Simplifying, one (beautiful) dish at a time

Last week our dishwasher began rinsing with chunky, mustard-yellow water which then pooled in the bottom of the machine. Hubby attempted to fix the problem to no avail and I descended into minor panic mode. I can’t keep on top of the endless piles of dishes, pots, and cutlery as it is and now I would have to wash them by hand?! But then as I stood amidst the greasy towers upon the counter I had an eureka! moment. (Ah, how slow we sometimes are.) What if we used only enough plates and bowls as there are members of the family and, gasp! wash them by hand immediately after each meal?

As Hubby and I washed and dried and put away every last dish we became more and more attracted by the idea of only using a minimum of crockery. He wanted to go as far as physically banishing all the extras and have only a set of four available. But this I refused. I love dishes! I love mugs! I love pots, dutch ovens, tea pots, bowls… antique or modern, pottery or ceramic… love ’em. And I like everyone to eat from matching sets. I even check to see which coffee mug Hubby had taken out for his morning beverage to ensure I choose its mate. And if my mug is pottery then my cereal bowl must be too. But if my cup is the bright yellow one then my toast plate is also bright yellow.

I also like looking at my colorful dishes so for Hubby to suggest they be packed away was just too big a request. He compromised and we put all the extra dishes on the top shelves. And we started fresh. Empty sink, empty counter, organized cupboard. Ahhhhh.

And what a difference! While I have sacrificed using my other precious dishes what I have gained is so much more:

1. Only a handful of dirty dishes in the sink at any one time, not piled high in the sink or overflowing onto the counter because the dishwasher hasn’t been run or emptied.

2. A chore that is finished in 10 minutes – including washing the cooking pots – rather than the half hour it used to take to empty and reload the dishwasher.

3. A Hubby who willingly washes the dishes because, compared to loading the dishwasher to his wife’s (insane) specifications, it is fun.

4. Sparkling clean nails.

5. The wonderful relief of walking into a clutter-free kitchen every morning.

6. One less overwhelming chore to stress over.

I never thought I would be happy for my dishwasher to break down. We still have it and we’ll get it fixed for the next dinner party. But for now I am more than happy to have it sit there empty and redundant. I even taught my kids the “proper” way to “do the washing up” — a game for them (oh, that it could stay that way through the teen years!) and I was relaxed enough to let them play.

This was a simple change with a huge pay-back. I can still enjoy my crockery as decor but it is not taking over my kitchen, my life, or my sanity. And maybe eventually I will be able to let some of it go – do I really need three different styles of ice cream bowls? – but for now I’ll bask in the new simplicity.

Now I just need to figure out what the hell to do about the five baskets of clothes spilling out the laundry room door…

Journal Prompt: “The one thing I could do today to make my life a little less stressful or overwhelming is….”

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Finding my rhythm

Children don’t know about rhythms, not the ones we adults recognize, anyway. Their internal beat is like one from another culture – African, Asian, Alien – that is not the 4/4 we Westerners are used to.  Time is of no consequence. Play always, eat whenever, sleep only when legs will no longer run.  Until my children are old enough to tune into the boring beat of responsibility, I must attempt to live with an erratic pulse.

I fantasize about a time when I, the Writer and Business Woman, will have my own rhythm by which to structure my day. Writers are always interested in the working habits of their fellow wordsmiths as they try to unscramble the secret code of being a writer. One thing comes through from these stories: There is no one way to practice your craft.

The two stories I recall (and I have no memory of where I read them or to whom they refer) offered just two possibilities. I’m guessing this first one sounds downright luxurious to most of us. The writer in question would arise at a fairly normal hour, say 7AM, eat breakfast, walk the dog, and then go back to bed! Wow. She would then get back up a few hours later and write into the night. The second author was a mother (ahhh, someone I can relate to). She would get up crazy, crazy early, like 4AM (oh, no longer relating), work until the kids got up, get them off to school and then write for a couple more hours. After that I don’t recall how she spent her day – I would guess zoned out with exhaustion.

For how differently these two women scheduled their life, one thing is consistent: Discipline.

I am learning to structure my days in order to be more efficient and productive, but it is difficult. So many times my mood and energy depends on how many times I was yanked out of REM sleep by a Mama! or how the wake up-breakfast-school departure went off. Some days I can sit in front of my computer all day with not much more to show than some meaningless babble on Facebook. On these days I need to give myself permission to sit on the couch with my journal or a good book (and consider it research). I’ve written before about the benefit of the spaces in between work, but it is hard to remember the creative benefit of stopping once in a while. I also have to remember that doing a load of laundry or meeting a friend for lunch will not kill my career. The Work From Home police are not going to come and check up on me to see if I took a break to have a cuppa.

