Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Power of Wildflowers and Paper Cranes

 While on my silent weekend at Our Lady Queen of Peace Retreat Center there was much encouragement verbal and non verbal to spend time in nature. The very place itself beckons you out of your room and into surrounding woods and meadows. After dinner on our second evening there I noticed a young man in the distance wandering around among some wildflowers. He'd stop and pick some and then stroll around some more. I rocked in a chair on the porch and watched him. He was around my son's age and I imagined all the things he might be pondering in his solitude. 

 The next day after walking a couple of different trails I found one that disappeared into the woods behind the pond. Blue Bird Trail, perfectly named for the many bluebirds that are attracted to the retreat by birdhouses attached to numerous trees all around.

 About halfway around the pond I happened upon a bench, one of many placed in the most secluded spots to invite contemplation and rest. On the bench rested a bouquet of wildflowers carefully bound with long blades of grass. I caught my breath and smiled. At that moment nothing had ever been so beautiful as this gift left by a silent stranger for an unknown person to find. I took this picture and left it so someone else might be cheered by it.

Later in my room I thought about another random act by strangers that had filled me with intense joy.

A couple of years ago in St. Petersburg Russia we were on an evening river boat cruise with our travel companions. As we passed under this bridge near the Hermitage a Japanese couple tossed a flurry of paper cranes into the air timed perfectly to shower down upon our boat.

My friend and I scooped up the paper to see what it was and then looked back to the top of the bridge to wave to the strangers who had randomly gifted us. They were beaming and so were we, waving furiously, knowing we would never meet them or know what prompted their gesture and they would never know how grateful we were for a small kindness.

At the end of the retreat when speaking was finally allowed I spotted the young man I'd seen wandering around that evening. 

"Are you the one who left the bouquet of wildflowers on the bench?"


"Well, I have to tell you how incredibly happy that made me when I happened upon it." 

"Wow. You just made my day." 

We all want to change the world for the better. We often imagine doing it on a grand scale. We think real change has to be something big done for masses of people. But if you are feeling small and inadequate, if you think you are only one person with limited resources, if you wonder what you could possibly do to make the world a better place, just start small. 

Where you are. 

With what you have. 

Even if it's just wildflowers or paper cranes.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Writing and Craft Studio Reveal

My daughter went "shopping" in my house (the family furniture library where you can check out furniture and return it when you are done with it). So the cubby shelf and commercial kitchen cart were loaned out and an artist easel/desk and white office chair were returned. She also donated a cute sign and a couple of bulletin boards to the library empty nest project.

Let's review the evolution of this room. Here's where I started when my son moved out.  I love finding the absolute worst photos to show you!

I painted first. Most dramatic change for your buck every time.

Here's how it turned out after several months of trial and error. The counter height table makes it easy to work on projects while standing up and it's nice to have a separate sitting area so I don't have to move the laptop every time I want to use the table. The table can easily be moved aside to throw down a yoga mat so I can get my zen on.  This is the only space in my house that gets morning light and I love to soak that up.

I kept the map wall, although I did consider taking them down and painting an accent color. With the new cleaner cottage look though it looks pretty awesome.

 The easel in its desk position and office chair that got returned to the library.

My new reading and meditating space. Gone is the most uncomfortable piece of wicker ever created. This chair migrated from the den where it was replaced by a very large leather chair donated by my daughter and her husband.

I love this sign!

 Wire globe over the writing desk.

Bulletin boards provided a handy place to store my funky yard stick.

Next week I'm going to have some serious time on my hands for the first time this year. I've got a bathroom that needs painting and a tired yellow hallway in desperate need of help. Lookout downstairs! You're next!

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Fresh Start for 2 Incredibly Cool Pieces of Furniture

 Last fall I scored two awesome pieces from a local thrift store. A wall of cubby hole shelves that probably came from an elementary school and a cart from a commercial kitchen. I paid $15.00 bucks a piece for them!

 I took the next 2 pictures because I was just about to get around to showing you how my writer's loft/craft room turned out.  The first is the sitting area on one side of the room and the one below it is my blogging and craft space. Remember how bad it was when I started? See it here. I'd done a lot of work and was pretty happy with it. It turned out to be where everyone in my family ended up when they came over.

Clearly cool stuff attracts people. It had a slightly messy creative vibe.

I wanted to do my writer's loft/craft room in industrial chic. I gave it a pretty good shot collecting the appropriate items, but sometimes you have to admit that your house wants to be something else.

Well, dang.

Galvanized metal didn't look at home here. It would take a decorator far more talented than me to make a two story 1960's Colonial into a Parisian industrial loft.

