4 Things I Learn from Being a One-Car Family

Today, for the first time in well over a week, I went to the grocery store. My husband’s car pool situation didn’t work so well this week, and he had to drive by himself each day. He elected to work from home today {Friday}.With access to our van, I could therefore drive to the store so I could restock the fridge and pantry.

In March, we celebrated–and I do mean celebrated–5 years of functioning as a one-car family of 4. Half a decade! For families in larger cities, where public transit is more available, this might not seem such a feat. For other families, managing a household with 2 drivers and 2 children but only one car sounds unreasonable. But we do, and (for the most part) we do it well.

boys catching wind
The boys catching a breeze in the backyard one day.

This all started in the fall of 2011, thanks in part to many of the books I’d been reading–from works by the well-known Christian author Shane Claiborne, Jesus for President:  Politics for Ordinary Radicals and The Irresistible Revolution, to a book called Radical Homemaking:  Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture by author Shannon Hayes. [Side bar:  I cannot recommend Radical Homemaking highly enough! It’s NOT a feel-good book about decorating and entertaining as a happy wife. It IS a manifesto of sorts about the value of being a producer more than a consumer, and how “homemaking” frees us up to do that.]

I was yearning to simplify our lives in radical ways. By driving less, I knew we could accomplish that:  less money spent on car insurance, upkeep, gasoline, tolls; less pollution contributed to the environment. That fall, I began praying that my husband would come on board with the idea of being a one-car family. At that time, we had a small 4-door car and a mini-van. I stayed at home with the boys, and many days the van simply sat in the parking lot of our townhouse complex. I didn’t broach the topic with Mike so much as I mentioned, once in a while, what the benefits might be of ridding ourselves of a vehicle. And I kept praying.

Months later, as I again offered my thoughts of how we could probably get by with one car, Mike showed interest. He’d been considering it. We had a thorough conversation about it, and we agreed to give it a go. We sold the mini-van and kept our Hyundai Elantra. In case you don’t know, this model of car is small. But I loved driving it! It was peppy. It got totaled in a wreck in 2014 (no worries; the boys and I were fine, and Mike wasn’t with us at the time), and I still miss that little car that the boys had named Gray-ie. (Our silver van was named Sylvia; our current mini-van, purchased after the Elantra was totaled, is white. The boys named it Igloo. I never get a say in these things.)

air boat ride
Waiting for an air boat ride almost 5 years ago.

My plan (casual comments and lots of prayer) had worked! Incidentally, I tried the same tactic a couple of years ago regarding getting rid of our TV–to no avail. Let it be a reminder to me that prayer is not a magic formula, and that my husband is NOT EXACTLY like me.

In these past 5 years, I’ve been learning some lessons from this one-car lifestyle. Here are 4 of them:

  1. Living a simple life requires intention. Simple living isn’t synonymous with “easy” living. In our middle-class, North American culture, one must be deliberate about saying “no” to the never-ending influx of stuff. In terms of vehicle ownership, we’ve also had to be intentional with planning:  car pools, schedules, dentist appointments. Once Mike had to leave the boys’ soccer practice early to get to a Cub Scout leaders’ meeting. He took the car, while I stayed at the park and fished with the boys after practice concluded until he came back to pick us up. There are many instances where one of us drops off the other (with or without children, depending on the event) and comes back later to pick that spouse up. We have to be committed to figuring things out in order to make this work.

    wilson and calvin on floor in pallet
    The boys (AKA Woodrow and Garfield) enjoying their living room fort years ago.
  2. Being interdependent on one another is good. And it’s not the same as being dependent. Choosing to own only one vehicle means that there are times when we need to ask for help. Whether it’s Mike’s talking with co-workers about carpooling (which typically benefits both parties) to sometimes asking for a ride or even borrowing a friend’s extra car after Gray-ie got totaled but before we bought Igloo, we sometimes find ourselves needing to seek out others’ help. You know what? That’s how the life of Christ-followers is meant to be lived.

    We seem to value individualism and independence so greatly in our society that we often do almost anything to avoid putting ourselves in the position of needing. But the early church didn’t seem to live this way:  Acts 2:44-45:  “44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”

    Every person within the body of Christ both has something significant to offer as well as a need to receive what others can offer. Sometimes our family simply needs a friend who will drive my husband home from work or drop off Woodrow at Boy Scouts.

