Living Lightly

Susan Vogt on living more simply but abundantly

Browsing Posts published by Susan Vogt

I’ve written a lot about simplifying our lives from excessive material and mental clutter. But in the spirit of even simplifying my many blog posts, I decided to summarize key life goals in one post. Actually, for those with a short attention span, I could even summarize the 5 Goals into just the first one – LOVE. As short as the word Love is, however, it’s probably the most expansive and difficult goal, so I hope the other 4 put flesh on how to love more fully.

1. Love people more than things
Of course focusing on loving people is foundational to our human lives, yet it is also very challenging. It’s hard enough to always love my family and friends, much less those who are far away, different from me, disagree with me, or even feel like enemies. Add to this the challenge of consumerism – hoping that buying more stuff will bring more joy is a tempting but false love. The challenge is to include loving humanity as one of the necessities of life in addition to food, clothing, and shelter. Then the other pulls of life like feeling important, enjoying creature comforts, etc. are nice and welcome but not the top priority.

2. Do Justice
Related to loving people (myself included) is acting on that love in our often unequal world. It’s frequently harder to love those who live far away, don’t look like me, live in poverty, are mean, etc. Life is not always fair, but for those of us who are blessed with enough stuff, physical health, healthy relationships, it is only right that we seek how to make our world fair for others. I don’t have to solve all world problems, but I must seek what is mine to do to make this world more just for all.

3. Care for Creation
OK, so we love other humans, but none of us would survive without plants, animals, water, even rocks and minerals under the ground. The more the people on planet earth multiply and advance technologically, the more pollution threatens our health. To love people means caring for the earth we live on.

4. Tune your Spiritual Life
But being physically alive has little meaning without tending to our Spirit. For me this means taking time to reflect and pray about the source of life I call God. You may have a different word for religion, faith, spirituality, but taking time to ponder the meaning of life, the universe, whatever, gives depth to the Why of life.

5. Be Brave but Humble
To tend to all of the above takes courage and sometimes risk. To stand up for those who have less or are in danger can put me in danger. But even worse is to spend my life in search of being important. We must be brave enough to risk not being liked because we stood by a person in need, but not take pride in doing it.

These 5 goals are pretty ambitious and not meant to be a tool for self-flagellation, but rather ongoing principles to move towards. It’s a direction to guide our lives, not a test.

I’ve been struggling for a while to discern what a conscientious, faith filled person can do about global warming, i.e. environmental sustainability. On one hand trying to live more lightly on a personal lifestyle level is concrete and feels satisfying. I can be careful about what I buy for my home, avoid unnecessary plastics, live simply, donate to good causes, do works of service…

Lots of people making personal sustainable lifestyle choices like these is good, BUT it’s not enough! It’s only half of the equation. Intellectually I know that systemic change is necessary too. Society (that’s us) needs to change how we do business. Governments, companies, and institutions need to change laws, policies, and structures that perpetuate the production of climate damaging acts. This often takes:

  • Educating myself and others on possible actions to take.
  • Political action like going to lots of meetings, speaking up, writing in the public arena.
  • Protesting unfair institutional practices and doing the legwork of researching and supporting alternative positive practices.
  • Contacting civic and community leaders. (Signing petitions is the easy part.)
  • Donating not only clothes to Goodwill but money to organizations that work for change.

The price of these systemic change actions is not only financial but also takes time and resilience. I may be willing to let go of some recreational or social pursuits (think TV or contra dancing), but it can also bleed over to taking time from my family or a paying job. It can also add stress to my psyche, spirit, and personal relationships.

Solutions – The systemic change part of doing good is harder for me than the personal lifestyle adaptations. For others it may be the opposite. Working on political change may feel like a meaningful challenge as long as I don’t have to give up meat or plastic at home. 🙁

Bottom line – Of course, both personal lifestyle and systemic change are necessary to be a person of integrity who walks the talk. The challenge is to assess one’s talents, resources, and personal leanings and find a balance. It probably won’t be a 50/50 balance, but neither would a 99/1 balance be authentic.

How – Of course personal reflection/prayer is necessary, but in most discernments that are this multifaceted I remember that community is important. Consulting with others who know me well, share my values, but are not afraid to challenge me and look at both sides of an issue is a step in the right direction. It takes a community – a wise and diverse community.

How do YOU do it? See my ECO-TIPS for additional ideas.

As Ukraine continues to be in the news with heart-rending stories and photos of human suffering, massive destruction, and the looming hardships of a cold winter without heat, electricity, and possibly food for its citizens – it’s sobering.
I can’t help but realize how relatively safe and comfortable my own life is. Sure, there is poverty in many places in the world and even in my own neighborhood. Families everywhere face deaths, emotional traumas, and hardships, but… when I reflect on my own life and my bubble of friends, I feel called to humility and action.

What have I done to deserve my privilege, my comfort. Sure, I work hard, I donate to worthy causes, serve in the local soup kitchen, etc. but the scale of suffering in Ukraine, and places like it around the world, put me in a favored place. I keep asking what more am I called to do? Do I need to keep stretching myself till it hurts?

