Category Archives: Determination

It’s been a hundred days

UPSwamp…since the start of my second try at getting my house all cleaned up. How’m I doing? Have I drained my own personal swamp? Is the place immaculate and empty?

Well, no. It’s cleaner than it was, and less cluttered, but there’s a lot left to do. And it’s really nobody’s fault. I’m overcommitted, and that’s part of the problem – but nobody could have predicted, more than three months ago, that I would be still be filling in for our church treasurer, let alone that my father-in-law’s health would take a nosedive.

So what do you do when you have too many things to do, and can’t walk away from the ones that eat up the largest amount of time? You make lots of lists so you don’t forget two-thirds of the things that HAVE TO get done today, and you reluctantly let some things slide that you’d like to do, and you take one step forward after another and try not to trip over your own feet.

And you cook a very simple Thanksgiving dinner, today. Never mind making Thanksgiving “interesting” – we’ll be eating roast turkey, with sweet potatoes, cranberries, salad, and pumpkin pie; just the basics, thank you.

I suppose it’s a good thing that I’m more of natural marathoner than a sprinter. I will have a clean house with no unloved junk in it – but probably not in 2015.

Will this work, part 3 – As the sock turns

Last time I talked about socks, I had discovered that my tiny little ring of knitting actually was big enough to stretch over my heel. So far so good. But next, I had to blindly trust the pattern directions to lead me through a series of meaningless socky technical terms.

The heel flap, for instance. Have you ever heard anybody talk about heel flaps? I haven’t. What in the world does it mean?

SockHeelFlapIt turns out that a heel flap is a rectangular strip of knitting flopping down from the back of the leg (which you’ve already finished knitting by this time). You put half the leg stitches on a holder shaped like a giant safety pin, and knit back and forth on the remaining stitches until it’s long enough to cover your Achilles tendon. Yay! One heel flap done.

After that, you need to “turn” the heel ninety degrees so the sock can continue out to the end of your toes. But how?

ShortrowsIt’s all in the short rows. You knit a little more than halfway across the heel flap – remember the heel flap? – then turn around and purl a little past the halfway point in the other direction. You keep knitting (or purling) partway across the heel flap, going a little farther each time and knitting a pair of stitches together as you come to the end of each row, until you make it to the very end of the heel flap again.

SockHeelTurnAnd this is what you wind up with. It really does make a right angle turn for the back of your heel to nestle into. Amazing.

Now I need to deal with the “gusset”. After that, the project looks like pretty smooth sailing out to near the end of your foot. Then it’s time to do some more decreases to close up the toe end, and finally sew the last few stitches shut – and, at that point, theory says that you should have a brand new sock to wear 😉

We’ll see.

The clock is ticking…

…only fourteen and a half hours left of 2012. Sorry, fourteen and a quarter.

All right, let’s try for realistic plans for 2013. One thing I’ve finally learned over the past year (and about time, too) is that there’s a limited number of minutes in a day to get things done, and a limited amount of mental and emotional and physical energy to use for doing them. So it seems like a good idea to tackle only one large new goal at a time.

The two things that have to continue are writing and providing support for my mom. I’ll certainly continue with the weekly 100-word challenges – they’re fun, they’re good practice, and I enjoy seeing what other people come up with based on the same prompts. I’ll go on blogging regularly. And, above all, I’ll keep chipping away at the boulder of book-length fiction, trying to sculpt it into finished work of my own.

What should I tuck into the corners of the day around that central core? Probably the thing I want to do least: clean the horrible house, because the inconvenience and irritation of living in this mess is getting to me. And what that needs to start with is getting rid of lots and lots and lots of stuff – we own too many things to organize them all.

Once the mess is under control, I can free up time for regular exercise, something I’ve neglected lately. And make sure I’m eating good food, not junk. Will I lose weight? Probably not, but I’ll be healthier.

And, since at least one New Year’s resolution should focus on something you want to do, I’m going to finally make time for knitting experiments – trying out odd stitches and construction methods that I’ve read about here and there. Blog posts, yes, there will be blog posts. With pictures.

(And also, I’ll go on looking forward to posts from the many varied bloggers I follow. Some of you have become online friends, and all of you brighten my day. Thank you so much!)

