Monday, January 30, 2012

My Quandry: Detachment and Desires

Many a chilly afternoon I can be found staring out the window, dreaming about our future dream house. The layout. The details. The paint colors. The furniture. The style. The projects. The parties. The guests. The cozy family evenings.

The truth is, I like nice things. I like pretty things. I like good quality things. And I'm willing to spend extra money for items with any (and preferably all) of those attributes.

Manuel Barthold (1874-1947) Saying Her Prayers
I don't want luxury, mind you. My dream house doesn't include a sauna, marble columns, or niches for Grecian statues. Opulence and luxury are not the goal, but items of good quality and beauty are important to me.

And yet I struggle to reconcile this with detachment preached by the saints. I've been reading a lot of the Carmelite saints, lately, and without exception the message is: detachment from worldly goods and goals is necessary for advancement in the spiritual life.

I am detached, I think, insofar as my world wouldn't come crashing down with the china cabinet; they're just things. But I'm attached insofar as I'd probably immediately set about replacing them because I like entertaining on pretty dishes. I like people (including myself and my husband) to experience beauty and family comfort when they visit my home.

I know it's not necessarily sinful, but is it intrinsically contrary to the spiritual life to work towards buying nice and pretty things, to owning a home that's not just a roof over our heads but a little haven of beauty as well? Should I be happy to buy a used mobile home and 70's Goodwill furniture and spend my energies and money on loftier goals?

How do I know when I own possessions and when they own me? How do I know if I put my hope in Christ or in a new comforter that I'm hoping to buy? How do I reconcile detachment with worldly desires?

If you know the answer, let me know.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Fattest Birds of the Season

When it gets cold, birds fluff up their feathers to stay warm.

These three must be pretty cold.

Or rather, they look pretty warm all puffed up in their winter jackets.

They found a nice warm spot in the sun... lookin' pretty cozy.

Oh my goodness... does it get any fatter??

Enjoy your nap, cozy fat one!

Uh oh... there's a new gang of fattest birds in town!

Have you ever seen such round quail??

Good thing for these plump little roasters it's not quail season, 'cause they look like mighty fine eatin'!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Our Love Story, Part XVI

It's been a long time since the last Love Story installment. Now would be a great time to reread the other parts, or at least the last episode...


The morning after the dance, I didn’t know what to expect. Had the ice finally broken now that he'd asked me to dance? Would he flirt openly? Would he say outright that he liked me? Would he go back to his polite distance? I couldn't meet his eye at the breakfast table for fear of blushing and revealing too much of my heart to him, but I needn't have worried because he'd buried himself in the newspaper.

"It's gonna be another cold one," he uttered.

"Yeah, no kidding," I thought darkly, feeling utterly ignored, but thankfully I managed to mutter an, "Oh really? Well, what do farmers do when it's cold?"

"Prune trees."

"How do you know what to cut?"

"Well, first..." he started, looking delighted to have a willing ear, "Well, you kind of..." he paused after some wide hand gestures, "Well, you want to make sure you..." a pregnant pause -- "Well, it's kind of easier to show than to explain."

"Can I come?" I offered.

"You really want to? It's pretty cold out there."

"Of course!" I said, jumping at the chance to get private lessons in any subject.

He grabbed two sets of gloves, goggles, headphones, and his keys and out to the orchard we drove.

There are long rows of trees in this cherry orchard, and the ones we were going to prune were right in the middle through a jungle of underbrush, low branches and already-pruned limbs. I couldn't possibly show him how out of shape I was, but the blasted cold are showed every breath as a puff of smoke so I starved for oxygen and stifled my gasps as we treked through the forest. At last we arrived and I panted into my coat, feigning a cough. He'd been carrying the gear and a 10 lb. pole saw but barely showed any signs of breathing.


"Alright, so now you can see... you want sun to reach the inside, not too many high limbs, not too many leader branches..." he explained and I nodded, as though it were basic arithematic.

