Saturday, February 22, 2014

Purposeful Simplicity

Today was such a lovely day, a glorious day in my estimation, and the word that kept coming to the forefront of my mind all day was simplicity.

From The Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

"the state of being simple, uncomplicated, or uncompounded"

"the state or quality of being plain or not fancy or complicated"

"something that is simple or ordinary but enjoyable"

Our day was decidedly simple, but oh-so enjoyable, and really follows on about three weeks of calm, simple, ordered weeks which we've enjoyed, which is probably why simplicity has been so much on my mind. Friday night, I'd closed out our school week and pondered the next day, knowing Chris would be unable to be with us all day: What would I do with the kids all day? We sure could use a diversion, a change of pace, maybe an adventure? I got online, looked at current local events, pondered this museum event or that cultural happening.

And then I envisioned myself harried, packing the lunches, hauling children in an out of the car repeatedly, telling them not to touch things in a museum or otherwise special place, or the cacophony of raucous children if we went to any one of a number of 'kid zone' kind of places.

I thought twice and came up with a new plan.

Imagine my warm feelings when a friend dropped by unannounced to our house at 8:00 a.m. delivering her own chicken's blue eggs, for the sole and simple reason that she knew they would delight Margaret, who thought white eggs were a hilarious departure from our normal brown. We've lived in this community for six years now and I feel such nice roots growing. I love having friends such as this one who would know what would give us delight, who know we'd be long awake and dressed by eight in the morning, and who would take that extra time for us.

My plan for a wholesome, simple, and inexpensive day of enjoyment took us to the nearby town of Matthews, only a twenty-minute drive away but I hadn't been to its farmers' market in about a year. I reached for the phone to call my mom and tell her that I was taking the children there: nearly two years since she died, and I still forget. I love an authentic farmers' market, but don't have it built into my current lifestyle to frequent them. My mom shopped at our small town farmers' market weekly. She knew all the sellers by name, had talked to each at length about his or her product, and knew exactly from whom she wanted to buy what. Every Saturday morning, we were there, and a lot of Wednesday evenings too. I envision exactly how she would have smiled if I could have told her today that her grandchildren would be visiting an old-fashioned farmers' market.

Downtown Matthews still has old-timey buildings for added charm

We were at the farmers' market by 8:30 a.m., having been fueled by a small breakfast, leaving room for the greatly anticipated pastries. We enjoyed buying some seedlings (spinach and lettuce) and conversing with the plant lady. How pleased I was to observe John ask the plant lady what that plant was, oh, a blueberry bush? how much sun and water does that need, and what is the cost?

I valued a connection made with the egg-seller. She commented, "You have a beautiful family." I took that as code to mean that she was friendly, One of Us, so I thanked her and inquired how many children she had: ten! This led to an encouraging talk about the difficulty of these early years, but how we wouldn't trade it (and that she misses it already), and how the five children God sent her biologically weren't enough so she and her husband adopted five more, and what a joy that must be.

My little Blue Berry eating a yummy blueberry muffin!
The day was already providing so much pleasant interaction that I would have been too overwhelmed to notice or enjoy had I gone on a Big Outing. I don't eschew Big Outings: we do them, we travel, even by airplane. I find Big Outings enriching in small doses, while Simplicity is enriching in big doses.

Next we walked to the adjacent Renfrow's Hardware and General Merchandise Store. This store is as old-timey as it gets, no gimmick, just basically unchanged from more than one hundred years ago.

The children fed the chickens, gasped with interest over the fascinating, old-fashioned cooking implements (straight out of Laura Ingalls Wilder times), and chose some seeds for our spring garden (sugar pumpkins, carrots, pole beans, and beets).

Then we walked one block to the oddly named Stumptown Park, a small (one-acre) park with a tiny playground area featuring only two simple structures.

I sat on a bench, watching Joseph crawl about and Margaret (three next month!) acting the Big Girl, entirely playing imaginatively with her big siblings now: one structure was an island, the other structure was the good girls' boat, and the tree was the pirate's (John's) island. Pink flower petals were "jewels" guarded by the pirate and the spiky seed pods of the sweet gum tree were "bombs" used by both sides. As they plotted maneuvers, ran, shrieked with happiness, I kept thinking "simplicity, simplicity . . . this joy is so simple . . . we need yet fewer toys."

The more toys we have at our disposal, the more the children fight. When we don't have ready-made toys or we are outdoors, there is almost no fighting.

A profile in pigtails

We left by eleven as I anticipated one needed hour before lunch time for three simple errands--none of which required me to take the children out of the car as I try to leave all those errands for my husband to do: simplicity!

A simple lunch at home, followed by about one hour of our Day's Chores (like Ma Ingalls, the children and I each have our chores of the day, which come as reliably as the sunrise), and the children were free to race back outside to play.

Four more hours were spent having total free play outdoors, undirected by an adult. There is nothing morally wrong or bad with classes, organized sports, performances and the like--and our family participates in those things to a limited degree--but I try to carefully guard our hours. This undirected play at these tender ages provides for the ability to enjoy the simple things, not to be jaded already.

John and I began preparing our tiny spring garden. I am really excited about the enormous difference two years in age makes from when I was last able to create a garden. (Apparently I make a vegetable garden when I'm not making a baby: so in springs of 2010, 2012, and 2014! When I'm making a baby, I can't make vegetables.) When the oldest child was five, I spent that spring and summer doing basically everything in the garden. Now that he is seven, he is an eminently capable helper, someone who can help me move a raised bed to a sunnier location, haul the dirt himself, and eagerly go alone to water plants and harvest them while I am inside tending to Baby and Toddler. Even the five-year-old will now be a big help, I think because I expect more of her.

A search of online resources for "Catholic simplicity" lead me to many edifying writings on the simple soul (like this piece), which is so useful in itself. Continued reading about "Catholic simple life" really gets at what I am seeking, what is on my mind these last few weeks.

What choices in simplicity have you found to bless your family?


  1. Thank you. :) I knew you would inspire me.

  2. I also have been thinking about this topic lately. Something I came across were the "plain Catholics".... very thought provoking way of life.

  3. Do you have anyy video of that? I'd love to find out morre details.