Ice Storm Octavia
I can’t say I live for housework but I like the results so I make sure my house stays tidy. Since the girls are on their own now my housework has gone way down – they never helped much anyway. One particular place my work load has lessened is the laundry. Alexandra loved changing clothes and her weekly wash equaled all the rest of ours combined.
The last few years I have found laundry to be my favorite chore. When life gets chaotic and there is a lot of stress, doing laundry becomes a mediation. I can only fold or hang one thing at a time and those warm clean piles of sorted clothes makes me feel that there is some order in my life.
Everyday this winter I have watched my father’s health decline and each day I’m not sure what I’m facing. So sometimes I take refuge in bringing order to one corner of my life that I can control. Those neatly hung shirts and pants are something that makes me feel ready for whatever life throws at me that day.
When I’ve been on a big pilgrimage, the first few days of reentry can be tough. I miss the excitement of the adventure and jet lag has set in. I usual find myself wandering the aisles of the grocery store in a stupor wondering how I could be on a different continent the day before and pushing a cart in such a familiar place the next. After each trip I come back to the laundry, the mundane activity that brings order back from chaos and makes everyday life grounded again.
This last week winter storm Octavia took me back in time a hundred and fifty years to when my home was young. For two days I kept warm by the fire and read by a kerosene lamp. Those few days without modern conveniences reminded me how grateful that I don’t have to wash clothes in a big pot over a fire in the yard or hang out each garment by hand. A few days later my washer and dryer were humming away making quick work of a formally arduous task.
Over the last few years I come back to one of the my favorite books, After the Ecstasy, Then the Laundry by Jack Kornfield. Each time I read this book I get a deeper understanding of what it means to lead a spiritual life. We love those times on the mountain top but we can’t stay there, we have to come down to the valley and take care of the laundry. We have to take our experiences and use them enhance our daily lives. We have to take the highs of the mystical, the sorrows of the world and mix them with ordinary life and make them all equal, all part of being human.
After the Ecstasy, The Laundry by Jack Kornfield
Hand Wash Cold: Care instructions for an Ordinary Life by Karen Maezen Miller
I knew there was a possibility that this January wouldn’t be the usual empty, quiet month that I’m use to. Most January’s are about taxes, and cleaning and just being quiet, I had three January’s that took me to Egypt. This year my parents have extended their Christmas visit, their health is too fragile to go back home to Colorado.
My house has officially become a bed and breakfast for the many wonderful relatives and friends coming to see my father and reminisce about happy days gone by. In the background the oxygen machine makes a rhythmic sound, classical music plays on the radio and we quietly settle in to a new normal.
Many of my projects have been put aside for the time being and I’m content to be at home enjoying the little pleasures of life. The joy of companionship with people I love has taken center stage to the hustle and bustle of usual life. We read and talk, I make lots of tea and coffee. We watch nature documentaries and “Great Courses”. Travel is taken vicariously, this week we went to Moscow to see Swan Lake with an HD broadcast from the Bolshoi Ballet. My brother calls us on Facetime from his job in the Indian Ocean half way around the world.
I’m enjoying my very slow life as I take the pace of my elderly parents. Life is in a suspended state as I take care of what is in front of me. I’m on one of the great pilgrimages of life to the place that is most important, the depths of the heart and being.
Entrance to the labyrinth.
I have a very busy and fun Christmas this year, full of family and friends. My parents are visiting for a least a month and Alexandra is home from college and preparing to move to Los Angeles in January. I have my usual big Swedish Smorgasbord planned for Christmas Eve and a large family reunion the weekend after Christmas at my home. Whew. I’m looking forward to all the festivities but I do try to pace myself so that this time of the year is a joy and not just exhaustion.
So last week I took a morning off to celebrate Advent/Winter Solstice. A friend and I met for coffee and then headed to the local college to a secret labyrinth hidden in a corner of the woods.
This labyrinth is made of brick set into the ground and is invisible until you are practically standing on it. All bundled up to keep warm on an overcast, crisp morning, I headed into the labyrinth. The path was narrow and sometimes hard to see with the matted grass and leaves which matched the brick. I slowly wound my way in, back out, back in, around, out, in and then I’m always surprised when I finally make it to the center, the heart. I waited for my friend to get to the center and then I retraced my steps and carefully unwound my way to the beginning. I then wandered the grounds a bit, looking at the empty trees with just a few berries hanging on. It was so peaceful and I felt that I had my moment of contemplation for Advent, this gentle time of anticipation. Nothing to prepare, nothing to gather, nothing to plan, just the quiet grey day and me.
