Can I Enjoy This Without Actually Purchasing It?

I have very wise friends with excellent timing. On Friday after I posted about my little issue with shopping at the Pottery Barn, my friend Sara offered this comment on my Facebook page:

Take a picture!!! That’s what I do to “shop” without breaking the bank.

Oh, how I love it when things work out. Because this is exactly what we’re talking about today– do we have to own something to enjoy it? 

Many years ago, when I was but a wee child, my siblings and I had this game we played in the car. As we drove through nice neighborhoods with gigantic houses we’d claim the houses at the top of our lungs while we were crammed in the back seat of our 1981 Escort station wagon.

Me:”That one’s mine!”
Charlie:”No, mine!”
Bethy:”I get that one, then.”

This continued for many minutes while my parents rubbed their temples and wondered why they’d ever taught us to talk. I’m sure they purposely drove through crappy neighborhoods whenever possible  just so we wouldn’t be tempted to play this little game.

Did we have a perfectly nice farmhouse of our own? Yes, we did. We had acreage and pets and barns and lots of trees to climb. We lacked nothing, but we knew life would be so much better if we owned that 3,000 square foot beach house in Northern Michigan.

As adults, the desire hasn’t left any of us. The race is on to see which one of us we can con into buying a beach house first, so the rest of us can mooch off their good will. As adults, we can calculate the taxes and mortgage involved in a 3,000 square foot beach house and we can also calculate how many hours we’d have to work to afford that and then we realize we’d be dead before we’d even get one foot in the house, with those kinds of hours. But if my brother is willing to work that many hours for my benefit, then I’m all for it. You’re up, Chuck. Go for it.

I think a lot of people see something beautiful or desirable and react with this thought– I must own it. 

But do we really? Is it possible to enjoy something just because it exists and we get to experience a part of it?

Ecclesiastes 5:10

I think it is possible. As I was walking through the Pottery Barn the other day, I enjoyed every minute. I ogled the candles and imagined dinners for 30 at my table spread with matching plates and turkey-themed bowls. Heavenly.

Then I realized that was enough. It was enough to imagine, to take away ideas, and to be thankful someone had created such beautiful things. I don’t need to actually own any of that stuff, but I enjoyed it completely.

It’s enough to rent a house for a few days each year. It’s enough to be thankful with less.

Enough.

What’s your enough? Where can you draw the line and find contentment?

 

Saving Money Is Easy: Just Don’t Go to Places Where They Sell Things

Friends, I need help. I need to summon all my strength and willpower. All that is within me cries out– buy all the beautiful things!

In an hour we’re leaving for–wait for it– a date night. My husband and I are going out without the children. It’s been a long and stressful month and we need a night away to eat food the children hate and to go to stores they hate even more. You know, the things we used to do all the time before we had children.

This means that soon I will be in a Pottery Barn store with no short people to slow me down. No little eyeballs to squint at price tags and yell, “Mom, why are they charging $130 for a blanket? That’s almost three years of my allowance!” No little butts to plop down on sofas which cost more than my first two cars combined while sighing, “Can we go yet?”

Yes, everyone's salad should be cradled in a turkey. Here's the link:http://www.potterybarn.com/products/turkey-figural-metal-serve-bowl-stand/?pkey=cspecialty-serveware&cm_src=specialty-serveware||NoFacet-_-NoFacet-_--_-

Yes, everyone’s salad should be cradled in a turkey. (Photo courtesy of Pottery Barn: “>http://www.potterybarn.com/products/turkey-figural-metal-serve-bowl-stand/?pkey=cspecialty-serveware&cm_src=specialty-serveware||NoFacet-_-NoFacet-_–_-

I’ll be able to thoughtfully tap my chin while I consider how beautiful my dining table would look for the holidays if I would purchase the assorted tablecloths, bowl holders shaped like turkeys, burlap table runners, pheasant feathers, and plates in autumn colors. This could take an hour or more by myself, but the children would last 13.4 seconds before they reminded me I don’t live in a Pottery Barn world anymore. They have become my willpower.

