This past week The Professor and I celebrated 19 years of marriage by going to a basketball game. Ha. It just goes to show that I’d follow my love boy anywhere For the record, we also got away to Maine last weekend and ate a lot of cheese. Which just goes to show he’d follow me anywhere…especially if cheese is involved.
NINETEEN YEARS. It was yesterday and a million years ago. Today I’m feeling thankful. No matter what else we do in this life, my marriage and family will rank as my most important and joyful accomplishments.
Because he loves public displays of affection: 19 years ago we married, drove across the country to this place called New Hampshire, landing somewhere called a boarding school. I had a broken neck (from a trampoline mishap, but never mind and a head full of dreams. You made them all come true. Love is patient, kind, and putting up with my floss on the bedside table. It’s four beautiful children, constant dishes, and mortgage payments. Life is hard and sometimes cloudy. Your love is the sun. And I love your forever ❤️.
Last summer my mom said: “We need to stay in touch better. I’ve been feeling disconnected.”
Remember when you and your siblings all lived at home under the same roof? Remember how you knew everything about each other? I never really thought there would come a day when I didn’t know all the details of my sibling’s lives.
I mean, we spent a lot of time together. Oink.
But it happened. We five siblings left for college, missionary service, and marriage.
Including my parents, we are now in four different states across the country.
The Professor’s family is in five different states and not all in the same country!
We read each other’s blogs and Facebook updates, but it isn’t quite the same as a nitty gritty written update about kitchen appliances and how potty training is really going.
And so, last summer, we began a family newsletter.
This happened around the same time I was listening to a Gretchen Rubin podcast. Apparently, her family has been doing this for years. And if Gretchen says it’s a good habit, it is!
We have two rules:
It’s okay to be boring
It’s okay to be short
We’ve been going strong for a year.
Every Sunday we write a little update of what happened during the week, and while no one is actually in charge of kicking off the weekly email, it always gets started by someone.
I tell you what, it’s been even more fantastic than I thought it would be. Surprisingly, family updates are never boring, and they’re rarely short. Once you start writing, you keep writing. And what’s boring to you (grocery shopping with twins), is fascinating to your siblings and parents.
There have been no downsides. On the contrary, we look forward to it every week. We know what’s going on with each other. We are as close as we’ve ever been. That is due, in large part, because we have made a conscious effort to stay in touch. We still text and call, but the weekly newsletter has been even more bonding.
Letter writing art. And while we don’t use a quill and scroll (maybe we should?), I save all the emails in an email file entitled “Journal.” Personalities come through in a different way when writing. Funny stories are shared, and sad ones too. With two deaths in the family this year, it was actually painful to start writing again. But it was also the best shared therapy we could have had.
Sometimes Brynne, my 12-year-old writes the newsletter. Here’s one of my favorites:
Makechnie Newsletter by Brynne
The Makechnie family had a great week. Cope was made student leader, Nelson is enjoying lacrosse, and Brynne and Paige both recited poems at their school for poetry night. Both of them did a great job and now have this coming week off from school. They are going to do many “fun” things, such as orthodontist appointments, cleaning, yard work, walking the dog, going through clothes, and taking out the garbage.
Up in NH we are enjoying the weather! Although some of the weather has been bad, most of it has been warm and sunny, and this week the weather is going to be lovely. Today J-A-Y came to church with the Makechnie family! We think he enjoyed it, but if he didn’t he was too polite to tell us that. Cope had other drama this week too. In Vocal Ensemble she fainted. Amy thinks she was just tired. It was quite dramatic, and Cope narrowly avoided throwing up on Jay’s shoes! That would have been terrible! Happy Passover!
Donations are what keep this newsletter running!!!
Ha. Brynne will give you the real dirt!
The day will come, when the darlings leave us.
It could be by boat:
Or a Ford truck:
Someday, my fab four won’t live under the same roof or swim in the same ocean:So. We must stay in touch!
Write to one another. Every week. Because you can. I can guarantee, you won’t regret it!
The idea of eating our way across New Hampshire was all Glenn’s fault, who knows the way to The Professors heart: food. More specifically, after reading an article about the best doughnuts in every single state, he decided we needed to do our duty and find out.
You know, some people visit every state to run marathons. Apparently, doughnut tasting is more up our ally. I’ll have you know, I’m still running! In fact, doughnut-tasting family reunions is why I HAVE to run!
