Best Two Falls Out of Three: Wrestling with Temptation, Discipline and Self-Denial

Sharon December 14th, 2008

When we were first planning on moving to a farm in this area, we came very close to buying a gorgeous little farm in an Amish neighborhood a bit west of where we did buy.  The house was Amish built and fairly new, with four small bedrooms and large open public spaces (it looked pretty much like every other Amish home I’ve been in, if that’s a useful image for anyone), with a medium sized pole barn and 10 acres, fenced for livestock.  It was lovely.  It was under 25K (yep, you saw that right!).  I wanted to buy it – and my husband said “No way.”

But, I argued, we can add electricity and indoor plumbing gradually.  I appealed to his innate cheapness – we’d have no debt, we’d have money to put into the house straight off.  We’d adapt.  My husband’s reaction was  not just no, but “No!”  And we ended up spending considerably more money for the house we have now (which is wonderful and lovely too).

Now cheapness was only part of the reason I wanted this house so very much.  There was a deeper reason.  You see, self-discipline is not my middle name.  My reaction to “would you like a cookie” is almost always “sure,” with predictable effects.  I can justify all sorts of things with the reasoning that “this time is an exception.”  And, of course, I start noticing after a while how often the exceptions add up.    And my husband is not too different from me – he particularly hates raining on anyone else’s parade, so he’ll happily say “well, of course, honey, if you’re tired….” 

This lack of natural capacity for self-denial means that I work best if there are firm, hard rules, no exceptions (outside of the usual extraordinary circumstances) and mechanisms for enforcement.  Ideally those mechanisms are external, because the problem with making the rules for yourself is that you know the person who made them ;-)

What I really wanted the non-electric home for was simply the experience of not being able to flick on a light, not being able to turn up the heat, not being able to do things the easy way.  I knew we probably would add electricity at some point, ideally renewable,  but I felt that we might be able to add only those things that really mattered to us, very gradually, and to carefully pick and choose what uses of energy were essential to us.  I felt (and still feel) that would be the best way for me personally to go about reducing my impact.

You see, for a long time I didn’t have a lot of conveniences. I was a poor graduate student in a city.  I had no car, I had no washing machine, I had very little money. So, for example, I did laundry quite infrequently – I washed out underwear in the sink, wore my clothes a fair while, and when I could work up energy and money, I piled all my laundry in a sack, slung the heavy load on my back and hauled it a long quarter mile to the laundromat, and then hauled it back, often cussing all the way.

But the funny thing is that if you’d asked me whether my laundry situation was a major burden, I’d have laughed.  99% of the time I never thought much about what a pain it was to do the laundry – and the other !%, well, it was annoying, it was a pain, but it didn’t really matter that much, even when it was cold, even when the laundry was heavy, even when I didn’t like it.  After all, every life has bits we don’t enjoy, right?  Sometimes those bits really are a drag, but more often, they really aren’t that big a deal.  Now for some people, this would have been a big deal - someone who couldn’t haul their laundry or pull a cart, for example.  And yet, I think about all the elderly ladies in New York City who do just this – perhaps for some it is a huge burden, but don’t they also suggest that even in old age we might be able to find ways to do with less? 

Well, the first time I lived with an actual washer-dryer in my own house and didn’t save up coins, I was amazed by how wonderful it was.  And… how often everything suddenly seemed to need washing.  Now I knew I hadn’t always washed my clothes that often, and as far as I could remember, people didn’t sidle away because I smelled bad.  I knew my towels had usually been washed monthly.  But somehow, no matter how I tried, I never could (and still can’t) quite get my laundry down to the level of washing that I did (proportionally – with kids things are a bit different, but even a rough approximation per person) before I had a machine.  I just can’t – and I’ve been trying for a long time now.

The same thing is true of life without a car.  It had its hassles and hardships.  And I used to walk long distances quite routinely, sometimes in terrible weather.  I know that I’m perfectly capable of covering a few miles on foot without any major hardship – but even allowing some level of adaptation for children, I find it very hard not to use the car on occasions when it would be somewhat inconvenient not to.  That is, I find it hard to live in the mindset that allows me to make enough time to put the kids in the strollers and walk the four miles to the library.  More often, I find myself rushing about and saying “oh, gosh, we’re late, we have to take the car.”