    And what can we offer? In late February, a homeless mom and her 2 daughters stayed with us for 3 days while they transitioned from a shelter to an extended-stay hotel. I did their laundry, gave the mom a pair of my underwear (she had only one), and drove her to and from work on a Saturday. On that Sunday, I babysat her 2 children–one of whom was sick–while she worked, and Mike drove her to and from work. I can offer my home, my time, my decent abilities at cooking to provide a meal… Philippians 2:4…do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Friends and fellow Christ-followers do this for us, and we do it for others, too.

    boys rain boots

  3. Living according to my convictions and priorities is worth the work. I studied Environmental Biology in college, primarily because I loved God’s creation and believed this reflection of His beauty and creativity should be protected, that caring for the world He made also helped care for the people He created. So it matters to me how my family lives on God’s green earth. Psalm 24:1 tells us, “The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it…” I believe He holds us accountable to that. How are we treating His earth? 
  4. We do what we can. I can’t do everything, so I do what I can. Do you know the story of Katie Davis, from her book Kisses for Katie? In her own words, this very young woman quit her comfortable life, moved to Uganda, and began serving there:  teaching school, adopting orphans, caring for the sick. I read her book in my late 30’s and felt the longing that it stirred in my own soul. But I can’t quit my life as it stands now. I can’t drop everything and move to a developing nation, unless God leads our family to do so. Instead of daydreaming about what I might do, I try to pay attention to what I CAN do. We CAN survive and even thrive with one car, saving money which frees us up to give more generously, causing a bit less pollution in our world. We do what we can.

    Fellow Christ-followers, how might God’s Spirit be tugging at your heart to take a step of faith in living simply–in doing what you can? I’d love to hear your thoughts because I love being inspired by others.

Sew, A Needle Pulling Thread

When my grandfather died in February, my husband, sons, and I drove back to my hometown in Mississippi. We spent several days there, grieving together and telling stories about Papa. While staying at my parents’ house, I asked my mama for scrap fabric to make more quilt tops for a charity called My Brother’s Keeper Quilt Group. In 2001, I made a quilt top and sent it to them for their volunteers to turn into a 7′ x 7′ sleeping bag for a homeless person. Then in 2014, I pieced together another quilt top and sewed one in 2015, too. 

I like the act of hand sewing, even though I’m not particularly gifted at it. I find it soothing, and the fact that I can see a finished product at the end is refreshing. I don’t often get that experience of easily-visible accomplishment in my role as mother and home school parent. When Mike and I lived in New Zealand as missionaries to college students (pre-children) I helped one of our teammates by taking apart a bride’s maid skirt so it could be sewn into a new dress. I didn’t have a seam ripper (a specific sewing tool) then, but using a pair of scissors, I carefully took apart every stitch in that skirt and kept the fabric intact. This slow, simple task had a calming effect on me–and it helped our co-worker, as her wedding quickly approached. (The new bride’s maid dresses turned out beautifully, incidentally.)

There’s something healing about a steady, mindless-yet-mindful task like hand sewing. And I wanted to do more. So back in Mississippi, Mama took me to the closet where she keeps stacks of fabric she no longer wishes to use and began pulling out piece after piece. Into the mix, she added multiple large sections of fabric given to her by a retired teacher who attends church with my parents. This woman (who taught one of my brothers in first grade) wanted to get back into quilting after her retirement. But a diagnosis of terminal cancer prevented her from pursuing this. She didn’t want the fabric to go to waste, so she called Mama and asked her to come choose some pieces for herself. Many of those found their way to me.

Back home, I began sewing. The large fabric pieces made creating a 7′ x 7′ quilt top go quickly. I put together two of them, after buying more thread. We went back to Mississippi for spring break–so the boys could play with cousins and so I could spend time with my now-widowed grandmother–and Mama helped me hem the edges of the two tops with her sewing machine. Actually–let’s be honest–she did all the hemming with the machine. Here are the finished products, folded and stacked and ready for mailing.

quilt top 2017 2

I love that these quilt tops are a hodge podge of color, print, design. I love that they don’t have to look any particular way–they just have to be 7 feet by 7 feet. I love that, by doing something so satisfying, I can contribute to helping homeless people stay warm.

quilt top 2017 1

I had so much fabric left after these 2 tops that I have begun sewing a third and probably will make a fourth one as well this year. I’d love to see all that discarded fabric put to good use.

I thread the needle, and then I pull the needle through the fabric, stitching pieces both large and small together, bit by bit. Over time, I build something useful. Maybe that’s part of what appeals to me about sewing–building something useful. 

Healing in the Death of a Dream

When I landed on “heal” as my word of the year for 2017, one of the things from which I envisioned healing was the loss of a particular dream.

