Monday, September 03, 2012

Nothing gold can stay

When my husband and I bought the house that we currently live in - which, incidentally, is the ONLY house either of us have ever bought - we also purchased an Amana refrigerator. Being young, naive, and mostly not-wealthy-at-all, it was a simple vanilla, no-frills refrigerator with the freezer on the top, and no automatic ice maker, no cold water, or no fancy anything. I selected it to be in white because, um, that's just what you did. Every refrigerator I ever had growing up was white. All my friends' refrigerators were white. They were just.... white. Always. I didn't even know that there was an option to, say, oh, MATCH COLORS with the appliances that came with the house (all of which were - of course- black). We have happily lived with our plain vanilla white refrigerator (and unmatching black everything else) for a long time - long enough to evolve from newlyweds to having a high school junior as of tomorrow (gah! That's a whole other blog post). The refrigerator is still functioning perfectly fine - never a maintenance call once. It has proudly displayed baby photos, toddler drawings, and postcards from friends throughout the years. President Obama has lived there in his magnetic glory, hilariously changing hats and wigs and podium signs as needed. School schedules, baseball, volleyball league and band schedules, doctor's appointment reminders, and business cards have graced its front. It has shown me family Christmas card photos from friends all over the US throughout the years and even occasionally has held to-do lists or shopping needs on the occasions when I was attempting to be organized. It has kept our food fresh and cool - from frozen dinners to milk for babies to applesauce for toddlers to mac and cheese for kids and pizza for teenagers and wine for mom.

However, now it is getting some ugly rusty looking spots on it, and occasionally, water will drip from the top of the refrigerator section when I open the door. For the most part, I didn't notice the rusty spots much, but the dripping water and a cracked produce drawer bugged me. So we decided to go shopping for a new refrigerator this weekend.

Things have been moving right along in the refrigerator business over the last 18 years while we have been blissfully unaware. Freezers have moved from the top to the side, to the bottom, and the newest greatest thing is a french-door style opening to a fridge with the freezer on the bottom with the availability of crushed ice and a cold water dispenser on the front door. Wandering through Lowes and Home Depot, I was overwhelmed. I could understand the reasoning behind the excitement of locating the freezer on the bottom, though I didn't buy into it 100% (e.g., you've got to either break your back bending over to rummage through light produce in a produce drawer or through unwieldy and heavy frozen veggies in a bottom freezer. I figured I'd rather opt for the lighter, non-finger-freezing accompaniment to the breaking back). But here's the deal. The bottom freezer options were approximately twice the cost as the top freezer options. So obviously I must be wrong.

I was confused. There was a product that I actually preferred that cost WAY less than the other option. So of course my reaction was to assume I was wrong. I made us go home to research online a little more. I compared energy efficiencies. I weighed my options. I fretted and fretted and ultimately became brave and proclaimed that I honestly liked the idea of having my freezer on the top. Also? I didn't care about crushed ice. Collective gasp. (A cold water dispenser, I could see. But crushed ice? Seriously?)

I realized I was just narrowly avoiding being taken in. If the media tells me I need a fancy stainless steel refrigerator that makes my breakfast for me and tells me when to let the dog out, then by god, I must NEEEEEED it, right? Believe me, I'm more than happy to jump on the fad bandwagon if there's something I see that I honestly can't live without. But more and more, I'm realizing that what the media tells me I must have and what my soul requires are not very similar. I am the proud owner of an IPAD II that is used exclusively for playing Words with Friends. I sometimes use it to play words with friends while I'm sitting in my home office beside my computer. But everyone else told me it was the best thing since sliced bread, so I decided it must be so. Right?

We are a very consumer-oriented society. There are some very very good parts of being part of a capitalist society. There are also some pitfalls that sneak up on you before you realize it. Is it really in everyone's best interest to buy a home rather than rent? Do we all really need IPADs? Are top-freezer refrigerators really past vogue? Does profit trump altruism? How much propaganda should we be forced to endure during a single day? How can we assure we aren't brainwashed?

