Category Archives: Possible dreams

Yesterdaily post: Talents I wish I had…

(With thanks to the one and only Rarasaur. Without her, I would have overlooked this WordPress daily post suggestion – “tell us about a talent you’d love to have, but don’t” – entirely. As it is, I’m only a day late…)

Oh, there are lots of things I wish I could do effortlessly. Draw. Run. Make my hair do what I want it to do. (We’ve come to an understanding, my hair and me. I  wash and brush it as needed and let it do pretty much what it prefers, and it sits on top of my head and points in various directions and smirks.) But none of those is the biggie, the talent I long to have and never expect to master.

If I only could get organized. (To the tune of that song from the Wizard of Oz, you know, the one the scarecrow sings. Or maybe each of Dorothy’s buddies gets a verse of his own. If I were organized, I’d know, wouldn’t I?)

PeterthegreateggBut I’m not organized. I tackle all sorts of things…I write, I blog, I take photos, I bake, I knit, I, I, I get interested in a lot of stuff. Shiny! The world is so full of a number of things, as that poet, you know, Whitman, or Stevenson, or Plath, said. And I want to play with most of them.

Focus, I don’t got it. If only I could just set most of my mental toys gently but firmly to one side and concentrate on the most important. I’m not so sure that would work well, though.

Faberge+egg+main Imperial Easter EggHow do you cope when you’re working hard on a project and reach a dead end, a puzzle you don’t see how to solve? Well, I need to concentrate on something completely different – then my mind wanders off exploring and comes back with solutions to unrelated problems. When I force myself to drive grimly straight ahead toward one goal, I wind up exhausted, depressed, and incompetent. When I keep juggling, sooner or later one of my problem balls hatches like a Czarist jeweled Easter egg…shiny!…and hands me an answer.

Memory of Azov egg

Maybe my best plan is to treat my mind like my hair: just learn to live with its quirks.

Only one more day of 2012!

We’re staring 2013 in the face.

I don’t usually write about my problems here, mostly because I don’t have much that’s fresh and insightful to say about the subject. But the end of the year seems to be the traditional time to evaluate our lives and make plans to improve them.

And what did I accomplish in 2012? I started off with grandly overambitious plans – “finish writing at least two books; be thin; live in a tidy house; rebuild my savings account; learn to draw; and, for the heck of it, finish several reading challenges.” It’s been a sobering year.

My house is as messy as it’s ever been, possibly worse. I’ve gained five pounds. I don’t have the free time to concentrate on drawing. The reading challenges petered out midyear, largely because I found other topics to post about, so I don’t really care about that failure. Have I succeeded in anything?

My main accomplishment, one I didn’t realize I was facing a year ago, has been to keep my mother out of the hospital and the nursing home, living quasi-independently in her familiar house with her familiar belongings and as many of her familiar routines as she feels up to bothering with. And it’s stressful for everyone involved, and pretty time-consuming.

But what about my January pipe dreams? Well, there’s writing. Writing fiction is something I’ve made progress on. No, I haven’t finished two books in the past year. In spite of my high hopes a month ago, I haven’t even finished one; it turns out that my mother now gets very upset by the prospect of Christmas (with all the things she feels she ought to do and can’t do), so upset that soothing her leaves me emotionally drained for most of the day. So that will have to be factored into future plans: December is a washout.

Even so, I’ve learned a lot – partly by participating in Friday Fictioneers and the 100 Word Challenge for Grownups – about writing: structuring plots, developing characters, keeping a story moving. Well before spring I really should have the current fantasy-in-progress rough draft written. (Pause for cartwheels.)

The score for the year? I guess I’m keeping up with the absolutely essential top-priority things. Almost top-priority, not so good. Tomorrow I’ll inflict a post on you about where I go from here.

(On a different subject, I just got home this afternoon from a two-day trip – my husband and I decided to give each other a mini-vacation for Christmas. I think I’ve caught up on all the comments people made on my posts while I was away; I know I have dozens and dozens of your posts to read. I’m looking forward to them, but it will take a while to get through them all. You may still be getting comments in February 😉 )

No comfort zone: A bigger house!

It’s true. In the past two weeks, I’ve started living in a larger house than I used to. And I don’t even have to bother dealing with movers or sending out change-of-address cards or deciding where to put the furniture in differently shaped rooms.

No contractors or exhausting, frustrating DIY projects, either – we’re not building an addition. But the upstairs hall is a foot wider than it was last week, and what used to be my older son’s bedroom looks enormous.

How did I work this magic? It’s all in the books. There used to be four large piles of homeless books lining one side of the hall; they’ve either found places on shelves, or they’re going to look for new homes at the town book sale next week. Same with the bedroom. I’m amazing myself by being willing to shift from thinking, “Well, I’ve never managed to get all the way through this one, and that means I have to keep it till I read it all” to “You know what? I’ve tried to read it four times and never got past page 50. I don’t care what the rest of the story might be! Get out of my life!”

Weirder yet, I’m rubbing my mental hands gleefully at the prospect of moving on from weeding out books to sorting through old scrambled papers and throwing most of them out. Who is this person, and how did she move into my life?

(Part of the answer to that question, of course, is that she was born from following the suggestions various people made when I asked for help with this problem several weeks ago. Thank you, all of you!!)

