Funky shui

Feng shui. I know it’s the Chinese art of arranging your household environment to achieve a balanced energy flow. I know it’s pronounced fung shway because, back when I lived closer to big universities, folks talked about getting theirs checked. They told me I could pay someone to come in, feel the subtle energies bouncing in an around my knicky-knacks, and advise how to get in better alignment. I never did. And now that I live up here in the woods, I’m pretty sure I don’t have any feng shui. I’ve got funky shui.

“Mugs are here in this corner cupboard if you get up before we do in the morning,” the girls tell first-time visitors. “Help yourself to coffee or tea but…ah…just don’t use this mug with the big fish on it, or the red one here, or the brown one in back of it with the picture of the Grand Tetons. You’d mess up Mom’s mug shui!”

Yes, I must agree, they would. It hasn’t happened yet—no one has grabbed the next mug in my hierarchical ordering scheme, forcing me to use the red Moab Cafe one on a day that I was supposed to be drinking out of the big striped bass mug that reminds me of my Dad. And what if someone did? Well, my world wouldn’t spin off its axis or anything too drastic. After a moment or two of staring at the corner cupboard—mumbling to myself in a hoarse whisper and rocking gently back and forth—I’m sure I’d make do just fine with the red mug or the brown mug or, worst case, a tiny flowered one of no special significance.

I’m not sure what the sages would say about my kitchen feng shui. I imagine they might pronounce my food prep surfaces to be inauspiciously aligned. And, although they believe green to be generally conducive to promoting healing and calm, I think they’d concur the particular shade coloring my walls brings too much of a Key West vibe to the land of moose and loons. Plus, what about placing a microwave where I have to bend over to use it because I ran out of counter space above knee level? Well that must definitely “shway” my kitchen off kilter. But, hey, as long as I’m standing in it drinking my coffee from whatever consecutively favorite mug is clean, I am one with all there is, in perfect harmony.

I’ve got some funk goin’ on with my bedroom shui, too, manifested in my inability to achieve total serenity out here overlooking the lake if my bed lies unmade past mid-morning. I blame it on the beagles and how I don’t want them to get dog fur on my sheets. But deep down, I know it’s a control thing, a coping mechanism for attempting mastery over my own little nest. The behavior began when, as newlyweds, our first apartment was nicknamed the Hobbit Hole. Stuck up under the attic eaves in a downtown Victorian, by the time visitors ascended past two floors of offices, they came hunched over the threshold eye-level with my bedroom. My floral Sears bedspread became folks’ first impression of my homemaking skills. (And, now that I think about it, back when I only had a set of “his and hers” coffee mugs, my only kitchen shui on my one open shelf was the Campbell’s cans lined up next to the Norge like art deco.) Then came many working-at-home years in our new split-level house when I never thought much about kitchen and bedroom alignment. I just knew the TV, refrigerator, and all the potential napping surfaces were upstairs while my potential desktop publishing surfaces were downstairs. Making my bed before “getting down to business” kept me aimed toward professionalism and productivity and away and from turning into a Dilbert character.

“What are you afraid of, that the bedroom police are going to come in and arrest you for an unmade bed?” Tom still asks when he finds me scurrying to make it before I start my day. “Don’t be silly, I’m not afraid of that!” I assure him. But I must admit that, while all manner of inauspicious alignment can be hiding in my closet and dresser, I do feel my yin and yang move into equilibrium as I smooth out the last pillow.

Optimal bedroom feng shui, I learned on the Internet, is really more about orientation than tucked in blankets. It requires laying out my sleeping quarters so my head points in the proper direction while I slumber. In my case, based on my gender and birth date, that would be southwest. Turns out, I’m almost OK with my current layout, as long as I sleep diagonally. And even though that would push Tom out of bed, it would actually be better for him since, based on his gender and birth date, he should be aligned diagonally the totally opposite way when he sleeps! Who knew that waking up side by side sharing our picture window view of the lake could be so skewed? To set things right in the same bed, we’d have to sleep crisscrossed like an old pair of skis hanging over the fireplace at Loon Lodge!

“Back when we first built here, we never knew we’d need room for a computer,” my neighbor up the road commented when she showed me her home office tucked into her upstairs bedroom. “Nope,” I concurred. “Never thought we’d have computers uptah camp.” Or kids that grew taller than three feet, or Tupperware with lids, or laundry shelves.  Heck, my original cabin never even factored in company who didn’t want to live on the screen porch playing Yahtzee around a citronella candle! And, when we finally decided to make the Big Move to live up here full time—consolidating 3o years of stuff into our expanded but still small space—we never once consulted an energy map, mystical quadrant or feng shui compass. We moved sticky note cutouts shaped like our furniture around on graph paper and hoped some magical, unseen force would help us make it all fit. So, when it comes to office shui these days, my teeny computer desk faces northwest because that is precisely where it has to point me. And the fact that it’s a straight shot across from the broadband Internet tower on Bald Mountain while sitting me smack dab in my best possible feng shui “work or study” spot…well that’s where miracles and coincidences intersect in my corner of the universe.

