Category Archives: simplicity

breathe vs. achieve

like a sunset

What can we do but keep on breathing in and out,
modest and willing, and in our places? ~Mary Oliver

Last night in our Study Group, a friend gave an awesome lesson about world religions and what we can glean from various faith traditions to augment our own spiritual paths. She read a passage about the difference between ‘western’ traditions versus ‘eastern’ traditions, specifically noting that western traditions emphasize progression whereas the eastern foster satisfaction with the here and now–“being” in the moment.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot today. I often work so hard to achieve things, yet I crave just sitting in solitude or the time to lose myself in a flower or to lie across my bed with a purring cat beside me. I have so many lofty goals–books to write, places to travel, classes to teach, and so on. But I feel a tension between the ambition it will take to accomplish these goals…and the desire to sit in solitude.

I think for now I am choosing the latter. And tomorrow I will take up the pursuit again. But today, I may just breathe awhile.

The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life’s plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life.
~Robert Louis Stevenson


my singer, originally uploaded by pilgrimgirl.

Though I am often thrilled by the latest technologies, I am an old-fashioned girl at heart. An example is my sewing machine: a 1942 Singer. It works like a charm despite being older than my mother.

Every once in awhile I think it might be cool to have a programmable computerized sewing machine. The kind that practically sews for you. But I quickly abandon that idea as I remember the dependability and beauty of my Singer.

It’s all I need.

all packed up

all packed up, originally uploaded by pilgrimgirl.

Yesterday the kids and I packed up our Christmas decor. I took a pic so you could see how we keep the holiday simple at our house. CatGirl is sitting next to the one box of decorations (wreath, tree skirt, a few xmas figurines, 4 stockings, a snow globe musicbox, tree ornaments, and two creches). Behind her is the box that our tree goes in. And that’s it. It all fits tidily on top of the storage shelving in our closet.

TobyJoy is sneaking around in the background of the pic, because she’s never far from her girl.


thoreau’s beans, originally uploaded by pilgrimgirl.

Me, Getting a Taste of History

I first read Walden when I was in high school. I was immediately enchanted with the leisurely style of Thoreay’s writing and I’m sure that I was more than a little infatuated with the man himself. I pictured myself his partner, roaming the forest, taking moonlit dips in Walden Pond, growing beans. So romantic, so idealistic. So peaceful and simple.

While we were in Concord we visited Thoreau’s pond and cabin and the environs. I felt a thrum of pleasure as my body felt so at home. And it renewed my fantasy to someday live an experiment like his.

From Chapter 7 of Walden, “The Bean-Field”:

“I came to love my rows, my beans, though so many more than I wanted. They attached me to the earth, and so I got strength like AntΓ¦us. But why should I raise them? Only Heaven knows. This was my curious labor all summer β€” to make this portion of the earth’s surface, which had yielded only cinquefoil, blackberries, johnswort, and the like, before, sweet wild fruits and pleasant flowers, produce instead this pulse. What shall I learn of beans or beans of me? I cherish them, I hoe them, early and late I have an eye to them; and this is my day’s work….
We are wont to forget that the sun looks on our cultivated fields and on the prairies and forests without distinction. They all reflect and absorb his rays alike, and the former make but a small part of the glorious picture which he beholds in his daily course. In his view the earth is all equally cultivated like a garden. Therefore we should receive the benefit of his light and heat with a corresponding trust and magnanimity. What though I value the seed of these beans, and harvest that in the fall of the year? … These beans have results which are not harvested by me. Do they not grow for woodchucks partly? The ear of wheat should not be the only hope of the husbandman; its kernel or grain is not all that it bears. How, then, can our harvest fail? Shall I not rejoice also at the abundance of the weeds whose seeds are the granary of the birds? It matters little comparatively whether the fields fill the farmer’s barns. The true husbandman will cease from anxiety, as the squirrels manifest no concern whether the woods will bear chestnuts this year or not, and finish his labor with every day, relinquishing all claim to the produce of his fields, and sacrificing in his mind not only his first but his last fruits also.

