Empty Cup

On occasion I like to totally clean house. It’s hard to do with a wife and three kids. The house isn’t just full of my stuff, but theirs’ too. Much as I’d sometimes like to, I can’t simply box up their books and movies and knick-knacks and cart them off to Good Will, as I’ve done with most of my things over the course of the last decade.

We’ve spent a ton of time and energy over the last few years paring down our belongings. Decide what’s valuable and keep it. Decide what’s superfluous and get rid of it. It’s a simple concept until you actually try it. And with five people in the house, clutter is inevitable no matter how hard you try to avoid it.

What’s sometimes more frustrating is mental clutter. Even metaphorically, it’s hard to clean house when the stuff I want to get rid of is not my own.

Mind clutter piles up and becomes overwhelming. I can’t hear myself think because of all the noise inside my brain, let alone all the noise and distractions from outside.

So many outside influences affect the quantity and quality of mental clutter. Sometimes it’s nice to just cut it off. Ignore every book on the shelf. Ignore all the movies. Ignore the computer, the tablet, the phone, and the mp3 player, along with any other electronic distractions. Turn off the TV and anything else that makes noise.

Ahh, silence. A moment of bliss.

Until somebody, any one of the other four people in my house speaks, or turns on the computer, or does anything else that breaks the silence.

That’s when I get the urge to go for a walk. Alone.

Not that I don’t love having all four of my housemates in my life. They all bring me joy in myriad ways, every day, and life would be meaningless without them.

But when the mental cacophony reaches a fevered pitch, it’s time to clean house.

Sometimes a short walk does the trick. Sometimes it takes a long walk. Either way, it’s silence I seek. Without silence, I can’t shut my brain up long enough to think.

It’s like the metaphor of a cup that’s so full it’s overflowing. There’s no room for the cup to hold another drop, and still, we keep trying to fill it.

Sometimes I want to turn the cup upside down.

Boil all the Voluntary Simplicity Movement and minimalist ideas down to their most basic elements and the concepts become, well, simple. Just turn the cup upside down every once in a while. You can fill an empty cup with anything you chose.

In a full cup you can only tread water.

Or drown.

Awesome Food

My family eats exceptionally well. Wonderfully wholesome meals, full of flavor. Mostly whole foods (meaning unprocessed,) prepared ourselves. Yes we spend more time in the kitchen, but we don’t care, we don’t have a TV.

If the average American spent as much time in the kitchen as watching TV, the world would, at the very least, be a quieter place.

There’s no particular diet we adhere to. We’re omnivores, sometimes vegan, sometimes vegetarian, sometimes unapologetic carnivores, but always with the goal of putting the best, most nutritious and wholesome foods in our bodies. Well, almost always. We occasionally indulge in cakes, cookies, or ice cream, but it’s not a habit.

We recently started drinking cow’s milk, which we hadn’t had in our diets for many years. A friend has a cow that eats grass a few miles from our home. Our friend milks the cow and shares the milk with us. I don’t think you could get any more wholesome without personally milking the cow.

We don’t hunt but have friends who do. They share the meat with us.

The weather turned cold and the ground froze and we haven’t been able to grow anything in our garden for two or three months, but we’re still consuming vegetables we grew last year and fruit we picked from trees in our yard. We have food in the freezer and food in glass jars. We have apples wrapped in newspaper and stored in boxes in our fruit cellar that taste today as sweet and juicy as the day they were picked four months ago. We have bags of dehydrated apples and pears that, at snack time, taste like candy.

The key to awesome food is following Michael Pollan’s advice to “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

And to repeat (from my previous post, Real Food)…

Follow these three simple rules to drastically improve your diet and health:

1. Don’t consume anything that contains high-fructose corn syrup.

2. Don’t consume anything from a restaurant unless it’s raw (like a salad).

3. Don’t consume anything from a grocer unless it’s raw (like fruits and vegetables).

Finding alternatives is an achievable goal if you try. You don’t have to personally milk the cow.

You don’t need the cow at all. It’s possible to get calcium in your diet without consuming any dairy products whatsoever.

We live in the information age, which goes without saying, although I said it anyway.

Living in the information age means we get to Google everything under the sun. Wiki this and Wiki that, until you find what you seek: Awesome Food.

Then, sit back, relax, turn off the TV, and enjoy.

Freedom vs. Freedom

Today I’m pondering the idea of re-entering the workaday world.

Two years ago I quit a job I didn’t like to pursue whatever I wanted.

The world was my oyster, the possibilities endless. I was free to do as I pleased. True, I had no source of income, but I did have plenty of money in reserve and had every intention of creating a source of income.