While Glenn, Kim, and darling children were visiting from Saudi Arabia (yes, it’s true. they really live there) we decided to make a day of it: find the best doughnuts in New Hampshire AND taste test across state lines.
Of course we didn’t hit all the hot spots, but we did taste test at EIGHT establishments. For heavens sakes, is this what your family vacations look like?
Are you ready to visit New England yet? Here goes: the great New Hampshire, Vermont Food Tour of Summer 2016. Courtesy of us. The piggies.
Muriel’s Donuts in Lebanon, NH. This was the establishment that started it all. Rated as “#1 donut of New Hampshire,” the donuts were only 40 minutes up the road. Muriel is a cute, elderly woman working out of a tiny, but tidy, hovel, serving up warm, buttery, fluffy, melt-in-your mouth donuts (how the heck do you really spell “donut”?) Recommendation: Cinnamon sugar donut. Were they good? They were pretty darn good.
Before the cinnamon sugar…
2. King Arthur Flour Company. After the donuts we were ready for lunch! Oh man, for the love of all things baking – this store and cafe is a DREAM. Due to the large amount of flour I already had, I limited myself to one purchase: Amy’s Recommendation: a bag of Crystalized Ginger Bits ($15) for scones. Can’t wait!
The Professor’s Lunch: Brie and Apple Sandwich on Homemade King Arthur Flour Bread for $7-8.
3. Ben and Jerry’s! This is a serious operation that includes a tour of the facility, complete with holstein cows in the pasture and an earth conscious message. It’s like a tiny amusement park that hosts hundreds and hundreds of people a day. This is because, well, the ice-cream is fantastic and the tour is fun! And the gift center is full of earthy tie-die hats and shirts. Amy’s Recommendation: Chocolate Therapy! ahhhhh, prepare to get wrecked.
4. Chocolate made us want more chocolate. It was off to Lake Champlain Chocolates in Waterbury, VT. Featuring a “full selection of chocolates, a hot chocolate café, award-winning house made ice cream, hand-whipped fudge, Vermont souvenirs, and plenty of factory seconds.” Amy’s Recommendation:Dark Chocolate Hot Chocolate, 54% Cacao, topped with Whipped Cream.
5. Next door? The Cabot Cheese Company in Waterbury, VT. Here we sampled no less than thirty cheeses. Amy’s Cheese Recommendation: Lamberton. I have no idea what that is exactly, but it was gooooood. Satisfyingly stuffed, we drove up the road to…
6. Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Waterbury-Stowe, VT. Oh my goodness, what a charming country store and mill, complete with free cider samples, gallon jugs to purchase, 50 cent apple cider donuts, and more Vermont cheese. Here is where my heart truly melted. I have to say, these were the best donuts of the day! Amy’s Recommendation: Fresh Pressed Cider and Apple Cider Donuts.
Cope: “This is like, low-key, the best cheese I’ve ever had”
Arthur-approved cider so you know it’s good!
7. Simon Pearce Glassblowing and Restaurant, in Queechee VT. Needing a reprieve from food, we stopped to see the glassblowing and drool over the handmade pieces we’ll never be able to afford Also cool, is the water mill that provides the power for the entire Simon Pearce operation. The restaurant is upscale and pricey, but well worth a visit for special occasions.
8. Dinner? The Skinny Pancake in Hanover, NH. The Skinny Pancake specializes in a plethora of savory and sweet crepes priced between $9-$12. Atmosphere is intimate and family friendly. Amy’s Recommendation: for sweet, The Lovemaker, featuring strawberries, nutella, and whipped cream (do you like the name? :). Can’t go wrong. For savory, The Pizza Crepe. Huge kid hit. And guess what? Any crepe can be made with their gluten-free batter!
9. It was a good thing Morano’s Gelato in Hanover, NH was closed, but I’ve got to include it here because it’s hands-down the best gelato I’ve ever eaten, including my samples in Europe – it’s THAT GOOD. Amy’s Recommendation: Dark Chocolate and Sweet Milk or Hazelnut. The combination is unbelievably swoon-worthy.
Dark Chocolate and Sweet Milk Gelato for $3.89
We rolled ourselves home and collapsed into bed after a full day of gluttony. If you need Boston recommendations, I could do that too But this is a bit more off the beaten path and a way to experience authentic New England in New Hampshire and Vermont.
