Tennesseetransitions


Slowing Down to the Speed of Life

Transitioning to a way of life that is easier on the planet, easier on my digestive system, and easier on my pocketbook gives me reasons enough to make the effort but it’s also become increasingly clear to me that it’s also become a way of life that is simpler, and even slower, in many respects. Part of that may very well be due to the fact that as my body grows older it’s physically slowing down on its’ own, but I honestly feel that I owe most of the magic of slower living to the deliberate choices I make daily, rather than to an aging body. I’m still perfectly capable of getting worked up into a full blown frenzied melt down…it’s just that now I recognize what’s truly important to me and that cramming more activity into my days doesn’t tend to make me any happier. 

I wrote here recently about my new hive of bees I’m honored to be caretaking. I am here to testify that nothing, absolutely NOTHING in this world makes me move more slowly or purposefully, nor be more aware and more mindful than when I work in my bees. 15 minutes with them  is worth an hour on the meditation cushion! And I may have cancer but my blood pressure is perfect these days. I owe it to taking time for things like this; to slowing down enough to finally ‘see’ what I’ve been looking for.

I had a raised bed in my garden that was contaminated with  nematodes: years ago I would’ve applied an overnight chemical solution that would’ve not only immediately killed the nematodes, but would’ve destroyed every other living organism in the bed too. I tried to re-mediate the problem last summer by growing a special marigold in it that supposedly is toxic to the microscopic buggars there. A slower, but much healthier, solution. But over the winter my daughter’s cat decided to use that same bed as a litter box so I knew I’d have to leave it fallow again this summer in order to overcome the health risks associated with that. Enter the bees…

bees 2When life gives you cat shit, plant buckwheat!

Not only is buckwheat a primo crop for honey-making, it’s also a good green manure crop that will not only offer the bees plenty of nectar during the dry summer season, but will also add lots of organic matter to my soil in this troubled bed once I turn it under. I could watch these little pollinators ‘work’ this grain all day, buzzing slowly, yet methodically, through the pretty stand of white flowers. Symbiotic relationship is a biological term used to describe the relationship between two species that depend on each other for survival. I love the symbiotic relationships going on here between myself and my bees. Spending time with, and as a part of, nature can certainly help our transition to a lower-energy, slower-paced, world.

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The bees have already increased my strawberry, blueberry, blackberry and elderberry crops four-fold over previous years, and now they are making honey for my bread and pollen for my allergies. Watching their gentle buzzing lowers my blood pressure and encourages me to grow beautiful flowers for them, all to be enjoyed from the kitchen window while doing the dishes. Un-bee-lievable!

But it ain’t just the bees that have helped me slow my life down. Redefining prosperity for myself has boiled down to this: buying less, using less, wanting less and wasting less has resulted in a simpler, slower life too. A simple life isn’t about seeing how little we can get by with-that’s poverty-but how efficiently we can put first things first…When you’re clear about your purpose and your priorities, you can painlessly discard whatever does not support these, whether it’s clutter in your cabinets or commitments on  your calendar. People sometimes tell me that de-cluttering is really hard for them. Yeah, it can be, for sure. But it’s true that when you set your values and priorities, that process becomes much easier. And the side effects are nothing short of miraculous. 

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 Fishing at sunset off the shore of Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans just last Monday…slowing down to the speed of life… 



Radical Home Economics

Back in about 1967, (you know, when dinosaurs walked the Earth) all 7th grade school girls were required to take “Home Economics”, while boys had to take “Wood Shop”. I still have the sturdy footstool by brother made for our mother but I happily no longer have the ugly red dress I had to make-with darts and a zipper! At the time I resisted the sewing and cooking skills taught to us by Mrs. Fuller, but the concepts stuck with me, and for most of my adult life I’ve been able to sew a complete wardrobe- from a Barbie dress to a wedding dress- or cook a 10-course meal from appetizers to dessert. Too bad  most folks don’t still consider those valuable skills, but with yard goods now costing more than many fully-made, store bought garments, and convenience foods costing less than many food basics, I can understand the reasoning-if pure frugality is the only criteria. Having raised four daughters, sewing and cooking skills were invaluable to our family.

