Thursday, June 19, 2008

It's Easy to Forget

It's easy to forget in our day to day lives, that people elsewhere are dying of hunger. It's easy to forget when we have enough in our cupboards, that cupboards in other kitchens are bare. It's easy to take for granted the warm bed we slept in last night, hot shower we had this morning, the fresh cup of coffee, the relative safety of our homes.

When I stop and think about everything I take for granted in a day, everything I believe I'm "entitled" to, it's mind blowing. Things I don't think twice about (ibuprofen in the medicine cabinet, shoes on the closet floor, blankets if I'm cold, a fan when I'm too hot). These are things that I feel are a necessity (ok, I do realize and freely admit I have too many pairs of shoes on the closet floor), are things that people in other countries may have never had. Never. Had.

I am reading a great book which I'll tell you about later. The author, who worked for a summer in India with Mother Theresa, one of my heroes, spent time with the sick and dying, the poorest of the poor. And what he took from the experience was how lucky and fortunate he was to be there. Not because he realized all the stuff he had back home and felt grateful for it, but because the experience changed him. The sick and dying and people with leprosy gave him more than he had ever thought was possible.

One of my dreams has always been to do mission work. When I was young I wanted to go to Romania and work in an orphanage. I still do.

But what's the long-term solution? My volunteering for three weeks or three months will help, but it won't change anything really, in the long-term. What will? Donating money? Starting a new non-profit? Working with an existing non-profit? Selling all my possessions and giving money to a charity?

I don't know the answer. Do you?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Joneses

The term "keeping up with the Joneses" is certainly not new, but have you ever thought about the "other Joneses"?

We think of the Joneses as people who are better off than ourselves. They have cooler cars, a bigger pool (or a pool anyway!), they take fabulous trips and wear the trendiest clothes. Their houses l0ok ready for magazine photo shoots. All the time. And they're always on the move, shopping, improving things at their house, planning for their next world-wide adventure.

Often though, in our jealous peeks over the fence, we don't see the whole picture. We don't see the stress that the Joneses marriage suffers when another fight about money erupts. We don't see how neglected their kids feel when Mom and Dad shove toys at them to make up for the overtime they work to buy all that expensive crap.

But what about the other Joneses? These Joneses have much less than us, but for some reason we never think to compare ourselves to them. In the book "How Much is Enough?" by Arthur Simon, I found a passage that really sank in this morning.

"Which Joneses are we trying to keep up with? Almost always the Joneses who are ahead of us. Perhaps we should stay behind those Joneses and compare ourselves with the Joneses who lack food, clothing, and medical care."

Simon goes on to explain our desire for things that others have. This is a natural in children, the author explains, and seems to follow most of us right into adulthood.

"A child does not expect an ice cream bar for lunch. But if a sibling gets one, then having an ice cream bar suddenly seems not just desirable but a dire necessity. A child does not instinctively long for a particular brand or style of sneakers, but if "everyone" in his class starts wearing them and commenting on those who don't, lack of those sneakers will make him feel deprived and inferior. Kids want what other kids have. In this respect, they are strikingly like adults."

Hmmm, kids want what other kids have. This is true for us "big kids", too. Throw in a multi-million (billion?) dollar marketing industry showing us what "everyone" else has, little suggestions that we need to "treat" ourselves to something special, and it's easy to see how not only keeping up with, but surpassing the Joneses becomes our goal in life.

But life is so much more than things. I remember when I was small breaking some jars that my mother told me not to touch. I stood their crying, feeling terrible that I disobeyed and that they'd broken. She wiped up my tears and held me. "They're only things," she said. "They can be replaced."

That is a message we should all learn. All these possessions are just things that can be replaced. Relationships, helping, loving, caring, teaching, learning, compassion--those mean more than any physical object, and they can never be broken or taken away.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Greedy about Giving

Here's something who don't give regularly do not know. Giving can be addictive.

Have you ever had a cleaning binge and just marched into a closet or room with your rags held high, declaring war on the clutter and grime? I do this once in awhile (not as often as I should, to be honest). I start by making piles: Keeping, recycling/tossing, giving away. Something funny happens as the space gets cleared out and the "giving away" pile grows. It's like something loosens up inside. I can breathe a little easier. I feel a little less anxious. I feel happy that someone else might be able to use that one-of-a-kind item that some well-meaning soul gave me for Christmas last year. ("Oh thank you. It's, err, lovely!")

But happiness at giving doesn't have to stop with castaway objects. You can give of your time. Of your money. Of yourself.

Starting to give might scare you. "If I give X away, will there be enough for me?" or "What if I can't think of anything to say/do for someone else?" These are valid fears. Growing up with three sisters, made me a little--shall we say "possesive" of my things. But if you, like me don't like that part of yourself, give something away and see if it doesn't make you feel better, happier and more calm.

I started this by giving a tithe when I started my new career. My logical side was saying things like "Hhhmmm, it would make more sense for you to wait until you were making enough money for the household budget before you start tithing." But my feeling side said, "Give. Just give. You'll be okay." And I have been. I have been more than okay. Money has come to me in odd, strange ways. Ways that I didn't expect it to come at all. But I'm okay with that. I just trust that it will keep coming, that I will have enough for my needs to be met. That's not why I give, but it's a pretty awesome side effect.

