Art, Coffee, a Robe, and maybe even World Peace


IMG_3127Sometimes, it really is the little things. I woke up early, an hour before I “needed” to be awake. I lingered in bed and read a few pages of the novel I fell asleep to. I listened for the early chirp of sparrows and pigeons and robins. Then I pulled myself out of bed and slipped into a beautiful peacock kimono robe that I bought a year ago. I savored its soft satin feel and breathed in the peace of the moment.

I tiptoed into the kitchen, even though I was alone and live alone, to honor the quiet of the morning. I took the moka pot from the stove and filled it with water and fine espresso ground coffee. I turned the backburner to medium high and let the coffee pot sizzle and hiss. I walked back into the bedroom and made the bed, fluffing the pillows. I looked up at the beautiful piece of art hanging on the wall, that I had only received in the mail a few days before, and smiled.

IMG_3124I took out my phone and took a picture of the wonderful art and posted it on fb and ig. Yes, call me obnoxious, but I have a friendship with the artist and I never thought I would be able to have beautiful, original art on my walls.

I stretched and read a few more pages of the book and then heard the rumble of the espresso pot. I swooped into the kitchen and poured a cupful of steaming, dark coffee. Immediately, I put the fresh grounds into the earthenware bowl holding a small cactus on the counter behind the sink, and refilled the pot with more water and coffee for a second cup. For just a moment, I marveled at the beauty of my well-used coffee pot. The shiny little Italian pot is my favorite way to make coffee and I love its shape and the burned coffee patina on the steel.

It’s a quiet Friday morning. I have one day of work before a long weekend and then a transition to my summer work. I was brimming with inspiration, but sometimes writing has to be well-timed, like plucking the steaming coffee pot off the stovetop before it goes from percolating to burning. I realized then, that the moment was a perfect homage to beauty, inspiration, and pleasure in the little things, which can lead to large things.

I turned on the laptop and instead of scooting into my desk, I sat cross-legged on my bed, my back leaning against the foot rail, laptop nesting against the turquoise sky blue of my peacock robe, so that I could be in full view of the art on the wall.

I sipped coffee and wondered how to pay tribute to a simple morning taking pleasure in the beauty and functionality of everyday, and yet extraordinary, things.

Considering the state of the world and current news, I might sound like a dilatant or even a more modest and modern version of the oft-told, yet highly inaccurate story of “Let them eat cake!” Marie Antoinette.

In honor of my friend’s art and her abundant creativity, I decided to let it fly and I am writing this. The acquisition of the beautiful robe, astounding art, and the mighty moka pot are small choices. They are me celebrating an adult life, and finally coming into my own. It’s not so much about buying “stuff” as it is about freedom and, yes, gratitude. For years, I told myself that I wasn’t worthy, that I couldn’t do something, that something beautiful was out of reach, that I didn’t deserve it. I am so grateful that I have come out of that phase, which was really most of my life.

It’s taken years, and perhaps reaching a certain age, and a lot of inner-self work to finally silence those stories I told myself. I have also silenced (at least to myself) the voices of well-intentioned friends and loved ones, who, either directly or indirectly, seemed to reiterate those stories. How many people do you know who will eat a piece of dessert and then express dismay and guilt that they “shouldn’t have!”? They probably didn’t enjoy the pie going down and then it sits in their stomachs like dead weight.

Mostly, it seems that we, or many of us, are fighting battles within ourselves. I understand those battles like fighting addiction, keeping a romantic partnership alive, and making sure kids are cared for and clothed. Those are worthwhile battles. What about our own internal battles, like finding peace and joy and caring for others? There are battles in this world to fight for:  justice, equality, access to good education, safety, environmental preservation, pick your issue. Those are the battles worth suiting up for, but maybe they don’t have to be battles.

What if, all of a sudden, we didn’t have to fight? What if we didn’t have to fight ourselves, each other, our families, our friends? What if the little and big choices could be beautiful and peaceful?

I am not equating buying a coffee pot with being the Pope. I do not think that buying a piece of art that I love from a friend I admire makes me a humanitarian. I do think, though, that saying yes to ourselves in small ways leads to bigger and braver lives.

