Monday, December 24, 2018

Merry Christmas!

I will be taking a (deliberate) break from posting for Christmas. I'll be back when the family goes back to school.

I wish everyone a peaceful, joyful season. Christmas should be more than one day -- I'd like to carry Christmas with me throughout the year, like Scrooge, but for right now I'm trying to keep the magic through Epiphany (January 6th). I'll be spending time with the family, reading books, walking the dogs, playing games. Napping. Watching movies -- we haven't even gotten around to watching A Christmas Carol (with George C. Scott) this year, and this Needs To Be Done.

I will take this opportunity to be grateful for my blessing, starting with my family. I little family, who made Christmas cookies by themselves and my husband who wrote the Christmas letter, addressed and sent the Christmas cards. And my big family who have held together this difficult year. And my friends, who held me together when I felt like snarling and snapping even though I knew my family didn't deserve it.

Is simple living carrying the spirit of Christmas throughout the year? It might be. But at least it will be for the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Out With The Old

I should have this down already.

I ended up decluttering my clothes a little, because I bought a couple of new dresses. My new dresses are so beautiful -- I cannot remember the last time I loved clothing this much! They're long enough to wear with boots (and I can wear socks, and not have cold feet!), and made by people who are paid a living wage, and absolutely beautiful in cut and color. (I got them from eShakti, if you're in need to a pretty dress. Or other clothes.

I bought these dresses -- new! -- because I usually feel like I don't have a dress to wear to church. I get frustrated because I feel like I am too limited by the options that I have. So I bought something I feel good about. (I know, this isn't really the insight of the ages, but it's really unusual for me to purchase something new. I usually stick to second-hand, because I can feel good about used as a responsible environmental choice.)

It's been two weeks, and I finally realized that I needed to get rid of the dresses I had before that I didn't want to wear. I had a boring tan business dress that I didn't like because it was so boring. I had a pretty green polka dot dress that will not zip with me in it.

While I was at it, I cleared out a shirt that I just don't like. My family likes it, and always complements me on it, but I don't feel good when I choose it out of the closet. And I don't feel good when I see it, and feel like I ought to wear it, but I don't want to. Who needs this pressure from clothes? Gone. I got rid of a sweater I don't ever choose to wear -- I have one I like better. (I should have gotten rid of this one when I got the new one, but I can't go back in time.)

I feel so proud of myself for being aware of the increase in stuff, and recognizing that I need to pare back. Make space for the new by getting rid of the old. It should be habit now, but "should" doesn't help, so it really has no  relevance in my actions. I do what I can when I realize I need to, and move forward from there.

But I am really happy with my cleared-out clothing storage, and my new dresses.

Monday, December 17, 2018

There is a Season

I was reading a friend's blog (Hi, Trish!), and she got me thinking about the season we are currently celebrating. According to the church calendar, we are currently in the season of Advent. Advent is the season of preparation prior to Christmas.

So why does this matter? Because I always felt a conflict between how I was supposed to feel at "Christmas" and how I actually felt. On more than one occasion I would end up in tears, torn between the stress of the "Christmas" season and the joy I wanted to feel. Christmas is supposed to be joyful, right? So why wasn't I feeling any joy, right up to Christmas Eve or Christmas morning when the joy usually appeared, suddenly and surprisingly.

I was reading a historical novel some years ago (I have no idea what), and the characters were preparing for Christmas during the season of Advent (sewing or whatever historical characters do), then they celebrated Christmas during the twelve days following. And I was struck suddenly that we do not allow ourselves to prepare to celebrate -- we expect to do both things at once.

But in real life, we prepare before the anticipated event happens. I prepared long and hard before my children were born. I prepare before a birthday party, or other family party. My daughter prepares, starting in August, prior to our annual Christmas caroling party. We prepare before finals, we prepare before a vacation. We should prepare before Christmas!

If we waited until the baby arrived to paint the nursery, purchase clothes, acquire a crib, we'd be too busy and stressed to enjoy the baby. (And we'd be too sleep deprived to enjoy selecting colors and all the other things I did.) I enjoyed selecting a paint color, a wallpaper border, and baby clothes while anticipating the arrival of my first child. If I had waited until he arrived, I would either have been overwhelmed by the need to address all the details or I would have skipped them altogether.

So we now recognize that Christmas doesn't start until Christmas Eve. We do fun things to anticipate Christmas, but we don't have to be joyful yet. We watch the Grinch, we make Christmas cookies, we study for finals, and we purchase presents in preparation for what is coming. But by recognizing that  the preparation isn't the goal, I feel free of the pressure to feel differently than I actually feel.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Good News

It's been almost a week, and I'm still off Pinterest. I realize it is such a habit to pop over after I check my email, etc, but knowing that I "no longer do that" halts my click. I don't type in the keystrokes to go waste my time.

It's just willpower, but it only takes a second. I am wasting more time with Ted Talks on Youtube, but since that's educational, I think it's ok. I found a really amazing talk yesterday about stopping desertification of the grasslands, and it gave us a conversational start at the dinner table last night. Sharing good news, hopeful news about the environment is a really nice change from most of the environmental news I've heard lately.

Actually, that's not true. I've been hearing a lot of really hopeful news lately. Morning Edition ran a piece about a company, Carbon Engineering, that is pulling carbon out of the atmosphere. They're currently planning to make that carbon into fuel, to create a closed carbon cycle, but they could also bury the carbon, to reduce the amount of excess carbon that is currently in the atmosphere. I also heard a Youtube about Plastic Bank, an organization that pays people in impoverished countries to collect the plastic litter that washes into the oceans, and Plastic Bank then recycles they plastic.

