Flow Moment

Last week, when I was taking my dog, India, out for her morning walk, I found myself stopped in front of a modest Chicago brick two-flat.

I wasn’t sure why I stopped.

It was 7:00 AM and quiet. Very few cars were moving along the narrow street and commuters were not yet scurrying off to the nearby train station. India was not curling her butt down in preparation for her toilet routine, nor was she stationed motionless in front of a tree, waiting for a squirrel to come down and rejoin her on the earth plane.

I felt compelled to stop as if some invisible force wanted me to notice something –- and damn if I could figure out what was special.

Unconsciously, I took a deep breath in. I tried to decode the mixture of fragrances of springtime flowers my neighbors planted along their small, neat front lawns.   I scanned the street for activity, looking for other dogs (and their people) that we should try to navigate around.

A small bead of sweat rolled down my back. I thought about the dew point and conjectured that it would be getting uncomfortably humid as the day wore on. I mean, if I was sweating already this early in the morning….

What was special? Nothing and EVERYTHING.

I don’t take the same route every morning. And today, I found myself looking at an odd sort of fountain in front of a home on Eastwood.

The fountain itself was noticeably out of place. A stone figure, like a 15th century Botticelli angel, poured water from one pot into another vessel. It belonged in Rome or at Versace’s ornately decorated mansion in South Beach.

But here it was in 60625.

I tuned in to the sound of the water flowing. Ah, what is it about the sound of water?…

I thought about people who like to sleep near the ocean so they can hear the sound of waves. I thought about my own childhood in Melrose Park.

There used to be a small channel that ran along the perimeter of the modest shopping center on the corner of North and 9th. We called it Silver Creek and, to some extent, it was more of a dumping ground than a body of water.

Before everyone was concerned about environmental impact, people threw all sorts of things into Silver Creek. It was rumored to have gotten its name because Sherwin Williams, which had a manufacturing plant nearby, used to dump paint into it, giving the water a grayish tint.

As a twelve year-old, when hanging over the rail of the tiny pedestrian bridge that crossed it, I’d see crumpled soda cans, store flyers and coupons soaking in maybe 6” of water, tree branches, large stones, abandoned shopping carts other kids pushed in on a lark…

And still the current flowed. The direction and force of the stream changed depending on the curves of the channel at any point and the randomly landed objects, the garbage, the water had to move around.

Silver Creek was basically full of crap –- and yet it flowed.

There is something so comforting about the way water flows… despite obstacles, despite limited volume. Its movement is purifying and generous. Whether coming from mountains, or from larger bodies of water, it flows until there is no more.

I know the flowing water of the small lawn fountain in front of me worked with the help of electricity, but in its own magic, I could feel the pull of gravity and the pull of my own conscious focus. The sight and sound of the cascade brought me to so many different places while I stood still in one place. I felt so grateful.

I feel grateful for anything that makes me stop and take a deep breath; listen with unexpected openness; think of journeys instead of destinations; marvel at the notion of movement — even if it’s subtle, even if something is traveling only inches or from one container to another; grateful to be reminded of ways to refresh myself…

Stopping in front of a fountain, and basking in a flow moment, is no small thing.

Open the Window

It’s already the middle of May, and I haven’t really felt, as the saying goes, that spring has sprung.

I’ve already transferred my warm weather clothes to my bedroom closet. In anticipation of picnics, I put a few bottles of sauvignon blanc in the fridge. I got tickets for several baseball games (and have kept them in a very visible spot to remember I had something to look forward to).

I considered that many springtime events had taken place, but it didn’t quite feel like spring.

I know my surroundings are greener, but it’s rained so much these past weeks and has remained cold (I still hear the furnace kicking on at night). I haven’t spent much time outdoors and don’t feel the spirit of the season.

I don’t know why this has been disheartening, but I’ve been so hungry to get some Vitamin D into my skin, to spend time outdoors.

