Wednesday, December 5, 2007


OK, this is an odd comeback, but I really love spices and got a kick out of this test.

Your Score: Saffron

You scored 75% intoxication, 25% hotness, 100% complexity, and 50% craziness!

You are Saffron!

Those other spices have nothing on you! You're warm, smart, and you make people feel really good (and with no side-effects!). You can be difficult to get to know and require a lot of those who try, but you're so totally worth it. *Sigh*

Link: The Which Spice Are You Test written by jodiesattva on OkCupid, home of the The Dating Persona Test

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Steamshovel mama

It's dawning on me that I don't really have much of a calling as a blogger. Too many years of writing on demand have made robbed writing of its pleasure for me. When I was younger, and had little of value to say, I used to walk home from school rubbing random words together in my head until they were burnished like brass. They made their own serendipitous sense. Now writing is purely utilitarian, a dump truck, baby, to unload my head.

I've gotten down off my high horse regarding the decision to encourage restraint. It is in the way of good leadership not to leave your sheep back on the other side of the creek--or crick, as they say where I come from. Sooner or later I get off my high horse about most things. But I fired my ISP yesterday after eight different customer service representatives took an hour and a half (88 minutes of which I spent on hold) to answer a simple question. It may be time for me to meditatively consider a more limited place for teh Internets in this simple life. I'll keep my blog spot here for a while, not least because it gives me an identity to comment on other people's blogs, whom I've come to rely on as part of my community. And who knows? I may eventually be back with some metal polish and a soft cloth, buffing up those words at a later date.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Toddlin' town

Greetings, earthlings. I feel as if I'm talking from Mars, or possibly Andromeda, but it's really only Suburubia. My trip to Chicago was seriously dislocating, in the simultaneous senses of "What in tarnation am I doing living in Suburubia when I could be looking at the Bean every day in Millennium Park?" and "I've been up since four and the only thing I've eaten today is a cheese danish."

Even though I am a fond believer in attachment to place, it can be good to be dislocated once in a while, as long as it doesn’t lead to a sugar coma. I have a feeling the questions that came up for me in Chicago will remain with me for a while.

I have to be a little careful, because having my heart broken by a failed relationship slops over a little too easily into the separate issue of having my heart broken by my church. People whom I love and whose opinions I trust believe that the Lutheran church has made a leap forward by encouraging bishops to refrain from or show restraint in disciplining rostered leaders who are in a mutual, chaste, and faithful same-gender relationship, and so I am trying to feel heartened. But I fear that, while the resolution will certainly give quarter to those bishops willing to hear the living Word in the proclamations of LGBT pastors and others, it will not similarly "encourage" bishops elsewhere. In other words, the resolution seems to me to institutionalize the same inequalities that led to the removal of Pr. Bradley Schmeling. And as a candidate for rostered leadership in the church, it is painful to be told continuously "We need gifted and qualified leadership! We need it now! We need it a lot! But not from you, or you, or you."

I have come a long way on my discernment road. I am no longer afraid that someone can take my vocation away from me. But as someone who hears a call, not to Word and Sacrament but to Word and Service in diaconal ministry, it is beginning to seem likely, perhaps even desirable, that I answer that call through means other than a consecrated relationship with the Church. That’s tragic in one sense, but as an ECP pastor and good friend of mine once said, "I answered God’s call; it’s not my fault that the church didn’t stay on the line."

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The coming out post

I've been mulling over coming out on my blog for the last month or so. Not coming out as liking both boys AND girls--that's no secret to people who know me IRL and not much of one on this blog--but coming out as being a real person with a real life that doesn't always fit easily under the category of simplicity.

The feeling that my life has been, in essence, closeted for the purposes of writing has accelerated during the recent break-up of a 17-year relationship: my primary relationship. What might I choose to say about that? How much should I keep to myself? How much do I owe the privacy of others who, though they might not be named here, would certainly see themselves reflected in this, a very public medium?