The frugal person within me who longs for a simple life knows I already have enough blankets. I don’t need any more candles or picture frames or couches. And for the love of all that is holy, what would I do with a turkey bowl holder for the other 364 days of the year?

The frugal person within me will remind myself of our friend Jeff’s Facebook post this morning, where he announced that he and his wife Lisa have finally paid off all their debt. They’re excited. They’re thrilled. They have only the mortgage and then they’ll be really, truly, financially free.

Financial freedom is not what happens when a person spends too much time browsing in stores designed to suck you in and show you every beautiful thing you never knew you needed.

I don't even know what this is, but I want it real bad.  (Photo courtesy of Pottery Barn: http://www.potterybarn.com/products/cast-leaf-metal-earthenware-lidded-butter-dish/?pkey=cspecialty-serveware&cm_src=specialty-serveware||NoFacet-_-NoFacet-_--_-)

I don’t even know what this is, but I want it real bad.
(Photo courtesy of Pottery Barn: http://www.potterybarn.com/products/cast-leaf-metal-earthenware-lidded-butter-dish/?pkey=cspecialty-serveware&cm_src=specialty-serveware||NoFacet-_-NoFacet-_–_-)

Financial freedom comes when you stay out of the stores and choose to be content with the blankets you already own, the regular bowls that work all year round, and the couches you can buy for $100 at the local resale shop. It comes one dollar at a time, as each dollar is committed to good choices, not momentary pleasure.

I know this, but usually my kids get me out of there before I have to exercise my own willpower. Tonight it’s just me and the beloved, and he just shakes his head at me and lets me do what I want.

Let’s hope I remember what I already know, because I could stay out of the store and save myself some grief, but it’s all just too pretty. I think I want to try out my willpower and see how long I last.

saving money is easy

“I Can’t Hear You, God. I’m Too Busy Doing Stuff for You.” (Things I Said This Weekend.)

The last time we chatted I told you about the apple crisp I was making for small group. By the time our friends arrived at 6:00 our house smelled like heaven– apples and cinnamon and deliciousness.

By 6:30 our house smelled like smoke because of the fire in our oven.

Welcome to our home. We like to burn dinner for our guests as frequently as possible.

Did you know that if enough olive oil drips off the pizza crust and pools next to a very hot element it is, indeed, flammable? So while my husband stood near the oven and made calm, quiet observations about how high the flames were reaching and our friends sat nearby and watched this spectacle, I was standing on a chair waving a magazine by the smoke detector because if one goes off, all of them go off, and it is literally loud enough to call Lazarus from his tomb.

Eric says we have a ministry of helping other people feel better about themselves, and we have proven this true again. You may recall that earlier this summer I incinerated the hot dogs on the grill for these same folks.

Ahem. Tonight’s dinner is in the crock-pot, and so far nothing is on fire.

Flames and craziness aside, we love this. We love it when our house is full of friends and family and smoke.

And I have a family and friends I love, a job I love, a church I love, laundry I’m not so crazy about, and a bunch of other things to do, like read and sleep and keep the house decent. I’ve been keeping up on my writing and blogging, but only halfheartedly, because it’s been pushed to the side by the other important things in life.

I’ve also been trying to get ready for a workshop I was teaching at the Breathe Conference this weekend. The closer the conference came, the more agitated I grew. I wondered why on earth I was even included in the workshops, because, obviously, my talents lie in the culinary and parenting aspects of life, not the writing or teaching world. I’m barely even a writer at this point, I thought to myself.

Saturday came and I put on my big girl sweater and headed to the conference, feeling like a fraud who should stay home and do some laundry.

But at the conference, I was reminded.