And from the Conclusion of Walden, a quotation that bears frequent pondering:

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of h[er] dreams, and endeavors to live the life which [s]he has imagined, [s]he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. [S]he will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within h[er]; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in h[er] favor in a more liberal sense, and [s]he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as [s]he simplifies h[er] life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.


my windowsill, originally uploaded by pilgrimgirl.

One of the very bestest things about my new home: the windowsill above the kitchen sink. I’ve got an assortment of colorful vases in the sill, putting fresh garden flowers in them each day. The window looks out on to my back porch, which is starting to look a bit less cluttered with boxes and dead plants. It is the perfect place to sit in the evening and meditate by candelight.

Can I just say that I’ve started singing when I wash the dishes? Such joy!


yellow diantus, originally uploaded by pilgrimgirl.

A quotation shared by Maddie:

“We have bigger houses but smaller families,
more conveniences, but less time.
We have more degrees, but less sense
more knowledge, but less judgment
more experts, but more problems
more medicines, but less healthiness.
We’ve been all the way to the moon and back
but have trouble crossing the street to meet the neighbor.
We built more computers to hold more information
to produce more copies than ever…
but have less communication.
We have become long on quantity but short on quality.
These are fast times of fast foods but slow digestion.
Tall man but short character.
Steep profits but shallow relationships.
It is a time where there is much in the window
but nothing in the room.”
~the Dalai Lama

Our family is thoroughly enjoying our new neighborhood with friendly new neighbors who are totally willing to ‘cross the street’ (or rather cross the grassy path) to meet us and share their homemade goodies. Lucky us and such a refreshing change from our former neighborhood! In addition, I recently made friends with a woman who opened her gorgeous beachhouse to me twice this week for time to rejuvenate, receive a massage, and enjoy crafting scrumptious dark chocolate (if you stop by I will share one of my rich truffle creations with you!). Then tonite, we made some new friends and reconnected with some old ones.

All joy. I am feeling so very blessed.

Eating well, living slow, receiving abundance. πŸ™‚

that kind of hell

Guess what? I have just volunteered myself for that special kind of HELL called MOVING.

Yes, our little family is moving to a slightly larger space because I need a bathroom that’s modified for disability access. My past few major falls/accidents have occurred in bathroom spaces and I’ve just finally come to accept the fact that I need a bit more space and the security of grab bars around toilet and shower. So we are trading in our 675 sq ft place for a whopping 850-ish sq ft. It seems HUGE to us.

And not to worry–we will be easily found just across the street from our former digs. And when we are out of HELL, you are all invited to a ginormous housewarming party (details to come soon)!! πŸ™‚

Note: this will mean that our filing cabinet will no longer be in our mini-kitchen. How weird will that be?? It will also mean retro orange-y countertops–just perfect for my yellow kitchenaid!

Making do

For various reasons, we didn’t leave our house as fully prepared for our ‘home away from home’ adventure as we had planned to be. Part of it was the last minute rush. Part of it was that both John and I tried ‘earmark’ the food to be packed in our own ways, which resulted in much of it being left behind.

And we also didn’t want to go to a grocery store and buy a ton of food (trying to eat locally and all). So this is what we had for dinner tonite:

Pasta that was supposed to have some fresh tomato & basil sauce. Only we forgot the garlic (oops) and there were very few ripe tomatoes in the garden. So we had pasta w/mysterious sauce (satueed in a bit of olive oil and simmered until kinda mushy) of a few small tomatoes, yellow bell pepper, tomatillos, yellow squash, and chocolate peppers. With a few shavings of freshly grated parmesan on top. And a side salad of sliced cucumbers tossed w/a bit of sea salt. And a slice of bread toasted w/butter and bit of parmesan on the side (yum). All in all, hearty and good.

For dessert I sliced up the rest of the peaches that were nearly too ripe and tossed them with a sprinkle of sugar and a bit of butter. Then I crumbled some TJ’s vegan cookies on top. Except for the fact that the cookies burnt ever-so-slightly on top, it was super tasty!

