Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What's Making Us Discontent?

I heard a story that I can't verify is actually true (despite numerous searches on Google), but I thought I'd pass it on. The story goes like this:

A large american corporation opened a factory in a remote part of the world where the local people had little in the way of local commerce - no local shopping at all. The company was pleased that they were able to employ plenty of people to work and things got started well. The factory was running nicely for the first one or two pay periods, then people simply stopped showing up for work. The plant managers were confused until they learned that their employees, who'd never had much income at all, suddenly had all the money they could need, as they were living just as they had been before the company came but now had several good paychecks to provide plenty of security/comfort. The managers were baffled about how they could get the employees to return to their jobs, until one of them had an idea. They had a Sears catalog delivered to everyone in the village. The villagers, having never seen all the things that their money could buy, suddenly realized that they didn't have nearly enough money for everything they could want. They returned to work and the plan no longer had any difficulty getting the workers to show up. 

Whether it's a fact or a parable, the lesson is poignant. The villagers were perfectly content with the lives they were leading and the comforts they possessed until they let someone else, whose goal was to get them to buy more, start showing all the things that could make their lives "better". Once they'd been convinced that they "needed" those things, they were willing to trade large portions of their lives (M-F, 9AM-5PM) for the things they had just recently been content without.

The question I have is who am I allowing to make me discontent? There's a multi-billion dollar marketing industry who's whole purpose is to make me believe that what I have isn't sufficient and that what they offer is. The fact that this industry is kept in business speaks to the fact that they're successful at their mission. The mailers that come to my mailbox every day, the emails from the various stores/websites where we've spent money in the past, and the banner in my web browser - all of these are tailored specifically to convince me that I should purchase what they have.

One of the things I've really appreciated about being on our shopping fast so far is that I've come to see these things differently. I used to take the monthly mailer from my favorite woodworking store and keep it as my bathroom reader for a while. Though I don't buy new clothes too often, I keep allowing one of my favorite clothing stores to send me emails EVERY DAY - in case something comes across that I do actually "need." Since buying any of this stuff is not an option right now, it's been really easy to realize what these things are trying to do - they're trying to make me break our fast! Ok, that might not exactly be what they had in mind, but it comes down to the same thing.

So, if I know that these things I've invited into my life are trying to get me to do something I don't want to do, why keep them around? I've been unsubscribing from every advertising email that comes through my inbox, and it's amazing how quickly the spam mail goes down :) We set up a recycle bin right by the garage door so all those mailers can go directly in the bin without them having the chance to try to make us discontent with the wonderful things we already own.

Stopping the mailers is a bit more difficult than stopping the emails - it turns out that signing up for the mailers is very easy, but unsubscribing takes at least a direct email, more likely a phone call. Another option is to mute advertisements while you're watching TV. Better yet, turn the TV off and put your time into a pass-time that's more personal gratifying - family time, playing games, reading, crafts, hobbies.

We can't stop the billboards on the side of the road, but we can definitely choose what messages we grant a forum in our minds at home.
- Morgan

P.S. If you really want to mess with the website banners, spend a little time "shopping" online for things you don't care about in the slightest. The results will be amusing and not at all tempting :)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Deer Tallow Soap Recipe

One of the areas we've been able to go green is in our body soap. Each fall I hunt deer and in the process of butchering them, harvest a good amount of deer fat. We decided to render the tallow, first thinking we'd use it for cooking. The cooking thing never really happened, despite it being good, grass-fed tallow, so we decided to shift the tallow into soap.

This is where things got a bit harder. We had a hard time finding a recipe we liked for a deer tallow soap. You don't want to use 100% tallow, because though it will give you a hard soap, it won't the other ideal cleansing properties. We eventually settled on the recipe we have here. It uses 50% deer tallow and 25% each canola and coconut oils.

This is our 3rd year using this recipe and we're really pleased with it. It suds nicely, is appropriately hard, and feels good on the skin. Here's the basic recipe.

16oz (454gm) Deer Tallow (can substitute beef tallow and it will actually improve the qualities of the soap)
8oz (227gm) Canola Oil
8oz (227gm) Coconut Oil
12.16oz (345gm) Water
4.59oz (127gm) Lye - NaOH
Optional Fragrance - varies on the variety, but 1 - 1.5oz fragrance oil seems to be correct.
Colorant as desired

I'll let others describe cold process making. This recipe is perfect for filling a parchment paper-lined standard bread pan. We divided this batch into two different pans because we wanted to try adding colors and fragrance oils. This is the first year we've used fragrance oil and colorants. The soap is perfectly fine without scent or color, but I'll admit it looks cooler this way :)

Friday, April 24, 2015

Being Realistic

In my dream-life, my dream-self makes all the consumable products we use (toothpaste, makeup, baby wipes, laundry detergent, etc. etc. etc. etc.). My dream-self also makes all the food we eat from scratch using organic ingredients, mostly raised by ourselves or bought locally, and never buys convenience food full of chemicals and additives. My dream-self also is never stressed out, and can somehow do all of this while raising children (who obviously are helpful, whine-free, tantrum-free, obedient and respectful dream-children), teaching them everything they need to know, and enjoying life in our perfectly spotless home where the dishes are done, laundry is washed/folded/put away, and everything is, in general, organized, simple and restful.

