From house to car to camper–a series: What we can do without would surprise you

thoreau

When I wrote my initial blog entry “From House to Car in 2.6 Seconds,” I was not prepared for the interest this entry would generate. I am giving a bit of an introduction to the change of mindset that a move from consumerism to minimalism requires because 1) my mind is still getting used to the idea of downsizing, 2) I suspect many of you may not have known the option to live “tiny” existed. Or that it was feasible. Or that it could even be cool. What you may not realize, as I have not, is that you don’t really have to “go without”” in order to have a great quality of life. What does happen to your mind though, is that it gets “retrained” to think about what is truly necessary versus what we think of as “necessary.” For instance:

  1. I got rid of a bunch of clothes today because they won’t all fit in the small closet in my camper. I didn’t wear these clothes for a long time. I had no earthly use for them. I still had plenty to wear after getting rid of four big boxes and now those four big boxes are going to do other people good. Pros: I have less to wash, thus my laundromat loads will be cheaper. I kept what I REALLY liked.
  2. I don’t need a TV. I have Netflix on my 4 year old iPhone.
  3. I don’t need a phone contract. I got prepaid through Cricket for 30.00 a month with unlimited talk and text and 2G of data. What did I do with Facebook and Messenger? I deleted them off my phone because I have them on my iPhone, which I use for watching Netflix, email and Facebook. (I don’t use the iPhone as a phone anymore and I have never felt the need to upgrade to a thousand dollar iPhone X).
  4. I don’t need cable, or satellite. That saves me probably about 1200 a year.
  5. I don’t need WiFi. I can use WiFi for free at McDonald’s, Arby’s, Applebee’s, or just about any other public place including the public library. If I really want WiFi, especially in the winter when I might not want to go out in the cold I can add a prepaid hotspot to my phone to use for about 30 bucks a month instead of the traditional 75 and 80 dollars a month plus fees through other companies.
  6. I don’t even need to use electricity off the grid. I can, after a time, if I want, invest in solar panels for the top of my camper, and set it up to generate my own electricity for free.
  7. I don’t need the laundromat. I can, once I get on my feet a little better, get a portable washing machine that is compact, and drains in my camper sink and save myself the laundromat money. I can hang my clothes out to dry year round.
  8. I don’t need a bunch of food in my pantry or refrigerator. I can stock fresh meat and cheese and refrigerated goods a week at a time, and eat more fresh fruit and vegetables that don’t require refrigeration. I can stock dry goods like rice, flour, sugar and the like and make better meals instead of processed boxed meals. I have a CrockPot I can use. I can preserve food without refrigeration as well (canning, fruit jam, jelly, syrup, dehydration, etc). If I don’t have a ton of food to eat I won’t eat as much, and that’s just better all around. Better quality food and less of the junk.
  9. Don’t need to use a lot of propane. I used to spend hundreds filling the propane tank when I lived in the West. In a camper the propane tanks are small, and since I have electricity in the camper, it is not necessary for me to run the propane furnace. So it is a backup should it be extraordinarily cold. I can use an electric heater, and save the propane for cooking. The camper is such a small space it won’t take much to heat it, and I am taking the precaution of extra insulation, laying down rugs on the floor, covering the windows in the winter and laying black plastic on the roof to attract the sun in the winter.
  10. I don’t need to use full size shampoos, conditioners, and soaps. I started buying travel sizes for lotions, and shampoo bars instead of bottles. Shampoo bars are better for the environment as there is nothing to throw away. Ivory soap is biodegradable, and stackable! I threw out a bunch of products I haven’t even been using.

The time we really spend in our homes is minimal when you think about it. You are at work about a third of the time you are awake or more. When you are not at work, you are out with your kids, or out at the park, if the weather is nice, or you go out with friends. The time we spend at home tends to be in the evenings, before we go to sleep, and early morning before we go to work. Weekends we may spend all day at home, but you can see we don’t spend a lot of time in the house. Living in a camper due to the small space almost pushes me outside to tell the truth. It will be cozy when the weather is inclement, but I’ll be outside a lot of the time. Yet, the camper is large enough for company should someone visit me and need a bed. There’s an extra bed on the other end that folds up into a breakfast nook with a table. Neat, huh?

