Leaf blowing in suburbia

My family lives in an area that is considered “semi-suburban”.  When we look out off our deck we see the forest and mountains in the distance and it can feel like we are out in the middle of nowhere.  We have enough privacy that laboring during my son’s birth on the deck all day seemed perfectly normal and private, but that’s another story for another day!

In fact, we often don’t see other people, except for a few cars driving down the dead end road.  But on a beautiful day we hear the almost constant hum of leaf blowers.  What is this?  It was a strange sound to me when first moving here from the city as leaf blowing was hardly a thing in Maine when I was growing up.  What happened to raking?

After having our back yard cleared of bramble and invasive plants and replanted we got an education in what this blowing is all about.  We couldn’t resist the offer from the landscaper to sign up for weekly yard maintenance.  And it is glorious.  A team of people come and mow, weed wack and then clean it all up with their magical leaf blowers.  But, now I’m part of the problem. But wow it’s nice to have this taken care of when you have small children and don’t want to spend hours mowing with your small but eco friendly electric mower.

We decided to forego the service as it moved into fall and the grass slowed it’s growing.  But now the blowers are out in full force all around us.  Echoing through the meadows, over hills and down streams.  They are calling out the siren song of those who want every leaf removed from their lawns and from their property.  Because leaves are bad?  Or useless?

When I started my garden I found a big pile of decaying leaves beside the road on our lane and counted myself quite lucky to have found such good organic material to build my soil with!  I mulch it with my mower and add it as part of my “lasagna gardening”.  It’s great!

This year I took my crazy nature loving self a step further and asked the neighbor’s landscaper to blow all of the leaves they were clearing into the wooded area between my lawn and the road.  My hope is that the extra organic material will act as a mulch to help to slow the growth of invasives plants in the area I cleared out there.  I also love that the leaves will provide a home to lots of little creatures like caterpillars that will become butterflies in the spring!

I recently learned that worms aren’t actually native to the US and that prior to 1600 they wouldn’t have been found here.  At that time the layer of leaf litter in the forests would have been about a foot deep as the other bugs that break it down work slower.  The faster decomposition of ground covers, along with the destabilization of the natural ecosystem due to the presence of humans and overpopulations of some animals, such as deer, could definitely be a part of why so many of our forests are covered with invasive bushes and vines that are choking out the trees.

So, yeah, let’s keep trying to create closed systems in our yards and use the gifts that are right in front of us.  Those leaves can be better used than just being sent “away” for composting.  They also are just lovely dipped in beeswax and taped to the window, you know, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Detaching from my third arm


I’ve been working to live more intentionally for much of my life and the thing that seems to be holding me back the most these days is my phone.  When did carrying phones at all times become the norm?  When did I start thinking that I should have it in my pocket at all times? What the heck.

I had been thinking a lot about my relationship with my phone when an amazing podcast came into my life.  It is an interview with Sherry Turkle who is a psychologist and professor at MIT who researches technology.  Listen here:http://www.goodlifeproject.com/sherry-turkle/?t=radio.  She makes a lot of concerning observations about the role that technology plays in disconnecting us from the people around us and from ourselves.  One of the concepts that I found most disturbing was how she has found a decrease in empathy in college students over the past 20 years that she attributes to them having less real life experiences of fully listening.  She points out that even having your phone in your pocket signals to you and the people you are with that what’s happening could be interrupted and isn’t important.  She also warns that the ability to be alone with ourselves is degrading as every spare moment or lul in a conversation can be filled by “checking the feed” on our phone. She makes lots of other amazing points that I don’t need to list here.  Just listen to the podcast.  It’s amazing. Anyway.

The whole thing really scares me.  I do love technology in that it allows us to connect with other like minded people and to be exposed to ideas we might never have found otherwise but I’m unsettled by the pull that my phone has on me.  I’ve taken to keeping it in a cabinet to avoid mindlessly checking it as I walk by.  That has helped but I still find that when I do pick it up to check something I tend to spend more time going down various rabbit holes.  

I also can’t quite remember what life was like before phones became such a part of us.  I didn’t get my own cell phone until I went to college.  Texting wasn’t even a thing then.  I vaguely remember friends commenting how how it was strange that anyone could be reached at anytime.  A level of freedom had slipped away.  A big difference between use then and now is that if your phone rang if you didn’t have time to talk you could let it go to voicemail and call back later.  Now, with texting we all have “time” to quickly respond.  But using time in that way creates a disjointed experience in the present moment as well as in the texting conversation.  It requires our minds to not be fully present in either interaction.  Ugh.  How did this become the norm and how do we break this cycle?  

