Learning Silence

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I’ve been quieter online these past months.

I’m learning about silence. Learning to step back and recognize limitations: both my own and other people’s. I’ve been thinking a lot about how much we invest in these screen-lives of ours.

I went into the woods to live. Intensely, simply, wholly. When we first went off-grid we checked up online once or twice a week. I posted blogs then about the days as I lived them and then stepped away and allowed silence to drape back around me again. This silence is healthier for me, I think it’s healthier for most of us, but distraction is so easy.

We’re a profoundly lonely society.

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I think our screen lives often amplify this loneliness. They feed it – groups and ‘community spaces’, hashtags, and virtual movements. All done behind the safety of of screen, without the intensity and vulnerability of actual human interaction. I’m not sure how to fix this. But I can tell you what I’ve been doing to build up a culture of intimacy and humanity in my own life:

  • I got off face book – a part from my blog’s largely neglected little niche, I’m entirely away from what seems more and more to have become a distressingly hostile and divisive environment. I know, we have lots of long distance friends and family too! It can be a challenge connecting with them, but I think it’s worthwhile.
  • I’m tuning out more – people don’t need to access me easily and consistently. I don’t owe them an immediate response. I owe that time and attention to those entrusted to me, and to God. I’m spending less and less time online, and more time reading, praying, playing, and working.

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  • Remember the John Prine song: “You’re flag decal won’t get you into heaven anymore” – well, neither will your facebook status. “Jesus don’t like killing, no matter what the reason’s for” and when you rail at strangers online, when you tear them down, well “whoever hates his brother has already killed him in his heart.

I want heaven. I want peace. I’m blocking and clearing out the voices I see that are            cruel, bullying, manipulative, and demeaning – even if I actually agree with some of          their perspectives. And I’m enjoying the silence.

 

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  • I’m re-assessing and (mostly) rejecting some of the ideologies that have formed me and which have become increasingly problematic as I grow in faith and in understanding. It’s been challenging, and deeply rewarding. I feel as though I’m am deep in the ‘Mother’ stage of my life, and my understanding is active, earth and experience-based, and nurturing rather that knowledge-driven and dream-filled as it was in my 20s.

So tell me, please: what are you doing to cultivate beauty, silence, and especially tangible community in your life? 

 

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Maine Summer Sangria

We had friends over for dinner the other night. It was hot and humid, I put goat-curry to simmer on the outdoor stove and let peachy-thyme galettes set on the table – under a napkin to keep the bugs away.

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For drinks, I made fresh lemonade with blueberries and peaches for the kids and chilled two bottles of vinho verde in a bucket of rainwater for sangria. It’s been one of my favorites this month, mainly because our thyme has been doing so much better this year than ever before! We moved it early this spring into it’s own bed and the difference is delightful. No more tough, woody stems sprouting a scraggly leaf or two before withering! This year I’ve a springy carpet of leaves and pale flowers bursting with scent.

Vinho verde and thyme were made for each other. I gather a few largish sprigs, along with some lemon verbena, and bee balm and steep them in the wine while slicing up peaches and lemons. Lemons are the only none local ingredient for us, but I think they add a nice freshness!

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Each Sangria is a bit different, blackberries are just starting to ripen here, and blueberries are less plentiful, but wine is forgiving, it embraces whatever you throw in it. When our friends came the other night for goat curry and galettes, it was a peachy-berry-thyme, July Sangria. tonight –  to welcome August  – it’ll be herbier: thyme, Russian sage, bee balm, chamomile, and a few of the first blackberries.

Blessed August all!

 

Baiting-Cakes and Books for Rainy Days

It’s a rainy, cooling sort of day after another long week of heat. Thunder-storms are expected later this afternoon, but the gray drizzle we have going right now is as cozy as can be.

I’m making lists of books we’ll need (‘want’ is probably a better word) for the fall – not only for the kids, but for me as well. And it’s such a very long list – I’ve discovered Rumer Godden (thanks to my sister, who sent me In This House of Brede. Read it, really! It’s an absolutely absorbing book, heart-rending, rich, and incredibly written. It’s pure magic.) Rumer Godden has apparently written a few books for children as well. I’m putting a few on our ‘read-aloud’ list, and possibly on Yarrow’s ‘To – Read’ list.

