In the latest issue of More magazine, there is article called "How Much Greener Is That Grass?" The premise of the article is to give the reader an overview of four women in their forties who live in four different areas - California, Kansas, Connecticut, and the Virgin Islands - and give details of how they live. They state their incomes, their mortgage payments, their property taxes, the reasons they love where they live, the hidden expenses, their splurges, and then a financial expert gives advice to each woman.

It is always interesting to see what a certain income level can buy in other areas, but I really had to take exception with the woman from the Virgin Islands, Beverly Banks Randall and her husband, Alex. She is an MD, a neonatologist, and her husband is a radio newsman and professor. They make $200,000 a year. Here is an excerpt from their story:

What that buys: An airy house and three rental cottages overlooking the ocean, along with a dock and a pool. Alex paid $250,000 for the property in 1995, and it's now worth $800,000.
Last year, they collected $50,000 from the rentals and put most of it toward capital improvements. They keep a new minivan and two cars on St. Thomas; transportation on Water Island [where they live] is of three golf carts and a secondhand boat. Food runs...$500 a week, since everything but fresh fruit has to be imported...Two children attend private school totaling $26,000 per year. The sitter gets $650 a week, plus an apartment. "We live well, but not extravantly," Banks says. "We bounce from paycheck to paycheck, sometimes dipping into savings."

Splurges: "We had to rebuild half of our house this year," she says, "so we went all out for a $60,000 kitchen." Vacations are a must..."If you live in a beach paradise, you travel to stateside cities with malls and museums," Banks says. The family goes north every Thanksgiving, paying $500 per person for plane tickets alone. And guess who recently spent $7,000 on a set of trains for the garden?

Hidden expenses: Home maintenance is a killer - the family spends $300 every month just for the pool chemicals..."

Why she loves where she lives: Sky, sun, and sea - Banks wouldn't dream of trading her lifestyle. But she admits it's not for everyone....Banks is usually home by 2:30 p.m. and although she's on call 24/7, emergencies occur only about once a week.

OK. I'm sitting here in a Victorian house in Ellsworth, Maine, wishing we had been able to sell this big house and move to our smaller one, and I ask you this: Am I the only one who thinks that they live an extravagant lifestyle? Am I not "getting" it? Well, the final moment of confusion hit me when she closes with this quote:

"You have to want a simple life," she says, "and I've discovered that it really suits me."

She is saying she lives a simple life? A $60,000 kitchen and $7,000 train in the garden and $300 a month for pool chemicals? Ergo, my previous blog. We all have to define simplicity for ourselves. There certainly seem to be a lot of strange definitions going around! It's not just income, it's not just money and expenses, it's not just what your house is like or what you eat or wear or how you spend your time - yet, it encompasses all of this. Reading stories like this make me want to do a survey somewhere, asking people what they think a simple lifestyle entails. The main thing I have learned from this article is this: Who am I to say that Beverly's life is not simple? Isn't that for her to decide? I need only to be looking at my life, with definition of simplicity for me and making changes accordingly. I think every time I find myself passing judgment on others, it is only a sign that I need to do some more thinking about my own life.
I consider myself reminded.