Because I listen to Ted Talks while I work, I'm also getting more done. Because this time of year, I can definitely find things to do while I listen, rather than mindlessly scroll down. Presents are being made and wrapped while I listen to happy things.

I'm so excited to learn about the good things that are going on in the world. People are working to reduce waste, protect the oceans, reverse climate change. And I have learned all this in the week since I stopped browsing Pinterest mindlessly. I knew in my mind that the endless time was a bad use of time, but I'm so happy to learn the difference in my heart!

Monday, December 10, 2018


Yesterday was amazing, but only by dumb luck. My son had a meeting for one of his activities, so we had to cancel our family plans. We were going to a holiday parade, on the bay, watching the decorated boats float past.

So we changed our plans. We took a nap after church, and watched a Christmas movie. Then my son left for his meeting. Shortly thereafter, he calls to say that he's on his way back home because there was no meeting this month.

I was growl-y. We canceled our plans for him! But you know what? We were better off for it. We played a couple of games (including a new one we got for Advent, El Dorado, which we really like!) finished our movie, munched on dinner (everyone fended for themselves, which largely entailed eating what I made for myself) and finished the night relaxed.

I got my simple night! After my initial growl (how can you pay so little attention to not know there was no meeting!), we realized that we were where we really wanted to be. Needed to be. Not running around trying to fit in all the holiday activities, but home, enjoying family time. We ended up with more happiness, more joy, by sitting at home with the family than by rushing across town to sit in the cold, watching the boats drift by.

I know this. I know that over-scheduling is the opposite of the simple, peaceful life I want. But it's hard to remember, day by day, as interesting opportunities present themselves. So I will just be grateful for the moment of serendipity that allowed me to miss out on the interesting opportunity and enjoy the important one.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

In Which There Is a Chicken In My Bathroom

I have started my Pinterest fast.

I am hooked on Pinterest, and it does not make me happy. I know I spend too much time just browsing, seeing what's new, instead of using it as the tool I originally intended. It's a bad habit, and it wastes time, but I didn't realize it was actively making me unhappy until I watched this video from a couple who took the entire month off internet. The woman commented that it was making her unhappy to see all the terrible things people did to each other, and that really resonated with me. I do feel unhappy after I spend time on Pinterest. So it had to go.

I realized that every time I check my email, or do other necessary things online, I finish up with a quick browse on Pinterest. For a half hour or more (that's not actually quick!). And since I didn't have a book I was interested in, I'm browsing Pinterest while I eat, or in the evenings when my husband is reading before bed. I know it's a terrible habit, and I will have to break it. I just need to develop a new habit to replace my old one. And I need to stop by the library for a new book. (In the meantime I'm reading Your Money or Your Life again. I even heard that a new edition is in production!)

And I think I was more aware of my family. I want to be more involved, since I have so little time before my kids move out, to college and after.

And as for the chicken: last night, when my son went out to put the chickens away, he found one poor hen just sitting in a puddle in the rain, soaked and miserable. Since our coop is unheated (Southern California!), he brought her in, in a cat carrier, and left her in the bathroom with a space heater all night. This morning she was looking dry and perky, but still sleepy, so she remains in the bathroom. I'm saying this because I'm going for realism. My life if weird, and not perfect. But our chicken is recovering, and my kids are happy that she's recovering. And if life's not exactly simple, at least I'm paying (better) attention to the important parts. Or at least, that's what I tell myself.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A New Focus

I fell off the decluttering wagon. Not that I've been ADDING clutter, but I just got to the point that I was no longer finding things to remove. And so I didn't have anything to write about. But that's not really the point of this blog -- I'm trying to simplify my life, focus on my family and move toward financial independence. Getting rid of all my stuff isn't the solution. So I might still post if I declutter a bunch of stuff, but I'm hoping to have insights beyond just the junk.

We're making great strides toward paying off the car loan -- after that, extra money will go to pay off the mortgage. I'd really like to get to a point where we are not required to work 40 hours a week (as a family). The kids are getting older, and college is looming. Our home won't be the same in a few years -- I won't have anyone to stay home with. Having flexibility to do what we need with our time (as a couple) will be easier if we're not required to work so many hours a week to meet our bills. We might even downsize (eventually), pull out the equity from our home, and do something crazy.

To increase our auto-payoff plan I began substitute teaching at my kids' school. My schedule works with their schedule -- I can be there for drop-off and pick-up -- and I can stay home for doctor's appointments, dentist appointments, orthodontist many appointments!

My mom's shop will not make us financially independent, but it's a great opportunity to work with my mom and my sister, and the money does help with debt. Thankfully, we're a little more stable now. I don't have as much clothing all over the house; I have been painting some furniture for the shop, based off what I find on Craigslist (I was especially pleased with a desk I painted). Bringing things back from the brink!

My niece is working with a group of refugees, helping them adjust to the US. I'm facilitating the stuff for them -- finding cribs, high chairs, coffee tables, clothes for them, and spending a little more time seeing my niece. I'm so proud of her!

I know this is long, and not exactly simple, but I'm moving forward in a new direction. I'm still working toward the same goals, but I find that getting rid of things is only a small part of what I really want to do with my life.