Posts Tagged ‘living simply’

My friend Lisa and I stumbled upon a presentation a few weeks ago that promised information about beekeeping, canning, soapmaking and all sorts of “back to the land” and simple living skills.  It was presented at the Unitarian Universalist Church in rural/hip Woodstock, Il.  I didn’t pay much attention at first as to WHO the organizers were – only that the day seemed to fit in with a sustainable way of living that Lisa and her family and I were interested in. 

It was a fascinating day.  And really, the tip of the iceberg, as it was my introduction to a movement afoot called “Transition Towns.”

Wikipedia says “Transition Towns (also known as Transition network or Transition Movement) is a brand for environmental and social movements “founded (in part) upon the principles of permaculture”  based originally on Bill Mollison’s seminal Permaculture, a Designers Manual published in 1988.  Following its start in Kinsale, Ireland it then spread to Totnes, England where Rob Hopkins and Naresh Giangrande developed the concept during 2005 and 2006. The aim of this community project is to equip communities for the dual challenges of climate change and peak oil. The Transition Towns movement is an example of socioeconomic localisation.”

They showed us a little video amidst the beekeeping, soapmaking and make your own solar panels presentations.  I found the whole concept of transition towns fascinating –  working to set up YOUR community to be more sustainable as the changes we’re amidst start to kick in earnestly.  Though created in Ireland and England, the movement is now truly global, with the broadest reach being in Western Europe and North America.

There are 3 “official” transition towns in my state of Illinois with several others in “mullers’ status (ie., mulling it over, forming), one of which was the one I attended – Transition Town McHenry County.  Though I joined the McHenry County forum and got online with them, it didn’t occur to me til I sat down to write tonight to check online for the broader organization – there’s a US site, a global site, and articles aplenty about the movement.

I’m both a doer and a thinker – and once I see that we’re in harms way I am very programmed to jump into action.  I think the triple whammy of Peak Oil, Global Warming and Economic Meltdown qualify as “harms way” so I am eager to find out, “how then shall we live?”

I also like that the tenor I’m seeing is “start where you are” – so if you’re reading this post and saying “Diane, what are you, nuts? Soapmaking?  With my 50 hour workweek, husband and 2 kids, when exactly do I do THAT?” – well, you start where you are – with things like recycling, figuring out how to drive less, etc. – and leave the soapmaking til after you’re entered more of the Transition Town or Plenitude lifestye.  Or never.  You just may not be the soapmaking type, after all.

I’ve been thinking lately, as I hear people bemoaning the state of the world, “Gosh, who has time to kvetch about the old order fading away?  I’m too busy working on building the new world to complain that the old one will soon be gone.”

That is, if we can keep ourselves alive long enough to get there.  But if more and more of us decide “none for me, thanks” about the current plutocratic, global-warming, war-crazed lunatic world we seem to be in and instead turn towards a world of sustainability, kindness, concern for life (that means the planet and ALL its inhabitants) – you know, “plenitude”, then I think we MIGHT just make it. 

the guy who started the McHenry chapter asked me if I’d be interested in starting a Transition Town in my hometown – and I’m thinking I just may.  Have a look at the sites I linked to. Then — how about starting one in YOUR town?  Or joining one that exists.  I think it’s pretty urgent that we switch gears – and do it quickly.

One way I think about it is thinking about my grandnieces and grandnephews.  I’d rather envision them saying “Auntie Di, tell us again how you banded with others to help keep this old world alive.” or “Auntie Di is it REALLY true all the crazy stories I hear about the waste of resources and the killing to get oil and the ‘bad old days’?” then to hear “Auntie Di, how could you let this happen to us?” or worse yet —- silence. Because none of us would be here anymore.

I do think we’re at a turning point.  You can keep on with what Judith Schor refers to as “Business as Usual” – or you can make a difference.  Maybe even, you know, save the world.

What are YOU choosing? And why?


Read Full Post »

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

I promised you more about Judith Schor’s thought-provoking book, “Plenitude” and though a day later than I had hoped, here I am.

