Withholding Love: Growing Up Unlovable

This is a difficult subject for me. Love was something that was withheld and doled out with condition. I’ve written about this before, but I’ve recently had an experience that reminded me that no matter what I was taught as a child, withholding love now is a conscious effort on my part. I’d like to explore some of the emotions surrounding this experience a bit and how I’m working to turn my habits around to be more inclusive of love and the people who I give and receive love and support from and to. Let’s jump in at the beginning.

Making the Choice to Withhold Love

This is something I remember very clearly. I couldn’t have been more than 6-7. I was laying in bed, wrestling with some thoughts when I made the decision to hold back. Hold back my caring and affection. It was a stubborn, sort of obstinate defiance. The type where you see a child reacting disagreeably to something their parent is forcing on them.

With arms folded and a stern frown sagging on their face, this was how I felt. I no doubt learned this behavior from my role models. But I remember the night I decided to emulate that emotional state in myself. And the thing is, I still do this to some degree. Even decades later.

Even now, when I have interactions with people who rub me the wrong way, I get that same stubborn sense of, “no! I’m not letting you in.” And it’s not as though I’m not allowing myself to disagree, or even dislike what a person is doing. I’m deciding that the person who is offending me gets a hard “no” when it comes to letting them get close to me.

Predictable Results, Feeling Lonely Not Love

And, no surprises here, this leads to feeling very lonely. Especially when you practice this often. For me, it also led to acting smug, feeling superior, being unforgiving and petty as well. A cornucopian of difficult emotions, leading to feelings of isolation. So with so much detriment to the choice to withhold love, why do we, did I, continue to choose to do so? For me it was out of fear.

The Armoring

I believe this is what people mean by the phrase, “letting down your armor”. From my experience, I know that I just wanted to feel loved and a sense of belonging. I was afraid of opening up to those who could love me because I had been so hurt by those who I had let in in the past. Also, the fear of having the love I was receiving being given on condition, was another frightening prospect.

There are only so many times you can be wounded by those who are supposed to love you, who then leave you alone with your wounding, without support, before you decide to shut everybody out completely. And I suppose that this is where I decided to shut others out. Put up the armoring and use smug, petty judgements and an unforgiving frame of mind to keep others at bay. This isn’t ideal.

Nor is it conducive to healthy and lasting relationships. And I think that the longer I had this armoring up, the more I was losing touch with my emotions. If you practice hardening yourself against emotions of love, kindness and empathy, and your ability to forgive, it stands to reason that you will eventually lose your ability to recognize them in yourself.

Finding Yourself and Your Love Again

So if it’s practice that gets us to a place of losing our compassionate and loving, feeling selves, then it is practice that hones these attributes as well. But before we can start practicing these traits again, we first need to feel safe doing so. This was the case for me and luckily I had some help during this process.

Being Bold Enough to Learn to Trust

For me, my trust had been abused so many times, in such odd and disturbing ways, that I needed not only to recognize that I could rely on people for support, but also learn that people were not objects to be used and disposed of. These were difficult lessons.

I had learned to use people in much the same way I used alcohol: that’s to say that I was only around them for the good times. If they, in anyway caused me the slightest bit of discomfort, I was out of there so quickly it would have surely made their heads spin. Unfortunately, most of those closest to me were the same way. So when things got very bad for me, I found myself almost completely alone. Save for the few true friends and family that decided to stand by me. Which to this day shocks me, because I was a poor friend. And that’s being generous.

Role-Modeling Destructive Behavior

But this was also how I saw my role models act. Gathering to drink and be rowdy while spitting venom at everybody and anybody. I was torn down so many times at the hands of my, “supports”, during the “good times” that I had no idea what it meant to be caring, loving and supportive. Or what a good time, really was. And worse yet, when I saw genuine love and support from others, I viewed it as weakness of character. Something to be made fun of and ridiculed, rooted out of myself. Like a Hallmark movie, too campy and unrealistic for the real world. Full disclosure, I now sometimes watch and enjoy Hallmark movies : )

And this was how I lived my life until my early thirties. Unloving and unforgiving. This was the reason I had so few healthy, lasting relationships. So what changed for me? How did I make the change from untrusting and unforgiving to trusting and able to give and receive love? It happened slowly and took practice.

Role Modeling Loving and Trusting Behavior

After I had been abandoned by someone who said they would always be there for me, I had to rely on family who had abandoned me in the past. This was no easy task. I had given up just about every way I had used to cope with my emotions and was putting myself in the lion’s den. A place that was decidedly unsafe for me to be.

Trust started to come slowly. One way I was learning to trust again was, we were polite to each other to the point of being almost cold to one another. This was a complete 180 from the family of my youth who had no boundaries in regards to personal space.

As an example, my family would search through all of my personal possessions and space as though I wasn’t allowed to have a separate sense of self. This left me feeling suspicious of how genuine the people who were around me were. Being polite helped me to realize that I was safe enough in myself and surroundings to be at ease. And the more we were polite, the more I learned I could trust these people I was sharing space with.

Finding Love Again

It was from this shared space of mutual respect and trust, that I found the courage to feel compassion for those who had left me in the past. They became more real to me. They were no longer the person who did me wrong so long ago. We were in the present, building a new foundation for a healthier relationship that started with being polite and kind to each other.

I could now feel compassion, concern and care for these people. This was not something entirely new, but it was something that was difficult to allow to be. To be with the vulnerability and uncertainty of relying on them again. Hoping that the same would not happen all over again.

