Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Catching Up"

It has been a while since I have posted so I figured I would at least stop by and do some catching up. The Holidays are just about over and it seems that so much has happened in between.

On December 9th, I received a phone call that I pretty much knew would come eventually. It was a call letting me know that my sister had died. It was a pretty surreal experience and sometimes it still plays in my head. They never said that she died, only that she had "expired". Expired? What, like a carton of milk expired? Like a coupon expired? Expired? I don't know why that word seemed to bother me so much but it did. But I pushed past that to take care of what had to be taken care of and now she has been laid to rest.

The Holidays for me will forever be a reminder of loss. Around Thanksgiving will always remind me of the loss of my mom and now Christmas will be the marker for the loss of my sister. Holidays are sometimes emotional enough without being tied to these kinds of reminders. But alas, it will be what I make of it.

All in all there wasn't much joy for me this Holiday season although I went through the motions for my children. Still I am thankful each day that I am still here and had the chance to participate even if mentally distanced.

As tomorrow looms and marks the end of another year, I find myself in a reflective mood. I won't make resolutions but I will set goals and plan to use them to make my life more manageable. Next week school starts up again for both myself and the children. I am in no way ready to go back to that stress, but know that resisting it will only add to the stress.

January will also make me another year older and will herald one child's "Sixteenth" birthday. With that will come the desire to drive and a continuing of all the other teenage angst filled situations. Oh joy....

I am looking forward to beginning the Spring garden though. I am already receiving my seed catalogs and am contemplating how to go about this years crops. I am looking forward to that more than anything.

Overall, when I think of 2008 it has been a mixed bag for me. There have been ups, there have been LOTS of downs, but hey, it wouldn't be life if it was anything different right? But the best part is that I found a way to make it through both extremes. And as we face a new year, a new governmental administration, and a continuing declining economy, I think that making it through counts for a lot. To everyone I wish a safe and Happy New Year!! Till next time...

Monday, December 8, 2008


As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.

~ Henry David Thoreau~

This morning in my mailbox was an e-mail from a friend talking about Nostalgia. Many of the things enclosed in the e-mail made me smile. Made me remember. And while those times were not necessarily "The Best of Times" across the board, there were and still are a lot of fond memories connected to them.

Sadly, I don't have many fond childhood memories, after a certain period of my life, but the ones that I do have I have always treasured and protected. Most of them took place during the six years that I lived with my grandmother and the respective summers thereafter.

My family originally resided in South Carolina. It was where I was born as well. I left South Carolina a few weeks before my sixth birthday and would go on to grow up in Chicago Illinois. I remember most of the happiness and safety that I felt disappearing shortly following this move.But that's another story....

In South Carolina there were cousins and aunts and uncles and grandmothers and great-grandmothers providing direction, love, and needed discipline. There were gardens and red clay dirt, and memories that were formed in the kitchen and many meals that came out of those kitchens. Neighbors still looked out for you and were considered "Extended families". You knew that even if your own grandmother didn't see you doing something she would know by the time that you got home because the "Surrogate grandmothers" made sure she got the information. It was double for me because my grandfather's sisters lived right up the lane from us, so there was no hiding for me.

There wasn't a lot of money in the beginning and I remember times when my grandmother would drink coffee so that I could have whatever there was for breakfast. I remember having a bottle fashioned out of a coca-cola bottle and a nipple, filled with coffee. I remember taking baths in the tin tubs now used for feed. There were kerosene lamps and for a while an outhouse. Those were lean times, but I still never, ever, remember feeling like I did without. I only remember being happy.

I remember my great-aunt having my cousins and I pick beans and okra and tomatoes and greens from her garden to have for dinner. I remember the chickens that ran around the yard, the big black cauldron that was used to boil water for washing clothes. I remember feeling sad when great-grandma caught a chicken and either rang his neck or chopped his neck off with her small hatchet. I remeber a pot of boiling water,and feathers all over the kitchen. I forgot my sadness when said chicken filled my stomach at dinnertime.

The sheer quality of the fresh, homemade food was a delight in and of itself. To this day I can still remember the aromas, the tastes, and the absolute love that went into the preparation of those meals.

My grandmother and her mother were maids by trade. Over time, other family members became Educators, Principals, there was a Lawyer, some worked for factories, Coca-Cola, and other trades. Most of those relatives migrated North. My grandfather was one of the first Entrepreneurs in that little town that I grew up in. Eventually, he owned a laundromat, construction company,and was part owner of a funeral home. Unfortunately, he and my grandmother did not make it as a couple and she did not share in his eventual good fortune. Still, he always made sure that if we needed anything, we received it.

