Living Lightly

Susan Vogt on living more simply but abundantly

Browsing Posts published by Susan Vogt

Well, plans have changed. As I pondered whether to give up plastic, clutter, or to give more stuff away for Lent, I decided that any of these sacrifices would be worthy, but it was probably more important to clean out my “soul” and my attitudes than to clean house. Sure, I will try to be more watchful of how much plastic comes into our home and to give more stuff away, BUT I take pride in doing these visible tasks. It feels satisfying; and by telling folks how I’m doing it, I can feel successful.

Letting go of pride. Being more humble and quiet about my accomplishments seems more timely to me right now. Sooo, prompted by my husband who knows me better than anyone, we agreed to have an “inner Lent.” We plan to talk over how we might focus not so much on our successes but on the successes of others. This means paying attention to the people around us, noticing what they might be struggling with and affirming their goodness.

Arise! Happy Easter

So, you won’t be reading about what I do on this blog during March because it’s an inner transformation, but one that I think is needed. I pray that by Easter (which is also the day before April Fools Day 😊), I might be less “full” of myself.

How about you?

As observant Christians have no doubt noticed, this year Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday fall on the same day, Feb. 14. So, do we celebrate love, or do we sacrifice? Is there some way that these two “holy” days are connected?  Personally, I plan to celebrate my love for my husband on Valentine’s Eve which of course is also Mardi Gras – a traditional day of fun and feasting. But beyond playing games with the calendar, I think a good case can be made that when we sacrifice our time and possessions for the good of others, it’s a genuine form of love.

So…back to Lent. As Lent approaches each year, my mind typically starts exploring What should I do for Lent this year? Sure, I generally fast from sweets and try to eat no meat which reminds me of people for whom being hungry is not a choice. It’s a gesture of solidarity with the poor and a humbling spiritual awareness. BUT, I still feel the desire to sacrifice beyond eating. So far I’ve narrowed this down to 3 possibilities:

  1. A Plastic Free Lent – In this scenario I would “fast” from buying anything made of OR packaged in plastic. Since my husband does the primary grocery shopping, it might be cheating to just let him buy the food that’s packaged in plastic so I don’t have to count it. Also, it doesn’t seem fair to impose my commitment on him. In addition, the packaging I typically get comes unbidden – like something I order on-line and didn’t realize it would be packaged in plastic.
  2. One-A-Day Give-Aways – Although I’ve done this in some past Lents, I’m embarrassed to look around our home and notice that there are clothes that I haven’t worn in over a year, books that I’ll never read again – even for reference, toys I’ve been saving for out of town grandchildren, and sports equipment that I’ve aged out of. It’s all well organized but could others use my extras?
  3. Clearing Clutter – Related to the Give-Aways is stuff that nobody else can use like travel mementos that fill 4 bookcases, file cabinets filled with probably obsolete papers, plus my desk that has too many loose papers reminding me of things to do that are waiting to be done.

I’m not sure which of the above I should do. Could I do all of them? Should I try? If you were faced with the above choices what would you do?

Or even better – what kind of Lenten sacrifices are you considering? Go ahead and put your ideas in the comment section. It might lead me and others to expand our ideas of how Lent can deepen our spiritual life and help us to love our neighbors more fully.

PS: For those who care, Bottled Water Contains More Plastic Particles Than Previously Thought.(Bloomberg, Jan. 2024)

Make any New Year’s Resolutions? Have you broken any of them yet? Regardless, here’s chance to try something new to refresh, educate, and/or deepen your family life.

  1. Challenge your family to learn about a new country – ideally one you’ve never been to and know little about.
    *For a list of countries and background for teens/adults click here.
    *For a similar list for kids click here.
    How does the size, language, wealth/poverty, compare to your own country? How long would it take you to travel to this country? What is unique or important about the country? Would you want to live there?
  2. If you could have any job in the world, what would you like to do?
    If you already have a job, are you happy with it? What do you like most and least about your current job? Even if you already have a job, are there other jobs that you might be interested in? If you were qualified and could have any job in the world, what would it be?
  3. Challenge your family to become familiar with a faith tradition other than one you practice now or grew up with.
    Perhaps you are very satisfied with the faith tradition you currently practice; or perhaps you consider yourself a “NONE” (spiritual but not religious). Still, learning the basics of at least one other faith tradition can be an enlightening, enriching endeavor. Choose one of the primary world religions, (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Taoism, Confucianism, Caodism,  Baha’i, …) or another faith that sounds interesting to your family, and learn about it. For a summary of the major world religions, click here.
    You could also research Secular, Agnostic, or Atheist systems. How is the religion you research similar or different from your own beliefs? Is there anything you particularly like about it?
  4. Consider a new family tradition. (dinners together, family Zoom call, family game night or hike…)
    When our children were all at home (and before the teen years usurped much of their evening home time) we had the custom of a once a week Family Night. After dinner we gathered for about an hour to focus on a fun family activity, social justice action, and/or a creative home prayer. As they “graduated” out of Family Night and moved away from home, this has morphed into a weekly meal with our in-town son, a weekly Zoom call with our Singapore son and his wife, and a monthly Zoom call with the whole family where we rotate members choosing the Question of the Month. If your family is still all at home discuss your favorite common activities. If you live in different towns, consider creative ways to connect.