Then, last week suffering got personal. I got Covid. It’s not a bad case. I was already vaccinated and boosted, but still I felt crummy for a few days. This too called me to reflect on how a couple years ago, Covid might have been a death sentence. Even today, it means quarantining, canceling a medical test, missing in-person meetings, etc. It’s inconvenient but not life threatening.

Both of these experiences (reading about the people of Ukraine and the physical discomfort of Covid) prompt me to humility and compassion for those who are facing much more serious life struggles. Upon reflection, I realize that it is through noticing the pain of humanity around the world and close to home that I become a better person myself.

  • I don’t as blithely carry on with my day wondering why another person missed a deadline or didn’t follow through on a commitment.
  • I feel called not only to pray for those in need but to figure out more tangible actions to take to turn the prayer into action.
  • As my world opens wider to the sufferings of others through the media and my own relatively minor physical ailments, I am moved to a deeper compassion. Life’s not all about me and the tasks I busy myself about.
  • Although I don’t want to minimize the serious pains of people near and far, it has been an emotional wake up call for me. Tuning in to the suffering of others has deepened my spirituality.

If these experiences are a wake-up call, then what is my next step? I already feel maxed out with work and volunteer commitments. I’m deeply involved with efforts to reduce global warming. Should I do more? Or is this primarily a call to identify more deeply with suffering humanity and let go of my pride?

How do YOU deal with suffering – your own, others, and global injustices? What helps you know what actions to take and when it is enough?
I also welcome any thoughts you have about steps I might take to move from concern and compassion to action.

We’re all human. We all make mistakes. The challenge is to learn from and not repeat mistakes. Following are some recent examples from my life.

I won’t do this again

  • Frugal Fertilizing: Gardening is a source of food, exercise, frugality, and joy in my life. Last spring I was part way through planting a variety of vegetables in my garden. This not only provides some healthy food but also feeds my frugal nature because it saves money at the grocery and I can share surplus crops with neighbors and those in need. My frugality, however, can get the best of me as I noticed an old bag of soil fertilizer in the garage. I happily spread it near the base of many of my crops. Several weeks later I noticed many of the plant leaves turning brown and dying. After consulting with a local feed and seed supply store I learned that old fertilizer deteriorates and “poisons” the ground. Instead of multiplying my produce, it reduced my crops by about half. Ugh. Next year…
    Bonus: Ask me about the downside of using pine mulch to reduce weeding.
  • I’ll do this

    Good Samaritan opportunity – missed: I was walking to the nearby post office and noticed an elderly man struggling to carry groceries into his home. I was walking briskly so that I could consider my walk as exercise and didn’t stop to help. It would have been so simple. Only after it was too late did I decide that the better decision would have been to offer help. Hey! I’m able bodied. Why is my time and goal more important than his need?

  • Looking Both Ways & Hurrying: I was driving out of a crowded

    I’m lucky this didn’t happen

    parking lot. I thought all lanes had a stop sign so after stopping I glanced right, saw no approaching cars and started to drive through the intersection. I then noticed a car on my left had to stop abruptly to avoid hitting me. I’m not sure whose turn it was but I was grateful an accident was averted. It would have been my fault for not looking BOTH ways.
    Upon further reflection I thought about how “Looking both ways” is also a human relationship and political skill. If the left tried harder to understand the positions of the right (and vice versa) a lot of ugly altercations and unwise governmental policies might be averted.

Hmmm. Have you made any mistakes recently that, despite initial regret, taught you something important about life?

Halloween can carry both a spiritual and secular meaning,

  • Spiritually “Halloween” can be translated as “Holy Eve” – the evening before All Saints Day on Nov. 1. It also reminds us of the Fall harvest season.
  • Secularly Halloween is more commonly known for celebrating frightful experiences and creative costuming.

For those who consider being on the verge of extreme climate change a frightening experience, perhaps these alternative ways to use our holy energy on Oct. 31 will give you food (and a little candy) for thought.

Read 20 Ways to Fete a Plastic-Free Halloween by the Sierra Club for fun and thought provoking ideas because “What’s scarier than goblins and ghosts? Petrochemicals and waste.”

Although over the years I’ve had stuff stolen from my home, here I’m not addressing thieves but rather how I’ve recently happily found people (friends, visitors, and nonprofits) who help me prune my stuff. It all started when our son who lives in Singapore came home for a 3-week visit. This meant that most of our family and a lot of his friends visited our home. Following is how they helped me prune more stuff.

Step 1: Ask our kids to take their stuff stored at our house. This didn’t get far because most of them were flying home and didn’t have extra space in their homes anyway. At least they identified stuff to continue to save and stuff we could give away or throw away.

Step 2: Ask their friends. Since our Singapore son was in town many of his local friends visited. One was a jigsaw puzzle enthusiast, so she took 6 puzzles. Another took 11 cassette tapes.

