Too busy to choose?

You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.   ~ Old Zen saying

I find it easy to be busy. Easy to let the tasks of life fill the days and create a sense of pressure. And though I’ve streamlined my holiday plans, December is not a month that lends itself to a slower pace.

Well, let’s be honest…is there any month that slows down? Not on my calendar.

And if I’m already busy, how am I supposed to carve out extra time to sit and meditate? Or find the quiet for reading and reflection?

It’s like so many other paradoxes in life:

The more love you give away, the more you have.

Without darkness there can be no light.

The pursuit of happiness makes people unhappy.

What is this strange logic that works in spite of itself?

The way I make sense of it is to understand the power of deliberate choice.

I can’t tell you how much time I’ve lost doing useful things that were unplanned. I sidetrack myself when I sit down to online work and before I begin I have to check email, my bank balance, my credit card charges, my this, my that, my other….All helpful, but not necessarily helping me to the end point, the goal of why I sat down with my computer in the first place.

Other times it’s errands. I have something that I need to do, but I tack on other stops since I’m out. Sometimes I lose whole afternoons to things that didn’t have to be, just because I was out and about anyway.

That may sound like good planning, batching running around and being efficient.

But the busyness also gives me a false sense of accomplishment. It’s easy to get to the end of one of those days and kid myself that I’ve done a lot, when in fact I’ve done very little that I needed to do, or wanted to do.

I’ve done what was in front of me to do, just following the line of busyness right into exhaustion.

But when I choose and stick to my choices, I control the game. When I set aside an hour to meditate, or an hour to read something powerful, I know I won’t have time to check all my favorite sites, or watch a casual hour of TV. I’ve chosen, I’ve committed myself. The decision is made up front, and I’m not even tempted to the things that nickel and dime my hours.

I’m still working on the discipline to set a specific time to read, and a time to meditate. I’ve been traveling, and that’s never a time to create a new routine.

But the paradox is also…if I put off until it’s convenient, it will never happen.

When I tell myself I’m too busy, I’m not always truthful. I may be filling my time, but I’ll acknowledge there’s a big difference between busy and productive.

Not that I think there’s no room for down time in life. Of course I need the down time, the lazy afternoons or slow mornings when I feel the luxury of a change of pace or the joy of the unexpected.

I try to get around this with lists. Yes, I’ve written about the power of lists before, and how as a list maker I’m compelled to check off things as they’re done. But here’s the thing…if I’m deliberate about sticking to my list, I’m better about avoiding the time-suckers. Because you know what never makes it on my list?

Funny, I never list browsing on Pinterest.

I never schedule time for catching up on Facebook.

I never set aside time to aimlessly wander the internet.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, she hastened to add!

But you know what I mean. It’s ok to do it now and then. But too many of those side trips and I’ve eaten up my hour to sit, or my time to read something inspiring, given away all my opportunity for real, and substituted illusion.

Do you ever catch yourself doing that? Give up real for illusion?

One of the words I heard over and over again at the meditation retreat was “balance.” The need for balance is a struggle for most people, and that’s pretty well acknowledged. There are whole book store aisles devoted to time management and work/life balance, personal/family balance, etc., etc., etc.

However you manage it, here’s my tip: Choose, and choose wisely. Be deliberate. Be intentional. Be picky. Be focused. Be honest with yourself and with your time.

And maybe, just maybe, the next time you’re really busy? You’ll find yourself sitting for an hour, and you’ll know it was just what you needed to do.

Hope overcomes doubt.

No guilt, no telling yourself you don’t have time.

Seek freedom and become captive of your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty.  ~ Frank Herbert

Today’s Grace

How does this help

My truth

Truth

Are you a truth-teller? A truth-seeker? I like to think I am. But while there are “real” truths…facts like 2 + 2 = 4, and forces like gravity, that will not be denied, at work in every moment…so much of what we believe to be true is shaded by perception, or intention, or seeing a chain of events unfold from beginning to end.

Is truth in the eye of the beholder? To a certain degree, yes. Though I don’t believe in a relative morality, things are not always what they seem at first glance. Context and understanding are critical factors in determining truth.

I’ve known some people who use truth as a weapon, a kind of battering ram to be fearlessly used and proudly claimed. Honesty and truth are closely interwoven. And sometimes truth hurts. But I’ll admit I’m always on guard when I sense this is happening. Someone who uses truth as a way to plow through life and over people needs to ask some questions about motive.

