Monday, February 27, 2012

I am excited that today's blog entry is from the lovely Kate Forman Ortiz - utterly wonderful friend and illustrator who lives in New York. If you enjoy her entry please leave a comment. 

Oh my God I look Cute!!
(This is not Maeve)

My good friend Asta asked me to write a little something about the challenge of living simply with a baby. My daughter, Maeve, is two months old now, and life with her has been a steep learning curve. Part of the lessons have been about stuff.

My Husband and Maeve and I live in a one-bedroom apartment in a Greek neighborhood in Queens, NYC. Our neighborhood is a convenient smorgasbord of good restaurants, grocery stores, small shops, churches and a library. Our apartment is cozy, and very pretty, and very, very, small.

So I felt justified, when my Mom threw me a baby shower, in not registering for a baby wipe warmer. Don’t get me wrong, I get the logic behind the machine, but the reality is: 1. We barely have room for our bed and our daughter’s bassinet in our room, 2. In despite of conscientiously avoiding buying loads of stuff for many years now, there is still a steady creep of plastic invading our lives and I didn’t want to add one more piece to the pile, and 3. Really? A wipe warmer? I know it’s early to regal my daughter with the ole “I walked barefoot in the snow up hill both ways to school” treatment, but apparatuses like wipe warmers make me understand where those generation gap speeches start.

My smug confidence waned a little in the weeks leading up to the shower, though, as friends and family checked out my registry and called me up to talk about the warmer. My good friends Mary and Kara were the first to call, then my Uncle’s Girlfriend, then two second cousins. “Really?” They asked, “You REALLY don’t think you need a wipe warmer?” It shook my confidence. Maybe I was already a terrible Mother. Maybe I was already projecting my own personality in a smothering fashion. Maybe my Daughter would be in therapy for years to come because her poor little tushy was subject to the chill of a cool baby wipe.

The end of the wipe warmer story is this: I stuck to my guns. My Daughter is wiped with room temperature wipes. So far we have made it to two months, and I’m hoping that she continues to survive the ordeal with the classy level of aplomb she’s displayed thus far.

I’d like to note that I am no anti-stuff saint. I like stuff too, there is plenty of stuff, baby and otherwise all over this apartment, and I’m okay with that. What I’m not okay with is that the baby stuff industry seems to prey on new mammas and papa’s fears of inadequacy, and a never ending trail of largely redundant and unnecessary stuff is marketed to those vulnerabilities. Every parent will have to make their own decisions regarding what stuff they need, and what stuff they can reject – for me, practical space issues largely influenced my decision, as did environmental and ethical considerations.

My daughter wears gorgeous barely worn hand me downs from a good friend with a baby girl only a few months older: my friend’s generosity has allowed for a more baby sized carbon footprint in my daughter’s wardrobe, and has kept us from giving more money to companies that use sweatshops to make their baby products. As many sweatshops employ young children it feels good to do anything possible to avoid endorsing that particularly cruel irony.

Stuff rejection seems to have also opened us up to other, nicer possibilities. For example: my Daughter shares our bedroom, she does not have a separate nursery, she sleeps beside our bed in her little basinet, and her changing area is the top of our dresser. When I was pregnant many well-intentioned people asked about our nursery "theme,” and I felt similar wipe warmer rejection guilt pangs when I told them there was no nursery, and no theme. Their reactions ranged from pity to abject horror. However, my Daughter’s corner of our room is sweet, her bassinet is a never-used hand me down from a good friend, the hanging shelves for her clothes my Husband and I built together after a truly lovely time picking up supplies in the local hardware store, and on the wall next to her changing pad are works of art created by my friend’s two young children. If there’s a theme I think it might be: this was made for you, this space was waiting for you, and everyone who knows you is happier because you are here.

In a few months from now we’re moving, my husband is in the military and we are being re-stationed to a part of the country known for much bigger housing. I’m pretty sure, though, that the extra room will not influence our acquisition of baby stuff too greatly. This relationship we have with our stuff feels right, and our ability to differentiate between what we decide we need and want and what a corporation would like us to believe we need and want is something I’d like to continue – and hopefully pass on to our wonderful wee baby girl.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Simply Living update

I am now into the second month of the challenge -. . And I am so excited because my friend Ellen has joined me. We have amazing conversations behind the scenes (she in the city of San Diego, USA and me in a little wheatbelt town in Australia). Her practical knowledge gets me excited  and her passion for simple living is giving the challenge a balance that I hope will make the difference between contemplating simple living and actually putting these thoughts into practice.  I can't believe it is only February. I have learnt so much and I am loving every moment of it.

In January I focused on my appearance. I haven't touched make-up in weeks now and I feel much less insecure about facing the world 'naked' and my skin feels wonderful. I wore only 7 complete outfits for 3 weeks and though I haven't stuck to that since January I did learn that no one actually notices that you are wearing the same clothes. I gave away a lot of my jewellery, which means I have less choice when I am getting dressed and that saves me time. Less choice seems to equate with less stress. I thought a lot about what makes a person beautiful - and it is much more than clothes and make-up.