But in keeping that bit of dialogue in the dark, I seem also to have lost the yarn that knits together global warming with tomato plants, and home coffee roasting (key point: air popcorn popper) with saying no to television; that is, this abundant life. I don't know that I have the answers to simple living or blog privacy, but it might be time to start publicly living the questions in a more profound way than just simply grousing about my bad commuting habits.

I'm on my way to Chicago next week to try to be a voice for change in my church. When I get back, I'd like to try to tell the story of happens there, and why it's important to me. I'd also like to fill in some of the blanks around my successes and failures as a purveyor (and consumer, if you will) of simplicity. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Random orbit

Well, it had to happen sooner or later, so Shehun tagged me to do the eight random things meme. I'm a fairly random person to start with, so this should be easy, right?

* Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
* People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
* At the end of your blog post, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
* Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

1. I've lived in six states. This is the first one that doesn't border Canada.
2. My great uncle played professional basketball for the Minnesota Lakers, before they moved to L.A. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why a Southern California team has the name "Lakers"?
3. I played a (very) small role in the development of polypropylene balloon tubing for angioplastic surgery.
4. I was born with the caul, a fact that my mom will tell you means I won't drown.
5. I still had to take swimming lessons every summer until I was 12.
6. My favorite spice is cardamom.
7. I visited the Slovak Republic when it was still Czechoslovakia.
8. I am a splendid baker of bread . . . and of masa cherry pies, as I believe Shehun will attest.

I am the very last person in the blogosphere to do this meme, so you're all it, so there. Although I agree that Hossy very definitely needs her own blog. She would be the Boss Hoss.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Update for Carbon-Based Life Forms

My hot water heater gave up the ghost on July Fourth, which inconveniently forced my hand to get a tankless model today. Some women will do almost anything for a shower. But it works, and works well, and hopefully I will get something like the advertised energy savings over its life.

If all goes well over the next few days I will soon be driving not an aging Subaru but an ancient 40 mpg Metro. Car notwithstanding, Progeny and I plan to stay in Subarubia rather than moving to the Polis.

Finally, I am grieving many things these days, but the most recent, and the most raw, is this. Your prayers are appreciated.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Read it and reap

From Shehun, the bestest discovery of the year: Librivox, a catalog of audio recordings in the public domain.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Uncompensated advertisement

I'd just like to put in a plug here for a book that's great at thinking through the ramifications of living in a consumerist culture, while maintaining a laugh-out-loud sense of humor as well as a sense of proportion. It's called Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping, by Judith Levine, and you can click here to buy it through your local independent bookstore. (Enter your zip code on the splash page.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Joyful, joyful

I was reading something about voice recently on somebody's blog (I can't find it now, and if it was your blog, I apologize profusely. My memory for sources is like a sieve), and it made me realize that it's time to do something about the voice in charge of this blog. If you were to listen to me, you'd get the impression that simplicity means a joyless guilt-ridden life, which I think is the impression that most Americans already have.

But while I may publicly kvetch here about my car guilt and my refrigerator purchase, IRL I try hard to consider my actions--before and after--and then move on. True, I get an unseemly amount of pleasure from "releasing my books into the wild" through BookCrossing or finding a pair of broken Adirondack chairs through FreeCycle and fixing them up again, but not, I don't think, because it allows me to circumvent the cycle of guilt and consumerism. As a Lutheran, I don't think I get to escape from guilt--we are all implicated (and the "we" is a slippery pronoun here, but let me finish) in an imperfect, in this case capitalist, system. Middle-class Americans much more than most. But again as a Lutheran, I don't think that's the end of the story. Grace happens, and we are freed to experience the abundance of creation. There is enough for everyone's needs (although obviously not for everyone's manufactured desires).

I'd like to figure out a way to focus this blog on my quest to find the "enough," especially in very small things.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Danger: invalid at the wheel

Today was the day I was going to sheet mulch a spot for the apple trees to go next year. Sheet mulching, for the uninitiated, means taking layers of various decomposable materials--first newspaper or cardboard to smother the weeds, then straw or leaves or or something full of carbonaceous goodness, mixed together with a few lawn clippings, then already-achieved compost (as if!) or plain old dirt, and then, for the landscape designer in you, wood chips or other commonly-conceived "mulch." You put these things together in pleasantly moist layers like a torta or a trifle, and then they are supposed to magically make your soil into black gold.


