Friday, April 16, 2010

I hope you're still reading ...

... because this post is important to me. even without pictures. trust me, "go get camera fixed" is on my list.

i'm having a quiet friday night at home, catching up on blogs, reading (the last chapter of Animal Vegetable Miracle which I highly recommend, about to start Eating Animals for my May book club), and making 2 homemade pizza crusts from Vegan with a Vengeance. Tomorrow night I will make pizza! With broccoli, onions, and peppers and a homemade red sauce. Very easy, and hopefully very yummy too!

my best friend was here for a week, what a delight that was! (and i apologize (heather, Frugal Trenches, Rhonda) if i left some of you comments under the name Sarah K ... didn't realize she was logged in to blogspot under here name!! oops!!!)

I've had a lot of restless spring energy lately, and it's been spurring me on to get back on track with my simple living plans. Why is it so hard to change one's lifestyle, sometimes even the baby steps are hard!!

This post is going to be a reflective one ... so much churning in my head and heart, no idea where even to begin. I've been wanting to do this kind of post for a while now.

I want to live a simple life. I've wanted this since I first happened across Rhonda Jean's "Down to Earth" blog in March of 2008, desperately looking for something beyond the sad, surface-level existence I thought "was all." You know, work every day for the rest of your life, never have enough money for anything. Very bleak. And then, yeah, I found Rhonda. And everything changed in that instant. Everything grew from that one seed. Rhonda, I'm eternally grateful to your blog for opening entire new vistas to me.

You see, probably 99.5 percent of people my age grew up on microwaved, processed food. Our moms worked all day, we went to day care. We went out for McDonald's or pizza on friday nights. We watched TV, we were the first generation of video game players. And then we went to college, graduated, and got "jobs."

I didn't know what I was missing, but I felt empty inside. At the time I was working two jobs and it was very difficult. I still have no idea how to manage money. Home economics MUST make a comeback in public schools! Balancing a checkbook should be on there!

As of March 2008, I was still cooking processed foods, albeit largely organic. I didn't know how to knit. The domestic arts were nowhere on my radar. I still cleaned with commonly sold chemicals. I never thought about gardens or farmer's markets.

Fast-forward two years, and the changes I've made are enormous: transition to cooking everything I make at home from scratch, becoming mostly vegan, learning to knit, using homemade dishcloths and vinegar and essential oils to clean (and non chlorine dishwasher soap), soap nuts for the laundry. I stockpile food basics, spices, etc.

My spending habits are still not as pretty, and I fully believe it's because I haven't been ready for that commitment yet. If I was, I wouldn't keep using my credit card for silly things, or running down my checking account by swiping my debit card with abandon. I've tried, at least, to set aside a good chunk of my monthly paycheck, but lately I've needed to transfer money into my checking to cover a very low account.

I buy silly things, smoothies and goodwill clothing and expensive yarn that sits around, books upon books that i don't get to for several years. My food budget is the most out-of-control. I shop at Whole Foods, two local natural foods stores, the farmer's market. I can't believe how fast I can rack up $170, $140, $90. On seemingly nothing! In-between all these sprees, I get flashes of a homestead with a husband and happy baby. In these daydreams, I am fairly self-sufficent (at least way more than most). I don't NEED all this STUFF.

So you see, I simplifed my WAY of living, but perhaps have not yet simplified the LIVING itself. I have not been ready to take the leap toward financial independence. I very very much want to be a stay-at-home mom/homesteader, working only part-time at the most, if absolutely necessary. I'm contemplating purchasing a home sometime in this decade (I just turned 30).

But I know if I want these things to happen, I need to MAKE them happen by committing, as i did when deciding to commit to living a simpler way. Sure, I stopped buying processed food and shopping at the mall. But I did not stop being a consumer. That's a hard brainwash to part with, let me tell you, especially when as a kid you were so often told "no" when "all the other kids" were told "yes." sigh ... i do believe what we experience in childhood is hard to break, no matter how silly it is.

but i can't focus on the past. lately, i've felt a strong urgency toward moving to the next step of a simple life. As my blog friend Frugal Trenches often says, it will involve sacrifices in the beginning, especially when you're in debt (as i am, both school and credit card). I'm not in bad CC debt, but my student debt is high (thankfully it's looked on favorably for credit ratings) ...

