Long-time readers of my stuff will know that I can overthink just about any scenario. The cause and effect of my inability to get my life organized? Many essays I have published with little to no progress made in real life. What’s at the root of my wont to crash and burn relationships? I have oft explored that mystery on this screen, dragging my readers along with me. The psychology behind my unreasoning love for land I don’t own? Yes, I think we have thoroughly unpacked that one, too. Homeschooling, ranch rodeo finals, feedlots… been there, overthought it, laboriously wrote about it in this space.
The point is, what’s going on in my head can seem hopelessly complicated… but that’s not an accurate picture of who I am.
When it comes to the material side of life, I’m actually a pretty simple person. I consider myself to be a low-maintenance gal (and I remind my husband of how lucky he is to have me!). I don’t need the latest technology at my fingertips, I can put up with a lot of less-than-fabulous circumstances (it’s that tough old Norwegian blood in me), and I can go a long time without buying new underwear or getting a haircut. Below, three more points to prove my argument:
My aunt gave it to my sister who gave it to me… and this ol’ vacuum served me well for the first 15 years of my marriage. My aunt is a professional house cleaner, and I’ve always wondered if the vacuum that came to our family through her was hotel maintenance grade. Doesn’t it kinda have that look? Gadget-savvy friends often wondered why I didn’t have a vacuum with a hose attachment, and I’d always reply that this one was working just fine. Then, finally, it broke its last belt last year around Mother’s Day… and Beau and the kids got me a new vacuum at Costco (which, I have to add, we’ve already had to exchange for a third vacuum). I guess they just don’t make ’em like they used to.
I’ve let it be known that I don’t necessarily value being immediately available via technology, including telephone. The result of my opinion? These days about the only people who call me are the gal who is concerned about our home insurance, the guy who wants to give us one more chance on our car warranty, and the recorded voice that assumes I want to visit about my student loans. The truth of the matter is, we don’t have home insurance, a car warranty, or student loans, and I take great pleasure in hanging up on those losers who think we do.
The short story: I don’t need a fancy phone.
The long story: In 2008, after a few years of living life in the fast lane with a public-eye job, I retreated to a remote ranch and decided to go mostly off-grid. Among other steps I took to escape the world, I canceled the cell phone number I’d had for years (much to Beau’s dismay). I was without a cell phone for eight years afterward, until the day we were living 17 miles north of Ingomar with three little kids and I had a flat tire in the middle of nowhere on a hot summer day. Even I had to admit, after that, that a cell phone was in order.
Beau had saved the old flip phone he’d no longer needed after upgrading to an iPhone, so he had a new number for me programmed to the flip phone. Because, again, I don’t need a fancy phone.
Or do I? Fast forward three years to the present. My camera is a doner, the kids love listening to audio-books in the vehicle, during the rare moments I find myself alone I love listening to podcasts, I’ve started to explore the art of texting, and I can no longer deny that technology is… well… convenient. Another vote for the fancy phone? Two weeks ago I got to make a solo (!) trip to Billings to grocery shop on a Saturday, while Beau stayed home with the kids, and of course I needed to pick up some parts for him, and of course I had to call him for directions once I got to town, and of course there is a law against holding a cell phone while driving in Billings, so as a result I spent way too much time pulled off the side of the road talking to Beau on my flip phone instead of driving that day. NOT how I wanted to spend my (extremely, to the point of extinction) rare day off.
That trip was what finally convinced me I need a phone with Bluetooth, a camera, and the capacity for storing and playing podcasts and audio-books. Coincidently my old flip phone gave it up soon after… and so (BIG ANNOUNCEMENT HERE) I am now officially the proud owner of a fancy phone. I can’t wait to introduce you to it (and the photos I take with it!) in my next post.
She’s a 2003 and we’ve owned her since 2005. Yes, our family’s one and only vehicle — you read that right — is a tight squeeze for all six of us, but love grows best in little houses… or something like that.
Once upon a time Beau and I had other vehicles. I drove a sporty little SUV to the aforementioned job and Beau had a work pickup back then. But for more than 10 years now we’ve been a one-vehicle family. Meantime, our family has been growing. There are exactly six seatbelts in our pickup, and there are exactly six Blakes. One more reason to call it quits at four kids.
Although she is starting to look sadly dated, our pickup has indeed been a faithful outfit for us. Unfortunately she’s recently shown symptoms of old age; last summer she was in the repair shop for over two months and over $2,000. (My mom, aghast, said: That would have been four payments on a new pickup!)
My mom and my grandma — both of whom are staunch believers in the importance of appearance in one’s community and both of whom consider vehicles to be status symbols — are totally stumped as to why we don’t trade our pickup in. I’ll admit, I’m a little on the stumped side too. Beau and I have been vehicle shopping for (give or take) three years now. In the last two months alone we have researched and tested both a Dodge Ecodiesel (Beau’s pick for a new pickup) and a Ford van (we have both become strangely interested in owning a full-size van; if you’d told me ten years ago that I would ever drive a van I would’ve said you were crazy). But just when I think we’re about to take the plunge and drive a new vehicle home, Beau backs away from the deal. I even had our current pickup sold via Facebook a few weeks ago when he called that off. After much poking and prodding I have diagnosed him with Fear of Taking Out a Loan. Looks like we will be paying cash for a new vehicle… in approximately four years.
For right now, I would say, we’re at a peaceful impasse on a vehicle. Which is fine with me, as long as he promises to never again take me car shopping until he is ABSOLUTELY READY TO MAKE A PURCHASE. Turns out I am more of a buyer than a shopper.
