This Old Soul House

Last month, my husband of twenty years and I separated, and I have been in the process of making the home we shared for most of those years my own ever since he left.  I started, symbolically enough, with the bedroom and, with the help of my parents and friends, had new carpet installed, repainted, built new furniture from Ikea, and added new bedding, with plans to add new art for the walls and curtains and other lovely things as I can afford them.  It feels good, claiming the space and making it a space that I feel comfortable in, and the process of cleaning, rearranging, repairing, and redecorating my house on a shoestring, piece by piece from the salvage shed and the thrift shop and the generosity of friends, got me to thinking…

Our heart and spirit — our soul, if you will — is also a house.  And it is a house that was built by some combination of our genetic inheritance, our parents, our early childhood experiences, and maybe even our past lives.  It is the house we come into consciousness with and it is what it is.  Just like some houses have a pool or a deck or a basement and other houses don’t, different Soul Houses have different kinds of rooms and different floor plans, depending on how they were built and by whom.  Some people might have rooms in their house that are labeled Unworthiness or Jealousy or Anger. One might come into awareness with rooms labeled Insecurity or Resentment, or perhaps an enormous room labeled Self-Doubt.  Hopefully, all of us have rooms labeled Love and Gratitude and Compassion.  But our Soul House comes to us set up with certain rooms that are pre-determined by our inheritance and our very early experiences, and we get to decide how we want to live in them.

And, as we go through our lives, we furnish those rooms that we are given. And the rooms we focus on…we really spend a lot of time there and fix them up really nice.  For example, let’s say I have a tendency toward going to a place of resentment when someone does something that harms me or when things don’t go my way.  When I resent someone or something, I am painting the walls of my Resentment room, and I am putting up curtains and rearranging the furniture and making that room SUPER inviting.  Hell, sometimes I am even turning down the down comforter and putting chocolates on the pillow.  So, naturally, lots of things that belong in the space of Resentment want to come to my house.  It is a good place to be if you are Resentment or something that gets along well with Resentment.  I have opened the door to that room of my Soul House wide and, naturally, since I have spent so much time making that room comfortable and nice with my attention, it is the room in which I feel comfortable spending a lot of time.

And it’s also the room that when something new shows up in my life, I’m inclined to want to direct it there.  So an unexpected expense shows up at the worst possible time?  Rather than directing that experience to the room of the Soul House that has Equanimity or Wisdom over the door, which might be seldom used and sparsely furnished, I might direct that right to the lovely room labeled Resentment where I feel comfortable and where everything is familiar.  If someone I know has something great happen for them that I had been hoping would happen for me, rather than direct that knowledge to the rooms labeled Joy or Love, I might find myself, again and again, steering that experience to the very lovely Resentment room before settling in for coffee with it in the expansive and smartly decorated Self-Doubt room that takes up half the house.  Using a room — spending time in it, fixing it up — makes that room a more and more powerful draw, and makes it more and more likely that the room will be used an even greater percentage of the time in the future.

And I know this to be true from decorating my physical house.  I find myself, now, going into my redecorated bedroom for no reason, to read a book or dust or meditate, because I have put time and attention there and made it in to a place where I want to be.  And the more time I spend in there, the more little things I want to do to make it even nicer and more comfortable.   When a friend calls me, I am more apt to flop on my new bed to talk than to sit at my kitchen table or in the living room or the study.   So while the spaces I have cared for and made nice with my attention become more and more used and that reinforces itself in a cyclical way, the spaces that are seldom used stay cluttered and neglected.

And I think that the universe may be in the business of directing experiences and people to our Soul Houses to see where we take them.  Where do we linger on our grand tour of the house?  What do we want to show off, and what doors we keep locked, not shared with company?  And perhaps the universe sends different kinds of experiences and people as it sees that, no, the Resentment room or the Anger room is really not getting much use.  So just like you don’t send someone to the home of the town cat lady when they are asthmatically allergic to felines, the universe probably doesn’t send easily resentable moments to the house where the door of Resentment has grown creaky because the hinges are rusting with disuse.  It does not send rage-inducing experiences to the soul house where the room of Anger has been gathering dust for some time.  It, instead, sends experiences and people who will find a place to feel welcome in that home…where the universe knows they will have a place to be and to feel comfortable.

And so the trick, I think, is to shut the door of the rooms you no longer want to have guests in.  And no longer wish to inhabit.  And even though your attention has made those the most comfortable, nicest rooms of your Soul House, you have to make it a daily practice to just not go in there…to, instead, find the keys to the doors that have been closed and locked for a long time.  So if you no longer wish to have those experiences in your life that make you resentful, you need to find another room to spend your time.  When you feel yourself turning toward that familiar and inviting Resentment door with a new experience, say to yourself, “No, I don’t think that’s really the place for you…let’s go over here, to Gratitude.”  Or “You’ve seen Resentment so many times before…why not follow me, over here to Compassion — it’s a room I haven’t used so much, so it’s a little dusty, but I think you’ll find that it’s more comfortable here.”

