July 13, 2024 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags: , ,

My windows are scheduled to be replaced at the end of the month. I’ve been cleaning up neglected shrubs to make sure the installers can easily reach everything. In particular, some junipers under my dining room window got overgrown by a large yew that I didn’t cut back for several years because, like most people, I was feeling blah during the pandemic and wasn’t motivated to do much in the yard. The junipers died, and now I’ve removed them, leaving a bare window and mossy bricks that need a good scrubbing.

Photo of a window in a brick wall with bare ground under it.

After the new windows have been installed, I plan to have a landscaper put in more junipers this fall, and hopefully I’ll take better care of them going forward. For now, though, the area in front of my dining room is nothing but clear ground, open to possibilities, which leaves me feeling happier—as if I’ve made space to welcome unexpected blessings.

June 27, 2024 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

My husband’s new toy is a mini trailer for our rowing boats, and we used it traveling to a regatta in Oklahoma City last weekend, which was a lot of fun. We parked it at the venue when we arrived on Friday, taking our boats down for a practice row. On Saturday, we rowed the standard Masters sprints 1K distance in the morning, and then we did a 500-meter dash in the evening. It was nearly sunset, and we decorated the boat with glow sticks matching our colorful unisuits, in addition to the usual safety lights. Then we put the glow sticks around our necks when we stepped up on the awards podium.

Our dash was the last event, and fireworks were going off as we derigged our double and put it back on the trailer. My husband had planned the trip well, finding an Airbnb with a long driveway where the trailer could be kept overnight. I took a photo Sunday morning as we were getting ready to leave.

Photo of a small boat trailer hooked up to an SUV.

I don’t have a “Travel” tag on this blog because the vast majority of our travels are to rowing regattas, so I thought it would be duplicative of the “Rowing” tag. For this post, though, I decided a “Places” tag would be appropriate because I’ve been thinking about the imprints left on us by the places we visit. After returning home from a trip, sometimes I wake up and still have the spatial map of the hotel or Airbnb in my head, and it takes me a minute to reorient myself to being in my own house.

Earlier this year I read the classic novel “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier. The narrator carefully observes the small details of her surroundings, while feeling haunted by thoughts that each moment is soon lost forever. I vaguely remember starting to read it when I was in high school, but I never got through it because I didn’t have enough life experience to make sense of what the author was saying. The past didn’t feel lost to me; it was just a little farther away than the present. Now, I have more understanding of how fleeting the moment is. But, even so, I still don’t look upon the past as having been lost. There’s always space for something new and fun to replace each moment.

When I last did my favorite “four directions” meditation, in which I visualize myself turning to each of the directions and asking it what advice it might have for me, the message I got was, essentially, that the world is full of beautiful things and I should embrace them.

I filed that advice away in the back of my mind, telling myself to look around and appreciate beauty whenever I thought about it. Meanwhile, our daughter asked if she could store a few things at our house because she is moving. We told her there was probably enough space, but she should tell us what she wanted to bring. We didn’t hear anything more from her for the next few days.

While we were on the way home from a Super Bowl party, she texted us and said she had brought her things to our house. We were glad to find she had put everything neatly away in her bedroom, except for a large comfortable armchair in a corner of the family room, which never had been furnished with anything except a rocking chair in another corner, as shown here in 2016.

My living room with open wooden blinds on a hazy day.

I always enjoyed the view from the large windows and didn’t want to put anything in the way. Because the corner on the other end of the windows has only a short half-wall separating the family room from the kitchen, there didn’t seem to be enough space to do much.

After so many years, I had gotten used to the minimalist look, but the armchair felt right as soon as I saw it. After putting a flowery blanket over the top to brighten it up, I browsed through end tables on the Kohl’s website and soon found one that matched the chair nicely.

Photo of chair with end table.

The room feels so much more cheerful now, and I smile every time I walk past the newly decorated corner. It’s like an object lesson in appreciating a world full of beautiful things. While I expect our daughter will want the chair back eventually, I hope she takes her time!

January 25, 2021 · 4 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

A few months ago, when I was browsing through the online library collection for the digital art display in my dining room, an image of a quaint faraway city captured my attention. Deep blue shadows on a stony hillside framed the city’s rooftops.

City rooftops framed by a blue-shadowed hillside.

I put it in my favorites folder, wondering, as I did so, just what I was going to do with it. Usually I try to match the image on the art display to the ambient light coming in through my windows, so that I can trick my brain into seeing it as a “window” onto a new landscape or cityscape every day.

“Maybe in the middle of winter,” I said to myself doubtfully. That blue was quite striking, but it didn’t look like any natural light that ever came into my ordinary suburban house. Sure enough, it sat in my favorites for months, without coming close to looking like a good match.

This morning I woke up to a gloomy Monday sky that couldn’t quite make up its mind whether it wanted to snow or rain, so it split the difference by leaving the ground coated in an icy bluish glaze. Something about that color looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it until I opened the art display’s app to choose an image for the day. There it was—the deep blue cityscape—just perfect!

November 6, 2019 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

I’m not sure it really counts as redecorating to decide, after many years, what to do with an area of the house that never was properly decorated in the first place. Whatever it might be called, however, I feel pretty good about finally taking care of it; so I’m writing an entry here to celebrate this small accomplishment.

My kitchen has a bay window, with wooden shelves on both sides. When I moved in, I wasn’t sure how to decorate the shelves, so I just put some pretty ceramic mugs on them. I expected that something else would come to mind after a while.

Of course, we all know what happens when we put things somewhere for “a while.” We get used to seeing them in that place, and subconsciously we feel it’s where they belong. So, after I put the mugs on the shelves, there they stayed. They weren’t being used and just sat there for years and years, gathering dust. Sometimes I noticed that the window area looked boring, but I never could think of what else to put there.

Then last week it occurred to me—this is a kitchen, for goodness’ sake. Kitchen shelves are for food, not for dusty old junk. So I took down the mugs, put them in a bag for the thrift store, dusted the shelves, and filled them with jars and boxes of tasty-looking food. On the top shelves, which I needed a ladder to reach, I put mini pumpkins as a symbol of the harvest season.

Kitchen window with shelves holding food in jars and boxes.

Even though this doesn’t really qualify as interior decorating, but is just ordinary food that will eventually get eaten and replaced with something else on the shelf, my kitchen looks so much brighter and happier now. I can feel the cheerful energy moving through it, replacing the feelings of stagnation that used to be there.

It’s a totally free improvement, too, assuming the food does all get eaten and none of it goes to waste. Now, when I step into the kitchen and see how much better it looks, I’m left wondering what else in my life could be improved just as easily!

July 4, 2018 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags:

Last weekend after the new air conditioner was installed, I spent some time tidying up the area around it. I weeded, edged, spread some mulch, and replanted a small yucca that had been moved out of the way temporarily. My husband was very helpful carrying the bags of mulch. That area looks much better now.

New air conditioner with fresh mulch around it.

I hadn’t really noticed that it needed improvement before, but that is often what happens when old stuff like a worn-out air conditioner ends up staying around too long. Other things close to it that need maintenance also get overlooked, such as the need for mulch and edging. What’s going on, as far as I can tell, is that the subconscious mind sorts it all into the general category of stuff that’s not being done yet. Then we just keep on walking past it every day without even noticing.

The converse is also true—when there’s something new and fresh around, that makes all the old neglected stuff more noticeable and becomes a powerful motivator to get things in shape. As for my yard in particular, there are a few other areas in need of mulch. If it hadn’t been for the new air conditioner, I might have ignored them a while longer, but now they seem much more obvious.

September 27, 2017 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

Some of my past blog entries have included photos of the willow hedge along my back property line, all of which were taken from the side facing the house. This is the first time I’ve taken a photo from this angle, showing the fence, the back of the hedge, and the grass in between:

Aluminum fence with a willow hedge to the left.

Truth be told, until recently I couldn’t have taken a photo like this because I let the back of the hedge get awfully overgrown several years ago, when I wasn’t paying attention. Branches crowding up against the fence turned my husband’s chore of mowing the lawn into something like a jungle adventure.

Then we had two icy cold winters followed by a warm winter and a drought, which stressed the willows enough that some of the older branches started dying back. I pruned off a lot of dead stuff last summer, but it wasn’t until this year that I got the hedge in good enough shape so that my husband could easily walk behind it while pushing the mower.

With plenty of open space, it looks much better now. Getting rid of clutter and keeping things in their proper place is just as worthwhile outdoors as it is in the house!

My daughter rented a two-bedroom apartment in Cleveland, although she does not have a roommate. The main reason seems to be that she wants to use the second bedroom as a giant walk-in closet to accommodate her extravagant shopping habits, which I illustrated on this blog last summer with a photo of the closet in my entryway, totally full of her coats and shoes.

Although her original plan was to move out last year, it did not happen then, which probably was for the best because staying here another year gave her time to save up some money and get a clearer idea of what she wanted to do. But now she is gone and the closet is empty, except for a few hangers; all its overflowing contents got packed into large cardboard boxes for a one-way trip.

Closet with nothing in it but hangers. 

Sometime in the near future I’m going to clean the closet floor and polish the woodwork. Then I’ll paint the walls a nice bright color to get rid of the scuff marks from being piled high with all those pairs of shoes.

One thing I’ve learned from cleaning up clutter around the house is the value of empty space. People tend to think about their stuff mainly in terms of buying more of it, and about empty areas in terms of what else can be put there; but I would say that a comfortable house needs to have enough empty space so that everyone can move around easily and find their stuff when they want it.

There’s a lot more to changing the world than just pointing to a problem and saying “This is wrong—fix it now!” Yes, identifying the problem is necessary; but it’s generally not sufficient. That is because the existing situation, however unjust or illogical, has (or had) some degree of social utility—otherwise, it never would have happened. So when a particular way of doing things isn’t working well in today’s society, we should first examine how it was meant to work, and then consider how the problem might be solved while still accomplishing the intended goal.

Several years ago, I had a conversation on a forum with a woman who complained about her husband’s inconsiderate behavior. She was a short woman with a mobility impairment, and she couldn’t access the higher shelves in her kitchen cabinets without great difficulty. When she needed something from one of those shelves, she generally asked her husband or one of her children to get it down for her. Of course, it would have been much easier if all the items she regularly used were on the lower shelves; but when her husband did the grocery shopping, he often put some of them on the higher shelves without thinking about it. Although she had reminded him many times, he never paid enough attention to get it right, and there was always something she wanted that was out of reach.

The husband evidently had good intentions—he wanted to take care of his family by bringing home the groceries and putting them away. He probably felt that he was being unfairly criticized because the grocery shopping was enough of a chore in itself, without also being expected to remember what shelves his wife had in mind for everything. He wasn’t trying to be a jerk, but simply couldn’t keep track of all the details of what items she wanted where. Nagging him was counterproductive because it wasn’t likely to improve his memory and would only make him resentful.

I suggested that she reorganize the kitchen, with her children’s help, one day when her husband wasn’t at home. To the extent possible, everything would be moved to the lower shelves. Then the upper shelves could be filled with bulky extra items, such as multiple packs of paper towels and toilet paper bought on sale. That would ensure her husband couldn’t put any groceries there. She would also save money by stocking up on paper products while they were on sale. And because her husband paid so little attention to detail, he probably wouldn’t even notice that anything in the kitchen looked different. From then on, he would always put the groceries on the lower shelves, without even thinking about it, because that’s where all the free space would be.

In the context of changing the behavior of societies, rather than individuals, filling the available space also works well. Prejudiced assumptions and insensitive attitudes can be dealt with by ensuring that the public discourse reflects many different perspectives. This approach often results in more success than yelling at the majority group that they’re a bunch of bigoted jerks who don’t understand how privileged they are. Even if it’s true, they are not going to want to hear it, and they’ll dismiss the criticism as unfair and unreasonable.

But if people going about their everyday business just happen to find other viewpoints taking up the cultural space where the prejudices used to go—well, then it’s not so easy to stuff those big awkward prejudices into a space where they don’t fit anymore. And when there are a lot of diverse perspectives occupying society’s cultural-narrative shelves, there’s probably going to be something that looks more useful. So those outdated prejudices simply end up being set aside, like worn-out clothing or obsolete technologies, because they no longer have a place in today’s world.

January 12, 2013 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags:

Among the items that my husband and I keep on the desk next to the computer monitor in our study, there is a metal nail file. If I notice that the pointy end of the file is facing toward me while I’m sitting at the computer, I pick up the file and turn it around. Having a sharp object pointing toward me seems disturbing, even though the file has never actually poked me. I expect many people in our modern culture would dismiss this as a neurotic worry, or perhaps wonder if I have an obsessive need to arrange things in particular ways.

But according to feng shui—the ancient Chinese art of design—avoiding sharp objects in one’s environment is both a natural response and an effective way to improve one’s mental health. Sharp objects or corners pointing toward a person are called “secret arrows,” a phrase that refers to the subconscious disturbing effect they have when they go unnoticed. When something sharp in a home or workspace gives the impression it might cause injury, it leaves people subconsciously feeling that they need to be on their guard. This can cause anxiety to build up over time.

Feng shui designers recommend being careful, not only about the placement of sharp objects on desks and tables, but also about the corners of the desks and tables themselves. If a piece of furniture has a sharp corner positioned in such a way that it might bother a person looking at it, moving the furniture or placing a houseplant or other harmless object in front of the corner is advised. Even sharply angled corners of nearby buildings can be secret arrows; when this happens, interposing a tree, a fountain, or another landscaping feature can help to create a more relaxed feeling.

Although some aspects of feng shui may simply be old superstitions or otherwise unsuited to our modern society, I believe there is merit in the basic premise that how we arrange our physical environment affects how we feel about our lives. Rather than adopting the view “that which does not kill us makes us stronger” and forcing ourselves to put up with small irritants in the belief that doing so improves our coping ability, we might do better to arrange our surroundings in ways that leave us feeling more at peace and refreshed.