But also finding forgiveness. For the ways I had been treated, so I could move forward and build the healthier, new versions of the relationships I so desired. This was no easy as well. But it was in these moments of mutual vulnerability that we all learned to open up, if not slowly and a tiny bit at a time, to each other. This is how we learned to love and support each other again.

Family Dinner Fridays

A great example of this is, after I had spent some time getting used to my new surroundings and starting to feel comfortable again around others, I suggested starting family dinner Fridays. A day where we rotate who chooses a recipe to cook and we all pitch in and help to make the meal together. My family has a love of food, so this seemed like a natural place to start.

And it was during these dinners that we learned to work together. Ask what the other needed, help the other with their task. We learned to divide and delegate the tasks and share the responsibility of our jobs. We also learned how to communicate with each other.

Not only in asking what we needed from one another, as far as tasks being done. But also to ask for clarification from one another. “What do you mean when you say…”, something we were just too proud to ask each other in the past. If you’ve read my post on “disagreement and belonging”, you’ll know we had trouble admitting we didn’t know something, even when it was impossible to know what the other was thinking without being able to read minds. Because we didn’t want to be seen as weak.

Seeing Communication as a Weakness

And this is really what it came down to. We saw communicating with one another as a weakness, because we wanted to be right and seen as superior. All because we wanted to feel belonging. But we were really just cutting each other off from one another with our lack of communication because we didn’t want to be hurt. Something that happened again and again with malicious intent. I believe this is where we stopped communicating, everything really. And this is where I learned how to hold back my love from the other.

“Love is Stronger Than Pride” – Sade

But the need to connect is strong in us. Because we need to connect, to feel loved and belonging. So we keep trying, even if it feels like we’re fumbling our way through our relationships. That’s definitely what it feels like for me sometimes.

And the desire to want healthier ways of connecting is the first step in connecting in healthier ways. I believe that we all have it in us to be together in healthy, reciprocal ways. Ways where we feel heard, respected and most important, loved.

And it is that desire to be loved that is stronger than the ways we choose to disconnect from each other. As Sade so eloquently put it so many years ago, “love is stronger than pride”. The pride that keeps us from sharing and communicating our love with one another. So if you’re looking to make stronger connections and share love more freely, know that it’s not too late to open up and share your loving self. I hope this helps in some way. Peace, thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Heart” by Pandalia_YUE is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Food & Family: How Cooking Together Can Build Tighter Familial Bonds

It’s no secret, food and cooking brings people together. Culturally it creates bonds and even some good natured disagreements. I’ve been cooking for most of my professional career. But it wasn’t until recently that I really started cooking for myself. If you’ve read my post on self-care Sundays, you’ll know that food was an area that I neglected for a very long time. But what I hadn’t realized was, that this was also true for my entire family.

Neglecting Our Nutritional Needs

This seems crazy to me now. Knowing that most all my caregivers were involved in the food service industry to some degree. One was working in it and one had gone to cooking school!

But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. If you have an insecurity around food, it stands to reason that you would find a way to be immersed in it. After all, eating is a basic need. If we experience abuse or neglect around food, things can get strange.

As I’ve said above, I know this to be true from my experience. Cooking as a career choice was a way to be surrounded myself by a source of nutrition. So I didn’t have to worry about feeding myself. But this was no way to live, more a way to survive.

Cooking for Survival

I was just surviving at the time. I was barely able to take care of myself and all I had down at that point in life were the very basics. Just enough to get by. And I found that a lot of people are drawn to the food industry in some variation of this same reason.

When you work in the industry, the bonds you make can be pretty tight. There was definitely a sense of family when I showed up to work. Or family as I had known it. With the hustle and pressure that came with the dinner time rush, to the beers we drank together while cleaning up, it definitely felt like gathering for a holiday. Or some special event like a graduation.

And while I have fond memories of working in the food industry, the ways I was living were not sustainable. And I imagine it was this way for my caregivers as well. I was certainly emulating their behaviors in the ways I was living. And it isn’t a great stretch of the imagination to think that they were experiencing what I was at some level. Another way to put it, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Taking the Party With Us

Even more to the point, when I did gather with my caretakers, there was such a sense of urgency paired with copious amounts of drinking, that it mirrored the atmosphere that was present in most kitchen jobs I worked. We were creating the same type of perpetual party. Our family culture merged with that of the restaurant industry’s. And if it wasn’t sustainable in a restaurant, it definitely was less so at home.

I remember many mornings where my caretakers would be cleaning up after a night of rancorous drinking. Where there were as many cans as there were loud opinions being tossed around. This was a strange place to grow up in as a child and one I wouldn’t wish for anyone to experience. I’m not trying to imply that my caregivers are bad people. They didn’t know any differently. And more to the point it’s how they grew up. But it was a scary place to be as a vulnerable child to be sure.

Cooking as Caring

More recently, I’ve been cooking for myself as a way to care for my nutritional needs. Something I was never taught, cooking or nutrition. Now I am coming to enjoy the process of bring my meals together. I usually batch cook recipes now. I’ll pick two to three recipes to cook, pick a day to go grocery shopping and on the same day, cook my meals for the next two weeks all in one night.

I’ll light a scented candle and put some of the more ambient lighting on in my kitchen. I clean out my fridge and gather my ingredients, ready my recipes on my computer, put some soft music on to play in the background and go through my recipes, cooking one at a time. Making sure that I take as much time as I need so as not to feel rushed or pressured in anyway.

