Toothpicks and Green Peas

One evening, when I was maybe seven years old, my grandma (Lorraine) came to babysit my siblings and me. She arrived with a white, canvas tote over her shoulder. Inside her cloth satchel was a box of toothpicks and a bag of frozen peas. After dinner, we sat at the kitchen table and spent the rest of that glorious evening constructing a tall, impressive “house” out of the toothpicks and peas.

As the pointy ends of 2-4 toothpicks punctured each pea, walls and floors, a roof, windows and doorways took shape.

We went to bed and fell asleep before my parents came home, but the toothpick-pea house greeted them when they returned and told the story of our time with Lorraine. It survived the night, and I swelled with pride as I studied its grandeur during breakfast. I remember returning to study it throughout the day. It may very well have survived one or two more breakfasts, but eventually the dried peas crumbled and the structure collapsed.

Why do I remember this so vividly? I believe it has something to do with the composition of the evening and the way my five senses were heightened during the experience. I believe it has something to do with the contrast of the cold frozen/wet peas and the smooth dry toothpicks in my hands. The contrast of the bright green pea with the warm, solid, earthy toothpick. The contrasting textures of the soft cotton bag slung over the back of a glossy wooden kitchen chair and the feel of the slick-smooth table as our work surface. The taste of the cold peas and the feeling of the crisp little globes crushing and dissolving as they transitioned from super cold to warm and mushy with each bite. The contrast of the chatter and laughter of 4 little kids around a table with the quiet-zen of the laser focus it took to pierce each pea and create the balance needed for the house to take shape.

I’d probably never eaten frozen peas before. I certainly had never “played” with sharp little toothpicks or with food like that before. And it really wasn’t all that common for my grandma to come over and babysit. So – maybe the contrast of our “normal” routine with that unique evening also contributed to heft of this particular memory.

Whatever it was - the composition of that evening sculpted an absolutely unforgettable memory in all its detail into my mind’s eye.

The intention of this month’s blog theme (“Let’s Get Weird”) is to explore out-of-the-norm or expansive concepts. And so! Today I give you Feng Shui and Human Design as it relates to the composition of a space, and how that affects our experience.

Feng Shui.

Feng Shui gives me anxiety. I have a love/hate relationship with it. I’m drawn to it but then it quickly becomes too much and feels too superstition-y. I’m working through this by taking the parts of Feng Shui that resonate with me to heart and chucking the rest.

I’ve been reading “A Western Guide to Feng Shui” by Terah Kathryn Collins and thinking a lot about the composition of a space this past week. According to the properties of Feng Shui, it’s important to incorporate each of the FIVE elements into a space:

Wood = Wooden furniture &accessories, etc.; Plants & flowers (even just printed on fabric or art); Green & Blue colors; Columnar shapes

Fire = All lighting including candles, sunlight & fireplaces; Pets & wildlife; Art depicting people, animals, sunshine, light or fire; Red colors; Triangular shapes

Earth = Adobe, brick, tile, ceramics, earthenware; Square & rectangular shapes, Yellow and earth-tone colors; Art depicting landscapes of desert, fields, etc.

Metal = All types of metal including stainless steel, copper, etc.; All rocks & stones such as marble, granite, etc.; Natural crystals, rocks & gemstones; White & light pastel colors; Circular or arch shapes

Water = Water features of any kind; Reflective surfaces such as cut crystal, glass & mirrors; Flowing, free-form, and asymmetrical shapes; Black & Dark-tone colors

Each of these five elements dance with the other 4 elements in a very specific way that balances everything to the right blend of yin and yang. Yin relates to feminine qualities (dark, soft, earth, moon, wet, and cool). Yang relates to masculine qualities (light, hard, sky, sun, dry and hot). We all have different levels of preference and tolerance for yin vs. yang qualities, but generally feel best in a balanced environment. Collins says that when yin and yang are mixed just right, a certain human-friendly beauty and comfort zone emerges. We instinctively place ourselves where things are balanced “just right” whenever we can.

What’s fascinating to me about the five elements is that they feed and strengthen another:

1. Water nurtures Wood

2. Wood feeds Fire

3. Fire makes Earth

4. Earth creates Metal

5. Metal holds Water

AND they can also keep the yin yang balance in check by controlling one another:

1. Wood consumes Earth

2. Earth dams Water

3. Water extinguishes Fire

4. Fire melts Metal

5. Metal cuts Wood

Achieving a happy combo of the five elements balances the environment and achieves a beautiful composition for us to thrive in.

We abide by this rule of yin yang balance in the composition of a successful piece of music or art or choreography or fashion. It’s the same with our spaces – our homes need the balance to thrive and set us up for success.

I spy the 5 elements on Lorraine's mantel
I spy the 5 elements on my bedroom dresser

Okay Now - Human Design.

There is a study called “human design” that I’ve stumbled upon within this last year. It’s too much to get into for this blog post but apparently we all digest information about our world in a specific way, with one of our senses, according to our unique human design. (Here's a great resource if you’d like to explore this … I'll spend more on this AMAZING topic later!)

I’ve spent a little time learning about it, and I’ve discovered that I digest information through touch. This resonates with me, and just might explain why making the bed and folding the clothes are among my favorite tasks. The concept of Human Design explains so much about our unique needs as members of a household and how I can help support each family member inside the environment of our home so that we all thrive. That said, it’s important to remember that my family members and those that share my spaces or visit my home will digest their environment differently than I do.

When I think about experiencing Lorraine’s home as a child, I remember it with all my senses.

I remember the cold smooth wooden floors beneath my feet and the warm, deep-green velvet pillows. I remember the smell of coffee and toast mixed with the scent of rose and campfire. I remember the sound of grandma’s laugh and my aunts’ chatter against the slosh of handwashed dishes and creaking -slam of the screen door. I remember the taste of ham, potato salad, watermelon and s’mores. I remember the cool green plants, the bold red stained-glass windows - the thick, wooden window ledge; the skinny white shutters; the sparkly crystals casting rainbows across the room.

I remember the composition of her home and how each of the rooms engaged all my senses: Sight, Sound, Smell, Taste, Touch and struck a balance of Earth, Fire, Metal, Wood, Water. I think it’s so easy for us to focus more on one or two of the elements and forget the others. I’ve discovered that I tend to focus on sight and touch with a lot of fire and water elements. Luckily, my husband the Hobbit balances me out with his focus on taste and sound and mostly earth, metal, and wood elements. Together, we'll need to remember the importance of scent.

Well. Whether it was on purpose or not - composing an environment that played to everyone’s unique human design needs as well as striking the yin yang balance is something that Lorraine was a freaking master at. A Mozart. A Beethoven. I believe this explains why the childhood memories that my cousins and I made inside Lorraine’s home are the memories that have stuck with us as glimmering treasure and have truly shaped who we are.

A layered outdoor composition by Lorraine

Look around your home this week. Can you enjoy the sight, sound, taste and touch of a layered composition? Does the space engage with each of your senses? Can you find balance among all of the elements in each room? If you pay attention, you’ll know intuitively when things are out of whack and what your home needs from you to bring it back into balance.

So much of our interior design industry is focused on what we see. Remember the deeper, layered vibration. Your home needs you to remember all of it. When you do, your home will reward you and your loved ones with beautiful, unforgettable memories. 😊

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