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Now that I am beginning to see the light at the end of my chemo tunnel, I am reminded anew that those skills and more are part of me now and frugality is not the only criteria. I just don’t know how to live my life any other way. Michael and I deliberately chose to live a life of voluntary simplicity when we took early retirement in 2002-I at 49 and he at 55, a decision we’ve never once regretted. Sure, we’ve had to make choices, but those choices were often very agreeable ones: did we want 150 channels of Cable TV or could we be satisfied with a roof top antennae and a converter box? The extra time not spent watching so much television opened the door to many other pleasant activities, like playing music and volunteering, gardening, writing this blog, joining a church and other organizations that hold similar values to ours. Over the years we also discovered that using our house as a center of production vs using it as a center of consumption fit right in with a simpler lifestyle, all while enabling us to live lives that feel very rich indeed! We’ve had to make some concessions recently due to lingering health problems and increased medical expenses, but  growing and preserving food, reusing and repurposing, all while making the house as energy efficient as possible still allows us to live comfortably in spite of the increased expenses. My grandmother used to call it “Pulling in your horns”. I prefer ‘radical home economics’ because the former makes it sound like a temporary situation, but radical homemaking is truly a way of life.

I recently read a blog post about how some middle class folks just like us are buying older, smaller homes in well-established neighborhoods and using every inch of available space in the home and yard to increase the home’s productivity: some are renting an extra room out, others are converting former garages into home office space or workshops. Others are tending small flocks of hens and beehives; but what about rabbits? When my daughters were  young and involved with 4-H projects we started with a buck and two does and within 6 months had 32 rabbits! A quiet, high protein source of meat that could easily be grown, harvested and prepared for the freezer was the idea-far easier than chickens, pigs or cows, for example. 

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Radical? not really. But I digress…

Many are converting front-yards to raised beds for growing fresh food and back-yards to clothes lines, compost bins and rainwater storage barrels.

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These conventional, affordable homes are being converted to radical  home economies and are substituting beautifully for the large homesteads that were so eagerly sought after in the ’70s and ’80s. AND these homes can often be paid for with the proceeds made from selling their former McMansion or McSpread. It’s heartwarming to me, especially during this cold spell we’re experiencing here in NE TN, to know we are not alone.

What are  you doing to make your home productive vs consumptive? This first month of this new year is a good time to think about ways you might do that in 2016, then share them with the rest of the readers in the comments section. ElmStreetLogo

 

 



Frugal Friday- November 14, 2014

As the earth makes it slow tilt away from the sun, my life has begun to slow down. I love it. Perhaps now that Michael is beginning to feel better, and now that the garden is put to bed, I’ll be able to post more often. Because I love that too. I have had conversations with family and friends lately that indicate many of us struggle with day to day expenses, not to mention the big things-like cancer treatments, or… (feel free to fill in this blank with your own money sucker: ____________)

Personal finances are not something that our ‘polite’ society is accustomed to talking publicly about, at least not in the South it seems. So, never fear, I will, even though my parents and grandparents would roll in their graves if they knew I discussed money issues in public. We all depend on money. Whether it’s a weekly paycheck or a monthly disability check, it’s a common denominator for everyone. So, it we can discuss religion and politics, social issues and sex, relationship or health problems, why don’t we feel we’re able to openly discuss finances?

Let me begin this week’s fabulous assortment of thrifty and frugal activities by saying that if I didn’t apply the values of patience, simplicity and frugality to my spending habits, I simply wouldn’t be able to enjoy the “life well spent” that I do. I’m not ashamed to admit that we have a small income, while feeling quite content with the good life we have. I don’t ever feel like I”m sacrificing anything for this lifestyle. The sacrifice for me would be having to go to a job every day. Instead of working to earn money, I work to save money.  Just sayin’.

For example:

Monday: We went to a showing of a documentary at the local university, called “Good Ol’ Freda”. Freda is the woman that served as the Beatles personal secretary for ten years. The cool part was that afterwards she held a Q and A session with the audience, there was a really nice reception with heavy hor d’oeuvres, and I got to have my picture made with my friend while standing right there in front of the Beatles. sort of. Priceless fun, and free!