I’ve always planned to put a labyrinth out on the farm and this spring is going to be the perfect time to build one. My father-in-law left us his beloved old bulldozer which will be perfect to smooth the old lawn that has become rough with age. So I’m scouting my own secret location to build my labyrinth while the ground is bare. I have beautiful old bricks piled behind the barn that will be perfect for defining the path. All is there just waiting for the day that the labyrinth will be ready for me to wind my way to the heart and bring back out the joy.
Corporate Accounting Office, includes binoculars for watching birds and animals
Now that my children are grown you would think that would be good evidence that my own childhood was long gone, relegated to 70’s retrospectives and fading Polaroid pictures. Yet everyday my childhood is part of my life. I was thinking this morning how the skills I use the most were learned long ago in a more groovy time.
When I was sixteen my father had me spend the summer in his office working the front desk, taking money, writing receipts, calling insurance companies and making copies. What do I do now? The same thing for my husband’s business; make deposits, send payments, write payroll and fill out tax forms. If a real accountant saw my system they would cringe. It isn’t very sophisticated but the IRS has been content with my forms so I continue to work in my way. I at least have upgraded to a computer but essentially these skills come from long ago.
Every day I cook. Around 5 or 5:30 I head toward the kitchen to fix dinner. I turn on the Food Network to keep me company and provide inspiration but in reality I’m not a “foodie”. I still just cook the simple dishes that I learned to make as a teenager. My mother always cooked from “scratch” and the meals were simple and I was required to help every night. I won’t win any awards but none of my guests go hungry either. I learned long ago to keep it simple so cooking everyday is not a chore but just part of life. From my very first solo cooking attempt of deviled eggs to my everyday suppers of meat and vegetables my childhood comes back to me.
As a child I was trained to be a missionary for the church. I was to have all the correct skills to go out and serve. So of course I learned to play the piano so that I could accompany hymns and play for choirs. I don’t think that went well as I’m definitely not the model parishioner as expected. I also wasn’t the accomplished pianist I longed to be. Although I swore off playing in public years ago I still play for pleasure. A few weeks ago a neighbor called me to see if I would play for a new children’s choir at her tiny church in our tiny town. I didn’t even know how she knew I played but she woke up one morning with a clear thought to ask me. So now my rusty old piano skills are perfect for these precious children. I might not be asked to perform in concert halls but I can play Jesus Loves Me and Away in the Manger for the local Methodist Church. These childhood skills are happily revived to serve in the same way as originally intended. I love being with the children and being a part of my little community.
Hamilton and I enjoy our simple country life and are living in his childhood home again. We honor the wonderful gifts our childhoods gave us; they weren’t perfect but just right for the lives we lead today. Please don’t ask us to be on committees, raise money, start foundations, we just are not cut out for that but our childhoods gave us the perfect gifts to enjoy life and serve in our little corner of the world.
One thing I’ve noticed about humans is that we like things black and white. Most everyone is uncomfortable with the many shades of gray in between. Why is that? Why do we have to make a decision or form an opinion on so many things when really we can just keep our minds open to many possibilities? I don’t usually care what team wins the game, which church has all the correct answers, which diet is the healthiest, which political party is correct. Almost everything has its pros and cons. Fence sitting is just not allowed in our culture. But what’s wrong with fences? When you sit on the fence you can see and enjoy both sides and have a much better view.
The Two of Pentacles says it is time to give up “either/or” thinking and try “both /and”. Our guy is doing a little dance with two opposing values. He is going back and forth, back and forth like a game. Even the ships behind are joining in by going up and down, up and down. But wait, the values are in a lemniscate, the infinitely loop. This loop is helping to keep the opposites in balance and continuingly moving without strain. The loop crosses at the level of his heart which shows that he is keeping his heart open to possibilities.
There are times life is a bit of a balancing act but he is managing to hold on, the ships are navigating fine. No one is drowning and he seems to be having fun keeping his values flowing in life. He is handling his possibilities and his tall hat indicates that he is using his intuition and getting guidance from a higher source. He is standing on level ground and his lovely leather jacket indicates that he values lasting qualities in his life.
So when this card show up you know it is ok to just keep your options open and hold two opposing views. It is not time to choose. Do a bit more fence sitting and realize that you can just enjoy the game of life.
Blog Updates: This week is the second anniversary of this blog. Here is a link back to the very first article and my first step. It was hard to push the publish button the first time but I’m glad I did. I enjoy sharing my life and experiences and appreciate all my readers. My whole life I avoided writing and I’ve never had a Facebook so stepping out in the blog world was big for me and defiantly a life expanding adventure. We have a whole universe to explore so I’m not stopping anytime soon.
Last week I wrote the prophetic line: “Caroline will do something none of us have ever thought of”. Two days later she proved me right when her desire to make some money went viral on the internet. You can read about her 15 minutes of fame here.
