So proud.

Do you ever have those moments where you’re just so proud of your children that you have to tell someone? Or, in my case, the entire blogosphere?

I think it would be fair to say that I am proud of my children on a daily basis. They are just these amazing young people … they are best friends, polite, compassionate, creative, funny, hard workers, and simply a joy to be around. But enough about them … let me tell you about my mad parenting skills …

So, there we were … a few days ago … I was taking a break from my work to grab a snack, and my kids were playing space shuttle launch on their bunk beds. My son was up top, manning the shuttle, and my daughter was below, at mission control. When I wandered into their room, eating my banana, they asked if I could play with them. So, naturally, as is my multi-tasking nature, I made myself comfortable on the bottom bunk and told them I was the chimp they were sending into space. They wondered why a monkey would be an astronaut, and I had to explain that we sent a chimp into space before any humans to be sure that it was safe. My kids were so offended that some scientists thought an “aminal’s” life was less valuable than a human’s, that the game stopped there and devolved into a lesson on animal experimentation. I tried to explain the rationale behind the chimp flight, but in their minds, the issue was black and white–life is precious, and humans don’t have the right to prioritize their lives over those of animals.

“Fair enough,” I said. So then, because I think they should be fully aware, I explained to them that its not just NASA that tests on animals … all of the products people use in their lives–from cosmetics to cleaning supplies–are tested on animals to be sure they aren’t posionous or don’t burn our skin. My children were OUTRAGED. Of course, that’s when I got to save the day (because that’s what all SuperMoms do), and tell them that the products WE buy aren’t tested on animals … but there are plenty that are …

(Disclaimer: while I try hard to purchase ethical products, I do realize there is a lot of good that has come from animal testing in the form of medical research. So, while I think testing beauty products on animals is an unnecessary and vain practice, I’m not exactly jumping on the PETA bandwagon and torching any laboratories full of rats. There’s some grey area in my feelings on the subject … fifty shades, or so …)

Realizing that there are choices sent a wave of current through the little light bulbs floating above their heads, and suddenly they lit up with a brilliant idea … “then we have to tell people not to buy those products, Momma,” my daughter said.

“Well sure, honey, but how will we tell everyone?”

“We could write letters to those companies and tell them that ‘aminals’ are important too,” was her response. “And we can tell our friends.”

Recognizing this as a teachable opportunity (as you know I like to do), I commended her on her brilliant idea. And also, I had to get back to work, so I suggested that we make that letter writing campaign a summer project, and tabled the discussion. But she hasn’t stopped talking about it since. And so, as I started to formulate the idea, I thought about the learning opportunity … writing letters, spelling, sentence structure, addressing envelopes, learning how the postal system works, researching which companies test on animals and which don’t … it’s a fantastic project. For this summer. But my mini-activist is not content to wait.

Today is show-and-tell, so on the way to school she asked if I could stop at the store to buy two bottles of shampoo–one that is tested on animals and one that is not–so she can explain to her classmates that testing cosmetics on animals is unnecessary and cruel. Although she did go on to explain that while sending a monkey into space is unacceptable, it would be perfectly reasonable to send a mean animal, like a lion, or a bear. Minimizing animal cruelty … nice animals first, then mean ones … that’s our motto.

As soon as we climbed back into the car, my son thought he should chime in to the conversation to point out that we just bought a bottle of shampoo that is tested on animals. So what are we going to do with that? Waste it? Yes, I thought … it’s a teaching tool, so she has something to show her classmates. “But you just spent money on a company that tests on animals, so now they have more money to go test on more animals, Mom.”

What was that lesson I preached on voting with our wallets? I don’t know if you read that one … but somehow my seven year old gleaned the lesson …

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Calendar Chaos

Blogging is the LAST thing I should be doing right now.

