Sharon January 2nd, 2009

Yet another repeat column while I wind up the last bits of editing.  Enjoy!

I confess, until I started rioting, I was one of those people who liked to think in the shower. When you have four children, a shower has magic powers - it makes a cone of silence around you. It warms you when you are cold, it cools you when you are hot. And until I started paying attention to my water usage, I showered a lot - it was a self-indulgent pleasure. While we’re not actually keeping our water usage down to the 90% reduction - we can do it, but we don’t like it and we’re not in a water short place, so we’ve gone up to a more comfortable 70% - there is still the hot water to deal with.

The funny thing is that when I began to cut back to shorter and cooler and less frequent showers, I didn’t mind it that much. The only time I missed long hot showers was on the first day of my cycles, when I could remember how much pleasure I got from hot water against my back, easing my cramps. And for a while, I grumped around for a bit over the fact that I no longer took morning showers, or long hot showers at all.

And then it occurred to me that I could have my first-day-of-the-cycle shower if I wanted - I just had to shorten the other ones. So this month I did that. I skipped one extra shower a week, and shortened my other ones slightly. And a few days ago, I stood in the water in the morning, blissfully contemplating how good it felt that hot water on my back.

But it didn’t just feel good. It felt *GREAT* - all day long I felt wonderful. And it struck me that this is the payback for all the scrimping and conserving we do - the transformation of ordinary comforts into a delight.

We get this too with our small percentage of non-local food. We buy a very few non-local fruits and vegetables each week. And each week, my husband and the children choose carefully - what shall we have? One week it was mangos, and none of us have ever tasted anything so delicious as those juicy, dripping yellow fruits. This week it was avocados, and every molecule of our bowl of guacamole was scraped out and enjoyed with homemade tortilla chips. My sons discuss what special fruit they will choose next week at the coop - and what we should do with it.

But, if these pleasures are so acute, why deny yourself at all? Why not get mangos every week
if we love them so? But when I ate all the tropical fruits I wanted, I never enjoyed a mango like I do now. Would my children take so much pleasure in their selection? Would I, if we had them all the time? Experience suggests to me that we would not. The funny thing is that most of the denial isn’t a hardship - that is, the intensity of the two experiences doesn’t run in parallel. Having fewer showers isn’t awful at all, merely a mild inconvenience - but having an extra one is terrific! Occasionally limits do feel awful, and then we have to rethink “is there a way to make this better?” Usually there is - and often we can get the hardest things down to nothing more than a minor inconvenience - and one, shortly, we become used to and don’t notice at all.

Not all pleasures are diminished by frequency, but as we get accustomed to things, they no longer delight us. Thus, we must find new sources of stimulation, new delights - usually by raising the bar higher and seeking out more and more of what we look for. And more and more gets us into trouble pretty quickly - not only because we consume more and more but because there isn’t always more to be had - so we feel dissatisfied.

I know someone, who, for their child’s fifth birthday, took him and two of his friends to Disney World for the week, including a party with a favorite cartoon character. They spent thousands of dollars, and reported to me how much the child had enjoyed himself. And I have no doubt that that is true. For his fifth birthday, my son had a group of children, lunch, a homemade cake, and enough balloons for each child to have one. And he too, had a glorious birthday. It is possible that the child who went to Disney World had exponentially more pleasure, perhaps thousands of times more pleasure, but I doubt it. At the end of the day, Simon told me, “That was a great birthday.” What would he have said if we’d taken him to Disney World “That was a super-duper great birthday?” How big is the difference, if it never even occurred to you that Disney was an option (I’m not totally clear that my kids know Disney World exists yet, which is fine with me.)

I am by nature no ascetic - I like my pleasures - I like to eat, have sex, giggle with my family, be warm, be comfortable. My children are like all children - they love treats, sweets and anything special or new. If there is a difference between us and other people it is this - we try as hard as we can (with varying degrees of success) to keep the bar for happiness low. In fact, we consciously try and move it backwards as often as possible - not because we like to sacrifice, but because we enjoy the sheer intensity of the pleasures that come with it. We’re not ascetics, we’re sensualists - and the most sensual pleasures are available to you when you work at avoiding becoming jaded.

