the simple minded suburbanite

Simpler, does it mean “tougher”?

Real Simple Magazine has been bugging me.  I should like it right?  I should flip its pages and “voila!” I am inspired.  So why do I always leave it on its shelf opting not to read the pictorial comparing the best bristle cleaning brushes?  And why, when I looked at Wanda Urbanska’s links to simple living did I feel that same, “not today,” reaction?  Really, the only thing I could relate to was a video clip on how to make homemade mozzarella cheese( ) and that was only because a neighbor who has really gotten into the farm to table thing thought it would be fun to make a batch for our neighbors last Christmas.  So we did. (I clearly wasn’t practicing my “just say no” approach to simple living!)

Am I the only one who has been feeling that this simplicity thing is becoming really complicated?  To be simple, do I need to keep my own chickens and gather my own fresh eggs?  Do I need to concoct my own cleaning products from a circa 1992 Summer’s Eve and the bark of an Elder tree?  Do I really need to knit my underwear from the dog hairs I sweep up off my hardwood floors?

Why is it that when I seek simple inspiration, I wind up feeling like I should be picking feathers out of my buffalo wings and that I spent too much time shaving my armpits this week?

Let us not forget (that is, let ME not forget) that simpler is better.  That we simplify so that we have time to focus on what is important to us.  Let us not let other people, companies, groups, publications, products, etc decide what simplicity is for us.  Keep this in mind when all you want to do is simply page through a magazine, “You don’t have to put it in your cart!”


What if Your Mary was Right?

Mary is one of my dearest friends, yet she drives me bat shit!  Mostly because Mary is just a little anti.  Anti-neighborhood girls, anti-too-much-wine, anti-spontenaiety, anti-anyone-else’s idea-of-good-time.  But, she’s not anti-social.  She plans outings with our small, but close-knit group of friends.  She hosts family events, invites me to work out at her gym, etc.  All on HER terms, yes, but she is a dedicated and loyal friend.

A few years back, I had my main girls-the ones I could lean on, confide in, be stupid with, which included Mary.  They were and are my “sister-friends” as I’ve heard Mya Angelou refer to her closets women friends.  But, I also had other women friends.  The ones who sat on any given deck on any given Friday (or Tuesday for that matter), drinking lots of wine while our kids played.  The ones who planned the autumn girls weekend, which quickly expanded into another spring girls weekend.  The ones who handed out flourescent-green shots in test tubes to the adults alongside the Snickers for the kids.  My fun friends.

At first, Mary marveled at how I could float in and out of so many social circles.  It seemed fun.  She decided to try it herself but it wasn’t long before Mary couldn’t take it.  It just didn’t suit her and she soon took to calling me before stopping in, verifying, “There’s nobody else there?”  She’d cruise by, intending to stop in only if there were no other beige minivans or black suburbans parked in my drive way.  She’d make a point to say to me, “Don’t invite anyone else” whenever we planned a lunch or a bonfire in the backyard.  She only wanted to spend time with people who “filled her up” she said.  And it pissed me off.

None of my other friends forced me to such separateness.  No other friends were this difficult.  It strained our relationship a bit,a lot even, I admit.

But just the other day, Mary and I’s mutual friend and I turned to each other on the street during a lovely spring walk, “What if Mary was right?” we both chimed and laughed so hard I nearly dislodged my leopard-print underwear from my crack.  We had just finished a conversation, gossip really, about how many of our neighbors were truly falling apart.  How many of these people are the ones who were “the popular ones”, wives who are smaller than their children, husbands who have purchased the new Porsche, kids who have played on the city team since age 5.  The beach houses, the parties, the facials, it all! How emptiness had caught up to many of them.  How life had imposed its magnificent force.  Bankruptcy, personality disorders, pain-killer addictions, anorexia.  All so, seemingly, suddenly.  Seemingly to the rest of us because, they didn’t really let anyone truly know them.  Never let the smile leave their Zap-whitened teeth.  Never let anyone in their house if the housekeeper hadn’t just been there, and then only into the foyer…or the back deck.

