Saturday, November 9, 2013

Living in a Volcano

It’s 9:30pm and I am alone in my new apartment, with only one floor lamp’s soft glow to light my surroundings, and the steady, melodic din of my entire Sufjan Stevens catalogue playing happily on shuffle through the stereo from my iPod. I’ve spent my evening cleaning and unpacking. David is at a youth event and so I took on the week’s unwashed dishes on my own, after finding a place for the new microwave, moving our two arm chairs, and flattening about a trillion newly-emptied cardboard boxes.

The downside to downsizing is obvious: space is precious and finding economy with how and where you place your everyday items is a challenge. Well that challenge has been compacted by the timing of our move coinciding with crazy-busy work weeks for Dave and I both, and trying to live out of boxes in the transitory times between sleeping and working. When everything around you is chaotic towers of boxes and strewn articles, your everyday tidiness habits decide to play hooky, along with the ability to find anything when you need it, the desire to eat off of non-disposable dishes, and the ability to cook. And that’s all before counting in the added fatigue of pregnancy.

I’ve had a few moments over the past two weeks of “living” here, where I’ve seriously asked whether we’ll ever be able to unpack and organize to a level of comfort/visual appeal so that I will no longer feel like I live in a storage closet. I’ve asked this rhetorical-but-not question of David a few times, and to my dismay, his optimism and complete lack of detail orientation, layered thickly with his enjoyment in my grumblings (he says they’re “cute,” and doesn’t really take them seriously,) causes him to dismiss my question with “Ooooh, yes, it will be better.” I don’t think I can adequately describe the tone of his voice when he says this. It’s like… like when a child asks you if a nearby volcano is going to erupt and destroy your home in the Midwest: “Ooooh, no, no, we will be fine. No volcanoes nearby. How cute of you to be afraid of that!”

David doesn’t realize that I am living in an active volcano. Nesting instincts + chaotic living conditions = potential for total destruction of my peace of mind.

Thankfully, this weekend we will have fewer obligations to keep us from home and David has promised to help me get things organized. But then I think about how much work we will have to do, and on a weekend, and I get tired just thinking of how never-ending this feels. I really believe God created Sabbath rest for people like me who would otherwise just keep working and never stop. There’s always more to do.

That’s probably also why God gave me a three-day weekend; I have Monday off, blessed mercy from heaven! So Monday will be my observing the Sabbath day—just rest and play, no work for me.

And, if David is right and my volcano paranoia that our new apartment will enclose on me like the hoarder lady’s house of creepy childhood memories in Labyrinth is as unfounded as he believes, we will have a much more relaxing atmosphere in which to Sabbath come Monday. (I like using Sabbath as a verb, with the arbitrary grammatical authority of my English degree.)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Time to Spill

I haven't been too consistent lately in my writing, and I know that takes the motivation away from those who might otherwise be interested in following this blog, but let me take a minute while you're sitting right there to tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel Air. I mean, why I haven' been writing. Sorry. The 90s just came out of me for a second.

Yesterday, David's birthday, we announced on Facebook the secret I've been keeping for the last 7 weeks: I'm pregnant! I've wanted to keep up with The Frugal Aesthetic all these weeks, but it was kind of impossible to think of anything to write genuinely about without sharing the news. So I'll share now some thoughts I jotted down two weeks ago about this wonderful new change of course in our lives:

Thoughts from October 21:

Blogging is a lot more difficult when the thing foremost in my mind is a secret. My pregnancy monopolizes much of my thought space right now, and what it doesn't overthrow, it impedes- like thinking about meal planning. Kinda hard to meal plan when the only foods that don't make me want to vomit just thinking about them are eggs on English muffins and Taco Bell quesadillas. Ok, so there are a few other non-nausea-inducing foods I could think of, but who has the energy? This baby is usurping it all and taking the throne of my body's priorities.

I shouldn't complain- I know compared to many moms my morning sickness symptoms are a walk in the park. I haven't even thrown up once. I've been able to go to work every day and do my job- meeting the energetic demands of three little boys and still managing to do the extra chores as well.  But this is my very first experience with prego hormones and the fatigue and illness that accompany them. I'm doing my best just to fulfill my daily obligations and keep myself fed.

All that to say, can you understand why the blog has been a little neglected?

Sorry I couldn't spill the beans sooner- I found it prudent to keep my pregnancy quiet until I knew the chance of miscarriage was greatly diminished. Now that you know, you'll pardon me if I wax loquacious on pretty much nothing but mommy-to-be topics.

It's a new category of living for me that will test and challenge my commitment to live simply. What with my nesting instincts kicking in, and the plethora of baby merchandise now overtaking the American mommy culture, I know I'll have to go against the grain a bit to decide what the little one and I need versus what many will tell me we need, or what I may become convinced I want.

