Monthly Archives: June 2012

How Does Your Garden Grow?

All little kids know that crashing your parents’ bedroom first thing in the morning is inexplicably awesome. When I was that age, I couldn’t wait to invade my parents’ room to get my first hugs of the morning and snuggle. My mom set up a password system for me, though: she’d say, “Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” And my response: “With silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row” — this in a certain half-singing way. If it wasn’t just right, I had to re-do it in order to get my pass to enter.

Of course, gardens are an all too familiar part of my reading life, starting with Adam and Eve, moving to The Secret Garden, and most recently in Standing at the Crossroads. But up until recently, how actual gardens grow in my life is not well; my black thumbs have killed successfully just about anything that comes from a seed, including one or two cacti (!).  The only green item that survived my care was some lucky bamboo purchased for my first apartment, and it lived on for at least seven years before our move to Alaska.  (Maybe the bamboo and I had a special Asian connection?) Continue reading

Me Dyson You Jane

The Dyson Animal

A little over a year ago, Husband and I bit the bullet and bought a Dyson vacuum cleaner. After living with Sounder’s dog hair in our little apartment and too many blow-ups (from each of us) over the inability of our old vacuum to, you know, vacuum, we decided to see if this whole Dyson thing was really worth all the dollars. Being a prudent gal, I went to Overstock and found a refurbished model for way less than the price of a brand new one at the store. With practically a shiny tear in his eye when the carpet literally changed color with one sweep of the Dyson, Husband said we had made the right decision. I concurred.

We moved into our current home two weeks ago, and the Dyson has gotten great use, as expected. But the one thing that has been bugging me since we’ve been here is the incredibly-difficult-to-reach dog hair from the former owners’ pets that manages to get into the crack between the carpet and the wall. For anyone who has ever owned a pet and has carpet, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Last week I had taken a butter knife and worked to scrape it out so then I could vacuum it up. When I was explaining this to someone the other day, she nodded knowingly and said, “Oh, yes, you need the slim attachment thing.”

How could I have forgotten about the attachments? I have memories of my dad lugging around this crazy olive-green box masquerading as a vacuum, and all of the attachments sat on top of the box, fit in there like a jigsaw puzzle.

The right color, but not exactly the same model as we had.

It was so heavy, it was really cumbersome, and yet somehow it managed to fit just inside the narrow floor space of the upstairs laundry closet along with the washer and dryer. What a monster.

Anyway, this woman’s comment about “attachment thing” stuck in my head, so I started inspecting the Dyson more closely today. I found the attachments in a plastic bag, where I had once upon a time wisely kept them together. I pulled out the manual to see how to draw more magic out of this instrument. I realized — oh, if only I had known sooner — that our Animal is really two vacuums in one: the main one that does the floors, and then this amazing other extension piece with its own handle that reaches and takes on all the different attachment parts. Armed with this new knowledge, with the Dyson in hand, I patiently attacked the stairs.

Oddly, I found myself feeling reflective as the Dyson did its thing and the stairs started changing colors, as when we first used it in our old apartment. A few realizations came to mind:

1. Worthwhile things are expensive. I don’t mean always in a dollars and cents way, but in a time and effort kind of way. Whether the “thing” is your education, quality relationships with your family and loved ones, a job you care about, your health — these “things” demand that you spend time and attention on them and with them. But it’s worth it.

2. Quality products are durable. At first, I didn’t believe that the Dyson broke in half, essentially, because I was certain that I was going to snap something and feel remorse for ruining it. But when I jerked hard on the extension piece, it came out easily and was ready for use. The “things” I referred to up above? Part of the reason why they are so price-y is because they are built to last. The imitation, lower grade products work for a while, but then they break and need to be replaced with something better anyway. Healthy, nurturing relationships with ourselves, with our best friends, and with spouses and significant others are meant to endure anything and everything. That doesn’t excuse us from taking good care of them, but they withstand a lot more than we realize they can (if we’ve invested wisely, of course).

3. Good products have unexpected dimensions. I read all the reviews. I could write my own testimonial about the Dyson. I knew it was worth every penny. But today, even after using it happily for a while now, I learned there was more to it than meets the eye. In real life, I think we often underestimate other people and what their real potential may be… and then they surprise us with a new achievement, a new career path, a new life plateau. Worse, I think we too often underestimate ourselves and forget that with one simple shift in the way we think or one change of habit, we can discover new dimensions of ourselves.

