beautiful things,  collecting stories,  the mothering arts


starbushEvery once in awhile, you go to an incredible hotel. Maybe it’s an anniversary weekend, maybe it’s a girls night off. Any which way, you know what I’m talking about. The bed is absolutely amazing. Fluffy and yet firm, it enfolds you and cocoons you, the sheets and comforters so soft and so silky that as soon as you lay down in the bed, your muscles start to relax and you know you’re going to sleep so very well. The pillows are feather down, firm enough to read a book on and yet comfy enough that when you lay down, it feels like you’re sleeping on a cloud. The bathroom has the most amazing bath tub, which you’ve filled with water at just the right temperature in which to take a long bath. Maybe it’s even a jetted tub. Everything about this place is restorative. You have softly lit candles around the room. You know well the peaceful, whole feeling you have when you wake up in the morning, the sun gently streaming through the beautiful curtains (because everything about this hotel is beautiful with exquisite attention to detail).  Breakfast is a feast for the eyes and the body, freshly cut fruit, freshly squeezed orange juice, fluffy beautiful eggs, toast, the whole nine yards. You feel as if you could conquer the world, or at least those half-dozen bookstores and antique shops downtown.

Hold on to that thought.

When’s the last time you felt that peaceful wholeness?

Is it a solid guess to say that it may have been years, maybe decades?

I hear you whisper softly. I’ve been pregnant and/or nursing for the last decade. My husband works third shift. Sleep? What is sleep? Peace!? Ha! Have you been near my house lately? I’ve got teenagers. I’ve can’t get my toddlers to stay in their beds. My house looks like a bomb went off. The laundry has been sitting in situ for so long that it has that weird smell because I’ve washed and forgotten to dry and washed it again and forgot to dry it and washed it again… my toddlers think it’s a game to throw food. My home is decorated in toddler snot and always has this weird diaper-y smell. I’m laughing at your hotel room idea because my house, my bedroom will never look like that.

And that whole feeling? I’m so sick and tired of being sick and tired. I get every little bug the kids bring home from the park. My doctor fusses at me at every yearly physical because everything is so off. I can’t seem to manage my [medical issue here].

And don’t even get me started on that food! Do you know the last time I had a real meal? Are you kidding me!?!?

I hear you.

Loud and clear.

Between 2007 and 2012, my husband and I were both hospitalized for complications with pneumonia seven times. Every stay was at least four days. The longest was almost two and a half weeks. We were exhausted. We had three children under three, then four under four, five under five, six under six. Cancer scares, severe illness, losing a child, losing a job, nearly losing our home and our cars…Everything. I understand what you’re going through because I’ve been there. There has been more than a few times that my husband and I have gone hungry so our children could eat. There was once a time I had to throw away an entire load of laundry because it got destroyed by mildew because I just couldn’t keep track of it. We were homeschooling through most of it. We both consistently worked odd jobs all throughout, which means there was no schedule to speak of- just when we’d find a workable rhythm something would change. We just tried to keep our heads above water. I absolutely understand.

When I think back to that exhausted tired mama who was running on empty, I just want to wrap her up in a hug, sit her down with a delicious cup of something hot, and then…tuck her into bed. I’d play with the children, read lots of stories, sing songs, go out and swing. And when my younger self woke up, this is what I’d gently say to her.

It doesn’t have to be this way. All this illness, the lack, the laundry, they are all signposts that something is not right here. Pay attention. Take a deep breath and slow down. Listen to what your life and your body are telling you.

I think, more importantly than even the symptoms you’re seeing, listen to your dreams- think about that beautiful hotel room experience, think about the places you’ve been and the situations you’ve experienced that helped you find that place of peacefulness and wholeness.

Then, start small. Take one thing off your plate, and then the next. And the next. Pull your husband in, your support system, and be honest. “I can’t do this anymore” is not a sign of defeat- it’s a sign of change. It’s always a sign that you need to re-evaluate. I’m going to talk about more practical ways to re-evaluate tomorrow, but I’d like you to consider a not so practical thing first.

Sometimes, what’s adding to our burden is something so tiny and so huge as beauty itself.  Or more specifically, the lack of beauty. We need to keep on top of the kitchen or the laundry, but both rooms are dark, and ugly, or there isn’t enough counter space. You hate putting the laundry away because the closets are horrible messes, the drawers bursting. No one really wants to eat dinner together because the table is always strewn with papers and soccer cleats and three day old coffee cups.

It’s easy to respond to these roadblocks with two knee-jerk reactions: one is sort of this thought process ( ala the dark kitchen with no counter space) that the situation is hopeless and only a full scale renovation will fix the problems. Or two, you’re probably expecting me to say that it’s high time you cleaned those closets or cleared that table or cleaned that trouble-making space. And maybe that’s true, and cleaning will help, but I’d argue what you’re really missing is beauty.

Think back to that hotel for a minute. Yes, sure, the beds and linens and things are luxurious and expensive, but the real secret is a hotel’s attention to detail- and to beauty.

So again, start small. My kitchen is dark and awful and there is no counter space. It is so awkwardly laid out, and we’re renting. Going in there at first to create meals made me want to cry or pull my hair out. I don’t have a lot of money, ever, but this is what I’ve done to bring beauty into the space and make it work for me, help me to a settled, creative feeling when I enter it: I stapled twinkly LED Christmas lights back and forth underneath the cabinet above the sink (which was a dark hole), bringing both light and whimsy to the space (and without breaking my lease). I found temporary wall paper for $25, and wrapped it around that sink/counter area, giving it a gentle, pretty shot of butter yellow. Over the oven I pasted some of my favorite, inspiring cooking and floral photos from a magazine called Taproot. I found an inexpensive rolling cart that adds another foot and a half of counter space to the kitchen, which I move around as needed. There is a cheerful rug I found in clearance that sits in front of the sink. I think, all told, I may have spent about $80 or so dollars. Now, it’s not some magazine layout gorgeousness, and the real flow and layout problems haven’t been fixed- but I’ve made it work for me and I’ve brought beauty into the space- so that I want to spend time in there. I’ve paid attention to the details that I most need in a kitchen area to make things work for me.

I firmly believe that when you are at your worst- exhausted, sick, heart-sore- that is when you need beauty the most. And it’s not beauty with a huge price tag either. Healing looks like three dollar flowers from the grocery store, a line item that is always in my grocery budget. It’s buying myself that beautifully ripe gorgeous pear- just one- they are expensive- and sitting down to enjoy in the afternoon, treasuring the moment. It is choosing to take down all the ugly blinds and hanging inexpensive muslin and lace curtains in all the windows. (Outfitting our whole house, all three floors, cost me about thirty five dollars.)

What has fascinated me about this project six years in now is that my home has become my hotel. It is the place I am most at peace, and the beauty of it restores me. Slowly all the cheap and ugly stuff has disappeared, the stuff I always bemoaned- and now things are simple and beautiful- what I always wanted but swore I could never have or find- and it starts with one small, simple choice, and then another.


This post is eighth in the series. Begin the journey here.

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