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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Monday, April 27, 2009

On housework and unconditional happiness

My vacation away was amazing. We loved DC, we were so pleased to see a son flourishing there, we had a blast everywhere we visited, and are looking forward to our next trip back. Thank you Americans for being just so nice to us everywhere we went.

There is so much to say now that I don't know where to begin. So I think the best thing is to shoot up some random thoughts and you can just take them for what they are, or aren't worth.

If you are like me you think and resolve pretty much the same things on every trip home from every vacation. Mostly it's about how, after a couple of weeks or so of not having too much more serious to think about than what's for lunch, life is going to get simpler, less cluttered, less harassed - how you are just not going to let things get too much again.

Am I right?

Has anyone else ever cruised back into the driveway at the end of a trip and decided "From here on in I am going to take on more, get rid of all that spare time, worry more, want more, rest less?" Has anyone ever decided that what really needs to happen was that life stopped being so simple and got more complicated?

Of course not.

I have also noticed, in the various places I read, lots of talk about happiness. 7 ways to find it, 10 ways to be it, the One thing that Prevents it.

Well you know what I think?

Nothing can make you happy.

You just are, when you are.

I don't think there are preconditions to happiness. No obstacles in your way, no thing that you can do that will give it to you.

Happiness I think is unconditional and the minute you try to place conditions on it, you've lost it. It seems to me that we are all a lot better at focusing on the things that we figure need to get fixed before we can be happy than at considering the possibility that we can be happy anyway, and that happiness doesn't hang around waiting for better times.

Most of us understand unconditional love. If you have been the beneficiary of it, as I have many times, you really appreciate the value of it. If you have a dog you know what I am talking about, or a child, or a have a good mother. Now no one is going to come along and say that unconditional love is foolish, that really we should place conditions on it for it to be real - we understand that what makes this kind of love so real is exactly the fact that it is unconditional and really that conditions just ruin it.

So why don't we look at happiness the same way? I think this is worth some thought.

We all have long lists of happiness conditions. Make your list. I know women who won't be happy until they find a man or someone was nicer to them. I have had times when I felt I couldn't be happy until I had a different job, or a child moved back close to home,  I know a man who can't be happy until he has a small fortune put away so he can leave his work as a doctor, a job he hates and someone else who always wanted to see his great business ideas implemented a probably never will. 

Closer, there have been times when I couldn't be happy with my sewing until I had pants that fit, or when I couldn't start a new project because I was still so behind with what I started last season. I am sure you know how that feels like.

There also come moments when you realize that the thing you were holding out for probably isn't even going to happen.

In the back of my mind I have always sort of wanted, and never discussed with anyone, the desire to have what they call a beautiful home. I have a nice, small, comfortable house and it is probably a lot more like the house you grew up in than the houses people live in now. I keep trying to get it fixed up and times seem to conspire against me. The truth is that I have put more of my wishes than my efforts into it too. Many times I could have been landscaping, painting or cleaning, well you know what I was off cutting out something new to sew on the dining room table, or reading sewing magazines in the bath when I could have been dusting. I admit it. In fact I even decided last night that I am just going to throw out my living room rug. My youngest son brought his new and darling puppy over for the Family Dinner on Sunday night and being the third new young dog to come visiting this year he had his own turn at demonstrating he is not yet house trained. I looked at that rug and realized the stains were pretty much defeating me (did I mention that my daughter's golden retriever chewed a corner off the same rug too when she was a puppy - I just moved over a chair to cover it so no one would feel bad) and that the only solution was to just pitch it and go 100% hardwood for the duration.

This is actually leading somewhere.

You see tonight I was out visiting one of my sister's relatives who are getting ready to sell their big and yes beautiful home. You can't imagine how nice this place is, and so neat, and spotless - absolutely perfect - kitchen counters clear, nothing on bedroom tables but flowers and cross-stitched pictures and some beautiful quilted wall hangings on the wall. It would be like living in a first class bed and breakfast. Even the grandchildren pictures on the fridge were in order and all the same size. No scratches on the baseboards anywhere.

