Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Retreat


There's nothing like a few days in the mountains to recalibrate your settings. Mine have been reset to Mindful after being present - and humbled by - the quiet magnificence of the Great Smoky Mountains.

I took too many pictures to post on the blog, so if you want to see them you'll have to go here to my Photobucket Slideshow.

If you want to read about my trip, here's what happened:


We arrived at my folks' place in Maggie Valley early enough on Saturday to head over to Waynseville for a walk in the downtown. There are a lot of quaint shops, art galleries and coffee shops. My parents used to live there so Dad enjoyed showed us around around the neighborhood where he and mom used to live.

On Sunday we headed over to nearby Dillsboro for the Day Out With Thomas event. If you have or know a kid under six years of age, then you know how major Thomas the Tank Engine is. It was really well done. We all enjoyed a 35-minute ride on Thomas, which was fun not just for the kids but for the adults as well. Our trek took us past the original bus and train wreckage from The Fugitive, over a trestle bridge and past the cabin of an old man who has waved at every train on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad for almost 20 years now.

While waiting our turn to board the train, I saw a guy wearing a T-shirt showing the figure of a backpacker. Under the picture it said, "You could run out of food and die. You could get attacked by a bear and die. You could fall off a cliff and die. Or you could stay home, fall off your couch and die."

I liked that.

The Day Out With Thomas, while pleasant, was also a merchandising boondoggle. There were no less than two places set up to buy Anything Thomas. John got a hat and Lucas got a train and a T-shirt. We'd arrived early so by the time we got our souveneirs the crowds were getting thick. We were glad to get out and on our way. By 11 o'clock we were on our way to the Cherokee Indian reservation for some sightseeing.

Lucas' ears popped on Mt. Soco, and he yelled, "Hey, my ears! What's happening?" I thought Dad was going to run off the road, he was laughing so hard.

After the sightseeing and some lunch at a non-touristy diner, we went back to the cabin for some relexation before making the winding trek to the Cataloochee Valley to see the foundation herd of North Carolina's elk reintroduction program. It was a scary ride, but I felt safe with Dad who -as a young man - got his start in business by hauling repossesed cars up and down the mountains. I kept my eyes closed for much of the ride. John played his Game Boy. Alex and Lucas looked out, wide-eyed. Lucas swore that he saw a hammerhead shark in the ravine.

But as gut-wrenching as the ride was, it was worth it when we reached Cataloochee.

The elk are truly awesome, and I was pleased to get a close-up of one young bull, but not see pleased when a larger one "escorted" me back to my car. He never charged, just walked after me with a menacing gaze. He didn't have to do anything more threatening; those antlers may have been covered in velvet but something told me they'd still hurt.

We spent a lot of restful time at the cabin, and even though I only brought a few playthings for the kids, they never got bored or fretful. They were wonderfully calm, as was I, and that just reinforced my deepening belief that it' s not things that make you happy, but simplicity, quiet and togetherness.

At night, after the kids were asleep, Dad and I would sit on the porch and talk as - one by one - the lights came on in homes that dotted the surrounding mountains. We talked alot about our family, our lives, his childhood and I learned alot about him and how he became who he is today.

On Monday, Dad hung out with John at the cabin while Alex and Luke and I hiked along the creek that runs near the cabin. It's a beautiful creek, and at night its gurgling was the last thing I heard before drifting off to sleep.

We took pictures at the creek and then took more of insects and wildflowers in the meadow. I also got a nice shot of a felled tree, its demise angering someone who wrote "Why?" on the trunk.

I owe my parents a debt of gratitude for the quiet weekend away. Their grandkids will never forget it, and neither will their thirdborn daughter.

Thanks, Mom and Dad.

It was a lovely weekend.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Behold, progress

For the last few days, my computer desk has been sitting in the hallway. And I haven't missed it a bit because I was far too busy. It's nice now to have it back, where it sits on a brand new floor.

Our home improvement project is going along very well. The living room (at left), kitchen, kids' rooms and playroom (lower right) all have new floors. Today I organized my living room bookshelf by color, per Pretty Lady's advice. Thanks, Pretty Lady!

I've not yet painted the playroom; that I'll probably put off until early next week after I get back from the mountains.

When my father offered to take me and the three younger kids up to his cabin for a few days, at firstI told myself I didn't have time. Then I decided that it might be good for us all.

It will be nice to get out of the house, and besides, Larry needs a break. He has been infinitely patient with home renovations that have come complete with frantic wife and grumbly, stir-crazy children. He'll enjoy the peace and quiet more than he admits, I think. Besides, given that he has lots of projects of his own that need attention, it will do him good not to have me around saying, "Oh, could you please do just one more thing...?" One of the secrets of a good marriage is knowing when to take - or give - your significant other a well-deserved break.

It'll be good for the kids, who've put up with sleeping on sleeping bags and being confined to one or two rooms for the last three weeks. Dad has quite a few things planned for their entertainment.

Stepping away will be good for me, too. I don't get many chances these days to spend time with my father, and by the time I come back I'll be ready to tackle renovations set for the master bedroom, which is going to be a real bear of a project.

Because our house isn't very large, we have to be creative with our space. So one wall of the master bedroom is slated to become my sewing center.L Larry and Dad recently found some Formica countertops - new and still in boxes - that had been tossed out. They'll be for the workspace and underneath will be cabinets to hold the sewing stuff currently boxed and sitting precariously stacked against the wall.

The framing needs to be completed around the bay window and Larry thinks he may put in a window seat. Then there will be the painting and whatever we decide to do with the floor.