We purchased a refrigerator with the freezer on the top and a cold water dispenser without the crushed ice option. It is a very nice color of black. It will arrive in approximately 2 months from now, during which I must endure the suddenly rust-infested, ugly, last-legs monstrosity of a refrigerator my poor old one has suddenly become. Everything is perception, especially in capitalism.

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leafs a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay. 
- Robert Frost

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Once upon a time in my past life, I was in grad school. This was a really happy time for me. There have been other, happier, more life-changing events since then of course, like - oh, say, getting married and creating two fabulous humans and watching them grow. Little things like that. Even so, if a magic genie gave me the chance to return to just one time of my life - I just might pick my grad school years.

I wasn't an extraordinary student. I wasn't super adventurous or risky. I wasn't especially deep and philosophical. I was simply a normal human, perched on the top of the mountain of her life, gazing out over the vista of possibilities out there. I was young and starting fresh and felt pregnant with the possibilities Those days were like a constant New Year's Eve. I was a blank slate, waiting to be written upon. One good friend of mine described me as a flower, ready to bloom. (This particular friend was very interested in dating me, I should add. It is entirely possible that this description was designed to woo me.) Nevertheless, I liked the description.

Possibilities. That is one of the most beautiful ideas ever.

Why, I wonder, do we leave the purview of Possibilities to the young?

Indeed. This is a question worth thinking about.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A Return

In case anyone is wondering, I have not written in my blog for almost exactly a year. This has been intentional (as opposed to just forgetting about it, I suppose?). In a quick recap of this last year, including why I have not been blogging - life sucked. It actually sucked a lot, as implied by the larger print. Things are better now, so no worries, please. But basically, yeah, last year was the hardest period I've been through to date. I'm still processing things and sorting out the life lessons. I'm not going to rehash this past year in specifics. One of the things about your children growing older is that you realize they don't really appreciate having their private lives become fodder for mommy's public musings. I recognize that it's well past time for me to stop blogging about things that are private in regard to them. However, it is important for me to write. I think I have reached a place now where life is gentle again, and I might be comfortable blogging.

So I'm going to try.

Since I've become an adult, it might be an understatement to say that I have not been a fan of summertime. I loved it when I was a kid, of course. My sisters and I spent most of our summers exploring the neighborhood and the empty lots beside our house in rural Texas, completely immersed in whichever fantasy game we decided upon for that day. We might be orphaned children that had escaped from the evil torture of our orphanage, trying (and succeeding) to outsmart Hog-Jaw and the Pig-Snouts, who were policeman-like bad, bad, oh so bad men that were trying to return us to our orphan-prison. The Pig-Snouts were ugly, fairly stupid flunkies who attempted to track us everywhere, including the town down the highway where my grandparents and aunts lived. They were relentless. It wasn't our fault that we very often had to escape through windows and "steal" bicycles to frantically race through the streets to outwit the Pig-Snouts.We headed them off at school playgrounds by deftly weaving through parking lots, and on one occasion, we climbed onto the car shed by my aunt's house and tried unsuccessfully to break into her apartment for cover (I'm not sure that she knows about this attempt. Maybe she figured it out when she found wood chips clogging her keyhole???). We hid from Hog Jaw and his flunkies in the dense, dank forest across the street from our house, which were dubbed the "Angel Grounds" (and which played prominently in various other fantasy worlds we created on other days). On any given day, we might be tiny tiny people living in another dimension - our forests were but tiny weeds to the next dimension of people. Or the jungle gym in our backyard might become an underground cave, and each space in the ladders ringing the cave was a tunnel leading to a different land. This last fantasy was more than a little odd because we'd each embark alone on our on tales, running alone through the neighborhood seeing and experiencing our own version of reality for a good long while, and then return to the cave at some set time to share our adventures with each other in stories. When we weren't designing elaborate stories, we might drive to the town where my grandparents lived to go swimming at the local the swimming pool. The order of business on these excursions was to walk barefoot across the hot pavement from the car to the pool. We (or as my sisters might correct me..."I") decided that we could only enhance the joy of jumping into the cool water if our feet were truly blistering at the point of contact. We had long weekends at the Galveston beach, my memories of which are punctuated with peeling away layers of my sun burnt skin, the taste of saltwater and sand in my mouth, building sandcastles decorated with "quicksand" enhancements (in which quicksand was the result of a saltwater and sand mix, poured into spirals and adornments that would harden within a few seconds of pouring.) We skipped through the waves to avoid the jellyfish while looking for shells, and played dominoes in the cold, cold air of the rental house. My grandfather loved to put his grandchildren to work hand cranking the ice cream maker. I don't ever remember truly hardened ice cream, but I remember the most delicious, sweet creams, occasionally dotted with an explosion of salt from the freezer along with peppermint candy that would come at the end of suppers of spaghetti or hamburgers. Summertime was composed of magnificent camping trips in my family's camper, when my parents allowed us to bring along nearly half of the kids we knew in town. We would set up tents and sit around the campfire telling ghost stories while eating s'mores and swatting the June bugs away from our faces, and then we would spend the days paddling through lakes in inflatable boats, landing on islands that were ripe for adventure making. Summertime was an absolutely titillating, glorious and entirely sensory experience.

As with so many things, the process of growing up has tended to dampen my imagination-driven enthusiasm for summer. These days, when I think of summer from my middle-aged and so very mature perspective, I envision bugs and heat and dirt. I see the weeds overtaking my flower beds because it is too miserably hot and humid to spend any more time outside than it takes to walk from the car to the door of my air-conditioned house. I resent the disruption to my schedule as my kids become fluid creatures that sleep for periods that may vary to be any period within the diurnal cycle. I view summer as the necessary evil to get from spring to my beloved fall. I have envied people living in the Pacific northwest or the far north, as in, Nova Scotia, for not being forced to endure the humid torturous conditions that define my summers in southeast Virginia.

So, back in the spring this year, when things in my life still sucked, I decided to start practicing meditation and I started to attend a weekly sangha (Buddhist meditation group). One of the major focuses in Buddhism is mindfulness - simply paying attention to the present moment.  I decided it would be a very good idea this year to practice mindfulness of the season this summer to try to re-embrace some of the things I used to love about it. I decided to slow down and try to return to the perspective of a child. (I want to take an abbreviated aside at this point, and point out that one of the things I have realized from my work at meditation and mindfulness, is that we are very good at this as children. Sometimes when I am meditating, and I feel like I have reached a good solid point of being in the present, I am flooded with memories and feelings from childhood. I think that time went so slowly and things seemed so much more significant in childhood because we were naturally mindful. I think this is a skill that we forget as we assimilate into adult society). To a large extent, this has worked. I have had a much more enjoyable summer than I've had in a very long time. I have stopped on my walk from the car to my air conditioned house to watch the butterflies at our butterfly bush perform their exquisite dance of tasting each tiny bud in the flowers.  I have tried to remember to savor each unique moment - my daughter overflowing with joy at the connections she made at a camp and my son exploding in growth at being in a leadership role in his band. I savor the flavor of the tomatoes we get from our CSA. I savor the growth. Summer is alive in so many ways.

And yet.

I was driving down the winding road to my house today and I saw 4 yellow leaves fluttering by the side of the road. I noticed this and looked to the sky. It was clear and bright, yet there was something- the sense of the imminence of  fall was there. My stomach did a flip-flop. I checked and saw that we have a cold front scheduled to come in tonight. My son has started marching band rehearsals. I am starting to pencil in fall activities in my date book. I can smell the fires and I can feel the cold air. The school year is starting (I have a Junior and an 8th grader this year!!!). Football. School. New Beginnings. I am learning to love summer again, thanks to mindfulness. Fall is easy. Fall has always been easy for me to love. It has been many falls, however, since I have had the time to let go and let myself love. This is going to be the year that I can do that.  Live doesn't suck anymore. I am learning to be more mindful. And the earth is turning and rotating as it always does, and autumn is coming to where I am. And I am open for it this year.

Things are good.