Granted, living tiny isn’t for everybody. Some just like their houses, and that’s quite all right. Living tiny appeals to me because I am so aware of how much time gets sapped away on Facebook, TV, video games, and working, and I find myself listening to other people who wish they had time to go to the beach, or time to read a book, or spend with someone they love. The start of living tiny for me is getting back to basics, and spending less time on technology (not giving it up altogether), and finding that I have time now that I am not distracted by TV or the need to be “entertained,” to read a book, or to write in my blog. Work is necessary, in order to live, but work will not define my life. I am doing what I love and I realize that, by writing here, and writing about rats, and I’ve never realized really that writing is what I love to do until I lost everything that was distracting me from seeing what I really love. Who I really love.

I feel like my imagination and my mind are waking up after a long sleep. I could have a garden in large pots. (I can’t dig up my lot). I could have a pallet garden. I can hang wind chimes. I can paint a scene on my camper…I can do some seriously cool interior design in my vintage camper--my mind is working out possibilities.

Why do we think we need to do what is expected of us? Go to school, graduate, go to college, get married, buy a house, pop out 2.2 kids, get old, retire, THEN go RVing? We think if we fail to achieve this illusory American dream we are somehow failures. I know I went through that for a long time as my finances didn’t seem to pick up at all and I felt I was underemployed in comparison to how highly educated I am. What if we are trained to believe if we don’t follow that line, don’t achieve what we are “supposed” to==what if we are TRAINED to believe we are failures?

Oh my darlings. You are not failures if you don’t have the house with the white picket fence and retirement enough to go to Florida and live in a condo. Don’t fail to live. Reducing my circumstances (which let us not forget I was FORCED into), has slowly started to mean a better quality of life, which seems counter-intuitive in a way. Money really doesn’t buy you happiness. Quality of life is what brings you happiness and you do NOT have to be rich to live well.. Trust me. It’s a myth. The money you can save by simplifying your life…well, already it’s astounding to me. Doesn’t take a lot to live well.

It is a myth we will bust together if you want to come with me and follow my adventures. I plan to write day by day the struggles, the problems I encounter, and the innovative ways I find to solve them. I will share my joys, what I learn in terms of big ideas and profound thoughts, and what I learn to make life easier in a tiny vintage house. Who am I? I’m just a teacher without a classroom, because finding a job that pays well has really been difficult–I’m just an English teaching, Emerson and Thoreau spouting woman who loves nature, reading books, writing journals and blogs, loves art, swimming in Lake Superior, and clearing away the clutter to find out who I really am. Who are you?

emerson

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The girl with the gypsy feet returns home to ghosts and whispers of a life lived

Home will not disappear in the night on you. Attend to the task at hand lest the bear eat you.—J Fitz 1990

I returned home where I had not been for twenty five years a few days ago.

It is a strange thing to come back to a place so pregnant with memories where half my life unfurled. So much is familiar yet so much has changed. Somehow in a life lived, daily happenings are forgotten except in excerpts, and long forgotten events come back when I explore a certain section of town or find a house where someone I knew or was related to used to live in and now strange people I do not know live there. There is a certain familiar strangeness, an ostracization that is inherent when I touch the familiar, but it is no longer linked to me in any way. Here I was . I left no mark. Yet I was here, and I am no more; these people live here and they did not know what lives unfolded here. Lives that are only ghosts now. I feel so left behind. Bereft. I missed so much. I lived so much. The tension is palpable. Should I have stayed and lived a quiet insular life here and lived through the changes, or did I do right to have traded the safety of home for how I lived as a creature of the world?

