A Call to the Country
by Katrina Watson
Simple. Relaxed. Joyful. These words embody what living in the country means to me. I have long had a dream of living in the country. As I grew older and as our family became larger, the sounds of crickets harping, hawks calling and chickens scratching appealed to me even more. I am not sure if it was the idea of getting back to nature or just seeking a more simple life. The sounds of trains, cars and city-life didn't excite me as when I was single and younger. I guess having children when I was older allowed me to chase my dream as a motivational speaker and curriculum writer for more than a decade. I was blessed to be able to travel all over the United States--sometimes for more than three weeks out of the month. It was truly exciting but perhaps as I entered my forties, a different way of life was calling.
For our five young children, I yearned to offer a place where they could roam, feel the dirt on their feet and learn the simple things--like food doesn't come from the grocery store. I dreamed of decluttering our lifestyle, our schedules and our distractions. Would it be possible to replace the sounds of notifications with the sounds of chirping squirrels and roosters crowing? I knew that I would still have the boistrious sounds of my three boys filling our home and the 12 loads of laundry to do per week. Even while living in the country, I would still be called to wash the multiplying dirty dishes daily and sweep the unrelenting crumbs off the floor. But somehow I felt that if I could do it in the country it would all seem more serene.
My husband and I started looking for that special place we could call home. A place where he could still drive to work within an hour. A place where we could still get to civilization within 30 minutes. A place that felt far enough away yet close enough for community with others. And after several years, we finally found it. Five acres in a sleepy town in Eastern Colorado. This is where we would begin building our dream into a reality.
The things that took place in my soul were breath-taking. The quiet of the night air filled my heart with joy. The stars overflowing in the sky were awe-inspiring. And, the lessons learned from everyday life were wonderful--and still are.
The lessons I have learned so far over the past several years living on our sweet little farm (of sorts) are wrapped up in the ideas of simplicity, serenity and sustainability. Simplicity is found in the quietness surrounding us. It bounds in the long afternoons outside and the observations of the great horned owl and the bright yellow house finches. It is found in the direction, "go play in the out-of-doors". It is seen brightly in the filling of an abundance of bird feeders and the noticing of the new squash blooming. The wide expanse of the horizon brings it in with the afternoon rain and the entertainment of our own personalized Chicken TV. Simplicity is in the calm, the easy and the open space--in terms of our minds and our souls.
Serenity is the peace. The peace brought by the absence of artificial noise. Serenity is the warmth penetrating my skin while sitting outside gazing only on the meadow. It is mezmorizing and confusing all at once as to how long the human eye can look upon God's landscape. Serenity is slowly orchestrated by young bodies looking hard into the distance at a coyote who ambles to and fro looking for his hunt. It is found when all there seems to be is a book and a tree. It is stumbled upon when the family puts efforts together to save a miniature bunny from certain fate of the red-tailed hawk and the noticing of the blanket of the newly arriving dainty wildflowers.
And sustainability. The self-thriving of the existence. The gathering of the daily eggs miraculously brought about by our sweet chickens. The lush leaves freshly picked and the sweetness of the strawberries that never seem to make it to the kitchen. The numerous capabilities found by children that can entertain themselves without plastic or screen. The sustaining of the mind and our bodies is found here.
All of these are true. The country has a way of bringing out a heart for these things. But, the country is only a part of the overall architecture. It is possible to live in the country and retain no serenity in your life. Although the country can begin to grow a desire for simplicity, serenity and sustainability there are other areas of our lives that can perpetuate the cycle of these ideas and assist us in making margin in our lives for the things that matter. Since we cannot live outdoors all of the time and since we do live in Colorado where is gets COLD and snows, since we have school, work and chores along with the business of daily life, we must rely on other means of producing and living out simplicity, serenity and sustainability as well.
Perhaps you have no intention of moving to the country--may-be you don't even like the country. Perhaps you work 60 hours a week or you have 8 children to raise, or you have a disability that makes it nearly impossible to even go outside. These things might seem foreign or too far-fetched for your situation. I'd like to offer additional practices that I have learned in infuse Simplicity, Serenity and Sustainability into our lives.