I read about a unique and vital service to women called the Luo Pad project a couple of years ago. GAiN (Global Aid Network), a ministry of Cru, gives leadership to this project, providing cloth, reusable menstrual pads to women in struggling areas. I’ve blogged before about how I’d been involved as a volunteer from home. I helped create a few of these pads, using flannel mostly from pajama pants bought at Goodwill. After sewing some with a friend–and recruiting my mama to sew other pieces I’d cut–I mailed them to GAiN’s warehouse, and from there, GAiN staff got them in the hands of missionaries in developing countries to use in their ministry to women.

I appreciated so much about this model:  providing a tangible resource to meet a real need; communicating to women that they are valuable and that their needs matter; resourcing staff who already have their boots on the ground in these parts of the world, who know the customs, the people, the spiritual climate, who are best equipped to reach out to people in those areas with the message and the deeds of the gospel. I’d also heard about lack of access to menstrual hygiene products that kept many girls out of school. I wanted to do more than cut out pieces of terrycloth and flannel; I wanted to help this project grow. To recruit more volunteer sewers and, eventually, to take production of these pads overseas. I imagined this as a means of helping women overseas gain a livelihood, meeting their own needs and helping meet the needs of others. The proverbial fire in the belly burned bright.

After a few emails with one of the GAiN leaders, we arranged a phone call. We discussed how I might help fill a gap in leadership for the Luo Pad project. I communicated upfront that I could contribute on a part-time basis, since I home school the boys. And we continued our conversations–brainstorming ideas of how to recruit women in churches or in campus ministries to sew; how we might solicit donations of fabrics from stores; how we could increase the number of pads produced and sent overseas–about this time last year, only a quarter of the demand was being met.

sewing-machine

After we spoke and emailed, I took some preliminary steps to try and implement some of what we’d discussed–I asked a cousin in ministry and my sister (a pastor’s wife) about recruiting people from their churches as volunteer sewers. I reached out to friends around the country about this need, asking if they could get involved. I made lists, set aside time to send emails and think through ideas, and had those ready to talk about for our next phone call. Because this role existed within Cru, I could switch from my current Cru staff role of editing stories (on a part-time basis) to Luo Pad project oversight without leaving the organization of Cru. I even asked my husband about the possibility of moving to Dallas to be near the GAiN U.S. offices if I got asked to take this role. I would lay in bed at night imagining trips to Southeast Asia or various places in Africa to help set up production for Luo Pads among groups of women learning to sew and to support their families.

And then, as these things happen, delays in the process occurred. Phone appointments had to be canceled and rescheduled; the person with whom I was in communication welcomed a new baby into the family. Progress was put on hold. I felt content to wait, although the longer I waited, the more concerned I became that the opportunity was slipping away. Some emails didn’t get answered. I waited some more. Finally, months later, after waiting and wondering, I realized there must be a reason we weren’t moving forward. I contacted the director who’d been in talks with me previously (after seeking out other people, too, who told me just to get back in contact with him–the person I’d been trying to reach already). I expressed disappointment that nothing had come to fruition as far as my finding a place to serve with the Luo Pad program, and so I was concluding that they didn’t see me as the right fit for the role.

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Almost immediately, the director sent a response telling me that he was so very sorry to have been out of touch, but they really wanted a full-time person to staff this position after all. I’d begun to suspect this months ago. Just like that, the opportunity and travel and service I’d envisioned died. I knew I couldn’t continue parenting and teaching my children as I know I’m called to do while working a 40-50 hour per week job. The dream must be crucified. It was finished. And I grieved. After all, we always grieve a death, don’t we? 

Last week, instead of regular school lessons, we spent our Tuesday on a kind of field trip:  As a family, we went to Cru headquarters here in Orlando and helped pack seeds with GAiN. At this seed packing event–which helps resource people overseas with heirloom, non-GMO seeds that will produce crops that will then produce seeds to be planted and then re-planted–Mike and the boys and I sat side by side. We labeled hundreds of envelopes for squash seeds. And while we worked, we talked with one of the GAiN staff. Overseeing the Luo Pad program falls under her leadership. She just reported to her job last summer, a few months after I heard a definitive “no” about my own role with Luo Pads. So the full-time staff person was found; the need has been met, and I am glad for that. I hope and trust that many more women will be served around the globe because of this individual’s work. It was bittersweet, though, to hear her stories and make casual conversation while realizing that the job she now had was one I previously wanted.

cake-with-raspberries

As much as this loss still sometimes brings me sadness, I am seeing God’s work to bring healing. A couple of months ago, a friend from our old church contacted me about sewing Luo Pads. I had mentioned the idea to her back when I hoped to recruit groups of volunteer sewers. She now wanted to get started sewing on her own; we discussed using the terrycloth she had left over from an abandoned attempt at making a bath robe for the pads’ inner layers.