I was reminded of my calling to write. I was introduced to lovely people with the same weird calling. God and I had a little moment where He gently pointed out that maybe I’ve let all those other good things get in the way of listening to Him and focusing on this really important thing. Of course I need to parent my children well–I’m the only mother they’ll have. I don’t get to take a powder just because I like to make words line up one after another.

But I’ve let the immediate fruit of other ministries take precedence over the longer, slower fruit of writing. Let’s face it– I can march to the kitchen and have hot cookies and happy children in less than an hour. In comparison, writing takes a lot longer. I have a book coming out in the spring, a book I started when my son was in preschool five years ago.

My calling is frustrating, so I’ve been ignoring it (and God) by being really busy with a lot of other things that require my attention. It’s hard to hear well when you have your head stuck in a dryer, trying to find that small lost sock. It’s hard to hear well over the smoke detector as dinner scorches.

It’s hard to hear when you aren’t trying to listen.

Jesus, were you talking about me? I'm seeing a connection.

Jesus, were you talking about me? I’m seeing a connection.

 

But I’ve been reminded of how wonderful this calling is, and I’m excited to start listening once again. I’ll still be serving inedible food for anyone who cares to stop by, but I’ll be listening too.

What about you? How’s your calling going? Does it need a refresher?

Here are some links to my friends who were also at the conference– here’s what they have to say about it:

The Apple Crisp Post: What Happens When Your Blogger Kills Two Birds with One Delicious Stone

In theory a blogger spends all her free time coming up with fun and witty posts for your edification.

In reality your humble blogger thought, Oh, crap. I need to do another blog post because that’s what bloggers do and I just don’t have time because I need to get the apple crisp ready for small group tonight and we have ten people coming for dinner and holy moley I have four days left to perfect my presentation for the writer’s conference. And then she had a small but profound moment in the van where she thought about driving to Mexico immediately, but she loves her people all too much so she didn’t.

Apple crisp ingredients

She, I mean I, had scrapped the very idea of blogging until a little light went on– I bought these apples locally and I’m making this dessert with my own bare hands and if that isn’t the essence of simple living, I don’t know what is. I can’t be the only person who wants to experience the glory of fall, so here’s how it works in this house. Adjust the directions accordingly for your own household needs. (Actual recipe can be found at the end of the post.)

  1. On a sunny, windy October day, drive to the local apple orchard with your family and pick apples. Go on hayrides a
    nd let the children toss straw around the wagon without hitting the hipster-yuppies from Chicago. Drive deeper into orchard to pick apples. Force your children into picking the fruit with a little lecture about where your food comes from. Our kids picked more than enough apples in less than five minutes because the crop is so abundant this year. It literally took us longer to park than to pick.
  2. On the day of apple crisping, set the correct atmosphere. The weather must be cool and autumn-ish. If it’s sunny and 85 degrees, this just won’t feel right. Pick excellent music. I recommend the Melody Gardot station on Pandora, but maybe you don’t like good music. Your choice.
  3. peeled applesPeel and slice apples. This will take forever and you will lose your will to live by the third apple. Remind yourself that Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t give up after three apples and put on your big girl bloomers. Continue peeling and slicing. Add sugar and cinnamon and taste liberally. It’s fruit and therefore a health food.
  4. Smash up butter, flour, and brown sugar. Dump the crumbles over the apples which are now waiting in the pan. Sprinkle more cinnamon over the top because it’s FALL and cinnamon is the seasonal spice.
  5. Bake until apples are so tender you can plunk a fork right through to the pan. Do not eat immediately because that boiling sugar will do terrible things to your mouth. Don’t ask me how I know this.
  6. Share with your friends and family.

Now, for the actual recipe! This is a great one for celiacs who can’t handle oats well. I use gluten free flour from Better Batter, and it’s delish. These amounts will make a 9X13 pan, but you can easily cut it down. But really, don’t bother. You’ll just run out of apple crisp early and then be mad at yourself.

Apple Crisp: from the kitchen of Sara W.

