Grief

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The weirdest month of my life, right here.  March 2020!  My father-in-law fell on February 27 and it turned out, broke a vertebra, and a week later, on March 5, he died.  The next Tuesday, my union went on strike and we were on the picket lines for 3 days.  With COVID19 closures looming we reached a contract settlement and the next Sunday we learned we’d be closed for the remainder of the month preparing for a massive scale distance teaching of children of all ages.  Said preparation was spent with my own two small children at home with me, competing with my husband for work time, and binging on faaaaar too much Facebook.  I let myself indulge in a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. I’ve been eating a lot.  Too much.  Trying to avoid feelings.  Needless to say, my stress levels have been somewhat elevated.

On week 3 of this, we are settling in, figuring it out.  My husband started actually distance teaching; we are officially on spring break so ours doesn’t start for another week.  I’m sleeping kind of better and kind of worse.  I’m walking every day.  Inspired by this post, I’ve been doing little projects that have just kind of sat around forever and it feels good to finish them, use them, put them away, be done.  I’m pushing myself to actually finish up things rather than get close and not see them to completion, and to avoid my old foe of spending time researching and ordering yet more supplies for projects and then not actually doing them.

*****

I left off writing that last night . . . just couldn’t feel out where this was going . . . but I’m back again today.  I have a vague feeling hanging about me, a constant unease.  Maybe, as this article suggests and much more aptly describes, it’s grief.  So many griefs this month, and it feels shallow to admit that the one that feels the biggest right now is this sense that I’ve spent 15 years in a career that I’m consciously choosing to be in said career at this time in my life, but is renowned for its degree of superfluous crap.  The paperwork.  The meetings.  The documentation.  The events.  The committees.  The TESTING.  The TIME.  All of that, in the snap of a finger, gone.  Done.  Don’t have to do it!  Now:  Do only the most important thing (teach) and in the simplest yet most effective way you can given the novelty of the format, etc. and take care of yourself while you do it.  So while my intellectual brain knows that it’s temporary, and because of a very unusual circumstance, I also wonder . . . will I actually be able to go back to that?

Simple Choices This Week

Somehow turning the decade to 2020 gives me the feeling that a lot of time has passed… suddenly.  Everything feels like a long time ago.  This is compounded by the fact that I recently turned 50.  As someone who tends to be very commonsense and logical, and who also spends a lot of time doing math, I don’t have any particular feelings about the number 50, but it has made me think more deeply about many things, including years past and years remaining.

While my family followed what was to teenager me an excruciatingly simple lifestyle, it wasn’t until I was out of university and on my own for a few years, working in a very fast-paced industry, that I began to explore simplicity on my own.  I’ve honed various aspects of frugality and simplicity for the past 25 years or so.

In every simple living community or book I’ve observed or read, I’ve seen discussions of “how is simple living different from frugality” or “how is simple living different from minimalism?”  The conversation always meanders through various ideas and opinions before someone reminds everyone that simple living is about choices – making choices to have choices.

This week, some of the choices I’ve made to make life simpler are

  • I’ve been more deliberate about practicing the 1980s style of smartphone use proposed by Cal Newport in Digital Minimalism, which is to turn on the ringer and leave it near the front door.   That is to say, I’m treating it as a phone instead of an appendage.
  • I dug in and began the unpleasant pre-work that I’ve been avoiding for months for our 2019 taxes.  It took about 3 hours and now I don’t have to dread it anymore.  “Just begin” nearly always gets me through things like that.
  • I cooked ahead last weekend for scheduled long work days.  It made those evenings much more relaxed.
  • I skipped Mari’s band concert after a long day at work.  It was the first performance I’ve missed in 8 years of band and orchestra.  This particular concert is held annually in the high school gym, which has dreadful acoustics, and parents sit on the (extremely uncomfortable) bleachers.  The ratio of time that Mari played to time I would have spent to be there was about 1:8.
  • I contemplated making a baby blanket for an acquaintance’s baby shower, and then bought some favorite board books to share instead.  The yarn or fabric would have cost the same as the books, and not everyone values handmade items.  I’ve made many crocheted baby blankets and patchwork baby quilts over the years, and generally enjoy turning out a pretty present, but this month I decided that I had other time priorities.

What made your life simpler this week?

 

 

 

Imagining

Autumn on the Oberg Mountain Hiking Trail Loop, Minnesota
The view I imagine while stuck in traffic.  Image: Autumn on the Oberg Mountain Hiking Trail Loop, Minnesota by Tony Webster, CC BY-SA 2.0.

I popped Mari’s well-worn CD of Anne of Green Gables into the car stereo this morning and from the first lines was whisked to a comfortable home in my memory. My mom bought this book for me when I traveled with my aunt at the age of 9. Once I got through the wordy descriptions in the first page, I was hooked. I finished it and immediately began reading it again. I read the series countless times over the years, continuing to read it into adulthood on occasion. The books have always been an escape for me; I recall taking an Anne book and my lunch to a park near my engineering job, sitting under a tree and reading to forget work stress for a while.

It was a pleasant way to spend the commute – listening to L.M. Montgomery’s loving descriptions of the natural beauty of Avonlea, every sentence a mark of her craft. The activities of the characters were a reminder of the world pre-technology. Anne fantasized about living near a babbling brook and spending the night in a wild cherry tree; she didn’t spend all her hours with earbuds and a smartphone. Rachel Lynde observed everything that happened in the neighborhood because she wasn’t parked in front of a TV. An 8-mile horse-driven buggy drive was a pleasure, not a time-sucking chore as it can be today in a much faster car. I’m sure there will be a million more examples; I’m only on chapter 2.

