She’s a Natural: The Top Ten Ways Living Overseas Made Me Crunchy {The Grove: Top 10}

The slang meaning of crunchy is to have a healthy diet and way of living; natural and earthy. It has a pejorative flavor, which makes me hesitate to write out this list, but the truth is that I came by these values overseas, insulated from the mudslinging right and left arguments of my home culture. Now they’re precious to me, and though I don’t fully understand all of the affiliations, it’s getting easier to roll with the punches and rock on. It also helps to read Anne Lamott.

My Ten:

  1. Walk/bike for transportation. I used to think that exercise was something to be block-scheduled. It required its own hour of the day and a wardrobe suited to the activity. As a commuting teacher overseas, I rode my bike in skirts and wedges. Activity became not something to be isolated into the appropriate hour of the day, but integrated into a lifestyle.
  1. Hang the laundry. Do you remember An Altar in the World? BBT wrote about blessing her wooden clothespins and the Domestic Arts. Brother Lawrence believed that daily duties were an opportunity to practice the presence of God. I started hanging my laundry overseas because that was my only option. Now it puts me in good company, and my clothes dryer sits unused in the basement.
  1. Use fewer resources. On the wall outside of every apartment where I lived there was a countdown. It was the amount of electricity remaining on a prepaid card and worked as a declining balance. Other utilities worked the same way. There was a typecast, foreigners use way more than the locals. Why is that? Why, just going about my daily business, would I use more resources in an apartment that is exactly like my neighbors’, when they without strain use considerably less? At first it made me self-conscious, and then it just made me conscious. Small adjustments like plugging multiple cords into a power strip and flipping the strip off at night or when not in use, cuts off an energy drain that is happening even when electronics aren’t “on”.
  1. Recycle. There wasn’t a formal recycling program where I lived. It was a subsistence program. The poor and resourceful gathered recyclables from the dumpsters to trade for change. So, I began to bag our recyclables separately and place them beside the dumpsters. They were always claimed within the hour. Sometimes I would cross paths with a gatherer on my way to the dumpster and hand them over. What gratitude! Now, recycling to me has faces. It’s a practice linked to the welfare of people as well as planet.
  1. Minimize. Every item that we own down to the spools of thread in the junk drawer requires energy to manage, and sheesh, that’s not even considering what it takes to move it. I loved Patty’s post last week, didn’t you? Have you felt the frenzy to gather and store? To buy another bin or cabinet so there’s room for more? I didn’t move overseas to manage my stuff. It taught me to love less.
  1. Shop local. Cart vendors, open-air markets, mom-and-pop shops. Did you know that when we use our money within the community in which we live, it fosters creativity and innovation and networks of relationships? This feels like Kingdom building to me.
  1. Urban urbane. I didn’t always love cities. I thought living in one was part of the cost we count. Did you know that a historical shift happened in the first ten years of this millennium? The scales tipped and for the first time in history, more people live in cities than in rural areas. Cities are happening now, folks. Living overseas in a densely populated region changed me. Proximity and community – having every shop and service I need within a two mile radius and culture and people literally overflowing into the streets – became deciding factors in choosing a new residence.
  1. Seek out Green Space. In a world of concrete, asphalt, and glass you notice and cherish the green space. This book helps me do that with my little people.
  1. Bring outside in. Every new home I inhabit, I pot a Wandering Jew. It’s become a ritual that orients me to God’s provision and my pilgrim status.
  1. Can’t buy it, or don’t like it, or don’t want to pay the premium = Make it. I learned to wrap my crockpot in towels to incubate yogurt. Peanuts and a high-grade peanut oil with a sprinkle of salt and a dash of sugar (or cinnamon!) in a food processor or blender makes yummy peanut butter. Melt butter, brown sugar, honey, and cinnamon into a syrup at the bottom of a wok; add oats and stir. Voila! Granola.

Thanks to a life overseas, wherever I go I’m crunching my wok-made granola. I’m good with that.

What lifestyle choices have you adopted and adapted because of your life overseas?


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  1. Jilida June 18, 2015

    I love that idea that recycling has a face! So precious.

    1. Kimberly Todd June 19, 2015

      Thanks, Jilida!

  2. Ashley Felder June 18, 2015

    Yes, I also love that recycling now has a face. It does for me, too. And my oldest. Promptly at 5pm every day, a man with a cart and 5 stray dogs (that enjoy trash scraps he finds), comes to find more treasures. We also separate our plastic and cardboard, so when he comes, we send our 6 year old out. We drop things out the window (we’re on the 1st floor), and he runs back and forth to the man, both of them beaming from ear to ear. Soon, we’re going to ask him if he’d like to eat dinner with us. Kingdom building indeed.

    And, my hubby would smile at how you turn off and unplug things. He’s obsessed, too. We unplug and turn off the wifi every night. I used to make fun of him, but now it’s just our habit.

    P.S. I bought that fruit/veggie wash you suggested in a post from a long time ago. I love that you can wash SO much with just a few drops!!!

    1. Kimberly Todd June 19, 2015

      I know! I love that about that wash, too. I’m so bummed it’s gotten expensive to come by on Amazon. Have you found it somewhere else?

      I have a hi-five for your husband right here. And what an awesome story about your family’s recycling face. Thanks for sharing it, Ashley!

