Of Putting One Foot in Front of the Other

Start Where You Are

Start where you are.
Use what have.
Do what you can.
—Arthur Ashe

It has been a long, drawn out, tumultuous sort of year for us, full of surprises—welcome and not so much—where most energy has been sunk into getting through the days with as little drama as possible.

Slowly, though, the tide is shifting, and the art of surviving is taking less of my focus and the daydreaming and wishful thinking displacing the strain is making me hopeful that time for creating won’t be too far behind.

Spaces

SPACES01mist

From where I sit today, if I keep my eyes above the level of the floor scattered with sharp-edged plastic toys and kids still in their pajamas, I see the steady, gentle rain of a spring shower. On days unencumbered by the tyrannical schedule of a busy family of six where I can sit and catch my breath, I consider this meditation weather. On other days, it’s merely another tick on the long list of annoyances that gather as I find myself overstretched and unmoored. But after the past few months we’ve had, today’s rain and the quiet contemplation it brings is quite welcome.

SPACES02tempest

There is something about this weather that makes me acutely aware of the spaces that surround me. The grey, edgeless sky brings the contours of my world into relief, focusing my attention on the boundaries that sometimes overlap and sometimes diverge, making me more aware of margins that I don’t often consider. The difficulty of finding center—a center always pulled by the calculus of the shape of the roles we play, the geometry of our environments, the mass of our responsibilities, the weight and buoyancy of our failures and successes—ia always a bit more clear after the gift of time spent in reflection. This is what rainy weather offers me: a space to think, to feel gravity, to place actions and responses along a new axis, to realize that life is often difficult, and messy, and answers aren’t always obvious, to remember that all of this is OK and a part of the experience of being human. When the rain must fall, if I can welcome it as a reminder to be human, to be humane, then maybe I can weather difficult times with more grace.

SPACES04light

I have missed this space as I have navigated others that needed my attention. I am many things to many people and I believe I will always struggle with the realization that there will never be enough time as there are items on the to-do list.

SPACES02breakthrough

And in the hours it has been in writing what should have taken a few minutes, the rain has stopped and the sun is slowly beginning to break through, just as it should.

The Pantry Project :: The Payoff

This morning I sat editing the photos for today’s post, and my five year old son asked what I was doing. “Working,” I said while he cuddled up next to me. “Doesn’t look like work to me,” he replied. And I thought about it, this strange place in the world that allows me to take pictures of my pantry—my pantry—and have other people look at it; a place where organizing a pantry is newsworthy. I wonder what my Gram would have thought about this, whether she would shake her head and chuckle about the crazy world we live in, or whether she would find any value in the activity at all. I suspect, as the master of the practical that she was, the idea would be so foreign to her that she might even be slightly appalled at how much time I was spending writing posts and editing photos about such a task when there were more important chores waiting to be done such as the never-ending and thankless laundry. I know she would be absolutely stunned that I would sit here and write in the virtual world while actual dust bunnies gathered on the real world stairs.

The Right Side

Yes, it is a strange thing, this blog-land we participate in, yet I find it comforting even as I wonder if it’s too large a time sink in my life.  It’s not that pantry organizing is such an interesting topic, really, at all. I think posting about it and reading about other organization projects on the web is more about recognizing a connection with others, experiencing a piece of our everyday, mostly boring lives, through the lens of another’s perspective. It’s a highlight reel of the mundane, an instant capture of the the unremarkable and normal, the things we all struggle with and that aren’t a normal topic of conversation when we still down with loved ones but that does fill up the most space in our day. I can’t imagine an article about a mother of four’s struggle with her pantry on the front page of the New York Times—well, not without a more interesting existential byline—but really, when I look back ten years from now, I’m sure I’ll wonder how I managed to find the time and con my dear friends into organizing a space that is immensely practical and useful and finding some way to make it pleasing.

The Left Side

Yes, there was the purchase of the organizing racks, the lazy susans, the can stackers, and the chalkboard labels, and yes, we cut up little circles and tied them with ribbon on the front of brightly colored paper baskets I bought on clearance two years ago at Lowes.

Behind The Door

And we finally found a place for the step ladder that’s been hiding in the garage while I used the wobbly chair to reach the top shelves. It’s probably not in the best place though, because I still use the chair.