The book’s premise is that we’ve turned a corner economically and ecologically (not in a good way) and we need to find a new way of being if we are to survive.  As the book jacket proclaims “Our usual way back to growth – a debt-financed consumer boom – is no long an option our households, or planet, can afford.  Responding to our current moment, Plentitude argues that through a major shift to new sources of wealth, green technologies and different ways of living, individuals and the country as a whole can actually be better off and more economically secure.  Sustainability is at its core, but it not a paradigm of sacrifice.”

As regular readers of this blog know, I embrace many of the principles of Buddhism, with one that particularly appeals being “the Middle Way”.  As someone very prone to black and white thinking, it’s nice for me to always remember that there is a third way. This book presents just such a sensible solution.

The first part of the book outlines in a manner both academically dry (why ARE economists so very dry?) and simultaneously enormously alarming that the sky is indeed falling.  It’s filled with charts and numbers and footnotes about all the things those who stand to gain by what Schor calls the BAU economy (Business As Usual) don’t want you to think about.  What we’re doing is NOT sustainable.  Not even close.  This bus is headed off a cliff and picking up speed fast.

Just when you are beyond the “oh, shit!” moment she switches gears and in Chapter Four, “Living Rich on a Troubled Planet” begins to lay out her plenitude plan: “It is time to reclaim hours, build skills, invest in people, save more and perfect the art of self-provisioning.”

If you read the types of blogs and books that I do – on simple living, minimalism, sustainability, economics – these themes are familiar.  What’s unique is that Schor, a former Econ professor at Harvard, now at Boston College, has a clear understanding of the laws of economics, economic history – and she has a very broad worldview.  Her reasoning seems very sound and her argument is compelling:

BAU is not going to work (or, as Bruce Springsteen puts it “they say these jobs are going, boy, and they ain’t coming back, to my home town….”).  The alternatives presented (pretend that it will work and thus accelerate the apocalypse OR living a life that feels penitential in it’s ‘hair shirt’ denial) are unappealing.  But there is this third way of plenitude. And we can all do it. And we can start now.

I used to tell my colleague Marc, in our cut-throat corporate culture “act or be acted upon!” and I think of that now.  Schor’s first dictum – time wealth – is another way of looking at underemployment and unemployment.  She argues that working less not only makes for happier people, but frees up time to do the other things she suggests:  improve your “social capital” (non economists might use the words “friendships”), “self-provision” (i.e., gasp! cook your own meals, fix your own house, maybe grow your own food).

But this isn’t the hippie back-to-the-land movement of my era.  It’s back-to-the-land marries technogeek as I said in my last post.  As she says “Self-providing is great, but it needs advanced technology to be liberating.”

I like how she advocates a quilt approach (my words, not hers) to life – a bit of a mainstream job, patched to a bit of self-provisioning, patched to a bit of an entrepreneurial enterprise. 

She also takes on big banks (I love that about her!) and argues that by having more small enterprise and less debt, we can self-fund and not have to be backed into a corner by “too big to fail” (and i might add, seemingly too big to jail, though not if I ran the joint).

In her discussions of social connections and sustainability she touches on cohousing, near and dear to my heart.

In fact, this whole book seemed to codify and give academic credence to a way of life many of us are already embracing.  I remember back in the insane 80s and 90s I had a few colleagues from My Fancy Corporate Job over to my wee hippie house.  Seeing my tiny house, my old, modest car and knowing my “rank” at work I could see their heads spinning (“where DOES her money go? Up her nose? Is she just DUMB?”).  I am grateful for my wise father from whom I learned so much about money and life for helping give me a headstart.

Like so much of life, I think if people try to force-fit life to go back to BAU Economics there will be a lot of stress and negative emotions – a sense of lack, of unfairness, of missing out.

That’s so not how I see it.  I agree with Schor when she says that the time from 1980-2008 was the true aberration.  A lot of what she proposes would not have seemed innovative or radical to my grandparents – much of it was the norm WAY back in the day.  Think of it as a return to sanity but with better coffee and the Internet – I mean, really? That sounds delightful to me.

She questions the economic “physophilia” (Love of growth – ah, these academics – where DO they come up with these things!) and cites all sorts of writers and thinkers to say “this is NOT a given, folks, that growth is good.”