I have three years left in Louisville, mininum (job contract). During those three years, in which I will probably still be unmarried and childless (woe is me, you have no idea how my baby fever builds when i hear, in one week, of THREE friends being pregnant and a fourth just having had her second baby!!), I plan to save like no one's business, pay down my debt considerably, learn more about self-sufficiency, and still live a pretty darned happy existence.

Rhonda's plan is for families; this is my single-girl-takes-on-the-world plan from here on out ....

simpler meals -- not boring, but not necessarily concoctions which need gourmet organic ingredients. I'm buying half a CSA share from my friend's farm for june-november. I believe this will help my grocery bill considerably for those months, and allow me to try new things while remaining "simple."

paying for everything (except for big stuff, obviously, like car repair), like groceries, with CASH. a beer out? CASH. The debit card is too magical, especially when you don't ever balance a thing like i do. I like the idea of having a "cash allowance" in hand ... literally.

learning about growing more edibles - oregano, sage, garlic, onions. I already have swiss chard, romaine, and basil coming up out of containers!!

avoiding restaurant meals. this is a tough one for me. I talked to my best friend about it, realizing i do this several times a week because i live alone and hey ... it's a hard business working full-time, being a grad student, making every meal from scratch (with going in and out of menu planning phases)which takes hours a couple of nights each week, cleaning up everything after every meal, keeping the whole apartment clean (6 rooms!), etc. etc. It also gets lonely, and I think when people live alone (which overall is GREAT), it can cause some anxiety as you tend to live too much in your own head, worrying about all the kinds of things in this world there are to worry about, with no one to level you out, no one to vent to. you know? so yeah ... sometimes it's nice to leave the cooking and cleaning to someone else. but i'm feeling committal these days ... so i might just set a goal of once a week, and try to reduce that further. instead of eating out alone, i want to focus on being around people more frequently, out for a beer or a coffee (much less expensive, and more fun, than dinner alone).

My eating schedule is kind of annoying. I eat breakfast at the same time each day, about 45 minutes after I arrive at school (I do the morning child care). three and a half hours later, i eat lunch. both are homemade. by the time school is over three hours later, i'm already starving. oddly, i almost always have some kind of nuts or fruit on me for a quick pick-me-up while I do errands or hang around before a yoga class (easier than going all the way home, and back), yet instead i go for a $7 sandwich at a health food store, or hit the coffeeshop. WHY do we do this? Because, I truly believe, we are not COMMITTED to change, sure, but also I think it's just very very hard to change years-long habits. However, this too must end.

My goodwill trolling, antiquing and yard-saling, while incredibly fun, also must stop (unless I see classroom stuffs, which is another blog post altogether, oy). Book buying, too. Even though much of what i own is now largely secondhand, I still have ... way. too. much. Why can't Americans be happy living on so much less? There are those in devloping nations who are, and do. I'd love to visit and spend some time among them, learning. I really would.

What I'm getting at with all this blather is that I've identified my major life goals as family, homesteading, homeschooling, knitting and sewing, baking, cooking, gardening. I only get one shot. This is it.

my future goals are, in addition to the ones i've already 99 percent committed to (there is still that part of me that stubbornly hangs on, grr)...

make my own granola, soy yogurt, seitan, pasta, tofu, (cheese?) ... the carbon footprints on vegan foods are terrible, i want to see if a sustainable vegan diet is possible. by the way, i'm still torn on the question of whether or not to include LOCAL, pasture-raised egg and cheese products in my diet on an infrequent basis. not sure i've posted on that, but i'm sure i will at some point.

buy food that's as close to 100 percent local/regional as's going to be so hard to avoid greens from California, and i'm giving up bananas/kiwis here ...