And that begs the question: who determines truth? All of us do, at least so far as we are able. Isn’t that what just happened this week in the election? Voters evaluated candidates, the economy, national security, healthcare, etc., etc., etc., and judged the truth of the candidates’ claims for themselves.

There’s another way we determine our truth, and that is by the words we feed ourselves.

Oh, I don’t mean that we change objective truths…telling myself I live in Florida when I live in Alaska is not going to take me very far. I’m not going to wake up in Disney World tomorrow.

But our version of truth in matters of the heart, in opinion, in assumptions about others, their motives, their intentions, their efforts…our version of the truth is dependent on our specific view of life, and how we interpret it.

This is the “glass half full” meme, or the optimist/pessimist struggle.

Only it’s bigger than that.

Words and thoughts are so powerful. They can literally change the world. They change the way people view themselves, each other, family…words are critical to truth.

I read words that build me up, inspire me, help me reach to become, and I do become. I become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It can work the other way too.

And if it works for me, or against me, when the words are my own, the impact is even stronger when it comes to the things I allow myself to believe about others.

Why?

Because I’m the only person in the world that I can get into. I know my motivations, my intentions. I know when I make a mistake that I tried my best. That allows me to see my truth…I did the best I could. My heart was in the right place.

It’s not always so easy to see that truth from the outside. I don’t want to feel suspicious, or doubtful, or assume the worst about someone just because I can’t know the whole truth about them. Because when I do that, I create my version of their truth. Whether it is really “true” or not.

So why do we do it? Why do we let our assumptions get the better of us? Why do we let them color our views?

Drama is more entertaining than unvarnished reality. Sometimes prettier too.

I’m trying to be an honest person, trying to pay attention to those moments when I rush the story, mistake perception for reality.

It’s not easy, because I get in my own way. It’s a conscious battle, every day, to let truth come out without my assistance. It’s really tough.

Truth is universal. But it’s also personal…at least the version we tell ourselves. Finding the real thing…now that’s priceless.

Think the best of each other, especially of those you say you love. Assume the good and doubt the bad. ~ Jeffrey R. Holland

What we see depends mainly on what we look for. ~ Anonymous

 

 

Bare necessities

I’m wandering around in the little apartment that is a temporary home, looking for things I know I brought over, wondering how anything could be lost in this small space.

There’s nothing like a move to put me in perpetual hide and seek mode. Why is it I can see exactly where the thing I want was stored in the house? And I have no idea where it landed when I unpacked boxes two weeks ago. But I knew to expect this…I’ve been through all the games before. My favorite is the one when I begin to question…could I have left something behind? Or did a box really get lost between the last address and the new one? Even though I did the last walk through the house and know there was nothing there, not one thing…still, inevitably, I’ll wonder.

You know the feeling when you’ve looked everywhere twice, and you know you put it in…some item that wasn’t even that important, until it’s nowhere to be found. And now it’s an obsession. Must.find.IT!

I once lost some little collectibles for about a decade, didn’t find them for two moves. They had been so carefully wrapped and stored in a little cedar chest that they lived, quite safe, but totally lost to me, until I was doing a sort for a third move. Well that was a mystery solved! I had long ago thought they fell off the moving truck and given up looking for them.

Another thing I find happens with a move…I almost immediately begin to forget what I own. Not the big stuff…I can certainly remember the big items. And some of the little things…sentimental stuff, or sometimes just random odds and ends. One good thing about storing most of the things from the house…it will feel like Christmas when I open the boxes.

I’m always surprised when it comes to unpacking, how out of sight is quickly out of mind. In some ways I feel good…maybe I’m not too attached to the stuff if I don’t carry a mental imprint around, waiting till I see the real things again. On the other hand…maybe I’m not as attentive as I like to think…if I could forget about half of what I own so easily, maybe I’m not paying enough attention to the details of life?

Well, that hardly seems right. In fact, sometimes I feel consumed by detail. That’s the effect of a move…I feel reduced to lists and to-dos, to the tedious chores of the day-to-day.

I’m ready to live simply for a while. Good thing, because it will be a while before I unpack the bulk of the boxes, make a new nest.

For now, I’m a minimalist, and I think I’m enjoying it.

