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It came to me today. All I want when I leave work is to go to a place where I am happy. It could be a social gathering, populated by the good girlfriends I already have, who are generally too busy with kids and home to meet me after work. It could be anywhere that people are glad to see me and know something about my joys and my issues– one of our homes, a local park, a bar might not be so good because of the various legal and financial ramifications, but it would be okay, especially if it was a table outside. It could, probably should, also be a place I go in solitude, one I have built, whether physically or emotionally/spiritually, for that purpose.

I’m reading David Wann’s Simple Prosperity right now and thinking hard about what this guy says– we are so busy earning and acquiring and consuming things to make us happy that we miss out on what really makes us happy– like strong relationships, fresh air, health, a tranquil home, fewer but more truly lasting and beautiful or useful possessions, truly good food, and community. My friends and I often dance around the simple truth of our irritated and exhausted discontent and isolation when bitch about the education system we have vs. the education we want for our children, or talk about the lack of ‘walkability’ in our town and of social capital in our lives. I think we’re onto something, although we’re going to have to do a lot more thinking/wangling before we make much of a change– if we ever do.

Anyway. Consume less. Be happier. My mom and dad told me so. Their parents told them and/or they figured it out some other way, and they passed it along to me.  Okay not in so many words, but they definitely had the consume less be happier thing well in hand.

My family prepared me for life with so many important truths– some of which I’ve been able to make use of more readily than others, because until very, very recently I wasn’t seeing the forest for the trees.

But that’s not because they didn’t tell me.

Here’s the first installment of my thoughts on these issues. Here’s what I got from my parents, loud and clear.

Homegrown Tastes Better. I wasn’t so much about the homegrown veggies as a kid, but I darn sure could put a hurt on some peaches or strawberries fresh from the garden or the orchard down the road, especially sliced, poured over a biscuit and smothered in ice cream. There will never, ever be a storebought tomato, peach or strawberry like the ones that came out of my parents’ or grandparents’ gardens, and it breaks my heart that those days are gone. I can eat a really good tomato on white bread with a pasteurized process cheese slice and Miracle Whip, and be so happy it is indescribable. I could eat that for breakfast lunch and dinner for quite a while, I’m reasonably sure– at least as long as tomato season lasts.

Clothes and linens we make are better. I’ve been making, buying at estate sales and thrift shops, and hoarding cloth napkins since long before I became a cloth diaper/cloth napkin/no paper towels or wipes allowed ecofreak. I now have separate groups of towels for floor/bathroom cleaning and dirty jobs, dishes/food prep use, and towels to be used on actual people, and never the twain (or whatever the equivalent is for three) shall meet.

I do stop short at toilet paper, tissues, and feminine hygiene, although 1. I feel guilty about it and 2. I have a girlfriend or two who even uses cloth for those as well and while I can’t bring myself to do it, I get it. I totally get it, and I’m okay with it. It’s just, well, you know. What’s the difference between that and a cloth baby diaper? Okay, I’m just not at the place where I can manage grownup bodily substances, not my own and not others.’

Like every kid between, say, nine and whenever they get to start picking out their own clothes, I was often embarrassed that I did not have designer clothes like my little friends, and ashamed of the economies my parents would employ when buying for our family. But my mother put such love, talent, and style into clothes she made for me that I felt like a princess. She made sure there were no seams to irritate my incredibly sensitive skin (a symptom of my ADD, who knew? I thought it was just cause I’m a princess). She made sure I had pockets for my fiddly busy nervous hands. She chose fabrics in themes that reflected something I loved or had done lately. She found a beautiful costume pendant from her childhood, with a blue jewel in the center, and put it on a blue velvet ribbon for a choker to go with the dress she made for my band concert in seventh grade or so. I felt like a girl in Seventeen magazine.