I’m a smart guy, lots of skills, entrepreneurial spirit, vim, vigor, etc., etc. If others can do it, so can I.

Two years ago I was full of confidence that I could create a source of income. I could be free and have money. I could have my cake and eat it too.

But over the course of the last two years, the source of income I’d intended to create never materialized (for a whole host of reasons,) and I convinced myself (and my family) that we don’t need money. We don’t need things. We don’t need to travel.

I convinced myself (and my family) of these things because I couldn’t find a way to retain my freedom and have money.

If the choice is between freedom – defined as my time being my own – or money and things, I choose freedom. If having money means I have to go back to a 40-hour-a-week-job, I don’t want it.

Not that we’re deprived. We just don’t have the freedom to travel. We don’t have the freedom to pursue many of our various interests because our financial resources are limited.

And therein lies the dichotomy: Because I’m free, I’m not free.

Money will purchase a certain degree of freedom, a certain type of freedom. With money, I have the financial freedom to do stuff. Without money, I don’t.

In order to get money (apparently,) I have to give up my time. I can either have my cake, or I can eat it. But not both.

Wait, how could I eat the cake if I didn’t have it in the first place?

See how confusing this is?

It’s possible (because we live in the realm of endless possibilities, don’t we?) for me to find a job I love, doing something I’m passionate about. Then I’d have it all.

Wouldn’t I?

Real Food

Fast food is quick, easy, and (ostensibly) tasty. But it makes me feel like crap and costs way too much money.  I don’t want it.

Processed foods I can buy at the grocery; pre-packaged meals, frozen or boxed, heat-and-eat meals, plus an entire aisle of chips, another aisle of soda, an aisle of “ethnic” foods, an aisle of canned soups and sauces… All of which seem quick, easy, and (ostensibly) tasty. But it makes me feel like crap and costs way too much money. I don’t want it.

I know it costs way too much money because eight years ago when the majority of our family’s meals came from a restaurant or from a grocer, we spent way more than twice as much as we do now.  And I felt like crap.

So, if I don’t want fast food or any other kind of processed food, what can I eat?

The answer is whole, organic, unprocessed, untampered with, unpasteurized, unadulterated food.

appleAn apple from the tree in our backyard is food.

Edible food-like products from eating establishments and grocers are not food.

There’s a pervasive myth that eating healthy is expensive, that the average person can’t afford to eat organically-grown, locally-grown, GMO-free foods.

I will not say it is easy in modern American society to eat real food. I will say that eight years into our journey, we’ve found ways to eat the healthiest, most wholesome foods available and save money. Lots of money. And feel better.

Follow these three simple rules to drastically improve your diet and health:

1. Don’t consume anything that contains high-fructose corn syrup.

2. Don’t consume anything from a restaurant unless it’s raw (like a salad).

3. Don’t consume anything from a grocer unless it’s raw (like fruits and vegetables).

Ok I know what you’re thinking: “That’s not simple!”

But it really is just that simple. It might take time to implement. It might take time to figure out how. But it can be done.

Vanilla Extract

VanillaextractThis is vodka bottle. Inside is vodka. Oh, and vanilla beans.

In other words, vanilla extract.

Wanna know what it tastes like?

It tastes like vanilla extract.

We paid $10 or $12 for the vodka and $5 or $6 for organic vanilla beans. Spent maybe $18 for what amounts to 25oz of pure vanilla extract.

We could have gone to the store and bought vanilla extract for around $2 per ounce. But what fun is that?

What I Want

I want to live in a place where I can breathe clean air, hear nothing but birds and wind, and see the natural world. Got that.

I want a safe, warm, dry place wherein my wife and children and I can rest comfortably. Got that.

I want access to whole foods; raw, organic, tasty, wonderful meals that engage all my senses. Got that.

I want good coffee, superb coffee, extraordinary coffee. Got that.

I want time to do what I want. Got that.

What else is there?

moon

Something.

I know there’s something else, something missing, I just don’t know what it is.

I could open my web browser. I could turn on the television. I could go shopping.

Maybe then I could fill this hole, this emptiness I can’t quite put my finger on.

Maybe I could breathe, listen, look, taste, and do.

Something.

In Defense of Unschooling

Despite the vociferously unspoken (and mealy-mouthed spoken) complaints of certain family members, our family home schooled for three years. It was hard enough to admit we were home schooling, so we didn’t mention the fact that we were unschooling.

thanks to homeschoolmosaics.com

thanks to homeschoolmosaics.com

What the hell is that? Unschooling? I’ve never heard of it so it must be bad for my niece. Or granddaughter.