I’m not feeling superior here.  I’ve had my problems and you’ve had yours.  But as I’ve gone through life, I’ve begun to realize that I have a need to TRULY connect to people.  That it’s not enough to talk about knockout roses and jeggings.  That if I don’t start applying my ideals of voluntary simplicity to the relationships I chose in my life, I will have no room to nurture the truly meaningful ones, including the one with myself.  It has been time to de-clutter.  Time to line my shelves with a few, well-placed works of art.  Still, I can make room for a blizzard of Halloween decor, or a barf-fest of fresh pine boughs on the right occasion.  But, these need to go back in the basement, it’s crazy to have them hanging around every day of every year.  Pine boughs drop their needles if left up too long.  The spooky skeleton don’t look so spooky if you start hanging your backpack and soccer shorts from his tibia.  But a fine work of art, a treasured piece of pottery, a gorgeous tapestry, they can stop me in my shoes, they can force a small gasp on any given Tuesday or Friday afternoon.  They fill me up all of the time.

So, maybe my Mary was right. My unique work of art.  That sister-bitch!


My Romanian blood boiled hot while I watched Stevie Nicks sing, “Gypsie” on an old Palladia clip last night.  I imagine myself as a young Nicks spinning around the stage in fringed shawls, like a Pheonix afire, torn between her love of the handsome Buckingham and her passionate need for individuality.  I imagine her grand and fumbling mistakes as she climbs to find her own self, not without a mess of reckage all around her.  This is the mind-stage on which Iwas when I came across an article in Vanity Fair’s March 2011 issue, Bohemian Cove by Vanessa Grigoriadis about a swank set of trailer parks in Malibou.  The dreamy article lead me to my new favorite blog:

It brings out the gypsie wannabe in me and inspires me to travel exotic coves.  I feel the fire of the pheonix in me, let’s see if it does the same for you.  Check Ms. Julia Chapman out, her book on Gypset Style, and imagine super cool.

Don’t get Mad, get Glad

My floors are filthy, I thought as I squeezed a 30 minute nature walk in between volunteering in the kindergarten class and lunch with a friend.  I savored the crunch, crunch beneath my feet.  I alternately forced myself from feeling suspect for not being fully work-out-attired and fist bumping myself for having the foresight to throw a pair of tennis shoes in the van so that I could squeeze in some exercise today.  My plan was a one hour yoga class after volunteering, but my little boy looked up at me and pleaded, “Please, Mommy.  Can you stay for lunch?” Of course, I hugged him, of course.  I’m glad I took time for lunch with my son today.

I scanned the forest for signs of predators, not the furry kind but the kind that might be waiting for a single woman hoofing it in a pair of jeans, obviously not fit enough to dash away in safety, sticking our amongst the occasional gortex-clad mountain bikers that faired the same path.  Yet, I forced my mind to rest.  Sucked full breaths of musty wooded air through my nostrils and savored my increasing pulse.  I’m glad I took time to walk in the woods today.

And back to the van.  The wheel wells are filthy.  And so is the interior. Have I ever waxed this thing?  If only I could park it in the garage. Ugg, the garage….  And my mind wandered through the garage, past the muddy, mudroom, up the back steps to the office, strewn with…  I really shouldn’t be meeting my friend for lunch.  I should cancel.  I need to get caught up.

But, she’s leaving for Turkey tomorrow.  Peeling off my sweat socks and donning my leopard flats, I fist bump myself again for my foresight.  I doff my North Face and toss it on my dirty van floor, tuck my blouse into my gold belt at my hips, release my pony tail, and put on my buggy expensive-looking shades.  I am superman.  My van, my modern-day phone booth.  A quick stop for $3.29/gallon gas, armed with a $10 coupon for hibachi and I’m on my way.