But efficiency is the name of the game. My goal is to set time limits on myself. Half and hour to journal before the work day begins, another half an hour to email (and OK, Facebook – for business purposes). Two hours to write whatever piece I’m currently working on, and then my blog. Another day it might be writing an Examiner article or preparing for an upcoming workshop. Whatever it is I’m working on, I have to block out the time in advance and be fair to myself. Don’t work at it until I’m ragged but turn to something else to always keep it all fresh and exciting. I must take breaks and most importantly, schedule in some FUN!

I’m still struggling to get the hang of this working from home thing. Time away from the computer still feels like I’m slacking. But I dream of the day when my day will run like clockwork from bed-rise to beddie-byes. I will churn out words like John Grisham, I will email and do paperwork as if I was my own legal secretary, and I will make beds and pick up toys with the spit-spot of Mary Poppins. And then at 3:30 precisely, I will shut down the computer and put on my Mommy hat.

Rhythm. Sometimes it is hard to keep in time with a new and unfamiliar one. But if you keep at it, eventually the beats, the rests, and the cadences will click with your own and you’ll be able to dance.

Prompt: What does your ideal day look like? Does it have a rhythm?

Perpetuating our own truth

Even before I got out of the car I questioned why I was here. I had pulled myself away from a cozy fire and good company to go out into a chilly, damp December night. I was about to walk into an overheated crowd of locals, some of whom I hadn’t seen for twenty years or more. Immediately we have two problems with the scenario: 1) I’m an introvert. I don’t like crowds or rowdy parties. I’m more of the intimate dinner party type where you can have deep, interesting conversation. How’s the weather? and What have you been up to for the last twenty years? strike me dumb. 2) I don’t drink (that much). And 3) at this particular point in our lives I was painfully aware that the money passed across the bar for the wine or Malibu and Coke that might have relaxed me a little could have fed my family a nice dinner.

It was my high school class 20th “preunion” held in advance of the official July reunion in deference to the few class mates who were shipping out to Afghanistan  in January. Hubby and I had spent Boxing Day (the British name for the day after Christmas) with my parents and so were in town anyway, I thought we should go.

I worried that I looked slim enough, 37 and not 45, and if my hair wasn’t too poofy. And I worried I wouldn’t know what to say to anyone. The very few people I was close to in high school weren’t going to be there and any others were in reality only acquaintances. Yes, we had spent four years knocking around the same halls and suffering under the same teachers, but I did not know them. And they don’t know me.

I hadn’t spent my formative years with them. Our mothers did not chat over coffee, our fathers didn’t watch the Game together. I never went to high school parties because back then I was “religious” and probably wouldn’t have been allowed to attend even if I had been invited. I wasn’t a cheerleader or soccer player. I attempted to play field hockey but that was only because a friend had told this newly arrived “English girl” that you weren’t anybody in high school unless you played a sport (she also told me that it was imperative that I wear a turtle neck under a button-down oxford – and I thought there wasn’t a school uniform here). So upon arriving at the school, I signed up for the only sport I had any experience with in my former school. I spent the next three springs sprinting (which I was good at) up and down the side of a field, stick in hand, praying the ball wouldn’t come anywhere near me. The only compensation was that I knew I looked good in the little pleated skirt.

I was too shy to join any other groups other than drama and the peer help group called Students to Students. Not one student ever came to talk to me. I question whether that was because no one had any troubles or because I sent out vibes that declared I was unapproachable? I’m guessing the latter. The truth was I was so anxious and unsure of my place in the (American) world that I erected a protective wall of which I was unaware but very few people penetrated.

Where I really belonged was in the music room. Once dear Mrs. LaPlaca heard me sing that’s where I and my closest friends spent a lot of  time. It was here I felt freer to be me.

That was twenty years ago. My high school friends are living their own lives and we are no longer physically or socially close. I have been away from the area for more than 15 years and I am not the shy, unauthentic, uncertain 16 year old I was. Or am I?

Walking into that bar, seeing faces from another time, another life time, bought it all back. The discomfort of not knowing where you fit, how you fit, or if you should even try. If I was an extrovert I would not only have had more friends in high school to begin with but I would be able to walk into a room of almost-strangers and initiate conversations, chat about football or kids, and throw caution and money to the wind for a few drinks.