Listen I was so impressed again, I am every time I go there. I wished I lived there, I wish that was my  house and that I had lived the kind of ordered life that produces houses like that. I would be very happy in such a beautiful, tidy, flawless home. I bet after your dinner at night you can sit with your tea in such a nice place and just smile, not sit at the table like I do so many nights and wonder if I have the energy to clean up, think about the meeting tomorrow and wonder why all my family even all these kids who have moved out, still leave so much of their stuff and projects behind with me, wonder why I have twice as many pots as cupboard space.

Back to my sister's in-laws house. I understood tonight that I will never live in a place like that. If I was ever going to get there I would be a lot closer by now than I am and that my chance for that particular dream has come and gone. I also acknowledge that they too are leaving this perfect place behind. All the kids are gone and live in other parts of the country, no one comes home often and its just too big to maintain for just the two of them. They are selling and moving into a condo like so many people do. I joked to my DH as we were leaving that we don't ever have to worry about down sizing because I think we are already there.

But I thought about my sister's mother-in-laws quilts. They were very nice and she said this to me "I always wanted to quilt all the years I worked but I didn't have the time until I retired at 65." She waited until she was 65 to sew. This made a big impression on me.

I don't really know how to say this but you know even bigger than the happiness I am not going to get now by ever having the beautiful immaculate home I secretly always wanted was the happiness that I actually achieved by the sewing and creative schemes and delusions and satisfaction of my innumerable projects over the years, done in the middle of considerable lack of order, both in my life and in my house, when I was in middle of a whole lot of other conditions that weren't being met.

And it seems to me that the happiness you have and can make for yourself today however you can make it, is more real and worthwhile than any happiness you are waiting to happen.

We all make our choices and the choice to just be as happy as you can despite all the evidence is one of them.


Erin said...

I am in awe...it is that simple...I am in awe that you found a way to put into words that which so many of us feel so much of the time. I agree with everything you wrote...your last two sentences say it all. wow...thanks for taking the time to put your thoughts to paper/internet. I needed them.

a little sewing on the side said...

Welcome home Barbara! Congrats on going rugless- I removed the rug from the living room down in Rockville and find it easier to live with, too. Hence the major foot-dragging to replace it. Reading your post, I decided it is not necessary to replace it!
And, oh you are so right on about how to be happy. It's nice to have projects and goals to ponder and anticipate. It's even better to realize that the anticipation is part of the happiness in the now moment. I am feeling a trip to Halifax must happen on of these days! I'd love to pet your dog and accompany you two on a walk.

Pat Torbert said...

Barbara, I have just recently found your blog. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I can relate to a lot of the things you write about. Thanks so much.
Pat from Florida

Barbara said...

Thank you. It means a lot to me to know this makes sense to someone else.

Erin glad to know you share some of this with me.

And Robin you are welcome to join us on a dog walk here in Halifax anytime.

Pat, nice to meet you, DH and I were just in northern Florida and loved it. Is the rest of the state that beautiful too?

Jenaveve said...

I just discovered your blog today. There I was, reading another of your posts and feeling guilty that I was neglecting the bathroom I needed to clean, and bring in the washing before the rain, and all of those 'have to do's ... and then I smiled because I realised that reading this post was certainly not a time waster.

How to sum this up in less words than I intended: happiness is already here. It has a lot more to do with perspective and knowing that we can't have Everything or do Everything ... no matter how much we are told as women that we can have it all, we might already have 'most of it', and if we do appreciate what we have, the rest is really only to be admired from afar.

Thanks - I'm loving your words.

Jenaveve said...

Barbara, I've just posted a link to this on my blog so others can pop over and have a read.

Deb said...

Thank you for sharing your wisdom!

I think we all could do with a little wake up call every now and then. Sometimes we need to stop thinking about the what if's and realise that today is the only today we are going to get.

Life is short we should use it wisely.

trasha said...

how timely (I have just come via Jenaveve). Just yesterday while walking through IKEA I had a similar thought about happiness being self-driven.

Thanks for putting so eloquently.

Thea said...

Barbara, this is my first visit thanks to Jenaveve too. My house is a mess but now I don't feel so bad about it as I do choose to occupy my time otherwise. Thanks for your inspiring words.

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

Such a beautiful and awe-inspiring post. All so very true and one that I'll remind myself of when I too long for the "perfect" home that never happens because I'm enjoying my free time creating instead.

Sharon B. from Alaska said...

It's March of 2013, and I'm just now reading this blog posting from 2009. It's wonderful and maybe revisiting it would refresh your spirits today.