Under the Apricot Tree

Savoring the Abundance of Simple Living

Category: Simple Living

A Country Bouquet

Last night at sunset, Seth and I donned jackets and darted around in the wind, cutting armloads of flowers from our yard. Someone years ago must’ve planted a thousand daffodil bulbs because the place is bursting with them right now.

Today is Administrative Professionals Day and Seth’s counseling office wanted to thank their school secretaries for all their hard work.

In a pinch, we came up with a charming homespun vase solution. It was simple, pretty and practically free. This would make a sweet gift for a friend, your child’s teacher, or really anyone who likes receiving flowers (and who doesn’t?). This could also be a fun, casual centerpiece, with various sized “vases” and coordinating colors.

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Directions:
-Select clean used glass jar(s); Tall jars with narrow necks work well
-Place empty jar over the center of one piece colored tissue paper
-Around the neck of the jar, gather the excess paper and snugly tie with yarn or raffia
-Add and arrange your bouquet of flowers
-Using a funnel, add water, being careful not to spill on the delicate paper

That’s it! There’s nothing like fresh cut flowers to make someone feel special. And in my book, “homemade” is even better. ūüôā

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Easy as Apple Pie

Is there anything more welcoming and enticing than the scent of fresh baked pie in your kitchen? I think not.

I do love me some apple pie. But baking a pie from scratch seems a bit daunting, doesn’t it? The domain of domestic goddesses¬†extraordinaire,¬†in whose league I do not belong,¬†as much as I enjoy dabbling in the culinary arts.¬†In an earlier¬†time, my grandparents’ generation, many women baked pies every week. In fact, my dad tells the story of his mom setting her hot-from-the-oven Saturday pie on the open window sill to cool, and a sticky-fingered thief walked right off with it. Scandalized the entire neighborhood. Well, I’ve discovered a little trick that makes apple pie so simple, it is downright scandalous. ūüôā

You simply prepare the apple filling in advance and¬†freeze it in Ziploc bags. Then when it’s pie time,¬†pull a bag¬†from your freezer, place it in your pie crust and bake. So easy!¬†By preparing several batches of filling simultaneously, the workload per pie is a fraction of what it would be using a traditional pie recipe. And it’s laughably easy to go from frozen filling to warm, delectable dessert on your table. (If you want another shortcut, use the store-bought pie crust dough. I won’t tell if you don’t. ūüėČ )¬†And the flavor, texture and aroma are everything you’d hope for. Using this method, I was able to serve homemade pie on Thanksgiving, just a few weeks after William was born, when I was still in the newborn-phase-fog and could hardly make toast.

You could whip up a 3-pie recipe for the freezer in about an hour. But if you find a good deal on apples and want to really stockpile, give yourself all afternoon and invite a friend to join you. Big jobs in the kitchen are so much more fun if you make a party of it!

Last week my friend Lisa and I had an apple party. I had ordered 40 pounds of organic juicing apples from our food co-op, Azure Standard, for just 50 cents/pound. So we rolled up our sleeves, turned up the music, and stocked up on pie filling and apple sauce. Since we both have babies (her Luke was born 3 weeks before my William), it was a bit of a juggling act. But the boys were good and spent most of the time sleeping and entertaining one another nearby.

Here are a few photos from our time, and I’ve included the recipe for frozen (or canned) apple pie filling from the Ball’s Blue Book of Canning at the bottom of this post.

Not necessary, but these peeler-corers sure save a lot of time by peeling, coring and slicing your apples at once. And they're kind of fun to use. (Cost $25 new)

Starting to smell sooo good!

one frozen pie filling

Voila! One hot-from-oven pie to-go.

And it really is that easy. When friends invited us for Saturday supper last weekend, I volunteered to bring dessert, knowing it would be a piece of cake to whip up, err…excuse me, easy as pie.

