A Discussion With My Daughter (about owning quality stuff)

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I want a Hudson Bay point blanket.  Some individuals may be disheartened to know that this simplicity blogger longs for a blanket derived from wool (and I do apologize for offending), but I am human and to err is my way.  Both sets of my grandparents owned Hudson Bay point blankets–moths had eaten them in spots but I didn’t mind.  To crawl under their heaviness was warm, comforting and to me felt like love.  During a winter spent in Canada I admired and desired a Hudson Bay point blanket even more–North American winters can be cruel and again these blankets spelled love.  I promised myself despite the blanket’s expense, I would buy one with the knowledge that it would be owned for a lifetime.  My grandparents’ household economies often meant quality over quantity–this was the norm for their generation–a Hudson Bay point blanket was a common item in many households as a result.

Today, I own a synthetic blanket–it has lasted over ten-years, but it is thin in spots and falling apart at the edges.  I told my young daughter about my desire and plan to save for a new or used Hudson Bay point blanket.  She knows that we are a household that has a “stuff rule”–one comes in only when one goes out.  This keeps things balanced (most of the time).  So she understood a need for a new blanket and the future exchange, but when I explained to her that I will never likely buy another blanket this baffled her.  For my child’s generation products don’t last.  Very often superfluous stuff (and even the necessary) is made with planned or built-in obsolescence–a product is designed to have a limited use or life.  Nothing lasts.  This statement is the opening to many philosophical conversations, but as a consumer it is just depressing.  If you live a life as a minimalist, seeker of simplicity, or even as a smart consumer you can suit up and battle this “nothing lasts” ideology to a degree–buy better.  It may cost more up front but there is lasting value in these type of purchases.  The Amish know this secret and often upgrade on important items used for working and living. Their culture treasures antiques for their beauty, quality, and their future monetary value.  For our current consumer culture this idea is not evident–we spend our dollars buying more and more until our homes bulge and our savings dwindle, but we often do not open our wallets and look clearly for any type of lasting value.

I did some morbid math, and since I plan on living to nearly 100 I’ve got 60 good years in front of me.  The cheap synthetic blanket was still a “quality” blanket and costs around a hundred dollars today.  If the inflation rate for the next 60 years remained at around 3%, and I bought a similar blanket to the one I have now every 10 years during these next six decades–I would spend about $1,800 on blankets and use up six blankets worth of the earth’s resources.  The Hudson Bay point blanket is looking like a good investment at around $500 to $600.  What is more these blankets maintain some of their value, and can become family heirlooms.

Stuff is never going to be my cup of tea, but I do need a cup and tea on occasion.  When I do shop I plan to buy with quality and beauty in mind.

Have you made any “lasting” purchases?

 

Why I Fought the Tree and Am Grateful to Have Lost (…almost)

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Photo Courtesy of  FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

It has been my belief since I was a child that a tree is best left growing in a forest.  I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. Trees were my comfort and my friends–they were giants and magic–a place where I just knew fairies and folklore lived.  As an adult, I understand their necessity in a world built of wood-frame houses and one that has not gone paperless (yet), but for today that argument is not really my point (sort of).   

As you can imagine, it is difficult for this adult to put a Christmas tree up in her home.  I tried the fake tree and then swiftly removed it (and felt guilty for the waste of resources), but I have young children and most fake Christmas trees contain large amounts of lead.     For a couple years, we decorated a large living plant and I was delighted.  However, this doesn’t suit the rest of the family anymore.  My daughter was in tears this year over the thought of not having a Christmas tree and since we don’t have a rent-a-tree program in the Midwest we had a decision to make.  I tried to convince my family that we should purchase a large potted Norfolk Pine–they were less than impressed.  “We might as well decorate the plant again,” were their unhappy replies.  Finally, I relented and we took home a very small fir–not very old were my thoughts and not a big giver of oxygen.  My family was pleased; I felt like a murderer.  …And don’t get me started on the carbon footprint left from transporting this tree (our local tree farm had a fire a couple years back and so we have only big box stores to buy trees from…the shame was unbearable).  Does a child ponder this ecological devastation–NO–the tears from earlier were forgotten.  My tears were silent.