Still Struggling to Prioritize Projects

Dance with spinning plates2(js)
And feeling pretty overwhelmed, too. So many things I want to do; so many things I have to do; so many things I’ve promised to do. The promises may have been too optimistic, but there are people trusting me to keep them. The “have-to-dos” may annoy and frustrate me, but neglecting them is, in various ways, self-punishing. (For example, if I don’t floss my teeth, at best my dentist will scold me again, and at worst I’ll have to face gum surgery.) The things I want to do – well, you could argue that they’re just self-indulgence. But what if they’re the things I am uniquely talented to do? What if they’re among the things I’m here to do?

That crashing noise you just heard was the spinning plates falling off their sticks and shattering. Again.

Time to reach beyond my comfort zone and try a new approach, and fortunately I stumbled across one recently. I was innocently reading CHo Meir’s blog Coffee, Cats, And Yarn when she started talking about much the same problem – though, having spent time as a paramedic, she formulates it in terms of triage. Now, I’ve heard of triage as a way of sorting out injured people to decide how best to use limited resources to treat them. Generally, it’s described as a three-way sort. There are the people who can’t be helped; at best, they get pain relief. There are the people who will recover if they get treated immediately, but will die or be permanently injured if they don’t; they get most of the time and medicines and treatment. Then there are the people who are suffering at the moment, but will recover whether they’re treated right away or not. It sounds grim, but simple.

As CHo Meir describes triage, it’s not quite so simple – but more useful. She says that you have to keep re-evaluating the situation. Yes, start by putting your resources to work on whatever needs immediate attention. But remember that other problems or projects might get more urgent after being neglected for a while. Take the time to recategorize everything regularly. Make sure nothing important gets ignored so long that it becomes a crisis.

“All things need your attention in the course of a day, just not at the same time,” CHo Meir sums it up. And this sounds like it may be exactly the kind of approach I need.

We’ll see.

Gimmicks R Us?

I am a klutz. I’m terrified when I have to climb a ladder. (I don’t even like the two-step stool that I need to reach the top shelves in my kitchen very much.) I’m an awful dancer. And I’ve struggled all my life to be just a tiny bit organized.

There’s a connection, really. My sense of balance is defective. I’m the sort of person who trips over her own feet walking down an empty hallway. Not as much as I used to – years of aikido classes have helped me keep track of my center and move from my hips rather than from, oh, my left shoulder blade or something similarly silly – but I still need to think about keeping my balance physically.

And keeping my balance metaphorically, allowing a reasonable amount of time for all the things I want to get done and switching to the next job on time? That’s just about impossible. I know other people can manage it – for that matter, I know there are people who can walk across tightropes or dance ballet. I can admire them, but I can’t be one of them.

Is this an answer?

For example. Back in March and February, I was finding time to write (fiction) regularly – and almost nothing else less urgent than brushing my teeth was getting done around here. Then I began making a point of getting some cleaning and tossing done, Flylady-style….and I’ve written almost nothing this month. I’m very good at lurching wildly from one side to the other; not so good at keeping an even keel. (If I were a boat, I’d have capsized long ago.)

How, oh how, can I find time to write? As it is, my main character from the fantasy-in-progress and his best friend and a mysterious frenemy have been lost in the forest for the past three weeks. I really need to get them out of the woods and back home so things can get worse for them. On the other hand, I’d just as soon not lose all the ground I’ve gained in cleaning up this place.

Well, I had an inspiration this morning, or maybe a very silly idea. One of Flylady’s favorite tricks is to set a timer for fifteen minutes and clean furiously just until it buzzes.

Maybe I can write Flylady-style, by the timer. I think I’d better give myself 30 minute chunks, since you lose a bit of time at the beginning thinking yourself back into the story. But even 15 minutes by the timer would be an improvement.

Wish me luck. It’s a gimmick, and if it works, who cares?

Standing rules on their heads – the “did that” list

Pretty much everybody knows the standard rules for how to improve yourself and your life. So why do we spend so much time feeling like we just can’t get things right?

Sometimes, it might just be that the rules are wrong. Or, at least, not always the most helpful approach. For example, we all feel like we have too much to do, right? We just can’t seem to keep up with it all. We’re so horribly disorganized. We must be lazy or stupid or something.

