The View from the 24th Floor

I’ve been away from corporate life for two years now, twenty-four months.

In thinking about this lately, I feel that the time and distance has afforded me a different perspective from what I had at the end of my time in corporate life. The difference in the two perspectives reminds me of difference in the two pictures below, taken in Hawaii when the Captain and I were in Waikiki last year.

A picture from the street level, of the beautiful foliage all around:

A picture taken later that evening, from 24 floors straight up in the air and facing in the same direction:

Both sights are lovely, each has really wonderful elements. But there is something incredible about that huge, open view that takes so much more into account.

Perspective. It’s fascinating.

That change in perspective about work has left me rested and ready for something new…. So after a two-years’ break, I am returning to work.

I am returning, but in an entirely different way. Instead of returning to a corporate environment, I am now part of a specialized business in Technical Communications staffing and project management. Instead of running all-out at breakneck speed, I am intentionally keeping my hours low. The plan is to fulfill my brain and contribute the type of work I truly love, while retaining a good amount of space – mental and schedule – so I can still prioritize my family, home, and creative passions.

 As of today, I am about a month into this new endeavor; I am still trying out many options to find the right balance point for everything, but with the perspective I have gained over the past years, as well as the intentional decisions I have already made, I know that the balance point will be found soon.

Contemporary Insanity continues, though perhaps everything here will be seen through a new lens. What will it be like to explore my creative passions in meaningful ways while back at work? Even with (perhaps particularly with) my new non-traditional work approach, where will my creative fulfillment come from? What will it be like to work from a location remote from most of my team? Will I ever find enough time to spin yarn for an entire sweater?

Let’s go forward together and search out the answers to these questions — and many more.

A Traveler from Spare Oom

For much of this Christmas season, I’ve felt that I’ve been in a magical place.

Much of where I am right now, and where I was just before that, is new to me. And how I got there is somewhat befuddling and hard to understand for myself and others. Today, I realized that I feel a bit like Lucy Pevensie  might have when telling Mr. Tumnus about how she got to Narnia: 

Book cover, first edition, "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe"

Book cover, first edition, "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe", image from Wikipedia

“Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Tumnus.”

“I am very pleased to meet you, Mr. Tumnus,” said Lucy

“And may I ask, O Lucy, Daughter of Eve,” said Mr. Tumnus, ‘how you have come into Narnia?”

“Narnia? What’s that?” said Lucy

“This is the land of Narnia,” said the Faun, “where we are now; all that lies between the lamp-post and the great castle of Cair Paravel on the eastern sea. And you–you have come from the wild woods of the west?”

“I–I got in through the wardrobe in the spare room,” said Lucy.

“Ah!” said Mr. Tumnus in a rather melancholy voice, “if only I had worked harder at geography when I was a little Faun, I should no doubt know all about those strange countries. It is too late now.”


“But they aren’t countries at all,” said Lucy, almost laughing. “It’s only just back there–at least–I’m not sure. It’s summer there.”


“Meanwhile,” said Mr. Tumnus, “it is winter in Narnia, and has been for ever so long, and we shall both catch cold if we stand here talking in the snow. Daughter of Eve from the far land of Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe, how would it be if you came and had tea with me?”

 Though it’s all sometimes a little strange, I have to admit that I am a bit jealous about not yet being invited to tea with a Faun. But here I am, in a new-seeming place, filled with wintertime delights and wonderful sights… and sometimes I’m not quite sure how I arrived. Time seems to move at a different pace here than what I knew before.

For example, it is a week before Christmas and all of my Christmas *everything* is taken care of. Cards went out weeks ago. Special things for family living far away have been got, decorated, and sent. The house is filled with twinkling things, good smells, and cheerful sounds. Presents are all bought, wrapped, and hidden away for that special morn.

This is the first year I can remember having so much space before Christmas Day. For the past several years, working full-time, volunteering several hours a week, and trying to do all this as well – well, it was not always cheery, if you get my drift. I felt, year after year, that I was constantly rushing to get things done, everything seemed pushed out to the very last possible minute, things I wanted to do often just didn’t get done (How many years didn’t we send Christmas cards? And how many times, when we did, they were Valentine’s Day cards? More than once, I admit!)

