Don’t ask me how I was so lucky as to be the one to receive this divine revelation, but there I was, racing down the road of my overly-scheduled, hectic life, when I suddenly saw this mental billboard: November starts with N.O. Like most great discoveries (electricity comes to mind), it’s been there all along. No. Nooooo-vember. A whole month of “no,” just waiting for someone to come along and grab it. And guess what? That same month comes around every year. Just when you need it most.
This year we needed it more than ever, as this is the year that I finally embraced my inner environmental activist and started running around getting arrested at the White House and hanging up big signs at community events, doing teach-ins, and generally spending too much time posting updates on the Keystone XL pipeline for all my Facebook friends. Not to mention my usual school garden volunteering, which included the rash promise to post recipes every week on a school garden blog. Oh, and also not to mention my full-time job as a night nurse. And did I say I’m a single mom? Each week this fall, I would lie down on my chiropractor’s table, finally exhale, and say the same thing: “I never stop.”
So in late October, I declared that November would be a whole month of N.O. Long exhale. A whole month of freedom. No activist events, no craft fairs, no social events that we don’t all absolutely positively want to go to. No going to the farmer’s market where I always spend too much money, no going out to eat. No throwing parties. No calling the White House or my senator, no keeping petitions to sign in my inbox, no responding in any way to mass emails. And no guilt. I’ve been busy, and I’m taking a month off, and all these no’s mean I have some big yeses for my kids. Not very visible ones, but we all feel them: yes, I can help you with those moccasins you started back in August, yes, we can make chow-chow and can it, yes, we can sit on the couch and read, yes, we can build a door for the hole you cut in the wall. Yes, we can stay in our pajamas all day.
No looking through catalogs for good deals or gift ideas—straight to recycling, along with every single one of the direct-mail pleas for end-of-year donations. I usually keep those, stack and sort them according to priority, and try to send what money I can. But if I think about it, I know which charities I want to donate to, and I know how to donate online, and I don’t need the clutter or the attendant guilt that I haven’t sent the donation in yet.
The most radical “no” has been this: no grocery shopping. This was not part of my original plan, but honestly, all the running around in the past few months had my bank account in scary territory. How to recover in time to buy an organic turkey for the holidays: stop shopping! We get a veggie box from our CSA farm each week, and honestly, often I end up letting a few items get old and rot. The CSA box comes with milk, half & half, and butter, and I can pick up a loaf of bread at the farm when I pick up my box. Funny thing I noticed: when I’m not supplementing with other groceries, nothing gets old and rots. Hmmmm.
During all the other months, when any given foodstuff runs out, I replace it. This means that behind the front layer of dry and canned goods in my pantry there is a collection of dusty, seldom-seen items. These got taken out and dusted off right after Halloween this year, thanks to a food drive at the kids’ school. Unnoticed by me, most of our canned goods had collected small rust spots, past-due expiration dates, or some sticky coating resulting from a leaking, improperly preserved jar of marinated figs. Which obviously rendered them unfit for donation to the food drive. And once I’d noticed, I couldn’t really put them back into the pantry. Stacking a bunch of aging cans of kidney beans, hearts of palm, and coconut milk on my counter turned out to be a powerful motivator to get out of my cooking rut, get creative, and get rid of the cans. So for a month, we have survived on fresh vegetables and random canned food. Surprisingly, the kids have enjoyed the more creative meals, even if there have been occasional complaints about the dearth of quesadilla ingredients in the fridge. Plus, as a total surprising bonus, none of us got botulism (whew!).
As for the “no activities,” it’s not that we didn’t do anything all month, it’s just that any offers that came along had to be compelling enough to override the automatic “no.” So, although we skipped many, many cool and interesting local events this month, I did go to see my friend’s lamps at a pre-holiday craft fair, and even bought one. But I didn’t have to go. The lamp is funky and captivating, hanging in a previously too-dark corner of my living room, its light shining out through multiple layered images of an apple with one bite taken out of it. For the artist, the apples refer to our local apple producers and the “eat local” imperative (which is also emblazoned across the lamp), but to me, it’s more a symbol of how often we succumb to the temptation to take one more, and one more, and one more bite, until we have more than we can chew. Furthermore, the lamp has a switch, as a reminder that anytime I want, I can turn it all off.
Now that NO-vember is over, I am looking forward to adopting the same practice every year. Without any further effort than the implementation of “no,” we are all rested, our house has less dust bunnies than it has since my youngest was born, we have multiple craft projects racing toward completion, my pantry is clean and spare in readiness for the holidays. And to me, the space created by saying “no” echos with a resounding “yes.” Yes to NO-vember. Now that seems like a tradition worth keeping.