I'm daughter to Lissie, sister to Jess, wife to Brien, mom to Hannah, Lily and Eleanor. I am a stay at home mom to my girls, and my free time is dedicated to gardening (I confess I'm still a novice and look to Lissie and Jess for advice), baking and cooking, and card making. I'm doing my part to make the earth a bit greener, trying hard to avoid processed foods and HFCS, and find the "slow food" movement intriguing and inspiring. I love visits to my local farmers' market, fresh produce, reading, getting out in nature, and spending time with my family.


Catholic, homeschooler, lover of books and great wine and an amateur gardening addict.


I'm Melissa aka "Lissie", mother of Rachael and Jessica, and grandmother to a passel of the sweetest children on the planet. I'm a semi-retired public educator and professor who works from home for a small publisher. I am a lover of all things beautiful ... flowers, the mountains, nature scenes, the innocent faces of children, and my rock and fossil collection, to name a few. I enjoy shopping at the farmers' market for fresh foods and then experimenting with new recipes. Good food and good wine delight me. I love to travel so my suitcase is always packed. Like my daughters, I take pleasure in simple things ... clothes drying on the line, tomatoes so fresh they are still hot from the sun, good books, and interesting movies. I'd like to know everything before I die.

I often wonder how so many people in the periphery of my life can be so unhappy. Now, that isn't to say that I don't have genuine sympathy for those who suffer from true clinical depression as a result of a chemical imbalance in their brain, clearly that has nothing to do with being simply dissatisfied with life in general. The chance of just being born is far less than hitting the lotto. All the millions of eggs in a woman, and all the billions (trillions?) of sperm that a man makes and only two match up to make the one and only, very unique - YOU. To be frank, your parents had to have liked each other enough to want to have sex and well, when you think of there now being 6 billion people on the planet, just getting a match of two specific people and their choice to combo their DNA into a new human being to make YOU boggles the mind. If Bob had chosen to go to another college then Ella, Gabriel and Grace would never have had a chance to exist. If he had been on a business trip during ovulation during the times we conceived each of the children they wouldn't be here - maybe another child(ren) named Ella, Gabriel and Grace would be here, but it would be THEM. Back to the basic biology, your mother's body had to have been primed and ready to accept the fertilized egg and managed to make it through 40 or so odd weeks of tumult and physical stress to provide physical support and sustenance for the baby growing inside her body. And then the survival of birth, a process which prior to 30 or so years ago didn't always go all that smoothly. And then the survival of disease, especially prior to vaccines. And then there is that really amazing and odd defying jackpot hit of not only being born but being born in a place and time like no other in the history of civilization. We bitch and moan about how hard life is, but really, none of us is ever truly without what we need. In no other time in the history of the world, we have what no one else has ever had access to: in the USA we have access to sanitation, food, medicine, education and socially supported safety nets - which still isn't true in the other 3/4 of the world.

So, the first paragraph is basically saying - Be thankful that you even got here, and when you did arrive, that you got to be born in one of the most progressive places on the planet with the greatest medical and technical advances known to man. Even if you aren't living "high" at least you aren't a child retreating to the sewers in Bogata, Columbia or aren't a young girl being sold as a sex slave in Thailand or aren't a young child being raped, beaten and forced to live as a child solider in Uganda. No matter what your story is, it really isn't all that bad compared to some of the hands you could have been dealt.

I do appreciate being gifted with the life I was blessed with, the family I was born into and the country and time in which I was born. I appreciate it A LOT. With all that said, I think it is easy for me to romanticize the past. Obviously I am not alone or there wouldn't be productions of PBS series that showcase modern people retreating to live in the recreated past for 3 months. Of these series, 1940s House is probably my favorite. Why? Because it is the closest to me in historical terms, I have had the privilege of having two living relatives (my grandfathers) survive WWII and be able to offer some personal anecdotes about their time spent in the service. My one grandfather was fortunate to have been stationed in Washington D.C. with a job of driving top military officials and generals around. My other grandfather was stationed in the South Pacific and saw combat, most of which he would never talk about.

