Getting an education.

I wrote an entry yesterday but it was all erased by Jeff somehow (poor guy felt so bad!) and at that point I didn’t have the gumption to write it over again anyway. So many things on my mind. I’m thinking a lot about how to balance this lifestyle with ways in which I am accustomed to living… that was a terrible way of describing it- I guess just learning how to consolidate it all and deal with doubt. For example, it’s my wonderful Jeff’s birthday today. He’s 26! Anyway, he wanted this cake for his birthday. Specifically, this yellow cake with rainbow-chip frosting that comes straight from the supermarket. His sister used to make it when he was a kid and he remembered it with such fondness. He answered with such surety, I had to ask again just to be sure I heard him right. He smiled and told me the story about having so often when he was a kid, and so I just shrugged and said "Ok then, rainbow chip frosting it is."

Now, it might not seem like this is anything to bat an eye about, but for the past 3 years Jeff and I have dedicated ourselves to living more sustainably, and the first step had to be with how/what we eat. We don’t go to the supermarket. We buy our food primarily from our food co-op, and what we don’t get there is raw milk and bulk meats that we order from local farmers. We try to grow as much as we can, and work to store things and waste as little as possible. It’s not perfect, we still buy a lemon and an avocado here and there, but we have really been fine-tuning it so that we just don’t eat the way that we used to. Each year it becomes more refined- more bulk foods, less packaged stuff, no more bananas, more stored veggies from our own garden, etc. We also don’t eat meat when we eat out- which we don’t do often. This is not to be food snobs- although it kind of comes with the territory when you get used to this way of eating. I didn’t feel noticably better, I didn’t feel bad to begin with, but I do feel gross when I eat much of the food I used to be okay eating. I can feel the difference between a greasy piece of pizza and one that I made myself. So, it’s feeling good, this choice of ours. We have no doubts that it’s right for us. Not to mention ways in which our health improved without us realizing it. Jeff uses his inhaler far less often and is no longer lactose intolerant, my cycles became more regulated, I had a great pregnancy, we both rarely get sick, it’s just good. I even wonder if I’m overcoming some of my food allergies, although I’d like to get it tested before I go eating whatever I want. Anyway, it’s not just that we feel good. That’s a perk. It’s really about living in a way that we feel is ethical and in line with our values. You’d be surprised how much that has to do with your food. 

So here I was with this birthday request. In my family, and I think in many, you basically get what you want on your birthday (within reason). I felt this lingering objection, but I didn’t feel like I had a right to say anything. Two days went by and I, without thinking, said "So you really want this rainbow-chip thing for your birthday?" Jeff got really upset and asked me what this was all about, why I couldn’t just honor his birthday request and all that… I felt bad, so I explained why I was confused about it, but told him that I would make it if he wanted me to. He said it was ruined now and that he’d just feel guilty eating it at this point. I felt like a ruiner of birthdays. We got past it and now we’ve happily settled on me doing my best to make it with ingredients from the co-op, although it will not be what he remembers.

I felt so bad about it all, it got me questioning everything. I would love to abide by that unspoken rule that people get to have what they want on their birthdays, but what happens when I don’t believe that people can have whatever they want, period. I mean, surely I can walk up to the store and get him the stupid cake, but I don’t believe that that kind of eating is/should be truly available to us. It’s not sustainable, not to mention it’s bad for our bodies, and part of what we’ve been rejecting is this sense of entitlement that is just false and results in suffering and many of the problems we see in the world today. I know, way to think about a cake, right?

It’s just tiring sometimes, doing what you believe in. I know many people criticize us, or think it’s just too much work and that it’s not necessarily one person’s responsiblity to do this. Or, more likely, they think we’re big fat downers. But, I really feel like every year I’ve collected little pieces to the puzzle, and they come together slowly to form a picture- a good and hopeful picture, not one filled with deprivation . It’s hard to have understanding for something you can’t see, but that’s faith. It became infinitely easier to do this and to want to do more after I started. It comes together slowly, but it comes together. Sacrifice, fear of what people will think, a birthday, any reason I can think of not to do it, it just all becomes less and less important the closer I get to what I believe is right. The lines between what is hard and what is easy become blurred and my work becomes my joy.
Jeff talked a bit about how it feels addictive to take the easy road. If you start to let something slip, if you make it okay for something then it’s hard to see life without it all. I felt like that was the best reason not to allow ourselves to have the cake, straight from the birthday boy’s mouth. Because it’s not just cake, it’s a ripple effect, it’s compromising the structure of our beliefs. The more I write the more sure I feel.