I do it sometimes – we keep our driving quite low, using just over 80% less gas than the American average.  And by American standards, I wash probably less than most people.  But I also know that in the absence of the option of driving, I would make time to get there on foot.  In the absence of the washer, I would find less laundry. 

Yesterday, I broke the Sabbath by working.  I had a good reason, of course – I have a book deadline in less than two weeks, and I’m getting a little panicky that the manuscript might not be ready in time.  It is a perfectly decent reason for doing something I shouldn’t – except that I know that if I truly treated the Sabbath as inviolable, I’d have found a way to make sure that the book was further along.  I know that somewhere in the back of my head, I had already allowed myself “well, if things get really dire, I could always break the Sabbath.”  And that’s not exactly one of my proudest moments. 

I know there are people out there who can simply say “well, we park the car and use our bikes every time.”  For me, it is more like, “we park the car and can use our bikes about half the time it would be possible to.”  I’m always impressed by people who manage to have the “out” sitting right there and say no to it – sometimes I do, and sometimes, I don’t.

I do have self-discipline about some things – I won’t turn the heat rather than put on a layer, I generally won’t fly, even when people offer me a lot of money to come talk at their events, I won’t tell someone I think they are right just to keep the peace.  But it is a constant struggle with temptation.  And I find myself attracted, yet again, to absolute solutions – longing for a life where the easy ways out don’t even exist for me.

I thought about that recently as my friend Shasha writes about her move to an Amish farm which may or may not end up having to have electricity.  I admit, I envy her – most of all, I envy her the structural realities of a life without easy ways out.  I am curious – would I find them so burdensome that I’d seek out easier solutions?  Or would I find myself content with these lower energy, simpler choices?  I don’t know – and I can’t know without experimentation – but the experiments require major changes.

Every life, no matter how plain, requires self-discipline too, and I’d probably suffer some failures of that along the way.  Early this year, my washing machine, after an extended period of shredding my laundry every time I washed, conked out, and we were forced to consider whether to invest in a new, frontloading washing machine or a James Handwasher.  The frontloader won, and I don’t have a lot of regrets – maybe after everyone is 100% night dry, but with two using diapers at least part of the time and the occasional bedwetting, I don’t really want to handwash.  But I still wonder whether my estimation of the benefits of the washer was correct.  We have let other appliances break and not be replaced – and often haven’t really minded the lack.  For now I’m still a washing machine person, but the nagging sense that I can’t really fully evaluate my want/need for it in its presence has never gone away.

I grew up in the outer suburbs of Boston, in a small city that is now a regular commuting venue, but that in the 1980s was far out enough to be cheap.  My father never owned a car during most of his adult life, and despite the fact that we lived on the outskirts of everything, I grew up being able to get pretty much anywhere without one.  It might involve two buses and a commuter train, along with my bike, but I could and did get to outer suburbs all the time from my outer suburb.  It meant checking schedules, coordinating trips with other people, and often, standing around waiting for trains – but since I’d spent my whole childhood waiting for one bus or train or another (my father did not allow his residency in a cheap area to deny him or his family any of the pleasures of the city – we went everywhere, constantly), I don’t think I even noticed.  If I think of those days, it is longingly, of life without the hassles of car ownership.  I know that standing, waiting for a late train in February wasn’t fun – but that kind of “not fun” didn’t really matter much in the overall scheme of things.  I know that doing without things won’t always be fun – but how do I know how much that displeasure will actually count?

When we moved to the country we “had to” have a vehicle.  We’ve struggled to find good ways to balance the mobility we really need with the mobility we simply want – and to find ways to reduce temptation while upping our self-discipline.  At one pont, we were able to barter with neighbors to share a car - and knowing that we only had the vehicle on specific days made us more careful with our use.  For now, we only have one small car – the six of us cram (safely) into a Ford Taurus.  We look like clowns getting out of our tiny car – but it means we use less gas, and have to seriously consider whether it is worth being crammed to make longer trips.  It encourages us to use public transportation for visiting family and to skip unnecessary trips. 

And sometimes I wonder if we really ”have to” have a vehicle – could we combine a combination of two electric assist rickshaw bikes, a pre-made barter arrangement with our friend with a truck (for when the goats or hay must be hauled) and a shared commute for Eric?  I’m tempted sometimes to try it – and a little cautious about giving up my conveniences too.  I know someday we may have no choice but to give up the car – shouldn’t I be prepared for that?  Perhaps that will be our next project.

