Thursday, October 23, 2008

My Favorite Things

I had a conversation with Austin’s aunt a few years ago. Like me, she was raised as a pastor’s child and then pastor’s wife (with hardly a break in between).

Don’t be fooled by the Joel Osteens of the ministerial world. Pastors, as a general rule, do not make much money. When the show 7th Heaven came out, I refused to watch ON PRINCIPLE because with their fetchload of kids and really small parish, they lived in a huge house and had nice clothes. And then I was able to not watch simply because it was a show that lacked good writing, good acting, and a plot. And the mother was a shrew.

I don’t want to give the impression that I was destitute as a child. Not because of pride, but I don’t want to be overdramatic or ungrateful. Despite the $1.75 my parents brought home after paying bills, we managed to eat (rice and beans) be clothed (in some truly horrific Goodwill-On-Crack pleated acid wash jeans) and entertained (Fat Albert on fuzzy television that received two stations).

Back to the conversation, though.

Somehow my parents managed to send us to school and, when Mom was feeling extra maternal, she bought knock-off Pop*Tarts. We were taken care of, but not altogether cushy. Shampoo was purchased in a five gallon bucket at the dollar store, and it didn’t matter if I didn’t have dandruff or color-treated hair or didn’t like the smell of White Rain. I was to be thankful for the ability to wash my hair, and say nothing more.

Because of this upbringing, it goes against my nature to complain. (Giggles to self) And actually, I’m not going to complain. I just think that the way I experienced the material word as a child says much about the material world I experience as an adult.

Austin’s aunt was remarking about how much she loved having a box of Kleenex in every room of her house, which sounded as strange to my ears as it does to yours. But she went on to explain that when her children were young, the family didn’t have money for real tissue. It was just out of their budget. Instead, Katie said, she sent her kids off to school with pockets full of toilet paper. Long after her children were grown and her financial situation had changed, she filled her home with boxes of real tissue. She said that it made her feel rich. Not because having Kleenex is a sign of wealth, but because not being able to afford it is a sign of (at least to her) poverty. It is one thing to not be wealthy, and it is quite another to be in poverty.

I understood what she meant, and that is my basis for writing a list today.

As I look towards the Christmas holiday, I am shocked to find that there isn’t anything ‘big’ that I want, besides very expensive trips to Prague, London (have to go again), Paris (ditto), ad infinitum, grazing the corners of the world but missing North Korea.

Instead, my head is filled with small things. I don’t have/get to write a Christmas list this year, as everyone I know is plum out of money. But when I think of the lists I have written over the past few years, I notice that the same things keep popping up. So I decided to explore the reasons behind My Favorite Things.

When I did so, I saw that my reasons were much like my husband’s aunt. I value these things for their own pleasures, but also because they represent to me that I am not in want. And while that sounds terribly Republican of me, I don’t mean for it to. I only mean to acknowledge that if you have ever been in want of headache medicine because it isn’t a necessity, or food other than boxed macaroni, clothes that actually fit your children, or a car that runs faithfully more days than not….you do appreciate the times when those issues no longer plague you.

My Favorite Things are not necessary to the existence of life. No, they are only meant to enhance and please that which already lives. They are not ‘needed’, but very treasured.

And now, I give you My Favorite Things.

1. Candles

I can’t say where the obsession began. As most junior high children are known to do, I burned things for the sheer fun of it. Mostly plastic forks or flowers that found their way to the kid table at Thanksgiving, not anything scary like mice or small dogs. But I love the look of a (contained) fire. It glows, at once warm and soft while yet calm. Candles make me introspective, although I will acknowledge that it doesn’t take much to make me so. I love the rich, spicy smell that a big tub full o’ wax leaves. Not just the candle’s fragrance but the unmistakable scent of…well, fire. And that makes me sound scary. But scent is important. Vanilla and cinnamon tell me when I’m home. Strawberry tells me I’m washing the girls’ hair. Bitter and sweet oriental leaves tell me I’m waking up or slowing down to a cup of something familiar. Lighting a candle still feels luxurious; the whole feel of the room is changed. There is more to the room than breath and water and stone. The room is filled with joy. The abundance of such a gift can be felt, seen, and even smelled.

2. Dish Towels

Well, yes. I know it sounds strange, but it is still true. I received some new dish towels when I got married six years ago. Most of them were blue with white and red stripes. At least, I think that was the color scheme. I’m not terribly observant when it comes to colors. The reason I am slightly enamored with these handy dandy little towels is because I am not an efficient housekeeper. I can’t say I ever learned from observation (problem: see above) but the main reason is because I’m scatterbrained.

I start picking up clothes in the sitting room and set them in a pile on the couch. The couch has a blue plate that holds a piece of toast from breakfast this morning (last Thursday). I throw the toast away; put the plate in the sink. My pumpkin pie candle sits by the sink. I light it. I decide to inhale deeply, and I remember last Christmas and the great pictures my sister took. Where are those pictures? Upstairs? In the all-concealing roll top desk? I investigate….and then get lost in a box of pictures. As I sit on my bed, I sort the pictures into years, categories, size. Sabra waltzes in and yells something about “stinky”. I run to catch her before she attempts to change her own diaper. Later that night I sleepily stumble into my room and sweep all the pictures back into the big red box, organization forgotten in the wake of fatigue. The clothes still sit in a pile on the couch, and the blue plate is getting cozy in the sink.

