A Cat’s Contentment

At the request of my friend’s daughter, I snapped a few portraits of her treasured cat, Hobbes, sleeping contentedly on the sofa. He is so golden, he almost seemed to glow in the bit of sunlight streaming in the window.
IMG_4910eCats are satisfied with so little. Content to prowl around outside, content to come in and doze on the sofa or a bed, content with enough food, content with something as simple as a shred of paper to play with, content with a little affection and a little sunlight. Cats demand very little. A stroke on their cheek and a rumbling purr resonates.

Yet we human creatures are never content. We are always seeking lustfully after the next fad, the newest this or that, the best of this or that.  We desire the next adventure, the best experience. So much of our culture and our industries are built on discontentment. Magazines like House Beautiful capitalize on people’s discontent with their home decor and wall color choices. Travel magazines fuel and are fueled by discontent in where we are and what we can afford to do. Women’s magazines fuel and are fueled by discontent in my body, my clothes, my house, my family, my life, my kitchen, my husband.

I’m speaking in pretty broad terms here, and don’t misunderstand me as condemning various publications or condemning the idea of taking a vacation. Because I’m not.  But if we were content with what we had and only ever bought what we needed, and not what we lusted after, our whole economy would come crashing down. There’s nothing wrong with the new pair of shoes or the vacation or the nicer car or new paint on the walls. There is nothing wrong with beautifying one’s home or enjoying good food. We just need to be aware of our sinful human tendency to think that those things will bring lasting satisfaction. We mistakenly think that we will be better satisfied by a once-in-a-lifetime vacation to the Caribbean than by warming our fingers around a mug of hot tea, basking in the sunlight and reading our favorite book. Human beings are restless, discontent creatures, seeking satisfaction from things and experiences rather than seeking satisfaction in God’s provision for us. The modest plenty we have never seems to satisfy.

King Solomon, as well as other proverb writers and God Himself frequently drew lessons of one sort or another through considering God’s Creation. In the Book of Job, God reminds Job of His greatness and majesty by bringing to Job’s mind numerous creatures which God created and sustains, and which humans can’t even come close to understanding. Lessons and encouragement are learned and gained through considering characteristics of God’s creatures, how He cares for His non-human Creation, the instincts He gave to His animal creatures, and so on. In Proverbs 6, Solomon writes the following:

Go to the ant, O sluggard;
    consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief,
    officer, or ruler,
she prepares her bread in summer
    and gathers her food in harvest.

Consider the cat, then, and be content.

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Cheap Renters

A recent Sunday-afternoon hike to Bill Falls (a.k.a. Hippie Hole) reminded me once again of how much ownership people think they have over these places that don’t belong to anyone, yet belong to everyone. As the sounds of loud music and profanity-laced conversation reverberated through the canyon near the Falls, I moved downstream, away from the chaos. It is truly amazing how many bikinis, beer bottles, and profanities hang out at Big Falls when the weather is nice enough for swimming. One reason my favorite time to go is winter. No one else is there.
IMG_4055eWhen I go deeper into God’s country, I want to see God’s order, not man’s chaos. I want to hear the silences and sounds of solitude. I want to smell the freshness of the wilderness, not beer and chlorine (yes, Big Falls actually smelled like chlorine…). I want to hear the music of the creek, not rock music. I don’t want to see garbage clogging up the creek. I don’t want to see broken glass, bottle caps, misplaced sandals, and abandoned pool toys. Essentially, I want to see less of people. More particularly, less of the profanity-spewing, intoxicated, pot-smoking variety. I like going there and seeing people having good, honest fun. But why does “fun” now have to include drugs and alcohol? Honestly, it is no wonder so many of the events for the local search and rescue involve Big Falls. When you combine beer and boulders and deep water, the results are likely to be devastating. As they too often are. We have these beautiful places to enjoy, places that are relatively untouched, and it is a shame that they are overrun during the summer with drugs and alcohol. When I see people with their piles of beer bottles (yes, literally piles), I find myself wondering whether they even care to remember the hike or not.

It is irritating to hike down to arguably one of the most beautiful corners of the Black Hills, with the graceful Falls, the pools of water, the towering granite crags, the mountain goats, the lush foliage in beautiful fall colors…and be greeted with a profane atmosphere that would merge well with a college campus, piles of beer bottles, and exceptionally skimpy swimming suits.

