The Art of Continuing

So it’s been a month since Adam or I last posted. I have a million excuses why, but mostly it boils down to the fact that life continues. Always. Whether we keep up or not, well, it is what it is.

And we haven’t been keeping up with the blog.

Not that we haven’t meant to. I have probably ten different blog posts rolling around in my head at any one point in time, but sitting down and getting it done has been another story. In light of that, I’m going to take this opportunity to sort of “start over” and remember why we wanted to start blogging in the first place.

We want to inspire people. We want to show how making conscious decisions to live lightly on the earth are life changing, but they don’t come besotted with negative connotations. In fact, many are easy to do, and these acts help your budget as well as your eco-conscious mind.

Despite this, there are times when you will struggle, and it will be hard. Such is with all that is worthwhile in life. It is not always easy, but it always worth it. Always.

One of the mini trials Adam and I have walked through recently was coming to a point where it began to be hard to get rid of things. See, we’d run out of all the easy things to part with like our extra clothes, kitchen items, etc. All those things that might seem a little hard to part with but in reality you don’t miss as soon as they’re gone. So, this left us in a bit of a conundrum.

I prayed very early on that we would learn to live with our hands open. That we would give. That we would sacrifice for someone else. And well, we’re hitting that point.

So what do we give away when all the easy things are gone? What indeed. There’d been one particular item lurking in the back of my mind these past few weeks, and at first I didn’t have the strength to deal with it. Because it was hard to think of parting with it.

My wedding dress.

The beautiful dress that I wore for exactly one day of my life, that has been preserved in a box and awaits endless storage while I worry over inconsequential fears. Like my family will be mad if I part with it. Or my potential future daughters will want to wear it. Or society says its important for a bride to keep this part of her wedding. Or whatever.

In reality my wedding dress is just a thing. It’s just an item that I’ve attached meaning to, and because of that I have a hard time parting with it. Which means in some way, I’ve allowed this thing to have power over me. Because really, what is more important, me keeping this dress forever or parting with it by either donating it or selling it and giving the money to charity.

The answer seems clear. But why then do I struggle with it so much; why is it hard to part with this item? Because some other bride could be just as happy on her wedding day in this dress as I was, and by doing that, I’d be reducing the resource use of our society by keeping one dress in circulation instead of having an untold number stored up somewhere just waiting but never being used for what it was made to do.

I think we do this with a lot of items in our life; we hold them close to us, convince ourselves that we need them, when really we don’t. We’re so easily lulled into the sense of ‘necessity’ because we’re told that if we don’t have these things we’re not affluent. Or cultured. With the day and age. Or whatever.

I am trying to refuse being held captive by these things that are just that, things. So I’m learning to live with my hand held open. Even if it hurts. Even if it’s hard at first. I’m learning to let go, and in that middle of that, I’m learning the art of continuing on. Of moving forward. Of being less and less tied to the things of life, and more free to spend my time thinking about what really matters. Like all the wondrous life that surrounds me and begs for me to care about it in the faces of the people I pass and the trees that give me air to breathe.

So what about my dress? I took it to the local bridal resale shop. If it doesn’t sell there in a few months, I’ll simply donate it to one of the marvelous non-profits that use wedding dresses in many wonderful ways. I’m not holding the fear of what others will think of me. And my future daughters? Well, I hope they’re fierce and strong and independent, and if they want a tradition to carry on at their wedding, maybe they’ll have a potluck or plant a tree, both of which Adam and I did on our wedding day.

Beginnings are usually relatively easy. It’s continuing on that’s that hard part. Because once your feet can’t touch the bottom anymore, you have two choices. You can go back to safer water, and pretend like you’re moving forward. Or you can go forward, continuing on even when it isn’t easy anymore, even when you’re not sure what that means.

And there’s beauty in that, the art of continuing.

 

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Beef, it’s not for dinner.