We’ve been swimming and running ever since – I swear! But I’m considering a change of profession to food critic.
Enjoy! Questions? I’ll attempt to answer. Hope your summer is as tasty as ours!
19 years ago, for our honeymoon, The Professor and I drove a couple thousand miles from Salt Lake City and put down roots at a boarding school in a teeny tiny town in New Hampshire.
“We’ll stay 2-3 years and than fly away to a new adventure.”
Turns out boarding school life in rural New Hampshire was adventure enough. It’s become my home and the best place I could dream of to raise a family next door to hay fields, show donkeys, and holsteins. moo.
It’s also true that I left part of my heart out west. This year our family reunion was in Idaho and Utah, a blessing given the circumstances with Eric, Cassie and Scout. I took almost a 1000 photos and boy howdy, what a hard task it was to choose my favorites.
If you’ve never been out west, may these images inspire you to explore this beautiful world, especially with the ones you love.Flying over the midwest
The Professor is somehow always in the mix of flying and leaping children. He starts it.
Bear Lake, Idaho. Home of my childhood summers.
Vast amounts of food was served to small, and often screaming, children. Love them
Family photos taken
My sister, Andrea. The darling.
My fab four
Cope and Savannah. Bestie cousins, born 1 month, 1 week, and 1 day apart.
Bear Lake is not complete without a cemetery tour given by my father. Here we are told the stories of our ancestors. Some kiddies find it more riveting than others
The farm where my father grew up and where I roamed as a kid.
The milking parlor that used to be our clubhouse
This cow wasn’t interested in my photo shoot
The Professor in his element. We ate. A lot.
The three beauty queen cousins born within months of each other. All going into their senior year.
My dad. The Grandpa.
Brynne and The Professor went flying.
The cool kids
Grandma brought a treasure chest filled with magic and goodies. The teens made a treasure map for the wee ones to follow. Fun times.
Sweet Scout likes peas
The teens left us in Bear Lake for a day while they traveled to BYU-Idaho in Rexburg for a college admission tour. See Nate, of East Idaho News, driving? He assures me they didn’t really travel like this! RIGHT?
The rest of us hiked in Tony Grove, Idaho. There was snow!
And beautiful flowers And the surly Professor who wasn’t actually surly except for the camera
And my TWIN brother! Do you like his hair? I too could be a silver fox. But I’m not so brave. Oh, the issues we women have.
Back to flowers
And meadows and reflections of life Beautiful Bear Lake close to sunset After Bear Lake, it was back to Utah where the teens left me standing in the street as they drove off into the sunset. It’s a whole new world, isn’t it?
There are so many LDS churches in Utah you can walk to church with your hand in your dad’s. I like that.
There’s also A LOT of ice-cream! Iceberg was a huge win!
My boy, Nellie Mak, has decided he wants to be a barber. His first willing victim: a cousin!
I have FAR TOO MANY selfies on my phone!
Another college tour: BYU in Provo, Utah. This is Cope’s first choice school and an extremely competitive one. The average GPA: 3.8. The average ACT: 28. Application process: this fall.
My college apartment, in front of the window that The Professor once broke with a snowball. It was true love from the start
A trip to Salt Lake City, isn’t complete without a tour of temple square. I love The Christus.
The conference center where the prophet and twelve apostles speak twice a year for General Conference. Also home to theater, musical events, and The Mormon Tabernacle Choir. These organ pipes are the largest in the world. It is a tremendous building.
The Salt Lake City temple where we were married – for free! Swoon.
Atop a mountain in Draper, Utah, where my brother, Patrick, and wife, Natalie, recently moved.
Siblings. My sister, brother, and me.
My boy and his Uncle Patrick
Beautiful Utah skies
And back to Idaho
And more beautiful western skies
Be still my heart.It was very difficult to think we could have a “fun” reunion, with the loss of Cassie. But it was also comforting to feel that with every hike and lake swim, she was with us. I imagine she always will be. We tried to stay “up” and provide an unforgettable experience for our children, as they gathered, laughed, and sometimes cried, with their cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. What a blessing it was to be together, surrounded by the great beauty of the earth, and to remember the creator of it all.
First, thank you for all of the emails, Facebook messages, Gofundme donations, texts, calls, and prayers this month. We have felt so loved and are so appreciative.
