Today I turn thirty-three years old and my blog turns two. It’s kind of fun sharing a birthday with my blog. She has become a close friend of mine – the sort of friend who listens without judging or offering advice and never hates me despite how weird I seem to the rest of the world.
My birthday is not a special affair – not because my partner doesn’t try to make it a huge deal [he tries throwing me a party every frickin year], but because I don’t like a lot of fuss about my birthday. I prefer quiet time at home with my family instead of a big celebration, and this year that’s exactly what I’m getting [thanks, Coronavirus!].
My plans include a movie with chocolate and champagne. Sounds absolutely perfect.
In honor of my blog’s birthday, I’m doing some reflection on the past two years.
As someone who gets bored very quickly and has started [and stopped] multiple “blogging” endeavors in the past, I am quite surprised that I’ve managed to keep this thing going for two years.
I’m grateful to everyone who has stuck with me through my motherhood adventures, my dabbling in veganism, my purging of our belongings, and my attempt a [nearly] zero waste living. It’s been an eventful two years.
Looking back over my posts, I realize that this blog is very scatter-brained [which I suppose is only natural since I’m very scatter-brained]. In the past two years, I’ve written about minimalism, simplicity, zero waste, DIY, healthy living and motherhood. I’ve posted about clothing purges, my farm share, time outdoors with my kids, craft projects, grocery shopping, books I’ve read, my home birth, and even my trash can has made several appearances. It’s been weird, I know.
But, believe it or not, in the midst of all this randomness, I have been pursuing one main goal – which is the goal of this blog.
To live a simple and intentional life
Doesn’t sound too tough, but turns out this is a very counter-cultural way of life – at least, counter to my American culture which is focused on convenience and consumerism and accumulating wealth and working yourself to death in pursuit of it. American culture also has a tendency to glorify busyness, as if the people who are going the fastest, filling their schedules the fullest, collapsing into bed at night the most exhausted are the ones winning at life.
When I talk about my kids playing outside all day instead of watching television, or taking my own mason jars to the grocery store, or using bar shampoo, or [god forbid] not buying paper towels, I mostly get eye-rolls.
Living simply and intentionally has not only been challenging – it has also been lonely.
This blog has served as my personal sounding board and safe space for reflection [made all the safer by the small number of people who read it] and also a means of finding connections with other like-minded bloggers.
This blog is not about giving people advice or tips or how-tos. This has been my own personal exploration of how I want to live my best life.
Thus far, I’ve focused mostly on the simple side of things. I’ve been working on reducing clutter [physical and otherwise] and stopping the constant influx of new stuff. I’ve been avoiding further damage to the planet through reducing our waste and recycling what we can and repurposing what we can’t. I’ve been spending more time with my kids outdoors enjoying nature, creating works of art at the kitchen table, and engaging in their world of make believe. We’ve been doing more reading and baking and building.
We’ve gone back to the basics. Back to a simpler way of life. But something has been missing [from the blog, at least] — the intention.
So this year I am going to spend more time focusing on the intention behind these outward manifestations. I will be sharing more about our charitable contributions, humanitarian efforts and the reasons that go deeper than simply living with less clutter and screen time. Though I haven’t written about it [other than once about a year ago in this post], all of my lifestyle changes have been motivated by a desire to live an intentional life.
This blog is not just about simplicity – it’s about living a life of meaning and purpose.
Simple living and minimalism and zero waste save a lot of money, but for what purpose? Just to hoard my abundant resources until I die? To increase my already luxurious existence? To ensure that I can live out the end of my days without a care in the world? Is that what life is really all about?
These are the ideas that I have been exploring personally and that are going to show up more regularly in my writing.
Also, this blog is in dire need of a redesign which I will hopefully get done soon.
In the past three months, I have read some of the most profound and transformative books of my entire life. So, rather than wait til July, I’m switching to quarterly book reviews.
But first, I want to preface my reviews by saying that I don’t pretend to be an expert on…well…anything and these comments are just my own personal responses to reading the books.
I’ve come to see how books are a huge part of my journey and that the timing of reading a book makes a big difference in how I will receive it. I think this is true for most people. For instance, several years ago I read many books about minimalism, simplicity, and decluttering. Each of these was helpful at the time in teaching me how to simplify and organize my life. They served as an important first step toward a more intentional and less egocentric existence. I found many of these books to be transformative [such as The Year of Less by Cait Flanders and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo and Slow by Brooke McAlary]. However, I tried to read another one a few weeks ago [When Less Becomes More by Emily Ley] and I just couldn’t do it. I’m at a different place in my journey now and while these books set me on the right path, I’m ready to move to the next level of intentional living. [You’ll see what I mean as you look at the books I’ve read so far this year.]