Or maybe we’re going about it the wrong way.

One rule I learned years and years ago says that you should start the day by making a to-do list. The more complicated version of this rule then tells you to set priorities on each item in the list. And after that, I’ve seen various other add-ons that I can’t remember at the moment; I only remember that trying to follow them meant spending an hour or two just to work on the list.

(And maybe to-do lists, even prioritized to-do lists, work well for you. My experience is that they can be useful at times when I’m facing a short deadline – three days away at the most – with a lot of small tasks that need to be done in the right order.)

But as a general-purpose tool to Fix My Life? Well, no. I’ve tried making lists of all the stuff I ought to do. By the time I get to the third page, I’m feeling horribly anxious and overwhelmed. Prioritizing all the stuff as “A”s that need to be done right now or else, “B”s that have to be done but aren’t quite as urgent, and “C”s that I’m supposed to delegate just makes me feel worse; somehow all the things that I wish I didn’t have to do at all turn out to be “A”s.

(And who on earth do the Advice Experts think I’m going to delegate the “C”s to? My secretary who doesn’t exist? My cleaning woman who doesn’t exist either? If I could delegate this stuff to anybody, I wouldn’t have a problem.)

You know what does seem to help? Just recently, I’ve started making what you could call “did that” lists. Instead of starting the day by staring at all the things I haven’t done, until I feel like spending the rest of the day hiding in the closet where the list can’t find me, I end the day by reminding myself of what I did accomplish.

What good does that do? Well, first of all, it gets me out of the spiral of feeling as if I never do anything useful. Second, I’m not very good at realizing how much time it really takes to finish projects; looking at a list of the stuff that filled up the day is starting to make me grasp that I really can’t fit everything in. And finally, glancing over a week or so of “what I did” makes it easier to notice which projects are being neglected.

Sometimes looking back at where you’ve been actually helps you to move forward. Who’d have thunk it?

Getting back to my comfort zone

Sometimes we lose track of habits, even ones that make us happy. That’s been happening to me over the past six months while learning to cope with my mother’s declining health.

For years, I’ve been in the habit of walking a lot – actually, that started when I sprained my ankle badly a long time ago. (Falling down a couple of steps is disorienting enough. Falling down steps, coming to a stop lying on your side, and looking over at your left foot bent sideways at a 90 degree angle, with the sole flat on the floor, is not a good thing.) Even after the sprain healed, my ankle was weak and painful, until I started walking routinely. That seemed to strengthen the muscles so that they could stabilize my foot in a way that the damaged ligaments can’t manage any more.

So, for me, walking isn’t just one of those things you do because it’s recommended. Neglecting it makes me feel bad; my ankle aches, my gait gets a little wobbly, life is not good. And yet, from late September till early this year, I hardly walked at all. I didn’t have much time; I didn’t have enough focus to know how to best use the time I had.

Fairly recently, I’ve spent at least some time on our treadmill every week, and that’s a good thing. Outside walking, though? Not at all, even though it’s been one of the mildest winters I can remember. Even though I knew perfectly well I would feel better and cope better if I could get back to what used to be normal, something in me wanted to balk.

But this week, at last, at last, I made it outside, enticed by spring. Leaves are unfurling. Trees are covered with flowers. I headed outside with my little camera to celebrate. It wasn’t really a trip outside my comfort zone so much as a return to it.

With flowers.

How to solve a problem

I wouldn’t put my pocketbook in a dark corner like this where
it can blend in and be invisible, would I? It must hide on purpose. Right?

My pocketbook sneaked away and hid. It does things like that. And it’s really inconvenient and annoying when I need to get myself out the front door, but I can’t go without my pocketbook that has all my essential stuff in it, and I can’t go with my pocketbook, because it’s hiding again.

Well, I have a plan. It’s easy to hide when you’re a plain black pocketbook. But what if it was hot pink?




It wouldn’t be so easy to get away with things then!



Maybe a few neon green dots would help, too.

And how about blinking lights? Lots of little blinking lights all over. Oh, and why not a siren?

Okay. It might be just a little tiny bit ugly, but that’ll fix the lost pocketbook problem. So there.


