the simple minded suburbanite

The Rise of Collaborative Consumption
November 20, 2010, 4:48 pm
Filed under: budget, burbs, culture, suburb, suburbanite, volntary simplicity

My father helps his neighbor mow his yard.  His neighobor prunes my father’s trees.  My mother tutors my old highschool friend’s daughter.  He brings her fresh eggs from his farm.  Bartering.  Sharing.  Helping each other out.  It is nearly non existent in the burbs.  My husband and I mull twenty minutes or so before asking our neighbor to borrow his pressure washer or help us move a sofa from upstairs to down. 

We’re all too busy.  Can’t you afford to hire it done?  We’ve got our own things to take care of. 


Came across this blog post about a book about sharing, bartering, etc.  It’s on the rise.  Wonder how long before it reaches my burb. Check it out.

The Rise of Collaborative Consumption.

My question to you, “What do you have that you could share?  Childcare? Music for a party?  Handyman skills?  Help write a resume?  Paint a room?”  What?


The Empty Cup
January 3, 2010, 8:50 pm
Filed under: authenticity, suburb, suburbanite, volntary simplicity | Tags: , ,

Through the holiday season, several posts have come to mind, but I haven’t sat down to blog.  One draft “This Aint the St. Regis, Baby” began a comparison of Christmas between my home, and pink-and-green lady whose family has moved to the St. Regis while massive home renovations are being done.  Her son pushed from unknown “nannies” to tutors, to after school programs while she sends “the help” out for chocolate granache cake while she attends the perfect Pilates class which conveniently begins about the time her little boy (only child) returns “home” (a.k.a room 822) from school.  Certainly their Christmas consisted of fine china and silver tea pots in a large mahogany dining room under an anonymous St. Regis Christmas tree. 

Another thought came when our neighbor’s five-year-old informed us over hot chocolate and paint-by-numbers that Santa had brought him a lake house for Christmas.  How the hell did Santa fit that down the chimney?!

And I could have kept going with these and sprung off into a rant about, despite their very right winged fears that Obama would send them into an abyss of financial ruin, good ol’ Barack as well as the fat man up north seems to have treated both families pretty well financially this year.  No tremors from the rest of America’s collective holding of breath seems to have rattled their beveled glass front doors.

But all of these entries never made it to page.  I guess I was busy.  And, really, looking back, I think I felt I was being a little petty and sour.  Afterall, I don’t want the entire blog to be about bashing good ol’ pink-and-green, though I might turn her into a book one day.  Really, the blog is about voluntary simplicity, authenticity, and presence in the midst of the craziness of the suburbs. Don’t worry though, I’ll keep the hits comin’ but today I’m feeling a little reflective, albeit a slight bit melancholy, as I often do this time of year.

Today I heard a story.

A professor was visiting a Zen master.  They sat over tea.  The professor spoke on and on about the principles and applications of Zen.  The master began to pour the professor some tea.  He poured and poured until the caramel colored tea flowed over the edge of the tea-cup onto the saucer and onto the table.  Only when the professor noticed the moving pool of tea heading toward the edge of the table did he jump up, grab for a napkin, and shout, “Stop pouring!  Stop pouring! The is room for no more!”

“Just like you,” the Zen master said. “You are so full, you leave no room for anything else.  Empty your cup and leave yourself open to whatever comes.”

And this is where I’d like to start my new year.  With an  empty cup.  An open heart.  A chalice for thought.  An oracle for love and feelings that come into me as well as through me.  As practical as a cleaned out closet.  As transcendental as a keen ear while I walk through the woods.  As rhythmic as the pace of my day.

The same storyteller said that in our busy day, we don’t find time for the things that are meaningful but somehow find time for the petty, the draining, the chipping away.

Keep my cup empty so I can fill it with wonder and precious moments and creative endeavors that fill me and my family to brimming.

Happy, abundant 2010!

Free-Range Parenting

Why didn’t I think of that?

I imagine perfectly plump children pecking up the pinecones in my picket-fenced back yard.  Pecking and pooping.  Pecking and pooping.   Happily all day long.  Free-range parenting sounds pretty damn good to me!