If it’s in the winter, I choose recipes that utilize the oven to generate more heat in the kitchen. In order to create a more cozy and comfortable setting. I also like drinking a few cups of herbal tea while cooking in the colder months. And in the summer, more salads and dishes with raw veggies. As well as some lemonade or iced herbal teas as a refreshing change for the warmer seasons.

Turning Cooking into a Resource

The ease that I’ve brought to this aspect of how I take care of myself has become a great resource for me. I feel safe, calm and at ease in the kitchen. Instead of insecure, a bit of fear and the uncertainty I used to feel. What I realize now is, I was carving a space out for myself to feel safe. In control.

I was so used to having almost every aspect of my life being so out of control that I literally didn’t feel safe anywhere. Once I established a foothold for safety in the kitchen, I padded my kitchen and cooking time with loads of resources. I did this in order to bring that sense of calm, ease and comfort I was working so hard to cultivate. So after I made my kitchen and meal prep routine a resource, I thought to myself, “how can I share this with others?”

Family Dinner Fridays

I’ve been having dinner with my parents more often lately. It’s been good, but I had the feeling that something was missing from the experience. We typically would gather around the T.V. after serving ourselves from the kitchen. We’d talk a little, but the T.V. had always been the focal point. While we idly chat about random events. Nothing too personal or in-depth. Just glancing the surface of what was happening around us. And speaking in broad generalizations.

We never shared cooking duties. One person usually picked the recipes and the other would cook while we waited for the meal to be ready. It was very mechanical and without much feeling. We were eating to survive and not enjoying the process of coming together to share a meal. Then one day while I was making dinner, or cleaning up, I had the idea to make dinner feel more like a family event. As opposed to just shoveling food in our mouths while watching the television.

So it was a natural transition that I thought to take the way that I’ve turned my meal prep into a self-care routine, and bringing those same principles to our family dinners. I thought this way, we can practice taking care of ourselves and one another together. While also bringing an element of peacefulness to something that, for me, used to be a hectic and sometimes scary event to be a part of.

Making Tighter Bonds Together

Also, we’ve never cooked a meal together before. This was also something that kind of blew my mind. So as well as practicing self-care, we’re growing tighter bonds with one another through the food we’re creating. I suggested that we take turns picking the recipes. Each week someone can choose, and we’d all come together in a thoughtful way to create something we’ll all enjoy. The idea landed and we planned to come together the next Friday night to cook a meal I chose.

The recipe was chana masala. A simple dish I enjoy that I had just found a new recipe for. I was definitely nervous the night leading up to dinner and was really taking a risk by opening myself up and sharing something that has become such a resource for me. I felt vulnerable, uncertain, scared and a little on edge.

Feeling Uncertain About Opening Up

The reason I felt so unsure was that my strongest childhood memories around meal time were filled with anger and shattering dinner wear. I knew that things were different now. Our tempers had all mellowed since those early meals together for one. But there was still a place inside of me that felt as though it could happen again. That I wasn’t safe.

As the time came nearer to begin cooking, we all gathered in the kitchen and readied ourselves for the event. I made myself a cup of tea and went around gathering the ingredients we would need for the dish. My father gathered some utensils and started in on prepping the veggies and my mother began gathering and measuring out the spices and herbs we needed. We all took to our tasks quickly and rigidly with pensive attention.

The atmosphere was tense. As though we’d all been here before, but hadn’t been there for so long that we forgot what to do. It should have been instinctual. But instead we communicated in awkward, half spoken sentences. Reading and rereading the same directions over and over again. Missing steps, forgetting ingredients, I was using a mortar and pestle to grind chiles, garlic, cilantro and ginger into a paste that took what felt like forever. And the closest I came was a wet chunky mess. The lighting was bright and harsh and the music I tried to play kept turning itself off. It was the opposite of the resource my meal prep had come to mean for to me.

A Turn for the Better

But when I finished washing our dishes and went to the stove to see how the chana was coming along and how the ingredients we had prepped separately had come together, things looked good. It smelled aromatic, was thick and stew like. It was better than I had imagined it would be. And as the meal prep went on, our conversation felt more natural as well.

We found out about how each other’s day’s had gone. My mother just got new glasses. So we were discussing the differences she noticed from her old ones as compared with her new ones. My father told me stories about his past. Something I know very little about. Ans as I was cleaning the cutting board, I asked where my father got it. He couldn’t remember and my mother didn’t know either. But I enjoyed cleaning that board, as I always do, knowing that it’s always been there. Waiting to help with our meals.

As we finished cooking our meal, I put the naan I had picked up for the night in the toaster while my father had gotten some bowls from the cupboard. I felt more at ease now. I wasn’t totally comfortable, but it was the start of feeling safe again. As though maybe it was okay to start to trust those I choose to keep company with. This was something I hadn’t felt in a very long time.

Learning healthy Ways of Being in Relationship

The friends I had kept in my youth were mean, spiteful and said hurtful things often and without reserve. It truly felt like a sport we were playing. Who could demean the other to the point where someone would break. And of course we all pretended not to be hurt. But we couldn’t feel anything to begin with because we were already so numb. The damage had already been done, the games we were playing were just practice from lessons we learned long ago.

