food, farming, friends and family: a meditation on chosen simplicity and (in)voluntary complications – life.

Archive for November, 2009


There’s a clear sense of ritual here, of customs and practices wedded to the culture. Old as time itself. I feel these missing in my life, and wonder if there’s a greater sense of meaning and connectivity in trying to create them – to rebuild a culture.

20 February 2009
Gokarna, Karnataka, India

My time in India only reinforced for me just how young America truly is (and how much it likes to ignore its youth – but didn’t we all?). While I get frustrated with what feels like my nation’s arrogance, I want to focus instead on creating an alternative.

Tomorrow marks the United State’s holiday of Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday of the year. Of course I can’t erase “Thanksgiving” from its true historical context, a grim reality that most Americans are all too happy to ignore in favor of football and turkey legs.

But what I gravitate toward in the day is the chance to recreate it – so many beautiful components are already there! A late-fall feast celebrating our shared abundance, and giving thanks to each other, to the food, and to the natural elements that have made it all possible – now that’s a holiday. And as I gather tomorrow with a great group of friends, it will be with a deep feeling of gratitude for all of the blessings I enjoy. And hope, too. Hope that in time we as a country will leave behind entirely the oppressive nature of our beginnings, choosing instead to keep (and nourish) the innovative and pioneering and, most importantly, the collective spirit that got us here.

So Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I hope you’re able to enjoy yourselves with the people you love, creating the day for yourself in whatever way you like. In fact, I hope you’re able to do that every day.

** And when you’re cuddled up on Sunday morning, eating the leftovers of your leftovers, be thinking of a certain blog writer who is running the Seattle Marathon! I will be thankful for the finish.

Peace and pumpkin pie,


Evaluating Value

Have I told you I have a sugar daddy? I do.

He’s an Environmental Scientist, makes ten bucks an hour (once Uncle Sam takes his cut), has paid my portion of the rent on more than one occasion, and happily kicks in more than his fair share for items ranging from ice cream cones to the hottest Goodwill fashions.

And do you know what else?

He has a sugar momma!

She’s an Unemployed Farmer, makes between zero and twelve dollars an hour (usually under the table), cooks a mean carrot ginger soup, and has made great strides in securing his (and her) storage veggies for the entire winter. Why, just yesterday she turned their compost pile and canned 7 pints of quince jelly (and that was by 2 o’clock!).

Money – and specifically, its scarcity – has made its way into my consciousness more so this year than any other. True, I’ve never been rich (my career interests have ranged from English Teacher to Farmer if that gives you a window into my financial aspirations). And luckily, I’ve also never been poor – or at least in a situation where I have felt desperate for money.

But since I’ve been old enough to work a job, I’ve most always been regularly employed. And so this year has been an experiment in stringing together odd jobs when I can, and finding satisfaction and validation in the other contributions I’m able to make. It’s hard to stack jars of apple butter and piles of folded laundry against a rent check, and I’ve spent plenty of time feeling guilty about the status of my bank account. But I think I’m coming to a place, with a lot of support (emotional and financial) from Neil and plenty of great conversations with both friends and acquaintances on the subject (our relationship with money is yet another elephant in the room that we don’t give ourselves a forum to really examine), where I’m allowing myself to give value to what I contribute .

But it’s just as useless to ignore money’s worth as it is to obsess over it. And I’m finding the middle ground, a healthy relationship with money, is a hard one to occupy. In trying to get there, I find Henrik Ibsen’s words pretty on point:

“Money may be the husk of many things, but not the kernel. It brings you food, but not appetite; medicine, but not health; acquaintances, but not friends; servants, but not faithfulness; days of joy, but not peace and happiness.”

My friend Jim has described his relative wealth as “money energy,” a way that he can fuel and support the values and projects he believes in. If you look in the dictionary for the word generous, there is a picture of Jim. Those of you who have met him would certainly agree. And for those of you who haven’t, but would like to – don’t worry; if you’re meant to cross paths, you most definitely will.

For the past couple of years, on the first or second weekend of October, I’ve gone to the Tonasket Barter Faire (aka Okanogan Family Faire) These events began as an opportunity to celebrate the end of the farming season, reconnect with your community and stock up on your winter essentials, trading your wool blankets, say, for some walnuts or cheese or potatoes. Why not have a bonfire and play some music while you’re at it? I really recommend going to (or creating!) a barter faire as a way to meet some great people, rekindle your creative fires, and rethink the monetary system (So … how many pounds of potatoes is your wooden bowl worth to me?) Tonasket’s Barter Faire has grown exponentially in the 36 years since it started, and has come to include vendors of all sorts, people from far and wide, and – money.

