Saturday, June 13, 2009


"If man does not simplify his life, he will end up tormenting himself. But if he simplifies it, all his anxiety will go away."

- Elder Paisios of Mount Athos

I have not posted for quite some time because life has been overflowing. Seems there are so many things to do and not enough time available to accomplish everything. How interesting it is that we have a plethora of technological inventions designed to make things easier for us, yet we often continue to feel overburdened by work and responsibilities.

Many days I long to live in a different era... in a time with less technology and more community. Something about our way of living feels so unnatural and imbalanced. I long for stillness, for quiet, for a refuge from this world and its seemingly endless current of activities. I find myself waxing nostalgic for the times when I was living, working, and learning in community at an organic farm and an ecovillage.

Before I was married and had children, I lived a much simpler life. Now I find I'm in a continual struggle to balance my deep longing for simplicity with meeting the needs of my family. It is not always easy. We live in a world of too much information, too many choices, and too much "stuff." In the midst of this culture of overload, it can be easy to be lured in by worldly distractions.

For many years, I have lived without television, and I do not miss it, not even a little bit. Yet over the past couple of years, I have allowed the internet to silently creep into my life and erode at my sense of peace. A few months ago, I took an email hiatus. It was wonderfully refreshing to take a break from feeling a need to correspond with others via email. Don't get me wrong, I love keeping in touch with friends, but it had become too overwhelming to keep up with. Recently a friend invited me to join facebook. It seemed pretty innocuous at first, but now it is starting to become yet another distraction from real life. I feel as though I am on a slippery slope...

Part of me wants to just flick the switch off, but there are practical considerations to be considered. I pay most of my bills online, saving paper and simplifying my recordkeeping in the process. I am part of a homeschool group that posts its activities only via an online community. I find online mapping software to be incredibly easier than looking at a map for directions (Yet, interestingly enough, I traveled all kinds of places in my younger years with a good-old-fashioned map. So, perhaps this is just my laziness.) And (ironically) my husband and I are about ready to launch an online business.

I have been reading a wonderful book, "With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man," a collection of spiritual counsels from Elder Paisios of Mount Athos. Elder Paisios points out that, "In the old days, when we did not have telephones, taxes, and all kinds of gadgets, we lived tranquil and simple lives." (p. 153) While I ache for a world free of such distractions, this is not the reality in which we live. So, the challenge for me will be to "separate the wheat from the chaff." One moment, one breath, one decision at a time.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


"O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our little brothers to whom Thou hast given this earth as their home in common with us. May we realize that they live not for us alone, but for themselves and for Thee, and that they love the sweetness of life even as we, and serve Thee better in their place than we in ours."
- St. Basil the Great

It always saddens me when I see a child purposely stomping on ants or worms, or someone killing flies with a fly swatter (what an awful contraption!). As though their lives hold no meaning or purpose. As though God did not create even the smallest of creatures out of His love. So when my son ceremoniously picks up worms off of a dry sidewalk and places them into the cool, moist soil, or lovingly constructs little houses for his friends the ants, I am filled with joy that there is hope for the creatures. That it is possible to cultivate in our young ones a reverence and respect for all of life.

I recently read a wonderful book, "Salt of the Earth," about Elder Isidore (1814-1908), of Gethsemane Hermitage in Russia. It was beautifully written by his spiritual son, New Martyr St. Paul Florensky, in a way which drew me into the life of this holy man and made me feel as though I had come to know him personally.

Of particular interest to me was how he showed such loving kindness to God's living creatures. He sang the Psalms of King David to a frog who lived in his garden. And not only did he feed wild animals and birds, but he also prayed for them and acted as their guardian. On one occasion, he rescued a sparrow from the clutches of a cat's paws and brought the bird into his cell to live until her wounded wing was healed.

And one of my favorite stories is about how Elder Isidore lived in harmony with mice in his cell.
Once he was asked, "Father, don't the mice ever bother you?" The Elder smiled: "No, they don't bother me at all. I feed them lunch and supper and that keeps them quiet. Before, they would claw their way all over the cell. But now I put food out for them to eat -near the mouse holes- and they don't run around anymore. No, they don't bother me at all."

Now I'm not suggesting that we should all share our homes with mice and ants. Most of us (myself especially) are far from the holiness of Elder Isidore. And there are certainly some potential health hazards involved, for young children in particular. But should our treatment of creatures be dependent upon whether we deem them to be cute and cuddly? Isn't it possible for us to take some steps to try to be kinder to all of God's creatures?