“Devon Charles the Third!  Get out of the ivy!!!”  My perfectly pleasant p&p image is shattered.  This memory involves my pink-and-green neighbor.  Her son (real name not Devon Charles III, but his name is just as obnoxious, trust me!) was playing with my three boys in our back yard.  They had magnifying glasses and little cages in which they could examine and torture a whole host of insect species (educational play!).  She leapt up from her cushion-less wrought iron chair on my deck and began waving her hands and screaming, “Get out of the ivy!  Get out of the ivy!”  My God!  I thought, as I leapt up too, was the ivy alive?  Was it pulling our round-faced little boys down into some pre-historic, man eating pit!  Images of Land of the Lost that have scared me since childhood leapt to my mind. 

The kids froze!  I gasped.  For the sake of aristic embellishment, let’s say pee trickled down my then three-year-old’s leg.  We were all afraid to move.

“Pinky (not really Pinky, but I dont need to tell you that),” I said, “what’s wrong?” 

“There could be snakes in there.  There could be rats and yellow jackets and poison ivy.  You need to have all of that stuff removed.  IT’S NOT SAFE!”

Gee, I thought ivy was kind of pretty.

And that was the moment that I realized, I am not a helicoper parent.  I’m too lazy.  I’m too tired.  I just don’t really care all that much about bee stings, snakes and weeds.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my little boys. They where their helmets.  They do participate in some extra curricular activities.  I keep a loose eye on the goings-on in my backyard.  But here lies the difference…

They still ride their bikes in the street.  I don’t monitor their “progress” in sports and music other than, Did you have fun?  The obligatory, Have you practiced?  How did you feel when you…struck out? hit the ball? jammed out the whole song? Do you need my help?  And, as far as backyard politics, I will intervene in that I give my kids the words to use to solve a problem, but I don’t solve it for them or even show up unless someone is bloody, crying or quite obviously pinned up against a tree.  And I have one rule (outside of the other obvious ones like no hitting, no kicking ,and no peeing in the sandbox), “Everyone can play or nobody can play.”  And sometimes that means not everybody choses to play.  So be it.

So, when my sister-in-law sent me a recent Time Magazine article today from (November 30, 2009) called Can These Parents Be Saved?by Nancy Gillis, I of course did a quick little “Could this be me?’ analysis in my mind.  Does she think I am a helicopter parent that needs to be saved?  Ms. Gillis’ article is written in support of parents who don’t talk to the teachers every time Johnny brings home a B-. In support of parents who let their kids suffer the consequences when they make a mistake.  She calls this opposition “movement” of sorts, “free-range parenting, simplicity parenting, slow parenting.”  And I kind of like it.

I’m sure, compared to other parents, I helicopter.  My kids are not spending the night the home of a friend from school if I don’t know the parents.  I do encourage my children to try their best but also tell them that their best is not the same on every day and sometimes your best is laying on the couch because you need to.  I believe in instilling responsibility, honesty, trustworthiness, pride, and respect but I don’t, like one of my friends insists of her child, “Stevie, Stevie, look Mr. Jones in the eye.  Stevie, did you shake Mr. Jones’ hand?  Shake his hand, Stevie.  He asked you how you are, Stevie, ask Mr. Jones how he is today…keep looking him in the eye, Stevie.  Did I hear a ‘sir’ in there, Stevie.  Let go of Mr. Jones’ hand.”  Jees!  Mr. Jones is sorry he asked!!!

I don’t think I’m a helicopter parent and I’m not sure if my sister-in-law or anyone else thinks I am.  Or if maybe they think I do too little.  And if they do, if I worry about it too much maybe I’m helicoptering myself a little too much, because on any given day, I could be either, neither, or both.

I was raised in a very small rural town and my parents, as well as others, took a pretty hands off approach.  They were there for me when I needed them.  They kept an eye on most of the important stuff.  But there were lots of things that, in our generations eyes, perhaps they should have been a little more informed about.  I made mistakes, alot of them. I was in situations I shouldn’t have been in and am very lucky it all turned out well.  And, while I don’t neccessarily want my children exposed to all the things I was exposed to at an early age, I am certain my experiences made me who I am today, for better or worse.  When I went to college, I knew a world that many of my sorority sisters had never dreamed, at least until their first Rugby House kegger.  And mostly, most of us learn these lessons, though maybe in different ways.

And my boys will too.  My only hope is to strike a balance between “Mommy is my shadow” and “Where the hell is Mommy when I need her?”.  And the places in between are full of ivy.  They’re full of Mr. Jones, who, maybe we shouldn’t be shaking hands with.  And they’re also full of plenty of wonderful little discoveries about ourselves, our lives, and each other.