Lots to think about...but not now. For now I'm going to just enjoy what we've done so far. We're quite happy and thought you might like the pictures.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Extreme Makeover

If you ever want to feel completely ridiculous about yourself and this culture, just pull everything out of your house, sit it in the front yard and then stand back and look at it.

I know, this isn’t something most people normally do unless they’re in the middle of a home improvement project, which we are. Larry and I have spent the last two weeks painting the walls and laying new flooring. It’s slow going because we’re frugal, frugal here being defined as “too cheap to hire someone to do something we can do ourselves.”

Of course, you can’t paint walls without removing pictures and emptying bookshelves. And you can’t pull up carpet and lay new flooring without removing every single piece of furniture and emptying every single closet. And you can’t do all those things without being faced with the reality of just how much useless stuff a family can accumulate over time.

And you can’t take stock of all the useless stuff you have without feeling a bit uncomfortable - especially if you’re the type of person who prides themselves on not being materialistic - like I do. Or like I did before this wake-up call.

Because as much as I wanted to, I couldn't ignore what was sitting there on my lawn. Mount Materialism.

Books I’d already read and won’t read again but couldn’t bring myself to throw away. Shoes that didn’t go with anything but were too cute to part with. More clothing than we could ever wear. Shelves that we didn’t need but - once put on the wall - began to magically fill with collectibles. Magazine holders filled with dusty, neglected magazines. Canister sets that held nothing. More cookware and place settings than is practical, even if we threw regular, huge dinner parties. More linen than we can use, even if we changed every bed in the house twice a day. Stuff that I'd picked up at local thrift stores because it was such a good deal.

And then there were the toys. That was particularly upsetting. Granted, quite a few are gifts from family, but it was disconcerting nonetheless. When I began going through the toy chest, Lucas thought it was Christmas as I pulled out toy after toy he forgot we even had. No less than three elaborate train sets, an avalanche of stuffed animals, literally thousands of matchbox cars. Puzzles, games, electronic learning gadgets, dollhouses, action figures galore.

Where had all this stuff come from? Who are we?

We’d chosen a taupe color for the main room and kitchen, olive green for the bedrooms, and cheery golden-yellow for the sunny playroom, with white trim throughout. Our awful industrial tile floors and carpet we’re replacing with a honey-colored wood floor. It’s perfect for our vision of a simple, Zen décor. So naturally the thought of bringing the clutter back in was out of the question.

But parting with it? That’s where I experienced a most interesting transformation. Larry and I were committed to some dramatic downsizing, but at first it was hard for me. Every object I picked up had a story behind it, everything represtented some moment or feeling or experience. But those had passed and couldn't be retrieved, not even with the help of a cute fairy statue or shiny necklace. Why keep those things when I could rely on my memories?

"Cut it out," I told myself. "Look at your life in this moment and ask yourself, 'What does our family need to be comfortable and happy?"

As it turns out, not very much at all.

The knit cape from Ireland that I got for a song at the local resale shop. But it had been how long since I wore it - two, maybe three years? I didn’t need that. Away it went. The bread machine I got for Christmas? It has all the bells and whistles but I’ve only used it one time, as I prefer to make bread by hand. It went into the box with the cape. Same with the espresso maker, juicer and food processor and multiple coffee makers. Books were harder to part with, especially some of my favorites. But if I enjoyed them so might someone else. I filled box after box, imagining how much some other reader would enjoy them.

Furniture went, too. Magazine holders, little tables, decorative cabinets. For me it was liberating. The more I got rid of the freer I felt, shedding clutter as I shed my attachment to it. And I began to see all the worthless possessions I’d been clinging to not as treasure but as dead weight. How much cost and effort had I spent acquiring, maintaining and cleaning this stuff? I didn’t even want to think about it.

Now I know what Jesus and Buddha were talking about when they spoke about the pitfalls of materialism. Coveting, hoarding and doting on things we don’t need sure can divert our attention from the things we do need.

In the end, we’d filled our little U-Haul sized trailer not once but three times and hauled everyting into storage. Within the next couple of weeks, we will excavate Mount Materialism to determine what goes to our yard sale and what goes to charity.

So what did we consider essential enough to keep? A bare minimum of furniture that includes one new mission-style futon and one very antique 6-foot pine farmhouse table. Books too valuable, educational or important to toss. Our music and software collection. Computer equipment. Art and sewing supplies. Three changes of linen for each bed. A few vintage quilts. Artwork and handiwork created by family members. Just enough toys to fill one tall cabinet. Just enough stuffed animals to fill one shelf. Lucas' wooden Thomas the Tank Engine set and train table. Just enough dishes for our family and several guests….you get the idea.

Just enough.

Uncluttered house, uncluttered mind. The ultimate makeover. We should have done this a long time ago.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Only Known Victim of HWS

So I check my blog for the first time in days and days and find this post from thimscool:

"I'm jonezin for some hippie wisdom!"

I'm flattered, having induced the first-ever case of Hippie Withdrawal Syndrome. And for any of you who try to twist that into something tawdry, shame on you.

It's true that I've been taking a break, but for a very good cause: Home Improvement. Five kids and an endless parade of pets has taken a toll on the interior of our humble abode, which has been long overdue for a facelift whose time has finally come.

The work in progress is ongoing and should be completed by this weekend, at which time I'll post pictures and a couple of funny stories, provided I can find amusement in having the house turned upside down for a week.

In the meantime, thanks for stopping by. And Luke, bless your little heart. You made my day.
:-)