25 August 2013

Small Accomplishments

I try my best to be productive each summer.  Looking back over the little notebook I keep—an attempt to prevent abject laziness—I'm relieved to say that this year I did manage to achieve more than I reckoned. None of it was very taxing, mind you, but there was still a sense of having accomplished something... beyond the usual brewing/drinking iced tea, that is.

Perhaps my chief accomplishment was having knitted eight socks... none of which matched and all of whom found lovely homes with friends who enjoy the recent mismatch craze in footwear. There were also several days spent poring through things in the cellar and disposing of items I will never use again. A similar trip to the attic resulted in putting out some chairs for passers-by to take.  (They were gone before I even came indoors again!)

Some days were spent reading through an amazing assortment of magazines that had started to stockpile—Teatime, Victora, MaryJane's Farm, and Writers Digest, to name a few. Vanity Fair is another favorite but it's such a commitment to read every article it's almost like having a second job. Still... where else can you learn about the titillating dramas of the Agnelli family, the workings of the Hubble Telescope, what went into designing the new FDR memorial on the East River, and the physics that allowed a man to free base jump his way into the record books... all in the same issue? (Great for someone like me whose attention span has been compared to one of those strip firecrackers.)

I also spent several days sorting through paper.  Lots of paper.  Odd bills, receipts, and various items I'd saved because of course I could never do without them.  (Why do I take a business card from every possible retailer I visit, knowing I will never really use it?) In fact I had quite a collection of business cards for places that don't even exist anymore.  I hesitated over the bin with many of those, feeling I was holding history in my hands. But then common sense won out. There were also old menus, visitor maps, and pre-21st c. tour books to throw away.  I don't own a shreader so there were a few days of aching knuckles from taking papers 4 and 5 at a time and tearing them into tiny pieces. Although for the most part I found the chore quite meditative and mindless.  (It's always lovely to accomplish something whilst being mindless...)

Continuing on with the "less is more" theme—a policy that is usually anathema to me—I was fairly reckless in winnowing out my less-used books for the first time in my life. This was, by far, the most difficult and heart-wrenching of chores, so I tried to make it easier by beginning with the non-fiction books and was relieved that it wasn't as painful as I'd anticipated.  (Let's be honest.... when will I re-read Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian Wars?)  There were quite a few volumes that I was able to pass along to friends or colleagues, but most found their way to the library or local donation center for someone else to purchase and enjoy. 

Time was also spent organizing items I'd either collected or made to give to friends and family at Christmas and birthdays. I find it useful to buy or make gifts when I can, regardless of how early it might be in the year. Easy enough to keep them in boxes under the guest room bed and fish them out as needed, and how clever I feel when I have something on hand when a birthday or anniversary is suddenly upon me! But as time passes, I sometimes forget that I have certain items, so once a year I go through the boxes and try to make sense of what's there.  (Who was that for again??) Occasionally I'll realize that something I thought might be nice for one person, is really much better for another. And then there are the times I invariably come across something that might have been intended as a present but which is now something I'd rather keep for myself.  It takes all my will power to slip it back into the box where it belongs for its intended recipient.  

One of my favorite summer chores is saving and washing out all my Quahaug shells—that's clam shells to non-Atlantic Coast folks. I spread them around on the ground by the little pergola and then wear heavy shoes to crackle them into small pieces, making a sweet garden pathway.  I do love the look and sound of them as I make my way through the garden.  An old family friend who lived in the country had a long driveway that was entirely covered in clam shells... the way our car sounded as we rolled up to her door is still a sweet childhood memory and I'm happy to be able to capture a bit of that in my own garden now.

Of course the primary summer chore around the cottage is gardening and there is always plenty of weeding and pruning to do, or simply toting water from the rain barrel to keep everyone hydrated. Alas, there were no perennial newcomers to dig into the beds this year, but I did purchase the usual assortment of annuals for the patio area.  Impatiens,  Petunias, Morning Glory, Moonflower, Lobelia, Sweet Potato vine, as well as all my favorite kitchen herbs—Rosemary, Basil, Thyme, and Sage.  