This is what makes building new bonds so scary after abuse. Knowing How I used to be in relationship with others and that I chose to be in those relationships was nothing but self destructive. And I’m trying to rebuild some of my relationships with people I originally learned those lessons from?! It felt a lot like juggling knives. So knowing that I can trust myself enough to create healthy bonds or at least know what an unhealthy relationship and boundaries look like, was something I wasn’t wholly sure I was able to do.

Learning to Keep Healthy Boundaries

But then I realized that I had already done this to some degree. I remember getting together with an old friend somewhere close to both of us. This was a step towards seeing if we were able to stay in touch. Keep connected. When we sat down and started talking about old times, some of those same spiteful remarks were popping up in our conversation. It was as though they were poking around my edges. To see how close they could get to my core. To see if they could still walk right in, past security and do whatever they felt without meeting resistance.

Luckily I had established some healthy boundaries for myself. I was no longer my same old self. The one who would leave himself wide open. To be abused in the ways I had been used to. All to feel a sense of belonging. I recognized what was happening and have kept to my boundaries and ended the meeting early. And I feel much better for it though it wasn’t easy. I still miss the bonds I bad, but now recognize just how unhealthy they were.

New Relationships, Healthy Boundaries

And with the new bonds I’m creating, there is definitely a sense of mutual respect. We care for one another in that we respect one another’s space and boundaries. In ways I wasn’t shown how to do before. And that was one of the aspects of making dinner with my father and mother that was so reassuring. We were all nervous about how we were affecting one another, showed me that they were thinking of my emotional wellbeing. And that makes me feel a little more secure in building new bonds with them.

This all seems pretty basic. But if all you know growing up are people without boundaries, and saying and doing the most hurtful things to one another, it’s nice to know that people can change the ways they used to be. Including myself. That there is hope for our future and our future relationships.

Cooking for Good Change

Now that we’ve cooked together once, we plan on making it an on going, weekly event. We ended the night by sharing how we felt and our hopes for the future. Dinner felt more natural than it ever had and I think we all left that night feeling a little more hopeful about our futures together.

And it’s something that has made me stronger in my other relationships as well. I went into the next day feeling a little more self-confident in communicating to and interacting with other people. Knowing that I had people I could rely on makes a difference. That I had carved out another little space of safety in a world that sometimes feels as uncertain as it did in my youth. A place to go back to when I needed some support and feelings of love.

Be the Change

And all it took was for someone to come up with the idea and bring it into fruition. I am now looking forward to helping them this summer in the vegetable garden. Knowing that the meals we’ll be making will be even sweeter using the fresh produce we’ll harvest from the yard. I’m also looking forward to helping them with projects around the house.

Helping them build a back porch or patio. A place to gather and enjoy the garden and the grill in the summer. A place to eat meals and gather outside. Carving out another place where we can all feel a little safer coming together. With a little luck and some work, maybe we can make the house feel more like our home.

Be the One to Connect

If you have some family you’re trying to reach out to, but aren’t sure how, maybe cooking a meal together would be a good place to start. And if cooking isn’t your thing, find something you are all interested in and start there. Whatever it is, be the one to make the first step. I’ve found that people are almost always going to say yes when you ask them if they want to have a good time.

Usually it just takes someone to make the first step, make the plan and be the vulnerable one. Be that person. You’ll be happy you did. But if it’s something that is still tender, or emotionally raw, go slow. It doesn’t help to rush yourself to try and feel comfortable because you feel you “should”. Have a plan where you can take care of yourself if the need arises.

I am lucky in that the people I chose to rebuild my relationships with were not only willing to try, but also capable of doing the important work of self-introspection. They are aware of how they feel and how they effect those around them. This is no easy task for people who are used to isolating as a form of self protection. And not everybody is able to take to it so willingly.

Keep Yourself & Your Boundaries Priority

Don’t be afraid to end your plans if you feel as though your boundaries are being violated. Above I mentioned that I had got together with an old friend who had not changed from our shared unhealthy past ways of connecting. I had ended our meeting early that day, telling them I felt uncomfortable with the way things were going. And now I keep very limited contact with them for this reason.

I was honest with myself and with them about how I felt. My boundaries were being abused and took care of myself by removing myself from the situation. Also limiting future contact with them until I am certain I can trust them enough not to violate my boundaries. This is how I’m actively taking care of myself while building trust in myself.

And it’s no easy. But if you don’t define your boundaries, others are more than willing to define them for you. From work, to romantic relationships, family and friends. If you don’t have a clear idea of how you want to be treated in your relationships, you leave yourself open to having your trust abused. And it isn’t always the other person’s fault either.

Learning to Speak Your Piece

Friends and family aren’t mind readers. What may be a sign of intimacy to one person may be an insult to another. This is why speaking to your feelings is so important. When establishing boundaries, especially if you’ve had unhealthy ones before, you need to speak what is and is not okay to do in clear terms. This can be awkward. Though however awkward it may feel in the moment, it’s worth it. To know that you’re establishing your expectations clearly on how you will and will not be treated.

It’s also empowering. Knowing you’re taking care of yourself in this way. And also a good indicator of whether or not the other person is trustworthy of being emotional support to you. By actively, not passively, setting boundaries, you are building the trust and bonds that will last if they adhere to them. If this is something you’ve had difficulty with historically, then it’s best to slowly rebuild healthy relationships slowly.

