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Posts Tagged ‘living simply’


“If you keep an open bough, the singing bird will come.”

That was a poster I had in my room as a teenager.

Each year, around New Years weekend I make space for the year to come:

  • I transfer birthday, anniversary and other commemorative occasions to my new calendar (my one remaining paper-based calendar – the birthday reminder/pretty art calendar in my home office)
  • I go through the cupboards and the refrigerator and toss things that are past their usability
  • I go through the medicine cabinets and do the same

Then, sometime soon thereafter I go through the rest of the house – clothes, decorations, and, for me the bibliophile, the Big Deal – the Purging of the Books.

A friend had told me that bibliophiles past 50 must institute a rule of ‘one in, one out’ lest they become buried under an avalanche of books.  While not rigorous in that application, my rule is “no new book shelves” – so my books have to fit their current space.

For those readers in the Chicago area, I’ve stumbled upon a great resource the Chicago Books to Women in Prison project.  This group (which also has a Facebook page) collects paperback books (no hard covers allowed) and ships them to women in prison.

I LOVE taking my books there as it seems like a triple win:

  1. Most obviously, I achieve my goal of clearing space for new books to enter my life
  2. The books I am releasing get recycled – they will be read again – and most likely more than once
  3. It’s a tiny mitzvah -a good deed, bringing joy to someone who could really use some

Maybe you don’t live in Chicago.  Maybe you’re not much of a reader.  But I’ll bet there is something in your house that you have too much of it, that might be useful to others.

I feel pretty sure that we don’t own our stuff – it owns us.  So if you want to invite spaciousness, newness, and exciting opportunities into your life, you might try creating an open bough on which those bluebirds of happiness can land.

At a minimum you’ll have less stuff to tend to and thus more free time.

Do you do any routine “purging” of stuff?  When? What? How?  As always, I really want to know – so add your comments to the conversation!

And may the singing birds you attract this year delight you and surprise you with goodness.

If you keep an open bough, the singing bird will come

If you keep an open bough, the singing bird will come

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Late tonight (about 1 AM CDT) the sun moves into the sign of Aries, which marks the Vernal Equinox – the start of spring.  Here in Chicago, the weather has been more summer-like than spring, in these waning days of winter – setting new records almost every day this past week. The usual ‘signs of spring’ are weeks early (forsythia a-bloom, daffodils up and glowing, robins on the wing).  It’s spring – for sure!

I wrote a post awhile back about ‘preparing for winter – what do you do?‘, so I thought I should give spring an equal opportunity.

Preparing for winter feels like “batten down the hatches” to me – steeling oneself for a time of hardship.  Preparing for spring has a very different feel.  While the winter preparation is ‘shutting down’, spring preparation is about opening up.

Here are some of the things I do:

  • Clear the yard of any debris.  I live next to a grade school – I routinely find school papers, Cheetos bags and all manner of stuff that’s blown over from the school.  But there’s also the stuff that most people have – twigs from my tress, pine cones, etc.
  • Rake up the dead grass – give the grass a chance to come back unencumbered by its deceased cousins
  • Tidy up around the flower beds
  • Put the patio furniture back
  • Hang up my prayer flags, put out Matilda the wee stone bird and other small garden decorations
  • Wash the windows
  • Wash my one pair of curtains (the rest of the windows have shades)
  • Put away the winter rugs and wash the floors they were sitting on
  • Go through my stuff and find things to give away (my favorite part!!)
  • Order Ravinia tickets for the summer (schedule comes out around now – and this feels like a ‘preparing for the new season’ task!)
  • Make sure the dehumidifier for the basement works; turn off the humidifier on the furnace
  • Get my carpets cleaned

I remember my grandmother and my mother doing an extensive spring cleaning that involved things like washing walls, polishing furniture and all sorts of stuff that probably still should be done, but usually is not in my house.  But I DO like the sense of creating an environment of ‘newness’ to accompany the yearly renewal outside.

Many world religions have a holiday of renewal and beginning again in the spring – for Christians it is Easter. While spiritual renewal is important to me all the time – and something I consciously practice, there is also a sense of getting a chance to do it over again – hopefully, right this time, in the spring.  So it’s a good time for me to look at things like taking a personal inventory, looking at any amends I need to make, seeking to ask for and to give forgiveness.

