Category Archives: Order & Balance

Authentic Living: The Ego’s Ruin

I recently had a sweet, very dear friend tell me she couldn’t believe we moved from 2500 square feet, down to just 900. We didn’t have to do it, but I explained that I really liked it because of the peace of mind- fewer expenses, smaller ecological footprint, lower bills, less to clean and maintain, etc (the list is endless). ‘Less to clean’ has been a huge plus for me as a busy mom. My friend seemed amazed, and said she wouldn’t be able to do it because of her ego. Ego? For some reason that never entered the picture for us. We’d honestly never even thought of it. Of course, we have egos. I’m closely acquainted with mine, her name is Edna, and I keep her in check regarding other matters. But Daniel and I have never been about appearances, or what others think of us, and we don’t need a large, fluffed-up or fancy home to feel like valuable, important human beings. Granted, we do believe a home should be reasonably clean, arranged well, and that natural beauty is of great importance to our overall well-being. Those aren’t rooted in the ego so much as a general sense of self respect and a need for nature, order, and balance.

The little conversation sparked some thoughts because I’m sure she isn’t the only one reading our blog who thinks what we’ve done is probably difficult, strange, or an ego-blow. I recall sitting across the table with another friend last year and informing her of our recent move. She wanted to know all about the house, our amenities, and what part of town we’re in. She’s very into ‘prosperity consciousness’ which teaches we can have anything and everything we desire if we just set our intentions properly, and trust in the flow of the universe. Amen to the power of our minds, especially when aligned with our true calling. I strongly believe in that philosophy since I’ve experienced many results first-hand. However, the majority of people in  that movement (at least the people I’ve met) make lists of all the material things they want to acquire. That’s fine if it’s what you want, and if it’s where you’re at in your personal process, but it’s so far from my galaxy of thinking and desires that I tend to confuse that crowd. After explaining our scale-down move to my friend last year, she looked at me with the most puzzled and disgusted look (lip curling) and said, “Why on earth did you do that??!” To her, we should be striving for more, not less. After all, we are entitled to all of God’s riches and glory… right? Well, to me, God’s riches and glory do not lie in this world. Not one iota. My only response to that question is “Why the heck not??!” My other friend had it right– the ego just doesn’t get it.

For those who would walk into our cozy, little house, lip curled, unimpressed and puzzled, let me just say we live in a way that is in complete alignment with our beliefs. In doing so, we’ve experienced a level of happiness that far exceeds anything we’d experience with granite countertops, jacuzzis, a tiled foyer, finished basement, 3-car garage, or mammoth master suite. I spend very little time having to clean up the house, and every square inch gets the love and attention it deserves because there’s less of it. Oh yeah! I love the ‘less’ part. Every corner is valuable and sacred. Our family is 110% closer and more intimate; we talk to one another constantly, and I can monitor what my kids are doing easily. We have the huge, tree-lined 3/4 care yard we’ve always wanted instead of a massive and cumbersome home to maintain on an average, limiting lot. The regenerative, therapeutic value of being outdoors far outweighs any desires to materially impress myself or anyone else. My yard impresses me. The earth with her intensity, beauty, cycles and seasons impresses me from our sun room windows. The grandeur is in  the natural world for us, which isn’t easily noticed and doesn’t always impress people. That’s perfectly okay with me, considering I love the feeling of having a secret oasis. We like it simple.

I’d like to add that we have no problems with those who choose to live differently. We don’t think we’re holier than thou, or better than anyone else. We just wanted to simplify our lives drastically in order to experience more peace, happiness, and freedom, and it worked. We’re not selling anything at all, and don’t make a dime from our blog… we’re just passing along what’s worked for us, and why. There have been more than a few folks who have gotten rather defensive with me about their lifestyles, even when we’re not even on the topic. Seriously, they just blurt out, out of the blue, that they don’t like clothes lines, gardening or the smell of chickens, and need way more living space due to company. Okay, I mean it– that’s okay. The ranting can go on forever while I just listen. Reminds me a great deal of what happens when I inform people I’m vegetarian… ugh! I’m not even going there. Again, we make no personal judgments about anything, except what feels right for ourselves.. that’s what we believe everyone should do– live in complete authenticity with yourself and your surroundings, however that looks to you. So, please don’t take any of what we do or believe as an attack. In my experience, when people take what I’m doing in my own life personally, they’ve probably got some self-examination to do.

