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Posts Tagged ‘values’

but tossing and turning instead because my brain won’t turn off.

As I was lying in bed last night, I was thinking about yesterday’s post and how complicated my life really is. Today, on Facebook, three of my friends were lamenting Monday, and realizing that somewhere along the way, we have forgotten how to live.

The  joy has been sucked out of our lives with busyness: long commutes, needless paperwork, unpaid overtime, too many papers coming home from school, soccer games, and lawn mowing.  Even 13th Century peasants had 80 holidays per year, and slowed down in the winter long enough to mend their socks and make babies.

Some people are lucky enough to be in the financial situation to be able to do what they want, and others of us, are treading water, trying to get the bills paid. I know some will say, “follow your bliss”, “quit your job and do what makes you happy”, “sell your house and your car and everything will be okay”.

Some of us are just not in the financial position to do that.  I’ve been reading a lot of blogs about simplicity, and there are  a lot of hardcore, all or nothing types.  Either you sell your t.v. and your car, or you might as well give up your quest for a simpler life.  That’s just not possible for all everyone.  Some of us have child support to pay;  a significant other in school; are under or unemployed; have houses that won’t sell in this market; or are up to their eyeballs in student loans and credit card debt.  Maybe we live in places that have no public transportation and eight-year-olds that can’t ride their bikes 10 miles to town and back. What about us?  I am hopelessly optimistic.  I just think we will have to be ultra creative to figure this all out.

What do those of us that want a simpler life now do? In our minds we see how we want our lives to be, but aren’t sure how to get there.  Maybe we don’t even know how we want our lives to look yet, so we can’t even begin to make a change.

Eight years ago, I knew that something wasn’t quite right in my life. I really felt stale and stagnant.

So I took the following steps to make some changes. I…

  • learned to oil paint. I had always wanted to learn to paint, so when my daughter was just about a year old, I took an oil painting class.
  • threw pots on a wheel at a pottery studio. Let me tell you, pottery can be therapeutic. The other major and maybe the most life transforming thing that I learned was: Don’t be afraid to look like an idiot and ask questions. People want to help you.
  • came to terms with the thought that I wasn’t crazy, just creative. I saw a counselor for a while, but I think anyone could have filled the role of letting me know that I wasn’t crazy, just different from the mainstream. Who wants to be like everyone else anyway?
  • tried every thing I could think of to save my marriage. I didn’t bolt, and suffered for a while, but I wanted to make sure every step had been overturned before I left.
  • found people in my tribe. This included people from age 21-76. Age doesn’t matter, heart does.
  • made a plan. I went back and got my teaching certificate for High School science so I could find a job with a paycheck that could support myself.
  • finally learned how to use my camera which is by far the most fun I’ve had so far.
  • met a great friend that shares my lust for learning, so I married him.
  • really started evaluating what I eat, buy and otherwise consume, and have started making some difficult choices in my behaviors to match up with my values.

So, that’s what I’ve done so far, not all at the same time mind you-over the course of the last eight years. I’m not there yet, far from it. I still feel like there is a lot more for me to learn.

The last ten years have beat me up in a lot of ways, but I wouldn’t trade them because I learned too much about myself. If I hadn’t have had troubles along the way, I would still be stupid 26 year-old Jenny, and not mildly jaded 36 year-old Jenny.

So friends, what are we going to do to find the simplicity and connectedness in our lives that we want?

Step One: We have to evaluate what our values truly are. What do we hold dearest to us in our lives?  How can we better show through our lives what is most important to us? And then, this is the kicker…we have to prioritize those values. Put them in 1,2,3 order with one being the most important to you.

I’m going to sleep on this one tonight, and post more about this tomorrow. If you are courageous, post your values in order in the comment section on the blog, and maybe we can help each other out.

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Today I almost witnessed a rumble.

Luckily both parties were mature, and no one threw any punches.

The near rumble was over one person’s reasons for becoming a vegetarian.  He explained that he is a vegetarian because he wants to know where his food comes from.  He wants to know that his food he is eating was not raised in a closed, cramped, dark and dirty barn.  He went on to explain that as a vegetarian, he has more control over the food that he eats, and its origins.

Across the table from him, sat a hog farmer and agricultural advocate.  She asked him if he knew where all that food came from.  He said that he tries to buy things at farmers markets.  He also explained that he does eat tofu.

That’s where the rumble ended.

