Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Is Simplicity Simple?

In a graduate seminar this afternoon a colleague of mine was making connections to Leo Marx's Machine in the Garden(it doesn't matter if you've read this classic text in American Studies) and pointed too some classist elements of the organics movement and the work of Micheal Pollan and the like. My professor responded, "It costs a lot of money to simplify your life! To comment really would have been outside the scope of the discussion but in my head I thought, Wait that's not right.

I've been away from this blog thing for quite awhile. Ten months I think. I've been considering the mode of expression and what I have to say and if I really have anything to say. I've been doing a lot of thinking over the past year. My goals haven't changed, if anything they have solidified. What I know to be truth is that true simplicity is not about buying expensive organic, grass fed, antibiotic-free, non-GMO food. Nor is it about the political statement you make by driving a hybrid car or shopping with a reusable bag, or buying green electronics and household products. None of that has anything to do with simplicity. (And sometimes it has nothing to do with saving the planet either--just think about what it takes to manufacture a Prius and you might pull your bike out of the shed). It may facilitate a means towards such an ends but that is all.

Simplicity, you may argue, is many things, whatever, but I challenge you to this: keep the Sabbath holy, shut down your laptop and open a book a few minutes of leisure reading, choose to leave your cellphone at home for a day (and at other times screen your calls), borrow instead of buy, allow someone to cut in line, choose the scenic way home, learn the tune of the bird's song.

At the heart of simplicity is choice. A choice to not give in to expectations without challenging their merit. A choice to let go and live unfettered.

I'm rededicating myself to living more simply and intentionally. Though I believe strongly about how I should spend my money, this is more about devotion and vocation.

What do you think?

I will make no promises but tonight I am here.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Crowded Closet

In Iowa City I've discovered some great new thrift/vintage stores.

So far I've been to the vintage stores Decorum, The Savvy Boutique, Artifacts. The Coraville branches of Stuff Etc. and Goodwill are pretty good.

Today my friend Kesa took me to The Crowded Closet (1213 S. Gilbert Court).

The Crowded Closet is a little different because it's run by the Mennonite Central Committee, a relief and development agency. Thrift goods purchased at the the store support MCC's mission of "meeting human needs in Christ's name."

The store also has the International Gift Shoppe, a fair-trade section, that supports non-sweatshop handicrafts made by artisans around the world.

One can find the usual thrift good plus some beautiful handicrafts and gifts from the thrift store. There's some really nice stuff here but what makes me feel good about shopping there is knowing that I'm supporting an organization that has a clear humanitarian mission.

Wanna see what I got?

This tin, I think it's a flour/cookie jar, will go in my freezer with a produce bag insert for compost collection. I separate my veggie and fruit scraps, eggshells, and save them in the freezer for my friend who composts. By freezing the scraps, I don't have to worry about odors of putrefaction. $0.75

Two very ugly pillows. $0.50

The dark green cloth are fancy pillowcases that I plan on cutting and re-sewing for the two ugly pillows. I'm not sure where I'm going to put them when I'm done. The lighter cloth has lemons on it. Kesa suggested making dish towels but I'm not sure what I'll do with it. $0.35 ea., $0.90

Small Hamilton Beach glass mixing bowl with spout. Utilitarian yet attractive. My favorite kind of kitchenware. $2.00

This is my proudest purchase. Steel, I guess. This utility table on wheels has collapsible sides. I'm in love with it and will be even more so when I paint it a sunny yellow to match of the same color. It doesn't have a home in my apartment but it will find one soon. $5.00 1/2 off

I also bought a fitted sheet to put around my box spring.

Total: $11.00

I'll keep you posted on my pillow sewing and table painting projects.

Summer Road Trip 2009

I recently returned from a two week summer vacation that took me through Michigan, Ohio, New York, and Indiana. Unfortunately I'm a terrible picture taker (but I am working on improving this) so for highlights we have to rely on my memory, my journals, and my wonderful photographer friends like Anneke whose wonderful blog gives highlights for part of the trip.

Here is a brief synopsis of July 10-24.

First stop was Berrien Springs, Michigan. My cousin Veronica, who also just graduated with her Doctor of Physical Therapy over the weekend from Andrews University, got married. It was a great weekend visiting with with cousins, aunts, uncle, grandparents.

The drive through Illinois was like navigating a boat through a thunderstorm. Thank God I made it through safely.

