We updated our post on Easter chocolate a few weeks ago.  All of our old recommendations still stand!  In fact, I just put in a group order yesterday for Mama Ganache.

Today, I would love to introduce you to one of my favorite fair trade vendors, Dsenyo.  John and Marissa Perry-Saints are the owners, and I met them at the Fair Trade Federation conference last year.  Awesome people.  While they make many wonderful fair trade goods, today I want to tell you about their stuffed animals.   They are absolutely perfect for Easter baskets.  All sell for $24.  While all are super cute, my personal favorite is the elephant- just because I love elephants.

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Lion

 

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Elephant

 

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Bunny

 

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Fox

These cute stuffed animals are made by the Mwayiwathu HIV Support Group in Malawi.  According to Dsenyo’s website:

 

Mwayiwathu HIV Support Group (Malawi) is comprised of 17 members, primarily women afflicted by AIDS, either personally or within their family. Just over one third of the women are widows who have lost their husband to the virus. Widowhood often leaves Malawian women economically disempowered and socially excluded; Mwayiwathu creates opportunity and works for change. The women in this group use their wages to send their kids to school, pay for transport to the hospital to get ARVs, make improvements to their homes, and invest in side business ventures. One woman mentioned she has been able to use the sewing skills learned at Mwayiwathu to stitch school uniforms for her children and others in the community, which makes her very proud!

We don’t have a financial relationship with Dsenyo.  We just love what their company is doing!   Plus- that fox?  Love!

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In the autumn of 2008, our family went to L’Abri outside of Boston.  It was a watershed few months that has changed the trajectory of our family’s story.  During our time at L’Abri, we lived in one bedroom.  While it was snug, it was also sweet.  It was all we needed.  We had a small bin of toys and some basic homeschooling supplies.  We were all living in one room, and the kids were happy as clams.  We have such sweet memories of waking up early and sipping our coffee in the  L’Abri library as the wood stove took the chill off the autumn New England mornings.

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L’Abri

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L’Abri

We had been struggling for years with various issues around God and faith.  When we left L’Abri after three months of study, we were changed people.  We believed down to our toes that God loved us and that He had come for us.  We were grateful not only for heaven in our future, but for the here and now.  This changed everything.  It changed how we viewed money.  It changed how we viewed our time.  It changed our view of careers and giftedness and children.  It rocked our world in a wonderfully life-changing way that messed up all our plans.  In a way that we totally wanted to get on board with.   It changed what we wanted.   Because we wanted way more than the American dream of the big house and fancy car.  Now we wanted in on God’s plan of redemption.  Now we wanted in on making the earth a more just place.  Now we wanted in on preventing human trafficking and on chipping away at poverty.

Charlie and I both remember the moment.  He had been out of work for several months, which precipitated the trip to L’Abri to begin with.  We had been living quite contentedly in this one room at L’Abri.  We were shaken with gratitude to our cores.  Grateful to be loved by God.  Grateful to have a faith that we could look our kids in the eye and defend.  We were grateful for a new perspective on life.  Grateful that God had changed our hearts.  Expectant for what God was going to do.  So, there was this moment when we walked back into our hilltop house in the Bay Area.  This house that Charlie was having stomach pains over.  This house for which we were in debt up to our eyeballs- and would be for the next thirty years.  This house that I loved with our garden, honeybees and chickens.  And, it was just all too much.  Too much mortgage.  Too big.  More than we needed.  This was the moment when we started wanting less.

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Halloween at L’Abri

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Snuggled up in our room at L’Abri

It took a while to listen to that.  We were mortgaged up to our eyeballs, and the real estate bubble was freshly busted.  We knew that we were going to lose a ton of money.  And we did.  I’m convinced that God doesn’t pry our hands off our money.  But, I felt Him asking us to open our clenched fists.  Slowly, we felt them begin to unclinch.  I began reading Proverbs and Ecclesiastes daily.  Praying for wisdom and a Godly perspective on money.  We began to read books and blogs on Minimalism.  Charlie and I both felt the financial loss.  2 1/2 years later, it still stings.  Please don’t hear what I’m not saying.  I love Dave Ramsey.  I love budgets.  I love financial planning.  But, this was a time when we felt God calling us to clear the deck and start again with less.  We felt God calling us to trust Him with our finances.  We were fortunate to take a tiny sum out of our house.  While it was a difficult financial loss, we were grateful not to leave the house in debt.