Establishing boundaries, especially with those whom you may have already fallen into unhealthy ways of relating to one another with, can be tricky. And like anything else, it isn’t easy! This is an area where you will need to bring and cultivate patients, with yourself and others. And go slow. There’s no point in rushing into something if you or the other person aren’t ready for the changes. So go slow, keep an open mind and know that you are a good person deep down and worthy of trust. Peace 🙂 be well and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Lindell family cooking” by One Tonne Life is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Updated: 8/27/22

Building Shelves, Building Community: Making Space For Closer Bonds

When I think about food I often times pair it with community. There’s something about creating a meal together that brings me joy. Being able to share the food I love, with the people I love is an exceptional feeling. I’ve written about this some in my post, “Food and Family“. But when things are left unattended in the pantry, an area that is capable of bringing so much joy, things can get stressful.

Disorganized Pantry, Disjointed Community

A few months ago I was standing in my kitchen while preparing for my weekly meal prep. I went into the back pantry where we store food items and was frustrated with how disorganized it all was. There were multiples of the same item scattered around the shelves that probably sat there for months, if not years, just taking up space. We were running out of space in the cabinet where we kept most of our dry goods and the area we had in the pantry was poorly organized and overflowing. Most of the items not likely to be used for years. It was overwhelming and frustrating to say the least.

As I stood there looking at the mess that we called the pantry, I wondered how and why it came to be this disorganized. From what I could gather, as I said in my post on how we treat our pantries, one of the ways we got here was by treating our pantry like a museum. Curating different staples. Things we should have to have food on hand. One thing was clear, something needed to change.

Not Ideal Conditions

Still standing there and looking at our collected mess, I racked my brain for ways to improve our storage situation. To give you an idea of what the pantry looks like, it is a small space, maybe 20-25 square feet. There is a closet on the left that is void of shelving. Only the casing of an old broom closet that house items that aren’t of much use or never get used. A spatula hangs on the inside of one of the walls that has never been used but was meant for a grill that had been thrown out years ago. Two non-slip plastic mats hang in the middle of the closet casing and have been for years. An ironing board that hasn’t been touched except to be moved from one spot to another. And a dust pan, two brooms and a Butler that rarely get use.

Food Stored in Less Than Ideal Conditions

On top of the underutilized cabinet/closet space is where a good portion of the food we store lives. It’s above eye level and difficult to access without a stepladder. All sorts of cans and bottles of things waiting to be used in no particular order. Scattered about and stacked on top of one another like a jigsaw puzzle.

On the other side of the pantry is a metro rack. If you don’t know what a metro rack is, it’s something that is used in the food service industry to store food. Dry goods or dishes are usually kept on these shelves and it’s about 5 1/2 feet tall with 2 1/2 foot deep shelving. And the entire unit is made from a thick gauge chrome wire. Ours is packed with dry goods and appliances that hadn’t even been thought of for a long time.

Next to the metro, on the floor to the left are stacked cases of bottled water and more appliances and dishes that are also collecting dust. If you were alive in the 80’s, it looks like a scene from a Mad Max movie. Items that sometimes got used mixed in with pieces of garbage where someone could hold up and survive some cataclysmic event.

Coming Up With a Plan

There and then I decided to do something about it. I felt as though living this way was an admission of giving up. Like we had thrown our hands up in frustration and gave in to the chaos. Though I was frustrated, I was unwilling to accept defeat.

I went to architecture school for a semester. At some point in my educational career I thought I would be an architect. On a whim really. It was a very costly impulse decision. But I had little guidance at the time and it seemed like the best option available. There were some useful skills I learned from my stint there. One of the professors said that students often ask him what they’ll be able to do after their first semester or year there. He told us that we’d be able to draw up a blueprint, floor plans for a project. So I got my sketch pad and starting fleshing out ideas for the pantry space.

The Project Taking Shape, Getting my Community Involved

I came up with a few iterations that I felt would best utilize the space. First, everything needed to be off the ground and preferably at eye level. Next I measured the square footage of useable shelf space we had and compared it to the space we’d be building to make sure we had enough room.

After I had the plans laid out, I showed them to the people I live with. They looked them over, gave me some feedback, things they’d like changed for ease of use. And I created another plan from the newly discussed ideas of how the shelves could be arranged. We started feeling more like a community, instead of people living together.

It felt as though we were collaborating on a shared sense of space and love of food. We were growing closer by coming together to make our house feel more like a home. Creating the community we were looking for. There’s also a feeling of ownership that comes with molding the space around you that you use every day.

Creating Bonds and Sharing Personality

All of our personalities were cohabitating in the design of the pantry. One person’s practicality in switching the most used shelves closer to the doorway. Another’s love of natural wood shades in the material for the shelves. And me wanting to create the feel of an orchard rack, to store and display fresh veggies from the garden. All of our ideas, tastes and preferences coming together in a place that we use daily. Reminding us of our shared connection. This is where our community really began to take shape.

After we hammered out the plans, I mentioned I was going to be building shelves to a friend of mine and he told me he’s been looking up woodworking videos on Youtube. He recently helped his mother replace some of her shelves. So I asked if he wanted to help and he was pumped about the idea.

We got together to take a look at the space and bounced a few ideas off of each other. He had an idea of how the shelves should be supported and I laid out the spacing and square footage. We went to a local hardware store to price out the materials we needed and later that night I put a budget together for the project.

Building Something New, Together

It took some coordinating to get our schedules to line up but we got there. We chose a day and my friend began the process of gathering the tools we needed for the job. I met my friend in a nearby town, we took a trip to buy the lumber and got started building the shelves.

