Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Small space living

There's a lot of talk out in the media these days about living in small spaces.

Check out this link to a CNN story about people around the country 'dropping out', living in small spaces frequently off the grid, in cities and in the boonies. One thing they seem to have in common is that they don't have mortgages or utility costs, or the associated stresses that go with earning enough money to pay for these things. They all have incomes -- none are living off the government -- but they need much less money to live and they enjoy the freedom to provide their own food and be self sufficient.

Solo retreat in Vermont, from NY Times article

I could get into that. My needs are few and I'd love to be without the stress of making ends meet each month. It's not likely to happen with me at this stage of life, but it would be doable, certainly. In fact, it would also provide me with my own long-term solo retreat, such as described in this NY Times online article. I'd love to do one of these, too.
It dawned on me yesterday that I have happily lived in a really small space. My apartment in Eugene was small -- 575 s/f. But even smaller than that was a houseboat I lived on for awhile in the Oakland Estuary, off San Francisco Bay. This wasn't a houseboat built for mobility -- it was a simple wooden houseboat built for living aboard. It was moored in a marina across the estuary from Jack London Square, where my lullaby was the quiet whisper of water slapping against the hull and dock, and the tinkling of sailboat rigging tapping against masts. The movement was constant, but gentle. Wonderful for sleeping!

I don't remember the dimensions or square footage -- it's been many years. But, it was tiny. I'd guess about 10 feet wide by maybe 20 feet long. The bedroom, at the rear of the structure, was only wide enough for a double mattress (wisely built, marine-style, high atop plenty of storage drawers), a door and some space on the other side of the door.

In the middle of the boat was a tiny U-shaped kitchen on one side of a walkway [behind the wall from the narrow end of the bed], and a small bath on the other side. The front portion was living space -- again, tiny, but sufficient. I hung a big double-size rattan swing from the rafters, piled it with pillows, and spent much quality time lying there reading, swaying gently with the motion of the water. Decks and docks and water provided outdoor space. It was peaceful, easy living that appealed to the water sprite/sailing enthusiast that was me in those days.

The kuti huts I've stayed in aren't a lot smaller, although lacking in such things as running water and electricity that I'd want for long-term living. I do like a few modern conveniences -- a shower, a toilet, a tiny kitchen. I could live without an internet connection, but don't think I'd like it -- especially if I were out in the boonies all alone!

Who knows what my future will bring -- not I, certainly! I can make plans, come up with ideas, but I can't control much of anything. I can only be open to whatever changes happen, and 'go with the flow'.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

This and That

The week has been a quiet one, made up of smaller things, of greater and lesser importance.

I've caught up on sleep -- even began sleeping later in the morning, which is a good thing that's most unusual for me. I've made efforts in the garden, trying to get one bed ready to plant winter greens, and soon. Made final progress on that one today by borrowing my neighbor's wheelbarrow, making moving compost from the rear of the yard into the garden a much easier process. Topped it off with a bag of Black Kow for good measure.

My computer has been doing some weird stuff on and off for some time, and it's getting a bit old, so I've been wondering what to do about protecting my data in case it crashes. Since I'm not overly computer-savvy and don't like messing with them any more than I have to, I finally opted to go with Carbonite on-line backup and signed up for a 15-day free trial on Monday. It took a day or two for the first backup to be completed, as they had warned that it would. My genealogy data wasn't automatically backed up, but after their backup was completed it was easy to go in and add that data file to the backup. I don't change it very often, but at least I know all those years of work are safe. It's been interesting to watch the little 'bug' that shows how recently backup has happened -- could be 2 seconds ago, could be a few hours. And it's all done without me having to do anything, and if this machine dies, or I get another one, it will be simple to restore the data [not counting any issues with going from Windows XP to a newer operating system, which shouldn't be too big a deal]. The cost is only about $60/year for the basic service, and that's all I need.

Yesterday I made my semi-annual visit to the dermatologist, with only 7 nasty zaps with the dreaded freezer. Generally it's closer to 10, so this was good.  When I arrived home, I found the final draft of my teacher's [Sayalay Susila] book that I've been working on for a year or more, in my email box. It's in final publication form but she's asked me to do a final proofreading before publication. Corrections can still be made if needed, and I've found a few.  It should be on Amazon soon, and I can't wait to get a hard copy. Yes, I know. I've read it over and over during this process and am reading it again now, but it's a complex book and I get more from it each time. Anyway, I can't sit and savor it as I'd like -- just need to read it for spelling and grammar. I prefer sitting and savoring a real book anyway, as opposed to words on a computer screen.  For any of you who are interested, I'll be sure to let everyone know once it finally hits Amazon.

