Archive for the ‘Simple living’ Category

Which is French for “the time of the month.” Everything sounds better in French, non? Even though the French say “la course,” (je pense), that’s still what I call it in my head.

But first. First I feel like I should have some sort of disclaimer here saying something along the lines of:

Menfolk! Avert your ears! Turn your eyes! Listen not, lest you be defiled, ashamed, shocked at the mention of LA COURSE!”

Then, of course, the feminist in me thinks that men should stay and listen, that we as women should take ownership of our bodies, and they should not be freaked out by things like “menstruation” and “women’s issues” and “periods.” But let’s face it, men, and even a lot of women, are freaked out. And if you indulge my medical anthropological nature for a minute, I think that’s oaky. Mensturation is “taboo” not just because it is associated with women, but because it refers to something that once inside of the body but is not outside of it. And if you think about it, we have a taboo on most everything that comes out of the body – blood, poop, pee, snot, vomit, sweat, etc. Except babies. We’re generally okay with the fact that babies come out of our bodies. Because of this taboo, these things generally aren’t up for public discussion. And these things are taboo for a reason – they are generally considered “unclean” and in reality can transmit diseases. It’s probably been good for our society that we have thought of those things as “icky” cause we wouldn’t have lasted too long as a species if we went around eating our own poop. So as long as you’re leaving this page because you think “periods- yuck, I’ve been culturally indoctrinated to avoid substances out of my body for my own self-preservation” that’s fine.  But if you’re thinking “periods – yuck, women are gross and stupid,” then not cool, man. Not cool.

Moving  on.

I made a slight adjustment in my birth control regimen which has meant that I suddenly have started getting periods again which has meant I needed to restock my supplies. After one or two rounds of using conventional pads, which I repeatedly told my husband “felt like sitting on a chemical laden wet trashbag” I decided to ditch the Always in light of something new.


Not the Diva Cup. Sorry ladies. Any of you who are left were probably just waiting for me to start writing about the wonderful amazing fantastic Diva Cup aren’t you? Sorry to disappoint. While it does sound fantastic (no waste! no chemicals! no frequent changing!) it won’t work with my specific internal structure. (And neither will tampons). It’s a bummer, I know. Plus, it seems that women who rely exclusively on pads are thought of having some weird hang ups about touching themselves or losing their virginity to a tampon. Not the case here, folks.

So what has been my solution?

Washable pads.

The verdict? So far so good. This particular brand is called Party in My Pants (eyeroll) and they’re actually pretty fantastic. They feel incredibly dry and are amazingly absorbent, despite being so thin. You can tell you are still wearing a pad, which makes me want to try out a few other brands. (I’ve heard good things about this Etsy seller). I decided against GladRags because it seemed a lot more work than the PIMPs. These don’t require any assembling or disassembling or special soaking (although I do rinse them out before tossing them in with the rest of the laundry).

I haven’t switched full time due to our lack of a washer/dryer and so I’ve been filling in gaps with Seventh Generation pads. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with them. The lack of chemicals is WAY easier on me than regular pads, and since I don’t go through too many in a month, they haven’t broke the bank.

Maybe one day I will switch to reusable pads full time in an effort to save the earth or something, but making these adjustments has greatly improved my experience ofle temps du mois.If you are up for it, I recommend one. If you are completely grossed out, I gotta point out that you probably don’t toss every pair of underwear that you’ve ever had a leak on, and it’s really about the same. But if that still isn’t your thing and you are looking to get rid of the wet trashbag filling, try the Seventh Generation pads.

So what do you use? Conventional pads and tampons? Diva cups? Sea Sponges? Just go camp out in a Red Tent for a few days?

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The internet and I

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about my internet consumption.  For the two years I lived in JVC, I had very sparse access to the internet at home, and my first year at work as well. The first several months of JVC I would only check my e-mail about once a week. My second year I could get it in the house if I stood in one corner of the kitchen, until our neighbors got smart and put a password on their wi-fi. And the crazy thing was, I didn’t mind it in the least. Granted, I would have big long boring stretches at work where I could mindlessly troll the internet, but I actually enjoyed unplugging when I got home. Sure we would plop in front of NBC for the next few hours, but we would also bake, cook, go for walks, talk, knit, draw, play  games. I liked it. Part of the change of course is that I’ve gone from 7 to 4 to 3 to 1 roomates, but when I didn’t have internet, I didn’t miss it. Same with TV – I only had a TV one year in college and I don’t ever remember being bored.

