Today's rude awakening

I've known for a while that eventually the oil would run out. Today as I pumped my $50 tank of gas into my car, I really "got it". I mean, I GET it. I know we are entering a new phase of life where we will have to learn how to do things w/o oil, and I've thought a lot about it. But today was different. Today I really dove deep into my thoughts on it.

I thought... well, I can sew our clothes, so I won't need to buy clothing imported in elsewhere. And then I realized- what about the fabric? I can't make fabric. It has to come from SOMEWHERE. Which led me to think about all the other little things that we take for granted. So, so many of our things are trucked in from elsewhere. In my house we use a lot of cloth products, but what about those who don't? How will they conceive of not having things like toilet paper? Will they actually pay a premium price for it? And what about food? Most people don't even know how to buy fresh food or where to get it even. Myself included. I know about the local markets, but they are very limited in selection. I would have to learn an entire new way of cooking to cook seasonally and regionally. I would *like* to do it, and I have a true admiration for all of those people out there on the "100 mile diet", but man, that would be HARD! Especially with kids.

For a while I've wanted to be more sustainable and self-sufficient, but really- it's a necessity at this point. Maybe not today, maybe not 10 years from now, but ONE DAY we will all need to be more self-sufficient. I don't think most people realize this.

A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend and made some comment about how the oil is running out. She actually said to me "yeah right, whatever!". UH..... yeah..... WHATEVER! It's a fact, honey!!! I think that's a common mindset today- that everything will remain.

But some of us know that everything changes.

The Big House

In my home church in Memphis, Harris Memorial United Methodist, we had what at one time was a slave balcony. Ever since I could remember, it had been long boarded up, and was not even used as a balcony anymore. There was a short set of stairs in the foyer that led up to that balcony, but as I never had a reason for going up there, the balcony remained an unknown, vaguely unsettling area of the church to me.

The old balcony could also be reached from an adjoining second-floor classroom behind a curtain - at least that’s what someone told me. One night the church hosted a Halloween party for the youth. My sister and I knew the adults involved who were trying to scare us, as the congregation was relatively small, but that didn’t stop us from feeling frightened. During the “haunted” part of the tour, someone took us up to the old slave balcony, where in the dark we looked down upon the sanctuary, and watched as the organ played ghostly music, apparently by itself. The fact that we had an idea that Zuleika was crouched on the pedals, playing where we couldn’t see her hands, didn’t make us feel any better. It was truly a scary night, in a scary “room,” with scary things happening around us.

I dream about rooms all the time. Some are in my old church, but most are in a certain house. It’s a big house, bigger than our old 3-story Victorian. It’s not a house I can recognize from real life, but I know enough dream interpretation to realize that the house represents myself, and the rooms represent all the facets of my life. The strange thing is that I’m always “finding” new rooms in that house. Each time in my dreams when I come across a new room, I’m surprised that I didn’t realize it had been there all this time. How could I have lived in this house and never known of this room’s existence? What a waste! I immediately start making plans on what I want to do with the room, how to decorate it, how to use it. Sometimes I’m rather surprised to wake up and find myself in our little 3-bedroom ranch.

As I age, I am discovering more and more about myself, who I am, what I want out of the years I have left. Some of these discoveries truly astound me. I am realizing that my mind is capable of so much more than I give it credit for. I have only scratched the surface of using all my time and energy and mental capacity. I still have gifts and purposes yet to be discovered, just waiting for me to open the doors and start working.

Other discoveries are not so pleasant. I go through a curtain and find myself in a scary place. One of these discoveries is that my body just won’t function the way it used to. I’m making a valiant and largely successful effort to exercise every day, but one day this week I pulled a shoulder muscle, and the very next day I pulled something in the back of my right knee, which required me to hobble around for the rest of the evening. Sometimes after typing all day at work, I come home with shoulders that will hardly move, much less stretch and perform repetitious things with weights.

But it’s all one house, and it’s my house. Some rooms are enlightening, some are peaceful, some are creative, some are energizing, some just draining (I really need to spend less time there) and one or two of them even look like an old abandoned church balcony. It is up to me to sort out the best way to use these rooms in ways that will make the most out of my life. This is one of the hardest parts of aging for me - the acceptance of my “house” and acknowledgment of its strengths and weaknesses, for these are all I have to work with. I will, however, say that on the whole, as I open more and more doors, I continue to find more laughter than tears, more delight than apprehension, and more hope than fear.

