Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Contrasts

While having my morning coffee a few days ago a little shower moved through. Despite the downpour I could see in the distance the edge of greyness and a sunrise. Yellow softness pouring itself over the hope of a new day. The contrasts in life add a color and edginess to it that keep things interesting. Like a work of art done in relief it's the differences that reveal the beauty of the subject.

One dimensional flatness is boring in art and most everything else. We all love savory meals followed by the sweetness of some confection. We love the salty and sweet together, the sweet and sour, even the hot and cold. Who can resist warm blackberry cobbler topped by cold vanilla ice cream? In decorating, an eclectic room where modern pieces happily live with antiques is always interesting. In fashion we adore the frilly silk blouse paired with the distressed boyfriend jeans. No matter how exciting the adventure story the author generally makes room for romance. So why is this? I think it must be because when contrasted, the uniqueness of each is revealed. We delight in a sunny day after extended dreariness and how welcome, a rolling thunderstorm on an arid landscape. The opposites of life are clarified by comparison.

Things we love, too, are made more special to us by the fact that they are not the constant. Travel is exciting to us because it is so UN like our normal surroundings, and then the return home made sweet by home itself, momentarily being, the new and different thing. Given ordinary, we want excitement. Given adventure, we want stability. Some might take the cynical view that all of this means that we are simply never happy with what we have, an endless search for the greenest of all grasses. I don't think so. I think the contrasts remind us that we are alive and keep us from falling into a bland oatmeal bowl of existence. Our souls know what they need.

Monday, July 26, 2010

To Paint or Not to Paint?




Well don't be ridiculous. If you know me then you know they got painted, even though every man who saw them said they were way too nice to paint. What is it with men and bare wood? 









 

So here they are primed and painted and loaded up with books and bullets and breastplates. It is a man room after all. 














Details are not my thing. I'm a big picture girl, but I did try to pay a bit more attention here.  I loved the library feel of this hardware. The paint color on the wall is called Alpine Shadow. 




My daughter and I spent a lot of time trying to decide between this and Frosted Pine. Every man we asked said, "It's the same color".  It was not!






The new mantle is beautiful and makes a statement. The old one did too it was saying, "I'm old and tired".

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Things Are Heating Up


It's hot. Well, of course you knew that if you've ever been to the South in June, July, or bless your heart...August.  I try to remind myself, while my clothes are stuck to me and my hair is falling flat that people join gyms and pay perfectly good money for this treatment. It doesn't help.  You can't blame us for talking slow and moving slow once you've had a proper dose of it. Oh, those Yankees think they can come down here and rush around trying to get everything done in a New York minute, leaving their manners at the Mason Dixon line. Then it hits them and they are filled with a sudden sweltering understanding that slows them, if not stops them in their frantic little tracks.  They gain an understanding of sweet tea, mint julips, and why we brush over those harsh consonants and draaaag our owah vowe----ls. I think the heat is the reason we still say ma'am and sir and why our children address our adult friends as Mrs. and Mr. (insert first names) as opposed to using the ultra polite last names. The heat melts the stuffiness in all our relationships. We'll hug you even if we just met you, ask where you go to church, and offer you tomatoes from our gardens.  This type of heat frays nerves and makes folks kind of  cranky, so all our little efforts at kindness are are meant to take the edge off.  One thing you may notice is that we don't like to expend a lot of energy trying to think of something new to talk about when the mercury rises and the humidity makes it feel like you need SCUBA gear to go to the mailbox.  All you really need to know, conversation wise, this time of year are 3 sentences: 
"It's gonna be a another scorcher" (all 'round favorite)
"Hot enough for ya?" (generally used by older men)
"Tryin' to beat the heat." (to be said while accomplishing any task before noon)
When you drive through any small town down here you'll see in the town square, generally in front of the courthouse, a statue of a Civil War soldier. I am not aware however, of any tribute to a personal hero of mine, Mr. Carrier who is credited with inventing what I consider to be the best invention of all time, air conditioning.  Plainly a grievous oversight. 

 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dragging My Den into the 21st Century.

I know. I'm only a decade or so late. 

Did you hear it screaming? 
When you live in a house built nearly 50 years ago there is some updating needed. I've been trying to drag our home into the new century since before it started. When a couple are raising children, home schooling, working, coaching, writing a book and caring for aging relatives remodeling gets pushed aside but finally I'm getting some things done I've had on mind for oh, a mere 18 yrs. or so.  Patience is a virtue....darn it. 