As we got the house ready to put on the market, we started our journey to less.  It was painful and relationally costly at times and wonderful and freeing.  We got rid of silver tea sets and antique furniture and dressers and chairs.  By the time we moved out of that house, our load was about 50% lighter.  Since that time, I would guess that we’re down to about 30% of our original possessions.  While it hasn’t been easy, it has been good.  It’s allowed us to live well in our 1100 foot rental.  It’s allowed us to run our small business within this small space.  It’s allowed plenty of room for games and for homeschooling.  We have plenty of room for our backpacking equipment and soccer gear.  It’s allowed mental space and more peace.  It’s brought about simplified wardrobes,  simplified art supplies and a simplified budget.  But, we have plenty of room for those things that we find beautiful or useful.

We still talk about those early L’Abri mornings around the fire.  They are a sweet memory etched into our minds.  Because they represent what we want.  Shelter.  Warmth.  Relationship.  Faith.  Messy community.  Intellectual stimulation.  Meaning.  Literature.  Art.  Beauty.  Work worth doing.  We want more L’Abri in our lives and less frantic.  More relationship and less financial stress.  More family and less workaholism.  Less distracting stuff and more of the good stuff.

We’re not sure what’s next for our family.  But, we are looking forward to the journey.

Keeping It Real

June 19, 2013

Here’s a snapshot of my day yesterday.

Elizabeth:  I can’t find any clean underwear.

Me:  Get some out of the dirty clothes and turn it inside out.

Elizabeth: [confused silence]

Me:  For real.  Get some dirty underwear, turn it inside out, and put it on.

Here is the reality, my friends.  Last night, we had chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese and frozen peas for dinner.  All of the above resulted from a run to Trader Joes after we finished swim team photos at 6 p.m.  Frankly, this is just how we’re rolling right now.

Yes, this is the tension of crunch time.

I knew it was going to be tough.  While most of the US is adjusting to the freedom of school getting out, the Simpson household is in a crunch.  All our choices.  None of it is happening to us.  All good things.  None the less, it’s stressful.  Very unromantic.  Not shiny at all.  We’re in week two of our homeschooling year.  We’re in the midst of soap production for our first whole sale order.  And, we’re in the heat of our church’s extreme poverty focus for the summer.

The art is doing all of these things without my family taking a back seat.  Without my husband feeling like he is a distant last place to all the other demands in my life.  How to do it all and make sure that there is actually milk in the fridge and that dinner will actually appear on the table at the appointed hour?

It’s funny.  Not funny as in amusing, but funny as in interesting.  When my commitments heat up, my need for boundaries is most acute.  My need for my own mental health and for the relational and functional health of my family.  In order for my priorities to be to God first and to my marriage second, I have to learn to say no to good things.  To things I believe in.  As a woman who I respect said, “you have to learn where your no is”.   I’m grateful for a church environment that respects and encourages healthy boundaries- even boundaries with church.  I’ve been doing a ton of work in this area over the last couple of years, but it’s an area that I have to be vigilant about.

I’m tempted here to give you neat and clear bullet points about how to manage, but the truth is that it would just be talk right now.  The truth is that I’m trying to figure out how to do it.  The gritty truth is that life isn’t lived in bullet points of how to live in the midst of competing demands.  It’s an art, not a science.  It has everything to do with following God in a messy imperfect way.  It has everything to do with the mish mash of learning to say no.  It’s the messy discipleship of being in relationships in ministry.  When our issues are coming up in the context of ministry, God’s fingerprints are all over that.  I think when our stuff is coming up and being dealt with, God is in the midst of that.  Frankly, I think that’s what healthy church looks like.  Messy, dirty, relationally smudgy.  It’s struggling through the real, daily life in living with Christ, family, church and friends.  I’m beyond grateful for all of these things.  Beyond grateful to be working with church leadership that would be the last to lay a guilt trip for saying no.  But, you know, it’s just messy.  I keep waiting to be done.  To arrive.  But, I don’t think it works that way.  I think that instead I keep being reminded of my need for a Savior.  I keep needing to be around people who are gracious with me in my bumbling attempts to live in the messy tension of family, God, church and friends.  So, yes, I guess my bottom line is that once again, I’m brought around to gratitude.  Grateful to have work worth doing.  Grateful for my family and friends.  Grateful that God keeps reminding me about how much I need Him.  I’m grateful that I’m loved by God, family and friends in the midst of my brokenness.  Because that brokenness, I think, is just the reality of how things look while we’re here on earth.