It’s too late now. I made my choice and I went out in the world, lived, travelled, had my children, and saw and experienced, and here I am.

I did not expect fanfare, nor many familiar faces and indeed, that’s what I got. There are a few familiar people to make the transition easier and for that I am grateful. I am grateful for them.

A friend once told me when I was homesick and had been in college away that home would not disappear in the night. He was right in a way–geographically it is still here; yet on a deeper level, it did disappear. I am not sorry to have lived past the unhappiness of much of it, but I am sorry to have lived a life and to come to it later in life with the feeling that life has slipped through my fingers as so much water because I still think I am young and that life is ahead of me.

They are knocking down my school and soon that fixture in my life will be gone as it will be gone for a lot of people who went there. I walked around and around and remembered how safe I felt there, how secure, when I did not feel safe or secure at home. I remembered the rooms of teachers who no longer work there, wonderful teachers the current students will never know; I remember rooms that no longer exist and it is familiar yet different, as if life moved on while I stood still in it not understanding when my life became the past and I look ahead now into the edge of the abyss of an uncertain future.

Home did slip away. My friend is now dead, my relatives on one side disappeared, no familiar faces in town. Only the boats remain, and a whisper of the town I once knew. Buildings are gone and replaced. My entire school life is gone with the buildings that once housed me; my elementary school is lofts now , my middle school and high school are gone and I feel as if I have been in some way erased and thus forced forward.

Change is constant and necessary. I am not a fool. Sometimes I feel so old and life so fast, speeding past me, while I struggle to catch my breath.

Constructing s life from scratch is the task at hand now. I have people to meet, a home to create, a new normal to become accustomed to.

I have a piece of brick from my high school which will not be there anymore after the summer has passed. It is a piece of me I think. A relic. My beginning. I am the product of the sum of my life up to now. The past is severed so cleanly I wonder if it is by accident or design. I haven’t got the slightest idea what I’m doing. I only have a dream I am manifesting. I hope a dream is enough.

I will color my hair and begin again.

I am glad to be home at last.

Dear past me…

 I see you now.  You are young, and shy, and earnest, and you hide your shyness behind an outgoing personality that often comes across as brash and loud.   You are such an innocent.  You know well the power of people to hurt.  You’ve been watching people hurt each other at home most  of your life.    You’ve retreated to books and writing for safety, and you love school because you’re smart, and because there, you get positive affirmation for being who you are.

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I wish I could tell you all the amazing places you’re going to go, and the people around the world that you will meet.  I wish I could tell you that you travel because you love new places, yes, but also because you ran from love because it scared you, and you ran to get away from home.  You’re a runner.   When things get too hard in one place, you run to another.  You’ve started over more times than I can count, but the trick is, you can’t run away from yourself.   I wish I could tell you to be yourself sooner and not try to be what everyone else wants you to be, especially men.    I wish I could tell you not all men are bad, there are good ones out there, but until you think better of yourself, you won’t meet those good ones and be ready for them.   You’ll meet men who are emotionally unavailable like your dad was, but you won’t figure this out for thirty years.  You will believe that the failure of your relationships is all your fault.  But one day, you will understand that while yes, it does take two, you’ve been picking what you’re used to.  You’ve chosen what you believe you deserve and what you believe about yourself–that you are unlovable, invisible, and unimportant.  Your dad did a number on you.

You will meet a man who will turn a light on in a dark room for you.   He will be the light that shines on a whole new world for you.   He will be interested in what you think and who you are, and will like you for yourself.  He will give you Blake, and Dylan, and  Billie Holiday and Nanci Griffith, and you and he will spend hours talking about all the places he’s gone in the world and listening to this, and to all he knows of literature and poetry and culture will light a fire in your heart to see the places he speaks of, and  know more of the world he does, because you’d like to be able to keep up with him in conversation.  He will call you his girl with the gypsy feet.   He will be  the most confusing, wonderful , tenderhearted man you have ever known, and he will break your heart, not because he was callous, or heartless, or mean, but because he was good, and kind, and he taught you how a real man acts towards a smart woman he considers his equal. He will die, and you will want to, but you will live–first for him, then later, you will learn to live for yourself.