All that to say, I have read these books because they challenge my worldview and challenge me to change and that is what I love most about books.
[Also, the star ratings are purely for fun and only reflect my own personal enjoyment of the book.]
So here we go…
milk and honey by rupi kaur
This is a very short book of poems which is on Emma Watson’s feminist book club list. Clearly, I really enjoyed it [hence the five stars]. It was beautiful and powerful.
One of my favorite things about Kaur’s poetry is that “I” is never capitalized [actually nothing is capitalized]. It reminded me of a brilliant guy I dated in college who always used a lowercase “i” to refer to himself in writing because he didn’t think it was right for us to only capitalize the word referring to ourselves, but not the other pronouns. I LOVE that. I don’t know if it was Kaur’s intent, but the lack of capitalization created a unique, visual equality in her work.
I definitely recommend this book – but I also know that some people will be offended by it [as people are offended by anything feminine and frank] and that others will think it’s plain nonsense.
Truth is uncomfortable sometimes.
Hunger by Roxane Gay
This was another book from Emma Watson’s book club list. I had anticipated it being feminist, but I wasn’t prepared for how it would affect me as a personal trainer. Everyone needs to read this book to better understand the complexities surrounding body image in our culture. Although I have always been a strong advocate of “healthy over skinny” and “strong is the new sexy” kind of stuff, I have never experienced what it is like to be obese in our culture. This book was eye opening into the pain and discomfort that comes with living in a world designed for skinny people.
The most important lesson of all, however, is the age-old and yet still unmastered rule of etiquette: stop judging people by their outward appearance! [Geez. You would think we would have this one down by now!] This applies to so many people today. No one wants to be instantly judged because of the way they look – even if their appearance is their choice. We don’t know the whole person and the small glimpses we get are just tiny fragments of the whole reality. Roxane’s story is proof that sometimes even the people closest to us don’t know the whole truth.
“He said/she said is why so many victims (or survivors, if you prefer that terminology) don’t come forward. All too often, what “he said” matters more, so we just swallow the truth. We swallow it, and more often than not, that truth turns rancid. It spreads through the body like an infection. It becomes depression or addiction or obsession or some other physical manifestation of the silence of what she would have said, needed to say, couldn’t say.”
Roxane Gay, Hunger
And, then, if that wasn’t enough of a reason for this book to be awesome, it is also full of amazing truths about how frickin sexist our society is.
I was angry because young men in politics were treated like rising stars, but young women were treated like — well, young women. I was angry about all the women candidates who put their political skills on hold to raise children — and all the male candidates who didn’t. I was angry about the human talent that was lost because it was born into a female body and the mediocrity that was rewarded because it was born into a male one. And I was angry because the media took racism seriously — or at least pretended to — but with sexism, they rarely bothered even to pretend. Resentment of women still seemed safe, whether it took the form of demonizing black single mothers or making routine jokes about powerful women being ball-busters.”
Roxane Gay, Hunger
The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn
This is the only book I’ve read all year [so far] that I didn’t really like. I chose it because I love to read books that are being made into movies before I see the films. Unfortunately, this one was just like The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, which was also totally predictable. I don’t know if this is a result of all of those creative writing courses I took in college, studying how to create a good plot twist, but I have read very, very few books that have legitimately surprised me. I should probably just give up on the suspense/thriller genre altogether, as it is usually a disappointment.
[Some exceptions are The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton and Where the Crawdad’s Sing by Delia Owens – both of which I loved and highly recommend.]
My sincere apologies to Mr. Finn…
How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids by Carla Naumburg, PhD
Everyone who has kids should read this. Even if you are thinking right now that you don’t need to read it because you would never lose yourshit with your little angels [you’re totally lying to yourself], you should read it anyway because it’s HILARIOUS. This author is the funniest I have ever read [though I am severely sleep-deprived due to having four little “button-pushers” so I may be very easily amused].
Last year I read Now Say This [for the second time], which was all about how to respond to your children and nurture them and empower them and teach them a sense of morality etc. Well, How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t is basically all about how to nurture yourself.
It was AWESOME.
It is also so full of wisdom that I would love to quote the ENTIRE BOOK right here, but you should really just go read it for yourself…because that’s obviously why it’s in a book form. In fact, I will probably start buying this book for new parents because it is that essential.
Many parenting books focus on how to get kids to stop with all the [button] pushing already. While it is technically your job as a parent to teach your children to keep their hands to themselves, both literally and figuratively, this is not the best tactic for managing your shit. Do you really want to hinge your sanity on the behavior of someone who licks walls and melts down over the shape of a piece of toast? Yeah, I didn’t think so.”
