Saturday, January 29, 2011

Look Up.

“They” (one presumes designers) say that you are supposed to hang art at eye’s height.  And, for the most part, I do that.

However, you could also say that I am fairly obsessed with putting things above eye level.  Drawing the eye up, as it were. 

Doorways are my favorite spot to toss little things.  Here are a few examples from my house that delight me whenever I notice them:

The top of a bookcase, or the dining room hutch, are also good spots for either no-longer-used-but-cool toys or necessary-but-beautiful items:

And then there are the annual snowflakes.  This year in the front hallway:

Of course, this doesn’t mean that every high spot in my house is a treasure.  There is, for example, the unbearable and seemingly permanent mess on the top of the refrigerator.

But, it’s worth it to look up.  Unexpected beauty can come out of it.  Like the morning that I looked up from my spot at the kitchen table and discovered frost on the kitchen window:

Or the walk that I took in Rockport and caught this picture of a tree.  It seems magical, doesn’t it?

The thing is, we all (myself included) spend far too much time looking down at our feet and hurrying through our days, our lives.  Every once in a while it’s important to remember to LOOK UP.

Look up at some point/s today.  What did you find? 

Is there some way you can put inspiration in a high spot in your own home or workplace? 

Monday, January 24, 2011

What We're Reading.

One of the wonderful things about a winter without too much work stress is that I have more time for reading (both professionally and personally).  I am currently reading:

1.      Just finished The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  Pretty good, for what it is.  Another page turner (a V.I. Warshawski novel) is taking its place.  However, I maintain that page turners are NOT "great books."  Turning pages quickly also means that there is nothing to stop and savor
2.      Am re-reading Ruth M. Arthur books that I loved in my childhood.  They aren’t as good now, but it’s still fun wandering back to that time. 
3.      John Kabat-Zinn’s Coming to Our Senses.  This is my favorite of his books so far.  Short chapters on different aspects of mindfulness and meditation.  I am taking my time with this one, resisting the temptation to “move through it quickly.”  This one I am savoring. 
4.      Professionally, I am reading things like: A Venezuelan manual for housewives and servants, identifying both the matron’s and domestic servant’s duties.  A similar and fascinating title from the US that I’ve got (but don’t know what to do with yet) is Gladys Hawkins, Your Maid from Mexico.  That one included cartoons of an overly-sexualized maid (hourglass shaped, flirting with men in sombreros, etc).  It's a pity that I can't include one of the images here.  (I am experiencing technical difficulties with downloading images--the one at the top is an old photo). 

As always, there’s also reading with the kids:
1.      With Samuel: Pseudonymous Bosch, If You’re Reading This, it’s too Late.
2.      With Anya: Beverly Cleary, Ramona Forever.
3.      With the two of them together: Michael Buckley, The Sisters Grimm, book 1: The Fairytale Detectives. 

Among the books I would recommend to anyone looking for a good read are:
1.      Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (my vote for best novel of the 20th century)
2.      A.S. Byatt, Possession  (hated all the others by this author; loved this one)
3.      Judith Ortiz Cofer, The Latin Deli
4.      Michael Pollen, The Omnivore’s Dilemma
5.      Catalina de Erauso, Lieutenant Nun
What are you reading these days?
I’m always looking for good reads: what do you recommend?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Every Week

It started almost two years ago, when we were in a bad space with our marriage.  I confided in a social worker colleague, who told me: “Go out to talk, every week, someplace outside of the house.”  I tried to make excuses—babysitters were too hard to find.  She would hear none of it.  And so we began, tentatively and fearfully, to talk.

Ever since then, we’ve gone out for coffee (or tea) together once a week, with very few exceptions.  At first, it was painful and there was a lot of serious stuff to discuss.  We weren’t (still aren’t) allowed to hide or avoid anything important.  Now it is a comfortable routine. 

But it is more than that. 

It is a treasured experience.  It is testament to our commitment to being true partners for each other.  Not every conversation we have is intense, or even terribly serious.  But we find comfort in this outlet, its reliability.  Howard has learned to speak his mind, I have learned to listen.  We look forward to connecting like this, and we feel its impact throughout the rest of the week.  I believe that my marriage is better now than it has ever been.

We plan to do this for the rest of our lives, health permitting.  I would recommend it to any couple, even those doing well.  There is a surprising richness and depth of feeling that comes out of such a simple act—talking for an hour, once per week, away from distractions. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Decompressing after the AHA

It doesn’t look like much—a paper, a program, a notebook, a couple of business cards and catalogs.  But this small pile of remains from this year’s meeting of the American Historical Association has given me something invaluable:


Remember how I said I felt like I was “slip sliding away” with regard to my sabbatical research?  I had a ton of sources, but felt overwhelmed and uncertain about where to take them, how to make sense of them.  Well, I now have ideas about how to move forward with the paper that I gave at the conference.  I had amazing, inspiring conversations with editors, and even had a couple of colleagues approach me about publication possibilities.  All of this is of course flattering (to which I am far from immune), but most importantly these possibilities are helping me to see how I can move forward in meaningful ways with the research that I am doing this year.  Most critical of all: these projects feel right.  I can see how I would do them, and they build out of (and onto) my strengths.

So much for quitting.  (A recurring fantasy of mine). 

However, I am also trying to keep perspective.  As far as I know, there are still only 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week.  (Will someone please work on adding to that???)  I also only have a certain amount of energy and focus to devote to new projects—I will be away in Ecuador this summer, and next fall I return to teaching and committee work.  Moreover, I have worked enough with mindfulness in the past few years to step away from the excitement and flattery a bit.  Nothing from the “outside” is going to lead to my happiness or self-confidence, after all.  I have to do projects for reasons that are right to me, and find my meaning from within. 

Finally, I need time, need to make time, for what is truly meaningful to me.  As much as I kvetch about them, I am madly in love with my kids.  While I was working on finishing the conference paper last week, Anya kept bringing me art work:

I also need time to relax and read novels, take photos, knit, cook, feel grounded in my home.  I am a profoundly domestic creature in some ways—which is perhaps one of the reasons that my current research focuses on various implications of domesticity in history.

I am therefore proceeding with caution as well as excitement.  And I need time to decompress from the constant whirl of activity at the conference, particularly since I have a head cold today.  I think some time curled up on a favorite chair, reading, is called for.

What do you love most about the work that you do?
What are your best “secrets” for creating a livable work-life balance or environment?