What if the small and mundane choices, like my peacock robe, could be small ways of saying yes? Buy the damn robe, it’s beautiful and functional, plus, it’s good to have a robe in case someone comes knocking at 7 a.m.! You want a funky espresso pot? Get it and enjoy the small pleasures of a new (now seven years old) way to make and enjoy the morning ritual of coffee! Is that piece of art you have been admiring for sale? Does the artist have prints, or a payment plan, if it is more than you can chew financially? Support a living artist and maybe develop a friendship with a creative person who will inspire you in your own work!

You are worthy. You are important. You are one-of-a-kind. We need you to take down your armor with yourself and find love. We need you to find peace with yourself. The stories you tell yourself will stick around. Make them good ones. Your peace and love will inspire others, even if it’s silent and subtle.

There is freedom and grace in little moments. World peace may not depend on your peacock robe, but your inner peace that tells you that you are worthy may be the first step. If you are brave enough to speak up for yourself, to yourself, imagine what else you can do!

 

 

A quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on beginning


“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.”–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Grateful for a Summer at Home


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Photo by Kary Schumpert.
In the last week, I read a travel memoir, skimmed through an atlas, made a list of cities I would like to visit for weekend trips, and scoured a travel website for tips on my dream journey of a lifetime. However, I have not been outside of my current locale, Albuquerque, in more than three months and I won’t be going anywhere this summer, either. I have a serious case of wanderlust. I was feeling discontented and disappointed that travel is not going to be much of an option for me in the next few months due to budget constraints.

I knew I needed to sit with my disappointment, instead of denying it. After giving myself a little time to deal with this homebound reality, I discovered that mostly I was feeling hemmed in by the seeming lack of adventure in my near future. I was feeling sad, because I had expectations that were different than my reality. I realized that was my problem. When my expectations and my reality align, I am blissfully content and joyful. I was out of alignment. My wanderlust ideals were colliding with my local existence.

Believe me, I am a homebody. I love to stay home and curl up with a good book, my favorite music playing in the background. I love cooking dinner at home and savoring a glass of wine. I love puttering around the house, or enjoying a morning on the patio drinking coffee and watching the sky turn black to pink to blue. I love going to a nearby park with my borrowed telescope and viewing the stars and planets. What usually feels like a cozy option, though, was feeling more like a punishment or a slight curse.  As soon as I voiced my discontent to myself, while making breakfast one lazy weekend morning, I got a little perspective. I realized that I needed to look at my feelings of being chained at home through the lens of gratitude. I made a list of things that I was grateful for, with this idea in mind.

I am grateful that I will have lots of time at home in Albuquerque this summer.

I am grateful that I will get to make a serious attempt at a patio garden this summer.

I am grateful that I won’t be fighting highway traffic or having to share a beautiful vista with countless others.

I am grateful that I have summer employment to fill in the gap of my school-year job.

I am grateful that I live in a beautiful place with lots of hiking trails and biking routes and access nearby.

I am grateful for a summer to concentrate on some spiritual, physical, and mental fitness goals.

I am grateful for health, employment, and contentment with how things are in my life.

I am grateful that I will have extra time to finish a large writing project.

I am grateful that I will have time to complete an online class that I have been postponing.

I am grateful that I have a whole shelf of books that I have been meaning to read over the last couple of years.

I am grateful that I have a few friends who will also be in town this summer.

I am grateful that I will have a chance to put together a budget and plan for a dream trip to possibly take in a couple of years.

I am grateful that I invested in a few books about sightseeing in Albuquerque and New Mexico.

I am grateful that I have a pantry full of ingredients and a shelf full of cookbooks to try new recipes and dishes and share with friends.

I am grateful that I have made a list of some out-of-town-but-still-close places to see and visit this summer.

I am grateful that several museums, that I haven’t visited yet, offer upcoming free and/or discounted entry fees this summer.

I am grateful that I have a good camera to take pictures and find some new angles from which to enjoy my favorite local haunts and landmarks.

I am grateful for a small and cozy home in a gorgeous city.

I am grateful that I am taking initiative to invite friends from nearby towns, who might also be on the same kinds of budget constraints, to come and stay with me.