This apartment is furnished with a hodge-podge of furniture…bits and pieces that are functional and practical, but not gathered into a cohesive look or style. The kitchen is basic too. With a variety of folks coming through to work at the clinic, and this apartment being one of the landing spots for the temporary help, the kitchen is outfitted to work camp standards but little more. There’s a crock pot, a toaster, a basic cook top and oven, a basic fridge and microwave. No dishwasher. The cookware is a combination of left-behinds and inexpensive non-stick pieces. The times I’ve been in this apartment in the past have been for a few days or a weekend here and there. No ongoing need to cook or make the kitchen functional beyond a few meals.

But since I may be here for months, I needed to do a little better than that. So I brought a few things.

I chose some favorite sheets and a quilt for the bed, and my own pillows. Nothing sleeps like good linens that are just the right weight. A few other homey touches made the list…scented candles for the coffee table, some favorite books, my Rowenta iron, some glasses and plates.

I brought a few of my cast iron pans to see me through.

The cast iron pieces, and my Kitchen Aid mixer…yes, I hauled it over, and it will drive out with me eventually. I brought favorite utensils, a couple of good knives, a sharpener, my coffee maker, a small blender. I brought my herbs and spices…well, what good would they do me to in storage? NO food items can go to storage.

I must admit, I likely won’t need a lot of them. But I figured I could leave those behind for someone else to use. (This is an apartment that benefits from past users’ leftovers, and I’ve been fortunate to find a just-opened bottle of olive oil or other pantry item I freely used because I didn’t have my own jar of whatever…a convenience of sharing a community space. The rules? If it’s yours, put your name on it. If you’re not coming back, or you don’t mind sharing, just leave it in a common space.)

Moving creates these crazy conversations in my head…keep or get rid of, what to do, what to do, what to do?!

So now I have a ton of spices on the shelf here, just in case I’m inspired to whip up anything exotic, and this week I had to buy a hook to hang on the bathroom door…one of the things that I can’t find, even though we had several at the house, and I thought they were in one of the boxes I hauled over.

Silly, really, but when I’m feeling a bit displaced, it’s the little things that begin to irritate…like not having an easy place in the bathroom to hang a robe, or drape a towel.

I hung my plastic hook on the door last night and put my morning robe on it, and felt a little better. It was a familiar sight, and that feels good. However small, a sight of home is still a sight of home.

In the past when we’ve stayed here, I’d fall back on a combination of soup and sandwich meals, simple warm-up dishes, even stocked up on some of the more upscale frozen pizzas. But now I’m doing my style of cooking, making real food that satisfies more than the quick and easy stuff of call weekends.

That’s not to say I’m whipping up gourmet fare. No, this kitchen isn’t inspiring heights of creativity. But a few familiar dishes, along with the other little touches that add comfort, and I find myself relaxing, de-stressing, catching my breath.

I find myself feeling grateful for an easy place to transition, never mind that the look won’t be featured on Pinterest.

It’s not a forever home. But even a temporary spot can be a shelter from the storm, and in the mornings, drinking hot coffee and wrapped in a cozy robe, I know it will do for the in-between time.

And maybe, before I’m done here, I’ll find what I’m looking for.

Hello September!

I know the official start to fall is still ahead of us, but for me, that’s always been the first day of September, so here we are again: in the season of falling leaves and pumpkins and apple crisps and cozy soups. These are a few of my favorite things.

Normally I would be pulling out autumn decor, moving my summer season look to the back of the cupboard and putting out the accents that hint at chill in the air and the smell of wood fires. But at the moment all of that stuff is boxed and I can’t bring myself to unearth it just yet.

I countered the offer I got last week and should have an answer by Wednesday. If the counter offer is rejected, that’ll be soon enough to pull out a few things to bring some fall color to the rooms. After all, the house will still be on the market, and selling is about staging, right? So it will be worth doing a little work to set the right tone. The goal is to have anyone who sees the house imagine themselves living here. And how could anyone do that in September without a little fall foliage to add some color?

In best September form, the sun is warm and strong today, the light lingering and offering hope that the fall rains won’t begin until October. Of course, no month in Ketchikan is free from rainfall. But some years September is an extension of summer, and others it feels like November.

I’m always tempted to look at school supplies in the fall, though I don’t have kids at home now. I look at the school lists in the stores and remember how many years we did that, stocking up and getting ready for the first big day of the new grades. Must run in the family. I know my mom and my daughter are school supply lovers too…just something about a pristine new notebook or box of crayons that have all their tips intact.

I think the calendar year should begin in September instead of January. It would take so much pressure off that month, and the holiday season in general. Maybe we should sign a petition?

