Being in Balance

photo credit Elena Mozhvilo/Unsplash

Our language can deceive us. Take the English word balance, which can be a noun or a verb. You can own the kind of balance pictured above because it is an object. You can’t “possess” the kind of balance pictured below, as it is a moment by moment flow.

photo credit Jeremy Bishop/Unsplash

You can be in balance, but you can’t own it. And this distinction is often lost, partly due to our current culture that believes what we have bought and stored in our home is ours. We are a society of consumers and owners. We don’t do quite as well with being states. And while objects inevitably decay, a state of being can be returned to time and time again.

Being in balance, any skilled surfer will confirm, demands being in the present moment. It requires assessing the current conditions and making adjustments, large and small in response to them.

You can’t do this when your attention is focused on that hurtful thing that was said to you in fourth grade or when it is trolling forward imagining the offenses possible at the next family gathering.

It is difficult to find this kind of balance when you are overwhelmed by your to-do list, your work situation or family circumstances.

The place to find it is in a space of both effort and stillness.

Take a moment to stand up (if that is available to you) and center yourself, imagining both your feet grounding deep into the earth. Then gradually shift your weight into your left foot until you can easily lift your right foot barely off the ground. Your arms are at your side, initially. Now notice your left foot and ankle. They are in constant adjustment to keep you in balance. If you haven’t done this exercise in awhile, you will notice that every little thing throws you off: your thoughts, moving your eyes, unexpected sound. But the more you practice it, the more skilled and resilient you become. Eventually, you can stand on one foot with your eyes closed and move all the other parts of your body and even entertain distressing thoughts without falling over.

To create this same kind of equilibrium in life requires you to create gaps and to pay attention. You don’t learn balance careening down the advanced skier slope, you learn it on a very slight incline. Likewise, if you are so busy with activities that you have no time for reflection, you don’t have anyway to assess if what you are doing is in line with your values.

There was a time in my life when I was working 65 hours per week and raising three teenagers. This is kind of the equivalent of standing on one leg, holding a chair by one of its legs with one hand and a wiggling toddler with the other. There were few moments of balance. The only gaps in my life at that time were when I was waiting in line at the grocery store or when someone put me on hold on the phone. Also, a couple times when I locked myself out of my car and I had to wait for someone to bring me the spare key. I realized how unhealthy my busyness had become and I leveraged these moments to figure out a way to give myself twenty minutes of quiet time at 5 am. That morphed into designing a work schedule that benefited my employer and co-workers and reduced my hours to 45 per week. A million more adjustments, large and small, and I am in balance most days now. I still get thrown off. But I don’t shame myself about it. I get still and centered and try again.

How about you? Where can you find a couple of gaps to begin to practice being present and test your balance.

The Magic of Enough

I find these stones beautiful. I took this photo on a trip to Ireland, to visit one of my kids.

Rocks? Enough? Hmmmm.

Abundance! Who does not want abundance? More than enough! Your cup flowing over. You can feel it. Never being in need. Having more than enough to share. The ability to just relax, because all your needs are met. And will be met.

Do you know what that looks like? I mean, could you describe the exact moment that you know you do not have to stockpile for the next social upheaval and can share with your neighbors? Or someone on the other side of the world?

Do you ever wonder if Bill and Melinda Gates ever said to each other after the lights were out, “We can’t possibility spend all this money in our lifetimes. Even if we buy 20 gold-plated private jets. What should we do with it?”

Or what was the tipping point for Andrew Carnegie? Born a poor weaver’s son in Scotland, he became an American industrialist, one of the richest men in the 20th century United States. He then proceeded to give away the largest portion of his fortune to fund 3 thousand public libraries and other cultural endeavors.

Or for Dolly Parton, who seems to almost solely support the economy of eastern Tennessee?

I do not know what their tipping points were. But I can teach you to find your own personal tipping point. And for most of us it does not require billions of dollars. Are you curious?

What is enough?