If you haven’t discovered a delightful little children’s book: The Adventures of Mabel, check it out! We found it in the back of a used book store and the illustrations caught our attention. The adventures themselves – brownies, a friendly wolf, a talking lizard – were so sweet and fairy-tale-fun; we bought it for Yarrow’s birthday and she devoured it.

But school books have been taking up most of my focus. We’re still using TAN’s Story of Civilization Vol 1 that we began in March of last year. Yarrow and Ilya are loving the tone and language, though we’ve mainly abandoned the activity book. Activities aren’t really our thing as a family, so I’m trying to find other ways to incorporate what we’re learning. And our local library, (ok, it’s 30 minutes away, but it’s the closest library we have!) has so many fun children’s histories to supplement. But I’m still hoping to own a lovely, well-translated, children’s version of The Illiad!

We’re also continuing on with our Primary Language Lessons book and Saxon Math. But with math, I’d like to get a set of flash cards to help Yarrow memorize basic facts better and with more confidence. I think flash cards would fit well with her learning style. I’m also looking for some great books for both kids on birds, insects, and northeast American wildlife. Beautiful books that tell a story – like the Burgess Bird Book (this one seems to have all the illustrations too!) Because I’d love for this year to be heavy on nature and prayer. Now that Yarrow’s Sacramental Prep is over and Ilya’s is a few year’s off, I’d like this upcoming Catechism year to focus primarily on devotions, prayers, and the virtues. And we’re introducing Latin to our homeschool! Since we attend the TLM, it’s already something the kids have been somewhat familiar with, but this fall we’ll start introducing it to Yarrow as a subject of study – gently and lightly, prayers and bits of the Mass to explore in-depth.

And while I’m doing all my book-planning, I’m baking Smitten Kitchen’s Blueberry Boy-Bait – which looks and smells amazing! And makes enough for a large-ish spring-form pan and our fairy-cake pan. So this evening, when the real storm is supposed to start, we’ll brew up some peppermint tea and slice up the Boy-Bait, but the little cake will just be set out as a gift when the storm is passed. Fairy’s don’t like being baited.

Today

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Feeling: still slightly hazy-brained, tired, but refreshed. We spent all day at home yesterday, and didn’t work on a single thing! We all went to bed last night in that tired, happy, hot, summer exhaustion that has nothing to do with accomplishment and everything to do with company.

Thinking: about boosting my immune system seriously this month! Since Easter we’ve all been sick at least twice and something needs to be done! I think the biggest issue is stress, we’ve just had so much going on and so many little stressors that built up; but my side job is a problem as well: it’s a greasy pizza kitchen with a whole bundle of sickly co-workers, and, because the owner is a somewhat emotionally unstable person, it’s a emotionally draining place to be. I’ve recently taken to meditative prayer during our stressful times, which helps a lot, but I think I need to go into each work day with a stronger sense of intentionality and interior quiet.

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Dreaming: of finding a way we can actually pay our bills consistently and pursue our passions. Everything was going so well until the Subaru took sick and needed to pass inspection – we had a balance; now we have a distractingly stressful imbalance of funds and expenses. I feel as though a tiny shift in perspective and lifestyle could fix it all, but I haven’t found that sift yet. What works for you? How do you find that balance?

Praying: For a delightful man I’ve never met, who heard my husband’s camera had broken and sent him a replacement. Only better.. Seth had a little point and click digital camera from Best Buy, his faraway friend sent him a Canon “rebel”..which is a good camera. Maybe Seth should start taking family photos for local friends? Anyway, this delightful man is tucked up on our altar now, may his generosity and friendship be “counted unto him as righteousness.”

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Drinking: creamy coffee. It goes so well with the blueberry crumble cake I made yesterday (recipe via the amazing Smitten Kitchen) and served up with strawberries for breakfast – heedless of sugar content. Seth is reading a loud to the kids while the sun rises higher and higher in the sky.