APPLE PIE FILLING RECIPE

from the Ball Blue Book of Preserving

Yield: about 6 pints (3 pies)

6 pounds apples               1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 cups sugar                      1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 cup flour                          2 tablespoons lemon juice

Wash, peel, core and slice apples. Treat to prevent darkening [I skip this step]. Combine sugar, flour and spices. Rinse and drain apples [I skip this, to]; stir into sugar mixture. Let stand until juices begin to flow, about 30 minutes. Stir in lemon juice. Cook over medium heat until mixture begins to thicken. Ladle pie filling into can-or-freeze jars or plastic freezer boxes, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. [I allow to cool and then ladle into large Ziploc freezer bags] Cool at room temperature, not to exceed 2 hours. Seal, label and freeze.

A Secret to Happiness

Everyone wants to be happy.

In America, we are even guaranteed “the pursuit of happiness” as a sovereign right. And¬†most¬†of us¬†are pretty darn good at pursuing what we think will make us happy. Everyone has their own way of going after what they want–some work hard; some cheat, steal, and lie; and¬†others are simply lucky. And occassionally, after all that striving or manipulating or at the end of a rainbow, we actually¬†find our pot of gold,¬†the thing we’d set our heart on to finally make us happy. But at some point in life, everyone realizes the bitter¬†truth in The Rolling Stones’ lyrics, “You can’t always get what you want.”¬†

But there is a truth, deeper still, that surprises. To many, this truth is a terrible disappointment, an emptiness where fullness was needed. To a few, this truth comes as a welcome surprise, a gift of unexpected abundance.

What is that truth, this secret to happiness?

The happiest people don’t have the best of everything; they¬†make the best of everything.

Yup, that’s it. ¬†Go ahead and chew on that for a minute. Now, I wish I could say that I came up with this concept on my own, but it is actually a direct quote from the greatest philosopher of all time, the Greek poetess¬†Hieronymous Anonymous. (In other words, noone seems to know who originated the concept and you could find 101 variations of it online. But I digress…)

Do you see how this truth could be a bitter pill for some and a sweet balm for others? If we fix our hope for happiness on getting, having, achieving, we will never reach it. Sure, we may be successful at those things, but we will quickly realize¬†they didn’t bring the lasting joy we were longing for. However, if we open our eyes to see that everyday life is a radically extravagant¬†gift and that the ordinary air, objects, work, people we’re surrounded by hold tremendous value, then, in that process we will surprise ourselves with happiness.

It has to do with contentment and delight,¬†creativity and humor, gratitude and selflessness. Which one of these words most jumps out at you? Hold onto that one word for a moment…

Now,¬† think of a challenging situation in your life right now, something that you’ve allowed to rob you of¬†some happiness. What would it look like if you applied your word to “make the best” of that situation? It might surprise you and turn something loathsome into a beautiful thing.

My word for now is delight.

~Jenni

PS: A warning: don’t be the donkey or the ostrich. By donkey, I mean don’t act like a martyr, moping about pretending you’re sacrificially making the best of everything to get people’s sympathy. By ostrich, I mean don’t bury your head in the ground, pretending everything’s fine and ignoring a situation that you know needs to change. This secret to happiness is meant to empower you to live abundantly in the midst of “ordinary”, not to keep you from truly living.

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?

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

РBased 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?¬†

2011 in Review + What’s to Come in 2012

Tomorrow we begin another new year. Twenty-eleven held many changes and big moments for this gal: my first pregnancy, my husband finishing his masters degree & landing a new job in another town, moving to this farmhouse, starting this blog, and best of all meeting our son eight weeks ago.

I love the fresh start we all get with a new year. Everyone needs a new beginning, a blank slate, at times. That’s why one of my all-time favorite verses is “His mercies never come to an end–they are new every morning!” (Lamentations 3:22).

On the other side of the coin, I think there’s great power in reflecting on the past; when I honestly examine how I lived last year–the beautiful moments I would relive if I could, as well as those “oops” moments I just wish I could do-over–I gain clarity and strength to press more deeply into the life I want to live, the life I was born for. I usually spend a lot of time with an empty new moleskine journal the days surrounding the start of a new year, filling its pages with reflections on my previous year and dreams & goals for the coming year. I have to work harder these days to carve out that kind of space for myself, but Seth is planning to be on daddy duty for a couple hours tomorrow while I go on a “date” with my journal. I look forward to that time, and hope you are able to ¬†find a comfy chair in a quiet place, too.

