What Falls By the Wayside

So, if you asked me what my goals were as of, say, a year ago, they would have sounded something like this:

–Get out of debt, and spend as little as possible.

–Eat healthier, consume more “real foods” and less processed junk.

–Eat in more and buy take out less often.

–Learn to fix, to mend, to do more from scratch.

–Figure out a cleaning routine and organize all of the chaos that is the clutter in my house.

–Be more patient with my little ones.

–Figure out what I truly believe in (I’m in a bit of a religious/spiritual crisis, if you will).

–Pottytrain my toddler.

Yeah, so these things aren’t going so well.

This wannabe homesteader, do-gooder, “simplify, simplify” sort of mama has gone off the rails a little bit between working more than I am used to with little ones in the home, plus trying to support a husband through a months-long job loss.

“Get out of debt?” Ha. I’m happy that we haven’t accumulated more than a small amount of new debt since the lay-off. In fact, I’m simply content to get the bills paid. And trust me, when we do have a little extra money, that shopping twitch that I have suffered from my whole life turns into a hellacious urge, and I then find myself knowing all of the cashiers at TJ Maxx on a first name basis.

Eating healthier and cooking more meals at home is a joke, too. On one hand, we keep a fair amount of fruits and veggies in house, but it’s simply finding the time, and the energy, to do anything with them. I mean, seriously, do I really want to make pesto from scratch, or slice countless veggies, or cook ANYTHING after a long day at work, when the pizza guy totally delivers?

Fixing things and learning how to do things from scratch? Again, time and energy.

My cleaning and organizational routine is still having our housekeeper on speed dial. That is another expense I have refused to cut.

My patience with my little ones has increased only because I have mastered the art of bribery. See, I’ve always been a big believer in bribes (“bwibery” was one of my son’s first words, and I am NOT kidding), but I find myself offering up Skittles and Peanut Butter M&Ms just to get the adorable little boogers into bed at a halfway decent hour. When in doubt, negotiate–that seems to be this #1 mom’s M.O. of late, and it’s worked, for the most part.

I don’t even know where to begin with spirituality and religion. It’s hard to even find faith in much of anything when your hard working husband was let go from a job he was devoted to for years because of some gluttonous, foolhardy corporation’s bottom line.

And pottytraining my toddler? Let’s just say that bribery doesn’t work with someone who thinks it’s AOK to play in cat litter, who only answers to the siren song of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, and who is firmly convinced that the potty is a hat. NOT. GOING. WELL.

And I don’t even know what to say, really, about any of it. I don’t know whether to be frustrated with myself for basically starting our lives over again from scratch (because little in our lives right now is stable or totally secure), or whether to say the hell with it and that this is entirely normal. Someone, somewhere is going to read this and think that these things are just so easy, and even easier to do or learn when your family goes down to one part-time income (“Well, this is the perfect time to learn to do such and such, to figure out how to spend less, etc.”). The thing is, it’s not. Each of those little goals of mine has become all the more difficult. I thought a job loss would propel me to a more simple life by default, but it’s just made everything all that much harder. I’m too tired, too worn out, too stressed, and sometimes, honestly, too apathetic. Feeding the kids Crazy Bread with their pizza dinner, and calling a housekeeper once a week falls into the “pick my battles” realm–is it worth adding more stress to worry about each “mistake” I make, or is it better to eliminate what stress I can, even if it means diving into processed foods and putting aside goals?

One thing I’m doing well in is finding a workout routine. I’ve never been much into formal exercise, even if I have tried repeatedly and failed, but this summer, I’ve found a system, a routine, and a schedule that works for me, and I’m shedding pounds, between that and the lack of appetite (stress related, I’m sure). So there’s one thing I’m doing kinda okay with, in spite of myself.

Everyone’s gotta do one thing well, right?


Wanderlust and the Dark

Forgive me ahead of time, as this is going to be a very personal one tonight….

I have always had very dark, melancholic periods off and on since I was a teenager. Then, I wrote it off as adolescent hormones, and that it was something that everyone went through at that stage of life.

