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?

Home Body


At the end of a long day at work, all I could think about was home. The 12-minute drive was just long enough to turn the craving into a yearning. I grabbed my bag and keys, practically sprinting to my second floor apartment, with a half-turn to beep my car doors to lock. I smiled up at my red chile ristra to the left of the front door, struggled with the sticky lock, and kicked off my black ballet flats in the entry way. There was just a hint of fall chill in the air as I quickly shut the door and changed into comfy homey attire of a t-shirt and leggings. Each step through my four rooms gave me pleasure and comfort. I was home.

What is it that makes a place home? How does it go from four walls or four rooms to the sturdy and lovely four letters of home? I have lived in many places as an adult, and in several houses in childhood, and almost every one became home.

In my New Mexico childhood, I loved the green and white house we lived in for a few years with its fortress of trees, a white picket fence, several outbuildings, and wild onions in the side yard. In high school, my mom, younger sister, and I settled into a small three bedroom with a large front porch that became my touchstone in my teen years and during college vacations. We barbecued in the backyard while our dog ran laps, barking at birds and the neighbors, and we held my high school graduation party there. While those houses no longer belong to my family, I still cherish the memories and milestones from those places.

From the age of 18 and onward, I discovered that I could make a home pretty easily. Just about every place I have lived in, I have loved, each for different reasons. College, with life far away from my family for the first time, felt particularly poignant in my efforts to make a home. In the hallway of the second floor of my dorm in my first year of college, I built community and great friendship with many of the women who lived there, some of whom are still among my closest friends across the miles. In the dorm room of my sophomore year, my dear friend Lisa and I hung our laundry from the picture rail near the ceiling and stayed up late into the night sharing stories and secrets while drinking hot tea, or on the weekends when we were feeling clandestine we sipped Kahlua with milk. I moved to a house just at the edge of campus, for part of my junior year, that had a wood-burning stove, both for cooking and heating. To get through the cold Wisconsin winter, I chopped wood in the backyard and savored the smell of wood smoke in all of my clothes. In my last year of college, I moved off campus, and lived in a huge apartment with beautiful wood floors and a hall long enough to rival a bowling alley. It was cheap and quiet and I still remember giggling maniacally while I chased my roommate Susanna down the hall, as we enjoyed the delayed childhood delight of sliding on the floors in our wool socks.

I moved to Albuquerque right after college, and stayed for just a couple of months in a rent-by-the-night-or-week-or-month small studio apartment, spending my first night unpacking and relishing my first place on my own without a roommate. Quickly thereafter, I lived in the Twin Cities for several years, treasuring an apartment for its underground parking space and another for the time that I got to spend and share with two good college friends, Cathy and Myla. We struggled through first jobs and sharing chores and finding our way in the unruly times of our early twenties. In Saint Paul, I fell in love with John who lived two floors above me in a small 11-unit apartment building. We got to know each other while doing laundry and checking our mail, slowly developing into a courtship of shared dinners and beers on the back stoop. He bought a place and we moved into his adorable grey and blue house, my first foray into domestic living with someone I had loved and dated. We stayed together in that house for more than two years, transitioning from a romantic couple to roommates, still delighting in each other’s company. We played bluegrass loudly on his stereo and made pesto and he showed me the joys of grilling in subzero weather and grinding one’s own coffee beans before breakfast. I think of that home fondly and of the kind and goofy and generous man who cried when we said goodbye, as I drove the U-Haul from his driveway to Colorado and new adventures.

In Colorado, after a long and mostly solo time, I lived for several years with my younger sister when she moved back to the United States after a sojourn in Germany. We shared an apartment out of convenience and thrift, as rents went up just as the economy tanked. We possessed the easy comfort and familiarity of sisters, sharing movie nights and long talks, but struggled at times with the frustration of sharing close quarters. When my sister made the plunge from renter to owner, I moved into her spacious two-bedroom condo and found solace in a big room and huge walk-in closet. While she established her home, I made a space for writing and dreaming, knowing that I would be moving on soon. I moved out a year ago, and I love getting her texts as she buys furniture, paints, and makes home improvements.