It’s me, Adam and today I would like to discuss with you the topic of meat. This past weekend I found myself at the local butcher shop with my dad and two brothers.  Earlier in the month he had gotten a bison butchered for meat and the time came to make brats.  Like most other sources of meat we eat, we usually take part in the processing.  Bison, being much larger than the chickens we raise or deer we shoot, means the butchering and most of the processing gets done at the local butcher shop.  But, because the butcher shop is owned by my dad’s cousin, we get the joy of helping out when it comes to things like making the brats.

The process consists of a few simple steps.

We start by grinding the meat:20160130_075431

Then we mix in the seasonings and cider:

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Followed by filling the casings:

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We finish by twisting, cutting, and bagging the brats:

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And here we go, brats!

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When we make brats, we like to keep them simple and pure, no added pork or pork fat, just seasoning and one of our favorite wines or ciders to add the needed moisture.  A bit of back story to help explain our family butchering a whole bison, my dad used to raise bison back in the day when he was a farmer and now he just has connections.

But enough about bison, because we don’t eat just bison.

On to a few of the more common and affordable options, like chicken, venison, and pork.  Usually every spring/summer my parents raise enough chickens to supply our whole family with meat for the year.  When the chickens are fully grown we (the sons and daughter-in-laws) are the butchers, and we skin and gut the birds before putting them in the freezer.  Our birds get skinned to save time and the extra investment into additional equipment.  Then in the fall, we all sit out in the woods in the hope of shooting a deer.  When we do get a deer or two, we again are the butchers, and we skin, cut, grind, and freeze all the meat.  And when winter rolls around, there is always that pot of split pea soup that must get made.  Jenn and I buy most of our pork from our friends down at the farmers market, but, there is the occasional 1/2 pound of bacon or 1/2 dozen brats that we buy at the local meat market.  All of our meat comes from the land we live on, the friends we know, or is made just down the street.

Is the bison grass-fed?  Is the chicken certified organic? Is the pork kosher?  No, mostly likely not.  We do not buy organic feed for the chickens, but they always do have bugs and grubs to eat in the grass outside their coop.  The bison probably will get a bail of hay in the winter or some supplemental grain, but most of the time they are out in the pasture.  The deer for sure eat the corn and soybeans in the neighbor’s fields that are most likely gmo’s, but they are definitely the most local source of meat we eat.  And pork, well no (because clearly pork cannot be kosher), but if its not a pastured ham hoch or pork chop from the farmers market, it’s mixed or smoked just a few blocks from our home.  Ideally it all would be organic and humanely raised, but for more reasons than I can explain, that just isn’t always the case.  So we do the best we can do, being mindful of the of the meat we eat, the animals it came from, and the earth they live on.  As for fish, we do love eating it, but we haven’t quit figured this one out yet.

As for the apparent lack of beef in our diet, well I just didn’t really eat beef when growing up. We had no need to eat beef.  Now I’m not saying that beef is bad, or even that you shouldn’t eat meat (although we must keep in mind that 1lb of meat does take significantly greater amounts of land, water, and fossil fuels to grow than 1lb of vegetables). What I would simply like to say is that we, as stewards of this earth, should be more mindful of the meat we eat, where it comes from, and how those animals were raised. Yes, I do understand that not all of us have the privilage of sourcing their meat the way Jenn and I do, but I do believe that if one is intentional, they can and will find a more humane and healthy meat to buy.

 

the war on plastic

In addition to our war on chemicals, Adam and I’ve decided to tackle another subject that didn’t exist a 150 years ago but is so pervasive in today’s society, plastic.

Why the war on plastic? What did plastic ever do to me? Nothing. And that’s just the problem. Plastic does nothing, as in, it doesn’t degrade, doesn’t break down, can’t be consumed by the circle of life. In effect, plastic is one of the most unnatural things I’ve ever come across. Everything in nature is part of a cycle; the ever changing movement of abiotic and biotic elements is simultaneously the most complex and most simple system I’ve ever had the pleasure to study. Within the confines of the natural world, everything has it’s place. Mufasa says it best in the Lion King :

Mufasa: Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance and respect all the creatures, from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope.
Young Simba: But, Dad, don’t we eat the antelope?
Mufasa: Yes, Simba, but let me explain. When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. And so we are all connected in the great Circle of Life. 

