Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mental Sustainability

I spent four hours Sunday stripping leaves off branches and cutting branches into kindling.

Why? Because I could!

After spending week after week sitting still and not able to do anything in the yard or garden, I worked slowly, at a task that would not hurt me, at an enjoyable pace, and I discovered something about myself: this is what I could do every day.  Gardening, yard work, housekeeping, cooking, canning, all of it.  Every day.

In the past, when I thought of being sustainable – I would think of the basics: food, clothing, shelter, water, safety, etc.  When I sat for a while – I discovered that there is another aspect to sustainability that I didn’t fully understand:  Mental sustainability. There are things that are individual to each of us that we require to have a mental wellness.  For me:  the relationships around me of family, friends, neighbors, gardening and nature, contributing to a community, cultivating beauty and creativity, writing, music, seeing a value in the day to day work that I do and playing games and having fun.

For example, there is a happiness that occurs when I complete a task I enjoy:  huge stick pile + empty bucket + stripping the leaves and cutting up sticks = full bucket. Full bucket of kindling + Winter weather = fire starter for cooking and heat. The value of the small amounts of work equal a greater value in the end and result in comfort, heat and food for family and friends and a warm shelter during the storms, as well as a mental comfort and warmth that recharges me and helps me deal with the harshness that sometimes occurs in the world. There is something magical that happens around a hearth.

Another realization came to me this week.  Although there are some projects that need to be done around the house and garden, I need nothing. I was surprised to find that the mental wish list of random things has disappeared. I have enough.  I am not excluding the dream of one day owning more land and being able to have animals and a much larger garden. That is a family dream. For me, personally, I’m done. I have everything I need and, in fact, actually need less than I have.  The few things I do plan to buy in the next year are related to living with less and being sustainable. (bike, hiking shoes, some plants and gardening supplies, and books. Books to read and learn and pass on.)  In the past, when October hit, I would start the frenzy of holiday wish lists and shopping. I really love to give gifts and encourage people, but a lot of the time it seems to just add to a pile of things they already don’t have the time to use. I really enjoy giving and receiving gifts of consumable such as candles, wine, a meal, traveling together, something handmade. Something to create a memory and show another person they are remembered and loved. I am looking forward to being creative with these new ideas for the holidays this year. If we could only change our minds and habits, and instead give of ourselves and our time.

As I rode the bus to work today, I overheard a conversation between an older man and a younger mom with her child. Their discussion was about where they would be sleeping tonight. He would be behind a dumpster downtown, in a friend’s hallway, maybe a shelter, and the woman had a hotel room that she and her child were staying in for a little while to keep them off the streets.  Neither knew what they would be doing for the winter.

This conversation brought what matters most into very clear focus. The chaos of 8-5, which really means 7:15 -5:45 some days with the bus commute, traffic screaming around school buses, around corners and everything screaming around me, the pushing around of papers for 8 hours and the same chaotic trip home. Time passes quickly, without much meaning in a failing economy and goals that can’t be met.  I like my job and most of the people I work with, but at the end of the day – where is the full bucket? I am grateful to have work, when so many people don’t, but where is the cultivation of beauty and creativity?  The money I make is useful for providing for our family and things we need…but what if we just didn’t need all those things anymore? In the evenings I walk or sit in the garden and wish for a day of hard work that contributes to the world to make it better. We’re all in this together and we need each other and in the evenings I am often too tired to spend time the way I would choose. I do my best to make the experience of my job useful to the accounts I deal with and I believe that I get paid to contribute something of value to the company every day. I do this for myself, so I can look at myself in a mirror and be satisfied that – even if I am not living what I dream  – I am giving my best to this day and what I am doing now. I know now that this way is not mentally or physically sustainable for me.

However, the wind is changing, the fog is lifting, and my mind is clearer than it has ever been.

There is something in motion here that will take me to a new place. It already has begun to change me. I don’t know the exact path or where it will lead, but the direction I am facing now looks very different and it feels like home...

and home is a great place to be...

A Small Harvest

Monday, September 17, 2012

One Woman's Story

There are so many websites and blogs that I regularly visit and read. One of my favorites is www.rowdykittens.com/blog  My first introduction to Tammy Strobel was while watching an episode of  Peak Moment where she and her husband Logan were interviewed because they had downsized their lives, sold their cars, and were living more simply with a dream of building and living in a Tiny House. 