Working on: Starting a local bookclub (real and in person!); organizing my summer days – now that I have energy for more than just work and animal-tending again! – Minimizing my things and, more importantly, my distractions/online time/wants/how-on-earth-do-you-get-spam-numbers-to-stop-calling?

How is your day today?

Changing Habits in July

This month, I said ‘good-bye’ to Facebook.

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Seth and I joined together (with a joint account) when we were married in 2008. Over the years, we’ve had a careless, shifting level of engagement there, but I’ve seen it creep up slowly in the last few years to become a real distraction. And I don’t want that. So while Seth is still on Facebook with our old account, it’s just him now.

It’s not that I think the troubles in our world don’t matter, it’s just that I feel most qualified to heal them by shaping my own environment and tending the people in my care. If Facebook has taught me anything, it’s that intense, personal discussions can rarely be fruitful online – especially among strangers who think that they’re friends. Rarely. It’s just not something I’ve the time or energy, or battery life to invest in at this phase of life. I have young children who want a mama to read with them or walk them through the trees, I have a garden growing wild, hungry animals, and pages to write before I sleep.

I do still manage my blog’s little page on Facebook. I link this posts, I read comments, and I try to share bits and pieces of our daily life. But the newsfeed, and the rest of Facebook I’ve turned over entirely to my less empathic husband.

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It’s inspired me to make this July a month to nourish intentionality in my daily life overall. June was a trying month, stress, sickness, busy days, uncertainties.. definitely a perfect month to offer up to the Sacred Heart! But now that July has come, hot and humid – with a green garden, good health (soon, I hope!), and some semblance of structure – we’re working on reclaiming our Slow Life and enjoying it!

So what does that look like at our house?

  •     (Besides me giving up Facebook for good!)
  •     Staying home more! We’re back to organizing our trips into town and making as few as possible but..
  •     Seeing more of friends! I’m organizing a monthly ladies night out with a few close friends, and working on starting a book club locally as well! But we’re not limiting it to that. We have visits planned with a few local friends this month. I think a lot of us millennial parents are missing out on the joys our parents got to experience in the 80s and 90s, so I’m channelling a bit of that spirit and building up our local community!
  •      My Instagram Intentional Living Challenge (#makeintentionalitycoolagain – and yes, I’m mocking the whole Make America Great Again, but gently..don’t hate me!) I’m so excited about this! And it is never too late to join in!!
  •     ….and more! But I’m not sure what yet, because I’ve only just begun planning this out!

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I’m so excited! It’s going to be a great month!

Cake and Herbs: Recipe and Retrospect

It’s the weekend, and oh my goodness am I ready for this week to end!

You know how some weeks are just a big challenge? This was one of those weeks. It started Sunday with family exhaustion after Yarrow’s Saturday evening dance recital and just continued on through the week with a bout of sickness, kids who can’t settle into their schoolwork or play well together, mopey goats, and craziness at my side-job.

But now it’s Saturday, and we’re working through the behaviour issues, feeling well again, and trying to get a Summer Rule of Life written out and implemented! And I’m tired..

So, of course, I’m baking seed cakes for afternoon tea. We love tea time, we love having simple, hearty little cakes in the house, and we’ve been trying to get back to our roots a bit as far as our family culture is concerned by resurrecting some old recipes we used to bake all the time when we were first out here. This seed cake is one of them:

  • 12 Tb soft butter
  • 1 cup fine sugar (I’ve used Turbinado with success as well)

cream those together ’til soft and fluffy then beat in..

  • 3 eggs

when all is evenly mixed. Add the dry ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 Tb caraway seeds

and if you have it, add a splash of cream or a big scoop (up to 1/4 cup) of plain yogurt.

This cake bakes well in a loaf pan at about 350 for almost an hour. And it pairs so well with the smokey, Russian teas.

We’ll be eating it at tea today, and possibly having another slice late at night, when the kids are in bed and I’ve got the lamps lit and my drafted Rule on the table. Because it’s unlikely I’ll finish it before dark today. Not with schoolwork to manage, herbs to transplant, and order to restore to the souls of my children.