And this is my housecleaning experience. Replace the blue plate for a sippycup, change pictures to winter clothing. I’m just not good at attacking the endless list of chores. ENTER DISH TOWELS. I can have piles of stuff crap junk; but if I spray a little lavender Method cleaner and buff buff buff, it seems instantly better.

Being able to clean might not sound like a luxury, and most times it most surely does not feel like it. But when I moved in to my first house and had to buy one cleaning item per paycheck, I took odd comfort in my dish towels. They became counter cleaner uppers, bathtub gunk removers, and even dish dryer offers. I have been known to clean my kitchen floor with an old toothbrush, some bleach, and a few trusty dish towels. I was glad to know that though I might not have the new Swiffer set, I could still clean. While I lack the organizational skill of a Pottery Barn catalogue, I do know how to spray a bottle. And this makes me oddly triumphant. I.Am.Efficient.

3. Picture Frames

I have asked for picture frames for every present giving occasion in the last decade. And I am sorry to say that I have only received them on two such holidays, if my wedding day can be counted as a holiday. In retrospect it really doesn’t seem like one. It was 117 degrees and I had to suck my stomach in all day while other people ate cake and didn’t have to go vomit every 26 minutes. But I did get lots of presents (including one very handsome groom and a fabulous ring) so it was worth it.

Strangely enough, Austin FINALLY bought me frames for our most recent anniversary. He seemed almost apologetic about it, but I was nothing short of delighted. My family didn’t take many pictures when I was a child. Those photographs that were taken are infamous and the source of much ridicule. If you have ever seen The Picture Of Poofy Banged Unibrowed Hideousness, you know of what I speak. As we all do, I vowed to be different. I rocked slowly back and forth…back and forth…tears spilling down my chubby cheeks…(haha but not kidding) and tell myself that one day I would fill my own home with pictures. Colorful creations both posed and natural would enliven my living space. Photos of vacations, impromptu dates, and the kids’ silly outfit creations would fill my shelves and walls. I would NOT have a Wall Of Shame (whole entire wall devoted to eye-swarming amount of Olan Mills portraits surrounded by knick-knacky frames). I WOULD have pictorial perfection.

Well, I soon found out that though my intentions to take and sometimes purchase these little heirlooms of days gone by were very noble, the display issue was entirely different. If you haven’t priced picture frames recently, you might be shocked to find that they are decidedly not cheap. Even the cheap ones aren’t cheap if you need eight at a time. And so I’m somewhat of a picture propper. I prop snapshots on any surface that isn’t moving. I even stick them to my fridge with the neon ABC magnets my kids talked me into buying one day when my guard was down and the Target Dollar Aisle seemed like a Safe Haven.

So…picture frames are another of my life’s little luxuries. When Austin bought those lovely black wooden frames this July, I knew right where to put them. They are still one of my favorite things in our home, embracing large black and white photographs of our ridiculously beautiful children.

4. Luxury Body Wash/Lotion/Salt/Scrub/Butter/Oil

I guess this harkens back to the candle idea. Scent is really not a necessity. But it does something for us that cannot be described. Like a flower, it has no inherent value other than the pleasure it gives (or displeasure, if you are wearing anything ever made by Liz Taylor). I used to hoard the small kits of Country Apple or Sun-Ripened Raspberry body products that were tokens of my junior high friendship that would BFF LYLAS last forever. It was only recently that I decided to not dole out a bit at a time, forever saving the joy of delightful experience for another day. By doing so, I had taken away the bliss of reveling in something good, all for the purpose of postponing it. Now I just lay back in my Bathtub of Happiness and let the bubbles rise over my head, filling the room with scents of baked things (please someone buy me Philosophy products…do I have to beg?).

I have to say that I genuinely enjoy things more now that I don’t save them for another day. Sure, sometimes I run out of those luxury items. Sometimes I do have to go to work with toilet paper in my pockets. But for some reason, it makes me enjoy Kleenex that much more.

5. Christmas Music

It doesn’t matter if it is March 23rd or October 23rd or December 23rd. (Or for that matter, the 5th, 8th, and 12th, respectively.) I adore Christmas music and always want to add to my collection. I can almost say that I would listen to any Christmas song. However, I have heard enough renditions of Grandma Got Run Over and Bring A Torch, Janette Isabella to last me a lifetime. And 98 Degrees need not sing another note, as far as I’m concerned. Otherwise, I’m easily pleased and simply want to drift off on notes that bring me tidings of great joy and coffee with pumpkin pie. I’m doing my desperate best to not listen to it yet this year. While it can be given or purchased at any time of the year, I have to admit that there seems something inherently wrong with listening to the magic before it is ripe. It is akin to eating turkey and cranberry sauce during the middle of the summer. (Though, truth be told, I care little for either turkey or cranberry sauce.)

So there’s my short list. Things I Don’t Need But Still Bring Me Large Amounts Of Happiness That I Cannot Explain. I hope it gave you deep and meaningful insight into this soul. It gave me some. I realize that I’m not so hard to please as I would think. In fact, I’m downright easy to buy for.

I would still like to go to Prague and see those red roofs, split into tiny pieces of marble by the winding river. It looks beautiful there. And I’ve heard that Czechoslovakian dish towels are the best.

1 comment:

Stargazer said...

CHRISTMAS MUSIC!!!! I am with you. Just give me a CD, a candle, or something to decorate my room with and I'm a happy boy. Oh, and sorry for making fun of the unibrow picture. Like candles, it brings me unexplainable joy!