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Friday, June 5, 2015

Traveling to New York City: Serving & Reflection

In April of 2015 I had the opportunity to co-organize a trip to New York City, and the majority of the time was spent in servitude towards others. The last few days of our trip my husband and I had the chance to do some sightseeing after our work was finished, and that was amazing. We also met up with some old friends who now live on the East Coast, so it was a good way to end an exhausting and humbling week of hard work. I didn’t write a post back in April when we went on the trip because life happened and my post slipped through the cracks, but I'm glad to have had the time to reflect on my experiences and pick the most memorable.
I'll start with a late reflection of my first work day. Location: Broadway Presbyterian Church. This church, located in Manhattan, has both a soup kitchen and walk-in clinic available for all to use. There are nurses and doctors who donate their time to be there. It was a wet and rainy morning when we arrived at our location, so we dried ourselves off when we entered the building to start our shifts. Meanwhile, there was a line of people forming in the rain outside. I was pleased when the director, a man who had used the church’s services in the past, decided to open the doors early for the folks waiting in the pouring rain.

One belief at Broadway Presbyterian is that their guests (or clients as some organizations prefer) should be served their meals rather than coming forward to the servers in order to eat. When the doors opened and we were put to work, I was working quickly and tirelessly. Out of habit I started calling people “sir” and “ma’am.” One man--whose face I will never forget--stopped me and said, “Thank you. Thank you for being so polite.” He said this as if he has never received that kind of respect before. Afterwards, he asked me to start serving the other members of his table before him.

That situation made me think about how sometimes, when people are homeless or less fortunate than we are, we might not remember them as being our equal. For that man it was a very big deal for someone to look him in the eyes and address him with respect. It was an emotional moment for him, and I could tell by his body language and shy smile.

I’ll also remember him because after all the people were served, the servers had the opportunity to sit down and eat our meal, and he was one of the first people to approach our table. He said something to the effect of, “Thank you for serving us today. I know we can be rowdy!” He wasn’t kidding. Towards the end of lunch, some guests were becoming aggressive, requesting seconds which weren’t allowed, stealing food in tupperware containers, and picking fights with one another. It was difficult to be a server, and it was difficult to stay composed. It was difficult not to wonder why they were being so demanding when what they were being given was free, after all.

The man who thanked me earlier stopped at our table and inadvertently reminded me that there are people who are grateful, and it takes more than giving someone free food to change their life. Change is an ongoing process for many people and our servitude is a small but important part of that change. We should be sure to place our emphasis on internal change, and remember the faces of the people we serve. When I feel compelled to stop helping others because of another person’s ungratefulness, I try to remember the one person who cared, or the one person who thanked me, because one person can make a difference.

"Change" was my word of the month. April was when I committed to changing my lifestyle. My husband and I managed to pack one small carry-on rolling bag and one backpack with all our items. When we met up with other people from our group, they were very surprised to find that we were both able to pack a week's worth of clothes and supplies for the mission trip within two small bags. I was at first, too. I had two pair of jeans and 3 shirts that I rotated throughout the week. Having a washer and dryer in the building helped make that possible. I had also decided to cut down on the amount of makeup I wore, so it was a good week for that change, too.

We did some awesome sightseeing as well. I can't begin to list all the places we saw, and I'm confident in saying that we walked and used the metro so often that by the end of our trip it felt as though we lived there. We knew where to go for groceries, how to navigate, and the food truck owner's name. (He tried getting us to expand his truck to Milwaukee and work with him. His gyros were the best EVER.)

