When we were first engaged and began to plan and dream of owning our first house together, I became addicted to decorating magazines, books on remodeling and garden design. I drooled over décor shop windows and their stunning displays. Obsessed with making our home a cozy place to live and play, to laugh and love, I pored over photographs and journals and HGTV how-to programs, always taking note of even the most subtle of details.

We’ve lived now in our second home for fourteen years and I was surprised recently to realize, just a few months ago, that I’d let myself go in that arena, that I’d become stale and content and settled in with a more practical, useful, cluttered way of living day to day.

Annie Dillard, author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, commented once that “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives”. Well, somewhere along this Track of Life of ours, I’d apparently made the non-decision that pragmatic and uninspired was a satisfactory, if not illuminating, way to live. I don’t know what jolted me from this lack of reverie but I’m glad to have returned to the joys of making our house once more a home that I love, that we enjoy wiling away entire weekends delighting in the antics of our puppy or quietly reading or thrilling to the many enticing offerings on Netflix, cozy and relaxed with a hot cuppa or munching down on air-popped popcorn, each of us fat and happy with a huge bowl in our laps, Coco alternating begging each of us in turn for a nibble (or two or three or more) of his favorite salted, lightly buttered delight.

The ambience of our home has taken on, over the years, a distinctly textured, layered look. We’ve not ever had a messy, unstructured framework to our rooms (well, okay, maybe except for the master bedroom but we’re getting there!) But, in the past several months, I’ve become inspired again to appreciate and savor the warmth and appeal of a home well loved and well cared for.

I’ve thrilled to the excitement – yes, excitement! – of remembering the vintage-look craft-wood sign a local artisan painted shortly after my dad died in 2007. It was designed by my sister Kelly and proclaims my father’s sawmill business (thus the name of my blog, A Sawyer’s Daughter). It’s been collecting dust and spidery offshoots for years in our basement. We’d just never found a place to hang it. Husband was concerned it was too heavy to hang on the wall without locating studs to support it and there just didn’t seem to be a place to accommodate its shape and size. But! I was recently inspired. Why did it need to hang on the wall? And so, it sits on the floor and leans against a bare space in our sunroom. The background color of the sign even complements the wall color there and I love the look.

Today, I recalled an ancient crate I’d purchased from a friend thirty-five years ago. I paid five dollars for it, enamored with the mushrooms and angels and flowers delicately decoupaged on the old wood slats. Certainly I could repurpose it somehow. Our office, my sanctuary as I call it, already a bohemian space filled with art and memorabilia, photographs and collected ephemera from just years and years, afforded no space for our ever-growing assortment of camera and photographic gear so it all just lay on the floor in its own crowded space between the armoire and our bi-fold closet doors. We rarely open the closet (another space in dire need of ‘guidance’) but to do so necessitates moving some (or all) of the cameras, bags and tri-pods out of the way. Well, no more! My delightful Mishawaka Woolen Mfg. Co. crate more than adequately corrals all of it and looks pretty darn funky in the process. Excellent!

Down the road from where I live is an antique / used furniture place, near my sister Theresa’s house, where I stumbled upon additional ‘a-ha!’ moments. For a grand outlay of roughly $150, I purchased a sofa table, a gold-bronze set of rams-head bookends, a ‘tower’ shelfing unit to store craft items and a small two-shelf bookcase to help store my ever-growing collection of books, of which one can never own too many of, can one?

And then there’s the holidays. Decorating for Christmas is yet another way to snuggle into the arms of one’s home and to feel tingly-happy with color and music and the remembrance of waiting for Santa and cookies and gifts under the tree, caroling and winter whiteness and every good work of those with much to share with the world, putting aside, if only briefly, the madness and chaos that too often threatens to overwhelm us.

Yes, I am (still) so very much in love. With, of course, my husband of going on twenty-four years and our amazing, how-could-we-live-without-him puppy Coco and the life we share together but now once more – again, again! – with our home and the joys of tending to it, nurturing it, embracing it, loving it. Because to do so feeds the flame. It all circles back to us, sustaining and enveloping and cultivating the continued seeds of growth and warmth, safety and comfort, love and jubilation of life. With cold winds and swirling snows pressing upon us in the coming months, what better to way to hunker down against the elements of both the world and the harsh months of the Midwest winter than to feel comfortably ensconced in the Love and Wonder of Home.

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Thick, heavy, frayed, knotted and coiled – much like how many of us feel at times due to varying degrees of gluttony, inactivity, stress and uncertainty. Pulled too tight and we’re constricted, restricted and unable to move in any direction. Yet, too much slack and we’re rudderless, with no motivation or intent to do much of anything. We flounder and stagnate in the process.

Finding that balance, that middle ground, to reach a place of agreeable tension – a propulsion of sorts – can be both challenging and reassuring. And quite necessary to our growth as individuals as we work toward finding our way in the world.

