Summer days are here: fast, bright, and hot.
We wake early but find that the sun has already beat us to it. These are the longest days, and they start without us. I sip my morning coffee and make my list. How is it possible to feel so behind at 6:30 in the morning?
Summer to-do lists are like none other:
Pick the snap peas while they’re still tender. Cut the sweet peas before they wilt. Visit the u-pick berry farm. Make freezer jam. Write that magazine story due tomorrow. Carve a dent, at least, in the email inbox. Write that check and mail it. Help the boys catch fireflies.
Summer priorities are topsy-turvy. Ripening strawberries and fat peas are things of urgency, but I’ve forgotten where I left my laptop. Was it two days ago, I last used it? There’s an important professional conversation I need to have, but I’ve missed the phone call twice. The first time, I was at the creek with the kids. The second, I was picking cherries.
An afternoon storm rolls in, the kind of summer storm that is all sound, little fury, and I think Lord, I love summer.
The boys start fighting (again), and I pray, Lord, let me survive the summer.
Summer days are so long, we have more than one second chance.
Here is one, and here is another. We explode in anger. We apologize. I make them hug. One shrugs. One runs away. We laugh. And we do it all again, three or four times. I maybe cry once, and then I tell my kids how I used to fight so terribly with my sisters I made my own mother cry.
Summer is crying mothers, and fighting kids; summer is fat, sweet strawberries, and lightning crashing like a cymbal on your head.
Summer is more, and more, and more.
Summer is magic.
Summer days run fast and hard until evening. Then the summer sun slows, almost stops, and you can hardly tell it’s sinking. Summer evenings taste like forever. I could finish that to-do list if I wanted, but urgency fades in the evening. Why didn’t I realize sooner? These are the longest days, and there is time enough.
Swift, swift times flies, but still there is enough for what matters: porch rockers, bubble wands, watermelon, one last visit to the new trees with a watering can.
The kids watch a movie and stay up too late. You and I walk in the meadow we made when you decided to stop mowing the grass.
There is time enough.
Summer is here. Why don’t we sit a while?
It has turned suddenly cold and windy. Cold enough that we considered firing up the woodstove in our kitchen this morning.
It has also turned dark. Thanks to a nor’easter, we’ve had rain and clouds for days. The sun rises noticeably later. It sets before any of us are at all ready.
It feels like October. Which is right on schedule, I suppose. Isn’t it comforting when nature’s patterns prove reliable?
This week I went to one of our local farm markets and filled my cart with pie pumpkins, butternut squash, acorn squash, and Concord grapes. Now what I really need to do is stock up my nightstand with fresh books for autumn. Dark nights were made for books.
If you’d like to do the same, here are a few I’ve picked up recently.
Earth Works: Selected Essays by Scott Russell Sanders is an excellent collection of thoughtful essays by one of the best writers working in that genre. For the price of one book, these thirty essays could keep you company all winter. Like most of the best things in life, they should be appreciated slowly (however, I’m sure you will be tempted to gulp them down. But don’t! They are too wise, too lovely for that).
Sanders writes about houses and marriages. About the stars and beauty. He writes to discover, and the thing he wants to find, the question he seems most compelled to ask, is some variation on what it means to live well. How can we live in harmony with ourselves, with one another, and with this beautiful, astonishing planet that is our home?
All of us ponder our lives. … Essayists choose to do such reflecting, remembering, and imagining in public, on the page. – Scott Russell Sanders
Here is my new favorite book for little people: A Party for Pepper: A Hazelwood Forest Counting Book by Sarah Hartsig.
I discovered Hartsig, the artist behind the world of Hazelwood Forest, on Instagram, and I love her subject and style. If you enjoy Tasha Tudor and Beatrix Potter, you will love Hazelwood Forest, too.
I think we adults should buy picture books (and support talented artists) for ourselves, but I am fortunate to still have a small book-loving person in my life, so the choice, for me, was easy. I gave A Party for Pepper to Elsa on her third birthday in September, and I can honestly tell you it was one of her favorite gifts. Numbers are her thing right now, so while I enjoyed the depictions of sweet animals taking tea, Elsa counted and counted the gorgeous watercolor numbers.