Once I was in college, I started realizing that it wasn’t merely something of my early youth, but that this might be something akin to my inherent personality, part of my inner workings, so to speak. I would find myself walking through campus on gray, Autumn days with no direction, no reason, and a mind that was alternately racing and completely dark all at the same time.

I started realizing, as I changed majors in college, that, in some ways, it was a bit of an artistic personality showing. Although I wasn’t an exceptionally good writer, I found that the best work I did often came from these gray periods, these weeks or months of loneliness and despair. I would nurse them away curled in up in a chair in our college library’s stunning atrium absorbed in a book and writing frantic notes in the margins, dog-eared pages marking my way. I would watch films and start and stop them in certain places just to analyze them, to see if there was something more than met the eye. And I could work all of these thoughts out through essays and lectures through the rigors of academia.

I also longed to travel. Due to several factors, I was not a well traveled child. I went to Florida once when I was five, and beyond that, we stayed to “border states,” and I even attended college in my hometown. I consoled myself that, once I was an adult and had an adult’s salary, I would travel, see my great nation and see the world.

I kept a lot of my dark spells hidden. At the same time that I was holed up in Bohemian coffeeshops, book and honeyed milk in hands, I was also attending church regularly, as I was raised Mormon. I was taught to believe that motherhood was a calling from God and was the highest achievement a woman would (and should) possess, that and marriage to another fellow Mormon. So, while my soul was troubled, I also quietly held it in and played the part, and also had myself horribly convinced that marriage and motherhood was something that should be obtained right away. You can see why my heart and mind were so troubled and, ultimately, quite confused, as my church friends were all getting married and having children, and here I was producing essays and frantic notes in used paperbacks.

I did marry, and obviously, I have had children. But the bleak periods still remain. You’re taught in church that you should love and revel and relish every moment of motherhood, and while I love my children, no one really informed me, or can anyone really inform you, honestly, that, in addition to losing the ability to read or watch movies, you lose the ability to even properly obtain or privately have the most basic human needs–there’s a lack of sleep, often, I put off meals, going to the bathroom in peace rarely happens. So, when you combine the loss of your coping mechanisms, plus adding in the inability to achieve the most rudimentary needs in life, you can see that those dark times can turn positively black. Sometimes, even though you love your children, you find yourself wishing you could just simply run, be alone, wanting to go back to the days of libraries and coffeeshops. And then comes the regret and the guilt associated with longing for that instead of simply enjoying every minute of motherhood. Shame. Self loathing.

There’s little travel. I’m lucky to pull out even the most trite and formulaic writings for blogs and other things, let alone anything analytic. By the time I am able to read, I am either too exhausted, or I am almost feverishly desperate, read for hours in the dark of night, and then start the day with screaming children and chores to do with maybe two or three hours of sleep.

By nature, I don’t have a homesteader’s heart, even though I ultimately have a blog centered around that lifestyle and self sufficiency. I have accepted the fact that I tend to have more of an artist’s spirit (without the artist’s talent). But, in realizing and accepting that my needs are more basic, that I need to have the release that comes from reading and analyzing and writing and creating, it has helped me to start shedding the things that I thought I needed for years in an attempt to be the perfect Mormon wife and mother, has taught me to treat materialism and consumerism and the need to have things with disdain. And when you start tossing away the facade of things, you are left craving a simpler life, one with meaning, the creation that comes from cooking from scratch and building a new life–which is where the drive for self sufficiency comes into play for me, I think.

I am in one of my dark periods right now. I find myself in tears or enraged at the drop of a hat. I long for an outlet, or the lost days of my academic career. I am antsy. I want to travel, though there are few resources to do so. I am both desperate for independence and holding to my family for dear life.

Sometimes, whether it was through my upbringing, or whether it is due to my natural maternal instincts (which do exist…I love my children dearly), I find myself feeling guilty for wanting anything for myself. When I have time on my own, I either feel I must clean or do something for the family, or I sleep because I am exhausted both physically and mentally. And in discussions with my husband, I have come to the conclusion that it isn’t, and shouldn’t, be all or nothing. I accept the fact that I am prone to depression and times where I need a means of emotional release and creativity. And I am beginning to wonder if, instead of being a bad mother for wanting them, I would be a better mother for having them. I want my children to learn that it is okay to create, to play, to mess around and to mess up, to roam, to be who they are, and not what society, religion, other people want them to be. I want them to see me doing all of these things, to know that their mother wasn’t afraid to try something new, to explore, to be something different.