"Here, why don't you just watch me do a few?"


He sliced into the limbs as though they were butter. He swiftly and deftly carved the tree into a work of art. Then another, and another. I couldn't discern any rhyme nor reason to the limbs he'd slated for removal, but it seemed second nature to him.

"Here, you try."

First I donned his headphones, which promptly fell of my head. Then I put on his men's extra large gloves, which fit like oven mitts. I saved the ugly goggles for last, knowing full well I'd look like a fly with those giant things on. Thus attired, I was handed the 8' long pole saw.

If you've never seen one, it is what it sounds like, a chainsaw on a long pole -- the most unbalanced, unwieldy and dangerous implement ever invented. I nearly fell over from its weight.

My task: to weave through a maze of hot electrical wires above my head with a sword on the end of a 20' jousting stick to butter a Ritz cracker, while wearing oven mitts and an astronaut helmet. Or at least that's what it felt like.

This was my chance to impress him, though, so I revved up the chainsaw and started hacking away. The first few cuts were pure magic -- I'd selected all of the right branches to prune and had weaved through the limbs (next year's profits) to adeptly hew them off. Then I got a cramp in my right elbow. OOOOOUCH! I was frozen in place with the heavy clunky power tool over my head and got the chain stuck in a limb. The cramp passed and I unwedged the chain.

Furiously upset with myself, I took off those awful oversized oven mitts gloves and rolled up my coatsleeves. The headhpones fell off as I tossed my head back, but I went back at that tree with a fiery passion. In my furor, the saw slipped and took off two huge vigorous branches with it. I looked at Mr. Amazing in HORROR! He smiled warmly, shrugged his broad shoulders and offered a few pointers.

My arms were aching under the weight of the saw, my ears were ringing from its loud buzz, and my face was burning with hot shame. This was NOT going as planned.

I funneled my frustration into calculated precision and bungled my way through a few more limbs before declaring the job, "DONE."

When I stepped back to survey the damage handiwork, I was hardly surprised but thoroughly humiliated to see that the once-thriving fruit tree looked just like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

"I'm so sorry. It looks awful!"

"Ah, don't worry, it'll grow back next year."

His patience, good naturedness, strength and gentleness almost overwhelmed me. All I could think was, "Oh my gosh, you're PERFECT. Will you marry me!?"

Thankfully, all I meekly uttered was, "Will you do the next one?"

After watching him muscle through several more trees, we went back to the house for lunch.

Mention was made of a sledding trip for the next day with Miriam, her sister Katherine, and two of their nieces. A day away from Mr. Amazing would be just the thing; a little breather from the romantic tension (or lack thereof).

The next morning, I'd already packed when Miriam lowered the bombshell: "Oh, I'm not going, I don't feel well. My brother is going to drive you all instead. It'll be fun!"

I wanted to strangle and kiss her at the same time. I felt like the whole family had conspired to set us up. But oh, how good of them to do so!

"Ready?" he said, keys and a sack lunch in hand.

To be continued...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Downsized Dreams

It's cold, raining, and threatening to snow. I'm outside with loppers, frozen hands, smarting cheeks and a runny nose doing manual labor.

Rewind a week.

I was inside, snuggly warm, sipping hot tea, gushing over the hundreds of fruit tree varieties in a new, crisp, brightly colored mail-order garden catalog.

"Five apple trees, 4 pears, 2 peaches, 2 nectarines, 2 plums, 2 apricots..." I merrily hummed the order as I highlighted each appetizing selection. "Hm.. I need kiwis, honeyberries, sea berries, cranberries, elderberries, gooseberries, quince... a variety of nut trees... a few dozen each of raspberry, blackberry and bluberry bushes..."

It didn't take long before I'd highlighted myself into an $890 corner (before taxes, shipping and handling).


I furiously schemed how I could raise the money for my fantasy farm in time to place an order, at least for next year. It took a little finagling of the budget, but I know I can do it.