Step 3: Prune our kids’ electronics. (For my purposes I’m distinguishing between “technology” and “electronics.” In my blog post Pruning Technology, I deal with pruning information technology such as use of email and other social media. Here I’m using electronics in the sense of electronic hardware such as DVDs, CDs, and tapes. Our kids released the following electronics for recycling:
• 28 DVDs
• 33 new CDs
• 23 used CDs
•   9 Zip Drives
• 42 Cassette tapes
• 66 empty CD cases
(You may wonder how anyone collects 66 empty CD cases?
Answer: I hang many old CDs on wire frames in my garden to dissuade deer from eating my vegetables. Other CDs are lost or broken.)

Step 4: Take stuff to new homes
ELECTRONICS:
In the Cincinnati area the best place is the Cincinnati Recycling and Reuse Hub. I took all of the above former “treasures” to the HUB which is a non-profit organization. They charge $1 per pound to cover their cost of shipping to Green Disc in Washington State. It cost me $22. It was easier and cheaper than packing and mailing all the electronics myself. For an earlier blog on electronic recycling click here.

If you don’t live in the greater Cincinnati area or don’t have similar local electronics resources, other recycling options are:
Green Disc – mail in program located in Sammamish, Washington
Backthruthefuture – mail in program located in Franklin, NJ 07416
• Earth 911 – is an all-purpose recycling resource with many ideas on how and where to recycle.
• Google “Where to take electronics for recycling” (Big box stores such as Staples and Best Buy also take many electronics for recycling.)

TOYS/DOLLS:
I had been saving dolls for visiting grandkids. Even they were not interested so I took them to a local Thrift Store (Be Concerned). Certainly there are similar places near you.

BOOKS:
Our kids said I could give away an 18 book children’s encyclopedia set and 3 reference books. Having earned $.28 cents from taking previous no longer needed books to a half price bookstore, I took these directly to the public library so their Friends of the Library group could sell them to fund library functions. For other book options, click here.

FURNITURE:
Since these recently emptied file cabinets were too big for visitors to take or for us to deliver, I scheduled a Salvation Army pickup. Not as personal but easy-peasy.

What are the best sources you’ve found to pass on stuff you no longer need?

Truism: It’s easier to prune someone else’s books than your own.
How do I know this? My husband recently retired. For part of our professional careers we shared a job so we have many books and reference materials that have relevance to both of us. So… when Jim was clearing out his office of books he asked if I wanted to keep any. It was relatively easy to say “No” to almost all of them. BUT, this didn’t absolve me from the task of finding good homes for his books.

My pruning process consisted of:
1. Categorize the books to be donated into types such as spirituality, family ministry, social justice, peacemaking, misc.
2. Find people who might be interested in these types of books.
SOLUTION: I took books to several upcoming meetings with friends and gave away about 10.
3. Find places that take used books
SOLUTION #1: I donated a large box of books to our Parish library plus an empty bookcase to put them in.
SOLUTION #2: Take miscellaneous used books to a local Half Price Book Store. I hoped to make a small profit from this. I did – I got 28 cents. At least they didn’t go into a landfill.
SOLUTION #3: Take miscellaneous used books to the local public library. I didn’t do this but it may have been a better use of my time than the Half Price store.

14 empty 3-ring binders

4. Bookcase related supplies: I found 14 empty 3-ring binders originally intended to hold workshop materials.
SOLUTION: The Cinti. Recycling and Reuse Hub happily took these to distribute to schools.
5. Beyond Jim’s books: This prompted me to consider all the other books we have in our home. Should I also prune them? This task felt daunting since we have 10 bookcases full of books. Pruning these remaining joint and personal bookcases will be much harder. This is more than I want to tackle right now.
SOLUTION: For sanity’s sake, Delay.
6.
Copies of books I’ve written: I’ve written 5 books and one of the publishers sent me several boxes of my books that they are no longer printing. These are currently stored in boxes in our basement.
SOLUTION: I recently took a bunch of my books to a talk I was giving about marriage and family life. I offered them for half price. (Sold about 10). I’m willing to extend this offer to others plus shipping.
7. Additional Resource: 20 Places to Donate Used books by Joshua Becker (includes many of the usual places plus a few creative ones you may not have thought of)

The Bigger Question
Why save ANY paper books when the internet and public libraries exist?
I will explore this more deeply when I have the courage and credibility having tackled my remaining 10 bookcases. My short answer is to keep:
1. Books that are frequently re-used – for example cookbooks and books to re-read to children/grandchildren)
2. Personalized Books – such as personal journals or anything with personal notes or memories

What criteria would you use?

What do old medicines and trophies have in common? They both have a limited shelf life.

I recently rediscovered stuff in both categories as I was cleaning for company. Since our house has 4 bedrooms and Jim and I only need one, we happily welcome guests. Of course during Covid most people weren’t visiting so we didn’t pay much attention to the extra rooms. Even offering to house homeless people, desirable as it might be, seemed questionable.
But, as Covid appears to be waning, we welcomed several out-of-town friends to stay with us. This meant that space we had neglected to clean for awhile was not only dusty but hadn’t been pruned in awhile. Two categories became willing victims – a medicine closet and an old storage chest.

