Archives: Stories & Songs of Simple Living


Archives: Stories & Songs of Simple Living

Edited by Jym Kruse

SSSL For Jan, Brendan and Derek who have lived the story with me.
Thank you to Peter Iversen for the musical transcriptions.
Funded in part by a grant from a friend of storytelling.

Table of Contents

1 dad threw the tv out the window
Bill Harley

2 the first fire
Gayle Ross

3 the tear
Dan Keding

4 ninety-five and counting | AUDIO
Jym Kruse

5 it's how you say it
Len Cabral

6 song for the whales
Tom and Chris Kastle

7 the bronco
Michael Cotter

8 the spirit of the river
Susan Klein

9 enough is as good as a feast | AUDIO | LYRICS sheet (pdf)
Joyce EarthMama Rouse

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These inspiring stories and songs exemplify the five life principles of Voluntary Simplicity. They are not a manual on how-to live more simply. Dozens of fine books are available to tell us the reasons to live more simply and how-to-do-it. These stories and songs revel in it.

The introduction to each piece refers to the life principle which it most directly communicates. Some items touch on several life principles. The five are:

Do Justice
Nurture People
Learn from the World Community
Cherish the Natural Order
Nonconform Freely

For more insight into these principles, read Doris Janzen Longacre's classic work, Living More with Less. The voices of these stories and songs are quite different from each other. Some stories are moral tales; some are life experiences. Some are funny; some are quite serious.

Your comments on this collection are welcome.

Gerald Iversen, National Coordinator, Alternatives


Stories, whether traveling by spoken word or hitching a ride on the melody of a song, have a power which our culture had almost forgotten until quite recently. We always knew we liked a good story, but our busy schedules and the lure of more recent forms of entertainment allowed us to relegate them to a childhood bedtime ritual or a very occasional diversion. Fortunately, a movement has been emerging over the past quarter century which has reopened our ears to the rich gifts which stories have to offer us. The stories and songs in this edition are of course restricted to ink and paper. Without the printed word to preserve them, many of the stories of even the not-too-distant past would have been lost forever. While the companion audio version of Stories & Songs of Simple Living allows one to also hear the oral cadence of the performers, in both forms the stories move our spirits and touch the deeper regions of our memories.

When I approached the storytelling and folk music communities with requests for contributions to an anthology that would feature the widest reaches of living more simply, I had hoped that there would be a positive response. I could not have anticipated how quickly and enthusiastically the project would be embraced. The artists represented here are among the most loved and cherished in their respective communities, and the diversity of their styles adds a rich texture to the canvas of their work. The focus of this volume is particularly suited to the world of story. To live life more simply has an attractive ring to it, but the stories and songs in this collection demonstrate the much broader implications of simple living. We choose to live more simply not as an end in itself but as a catalyst that enables even more to emerge.

The five life principles that have become foundations for the movement to live more simply illustrate that broader manifestation: do justice, nurture people, learn from the world community, cherish the natural order and non-conform freely. It is difficult to strive for economic justice when our own creature comforts are the only measure of our self-worth. It is even more difficult to nurture the lives of others when the objects we desire take precedence over our re- lationships. In opening our awareness to lessons within the world community and in noticing that the natural order suffers when the complexities of our lives only consume and never renew, we are sometimes called to act in ways that are alien to the mainstream of our culture, to be productively nonconforming.

All of the pieces offered here address one or more of these issues as they widen our perceptions and call us to a renewed appreciation of the simplest of gifts. Often the reader will find new connections which neither the author nor the editor had anticipated. I hope some of those surprises are also a part of your journey through these stories and songs. May they gently get your attention and then firmly plant the seeds of possibilities you may have long ago forgotten.

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Ninety-Five and Counting

Jym Kruse

Since it is my privilege to be the editor of, as well as a contributor to, this volume, I have chosen to include a piece that touches on the personal side of simpler living where it intersects the rhythm of family relationships.

The story connects with the life principles of voluntary simplicity on several levels. Times that our culture sets aside for the giving of gifts often become either a chore or an exercise in self-indulgence. The items we give can become more important than the intended recipient -- hardly a formula for the nurturing of people.

