Posts Tagged With: quiet time

Quiet Solitude

What a gift to have — the time to sit, to spend hours alone, and to rise having accomplished something without hurry.

Today I only left home to grocery shop.  Otherwise, I’ve been here in the house with only the pets for company.  All I had on my agenda for today was organizing — and I didn’t care how much I got done.  There was no deadline, no time constraint.  In fact, my only goal for the whole weekend is to end up with a straight office and organized craft materials.

No alarm clock set, I simply woke when I was ready — and it wasn’t terribly late.  I read for a while, played online a bit.  I dressed, went grocery shopping, and came home to eat lunch.  After a bit of HGTV, I was sleepy and napped a bit.  Such leisure used to be a rare treat — usually achieved only on weekends when I didn’t have any grading, or during semester breaks.  Now, of course, no worries about grading or course preparation disturb my freedom.  Though I certainly have deadlines, those are fewer, and they are of my choosing, not imposed.

Before I could organize anything, I spent time working with the precious metal clay that I had left.  Before too long, seven new pieces lay drying on a mug warmer.  This is the first time in a couple of weeks that I’ve made anything with the PMC3, and it was overdue.  My only regret:  I had no more PMC3 clay to work with.  More is ordered, but for now I simply must spend time planning what to work on when it arrives.  Tomorrow, though, I’ll clean up and fire the new pieces.

It was a natural move at that point to begin sorting through the various things scattered in my pmc workspace and through the materials.  By the time I was finished, I could fit everything but the clay products, slip, and olive oil jar into one tote, and all of the different tools were bagged with like tools.  Much easier than digging through everything.  I still need to wipe off the surfaces, but there’s time for that tomorrow.

With that area neatly organized and arranged, I moved back to lie down and read.  No urge to rush.  No anxiety about time.  Just the need to shift my focus for a while.  

Reading always fills any moment I can find.  From my first discovery of Little Golden Books, I have been a willing captive of books. By this time of year, when I was growing up, my Christmas list always began with what books I wanted.  I’d browse the Sears Christmas catalog, selecting Nancy Drew books, or Hardy Boys books, or other series of adventure tales.  Shakespeare joined the list when I was a freshman in high school.  I was (and am still) the geeky kid who gladly picks up a random volume of any encyclopedia just to browse articles.  

Now in retirement, it isn’t unusual for me to spend hours reading, spaced out daily.  My morning ritual reads are online newspapers and news sites.  Novels and craft books fill in at different times during my day.  

Reading material today?  A couple of new craft books, a science fiction/fantasy novel.  And a scholarly book on Jean Lafitte and his brother, on piracy during the battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812.  

And so it was that I drifted from this house and time to other places, other universes, other times, and when it was time for a break, I shifted back to the living room, where my next task of organizing waited for me.

This time, I tackled the various containers of beads and wire and tools that I work with when I make jewelry — or at least what I often tote around with me to work on when I’m out at a coffeeshop or at McDonald’s near the university.  A couple of bags of new beads had to be sorted and placed in appropriate containers, labeled clearly by size and material.  I wasn’t really sure exactly what I have or what I need, which is one reason I needed to take the time for this.  Without a sense of what’s available, i can’t continue the jewelry I want to make for Christmas sales and gifts.  Otherwise, I’ll start something and realize that I lack the right wire.  This is exactly what happened to me last week, when I realized that I had no more 22-gauge or 24-gauge sterling silver wire, which is what I most commonly use with earrings.  Time for ordering, which I did at that point — and now I simply wait for the order to arrive. 

Sitting on one of the carpets I brought back from Azerbaijahn, I opened containers,  snipped knots off strands of gemstone beads, and meticulously filled container after container, labeling as I went.  When my back hurt, or a leg cramped, I’d shift around a bit, and then work some more.  Over the months I’ve been working with wire and beads, I’ve tried out different kinds of boxes and containers, settling on containers with individual areas with separate lids, a design that require the user to punch a lever in in order to release a lid — and the lid has to be pushed up.  I’ve spent way too much time picking up beads that have fallen out when the tops pop open.  Some beads I bagged and labeled.  Some went into stacking containers.  

From beads I moved on to findings — to sterling silver beads, rounds and other shapes, such as  rondelles and saucers.  I can now tell what I need to order more of.