The Apple Part:
5-10 apples (I used 8 huge Empires today, but I’ve used as many as 12 small McIntosh before. Just fill up your pan and estimate.)
1/2 cup sugar
1-2 tablespoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon flour (can be omitted if you prefer juicier crisp)
Mix all ingredients together and dump into pan.

The Crisp Part:
2 cups flour
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/3 cup brown sugar
Mix together well. Mixture will be crumbly and soft. Spread gently over apples. Sprinkle with more cinnamon.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes. Time will vary depending on your apple variety and how big the slices are.

crisp on fork

 

 

Mark and Becky Break Free: A Simple Living Case Study

What if, right now, you could make one decision that would catapult you right out of half your stress?

That’s right. One decision can make all the difference, my friends. You simply identify your greatest stressor and then boldly move to cut it out.

“That’s impossible,” you say. “It can’t possibly be that easy.”

Easy, no. Possible, yes. The real question is this– do you have the guts to make the decision and then follow through?

Because that’s where most of us actually run into trouble– we’re gutless. We know what needs to be changed, but we don’t have the strength to do it.

Today, for your encouragement and inspiration, I have a real, live case study. Mark and Becky just summoned all the guts they had in their bodies and climbed onto the catapult. Ziiiiiing! They launched themselves out of half their stress by selling their seven-year old house and buying an older one. A smaller house. A cheaper house. A house much, much closer to Mark’s job. A house that let Becky quit her stressful job and stay home with their boys, making daycare an obsolete item on the budget.

becky's quote

Of course, if doing the right thing was easy, we wouldn’t need this blog post. We’d all be doing the right things and making nothing but good decisions. We’d be living on clouds and riding rainbow-colored unicorns, tra-la-la.

Mark and Becky aren’t riding unicorns or strumming harps. They’re bumping elbows in a kitchen that’s a tiny, inefficient box compared to their old kitchen. They’re getting used to an old basement that smells musty if the dehumidifier doesn’t run around the clock. They’re all sharing one bathroom and don’t have room for their beautiful dining room table. There have been snake sightings on the porch. Yikes.

Saturday we spent the afternoon at their house, and after the burgers were gobbled up I pulled out my interview questions. I asked about the blessings, and I asked about the challenges. Here’s what they had to say:

Q: Why? Why did you do this thing?
Becky: “Family was more important than stuff, and I couldn’t be the mom I wanted to be and have that house. We were chasing our tails, trying to keep up with daycare and the other expenses.”
Mark: “I told her, ‘I’m not married to the house. I can let it go.'”

Q: So how much have you cut your mortgage?
Mark: “In half. We cut it in half.”
Grandpa (who was sitting at the table and listening in. Did I mention Mark is my brother-in-law? He is.): “And they’ve cut their taxes by a third!”

Q: You’ve not only cut the mortgage, but your driving costs as well. How much did you drive before?
Mark: “I was driving 30 miles each way to work, five days a week.”
Becky: “I drove about 25 miles each way, five days a week.”

Q: And how much do you drive now?
Mark: “It depends on if I take the short cut or not. If I do, it’s 1.3 miles to work. And I come home for lunch, so that doubles it. If I go the long way it’s 1.5 miles.” (Insert his snicker here.)
Becky: “I don’t have to drive to work anymore, but I do still drive the boys to school in Portage. But I take the little, gas efficient car.” (Blogger’s note: the boys go to a charter school and haven’t had to change schools.)

Q: How much money are you saving in gas alone?
Mark: “Almost $350 a month! I put gas in the van every two months, whether it needs it or not.”boys in hammock

Q: What other benefits are you finding?
Mark: “I’m eating healthier because I come home for lunch, where we actually have fruits and vegetables and stuff. No more Little Debbie treats from the vending machine. During the summer we eat lunch as a family, but now the boys are in school Becky and I have a little lunch date every day. Also, we love our new property. We have a lot more trees and shade.”
Becky: “Quitting my job means I don’t have to worry about finding day care all summer, which cost almost as much as I made working full-time. I have time to get organized now, so that’s what I’m working on now that the boys are back in school.”

