Monday Reflections: Simplicity, Motherhood, and Chaos

My house is a womb – small, round, nourishing – with its soft walls and gentle shifting. We are four people and a dog in about 460 square feet: cozy, especially in these cooler months with wood-stoves and candlelight.20171011_143135

We are working towards a simple way of life – slowly and gently, but consistently. It’s a challenge, even outside the reach of daily advertising. Modern motherhood, especially is a vocation pushed toward chaos by the culture of consumerism. There are so many things – unnecessary “must-haves” enticing us from store-shelves and mommy-blogs. Relatives pour out accoutrements and weeding through them is difficult, what if someday I do need a back-up winter coat for Yarrow? Sometimes we forget for a while that chaos isn’t an essential aspect of our vocation. Motherhood doesn’t have to mean drowning in children’s accessories for years and burying the nice dishes under plastic plates and sippy cups.

I am not denying the wild energy and destructive/distracting/interrupting abilities of kids! Mine are experts at damaging my calm and my carefully curated home. It can be overwhelming, especially in a one-room house in the winter months when outside time is limited and driving into town isn’t always possible! But generally, the fewer things they have around to scatter and destroy, the less overwhelming and more engaging they are! We have more fun together when we are ourselves together with a few books and some well loved toys; we have less fun when we are swimming in things.20171011_123020

As the seasons shift, and we set up our little house for winter, I start thinking of Christmas, and all the little things that tend to slip in during that season. Gift-giving is a lovely tradition, I don’t want it to end. But I do want it to transition back to something more wholesome and simple – we’re talking about how to do that with our extended family, the grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Ideally, I would love our holiday giving to be a gift from St. Nikolas (he brings the kids each one gift and fills their stockings – primarily with fruit and chocolate); a gift from Seth and I; and notes and foods (something that gets used up) from relatives. I think it would be an ideal way of celebrating for the kids and for Seth and I. But we’ll see..it’s a hard sell to those relatives who are less into simplicity.

Hygge & Holiness on Instagram

My instagram feed is full of #hygge and #intentionalliving labels – many of them my own. I love an easy hashtag to tack at the bottom of photos: old church candles burning in black and white; bread and milk set out for the welcoming of night-time wanderers. Labels like these fit my life relatively well, but something is lacking. I scroll down and see so many photos that capture #hygge better than I ever could – their books are so much more bookish and worn, their cakes abundantly crumblier – but in the end, maybe we’ve both lost a little of the essence of coziness when we share photos of our #hyggelife instead of merely entering into the moment entirely.

My life is most hygge, most intentional, in the moments I keep to myself. Maybe true coziness is like holiness – seen best in secret by those whose lives are mingled with mine.

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“I want to be with those who know secret things, or else alone” writes Rilke. It is the coziest way to live. But at the same time, there is beauty worth sharing, and there are so many aspects of life I long to “paint in gold, and quite big” to share widely “without knowing whose soul will be fed by it.” (Rilke’s words as well).

So what is the point – the #intentionality of my instagram, of this blog even? The images I share are obviously idealized moments, edited, ‘painted in gold’ to highlight the beauty. Because beauty is essential, it isn’t merely an addendum or a embellishment. It feeds the soul: mine and hopefully the souls of others as well. I follow people who feed my soul with beauty as well – it’s thrilling to see life through someone elses eyes. IMG_20171015_114659_996

I could be overwhelmed by the images of perfection scrolling by. I could compare, envy, and eventually lose heart; but the images are like little icons – windows into the Christ-like abundance of beauty in every human heart. Stylistic interpretations of the quotidian by people who know ‘secret things’ – and with them, even out in a digital landscape we can share an actual sense of hygge – and more than hygge – wholeness.

Bookish Children in Autumn

These cool, sunny days are ideal for my little readers! Under red and gold trees or wrapped in blankets with slices of apple-pie and mugs of tea..they have books around them constantly!

