Thursday, January 7, 2016

Simple Gifts

Simple Gifts
Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the g
ift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight

When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ‘round right.
                           -Joseph Brackett (1797 & 1882)
                           Shaker dancing song – permission
                           Granted for nonprofit purposes.

On Thanksgiving NPR had a full morning program with music, poetry and small talks about what we should be grateful for. The above song was sung by several different singers or played on some musical instrument off and on that morning along with other songs, too. One group I especially enjoyed listening to was Contuse. It made me think how far from a simple life any of us lead anymore – some even less than others, if you consider a constantly connected lifestyle.
I'm with Molly, the dog I had before Maggie.

How many people actually enjoy quiet time anymore? How many take time to walk in the woods without talking on their phone at the same time? How many actually sit down and read a book - one with paper pages to turn? How many people rake leaves instead of using a powerful noisy leaf blower? How many were out shopping and braving the pushing, noisy crowds on Black Friday, or even on Thanksgiving?

I read John Steinbeck's The Red Pony when I was seven.

I’m one of those who refuse to shop on Thanksgiving Day or Black Friday. There is no way I would fight those crowds looking for gifts for my grown children, siblings, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Not only is it overwhelming to shop for that many people, but what to buy them is a bit daunting. Yes, I do the gift cards, too, but I hate giving only that, and shopping is not something I enjoy. Well maybe in garden centers or independent book stores. Besides, especially for the little ones, I can’t imagine how I can compete with the amount of toys they are getting and already have. I remember the gifts my siblings and I got when we were kids. Under our Christmas tree – and I still decorate a real tree like we always had – were five gifts for each of us. Maybe there were more for my youngest brother who is twenty-one years younger than I am. There were no toy boxes overloaded with toys, and yet we never felt deprived. We were happy with what we got. Depending on my age then, I usually got a doll, maybe a horse statue, and always a book or two, and maybe something new to wear, but I can’t remember what else. My Grandpa Jones always gave each of us a silver dollar, although once when I was fourteen, he gave me a pair of new black jeans. It was probably my grandmother’s idea. I was the first one in my school to wear black jeans, but soon they became popular.
Christmas Day during grab bag fun. 
This year when my grown kids, grandchildren and great-grandchildren came to my house the Sunday evening before Christmas, the little ones tore into their gifts and then looked for more. What they got this year from their parents, their grandparents and aunts and uncles was enough to open a toy store. A few days after Christmas my granddaughter said she’d packed boxes of their older toys still in decent shape to donate to Goodwill.

And it’s not just Christmas and the holidays. What about the rest of the year? How many can actually put their cell phones aside? My brother mentioned on Thanksgiving when we had a discussion about the addiction so many have to their cell phones, he’d told his youngest son he wouldn’t take him out to eat if he looked at his cell phone even once instead of carrying on an adult conversation with him. I noticed his older son and daughter-in-law didn’t look at their cell phones while they were visiting with us, but I wonder if it was hard for them not to do so.
Not a picture I took or in my neighborhood.

Five or six years ago Amish families started moving into the township where I live. For years they’ve lived not very far north of me, so I’m familiar with the Amish and their customs, but I do enjoy seeing their horse and buggies going by my house now. Some people denigrate their way of life, but for me I admire their simple life although I admit I wouldn’t want to be without electricity, a car or a phone, although many of the Amish do have cell phones now. Last month I looked out my upstairs window just in time to see an Amish woman go buy in a cart pulled by a pony. I had to smile at that.
Both the cart & pony I saw were smaller.