And as you make that a habit, you discover that, while you’re in there finding Gratitude for something you had initially though about directing toward Resentment, you might dust off a bookshelf.  And maybe the next time, you notice that the carpet really could use some sprucing up and do something about that.  And maybe one weekend you read something really great about gratitude or a friend says something about gratitude that resonates for you in a deep way, and that inspires you to go in, unbidden, and paint that room or maybe rearrange the furniture.  Maybe you even get to a place that you are in that room so often that you put fresh flowers in it every day.  And the nicer the room becomes, the more you want to be there.  And the more you want to direct new experiences and new people there.  And slowly, the Resentment room becomes the one that is dusty and out of date, with cracks in the plaster and spiders taking up residence in the corners of the ceiling.  And the universe just stops sending things that you might resent your way…because they will have no place to stay.

And, just as new parents turn their home gym  into a nursery at some point, or older parents remodel their kids’ bedrooms some time after they move out, or people convert an unused guest room into a home office when they start their own business…maybe eventually some of those rooms become so unused and neglected that, even though they have been part of your Soul House for your whole life, you wind up turning them into something completely new.  Because you just don’t need them anymore.

Maybe, too, you get to add on to your House.  You may have been born with a pretty small one, with rooms that don’t meet your needs, but maybe as you grow and learn and welcome new experiences, you make your Soul House bigger to accommodate the different rooms that you realize you need so that one day, all that’s left are rooms that make you feel good to be in, that meet your needs, and that reflect the life and the spirit that you have crafted with the tools that you have.  And then, you are really home.

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NC Zoo, April 2013

We went to the North Carolina Zoo with our homeschool zoo club today.  The highlight for me was spending time watching the gorillas right when the zoo opened.  There are two babies who are now starting to walk and play — what a treat!

 

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Pottery, April 2013

Here are some recent pottery pieces — a hand-built alien coin bank (there’s a slot on the other side for inserting coins, and shaking them out later), and a bowl for my mother for Mother’s Day.  I have a lot of work at various stages at the pottery studio, so I should be posting more photos soon, and bringing more pottery (along with jewelry, photography, and felt/fiber crafts) to the Durham Craft Market in the next few weeks.

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Pottery, March 2013

I picked up a few new pieces of pottery from the studio in the last few weeks — an “under the sea” bowl, a “flower garden” bowl, a “space” bowl, two matching blue bowls, some pendants, and a couple of business card holders.

As always, click any image to see the larger version!


You can see more of my pottery, photography, felt and fiber handwork, and jewelry at www.kathrynwalbert.com.

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Yarn Along for February 13, 2013

I’m still working on my husband’s reversibly-cabled scarf — perhaps I will finish it before the weather turns too much warmer!

Yarn Along Feb 13

I have finished a few more award-winning books in my chronological journey through the winners of the Newbery Medal.  I remembered reading The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (1979) when it was a new book and I was nine or ten years old.  This book is a mystery in which the hand-picked residents of an apartment complex are drawn into a quest to figure out who killed Mr. Westing and who will inherit his fortune.  There are numerous characters to keep track of, which I remembered finding challenging as a child, but they are well-developed and the plot has enough twists and turns to keep even the most avid mystery fan happy.  Mystery isn’t my favorite genre, but this was a fun read and I’m glad to have had the chance to revisit a memorable book from my own childhood.

I also just finished A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl’s Journal, 1830-1832 by Joan W. Blos (1980), which I really enjoyed.  As the title suggests, this novel is written as if it were the diary of a young girl growing up in New Hampshire in the early 1830s.  Like a real diary, the entries vary from day to day, sometimes short and focused on daily minutiae and other times lengthy, introspective and delving into the big questions of life. Catherine, the focus of the story, is the eldest daughter of a widower who decides to help a runaway slave who has reached out to her in writing, but whom she never actually meets.  Through the journal, the reader glimpses into Catherine’s life as she comes to terms with her father’s remarriage and the death of someone she loves, all while she works to piece together a quilt, stitching together tiny pieces to make a carefully-constructed and beautiful whole — a metaphor for life.  The day to day life on a New England farming community in the early 19th century is thoughtfully brought to life in this book and I thoroughly enjoyed the gently unfolding pace and tenderness of the author’s storytelling.

I am currently reading Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson (1981), who also wrote Bridge to Terabithia.  The title alludes to the biblical story of Jacob and Esau, twins who are favored unequally by their father and this story, too, focuses on twins, taking the perspective of Louise whose fraternal twin sister, Caroline, has received special attention through most of their lives, both for being medically frail and for being musically gifted.  The book is set on a small island in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, reachable only by ferry, and the environment and the day to day life of the watermen and their families are captured with careful and loving detail.  I am only part-way through the book, but Paterson does a marvelous job so far of capturing the gnawing feeling of adolescent jealousy and the desire to feel special.  Marvelously written.

Next up will be a short one:  A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers by Nancy Willard (1982).

Here’s my recap of the Newbery Medalists from the 1970s (these are my personal opinions and, of course, your mileage may vary):

Best of the 1970s:  Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Runner Up: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (tie)
Runner Up: Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (tie)
I also especially enjoyed: The Grey King by Susan Cooper, and the entire Dark is Rising series, of which this book is the second to last volume.