When we arrived at the house, we made plans on how we were going to prepare and cut the wood to size for the shelving. It was early and we had all day to put the project together so we weren’t rushed. We could take our time. We set up on the front walkway, just outside the front door and got to work on measuring and cutting the pieces.

The project went smoothly from that point on. We put the supports in for the shelving first. Then we cut the boards that were meant to be the shelves, down to size and any additional cut outs to fit in the space. We dry fit the shelves and added an extra length of 1×3 to the ends of the shelves to make sure food items didn’t slide off the ends. And it only took one afternoon as opposed to the two days we thought it would take.

There were a few surprises along the way, a few extra measurements we needed to make to allow for some extra bracing we hadn’t planned on. And we had to hand screw some screws from where the closet was too narrow for the drill. But all in all the project was a success.

Sharing Our Happiness With the Success of the Project

As we finished up, one of the people who I live with was coming home. So after we cleaned up the tools and scraps, we showed them the new shelves and they were excited. After my friend left, we stood around and talked about the new renovations. We talked about getting my friend a gift card to a local grocery store as a way of saying thank you and to show our gratitude.

We also saved a bunch of money by building the shelves ourselves. They may not be professionally done, but they look good. And we also made plans to scrape, plaster and paint the entire pantry. Something that was started 17 years prior but was left unfinish.

Creating Community That’s Been Long Overdue

As we were wrapping up our conversation about the shelves someone said that if I ever wanted to invite my friend and his wife over, maybe for dinner or something, that they thought they would enjoy that. This was a shock to hear.

The people I live with have always been a very private bunch. They are not extroverted by any means and the thought of inviting others into our home seemed a foreign idea to me. So hearing them say something to the tune of opening themselves to the possibility of a new friendship was a pleasant surprise.

Shared Experiences & Shared Responsibility All Parts of Community

As I’ve said above, since building the shelves, I suggested to one of the people I live with that we could sand and paint the entire pantry. Making the space feel brand new. They’ve been in the pantry every day since, sanding and scraping the walls and ceiling getting ready for the day we’ll paint. And they are also picking out the paint colors for the pantry as well.

None of this would be possible if I didn’t take the first step towards making our house feel more like a home. By taking care of the neglected areas of our house, the poorly designed, mess of a pantry and turning it into functional, usable space. Not only functional, but a space where we want to spend time in and care for. And that we’ll always remember the time and effort we took to come together to create the sense of feeling at home in our pantry. This is what I mean when I say making a house feel like a home. And by building Community.

There are other projects that need doing as well. In our journey, unfortunately there have been a lot of neglected corners that now need the loving attention turned towards them. There is a long way to go, but it feels a little lighter knowing that there’s a community of people willing to lend a hand. To support each other along the way.

Miscommunication a Road Block to Building Community

And the shelf project almost didn’t happen at all. As I said above, it took some time to come together. Most of this was due to a communication error between me and the people I live with. We’ve always erred on the side of being polite. We don’t make a lot of waves and we’re quiet and keep to ourselves. Not conducive to building a community. So while I was drawing up the plans that I showed to the people I live with, they never gave me a definitive answer on when I’d be able to start the project.

I had already asked my friend for help and was only waiting on the go-ahead. One day I came downstairs into the kitchen while they had been cleaning out some area of the house and I noticed that they had put a bookshelf in the pantry closet. When I asked why it was there, they said they were looking for something to fit in the closet for shelves!

This was confusing as we had already discussed the plans for the shelves. On further inquiry, I found out that they weren’t sure I was still going to build the shelves. It had been a while since we spoke about them and they assumed I had forgotten about it. While in the meantime I was ready to go and only waiting for their okay. So it was a simple miscommunication. We were all a little too polite to ask one another if we were ready to take the next step, stalling the project for 5 months!

It’s Not Always Easy to Speak Your Mind

A small miscommunication and the shelves almost didn’t happen. This happens often with the people I live with and I’m sure we’re not alone in this. My experience with communicating needs is that I don’t want to be a burden on or feel as though I’m hassling someone by asking too many questions. There’s also a component of not feeling worth the time due to the neglect I’ve endured in the past. But this is also something we all share to some degree.

Maybe not feeling as confident in ourselves as we’d like to. Feeling that our best efforts are somehow not going to be enough. Or worse yet, we put our best efforts forward and somehow get rejected for them. Feeling as though we won’t add up no matter how hard we try. If you’re not used to putting the effort in, your mind will make up all sorts of reasons why you shouldn’t even bother.

If it’s to Everybody’s Benefit Why Not Ask

So be the person who asks too many questions. When in doubt, ask! From my experience people are more than willing to field a few questions. And if it’s for everyone’s benefit why not ask.

I’ve gotten in the habit of setting deadlines for when I talk to people. I don’t go too long before following up with someone I’m in the middle of discussing something with. I feel better knowing that there will be some closure on the projects or ideas I’m collaborating on with other.

Look around at the projects you have going on in your life. Are there areas where a friend or family member could step in and help? For example, maybe you’re planning a garden for the first time. Ask around and see if you have anyone in your circle who’s been at it for a while.

