Tuesday, March 27, 2012

From grimace to gift – my simple home-making journey.

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Today's guest blogger is the lovely Penny Reeve. I hope her post will inspire you, as it has me, to see home making as an act of love. - Asta x

A book, a blog, a facebook page and a dishcloth. That’s what it took to change my perspective on keeping house.

I used to see housework as a required but certainly never enjoyable chore. When the husband ran out of underwear, visitors were imminent, the mountain of clothes swallowed the lounge etc, I’d take a deep breath and mutter my way to a fairly tidy equilibrium.

But the house keeping tasks I performed were done out of necessity, not because I wanted to do them. I struggled to keep a standard of cleanliness that I was happy with.

Some of this was direct a result of my life overseas. My husband and I have served cross-culturally for several years of our married life. Our last stint was in Nepal where we employed house help four days a week. It was wonderful. Not only was I able to develop a wonderful relationship with the woman who worked in our home, I could focus on learning language, surviving with two young children and no baby wipes, and enjoying life in another culture. But house work wise, I am humbled to admit it, I think I cleaned our toilet maybe three? times during those five years. And I certainly never dusted.

When our time in Nepal finished and we returned to Australia, a strange thing happened. As part of the general upheaval of re-entry I realised a cluttered, messy house made me stressed. I reacted to tension by going on mad, tight-lipped, cleaning frenzies. But even with this new motivation for keeping house (It’s the dishes or my sanity!) it was always me against the chores, against the repeated slog, against the continual build up of dust and stuff and clutter.

Then I found a book – Penelope Wilcock’s In Celebration of Simplicity and I read it, a little bit a night, and felt as if my soul had found its home. Paring down my life to the necessities allowed more room for the valued and important. I began going through my home, one section at a time (careful to only act the zealot on areas under my jurisdiction – ie not the toy cupboard. Not yet anyway...) I began to sort. I thought about how our family lived and I made a pile of objects no longer used or needed and I gave them away.

Next, I bumped into a link on Asta’s Facebook page (which she shares with her friend Ellen Scott Grable): The Simple Living Challenge -http://www.facebook.com/thesimplylivingchallenge  that led me to another book: Down to Earth by Rhonda Hetzel. This book introduced me to an idea I’d never really considered before – that housework could actually be ‘Home-Making’. Each and every task I did around the space that was my home could become a deliberate act of love, AND a commitment to a simple lifestyle. Then, in that same book, I found a pattern. A knitting pattern. For a dishcloth.

Yes, laugh. That’s what I did when I first heard of a hand knitted dishcloth. That’s what my mother did when I told her I was making one. But I found that (other than actually being quite wonderful to use) sitting and knitting my variegated aqua coloured dishcloth while relaxing in the evenings put an entirely different slant on the way I viewed my role about the house. Suddenly even doing the dishes, that awful chore – my most hated of all tasks – became special. Became worthy of time and an offering of beauty.

Beauty is something I need – and it doesn’t have to be extravagant or elegant beauty. In fact many people will enter my house and wonder at the mismatched cushions and the apparently clashing decor. But I am committed to redefining our house into a Home and I’m attempting to do it by sprinkling time and love into everything I do.

Here are a few of the little changes I’ve made, things several years ago I would have rolled my eyes at and dismissed. But that is how changes go, little bit by little bit.
·         I’ve started knitting dishcloths. Some for me, some for my mother – even if she did laugh at me!
·         I cut up old clothes I would have otherwise thrown out and I now use them to mop up floor spills or dust really yucky things.
·         I polish my sink. (Yes, my head is down and I am a little shy about this one. It sounds so, well, anal. But it really does help me feel less cluttered and makes dishes as a task for the children seem less daunting.)
·         I’m using old fabric scraps to make unique handmade thank-you cards, and I’m finishing some long stored cross-stitch kits in preparation for distantly drawing birthdays.
·         I cut up an old T-shirt and crocheted it into an oven mitt – okay the pattern needs some alterations, but I’m very pleased with my first attempts. It saved me having to purchase a new one from the shops only to find I didn’t like it.
·         I’m saving up, $2 by $2 for a pair of fair trade shoes for myself. (This is a shift in my shoe buying mentality from ‘just go get it’ to ‘plan and wait and buy with purpose’.)
·         I’m baking bread and cookies from scratch. It’s actually very cheap therapy, fun to do with the toddler who is a challenge to amuse at times, and receives lovely compliments from the bigger kids!

I know there are so many other areas I can look at and change, but I don’t have to do it all at once. I feel like just recently I’ve learned a different way of viewing home, a different way of loving the people around me and I’m encouraged to keep learning. What about you? IS housework tiresome, or is it becoming home-making? How do you manage the shift? I’d love to read your stories/ideas/suggestions.

Penny Reeve is the author of 11 children’s books. She is passionate about children, faith and social justice (oh, and knitted dishcloths!). She can be contacted via her website www.pennyreeve.com or via her Facebook page:  http://www.facebook.com/pages/Penny-Reeve-The-Penny-Drops

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pare back, pare back, pare back!