I’ll be making lemon balm – lavender-yarrow tea for them this afternoon, to help with the restoration of order in their souls. Our yard used to be over-run with lemon balm, and it’s such a lovely, soothing herb. Gentle and kind and delicious too! You can make it into sun-tea with honey in the summer then freeze the tea into popcicles for an amazing summer treat, or steep it in honey to help with insomnia. Like lavender and yarrow it helps calm the imagination too and gives adults and kids a like a sense of contentment and peace.

I think the latter is what my kids need most right now. After a couple weeks of indulgence and excitement, they need to enjoy quiet and structure again. So I’ll being gathering herbs with them before tea to welcome contentment again.

And this weekend, we’ll be staying home as much as possible to reclaim the order of our daily life!

What do you do to reclaim your homelife when things get too busy, or after a holiday season?

Homeschooling for Sacramental Preparation

Earlier this month my oldest received her First Communion and Confirmation! Congratulations my beautiful Yarrow!

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Because we belong to a small, Traditional-Latin-Mass Chaplaincy, we had a few extra options:

  • We could use the local parish’s religious education program: Our chaplaincy worships at the local basilica, and a lot of us are co-registered with that parish and the chaplaincy, so our kids could go through one of the local parish’s religious ed programs.
  • We could homeschool with an approved curriculum, such as the Faith and Life series or the Baltimore Catechism.
  • We could homeschool with a conglomeration of orthodox resources.

Of course, we chose that last option, but only after trying the other two first!

Our local parish had a lovely Catechesis of the Good Shepard program for pre-k and kindergarten faith formation, Yarrow attended and loved it! But unfortunately there were issues implementing any of the other levels of CGS and so she lost the option to prepare for her Sacraments through that lovely program. We were so disappointed and completely unimpressed by the 90s-style, classroom-based religious education that was to follow.

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So we started doing more focused catechesis at home. I’ve never been a fan of the tone of the Baltimore Catechism, and most other children’s catechisms are so very saccharine that I couldn’t imagine them doing much good; but I’d heard good things about the Faith and Life series: beautiful imagery, unsentimental text, age-appropriate-but-not-immature explanations. It sounded ideal.

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It’s wasn’t quite ideal.. I would still use the first book again, though it wasn’t as clear as I’d hoped, but the second book – the one I thought was supposed to do more for Sacramental Prep, seemed rather like a half-hearted sequel. The illustrations were not at all up to the standards of the first book and the text seemed repetitive and uninteresting. We began supplementing again with selections from the adult Catechism, and edited readings from the Family Apostolate Catechism (so many references to abortion! Parents of small, still-innocent, young readers beware!).

In the end, we wrote up worksheets of our own for Yarrow, encouraged lots of questions and conversations, filled her up with straight Scripture, and only supplemented with the best of the texts we had available to us.

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Thanks be to God she went forward for her Confirmation, First Communion, and First Confession full of joy and eagerness to receive all the Grace God offers! But as I’m looking forward to Ilya’s preparation in a few years, I’ll be casting off some of the disappointing options and creating more of his curriculum at home!

Into The Desert

We aren’t moving, we still live in the lush woodlands of Maine, but my goodness! Have you ever noticed how very isolating the world is when you’re pursing something Good?

It’s a lonely road, oftentimes, and so often full of sneaky suggestions as to how and when and why you really can get away with betraying your ideals. Ideals, after all – it whispers – are well and good for day-dreamers and teenagers, but reality demands compromise!

Does it though?

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Do we always have to be selling out the Good for the ‘sorta-nice’? And why does the crowd insist on pushing mediocrity upon us instead of encouraging greatness? I’m a big fan of Soren Kierkegaard, so I’m plugging up my ears to the whispers and chasing after holiness – deeper into to the figurative desert we go!

In this spirit of interior ascetism, here are 5 little ways I’ve been trying to build a hermitage of beauty and goodness!

: Wake Early :

Waking early allows us to share in the promise of the dawn! The stillness; the soft, new air, the half-remembered early morning dreams. Rising in the pink light of a newborn day gives us more energy, I think, than sleeping late and waking to find the day half over.