I do find it nice to know that, simply translated, feng shui means “wind” and “water” and the wisdom of aligning yourself with both. That’s what the online experts told me today when I searched from my place of auspicious contemplation. “Very interesting,” I mused, moving a few steps away from my desk and into my kitchen. With my back to the breezes coming down off the mountains and in through one window, and my face toward the big blue lake in my front yard, I smiled like a true sage and sipped coffee from my chosen mug.

Self storage ins and outs

It’s not a saying you’re likely to see made into one of those overpriced wooden wall trinkets. But while moving our belongings from the old camp to the new camp, and then from the old house to the new camp-house, Tom and I had a motto that became so ingrained in our psyche, it may as well have been burned onto a pine plank and hung in our entryway.

“Crap goes out. No crap comes back in.”

Three years ago, “out” referred to moving all our Maine stuff to our garage. Since the roof was coming off to build our cabin up two stories, everything had to go or risk being demolished by a Sawzall. Back then, we weren’t experienced movers. In 30 years of marriage, we’d moved our things only twice: once from an attic apartment nicknamed the Hobbit Hole to our first house, and once from a water-access-only camp we’d sold as furnished (minus a moose steak-sized cast iron skillet too well seasoned to leave behind, and a few other must-have items for setting up our next rustic kitchen we’d thrown in a Roughneck dish pan). No biggie, we figured. Carting stuff across the back lawn to the garage in Rangeley would be a logistical breeze compared to lugging it down those Hobbit Hole steps and into the back of our pickup, or ferrying it across the northern end of Moosehead.

So, standing at Point A, my kitchen, looking out the window across the relatively short expanse to Point B, my garage, I felt pretty cocky that Memorial Day of 2007. Not too much packing required, I figured. No moving boxes even necessary. Nope, the only box I’d need was my box of drawstring garbage bags. And why bother labeling them? After all, I was only packing camp stuff and moving it 70 feet for a few months until construction was finished. Come Labor Day, I’d just cart it all back in…..

Not-so-fast forward to February 2008. Camp-house reconstruction is almost done. I’m thrilled with my new kitchen, living room, bedrooms and bathrooms, and am eager to outfit their brand spanking newness with a few household essentials. “At least one lamp. That big old spaghetti pot. Definitely the coffee maker and, if I’m lucky, another flashlight.” I’m rattling off a wish list of items to retrieve as I make my way out to the garage along our Iditarod Trail, so-named by our builder who’s had to shovel his way to work since early December. Turned out, my Labor Day end-date for construction was, as we’d say in engineering support operations, an “aggressive” deadline. Tom and I had made short work of moving all the old camp crap out on that balmy May afternoon, stacking bulging bags atop our old book shelves and cramming all manner of things into dresser drawers. “It’s getting real now,” we declared as we bid farewell to the empty log shoebox of a camp that used to be our summer home. Our part of the project was done, now “presto-chango, full speed ahead,” and we’d back in before snow flies, right?

So…I miscalculated by several months. Meanwhile, snow had definitely flown, drifted, blanketed and flown again while I acclimated myself to what was real and possible when erecting a three-story salt-box out of an old shoebox shell 20 miles from the nearest building supply store. Also unrealistic, I discovered that winter, was thinking stuff could just be moved back in as effortlessly as  it had been moved out. That would have meant I could actually find the coffee pot resting inside an old wastebasket atop the bookshelf, that I could pinpoint whether the flashlight was in my old sock drawer or at the bottom of any given garbage bag. Actual pinpointing of any sort, it turned out, was impossible in the freezing garage. Who knew back in May that drawstring garbage bags don’t reopen for gloved fingers and only expose their contents to mice who find what they’re looking for among the ancient camp towels?

Yup, the Iditarod Trail hampered all but a staggered approach to the garage-to-camp return trip. And, actually, abiding by our “no crap comes back in” motto had to be a staged effort as well. We did immediately rid ourselves of the really ancient junk – things like plastic juice tumblers that probably came free in boxes of laundry detergent back in the 50’s, a sugar bowl I think my mother got with S & H Green stamps, and assorted nicky-nacks we’d accumulated from well-meaning relatives who figured our camp was one step better than Salvation Army. In all practicality, though, since selling our Rochester house was still a ways off, we had to hang onto the old spaghetti pot and the lamps and such that had already lived a hard life before being deemed good enough for camp. Until we could move to Rangeley permanently, our motto had to be revised to “some crap comes back in, but goes back out as soon as its newer or better replacement arrives.”

I think we’ve succeeded. Six months since our big migration up the mountain for good, we are packing and moving experts. We rented a storage pod and tracked its contents with first-in-last-out precision. We bubble wrapped and boxed and carefully labeled. We merged and purged until there’s only traces of semi-serviceable camp junk mingled in with our new stuff. We’re all unpacked now, except for a few miscellaneous boxes tucked away on the third floor we’re ignoring till the dead of winter. Like the one labeled “Hall closet crap.” That one’s gotta go back out to the garage.