My husband and I are wanting to (slowly) make travel a priority. I have developed a serious case of wanderlust. I want to learn to paint, to become a better photographer, to write more, to learn to analyze and pick apart literature and film again. I even want to learn to act, and I have never been able to keep a straight face worth anything. But, I want to try, and I want the children to know it is okay to try.

I am not sure why I am sharing this, really. It has nothing really to do with self sufficiency or sustainable living. But, if it helps another parent to feel less alone, then it is well worth the words.

Life Lessons From a Church Sign

I have always been partial to the “wisdom” of church signs. Sometimes, what they say can be so profound (a church about a half mile away from me quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi, to name a few). Sometimes, they leave me scratching my head (I remember one particular sign near Keyser, WV that related love for Jesus with a crack addition…I am NOT kidding). But I have always had a soft spot for the knowledge and the wisdom that a church or congregation chooses to send out to the world. Think about it–those are words that you are putting out there for public consumption as a representation of your beliefs and faith. It’s what strangers, “non-believers,” and passers by know about your church without them ever walking through your doors. Oddly enough, this signage has a more important job than I think we give it credit for.

My husband, son, and I made a short road trip to Bedford, Pa. today in order to do a little shopping at a Mennonite bulk foods store. The drive there is a gorgeous one–miles upon miles of farmland, aging red barns, sloping and heavily wooded mountain ridges, golden fields. It is breathtaking. On the way, there is a church that sits by itself at the bottom of one of these forested valleys. As we drove by, my husband and I both found our attention drawn to the sign in the front of the church. It read in simple black letters: “Small deeds are better than great intentions.”

Now, I personally believe in God, but since I can’t prove His existence to anyone, you can feel free to substitute fate, destiny, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, what have you, but at that moment, I felt as though I was meant to see that message and to heed its counsel.

The last few weeks…the last year, honestly…has been such a struggle for our family. Our car was hit (while parked) by a semi, which caused $6000 worth of damage. Our four year old Subaru’s engine blew, while we were still making payments on it, and Subaru refused to fix it, using every excuse in the book to void the warranty (an independent mechanic said it was clearly a defect from manufacturing). Our daughter was hospitalized for a short time with pneumonia. We’ve had multiple ER and doctor’s visits. We’ve lost several loved ones. And our financial situation tanked.

Sometimes, in an effort to start fresh, to recover, to make changes and accomplish goals, to rehabilitate our financial lives, to make our home a better one for my family, I feel this need to do everything all at once. I find myself wanting to do ALLTHETHINGS. I have to keep the house clean, to never spend any money on wants–ever, to always be patient with my children, to always do things from scratch or homemade, to learn and do all of the skills needed to become self reliant NOW. My to do list for a day, and I am NOT kidding, often has an average of 40 items on it.

I bet you can guess what happens, right?

I crash and burn.

In an effort to do it ALL, I end up overwhelmed and discouraged, or I consider myself or my day or my efforts a FAILURE. It doesn’t matter to me that I tried, or that something was accomplished. I didn’t do it ALL. I made a MISTAKE. And I end up backtracking, losing all progress.

That simple message on that country church sign was a much needed reminder for me to take a step back and to be happy with effort, progress, in its smallest, simplest form. Because if I try to do it all, and I have the best of intentions, I won’t be able to do everything and be everything for everyone. Yet, if I prioritize my goals and accept my limitations, progress WILL get made through small goals and actions, and my efforts won’t be hindered by thoughts of failure and to do lists that are a mile long. I can’t do it all, but I can do SOMETHING.

(A blurry, cameraphone shot of the sunset on said drive tonight.)


Don’t Be An A**hole

Excuse the title of this post. There is a point to it, I promise.

What I am about to say may ruffle some feathers. I don’t usually delve into controversial subjects like religion or politics on here, but I have had a lot on my mind, and truth be told, it is my blog. I hope you stick with me and finish this post to its end because I feel its message is an important one.