Although sightseeing was fun, it wasn't our main reason for going to New York. Going to New York to be in service was a humbling experience. We went on this trip after Lent and Easter, and I was going through a personal transformation, so those aspects made the trip even more successful for internal change. I'm glad we had the opportunity to go!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Thrift Haul & Resale Adventures

Lifestyle changes are always an adventure, and I’m thoroughly enjoying my journey to minimalism, although it’s not always easy. Even though our home has less clutter, we still face decisions of what to purchase and how much money to spend. I donate most of what we don’t need to charity, but I’m becoming savvy when it comes to selling used items and upcycling things to be sold. Here are some examples of what I have done recently and in the not-so-distant past.
My favorite purchase this spring has been a second-hand double bicycle trailer. Normally these trailers sell for hundreds of dollars brand-new, but I went on a Facebook buy/sell site and bought ours for $25.00. It works wonderfully, and we didn’t need a brand new one, especially because we will only be using it for a few years. The previous owner bought it at a garage sale, and it's still in good shape. The cycle will continue! My husband and I love riding our bikes, and now we share that hobby with our daughter who is currently obsessed with going for bicycle rides to the park.
Last week I opened an account at a consignment shop, and I have a few items I will be selling. These are items I’ve never used and don’t anticipate using with our next child. One of them was recalled, but the company agreed to send me replacement parts to fix what made the item recalled. Now I’m able to sell it after a quick and easy maintenance session, and the resale value is exceptionally high. The same week I also sold a box of one dozen wine glasses, but I didn’t sell them for much at all. It made the purchaser happy, and I would have donated them anyway. Really, I just wanted them out of my house as soon as possible, and now my other wine glasses have room to live.
A few years ago my mom upcycled her wedding dress for me, and it was beautiful. All she did was take off the sleeves (which were gorgeous but I was married 4th of July weekend) and I wore a larger hoop under my dress because my mom is taller than me. It had beautiful beading, and she had the dress professionally cleaned and previously preserved for me in case I wanted to wear it. (Awesome!) She bought the dress secondhand in the first place. I hope this dress’ cycle will continue in one way or another.
When my husband and I first moved to our city I was cloth diapering our newborn, and we had an abundance of furniture. Rather than selling it or donating one of our end tables, I offered to exchange it for cloth diapers. If you know anything about cloth diapering, you know that stuff is expensive, and buying used isn't always cheap! It was a great exchange for us. I was able to exclusively cloth diaper for the first three months of her life, but as life became busier I chose to diaper her in 7th Generation diapers, which both my husband and I like the best because there’s virtually no odor.
I'm getting better at buying and selling used things, especially in this city. From my experiences I’ve concluded that people--often times moms--are very thrifty here. When chatting with other moms at the library or YMCA, I’ll rarely hear a mom give advice to one of her friends by saying, “Pick up X at Target.” Instead, the talk of the town seems to be what buy/sell Facebook sites are the best and why, and there’s a lot of swapping clothes, toys, and furniture among younger families here. I like it!
When thinking about what you own, what are some things you can donate? What are some things worth selling? What are some things you can upcycle and sell, and will it be worth your time? Answer these questions for yourself, and good luck!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Adopting Minimalism: 7 Weeks of Change

This spring has been the most productive season I have ever had in terms of personal growth. Over the past 7 weeks I have been going through a massive personal change involving simplicity and frugality. I have been taking steps to be a more practical and happier person, and I'll share with you how that has affected my life since late March.

I have decided to adopt a minimalist mindset. I'm not interested in selling all my personal belongings and living out of a white box, but I am in the process of going through my entire home and reducing clutter.
  • I started with my closet by getting rid of clothes that don't fit me, that I don't wear, that are stained or ripped beyond repair, and so forth. I was able to purge 3 (or more) full garbage bags of clothing.
  • I then went through my shoes and our hallway closet. I couldn't even tell you what I got rid of because I actually don't remember.
  • My little office space in our foyer was next. I donated any non-reference and non-classic books, went through paperwork, picked my favorite decoration to leave on top, and now my desk is clutter-free. I decided that the only physical books I will buy from now on are classic novels and all other books will either be rented from the library or bought as an e-book. 
  • I have taken 2 car-loads to Goodwill and donated a bag of really nice items to someone I knew. My donation helped keep people employed, avoided putting things in landfills, and will make for a nice tax deduction!
Adopting a minimalist mindset has also (inadvertently) transferred into spending less money. Since I have adopted this mindset, my husband and I have extra money in our bank account due to both of us adopting frugality, inspired by minimalism. Basically, any time I want something I second-guess myself and usually opt out. I also found an alternative to the lady products I was using (click the link to read more), and that has already saved me $25.00 or more in one month. My next battle is avoiding going out to eat.