With Christmas usually comes presents – at least for those of us with enough discretionary income to buy and receive gifts. This is usually a joyous exchange. As I opened the presents given to me last week, I was happy to receive them but also realized that some of the gifts meant I no longer needed the older household items that these newer ones would replace.

For example, we had many relatives staying with us over Christmas. Fortunately, I had just enough bedding and towels, for everyone. But…I also received a new bedspread, sheets, and towels. After the guests departed and I washed everything, I realized that storage space for the old and the new would be cramped.
Aha! The perfect solution is to donate the duplicate older ones to a homeless shelter or a place like Goodwill, St. Vincent de Paul, or the Salvation Army.

As I reviewed other “extra” items I had around the house, I realized that there were a number of other things I hadn’t needed in awhile – extra kitchen gadgets, cloth napkins, sweaters, etc. This prompted gathering up the most obvious duplicate items and a trip to a local thrift store. I took a beautiful but older comforter, 4 bath towels, a shower curtain,    11 cloth napkins, some warm undergarments, plus a radio, and some kitchen supplies.

It certainly didn’t clean out our home of all the extras, but I thought these were items that families in need could use during the winter.

As regular readers know, I often use the 6 weeks of Lent to prune my home of no longer needed items. I’m still surprised that after years of decluttering, I still find many things that I’ve been storing for some day, one day. I plan to diligently continue this practice during the upcoming Lent since with age comes less need for as many clothes, supplies, and toys for visiting children. But, for now focusing on balancing what has come in with letting go of items they replace, feels right.

Did you receive any gifts that allow you to release current items to those who need them?

BONUS: A neighbor (Louise) also gave me some non-paper “paper towels.” She cut and trimmed some absorbent cloth and packaged them like a roll of paper towels, but – they are washable. Wow! I don’t know if an item like this can be bought in a store, but they sure look prettier than the rags I store in the bathroom to wipe up spills. They also reduce my need for paper-paper towels since they are reusable.

WAITING: As Christians approach the season of Advent – the season of waiting again for Christ to be born – I am reminded about how hard it often is to wait. For birthdays, for your beloved to return home, for a healing. Yet, I remember that waiting for something important to happen is part of the joy when the special day, special person, arrives. The old trope, “Absence makes the waiting for  heart grow fonder” may seem unduly romantic but there is something about waiting for a good thing to happen that makes it more precious. We may not like the waiting, but if every day were your birthday, it wouldn’t be such a big deal. Sooo, waiting for Christmas multiplies the joy.

FASTING: Recently, I’ve come to a similar insight about fasting. Several years ago, I decided to not only fast from meat on Friday’s but also sweets. Sure, this started in childhood when for Catholics not eating meat on Fridays was an honored tradition. I went along with it since there was plenty of good food that wasn’t meat based.

However, as my environmental awareness increased, moving toward a more plant-based diet was a natural progression. Sure, I’d give up sweets for Lent but eventually I added all Fridays as dessert free days. Although this started as a religious tradition, only recently have I discovered a positive emotional component to this custom. I’m finding that one day of fasting makes the other non-fasting days more precious. “Yea! Today is Saturday, I get to have dessert again!” Every day that I allow myself a dessert, it feels more like a treat 😊.

This makes me start to wonder if there are other “treats” that become more precious because I choose the self-denial of waiting for something good – like delaying a purchase of a new piece of clothing. It also reminds me that there are many people around the world who don’t have a choice to fast. They don’t have enough food or money to buy it with. This motivates me to donate to hunger charities and continue volunteering at a local soup kitchen.

PROBLEMS: Although I would never choose poor health or voluntarily do something to damage my health, after an illness, I am grateful for the health that I previously took for granted.

Nobody likes to suffer, but I’m starting to notice that when hard times come, whether it be a painful relationship, a fear, loss of employment, whatever, working through the hardship can be a window to growth, a new skill, deeper love than I would have known if life had gone more smoothly. Hmmmm. Challenges – intentional or unbidden – can   be a pathway to new growth.