Okay, maybe in many ways I’m old-fashioned, but I think I get more enjoyment out of life by leading a more or less simple life. Yes, I have a computer and I like it, but I don’t want to be on it all day nor do I want to spend hours on Facebook. I have an old-fashioned land line phone. Well, sort of. It usually lets me know if the caller is someone I know, and it’s not connected to a wall so I can walk around with it while talking. As for a cell phone, all I have is a little Tracfone my kids think I should have while walking in the woods or driving somewhere. Only my three kids have that number, and they aren’t allowed to call me on it unless it’s something important. So when I go for my walks, I can enjoy the world around me. I can hear the birds and notice spring flowers and fungi in the fall.
Yes, it's shady there, but the sun does come through.
Other things I don’t have. I don’t have a dishwasher. Why waste cupboard space when it’s easy enough to wash my dishes the old fashioned way, especially since I usually eat alone. Although I do have a washer and dryer, I still hang clothes out to dry on nice days. I love the order when I hang my washing neatly on the line under a maple tree with birds singing nearby, and the fresh smell of clothes and sheets dried outside.  My TV is an older one because I don’t watch much TV, and I don’t have cable because the old antenna works quite well for getting PBS, my channel of choice. I drive a small, older car that’s energy efficient because like Garrison Keillor would say, “it’s good enough.”  It has no bells and whistles, but does have a radio and CD player.  Most of my vacations are camping with my sisters or sometimes with my youngest daughter.  That is a simple life and one I not only enjoy, but makes me appreciate electricity, my comfortable bed and an indoor bathroom when I get home.
One of my sisters on a camping trip we took in PA. 
I know my life style could be simpler, but I don’t want to go without the things I’m comfortable with like electricity, hot water, a microwave, a furnace, or my computer. I don’t need all the books in my house, but I love having them around me, especially if something piques my curiosity, and it reminds me of a book I read and might want to read again. For instance I’m on a reading marathon of rereading all the Margaret Maron Judge Deborah Knott series, and enjoying them just as much as I did when first started reading them years ago. Of course, for research Google usually solves that problem.

How simple is your life style?

How could you simplify things?


  1. Life has a lot of stages, Gloria. My husband and I want to simplify our lives, but to do so, it seems, we have to go through a lot of work! I'm going through everything in our house and trying to pare it all down to those things we really want to keep. My son and daughter have gone through their things, too. Both will be in apartments for the next few years so they can't take all of the memorabilia with them. My son's Nerf guns--my daughter's Beanie Babies. After we get down to essentials, most of it will go into storage for them when they expand their living accommodations. So to get to simple, we must delve deep to throw off the material of our former selves. Luckily, I will take a few bookcases with me!

  2. E.B. I hear you on this. I'm surrounding by books that I have no intention of getting rid of, although sometimes I do go through them and pick out I have no interest in and know I'll never read again and give them to Goodwill or a local used book store. I packed up my bell collection several years ago and it's stored in the garage. Those bells are momentous of trips I've taken or gifts from people who mean a lot to me. Of course, unlike you, I have no intention of leaving my home until I'm carried out on a stretcher.

  3. Years ago I asked my family what one thing they wanted to keep from the celebration of holidays. Nothing was pretty much the answer for everything but Christmas. My husband wanted a Christmas tree, my daughter the creche, and I the dinner. So that's what we did. We do still give token presents,and have a wreath on the door. The most popular present is "I haven't finished this yet but..." This year I got an unfinished sampler with three crows and an unfinished pair of mittens. I gave an unfinished scarf.

  4. I enjoy many simple things: walking in the woods birdwatching, kayaking on a quiet lake, reading a book. Yet, I do fill my life with complexity and I overschedule myself.

    I can beat myself up about it, or gently remind myself that ofttimes the simplest approach is the most enjoyable.

    ~ Jim

  5. Since we've packed up our house and put it in storage while my husband is trying a new job in CT, I think I have a vision of a simpler lifestyle that can work. Right now it feels like, have laptop and family photos, will travel! This semi-permanent move has been good in that I think about all the things I put in storage and I don't even remember what is there. I don't miss anything. I will admit to bringing along some Christmas ornaments and Nativity set - some family things are precious.

  6. in my family it would be "here's your gift, it's a book I haven't finished yet so could I please have it back before you start reading it?"


  7. KB, I used to make things for others at Christmas, too, back in my crafty days. I also received handmade items, and still do sometimes. However, your not quite finished items made me laugh. My sister was making a quilt for one of her daughters and didn't finish it in time for Christmas and gave it to her only long enough for her to see what she would be getting as soon as it was finished.