When I was a child, my mother was into healthy eating. We ate carob brownies (to this day I can’t bear the stuff) and macrobiotic stuffed peppers instead of chocolate ones and hamburger helper. I remember acutely the tragedy I felt it was when my mother informed me that I was going to remain the only one of my peers who never got to have a marshmallow fluff and peanut butter sandwich for a school lunch. But once a year, every year, my mother would tell us “Today we’re not having dinner - we’re having ice cream sundaes.” And we would go out to a local restaurant that was an early leader in the “sundae bar” phenomenon, and make the most elaborate ice cream sundaes imaginable, and my mother would never mention the green vegetables we didn’t eat, and would enjoy her own dessert with ours. I remember every single one of those moments, and remember thinking that I had the best mother in the whole world.

It was only later that I realized how much our delight in those moments depended on the reality that my mother and step-mother provided a healthy dinner with vegetables 364 days of the year, how a life where ice cream was a norm (and of course I had ice cream more than once a year ;-) ) would have taken the shine out of that glorious, glorious experience.

We did it for the first time this year. One day over winter break, when it was cold and snowy, the children were told “Today ” - the kids were encourage to spend the whole day in their pajamas. No one had to go anywhere or do any chores, and dinner was all the ice cream sundae, with all the stuff you could possibly want. And the boys kept asking us, “Are we really going to have ice cream for dinner?” Yes, we really were. And we did. And it was great.



14 Responses to “Pleasures”

  1. Anonymouson 02 Jan 2023 at 1:03 pm

    Lovely post. And so true.
    Just last night, I snuggled into bed thinking how much more I enjoy the coziness of blankets and the wonder of body heat, both mine and my fella’s, now that we keep the room temperature lower.


  2. Lanceon 02 Jan 2023 at 1:23 pm

    They say “hunger is the best sauce.” Food, even mediocre food, is wonderful when you are hungry. Even a t-bone and chocolate aren’t that great when you have them every day. That goes for all of life’s pleasures.

    Speaking of baths and showers. I like looking at bathing solutions from other cultures, such as the Japanese bath, hot springs, the ancient Roman public baths, the Finnish sauna, even old-style hippie hot tubs, etc.

    I think with the downturn in economics, home-based bathing as well as public baths have a potential upturn for maintaining health, both physical and mental.


  3. Lanceon 02 Jan 2023 at 1:26 pm

    I actually sleep better in a slightly cold room with lots of blankets.

    I wonder what happened to the sundae bar phenomenon. We had one in our town. It was great.

    Yeah, I am trying to finish the final edits on my book on “Indians of Iowa” too Sharon, so I’m definitely sharing your pain ;-P


  4. Theresaon 02 Jan 2023 at 2:05 pm

    What a great point of view to be reminded of in the New Year. Thanks for this Sharon, and may your edits and proofreadings go smoothly :)

    All the best to you and yours in 2009!

  5. Paula Hewitton 02 Jan 2023 at 3:45 pm

    I agree - we realised a few years ago that the problem with trying to make Christmas (for example) special was that there were no special foods anymore - there is so much exotic food around that having lollies and icecream on christmas day wasnt a big deal. so we started cutting back and ’saving’ some special foods and treats just for Christmas - and it worked well. we still live very extravagantly but moving in the right direction. easter is another example- you see kids chomping on easter eggs in the line at the supermarket weeks before easter and i wonder - if they are eating chocolate eggs now - what will they be getting at Easter - baskets and baskets of chocolates - because a couple of small eggs wont be special to them.
    the same deal with birthdays but i have found as our kids get older (our oldest is 9) this is harder to do. they get invited to birthdays and the gift they give is way less than the other invitees, and when it is their birthday they get expensive gifts from the other kids - more than we would pay ourselves for gifts for our own kids. and they get invited to extravagent parties (not on the scale of disney) and somehow i feel a party in the backyard just doesnt cut it anymore. i have not caved but it is hard to manage - i found myself discussing whether a $30 per head birthday party would be reasonable next year. we decided not, but the fact we even considered it is scary.

    i remember reading a story about a person who would stick their bare foot out from under the blankets until their foot was so cold they could hardly bear it - just for the pleasure of drawing it back under the covers and warming it up again - so they could appreciate the warmth.