You win, Decorating Gods.

This house calls for layers of things. Color.  Lived in. Collected over time.

I'm a firm believer that the decorating universe often has stars aligning at thrift stores and real estate offices. So just as I was ready to part with some of the coolest stuff I've ever found, my daughter and son in law moved into a loft downtown. Gallery walls. Exposed pipes. Beams.

They've only been there a week and are having a blast in their awesome new space. We are having fun visiting them and walking around in one of the hottest neighborhoods in Memphis. As you can see the loft is a work in progress.

I love a work in progress.

Which of course everything is anyway. We'll be sharing lots more about this space, finds, and projects soon.

And what happened to my studio when things got disrupted? That's coming up in Thursday's post! 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Why the House is Never Going to Be "Done"

Good grief. Evolution just goes on and on doesn't it? I am amused when every once in a while my husband asks "When is the house going to be done?"

Pretty funny stuff, huh?

It's not that I'm not content with what I have. And it certainly isn't that I love trends and feel the need to keep up. Not trying to impress anyone either. No, it's that I love projects. Yes the house has been good enough the way it was, lots of times.

Am I the only one looking around and thinking that everything could be just a little bit better? The entire universe just needs a bit of tweaking. But since my time and resources are limited, I'll stick to the house.

Things keep happening and you keep getting exposed to new better ways of doing things. This is how I"m sure I sound to my husband:

"Hey this would be perfect in Bossy's new loft, I'm giving it to her." 

"Look at the color of that leaf. Wouldn't that be gorgeous on a wall?"

"Scandinavian form meets function and minimalism, let's try that."

"Where did I get it? I found it on the side of the road, but I know it can be something amazing. Hand me that brush."

"We have too many things. Let's have a yard sale."

"Why can't we get rid of something of yours?"

He often wants to know "What was wrong with it?" in the middle of one of my projects. But at the end he never fails to embrace the changes. "That is so much better!"

Oh. I know.

But in addition to wanting improvements, things tend to change. Plus life changes. A lot. Baby items must be collected and then dispersed. Homes must be made baby proof, then kid friendly. A daughter is tired of pink, then moves out, moves back, then marries. A college age son moves out and needs things. A relative dies and leaves us something lovely. Where will it go?

So the short answer to my husband's question is never. The house will never be done. It's evolving just like our family and our life.

More about what all this looks like, coming up next time.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day Payoff

It's Mother''s Day and I'm back from spending the day with my kids and visiting my mom. It was a rough week leading up to today. My husband's mother passed away on Wednesday and we buried her yesterday. Today he is having the first Mother's Day without her and not a lot of time to adjust to the idea first. But he had 90 years with his precious mom and took great care of her the last year and a half of her life.

Here's the thing about being a mom. You just never know if you are doing it right. You read all the books, get advice from friends and family, then stay up all night worrying that you are ruining your children. Everyone says it's the most important job in the world. Maybe. It's the most terrifying, I know that for sure.

Those sleepless, terrifying nights are the reason that when they graduate, as many did this weekend, and tell you how much they appreciate all you did, it's the best gift ever. My daughter wrote a thank-you note after her wedding 3 years ago that contained every sentiment every parent wants to hear. Both my adult kids are wonderful about expressing their love and gratitude to my husband and me.

It makes all those hard days worth while. We did a lot of laughing this week even amid the sadness of losing a beloved grandmother.  Today is Mother's Day but I wonder if my kids know that every day the gift they give me is the gift of being themselves.

Their grandmother built bombers to help the war effort and was part of the Greatest Generation. My kids and son-in-law? I call them Generation Awesome.

My daughter who is busy organizing the world over on her blog, Organized Charm wrote the nicest tribute ever, and I'm not even dead! 10 Things I Learned from my Mom. 

So happy Mother's Day, ladies. You deserve it. Hang in there; they are paying attention.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Hacking a Hole in the Door of Reconciliation

On the second full day of the retreat in my meeting with the sister, I told her about the insight I'd had the previous day.

You can read about that in,  The Surprising Reason God is Proud of You.

She smiled a knowing smile. "That's pretty big."

We chatted casually for a while. I went back to one of the themes of the previous day's conversation, my anger at, disappointment in, and newly found mistrust of God. I explained that I'd had some brutally honest conversations with him. I'd let him know exactly what I thought in no uncertain terms, since he knew anyway. Why dress it up? Why pretend? Besides I was in some pretty good company. Job and David came to mind. She agreed. I explained that I felt sure that God valued my honest dialogue far above any empty platitudes I might offer up out of obligation.