Carla Naumburg, PhD How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids
Since I can’t quote the whole thing, I’ll share one of the impactful nuggets of wisdom for me personally: STOP MULTI-TASKING! It seems so obvious to me now, but as soon as she said it I realized that I get super irritated with my kids any time I am trying to get something done AND spend time with them. In these situations, I think I’m being productive [and I highly value productivity], but in reality nothing gets done with quality and I just get upset more easily. So, I’ve been practicing being completely present during my time with the kids – setting the phone far, far away, focusing on my kids instead of running through my mental to-do list, engaging in activities with them instead of setting them up to play and walking away.
This was just one of the major helpful tips, but trust me, this book has TONS of excellent advice. You will definitely find your triggers and learn how to manage them, which is essential to avoid losing your shit.
“Screwing up and being awesome are not mutually exclusive.”
Carla Naumburg, PhD
Carla, I freaking love you.
Religion As We Know It: An Origin Story by Jack Miles
My relationship with religion is very complicated. In spite of that [or maybe because of it], I enjoy reading religious books of all sorts. I picked this book up because I have been studying philosophy and world religions in my spare time and this book [which is apparently the expanded preface to Norton’s Anthology of World Religions] piqued my curiosity.
In the end, this book turned out to be different than I expected, but had a profound effect on my belief system regarding religion.
“Religion seems to me to bear one aspect when considered as a special claim of knowledge and quite another aspect when considered as a special acknowledgment of ignorance.”
Jack Miles, Religion As We Know It
I don’t really want to get into my history with religion, particularly Protestant evangelicalism which was the most important part of my life for twenty-seven years, but I will say that while I have intentionally rejected religious practice in my own life and don’t hold any religious work as the “inerrant word of god,” Jack Miles made an excellent point that even fiction can be used to teach spiritual truths.
“Religious truth can be conveyed as well through fiction as through history. Patristic and medieval Christianity were content for centuries to search the Bible for moral allegories rather than for historical evidence…But because Protestantism, rejecting allegorical interpretation, had consistently emphasized and valorized the historical or “plain,” non-allegorical content of the Bible, Protestant Christianity has particular trouble entertaining the notion that the Bible could be historically false in some regards and yet still religiously valid.”
Jack Miles, Religion As We Know It
This kind of blew my mind. I’ve been wandering in this strange unfamiliar space of not believing the Bible to be without error, and yet not really being able to throw it out entirely. Of course, I was raised just as he stated, that the Bible is to be taken literally and believed as the final word on everything – scientific, historical, and spiritual. So I reasonably believed that if I can’t accept a part of it, I have to toss the whole thing. But, turns out, hermeneutics really are everything. [I learned that in Bible college —but unfortunately I also learned the wrong hermeneutic.]
If this is all sounding a little deep, well, it is. I enjoy academic books, but geez, I had to reread each sentence in this book about three times! Still a worthwhile read for anyone interested in religious studies.
Now let’s move on to something more light and fluffy…
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman
Please read this book.
Well, first, read Backman’s first novel, A Man Called Ove, which still might be my favorite fiction book of all time.
After that, read this book.
Just when I thought Backman couldn’t possibly be any more brilliant [no seriously, I read his third novel and was disappointed so I thought he exhausted his brilliance writing Ove], he writes a book that is so beautiful, so imaginative, so powerful that I literally cried. [Admittedly, it doesn’t take much to make me cry, but still…] This man has a way of telling a story that I simply ADORE.
I cannot WAIT for the libraries to reopen so I can get my hands on Beartown!
Waking Up White by Debby Irving
This book is an absolute must read for every white American who has ever said that they aren’t racist, mentioned “the race card,” complained about affirmative action, stereotyped someone from a non-white race, or believed that they earned their wealth and status by hard work and determination. In other words, this is book is an absolute necessity for every single white American.
A few years ago, I read Where Do We Go From Here, by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was simultaneously inspired and ashamed —inspired to continue the important civil rights work that began over sixty-five years ago and deeply ashamed to find myself among the white population of America that thought the work was already done. While the idea of racism has always been utterly appalling to me, I finally realized that I was complicit in the ongoing inequality that people of color endure in America simply by believing that we had done enough to right the wrongs.
Anyway, to make a long story short, I’ve been working since then to unpack my own biases and trying to truly and genuinely and humbly understand the issues surrounding racial inequality in America – including the implications of my own whiteness. However, I have continually hit brick walls when trying to discuss the topic of race with any of the white people I know – all of whom believe themselves to be entirely free of any guilt and without any obligation to right anything because nothing is wrong.
