When to say, “Yes” to saying, “No”

One year ago I was unpacking Christmas lights while taping up moving boxes.  My husband’s job had ended unexpectedly and we planned to move between Christmas and the New Year.  We were racking our brains to come up with a plan, while trying to cheerfully sip eggnog at the holiday parties. It was not a time I want to repeat but is a cherished time because it drew us together and forced us to define our priorities as a family.


When to say yes to saying no, wendell berry, art of the commonplace


Over the past months the Liturgy of Life reading group has been reading Wendell Berry’s The Art of the Commonplace.  As we finish these last essays on agriculture Berry shares a story.


Mr. Evans was a New York farmer.  He was half way to meeting his goal of growing his dairy farm to 120 cattle when he went through a  season of wet weather which reduced his grain harvest by half.  He was faced with a choice.  He could feed only half his herd, he had to either sell the other half, or purchase twice as much grain as he could afford.


Though the circumstances are different, we all face decisions  like this one, about when to plunge ahead and when to scale back. Two years ago my husband got a dream job that required our family to live out in the country. We were an hour from the nearest city  and soon my commute for work became an incredible strain. It was unplanned but I decided to stop working and become a full time stay at home mom.


A year later when this same dream job ended unexpectedly we were in a tight spot.  We had to decide, do we move, take a job, make our decisions fast and not take a financial risk or take our time, use some of our savings and figure out what our next steps should be?


Mr. Evans  made the difficult decision to say, “No” to expansion. He sold half his herd. Afterwards he realized that he had been overworking his land and as a result his cattle were having serious health problems. By scaling back he was able to see his situation with more clarity, give it the attention it needed, and make better decisions for himself, his cattle, his family and his land.


I said, “No” to continuing in a situation that wasn’t working. I quit my job. A year later when my husband was out of work we decided I should continue  at home. He took some part time work and we lived off of savings and prayed for six months before taking our next step.


It was hard to walk away from a fulfilling career (especially one that I had worked for 10 years to obtain).  The following year it was difficult to be patient in what felt like an urgent situation. It was risky to say, “no” to financial security, and to not jump at any and every opportunity as we saw our savings dwindle.


Now before I go on I need to add that I realize that having the opportunity to say, “no” to a job and not starving to death is a privilege that I don’t take for granted.  I am grateful to be in a country and an economy that allows us to earn a living doing something we love and that has allowed me to  stay at home with my daughter.


This is also not a post about working versus staying at home, this just happens to be my example. Your life is probably totally different and what is important is that we learn to set priorities consistent with our values which can then guide our decisions and allow us to function well and live with intention and purpose.


Berry gives 14 guidelines to aid in decision making in these times.  He writes them specific to farming but they are applicable to nearly every situation.  You should read all of them, but for the moment I’m going to mention two.



“In an organism, what is good for one part is good for another. What is good for the mind is good for the body; what is good for the arm is good for the heart.”


Berry’s definition of organism is actually more like an ecosystem. He describes it as a farmer, mind, body and soul living in relationship to land, soil, plants and animals.


We live in an individualistic society and tend to think of the organism as one person.  But I’ve found it helpful to think of my organism as my household.  There is no solution that is “good” if it works for me but is not good for my husband and daughter.


As a family we have learned to first define our main priorities,  which usually sound something like, “to be obedient to God, and have a household that functions well.”  When we decided for me to stop working it didn’t feel like a loss of career as much as a gain towards functioning better as a family.  In relationships our sacrifices stop being sacrificial as we work towards a common goal.


This brings me to the second point,

“A good solution always answers the question, How much is enough? Industrial solutions have always rested on the assumption that enough is all you can get. That destroys agriculture, as it destroys nature and culture. The good health of a farm implies a limit of scale, because it implies a limit of attention, and because such a limit is invariably implied by any pattern.”


During my residency I remember working my tail off to be a wife and mom and doctor. I was constantly juggling. Looking back I realize I wasn’t able to give my best to any part of my life. Yet everything in our culture stretches us thinner and encourages us to go for more, bigger house, new job, better pay, hotter oven, colder freezer, faster cars,  we have endless options and are bombarded constantly with advertising telling us we need it.


We are on a constant quest for personal happiness. Nagged unceasingly with the feeling of, “if I could just get one more .  .  .” or “if I could just get a little further with that .  .  .   then I would really be happy.”  But history and Wendell Berry tell us that there is another way to live.


Did you know that traditionally the times of hardest work, like harvesting grain and sheering sheep were seen as times of great religious depth and ceremony?


During  hard work man understood that he was drawn closer to God.  God can’t be contained to the 15 minutes of morning quiet time we give Him.  We can find Him in all things and all people, and sometimes our biggest, “Yes” to Him can be a, “No” to the things that draw us away from Him.


Thanks for being here,




This post is part of a series of reflections on The Art of The Commonplace. For more Liturgy of Life, subscribe or follow on facebook. To learn more about our reading group, click here, or check out our facebook group. We would love to have you read and ponder along with us.