The whole book was thought-provoking, but Chapter Four “Living Rich on a Troubled Planet” is, I think the best.  I’m already plotting how I can move more quickly into my OWN life of plenitude.  So maybe not back to my grandma’s time, but “going back to the ways of my youth, I’m gonna go back and be how I want to be” (Jethro Tull) – hang out with friends, live simply, do things on our own.  Be our own bankers.  But with good coffee. And the Internet.  I’m there! — You?

Read Full Post »

Building on yesterday’s post here’s my initial proposal to start a TRUE revolution in this country.  The America I grew up in was the leader of the world in virtually all measures – not a plutocracy, with people’s day-to-day quality of life falling behind. I think we can use the Army of the Unemployed to turn this ship of state around.  Please dialogue with me – this is simply an initial offering.


  • LifeSchool – learning what we REALLY need to know; each one teach one
  • BodyShop – real HEALTH with CARE – taking back our bodies, not turning them over to BigPharma
  • Earth Forces (the REAL “Green {Hats}”)
  • S.O.S. – Save Our Society

Program overview

We all have talents and abilities.  The unemployed, the retired and the generous have time to donate.  There are ghost-towns of empty buildings available.  Instead of “wasting time in the unemployment lines, standing around waiting for a promotion” (nod to Tracy Chapman); instead of waiting for the government or (imho, worse yet) the corporations or the rich – let’s roll up OUR shirtsleeves ala Greg Mortenson and turn this ship around.  So this is all about things regular people could do by, for and with each other (remember the Gettysburg Address).  OUR country – not the rich people’s or the corporations (or, to give a nod to my friends on the right – of the government).


Let’s set up free schools with volunteer teachers and administrators (or – someone who can write grants, write a grant to get money for building space and a SchoolMom/SchoolDad – someone to organize the thing).  “each one teach one” – people who know things can teach people who want to learn those things.  I see 5 initial curriculum:

  • Strengthening your Self (personal skills, including a tie-in to BodyShop)
  • Strengthening your Relationships – relationships of all kinds:  parenting classes, negotiating skills, marriage-strengthening, getting along at work, etc.
  • Work and Money Skills – Create your own job, find a job, job skills, money 101, investment classes, frugality, buying a house, anti-foreclosure classes
  • LifeSkills – cooking, plumbing, fix your car, write a grant, gardening, etc.
  • Save the World – getting beyond yourself to help your community, the world, how to make a difference, setting up your own Grameen-Bank-like skill/money co-op, etc.

BodyShop (REAL Health CARE – taking charge of your own health)

  • Natural Healing classes of all kinds (herbs, Chinese medicine, ayurveda, first aid)
  • Fitness Camp – personal training you can do at home with very little equipment or info about cheap gyms, etc.  Free classes (spin, aerobics, circuit training)
  • Food & Nutrition – cover basics, nutritional defense for specific diseases, build your immune system, fast and easy nutritious meals, eating healthfully when you’re broke, good food for people who don’t like to cook, etc.
  • Cooking classes – beyond just educating – big kitchen, group cooking, hands-on fix a meal.  Use Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution idea – learn a meal, then teach your neighbor.  Eating healthfully, inexpensively with meals that are tasty and easy/fast to prepare.
  • Emotional Health – things YOU can do to help with what ails you – EFT, support groups, exercise, nutrition, mentoring

EarthForces (Green Baseball Hats? – smile and nod to the other Greenhat guys…)

  • Classes on sustainability
  • Green your home
  • Habitat-for-Humanity like group to focus on weatherizing homes for the poor, elderly, infirm, etc.
  • Johnny Appleseed Corps – tree planting  – help people, public spaces, unused land – fill it with trees
  • WaterWorks – water conservation – from in your house to in your country – water action!
  • Garden Guerrillas – turn this land into food  – teach gardening, encourage community gardens, ask to put gardens in unused land, etc.

S.O.S. – Save our Society

  • Take back Food:  localvorism, CSAs, food co-ops.  Move AWAY from the industrial agriculture that is killing us and is outrageously inhumane to animals.
  • Take back Money:  Buy local! Say no to Big Box stores
  • Take back Money, Part 2:  barter economy, skill banks, stop outsourcing your life

What’s Next?

