A Mini-Vacation In A Day

There are some days that you feel like you’ll never recover from. And then there are days that epitomize the recovery that weeks of stress require. Perhaps the later is more rare, but it also leaves a more lasting impression on your psyche. Friday was just such a day for me. It was a mini-vacation in a day without ever leaving town – or even a 5 mile radius of where I work – and it has invigorated my spirit and refreshed my mind and body in a way that I haven’t experienced in some time. I confessed to my husband when I returned home, that despite a few instances of describing my wonderful family to those who inquired, I didn’t really think of them, or anyone else, at all. It was a day just for me and I reveled in it.

It began with an early departure from work to attend a “team-building” event that had the potential to be either amazing or awkward. Thankfully it turned out to be delightful. The company took our whole department to the local Viking cooking school and had us divide into groups to take a cooking class, at the end of which we got to enjoy the fruit of our labor. The menu we were preparing was entitled “Chicago Steakhouse” and was comprised of grilled rib-eye steaks over a bed of sautéed spinach and mushrooms with a side of bacon wrapped scallops atop homemade hash-browns and spicy apricot glaze, a delicious salad with fresh vinaigrette, and a heavenly apple tart for desert. There was wine and appetizers, lots of laughter and camaraderie, and, in the end, the utter enjoyment of a job very well done.

After stuffing myself to my heart’s content and taking a few extra minutes to browse the Viking gift shop, it was on to the next event of the day – my one hour prenatal massage at Aqua Day Spa, courtesy of my husband for our anniversary. Anyone whose ever been pregnant, and even most of you who haven’t, know that there’s not much better than calming your aching and disproportionate body with this kind of relaxation. The physical and emotional therapy of this section of my day needs little explanation or embellishment, so I’ll just say that it was lovely!

I went straight from my massage appointment to their salon next door and got my first haircut in over six months. And this wasn’t just any haircut. It was a masterpiece by a hairdresser who took an hour and a half with me, carefully and meticulously getting everything just the way he, and I, wanted it to be to make sure that I “wowed” my hubby when I got home. I love my hair long, but too often I feel that I sacrifice style for length and it just hangs loosely around my face with very little in the way of interest or fashion. This time, however, he managed to leave my length and still create a style that had movement and life and intrigue. I was SO pleased. He actually apologized to me for taking so long, and I assured him that anyone who was willing to take a such time to pamper or beautify me, was more than welcome to do so and I was quite grateful!

After all of this, I returned home to find that my boys had had a fantastic day together and had made lasagna and salad for supper which I didn’t have to lift a finger to prepare or clean up. As I shared with them the details of my day, I am sure that every feature of my face and the deepest parts of my eyes confessed more adequately than my lips ever could that… I was myself again. I was happy. And I was reminded, once again that life does not consist wholly of the tasks and stresses that claim so much of our time.

Decking the Halls . . . And Our Hearts

When you think “holidays”, what comes to mind? When we were kids we thought of school breaks and Santa, new toys and snow, sugar cookies and cousins and fun! As adults we tend to think about deadlines, budgets, endless shopping lists, travel, chaotic schedules, flu season, and  . . . oh yeah, if we have time, fun. But no matter what the stresses of  the holiday season, there is something magical about that first day when you pull out all the decorations, put on Christmas music for the first time, light some candles and stay in for a quiet evening with the family decking the halls.

It is moments like these that make you forget the cynicism that you’ve built up over the year and believe, even if only for a little while, that everyday life can be enchanting and the mundane can be magical.

Once again, it is the awe and wonder of a child that enhances our realization that we all tend to look at the world through very smudgy, care-worn glass. And, every now and then, we need to take them off and see, through a fresh pair of eyes, that tiny lights and tinsel are amazing.

So with a renewed sense of gratitude and thanksgiving imparted upon us last weekend as one holiday passed, ringing in the next, let us cling to these moments and remember that the holidays are about so much more than stress . . . not just for the children, but for us too. Let’s deck, not just the halls, but our hearts with laughter and joy this holiday season.

Is it Kitsch or a Catch?

As a pseudo-artist myself, surrounded by a community of artists, I have traditionally found kitsch rather hard to stomach. Especially in large doses. However, yesterday, as I spent the afternoon perusing the many, MANY booths at the Canton Flea Market, I felt a certain solidarity with the community of craftsmen there and the simple, unassuming humanity that was exhibited in even the lowliest of their wares.

Sometimes it was the most ridiculous, the most kitschy of all the displays that made me stop and smile. That brought to mind images of country farmhouses and family gatherings. They were, perhaps, not as justifiably artistic as “real” art, but they were homey and comfortable, silly and nostalgic.