Also yesterday, while I was in Rome, I stopped at Big Lots and investigated a memory foam mattress topper. Opened the box and took a good sniff up close, and while the odor wasn't pleasant, it also wasn't a kind that I thought would bother me terribly, so I brought it home. It's been airing out in the back bedroom for about 24 hours now and the smell is still pretty strong. I've read that it will go away in a couple of days, so I just need to be patient until that happens. I did lie down on it, on the floor, and it felt pretty darned good.

I have a situation next spring where my two favorite teachers, Sayalay and Ayya Sobhana, are teaching consecutive retreats at Southern Dharma in April. I only know this because both of them have told me so, since SD hasn't yet released their 2013 schedule.  I can't possibly afford to go to both of them, maybe not even one of them, so I'm torn, but have decided to just let go of worrying about it for now, since many things will change by then. With any luck, Sayalay will also teach a class at Bhavana while she's in the States, but that has not yet been determined. I would certainly go to that one if it happens.

I'll also probably go to the year-end retreats at Bhavana again this year, unless snow interferes. That'll be a last-minute decision, no-doubt, but it's the best opportunity I've ever had to really practice the Dhamma, without a teacher or subject matter, and I'd like to take advantage of it again. Other than these, I have no plans for any other travels for the time being. Aside from a trip to Asheville to put in applications for some apartments, that is. I need to do that soon.

Somehow, I seem to have completely let go of any urgent drive to leave this house. It's not a conscious thing, just something that's happened on its own, most likely during the recent service period in Jesup, where I learned to happily let go of attachment to many things. I'll still need to leave eventually -- the roof or some other repair issue will eventually make the house uninhabitable -- but until then, I'll be content to stay.  On the other hand, I'd like to be in Asheville next April when Sayalay and Ayya Sobhana both arrive for their retreats -- I'd love to drive them out to SD, have an opportunity to see and speak with both of them again, even if I can't attend their retreats.

So, that's it for today, folks.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


I gotta tell you, I still haven't recovered fully from the past three weeks. Sleeping way more than usual, but still not resting. Thinking about a memory foam mattress topper, but reviews and ratings are all over the place online, and since I have a chemical-free house and am bothered by the scents in the laundry detergent aisle at the supermarket, I'm really reluctant to buy something that seems to inherently have a bad odor that may or may not go away. Alas. But, I digress.  The title promises Beaufort, so let's get at it.

I've been in love with the idea of Beaufort for countless years. So many books by Pat Conroy and Anne Rivers Siddons are set in the area, and their tales and descriptions made it seemed like the ideal place for me. I can't remember if I ever mentioned the idea of moving there anyplace on this blog, but when I first began thinking of coming back east, Beaufort was on top of the list. I did lots of research, but couldn't afford a real visit. In the end, I opted against it because I thought it couldn't possibly live up to my expectations, and because it just didn't seem wise to move sight-unseen. After this visit, I have to say that the reality lived up to every possible romanticized expectation I ever had. I'm a water gal, let's just face that. I like being on or near or in sight of water -- as in oceans and bays and such.

The approach road to Beaufort goes through rural areas and then, finally, up on a raised causeway that gives infinite views of water, sea grasses, old wooden docks, islands, and more water. To me, it was utterly breathtaking. I fell in love instantly. A few more of these causeways take you over other islands and you finally reach Beaufort. Since I had no maps or anything to guide me, and since it was too early for the visitor's center to be open, I followed the road across a lovely bridge to Lady's Island and then St. Helena Island.

When I passed this intriguing old ruin, I simply had to stop and take a closer look.

A close up of the walls, showing the old-style building material of this area, which I believe is referred to as 'tabby'. That could be a memory error, but as you can see it's mostly seashells and sand.
This is what the ruin is. I just love all that lovely moss hanging everywhere!
So, after I toured this site, I headed back to town where I found a parking lot at the city marina then headed out on a walking tour of the famous section of beautiful old homes, many of them with waterfront locations. I walked for an hour and a half, following the outer maze of streets that led to water. Lots of dead-end streets that end at the water, and all thankfully preserved for public use and view by the City of Beaufort.

This photo was actually taken on Lady's Island, not far from the bridge back to Beaufort, but it's so evocative of the area that I have to include it.

This is part of a beautiful park that fronts the river near the marina. The bridge to Lady's Island is in the rear.

Another view of the same bridge, from a smaller park across the highway, at the beginning of the residential area.
I believe this was from the same small park, looking in another direction.

One of the many beautiful homes fronting the river.

Another -- with an intriguing garden.

From the end of one dead-end street or another.
These long, wooden docks abound, and I loved them. Almost every waterfront home has one.
Yes, this is on the water too, but it's generally not possible to get a photo of both the house and the water view.
This canal ran from an 'inner' area of the residential section on out to the river.
You probably think I've gone overboard on the beautiful old houses, but the ones I'm showing are only a fraction of what's there. This one is not waterfront, but it's a beauty!

