About what matters

Writing about what really matters

Month: September, 2014

Communing with nature

Japanese garden

I’m writing from the Japanese Garden today, and I’ve just seen the smallest possum ever, apart from rescued babies. Since it’s shortly after 4 pm and possums are nocturnal, I guess I’ve just seen the Benjamin Franklin of the possum kingdom.

Multicolored koi swim gently beneath the platform where I’m sitting on a bench.

For years a possum family lived in one of my pecan trees, but you couldn’t have proved it by me–I never saw them once. I only received reports from my next-door neighbors, who smoked outside, giving them opportunity to observe all the nocturnal wildlife.

A mosquito just bit me–clearly there’s plenty of food here for the possum family. I’ve been told that each can eat up to 10,000 insects a day, so they’re highly beneficial. I thought about wearing mosquito repellent today, but didn’t. The scent is repellent even to me!

As is usually the case, I suppose, the people are making far more noise than the animals, though birds call, squirrels scamper, koi tussle over fish food, and ducks bathe noisily. Only the humans hoot and holler; only the human babies wail. Many, but not all, are the quiet types you’d expect to see in a Japanese garden. Most look as though they’d just as soon not see any other people.

More ducks swim by, almost silently, leaving chevron-patterned ripples in their wake.

My brochure says this garden was once a gravel pit–an immense improvement, no doubt. This is not wild–in fact, it’s less wild and more groomed than my own backyard, the dogs’ domain–but it’s nature, and I’m grateful to be here. I’d love to be somewhere truly wild, but I’d have to go much further than 5 minutes from home to get there. I’m lucky to have such beautiful gardens so close to home.

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Following my visit to the garden, I felt a tremendous sense of peace and groundedness, making me think that I need to make it a priority to spend time here more often. Several times since I starting writing this, I’ve come across the term “communing with nature” or “communion with nature” in various contexts. How interesting that the term we naturally reach for when speaking of nature references a sacrament. We were made to be in nature, not in fluorescent-lit, indoor-outdoor carpeted cubicles, and really not in houses either. We’re meant to see the sun and sky, trees and rain, leaves and flowers, other creatures … not just occasionally, but every day.

My experience of peace and groundedness after visiting the garden also made me want to create a garden of my own. I have flower beds and potted plants, I grow herbs to cook with, I’ve had trees and shrubs planted (I don’t have the muscle or fortitude to dig into solid clay sufficiently deep to plant something large), but I haven’t done anything that’s fundamentally changed the nature of my urban lot. I understand now why my aunt restocked her koi pond over and over, despite repeated incursions by local raccoons with a taste for expensive seafood. (I don’t understand, though, why it wasn’t possible to devise some sort of pond cage that would have defeated the raccoons!) I’m thinking now about how I might be able to create a secret garden, a place that would be an escape, a place where I could commune with nature. It would be a challenge, but I’m sure it’s possible …

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Nourishing the soul

Lavender fields

This coming week, I’ll have the luxury of time. Following plenty of grueling work, I’m taking a little vacation time, and I’ve also been given some comp time. With the weekend, I’ll have nearly a week off. I thought about taking an impromptu road trip, but ultimately decided to stay home.

So I’ve been giving thought to this question–how best to use this time to enjoy myself, to relax, to experience what brings me joy and pleasure–how best to nourish my soul?

I believe that the soul and body are differentiated, that the soul has its own trajectory before the body is born, which continues after the body dies. But for now, during this life, they are one–so what truly nourishes the soul also nourishes the body, and what truly nourishes the body also nourishes the soul. Meditation nourishes the soul, but it’s also been proven to change the mind for the better, as well as improve health outcomes for the body.

So here’s what I’d like to do next week … I may not get to all of it, but I’m going to have a good time trying!

