Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the mayhem, in the to-do lists and the buying and busy schedules.

It happens, particularly, at the holidays. Yet go-go-go, spend-spend-spend isn't limited to certain months. It's a pattern many of us fall into nearly all the time, almost all the year.

I am reminded of this occasionally, at random moments.

Like when I'm baking at My Sister's apartment, where I can't microwave the butter because there is no microwave and I can't plug in the mixer to blend the dough because there is no electric mixer.

I come to realize you really can get by on very little, on the necessities. And in the process you can live beautifully, you can live fully. You can still make pretty darn good sugar cookies.

I am reminded of this on the beach, when I notice something as minuscule as the way someone has carefully placed a handful of shells right where I can see them as I wander by.

You don't have to hoard the shells, to take them home for your collection. You can stop and examine them, admire them, and then leave them for someone else and move on.

I am reminded of this right now, too, at a spartan retreat center run by Dominican Sisters in Racine, Wisconsin. Here I have no choice but to slow down and to contemplate life, as I sit in my tiny room after the day's activities are done or as I wander along the snow-blown path toward the icy shore for a glimpse of the lake in the early morning light.

It's something I think we all need to do more often.

To pause.

To look around and finally notice--really notice--our surroundings.

To appreciate the fine details--the handheld mixer with its faded handle and the distinctive shape of each shell and the way the winter wind roars across the lake.

To stop counting gadgets and tasks accomplished. Instead, to count blessings and blissful moments.

We all need to drink in a big, deep breath of life once in a while. To slow down. To live in the moment, not in the madness.

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