There are several things I’m looking forward to experiencing with you in 2012 here on the blog: photographs of the farm through the changing seasons; my first attempt to grow from seed a vegetable garden to feed our family through the summer & fall; a few culinary adventures including forgotten woodstove/cast iron cooking techniques & investigating a local “raw” dairy farm; interior decorating to create a peaceful sanctuary with authentic charm; book reviews & recommendations; a secret project Seth and I have undertaken together; and of course, moments just to pause and savor with you the richness of simple living. Ahh. So many good times ahead!

Well, we’ve 90 minutes to go on the West Coast, but it’s twelve o’clock somewhere. Happy New Year, friend!!!

~Jenni

PS…if you have any geek tendencies like me and get a kick out of stats & such things, you might find interesting the 2011 annual report the WordPress.com helper monkeys prepared for this blog, below. Sure was nice of those monkeys. (A huge thank you to my readers and top commenters, as well as hosts of referring sites!)

Here’s an excerpt:

“The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 26,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 10 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.”

Click here to see the complete report.

The Passing of a Season

What’s your favorite season? I am definitely a summer girl. I love the long warm days and the carefree sensations of walking barefoot in grass, BBQing with friends, and staying outside late at night to watch the stars…without getting cold! Yesterday as this blog post idea came to me, I was sitting on my porch bed with the sun warming my back and a blanket on my lap, my body a living illustration of turning away from the long hot days of summer and facing the cooler, cozier months ahead.

Each season has its benefits and drawbacks, its pros & cons. And during times of transition, I think it’s valuable to reflect on what we’ll miss about the days behind us and what we look forward to in the days ahead. Reflection enriches the chapters of our lives with a unique identity and meaning, instead of just a continual blur of random, meaningless, unconnected events. This is true whether the transition is a turning of the calendar, the change of a job, a move to another town, or even the addition or subtraction of an important relationship. By naming what we’ll miss, we give ourselves permission to honestly mourn the loss of what was good, thereby allowing it a place of meaning in our personal history and honoring the rhythms of life. And by identifying what we gain, we can rightly celebrate the good to come and set a positive tone for the days ahead.

To me, autumn and spring feel like transitional seasons, whereas summer and winter seem more definitive and self-sustained. Maybe this is because I grew up in Central Oregon, where spring and autumn tend to be winter one day and summer the next. But all four seasons hold traditional and metaphorical symbolism shared across many cultures:

  • Spring represents rebirth and new life (the promise of what’s to come)
  • Summer represents vitality, nurturing, life (the celebration of vibrant life)
  • Autumn represents harvest and maturation (the preservation of what’s been achieved and preparation for subsistence)
  • Winter represents sleep, covering, and darkness (the sheltering and rest of hibernation)

Isn’t it amazing that our world is wrapped in this beautiful rhythm? It makes me grateful to live in a temperate climate, where we experience the extremities of the seasons. (Although, in February, I’ll be jealous of my Texas friends who enjoy two seasons: hot and hotter!) ūüôā

Some things I’ll miss about summer:

  • The garden
  • Our weekly CSA box of organic local produce
  • Breakfast and dinner on the porch
  • Swimming and sun bathing
  • The sound of the breeze in the tall trees
  • Endless sunshine
  • Casual outdoor get-togethers
  • The scent of a summer shower on hot asphalt
  • Kids running through sprinklers
  • Summer dresses and flip-flops
  • Hiking

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Some things I’m excited about for winter:

  • Pulling apples from my stash in the cellar
  • Hearty, oven-cooked dinners and soups
  • A white, sparkly blanket of snow
  • Baby’s first holidays
  • Deep heat from the wood stove
  • Family & friends gathered in a cozy house
  • Sweaters, jeans & boots
  • Running again
  • Bundling up our baby until he resembles a giant marshmallow
  • Hot tubbing in the woods at Mt Hood
  • Long quiet evenings of tea and reading on the couch (Oh, wait a second…that’s what we used to do pre-baby…check back with me on this! ūüėČ

What about you? What will you most miss about summer? What do you look forward to this winter?