So be it.

My Mother is a Psychic, Dervish, Savant
November 28, 2009, 2:07 am
Filed under: suburbanite, volntary simplicity | Tags: ,

A dervish, if I have the definition correct, is a swirling windstorm blowing across a desert, stirring clouds of dust.  Picking up branches and debris and flinging them across the dunes.  Only my mother slings stuff.  Junk.  Crap.

I can’t remember the last time she brought me something I needed or wanted.  I know that sounds bratty.  I know she does things out of the goodness of her heart and it’s not that I don’t like the things she brings, it’s just that I wouldn’t neccessarily chose them for myself, yet feel obliged to find a place for them.

Homemade plum brandy!  A basketful of Bingo prizes from the dollar store!  A scented candle called “Santa’s Pajamas”!  Santa’s pajamas?  Santa’s pj’s obviously smell a hell of alot better than mine.

She walks in the door, followed by my dad with arm loads of bags and boxes, kisses me on the cheek and the giving begins.  She dumps the stuff on my dining room table and pulls it from her purse, pocket, ears.  I have to wrestle her out of her coat and the boys cower out of her path.  A wine bottle converted to a buffet lamp!  A scarf that resembles a dead Chesire Cat!

And when I am in the middle of mashing the potatoes or carving the turkey or rescuing the damn biscuits from hell…Oh!  She forgot!  She wants to show you the jewlry she’s making out of tarnished spoons and discarded toilet paper holders!

She’s endearing, in that way, and generous, and gets excited like a child , but the crap!  The crap she totes all of 14 hours from Chicago to my house.  Crap from garage sales, and dollar stores, and Walmart clearance racks, and church craft shows!  My God!  It’s dizzying.

Sometimes she even buys big ticket stuff  like the Christmas she bought us a VERY expensive camera with several lenses and filters and buttons and dials and, My God! (again) with a toddler on my leg, a baby in my arms and my milk soaking through my breast pads, it was all I could do to push a button, just one button!  And the mega juicer she bought.  I mean, the thing weighted 50pounds and its motor was strong enough to power a boat trafficing cocaine into Miami from Cuba! 

And my mom is a psychic.  The day I thought about listing the juicer on Craig’s List, I thought twice.  She’ll ask about it, I thought.  She never forgets a thing she buys, she’s a shit savant, and loves to play “Where’s that crap?”  She quizes me about the crap and if I don’t correctly recall it, name where I have it stored, and produce the crap before the buzzer sounds…I lose, which is marked by a pout and endless guilt inducing statements like, “If you ever have another garage sale, call me first.”

And I was right.  She asked about the juicer on her next visit.  Aha!  She hadn’t got me!  It’s here!  It’s here!  I moved it when I cleaned out my pantry, but to where?  The basement?  The garage?  Shit!  Where was it!  I couldn’t find it!  Where did I put it?   “Well, that was expensive.  If you come across it, I’d like to borrow it.  Dad and I start our diet today.”

I put the freakin’ thing BACK IN THE PANTRY!  Too late.  Two days later.

But what’s a daughter to do? I can’t break her heart.  I wear the Cheshire Cat scarf to dinner with them the next night.  I burn the Santa’s Pajamas candle while we sip coffee and eat pumpkin pie.  And I think of my grandmother and great-grandmother who, though kept meticulous house, had knic-knacks up to their knickers and canned veggies and jellies lining shelf upon shelf in their basements.  And I vow, though somewhat unconvincingly, to myself, “Not me.  That won’t be me.”

No more aqua glass collecting.  No more hand mirrors to hang along my powder room walls.  No more ink wells.  I’m using the library from now on.  At least, I won’t torture anyone else with stuff. 

Tomorrow I’m clearing off the kitchen desk, while I sip homemade plum brandy.

A Moral Document
October 19, 2009, 1:41 am
Filed under: budget, culture, parenting, volntary simplicity | Tags: ,

Today I took another step in my spiritual journey; I attended a new Unitarian Universalist church…on the day they were campaigning for annual pledges.  Just my luck.  It was still an amazing service, speaking of how the church members were historic partners with the famed Ebeneezer Baptist Church, playing awe-inspiring music, moving some congregants to quiet tears.  And me, though I had chalked up a not-to-short drive to a wash, still found a thread of intellectual and spiritual challenge in the  service provided.

