Mercy Me! I've got work to do.

Mercy Me — I've got work to do! making the world a better place – starting with me.

Why firewood is the perfect birthday gift – 5 ways to live simply

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My birthday was last week and instead of getting diamonds, pearls, or even something useful like shower gel, I received a box of firewood as one of my gifts.

Yep. Firewood.

I would show you a picture of me posing with it on the big day, but somehow no one managed to capture the surprised look on my face.

Surprise isn’t really the right word either. I was more confused than surprised. I wondered, is there a diamond wrapped in the box of firewood?

No, it was indeed a box of firewood.

Believe it or not, it was actually one of the more thoughtful gifts I have received from my husband.

The other gifts did not include lighter fluid, matches or charcoal either. In fact, over the years, he has bought me lots of nice presents that did not involve kindling.

As I grow older, or just grow, I find that I want fewer things. The material becomes immaterial as I focus on creating moments that matter instead of curating a collection of more stuff.

I want to live more simply, and my feeble attempt to express that has been to tell my husband that I want to live like people do on a farm.

That’s what the firewood was all about. It wasn’t so we could have a fire this winter and talk about what crops we were going to plant in the spring. It was about giving me some of the simplicity I crave.

He knows I am kind of over my suburban lifestyle.

For one, I am tired of buying in bulk. It’s heavy. I feel like I need a farmhand just to load it all in my car.

Then, there is the waste. My Sunday ritual now includes throwing out all of the food we didn’t eat during the week. This week that included smoked salmon, two hard-boiled eggs and some left over quinoa. I am of the generation that grew up being guiltily reminded about the starving children in Ethiopia so I cringe every time I throw away food.

And while I am grateful for health insurance and good medical care, my children have had more x-rays, cat scans and seen more specialists than I have in all of my 42 years.

On the farm we would just see the doctor if we were dead, dying or bleeding to death, and the doctor would make house-calls. We would not have to drive across town to a medical complex and hunt for a parking a space that will fit our tractor-sized SUVs, only to have to crawl out the hatch back since all the spaces are made for compact cars.

Instead of waiting for the doctor in your own bed like on a farm, you go wait in an icy room with a bunch of magazines about crafts you can’t do, recipes too complicated to make and fashion that nobody could actually wear off of a runway. Eventually you see the doctor, but that’s only a blink of an eye of the whole experience.

But alas, I don’t live on a farm and thus will take my son to an orthopedist tomorrow – in my own SUV.

After listening to my conversations about farm living, my son has told me he can’t do chores on the farm with a separated growth plate in his right shoulder. I explained that on the farm he would just have to use his left arm, and like Gloria Gaynor, he would survive.

While I, myself, might be a little bit like Eva Gabor on the seventies sit-com Green Acres if I actually had to live on a farm, the concept of living more simply appeals to me.

So I have been trying to take small steps that really don’t require overalls or a move to the country. The only thing they entail is a decision to live mindfully.

Here’s my list of some ways I want to live:

1. Shop locally. I have always tried to do this, but have made more of a concerted effort lately. I know there is Amazon.com, mega malls and credit card points, but there are also small businesses who thoughtfully help you as you shop. They aren’t worried about making commission. They are more interested in conversation. One of the best things about shopping locally isn’t just supporting neighborhood retail and all they offer communities. It is that they carefully wrap whatever you purchase in crisp white tissue paper and put it in a bag that’s made out of paper. I love that. It feels so special — like you just sold the farm to make that purchase and they recognize that.

2. Buy what you need. I am not going to say much about this because the truth is we don’t need much. Not things. We need friendship, family and fellowship. We need love and mercy. We need God and goodness. We need conversation and conversions. Other than that, we just need a toothbrush, a little food, and some good wine.

3. Use what you buy. The waste drives me mad. It just feels gross, indulgent and disrespectful. I am trying to be more conscientious when I shop. I am trying to buy better food. Food that feels special. Food that looks beautiful like it was grown on a real farm. One night, I bought 4 chocolate covered strawberries for our dessert. One for each of us. It was perfect and somehow felt decadent to have only exactly what we needed.

4. Offer thanks. There is so much to be thankful for and you don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving to acknowledge your life’s blessings. If you don’t think you are blessed, go outside. Feel the sunshine on your face – or the rain. Feel the breath you inhale. Feel the gentleness of the wind. Feel alive with possibility. Just let yourself feel — until you get it. Feel the fullness that is gratitude.