In amidst this gentle productivity there were days that were entirely idle, meant to accomplish nothing more than feeling at peace:  jaunts to the ocean and watching as waves crashed over the sand and scattered lovely shells and rounded pebbles at our feet; trips to coastal clam shacks to devour chowder and clam cakes and watch seagulls circle overhead with hopeful beady eyes; a family reunion by a shimmering lake in New Hampshire; and a journey to a friend's farm for several days of total isolation, with breathtaking views of the nearby ridge, the peach and apple orchards, and the gardens where we harvested our meals.

There were certainly other tasks I'd hoped to accomplish this summer.... painting more of the interior cottage walls, including the inside of the verandah; firing up the sewing machine and working on a few projects; clearing out more of the attic and cellar.  Alas, it was not to be.  And yet, despite this, the summer was just right.  And that's what matters after all. 

"Just right" is the very best outcome one could desire for pretty much everything I think.

23 August 2013

23 Signs that you’re an introvert

1. You find small talk incredibly cumbersome. (My friends have a tendency to engage in lengthy conversations with complete strangers ... people in check-out lines, people at bus stops. Who DOES that???)
2. You go to parties -– but not to meet people.  (Actually, I generally only go to family events, and that's because there's always cake ... and small children to play with.)

3. You often feel alone in a crowd.  (It would be great if Coldwater Creek or Chico's sold invisibility cloaks for those pesky times you need to be in public.)

4. Networking makes you feel like a phony. (Can I tell you how many Linked In invites I’ve refused?  That would be all of them.)

5. You've been called "too intense." (I can be passionate about certain things, but for the most part I'm inherently lazy.)

6. You're easily distracted.  (In our family we call it the “oh look, a duck” syndrome)

7. Downtime doesn’t feel unproductive to you.  (Well, yes, but that’s because staring into space on the verandah in the afternoon is actually “problem solving”.)

8. Giving a talk in front of 500 people is less stressful than having to mingle with those people afterwards.  (You can make it 1,000 as long as I get to walk offstage and directly into a waiting car afterwards.)

9. When you get on the subway, you sit at the end of the bench -– not in the middle. (I'm the person who spreads the entire contents of her life around her so NO one will sit nearby.)

10. You start to shut down after you’ve been active for too long.  (“It’s time for my nap....” is my mantra.)

11. You're in a relationship with an extrovert. (I do tend to surround myself with people who could easily hold advanced degrees from clown college. It takes the pressure off me, you see.)

12. You'd rather be an expert at one thing than try to do everything. (I am a uni-tasker par excellence.)

13. You actively avoid any shows that might involve audience participation.  (I’ve walked out of restaurants when birthday cakes held by singing waiters approached my table.  And all family members have had to sign a "No surprise parties under any circumstances" clause, which includes quashing any that might be planned by well-meaning friends.)

14. You screen all your calls -- even from friends.  (If by screening you mean I dislike answering the telephone when it rings then, yes.)

15. You notice details that others don't. (Which makes for conversations that are so circuitous and labyrinthian, it's a wonder I ever voice a complete thought!? Or as my neighbor likes to say, 'One of us has to remember what we were talking about...')

16. You have a constantly running inner monologue.  (Actually, “inner” would be kind.... I talk out loud to myself pretty much constantly when I’m in the house and garden. This is why God invented pets.)

17. You have low blood pressure. (And a body temperature that barely hits 96 and a pulse that would encourage a mortician to stay late at work.)

18. You’ve been called an “old soul” -– since your 20s.  (Try six.)

19. You don't feel "high" from your surroundings. (Unless I’m in my garden!)

20. You look at the big picture. (My nickname amongst some friends is Switzerland.... but I think seeing both sides and playing devil's advocate is a GOOD thing.)

21. You’ve been told to “come out of your shell.”  (I am so content being a stay-at-home, I think if someone yelled FIRE, I would actually stop for a moment to contemplate whether I wanted to leave the house.)

22. You’re a writer.  (Whenever I can....)

23. You alternate between phases of work and solitude, and periods of social activity. (Cleaning out the back gutters, “problem solving” on the verandah [see No. 7 above], and then tea in the garden with a neighbor... what’s not to love?)

