A Short Guide to Consumer Disobedience

A Short Guide to Consumer Disobedience.

I love this post, and I think she makes a lot of great recommendations. When I think about how much interest I’ve paid to credit card companies in the last 20+ years, it makes me cringe. Credit card companies are criminals, folks! I cut up my credit cards two years ago, and now live entirely on cash.

It’s admittedly hard at times…there are times when I’d like to make a large impulse purchase (like a great chaise-lounge or a boxy Scion wagon!) but I simply cannot do it until I save the money first. I’ve learned that I won’t die without the chair or the car, and since I haven’t managed to save the money to purchase either, maybe they weren’t all that important to begin with.

I recently came into a bit of money (thank you, mom). My only priority was to pay off my son’s medical bills, and make some much-needed repairs to my car, including replacing the broken windshield, which had bothered me for several years. So I had the windshield replaced. As excited as I was to drive away from the glass-repair shop with a spanking-new windshield, only a few days later, I’d already forgotten that the windshield was broken. This is to say that even folks like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt take their fancy cars, huge homes, and jets for granted once they get used to them. Happiness is an inside job, after all.

I admit, I’m still paying off old debt from decorating a home I purchased over 5 years ago! I no longer own the home, but I had a great time decorating it – While on some excessive-credit-manic-induced-high, I purchased gorgeous Pergo floors, tiny green iridescent tiles for the bathroom, Room & Board custom upholstered chairs, a Pottery Barn sleigh bed, a gorgeous dining set and a bees-wax-finished armoir, and much more. I say we purchased them, but in reality, we charged them. Big difference. Which means, I’m only just now paying for the bed, chairs, tiles, and flooring (plus about 50% compound interest!). Those things did not bring me long-term happiness, nor did they fix all the problems in my relationship. I see now , how those purchases were just a short-term-high.

Don’t get me wrong. I still love beautiful things. Aesthetics are important to me. I love beauty, pretty linens, gorgeous potted flowers, my Fiesta-ware dishes, and colorful area rugs! My aesthetic is Bohemian-chic (think Anthropology, flea-markets and farmers’ markets). But now I only buy what I can afford; I live within my modest means, and I look forward to the day that I’m free of old debt. A friend recently asked me, what will you buy with all the money you earn from the new job? I replied, nothing. Absolutely nothing. I’m going to relish the spaciousness I feel from becoming debt-free, and having money in the bank for a change. I have no major needs, other than to live debt free. Think of all the options one has, when one is debt-free. Radical! I’ve come to relish (financial) freedom over any beautiful objects I might own..Took me way too long!….

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Sitting on the dock of the bay…

Monday night, I fell asleep to the sound of blaring car horns, cheering, and the hoots and hollers of San Francisco citizens celebrating the World Series championship in North Beach. Exhilarating, but not the stuff of good sleep, the night before “the big interview”! Just weeks before, I’d been invited to interview for my dream job, however, it would require a move back to the bay area – an unexpected turn of events!

Sunrise in Northbeach, October 2010.


My last memorable bay-area world series took place in Oakland at precisely 5pm, October 17, 1989, when the “big one” hit and took out the bay bridge, the Cyprus highway, and melted the ground under our feet for 15 seconds. I was just leaving work on Stuart Street, as the building swayed around me, and brick facades tumbled into the street. As the facilities manager for the Jewish Federation, I returned to the building where the security guard and I camped out until the electricity came on several days later.

Then there was my first move to San Francisco, back in 1987, on Super Bowl Sunday. Do not move on Super Bowl Sunday. You will do it alone. I’d been living on a sailboat in Sausalito since I’d arrived from Omaha, following college graduation. Sausalito was picturesque, but a bit isolated for this city-loving-lesbian. So I networked (how did we do it back then, before Craigslist and google groups???) and found a lesbian couple with a spare room in the Haight. Twenty-three years later, one of them is like a sister to me, and the other is about to become my roommate again, upon my return to the bay area after a 5-year hiatus on Bainbridge Island, outside of Seattle. Truly a full-circle moment.