Wake up early! Step outside and breathe in the newness! I’ve been trying to wake early and step outside around 6:30, it isn’t easy because I stay up so late! But the morning hours are such a delightful time! And who needs sleep, right? The desert fathers certainly didn’t! Sometimes I wonder if our culture’s preoccupation with getting 8 hours of sleep each night is healthy.

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: Read Up :

We share our bookstacks and reading piles on social media all the time, but really, if you’re just reading piles of romances or thrillers, you’re not actually developing your mind at all. You’re just stuffing it with little sugary bits of distraction. Reading is a great way to grow toward the Good, but only if what you read is actually Good, not just fun and engaging. If you’re used to reading Oprah’s book of the month, that means you have to retrain you mind to delight in what is good – like a fan of McDonald’s learning to love real food.

Most important, learn to love Scripture. Not just the Gospels and the Psalms either. Learn to love Numbers and Leviticus, Maccabees and Proverbs. Immerse yourself in the many voices of God! I’m a lazy reader these days. I get busy and distracted and just want to reread all my comfortable, old favorites. But this spring (is it summer yet?) I’ve been challenging myself to explore new opinions and new presentations – my library stack is an ever-changing bundle of exciting, new authors (new to me anyway!)

: Fast :

Seriously. Nothing distracts from the Good like the tasty. Which isn’t to say you should eschew all cakes and cookies! St. Francis didn’t! But fasting regularly and intentionally teaches your body to submit to your will. It prepares you to go without some unnecessary thing (like Starbucks’ coffee or Ben & Jerry’s ice cream) when that thing becomes morally, socially, spiritually, or financially problematic.

Fasting should be a physical, tangible thing too. ‘Fasting from harsh words’ is all well and good, but it’s not really fasting. Fasting is the giving up of some good thing, not the giving up of all my wretched sins. I don’t ‘fast’ from those, I reject them utterly (or, at least, I should!)

So find a way to fast from food or drink. Give up wine, or give up adding paprika to your potatoes, or give up snacky foods from companies who’s morals offend you. It’s simple, and it builds up your soul in so many ways! I’m getting back into the habit of having fasting days throughout the week: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and denying myself in small ways on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I love the quiet that fasting brings to my soul and the structure it brings to me week.

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: Welcome Jesus :

‘Hospitality’ is an industry now. You can even get a degree in it. But Hospitality is also a way of life: an intentional focus on the many faces of Christ in the people all around us! True hospitality is an act of mercy: clothe the naked, feed the hungry, comfort the sick and lonely, house the homeless..

Tradition reminds us of all the people who welcomed strangers into their homes and found that they were actually entertaining Christ Himself or His angels (or fairies, or wealthy, capricious goblin-kings) – lets open our doors and delight in the abundance that hospitality can offer!

Hospitality is always my intention. Sometimes it’s difficult, but as we build our own little, fairy-version of a ‘Benedict Option’ home in the wilderness, we are finding so many ways to welcome others into the joy of our woodland.

: Labor :

Daily tasks can seem so menial. So empty and unappreciated sometimes. But labor – the act of building up something sustaining – whether it’s washing dishes or waiting tables or growing vegetables or mucking out goats – is an act of hope. A beautiful way to unite ourselves to our fellow men, to Christ, and to Adam who labored in the garden before the fall.

We work at all our small tasks and build something large and beautiful with them: so much labor is going on here! Seth is building a deck against the yurt, he’s finishing off his studio building behind the yurt, and digging post-holes for an addition that will connect yurt to studio. We’ve moved the pear trees to an out-of-goat-reach yard behind the studio and are adding 2 northern fig trees and two northern peach trees to their ranks! And while he’s busy with labors at home, I’m stepping off to work nearby in the evenings: a little, local pizza shop has me filling orders and cleaning up four nights a week.

Ideally, I’d be earning money from home, but labor often demands sacrifice, and the delight of being able to fund our building projects with the work of my hands is a joy. Labor doesn’t always look as you want it to, but if you squint a bit, you can always see Christ at the heart of it.

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So that’s what I’m doing to build my domestic monastery with a bit more intention this summer. What about you? What goods are you cultivating on the path toward holiness?

Coffee Steeping and Big Plans

How do you make your coffee?