My mother used to sing a refrain from a popular song, “Is that all there is?” I thank God every day that I can answer a resounding no. The best is yet to come! And by George, I will try to meet it head on - even if I’m limping all the way!

Last Night's Lunar Eclipse

I was worried the cloudy skies would keep me from seeing the eclipse, but they did not! I watched it from start to finish. It was a beautiful red color most of the time, but my camera captured a really cool image that came out blue tones.

I took some more photos, but nothing too terribly amazing. I just have a little point-and-shoot Canon Elph digital camera. Nothing fancy. But I got a few more nonetheless.

More Reason to Buy Local....

I just saw this article on yahoo news: News Article on Beef Recall.

I buy my beef from a local ranch- Hodge Ranch. I feel 100% confident in Mr. Hodge's product. Not only do I KNOW they are well taken care of (you can visit the ranch if you are so inclined), I know the producer, and I trust him.

What really bothers me about the article is the fact that 35 MILLION lbs of this meat when to school lunch programs. I've long worried about the crap my children are served at school, but this just makes me worry more. I want the best for them. I used to make their lunches, and then I got lazy. I think it's time to start making them again.

My second home...a second time

One can tell our daughter, Rachel, loves books. The books (mostly children’s books, of course) are everywhere around her house - everything from the hard board books for babies and toddlers up to the chapter books for 3rd graders, up to award-winning fiction books for 6th graders. I can hardly move around their house without sitting on or stepping on a book. I remember I once counted all the children’s books, and it was - what? 600 or so? And that was not including the ones I keep here at our house! These books are the results of years and years of buying a few at a time by the parents, and the kids receiving them as gifts on birthdays and Christmas and other non-special occasions. Before we tried to pare down expenses, I used to bring a book to Caroline every time I visited her.

When my sister, Joy, and I were growing up, we also lived in a household that loved books. The only difference is that our family couldn’t afford to buy them. Our children’s collection consisted of a few volumes of a series called Best in Children’s Books, a book of poetry, and an old dictionary that fascinated me because it had a rhyming section in the back (I was prone to writing silly poems as an adolescent). So how did we manage to be reading constantly during our formative years? The public library.

I honestly don’t know why I didn’t end up a librarian. The public library, along with the church, was our second home. Back in the days when child abduction was unheard of, our parents used to leave us at the library (when we were old enough) when they ran Saturday errands, as such as going to the grocery store. The Highland branch, a smaller neighborhood library, was our usual destination, and we knew every nook and cranny of that place. I could have told any patron where any book was. The larger Main Library was truly a place of wonders. I felt as if I barely scratched its surface, but I knew my way around. It was there I met Carl Sandburg and his Lincoln books, Agatha Christie, and the Bronte sisters. I scoured the history section incessantly. I even loved to read etiquette books to marvel at instructions for place settings at dinner parties (who ever heard of having more than one fork at at dinner??). I found addresses of famous people in Who's Who in America, and I wrote letters to them, many times receiving letters in response. I was known for my interest in “weird” books - like a cultural history of bowel movements. Well, I try to be a well-rounded person and be able to hold up my end of a conversation. You never know when obscure facts might come in handy.

Our dad adored reading, but rarely had time. On nights when our mother hosted her Bunco parties, Dad took us girls to the Main Library for a rare night out with him. I remember seeing him standing in between the tall shelves, browsing book after book. It looked so odd to see him in a library, and I began to realize how much sacrifice he had made in his life to take care of his family, his in-laws, be active in his church and other community activities. He just didn’t have time to go to the library himself - but he darn well made sure we did. He knew the library expanded our world many times over - learning about the history of places we’d never be able to see in person, reading fiction from a time long gone. He smiled as I rented records of symphonies and concertos. He was pleased when I borrowed music books - where else would I have learned how to play Cole Porter and Duke Ellington? Our dad gave us everything it was in his power to give, and what he couldn’t give, he made sure the library gave it to us.

When I got to be an adult, I still used the Memphis libraries on a regular basis for many years. Ed and I even rented paintings for a while. When we were first married, we stuck a heavy nail in the wall of our townhouse, and every month we’d rent a painting from the library and hang it on the nail. We borrowed famous ones and less famous ones. For a couple of dollars a month, we’d have a new painting to enjoy for a few weeks.