(By the way, today is my birthday! There‚Äôs yet another good reason to reflect on the past, dream about the future‚Ķand celebrate today! Honestly, with the baby on the way, I haven’t given much though to my birthday this year. My family is coming over tonight and bringing dinner. Looks like we get to begin on the Winter Wonders list already, as family gathers together in our house, with plenty of food, warmth and festivity. Party on! If William should decide it’s time to go into real labor, all the better.)

Waiting for “It”

In the wee hours this morning, I finally started feeling contractions! At 4:35 am I awoke to an intense tightening of my abdomen; not very painful, but enough to let me know it was a contraction. Laying there in the dark, first caution and then excitement welled up in me as I thought to myself, “This could be it!” They continued every 10-15 minutes as I tried to rest quietly, checking the clock, thanking the Lord, and finally, waking Seth when I couldn’t keep the secret anymore around 5:30.

Being three days over my “due date”, I am eager to get this baby out of my womb and into my arms! So I was ready to call the doula, have Seth tell his substitute to cover him at work, and get this party started! “Let’s see, 6:00 am now, get through early labor here in the comfort of home, head to the hospital later today, and maybe have our son before midnight. October 27: that’s a good date to be born!” I had it all planned out in my head. ūüôā And yet, here I sit seven hours later, feeling a little too good to be in labor. Hmm… Tick-tock goes the clock.

Isn’t that just like life? We are always so eager to get to the next stage! Whether it’s graduating, getting the job, finding the perfect boyfriend/girlfriend, getting engaged, getting married, getting to retirement, getting the kids out of the house, or just getting past this crazy day…it’s so easy to focus on getting there, wherever the next “there” may be. Before I was pregnant, I so desired to become pregnant; and to be honest, I really have enjoyed this phase of life. But now that society has communicated that my baby should have arrived by now, I struggle to stay content and focused in this moment. It’s natural to feel that way. But really, isn’t all we really have this moment?

Ann Voskamp writes beautifully of the gift of this moment concept in her recent book, One Thousand Gifts and on her blog (http://www.aholyexperience.com/ann-voskamp/). Look how she describes this phenomenon of always being in a hurry to get there:

‚ÄúBeing in a hurry. Getting to the next thing without fully entering the thing in front of me. I cannot think of a single advantage I’ve ever gained from being in a hurry. But a thousand broken and missed things, tens of thousands, lie in the wake of all the rushing…. Through all that haste I thought I was making up time. It turns out I was throwing it away.‚Ä̬†

I know I do that sometimes. In my impatient waiting for “next”, I completely miss out on now. If I’m not careful to be fully present and grateful for the moment of life I am in right now, I am blind and deaf to the beauty that surrounds me, I am throwing away time. What small act of love can I perform today that might echo throughout eternity? How can I nourish myself and others with the abundant grace that is offered today, which I may find myself in need of for tomorrow’s journey?¬†

Now this doesn’t mean that I won’t prepare for the future. It’s definitely important to have goals and dreams and to take the steps required to reach them. I am not advocating laziness or aimless living. Our goals for the future should guide our choices today. But still, we cannot live in tomorrow.

I choose to live now. I will not just “get through today” until that miraculous moment I long for. Yes, I look forward to what’s to come–you’d better believe I’m excited to look into the eyes of my son, and that I’ve double-checked that our bags are packed, etc! But it’s easy to glamorize the future and miss the miracle of this moment. The truth is that, once my labor does start in earnest, I’m going to experience a lot of pain before we get to the other side. Maybe that’s why Jesus counseled us “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Speaking of which, I just felt another contraction!)

Today really is a gift. The fact that you and I are alive right now, breathing air, considering these words together, is a miracle in itself! So let’s live fully in this moment, with its blessings and its challenges.¬†

I’d love to hear what that means for you today.¬†¬†


More on Stillness

Parody on the 23rd Psalm:

The clock is my dictator, I shall not rest.

It makes me lie down only when exhausted,

It leads me to deep depression,

It hounds my soul.

It leads me in circles of frenzy for activity’s sake.

Even though I run frantically from task to task,

I will never get it done,

For my “ideal” is with me,

Deadlines and my need for approval, they drive me.

They demand performance from me, beyond the limits of my schedule.