And now, for me, the great joy of spring is getting to ride my motorcycle again after her long winter nap!

What do YOU do to prepare for spring?  What does the season evoke for you?  Chime in and join the conversation – we’d really like to know!

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As you may know, I am interested in cohousing.  My two best friends and I are planning to either join a cohousing community, or create a mini one of our own in retirement.  However, right now Sue lives in Orlando and Bill lives a few suburbs away from me.

Bill and I took a mini-step towards our cohousing ideal yesterday when we jointly bought a shredder.  He needs one.  I need one.  We live in separate towns.  But really, how often do you REALLY have to shred things?  For me the big need is in January, when I go through all my files and clean things out.  Most of the papers go into the recycling, but I don’t want to just recycle the financial papers.  Sometimes I just burn them in the fireplace, but this year as I got ambitious and even cleared out the archives in the basement I had a whole big Tupperware bin filled with financial papers from years back.

I’ve been looking for more opportunities to share resources, to create community, to live more lightly on the earth.  Honestly, a shredder seemed a stretch in some ways, but I DO feel there’s sufficient craziness afoot that ensuring one’s financial documents aren’t retrievable makes sense.  So sharing the shredder with Bill seemed a step in the right direction.

I’ve also talked about sharing a snowblower with my neighbors Pete & Julie.  So far we’ve opted to either tough it out (Pete all the time, me with lighter snows) or hire out (me for snows over 3″, Pete for snowpocalypses like we had last year).

I’ll be writing soon on the Transition Town network and other ideas for creating positive change in terms of sustainability and living more lightly on the earth.

A shared shredder is a small thing – but I believe big change is best achieved one personal, small step at a time.

Tell us about the resources you share with others – or ones you could share.  What’s your “mini cohousing”/sustainability/living lightly success story?  I really want to know!

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Though it’s not a holiday song, it could be:

“Shower the people you love with love
Show them the way that you feel
Life will be a whole lot better
If you only will.” – James Taylor

For many of us – and especially folks in what the Hindus call “the Householder Years” – the holiday season involves lots of gatherings of people.  Work parties.  Events at church.  Book Club holiday gatherings.  And all the family activities – Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, First night of Hanukkah – whatever your clan celebrates my hunch is that a big centerpiece of it all is a gathering of the clan.

The winter religious/spiritual holidays seem to me to have a few common themes.  Light (not surprisingly, as we inch towards the longest night of the year), love, warmth and connection with one another.

It’s nice to have traditions and I think holiday traditions are particularly beloved by many of us.  And even someone as vehemently casual as I am can see the value in events that require a little gussying-up and the wearing of special clothes.  Decorating one’s home and one’s self – all are ways to say “hey! pay attention! this is special.”

I do think creating an ambience helps facilitate the REAL magic of the season – and that is the love that connects us all.

And that meaning – and context – makes all the difference.

I was thinking about my former colleague Millie who singlehandedly prepared a sumptuous Thanksgiving feast for her whole clan – made every dish herself. When we were chiding her about getting helpers, she positively glowed as she said “oh no! I LOVE to cook for my family!”.  I got it.  That meal wasn’t meant only to feed. And not meant to impress.  It was a big “I love you!” from Millie to her family.

So as you bustle about wrangling children into fancy clothes, or hurriedly running out the door from work to get to the office party, as you gather around a groaning table laden with too much food, or wonder if you brought the right hostess gift to the party – remember it’s not about the ambience.  It’s not about the stage props.  It’s about the people and about love.  Be there with that and watch the real magic of the holidays in action.  Joy to the world, people – joy to you and me.

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Mondays are Physical World Day here at Taking it to the Streets

It’s officially autumn, and to greet the first Monday of the new season Chicago is blustery – windy, rain, and pretty nippy.  While this makes me want to have soup and light a fire in the fireplace – to curl up with a book and settle in – I know it’s also time to prepare for winter.

We’ve had some huge snowstorms in Chicago and the one in 1979 got my attention as the grocery store near my house ran out of food.  We had snow blocking our cars in the city til April.  I was ill-prepared. 