So what’s the big deal with plastic? According to my google search, it takes at least 450 years for plastic to decompose, but it can be upwards of a 1,000+ years. Think about all the pieces of plastic you come in contact with on a daily basis, and then extrapolate that to a global scale. We are tying up a lot of resources in a form that will take at least the time of four human generations to break down, not to mention all the damage that plastic does to wildlife and ecosystems because of our poor management and lack of care. That’s not particularly tasteful when I consider the kind of environment I want my future children to live in.

So what can we do? Adam and I have been working towards ridding our house of as much plastic as possible, and luckily, there’s a plethora of simple acts that can greatly reduce your plastic usage.

  1. Don’t buy plastic garbage bags. If you think about it, buying garbage bags is throwing your money in the garbage in the most literal form. Why buy something to throw it away when you can use something you got for free? Adam and I get paper bags for our groceries, and then we use them for our kitchen garbage. True, we can’t 20160126_184120throw anything we want in there, but as it’s located under the sink, we can simply drain off any random liquids that might want to sneak into our garbage and go. When it’s time to take the garbage out, we staple the bag shut and we’re good to go! In other garbages, we use old produce bags, as seen here (former apple bag now bathroom garbage bag!)

  2. Reuse plastic bags as much as possible. Adam and I freeze a ton of produce for the winter, as we prefer to eat as seasonally and locally as possible. That means we have to purchase Ziploc bags to store the food in our freezer (but we’re working on finding alternatives for that too!). So, since we’re purchasing them, we’re not just going to use them once and then throw them away. 20160126_184208Instead, we do what we would do with another other temporary food storage, we wash the bags. As long as they don’t have holes, we wash and reuse these bags until they wear out. By doing this, we only buy 1, maybe 2 packages of Ziploc bags a year. They’re easy to dry, and they’re super easy to grab when we need to store food or non-food items quickly.20160126_184244

  3. Take reusable bags to the store. This ties into number 1, because when we aren’t getting paper bags (which is most of the time because we don’t make that much garbage anyway), we either bring our own bag or don’t bag what we’re buying. The easiest way to cut plastic out of your life is to simply refuse it. When we go shopping, we just tell the cashier we don’t need a bag while we’re saying hello. True, some put it in a bag anyway, or they look at us like we’re a little odd, but the only way to normalize something is to act like you’ve done it all your life.

As more of our world becomes tied up in a form that won’t decompose, we get further away from what’s real, and closer to what’s artificial. That’s not the kind of world I’d like to leave behind for my children. Instead, I’d like to follow the lines of a children’s movie, and think about all things in relation to the circle of life.

Stay tuned for part 2, coming next week…

Other Assorted Cleaning Things

Hello friends, Jenn here. Last time, I introduced my war on chemicals in my home, and there are a few loose ends to clean up (pun intended) in the household cleaning arena before moving to other aspects of life. First, I’d like to say that everything is a process. When I first started reading about how to simplify my life and all the things that I should or shouldn’t get rid of, it was very overwhelming. What I’ve learned is that no one changes their life in an instance. One of Adam’s favorite things to say recently is

no one wakes up and decides to be an environmentalist

And he’s right. Certainly our journey is several years in the making now. So that being said, don’t feel like you need to purge your house of chemicals instantly. It takes time to find simple, sustainable , and doable replacements for things you currently use. If you feel disgusted by the chemicals that surround you, use that as motivation to pursue clean alternatives. While I have given away some of our old cleaning products, I mostly content myself with using up what we have and NOT buying anything new. For instance, I still clean our hardwood floors with soap and bleach; once those are gone, I will find a suitable replacement, and I’m excited to share what that will be when the time comes.