Posted by: Jill

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Filed under Clean Planet, Home, Materialism, Order & Balance, Peace, River Living, Simplicity, Small House Living, Thoughts & Insights, Wabi Sabi

Sandwich-Summer Simplicity

One of the most monotonous things about Summers with four kids is meal prep. Day in and out Daniel and I are preparing breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and it always starts feeling like I’m on a gerbil wheel! Every time we think we can take a breather and sit down, it’s time to prepare yet another meal. I’m not having it this Summer. There are far too many more interesting things to focus on and spend our time doing, so we’ve come up with a simple solution. We’re calling it a serve yourself Sandwich Summer.

Instead of “What’s for lunch/dinner, Mom?” They’ll say, “What kind of sandwich(es) will I create for myself today?” I’ve decided, for the sake of other more interesting and fun activities, as well as sanity, time & energy conservation, we’re going the easy route for lunches, and most dinners (4 nights/week). Three days a week (F, Su, and one weekday evening) we’ll prepare a hot meal for dinner. But ALL lunches and other evenings we’ll have our pick of a smorgasbord of choices for making our own sandwiches.

Sandwiches require little prep, no heating, conserve energy/dollars and won’t heat up the house by cooking. My maternal grandmother used to prepare sandwiches for dinner on evenings the temps were too high to turn on the stove. So, I’m just expanding on an old family tradition.

What’s for lunch and dinner? For both meals, our kids will choose from a rich variety of organic vegetables, cheeses, feta, spicy or regular mustard, mayo, ketchup, butter, lettuces, spinach, sprouts, pickles, vinegar & oil, home made breads, bagels, tortillas, cashew, peanut, and almond butter, cream cheese, honey, crushed red pepper, black pepper, egg salad, deli turkey (for Sky & Sorin), tofu, spicy tempeh, veggie pepperoni, and more. Side items include fruit, carrots, granola, yogurt, salsa and chips. I’m excited about how liberating this will be on my end, as a mother. Even Amelie and Liam will take part in Sandwich Summer, but of course we’ll do the prep. Maybe his brothers will end up preparing for him… that would be perfect. Liam doesn’t usually enjoy sandwiches, but we’re spicing up the choices a lot to get him interested… he loves spicy food. With so much variety, there just has to be a sandwich for everyone.

Here’s to a very simple Summer!

Posted by: Jill

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Filed under Family Happenings, Order & Balance, Organic Food, Seasons, Simplicity, Thoughts & Insights, Urban Farmsteading, Veggie Gardening

Switching to Mother Earth Time

Due to the upcoming Kansas Summer temps, we’ve been re-thinking our usual daily routine and schedule. We get up, stay indoors all morning sipping tea and doing chores, so by the time we’re outside around 11:00am-12:00pm we’re broiling on days like today. We usually work all afternoon in the gardens, building the fort and such during the most warm time of day. This is because we’re on “world time” which aligns with school and typical work schedules, instead of natural earth cycles. We’ve been programmed that way. It has to change, or we’ll all suffer from heat exhaustion, and we’ll miss out on prime opportunities to be outdoors like early mornings and evenings.

I don’t wear a watch, and haven’t for over twelve years. I can’t stand numbers, or feeling enslaved to a clock. Despite that, I’ve noticed what a hold “world time” has on my psyche. I’ve been reflecting on this for a while now, and we’re trying to implement some changes this weekend.