If you have followed my blog for any length of time, you know that I’ve become pretty focused on the topic of minimalist living, being-over-doing, and as my friend, Terri coined the term, avoiding the “acquisition lifestyle”. After being offered a lucrative dream job in the bay area, I really struggled with this concept, because the bay area represents anything but minimalism (in my mind). In fact, it pretty much represents sitting in traffic. I worry that moving back to that environment will be too distracting, and I’ll lose the grounding I’ve gained while living a relatively simple, quiet life these past years. But I’ve also felt isolated as a single lesbian on this sleepy little island, and working mostly from home has exacerbated that feeling of loneliness. My son is getting older, and fewer hours are spent parenting these days, and my Aries nature does not care for strict routine!

I’ve had a lot of painful endings during the last year or so. My mother died of cancer, soon followed by my step-father. I had to put my mom’s dog down (after she had so lovingly entrusted her to my care). Then, my beloved dog, Gracie died just last week. My son had a couple of hospitalizations. And I made the very difficult decision to end a not-all-bad, 8-year relationship. It’s been a tough go, and a time of deep reflection and striving to create a beautiful life for myself, despite the pain of these losses.

Mom and Klaus' headstone in Memphis


Despite the excitement I felt about the job opportunity (a fun and perfect next-step in my career), I wondered if I could still fit in with old friends, since I’d stepped off the city-dwelling-rat-race years ago. However, as I thought about my old friends and the lives they had created for themselves living in the heart of big cities, the anxious voices in my head ceased.

Rita, the CEO of an investment banking firm (and my honorary auntie), lives about 1/4 mile away from her financial-district office. She has lived in a 3rd story walk-up flat in North Beach for 19 years, doesn’t own a car, and hikes most weekends with her adult children and friends. She is an artist and writer, with a small group of very close friends.

Cousin Joe lives in a gorgeous Golden Gate Victorian, which he has owned for decades. Retired, he and his partner John enjoy a quiet life when they aren’t traveling the world. Joe’s house looks like it has since I first visited in 1986.

Tamara lives on Alameda Island, just minutes from her job with the Oakland school district. The modest property has two little houses, so she’ll rent one out for income, and live in the other with her 9 year old son. She lives just a five-minute walk from the beach, where she goes to meditate each evening after work.

Terri lives in co-housing with her two children, and life revolves around a bustling, creative, loving community of like-minded individuals. She drives an old Honda she’s had for years, and enjoys traveling whenever she gets the chance.

Stack has been living in the same apartment for years, where she raised her nephew, and is now a yoga instructor.

I could go on, but you get the idea. These are all people I know and love, who don’t necessarily subscribe to typical big-city-acquisition-lifestyle. They have each carved out beautiful, meaningful lives for themselves.

This is all to say that I felt reassured about my decision to take the job in California, despite my initial misgivings. My “slice of life” will include paying off old debt (talk about simplifying), connecting with the local SGI (Buddhist) community, walking around Lake Merritt (where I will live in one of my very favorite neighborhoods), cooking with fresh ingredients from local markets, taking classes at Oakland’s Studio One Arts Center again, and socializing with dear friends.

Beautiful Lake Merritt - my new neighborhood!


I don’t regret moving to Bainbridge Island five years ago. I have forged deep relationships and will remain forever connected to them. I found a loving and supportive Buddhist community, I raised my son in a safe and nurturing environment, and I learned how to entertain myself in ways that didn’t involve recreational shopping. I’ve mellowed and hopefully, matured. I’ve become a great cook. I met sweet Noel, and we will continue our shared and individual journeys.

At the same time, I’m the consummate adventurer, and this will not likely be my last move. So stay tuned!