Ilya is not an actual reader, but he’s not shy about asking me or Seth or Yarrow to read to him! And he’s almost as content to sit with a well-loved book and remember the story aloud. He has a deep love for Tiki Tiki Tembo these days, especially The Old Man with the Ladder – Ilya very much longs for an old man to bring him a ladder and let him climb it. But he worries about Tiki Tiki Tembo deep in the well, and hope he won’t fall in again! I love how surprised Ilya sounds when, on the third reading of Tiki Tiki Tembo, the poor boy is still falling into the well!

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He is also a huge fan of El Paseo de Rosie – a Spanish & English book about a little hen named Rosie who talks a walk, pursued by a sneaky fox! Our own woods are full of sneaky young foxes, eager to munch a little chicken and Rosie’s walk is so pretty and autumnal that he can’t take his eyes of it! She also comes home safely – and the fox leaves in a hurry, and full of crushed hopes!

We’re also enjoying Teeny Tiny by Tomie dePaola. Though why on earth the teeny tiny woman thinks a bone from a church yard would make a tasty soup for her supper is beyond me! Thankfully, she’s haunted and has to give the bone back! Ugh..but Ilya loves saying “Eww! That is so so yucky!” and being all nervous while the ghost is demanding his bone back! It’s fun for everyone really.

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Yarrow is reading everything she can get her hands on! Primarily The Prydain Series, by Lloyd Alexander, a delightful little collection of adventures in which the hero, Taran faces evil knights, sorceresses, and his own doubts and uncertainties to grown into a true leader! She adore Taran and his companions.

She’s also been enjoying Tomie dePaola’s St. Francis – we read it aloud for his feast day and it’s be hauled out of the bookshelf pretty much everyday since then!20171010_081917

If you like St. Francis at all, this book is ideal! The illustrations are lovely, and Francis is written so well! Most of the best-loved stories about him are in the book, too, which makes it a little long to read, but it’s divided into short, little sections and it’s easy to divide up the reading if you want to!

What are your kids reading these days? What are you reading to them? And what are you reading for yourself? I’ll have to tell you all about my book-list soon!

Keeping Healthy as the Weather Turns Cool

The breeze is turning chilly, cool weather is late this year – last October we were already burning most of the day! This year, we still have nights that don’t require a fire in the stove. But late or soon, the seasons are shifting, and we already have our first cold in the house.

Poor Ilya has a sad little cough, not enough to dampen his spirits during the day, but definitely enough to make night-time a struggle. Colds are pretty much inescapable if you have kids, and your kids have friends to play with! But thankfully, their also pretty easy to fight. We have our cough-cold Oxymel – which Ilya loves drinking in ‘fuzzy water’ (sparkling water), pots full of herbal teas with honey (I like mullein, lemon balm, and bee-balm with a little bit of mint), and for the grown-ups (because no one wants to deal with Sick-mama!) we have a freshly mixed “master-tonic” – too spicy for the kids to handle, they won’t touch it!

A master tonic is super easy to make – it’s actually an oxymel too! – and like most herbal remedies, it can be edited to include more of what you have and less of what you don’t! Mine is heavy on the garlic, and the onions, because I have a bunch of them! And I threw in some rose-hips as well, because our wild-roses did pretty well this year! Mine is very light on peppers, I only got one from my plants this year, and it was a little one.

Altogether, I put in a whole, large onion; a whole bulb of red-russian garlic, one hot pepper (jalapeno? I think..), a moderately sized, peeled and chopped ginger root, a big chunk of horseradish root (they are taking over my garden!) – also chopped up small, a 1/4 cup of rose-hips, and a tablespoon of turmeric powder..oh, and a sprinkle of the last of the bee-balm on top!

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I let in all steep in a quart and a half of raw apple cider vinegar (the kind with “the Mother”) for two weeks, strained it out and mixed the infused vinegar with about a cup (more or less is fine too!) of raw, local honey.

This stuff is like fire! It’s awesome! Don’t mix it with water when you take it, just take about half a shot and feel the burn!

(*Do I have to say “I’m not a doctor, don’t pretend I am!”?? Well there, I said it.*)

It’s been great, because, while Seth has a killer immune system, mine is kind of crap. And I need all the help I can get to stay healthy!