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Tuesday: I’ve thought for years that I’d like to have a steam juicer but wasn’t willing to pay $70 or more for one. My reasoning was that the payback period might prove to be too long. I can buy a lot of juice for that kind of money! But the wait is over now; I found the perfect steamer right after I completed a major planting of strawberries, blackberries and blueberries in my backyard  Serendipitous? Perhaps. Price? $3.49 at a thrift store- it appears to have never been used and came complete with the users guide. Patience pays off!

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Wednesday: Speaking of those berry beds…I was quite lucky to score a bunch of 4×4 fence posts from Freecycle  that had only been in the ground a year. They too were like new. (I’m still wondering why someone would replace a one year old fence…) Anyway, I’d been wanting to put in more fruit this fall and had hoped to find an attractive looking border with which to surround it. A friend had gladly let me dig blueberry slips that sprouted from his established berry plants, and I’d been babying them in pots in my backyard nursery since last spring. Yet another friend happily let me rake the pine straw from her front yard to use as mulch on the new beds. Win-win-win. No money was involved, but I’ll be able to repay my benefactors for their generosity eventually with fresh berries, jams, and now- JUICE!

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Thursday: We celebrated my grandson’s 16th birthday. We enjoyed a homemade cake with our ice cream, but the store didn’t have the ONE candle to go with the SIX candle. No worries, and lots of laughs! Savings: $2 on that ONE since we already had a box of the little candles…

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Tuesday thru Friday: We enjoyed an out of town guest for a couple of days this week. I took him on a walking tour of downtown to show him all the progress that’s been made since he was last here, we attended a wonderful art show of social and political artworks at the University gallery, and got to see the visiting Buddhist Monks that are here this week working on a sand mandala. What a unique and cultural treat that was!

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We also enjoyed an early Thanksgiving dinner with our guest and my brother. The turkey breast I bought was on sale and I saved $7 on that one item alone, since I also bought it on Tuesday, the day Krogers gives a senior discount. The meal included home canned green beans, mashed potatoes made from our stored tubers, fresh roasted brussels sprouts, and canned peaches with homemade vanilla yogurt for dessert. We all ate leftovers for lunch the next day, and today Michael and I enjoyed the last of the turkey for our lunch tucked into big fat sammiches topped with slices of red onions and tomatoes, both fresh from the garden. Now I have a small bag of bony parts, broth and turkey bits in the freezer that will make a great meal of turkey and noodles in the near future.

The last night he was with us, I made a large pot of Minestrone Soup for supper. I tried to price it out, but there were too many ingredients to make that possible. Suffice it to say that those bowls of goodness probably only cost just a few cents each since, once again, I was able to use the good food that we grew and put by this summer to add to it. After supper we stopped by two nearby coffee house/listening rooms, where we enjoyed beers and chai teas while listening to free music. The last comment the friend made before leaving was this: “I’m so envious of this peaceful and fun life you have here. I wish I could quit my job.”

Now I’m not advocating for anyone to just up and ‘quit their job’ but I do advocate for finding alternatives to consumerism. Creative use of our resources, whether cooking from scratch or taking advantage of your city’s resources benefit your wallet, the planet, and your connection to what really matters in life.

Consume Less

Now, why not share your frugal Friday moments with me in the comments below? I LOVE hearing from you! Have a great weekend friends.



Redefining Prosperity (and a Spring Recipe)

There’s nothing I love more than spending time with my family and gardening. I’ll be going to Ohio in a couple of weeks to watch my granddaughter graduate from high school, so in the meantime, I’m getting my garden in. This is consuming my days, not leaving me with much time to write, which is why blog posts will be scarce as hen’s teeth for a while. There’s always much to do: weeds to pull, seeds to plant and water, beds to mulch and so on. For me, this time spent on my knees at my weedy altar will pay off all year in the form of lower food bills and many, many meals on my table. Growing food is like printing my own money. And if that’s not reason enough, last evening, right at dusk, I spotted a male and female American Goldfinch sitting on the top of nearby tomato cages and suddenly, all my tiredness and the worries of the world simply slipped away…