Culturally, we tend not to have a lot of respect for people who lack self-discipline, or a lot of concern about the idea of temptation.  We have decided, for example, that rules about avoiding sexual temptation, for example are outdated – we should, instead, rely primarily on our own self-discipline.  Thus, older ideas of modesty (which of course have their problems, since they often were primarily emphasized for women) and restraint have fallen away - to be replaced primarily with self restraint.  The only problem is, we don’t have much.

The same thing is true with technologies – we are told that there’s no point in objecting to a technology, or suggesting we shouldn’t go down certain technical avenues – no one has to have a cell phone or a car or a whatever.  The problem is that a narrative that says so presumes that we do have a cultural basis for self-denial, that we’ve been taught how to say no, how to think critically about our technologies, or, for that matter, about sex.  It assumes that we’ve been taught to value self restraint. 

There are real merits to self-denial and real pleasures in it, and not just austere ones, or the pleasures of being self-righteous.  That is, I genuinely think my life without a car would be better, more enjoyable, more fun than my life with one.  The economic, personal, time and social costs of the car - and certainly the costs of a car-based society are simply too high.  But not only do most of us not realize that cars actually take more time and money than they return, but most of us have never in our lives been asked to think about what self-discipline might do for us, whether it has any merits, other than the ability to sniff down your nose at someone not as austere.  In fact, the accusation of self-righteousness often completely undermines any discussion of self-limitation, simply because we cannot imagine that there are other merits involved.

There is certainly plenty of truth in the statement that I need more personal self-discipline, or that I can’t blame the fact that I eat too many cookies on the culture as a whole.  And I don’t.  But in a culture that dismisses the idea that temptation is a problem, that we might begin addressing our deepest social problems by restricting our capacity to give way to our worst selves, it is very hard to even begin to find a way at those problems.

I don’t know how many people struggle with this question of self-discipline, but I’d suspect a lot.  Figuring out solutions for myself and my family involve a range of strategies.  First, some creative deprivation – I think often the best way to use the minimum is not to have any choice.    The one bright side of our current economic crisis is that many of us may get some chance to explore creative deprivation – and we saw that last time we had a Depression, the habits of thrift and care lasted far longer than the Depression – our grandparents kept living the way they had to, in many cases, simply because they couldn’t imagine anything else – everything else seems too extravagant.

The second shift is the need for self-discipline – sometimes it isn’t good to take the cookie.  I need to work on the ability to “say no” and to find the immutable wall in myself that says “these rules aren’t just mine” – sometimes I get there by realizing the rules are God’s, sometimes by realizing that my actions affect other people, sometimes by simply promising that there will still be cookies later, and that I’ll be happier this way.  I’m working on the idea that self-denial has its own pleasures and satisfactions, that quieting that nagging sense that I’ve cheated – not just cheated on the rules, but cheated myself.  This week, I cheated myself out of the restoration that the Sabbath would bring me by not arranging my life for it.  I think sometimes I may have cheated myself out of knowing what I can actually do, by making my own life a little too easy.

I don’t think it is necessary to have a religious faith to exercise self-denial, but I don’t think it hurts – the idea that there are limits that are not of your own personal setting, and the creation of a community to explore them in,  is useful to me, at least.  And I’m reminded of a story that Scott Savage tells in _The Plain Reader_ he writes:

A story that appeared a number of years ago in the Amish publication _Family Life_ told of a busload of tourisst who visited an Amish farmer.  The group consisted of people from many religious denominations.  One of them said, “We already know all about Jesus Christ, but what does it mean to be Amish?”  The Amish fellow thought for a minute and then asked for a show of hands for how many in the tour group had televisions.  Every hand went up.  Then he asked how many thought that maybe having a television contributed to a lot of social and spiritual problems in society.  Again, every hand went up.  In light of this, he asked, how many would be willing to give up having television?  This time, no hands went up.  He went on to explain that this was the essence of being Amish: a willingness to do without something if that thing is not good for them spiritually.

The Amish do so with both the force of community and the force of faith behind them.  My own suspicions that I’d be better off without a car exist, not in complete isolation, but outside a unified cultural sense that cars are harmful – even though we know they are.   We are not all going to share Amish religious convictions – but I wonder if there is a way to translate some of their culture of self-limitation into a secular reality?