For many years, it was my fantasy to live far from the bustle of cities and suburbs, in a country cottage with a large garden and abundant physical and mental space. My parents moved to such a place when I was in college, and on my occasional visits I loved the sounds of the owls at night and roosters and cows early in the morning, the always changing landscapes of the Shenandoah foothills, and the lack of busy-ness. Oh, there was lots to do: painting outbuildings, harvesting berries, making jam, weeding, hanging laundry, painting the long stretches of fences – but there was also time to climb into the hills and marvel at the views, to enjoy a visit with the sociable barn cat, or to just think. For about a decade until upkeep became too much work for my aging parents, it was a much-loved refuge for me from the various cities in which I lived.

When, as of late, I begin to feel a real need for that refuge, I know that I need to step back and reconsider commitments. When home feels less like a cabin and more like a hotel, I know I am too busy. Recently, the fantasies of moving to the country resurfaced, and I asked myself why. It’s been a busy few weeks back to work and school, and we’re all still adjusting: we will adjust. I have given myself the position of always-willing-to-drive mother for Mari and her friends; while this can take a lot of time, there are benefits, such as knowing they are all safe, and the opportunities for conversation in the car. This is also temporary and will likely ease by the end of the winter; after her friends have navigated Minnesota winter roads, I will be more likely to consider them safe drivers.

When I was finishing my grad degree, I realized I had always been waiting for the next stage. As a young child, like many kids, I always wanted to be older. In high school, I couldn’t wait to get to college. The rapid, always-changing pace of college suited me, but I was eager to finish. The summer job I had between college and grad school was perfect in that within a few weeks I was ready to be a student again. And then I was done — I moved across the country and I was on my own… to discover that the grass was not as green as I had expected.  After a couple of years I just wanted out of the corporate world. I realized that there was always something to be finished, always something new to begin that probably wasn’t going to match my expectations.

The stress of this time will pass, and I will have some fond memories of it. Doing what I can now to make each day enjoyable for all of us will give us each a better time now and better memories in the future. And part of making every day better for all of us means giving myself more breaks.

A year ago I read the idea of a “20-minute daily vacation” in Laura Vanderkam’s Off the Clock.  It’s time to implement it!

Simple Summer Pleasures

Windows open for days on end
Listening to the frogs and owls at night
Flowers, bees, and butterflies
Biking somewhere, or biking nowhere in particular
An afternoon at the lake
Line-dried sheets
Thunderstorm!
Leaving the house without outerwear for so many months that we forget about it
Long daylight hours
Grills fired up all around the neighborhood
Garden bounty
Outdoor festivals
Farmers markets
Greenery everywhere
Less laundry to do with reduced bulk of summer clothes
Picnics
Sitting by the campfire
Stargazing
Increased unscheduled time
Outdoor concerts

Thrifty Thursday: Bar Soap

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Image © Nevit Dilmen, CC BY-SA 3.0

When did liquid soap become ubiquitous? I recall when I made the change for handwashing in my home; I had a cat that obsessively licked bar soap, and I thought it might be bad for her. Over time I became more aware of the environmental consequences of liquid soap: more fuel for transport; unnecessary ingredients, including some that have been shown to be harmful; all those plastic containers. Once Mari was old enough to hold a bar of soap, long after the cat had spent her 9 lives, we gladly made the change back.

Pros of Bar Soap:
– Minimal packaging
– Long-lasting
– No anti-microbials
– Easily available in unscented form, or naturally scented
– Soap dishes never wear out and are easy to “refill”
– Lots of fun options for soap dishes – beautiful china, interesting rocks.  I use seashells that we collected on a family trip.
– Lower cost per handwash
– Takes up less space in the cabinet, so easier to buy in bulk, with further cost savings
– Less weight for transport (liquid soap contains water, which weighs 8 pounds per gallon)

Bar soap demonstrates the green triangle about which I first read in a simple living book: if something is good for one aspects of health, budget, and the environment, then it is likely good for the other two as well. Three priorities met with one small effort!

Simple Pleasures of Spring

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Hearing rain after a silent winter

The return of the songbirds

Beginning the 6 months when daylight hours exceed dark hours

Daffodils waving their cheery trumpets even after an unexpected snowfall

Baby lettuce and spinach from the garden

The explosion of greenery

The return of the pollinators

Baby animals!

Easier commuting, never so appreciated as after a hard winter

Fresh strawberries for breakfast, still warm from the morning sun

Opening the windows!

Waking to the early morning chorus of birds

Ducklings!

Putting away the heavy winter coats and boots

Replacing the utility mats that pick up winter’s slush and grit with less utilitarian rugs

Cooking outside

Eating outside

Pausing on a long walk to talk with neighbors we’ve not seen in months

That brief time of ease between shoveling snow and mowing lawns

The first bicycle ride of the season


What makes you smile in the spring?

Simple Winter Pleasures

snow-river-and-trees-with-sky-and-clouds-in-temperance-river-state-park-minnesota.jpgThe bluest sky over glittering, crystalline snow

Ice skating, skiing, snowshoeing

Reading by the fireplace

Silent nights, save the owls

Simmering soup and baking bread that scent the house

The silence of a snowy day

Slow days at home, avoiding cold or ice, puttering in pajamas

Studying the amazingly beautiful snow crystal shapes

Walking on a frozen lake

Neighborhood snow shoveling nights

Chili & game nights with friends

Reaching for another blanket

Planning the vegetable garden

Hot tea or coffee on a cold morning

Watching the cardinals in the bare trees

Walking in the winter wonderland created by fresh snow

Coming inside after a long walk

Snow sculptures

Indoor projects

Last year’s harvests – strawberry jam or frozen raspberries – brightening a meal with color, flavor, and memories