New Majors at the University of Tennessee
This last year I’ve talked a lot about my daughter Alexandra and our adventures in Spain but I’ve not said much about my precious Caroline. So the other day she sent me this picture of her Halloween prank on the Physics building, I decided it is her moment to shine.
How I got a child like Caroline I will never know, she doesn’t just march to the beat of a different drummer, she circles an entirely different solar system than the rest of us. Every day she does or thinks something that the rest of us couldn’t even imagine. I’ve spent her life setting big boundaries so that she could be her creative self without falling off the earth.
As a little girl she was adorable, blonde and blue-eyed with rosy cheeks and such a vivid imagination that she was five before she stopped being a cat named Sally most of the time. She didn’t have an imaginary friend, she was an imaginary friend. She would use two combs as her pretend violin until I got her a real violin at four and began the all consuming world of Suzuki violin. The violin was her special place where her uniqueness could shine and be recognized by her peers. By the fourth time through any piece she had it memorized including all her orchestra music. My girls loved to perform and the “fiddlin’ Bowen sisters” went on the road for any and all occasions.
Caroline’s teen years were a challenge, she did well in school and on the violin but life wasn’t easy for her. I wrote about her challenges in Demeter and Persephone. The first few years of college were very bumpy but I made her stay in school because that was what moved her life forward in a positive direction. I would tell her “just take anything but go to school.”
On April 27, 2011 there were tremendous tornados all across the southern states, wiping out whole towns, Caroline got caught in one of these powerful systems and had almost like a near death experience. That storm changed the course of her life and she became fascinated with weather. So after four years as wandering art student she taught herself college algebra and trigonometry and remade herself into a scientist. She is now almost finished with her Physics degree and has minors in Art and Math. OK, she is the last person on earth that you would expect to be a physicist but she loves it. People ask me all the time “what will Caroline do with when she graduates?” I always reply “something none of us have ever thought of.”
Caroline at 16 trying to have a “Close Encounter of the Third Kind” at Devil’s Tower Wyoming.
This last week I was back in Washington DC. Alexandra wanted to go to a graduate school seminar so she talked me into a road trip to one of our favorite cities. It is an easy and beautiful drive up Interstate 81 and we stayed with my cousin in her townhouse which has a view of the Capitol. Since we were just in DC last summer (you can read about our visit here) we didn’t have a big agenda, just a chance to relax and revisit our favorite sites.
The Washington Monument is repaired and open again after suffering earthquake damage so we started our tour there. As we stood next to this grand momument, encircled with flags we could see the World War II memorial , the reflecting pool and then finally the Lincoln Memorial. So our next stop was to rent bicycles and have a leisurely ride down to visit Lincoln. He was a great spiritual master; some even say an avatar, who came to make changes in our world when humanity desperately needed to change. With few words but great presence he got the job done and his country moved toward having greater equality for everyone. It has taken awhile, we aren’t totally there but Lincoln definitely began to right a great wrong.
I’ve been to DC many times but have never been to the Jefferson Memorial so that was the next stop. Last year I visited Thomas Jefferson’s library in the Library of Congress and have been to his home, Monticello, many times. My first mystical experience was standing on his land and ever since I’ve had a special admiration for this great man. Like Lincoln he was a great spiritual master. He changed the world with the Declaration on Independence which he wrote in one night at age 33 a sure sign it was divine inspiration.
I happily turned in my bike, I’m a walker not a biker, and we headed to The National Gallery of Art which is right next to the Natural History Museum. Alexandra loves Thomas Cole’s The Voyage of Life, four large paintings depicting a man in a boat with an angel facing life’s lessons. I love everything there and it brings back happy memories of many visits when I was a child. My father is an amateur painter so all vacations revolved around visiting art museums. Currently there is a special exhibit of paintings by Andrew Wyeth, one of America’s greatest artists. His prints hung in the living room of my childhood home and I’m particularly drawn to his stark and yet detailed style. It was a poignant moment for me because the first room was paintings of the Olson Farm. Here I was in a room surrounded by the words “Olson Farm” when all summer my life has been taken up by the fate of my family’s farm, the Olson Farm in Minnesota, handed down in my family for the last 117 years.
The rest of my time I spent wandering the galleries seeing the paintings I know and love so well until I found myself in the central dome with Mercury also known as the great Egyptian god Thoth (read my post on Thoth here). Standing on a giant green marble fountain, shaped like a chalice, Mercury is holding a caduceus in one hand and pointing to heaven with the other. I asked Mercury for help and to protect the land that Carl Olson and six generations have loved so much.
The next road over from where I live is called Light Pink, such a strange name but is my everyday connection to the National Gallery of Art. On Light Pink Road was the quarry where the pink marble that built the National Gallery of Art was cut. The crystalline stone from my little part of the world is now a magnificent home for great art presided over by our very own Mercury.