Medicine: Gratefully we’ve been pretty healthy, but during our child raising era there were various prescriptions and over the counter medicines that I am embarrassed to say ranged up to 20 years past the expiration date. I did some research and disposed of most of it.
In addition, the medicine cabinet was home to non-medicines like spray starch and a candy thermometer. Does anyone still starch shirts? A local yard sale took these items.

Trophies: We’re proud of our kids but we needed to move an old chest to make room for our guests. It was heavy, partly because it contained a lot of our kid’s trophies.
To lighten it we decided that many trophies we were saving for our adult children could be passed on (at least to the one child who had his own house). He can decide whether to save them. We pitched the medals but saved the trophies for kids who didn’t yet have permanent housing. For other ways to pass on trophies click here for my earlier blog on trophies.

Soooo, how long to save old medicines and your children’s trophies can be tricky but it’s worth your time to check whether you’re hoarding any unnecessary stuff.

avoiding clamshell packaging is challenge

As I write this “Pruning Plastic” blog post it is July 23. One more week till the end of July’s Plastic Free Ecochallenge – an international effort to motivate people to reduce their use of Single Use Plastics (SUPs) by learning, documenting, and competing with folks around the world. Sure, it’s a game, but a game with a worthy purpose – to slow down global warming. Yes, it’s almost the end of July but it’s not too late for you to do something. August 1, 2022 will not be the end of planet Earth, but I challenge you to do something about your use of plastics – sooner rather than later.

You don’t have to be a long reader of this Living Lightly blog to know that I often deal with environmental topics, especially how to reduce plastic use. (For a collection of recent plastic posts click here. Especially check out #238 here.

For myself, I’ve spent this July challenging each piece of new plastic that wants to enter my home. For example, I

  • Use reusable bags for most of my shopping.
  • Switched to cleaning products such as CleanCult, Dropps, Etee, Earth BreezeTruEarth since they aren’t packaged in plastic.
  • Make my own yogurt and alfalfa sprouts; plus I grow my own vegetable and berries in season
  • Justify some plastic for medical uses and some plastics I just reuse – thus eliminating them from the SUP category.

BUT, I’m not perfect and some SUPs still enter my home. I then forgive myself.
Beyond avoiding Single Use Plastics, it occurred to me that individual lifestyle changes like reducing SUPs is good, but I could multiplying my efforts by:

  • Educating and inspiring others to reduce their use of plastic. Thus, I started a free weekly email called ECO-TIPS for faith and civic organizations to put in bulletins and newsletters. Individuals can also subscribe.
  • Participating in local and national organizations that work for systemic change. This is probably the most impactful but also hardest step since it often involves political activism and a lot of meetings.

RESOURCES:
You may already be doing a lot of the above, OR it all can feel pretty overwhelming or burdensome. If so, you might find these two timely background papers inspiring:

So, what’s you best SUP tip for others or an element of SUPS that you struggle with? Curious minds want to know.

Click to enlarge

The recent release of the James Webb telescope photos prompted me to Ponder the Universe. For more background, click here.

Sure, most of us can fathom our location in our own city, state, country, and even planet Earth with the help of a globe or international travel. We probably can remember the order of planets in our own solar system from high school science. We’ve heard about “The Big Bang” that presumably started it all.

But these new pictorial images (not only distant stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy, but also distant galaxies and time periods) stretch my mind. What map is large enough to even see a “You are here” dot for the planet we live on.

All of this prompts me to think of how creation started and who is the Creator?

  • My Christian tradition wraps it all around God the creator, Jesus a human person that history verifies existed, and a general concept of an enduring Spirit.
  • Expanding this to other faith traditions still carries the idea of some form of spiritual essence that transcends human lives and pulls us beyond ourselves to contemplate the meaning of life.
  • Even agnostics or atheists must wonder how the universe started? Are there other universes? What caused the Big Bang? Is there really a God?

These are some of the faith and science questions that enter my mind as I gaze at the many colored dots on the Webb telescope photos. With greater awareness of the expansiveness of the universe, what does that imply for a person of faith about the nature of “God.” It’s all pretty overwhelming to contemplate.

My current thinking is that “God” is a word we humans use to describe the indescribable origin of life – human, animal, extraterrestrial, whatever. Is there “life” of some kind after human death? I don’t know. I can’t prove it, but I’d like to believe there is. In the absence of any proof to the contrary, it helps give meaning to my life to believe that there might be some form of consciousness after death, some connection with those still living. And, if we define “God” as a creative energy force grounded in love, then “God” can take many forms and be described through different stories in different times and cultures. It’s not necessary for to me to know which is the right, the best, the only description of God.