Your “yes, we can” ideas.  I’m sure some of you have 100 “that will never work” ideas, which you are welcome to ponder while we move into action ala Greg Mortenson.

What I’m interested in:

  • Feedback on these ideas
  • YOUR ideas – what else can the army of unemployed, under-employed, retired or generous folks do with their ‘spare’ time?
  • Interested folks.  You don’t have to be local.  I somewhat suspect Chicago is not the only town that could use an initiative like this.  Start a school/movement/group in YOUR town!
  • But if you are local and would be interested in seeing what we could collectively create let me know – send an email to lifeschool.chicago@gmail.com

“We can change the world.  Rearrange the world.  It’s dying.” (nod to CSNY for lyrics, nod to YOU for wanting to change the world).

Read Full Post »

I was at the home of my friend/neighbor/acupuncturist Lisa on Friday.  One of the many things we share is our interest in localvorism (eating locally grown foods) and eating healthfully.

Lisa told me she has a new friend who is a master of getting the maximum use out of everything.  Her friend is “a starving artist” and like many such people, fueled by both creativity and ‘poverty’ (of funds only – obviously her friend is very wealthy with ideas and depth) she is a master at ‘using things up.’  Lisa gave the example of when her friend was over to help Lisa in the garden – the tomatoes were droopy so Lisa wanted to go buy tomato stakes. Her friend pointed out the plethora of sticks in the yard and said “why buy stakes?  your yard is full of ’em!”.

So this friend is also a master at making use of all food.  Lisa and her husband are both busy professionals and they have 3 school age kids and 2 dogs and at least 2 cats – a very busy household indeed.

So Lisa and her friend cooked up a deal where one Sunday a month the friend will come over and she and Lisa will spend the day cooking – using up what in my family is called the “mustgo” – all the food that “must go” or it will spoil.  Lisa will get innovative uses for her food that might otherwise have gone to waste and the friend will get a week’s worth of meals.

I like that idea. 

I like the idea of communal cooking simply because it’s really fun.  I like to cook but there are parts of it that seem tedious to me – and chopping tons of veggies is just always more fun with companionship.

My Dutch/Scottish parts love the idea of “waste not/want not”.

And my cohousing/hippie self loves the idea of “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs” (thanks Karl).

So I was glad to get invited to that cooking party and I’m thinking of what else we neighbors can do this winter to be more neighborly/share resources/share our lives more fully.

How about you?  Do you have cooking parties with your family/friends/neighbors?  Split a CSA share?  Buy the “buy one/get one free” even when you won’t use the second one so you can give it to someone?  How do you ‘do’ food in a sharing way?

Read Full Post »

I’m excited about changes I see in the culture – ways in which we’re moving towards more togetherness, more natural-ness, more simplicity.  A focus on relationships and experiences and not ‘stuff’.  I saw on one of my news sources online that “the era of McMansions is over.”  What a relief!

I wrote awhile back about cohousing – a big focus for me and my intent for my living situation a few years hence (my cohorts and I have to complete our current work situations).

Walking back from feeding the cats of my beloved neighbors Pete & Julie this morning, I was thinking how I don’t really have to wait for all the things I want to see happen – I can (and in many ways, have) begin now.

I’m so blessed that within 2 very short blocks of me there are 2 wonderful families who share many of my values.  There may well be more, but these  families are the ones I am blessed to call friends, not just neighbors.  There’s a third family – kitty corner from me – that I don’t yet know well, but who are also like-minded souls. 

We’ve already begun in some ways.  When my friend Bill brings me lush produce from his garden – more than even a fruit/veggie girl like I can eat, I share with Pete & Julie or Lisa & Jon.  We watch one another’s pets when we’re away.  We have shared chores together (including an incredible day of landscaping my yard – not sure I can ever repay on that one!).

I emailed them recently and said that in the spring I am going to get some rain barrels but also a clothesline – and that we could all use the clothesline.  Pete & I have talked about buying one snowblower to use between them, me and their neighbors David & Katia.  We very often share tools.  I’d like to say we share expertise but I think I’m often the recipient of expertise 🙂 .