It’s humbling to be reminded that each year is different and maybe it’s ironic, now that Mother’s Day is upon us, to see a demonstration of how Mother Nature will not be hurried. A warm temperature takes its own time in becoming an everyday forecast.

An unexpected impulse came over me as I looked out my living room window and saw the top of the maple tree just outside. It was as if I heard a voice inside saying…

Open the window…

Ah, when did WINDOW come to mean a set of options graphically displayed on my computer screen?

Acting on this impulse became a sort of ritual.

I adjust the blinds in my living room every day to let sunlight into my home, angling the slats to let shadow and light paint wide horizontal lines on the walls. But I haven’t pulled the blinds up and haven’t unlocked the hardware that kept the sliding casement tightly shut since last September.

Oh my God! Is this what it looks like OUTSIDE?

I could see down the block. Parked cars, in a colorful and random order, seemed like metal blossoms amid low lilac and forsythia bushes planted between the sidewalk and the street.

Then I ran my hands over the top of the white frame of the window. I had to unlock it before sliding it up. This slowed me down. It was as if some voice inside me wanted me to take in the moment. I heard, Do you know what you’re about to do?

I can’t say that an overwhelming scented breeze, happily avoiding the stairs, entered my apartment. It was more like the air that was inside the room, static for so long, moved out of the way. The air from outside and the air from inside my living room started mingling.

Boundaries were removed. A playful rebelliousness, a sort of freedom, filled my home.

As I took a couple breaths, I sensed that the air molecules from cooking last night’s dinner and the accumulation of chimney dust from my downstairs neighbor’s frequent winter fires represented a smaller percentage of the air inside me.

I naturally found myself making room for something new. To breathe in the moment — OPEN THE WINDOW.

Letting the outside in is no small thing.

Summertime Pleasure: Some Assembly Required

Oooo Hooo – I got a tax refund this year. Not large enough to affect my retirement savings strategy, but big enough to underwrite some type of indulgence.

I decided to buy a gas grill for my back deck. I looked at different models online for ideas and asked friends, who are committed grillers, to weigh in on features and brands to check out.

I was tickled by the thought: a summertime of pleasure and a smoke-free kitchen. I also ‘fessed up to the personal attraction of warm weather dinners featuring a lime wedge topped gin and tonic and red meat.

I realized there was a nostalgic component to this yearning.

When I grew up, dinners usually consisted of some type of steak, a block of iceberg lettuce, and some flavor packet enhanced Birds Eye frozen vegetable medley. (That’s what Birds Eye called mixed vegetables.)

But Sunday dinners during the summer often saw my father drag our Weber charcoal kettle to a corner of our back yard that our family beagle hadn’t turned into his toilet. He used too much lighter fluid, but I looked forward to these meals.

Wearing Bermuda shorts and a Ban-Lon shirt (a synthetic knit which I think was invented to maximize the odor created by sweat), Buddha-bellied with surprisingly skinny legs, he seemed so happy wielding his barbecue tools; extra long spatula, two tined fork and tongs.

I visited the nearest Home Depot on Monday of last week and checked out the model that had been recommended to me. (Because it would be set up on a wooden deck instead of a cement patio, it had to be a gas grill).

But I couldn’t bring the grill home myself. Even if I contracted HD for delivery, they would only bring the box to the street level, front entrance of my building. I couldn’t navigate the huge box up the winding back stairs myself. I couldn’t imagine suffering through the assembly instructions solo.

Ah, a girl (of any age) needs a guy sometimes – to help lug the heavy things upstairs and to rotate the assembly diagram until the orientation pictured matches the way you’ve sprawled out the parts.

I fought the idea, but I asked my ex. I don’t want to depend on his help, and I don’t want him to feel taken advantage of.

But I asked and he agreed. We overcame the issue of the Spirit 210 box not fitting into my car (we took it apart in the Home Deport Parking lot and put the components and hardware in my backseat and trunk), a rubber washer cover rolling off the deck, and even the fact that the project took 30% longer than anticipated.

