On a walk today, I turned around halfway due to the cold. Getting closer to home, the wind died down for just a second, long enough to entice to me to walk to the end of my street. It ends in a cul-de-sac with a retention pond adjacent to wetlands. While not breathtakingly beautiful, it is a small slice of water and wildness that my heart craves so. Hawks circle overhead, bluebirds perch on light poles. Pine trees sway, pop, and crack in the breeze. It is quiet. Turtles poke their heads out of the water among whole worlds of algae and other aquatic plants. It reminds me of a favorite book I read last year, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. About a pond that held all of the mystery, complexity, and healing power of the ocean. About a bucket of that pond water that did the same. It reminds me that we don’t have to make huge gestures sometimes. A simple walk, cut in half, can bear the greatest gifts: Peace. Tranquility. Fresh eggs. A pleasant conversation with a neighbor. Connection. Communion.
I love to read decorating magazines, and House Beautiful is the end-all be-all. The designs are so rich and luxe and so over-the-top. I just lose myself in those rooms. The master bathrooms with wall-to-wall Carrara marble. The libraries with lacquered dark blue walls and books for miles. The kitchens larger than my entire house- and with more storage.
I love to see the objects that designers use more than anything. So carefully placed. So edited. And it makes me wonder. Were all of these items purchased for their clients? Did the clients bring any personal items? I love to see objects that speak of world travel. Intricately carved inlaid boxes. Busts. Interesting textiles on pillows. Hand-loomed rugs. Folk art.
But the one thing I see in these magazines gives me the cold shivers. Peacock feathers. Although beautiful, I learned of a superstition on one of my recent travels that will forever forbid me from bringing them into my home.
On safari in South Africa (gosh that sounds glamorous!), my kids and I picked up peacock feathers around the camp where we were staying. The birds themselves were beautiful, and the feathers we would bring home would remind us of this once-in-a-lifetime trip we were on. Seeing animals and landscapes so different from ours in the southern United States. Reconnecting with extended family after a 15-year hiatus. Being in “the bush.” The feathers were beautiful and they were free. Win-win.
So we packed up from our safari and headed back into town where we would spend our remaining few days at my aunt and uncle’s house. They had generously let us borrow their car for our visit. Making our way through the most narrow of mountain passes, we tried to stop at a local watering hole I remembered fondly from childhood trips. It was a blisteringly hot day and we all needed to cool down. When the gate attendant for the parking lot turned us away, I was crushed. The lot was full and we couldn’t stay for a swim. Having seen cars parked along the side of the road on our way in, I convinced my husband to turn back. I wanted to have this beautiful swimming experience in a mountain stream with my family. I wanted to share special memories with them. What happened next is forever burned into our memories. Not in a good way.
Driving on the narrow road, a sheer but jagged rock face accompanied us on the left, and just as dramatic a drop-off was our constant companion on the right. I could tell my husband was nervous on this stretch of our journey, but I was blind to the struggle we were facing. I just couldn’t wait to sink my body into that cool running water. All of the other spots to squeeze a car into had been taken. I was crushed. Not thinking, I convinced John to do a three-point-turn to get us headed back to town. Did I mention how narrow this road was? How you could barely see 50 yards ahead and behind you as it snaked through the mountains? As he started the first of the three-point turn, he pulled up to the edge of the road, looking out over this narrow valley, not seeing any road beyond the hood of the car. My feet went numb. He backed up slowly, carefully, then we heard a bump and then a sound that was like a symphony of glass raining down over the rear of the car. Kind of beautiful. Also kind of horrifying. We went numb. I got chills. I wanted to throw up. My severely stressed-out husband let out a string of profanities that had never and have still never been unleashed around our children.
After pulling over to a safe spot to clean up some of the glass from the rear window and to reassure our kids, we had a hot and sticky ride back into town. I just imagined how I would have to explain this to my aunt and uncle. I was so ashamed of my poor decisions. I was trying to figure out how to make it right. We were leaving in a few days, and I did not want to leave them with our mess to clean up.
We pulled up in the driveway, and were met by my cousin. As eager as he was to hear about our trip, I had to cut him off and show him the damage done to the car. A nasty dent in the fender. The rear windshield shattered and gone, with dangerous shards poking in around the edges. The rear windshield wiper dangling uselessly. As he helped us unpack the car and vacuum out glass, we told him the story of our trip. All the animals we had seen, the beautiful lodge we had stayed in, the status of our grandparents’ old home in a nearby small town.
Then we pulled out the peacock feathers to show him. Weren’t they beautiful? Wouldn’t they make a lovely souvenir of our trip? I imagined them in a vase in our dining room, a conversation starter at dinner parties. (Aside: Most of our dinner parties take place in my head. Actually, all of them.) He recoiled. “Get them out of here, before my mom gets home!” he exclaimed. “She will have a freak-out. ” “They can’t even be in the yard? I’ll pack them away before she gets back,” I said. And he told me about the superstition in their house of bringing peacock feathers inside. “They bring bad luck,” he said.
