Why Do I Keep Getting In My Own Way?

Tomorrow is January 1st and the start of a brand spanking new year.  Some people make resolutions of one sort of the other.  I have yet to decide if I will make a resolution to deal with the title of this blog.  I keep getting in my own way.   It’s as if I stick one leg out in front of the other purposely to trip myself.  Frankly I think I’ve done this for a long long time.  

When visiting friends years ago he was remarking how when they had visitors and there were immediate tasks at hand she would decide to “dust the wheels on the fridge” instead.  In other words she would take on tasks not directly related, or on the ‘critical path’ as project managers would say, to getting ready for visitors.

Is this something you do?  There is some large task or issue sitting there in your mind.  It is something you must tackle or manage but instead these other non-critical, unrelated maybe irrelevant tasks jump out in front and you say to yourself “Hey, let’s do that instead!”

If you observe your behaviour somewhat dispassionately and from a distance, then perhaps you can take steps leading to improvement.  I know, for example, if I am going on a trip, particularly a trip that involves air travel instead of packing I will undertake tasks that should have been completed months before.  I will go renew my library card, those batteries get taken to the depot to recycle and I tackle that far corner of messy stuff in the basement.  Meanwhile the packing time grows shorter and shorter.

These past few weeks I’ve been getting in my own way  a great deal.  We were having a lovely party about a month ago and would be blessed with family coming to stay with us.  Instead of making beds and setting out towels, buying groceries and doing some cooking, I decided it was crucial to re-finish the front hall bench.  The bench was picked up at a neighbourhood garage sale and has been sitting in the front hall with its original look for 8 years and now I decide to re-finish it.  And I either can’t or won’t stop myself.

 

The old look
The old look
The new "distressed" look
The new “distressed” look

I get the bench done and decide instead of getting the house ready and such, well I decide to make marmalade and chutney.  Marmalade and chutney???  Why do I need to make marmalade and chutney right now?  But I do just that as the time for guests draws nigh. Even as I’m doing it I know I should direct my attention elsewhere.

Marmalade and chutney
Marmalade and chutney

And then this week I decided I need to untangle some chunks of yarn that have, as yet, no useful purpose.  They may never end up being incorporated into a project but I sat down and put in a good 2 to 3 hours untangling that yarn.  I’ll spare you a picture of untangled yarn.  

Amongst the many sayings our mother ingrained in us was “everybody has to have a purpose”.  And like all her sayings, there’s truth to it.  Perhaps I’m expecting too much.  Not everything you do has a great or higher purpose.  Most of us will never receive Nobel Prize, be awarded the Order of Canada or Citizen of the Year or find that every task we undertake is of great import.  

One way of looking at it is family coming to stay was an impetus to re-finish a bench that  might otherwise stay in its original state.  While we never got to sending Christmas greetings this year, the marmalade and chutney were nice gifts from the kitchen and that yarn might never be used but it gives me satisfaction not to see it sitting in a tangled mess.  Maybe it’s more about giving oneself a (sometimes misguided) sense of purpose in the smallest of tasks.

For example, writing this blog this morning, has questionable purpose.  I haven’t been blogging much lately and no one is clambering to read bits of wisdom from this keyboard.  But I’ve done it anyway.

I think I’ve just talked myself out of one potential New Year’s Resolution.

Tell me, do you get in your own way?

Ten Years

It is ten years today since my sister Joanne died suddenly and all too young.  We talk about her fondly and miss her deeply. In the time that has passed since she would have been proud of her husband and how he cared for their daughters as a single parent. She would marvelled at their daughters as they forged their way in the world.  She would have been in her glory to attend her daughter’s wedding and to watch her newly minted son-in-law snag a home run ball on his wedding day.  

After she died it struck me I had assumed we would all grow old together. 

It can’t be ten years.  It was only yesterday and at the same time it was a lifetime ago.  

A Portable Musical Instrument

Yesterday I purchased a portable musical instrument.  It’s an instrument some like to ridicule.  An eye roller to some.  It’s the instrument our mother played.  I don’t recall how she came to play it.  Perhaps it was her Polish heritage or the just the era and community where she was raised.  It’s the instrument our parents bought us and we shared it and all took lessons.  I was never much more than a beginner but have always thought I should give it another go.  Somewhere along the way the instrument became a bit of a joke in some arenas but it’s always had a place in my heart and hey, Leonard Cohen’s songs often feature it.