Jeremy, the chicken ark, and our raised beds.  In the distance is our neighbor’s garden.

This is a conversation that should happen, but doesn’t. We have folks involved in big agriculture, small farmers, and the consumers that are eating the products, that should be talking.  But we don’t.

The last several years have been a journey of learning about the food that goes into my body.  The conclusion that I’ve come to is that I want to control as much of the food that goes into my family’s mouth as possible.

We have issues of too many chemicals on our food.  Nutrients have been selected out out of our food and replaced with long shelf life.  Genetically modified foods change the composition of the foods that we eat, increase the resistance of pests and weeds, the long term effects of their consumption are unknown, and more importantly, these strains are being released into the wild where they cannot be controlled (tofu comes from soy, 91% of the soybean crop in the US is genetically modified).  Big agribusiness controls the family farmer and can shut down any of their “customers” (the farmer) at any time.  Not only do we import fresh fruits and vegetables from foreign countries, but canned and frozen ones too.   Most of the apple juice we consume comes from China; not only does add thousands of food miles to our food, but it also jerks around with the world water supply.

Becoming a vegetarian alone will not solve these issues.  Knowing exactly where our food comes from, how it was raised, and what is in it will.

Here is my current food mantra.

My step-daughter raking in the garden.

-We buy meats for our freezer from local farmers.  We buy lamb.  It can be fed out easily and quickly on grass, is gentle on the land, and is easy for small farmers to raise.

-I only use home raised eggs from chickens raised in the grass and sunshine.  Vegetarian eggs are bunk.  Chickens are omnivores, they love bugs and should eat them.

-We raise as many veggies as possible in our small raised bed garden.  We freeze and can tomatoes, beans, broccoli, and carrots.  We also raise potatoes, garlic, and onions.

-What we can’t grow, we buy from our local farmers at the farmer’s market.

-I try to buy cereals and breads made from organic grains.  This limits my family’s exposure to genetically modified foods.

-We are avoiding high fructose corn syrup even if it means giving up some of our favorite treats.

-We buy very few processed foods.

Vegetarians have the right idea.  Trying to reduce our carbon footprint is a good thing.  Trying to eliminate animal cruelty is also a good thing.  But, we need to know the WHOLE story.  It is so difficult to know the whole story.  As Americans we have slowly given away our choices and food freedoms for the “ease” of food preparation.  It really hit me the other day when I heard two girls talking about the flavoring they put in coffee at their fast food place of employment.  They aren’t serving up food at all.  Just something that sort of resembles food.

I want to eat real food.

I won’t try to kid anyone.  I still drink Diet Coke, and we have frozen pizzas in our freezer.  A couple of times a month, my hubby and I hit the local burger place.  This transition has been a long and slow process.

Canning and freezing does take time.  I do have to cook from scratch quite a bit.  But, I’ve learned to cook too much and freeze some for busy days.  It’s difficult because I work full time.  On the plus side, I seldom have to go to the grocery, and that’s just for yogurt and milk.

If you want to start a safer food journey my advice to you is to remember that it is a continuum.  You don’t have to become a vegan-treehugging-bark eating-hippie overnight.  Small steps will get you on your journey, and you can learn as you go.

Start getting acquainted with your food in three easy steps:

1.  Give up plastic water bottles for a reusable water bottle and carry it with you.  I love Diet Coke, but when I carry my water bottle, I drink more water.  By drinking water from the tap, you save food miles, lower your ecological footprint, and keep water in the ecosystem in which it belongs.  It takes 3 gallons of water to produce one gallon of bottled water, not to mention the wasted gase to get it to you.  Trucking water disturbs the water cycle.

2. Visit a farmer’s market and find one new vegetable, fruit, or vendor that you like.  Surprisingly, I don’t grow lettuce.  I have a favorite vendor that makes a great salad mix.

3. Start reading the labels on the processed foods you buy.  Find at least one substitution next time you go to the grocery.

If you are getting excited about learning more about what goes into your foods and products visit www.goodguide.com to check out the environmental impact of your purchases.  (This is a super-favorite site of mine-I’ll talk more about it later.)

No rumble today.  But I may be ready to step in and fight for my real food rights.

Bean and Goldie, the best chicken ever.  

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When was the last time you were feeling torn?  When there was something you could do that would be good for you personally, and maybe even professionally? That might make your family life a little easier in the long run, but more difficult in the short run?