In reality, I spent several hours today researching homemade makeup, homemade toothpaste (because we need some), homemade deodorant (I used to make it; where did that perfect recipe we both loved go anyway?), printing recipes, figuring costs, and wondering if it's all really worth it. Is it worth trying to live a different way?

When I thought through our shopping fast, I made a choice to do my best to eliminate all the necessary-but-convenience items that drive up our bills: organic baby wipes (I can make them myself with paper towels plus a little extra time!), laundry detergent, etc. It takes being deliberate, a little extra foresight (making the wipes before I'm halfway through a dirty diaper change and realize there is not a single wipe in the house), and a few extra ingredients. Because I've been working on becoming my dream-self for awhile now, I've stocked up quite a few of these extra ingredients already (score! No need to buy more stuff!). I suppose it also takes faith too. Faith that what I'm doing is worth doing even when I feel like everything is chaos and I can't even do things as basic as feeding my children something other than peanut butter and jelly for the 3rd time in a row.

At our BSF lecture a couple weeks ago, our discussion leader mentioned how when she as a young mother she complained to God about not having time to seek Him with all the constant demands on her life, and He reminded her of Matthew 6:33 - "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well". I've thought of that frequently since then. I'm trying to accomplish as much as I can between now and Baby #3's arrival (make the products, sew the baby-stuff, make all the gifts we'll want to give over the next year when we're not buying stuff, etc), but there's only so much a tired pregnant mom can do in a day. And I know it will only be harder once she's here, and I'm sleeping even less with an adjusting 2-year-old and always-challenging 4-year-old, not to mention a husband who is away more than ever. I think, being realistic, how in the world can I do basic homemaking tasks (laundry, food, etc), let alone shoot for some of my goals (like a year's supply of home-canned goods and a homemade products)??

What really matters here? That I seek Him first, His kingdom, and His righteousness. He gets it. He understands. He doesn't condemn me when I cannot be my dream self (or even half of my dream-self). What's more important is that He Himself promises that, as I seek Him first, everything else will be added to my life - food, clothing, etc. I don't need to worry. Yes, I can be realistic, and know I may need to buy toothpaste and deoderant down the road. But can I not also trust Him that He will provide the best? Like peace. Strength. Rest. Maybe I will need to buy something, but maybe not! He can provide in unlimited ways, for extra time, extra help, extra energy, etc!

Trust Him first, Kyra. Seek Him first. Everything else will fall into place when I do. Realistically, my dream-self is the mother who trusts Him like that and is at rest in my soul when my children throw a tantrum again about their food or can't leave me alone long enough to do 1 load of laundry! In the bigger picture of life, that's more important. That's an eternal dream-self with eternal value. I suppose, realistically speaking, that's going to add greater value to my children's lives than an all-organic, from-scratch diet and home.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


I was thinking about being content this morning, so I looked up 1st Timothy 6:6:-11:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness,faith, love, endurance and gentleness. (NIV)
Reading this passage, even though I've read it many times before, amazed me. So many verses and passages in the Bible seem to come to life in whole new ways when they're viewed with through the lense of simplicity, non-consumerism, and minimalism. The thing is, this passage shouldn't require any of those lenses to hit us, because it's so straightforward. It's so easy for us to think about the gain we want to have in life - possessions, money, status, promotions, status symbols. We spend so much of our lives and attention thinking about and pursuing these things, and the thing is that when our focus is on what we need to obtain next, we're by definition rejecting contentment because we're focused on and pursuing what we don't already have. 

I love that Paul didn't just say contentment is great gain, but that godliness with contentment is great gain. Basically, if we want to pursue advancement and gain, let's pursue it on the path of sanctification. In fact, this is one area in our life where we're not supposed to be satisfied, but to constantly quest for purer, more complete godliness and sanctification. 