While in Berrien Springs I stayed with an old dear friend, Liz. It was fun to visit with her. We took a day to drive down to Shipshewana, Indiana, where there is a large community of Amish and Mennonites.

Thursday July 16 I left for the second leg of the trip, New Carlisle, Ohio. The night before my friends Rachel and Brandon flew out from San Francisco to Ohio where Rachel's parents live. We spent Thursay night hanging out on the family homestead and then headed on the road for Ithaca, New York.

Rachel's greatest accomplishment on Friday was driving straight through the great state of Pennsylvania. Of course it was really just the I-90 E portion that carries you just south of Erie--it's maybe an hour and thirty or forty minutes from the Ohio/Pennsylvania to Pennsylvania/New York border. She got us to the beautiful Lake Chautauqua rest area. (As an aside, you may find the local history of the famous Chautauqua Institute of interest. I wouldn't mind returning there for a vacation.) I have honestly never seen a more lavish rest area with attendants. All in all, after comparing with the other states I stopped in, New York has the cleanest, nicest, most modern rest areas.

Rachel and I in the parking lot of the rest area. That's the beautiful lake behind us. I am not responsible for the odd angle of this photograph. Let's pretend the earth is tilting beneath us like in some apocalyptic sci-fi film.

Rachel's husband Brandon joins us. We look like stair steps. I think Brandon is a full 12 inches taller than me. Maybe more. Don't you love our reflection in the car hood?

We arrived in Ithaca at the home of Anneke and Nick and their fiesty lab Sadie (she and I bonded) in time for a wonderful late dinner. Anneke is an amazing cook and we were treated to the bounty of her CSA. Over the five days in Ithaca we visited the CSA, met Nick and Anneke's closest friends, visited some of the many beautiful state parks including Lake Cayuga, Taughannock Falls, Buttermilk, and Treeman. New York is a beautiful state and right now I'd do almost anything to move there, especially knowing my dear friends are there too.

Sunday I drove south to New York City to visit my friend and former roomie Katie. Katie just finished a masters program and is moving to Cairo, Egypt. I know I'm not making it to Egypt anytime soon so I had to see her. I drove into White Plains and parked my car there and took the train to Harlem/125th Street. Then I took the m60 bus up 125th Street through Harlem to meet Katie. We had a great time. She showed me around her kneck of the woods. We took the subway, spent some time in a few parks--Washington Square, Union Square, Central--we ate great food, saw a movie, and it was just great having quality time during my 20 hour stay.

We had a really good dinner at this cute place called Angelique's. Katie is drinking a delicious basil lemonade. I'll let you know if I find a recipe as good as that lemonade.

I left NYC on Monday and drove back to Ithaca for the rest of the week.

I had a great time there and I'm serious when I say I want to move to Upstate New York. Next year, camping/hiking the Adirondacks.

Thursday July 23 Rachel, Brandon, and I said farewell to our dear friends and headed to Rochester, Indiana, to visit our friends Karen and Eric. They are also amazing cooks and we had really good food and great conversation. On the way to see them we stopped in Ohio for Rachel and Brandon to pick up a car. Friday afternoon I had still another five hours ahead of me before I was home to Iowa City so I said farewell to four dear friends and continued on my own the rest of the way home.

After about 2,980 miles I was home.

This trip would not have been possible without God's traveling mercies. I'm grateful for the generous and hospitable families that welcomed me into their homes.

With the cost of fuel I could not have even planned such a trip without Betsy (yes, I'm trying out this name), my 2007 Toyota Yaris. I bought her 7 months ago but this was the first big trip we've done together. She did her best work between New Carlisle and Ithaca when she averaged 41 mpg which is more than I expected. I am humbly reminded what a blessing a dependable vehicle is.

New Crafts Projects

I'm trying to be more crafty, develop hobbies, etc. It's hard being creative but I need this.

First, I've got three dress patterns:

I want to do the second dress--the one with the large blue floral. I don't know if you can see this well, I should have scanned the images but I thought of photographing them first. I'm also considering the black dress on the end.

I like the two sleeveless blouses on the end. The floral and the yellow.

I got this one years ago back in Walla Walla or someplace like that. I'm not sure if I like the dresses anymore but I'm considering the top blue one or the brownish one below.

Any thoughts on colors, patterns, or fabric?

I also got this frame in Walla Walla some time ago at either the Humane Society or St. Vincents de Paul thrift store. I liked the frame and always thought I'd refinish it in white although I've considered gold.

