Saturday, August 26, 2006

Off the Grid

I have spent most of the last two weeks ‘off-grid’ at a church retreat. We were at a lovely campground in Maryland. We had electricity and running water in the buildings (though not at the campsites, of course) and there was a phone for emergencies at the camp office. But that was it. No television, no newspapers, no internet. Even cell phones didn’t work out there. It was surprisingly nice, to get away from everything for a while. Though news junkie that I am, by the time the last day arrived I was desperate for a newspapers or anything else that would let me know what was going on in the world!

It wasn’t idyllic of course. There were bug problems, and there was sand everywhere. And we had more people than expected, which really strained the kitchen. So there were a few light meals before they were able to make a shopping run. But overall it was wonderful, and I was sorry to have to come back to the real world of traffic, strip malls, advertisements, and of course my dismal job. School started this week as well. I made it back in time to pay my tuition and make my first class. I’ll be glad when I finish so I can (finally) change careers.

Progress towards my goals of Simplifying my life and coming into the Compact has been slow but steady. It has taken me a while to change everything. But with every step I take it gets easier, and I feel a little more free. I have both a couple of new things since I joined. For instance, I bought one of the retreat shirts. I didn’t have to, but I wanted a souvenir. It was new of course. And last night at the grocery store I found a canning funnel. I’ve been looking for one for a while now, and since that one was on clearance for 99 cents, I went ahead and picked it up. At least I was able to get my textbooks used this semester. It still cost me $121 but hey, that’s better than it could have been! I also visited my favorite used book store today. I found two books on canning and a copy of The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible. I went ahead and got them because well, frankly, I need the help. Two of them look new, and all together they were just over fourteen dollars –cheaper than any one of them new!

So I’m making progress. Slow but steady wins the race. ;-)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Good For My Career

My boss wants me to go this conference in Houston this October. It's a week long, meetings in the day and hobnobbing at night. He insists that I should go because it will be good for my career. Translation: it will help me move into line for a promotion, raises, etc etc etc. The thing is -I don't want to get promoted, or move up the corporate ladder, or any of those things. All it gets you is more responsibility and more work, and therefore less time for your family and yourself.

Not only that, I'm leaving this career. I'm starting back to school full time in January. They don't know that here yet, but when they do they won't be happy. What's the point of training to advance in a career I'm leaving? Even if I was staying in this career I'm not interested in that.

And finally, it's not exactly easy for me to drop everything for a week and leave town. I have classes, I have responsibilities outside work, and I have a house full of animals. You can bet they wouldn't help me pay for petsitting! I am going on vacation later this week, my first time in several years, and it was a nightmare trying to make arrangements for my pets and my house. I generally don't like to travel at all; it's a headache and I'm a homebody.

So no, I don't think I'm going to Houston in October. Even if it would be good for my career.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


I started composting a couple of months ago. I had heard about it before, but hadn’t actually tried it. One of the reasons was lack of a proper bin, which every book and site I had read on the subject insisted you ‘needed’. Then I talked to some people who actually did it, and learned about open air composting. At this point I decided to give it a try. I knew that I couldn’t just make a big compost pile in my backyard without anything around it; not because it wouldn’t work, but because my dogs would be all over it.

Over the last two months I have been putting everything possible onto the compost pile that was listed as acceptable on the lists I’ve read. Grass clippings, weeds (minus the roots), dryer lint, over ripe fruit and vegetables, vegetable peelings, newspapers, and the like. I turn the pile about once a week. I am utterly amazed at the results so far. At first I thought it would smell horribly, but it hasn’t. (Though sometimes the ingredients have, until I mix them up.)

The process is just so amazing. When I turn the pile, instead of smelling garbage, I smell –earth. Rich, musty earth. And all of this ‘rubbish’ is slowing breaking down. It is turning into a deep brown, crumply mass. I am making dirt. It’s unbelievable. And amazing. This is the most incredible thing I have ever done or seen. I was mostly a city kid, and to make dirt? Its absolutely incredible.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The best things in life

are free. Or rather, they don’t cost money. We live in a culture that is continuously trying to put a monetary value on everything. From the price of lunch to the price of falling in love, our world is constantly trying to place a dollar value on everything. People won’t date because it takes too much time and is too expensive. Others read 1-minute bedtime stories to their children. What it amounts too is that people are placing more value on time spent earning money than time spent for other pursuits. When you boil this down to its most basic level, our society has now placed a higher value on money than on anything else. This, I firmly believe, is the root cause of our increasing alienation and loneliness.

Most, if not all, of the truly important things in life can’t be bought with money. An evening spent with a dear friend, watching movies and laughing, can not be purchased with money. Neither can time spent helping a child learn to read, and the utter exultation felt when the first word is finally gotten. Weddings can be purchased with money, but happy marriages can not. Services to help produce a child can be purchased, but not a good relationship with the resulting child. These things and many, many more, can not be purchased with money. And yet, we are so single-mindedly focused on the pursuit of money that we would rather work than spend time with a child, spouse, parent, or pet. And when we have the time off, we would still rather go to the mall and buy useless things than spend time with others. There is something deeply, deeply wrong with a culture that values shopping and material possessions above human relations.

Our culture’s priorities have never held me in thrall. Shopping holds no thrill for me, possessions nothing but responsibility. But since I haven’t been able to rush out to the store for anything I’ve needed, I have had time to think and see how truly insane our culture is. It has also been strangely liberating. I have always been good at ‘making do’. Growing up in poverty taught me how to do that. But lately I have gotten much, much better. Instead of going without I have learned to improvise and come up with creative solutions to various problems. I have also come to realize that just because you need something doesn’t mean you have to buy it from a store, or even pay for it. I have picked up a few things off Freecycle and Trader, and more from yard sales. I have been racking my brain trying to come up with a way to get some lumber to make raised garden beds. And to do so inexpensively. A friend of mine suggested trash picking. No –not going through people’s garbage. Here, people put things they don’t need or want out on the curb for the trashmen. It’s also legal for anyone else to pick up said items. So last night I drove around a bit on my way home and discovered two homes that were remodeling and had thrown out perfectly good boards. They’re old and have nails in them, but they’ll work for garden beds. My next door neighbor also had thrown some out. So, with two stops (three counting the walk next door) I rounded up enough good lumber to build two or three beds for my garden. It took only twenty minutes –less than a trip to Home Depot –and I didn’t have to open my wallet. I also had plenty of time left to make dinner and spend with my dogs.
You just can’t beat that kind of deal. :)