Q: What about the challenges? 
Mark: “We cut our square footage from 1500 square feet to 800, and I really miss having an extra bathroom. This house is older and I’ve had to fix things already, like the faucets. The appliances are older, too.”
Becky: “Well, our pride has taken a hit.” (She smiled.) “But also, we have so little closet space here, and the kitchen really is a challenge.” (Blogger’s note: the kitchen really is a challenge. Designed by a someone who must not have cooked at all.) “And I had to get rid of my piano.”

So there you have the bare facts of their situation. They summoned their courage and made the hard decision, come good or bad. But reading their answers doesn’t give you the full experience of their story. You can’t see how much more relaxed they are, sitting on their small side porch grilling hamburgers and swinging on their porch swing. You can’t feel how Becky’s a totally different person now, much more like she was years ago when I first met her. You can’t hear the kids, running around and climbing trees and playing hide and seek all over their new property.

I don't know what Mark's shirt means. I forgot to ask him.

I don’t know what Mark’s shirt means. I forgot to ask him.

Yes, the hard decisions might mean four people have to share a bathroom and, quite frankly, that’s never fun. But peace of mind supersedes bathroom issues, right?

I hope you’re encouraged and inspired to sit down tonight and figure out what your stress is. Is there anything, and I mean anything, you can do about it? There might not be. You might be dealing with something far more difficult than a big house payment.

But if you do have the ability to make the hard decision for change, I hope you’ll do it! Then let me know and I’ll interview you next.

 

No, Sweetie. I Really Don’t Know Where Your Robot Is. (But the Garbage Man Might Have a Good Idea.)

I’ve been throwing away my kids’ toys for many, many years. Not right at first, of course. The few toys my daughter had at birth were lovingly gathered by friends and family who found the adorable elephant, the pink bunny, or the shiny little rattle. Only a monster can throw that sort of thing away.

But fast forward two years to when her brother was born, and suddenly we had a 900 square foot house full of dolls, cars, stuffed animals, princess costumes, McDonald’s toys, books, blocks, and also– a toy that lives in the dark corners of my memory– Pooh House.

Someone (I’ll blame my own mother) thoughtfully purchased her a little Winnie the Pooh house that came with a few stuffed animals and that child made us play with it for hours at a time for many, many months. There are only so many ways you can put a three-inch bear in a plastic swing and make him move. Even if I stretched to the limits of my imagination I could come up with two minutes of inventive play with that bear and his wretched stuffed friends. I was doomed to an infinity of minutes, bouncing him up and down and making him climb the stairs.

Oh, the agonizing memory.

Audrey finally outgrew Pooh House and, no matter what little old ladies say, I’ve never missed a minute of playing it. Do you hear me, young mothers? You don’t have to cherish every minute. Sometimes the minutes suck. Let it go and hope tomorrow is better. 

As much as I’ve been scarred by the memory, Pooh House really was a good investment. We got my mother’s money out of that hunk of plastic. But really, there are painfully few toys my kids have owned over the years that make that grade. My son has a bucket of Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars, lovingly collected over nine years. That bucket still gets dumped out and played with on a daily basis. Both kids have iPods, and as much as I hate to admit it, they were good investments. The Legos have been wonderful and many are from my husband’s childhood. Arts and crafts supplies are always winners. The dress up clothes collected over the years are being played with right this minute as our little friend Emery is digging them out of the closet and and giving them a new twirl. how many toys

I will not bore you with the very long list of toys that got three minutes of play, then a year in a dark toy box, and then were silently moved out under the cover of darkness to the dumpster. We don’t have that many minutes left in our lives to list all the things.