Here’s hoping for good weather, a house sold, and the magic of fall, all coming together this week. I could really get excited about that. And it would be a small miracle, especially the house piece. But I’m open to that.

Fall bouquet

Fall bouquet

 

 

Love is

Love is many things and comes in many forms. On this day, Valentine’s, there’s no escaping the commercial message. While I don’t get excited about the day myself, (my personal take) there are so many ways to express love, and thankfully, none revolve around a date on the calendar. These are a few of the joys I celebrate.

Love is:

~ 32 years of marriage: ups, downs, roller-coasters, tears, smiles, joys, kindness. All that, and we still laugh together. We still connect.

~ Love and support for family, and from family: the ties that bind.

~ Watching our son and daughter thrive.

~ Discovering childhood again through the littles, Riley and Jack.

Snow bunnies

Snow bunnies

~ Watching our daughter play with her babies, build her family.

~ Seeing the relationships of generations ahead of me…enduring, stabilizing, nurturing.

~ Friendships that have stood the test of time.

~ Faith that grounds and secures. I’m not secure in myself, I’m secure in my relationship. Thank God, and grace.

In honor of the day, here are a few new favorite words:

I have seen the best of you, and the worst of you and I choose both. ~ (Pinterest)

I believe in love at first sight…because I am a mom. ~ (Pinterest)

The problem with love these days is that society has taught the human race to stare at people with their eyes rather than their souls. ~ Christopher Poindexter

True love isn’t Romeo and Juliet. It’s Grandma and Grandpa, who grew old together.  ~ (Pinterest)

Eventually, soulmates meet, for they have the same hiding place. ~ Robert Brault

In case you missed it…World Nutella Day!

WorldNutellaDay_logo_s-e1391459886361-300x207In the flurry of sports headlines…today is the parade for the Super Bowl champs, the Seattle Seahawks, (boy, was that painful!) and there’s ongoing news and drama around the Sochi Olympics…you could be missing an exciting new entry to the list of “world” days: World Nutella Day. It’s a young event, launched in 2007, so momentum is still building. 🙂

Complete with website, World Nutella Day provides the perfect excuse for uniting spoon and spread, for enjoying chocolate creaminess long before the Easter bunny hops this way. This is a day for lip-licking, jar-cleaning, smear-on-any surface goodness, and I’m proud to partake!

To celebrate in style, check out the plethora of Nutella recipes you can try. Pinterest offers a gold mine. Nutella has come a long way, moving beyond a humble spread for toast to star in ice cream, pastries, cakes, brownies…any place you would want chocolate, you can invite Nutella. And really…is there any dessert that doesn’t deserve a chocolate option?

KeepCalm_NutellaOn

Ugly Chocolate Cake

I’m craving chocolate. And not just any chocolate. I need chocolate cake. And not just any chocolate cake. I need the Ugly Chocolate Cake, aka, Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cake. Yep, the one off the back of the Hershey‘s Cocoa box. No upscale dark and expensive chocolate need apply for this job. But I promise you, somehow, unbelievably, the chocolate flavor in this cake is so good…well, one slice just won’t do the trick. You’ll need a little more, and maybe a little more after that. This cake is that good. This is a dense, moist, solid cake. No lighter than air texture here…this one has body, it has presence. And it has frosting. The frosting is just as wonderful as the cake. Well, make it and see for yourself.

Oh, and the “Ugly” title came from baking this at high altitudes, when we lived in the foothills above Denver. I always had trouble with getting the cake to turn out picture perfect, so we began calling my creation the “Ugly Chocolate Cake” because there was always a bit of frosting camouflage needed to make the layers look just right on the cake stand. But it was a label given with affection, and since the looks didn’t affect the taste, no one minded if the name wasn’t elegant.

You can get this off the back of the cocoa box, but why would you? I can tell you, that print is pretty small! So save yourself some squinting, and just copy from here:

Hershey’s “Perfectly Chocolate” Chocolate Cake

Chocolate goodness!

Chocolate goodness!

Skill Level: Beginner Prep Time: 15 Minutes

Ingredients

2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

“PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE” CHOCOLATE FROSTING (recipe follows)

Directions

1 Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.

2 Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

3 Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost with “PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE” CHOCOLATE FROSTING. 10 to 12 servings.

VARIATIONS:
ONE-PAN CAKE: Grease and flour 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Heat oven to 350° F. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes. Cool completely. Frost.