What problems have you faced that ended up being a blessing in disguise?

Sometimes we may have to wait awhile to recognize the blessing that might follow a hardship. But pause, and ponder that perhaps the lesson is: growing in patience.

What? How can one “Love the HUB”? Am I talking about hubcaps on a car. an internet hub, or something else? Well, for environmentally minded people in the Cincinnati area the HUB is short for Cincinnati Recycling & Reuse Hub.
It’s the go to place for many hard to recycle items. If you live in a major city, hopefully you have an equivalent place.

Of course my own town has curbside recycling and this is good for paper, cans, and certain plastics like plastic bottles. As long-time readers know, I’m always trying to reduce our family’s use of Single Use Plastics (SUPs). BUT, even a careful recycler will find it hard to eliminate all plastics from our household diet. This is especially true during winter when local produce is not available and many fruits and vegetables come in #1 plastic “clam shell” containers.

¼ of my #1 plastics taken to HUB

Well…the HUB recently developed the capacity to take #1 plastics in addition to many other hard to recycle items. In anticipation of this step, I’ve been saving these #1 plastics in my basement for almost a year. Yesterday, I took them all to the HUB and that’s the most recent reason I “Love the HUB.”

Of course, there are many other items that can’t go in most municipal curbside recycling carts, ie: plastic bags, Styrofoam, light bulbs, tooth paste, etc., but you can also donate these to the HUB and feel virtuous.😊 Click photo on right to enlarge

Yes, recycling well takes knowledge and some effort, but when I think of the future of planet Earth and whether our children will inherit a habitable planet, it’s worth the effort.

A final caveat – As necessary as diligent recycling is, the better solution is always to avoid the need to recycle, thus remember “Reduce/Reuse” as priorities. For some of my other recent reducing plastic ieas, click here.

So…What if you don’t live in an area that has a resource like the HUB? You can:
1. Wail, feel disappointed, and just give up.
2. Renew your commitment to the Reduce/Reuse components of environmental sustainability in your private life.
3. Do #2 personally and try to multiply your efforts by promoting these efforts in your community or nation wide.
4. Get active in your community and maybe even found an organization like the HUB.
5. Do variations of #2, #3, and #4 and pray for humility and occasional time to rest.

PS: For those who cannot easily get to the HUB, another resource that recently became available in the Cincinnati area is the Hefty ReNew orange bags for hard to recycle items that can be put in Rumpke curbside recycling.

I don’t know about you, but occasionally I get into a “Depression Funk.” It goes something like this:

  • I’m tired. I’ve already taken a nap, but I don’t feel like tackling another thing on my To Do
  • I’m tired of trying to save the world.
  • Global Warming is way bigger and more complicated than what I can solve. Let somebody else do it.
  • If not me, who else is going to take care of this problem?
  • I’m tired.

Perhaps some of my funk is natural for a person in their mid-70s. But, I’m in good health. I no longer have a regular paid job, but I do have enough income that I don’t have to worry about being hungry, unclothed, or homeless. What I do have is the gift of TIME. How should I be using it? After all, people like Pope Francis or the President of the USA are older than me and haven’t given up on being a useful member of the human race. So…am I doing enough?

I recently relistened to a 6½ minute video 7 Daily Habits to Change Your life Forever. The author, Joshua Becker, proposes 7 daily acts to focus one’s life.

  1. Make a list of the 3 most important tasks I need to do this day.
  2. Exercise
  3. Turn off the TV
  4. Practice Gratitude
  5. Write something down
  6. Reset your kitchen
  7. Eat together

This list moved me past Am I Doing Enough? because I realized, “Hey, I’m already doing most of these. I don’t need to beat myself up, but neither am I free to just slink into old age and vegetate. The only thing I would add is:

  1. Take it to prayer

Maybe, since my daily life has a pretty functional rhythm for my current circumstances, I should let go of the guilt and focus on balancing my 3 priorities of:

  1. Personal life (Keep in touch with family + reduce Single Use Plastics at home)
  2. Service to my local community (Make sure my life regularly includes some hands on, physical service to those in need.)
  3. Influencing those beyond my home (Seek at least one way to impact systemic change beyond my home.)

Wrap all of these in a humble, faith-filled spirituality, i.e. Pray and discern!

Easy to write. Hard to do on a regular basis.
What helps you balance your personal well-being with the needs of those hurting among us and the future of the universe?