“The story emerging for me, however, tells a tale of black and brown people being held down so long that white folks have come to believe they got there on their own. The removal of legal barriers that once separated the races has done little to change the distorted belief system that lives on in the hearts and minds of millions of individuals. At this point, the only thing needed for racism to continue is for good people to do nothing.”
Debby Irving, Waking Up White
Then came Debby Irving, who I don’t know at all, but feel like is a kindred spirit because we are so much alike [and I listened to her read the audiobook so I felt like she was talking directly to me].
Let me tell you, no book has ever been so transformative for me. Maybe it’s because I was prepared by other race related books and documentaries and television shows and biographies, that I could easily soak up every truth in this book. I don’t know if I would have accepted it in previous years. It is not an easy truth to accept about myself. But I hope beyond hope that more people will read this book and discover like I did that my own whiteness has shaped my identity and just because I live in a white world doesn’t mean that everyone should have to do things the white way.
“In policy after policy, act after act, the United States has reaffirmed its commitment to being a melting-pot society adhering to Anglo-Saxon standards, as opposed to a mosaic nation built on the diversity of multiple cultures.”
Debby Irving, Waking Up White
We still have a long way to go, but we can get there if we stop denying that there is a problem and start working toward a solution. And the place to begin is by understanding the culture of whiteness.
Awake by Noel Brewer Yeatts
It’s impossible to read this book – a compilation of true stories from all over the globe – and not be moved with compassion for the half a billion people on this planet who live in extreme poverty.
This book led me to Peter Singer’s book The Life You Can Save and these two books combined have changed me forever – starting with the commitment to donate 100% of my income to charitable work easing poverty around the world. I’m not the sole breadwinner in my family, obviously, but I want to give whatever I have so that fewer children will die because of drinking unclean water, fewer young girls will be kidnapped and sold into prostitution, fewer women will be raped and impregnated and infected with AIDS, fewer kids will drop out of school, fewer people will live on less than $2 a day.
“Too often we want to settle for a god who knows and loves everything about us. A god who takes care of us, who makes all our dreams come true, and who keeps us safe. And we are comfortable letting god keep the hurt and pain in the far corners of the earth all to himself. He can keep all of that; just let us keep living in our world – our cool, clean, and comfortable world.”
Noel Brewer Yeatts, Awake
We are so privileged in America that we can actually forget that these tragedies are every day realities in some places in the world right now. But we cannot turn a blind eye to these desperate needs, no matter how far away they may be.
We have the power to change these things, if we choose….and really, there is no other choice.
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
When I saw that Harrison Ford was going to be in the new film version of The Call of the Wild, I was SO EXCITED, so I decided to re-read the book [by listening to the audiobook] before seeing the movie. About halfway through, it dawned on me that I’ve never read the book before. I thought I had read it in high school but maybe I had it confused with White Fang. Honest mistake…now that I’m fifteen years out of high school. [What?!?]
Anyway, I loved this story. As a nature lover and a dog lover this was a very enjoyable read [though at times sad]. I listened to it while running through my local forest preserve during this pandemic quarantine and it provided a nice escape.
I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I am SO EXCITED about it. [I’m a little bit of a Ford fanatic.]
Well, that’s what I’ve been reading. I’m always open to book recommendations!
In 2019, I read 40 books, I fell in love with yoga, I learned to knit, I spent more time outside with my kids, I visited the dentist TWICE, I made my own cleaning products, and I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby.
All-in-all, it was a great year.
This, my friends, is what New Years resolutions are all about. They are NOT just to set and forget. They are supposed to change you. And when they are effective, they are AWESOME.
This year, I have goals that are BIG. They are so big, they are a little scary. I’m almost afraid to state them – but these are things I truly want to accomplish, so I’m going to go for it anyway.
New skill: learn Spanish
Health: run a marathon, swim regularly, improve flexibility
Personal: go back to school for nursing, pursue kidney donation, volunteer regularly
Blog: improve blog design and function, organize and categorize posts
Family: establish family mealtime routine and guidelines, take international trip with Brett
Minimalism: minimalist game in January, remove 30 unused items per month, log all [non-consumable] purchases
Environmentalism: buy milk in glass, switch to safety razor, wooden dish brushes, and straw broom.
Humanitarianism: donate more money this year, sponsor another child, commission quilts for donation
As I’ve said before, I LOVE making resolutions [or goals] because it is so helpful for me to focus on specific things I want to change or improve or learn or accomplish in the new year. Maybe you hate them, maybe you’re indifferent, or maybe you have your own way of goal-setting. Whatever the case, I hope that 2020 is a year of tremendous personal growth and accomplishments for you.