Likewise, cherishing the natural order can sometimes be as simple as saying a few words at the right time to encourage an impressionable young mind. When we focus only on our own needs and cater to them uncritically, the implications of our actions reach even beyond the influence they have on other people, as significant as that risk is. The larger realm of those many other creatures with whom we share this planet is also affected. These too become casualties of our desires and our arrogance. Ironically, we sometimes need to look to those who often get ignored to see those truths that are close at hand.

The hope I see embedded within this story is the knowledge that we can draw on our past experiences and learn from our mistakes. The challenge is the knowledge that we do not always choose to do so.

Ninety-Five and Counting


Jym Kruse

Jeremy didn't even have twenty-four hours left, and he still had no idea what he was going to get his grandfather for his birthday. He kept mentally kicking himself for waiting until the last minute, but he'd been so busy with exams and papers and other necessary-but-less-easy-to-explain activities required of a freshman in college that he hadn't gotten around to finding something. He knew it had to be just the right gift, not only because it was his grandfather's ninety-fifth birthday but because he didn't want to disappoint him. His grandfather meant the world to him.

His little brother suggested he get him a tie. His grandfather hadn't worn a tie in over fifteen years, but his brother often said stupid, irritating things like that. He was used to it. No, this had to be just the right gift. As he walked down that stretch of sidewalk toward the last store he could think of, the hardware store, he was thinking of all the places he'd been so far.

He'd started at the electronics store because it was the one he enjoyed most himself. He knew there wasn't anything there that Grandpa would really need, not because he was old-fashioned. Even at ninety-five, his grandfather was the most modern person he knew. His eyes were still good enough that he could read, and he read about things that Jeremy didn't even study in college. He'd never finished high school, but he loved to talk about the latest discoveries in astronomy and even spoke of Stephen Hawking and wondered if the guy would ever figure out how all those fields of energy worked together.

One time he was talking about inventions and said that the VCR was a much better invention than the TV. It meant that he could watch the few programs that he enjoyed and fast forward through all the commercials that he couldn't stand. It's not that he hated advertising. He'd once said, ''There are things in this world that a person needs, and it's helpful to know the choices. It's when they try to convince you to buy something that you don't need -- don't even want -- that's when you've got a problem.''

Jeremy had left the electronics place and wandered down the mall to a sporting goods store -- also because of his own interest. His grandfather wasn't really the athletic type, but he did like to walk. Countless times Jeremy had been invited to join him on one of his walks in the park. And he knew so much about everything along the way, probably because he paid attention. Often they'd pause to sit on a stump, and it would lead to long conversations and moments that Jeremy would never forget.

One time when he was in fifth grade (while sitting on one of those stumps), he'd asked his grandfather about something a friend had said. They'd been studying the environment, and his friend (doubtless echoing the words he'd heard at home) had said that the world was here to use and it was only crazies who worried about such things. His grandfather got that knowing grin on his face and said, ''Sure, there are some silly people out there who overdo things, but I've been around long enough to know that you can't be too careful or care too much. I guess it depends on whether you're planning on having grandchildren.''

There were so many memories just like these that had been triggered by Jeremy's fruitless journey that day. The street lights had just come on as he finally arrived at the hardware store. He stood outside the display window wondering why he thought he'd do any better here than at all the other places he had gone and knowing that he was out of choices and out of time. The twilight mingling of street lights and store lights created an interesting combination of reflections on the glass of the store window. As he looked at the merchandise on display inside, it was all a blur to him -- his mind still elsewhere in his remembering of all the wonderful times he'd had with his grandfather. Through the blur he caught a glimpse of his own reflection in the glass. In his hazy state of mind, it looked a little like he was inside the store, part of the display, one of the items that had been carefully arranged to catch your attention and draw you in.

The idea didn't form all at once like a lightning bolt -- he was too tired for that to happen; but slowly, growing unrelentingly in the depths of his imagination, the idea did make its presence known. He never did focus his eyes well enough to know what was on display behind the glass of that store window. He didn't need to. The idea had finally worked its way to the front of his mind. He knew what to get his grandfather for his birthday, and he still had a lot of work to do.

''In just a little while,'' was the answer he'd given his mom the last time she checked on him to ask if he was ever planning to go to bed. It was much more than a little while when he finally pushed his chair back from the computer and collapsed in exhaustion to get a few minutes of sleep before he needed to start another day.