I know in my brain that many of these things are trappings of the holiday perception, but still, they mean much to me and to our family, so they are good and I wanted to do them. But often it seemed that there just wasn’t enough time to get things done. And as far as having space to contemplate what Christmas really means to me, and why we even celebrate this holiday, well, forget it. Maybe there might be a spare hour or two before Christmas Day, but most often it wasn’t until the week after that I had enough brainspace to ponder anything. And when I did, I usually didn’t really want to, because there was a whirlwind of a house to pick up, New Year’s clean-out to accomplish, and much to do to make life manageable when the Captain and I both returned to full-time work in January.

But this year is different, and wonderfully so. I feel that I am coming towards Christmas with an entire Spare Oom of space behind me. This year’s greatest gift has been space and time to approach the season of Advent in a way that is new to me, a way that is filled with slowness and contemplation, awareness and intention. For the first year out of a dozen or so, the planning and giving of the season truly *is* meaning more to me – much more – than the receiving. In fact, I have already been receiving a gift I never anticipated: huge amounts of joy in the preparation for Christmas, and in thinking about those close to me as I write cards or find and prepare giftly expressions of love and friendship.

Fotothek df roe-neg 0000211 003 Mit Schnee bedeckte BäumeNow I am standing by the lamp-post, just like Lucy. A golden glow fills the air, and I ponder many things and invitations. I am not quite sure which way I’ll go next, but in the meantime I am in the moment, filled with wonderful excitement, joy, and anticipation. And with that time, and with that space, I am going to celebrate anew the ‘waiting in wonderment’ that comes with Christmas and the holy remembering of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Yep. It’s a pretty wonderful gift, wouldn’t you say?

Kitchen Mystic

Some people were born to be on a sailboat. Or maybe they light up when painting, hiking in the foothills, or composing or playing music. Maybe for you it’s when you’re working a math equation or writing the perfect piece of code. It’s stunning to me how many different things there are in the world that make people’s souls sing.

As for me, I come alive when I’m in the kitchen. (If you’re a regular reader, this obviously comes as no surprise to you.)

(and here I’m in a kitchen AND in the Cayman Islands, so I’m exponentially happy)

Actually, it’s more than ‘simply’ being in the kitchen. If so, mopping floors, doing dishes, and scrubbing sinks would bring me endless joy. But it’s not only the act of cooking, either. It’s closer to some lovely mélange of cooking, scents, memories, traditions, homemaking, flavors, creating, and an untold number of other unidentifiable things.  

The knowledge that these fragrances and tastes and textures can be combined and manipulated and coaxed into creating something altogether different from their disparate parts, and their lowly starting place, is very heady for me. That knowledge, the memory of what’s been done in the past, and the anticipation of what I might create in the future… it is heady and intoxicating.

Particularly because the Captain and I are so very different in this area, it often gets me thinking about how God imbues each of us with such wonderful, but vastly varied, passions? How does our calling for a particular passion begin?

For example, how did I become a Kitchen Mystic? How did the Captain, raised smack-dab in the middle of the USA, become a person who can only be fulfilled when he is on the salt water? Why does one friend feel this way only when they are hiking in the mountains? Why another passionate about comic/graphic novels? And another structures their whole life around semi-professional pool (billiards).

Certainly some of the cause is the environment we are raised in. But that can’t be all of it, or all siblings would be the same. I am fascinated by the way that God decides for each of us what that spark will be, and then plants it deep within and lights it like a pilot light, there to burn forever and kindle a bigger mechanism at just the precise moment.

Some things that I’ve discovered as I reflect on this topic is that there’s definitely something connected through my dad’s family that I’ve received . Starting at least with my grandfather (and maybe before him, I do not know), I have seen the line of influence for our kitchen mysticism.

My grandfather immigrated from Greece and lived most of his adult life in Tacoma. When he retired (the only stage of his life that I remember), he lived in a tiny, four-room cottage in Tacoma. His chief pride was the garden he grew in his backyard, filled with grapes, tomatoes, zucchini, onions, garlic, herbs, and as many other Mediterranean things as he could coax to grow there.

I remember going to his house, simple and spare, and sitting at his kitchen table or playing in the garden while something simmered all day on the stove and the adults drank wine and talked about food and life and olive oil. I remember my dad telling me about the time he bought his father a 5-gallon tin of Napoleon Olive Oil, and how it took pride of place in my grandfather’s kitchen.

That kitchen has come to be a symbol of something very important to me. I was too young to remember much, and my time with my grandpa too short to have many real memories, but still, his kitchen now seems to be an icon of what was important in his life and what has become important in mine.

These days, more than ever before, I treasure the simple tools of his that I’ve inherited.