Now the picture inside the frame is a weird owl poster I plan on throwing out but I don't know what to put inside. I've considered making it a bulletin board or something of the kind.

Any suggestions?

It might take a while but I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Why everything sucks?

First, apologies for my absence. But excuses don't butter the I'll just say I'll try not to be gone so long again. Please look forward to seeing more about what I was doing during my hiatus.

Today I have to start by posting this video and article I ran across this morning as I did my online blitz through the news. Late night host on CBS Craig Ferguson, if you're unfamiliar with him, is up against Jimmy Fallon and formerly Conan O'Brien in the 12:35-1:35 am time slot. His show lacks the advertisement frenzy and all the other bells and whistles like a long suffering sidekick or amiable band leader as other hosts have. Maybe Ferguson's pared down version of the show is a reflection of his talent. He doesn't need to do flashy things to highlight his self deprecating humor. Or, as some argue, maybe CBS doesn't value him as it should. Either way, he might be most respected for his monologues that occasionally take a turn for the serious and often give a strong cultural commentary.

Craig Ferguson's brilliant analysis of 'Why everything sucks' |

Shared via AddThis

If you think this is interesting you can find other serious monologues on why he won't do Britney Spears jokes, voting and becoming an American, and eulogies for his father and mother on YouTube.

Now I don't spend a lot of nights watching late shows but when I do I will sometimes pause to hear what he's going to talk about because I like being pleasantly surprised.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Art of Concentration

If you are like me, you always have a million things on your mind from the moment you wake up to the moment you fall asleep.

During the day my calendar and to-do list is my save me. Without them I miss assignments, deadlines, and appointments (like the doctor's appointment I missed yesterday). I carry notebooks dedicated to different projects in my bag all the time. I'm never without a pen. The television is chatting back at me, the internet is purring, the cell phone is beeping. I don't Twitter but Facebook, email, and now blogging keep me online more than enough.

Many nights I find myself staying up later than I ever intended because I just can't stop thinking about school, bills, friends, tasks--from the most vital to the most mundane. To battle this I go to bed with a flashlight and a book or magazine in hopes that I'll read myself to sleep, saving myself from an anxiety attack about something I really can't control at 2:17 a.m.

How does one control the waves of thought?

I find that without huge blocks of time, it's hard for me to write my term papers. This was the last week of school and I failed to make the progress I desired. Over the last three weeks as classes have winded down, I found myself doing a hundred little things and not the things I really cared about or that really had to be done. Now I'm paying for it.

I want to change my life.

A friend passed along this recent article, "Ear Plugs to Lasers: The Science of Concentration" The New York Times (May 5, 2009). The solution: make the choice to shield yourself from unnecessary distractions. Sounds too easy, right? But consider the final advice from Winifred Gallagher, author of the book Rapt on the science of paying attention.

“'People don’t understand that attention is a finite resource, like money,' she said. 'Do you want to invest your cognitive cash on endless Twittering or Net surfing or couch potatoing? You’re constantly making choices, and your choices determine your experience.'"

Pretty wise.

I think
I'm going to take this to heart.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Spring Day

Beautiful weather today. I went for a walk around my neighborhood. Crossed the railroad tracks at the end of the street and walked around Brookland Park. These pictures make the neighborhood appear more bucolic than it really is but the trees are beautiful now that it's finally spring.

Sabbath afternoon after church. I've had my Olympus Camedia D-540 zoom for nearly five years. Of course now, 3.2 megapixels is nothing to write home about anymore. I bought it just before going on an extended trip but since then I've barely used it. My goal is to start documenting my life a bit more dilegently. I've journaled since I was about 11 or 12 but that writing doesn't preserve the most visual memories.

The train goes by several times a day. Maybe three. There's a late night run at about midnight or 1:00 am. I sometimes hear it when I'm lying in bed. It reminds me of some of my earliest memories from about age three. We lived--my parents, my sister, and I--in the Campus View apartments at Indiana University where my father was attending graduate school. I would lie in bed, and not only hear but feel, the train thunder its way into my dreams.

This tree has interesting massing. I've always had an interest in trees. Their mass, their breadth, their height. They are the grandest of living organisms and the are proportioned quite delicately--from the thickness of the trunk, and the texture of the bark, to the most intricate leaves.

There are two more white flowered trees around the corner from this one. I don't know that they're called but they remind me of a bridal party.