Monday, June 21, 2010

The "Perfect" Cappuccino

A couple of days ago I was craving a cappuccino – a “real” cappuccino in a large squat mug with foam – a sprinkling of cinnamon on top. I don’t want it in a paper cup with a plastic lid that I bring to my mouth with trepidation, never sure the temperature, and then having that creepy foreign feeling of plastic against my lips. There is something about holding that cup with two hands, gently blowing the heat away, rippling the foam, and sipping from porcelain. There is more of a ceremony to it all. Such a simple but beautiful tradition behind it. I can’t think of anywhere to go in town for that experience. Yes, I am sure, if I went to a nice restaurant for dinner, I would be offered a coffee or espresso afterwards. And there I would get the cup of my dreams, even though the contents would probably leave much to be desired. I want the coffee house experience. I don’t want to sit through the “herb crusted lamb chops with apricot relish” beforehand. Just a simple almond cookie with my espresso would be perfection.

I’ve been thinking a lot about perfection lately and I have been reading up and trying to absorb the concept of “wabi sabi”, the Japanese art of appreciating and finding beauty in “imperfection” – something that of course we all are. There is no perfect, at least in the terms of perfect that we have set for ourselves. There will always be room for improvement and sadly, always room to bash ourselves for things we didn’t do right, for the things we want to do over. And I find all of this guilt giving to be especially abundant when reviewing our parenting skills. Yesterday was Father’s Day and we drove up to Tahoe to spend the day with my Dad. Driving up to my parent’s house I started crying when a Counting Crows song came on. It filled me with such emotion and a sense of sadness that it was almost painful - not sure where it came from. All I could think about was my daughter. And how I wished I could have more “do overs” with her, given her more love when she felt unlovable, more compassion when she was hurting, more giggles and laughter when she was sad, more patience when she was challenging, more of a “family”.  I left the “home” that she had known shortly after she left for college, uprooting her roots. And she wore a brave face, and always told me it was okay, that I was okay, but I know it hurt, and still does.

I wanted her to have that same security and sense of family that I was given. My parents were solid – they both had incredible strengths. My Dad was serious, had high expectations, had a strong work ethic and made sure our life was without many wants. My Mom was a brilliant homemaker, math wiz, had our backs, loved us no matter what, opened her doors to anyone that needed help and loved her family above all else. That we knew. About both of them. They loved us above all else. There was no competition for us – we didn’t have to compete with their careers, friends, personal fulfillment, their own wants and desires. We never did without so that they could take a trip to the Hamptons, a ski trip to Aspen, no new cars, no extravagances. They made sure we had everything we needed first. They still do.

I look at my brother and sisters and in each of us I see different qualities that we took from our parents. My brother was given the gift of independence, determination and a will of steel. I was given the gift of trust and optimism, knowing things turn out okay, a marshmallow safety net. I always knew and still know that I could try anything, and if I failed I would still have that soft place to fall. I can see in my sister Pam that she took away the importance of family, of home, of putting her children before herself. My sister Korri has a deep sense of tradition. She gets that from my Mom. She likes a solid foundation and keeps her family together. She, like my Mom, opens her doors to anyone that needs help. She is a true friend. All four of us share one gift, a family that would and will do anything for each other. When it comes right down to it there isn’t a doubt in my mind that we will all be there, when needed, not out of obligation, but because of love.

If my parent’s have ever questioned, “did they do enough, did they give enough”, they can’t even begin to comprehend that they couldn’t have given us anymore. That their parenting skills, their love and dedication to us and our family, was and is a gift that cannot be improved upon. To me, it is wabi sabi in a porcelain cup.

Friday, June 4, 2010

"Lightly Used"

I haven’t written for a while, with all of this moving, downsizing and reorganizing. It takes some time to settle in. It reminds me of when a dog is trying to settle down for the night or perhaps just a well deserved nap. You know, you’ve seen them when they are trying to settle and they start frantically scratching and circling and scratching and circling some more until finally they seem to have created an accepted space and curl up sweetly and with a deep sigh, fall off to sleep. So it is the same for us, it takes some time to discover the perfect placement of things. Moving things around, to this side of the room and then back again. And there always seems to be so many obstacles to the “perfect placement." A few of those things for example can be large wall heaters, windows, doors, no electrical outlets, less than four walls, and of course that 42" flat screen television that dominates everything else in the room. You might wonder why model homes or magazine shoots (such as Architectural Digest, Coastal Living, Sunset magazine, to name a few) always have the perfect furniture arrangements. There are no TV’s - unless of course it is wall mounted over some stunningly gorgeous fireplace. No remote controls and no signs of real life (shoes left by the sofa, purses slung haphazardly across chairs, mail scattered on the coffee table.) The bedroom nightstands have no Kleenex boxes, water glasses, Chap Stick, cell phones with their chargers or remnants of the nightly purse/pocket clean out. No, what you will see are beautiful linens flanked by beside tables holding nothing more than fresh flowers, a reading lamp and possibly a good book.

But all of this is neither here nor there. Along with trying to achieve a balanced placement of items, there is the acquiring of items that seems to have become more challenging than I had first imagined. I thought it would be pretty simple to replace a washer/dryer, kitchen table, couch, chair, desk chair, etc. Okay, well the washer and dryer were simple enough. It turns out that it might be the loudest washer/dryer ever made, but hey, they work and the owner delivered them. Can’t get a sweeter deal than that. We have made some good buys through Craigslist and then again, we have had our share of “false advertising”, like the original oil painting that we drove to San Francisco to see, only to find it to be a framed print from Z-Gallerie. What a waste of bridge toll! Or the "Stager's Inventory Sale that really was just old Aunt Agatha's house full of garage sale finds, or the infamous "lightly" or "gently" used furniture that comes complete with torn fabric, missing nuts and bolts and broken legs. And going to San Francisco to purchase items from people’s residences isn’t the easiest of feats. Everyone seems to live on the 3rd or 4th floor, there is never any parking close by and there is always that thought in the back of your mind, “please God, don’t let this be the wacko I’ve heard about on the evening news”. Even though I really doubt I would be killed over a coffee table. Now a diamond ring, that’s another story.

Tomorrow we are looking at chairs and a kitchen table in Santa Rosa. Looks like a cute little set. The only problem – once again – how do I fit this in my car? Strapping the table to the top of my small SUV doesn’t seem practical but I guess it’s better than renting a truck or a hauling service. Remember when we were moving to Portland and planned to use the company “Two Hunks and a Truck?” Well now I found someone who delivers Craigslists purchases, called “A Man with a Van” – amazing, isn’t it? No matter what you need, you can find it.  So if all else fails, or we can't quite get the table tied down securely, "the Man" will be getting a call from me.

I believe that once I have acquired all of the home furnishings and adornments I feel necessary to make my space feel somewhat “complete” I could write a small book about my Craigslist adventures. The people that we have met have never failed to surprise me.  Sometimes that surprise is like “Oh, I love it, you shouldn’t have!” Feel good surprise, and sometimes it is more like, “OMG, how old is that milk I just guzzled right out of the carton??”  But one thing I really like is that everything comes with a story. And being a Feng Shui practitioner, everything has a heart and everyone has a story.  Some are worth hearing and other's can put you to sleep.  It's uncanny how you can get a positive or negative reaction almost immediately upon seeing the home, meeting the people, and seeing the actual item.  There has to be some kind of connection to all three.  When bringing something "used" back home it has to come with a pretty postive story.  And positive stories almost always include a very happy ending.

No country for old men (or women)