small things on a big day, part one

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I have dropped her off at a new school that will shed that newness in a whisper of time. We picked up older friends along the way, their chatter immediately filling the back seat, but my first passenger – by address order and birth order alike – remained silent, listening. They speak a language not yet learned, beyond the Spanish 5 and French 8 scheduled blocks discussion just behind her. I don’t worry, she’s a quick study on most things, bed-making and laundry-sorting aside.

I have twenty minutes to spare before the garden opens. I have planned for this, and treat myself to coffee and a sandwich in the interim. The lot is full as I wait to turn in, several yellow buses pass me before it’s clear. The line is long as well, but I’m not in a hurry. The man ahead of me fiddles with his phone in annoyance, and finally steps up to the counter, placing his order. They begin to make his drink and warm his sandwich, but the payment app on his phone is acting up. He moves towards the door to try and remedy it, but it’s locked up. I step up next to him, and ask him if he’ll let me buy him breakfast. He politely declines, but his frustration seems to fade. “Please, I’d love to,” I ask again. He looks at me and places his phone in his suit pocket and accepts.

“The name for your order?” the cashier asks. “Turan. T-u-r-A-n.” He turns to thank me again, and tells me no one ever gets the A-N right on his name. I’m asked for my name, and I reply “K-r-i-s-t-I-n. No one ever gets the I-N right on mine either.” We smile and move together to wait for our food.

Because it’s busy, we have some time to talk. He thanks me again for breakfast. I tell him that I just dropped my oldest daughter off for her first day of high school, and in those moments since, I’ve wondered how I should mark that milestone. So I say that I’m glad I was behind him in line, and I tell him about the time I came through the drive-thru just after my niece died, and when I pulled up to the window, my bill had already been paid by the person in front of me. My girls were with me – and they still remember it four years later. “And I look forward to the opportunity for me to do the same,” he says. I’ve met a poet.

Except that he’s not a poet, but is dressed in suit and tie for work. Or maybe he is. He leans in closer and tells me that the sight of the school buses this morning gives him hope. “I think this is a good day for your daughter to start high school. Some positivity in this moment, with Charlottesville.” There, he’s done it. He’s extended the conversation that I can’t get out of my head – to me. I nod, and tell him of my internal frustration at wanting the space to acknowledge the small things in the mess of all of these big things.

“Turan.” They call his name, and he picks up his sandwich, turns to me, and smiles. “Small things,” raising his bag slightly towards me, thanking me again without words or guilt or embarrassment. So I drive to the garden to look for the small things there, to say thank you for the gift of this morning already.

bench thoughts

The bench in our bedroom at the foot of our bed is at least fifteen years old. It’s dark (fake) leather, tufted, with a deep storage well. It currently holds all the dress up clothes, castoffs from twenty halloween costumes, party favor hats and funny glasses, several versions of Harry Potter wands, and discarded recital-wear from dancing cousins. Most days it never gets opened, but its presence there is really important as a surface. It holds the extra pillows at night, plus the blanket and the discarded comforter. At some point each evening, one of us stacks the pillows there and folds the blue blanket up in a neat stack, and pulls the comforter onto the bench – clear signals that we’re both headed there soon, if not quite yet.

A few months ago the upholstery started to flake off, and now it’s in full fledged shedding mode. I find these dark brown flecks everywhere, and they annoy me. M thinks we could reupholster it, but I know that will likely be as costly – or even more costly – as a new bench, and I’m really not that keen on the design of this one so much that I want to sink a few hundred dollars into it. It sits really low to the ground, so it’s impossible to vacuum underneath it, but just high enough to host a lot of cobwebs. So I’ve been thinking about an eventual replacement bench, and here are a few I’ve considered:

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The Nelson Bench is a classic that I’d love to own one day. Alas, the price tag is pretty steep, and I can’t see myself finding the time to track down a vintage piece. (Although a quick search locates one in Chicago, so maybe I could call on some blog friends…) We’d lose the storage capacity, but honestly, we have a full height wall of built-in wardrobes right across from here, so storage isn’t really that big of a deal, we’d just need to shift things around a bit.

