Monday, October 06, 2008

"On Shoofly Pie & Homemade Pudding," OR "How I Became Amish This Weekend"

Some of my life-altering decisions can be traced back to the confluence of seemingly random events. Just over a year ago, Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" joined forces with a random blog comment from a New Zealander, and I was forced to rethink my food consumption. At that time, I made the radical and personally unprecedented decision to cook our meals from scratch using local, whole ingredients.

Now another change is coming to my household, this time brought about by the coupling of an Amish Cookbook with a friend's random comment.

Please allow me to explain in three short Acts.

[Act One: Those Amish Folk are Doing Something Right.]

Unlike the previous 4 weekends, last weekend we didn't travel, or overschedule, or do much of anything, really. We were able to sit, and be, and think. I got my Sunday afternoon nap, which is a sure indicator of a successful weekend.

On Saturday, I brought over a portion of Green Enchiladas ("Simply in Season" cookbook, p. 145) to my elderly neighbor. She had a treat waiting for me: a book called "Amish Cooking for Kids." I dove into the cookbook when I got home, revelling in the drawings: rosey-cheeked Amish children in home-made clothes bearing baskets of fresh-baked bread, children frolicking outside and carrying bushels of just-picked apples to the horse-drawn cart, and children polishing their shoes with a brush while their little brother pulls his hand-made wooden toy by its string. Sigh, to be Amish is to be happy, I thought superficially. Well, except for the strange beards without mustaches, I mused, my Amish husband would need to be clean-shaven.

[Act Two: Those Regular American Folk are Doing Something Wrong.]

On Sunday after church, I hugged my friend Beth. "How're you doing?" I asked. "Good," she replied, "just busy. You know how it is, just really busy." I do know how it is, and I've given that answer many times in the past: "Oh we're all doing well, except we're just too busy."

I've had similar conversations with other friends countless times, but this time-- no doubt because of those rosey-cheeked children-- it got to me. I spent part of Sunday afternoon noodling over the problem: Why are we too busy? Who decides what events go on our schedule? For the most part, we do. Who decides when and how much gets done? For the most part, we do. So who needs to accept responsibility for making us too busy? We do!

[Act three: Let's Become Amish!]

Sunday afternoon while Eli napped upstairs (truth: banged against his door shouting "I don't want to be IN HERE!"), and while I napped on the main floor (truth: drifted in and out of sleep, disturbed by Eli's banging and my mental disconcertion over our lack of Amishness), Tobin and the girls went outside to pick our apples. Instead of bushels they picked a plastic bin-full, and instead of loading them onto a horse-drawn cart they simply placed them onto our front porch. Still, I was happy with their efforts.

Post nap, for a blissful period of, say, ten minutes, Sylvia washed apples, I sat on the couch and peeled the apples, and Eleanor nibbled the peeled apples as we all listened to a classic version of Beauty & the Beast on my iPod (from this site).

Really, it was lovely.

In the evening, Tobin and I had a dinner date, at which I made the following announcement: "I think we should get a bunch of money and buy a farm in Mt. Vernon and spend our lives raising crops and eating them, and teaching our children simple pleasures such as string games, bread-making, and banjo-playing."

After a good laugh (by Tobin) and a long conversation (in which Tobin reminded me what farming is really like), we settled upon the following changes:

*No more mid-week TV or movies for the kids. Instead we will have Movie Night on Fridays, complete with popcorn and snacks.

*This means that after dinner, we will play together as a family. We will divide and conquer, with one of us playing games with the girls while the other occupies Eli with some other activity.

*We will try to get outside with the kids as much as possible.

*When we're not late, we will not hurry. (Duh!)

*We will continue to limit extra-curricular activities to avoid spending our lives shuttling the kids from one event to another. This means Eleanor will not be a Campfire Girl and may never learn ballet. (So be it, Amen and Amen).

*We will say no as much as possible to commitments that only serve to make us busy.

*We will reinstate Monday night Family Meetings, in which we light candles, sing an opening song, learn about a virtue (tonight was Gentleness), talk about our week, sing a closing song, and blow out the candles.

*We will endeavor to say YES when the kids ask us to do something healthy with them.

*We will be deliberate in how we choose to spend our time.

*We will not, in fact, actually become Amish. Yet.
Are you also struggling to combat busy-ness? Please comment and share your best ideas with me!


Kendra Joy said...

I love this list of things you are endeavoring to do (and not do). It's quite the list; let us know how that goes for you!

Since you asked, I am happy to say that for the first time in quite a long time I am not too busy. After graduating and getting married I have, in fact, managed to keep my life quite balanced and under control. Of course there are those weeks when there is a lot going on, but for the most part everything I am doing is something I deeply enjoy and desire to do - and the amount of activity isn't overwhelming. I've picked up new activities (like longboarding, hiking, soccer, reffing and soon rock climbing) that excite me, and have let other not-so-exciting time consumers and stress factors fall by the wayside. Life is good.

And when some proudly busy "true American" tries to make me feel guilty for playing so much and not being so gosh-darn busy, I smile inside and think "oh what you're missing out on while going with that racing American flow."

Good post, cous. And as I said, I wish you and Tobin the best in re-ordering your life. Slowin' it down just feels so right, eh? :)

Little Monkies said...

I adore you.

Our minds are connecting across the country. We made some of the same discussions/decisions this weekend.

And, I *did* have to laugh that Tobin had to remind you of how difficult farming is...seriously. That is the hardest work I've ever done, even with a tractor!

Love you, my friend!