It only took a few minutes to change my perspective. I usually think that travel does that. However, I realized that the view of home, all of a sudden, looks very lovely indeed. What other parts of life, where there might be discontent, also need a new view through the beautiful lens of gratitude?

 

 

 

Rearrange


Recently, I had a slight rearrangement on my calendar. I had planned to take a weekend trip to southern New Mexico for hiking, soaking in hot springs, sightseeing, and taking pictures. Due to a schedule change and needing to save some money, I decided to stay home for the weekend. I was a little disappointed for postponing the trip, but a couple of extra days at home turned into a lovely adventure and renewal. I took advantage of my time, my spring fever, and my wanderlust to rearrange my apartment.

I should preface this by saying that my current apartment is my favorite place that I have ever lived. It also happens to be the smallest, even more miniature than a studio apartment I dwelled in for a year in the western suburbs of Minneapolis. For one, I love, love, love Albuquerque and New Mexico. Secondly, I am grateful for the tree view, a second floor patio, almost-cathedral ceilings in the living room and kitchen, two cool neighbors downstairs, and getting to live alone. It is home.

Home is where the heart is. Sometimes, home is a loved one. Sometimes, home is an abstract place on the map, because you don’t know where your sense of place is. Home can be where you came of age. Home can be where your family lives. Home can be portable, wherever you pull up stakes on your tent. Home can be an abstract concept while you concentrate on other things.

I have always concentrated on home, in both the abstract and the concrete. I have possessed homes in my heart, in people, and even in my avocation. This little four-room rented home is all I need right now for dwelling.

The rearrangement was a welcome opportunity to look at my place in a new way. Often, the unpacking process is rapid and perfunctory. When I moved in, a year and a half ago, I was juggling full-time work, four nights of school, and staying temporarily at a friend’s house. I did not have a ton of time and I was worried about wearing out my welcome at the pal’s place. Plus, as soon as I unpacked one or two boxes, the apartment was overwhelmed in a flood of newspaper packing paper and the belongings that had just emerged from the containers. I quickly stowed my bookshelves in the corners of the living room and bedroom and filled them with my treasured reading materials. I pushed the edge of the couch against one wall and stashed a splindly floor lamp under the couch’s edge. I assembled my long, modern shelf to hold wine glasses, bowls and plates, mason jars, and collections of sugar skulls, Buddhas, and tea pots. I used my entry wall to hang small crosses and the metal frog hook given to me by good friends to help me find my keys. In the kitchen I turned the blank wall near the fridge into a small gallery of framed family photos. After a month in my apartment, I was finally unpacked. Later in the winter, a dear friend helped me assemble my bed frame and place my beloved collection of art on the walls at strategic vantage points, blessed with his good taste and designer eye. One huge advantage of a small space is being able to see most of my treasured belongings from any point in this lovely little apartment. It also takes very little time to clean it and put things into order.

After more than a year in this place, I loved the space, but felt a faint dissatisfaction with the flow. I have a lot of stuff in a small area and some spots felt crowded and disjointed. When I decorated during Christmas, I was tempted to rearrange, but was a little overwhelmed and just wanted to enjoy holiday ornaments. In late winter, after a couple of sick days on the couch, I had an idea of what I wanted to do to move things around, but didn’t have the energy to begin the effort. My mother visited at the beginning of spring and I told her of my ideas to refresh the space. She nodded her head enthusiastically, but I think my mom would support me in most efforts, even if she didn’t really like my decorating vision.

Sunday, I woke with the sun and decided it was the day to rearrange and reinvigorate the space. I stuck to the bedroom, and made a deal with myself that I wouldn’t go to bed until I had put everything in its new place. In some ways, the rearrangement of the bedroom had already begun when my landlord removed an old heater and installed a new one on a different wall, forcing me to change the spots of my antique flea-market dresser and a vintage footlocker trunk. I moved the bed and desk to different walls and switched out the two bookshelves. It was small and stilting and steady effort, shuffling enough books out of the shelves to render them moveable. I dragged the printer from an awkward spot on my cedar chest to the wire bookshelf, along with my other office supplies and files. I created a little writer nook under the window with my desk arrangement. I felt like a squirrel, slowly arranging my cache until satisfied. All of a sudden, after heaving and sweating and contemplating, my bedroom was a new space with more light and room and much better flow. It was a refresh. That night, my sleep was hard and sound and peaceful.