Once I was finished, I had managed to put all of the bead containers into one tote with a locking lid and handle.  One large container holds spools of wire and bags of stones and beads, some earrings I’ve completed, with some projects that I’ve started.  One container holds only material for gold-filled or gold-plated work.  Another smaller container holds earrings I’ve started.  One box is only for tools.  Then there’s my ring binder notebook with labeled plastic pockets filled with different wires.  These now sit neatly on the carpet, out of the way, ready to be put onto shelves tomorrow when I move on to straightening and organizing the office.

I really don’t have any clear idea of how long I sat there.  The dogs and cats wandered around me, through the piles of containers scattered near me on the carpet.  From time to time I’d stop, spend time petting them, and then return to beads and tools and boxes.  

When I was done, I managed to get up, stretching because I was stiffer than I realized.  I threw away the bag of trash, shooed the pets out of the living room, and left, closing the door behind me.

Now I’m getting ready to return to bed, and I haven’t spoken more than a few words to anyone today.  I’ve talked to the dogs and cats more than to humans.  

Yet it was a full, productive day.  Solitude never bothers me; I’m happy having time to think while I work.  There’s a certain kind of reflection that arises naturally out of routines that in themselves don’t really require much thought.  Being alone rarely means that I’m lonely (though that certainly does happen too — don’t get me wrong).

Not everything is completed, but I’m not worried or stressed about it.  The living room is still a kind of holding space for things that need to come to the office or go to the beach with me the next time I go there.

In the meantime, though, I’m tired, a bit stiff, and satisfied.

I know the weather’s beautiful and the cooler temperatures are welcome.  But I’m happy and content to have such expanses of time to spend here, in the home I’m slowly returning to order, to life.  

Time for a book again.  

And to move back to the bedroom, to lie down and pull the covers up, snuggle in, and drift off to sleep while reading.


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Traveling and Time for Observations

So I missed writing yesterday.  I slept most of the day — sort of like the day after a migraine, only for sinus issues.  I completely forgot about writing — and just slept.

But I took a lot of time yesterday to think and today as I tried to move and organize some digital photos from this summer, I realized that some of the time when I travel I simply sit and watch what’s going on around me.  Certainly I watch people — that’s always fun — but I also enjoy quieter moments when I focus on landscape and (often) cats.  And dogs too.  In Athens they’re everywhere, wandering around, lying in the shade under trees or on steps or by stores.  I found that it was similar in Istanbul, too.  Birds flying — and sometimes landing — also provide me with lots of opportunity for observing and thinking.

These are just random events, tied together by nothing other than my presence.  They’re there for anyone and everyone to see, if only people take the time.

You expect to see cats and dogs in the country, but somehow it’s a surprise when you first realize just how many cats and dogs wander the streets and neighborhoods in Athens.  It’s a huge city, filled with cars and motorcycles, trolleys and buses.  Yet look around you.  One dog seems to show up at all the demonstrations in the center of Athens at Syntagma; it’s recognized — and even has had its photograph published.

SIt on a bench or at the cafe in the National Gardens — there are literally dozens of cats there.  People bring food to them.  Dogs live there too, and are well fed.

Even when I walk on the street, I can look down and there’s a dog or a cat lazing in the shade — whatever shade it can find — on a sweltering day when the sun is beating down.

At the site of the Agora, on the street, they sprawl, the Acropolis above them.


Or across the street, at one of the sidewalk cafes where I sit and have a cool drink, one perches on a concrete block.  The waiter who serves me stoops to pet it and put some food and water down.  It is a kitten, really, and he smiles.  He clearly knows this cat.


On the other side of the Acropolis, where I sit one day waiting for a Hop-On Hop-Off double-decker bus, I first notice the flowers blooming in among the rocks and near-bare dirt.  Then I watch as a small bird lands, ignoring me as it looks for bugs.  In a bit, the bird hops onto a water faucet and dips its head and beak downward into the faucet itself, seeking water.




Even at home in the apartment,  I see cats.  They wander the few apartment buildings and the courtyards, sometimes resting in the greenery and flowering vines that provide my balcony with a semblance of a garden.  Sometimes, as this summer, if I leave a balcony door open, one will wander into the apartment and look around.



Usually I’m able to walk away from these cats and dogs.  I’m not usually tempted to stop and take any home.  Not usually.