I know that the Amish relationship to the technologies they choose to use and those they choose not is probably the right one for most of us - don’t mistake me – I’m not saying we should all be Amish.  But the idea that we should look at our possessions, our technologies, our work and everything that structures our lives and ask ourselves whether it is good for us, is, I think, right.

But that’s not enough – the best and most ethical of us will find it hard to do this in isolation.  By ourselves, on our country road, it is painfully hard to imagine asking others to help us live without a car - or simply use ours less –  even if we were to trade or barter with them.  The burden of inconveniencing others in a project that they do not share or value seems high, perhaps too high.  In a community where many people wanted or needed to use their cars less, or even get rid of them, we could feel ourselves full participants, share strategies for reducing temptation, give back as we get.  It is a conundrum and a nut we have yet to crack.

I don’t know all the answers – I do know that the problem of temptation in our society needs some exploration and analysis.  We need to find ways to begin our discussions not from the point that all of us ought to live as perfect paragons of self-discipline, but that we might, at the same time we improve our practices, and explore the pleasures and merits of self-denial, but also wrestle with the enormously vexed question of managing temptation.


34 Responses to “Best Two Falls Out of Three: Wrestling with Temptation, Discipline and Self-Denial”

  1. Lisa says:

    Oh, do I live my beliefs?

    Have you ever heard this man speak?

    Good thoughts for this Sunday morning.

    Thank you, again, Sharon

    Lisa T.

  2. villabolo says:

    Sharon, have you considered a 4 wheel bicycle with an electric motor? Check out for a build it yourself version or for their 4 passenger version.

  3. Lisa Z says:

    I’m just like you in lacking self denial! I also lack motivation to “rein my kids in” or deny them things like computer time, tv time, etc. So, because I do believe many things to be not so good for us, I just have to get rid of them. Therefore, things like having no cable TV but subscribing to Netflix for movies works for us, and feels like a good balance. We also went down to one car so that on the days my DH needs the car, I am forced to do without. If I don’t ever have to do without it, I’ll always get in the car because it’s more convenient and I don’t have to plan ahead as much, etc.

    In a way, that makes us pretty good at self-denial now that I think about it though. Knowing our personalities, knowing the best way for us to tackle a problem like this, may mean we make some measures others would consider “extreme”, but we do actually do those things.

  4. virginia says:

    Back when I was a little girl, my Quaker grandmother gave me a copy of the children’s book “Thee, Hannah!” by Marguerite de Angeli. It’s about a Civil-War era Quaker child struggling with vanity and envy.

    Hannah’s best friend Cecily is a non-Quaker who is allowed to wear colorful dresses and bonnets with fancy trim, and Hannah is desperately jealous. Hannah’s parents are kind and patient with her, but firm in their beliefs in plain dress and plain living. The climax of the story is that Hannah is approached by a runaway slave and her baby. She slave tells her that she knew she could trust Hannah for help, when she saw her wearing a plain Quaker bonnet.

    When Hannah learned this, then suddenly her bonnet didn’t seem ugly anymore, but valuable and useful.

    Your post today reminded me of that book. I’m going to get it out again.

  5. Greenpa says:

    Yup. :-)

    Don’t know if you read this post of mine; one of my earliest:


    I intentionally placed buildings and built roads- so I’d have to walk. Forever. Because my flesh is weak. Haven’t regretted it.

    Terminology-wise; you’ll catch more flies with “simplicity” instead of “austerity”, I think; and the underlying choices are the same. If you’re interested in catching flies. It was Thoreau’s choice, and makes sense to me. The Amish choice is “plain”; also good, but with a religious load these days.

  6. yarrow says:

    want to make yourself do less laundry? put your well on a direct-solar DC pump. wow does that limit your water options. our household water culture has changed enormously since we got our well off-grid. we have an 82 storage tank, which is filled by the sun in the daytime, but starting from about an hour before dark, what’s in the tank is all we’ve got until about two hours after sunrise the next morning. no laundry at night. few and sparse showers. very careful dishwashing. no garden irrigation at night. and we’re more careful in the daylight, because we’re aware that excessive water use, even when the pump is running, can lead to depleted supplies for that night.

    on the other hand, no power outage will ever leave us without drinking & washing water again, because we got rid of that grid-tied AC pump.

