Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Country Mouse Goes on a Cruise Ship

When I was a little girl, I loved the story 'The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.' If you don't remember it, it was about a simple little housekeeping mouse who wore a tiny pink ruffled apron and spent her days sweeping her humble little parlor at the base of an old oak tree, setting her table with plain nuts and berries gathered from the fields. Her cousin, the Town Mouse, comes to her home and shares how wonderful and sophisticated life in the city is, how full of delights and luxuries. So, Country Mouse decides that perhaps she needs a break from all this simple life and heads off with her cousin to experience all of this dazzling glitz and glamour.

First of all, I want to state it seems like quite the leap to go from talking about the merits of cardboard boxes as furniture in my last post, and now announcing that hubby and I finished a European cruise. No, we didn't suddenly win the lottery, and no, all of our thrifty living did not suddenly produce piles of extra travel money. This was a gift, three years in the planning, from hubby's parents who are very much into the sea cruise lifestyle, and we took the trip to the Netherlands, Ireland and England with them.

I have wanted to go to England since I was nine years old, when I fell into a lifelong rabbit hole of studying Tudor history. And so, to be able to see ramparts that Henry VIII built, to see the sun setting over the white cliffs of Dover, to wander the twisty fairy-tale cobblestone of Canterbury, well, it was truly beyond anything I could ever believe.

  Because of rough seas, inclement weather, and the illnesses that often accompany such things, we did spend a great deal of time on the ship, as well. It was so refreshing and healing for me to witness the value of hospitality, brought to a pinnacle of professionalism by a crew who's smiling attention to detail never once seemed to falter. It 'brought home' to me again and again how important the job of caring for other human beings really is. Think about it--entire mega million dollar industries, such as the hotel, vacation, and cruise industries are built on creating excellent hospitality,  the very same skills, with maybe some extra polish, that the humble homemaker uses every day. And such small things, really, such as a starched white tablecloth, a piping hot cup of tea, and a delicately cut sandwich on a pretty plate are such achievable steps to the sublime.

Yes, we had five star meals, almost every single night. Yes, the sun set every night on a living painting of sea and sky and sweeping coastline, a constant, always changing miracle. And a funny thing happened in response to these ultra-plush surroundings. The majority among our nightly dinner party group would sigh, saying how they never wanted to go home and leave this paradise. Or they would talk with fervent resolve about how many more hours they would take on at their jobs in order to get back for another round of luxury.

Hubby and I, country mice that we are, had quite a different reaction. We focused on this trip, and each moment, without grasping for anything more. We looked at our stateroom, so orderly, neat, and inviting after a day of touring on the coast, and reflected gratefully on how household routines in our daily lives constantly revive the tired spirit. We looked at an elegantly plated meal, and thought, "What a great idea to try at home." We laughed at the whimsical animals made of towels popping up nightly on the bed, and hubby enjoyed them so much that he bought a book on how to make them himself. We tried our very best to give heartfelt thanks to all the beautiful people who served us, knowing that to truly nurture others requires uncommon strength, patience, and the willingness to sweat through hundreds of unseen and distasteful tasks, tasks that hold chaos at bay. All of those hard-working hands made that ship run every bit as the enormous engines, and we wanted to constantly recognize that.


Like Miss Country Mouse, we realize that much of what we think we want that is 'out there' is really ours for the having quite simply and quite inexpensively and even quite easily.  Home has become an evasive concept for so many of us in these modern times, a place associated with unending chores at the end of a punishing work day...a place to get away from. I think that in the course of a couple of generations, because so many skills of running an organized, relaxing home have been lost or degraded, indeed it does seem like the only way to get some tranquility is to buy it for thousands of dollars and seek it thousands of miles away. How sad that so many of the luxuries of life really could be ours on an almost daily basis, if we were committed to slowing down, simplifying, studying the wisdom of others, and savoring what is right in front of us.  

If we are going to take the trip of a lifetime, let us make sure that we are returning to the home of a lifetime. And above all, that we are filling that lifetime with so many daily joys that  whether we are sitting in a gilded restaurant or in our armchair with the worn spots on the arms, we are equally in the best part of the world.   


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