But last year we got internet and I re-started this blog. Which led me to other bloggers who link to others who write about all sorts of fabulous time sucks like twitter, pinterest, facebook forums, etc. At first I rationalized it by saying I was making up for lost time without internet for two years. But it’s really become something of a habit for me. Whenever I’m bored or have some downtime, I check facebook. When I need a break from work, I check twitter. Or Huffington Post. Or other mindless websitses and before you know it, it’s 30 minutes later.

I downloaded an application on my computers last week called Rescue Time which charts the productivity of your work:

To be fair to me, that’s both my home and work computer, so not all of it is time distracted from actual work. Plus I don’t do all my work at a computer (like grading papers or being in class which accounts for the huge dip in time on Wednesday), and those don’t get counted in my productivity. But still. That’s a lot of red. The thought that I spent 2+ hours yesterday on things like facebook and twitter makes me kinda sick.

I couldn’t fall asleep last night – my mind was going a hundred miles an hour and mainly over  a comment I saw somewhere on the internet. And I realized, this really isn’t good for me. Sure twitter is fascinating – I love being able to see what people from all over say in response to big news events like the State of the Union or death of Osama Bin Laden. Some people on twitter are hilarious (I recommend following Steve Martin if you are so inclined). But for the most part its just people saying comments that make me mad or linking me to other news and fauxnews articles I don’t really need to read. It’s actually a little embarrassing to admit how much time I waste online, but I trust that anyone who is reading this is probably also wasting some online time this very moment and thus can relate.

So, even though it’s a little sad, I’m gonna de-activate my twitter account and block facebook on my work computer. I’m going to keep blogging, and while I realize this will hurt my “following,” the truth is that’s not what’s important here. I know that I will still waste time; that’s inevitable. The tough part will be days where I can’t do much except sit on the couch in pain since I have been using the internet to distract myself. But it doesn’t make me happier.

I hope you still swing by.

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I’m not going to apologize for being successful. – Mitt Romney

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” – Matthew 19:21

We’ve been watching a lot of HGTV lately. By “we” I mean I when I get the remote first. We’re moving sometime after we graduate, and I am more than ready for a new place. Two years in JVC, two years of grad school have meant living on our minimum. Not that I regret it – I’ll be 25, debt-free, and with a Master’s degree because of these decisions. But I’m ready for a salary,  for an apartment larger than 512 square feet.  I want a place with a second bathroom and a dishwasher and a washer and dryer. I want a house with an open floor plan, granite countertops, an outdoor fireplace, and a landscaped backyard.

I want to live a life that’s comfortable. I want that for about five minutes, and then I want more. I want a Subaru so we can get around in the winter. I want to buy a house. I want to travel to Europe, to Africa. I want to buy Merino wool and go out to fancy restaurants. It’s not going to happen any time soon, but I still want it.

Now I know all about needs vs wants and living within your means. We have no plans on going into debt getting stuff we don’t need. But my husband is going to be a lawyer, I will have a Master’s degree, and so by virtue of being a) married, b) having relatively little school debt and c) having advanced degrees – I know that we aren’t going to be living this close to the poverty line for much longer. We’ll do well, and while I doubt we’ll ever be fabulously wealthy, barring any unforeseen circumstances – one day we will be well off.

But are we ever supposed to be? I compare those two quotes above and wonder. This country has taught us that we are supposed to do well, supposed to be successful, supposed to be more than comfortable. We can justify it all we want – we want a great job to provide for our kids and send them to college. We make lots of money, but we give some to charity. We make a lot, but we earned it.

But that’s not what the statement below says. sell your possessions. give the money to poor.

I feel as if we are trying to create a middle ground that does not exist. Wealthy by this country’s standards or not, most of us are living in the top 5% of the world (don’t believe me?). I don’t know how much more comfortable I can expect life to get.

So what do I do? Justify our (not yet existent) wealth by saying we will one day have a family? Try to live without anything we don’t need? Volunteer our time and talents? Be sure to say how we have worked for what we have, or talk about how fortunate and blessed we are? Sell all we have?

Please tell me; I honestly don’t know.

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Lately I’ve been making our own laundry soap. Crazy, right? John’s been a good sport about indulging me in this venture and so I think we’ll keep it up for the near future.

The recipe:

1 cup washing soda
1 cup Borax
1 grated bar of ivory soap or fels naphtha.

Mix. Enjoy. I run it through the food processor to get the soap the same powdery consistency as the rest.

The result?

I can’t tell a difference between it and our old soap. We were using scent free gentle stuff before so it wasn’t a huge jump as it might be going from the regular stuff. It gets stuff clean and gets smells out which is good enough in my book. Other people might rhapsodize about how much softer it makes their clothes, but I don’t notice any difference like that. It works and is cheap, so it’s good enough for me!

