Thursday, May 5, 2011

Good friends, good conversation, good food

I am back after a wonderful, fun-filled week of visiting with one of my best friends!  He was here in Coburg from last Wednesday until this Tuesday and, although we had some unfortunately rainy weather, we had a blast.  We went to the beer gardens (my favorite place in Germany, if you haven't yet noticed) and we walked around the flower market here.  We sat in the park and we cooked and ate, cooked and ate.  It was heavenly.  Plus, he and Peter, who did not know each other well before, really hit it off.  I can't tell you how happy I was to come home from work one day and find my boyfriend and my best friend watching basketball, eating chips and drinking beer!
Ben at a wonderful outdoor dinner.
Now, I  have told you all about my best friend since childhood Danielle, but haven't yet told you all about my best male-friend, Ben.  I will tell you about him now because he is also important to the person I have become and to my "nifty thrifty" mentality.  Ben and I met in high school and became close in college, as we were both living in Berkeley, California at the time.  He is a fantastic artist and photographer and is generally just an intelligent and creative mind.  I used to think I was crazy to be so aware of the small, unrecognizable-to-many details in life and to appreciate them so passionately.  And then one day, I believe sitting on a beach somewhere between San Francisco and Santa Cruz, I told Ben about my "crazy" appreciation and learned that he felt it too.
A beautiful little archway in Coburg.
It can be in a cozy cup of coffee and a newspaper on a lazy Sunday morning or in a really amazing song that puts a melody to your feelings.  I can be in a glass of wine and some candles or in a delicious meal eaten in the company of loving friends.  These are things that we often overlook or take for granted.  But Ben's perceptive and artistic eye seemed to see these things as I did.  And from there, our friendship grew.  Now that we are older, we don't always see eye-to-eye, but our love for each other is very strong and that is what matters.  

Because of Ben's strong sense of creativity and appreciation for beauty, the time he spent here were full of "luxuries."  I put luxuries in quotation marks because my definition of "luxury" is very different than Merriam Webster's.  In my opinion luxury comes not from things (and especially not from expensive things) but from experiences.  Everyday, as you go about your routine, you can choose to have a luxurious experience or you can choose to have no experience at all.  And you can choose the former at a cost of just pennies, if not for free.  The important thing is that you have to actively make that choice.
Peter and I having a great time at dinner with Ben.
Pay attention to the beauty, the sounds, the feelings around you and you have already achieved half your goal.  And I promise you, you will already feel like your life is more luxurious.  When you eat, set the table and light candles.  You can buy a bag of 100 tea lights here in Germany for 6 Euros.  It lasts about two months and, even on my teacher's salary, it is something I can afford.  Candles and turning off the overhead lights make any meal effortlessly more luscious.  Eat real food and experiment with it.  It's probably cheaper than constantly buying microwavable meals and it is better for your health, too.  Not to mention it is so much more enjoyable (I once read that one should never eat anything that wasn't mouthwatering and it changed my life).  And, when you can, get fresh flowers.  Even if you can't buy them, pick them!  These simple steps (and a biiiig glass of wine) will immediately take every meal time from mundane to lux.  And when you can take a minute to savor it all, the stress melts away, your heart feels happy and life is much better.
A peaceful moment in my kitchen. 
These types of tricks apply to almost any situation.  Listen to good music that you can feel in your heart whenever you can.  Let it set the mood on a rainy afternoon or as you are walking to work, feasting your eyes on the world around you.  Drink "champagne"--sparkling wine, or as they call it here, sekt--and make it the cheapest bottle you can find.   BUT,  drink it out of a pretty glass (Goodwill china section anyone?) and with a raspberry in it.  It will feel very special.  Surround yourself with beautiful things (I think this is why I decorate) like your favorite photographs, old boxes or a favorite fabric, and spend time appreciating them everyday.  Spend time outdoors.  Lots of it, whenever you can, wherever you can.  And whenever it is possible, eat outdoors.  It enhances the experience hugely.  Walk in the grass barefoot.  Wear something that makes you feel beautiful.  Pay attention to the sunlight, or the trees, or the dancing pattern of reflecting water. 

In fact, if you want the real gist of this blog, there it is.  "Living the high life on a low budget," as I call it, is more about you than anything else.  You need to choose to be aware, to make experiences for yourself and to make them beautiful.  It's about surrounding yourself with and doing things that make your heart sing.  For me, that is often visual (which is why I devote so much time here to the things you can do to give yourself a visually luxurious place to live) but for you it may not be.  Either way, if you feel like a queen, you are one.
On a romantic evening walk with Peter, saw this spring tree in all it's glory.
Ben's trip last week/weekend was filled with beautiful moments: delicious dinners for the three of us and three two empty bottles of wine on the table, laying in the sun in the park, sharing conversation and a pot of tea in my cozy kitchen during a lightening storm, the list goes on and on.  It's the ability to recognize these moments, to hang onto them and to appreciate them that Ben and I first bonded over and that, in many ways, inspired this blog.   I hope you get as much joy out of life as I do.  And I hope that you, too, have the luxury of spending time with good friends, good conversation and good food. 

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