In the old days, when we were normal, our oldest attended kindergarten, second, and third grades at a public school in the city. The middle one went to kindergarten and first grade. The little one was too little for school. When we moved to the country, and thus became abnormal, we decided to home school just for the fun of it. Uschooling wasn’t something we consciously intended, it just kind of happened.

We’d heard of unschooling from various sources, read a couple of books on the subject, and figured it wouldn’t hurt to try. Both our older children had been in gifted programs at the city school and both were way ahead of their respective grade levels. Surely a year or two of unschooling wouldn’t reverse what the public schools had accomplished and cause our children to become vegetables, devoid of any intelligence whatsoever.

No curriculum? Seriously? Hmmm….

How can they learn? How can two people arrogantly believe they have enough knowledge or skill to educate their own children? It takes a village! Lots of influences, that’s the ticket! They need to be exposed to a wide variety. And what about their socialization, hmmmm? How about the arts? Culture? Physical education? You can’t provide them those things. That’s what school is for!

elephantrocksBut we enjoyed it. We enjoyed the freedom. We enjoyed being able to do what we wanted, when we wanted. It was a beautiful dream, fraught with all the challenges freedom requires, but well worth the effort.

And then we got bored. At some point, home schooling, unschooling, wasn’t as much fun as it had been. We haven’t had the money to travel to museums and engage in various schemes we might otherwise have undertaken, which left us at home doing the same tired, old things we’d been doing for three years. It was time to revisit public schools as an option. It was also time to give Mom a break. And me.

The littlest one was the first to go. At the beginning of the school year, she started first grade. Soon enough, it was apparent the other two would follow. After the school year was well underway, at the beginning of the second quarter, our oldest joined her peers in seventh grade and the middle one joined his peers in fifth.

It’s been a difficult transition. The bus rolls up at 6:43 am and our kids are among the first on, settling in for the nearly hour-long ride. Same thing on the way home. Around 4:00 pm, they finally make it home. The amount of tedium required to complete assignments is appalling. The oldest two get very little free time and instead must focus their attention on schoolwork, sometimes well beyond bedtime.

But their first semester grades came after Christmas. Any guesses? No fair reading ahead!

If you guessed anything other than straight A’s you’d be wrong. All three, straight A’s. They hadn’t so much as cracked a textbook for three years, and yet they settled right in, right back into the old grind as if they’d never left. They’re awesome. And incidentally, so are their parents, who are, also incidentally, vindicated.

Our children do not need school. They choose school. As we’ve chosen our eclectic, non-conformist lifestyle, so too our children choose to continue to unschool; they just happen to be doing it while attending public school. They’re suddenly on somebody else’s schedule, following somebody else’s agenda, and at the moment, that’s ok.

At the moment, all’s right with the world. In the eyes of those family members who thought we were neglectful, if not downright abusive for choosing to home school our children, all’s right with the world now that our kids are back inside the safe, snug, secure box that encompasses the narrow-minded world-view some people hang onto with a tight-fisted, fear-filled grip. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

Complicated Simplicity

Choosing simplicity is still complicated.

There are too many days I’d rather have more money. It seems as if the idea of living simply and sustainably is inextricably intertwined with, for lack of a better word, poverty. I’d like to say there’s a way to have plenty of disposable income and still live simply, but I have yet to come up with a method of accomplishing both. That’s not to say there’s not a way, just that I haven’t come up with one. Yet.

Not that we’re impoverished. We’re not. In fact we’re very comfortable. But we’d like to travel. We’d like to see and do things we’ve never done before. We’d like to have extra money. So far though, I haven’t found a way to maintain my current lifestyle and make more money. Yet.

Making money is inherently complicated. In order to have more money I’d have to relinquish a certain degree of freedom. I’d have to have a full-time job doing work I find neither satisfying nor fulfilling. I don’t want a job.

I thought I’d follow the advice and example of so many others, countless others who blog, write books, create websites; internet entrepreneurs, carving out a virtual niche and profiting from it, realizing their dreams of financial freedom. Work from home. Set your own hours. Be your own boss.

For those who’ve tried it and failed, I feel your pain. Too many days I’ve got nothing to say. Some days, even if I do have something to say, I don’t feel like saying it. Some days I wish the Internet had never been invented so I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about not having profited from it. I don’t envy the zit-faced billionaire creators of social media apps. A billion’s a little more than I need. I just wanted to earn a living and some days, I regret my inability to do even that.

So I thought, screw it. I won’t write anything. This blog was a stupid idea anyway. And the website. And the book.

But after my one year hiatus, I’m thinking I might revisit the blog and just write for fun again. I still live simply. I still (try to) live sustainably. Nothing’s changed. OK, that’s untrue, plenty has changed in the last year, but I’m still as passionate and enthusiastic about living a simple, sustainable lifestyle; that part hasn’t changed. So, if I feel like writing and sharing on occasion, why not?