Some Advent Links

advent liturgy of life


Well today is the first day of advent.


Maybe it is a renewed interest in the liturgical calendar or a search for some deeper meaning in Christmas beyond Black Friday and the shopping mania, whatever it is celebrating advent has gained some momentum in recent years.


Now I know that the last thing any of us want is another set of obligations (as if the holiday season didn’t seem busy enough already).  Advent can feel even more overwhelming since many of us are new to these traditions and aren’t even sure where to begin with the celebration.  I’m a total novice here myself but I have smart friends who are great resources.  I hope some of these links and ideas will help you to use this season as a time to gather your family near to Christ in anticipation of His birth and not  overburden you with yet another list of things to do.


I thought I’d approach this old school,  I started all my papers in junior high with a definition.


noun: advent; plural noun: advents
  1. the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.
    “the advent of television”
    2.  the first season of the Christian church year, leading up to Christmas and including the four preceding Sundays.
    noun: Advent
    3.  Christian Theology
    the coming or second coming of Christ.
    noun: Advent


So advent is a season, in which we celebrate a notable person, that person is Christ.


The mood of advent is anticipation.


The colors are deep purples and blues.  It is a quiet time. A time to reflect on our longing for Christ to come into the world. (Christmas then, the 12 days after advent is the time to celebrate that indeed He did come.)


Historically advent has been on the sober side, and even included some fasting, it was seen as a time of preparation, a time to remember how much the world needs a savior.


It is a challenge for us with the whirlwind of the American Christmas season to know how to celebrate this time well.  Historically the church tried to engage with the world around it and bring Christ into existing traditions in a way that made sense.


This has been the approach in our family.  We try to celebrate the parts of American Christmas culture that can help point us to Christ and incorporate a handful of historic traditions that fit into our place and time. We don’t want to be total weirdos but we do want to celebrate this time in a special way.


So we will still let our daughter have her picture taken with Santa but at home we talk more about the real person of St. Nicholas and the ways that he loved Christ and served the poor.


We will enjoy all of the Christmas music but at home will play more O Come O come Emmanuel rather than  Walking in a Winter Wonderland (which actually works well for us since it is still 80 degrees).


We get out or Christmas decorations once advent begins but we will save a few special things to bring out during certain times during advent. Most importantly our baby Jesus will stay hidden away until Christmas eve.  For our family the highlight of the season is placing baby Jesus down into the nativity between Mary and Joseph. It is a reminder of why we celebrate, that our God came to us as a tiny baby.


We will totally give gifts at Christmas but we won’t do a lot of shopping. Instead we spend the season in preparation, making soap and granola (I know such a hippie right?) and other treats to send to our family and friends (don’t worry our daughter has plenty of grandparents and aunts and uncles she gets more than her share in store bought gifts too).


A few other traditions you may want to try:


  • An advent wreath: Usually made up of some evergreen (symbolizing everlasting life) and four candles (hope, joy, peace and love, with a fifth in the center called the Christ candle which is lit on Christmas eve.  This year we bought this kit (on the recommendation of my friend Shannon, check out her advent post here) to roll our own beeswax candles. We will light one new candle every week when we do our evening prayer.

advent wreath liturgy of life

Our wreath is one of those grapevine wreathes from the craft store. I picked up some pine scraps out of the Home Depot Christmas tree scraps and wove them in. I realized I didn’t have a candle holder so I made this little disc out of salt dough.


  • An advent calendar: You can pick up one of these on basically every corner these days or you can make your own (seriously the number of adorable advent calendars on pinterest is totally overwhelming).  The whole point of the calendar is mark the days, to add to that feeling of anticipation as we await Jesus’ birth.


We have a store bought one. But I thought this was cute for something simple, you just put a marble or stone in one of the holes each day (this is also made of salt dough).

advent calender


  • Feast days.  There are a couple extra special days during advent. One is St. Nicholas day which is December 6th. Growing up this was the day that our church would do a service project and gather gifts for kids in need.  St. Lucia Day is December 13th which is popular in Scandinavia. Traditionally the oldest girl wakes up early and feeds the family breakfast (sounds good to me right?) as a way to focus on service.


  • Jesse Tree. This can be a smaller Christmas tree, or just a stick where you can hang ornaments, one for each day of advent that each represent different parts of the Christmas story.  I just found this link that has versus for each day which tell the story from the beginning of creation to the birth of Christ. I think we will just read the versus this year, maybe next year we will make some ornaments to go with them.


  • Nativity. We have this one, it is indestructible.

We also have this one. Which you can buy here.


Cornhusk Nativity-2


Some other great resources:

Let Us Keep the Feast: Advent and Christmas. I love this book and learned most of what I know from it. We may be reading through this together next year with the Liturgy of Life reading group.


The Advent Book. This is a picture book with an image and a story for each day.