For the past six months I've been a "big sister" to a little sister that has a ton of troubles and heartbreaks in her life. I was scared when I volunteered for that, too. "Am I cool enough? Will she hate me? Will she talk to me?" We had a few uncomfortable patches, but I learned a lot from the experience. Mostly, I saw how great I felt that I was giving myself to her. I'm not sure how much she gained from our time together (I hope something!) but I know I got a wonderful benefit. I gave of myself and I felt blessed.

Lately, I have been wanting to give in new ways. There are so many options out there, it can be overwhelming. Should I volunteer at the local food shelf? Sign up for another mentoring program? Should I deliver hot meals to the elderly or volunteer with the local humane society? I'm not quite sure yet what it is I'll end up doing, but I'm pretty sure whatever it is, it will make me feel good. Sometimes in fact, I feel so good about giving, I feel a little guilty about it.

But it's a good guilt.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Few of my Favorite Things

Remember that song in the Sound of Music? That movie was one of my favorite things growing up. I memorized all the songs and most of the lines and would watch the movie while pretending to be Liesl, the eldest Von Trapp girl. I think I wanted to be her most because of the scene where she and Rolf sing and dance around the gazebo--that dress!

This week I came across the blog, Walk Slowly, Live Wildly which I absolutely love. It follows a family of three who are vegan, raw food, crunchy environmentalist Christians who sold or gave away most of their possesions to travel the US in an RV run by veggie oil. Sara, the mom, is an absolute inspiration. Check it out ASAP.

Finding a new blog always gives me goosebumps and that "ahhhh" feeling. I get so excited-0so many new-to-me posts to read and so much great information to soak up.

It got me thinking about some of my other favorite things: All are simple and they all make me happy. Here are a list of some of them in no particular order:
  • Reading
  • Being in nature
  • Sushi w/ lots of wasabi
  • Saturday mornings
  • Baking
  • Talking with someone funny
  • Getting a compliment
  • Playing with art stuff
  • Watching my animals
  • Campfires
  • Writing
  • Strawberries, fresh off the vine
  • Seeing my garden grow
  • Fresh eggs
  • Putting clothes out on the line
  • Walking
  • Traveling to someplace new
  • Traveling back to some place I've been and haven't seen for awhile
  • Laughing so hard I cry
  • The smell of lilacs
  • A clean desk
  • Flannel PJ's
  • A good book/magazine/blog
  • Swimming
  • Annual family camp out

What are some of your favorite things? Stopping to think about them really makes me feel grateful for all I have, even on those days when the world is feeling dark and gloomy.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Take That Fear and Shove It

Fear sucks.

When I was younger, I was much more, though not completely, unafraid. I wasn't afraid to wear weird, second-hand clothes. My best friend and I used to comb thrift shops and see what we could score on our babysitting budget incomes. I rebelled against waste, people who tested on animals, and those who tried to tell me what to do. I had my senior pictures taken at Sears, refused to buy a gaudy class ring, and found my prom dress for $20 at a discount Macy's. We even went to the mall for pizza as our pre-prom dinner my senior year. I painted my car purple and didn't get drunk at high school parties. I was a vegetarian when it was weird to be a vegetarian. I left home at 18 and headed South, and didn't wait for the door to shut behind me I was in such a hurry. I've never liked cola--A true rebel, you get the idea.

Somewhere along the road though, my passion and anger, and desire to make things different turned into fear. Fear of "what other people might think". Fear of saying something wrong or offending someone or doing something stupid. Fear of calling attention to myself. Fear of not knowing what to do in "uncontrolled" circumstances. Sometimes it seems like the more comfortable we are in our lives, the harder it is to stand up.

So right now, I'm working on a list. This is a list of things I'm afraid of, that I really, really want to do. (And no, bungee jumping isn't on there.) Eventually, I want to create a "Fear-Less Challenge" and I encourage YOU to join me.

In the meantime, I'm going to go pull my swimsuit out of the closet for my first-ever swimming lesson. Now that's scary!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Waste No Food Challenge

I just came across a great blog, by Katy. She has issued a "Waste no Food Challenge" which I quickly signed up for. The rules are simple: Don't waste any food for a 30-day period. I started yesterday when I polished off all my Taco Bell dinner instead of throwing the remains in the trash. I haven't had any TB in a loooong time and just when I thought I wouldn't be able to finish, I convinced my husband to eat the last piece of cheese quesadilla.

Despite my best intentions, we are a household of food wasters. (Dear Mother-in-Law, if you are reading this, please cover your eyes.) I have been seriously considering purchasing a small apartment sized fridge so I can keep better track of our food and leftovers. Did any of you see the Freegan-inspired Oprah? This cute couple was so inspiring. They dumpster dive even though they make plenty of money and they aren't ashamed of their less-than-traditional food foraging habits one bit.

Anyway, back to the food challenge. We are a household of two and I'm embarassed by how much food ends up spoiling in our fridge. And condiments? We had about 40 bottles when we did a "deep clean" on the fridge yesterday.

I try to console myself by the fact that we at least compost 90% of the food waste. But when I see the mushy vegetables in the compost bucket and the bits of meat going into the trash, I also see something else. Dollars. For every bit of food we waste, that's part of our grocery money going into the garbage.

How about you? Are you a food waster or a food user-upper? What are some of the common foods that find their way into your trash or compost?

Do you want to join Katy's Waste-No-Food challenge? Head over to her blog and sign up. Please?I need some moral support!