I have always been more interested in the social history of events rather than the political or military history that is so often studied in traditional school settings. How did the common person survive the events as they were happening around them? How did they react, what changes to their lives did they have to make? I read the book The Bronze Horseman several years ago and the author did such an excellent job of making me aware of how the heroine of the tale was so blase about the coming dire circumstances in Leningrad, Russia right before the start of WWII. Tatiana is eating an ice cream in the first scenes of the story and later on her cousin dies of starvation while licking wallpaper glue off of torn shreds of wallpaper, eager to consume anything because she is so hungry. Likewise, the women and families of England had to face fairly stringent rationing as the military demanded most produced goods to support the troops. And as I am writing this I am watching the History Channel's America: The Story of Us, also a good example of people living and remaining hopeful despite very long odds and hardships strewn along their life's way. Can you imagine living in a home literally carved out of a hill? Dirt walls, dirt floors and worms, bugs and wet, dripping mud on everything in your life every time it rained? Or how about surviving the Dust Bowl years? Watching your babies die from an inability to breathe due to all the dust that they inhaled into their immature lungs? Or watching your 6 year old daughter go off to work in a factory, risking her limbs - literally- because you needed her help in providing income so you could feed your family.

How would I survive if faced with sudden and extreme situations? I can easily avoid lying, cheating and stealing right now because I am not desperate, but if I were and it was a choice between stealing and my daughter losing all the fingers on her hands, I would steal. Wrong or not, I would do it. I am fortunate to live in the top percents, financially speaking, of everyone being ranked worldwide. This isn't bragging, it is fact. I can drive the the store in my very comfortable minivan and buy just about any food item that strikes my fancy any time I want. I don't have to worry about using too much toilet paper during the week and running out or only having 3 eggs to stretch for our entire family for a week. I don't have to rely on canned food and I don't have to restrict my driving due to gasoline shortages. I don't have to stringently meal plan because if I run out of something I can just go and buy more. I take this for granted most of the time. I think it would be an interesting experiment for a modern family to choose to follow the rationing during a Lenten season that the British had to live with for years - what an interesting way to examine want vs. need and self-control.

I think a lot of the interest I have in simple living, the actual impetus for this blog, is the very realization that I have a very comfortable life and I suspect that I wouldn't fare so well if I had to really make a go of being more self-contained and self-sufficient. My comfort in relying on others to provide for me is so ingrained that the idea of not relying on anyone at all is very alluring. I like to view the possibility of simple living through the comfort of just doing and performing a few of the easier acts of those who managed in the past to do it all, to survive through sheer will and hard work. I mean, how hard is it really to make fresh bread when I have a Kitchen Aid mixer to knead it and a self-regulating oven to bake it in?!

What event in history makes you appreciate your own life? Why? What do you think will define our time and place? What will people 200 years from now want to relive about our life experience as early 21st century Americans?




Lissie said...

Your post has caused several things to run through my mind:

1. Not only did your parents have to come together at the exact right moment, so did your parents' parents and their parents' parents back through the ages. You are right. Just getting here--being born--was one heck of a long shot.

2. Probably because I had so little as a child, materially that is, every single day I give thanks for the life I lead today. Your post has made me rethink how I feel about the amount I receive in retirement. To the rest of the world it is a fortune.

3. Joy Hakim wrote A History of US. She and I have corresponded for years. You might check out her other books about science topics. She is such a gifted author.

4. I love all of my modern conveniences and do not want to give them up. However, for most of my life I did not have many of them, so I could probably adjust fairly easily to not having them again.

5. I am so excited to again be growing things! I want to be of the earth, not just on the earth.



Carrie said...

I think i don't really romanticize the past b/c of the tough experiences my family has had in the 40's. One grandfather was shot down over Germany and was in a concentration camp with other POW's. He was 98 lbs when he came home. the other served in the south pacific and saw pretty horrific images. My FIL is the only one in his family to reach the ht of 5'8" - the others are all much taller - due in large part to supreme malnutrition during the war. they were lucky to get an orange for christmas, nevermind a new toy.

I have a relative that spends so much $$ trying to live a natural, organic, simple life that it's pretty much pointless - she is consuming MORE trying to live a natural life than she would otherwise. Pretty ironic. she'd leave less of a footprint if she didn't even try.

I will cook from scratch part to be more natural part b/c we have to b/c of allergies. I hate letting my kids use bottled water b/c it's the biggest waste of resources - we now keep it up high out of their reach and make them use their sigg bottles when possible when they play sports etc.