Having spent my life as a Christian, what I know about Jesus shows me a way to live that makes sense. Christianity puts flesh on my spiritual journey through the person of Jesus – and brings it down to Earth. It is a way to live focused on a deep, sacrificial love. It is not the only WAY, but it is the WAY given to me.

Other spiritual paths point to a similar reality grounded in love even though given different names and background stories. Hmmm, it’s a lot to think about.
How do you think the universe came to be? What gives meaning to your life?
(For a thoughtful response from reader, Tom Dorsel, click The Game of God article.)

Too many emails? Can’t keep up with social media? Don’t know which alerts are legitimate and which are just spam or phishing scams? Don’t know what “phishing” is?

Besides just totally abandoning your computer or phone, how can a conscientious but time conscious person stay sane in this world of internet overload?

These are important modern issues but more complicated than I can deal with in one post or that I’m qualified to advise on. The purpose of this post is simply to remind you to be careful, share my own system for limiting email, and point you to some helpful resources.

Limiting email:

  • Don’t “reply to all” unless it’s a small group or “all” really need to know your opinion.
  • Unsubscribe from organizational/political groups that you are not actively involved with.
  • Set a limit for active emails. My desktop computer can show 22 emails on the screen so I try to keep no more than that in my Primary tab. Gmail helps by having a promotional tab which captures most unsolicited emails which I mostly ignore.

Social Media:

  • Limit how often you check it. For me, once a day is usually plenty.
  • Limit how many sites you follow. I put this blog on Facebook and Instagram but I’m getting off of Twitter and other sites.
  • Only post stuff that your audience cares to know about. Every trip does not have to be documented.

Other resources:

  • Several years ago I did a more complete blog titled 365+#100: TMI-Computers. It has a lot more detailed info.
  • Many computer security systems offer information on safe practices. For example: Which phishing scams are trending in 2022?
  • Consult with unbiased experts when unsure. (Often this means someone younger than you – if you’re my age.) One source that I trust is my brother who recently did a whimsical but true post on evaluating snail mail and email titled Urgent=Not Urgent. Enjoy.

This is not my area of expertise, but simply ways I’ve found to keep my online work manageable. I welcome knowledgeable reader input.

Current Stressors in my Life:
Computer – Lately, I’ve been fighting with my computer. Aarrgh!
I finally decided to buy a new desktop computer because my 10 year old main computer was acting sick and tired. Our son helped me decide on a new one and set it up. Good. But I didn’t realize I would also have to reconfigure programs like my website. It took over a week of fiddling and help from another computer savvy friend. Success! Meanwhile, I wondered how much of my worth as a human being was tied up with being able to do a blog and maintain a website.
• Recycling – Add to that, ongoing dilemmas about what can and cannot be recycled properly,
• Time crunches – Social justice priorities and Zoom calls have been competing for my time,
• Relationships – I feel sad about reduced contact with family and friends because of Covid,
• Memory – My memory does not seem as strong as it used to be. I search for names and familiar words.
• Power – People in politics, religious institutions, and families are fighting over who is more right. Misinformation is rampant and fuels anger.

BUT, then I remember:
• Ukraine – The invasion of Ukraine dominates the news, followed this week by the mass shooting at the Uvalde elementary school in Texas.
• Planet Earth – I am aware that irreversible climate change may happen within the next generation. I may die before it dramatically changes my life, but what about our children and grandchildren. I care about them and all life on earth.

As sobering as these 2 “BUTs” are, they do serve a positive purpose. They put my personal woes in perspective. As I read and see photos of buildings and lives destroyed in Ukraine and irreversible climate changes looming, I say to myself, “And I’m worried about my website!”
So, the question I ask myself (and you) is:

WHAT IS MINE TO DO?
How do I keep a perspective that is broad and encompassing, but sane and doable?
How much time and energy should I spend trying to address my personal life challenges and when do I let go of my smaller worries to take action on issues of systemic change – like political action?

MY SOLUTION – Consultation with a Higher Power, i.e. Prayer
1. Listen well to the Spirit within me
2. Educate myself about what options are available
3. Listen to other humans who are wise guides
4. Follow through. ACT

What works for YOU?

As Covid appears to possibly be retreating, I have recently returned from two trips (one by air to Singapore for our son’s wedding and one by car for a retreat and visiting friends and family along the way). These trips have prompted me to muse about the experience of traveling and what it continues to teach me about life, meaning, and God.

PRACTICAL SIDE OF TRAVEL
Packing Light: By nature, I enjoy the challenge of packing light. This is especially applicable when traveling by air since I usually try to take no more than a carry-on suitcase and backpack. (To see my updated Traveling Light blog post of a decade ago, click here. I added 20 sub-tips to my original Top 10 travel tips.)
Of course, there is also the negative climate impact of long road or air trips to weigh. Hmmm.