Alas, as we grew busier and more financially stable, we stopped going to the library and instead frequented the book store, where we actually bought books. If you have read my blog from the beginning, you remember that getting rid of many of those books was one of our first painful steps at downsizing.

When we moved to Ellsworth, Maine, I visited the very small library, but it was such a disappointment from the big extensive Memphis libraries, that I quit going. We were still reading extensively, but still buying the books we wanted.

Now after more than a year of cutting expenses and getting by on less, I decided it was time to get reacquainted with the Ellsworth Library. After 10 years or so, my card had to be renewed, of course. Now every weekend, I immerse myself in the wonders of the public library. These days I bring home not only books but movies as well. Ed and I have just finished watching a few movies from the 1930s that you can’t even rent in the video stores around here. And it was all free!

Even with all their books at home, our grandchildren Caroline and Charlotte still visit their community library. They know the pleasure and power of “borrowing the world” for a few weeks, as well as the responsibility of taking care of someone else’s books and returning them on time.

In my life, I have only been to a handful of dinners with more than one fork - but at least I was prepared. When I finally visited Lincoln’s home in Springfield, I had Carl Sandburg’s narratives in my head. When I met Duke Ellington and got his autograph, I was confident I could play a lot of his music.

The public library is one of those places we tend to take for granted, and making fun of librarians seems to be one of our national pastimes. But I consider that the public library gave me an even greater education than the school system, and I am so thankful our parents made sure we had that opportunity to learn and grow and be entertained. I am so excited that I am renewing that relationship again. Thanks, Dad.

Putting a face to a name

It’s an old story, but always worth retelling: When I was pregnant with Matthew back in 1982-83, for the first part of the pregnancy Ed and I did not know the gender of our baby (before we accidentally discovered it on ultrasound). So we made it a point to choose two viable names, one for each gender, well ahead of time. For a boy, we chose Matthew Ensley (the middle name after my late father), and for a girl, we chose Sarah Elizabeth, to our ears a beautiful name. For a few months, we referred to the baby as “Matthew or Sarah” until the day of that ultrasound, where we learned that we had a Matthew Ensley, and our alternative beautiful name “Sarah Elizabeth” would be confined to the annals of “what might have been” - or so we thought.

Fast forward many years. Matt had grown up to be a mature, witty, intelligent, affectionate young man who was making his way through the university. He had never had a serious girlfriend before. Then one day we heard of a special friend, a young lady who made him laugh a lot, who brought out the best in life, someone he missed when she was not around, and someone who brought that glow to his face when he talked about her. When the relationship turned to love, we knew it was the real thing. Her name, of course, was Sarah Elizabeth, and she and Matt were married in 2005.

We had always hoped that our children would make good choices in their lives, and finding a partner is one of those decisions that one hopes for the best. In our case, I am so grateful that both our children married people who bring love and laughter to our lives.

One of the qualities I appreciate in Sarah is her willingness to do just about anything that would be helpful or fun - or just for the experience. As I scroll through my collection of almost 900 photographs in which Sarah appears, I see this attribute frequently. In one picture, she is in Memphis, ready to eat her first Krystal hamburger (she didn’t like it). In another picture, she is trying on all sorts of silly hats. In another picture, she is shoveling dirt, trying to help us “create” our new yard. In another one, she is helping with our wood pile. In another, she is carrying boxes in the cold rain while we moved from our Victorian house to the storage unit, then out of the storage unit to the new house. I even have a picture of her giggling as she tried out the bathtub in a model home (fully clothed, of course!). I have countless pictures of her interacting intently with Caroline and Charlotte. When I had to go to the photographer’s studio for my magazine photographs, it was Sarah who agreed to keep me company during what turned out to be (and I'm sure she would agree) an extraordinarily unusual afternoon.

She is artistic, too. She taught herself to quilt. She does scrapbooking. She makes a remarkably intricate gingerbread house for Caroline and Charlotte every Christmas. She bakes delicious cookies and muffins and other yummy things.

