Cover of Uncluttered by Courtney Ellis

Drinking Deeply – A Guest Post by Courtney Ellis

Early in our marriage my husband Daryl and I lived in southern Wisconsin, where the soil is so black and rich it seems like Narnia—you could plant even a lamppost, and it would grow.

We grew a garden—our very first—astounded by the fat cherry tomatoes that burst from the ground, the jalapeños spiky with spice, the mint that threatened to take over it all. We bought a compost bin and churned our kitchen trash into new soil, eggshells and coffee grounds and potato peelings dissolving to feed next season’s harvest. Our toddler son watched spiders and ate dirt and laughed and laughed. After stressful meetings at work, I’d kneel amidst the greens and pull weeds, nature’s best therapy.

Gardening is easy, we thought. Growing things is simple.

A handful of years later we moved to southern California with a postage-stamp-sized patio. We sprinkled herb seeds into a pot and called it a garden. I gave the whole thing a good soaking. Then, running from one meeting to the next, one activity to the next, one errand to the next, we completely forgot all about it.

Anemic basil sprouted halfheartedly. Rosemary wilted. The mint never even made an appearance.

Gardening is impossible, we thought. Growing things is silly.

Between Wisconsin and California we’d jammed more and more into our schedule until we were spinning like tops with barely a half-hour to microwave fish sticks for the kids (now there were two), much less tend to slower, greener things. Our marriage, our family, and even our miniature garden showed the strain.

It’s a humbling thing to admit you’ve come to the end of yourself. That you have limits and you’ve reached them. That there is simply no farther you can go, no harder you can push, no thinner you can stretch.

Daryl and I looked each other in the eye and said, “We have to stop.” Slowly we began to detox from an overpacked calendar, learning to say no, to make scheduling sacrifices, to listen to our souls.

In the middle of our uncluttering journey, we moved to a little house with a backyard, its soil as hard-packed, hot, and arid as I imagine the surface of Venus to be. I hammered together raised beds. The kids and I scooped soil into them, sowed seeds, watered, and waited.

Gardening is slow, we said. Gardening—like anything rich and beautiful and important—takes time.

Those little raised beds became for us a symbol of choosing to do less so that we could hear from God and one another more. As we watered and waited and watched, we began to hear the ancient pulse of an earth set spinning in motion millennia ago by a God who loves us enough to offer us deep, slow, lasting joy in an instant gratification world.

My son, now six years old, wandered through the backyard yesterday, paused for a second at a raised bed, and raised his voice.

“Hey Mom!” he yelled. “Look! Kale!”

COURTNEY ELLIS writes and blogs at Author of Uncluttered: Free Your Space, Free Your Schedule, Free Your Soul, she lives with her husband and three littles in southern California. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

The Simple Things

We own 15 acres of land here – a gift we have been given the honor of caring for.  Most of that land is pasture, long opened up from the native oaks, cedars, and poplars that once covered it.  The hillsides are etched with the tree lines that have remained with fences or spring heads.  150-200 year old cedar tree

Yesterday, we walked down to one spring and greeted our neighbor’s cows – two gals round with babies, who stared at us, flared their quarter-size nostrils, and waddled on.  Philip had found a huge cedar tree just above the spring – 150-200 years old and wide around as two of us hugging it.

One of the reasons I love that man is that he takes such deep joy in such simple things.

We and our fathers gazed at that lovely beauty, and I wondered whose hands had also slid on that bark – farmers, enslaved people, tired women who wandered out from the house on a cool winter afternoon for just a few minutes of the kind of break that only crisp air can bring?

Beyond the cedar, the bright, crimson droplets of barberry dangled – an invasive species Dad tells me, and yet, it is beautiful – all that color against the beiges and grays of winter.

We spend more time walking the land – trying to figure out just where our property stops, marveling in the abundance of firewood we can gather, breathing.

Later, we we all stand in the hay field on the other side of the house – pink and orange flags marking the footprint of what will be our barn – I am caught breathless by the great gift that it is to have found this place, to have come to it with a man who dreams just as big as I do, to have parents who help and marvel and celebrate with us.

Olive and Acorn, the dwarf goats, jumped up into the swing set and watched – cuds dancing the whole time. And Bliss, our biggest, goaty gal, danced, her cashmere coat warm, her feet light – bucking and leaping as if to say, Isn’t this all just amazing – this life?  All this joy in so much that is simple.


Stay tuned for more details about the barn and for ways you can help us “raise” it.  Plus, we have some writing retreats coming up in May and July, so check out the schedule here.