Some will question Dave's and my decision to downsize at this moment in our life- I mean, who finds out they're going to have a new little member of the family and then up and moves into a space much smaller than before!? Who does that?!

We do, and we don't have any second thoughts. Here's why:

First of all, the moment Dave and I came to realize we were both equally committed to this bold move, God opened a door. It took less than 10 days from the inception of the plan, to signing the lease.

The day we signed the lease, I had secretly bought a pregnancy test and had it hidden in my purse to take later that day. I signed without knowing if I was pregnant or not, but trusting that the peace I felt was from the Lord.

Of course, the test showed positive in like, 5 seconds. And I got to keep that knowledge to myself until I saw David after work.

(A break from explaining why downsizing is still a good move while I tell you how I told Dave he's going to be a father):

I had the stick in my back pocket and walked into the kitchen and gave David a hug. He smiled down at me and said, "Are you really going to finish that whole loaf of bread this week"? (We had a lovely sourdough loaf and David couldn't have any because he's still avoiding grains and sugars) "Yes, WE will finish it," I replied. At that he got annoyed because he thought I meant he and I when I said "we," but really I meant me and the baby on whose behalf I'm eating. "You know I can't eat it!" he said, and then I whipped out the pregnancy test and told him who I meant by "we."

He was so shocked, but immediately thrilled. I don't know who is more excited to welcome our little nugget into the world, him or me. Or Grandma.

Now here's the other reason downsizing is such great timing right now: babies don't care where they live. Are they warm and fed? Then they're happy. And if we had stayed in our 2-bedroom, we would probably start to think we needed all that extra space we were paying a premium for, and we'd have stayed there, and our ability to save up for this baby and pay off some debt would have been severely handicapped.

Plus, I was practically asking God to test my contentment in Him and not material security when I asked Him to help us downsize and pay off debt. Now in true God form, He has upped the stakes and given me what I asked for, plus more.

And finally, we asked God for this child. It was no accident. We know we aren't in the financial spot we'd prefer to be in when we become parents, but we are encouraged by God's timing of the two circumstances happening together- we are so secure in His providence that we don't have anything to fear.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Moving Day

Today we move. So far our packing has been disorganized and overwhelming. Even after the big garage sale and donating what was left, we are still finding more and more stuff we need to go through and for which we must either find a home/use, or send to Goodwill. 

David likes the straight-forward packing duties; simple categories like books, kitchen stuff, DVDs. So I set about the more complicated sorting of papers kept for decades to see which were really important and which could be tossed while he went to work on the aforementioned simple categories. I was too much enthralled and a bit overwhelmed by the array of odd and embarrassing documents, notes, photos, and drawings I'd saved from my preteen years (including some melodramatic scribblings about whichever boy I was "in love with" at that time, and some hilarious notes I'd saved from close friends) to notice that David had decided to pack all our spices and seasonings and bring those to the new place along with the books and DVDs while I was reliving my awkward years in paper form.

And so, though I really wanted to have some apple cinnamon oatmeal this morning and had already sliced up the beautiful organic red delicious, I had no cinnamon with which to spice it up and forewent the dish entirely. Sigh. Silly Dave. 

On the plus side, having something so basic and essential to our from- scratch cooking lifestyle as herbs and spices out of our reach, it will spur us on to actually moving the majority of our stuff to the new place tonight... I hope.

Now let's hope we have enough energy to do it all in one evening after both working 10 hour days, because tomorrow is our only day to move-in/unpack, and Sunday my good friend from Minneapolis will be here for a brief visit. I look forward to showing her some of the notes I saved from her from when we were roomies :-)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Lacking on Purpose

I’ve had a long week, with late nights, scraped-together meals, and an unfortunate shortage of energy. Having slept-in today, I spent the late morning reading some of II Chronicles, journaling, and paying bills. I’m glad I have a moment before I continue with a loaded weekend to sit and write a bit. I will have to press on through the next few weeks, knowing that with the end of October, we will be settled in a new apartment, and (hopefully) the simplifications we are making in the move will add ease and efficiency to our daily life.

I’m thrilled by some of the changes we are making—the biggest being that we won’t have a TV for a while. The one we have now is of the generation of televisions I grew up with—a large, heavy cube, taking up more precious square footage than we want to spare in our tiny new home. Instead we’ll set up our record player in the living room and maybe a make-shift stand on which to put one of our laptops for Netflix viewing. What else do we need? I sure won’t miss all the commercials.

David is a sound snob. I’ve missed listening to music while I clean or work or relax, but when David is home, the speakers on my computer, or alternatively those of the old CD player I’ve kept from my 14th birthday bother his audio snobbery and he prefers the television for background noise. So he’s giving up his office record player and receiver so we can have music at home of an acoustic quality that won’t offend his trained ears. Ha. It will be so much better than repeats of Walker Texas Ranger in the background, interspersed with commercials for short-term lending companies, retail, big pharmaceutical, and fast food. Bye-bye, marketing lies that drive me nuts.