Instead I sliced about 3/4 of an inch off the pad of my big toe by stubbing it against a rough concrete block. I was raised to believe that unless you can soak a dishcloth with blood in less than a half an hour you don't really need stitches, but it gave me pause for thought. Not to mention a throbbing foot that didn't really feel like playing Iron Chef with garden implements.

So instead I commenced dreaming beautiful dreams about my someday-paradisical garden (hmm, do I smell trouble ahead?) and wound up buying a new refrigerator online. What!? I calculated the amount of carbon dioxide represented by running my 687 kWh model and realized that I could save 585 pounds of the stuff per year by upgrading to a very modest new unit. I do believe, though, that a refrigerator represents the very farthest, most expensive frontier of impulse shopping I have ever done. Please God, let me go back to work tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Ah, rain

Is there any sound sweeter than a much-needed rain?

I've been praying lately with Gerard Manley Hopkins, "Send my roots rain."

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Driven to distraction

Over the last month, I've been dealing with one of those Life Stressors up near the top of the chart. I didn't want this blog to become about that, but I have had very little space in my head to think about anything else either, so I have been pretty silent.

Now, I find I've come to a place of stock-taking. Suburubia, like its region, is sunk deep in a drought, the kind that seems to confirm all my worst fears about global warming. An editorial in the local paper said scientists opine that the lush southeast is among the most at-risk areas, and that we are likely to become an arid plain before long. The drought-resistant clover I planted to increase nitrogen in the soil has all dried up, and chipmunks and moles are making my kitchen garden into swiss cheese with their attempts to find moisture. On the other hand, every tree and bush that I planted and mulched is thriving.

Other actions in my not-so-simple simple life have had equally mixed results. The west windows installed earlier in the year, plus extremely low humidity, have made it possible not to turn on the air conditioner or use the dryer yet this year, a first. The two rainbarrels that I bought in anticipation of water restrictions stand empty, still waiting for enough rain to make them worthwhile. Progeny is enjoying a week of Zoo Camp, away from the temptations of tv and Yu-gi-oh cards.

But the most mixed news of all, as you, dear reader, may have anticipated, is that my mileage for the year so far is almost exactly the same as my mileage last year. Since you'll remember that I made a promise to cut my driving in half, this is more than a disappointment, it's a travesty. Partly, it has to do with lending my car to someone who drives it 120 miles on the weekend, partly it has to do with unexpected driving due to the aforementioned Life Stressor, but mostly it's about my ineffectual attempts to use alternatives and my addiction to driving because it saves time, blah, blah, blah. Lord forgive me.

I have some serious thinking to do about the rest of this year. Most of the work I do is volunteer work with a serious claim to be about making the world a better place. I believe it to be literally true that I would need to give up about 2/3 of my volunteer work if I refrained from driving. But my driving is not making the world a better place; it is making the world a smoggier, warmer, more unstable place. As I said, I'm in a place of stock-taking. What are your thoughts?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Good neighbors

Last fall and winter, Progeny and I heard nightly serenades from the local Suburubian coyotes, and only slightly less frequent singing by a resident owl. The other night, out to watch Venus doing a dance with the new moon, I realized it's been months since I've heard either. It might be that they're busy with denning and nesting, or it might be that these brand honkin' new efficient windows are dampening the sound. I hope it's not that our friends have succumbed to the lure of the cheaper real estate east of here.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

He is risen

My father-in-law, who believes that all bad things can be placed at the feet of religion, once asked me if I actually believed in the resurrection. The implication was that someone as educated as I am couldn't possibly believe in something so plainly contrary to fact.

I said, simply, yes.

I believe in the power of narrative to bring all kinds of things back from the dead: hope, green leaves, relationships, the people we love, dreams, butterflies, neighborhoods, a sense of community.

I believe that the much greater danger than believing something contrary to fact is to think death or abuse or resentments or cynicism have the final word, are the end of the story.

I believe that it is less illogical to believe in something that can't be verified by my own eyes than it is to believe that only things I can see exist.