Can I have an AMEN, sister?

Carry on.

["23 Signs that you're an introvert" from the Huffington Post]

22 August 2013

Un peu de tout... or Once in a Blue Moon

I am so spoiled for being tucked away for two months each summer in my own little world that it's always a bit of a shock to see what changes took place in the other parts of town while I was hibernating in my gardens.

An ice cream parlor replacing the quirky bookshop near my trolly stop was the saddest change.  Really?  A double dip instead of a page-turner??  Ah well. Who knows what drives the retail mind. This will be the second independent bookshop that closed on that street. Amazing considering the clientele in that area is mostly students and professors.  You would think they would be supportive of book sellers, but there you are.  I know I was always more prone to buy a book than a sweet, and still am.

My morning walk has revealed small signs of Fall, most notably all the chubby acorns that litter the pavement here and there.  (The ones the squirrels haven't purloined and, well, squirreled away.)  I remember collecting them as a child and then taking a pen and drawing little faces on the green orbs, turning them into smiling tam-o-shanter'd people.  So of course I had to pocket a few the other morning and try my hand at eyes, nose and off-centered smile.  (Some talents just never leave you....)

They are tearing our road up.  Again.  First it was the water lines, with huge trenches dug down both sides of the road as new pipe was laid down.  Then it was the gas lines, with digging that extended up and over our property lines and resulted in some new pavement being poured here and there.  (I was saddened by this since I loved the old cracked sidewalk where the odd Harebell or Loosestrife could push up.)  Now it's the water lines.  Again.  This time there are long massive pipes of various widths and age ranging the sidewalks, cobbled together with futuristic Mad Max fittings and buried under enormous mounds of tar and gravel at every driveway and front walk. Presumably these humps are a preventative measure to keep home owners from tripping over the pipe, although how one couldn't see and avoid falling over a 7-inch round pipe is beyond my thinking.  But apparently some risk management wizard decided it's easier and safer to climb up and over a pile of uneven sticky asphalt several times a day in order to gain access to your front door.  (I felt compelled to yodel the first time I made the climb.)  My neighbor suggested we use ski poles to get in and out.  I said I'll need a sherpa on Market day to get myself and my parcels over the rise.

The Moonflowers have started to bloom.  This may seem small peas for the average gardener but for me it is a huge triumph of timing.  Every spring I wait impatiently for the cold weather to wane a bit so I can plant my Moonflower seeds. I spend much of April waiting for them to germinate, carefully transplanting them into pots in May and then watching their slow progress over their twig trellises throughout the summer. By August, I usually see the first buds starting to form and then as September's chilier nights progress my gardener's panic sets in, wondering if they will blossom before the first frost.  Sadly, the past two years have been a total failure, with Moonflower vines keeling over in the cold, set with at least a dozen buds that never open.

But this year, things are different.  I've had three enormous pearly blossoms so far, with another 7 on the way.  Happily, they are taking their time and granting me a gorgeous, pale bloom every few nights, drawing out the sublime pleasure.  It occurred to me, after looking at the calendar and noting wryly that this week we have been blessed with a luminous "Blue Moon", that this might be the frequency with which I can expect this occurrence.  Let's hope not.

15 August 2013

How to Spend Time In The Summer: An Illustrated Primer

Knitting socks...

Enjoying cups of tea with a friend...

Cutting flowers to bring into the house....

Reading under the trees....

.... or under a sunshade.

 There was rain, and excrutiating heat, but there was also birdsong, bright sun, soft wooly clouds overhead, acrobatic squirrels, an everchanging bounty of flowers, the sound of crickets at night and cicadas at midday, the dappled shade from maple and ornamental fruit trees, the splash of the birdbath, the crunch of clamshells underfoot, and the whimsical journey of trailing vines.
(Including one that keeps trying to wend its way through the back doorway.)
Hoping everyone has had a relaxing, beautiful summer
full of time to breathe and be restful. 
Looking forward to reading what you've all been up to...