My Precious Platters

And there are pictures that show things that are precious to me and hold interesting bits of family history; the platters made when I had three, then four kids, my gram’s recipe box, a few pieces from my depression glass collection that is still packed up in the basement waiting for the time when it can once again see the light of day.

One Small Stand

Visible Stacks

Really… why is it interesting? Why do I feel compelled to write about it?

Airtight Jars

And although I thank you for following along—I really really do—is it really interesting enough to hold your attention? Rows of “airtight” jars that need to be replaced because they’re not actually airtight? Cans aligned, side-by-side. Ziploc bags, scales, bakeware?

Bakeware I Use

Maybe another reason we read about these things—trust me, I read and love them too—is not just about the connection we feel, but also the payoff. Who doesn’t love a great reveal, the feeling that something somewhere was accomplished by someone, maybe even someone ordinary enough to have piles of dust in her pictures and coffee splatters on her machine (erHEM).

Small Appliances

Maybe that payoff gives us some hope that really, it can be done. We can take that step to make something useful to us better in some fashion. There is evidence in the world that not only do we all share some of the same struggles, but we can each of us appreciate a good resolution; good even if it’s not perfect, or perfectly staged, or exactly finished.

Chalkboard Labels

And I know that a few months from now I might look back at these pictures and be thankful that I took them because I know that if it looked like this once, it can look like this again.

Baking Ingredients

And maybe some other day, many years in the future, I’ll look back at these and not necessarily wonder about the curiosity that is the subjects we chose to write about, but marvel at the ephemera I captured—dog dishes, maple syrup, paper plates, lentils, beans—a visual representation of a moment in time that was so ordinary that it was never given another thought, yet ends up invoking a network of emotions about a life and time that was anything but ordinary or unremarkable, because none of our lives are.

Doggie Bowl

All of this because of a pantry.

Gram might have thought blogging is a silly venture, but surely I would have loved to see these tiny snippets of her life, from her perspective… a different type of payoff, a treasure of small, nondescript moments from a life that is gone, moments in time that end up being more meaningful than the perfect posed Christmas snapshots and portraits in a studio. An important portrait of a life rich, and full, and anything but insignificant to those who loved the life they represent.

Making Progress on the Pantry

Otherwise entitled :: It Might Get Worse Before It Gets Better…

OK, the pantry has been done for a few weeks now, but hey! Let’s pretend this is in real-time, shall we?

Some of my favorite people in the whole world came to visit for two quick days in January to help me out. It was such a short visit that I felt bad in possibly wasting our time cleaning out the pantry when we could be doing much more interesting things like watching Downton Abbey while sitting on the couch, but I gotta tell you, Ms. Heather is an organizing machine. Do you have a friend like that in your life, someone who thinks organizing is fun? If not, I suggest you find yourself one, because they are so much more than awesome!!

A few weeks (possibly months, but who is counting) I sent Heather a few images of the mess in the pantry and asked her for some advice. Here’s what she wrote back in ten minutes or less ::

Quick fix that will hopefully give you a “there’s hope” moment and tide you over till we can do more.
 
Read this suggestion and before doing anything consider two things:
 
1. Will the items in their new home be too high up? Will it make retrieving them a pain in the ass. I think you will be okay because you’re tall, but just in case…
2. Is there enough room (left to right) on the suggested shelf for all items to fit and not be squished so that it looks bad and is not actually practical. If this is the case let me know. I have a back up plan.
 
Suggestion:
 
1. Clear off the top shelf on the left side of the pantry where you have pencils and paper towels and cook books and baskets. 
2. Anything that has a cord (mixer, panini press, ice cream maker, coffee pot, slow cooker, cuisinart) should be lined up on this shelf left to right. Things that you use more often should be on the left closer to the door. And things that you use less should be further down. I’m not sure if you have chafing dishes, but if you do leave them out for now. Those are things that should go high high up. 
3. All the stuff that you took off from that shelf shove into the now empty spaces. 🙂 It’s a process. Sometimes you have to “shove” and “stick” stuff in temporary homes.
 