They anoint my head with migraines.

My in-basket overflows.

Surely fatigue and time pressure shall follow me all the days of my life,

And I will dwell in the bonds of frustration forever.

How’s that¬†for a bit of ironic humor before the weekend? Cruelly close to the truth we’ve all experienced at times, isn’t it? (Text by Marcia K Hornok; I found¬†it in Mark Powley’s wonderful book, Consumer Detox, Zondervan 2010.)

My post on stillness (No Shame in Stillness: http://bit.ly/qea8w5) earlier¬†this week seems to have hit a nerve. Judging by the feedback I’ve gotten, many of us are becoming more aware of our vital need to periodically unplug and just be…and we’re finally taking steps to make that a priority. So I wanted to follow up on this issue more with you through the weekend. If you want to think a bit deeper¬†and consider how it’s affecting your (and your children’s) ability to create and flourish, I¬†recommend Scott Belsky’s provacative¬†article as a great follow-up: What Happened to Downtime? The Extinction of Deep Thinking Sacred Space¬†¬†(read it here:¬†http://bit.ly/dOWLOi). Belsky is the CEO of Behance and author of the national bestselling book¬†Making Ideas Happen.

He writes that, “The potential of our own creativity is rapidly being compromised by the era we live in. I believe that genius in the 21st century will be attributed to people who are able to unplug from the constant state of¬†reactionary workflow, reduce their amount of¬†insecurity work, and allow their minds to solve the great challenges of our era.” Definitely check out his article when you have a chance!

Also, I wanted to share a few inspirational quotes and verses on stillness that have served as guideposts to me along this journey. These are¬†a powerful¬†antidote to “The clock is my dictator” mindset above.¬†You might even want to meditate on one of them during your next creative pause. (Located below the scratch ‘n sniff flower image. ūüėČ )

Let's stop & smell the roses

“Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.” (Hermann Hesse)

“Sabbath requires composure. It requires the strength of will to interrupt the momentum of work. Enough. Now I rest. Creating and resting is essential.” (Mark Bowley, Consumer Detox)

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,¬†in quietness and trust is your strength.'”¬†(Isaiah 30:15)

“He makes me lie down in green pastures,¬†he leads me beside quiet waters,¬†he refreshes my soul.” (Psalm 23:1-3a)

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” (Albert Einstein)

“Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.'” (Matthew 11:28)

No Shame in Stillness

Today I did something shocking, socially unacceptable and so counter-cultural, it’s downright rebellious: I was still. To be specific, I put my feet up on the porch rail, leaned back in a deep chair, and sat in the¬†afternoon sunshine for a while, accomplishing absolutely nothing.

Not exactly the picture of a revolutionary, is it? I know, but if you look a bit deeper, you might recognize that one action as essentially giving the finger to a powerful and ruthless dictator: the dogma that my busyness reflects my value.

Does the idea of sitting quietly, alone with your thoughts for a while make you sigh wistfully or squirm uncomfortably? Probably a mixture of both.

In my experience as a modern woman, we simultaneously long for and fear the idea of stillness. We tend to pride ourselves on how much we accomplish in a day, and so stepping away from productivity is a risk, as though we must prove the worth of our existence by never slowing down to pause. And yet, we long for peace and rest, to step off the treadmill of life occasionally and catch our breath. And so we allow ourselves an occasional “indulgence” in a piece of Dove Chocolate or an extra creamy Yoplait yogurt because their advertising gurus convinced us that it’s okay, you deserve it. And we’ll take our ¬†annual vacation, hoping to cram in all the R&R we’ve denied ourselves all year. But even those “treats” are usually accompanied by guilt, shame, and pressure to “maximize” the time.

And there’s another reason we don’t have time for stillness: I believe we avoid it because we are afraid of what we would find there. If I slowed down enough to really listen (to my spirit, my body, my mind), I might not like what it tells me. Or if I sat down to listen for the voice of God and sit with Him in the vulnerability of who I really am, what might He say to me? And so it is safer to fill my schedule with more work, more Facebook time, more music, more accomplishments than to slow down and be still.

