The Great Outdoors

I have always known, but somehow need to be continually reminded that time outdoors is essential to my happiness and well-being. Some of the moments in life that I have felt the deepest connection to spirit and self have been times that I’ve spent alone or with a loved one in nature. Soaking in the reality, beauty, and simplicity of the untouched world. Stepping away from screens and music, work and stress, and the continuous noise of busy life into the quiet sounds of plants and birds and children’s laughter. Experiencing sunlight as it filters through the trees creating shadowy artwork on the ground. Discovering forgotten clearings along paths through the woods that seem as sacred as a temple and using those spaces to meditate and reclaim calm. Sitting on a park bench and watching children who are still too young to be self-conscious run and play and be free in a way that many adults envy in the deepest parts of themselves. Dropping the restraints of time and tasks and pretending for a short time that they do not exist. Inhaling the smell rag weed and wood mulch, dead leaves and earth all in the same breath and feeling cleansed by it. Going home dirtier than you’ve been in a long time, yet with no desire to wash it off. This is life in its simplest and best form and I am grateful for it.

Gift Making Magic!

I have mentioned before that I like to make my own Christmas gifts, both for the sake of economy and for the added thoughtfulness infused into such gifts that cannot be attained by picking up something at the store simply because it was time to buy someone a present. But every year I try to brainstorm good ideas that will be appreciated not just for the effort, but for the thing itself. Because, lets face it, no matter how much effort or thought goes into a gift, it’s not quite the same if the receiver doesn’t actually like it. It has to be the right balance. Often times though, this added proviso of likeability leads to a great deal more effort than I anticipated, as I try to wrap my fingers around what my brain has devised. Of course it doesn’t help that I have a VERY large family of consisting of 30 people outside of my immediate circle of 3 (soon to be 4). It can get a bit overwhelming.

This year, however, I had the benefit of a little helper that Santa let me borrow. It is still surprising to me that my little boy is old enough already to actually help me with projects. I do use the word “help” loosely, of course – he is after all only two. But even if his help wasn’t a time or effort saver, it was most definitely a mood saver during the 16 hours I spent this weekend completing everything. And, as is always the case, he was more of a teacher to me through the whole process than I was to him.  I may have taught him to mix ingredients or add just the right touch, but he taught me patience, understanding, a healthy sense of wonder, and an appreciation for licking all things yummy! And he helped me see all the old classic Christmas cartoons though a fresh set of eyes.  So at the risk of spoiling the surprise (if you expect to receive a gift from me, don’t look too closely or analyze too much), here are a few highlights from our weekend of gift making magic. I obviously can’t include the final result of the gifts we made for the adults, but since there are presumably few children who read my blog, I will share those – parents don’t tell!

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?

Never Alone

I had a remarkable “ah-ha” moment yesterday. One that perhaps should have been obvious before then, but in the silly simplicity of the moment in which I had it, it finally sunk in. I am not, nor will I likely ever be alone. I am SO lucky.

I was having an emotional afternoon (which I will blame on pregnancy hormones even though they probably had nothing to do with it) and feeling rather isolated. My list of friends has been dwindling over the last couple of years. There are a variety of reasons for this – Hello! We are not in college anymore; lives change; people grow apart; kids enter the equation – restricting time, energy, and emotions; jobs; hobbies; busy . . . busy . . . busy. I do not pretend to be faultless in my predicament, but never-the-less, I am bothered by it sometimes. Particularly at times when my husband, who is my best friend, has to stay at work till 9 or 10 at night and 90% of my conversations over the last few days have been with a toddler whose biggest concern in life is that he HAS to eat broccoli. Enter yesterday’s “ah-ha” moment:

Not wanting to be stuck at the house all afternoon, I loaded up my son and headed to the outdoor mall where my hubby works to window shop, let Aiden see his daddy before bed, and pick up some food. This is a common past time of ours, satisfying Mommy’s need to shop, Aiden’s need to run around outside, and both of our needs to see Jonathan. However, yesterday I decided to break with tradition and actually go in some of the stores – dangerous territory for someone so broke, I know. But enter I did, with toddler in tow. We went into Ann Taylor, J. Crew, and White House, Black Market. And then, since it was only fair, and since he had been so patient with his silly, clothes-shopping mama, I took Aiden into a sports apparel store called Sand Dollar Lifestyles, that I thought he would enjoy a lot more than what we had been browsing. Inside, there was very little that peaked my interest, but Aiden saw something that completely rocked his world. He didn’t know what category to put them in. Shoes with TOES in them, like gloves!

He kept saying, over and over again, “What’s THAT?” I would tell him and he’d ask again. I figured the best way to satisfy his curiosity was to show him. So we sat down on the bench, measured our feet with the funny rubber foot measurers, and tried on some toe shoes. He stood on the floor giggling hysterically as he pointed at my feet, “Wook, mama!” I would laugh right back at him and tell him to look at his own silly feet. And then it happened. I looked at him as we both sat on the bench trying on shoes, and I realized – I liked hanging out with my son! As a person, an individual. He is now old enough to be a companion and a friend and we have fun together. No longer just a bundle of need, he gives back. Granted, he still takes a lot more than he gives, but he gives! The moment I had this realization, I spoke it out loud to him. “I really like spending time with you, Aiden.” And he replied, “I like you too, Mama!” And I was not alone. I may not be able to have deep philosophical discussions with him (yet), or rousing debates about politics and religion, or toss around ideas about parenting and hobbies, but we can have fun. We can inspire one another to be happy. And that is what’s important. Yes indeed, I am very lucky.