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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Today…

A collection of impressions:

Feeling : Quiet. Calm. Reflective. The rush of sudden repairs and reorganizations of this past week are past and we’re rediscovering routine.

Thinking : About the books I’m reading currently, especially The War on Boys – which rings disturbingly true to me as I watch the people around me build a culture in which men and boys are ‘canceled,’ dismissed, demeaned, or neglected. Thinking of ways to build up my boy in a world that doesn’t want him. Thinking of ways to build up my daughter to find her strength is love not in the denigration of others.

Watching : My two loves playing wild in the sunlight and soft air of spring.

Planning : for midsummer Communions, dance recitals, garden-building, new pigs, and upcoming visits from family and friends.

Praying : To the Three-Handed Virgin and the Infant of Prague.

Loving : all the green-growing world around me! The trees have finally woken up. The ferns are unfurling, the flowers are just beginning to remember themselves, and the whole woods is shifting and shaking off the cold at last!

Tell me, how are you today?

Five Freedoms of Tiny House Living

A snow-covered, mountian bungalow, tucked beside cedar trees, or a modern, American yurt on the outskirts of the Brown Mountains: nearly everyone who spends time scrolling Instagram or Pinterest will tell you of one or two tiny houses that have caught in their imagination and started them wondering: how practical are these elvish-dwellings? Do they work in real life or would they trap you in squashed quarters for years, lamenting that decision to settle in a 500 square foot cottage instead of a sprawling suburban house?

Small spaces are practical as well as magical! Really, because tiny houses get bigger the longer you live in them. Or, at least, they start to feel bigger. My 460 square foot yurt felt tiny when I first moved into it, with my husband, almost 8 years ago. I wondered how I would ever adjust to such a small house – where would I put everything? But now, with two kids, a dog, added to the mix, that same little house feels so much bigger somehow. So go ahead and indulge yourself in designing you tiny dream home! You’ll find shrinking your walls will add more freedom to your life within!

1. Freedom from Isolation:
Tiny houses build intimacy!
Ok, tiny houses can’t exactly force you to engage with your significant other, or sit down and actually listen to your 5 year old’s story, but you can’t exactly escape them either. In a tiny house, you physically close to the people you live with. All the time. And living that close to someone everyday makes getting closer to them emotionally easier, because you can’t exactly go off into the basement and watch Godzilla movies all night. You don’t have a basement, if you want to watch movies, you’ll have to do it together.
When you spend most of everyday rubbing shoulders with the people you love, you have a chance to get to know them even better than you expected to. You realize that they have habits and expressions you never noticed before. And in a tiny house, you notice you have habits and expressions too.

2. Freedom from Hassle:
Tiny houses are low maintenance.
One of the things you have to know about tiny houses is that they can start looking messy really quickly. You just don’t have a lot of places to tuck things so they’re out of sight. But while they’ll look mussed up pretty quickly, they clean up quickly as well. I can deep clean my whole house in a day. And by deep clean, I mean washing the walls, organizing the drawers, everything. And all that without a vacuum!
Tiny houses don’t demand a lot. They use less heat than larger houses, less electricity, and a 20 minute tidy is enough to have your whole house comfortably clean and ready for guests. Don’t worry, you can fit more people than you’d expect in a tiny house! Parties aren’t out of the question, they just take a bit more planning.

3. Freedom from Marketing:
Tiny houses are a minimalist’s dream!
Your house doesn’t need to be filled with things to avoid looking empty. In fact, your tiny house can’t handle all the little bits of plastic and metal at Target. It can really only hold the few things you really love. Everything else looks like clutter, no matter how cute or clearanced it was. In a tiny house, you start viewing advertising differently. You’re like a dinner guest who has eaten her fill of an amazing pomagranate and avocado salad – she can admire all the pretty cakes on the desert cart, but she doesn’t actually want any of them.
Decorating your tiny house is so much simpler too. It needs fewer things, and it isn’t overwhelming when the whole house follows the same theme. 500 square feet of vintage, rockabilly decor is funky; 2000 square feet and it starts to look a little forced.

4. Freedom from Stagnation:
Tiny houses welcome the quirky explorer in all of us!
Living in a tiny house, you spend way more time out of doors than the average family. So you’re out under the stars -throwing garden parties or bonfires and hiking or running in the summer sun instead of working out on that treadmill or watching tv.
Tiny houses were designed to make exploration easier! Some of them are portable, and those that aren’t are easier to shut down for a season while you finally take that trip to Iceland. With a tiny (or none at all) mortgage to match, tiny houses won’t hold you back from getting to know this amazing planet of ours.

5. Freedom to Express Yourself:
Tiny houses are cool. And they emphasize your unique ‘brand’!
More than the conventional American home, a tiny house lets you be entirely yourself! From bohemian yurts to mod, re-imagined box-car houses to Airstream trailers, a tiny house conforms to your personality, rather then altering you to fit a predesigned lifestyle.
Because they’re so easy to customize and so intimately connect to the energy of their owners, tiny houses become havens – little nests of creativity and individuality to help you see just how awesome you really are!

Tiny houses don’t put limits on what you can do, they’re easy to build, easy to add on to if needed, easy to care for, and the ultimate in cozy, close-knit family living. Don’t be afraid to move in and make yourself at home!