While some refer to the natural family living movement and its associated practices: cloth diapering, co-sleeping, baby wearing, eating whole foods, home birthing, breastfeeding etc., as progressive, they were par for the course for our pioneer ancestors!
I am a stay-at-home mom in Salt Lake City, Utah. I grew up in Midcoast Maine and am a country girl at heart. I have an undergraduate degree in sociocultural anthropology and a graduate degree in teaching social studies. In between degrees I worked as a corporate ethnographer for product design and strategy firms. Where I'm at right now, however, at home with my babies, a small flock of chickens and something tasty on the stove, is by far my favorite career yet. I love sharing my experiences with urban homesteading, natural family living, being an LDS mom, bee keeping, attachment parenting, raw food and whole food cooking, yoga practicing, urban chicken "farming," unschooling and whatever else is inspiring me. I love the internet as a vehicle for connecting like-minded people and creating communities of support and encouragement. I hope that this site can serve to inspire, validate and encourage other women and families who are making similar choices or perhaps to stimulate curiosity in those for whom some of these ideas are new. I invite your ideas, questions, encouragement, stories and thoughts.
If you'd like to know a little more, here are links to and copies of a few articles about Progressive Pioneer:
An interview on the local station KSL (August 2010):
An interview on A Journey to a Simple Happy Life.
An article in the Mormon Times:By Andrew Marshall
Amy Thompson is a progressive pioneer, author of the blog progressivepioneer.com.
The new blogger has risen to success with impressive speed since she started the blog last April. Amy has sponsors knocking on her site's door, comments coming in by the dozen, and connections with local businesses for giveaways. She has found a niche in the Mormon (and non-Mormon) blogosphere by promoting sustainable living, urban homesteading, attachment parenting and healthy eating.
"Nothing can compare with the peace and happiness of simple living and focusing on your family," Amy said. "Clayton and I focus on the family, on the home, and on spending time with Sam. There's no substitute for that happiness, no matter the clothes or vacation or power career."
After earning her undergraduate degree in sociocultural anthropology from Brigham Young University, Amy worked for a stint as a corporate ethnographer studying consumers in order to help clients sell more. Despite the rewarding intellectual challenge, she could not stomach the moral dissonance she experienced in her work.
She went on to earn a master's degree in teaching social studies from Lewis and Clark University in Portland, Ore.Amy started the blog after hearing friends in her Mormon mommy playgroup confess to bringing a child into the bed, considering cloth diapers, or still nursing a child at almost age 2. Amy saw "a niche, a need that's not being filled" and created progressivepioneer.com in order to support women with these kinds of notions.
"A part of me was thinking, 'Mormon revolution, here we come!'" Amy said. "I would love for everyone in the church to say, 'This makes so much sense.' I'd love to see everyone having natural births, sleeping with their babies and eating healthy."
The Maine native cranks out a post every day by simply documenting and writing about her daily activities. They range from recipes, to homemade sweater pants, to interviews with like-minded women, and giveaways from local businesses. She even delves occasionally into the family blog arena by exhibiting Clayton's latest woodworking projects. Through all of it she sticks to her rule of living first and blogging second.
She has limitations set up for sponsors and requires they be "ethical, healthy for people and the planet, appeal to my aesthetic, and generally small family-run or local businesses," according to her blog. She also reaches out to companies that fit the unique feel to her blog.
The blog has a unique aesthetic, driven by Clayton's vintage illustrations and Amy's colorful photography. She wants it to look "pretty," filling it with colorful, creative pictures and words.
Amy's doctrinal support for her way of living spans dispensations. She cites everything from Proverbs 3:18 -- "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace" -- to an article written by Elder Douglas L. Callister in the June 2009 Ensign titled "Our Refined Heavenly Home."
"When all the world is turning to the latest gadget, the latest expert advice, the latest health fad, we can pioneer the way back to our roots, back to simplicity," Amy said. "Choose to follow the examples of our pioneer forbears; live simply, live close to the earth and close to your loved ones."
While she admits to having "strong opinions about things," she focuses on the positive in her blog, not preaching to people what they should not do, but rather sharing with others what she does.
Another inspiration for her comes from Elder Dallin H. Oaks' 2007 talk, "Good, Better, Best."
"Our consumer culture is really strong," Amy said. "None of (the material things) make you feel better. We don't have a TV. We try to do a lot of the better, and the best, too."
Amy wore a white sweater and jeans to the interview. Clayton wore a dusty plaid shirt, arriving at the interview straight from his work as a carpenter at Ivory Bill. Both spoke about their perspectives and experience in an unassuming, easy-going way.
Amy wants her message embraced by all who encounter the blog, which does not mean handcarts and outhouses.
"If something is beneficial then we embrace it. We have cell phones and a computer," Amy said. "We'll probably never have a flat-screen TV or an in-house intercom. We don't suggest that everyone embrace the pioneer lifestyle but more the spirit of it."
Some people may not have the time, energy, or resources to plunge into the progressive pioneer lifestyle. In these cases Amy suggests the person "pick one thing that you want to change and start there. If it feels good, do another one."