      1. Ashley Felder June 20, 2015

        I don’t know how much you’ve spent on it in the past, but we found it on Taobao for under 100kuai. If that’s cheaper, I guess you’ll need to come back over and get some. 😉

      2. Michelle Larsen June 20, 2015

        Just a tip from another crunchy worker. A lot of veggie washes still use bleach as a main ingredient and yup they are expensive.An alternative that’s much cheaper is using white vinegar or lemon juice diluted in water. Costs less and no bleach, if you’re concerned about the bleach issue.

  3. Casey June 19, 2015

    Such a fun and accurate post! In our village, everyone is obsessed with chemical-free food because so many people have severe illness from pesticides or working in garment factories. This aspect of our life seems total on par with our American peers.  Maybe we overseas workers are hip after all! =)

    1. Kimberly Todd June 19, 2015

      Thanks, Casey! I think this is so interesting and heart-breaking about your village. Are more people growing their own food as a result? Or is the main food supply becoming chemical-free? This trend really has some interesting implications. And the garment factories deserve their own number on this list. Once you see it or know someone in that industry, you care about origins.

  4. Lorinda June 19, 2015

    These are all things that we do. #7. My husband and I both grew up in the country, so city life was very different when we moved overseas, but now we really like it. I always feel sad that my kids didn’t get to grow up with the freedom to play in the woods and fields, like we did, but when we go back to the US, they long for the freedom of city life. Funny how we view things so differently! They see it as being stuck out in the country, with no buses to hop on by themselves (we have to take them anywhere they want to go), no mom n pop stores within two minutes walk from the house–or even twenty minutes! We know all of our neighbors and they all keep an eye on all the kids. City life is a different kind of freedom.

    1. Michele Womble June 19, 2015

      I was surprised when my kids announced to me a few years ago that they prefer the city to the country.  But it’s true – they are way more independent in the city here than they are when we go to America.  They’ve done a large part of our grocery shopping for years now, because it’s just 5 minutes away on the corner.  City life is definitely a “different kind of freedom” – especially for them.  I’ve always preferred country life.  or so I thought…but since my kids declared that they like the city best, I’ve been thinking…and I realize I like the city, too.  Not that I don’t also like the country, there are many things I love and prefer about it, but now I know that there are many things I prefer in the city.  City life is “a different kind of freedom” – for ME, too.  (So right now – I like both.0

      1. Lorinda June 19, 2015

        Kids doing the shopping is so wonderful! Whoops, we’re out of eggs/milk/bread/macaroni, etc. = no problem. In five minutes, it’s in the house and lunch preparation continues flawlessly. We do not shop in big stores, except for the occasional trip to the mall. And even then, I buy just a couple of things. It’s fresher, cheaper  and better selection in my little neighborhood shops than in the big stores.

        1. Michele Womble June 19, 2015

          Exactly!  Or if they want something in particular for a snack they just go get it, they don’t have to wait for me.  We shop in big stores occasionally, too  – I mean mall type – we do have a big grocery store (by Novosibirsk standards, it wouldn’t be considered a shop) less than 10 minutes away, we’re there almost daily.  And of course the shops and stands.  I love it – and that’s a kind of freedom we lose when we’re back. Seems like even in the bigger cities you wouldn’t walk to the store.

    2. Tonya June 19, 2015

      Thank you for that explanation of freedom in city life. We’re moving overseas soon, from the suburbs to Seoul and that has been a concern for me about my kids. Your explanation makes so much sense! Very helpful- thanks!:)

      1. Michele Womble June 19, 2015

        Do you mean you’ve been concerned about the transition from suburbs to city life?  How old are your kids, Tonya?

        1. Tonya June 19, 2015

          Yes, a little. I’m used to taking them everywhere!:) They are 5, 11 and 14. My oldest is really excited about gaining more independence.

          1. Michele Womble June 20, 2015

            Make sure they have a basic cell phone so they can call you if they get lost. Or more like – so you know you can call THEM when you start worrying. 😉  Start them off with going to the closest shop for basic groceries to pick things up for you. (This is also good for their language skills.)  As you see that they’re navigating well you can let them go farther,  depending on their language skills, too, and confidence level.  My son seems to have a map in his head, he goes everywhere and never gets lost.  My daughter, on the other hand, is directionally challenged – so we keep closer tabs on her – or make sure she has a map or is going with someone when she is going somewhere new.  Make sure they learn how to ask directions as they start becoming more independent, and that they know WHO to ask.  (Friendly looking grandmothers or moms with their children, for example.)

    3. Kimberly Todd June 19, 2015

      I love the conversation that is happening here. Thanks for chiming in, ladies!

  5. Phyllis June 20, 2015

    Yes! And, strangely, this list is pretty much how I was raised in America, too. So, I guess that was God preparing me for my current life back then. (Except the obsessive turning off and unplugging. That still even annoys me a little.)


    Also, I’m another one who loves the convenience of having stores close by and who lets our children do our shopping. I feel really stuck when we visit America, because I never did learn to drive, and everything is so far away.

  6. Patty Stallings June 23, 2015

    I love your post, Kim, and the way you’ve highlighted the value in how many of us live (by default or by choice).  Andy I didn’t even know I was crunchy!  I have so much appreciation for what living overseas has taught me about resources, creativity, and finding alternate uses for things we already have.

  7. Julie June 24, 2015

    I grew up overseas, so I guess I have always had a bit of crunch! My mom has her own homemade tofu recipe, and she’s not Asian 🙂

  8. Michele Womble June 25, 2015

    I’m a little late, but I just added my top ten post….I had to ponder a few minutes about whether to do or not – it messed up the beautiful  symmetry of the 4×3 links… 🙂  Oh, well, I always did prefer asymmetry.

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