    laundry in particular has been more limited, because we have to know there’ll be sufficient daylight time left to replace the 15g or so used in a standard load; more if more loads are to be done. and three of the four of us work weekdays, so we’re only around in daylight on weekends, this time of year. we dry everything on the line, so that’s not an issue (we’re in New Mexico, fwiw, so even in the worst weather, line-drying is usually still a reasonable option, and we can count on a few hours of sun very nearly every day, even when it’s overall rainy or snowing). and it was easy to stop using hot water in the laundry machine—the pump house, out back of the house, holds said machine, and it is not plumbed for hot water, the water-heater being in the house itself. the very idea of taking on another large project for the questionable value of hot water in the washing machine—-well, that question answered itself in five seconds flat. cold we shall use. we have projects aplenty on this just-getting-started farm without adding to our burden. we could put a battery backup on the pump, and we may eventually. but that means more expense, and now isn’t the time for it, either, when changing our habits and forcing ourselves to use water as if we live in a desert has both worked well in practical terms, and is working well to keep us walking our talk.

  7. Yvonne Rowse says:

    I sold my car earlier this year because I knew there would always be a rainy day when I would give in the laziness and, although I have regretted not being able to get to work without getting drenched I think it was a good decision and keep a change of clothes at work.

    My major weakness is to turning my heating on when people come round and complain about the cold. My house is always cold and I use a hot water bottle and blanket to keep warm but my friends think I’m bonkers and I don’t like to make them uncomfortable. I’m working on insulation so any heating I do use will stay in the house!

  8. grace says:

    what we do for other people:
    The ancient pipe that connects my kitchen sink to the plumbing (on out to the septic tank) has
    been rusted through for years now. So, I keep
    a bucket under it, let the sink water out slowly and empty the bucket outside on something that needs the water. This process also ends up encouraging me to use as little as possible so I don’t have to empty the bucket often..lazy.
    I’ve found myself apologetic to any visitors,
    including my adult kids when they come, saying it’s on the priority list. But really, if I fixed it,
    I’d have the tendency to use much more water.
    I am disciplining self to take a deep breath and
    explain, over and over if necessary, that it’s
    just a decision I’ve made. Period.

    and Yarrow…did you start the Devils Claw
    inside or direct sow?


  9. Stephen B. says:

    If we ever get a good dump of snow this winter, I’m not going to shovel/snowblow the driveway. I haven’t driven my small pickup much in the past few months and, though it has 4 wheel drive, if I let a good snowfall sit on the driveway, cure a bit in the sun, get some rain on it, etc., it should freeze into a immovable barrier that will keep my vehicle garage-bound until March or so.

    I’ll also be interesting to see my next door neighbor’s reaction. He is, as I say, into suburban-correctness and I think the sight of my uncleared driveway, like a less than perfectly mowed lawn, should prompt a conversation. Other times when I haven’t cleared my driveway right away, he has cleared it. I wonder how many times I can just let the snow sit before I get to keep my truck-blocking glacier?

    Anyhow, that’s how I’m going to deny myself the car this winter if/when the weather turns bad.

  10. Susan says:

    Sharon, we wanted to thank you for your diligence. We live in MA and have been reading your blog for most of a year. Thanks to you we were prepared for the recent ice storm and power outage. This experience has shown us where we need to improve and continue to change our life style in preparation for the future. Thanks again.

  11. H says:

    6 “cramed” in a Ford Taurus? I haven’t seen one in real life, but by the photos it seems like a not small at all car.

    As for craming… Our records are 9 late teenagers on a Fiat 147 and 4 adults + 8 children (between 16 and 3 yo) on the same fiat.

  12. Jenn says:

    I run into the same issues with self-discipline fairly regularly. I’m just not always all that good at it, so I try to set my life up in ways that make me be good about things – no car means I don’t drive, laundry down the hall means I don’t wash that much, and no junk food means I don’t eat it. I still have more to do, but the set-up seems like it’s so important in terms of both what I want and what I don’t want.

    I read a psych paper recently that was looking at how humans are pretty much only able to maintain willpower on one or two things at a time. So, when we have a lot going on, some things are going to have to give, and we’re going to not be as good about some things as we want to be. Sometimes for me just thinking of the rewards down the road can be useful in maintaining a bit of self-discipline. But sometimes recognizing that it’s okay so long as I’m good about the important stuff is helpful too.