And for men hesitant to support their wives in such pursuits, Clayton said, "What do you have to lose? Give it a try. You receive no witness until after the trial of your faith."
An interview on Bloom:
I love stopping by Progressive Pioneer - Amy has created a purposeful, peaceful spot in a blogosphere that often feels fast-paced and noisy. When we planned to do a segment on Simplicity here at Bloom, I knew I wanted to get Amy's insights. Lucky for us, she agreed to an interview! We hope you find her comments as meaningful as we did.
I think sometimes people use convenience and simplicity interchangeably. After following your blog, I realize that your simple life isn't necessarily what most people would consider "convenient." What are your thoughts on this? And what is your advice to others for making a simpler life feel natural and doable?
In order to make the "simple" things part of our life (bread making, growing our own vegetables, sewing simple clothes, raising chickens etc.) we've given up other things. We hardly ever watch TV, just the occasional movie. Our yard isn't perfect looking, but it is productive! We're a one car family for now. I think a lot of the things designed to simplify our lives often end up complicating them more than we realize! Fast food and convenience foods will eventually result in seriously complicated health. And I don't know how many hours I've spent on the phone with our cell and internet providers, leaving me less time for other things. But, everything is a trade-off. I love my cell phone and I love making simple meals from whole foods; it's worth the extra time and effort to me that I could save buying pre-made foods. I think the key to living a simpler life without feeling overwhelmed by having to do more is to simply do less; less TV, less structured time for the kids, more creative free play, less perfect yard, more veggies, less frozen pizza etc. Consider those simple things as a gift to yourself; opt to garden not only because you can feed your family healthier, fresher, more delicious foods, but because the simple act of being out among living, growing things causes you to slow down, reflect and enjoy the moment.
You do a great job of presenting your lifestyle in a way that is kind and non-judgmental. It's obvious that you feel the choices you're making are best for your family, but you never take a condemning stance toward alternate choices. For people making less main-stream choices about diet or media, for example, how do you recommend they deal with friends and family members who may not support their choices? How do you maintain your values without making other people feel judged?
We have the attitude of just letting some things slide. If our goal is to have a simpler, more relaxed life, then packing an organic meal for my son every time we go to someone else's house for dinner, or chasing him around at a party trying to keep cookies out of his mouth defeats the whole purpose. I usually try to look at the big picture when making most choices. For example, "Is limiting all sugar as important as expressing gratitude to friends and family who share their food and homes with us?" Sometimes there's a knee-jerk reaction to think, "Oh, we don't do that!" without looking at the bigger, more important issues of people and relationships. I figure that if we maintain our values 98% of the time and maintain our relationships with friends and family 100% of the time, that 2% is a pretty good trade-off. We also don't try to "educate" other people about our choices, unless they specifically ask. No matter how you phrase it, people often feel judged. Everyone's on their own path, learning and making choices, including us; we have so many areas we'd like to make changes in!
To me, part of the associated connotation of simplicity is "having less" and attaching less value to stuff. But you've got to have a few treasures. What are some of your most treasured possessions? What makes things meaningful to you?
I try to purge our house a couple times a year, getting rid of toys, clothes, even furniture and only keep the things we truly use and enjoy. I find that we really only use a few things; I wear the same clothes over and over despite an overflowing closet. Sam is happy to play with pots and pans or color on scrap paper. One of the things I really have trouble letting go of though, is books! I have boxes and boxes that we don't even have enough shelves for. And I used to have a shoe thing, but I'm getting a lot better about that:) I do try to preserve memories though; I'm a big believer in the importance of chronicling your life both for yourself and for future generations. But I try to keep the memories and keepsakes in the two-dimensional form; letters, pictures and certainly digital files. I tossed my old high school trophies and plaques, but kept the newspaper clippings, photo albums and a few notes and letters. Though I do have a few three dimensional treasures as well; my mom's baby shoes and a quilt her mother made for her; it's delicate and frayed now, some shells from my grandfather's 21 gun salute at his memorial service and some special pieces of pottery that I love.
What are some of the dominant influences that have shaped your life-view and paradigm?
Both my husband and I were raised in mostly rural areas and grew up gardening, keeping chickens and hauling firewood. For that reason, our lifestyle doesn't seem all that radical (except that we live in the middle of a city!). As I got older and had the opportunity to choose a lifestyle similar to the one I was raised in or an entirely different path, while I dabbled in high city living for awhile, I found myself drawn back to my roots. And as I was drawn back I came across many books and people that could put intellectual explanations to my emotional and instinctive choices. Authors like Michael Pollan, Ina May Gaskin and Alice Waters, and magazines like Mothering helped me put words to my ideas and explain them to other people. I've met seed savers, midwives, knitters and organic farmers who have all solidified my feelings that this good, simple life is a good one for me too.
In your description of a Progressive Pioneer, you talk about lifestyle options that are born of media, business tycoons, research centers and laboratories. You go on to say, "In the midst of all these high tech, color coordinated, safety tested, pediatrician recommended options, the most radical choice can be to simply say, “No thanks.” What kinds of things do you find yourself saying, "No thanks" to in order to live the life you desire?