I profess to be a Christian and thus believe that Jesus calls us to love one another – even our enemies. Of course this moral call transcends Christianity and most faith traditions have a comparable moral code. Even people of good will who profess no particular religion usually have an inner sense to try to be a loving person. But… does loving humanity mean I have to agree with others or like them all? Of course not. I can call out evil and we humans may disagree on what is the right thing to do in conflictual situations.

So, lately I’ve been contemplating my inclination to judge some people who seem to have different values than mine or who just see life differently from me. I’ve been struggling with judgmentalism.

Example #1an irresponsible neighbor. On my daily bike ride I noticed that a house several blocks away always had a lot of garbage strewn around their yard. I never saw the resident, but in a fit of altruism, I decided one day to go over and picked up the trash that overflowed into the curbside area and street. Another neighbor saw me and thanked me. I felt virtuous. A couple days later I rode by and a different neighbor stopped me and complained. He said, they were hoping the offending neighbor would be evicted since this had been an ongoing problem. Had I helped or hurt the neighbor? What might be going on in the offending neighbor’s life that caused her to act so irresponsibly. Might she be struggling with financial, emotional, or relationship issues? Maybe an illness? I don’t know.

Example #2a difficult relationship. One of the social groups I belong to has a person who has alienated many of the members because of their frequent complaining. I shared this judgement but mostly kept it to myself. One day, however, the individual must have detected my judgmental feelings and confronted me. It was a hard conversation and I don’t imagine we’ll ever be close friends, but we need not be enemies.

These two experiences have taught me something about myself and how I judge other people. It has pushed me to look deeper into why people do things that seem anti-social, or make them difficult for me to like. Instead of focusing on the other’s offense, likeability, or political opinion that differs from mine, I’m trying to ponder what in the other’s history might have caused their behavior. Perhaps they had a troubled childhood, some hurtful relationships, feelings of inadequacy, or simply a different life experience from my own. Certainly I have my own baggage that others might find unappealing.

From these experiences, I find myself moved to humility, compassion, and more careful listening. Before I jump to criticizing and judging I’m trying to remember that for some people I might be the difficult person that they are trying to love.

Who do you find difficult to love? Why? How do you strive to love better?

Anyone living into adulthood (and sooner for some) will inevitably encounter hardships and pain. It might be physical (an illness, broken bones), emotional (depression, self-doubt), relational (a hurting relationship, annoying people), or spiritual (Is there really a loving God? How to love myself or other difficult people?)
Lately I’ve been thinking about such negative life experiences prompted by some health concerns, some difficult relationships, and the sorry state of planet earth in general. My first reactions often include worry, anger, or avoidance.

But sometimes a Spirit of quest and curiosity follow my negative reactions. Perhaps it is coincidence, a need to resolve the discomfort, or the entering of the Spirit through prayer. I’m not really sure, but I’ve started looking at these negative experiences as opportunities – as unwelcome but positive impulses to make needed changes in my life. I should listen to them. For example:

  • Health Hurdles – Hardly anyone ever welcomes a colonoscopy. My recent one raised no serious concerns but it triggered several additional tests and combined with 6 other medical appointments within 2 weeks, prompted me to reflect on how many people deal with serious physical pain. It complicated my life for awhile but the bigger learning was a feeling of compassion for those with acute or ongoing health concerns. It was humbling to move out of focusing on my minor ailments to unite with those in greater need.
  • Mistakes & Failures – I tried to do a good deed recently and it backfired. I decided to clean up litter around neighbor A’s home. I felt virtuous. However, another, closer, neighbor later told me that they were hoping the litterer would be evicted since this was just a small symptom of bigger problems with neighbor A. Who was right? Who cares? The lesson I learned was to reduce judgement, and self-righteousness. Seeing both sides of the problem expanded my vision. What can I learn from mistakes I’ve made? Often more than if I luckily avoided the mistake in the first place.
  • Criticizing Others – At a recent conference I attended a talk that was way too long and not well delivered. I was annoyed and felt I had wasted my time. But further reflection prompted me to wonder what might be going on in this particular presenter’s life? Do I sometimes bore people? Perhaps this negative experience can help me be more compassionate with my fellow humans and myself. Not every bad or painful experience is to be avoided – it might prompt a new, more creative solution to a problem.
  • The recent heat-wave – Most people on planet Earth have been suffering under record breaking heat this summer. It’s oppressive. It slows me down. I worry about the future, BUT maybe being disturbed is an important wake-up call to making substantive change in governmental and corporate environmental policies. Hopefully this unwelcome crisis will prompt needed actions which in the long run will be life-saving.

What do You think?