We have had our share of mice, bees, ants and the like wanting to raise their families in our house. Like I tell my son, we don't have any problem with visitors, but we don't have enough room in our house for everyone to move in. So, we do what we can to gently encourage them to make their homes in the great outdoors.

We have had great success discouraging ants in our home by sprinking a lot of cinnamon near their favorite entryways (They don't like to cross it.). Humane mouse traps (or "mouse houses" as my family calls them) worked wonders at helping our resident mouse stop his late-night parties in our living room sofa. (Although it did take a 15 minute train ride out of town to help him forget his way back!) And last year, there were some bees building a hive in our bathroom window. While it was a long time until we could open our window again, the bees eventually did leave. In the meantime, we were given the blessing of being able to watch them close-up as they built the hive, something we most likely won't be able to witness that closely very often.

We may have had some minor temporary inconveniences in our attempts to be kinder to God's creatures, but the blessings far outweighed the costs. St. Basil the Great once said, "The wisdom of God is revealed in the smallest creatures." What is more spiritually edifying, stomping on an ant, or taking the time to marvel at one?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I have a pretty good memory. No, I can't always remember where I put my wallet or the five million little notes I've strewn throughout the house. But there are some moments and events that leave me with powerful and long-lasting images. Last week, I added another one to my collection.

I was driving along the road with my boys in the back seat. Up ahead, I could see the traffic was slowing down. "Are we approaching the section of road that's supposed to be closed today?" I wondered to myself. I wasn't too familiar with this area, so I was preparing myself for what direction the upcoming detour would take me.

I quickly learned there was no detour at all, but a scene that will be forever etched into my heart and my mind. A deer sat on the side of the road, a towel covering her head and blood streaming from her head/mouth, with a woman standing guard beside her, waiting for the help that was just arriving on the opposite side of the street.

I saw it all so quickly, as I was in the midst of a line of a couple of cars and had to keep moving (albeit a bit slower than one would ususally drive here) so as not to cause another accident. Yet one of the things that immediately came to mind was,"Is Jacob looking? How can I divert his attention before he sees what's happening?" I didn't want him to see the suffering of the deer. I didn't know what I would say to him. I didn't want him to see my face as I choked back my tears, not wanting to upset him. Thankfully (for me) Jacob was oblivious to what was happening. He was sitting there innocently looking ahead. He didn't see the deer. He didn't even notice me crying or hear me quietly praying for the deer and the woman watching over her.

But was my reaction was on the right track? Of course, we want to protect our young children from experiences that could be harmful or detrimental to their growth. Was this one of those experiences? Perhaps this could have been an experience which deepened his love and empathy for animals. Perhaps this could have given us an opportunity to talk about how God's intention was for life and not for death.

Yet when I looked back at my boys, still so young and fragile, my heart ached as I thought of how, little by little, their innocence will be eroded. They will have to come face-to-face with all kinds of struggles and sufferings, and eventually, death, in their lives. Shouldn't we aim to shelter them and preserve their innocence for as long as possible?

I don't know. There certainly are no easy answers. It's during these times when I am reminded of how helpless and lost we are without God. Sometimes, all we can do is cry out, "Lord have mercy."

Thursday, March 19, 2009


I've moved a lot. And when I say a lot, I really do mean a lot. Since I graduated from college, I've probably moved close to 15 times (and I'm not that old). My family used to joke that they waited to get my new address every year. Most of the moves weren't terribly far away from each other. But they were enough to prevent me from really digging roots (literally) in one place for too long. And as someone who truly loves to garden, this hasn't always been easy for me. One good thing that has come out of it, though, is that I've had a chance to start from scratch in a variety of places and situations. It's always fun to look at an empty piece of land, imagine the possibilities and get to work! (I also think there's an interesting parallel between garden planning/preparation and Lent. We do physical work in the garden with the hope of a bountiful harvest, and we do spiritual work during Lent with the hope of the Resurrection at Pascha.)

Last year was our first summer at our new house. I was so excited to start up a new garden... one that would be a bit more permanent than all the other gardens I've started up throughout the past several years. But when it came time to get work on it, I had a newborn baby to care for. It seemed as though every time I put my shovel to the ground, he would want to nurse. So, I did what any realistic woman would do... I put my shovel down. And I didn't pick it back up again for the rest of the summer.

What about the garden, you wonder? Oh, I had a garden, of course. But I didn't remove a single inch of sod, and I didn't dig a single inch of soil. I converted a portion of my lawn into a garden "no-dig-style" simply by letting time do the work for me. It was so easy and lots of fun! My three-year-old son actually did most of the work with me.