When I was pregnant with Sam, our toddler, I had lists and lists of stuff that I thought we would need (I'm a list maker!). Thankfully, we opted to wait until after he was born to get a lot of it, just in case. I feel like many baby products on the market put more distance between you and your little one who has only ever known nine short months of living extremely close to you! You can go hours and hours without holding your baby by using the car seat/carrier/stroller combo. Our car seat is big and sturdy and never leaves the car. The only carriers we have are those worn on the body (a Moby and Baby Bjorn). We don't have a crib or a playpen. Sam has always slept with us or on a mattress on the floor once he could crawl. We've also never fed him any sort of baby food. I figured he's just a small human, not an entirely different creature, so we just fed him small amounts of mooshed up, mild "human food." We never purchased baby towels (regular ones work great) or baby dishes, or even a monitor. As it turns out, babies don't really need that much stuff!
We also say "no thanks" to processed or prepackaged food. My mom always made food from scratch so it didn't take a big paradigm shift for me to do the same. We don't do TV or much media, though we enjoy our magazines, the radio and the occasional movie out.
But we say yes to a lot of things too! We say yes to quiet nights reading together, to memberships at the local museums and zoos, to frequent trips to the library, to exciting kitchen experiments like making our own vinegar, to wonderful hobbies like building furniture, sewing and making toys, to time spent with family, to slow, toddler-paced walks through the neighborhood, to learning new crafts and to delicious foods!
Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to reflect on these things and share in your lovely space for a bit.
An article from the September 2009 issue of Utah Stories: "Rage Against Conformity:"
Amy Thompson: The Progressive Pioneer
Meet Amy Thompson: an LDS mommy blogger who advocates a life full of fresh garden vegetables, chickens and home-made everything
Amy Thompson and Family
Bees, chickens, fruit trees, grape vines, vegetable and flower gardens, all on less than an acre, perhaps you've heard this called urban homesteading. To Amy Thompson, of Salt Lake City, it's progressive pioneering. The name is also the title of her blog, where she artfully chronicles her life as an "urban homesteading, attachment parenting, LDS mama."
What makes hers stand out from so many other Mormon mommy blogs? The hybrid between East and West, Mormon and Hippie is unique in the blogosphere. Created a few short months ago, it is a spin-off of a personal blog, now geared towards a broader audience. Thompson, a Mainer by birth and a current SLC resident dislikes the labels "hippie" or "granola" so commonly attached to her lifestyle. "Those terms carry baggage and tend not to evoke an image Latter-day Saints are eager to embrace, but pioneering, now that we can get into!"
"There seems to be a disconnect between our cultural pioneer roots and the LDS culture today," says Thompson, "I'd love to see more moms get into some of the things our pioneer forbears took as par for the course; cooking with food storage, raising our own food, sewing clothes, cloth diapering, extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping with our babies, baby wearing, simple living. And I think it's happening!" Thompson claims to feel a shift in the cultural landscape aided in part by the current economic situation and partly by an increased level of awareness and education.
Thick with artfully shot photographs of healthy, homemade food, garden updates and various projects from homemade hammocks to handmade books, Thompson's blog is as much a visual treat as an enlightening read. Without lecturing or using negatives, Progressive Pioneer demonstrates a better way, all the while with a smile. Thompson's enjoyment of her self-imposed urban homesteading life is contagious. You might just find yourself inspired to make your own almond milk or knit your own socks.
Slightly Martha Stewart-esque in her picture book perfect portrayal of their do-it-yourself lifestyle, Thompson does occasionally level with her readers, such as the post script to the homemade hammock post where she confesses that the contraption broke with her in it and caused her several days of a stiff neck. However, her jovial, upbeat approach to even the snags along the way makes it an enjoyable read.
Thompson says that she has received a surprising amount of feedback from other LDS women who employ similar practices, but feel isolated within their community. "People feel weird trying something like cloth diapers when they don't see anyone else doing it. I hope to be that someone who people can look at and say, 'hey, she's doing it, I can too!'" One reader wrote, "I wanted to tell you what a relief it is to find that there are women like you around... Being LDS and living a natural and vegan lifestyle, eating whole, organic foods, breastfeeding, cloth diapering, home/unschooling... I didn't think there was anyone else out there that had many of the same ideals [as me] as well as being LDS. " Others write in with comments such as, "I am thrilled to have discovered your blog; it's totally a daily read!" or "I enjoy the feel of your blog... all those things resonate with me as well."
The blog serves as a resource for information about local events, places to visit and where to buy things like wooden toys and baby slings. Weekly giveaways are part of the blog's allure. Anything from diapers to crocheted earrings to topless undershirts for nursing moms are on the docket for giveaways. Not just any company can get a giveaway slot, Thompson often recruits specific companies she wants to introduce to her readers and has been known to turn down a giveaway or sponsorship if the company wasn't up to her standards. "I don't think it's too much to ask that a company be stylish, well-designed and ethical," says Thompson. By the looks of her blog, it appears she holds herself to the same standard.