    Jim, I know we have similar interests, but I prefer canoeing to kayaking, although maybe if I ever tried it, I would find I liked it. I also get involved in too many things which stresses me at times. I say yes to things and then regret it later.

    Shari, when I moved 25 years ago, it was only about 5 miles. I brought a lot of things with me that I didn't need because of the time constraint of getting out of the house that sold into my new/old home still in the remodeling stage that didn't even have it's kitchen cupboards in yet. They were in boxes in the middle of my living room. So much of my stuff
    got stored in an old shed on the property. Eventually, I got rid of most of the stuff, but not what has sentimental value.

  8. I love that hymn. Had no idea it was Shaker in origin. It sort of sums up the essence of what life should be. The simple things in life are the biggest blessings and the most long lasting. I too am striving to simplify my life. When we moved to the crown of Maine a few years ago I was reminded of the lessons learned on my great grandfather's farm. Always be prepared, always be self sufficient and always be ready to fix the problems. Although my necessities have gotten a bit more complicated in this age of connection (I'm not going to give up my laptop!), I can still cook on a wood stove, make a full meal out of three ingredients, and do quite well without electricity - for a while - until the charge on the cell phone and laptop run down...

  9. Kait, I've always loved that hymn, too. Even though Maine is cold in the winter, I've loved
    my three or four visits to Maine in the summer. Although, I rarely use my laptop, I don't want to be without my desktop computer that's attached to my printer. I can read by flashlight, and do when the power goes out, but my gas furnace doesn't work without electricity so I wouldn't
    want to be without heat in the winter. I have a friend who heats her home with a wood burning store. Even though she's older than I am, she still chops wood to use in it. I admire the two of you.

  10. I love the idea of simplifying, but haven't been very successful so far. I've tried to start with de-cluttering, but I have a long way to go. I do believe I have too many screens in my life.

  11. Carla, de-cluttering is a big problem with me. Partly because I'm on the list of every charity out there as well as every insurance company wanting donations or getting me to sign up for insurance so my stack of junk mail builds up waiting for me to tear off my name and toss the rest in my recycling bag. Also, I tend to download items from my computer and don't always get around to filing them or pitching them if they're no longer needed. Also, I was born during the Great Depression and I carry some of my parents habits of not wanting to pitch something that I might need someday or fill up the landfills with stuff that can't be recycled.

  12. What a nice commentary on being happy with what you have, and making decisions on what's important to you.

    Recently a friend and I were discussing the fact that our attitudes had been changing from "I can use that someday" to "I haven't used it in years, and I don't want to leave all this stuff for my kids to have to sort out!"

    A friend of mine lived on the farm where her husband was born. They stopped farming years ago (rented the fields for hay) and the barn was completely full of things, many of them antique farming utensils. She decided to begin sorting through it, so she went and opened the barn doors wide. After surveying the tight-packed contents, she closed the doors again and said, "We inherited it like this; my children can inherit it like this."

  13. While preparing to move from Kansas City to Portland, Oregon, my wife and I got rid of many things we did not want or use. At the moment I am getting my bank account, credit cards and many other things switched to my new address. It is anything but simple. My hope is after we get settled here we'll live more simply.

  14. KM, I'm of the mindset of your friend who is leaving it to her kids. :-) I do plan on sorting through all the papers I've accumulated, and am slowly getting rid of leftovers from my teaching years, but as for the rest, they can take care of it.

    Warren, that's another reason I'm not moving ever, ever, ever again. It was bad enough just
    moving a few miles away the last time I moved 25 years ago.

  15. I love this post. I'm all about enjoying the quiet and a simpler life and leaving behind the commercial holidays and store-bought gift giving. I encourage my children to write me letters as gifts (priceless). I work hard at freeing myself of clutter as well. However, my one luxury is my dishwasher (and I don't mean my husband who is very good about washing dishes :) ). My dishwasher is a convenience I'm grateful to have. Anything that frees my time to read and write more, I consider a luxury. Thank you for a wonderful post!