52 books / 52 weeks – Skeletons on the Zahara

Review – Skeletons on the Zahara,
by Dean King

A keeper? Yep.

A couple of notes to start with – “Zahara” = “Sahara”, the way they spelled it in 1815.

And about that book cover with the weirdly elongated camels and people – those are shadows. The colorful line of something or other (maybe trash that the camels are wading through?) is an overhead photo of the real caravan.

What a story. In late summer of 1815, the square-rigger sailing ship Commerce, out of Middletown, Connecticut, was starting her voyage home from Gibraltar, alone in the Atlantic Ocean with nothing to guide her captain but sightings of the stars and guesses about her speed. Two weeks after leaving Gibraltar she was much too far east of where she should have been, rapidly sailing into the coast of Africa, but Captain Riley had no idea of her danger until he heard surf breaking against the coast between 9 and 10 p.m. the evening of August 28. A few minutes later, the Commerce was aground, wedged helplessly between rocks.

The “Commerces” – as King calls the ship’s crew – managed to haul a chain from the crippled ship to the beach and offload themselves, and all the undamaged supplies and money they could salvage. But they were stranded on a nameless beach at the edge of the unknown desert, and nobody who might have helped them knew they were in trouble.

Then things got worse, much worse. The Commerces were taken prisoner by local tribes and enslaved. The wandering tribes lived in horribly difficult conditions, always on the edge of starvation and dehydration. They were not kind to their slaves; the sailors had to endure dreadful suffering. (I would not have survived long.)

By a mixture of defiance, conciliation, and bluff, Captain Riley managed to keep about half of the crew together and eventually arranged for their ransom and return home.  One more of the sailors, Able Seaman Archie Robbins, who was sold to a tribe moving in the opposite direction from Riley’s owner, finally made his way to a place where he too could be rescued. The rest presumably died in the Sahara, either soon after being shipwrecked – some of them seemed near death when last seen – or, who knows, possibly after years of slavery.

The Captain couldn’t rescue his crew alone, of course. Without the protection of Captain Riley’s final owner, Sidi Hamet, none of the Commerces would ever have made their way home, except perhaps Robbins. Sidi Hamet promised the Captain that he would try to find the missing sailors. But he was apparently killed in an argument with another tribe while trying to keep his promise. The British consul-general, William Willshire, also deserves mention for advancing his own money as ransom without knowing if he would ever be repaid.

Skeletons on the Zahara draws heavily on the books that Riley and Robbins published about their experiences, expanded and clarified with information that wasn’t available to them, and an epilogue telling what happened to the rescued sailors. None of them escaped without lasting effects on their health, and sometimes on their mental state – today we would call it PTSD. But Captain Riley, at least, seems to have also learned to set aside many of the prejudices he would have grown up with – he became a passionate abolitionist and advocate for religious tolerance.

In the end, though, it’s the story of how much these men endured, of how they escaped at last, of the tricks and political maneuvers their unexpected allies had to use to help them to freedom that keeps you from putting Skeletons on the Zahara down until the surviving Commerces are safe back in Connecticut. And even then, you mourn the men who never got home.

Read it.

I’m pumped up

(Note: this isn’t a topic I typically write about here. But at the moment I can’t keep my mouth shut.)

I spent a couple hours this morning in a big room with hundreds of other Episcopalians singing our lungs out and yelling back the responses to the Communion service, and listening to forty-five minutes or so of Bishop Councell telling us that it’s our job to be on fire for Jesus. (This is how Diocesan conventions start out.) And that was great.

Then, after the Eucharist was over, there were tables and tables of exhibitors to check out, and a number of them were pushing programs to reach out and serve our neighbors. There’s the organization working to eradicate malaria in Africa. There’s the group that focuses on providing services to merchant sailors (who these days, between technology and politics, can find themselves trapped on their ships even when they’re briefly in port). There are the people going after the root causes of poverty while looking for ways to help people who are poor now. And plenty of others.

In a couple of weeks, my church will be holding a committee meeting – well, I’m sure there are various committee meetings coming up; we have lots and lots of committees – but anyway, the one I’m concerned with will be meeting to decide what we can do to reach out to “the least of these our brethren.” I can’t wait to make sales pitches for these projects. I hope we can tackle all of them.