You will be broke most of your life.  You will  go to Ireland and write in your journal in Bewley’s Cafe. You will visit Shetland Islands and sit on the docks and write by the sea, with the sharp smell of fish, and the briny smell of sea water, next to battered old fishing boats that have stories of their own.   You will go to Belfast and look at the murals and wonder why people can’t get along. You will wonder why people can’t get along all of your life.   You will go to Russia, and see the Hermitage and the Bolshoi Ballet, and Moscow and ride a train across Russia with cockroaches for bedmates and cheap Georgian champagne while  listening to the life story of one of the coach matrons who tells you how her parents were collective farmers and she grew up wanting to go to college and become a teacher, but instead, works on the trains.  You will visit Moscow University. You will meet many Russian people who are emotional and passionate and good, and kind, and beaten down. You will wonder again, as this is the end of the Cold War, if Russia can learn to be a democracy.  You will find out they have trouble holding on to freedom.

You will become discouraged at the selfish, self centered nature of people.  Of the rich people who work the system to get what they want, while depriving others of what they need.  Greedy pepole who believe freedom is only for them while taking others’ freedoms away.  People who believe that violence is the only answer and power is everything.

But there will be moments, when the world reveals itself to be a miraculous, beautiful place. When you see deer.  When you see random acts of kindness by strangers.  When you see selflessness. When you see a tiny flower growing out of concrete, or see a sunset on a prairie in Nebraska, or the  Northern Lights in northern Minnesota. At those moments, you will believe in God.

Keep going, be strong, and have faith.  It gets better, girlie.   You will be much more yourself, more self-confident and you will know what you want when you are almost fifty, but….better late than never.   Your whole life will be a sacred pilgrimage to your sense of spirituality, God, and yourself. You get to help people, and love, and be loved.

You get to go home again, and be happy in the end.

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Poem of the Day–On quitting school: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

He left school to attend Cambridge.

(Written at Eighteen)

FAREWELL, 1 parental scenes! a sad farewell!
To you my grateful heart still fondly clings,
Though fluttering round on Fancy’s burnished wings,
Her tale of future joy Hope loves to tell.
Adieu, adieu! ye much-loved cloisters pale! 5
Ah! would those happy days return again,
When ’neath your arches, free from every stain,
I heard of guilt, and wondered at the tale!
Dear haunts! where oft my simple lays I sang,
Listening meanwhile the echoing of my feet: 10
Lingering I quit you with as great a pang
As when, erewhile, my weeping childhood, torn
By early sorrow from my native seat,
Mingled its tears with hers, my widowed parent lorn.

How life happens in a coffee shop

For this post I can only speak for my life so I will. I am in transition and trying to figure out how to settle my life so that I am not wandering all of the time, as I have been the last 25 years. Sometimes you just get tired of life and being kicked around and dealing with losses of friends and maybe even the loss of home over time. For as Thomas Wolfe says you can’t go home again…but I am looking homeward now and I can remake home for me. I catch myself gazing over Lake Erie to the horizon where Lake Superior and Lake Michigan lies, and I am transported back to my youth when I stood at the lighthouse on Canal Park and imagined what lay over the blue eastern horizon. I know now, and I am world weary and ready to follow the geese back home.

The coffee shop has been my headquarters where I have arranged a job over the phone while drinking my large dark roast and sad folk songs play on the stereo overhead. The worn wood shelf at the window is my desk where I have written family and friends letting them know I am going home. I have gazed out the window at the busyness of Hertel Avenue in Buffalo and while it has been my home where I have picked up the pieces when my life fell apart (twice in ten years I healed in Buffalo), there is something about knowing when its time to go that is at once nostalgic and bittersweet. I have good memories here and good friends. Buffalo will always have a place in my heart.