THREE LAYER CAKE: Grease and flour three 8-inch round baking pans. Heat oven to 350°F. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost.

BUNDT CAKE: Grease and flour 12-cup fluted tube pan. Heat oven to 350°F. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 50 to 55 minutes. Cool 15 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack. Cool completely. Frost.

CUPCAKES: Line muffin cups (2-1/2 inches in diameter) with paper bake cups. Heat oven to 350°F. Fill cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake 22 to 25 minutes. Cool completely. Frost. About 30 cupcakes.

“PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE” CHOCOLATE FROSTING

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine 2/3 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.

Enjoy!

 

In defense of Pinterest

It seems there’s a lot of strong opinion out there about Pinterest and its impact on everything from use of time (aka waste of time) to fueling competitive birthday parties to adding new musts to the already jam-packed to-do list of the average American woman. (Notice I’m confining my opinions and observations to the narrow borders of my own country…I haven’t been authorized to speak for all women of the world just yet.)

I was going to be productive today...

I was going to be productive today…

No doubt many of the criticisms are justified. I’ll admit it’s addicting and time-consuming to scroll through my favorite Pinterest theme pages. However, I am still in control of the clocks at my house, and that super power extends to my keyboard as well. So it is within my ability to set an alarm and limit the time I spend on Pinterest.  A little Pinterest surfing is often my reward for finishing a project or task. It doesn’t have to gobble up whole evenings or weekends.

One of my favorite things about the site is the at-a-glance appeal…I only check out a recipe or project if the image is appealing. I think this is an enormous time-saver. After all, if the finished product doesn’t look enticing, why would I waste time trying to duplicate the taste or the look? And I love the links that give great step-by-step instructions with photos…no guessing about how to do the tricky parts!

Often when I’m looking for a recipe or product I begin with Pinterest. I’m rarely disappointed…much quicker than checking out links through Google.

As to feeling that I have to decorate amazing cookies or have elaborate theme parties…well, I get to make these decisions too at my house. I understand peer pressure, and I’ve had my share of mom-guilt motivation. But I’m also able to appreciate good ideas and copy what will work for my needs without feeling that I must do everything to the nth degree. I like to think of Pinterest as an engine to fuel my creativity. Actually, a site like Pinterest is perfect for me because I have almost NO inherent creativity. But I know what I like when I see it, and I can copy like a pro! Knowing when to stop is up to me.

I read a post today about the increasing tendency to turn events into spectacle: gender reveal parties, theme parties, holiday celebrations, and biggest and most intimidating of all, engagements and weddings. No one can use every great idea, and few parties are perfect. No one needs the pressure of one-upping or living beyond means to achieve. That’s no fun at all. When the details of the party become the focus more than the birthday child, or decisions about wedding arrangements create stress and tears, something is certainly wrong.

I’m all in favor of reflection, introspection, and honest confrontation here. I’ll admit, as a mom, as a wife, as a woman, I’ve sometimes been guilty of acting out of pride and perfectionism. But the scenario I picture in the planning stage doesn’t always hold up in the light of reality.

Hopefully I’m wiser as well as older now, and I’ve pretty much given up pursuit of perfection if it includes humans of any sort. And now when a dinner flops in a spectacular way, or my holiday dazzle doesn’t quite achieve the double spread gloss of a Southern Living magazine feature, I’m still content. I’ve learned to value the heart beyond the image, and to know that trying and intention count at least as much as any result I could pin on a Pinterest board.

Naughty, naughty!

Naughty, naughty!

So, to my fellow Pinners…let me encourage you to be mindful about this amazing tool. It can be a wonderful source of inspiration and delight. But remember, if you are fortunate enough to live with other humans…short ones, tall ones, young or old…they’ll likely derail your carefully laid plans, and your photos may not be perfect either. You’ll likely not finish all the crafts you plan for the holidays; your amazing new dish may look nothing like the exotic photo you tried to copy.

Never mind: all is well! It’s all about learning from others, enlarging our creative borders to try things we hadn’t thought of for ourselves. And it’s about coming to terms with messy reality: looking around at the kids you love; the person who sometimes is your soulmate and sometimes is just a fellow warrior in the battlefield; the home that isn’t perfect, but is yours, warts and all, and knowing that you love it anyway.

Not sure how to capture that image for a Pinterest pin, but that’s the one I would be most proud to share with the world.