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My life as art


 


    After two years of living in a small apartment, I finally got a house. Halleluiah!
   


    I hadn’t lived in an apartment since my early 20’s when I lived in New York City. While many people appreciate the low maintenance and convenience of apartment living, it was agony for me. Going from 50 beautiful acres (my life’s dream) and a gigantic house (my life’s nightmare) to a tiny place without a functional kitchen and the only outdoor living a 4 foot lani overlooking a busy parking lot, was a huge, heart wrenching adjustment. The period of time spent in the apartment was deeply sad and filled with personal angst over the loss of my children too (no longer an issue, Thank God), so I needed to get out of that apartment and the shadows associated to it more than I can say. My new house represents a fresh beginning and the promise of a life that I’ve aspired to for many years – a financially responsible, artistic, crisis-free life – a life in balance where work, leisure and love is given equal attention.  Every day I feel more grounded and secure – for the first time in as long as I can remember, I don’t feel my stability is threatened or as if the other shoe is going to drop as a new drama sets me back dare I relax. This house (and my new life) is filled with peace and promise.



 
I should mention here that the biggest change involved with my getting this house was inviting my boyfriend, David, to live here as well. I’ve been deeply resistant to commitment of any kind in the past two years, because if there is one thing life has taught me, it’s that relationships are easy to get into but very, very hard to get out of. Finances, friends, history, future plans, real estate, business interests, kids, you name it – the small connections you make with someone while romantically involved quickly add up and become ropes that complicate love. If there is one thing I will never do again it is become an object of convenience, habit or utility, rather than a deeply cared about and appreciated partner. That said, I’ve been a rather difficult girlfriend the past two years, practically having a panic attack anytime I sensed things were heating up emotionally with a man.



My friend, George, told me when I got divorced that no matter what, I should wait two years before starting up a new relationship. Before that, undercurrents of desperation, loneliness or recklessness will lead a person into a union founded on all the wrong stuff. A new love might work as a band aid to your wounded heart and ego, but an open air wound heals faster. Also, it isn’t fair to lay beside a new lover at night pretending to be present, when in truth; you are ruminating with anger or sadness as your mind endlessly wanders to the past. I was definitely guilty of that.




Nevertheless, I pleaded a case that it is always possible you’ll meet “the one” right out of the starting box, in which case, why not act? And I’m not getting any younger, so I might as well get my new life underway ASAP to fast track to domestic bliss, I argued. But George has more experience in divorce than I, and he assured me that only time and distance would clear the fog so I’d see potential mates for who they are rather than who I want them to be. I didn’t like his advice, but I recognized the truth in his words, (and he reads this blog, so it pains me to admit he is right) so I forced myself to stand on the edge of the love cliff without jumping off. 

Not that I shut down romantically, mind you.  I’ve enjoyed a warm and loving relationship with two different men since becoming single – but despite temptation, I didn’t cave to my emotional longing for security or protection and get serious too soon. That was proven to be a good decision. Hey, if it’s real, it will last, and if it isn’t, I rather not discover I’ve made rash decisions early on that ended up creating the very obstacle that stands in the way of my actualizing the life and mate that truly will lead to long term happiness . Like I said, I’m not getting any younger so rather than face the disruption of unraveling a serious mistake again, taking it slow is the quickest path to true happiness.




Which brings me to David, the most competent, accomplished, smart, and loving man I’ve ever known.  We’ve dated for more than a year now and there certainly doesn’t seem to be any reason to drag my feet regarding building a future with him, and yet, when he had asked me to marry him the first time (we were on a romantic vacation in Belize), I had to say no. Well, that isn’t’ true. I said yes, then I got home and back peddled and reneged, which made me seem flighty I suppose, but what could I do? I wasn’t ready. David wasn’t happy about my change of heart, but he is an ultimately patient man, and he knew what he wanted from life… remarkably, that happens to be me.



Months later, after I got this house, we began talking about living together. Inspired by my softening about keeping distance between us, he decided to ask again, this time with a big fat diamond and a highly romantic proposal no girl could resist.
 
I said yes – but only if he understood I still needed time before I’ll set a date. I know we have the potential for a remarkable, creative and adventurous life, but there are still things we have to take care of if we want to come together without dragging financial and emotional baggage that will no doubt stress our fresh beginning. We agreed to work as a couple towards our goals to create a life we both dream of, taking it slow so there will be no surprises or disappointments to weaken the foundation of our new journey.

I’m convinced it takes time to discover what a life partner is truly made of. Every new lover seems fantastic in the beginning when fueled with the excitement of infatuation. There is such sincerity in the explanations for the luggage someone drags with them. You swap stories, believing past problems were circumstance rather than evidence of a character flaw, because you so desperately want to believe you’e found a diamond someone else was stupid enough to cast aside. And filled the glow of great sex and positive attention, you feel compelled to be the instrument of healing – you want to be “the one” they’ve been waiting for all their life.
 