I am not the only parent who has had this problem.  There is a famous story about Teddy Roosevelt’s children sneaking a small tree into the White House when the patriarch of the family refused to have a White House Christmas tree.  Trees were meant to be preserved and grow in the forest.  Sound familiar?  Teddy let the children keep the tree–we are all weak when it comes to our kids.

Yesterday, when the day felt heavy and tired–I tiptoed upstairs to a darkened room that is the temporary home to our tree and I plugged it in.  With the stroke of lights the heaviness left and only beauty remained.  A sacred mixture of the natural and the remembered stood before me–every ornamentation holds a story and my children had dressed this tree so gingerly and lovingly.  This is not a mere tree but a Christmas tree–it is our Christmas tree for this another special year.  “Silent Night” began playing on the radio downstairs and then I remembered the sacredness and the grace of all the Christmases past and I whispered, “Thank you Christmas tree.”

May serenity and peace find you this season–Merry Christmas.

What Kids Really Want for Christmas

It is simple really–all they really want is your time.

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And yet we are living in this age of information.

What is the weather going to be like today?

Where can I get good Chinese food?

How is the situation in Syria?

What is (insert name here)’s status on FB?

What is the Kardashian crisis this week?

Why is the sky blue?

All of these questions can be answered almost immediately through our phones, tablets, and computers.  As a result (myself most definitely included) we get distracted and forget what is most important in life.  Time  is something we can’t make more of, yet we spend it things that give us the least joy and satisfaction.

Have you ever watched a family in the park? The kids are playing on the swings and the parent is checking email on a phone.  And we judge them…until we notice we have just checked email on our own phone.  I have read countless journal entries and papers by students that highlight either the good times a child had when a parent was fully present in an activity or ones that express their desire to spend time with an actively engaged parent.  My daughter’s schoolwork is no different.  She consistently writes about the times I have read to her before bedtime.  A tradition that started in infancy but lately has fallen away because I have become distracted with a need to check email and complete other work.  Lately, I’ve asked her to read a story to her brother instead.  She does it reluctantly and sadly.  I in turn feel guilty and nobody is truly happy with this change.  Was checking email really worth missing those 20 minutes of precious time with my children?  Undoubtedly the answer is no.  Even with this, I continue to make a choice and process trivial pieces of information on a computer screen (most of it is not worth reading), and I skip reading Polar Express to my kids this season.  I get a technological high and my kids too little of my undivided attention.

This Christmas it is time for me to set down the tablet, to not send that text, to not read the trash that pops up on Yahoo! and instead spend this precious time with my kids.  Let’s start a parenting revolution–play a board game, color a picture, bake cookies, go for a walk, and enjoy a “Silent Night” with your children.  That is what they really want for Christmas–your time!

How do you spend quality time with your children?

The Importance of Being Soup: Saving Leftovers Is NO Joking Matter

I apologize for not posting on Sunday as scheduled.  Our area has seen two snowstorms in the last week and our Internet had been out.

 

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Picture courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

 

There is a place in our household where all forgotten leftovers eventually must go…(in earnest) it is the soup pot…

During my childhood I could look forward to beef stew or chicken noodle soup on a rare winter occasion, but most of the soup that I ate came from a can.  I didn’t realize until a few years ago that people do make tomato soup homemade and did not consume the congealed red stuff from my youth–who knew?!   Apparently this soup thing has and is fairly important, we have great literature inspired by it (Stone Soup), slang sidles up to it (in the soup, soup up), restaurants present it daily (soup du jour), and our nation was fed by it during the Great Depression and is still today (soup kitchens).  

In my house it has become a ritual and weekly meal.  Why?