EMOTIONAL SIDE OF TRAVEL
The positive side
of travel is the joy of being with far away friends in person and having conversations longer and more intimate than a Zoom call can endure.
The negative side is that I’m not good at directions and I also lose the comfort of familiar routines. Having a husband who I call “Mr. Map” since he has an excellent sense of direction solves the first problem.
BUT…I struggle with – Where did I put my phone, my glasses, my whatever? What time is it here? The flow of each day is different so it’s easy to lose the rhythm of on Sundays we usually go to Church, On Mondays I send my Marriage Moments, Parenting Pointers, and Eco-Tips out. Where is the grocery store? Should we drive, take the metro, bus, or Uber? Where will we eat today? It can feel confusing and stressful.

SPIRITUAL SIDE OF TRAVEL
Dependency: When traveling I am reminded of how I am dependent on the generosity of others. Often we stay with family or friends and they provide food, housing, and companionship. Even when we spring for an Air B&B or Retreat Center, I realize that the money to pay for these comes from the government (in the form of Social Security payments) from past jobs (in the form of pensions), or from savings (partly from an inheritance). The virtue called for is Gratitude.

Sharing: Yesterday’s Gospel (John 6:1-15) retold how Jesus fed the 5000+ with 5 loaves and 2 fish. What do I have to share? For many of us our time and knowledge are our most valuable assets. Teachers, caregivers, people who repair stuff share their time and knowledge. I can donate money for food, clothing, shelter, and education, but direct service feels more satisfying. Sometimes the hardest thing for me is to take the time to listen to those in need or to those who have different opinions from me – and then ACT to make a difference.

Relating: People met Jesus as they traveled. They walked together and talked just like I have been meeting old and new friends. The folks on the way to Emmaus didn’t recognize Jesus as they walked and talked. Sometimes it takes awhile for me to recognize Jesus in the people surrounding me. We have to look beneath the surface to recognize Jesus.

Prayer: While sitting on my bedroom “prayer perch” I see the glorious dogwood tree coming into bloom outside my window. Wow! Freely if offers its beauty at no cost to me. Yet I know that the beauty of nature and daily needs of humans are at imminent risk by global warming and violence.
Recognizing the beauty of creation feels like a prayerful but passive stance, while working to preserve creation takes my time, effort, and stretching into actions of political and systemic change. I try to remember that these actions are also a form of prayer.

QUESTION: What has travel taught you?

As we approach Palm Sunday and Holy Week, I am aware of how unusual this Lent has been for me. Perhaps for you too. My usual basic Lenten practice is to give up sweets. This is not a significant sacrifice, but rather I consider it a daily background reminder of this season of transformation. When I am tempted to reach for my usual lunch desert candy bar or dinner Klondike ice cream bar, I am reminded of the bigger sacrificial changes I am trying to make in my life – like living more simply, devoting mega time to social justice causes, really changing my lifestyle; or even this year’s plan to clear my desk area of paper clutter. But this Lent has been different.

Instead of a mammoth give-away effort or major lifestyle changes, I spent about half of Lent half a world away in Singapore for our son’s wedding. This hardly feels like a sacrifice. But…we work with what life (God) gives us. This year Covid travel requirements, a different culture, and lack of a daily routine jerked me out of my typical Lenten sacrificial mode to muse about life in general.

  • Maybe it’s the constant disturbing news about the invasion of Ukraine,
  • Maybe it’s a growing awareness of the precarious future of planet Earth as we know it,
  • Maybe it’s reflecting on how our children’s lives may be altered by the above,
  • OR, maybe it’s just getting older.

I don’t know. Regardless, I’ve been thinking a lot about ultimate things, like

  1. How big is the universe and can human-like life exist on other planets (like TOI-674 b)
  2. How/when did creation of the universe start?
  3. What is the essence of what I call “God” who I think of as the creator of the universe?
  4. Is there really a God and life after death? I choose to believe these concepts. It brings me comfort to envision a place of being after death, but… I have no certainty. Death may be nothing more than my body returning to the earth and being the source of new plant life.
  5. Would I live any differently if there is no God, no afterlife? Probably not. But my life feels more meaningful by connecting with a spiritual, God-like being.
  6. Are the above musings what Lent is supposed to be for me this year? OR should I just organize those loose papers?
  7. Am I the only one thinking about these things?

So… how would you answer the above questions?

Hmmm, my Prayer & Fasting during Lent are going OK, but the Almsgiving is eluding me. I had decided (rightly I think) that almsgiving should be broader than just giving money. I now define it as not only making donations to charitable causes but giving my whole self. Thus, choosing a way to serve others by donating clothes, household items, and my time, is also almsgiving. Fine. Over the years I’ve done plenty of those practical things.

As I evaluated my life and time during Lent 2022, however, it seemed to me that pruning the many papers that were cluttering my desk and office would be a worthy project since, once done, it would simplify my life, help me do things faster, reduce distractions, help me focus. However good this might make me feel, it was a self-help project that didn’t exactly feel like service or very spiritual. I partially followed through on my decision to spend at least 15 minutes a day clearing paper clutter, but I didn’t make much progress.