  • Fires are not only destroying forests in Canada but creating new kinds of air pollution in the USA.
  • The environmental Doomsday Clock is currently around 90 seconds to midnight – and moving forward.
  • I’m getting older (aren’t we all ) and tired of fighting the good fight to reduce poverty, social injustice, and global warming.
    With the latter, I am somewhat comforted by the reality that if planet Earth overheats enough to destroy human life as we know it, I won’t have to suffer the consequences…
    BUT, I feel guilty and worry about the impact on our children. Heck, just reducing Single Use Plastics (SUPs) seems like a never-ending battle.

If you are a thoughtful, conscientious human being, perhaps you’re getting tired too. I keep asking myself – What is mine to do? Do I need to do more?
Sure, I tutor disadvantaged students, volunteer at a soup kitchen, donate to thrift stores, try to live simply, and Reduce/Reuse/Recycle, BUT, I get tired. Time is running out and systemic political changes need to be implemented before the clock strikes midnight.

BEYOND BURNOUT SOLUTIONS – However, since I try to ground myself in long range spirituality, I believe that I am not free to give up. So, how can staying in the struggle be lifegiving not only to me, but to others and the universe? Following are some of my coping skills but I’d like to hear yours too.

  1. Pray – It brings me perspective and hope.
  2. Be in Community – If I only rely on my individual efforts, it does feel like a losing battle. One person can never do enough. But, joining with my local and national faith and action communities multiply my efforts.
  3. Personal Acts of Service – It keeps me in touch with the everyday challenges of those in need and who live on the margins.
  4. Systemic Change – Ordinarily I think of systemic change as getting involved in politics, attending governmental meetings, joining an advocacy group, etc., but I don’t feel drawn to these at this time in my life. Sure, I sign petitions and sometimes call my representatives but currently I’m looking at my writing as a way to multiply my voice. One example is my weekly ECO-TIPS. Reducing SUPs has become my specialty. It feels like writing and speaking on this aspect of plastic pollution is probably as systemic as I want to get right now.
  5. Rest & Renewal – Being a task-oriented person, I fight guilt and feel lazy if I indulge myself in too much rest. I’ll have to work on this one. 😊 Gardening, biking, dancing, and naps are my current renewal favorites.

Again, I (and my readers) would benefit from hearing how YOU deal with burnout? What has been most helpful and what hasn’t worked? (Reply in the comments.)

Since the city I live in (Covington, KY) borders the Ohio River, last weekend I participated in an annual “River Sweep.” The goal is to clean up trash along the wooded banks of the Kentucky side of the river. I met with about 30 other diligent environmental do-gooders armed with old jeans, hearty shoes, gloves, and “tricky sticks” to pick up litter and put it into large plastic bags without having to personally touch most of it. I felt virtuous cleaning up my side of the river.

Invisible People:
But, soon I was impacted by a deeper part of this experience – How did all this litter get here? It wasn’t spontaneously generated. Human beings left cans, bottles, and paper strewn on the ground. After a moment of judgementalism about litterbugs (after all I had made many “Don’t be a litterbug” posters as a child), I realized that the litterers were not just lazy, they were destitute and desperate. I started also finding blankets, old sweatshirts, shoes, and sleeping pads on the ground. Most of these articles were mired in mud and heavy to pull out and put in our plastic bags. Hmmm. Homeless people had obviously been sleeping here and they weren’t camping for fun. They were invisible to me now, but remnants of them remained. Where did they go? Did they find a homeless shelter, a job, a way out of poverty?

This reminds me of another environmental clean-up my husband and I often do during our winter walks around the neighborhood. On a less disturbing scale, we often find empty cans and plastic bottles along the street and carry a bag to pick them up for recycling. Good for us, but…I also have been in the recycling field long enough to know that usually less than 9% of recyclable cans and bottles actually get recycled.
I console myself with saying that at least we’re cleaning up the neighborhood streets even if only a smidgen of it actually gets recycled.

So…are River Sweeps and recycling in general just temporary solutions? They are good. They are necessary. But perhaps their ultimate function is to point humanity (us) to the bigger, endemic problems – we create too much trash, and we trash people. I am not the first to recognize this and the solutions are not new:

  1. Reduce the need for recycling by reducing the production of plastic (especially single use plastic containers). After all, even the production of plastic by fracking and cracker plants harm the environment.
  2. Address homelessness and poverty by increasing services to our fellow human beings who need training for jobs, counseling for mental/emotional disabilities, etc., etc., etc.

These are systemic changes that look at the source of the problems and often require political and organizational efforts. It’s hard. It can’t be done alone. It takes a community bolstered by faith, hope, and love. Which brings me back to individual actions. Which part of this mammoth systemic change am I called to do?