When the store has a ‘buy one, get one free’ I always get the free one – knowing I can just share it with my peeps.

For awhile I had a monthly ‘salon’ – a gathering of people to share ideas with. Given everyone’s crazy busy schedule it sort of faded away, but I liked that part, too – sharing ideas.  Julie, Lisa, my friend Bill and I watched Obama’s inauguration together.  Pete brought his children over (Julie was out) to watch some of the presidential debates.

We are friends & neighbors but we can incorporate more ‘living lightly on the earth AND forging deeper connections’ opportunities.

Some of the things I’m wanting to explore:

  • Cooking parties – get together, make vats of food and split up – have fun doing it and get different things for all 4 families
  • Canning – my friend Bill and Lisa both garden a lot  – it would be fun to all learn how to put up some of their food
  • More tool-sharing.  My drill died and I have been looking at them at Home Depot – given that I use a drill maybe once a year, do I really want to pay $100 for a cordless drill (more for the fancy DeWalt or Ryobi ones…) or is this a borrowable tool?  I have a toolroom full of tools that never get used – couldn’t my friends/neighbors use those instead of buying them?
  • Stuff exchange – “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” – why not give one another first dibs on stuff we’re giving away
  • Help exchange – I am quite inept at home repairs, but pretty good at babysitting – we all have things we can contribute to one another’s well-being – I’d like to do more of that
  • Big stuff – I’ve envisioned putting up a big solar panel at the end of our dead-end street (faces south with no obstructions) and have a way for Pete & Julie, David & Katia and maybe even my next door neighbor Steven & I all tap into it.  I have no idea if this is practical, but it seems neat
  • More idea-sharing.  I heard a great show on www.wpr.org yesterday about a book called Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Updated and Expanded – about landscaping with less grass, more natural plants.  Julie is a trained landscape architect and Lisa is a passionate gardener – I’d love to noodle around with them about that.  David & Katia already put in rain barrels – I want to ask them about how that’s working for them.

What if, instead of trying to impress our neighbors, or pretending they weren’t there, what if we chose cooperation and mutual well-being.  Karl Marx, like Jesus, had good ideas that got twisted by his proponents for their own ends.  I like Marx’s idea “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.”  And I REALLY like the idea of living more simply, more cooperatively and more in communion with one another.

So — what does this sound like to you?  Do you have any such desires?  How are you living more cooperatively?  Do you wish to?  How?  I really want to know!

Read Full Post »

My friend Candace asked me an interesting question Friday night.  She was talking about helping a new friend de-clutter and mentioning that this woman’s house really DID need some decluttering.  I replied back that lately I once again felt an almost biological urge to go through my house and life and get rid of more stuff.

Now many of you either don’t know me, or haven’t been to my house, so this may not strike you the same way as it struck Candace, one of my closest friends.  Because I am the anti-matter girl, as it were – I truly believe that we don’t own stuff, it owns us, and so I’m always seeking more freedom through less stuff.  And my house, while reflecting my great love of art & books, is fairly minimalist now (though not severe or spartan by any means!  I LOVE beauty!).

So Candace said “You’re already clutter-free!” and then asked me the interesting question:

“What do you think is behind that desire for less clutter?”

I found the question interesting in several ways:

  1. In and of itself:  so what IS behind my anti-clutter stance (for me)?
  2. Does there have to be anything more to it than what it is?  Why isn’t my desire to eliminate things I don’t find useful or beautiful enough at face value?  Was Freud right? (“sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”)
  3. How does this reflect our different values?
  4. How is her question and my response to it reflective of our differing world views?

1.  What’s behind my anti-clutter views?  Wow – as is true with any question this could just go on and on.  I could talk about my Dutch-Norwegian father who was always chiding us to tidy up and who would clear our kitchen counters of even things like toasters in his quest for order.  I could say that clutter and my ADD-like brain are inimical to one another.  I could say that I crave beauty and clutter seems distracting and non-beautiful to me.  But I think the truest statement is the one I made above.  I like freedom and having stuff to attend to or that distracts me lessens my freedom & mobility. I don’t like it.