Take a pic if you do this and let me know what you think!
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So, ask me now, did I do anything she suggested? No. Not one doggone thing. The suggestions were brilliant, and the questions she asked totally helped frame some of the problems I was having, but somehow I couldn’t get started. I waited until she got here and this is what she did ::

Enter the Madness

Make a Plan

Who knew thinking up a plan could be so adorable and stylish? Maybe I should get out of my yoga pants and throw on some make-up when it’s time to clean up…

But seriously, where I was paralyzed with inactivity and feeling overwhelmed with all the decisions that would have to be made, she dove right in. We started moving things around, putting them in “temporary” locations, so we could start with a “fresh slate”.

Jump On In

And it’s here that I’ll mention two things : One, it’s embarrassing to have your dearly beloveds come to your house and dig you out of the messes you’ve gotten yourself into… while Heather worked on the pantry, Ashley worked in the playroom; and two, they were the very epitome of grace while doing it, and managed to put me and my neurosis at ease and make the process as fun as it could be. They are good peeps, those two.

Make a Bigger Mess

So here’s the thing; with this type of project, as with most on this scale, it all gets worse before it gets better. It reminds me of the mess the movers made a few years go when we first moved up to the Boston area. If the gals weren’t here, I would’ve probably stopped right here and started to cry. Then waited a month of two to get started again.

Any Shelter In a Storm

I wasn’t the only one feeling a titch overwhelmed. Some of the youngin’s felt they need protective gear to get through!

Wear Protective Gear

Try Not To Look

See Past It

Seriously, this is the moment that I realized how important it was to have someone helping me through the process that isn’t emotionally attached to the stuff. Heather is able to see the end goal; she envisioned where things were going to go and what needed to be moved around and in what order. I saw growing piles of unfulfilled dreams, an encapsulation of all the things I wanted to do but haven’t made time for. Piles and piles and piles of teeny tiny little failures. It’s no wonder I couldn’t jump in and organize it on my own.

Hallways Are Awesome

Heather doesn’t see the unmade gourmet meals I had planned to create to nourish my family. She doesn’t see unbaked cookies, an unconstructed lasagna, loaves of bread that were never kneaded into life, a fear of being without, of not having enough. She sees the clutter for what it is, and she has the personal distance from my symbolic mental contortions that it’s much easier for her to stay focused.

WHITE SPACE

And focus she did, with a laser-like clarity. Looky at this image above… actual WHITE SPACE! It was such an amazing thing to see only a few hours into this task. One shelf almost entirely organized, and glorious, beautiful, fabulous white space, space that has nothing but air and clarity and fulfillment and promise.

I didn’t think that organizing the pantry would be quite so cathartic, but I will tell you, it was one hell of a therapy session! And it only cost me dinner!!

A New Harvest

Last week, I harvested a new crop to me; potatoes.

The Potatoes

New potatoes, from our little garden. I had no idea how gratifying it would be.

Earlier in the day I had grabbed a few ears of local corn from a stand by the road. I stopped because it looked like they had peaches, which I was craving. We bought a few of those as well, but of course, none of them made it the whole way home. I can assure you they were as delicious as their heady scent promised and well worth all the sticky spots on the seats of the car.

Cutting Corn

Corn reminds me of my gram, standing with her back to me in her small kitchen, at the counter with a knife, a cutting board, a box of ziploc bags, and ears and ears of corn from her garden, waiting to be processed, marked, and thrown into the freezer.

What a visceral experience I had, cutting into those ears that I bought. I could almost smell her house again, hear the creaks as my pap walked down the narrow hall from the living room. I miss them both. I am so glad those cobs brought them both back to me, even for the briefest of moments.

Kernel Cream

Corn was never my favorite, but I loved my Gram’s, with the sweet cream gathered from the deep pockets of the kernels, released by running the back of her knife blade down the cob she held nearly vertical to the board.

Crash Potatoes and Corn Sauce

Today I wanted to write about the meal I made with my new potatoes and the carrots and corn I bought from local farmers. But instead I find myself thinking about family, and nourishment, and fortitude, and grace; an unexpectedly rich new harvest of senses and emotions.

Eating With Gratitude

As I write this post, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for all the scattered and tender memories I have of her. On that day as I walked past my children and breathed in their scent, I again caught the faintest trace of her presence…

And along with the very keen yearning I had to have her here again, I also felt comfort.

Thank you Gram. You are still so very loved.