Nothing went extremely wrong, but not everything was easy. There were several moments when we could have started being less than kind to each other. But no blood was shed. No voices were raised.

By 4:00 in the afternoon, the grill was assembled and situated on the southeast corner of my second floor back deck. I heated up a frozen flatbread to snack on while he figured out how to use my limited set of screwdrivers to tighten all the screws and bolts that were provided. We listened to the ballgame on the radio.

The finished product delighted me. I was very appreciative of John’s help with the heavy lifting and assembly, and even for the short tutorial on turning on and off the gas.

I was also oddly happy with myself. It’s so easy when a relationship doesn’t turn out the way you expect or hope it would, to be disappointed, to rush to blame. But I figure that once you love someone, you love him – even if you can’t live together happily ever after.

When I decided to move out, it was important to me that we continued to be civil. I wanted both of us to feel okay about asking each other for help, or to feel free about swapping recommendations on new restaurants in the neighborhood.

We lead very separate lives, but I think both of us continue hold each other in regard.

Being able to grill a blue cheese burger only steps away from your dining table is great. Having a long-term perspective on relationships is no small thing.

 

Pocket Change

I don’t usually read the morning paper, but I had the urge to today. I have no work assignments and no obligations until this afternoon. The idea of sipping a cup of tea and slowly pouring over the paper was very appealing.

I could get nostalgic about the good ol’ days when newspaper boxes (vending machines), like shady trees, were planted on every other street corner. I won’t even go into the fact that either of the city’s major dailies could be purchased for only a quarter.

The price is now $1 and the nearest box is a couple blocks away. (The machine requires exact change.)

It’s still an easy destination. A pleasant walk. The hard part is finding four quarters.

Years ago, when I had to bundle up two weeks worth of laundry and haul it off to a Laundromat to do, I used to save quarters. I looked for excuses to pay cash for things hoping to build up a stockpile of silver that would keep the coin-op dryers spinning until my jeans were not damp.

But finding four quarters was no longer a slam-dunk, and I didn’t want to drive to a gas station or drugstore, where I could use bills, just to buy a paper.

I seemed to remember I had an empty cookie tin in which I had some quarters socked away. You know the kind, some sort of European butter cookie you can buy for almost nothing on closeout. I looked on the floor of my bedroom closet then on some shelves until I found the blue round tin.

It was dusty. I can’t remember the last time I looked for quarters.

Opening it was somehow like opening a treasure chest. I didn’t know what I’d find. I ceremoniously wiped off the dust before I pried off the lid.

Wow. Ten quarters and a few nickels and pennies. Around three dollars. Three dollars I had forgotten about, wealth I didn’t think I had.

I wasn’t exactly giddy, but I felt a rush of motivation to look for more change.

I checked the lining of my coat pockets. (I figured the coats had to go to the dry cleaner soon anyway.) I took out the contents of my purse and combed the lining and zipper compartments for coins.

I remember friends who used to save pennies or nickels in glass jars. When they finally took them to a bank — No, they weren’t able to go on vacation, but I remember once a friend cashed in $52 in pennies – enough to for a couple pizzas and a bottle of vino.

When I pulled my pocket change and purse change together, I realized I had about five dollars.

Just a few days ago, I was with friends playing a board game. We talked about different times in our lives when we were poor, when we felt poor; a little bit desperate and a little bit hopeless.

My friend Val shared that she remembered looking for fallen and forgotten change in her couch cushions. We all talked about odd things we did to earn extra money or how we found money in unexpected places.

As I counted my coins, I was happy about taking a little detour from my planned activities to perform a mental inventory of what change, what money, I had that I wasn’t accounting for. I came to an interesting conclusion:

You’re never poor (or as poor as you think you are) when you’re conscious of what you have.

Finding a cache of coins is no small thing.