  • As I do every week, I’ll take time to write. I hope I’ll feel inspired to write a bit more than usual.
  • I meditate twice a day, nearly every day without fail, but I often struggle to carve out the necessary time. Some months ago I accepted a challenge to meditate 40 minutes at a stretch for 40 days. It was a true challenge to find the time to do that, but often it felt like a true luxury rather than an obligation. I plan on some luxuriously long meditation time.
  • I’ve been thinking about a bath each and every day. That sounds like a little bit of heaven. (I take a shower every day, in case you’re picturing Pig-Pen! But I usually only have time to take a bath once a week or so.)
  • As a child, I read all the time, escaping into the world of books. I usually finished a book or two every day. These days, I read a lot of short-form writing, but books? Not so much anymore. I want to find a lovely new book and read it cover to cover.
  • While I’m at the bookstore, I’ll probably indulge in one of my favorite I-have-a-few-hours-all-to-myself activities. I like to select a large pile of magazines from an extensive newsstand, look through them, and choose two or three with the most beautiful images (useful for SoulCollage) to take home.
  • Perhaps I’ll feel inspired to make some collage art.
  • Have I mentioned sleep? Lots and lots of sleep-debt-erasing sleep.
  • Cooking is a beautiful way to be creative, and with immediate, tangible results too! I plan to cook something delicious and a bit decadent–probably my meatloaf, which I shape on a jellyroll pan, and cover entirely in bacon + glaze. Perhaps that’s more than a bit decadent?
  • I’ll definitely take some time to work in my garden. Gardening is a guaranteed way for me to quickly drop out of clock time and into the flow, where I feel I’m working hand-in-hand with God. It’s a great time to do some fall cleanup in the cool early morning hours.
  • Antiquing is another activity I find really relaxing. You never know what you’ll find, and usually I have no shopping agenda. There are no wrong turns, and serendipity very well may be around the next corner. You may see something you’ve never seen before, or find something stunningly beautiful–and be able to take it home for a song. (I’ve been to fancy antiques shows where I admired very old celadon pottery, each piece selling for thousands. But I find the glazes of 20th-century pottery just as pleasing, and nothing could be easier than finding a lovely piece, certainly for less than $100, and probably less than $50. A few weeks ago, I found a vintage red Swingline Cub stapler–à la Office Space, only one of the funniest movies of all time–for $6, and couldn’t have been more pleased.) I’ve made plans to visit one of my favorite town squares and its shops, antique and otherwise.
  • I love new experiences–they’re rather addictive once you start–and so I’ve made reservations at a restaurant I’ve never been to before. It’s in a restored 130-year-old house, just off that town square, that I can’t wait to see!
  • Naturally I’ll spend time with the people and animals who are important to me. I hope to get together with my sister. I’ll wish a friend who’s moving away bon voyage over brunch at a favorite restaurant. And hopefully the weather will be perfect for a visit to the dog park.
  • And of course, solitude is lovely too. There will be some (but considerably less than a hundred years!).

Probably some of the same things that feed my soul feed yours, but I suspect you have a long list all your own. How might you be able to nourish your soul today, or this week, in a truly meaningful way?

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage card Lavender fields.

Patience rewarded

Kelvinator restored main

This purchase could be considered proof positive of my alleged antiques fetish. To me, though, it is a symbol of patience rewarded.

I ordered my then-to-be-restored 1948 Kelvinator from Antique Appliances in January 2013; the “6-8 weeks” of restoration work was scheduled to begin in December of last year. At the end of this past June, I learned that the custom color painting had been completed (matched to a piece of vintage pottery I’d sent), but my refrigerator was still in pieces–not yet reassembled. In early August, I was notified that the restoration was finally complete! I could hardly believe my ears. The picture above is one of the ones I was sent at that time, taken in the shop with the chrome trim on the feet not yet replaced.

This past week (September, but who’s counting?), the refrigerator was finally delivered, plugged in, and stood in my kitchen doing the job it was hired for.

Kelvinator logo

Interestingly, response to the project has split along gender lines. In my unscientific sample, men have a lot of respect for the restoration, pronouncing it “really cool.” I learned from them that this refrigerator is basically a stationary vintage car (check out all the chrome!) that keeps stuff cold. Women–unless they are also old-house people–tend to be considerably less voluble. I think they probably want to say I’m crazy and should have gone to Home Depot, but are too polite. Some allow that Grandma had one like that. Others question what I’ll do if something goes wrong. (I have kept my former refrigerator as a backup, and 13+ years as an old house owner have taught me how to find people who can fix things the old-fashioned way.) They look at me in disbelief when I explain that many of the refrigerators of this age that have survived still run, and on a very simple mechanism. (“Built to last” is a concept most people have forgotten.) Refrigerators manufactured today have an average life expectancy of 14 years, and this one has got that beat. (Hey, it’s even got 20 years on me.)