The Not So Sustainable Shave

…an update on The Sustainable Shave

My bit of irony for the last few weeks has been life without my electric razor – the subject of my last post. The electric razor was the star of the show, the hero, my savior from a life of scraggly scruffiness.

It was ranked #2 on my list of things-not-very-sustainable-but-I-don’t-care-I’m-keeping-them-anyway, or TNVSBIDCIKTA.

Somehow my beloved electric razor got dropped, thrown, kicked, or drop-kicked against something. Unaware, I started up the right (my right, your left) side of my face and got about halfway up the cheek by the time I felt the pain and realized something wasn’t right.

My screen had a sizable hole, big enough to leave a small series of vertical, reddish-hued streaks on my poor, unsuspecting cheek.

The hole rendered the razor useless. If it was on one edge or the other I could work around it and, in the past, in times of crisis not unlike the current situation, I’ve been known to do just that until I could get a replacement screen. It’s a tricky, delicate operation, not for the faint of heart. But I’m no coward (notwithstanding the fact that I’m still squeamish about the idea of using a straight razor – that’s just common sense!) and have plenty of manly tolerance for pain. A nick or two here and there is good for the constitution, builds character. But a hole in the middle of the screen – that’s another story. There’s no skirting the issue. There’s no getting around it. I’m stuck.

Having suffered the week-long, emotionally-scarring ordeal involving letting my facial hair grow, I wasn’t anxious to repeat that particular episode. Wal-Mart might have a replacement screen, or they might not. It’s a one hour drive just to find out. I could call, but I’ve been down that road before and learned Wal-Mart employees will say whatever they think you want to hear just to get you off the phone. Call me cynical.

I could order a new screen online, but it’ll take a few days to get here, maybe as long as a week. I don’t have that kind of time.

So I bought the cheapest triple-blade disposables available at the local grocery store, spending $3.47 plus tax for four razors and buying myself some time. Time to think. Time to reflect. Time to weigh the options again…

I hate the idea of throwing disposable razors in the trash. But I’m actually enjoying the process of lathering up and shaving. The electric razor seemed impersonal by comparison.

I’m undecided… Lip balm’s still firmly ensconced at #1 on the TNVSBIDCIKTA list, but #2’s up for grabs.

Nothing New Under the Sun

OK, break’s over. I’m back.

But what do I have to say that’s fresh, new, interesting, and exciting?

Nothing, lately, which is one reason I haven’t posted.

Why force creativity? If inspiration’s not there, why try to manufacture it?

I’ve spent the last few months trying to master the art of going with the flow. In the process, I’ve been flowing away from this laptop toward other things.

AND – I’d been working on serious posts. Serious posts are much harder to write. Serious posts have gravity and aren’t to be taken lightly. So I take them heavily.

Serious posts are cerebral. They’re intended to be thought-provoking. And they are; I think about them way too much, which is why they don’t get published. It’s why you’ve never read them, because they don’t get written in the first place.

AND – Since my foray into this strange, new world of blogging began, I’ve watched some of you (you know who you are!) whipping out great posts day after day. I set a goal for myself to publish a new post at least five times a week and failed miserably. I might as easily have stuck my head in a vice and cranked on it a little every day.

By setting the goal of writing more than what came naturally, I put too much pressure on myself. The result was inevitable.

AND – Last year while seeking simplicity I started writing a book, building a website, writing a blog, and half a dozen other projects; which all became decidedly un-simple.

So I put it all aside, focused on my family for the holidays, and enjoyed the season. After the holidays, when my internal calendar said it was time to get back to work, I questioned everything.

I questioned whether I wanted to blog at all. Why bother? It’s a legitimate question. Beyond the obvious answers; to reach out, to share, to learn, to grow, to have a creative outlet, etc., there must be some deeper underlying reason to blog. How about TO CHANGE THE WORLD!

I can already hear my nine year old son say, “Drama King.” Yes. I am. So?

Truth is, I do want to make a difference. I want what I do on a daily basis to matter. I have a unique voice and perspective, along with a gift for communicating it clearly.

I also want life to be simple.

To recap, I want a simple life AND I want to change the world.

AND – Intermingled amid simplicity and altruism is the necessity of providing for my family. Money comes in handy when we want to buy stuff like food, clothing, and shelter.

So to re-recap, I want life to be simple, AND I want to change the world, AND I have to make money. All of which, combined, makes my head spin. Which makes me want to stick my head in a vice.

But I can do it all. I don’t have to chose one or the other. I can have a simple life AND change the world AND make money.

Can’t I?

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