of by Thoreau, we have been leading a life of quiet desperation. This blog is my effort at more fully living his advice and escaping that desperation.

My husband and I have reached a crossroads. We are about to embark on what we hope will be a remarkable journey and are seeking freedom from some of the "conveniences" of life. I am seeking a simpler way. I am seeking peace with myself, my home, my children, my faith. We are not abandoning our lives to live in the woods, nor are we seeking refuge from society as a whole. But we are hoping to find ways to strike the balance between what is enough, and what consumerism tells us we need--we are seeking freedom from our stuff, we are on the road to owning our own lives. So with the Lord on my side, and a bit of practical advice and words of wisdom from the man at Walden Pond, we begin....