Two years ago, I made a New Years Resolution that changed my life. Of all the goals you may be thinking of setting for 2020, I hope you will give this one a try.
To be perfectly transparent, this resolution didn’t actually change my finances at all, but what it DID do was change my PERSPECTIVE of my money. And, let me tell you, perspective is EVERYTHING. Even though I didn’t necessarily have more money at the end of the year [in fact, I probably had less], for the first time in my life, I felt really frickin’ rich.
My resolution was this:
I resolve to give money EVERY TIME ANYONE ASKS.
For the entire year of 2018,I gave money to every person holding a sign on the side of the road, every kid selling candy outside of a store, every collection bucket at an intersection, every additional dollar at the grocery check-out, every mailer requesting donations, every email asking for money, every heartbreaking commercial that I always used to ignore. I never kept track of any of it, so I have no idea how much this actually amounted to over the year, but, honestly, I haven’t missed any of that money and no matter how much it was, it was worth trading it all for the change it made in me.
To be honest, it was a huge relief. I didn’t have to endure that awkward feeling of trying to not make eye contact with whoever might be asking for money. I didn’t have to think about whether this person was “worthy.” I didn’t have to ask myself whether this was a “good cause.” I didn’t bother researching organizations to find out what percentage of their funds goes to administration costs or look up what the CEO makes. I didn’t pass any judgements or make any assumptions. I didn’t even ask myself if I could afford it [trust me, asking if you can afford it is the first step to finding an excuse]. I just said “yes.” Every time.
One time Brett and I were watching a Netflix comedy special without realizing that there would be a legit appeal for donations at the end…so, guess what. We are now proud supporters of Seth Rogen’s Alzheimer’s foundation called Hilarity for Charity.
Another time, Brett and I were on vacation in Baltimore when a woman came to us asking for five dollars. She told us a long story about why she needed the money and though we didn’t find it very convincing, her reason didn’t matter to me. All that mattered to me was that she needed money and I have plenty to share. We only had $20 bills on us at the time so I gave her one and wished her luck.
Now, I know what some people would say [because people have literally said these things to me]. “She’s just going to buy drugs.” “She is probably a professional beggar making $70k a year.” “You are not helping her, you are just enabling her.” “She doesn’t need a hand-out, she needs a job.” Yadda, yadda, yadda.
Trust me. I’ve heard it all. I was raised with the idea that the only safe, respectable place to give your money is to the church [so they can pay their bills and salaries and then use what’s left for ministering to their church members – am I stepping on toes yet?]. But I wanted to cut out the middle man and give to the needy. Even though my upbringing taught me that you can’t just give money to anyone, it failed to teach me the most important lesson:
Giving is just as much for the giver as it is for the recipient.
Giving money away at every opportunity is something that I do because it is right and good AND because it changes ME.
Giving teaches me to stop holding so tightly to my stuff, to let go of my reliance on my financial security, to live a little more by faith. Giving reminds me that I am blessed, that I was born into privilege, that I am no better than any other human being, and that everyone will face struggles and hard times and I can show simple, tangible love for my fellow humans by reaching into my wallet and giving [literal cold, hard cash] from my heart.
I have no right to pass judgements or make assumptions about the needs or intentions of others – because I am not god.
So many people try to play god, saying “don’t give money to that person because they will probably spend it on drugs or alcohol,” or “don’t give money to that organization because you don’t know if they will use it responsibly.”
Who are we to decide who is worthy of charity?
How are we to know who is “deserving” of our kindness and love? Why do we think WE are qualified to decide who should get money and who shouldn’t? Because we are the ones who have the money? Because we were born into a more privileged situation? Because we were taught the virtues of hard work and money management? Because we had parents who loved us and taught us these things? Does that make it okay for us to pass judgements on them? Or to even view it as an “us” and “them” situation?
We are ALL “US.” We are one big collective group of human beings – unique and diverse except for the unifying fact that we are ALL trying to find our way in the world. And it doesn’t hurt for those of us who are the most privileged to show a little more compassion, to give a little more and to judge a little less.
I like to leave the judging to god. After all, it is impossible for me to know a person’s entire life story from a sign on the side of the road, so I choose to let the universe handle all that stuff and I just do my part, which is give.
And if you believe the Bible, then I think you will agree that Jesus didn’t ask people to give only to those who have been fully vetted or who are completely worthy or who have never made mistakes or who will use the money the wisest. I’m pretty sure he just said to give to people who had needs. That’s the only qualifier. That they have needs.
My job is just to give.
This past year, I didn’t need to make the resolution again because I had already developed a habit. Now, the new resolution is to give more each year than I did the year before.