After many came forth and spoke of the percentage of their donations to the church and why they felt it so important, the reverend (?) spoke and quoted a speech she heard many years back that stuck with her. 

“Your personal budget is your moral document.”

My moral document.  Hmm.  I thought about this.  She was basically saying that where we spend our money reflects what we value in our lives.  I wondered if this was true and, if so, where do my values lie?

Where does my money go?  It’s a question that many of us ask rhetorically often in our lives.  After bills are paid, taxes deducted, the neccessities purchased.  It seems, I think, to most of us that we should have more left over for…what, other stuff.

When my husband and I were saving money to buy our first home, we weren’t hitting our anticipated monthly savings so, we decided to save each and every reciept from every single purchase we made over the course of three months.  We were astounded at where our money went.  As a svelt couple in our mid and late twenties, most of our money went toward food!  I was a new wife and loved to cook and delighted at stopping at the local gourmet grocery on my way home from work purchasing specialty items for 4 course meals paired with complimentary wines.  My new husband loved being greeted with the savory smells of dinner on the stove and a glass of red.  We were playing house and jeopordizing it all at once.  Quickly, we started stashing the full amount of our planned savings away at the first of the month and spending what was left, usually enough for a nice green salad and spaghetti and sometimes an inexpensive Australian Shiraz.  But we got our house!  And I don’t ever remember feeling hungry.

So, these were our values then…a home in which to raise our family, a monthly mortgage that would allow me to stay home with our children as they came to raise them, savings that wouldn’t leave us house poor or strapped in the future.

And now?  I think.  Retirement account.  A decent savings.  A fair college fund.  Well placed items that make our house a home.  The occasional vacation to visit family.  I like buy a few new fashions in the fall and again in the spring to bridge my wardrobe.  But “moral document?”  What does our budget say about us as people?

I donate to my childrens’ school fundraisers.  I value education.  I spend a small amount on courses to keep up my professional licensure.  I value learning.  I spend a shitload at the bookstore.  I value knowledge and literature.

But I also value all human beings.  I believe we should all respect and help one another.  I value one’s own evolving spirituality.  And nature.  And art. And women who are empowered to do better for themselves and their children and, thus, our culture.  I believe in travel, as much as you can muster, to feed your soul and widen your outlook of the world.  I believe anyone can recreate themselves into the person they want to be.

Does my budget reflect this?

I think about the book, First Things First by Stephen Covey.  He promotes setting personal goals and living by them, not living in hopes of obtaining your personal goals.  He says to put the big rocks in first and fill the remaining spaces in the bucket with the small rocks; this technique allowing to get more rocks in there.  The important things first.  Then, the not so important things. And it’s the same with money, isn’t it?  And isn’t that what some of what Voluntary Simplicity is about?  Living simply in some repects so that you can lead a life of meaning and personal importance?

So, if I sign up for that grant writing certification now? If I then put away in a seperate savings account money for a family trip abroad?  If I go ahead and pull the women I know together to support a woman from Women for Women International?  I might have to take my kids for a walk and picnic down by the river instead of for a movie and popcorn and Sour Patch Kids and Cherry Coke Iceys.  We might break out our water colors or do a leaf rubbing, with a real leaf, not a template from Learning Express.  We might create art, and spirituality, and be able to take a trip of a lifetime to a country my kids and I have only dreamed about.  And when I’m gone, when my things and files and personal notes are gone through, if someone sees my bank statements, they might see how I gave charitably and lived fully.  I don’t think they would look at it and say, Wow!  She must have been really hungry!

And like they said at the UU church today, “the candle’s flame does not diminish because another was lit from it.”

So, I think about the banks I bought for my boys a couple of Christmas’s ago, (yes, at Learning Express!) the kind with three silos:  one for spending, one for saving, and one for charity.  I think of the allowance I pay them in the summer and how one dollar goes into charity and two into savings and two into spending but am I really connecting the dots for them?  Sure, they get that it will take them two weeks to buy a Bakugan.  They get that if they spend that money on a bubble gums binge, it will take three, maybe four weeks to get that Bakugan.  But the savings, for what?  The charity, for what?  Can I help them make a personal connection to that money? Based on their values.  Based on their morals.  One may save for college books.  One may save to start his own business.  One a home.  One may decide to hand his charity money to the man he saw begging at the stoplight on the offramp to Uncle’s house.  One, a shoebox full of fun things for a needy eight-year-old’s Christmas.  One, a musical instrument for a floundering school music program.

