Under the Apricot Tree

Savoring the Abundance of Simple Living

Category: Green & Frugal

A Country Bouquet

Last night at sunset, Seth and I donned jackets and darted around in the wind, cutting armloads of flowers from our yard. Someone years ago must’ve planted a thousand daffodil bulbs because the place is bursting with them right now.

Today is Administrative Professionals Day and Seth’s counseling office wanted to thank their school secretaries for all their hard work.

In a pinch, we came up with a charming homespun vase solution. It was simple, pretty and practically free. This would make a sweet gift for a friend, your child’s teacher, or really anyone who likes receiving flowers (and who doesn’t?). This could also be a fun, casual centerpiece, with various sized “vases” and coordinating colors.

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Directions:
-Select clean used glass jar(s); Tall jars with narrow necks work well
-Place empty jar over the center of one piece colored tissue paper
-Around the neck of the jar, gather the excess paper and snugly tie with yarn or raffia
-Add and arrange your bouquet of flowers
-Using a funnel, add water, being careful not to spill on the delicate paper

That’s it! There’s nothing like fresh cut flowers to make someone feel special. And in my book, “homemade” is even better. ūüôā

Simple Ways to Save Water

If you’re like me, you’d like to help conserve our natural resources, but sometimes aren’t sure where to start. Water–that clean, clear, life-giving liquid–is one of our most vital and precious elements on earth. Without it, we would not last long. Yet, with our turn-of-the-tap convenience, it is mindlessly easy to waste water without even thinking twice.

I love this devotional thought from Francis of Assisi, who celebrates the Creator through his admiration and care for water:

“Be¬†praised, My Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.”

So whether your motivation is to trim your water bill, preserve the planet for future generations, or like Francis, to honor the Giver by being a good steward of His gift, trimming your personal & household water consumption is worth the effort. There are 101 ways to do so, but here are the top five habits I’ve been using lately to save water:

1) Lessen Irrigation: Let’s start big. It takes thousands of gallons of water to keep a lawn green, so any changes here can make a major impact. This beautiful property we’re renting came with extensive lawns and gardens. Watering it all¬†takes¬†huge amounts of H2O. So we’ve been trimming back frequency & length of our waterings to find that balance of keeping things green on the bare minimum.This experience has me thinking about how to use xeriscaping (water-conscious landscape design) when we own a house again someday. Many people are tearing out their lawns and replacing them with native plants which require less water or vegetable gardens which provide food. Whatever your yard set-up, consider what practical steps you might take to avoid wasting water. Now that summer’s heat has waned, it’s a great time to trim way back on irrigation.

2) Fewer Showers: In our household, we really like long showers. So when I took notice of my overconsumption of water a few years ago, I tried triming my 15 minute shower in half. But but rushing through the lather & rinse ritual was a bummer way to start my day. So instead, I turned the water pressure down a bit and switched to showering every other day, effectively cutting my shower-water usage in half and keeping my morning pace relaxed. At first, my hair was a little oily on the second day, but¬†it acclimated within a couple weeks. On¬†the occasional¬†greasy hair day, I’ll wash my bangs in the sink or put it all up in a bun, pony tail, or hat.

3) The Selective Flush: This may be too personal for some of you, but we’re diving in anyway: I don’t flush every time. There’s an old rhyme, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” Each flush of¬†the toilet¬†sends about two gallons of water down the drain. Our friend David is the assistant water master for the Oregon Dept of Water Resources; he told Seth when we moved here that we’re “flushing our toilet with bottled water” since our water comes from Opal Springs, the source used for EartH2O brand water. Now there’s a word picture to get me thinking how precious that water is! Of all people, pregnant ladies like me–who are emptying our compressed bladders at least once an hour it seems–would do well to follow this guideline. Basically, when I’m in the privacy of my own home, I only flush every 3rd time or so. Don’t worry, I won’t do this at your house or my place when you’re visiting…unless you’re into that sort of thing. ūüėČ

4) Use It Twice: For watering houseplants and potted plants on the porch, I often use leftover water from the kitchen. A pot of water used to boil corn for last night’s dinner, stale tea kettle water, partially drank glasses after a dinner party…all good sources of still usable water. I even think the houseplants might appreciate the variety!