Maybe I am losing my standards in my old age, but I had more fun photographing these amazing examples of Americana surrounded by funnel cake trucks and snow cone stands, than I would have had in a stuffy gallery quietly making judgements about the authenticity of an abstract modern work (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

There was also something amazing about seeing an entire community come together to create something so immense. Every street anywhere near the downtown square was lined with booths and booths of craftsmen selling their wares. Proud of their merchandise because it stood apart from all the Made-in-China, Big-Box stuff we buy everyday and fill our houses with.

Customers and vendors alike partook in the frenzy of people eager to find something to give during the holidays that was not like everything else they already have. Something unique and hand-made. And kitsch or no, it was lovely.

And what did I bring home from this festival of craftsmanship, you may ask? I found three little gems that made me very happy:

Hand-made wooden toys! (And yes, I did buy my 2 1/2-year-old son a gun, and he LOVES it!)

A vegetable peeler hand-made in Switzerland, that I succumbed to buy after a very good salesman gave me a demonstration ;)

And a very long string of freshwater pearls that I could not resist at their $10 price tag.

And on the long walk back to my car, I couldn’t help but take this photo which demonstrated the intense southern-ness of the town in which the market took place. I don’t even know what chitterlings are, but I’m kind of afraid to ask.

Bon appetite and happy shopping!

Technological Sabbath

I have been seriously considering, as of late, implementing a regular technological sabbath for myself. A day of rest from the myriad of devices that connect us to everything under the sun. From what’s important to what’s completely irrelevant. From the beautiful to the terrible – the heroic to the mundane. We, more than any previous generation, have the world at our fingertips with all of its woes and inspirations, and the weight of it is immense. The burden of knowledge is great and the guilt of inability, although unjustified, can be just as great. We have computers in our pockets that can show us real-time video footage of the most recent natural disaster, civil war, or peace rally. They can look up, at our first thought of curiosity, the answer to any question, and yet we still feel confused. And even with such powerful tools always at our disposal to advance knowledge and personal development, we spend a huge portion of our time using them for frivolous and meaningless tasks like surfing the web, watching YouTube, playing Angry Birds, or browsing Facebook to keep up with our “friends.” If ever we find ourselves with a spare moment of quiet or stillness, out come the phones. Walk around in a public place and notice how many people around you are staring at a screen.

Don’t get me wrong – I love technology. It’s value is immeasurable and it is shaping the world today in ways many never dreamed possible. I just worry that we are attaining its prize at a rather high price. The loss of quiet contemplation and meditation. The inability to experience stillness without trying to fill it. The physical and mental release of curling up in a big chair with an actual book or crochet hook or guitar. Embarking on projects with our families that involve rakes and shovels or paints and brushes instead of remotes and ear buds. Hiking or biking without music or podcasts and simply our own thoughts to keep us company. But, as I contemplate all of this, the devil on my shoulder says, “Yes, those things are all very whimsical and beautiful, but every week? For a whole day? I don’t know. What if someone needs to get a hold of me? What if I need directions somewhere? What if . . . the world stops if I don’t pick up my phone or laptop multiple times a day?!?” My fear wreaks of addiction. There are so many ways to fill a day without the need for buttons. And I really believe I’d be happier if I set one day aside to shut down, breathe, and . . . reboot.

What do you think? Can it be done? Would you do it?

Music that Mends

Music is a powerful and potent mender of the soul and, in some ways, the body. It is transforming and uplifting and allows us to forget, in the moment we experience it, the stresses and aches of life that weigh us down. I attended a concert last night called “Music that Mends” and have found its title to be abundantly true lately. It was meant to be a benefit show for someone who is struggling and, although the crowd was small, the intimacy of those who did gather made the music that much more of a salve. I certainly do not have the struggles of the man for whom the concert was played, but my small stresses of money and home repairs, pregnancy and parenting, etc. paled as I sat and just listened. And watched the faces of those who were simultaneously touched by the same mood. It was, briefly, a soundtrack to life. Children giggling in the background, water flowing in the courtyard, people speaking softly, doors opening and closing. Even the birds joined in periodically. And it was lovely.

All of our weekend plans involved music and every night I had to convince myself, due to ever-increasing pregnancy nausea, to leave the house and follow through with them. Yet each night, in the presence of music and friendship, I was able to forget, temporarily, how sick I felt. Even the mediocre cover band at the burger joint where we met friends Friday night was enough to inspire Aiden and all of the other kids to dance and sing. Which, in turn, inspired us to smile and have the freedom to engage in good conversation and good food. As we left, Aiden said, “I like those guitar guys!” Likewise, the incredible food, fellowship, and fingerpickin’ of Saturday night’s cookout/jam session was just what the doctor ordered. So, my prescription for alleviating stress and its various side effects: get together with friends, add a little food, and TURN UP THE MUSIC. You’ll be grateful you did.