Travel. Garden. Eat.

As the sun broke across the horizon, I pushed the canoe onto the lake and enjoyed pure solitude.  Not even the sound of birds calling to each other through the trees with the hope that others might be awake to return their call.  The water was like glass.  With each paddle dip, a beautiful pattern of ripples gracefully pushed away until calm returned again.  Wispy tendrils of mist twisting and turning from the lake’s surface, chased by the expanding rays of sunlight.  Free Spirit ~ A true moment of mindfulness, gliding past the silent shores, appreciating the simple beauty of nature and life.

Canoe at sunrise in northern Minnesota

This week’s photo challenge theme brought this photo to mind, from that peaceful paddle a few summers ago.

Ciao! ~ Kat B.

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Several years ago, I took the train to a meeting that I was attending in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“A train trip is going to be the subject of your blog post?”  Well, this is California, not the East Coast or Europe.  For us, train trips are lodged in our memories, not day-in, day-out features of our daily landscapes.  Before that, I had probably only ridden a train twice, both times as a kid, when my parents arranged for special experiences.  One if not both of the trains I rode in then were steam engines.

The trip was a lovely experience, what with the wide, comfortable seats, the view of places not otherwise seen, and dinner in a formal dining car.  It’s not actually the train ride that my story is about, however.

My meeting the next day would be intense, requiring constant attention to facts presented and the emotions and hints of motivation that would flit across the other participants’ faces.  I intended to prepare by purging my mind that evening, and took a book along to read.  I wish I could remember the title of the book.  All I know is that it was romantic – something of a departure for me – and that fact was probably reflected in its title.

For the first hour of my ride, I chatted with the man across the aisle from me.  He told me that he played with the Montovani Orchestra, and would be leaving soon for a concert tour of Europe.  I had no idea that the Orchestra still existed.

Montovani music was a mainstay of my childhood.  Once my sister and I began to read, my parents decided not to have a television.  Consequently we were huge readers.  Often we would array ourselves around the living room in the evening, reading four different books, with the Montovani Orchestra providing grand yet intimate atmosphere.  (Though clearly music of another era, Montovani music is undeniably romantic.)

But I digress . . . back to the man on the train.  One of my favorite things in life is talking with men.

(And again . . . .  I was talking with a couple of my husband’s employees the other day.  One is just a few weeks into this, her first job after graduating from college.  She was laughing, saying that she was pretty sure all of her patients really liked having her as their physical therapist.  “Maybe not,” she said, “but it makes my life so much nicer thinking that they do.”  I told her that I totally understood.  “I’m pretty certain that all the men I talk with want to marry me!”)

Our traveling conversation was enjoyable.  I don’t recall the substance, only that I didn’t read any of the book that I had on my lap.  After an hour, though, I excused myself to go to the dining car; it would be a short trip and I was determined to have that experience before arriving at my destination.  I left my book open on the seat, to ensure that I would not be bumped from my seat while I was away.

When I did return, my conversation-mate had debarked.  I was sorry that I hadn’t known he would be leaving, so that I could have wished him a good time in Europe.  I picked up my book, to occupy the last few minutes of my own trip, and discovered that the man had left a note for me, as a bookmark.  “I will be on tour for about two months, but I would like to see you when I return.  My phone number is . . . .”

Ooooh!  I had been with my own lover for 15 years, and was very happy as his wife, but still, what a memory.  I would keep the note, and probably find some way to the let the man know that.  I felt flattered as I picked it up later that evening, marking my spot in the book before I turned off the light in the hotel I was staying in.

Fast-forward to unpacking after I returned home from my trip.  No book, no note.  What a disappointment!  I could easily find another copy of the book to finish, but I wanted to keep the note, pressed between the pages of a book that would be with me for life, just as a reminder of an unusual and companionable train ride.

As I thought further, however, I decided that this story might have an even more romantic ending.  What if the hotel maid found the book and took it home, discovered the note, and called the author herself?

I’ll start out by saying that I am virtually certain that I did not come up with this idea on my own.  I wish that I could give the worthy person credit for it, because it is certainly a thought-provoker.

What are the two things that most people know about you within the first two minutes of meeting you?  First, your name.  Second, what you do to support yourself.

I’ve heard that the French consider it gauche to ask what your job is soon after meeting you.  It may not be that, but it’s not necessarily the best measure of whether you will find the person interesting to be with.

So the idea is:  what if, instead of name tags, we wore “passion” tags?  Instead of asking “What do you do?” we would be asking “What are you passionate about?”  How cool would it be to attend parties where your conversations are immediately launched into the deepest realms of your heart?

Here is what my passion tag would say, circa today:

CURIOSITY

absurdity

Meandering…

color & texture

Kindness

(A little note about kindness.  Several years ago, I found a little essay that we were asked to write in grade school.  I was so embarrassed that I had said that I would want others to think of me as being kind.  “I would so much rather be interesting!”  It’s still true.  I want to amuse, to share things that have tickled my mind, to leave behind little thoughts to ponder together.  You ask me, kindness is a way to bring joy to one’s self, not something to talk about.)

What would your passion tag say?

My sweetie and I stayed a night at the Benbow Inn, near the northern coast of California, a few weeks ago.  We were on our way back home from a funeral, so didn’t have time to bask in the whole experience that is the Inn, but I wanted to share the magic of the last hour before I dozed off.