I choose to think that God decided to favor a poor, subversive rabbi from a small town over the dominant powers and principalities, and that God's strength is more often found in those of any faith or religious background refusing the thrall of violence and coercion than in any number of proclamations of glory or righteousness from God's followers.

Make no mistake. I do not reject the teachings of the empirical and the humanistic: the world is not flat; human beings did not cavort with dinosaurs, except in the mind of Hollywood animators; God's plan does not include slavery; and I'm fine with women shaving their heads if they damn well choose to. When I'm sick, I want the insights of modern medicine available to me, but when I'm in pain, I'll be glad to accept the insights of acupuncture as well, which modern Western medicine has had to scramble to try to explain.

I hadn't intended to preach an Easter sermon, but these are the things I wish I had said to my father-in-law.

This I believe.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Hog Heaven

LutheranChik links to an ecological footprint quiz here. See how you fare. If everyone lived like Progeny'n'me, we'd need 3.8 planets, chiefly because of our food consumption. I gave up meat for Lent this year, which is not that difficult for me to do personally but is difficult for me to do domestically, because Progeny is a major carnivore (don't look at me--I've never encouraged him to eat meat, although I've given up active discouragement because it just doesn't work). I just decided that if I had to make two dinners every night while I ponder my relationship with eating other animals, I would. And it's not actually that hard. Progeny has always been willing to eat mac and cheese and quesadillas and occasionally pasta (as long as there's no marinara involved), so we eat the same thing a few times a week, and I spring for fish or chicken for him for the rest. Over time, we'll work this out.

In the meantime, we're eating ourselves out of planet and home.

For shizzle

Progeny and I went out yesterday to the local public stables (how cool is that? public stables!) and bought two plastic trash bags of manure--or dung, as six year-old Progeny prefers to call it, proud of his scatological vocabulary--for $10. A couple of teenage boys shovel it into the bags for you, tie it up securely, and lift it into the back of your car. The proceeds go to buy a biological fly control for the stables, and you get all the sh-- your garden can use. My compost pile is now steaming in the 75-degree heat; I'm sure if compost piles can be happy, mine is doing the compost dance.

Progeny to his father this morning: How come you don't go to church, Daddy? Father: Oh, I have a few things I need to get done. Progeny: What's more important than praying?

On the agenda for next weekend: buying the cheater car, so that I don't actually have to fulfill my promise.

Friday, March 23, 2007

I don't even know where to start

with this story that ran yesterday in the New York Times. On the one hand, I have sympathy in mass quantities for anyone who tries to control their consumption of fossil fuel, and these people are clearly doing a much better job of it than I am. On the other hand, the fact that they find going without toilet paper a better lifestyle choice than giving up their Eames furniture (and while getting to keep the Fifth Avenue apartment and the book contract) seems nothing short of precious. I don't know of a single local food activist who thinks it's important to go without salt or cinnamon--trade in spices and condiments has a much smaller impact on the environment than several of the Beavan-Conlins' practices and has a millennial history. Sheesh.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Was I a good American?

Rebecca Solnit asks that question here.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

More songs about food and buildings

I am the queen of incomplete thoughts. It's a kind of verbal ADHD. Anyway, one of the link-ups missing from my previous posts is why I'm always talking and thinking about food, beyond some crappy privileged view that eating organic is my right and more pleasant to boot--in other words, how it manifests itself for me as an ethical rather than simply an aesthetic issue. Where does the rubber meet the road?

Let me go on record as saying that everyone deserves to have food that is not covered in toxic waste (not to mention that the people who plant and pick and process food deserve not to have to handle said toxic waste). Everyone deserves to eat (read: to be able to afford to eat) food that is fresh, nutritious, and yes, pleasing to the taste. Everyone, meaning everyone in every place on earth, deserves to have dignified and adequately compensated work. These three principles are intimately connected, although some would have us believe that one needs to pick and choose.