  13. Yael says:

    great post Sharon!

    you just described me to a T–right down to breaking Shabbat in “dire circumstances” and being jealous of the Amish!–always have been!

    and I absolutely agree–I’m moving to Ithaca next year and I’m really struggling with whether or not I should get a car while I live there. Here in Boston I’m obviously just like you were–Ive been able to make do without a car (or a washing machine!) and I know I could do the same in Ithaca (there’s a bus system) but what about convenience? and driving home? I’m still unsure–thanks for the post for food for though though!

    where are you from outside of Boston by the way? (I’m also from outer suburbs of Boston–south shore!)

  14. Lisa says:

    Well, I haven’t had a car that runs since August and to be perfectly honest it sucks. I have to rely on family and friends to get my child to preschool, the doctor, the library, etc. The two roads leading to town from our neighborhood are viciously unsafe for biking and there is no public transportation. My husband works an hour away in the next state so borrowing his car isn’t a option. Sometimes not having a car feels like a prison. I am working on simplicity, making choices good for the enviroment, gardening, spinning and knitting my own socks and household stuff, etc. but to be honest not having a car makes me into a 2nd or 3rd class citizen without the ability to get my child to the doctor or my dog to the vet in case of emergency. I’d say if you’ve got one then better to have it and not use it then not have it and need it. I’ve done without a car for months at a time before but then we lived in a largish city and my husband’s commute was short enough that we could share a car. This is totally different.

  15. Vegan says:

    Great post!

    I think it is important to “avoid the near occasions of sin” or temptation, whether it relates to a car, TV, a cookie, a person, etc. Yes, our spirit is willing to practice self-denial or self-discipline, but our flesh is weak. We’ll always be more successful at rejecting something we know we should not be involved with if that something is not in front of us tempting us, hence, making us rationalize its use. Human beings are capable of justifying or rationalizing anything. Sages throughout history always avoided tempting objects or persons.

    If one wants to live simply in our mainstream, instant gratification/hedonistic culture, one is forced to be anti-social and one is perceived as anti-social. Will the coming years of less transform our communities and culture? Will simple living then be seen as a virtue that most will want to pursue with joy?

  16. Eva says:

    @H the key phrase is “safely” crammed in a vehicle.

  17. [...] I read some of Wendell Berry’s thoughts in A Continuous Harmony (1970) and some more from Sharon’s blog about self-denial and temptation. « Learning [...]

  18. becky says:

    wonderful post sharon! it reminds me alot of a book i read not long ago, Better Off! Flipping the Switch on Technology by Eric Brende (i think). anyway, he and his new wife do just what you’ve outlined…move into an amish farm house and then begin the process of learning and deciding which technologies they are better without and which they truly need, among many other realizations.

    i agree that isolation vs. a community of like thinkers is a key factor.

  19. Sharon says:

    A Ford Taurus is a compact car – it technically seats six and legally, with the addition of a center seatbelt, but with one carseat and two boosters in the back, my husband and I 6′ and up, and my tall 8 year old, it is a very, very tight squeeze. But yes, safe and legal are the two operative issues.

    Yael, I grew up in Beverly and Salem – other shore. Cool!

    Susan, I’m so glad that I was able to help you with the ice storm – that’s wonderful, and it just makes me so happy.


  20. Jennifer says:

    Maybe it depends on the year… my ’99 Ford Taurus was a nice mid-size car.

  21. Jennifer says:

    Apparently not, Wikipedia says the earlier Ford Taurus models were considered mid-size, and the current Taurus is considered full-size. Are you sure you’re not talking about the Ford Escort?

  22. Matt K says:

    Sometimes I feel guilty for driving around in a Chevy Tahoe all on my lonesome (when I’m unable to use public transportation). Then I remember that I’m 6’5″ and I can’t fit into most other cars :-)

  23. Elizabeth says:

    My Taurus was a land yacht (and also the reason I can’t bring myself to buy American cars anymore). Thanks, Lisa, for bringing up that not having a working car isn’t always peaceful walks and quiet bike rides. Not having a car, particularly if it wasn’t a choice you actively made, can be depressing as hell if you live in an unbikeable (is that a word?) area with little or no public transport.