Vacuuming has to be one of my least favorite chores because it never seems like I can do it often enough to keep the floor satisfactorily clean, especially with having a dog. However, this afternoon it turned out to be one of the most random meditation sessions of my life. I’ll never look at our Dyson — or any of our other useful household appliances — the same way again.

Real Talk

Where have two weeks gone? Since Memorial Day weekend, summer has arrived; we finally became first-time homeowners (hurrah!); I took my first writing class since college days; my parents bought their ticket to visit over the Fourth of July (hurrah again!); we made our inaugural visit to Sam’s Club… the list goes on and on. While I actually have a gazillion things to write about and think about lately, the practical part of me has been focused on the need to organize as much as is humanly possible. Thus writing quickly gets pushed to the bottom of my to-do list, ironically when I need to process the most.

Of all things to inspire me, it had to be watching an episode of The Next Food Network Star last night. This season they modified the format: the finalists are broken up into teams being coached by Alton Brown, Giada de Laurentiis, and Bobby Flay, respectively. Every week, they are faced with two-part challenges, because they are expected to cook well and be able to be themselves (budding stars) on camera, too — obviously, the latter tends to be the far more difficult part. So I’m watching this episode, and by now the finalists are expected to have a very clear sense of their individual points of view, food-wise and personality-wise. Listening to the coaches, they all had the same message for each person: Be yourself. Be authentically you and no one else. Be confident in you and the stories you have to tell. It will translate positively on camera, we promise, because people want to connect to Who You Really Are.

Last week in my 5-day writing class, we all walked in on Monday as strangers. The first sharing we had to do was read aloud an informal piece of writing that we had to bring with us: metaphors for our writing process. What floored me — and maybe what I should have expected, having been in writing workshops before — was how much we revealed about ourselves through our writing as the week went on. On Wednesday our instructors put us into workshop groups based on our chosen genres (we had three non-fiction pieces and one poem in mine). My personal essay was about three different writing experiences at various points in my life. Immediately after reading my work, the poet in our group said, “This piece is about the narrator reclaiming joy in her life that she used to feel when she was a child.” What?! That’s what I wrote about? I thought I had been taking a walk down memory lane with myself. But there I was, naked like a baby in the words on the paper, and this semi-stranger called it out.

So it was as we workshopped everyone’s piece – the “cheapest therapy” available, our instructors called it. Each of us — in our small groups and in our class overall — uncovered (re-discovered?) parts of ourselves that we didn’t realize were there. It’s a very disconcerting and simultaneously liberating experience to meet yourself on a piece of paper. Even when you want to or try to lie to yourself (or about yourself), people who are paying close attention will recognize what’s going on below the surface. Real talk. No hiding from that. By the end of the week we couldn’t help but be engaged authentically with each other, as was made apparent in the notes people shared after reading portfolios and the meaningful, no-cost gifts we exchanged (including the priceless gifts of honesty and actively listening to each other throughout the week).

If you’ve never had a Moleskine journal, I promise it’s inspiring.

The other best part of class for me was doing free writes in my  (unlined) journal for the class. I truly love seeing people’s handwriting — including my own — because there is energy and emotion there, and I like to imagine the person doing the action of writing. Again, there is an individuality and concrete-ness to ink on paper that doesn’t exist on a computer, where I can cut/paste/delete at will, even dictate words to a smart computer, and everyone turns into Times New Roman. Now, by my own hand, I have this small collection of beginnings of things, some attempts at poetry, and some reflections all in one place. I can’t say specifically why it’s more special to me to have it handwritten (it would be more practical to have them typed already); it just is.

Last week I also thought often of why we need things like art and music and writing in the world: it teaches us empathy and reminds us that we all have our human imperfection in common. For the entire week I kept thinking about the stories behind the people at the grocery store, or why the checkout girl had a certain tattoo on her arm. I was mindful in a way that I forget to be sometimes when I’m with people I love the most, like Husband and family. I want to be that way more often — to be more aware that I am living my own story and in the stories of countless other people’s lives. What will we remember about each other when we meet again in the next life?

I find that when I really need guidance, God has this way of being super didactic in my life. But I’ll remind myself one more time to be sure: Be yourself. Be authentically you and no one else. Be confident in you and the stories you have to tell.

Yes. I will.