Yes, it is the accordion.  Since it is possible there may be a comment or tease or two in response to this blog, thought I’d just get things going:

  • What’s the difference between an accordion and a macaw? 
One is loud, obnoxious and noisy; the other is a bird.
  • Why did the chicken cross the road? 
To get away from the accordion recital.
  • What’s the difference between an accordion and an onion? 
People cry when you chop up an onion.

No matter, I now own a cute grey/green 40 bass vintage Weltmeister accordion yesterday and am very tickled with the purchase!  

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I have a talented enthusiastic teacher and once I remember where the C key is located we can start.  I haven’t taken lessons for decades.  Many decades.  But no matter, here we go.  It’s important to have goals and I’ve set one and will work towards it, enthusiastically.  By the end of this year I want to play the Beatles song “When I’m Sixty Four”.  Because I own an accordion and that’s what I am.  Sixty four, not an accordion.

When leaving the house to buy the accordion yesterday I asked my husband if he wanted to come with me.  He said no thanks, he wanted to stay home and enjoy his last hours of peace and quiet.  

Have We Become Cold Weather Wimps?

It’s wintertime and here we are living with temperatures hovering around -30C.  With windchill the number goes up…I mean down.  Windchill factors the impact of the wind into the whole deal and in winter it never means warmer.  There have been some interesting comments about how Canadians are now informed about winter temperatures. 

You know you are of a certain vintage when you say “You think this is cold? Why, when  I was a kid…”.  And you blather on about things way back when. Some of it could be “retrospective bias” but that’s never stopped some of us from talking about it.  

As I sit here with my second cup of hot coffee on a morning when the windchill factor makes it feel like -35,  I am running through my memory of just how cold it was and how you knew it was cold (these memories are of winters in Saskatchewan-on the Canadian prairies):

  • there was a buffalo blanket (really!) to snuggle underneath, a wood stove and a furnace stoked by coal in our small farm house.  It was cool, cool, cool in the morning until Dad got up and got the place heated up once again.
  • Dad owned a weighty coat and hat made of buffalo hide.  I wonder now just how much that coat weighed.  
  • there was frost shield on the kitchen window in order to see when the school bus arrived.  Otherwise the window was opaque-all frosted up-from the inside.  I can’t even find a picture of a frost shield on the internet..am I THAT old?
  • clothes hung outside came back in stiff as a board
  • every winter someone stuck there tongue on some outdoor metal structure at school.
  • you had to let vehicles run for a long time before driving.  The seats were covered in some unforgiving plastic and when you sat on them it was like sitting on a block of ice.  Tires were “square” when you started to drive.  Bump, bump, bump.  Why aren’t they like that now when you start out on a winters day?
  • cardboard would be inserted between the vehicles grill and radiator so the car would   become warm enough to operate decently.  Otherwise your vehicle could freeze up when you are on the road.  With the possibility of deadly consequences.  
  • your nostrils would sort of freeze together if you inhaled too forcefully and tears…well they could freeze on your cheeks. 
  • no polartec, no HotShot handwarmers, but lots of layers and wool and mittens upon mittens.

We survived and thrived.  Without knowing about the windchill factor.

If you have known the very cold, what are your recollections?  

 Oh, and by the way I don’t plan to go out today because it’s too cold.

IMG_1611

Why Don’t People Drop In Anymore?

There was a time when people used to drop into each other’s homes.  All the time.  It was the way things happened when I grew up on the farm.  Certainly there were visits scheduled ahead of time when your hosts knew you were coming but there was lots of impromptu visiting.  Neighbours and friends would come by for coffee in the morning or just before lunch or dinner and would be seated at the table to join in the family fare.  Every so often I pull out a pile of letters my Mother wrote to me when I was at university.  She filled the pages with news of everyday life and almost everyday, sometimes more than once a day, people dropped by.  A stream of wonderfully warm social interaction.  

Over time things have changed.  At least they have in our experience. When and why did people stop dropping by?  Is it urban living?  Do we think we have to have everything just so before people come over nowadays?  One thing about drop-of-the-hat entertaining is you serve what you have on hand and you eat what is offered.  It could be Cheerios for lunch.   Now there is some unwritten understanding that you must call or email and text ahead.  Whatever the reason, we are the poorer for it.  