5) Turn It Off: Whenever washing hands, brushing teeth, washing dishes, I try to turn off the faucet while not in use. Get wet, turn it off while you lather and scrub, then turn it on again for a quick rinse. My training in this art is always reinforced during our annual visits to a rustic log cabin in the mountains where everyone’s careful not to overtax the delicate septic system.

So there you have it. These steps are pretty basic and easy. Not a big sacrifice, but it does make a difference. There’s a host of other simple, practical ways we can save water! One thing I’d like to¬†start soon is keeping a bucket¬†at the shower and sinks for catching the water that runs while we’re waiting for the temperature to warm. This can then be used for a host of purposes, and I think it would make a significant difference in our total water usage.

Your Turn to Come Clean: What are you doing to conserve water these days? Have you tried any of these steps? I’d love to know I”m not the only one exercising “The Selectvie Flush.” ūüôā

The Baby Stuff Dilemma

As a first time mom, I have fears.

And I’m not even referring to the typical fears like labor pains, sleepless nights, and being responsible for ¬†a tiny, vulnerable human who doesn’t come with written instructions. (Those are concerns too, of course, but that’s another discussion.) Nope, the fear I’m referring to is that of the Baby Stuff Takeover: the inevitable, systematic, room-by-room invasion of plastic, colorful, latest & greatest, must-have baby & toddler accessories, toys, gear, and for lack of a better word, junk. The Dilemma: On one hand, I strongly desire simplicity…but on the other, I like Stuff and it’s a challenge to discern what our baby will and won’t need. So I can envision the takeover all too easily, creeping into our house, bags and cars, until there’s cute clutter in every corner of our life.

by Hallie Burton for Real Simple

Now lest you think me a perfectionistic control freak who cares more about having a tidy house than a happy child, please let me assure you that my concern is not primarily esthetic. I shared my heart on the matter of moving toward simplicity and streamlining our possessions in last week’s post, (Confessions of a Recovering Consumer). The same reasons for wanting to streamline my clothing collection hold true here, with the added motivating twist of a new little life directly affected by my choices.

If you’ve seen the documentary “Babies” or travelled in developing countries, you are probably aware of the drastic variations among how cultures clothe, feed, and educate children through their first year. Last week Kara commented on the blog that with her second baby, she kept asking herself, “What did the pioneer women do about…? I bet they didn’t have … on the Oregon trail.” And I think these reference points–looking at other cultures and times to see how women have raised children over the course of history–are really helpful to expand our modern, Western, just-buy-the-gadget-at-Target mindsets. What Stuff have most women throughout the history of the world raised their babies with?¬†Their breasts, cloth, a couple things harvested & produced locally, and the support of their community.¬†All that to say, I have deep suspicions that raising children can, and perhaps should, be a much more streamlined endeavor.

As I’ve been preparing for motherhood, here are the Top Four Motivations I’ve landed on for keeping the Baby Stuff to a relative minimum:

Motivation 1: Focus. By keeping it simple and uncluttered, I will by default be freer to focus on connecting with my little man himself. I recognize this is theoretical for me at this point, but my instinct and experience in other realms tells me its true. Less stuff = Less to clean, store, and trip over. Less stuff = More peace of mind, flexibility & mobility, together time.

Motivation 2:¬†Lifestyle.¬†This choice aligns with my values and desired lifestyle. While¬†I don’t consider myself a radical minimalist or environmentalist, we are more “naturally” minded than maybe the typical American family. I plan to have a natural, non-interventive childbirth, breastfeed, cosleep in the early months, use cloth diapers, and make my own organic baby food once the little man starts chomping. While I’m no expert on any of these subjects, I do believe that our bodies and creation are amazingly designed to provide and nurture, ¬†I do value environmental stewardship, ¬†and I do find it liberating to opt out of wasteful consumption. It’s a journey and I’m certainly not one to judge anyone else for where they currently land on this spectrum, as I hope others won’t judge me for my own gradual progress.