After a rough winter, it's been very hard to get back to a workout routine. I recently took my mountain bike out for the first time since before I was pregnant with my daughter, and it was a great experience that inspired more outings.

I've also reduced the amount of makeup I wear. I went through all my makeup recently and cut down my collection to 2 eye shadow pallets, 4 eyeliners (which is actually a lot, so I have to work on that) and 2 mascaras. For face coverage I use a light CC cream and translucent setting powder. I wear makeup 1/3 of the time. I have reduced the amount of makeup I wear from 7 days per week to 2-3, and I wear sunscreen every day.

Blue Lotus Farm & Retreat Center - Pavilion
With working for a religious institution paired with meditation and prayer practices, I have been growing spiritually and I absolutely love it. Being a birth doula and living the doula lifestyle has fit well with my spiritual and minimalist lifestyle. I have merged spirituality with fitness by starting to practice yoga again, and last weekend I was treated to a retreat for Mother's Day by my parents. The retreat lasted roughly 4 hours and was at Blue Lotus Farm and Retreat Center. It was a great escape, and my mother and I are planning more events like that to enjoy together.

The biggest improvement above all is my stress and anxiety level. I can't describe how difficult this past winter was in relation to stress, and the state of our home didn't help. The truth is that my husband, daughter, cat, and I live in a small duplex where simplicity is a welcomed necessity. Since reducing how much we are bringing into the home and since purging unwanted and unused items, I have felt as though a heavy weight has been lifted off my chest. It's a magical feeling.

The inspiration for this change came from my husband, first, and also from Ariana Schwarz, the blogger of Paris-To-Go. I was introduced to her blog and minimalist lifestyle through a podcast by Kimberly Wilson, a multi-talented wellness professional whose products I adore. I have also been inspired by Joshua Backer, the blogger of BecomingMinimalist, and my two favorite subjects to dive into now are minimalism and birth. The book I'm currently reading is Secrets of Simplicity by Mary Carlomagno, and so far I love it. It's exactly what I'm looking for in non-fiction at the moment. I have also been influenced by House Hunters International (which I find pretty funny as a piece of influence) and the theology of various faith traditions.

Friday, May 8, 2015

That Kind of Parent

(This post was also featured in Mothering the Mother, Inc.)

In my (embarrassingly) naive youth I remember thinking about how when I became a mom I never wanted to let myself go. I heard horror of stories of people—usually women—who stopped caring about their appearance once they became parents.

The other day when I was looking at myself in the mirror I noticed a drastically different person staring back at me. My face was bare, with the exception of my naturally flush cheeks and freckles, and my eyes were puffy as if I hadn't gotten enough sleep despite a perfect 8 hours the night before. My hair was thinner, and shorter, yet still soft and wavy. I didn't look run-down--I looked mature, and my untouched skin hasn't looked this healthy since I was a kid. However, all these aspects of my appearance would have caused my former 19 year-old self to think that I had become that parent and let myself go. Have I?

If choosing to be content and confident with how I look without makeup makes me that parent, then yes.

If choosing to cut my hair out of change in thickness and for a more mature style makes me that parent, then yes.

If choosing to ditch certain facial peels because of chemicals makes me that parent, then yes.

If choosing to quit tanning because it could give me the skin cancer I’m susceptible to makes methat parent, then yes.

If choosing to play with my child all day and cuddle with her part of the night, which in turn exhausts me, makes me that parent, then yes.

Perhaps it isn't that parents let themselves go; perhaps the reason for their changed appearance has more to do with instilled confidence in their new lifestyle and coming to a mature understanding of what actually matters in life. That may not be the case for all parents, but that’s the case for me, and it might be the case for you, too.

Now I often ask myself, "Do I want to spend an hour doing my hair or makeup, or do I want to spend an hour cooking and eating a healthy breakfast?" Some days I do both because I want to, but on the days I don’t feel like wearing makeup I skip that part of my routine without a flinch. Becoming a parent has made me more practical and grounded. My body has changed, but I feel empowered and beautiful without makeup and with a touch of Moroccan Oil to scrunch my hair.