I moved to Albuquerque just about a year ago and into this apartment 10 months ago, after staying in a couple of temporary places. I look around, hearing the hum of my laptop and the hiss of the tea kettle in the background. I stretch and yawn. I just renewed the lease, and look forward to at least 14 more months in this spot. I know, though, that home is as much a place you love, as it is the setting for your life. Memories, momentos, mornings. They all dwell here. I take a sip of tea. Home, indeed.

 

Hummus and a Sense of Home


wpid-wp-1438293360279.jpgOur senses can serve as time machines. Listening to the first notes of a favorite song can send us back to a poignant moment. Smelling certain whiffs can bring us to special places. Tasting favorite foods can transport us to home or to a sense of coming home to ourselves.

Today is a hot July day. I am packing up the kitchen and cleaning like a madwoman. At noon, I feel hunger pangs. I search in the nearly empty cupboard and I remember my craving for hummus a few days ago. Luckily, I have all the ingredients stocked, and I came across a recipe that is similar to my oft-used one, with promises for ease in making and spice in tasting. Still, I improvise.

I drain the can of chickpeas (or garbanzo beans, if you prefer that term, but they are the same thing) and I flashback to my first year of college. I turned 18, declared myself a vegetarian, stopped shaving my legs, and enrolled in a school where the admissions advertising campaign included pictures of brightly colored canoes and artistic shots of Lake Superior. This New Mexico girl, raised in a home with a kitchen where pinto beans were a constant staple and on the grasslands where cattle raised for beef dotted the landscape, had never heard of chickpeas. I figured life as a vegetarian would be relegated to salads and vegetable side dishes. In 2015, hummus is quite popular in the US and mass-prepared versions are available in small town grocery stores, but not so in the early 90s. My first taste of hummus was on a canoe trip as part of my first-year student orientation. People smeared it on bagels and dipped their carrots sticks in it. Back on campus, in the cafeteria with a celebrated vegetarian cook, hummus had its place of honor in the well-stocked salad bar. It was kind of like Frito-Lay bean dip, but not. It was salty and contained a spicy mix of herbs. Part sandwich spread, part dip, I dug right into its creamy texture and clung to its trap on my taste buds.

In my hippified years of college, I volunteered for and shopped in the small and local natural foods co-op. I stocked chickpeas on the shelves and brought them home in wonder. People brought hummus as a snack to Friday night potlucks and I delighted in the special joys of a pita stuffed with hummus and spinach. I made batches by the tubful, but never quite seemed to replicate others’ tasty concoctions. I added lemon, but missed the subtleties of spice mixtures. I ate the college chef’s garbanzo masterpiece, dipped my fingers, carrots, and even tortilla chips. Finally, I perfected my own version.

If I had a food map of my life, hummus would mostly represent my college time. Few foods bring me back to those crazy and idealistic and optimistic years, the way that hummus does. It was cheap and easy to prepare with a spoon and a bowl. I hauled it on hikes, I made it when I was down to my last three dollars, I ate it at a party while a shaggy boy and I talked of music and poetry. I soaked a bowl of chickpeas when I had no furniture and five feet stacks of books on the floor. I mixed up a batch the night I broke up with a dear love. I mashed garbanzos in an angry furor in a spiritual breakdown.

I graduated from college, but I took the garbanzos with me. Today, I shave my legs and am justĀ  a part-time vegetarian. Now, my shopping lists include both chickpeas and pintos, canned when I am in a rush and full of impatience, and dried when I have grace and make time. Today, I rip open a sleeve of crackers, cut up chunky carrot sticks, and slice a cucumber. I take bites of the veggies and crackers dipped in my warm summer batch. I lick fingers stained with newspaper print as I sneak in a lunch while packing.

I am at once 18 on my first canoe trip, I am 25 in my apartment in Saint Paul, I am 32 hiking with a boyfriend in Colorado, I am 40 and on the cusp of new adventures. I can imagine my grey-white hair at 73 as I mix up a batch for an old college friend coming to visit and reminisce. I am ageless, I am every age. I am me. I am hungry and excited. It is hummus and I am home.