Motivation 3:¬†Finances.¬†There’s an endless supply of products competing for my dollars, many of them flashy and cute, but unnecessary. With each purchase I must ask myself, “Is this a need?” and “Is this the best way to spend these dollars?” Key motivations here include living debt-free, saving for the future (think: college fund), and freeing up more income for giving to causes we believe in and people who need it more than we do. As a Christian, I’m learning that any resources we “own” are merely entrusted to us by a generous Benefactor and we’re responsible to invest them wisely for good, not just blow it all on ourselves.

Motivation 4: Modeling. Kids learn by imitating. Perhaps most importantly, I want to be a good example to our son in these areas from the very beginning.

There’s the foundation for my philosophy. How will I apply those values? In keeping with the Top Four lists, here are the Top Four traits of the kinds of baby products I think are worth acquring:

Trait 1: Essential. I want products that are necessary, useful, helpful, will be used regularly, and serve more than one purpose. Because I am not a radical minimalist, I am going to count on more than just my boobs and a few clean rags to raise this baby. But those additional items will be expected to “carry their own weight” by proving highly useful.

Trait 2: Healthful. Healthy for baby & mom, healthy for those involved in its production, healthy for the planet. These kinds of products are often natural and/or organic, sustainably / locally made (preferably by a person, not a machine), and environmentally friendly. Bath products and toys are two key categories to pay special attention to.

Trait 3: Appropriately Valued. Quality is important and cheaper isn’t necessarily better.¬†I will pay more for a product that meets these traits listed above & below. But for many products, I prefer gently used purchases and gifts. For instance, the cosleeper I researched online retails for around $200; I found a few of them for sale on Craigslist in Bend for $60-$80. For something we’ll only use a few months, buying used makes fiscal sense.

Trait 4: Nurturing. This category may be more vague, but it ties into my ideas about a child’s mental development. I will limit our little one’s access to technology. The surgeon general warns against allowing children “screen time” their first two years; sorry Baby Einstein and http://www.BabyTV.com. Instead of toys that entertain the baby (flashing lights & sounds, plastic moving parts) I would love to find toys that let the baby apply his imagination. And we’ll be right there along side of him, playing, reading, talking, singing, touching, and nurturing him as he discovers his world.

Whew! So there’s my list. I’m sure it will continue to be honed in the next 5 weeks leading up to Baby’s birth. And then once he arrives, we’ll watch and listen and learn even more about what we do and don’t need.

Your turn! What have you found to be the most essential, healthful, valuable, nurturing products for your baby? And…what was the first thing you tossed in the Goodwill pile? I look forward to reading your thoughts on this!

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Temps are back to 90-degrees here, day after day after day. Maybe it’s summer’s apology for showing up late this year? I am loving the heat and occassionally lulled into thinking it will be like this indefinitely. It won’t, of course. We live in a land where it’s wintry cold half the year. All the […]

Confessions of a Recovering Consumer

I like Stuff.

But I know first-hand that Stuff tends to accumulate and expand and get in the way of Life. Stuff can crowd my living room, my closet, my day, my brain, my vision. And Stuff can drain my bank account, my energy, my generosity, my freedom, my spirit.

So I try to “keep it simple.” I encourage myself to “live lightly”, to remember that “less is more”, to “just say no” to the multi-billion-dollar marketing machines that take expert aim at my unquenchable desire for More, New, Better, Satisfaction. And some days I succeed. I say no to Stuff and I get rid of Stuff and I re-organize my Stuff. But other days I get smacked with a big fat REALITY CHECK when, like this summer, it’s time to pack all our Stuff into boxes, and I realize again I have waaay too much!

God bless the friends & family who helped move our Stuff!

Where did it all come from?! How did my former walk-in closet (I miss you!) become so full that I am now using four 1920’s-sized closets + a chest of drawers + 2 tupperwares to store my excessive amounts of clothing? (Okay, I admit, there’s also that one shelf in the linen closet. Sheesh.) Can you tell that clothes are my particular weakness?