I had to face the reality that life and projects keep getting in the way. I wondered if:
1.  Maybe pruning paper was the wrong choice for a Lenten practice.
2.  I just let too many other priorities get in the way.
3.  I was avoiding it as it would take too much time; was too emotionally draining.
4.  I was just being selfish/lazy with my time.

Enough self-flagellation. Eventually an answer came to me in prayer. My papers reflected the evolution of my life. They documented each of the jobs I held and the various groups and movements that I have been committed to.

Just for fun – short diversion: My folders, file cabinets, and piles of paper fit an alphabet of categories: ANAWIM, FCGG, IOMLC, MISC, MLC-NA, MSJC, NACFLM, PACA, PPJ, UD, VOTF…
(If anyone wants to play the game, How Well Do I Know Susan Vogt, see how many of the above you can identify? Winner gets a can of alphabet soup.)

But, on to what spiritual lessons are hiding behind my papers and letters. As I ponder which papers to pitch and which to file better. I am realizing that this Lent I am taking an interior journey through my life. Part of the trip is letting go of earlier formative resources that may no longer be needed.

The more recent side trips are inner excursions into what is the purpose of my life? What gives it meaning? In the end, I am more than meetings, Zoom calls, social justice projects, and a pile of papers. It all comes down to loving creation – both human and nature. Some relationships are easy to love – like my family and those who think like me.
Others are more challenging – like those who are mean, think differently from me, or spiders. Maybe this Lent I will come to more peace with the latter? It’s all about unconditional love.

PS: To balance all this amorphous spiritual stuff, I bring myself down to earth by remembering that there are people seriously suffering right now on planet earth – not just on paper. I still must do something to ease the suffering of the hungry, the homeless, the unloved, the lonely. News of people suffering in Ukraine jar me back to the present and the need to act, not just pray, give money, and push paper.
What is mine to do? What is yours?

Lent has started and I’m a week behind already. I’ve got 2 of the 3 Lenten basics covered, but it’s discouraging to be behind before I start.

  1. Prayer – In addition to my regular prayer time I’ve joined a contemplative prayer group at our parish. These twice-a-week online gatherings have been meaningful since they prompt me to go more deeply into the mystery of God’s sacred presence. But, I’m going to miss at least 6 of the 13 sessions because of other commitments.
  2. Fasting – I usually give up sweets and fast from some regular meals during Lent. I think of this as being in solidarity with those who don’t have enough to eat. It’s not a choice for them. But for me, the main value is that it is a daily reminder to turn my attention to the “Why” of Lent – to connect more intimately with God.
  3. But what about the 3rd biggie – Almsgiving. Sure, I could donate more money to charitable causes. But, I usually understand this Lenten practice as taking actions such as spending my time and effort to serve others. In the past I often gave stuff away (not just money) or tried to be of service to those in need.
    This year I thought I’d wrap it all up in the word PAPER. I have way too much paper cluttering my desk and overflowing to the floor around my desk. This not only makes it difficult to find the right paper amongst my many piles, it clutters my mind and makes me feel behind in my daily life. I’ve pruned paper before, but obviously it needs an upgrade.

So, Ash Wednesday came and went, and I kept figuring I would develop a “paper plan” the next day. My first step was to commit to 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon to devote to paper pruning. I made a simple chart outlining which part of my desk area I would work on each day. Now, it’s a week into Lent and I have my commitment chart but no action.

What is all this teaching me? That I’m not perfect. (In fact, I had buried my chart under other papers for several days and just now found it again. ☹) I’m human and need to forgive myself.

Right now, I will stop writing this blog, post it, and spend my 15 minutes this afternoon, before I get distracted and choose to do something else.
I wonder what other lessons the Spirit will teach me this Lent through paper?

How is it going for you? Do you have some Lenten motivational tricks?

Curbside recycling is convenient and prevents many items from polluting our land, air, and water or languishing in landfills. The local Cincinnati area waste collection company (Rumpke) has recently added “to-go” cups to what can be put in curbside recycling. Good! BUT, what about items you no longer need but you want to find a respectable home for like clothing, kitchen ware, and misc. stuff that doesn’t qualify for curbside recycling – especially plastics and polystyrene foam, i.e. Styrofoam. Here are some solutions:

THRIFT STORES: Clothing, household supplies, games, etc.
can go to the usual places like Goodwill, AmVets, Lupus, St. Vincent de Paul, Salvation Army, VietVets, Next Door, OR check out my Donating Basics posts here and here. To check out a pretty comprehensive list of national clothing donation sites, click here.
My favorite local Thrift Store is Betty’s Treasures because it’s close and serves the local neighborhood. That’s where I took this frying pan. What’s your favorite Thrift Store and why?

PLASTICS, STYROFOAM, & MORE:
But Thrift Stores don’t want your garbage. The best place in the Cincinnati area to take these items is the Cincinnati Recycling and Reuse Hub which takes clean rigid plastic and Styrofoam take-out containers and a whole lot more like toothpaste tubes, bubble wrap, etc. I’ve become a regular customer of the HUB.
(Note: temporarily they are not taking #1 plastic until a new buyer is found.) Is there a similar recycling center in your community? Let others know in the comments.