I knew what it needed. It needed built in bookshelves on either side of the fireplace. A new mantle. It needed to lose the cluttered outdated entertainment center. 


This is it after I emptied it, you should have seen it before.  Scary...












It needed a big dose of chic that 
wouldn't break the bank.  So a carpenter friend built me these beautiful units that were just what the decorating doctor ordered. 




Aren't they gorgeous? 



Yes, I know you are distracted by the ugly fireplace and smoke stains. I'm getting to that...









Friday, July 16, 2010

The Death of Childhood

If it isn't dead, we've tamed childhood beyond all recognition. We've scrubbed it, made it put on shoes, and given it a cell phone. 

I drove through a neighborhood yesterday and didn't see a single kid outside. Not one. Come to think of it I can't remember the last time I saw a group of kids playing outside. Bright shiny bikes without cards and clothespins on the spokes (what kind of kids are these?) sat in driveways alongside basketball goals unused by this new and disturbing breed.  The city could probably save some money by taking down the "SLOW Children playing" signs, because they are not. The only time you catch a glimpse of one of them is walking from the house to the car. 

I didn't have to think very hard to imagine where these phantom munchkins are; I know. They are lounging around on leather couches in something new called a "media room" watching a movie they've seen a hundred times or playing a video game with some other pathetic excuse for a kid in Amsterdam.  

These are kids who aren't allowed to drink from the garden hose because the new super annoying breed of adults who are in charge make them drink purified bottled water. (What self respecting kid wants anything purified?) They've never MADE a toy or MADE UP a game. They abide in rooms that could stock the local Toys R Us and whine of boredom, the kids not the rooms. Every activity is organized and supervised by adults, who complain about being micro managed at work then enter the front door at the end of the day doing the same thing. 


A mother who locks her kid out of the house so she can mop the floors can get reported to Human Services (interesting name) and a dad asking Jr. to cut the grass is going to find out that the kid expects to get paid and knows about something called a "Child Labor Law".  A bunch of kids trying to do the natural thing and throw dirt clods or snow balls at some other kids are likely to get in trouble. 


I feel sorry for them. I used to get up and leave the house as the sun came up, but we knew how to be kids then. We'd roam the neighborhood, climbing all the best trees, playing tag, or statues, or hide and seek which is great fun when you live next to some woods. We sat in the grass and ate clover (no parents I ever knew would have paid to have some chemical company come and spray their yard) and knew whose mom would give us Kool Aid or Popcicles if we promised to stay outside. We made clover chains and went home around dinner time to choke down our food as fast as possible so we could get back outside to catch lightning bugs and play flashlight tag. 


Being inside was something our moms threatened us with. Who in the world wanted to be inside? Nothing good ever happened inside. If you went in there and your mom got a good look at you she was liable to make you take a bath.  I didn't know anyone who had a pool. What you had if you were lucky was a sprinkler and a dad who cared more about you occupying yourself than he did about the muddy mess you were making in the lawn.  Outside was where you could stretch out in the grass and look at clouds and talk about very important things like whether or not you could really dig a hole to China, or could Superman beat up Batman, or what was the best way to annoy your big sister when her boyfriend came over. 


Grown ups seemed to have lives of their own back then. Oh what joy! I'm not sure what they were doing but I do know that it didn't involve watching us every moment of every day. A dad could come home and ask where we were and a mother could say she didn't know. No self respecting kid would have wanted to carry a device by which an overzealous mother could reach you wherever you were. I suspect a cell phone would have come in handy while playing Star Trek but it would only have been your mother calling and not Captain Kirk.  What could possibly have been more annoying than that? 


I don't remember any kid ever being abducted (we would have called this kidnapped). I'm sure they were but we didn't have a 24 hour news cycle to terrify our mothers into thinking it was going to happen the moment she turned her back.  Thank goodness. And sex, the only thing we knew about it was what we heard from some other kid who heard it from an older sibling who was probably making it up, unless someone's dad was careless hiding his magazines and then we were just confused because we'd seen our mom in her underwear and she didn't look like THAT. 


But now the little darlings are supervised, organized, scheduled, managed, and instructed into the most unadventurous boring excuse for children possible. Surely a backlash is coming. I hope it arrives before I have grandchildren so I can lock them outside to play tag and make them drink from the garden hose. They will love me for it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Love Letters and Moral Dilemmas

"More that kisses letters mingle souls." ~ John Donne.