How do you resolve these epic challenges? Pick up more litter? Pick up another human being? Pick a cause? Spend your money? Spend your time? _______________________?

PS: Check out the disturbing 28 min. video, The Secret Life of Plastic Recycling.

Lent has been over for 2 weeks. So…has it made any difference in my (or your) daily life?
Sure, I donated clothes and supplies to worthy causes. I eventually organized the loose papers that cluttered my desk. These acts felt good and cleaned up stuff but did not do much to focus my life on what’s really important – furthering loving relationships with others. Folks in need can use some of my stuff, but my personal attention may be even more important.

Five Holy Week experiences, however, taught me to look beyond decluttering and my environmental efforts.

  1. Taking the bus: On Good Friday Jim and I decided that rather than drive, we would take the bus to a Good Friday service. We were being good stewards of the environment, right? The experience, however, went beyond saving gas. I noticed who boarded the bus and sat near us – most appeared poorer than me, one had difficulty walking, another appeared mentally handicapped. Most were of a different race from me. Hmmm. Riding the bus became more than an environmental gesture, I was crossing paths with people who suffer every day from poverty, and life’s limitations.
  2. A Movie: I watched a movie about racial discrimination in the Cincinnati area. The movie itself raised the social justice issue of historical racial injustice and what could be done today. Good. BUT, it was way too loud! At first, I just complained to myself and pulled up my hoodie. It was still too loud. Eventually I listened from the hallway. This made me think of people who are deaf or blind. Hmmm, I’m privileged to be able to hear at all.
  3. “Can you hear me?” Speaking of hearing, I was parked at the library and as I got out of my car, I heard a man in an empty parking lot yelling to seemingly no one – “Can you hear me?” Because of my Rain Walker experience several weeks ago, I decided not to ignore this plea for help. I asked the man what he needed. He said, “a ride home.” (He was legally blind, limped, and spoke broken English.) I decided to risk it, offered a ride, and eventually we found his home.
  4. Having a Beautiful Body: Because Jim and I are of a certain age and have Medicare, we qualify for free memberships at the local Planet Fitness. Once a week we add this to our daily bike ride or walk. I noticed that some members are clearly overweight. My first impulse was to be judgmental. Maybe they eat too much junk food, watch too much TV, etc. But then I remembered my recent post about trying to give up judgmentalism for Lent. I also realized that we were both lucky to have grown up in families where healthy food, exercise, and self-esteem were foundational. 
  5. Desk decluttering: Finally, I got back to organizing the many free flowing papers on top of my desk. I started with pruning my medical back-up files. Do I really need 10 years of Rx receipts? No. As I shredded the older unnecessary files, I thought of people who don’t have adequate health care or the money to pay for it.

The underlying lesson? Opening my eyes and ears to be more attentive to the people I pass and situations I encounter may lead me to a deeper spirituality than decluttering. Now it’s on to conquering systemic and political change that is needed to make our society fairer for all. But these challenges often feel tiresome. The challenge is to stay with it, not give up.

Today I realized that I have about a week left in Lent and I’ve barely implemented “The Plan.” Sure, I’ve prayed, fasted, and done some service, BUT pruning a “Room a Day” took a deep dive after Week 3 and pruning my “Desk & Office” area barely started.

So, what do I have to show for the last 2 weeks. First check out the children’s toys that I am willing to part with. The bigger Lenten Lesson, however, is noticing that clearing stuff off shelves and cupboards is not the essence of Lent. Even doing community service, beneficial as that is, may not be the most important action I take.                   (Click to enlarge photo.→)

Today, I learned something about Lent by watching birds. At first, they were just a pretty distraction. But then I started reflecting on how they flit from tree to tree, they eat, they reproduce, feed their young, and eventually die. I also noticed that it was the bare trees of March than enabled me to actually watch their cardinal red color and flights more closely.
* Do I flit from tree to tree too quickly? Maybe my fixation with pruning stuff is hiding some deeper sacrifice I need to make?
* Do the birds have any enemies? Sure, larger birds, animals, and even humans eat them.

This got me thinking more about LOVING MY HUMAN ENEMIES & JUDGMENTALISM.
During Lent I’ve been struck by how judgmental I am of my fellow humans. I don’t usually use the word “enemy” but certainly there are people that I find myself at least internally criticizing, judging, feeling superior to, disliking, or disagreeing with. I hope I am not alone in this. ☹
So, how can I be less judgmental/critical of my human friends?

