Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Simple Life - Article From "Mothering" Magazine

Being a new mama myself, I have started a subscription to "Mothering" (natural family living) magazine. It's a wonderfully inspiring magazine that I look forward to each month - it promotes & educates about themes like natural healthcare, co-sleeping, cloth diapers, baby wearing (slings), breastfeeding, organic local foods, attachment parenting, and natural play for children.

The editorial by Peggy O'Mara is always thought-provoking, and this issue she writes about slowing down and getting back to the basics of life, including various ways to become more self-reliant. She hopes these will skills not lost, but rather ones passed on to our children. Although it's a simple and familiar message, the article still resonated with the goals I have for our family and I thought I'd post it here.

Keeping it Simple
Issue 150 - September/October 2008

by Peggy O'Mara, Editor and Publisher

Do you ever wish that life would just slow down? Sometimes we wish this because changing seasons suggest a more contractive mood. Other times, we're dispirited by unsavory events in the public sphere. And often, it's just because we're tired, or temporarily overwhelmed by the demands of our day-to-day lives. And yet, like you, I know that I must find a way to turn even these challenges into opportunities; if I don't, I'll fail to provide a model of optimism and resilience for my children. That's why, in tough times, I tend to fall back on the simple life.

The simple life is something I learned when, in the 1970s, I went back to the land and became a natural-living pioneer. Our watchword then was self-sufficiency. Now, when life in general feels out of control, I take comfort in the skills I learned, and in the knowledge that I can be self-reliant.

Nature herself is a model of self-reliance, creating myriad ways to fulfill the same function, to ensure that essential processes remain intact. We can learn from nature in our quest for self-sufficiency by looking for more than one way to supply our most basic needs. For example, I like to think of ensuring three sources of healthy and reasonably priced food. I don't want my food to come from far away, because I know that it is primarily the high cost of transporting food that increases its cost. I also know that local food is fresher and tastes better. Therefore, my first choice is my local farmers' market. it's the freshest food I can buy, and most of it comes from within 100 miles. Second, I choose my local food co-op, which has a policy of stocking as much food as it can that is grown or made within 400 miles.

Finally and most important, I grow a garden. This year I moved my garden to a new spot, and created raised beds rimmed with straw bales. I've harvested lettuce, beets, beans, summer squash, cucumbers, radishes, cabbages, and tomatoes—more than I've grown in years. I'm relearning how to eat out of the garden, to plan meals based on what's ripening. it's great to know that I can rely on this garden as needed. I can preserve or freeze. I can make sauerkraut and cucumber pickles. My grandmother always had the tastiest pickles, stored in barrels in her basement, and my Aunt Joy had a cellar room stocked with canned goods, some handmade, some store-bought. Having on hand extra staples such as rice, beans, pasta, salt, potatoes, onions, and garlic is always a good idea.

Having three sources of local foods means I can use them exclusively, or fall back on them as needed. Not only am I modeling resilience, I also have an opportunity to deepen ties within my community and to be outdoors.

In addition to looking for food from local sources, I like to eat foods when they're in season—not only are they then more flavorful, they're not priced at a premium. I also like to plan my meals more efficiently by making five menus for the week, based on what staples and other foods I have in the house. When I do this kind of planning, meals for the remaining two days seem to take care of themselves. it's tempting to plan exotic meals that require a lot of ingredients, but they're not simple by any means, and can be saved for special occasions. In fact, I've found that simple, elegant dishes of fresh, seasonal ingredients are often the most tasty.

When I was a young mom on a tight budget, I used food categories as a guide for my menus. Every week I would create five menus, one based on each of the following categories: Meat, Eggs, Beans, Vegetarian, and Soup. Beans and soup can be made on the weekend, or whenever there's more time. I can stretch my food dollars pretty far by basing menus on these or other simple categories, and on what I already have in my cupboards.

I stretch my food budget also by not buying prepared juices or snacks. I make a sun tea from Wild Berry Zinger that is great iced. This red tea is inspired by one I used to make from dried Jamaica (hibiscus) flowers. Both drinks are great plain, or with lime and/or sweetener. Fruit juices and bubbly water are choices for special occasions, and it's easy to make a quick glass of homemade limeade or lemonade. For snacks, there's popcorn with butter, salt, and special seasonings.

I save money by making my own salad dressings, which I think taste better. Those of you who bake bread can save your family money by doing so, and can even trade your bread for items your friends make. (I'll trade you some salad dressings!) With a few staples in the house, local sources for meat, dairy, and vegetables, and some signature dishes, you can feed your family a healthy diet while still being thrifty. In fact, eating more simply is one of those supposed sacrifices that turns out to be no hardship at all—simple food tastes better and is more satisfying.

it's also more satisfying to have several backups for energy needs. I currently have a forced-air electric heater, and this year my electricity bills increased by 40 percent. Though I participate in a wind-power program through my local electric company, I want to reduce my dependence on electricity. One option is to replace my electric heater with a gas heater, though it could be argued that gas is no more sustainable than electricity. In the long run, however, the photovoltaic cells I hope to install to gather solar power will largely offset these other energy sources. And third, if I had to, I could heat more with wood. Fortunately, I have enough dead-and-down trees on my property to sustainably heat my house.

As with my food choices, I don't think that any of these changes in how I get and use energy would be a real hardship. On the contrary, I understand that not only can photovoltaics provide most of one's power; one can actually sell back to the electric company the excess power they produce at times of peak sunlight—another example of an opportunity inherent in a difficulty.

I can also look for opportunities in the area of transportation. Recently, someone apologized to me for having only one car. But one car is enough. It may be inconvenient at times, but it's not a tragedy. I own a ten-year-old SUV because I need a four-wheel-drive car on my mountain road, and don't want to invest in a new car until there are better choices in terms of efficiency and a smaller carbon footprint. I usually limit my driving to four days a week, and drive fewer than 20 miles on the days I go into town. Nevertheless, this is an area that needs solutions. Because I live rurally, carpooling is challenging and public transportation is unavailable.

That's changing, though—by the end of the year, a light-rail commuter line will be running between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. And, of course, using the bicycle more is an opportunity to get in shape and save energy at the same time. we're going to get a few bikes for the office so that Mothering staff can ride them around town for lunch or errands. And for those of you who own horses: they may be the ultimate self-sufficient mode of transportation, as long as you can get hay.

Keeping farm animals is another way to be more self-sufficient. Here are some others:

  • Planting a vegetable garden
  • Canning tomatoes and peaches
  • Freezing strawberries and green beans
  • Pickling cucumbers
  • Growing an herb garden
  • Learning to identify mushrooms
  • Buying grass-fed meat in bulk with your friends
  • Starting your own neighborhood food co-op to buy bulk staples together
  • Heating with wood
  • Making your own clothes
  • Knitting a scarf
  • Installing a solar hot-water heater

All of these things are opportunities to become more self-reliant, and as we become more self-reliant, we feel more confident of our place in the world.

It is this sort of confidence that we want to give our children: to model for them problem-solving that is practical and powerful. To continue building the world we know our children will need, we can only start right here, right now, with our own lives. Teaching our children by example to turn challenges into opportunities by keeping things simple is an important lesson about what really matters, and about the essential nourishment of simple, everyday life.


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