Mary Beth Writes

Lee Lee McKnight’s magazine is called The Perpetual You and it is going to make my life richer, deeper, and more interesting; I bet it will do the same for quite a few of us. 

People who figure out how to go to give into the world what they need and want to receive; these are people I want to know. People who are creative and generous instead of critical and belittling; these people have something for us.  It has been an honor and a delight to meet Lee Lee via several long and wonderful phone conversations!

This on-line (and print, you get to decide how you would rather read it) magazine is evolved from and dedicated to women who have come from complicated stories, who are living as mindfully as possible in the current moment; and who are figuring out their paths towards their own authentic next places. 

“The thing I was adamant about from the beginning was all this and just this. I wanted to create a magazine that I would want to read. I wanted a magazine that one can read and then come away from feeling better, not worse. The products or solutions we suggest are not meant to solve a woman’s internal struggles towards self-knowledge and self-love--only to supplement her journey.” 

The Perpetual You 

 

Let’s let Lee Lee McKnight introduce herself.

“My husband and I are living our ideal life. We live in a gorgeous 1920s home in Hamden, CT; our sons are 10 and 5, my husband is a software developer for research projects at Yale University. I have my magazine plus many wonderful, interesting people to work with along the way. We are just back from a road trip to Colorado where we visited and stayed with my generous in-laws while we attended the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.”

Because Lee Lee’s life wasn’t always this ideal, she is the first to recognize how blessed she is and to offer her gratitude.

She was born in the middle 1970’s to a hugely unstable family. Her parents moved the family every two-three years; she lived her childhood in Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas.

“My dad was a traveling salesman; he could never earn as much as he and my mom could spend. I found out years later that my parents weren’t paying taxes and I wonder if that’s why we moved so much. There were crazy stories about them paying their rent but the landlord not paying his mortgage, so we would be kicked out. We also lived in a hotel for an extended period of time, where my mom’s wedding ring was stolen by one of the maids. They had no system for living within their own means.

“So our family was seriously financially unstable plus I was an introverted child. It would take me years to make friends and to become comfortable at school - yet each time that would begin to happen, we’d suddenly move again. I hated moving.

“When I was about 10 we lived in a big white house on a hill. It was rented, of course, but it seemed wonderful to me.  It was an older house in an established neighborhood. I had my own small room; that was the first time I remember having that luxury. We each got to pick our own beds; I chose a day-bed. The walls were white and so was all my furniture, I would arrange my countless stuffed animals on my bed, and I felt secure.

“Then one day, my parents say we’re moving again. They tried to make everything be upbeat and fun; we were not encouraged to express being sad or mad or scared. We were supposed to just slide happily into our next jaunty adventure. I celebrated with them on the outside but inside I was upset and unhappy.

“Making things more complicated, my parents were also born-again Fundamentalist Christians. We always belonged to whatever was the most conservative Baptist church in town. In some ways this was good, because in most congregations there are kind adults who became like surrogate parents. We went to Sunday school, youth groups, little kid choirs, and later the adult choir.  We also, and this insulated me from the variety of kids I might have met in a public school, always went to the Christian schools associated with our church.

“Expectations for girls and women in those conservative churches were heavy and constraining. I knew girls and teenage girls were supposed to act in certain ways – be cute, pretty, Godly, cheerful – but I didn’t care about those things. By high school, I understood I was different from other kids my age. I didn’t care as much about what I wore and I never wore makeup or shaved my legs, I had friends but preferred to be alone with my nose in a book most of the time. I wasn’t interested in small talk or the silly things most kids did. 

“We moved to Little Rock when I was in 10th grade and my parents let me go to public high school. I was so miserable that by my junior and senior year of high school I was back at a Baptist school where I made a few friends. During those high school years we lived in a condominium that backed onto a golf course. Many days and nights, I’d be away from home. There was a bridge that was built into the golf course somehow. I’d sit there with my notebook and pencil and I would write and write until I fell asleep. I think of that now as an adult and parent and wonder why my parents allowed me to even do that. (Maybe they didn’t know?) I wonder why no one was trying to help me become happier.”

After high school Lee Lee went with a high school friend to the small Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, AR.  She went there on a musical scholarship and it was, as she says now, “Too much for me. I was totally on my own and I couldn’t cope. At the end of my first year I had a break-down and ended up in a mental hospital.”

That was a tipping point in her life. She was a vulnerable, lonely 18-year old from an unstable family, with brain chemistry that veered towards depression. Her tenuous hold on ordinary life fell apart. They stabilized her in the hospital and then she was assigned to one of the therapists associated with that hospital.

“It was the first time in my life I talked to an authority figure who wasn’t religious, and that’s when I learned there was a whole new perspective one could have on life. My therapist was a wise, compassionate woman named Jane; I was so lucky to have been assigned to her. She listened to me, she helped me understand my own life. She encouraged me to feel what I felt and to talk about it. I am still learning, to this day, that I don’t need to feel badly about my emotions when they don’t suit other people’s idea of what is and isn’t appropriate. My feelings are my feelings.”

The next ten years of Lee Lee’s young adult life were a patchwork of experiences. She always worked, usually in service industries. At one point she worked in the news office of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock. She saw how much of day-to-day journalism worked; a reporter would gather pre-arranged facts then slide them into a formula and put the report of the town council or whatever in the next day’s paper.  She loved to write; that didn’t seem like writing.

She took college courses at various schools. She lived in several towns, supporting herself even when nothing seemed to be moving smoothly ahead.  Then in 1998 she moved to Boston at the invitation of her sister who was already attending Simmons College. Her sister had, in fact, already filled out the application for Lee Lee, plus connected her to some grants and scholarships. All Lee Lee had to do was write an essay. Writing she could do…

Lee Lee changed her major from music to English literature, earned a degree, and stayed in Boston, also earning her M.F.A. in Creative Writing. She worked in the finance department of a Planned Parenthood clinic. Planned Parenthood was at that time switching to online record-keeping. While working through the hassles that came with these changes, she often sought help from their IT guy Mark McKnight.

First they became friends; talking while collaborating on work problems and projects. Then, when she was eight months pregnant (the father of the child did not want to be part of this baby’s life) she and Mark went on their first date. After Henri was was born, they moved in together and soon got married. When Henri was a toddler, Mark adopted him. Five years later they had Wayne.

“I felt capable of being on my own; if I was going to be in a relationship, I was determined to find a calm and good person. I was done with the volatility of my other relationships. I wanted my son to have the life I didn’t have as a girl: stable, secure, living in my own house, in one community. I wanted my kids to be able to go to the same school for all of their childhood.

“That’s why, when I say I am living my ideal life, this means everything to me. We’ve lived in our current house for four years. Our kids go to the local school. Mark likes his job. We have a normal, boring life--and I love it.”

But a stable address doesn’t “fix” a person. It is a goal, and it can be achieved, but depression is a real diagnosis and disease. After each birth of her children, Lee Lee suffered postpartum depression, about which she is upfront and clear.  Being able to pay the bills doesn’t guarantee that brain chemicals go dormant; having a calm partner doesn’t mean the exhausting insecurity of childhood is vanquished.

“Before Wayne was born, I was teaching community college while Mark communicated to a job in the city (an hour commute each way). My mother was ill with breast cancer. I didn’t think anyone could take as good care of her as I could, so Mark, Henri, and I moved in with her in Florida for over a year. Mark was allowed to work remotely--a big blessing at the time. I took care of my mom and Henri, and we eventually decided to get pregnant.

“When my mother was better we moved back to Boston. I was a stay-at-home mom, focused on the kids and setting up house. I thought I was doing well but in reality it felt as if I was never really present for anything. I was still unhappy and didn’t know how to express what I was feeling. I thought about suicide. Mark set up an appointment with a psychiatrist for me, and I agreed to go. Before I went to see her, I made a deal with myself to be honest and get better; she knew immediately upon meeting me that I needed to be hospitalized and I agreed. 

“So I was hospitalized again. I went back into regular therapy. By the time we moved to Connecticut, about a year later, I was stable, on medication, and ready to begin healing. In our new home and neighborhood, we all felt safe and stable in a way we hadn’t ever felt in Boston. It was then that I discovered mindfulness. My intention is to experience and be present in these years with my children. I feel my feelings, I ask for help, and I don’t expect too much from myself or others.  This is my path, to be present and to be mindful.

“This mindset led to me being able to start the magazine with my sister, when the opportunity came along, which set our family on a path of mindful frugality.

 “Our Mission is to uplift the lives of women, support women creatives, and connect likeminded women with each other.

Our Magazine is disrupting mainstream media by highlighting the beauty of real women living intentional lives.

Our Marketplace is a safe space where women can shop with ease (not overwhelm) and with conscience (not expectation). 

Our Mindset is 100% positive: We believe ALL women can create Ease, Fun, Wealth, and Joy in their lives--just by being who they already are, who they're meant to be, who they've always been (their Perpetual Selves).

Our Mantra is #BeYou because when women accept themselves and show up authentically, society can begin to heal.

...

Here’s the thing.  Dreams, passions, avocations, and holy aspirations seldom (never?) arrive with a steady paycheck and an emergency fund. How does one afford the “luxury” of life lived well?

Which is exactly where I, Mary Beth, like to ask questions and look around. How do people afford their good and thoughtful lives?

Frugality is not much of a goal all on its own. It is an amazing tool to help one build their best life.

I asked Lee Lee questions about the frugal things she and Mark do that allows them to pursue work that appeals to them as well as love and care for their boys.

Lee Lee starts by commenting on something that others have said before. Before she understood what she wanted to do – to build a magazine to empower women – before she took on that mission – she spent a LOT of money trying to fill the hole in her life.

“Remember, I was raised in a family with no financial strategy. We bought things we couldn’t actually afford in the long-term. Mark was raised very differently; his parents were thoughtful, and saved more than what they spent.  I admired this so much but it took time to understand how to do it.”

The Perpetual You has been published bi-monthly for three years. It does not pay for itself, it does not even earn an income (at this point) for Lee Lee or the women who contribute to it.  It may in the future and that is the goal; right now it is a labor of vision.

Thoughts and Strategies for How to Live when Dreams are Big and Income is Middling:

“Prior to continuing a second year on the magazine, Mark and I talked a long time about what boundaries to place on our time and what sacrifices we would make financially so that I could keep doing it. I decided how many hours per week I would spend to create the magazine; I also determined I would not spend ALL of my time on it. I became more intentional about when I’m working and being present with my family. I looked to collaboration as a solution for not going into debt with photoshoots, article requirements, and printing costs.”

“We put away our credit cards which was important for me. I no longer spend first and think later. I used to LIVE at Target (!) always coming home with $100 of stuff that that I didn’t really need. I quit Target cold turkey and didn’t go in for a year! Now, I can walk through the store knowing I don’t need all of those things to be happy.

“We’ve chosen to live on one person’s salary, which is a solid one with excellent benefits. I know that this is a privilege.  If we are thoughtful, there is plenty here. I’ve never heard my kids whine about not having as much as others (partly because we don’t watch TV and they don’t see commercials!). If I start feeling like I’m missing out on stuff, I remind myself that all my needs are being met.”

“One area we save on is clothing and shoes, which we buy secondhand and pass down from kid to kid. Mark and I rarely buy new clothes though I love-love-love shopping! (Goodwill saves us when I get the itch.) I think we do less laundry than many families because we don’t wash things just because we wore them. We help our kids think about what is dirty at the end of a day and what isn’t. Since our kids do their own laundry (get a stepladder so they can reach!), they have an incentive to think about these things. Doing less laundry saves time as well as the money for cleaning products and utilities.

“Also, because it’s frugal and easier, we don’t micromanage shoes and socks. Who cares if socks don’t match? Our five-year-old has even been known to wear mismatched shoes. He’s a little kid and doesn’t care what others think.  What a good reminder that how we feel is more important than how we look!

“We don’t enroll the kids in any after school activities; when the school day is over, they play outside at whatever they make up to play. We live in a nice house in a comfortable and safe but urban neighborhood. We can walk many places; our oldest son can ride his bike to the neighborhood park by himself. He comes home with rosy cheeks and stories of what he saw.

“We have one used car with a hundred thousand miles on it – and we hope to get to 200,000! My husband rides a bike to work, 15 minutes there and back--his dream commute. We’ve talked about not having a car but we do use it to go to the grocery store and I need it, now, for meeting new collaborators or delivering magazines.

“We don’t replace things right away if they break. We live without to see how much we need that item. The dishwasher broke a year ago and we decided not to replace it right away. Of course, I don’t even do the dishes, my husband does! (We recently received an anniversary present from parents that allowed us to replace the dishwasher, and--after a year of handwashing--my husband’s very glad! But he never once complained.)

“We went without vacations, for the most part, until this summer. We saved ahead of time for our family road trip to Colorado; we didn’t use a credit card even once! Now those savings are gone so we will start again saving for whatever we want to do next.

“One of the things I am learning about living within our means is this. If we need something and we don’t have the money without going into debt, we ask for help. This is not ordinary for us nor for many people, but it helps us to live realistically.

“We wanted our youngest child to continue preschool through this summer so that I could work those hours. We hadn’t thought about this in advance, so we didn’t have the money in the budget to pay for it (we did have it in the school year). We asked relatives who would not be offended and they were glad to pay for those two months.

“We also hosted a 10th wedding anniversary vow renewal party in June--something that could’ve easily become a huge expense. We held the party in a local community center and asked guests to bring food to share so it turned into a fabulous potluck feast. We were able to buy our favorite beer from a local microbrewery. We asked for no gifts other than, if people felt motivated, to donate to others. It was a huge and wonderful party for 100 family and friends and we have no debt leftover from it.