I am already eager to see what Hartsig creates next.
Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World by Suzanne Woods Fisher was sent to me by a friend who read my recent blog posts on simplicity. She thought I’d like this book, and she was right. I haven’t finished it yet (this, too, is a book best absorbed slowly), but I can already recommend it.
Here are stories from Amish lives and reflections on Amish belief and practice for the rest of us. The tone is respectful but not fawning, and the author, though not Amish herself, has family roots and ongoing relationships within a plain community. In other words, she is not a voyeur, nor does she think we should all be Amish. Rather, she knows these communities well, her own life has been enriched by their wisdom, and she is interested in sharing that wisdom with us.
The book is organized for small group discussions. At first, I skimmed the discussion questions that come at the end of each brief chapter, but it finally dawned on me how much I would love to read this book with a group. I know there are some aspects of my complicated life and world I take entirely for granted or view as entirely fixed.
Reading this with a group, I wonder if we might discover just how much we are not required to live the lives of overly busy consumers that our world demands?
We non-Amish types might object to having a church choose our house paint. The Ordnung seems confining and restrictive, invasive, even. It’s true that the Amish are not free to do some things. However, they are free from many others. – Suzanne Woods Fisher
On this same theme, I shared a story at the Art of Simple this week about slowing down to the pace of a horse-drawn buggy. It’s a story about slow travel and sacred places. It’s a story about placemaking. It surprised me as I wrote, and I am still pondering the ideas that emerged. I hope you’ll read it and ponder with me.
Happy Saturday, friends.
This summer, I’ve been thinking about that elusive thing called the simple life.
I’ve been asking myself why simplicity sometimes seems so complicated. I’ve been asking myself why bother?
This. This is why.
Because these tart green apples, growing on baby trees we planted ourselves, are the best I’ve ever tasted.
Apparently, the simple life is delicious.
Today, I’m sharing about eating well and eating with simplicity at Grace Table. I hope you’ll join me there.
Find my story (and our family’s recipe for simple, homemade yogurt) here.
It is one thing to choose less for oneself. It is another thing entirely to make that same choice for your children.
We always want more for our children. More than we had. More than we are.
What kind of parent holds their child’s small hand and walks in the direction of less?
In some ways we have chosen less. We try (and fail, and try again) to choose less noise, less hurry, less stuff. We choose fewer activities, fewer commitments, fewer toys.
We limit sugar and entertainment (which, paradoxically, makes apple cider doughnuts sweeter and family movie night more fun).
But, mostly, and perhaps most significantly, less is chosen for us.
There is never enough money and there is never enough time for all that I want for my kids.
Yes, I want sewing lessons and music lessons and art lessons. Yes, I want a pool pass and movie tickets and restaurant meals. But I have four children and limited funds, and I say “no” a lot because “no” is the only thing I can say.
When I choose less for myself, I must trust in God’s provision. His protection. His presence. Yet I seem to believe that I am meant to be God for my children. As if I am the one who provides. As if I am the one who protects.
But my provision is faulty. My protection imperfect. Even when present I give myself with impatience rather than love.
Yet I would fill all those gaps with more. I would build a high wall – made of stuff and experiences and extra curricular activities – in order to launch my children into a future I cannot even begin to see.
It turns out that having less to give requires letting go.
Having let go, having placed my children in the hands of the only provider and protector, the one who has secured a future for each of them, I am freed of so much fear.
I am released to love them. Freed, even, to give good gifts without worrying that I must give every gift.
Living with less where our children are concerned might sound peaceful. It might sound idyllic. And, at times, it is.
Without the pool pass, there is the creek and the slip ‘n slide. Because of severe food allergies, there is more made-from-scratch food enjoyed together around our own table.
But often it feels as if we are jagged pebbles tossed together in one of those toy rock tumblers.
We cannot escape one another (because there are fewer camps and activities to take us in different directions).
We cannot stop hurting each other (perhaps because we are bored, or because we are not distracted by a screen, or because we are human).
This, then, is my prayer, this is my hope: that through constraints and tears and a thousand petty squabbles, we are becoming gems.