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This week we’re enjoying bushels of fresh spinach, along with lettuces, broccoli, kale and cilantro. I’ve finally mastered the secret to cilantro: I let it reseed itself so I don’t have to monitor and water and baby it like I did when I was planting it myself. Once you get it established you can treat it like a perennial.  Soon we’ll have  bok choy, new potatoes and sugar snap peas and strawberries to go with our daily salads, all the while continuing to eat the canned, dried and frozen foods from last year’s harvest. Tonight for supper we’ll enjoy a dish that we love when we have the needed ingredients growing in the garden-I’ve included the recipe below-(I added some leftover Italian turkey meatballs to simmer in the sauce-yum!) and corn on the cob I had in the freezer. That’s it below. The next picture shows how much food can be grown in a very small space-less than the footprint of a compact car in fact. That bed has 40 heads of garlic, 8 heads of cabbage, 10 bunches of cilantro, 6 heads of broccoli, and enough spinach to make me give it away by the bagful. Soon it will all be harvested and will then be filled with peppers and tomatoes and more.

 Potatoes with Spinach in Cilantro-Red Chili Sauce  IMG_0342

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
6 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
6 dried red Thai or cayenne chiles, stems removed, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 cup water
1 pound new potatoes, scrubbed and halved
1 large tomato, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
1 tablespoon firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt
8 ounces fresh spinach leaves, coarsely chopped

In a medium saucepan over medium-high, heat the oil. Add the cumin seeds and cook until they turn reddish brown and smell nutty, 5 to 10 seconds.

Immediately add the garlic and chiles. Saute until the garlic is lightly browned and the chiles blacken, about 1 minute.

Sprinkle in the turmeric, the carefully pour in the water. Stir to deglaze the pan, releasing any browned bits of garlic.

Add the potatoes, tomato, cilantro, brown sugar and salt. Stir once or twice, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover the pan and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are fall-apart tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

Add the spinach, a couple of handfuls at a time, stirring until wilted, 2 to 4 minutes per batch.

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This blog is all about finding new measures of prosperity in our lives. Many folks define prosperity by how much money they make, how big their house is, or how new their car is. I adopted new measures of prosperity when I went through my mid life crisis 15 years ago and began to simplify my life. Now,  my personal measure of prosperity is based on how much food I can grow, along with having no debt and owning a car I may never replace. Life is good, very, very good.



“So This Is Christmas”…

…”and what have  you done? Another year over, a new one just begun”… and so the song goes. The tune has been stuck in my head for days, and at one point almost drove me mad, until I stopped long enough to really listen to what the universe was trying to tell me, and realized I needed to write it down. After looking forward to Christmas for weeks, now it’s finally here. I relax, knowing  the anticipation of an event contributes to the happiness of the event itself.  Vacations and family visits and concerts are like that too. Last night I sat alone in my candle-lit living room, reliving how much fun it was to wait until my four young daughters had finally fallen asleep on Christmas Eve so Santa could then begin fulfilling their dreams. It was the anticipation of their Christmas morning delight that was so meaningful for me. I am taking some time today to reconsider what Christmas means to me now that they’re all grown up.  At first glance, this post may appear to have nothing to do with transitioning, but as I re-read my own words on the “ABOUT” page of this blog, I realize that the changes I am going through in regards to Christmas are very relative to seeing the world in a new light, and so I’d like to share these thoughts with you today:

I remember one year asking my Grandmother, who was in her 70’s at the time, what she wanted for Christmas and she said there was no longer any thing she desired. She told me that some day I’d feel that way too, but at 24 years old I couldn’t imagine ever feeling that way. At the time I saw the world as FULL of things that I wanted! But here I am now,  agreeing with her. Don’t get me wrong…the lure of advertising and bright, shiny new things call out to me just like everyone else but I very rarely feel moved enough to buy them. I’ve found my groove where money is concerned and my life has actually become simpler and richer because of my personal refusal to consume, just because I can

 I wanted curtains for my living room for close to a year and a half after moving here. I knew what color and style I wanted but couldn’t justify the cost. Then suddenly, the very curtains I desired were offered to me by a good friend back in September- she found them hanging at her windows when she moved into her new home, but didn’t need them. I love them and am so glad I waited until they came to me, rather than me moving heaven and earth to get them right now! I feel lots more satisfaction with them than if I’d gone out and bought them right away. Again, I think it was the anticipation of finding what I wanted, (with a zero price tag to boot!), that made the bare windows easy to live with for so long. In this culture in which instant gratification abounds, the fun of anticipation is often forgotten. 