But maybe, as I learn to listen to my inner voice, the things that tug at my heart, I can teach them to do the same.  I can teach them, too, to listen to their moral callings and put them into action, in every way.  Including their nickels, their dimes, their pennies.  I can teach them to be full.

Giant Wardorobe
October 12, 2009, 4:21 pm
Filed under: culture, suburban, suburbanite, volntary simplicity | Tags:

“Nobody has these giant peices of furniture in their homes anymore but, somehow, you make it work!”

Ahh, yes.  A compliment, I think, for my gargantuan supposed to be bedroom armoire, turned family room armoire and my design ability to make due with it.  The hulking piece of wood that wouldn’t fit up the stairway when we moved into this, our adorable older home in the equally adorable neighborhood where we currently live.  Imagine towering pines, a muddy river aflow with weekend kyakers and fishermen.  Picture perfect frame homes, windows lashed with shutters and window boxes.  Brick walkways.  Petunias.  Sodded lawns. 

Imagine also, if you will, the underbelly of a community not all too dramatized by Desperate Housewives.  Not all too produced by The Real Housewives of the…whereever.  Could be anywhere.  Everywhere.  Even here.  Especially.

My husband, my three little boys, our old dog, and I moved into this pretty, little yellow house on my birthday four years ago saying, “There’s lots we could do with it, but nothing that has to be done right now.”  We were happy.  We had found a solid home and a warm community where our boys could run across backyards and ride their bikes to friends’.  People made us pan after pan of brownies, welcoming us.  We were finally settled and chatted over details of  slowly creating our dream house.

“Slowly” is a big, bad, dirty word here.

“Slowly” nothin’.  Homes were being gutted.  New homes were being added on top of old ones.  Yards were being leveled and replaced with golf-course caliber greens, and in some cases, actual private putting greens.  Roof ripped off.  Garages turned into play rooms.  Guest rooms into closets.  Kitchens turned into emporiums.

“Slowly” got no place here in the suburbs except to seperate those who can (apparently) afford to renovate in the swoop of a wand  from those who can’t. 

But, we got the slows.  No way around it.  And finally, after a couple of years of saving, me working a side job, many “gotta fix” projects, and taking advantage of recession retailers’ desperate sales, we finally bought new family room furniture.  Monumental!  We were so excited!  And it wasn’t cheap (to me, anyway).  We got nice stuff.  Just the right buttery color.  Ample seating.  Style.  Situated neatly in the room.  I’m in complete acceptance that whatever it is we purchase, it’s going to stay with us for a long, long time so, we gotta love it, it’s gotta work, and it’s gotta last.  Thus the centerpiece of the family room, the monstrous armoire.

A purchase made several years ago with a small, four-figure inheritance from my great-grandmother.  I made sure we spent the money on something we would keep with us for a long time.  I felt and feel this honors my great-grandma’s (love ya’, Lu-Lu-Belle!) memory as well as the hard work and sacrifices she made to save her pennies and be sure that all of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren never went without. 

Do I still LOVE the armoire?  Not so much.  It’s more traditional than I am.  It fit the style of our first home much better and, to me, does suit the bedroom it was originally intended for better than the family room.  I do love some of the newer, sleeker, mid-century modern sort of styles that are hip, now.  I realize that flashing your flatscreen equals shouldering your new Prada bag, but, the armoire’s not going anywhere.  I don’t think we could even get it back out the door.  And why? really.  Why would I ditch a perfectly well-crafted piece of furniture for a pottery barn television stand that I will not like in two years either.

So, what did I say to my neighbor who insisted on seeing my new stuff (the hood was buzzing when they saw the Bassett truck pull up in my driveway) said, “Nobody’s got these giant peices of furniture in their homes anymore, but somehow, you make it work,” Did I respond…

“This is a reminder to me of  my great-grandmother’s love and generosity.”  NO.

“This is a classic and never goes out of style.  Money, apparently, doesn’t buy you taste.” NO.

“I think it is ecologically, financially, and morally irresponsible to continually consume and discard.” NO.

 I said nothing, because I am too slow.

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