Soup is easy.  Soup does not take an expert to make–a broth, some odds and ends cut into whatever shape they may take, simmer and voila!  Soups on!  

Soup is frugal.  Soup can be very expensive if you choose expensive ingredients.  However, most frugal folks use whatever is seasonal and/or on hand.  Soup staples are very often healthful as well as inexpensive, e.g. beans, lentils, barley, vegetables.  When making soup use what you have.  If you are a meat-eater–use meat as an addition rather than the main event to make your soup even more thrifty.  You won’t even notice if you simmer it long enough.

Soup conceals and reuses leftovers.  Saturday soup is not my original idea–I read about it in a book and have been unable to find the source.  On Saturdays gather all of your leftovers from the week (pasta, rice, beans, meat, vegetables, spaghetti sauce, whatever pleases you) and simmer them in a pot of broth.  If you need to make the soup heartier add pearl barley.

Soup reuses your garbage.  Your grandmother (or maybe your great-grandmother) made soup stock from leftover bones and vegetables scraps.  You can do the same.  I have a lidded “garbage” bowl in my freezer for left over peels and vegetable scraps.  These become my flavoring for making soup stock.  The Internet is full of recipes for creating a stock if you need a good recipe before you dare go the “garbage” route.  Don’t fret if you must buy a starter broth. I’m a working mom too and I always have some on hand in a pinch.  (*My family tries our best to eat organic and so I would recommend organic vegetables for making soup stock out of peels. Many of the harmful chemicals from industrial farming are highest in content on the skins of fruits and vegetables.)  

Soup stretches.  My parents our kindly helping us remodel our major fixer-upper of a home.  They came down last week, last minute, to help with a skylight issue while the weather was still good.  Saturday soup ironically was on the menu for that Monday night.  No problem!  I added some more stock, a few more veggies, and of course some pearl barley.  Apparently it was a good mix of leftovers, my mom asked for the recipe.  That was a hard one to figure out, but I think I gave her enough to try to recreate my Saturday/Monday “leftover” soup. 

Soup feeds the soul.I will never be able to explain it as well and so I won’t…

“I have never been a millionaire. But I have enjoyed a great meal, a crackling fire, a glorious sunset, a walk with a friend, a hug from a child, a cup of soup, a kiss behind the ear.  There are plenty of life’s tiny delights for us all.” 

 –Jack Anthony

My favorite soup is tomato-basil…and country lima bean stew…and taco…and

What is your favorite soup?

A Well Stocked Life…

A Well Stocked Life 

What exactly is a well stocked life?  For each individual it can mean something different.  It may mean a pantry full of food and ample amounts of toilet paper–or even a substantial rainy day savings account.  For others it is a matter of stockpiling the skills that will move them forward into a desired goal.  It might be having adequate time to spend with those you care for.  It could mean having just enough and being satisfied with what you have.  It could mean all the above.

For me creating a well stocked life is a continual process of growth and change–it is stocking my life with those things that bring the greatest peace and joy to myself and others.  In our home, WHAT IT DOES NOT MEAN is a pantry overloaded with too much food, a closet bulging with an exorbitant amount of clothes, or a houseful of knick knacks that fill all our shelves so there isn’t room for anymore.  I want a life that has room for more–more time, more happiness, more love!  Today, a well stocked life our family is about having less to gain more–

A plan to buy a smaller house is less cleaning and expense and more time to spend with my family and friends

Having fewer items in my wardrobe means less clothes but more opportunities to wear the clothes I love

Fewer items in my pantry means less waste and having more fresh foods that are healthful

Spending fewer days doing things I don’t love creates less anxiety and more time to be passionate about life  

Creating a smaller footprint is less damage to Earth and more beauty for future generations

Each day, I am aiming to align my values with how I fill each moment–by doing this I am creating my own well stocked life–a life full of all the things I cherish the most. 

How are you creating your own well stocked life?