“I read your blog,” my friend said, peeling the paper off her chopsticks.  “I love the post about sharing and bartering.”  And she began talking about how she and her husband were planning on getting pregnant after their marriage this summer in Turkey (he’s a Turk) and how the information I shared helped her open her mind up to perhaps renovating a portion of their home to accommodate international (not foreign, as I’ve been told that Ted Turned has new employees sign a contract vowing never to use that word)  exchange students.  She, herself, speaks three languages, works at a university international exchange program.  And we both started jabbering about how that could come to be, all the while I was thinking, wow.  I actually inspired someone.  It felt good.  I’m glad I took time to blog, that day.

She generously turned the conversation to me, what was I doing?  She noticed the new signature on my email that contained my new business’ name.  So, I smiled and explained and found myself getting really passionate about my future plans and how I wanted my new business to morph into a social entrepreneurship, and how I wanted it to be flexible because compartmentalizing our roles in life is becoming archaic, how I wanted giving to the community and my family time and my creative talents to be part of a whole instead of trying to niche time in the day to dedicate to each one individually, and how this new business could achieve all of those things, and…whew!  “That’s so great!”  she said.  “Some people have a vision without the skills to make it happen.  Some people have the skills but no vision.  You have both,”  she said.  “I think this is the right thing for you.”  I’m glad I took time to have lunch with my friend today.

And I was just glad.  The whole day through.  And I’m sure that someday I will be glad that I popped myself on the couch with my laptop and business plan template before the bus pulled up to the corner.  I’ll be glad that I schlepped my oldest off to music lessons, that I put dinner in the crockpot that morning, that I helped the boys with their homework and made them pick up their rooms before bed.  I’ll be glad for sharing a good belly laugh with my hubby over Jimmy Falon’s impression of Charlie Sheen but, also glad that I sobered myself and reminded my husband that Mr. Sheen is a man and someone’s father and someone’s son and could be ours or anybody’s too.

I’m glad I took the time to be glad in my day.  Fist bump.

The Roof, The Roof, The Roof is on Fire…
October 27, 2010, 1:13 pm
Filed under: authenticity, suburban, suburbs | Tags: ,

It’s election season.  What?  No shit? Sorry to break it to ya.  Well, this year is a first for me.  I am personally acquainted with a candidate.  My good friend ‘s(whom I adore) husband ( who drives me insane) is running for public office. And, since he is down the street from me, there is, of course, much discussion about him and his candidacy.

“Have you seen his roof?!” one neighbor exclaimed.  “Huh?” I answered.  “His roof!  He has at least a dozen shingles falling off of it, not to mention a rotting peice of wood over the garage.  How can I vote for someone who can’t even maintain his own home?”

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I think there are a number of reasons not to cast a vote for this man.  I’ve heard him clearly articulate racial slurs.  He has bashed gays in my presence on numerous occasions.  And, the man has been out of work for two years, barely lifting a finger (according to his wife who sat weeping on my sofa) to find one, feeling that he was talented enough that someone would come to him (so, he probably will make a great politician).

But, don’t vote for him because his home lacks a little polish?  I must have heard her wrong until, at another gathering yet another woman repeated the same reasoning adding, “And he has a see-saw and tether ball game in his front yard!”

Seriously people.  This man’s roof may be sliding off.  His personal roof may even be on fire, but, I am really questioning your foundation…

Women, Sleep, and God
August 13, 2010, 12:14 pm
Filed under: parenting, suburban, suburbs, voluntary simplicity

I slept til noon.  I did!  Wait, first, I was up til midnight consoling my grief stricken 11 yo after the death of his guniea pig, then my kindergartener got in bed with us at about 1.  At 3:30a.m. I packed fruit, bottled water and coffee for our 19yo cousin who has stayed with us for the summer while interning for her 14 hour driving journey back home.  A while to go back to sleep and then up at 6:15 to load bus load #1( my two elementary schoolers) , and back to wake, feed, organize and kiss bus load #2 (my middle schooler) to be off at 8:30. By this time, I’ve ususually shaken off or at least talked myself out of any lingering mental or physical fatigue but not so yesterday.