  6. The Joy of Being Frugal | Food Renegadeon 02 Jan 2023 at 4:23 pm

    [...] Here’sSharon Astyk’s take on it: I am by nature no ascetic - I like my pleasures - I like to eat, [...]

  7. Abbieon 02 Jan 2023 at 4:49 pm

    “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

  8. SurvivalTopics.comon 02 Jan 2023 at 5:34 pm

    Reminds me of a story:

    A man visited the remote cabin of a trapper friend. The evening meal was placed upon the table: a platter of fresh salmon and a big pot of mustard.

    “That’s all there is to eat?” asked the visitor.

    “Yep” replied the trapper with his mouth full.

    “But I don’t like salmon!”, exclaimed the hungry visitor.

    “Then Help yourself to the mustard”.

  9. Stephon 02 Jan 2023 at 7:22 pm

    OK- gotta ask this question about water and water usage…our new house is supplied most of its water by a spring and there will be a graywater system that will eventually deposit as much as we can back into the stream which is awfully close to the river (one that I wouldn’t swim in or drink from since its 4 miles downstream from a huge paper mill). Given that the water is going to flow out of the rocks and down into the river anyway, other than the energy to heat it, does it really matter how much we pour over our bodies or our clothing or dishes, providing that we aren’t sending it on laden with chemical ick? And is a wood fired hot tub better for the occasional soak than the recycled claw foot tub? Some form of privacy and soaking in hot water on a weekly basis is essential to my sanity- 6 kids still home and a husband gone for work half the time + fibromyalgia.

    The Easter chocolate issue - our basket is a family basket which comes to church to be blessed after the service. It contains the food from which we have (allegedly) fasted during Lent- meat, sausage, bacon, cheese, butter, traditional breads made with eggs and butter, plus the symbolic salt and horseradish; a bottle of wine, a candle. We order each child a filled chocolate egg with his or her name on it from Betty Jean Candies and that is it. Its the only time of year they see them and its a big, big deal because of that. We used to get them from Michelle’s in Colorado Springs and there was much anxiety when we learned that Michelle’s was shutting down. I’d love to find somewhere on the East coast that does them to cut down on shipping but this is a once-a-year family tradition that we will keep as long as we can.

  10. Heatheron 03 Jan 2023 at 10:08 am

    Hi Steph,

    I don’t know where on the East coast you are, but Mo’s Fudge Factor* might make chocolate Easter eggs. They make all sorts of excellent chocolates, not just fudge. They are located in Shelburne Falls, MA.

    Contact info at their web site:
    Mo’s Fudge Factor

    *And yes, that “factor” not “factory” - the story of the name is at the web site.

  11. Devin Quinceon 03 Jan 2023 at 12:38 pm

    Funny, I was just talking about this with my wife and some other MN homesteaders. I mentioned that when we go to the YMCA where my wife teaches Yoga and I visit the hot tub it seems so hot and soothing compared to last year. I think that keeping the house temp lower, taking less showers/bathes at high temps again makes things like the hot tub so much better.

  12. Fatimaon 04 Jan 2023 at 2:52 pm

    I’m using diet to control Gestational Diabetes. I never knew the delight a very small piece of bakery cake could contain until going without such sweet things for a few weeks. It may be worth keeping to the diet after the baby gets here just for such delight in the occasional treat.

    I love your article and agree that we appreciate things more when we have a bit less.

  13. Sololeumon 04 Jan 2023 at 4:54 pm

    We are trying to use our rain water twice - for sewerage we installed a worm farm toilet system

    We are in a cool climate and the normal composting toilet just did not work but with the A & A we will be able to pump out a pit and use it for fruit trees, compost piles and even a good watering of a garden bed either prior to or just after planting up…

    This way we get to have a little longer in the shower and can shower every night with a clear conscience!!

  14. Mike Crosbyon 23 Jun 2023 at 9:14 pm

    Just found your website.

    I’m looking forward to a lot of great reading.

    I think it’s fascinating that more happiness can come with less. It’s just the opposite of our culture.

    There is something very powerful to be learned. Especially with what the economy being what it is.

    I’m now in the process of building a “solar oven” and am anxious to put that in use.

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