She nodded and smiled understandingly. I quoted Rick Warren's idea that  "intimacy comes through conflict." I told her I'd been having a tantrum which God the Father was more than happy to let me express so that we could move on. More nodding.

The thing is that in all that raw dialogue, I kept showing up and communicating. That, and not whether or not my prayers were pretty or worthy of being said in a  public setting, was the important thing, after all.

If they were nothing else, they were incredibly honest.

She ended our session by giving me a list of verses for the day's reading. The focus of the first day had been resting in and receiving God's love, the second day's focus was about answering God's call.

I read through all the verses. I prayed. I waited. I was struggling with the questions. "What do you want me to do for you?" the question asked by Jesus to the blind man. "What are you looking for?" Jesus' question to the disciples. If I was being honest he'd already done a great deal of what I'd asked but wasn't really sure what I was looking for now.

Throughout the day I continued reading and praying, walking in fields and around the pond, sitting in glorious silence alone with my own thoughts. The damp earthy scent of April hung in the air. After dinner I found a quiet spot on one of the porches and rocked as the sun went down behind the tree line. Nature theatrically lit for the moment. My mind wondered and meandered through deep thoughts and fragments of passages from books. The word reconciliation kept creeping in. I'd come across it a couple of times in my reading and then after dinner the priest said he'd be available later to administer the Sacrament of Reconciliation to anyone who was interested. As a Protestant I had no idea what that meant but loved the sound of it.

As darkness fell the bullfrogs seemed to be croaking. Reconciliation. Reconciliation.

My mind drifted to a day my husband and I spent in Dublin last August. We'd taken a cruise of the British Isles to celebrate out 30th anniversary. At St. Patrick's Cathedral among the relics, interesting bits of church history, and people buried in the floor and walls, we came upon something called the Door of Reconciliation.  Here's the story as told on the website of the cathedral.

In 1492 two Irish families, the Butlers of Ormonde and the FitzGeralds of Kildare, were involved in a bitter feud. This disagreement centred around the position of Lord Deputy. Both families wanted one of their own to hold the position. In 1492 this tension broke into outright warfare and a small skirmish occured between the two families just outside the city walls.  

The Butlers, realising that the fighting was getting out of control, took refuge in the Chapter House of Saint Patrick's Cathedral. However, the FitzGeralds followed them into the Cathedral and asked them to come out and make peace. The Butlers, afraid that if they did so they would be slaughtered, refused. As a gesture of good faith the head of the Kildare family, Gerald FitzGerald, ordered that a hole be cut in the door. He then thrust his arm through the door and offered his hand in peace to those on the other side.  

Upon seeing this, FitzGerald was willing to risk his arm by putting it through the door the Butlers reasoned that he was serious in his intention. They shook hands through the door, the Butlers emerged from the Chapter House and the two families made peace. 

I let that thought linger and turn over in my mind. Perhaps that was what the purpose of the entire weekend had been. I'd closed the door of trust, leery now of unbolting it again. But over the days without distractions and diversions God had hacked a hole for me to put my hand through. He'd been waiting for me to let him take hold of it.

Now I can work on opening the door again...

Have you ever had a hard time trusting? Start by hacking a hole in the door. Surprising things may happen.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Anyone Else Struggling with Defining "Enough?"

Wanted to post this yesterday but it was one of those days!

While on retreat last weekend I embraced simplicity in every part of life. My schedule looked like this:

Wake up and watch the sun come up.
Do some yoga in my room.
Look out the open window. Listen to a neighboring farmer's rooster crow and cows moo.
Meet with spiritual director.
Reading, praying, or walking until lunch.
Reading, praying or walking until dinner.
Reading, praying and thinking until I was sleepy.

No calendars. No to-do-lists. 

I took very few things. I needed very few things.

I thought back to the two week cruise we took last year. One suitcase. And that was for a variety of activities from formal dinners to walking miles in large cities and hanging out by the pool. If I can live with so little for half a month, do I really need all this stuff the rest of the time? 

Longtime readers of this blog will recognize this recurring theme, but for all my purging it still feels like too much.

Wednesday, a friend lent me a book she's read twice and loved, Almost Amish.

Later, I ran across a challenge from a blog I follow written by two guys who call themselves The Minimalists. 

So starting today I'm taking up this challenge for May: giving away every day of the month the same number of things as the day that it is. So today I'll get rid of 1 thing, on the fifteenth 15 things, until I get to the 31st. It's actually meant to be a game you do with a friend to see who has to quit first. I mean otherwise at the end of the month you are going to find 31 (!) things to give away.

I'll be keeping you posted from time to time throughout the month on how the game is going. Play along and share what you've gotten rid of and how you feel about it!