This month we unexpectedly lost my mother-in-law, Heather, and sister-in-law, Cassie. The loss of Cass was exceptionally hard because it was SO unexpected. She was young and healthy. And man, we had plans! She leaves behind a loving family, including her husband and my brother, Eric, and their little girl, Scout, age 3.
I feel like I’m just coming out of a fog. I realize from listening to the news that I’m not the only one suffering these days. Shootings in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, Dallas, another terrorist attack in Paris – this life is sometimes so hard.
Questions of life and death swirl in my brain. Like, where is Heather? Where is Cassie? What comes next? How can we go on with two empty chairs? It has left me feeling very vulnerable; stuff happens. There have also been silver linings. Even as we feel broken, our family is tighter and stronger. We know we love each other. We know time is short. This is our one chance to make this life mean something – everything. I have felt peace and comfort as I pray – it’s there and it’s real.
The first law of thermodynamics popped into my head this morning: energy cannot be created or destroyed. It made me think about our physical body versus our spirit. There is comfort for even for the most scientifically minded.
I always go to two coping skills: writing and running. But this time it was hard to muster. I was just so tired. Thankfully my husband and running buddies have pulled me outside to run. Writing? Would I ever blog again? I didn’t want to write. I just wanted to skip over Cassie’s death. It was too hard to capture. Too much. Avoidance and an abundance of ice-cream helped stave off the inner nagging (did you know Utah has the BEST ice-cream? There is an overabundance of creamy deliciousness from a variety of vendors on every corner! It’s as common as their churches!)
If I was ever going to blog again, I knew I had to face the computer screen and say something. This is what happened. Write it down.
My brother, Patrick, started a gofundme page for our brother, Eric, and his daughter, Scout. Rather than write it out here, you can read the full story there. In 20 days, over $27,000 was raised for the funeral and medical expenses. We are so overwhelmed by your generosity. So grateful. Thank you, thank you.
Burying Cassie wasn’t exactly the yearly family reunion we were expecting or wanting, but it was pretty miraculous that we were already gathering when her accident occurred in Boise. It was incredible that I was able to be with my brother and sit in the hospital for days with him. It was terrible and sad and emotional. But it was also bonding, spiritual; we had moments that will forever connect us.
I will never forget watching my brother lose the love of his life. I’ll never be so proud of him as I watched him pull himself together to make heartbreaking decisions and put a smile on his face for his little girl, Scout. The love was palpable.
How blessed we were to have Cassie. Here is her beloved Idaho.
Cassie grew up in teeny tiny, Emmett Idaho. Because of her grace, beauty, kindness, she was jokingly teased as “the rose of Emmett.”
Everything she touched was better. She was kind, graceful, and elegant. In March, when we were on our “sister’s cruise,” Cass was reading Brene Brown’s, “The Gifts of Imperfection.” She said she was trying to let go of her need and angst for perfection. Ironically, her perfectionistic tendencies were great strengths and part of what I admired most about her. I always wanted to be more like her, to be a little more classy, to not be so sloppy. I suppose I can still try
Cassie was always helping me get better at design, creativity, and photography. She designed this blog and put up with my endless tech questions about pull-down menus, subscribe and share buttons. I feel a bit adrift without her at the helm. She did countless mock-ups of book covers as we discussed book ideas and concepts. We talked at length about photography and editing. Cass had recently launched her own photography business, Linen and Lace Photography. Isn’t she incredible?
We shared an affinity for hair products and woefully recounted how to best tame naturally curly hair. When I saw the bottles of shampoo and conditioner lined up on her bathtub I felt like laughing and bursting into tears. Obviously, she had mastered the tame:
Grief is the price we pay for loving her so much.
This picture is so sweet. It also makes me laugh – Scout found those two paper clips and refused to take them off her fingers.
Eric and Scout have some hard times ahead of them, but I have every faith in him as a father.
And I believe the words he said in his eulogy for Cass: “Our hearts are broken as we say goodbye, but we are thankful we had Cassie for 35 incredible, adventurous, and beautiful years. We hold out hope that our journeys in life will sail us back to her.” Amen.
I often joke that marrying into my husband’s family was the best decision I ever made for my writing career.
But don’t think that that hasn’t been painful.
The reason is this: the Makechnies are hyper-critical. Excuse me, I mean, master wordsmiths.
You make one misstep and The Professor and his posse will pounce like a snake on a mouse and swallow you whole.
