Friday, August 5, 2016

Garden peas

This year, we've been growing peas. I love growing things, I always have. Gardening, canning, and otherwise preserving food is something I've always enjoyed, and living in Alaska made it seem like more of a necessity in my life than just a pleasant hobby. (If you lived there, you'd understand. The state has a precarious food supply at the best of times.)
Here, I'm amazed by the abundance of foods we can grow. Not just the number and variety, but also the fact that there are multiple seasons in which to grow. In Alaska gardeners spend the entire beginning of the year in anticipation. Waiting, planning, scrapping the plan for a new one, and more waiting. Finally, sometime in May, the trees leaf out and you go. Everything into the garden, all at once, go go go! Grow, little seedlings, grow! A few weeks later you're thinking, "Um, what am I supposed to do with all of this rhubarb and zucchini?"
Today, in August, I pulled out our pea plants and re-seeded. Incredible. The spring planting had developed a white mildew, so I harvested what I could and then yanked the plants out so that I can plant the fall crop. Multiple gardening seasons. I'm still in awe.
Over the course of the summer we harvested roughly a gallon of shelling peas, after being shelled, plus more sugar snaps and snow peas than we could eat. Seriously, I took quite a few to the neighbor who shares her fruit with us. Gardeners are nothing if not generous.
Peas, Grommet! Roughly a pint of them.
The peas haven't just been about getting food, however, they've been a learning tool. The Munchkin helped me plant, helped me tend, and then helped me harvest. All right, so the planting lost her interest quickly, the tending was mostly fun because she got to play with the hose, and harvesting mostly meant that I handed her peas to munch on while I picked them. Still, it's been an activity we've both enjoyed, and I will continue sharing this with her as she grows. As someone once said, why would I explain miracles to her when I could just grow a garden and show her instead?
It was while I was picking peas a few weeks ago that I thought about all of the unrest our country has experienced lately. Overt racism has taken center stage, and it's ugly. It's a very ugly thing. I mourn the lost lives and the hatred behind these acts while not really knowing what I can do to stop it other than to be kinder, and to try to raise my child to be caring and empathetic. How many of us have looked at our children hoping that their generation doesn't have to experience this? I know I have. Yet, it feels like I'm doing so little. I have to remind myself that it's not a little thing, to raise a child who is caring. Clearly, there are a lot of people who fail at it.
After yet another shooting, weeks ago, I had a conversation with my friend Claudia. She's a cyclist, one of my mommy biking friends. She's also black.* However, her son has a white dad. Her son's hair is black, but straight. His skin is light. He doesn't, as she said, present as a black man. Already, by the age of ten, he's noticing that people treat him differently when he's with his white father than if he's with his black mother. We were talking about how important it is to discuss these issues with our kids, while at the same time wanting to shield them from the worst aspects. Obviously, by ten, her son understands that black men are being killed for, essentially, being black men in public. But she also knows that his experience of race and identity, even with a black mom, are going to be different than that of other black men. How to navigate such a large issue, one that is so important and yet so fraught with hard truths about people? It was a heavy, important, wonderful conversation.
Three sizes of peas. All were ripe, but some were
made to be bigger and others were meant to be small.
So I was thinking about it while I harvested peas. The Munchkin was messing around with the hose behind me, and I wondered how I will broach this topic when she's old enough. It will, by necessity, be different than the conversations Claudia has with her son. We are white, and have a white experience of the world. My daughter and I will never have to worry, in this country at least, that someone will automatically suspect us of being less than simply because of our skin. How do I explain this? How do I help her see the world through the experiences of those who do get labeled as 'other'? How do I show her the silliness of racism, bigotry, xenophobia?
Then I realized, I had the answer in my hands. You see, we grew three different types of peas. They were all in the same raised bed, so they cross-pollinated. Not all of them, but enough. So we started off with three types of peas, but what we harvested ended up being a wondrous variety. Some of the cross-pollinations ended up bizarre, others were made better. Bigger, sweeter peas. Since searching for peas is literally looking for green things in a sea of green, some of them got missed until way late. We ended up with snow peas which were the garden equivalent of Sloth from The Goonies--huge peas in deformed, oddly light pods. I even got some nice seed peas, by accident, because they got left on the plant so long that they cured in the sun. There were so many different peas. But, in the end, they're all peas. They were all sweet and tasty, or in the case of the seed peas, useful. And the variety, as I said, made some of them better. Some of the peas ended up huge. Some were a little silly, not like the others, but that's just the way nature is sometimes. It doesn't make them any less peas to not look just like the others do.
A regular snow pea, and one of my crazy cross-pollinated ones.
When the day comes that I have to have a conversation with the Munchkin about the awful, ugly hate that some people hold in their hearts, I will begin it in the garden. We will talk about the ways in which people have such beautiful variety as well. This applies not just to race, but to other aspects of people as well. The same neighbor who shares her fruit with us has a son who is disabled. He was born with microcephaly, among other issues. There's no distinct diagnosis for "what's wrong with him" (as she gets asked, frequently), he just is who he is.
He's also roughly the same age as my Munchkin. The more the two kids play together, the less I see his disabilities and the more I see how he is, in so many ways, just like every other kid. Though he is older, the Munchkin is already surpassing him. She will continue to pull away from him in what she can do, as he stays more toddler-like. However, at least for now, they are friends. He likes to ride his trike, to play with the hose and in his wading pool, just as my kiddo does. Seeing the two of them dropping rocks into the storm drain together, and spitting down it when they run out of pebbles, is hilarious. They play, just like any other two kids their age would. My Munchkin clearly knows that he's not like she is, but it doesn't keep her from playing with him. It's beautiful.
Beyond anything else, their play also shows me that these attitudes, racism and bigotry and even sexism, are all learned. These are not natural attitudes, so I don't have to force anything on my daughter, or really teach her not to hate others. All I have to do is foster her own natural sense that people are different, and that's okay.
If all the peas were just the same, then we wouldn't get to marvel at each and every one of them. They're all a gift, and I hope she remembers that.