Anyways, forward. Last time I discussed vinegar and baking soda, which I use for many, but not all of my cleaning. The other go-to that I have in my house is Norwex products. If you haven’t heard of Norwex, you should check them out here. Basically, they’re a company that specializes in cleaning products without chemicals. Huzzah! Adam and I have several of their envirocloths, which is a microfiber cloth. 20160119_181819[1]

We keep separate ones for the kitchen and bathroom, and these clothes are fantastic for cleaning up countertops, sinks, tables, and tubs. If the initial price seems scary, just know that you will never have to buy a replacement-these are quality clothes that get the job done. We also have their window cloth, and that helps clean any windows/mirrors in our home.

Outside of that, we don’t have a need for any other cleaning products. All our needs are met with these few cleaning habits, and as a bonus there is hardly any storage involved, which is nice when you’re trying to simplify and streamline your life.

Plus, all those chemicals you no longer purchase and send down the drain definitely make a difference for the plants, animals, and people living on the other side, which in turns makes you a better steward of our world. And that feels pretty darn good.

Baking Soda & Vinegar Time

Hello friends, Jenn here again. The holidays were hectic as usual, and the gloom of January has settled in by raining of all things (this is Wisconsin, right?) With the rush and gift giving of the holidays, Adam and I were blessed to receive some very nice gifts from our family. However, as we received new things, we decided to make a policy-“one thing in, one thing out.” As I said before, giving things away isn’t the hardest part, the hardest part of keeping things simple is choosing what to allow in your home. So, we were quickly able to fill our box for the month with a few ornaments and holiday decorations we don’t use, some older clothing, and a mix-match of other items.

Now, on to the fun part!

One of my favorite things about simplifying my home is that it makes cleaning so much easier. If I’m being honest I don’t mind cleaning, but there are better ways to spend my time than cleaning clutter in my home ( I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way).

Enter cleaning products!20160108_162810[1]

Living as a better steward of this world not only means streamlining material belongings, it also means taking a good, hard look at the cleaning products hiding in the corners of your home. Our world is filled with a ridiculous amount of foreign and unnecessary chemicals that are harmful to our bodies and the planet at large. Thus, the second arena I have moved into on my journey towards being a better steward is eliminating every chemical from my home.

Ambitious, I know, but necessary. I have the tendency to be somewhere in the realm of “germaphobe” so this was quite the step for me. As I’ve moved through this process, I’ve learned that I don’t need to sterilize the heck out of everything, and that doing so is actually worse for my body. If I’m never exposed to anything, how can I build up a good immune system? Just as my muscles need to be worked or they get wimpy, so does my immunity. Also, my cleaning products now get things way more clean that the other ones, and I don’t have to wear gloves because I’m concerned about what’s in them. Instead of cleaning products with ingredient lists I can’t pronounce, I use two simple ingredients I can pronounce and eat: baking soda and vinegar.

These two are the power combo at cleaning. I use them in every room of my home. See below for ideas!

  •  For a clogged/smelly drain-pour 1/4 cup baking soda in sink drain (you can do this with any drain) followed by 1/2-3/4 cup of vinegar. Let this fizzle for a while before following with running water.
  • Vinegar in a spray bottle with a couple drops of lemon essential oil cleans up just about anything. I use it for spills/accidents on the floor and furniture-including cloth.
  • Toilet cleaner-sprinkle 1/4-1/2 cup of baking soda around the toilet bowl. In a separate bowl, mix 1/2-3/4 cup vinegar and 3-4 drops of lemon essential oil(optional: lemon just makes things smell cleaner), and pour over the toilet bowl before scrubbing. Use the spray bottle to get any areas you missed pouring. Scrub well and flush.
  • Baking soda is a great replacement for soft scrub (think bath tub floors or sinks). Sprinkle some over the area in need of cleaning, dampen, and let sit for a few minutes. Use a dish scrubby (I use old ones that are beyond use in my kitchen) and rub stains/scum away. If the stain persists, mix some dish soap with your baking soda to form a sort of paste, smear it on, and let it sit for at least thirty minutes. Then scrub away as usual, and your stains should come out.

There are plenty more ways to use baking soda and vinegar, but these are some of my favorites. We buy both in bulk. They’re pretty cheap, they help limit what we bring into our home, and I never have to worry if I’m hurting myself or the planet. Talk about a win-win-win.