The biggest disagreements between my dear husband, and me, is when I ask him to “quickly look something over.” What I’m really looking for is, “Looks great, honey. Brilliant, in fact!”
I’m still waiting for that utterance.
It took me a long time to accept the fact that proofreading my work is not something we, as a couple, can share.
And yet, I still test the waters occasionally. He now begins by asking, “Do you want me to edit this or just tell you I like it?”
Except he just can’t do that. And my sensitive feelers cannot handle it.
The Professor comes by the super-critical eye honestly. Both parents are superb readers, writers, and storytellers. As a child, The Professor remembers his mother, Heather, a precise grammarian, becoming incensed over poor sentence structure.
Grandma Heather has even taught my children well. When she asks a question like, “Who wants to go with Grandma to the beach?” Not one child in this house answers, “ME!!!!” Oh no. The correct answer is, “I do!” (not “Me want to go to the beach!”) You see the difference? Believe me, after almost twenty years in this family I know the difference.
All of my children have sat at Grandma’s feet as she taught with her stories and love of language. She dedicated her entire life to raising good children, and she loved her grandchildren with her whole heart. I marveled at the way she was able to reach into the soul of each child and fill them so completely.
Last summer Grandma Heather gathered the grandchildren by the ocean, pointing out to sea, at the Isles of Shoal off the coast of New Hampshire, telling stories of our ancestors. The woman could hold the attention of even the most squirrely child.
Here Grandma Heather used her words to comfort my boy, as he watched his sister sail away on a boat called Ocean Classroom.
When I started this blog, Heather was delighted! Mostly because her grandchildren were prominently featured. She laughed and commented at the pictures of baby poop and lipstick smears. But she also liked and encouraged this new hobby I was obsessing over: writing. Over time, I found I had procured an editor.
I would sometimes receive emails like this : “Wonderful! I could not be more proud!”
Other times: “This is not ready to publish. Go back and do some editing.”
Perhaps my favorite: “If you write the word YUM one more time I will throw myself out the window.”
I resisted using the word YUM for at least eight months.
Writers are often told to, “Imagine your perfect reader. Don’t worry about writing for the world. Write for your one person.” I have many perfect readers in mind when I write, but provided with such blunt and persistent feedback, Heather was always on my mind before I hit “Publish.” Would she think it was funny? Would my imperfect sentences drive her mad?
I’ve worked and reworked sentence structures and subject-verb agreement with Heather in mind, on consistent tenses, on pronoun agreement, and just the write blend of somber and humor.
Heather played the critic for me: an essential role for any writer. Oh, we sensitive writers need many things from many people. We need the constant and consistent praisers, but we also need the critical eye. Be wary if your critique group only loves your work – they’re not doing their job. You need someone to knock you down a few times if you hope to survive.
Heather’s praise was often glowing, but her criticism could sting. My skin has grown tougher. She was reading and I was learning.
A week ago today I sat in a church pew as Heather Hope Makechnie was laid to rest. Her death was a shock and has left us all bereft. It is words I am having a hard time coming up with. I hear her in my head, but I miss her voice.
I have turned to the words she wrote to me. Last summer:
How I miss my Cope, Nelson, Brynne, and Paige. I hear the echoes of their voices in the house. (Tennyson does, too.) I see their books and clothes and toys. I see the empty swing and slide. I watch the carrots and sunflowers grow toward the sun. But they are not here, and there is a tinny sound in the echoes. FORTUNATELY they are deeply seated in my heart, and the eternal love-light glows. I pray that you are SEEING, HEARING, TASTING, TOUCHING everything around you. I know you will come home with many memories, but I predict that the most powerful and lasting memory you will have is of each other. Semper commone.
I have not felt like writing anything at all. The void feels so big and vast I just want to lie down.
Avoidance came in the form of eating way too many brownies, spending too much money at Target, running miles, and cleaning the refrigerator (yes, avoidance takes extreme forms.) And yet, as always, I was drawn back to the computer. To make an attempt at words.
She was more than our storyteller, she was our family’s heart. And though she will not comment, email, or stop by for a visit to discuss the latest blog post, I like to think she’s still keeping tabs. I like to think she’s still my perfect reader – and making sure I haven’t resorted to using the word, “yum.”
Heather’s last comment on this blog was this: “OH, my heart! so much to love all in one place!”
