Beauty Cultivated

Monday August 1, 2022

Beauty Cultivated

“It’s dinner time! Sit down, sit down,” I usher my girls to the table as I shoo flies away and set down napkins and milk cups. The set-up is a bit clunky - dinner happens to be soup tonight, so there’s no one-handed business here; my husband and I shuffle back and forth from the kitchen to the patio, carefully transporting one steaming bowl at a time. This particular soup is quite the odd choice for so many reasons: it’s the height of summer, we’re eating outdoors in 90 degree weather, and dduk gook is a meal typically reserved for New Year’s day. But my two very, ahem, “particular” eaters slurp down (and earnestly request) this meal year-round, and I will absolutely not turn down an opportunity to shovel home-made broth / Korean cuisine into their little yogurt-loving mouths. 

Eating al fresco is a new past-time for us (one we started only six days ago as I am writing this, haha!), but it encapsulates a lifestyle we’ve aspired to for the last several years: slowed down, relaxed, connected, and immersed in the outdoors. Still, it’s taken us literally years to finally take a step into making this a regular part of our routine.

“When we build a deck,” we’d said when we first moved in.

Then, after the deck was installed in all her lovely cedar glory, “In the fall, when the bugs aren’t so active.” 

And when summer turned into fall, taking every last mosquito with it, “In the spring - we’ll have more daylight.” 

With no weather-related excuses in the spring, simply deterred by the hassle of removing the unsightly cover and dealing with the even unsightlier things crawling beneath, the table continued to sit empty, patient. 

Then, my littlest approached two and I could feel the shifting. Less tethered to the sheer utilitarian needs of the baby stage, we cleared out box loads of baby toys, put away the high chair and the sippy cups (
all done, she insisted). We set up an art station in the office for our little picassos and regained some sanity in our living room. We rearranged furniture to create space for this new stage on the horizon, grasping opportunities to restore beauty along the way. Squishy outdoor seat covers and potted plants finally made their way onto the patio (the latter are still in shock - outcome tbd), stirring up a resolve in me to finally make the outdoor dining situation a lasting one in our home. 

So there we were, day one of our week of al fresco dinners, and it was…
beautiful. Beautiful in the way that touches the depths of your being - the only way you can feel nestled under a canopy of trees at dusk, the the warmth of the setting sun on your cheeks, its light bouncing off the glass of chilled white wine in your hand, the sound of laughter and the cadence of plastic-to-pavement as your sweet girls push each other around the cozy coupe. Maybe the New Year’s meal is not so strange; it feels exactly like a fresh start, after all. 

And at the same time, it is beautiful in the way you can only feel if you choose to dust off the spiderwebs, scrub the neglected table, drag over the pots of half-living bougainvillea (and say a prayer they make it), overlook the rogue multicolored baby mat in the corner and the fact that the glow of the above mentioned setting sun is also partially blinding you, mindlessly swat flies and slap mosquitoes away every five minutes, and let out a sigh of satisfaction that yes, beauty is all around you, but it must be cultivated and it must be chosen. 

As we wrapped up dinner that evening, my husband stood up to switch on the single solar-powered light that hangs at the top of our oversized umbrella, quietly collecting power from the sun through the changing of seasons. “Aha,” he says with a sense of satisfaction, “it still works.” And as the light switches on for the first time in months, illuminating the table with a soft glow, I’m overcome by a wave of assurance that Beauty has always been, and will always be, there - all around us, just waiting to be grasped. 

The pursuit of beauty for beauty’s sake has reawakened parts of my soul that I hadn’t even realized were slumbering. I’m learning that the pursuit of true beauty, in every sense of the word, is inherent to being fully alive, to knowing our worth and helping others see theirs. But I’m also coming to understand that a beautiful life takes effort. The opportunity to notice and create beauty appears in both micro and macro moments all throughout our days: chopping up that extra bit of parsley for the bright green finish on your meal and the earthiness it offers your tongue; taking a few extra minutes to make your bed in the morning so that you’re invited into luxurious rest that evening; staying up late sewing heart garlands to make your two-year-old’s birthday morning extra sweet. Whatever beauty looks like to you in this season, friend, I promise seeking it is worth your while. 

I’m so curious - what small or big things do you do to create beauty? 

for our wholeness,

For more: additional musings on beauty here, on New Years traditions here, and the pursuit of slow here.