Today, we drew up a more “real time” schedule that takes the earth’s seasons, weather, and cycles into consideration. Instead of lollygagging around indoors during the cooler morning hours, we’ll be having our usual adult time with morning tea outdoors, puttering around outside instead of seated indoors. At that time the kids will have their usual morning fruit and quiet time, reading or drawing individually. After they finally get breakfast, which will come later than usual, and be more of a brunch, they’ll be outdoors with us until the heat becomes unbearable. At that point, it’s siesta time. We retreat indoors from about noon to 5:00pm, and take care of indoor household duties at that time. It’s a flip from what we’re accustomed to, but will give us time outside from about 5:30-9:30pm. Fortunately, more than half of our lot is shaded and quite bearable during morning and evening hours. This schedule is typical for farmers. It’s a huge adjustment for a typical, urban American because it feels as if we’re being “unproductive” in the afternoons. It’s mostly about productivity and getting ahead here, isn’t it? Not in this family (unless we’re referring to producing more happiness, peace and freedom). We’re looking forward to following this earth based schedule year-round.

When Fall arrives, we’ll be outdoors in the afternoons, no doubt. The morning and evening hours will be more chilly, plus the days will be shorter. The cycle of the seasons (and the weather) will dictate our schedule. Our animals naturally know how to listen to its rhythms. for us, it’s an adjustment, but I’m fairly certain it will feel more natural and harmonious for both mind & body. It’s a more free-flowing, intuitive, common-sense way to live.

Posted by: Jill

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Filed under Family Happenings, Order & Balance, River Living, Seasons, Thoughts & Insights, Urban Farmsteading

Dirt: Kids Best Friend and The Benefits of Soil Exposure

Kids have a need to play in the dirt with reckless abandon, but due to ankle-twisting potholes of the past we prohibit it. We keep thinking that because of soil’s benefits, there must be a solution to satisfy the dirty cravings of children. No sand box, please. I’ve had those in the past, and kids seem to throw the sand everywhere. It hardly ever stays in the box, and we end up with mounds of it in the most unlikely of places. Instead, this weekend we’ll be designating a small 4′ x 4′ area where Prasad, Amelie and Sky can dig the dirt to their hearts content. They’ll have little cars and trucks with small tools for digging, too. This activity was on our recent list of Summer activities post because I’ve been considering it for a long time. The times we’ve allowed dirt play have been quite memorable, and we’d like to have more of them. I think they will all be thrilled to have a place to get the earth all over their hands.

Most people don’t know it, but soil is therapeutic; the bacteria is very good for us. This 2007 article explains Mycobacterium Vaccae and how it may be good for psychological well-being, and handling stress. The chemicals cause nerve cells of the brain to release mood altering seratonin. Daniel and I have experienced the benefits ourselves, noticing a heightened sense of well being on days we get dirty in the garden. For me, someone who doesn’t have problems with depression, it’s a type of euphoria that’s also physically energizing. Kids are drawn to the soil naturally due to their bodies intelligence. They know what they need, and haven’t been hardwired to ignore it yet. The harmonious relationship between humans and soil makes complete sense, considering how many centuries our ancestors have worked with it, day in and out. Many people choose the effectiveness of natural soil exposure over pharmaceutical antidepressants.

Another benefit of having dirty kids is to boost the immune system. Exposure to bacteria early in life can lead to better health, and decrease the likelihood of developing allergies and asthma later on. Some theorize that the rise in these conditions could be the result of living too clean, especially as children. Granted, we don’t want our kids in a grimy cloud like Pig-Pen on Snoopy, but our culture does go overboard with antibacterial soaps, gels and daily baths. According to this Discover article, Mycobacterium Vaccae is even good for the skin. I’ve learned so much on this topic that I’m starting to believe we do a serious dis-service to our children if we underexpose them to soil.

Today, after we do more work on the kids fort, we plan to choose a location and tell them about their upcoming dirt box… they will no doubt be ecstatic!

Posted by: Jill

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Filed under Dirt, Family Happenings, Kids, Order & Balance, River Living, Thoughts & Insights, Urban Farmsteading

Daniel speaks: The cottonwood seed and my first coaching call…

Did the giant cottonwood tree intend to get that big, or was it just open and willing?

Outside our home, up against the levy, next to the Kaw River, is a huge population of giant cottonwood trees. And now is the time of the year that it is literally snowing cottonwood seeds.

It is a meditation all by itself to sit and just watch them float, and drift, and lazily meander to the ground. There is literally no effort in their journey. They could travel for miles before they come to their final resting place in the warm embrace of the Earth. They don’t care. They are just happy to BE.