As I got older, I never understood why my grandmother and great-grandmother never got upset because they had to work as maids and clean and cook for others. As I matured, I understood that they did what was required of them to take care of us. Pride had its place, but family, family was priority!!! Still, I cannot remember one time when I heard either of them complain. They were a STRONG bunch of women in those days and I always admired that.

My great-grandfather had passed on before my birth, and my great-aunt moved back to South Carolina to live and helped my great-grandmother pay for the two tract houses and the parcel of land that they sat on. This aunt was a FIERCE saver and planner. She always extoled to us the need to save and prepare ahead. She and my great-grandmother took the back house and the front house was given to my grandmother and their brother, who was paralyzed. My aunt, a cousin and myself, were the other occupants. Everyone worked together to make sure that we had a decent life. We would converge to the back house for meals and afterwards, my great-grandmother would sit in her rocking chair and smoke her pipe. My grandmother was a quilter, and my great-aunt would regale us with stories of her life in the "Big City". God, how safe I felt in those days!!! This instilled in me an INTENSE love for family and a misguided expectation that EVERYONE else would have this same love for family as well. I would learn this wasn't so.

I remember Monday morning clothes washing which has ingrained in me a love of hanging my clothes outside to dry. I remember the time that my grandmother and her mother would put into cooking which has developed in me my own love of cooking. I remember being in the kitchen with them and taking in the sights and the smells and watching how they did what they did. Just thinking about it makes me well up. It is that part of my life that shapes the "authentic" person that I am. I know that I cannot duplicate the past, nor do I want to. But I do want to take those memories and use them as the diagram for my life now. They are memories that I cherish and have always loved.

I want to take the values and the wealth of information from those times and imbed them as a part of my life today. I won't do it the same way they did, because times have changed, and we have to move on, progress. Still, those things will be my foundation and will be a huge factor in the choices that I make in my present life.

It's good to be Nostalgic from time to time, but we still have to live in the present. I know that. We have to be realistic, we have to remember ALL that was involved, not just the good things. I know that too. But deep, deep, within me lies the base of my love for the unadorned, the natural, the simple things of life. This is who I am.

For me, those things aren't just a bit of nostalgia, they are home. Till next time...

Friday, December 5, 2008


"A man either lives life as it happens to him, meets it head on and licks it, or
he turns his back on it and starts to wither away."
~ Gene Rodenberry~

I am still in a deeply reflective mood. There is so much that I want to share. Yesterday, I took a break between classes to write in my paper journal. There are several things that have been weighing heavily on my mind.

Writing has always been a catharsis for me. It is a way for me to get feedback and to take a second look at my thoughts.

One thought I have been tooling around with is the difference betwen people actually "living" their dreams and those that only "talk" about it. What was it that put them on the road to their desires and kept them there? There are some people that don't have a lot of money, yet, they are living what I like to think of as a "defined" life. They knew what they wanted and were not willing to to let anything stop them from achieving it. I wonder if it all boils down to "choices?" Are some willing to give up things that will propel them to their life goals while other are not? Does it have to do with what one deems as important?

If we are truly honest, how many of us "say" that we want to live a certain way yet our actions prove otherwise? How many of us just don't want to do the work or make the sacrifices, yet convince ourselves that we are actually doing the best that we can ? How many are willing to admit that they are really, only doing the best that they are "willing" to do? There is a big difference between the two. And usually this keeps us right where we are; stuck in the lane of "Dreams Deferred".

So I suppose we have to REALLY seek what it is that brings us the most pleasure. Would we rather have "things" or would we rather own our homes outright? Do we really deserve that vacation after a stressful year or would an emergency fund be more prudent? Choices.

When I look back over my own life, I realize that some events took place which contributed to making my goals more "difficult" to reach, But, I made the "choice" to give up on a lot of the things that I wanted to accomplish, or filed them under "impossible". I still have to sometimes drag myself kicking and screaming past this mindset. But now, I am willing to acknowledge that my "choices" will still serve to make the difference between my success and my failure. Now, I want to know what I was not willing to do before, that I need to do now to make things happen.

After careful meditation, I realize that I need to get to really know "me". I no longer need to know the person that was manufactured based on what other people thought or think I should be. From early childhood, I was never allowed to be an "individual". I grew up in a home where a "Cookie Cutter" persona was expected. I was told what I should do, how I should do it, who I should become, and how I should go about it. Any sign of individuality was stifled and labeled rebellion. So I "built" the person that I was told I should be from the blueprint given me. I have allowed "that" person to usurp my existence for far too long. I feel it is time for that person to hand back over control, and that I become the rightful ruler of my life.