I had a really rotten day today. Actually, I’ve had a really rotten week. And one of the things on my mind lately has been the subject of religion (or lack thereof) and hypocrisy.

I am going to state here and now that I am a Christian. I believe in the concept of a Heavenly Father and a Savior. I feel, in some ways, I’m a bit of an agnostic Christian in that I believe that a higher power exists, but I refuse to shove it down someone’s throat because I acknowledge that I cannot prove they are real, and I could easily be wrong. I am not currently attending my church, but I still believe in many tenets of its gospel and doctrine.

There have been a few instances in my life lately where I have struggled with an individual’s or a group’s actions that are made under the guise of “Christianity” and “religion,” and the actions are so incredibly wrong, or cruel, or simply insensitive, that I struggle to buy that these persons are, in any way, acting in a Christlike manner. How can you espouse to be walking in the way of Christ and doing his will when you are inflicting harm or suffering upon someone else? How is being hateful, or breaking the law, or disregarding another’s feelings in any way Christlike?

There is a complete lack of accountability for actions–when something goes wrong, it is either the fault of someone else with differing beliefs or “Satan trying to bring me/us down.” No, if you do something wrong, there is a consequence because YOU chose to take that course of action. Satan is not there to put every single negative thing that happens to you into your path. Often, bad things happen to us because of a choice WE have made. It wasn’t Satan who put me into debt. It was as a result of MY actions. It wasn’t “the evil world’s” fault. It is totally mine. We can be influenced by others, sure. But ultimately, we make our own choices.

Before you think I am hateful toward organized religion, let me stir the pot with atheists a little bit. I tire of religion being referred to as “stupid,” or “belonging to the uneducated.” Sure, a lot of hateful things are done in the name of religion, but an atheist slamming someone online because they believe in the Bible or Jesus is just as cruel. I wholeheartedly support gay rights, but if a Christian has issues with gay marriage, that doesn’t automatically make them a bigot. If they use hateful language, sure, you’re a heinous, bigoted, troll. But many out there believe quietly, and don’t deserve the hatred directed toward them, any more than a gay couple deserves to be discriminated against or reprimanded. You’re an atheist because you don’t believe in God, and that is actually fine by me. To each their own. I often feel I am somewhat agnostic in my own leanings. But you’re NOT an atheist because you’re so much more enlightened and educated than everyone else. You simply don’t believe in God. Others do. The world still goes around.

At the end of the day, I think we focus so much on this notion of deity and whether he/she/it exists or not. We spend so much time fixated on Jesus, Allah, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, whatever, that we lose sight of the fact that we have more in common than we realize. If we stopped labeling ourselves, stopped obsessing over what someone is or isn’t, whether they lean left or right, we would probably realize that, underneath it all, we are all probably, and hopefully, governed by one defining rule in society:

Don’t be an a**hole.

Often, when I am asked my religious or political views, I answer in those words because it is the truth. My actions aren’t due to God, or a lack of one. I live by my inner heart and spirit, and that tells me to treat others as I want to be treated, to show love, do good, to be charitable, to live and let live, to not judge. I try not to be an a**hole.

At the end of the day, when you have screwed up, and you start blaming “the world,” Satan, other people, “sin” or “sinners,” religion, politics, and everything else for your own actions, you have violated that sacred policy–don’t be a crappy human being. Being a hypocrite has nothing to do with anyone else or some supernatural adversary with horns and a pitchfork, and it has nothing to do with religion or education or being so much more above everyone else. Nope, it’s because you’ve decided for a time to act like an a**hole.

Before we do anything, we need to ask ourselves–is this how I would want to be treated? Have I shown respect? Have I shown compassion or love? Have I done all I can to change the result of MY actions? Am I wrongly blaming someone else for my mistakes?

It’s all about accountability. And trying to be a fairly decent human being. Show love, do good. Defend your honor and your loved ones. If you’re blaming everyone else for what is wrong in your life and society, how is that being self reliant or self sufficient? You’re depending upon someone else, and that is the total opposite of self reliance.