The first description of enough that rang true to me was in the book Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. Joe describes being really, really, hungry and going out for hamburger. For political correctness (because this is NOT the place we want to lose readers…) you and I are going out for a bowl of mac and cheese…. or maybe vegan lasagna……or maybe raw carrot juice. Please work with me here. Whatever your favorite food may be….you have not eaten for a bit and your animal body is hungry.

There is the scenario. You are hungry. Your favorite food is now available. You eat the delicious burger, or mac and cheese, or vegan lasagna or carrot juice. Whatever delicious thing you eat, your taste buds are jazzed! Your belly is content! It was soooo good! And here you are, still at the restaurant. The company is good, and you are not in a hurry, so you decide to order another of that delicious thing. And you eat the next one, the whole thing. The first was so yummy!  But you are kinda full. So it is not as delicious as the first one was. But it was still pretty good. So, you order another one. And eat that one too. And now you are nauseous, sick to your stomach.

So where is “Not Enough?” It is when you are hungry. And where is “Too Much?”  It is when you are throwing up. You can’t take it all in.

And where is “Enough?” It is somewhere in between.

And here is the key: enough is different in each person and each situation. How many saris does each of Mother Theresa’s nuns need? According to a 1990’s documentary- three: one to wear, one to wash and one to mend.

Let’s consider the generous Dolly Parton, how many saris does she need? Zero. How many sparkly, sequined, full-length gowns does she need? Probably in the hundreds. How many sparkly, sequined gowns to I need? Zero. Where would I wear it? To the library? To the grocery store? To the Social Security Office?

We begin to see that “Enough” varies from person to person and varies for the same person over the course of a lifetime. It pertains to how much food we eat, how much and what kind of clothing we maintain, how many social groups we interact with and just about every aspect of our lives.

Discovering your own personal “Enough” is a kind of meditation on quality of life. You discover your closet is full of clothes that you don’t wear–that is information about what is enough clothing for you. You notice that you feel energized going for a walk with your friend in the morning and are unspeakably lethargic making a dish for an evening potluck gathering at same friend’s home. Hmmmm. That’s interesting.

And here is where the magic occurs: Once you know your “Enough,” just one unit more is abundance. And two units more begins to feel like too much. Like clutter. Like a burden.

You love horses? You have a 200 acre farm? How many horses can you ride in a day? Are they all rescues, that don’t need to be exercised? Are you creating a therapy program with the working horses? How many volunteers can you supervise? Exactly how many horses and how many volunteers is too many?

I raised four children, just the right amount for me. Because I did it on a nurse’s salary and wanted them all to go to university (if they desired it), I had to be very, very efficient in how I allocated our resources. We did not go out to eat, except maybe for Mother’s Day. We lived in a modest home. Everybody had a week’s worth of clothes, until they stopped growing. Then the clothes stockpiled a bit. Ha! Abundance!

We have navigated “too many activities” and “too many Christmas celebrations” and “not enough money for the college I want to go to” and “how many cars does one household need?” And what is the most facile and economical way to have 3 meals a day for 4-5 people, every single day?

I know that your personal “Enough” will be mitigated by your culture, and your family, and the length of the cycles of plenty and scarcity that occur in your region.  If you have walked on foot out of a war-torn region, I dare-say, material “Enough” is what you carry on your person. And personal safety “Enough” is something that you will describe to me.

But I am confident in this–want to have abundance? Find your “Enough” first. Abundance is in the close shadow of “Enough.”

Office Space

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A selfie taken in my new office space.

And a longish view of the same space.

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Everything in this corner was purchased specifically for the office space.

So yes, my new office is actually in my bedroom. Which I chose because I can close the door, which minimizes noise and random walk-throughs (my son.)

And it doesn’t feel too weird, as most people who are still employed are working out of random spots of their home.

What are you all doing to create a home office?

The Last (Really!) Furniture Refinish

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I’m really bad at remembering to take the “before” photos. I couldn’t be bothered enough to put the drawers back in for the official “before” photo.

The last three times I have refinished a piece of furniture, I vowed to myself that it was the last time. You all are my witnesses. This IS the last time. The above dresser has been in son Mike’s room (where ever that was) for the last 21 years. Before that, it belonged to his father. So I estimate it to be 1960’s vintage. The majority of the piece is yellow pine, a soft, inexpensive wood. The rest is melamine and a bit of plastic for the drawer slides. So it is not precious. I was hoping to send it to the charity shop, but son Mike stated that “he liked it.” And I found it hideous. So it was upon me to effect the change as Mike was content with the status quo.

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A close up of all I hate about the dresser.

So the proportions are okay, but I hate the pseudo-Early American handles and the shiny (and lets be real here,) dripped varnish.

I hauled all of this outside and sanded it with both a flat sander and by hand. I calculate it took about 18 hours. Plus I got a bad case of chiggers–don’t ask.

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Here is what it looked like after being sanded.

Where I could not sand out the old stain, it looked grey. So that was my choice for the new stain. I thought it would blend. I spent a longish time selecting the new stain at the stain aisle at the home improvement store, and selected a stain color that the samples showed as grey, and was named “Slate.”

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While I had everything apart, I glued and reattached with screws a bit of wood that had come off the bottom drawer.

Turns out that “Slate” is way more blue than grey. Not a color that I would have consciously chosen. But here we are and I do not absolutely hate it….as I did the previous finish.

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And this is the absolutely last piece of furniture that I will refinish in this lifetime.

Household Count 2020

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All the kitchen stuff out on the table.

Working clockwise, starting at the top: Blender, coffee maker, water kettle, skillet with lid, casserole with lid, 5 glass food storage containers (4 in photo-1 in fridge with food in it,) 4 mugs, 4 glasses, in one of the mugs are: [4 forks, 4 butter knives, 4 soup spoons, 3 serving spoons,] 6 plates, 5 bowls, saucepan w/ lid, 13 various cooking utensils, a measuring cup, 2 sauce dishes, stainless steel mixing bowl, colander, tower grater, fruit bowl, jelly roll pan, 3 dish clothes and the cutting board. #70 items.

Bathroom (#5 items)

No photos beyond what I have already posted. Items: shower liner, trash can, soap dispenser, (fake) plant, jade Buddha statute.

Common Spaces Furniture & Décor (#13 items)

The red chairs (2), rug, black mirror cabinet, mirror, plants (that have lived so far….) x3, jade toad, framed photo, crystal, table, lamp.

Oh, and I forgot the trash can in the kitchen that is semi-attached. so #89 common household items. What a curious game this is…..

2020 Personal Items Count (#92 items)

Long-time readers know that I count my items each year around my birthday as a mindfulness tool. Many of you have told me that it is your favorite post of the year. Let’s get started.

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Clockwise, spiraling in: laundry basket, vacuum, tools glasses & case, tote bag, lap top, calendar, wallet, emWave (more on this another day,) yoga mat and blocks, memory box, towel, sewing kit, iron.

Miscellaneous items not pictured: cell phone, car, umbrella, the bed. Total miscellaneous items #21.

Clothing (total clothing items #61)

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Outfit 1

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Outfit 2

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Outfits 3 & 4. Dresses are so much cooler in the summer!

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Outfit 5 and a scarf that goes with all three dresses.

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Outfit 6

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The same black dress you have been seeing for years and a sparkly summer sweater-counting this as 2 items.

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Left side of closet, you can see the dresser and on the top shelf some borrowed books for a class I am taking.

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The right side of the closet. On shelf, more books for the course and below, a file cabinet for a new business venture. Also, more on that later this summer.

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Two coats

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Three sweaters, a pashmina, a hat, 2 purses.

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Three yoga outfits. I also use these a pajamas.

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Three pair of shoes. Now that I am walking almost everywhere, I have no tolerance for shoes that make my feet hurt.

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Paint clothes, swimsuit, 3 masks and earrings. Plus 10 hangers.

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Toiletry bag, hair clip, comb, grooming scissors, nail clippers, toothbrush and razor.

Personal care items #7. Just for transparency, I stopped counting the consumables, but if you are wanting to keep track: I use a natural bar soap which also works as a shampoo and shaving lubricant, a hair conditioner, tooth paste, floss, foundation, eyebrow pencil and mascara.

I’ve started a new category called business which currently has 3 items: the file cabinet and a shredder and a bin for office supplies.

That is a total of 92 objects for myself alone. It does not include household and kitchen items shared with my son. I will do a post later in the summer listing those objects.

 

 

 

Minimalist Meditation Corner

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Technically, this is all that is required of a meditation place: room to sit.

Since retirement from paid employment 2 years ago, my meditation practice has become more regular. And due to my yoga practice, my knees have become more flexible.

In the past, I meditated in a nice comfy chair. Lately, I have been assuming the more traditional posture of half lotus position. I thought about creating a more structured  meditation space with a floating shelf with flowers and a candle on it.

But the minimalist in me loves for spaces to be mostly empty and flexible and (let’s be real here) easy to clean. So I have created this meditation corner out of objects that also serve at least one other purpose in my home.

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Here you can see my yoga mat, my lumbar support pillow (which also gets used in the yin yoga classes at home) and a decorative amethyst candle holder that is usually in the living area, part of my Zoom calls background.

I feel more peaceful already.

Good Design/Bad Design

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Son Patrick pictured with the mustache mask.

One of my pandemic routines (can I say that?) is to go for a weekly walk in Forest Park with son Patrick, who lives in the same town where I live. We talk about what has happened in the past week and we admire the flora and fauna and architecture of the park and wax philosophical about whatever moves us. It involves many of my favorite activities: walking, observing beauty, discussing human nature, laughing (Patrick is one of the funniest people I know.)

This last week, we had several occasions to discuss good/bad design, starting with the mustache mask. I made this mask for Patrick as soon as the CDC recommended that everyone wear them while out in public. He requested the cheeky mustache and I was happy to comply. But when he wore the mask and spoke, it would drift down his face until his nose was exposed and he would have to yank it back up. So, while it was charming, it was NOT functional, and he didn’t wear it. Therefore no one got to see how charming it was. Fortunately, a small adjustment of reworking the 2 pleats into 3, was all it took to make the mask both cute and functional.

As we were strolling around the park this past week, we had occasion to use one of it’s many restrooms. And we encountered this sink (for some reason I feel obligated to assure readers that I photographed the sink in the women’s restroom, and had merely verbal confirmation from Patrick that his sink was equally egregious.)

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The water dribbles out of the spout so close to the edge of the bowl, that the only way to get one’s hands wet is to touch the bowl.

Which led Patrick to say that this design is so bad, that it would be better to have no sink in the bathroom. That is, one would encounter fewer public germs by using the restroom and leaving without washing one’s hands then by touching the wet sink that has been touched by hundreds of other persons between sanitation during a pandemic.

I went to art school a life time ago (I was still a teenager) and while there, was introduced to the argument between form vs. function. And it has always seemed to me that there are so many ways to design a thing that one should start with “Does it work?” and then move into “Is it esthetically pleasing?” A purely functional tool can be beautiful (think of an antique hammer) but something that doesn’t work and is pretty will be tossed as soon as the fashion of that object has passed.

This got Patrick and I to talking about good and bad design we have encountered. A few that we discussed: my mom has a blown-glass water/juice pitcher that cracked the first time that she put water and ice in it. She still finds it beautiful, and has it on display in a prominent place in her dining area. More than once, helpful guests have tried to fill it with water for a meal and she has to let them know it is purely decorative now.

I like this design for my dish soap bottle:

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This design does not dribble like other dish soap bottles I have used.

Although, I note, that it took me awhile to notice that it didn’t dribble. And Patrick states that this is one of the battles that good design fights–when it functions well, without irritating the user, it goes unnoticed.

And that brought up one more area of good design/bad design: websites. Patrick has a degree in computer science and engineering. I asked for him to give me examples of good and bad website design. He gave me the addresses of two websites (both are for items that I have no interest in purchasing.)

Pepsi

This one was fun and I enjoyed watching the actors depict the stories (which had little to do with the product.) The video was engaging and enjoyable as its own art form, that is, if the video was being posted in a park or movie theatre without the Pepsi logo, it would be just (maybe more) enjoyable.

Son Patrick is also involved in the design and marketing of board games and he gave me this website, which is the premiere website for learning about all things board game. He also gave me the following reflection. People play board games because they are fun. But to learn more about the board games that they love to play, they have to negotiate this:

BoardGameGeek

And I immediately understood what he was trying to tell me. Upon entering this website, I thought “Ick!” Too much work!” “I’m going to get a computer virus here!” I made myself click around to various parts of the site, to learn a bit about it and check how it functioned. And at a bare bones level it does function. (And my fellow minimalists will be excited to learn that I read on one of the forums of a person offering for free unwanted games and pieces that he had decided to declutter after dealing with the collections of his recently deceased mother.)

But I took home Patrick’s message: if you work in an entertainment industry, then all places where you engage with the public should also be entertaining.

My personal evaluation of good design starts with: Does it work/function? And then is it esthetically pleasing? There is no solid reason that design can not do both.

Think of the function of a chair. It is to support a human (or pet, or decorative object) off the floor in a way that respects human anatomy and gravity. And then think of all the variety of expressions of that function. From floor cushions to Ming dynasty chairs to cardboard chairs to Louis XVI chairs to Eames chairs to Target/IKEA chairs…..

But in my mind, the function always comes first.

Beloved readers-I would love to hear your encounters with good and bad design.

 

Mother’s Day Reflections

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This beautiful bouquet arrived this morning, a gift from my eldest son and his family.

To my American readers– Happy Mother’s Day! And virtually the rest of the post has nothing to do with Mother’s Day…

Earlier in the week, a property came on the market that is an excellent candidate for the Net-Zero-Energy-Use Home conversion project. It is in an ideal location. It is a good shape and size for my project. It is distressed, so has a low asking price. I made an appointment to tour the property. And while I was waiting, I read a news story that unemployment in the United States is nearing 15%. While I was touring the property, my real estate agent got a text from the listing agent that she had already received multiple offers for the property over the asking price and that if I was interested, to submit my best offer by midnight.

I thought about how I had counselled all of you, just last week-that this is not the time to make big changes. I thought about how the housing market may change drastically in the next 12-18 months due to the large amount of unemployment. I thought about how eager I am to get started with this project……and then I let the property go.

I’m a little sad about it, but overall think it is the best decision for now.

Then, I went for a walk in the park to cheer me up.

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Japanese Purple Irises (foreground and right) are one of my favorite flowers.

More Small Things

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The ginger mustache mask modeled by a ginger!

It is almost a proverb that Thou Shalt Not Make Big Decisions During a Big Loss (or grieving a big loss.) The Covid-19 virus has placed all of us in a “big loss.” So, this is the time for staying home and taking in information about this huge change and only making small changes, if at all possible.

So, my efforts are local and my posts are about small changes. Here goes:

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Son Patrick donated a black T-shirt to the cause, as my elastic (I cringe to report–ordered from Amazon and shipped from China is still weeks away.)

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The black T-shirt is turned into ear loops.

And then into masks.

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Same brown linen as the throw pillow.

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Hand sewn fabric masks for family. Made from materials on hand.

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On the home front–I have started working on restoring another section of the floor.

In the past, I have worked on these larger projects while beloved son, Mike, was out of town working at his dad’s farm. But he has secured a local job at a local grocery and is home every evening. (Yay!!!) So this is my workaround to letting him know what floor space I am working on and that is “foots off.”

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Mama and ducklings at Forest Park.

And here are just a few random photos from my walks in Forest Park this past week.

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Can you see the purple Iris on the bank on the right?

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You might have to blow up the photo, but there are multiple turtles on the log sunning themselves.

Must remind you all–this is in the middle of a big city (think of Central Park in NY.)

So my beloved readers- Stay safe. Take care of your immediate physical needs. Begin to think about what we all will want in the new world that is evoling. Do Not make big changes just yet.

And if you have lost a person or something else that is precious to you: Rest. And grieve. And rest. What ever that means for you. Rest. And Grieve. And Rest.