The sun was bright in the sky, and a little overly bright in Jeremy's eyes, as they arrived at his grandfather's house. The conversation in the car had followed the usual litany of pronouncements about grandpa's eccentricities and questions about how much longer he'd be able to stay in his own home. Jeremy never liked the word eccentric for his grandfather. His grandfather was simply honest, the kind of honest that cut through the veneer of things that most people prefer to keep covered up. He'd certainly never been a mean person, just uncommonly honest. When the time came for the ritual of opening the presents, the results were remarkably predictable. His mom and dad had gotten him a lamp that turned on and off by clapping your hands. Grandpa wasn't really feeble enough to require such a thing, but they decided he was old enough that he ought to be. His brother had gotten him a tie -- figuring if no one else was going to use his great idea, he would.

The other relatives brought similarly uninspired offerings. Along the way, Grandpa had commented that he was sure he could find a good use for all these things. Jeremy couldn't help but laughing. He had often helped him pack up the gifts from previous such occasions to donate them to people he thought might actually have a use for them.

The time finally came for Jeremy's present. His grandfather started to unwrap it; by then he had lost some of the modest enthusiasm for the process with which he had begun. Lifting the lid off the recycled Avery label box, he saw the carefully hand-bound manuscript.

Jeremy had spent the night putting down on paper a host of memories he had of times with his grandfather and the many lessons and unforgettable aphorisms that had come along with them. Since he knew it was just a beginning, he had titled it simply, Chapter One. Leafing through the pages, the impact of the gift was not in doubt even though his grandfather rarely wore his emotions on his sleeve. One's ethnic heritage can leave a powerful residue sometimes.

But there was no mistaking the moisture in his eyes as he nodded his thank you. There was no mistaking the catch in his voice as he said, ''If I ever had any doubts, all the effort to make it to ninety-five was definitely worthwhile.'' And there was no mistaking the smile on Jeremy's face. It felt very good to be able to give a little something back.

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Enough Is as Good as a Feast


LYRICS sheet (pdf)

Joyce EarthMama Rouse

Contact/Ordering Information

While her musical style ranges through reggae, dixieland, calypso, pop and folk, the theme of sustainable living is a frequent one in Joyce Rouse's work. She grew up on a farm near Cresco, Iowa, where the music of the Earth touched her at an early age, and she has been singing and writing ever since.

She has been a Nashville songwriter and performer for over ten years, and her song, ''Standing on the Shoulders,'' premiered at the national celebration of the 75th Anniversary of Women's Suffrage in Washington, D.C. She is the creator, writer and performer of the EARTH MAMA music projects in which she combines her music, humor and entertainment gifts with her concern for the Earth.

With ''Enough Is as Good as a Feast,'' we come full circle. In very personal terms, it challenges the forces within our society that would have us long for more things to sustain economic ''progress'' while making vulnerable the sustainability of the Earth itself.

Joyce says that in the process of creating her music, she often finds it to be a spiritual experience and that it was particularly true in this case. ''In the early months of 1994, I was coming through a very low period of my life, and I believe I wrote this song as an exercise in counting my blessings. The more verses I wrote, the richer I felt!''

Ultimately we must come to the realization that a simpler life-style is not about what we give up or endure ''for the cause.'' Rather, it is about making choices that actually enrich our lives with treasures whose value is measured on a different scale from the trinkets of everyday commerce but whose worth is profound and lasting. On a global scale, those choices determine whether the riches of our planet will be justly available to all or wastefully consumed by a few.

We have been given gifts beyond measure. We have opportunities to cherish those gifts and live well in their bounty.

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  • Resources
  • The following list of resources is offered for those who are interested in other stories and songs by the artists repre- sented in this collection. Information on booking per- formances is available at the address indicated with each artist.

