L’arte d’arrangiarsi | The Art of Making Something Out of Nothing

"Edison? Sebastian? Whiskey? Franklin?"

We laughed, looping through Northern California, watching the sun peek through the pines and brainstorming puppy names (for a Golden, naturally).  Twisting around the corner, fleecy patches of snow emerged, their surface area increasing with each bundle of moments. We yawned forcibly and laughed again, trying to remedy our popping ears from the steep elevation.

We arrived at the condo and lit a fire, warming our hands, faces, and bundled-up bottoms, dissolving into the squashy couches and fur blankets. I brewed a cup of coffee, carefully boiling water on the stove and pouring it like molasses over the bittersweet grinds. Mug in hand, I began to unpack.

Coat, hat, thick socks, sweats, plain t-shirts, some hair elastics, toothbrush, running shoes, snow boots.

No makeup. No jewelry. No nice clothes. No planned outfits. No hair straightener or curler or brush. No $100 perfume, sorority gear, or mainstream, tasteless magazines. It was just me, a fresh face, some comfortable clothes, a stack of books, and an open heart.

On the first day in our beloved Tahoe, we took to the pathways—dusty, gritty, and icy. We trudged through our favorite lakeside neighborhoods, Kyle shamelessly checking house prices on his phone while we all dreamed of a more permanent winter escape. The sunlight dreamed along, meeting us at every corner, tickling our frosty cheeks and shade-soaked backs. Through large windows on larger houses, we saw peeks and glances of the horizon, a sparkling lake, bushy pines, and frosting-dolloped mountains.

Once we were lakeside, all we could really do was breathe. We stood, silently swallowing gluttonous gulps of crisp, mountain air. We were peaceful, and grateful, and free.

Kyle took a few pictures, but I indulged in the landscape with naked eyes. I had made a quiet promise to myself my phone would stay in the warm, little cabin at all times, safely tucked away in my duffle or resting quietly on the shelf. I was forcing myself to rebuild my technology habit, jumping on the opportunity to begin my resolution before the fresh, new year came knocking.

One night, the boys ventured into town for some rotisserie and a few light-hearted rounds of penny slots while my mom and I stayed home. We closed our books and got cooking. First came the quinoa. Mom boiled it over the tiny stove, and we listened to the water snap and evaporate. Stirring the hearty seed with a thick wooden spoon, I drizzled oil in another pan with my left hand. Once the oil began to dance—leaping and cracking and popping around the pan—I added the garlic, along with fresh onions, carrots, zucchini, and baby tomatoes. The sautéed veggies mingled with the white and red quinoa; the rich, mouthwatering smell of garlic and onions curled in the air. We made a little toast on seed bread and poured towering glasses of ice water, studded with perfect, square cubes. Happily, we furnished our plates, dishing out towering piles of goodness. When we sat, for the first few moments all we could do was stare at our lovely, little feast.

The art of making something out of nothing—L’arte d’arrangiarsi, in Italian—was richly satisfying. Our tummies and hearts smiled much broader from our nonchalant, strewn-together meal than had we gone for a lavish dinner in town.


L’arte d’arrangiarsi. Making something out of nothing. Living simply. I’m so often caught in the trap of excess, enveloped in More’s sticky clutches. More makeup, more ginger ales and macchiatos and text messages. More consecutive movies and Netflix shows and snacks.

More friends (less depth), more videos (less films), more cheap laughs (less clever wit). Blame it on society, blame it on my generation, blame it on my dreaming, pining soul. Whatever its root, I have a resolution on the mind. I want to make somethings out of nothings. I want to throw together simple, hearty meals with what I always have on hand—fruits, vegetables, simple seeds and grains. I want to call a few friends over and bless the food to our bodies, growing in faith and loving Christ together. I want one cup of coffee, thoughtfully made, in which to sip leisurely in the mornings from my hammered copper mug.