While I understand that not everyone is a gardening dork like I am, that some may prefer not to grow their own food, I do think that local farming/gardening and local markets are the answer to the issue of fair eating. Local means that African cotton farmers do not have to compete with American subsidized and commodified cotton (OK, so cotton isn't a food; but substitute grain and you'll get the picture). Local means my community has some control over the practices that produce our food. Local means that the peaches that I eat in the Peach State are not picked green and trucked in from California at the expense of huge amounts of fossil fuel. And yes, it means no out-of-season grapes from Chile or apples from New Zealand or, strictly speaking, bananas at all, unless I grow them in a passively solar-heated greenhouse. It means probably not all Americans should pile into the water-starved southwest, or pave over vast tracts of midwestern farmland to make more Suburubia (guilty as charged). But local food is also the means to see that communities remain more or less in control of their own food supply rather than falling prey to government commodity schemes (70% of all U.S. commodity payments go to 10% of the farmers; most farmers are never eligible) or, globally, to punitive or variable humanitarian "aid" sources.

I'm always a little bit of a pontificator (no, really, Simpleton, tell us how you feel), but I'm particularly on a rant today because I watched a Bread for the World video regarding the Farm Bill up for reappropriation this year. See it, and call or write your congresspeople.

Random simple thoughts

I've spent the week making good on my promise to look at new used cars. I would really like to get a hybrid, but they hold their value too well. (Euphemism alert: they're too fireplacin' expensive.) So I found a list of the ten vehicles with the highest fuel efficiency and am extrapolating to cars of the 2000-ish vintage.

Frankly, car shopping isn't nearly as interesting to me as daydreaming about planting some apples and blueberries next year. Or reading blogs for that matter. Two about food: Chews Wise and The Ethicurean, both short and sweet, à la

Probably this blog would be more entertaining if I had photos of this pilgrim's progress, but I don't have a digital camera. How's that for simple?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Schpring is in zee air

I am officially, but not technically, on break. I still have a paper to finish, but I took the day off to buy dirt (it's dirt cheap!), plant 25 strawberry plants, and do a little judicious pruning. Tomorrow, the Progeny and I are going to participate in a Hunger Walk to benefit the local community food bank, so I wanted to get some gardening in while the gardening was good.

My current obsession is with the idea of permaculture, specifically with a couple of books describing a permaculture approach to Suburubian-sized lots such as mine. Tony Hemenway's Gaia's Garden is probably the most useful for U.S. audiences. He comes in for some criticism for using invasive exotic species (he's a little fanatical about nitrogen fixing), but I trust that his audience can make decisions that don't involve planting, say, kudzu as a ground cover and still get something out of his approach.

You may well ask: why is The Simpleton so fixated on gardening? I thought her deal was just spending less time in the car? The first answer is that hopefully the garden will let me spend less time in the car. For the last three years, I belonged to a CSA that let me taste the pleasures of local food, but I had to drive an hour round-trip in rush hour traffic every week to savor those veggies. Moving back in time through my train of thought, local food itself is an important contribution to climate health, since the average food item in this country travels 1500 miles before it lands on your table. Add in the energy costs of, for example, freezing (and keeping frozen) and your Amy's spinach pizza looks a bit less appealing.

In truth I just like puttering with plants, and I'm a bit of a closet foodie. It seems to me as if simplicity really is about finding those things that give genuine pleasure, that fill you up, so to speak. I get a little extra frisson from feeling that my choices are also part of an integrated life--that I will see where my food comes from, that its manner of raising will also benefit wildlife and soil health, that I will waste less and enjoy more. I'm a little bit of a freak that way.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Brought to you by the Stephen (King) ministries

All work and dull play make Jack a no girl.

Dull work and Jack play make no an all girl.

Jack work and girl play make all a no dull.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Instead of the post

Oy, the posts, they percolate, but I have papers due this week and next, so they will have to wait.

Meanwhile, the tomatoes, the cabbage, marshmallow, calendula, shiso, and borage have sprouted in their snug little newspaper nests. Still waiting (and waiting) for valerian, sage, celeriac, and broccoli (a late addition) and I can't remember what else without walking upstairs.

And the Suburubian home has new west windows, low-e and lovely, to replace the cast aluminum louvered lot. I sort of miss the louvers. They reminded me of 1940s lake houses.