2.  Does there have to be a meaning?  While you would think my answer on this is ‘no, of course not’, actually I do think if we dig a bit more deeply we can usually see that our attitudes, predilections, etc. emanate from some part of our lives or our history.  And while that’s true I think it can be too self-focused and ultimately not productive to spend too much time on such things unless they meet these criteria: a) the behavior/desire in question impedes our spiritual, emotional or physical well-being or growth; or b) the behavior/desire greatly enhances us – and we want to discover what there is about it, at core, so we can find more of that ‘suchness’ in other areas of our lives.

3.  How does Candace’s question reflect our different values?

4. How does Candace’s question reflect our different world views?

I have some opinions on those two question – but it strikes me that writing about what I think my friend’s values & worldviews are is presumptuous at best.  So we’ll see if she agrees to the game I’ve proposed – that I interview her for the blog and present those as the companion piece to this.

I think that’s one of the things that makes life fascinating, yes?  That we all see things differently, and yet that there is this thread of commonality.  I’m quite curious about Candace’s answers.  But even if she doesn’t feel like expounding on them publicly (I’m pretty sure she’ll tell me at least!), I’m grateful for the opportunity to think about her question.

And I’m still itching to start going through closets and drawers and (my winter project), the basement once again.  One nice thing is that as you keep winnowing, it gets easier and faster – and any sense of incipient loss or “I might need this” gets obviated by the facts – I’ve given away/thrown away/donated so much stuff in the last 8 years (the upside of being single) and no bad things have happened. The only thing I got rid of that I had to repurchase was some fishing line I used to hang up a glass ornament in my window.  I think it cost $5 to replace.  New fishing line:  $5.  Less crap in my basement toolroom: priceless.

What’s your take on:

  • clutter/stuff?
  • good questions
  • the value of introspection; and/or
  • differing world views

I really want to know!

Read Full Post »

My teacher Jean Houston wrote:  “Regardless of how unfulfilled our lives may seem, regardless of how meager our self-esteem, we are called into greatness by the necessity of our age and have little choice but to say “Yes.” In the midst of the turmoil of too-rapid change, an extraordinary light has arisen. Factors unique in human history are poised to help us become more than we thought we ever could be.”

That seems so hopeful to me!

And Friday night, looking for the new Wanda Urbanska book (The Heart of Simple Living: 7 Paths to a Better Life ) I came across Sleeping Naked Is Green: How an Eco-Cynic Unplugged Her Fridge, Sold Her Car, and Found Love in 366 Days by Vanessa Farquharson.  It’s exciting because:

  • She WAS a cynic, now is personally involved in sustainability
  • She looks WAY young on the book jacket – love having the young ones lead the way!
  • It’s step by step, simple things to do (all simple, not all easy….)
  • and hey- she found love! what’s not to like?

So those two thoughts combined for me on this hot Independence Day morning – what if it’s really true that “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for” and that God/the Universe/the cultural imperative/the angels are there to help us shift along?

I replied to Jean’s Facebook post (you really should follow her on Facebook – you’ll get profound teachings for free!) that in the beginnings of the Second Wave of Feminism back in the 1970s we said “the personal IS the political”.

So what if all I have to do is tune in (meditation, prayer, nature), ask for guidance, and follow it.

In my life right now that looks like a big emphasis on changes  vis-a-vis

  • sustainability/environmentalism (I’ve written about that here – click on the tag cloud for some posts)
  • health.  Oh my – this one is kicking my butt right now – but working on nutrition/exercise changes and getting more focused and serious about taking better care of my body (I’ll write soon about Geneen Roths’ Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything which I”m nearly done reading….)
  • simplicity and being more fully present.  I think of myself as non-materialistic and living a simple life.  Yet there are so many areas for growth for me in this regard.  And being more fully present in each moment helps ALL of my goals.  Hard to turn the A/C down to 72 or eat that brownie or ignore the person in front of me asking for attention when I’m zoned out.

That’s what I’m focusing on for now.  Trying to learn, change, grow (quickly – it doesn’t feel like we have so much time, as the ice caps melt…).  And trying to have fun while at it.  I”m with Emma Goldman on that one:  “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your revolution.”

How about you?  What do you think of Jean’s quote?  How are you being called into greatness?

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »