Under the Apricot Tree

Savoring the Abundance of Simple Living

Category: Home Making

The Connection Conundrum

“Technology is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other.”

~C.P. Snow, New York Times, 15 March 1971

As people who value living intentionally and in the present, how do we make decisions about the technology we use?

This is a question I personally have been wrestling with lately. You see, I lost my old cell phone and need to replace it. But instead of getting another “dinosaur”  phone, I am considering upgrading to a smart phone. There would be many benefits to me having an iPhone or Android, but I’m aware there’s also a downside. What I am unsure of is this: Do the perks outweigh the pitfalls?

The benefits are obvious.

  • As a work-from-home entrepreneur, being able to engage with my clients in a variety of platforms is important. Now that I keep different office hours and often have a baby in one arm, checking email and social media accounts from a hand-held device would be a convenient alternative to wielding my laptop computer.
  • We travel a lot and it would be great to have a GPS when navigating new territory.
  • I’d love to easily send photos and videos of our baby to grandparents and great-grands, as well as Skype with them from anywhere.
  • Clever apps could simplify my household management at home and on the go (menu planning & grocery lists, budget & bank account balances, etc)
  • And of course the entertainment and social factors!
The concerns are serious.
  • At what point do I become too connected and available to everyone in the world except for the people right in front of me? I do not want to become that person who is always on her phone, to the neglect of those she’s with physically.
  • I work hard at my career and I LOVE it! But especially when you work from home, it’s important to establish boundaries for yourself so that you don’t wind up always “at work.” What I like about a laptop computer is that it’s portable, but also easy to shut-off, close and walk away from when it’s time to shift gears.
  • Will I say after a month that “I could not live without it”? Technological dependency begs the question of whether the human is master or servant. Is there detriment to my “smart” phone thinking so that I don’t have to?
  • Even with the communication technologies I use now, it’s easy to spiral out of control in a Technology Loop. (Check out this hilarious Portlandia skit on YouTube for an example: http://bit.ly/hTKXXY)

So how do I decide whether to invite this new (to me) level of communications technology into my life? Asking questions is always helpful. Questions to ask:

– Does this help me better fulfill my most important callings better (Christ-lover, wife, mother, professional, home manager, friend, etc)? Or does it hinder me from the most important?

– Is this in alignment with my core values (simplicity, mindfulness, relationships, health, spirituality, professional excellence, generosity, etc)?  Or does it undermine those values?

– Based on my track record with other tech tools, if I choose this, will I use it appropriately and moderately, or am I likely to overuse and end up in a perpetual Technology Loop? What specific boundaries would I set up for myself?

-Is this something I need to acquire now, or could the decision be made later?

– Does it make financial sense to upgrade? Is this the best way to spend those dollars?

At this point, I honestly could see myself going either way. As I spend time in these questions, I think my choice will become clear. It may seem to you like I’m making a big deal out of nothing–especially if you already have a smart phone and think it’s awesome! But don’t worry, I’m not losing any sleep over this–I just want to be intentional and not slide into decisions that will impact my life and relationships.

What about you? Help a sister out by sharing your perspective and experience! Specifically, do you have a smart phone or not, and why? If so, what do you use it most for and what’s the best/worst thing about it? 


A Gathering Time

“To everything there is a season,

a time for every purpose under heaven.

I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied.

He has made everything beautiful in its time.

And He has set eternity in their hearts.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1, 10, 11

Ahh, fall, the season of change. The other morning, while still dark outside, Seth and I awoke to the lively, heavy scent of wet sage and juniper curling through our open window, as a surprise rain caused the plants to release the fresh coolness they’d held onto all these dry hot weeks of summer. These first days of autumn feel like a celebration of the season. A frosty morning is novel and frisky. We’re enjoying those “firsts” of the season:  pumpkin spice latte, fire in the woodstove, Pumpkin Pie Blizzard from DQ. Our food cravings shift toward heartier fare: chili & cornbread, toasted cheese sandwiches, baked sweetbreads, anything pumpkin or apple, roasts and dinners hot from the oven.

We are definitely in a “gathering” mode on the farm these days, putting up food and firewood for the winter ahead. One thing I’m enjoying about living here is seeing and taking part in the process of things. Harvesting pears from the orchard; letting them ripen on the counter until their perfume announces ripeness; and then peeling, chopping, simmering, seasoning, and mashing them into a delicious pear sauce (smooth for Seth, chunky for me).

Pears (plus a few apples and Asian pears) ready for the sauce pot

It’s a satisfying kind of work to roll up one’s sleeves and get the hands a little dirty. A few times a day, when I need a quick break from my computer-driven day job, I slip on my barn shoes and head outside with the dog to pick those last ripe tomatoes, feed the birds some table scraps, pluck a few pieces of fruit. I bought an old fruit-picker’s basket from the thrift store and keep it by the side door because I’m always coming in with something. The 5 chickens are starting to lay more regularly now. Although, the 3 turkey hens have them beat at egg production (and size)! Anybody want to come over for a turkey egg scramble? Unusual, I know, but you might be surprised how good they are.:) The only thing is that those eggshells are so strong, I have to hammer down hard to get a clean break!

The white girls should start laying any day now...

Meanwhile, turkeys rule the roost

Seth has been a prime “hunter-gatherer”, bringing home a beautiful 7-pound steelhead from the Deschutes River (caught on the spey rod he built), which is now in our freezer for future meals.

Fresh steelhead, anyone? We'll grill this on a cedar plank--smoky & delicious!

And he’s filling the woodshed with fuel to keep us warm through the coming cold.

Chopping wood

Fill 'er up!

Winston's cozy spot by the fire

All that work builds an appetite and I’ve been having fun in the kitchen. I don’t know how much cooking and baking I’ll be up to when the baby arrives, so all the more reason to enjoy it now and stock up on some things. We had oodles of beautiful little plum tomatoes last week–I couldn’t eat them fast enough, so I dehydrated them and packed in olive oil with garlic and herbs. Should make a tasty, simple addition to pasta,  pizza, or sandwiches this winter. 

So that’s what’s new and fun on the farm these days! I hope you are enjoying fall, notching off some “firsts” of the season, and eating well, my friends. 🙂

The Baby Stuff Dilemma

As a first time mom, I have fears.

And I’m not even referring to the typical fears like labor pains, sleepless nights, and being responsible for  a tiny, vulnerable human who doesn’t come with written instructions. (Those are concerns too, of course, but that’s another discussion.) Nope, the fear I’m referring to is that of the Baby Stuff Takeover: the inevitable, systematic, room-by-room invasion of plastic, colorful, latest & greatest, must-have baby & toddler accessories, toys, gear, and for lack of a better word, junk. The Dilemma: On one hand, I strongly desire simplicity…but on the other, I like Stuff and it’s a challenge to discern what our baby will and won’t need. So I can envision the takeover all too easily, creeping into our house, bags and cars, until there’s cute clutter in every corner of our life.

by Hallie Burton for Real Simple

Now lest you think me a perfectionistic control freak who cares more about having a tidy house than a happy child, please let me assure you that my concern is not primarily esthetic. I shared my heart on the matter of moving toward simplicity and streamlining our possessions in last week’s post, (Confessions of a Recovering Consumer). The same reasons for wanting to streamline my clothing collection hold true here, with the added motivating twist of a new little life directly affected by my choices.

If you’ve seen the documentary “Babies” or travelled in developing countries, you are probably aware of the drastic variations among how cultures clothe, feed, and educate children through their first year. Last week Kara commented on the blog that with her second baby, she kept asking herself, “What did the pioneer women do about…? I bet they didn’t have … on the Oregon trail.” And I think these reference points–looking at other cultures and times to see how women have raised children over the course of history–are really helpful to expand our modern, Western, just-buy-the-gadget-at-Target mindsets. What Stuff have most women throughout the history of the world raised their babies with? Their breasts, cloth, a couple things harvested & produced locally, and the support of their community. All that to say, I have deep suspicions that raising children can, and perhaps should, be a much more streamlined endeavor.

As I’ve been preparing for motherhood, here are the Top Four Motivations I’ve landed on for keeping the Baby Stuff to a relative minimum:

Motivation 1: Focus. By keeping it simple and uncluttered, I will by default be freer to focus on connecting with my little man himself. I recognize this is theoretical for me at this point, but my instinct and experience in other realms tells me its true. Less stuff = Less to clean, store, and trip over. Less stuff = More peace of mind, flexibility & mobility, together time.

Motivation 2: Lifestyle. This choice aligns with my values and desired lifestyle. While I don’t consider myself a radical minimalist or environmentalist, we are more “naturally” minded than maybe the typical American family. I plan to have a natural, non-interventive childbirth, breastfeed, cosleep in the early months, use cloth diapers, and make my own organic baby food once the little man starts chomping. While I’m no expert on any of these subjects, I do believe that our bodies and creation are amazingly designed to provide and nurture,  I do value environmental stewardship,  and I do find it liberating to opt out of wasteful consumption. It’s a journey and I’m certainly not one to judge anyone else for where they currently land on this spectrum, as I hope others won’t judge me for my own gradual progress.

Motivation 3: Finances. There’s an endless supply of products competing for my dollars, many of them flashy and cute, but unnecessary. With each purchase I must ask myself, “Is this a need?” and “Is this the best way to spend these dollars?” Key motivations here include living debt-free, saving for the future (think: college fund), and freeing up more income for giving to causes we believe in and people who need it more than we do. As a Christian, I’m learning that any resources we “own” are merely entrusted to us by a generous Benefactor and we’re responsible to invest them wisely for good, not just blow it all on ourselves.

Motivation 4: Modeling. Kids learn by imitating. Perhaps most importantly, I want to be a good example to our son in these areas from the very beginning.

There’s the foundation for my philosophy. How will I apply those values? In keeping with the Top Four lists, here are the Top Four traits of the kinds of baby products I think are worth acquring:

Trait 1: Essential. I want products that are necessary, useful, helpful, will be used regularly, and serve more than one purpose. Because I am not a radical minimalist, I am going to count on more than just my boobs and a few clean rags to raise this baby. But those additional items will be expected to “carry their own weight” by proving highly useful.

Trait 2: Healthful. Healthy for baby & mom, healthy for those involved in its production, healthy for the planet. These kinds of products are often natural and/or organic, sustainably / locally made (preferably by a person, not a machine), and environmentally friendly. Bath products and toys are two key categories to pay special attention to.

Trait 3: Appropriately Valued. Quality is important and cheaper isn’t necessarily better. I will pay more for a product that meets these traits listed above & below. But for many products, I prefer gently used purchases and gifts. For instance, the cosleeper I researched online retails for around $200; I found a few of them for sale on Craigslist in Bend for $60-$80. For something we’ll only use a few months, buying used makes fiscal sense.

Trait 4: Nurturing. This category may be more vague, but it ties into my ideas about a child’s mental development. I will limit our little one’s access to technology. The surgeon general warns against allowing children “screen time” their first two years; sorry Baby Einstein and http://www.BabyTV.com. Instead of toys that entertain the baby (flashing lights & sounds, plastic moving parts) I would love to find toys that let the baby apply his imagination. And we’ll be right there along side of him, playing, reading, talking, singing, touching, and nurturing him as he discovers his world.

Whew! So there’s my list. I’m sure it will continue to be honed in the next 5 weeks leading up to Baby’s birth. And then once he arrives, we’ll watch and listen and learn even more about what we do and don’t need.

Your turn! What have you found to be the most essential, healthful, valuable, nurturing products for your baby? And…what was the first thing you tossed in the Goodwill pile? I look forward to reading your thoughts on this!


Temps are back to 90-degrees here, day after day after day. Maybe it’s summer’s apology for showing up late this year? I am loving the heat and occassionally lulled into thinking it will be like this indefinitely. It won’t, of course. We live in a land where it’s wintry cold half the year. All the […]

Old Things New

Last weekend, Seth and I were preparing for our first BBQ here at the farm. Friends had been invited, the grass was mowed, and the fridge overflowed with food. But I had one problem–no outdoor table on which to place all that good food to feed those hungry friends!

Sure, I could go out and purchase a table. I’d already made the rounds at the thrift shops and garage sales the weekend before with Mom, but to no avail. Our local Bi-Mart offered soul-less plastic tables for $50 that would do the job. But a better idea had taken hold of my imagination. A few evenings before, Seth and I were walking around the property when I spotted two old metal barrels in the horse corral. Partially buried in dirt and tumbleweeds, we hoisted them up to discover they’d been converted into horse troughs for hay, and then abandoned again. Layers of chipped paint and a patina of rust testified to their age and neglect…and gave them a unique beauty that appealed to my shabby-chic sensibilities. Could these old barrels hold the answer to my table dilemma?

Though perhaps a bit skeptical, my accommodating husband dragged them over to the house for me, hosed them down, and devised a plan for converting them into a table by attaching an old door on top via metal banding and wood screws.

The finished product is a perfectly serviceable, portable outdoor table that was 100% sourced from used materials right here on the property! Dressed with a  sunflower table cloth my mom brought back from Provence, the old-new thing looked downright charming.  While Seth was right about it being too tall for a dinner table, it was just the right height for setting out food: high enough to keep toddlers and nosey dogs out of trouble!

Isn’t there something beautiful in old things made new again? I get a satisfaction, a joy in finding a new use for something that had seemingly lost its usefulness. Maybe exercising the “renew and restore” side of our creativity is fulfilling because it reflects the heart of our Creator. My spirit thrills when I read Jesus’ words in Revelation 21:5, “Behold, I make all things new.”  My Greek commentary tells me that the word for “new” here can also mean renewed or restored. I like that about God–that He finds it worth His while to give new life to old things. That He will someday renew all things into something beautiful.

Meanwhile, I’m having fun on this old place, stumbling upon abandoned barrels, discarded doors, and other hidden treasures just waiting to be found again.