The last nine years and loads of energy have been spent trying to eek out a better future, and sacrificing the present with poor results.  I tried to save money, make good financial decisions, be responsible, be creative with a low amount of risk, and think ahead to plan a more flexible career. 

I haven’t gambled away my earnings, bought a new car, wasted money on shopping sprees, or married someone after only a short time (wait, so I did that one, but it worked out).

I’ve ended up with time wasted chasing after dreams; debt from what should have been a safe real estate investment; and time down the drain that could have been spent with my kid. 

Hard work pays off for some.  Investments help some people save.  And some people do end up with lucky breaks every now and again.

I am not bitter or resentful.  I just don’t trust my own judgement and need to figure out how to read a crystal ball to make better decisions.  How does one get a step ahead without having to take two steps back each and every time?

Maybe I just need to think less about the future and more about the present.

Like, I am seven minutes past my deadline.

Good night.

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I am a very happily married woman.  But it hasn’t always been that way.  In my past life, I was not-so-happily married for a little over 10 years.  It was a time filled with self-doubt, poor communication, and a dedication to trying to fix something that was never really properly functioning to begin with.  I won’t complain about that time in my life, because it was a tremendous period of growth and learning for me.

I was the one that finally said the words, “I can’t be married anymore.”  But, I am not one that thinks divorce is a good idea.  In fact, it is a truly terrible idea.  Divorce is hard, especially when there are kids involved.  But there is a time, and there is a place for it.

Today I was thinking about it again.  If one of the parties cannot forgive, forget, and move on, then there is no hope for reconciliation.  It doesn’t mean that you won’t stay married, it means that the hope for a healthy relationship is out the window.  I was not able to forgive, forget, and move on.  I held on to the “wrongs” committed against me and took them personally.

A few years ago I got some really great advice. “Life is so much easier if you realize that everyone is an idiot, but you have to include yourself in that”, says Lisa, buddy, former roomy, and naturalist extraordinaire.

It really does make things easier.  At the end of my marriage, I carried around a slip of paper in my wallet, and had it on my computer screen.  It had a symbol of a heart and a peace sign on it.  It was to remind me that I should have peace, love, and understanding to my now ex-husband.  It helped lighten my heart toward him.  It was the point in the relationship that every little thing the other person does, makes you want to scream.  Having the reminder that we are all a bunch of idiots (self included) was helpful during this time.

My husband, and I often lament that we didn’t find one another first.  It would have been so much easier to have one set of children that didn’t have to be shuttled from place to place.  It would be so much easier to not have outside forces that are annoyed by us.  But, on the other hand, we may not appreciate one another as much.

I realize that I married an idiot.

Instead of holding grudges, and clinging to my “rightness”, I am able to let the little stuff go.  It is surprisingly easy.  Jeremy does dumb little things all the time, and they are not even a blip in the radar.  When I squirt ketchup on my shirt for the hundredth time, he trips over my shoes, and I forget to get my oil changed, he just shakes his head and says, “Oh Jenny.”

Jeremy definitely knows that he married an idiot, but he loves me anyway.

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unless you put them to work for you

Today, in my Environmental Class we talked about values.  That doesn’t sound all that sciency does it? Really though, evaluating our values is essential to identifying and solving our problems, including environmental problems.

I started class by asking students to define the term “values”.  What are values?  I left it intentionally vague so that I would get a variety of answers for us to discuss.  The students answered with the typical, “What we cherish”, “What is important to us,” and “having high standards”, whatever that means.

My favorite answer by a student today was, “Values are what make things important to us”.  Exactly.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years now, and have not been able to sum up so eloquently.  Values ultimately guide our life.  At least they should.  Values should show us how to spend our time, what we should buy or not buy, who we should be hanging out with, and how we should raise our children.

The value itself is meaningless.  Valuing friendship, or thriftiness, or family time mean nothing if we never call up our friends, buy a bunch of junk, or put personal time before time with our children.  Our values can bring meaning to the people, things, and activities in our lives.   Values can only bring that meaning, if we use them to guide the decisions in our lives.

I’m beginning to better understand how values are at work in my life.  In my former life, I used to think that people walked around with a set of values, and as long as most of those values the same, then we were on the same page.  What I have learned over time is that while many of us would say we have the same values, we are really coming from very different places because of the way these values are prioritized.