1) Simplify a Process. Scour over your processes and identify the one that is not working. If it is driving you crazy, simplify it. For example, our evenings were getting a little harried. I was trying to clean up after dinner, go do the evening barn chores while the dog needed fed and taken out and the kids needed to get ready for bed (teeth brushed and PJ's on) while we all needed some downtime from the day. While this should all work in my mind, somehow it was really just an hour of chaos. So I identified this process as the one that needed attention. How could I simplify it? How could it all get done without chaos? How could I infuse peace into the process? I focused on how to take care of the core issue which was helping the kids to wind down and get the things done that they needed for bed. Once that was in place, the other items could get done joyfully and with peace. So we implemented a chart for the kids in which each child would need to go upstairs, get teeth brushed and dressed then get into bed to read or play quietly on their own until I came upstairs. This time frame was about 30 minutes. Since they are 7-12 years old I knew this could be expected of them. Then if they did as expected, didn't roughhouse or otherwise cause me to come upstairs early, they were on track to receive their sticker. They additionally had to have a peaceful night going to sleep (not bothering a neighboring sibling) in order to get the sticker. After 30 days of stickers, they would get their reward. This was really an amazing experiment with identifying and changing a process. My evening suddenly became peaceful and I was able to do my nightly chores without chaos. This infused a feeling of simplicity into our evenings. What is your process that needs attention? How can you simplify it in order to bring about the desired outcome?
2) Infuse one area of your life with Serenity. Try decreasing or eradicating one distraction in your life that is keeping you from experiencing peace. Take a long moment to ask yourself what gives you anxiety. Think about your morning or your day. Was it the distraction of your long to-do list which keeps calling to you with an annoying familiarity? Or perhaps it is the constancy of your phone notification system that controls you even as you sleep? For me, it was my mornings. I noticed that I was getting up only about 10 minutes or so before my children and it made me feel anxious. I desire to greet each of my children in the morning and focus a bit on them without feeling like I haven't had a chance to focus my day. The answer to my dilemma was obvious but knowing something and actually implementing it is something entirely different. I began to set my alarm so I could have at least one hour for my focus time before my children awoke. I also told them that they may not come downstairs (or wake others up or be noisy, etc.) before 8 am. I know, it is one of the many perks of homeschooling--children that are rested. Once their clock turns to 8, they may come downstairs. By that time, I have stretched, brought my puppy out, sat in the sun for 20 minutes, gave the chickens some scratch, looked at my day-timer, checked my email and sat on the floor quietly to pray. Now, I am ready to welcome them to their day.
3) Create something for yourself. I realized a long while ago that companies, organizations, schools, etc. all have a marketing process that makes us feel as if we certainly could not do anything on our own. As I began raising my daughter, I felt bombarded by all the things that I "needed" to buy or services that I "needed" to use so that I could be a good parent. Music classes for tots, gymnastics for mommy and me, the perfect baby food jars, early learning websites and preschools, entertainment devices, and the list continues to grow. I finally had an epiphany. What if I could provide some of these things for my children. Would it be possible for me to teach my three year old without expensive classes? Could I make my own baby food and not do harm to my baby? Could I teach my children how to entertain themselves without screens and devices? Of course, the answer is an emphatic YES! I could. And I did. I made my own baby food, I grew my own vegetables, I taught my children how to read. I am not saying that I never need or want to buy services or have other professionals teach my children. However, I have come to the realization that I am capable. I have the ability to do many things...if I'd like. Is there something that you would like to try for yourself that you have felt unsure about trying? May-be making your own soaps or clothing. May be it is cutting your kids hair or cultivating a garden. May be you would like to try your hand at raising chickens for eggs or goats for milk. If so, try it. If it is a more difficult task and you are unsure about how to go about it, research it on the internet or take a class. When we are able to make something, do something or experience something with our own hands and our own minds, something wonderful happens. Try it, you'll be thrilled that you did.
These are only ideas of course. Part of making margin for that which matters to us is adjusting ideas and suggestions and fitting them into our own lives. The question remains the same: How can we make margin in our own lives for the things that matter to us. At this time. In this place. And while it matters. Each idea implemented works with the others. It seems to be cumulative. As we practice simplicity, we beget more simplicity. As we prepare ourselves to add more serenity, we seek more serenity. This is it. Little by little achieving the person we desire to ultimately be.