My auction is barely a month away and procurements are not even close to finalized … not to mention the accompanying catalog, slide show, seat assignments, signage, software for payment processing, or invitations to parents. Or any of the things I don’t know I’m missing, since I’ve never organized an auction before. My list gets longer, rather than shorter each day. This is the polar opposite of good minimization tactics.

Meanwhile, I just learned that my LEGO club event was moved out two weeks. Normally, this would be a welcome relief. Two more weeks to prepare for the big day, right? Too bad I’ll be in London that weekend. So now I have an angry mob of 26 children ranging in age from 4-9 who have been working diligently all year toward their multi-model, ice cream production system with one moving part per model, research, and display boards to present their findings to the judge. Multiply that by an average of 2 parents per child (4 in some lucky cases), and I have effectively maximized the number of complaints I can process in a single day. The minimalist in me wants to set my email’s auto-reply to read “Go sell crazy somewhere else … all stocked up here.” But the team-spirited, good natured, volunteering Mother in me who wants to minimize the number of frenemies I create this year, just smiles and says “we’ll figure it out.” Moderation, my friends, moderation.

Oh, and also, I have a major website launch on Tuesday, which will roll out to a global audience for my largest client, and all of the internal servers are down. Which is fantastic, because we just decided to redesign the entire site yesterday (which has already taken us three months to build).

To be clear, I did not come here to complain. I came here to tell you why I should absolutely not be blogging right now. But, this is kind of my happy place, so apologies if I’ve just dumped all of my stress on you, my unwitting readers. What I came to say was … after my year of zen minimalism, I’ve struck a fantastic balance between freaking out and taking a few deep breaths to relax my way through the chaos.

I’ve been trying to impart this deep breathing technique to my son, who internalizes all of the stresses of being six years old. He crawled in bed with us in the middle of the night last night … which NEVER happens. When we woke up this morning, we asked what brought him into our bed in the middle of the night. He said he was having that nightmare again that he always has when the months change. We’ve never heard tale of this nightmare before, so we asked him more about it. He said it’s stressful for him when we start a new month. So, as January nears its end, we are all breathing deeply, gearing up for February, and looking forward to making it through March alive.

Everything in moderation, I keep telling myself.

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So, there I was … sitting in my first ever parent-teacher association meeting. Because after three years at this school, I decided it was time to get involved in my children’s education. And also, I was looking for a way to contribute that didn’t include recess duty or arts and crafts with 25 five-year olds.

So, I’m sitting in the September meeting as projects are being assigned for the year. (Only a rookie parent shows up for this meeting, I would soon come to find out.) So, there we are … the three of us parents in a sea of over-worked and under-appreciated teachers. Eager to join in our children’s educational endeavors by lending our time, energy, and skills to the school. Hoping for a volunteer project that suits our skill sets. I’m thinking … writing website copy, perhaps. Or, even organizing a field trip to somewhere fascinating. But instead, I get LEGO Club and the first annual Auction.

While both of my children are thrilled to have me as the LEGO “teacher,” I have to take a moment to point out that there is nothing minimalistic about millions of LEGO pieces strewn about a classroom floor while hoards of children sort for the perfect building blocks to complete their masterpieces. It’s a good thing I’m a moderate now. It helps me to balance the insanity of my Tuesday afternoons with the amount of red wine I have to consume on Tuesday evenings. Everything in moderation, they say. So, as I’m sitting there in aforementioned PTA meeting, I think–LEGO Club? Sure. I can do that. What will I have–10 kids who want to build LEGO projects after school? Two of them are my own children, and I’ll have other parent volunteers, right? Sign me up.

Well, then we had the first meeting. 26 kids showed up. A full third of the entire school. And that’s only because there’s an age limit that prohibits the other two-thirds of the school from participating. Just me and one other brave Mom, who I beg to come back every single week. Oh, and it turns out that LEGO Club isn’t just about getting together and creating objects from our wild imaginations. In fact, it’s a national organization. Complete with statewide competitions. Registration deadlines. Specialized kits. Motors. Gears. Drive shafts. Matching t-shirts to be designed. Snack sign-up sheets. One little boy who raises his hand to answer every question even though he has no idea how to answer. And another little boy who literally asked me 13 questions about LEGO people one day. You have no idea what I would give for some Elmer’s glue and safety scissors over there at the arts and crafts table.

