I avoid making too many resolutions for each new year because it is unlikely I will follow any one particular regimen for more than a few months. The breakup is rarely painful but the consequences tend to far outlast my seasons of limited success. Hence, the assortment of sizes in my closet, the juicer in my basement, and two dozen underappreciated, free-from-everything hair products initially purchased to replace my toxic hairspray (damn you, 1980s). Instead, I try to institute small, cost effective changes which promise to improve my overall quality and fulfillment of life. Since January, I’ve committed to restorative daily walks during which I check-out from daily chaos and check-in with my contemplative self. On occasions when others have asked where I’m headed (as I’m slipping into sneakers or slipping out of the office), I have shared my intentions and now find amusement in their regurgitated versions of ‘restorative’ as they lightheartedly mimic my seemingly deluded, if not noble mission. Upon further reflection, I acknowledge that restoration, or the repair of something in need, is a concept that should come easily to me, a natural born fixer of situations (and per my delusion, people). Easily it may come-until my possessions (or I) are the primary and oft impractical subjects of reconstruction.
If I am forced to suggest what, if anything, might set this year apart from all of the others, I would attribute the likelihood of my future success to several things including aging, middling wisdom, health concerns, financial woes, GMOs, current events, and perhaps even the weather (worth noting: I omitted hair loss because it’s self inflicted. Refer to first paragraph).
Essentially, shit just got real.
And when that happens, I turn to (as I assume most of us do) what is familiar and comfortable, if not always in prime shape or working order. It calls to mind a never ending debate I have with Paul over old things versus new things. Like many, I am a frequent buyer of replacement items which, until now, I have attributed to a personal failure to prioritize quality over quantity. My penchant for purchasing more items than I need, each at a veritable steal, is what Paul considers the sinking of our ship caused by influential albeit tiny holes. And while I’m careful to refrain from reducing my shortcomings to events or practices related to my childhood, I’ll admit to having limited knowledge of, or experience with purchasing the best of anything. I hail from regular folk who afforded me the necessities of life, if not the name brand bling I thought I needed. Paul’s upbringing was much the same, save for a pricier neighborhood and a proclivity for well-researched purchases on far fewer occasions. My Christmas mornings were vastly different from his, but not in the way you might imagine. My parents had the magical ability to turn limited holiday resources into towers of wrapped treasures (many of which were handmade) for each of their five children. Conversely, Paul and his sister received far fewer gifts, but each with a more significant retail value and long term purpose. And still today, he begrudgingly succumbs to a bevy of festively wrapped gifts (purchased at a veritable steal) placed under the tree after midnight for our two (grown ass) children (what? talk to Santa, it’s all him).
Do not be fooled however, into believing that Paul has assumed the role of discerning and prudent shopper. On many occasions, his typical response to the discovery that something we own is faulty or in disrepair (“everything I own is shit“) is consistent with his unwillingness (a little bit cheap) and financial inability (pretty much broke) to buy the better, more trustworthy replacement of said object. The result of our imperfections often finds us in a bit of an it’s-not-worth-fixing-but-we’re-not-buying-a-better-one conundrum. Whether we’re debating the replacement of one toaster or seventeen windows, the toll taken by such exhaustive dialogue occasionally finds us in the gardening aisle of Lowe’s or the gourmet aisle of Home Goods where reduced price perennials or past-its-prime pasta will serve as temporary panaceas.
And though I’ve been diligent in my more recent attempts toward self improvement, I’ve been careful not to impose expectations on others to follow suit. Much to my surprise and delight, Paul has recently (and somewhat inexplicably) discovered an aptitude for home improvement and repair. Summer of 2016 is referred to in our home as the summer of the deck, and I’m certain Paul wishes the replacement of it took less time, less money, easier trials, and fewer errors. Nonetheless the new and improved version stands unscathed by winter 2017 and serves as proof not only in the intrinsic value of restoration, but also confirms that now- at least one thing we own isn’t shit.