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Every morning I see a little more of my breath, feel my nose a little less as I walk to work. I can feel it coming in the air. There is a bit of excitement to it, skis and snowmen are not far behind.

It’s coming. The cold.

When I was a kid we got the American Girl magazine and one of my favorite articles was on 50 ways to stay warm in the winter. I don’t remember many of them (besides putting your PJs in the dryer before getting in bed!) but I’m sure I tried most. Unfortunately  I can’t find the article on-line anywhere, so I will simply have to recreate it for you. So here are my (and my readers!) top tips for staying warm this winter without jacking up the thermostat. (and fall and spring if you live in Montana).

1. Layer. I know, I know its one of those tips that you hear all the time. But until I moved to Montana I didn’t know all of the things that you could layer. I swear I’ve seen people wearing two scarves before.

When I was a kid, I used to wear two pairs of underwear to go play in the snow. I don’t know why I was worried about my butt getting cold – that only happened when I was ice skating.

2. Every man for himself when it comes to the hot shower. First one up gets all the hot water. No exceptions, no mercy. Oh wait, y’all have hot water heaters that last more than one shower? Why are you even reading this?

3. Laugh when it starts snowing inside your house. Because it’ll melt quickly.

4. If you live in an apartment that has one tiny heater situated somewhere next to the door and very far away from the living space and you pay gas and your landlord pays electric (as one certain husband of mine used to), buy an electric space heater. Extra points if it looks like the Eye of Sauron. If you start having dreams about an evil eye lighting your house on fire, don’t blame me.

Also don’t do this if you pay your own electricity bill.

5. Cuddle. Mainly for the body heat. Don’t get too sappy about it. Pets work well too.

6. Eat soup. Drink soup? Just don’t slurp soup, that’s supposedly rude. I don’t think Emily Post has ruled decisively on that one though.

There’s something about a hot bowl of soup. Anyone who has lived with me can attest that I can barely cook anything in which “broth” is not one of the top ingredients. It’s the magic meal – take a few meager potatoes and onions, some pearl barley or quinoa and rice and you have yourself a meal. We invented a delicious squash & sausage soup recipe the other night. Perhaps I should share that one day.

7. Drink tea. Or cocoa. Cocoa is easier to sneak a shot of schnapps into, if you are so inclined. Either way, the respectable version or the adult version, it will keep you warm from the inside out.

8. Knit as much as you possibly can. If you knit for yourself, you will have things to keep you warm. If you knit for someone else, they will feel obligated to do things like buy you a cup of hot tea or pick up your next heating bill. The second one probably won’t happen though.

9. Make yourself a bean bag. I’m sure you can google it and find a blog that is actually “helpful” to show you how to do it. My advice is to sew a bag, fill it with beans, microwave, and repeat. Plus every time you do, your house will smell like food and when your significant other asks if you’ve been cooking, you can proudly respond, “No. Make your own dinner.”

10. When all else fails, get out. Find some warmth, be it in another state or at a friend’s house where you go and shiver and sigh awkwardly until they feel obligated to turn up their heat. Works every time.

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Have you seen those books where families pull out everything they own in front of their house and take a picture?

I thought I would do that with my clothes. For one, it’s time to switch from summer to winter, and for another our church is having a rummage sale next weekend. And although it does not allow clothes, I thought I’d get in another one of my “must purge everything moods.”

While I know there are people in the world who own two t-shirts, I always thought I was a pretty good minimalist with clothes. If anything, I thought I had too few clothes. Really, until I moved to Montana where changing out of your Carharts for jeans is about as dress as it gets, I felt like I was perpetually short on the proper clothes for an occasion.

So today, I thought I’d do a closet inventory (excluding socks, underwear, biking clothes, hats, scarves and mittens). I was pretty shocked with what I came up with.

Holy cow!! It’s a lot of clothes. The grand total was:

Clothes: 110

Sweaters: 9
nice t-shirts: 14
long sleeve: 3
sweatshirts: 4
sweat pants: 3
pajama pants: 3
camisoles: 7
blouses: 8
cardigans: 7
pants: 4
jeans: 3
regular t-shirts: 14
jackets: 3
skirts: 7
shorts: 7
vest: 1
shrug: 1
winter coats: 2

Getting rid of: 21

2 dresses
3 shorts/capris
4 nice t-shirts
2 tanktops
3 sweaters
1 pajama pants
1 sweatshirt
3 regular t-shirts
2 skirts

Even though this makes me feel like I should own no more than five shirts and two pairs of pants, at the same time I’m thinking “I still own no long sleeve nicer t-shirts, and could use another pair of pants, that don’t bother my bladder, and maybe some warmer winter skirts.”