I’m going to listen to my body, I said to myself.  I’m on this new kick after having read Women Food and God where she talks about just this.  Eat when you’re hungry.  Sleep when you’re tired.  Feel your feelings when you’re not.  Yesterday, I was feeling wiped out.  I started for the couch but then said to myself, no, if I need to rest, I’m going to really rest so off to the bed I went.  As I lay my head on the pillow I listed all of the reasons Iwas so blasted tired just so I could keep myself from springing up and putting away the laundry.  I won’t bore anyone else but my list of what I’ve been doing’s was long and slightly on the Wonder Womanish side.

So, not only did I sleep solidly til noon, but I didn’t even keep my bargain with myself to get up and get things done for the weekend…friends for dinner, school projects, birthdays, christenings, catching up on work, etc…  I continued on from there with a cup of coffee and left over biscuits and gravy (Yes!  My body said.  I really am hungry!) and watched Real Housewives AND an episode of Bethany’s Getting Married before I washed my face to go pick up bus load #1.

And it’s a darn good thing I got some rest, because my children, the ones who have been hauled around on many of our adventures the last few weeks, the ones who also have to rise before the sun to catch the bus, and the ones who did not get to re-rack were sooooo friggin CRANKY!  I broke up numerous fights, intervened in several crying bouts/tantrums, weighed out the benefits of discipline vs understanding, allowed the weeknight playing of the Wii and then took it away.  It was CHAOS! Which, I was much better equipped at handling, having felt somewhat rested.

Alas!  All kids were in bed or in their rooms reading by 8pm.  And even Mommy and Daddy had lights out by 9:45.  Ready to tackle the backlogged world today.  Thank God!  Thank sleep!

Snow Day
January 12, 2010, 3:02 am
Filed under: parenting, suburban, suburbanite, suburbs, voluntary simplicity | Tags:

The South, much like the rest of the country, is suffering a cold snap.  Here, we actually got snow and, though only a small accumulation, it caused major upheavle in a city unaccustomed to the stuff.  School was called off.

Only seconds off the heals of this announcement via television ticker, there was an email from my friend Dee that there would be a playgroup at her house at 1pm of the snow day to fend off the winter blues.  I had mixed feelings about going over for many reasons, none of them having anything to do with how much I love my friend Dee.  I kinda wanted my kids to frolic in the flakes in my own yard so I could play with them and not be stuck at Dee’s kitchen table making small talk with that loud-mouth, Gertrude.  I wanted their few memories of snow to be at our own, pretty, little, yellow house.  The other reason was, I knew Dee’s house would be MOBBED!

I’ll take you back to when we first moved to this neighborhood.  I was overwhelmed.  I was depressed.  I was lonely.  I was determined to make a life with many happy memories for my kids.  We chose this neighborhood because, in a way, it reminded me of my mid-western landscape and there were plenty of primary-colored plastic toys in the driveways.  The neighborhood we moved from, the hood where I brought home all three of my baby boys, was wierd, isolated, unfriendly.  So, imagine my delight when I was bombarded with families bearing pan-loads of brownies to my front door.  Imagine my joy when the boys and I were invited to the pool, to Chuck E. Cheese, to play groups abound.  There were five or six kids who were each of my boys’ ages and I really liked each one of the mothers. 

Playgroups were on Tuesdays after school.  We agreed to rotate houses.  Whoever hosted, would clean up.  Everyone brought a snack, either kid or mommy, and the mommies took to having a glass of wine.  All was lovely.  The kids swarmed through the houses and yards like wierd African mosquitos, buzzing, feasting, colliding.