Cooking spoons used till the paint gained a shiny patina, including a wooden spoon that doesn’t scrape or ladle well, but which can tell tall tales of food through generations.

An enameled casserole that has done duty for more than 50 years through three generations

A cutting board that you would never find in a store, and looks all the world to me like a hunk of soft fir driftwood that was found on the Tacoma sound flats. 

These things live in my kitchen, and are part of my daily life. What a blessing to have them with me still.  

My father was similar, and I received much of my passion for food and cooking from him. Growing up, my dad would spend all day every Saturday and Sunday in the kitchen, working on some amazing meal for the early evening, watching the ballgame while preparing whatever it was: watching it, tending it, making it just right. 

(The white bowl on our table – I’m about 5 here – is the same one in the draining rack in the last picture of my grandpa’s kitchen. Not sure what mystery ingredient is *in* the bowl. :-))

While I was in Jr. High and Highschool, dad shared a house and 13 acres of land with a  friend. This property included a large wooded area, a ¾ acre garden, fenced pasture, and a chicken coop. Looking back now, I realize how much history repeated itself the moment dad had a real place to garden. Every weekend he spent time in that garden – off season was for tilling and working in aged chicken manure. Spring was for planting. And summer – well, summer was incredible.  Carrots, corn, pole beans, tomatoes, cabbages, potatoes, and anything else he could coax to grow. It was so amazing to go out to the garden on a summer day, eating vegetables right off the vine and out of the ground. No washing, no cooking, just brush off  most of the dirt and then straight into our mouths. It was incredible to pick all we needed for a weekend’s worth of meals right from our own garden. Such an incredible medley of scents as the collection of sun-warmed vegetables filled the big metal bowl we took out for gathering. And even better than the smells were the flavors. I have never again tasted food as good as that.

The chicken coop chickens gave us eggs, we got a black Angus cow and new calf, and raised the calf for beef. One summer we decided to raise broiler chickens, so my dad and his friend built a big chicken run and got 100 broiler chicks. Those yellow fuzzballs grew all summer, and my sister and I loved to feed them weeds from the garden and all the grasshoppers we could catch in the field.

It was a magical time, and in remembering that way of spending time and creating food, I realize how much I desire to do the same thing at some point in the future when we have better land to do so. In the meantime, I celebrate the memories of my family’s tradition of kitchen mysticism by lovingly and meaningfully using the same tools and recipes and intent of my fore-fathers.

What a gift. What a mysterious gift.

Thankful

I have much to be thankful for, especially this year. With much more time to take a leisurely approach to our family gathering at Thanksgiving, I was able to be very thoughtful and intentional about the preparations. Planning, decorating, cooking, and celebrating Thanksgiving Day itself were all especially meaningful for me this year, a bit of an early holiday gift for myself!

I didn’t capture every detail, but thought I’d share a few of the wonderful things that were part of this year’s celebration.

Setting the table using “found” decorations from around the house, including some that I bought many, many years ago but never used.  Fresh-fallen cones and dogwood burrs collected from the parking lot at our marina.

Time for little details, like washing the votives for the first time in I-don’t-know-when before adding them to the decorations scattered across the table. And taking time to set up twinkle-lights by the front door for a glowing welcome for guest. And, what ended up being one of my surprise favorites, scenting water with rosewood and lavender essential oils then using it to mist the table linens before I ironed them.

Bringing out our ‘holiday’ dishes which have come together as a collection over many years. Our main serving platter came with Tom from his home in Colorado, some dishes were wedding gifts (nearly 20 years ago now, though it seems like only a few), others have been gifts or collected with intention over the intervening years. And a big basket of cinnamon-scented ponderosa pinecones added to the delicious smells all throughout the house.

Recipes of tradition tend to punctuate our winter holidays. The turkey and stuffing we make almost every year is one that my father used for as long as my sister and I can remember. It’s nothing fancy – in fact, the beauty of it is the absolutely traditional collection of ingredients. No trendy chipotle or pine nuts or Aztec chocolate, just sausage, onion, celery, parsley, etc. The beauty is in the depth of flavor and it’s simplicity.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and have begun your path through a beautiful holiday season.

Beauty in the Ordinary

I’ve been away from my previous traditional career for six months now, and I have loved every single minute. It’s hard for me to find words to describe the joy I feel these days, as well as the freedom and lightness of soul that has continued to grow within me as I’ve shed many of the habits and ways of being that I used to practice when I was working at a corporation.