I’ve been writing about simplicity. This means, of course, that I’ve been reading about it, too.
So here is one more peak at the bookshelves in this old farmhouse. Though, to be honest, most of these books haven’t yet found their place on a shelf. Too new, too needed, they are piled on that one chair in our tiny sunroom or the little bureau I use as a bedside table. I’m fairly sure my almost-three-year-old has already taken a ballpoint pen to one or two of them.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive. Not even comprehensive. Perhaps it isn’t even a good place to begin if you are new to the topic. But these are the books I’ve been reading. These are the books I would pass on to you if you came to visit us at Maplehurst.
These are merely a few books that have found their way to me. And I am trying my best to listen.
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I’ll give you the best right up front. It’s called In Celebration of Simplicity: The Joy of Living Lightly by Penelope Wilcock. Recommended by an internet friend (she and her words are wise and beautiful; I recommend especially this recent post on dimming the lights), I think of this book as a lovely little dagger.
It is a pretty thing, like a gift book. The edges of every single page are devoted to Scripture and inspirational quotations. But don’t be fooled. There is nothing sweet about Wilcock’s message.
This is a book about discipleship. About following Jesus in every part of our lives – our eating, our shopping, our words, our clothing, our hospitality, our entertainment, our work, our everything.
The Way of Christ, The Way of simplicity is narrow. Reading Wilcock I see it. I believe it. I am afraid of it. Yet somehow, reading this book, I want to run in that direction. And never come back.
The discipline of simplicity is the magnifying glass that focuses the sun, so that the concentrated force of the Holy Spirit can be trained upon the insignificant bits and pieces of the common way in which we tread, effecting amid all the dross and distractions the living fire of a kindled life. – Penelope Wilcock
Another book suggested by an internet friend (on my facebook page, are we connected there?), is The Plain Reader: Essays on Making a Simple Life edited by Scott Savage.
I am only halfway through this anthology, but I already know it’s one I want to pass on.
You’ll find at least one well known name (Wendell Berry and his essay on health is excellent) but most of these voices are not often heard outside their small circles. Most are Amish (by choice, not birth), Quaker, or members of other “Plain” communities.
The choices and viewpoints reflected in this book can only rightly be described as extreme. The temptation for many readers, myself included, is to put up defenses, to feel judged, to argue, and so to hold tightly to our usual ways of thinking and living.
But that is a waste.
If we can read this book with openness and curiosity, there is so much to gain. First, there is the benefit of seeing how radically different some live their lives all in the name of Christ. Second, though we may not adopt all, or even very many, of the practices of these writers, their radical choices can help us realize how much of our lives we actually can choose. So much of how we live, work, play, and worship seems already determined. But the essays in this book reveal how very possible it is to change everything about the ways in which we live.
And I find that incredibly inspiring.
In an odd sense, when every taboo has fallen, then the only way to be subversive is to have more fun than other people – to fill your heart and your home with more joy and warmth and pleasure than the frantic, slightly pathetic, ersatz happiness offered by Disney and the mall and the chat room. This is a book, finally, about joy. – Bill McKibben
A book I’ve mentioned before is Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish by Sue Bender. Bender’s book, part-memoir, part artistic vision, asks whether it is possible for a thoroughly modern woman to live life as beautifully and simply as the handmade Amish quilts she admires.
Must our lives be the crazy quilts we often feel them to be?
The feeling went beyond everyday cleanliness and order. The air felt alive, almost vibrating. Can a room have a heartbeat? Can space be serene and exciting at the same time? I’d never been in a room that felt like that. – Sue Bender
One reason I am feeling beckoned towards this thing we call the simple life, is that I want space in my life for the things that matter.
I want space to breath (to cut flowers every morning, to sit in stillness with a child in my lap). I want space for paying attention (there is trouble and injustice in our world, but if my life is too crowded I cannot notice, and I cannot do anything). And I want space for the absolutely essential non-essentials.
I don’t want to live a life that has no room for a book like A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997 by Wendell Berry.
I recommend it. Both the space-making and the poetry-reading.