But as it was, I felt like running away I moment I stepped over the threshold. Not because of the people there but because of me. I didn’t like being reminded of the lost little girl I once was. Just like the pathetically bad field hockey player who missed out on being in two plays because she was trying so hard to be a “somebody,” and the socially awkward student mentor, I felt uncomfortable and ostracized. And who made me feel this way? Me. I was once again the self-conscious “English girl” who didn’t belong. And so I made it so.

We make our own beds. What do you believe about yourself that you know in your heart isn’t true? How do you continue to perpetuate your own truth? How can you change this “truth” in 2010?

Code Red: Avoidance

If avoidance had a color it would be red. Red alert. WAH. WAH. WAH.

Avoiding talking about the state of your bank balance with your spouse.

Avoiding going to the doctor with that chest pain.

Avoiding thinking about how much you are drinking.

Avoiding your journal.

Fortunately, I am not avoiding my journal (not today, anyway) but I am writing this post right now in full-blown avoidance of writing down my goals. Career goals. Writing goals. Why on earth?! I’m so excited about my future. I can see it so brightly I almost do need those shades. I know I am going to be successful.

But it’s not my journaling workshops and instruction that I’m worried about. It’s my writing.

My writing has been put aside, as it has through every other excuse I’ve come up with: Working, New Mom, Just Moved, Course Work… and I wonder why I haven’t been published more than I have. Kind of hard to publish something that isn’t written. Duh.

I have been swamped with ideas lately. Essays, memoirs, even a book (something I was convinced I would never want to commit to). If I put my toddler in daycare for 30 more hours, hired a housekeeper, found a mistress for my husband, and stopped pushing myself into people’s faces trying to convince them they need to write, then I could write to my little heart’s content. Man, there’d be no stopping me!

But that’s not my life and nor will it be if I don’t get those goals down on paper. I know that once you write down your dreams they have a way of sneaking in and coming true, sometimes when you’re not even paying attention. I have to ask myself why I’m scared to become a Writer (and by that I mean a Writer who May or May Not Get Paid for Their Efforts but Whom People Read and May Actually Notice the Byline).

I do think that I continue to sabotage myself. I am scared of success in the one area that I am the most passionate about. Yes, I want to teach journal-writing. I believe in that and I love that I can help others find healing in their writing.

But my writing is about me. All about ME. And what does it say about me if I fail?

At being me?

Red Alert! WAH. WAH. WAH.

1991 called

I think I have mentioned before that I am addicted to planners. Not a bad addiction when you consider the options. But I fear I am woefully out of date (pun intended).

I watched the movie 27 Dresses where the main character Jane, played by Katherine Heigl, is a perpetual bridesmaid and wedding planner for her friends. She scribbles all her bridesmaidenly tasks in a dayplanner, which, when left in a cab is the cause of much distress and missed appointments. I relate… I would sit on my rump, head cocked sideways staring at the floor not having a clue what to do next if I mislaid my planner. My daughter has a book about some creature who makes a list of what he has to do that day but when it blows away in a wind gust he is helpless. When his friend suggests they look for the list he refuses because that wasn’t on his list of things to do. I’m not quite that bad but if I accomplish something that wasn’t on my to-do list I will write it down just so I can experience the pleasure of checking it off – a far more healthy obessesive trait, I believe.

Anyway, back to the movie… when the love interest in the movie finds Jane’s planner, making fun of her, he says something about 1990-something wanting its planner back. At the end of the movie when they are all kissy-kissy and she has thrown out her closet-full of dresses (and symbolically, her past), he gives her some electronic, very 21st century, planning gizmo.

Now, before watching this movie I had no feelings of inferiority surrounding my complete dedication to the paper and pen method of time-management. In fact, I wondered why these very-berry thingy-ma-jigs were so popular – what was the point? But suddenly, I am questioning my whole life and its so-called efficiency. Why exactly do I carry around a 5lb tome when I could have a slick, clicky thing that fits in my pocket… and it’s a phone too! Now, there’s true efficiency for ya.

But I don’t have a blackberry, or even a strawberry for that matter, and I probably won’t have for a very long time (well. maybe I will in 2038 when everyone else has their daily schedule implanted behind their eyelids).

But continue to plan I must.

So, it was with resignation I ordered a Franklin-Covey designed especially for busy mothers. But when it arrived, its pink and brown mommy-ness and unmarked pages laying flat and shiny waiting for my life to fill its lines, reminded me why I love them. Yes, it’s heavy and not as fun or multi-taskerific as a handheld computer/phone/camera/music player/kitchen sink but until 2038 when my grandaughter’s discarded device is passed on to me, my planner and I will continue to make plans the good old fashioned way.