It is the bane of every parent’s existence: ALL THOSE PIECES OF PAPER. What do you do with it all? Especially if you are trying to keep clutter to a minimum and have More of Less?
I’ve decided one must be ruthless to survive. A couple of years ago, I got serious. In our family, each child gets one color-coded file folder. This file lives in my yellow, spray-painted filing cabinet next to my desk on the main floor.
At the beginning of each school year, I write the name and school year on the top of the file folder. Throughout the year, I save only the most meaningful pieces of paper. If it doesn’t fit in the file folder? Sorry, it has to go What about all of that artwork? We hang art on the wall for awhile, sometimes take a picture, and then wave good-bye (correction: I wave good-bye. Under no circumstances do you ask permission to throw something away!)
At the end of every school year, the yearly file gets plucked from the yellow filing cabinet and goes downstairs to live in a plastic, portable filing cabinet. Each child has one. The plan is that when our children leave the house, they can take their personal plastic filing cabinet with them: What about important documents, medical records, and glasses RX you need to access every once in awhile? Who wants to go down to the basement and try to find it? What I’ve done, is use those same colored file folders (for instance, Cope is always yellow) and write the name and “Records” on the top. This file lives permanently in my yellow filing cabinet upstairs so I can access it easily.
This was one of those pieces of paper I wanted to keep: Nelson’s Adidas shoe design he drew in 8th grade. It went in Nelson’s blue “2014-15” file folder.
This system has simplified life SO much. I’m keeping a record, but it’s simple and automatic. I used to turn all these papers into homemade photo books, but after baby #2 was born, I quickly discovered that paper and photos would literally turn into a full-time job. I just couldn’t keep up. The feeling that I wasn’t remembering my child’s life in a clear and organized fashion hung over me like a storm cloud. This system? No stress.
Would it be nicer to have it all in nice, 3-ringed binders? Perhaps. But this is what I can do.
The kids also have a bin in the basement where I’ve saved a few items like baby blankets, a special toy, or Nelson’s cowboy boots he wore for three years. Some items are keepers; but remember: you must be ruthless to survive in a world that loves STUFF!
When the darlings leave home, they’ll take their one filing cabinet and one bin. That’s it! Cope will probably also steal my shoes, but that’s another battle…
Speaking of organizing files, I have a lot of them.
All of my personal files live in my yellow filing cabinet. Here’s a look at my writing section:
I recently discovered the beauty of the label maker (how can this bring me such giddy joy? I don’t know but it does!!!)You’ll notice the color-coded children’s section up front.
It opens with a Will Rogers quote: “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like.”
Isn’t it funny? Even as adults we’re still trying to impress each other.
Warning: Reading this book may lead to the frantic purging of closets, drawers and cupboards that require multiple trips to Goodwill and the curb. This behavior may also leave you feeling like the weight of the world is off your back … at least that was my reaction after just two dressers.
I often wonder about this phenomenon; why do we feel so much better when we get rid of stuff? What is it about stuff that is so burdensome?
He’s right – it’s important stuff. I’m spreading the word!
The book begins with a story: “Our two-car garage, as always, was full of stuff. Boxes stacked one on top of another threatened to fall off shelves. Bikes were tangled together, leaned against a wall … Rakes and shovels and brooms leaned every which way. Some days we’d have to turn sideways when getting in and out of our cars to squeeze through the mess that filled the garage.”
Oh my gosh, he’s been in my garage!
Reading prompted multiple questions: Why are we working such long, hard hours just so we can buy, collect and store stuff?
Why? What’s the point of it all?
As a society we may be working more, but for what? I don’t want to live in a tree house, but my lifestyle is certainly far more extravagant than my parents, and far far more luxurious than my grandparents and their grandparents! I have a feeling they would be astounded at our wealth – I’ve seen the pictures of their poverty.
It’s hard for us in different ways. We’ve created a lifestyle that requires us to work longer hours, find multiple jobs, and make dual incomes. To alleviate the stress, many of us make it worse: We buy more (dopamine hit!)
And then, to take care of all our stuff, we have to clean it, organize it, buy more containers to organize it, and spend our precious weekends moving our stuff from one location to the other.
STOP the insanity!
We don’t really need to own all this stuff.