I recently cracked the screen on my phone and have been pondering giving it up and having an older non-smart phone activated.  Philosophically it seems right to me but I just can’t make myself do it!  It’s all too easy to justify the reasons I “need” to have a smartphone.  For me the main reason is that I already feel like so many of my choices make me an outsider in society and I’m just not sure how far I want to go. And, you know… podcasts… facebook… texting…Oh well.  I’m just going to try to keep being more aware of the effect my phone is having on me and trying to use avoid mindless usage.  We will see how it goes! I would love to hear how other like minded people are navigating this path.  Any good ways of staying plugged in to life while keeping your wireless?

KonMari really is magic

KonMari is a method of home organization created by Marie Kondo and I’m joyfully obsessed with it. And coincidentally so are lots of my friends. I hadn’t seen two of my good friends in months and when we got together we were happily surprised to learn that we were all into it and a little obsessed. It was nice to be with my people who get it when I go a little glassy eyed talking about something that I’m all amped up about. Because, it really is magic.
I wouldn’t say I was ever a hoarder. A person might say that about me, but I tend to view myself as just really creative in imagining the uses a thing can have. I can conjure up the story of a time when any item I own would be just the thing I need. So, in that spirit I have been holding on to tons of stuff “just in case”.
Marie Kondo, or MK as many of her follows refer to her, cuts right through that thinking with her ingeniously simple criteria for whether or not an item should remain in our possession. Does the item spark joy? If not, thank it for it’s service and “release it”. Woah. Why didn’t I think of this myself?
How is it that so many of us have been led so far astray from what truly brings us joy in life that such a simple question seems trivial at first? How did I mindlessly live with so many items that I neither needed or really enjoyed? A sense of guilt for acquiring them forced me to hold on even after their useful period had long since ended. I feared letting go of the “stuff”. But why, when letting go means releasing the item so that it can spark joy for someone else who really needs or wants it? Right?
There is this attitude that donating stuff means giving it up forever and that that’s a bad thing. But jeez, that MK has helped me to see that donating things is SUCH a good feeling. “Releasing” items to go on and live their own lives feels right. And yeah, MK sees objects as animate, which seems strange at first but the more I did it the more I realized that it’s exactly what I had been unconsciously doing when I held onto old t-shirts from my 20s for sentimental reasons. The idea of thanking objects seems pretty hokey at first too. But… um… it is seriously part of the magic! It feels wrong to just throw out things that had meant so much at one point, even if they are being donated, so this helps with the transition. It’s like a little ceremony in my head.

For me Konmari has felt like the beginning of a new way of living and being. It really is spiritual tidying. Konmari is the tool but the way of living that it inspires is more. The physical purge of decluttering has allowed me to get back in touch with what I truly value in life and how I want to live. It has helped me to cut through the mental and physical clutter and find the things that truly “spark joy”. I’m finding ways to have natural rhythms in my days and weeks that helps me and my children to have a feeling of comfortable control over our lives. I’m buying less through intentional consumerism. KonMari has given me space in my mind, my home and in my days. And it’s been SO good. I think it all comes down to appreciating what we do have and doing more with less.
Marie Kondo’s book, “The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” is one of the most life changing books I’ve ever read. She can talk you out of keeping anything that doesn’t spark joy with her simple and clear outlook. She wants us to live our lives surrounded with the things in life that matter and bring us joy. It is so refreshing and just what I needed.

(Our tidy play area… I REALLY should have taken a before picture! hahaha)


A blog seems like a good idea

I’m one of those people who gets really excited about stuff and wants to talk about it.  A lot.  Too much sometimes.  So, a blog seems like a good idea.  Right?  Sustainable and Joyful is a place where I want to talk about the things that matter to me.  The ways I’m living my life that are helpful and the mistakes I’ve made or am making.  I just can’t shake the idea that questioning authority is always a good thing and for me that often means the authority that is mainstream thinking.  We all want to believe that the world is good and that what we are doing is right but that doesn’t always make it so. I am constantly shocked at how our consumer culture can lead us astray.  It can veer so far from what used to be natural and normal that to do things in the old ways is now unheard of.  I’m trying to reclaim that wisdom.  I want to find the secrets to living a healthy, contented life where I follow my passions and see where that leads me.