Then my sister Rachel (the pastor’s wife I mentioned above–she also does about a million other things from refinishing furniture to raising 4 children) asked if I would speak to a group of women at their church this summer about participating in the Luo Pad volunteer efforts. I don’t “officially” represent Luo Pads in any way, but I CAN show these women who are keen to serve others the patterns, the stories, and the vision of this project.

So this is how I’m experiencing healing in the death of this one dream:  Marveling at how God has purposed to use me to advance this program apart from serving with GAiN in any ‘real’ capacity. From this vantage point, it’s clear that God’s plans for me didn’t fall through the cracks. Recognizing that is healing.

Mama’s Got a Bone to Pick

My husband often brings home leftovers from his office. We have a bag of taco shells in our pantry that Mike brought home from the remains of a catered lunch (and that have made their way into the coming week’s meal plans). Once in a while, he ferries home a doughnut or two. On Friday, Mike brought some Greek salad and an almost empty bottle of sweet chili sauce back to our house.

I actually love sweet chili sauce, particularly the Thai kind. But this bottle of sauce (which came from a local restaurant that had catered the office meal) I did not appreciate. The contents themselves were fine. Great, even. But the labeling–which somebody at Mike’s office had attempted to cover with a sticker, but it rubbed off after getting damp–on this container sent a message that almost made my blood boil.

The name of this sauce is–brace yourself–Smack My Sweet Ass and Call Me Sally.  The image depicting this moniker shows a brunette, jean-clad woman with a bright red hand print on the seat of her pants. I snapped a picture of the bottle but actually changed my mind about posting it here; if you click the link above, you can see the bottle for yourself.

We’ve had sauce before with inventive names…Bull Snort, Butt Burner, the like. But this one incensed me. Outraged me. I wouldn’t let it be on the table where my children could see it. I’d never want my boys to see this kind of indefensible behavior toward a woman treated as something funny. Because this is a demonstration of rape culture. Sounds extreme, perhaps. But casually using crass behavior toward women to sell stuff, handling unwanted physical advances toward women in such a flippant manner…that’s how the devaluing of women shows up in our culture. (And, just to reiterate, my husband’s office didn’t buy this specific bottle of sauce; it came with the meal from the restaurant that did the catering.)

The description on the label of this hot sauce bottle begins with a question:  Who knew getting smacked could be so sweet? I’ve been smacked before, and I can guarantee you that it wasn’t sweet. When I lived in Romania, if I walked anywhere alone (which I frequently did; it was my home for a year) I would plaster a scowl on my face as I walked by men, any men. I would be careful to avoid eye contact, walk briskly, and scowl. I mentioned this offhandedly to my friend Jodi, who had traveled to Romania to serve as a missionary kid teacher that year, and she commented that she did the same thing. I was stunned. Other women feel this way, too–have this fear, too? We (and other women) were worried about doing anything that might be perceived as inviting unwanted attention.

I hated feeling I needed to do this. I liked being a person who smiled; I liked trying to get children in Romania to smile back at me on the tram. But even in broad daylight, even just walking to mail a postcard, I felt I constantly had to be on my guard. Sexual assault had happened to me once before, when I spent the summer in Hungary. And there were moments when I felt threatened, scared during my time in Romania by men there. The scowl became my defense, and Jodi’s, too.

woman-with-tea-cup
Non-scowling woman, happy with her cup of tea.

So allowing my sons to be exposed to the normalizing of this kind of behavior toward women is not going to happen. Not in my house. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, nobody’s sons should be exposed to this. Nobody’s daughters, either. And that’s why I contacted the company Friday night, explaining that I would never, ever buy their product because I would never, ever buy into the concept of mocking this kind of treatment of women so they can sell a hot sauce.

Wear It Well Wednesday: Winter Layers

This past weekend brought some genuinely cold weather for Orlando. On Friday night, the temperature dropped to the mid-30’s–and I was delighted! As much as being cold (and not being able to get warm) makes me feel absolutely deprived, I welcome any frigid weather we get here because I know it’s exceedingly rare.

I needed to dress more warmly on Sunday than I normally do, so this is the outfit I assembled. My cup runneth over with hand-me-downs, y’all! Both our friend Vivian and my aunt Anna bestowed heaps of second-hand items upon me over the holidays. I’ve sold a fair amount of it to help fund our Women of Vision giving projects (we’re getting close to our 2nd goal of $400 to support clean water projects undertaken by World Vision.) Much of what I didn’t sell will travel overseas to Cru staff who can use it; other pieces I kept for my own wardrobe.