For years after that I stockpiled food in the fall like a hungry squirrel with acorns.  I don’t do that any more (perhaps I should!) but I do prepare for the colder months and for “cold and flu season”

Here’s some of the things I do:

  • Prepare my yard for winter – taking in lawn furniture, hoses, etc. and all the stuff you do to put your yard to bed for the year (rake leaves, trim back the Rose of Sharon bush, etc.)
  • Do the external part of the house the same favor – leaves out of gutters, check that everything looks snug and steady for winter (no loose shutters, put that black tar stuff around the skylight when need be, etc.)
  • Get the chimney cleaned and a face cord of wood delivered –  nothing like a nice fire on blustery winter night!
  • Learned in that ’79 blizzard and I still do:  check hat, gloves, scarf – clean? ready to wear? and (most importantly) put snow-seal on all winter boots
  • Make sure my car has any needed maintenance things attended to  – ready to go into winter – and clean the interior (as it doesn’t get cleaned again til spring)
  • Wash my windows
  • Stock up on cold/flu stuff:  SmartWater or Gatorade, coca-cola, Oscillocnum, chicken soup.  I always have vitamins and garlic and other herbs I might use on hand – just make sure the things I’m less likely to have are ready to rock
  • Stock up on winter comfort foods. This year my friend Bill grew some amazing acorn squash – one of my favorite winter foods.  I always have herbal teas on hand but drink more of them in the winter – a quick glance at the tea drawer lets me know if any favorites are running low.
  • Move the lawn mower to the shed and the snow shovels to the garage
  • Finally, a quick check in with Joey the Snow Plow Dude to make sure our deal is still on (more than 3″ and he plows without being called – less than 3″ and Molly Moonroof, my 4WD Subaru, can easily plow through the driveway on her own)

For lots of years I got a flu shot every year.  Just like the media and Big Pharma tell you to do.  And it never made an ounce of difference.  I’m hoping that my better nutritional habits of this past year, besides providing a 25 lb weight loss, will provide stronger immunity to seasonal crud.

So that’s what I do to prepare for the season that is already in the on-deck circle.  How about you?  Do you make a conscious effort to prepare for winter? Live in a temperate climate where it is a non-issue?  Wing it?  I’d really like to know!

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Wednesday are Community Day here at Taking it to the Streets

My paternal grandparents were farmers in Doon, Iowa. They had a family farm with different animals (chickens, cows and pigs is what I remember) and raised different crops. Grandma had a huge garden, even after they moved to town.  When it was harvest time they’d get together with their friends and go from farm to farm. While the men harvested in the fields as a team, the women canned, smoked meats, quilted.

In what we call “the Sixties” which actually occurred mostly in the 70s, there was a small but notable “back to the land movement” with homesteading hippies.  Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sang Joni Mitchell’s lyrics in “Woodstock” – “We’ve got to get back to the land and let our soul free.”

According to Wikipedia “In the 1930s, 24 percent of the American population worked in agriculture compared to 1.5 percent in 2002”

But there’s a new phenomena arising – a very different “back to the land” that doesn’t involve “tune in, turn on and drop out” lifestyles. In fact, it more likely involves minivans, soccer playing children, iPads and Starbucks.  “Urban homesteading” (which often occurs in suburbs) is a term being bandied about for the increasing numbers of people who want to take a more active role in producing the food they eat.  From back yard gardens, to keeping chickens and bees, to smoking your own meat, canning, drying food. 

When I went to the workshop put on by the McHenry County Transition group (mentioned in this post) there was information about creating your own solar energy source, canning, soap-making, beekeeping, creating community – an entire panoply of skills that were once the province of only rural folks.  Yes, some of the people attending lived in very rural areas, but the suburb my friend and I are from is far from rural, however bucolic it may appear to be.

I think this movement which fits hand-in-glove with the localvore and sustainability movements which also interest me, is a sensible response to both the ills of the world (as the Transition Town movement talks of – the confluence of Peak Oil and Global Warming) but also with some really good generational synergy – the ambitious sometimes driven members of my generation – the Baby Boomers – are starting to mellow; and the younger generations seem much more focused on connecting with life and one another – not as driven by “success” and greed.  It’s a nice confluence.

I like the idea of getting back to basics. And what is more basic than food, really?  In a world that seems more and more corporate and inhumane, taking back our lives, starting with what and how we eat seems a truly radical act.

Tackling urban homesteading on my own seems pretty daunting to me.  But I remember Grandma talking about those canning parties and quilting bees and getting together “to put food by” and it all sounded very warm and friendly and enlivening.  I could very much welcome that.