These were the words that changed Becker’s world in 2008 while talking to his elderly next-door neighbor as he struggled to clean his garage. While pulling out dusty, underused possessions, Becker noticed his son alone in the backyard. His son had wanted to play with him that morning, but alas, dad was too busy. “The juxtaposition of the two scenes dug deep into my heart, and I began to recognize the source of my discontent for the first time. … It was piled in my driveway.”
This moment is when Becker’s journey into minimalism began.
The whole point is this: “Our excessive possessions are not making us happy. Even worse, they are taking us away from the things that do. Once we let go of the things that don’t matter, we are free to pursue all the things that really do matter.”
Using both scientific studies and anectdotal stories, Becker tells us what our closets are telling us:
In America, we consume twice as many material goods as 50 years ago. Over the same period, the size of the average American home has nearly tripled and contains about 300,000 items. On average, our homes contain more televisions than PEOPLE! Home organization is now an $8 billion industry and still, one of out every 10 American households rents off-site storage, “the fastest-growing segment of the commercial real-estate industry over the past four decades.”
We Americans have a personal-debt problem, with the average household’s credit card debt over $15,000 and the average mortgage debt over $150,000.
Debt makes us very very unhappy.
Becker wants us to see our overstuffed homes for what they are: distractions from the source of true happiness like relationships, free time, financial freedom and less stress.
He acknowledges it’s not easy, particularly for families with children, pets, and a lifetime of momentos. It takes a hard look and family agreement to know how to realistically downsize. It can take months and even years to change our habits and actually own less. I’m finding this to be true.
I’ve kept my sun-bleached lifeguarding hair for TWENTY YEARS.
I made these crayfish claw earrings for my sister as a joke in high school or college. She kindly regifted them to me. I bravely tossed them. And now I’m actually sad because they’d make a great gag gift! See? That’s another reason we don’t throw away – sometimes we regret it!
A small white statue with a broken arm. It has sentimental value, but alas, it has sat at the back of my drawer for decades.
Do I really need a dusty tassle?
What this is and where did it come from?
Brynne has also caught the decluttering bug. Outside her bedroom I heard her say, “Paige! You can’t keep it! Does it SPARK JOY???!”
I purged most of our CDs and many many movies that I can stream from Spotify or Netflix.
I’ve still got drawers and file cabinets and rooms to go, but it feels SO SO good to have less stuff.
Read this book! (and no, I’m not getting anything out of this review.) Becker makes such a great case, I’m convinced that if we followed a path of minimalism (owning less stuff) we would reap the benefits Becker is seeing all over the minimalist world: greater joy, more contentment, increased generosity, more high-quality possessions, a better example to our children, less work for ourselves and others, less comparison, less distraction, and freedom to pursue what we were really put on this earth to do.
Though its not a religious book, Becker is a preacher (love that). He’s a seeker of happiness and enlightenment. He recounts the story of the rich man who asks Jesus what he can do to gain eternal life. Jesus says to sell all that he has, give it to the poor, and follow him. But when the young man “heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.”
I recently read in the New York Times, that it’s not possible to be an atheist: we all worship something. A good question for us all: What are we worshipping?
The More of Less was released on May 3 and after its first week, landed on many National Bestseller Lists:
USA Today Bestsellers List: #10 in Nonfiction; #2 in Self-Help
Sometimes I should care more, but I just don’t. Where to go to dinner? I don’t really care (as long as it’s not McDonald’s). The Professor wants to choose the color of the van interior? Have at it. You want some input on a new living room rug design? Either one is fine. I just don’t care. It feels inconsequential. It doesn’t matter. Yes, sometimes I should care more. For example, I’m prone to impatiently hacking my hair off every few months (I really shouldn’t.)
But there are other Amy Absolutes:
Thou shalt not have a DVD player in the car. Because children should be bored occasionally, daydream, and look out the window. Maybe even talk to me.
Thou shalt not do all the chores. Because a working family is a happy family! And the mother is not the slave of the family.
Thou shalt not speak rudely to mom and dad. Because honoring thy mother and thy father is a worthy endeavor.
Thou shalt not use my toothbrush. Or I will never speak to you again. The Professor has had to ask for forgiveness on multiple occasions.
Oh yes, these things do matter. Technology use is my hot-button. I can get more fired-up about technology rules than most political candidates. Kids and iPhones. No. Why in the world would I put that device in my child’s pocket when there is a world to explore? When technology addiction is rampant, when a child’s brain is so malleable and still forming?