In the year since I first watched that episode - I have watched every episode of Peak Moment and have been introduced to a world of people living deliberately, making greener choices, being aware of the cause and effect of every action we take in life. A community of people that I can relate to even if I am not geographically near them.

Also, I found that Tammy’s name came up in many of the places I visited on-line, and that the story continued after that video and they had built their Tiny House. This week her new book comes out “You Can Buy Happiness –And It’s Cheap”. I ordered it early and have already read through once and I loved it!  When I read it, I could hear her speaking in the calm and confident voice that I have heard so many times in the past year. I am reading it through a second time now and doing the micro exercises and journaling at the end of each chapter. 

We have had a Winter with our Wood Cooktop, many experiments  growing different plants and flowers in our garden and when I sprained my ankle and was out of work for 7 weeks, I read everything I could find on-line. Several things resulted from my stay at home.  I changed. What I want from life, what I value, my perspective and my needs.  Everything changed or came into clearer focus. I will be sharing more about these things in later posts.

If you are feeling overwhelmed with debt, career, keeping track of and maintaining your stuff, or feel like you are on a treadmill and you can’t get off – I would recommend reading this book.

The whole cycle and excess of consuming and spending isn’t necessary and that there is a way out. Even if I can't see the end of the paring down, donating and living with less just yet, I am working toward a simpler life filled only with what I need and more time and energy for the people and activities that add value to my life and to the world around me.

What I know after reading this book – is that there is hope, space and peace to be found.
And I can make small changes every day toward that end. 

Thank you, Tammy, for your story and for sharing the journey. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Mammoth Sunflowers

What started as a few Mammoth Sunflower seeds became one of the most interesting beds this year. The flowers were towering over us and slowly, over time, opened and became a vibrant yellow and green and then grew to enormous size and started drooping over until they filled with seeds and we were able to harvest them.  We took the seeds out of the first couple that were done, and have 3 more large flowers to harvest seeds from.  I really enjoyed this experiment. The Summer of looking out the window to a beautiful bed of flowers and the song of the American Goldfinches, as well as the many, many different bees and other insects we observed - all made this a fun and interactive garden for many months. We interacted with the garden as well as the many people who stopped by and commented on the flowers - or slowed down to see them as they drove by. We will definitely be including the Mammoth Sunflowers in the garden next year!

Evening walks in the garden - wine in hand

Amazing pattern

Seeds from the first Sunflower

Checking on another flower

Even now - smaller flowers still try to grow

Seeds from the second Sunflower

A treat for the Squirrels and Birds

The flowers are all cut down, but some of the stalks are still standing as we wait for the Mexican Red Beans to dry for harvesting.  Scheming has already begun as to where these beauties will be next year and how we can grow more of them! Such a rewarding effort in so many ways.

Waiting for Carrots

We planted 1/2 a bed of carrots and they are still growing, so when we, by chance, ordered a 5lb. bag of organic carrots instead of a smaller bag, we decided to can them for the Winter.  This is the beauty of gardening. You don't even have to be the person who grows the food!

If you want to put up some canned goods, just purchase from the local food coop or farmer's market - or if you have access through the grocery store to buy organic food - you have the opportunity to eat fresh carrots in the middle of Winter - just like anyone else who grew them, and you have the added benefit of supporting local farms.

The basics are the basics. A bag of carrots, peeled and sliced up - pressure canner for 25 mins. and magical veggies for those Winter stews.  The pressure canner is the most complicated part and once you get using it, it gets less intimidating.

"Accidental" Purchase of carrotts

peels for the compost

cut to a uniform size
Delicious Carrots

We have carrots growing and plan to eat them as they are ready - and if there are lots, we'll do some more canning. One of the things I like about this gardening adventure is that we are learning so much about planting, growing, harvesting and canning.  

If you think you don't have the time (patience, money, knowledge) to grow something, then just learn one thing at a time and learn how to can something you love to eat. Our connection to food is part of us, and learning just one thing to make that connection more valuable, adds to the enjoyment of food and connects us to the real purpose of food...Delicious fuel for our bodies.