I always feel like I have too many clothes until I’m trying to get dressed. One of my former JV housemates and I were talking about this the other day, how living simply and dressing appropriately are hard to combine. Our culture demands a lot of clothes for different occasions and to keep up with ever changing fashions. It’s a hard thing to combine.

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Right now, I should be doing.

I should read the last article I have before class even though I’m pretty sure I have already read it and could tell you the highlights of it based on the title.

I should do a few more dishes, or vacuum, or straighten up the living room.

I should blow dry my hair instead of letting it air dry, leaving it a mess of waves and kinks.

I should go take my medicine before I forget.

I should, I should, I should.  This was what I was worried about when I left JVC, that my life would go back to a time of always feeling inadequate, always thinking I can do more, always stressing when I don’t. Sometimes I’m amazed at all I fit in during my college years, and other times the “shoulds” still haunt me. Should I have done a senior thesis? Should I have joined a sorority?  Should I have written for the newspaper or joined the debate team?

I’ll easily admit that I am not the most time efficient person on the planet. I check Facebook, e-mail constantly. I browse through patterns on Ravelry instead of just working on the ones I have already decided to do. I watch TLC and read blogs more than I need to.

The research I am working on with my professor centers around cell phones and information-communication technologies, so I’ve spent a lot of the last few weeks reading up on how changes in technology have effected us. The consensus is, that despite conventional wisdom of how cell phones and social networking sites are turning us in to sub human anti social beings, they really serve to strengthen social ties and networks and aid communication.

But when you combine our tendency to think “I should….” with our ability to interact, communicate, read, text, call all the time, we never stop to think. Never stop to rest, to unwind, to simply be.

Waiting in line, I text. Slow points during class, I check my e-mail. While my husband puts on his shoes before we go out the door, I turn on the TV. It’s as if any moment, even two seconds, of silence, my brain will stop flowing and I’ll keel over and die, pulling the plug on my mental self.

I’m not saying technology is bad, or time in line can never be used more efficiently than shooting off an e-mail or sending a text. But I’m saying that I don’t want to lose the art of being. Of waiting. Of silence. Of letting my brain rest before the next thing on my to do list. It’s amazing how when I try, the “shoulds” come back. I should do this. I should do that. I shouldn’t just wait. Waiting is wasting.

I want to find a balance between using technology for what its good for, and stop using it to avoid silence, downtime, slowness. These things aren’t evil, they are rejuvenating. These moments allow us to practice our presence, to simply be.

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Cleaning out your closet. It’s a monthly, seasonally, annual, or maybe even only when you have to move, necessity. Sifting through old books, toys that haven’t been used in years, clothes that don’t fit, Halloween decorations that were once on sale and now just ugly. Our houses overflow with “stuff,” flowing out of drawers, seeping out of closets, peeking out of beds. And so every once and a while, we load up a few boxes and trash bags and drive it over to Goodwill.

And then we pat ourselves on the back. How generous. How kind of us. How thoughtful. Some poor unfortunate soul now has a new 20 year old London Fog jacket with a broken sipper. Lucky sap.

Let’s go buy something to celebrate.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t donate your used items. By all means, please do. Get rid of stuff you’ve practically forgotten about and give it someone who could actually put it to some good use. But let’s not fool ourselves into calling this charity. Charity comes from within, it is giving of who we are, of ourselves and our resources, of our time and our money and our abilities. It is giving of ourselves, not of our excess and our refuse.

C.S. Lewis puts it well:

I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditures exclude them. – Mere Christianity

Giving away what we have and don’t need, don’t use, don’t want is the minimum.

The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same. Luke 3:11

If you have two coats, one belongs to the poor. – Dorothy Day

Getting rid of what we don’t use isn’t donating to charity. Its giving our things back to those who they belonged to in the first place.

Having worked on the receiving end of donations for a couple years, I can promise you – half the time it’s nothing to pat yourself on the back about. Unwashed hunting clothes? Great. A dog sweater for a homeless shelter? Fantastic. A large bean bag toy with the pellets spilling out? Why wouldn’t we want that?

When we are giving our things back, let’s be intentional in thinking about where to send them. Maybe your child’s old dance recital costumes would do better in a preschool’s dress up box instead of Goodwill. That hideous (but warm) jacket that no one would buy from a thrift store might be appreciated at a homeless shelter. And that stuff that you are pretty sure no one wants? Try posting it for free on Freecycle or Craigslist. You’ll be amazed at the stuff people want that would have otherwise gone in the trash.