Aside from that, Paul tells us, so long as we have food a clothing we ought to be content. Why should we be content with such basic supply? I think the answer is in the sentence before that - we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it. Our focus is life is not to be on the temporal, physical life we lead, but on our walking with God and journeying toward heaven. All the status symbols and possessions in the world will mean nothing as soon as we pass into the hereafter. What will matter? In Matthew 25 we're told what is going to matter - I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me. All these things that the righteous did out of the outpouring of their love for Christ are the things that will last for eternity, long after every possession, title, and accomplishment have been completely forgotten. 

To pursue anything else sets us up for  temptation, traps, and foolish and harmful desires that plunge us into ruin and destruction. Given the benefits and the alternative, accepting God's invitation to the joys of contentment sounds pretty awesome.
-   Morgan

Sunday, April 19, 2015

minimizing distractions

flickr: Hunter Langston
Morgan's smart phone broke this past week, and we were faced with a question: does he NEED a smart phone? We knew that yes, he does need a phone. As a doctor, it's rather an essential. But a smart phone with a data package that costs an extra $30/month plus all the time/distraction a smart phone adds? I wasn't going to ask him not to get a smart phone (that's a pretty big sacrifice to ask when he's had one as long as I've known him). But he admitted immediately that it was a luxury he doesn't need. It will save us money that can go into our debts every month. And possibly the biggest thing is that it will remove that distraction from our lives. I told him I think I may like the no-smart-phone version of him even better, and he agreed that HE may like himself better without the smart phone.

During Lent, we both gave up Facebook. As I looked toward the coming year (this was before minimalism, shopping fasts, etc) and what I wanted for my family, it was obvious to me what stood between me and my daily goals: the distraction of social media and all the time I waste there. So we decided to experiment with simply giving it up. And wow, it was incredibly freeing! I liked myself better. I got so much more done, I sat ignoring my children less. I had more focus. I was a better mother. When Easter came, I actually dreaded the option of getting back on and letting old habits into my life. I'm still trying to figure out what the balance should/can be. Maybe it needs to be a once a day thing... or maybe a once a week thing... or maybe I just need to accept it's a distraction not worth the gains... I don't know. We'll see. :)

With Morgan's smart-phone life being removed, I feel as though God has made our distractions smaller for us. Our children won't see our heads buried in the screen, or feel like they have to compete with technology for our attention. There will be the minor inconveniences of not being able to check the weather just before bed (I guess moms figured out how to dress their kids before smart phones, so I'll be ok), and we won't have constant GPS on trips (people used to look at maps; we can probably do that too!). But I think we're going to gain so much more than we lose! We have been forced to ask ourselves if the gains of technology are worth the cost on relationships and the time we aren't spending talking to our kids about truth and how to navigate life. I'm really excited about this! With less, we get to experience more. Yay for a broken phone!

Friday, April 17, 2015

When God does bigger things

Today is the perfect day to begin my own account of this journey. Some days it's so abundantly clear that the One who made the Universe hears our prayers and knows our hearts, and opens the windows of heaven to show us His blessings.

Months ago now, Morgan and I asked God to help us get out of credit card debt by the time our 3rd baby is born. The number was rather staggering to me because I couldn't see a way to get it paid off. But our money is His, our lives are His, and we knew it was time to bring ourselves back into honoring Him with how we use them. This whole year I've studied the life of Moses, and how the hearts of the people of Israel constantly strayed to other gods. Throughout the year, the Lord convicted me of my love of stuff. He kept reminding me that I cannot love both God and money! But yet, like the Israelites, I constantly turn to stuff - shopping for comfort, shopping for pleasure, shopping simply to have something new to be happy about. Why did I do that when HE is my comfort, HE is the greatest treasure, and HE is the only true joy that can last beyond the moment? I kept telling Morgan about it, trying to figure out what my limits need to be to combat this idolatry in my life. But it never really got to my heart.

Then Morgan proposed the shopping fast. I knew immediately this was the answer, and still my heart clung to the last bits of my idols... I could hold off buying stuff until my birthday, and then shop online, find what I wanted, and let others buy it for me! Plus I still had leftover Christmas money, so I could still buy those shoes I've been 'needing' for a couple summers... But Jesus wasn't content to continue letting my idol sit next to Him in my heart, even though it took a couple of weeks to show me. Just as the Israelites were supposed to physically destroy, cut down and demolish the idols of the pagan nations, I needed not to simply move my idols to a back closet, but cut them down, remove them, be DRASTIC! I knew I had to simply say no - nothing for myself throughout this fast. Nothing but needs, and for things like birthday and Christmas gifts, ask for the practical (and boring) things I never want to waste gift money on, and give the rest to people who really need it!