Besides the TV, we will also lack a dishwasher. A full tub. Central air. A garage. A dining room. Washer and dryer. You know, those first-world luxuries we Americans seem to think we can’t live without.

It’s like a put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is experiment in frugality. Can we really live happily with only the bare minimum? I fully believe we can. I am actually exhilarated by the idea—that radical part of me that wants to prove that stuff can’t buy happiness.

The true challenge will be to keep our new place from accumulating more stuff than it can hold. We’re going to have a 1-to-1 rule of something out for something in: anything new must be replacing an item we’re donating or selling. And this Christmas we’ll be asking family who want to give us gifts to think instead how they can bless us in non-permanent/non-material gifts—maybe gift cards for restaurants or movie vouchers. Or nothing at all! We are so excited to be with family for the holidays—what more do we need?

Now, we’ll need to find a reputable and affordable laundromat—too bad we can’t bring our record player with us when we wash our clothes.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Changes and Choosing to Write

I have really been in the blahs the past several weeks. Perhaps it is this in-between time of transition before our big move—all the sorting, purging, selling, planning, with as of yet none of the results. Our apartment has become a cluttered purgatory of sorts, with our hearts no longer in its keeping. I’m not cleaning with as much gusto, knowing we’ll have to do the whole move-out deep-clean anyway, and as we’ve sold and donated the larger items that used to fill our space, our rooms feel ill-suited to us. In our living room, where once dwelt a couch for which I lacked any fondness, are a few scattered throw pillows. We’ve rid our space of a few tables and some bookshelves, along with all sorts of books we knew we’d never read again that were just using space. In our kitchen are the last remnants of the summer’s CSA share—a pile of acorn squash, some potatoes, four pumpkins, and a butternut, most of which we’ll need to process and freeze before we move this coming weekend.

I can understand some cause of blahs from this transition; transitions are always weird, and not quite as tidy around the edges as you imagine them to be when you first make a shiny new plan to change course. But really, that’s not all this is.

Part of it is this: I haven’t been writing. I’ve gotten sucked into the daily grind and haven’t made it a priority to rise before the sun and hustle. To spend this “me” time airing and progressively-processing the thoughts that remain in me without outlet unless I put them to words.

Here’s another confession: I get depressed sometimes. It’s one of those struggles I have now and then—and really for me it boils down to a choice. I can choose to meditate on God’s goodness and His purpose for my life in all the good and the bad, or I can get depressed and dwell on the little things that go wrong or hurt me or don’t go how I planned, and let them control my outlook. When choosing the latter, it starts a self-feeding blah cycle in which I stop doing things that would otherwise keep me positive—like writing.

But I’m on the upswing.

I’m in my favorite time of year after all, the autumn.

I’m about to make a change of lifestyle that is truer to my resourceful, thrifty values: living well below my means.

I’m making the choice, as I know I will have to again when I’ve allowed the blahs to take over for a while, to write.

And, my heart is being nourished by one of my favorite books of all time: Of Whom The World Was NotWorthy. I’ll tell you about it later, because it will really tie in with the other major thing on my mind right now. But I’ll explain that later. Sorry to dangle withheld information from you, but if Dickens taught me anything about writing, it’s that the cliffhanger (a thing which he popularized and named, if not invented) is a genius literary device that keeps you coming back. So come on back, folks.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Fall Bucket List: 35 Frugal Things to do This Autumn

Fall is officially here, and while this fleetingly golden season graces our presence for a few short months, I want to make the most of it. So far on my autumn bucket list, I’ve already picked apples, walked through a pumpkin patch, watched a sunset over a harvest field, and even gone on a rabbit hunt with Dave. We didn’t get anything on the hunt, but he’s pretty dedicated this year so it won’t be long before he brings home some small game.

I’m in a list kind of mood, so here are 35 free (or almost free) things to do in the fall:

Take a long walk in the woods
Especially in the early morning or late afternoon. Don’t have woods  nearby? Find a park with trees, or an arboretum. Don’t miss those trees and colors when they reach their peak!

Make hot cocoa or cider and sit outside
…with a blanket and a good book, or a friend you love.

Carve a pumpkin
If I’m not blessed with a free pumpkin in the fall, I wait until the grocery store pumpkins go on sale, usually mid-late October, and buy them CHEAP. Even cheaper if you wait until early November.

Spend an afternoon in the country.
It helps if you know someone with land somewhere—ask if you can come explore it!

Do fall cleaning and get rid of clutter
What better way to cozy down for the winter than to prepare your living space to be a place of comfort? For me, clutter = stress. So cleaning and purging unwanted “stuff” is cathartic, and often leads to a little extra cash via selling the stuff on craigslist, consignment shops, etc.