Let me point out here that it’s not that I don’t believe in David’s story or that I’ve offered anything less than absolute truth in mine, but I’m evoved enough to know that there is no such thing as a definate truth. That said, if you really want to know if someone is right for you in the long term, (and I’m talking the rest of your days on earth) it takes time. You need to see how your lover will respond to adverse conditions – the test of how a person reacts to real life tells the truth more than any whispered conversation in bed.  So, when I asked David for patience he understood I was asking for time to see how he handles stress and the unique  challenges that come our way. I want time to see how he treats my family (and his), handles money, illness, maintains his impressive work ethic, etc…  that is the only way I’ll have a clue of what real life will be like with him in the long term. And it is the only way he can know that I am indeed what he wants too.




I feared dragging my feet on his proposal would make David assume I was conflicted about my feelings, but he knows enough about my history to understand the source of my reservations. Love isn’t enough to guarentee a good life or happiness. I know that firsthand.  




He said, “You want to wait to see if all the promises and plans I’ve shared with you about what life will be like with me is just talk or if I’m the kind of man who can follow through and deliver. You want to be sure I’m not hiding serious character flaws….. No problem. I can wait as long as it takes… I know who I am and what I’m capable of and I will do everything I’ve said and more. You are going to be so happy with me that when you finally do say “I do”, it will be with total conviction and undying commitment. Frankly I wouldn’t want you any other way.”


His patience and his confidence made me want to marry him on the spot. Ha. If that isn’t evidence of how smart he is, nothing is.




Anyway, together (with Neva, who was all in favor or the decision for us all to cohabitate after she and I talked about it) we moved into this lovely, humble, three bedroom home. It was a great find – a short sale only days from foreclosure.




The house has big spacious closets, an amazing master bathroom, cathedral ceilings and recessed lighting. It features lots of extra’s – like a 4 zone state of the art sprinkler system and home security system. There are a few things that need to be done to make it “just right” – new wood flooring in the great room and kitchen, Mexican tile on the lani, a new stove (we are both serious cooks and having great appliances and a functional kitchen is high on our priority list) landscaping, etc. – All these upgrades are on our agenda as time and money allows, but as it is, the home is charming. 




The thing that makes the house so appealing is the setting. The small but private yard has a wooden privacy fence on both sides that opens to a back chain link fence covered with a tangle of vines. This affords a view of what lies beyond the property line – a wide creak dividing the property from a natural preserve boundary area. Looking out from my porch, mature trees and heavily wooded terrain make it seem as if this house is nestled in a jungle away from everything. Most striking is our own magnificent tree – the focal point of the backyard (I’ll talk more about the tree in a future post).

 The backyard is bustling with wildlife – geese and ducks land in the creek behind our fence, a huge owl lives in our tree and hoots loudly every morning, a raccoon feeds nightly off our compost pile, and birds and squirrels abound and can be so loud they all but drown out the music I keep softly floating from my I-pod in the bedroom .




My back yard is overgrown, but loving nature as I do, that only heightens the appeal. Filled with bromeliads, flowering bushes and a palm that fans out like a showgirl’s feathers in Vegas, the foliage feels wildly lush. An overly generous spill of Spanish moss hangs from the stately branches of the great tree and a huge elephant leaf vine shoots up the trunk 50 feet or more making the tree seem prehistoric. I sit outside on a new porch swing (David’s birthday present) with coffee and imagine the possibilities for turning this wild area into an inviting outdoor space. We recently acquired a stone fireplace for ambiance, but right now it sits out on the mulched yard seeming oddly out of place.
We have plans to add a stone patio, textured landscaping with ferns and orchids, and an arbor covered in flowering vines. We look forward to getting a hot tub and David plans to build an Asian influenced water feature both in the front and the back. For now, we have lights hanging in the trees, candles and some outdoor lighting highlighting plants.




It is not uncommon for couples to take pride in their home and to make long terms plans for improvements, but David is both an electrical and physical engineer with advanced building skills and I’ve seen pictures of the places he has remodeled or built (they are impressive -especially when I’m told how little he invested because he does so much of the work himself) so I have every confidence that our visions will manifest – sooner rather than later. 

But our greatest aspiration is our plans for a state of the art tree house with multi levels– a workshop in the air for writing, contemplating and entertaining. We both think outside the box – and the moment we saw that powerful tree with thick supportive branches splayed out in every direction, we had the exact same idea. Apparently, we have both have always wanted a tree house, so our shared vision was one more delightful discovery.  I’ve given him several books on creative tree house architecture and we’ve lain in bed at night, glancing through the pages to discuss ideas. Occasionally, we stare up into the branches of this huge monster tree to talk about ideas for when and exactly how we will build a funky space made with recycled materials so far up. Fun! Our only obstacle will be securing permission from the homeowners association since this kind of stucture isn’t exactly covered in the bylaws. Does a treehouse qualify as a playhouse? David happens to be a new board member, he’ll see. Hummmm……  Anyway, enough for now. I’ll wait to talk about the tree house when we actually get to the project next year.




More on the house now….. One side of the house has sun exposure to support a huge tangerine and grapefruit tree. The limbs span out to create a graceful canapé over the walkway.