The next morning, I woke up with energy and excitement at having another day to finish the rearrangement. I turned on the kettle to boil water for coffee and filled the sink in the kitchen to wash dishes. I put away a few mugs and bowls and began the contemplative process of mentally rearranging the living room while I looked on from the kitchen sink. I took out a couple of small bags for donation to my car and then ran back up the outside stairs to perch on the couch and drink the last from my mug. I used my arms to make measurements of furniture and fractions of walls, knowing points on my body and spots in the nubby paint to make more precise measurements than my hard-to-get-to-measuring-tape, which I conveniently discovered in the couch cushions after moving around the furniture. With my body a little sore from the previous day’s bedroom redesign, I thought about curling up with a good book and another cup of coffee, but I gave myself the metaphorical kick-in-the-butt that I needed. I wanted my whole place to match the magic of the bedroom.

I slowly took some stuff out to store temporarily on the patio and unloaded the contents of the tops of two bookcases onto my couch. I lifted the pictures off the walls and placed on the refuge of my freshly made bed. Then I braced myself for the dragging and lifting across thick apartment carpet. I pushed two bookshelves into a corner, and made a reading nook with a lamp and my fairly new turquoise upholstered chair. I tucked the small kitchen table, once awkwardly shoved in front of a bookshelf, into a newly vacant spot and dressed it up with my potted succulents and an old milk vase full of flowers. I dusted and vacuumed and then moved more stuff around to do more cleaning. Rearranging the tiny living room was like moving the components to a tightly-fitting puzzle, every slight adjustment affected another piece of furniture or wall hanging. Plus, the placement of electrical outlets and the heater smack dab in the middle of one wall made for a decor riddle. Finally, though, I solved the puzzle.

I rolled out the rug at an angle, hung a couple of pictures in new spots, and put everything away. The room didn’t get any bigger and I didn’t remove any furniture, but now there is a reading nook, a better place to eat, and more space on the floor to do yoga. The TV doesn’t distract from the conversational placement of furniture, and I can imagine more people coming over to visit. The room felt like the “after” picture in a design magazine, at least to me.

This rearrangement, coupled with a some recent epiphanies, makes me feel new and excited and reinvigorated. All week, coming home from work has been a beautiful welcome. Somehow, household chores feel like renewal, rather than drudgery. I am reveling in this new placement of my belongings, loving the books and seeing the art on the walls as if for the first time. Every place I sit feels cozy and warm and just-right. It feels like light and love are blooming in my home. Funnily enough, while I am enjoying my objects all the more, I feel blissfully okay if they disappeared. It is more about love and light and finding space and grace, both literally and figuratively.

I make plans with two co-workers to have them over for dinner next week. I invite a friend to come over for a cup of tea and a chat. I write this blog entry in my new writing niche. I curl up on the couch with a cup of coffee and a devotional to have a quiet morning wake up of prayer and contemplation. I stretch in a yoga pose in the middle of the living room. I wash dishes and put away the recycling bin. I drop compost in the worm bin and water the plants. I leave for work with my keys in hand and bag on my shoulder. I plop down on the patio to plant seeds and seedlings for a container garden. I reach for a book and cross my feet in the turquoise chair.

A rearrangement can bring refreshment and rejuvenation. Rearrangement doesn’t have to be about home decor. It can be about letting go of a rigid schedule for an hour. It can be about taking a walk on a different road or path. It can be about inviting someone you love to share a meal. It can be about making a new friend. It can be about not reacting and taking a pause. It can be about writing in your journal about the day instead of drowning in a glass of wine and complaining about co-workers. It is about being brave and taking another chance. It is about forgiveness and letting someone in. It is about finding love for self and others.

What does rearrangement mean for you?

Snippets of Life and Gratitude in Pictures


Sometimes, the pictures can do it better than words. This is just a little bit of life from the last five months or so. The little moments add up to lots of gratitude. This collage doesn’t represent everything, and that’s exactly the point. Peace and love and light come in fits and starts.

 

 

On Earth Day, a quote from Rachel Carson


“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature–the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”–Rachel Carson, Silent Spring