On the ride home from this year’s Barter Faire (Neil and I brought garlic braids, quince, and all kinds of canned goods.), I was feeling like a bit of a jerk when one of the first things I did was to start counting up the money we earned that weekend. Scratch that, I felt like a big jerk. We came back with honey, walnuts, squash, artwork, onions, everything we wanted to stock up on for the winter – and more – and here I was focusing on the dollars and cents. HUGE jerk.

Until Neil said this: “Erin, there’s nothing to feel badly about. One of the things we bartered for this weekend was money energy. We’ll need that too this winter.”

My sugar daddy isn’t much of a talker, but sometimes he says just the right thing.

So I’m quite obviously new to this blogging deal, but of course I wouldn’t mind making it an interactive thing. I’m wildly curious about how other people are mulling these ideas over:

* Where are you at in your relationship with money?
* Are you – or have you ever been – in a bread winner/bread baker dynamic? And how did you make it work? Or maybe it didn’t? How do gender roles factor into that relationship?
* What experiences have you had with events or ideas that feature different ways of understanding value (ie barter faires or alternative currencies)?
* Do you hate money?
* Do you love it?

What do you think?

"Do the best you can in the place where you are and be kind."

Scott Nearing’s words have resonated with me since I first read them (written across the front of a card from my beautiful friend Beth). They suggest a pathway to a level of inner peace and simplicity that I think few people really reach. And of course there are reasons for that. Any person who has given this thing called life a try knows the obstacles to contentment: dysfunctional relationships, self-doubt, debt, disease, envy, the seeming impossibility of conjuring (nevermind sustaining) empathy with people whose lives look nothing like your own. Feeling lost.

What I like about Nearing’s words is that they seem to meet us where we are. They don’t even hint at some level of perfection that we should be looking to attain. And they acknowledge that we’re in this alone and together.

Some background on Scott Nearing and his wife, Helen:

Throughout their lives, Helen & Scott Nearing were a living example of [better, simpler choices]. Their experience, memorialized in Living the Good Life and a string of other books, has been an inspiration to thousands of people looking for an alternative to modern industrialism. On their homesteads first in Vermont and later Penobscott Bay, Maine, the Nearings built, made, grew and collected nearly everything they needed. Yet they still found plenty of time for nourishing their inner lives and giving to others – through music, education, writing and speaking.

I’ve been inspired by these two and drawn to the homesteading lifestyle for some time now. I find a richness and a depth to my life when I manage to lead it in a way that is as simple as I can make it. Sure, I’ve felt self-conscious when catching up with old friends has meant telling stories about weeding carrots and braiding garlic. And I’m no purist – I can acknowledge the amazing opportunities that can come about when you voluntarily complicate your own life (ie 3 months in India). But I whole-heartedly believe that if we focused more on the kernels and less on the husks in our worlds, the simple life has a lot to offer.

So maybe that’s where I’ll take this blog. A meditation on simplicity. The irony of using the internet to talk about the simple life is not lost on me, but I never said this would be contradiction-free! In fact, the contradictions are what make it real, interesting, human. Or so I hope.

love and light,

hello out there

I’ve often said that I don’t care much for my own writing – this isn’t false modesty. My relationship with language is dysfunctional, or at least inconsistent. I struggle with the inadequacy of words to capture a moment or to convey a feeling, and I know there is no substitute for the sound of laughter, the weight of the air, or the powerful silent language that eyes speak. That said, I’m starting this blog because I also love to communicate, and I believe my best words are reserved for other people (even the unknown audience of cyberspace). I’m not sure if it will eventually have a theme or a focus – I’m in the midst of finding those for myself – and so for now I’ll let it parallel my life as it will. Some writings from the past (my first posting is something I wrote while in India, an experience I’d like to channel more of), some from the present, and other people’s words as well, I’m sure.

And so it goes.

it begins

the stones don’t struggle.
they sit and wait, shaped by wind and water,
creating the landscape and offering seclusion,
a place to stop,
to sit,
to feel ancient.
enveloped in a history with no beginning and no end

didn’t we invent time?
and don’t we still, in its passage,
create the pulses,
the ticks and the tocks,
the years, the candles, the distinctions?

and yet we suffocate in its expectations,
feeling younger than we’d like to be,
older than we are.
celebrating birth,
but running from death’s uncertain promise.
numb to our own existence,
asking questions in a language whose words have no meaning.

we consume our experiences and feel malnourished afterward.

today is different.

today begins when the light brightens in the suns eyes
and the earth swells upward with energy to meet the heavens.
it begins with internal rhythms whose beats we may not recognize,
but whose wisdom is true and purpose is pure.

it begins without a struggle.