I guess one of my fears that lingers is the idea that I’m a big bummer to everyone. That I’ll somehow ruin experiences and desires and make people tired of me. It’s not an unfounded fear, is the problem. That stuff will happen to some extent. All it takes is that perspective. I’m sure my kids will tire of it all, I know my parents have already. But, I’ve learned that I can’t let that matter. I can’t let those doubting voices sway me from my action, because I know that it has purpose, even if I can’t see it yet. An example of this that I love- my dad was a bad alcoholic/addict when he was in his teens. He was in rough shape towards the end, his teeth were falling out and he was turning yellow from hepatitis… bad news, right? Anyway, this middle aged guy approached him one day on his way to an AA meeting. He was able to tell that my dad needed help in that way, and so he invited him to the meeting. This was back in the 70s when the only people who went to AA were middle aged men. So, my 19 year old father went to his first AA meeting on a whim. He’s been sober ever since. He’s gone on to work for and eventually run a very successful drug treatment facility. He’s sponsored hundreds of addicts and alcoholics and continues to be active in the AA community. Needless to say, he’s inspired and helped countless people, and it can all be brought back to a single moment, when a guy took a chance and asked a crazy looking dude he’d never met to come with him to a meeting. That man moved a few years after my dad got sober, and ever since then my dad has been trying to find him. He’s wanted to thank him and show him what he’s done with his sobriety. Finally, after over a decade of searching, he found him. The man is still sober and was surprised to hear from my dad. I love this story, because it just shows how you won’t always see the fruits of an action like that until later- in this case it was 30 years later. Anyway, it just teaches me that I need to do things that I know are right, even if it’s something very small, and to take chances, even if I don’t see an immediate return. I imagine that that man was walking with some people who discouraged him from talking to that crazy long-haired kid. I imagine so many obstacles- even just the fear of talking to someone new. Anyway.

My aunt made Vera these mittens.for Christmas. We now call them her "kitten mittens" (say really fast).

Snowy night. So much snow lately.

She’s always preferred feeding herself, so I just let her have at it now. She even scoops her spoon in the bowl and everything! My big girl.

"I respect faith, but doubt is what gets you an education." -Wilson Mizner

Gracie
Gracie

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Comments (17)

  1. 93_millionmiles

    You’re not a bummer. I think you’re great!

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Aw, thanks! I need to hang out with you more- we can keep each other on the right track!

      Reply
      1. 93_millionmiles

        Yeah! I hope we can get together again soon. Next week?

        Reply
        1. Gracie (Post author)

          Yes! Wait, so this week or 7 days from now? The week has just begun so I wasn’t sure which you meant. Anyway, yeah, I’m up for whatever- especially warm drinks on cold days and good company. 🙂

          Reply
          1. 93_millionmiles

            Hmmm, whatever is more convenient for you. All of my weekday mornings and early afternoons are pretty flexible.

  2. pithy_epigrams

    You have to be the change you wish to see in the world. Be strong! Be true to yourself, stand up for yourself, and for what you believe in! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Amen, sister. 🙂

      Reply
  3. lilpeace

    You said it all much better than I could’ve said it myself, and you know we are struggling with the same things.

    Aside from standing up for what we believe in and doing the next right thing, we also were taught that many of these “right things” will not be popular, and that we need to be prepared for that. Sucks, but I think it comes with taking a radical approach to sustainability.

    I find myself often wondering if I’m a little nuts, but then I remind myself that we are living in an INSANE culture, and that being surrounded by that daily makes it difficult to break out of it. As Ani D. once said “It’s as easy as breathing for us all to participate…” But we’re not the crazy ones.

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Yes, you are right. I forgot that part, about it not being popular and being prepared for that. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to be able to talk to you about this stuff, and to trust that you won’t think I’m making a big deal out of nothing. THANK YOU!

      Reply
  4. brigittefires

    I think, in your position, and this is just me and my opinion not saying you “should have” done anything… I think I would have clarified and then just shrugged and figured, “what’s one cake? maybe he’ll eat it and it will taste terrible and then we’ll never have it again!” And probably filed it away to bring up months down the road in a way that wouldn’t be accusatory or anything, just after I’d had a chance to process the whole thing and to see how it went.

    I don’t honestly thing either of you are wrong in this situation. You’re coming from different viewpoints, and getting different conclusions. It’s interesting, but I’m not sure there’s an easy solution for it. Let us know how you work it all out (since I foresee a revisiting of this subject in the future ;).

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Yeah, in some ways I agree with this, and I did tell him I would make it for him. He just said he didn’t want me to make something I wasn’t proud to make him, and that was that. I mean, I think what ended up happening is that he agreed with me and felt bad that I pointed it out in any capacity. Even in the sort of round-about way that I mentioned it, he knew what I was saying. That, to me, is an issue of conscience, and so I just was pointing out what I knew was already there. If he really thought the cake was an alright choice, then I would have made it without another word. So I guess I should have clarified because he was upset but he came to the same conclusion- it was just disappointing. I dealt with feeling some guilt about causing any disappointment about his birthday.