But on the island of Spetses in summer 2009, one kitten clearly had other plans.  I was sitting at a cafe near the harbor, enjoying a diet Coke.  From the side of the cafe, a small kitten crossed the pebbled walkway, zeroing in on me with certainty.  It dodged the feet of the people passing by to head straight for me, winding around my ankles, rubbing against them, then hopping into my lap.  I made the fatal mistake of petting it.  It purred.  I petted it some more.  It then climbed up my arm and curled around my neck, settling on my shoulder like a scarf.  How could I turn it away?  I couldn’t.  I took it back to my room.  I then walked back to town and found food, later located a pet store and bought a carrier.


Friends and I discussed a name for her — for she was a female.  I thought of Bouboulina, a heroine of the Greek War for Independence; she was from Spetses and there’s a statue of her.  Unless I called her “BooBoo,” though, no one stateside would ever get that name, or remember it.  Thus I came to settle on the name Homer.  Yes, I know that we generally accept that Homer the poet was male.  But maybe not — maybe, just maybe Homer was a she.  At least, that’s how I came to name my new pet Homer.  Homer traveled from Spetses with me on a Flying Dolphin, drove from the port of Pireaus in a taxi to my apartment, and made herself at home there.

Once there, Homer made herself at home.  She quickly discovered that she enjoyed the computer — and the warmth of it.  She still does.


In Athens, a friend recommended a vet, who saw Homer and wormed her.  Homer adapted to being an indoor pet pretty easily.  She slept on my chest.  After a week, I realized that Homer had given me something quite different — something no other pet had ever given me.  Ringworms.  It took several weeks — and various creams and strong drugs — to clear up her gift.

She traveled back to Lake Charles with me, in her carrier, under the seat in front of me on two different airplanes.  She was quiet and no trouble.

And even after I returned to Lake Charles, I had a flare-up and had to see my dermatologist.  I also had to treat the other four animals.  Thanks, Homer, for a memorable treat.

Now Homer is acclimated to life in Southwest Louisiana, living with two other cats and two dogs.  She thinks she’s the queen of the universe.

I may look at kittens now, but I resist, no matter how cute they may be.

One of the things that I miss most when I’m away for several months (even a few weeks):  my own pets.  I worry about them.  Friends send me photographs to reassure me that they’re okay.  This past summer, some dear friends took my dogs for the three months I was gone.  Their chihuahua wasn’t thrilled, but she put up with them — as long as they recognized she was boss.  But every day they got to go out into the sun, sleep in the shade, get serenaded to by guitar.  They had a good time.  I just missed them.

So when I see the dozens of cats and dogs roaming Athens, I get a bit of my pet-fix soothed.  At the same time, I worry, too.  Life is precarious for these free-wheeling animals.  Dogs, especially, face dangers; if people don’t like them, or think they make too much noise (even if they’re someone’s pets, in a fenced yard), they’ll toss poisoned food for them.  It’s horrifying to me, imagining the loss.  On islands, some years, there are reports of packs of stray dogs becoming dangerous, or perceived as being so.

Here we have animal shelters and even the pound.  There, though, there are no such things.  Nor is it legal to round them up, to dispose of them.  So they wander, subject to the kindness of those people who feed them and to the cruelty of those who mistreat and poison them.  It’s a confusing attitude, I confess.

Yet the last couple of summers, I’ve noticed more Athenians with dogs on leashes — small dogs, big ones, you name it.  Maybe it’s a popular thing now, to have a pet in the city, one that’s pampered and walked.

Not far from my apartment, on Filolao Street, there’s a pet shop.  The owner puts out some cages on the sidewalk some days for people walking by to look at and perhaps stop and purchase the rabbits or the birds in them.  Song birds are popular here, on balconies and even at shops and tavernas.  Soft bird song often follows you as you walk, though you’re not necessarily able to see the birds.

At times, I stop and take photographs of the dogs or cats or birds.  I’ll probably never see them again, other than these months that I’m in Athens.  But next year, or next visit, there will be others, certainly.

I like to people-watch, true.  It’s probably the voyeur that we all secretly harbor.  It’s fun to listen, to watch, to imagine relationships and entire scenarios from the snippets we understand, the interactions we glimpse.

But life’s not complete without the context.  And even in a metropolitan area like Athens, there is life beyond the human scope.

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