But that’s not the source of my need for “Moderate Meditations” right now. LEGO Club is a piece of cake compared to organizing a first annual fundraising auction. So far, the experience has resulted in more opportunities to sharpen my bartering skills than I could have ever hoped for. And fewer opportunities to bond with the other Moms than I was counting on. Unless you consider harassing my new “frenemies” to turn in their procurement forms, fill out their guest lists, and secure their ticket sales, a good bonding experience?

I have to admit … I’m rethinking this “deeply engaging in my children’s education” thing. Although, it is in keeping with my desire to fully immerse myself in the present moment. Who has time to dream about the future or dwell on the past? I’m just getting ready to go build some patio furniture out of LEGOs for this auction … and that could quite possibly take longer than it takes my husband to assemble toys on Christmas Eve.

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Helllllooooooooooooooooo out there!

As you may have noticed, I’ve been on somewhat of a blogging hiatus. After a year of minimalism, I lost my “groove” there for a while.

Truth be told, my Minimal Challenge was one part desire and many parts necessity. I started the challenge after we unexpectedly had to move from our dream home into an investment property in which we had *already* invested too much time, money, and emotion … the last thing we really needed to do was live there. To say “our lives were turned upside down and our finances spread thin” would be a solid contender for “Understatement of the Year,” but I’ll save you that sob story. In a nutshell, my ascetic journey into minimalism was as much a coping mechanism as an experiment in financial austerity.

But what I discovered throughout that year was that when I minimized my consumer behaviors, I was able to maximize my mental, emotional, and spiritual peace.

Late last summer, we were able to break free from the “Albatross House,” as it became known in our family. We moved back to the community that we love, and took a big, deep breath of fresh air. You’ll remember that my son thought the house felt lonely, and I had this nesting desire to make this house a home–nice and cozy, filled with “stuff.”

Well, I have to tell you … I ventured to the thrift stores. I browsed the Pottery Barn catalog. I roamed the interior design stores. I considered window treatments. But at the end of the day, I could not bring myself to purchase anything. The Minimal Challenge changed me. It changed the way I think about “stuff.” And it changed the way I consume goods. It made me conscious of every purchase and every decision. It made me no longer function like a willing robot to corporate greed. There have even been a couple of times that I’ve really WANTED to go shopping. Therapeutic shopping. Just to wander around with a coffee in hand, looking at sparkly baubles with my little girl. I’ve tried it. It kind of sucks. Now I walk around the stores thinking (sometimes out loud)–don’t need it, don’t want it, don’t like it … who would spend money on that?!?!

I’ve (gasp) officially FAILED at shopping. If you knew me before, you would know that shopping was never a problem for me. My college roommates (and my credit cards) could attest to that fact. But today, I really don’t need anything. Or even want it.

Meanwhile, my aunt and her family have just started a similar adventure. They call it the Year of Austere, and are blogging–as a family–about their experiences. I have to chuckle as they suffer through the challenges of giving up Starbucks and purging their comfortable shopping habits. Been there. Done that. But at the same time, it has brought me full-circle in my thinking. In the beginning, it was difficult. I had to make calculated choices about what to minimize and when and how to spend money. Today, it is second nature. I don’t even think twice about whether I need something or not, because the defacto answer is–I can live without it. There are some necessary purchases, like a new pair of glasses, which I really need to make. And, since you are aware of the health insurance situation in his country, you realize that I have to save up for that new pair of glasses. But today, I even have the self-discipline to plan in advance for that purchase–so it has minimal impact on my monthly budget. Rather than rushing out and paying for them and then finding a (painful) way to cover those costs later.