It lasted that way for a year or so.  Then it started to change, slowly.  We all still had plenty of fun, the moms and the kids. But it started to be just Dee and I who would host, our eighteen month olds sitting at their kiddy table popping gold fish.  The older boys dumped toys out of bins. And, yes, all the mommies and all of their children still came, in droves.  Yes, maybe this arrangement was better with just Dee and I hosting.  We wouldn’t have to worry about them staining Jill’s sofa or choking on something at Sharon’s or Laura’s cranky husband.  Then the wine started to flow more freely and for longer periods of time until, “playgroup” started bleeding into my dinnner prep time, into the time my husband got home, into dinner time altogher.  The kids got wilder with less supervision, getting into cabinets previously off limits.   And playgroup went from Tues afternoons to Tues and Friday afternoons.  All between Dee and I. 

I was starting to feel run over.  My house was always a disaster.  My husband started riding me over the money I was spending at the store furnishing food and wine for the entire neighborhood.  My youngest was toddling and he was harder to keep in sight.  And the other boys, I didn’t feel like I saw much of them at all.  But mostly, after a year and a half of this fun, I realized that, with the exception of Dee, I had not had a truthful, insightful, deep, or meaningful conversation with any of these “friends”.

Slowly, I phased out.  Reclaimed my home.  Reclaimed my time with my kids.  Remained in the folds by stopping in enough and hosting enough to do so.  But Dee…

She moved to Texas.

She was struggling.  Three little children, one of whom she adopted from China.  A husband who, though loving and supportive when home, was not most of the time, spending extrodinary amounts of time building his business that took him mostly out of state.

She was struggling so much but would not tell anyone.  Would not ask for help, in fact refused help when offered.

I remember the first time I forced my “help’ on her.  I showed up at her front door at 11:30 in the afternoon with 4 Happy Meals waiting in the van and said, “I’m taking your 2 kids that are home to my house for lunch and playtime to repay you for the times you’ve watched mine for me.  Get their shoes or don’t get their shoes, but you’re getting some time off.”  She quarled, of course, but let me take them and I knew she was grateful.

So, she moved to Texas with her kids, her 2 yappy dogs, her hubby, and a pet turtle to be closer to extended familyand to get a little…help. 

It didn’t work out.  They came back.  And we were all so happy to have them back.  So, so special.  But things had changed a bit while she was gone.  She was the glue, I guess you could call it.  We all remained friends but with me deciding that some solitude and order was important in my life and with others not really all that readily entertaining, we had all remained friends but had forged smaller group friendships.  I myself have found two of the most precious friends I have ever had in my life.  Deep relationships.  Dependable ones.  I got my marriage back on track and my kids thrived in our little world of inter-locking back yards.

And Dee came back and some things are just about right back to where they were.

Kids are dumped at her house 24/7.  And I mean this.  From the crack of dawn.  From the moment the school bus lets out.  Even when all of her kids are off to school.  Her house is a constant swarm.

Just about back to where they were.

I see a crack in Dee.  A fatigue.  I watch her husband when he comes home from a trip as he surveys the trashed house, the looted wine fridge.  “Na, don’t bother cleaning up,” he’ll say with sarcasm.  “Is everyone staying for dinner?” or “Gee, why are so many of my wine dollars going to cases of cheap Chardonay when we only drink red?”

Dee and I are close friends.  We have real conversations.  Our families get along so well.  I’ll tell her what I think, even if I know she won’t agree and once, she even told me that something I said “upset” her.  WOW!  Go Dee!

“I’m working on it, I really am, ” she said to me one day when I had invited her kids over so she and her hubby could get some alone time.  When I pointed out that she never gets time to herself.  That she is constantly helping others out.  That she can’t sleep more that 3-4 hours a night. She couldn’t send her kids over because there were six other kids already at her house.  “Send your kids over here,” she said instead.

“No.  I’m not going to do that.  But what you’re going to do is write down on your calendar that next Friday at 3pm, you’re sending your kids over here and you’re going to relax or get things done, or screw on top of the turtle habitat. Whatever.”

But Friday was a snow day.

And the play date was at Dee’s.

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