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I like the walnut finish, but the natural could be nice too. The room is mostly white and very simple. The walnut would nod a bit more to the chifferobe in the bathroom, but the natural finish is really simple and – at least to me – looks more like the classic piece I’ve loved for decades. One benefit of going with the walnut is that it would look great with the Eames Turned Stools that I keep hoping will magically appear on either side of our bed one morning. (I like the shape on the left the best.)

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These are also very pricey, although they would increase in value over time, as would the bench, because they are classic pieces.

I ran over to the mall last Saturday to pick up a necktie that M had ordered, and I decided to pop into West Elm just a few stores down. They are currently running a 30% sale on some of their furniture, and I noticed this bench at the foot one of their beds in the showroom. It very closely matches the piece in the bathroom, which got me thinking more about tying the two rooms together.

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I like the idea of a lower shelf that could hold a few items like books, or an extra blanket, and it was helpful seeing the bench against a bed / bedding just like ours. I’m just not sure I want something too fussy there, so I’m not completely sold on this one.

We could also go really simple here, which could be a nice idea. My worry is going too rustic, although the lines of this Blu Dot bench below are nice. (It’s called the Amicable Split, which might not be the best name for a bench at the foot of our bed.)

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And there’s always the option of doing an updated version of what we have now – something upholstered in a neutral fabric, with storage space and a comfortable, tufted top.

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There are lots of options with or without storage with this kind of look. It looks comfortable and practical, and would certainly be a safe choice.

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But in my predictable fashion, I need to mull things over a bit more. I feel like the last bench was a practical, safe choice for over fifteen years. As we’re moving through the house with an eye to finishing out, purging, buttoning up, and finessing our design choices, the classics are the most appealing to me – even if I have to wait them out a bit more or hunt them down.

I’ll post some photos of the room soon – we’re hoping to install historic replacement windows in there soon, and then will repaint and freshen things up.

the spiritual practice of running

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I started writing this post two weeks ago, so now “a couple of weekends ago” = one month. I’m having a really hard time finding the space and energy to sit down and write, but I’m still determined to keep at it.

M and I found ourselves in the car alone a couple of weekends ago after meeting up with his parents halfway between our houses. Our children climbed into their grandparents’ big red truck and headed out for a week away at grandparent camp, and we headed home for a quiet week, just the two of us. We chatted for awhile, I tried to read a bit, we alternated between radio stations, trying to find something decent to listen to. We managed to dial in a public radio station, and I was pleased that the show playing was On Being, and the intro was just starting. The show started, and Krista Tippet introduced the subject of Running as Spiritual Practice, and I was completely hooked.

In the intro I heard Ashley Hicks, co-founder of Black Girls Run, recount a conversation with a fellow runner in a store. She was expressing her nervousness about an upcoming race and he told her something that has stuck with her ever since – the blessing is outside of your comfort zone.

I’ve listened to this episode four times now. I keep going to it when I need to unwind from all the normal things that I plug into my ears – news, politics, social justice issues, the noise of day. As I listened to it that first time, in the car, I kept saying to M – This. This is it. That is exactly how I feel. That’s me. That could be me. Over and over again, no matter the speaker. I could relate to a piece of each of their stories. I took away a thought or a phrase from each one of them, and they’ve been weaving themselves through my head since I first heard them.

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Last week we had record high temperatures, soaring into the 100’s every day – sunny, cloudless, oppressive. It took a toll on my running schedule. Even I’m not crazy enough to run at 5:30pm when the heat index is 115+. Instead of running, I griped about not running. I complained about the heat; I posted pictures of the thermometer in my car each afternoon for emphasis. I griped some more. My car’s leather seats were too hot, my skin melted upon contact. Our show at the Muny was too hot, the thick air hardly stirred.