We’ve stayed at the Inn before, and I don’t remember our last room being quite so small, but this time our room was, in the “wee” sense: darling, to be cherished.  The bathroom was so tiny, and finished with such expertise, that we imagined ourselves on a yacht.

Our room was at the back of the Inn, overlooking the stone patio onto which the restaurant sprawls.  Mark took his camera out, exploring, and I sat in an armchair, reading by the light of the lamp on the table beside me.  The book was meditative:  The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, by Elisabeth Tova Bailey, which I highly recommend.

Paradoxically, as I immersed myself in the book, I became more aware of the sounds drifting through the window.  I heard the gentle movement of the creek beyond the patio.  The cuisine, wine, and companionship below must have been hypnotic, as the diners lingered late into the evening.  The tinkle of crystal and silver accented their murmurs and laughs.

When I watch period pieces that feature both the “upstairs” and “downstairs” aspects of life in a grand home – Downton Abbey, Gosford Park, Remains of the Day – I wonder about the servants’ satisfaction with their lives.  Certainly they wouldn’t have been as unhappy as many of us imagine, since their expectations weren’t the same as ours, but the contrast between their personal rooms and the ones they tend always strikes me.  I hope that they were able to exult in the beauty that surrounded them, like I did that quiet evening at Benbow Inn.

(In case you’re wondering, this is not a complaint about our room.  It was lovely, as was the experience of the diners below that I enjoyed vicariously.)

Years ago, when I was in law school, a classmate and I took a couple of hours to visit an antiques show at a nearby convention center.  After wandering together for an hour or so, my friend commented that I really seemed to like miniatures. I was indignant.  Not me; miniatures are for prissy people!  (Also the color pink, which I studiously avoided for years, same reason.)

So I’m coming clean.  I do, indeed, like miniature items.  Sometimes the appeal is the fact that something can actually made in such small size.  Sometimes it’s the momentary reverie of the cozy life associated with the item.  (Think of a tiny elevated nook with a mattress, enclosed by curtains, ready for hours of uninterrupted reading.)  Sometimes the little thing simply makes me laugh.  After all, that’s nearly always a sufficient reason.

Today I visited the Third Annual “Little Car Show” in Pacific Grove, associated with Monterey Car Week.  It was tough to get good pictures, what with the number of viewers and other photographers, but here are a couple, of two different red cars.  (Red, now there’s a good color!)

1964 Peel Trident

And before I leave, a couple pictures of something that made me laugh, without being small:

Today I visited the blog of Andreas Moser, a former attorney from Germany.  He says:

“I gave up my law firm not because I wasn’t interested in law any longer, but because I am equally interested in many other fields as well, among them politics, history, economics, philosophy and literature. And as my time on this planet is limited, I thought it would be a shame to stick to one field for all of my life.”

Not a bad philosophy.

This was the post that entranced me, however:  a single picture, the stage at the Tomorrowland Festival in Belgium.

Tomorrowland Festival, in Belgium

(Check out the little people at the bottom of the picture.)  If you know of any events in the States that feature such a beautiful ode to literature, let me know, and I’ll be out the door in a flash!

I have begun reading Page After Page: Discover the Confidence & Passion You Need to Start Writing & Keep Writing, by Heather Sellers.

The first 30 pages are devoted to the gentlest of discussions about whether you really – truly – want to write.  After all, writing takes time, and it will require a lot of discomfort.

The first chapter includes a droll anecdote about a class she taught to a group of women, who weren’t too keen on her exercises:

“A few minutes later, I noticed in the back row a very quiet woman, reading through my handouts.  She wasn’t writing, either.  She looked up, a kind of scared rabbit look in her soft brown eyes.  She said softly, ‘This class is going to be really time-consuming.  I don’t think it’s realistic at all!  We have lives!’

‘Really!’ said the two friends.

‘This is just not what I expected,’ a yellow sweat suit-wearing woman chimed in.  ‘Not at all what I thought it’d be like.’”

It was easy to read this and think “Mmm, clueless!  I know I  have to spend time at this.”

Chapter Three, however, bore in more deeply.

“You might not like me for saying this, but you do have twenty-four hours to spend.  Same as everyone else.  You can stop time by falling enormously in love with your own writing self.

. . . .

I treat my writing life like a fabulous, enchanting lover, because that is what it is to me.  Something that is terribly time consuming, delicious, and time-stopping.  I have missed important meetings for love, and I will continue to put my writing life in the same position.  My writing life is the lover at the center, not the neglected cranky demanding millstone, my ball and chain.”

This forced me to think about how I spend my 24 hours each day, and how highly I prioritize the various elements of my life.  I started making a mental list of the things that I do each day.

Do I want to finally finish (not “stop”) painting my house, enough to devote hours to that task before writing?  Yes, I do.  I crave the beauty that I know will surround me when I’ve spread sunny, peaceful colors on each wall in my home, and I’m truly tired of the constant mess that surrounds me while the contents of various rooms are spread throughout others.

Do I value playing solitaire more than I do writing?  I’ve been acting like I do, for thirty or more minutes each night, but no, that’s an activity I can substantially limit in order to bring writing towards the center of my life.

Think about making a list of the major and minor elements of your daily life.  Write each one on a separate slip and place the slips in a vertical line in front of you.  Move them around until you see that the top slip is more important than the next slip, that second slip is more important than the third, and so on.  Is this what your life looks like?

A little contemplation, a little joy.  How nice to see the ways to pull beloved activities towards the center of my life!