  1. Notice when I’m tempted to complain or criticize. What triggers my criticisms? Can I devise a personal warning system to help me be aware (like a rubber band on my wrist…)
  2. Refrain from speaking to others about my criticism of an individual or group. (If necessary, alert the subject of my complaint to the danger their words/actions have upon themself or others. But beware, this is often more for self-satisfaction than for the other.)
  3. Seek to understand what might be behind an act I find annoying or offensive, i.e. don’t presume that my analysis of an infraction is the whole story. For example:
    • Maybe that pokey driver on their phone, just received an urgent message about their child’s injury.
    • Maybe a politician I disagree with is defending a life value that I uphold but doing it in a way that I believe would negate other values I hold.
    • Maybe a child abuser has been a victim of terrible abuse in their own early life.
  4. Remember that I am not blameless. I’ve done things I regret. I’ve made mistakes.
  5. Let go of stuff I can’t change. Somethings are my business – and some are not.
  6. God’s mercy and forgiveness extends to all – including me. (If you don’t believe in God, consider how a spirit of forgiveness – and reparation if needed – is more healing than hate.)
  7. I can protest a decision or action a person takes and call for systemic change, without hating the individual. In fact, the individual fault or tragedy that happens may prompt needed change.This hasn’t been an easy Lent…But it has been enlightening.

1. It was a very cold morning as my husband and I drove through a drenching rain to exercise at Planet Fitness. We passed a 40 something man walking without even a jacket or hat, head down, along our route. After passing him I started to ponder how uncomfortable it must be to walk in those conditions. Then the thought struck me, Why don’t we turn around and at least offer him an umbrella, OR maybe a ride to his destination. But it seemed too late. What would you do?

2. I started to update my website with my latest Marriage Moment but it wouldn’t work. I fussed and fussed and spent too much time trying different fixes. Still no success. Eventually I started catastrophizing, wondering if this was the end of my life as a “would be influencer.” Maybe I’m just getting too old for modern technology. I went to bed but couldn’t sleep as I continued to fret about how I might fix the problem OR what kind of life I might be moving into without a website, blog, and weekly ECO-TIPS, Parenting Pointers, etc. What would you do?

3. After a 2+ year Covid break, I had just returned to weekly tutoring at a local, low-income, 99% black school. I was assigned to work with 3 third grade students on reading. I asked their names and tried to get to know them a little. I assumed that all 3 were were girls. They all had black braided hair of different lengths, non-gender specific uniforms, similar high pitched voices. After about 10 minutes I noticed that one student hung his head in despair. Eventually I figured out that “she” was a “he” and had a name that wasn’t obviously male or female. Aargh! I wondered if word would spread and I would be fired from this volunteer job? I felt distraught. What would you do?

As I reflect back on these disturbing Lenten experiences I wondered what good were my Lenten commitments of increased prayer, fasting, tutoring, and “The Plan” of pruning even more of my possessions, and decluttering my desk so I could work more efficiently? I felt humbled and remorseful. BUT, in hindsight, maybe my mistakes and fumbling were the more important Lenten lessons. Maybe I needed to let go of my well laid plans and learn from the experiences that were being given to me.

Here’s what I did:
1. The Rain Walker – I found an extra umbrella and put it in the car. More importantly, I refreshed my eyes and mind to notice people in possible need along the road side and be ready to assist if an opportunity arose again.

2. Computer glitch – Since I couldn’t sleep, I prayed. In the morning I rebooted my computer. Problem solved. How much of it was prayer, I’ll never know, but rebooting is often a good solution.

3. Tutoring fiasco – I apologized profusely to the child. Emailed the teacher in case word had spread about my ineptness as a tutor. So far, the feedback has been to “let it go.”

4.  Biggest Lesson – Lent is not just about prayer & fasting. Paying attention to the life around me can remind me to recognize Jesus in the people who come my way, to avoid taking undue pride in my work, and to receive lessons humbly.

After 5 days of Lenten procrastination, here’s the skinny on 2 weeks of Pruning a Room a Day and Desk Decluttering efforts:
To Give Away: 2 large mirrors, Skittles game, Bow & arrow, marionette, child’s dress, 200+ paper clips, musical recorder, several books, never used clamp-on lights, 200+ daffodils to housing project homes …
To Throw Away: dust, old calculator, broken alarm clock, unusable cosmetics, old medicines
Desk decluttering: Found homes for papers on floor. Dealt with some misc. desk reminder papers.