And this dynamic I think we have to blame on locals. Tourists don’t know enough about the area to go there with coolers of beer (the mental image of someone trying to navigate the trail to Big Falls carrying a cooler of beer is hilarious, by the way). So all you local kids who think it is cool to go down there to drink underage and smoke pot, get a life. Leave the Falls alone, so those not into drinking and pot smoking actually feel welcome there. And, just a thought, it might save you a fine or jail time. Sarah and I went to Big Falls much earlier this year, probably in May, and pretty much decided never to go there by ourselves again, at least not without taking a gun with us. The feeling of vulnerability is intimidating, when as females by ourselves we realized that the guys up on the rocks were smoking pot and watching us. At least I had my hefty lens with me. I knew I could do at least a little damage with that.

So please excuse my rant. But these Hills, these scenic spots, do not belong to us. They are on loan to us for a little while. I wish people would quit acting like cheap renters.

The Freedom of Inconvenience

There is something wonderfully simple yet gloriously complex about the process of watching the tree bud out in the springtime, watching the flowers shed their petals and be replaced by infant fruit, then watching the fruit mature, and ripen, then picking that fruit at the right time and processing it, canning it as various delectable spreads or syrups or sauces, stacking the jars neatly in the pantry to be used at a future date…the process is immensely satisfying. I love the thought that must go into identifying the fruit, identifying its readiness to be harvested, sorting it, juicing it, and canning it. The thought and learned skill that goes into the entire process, whether it be the observation and waiting, or the careful, gentle work, the meticulousness, the specificity – they all contribute to the satisfaction I get when looking at a row of jars of jewel-bright jelly.
IMG_3912And yet the whole process is terribly inconvenient, to our modern way of thinking. I was in the middle of making a batch of spicy wild plum sauce, and Sarah commented facetiously on “how much money we’d save” on spicy plum sauce, by having canned it ourselves. “Wait…we don’t buy spicy plum sauce.” And she is right. We don’t. I’ve never tasted spicy plum sauce, I’ve never used it, and I didn’t even know it was a thing until I found the recipe and decided to use some of my wild plums to make it. Why bother, honestly?

As I have been canning over the past few weeks, it has occurred to me how much time actually goes into very little of a finished product. The time it takes to pick fruit and properly process it means a lot of time goes into each finished jar. It would be so much faster just to buy it at the store.

But there is no satisfaction when admiring a jar of store-bought jelly, or a factory-sewn skirt, or thawing out a frozen meal. The satisfaction comes from having a task, completing the task, and knowing it was completed well. There is something deeply fulfilling about being capable of taking a task from start to finish, whether in the process of foraging and food preservation, or in the art and science of reading a sewing pattern and ending up with a beautiful handmade garment or other item. There is something joyous about starting with an empty stockpot, and serving up something delicious from scratch. There is something invigorating about taking a cluttered house and turning it into a haven, or taking a pile of laundry and seeing it flutter clean and fresh in the sunlit breeze.

My 40-minute commute to work could be seen as an inconvenience or as an opportunity to pray, listen to music, or just to ponder life. Our 45-minute drive to church is time to visit with family. The time it takes to do dishes by hand is time my sisters and I like to spend listening to podcasts or laughing with one another. When I have a task like canning that requires hours of my time, it is freeing and invigorating to be forced to slow down for the time it takes to accomplish that task and focus on one single thing, rather than the million “important things” that crowd into my mind. It is freeing to have to stand outside in the sun and fresh air while hanging a load of clean, wet laundry on the clothesline. It is freeing to be carefully chopping vegetables for a fresh soup. It is freeing to kneel over a length of fabric, pins in hand, or feed the fabric carefully through a sewing machine.

The inconvenience is freedom to me.

 

 

Goodbye, Luna

It always hurts to lose something you love, or someone, even if that someone is “just” a cat. I think we will all shed tears over this little critter, publicly or privately, and each miss him in our own way. He was Anna’s special cat, but all of us loved him. Even Dad, who always puts on a pretense of thinking that the critters are “just” critters and relatively useless ones at that, will miss Luna. Luna seemed like he was doing better day-before-yesterday, and seemed to be responding to our attempts to nurse him back to health, but he took a turn for the worse yesterday morning and fell asleep for good sometime this morning. We’ll miss his quirks and his cuddles.We had Luna for 2 years, and his personality has always amused and delighted and befuddled us. His looks were like a scientific illustration of a cat – he was perfect, with a long, thick tail, a perfectly proportioned body, and beautiful pale eyes. But aside from his looks, nothing else was dignified about him. He’s the cat who, even when quite full-grown, would curl himself up ridiculously to “nurse” on his own belly fur, a habit that he caught on to doing when his sister, Koshka, apparently missing their mother, started sucking on his belly when they were just 2-month-old kittens. Koshka eventually grew out of the habit, but not Luna. He’s the one who fell in love with Jess’s dog who was here for the first 9 months that we lived in the Hills.  The two of them would love on each other, with Luna allowing Baby to groom him from head to tail. He’s the one we babied when he managed to get part of his tail degloved this winter when he got his tail closed in the front door, and he put up with our clumsy doctoring and his poor cone very patiently and sweetly. He was a forgiving cat.  He’s the one who would taunt the dogs, then turn on them, claws unsheathed, and send the dogs scattering hilariously. Luna always strutted around like he was some hotshot, and then would go do something stupid. It is kind of hard to believe that crazy, beautiful cat is gone.
IMG_9040We all loved him.