*I'm never sure how to include this information about a person. Obviously it's important, both for her identity and to inform us of how she experiences the world. But it does feel like an awkward thing to point out because I feel like pointing out someone's skin color can feel like an end point. As in, that's all you need to know about them. Instead, it's just one aspect of who they are. How to say it that way, respectfully? I'm never sure.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Why Frugality?

Over a year after starting this silly little blog, I figure I should address why I chose to talk about frugality (among other topics). I've read so many online comments about how people who are frugal "deprive" themselves, or miss out on life. I've even heard a few comments from friends to the effect that it's not really worthwhile to save money, or even to manage it well. (Thankfully, those comments have been few and far between--most of my friends and family are pretty savvy about this stuff already.) I always feel a little sad about those comments, because the people who make them don't really understand what they're missing out on. They're the same ones who will be complaining that they'll never be able to retire a few years down the road. Or even worse, they really won't get to retire.
Our old lady dog, enjoying a well deserved rest in the sun.
Everyone deserves the same relaxing, carefree time
in their old age.
No one should be stuck working when they don't want to, and a life spent like that just seems like a waste. Do you really want to drag yourself to a job every day, no matter how old you are? And for what? It's not like most people who mismanage their money spend it on things to make their lives better. The odd vacation, sure. But will that brand new, expensive car really make your life better? Or is it just going to be a thing that schleps you to your job every day and you won't notice it after a while? How many clothes have you bought in the past that really, really stick in your mind? How much opportunity for things you really want, or even need, to do are you trading for kitsch and the momentary satisfaction of a purchase? When you think about it, is it really worth it?
The economist Keynes believed that we would have a fifteen hour work week by now. That would be aweome...if it had actually happened. However, what we tend to see is that people work longer hours now than they used to, while others experience a shortage of jobs. It's a disconnect which, frankly, has a whole host of social, political, and economic problems attached to it. But the reason he figured we'd have such a short work week is because we wouldn't need to work any longer. With our needs met, people would put in fewer hours at a traditional job and spend more time in leisure. How many of you just read that and thought of all the ways a fifteen hour work week would improve your life? Yeah. The problem is, people began finding so many ways to spend themselves out of that shorter work week. It's not all our fault, there is a lot of creepy psychology behind marketing. But, if we're honest, a lot of it is also our own fault. No one makes us buy unnecessary stuff, we do it to ourselves. How many purchases have you regretted soon after making them? And how much is that in terms of your salary? Did you waste an hour on the silly purchase, two, four? Taken all together, how much of your life have you spent on silly purchases? Putting it in real terms like that tends to up the stakes. When I was younger, my best friend and I calculated everything in terms of books. "No, that's way too expensive. I could buy at least three books for that amount!" It was an easy way for us to determine what was really important, and what was an impulse purchase we'd later regret.
My love of books is well documented.
I'm not immune to marketing and the desire for stuff. Even as what Gretchen Rubin would call a "compulsive under-buyer" (someone who routinely doesn't buy stuff, even when it would improve my life), I still have the want of things. I just don't take the next step and actually buy them until I've thought about it for a long, long time. As an example, there's a purchase that HusbandX has approved, but it's thirty whole dollars and I'm just not sure I'm ready to spend that money right now on anything except food. As a consequence of this tendency, which HusbandX has to a slightly lesser extent as well, we end up saving far more of our income, percentage-wise, than most people. Not even most people in our age and income bracket, or family situation, but most people in general. As a consequence of that, I can reasonably expect that we will be essentially financially independent by sometime in our forties, if not a little earlier. Not that quitting work will necessarily be something that happens when that day comes, but we won't have to work unless we really, really want to. It might not be important to others, but being able to choose the course of our lives without worrying about money or work is very important to both of us.
HusbandX and I don't have a specific dream we're working towards. We don't want to retire super early, like these people or these people or a whole bunch of others. We don't want to take a few years to travel the world (although we do want to travel, just maybe shorter time periods, thanks). There's nothing pressing which is driving us to frugality. However, being good with our money and resources gives us options. There's so much freedom inherent in being able to make choices, and so many people spend themselves out of these options.
Frugality isn't just about how much you can make over and above your expenses, it's also about how much you can save. I've heard it described as offense and defense, which well describes what HusbandX and I are doing. He's the offense, earning most of our money, while I play defense at home. I do what I can, within reason, to save money so that the money he's worked hard to earn isn't frittered away wastefully. This isn't a model that works for every couple, there are as many ways to do frugality as there are people, but this is what's working for us. For a while when we lived in Fairbanks, the roles were switched. I expect that, at some point, they may switch again, but maybe not. Maybe they won't need to. Being open to changing as circumstances demand, however, is crucial to our smooth operation.
A little bit of defense: home canned applesauce from
free apples. Doesn't get much better than that.
Frankly, the biggest thing that having a bit of money put aside gives us is peace of mind. I know that when times get tough we always have options. There have been times (such as, uh, right now) when we've kept ourselves in less than ideal circumstances so that we can give ourselves better circumstances later on. Do either of us want to be living with my parents? No. But doing so is allowing us to save up the money we need for a down payment on a house of our own. (Soon....) Yay! If we rented, particularly in this crazy market, it would take us years more before we'd be in a position to buy a place. For us, the trade-off has become worth it. Others might not see it that way for themselves, but this works for us.