One of the things that has been a significant part of this joy and growth and peace has been making time to find and see beauty in very ordinary things. I have been stunned many times during the past half-year by how truly beautiful the simplest things can be: a bit of brilliantly emerald moss, sunshine making a flower glow, the intricate detail of a fungus, the aggregate that was ground by a glacier into granite, the smell of fresh-brewed coffee early on a crispy-cold and sunny morning, the glint of soft evening light off puppy fur. These things hold so much for me, and I have been filled with happiness to find that my appreciation of them has only grown as I’ve had more time to enjoy and experience them. The fact that I am able to experience these things in this way feels like an incredible gift of presence and grace to me.

Today I was revisiting some pictures we took during a trip to the Carribean last winter, and it felt good to remember the beauty we saw there. The sun and salt and sea and wind work their way into everything on this little island, nothing really escapes them. But the results are breathtaking.

 

 Where have you been finding unexpected beauty in ordinary things?

On “Bein’ reg’lar”

Hannah was out of humor because her week’s work was deranged, and prophesied that “ef the washin’ and ironin’ warn’t done reg’lar, nothin’ would go well anywheres”.       
                                                                 —Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

I’ll admit right now that my week’s work is often ‘deranged’. It is Contemporary Insanity around here, after all!

But Hannah, of course, was referring to the rhyme for women’s work for each day of the week:

Wash on Monday
Iron (Spin) on Tuesday
Sew on Wednesday
Market on Thursday
Clean on Friday
Bake on Saturday
Rest (Church) on sunday

There are several versions of this, with spinning and church found often, and the chores for Friday and Saturday frequently swapped.

While many of these chores still apply in my life, some no longer do: I can’t remember the last time I ironed anything (Yay!!), and other than a bit of mending here and there, we don’t have to sew our own clothes and household drygoods. So, I wondered to myself today, what might a weekly chore rhyme look like for me if I wanted to stay as true as possible to the old way? Maybe like this:

Laundry on Monday
Errands on Tuesday
Yardwork on Wednesday
Shopping on Thursday
Clean on Friday
Bake & put up on Saturday
Church on Sunday

I am wondering if a list like this might be helpful for me. As I’m working from home now, I find that I do a smattering of things each day, all throughout the week. This is wonderful, but I have been wondering if I might benefit from more structure and consistency (neither of which are my natural strengths). I am thinking about trying this schedule for a while to see if it helps me feel as if I am completing more projects and work, rather than running on a constant hamsterwheel with things like laundry and keeping the house clean.

We are pretty flexible here at CI, so I am expecting to have weeks where this whole thing is blown out of the water because of big projects at home or for work. But that could also be good for me to know ahead of time and plan to get back to the pattern, because I have historically approached things in an ‘all or nothing’ way, and when the pattern is blown, then I make excuses such as ‘life is just too unpredictable’ and ‘I’m not leaving opportunity for Grace’ to slide back to my old ways. I am especially interested in hearing from you all on how you deal with this, if you have similar issues or experiences!

And what about a fun list, too? Because all work and no play makes me a very grumpy girl:

Knit on Monday
Correspond on Tuesay
Learn on Wednesday
Quilt on Thursday
Date Night on Friday (WOOT!)
Spin on Saturday
Sew on Sunday

I am much less sure of this list (that I could stick to it, not the activities!); I tend to work on projects in neck-or-nothing waves. But the flip side of that tendency means that it might be months between doing things I love. For example, I haven’t spun in about 8 months, and though I miss it dearly, I can’t ever seem to get to it.

So, maybe I’ll give the ‘days of the week’ method a shot for crafting, too. I know that I currently waste an hour or more each day on Internet surfing and navel-gazing, and I would feel so much better if I spent those hours doing the things on my craft list.

I’d love to hear from you: Do you generally try to keep to a chore or craft schedule? If so, what is it and how are you successful (or not so successful), and what do you to to stay on it or return to it? Let’s hear it!

 

Each Day’s Beauty

Today I was going about my business, checking things off the To-do list, getting things done. Most of the morning I spent on the computer, mid-day running errands in the car, and by afternoon I was outside cleaning our back deck.

I’d sprayed the cleaner onto the wood, and was waiting the allotted time before I went back to rinse it off. I had ten minutes, and we still have lots of fish in the creek, so I decided to stroll down to the water to see what was going on.