All of a sudden it hit me. The peacock feathers had been lying on that flimsy piece of upholstery in the car that covers the trunk. Separate from our backpacks so they wouldn’t get damaged.
Right under the rear windshield.
We had put all of the glass and detritus from the accident into thick, black plastic bags. I couldn’t get those feathers in there fast enough. My aunt’s superstition immediately became my own. And the bags went out to the street. I hope they didn’t cause a car accident or a bird to fly into a window or an earthworm to get trod upon. but they were not going to hurt me or my family!
My aunt and uncle couldn’t have been more gracious about the busted up car or the inconvenience of getting it fixed. They helped us to laugh at our folly, and to realize that everyone makes mistakes. Their kindness to me in that moment remains an enduring lesson in my life on grace.
I recently saw a House Beautiful spread on a tiny jewel box of a guest bathroom. Well, tiny by their standards anyway. The lesson in HB is that the smaller a room, the more you can do with it. Well. This particular designer had WALLPAPERED the entire bathroom with peacock feathers. It was beautiful. Exotic. Rich, luxe, and over the top. My blood ran cold. I don’t even want to imagine what has befallen that poor family and their guests in that most private of all rooms, the bathroom. I think I should send them a note.
I just found myself driving behind a car with a Virginia Tech sticker on it and “Bokworm” on the license plate. Very subtly, I changed lanes and pulled up beside the car to check out my new best friend. She had to be 60 years old.
And I am fighting the urge to use hashtags here, but I am losing that fight.
I had a terrible day yesterday. The kind of day that should have/ could have been an amazing day. A day with CANCELLED PLANS. There is nothing I love more than cancelled plans. I am not an overworked, overscheduled kind of mom, but still. Having two hours cleared up in the day is like a gift. If you treat it like one. My original plan on that rainy Tuesday was to lie down on the sofa with a book and revel in the peace and quiet. What I ended up doing instead looked nothing like that. Guilt took over. Bouncing around from thing to thing, feeling like I should do something “productive” while fighting the urge to just rest, had me in such a state. I had chocolate for breakfast. Read that again. I had chocolate. For breakfast. So gross. And the day went downhill from there. Let myself get sucked into the vortex that is E-mail, Facebook, and Pinterest. Cable TV. Videos on the iPad. None of them working properly or even helping to get me out of my funk. For years I have called Tuesdays “Tantrum Tuesdays.” We are all just a little or a lot grumpy that the weekend is over, the work week is just starting, and there is so much work waiting to be done.
By the time the afternoon came, I had been spinning so wildly all day, I just unraveled. Expecting my daughter’s soccer practice to be canceled due to said rain, I made plans for cooking dinner. But no- practice was on! I got so frustrated about not being able to schedule anything anytime anywhere. I was angry over the lack of control over those few hours in my life. I was angry that I had “wasted” the whole day away.
On the one hand, cancelled plans had caused me to unravel. On the other hand, established plans that I had known about and planned for ALSO caused me to unravel. You can’t have it both ways! We thrive on structure. We also thrive on spontaneity and freedom from restrictions. The trick is recognizing where you are and enjoying it for what it is. I failed that particular lesson yesterday.
As I was driving my daughter to practice, in the rain, I was reminded of Mumford and Sons and one of my favorite lines in Hopeless Wanderer. They sing, “I will learn to love the skies I’m under.” Appropos for yesterday’s wild weather. Because, you see, in the middle of soccer practice, the sun came out. And the kids played their hearts out. They weren’t fretting over plans they had made. They weren’t worried about getting wet or cold. They just wanted to play. And the sun came out and shone on those precious bodies doing what they do best- running free.
Maybe we have to have days like yesterday. Maybe we have to spin and snarl and growl and get stuck sometimes to realize the good things we have. The simple things that make life worth living. Like reading a book on the sofa. Which I will do the next time I am feeling out of sorts.
To help remind myself of the simple pleasures that can help get me out of a downward spiral, I have composed a list.
Things to do when you don’t know what to do:
1. Lie down and read a book
2. No electronics!
3. Listen to music (Mumford and Sons, Coldplay, The Avett Brothers, “Winter” playlist)
4. Make a smoothie
5. Go for a walk
6. Drink a glass of water
7. Write a card to someone
8. Clean something (Not a whole room. Just one thing- like the inside of the microwave. )
10. Call and schedule that massage/ doctor appointment/ class you’ve been meaning to go to. Make it for two weeks out- you don’t have any plans that week yet.
12. Request good books from the library
13. Get that online driving school class out of the way already!
14. Read Momastery
15. Call a friend
16. Take a bath
And I am going to work on switching “Tantrum Tuesday” to something to look forward to. GratiTuesday. Taco Tuesday. Take Ten Minutes and Lie Down Tuesday. Something.
While at yoga today, a tiny epiphany: Growth comes from pain.
That is all.
Also, I think I have finally realized that I will never be “motivated” to scrub floors and toilets and the inside of the microwave. But these things must still get done.
Pain, growth, and a clean house (maybe on Monday). Happy Friday!