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The Simple Life

The Simple Life

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My daughter in our front yard
My daughter in our front yard

Every summer, before we leave, I ask myself the same question: what in the world are my kids going to do all day for six weeks? And every year, I am amazed at how their days are filled and full.

A few years back, we were in a situation where we weren’t financially able to send our kids to summer camp. We knew that keeping them home all summer simply wasn’t an option when their friends would be out all day, so we made the decision to pack up and spend the summer near family in Vermont.

It was the best decision we ever made.

Since then, every summer my children refuse to go to camp, because they don’t want to miss out on a single minute in Vermont. And yet, every June I have the same fear that they will be bored, will have nothing to do and be miserable.

What in the world are my kids going to do all day for six weeks?I guess that sometimes I tend to underestimate my children.

To be fair, they hadn’t been out of school a complete day when the whining began. There was nothing to do. There was no one around. They were bored. And no matter what I offered, it didn’t seem to do the trick.

Yet we take that six-hour drive to Vermont, and everything changes. For all of us.

Picture this: we are on the top of a mountain, on a dirt road five miles from the nearest house, with the national forest across from us. The only noise comes from the chirping of the birds and the occasional tractor that passes by. The air is clean and cooler, so we sleep with blankets at night (yes, while the rest of the East Coast is suffering from a heat wave).

We get our vegetables from the garden and our eggs from the nearby chickens, and when my kids want to swim we go to the lake. We close the windows and shades during the day to keep the hot air out, and leave them open at night to let the cool air in. That is our air conditioning.

Oh, and for a technologically obsessed family (with two parents who earn their livings through the Internet) we have no Internet connection from the home. (Which is why I am currently sitting in the Wardsboro Public Library, a transformed barn from the 1800s.)

The simple life.

There is something about getting away, getting back to basics, that puts everything in perspectiveThere is something about getting away, getting back to basics, that puts everything in perspective. Here, all we do is an adventure. Everything takes planning and time, since the nearest “market” is a twenty-minute drive away, as is the dump where we must bring our garbage. But what a drive it is! The trees, grass, mountains are incredible. We wind through the beauty seen in postcards as we stop to snap and make our own.

And, amazingly enough, the kids love it.

Why? I think it’s because we utilize all of our time. We spend it together. We make it count.

Back home, I waste a lot of time. Hate to admit it, but I do. There are so many errands to run and things to take care of that can drag out and fill much more time than needed. There is so much distraction that it can be hard to stay on track. And even when I work, I must check my e‑mail ten times an hour, and then respond when that little “ding” rings letting me know that someone sent me an instant message.

But here, I don’t waste a second. I sign into the library computer and I focus. I don’t respond to anything unnecessary, I don’t look at sites to get that mental break, I just do what I need to do—and actually, I do it much faster and much better. And when I get back to our house in Vermont, I can’t check e‑mail, so I talk with my kids, eat with them, focus on them and nothing else, since there is nothing else to focus on.

I was just speaking with a woman who is going through an extremely difficult time. I begged her to try to get away for a day, or even for a few hours, for a break. She needs some time for herself to refocus, regroup. She asked if I really thought that such a small break could make a difference, and I responded that I thought it could make all the difference.

We disconnect in more ways than one, which allows us to reconnect in the deepest of waysAs we spoke, I realized that this is one of the beautiful meanings and benefits of Shabbat. For six days we work, we are immersed, we create. But for that one day, only 1/7 of our entire week, we stop. We live the simple life. We recognize and allow creation to happen without our input. We refocus. We regroup. And because we are not allowed to do anything else, we appreciate what not doing feels like, and how important it is.

Shabbat is not the end of our week but the center of the week, the purpose of the week. This is why we say in the prayers, “Today is the first day of Shabbat . . . today is the second day of Shabbat . . .” The week revolves around Shabbat, not the other way around.

I think for us Vermont is like the Shabbat of our year. For more than ten months we are crazy busy, immersed with work, teaching, schedules, school, errands and life in general. But then summer comes, and we get away. Each kids packs two small bags, and somehow it is enough, and more than enough, for the whole summer. We disconnect in more ways than one, which allows us to reconnect in the deepest of ways. And we once again learn what it means to fill a day without distraction.

And then, when summer comes to an end, we will return home. Rejuvenated. Appreciative of what we have there, while remembering what we had here. And yes, those distractions will return, but so will having real air conditioning on a really hot day, and a supermarket around the corner when I forgot that one ingredient, and my garbage picked up from my back yard so that I need not fill my trunk with it for a twenty-minute drive!

Will we miss Vermont? No doubt. But I think that is the beauty and lesson of it all. To learn to be present in the situation you are in. To take advantage of its advantages, while trying to minimize those disadvantages. And to always have something to look forward to, that reminds us of what really counts and what it is all about.


Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Shamayah Florida, USA August 16, 2012

Shabbat is truly a wonderful day! It is a day in which we find rest, joy, understanding,wisdom, and family unity. On our sabbath days my family and I sleep, pray, sing songs, read torah and talk our hearts out. Those sweet glorious days have taught us how important it is to hold fast to family unity, and made us realize more and more how set apart we are from the world. I love the joy of unification and I praise Hashem for giving me a family to have that with! Reply

Lee Kirkpatrick Satellite Beach, FL August 15, 2012

Thanks, Sara! Nothing is more important or rewarding than time well-spent with those we love. Reply

Yael Resnick MA August 14, 2012

Beautiful article I loved this; thanks for writing it. Our family will take a one-week "Shabbos" up north before the end of the summer and I am looking forward to it for all the reasons you described so beautifully. Reply

Abdullah Jeddah, S. Arabia August 14, 2012

Thanks! Thank you, Sara!
Great as always! Reply

Every situation we find ourselves in is a lesson waiting to be learned. That is what this blog is about. From the people I meet, the places I go and the experiences I have, stories emerge, each teaching me something that I hope you will find useful for your life as well.
Sara Esther CrispeSara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a non-profit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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