Saturday, April 23, 2011

Real, simple.

Well, not that simple, actually...

For a long while now, I've been thinking of posting about something really close to my heart and home (get it-hahaha!); voluntary simplicity, intentional living, simple living, mindful living, radical simplicity, whatever the chosen term may be.

While many of my posts touch upon simple living topics, lately I've been itching to open a real discussion with you guys about the choices we all make about such basics of our lives as food, shelter, possessions, transportation and energy, as well as the spiritual implications of those choices.
(Dress Dump gift from Hubby, necklace from Nicole and vest from Andrea.)

Lately, I've been noticing that more and more of the folks who wander on to this log seem quite drawn to these aspects of my posts. And these days, most every log I read is engaged in some kind of making of their own world.
The impetus to finally write this post actually came from a reader of mine, who's blog I discovered through a comment they left here. Mary of Terralectualism makes so many amazing concoctions, that going through her backlog of posts has been my main reading material for a spell now. I was particularly smitten by her posts on wildcrafting, Dandelion Wine, Flower Essences, and her beautiful and honest Birth Story. Her blog has a wealth of information on wildcrafting, gardening and a more conscious life, in a big city no less.
Mary's enthusiasm is so contagious, her writing unpretentious and fun, exactly the kind of inspiration all of us working towards a greater self-sufficiency could use. And she's certainly not alone in that enthusiasm.

Whether it's making your own lotions, potions or brews, we're finding that there's a way to do it yourself. To slow down and put a little love into your everyday needs and wants.

And that precisely is at the heart of Simplicity to me. It is important to define the term for oneself, because there are as many definitions and schools of thought on Simple Living, as well as terms for the same ephemeral idea, as there are professed practitioners of it, but to me Simple Living means less consumption of goods and energy, less money, more time, more connection, more thoughtfulness.
Sounds simple, right? You reduce your consumption, so that you don't need to work as much and therefore have more time. Fancy-pants theorists call it escaping the work-spend cycle. Urban eco-yuppies call it downshifting. Your average Lutheran work-ethic possessing society calls it alternative living.
But what do those lofty sounding principles mean in practice? Since calling out self-righteous hypocrites is very de rigueur in this complex day and age, I got to tell it like it is: as you've probably noticed from this blog we're not exactly self-sufficient, stationary neo-luddites. What we do is make consumption choices and take time.

We have minimal debt (I have student debt, basically.), no mortgage, no car-payment. We live in a less-than-ideal house, about a 500 sq. feet, half of which is a 100-years old and the other half used to be a part of our local bar (I make a lot of jokes about the ghosts of drunks past...). It's decidedly rustic and not in that cute log-cabin-y fashion-magazine style, but the rent is about 2500 dollars worth of work-trade a year
It has to be said that lot of the consumption "choices" we make are based on facts beyond our control. We don't own a house because we can't afford one, but we're also not striving to afford one, and feel dubious about the possibility of taking out a loan to afford one.
For the very same reasons we don't own a house, we've never had a car newer than 20-years old. For the 900 dollars our Volvo cost, we can pay for all the oil changes and tune-ups we want and still come out on top. If we (god forbid) end up totaling it (Although I got to say, if you are going to get into a horrific car-accident a 80s Volvo is a really good car to do it in-it's all steel. You'd think all cars were all steel, but they're not. A lot of new cars are actually mostly plastics and alloys and other un-crash-worthy materials.), or some other irrevocable damage should occur, there's probably another 900 dollar car out there somewhere for us.
Much of our consumption is defined not by what we have, but what we don't. This is not to say we don't have things we need, or even frivolous things we want (think boats and Gunny Sacks). It's just that we don't have a lot of the things that this American society considers necessities.