I guess I have become that kind of parent. Who knew it could be so liberating?

Happy Mother’s Day,
Samantha Heckert
Birth Doula at Mothering the Mother, Inc.

Mommy to Audrey Aliana

Saturday, April 11, 2015

New Post & Links!

I posted as a contributor to the Mothering the Mother, Inc. blog! Click HERE to read my blog post on postpartum blues and depression.

If you like my posts on birth, parenting, postpartum, et cetera, check out these other posts of mine.

That Kind of Parent (featured at the Mothering the Mother, Inc. blog)

Audrey's Birth Story & My Rite of Passage

Catching Up with Chipmunks and Vomit

Our Experiences at the BWF Chicago Conference

Postpartum Journal: Month 9

and many others...

Click HERE to follow Mothering the Mother, Inc. on Facebook

Click HERE to be directed to the official website of Mothering the Mother, Inc.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Blue Journal: The Affair with Social Media

Journaling has been a hobby, therapeutic activity, and personal experience of mine since I was in third grade. It was in the third grade (which was quite possibly my least-favorite year of my whole childhood existence) that the blue journal was gifted to me. I had been yearning to have a journal FOREVER, it seemed, and one day, finally, after several months of envying Harriet the Spy and every other independent girl, my gorgeous blue journal with golden-edged pages was within my grasp. The smell of the new paper gripped me instantly, and I carefully numbered each and every page's lower corner with a pencil. I traced the Asian designs on the inside cover of the book. There were so many possibilities. That's when my relationship with writing took a turn from academic to personal. 

There were several more journals after my relationship with Blue Journal. Blue Journal was my first. Oh, if I must guess, I have to say I have filled 37 journals in my 26 years of existence. Journaling has been my constant. She is an old friend that I turn to after a rough day at school, work, or with a friend, but during college that intimate relationship changed.

In 2008 I registered with Facebook, my first social media account. I went from journaling once per day to once per month at best. Suddenly, my need to express how I felt on paper was diluted by a desire to share my thoughts, dreams, and opinions openly and publicly among friends, family, and some internet acquaintances. I would love to say that my habit wasn't affected by the grips of social media, but I won't lie. It was.

I'm glad that I'm now comfortable enough with my Self that I'm able to thoughtfully and maturely express my opinions, but as I'm growing as a woman I have come to the realization that there's something to be said about having a private space to be yourself truly, completely, and privately.

When I write, I go a place that's magical. That place is within me. If I can't retreat to a place where I am not being judged or ridiculed, then I can never relax and simply be me. My journal is a place where I can share my truest feelings; I believe that in order to be taken seriously and preserve our professional appearances we must edit our online posts to some degree. When I'm writing in my personal journal, I do not give myself the same restrictions. I write freely and passionately--fictionally and non. I find it funny how a recap of my day can turn into a fictional story of two runaway princesses who suddenly find themselves in the wilderness of a mystical land fighting robbers, hunting elk, or something else...

Today, I'm challenging myself to start journaling again. I'll write down the silly stuff like what I had for dinner, what my daughter said to a random stranger at the store, or how I am feeling about my life and relationships. I'll document my ambitions, personal and professional, and I'll write a fictional story that has nothing to do with my day. I'm not ready to let go of this relationship with writing. Social Media Accounts, I'm not ready to take a break, but perhaps you should take the back burner for a while.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Life: Passionately

I normally keep my creative work private. I tuck pieces like this away in my sacred journal with no plans of sharing, but I think many will benefit from this simple message. It came from my heart and took only 15 minutes to appear on paper. Here is a creative piece of writing by me, Samantha Heckert, called Life: Passionately.

Life: Passionately
By Samantha Heckert
When those who are weak in character meddle with your happiness,
Live Passionately.

When negative thoughts consume your mind,
Live Passionately.

When winter is relentless, and darkness invades your space,
Live Passionately.

When your spirit is crushed and hopelessness appears,
Live Passionately.

When you have nothing more to give to yourself,
When you have nothing more to give to your family,
When you have nothing more to give to others,

Give More,

And Live Passionately.