Everyone wants to know what I’m doing about ice! Clearly it’s not being delivered straight to the cup through the front of this refrigerator. The answer is that I don’t really like ice, and only have it in my drinks when I’m at restaurants. I keep an ice tray in my chest freezer, and use it to clean my DisposAll when I don’t have any lemons or limes in the house. So–no ice problem, and no need for the chilly metal ice trays of my early childhood.

Kelvinator restored open

It would definitely have been possible to match restored refrigeration exactly to the original 1920s period of my house. But I’m not a purist, and to me, the Deco-influenced refrigerators and stoves of the late 1940s and early 1950s look just the way appliances should–and far more beautiful than any modern expanse of stainless steel and plastic. But I am most charmed, as a collector of vintage glass, by this refrigerator’s virtually pristine interior. Ridged glass shelves (the ridges are on the underside), the shadow lettering I remember seeing as a child, Deco ridges and stepped effects.

Kelvinator inside before

The restorers did a great job. I was probably most impressed by something not shown in these “after” pictures. There’s a defrosting drain at the center of the base of the freezer, and below that another piece, a narrow, oblong plastic defrosting cup with a stepped exterior. In the picture above, you can see it had quite a large hole in it. Looking at the outside of it now, you can’t tell it was ever repaired. Only inside is there any evidence of the restoration. The person who worked on it did an absolutely beautiful job–one I waited almost two years to see. I can’t say I enjoyed the wait, but I do appreciate the results.

I foresaw when I bought my house–a 1927 English-cottage-style bungalow–that I would need a whole new level of patience, and promised myself I’d have it. It has indeed been absolutely necessary, and not just for awaiting this refrigerator with forbearance.

I grew up in a house of about the same age, and I don’t remember any major inconveniences occurring. Probably in the 1970s, a 1920s house just wasn’t old enough yet for major systems to fail. In my house, I’ve been without hot water for a total of three weeks, first while having the hot water heater replaced, dealing with minor water damage (the old heater was sitting directly on the floor with no pan or drainage whatsoever), and bringing it up to code, and then replacing my gas line and bringing the entire house’s gas system up to code. (It took me several additional years to get the gas company to finally identify and fix the gas leak in the alley behind my house, which I’m sure was the reason I could smell natural gas in the first place.) The three weeks provided ample Little House on the Prairie moments as I boiled water for washing dishes and other household tasks.

I’m washing dishes by hand once again as just a few days before my refrigerator was delivered, my valiant 1982 dishwasher decisively retired. It had been groaning as it worked lately, and so I was planning to replace it in the next few months. The time to do that, however, is clearly now.

I find the refrigerator has raised the aesthetic bar for appliances at my house. I found a vintage-look brand, Big Chill, that I think will blend well. They offer a custom color palette, so I’ll be able to get a close match. And the nearly two-year wait for my refrigerator should help put the approximately five-week lead time in perspective–lightning-fast by comparison! Just another opportunity to exercise my old-house patience … and eventually, have it rewarded.

1948 Kelvinator before

All is well

All is well

All is well.

There are changes, and all is well.

More changes are coming, good ones. You will see.

“All is well.” This is the perennial #1 tune on my inner guidance channel. It is always the first thing I hear. I have come to understand that it is always true.

There may be changes, there may be difficulties, there may be storms. But all is well.

Awhile back at work, layoffs were announced, to occur over the next 6 months. They began immediately, department by department. Some really key people have been cut. People who were a joy to see and interact with. People who had depth and breadth of knowledge that is virtually unmatched. People whom I would make a point of saying goodbye to if I left myself are now gone.

Last Friday was another layoff day, this time in my own group. I got to work, saw unhappy faces, and heard rumblings that today was the day. When I heard that a friend and former manager was among those affected, it felt like someone had died. In all, nearly 40 people in my larger department were affected.

A couple of people cracked callous jokes; I was seriously unamused. (I suppose occasions that call for empathy must be quite trying for those who care only about themselves.) When all of us survivors were sprung for the day, it was a real relief.

I’ve been there myself, once as part of a WARN layoff. Careers go on; you find the way forward. You do what must be done. There is undeniable loss, and also gain.

All is well.

This post is illustrated with the SoulCollage card I made today, All is well. 

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