  24. Grandma Misi says:

    When your car breaks down ya do what ya have to… but it’s not easy, not pretty, and not fun.
    When my kids were still teenagers our car was “down” for months at a time. But I did live near public transportation, so really no big deal.
    Except for THIS incident: we had a tiny, 2 bedroom house. 5 adult size teenage boys/men living there with me (1, my son, the other 4 basically homeless “guests”) One of the boys brought home scabies (oh yuck, double yuck, gawd luv him!)
    Every stitch of clothing and bedding had to be washed, twice in a 2 week period. We had no washing machine. I borrowed (with permission) a grocery cart from the store (close to the laundrymat) that was about 12 blocks away. It took a lot of hauling, cart falling over the curb a couple of times, and a ton of quarters (that I really couldn’t afford) to take care of that little problem.
    But ya know what? I did it, I didn’t like it at the time… not really, but it was part of the love I had for “my boys” and now… well, I remember it fondly and am a little proud of myself.
    We all can do just about anything if we have to… if we really can’t do it we usually can figure out quickly it doesn’t have to be done.
    Thanks for this great post Sharon, it inspired me and assured me at the same time.
    Grandma Misi
    Pacific Northwest

  25. yarrow says:

    Grace, i haven’t planted the Devil’s Claw yet, as i got the seeds over thanksgiving weekend, and it has been fiercely cold (well, for Albuquerque) here since then. i’m going to plant one in a big pot in the greenhouse, which stays above-freezing all the time, and direct sow two others in my new perennials bed, as soon as i finish the soil-prep in that bed–probably by next month.

    i’m looking forward to them, though—i grew up in Prescott, AZ, and this is one of the plants that says “home” to me (manzanita and scrub oak also featuring largely). i’ve never eaten them, and am interested in exploring the food properties of more native desert plants. Where in NM are you, if i may ask?

  26. Rosa says:

    Lisa, that sucks :( It is terrible to feel stuck at home, when it’s against your will.

    The experience of being involuntarily carless in a life structurally designed to be dependent on cars is one of the reasons I continue to encourage people I know to voluntarily go carless – even if it’s just a matter of waiting a few months to make a repair instead of buying it on credit. It’s practice for the day when it’s not voluntary.

    Every spring, when I get on my bike again, I have a week where everything goes wrong – my tire goes flat and we don’t have a right size spare, the spike for the BoB trailer is missing, my helmet has spider eggs in it, I left my doorpass for work in my nonbiking bag…then it’s all together and I’m good for the season. But that’s because our big choices (work, school, neighborhood we live in) were all based on the idea that we would bike. Doing the exact same thing in a different place can be awful (one time I lived in a place where I had to drive – the nearest job I could find was 50 miles away – and my boyfriend commuted 17 miles each way on a BMX bike. Or hitchiked. And then my car got totalled and things got *really* bad.)

    That’s why I think Sharon’s emphasis on doing it now so you’re already good at it when things go wrong is so important. I’m good for summer transportation, but if the buses go on strike AND our car breaks down (we’ve had both things happen, but not at once yet) I’m going to have to go back to the “walk until your eyelashes freeze and then duck into a doorway” method of getting to work – and that was miserable when I was 20 and had no kid to haul around. I can’t imagine doing it now.

    Also, we need to be developing appropriate technology. The thing I really wanted, my carless city winters, was a sled with wheels on the back so I could life the front end and get over the rare shoveled patches smoothly. Instead, I wrestled my stroller through six-inch drifts on the way to the grocery store, which was doable with an 8 pound infant and not so much with a 30 pound toddler.

    (P.S., Sharon, there’s a woman with a developmentally disabled teenager in my neighborhood who bikes – I see them sometimes on my commute. They ride a tandem bicycle together, with her steering & both of them pedaling. It always makes me think of you.)

  27. Anonymous says:

    I think that the struggle for self discipline is a fundamental aspect of human nature. I believe it is also one of the reasons that humans do well in a community (be it the Amish, a group exercise class, or a virtual community such as the Riot 4 Austerity). The community encourages us through group discipline rather than self discipline.

    Personally, I struggle with the car issue as well. When my son was born he hated the carseat with the passion of a thousand suns. Instant screaming would commence. I quickly decided that we would simply walk everywhere. Luckily, we live in S. California in a very walkable city. I actually never took a car ride alone with him until he was over 4 months old. His hatred of the carseat was truly a blessing in disguise and as a bonus walking miles each day helped me to lose weight very easily. Son is now two and tolerates the car and as you might guess we use it much more often. One of my resolutions for the next year is to avoid using it as much as possible. I am expecting our second son in April and a small part of me is hoping that he will dislike the car as well. Nothing like a child screaming bloody murder to modify one’s behavior!