One of our neighbors offered up her newspapers. We laid them down on top of the lawn. I found a few cardboard boxes in our basement and covered as much of the newspaper as we could with them. Then we noticed that another neighbor had several large bags of leaved out for the trash. After several trips back and forth with our trusty litte red wagon, we dumped out all of the leaves on top of the newspaper and cardboard. Next, a friend of mine picked up several bales of straw in her truck and we spread a really thick layer of straw on top of everything else. Jacob's favorite part was when he took charge of the hose. He sprayed it all down to moisten things up and that was it!

Since our compost pile was too young to have generated any compost, we picked up a couple bags of leaf compost. Then I spread the straw around, dumped in a few handfuls of compost, and planted my seedlings. All in the same day. So much easier than all that backbreaking digging!

Now I won't lie and say it all took off quickly. It didn't. (And in the meantime I had to answer some questions from people who were wondering why I was putting all that straw on my lawn.) From what I understand, it's more ideal to wait a while to plant so everything has some time to break down a bit. But, time was not on my side. I wanted a garden and I wasn't going to miss a growing season!

After some time went by and the plants seemed to be stalled in their growth, my husband started remarking that it didn't seem as though my garden was going to do so well this year after all. But I did not give up hope. As the saying goes, "All good things take time." I just figured it was taking a little extra time for the roots of the plants to dig down through the sod and the hard top layer of the soil. Sure enough, things sure did take off! I harvested enough tomatoes to not only make and freeze sauce for ourselves but to share with all of our neighbors, too.

The other day, the weather was absolutely beautiful, so I had a chance to check out how everything looks underneath that straw. I'm excited to say that, except for a light covering of straw, everything has broken down into a nice, rich, crumbly soil! So, after all of last year's beginning "hard" work, I'm hopeful about another season of fresh veggies from the garden.
The picture on the left shows the garden space I started last year, all ready to get going for this year. The picture on the right is Jacob's garden. Last year, all I could plant with him was some sunflowers. He ended up taking over the rest of his garden as a digging site. This year, my plan is to expand his garden space toward our composting area to give him more room to grow things in, and as a great bonus, less lawn to mow (don't get me started on my thoughts about lawns!). I'd also like to take out the bushes alongside of our house and plant something a little more useful (like blueberries) instead, but I haven't quite convinced my husband on that one... I'm hopeful :-)

Thursday, March 12, 2009


"Only wonder can comprehend His incomprehensible power."

- St. Maximus the Confessor

I am so behind on organizing pictures that I have pretty much admitted defeat. Jacob will be four in May and the last picture I developed was from when he was six months old. The one good thing I've come to appreciate about this is that when I get a chance to root through some old digital cards, I discover some beautiful moments that really melt my heart and remind me of how deep my love is for my children.
Jacob has the gift of finding great joy in life. When out in the natural world, he loves to fully immerse himself in everything he can see, touch, taste, and smell. He often literally dives right into the experience with joy just oozing out of him. I absolutely love this about my son.

I am not one of those mothers who expects their children to stay clean when they go outside to play. To me, getting dirty is evidence that you've had a seriously good time. I think that's part of the job description for a child.
I remember when I took that picture of Jacob playing in the stream. I will never forget the sound of him squealing for joy as he jumped and splashed around. A man was walking past us while this was happening and said, "You're a good mom. My mom never would have let me do that." My thought is, why not? How sad it is that we squelch children's innate desire to have fun in the natural world just because we don't want them to get wet or dirty. If it's not too cold, I say, let them jump in the stream! Let them get wet! Just bring along an extra change of clothing...
If only we, too, could experience the wonder of God's creation through the senses of a child. Perhaps this would instill in us a reverence and love for creation that would inspire us to do something to bandage the wounds we've inflicted upon it. Maybe we all need to dive right into the stream ourselves more often... and just take along a dry change of clothing :-)

Sunday, March 1, 2009


"It is not too late. God's world has incredible healing powers. Within a single generation, we could steer the earth toward our children's future. Let that generation start now, with God's help and blessing."

- Patriarch Bartholomew & Pope John Paul II, 2002 Joint Declaration on the Envrionment

While I struggle with the cold darkness of winter, there is one thing during this time that brings me great joy... starting seedlings for my garden. My seedlings have begun germinating, and one of my favorite things to do throughout the day is to dote upon them... watering them, looking at them, watching to see if any new seedlings will sprout. I never cease to be amazed by the process of nurturing the life that comes forth from a seed. At first glance, a seed seems so small and insignificant. Yet, within each seed lies the hope and promise of new life.