In the meantime, I was monitoring some posts and keeping up with articles and discussions around the miserable conditions inside our medium security prison in north city. The facility is not air-conditioned, and temperatures inside were recorded as high as 115. Protests were being planned for Friday evening, and I saw the signs that many of my friends were making to carry there. I began to feel the heat in a different way, the kind of relentless heat without respite. I had respite. I’ve always had respite. I have to choose to be hot, to sweat. I can avoid it, or at least minimize it. It’s not a sentence, just a bridge between one comfort and the next. A string of comforts so long that I’ve lost track of where the line starts and ends.

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Mike Stavlund spoke in this piece about spending all day at work, dressed a certain way, trying to look put together and not a mess. Then came his “after work” – a time and space where none of the above mattered. The heat, the sweat, the mess – it was welcome. It was his own space to be as un-put-together as he wished. I get this, this is a big part of what running has become to me.

I spent years and years and years telling myself that I didn’t have time to exercise. I didn’t feel the pressure to do it – I was healthy-ish, and busy enough with other things. Any drive to be more active was usually tamped down as the day wore on – I was too tired, I was too busy, I should spend more time with the girls, I should clean more, I should tackle those unfinished projects. Too hot, too cold, too wet, too humid, too windy. I don’t have the right clothes, I’m not signed up for the right class, I look ridiculous, I’m not strong enough, I’m not fast enough, I don’t know where to start, I don’t know how to fit it in.

I looked for a sliver of time that wouldn’t really matter. I found it in that “after work”. If I typically leave work around 5:30 and get home sometime before six – what if twice a week I left right at five, stopped at the park on the way home, exercised for twenty minutes, and walked in the door at the same time? It felt like found time. I scheduled it on the calendar. Walking felt too small in this found space. What if I ran? I couldn’t really run, so I ran in 30 second sprints, heaving and panting between them. Bit by bit it grew on me. I claimed this space as my own – my “after work” before the rest of me takes over. I choose this time, at the hottest, at my most tired, stomach rumbling for dinner that is still a couple of hours away.

It’s good in and of itself.

Roger Joslin speaks about the act of putting on running clothes as a ritual. It is similar for me. Putting my bag together in the morning is my promise to myself that I will keep later. When I look up from my desk around five and see the weather, putting on my shoes is the tiny hurdle that I jump over, moving me from waffling on the outside conditions and settling into the weather extremes, whatever form it takes that day.

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I try to schedule these after work runs at least twice a week. In recent years, I’ve also found myself with an open ninety minute block of time on Sunday afternoons while E is at youth group just a few blocks from my favorite park. It’s very tempting to fit my grocery run in during that time, or run some errands nearby, or even just grab a cup of coffee at the shop on the corner and relax for a few. But I’ve grown to love the practice of this longer run on Sundays. Some days I’m able to work in 7-10 miles; other days it’s less, as I meander more and stop at traffic lights.  

Sarah Kasawinah talks of the spiritual practice of running – I will straighten out my arms and think “thank you god, this is beautiful”. I find myself practicing my gratitude on these longer runs. The beauty of the park is overwhelming, the people I pass along the path have become my friends. I whisper gratitude for their presence. I thank my body for its work. I thank my work for challenging me. I thank the sunlight for lighting my path. I thank the seasons for letting me lean into them, I notice the changes each week, and I’m grateful for the chance to see them in real time. From the piece again: My body can do things; my body can be trained to do new things. I express my gratitude that I can practice resting through running. I find a rhythm without a clock or a map and although I’m moving, and sweating, and breathing, I’m at rest. Everything on the inside ends up on the outside. Soon enough I’ll shower it all off, the salt, the dust, the worries, the doubts. 

I am fearless. I can stretch myself. I might not know how to do the work, but I know how to lace up the shoes for it. I step out of my comfort zone as a practice now, a ritual that has changed me in so many different ways. Ask me a question, to do something new and scary, and I’ll list a hundred things I don’t know, a hundred reasons why I can’t. But watch me put on those running shoes anyway. The blessing is outside of my comfort zone. The beauty is in the ritual. The practice is the gift.