But what if we weren’t meant to “make the most” of every day? To fit in the most activities, run the fastest and most efficient household, grow our business as big as possible, get the best we can afford, and achieve our utmost potential in every realm? Maybe doing more, faster won’t actually get us where we want to be…or where we need to be.

I am coming to believe that, if we want to truly live life, creating space for stillness is crucial. In spite of–and because of–all the pressures on our time, we have a built-in need for periods of quiet, rest and reflection. Although this may seem like just one more thing to fit in, I believe that if¬†we will find a way to make space for stillness and reflection, it will reshape our lives. Just as the human body needs to inhale and exhale, we need times of work and times of rest, times to act and times to reflect. There is no shame in that. Many cultures have retained this rhythm in life, but looking at myself and around at our society, we seem to have forgotten the value in rest and reflection, condemning them instead as laziness, self-indulgence or worthless “navel gazing”. And I think we’re suffering for it. We don’t know how to just be with ourselves. And how can we offer much to others and this world if we aren’t even connected to our own selves?

So what are some ways we can reclaim stillness and rest in the midst of real life this week? It will look differently for everyone, and remember that it’s not about “what you do” but opening the posture of your heart and mind. In the stillness, you may find your mind racing to process thoughts that you haven’t been able to give your attention to, and that’s fine. Or you might want to acknowledge what you’ve been feeling lately and just sit honestly in that. Don’t try to solve every problem or reach a great conclusion during this time. If you aren’t sure what to think about and you want to connect to God, I encourage you to meditate on a favorite song or scripture that brings you peace and to rest in the knowledge that you are a beloved child of God (even if you don’t feel that you are). ¬†Here are a few ideas I’ve been implementing lately, during my experiment in living more slowly:

  • Sit or lie in a comfortable space for a while; even if you only have 5 or 15 minutes to spare, set a timer and enjoy simply being there.
  • If you’re waiting in line at the bank, store, or on the phone, reclaim that time as an opportunity to be still in your heart.
  • While at your job, work hard and focused for an extended period and then step away from your computer for a few minutes (such as 55 minutes on, 5 minutes off); studies have shown this actually increases productivity and decreases overuse injuries such as eye strain, back and neck pain, etc. If you can walk a lap around the building outside or go look out a window for a few minutes, you may find yourself rejuvenated and ready for the next big push.
  • Eat sitting down at a table; turn off your technology and taste your food; be aware of it pleasing your taste buds and nourishing your body.
  • Take a walk or¬†jog outside and observe your surroundings; leave the iPod at home and listen; what do you see, smell, or feel?
  • Leave your car radio off on your next drive; is the silence uncomfortable for you? That’s okay; don’t try to fill it.
  • Do something the slow way; it’s far more convenient to buy bread from a store, but sometimes I like to take a few hours to bake a loaf of bread, kneading it by hand, letting it fill our house with its scent, and then eating it while still warm from the oven. Whether it’s baking bread, washing dishes by hand, or driving the scenic route, allow yourself to choose the slow way sometimes if it is more enjoyable and meditative for you.
  • Spend time just being with your child or pet. Ponder the simple wonder of a little one, pet your dog or cat for a few minutes, take a nap with your child. If you don’t have a chld or pet at home,¬†observe the birds outside your window. The little ones have much to teach us.
  • Find healthy boundaries for “screen time”. I’ve found that if I’m still on my computer after 9pm, I go to bed later and grumpier than usual. So I try to shut down by 9 and spend the remainder of the evening in a more relaxing way. However that applies for you, pay attention to your patterns and find something that leaves you feeling more rested and centered.
  • Observe Sabbath. Dedicating one day a week to step back from your work really flies in the face of our “non-stop” culture. Though we don’t do this every week, Seth and I try to accomplish our errands and household chores on Saturdays so that we can have a day of rest together on Sunday. It takes some coordinating, but has always felt like an incredible gift when we actually have a full day for rest and reflection.

I offer these up as ideas. But I’d love to hear from you:

What helps you to be still and what have you found to be the biggest challenges in creating that space for yourself?

Note: If this concept resonated with you, you might also enjoy my follow-up blog post with inspirational quotes and an ironic parody: More on Stillness.

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!