Even in the most unwelcoming of situations, life wants to grow. I have often marveled at the tiny plants that poke up out of the cracks in the sidewalk. Their persistant desire to reach toward the light is inspiring. Several years ago, while I was in the midst of a huge emotional struggle, a very dear friend of mine gave me some beautiful advice that I carry with me to this day. She said something to this nature, "If you think this time of darkness in your life is worthless and empty, think of the seeds that are planted into the darkness of the soil. They get rained on and trampled on and sometimes forgotten. Yet they eventually grow into something beautiful."

When thinking of the suffering and injustice in the world, it can be easy to fall into despair, to feel as though our efforts are tiny and insignificant. Too often, we either excuse ourselves from making different lifestyle choices by saying one person's choices won't make a difference to the world, or our sheer laziness prevents us from taking opportunities to make more compassionate choices. Yet, by God's grace, one person truly can make a difference.

Each small action we take to be kinder to God's creation is like a small seed of hope planted into the darkness of the world. And by being faithful in the small things, we can learn to be faithful in larger things. Besides, as Patriarch Bartholomew once said, “If we are not moved to compassion, bandaging the wounds of the earth, assuming personal care, and contributing to the painful costs, then we might easily be confronted with the question, which of these do you resemble: the Good Samaritan or the indifferent person?”

Monday, February 23, 2009


Our house was sparkling clean this morning. Between our preparations for Gabriel's first birthday party and an appraiser coming to our house, there was a flurry of organizing and cleaning up this weekend.

At one point in time in the midst of all of this, my husband said, "Look at how dirty these windows and windowsills are. When's the last time we cleaned them? We've really been lazy." The prideful woman I am, I took this as a personal attack and jumped on the defensive, "What do you mean we? I'm not lazy. I'm always busy doing all kinds of things around the house." Yet, a few minutes later, I glanced at our compost container on the kitchen counter, and the reality of my own laziness was clearer than the dirt on our windows.

I am not a "winter person" by any stretch of the imagination. Every winter I imagine what it would be like to live in a more temperate climate. Every winter I long for my vegetable garden, to walk barefoot in the grass, to feel the warm summer rains, to touch and smell the sweetness of the earth, to be able to get up and go without taking a half hour to dress everyone.

This winter is no different. Recently I have been dreading the cold, gusty winds so much that I've been putting off taking our compost outside to the compost bin. I've allowed the compost container inside to get to the point where it's not only full, but it's overflowing so much that I can't even put a lid on it. There have even been a few occasions when I've just given up and put a bunch of it down the garbage disposal. Talk about laziness!

It's interesting that it took necessity to compel us to go the extra mile with our house cleaning. Yet, on a daily basis, I skip so many corners. Why is it that I often make the best choices and efforts only when it is convenient for me? It's easy to sit around and bemoan the growing environmental destruction in the world and cast the blame and judgement on others. But, in reality, the problem lies within each and every one of us.

Bishop Kallistos Ware said, “There can be no transformation of the environment without self-denial, no fundamental renewal of the cosmos without voluntary sacrifice.” If each of us are not willing to be faithful in taking small steps (no matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient) in our own lives which take the environment into consideration, God's creation will suffer. In a joint message from Orthodox Primates in 1995, Orthodox Christians were called upon " be vigilant and to take every necessary avenue in order to save and protect God's creation." As for me, I'm going start with the compost bin, even when it's not convenient.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


If there's one thing that's been consistently on my mind throughout the past several months, it's been the subject of balance. So many roles and tasks to balance with seemingly little time to fulfill all the responsibilities. That's why I've been absent from the blog-world for so many months now. I had decided to cut myself off from email and blogs and the like. My goal was to simplify, simplify, simplify... to whittle away at the extraneous things in my life and start from scratch again, so to speak. It was liberating.

Yet I've come out of that time realizing that, for me, it's a balance. It's not an all-or-nothing thing. So, here I am again with a desire to have a place, or a space, in which to dig a little deeper into everyday life and grapple with some of the injustices that lie beneath the surface. A little corner of the world in which to process my observations and explore my faith in the context of living in this world.

So, for those of you who were starting to follow my musings and wondered what happened to me, I'm back. I plan on posting a bit more regularly now, so I hope you'll follow along with me on the journey. And I'd love to hear about your thoughts along the way, too.