 

Luna

Anna’s poor Luna-cat is sick. He is the big, beautiful boy who lost part of his tail this winter and who always seems to be getting into scrapes. A few days ago, he started acting funny, but given that he is kind of a weird cat already, he didn’t seem much weirder than usual. But it became clear he was not just weird but sick, so Anna and Mom took him to the vet yesterday, and it turns out he has kidney stones, which for a cat can be a pretty big deal.
IMG_1754I don’t know what you think about praying for critters, but I believe that the God who created animals does care about those same critters. If not even a sparrow can fall to the ground outside the will of the Father, then I also know that poor Luna is seen by God, and that God cares. So when our critters are sick, they are in my prayers. But more than that, if you pray to Jesus, send up a little prayer for Anna, since Luna is her particular favorite and I know she’ll be really sad if she has to put him down. Unfortunately, veterinary costs of hundreds of dollars for a cat are just plain not something we can do (maybe…won’t do? They’re animals, not people. Great, now PETA will come and arrest me and PETA’s minions will excoriate me for being cruel and inhumane). If Luna doesn’t start showing some improvement in the next few days, Anna might have an unpleasant choice to make. The poor cat obviously doesn’t feel good, but he isn’t suffering right now, so we’ll see how he does over the next few days.

Pets are one of those multifaceted gifts that God gives, that kind of leave me bewildered. They bring such joy (and sadness at times), and there really is no explaining it. When I see the uniqueness of each of our critters, or cuddle a purring cat, or feel Ember pouncing my feet the nights I let her sleep inside (that’s supposed to be a secret, by the way), I wonder at God’s goodness and winsomeness in providing these not-so-simple joys. What is simple about the exquisite beauty of God’s handiwork? The God who created the planets and the universe also created the cat’s purr and the dog’s loyalty. What a great God. He didn’t need to do any of that. But He did.

Well, we’ve gotten pretty good at cat-doctoring, particularly with Luna degloving his tail back in December, so I’m hoping our doctoring will set him right. We’ll see, I guess.

The Insanity of Convenience

In our technology-filled life and landscape, connected to “the grid,” working as “cogs in the machinery of society,” we can lose touch with (or lose altogether) the skills and the delight and the contentedness of being able to do things by hand, from scratch, start-to-finish, garden-to-table, wilderness-to-kitchen. The art of homemaking has been complicated into a series of tasks not accomplished without the intense intrusion of technology, supposedly there to make tasks easier, and making us capable of driving ourselves crazy. Some tasks have perhaps been simplified, but at the expense of the satisfaction of having actually accomplished the task. The rat maze of modern life is bound tight with things that we do in order to simplify our existence. But what is simple about modern life, except that a lot of it doesn’t require any thought or creativity, since that has been simplified out of it? There are multiple processes which we accept as just a part of our modern existence, and probably even think they are beneficial.

But are they?
IMG_4227eInstead of washing dishes by hand, drying them, and putting them away (at which point the task has been completed in no more than a half hour of time), there is the intrusion of the dishwasher, taking about as much time to load, run, dry, and put away the dishes as it does to do them by hand. Add the confusion of someone partially emptying a dishwasher, only to have another person come to add more dishes and no one knows if the dishwasher is clean or dirty.

Instead of everyone having fewer clothes that we wash by hand only after they are actually dirty and then dry on the clothesline, folding them as we take them off the line (at which point the task is finished), we have more clothes that we wash more often before they are actually dirty, dry in the dryer, only to forget about them and need to re-dry them to fluff them before we can fold them, which are then put into baskets and then forgotten again, until the laundry has piled up from a week of laundry-doing (because we do it so often, there is actually laundry to pile up), and then in desperation it is folded wrinkled anyway, by which time another two or three loads are waiting to be washed. All because we have a washing machine and dryer and we can wash and dry that much laundry.

