Fatherly wisdom, Thomas Merton, tea and cats: It’s a Friday round up!

This photo doesn't do justice to the beautiful blue skies happening as I write this post.

This photo doesn’t do justice to the beautiful blue skies happening as I write this post.

It is 68 degrees and sunny in Houston on this fantastic Friday. My friends and family in Kentucky didn’t appreciate my celebration of this fact on social media today, where I was reminded that it’s all of 12 degrees there as I write this post.

I miss my loved ones and my home state, but not that sort of weather!

Speaking of family, as I mentioned in yesterday’s Budget Elegance post, I learned the art of living simply and cheaply from my dad and stepmom, among other family members. As you’ll see as you continue to read this missive, I make sure to let them know how grateful I am for the countless lessons they taught me about frugality, thrift, conservation and finding enjoyment in the smalles, simplest things.

For example, on Sunday I was watching cooking shows on PBS. Suddenly, I had a

"Fancy" snackage, just add sardines and mustard.

“Fancy” snackage, just add sardines and mustard.

memory of watching “Nova” on PBS with my dad and older brother, while chowing down on saltines with sardines canned in mustard. It was about the time of day when I usually want a snack, so I went the nostalgic route and opened a can of King Oscar sardines in olive oil.

Instead of the build as you eat method of fishing it out with a fork, slapping it on the cracker, eating it, then rinse and repeat, I created a little hors d’oeuvre tray with about six or seven sesame wheat crackers gingerly topped with a bit of sardine and a dollop of mustard. My “fancy” version of this childhood snack was of course inexpensive, but it looked so lovely on the colorful Fiestaware plate I used that it didn’t feel like I was being frugal at all. In fact, it felt like a guilty pleasure and it also reminded me of wonderful moments spent with my family.

I took a quick snap and messaged it to my dad, along with the memory. Here’s part of our little exchange:

Thanks for the tips on frugal living, pops!

Thanks for the tips on frugal living, pops!

Perhaps to some people it’s silly to make such a big production out of crafting a snack of sardines and crackers; and to get so much joy out eating it; and then to thank the person who introduced it to you.  After all, it’s just cheap fish in a can! But, I feel incredibly fortunate to know the value of money and to appreciate and artfully celebrate the most seemingly mundane tasks and treats.

Since leaving my senior reporter position at the Houston Chronicle to become a full-time freelancer, I’ve of course had many occasions to practice this artful celebration. A huge part of saving money, for me, involves enjoying spending more time at home, rather than out on the town. Thankfully, I love to read.

The past couple of weeks, for several reasons, I find myself revisiting a lot of my books about mindfulness and meditation. Last week, I finished “The Not So Big Life,” by Susana Susanka and this week I started “Zen Keys: A Guide to Zen Practice,” by Thich Nhat Hanh. Next I may grab “The Seven Storey Mountain,” the celebrated autobiography by trappist monk, mystic, author and poet Thomas Merton . I read it a couple of years ago and absolutely loved it. You don’t have to be Catholic or even spiritual to appreciate the beautiful prose and the captivating — and sometime scandalous, gasp! — story of Merton’s life.

Reading these books about mindfulness reminds  me of some of the reasons I wanted the career change to freelance, which were to live more simply, have more time with loved ones and pursue more art and travel. Also, I just wanted more freedom which is at the heart of the teachings of the books I’ve been reading. What I keep being reminded of in the books is that it’s essential to spend my time “being” instead of “doing” and when I am doing — whether it’s reading, watching TV, eating, cleaning the bathroom, visiting with a friend, shopping for necessities or making fancy sardine snacks — that I must pay attention. It’s such as simple concept, yet we forget and we just move through life in a fog, without even realizing it.

Lazy Cleo.

Lazy Cleo.

In fact, were I not paying attention, I wouldn’t have taken this lovely little portrait of Cleo off to the left. What you don’t know from looking at that serene little face, is that Cleo was in such a deep slumber, that two seconds after after I snapped this pic, she began to roll backwards, nearly falling off the arm of the sofa.

Lucky for her, I saw it coming and blocked the fall. It was a funny moment and one that is oft repeated in various areas of the house, when she’ll fall off the back of a chair or out of the kitchen window onto the floor and start loudly meowing in a state of total confusion.

I’m sort of rambling I suppose, but the point is that since I slowed down, simplified and started paying more attention, I’m enjoying everything a lot more. As you might imagine, I keep my budget for going out very low, because I want to promote more time spent at home cooking, reading, writing, making art and checking out art exhibits or local parks, instead of always reverting to the fun, but spendy habit of happy hour or dinner out. Then when I do go out for drinks or some such thing with friends, I really appreciate it.

In fact, I went for tea with a friend this week. We both wanted to try Path of Tea, a

Loose tea at Path of Tea on

Loose tea at Path of Tea on

place I discovered after he asked me for recommendations where to buy tea as a gift. Mistakenly, I thought it was a store, but to our happy surprise, it was also a tea house. So we slowed our roll and shared a pot of tea, which comes with the most delicious little almond coated cookies with a dollop of preserves in the middle.

He regaled me with stories of his youth spent in China, where despite being one of a handful of Americans, he enjoyed a sense of community and the friendliness born of having to live side-by-side with so very many people. The tea was exactly as he had remembered it, which was especially profound, because he had been disappointed by much of the tea he’d had until finding this establishment.

Later in the week, I was inspired to brake out a tea pot I got as a gift when I graduated from college. I settled on a pot of Earl Grey (with cookies, of course). This little break reminded of tea with my friend, as well the person who gifted me with the tea pot. She has sense departed, so I love that every time I use it, I think of her. While sipping and crunching away on my cookies, I made a mental note to incorporate tea time a few times per week at home.

This was a week steeped (yep, I just made that pun) in simplicity. It challenged me to stay grounded in the mission I set out on when I made that scary, but essential for me leap to freelance. In that spirit, I’ll leave you with a quote I read the other day that resonated with me. It’s by the buddhist monk, teacher and author Jack Kornfield:

“The capacity to be open to the new in each moment without seeking a false sense of security is the true source of strength and freedom in life.”

What are your simple pleasures?

 

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