In her wonderfully explorative book, The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin tackles her overflowing closet. She stuffs trash bags with the clothing she constantly justifies—the “could wears,” “might wears,” and “would wears,”—and keeps what she does wear, day-to-day. One of her neat realizations was the newfound ease of getting ready in the morning; she felt like she had more to choose from in the morning from less, because what was left included all of her favorite items. Similarly, many Parisian women indulge in the 10-item wardrobe, investing in durability and class, and mingling the pieces with each other.

While I don’t see myself suddenly jumping to baggy comfort clothes as my daily style (cringing at the thought, actually!), the same simplicity can be translated into effortless sundresses, thick-knit sweaters and rich, solid colors. While leaving my phone at home when I go out isn’t the safest option, I can benefit from my experiences on the mountain by utilizing it less when nonessential. I’m learning a lot about balance here, and I’m excited to put simplicity in motion.

Cultivating Curiosity

I was a very inquisitive child. I remember my childhood brain vividly; my mind was saturated, soaked with a quirky imagination, my dark green eyes always widened in fascination. I had a couple of chipped teeth, proof of my long days of playing, and a big, tender heart.

I remember the books—oh, the books!

A giant case of all of my favorite titles sat unwavering outside of the white wooden door to my bedroom. On the occasions that I could coax my golden retriever into my towering, blankety fort, I would read her/him/her (Ginger, Spencer, and Baylee, respectively) storybooks, careful to give full view of the pictures to the set of chocolate brown eyes next to me. There were even big kid books, stacked on the tippy-top shelf, gleaming in all of their grown-up glory. I would run my tiny, unpolished fingers over the titles, praying that each book would silently and graciously bless me with the ability to read long words one day. Atlases and chemistry manuals and Kyle’s battered European History text each showered me with tiny kisses, down in my little soft fort, telling me that one day I would be tall enough to reach and old enough to understand. In the meantime, it was princesses and fairies, noble knights, and a gorgeous pink book with gold-rimmed pages brimming with bedtime tales. I was fiercely curious, eager to dip my toes into other cultures and lands, going for a midday imaginative swim through the pages and pillows and blankets and words.

My imagination was so bright! Thick like oil paints and smeared like watercolors, my thoughts swirled to the notes of an imaginative symphony, singing to me, “Eat up all of that knowledge, little Buttercup. Eat it and taste it and make worlds out of it.” I wanted to know everything.

Shining eyes, large with wonder, my pupils danced left to right, left to right. I stitched together big-kid words, gliding through waves of sentences. On sunshiney Saturdays, Mom would take the big canvas tote to the library, filling it with new titles to bring home for me. There was a story about Mexican tradition, and a mystery with pearls. I remember towering stacks of yellow hardcovers with black ink—Nancy Drew—and the red and white gingham covers of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s adventures.And after the last page had been turned, I would linger on the last word, not ready to give up my own newfound life between the pages.

There were these old, lace curtains, torn at the seams and snagged in the middle, that I would wrap around my tiny torso and fasten with an old brooch.

My great aunt had gifted me with braided strands of pink and white freshwater pearls; on special days, my mom would let me wear them too. My little feet would slide into Mom’s cream pumps, the very ones she walked and laughed and danced in at her wedding. I’d then use hair ties, balancing in my too-big heels on my mattress, to fasten a blanket canopy to the top of my four-poster bed.

Under my canopy I would play and read and draw a little, just happy to be living.

I was curious, quick to learn and slow to forget. I savored every morsel of life and every string of words. Besides my curtain dress, I wore “playclothes” and romped outside. I bruised my elbows and picked leaves to make very inedible soup (the world will never know why on Earth I didn’t call it salad). I fell down and rolled in the grass, got itchy, and jumped in the pool. I ran barefoot and swam in dirt. I picked tomatoes, delighting in their tight, blood-red skin, and played with Kyle’s basketball when he let me. The Earth was a song and a poem and a picture; under every rock was a new critter friend, and the flowers sang ballads. Everything was interesting and joyful, and learning was scrumptious.