Most everything we have in terms of material possessions is previously owned, and was either free, thrifted, gifted, or bartered. When we need something, we look for it first in our community, then in other second-hand venues and only when it's not possible or practical to get it used will we buy it new.
Since food and shelter are the main things all of us need to secure, I'd say food is the most important consumer choice our family makes.We grow and gather and catch (not that we catch that much ;) about a quarter of our own food. We buy another quarter locally, maybe more. For the rest, we try to do sustainable, organic, seasonal and local (as in Western Washington), as well as affordable. Over the years, I hope to make the two former up to 2/3, which might be hard even this far South, that can be challenging. But the politics of simple eating deserves its very own post, methinks, so more on that later.
And what do we get for all this reduced consumption? (Without many further hypocrite-disclaimers, I have to say that I have no illusions about the fact that our consumption is relatively small only in the incredibly inflated terms of the Western world.)

Time, for one thing. We both work part-time and mostly in the summer and doing so enables us to take extended trips, work on crafts, walk around aimlessly in the rain in the hopes of finding a few little mushrooms and spend up to three hours on making dinner each night.
We don't make a lot of money, and by the time the season rolls around again, we're usually broke like two hobos on the road to nowhere (though this year was pretty bad even for us...we actually ended up OWING money. Lessons learned...).

It's not that we're poor, it's just that we don't have much money. And we're really okay with that. It takes some getting used to to realize that there's no such thing as financial security, but once you do, it's easy to enjoy what you have, plan for the future and still have a good time. To me not having to worry about money means to not have to worry about not having any.
Another thing I feel our family has gained from Simplicity is the spiritual satisfaction of doing things for ourselves and making do with less. There is relatively little spiritual satisfaction in popping open a can of store-bought pasta sauce, but the tomatoes you canned yourself still seem to retain a little summer sunshine even in mid-winter. Knowing that you can bake bread, or carve a native style bowl is so much more pleasurable than knowing that you have the money to acquire those things. More than just possession, it is empowerment.
From growing and gathering our food, to making things with our hands we are learning new skills daily. A simple life that forces you to be crafty and resourceful also makes you more attuned to what surrounds you, the endless possibilities for food, shelter, art all around you.
There must be some pathway into our primordial brain that makes these little acts of creation so fulfilling.
It is also something that brings us that much closer to the Earth, an understanding that neither of us had the opportunity to fully develop until we moved away from the urban environments we both grew up in. Yet another emotional benefit of Simplicity, is the knowledge that perhaps we are doing a little less harm to this entity we are part of, this Turtle Island floating in space. (Okay, I fully realize how incredibly hippie that last sentence sounds and as I final disclaimer want to say that I absolutely do not believe that our choices make us any kind of environmental saints. Far from it. I just think this Earth deserves more than one day a year. Wow. I just totally out-hippie-ed myself.)

Now I realize, that we're VERY, VERY lucky to be in a position where we can do any, let alone all of these things. Free rent is hard to come buy. Let alone free rent with garden space (tiny as it may be). Living in a farming community is an amazing boon. Being surrounded by like-minded folk is another.
There are many lessons we are still learning about how to enjoy our time on this earth, while doing the least harm, but I feel like taking walks in the rain, wildcrafting and watching nature unfold quietly are some of the best teachers one could hope for. As well as those like-minded folk.
And that's where you come in, Spirit Sisters. I would love to hear your thoughts on Simplicity, the physical and spiritual implications of living mindfully as you see them. This is our way of simplifying, but there are an endless number of others. Things you do you might not even consider conscious simplicity. Or hey, if just want to call me on my hippie BS, here's your chance ;)
I have more in-depth posts in the works on the different aspects of Voluntary Simplicity, on food and medicine, possessions, community and activism. Each of these is a topic I would love share ideas on with you.
From dandelion wine, to the Women's Herbal Symposium(Oh how I hope to go some day!), tochicken-husbandry, to knitting your own, beautiful clothes, to gathering simple, wild salad greens, bartering your own produce, starting gardens and wildcrafting while looking extremely stylish, or defending animal rights, (and if not mentioned here-do tell me about the cool thing YOU do) you all are my heroes.
(Awesome pint from Sadie. One of the simple pleasures of my life ;)
With your help I'm hoping that this could become not just a series of posts, but a conversation.

