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    Better Off: Review Introduction

    March 3, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    I sometimes think I should call these posts something other than a “review.” Even though I make judgments within the posts, my purpose of reading these books is to learn, not to judge. I like to expand my soul, think new {and hopefully better} thoughts, and so on. Maybe I should call them “reflections” since it is somewhat like having a book club with myself. I just don’t like the word reflection because I’m not hoping to mirror myself.


    I first put this book on my wish list when I heard of the premise. MIT student Eric Brende, through a train of events I won’t go into, ends up taking his new bride to live among an Amish-like community for a year. Actually, what I’ve read so far confirms that this group with which the Brendes lived is more extreme than the Amish in regard to their relationship with technology. This book documents their time with the group and what they learned.

    Since my own relationship with technology is tenuous and filled with angst {because I have a lot of angst, as I’ve said}, I knew I’d love the book. What I didn’t predict was that Si would, too. So we’ve been reading it together. So far, we’ve read the prologue and first two chapters.

    Eric Brende is a kindred spirit! I had just told my mom how much I enjoyed cutting our lawn.We have an old-fashioned mower, two wheels, a blade, and a handle. I love it. A lot of people think we bought it because we’re “green” or something, which isn’t really true at all. Really, we had this huge mower that was too heavy for me to use. It broke a lot. It ran out of gas. Maintaining this mower took up many a Saturday morning and often put us behind on our garden chores. When we found out that repairing it finally out priced buying a simple mower like the one we now own, we decided to take the plunge. Now, I get to take a two-mile walk on Saturday mornings, clipping my lawn while the children play and my husband weeds and digs and…I can hear because there is no engine polluting our ears.

    Brende discovered the same thing:

    There was something delicious in the feeling of hand mowing through thick turf. As the spiraling blades transmitted my own power into cutting–snick, snick–the sense of sinking my own teeth into that chore was palpable, as if to say I had bit off something I could chew.

    Later, when he described his wife’s hand-cranked washing machine which washed clothes in three minutes, my first thought was: I want one! One of the things I’ve learned in the last year is that groups like the Amish don’t necessarily work harder. They work smarter. They work simpler. They have managed to make working a part of life. Which reminds me of something Andrew Kern wrote yesterday:

    Balance implies equality and it’s static.

    More often, we need integration, which is dynamic.

    Integration implies purpose.

    Balancing your life is usually good. Integrating it is always good – it’s better. Same with your teaching, reading, planning, cooking, etc.

    The Amish have mastered integration. All of life is one; all of life is living.

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  • Reply Brandy March 16, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    Really! I am intrigued about the washer. I’ve gotten more serious about it since the Governator declared us in a “drought.” I actually differ with him about the technicalities, but practically this means we might be asked to ration our water. I was thinking that if I had a washer I could use outside I could actually use it to water the duck pasture (a.k.a. “lawn”) so as to get double use out of it. I use Charlie’s Soap and I think it is approved for this sort of thing…


    Thanks for the head’s up!

  • Reply Anonymous March 16, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    I know I’m commenting on an “old” post, but I wanted to tell you they sell those hand cranking washers at Lehmans also.
    It’s a small plastic canister that looks like a mini cement mixer with a handle. We bought the China made one because it has suction cups on the bottom that stick to the bathtub. (the USA one didnt’)
    I LOVE it! Besides being fun, I don’t have to wait 50-65 minutes for the washing machine cycles on our HE machine. I just put in a few quarts of water and a tablespoon of soap and start cranking for a minute or two. The canister builds up pressure and really cleans the clothes.
    It’s great for delicates, jeans, etc. I found it also works wonders on cloth pads too like GladRags.
    Now I now longer have to wait a month to build up a load of “dark” clothes, I can just wash them out at night in a minute or two!

  • Reply Kansas Mom March 5, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    Yeah, Kansas Dad had to borrow a mower a few times when it got too long. Also, he had a dislocated ankle and minor surgery within a few weeks of each other and the people helping us out by mowing the lawn were more comfortable bringing their own than using ours.

    We’ve considered goats (mostly because I’m intrigued at the thought of making goat cheese), but a large vet friend said they are a big pain. She says all the goats she ever cared for got away and into trouble at least once. (Big trouble, like eating their way through a porch.) I think Kansas Dad is also hoping to use the tractor to plow for his grain fields, which a goat wouldn’t be able to do so well.

  • Reply Brandy March 5, 2009 at 6:40 am

    I think that in my area folks don’t use this type of mower because the average lawn consists of hybrid bermuda grass, which needs to be kept shorter than our mower can keep it. We actually are attempting to replace the bermuda in our front lawn with fescue so because it can handle the longer cut (well, that and it doesn’t spread like a weed, but that’s another story).

    KM, goats are cheaper than a tractor! I had a relative that had goats that were chained to a post. When they had “mowed” down the area, they were moved to the next spot, and so on. It kept down the fire hazard with minimal effort. They don’t try to run away as long as they have weeds to eat, shelter and good water. Geese are also good weeders, but they are pickier and don’t like broad leaves unless you train them from birth (from what I’ve read).

    As far as safety…yes! In fact, Brende goes on to write that within the Amish-like community, this mowing is so simple that it is considered a woman’s job and is even done by nine-year-old girls!

    Oh! I did think that maybe some folks don’t use them in hilly areas due to the extra effort. Our old bulky mower WAS self-propelling, so technically it might have been easier to get up a hill? I don’t know. It was so heavy that I was too intimidated to try it. It seems like it’d be the same, but maybe I’m wrong.

    I think we might pay the neighbor boy to cut our front lawn down soon, though. In all the rain, it didn’t get mowed soon enough and now it is too tall to mow…it just falls down flat.

  • Reply Kansas Mom March 5, 2009 at 4:52 am

    One thing I forgot to mention which was one of my favorite aspects of the mower was safety. I felt like I didn’t have to worry about any of the kids being caught under it accidentally. I would never let them in the yard if someone was using a riding mower (not that we ever had one ourselves).

  • Reply Sallie@aquietsimplelife March 5, 2009 at 3:43 am

    We bought a reel mower like that when we bought our house eight years ago. We. love. it. Granted we have a small yard, but it is so easy to use and maintain. And NO NOISE. We can be outside as a family and talk while David is mowing the yard.

    Ellen, I think people don’t have them because they just automatically assume that bigger and more horsepower is better. Not so!

    We purchased ours through Lehman’s catalog, FWIW.

  • Reply Kansas Mom March 4, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    We have one of those mowers. My dad found it in the barn. We think it belonged to my great-grandfather. Kansas Dad bought a sharpening kit, which took a while the first time he did it but only because he hadn’t figured it out yet.

    Two things to remember – you have to mow often. If the grass gets too long, the mower just pushes it over instead of cutting it. Also, you definitely cannot mow when it’s wet (which is always true).

    Of course, now that we have 7.3 acres, Kansas Dad would never be able to do anything but mow, so we’re exploring options like a tractor.

  • Reply Ellen March 4, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    Ok, I want more information about this lawm mower idea. I have been interested in it, but didn’t know anyone that had one. What’s the down side? Is it harder to mow? Does it give a longer cut? I’m trying to figure out why everyone doesn’t have one if they’re so great. We have a cheapo push mower that gets dull blades really quickly, so I’m curious to figure out if there are other viable alternatives.

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