No, we shall frolic and sing with our bonnets and aprons on at all times….
The hills are alive…
I’m sad and terrified when so many of our children do not know how to read a textbook and pull out cohesive “take-aways.” When The Classics are “boring.” When Google is so easy, that “hard” is avoided at all costs. When English courses have to cut out whole books, curriculum, and reading because our teens just don’t have the brain power to sit still, absorb, and ponder Anna Karenina. I liked this post.
And yeah, I blame technology for some of that. I read less because of my phone. It sits on my bedside table, putting me to sleep and waking me up. All the dings, alerts, and Twitter notifications that go off in our pockets, pulling us away from absorbing, focusing, and being “all in.” I see the effect in my classroom every.single.day. I fight that battle every.single.day.
Two years ago I wrote about my gollum-like fascination after finally getting an iPhone. It’s been life-changing. I can actually find your house now with that nifty GPS! I keep an on-line calendar, use reminders, check Instagram, comment on Facebook and blogs, schedule appointments – I LOVE my phone. I love it. I love it too much. Which is why I wanted to keep it out of the hands of my darlings as long as possible.
“My friends make fun of me everyday,” The Boy tells me. After revealing he had to ask permission to use technology at home, his friend literally rolled on the floor laughing. Now, every time he sees The Boy using his iPad at school he says, “Nelson, did you ask permission??!”
Come on now, are technology rules SO WRONG?
Last month when I assigned a homework assignment, it involved downloading the Adobe Voice app. Every single student whipped out their smart phone. I realized maybe my high school kids were right…they were the oddballs. But aren’t oddballs adorable?
My oldest darling, Cope, is a junior in high school. She has a flip phone, which is “absolutely mortifying.” The Boy, a freshman, flat out refused. He would rather not have a phone than to be seen with something “so lame.” Which sounds terribly materialistic, but there are a few things in a boy’s life that really matter (girls, meat, shoes…and phones?)
Let us back track to last week when The Professor said, “I think we should get you a new phone for Mother’s Day.” My contract was up, you see, and I’d been drooling over the new and improved camera feature. I didn’t object to The Professor’s wishes
Yesterday, we giddily (read: me) visited a Verizon store (where the customer service is out of this world, awesome) and discovered that not only could I get a new phone, but we could upgrade to a better plan (text me! I now have unlimited texting!!!!) and also transfer my daughter’s phone number to my older iPhone and pay LESS than what we were paying for her flip phone.
What’s a mom to do?
We took the deal.
Yep, I sold my child’s imagination for a few silver coins. The world is ending.
I had a moment. “Wait, wait, wait! I only want her to be able to take photos, text and call – THAT’S IT!” It turns out we can control the cellular data (for $5/month!) but if she has wi-fi? Well, it’s free reign.
I felt ashamedly resigned. I rationalized like this: she’s a good girl. she has a good imagination. she still loves to read. and sing. and yeah, she’s a bit addicted to youtube videos but mostly if they involve Lin-Manuel or cheesy BYU studio C outtakes. Also, I know that technology, used the right way, is AWESOME. We can change the world right from home!
At least, as far as I know. Maybe I don’t know. Maybe they’re all tech addicts at 3a.m. If you know of such behavior, you better tell me.
We held out for almost 17 years. Maybe it was time to extend the leash a little further. In a few short years, mom isn’t going to be around to set the parameters (I weep.)
The best part was having our stellar Verizon gal, Kelly, transfer Cope’s old number and plan to my older iPhone, knowing her flip phone would suddenly stop working. She was going to freak out. When Cope came home from school I showed her my new phone, which she drooled over, as I casually asked, “I called you today – why didn’t you call me back?”
“Something is wrong with my phone.”
“You must have dropped it.”
“No, mom, I swear. I didn’t drop it!”
“How sad,” I said. She sighed.
At this point I very slowly took out my old iPhone. Before I could say anything she screamed. And started hopping up and down. It was rather wonderful.
After having yet another technology discussion (I like to be thorough ) she reached out her hands, snatched the iPhone, and whispered, “Precious.”
Heaven help us all.
Alas, it’s not all roses around here. The Boy has taken this injustice very personally. We obviously have favorite children.
“Mom,” he says, following me around. “You’ve got to let me have Snapchat now – you gave Cope an iPhone!”
That, my friends, is the latest battle. What say ye? Do tell.