'Our life is frittered away with details. Simplify, simplify, simplify.' - Henry David Thoreau

A word I have often used to describe myself has been scattered... another is disorganised. Sometimes I have self diagnosed myself as ADD. I'm probably not hyperactive, but who knows? What I do know is that I am my own worst enemy - and that whilst I long for inner peace I often contribute to my 'cluttered' state. 

Sitting peacefully in church yesterday I had a bit of an epiphany. Though I had a role assisting the priest, I was calm and at ease. Comparing my recent feelings at home and the ones at church - I realised that at church my mind is focused, my role is clear and I feel I am doing something I am called to. Everything at church is simple and clutter free - physically and mentally. All is well with my soul. 

At home, a place I love to be above all places (except perhaps nature), I have recently struggled to find sanctuary. Clutter is creeping back into my home. Not just 'stuff' or 'things' but piles of paper, long to do lists, letters to reply to, books to read and review and other writing 'round to-s', boxes of photos and letters, newspapers, clutter in the kitchen cupboards, wardrobes bulging, newly washed and dried clothes are piling up on our spare bed, the dishes breed every time I turn my back.... mess, disorganisation. Clutter! And it makes my head hurt. In fact I felt so overwhelmed by it the other day that I woke with these awful words on my lips - 'my life hurts'. What was I thinking? What AM I thinking? It is all self induced!!! 

I feel I need to pare back, pare back, pare back... or in Henry Thoreau's words - 'simplify, simplify, simplify.' 

When I simplify - all is well with my world. I know this - so why do I self sabotage?

This journey of simplifying has its ups and downs. It is a process. Lately I have had some fabulous wins. I am certainly saying more 'no-s' than 'yes-s'. (But maybe I should say no 'yes-s' for a while.)  I feel I take one step forward and two steps back. But all I really need to worry about is keeping one foot in front of the other. All I need to do is to keep going. And that is something I am doing. 

The picture at the top of this post was taken just moments ago. It is the result of some serious purging this morning. It is a step in the right direction. 

I know that external clutter affects the mind and the soul. Thankfully I can do something about that. Now I am off to go through the clothes I have left in my keep pile to see if I can give away some more! I keep thinking of that tip for travel - pack your suitcase, then go back and take half out. Wow. Can I do that? Just maybe. And if I can't, that's okay. 'One more step along the way I go'. (Do you know that hymn? Love it.)

Asta x

Monday, March 19, 2012

Johnson liberating an unfortunate debtor

Welcome to this week's guest blogger - Philip Brewer. 

Choosing Freedom

There was a time when most people were self-sufficient. They acquired what they needed through some mix of hunting, gathering, fishing, farming, raising animals, and making things themselves. Not many people do that any more.

It's a hard way to live. It requires capital, because you need to own the land that will provide your bounty. It requires skills that you probably don't have. It requires a lot of hard work. And if you invest your capital that way and put in the hard work, you'll still live at a pretty low standard of living. You'll probably eat better than the guy working at a minimum wage job (because he's probably eating off what fast food joints used to call the dollar menu, before prices went up). But even at the bottom of the wage scale, someone who works at a job will be able to afford a much higher standard of living than a subsistence farmer, at least to the extent that you measure standard of living by how much stuff you have.

As a society, we've chosen to make this trade. Almost everyone works for wages. In return, they get a reasonably high standard of living. Miraculously high, really—the reason for the quaint old customs of hope chests and bridal showers is that it used to take two families saving diligently for years to outfit a new household. And the reason that those are now quaint old customs is that now you can earn enough to outfit your kitchen and linen closet in a few days at minimum wage.

It's a pretty good deal. You get everything you need (and plenty of wants) and all you have to trade is your freedom.

Personally, I always wanted freedom.

Fortunately, although society has chosen to take this deal, you don't have to. Even better, you can pick and choose—you can take the parts of the deal that appeal to you and reject the rest.

The key is to avoid debt. That isn't easy. It wasn't easy when I went to school, and it's much harder now. But if you avoid debt (or get out of debt), you can choose freedom.

You can even have a job, if you want. (As I say, you'll have a much higher standard of living than someone who strives for self-sufficiency, although perhaps not as much as someone who runs their own small business.)

To make it work—to preserve your freedom—you need to live within your means (and by a good bit). That lets you put aside some savings as a cushion. More important, it means that if you lose your job you can take a lower-paying one and still support yourself.

Most people don't seem to care much about that sort of freedom. Most people take on commitments—leases, mortgages, debts of all sorts—that obligate them to come up with cash that would be totally beyond their means, unless they had a job. And not just any job—the highest paying job they can find.

In the past, when people were trapped in bondage, it usually required the use of force to catch them and force them to work: slavers, debtor's prisons, and the like.

Now we've come up with a system where the use of force is barely used at all. (That is, barely used at all to make people go to work. It's used plenty to "keep order.") We don't enslave people; we convince them to enslave themselves. And most of them do it for little more than a big house and a fast car.