The one thing I like best about our temporary home: I can see my garden from my bedroom window. What a gift. Despite all of the inconveniences of being away from our ‘stuff’ for a few days (and having limited internet access), we are enjoying ourselves immensely. πŸ™‚


close, originally uploaded by pilgrimgirl.

To me, looking at this plant from underneath produces an effect that’s almost like looking at twinkly stars or at fireworks.

A quotation for today:

β€œIf the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things in nature have a message you understand, Rejoice, for your soul is alive.”
~Eleanora Duse

a tale of three homes

Swung by a colleague’s house in a nearby city in the morning to drop off a batch of exams. She lives in a craftsman-style two-story home with a plaque on the front stoop noting that the house is listed in the local historical registry. Between the front gate and the massive front porch was a zen-style rock garden. The porch was not only larger than my living room, but had a cozy couch, overstuffed chair, and a suspended bench swing. I won’t even start to discuss the huge row of rosebushes across the front. Wow. It was so hard to not to just move in on that veranda. CatGirl accompanied me up to the porch just so she could try out the furniture. I was too shy to try out the swing, but it was mighty, might tempting. Intense houselust. Just intense.

While we were in the neighborhood we stopped by the Goodwill to pick up some more glassware. At less than $1/glass it’s the best deal around. IMO even water tastes better in a goblet. I love all of the different shapes, cuts, and colors of stemware. I also pick up a few other good deals (including a darling deep green jacket for me and a bright green hoodie for CatGirl).

From there we had to drop CG off at a friend’s house to work on a school project. We had an address and a vague notion of where said friend lived. As we neared it we realized that it was the gated community that we’ve entered only occasionally before when GameBoy’s had school projects/events. It’s hard to explain how exclusive, upscale and remote this place is. Hidden in a nearby canyon, the surrounding hillsides are craggy and carefully landscaped to resemble a mediterranean village. Each of the expansive homes clings rather precipitously to the hills, each built of old-world stonework and landscaped with lavender, grape arbors, and such. From the website I learned that all of the rockwork is in the “Provence” style, there are “Approximately 400 luxury homes and homesites are dispersed within a total of 1,070 acres of some of the OC’s most pristine real estate. And the luxury custom homesites average 27,000 square feet.” Yah. wow. (this is in a city where a one bedroom condo costs more than $350K)

So this friend of CG’s doesn’t live in just any of these homes. She lives in the furtherstmost tippyity-top home. We went through two different sentry gates to reach her street and then found ourselves at yet another series of gates to actually enter the housesite. We opted to park on the street and I walked CG to the pedestrian gate. We buzzed and her friend soon appeared with her mother. We chatted a few moments about when I would pick up CG later and then I left. Her Mom was dressed super-casually like me : t-shirt, no makeup, sweatpants. But I couldn’t help but marvel and the differences between our two lives. The vista from her front yard–looking out over rolling hills and an open space preserve–it’s a multi-million dollar view. I wondered if her porch had a swing (I wasn’t allowed through the inner gate to actually see the front entrance) and if all of the iron bars make it hard to see the sunset?

So now I am at home curled up barefoot on my groovy purple couch. I just finished a little project on the back porch to hang some candle lanterns from some hooks that I bought 1/2-price at Goodwill. John is cooking up a huge feast for dinner: ratatouille(!), our new favorite leek soup, green bean salad, and an apricot compote. The “new” glasses are lined up on the table for me to scrape off the pricetags and wash before dinner. Some F/friends will probably drop by later and I’m sure a good time will be had by all.

I know that all three of these homes house good people who love each other and have purposefully chosen their particular lifestyle. I’m awed by the size and scale of the two homes that I mentioned earlier when compared to ours. I mean, I would love to live in a historical home–especially one with a grand porch (yes, especially that), but I really can’t imagine myself in such a large space. And the villa lifestyle, whoa. What would it be like to have a yard that’s even larger than my entire community garden? Unfathomable (though you can imagine that I would be growing a heckuva lot of organic food!)….

UPDATE: The price tag of the house adjacent to CG’s friend is 15 million. Gasp.