Some are so well hidden by landscaping that it's impossible to get a solid view with a camera, but then, the landscaping is so lush and beautiful that it's not hard to look at! This was waterfront, to the rear.
I know -- another dock. But they are such a big part of what makes this area so intriguing and picturesque, to me. Lots of crabbing and shrimping and fishing and just plain fun happens on these docks!
A prime example of fun, although you can barely see any people (intentionally, on my part). There was a large group gathering. Kids jumping into the water, big party apparently about to happen. Did I mention it was Labor Day? As I walked away from this, I met a couple headed in that direction hauling a cooler and other stuff on wheels. I said something about a fun day in the making, and they told me there were FIVE birthdays being celebrated.

Yep another dock. I couldn't get enough of the entire scene.
Back at the city park by the marina, I was captivated by the lush, colorful and beautiful flowers that thrive so well in this semi-tropical climate.

Because it was approaching noon, and because I planned to have lunch in Savannah, I reluctantly left Beaufort behind and didn't explore more than the immediate downtown area. In retrospect, I should have done just that because when I got to Savannah it seemed as if half the world had decided to visit. Traffic, hordes of cars and people everywhere and not a parking space to be found. After 11 days in the quite of the meditation center, and a day in the quiet peace of Beaufort, it was all too much for me so after giving up on a parking space, I drove on out to Tybee Island, which was unfortunately just more of the same. I'll take Beaufort any day!

I'm not sure how realistic it is for me to even think about moving there. I spoke at length to another retired woman who lives on social security (and a part-time job), and she told me I could make it, offered a name and phone number of a friend who runs a real estate office out on Lady's Island. I haven't called yet, although I suppose I should do that before making any final decision. Still -- while Beaufort has the water that speaks to my heart, it won't be much different from where I am now in many ways: still a long drive from Bhavana in West Virginia, still conservative politically, still not likely to have the Buddhist community I seek. Asheville is the most logical in terms of all of these -- and it has mountains and the Nantahala River. But there's no way around the fact that it has colder winters, often with snow and ice. Beaufort has a fabulous year-round climate. So, lots to consider, but I have lots of time to do all that consideration so no need to make any decisions now. I do expect to head up to Asheville in the next couple of weeks to look at some of the possible places to live, get my name on some waiting lists.

But for right now, I'm still content to be right where I am.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


As I sometimes do, I'm going to begin with conclusions before I tell the tale, because the conclusions are so much more important, more meaningful, than the mere tale itself.

First, while the entire saga was physically difficult for me, I am so utterly glad I went, and so grateful for the many changes I see within myself. I'm at peace. I'm content and equanimous even amidst the fatigue. I'm bothered by very little. Most of these changes were wrought during the past week of service, not during the 10 days of meditation. Some days I could feel the changes happening as I watched the process within myself. Yesterday, driving home and reviewing my time there as the miles passed by, I was shocked to actually realize that I felt love for myself, approval for myself. Of course, there is no self in Buddhism, but the warm feelings of love and approval arose, for the first time in my almost  70 years on this earth. That's no small thing, and it begins to heal an open wound that I've been aware of since my first Vipassana course almost 8 years ago. Being aware of the wound and closing the wound are two entirely different things. I can say with confidence that it's begun to close, and once begun, will hopefully continue to heal. That's big, people. Really big. Will all these changes last? It's hard to say. We're taught that everything changes, that nothing stays the same, and yet over these 8 years I've seen internal changes come and go as well as changes come and stay. I have a feeling that at least some of these changes -- perhaps the more major ones -- will stick around.

Secondly, I had the privilege to work with some of the most wonderful young people I've ever had the pleasure to meet, during this past week. Some of the changes in me are definitely a reflection of them, of the effect they had on me. Two of them were there from the beginning to the end -- Sam and Sarah, both of whom drove down from Pennsylvania just to serve for this week when they learned the center was in serious need of servers for the course. Both have been long-term servers here in the past.  Sam is an inspired cook who has a way with spices I can only envy. He's quiet, but as the days passed and we all got to know one another he opened up considerably. Sarah is just the opposite -- brimming full of bubbly joy, chatter and compassionate thoughtfulness and goodness. We had numerous good conversations since we had to spend our meal times secluded in the women's dorm. Both are young (young enough to be my grandchildren!) I now have another adopted granddaughter (Sherene at Aranya Bodhi was the first and she, too, is a Goenka student). I am just plain honored to know all of them. A couple of other young women came to help for a couple of days at a time, and they were lifesavers as well as also being fine and admirable youngsters. It's interesting, but I had the same reaction to these youngsters as I had to the young people I met at the Goenka retreat center in Onalaska,  WA every time I visited there. That conclusion is that if these young people are the future of this country, then we're in good hands. I can only hope the older generations will not destroy everything before these kids are old enough to be the majority, to change the general tenor for the  better.