I gaze at the people sitting here and they are all a life encased in themselves; many lives working and unfolding in the hours they pass here. Some meet friends for conversation about what’s happening in their lives. Some, like the guy in the corner ave found this the perfect place to crochet a green sweater, some are studying schoolwork as Buffalo has many good colleges. Some are lovers and some, like me, are alone and okay with their solitude, their coffee, and their bagel or muffin or biscotti.

You live your life everywhere but there is something special and intimate about the time I spend in the independent coffee shop. It is a restful space, a peaceful space where humanity is content to coexist for the time we spend in here as our lives unfold, as plans are made whether small plans or life changing ones like mine.

I end with a quote about moving on:

Nothing belongs to itself anymore.
These trees are yours because you once looked at them.
These streets are yours because you once traversed them.
These coffee shops and bookshops, these cafés and bars, their sole owner is you.
They gave themselves so willingly, surrendering to your perfume.
You sang with the birds and they stopped to listen to you.
You smiled at the sheepish stars and they fell into your hair.
The sun and moon, the sea and mountain, they have all left from heartbreak.
Nothing belongs to itself anymore.
You once spoke to Him, and then God became yours.
He sits with us in darkness now
to plot how to make you ours.”

the new girl

Write about your strongest memory of heart-pounding belly-twisting nervousness: what caused the adrenaline? Was it justified? How did you respond?

my strongest memory of heart-pounding belly-twisting nervousness always had to do with wanting to be liked, standing in front of a classroom of strangers hoping they could understand in some telepathic way that I wanted to be friends.  I remember myself as awkward girl, always the tallest in the class, with thin arms, knobby knees and thin, spidery legs that the secondhand dresses my mother would give me because we were always so poor would never quite cover.  This one was a mint green color, my favorite dress.  And here I was for the third time in front of a classroom of kids I did not know, in pigtails casting self-conscious glances at the floor which I hoped would miraculously open up and swallow me. 

Twenty eight pairs of eyes stared at me; some of the looks were appraising, some suspicious, some open and friendly.   I hated being the center of attention; my way was to creep in unnoticed and then find my way after I’d trod water for a while, testing out the environment around me.  
The teacher spoke in her soft voice: “This is Diane. Say hello to Diane [class unevenly responds with “hi Diane.”] She’s new here, and perhaps someone could show her around and acquaint her with new friends.”   Silence.   I wanted to cry, that silence stretched for so long. My belly was doing flip flops and I was afraid that if this dragged out any longer I would be in the terribly awkward position of throwing up in front of the entire class.  I was nervous because I knew what would happen. No one would step forward. I was as alone at the front of that room as I’d ever been.  I’d be made fun of for being too skinny, for my secondhand dress, for anything that kids find to make fun of in others.  

Then a voice came from the back of the room.  Her name was Amy but everyone called her Punkin, for what reason I do not fathom to this day.  She shyly tripped forward in her knee length dress and patent leather shoes, took my hand, and led me to my seat. Everything was all right. The world stopped spinning so fast, and I smiled gratefully at Punkin.  And there, in the 4th grade, began a lifelong friendship, and perhaps, things are never as bad as they appear. 

I learned about hope in moments like these, small moments.  Even at 43, when it comes to relating closely to someone, I always find myself self-conscious, nervous, afraid I will trip, or do something wrong, say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing.  My intense feelings of self-consciousness are invariably wrapped up in a confident demeanor and expressed in humor, when inside I feel so shy and really don’t want to be around groups of strangers for very long. Today at this long age of mine I am more comfortable in social situations; yet the self-consciousness is something I never quite can overcome.  

Everyone just wants to feel safe, cocooned in acceptance, just the way they are.  Loved for who they are.  

I am blessed, for I am loved.  When you are loved, the most extraordinary miracles occur; you see yourself the way the other sees you, differently, in a better light, and I suspect with a good deal more of the truth.