grow more of my own edibles in containers over the next three years. order a few heirloom things from seed catalogs in january.

line dry clothes (i like frugal trenches' idea for doing it in the kitchen in winter, the warmest room in the house!) on my sunporch (probably to the chagrin of my neighbors)

ride the bus, ride my bike, drive less, plan errand trips more efficiently

this summer:: put SOME food by, probably for sundried tomatoes and some blanched/frozen local veg to last me through winter for soups, pizzas, etc. also some local berries/apples for pie fillings and cobblers and smoothies. I will have to learn how to do this, as it's never been taught to me. Also perhaps save a bushel of local potatoes, apples, onions, through winter. We'll see. I wouldn't even mind having to buy a college-sized freezer to host any overflow!! (I can fit a chest freezer into my apartment, but I wonder what the electric bill would be ideas?)

make most of my gifts, i.e. vegan peppermint bark and dishcloths, for birthdays/holidays, or buy practical but pretty items or items from goodwill

Basically these are all ideas I've had for a couple of years now, and I have implemented most of them on some level, but I think my next step (beyond the COMMITTING) is the cash system, and just always asking myself the questions, "How can I simplifying? Am I being simple here? Do I really need such and such? Can i wait one more hour for dinner?"

If you're still with me, thanks for letting me go on and on. I needed this kind of post to help restore my vision for the future. Sometimes, it gets a little murky, bogged down in the mucky waters of daily life.

Yet it persists.

And this, I know, is true.

Any thoughts you have on these thoughts/plans/dreams are encouraged and appreciated.

now if you'll excuse me, I have a clogged bathtub to un-clog!! (ick)




  1. Hi Karen,
    It has been way too long since I've visited your blog. Things got beyond busy for me. I just cut my daily commute from 40 minutes to a short walk upstairs in my house, so I'm excited to start on a path to more simplicity myself. It is something I struggle with, but I find it easier when I visit your blog. Your blog is very centering and inspirational. I wish you the best of luck with your journey. Peace, Josh

  2. Karen, why don't you look into a bank that doesn't charge service fees for stuff like debit use? They're out there! At least in Canada. I don't pay a monthly service fee, I get free cheques, I don't have to pay when I use debit... Ask around, I'm sure you'll find something. :)

    - Chloe

  3. I can so relate!!!

    Take care of you!

  4. Oh, Josh ... you are so very kind and your words carry so much weight so thank you for taking the time to comment. It is hard to keep up with a blog. I wonder at people who are able to do such monstrously beautiful/detailed blogs (but glad they do!)

    Oh, Chloe ... I don't think I'm getting charged service fees. I just don't like the idea of "magic money with swipe of a card." but thanks nevertheless for the advice. hope you're doing well out there in awesome health-care land! :-)

    thanks FT, thanks!! sometimes all we need is to be reminded that we are not alone and you are there for me often in that regard.

  5. Karen--I am having so many of the same thoughts lately! I have a family and we are forging our way forward with paying down debt and living a more frugal lifestyle. The meals out are a challenge--we may continue with our usual routine for some time. It's nice to know someone else who is going through a similar thought process!

  6. Hi Karen,

    I wrote a huge long comment but somehow it got deleted before it posted. But basically, I said it's so wonderful all the changes you've already made in your life, and commendable you want to go farther. Breathe and take it one step a time. You definitely inspire us to push farther ourselves so that our actions and body are in harmony with this beautiful planet we live on.

    I'm glad you got to see Sarah! I miss you both! I'm going to send you mail soon. Sorry to be so out of touch. I have some news to share, but I suspect you and Sarah might have heard it through the grapevine, but perhaps not. I posted another comment to your blog a few weeks ago but for some reason it didn't post... not having good luck with commenting I guess.

    Thanks for the beautiful post to start my day contemplating.


  7. Hi Karen,

    If you want to get a handle on your spending - going cash only is definitely the way to go. We never had any savings till we did. We've now got an extra $20,000 paid on our mortgage. The thing is don't feel deprived and wonder what on earth we used to spend all our money on!!