Yes. I know, Lent started 5 days ago on Feb. 22 (Ash Wednesday), BUT, I’ve spent the past few days pondering what I would focus on this Lent. I’m late, but I finally have a plan. Traditionally, Lent has 3 components – Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving. Prayer and Fasting are relatively easy for me since I’ve basically followed the same routine for many years:
PRAYER – Continue my morning prayer but add deciding how I’m going to do the Alms part each day.
FASTING – Don’t eat sweets except on Sundays. Skip lunch on Fridays. These are a small taste of being in solidarity with the poor plus they prompt me to remember to do the Alms part.
ALMSGIVING – This is new each year and harder to define since it isn’t just about giving money but more about giving my time. Part 1 is that I plan to resume tutoring at a local city school.
Part 2 is harder to define but involves trying to simplify the clutter and chaos that still lingers around my home so that I can donate more stuff and clear my mind of searching for stuff hanging around my cluttered desk. This is the hard part so I’ve spent the last 5 days procrastinating and clarifying my plan for the remaining 35 days of Lent.

Starting today, Feb. 27, I commit to:
1. A Room A Day
Spend at least 15 minutes a day reviewing a room or closet and choosing things to donate, recycle, or discard. If I include bathrooms, closets, and the garage that’s 15 spaces. That means I can do the circuit twice and still have one “grace day” a week to account for illness, hectic days, or forgetting.😊. Of course that 15 minutes could expand to an hour once I get on a roll.

2. Reorganize/Prune Paper in my Office
Spend at least 15 minutes a day dealing with paper. Right now I have too many piles of paper around my desk. Some in neat piles, others on the floor waiting to be organized. I also have:
– 2 filing cabinets filled with files
– 4 crates of binders
– 4 bookcases packed with books
– Slots for 24 different newsletters
– a case full of supplies for talks
– miscellaneous office supplies hidden under an unused ping pong table

All of these need to be pruned so I can find things more easily and let go of stuff that are unlikely I will ever need to refer to again. (Of course unless I do ) Again, I may extend my 15 minutes but I figure I’ll never start if I don’t commit to the initial goal of at least 15 minutes. After all, that’s how I accumulated the existing piles that came under my “I’ll clean this up tomorrow” mantra.
I’ve done this kind of pruning before but apparently it is a never-ending process. Besides, what am I going to do if some visitor decides they want to play ping pong.

PS: I just “spent some time” with a friend and told her of my “paper pruning” goal. She suggested scanning many of the papers and filing them in the cloud. It would still take some organizing, but it would free up a lot of file cabinet space. Hmmm…

PPS: Readers, you may be well into your Lenten practices, but if you’re still looking for ways to sacrifice your time and decide to try pruning paper, let me know how it goes.


I talked with a group of Catholic university students yesterday. It reminded me of my own college years and I felt both young and old. Young – because I could identify with our common faith that formed our values. Old – because I realized that even though I’m healthy and bike or hike most days, my life experience has taken me places (physically and emotionally) that is still to come for them. We talked about:

Living a Simple Lifestyle: I realized that when I was in college my possessions could all fit in a dorm room and it seemed like enough. Now, after 10+ years of giving stuff away, I still have more stuff I should give away than would fit in that dorm room. I’ve accumulated more than I would have imagined as a 20 year old including books and toys belonging to our grown kids.

What kind of relationship we have with God: Although the students gathered because they were part of a faith community, I realized that my way of praying and understanding the nature of God has evolved dramatically from my college years. Although I pray, it seldom takes the form of traditional memorized prayers. Mostly I meditate, look around me and anticipate how I might recognize the Spirit of God in the people I might encounter during the day. I wonder how praying might change for the students as they age.

How to love people better: This includes becoming involved with social justice issues like feeding the hungry, tutoring low income children, welcoming immigrants, etc. But on a more difficult level how do we love our “enemies” – those we disagree with in this world divided by politics and even religion. How do we let go of guilt and love ourselves when we become aware of our failings.

How do we love Planet Earth: We didn’t have time to do justice to this topic, but one person was aware of my weekly ECO-TIPS and asked about them. This reminded me that not only my body is aging but this land that I call home is also aging. In my youth I didn’t think much about dying and I took the existence of Planet Earth for granted. Now, with global warming my spirit is more aware that my children’s or grandchildren’s generations may not be able to support life as we know it. It may look like the moon, or Mars, or whatever.

It’s sobering to talk seriously with folks of another generation. It continues to call me back to the question I ask myself each day – What is mine to do? Today, tomorrow, with the rest of my life? Is it to:
__Write more ECO-TIPS?
__Continue to make my lifestyle simpler and more environmentally sustainable?
__Get more involved in systemic change?
YES! Some or all of the above. Check the answer that’s right for you. This is a test, sort of. Let me know your answers.

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?