Have a garage sale
Better yet, have a huge sale and really purge your stuff! Whatever doesn’t sell by the end of the sale, donate to a thrift store.

Go to local high school football games
This is a fun—usually cheap but not free—way to get out into your community, enjoy the weather, and see a game. Invite your friends, it’s way more fun than hitting the mall.

Pick apples
This CAN be a free activity! Ask around, you probably know someone with a tree overloaded with fruit they can’t eat all by themselves, and they would gladly let you come take some off their hands.

Make pies
…apple, pumpkin, sweet potato, pecan, apple cranberry, mincemeat, quiche, pot pie, you name it.

Have a fire and make s'mores
Fires are the best. You can sit around a fire with good people around you and talk and laugh for hours. And eat s’mores, of course.

Gather pine cones for Christmas decor
I love fresh pine cones every year for simple Christmas decorating. Fall is the time to grab them from under those trees!

Gather leaves to hang in a window or make leaf-rubbing art
The child in me still loves to collect big, vibrant leaves when I’m on a walk and save them for as long as they retain their color. Often they dry quickly and turn brown, but I am determined to find a way to preserve them for a slightly longer time. 

Hunt and forage
There is plenty of good eating for free, provided by the almighty. If you're not a hunter yet, ask someone who is to take you along and you may find that you like it. And fall is one of the best times to forage--just be sure you use an edible plant guide and be cautious as you begin this hobby. 

Take a bike ride
Choose a warm fall day and bike a trail, if you have one nearby. You feel so good after a long bike ride.

Borrow a kayak and enjoy a lake before the freeze
Just don’t fall into the chilly water.

Make soup
Seriously, there are some incredible soup recipes out there on the web. This is a big one on my list this year; I’m going to make a different soup every week, and freeze leftovers for later in the winter—if there are any leftovers!

Have a fall picnic
Cozier than a summer picnic, with fewer bugs! Pack hot pot pies or soup in a thermos!

Process all those apples!
If you did find a free source of apples, you probably have a lot. Make apple sauce, mincemeat, or apple butter to be canned, or apple crisp or pie to freeze for a quick dessert to throw in the oven later.

Notice light
It has it's own special quality this time of year.

Take a brisk walk on the first morning with frost or fog!
Maybe this is a repeat on the list, but seriously, early morning + frost + fog = stunningly beautiful.

Jump in fall rain puddles
I hope you have some waterproof boots, but if not, do it anyway.

Roast vegetables
My favorite way to cook anything is roasting, and when the weather gets cool again, I go all out and roast absolutely everything. Try any mix of root veggies roasted in olive oil/coconut oil, salt, and pepper, with herbs of your choice.

Roast a turkey, even if it’s not thanksgiving
. . . especially if like us, you've had one in the freezer for several months. One turkey feeds two people for a week or more!

Sort your clothes, getting rid of anything not worn since before last fall, and storing summer clothes away for next year.
Even if you’re not donating or selling unwanted clothes, it’s still such a nice refresher to sort out seasonal clothes and remind yourself of the items you’re excited to wear again this fall and winter.

Write poetry
 As cheesy as it may seem, autumn is a time of inspiration for many. Maybe it's not poetry, it's short stories, or a novel. Just write.

Bake to warm up your kitchen!
It doesn’t really matter what’s in your oven, just so that it’s baking and your abode is becoming the warmest, best smelling place on earth. I’d recommend apple crisp.

Cook cinnamon sticks, vanilla, and citrus on your stove top to make your house smell incredible.
A pot of water simmering on the stovetop with any number of delicious-smelling, aromatic foods/spices, can literally lift your mood. Scent is a powerful thing.

Turn off your ac and open up those windows!
Fall air smells incredible.

All this slowing down to enjoy the fall may help you also to reflect on what's important.

Go to fall farmers markets for the last of the year's harvest
. . .like winter squash and yams!

Eat cranberries, dry cranberries, bake with cranberries, decorate with cranberries. . . just don’t go fake with cranberries! Ever!

Visit national parks
Try to go with friends who have a year pass on their vehicle.

Fall camping
Maybe at a national park! They’re usually very inexpensive. Or really go free and find public land on which you could pitch a tent! Just be sure you know the laws for the area.

Hayrides at fall festivals
Usually churches will throw a free fall event, and even if you don’t have a church, you will be welcome at most church’s fall festivals. Check your local paper or community bulletin board for info. Our church does their fall fest at a farmer’s place just out of town, with real hayrides and everything. Awesome.

See a sunrise and sunset at the peak of the season
Because you could always use another reason to see the sun rise and set.

I'm sure I didn' get everything to do for free in the fall. But that's what's so great about my favorite season-- it's full of potential.