Children do not automatically become happier because they have all the toys. As painful as that pout is in the store, when the lip comes out and the sad blue (insert your own child’s eye color here) eyes bat at you reproachfully, you can overcome, dear parents. It might feel like you’re hurting them and causing them sorrow, but making them eat their carrots causes the same sorrow. So do vaccinations. So do long, boring sermons at church where they have to sit quietly for consecutive minutes.

If we focus only on their comfort and temporary happiness, we’ll have spoiled, nasty children who think every whim needs to be met. Plus, our houses will bulge with toys they don’t really enjoy. Therefore and thus, I implore you to say no to stuff they don’t actually love. And if you already have too much stuff they don’t adore, smuggle that crap out in the middle of night and let Mr. Garbageman take it to Landfill Glory.

I mean, lovingly pack it up and donate it to a thrift store so another family can enjoy it. Whatever.

So, I have two questions for you today: What one toy have you played with and hated every minute of? And, what’s the next toy that’s going to magically disappear from your household?

Bank Street Farmers’ Market: Where the Crunchy-Granola Hippies and the Millionaires All Hang Out

I have this friend who owns a small business and a farm (here’s a link to their Facebook page) and they often take their wares and tootle on down to the farmers’ market in Kalamazoo on Saturday mornings. I finally got a chance to go to the market myself, instead of just hearing about it from their Facebook posts.Bank Street Famers Market baskets

I told my family they were in for a treat and we piled into the van early on a Saturday morning. My children, deeply suspicious of anything involving one of my crazy ideas and/or vegetables, set their hopes very low. They were anticipating a very large outdoor version of the produce department at Meijer, so they were pleasantly surprised when we drove through a somewhat dicey portion of town and then popped out at what appeared to be a carnival.

Sadly, no rides. But we did find hippies in the aisles and a Maserati in the parking lot. There were tents and delicious foods, so the kids decided maybe I wasn’t trying to torture them. Audrey quickly realized free samples abounded, and then Caleb spied the gluten-free booths, and suddenly we were all having fun. Eric is now a committed foodie, so all those booths of deliciousness put him in an excellent mood for the better part of two days. We bought goat cheese, and fancy breads, more cheese, street tacos, actual fruits and vegetables, and THEN we spied the gluten-free angel food cake.

Wait. Maybe we found the cake first and the tacos second. It doesn’t matter. We ate it all.

The four of us plowed down half of an angel food cake in less than ten minutes. I do not feel guilty, not even a little bit.

You see, we were doing it in the name of supporting local businesses.

All this reading I’ve been doing about simple living always mentions our obligation to local businesses, and I have to be honest– I’m pretty terrible about this because I’m very, very cheap. I get extremely agitated when I feel someone is trying to charge me more money for things than is strictly necessary. Why should I pay $4 for a box of cereal at a local store when I can pay $3 at Meijer or $2 at Aldi?

However, I have to admit that I often stand next to the employees at our local stores while we wait to pick up our children from school. Maybe if I really cared about my community I’d spend the extra buck or two and make sure his or her employer stays in business for a few more years. It doesn’t appear that the employees of Hardings or the embroidery/print shop are driving Rolls Royces or putting in gold-plated swimming pools, so maybe they’re doing something else with that money. Oh, something like feeding their children and paying the rent, perhaps. 

I’m starting small, so I don’t seize up and give my wallet some sort of panic attack. Today I went to a Kalamazoo-based shoe store to buy a pair of shoes, and I’m buying almost all our family’s meat from V&V Market on Sprinkle Road. I love the family atmosphere and the service at V&V, and the quality can’t be beat. I do pay a little more, but I’ve started making a few more vegetarian meals to make the meat I do buy last longer. They have a little sign up next to the cash register. It says something along the lines of “Thank you for shopping here. It really does make a difference.”

You’re welcome, local business people. And if you do put in the gold-plated swimming pool, please don’t tell me. Bank Street Farmers market flowers