There were bad days, yes. Sometimes there were crocodile tears, thick and splashy. There were red cheeks and scraped knees. I was sensitive, and had not yet learned how to live with it (HSP, which stands for Highly Sensitive Person, is a psychological trait). I was a little bit anxious and a lot a bit shy. There were moments of hiding under the oak table in the dining room. But those moments, overflowing with gritty feeling, were fascinating to me. Life had color, triumphs, texture, and tears, and I wanted to understand every last bit.

I’ve heard some adults, in stressful and busy seasons of life, long for their pre-internet brain. I long for my pre-understanding brain. I long for the times of raw curiosity, before I decided I knew everything there ever was to know in life, ever (the comicality is unnerving). I want to linger over words, drinking in the syllables.

...says Giovanni to Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love. She delights; he laughs. “Let’s cross over. It is so ordinary,” he states, eyebrow raised and English thick with Italian undertones.

“He couldn’t understand why I liked it so much. Let’s cross the street? But to my ear, it’s the perfect combination of Italian sounds. The wistful ah of introduction, the rolling trill, the soothing s, that lingering “ee-ah-moh” combo at the end. I love this word. I say it all the time now. I invent any excuse to say it.” | Liz Gilbert

Sweet Liz and her wonderful travel tales pinpoint my desire for childlike curiosity. I really know so little. In my 20 years of life, I’ve established some sort of arrogance of “been there, done that.” There is nothing left to see, taste, touch, hear. But really, to believe this is true is to devalue the world and God’s incredible creation. The whole world is still at the tips of my fingers, lands to explore, words to learn, people to meet, hearts to be mended and tears to be shed.

 Let’s discover. Let’s create. Let’s explore and uncover and understand. Let’s stand in awe, drinking in the glory of the skies and the chemistry of our bodies.

Let’s be curious this year

Being Intentional in 2014

I’ve been thinking a lot about intentionality lately.

In correlation with my last post, I think we’re all just a bit too rooted in technology, worshipping the saturated,overflowing internet, and delighting in the instant gratification of telephone chimes and tones and buzzes and bells. I'm both a futurist and a learner, thus captivated by innovation of all walks; I'm not trying to discredit the genius of our devices nor the forward thinking of our minds. I've just noticed something, in both myself and my fellow little earthlings, that I think may be important (perhaps even crucial) to explore.

We have this immunity to instant gratification that leaves us flighty and unfocused—life becomes a perpetual swipe and click, moving on to something more interesting, more shocking, and with less words, but more pictures. More, more, more. Our appetites are insatiable. We swallow up social media in giant, desperate gulps. We are just haphazardly scrolling, and clicking, swimming with frantic, flailing arms.

We reply to texts in 3 seconds, barely reading what we’re actually responding to. We skim emails—if there are more than 2 paragraphs, we delete on impact. Words clatter from our mouths while our speech limps along, muddling meaning with filler—“like’s” and “um’s” and “you know’s” coil tightly around every other word. We say hi without how are you, and mumble in conversation, eyes anxiously searching the ceiling to avoid dreaded contact. Our attention turns to our shoes and phones as we walk from point A to point B, hardly in this world at all.

We’re flighty and aimless and frantic and random.

What if, when we do set down our devices, we look at each other—actually look into each other’s eyes, shoulders squared and feet firm? What if we tasted our words, both carefully and cautiously, before we spit them out? What if we chose them like presents, wrapping and taping and tying bows, gifting our peers with well-thought-out ideas?

What if we paused to think?

One of my resolutions for 2014 is to be intentional, purposeful, and present. It means savoring slowness, sitting peacefully, with a softened brow and relaxed eyes, simply thinking of someone, and sending them love and light and joy. Intentionality means slipping away from the world’s quickening pace, even if for a few moments, and contemplating.

Intentionality means a heightened attention to how we hold ourselves, and the words we let through the mind’s door. It means buying flowers on friends' birthdays and offering to bake the bread or bring the salad at a dinner party. It means candles as housewarming gifts. It means taking the time to call on father’s day, not just send a quick text. Intentionality is thinking—really, really thinking—about life, and people, and our own hearts.

Let’s live this way, friends. I think it might just be worth a shot.