——

As an addendum to this story – when I opened my new planner and inhaled its scent in true addict fashion, my husband, who in true male fashion hates gift shopping, says to me, you better wrap that thing up and put it under the tree, it might the only thing you get. I think I deserve a blackberry after that comment… or at least a new cuddly sweater.

Update 7/22/14: I now own one of those shiny everything-but-the kitchen-sink “phones,” and I don’t know how I got to appointments and meetings before its existence. However, for planning my day-to-day to-do list and brain-storming ideas, it will always be paper. Paper = thinking.

Just asking


Why is it…

1. After you spend 20 minutes stuffing your children into their five layers of winter clothing, hats, mittens, and boots, they stay outside for exactly 2.2 minutes? And then after peeling them back out of it all, leaving a puddle of melted snow and ice on the rug (in which you step in your socked feet), they ask to go back out?

2. Your husband unexpectedly brings home a cheesy, gooey, yummy, pepperoni-free (miracles can happen) pizza half an hour before you leave for a Christmas party that includes food for which you have already (over)paid?

3. Daughter could be playing with anything, let’s say something as uninteresting as the can opener, and Son will scream that it is his, so you try to distract him with, say, a wooden spoon; dropping the can opener, Daughter will yell that no, the spoon is hers, making Son once again focus on the spoon; so, you give them both wooden spoons, which they immediately crack over each other’s head?

4. A Christmas ornament that somehow did not make it into the storage box last January 6th and has been hanging around all year, its location known even through a move, is no where to be found when you put up the tree? And with 100% certainty you know it will magically reappear once the Christmas box is back in storage, thus starting the process all over again?

5. In the same mail as you receive a surprise Christmas check from your grandmother, you get a surprise bill for the exact same amount?

6. Son’s colon decides to empty itself in the most pungent, leak-potential way after you have just wrestled him into a clean diaper, clothes, snowpants, jacket, and boots, and you are already running 10-minutes late?

7. Children sleep like the dead through 1/2 hour of an eee-eee-eeeing alarm clock on school mornings but are awake and bouncing at 6AM on the weekend?

8. Children begin the I-really-need-a-nap-whine three hours earlier than usual on the very morning you were psyched up to go Christmas shopping, leaving you adrift and in denial that you could use the time to finish cleaning the kitchen (and so you write a pointless blog instead)?

Just asking…

Driving ourselves to debt (pt 2)

Hello, my name is Joanna, and I am a Shopper.

OK, I admit, I’m a shoe whore. I also like to be surrounded by pretty things. I love matching dishes and coordinating bedrooms. I prefer to have the perfect weight jacket for the temperature and the most appropriate mode of transportation for my baby (i.e. sling, backpack, jogger stroller, wagon, etc.). Yes, I am part of the problem. I love to shop. I have a credit card balance. (BUT I also buy many things second-hand and I rarely pay full price for anything. I’m just relieved I’m not so materialistic that I just have to have that designer bag or the latest iPhone (I don’t even really know what one of those is.) )

Almost a month ago I began a rant. Now I will finish it.

On my walk to work I pass houses of every economic description. Most are well-kept and beautiful, some are shabby, and some are, well, let’s put it this way, you couldn’t get me to cross their threshold even if the dog chained in the backyard was about to sample my derriere for dinner.

Lawns littered with old swing sets, pools, and discarded toys where no child could safely play. Mud-splattered, plastic Santas smiling pathetically at the cracked Easter bunnies and smashed pumpkins. Old cars, vans, and trucks, tires melting into the mud; no more use than outdoor closets. Through open front doors I see hallways where “stuff” is piled so high and deep a person would have to turn sideways to inch past it. Now, granted, this is (I hope to goodness) the exception, not the norm. (Pack-ratting (is that a word?) is one thing, hording another, but plain ol’ lazy is quite another.)

The difference between this house and, say, mine? My crap’s hidden.

In closets, sheds, attics… the reality is Americans shop and shop and shop. Whether we pitch it all with equal enthusiasm, yard sale it, or stuff it in our multiple storage units (or cars), it is a national pastime. Our credit card debt, our lack of savings, and Suze Ormon on Orpah every week are all testimony to our addiction.

Why do we need so much stuff? A TV in every bedroom? Read a book. A sweatshirt from every tourist trap along the eastern coast? Highlight a map. Four inflatable, light up, jingling Christmas monstrosities that leave your electricity bill and taste in question? Put some (little) lights on a tree.

Unfortunately, Americans will continue to shop and horde until they are completely shopped out and poor. Maybe then life will become more simple.