“When an adventure is offered, you don’t refuse it”. Amelia Earhart

I dedicate this post to my devoted companion of 9 years, sweet Gracie. You are so very missed.

Gracie

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My dog, myself

Hello folks,

My last post was a reflection on the passing of my mother. This post, sadly, on the heels of that one, is about the passing of my most devoted dog of 9 years, Gracie. But talk about keeping it simple…what’s simpler and more special than the love of a dog?

My sweet companion, Gracie

I found Gracie on a blustery, cold day (much like this one) at the San Leandro animal shelter, nearly 9 years ago. She looked bedraggled, skinny, old, and filthy. Despite the rotten teeth and nasty dog breath, I had to have her! I told her she was my dog, her name was to be Gracie, and not to go home with anyone else (she had to have the required vet exam and a week’s time to see if anyone would claim her). Just after Christmas, I was invited to pick her up from the vet’s office; no one else had come forth to claim her; she was all mine.

Gracie loved to help with gardening


When I arrived to take her home, they set her down on the floor, and I said, “Let’s go home, Gracie!”. I remember it like it was yesterday; she excitedly wagged her tail, immediately followed me out the door, and piled onto my lap, as if we’d been together forever, and had just been reunited. Why did she trust me so much, I wondered? When she came into our home, there was no transition period. It was as though she’d always been with us, with me, my little shadow, my little side-kick; my kindred spirit. (Note, I was never before a dog person; I’d always had cats, and Gracie was my first dog.)

Gracie’s only been gone six hours and already I’ve been brought to tears so many times. There was no barking as the UPS truck drove by the house this afternoon (I barked in her honor). She was not here to greet me when I arrived home from running Noel to the ferry this afternoon, nor was she riding in my car, squeezing her coughing self into my lap. I ran into our postal carrier at the grocery store, the woman who Gracie loved to hate, despite the delicious treats she tried to bribe her with (Gracie just hated anyone in uniform). I keep thinking that I see or hear her, but it is only other dogs, or a bird flitting by in the yard, or just my imagination.

Gracie in the Aveo- she loved the wind!


Gracie was my longest and most successful relationship in life, aside from my son. Sad to say, but it’s the truth.

Gracie taught me much:

There’s just nothing like soft, processed American cheese for cheeking distasteful medication.

The best place in the world is to be resting on the lap of someone you love (or chest, or arms, or back of…)

Flies are a great form of entertainment (and nourishment).

Don’t mess with the (big) neighbor cats (or raccoons).

Laying in bed during the day is the best, most decadent thing ever.

If you need to be loved, petted, or held, then just demand it.

Routine is good.

Love unconditionally.

Don’t follow the rules (salmon, wine and chocolate won’t, in fact, kill you; neither will two percocets).

Be excited when your loved one walks in the door. Act as if you haven’t seen them in months. Shower them with attention, kisses, and devotion.

Don’t nag; just look incredibly cute.

Feel gratitude for the small things in life.

I’ll miss her cuddled up against my back in the dead of night. She knew my spirit better than anyone else.

I love you, Gracie, and I’ll miss you so much.

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My mother, myself

Last weekend, I attended my mother’s memorial service. She died of cancer at the young age of 68, and was followed to the other side by her husband and dog, within 6 months after her death.

We held a simple, informal, non-religious service at the site where she and her husband’s ashes were buried, in the family cemetery out side of Memphis. The day was unseasonably warm and sunny and we were joined by family members from three different countries.

As we each shared our memories and thoughts of mom, a few themes became prominent. Mom was a woman unto herself – a cheerful recluse, who doted on her dog, and made long honey-do lists for her husband, who in turn, doted on her. Everyone agreed that mom was a great conversationalist, both on the phone, and through highly detailed correspondence. Mom had a great laugh and most of all, mom lived a simple life, and truly appreciated the small things in life. She loved herbs and spices, natural beauty products, a good fabric softener, caring for her schnauzer, and keeping a tidy home. Although she and my step-dad traveled throughout Europe for several years, she was happiest at home, studying new recipes, listening to NPR and reading esoteric books and magazines.