A Child in Winter, daily inspiration from Caryll Houselander a Catholic mystic. It has a short meditation for every day of advent and Christmas through epiphany.

A Continual Feast. This has recipes from around the world for the whole church year.

Some great music:

Rain for Roots: Waiting Music. Rain for Roots is great. Not only are they friends of ours but they are excellent musicians who are also moms and decided to start making kid friendly family music.

In the Town of David. Our absolute favorite for advent. Also friends of ours. Like I said, we have great friends.

Hope you enjoy this season and the Christmas season to come.  Looking forward to hearing about how you are celebrating it.

Thanks for reading friends,



To learn more about Liturgy of Life click here, or join us in our reading group, where we are currently reading, The Art of The Commonplace by Wendell Berry. Feel free to comment here or join in the discussion on facebook.

7 Quick Takes Fall Fun at Liturgy of Life

A quick review of our Thanksgiving week. Hope you had a great one.


1.  Though we missed our family terribly (we usually spend Thanksgiving with the Jarrett side) this year we decided we have been doing too much traveling and so we stayed in Texas.  We were thankful to be invited to eat with our dear friends and the staff of the Isaiah 55 Mission.   As a result my daughter got to hang out with a bunch of big kids who took her exploring in a pond and climbing on a broken dock. It would have terrified me so I didn’t watch, as a result she had the most fun day of her life.


2.  We wanted to squeeze in a few more fall activities over the last week before moving into advent.  I had some leaves tucked away that we collected last fall.  So we dipped them in bees wax and strung them on a thread.  I love it though I’ve been cleaning up bits of wax all week.





2.  We did a little thanksgiving craft at the refugee shelter. We are also reading Little house on the Prairie (for the second time) so my daughter’s telling of the Thanksgiving story goes something like. “Well the settlers arrived and the Indians brought them food and they all ate together, then the settlers took the Indian’s land and killed the Indians.” Mostly accurate but a rough introduction to the history of our country.


Liturgy of Life. fall leaf placemat


3. Oh yeah and the place mats are the leftover leaves ironed into a wax paper place mat. My husband said he made some like this in preschool. Also those odd looking cookies are one of my new favorites, sugarless, flourless breakfast cookies, recipe will come once I perfect it.


4.  I’ve had a few fall cooking flops this week including this pie I made for Thanksgiving. I guess overall it wasn’t so bad, just not very attractive.

Liturgy of life. apple cherry pie

I also tried fermented apple sauce. Apparently a good source of pro-biotics, mine tasted a bit like bourbon.

Liturgy of life. fermented apple sauce


On the positive side we started making cold brewed coffee which has gone well.

liturgy of life cold brewed coffee


6. We took the holiday Friday to visit a nearby art and science museum. Here we all are painting a still-life cornucopia, later we made light up LED holiday cards.


liturgy of life art and science.


7.  One more fall activity to do before we head into advent. We are all headed to the Corn Maze this weekend and then Sunday we are moving on into advent.


corn maze liturgy of life


Happy Holiday Weekend!


For more quick takes  check out thisaintlyceum.com

Thanks for reading friends,





To learn more about Liturgy of Life click here, or join us in our reading group, where we are currently reading, The Art of The Commonplace by Wendell Berry. Feel free to comment here or join in the discussion on facebook.


Homeschooling on the Fly Fine Arts for an Artless Mom

This turned out to be a crazy month and our afternoons were filled up with making and remaking Halloween costumes. But we did have time to squeeze in a little Beethoven. Did you know Beethoven eventually lost his hearing but continued composing some of his most famous works though he was completely deaf?


FIne Arts for an artless mom, homeschooling. liturgy of life. liturgyoflife.com
Listening to music while making play dough. Our only other listening this month came in the form of my childhood jewelry box which happens to have a music box which plays Fur Elise, convenient right?.




We learned about the painter/sculptor Michelangeo. This website gives a quick bio and highlights a few of his most famous pieces. Seriously what this guy did was amazing and I’m glad I took the time to stop and think about it. The Pieta was a little too heavy (a statue of Mary holding the recently crucified Jesus) so we went for Madonna of Bruges (Mary with baby Jesus).  And rather than carve out of stone we used clay, close enough for me.


FIne Arts for an artless mom, homeschooling. liturgy of life. liturgyoflife.com


For poets this time around we did John Keatsbright star.  Gotta love a website dedicated to short poems.


FIne Arts for an artless mom, homeschooling. liturgy of life. liturgyoflife.com

FIne Arts for an artless mom, homeschooling. liturgy of life. liturgyoflife.com

FIne Arts for an artless mom, homeschooling. liturgy of life. liturgyoflife.com
Making these poetry collages is one of my new favorite activities.


I’d love to hear what sort of fun stuff you are learning and teaching in your house.

Thanks for being here!


To learn more about Liturgy of Life click here, or join us in our reading group, where we are currently reading, The Art of The Commonplace by Wendell Berry. Feel free to comment here or join in the discussion on facebook.