Love, sunshine and wild greens,

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Virvon, varvon...

Or maybe something like "I will wish, whisk and whack/ you health and happiness/for this new season/ for you the branch/ for me the prize." in a coarse translation.

I was planning on a first post on simple living today, but instead I want to bring you a beautiful folk-custom of my native land.
On Palm Sunday, on the snowy streets of Finnish towns, one may run into packs of lovely little witches like these. They are engaging in the ancient custom of Virpominen, one of the many the onslaught of Christianity in the medieval times was never quite able to assimilate or eradicate.
Similar to the American Halloween-tradition, Virpominen involves kids going from door to door in costume looking for treats, but unlike Halloween, the dress code is pretty uniform and the kids actually have something to barter.
In the days preceding Palm Sunday, most kindergarten, pre-schools and 1st through 12th grade classes collect budding Pussy Willow branches to craft these fancy feathered wands, called virpovitsa. The kids make more at home (the greedier you are for chocolate the more you'll want to make), adorning them with paper flowers, ribbons, feathers (in the egg-related Oestre tradition of fertility for the new growth season) and perhaps even a painted or gold-papered eggs.
On Sunday morning they rise early to dress in their witch finery: longs skirts over winter pants, aprons, head-scarves and Russian shawls. Their mothers paint red apples on their cheeks and freckles over their noses. They are not impersonating pointy-hatted crones (except that one girl, clearly an American import ;), but fertile young witch-maids, robust and carrying blessings.
Noidiksi pukeutuneita virpojia oli liikeellä kauniissa kevätsäässä Espoossa Palmusunnuntaina.
When they're all dressed up they gather their baskets and head out to the neighborhood. They travel in packs and it is considered to be bad luck not to have a treat to offer to each them (Money works too, but apples are bad form. Hear that, old ladies?).
They appear at your door chanting the above translated blessing, patting you gently with the branch which you will receive in exchange for the chocolate eggs and bunnies. It's just a joyful sight to open the door to little girls(mostly) beaming up at you, clutching their colored branches.
If I ever have kids, I heartily hope to bring this charming tradition into their lives. It is a fertility rite in honor of spring, sowing seed, letting cattle out to pasture, and in a 96 % Lutheran nation, a bit of nature magic that's survived through the ages. Heck, there are even bonfires involved in the traditional Finnish Easter. And a very disturbing dessert.
So Happy Easter To You And Yours! How does your family celebrate this holiday?

Health happiness and a multitude of blessings on your house this new planting season, or "Virvon, varvon/tuoreeks, terveeks, tulevaks vuodeks/sulle vitsa/ mulle palkka",

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

This is the s***!

No, seriously. It's spring, people, a time of year when a young man's heart fills with a certain desire to show his affections to his lady, and what better way to do it than a truck bed full of...well s***.
As I've mentioned before, fertilizer is key in making your very own garden of eden happen and what better fertilizer than free fertilizer? I heartily recommend that if you have an interest in a little bit of poo, you contact your local (Organic, if that's the kind of garden you plan to have or at least grass feeding and un-hormone-crazed. That's the animals, the farmer can be hormone-crazy if you like.) farmers and ask what they charge for a yard.