It's funny, you see the good of a simpler time, I seem to only see the negative when looking at it. the discrimination, the treatment of large numbers of us citizens as second class citizens, the lack of medical achievements that save so many lives.

Right there with you on people that are blessed enough to live in this day and age in the US and are unhappy. My FIL was just visiting us and I was struck by his need to always complain about something. Drove me insane. ok, back to work - enough procrastinating for me ;)

Allie said...

1940's house????? When did this come out?? I'm obsessed with that series! I'm reserving it at the library immediately!

Oh, and I'm going to return the $140 Cole Haan shoes I bought today. I was already feeling guilty, this was just the justification to return that I needed. Thanks!

Jess said...

Carrie, great thoughts!

I certainly wouldn't want to live during another time period, I do appreciate being alive now and living in the western world. Absolutely.

However, I think when I say romanticize the past, I suppose I mean that people seemed so much more capable. They weren't as reliant on appliances and pre-packaged food and whatnot. I can't imagine running a household without my dishwasher, for instance. I know it can be done, but I am just not going there personally.

I do also know what you mean about being a consumer of "green" things. It is easy to do, I do it myself sometimes! Just trying to not consume at all is really what I'm after but it is almost impossible. I do like *things* and that is what I am trying to currently work through. Not all things are bad, not all things are good - balance is what I'm after.

As far as simple living goes, I think for me it is a matter of feeling like I am running around all the time, I have so many modern conveniences to help me and yet there is still never enough time in the day, no real time to relax in a meaningful way. Probably a lot of that has to do with the fact that I have three children under the age of 5 - it's just a busy time in my life. But I feel a bit unfulfilled and ungrateful a lot of the time.

I also worry about Bob. He works so hard and such long hours and I think the quality of his life pretty much sucks. The money doesn't really matter at this point, I'd rather him be happy, whole and less stressed. It sounds crazy, but I'm not kidding around - I would sell everything and find a way to live much more simply if he could get his life back. He is too driven for that but at this point he knows I am willing. :-) I grew up with so much less than I have now and looking back, I had a pretty happy childhood. I worry my children are going to grow up thinking that *things* make them happy, not experiences, and that they can create meaningful experiences for themselves, they should't always look to external things to provide them joy. I have gotten away from that myself and I am trying to find my way back.

Carrie said...

All great points Jess, excellent points!

Sometimes it feels like life becomes one huge series of meaningless errands that can really suck up all of your family time. Unless it's dire, I try to do ONE grocery shop at Supertarget/costco a week. otherwise we spend too much. Lee likes to shop for fun (I do too sometimes) but it's not a healthy dynamic for the kids. "Sorry kids,time for the park b/c we have to go to the outlets". NOT the message I want to send.

It is SO hard not to consume. Some of it is necessary - I have to project a professional image at work, and part of that means updating my wardrobe with clothes that fit and are appropriate for my job. It's a worthwhile investment. But I'm trying to focus on quality over quantity.

I'm THRILLED to be able to reuse all of Julia's clothes on Evelyn (same size/season). It's such a great feeling.

I think people are as capable as they have to be. I grew up without a dishwasher and am still perfectly capable of doing without it. Lol, I ran out of dishwasher tabs one wknd and spent 3 days doing them by hand rather than go to the store!

I see today's adults as showing such a different capability - in ways my grandparents never did (I'm skipping our parents generation since I don't think you see as huge a shift). The financial sophistication, the juggling skills necessary when both parents are working, the resiliency to work at a mind sucking job for long hours. Back then work was not always this entity that could steal your soul. Much less so than now IMO.

TBH, Lee is so OCB and type A that I think his anxiety would be off the hook if I stayed home - we still discuss it, esp as he earns more and as tax increases become more of a reality that it might make more financial sense for me to quit or scale back my hrs. But i think the pressure would really cause way too much anxiety and stress.

I'm sorry Bob is so busy (and not in a good way). He has a very demanding job and the travel is so tough. I don't know how he does it (or you for that matter!).

Speaking of simple pleasures, if you are up for it sometime soon come over for a marshmallow roast with us :) The fire pit is loads of fun.

maddie said...

Jess I stumbled on to this post via your sis' blog... and it was just what i needed to read today. i am so compulsive and so focused on my career and what i have and don't have that i get stressed and end up feeling so dissatisfied. But I have so much to be grateful for and I am ashamed that I don't appreciate my life the way that I want to.

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