Today finds me anticipating the arrival tomorrow of my family and grandchildren. It’s a wonderful feeling and extends the whole Christmas ‘event’ out another day. No post-Christmas let down here! Michael and I plan to go to a friend’s house this evening and share coffee and desert with them and several other close friends. The anticipation of that is wonderful in and of itself, and reminds me once again that we don’t need to pursue happiness since we have the ability to create happiness all around us. 

As the curtains draw closed on another Christmas day, I realize “so this is Christmas…” and I am happy. I hope you are too. Merry Christmas!

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Thanks Mom!
March 20, 2013, 9:49 PM
Filed under: Frugality, Mindful Consumerism, Voluntary Simplicity | Tags:

My 86-year-old mother died Monday, twelve years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Being a child of ‘The Great Depression’ defined her, and ultimately, me too. She was one of the few moms that worked a full-time job when I was growing up during the 50’s, but because of her sheer thriftiness and frugality she was able to keep making her house payments long after she and my dad divorced, finally paying my childhood home off. When President Carter closed Air Force bases around the country as a budgetary measure, she was forced to transfer to Florida in order to keep her civil service job, so she sold that very modest home, and used the proceeds and her savings to pay cash for a new condo right on the water. Over the next 25 years I believe she saved close to a quarter million dollars, all the while only averaging about $18,000 a year. I did the math just now for the first time ever. She must’ve saved close to 50% of her income every year!

Oh, but she led a good life, even on so little. She took ballroom dance lessons, tithed to her church, enjoyed wearing fashionable clothing, eating out, drinking wine and laying on the beach in her down time. She sent me and my four children a gift check for every single birthday and Christmas, took occasional weekend gambling cruises on Mississippi River boats, once or twice enjoyed a Caribbean cruise on a luxury liner, and came to visit us in Virginia and Ohio twice a year. In other words, she didn’t lead a deprived existence at all. She was a creative genius when it came to finding the funds to do the things she enjoyed, all while saving 50% of her paycheck. The dance lessons lasted for almost 15 years and began with a free trial lesson, followed by paid ones until she got good enough to compete. At that point she got to participate at greatly reduced prices and enjoyed good health and great joy while doing so. Her clothes (2 very full closets worth!) came from the base thrift stores and yard sales. (All that dancing allowed her to wear the petite sizes that were always available in such places) She drank Two Buck Chuck wine (or it’s local equivalent), went to gamble with a $10 limit and quit when she lost it or won, whichever came first, always bought used furniture and appliances and paid cash for her new cars, although I only remember her ever buying two new cars during that 25 year period that she worked. I believe the 10 day cruises were offered to her half off because she agreed to spend her evenings dancing with the other paying guests. And last but not least, while she was teaching Sunday School and supporting her church financially, she was teaching me to be frugal too. She also taught me there’s a huge difference between being frugal and being cheap. Frugal is delaying pleasure and instant gratification to make a big purchase or to pay off debts. Cheap is when your spending habits affect your quality of life, or when you never splurge a little even when you do have the money to spend. I believe the difference also lies in the mindset we have around money. If you feel deprived, neither cheap nor frugal feels good or right. Mom never complained about money or the choices she made, so I don’t believe she felt deprived. “Satisfied” would more appropriately describe her attitude.

So, what’s the point of this tribute to frugality? The Alzheimer’s diagnosis and subsequent assisted living and nursing home care took every dime she had, but I’m forever thankful she had saved and planned for that possibility. As a young bride and mother, I went through a period when I wanted nothing to do with Mom’s frugality. I saw it as deprivation. Of course my overconsumption and overspending finally led me to a personal ‘fiscal cliff’. I could jump off, or retreat. I chose the latter. And by applying the lessons I’d been taught, I began to see how it really was all about the choices I was making, not how much or how little money I had. As I began to experience the joys of living debt free, and the freedom it brought to my life, it became easier and easier to change my own relationship with money. Far from feeling deprived, you can color me satisfied too. Following Mom’s examples of living within beneath my means, and without debt, has enriched my life immeasurably. Thanks Mom!