Envelopes yellow with age, 1943 postmarks, a lipstick print next to a wispy return address. A bundle of letters fell into my care recently with a note attached requesting that they be destroyed upon the owner's death. Had they been wrapped in something I hadn't been able to see through, I might have been able to do it. But they were visible.
The love letters that had me in a quandary.


Well, what's a girl to do? I was very busy dealing with lots of other business so I put them away thinking eventually I'll build a fire...won't I? The shredder seemed too heartless. It would have to be fire. Sort of a Viking funeral for lovers' promises. Some weeks passed. Finally on a rainy afternoon recently I took them from the drawer. I had already asked several friends what they thought I should do. No one seemed to think that destruction was appropriate. I wanted to carry out the wishes of the note writer...I did, but... love AND history? As I have a weakness for both it was too much for me and I couldn't destroy them unread. Reverence is the only word I can use to describe the care with which I opened the first brittle envelope...unfolded the letter...sweetness.  Charming and innocent. Lovers separated by war, a longing for kisses, to hold one another, to be married. And married they were, and from all accounts it was both long and happy.


What is it about 
letters? What could be more romantic
 than looking for a note from your sweetheart? I think it's the anticipation, the waiting. No one is waiting for anything anymore. Now it's just all so...instant and let's be honest, without much thought. Who has time to ponder words or carefully choose phrases? I not only adore letters, ( Jefferson's Head/Heart letter to Maria Cosway has to be one of the best love letters ever penned.) books of letters (Winston and Clementine, George Bernard Shaw and Mrs. Patrick Cambell, The Intimate Correspondence of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor) but am often smitten by letter boxes. I frequently take pictures of interesting ones I come across.



Of course not all great letters are love letters and many of my favorites are between friends, political rivals or allies, letters to children. C.S. Lewis and Beatrix Potter were masters of those. Lewis also kept up a 13 year correspondence with a woman whom he never met. His letters to her are published in Letters to an American Lady. Sadly, we don't have hers as she wished to remain anonymous. A few years ago when a dear friend moved away we made a pact to write...real letters. Oh, and we did...for a while. It is time consuming and by the time your letter arrives the information is outdated or has already been shared by some faster method. Still we kept it up for a while and I have hers tied up with a ribbon, for they are precious. I'm sure she has mine complete with the sketch of the baby squirrel I was raising at the time, I have her next one addressed to: Mama Michelle's Home For Wayward Rodents.

However like everyone else we are now facebook friends and share the most minute details of our lives: what we made for dinner, what movie we are watching, a great deal we got while shopping. If I have anything so interesting as a new furniture arrangement I can post a picture that she can see immediately. So as with lots of things in life, it's a trade off. We communicate more now and have great fun staying in such close touch, but we don't print them out and save them. Honestly who else would care to read most of it?

Love letters will be a lost art form though, will they not? What's to save? A text? A Facebook status or worst of all, a tweet. So as usual I'm musing over something that there isn't an answer to or solution for. Just noticing that something precious has been lost and replaced with something else...for better or worse.
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Monday, July 5, 2010

At the Crossroads Revisited

I wrote this a year ago when I was feeling quite adrift as I anticipated the job of full time mothering coming to an end. 

A year from now my son will be preparing to go away to college and while I am thinking about if I've done enough to get him ready for the next step in his life, I'm also wondering if I've done enough to get myself ready for the next step in mine.The mission over the last 24 years has been a clearly defined one, but nearing completion and with an exit strategy in place I'm at a cross roads. Does anyone else remember that feeling of having your whole life ahead of you and feeling as if you could do anything? I believe it's called youth. Then, something happens. A little something called life, or experience, or reality. We wake up one day with children and a mortgage and a spouse, or maybe visiting rights, alimony and an ex, the job that never turned into the career you hoped for or any number of the countless curves life throws our way. Whatever your story is you know what I am talking about. At some point along the way we stop dreaming about saving the world and we just start trying to save our day. The problem is while we are just trying to get through the day we are getting through our lives. One day at a time...pouring the cereal, driving to baseball practice, checking the homework... it seems endless. Until the day of course that it ends and then we wonder how it all slipped by so quickly. We see the horizon that we only dreamed about when the kids refused to take naps or cried over braces. We wonder; what now?