To be fair to myself, I have made strides toward simplicity the past few years in several areas of life. (Sis, can you come over and help me tackle the clothing situation soon, like we did with the shoes?) And while I’ve ¬†by no means “arrived” at a zen-like destination of austere minimalism, I guess that isn’t really my goal, either.What is my goal, you ask? I suppose it’s to have not much more Stuff than I truly need in life so that I can be FREE 1) to enjoy the things that I do have (quality over quantity), 2) to focus on what’s most important to me (relationships and life-giving pursuits), 3) to not be a slave to buying and maintaining and cleaning and storing and worrying about a bunch of Stuff (at a certain point, it owns you), and 4) to dedicate more of our family’s resources helping those in real need.

Jesus talked about the danger of amassing Stuff, warning us that there is a physical-spiritual connection in how we invest ourselves. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Without a doubt, some of the richest days of my life have been when the only possessions at my disposal fit inside a backpack I easily carried. When traveling light, I am most free to appreciate beauty, to wonder at the amazing people on this journey, to comprehend how excessive God’s love is for us, to maintain a heart alive with gratitude and compassion. Having more Stuff rarely contributes more Life, despite the marketers’ promises.

But I’ve had a relatively easy pilgrimage so far, with one big advantage: No Kiddos. These days it seems you’d need a store-full of Specialized Kid Stuff just to get a baby through its first year! (You know how the little ditty goes: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the super-tricked-out baby carriage with matching car seat, mountains of electronic toys, piles of adorable clothing, heaps of necessary baby gear, and the 999 other essentials you need to raise a healthy, happy, well-adjusted child.”)

So how in the world am I going to keep moving toward simplicity with a child in my arms? Believe me–I’ve thought long and hard about that question! And I’m developing a little strategy that’s slightly counter-cultural. Next blog post I’ll share with you some ways I’m planning to navigate the Baby Stuff Dilemma, to make sure our little guy has everything he needs…and not too much more.

Tell me about it: Do you resonate at all with my struggles? Clothing is the biggest trouble area for me; what about you? What have you found to be most helpful in your journey towards simplicity?

Old Things New

Last weekend, Seth and I were preparing for our first BBQ here at the farm. Friends had been invited, the grass was mowed, and the fridge overflowed with food. But I had one problem–no outdoor table on which to place all that good food to feed those hungry friends!

Sure, I could go out and purchase a table. I’d already made the rounds at the thrift shops and garage sales the weekend before with Mom, but to no avail. Our local Bi-Mart offered soul-less plastic tables for $50 that would do the job. But a better idea had taken hold of my imagination. A few evenings before, Seth and I were walking around the property when I spotted two old metal barrels in the horse corral. Partially buried in dirt and tumbleweeds, we hoisted them up to discover they’d been converted into horse troughs for hay, and then abandoned again. Layers of chipped paint and a patina of rust testified to their age and neglect…and gave them a unique beauty that appealed to my shabby-chic sensibilities. Could these old barrels¬†hold the answer to my table dilemma?

Though perhaps a bit skeptical, my accommodating husband dragged them over to the house for me, hosed them down, and devised a plan for converting them into a table by attaching an old door on top via metal banding and wood screws.

The finished product is a perfectly serviceable, portable outdoor table that was 100% sourced from used materials right here on the property! Dressed with a  sunflower table cloth my mom brought back from Provence, the old-new thing looked downright charming.  While Seth was right about it being too tall for a dinner table, it was just the right height for setting out food: high enough to keep toddlers and nosey dogs out of trouble!

Isn’t there something beautiful in old things made new again? I get a satisfaction, a joy in finding a new use for something that had seemingly lost its usefulness. Maybe exercising the “renew and restore” side of our creativity is fulfilling because it reflects the heart of our Creator. My spirit thrills when I read Jesus’ words in Revelation 21:5, “Behold, I make all things new.” ¬†My Greek commentary tells me that the word for “new” here can also mean renewed or restored. I like that about God–that He finds it worth His while to give new life to old things. That He will someday renew all things into something beautiful.

Meanwhile, I’m having fun on this old place, stumbling upon abandoned barrels, discarded doors, and other hidden treasures just waiting to be found again.