 It was in January that I reflected on my love of making things from scratch and so the second challenge was birthed. February has been the month of 'making things from scratch'. My personal products are now from the kitchen. Bicarb (Baking Soda) is utterly amazing. It can be used for so much. So far I have used it for: a face scrub, to wash my hair (followed by a vinegar wash), to brush my teeth, shave, and as deodorant. Of course I also use it to clean the house! I am putting fair trade, organic coconut oil in my dog's dinner (and his coat is looking sleek). I take one teaspoon a day myself now. I run a small amount through my hair and use it to moisturise my face and body. It is wonderful. I also love olive oil. I have made my own re-usable sanitary pads. I drew a cartoon with the title 'How I met your father' as a Valentine's gift. A friend was going to shout me at a coffee shop - and I suggested we do something simple instead. We were at the church alone so we made ourselves a cuppa and sat outside, under the trees, and enjoyed the warm breeze and the privacy. More and more I am discovering that the simple things in life are indeed the best.

Now Ellen is setting a challenge for me each week. When I saw her first challenge I really wondered why I had suggested this to her. This is what she wrote:
This week Ellen challenges Asta to find a friend who does not have time to do or make something she is very good at and consider a trade or cash equivalent. 

It is true that initially I panicked, and it didn't help that my daughter could only think of things I can't do well or airy fairy things that I can do but we couldn't think of a practical application. But then I had a brain wave. A widow friend, who has been having some back and feet problems lately, called into the library where I work casually. I asked her if she had trouble getting rid of spiders and their webs. Her answer was yes and so I suggested we strike up a deal as I am an excellent and humane spider catcher. So we have a date this Friday. I will be 'Spiderwoman' as my husband now jokingly calls me, and will re-home them for her and she in turn will make us something to eat. It is a win win situation. I'm not all that fond of everyday cooking but she is. I was ridiculously happy about this deal. I have a feeling it might be the beginning of more things to come. There have been few times that I have been able to barter successfully. I did have a wonderful experience with a babysitting club once. I have always wanted to trade skills like this but for some reason it has seldom come off.  Maybe I just needed Ellen's challenge to push me to try it again. Really sharing skills makes a lot of sense.

Are you following The Simple Living Challenge? Please share your knowledge, experience and thoughts with us all. Ellen and I long to see it grow into a thriving, supportive community. What does simple living look like to you? In January what were your thoughts about 'Appearance'? And now in February are you 'Making Things From Scratch'? If you are, what and why? And have you any ideas for the challenge in March?

Live simply... simply live,

Asta x

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Be still and know simple pleasures...

One of many breathtaking sunsets from my Wheatbelt backyard in Australia - a simple pleasure.

This afternoon I was lying on my back next to Jasper (my rescued greyhound). There was a warm breeze, and gentle light filtering through trees and bushes creating patterns across our shady patch on the lawn. That would have been enough for me, but then I spotted an orange butterfly. She was savouring the pollen in a Jasmine flower. When she'd had her fill she flew to just above my face and hovered for a second or two. I could almost have touched her. An involuntary sigh of pleasure caught me by surprise. Beauty can do that. And this thought came to me - What if I hadn't taken this moment to be still?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Challenge of February: Make as much as I can from scratch.

Albert Anker - Der Dorfschneider
Albert Anker [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For a long time now I have been frustrated and confused about what I should be doing with my life. Perhaps it is my age. And yet it is all very simple. I just want to hunker down and care for my family and our home. There are other things I want to do too, and I can and will, but this is the thing I want to do above all others. Surely this is the first of my holy callings. Deep within me something rises up when I think of it, and I feel a sense of peace. I know it is right, just as I always have.

Just the other day I read Rhonda Hetzel's simple living column in the February edition of the Australian Women's Weekly. I could feel these stirrings inside and a sense of loss for the days I made our family and home life my priority, and an urgency to do it again while I still can.  It may seem a strange thing for a woman in her mid years to yearn for this, but I have two grown sons still at home (but probably not for long) and a daughter who will be finishing school in 3 years. I want to welcome them home at the end of the day. I want to provide them with food that is made with love and not hastily thrown together. I want our home to feel relaxed and peaceful, with some kind of order.

When the children were younger we lived on a very small wage, we made do - and I loved the challenge. I wanted to be a stay at home mum and no sacrifice was too much. One of my biggest passions (and probably best abilities) is making something from nothing. Today I positively love re-purposing (for example recently I made a laptop bag from a felted jumper and t-shirt and another from plastic bags that I ironed and sewed together.)I did a lot of it back then. I also sewed clothing for our children. I made my baby bag. I made the library bags. I made items like colourful fabric hats and sold them to supplement our income. I made the gifts we gave. I used things up. I rarely shopped for anything new. I repaired things. At one stage we even grew our own vegies, kept bees, and ducks and chooks. I made a lot from scratch. I bought second hand. I loved anything passed on to us. That was the good life. Actually it still is the good life - looking over my list I've noticed that I am still doing quite a lot of it!

And so for the month of February I am challenging myself to make as much as I can from scratch (over and above what I did in 'the olden days')- because I get a sense of satisfaction, because it is often healthier and it will save us money, and because nine times out of ten it is better for the environment. Sometimes my family might really appreciate it, at other times they might grumble a little (I'm not sure if they will be too pleased with some of my alternatives - like perhaps home-made tomato sauce or soap...). Mostly I hope they will understand that I am doing this to provide for our family in the best way I can, because something made from scratch is made with effort and love, and it allows me to be more available to them. Maybe it will trigger a memory of our earlier years together. I know it will for me, because every time I do something like this I always hark after the days when it was what I always did.

It is my choice to earn very little money for now (perhaps for always), it fits with my values, it frees me to live the simple life and in return living the simple life frees me to work as I please. I heard Rhonda interviewed on ABC Radio National/ Life Matters today and she called it a 'gentle liberation'. I think it is a perfect definition.