Grateful

May 28, 2013

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Charlie and I took the kids for a quick overnight backpacking trip on Friday night. We had a great time, and we were anticipating a leisurely day on Saturday of working on projects that needed our attention. As we were getting our gear unloaded, the kids were playing. Charlie was using his prized swiss army knife to cut a piece of wood. The blade sprang closed and cut a gash in his index finger. Neither Charlie the Elder nor I saw this happen. Charlie the Elder came outside and saw the knife lying on the ground. He looked over and saw little Charlie hunched over and asked him what was wrong. Then he saw. As I came into the kitchen to see what the commotion was, I saw Charlie the Elder holding little Charlie with his hand under running water to begin to get the wound cleaned and to see how serious the cut was. I went to the medical kit to get supplies to tend his cut.

As he bled through one then two then three layers of gauze, Charlie the Elder was able to get a good look at the cut. It was deep, gaping open and bleeding profusely. As I got a good look at it the next day when we first changed his dressing, I saw that it started on one side of the finger tip and went all the way through the other side of his finger. Anyway, I quickly called the pediatrician, who told us to take him to the ER.

I stayed at home with Elizabeth while Charlie the Elder took little Charlie to the Stanford ER, which is about a five minute drive from our house. With my chest pounding with compassion for my little man, the most profound thing I felt was gratitude. We had just run gallons of clean water over his wound. I was grateful that they would be using sterile water to clean his wound. I was fairly confident when he left that he would indeed have to get the shot and stitches that he so feared. But, I was grateful that they would numb it. Grateful for the antibiotic ointment and sterile gauze that they would use to dress it. Grateful that we have clean water and all the supplies needed to keep the wound clean until it heals.

Grateful because it doesn’t always wind up like this, and I know it. I know that in many parts of the world, people are on their own to deal with these injuries. With good healthcare often several days’ walk away, and with a lack of clean water, these injuries often become more serious than they need to be. I look at his gash, and I ponder how long it would take that wound to heal without stitches. I don’t know- a long time. It went about half way through his finger. Without clean water and clean dressing, there is a pretty good chance that a wound like that would get infected.

So, as I looked at my little boy getting swept away to the hospital by my husband, I was profoundly grateful. Because I knew that he would be ok. Because I know enough about poverty to know that it doesn’t always play this way- the way it plays with access to clean water and great healthcare. Because my heart breaks for the mom and dad who wonder how their boy’s hand is going to heal. Because my heart breaks for the little boy who is afraid because of his hurt hand that just isn’t getting better. So, I’m grateful for the outcome for Charlie. Due to how deep the cut was, the doctor said that there was nerve involvement. He has some numb places in his fingertip. While we’re praying that the nerve re-connects, we’re sober and grateful. And we’re committed to being involved in alleviating poverty so that more kids have an outcome like Charlie’s. Poverty strips people of the dignity that is afforded to all humans as beings made in the image of God. I think one of the reasons we’re here is to be involved in bringing that dignity back- including the dignity that comes with access to clean water and basic healthcare.

Girl Rising

March 13, 2013

I saw Girl Rising with a group of friends from the Extreme Poverty group at my church last night.  Loved that Legacy Venture hosted the showing.  The film introduces the viewer to the power of educating a girl in the developing world.  It increases their potential to earn a good living.  It makes them safer.  It makes them healthier. Girls who are educated marry later and have fewer children.  Girls who are educated are significantly less likely to contract HIV.  Their children are more likely to be educated and healthy.   Educating a girl has a positive impact on the entire community. The film gives you the stories of six different girls in Nepal, Sierra Leone, India, Peru, Haiti and Afghanistan.  It’s not exhaustive.  It doesn’t explore the complexities of educating girls.  It doesn’t explore every nuance.  It’s not completely documentary and not completely fiction.  These six girls worked with story tellers (film makers) to tell the viewers their stories.  It paints six different pictures of these girls’ stories- and gives the viewer a vision of how education can change girls’ lives.  If you can find a showing, I would encourage you to go see the film.

Three Words- 2013

February 26, 2013

For the past few years, I’ve chosen three words on which I want to focus.  I’ve had some trouble narrowing and choosing my words this year.  There’s so much that I want to do and be.  Areas where I want to leave space.  Areas where I want to grow and change.  Areas where I want to work a bit harder or focus a bit more intensely.  Having to choose just three words was more difficult this year than it has been in previous years.  We’ll see how it goes. But, this year, I’m choosing margin, simplicity and community.

Margin

Margin was one of my goals last year.  While I did ok with it, I feel like I need to focus on it again this year.

Physical Margin

I want to continue to protect my sleep.   I’m working through a soft tissue shoulder injury from swimming.  I need to protect my time in order to do my exercises daily.  In the end, I want to be back in the pool and working out with my masters group.  While I’m hoping to be able to do all four strokes again, I may have to kiss butterfly goodbye.  Exercise is an investment in my mental wellbeing and future health.  Whether it’s walking or swimming,  I need to be moving at least five days a week.