Often times, they might just be happy for you to take some off their hands. Well, field. Even if they charge a bit for it, the cost might not be much, especially for a little garden patch. If all you need is a few bucket-fulls, it might not be worth their while to ask you for the monetary value. Come fall, you can pay them back with some of your fabulous preserves.
And if you happen to have a wood burning stove, you know what's good mixed in with your s*** and compost and seaweed and whatever other kinds of fertilizer? Ashes! But not too much. You don't want to increase the alkalinity of your soil too much. Don't put it on your taters or blueberries, 'k?
We used the last of our home-made zucchini and tomato sauce and dried oregano and lo-and-behold if the new little sprigs of oregano didn't start peeking out of the ground just then. It has been a light-hearted few days here, quiet in recovery, but good. Busy, but relaxing. Giddy with the excitement of it all, as you can maybe tell from this post.
Some people took copious naps and other people took pictures of them. Okay, those of you who don't like gratuitous cat pictures should scroll down.
If this was a yoga-pose it would be called "mama stop taking my picture!"-pose, or Cattennappen allthetimeneshavasana (that's Sanskrit ya'll!).
Part-cat, part-raccoon, all grump. I escaped outdoors before all hell broke loose.
While some things slumber, others awake. In addition to the afore-mentioned oregano, there will soon be spinach and pea tendrils.
This time of year, even the weeds look beautiful and green. Or as, I think, Rolling Thunder said: there's no such thing as a weed in your garden, only things you don't know the purpose of yet. Something like that. Well put all the same.
I certainly know some exciting purposes for these guys. I really wish dandelions were more prolific here, the greens are rather meager and you feel bad about gathering the blooms...
If it rains a few more times, this might be a good salmonberry year. Most people don't seem to gather them, preferring blackberries and the like, but my hubby, being part Alaskan is absolutely nutty about them. We also collect Salal, which is too flavorless for most. I mix it in as filler for jams.
What about me?
Daffodils, hops, strawberry leaves, all are up and out and merry. Beautiful surprises appear out of the ground each day. Spring, you gotta love it.
The ground isn't the only place from which beautiful surprises appear, either. One came to my mailbox just the other day all the way from the magic land of Northern California. (Unlike Brigit I didn't catch the mail person on tape.)
The goodness of it was particularly heart-felt as in addition to 70s goodies and pretty cards and a book that got me trough a subsequent illness, it also contained a hand-made heart that Brigit's son apparently insisted she send to "his friend". My plan is to frame it and hang it on my newly painted walls one of these days after I paint the damn walls.

Though spring has definitely arrived, it is not very warm out yet and I've been sick for a really long time, so rather than risk it, I wore all kinds of protective layers.

I felt a little silly, but if that's what it takes to stay healthy, I'm cool with feeling all kinds of ridick (as Heather likes to say).
what spring?
When I first saw the technicolor dream coat that Brigit gifted me, I was all like "that 70s teacher! that 70s teacher!", but the outfit that came out of was more inspired by Nicole's lovely 70s rock'n'roll-queen looks than anything else ( and by necessity too a bit-is cold out there!).

So, if you've ever wondered what happens when That's 70s Teacher spends a summer following Stillwater , now you know.
The shirt was a gift from a friend who's moving off Island and needed to lighten up the load. When you need to lighten the load from too many frilly blouses, I'm your go-to-gal. The boots from ebay or etsy. Necklace by Flaming Hag Folkwear. And in other important news: I think I've finally solved the problem with skinny jeans for me, too long, too droopy after a couple of uses. Junior-sizes, or to put it bluntly tween-sizes. I got two pairs from the Dump and they've been perfect. My name is Milla and I wear tween pants.
And if you're as taken by Nicole's amazing handiwork as I am, you're in luck! She's having a giveaway over at her blog. You could win a pair of hand-tooled earrings and a beautiful lace-y spirit pouch. Lucky you.
Heron Feather?
Okay kids, who can find an animal in this picture and what kind of animal is it? Oh, hell school's almost out. Let's talk about what you're gonna do this summer instead? I'm going to follow a group of guys all around the country who seem to never bathe and have questionable mustaches.
Do you see me?
If this post was a bit too light-hearted for the more serious reader, don't worry, the next one is all business. Now to the s*** pile and beyond. Happy gardening and bumble bees and sprouting seeds,

Ps. That title is all in honor of Ms. Brigit and her hilarious posting-styles. How a girl can be this stylish, opinionated AND f***ing hilarious, is beyond me.