Fast forward to the frozen scene.

What am I doing? Helping my husband prune a tree. A semi-dwarf fruit tree. One. Uno. A single tree. And it's hard work. And it's cold. Did I mention my frozen fingers?

"You mean I'd have to do this on 32 trees? Every year?"

Who wants honeyberries anyway?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Week I Lived in My Dream House: A SHOCKING Discovery

For part of this past Christmas vacation, my husband and I spent a week visiting some dear friends in the southeast. We stayed with one of his good friends; a successful businessman bachelor, a very generous man devoted to Catholic ministry.

I've been looking forward to this trip for some time, because besides being excellent company, this particular friend just finished his own 3,500 square foot dream house, and his tastes exactly coincide with my own.

Panoramic water views on multiple wraparound porches. Balconies. Verandas. Crown molding on cathedral ceilings. Teak floors. Industrial kitchen. Custom tiling. Marble counters. Craftsman woodworking. Waterfall walk-in shower. Custom touches and luxury finishes everywhere. Walls of original artwork. Imported furniture. Persian rugs. A complete guest kitchen!

No expense was spared, and yet somehow it is not pretentious, gaudy, or overdone.

Tasteful. Elegant. Classic. Beautiful. The floorplan is utterly original but eminently practical. It's exactly my style and everything I would want or dream of in a house, down to the bronze towel racks.

The first day was heaven. We sipped wine and tasted cheeses and dried fruits before cruising downtown for the Christmas lights display. When we came back to the dream house, we had jerk chicken grilled over a wood fire in his enormous stone chimney. After dinner, we rushed to do the dishes in his two-drawer power wash dishwasher; a piece of fine china out of place in this magazine house stuck out like a sore thumb. "This is livin'" I thought.

On the third day, our host departed for his own vacation with family in the northeast, so we had the whole dream house to ourselves! We watched a movie on his hidden but ascending-from-out-of-the-solid-wood-furniture flat screen plasma TV, were duly impressed by the hidden surround-sound theater speakers, and leaned back on his plush European couch. I didn't dare put my feet on this couch; it was much too nice. "Wow, what a life," I thought, eating Blue Bell ice cream on a silver spoon.

On the fifth day, I hollered upstairs to my husband. "Watcha doin' up there?"

No response. "That's strange... he always answers me right away."

I walked up the polished hardwood stairs to find him happily frying up an omelet on the six burner gas range. "Oh, he must not have heard me."

That evening, after a taxing day of socializing, I went down to bed early.

Something wasn't right. My husband wasn't on the other side of the wall. He wasn't within earshot. He was hardly in the same zip code. He was in the far corner of the upstairs, which may as well have been 1/2 mile away.

"This house is too big," I murmured to the 12 foot ceiling. "And I'm too comfortable," I grumbled between the 1,500 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets. "And it's too nice," I sighed as I looked for a place other than the Lebanon-cedar nightstand to rest my water glass on.

Then it dawned on me in a flash of sunglare-in-the-rearview-mirror light. Trust me, the irony of the realization is not lost on me.

My perfect dream house... the exact fulfillment of all of my tastes...

"It's a great place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live here."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Proverb in the Making?

The early bird gets the worm, but the early squirrel?


Cinnamon raisin?

Cheddar and onion?

Well... whichever kind, the early squirrel gets the bagel.

And OH did she enjoy it!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My New Year's Resolution

Last year I didn't make any New Year's resolutions, but the year went pretty well anyway.

This year, I've resolved to make new resolutions each Sunday evening. I'm going to try to make a resolution in each of the following four categories each week (and re-assess this system later in the year):

#1: Spiritual
#2: Social
#3: Health
#4: Intellect (reading, hobbies, other challenges)

I can stick to just about anything for one week, but a year-long resolution in my life is doomed to fail.

What are your New Year's resolutions this year?