Instead of well-planned trips to the grocery store or to town once or twice a month, there is the temptation to run to the store whenever you think of something you need, simply because we have a vehicle and either live close enough to the store to do that (that was our situation in Illinois), or because we drive by the store on our way to and from work multiple days a week.

Instead of having a couple of highly useful appliances, we have five dozen different ones that all do different things – supposedly to make life easier. If you can find the one you need and remember how to use it.

Instead of nutritious, simple meals, we complicate our lives with prepackaged foods, processed foods, and quick trips to a drive through over the lunch break. And then we wonder where the obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and general malaise come from.

We don’t memorize phone numbers, because we don’t need to – they are all in our phones. We don’t keep written, sweet records of communication with people in the forms of letters and cards, because it is all stored on the computer. We don’t keep a tidy recipe book or recipe card box, because we don’t need to, those are on the computer, too. We don’t print favorite photos to paste in a family album – instead, we have folders and folders of digital images, stored on our phones, computers, Facebook, that take ages to sort through if you ever want to find something, so we never look at them.

Please don’t understand me as saying that we should just scrap technology and modern advancements (although…I’m not not saying that, either…), but how much meaning has been added to our lives by our modern conveniences? Arguably, none. Spiritually speaking, absolutely none. Socially speaking, well, I think the studies and people’s attitudes and ineptitudes speak for themselves. Physically speaking, we may live longer but we’re all sicker and feel crummy and are depressed from all the craziness. So, arguably, none.

Yes, I’m being somewhat facetious. Just somewhat. Because just how much do we really gain by running ourselves into the ground with convenience?

Living further out of town automatically simplifies one’s life, to a certain extent. It no longer makes sense to go to the grocery store “in a pinch,” because it is simply too far away – hooray. Hanging a clothes line and even doing some laundry by hand has simplified my part of the laundry process. We only have one washing machine, which is half a mile up the hill at Grandma’s, so eliminating at least the clothes dryer helps to make laundry day more pleasant, at any rate.

So some ideas on how to simplify would be as follows (i.e., how I envision a perfect life):

  1. Live at least 45 miles from a town with a Walmart.
  2. Live at least 15 miles from a town with any kind of store.
  3. Keep a stocked pantry.
  4. Cook from scratch.
  5. Wash dishes by hand. Even better, wash dishes while making dinner and avoid the dreaded pileup.
  6. Only wash clothes when they need it. It really is okay to wear clothes more than once, believe it or not.
  7. Make use of the clothesline. And fold it as it comes off the line. There, nary a wrinkle.
  8. Limit bathing. No, I’m not kidding. Unless you have a job where you get actually dirty, you don’t need to shower every day. Honestly. Believe me.
  9. Keep chickens, if for nothing else than to have to say “no” occasionally.
  10. Grow a garden. Revel in the time it takes to pull some weeds and water.
  11. Get rid of appliances if they double the purpose accomplished by something else.
  12. Put the stupid phone away. I can’t tell you how irritating it is to see a dating couple sitting at a restaurant with their phones out.
  13. Spend real time with people, doing real things, and having real conversations. Pursue real relationships with the 10 people you actually like and want to know better, rather than electronically with the 300 people you feel like you sort of know through social media.
  14. Look up and seek out the constellations. Look for spiderwebs in the grass, dewdrops on the flowers, pictures in the clouds.

I desire to live a life that is simple, in that I can enjoy the satisfaction of taking the time to accomplish something start-to-finish from scratch without “conveniences”: from-scratch meals, sewing projects, housekeeping tasks. I desire to live a life that is simple, in that I have the time and energy to spend quality time with people I love. I desire to live a life that is simple, in that there is a routine, and a flexibility within that routine. I desire to live a life that is simple, in that I can actually say “yes” to things that come up, rather than wondering if it will fit within the busyness of a scheduled-out week. I desire to live a life that is not caught up in the things that don’t matter, but in things that do, in things that are lasting and eternal, not in things that are temporary and fading. I desire to live a life that is simple in its effectiveness, its sweetness, and its genuineness. I desire to live. Perhaps some of what I’ve said is idealistic and unrealistic. But I would rather err on the side of idealistic and only partially get there, rather than err on the side of realistic and not get there at all.

Convenience is one of the altars of modern humanity, and on it we sacrifice our time, our sanity, our joy, our relationships, our kids, our health, our dreams. Although simplifying our lives is by no means the answer to life’s problems, simplification can be a part of shedding the numbness we get used to when we are so strung out trying to accomplish everything – we succeed, but only at the cost of our calm, our content, and our joy. Be willing to slow down, and shake off the insanity of convenience.