This post is part of the weekly yarn along at the delightful blog Small Things.  Pop over there to see more posts about knitting, crocheting, and reading!

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At the Wheel

A few months ago, when I had reached a point with pottery that I was starting to feel some confidence about it, I remembered a photo that I had seen at my grandparents’ house when I was a child.  It was my grandfather working at a potter’s wheel.  I remembered the details of the image itself in the gauzy way that we often remember things from early childhood — the way that confuses one Christmas or summer vacation with another and never feels quite solid.  But the feeling I recalled about the image did feel solid — I distinctly remembered feeling awed that my grandfather had been able to make things from clay with his own hands.  The idea of a potter’s wheel seemed so grand and special to me. I had never even seen one, let alone tried using one.  And I remember thinking, “One day, I want to do that, too.”  And I forgot all about that feeling — until I had done it.

My father found the photo for me this week and sent it to me.  My grandfather died about thirty years ago.  But I am glad to be following in his footsteps now.papaatthewheel

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Robots in Love

I made this plate for my husband for Valentine’s Day.  Hand-built with slip painting and carving, plus a blue glaze on the outside rim and clear glaze over the decoration.  Robots in love!

robotsinlove

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Yarn Along for January 9, 2013

Leading up to Christmas, I did a lot of sewing instead of knitting.  I worked on a felt Advent calendar, felt food for my niece and nephews, and doll clothes for my daughter’s Waldorf-style doll.  My daughter received coupons for additional sewn doll clothes and some felt things in her Christmas stocking as well (a nice compromise between my ambitious desire to make her lots of things and my limited time in which to sew “surprise” items), so I have sewn a few more things for those cashed-in coupons since Christmas as well.  But now that I’m picking up needles again, I am continuing to knit my husband’s reversible cable scarf (from Debbie Stoller’s book Son of a Stitch ‘n Bitch: 45 Projects to Knit and Crochet for Men).  I had hoped to finish it up before Christmas, but didn’t quite get the chance.  I’m holding out hope for casting off before Valentine’s Day, though!

The Westing Game and "Swelligant" Scarf

The Westing Game and “Swelligant” Scarf

Since my last Yarn Along, I’ve read a few more Newbery Medalists as I continue reading through them chronologically:

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1977) by Mildred D. Taylor was a captivating book focused on the Logan family, African American land-owners living in an area of the deep south dominated by share-cropping in the early 20th century.  The story is told from the point of view of young Cassie who is beginning to come to grips with the realities of racism in her community and what that means for her family.  Taylor does a great job of weaving the important broader context (which includes night riders and other examples of racial violence and intimidation) into the down-to-earth experiences of schoolkids and their families.  The Logan children’s young friend TJ, who is presented from the outset as a bit of a show-off, faces particularly harrowing consequences to his choices as the book moves forward.  The story is deeply sad, but also beautifully told — by the end of the book, you’ll feel like you know the Logans well, and will wish there was something you could do to help them.

Bridge to Terabithia (1978) by Katherine Paterson is, hands down, one of the best books I’ve read in this journey through the Newbery Medalists.  From the first sentence, I was hooked on her fluid, authentic style of writing — her eye for the details that will tell you all you need to know about a character in just a few words is just flawless.  The book follows Jess Aarons, a young boy who feels like a bit of an outsider in his farming community because of his deep love of art, and his new friend, Leslie, who moves into the neighboring farmhouse from the city.  The child of an author and an academic, Leslie is also labeled as different by a lot of the kids in school and quickly becomes friends with Jess.  The two create a magical land of Terabithia in the nearby woods, a secret place where they imagine themselves the king and queen of an enchanted kingdom, doing battle against evil forces and entering a sacred grove of pines when in need of courage or protection.  I can’t really tell you more about the book without giving away the ending, but I will say to have your tissues handy.  This is an intensely emotional book, but very much worth reading.

Next up is The Westing Game (1979) by Ellen Raskin.  This was a favorite of mine when I was a kid, so I’ll be interested to see how I like it, rereading it as an adult.  I’m just getting started, but when I finish it, I’ll post my recap list of the best Newbery winners of the 1970s!

Happy reading and knitting/crocheting.  And if you want to see what some other avid fiber artists and page-turners are up to, go over to Small Things and read more entries from participants in this week’s Yarn Along!

Posted in Knitting, Newbery Medalists, Reading | 5 Comments

Did somebody mention treats?

Sunny the Buff Orpington chicken

Sunny the Buff Orpington chicken

 

 

 

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Newbery Update: Best of the 1960s

I realized that I never posted my personal favorites from the decade of the 1960s, so here’s a recap of the ones I most enjoyed:

Best of the 1960s:  The High King by Lloyd Alexander — this is the final book in the Prydain Chronicles, and the whole series was outstanding for anyone who loves the fantasy genre!

Runner Up: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (tie)

Runner Up: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg (tie)

I also especially enjoyed: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare, and I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino.

I’m nearly through the 1970s now, so I’ll be posting another recap soon!

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