A Season of Rest: Turn Off the Phone

After a month of falling apart at the seams, my soul can now quietly rest. The slowness of each winter moment is absolutely delicious; the peace I am now free to harvest contrasts starkly with a muddy mix of finals, ice storms, and my first-ever B- (really, truly terrifying). With the distress came a season of growth, as my parent’s beloved phrase “character, not comfort,” reigned true yet again. It always does.

Sometimes, though, in the midst of regrowth comes a humble longing for rest and peace. Over the course of the semester I found myself aching for stillness. I so desperately wanted to sit—to just sit quietly, toes gently tucked beneath folded legs, breaths deep and unhindered. I wanted to unclench my anxious palms, upturn them toward the sky, and unleash the stress and goals and grades that I had been vehemently clawing at. I wanted to toss my phone off of the towering yellow brick, and take it for a long swim in the river. I wanted to, for just one quiet moment, simply exist in harmony with the world.

A large bundle of prayers and several broken pencils later, the first semester of my second year came to a close. Joyfully, I zipped up my bags and left for my sweet, coastal home. On one of my first days back in California, my mom and I were driving north along the shoreline, and were faced with the most gorgeous sunset I have seen to date (disclaimer: as a San Diego girl, this is a statement of the highest honor). Since we were traveling north, the sunset wandered along too, gifting us with the most gorgeous twenty-minute sky smeared with thick, pink watercolors, and studded with a fiery thumbprint sun.

A few weeks ago, one of my best friends posted a wonderful little quote that has been clinging to the crevices of my mind:

"We can’t jump off of bridges anymore because our iPhones will get ruined. We can’t take skinny dips in the ocean, because there’s no service on the beach, and adventures aren’t real unless they’re on Instagram. Technology has doomed the spontaneity of adventure, and we’re helping destroy it every time we Google, check in, and hashtag."

As I snapped a photograph of the sun that evening, the quote echoed loudly. Why did I feel so compelled—almost in a reflexive sort of way—to pull out my phone in that moment? Why did I feel as though simply soaking up the moment, feasting upon it with my eyes and storing it away in my mind was not enough? California always gets me thinking.

I’d argue that it’s the bare feet and thick books and warm sand. When I’m home, I’m transported to another life altogether; I see clearer here. I can better see the comicality of the technological age. We are desperately fearful of missing out. Though our desire to share sweet moments with others is innocent enough, the desire tends to be rooted in technological addiction.

We refresh Twitter, only to see that the last 10 seconds have not brewed anything new. We then do the same to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and LinkedIn, all in tandem. We envy what others post, failing to realize that often that was their very goal. We invest time and energy into 140 clever characters, and untag ourselves from unflattering photos. We click and scroll and zoom and swipe until there is nothing new to see, and we’re forced to begin the process again, for fear of being alone with our thoughts for one small moment. We’re afraid of pausing. We are afraid of rest.

If it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen. If there aren’t 150 likes, it isn’t meaningful. If there aren’t new friend requests or large handfuls of red notifications, we’re worthless. If there aren’t texts and emails and voicemails, we’re lonely.

 

I want to propose something. We need to set down our phones and wring our hands in panic. We need to feel the constant, tenacious urges in order to see our addiction with clarity.

As we lose ourselves in the lives of other people—their photos and statuses and tweets—our own life passes us by, trying hopelessly to win our attention. We don’t even bother to lift our chins for one small second. We don’t bother to drink in the sunsets, delight in the warmth of the sunshine, laugh deeply, fully taste every bite, dance under the stars, and lay in morning-dewy grass. We are too busy liking, favoriting, commenting, sharing, texting, emailing, tweeting... We have a very debilitating problem on our hands, friends. We all do.

Lose yourself in moments this Christmas, this season, and this fresh, new year. Turn your devices off, allowing both your phone and your soul to rest, recharge, and regroup. Let your eyes be the lens, drinking in the details that no camera can do justice. Turn carefully stitched tweets to clever additions to discussion, delighting instead in the art of conversation. Rest in stillness, without the constant chimes and tones. Tune in to the sprinkled laughter in the next room; listen to the world.

Be peaceful. Be present. Be free.