I’m starting to have visions of having the whole house reasonably organized by November. And I think it just might happen. Now, excuse me; there’s a table full of paper in the opposite corner of this room that’s begging to be cleared off.

So how am I doing, halfway through the year?

Recently Marge Katherine over at Inside Out Cafe (the home of No Comfort Zone) took stock to see how far she’s come toward meeting her beginning-of-2012 goals. How about me? Have I been bold enough to thrust my snout beyond the edge of my comfort zone and sniff the strange breezes out in the wide wild world?

Well, yes and no. Life caught up with me, as it so often does, and elbowed me into spending an unexpectedly large amount of time propping up my mother so that, for now, she can go on living (pseudo) independently. I remind her to take her daily pills; I nag her into keeping her doctor’s appointments; we (my husband and I) pick up her prescriptions, buy her groceries, pay her bills…it doesn’t end. And taking charge of her life certainly puts me far, far outside my comfort zone; but it hardly counts as one of the goals I wanted to achieve for this year.

Beyond that? I’m learning to be thrifty myself, and more usefully, I’m involved in a couple of projects at church to extend what help we can to people who don’t have enough. My house is as much of a mess as ever, but the outdoors is doing pretty well. And as usual, I’m fat.

Best of all, I’m learning to write. Daily blogging helps; so do the weekly writing projects at Friday Fictioneers and the 100 Word Challenge – both of them exercises in concise, vivid storytelling. And at last, after way too many false starts – I’m an expert on how not to finish a novel – I’m bulldozing my way through inventing a world with its history and politics and economics, and telling the stories of people who live there and have problems that I think are interesting.

Visiting a world I made up out of my own head? Now, that’s a worthwhile trip beyond my comfort zone.

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?

The uncomfortable comfort zone

A couple of months ago, margekatherine at Inside Out Cafe challenged all of us to try something new, to take a step outside our own comfort zone. I don’t know about other people, but I’m using the No Comfort challenge partly as a self improvement, “let’s fix Sharon”, project.

And that makes the whole idea of my comfort zone kind of interesting (in the “interesting” = “really really awful” sense). Parts of my life are like a very tiny, hard to find, pebble in my shoe that keeps slipping under my foot as I walk and digging into the arch or the heel or getting caught between two toes. You’d think it would be worth the trouble to stop and get rid of it, but I don’t do it. I don’t want to be embarrassed by getting caught balancing on one leg with my shoe off. I don’t want to take the time. I don’t really think I’ll be able to track it down – it’s such a ridiculously small pebble! – and get rid of it for good. And after all, I’ve been walking on it this long. I’m used to it, sort of. I think I can just keep going in spite of the pebble, can’t I?

We only need half the table for meals – so the other half gets full

One of my most annoying pebbles – the one with lots of sharp edges – is housework. Specifically, getting things organized. You may think you’re bad at organizing, but I bet I’m worse. (And even if I’m not, I feel like I am!) So, this week, I want to celebrate a very awkward-feeling stumble away from my uncomfortable comfort zone. Many thanks to beverleysmith at January to December, who put up a post a couple of weeks ago that reminded me about Flylady with her baby steps for getting organized!

Clear (mostly) at last! Now to keep it this way.

Well, I’m starting – I’m not following Flylady’s entire program by a long shot, but I am keeping my sink empty and making myself find fifteen minutes a day to pick things up. I have a very very long way to go, but things are a little better.

I’m very much an organizing toddler, though. And it’s frustrating. 😮

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?

Money money, food food…..

About a month ago, I decided it was time to figure out where all the money goes, and if some of it could be persuaded to stay with us a bit longer.

The one thing I buy most often is food, and there’s lots of ways to tweak the food budget between stingy and extravagant. So last month, I kept a log of what I spend in supermarkets – this will get more complex next month when the Farmers’ Market opens. On the other hand, alas, it’s simpler than it used to be now that my favorite fish store has gone out of business.

I won’t bore you green with the details of how I analyzed the costs. Basically, I figured it made sense to start from the USDA’s figures for “cost of food at home”, and tweak to allow for the fact that my husband eats about six meals a week at work, but our son comes over for dinner about two times a week.

The results? Not bad; I landed pretty close to the “low-cost” USDA budget. Could be better; I should be able to save $80 or so a month if I can get down to the “thrifty” level.

There are plenty of people on the Web who blog about their astonishingly low food costs – I’ve been following, and enjoying, K. at $35 a Week. I’ll try some of her suggestions, but others just aren’t practical for us – for instance, if I started raising chickens in the back yard, the neighbors would get upset pretty quickly. And soon after that, the Township would get upset. And then I’d be looking for someone who wanted to adopt my chickens.

Still, there are other things I can be more careful about. (Two weeks ago I got enthusiastic about salad. There’s only so much lettuce you can eat, even at two big salads a day, before it spoils.) I’ll be commenting from time to time about what does, or doesn’t, seem to work.

And once I finish slimming down our food budget, it’s time to see where else we can save.

The daffodils are smarter than me

Back at the end of January, I didn’t really expect my optimistic daffodils to make it through the winter.

And look at them now. We’re not even halfway through March yet!

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.