So, like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, I’ve been reincarnated … Those greedy caterpillar days of consuming everything in sight are gone. Those painful days of transformation have come to pass. And today, I stand before you … light, airy, and colorful in my new incarnation …

I don’t think I have to force myself into the “minimalist” mindset anymore. (An aside–I just finished reading the Steve Jobs biography. A true minimalist … that guy was looney tunes.) I don’t feel like I have to be driven by a strict set of minimalist mentality. But I know from experience that I’m not about to over-consume any time soon. I think it is safe to say that I’ve fully become a “moderate.” Here I am. Stuck in the middle with you.

Look for more moderate musings to come soon, as I flutter through the blogosphere once again. It’s good to be back.

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Truth be told …

I thought I would return from my summer adventures and dive right back into my blogging routine. I certainly have enough time on my hands these days with my kids back in school, my husband back to work, and no projects on my plate. But I’ve been struggling to find the words to share with you …

A year ago, when I started this blog, I was teetering on the edge of keeping it all together. You remember, we moved into a house that we had been building just before the housing market collapsed, and I had a garage full of stuff I didn’t want to put away, so I decided to make a game of becoming a minimalist, and therein, this blog was born.

Well, when we decided to move back to our favorite neighborhood, I started to feel like I needed to “nest” a little … in an effort to create a “home” for my family that was not just another empty house we had to live in. So, I’ve been frequenting the thrift stores and slowly pulling together a few items that fill up the walls and keep the house from feeling “lonely,” as my son described it. Fear not, my friends. I have not dived blindly back into the consumer lifestyle I once espoused. In fact, with no work on the horizon, this contractor is learning how to live an increasingly frugal lifestyle. Learning how to can my own jams with locally picked blackberries, and how to make my own all-natural cleaning products without spending a fortune on the well-marketed alternatives.

That said, there is something bigger that has been consuming me, and I’ve been having a difficult time finding the words to describe it. Without getting into a political debate, there is something frightening happening to the middle class in America right now. Regardless of how you believe that challenge should be solved, the fact is that my friends and neighbors are continuing to lose their jobs. And their homes. Food banks are overwhelmed trying to support the increasing demand for groceries. Meanwhile, corporations are posting RECORD PROFITS. What is happening?

College graduates are graduating with more debt than ever before for a college education, and yet they are unable to find jobs. They cannot pay their debts, nor can they afford to establish themselves and start the careers they worked so hard to earn. It makes you question whether a college degree is worth it. I think we can all agree that education is priceless. But at what cost to the students?

We are, for the first time in history, raising a generation of children that may not achieve the same level of financial stability as their parents. Economically speaking, our children will not even have as many opportunities as we did as kids. As a parent, this is particularly troublesome for me. I work hard to ensure that my children have all of the opportunities they can, and my parents did the same. I had opportunities my parents never dreamed of, and that is what I hope to provide to my own children. But, in the direction we’re headed, those opportunities will no longer be available to them at an affordable price.

I have to tell you … my children are smart. Empathetic. Strong. Courageous. They have the capacity to change the world. So, it kills me to think that they may not have the opportunity to rise to their full potential. Meanwhile, the Hollywood socialites, movie stars, and professional athletes do not have to think twice about money. I’m not saying they don’t work hard at their jobs as well. And frankly, they earn the wages they do because we, as consumers, are willing to pay $5 for a tabloid magazine at the grocery store check stand. We’re willing to buy NFL Sunday Ticket, or the outrageously priced season tickets to cheer on our favorite teams. We will spend $50 for a family of four to go to the movie theatre to see the latest film.

We are paying the rich to be rich, while at the same time, we are struggling to put gas in our cars and food on our tables. This is what is happening. We are fueling the machine that is oppressing us. I don’t know what the simple answer is to this crisis. But I do hold true to my belief that we vote with our wallets.