I find that coming together for a project builds stronger bonds in a relationship. The community we’re all longing to belong to. Not only that, but you’ll most likely learn something new while building a shared connection through your experiences. So ask the friend for help, put yourself out there. People are generally pretty friendly once you open the door. Peace 🙂 and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Shelving” by Robbi Baba is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Updated: 8/2/22

Zero Waste Living: How Growing your own Could Help You Live Zero Waste

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of playing in my father’s vegetable gardens. My love for gardening and veg at large started for me while I was a child in the 80’s. Watching episodes of “The Victory Garden” on PBS and helping my dad in his garden plot, I remember lazy summer evenings running around the grounds of an old mansion turned public land/park and reservation. The sun just setting  leaving a soft ambient light floating in and amongst the dragonflies and fireflies, while Van Morrison, ever so faintly in the background, plays his album, “Astral Weeks” front to back 😉 This naturally lead to me wanting to live a more zero waste lifestyle.

Okay so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But the gardens were beautiful. A mosaic of lovingly molded parcels of patchwork land thatched together and yielding fruit and veg of all kinds. It was no Monticello but it had charm. So when I was old enough to have my own garden, a small community plot 15’x15′, I couldn’t wait to revisit some of my fondest childhood memories, and try my hand at getting a little closer to the goal of living a zero waste life.

Seedlings of zero Waste

At the time I think I grew tomatoes, scarlet runner beans, spinach, lettuce and broccoli. I added hops when I started brewing my own beer. Cascade I think and there were more varieties, to be sure but it was constantly growing and changing. And some of the more gratifying aspects of the garden was when I would harvest fresh veg for dinner or for the next few days.

I was a bit different back then. I’m mostly vegan now and I eat dairy on occasion. Then I was a ravenous meat eater. I’m an advocate for recycling, composting and renewable energy sources, all kinds now. Then I could care less about the state of our planet and its resources. Though one thing hasn’t changed and that’s my love of high quality foods. And there’s not much better than freshly grown vegetables from your own garden.

The benefits of growing your own veggies are numerous. The cost of growing veg is considerably less to comparable buys at the grocery store. You have control over how your food is grown and who you choose to support when purchasing your seeds. You can’t beat the shelf life and you can grow varieties you can’t find at your local store. Also reduced waste by avoiding shipping and packaging. This last reason is one that is priority for me.

If you’ve read my blog post, “No New Clothes, Well Maybe” then you’ll know one of my goals is to live a life as zero waste as possible. This is no easy feat. Especially at the grocery store where everything has been encased in plastic. And I’d like to say that plastic isn’t necessarily the issue. It’s how much we produce and rely on it in almost everything we make. Also the amount of plastic that doesn’t get recycled is criminal.

Getting Started

Growing your own veggies is a great way to reduce the food miles from farm to table aiding your zero waste lifestyle. Because in most cases the “farm” will be in your backyard. Little to no processing required. Just a quick rinse in the sink and it’ll be ready to eat, cook or store. There’s a great book on this subject called “The Backyard Homestead” that goes over ways to produce your own food in short space. It also helps you through the process, from garden planning and seedlings, to harvest and storing your crops.

They cover a lot of ground so it could be a bit overwhelming to delve into a book that is literally teaching you how to live off the land. But the essential bones of planning and planting are covered and who knows what may spark your interest. You may read a chapter on foraging for dandelion greens and develop a passion for making dandelion wine!

As long as you know your limits and don’t bite off more than you can chew, books like these are a good resource for discovering new ways to produce more with what you already have and are already doing. Because the more you make the less you have to buy. That means you’re closer to your goals of living zero waste.

Thinking Outside the Box When You’re Short on Space

Feel as though you are short on space in your current location? If you have a lawn you can do what my dad did and rip up the yard and replace it with topsoil. He has all sorts of usable growing space now. And the garden looks much better in full bloom than the lawn ever did any time of year. Plus,lawns take an awful lot of resources to keep up with and maintain. And with very little return. Half of the resources that go into care and upkeep of a lawn could grow a lot of produce and put a serious dent in your food budget for the growing season.

Of course this idea isn’t for everybody. Some folks love and use their lawns frequently. And if that’s the case by all means, enjoy your lawns. But it seems as though home ownership and lawns go hand in hand and I’m just suggesting that maybe we question the wisdom of this perennial knowledge. See if it’s right for you and your tastes.

Community gardens are a great alternative resource for those who don’t have the space for their own garden. Maybe you rent or own a condo. Or are in an apartment with no useable green space. In any case, community gardens will help you to put fresh veggies on your table. It’s also a good chance to get to know your neighbors. When I had my my plot I would swap gardening tips and get new ideas for planting next season and share some of my harvest as well.

And the location was phenomenal! It was in a small park right on the harbor. A 15 minute walk from the neighborhood where I lived in. Working on hot summer days with a cool breeze coming off the water was a privilege. I looked forward to days when I would go down to the garden and arrange the plot to fit in all the seedlings I had prepared or bought.

If you’re looking for a place in your community to garden this post on finding a community garden near you is a good resource. As well as a quick google search with your city or town’s name and the phrase, “community gardens”, should yield some results. The people who organize them are usually pretty excited to get the word out too. So asking around your local shops or even at your library should help to connect you with a plot.

We Reap What We Sow

Living zero waste is no easy task. And one that will take a lot of different initiatives to cobble something together that will produce a greener, healthier lifestyle. I’m not even sure this is an obtainable goal. But it’s one that’s worth trying for. I feel that no matter how small the change, every little bit helps. Hopefully more people will get behind this goal. And the more people that try, the more solutions we will find. Hopefully it’ll get a little easier as well. I’ll share what I find along the way and if you come along I hope you’ll throw your two cents in also 🙂 So eat your veg, it’s good for us! Peace : ) and thanks for reading!