“One of the strategies I promote in the magazine and by which we live in our family is to buy small batch products. Small batch means products made by individuals, often women, who are making a living from creating this item they are passionate about. Soaps, detergents, cleaning products, grooming items, candles, art, fabrics, and more. Many people assume buying small batch means you’re spending more money--it might seem like that at first, but I’ve found you can do this frugally if you only buy what you need.

“The real wealth, though, comes from having products that don’t have chemicals or toxins, and that were easy on the environment to create. Also, I feel good knowing the woman who made it now has some profit that she can spend on her family. If a product is too expensive for our budget, I can contact the maker and ask for a smaller size or see if she’s willing to barter.

“We think frugality is more than saving our money, it is being involved thoughtfully in the systems of living in our society. We think about the price, but we also think about the ingredients and how they were obtained. Who made the product? Do they have a chance at a reasonable life? Is buying this thing going to improve the world or contribute to its degradation in some way?

“Buying small batch and shopping locally means we don’t stockpile things we might need into the future. Instead we buy mindfully and use a product carefully, so that we don’t waste it. So that we can afford to buy organic dairy, we teach our kids to only pour the amount they will drink. We mostly encourage them to drink water. We eat mostly vegetarian and buy produce from a local farm, if we can afford it.

“Our kids have a lot of toys but we have bought less for them in recent years. I love decorating (and re-decorating!) my home and have found that I can do this through consignment shops, Goodwill, or by bartering with female creatives and artists.

“I’ve learned a lot since beginning the magazine, and much of it is about the true abundance that comes from living authentically. Without that knowledge, I couldn’t live frugally. And I wouldn’t be as joyful as I am today. I encourage other women to love themselves and live consciously so that they can create their own ease, wealth, fun, and joy and I’m blessed to be living my life in exactly that way.”

Click here to see the current edition of The Perpetual You.

Articles from the magazine you might like to read:

Embrace the moment: 

Wake Up, Be You

Design Values; The Unexpected Wealth of a Kitchen Remodel

 

Comments

This is wonderful -- reading LeeLee's story made my day!

Excellent - enjoyed LeeLee’s story and knowing you wrote it!

Thank you Judy & Karen. So glad you enjoyed reading this. I'm so blessed to have met you Mary Beth! Thank you for sharing my journey.

This was an adventure for me! I loved getting to know you - and who knew there was this cool magazine out there one could just READ!

Add new comment

CAPTCHA

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Buy Angry

Frugality is a tool and a weapon. You can use it to be powerful.

What?

Frugality and Privacy

 “If you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product.”

When one of our kids was 8-years old, Len thought it would be fun to let that kid drive his car. I swear - though I doubt you will believe me - no drinking was involved. Len just really believes in our kids and sometimes this turns into bigger adventures than one would expect.

Did I mention the car was in the garage so it needed to be backed out? Also, the child in question was too short to adequately reach the pedals.

Mindful Chickens – Up North Weekend Edition 9/24/18

Mindful Chickens are (for people who don’t know why I call them this) about:

1. Being Cheap (cheap, cheep).

2. Being thoughtful about how choices affect our community and our earth.

3. Paying attention to the constant tumble of little things like bugs and crumbs, dollars and daily choices.

Several years ago our son and his wife decided that they were going to set a goal to visit every state park in Wisconsin. There are 50 state parks and they only have a few more to go; what a cool way to claim where one lives.

Mindful Chickens 9/15/18 & The Scattered Schedule of Retirement

Mindful Chickens are (for people who don’t know why I call them this) about:

ONE: Being Cheap (cheep, cheep).

TWO: Being thoughtful about how choices affect our community and our earth.

THREE: Did you know you can enter “flying chickens” as an actual searchable topic in YouTube? Did you know you can lose an hour (or more) of your life this way? It’s been quite a week over here, doing many needful and not-so-needful things – including watching chickens fly.

Mindful Chickens in September 9/8/2018

Mindful Chickens are (for people who don’t know why I call them this) about:

  1. Being Cheap (cheep, cheep).
  2. Being thoughtful about how choices affect our community and our earth.

3.  A chicken whose name was Chanticleer
Clucked in iambic pentameter
It sat on a shelf, reading Song of Myself
And laid eggs with a perfect diameter.

Mindful Chickens 9/1/2018 Merle Haggard edition

Mindful Chickens are (for people who don’t know why I call them this) about three things.

  1. Being Cheap (cheep, cheep).
  2. Being thoughtful about how choices affect our community and our earth.
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ud5SbZ6XtTw

 

Stuff we did (and didn’t do) this past week:

Ad Promotion