Yet, just like the great Buddha said, inside that seed is the giant cottonwood. It is already a reality. So what makes the difference?  What determines whether one particular seed will fall at just the right spot on the earth, be covered by the exact right amount of soil, be exposed to the right amount of water and light to germinate, sprout, grow, and become that giant cottonwood?

I think the very first ingredient for the future manifestation of the cottonwood tree is the carefree nature of the  seed. It first has to let go, and just float. Let the wind and the pull of the Mother carry it where it needs to go. Without that innate, total freedom, it would never land where it needs to.

I just did the very first coaching call of my new life coaching career, and it went extremely well. Thinking back on that session,  my mind goes to the mighty cottonwood tree.

Those seeds are like our many dreams, visions, intentions, aspirations – that which we are called upon to BE. Our beingness is within the seeds of all we dream to become. We have many potential outcomes and realities, all happening under the magnificent sky of our souls.

That which we allow to unfold is far more magnificent than anything we could ever plan to achieve. Yes, we have our visions, our clearly stated intentions, our aspirations, our goals… and we release them… and…

and….

and….

then what?

The journey between releasing the seed and witnessing the cottonwood is the subject of many thousands of books and seminars, classes, courses, teaching, techniques…

and most of it is a mystery.

A mystery of letting-go, action without strain, witnessing, meditating, flowing, acting on hunches, synchronicity, miracles, people coming together at the right place and the right time.

In closing, I would say that one ingredient in allowing the seeds of our intentions to become the cottonwoods of our reality — better than air — more nourishing than sunlight — more refreshing that water — more magical than luck…

is love.

After we envision them, release them, watch them dance and float to the ground with a smile on our faces, we need to find where they land…

sit…

smile…

and pour our greatest love into them.

Posted by: Daniel (originally from his blog Behind the Greenhouse)

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Farmstead Harmony

Today I’m feeling especially struck by the perfectly harmonious relationship we have with our animals. I was pulling weeds around the roses this morning (which have their first blooms of the season and the fragrance is to-die for) and threw all the weeds into the chicken run. It was a large pile, but they were all devoured in less than thirty minutes by both the ducks and chickens. Instead of tossing them into the garbage or compost heap, they disappeared into a perfect cycle… we’ll basically be consuming the weeds through our eggs. There is something primal and beautiful in having that symbiotic type of relationship with other living beings.

I’m noticing we have the most ideal mulch now. Every month we clean and rake out the entire chicken run. All the old straw and manure goes into the compost pile. Chicken and duck poo breaks down quickly since it’s dry and grainy, so we’re able to stir it around a month or two and see the most ideal mulch appear for our garden beds– rich, organic straw. We laid a heavy layer over our tomato bed, and they’ve been taking off like crazy. (**PLEASE NOTE: The compost we put on the beds was from the Fall/November. Compost should be aged at least 3 months for above ground crops, and 6 months for ground/root crops**) My point- we fed the chickens our scraps, weeds, etc. and they produced fertilizer resulting in mulch that both protects and nourishes our plants while at the same time saving us a lot of money on mulch. Then we’ll  consume the most amazing tomatoes we’ve ever eaten (if all goes well). I’ve been so excited about the mulch, we’ve been putting it everywhere. Note: we have to be sure to use the very broken-down straw compost since it can burn plants if it’s too fresh.

I should add that we have a new type of Dandelion control going on within the yard. We consume it ourselves, but never from our back yard due to the dog waste. Prasad walks around every day picking Dandelion and Violet to feed Forest, our growing Flemish Giant. The Dandelion that was taking over the cellar door is trimmed way down (sometimes he even gets the whole root out), and this week he’ll be pulling out the plants behind the air conditioner. Would Prasad be so willing to weed without his bunny? Probably not. Once again, it’s a sweet example of the natural harmony that takes place when you have the right animals around.

There are so many other examples of this in our lives, and I’m wondering if I’ll ever get used to it and take it for granted… it is, after all, the most natural of things.