Relational Margin

I want to invest in my relationships with Charlie and my children foremost, then in extended family and friends.  In order to do that, I need to not let my iPhone or computer suck my time away.  Charlie and I need regular dates in order to sow into our marriage.

Financial Margin

I want to continue to save money and to live frugally.  Gotta love Dave Ramsey.  In 2013, we want to move forward in his plan to financial freedom.

Spiritual Margin

I want to give my spiritual growth time and energy.  I want to spend regular time reading the Bible and praying.  I want to make myself accountable to other women in my faith community.  

Simplicity

If you follow my blog, you already know that we’ve been clearing out our house.  I’m loving the way our space feels.  I want to continue to pursue simplicity in our environment at home.  For us, this means not owning too much stuff.  It also means maintaining what we do own so that our home runs smoothly.  We’re pursuing a rhythm of cleaning our house so that we stay on top of it and don’t get overwhelmed by it.  We’re pursuing a rhythm of giving each of the children 15-20 minutes of our time each week dedicated to keeping their rooms de-cluttered and picked up.  We’re pursuing simple food.  Simple isn’t always easy.  The article on junk food from the New York Times last week reminded me how much I want our family to eat fresh, whole foods.  As you know, this takes time and effort.  I want to spend time and money here so that the way we eat matches with what we value.  Over the last few years, we’ve lost sight of pursuing fresh, whole, healthy food as we’ve been getting our company started.  Time to get back on the horse.

Community

Frankly, I stink at community.  It’s always seemed elusive to me.  I want to be good at it.  I want to pursue it.  I have friends who are great at it and who talk about it a lot.  But, I’m not good at it, and I want to be.  So, I want to sow into community this year.  Charlie and I are great with sitting at home and reading a book in our spare time.  Having two strong introverts leading our household makes it easy to just stay at home.  Which works just fine until it’s not fine.  Until we’re lonely.  Until we don’t have the support system that we need to live the lives we want to live.  So, this year, I’m not going to focus on getting community.  I’m going to focus on being the community I want.  I want to be the lady who takes people dinner when they’re having a hard time.  I want to regularly have people in our home for meals.  I want to have kids playing at our house.  Even if the noise bothers me.  I want to sow community in my faith community.  So, I’m looking for opportunities.  I want to be ready to say yes when I see an opportunity to sow community.  It completely goes against my introversion, but I want to change in this area, and I’m ready to lean into my discomfort and my desire to just go read a book.

What about you?  What are you working on in 2013?

2012: How did it go

January 1, 2013

For the past couple of years, I’ve chosen three words to center my goals for the year.   I sat down this afternoon to reflect on how I did with my 2012 words. Here are my reflections:

Margin

Went well:

  • Not having a TV serves our family.
  • Read for pleasure most evenings.
  • Spiritual margin- spent time reading Proverbs and the gospels most mornings.
  • Physical margin- swam regularly.  Got 6-8 hours of sleep most nights.
  • Keeping apps off my iphone serves me.  They are a time suck.  I knew they had to go when I snapped at my children when they interrupted me.  Worst offenders for me:  Pinterest, Twitter and TED.
  • Financial- cut expenses drastically.

Not so well:

  • Physical- need to drink more water.
  • Even without the apps, the iphone is a time suck for me.  It eats up my white space.  I think I need to change this when my contract is over in December.
  • Newly on Twitter- I need to keep an eye on this.
  • Even after all the decluttering we’ve done, it still feels like we have too much stuff- which leads to time spent cleaning and organizing.  Clutter is also a visual distraction.

Focus

I’m not so sure that this was a great goal.  Focus on what?  Focus needs something else to define it.

Mission

Went well:

  • Homeschool- the kids both progressed academically.  We’re engaging consistently with our homeschool community.  Homeschool hikes on Thursdays are a highlight of our week.
  • Mom- I’m connecting well with my (not so) little ones.  Good progress toward making what’s important to them important to me.
  • Launched our Fair Trade company.
  • Engaged with Extreme Poverty group at church, which was truly soul satisfying.  It’s where I’m supposed to be.

Not so well:

  • As happens with so many families in our season of life, mine and Charlie’s marriage took a back seat to life’s demands.  We were together before we had children.  We were together before we started a company.  We’ll be together long after the children fly the nest.  Other than our relationships with God, our marriage is truly the bedrock of our home.  Neglecting it is foolish.  I want to invest in us being close when we’re both hobbling around on walkers.  I want our marriage to thrive.  In 2013, regular dating must be a priority.

What about you?  How did your year go?  Greatest rewards?  Anything you would have done differently?