One more thought before I close: I hope none of you will confuse frugality with poverty. The course I took when I reached my fiscal cliff, and eventually shared with others because of its profound affect on my life,  was called “Voluntary Simplicity”, never to be confused with INvoluntary Simplicity, which IS a forced deprivation of the basics of life. Our national economy, as well as those of countries from Greece to China, has reached its own fiscal cliff but no one seems to be paying attention. A continually growing economy is no longer healthy, but a cancer. Like Alzheimer’s, we’ve collectively forgotten how to live within our means, choosing instead to borrow from tomorrow to pay today’s debts.  Teach your children well, they’ll thank you some day.

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Gardening As If My Life Depended On It

I can’t believe February’s almost over and I haven’t written a post all month. I’ve been quite busy working on some small home projects, tackling a small mountain of sewing repairs, finishing up January’s library loans, and taking part in some time consuming committee work at my church. They’re all fine, indoor activities for what I’m hoping will be our  final Winter month, but I’ll be sooo happy when I can get outdoors again and begin planting and gardening.

My New Year’s resolution to slow down to the ‘speed of light life’ is starting to have an effect. I’m finding more time to be spontaneous, and more time to do those things that are most gratifying to me. I gain a lot of pleasure in being a domestic Goddess and don’t consider it ‘gender inequality’, but that’s just me. And even though retirement has certainly given me extra time in my daily life, that extra time had become so filled with activities, that I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by them all. Retirement also comes with a fixed income and I wanted to focus my life energy on trying to maximize that income, all the while increasing my happiness and well being quotas. Slowing down and eliminating some of the to-do’s allows that to happen. After a hiatus from gardening last summer due to our mid-season move to town , I truly missed the growing,  preserving and of course, the fresh food that we’ve come to depend on from our garden. We’ve witnessed rising food prices this winter; $4 a pound for butternut squash, for example, along with questionable food products (horsemeat burgers anyone?), Listeria and Salmonella scares at our beloved Trader Joe’s stores, and according to the January 15th ‘U.S. Drought Monitor’, moderate to exceptional drought still covers 58.9% of the contiguous U.S. (And by the way, what the hell has happened to gas prices this week?)

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gas prices

So,what’s a body to do? My plan is to grow more food and then find ways to do it more sustainably. This is the year I hope to become more adept at having no- or-low-till beds, seed saving, cover cropping and succession planting, mulching and capturing rainwater to irrigate with during the dry spells, making compost with nothing more than leaves and urban-sourced manures, and tending vermiculture bins- all of which will reduce my dependence on ‘store bought’ inputs. Market prices for food and gasoline, the lingering drought, the state of Georgia making thirsty gulping noises again along with North Korea behaving very badly all serve to make life feel so out of control that I find growing food is the best medicine for my personal angst. It’s a 2-part strategy since it’s not just the food, but the actual being in the garden that offers me peace in troubled times. I’m gardening this year as if my life depended on it.

P.S. I thought some of you might be interested in attending this lecture:

The next event in the Leading Voices in Public Health Lecture Series will be held tomorrow,Thursday, February 21, 2013.
Dr. Robert S. Lawrence will be speaking on:
 
“Rethinking Water:  The High Meat American Diet is Draining Our Aquifers.”
 
Dr. Robert Lawrence is the Founding Director of the Center for a Livable Future and Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  A brief summary of his impressive career is included in the flyer.
 
The Lecture will be at 7:00pm EST in the 2nd floor ballroom of the Millennium Centre in Johnson City, TN.  It is free and open to the public.  CME credits will be provided for on-ground participants only. For those of you who will be outside of the Tri-Cities areas, or otherwise unable to attend, the Lecture will be livestreamed from http://elearning.etsu.edu/publichealthlive.htm



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