5. Light a fire. You don’t necessarily need firewood to do this. You just need a spark – something that gets you excited, people who make you feel warm; passions that make you feel purposeful. Life is short, and we really never know how short either. Birthdays are finite. So it is important to live it like it matters, so the people in it know they matter. IMG_1825

Because in the end, whether you choose city life or green acres, it won’t really matter. It’s the time you spend enjoying moments such as sitting by the fire with someone who somehow always knows exactly what you need – that will ultimately matter.

Those moments are the best gifts you can give, and the best gifts you can get.

Do you have any ideas to share on ways we can all live more simply? More deliberately? Be a good farmer and share your crop of ideas with us!

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Author: Lara Patangan

Mercy me, I’ve got work to do… is a blog I started on my 40th birthday to chronicle my experiences spending the year doing corporal and spiritual works of mercy. No longer on the cusp of a new decade, I am still here finding that much work remains – in the world, my community, my relationship with God and perhaps most challenging, within myself. Please sign up and join me as we share the work that matters most – being better people. In hopes that when the decades cease to pass the world will still whisper of the graces left in our wake.

12 thoughts on “Why firewood is the perfect birthday gift – 5 ways to live simply

  1. I love this article. We all need to live as you recommended. Happy belated birthday! I hope it was simply awesome!

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  2. This was a great reminder! Plus, that is one sweet hubby you have there! Very thoughtful!

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    • Thanks Meghan. After I got over the confusion of why in the heck I was getting fire wood for my birthday – I thought too that it was very thoughtful! It just took me a few minutes (hours, really.)

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  3. I loved this!! It makes me want to chill out with my kids and husband instead of always DOING SOMETHING!!! I’m gonna tell Guy I would like some firewood AND…………..roasted marshmallows!

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  4. Happy Birthday! I think we could all use to live a little more simply! Cutting back technology is one I have been working on. Especially in the evenings after work…it can be tempting to go straight to the TV or iPad or phone or whatever! Not that those are bad things but I think cutting back and replacing that with more time outside or reading or just talking is always good. My mom and I have been on a kick making as much cleaning supplies/beauty supplies naturally at home as we can (and have the time to!) There’s all sorts of home remedies for facials, scrubs, detergents, and so on…it makes you feel extra good to use them knowing it is a simplified version of those products…minus added chemicals and fragrances and dyes and all that.

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    • Thank you Rose! I LOVE the technology idea and think its interesting that you mentioned that. Recently, for whatever reason Facebook is not working on my iPhone. I have gotten into the mindless habit of checking it while waiting at various points during the day. I have missed not being able to use it but when I saw your comment I thought maybe that is a sign for me to only check it from my home computer. That would certainly mean I would be looking at it less. So, there you go – you changed my life! I am going to try and keep it off my phone and do that. I think it will help me be more in the moment. Although sometimes I find there is little reason to be in the moment in the carpool line 🙂 Love all the homemade products too!

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  5. Great read!! I live and breathe the essence of this blog. The simple life is one I strive for daily for myself and my children. The word “want” is not in our vocabulary, we are very far behind the times technologically (we just watched a VHS movie together!), there is no cable in our home as we prefer to spend time together when we’re at home, and birthdays and holidays are a time of celebrating each other through experiences and memory making rather than materialistic possessions. I even strive for simplicity in the kitchen, buying just the necessities, nothing extra, so as to avoid a glutenous lifestyle. I can say, without a doubt, my children and I are the happiest and most at peace that we have ever been, all because we appreciate the simple things in life 🙂

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    • That is awesome Nicole! We did not have cable for years – so my kids only had PBS to watch when they were little. We have it now, (something about my husband having ESPN) but they still rarely watch it. The do like the x box though so I am not sure that’s any better. And yes, keeping the material out of the holidays is a HUGE challenge for parents. I think one year I would like to try to just go somewhere for Christmas and not do all the present-stuff. Thanks for sharing and kudos for living a life that honors simplicity!

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  6. ” I am of the generation that grew up being guiltily reminded about the starving children in Ethiopia ” – the whole article resonated with me, but that line made me laugh out loud! Why did all the parents trot out that line?!

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    • Kristine – Now you made me laugh! I am not sure why we had to hear that so much. It’s not like we could do anything about it. I remember collecting the spare change in those cardboard rice bowls during lent and then when it was time to turn it in I would inevitably forget to bring it back to school! I guess that makes me extra guilty!

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