Our old pickup has developed an aggravating screech in the brakes, the electric windows aren’t working anymore, and the plastic tail gate handle snapped off this winter. Am I proud to drive it? No. Am I embarrassed to drive it? No. I just am. And again, I remind him that he’s darn lucky to have me.
I think a lot of it comes from the way I was raised. My folks are frugal to the letter. There’s never been a soup can or a bowl of cake batter that Mom didn’t scrape clean with a spatula. There’s never been an empty Gatorade bottle she didn’t wash and refill with tap water. There’s never been a zip-top baggy she was too afraid to wash and reuse, or a bottle of soap she didn’t add water to to get that last little bit out (I didn’t know any of those habits were exceptional until I went to college and my roommates pointed exactly that out). And though we didn’t pay our own electric bill (ranch housing is provided) we never turned on a light unless it was absolutely necessary. It was just our lifestyle when I was growing up.
As for Dad, he laughs in the face of the mold that grows on leftovers. He has always enjoyed weighing the reactions of the innocent bystanders lucky enough to witness him skimming the mold off the top and eating the leftovers underneath. As far as he’s concerned, that’s good food under there and it would be a shame to waste it.
And hay! Oh my goodness, how consistently and thoroughly he taught me the lessons of the hay manger as I was growing up (I have wondered since if he saw value in the repetitive teaching of a lesson — be it any old lesson and the hay manager just happened to be the chosen subject — or if hay truly means that much to him. I would guess the latter). See, as a hardscrabble farm boy growing up in Minnesota he worked long hours putting up hay the old-fashioned way, and then as a young cowboy with a frugal boss he fed small squares to pastures full of cattle, and to this day every stem represents for my Dad money and time. So when I was a girl, in a classroom handily right outside our yard gate at the barn, Dad schooled me on not over-feeding, for horses are inclined to waste extra feed; furthermore, I was never to leave a wisp of hay on the ground between the bale and the hay manger for fear of the wind or the rain eating it in the night; and if we were carrying hay somewhere and a flake fell to the ground in transport I was always to go back and pick it up before putting the pitchfork away… because, again, that’s money and time on the ground.
Dad doesn’t believe in big ol’ 4-wheel-drive pickups, either. He got along fine for years with 2-wheel-drives, he says — and I promise you that no one has driven more dirt road than him. He will always be remembered for his loyalty to his employer’s dollar; it’s a big part of why, for my entire lifetime, he’s been a successful ranch manager. He’s worked for this outfit for fifty years, and I can tell you that if ever he had a very small chance of making a project work without spending an extra dollar on it, he took that chance — and never ceased to impress his employer and amaze his employees.
Though my parents’ frugalness didn’t completely transfer to me (I wouldn’t wash a Ziplock if it was the last one that was ever going to be made), they did manage to instill in me a certain contentedness. Because of them I’ll never believe that one has to have a certain something to get by; my parents made such an effort to show me as I grew up that one can do just about anything with little more than a will-do attitude.
Another thing I can appreciate, even though it sounds like a hard lesson, is that they never led me to believe that life is all about my dreams coming true. Though Dad is a man of few words, I can remember at least a handful of times he reminded me that “life isn’t fair,” and though I didn’t like it much then, that lesson has served me surprisingly well. I have adult friends now who didn’t learn that lesson at a young age, who still believe that life is all about their own dreams coming true… and it makes things hard for everyone around them.
Going right along with that hefty dose of reality is a second dose: Beau and I accept full responsibility for choosing to be a one-income family. The fact is, there are sacrifices that come with that. I am not a woman who believes you can have it all. If you choose to work, you sacrifice staying at home with your kids. If you choose to stay at home with your kids, you sacrifice having the nice stuff more income would make possible. Whenever I get discouraged because we Blakes don’t seem to be making much headway in the race with the Joneses, I remind myself that we’ve made informed decisions that led us to precisely where we are. Sometimes it’s hard to see the big picture and remember why we’re doing what we’re doing. Full-time stay-at-home mothering isn’t glamorous. Homeschooling is a lot harder than I thought it would be. Yet here we are with four kids, and that’s a contract that won’t be up for at least 17 years, and here we are in the middle of the school year, and a school year is something that must be finished, and so there is nothing left to do but dig in… keep going… and, ideally, eventually, to finish well.
In the end I guess it’s all pretty simple.
© Tam Blake
PS: I have recently been encouraged by wisdom found in the pages of Rachel Jankovic’s book “Fit to Burst: Abundance, Mayhem, and the Joys of Motherhood.” She writes:
Practically speaking, when you have a posse of little kiddos on your hands, there will be times when you don’t know what to do. There will be times when the little problems mount up into something a lot more intimidating. Faithfulness takes a step. And then another. Faithfulness recognizes that this is a tricky part, and begins moving to get through it. We have had times with our children where the feeling of need is overwhelming. But when we ask God for direction on each of the little things, not only is direction provided, but progress is made. Sometimes, you need to ask God to show you each little foothold. That is not a sign that you are failing. It is not a sign that you will never find your way out. It is a sign that you are still on the journey, still obeying, and that you know who to ask for help.
When discouragement comes on a mother, the temptation is to vent. To change the subject. To do anything but take a step. We might want to sit down and brainstorm about the itinerary for next week. We might want to tell ourselves that no one else is making progress, either. We develop bad attitudes about the people who appear not only to know the way, but have gone so far as to pack snacks and raincoats. But none of those things is obedience. Obedience is bigger than discouragement, and the two can not live side by side. When you need encouragement, obey. When you are tired, walk. When you feel lost, remember. The more you discipline yourself to overcome discouragement with obedience, the less discouragement there will be to overcome.