I wanted the freedom to be a full-time writer. It's not an impossible sort of freedom to achieve, if you start by accepting that you'll probably be pretty poor.

Personally, I think it's a much better trade.

Philip Brewer writes science fiction and fantasy stories, and also writes for the personal finance and frugality blog Wise Bread.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

You cannot out give God.

Kruis san damiano

While exploring the village where my husband and I just spent the weekend away - we discovered an op shop. Yay - I though (I know that 'yay' would not have been the word my husband would have chosen for that moment). In that lovely shop I found some books; a book about Akiane http://www.artakiane.com/ , which I gave to my niece - who is a lovely artist, an illustrated Beauty and the Beast for my daughter (because that is her favourite fairy tale) and one for me about money from a Christian perspective.

It is this last book that has me thinking. Over and over the author speaks of how he gave things away, including cars and a house even, and how God would use those gifts to bless others, and in return the author was blessed in many different ways.

Two years ago, when I was sitting my test to become an Australian citizen (finally after 40 plus years of living here), I met a lovely young woman (we'll call her Sally, though that is not her real name)- together we had helped an Afghani woman with very little English. I had lunch with this new friend. We spoke deeply and honestly from the first moment. As she was speaking to me I had this overwhelming urge to take off the military chaplain cross that I had been gifted with (in extraordinary circumstances). God was pushing and prodding me to give this cross to her. No - I was thinking - that can't be God because he gave it to me (I was a high school chaplain when I was given it), he knows it is very special to me. But the urge was very real. So I placed this little gold cross badge into her palm and said truthfully - "God is urging me to give this to you. I really don't want to. It means a lot to me, but I know I have to." I had tears in my eyes as I tucked my now empty hand into my lap.

I looked at Sally's eyes. She also had tears in them. She said to me, "Last night I was supporting a friend who is suicidal. I said to God - I know you love her, but sometimes I just don't know that you love me. Could you show me that you love me?" This simple gift was her answer to prayer.

I remember saying goodbye to her - feeling the loss of my cross and yet strangely lighter.  I rushed to get to the book store where I was meeting my best friend in the coffee shop. Before I could even tell her my story she rummaged in her bag and pulled out the San Damiano cross - the cross that has special significance to Franciscans. She was a little nervous giving it to me (Catholic to Protestant), unsure of how I would receive it. She also gave me the prayer attributed to Saint Francis. She started to explain about St Francis, butI had to stop her. I hadn't yet told her that I was a novice with the Third Order of the Society of St Francis (TSSF). Imagine how all three of us felt when we realised that at that very moment when I handed over my cross, Caroline was buying the other cross for me. Sometimes I wonder - what would have happened if I hadn't given my cross to Sally?

But that is not the end of the story. My TSSF novice counsellor, when he found out, told me he had been a military chaplain - and so he sent me a new cross to wear.

No - you can't out give God it seems.
Music present

An update on the last blog. A friend has offered to teach me piano. I haven't decided yes or no yet, but I am deeply moved, and full of gratitude that this busy lady would reach out to me in this way. Thank you Lynette. Your kindness means the world to me.
(PS - she hadn't read my last entry. How God is that?!)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Wake up. Put on your strength.

Month 3 of the Simply Living Challenge: Simplifying the soul. 

Our priest (and my good friend) played the most beautiful reflective music at the beginning of our Lenten study last week. The music is a cross between Celtic and perhaps Middle Eastern. It was recorded in Scotland - my place of birth.

Each track starts with a spoken prayer, followed by a song consisting of only a few words which are repeated over and over again for 7 minutes. You would think that after 7 minutes you would be glad the chanting had finished, but the opposite is the case. It leaves you thirsting for more. I was given the CD to take home for a few days. It is stirring something up inside me. It is reminding me of who I am, how God has wired me, as the ethereal voices and beautiful music weave their hypnotic effect on me.

These are the simple words of the one I am listening to now as I type:
You shall be
 like a garden
 like a deep spring
where waters never fail....

Earlier as I sorted the washing these words spoke to me -
Wake up, wake up.
Put on your strength.

The music tugged at me. What was it? I took a kitchen chair, pulled the dog's bedding out from under the piano (I haven't touched it in years),brushed off dust and fur, and I played what little I know - mostly all made up. As my fingers flew up and down the keys I cried. I remembered. I remembered being a child who played to calm her soul. To ease migraines. To bring her a deep peace. I remembered where the keys were and I remembered how my soul leaps when I play music. Then I wept - grieved - because I had buried that part of myself. Surely I am not fully alive. Saint Irenaeus said - 'The glory of God is man fully alive'.

I gave the confused dog back his bed. I dried my face with the nearest thing I had - my skirt. And then I did another thing that I don't do enough. I turned the CD back on and I danced to the music.I was a young dancer again who loves to choreograph, who is good at it. I twirled, I stretched, I became myself again as I reached out to life and to my creator, to my strength - and I put that strength on. I 'danced as though no one was watching' - because no human was.

Today I created music.
Today I danced.
Today my soul feels watered, quenched
and all the better for it.

What do you need to wake up?