Bon said...

i loved this. i too fret about my lack of Amishness, though i hadn't actually gotten so far as to identify it as Amishness, just a lack. now i know.

you reminded me, here, that time is something we SPEND, just like money. ie, there's a choice involved. thank you.

our kids are young, and we already do some of the things on your list, but i think turning off the damn computers and being fully present is what we need to do.

Alicia said...

I had to laugh at the thought of you becoming an Amish farmer. Don't you remember pulling weeds, picking up brush, and working in extreme weather conditions? Not for me! While I have the utmost respect and gratitude toward farmers, I'm perfectly content in my surburban life.

We too have chosen to scale back and focus on the activities that are in alignment with our values. This means that only one child can have an extra-curricular activity per season (unless they are at the same place - like swimming lessons). It also means that the kids sometimes have to tag along to our activities if we deem them as valuable (i.e. Bible study and other church activities). We're spending more time on family bike rides, reading after dinner (together and independently), and involving the kids in our daily activities like making dinner, fixing bicycles, and cleaning the house. We're finding that it's fun to spend time together, whether it's relaxing or working.

bgirl said...

wow. ally this post really resonates. the busy things keep us from the real things. i have been struggling on how to reclaim things and admittedly afraid of the melt-downs that may occur with the change.

i am hereby borrowing your ideas and hopefully gaining some of your strength!

thanks for always being such an inspiration...and for not becoming amish, at least yet!

painted maypole said...

i'm with bon. the computer is our biggest time sucker in our home

your goals are reasonable and also challenging, like most things worth doing. good luck!

Anonymous said...

It involves prioritizing, this keeping sane thing. I find myself every day trying to set priorities and not care about the other things. I love your goals.

Duck Doc said...

I have been trying to be much better about saying no to doing things that I have little interest in - even if it is something that Tom would really want to do. Fortunately he has a friend who likes to do those things with him and it leaves me to relax. But, I have also made more time for things I LIKE to do and that make me feel more calm....knitting class with my girlfriends, the occasional off Broadway show.

We have both been working much harder on not feeling obligated to go out to dinner.

I know though that in the coming months, I will have much more business with a baby on the way. I am trying to figure out a way to do this more slowly and methodically to make it last.

ONe thing that has fallen by the wayside a bit is my volunteering. In the last two months, I have not volunteered at the free clinic once. I feel bad about this but it has been very much less stressful. I am trying to figure out a good balance for this going into the winter months.

Thanks for your continued insightful and well written blogs!

Summer said...

Don't you go moving to Mt. Vernon on us. I thought we were all moving to Olympia or somewhere on the Peninsula. It's still in our future plans! We'll be able to seriously talk about it in a few years... (When we know more about how and where Jeremy's career is going to shake down.)

I live among the Amish now and there are many, many things I love and admire about their lives. We have a local Amish grocery store (the couple couldn't have children, and therefore couldn't have a farm, so they opened a store). I try to do most of my shopping there. Amazing cheese, bread (made fresh everyday) and spices!

But, there are other things about the Amish that shouldn't be over romanticized. For instance, I'm not sure they have a choice to be clean shaven! So, I don't think you're quite headed towards actual Amish-ness. But, there certainly is a lot we can learn from them about simplicity and slowness. Ask me to explain the cooling system in their store someday. It's brilliant!

Much love to you,

Pate Family said...

I've never thought of being Amish before- what I have considered (which I think is even more crazy) is moving back to Milton-Freewater, buying a farm so we can grow all our own food, have chickens and cows, and homeschooling our kids. Fortunately for everyone I have a calm husband who just smiles when I bring this up and says, "yeah, lets talk about that tomorrow." We are trying to calm the chaos by limiting activities- one thing per kid at a time. Which meant great trauma when Girl Scouts were not joined, nor was flag football. Two kids in soccer is all I can do right now. I think our kids will be fine without ballet lessons, gymnastics, etc. I'm feeling guilty about no piano lessons though...

Lori said...

Awww.. I was kind of hoping for that farm so that we could come visit you for one day out of the year and just pretend that we are Amish! :)

No desire to be Amish here, but I do appreciate the value of rest. I have to say that I am with Kendra Joy in that I don't really find myself all that busy (gasp!) I am busy with household duties and raising my kids (good heavens, I AM Amish), but I severely limit anything beyond that. We have never been the sort to overschedule our kids and they have never been the sort to like that kind of thing.

I love your list and it made me wistful for the time when my boys were smaller and more content to just live their lives within the boundaries of our own little household. It gets harder as they become pre-adolescents and teenagers and aren't so inclined toward family game/movie night. But we still force them now and then. :)

If anyone could be Amish, it would be you! :)

Anonymous said...

I really love you.
And you list made me sit down and wonder, why is it that I don't cook? Why is it that at 5:30 (or 6:00... or 7:00) I am still wondering, "What will I fix for dinner?" (Or actually, "When is Mary Poppins going to show up? She's late!") Lack of organization, multitasking, and a complete lack of priorities has (temporarily, I hope) turned our life into chaos.

I blame a lot on the fact that we have high maintenance teenagers & a very busy husband. And I work at home - sometimes full-time, sometimes less. But when all this started, my priority was to stop at 4:00, turn around, and focus on the kids, homework, and feeding everyone something nutritious and hot.

I can do this. You and I share a love for that same cookbook and all I have to do is make a commitment.

So rather than make a long list, I'm starting really small: I will make dinner. I will plan for that dinner in advance. I will get back to basics on the hot food, eaten together, with (gasp!) potential conversation. Starting small, but for me, that's really big.