Here are a few of the ways that I think voting with your wallet can change the world. Or at least your community:

  • Food. Do you have concerns about GMOs and the processed food system in America? Then go to your local farmer’s market or non-chain neighborhood grocery store and spend your money there. Not only are you supporting your local economy and community businesses, but you’ll know where your food came from.
  • Clothing. Have you visited any of your local thrift stores recently? Or even those in a neighboring town? You’ll find designer brands that still have their original tags on. Many of the clothes are brand new and have never been worn. And, your purchases support charitable causes that help your neighbors who are in need, rather than supporting the expansion of suburban shopping malls.
  • Entertainment. Could we all make a pledge to not go to the movie theatres, sporting events, and commercially engineered entertainment venues designed to distract you from the realities of your actual life? If you want to be entertained, go to your community theatre. Support the local plays and musicals that never even break even. You’ll see your friends and neighbors, and recognize talents you did not know existed in your hometown. Spend your Friday night at the high school football field supporting your local athletes. Cheer on their hard work and dedication to team work, commitment, and responsibility. Help them learn to prioritize physical fitness and camaraderie.
Let’s agree to change the world from the inside out. Let’s agree to set an example for our children that a high-priced education cannot buy. Let’s teach our children how to find the quality of life they value and achieve it without being consumed by consumerism. This is the legacy we can leave for the next generation.

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Hello Silence, my Old Friend

It’s official. Fall is here. Complete with my kids back to school, my husband back to work, and me freezing while refusing to turn on the heat in early September. This turn of events also means good news for you, my loyal readers. Blog posts are back! In the coming posts, I’ll do my best to fill you in on our crazy summer. And share some insight about how this minimalist feels like she needs to nest a little–without spending a fortune on home decor, or filling her home with unnecessary “stuff.” What does “nesting” mean to a minimalist? We’ll explore that concept–and more–this fall, as we get back into the routine.

But first, I want to share something else … in my *spare* time, I’ve been pursuing some writing opportunities. And today, I’m proud to introduce you to my new line of chatter … the topics will slowly evolve over time, but ultimately they revolve around cost cutting strategies from clipping coupons to canning your own jam. All from the perspective of a busy dual-career household trying to make ends meet in an upside-down economy. I’m still learning the ropes, so I don’t know how often I will be writing, but check out the new post and let me know what you think. And, as always, thank you for reading.

Happy Harvest Season!

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Life Experiences are the currency of the New Rich*

Spending our time, energy, effort, and money on Life Experiences has led to a number of family adventures, side-splitting laughter, and memories that could never be replaced by material goods.

This summer has taken us on a road-trip to California, a wedding in a Napa vineyard, camping trip on the NorCal coast (in the back of our Honda Element), days spent exploring the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, a long walk along the Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, fireworks at a family lake cabin, a visit to a cake artist, an amusement park fun day, and a water park adventure.

In our spare time, I had the exciting opportunity to go white water rafting with a fun-loving group of girls, and my husband went on a boys’ weekend trip to yet another lake cabin–complete with motorcycles and poker, when he wasn’t boating or sleeping under the stars.

We have gone more places and done more things in the last two months than in the last several years combined. And, with the exception of gas and occasional lodging expenses–though we mostly camped out or bunked with friends and family–our adventures have been relatively inexpensive. Especially given the fact that we are not shopping for toys and gadgets to occupy our children’s imaginations. In fact, it was several hours in to our most recent road trip before my son realized he hadn’t packed a bag full of toys for this long weekend. Then, my kids decided to look out the windows and admire the landscape–trying to guess what product each type of farm was responsible for producing. Educational adventures, I like to call these.

Rich in love. Rich in fun. Rich in adventure. And all within our normal monthly budget. Minimizing unnecessary expenses really does pay off. I promise.

*Life Experiences and New Rich are concepts detailed in The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss–more on his brilliant concepts later.

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