Posted by: Jill

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Filed under Chicken & Rabbit Gardening, Chickens, Clean Planet, Collaborative Love, Ducks, Eggs, Food, Order & Balance, Organic Food, Peace, Rabbits, Recycle, River Living, Simplicity, Urban Farmsteading, Veggie Gardening, Wild Food

The Debt-Free Pipe Dream

A long, dry but pertinent post we hope will help others

Wouldn’t it be smart if the “American Dream” were more about financial freedom and becoming debt-free, than acquiring a lot of possessions we don’t need for an amount of money most of us don’t have? Instead of being the ‘land of the free’, most of us are enslaved to banks. We weren’t always this way as a country. My maternal grandfather owned everything he had, and didn’t carry debt on anything. He was proud of it, and never understood why anyone would want to be beholden to a financial institution. He lived simply, had everything he needed, and was always a good provider for his family. He wasn’t a carpenter, but built an entire addition onto his house with his own hands that included a bedroom, bathroom and enlarged kitchen. He had no help, except for the electrician. When the addition was completed, he had no debts to pay off… how many people can say that today? I think of his independent spirit a lot, especially when it comes to finances.

The world we live in today doesn’t support how my grandfather chose to live. If you live within city limits, we probably have so many zoning requirements, permit fees, time limits, and very specific codes about how things have to be built. It’s intimidating, so one might easily decide against building anything themselves and leave it up to an expensive remodeling company. It’s daunting, but at the very least I’d look into doing part of the work myself. Today’s world teaches people that if they can pay someone to do something, even if you could manage it yourself, pay them because it will save time and trouble. What they don’t say is that the time you take would be well spent because you’d have more pride in your independence & self-reliance, and far more money in your pocket. That last one is big, and should be a huge consideration in our Drowning in Debt society. I’m not saying everyone should take on monumental home improvements, but there are so many things we don’t know how to do any more, resulting in a very dependent population.

Comparatively speaking, we’ve never considered ourselves to be drowning in debts as a family. But we don’t like comparing ourselves to the general population. If we did that, we’d probably say were were doing fine and just stay in debt. We used credit cards for big things, like adoption travel expenses and unexpected repairs. We even had a 2nd mortgage on our last home due to our finished basement project. Due to our move, that debt is gone, and we had a major reduction in the mortgage payment  (shaved off by 2/3). As a result, this last year we paid all our credit cards off. We cancelled them all, except one that Daniel keeps for business/court purposes. That one is paid off monthly, and never carries a balance. If we want something, but can’t afford it at the time, we wait and save for it. That’s the old-fashioned way, and the smartest most common sense way. Strangely, it’s been an adjustment to our “want it now, therefore should have it now” mentality– that thinking is ingrained in every American’s mind since birth; instant gratification. Even the less materially minded of us have that type of mindset. It’s important to become aware of it, and keep it in check.

What’s next? Credit cards weren’t the only ball & chain. We still have a mortgage and two car debts. Fortunately, one auto loan (Daniel’s commuter car) was financed at 0% interest, and we’ll have it paid off in a couple of years. After that, we plan to pay cash for our cars. With far fewer expenses, we’re setting money aside now in order to be able to buy a car later, and when the time comes we’ll buy only what we can afford. Sounds logical, doesn’t it? Our second car (the mini-van) is used around town only, so has very low mileage. The loan payment is high, so we’re considering our options at this time- selling and using the cash to buy a less expensive car that we actually own, trading down, etc. The thought of zero car debt is tantalizing and liberating. With each debt we cut out of our lives, we don’t only free up our finances for savings and other endeavors, we liberate our psyche from the imprisonment we’ve created for ourselves. We truly are enslaved when we have debts of any kind. What’s worth more, that inner sense of peace and freedom, or stuff?

As for the mortgage, our largest debt, we moved into a much less expensive house last year, so we’re dealing with a more surmountable mountain now. By moving, we owe less than half of what we did last year.. imagine cutting your present mortgage by almost 60%! We’re shaving off the debt fast by paying hundreds more on the mortgage every month, and should have it paid off well before the term ends. There is a bright light at the end of the mortgage tunnel when you make even small principal-only payments, but people are rarely told about what a difference it makes (it shaves off years, even decades). My mother owns her own home, free and clear. She always tells me home ownership is the greatest gift I can give myself, especially when I’m older. We don’t want to be in our sixties making mortgage payments, but ours should be paid off well before then.