Along with all these tonics and teas, we have another awesome weapon against illness in our house! I made it last night actually, to drive away Ilya’s cough and the chilly, rainy October air: Chicken and dumpling soup.

I’d roasted a chicken for Sunday’s dinner, so yesterday, I put the bones and skin and whatever else was leftover into a big soup pot. I let it get to a boil and then moved it over the the ‘cool’ part of the stove (on a non-wood-stove, this would be a low setting) It sat there all day, just making broth, until about two hours before dinner, I strained out the bird, added in about 2/3 of a bulb of garlic (about 5 cloves), 4 medium potatoes, 3 huge carrots, herbs (bay, sage, oregano, salt, pepper, a tiny bit of turmeric, and paprika), and about 1/4 of a cup butter. Then I let that cook on the middle of the stove (medium-heat), covered for about an hour.

And while that cooked I made dumplings: two cups of flour, 1/4 cup butter, 1/3 cup grated cheddar/asiago/gouda (pick one! or mix them all in!), one egg, and enough milk to make a soft, sticky dough.

Then, I pulled off chestnut-sized balls of dough and dropped them one-by-one into the simmering soup. They cook for an hour or a half-hour or a couple hours, (depending on how long it takes to get the rest of dinner ready!) and the soup tastes like wellness in a bowl.

We ate it with sourdough bread, apples, and red wine while the rain fell loud one the roof of the yurt.

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Monday Reflections

October is my favorite month, and this year especially, the mornings feel so fresh! I step out into the new light, let the birds out for the day, feed the goats, and let the autumn breezes wake me.

There is nothing better on an October morning than hot coffee and the sound of crows calling up in the trees. We have so many crows in October and November – they cluster together at the tops of the tall pines, and on the roadside.

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This week the wind is blowing in real, autumnal weather. I have plans to take the kids picnic-ing at out local cemetery, as well as walking down to visit the beavers. Much of our focus this week though, will be on trying to recapture our order. We’re still finishing up the big-yurt-overhall. It’s been back up and together for a few weeks now, but it’s far from finished for winter! We have a beautiful new door, a lovely, colorful ceiling, and less clutter, but we’re still unsettled. We have shelving to build and the tub to bring in, we have wood to split and stack, and of course, we have schoolwork to do and animals to tend. It all adds up, with Seth’s art and my writing, to an abundance of work!

And I am awful at focus, so this week, I’ll be practicing my ‘daily rule’ again with intensity.

Morning and evening routines are the most essential. I feel as if I can muscle my way through a rough day if it’s begun well, and if I know the evening is waiting for me. If I can fill my morning with journaling, coffee, and quite moments outside; and my evening with writing, books, and a cozy chat with my husband – I know I can bring order back to the house!

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This morning I’m also thinking of things beyond my little home.  I hear again and again that my generation is selfish, incapable, excessively consuming, ‘special snowflakes’.. and then I look around and see my generation reclaiming old ways of living, making-do with less, building homes intentionally free of material and technological clutter, and working toward something wholesome and loving in our relationships to others. It’s a tough time to be settling down and raising children. I had our little radio off much of the week, to keep the updates from Las Vegas from creeping into my children’s ears.  There is a reason this off-grid life is attractive to so many, most of whom will probably never pursue it.

In the world today, with so many people bitter at my generation for ‘killing the paper napkin industry’ or the diamond industry, or the 40 work week, or any other unnecessary conventionality, we some times forget what we’re building: free-form small businesses, a renewal of artisan-crafts, authentic beauty in the home, intentional relationships, and we’re building them amid the rubble of a nation so angry and divided that it is devouring its own.

My birches are swaying in the breeze. Their leaves are gold and green as they’re just beginning to turn. My children love their trees, their sky, their rocks and ferns. They feel so safe here. I feel safe here. I’m blessed that amid the rubble, members of my generation are building little hermitages of beauty, of intentionality, and of hospitality. Thousands of little abbas and ammas, learning again what is worth saving and what – like the paper napkin industry – can easily pass away.

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