Of the 18 posts I’ve tagged “Food” the ones below seem most connected to this topic. So if Urban Homesteading and “rolling your own” (crepes that is – now what were YOU thinking?) interests you, pop in on these topics and please add to the conversation!

Something’s in the Kitchen with Diane (a Whole Lotta Somethings, actually)

More Cohousing Lite – Cooking Parties

Power to the People – Let’s Turn this Country Around!

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Farmer Jane

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It’s Ideas Day here at Taking it to the Streets

A 264 page Socratic dialogue about saving the earth and the teacher is a gorilla?  And Diane says “Read it!”  – say, what?

My local Borders store is one of the ones they closed so I was in there trying to nab some bargains.  I wanted to reread Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse and found I had given my copy away – so that’s what I was after.  The young man who showed me where they hid fiction there said he had always wanted to read Hesse.  I told him Hesse is PERFECT for young people and that his best book, by far, is Siddhartha.  So we struck up an easy camraderie around books.  I had worked in a bookstore when I was in my 20s and somedays I still AM that person, albeit cleverly disguised as an aging hippie.

So the young man told me about HIS favorite book, Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn.  that’s when he told me the gorilla part, apologetically, as, I suppose, I should be with you.  He told me that that really doesn’t get in the way and that the book was really fantastic and inspired him still.  On his enthusiasm alone, I bought the book and this past week I read it.  And wow! I’m glad I did.

I asked the other day on Facebook if “Socratic, didactic” was a redundant phrase and my friend Sean and I came to the same conclusion – a work that is Socratic is, perforce, didactic.  But one could have a work that is didactic, but not Socratic.  This book is both.  The back cover uses the beginning of the story as a hook:  “Teacher seeks pupil.  Must have an earnest desire to save the world.  Apply in person.”

And earnest is a good word to use in regard to this whole book.  Both Ishmael and the unnamed hero are earnest, each in their way.  And Daniel Quinn surely is.  Since I too am earnest about saving the world from the perils created by our modern way of life, this suits me fine, but others may find the preachiness and earnestness too much.

Besides tieing in with my interest in sustainability and the importance of simple living, the book also hit a chord with my philosophical bent.  It touched on some ideas about the Bible that I must say have never ever crossed my mind. Since I want you to read this book and for me those ideas were the most surprising parts of the reading experience, I’m not going to say more, other than it has really given me some new viewpoints.

As one who believes that we are all one and by WE, I don’t just mean white humans living in North America and Western, but all humans, animals and plants (I do limit my ‘all onenness” to sentient beings, so maybe that is my little prejudice), this book rang very true.  I guess that’s why a gorilla is involved – as a spokesperson for all that humankind is so blithely, unthinkingly destroying. 

The timing is good for me.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my impact on the world and have noticed that I’ve been loathe to cut across lawns to get where I’m going, not wishing to tread unecessarily on the grass.  Even I find that odd and a bit too precious, but it has been a strong internal dictum this spring.  So I listen.

Though this super easy to read novel and Judith Schor’s academically-tinged Plenitude would seem to not have much in common, I think they both evince a “middle way”.  I think the Conservative reply to Progressives call for change in response to environmental meltdown is that we’ll all be living in caves like Osama bin Laden – a world with not only no Starbucks or Internet but maybe not even houses or food or jobs – “it will be awful!”

And the Progressives say “Ya, just drive your Hummers and watch the whole world turn into one huge earthquake-tsunami-Gulf Oil spill…” – oh, wait. We have that now.

But both Plenitude and Ishmael say we CAN have a saner life for the whole planet without living like monks.  Unless it’s the kind of monks who have gardens, raise chickens and bees and hang out with friends and chant and sing.  Oh, that sounds like the life I’m moving towards! 

So I have to say, I found the gorilla part a bit too precious, really I did.  I think it would have amused me more when I was the hippie bookseller, not the aging hippie talking to the cool-dude bookseller.  But  the points Quinn makes are valid, it’s well-presented, and very thought-provoking.

And hey, if you’re WAY into it, he’s got a whole online community happening.

And I think Ishmael was right – we’re running out of time.  So have a read, think about the world you are helping to sustain and the role you want to play in it.  Definitely a thought-provoking book!

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