I’m writing this to remind myself of it. Our resources are limited and so charity comes second to getting by ourselves. And so I need to remember that doing things like cleaning out my closet is not charity. It’s the minimum. And sometimes doing the minimum is what we need to do to get by and get through. But I need to remember that God is asking us to give ourselves and of who we are. And not just of the junk in our closets.

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What would you take?

Have you ever wondered what you would take with you if you had to evacuate your home?

In 2008 (before we lived here) the mountain behind our house caught fire and burned incredibly close to what is now our home:

We live at the base of that hill, behind the trees. And while the current fire in Missoula is nowhere near us, knowing that one could come within feet of your place makes me realize that there’s always a chance we could be packing our bags and fleeing for safety. As are thousands and thousands of people on the east coast who have been evacuated in the past few days. My alma mater, William and Mary, enacted a mandatory evacuation before the first week of classes was even up.

The other day, John and I were talking about what we would take if we had to pack and run, and the answer I think surprised both of us.

“Nothing, really.”

“Well, I guess the wedding album. We should take that.”

“We could always buy another one too though; the photographer would probably still have the files.”

Logically, of course we would pack certain things: passports, computers, medicine, changes of underwear, cell phones, flashlights and bottles of water. But everything else we could pretty much do without.

And this isn’t because we’re huge minimalists. We’re not. I’m hugely sentimental and getting John is convinced anything might be useful one day. Getting him to throw away a piece of paper is like asking him to donate a kidney. But even for us, we can’t come up with one thing that we would be really truly devastated if we lost it.

The Non Consumer Advocate wrote a post on this the other day, how stuff is just stuff. And it is. Things are things, disposable and replaceable.

On the other hand, I know that a couple days after said imagined disaster,  I would start to miss the earrings John gave me our first Christmas together, the teddy bear that I grew up with, the letter my dad wrote me when I graduated college, the first scarf I ever knit. I could buy a new mixer (well theoretically. We don’t have renter’s insurance so it would probably be a few years before we replaced the big ticket items) but it’s hard to replace things that have meaning.

My grandparent’s house burnt down to the ground about 8 years ago. They lost everything. The toys we had played with as children, old photos, cherished family antiques, souvenirs from their world travels. Everything (except for their marriage license, miraculously) was lost. And it was hard. For the first few days you think “stuff is just stuff, I’m glad we have each other.” A few hours later though, you are wishing you had grabbed your eyeglasses before you ran out of the house and are devastated you don’t have the outfit you brought your children home from the hospital in.

We can be proactive about this. Not give objects meaning. Cherish our memories and keep them separate from the physical items which played a role in those memories. But to do so takes a stronger person than I.

When I moved across the country, everything I owned fit into two suitcases and two boxes. Now, my goods have expanded considerably. Almost all the storage space in our 512 sq ft apartment is being well utilized. And sometimes I look around and think “why do we have all this junk? What do we need it for?”

Besides the aforementioned essentials (laptop/medicine/passports/cell phones, which yeah, even those we could replace) we don’t need anything. But we want a lot. And not all that desire is greed or selfishness. I will always love those earrings John gave me, not because of how much they are worth or how good they look with a black dress, but because he bought them because he thought I would like them. Because I’m pretty sure he spent at least a week’s worth of JV salary on them, a huge sacrifice. Because he gave them to me in that tiny, wood paneled bedroom of his on a cold winter night in Spokane and said “Merry Christmas.”

No, I don’t need those earrings. I don’t need them to know John loves me or to even remember those first months we were dating. On one level, they are just stuff.

But the stuff we have, that I love. The stuff I would miss if one day it would disappear. That stuff I love because it reminds me that I am loved.

We need nothing but Love.

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It’s a hot one today.

Eighty degrees and climbing. I know I’m still resting in the shade of the Rocky Mountains, one of the coolest places in the country as this heat wave blasts through the nation as if someone had opened an oven door and let the heat pour out.

I love it.

Nothing feels better than holding a cool ice cube up to your forehead and letting it melt, dripping down your face an onto your lips, salty as the water mixes with your sweat. Pouring a cool cup of water over your head as you finish a bike ride, a race, or a day of gardening. Stepping into a shower and letting the water hit you in that one unbearable spot on your back between your shoulder blades, sending shockwaves of coolness right through your body.

I love it.

Summer time is freedom.

No extra layers to add on, worrying if you are bundled up enough, calculating how quickly you can get from point a to point b in the snow. There is no scraping windshields or shoveling sidewalks. Sandals, shorts, t-shirts and out the door.

Maybe not everyone would trade the shivering for the sweating, but I would in a heart beat. In the summer all you need to do is to be. To rest. To find a glass of sweet tea and some shade and to just sit and listen to the world.

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