Sunday, March 31, 2013

Homeownering/spring/happiness

I’ve been drafting this post in my head about how I’d officially be a grownup on Thursday after the successful delivery of our first very own washing machine.  But the delivery was not successful on account of some confusion about the gas line (or lack there of in the designated corner), and our first very own washing machine is sitting in a warehouse somewhere while we work out what the best and most economical solution is.  I am disappointed.  I am frustrated.  And I feel much more grownup than I would have had the delivery been successful.
Sure, it’s only been two weeks of homeownering, but we’ve jumped right into the waxing, waning rhythm of its joys. The plumber can’t fix a leaky faucet without opening up a wall, but when Ismael refinished our floors he transformed the whole apartment.  The tub stopper switch is broken, but our shower has luxurious water pressure.  The kitchen door fell off (literally), but I didn’t want it there anyway.  Our floors creak, but unlike the old neighbors, nobody around us seems to be trying out for the opening in Drive Shaft.
And there’s satisfaction.  The deep satisfaction of owning the beautiful floor, the showerhead, even the kitchen door, which will probably take up space in our storage unit downstairs for at least six years before I can convince Alex to deal with it.  The walls, molding, knobs are coated in 100 years of paint, and I’m satisfied, because we also own the charm, the sunlight, the shadow of the tulips on the windowsill.
And the kitchen.  Full-sized oven and refrigerator, cabinets for days, and a countertop that fits the toaster, juicer, and mixer—with room for cooking and a pile of dirty dishes.  It’s neither heaven, nor Iowa, but it might as well be.  I find myself cooking more quietly here.  More calmly, unrushed.  Unworried that things won’t turn out.
I read Nigel Slater’s inspiring Appetite in the weeks leading up to our move, which was challenging because we were operating out of and into boxes, limiting my range of culinary motion. But it gave me a chance to really reflect on some of the things he wrote, to fully digest his notion of “refine, edit, simplify.”  Oh, I like that.  “Simplify” was an easy principle to follow when we only had one pan, two bowls, and three forks unpacked, and were eating out constantly for Alex’s birthday.  I enacted “edit” on a physical level and threw stuff away like a boss during the packing process.  And “refine”—to purify, improve, polish. Harder to accomplish in the midst of the move, however I think refining is a product of editing and simplifying.  Refining is about process, progress, and attitude.
Halfway through The Happiness Project—not entirely sold on Rubin’s experiment—I can’t help but find parallels with Slater, and with my own new situation.  (It’s like that semester in college when I took Brit lit, history of the crusades, Catholicism, and medieval architecture—all my classes seemed to have overlapping themes for some reason. It was paper writing gold.) Rubin starts with energy, she starts clearing out the old.  Edit.  Then she works on the basics: marriage, work, parenthood, leisure—refocusing on love, determination, and enjoying her downtime.  Simplify.  All with the goal of operating at a higher frequency of happiness, an improved life.  Refine.
My own exercises have been about establishing patterns—of behavior and thought.  I’m energized by our new environment and the first wave of spring.  I love the space in this apartment.  And that everything has a place to be put away.  So I’m working hard not to let clutter clutter.  I make the bed in the morning, because I know Alex likes that.  And I’m cooking quietly.  Inspired both by Nigel, and by that sense of satisfaction.  I think that’s what Rubin is digging for—the ease of simple contentment that is hard to find and harder to hold on to when work/family/life stresses and complicates.  What’s so strong for me right now will fade, but I’m hoping the patterns of edit, simplify, refine will only cut deeper.  And I can maintain that satisfaction in the kitchen, at least.
I bought lemon verbena for the first time at the farmers’ market yesterday.  Nichols is still selling potatoes and roots, but are newly flush with young herbs.  The green is welcome however limited.  Things are growing again.  I bought sunflower sprouts, arugula, and basil.  Then picked up the lemon verbena to use in a honey herb soda I’d read about.  It was a good decision—the original poster’s assertion to think big floppy sunhat was spot on.  Rubin talks a lot about squeezing the most happiness possible from an event, discussing how the anticipation often makes people happier than the event itself.  I don’t think anticipation of May’s Thursday market could ever replace the happy I feel when there each morning spring, summer and fall, but this herby glimpse into my future sure did go down easy.
For lunch yesterday I made ricotta.  It was thrilling, in both its simplicity and refinement.  Boiling milk and cream, add vinegar, straining, salt—a compact process with a fulfilling result.  Served with bread, asparagus pickled last spring, and followed by a classic cobb salad and a strawberry cake made from the final bag of last summer’s frozen berries—I felt accomplished, I felt nourished, I felt satisfied. And I felt grown.

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