So, for those considering shaving off debt, expenses, simplifying financially, or getting out of the debt cycle completely, here’s our Annual breakdown of the Peebles 2010-2011 journey:

  • Moved and lowered mortgage by 66%
  • Reduced utility bills (and our footprint) by 35%-40% because of much smaller house. Living happily without a dishwasher, microwave or blow dryer, reducing showers, hanging laundry outdoors, and being more responsible with electrical usage
  • Maintained same income first six months and used that to pay off debts in that time frame
  • Food savings: Making lists, menus, and better planning saves a lot of money for a big family. Having chicken eggs from home, plus we’re on our way to having a lot of our own food from the garden. It’s a huge help (both financially and ecologically) being vegetarian, too.
  • Fuel savings: Communing less to work by staying home 2-3 days/week. We have this option now that we have fewer financial obligations. We also drive less as a family, use our bikes, and make fewer trips to the store
  • We stopped what we call hobby shopping- wandering through stores just to buy something, even when we don’t need anything. Impulse buys have come to a halt. Hobby Shopping should be classified as an official disease in our country!
  • Cash only: It wasn’t intentional, but somehow we both ended up carrying cash around this year instead of using debit cards. We highly recommend doing this if you want to curb spending. Seeing bills in your wallet keeps you from spending them as frivolously, and gives you a more tangible sense of what you have to spend
  • DIY savings: Saved money by repairing lawnmower and toilet ourselves, building three fences, landscaping, creating a new gravel driveway, planting our own trees, interior painting, and old kitchen floor removal.
  • Sold a lot of unwanted items on Craigslist
  • Paid for our bathroom renovation and new kitchen floor with cash we saved, not with credit.
  • Purchased new, gently used/recycled items often. Shopped antique, consignment and second-hand stores a lot for kids clothing and discovered how many chain stores donate and sell brand new goods to those shops. We saved at least 50% this year on extraneous expenses all because of recycled goods.
  • Hardly working: With far less to worry about, and significantly fewer work hours (Daniel is down to working about 20-25 hours/week as a self-employed attorney). He still makes more money than we need, and live a very comfortable lifestyle. We both have more time together, and are in better mental and physical health

There is probably far more to add to our list, but this sums it up well. Most people believe that getting out of debt and having more financial freedom means they need more income. It can feel like an impossible pipe dream. We used to wrack our brains for years thinking up solutions. Of course each household varies, depending upon individual circumstances, the level of debt, etc. It usually doesn’t occur to people that it would help considerably if we just changed our lifestyle, habits, thoughts and beliefs about what our needs are and what we can do for ourselves. Or maybe people just don’t want to change anything, and avoid this very liberating philosophy: We do not need more debts, more stuff, more jobs or income to solve the problem. This type of thinking feels almost upside down at first, but we’ve discovered first-hand how true it is. Being in debt isn’t really about money at all, it’s about the attachment our psyche has to the material world, and the importance we place upon it. When we can start asking ourselves what we need, and what truly makes us happy, all the extraneous things we don’t need (that enslave and tie us down) can fall away and we become free.

On a final note, after reflecting upon our last year, we realized if we wish to be free inwardly, our outer reality must reflect that. We can’t expect spiritual upliftment when things in this world weigh upon us and tie us down. We also noticed how getting out of debt and simplifying our lifestyle automatically goes hand-in-hand with becoming more ecologically responsible. Both goals complement and supports one other. I find that intriguing and beautiful! I’m guessing my grandfather is smiling upon us, helping us every step of the way. For all he did, he’s always been such an inspiration to me.

Posted by: Jill

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Filed under Do-It-Yourself, Family Happenings, Materialism, Order & Balance, Peace, Recycle, Reduce, Reuse, Shopping, Simplicity, Thoughts & Insights, Urban Farmsteading