  28. Gina says:

    I think that the struggle for self discipline is a fundamental aspect of human nature. I believe it is also one of the reasons that humans do well in a community (be it the Amish, a group exercise class, or a virtual community such as the Riot 4 Austerity). The community encourages us through group discipline rather than self discipline.

    Personally, I struggle with the car issue as well. When my son was born he hated the carseat with the passion of a thousand suns. Instant screaming would commence. I quickly decided that we would simply walk everywhere. Luckily, we live in S. California in a very walkable city. I actually never took a car ride alone with him until he was over 4 months old. His hatred of the carseat was truly a blessing in disguise and as a bonus walking miles each day helped me to lose weight very easily. Son is now two and tolerates the car and as you might guess we use it much more often. One of my resolutions for the next year is to avoid using it as much as possible. I am expecting our second son in April and a small part of me is hoping that he will dislike the car as well. Nothing like a child screaming bloody murder to modify one’s behavior!

  29. Anything and everything seems to be getting in the way of meaningfully discussing in an adequately reality-oriented manner the predicament that appears before humanity. This primarily and distinctly human-driven predicament is already visible, even now, on the far horizon.

    If you please, your assistance is requested.

    Seven days ago the “AWAREness Campaign on the Human Population” submitted an idea for how we think the Obama Administration could change America. It’s called “Ideas for Change in America.”

    I’ve submitted an idea and wanted to see if you could vote for AND COMMENT on it. The title is: “Accepting human limits and Earth’s limitations”. You can read, vote for and comment on the idea by clicking on the following link:

    Fourteen votes are been received so far. That is about 2 votes per day. If you agree, then vote. If you disagree, please comment. Of course, should you wish to vote AND COMMENT, please feel free to do so.

    The top 10 ideas are going to be presented to the Obama Administration on Inauguration Day and will be supported by a national lobbying campaign run by, MySpace, and more than a dozen leading nonprofits after the Inauguration.

    Thanks for any assistance you choose to provide.

    Sincerely yours,


    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001

  30. [...] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Best Two Falls Out of Three: Wrestling with Temptation, Discipl… When we were first planning on moving to a farm in this area, we came very close to buying a gorgeous little farm in an Amish neighborhood a bit west of where we did buy. The house was Amish built and fairly new, with four small bedrooms and large open public spaces (it looked pretty much like every other Amish home I’ve been in, if that’s a useful image for anyone), with a medium sized pole barn and 10 acres, fenced for livestock. It was lovely. It was under 25K (yep, you saw that right!). I wanted to buy it – and my husband said “No way.” [...]

  31. Sharon says:

    We have a 1993 Ford Taurus – maybe it is technically a mid-sized car, although it fits nicely in the “compact only” spaces in parking lots, and looks similar in size to most small cars to me. But what I don’t know about car designations could fill a big book. I do know that it is not set up for six passengers – we had to add an additional seatbelt. And when you put two boosters and a carseat side-by-side in the back, there is about 1/18th of an inch to get your hand in to buckle at each space. It was our inheritance from Eric’s grandmother, so we didn’t pick it out.


  32. Joshua says:

    I grew up in Philadelphia, and did not have a car until I was 26. I don’t think the comparison of a major Eastern seaboard city with well-developed public transportation to a rural area is meaningful, however. I cannot stand outside my barn and expect a bus or train to come by, unless I have a community network, so I have to arrange transportation. A car, if I can afford one, for as long as I can afford one, is tremendously reassuring.

    Regarding self-discipline and rules, today I read a portion of Dean Ornish’s new book, “The Spectrum.” On page 34,

    “How we approach food is how we approach life. Why have any limitations if you don’t have to? . . .
    “Choosing NOT to do something that we otherwise could do helps define who we are, reminds us that we have free will, freedom of choice. . .
    “For instance, almost all religions have dietary restrictions, but they differ from one another. Whatever the intrinsic benefit in eating or avoiding certain foods, just the act of choosing not to eat or not to do something that we otherwise might choose helps to make our lives more sacred, more special, more disciplined, more meaningful. . .
    “In this context, what we choose to eat–and not eat–can nourish our soul as well as our body. . .We may choose to follow the restrictions of our own religion or tradition not to PLEASE God but rather to EXPERIENCE God.”
    p. 36
    “If what you gain is more than what you give up, it’s sustainable.”

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