Friday, December 31, 2010

52 Letters in 2011

One of my biggest inspirations for The Gratitude Expedition is Katy Wolk-Stanley at The Non-Consumer Advocate (  I've been reading her for years and am constantly finding myself inspired to simplify, live more frugally, and "green" up my life.  She issued a letter writing challenge -- one letter per week for 2011.  I think this is a fabulous idea and am jumping in with my trusty fountain pen.

I used to have a pen pal named Maren.  At the time we started corresponding I was a 26 year old newlywed and she a retiree in her late 70s living two states away.  In over a decade of correspondence we went through two births (mine), one miscarriage (also mine), and one lost husband (hers).  We talked about everything from cloth diapering (a must in her day, a voluntary option in mine) to religion (she called herself a "Born Again Pagan") to exercise (she jogged on her mini trampoline daily).  As the years passed our letters became less frequent and, sadly, she passed away a couple years ago, just short of 90.  I treasure every letter she wrote me and she's an inspiration to me still. 

Since my goal this year is to not only stop the over consumption in my life but also to be truly grateful, I intend to make this weekly letter writing a huge component of my plan.  It would force me to look for people to be grateful for and then (gasp!) express my gratitude.  What a concept...

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Expedition Preparations

I read a wonderful book about Ernest Shackleton's Anarctic expedition in 1914 and marveled at the organization and forethought that went into its preparations.  While the expedition itself was a disaster, I can't help but have Shackleton in mind as I prepare for my own expedition in 2011.  Besides contending with the obvious problems of travel and nature, Shackleton also had to manage the various people and personalities involved.  His skill in this area was particularly valuable when disaster struck and tempers were, shall we say, a little short.  I imagine I will have to put my own skills to the test in the coming year, particularly involving my children.

Just today my daughter saw a new item on television.  In her rambling 7-year-old way she told me the delights of some sort of stuffed animal that turned into a pillow that turned into a backpack that turned into a toy.  Last year each child got me for a Pillow Pet, those cuddly little critters that unfold into pillows.  My son loves his.  My daughter occasionally rests on hers.  After picking out a unicorn last year, she insisted she wanted another for Christmas, this time the Lady Bug.  I insisted she didn't need it since she already had one and she barely used it.  She was insistent; I stood my ground.  Now she's coming up with a slightly fancier version of the same thing.  And she was insistent.  It will be fights like this that will no doubt become commonplace in the next year.  Then again, it is precisely because of fights like this that I'm starting my journey.  If I had a dollar for every item I've purchased for one of my children that they just couldn't live without only to have the item sit on the floor and mock me  for months, well...I'd have a lotta dollars!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Too Much of a Good Thing

My 11 year old son received an iPod Classic for Christmas.  I was happy to oblige as I knew he'd get a lot of use out of it and he's at that age when gift-giving has become torturous.  I don't know what he wants.  He doesn't know what he wants.  The one sure thing is that he won't like what I've picked out.  I figured any kid would be thrilled with a $250 piece of electronic equipment that does everything but tap dance.  Then he went into a pre-Christmas depression and when I mentioned his upcoming iPod acquisition he told me, with all seriousness, that an iPod wasn't much different than his $30 MP3 player and that it was a "snoozefest."  A $250 snoozefest?!?  He has since taken that remark back.  He does, in fact, love his new iPod.  He did not, however, like many of the other gifts that various relatives picked out for him and told me on Christmas Day that next year he thinks I should just give him cash.

My 7 year old daughter liked some of her things but obnoxiously flung others to the side upon unwrapping, deeming them unworthy of her attention.  I know even the things she likes today will simply be sitting on the floor as obstacles for me to walk around in a couple weeks.  I mentioned this attitude on the part of my children to my sister who said, "They get everything they want.  And they don't appreciate it because they've never not gotten everything they wanted."  And she's right.

That's when I started seriously thinking about changing the way things work around here in 2011.  I've made this kind of commitment many times in the past and it usually falls apart by January 15.  This Christmas feels like it pushed me over the edge, however.  Am I raising little Paris Hiltons, overindulged and bored by the world because they have too much?  We are overloaded with Happy Meal toys because the kids don't like my cooking and frequently I throw my hands up and head for the golden arches rather than argue with them.  Even the minor holidays of the year, like Valentine's Day, become mini-Christmases with large gifts and little appreciation.  I'm very concerned about the environment and yet so many of our lifestyle choices don't reflect that.  We have too much garbage, too much stuff, drive too much.

I started this blog as a help to me.  Yes, I will admit my motives are selfish.  I wish I had all the answers.  Frankly, I feel like I have none.  I've read other interesting blogs where people simplify their lives, get "green," cut their spending down to the bone.  Unfortunately my blog won't be that extreme.  I'm blessed with a husband who makes a good living, I'm a stay at home mom of two, we have a nice home, and we have no debt other than our mortgage (which is 2/3 paid off).  I would never get my husband to agree to any kind of extreme frugality.  And, frankly, I like my little pleasures and luxuries even while feeling some guilt over the workplace practices that produced them or the environmental impact.  No doubt this blog will be full of hypocrisy.

I intend to write about my journey into trying to find a better way for my family.  This is an experiment for me and as such there will be lots of failures and theories that turn out to be wrong.  I'm writing this from the point of view of the seeker, not the expert.  I don't have the answers, but I hope by this time next year I have a few.  And I'm hoping to learn something from others along the way and share my little discoveries and remain accountable by sharing the experiment publicly.

My family is so blessed.  We have so much and seem to appreciate it so little.  That needs to change.  Welcome to the Gratitude Expedition.