I always thought that "simplicity" was the secret elixir that I needed in order to be happy. But I was wrong. While simplicity is one of the strongest elements, alone it is powerless. I first have to build a strong internal foundation. I have to work from the inside out. It will mean taking chances, and making mistakes. Maybe a LOT of mistakes. It will mean facing my fears. It might mean risking being thought of as foolhardy, or unreasonable. But if what I want is worth it to me, then I will have to accept these possibilities without contest. I realize now that I can be frugal, aspire to homestead, live off the land, whatever, but if if don't have that internal peace first, none of those things will make the least bit of difference.

For 47 years, I have made the "choice" to do it everyone's way except my own. I think some adjustments are in order. I have made the choice. I think I am long overdue. Till next time...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"Brainstorming A Bit of This and That"

I've been in quite the reflective mood lately. Lots of things that I want to work on, incorporate, and pick up my step in. Tomorrow is the last day of actual classes, and I have two finals back to back next week. The weekend and the beginning of next week will be spent with my head in the books. I am looking forward to the Winter break.

I love not having homework for it affords me the opportunity to cook more in the evenings. When I have homework, I usually cook on the weekends and provide more "Fix it yourself" things doing the weekdays. It has worked very well for us so it is probably something that I will continue to use as I continue my education.

There is something about the fast approaching winter months that changes something in me. It brings out in me a sense of pulling in and cocooning. Actually, if I had my way, I'd probably cocoon most of the time. But since I am not rich and most likely never will be, I try to make a very concious effort now to use my time wisely if possible.

Between classes, I have been reading different material on budgeting, stocking-up, natural living, etc. One of my favorite reads is "Mother Earth" which was sent to me by a very dear friend. I can't get enough of that magazine. There are other magazines dealing with Homesteading that I get a glimpse of online, but there is nothing like holding the magazine in your hand and marking things and going over and over it. Until I was gifted with the magazine I would read it in the school library. It would always sooth my nerves after a hectic day of classes.

Some of the things that I have been reflecting on heavily is getting my stock-up back in order, savings, teaching my children financial accountability, being more financially conscious myself, and coming up with ways to build an emergency account. Although the dynamics of my household have changed, I am still the household manager and am therefore responsible for the financial goings on in my home. At the end of each year, I like to reflect over things and challenge myself to do better or at least work smarter.

One of the books that I am reading on "Simplicity" by Janet Luhrs, makes some very profound statements regarding financial independence. It is nothing that the average person isn't already aware of, but sometimes we all need a nudge to remind us of what we perhaps already know, but fail to do. Some of the points that I wrote down for myself are:

* If you don't want to work too much don't accumulate a lot of debt, don't spend the money.* While those words seem very simplistic, most of us "tell" ourselves that we are thrifty but allow the little things to keep us tethered to debt.

* When you have money saved, you have "Options". Without money saved you have "No" choices.* To that, most of us would say that with today's economy "who has money to save?" But if we are honest again about the little things and some of the not so little things that we feel are "needs" when they are really "wants", we would be surprised.

* You have to be willing to make certain choices and sacrifices that will lead to your larger life goals.* Usually when someone sees the word "sacrifice" they are immediately turned off. But unless you have a large income, sadly something will have to be sacrificed. You just have to ask yourself what is the priority.

* You have to create a financial plan to lead you to your life goals.*

I took a lot of time to meditate on this point. To REALLY ask myself what is my "life" goal. Many people feel that they know the answer to that question but really are basically just very vague.

* Financial success is not about being rich but about being smart with your money.*

I think this is an especially crucial thought as we ride the tide of our present economy. So many people are losing jobs and homes and have no emergency funds to at least tide them over until they can figure things out. Sadly, as Americans, savings is just not that big on our list of priorities. This is going to lead to lots of heartache many.

There were plenty of other points that I have been meditating on for my own circumstances, because I feel that the better equipped I am, less bumpy the ride.

Once school is out, I plan to do a deep pantry inventory to re-stock what I have used over the past six months, and it is time to take some time to put together my winter menus. I set a certain budget for Holiday shopping and so far am sticking to it, and I am planning on giving my children savings accounts instead of stocking stuffers this year. I have also set up 5 small goals to try and reach by next year's end. One will be a larger sustainable garden. I am looking forward to that one. I drive by the AG center here every day and see the sign for the program to become a Master Gardener. If I knew that I could work it around school I would have signed up yesterday. But, who knows.

I have just had a feeling of a pressing need to up my game as regards taking our economy seriously. I am not saying that we should panic or anything, but just daily make decisions that would serve to bring us closer to our life goal whatever that might be. That is my hope and my plan. Wish me luck. Till next time...