She is generous with her time and talents, and puts great thought into giving gifts. As one example, my dad was a philatelist. We still have his stamp collection many years after his death, but, alas, no one in the family has shown a real interest in continuing with it. When Matt was younger, my mom would send him a handful of loose stamps from the collection, trying to gently nudge his interest, and, surprisingly, Matt actually kept up with them. A couple of years ago, Sarah took those stamps and made a collage for me, which she framed. Now they’re out of a drawer and on my wall, and every time I see them, I think of Daddy. Likewise, when my sister scanned a bunch of old family slides of us when we were little and sent them via e-mail, I forwarded them to the kids. Sarah quietly kept them for over a year. She presented them to me this past Christmas in a gorgeous scrapbook filled with decorations and poems and such. When Ed wanted a stupid sign for our new yard, Sarah didn’t blink an eye - she made it just like he wanted it - to say “Beyond this point, there be dragons and grumpy old trolls.”

Finally, and most importantly, she takes care of our Matthew, being a supportive, encouraging, loving wife. She tolerates his obsessions with his latest technology and pet projects and she tries to get him to eat his vegetables. She even graciously puts up with Ed (for that alone, she gets a gold star, don’t you think?).

Today is Sarah’s 25th birthday. I am so grateful that she has come into Matt’s life, and with that, into our lives. We’ve only known her now for a few years, but, after all, Sarah Elizabeth has in essence been in this family for over 25 years. Happy birthday, sweet Sarah - with many more to come! We love you!

Simple Living Naturally

Living closer to Nature. Living as man was intended. What does that mean anyway? I believe in Voluntary Simplicity- CHOOSING not to be materialistic is one aspect. Living mindfully is a bigger aspect. Know where your food came from. Buy organic. Buy local. Don't just know your food, know your farmer. Don't just know your beef, know your rancher.

No Strings for Me

When we sold our old Victorian house to the ladies from Arizona, we left them a box of things they might need, plus a few little gifts. One of these gifts was a bottle of wine. As we toured the house with them one last time right before closing, one of the ladies noticed the wine, and, a little flustered, said something about not being able to drink it because she was a recovering alcoholic. Ed laughed and said he was one too, so they would just have to find someone else who would enjoy it. Thank goodness there are recovering alcoholics wise enough to know the sensible course of action.

Well, I’m Carol Tiffin James and I’m a recovering consumer. For many years I let spending get the better of me. I have had the acquisition fever, with its never-ending wants and out-of-control accumulation. Three years ago I started on the journey to simplicity, trying to curb my consumer’s appetite for stuff, concentrating more on downsizing, frugality, people over things, all the goals that I list to the right of this post. On the journey, I have learned how to appreciate the present moment and achieve a sense of peace and contentment.

Then what happens? The federal government wants to send Ed and me several hundred dollars in a massive rebate package.

Now, this would ordinarily please me, as you might imagine. We are paying extraordinary bills for heating in Maine these days, high prices for gasoline, food, and every other necessity of life. We have debts like everyone else; we’re feeling the pinch with the rest of the middle class. Now, I’m not going into the financial pros and cons about the decision to issue the rebate. That’s not my point here. What greatly disturbs me about the whole thing, however, is that those in power are urging us to spend this money. Not on necessities, but on “stuff” or luxuries. They don't want us to pay the oil bill; they want us to buy things or services that we wouldn't have bought otherwise. “By a new big screen TV, take a trip to Disneyland” are two of the pieces of advice I read. “Spend and acquire! Go shopping! You know how to be a consumer par excellence - now go out and be one - for the good of the economy, for the good of the country!” They are waving the flag with one hand and dispensing wads of bills with the other.

OK, I can understand their reasoning. But I just can’t do it. Call me unpatriotic, but right now I must tend to the needs of myself and my family. I will consider that money (if it ever comes!) as a gift, no strings attached, and I will do with it what I consider prudent in our circumstances, whether it is paying a bill or putting it in savings. As much as I would love to spend it all at for books and DVDs or go to the quilt store (my personal consumer heaven), I will have to restrain myself.

Consumer restraint is not something the government and businesses want to hear. I already messed up my piece of the economy during Christmas by making most of my gifts instead of buying them. I have spent the last few years learning to curb spending in order to enjoy life more fully, and I’m not about to let the federal government undo all my hard work.

So I hereby sincerely apologize for my unpatriotic behavior. I won’t refuse the bottle of wine, as I would enjoy being able to buy a couple of books, but I won’t get "drunk," either. I have to be sober to walk the road to simplicity, else I take a wrong turn and forget where I was going altogether.