I may share the values of thriftiness and the environment with another person.  However, if we have prioritized our values differently, we will make different decisions.  If the environment is my number one priority, and my friend values thriftiness, we would make different purchasing decisions when having to decide between cost and ecological footprint.

If I value family time over career advancement, I might bow out of a business dinner to spend time with my family, knowing that I might be jeopardizing any opportunity for advancement.  And vice versa.  One that values career advancement over family time would make sure to get to that dinner.

Anybody bristling up yet?

Most folks would say that they value family time over career advancement.  With our daily choices and opportunities, we are constantly exhibiting what we truly value.

Of course there are times when our values will flop around on the priority list.  If someone is out of work, thriftiness and career advancement would probably move up on the list.  A new mom might forgo time with friends to spend time with the baby, because in that moment, that’s the value of bonding with the baby is what that mom wants to move to the top.

I tell my students all the time, that it doesn’t really matter to me how their values are stacked in the priority list.  What IS important is that they truly understand what their priorities REALLY are.  Don’t fool yourself into believing that the value of beauty isn’t important to you if you get you budget most of your disposal income to that purpose.  If that brings you joy, then admit that it is a value of yours, and start using it to guide your decisions.

What I have found is that I am happiest when I am making my decisions based on my personal set of prioritized values.  I start getting a bit depressed and anxious when I am not able to make decisions that are in line with my values.  Usually this happens because of earlier choices that I made that were not in line with the values that I hold dear and I feel a bit stuck.

In combining two families, we made the decision to buy a house that was bigger and cost more than we would have spent had we been one intact family.  We considered the value of a fresh start in a new home, personal space for every kid, keeping the children in the same school district and as close to each of their other parents as logistically possible.  It was a good decision for that time.  As we settle into our routines as a slowly combobulating family, the values of self-sufficiency, family time, simplification, and being present for our children are coming in conflict with the value of space for all.

So how do we balance our values, our budget, our careers, and the rest of our children’s family?  By prioritizing our values, and letting them guide our plans.

Whatever that means.

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When I was eight, I wanted to be Amish.  I spent my early years growing up near Fort Wayne, where there is a large Amish population.  There was something magical about the idea of riding in a horse drawn buggy, giving up my phone, and burning lanterns while reading books before bed.   I was addicted to “Little House on the Prairie” at that time.  In my mind, being Amish would be like stepping back in time, and I would get to be Laura for a while.


Today I live in an even bigger Amish community.  Many of my neighbors are Amish, Conservative Mennonites, and Apostolics.  I guess I never really realized how many levels of “plain” there are until a Conservative Mennonite girl in a calico dress, finishing up her 8th and final year of school, was telling me that one of her classmates came from a “really plain” family.


Today, as a slightly older than my husband 30-something mom of one, and step-mom to three, I still find myself wanting to be plain.  But now I see the advantages differently than I did when I was eight.  I see the advantage of having home-cooked unadulterated meals, taking time to hang the wash on the line, going to bed more or less with the sun, and getting up when the light is still beautiful in the morning, living close to all of your family, and having friends to around to visit with and help one another with the seasons of life.  I see the benefit of community, the benefit to staying out of debt, the benefit of having someone home to be there for the children, and the slower pace in which the outside world sucks you in and drains your blood.


Throughout the last 30+ years, I have always felt kind of weird about wanting to be plainer than the rest of the world.  I never cared about designer clothes, or hair and makeup.  For a short time, I wanted a fancy job, but that quickly passed.  I’ve tried on a variety of careers, areas of study, and even a handful of entrepreneurial endeavors that led to disappointment.  And now I teach high school students how to be well adjusted adults through the context of environmental science.  


My husband I are striving to simplify our lives.  We grow a lot of our own food, even canning and freezing the excess for winter, we compost and recycle, and have given up T.V. (except for the occasional Cosby Show DVD).  But life still feels hectic, like the outside world is reaching in a trying to suck us in.  As a stepfamily, we have opportunities and speed bumps that keep us from making choices to simplify AND keep everyone sane.  


Luckily, I am married to a man that loves conversation, scheming, and possibilities as much as I do. I am excited about this journey of simplification. We won’t become Amish anytime soon.  They probably wouldn’t take us anyway.  But on the plainness scale, I’d like to move down (or is it up?) toward the plain side of things a bit more.  At this point, I have very little idea of what these realities mean, and where this journey will lead.  


Possibility is fantastic.

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