Rx PILL BOTTLES – Maybe you’re healthy and never need pills, but people of a certain age (like me) accumulate a lot of those orange plastic pill bottles over a year. Click here for background on what to do with them. Matthew 25 Ministries takes them in many cities. The HUB (above) also accepts Rx bottles.

Although Christmas gifts (especially new electronics) can prompt recycling of older stuff, I continue to ask myself “How much is enough?” It’s nice to know I have an extra lamp if one breaks. How many blankets does a home need? How do you decide when to get rid of useful but extra stuff?
Two recent experiences prompted me to stop procrastinating and let go.

1. Updating our home insulation
We knew the insulation we put in about 40 years ago was deteriorating. As conscientious environmentalist wannabes we decided to re-insulate our house. It would be expensive, but it would save heating energy. To do this required emptying out a bathroom closet to access ceiling and wall space. The closet stored medical and bathroom supplies, towels, and bedding supplies. Most of these were extras in case of emergency or to host visitors. (Of course not many visitors were coming during these pandemic years.) Pruning through all this stuff eliminated out of date medicines and added a feeling of gratitude that we hadn’t needed arm slings, poison ivy remedies, or additional sheets in quite awhile. (For additional ideas to save energy, especially in bedrooms, click here.)

2. The arrival of Afghan refugees to our community
Around this same time, we learned that Kentucky Refugee Ministry was preparing to welcome evacuees from Afghanistan. We volunteered to welcome a family of 8. A local religious congregation was providing a temporary dwelling but they did need home supplies.

Hmmm, how many sheets, towels, and extra toiletries did we need to keep “just in case” when a family with 6 young children needed these now? Sheets for 4 beds and 5 towels was a start.

How many extras are enough of anything is an ongoing dilemma for me. I like to be prepared and careful, but it’s made easier when I know a “neighbor” is in need.
What prompts you to give away or recycle extra supplies in your home.
What makes something “extra”?

Christmas is almost upon us. Perhaps you will receive some new electronics (a phone, laptop, TV, game system, etc.) Yea! But leap ahead a week or so and this also brings up the question of what to do with your older, maybe broken or obsolete technology items. How do you recycle these responsibly?
I did some research so you don’t have to. Here’s a summary:

RECYCLING OLDER ELECTRONICS: For the serious declutterer, check out these 3 articles.

  1. Where to Donate and Recycle Used ElectronicsAll Connect offers many ideas about principles, resources and where to take used electronics.
  2. How to Recycle Old ElectronicsConsumer Reports offers their always well reputed reliable, unbiased product information.
  3. Where to RecycleEarth 911 offers a simple, direct search function to find local recycling places.

IN A FEW WORDS: For those who care but have less time, the key points are:

  • Donate as much as you can to reputable charities (the articles give contact info for many of the usual ones.)
  • Recycle others by taking your stuff to stores that sell similar merchandise or to the parent tech firm itself.
  • Wipe all products clean of any personal information.

FOR FUN: Check out this 2 minute video. Which of the 5 things would you guess?
5 Things To Always Recycle

BEYOND ELECTRONICS – Bonus ideas about decluttering other Christmas stuff and making the holidays sync with your environmental commitments

Here we are in the middle of Advent (Nov. 28 – Dec. 24, 2021). I will repeat only once my tired rant about Christmas being Dec. 25 and Advent being the season of waiting and preparing, NOT celebrating and gift giving. Over the past decade I’ve written 20 posts related to how to manage this complicated season with simplicity, sanity, and hope. Click here for a summary of each.

But for those of you who understandably don’t want to wade through too many ideas that might just make you feel tired or guilty, here’s my skinny on how to honor Advent and prepare for Christmas without alienating your family and friends.

BE KIND: to yourself and others. Make exceptions to the following when warranted.

WAIT:

  1. At least till Thanksgiving to start home decorations. I whine about stores doing it early, but I’m not in charge of stores, only my own family.
  2. To party – unless it would be rude to not attend an office or friend’s party.
  3. Till Christmas Eve to decorate your tree. (Too late for this year? Forgive yourself.)
  4. Till Christmas morning to exchange family gifts – again unless it would be rude.

PREPARE: (While pregnancy means waiting, it also requires getting a lot of things ready.)

  1. Enter into the spirit of Advent (Light the candles on an Advent wreath, Put up a creche and move the 3 kings from the East to the West. Count the days on an Advent calendar…
  2. Put up outside lights, window candles, green garlands, etc. Perhaps consider the lights like following the stars and greenery as honoring nature.
  3. Get gifts. Whether buying, making, baking, giving experiences, or sharing kind thoughts, the sharing of gifts requires planning. Check out my Nothing New Christmas experience.

Since this post is coming out in the middle of Advent, some folks may have already plunged in to more traditional Christmas activities. That’s OK. Remember the first step: Be kind to yourself. There’s always next year.