Now I feel like a total loser if I don’t give a friend or loved one a quilt when a baby is born. I can kind of rationalize if I can go get them, say, a Strasberg item or a truly iconic toy (for a while I was all about the Glowworm)… but I still feel like I’ve let them down. I mean, I strip quilt, piecing on the machine… but I do the actual quilting by hand and I love it. LOVE it.  (Notice I’m not saying I do it well.)

My dad built beautiful furniture for us. When we lived in Texas I had a jungle gym he made, INSIDE my house, in the living room. What does that say about my parents’ priorities? (or maybe they were scared the tarantula we found in our back yard one time would carry us off… no that’s not true, because I spent hours outside by myself back then. Well, then it must have been their priorities!) I always think about how sad my childhood was. I always forget about the jungle gym and the three story dollhouse he made. It was taller than I was. I never realized how cool that was until just now.

I had a funky cool desk painted a lovely shiny blue outside and white inside. My brother had a beautiful captain’s bed… my mom has a wonderful sewing cabinet which must have two dozen little drawers in it.  My parents had beautifully painted tall shelves for all their books and records. They have a side table in their front hallway that was sanded and oiled so lovingly that it looks and feels like satin.

We absolutely do have a terrible sweet/carb addiction and a propensity for weight problems in my family… but my mother made our sweets. She made pies, cakes, chocolate chip cookies, exotic, beautiful, incredibly delicious and troublesome desserts out of fancy schmancy cookbooks. My standards are now so high that I am often disappointed… we happened on a bakery in one of our small towns that made sweets that were just as wonderful as home made. I can still remember the incredible Black Forest Cake my parents bought Just Because. But it didn’t take long for the modern era to send that place out of business. It’s sad, because storebought just never has tasted that good.

I’ve been fantasizing about having enough actual dishes and flatware (even if they came from the thrift store) for huge parties so that I don’t have to throw away paper plates and plastic cups and forks– and having time (or staff) to wash and room to store such– all of my life.

And I’ve always fantasized about having a  home out in the country that was big enough for ten or twenty people to come and stay in perfect comfort– plenty of bathrooms, plenty of rooms and beds, plenty of space to relax in relative quiet and solitude or get together for a huge loud party in a main living area big enough for a band and dancing.

We Need Nature. My parents cursed us by moving us to various insanely backwoods, rural parts of the country when I was growing up. The isolation was painful at a time when kids want so badly simply to Belong. But now I think about playing with my cousins in my grandparents’ huge back yard until the last shred of daylight was absolutely gone,  or the long solitary hours in the fresh air, walking through woods or old unused fields by myself when I was 10-14 or so and I so wish I could have them back and give them to my child.

I get panicky when I can’t be in some fresh air and sunshine some portion of every day. I find that my child, any child, behaves so much better with an hour or two of outdoor time each day. I put a lot of time into my (still extremely ragged) yard and (still not too productive) raised bed gardening, and it gives me so much satisfaction regardless of result.

We Need Actual Experiences. My parents also took us to do all sorts of things I would never admit to when I was growing up, and many times it was just a misery. We found fossils and cracked geodes out in the actual outdoors where such things actually occurred naturally. Okay, that was actually super cool. But I still couldn’t tell anyone about it.  We hiked, cross country skiied, canoed, fished, ice skated, shot BB guns occasionally but only at targets (or, in the case of my little friends at daycare, at each other), went to a few outdoor live music festivals (horrid dorky music like bluegrass, shudder, which I now love with all my heart!) and folk museums and worst of all, CAMPED. What a misery! But now I can’t imagine children who live their lives shuffling to school and back again, with no recess, their only recreation television and video gaming. I can’t imagine a life where I didn’t know that there used to be such things as blacksmiths and butter churns and corncribs and relative safety for children spending long unstructured hours alone outdoors.

I’m not there yet… some aspects of the life of blacksmithing and churning butter must have been incredibly oppressive and difficult– if it weren’t we’d still be doing it right? Creating true community and home and happiness, as opposed to consuming it–I’m not quite sure what that means to me.  But I’m thinking about it really hard.

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