We use a french press. Water heats to a boil on the stove, then is set aside – off heat – until the bubbles still. Then we pour it over rough-ground coffee in the press and set it to steep for a while. Long enough to walk Ilya to the outhouse and back, pray the morning offering, and wonder why on earth we forgot to restock breakfast oats again this week and what will we have for breakfast?

It’s a lovely, little morning ritual. We have coffee every morning. Sometimes I sprinkle in a pinch of cardamom or a splash of vanilla before pouring water over the grounds, sometimes I whip cream to pile atop our mugs. Most of the time our coffee is simple: black, organic, fair trade, and intense.

Morning coffee time is sacred to plans and preparations. I make schedules and think over the day to come. The kids sip their little cups with minds on bananas or elves and ask interrupting questions about the lack of oatmeal in the house.

Recently, our plans and preparations in the coffee-hour have revolved around all the summer building projects: deck, studio, addition, garden beds, fencing .. as well as preparations for Yarrow’s upcoming first Communion and Confirmation.

The busy-ness of this season has kept me from writing as much as I’d like, but hopefully, as we fall into the new rhythm of the season – early mornings and late nights I’ll be back regularly again – coffe in hand – to share bits of life here.

5 Easy Ways to Live Simply

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Intentional living is like the ascetic life, like an onion, like the inner life of a tree. The more you touch it, the more layers are revealed to you. Living simply is a slow gestating, and while each person’s way of simplicity is unique, there are shared aspects.

You can build a simple, intentional life with running water and electricity. You can build one without homeschooling (though I think most of the time homeschooling can help build and sustain a ‘domestic monastery’), but these 5 recommendations are essential to rediscovering simplicity and building it into your home life:

1.

Blow up your tv.

Or, you know, just donate it. Television is really unessential. It’s distracting and deadening. It’s also kinda passé. You no longer ‘need’ tv to keep up on the news (and honestly, unless you absolutely need to be up to date on all the sorrows in the world, I’d recommend reducing your news-consumption as well); tv is merely an escape – often voyeuristic or dehumanizing. Whether the shows are appalling or merely banal, they contribute nothing to the good and distract us from engaging in our true lives.

And keeping a tv keeps us mentally, emotionally, and spiritually bound to the noise and materialism around us. We’re still on that schedule – (season___ of whatever show starts tonight!). Simplicity is being choked out by distraction.

2.

Greet the Day

As Catholics, we welcome the new day with a Morning Offering and entrust ourselves to the care of our guardian angels. However you meet the morning, make it a simple ritual of beauty and focus. Don’t let the days pass one after another without a pause of quiet gratitude at the birth of each new morning.

Starting the day intentionally – connected to the tangible world the fills our own daily life, instead of checking a phone or stumbling bleary-eyed through the morning hours is such an act of hope! It says: this day is new and real and fresh and I will be whole and mindful as I move through it!

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3.

Read Books

Real books. The kind with pages. The kind that aren’t full of angsty teenage protagonists.

Read good books.

Read novels. Read myths. Read philosophy. Read poetry.

If a book has been made into a tv show with sexy, pouting characters running around in front of the green screen, skip it, at least for a while.

Read books with attention and understanding. Journal about the books you’re reading.

Read books.

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4.

Become Acquainted with The Night

It’s easy in the country. We have so many stars! We see the moon rising behind the trees, and watch it sink low again late in the night. We meet the constellations and know their seasons. In the city, nights are lonelier. There is more darkness, more false light, more to fear in the shadows. Where ever you spend your nights, get to know them. Don’t spend all your time with false light and indoor air. Step out onto a patio, a deck, a park, a driveway and feel the dark, soft night-time air. Search for bright Venus in the sky and get to know the phases of the moon.

Night is such a restful, reviving time – full of dreams and magic. You don’t need to sleep to be soothed by the night time. You can let your mind slow down in the cool, dark, with tea and poetry, or alone under the stars.

5.

Memento Mori

Remember your death. Living Simply reminds us each day the our own lives are neither isolated nor unending. Let your life be a thing of beauty, a work of art, and let the details – all the little things – really matter.

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