I found it striking how little her siblings are like her, how they all had careers and pursued material success and lived more extravagantly than the average person. Mom was surely the black sheep of her family.

As much as I admire mom’s contentment with her life, I also recognize that she was pretty obsessive compulsive, to the point where we would miss ferry boats and airplanes as children, due to the house having to be perfectly clean before we could leave. Mom had a form of agoraphobia, which made it difficult for her to leave the house without her husband. She hadn’t driven in years, and although she could be quite sociable, visits frequently were shortened by migraines induced by the stress of hosting people at her house, or being outside of her very controlled environment. Most of us had great phone relationships with her, but few of us ever saw her!

I admire many aspects of my mother’s lifestyle. I value her appreciation of everything from a pretty rhododendron to pictures and letters I sent her over the years, all of which she valued and kept. She was unconditionally supportive and encouraging of me. She accepted me as a lesbian. She was a curious and positive person, despite her self-imposed limitations. She loved sharing recipes and health tips.

As an Aries, I have a much greater need for social interaction, new challenges, and physical stimulation than my Aquarian mother ever did. We couldn’t be more different on the surface. But I seek to live with the kind of appreciation and gratitude she felt for all she had in her life.

Days before her death in hospice, she was having the nurses Google “laughter therapy” as a way to beat cancer. She entertained them with all kinds of stories, and there were many laughs coming out of her room right up until the end. I’ll miss our phone conversations, mom, and our giggles and laughter shared, despite 2,000 miles and the Canadian border between us.

Last photo of mom and I together in hospice, just before she passed:

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How Resilient Are You? — YES! Magazine

How Resilient Are You? — YES! Magazine.

Hello dear readers!

Click on the link to Yes! Magazine above to find out how resilient you are.

I scored a 60, mostly due to my social and spiritual supports and my gardening acumen – less due to my ability to find an alternative source of water or employment! How will you score? Share your findings…How do you feel about how you scored? I definitely need to ramp it up – ride that rusty bike, improve my health, and learn how to use some tools, if I want to survive in a less than perfect world.

Oh, and it’s oddly reassuring to live only one block from the offices of Yes! Magazine! It’s true!

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Urban living with a minimalist twist. OR – Decisions, Decisions

If I’d taken my father’s advice whenever I had an opportunity (or created one for myself!), I’d be a childless, single, secretary, never fully living this great adventure, I call my life…perfect or not.

During a conversation yesterday he discouraged me from seizing an opportunity to take a lucrative job that I would absolutely love, because it requires a move back to San Francisco (and off my quaint little island where I admittedly have built a sweet life and cultivated a few very meaningful friendships).

He suggested I examine my life-long patterns of switching-up my life every 4 or 5 years, and asked if I was just “pulling a geographic out of boredom”. I told him I have done a little soul searching (thank you very much), and I’ve decided to embrace the fact that I’m all about adventure, learning, growing, self-discovery, building community – a free spirit, who thrives from taking risks. I have unique skills (I love setting up new programs and businesses, and I’m willing to take risks), skills that it turns out, people will pay for! I’ve also maintained very close ties to my friends in the Bay Area over the last 5 years, which honestly surprised me…so on my last visit there, it felt like home.

It then occurred to me that my father has discouraged me from taking any opportunity I’ve encountered, including having a child (too expensive and burdensome), getting my master’s degree (you have a perfectly good job as a secretary, with great benefits, and a child to support). Or leaving a really unhealthy relationship (what about your financial security?) All of this is somewhat ironic giving his love of living on sailboats, and his dislike of traditional American culture. But I’m his daughter, and he worries.

I realize that dad is motivated by fear, and the need for security, while I’m motivated by the need for adventure and freedom. No judgment. It just is.