“6175 Vegetable Garden at Monticello” by lcm1863 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Updated: 2/3/22

Socio-Economic-No-Bueno

Canteen tent, Bedouin Camp in the Sahara
Example of a Yrt, “Canteen tent, Bedouin Camp in the Sahara” by jonl1973 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

Looking for some Community, I got it in me that I needed to start throwing pottery. So I walked to a pottery studio that is about a mile and a half from where I live. The studio was beautiful. It was in an old brick factory of some sort, built at the turn of the nineteenth century. Four floors filled with artist’s studios and kinetic energies of all kinds. The vibes were indeed good.

Finding Creativity Where it Lives

While on my walk home I took a different route from the one that got me there. And where the studio itself was inspiring, brick laiden with pieces of ceramics in various stages of completeness crafted by the earthy hands of Carhartt robed artisans, it was the homes on my way back that struck a chord with my creativity. What was most striking to me was the driveway of an apartment building on the outskirts of a small urban city that borders where I live.

What was so interesting about this driveway was that it was adorned with tents. Like carports only used as a gathering space instead of, well carports. And with the yards and driveways so closely packed together, they almost carried an air of being gypsy like. Or possibly the ways that the nomadic cultures of Mongolia use yrts as moveable structures to follow the herds to greener pastures.

Either metaphor falls short of the surreal feeling of a temporary community popping up in and around the more permanent apartment buildings. In the sea of tiered concrete, apartments and single-family homes that they were cohabitating with it seemed strange indeed.

Growing Community

The possibility seemed so whimsical, but the idea really didn’t begin to unfold for me until on my walk home. Walking through a different section of town where I saw the more creative uses of gardening spaces in driveways. And the spaces between the sidewalk and the street where sometimes you will see a small strip of green space.

I thought, what if you could take these two ideas, the temporary feel and nature of the tents and mix that with the creative gardening and rich texture of the yrt?” I imagine you’d create community. Each tier would be a different level of connection, comfort and ease mixed with vibrancy. A place where friends, neighbors and Family could gather and cook out or play games. What’s stopping us from creating something so beautiful? Perceived socioeconomic class boundaries.

Wealth and Breaking Down Community

The main idea of success in America, the socio-economic standard, is usually wealth based. How much money, land, cars, stuff can we accumulate to make our lives more prestigious and comfortable? Enviable of our neighbors, friends and social circles. How are we being ranked in the eyes of those we want to be seen as being successful. This is an old story for sure. I’m not blowing any minds so far but it’s a yolk that seems to regenerate itself each generation.

The sixties for example. Free love wasn’t just some catch phrase to sell a product or to get people to do drugs. It was about actually giving love freely to one another. Instead of, to borrow a line from Bens Fold Five, being so “selfless cold and composed.” But the part of us that fears egalitarianism because we feel it devalues our self-worth the more we raise the worth of another, took those feelings of love and freedom, and turned it into a fashion trend. And that’s not a knock on fashion either.

Who We are is More Than What We Wear

Fashion is usually the entryway into self-discovery. Getting to know who we are as feeling beings. It only becomes a problem when somebody else wants to put their name on our underwear and claim us as a victim of their war. I’m looking at you Vicky. Full disclosure, I am wearing Lucky Brand underwear but I usually just buy whatever is on sale at Marshell’s.

So if wealth and status have been the markers of success in our society, then packing ourselves together to share a space that is warm and filled with a caring community of friends, family and neighbors, would sound crazy in the eyes of those who have achieved success or those aspirants to the “successful life”. More to the point I imagine if it became popular to create outdoor shared spaces of community, those same minded successful would create it, then put a fence around it and control whom could and could not come into their space. This creates homogeneity and reinforces the same sort of class warfare conditions that separates “us from them”. And destroying the key ingredient to creating a community of freely flowing ideas found by bringing together a diverse battery of individuals.

Tuning Out What Helps to Divide

When my father and step-mother watch T.V. they mute the commercials and read a book or talk about something that is relevant to their day or to what they’re watching. This may not be the answer to how we create more community but it’s a start for sure. Instead of being driven and influenced by what we see advertised or what we hear our friends and family talk about wanting, why not be driven by authentic connection and knowing what it is that opens that space of connection between us and those we love? For example, I know my father puts cinnamon in his coffee every morning before brewing. So for Christmas I’m looking for an especially tasty type of organic ceylon cinnamon. As a special treat for their morning coffee.

This is the type of connection mixed with action that creates community. Thoughtful and inquisitive but also with some follow through and to have “the ability to let that which does not matter, truly slide”-Tyler Durden. A.k.a. all the latest trends or anything that is preventing us from connecting to our authentic selves and getting to know each other in an authentic way.

So it is in this vein that I suggest we build and create a space of comfort and community. A space of enough, being together in nature in the rustic. But also the urban or suburban and create something beautiful that we can all use as a catalyst in getting to know one another in authentic and loving ways. Regardless of how someone may try to privities or patent it :]

No fights were started, nor credit card companies destroyed in the writing of this article. Nor does the author condone the use of violence toward achieving any end. Peace : ) and thanks for reading!

Updated: 2/3/22

%d bloggers like this: