The Beautiful Side of the Barn

This is the western boundary of my property.

This is the western boundary of my property.

 

This is my yard. Well, it’s part of my yard,the most beautiful part; and I seldom visit it. The reason for that is simple. It’s on the wrong side of the barn. I don’t mean that like the old saying “the wrong side of the tracks” it’s not dangerous or scary over there. I mean it’s not on the functional side of the barn. On the east side of the barn you have the house, the cars, the driveway, the mailbox; you get the idea. The east side is functional, it has it’s charms, but it’s scarred by modern life. On the west side of the barn there is only what you see in the pictures. It’s just quiet, peaceful and beautiful. And because it’s on the “wrong” side of the barn, it rarely occurs to me to spend time over there. This is where I have made a terrible mistake.

There most certainly must be functional things in my life. Shelter, transportation, and communication are all important parts of daily living. But one thing that I desperately need is beauty. Beauty lift’s the spirit, it inspires, and it’s right there,  just around the corner of the barn I look at every day, and I miss it. I just walk out of my house, get in my car and drive away.

This is what's between the creek and the barn...my beautiful old barn.

This is what lies between the creek and the barn…my beautiful old barn.

I don’t just do this with my barn, I do this all the time in my daily life, I miss the beauty. I allow the function to obscure the form. I often miss the the opportunity to experience the splendor of sunlight streaming through my office window because I’ve drawn the shade, so I can see better.  Sometimes, I miss the laughter of students wandering around campus because I’ve put my ear buds in, so I can concentrate. Often, when I arrive home from work, I don’t venture outside my house until the next morning and I miss cool breezes, sunsets and fireflies. I wonder how much energy, enthusiasm and inspiration I rob myself of on a daily basis when I sacrifice those brief opportunities to indulge in beauty. Tomorrow, when I get home and have had my fill of function, I think I’ll wander over to the beautiful side of the barn and find out what I’ve been missing.

Lost and Found

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I used to love writing. Short stories, poems, essays, you name it and I loved writing it. I even liked writing papers in high school. Writing was my passion. I could spend hours laboring over the words as I put pen to page, but it would seem like minutes. It brought great joy and a wonderful sense of accomplishment every time I finished a work.

Somewhere along the way, my love of writing took a back seat to the other loves in my life. My husband and my children simply came first, and as a young wife and mother, I always found the time and energy for writing in short supply. I occasionally looked in the rear view mirror to catch a glimpse of my neglected love, feeling apologetic and longing to spend time with it. Eventually. I simply quit looking in the mirror; it was just easier that way. And over time I forgot all about my love and moved it from the backseat to the trunk, to be lost in a dark cavern with other abandoned activities and ideas.

Recently, as I was going through all of the stuff that makes up my life, simplifying and putting things in order, something remarkable happened. I found my love again! Writing this blog, that I had intended to use to keep me accountable on my minimalist journey, has become the spark to rekindle something I had almost forgotten about. It is so exciting to sit down and record my thoughts, my musings and the silly things that happen in my life once more.

I am also enjoying the return of my writer’s eyes. I think people who love to write view the world a little differently. I seem to pay more attention to what’s happening around me, to find the hidden lessons or discover secret beauty. These are things I have been overlooking for years. I feel a little like Dorothy Gale when she steps out of the black and white farmhouse into the Technicolor world of OZ. Sounds, sights and smells are no longer just bits and pieces of my reality; they are all players in a grand story that is just waiting to be told.

The Bike Ride

I went for a bike ride today. I know, I know; I live such an exciting life, full of strange and wonderful adventures. I’m sort of a middle-aged Alice in Wonderland! But seriously, I did ride my bike today.

I have come to the conclusion that along with minimizing my possessions and commitments I also have one other thing to minimize: my body. I am fairly healthy and like to get out and do things, but I am also a little overweight and it affects how I feel physically and does slow me down at times.  So, I have decided that I need to include more physical activity in my life. My goal is to do something active everyday. I won’t always do the same thing, sometimes I’ll go for a walk or climb a rock wall. And sometimes I’ll ride my bike. Which brings me back to today.

I despise exercise for exercise’s sake. I don’t mind hard work. playing a game of basketball with a few friends or going for a bike ride with other people. But I loathe “working out”; especially alone. So today, when it came time to go on the bike ride that I had chosen as today’s physical activity, it made me feel grumpy. I decided to go ahead and get it over with, so I put on my sporty clothes, grabbed a water and got my bike out of the barn.

I live in the country and I ride down dirt roads that have little to no traffic on them. The scenery is quite beautiful. However, I was so annoyed about riding just for the exercise, I couldn’t even see it. I was having an inner dialogue about being hot, tired and sweaty. Generally just feeling gross. Fortunately, somewhere about the halfway point, I saw a deer by the creek and a light managed to come on in my gloomy brain. It helped me change the conversation to a more positive one. I decided to appreciate the fact the I was physically able to ride a bike and look around and enjoy nature. God definitely has a sense of humor, and I think he was checking to see if I still had one, because as soon as the thought to enjoy nature crossed my mind, a giant bug hit me in the face! I laughed so hard that I nearly fell off my bike and I’m sure anyone that saw me thought I was crazy. (And they are probably right!)

The rest of my ride was much better. I felt less hot, sweaty and tired because I wasn’t focused on that. I was focused on the wild flowers, songbirds, deer and even the bugs. That’s the lesson today. My mood and attitude, even the way I interact with others is dependent on my focus. Not only that, what I focus on is entirely up to me. I have to choose to be positive. I have to decide to be happy and to seek out the wonder in everyday life. I would hate to miss out on all of the beautiful things this life has to offer because I was looking at the world through a poorly focused lens.

This Old Life

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I always been enamored with home improvement and DIY shows on television. It’s just remarkable how, with some hard work and know-how,  something old, broken and tired can be rejuvenated and turned into something new, functional and beautiful.

Life can be a lot like an old house. And I’ve been thinking a lot about my life lately. Looking at ways to better live as a whole, healthy person. That has been the drive behind my foray into minimalism, living with less, but it’s also caused me to think about the other areas where there is room for improvement. Making sure my beliefs and my behaviors are in agreement is at the top of the list.

When our actions are not lined up with the standards we claim to live by, we are like poorly maintained homes. It slowly tears away at the structure of our lives. I’m not just talking about the big things either, the harm they cause is usually pretty obvious. I’m talking about the little things. Even one small inconsistency can cause major damage. It’s like a small leak in the roof of a house, if left unchecked it slowly eats away the framework underneath; ruining plaster, rotting timbers, until the whole roof caves in and the house is unlivable. Or like a broken window that lets the elements from the outside world get inside the the room, decimating that space and slowly destroying the rooms around it. When we live in a state of  impatience, selfishness, rudeness, pride, greed or ungratefulness it slowly dismantles our lives. It causes us to treat others unfairly, to have a negative outlook on the world and to have a poor opinion of ourselves. It covers life in a hazy gloom. It’s depressing, demoralizing and discouraging. It robs us of joy and keeps us from being who we were truly created to be.

Fortunately, there is some good news. It is possible to restore a house, and a life. And just like in home renovation, there are certain things that must be done in our lives in order to make the repairs last.

First, we need to stop new damage from occurring. Fix the broken window, patch the leaky roof. Stop being impatient, show gratitude. It takes hard work and requires some special skills. Learn the skills. Do the work. If you don’t know how to be grateful, find someone who does and learn from them. You wouldn’t try to patch the roof without the proper knowledge or tools, so you certainly shouldn’t do that with your life. Once we have the threat of new damage under control, that frees us up to work on the harm that has already been done. We can repair the rot, fix the holes and clean up the debris. This is dirty, messy and sometimes humbling work. Maybe we need to admit failure or apologize. Sometimes repairs are expensive and we have to pay for them. And quite often while we are in the middle of rebuilding, things look hopeless and we feel like we are never going to finish the job. But when we keep pushing forward and do the hard work, the end result is more than worth it. The remodeled home looks fresh, inviting and beautiful. It’s a place you want to be. The restored life is lighter, richer and more joyful. It’s a life you want to live.

The Importance of Being Adventurous

I went on a rock climbing adventure yesterday. Well okay, it wasn’t actual rocks; I went to one of those rock wall places for a few hours with my family. But it still counts as an adventure in my book because I had never done it before and I was nervous about trying it. You see, I am one of those people who loves adventure and hates failure. Far too often, my disdain for failure turns me into a person who doesn’t actually love adventure, but just loves the idea of it; I hate that too. And ideas pale in comparison to actions, so following that path can never satisfy an adventurous spirit.

This brings me to my ongoing struggle: how do I balance love of adventure and loathe of failure? Can I hang on to both? Is there a way to be adventurous and avoid the risk of failure at the same time? The answer, of course, is no. I can’t. If I want to be the adventurous soul I was created to be, I cannot hang on to my fear. If I choose to hang onto the fear, I will have to deny that part of me that longs to experience all of the  new, exciting and challenging things this world has to offer. In theory and on paper, the choice is obvious; but in practice, well that’s where things get difficult.

As I mentioned, I hate failure. I don’t like to make mistakes, look stupid, mess up or get hurt. When we planned the rock wall adventure, that little voice inside my head, the one that likes to protect me from failing, started to whisper. “You can’t do that. You’ll get hurt. Your too old and out of shape. You’re too heavy, maybe after you lose some weight. If you fail, people will laugh.” But, I have promised that I will do things my kids want to try this summer, so I did my best to ignore that pesky (and rude) voice. Every time I thought about it, that little tremble of fear would show up and the voice would have something to say. When the day finally arrived I wondered if I could go through with it. Even while standing there in a t-shirt, leggings and rented climbing shoes I wasn’t sure. (And wearing that outfit was not helping the situation. As the voice mentioned, I’m a little on the “curvy” side, so that added a dose of self-consciousness to the mix.) But I managed to to tell that little fear monger to shut up and I went for it.

I climbed this wall...all the way to the top!

I climbed this wall…all the way to the top.

Guess what happened. On my first attempt, I got part way up the wall and fell. And then guess what happened. Nothing. My husband, who was on belay for me, kept me aloft. Other than scuffing my knee on the wall I didn’t get hurt. And nobody laughed. So that joy stealing fear and worry was absolutely pointless. After that, it was pretty easy. Not climbing, that crap is hard! It was easy to let go of the fear, I had already failed on my first attempt so I had nothing more to lose. Also, since I hate losing, I’m not a quitter. I wasn’t about to let the wall beat me. I tried again, made it to the top a couple of times and even stretched myself to attempt a climb that required all the push I had in me. I didn’t make it to the top of that wall, but it’s okay, maybe next time.

My rock wall adventure provided me with a good reminder of lessons that I should have learned long ago: Don’t give into fear. If I don’t try, I’ve already failed. Success and failure go hand in hand; if I’m not willing to risk failure, I’ll never achieve success.

Here’s hoping the lessons all stick this time!

Consumerism, Clearance, and Clarity

During my journey into minimalism, I’ve been thinking a lot about my role as a consumer lately. Actually, I’ve been thinking about everybody’s role as a consumer. The amount of stuff we purchase is astounding. I wonder what percentage of it is stuff we actually need; not things we think we need, or that promise to make life easier or better, I mean NEED. Like, if I don’t have this _____, I will most likely get injured, sick, or perhaps die. I bet those things are a tiny fraction of our purchases.

Now I’m not suggesting that we all give up everything but water, food, and shelter (unless that’s what you want to do). And I’m not trying to be the Grinch: “Oh, the avarice!” I’m merely suggesting that maybe, just maybe we spend to much time, energy and resources consuming things we don’t need.

sale price

I was shopping with my daughter the other day, in preparation for her upcoming trip to England, and I overheard a conversation between two clerks at the store. (Keep in mind that this is a store that primarily sells undergarments.) One girl said to the other, “Well, we’ve had$1300 in sales today and we only have to make $2000 to reach our goal.” Two thousand dollars spent at ONE store in ONE day, on underwear! I was a bit surprised, and then when I started multiplying that by the number of stores in the mall, it was quite shocking. I’m going to go out on a limb and say almost zero percent of those purchases were true needs. The mall doesn’t really deal in “basic necessities”.

As I said before, I’m not suggesting that we stop purchasing things at the mall. (I made a small purchase that day, it wasn’t a need but it was a practical item for my daughters vacation.) It’s just that I’m beginning to realize how much time, energy and stuff goes to waste. Many of the items that were purchased in the mall that day will probably hang in a closet with the tags still attached; never to be worn by the person who bought them. A lot of them were probably purchased on credit by people who are already deeply in debt. Some of them were probably purchased in a misguided attempt to find happiness or to feed an addiction. All of them could have been left on the shelves and no one’s life would have been negatively impacted.

That last idea got me thinking about all of the stuff that does stay on the shelves. First, it goes on sale. If that doesn’t move it, it’s put on clearance; when that doesn’t work it’s marked down over and over, until it’s not worth it’s space on the sales floor anymore. Once things get to that point, it often goes to a charity like Goodwill. If the thrift store can’t sell it; I don’t know where it goes. Perhaps it is recycled and ends up back at the mall in it’s new form. It just never ends. There is always more and more and more.

Pondering all of this has brought some clarity into my life, shining a light on my habits. I have consumed too much. It has been robbing me of the life I want to live. I don’t want to spend so much time choosing my stuff, taking care of my stuff and working to pay for stuff. I want a much better life than that.

Shadows

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I hope he remembers me, that girl he married, because I’m going to be back soon. Well, sort of. I’m definitely older and a little less rough around the edges. I’m pretty sure I’m smarter and hopefully kinder. I guess, in all honesty, I never really left; I’ve just been living in the shadow of that other woman.

You know the one, that lady named Mom. She’s really good at bandaging knees and wiping noses without getting grossed out. She puts wild flowers (weeds really) from children in a vase and places it on the kitchen counter, even though she’s allergic to them. She drives the family taxi, dropping off and picking up kids like a pro. But, many of her services aren’t really needed anymore.

It’s time for me, the young woman she overshadowed, to take the reins again; and I’m a pretty nervous about it. I mean, I’m looking forward to this new adventure, but I’m scared too. There is a lot to figure out; a lot to remember about myself. I hope he remembers. I hope he can recall all of those things he loved about me before I retreated. I hope we discover new things that we love about each other and that we find some new adventures to go on.  He’s been living in someone else’s shadow too. I really love the man that’s been here, but I’m excited to reunite with that guy I married. I hope I still recognize him when he moves to the front. Stepping out of the shadow is hard.

It’s been pretty comfortable living in the mom’s shadow. It seems like she knows what she’s doing most of the time. She understands her role, excels at her tasks. Most of all, she loves her job. But things have been gradually changing over the past few years. Lately, she’s been feeling like she’s about to be laid off. Her hours have definitely been cut down to part-time; and she is feeling a little confused, useless and sad. All of the changes make it necessary for me to re-emerge. I feel really bad for her, even though somehow, it seems like I’ve been waiting for this. It feels like a part of me has been eager for her to finish the job, so I could come out to play. Perhaps that’s a bit selfish, but there is some truth to it. There have been times when I wanted her to be free of her responsibilities so I could do what I wanted. I’m sorry for the times I felt that way, her job has been really important.

We have both been feeling emotional about all of the uncertainties ahead. Sometimes, I cry with her and for her. I’m afraid to let her move into the background, I’ve been living in her shadow for a long time. But when this happens, she tells me: “It’s okay, we knew this was a temporary assignment, I’m happy for you , that it’s your turn. Don’t be afraid, you’ll figure it out. Just like you figured out how to let me do my job. And don’t worry, I’ll still be around. It will just be…different.” She’s such a mom.