What’s your primary motivator? Love, safety, family, adventure, continuity, peace, new challenges?

Let’s discuss.

All this said, this tempting opportunity begs the question….could I continue to embrace this minimalist life I have now cultivated, while living in San Francisco? Or would I be lured back into eating out every night, shopping for recreation, buying another home, and consuming my way through the city like a PacMan on speed (given a better salary than I earn with my non-profit here in the Pacific Northwest). I’d like to think so.

I ask myself many questions. Would my spirit die from the city noise, heavy traffic, street litter, and the dense population? Will I regret a move such as this, when I’m stuck in my first traffic jam while attending meetings in San Jose? On the other hand, I look forward to seeking out my SGI brothers and sisters, living in a thriving lesbian community again, the accessibility and variety of independent local theater and music, a thriving nightlife, and exploring my beloved Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park. And not least of all, reconnecting with long-time friends who have remained my confidants all these years.

Having watched the incredible movie, Return to the Garden, last night with my son and kindred spirit, Deborah Milton, at the historic Lynwood theater, I have cause to pause. The lives these rugged hippie individualists choose to lead are appealing, admirable, and enviable. I’m reminded that I live a sweet life on Bainbridge Island, and it’s true – it is lovely. And like the protagonists in our story, I don’t quite earn enough to support my son, and while I like my job, I admit, I’m ready for new challenges, and the stress of insurmountable old debt (from my previous consumer-driven lifestyle) is overwhelming at times.

Back to the Garden Film

Meanwhile, Noel is much more likely to find a tax attorney job in SF, and my son is chomping at the bit for the move (an Aries, like me, he’s always up for something new). Having already decided to leave high school a year early to get his GED, he wants to work at Rainbow Grocery Cooperative in SF, which used to be our extended family, when his other mom and auntie worked there – until they went on to “professional” careers as a nurse and social worker. It’s a great idea – connecting him with folks who have our shared values, and many of whom remember and love him, still. Could we live in the Mission district and raise chickens and drive an electric car, like my friend Julie? Or live like Rita, who lives in a fantastic flat in Northbeach, and walks to her corporate job in the financial district each day, writing and painting by night? Could we live communally with others, enjoying shared resources while saving the extra money, paying down debt and continuing to adhere to these new values (which took me several years to achieve, after leaving the bay area)?

Here are some ideals I have, for simple living in a big city:

Ride a bike and take public transportation – ditch the car
Join a food coop, or better yet, put in a few shifts a month
Rent a place with a patch of dirt for some veggie gardening
Raise chickens
Build or join a community garden
Join organizations to meet people and cultivate personal interests
Use the higher salary to pay down debt, increase monthly cash-flow, and put money aside for the future (rather than buying the next pretty thing)
Buy experiences, not things
Seek out and build community with like-minded individuals
Spend a lot of time in parks and nature
Join on-line communities such as Urban Homesteader to learn more. Or to have a laugh, AND learn more, check out My Intentional Life

What do you city dwelling readers to do simplify life in the city? I’d love to hear from you!

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Another Story (via Awakening Storylines)

This story by Deborah Milton is a must-read. It beautifully describes an experience we shared this week, sitting around the fire, listening to a very long and beautiful Iroquois story. The evening was magical – as we called in our ancestors with our howls, we were answered back by coyotes all around us, and later, then came to join us again as we closed our circle. Like Deborah, I thought of my own ancestors who would have passed their evenings in the dark, around a fire, sharing stories – not watching “The Bachelor” on television!

Another Story The story seems endless. In that way maybe the plotline replicates life. We keep thinking we’ve solved a problem, reached a conclusion, turned a corner only for another something to show up. The story is so long that it helps me imagine my ancestors sitting around a fire for days listening to a zigzagging ramble of a tale. What really impresses me, though, is the storyteller’s ability to remember. His drumming hands don’t miss a beat and his narr … Read More

via Awakening Storylines

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