Just when I feel as if I have this wife and mother thing down pat everything is about to change. Life is like that. I've just spent over two decades saying "Be careful". I wonder how many times I have said that. I would guess thousands and thousands. I'm a mom, I can't help it. As parents we are so afraid that our children are going to be reckless and irresponsible we forget that we want them to be brave. We may say it before they get a shot or have to give a speech in class but how often are we really inviting our children (or ourselves) to be...daring. There are times in life when what we need is a little caution thrown to the wind, when nothing less will do . No new land was ever discovered because someone was perfectly content at home. Nothing new was ever invented because someone thought things were good enough the way they were. When reading the Bible it's astonishing to note how many times God tells his followers to leave the comforts of home and go to a new place, shake things up with completely new ideas, be unlike everyone around them and then tells them to not be afraid while doing all of this! So while we often take time out for the cliche "reality check" I'm taking a different kind of inventory and hoping to rediscover some of the courage of my lost youth. I didn't really "lose" my youth though, neither did you. We spent it.

What I spent the last 24 yrs. doing was bringing up two free thinking individuals who have their own thoughts on making the world a better place. While one tends to be more cautious and the other is the adventure seeker, they both have compassion and a healthy dose of moral courage. As conscientious moms and dads we may be having more impact than we think. Could it be that I was making the world slightly better while I was making dinner and reminding them to search for the truth, work toward gaining hearts of wisdom and to question everything? How about warning them never to give up your right to think for yourself to anyone: a religious leader, a politician, a friend? Because once you do that you are just a slave. If the definition of power is strength over time then maybe the day in and day out of parenting is at least equal to if not more powerful than one or two notable acts of courage. I'm on a quest for what to do with the next part of my life but whatever I decide on, I don't see how it could be any more important, require more commitment, or be as fulfilling as the job I'll be finishing up over the next few months.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Lessons From Dad

Father's Day had me thinking recently about the most important man in a girl's life...her dad. Mine was funny and wise, a child of Mississippi red clay and sweet tea who wore overalls every day as a child and went barefoot most of the time.  There was never a day he didn't laugh, it was high on his list of important things to do. He was the perfect dad for a girl. Every Saturday morning I remember him taking me to the pancake house where we sat at the counter and he would show me off to all his friends. He made me feel beautiful and special every day of my life.  A dad is a girl's first and sadly, sometimes only, unconditional love, a standard of love everyone else will get measured by. (Good luck, guys.) So in honor of him today here is a short list of some of the things he taught me:

There is ALWAYS something to laugh at no matter how bad things get.
Tomatoes were made to eat with mayo.
If you are bored I can find something for you to do.
Don't bother your mother, you can get a drink from the hose.
It's not the teacher's fault, you must not be working hard enough.
Be glad you have a job if you have one.
America is the greatest country that has ever existed and a lot of men paid dearly
for the freedoms you enjoy, don't ever forget it.
If you can hear the National Anthem and not get choked up there is something wrong with you.
Respect the flag.
Vote and pay attention to the news because those politicians are screwing us.
Always be willing to laugh at yourself...people will love you for it.
Dry roasted peanuts are a necessity for watching sports on television.
I can pull this car over and take off my belt.
Men only want want thing. Wait for the ring.
God loves you.
You should be in church.
Come home when the street lights come on.
This is America; all you need is one good idea and hard work.
You're the most beautiful girl in the world and you can do anything.
Thanks, Dad.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Surprised By Venus

I turned around and there she was. The painting, The Birth of Venus. I was in The Uffizi in Florence carelessly gazing at some lovely painting when I heard someone talking over my shoulder and looked to see if they were speaking to me. I was anxious to use my limited Italian. That's when I saw her, Venus, stepping lightly out of a seashell in all her glory. Few things in life have ever been such a lovely surprise to me as that moment. I wasn't expecting it. I had gone to Italy with a dear friend, an open mind and no agenda.  I didn't want a long list of things that would prove disappointments if I missed them.   When our group leader said we were going to The Uffizi I really had no idea what to expect.  It is one of those places, however if you know what is there and then you miss it, you are going to be nothing short of devastated.  It houses some of the most beautiful art in all the world. It contains so much in fact, that after several hours you get used to it and the most shocking thoughts cross your mind, evil things like, " Oh, another Caravaggio".  


It's not every day you get to be surprised by nearly bumping into a goddess. It was a good thing that there were benches in that gallery because I had to sit down. She is breathtaking; golden tresses, porcelain skin, grace personified.  Honestly, I could have sat there all day save the fact that I had a date with Michelangelo's David later at L'Accademia. Okay, I'll admit I had to sit down there, too.  There were several other notable works in that room, how unfair to them. She steals the show, just what you'd expect from the goddess of love and beauty. Demanding rapt admiration seems her right and onlookers gladly obey.