These beauties are such good producers they are dripping with flowers even though we’re still enjoying the big bowl of fruit we picked not long ago. David makes us fresh orange juice and broiled grapefruit because he knows I get a thrill out of consuming something that grows on my own land. (I may have left Georgia and the land I loved, but the farmer in me lives on.) Before buying this house, I brought him over here on his lunch break from work and we snagged some fruit and sampled the citrus in the driveway – the succulent, sweet fruit made us want the house even more. We sat there visualizing what and where we could plant more organic trees or veggies. I so wanted a home that offered the space and opportunity to get dirt under my fingernails again –not easy to find considering my limited budget.  This humble house fit the bill.




The first week here I planted two avocado trees (one was David’s Valentine’s day present), a lime and lemon tree, one tangelo and we set up a garden with a dozen tomato and pepper plants (which are already laden with not quite ripe produce).

David is a master gardener, so he has taught me the correct way to plant and care for the new trees. I fumble through, learning as I go, loving every minute outside. Last weekend David dug out a second cook’s garden for me and I planted zucchini and squash, cucumber, brussel sprouts and string beans (which don’t seem very promising…. in fact, who am I kidding – they’re dead, so I’ll no doubt have to try something else.) With his urging, I planted watermelon and cantaloupe as ground covering among the new hibiscus, bougainvillea and other flowering bushes and decorative leaf plants that grace front  gardens now. Hanging baskets and decorative pots feature annuals for a colorful splash here and there.  Our wind chimes feature gongs, bells and bamboo – all day there is a gentle serenade of calming music filtering through my windows.

A new bird feeder awaits discovery by the birds – so far only the squirrels have feasted from the sunflower seed extravaganza, but it looks pretty all the same.

This place is taking shape… and it seems that every day one of us comes home with something new to add. Last night David showed up with a tray full of Irish moss, three azalea plants and a flowing vine for an empty space along our back fence. I painted a budda to match the front door. Fun.




David and I are both cooks, so it was a given we’d plant an herb garden. I now have fresh rosemary, basil, mint, sage, parsley, and lavender just outside the front door. And all this has happened in a mere six weeks on a small patch of yard in suburbia.

The fact is, it’s not where you live that counts, but how you live. I feel at home here – alive again. If all this can happen in six weeks (while we are both working like demons and handling lots of financial and personal challenges), I suppose it is only a matter of time before our home will be the slice of heaven we imagine.  




Obviously, I’m having fun as I at long last return to my deepest loves and interests. Today I’m canning a year’s worth of strawberry jam (gotta catch the season on these things) because I once again have a real kitchen- and currently, it’s overrun with 12 trays of strawberries that I picked up last night – I have to finish this post pretty soon or risk my strawberries going bad. While I’m making a mess of things, I plan to start a new batch of wine too– my first since Georgia. The concoction will have to sit for months, but I have the space for a few carboys now and David is fascinated with the winemaking process and can’t wait to help me bottle wine when the time comes. We’ve finished off most all my Georgia wine – but since I’ve changed my name and where I live, I have to come up with a new name for my label. We been throwing out ideas. So far we are leaning towards Gindavi. (A combination of our names that sounds like a fancy wine  – ha, a perfect ruse to make my rot gut homemade booze seem delightfully sophisticated.) But who knows…I’m always open to suggestions.




This is the essence of my new home and how it makes me feel  –At long last I’ve found a place to mindfully garden, cook, write and clean, all the while enjoying the simple pleasures of nature, hard work,  creativity and purpose. I began today with a 2 mile jog at 5am with my daughter (her idea to get in shape, not mine, but I welcome the excuse to get started). It was cool and dark and the conversation was intimate and natural – a sweet chance to connect. After taking her to school, I’\ve spending time writing again. Long past time I let the flodgates open artistically. I next will spend time in the kitchen while the laundry gently tumbles and dinner simmers in a crockpot.  At 4 today, I’ll go to the studio and begin my work day. On Monday’s, I begin with teaching a complimentary class for special needs kids (a chance to give of myself to the community) and today I’m expecting a new student. This kind of thing has always filled me with a sense of deeper purpose. I’m proud I’ve kept room for personal contribution in my life no matter how busy or stressed or tempted I am to put giving aside. At 5, I will dig into the serious work of building my business and teach until late – but I’m not complaning – I love what I do.


This day is a perfect example of the balance I’m determined to hold onto… each day a blend of work, pleasure, contribution, and caring – no one element of living drowning out another.




Tony Robbins teaches that we all live the life of our own design. We have to take responsibility for the lives we have and remember it’s our own choices and actions that create our world.  In my case, the canvas of my life was wiped clean, leaving me barren and empty. There was nothing to do but begin adding paint. I guess you can say I’ve started with broad strokes, filling the canvas with the colors I love. Tentatively. Thoughtfully. Sometimes, even nervously. But paint, I will. I’ll add greater detail later, and in the end, the picture I create will not have happened by accident or be a sloppy mess.
 
Life is a work of art, and great art can’t be rushed, after all.   


About Ginny East Shaddock

Director of Heartwood Retreat Center, Ginny is also a writer. This is her personal blog with essay form writing about life and reflection. My entries are often lengthy and random, because I'm not here to promote or sell anything. I'm not expecting followers - just find this format a good place to think with the pen.

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