Who would have thought that telling myself no would give me joy? But as we go into a season of uncertainty, a season I have dreaded for months with more anxiety than I've ever had during our marriage, HE wants to be enough for me. Morgan will be gone so much this coming year, we will have 3 kids, and I will be so much more 'on my own'. He doesn't want me trying to worship other things this season. He wants to be the only God and King in my heart. And as I say no, I am truly free! I don't even know how to describe it. I'm so thankful to know He is going to show Himself in little ways, day by day, week by week, month by month, until we're here next year. He will be faithful. We will lack nothing.

And that brings us back to today... We asked God to provide ways for us to pay off the credit card debt, and then Morgan got hit with the minimalism bug. We started purging, wave by wave (so far I've gone through my wardrobe 3 times, and each time it gets better!), and boxes upon boxes of stuff stacked up. Why not take the 'stuff' clouding our lives and turn it into money to pay off our debts? So we planned a garage sale. I thought maybe a $100 or $200 would be good...

In the midst of planning, my friend (never go through garage sale-ing alone!) and I forgot to go to the bank for small change until it closed, so I started digging through our desk (a dangerous job I avoid at all costs) for small bills. I found $520 stashed away in there!! And day 1 of the garage sale? $430!!! Not to mention an absolutely perfect day, when originally it was forecasted to rain. My hopeful $200 turned into almost $1000, which has already been applied to the debt! Not to mention we have a full day of the sale tomorrow!!

Now, looking back at this day, I am so blessed, so content and full of joy. In seeking to remove our stuff and choose less for ourselves, He is showing Himself to be more. As our stuff becomes smaller, He does bigger things. What is an idol compared to the One who holds the universe together and breathes life into creation? It just took saying no to myself to see it. :)


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Making Your Life's Styleboard

When going through our stuff - clothes, accessories, knickknacks, decor - I've found it helpful to think of my stuff in terms of a style board. A style board is basically a collage of pieces that are put together to define a person's style. This can be super helpful to figure out how your various accessories go together to define your style, how your accessories work together, and identify anything that doesn't work well with the rest of the collection. This will also help you to identify how you might want to adjust your style.

For me, in defining my style as it's developed to the this point, I have a casual, but professional look. Jeans, a button down, and loafers are typical for me. So when I'm arranging my clothes in my mental style board, where do my old Converse fit in? Basically, they don't. These are a well-loved relic from a previous stage in my life that aren't adding anything to my style today. They're going to the garage sale tomorrow.

This can also be applied to a style board for your home. Are you leaning toward more of a sleek, modern kind of look? Then perhaps an ornate/vintage/country knickknack doesn't really fit in to your style. On the flip-side, if you're trying to put together a warm, comfortable, cozy environment, then maybe modern/mental furniture or accessories are actually preventing you from creating the space you want.

This can also be applied to the style of your life. What's the theme you want to dominate your life? What are your priorities? Family? Recreation? Sports? Hobbies? Learning? Try building a collage of these things in your mind, then ask yourself if there's anything that seems out of place. Do you have a hobby/interest that takes away from the rest? It might be time to cut this from your life - especially if your significant other has suggested this to you in the past.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Tiny House Infographic

Here's an infographic I put together based off Andrew Morrison's TEDx Talk. Look at the graphic, but definitely watch the talk!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Celebrating What Isn't There

I know that really influenced right now by my new focus on minimalization, but a theme struck me today. As we've been trying to be more intentional what we have in our home/garage/life, I've been struck by the power of what's no longer there. The things we've gotten rid of so far were items that we thought we needed to have around - they added to/strengthened/bolstered our lives in some way. Instead, we're finding that their absence is having a far better impact on our lives than their presence ever made.

Though this is a new realization for us, it's by no means new. This past weekend the world, or at least large parts of it, celebrated the absence of something 2000 years ago - we celebrated the absence of Jesus' body from the tomb. The Pharisees and the Romans thought that keeping his body in that tomb would serve as a form of a trophy - this rebel had been defeated and here was the proof. Even his followers thought that they would find comfort from being able to visit the body, by having it kept to decay in peace within those stone walls. What NO one could have predicted was the power that was found when Christ left the tomb.

The question I have then is this - what "trophies" am I keeping in my life that distract me from the profound place that the empty tomb should rightly hold? What are the things that I'm allowing to clutter my life such that I'm not living with the intentionality with which I would truly desire to live? My call to action is this - to expel these things from my life and NOT replace them with new toys/trophies/clutter, but to keep the empty place they so recently occupied clear as a testimony to the power Christ's victory. I'm not saying that decluttering is a pious work or a spiritual discipline, but for me at least it needs to be about focusing on the important and eliminating the rest.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
                                - Isaac Watts
Original Photo: Flickr - emeryjl