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The world is a bad place, a bad place. A terrible place to live. Oh, but I don’t want to die. ~ Reflections of My Life, Marmalade

The news stories that we have been bombarded with for far too long are sobering indeed. Reminders that there are some very bad things and people and places in this world. Although we’re often told that “life isn’t fair” this little pearl of wisdom sometimes seems to be staggeringly true. I recall being told when I was a kid that despite any hardships or difficulties I may have to encounter there is always someone who has it worse than I do. I suppose the reasoning behind this is so that I might put things into perspective and not complain because somewhere out there is someone who is worse off than me and that I should be grateful for what I have. True, so very true. However, my youthful mind took this rationalization a bit further. If this statement was true and there is a person out there, say Person X, who has more problems than me then you could extrapolate that to say there is someone out there who is worse off than Person X. And then someone who is worse off than that person and so on and so forth.  That means (my youthful – and not so youthful – mind is really humming now) there is that one person, that poor schmuck, that miserable wretch who has it worse than every single gosh darn person in the whole entire world. And that is just too much unfairness for this mind of mine, however old, to take in.

While we acknowledge the brutality and horror and unfairness that does, unfortunately, exist in this world there is also much beauty and goodness and light and majesty as well. My oh-but-I-don’t-want-to-die list looks something like this:

  • Children: Their laughter, their inquisitiveness, their energy, their little hands and feet, the way they run and squeal with delight, the way they react to music even when they’re just toddlers, how they learn to talk and reason and think and mimic what they see around them – basically how they are able to LEARN is utterly amazing.
  • My husband: His smile, his patience, his sense of humor, the way he so fiercely loves and cherishes me, his goodness, his green eyes, the gray in his temples and beard and mustache, his can-do attitude, the way he’s been such a good father figure for my son (who thinks the world of him) and well, just pretty much everything about him!
  • The fresh growth of spring: Green buds on the trees, flowers poking up through the soil (incredible!), the light airiness of it all, the promise in the breeze, the wonder of new life all around us.
  • My son: His creativity, his absolutely unique sense of humor, his dedication and love of science and his motivation to learn more and more including how to be a better teacher, his love of music and the way he’s thrown himself into learning to play the drums (which he didn’t pick up until his early 20’s), the way he has always been able to make new friends even as (especially as!) a child, his way of calling me Mother and how, despite the many mistakes I made in that role as he was growing up, he has always been my ally and most ardent defender.
  • Nature: If ever there was an element of this world for which the adjective majestic was intended, the gifts that Mother Nature has provided for us would be it. The changing of the seasons, awe-inspiring mountains and deserts, glorious rivers and lakes, lush forests and mysterious oceans, all teeming with a diversity of creatures. To be still and silent in the midst of such grandeur is to know what it’s like to really breath, to truly live, to just BE.
  • Kindness: This element of the world, when it makes itself known to you at unexpected moments, is perhaps one of the most beautiful things of all. Whether you are the recipient of any act of caring, generosity or warmth or you are merely an observer, to know or experience the beauty of kindness in any of its many forms can move even the most hardened individuals to tears. The best example of kindness? That which is done anonymously, totally without mention to anyone else – ever – in any way, shape or manner, is true kindness for it comes directly from the heart and as such it reaps its own reward. Or rather it doesn’t require anything for its efforts. The doing of the deed is all that truly matters.

So yes, while there is much to lament and grieve for in our world today, much that causes anxiety, pain and fear there are many more causes for joy and celebration. We, too, must remember that we don’t live in a vacuum. The things that touch us are often the result of our choices even while we are sometimes at odds with the platter that was placed before us by way of where we were born, how we have been raised, our genetics and our heritages. But we can choose, we can do, we can decide.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy. ~ Desiderata, Max Ehrmann

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During the last several weeks and months, in just my own small world alone, there have been a number of untimely deaths. The startling news of each passing is always totally unexpected. All of them individuals in their 50s and 60s with retirement and travel and grandkids and exciting new adventures either already underway or on the not too distant horizon. Hopes and dreams shattered, the very existence of loved ones reeling with loss put on hold.

Whenever lives are cut short as a result of health-related problems it always gives me pause. There is, of course, the heaviness of tragedy – the hardships, grieving and loss to be endured by those left behind but also the reminder for all of us of our own frailties and vulnerabilities, our very mortality.

Fittingly – with the sad, stunning demise of Robin Williams still all too fresh in our minds – the battle cry of ‘Carpe Diem!’ which his character encouraged his students to embrace in the 1989 film Dead Poets Society is one we should carry in our hearts if not on our tongues as well. We should strive to live and love with abandon with an eye toward keeping ourselves healthy in the process. With the memory of these recent deaths I’ve become more cognizant than ever that I want to remain healthy. I want to live a long, happy, productive life with my husband. I want to travel and enjoy leisurely sunsets. I want to climb mountains, linger along the water’s edge, hike in the woods, fly kites, drink good wine with friends and family, groove and sway to the blues, kayak, go camping, play board games and go golfing with my life partner. I want to see my son married someday and perhaps start a family.  I want to cook and bake and snap photos and write and read and laugh and love!  I want to create memories of special holidays and milestones with friends and family.  But mostly I just want to cherish the everyday joys of life.

Life-sustaining, life-enhancing diet and exercise, mood and attitude and life-affirming, nurturing relationships should be our highest priority. Somehow knowing and acknowledging the payoff of caring for self through a positive lifestyle makes the goal of good health appear easier to attain, doable.

The alternative is simply, utterly unthinkable. Seize the Day! It truly is all we have right here, right now. Make it happen.