      I’m sure you’re right, it probably would’ve tasted gross and he wouldn’t choose it again. What happens when it doesn’t though? Next year? Then Vera will get whatever she wants from the store for her birthday, because Dad does… What happens if she wants fast food (which I’m fundamentally against)? I mean, it’s less about one cake and more an issue with consistently doing what we think is right. A headache at times, surely, but worth it I think.
      Oh, and I wish I could bring things up months later, but for some reason I’m wired for “Deal with this NOW!”. Sometimes I can wait a couple of weeks, if I’m lucky. Anyway, thanks for your thoughts. It’s interesting to think about how others would deal with a situation.

      Reply
  5. unicorntapestry

    AHHHH!!! She is such a cutie! I can’t stand it, I have to come to Michigan RIGHT NOW. I love how she looks at the mittens like she’s creating her own little puppet show. I love how she’s eating with a spoon and making a crazy mess. I love your baby. That’s just how it is.

    As to Jeff and the cake, I think I agree with brigittefires on this one. It kind of reminds of how my dad used to smoke cigars once a year with Uncle Dave. And every year, I would freak out and yell at him because my parents had always taught me that smoking was bad for you. But he had the self-control to do it only once a year and it was one of his male-bonding things.

    What I mean is: There’s a difference between the impulse, fall-off-the-wagon bad decision, which cascades into a series of bad decisions and the once in a while, carefully planned special occasion.

    This does not mean that I don’t think you both would feel gross after eating the cake, which would have been a no fun birthday sensation and one worth avoiding.

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      COME! COME NOW! Oh, it’ll be so nice next time you visit- you’ll have a nice room to stay in, meant for guests! Your bed won’t take up the whole floor! Woohoo!

      Yeah, I guess I see your meaning if you believe that smoking one cigar a year is ok to do. You were right, they were inconsistent and of course it wouldn’t make sense to you when you were a kid. What it taught you, ultimately, is exactly what they believe- that smoking is bad for you, but it’s okay to do it once in a while as long as you have control over it and it’s for a celebration.
      I have to be careful because while it’s just a cake, it blends into the whole food category, and there are so many special occasions. If it could be confined to ONE rainbow chip frosted yellow cake from a box per year for Dad’s birthday, then maybe fine. What it says, I think, is that it’s okay to have things that we want, that would normally not be okay, when it’s our birthday or we can find some reason for them. I can’t get behind that, especially when I’m choosing to live so intentionally. I can’t risk Vera pulling that card in the future and feeling like we’re big hypocrites. I know this is sticky territory, because we are already hypocrites just to live in this system, but there is a difference between having things because there is no alternative yet or there aren’t the resources (either monetary, awareness, or not enough brain-power, or whatever) to make the change. In instances like this? I made the best replica that I could from local/organic ingredients, and Jeff loved it.

      Oh, I love you friend. 🙂

      Reply
  6. Anonymous

    Maybe next time this happens someone else could make the cake. I’m sure not everyone in his family or yours follows the same practices that you do (as much as you would like them to). So to have them make the cake from the box wouldn’t be so bad.

    Past is past, but perhaps next time right away get excited about the challenge of trying to make it homemade. Then it won’t seem like a 2nd best option. Maybe next time offer (excitedly) to try it and if it doesnt work out, then his sister or mom can make him the cake.

    In all honesty as much as I admire the way you live, it’s not something I could do right now. Maybe next time this happens, I will happily make the effort to go shop at the local co-op for something and it will off set your grocery store purchase.

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      I don’t think I could encourage someone else to do something that I don’t myself believe is good to do. I mean, I don’t just want to shift the responsibility, I want to make actual change. I do like your second suggestion though- I should approach it like it’s this positive thing that will be even more fun. Good advice!

      Just out of curiosity, why couldn’t you do this? My mission is to live as an example, and if I know that you admire it and agree with it, then I guess I just wonder what stops people. It’s an adjustment, I know, and I’m always having to work and keep on doing more, but what keeps people from going for it? I just think, if I can do it then so can other people. I guess, what makes you say that?

      Definitely, off-set all of it as much as you’d like!

      Reply
  7. robinbronwen

    Where do you shop in the Ann Arbor/Ypsi area? I strive to be a simpler shopper as well. I have tried to stay away from the corporate world. Even though I don’t live in that area anymore, I would still like to visit there more and maybe even live there again someday. Where do you shop? You are my idol. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Aw, you’re sweet to me! I try not to shop much, but otherwise I go to either the Ypsi or AA Value World, Salvation Army, Ann Arbor PTO thrift, Kiwanis, and garage sales like crazy. I just have to think about shopping a little differently, and so I can’t really shop with an immediate need, although even when I do have one I can usually find something in those places. I find that there is way more than enough out there, I don’t have to buy new anything practically. If you do come back here then we can go garage sale-ing together. 🙂

      Reply

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