    Story Sound Productions 30 Marcy St Cranston, RI 02905 (401) 781-0019
    Ananzi Stories, Cassette
    It's How You Say It, Cassette
    Nho Lobo, Cassette
    Stories for the Wee Folk, Cassette
    Anansi's Narrow Waist, Addison Wesley Publishers 1994
    Len Cabral's Storytelling Book, Neal-Schuman Publisher, Inc. 1997

    Rt 3 Box 47 Austin, MN 55912 (507) 437-3306
    Amazing Grace, Cassette
    Dad's Stories and Farm Memories, Cassette
    Minnesota Seasons, Cassette
    People of the Earth, Cassette
    Stories of the Land, Cassette
    Memories: A Collection of Personal Stories by Michael Cotter

    301 Jacob Street Seekonk, MA 02771 (508) 336-9703
    50 Ways to Fool Your Mother, Round River Records 1986
    Already Someplace Warm, Round River Records 1994
    Big Big World, A&M Records 1993
    Come On Out and Play, Round River Records 1990
    Cool in School: Tales From 6th Grade, Round River Records 1987
    Coyote, Round River Records 1987
    Dinosaurs Never Say Please, A&M Records 1987
    From the Back of the Bus: Completely True Stories by Bill Harley, Round River Records 1995
    Grownups are Strange, Round River Records 1990
    I'm Gonna Let It Shine: A Gathering of Voices for Freedom, Round River Records 1990
    Lunchroom Tales: A Natural History of the Cafetorium, 1996
    Monsters in the Bathroom, Round River Records 1984
    Peter Alsop & Bill Harley: In the Hospital, Moose School Records 1989
    Sitting on My Hands: A Collection of Commentaries as Aired on National Public Radio's All Things Considered, Round River Records 1995
    Wacka Wacka Woo and Other Stuff, Round River Records 1995
    You're in Trouble, A&M Records 1988
    Who Made This Mess?, A&M Records 1992
    Carna and the Boots of Seven Strides, Riverbank Press 1994
    Nothing Happened, Tricycle Press 1995
    Sarah's Story, Tricycle Press 1996
    Sitting Down to Eat, August House Publishers 1996
    You're in Trouble, August House Publishers 1997

    Sextant Music, Ltd. 6342 W Belmont Chicago, IL 60634 (773) 714-0328
    Burnham Harbor, CD and Cassette
    Earthways, Waterways, CD and Cassette
    Strike the Bell, CD and Cassette
    That Time of Year: Songs and Stories of Christmas, CD and Cassette (with Dan Keding)
    See the Sea: Songs for Younger Sailors, Cassette
    The Mermaid and Other Sea Songs

    PO Box 1701 Springfield, IL 62705 (217) 787-1448
    Dragons, Giants, and the Devil's Hide, Cassette
    Homework: Songs and Stories for Kids, Cassette
    MacPherson's Lament, Cassette
    Promises Kept, Promises Broken, Cassette
    Rudy and the Roller Skate, Cassette
    South Side Stories, Cassette
    Stories from the Other Side, Cassette
    That Time of the Year, Cassette
    The Large Mouth Frog

    Box 214 Oak Bluffs, MA 02557 (508) 693-4140
    Aphrodite's Nosegay, Cassette
    Old Standbys, Cassette
    Spirit of the River, Cassette
    Through a Ruby Window, Cassette
    Willie the Bug Man, Cassette
    Wisdom's Tribute, Cassette
    And Now, Would You Please Welcome..., edited by Carol Birch & Melissa Heckler
    Through a Ruby Window, August House

    2619 Pawnee Meadows Rd Fremont, NE 68025 (402) 721-1253
    Stories from the Four Corners of the World, Cassette
    Telling the Truth: Stories to Bring Us Together, Cassette
    Well Traveled Seeds, Cassette

    Hodges & Hodges Performing Arts PO Box 158 Johnson City, TX 78636 (210) 868-4337
    To This Day, Cassette
    How Rabbit Tricked Otter, Cassette (Parabola Storytime Series)
    How Rabbit Tricked Otter, Harper Collins
    The Girl Who Married the Moon, Bridgewater Books (with Jo- seph Bruchac)
    How Turtle's Back Was Cracked, Dial Books for Young Readers

    JOYCE EarthMama ROUSE
    Rouse House Productions
    P.O. Box 450, Independence, VA 24348
    Audio - CD's, MP3's
    Love Large
    Earth Mama
    Every Day is Earth Day
    Around the World with Earth Mama
    (13 songs from Earth Mama and Every Day is Earth Day)
    Many More!

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    (originally 1997 Alternatives for Simple Living)

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