As I stood on the bank of the creek, there were two fish just a few feet away. One was female, swimming and wriggling on her side as she laid her eggs in the creek bed’s gravel. Then the male that was with her hover above where she had just been, fertilizing the eggs that were hidden in the dirt and rocks. It was a quiet moment, and somewhat brief. But with the warm sun shining down and the gurgle of the water the only sound in the otherwise quiet day, it was profound.

Right then, a wave of realization washed over me, an almost physical feeling. I wonder, if anyone had been watching, whether they might have seen me snap up straight or take a step back – I don’t know if I did either of those things but I easily could have as I became fully aware of how close I’d come to missing that moment of wonder. I was so thankful that I’d managed to slow down enough to be able to get beyond my typical way of plodding head down and headlong through each day; that today I chose to do things differently, to take the extra 10 minutes, to get outside of the house during the daytime. It sounds so simple, but I constantly miss moments like these because I am choosing to stay inside, or stare at a computer screen, or simply ponder but not take any action.

***

Learning to slow down, to pay attention. That’s what I believe I’m supposed to be focusing on during this particular phase of my life. For me, this includes being more mindful of what I’m doing each say, and why, and paying better attention to what is going on around me. It also includes intentional, attentive listening on my part for the “little nudges” God might be giving me as he guides me toward a the full life he created for me, and created me for.

But what I’m also learning is that I am out of practice in listening and being attentive in this way.

Over the years, I’ve let these skills get out of practice. I can’t claim that I was ever great at them, but I do know that I used to be a lot better at them than I am now. After a dozen years of training myself to be business-ADD, to expose the weak link in any written statement, and to constantly be striving toward self-defined goals has taken me a very long way from instinctively knowing how to listen in a deep and quiet way for guidance from God.

With the perspective that a few months of space provides, it seems to me that what I was practicing over the past decade was how to be a hugely distractable “multi-tasker”, and to rely only on myself or some set of corporate goals to guide my short- and long-term goals. I find now that I have trouble focusing for more than several minutes when I’m trying to work or write, very possibly due to the way I’d trained my brain to immediately respond to new emails, interruptions, or a whole host of other distractions while I was working in a large corporation. I also find that, even though I prayed for guidance and left my life open to God, I still am measuring successful activity and accomplishment by the corporate standards I’d lived by for more than a decade. That type and length of habit may be slow to unlearn, I’m finding. It’s hard to simply throw off so much that has been ingrained in my brain during a summer off.

It is difficult is to have the patience to wait for new possibilities of work and significance that God may be inviting me to. What is even more difficult is to not be nervous or to disregard those new possibilities because they might be personally uncomfortable or risky.

Today I was at risk of trading too much time on my computer, waiting for an email or a blog stat that would make me feel validated.

Today, I was fretting over the fact that the front planting beds have a ton of new, young weeds all over them, despite the fact that I put down weed inhibitor so there wouldn’t be any. There seemed to be so many, and over so much of the area, that it was too overwhelming to find a place to start. But in the midst of my fretting, I had two different visitors at the house, and each commented on how pretty and green and full of flowers the yard was. Where I could see only weeds and undone chores, they were seeing beauty and sunlight and nature. What happens to my perspective at times? How do I let it get so bent out of shape?

But….

Today I am also holding tightly to the knowledge that I left a traditional career path because I want to live my life differently than the direction I was going, and therefore I AM going to live differently. I am not going to be embarrassed by the fact that I have time in the middle of my work day to watch a pair of salmon follow the instincts given to them by God, nor will I be when I am home on a Tuesday morning and get to see a pair of bobcats chase each other up a young maple tree. I won’t feel guilty that I took an hour to play with our dogs, giving both them and me much-needed exercise and love. I am going to try to focus on the incredible verdure of our home rather than seeing only the chores and tasks that remain undone. Instead, I will be thankful and grateful for the experiences, revel in the choices I have made and the incredibly gracious gift of life that I have to live, and relish each beautiful moment for what it is.

Today, I’m reminding myself to:

  • Remember that I need time outside every day, regardless of the weather
  • Choose to step away from the computer unless I am actively working on a project (which does NOT include checking email or blog stats)
  • Smell the air
  • See what has changed that day in the plants in our yard
  • Play with the puppies for at least 20 minutes each
  • Try to be at peace with the reality that it may be a slow journey to learn to slow down
  • Spend a moment or so each day watching the leaves drift down from the trees to the earth
  • Drink in the joy and cheer that comes from spending time with friends
  • Savor the flavor and new tastes in whatever I’m cooking or eating
  • Recognize, revel, and rest in each day’s beauty