If you have a favorite way to use baking soda and vinegar, we’d love to hear it!

Simplify, simplify.

I have struggled to make a first post to this blog; how can one posting sum up all that Adam and I want to share with the world? How could it encapsulate all that we are working for? I spent the last week mulling over these thoughts in the small moments of life, when washing dishes or on long car rides between relatives’ homes (on the holiday drive). What I realized, part way through, was that the answer was in front of me all along: simplicity.

The root word, simple is in our blog’s name, so that is a fitting place to start. As we said before, Adam and I both started our journeys toward better stewardship individually, and there is always one thought, one quote that I return to when I am trying to further myself along this path:

Our life is frittered away by detail…Simplify, simplify.

Henry David Thoreau wrote these words, and a great many other on the same topic that I wrestle with now. When I read this quote, I think about all the ways I spend my life, which tends to be played out through my choices in time, money, and other avenues. Living simply has a multitude of impacts that are hard to see before you’ve begun, though they are quite rewarding once your journey is on its way.

The first step in living a more simple stewardship of our lives (outside of food and growing it-which is our foremost love, perhaps), Adam and I took to the simplification of our belongings. The first attempt at this was a minor failure as we both had very different opinons on what we could give up from our home. Married only a year at that point, we were young (still are) and without large incomes. Giving up material things can appear to be a sort of risk. Indeed, our greatest disagreement over parting with the things in our posession was the “but what if we need this?” argument.

For example, one of the first places we attempted to cut down on material items was in our kitchen. We gave away two glass pie dishes, several stirring/serving spoons, 9×13 pans, among other things. All of these items we had twice the amount we have now, and yet, for almost every single thing, one of us asked “but what if we need this?” We certainly do not need four pie dishes, 10+ spoons, etc in our house, but the uncertainty that something would break, or there would be an event where we would need them, lingered over us. Still, we gave the items away on good faith, and have not missed them since.

After our first eventful process of trying to part with our belongings, Adam and I have found it easier each time we practice simplifying our life. About once a month now for the last half of a year we fill a box, backpack, or whatever else we have with items we do not need and donate them to thrift stores or wherever else they can best be reused. Now it is a challenge for us to stand in one room of our little home and search the corners for things we do not use and will not miss.

I have not missed a single thing I’ve given away, and in return I’ve recieved much more than I expected. With less things, cleaning takes less time, there is less clutter in our house, and there are less material goods for us to be distracted by. We now evaluate our purchases by a rule of “do we truly need this or will it bring us contentment in a meaningful way?” If the answer is no to either of these questions, then we do not need that thing in our life.

Our days make up our lives, and as we move forward, I find myself happier with less material things. It leaves me more free to pursue passions of mine, build greater relationships, and do well the work that I am meant to do. So friends, let us not let our lives be frittered away by detail, and instead choose to simplify, simplify.

 

The Get-to-know-you bit

Hey everyone, Adam and Jenn here. We hope you’ll join us on our journey as we seek to become simple world stewards. You’re probably wondering how we got here. Well, we both grew up in the Wisconsin countryside, helping our parents through gardening, raising animals, and other various “country” activities. This time helped instill a deep love of the land that would later shape our lives. Moving onto college, we met in an Environmental Studies 101 course, and from there, began the journey towards realizing that our very separate, individual dreams actually paired together in an encouraging and beautiful way. Fancy that. So, post-college, we married, and have been doing the marriage thing for about 1 1/2 years now. We’ve used this time to dream together about how we can change the world, and we’re now settling on the desire to live and eat simply, and help others do the same.

The things you’ll find in this blog reflect our passions. Adam in particular cares about cheese, cooking, local food, upcycling (in a very raw form), and sustainability in the terms of everyday energy usage. Jenn, on the other hand, cares about food (in the growing sense more than the cooking sense), native landscaping, reducing chemical usage in everyday life, and sustainability in the sense of passing on knowledge to the next generation.

So there you have it, we’re just simple people sharing our life story.