Behold, this week’s Wear It Well Wednesday installment:  Hand-me-down khaki pants from my mama; shoes (short boots, which are called ‘booties,’ I think) from Anna, along with the dark purple jacket. I can’t remember if the dove gray tank is from Anna or Vivian (Thanks to both you ladies, though!) The necklace came from Vivian, too.

coffee-garden-photo

We took this picture outside a shop called the Coffee Garden, which I’ve visited once for a chat with a friend. I’ve wanted to shoot a WIWW photo here for months, but I needed to wait for the political signs to be taken away, since they obscured the colorful picket fence. But today, I got my shot!

What about you–how are you layering for the cold this winter?

Our Holidays So Far

Mike took off this week from work, and although we had a ‘regular’ home school day on Monday–as ‘regular’ as they can be, I suppose–we did something different on Tuesday. We went gleaning–gathering left-over crops on a farm to help people in need, alongside some friends of ours and in conjunction with the Society of St. Andrew.

I felt confident side-lining academics for this, since it’s not only educational but also gives us an opportunity for service. And I want our home school experience to be fleshed out not only with academics but also with serving others.

After helping bring in almost 5000 pounds of acorn squash, butternut squash, and eggplant, we spent today [Wednesday] doing a great deal of Christmas reading:  several selections from Lois Lenski’s Christmas Stories along with a beautiful book called An Orange For Frankie and The Story of Holly and Ivy. We rounded out our night-time reading with a quick picture book called The Gift of Nothing.

But wait, there’s more! This morning, I picked up Garfield for a delicious cuddle. He had a toy in his hand while I held him, and, unbeknownst to me, he had twirled the handle of it into my hair while we were hugging. When I set him down, we both realized that this thing was stuck in my hair. By the way, I hate this toy and have tried or asked to give it away multiple times. To no avail. Here’s where it ended up this morning:

toy-in-hair
What’s in my hair?! Oh, no! I can’t look!

No, it’s not resting on my shoulder, nor is it a huge dangling earring (I don’t have pierced ears). It’s in the strands of my hair. I almost got fussy about it, but Garfield apologized profusely, and I saw the humor in it. I cut it out, Garfield pulled out the remaining strands of hair, and all was well.

Then right at bedtime–after our lengthy reading session while piled up on the parents’ bed–the boys went to the bathroom once more before bed. I heard some unsettling words coming from there and inquired about it. Here’s what went down.

Woodrow had exhibited his Cub Scout knot-tying skills and tied a LEGO shark to a piece of para cord. He told his little brother he was going to dip the shark in the toilet and then put it in the water cup that they share in their room (for those thirsty wake-ups). Garfield was understandably perturbed by this, so he told his big brother that he was going to pull Woodrow’s nuts off if he followed through on that.

The shark did go into the toilet (But I rinsed it off afterwards! says Woodrow) but not in the cup of water in their room. The water is safe. All body parts are safe.

And that’s our holiday week so far! Gleaning, reading, enjoying Christmas stories…and living real life. Merry Christmas, y’all! 

Generous Living

I’ve been a bit quiet on ye olde blog this week. Mike went to California for a conference (he returns in about 8 hours), and the stomach virus hit Woodrow and me while I’ve been flying solo as a parent. I hope you aren’t reading this while eating lunch, or eating anything, for that matter. Fair warning regarding TMI:  I broke my 9-year no-vomit streak in the wee hours of Thursday morning. But poor Woodrow had it much worse.

I haven’t had much capacity to sit down and create a new blog post, much as I do love writing. But I did want to share with you about the article I wrote about our Women of Vision group here in Orlando that got published this week.

Click this link to read it. And I know it’s not a Wear It Well Wednesday, but I must brag on the shirt-jacket I’m wearing in the photo that accompanies the article. I picked it up (second-hand, of course) at our clothing swap in late August, where we raised funds for Women of Vision projects. I wore it for the first time a few weeks ago. Sticking my hand in one of the pockets of the top that night, I pulled out a $5 bill that I know I didn’t put there. A great hand-me-down wardrobe piece PLUS $5 more to add to our Women of Vision funds:  That’s what you call a win-win, y’all.

I hope you enjoy this month of giving thanks, and that you are moved to give generously. I hope, too, that my brief article (link above) inspires you to live out thanks as well as to give thanks.

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