Next week, the Raised Bed. If you have thoughts on Bonhoeffer, please communicate.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Simple living and poverty

There is an interesting discussion going on over at the New American Dream about whether the "simplicity" movement is essentially a pipe dream of the privileged class. Clearly there is some basis for making that claim, when the gurus of simplicity (Joe Dominguez, Jim Merkel) are touting retiring from their Wall Street or Department of Defense contract jobs in order to do volunteer work, or getting rid of clutter as a spiritual practice, or when a member of my simplicity circle wonders if he is truly welcome if he can't afford to buy organic vegetables.

But as someone who lived in a substandard trailer without running water for five years in involuntary simplicity, I think I can say that on both the practical and the ethical level, simplicity so-called is not just for jaded trust fund yuppies. I have difficulty with the counterclaim that simplicity is essentially about frugality too, but at least that claim is on some level about living in the real world of labor and material objects. And in terms of the crunchy spiritual goodness inherent in each bite, when I was poor, much poorer than I am now, I was no less beset by images of people in nice clothes in front of handsome Craftsman houses with roofs that didn't leak. Logically enough, the material necessities I dreamed of were not generic but imbued just the same with messages from the culture.

One of my hopes for this blog is to limn that hazy line that separates simplicity as an aesthetic practice from simplicity as an ethical practice. I mean to do this from my perspective as one now firmly entrenched in the middle class who hasn't always had the luxury of deciding whether to use my station wagon less frequently to be nicer to the Earth.

Just for the record

I can obsess perfectly well over things that don't run on internal combustion engines. I now have 70 little seeded containers and a bizarre plan to grow strawberries here in Suburubia. All I have to do is drive to my nearest nursery and pick up a baker's dozen 18" concrete paving stones. Progeny is anxious to have strawberries--I think he thinks that we will no sooner water them but we will have fruit to eat. Too many Harry Potter books or something.

Meanwhile, I am going to get rid of the comment moderation, because I can't seem to remember to check for comments (d'oh), and, although I have paid to offset my carbon for the year, I still see the humor in this.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Getting serious

Weigh in: 144,933. Miles so far this year: 1,290. Miles left in my budget: 6,310.

This is a serious crisis. Now admittedly, there was some out of the ordinary driving in January (just a little matter of a church trial), but 1300 miles represents a serious abrogation of the driving diet. I am having to consider the equivalent of gastric bypass surgery (e.g., buying a new used Hyundai) in order to bring my fossil fuel consumption under control.

Drastic times call for drastic measures. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I have 20 little newspaper pots seeded with herbs in preparation for my first attempt at Southern Raised Bed Gardening. My fantasy is that in a few years, I can stop driving to the grocery store altogether.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

In which she begins to speak

You're already asking yourself "How can someone desperately seek simplicity? Isn't that a contradiction in terms?"

Yes. But if I had already achieved simplicity, I wouldn't be desperate, now, would I?

This blog begins because I foolishly pledged, at the beginning of January, that I would drive my car only half as much this year as I did last year. Now for a multitude of reasons, mostly economic, I and my Progeny live in a first-ring suburb despite the fact that he and I both attend school intown. We also go to church intown, recreate intown, and see our friends intown. We spend a lot of time in our suburb-mobile, which is, logically enough, a Suburu. It's not an SUV but it's not a Prius either. In fact, last year, we spent the national average of 15,000 miles in that car, which included a couple of side trips to Mountain Region and Beach Area, but no cross-country roadtrip movie adventures.

So skinnying down to 7,500 miles this year will be no small feat. There is some public transportation available in my neighborhood (it's a little less than a mile to the bus stop), but although it is now February, we have ridden public transportation a grand total of once. Yes, that's right. Once.

With any luck, dear reader, I will also be able to regale you with my more successful attempts at being a responsible global citizen: eating more local, less processed foods; installing new, more efficient windows on the west side of our house; and so on. But given that it's mid-February and I'm still a drivin' fool, you can expect to see most of the blog drama here taking place behind the wheel.