The idea from this blog comes from a gift I received last week.  The doorbell rang and, my goodness, there was a friend!   She was in the neighbourhood and dropped by-just like that!  What a wonderful surprise.  It was lunch and she said, yes, she would like to stay and anything would be fine.  Even Cheerios.  Fortunately there were supplies on hand to make something looking like lunch but I know she would have been happy with Cheerios.  And I was so very happy to have her seated in the kitchen.  We visited and it was grand.  When she left I looked around and saw there was ironing on the railing, waiting for the ironing board, a floor half washed, the vacuum hose lying in the middle of the floor and the counter strewn with ingredients for the evening meal prep.  She’d walked into and around all of it.  There was enough room to find a spot to eat and lots of time to visit.

I hope this is the start of a renaissance of dropping by.  My husband is planning to drop by a friend’s workshop this afternoon.  And he’ll be happy to be welcomed and to have a visit and who knows, maybe some Cheerios.

Is our experience one of city dwellers?  Or maybe we just aren’t that approachable (note to self: remember to invite people to drop by).  What’s your experience of dropping over these days?

Simply Biscotti Pumpkin Muffin

Death Cafe

Last night my friend and I attended the Death Cafe event in Ottawa.  If someone asks, what are you doing this week and you say, I’m going to a Death Cafe, it can evoke a bit of a shudder and a quick look I interpret as silently asking ‘why in the world’…..

What is a Death Cafe?  Death Cafe is based on the ideas of Bernard Crettaz, a Swiss sociologist who set up the Cafes Mortels. Jon Underwood read about the first Cafe Mortel to take place in Paris in the Independent newspaper in 2010 and was motivated to offer these himself.  It is described as a ‘social franchise’.  Death Cafes are now held across the world.  They are not for profit events and anyone can host one.  A worthwhile volunteer activity,  I say.  

Our society has a strong tendency to deny death.  We use terms that soften the blow such as ‘passed on’ and ‘lost’.  I attended a seminar where a palliative care expert asked the group who amongst us had “lost a loved one”.  Nearly everyone held up their hands.  Then he asked “have you found them?”  

 The objective of Death Cafe is ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their finite lives. Below (I hope) is a video from the first Death Cafe held in Ottawa in June 2013.  

Last night’s audience had a very strong representation of younger people.  Younger is a relative term and in my viewfinder, it means people around the age of 30, give or take 5 years.  The organizers created a welcoming and open atmosphere where, in small groups, you can discuss all manner of things about death and about living our limited lives in a way that recognizes there will be an end.

There are no reports, no flip charts  no group leaders at these events.  There are conversations that are wide ranging and can be touching and intimate.  If you come away from the event with one thing you plan to do, whether it be telling a loved one about your wishes upon your death or acting on something today you have been putting off, then it’s been time well spent.

Death Cafes help us inch ahead in living life fully and dying prepared.

Perhaps I am interested in the topic as I am rounding third plate on the ball field of life.  Now, there you see, I just used foggy language to describe death.  But I do plan to do one thing today to life more fully, one thing that I’ve been putting off for some time.  

Would you attend a Death Cafe event if you had the opportunity?

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The Place You Were Formed

It is the same for almost everyone, I’d bet.  When you have moved away from the place where you grew up (my sister jokes she has always lived in the same postal code) and you return home, it’s a wonderful experience.  I blogged about a trip home to the province of Saskatchewan last year.  Another trip this year was to attend the reunion of my College of Pharmacy class and then some driving around the province to see family and friends.  All those loved ones.   It was a big number, this reunion.  We are, as far as we know, the only class from the College of Pharmacy in its 100 year history who has held a reunion every 5 years since graduation.  

The campus of the University of Saskatchewan is a beautiful place and it doesn’t get any better than being there on a warm September afternoon.  

The Thorvaldson Building
The Thorvaldson Building
Inner passage in the new health building
Inner passage in the new health building
The Bowl
The Bowl
View from a boat cruise on the mighty Saskatchewan
View from our boat cruise on the South Saskatchewan river

The boat cruise made me think of a song by the Arrogant Worms “The Pirates of Saskatchewan”.  

Harvest was in full swing when I was ‘home’.  It’s a bumper crop this year, some say the crop of a lifetime.  My 91-year-old Uncle Albert called it “two crops in one”.  For my part I loved to see the combines on the land, the hauling machinery and the size of those machines.  Much different from the 60’s and 70’s when I operated the machinery on our farm in Saskatchewan.  Many of the pieces of machinery now cost the same as a very comfortable single family dwelling.  How in the world do they make a living with such costs?

I loved that trip home to Saskatchewan, where the skies are bigger than anywhere else, the place where I was formed.