I left early, because I was exhausted -- drained. Still, I'd been tired for several days and had held out because I couldn't desert these kids, couldn't leave them to do it all themselves, although I believe they could and would have made it happen. Looking back as I drove home, I realized that when I went back into the kitchen at 9 am after the morning sit and looked at the planning board, I saw that the majority of the work was over. Very few things needed to be done. We were finished with prep for future days because the next day is traditionally mostly leftovers, and everyone leaves early the day after that, with no food to be prepared. Reinforcements had also arrived the night before. Sam and Sarah suggested I sit out the morning, or even the rest of the course, so for awhile I sat on a stool and chattered (I do that when I'm tired). Then I went to my cabin to lie down and while I was there, realized I just really wanted to go home and sleep and rest. If I stayed, I'd still have the schedule to follow [three daily sits plus the 9pm meeting] and wouldn't get much sleep. And I needed to leave soon in order to beat Atlanta commute traffic, so I got up and started packing what little I had in the cabin, then walked next door to the office and told the management that I was leaving. They were supportive, concerned, because they understand how tired I've been. I got the car packed, had a last lunch with them and headed out. Had reinforcements not arrived I would somehow  have held out another couple of days, but I knew 'my kids' were going to be OK, going to have energetic help to finish these final two days, and it was OK for me to leave. MamaCat [me], who that day had turned into GrandmamaCat due to fatigue, sadly said goodbye. But I'll never forget them.

As for the rest of the story -- the 10-day retreat was surprisingly easy from a physical standpoint. A few creaks and squeaks from the old body here and there, but nothing major. Also surprisingly, no emotions came up needing to be dealt with. Mostly, I was just bored. I could get into the program here and there, even had some surprising and interesting results on a couple of sits, but all in all, I once again proved that this is not a technique I can get into on a full-time basis. For me, it's a tool, and a good one, but not a sole system of meditation. I had a great roommate and the only issues spun around the need for 30 women to share 4 bathrooms. Even those were minor. I met some super women, at least one of whom I hope to stay in touch with.

The fatigue began when the course officially ended around 7am on the second Sunday. At that point I became a server, rather than a student. I scrubbed down the bathroom I'd volunteered to clean, then ended up doing lots more cleaning in the dorm. I moved to the servers dorm and spent the better part of the day cleaning and doing laundry. Piles and piles of laundry: towels, sheets, cushion covers from the meditation hall, all kinds of things, in great quantities. Monday morning at 6am (having been accustomed to awaken at 4am) I crept out of the dorm and headed to Beaufort. I ended up spending that day driving so while it was exhilarating in some ways, it added to the fatigue. The next couple of days were spent helping prepare the center for the next course scheduled to begin on Wednesday. I never realized just how much work goes into the turnaround between courses! But, I got the laundry done, the men got lots of landscaping done, and by Wednesday (day 0) the place turned into a madhouse as local people showed up to help get the cooking started for the week, and for the evening meal. After that, it was full steam ahead until yesterday morning. I think my fatigue stemmed from a lopsided ratio of sleep to energy expenditure. The youngsters can sleep easily, during the long afternoon rest period. I couldn't. I could lie down and rest, but not sleep. We had a meeting with the teacher in the meditation hall each evening at 9pm after the evening meditation is over, so I couldn't get to bed early enough to recoup from pushing hard every day.

And speaking of sleep -- it's that time. See y'all another day.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Home again...

I think this is the longest I've been gone from home in one stretch in many a long year.  I have to tell you, it feels really, really good to be home in this funky little house in its funky neighborhood.

I had a great time, really glad I went, and I finally made it to BEAUFORT, and fell just as much in love with reality as I have been for so many years with a romanticized idea (thanks to Pat Conroy, Anne Rivers Siddons and Lew Decker). I would move there tomorrow, given the opportunity. Photos and details to come!

But -- I left the center in Jesup today just before noon, arrived home about six hours later after only two quick stops. I was exhausted when I left there, and while my body is all keyed up from the drive, I'm pooped. I made the requisite stop at Kroger for the requisites of life: rotisserie chicken, milk, and red wine. All else can wait until tomorrow. Or the next day.

Glad to see that the relentless heat of summer has fled and the wonderful temperate days/nights of fall are with us. Oddly enough, south Georgia was actually very pleasant, aside from the mosquitoes. I'd expected higher heat, higher humidity. I loved the stars and milky way as I walked to the dhamma hall each evening at 9pm for the server's meeting. And the crescent moon and stars each morning as I walked to the kitchen.

On my second glass of red in an effort to help the body chill. So far, not much is happening in that regard.

Stories and photos [of Beaufort] to come. Stay tuned.