In fairness, I should mention that in the first two decades of our (almost three decades long) marriage, we were exclusively a hand-me-down furniture kind of household. To date, very few items we own were actually purchased by us and of those, only a few came from proper furniture stores. We were recyclers by necessity, not by trend. So you see, the opportunities for preservation were limited. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to an insatiable longing for a real and complete bedroom set. New is not important to me and I quite fancy the idea of owning a piece of someone else’s boudoir history. For now however, our clothing rests securely in steel drawer units similar to those you might find in a doctor’s office. The downside for some might be their industrial heft and color (think muddy putty- which I kind of like), but the upside is the reliable ease with which they open and close, not to mention the (locking) safety of their contents (because one can never be too cautious about the integrity of undergarments in an earthquake). If and when I hit the Powerball jackpot, I know just where to keep the windfall.
You might be wondering where I’m going with all of this and why I have chosen to air my laundry for all who visit the blogosphere. Each day I struggle a little bit less to ascertain the answer. Today, it is for the same reason that I revisited an old favorite pastime of mine- turning outdated wool garments into new and functional mittens- because Dear Readers, the true value of something only becomes evident when we are willing to look beneath its surface. In doing so, I am painfully reminded of a younger me who railed against hand-me-down fashions from older siblings (oh, what I wouldn’t give now for those hand-embroidered denims!).
If much of this seems rather obvious to you, perhaps my stubbornness is what prevents me from quickly learning what many of you already know. What is not lost on me however, is the clever timing of these little revelations in my own life that seem to whisper of Divine intervention. I didn’t wear glasses until mid-life and much like the early resolutions I made, the first glasses I chose were poor in both quality and effectiveness, but aesthetically they offered the bling I thought I needed (sound familiar?). I expect it was by design that around the same time I reluctantly surrendered to a need for progressive lenses, I was also suddenly and remarkably able to see with clarity a number of opportunities in the once seemingly hopeless challenges for which I prayed and sought resolution.
When I reflect upon my more recent shift toward embracing what is already mine and familiar, I am forced to consider what may have prevented me from doing so in the past, and here is what I know:
At around the same time my first attempts toward self improvement began, Paul and I were suffering the harsh, unspoken realities of empty nesting. We missed our kids tremendously (though differently) and welcomed independent distractions. The unfortunate result of separately dealing (or not) with the vacancies they left was, for both of us, a seemingly irreversible preference for solitude. I’m convinced that a great many of the feelings we couldn’t admit to having are still buried today under backyard perennials and between the stitched layers of indoor projects.
Recently and perhaps coincidentally, Paul started cleaning out the basement. In doing so, he unearthed a few items inherited from his beloved family members. Idly they sat, collecting dust for a decade or two, awaiting our readiness to use or lose them. We seem to have a penchant for misplacing the ones we intended to use (has anyone seen our ginormous framed and mounted oxen yoke?), and a proclivity for harboring coffee pots, lots of them. Among the items that now sit in neatly organized sections of storage, I spied an old copper tea kettle that appealed to me. It, like the copper cookware he inherited, reminds me of old bedtime rituals and one particular song my children requested I sing repeatedly (with little regard for what exactly, music should sound like). Thankfully, they were my only audience and cared more about the lyrics than the accuracy of its delivery
(Julie Andrews: what exactly do you call that key you’re singing in? Me: nailed it.).
Much to my delight, Paul took it upon himself to spend the better part of a recent Saturday to give new life to the kettle. Arduously he scraped, polished, and buffed it until it bore no resemblance to its old dysfunctional self. He did the same for an old bugle he recovered among Christmas lights and coffee pots and it now sits proudly atop our new and handcrafted mantel (the handiwork of the same crafty imposter now posing as my husband). Unfortunately, many of the restored old copper pieces are no longer safe to use for modern cookware. Nonetheless, I find them charming in their duplicity and they make for great conversation pieces (because I need help starting one, said no one ever).
Today’s walk left me with some unanswered questions about the state of our home and our hearts, and I accept that I might never know precisely what kindled our more immediate needs to recover, renew, and restore some of the neglected remnants of our past. Perhaps the real and somewhat terrifying truths of middle life afforded both of us the clarity to recognize the extraordinary value in the ordinary and the familiar. But the momentum is palpable and I hope we might continue to bring new life and new meaning to the mundane.
At this moment in time, of this I am certain Dear Readers;
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens are indeed
a few of my favorite things.