Procrastinating 101

Have you ever noticed that the more things you need to get done the more wasteful you become of your time?  I am convinced that this is an unconscious strategy we use to avoid doing those things that we don’t want to do.

I have a habit of putting off going to bed.  This is because many tasks and rituals must be dealt with before the actual “going” to bed can take place.  These include checking all the doors, turning off lights and other electric gizmos, brushing and flossing my teeth, getting into my pajamas, taking my medicines, setting my alarm clock, plugging in my phone to be recharged, getting a glass of water to have on my nightstand, and going to the bathroom one final time.  That is quite a list.  Often, the closer it gets to bedtime, the more likely I am to start playing a computer game.  This is not because I necessarily want to play a computer game.  I just don’t want to tackle all of the necessary jobs associated with going to bed.

I use the same avoidance tactic when I have an unpleasant housecleaning job to address.  My bathrooms need to be cleaned from top to bottom, so I begin sorting through old photos or rearranging items on bookshelves.  I do not particularly want to sort photos or rearrange items.  What I want is to avoid cleaning the bathrooms.

That which was so easily identified and discouraged in my children (procrastinating), I practice with impunity.    If I find myself looking through mail-order catalogs, surfing through TV channels, or wiping and re-wiping an already-clean countertop, it is a safe bet that I am avoiding doing something else.

It is when my house most desperately needs to be cleaned that I begin some random job like swapping out my summer clothes for my winter clothes or organizing my spice drawer or alphabetizing my recipe cards.  Sadly, these completely unnecessary tasks create their own messiness, which means that I have put myself even further behind in cleaning my house.

It is possible that I would never balance my checkbook were it not for the fact that dirty dishes are stacked in my kitchen sink.  My outdoor flowers get a good tending-to when every horizontal surface in my house is coated with dust.  I make an all-day job of running errands when my floors are needing to be vacuumed and mopped.

When a friend and I go out to lunch, I relate to her all of the things I have managed to accomplish:  the sorting, rearranging, gardening, organizing, etc.  She is amazed, stating that normal  housekeeping jobs keep her too busy to do those things.  I just smile.  She doesn’t need to know that the reason she and I are having lunch together is because back at home in my kitchen stands a dirty refrigerator begging to be cleaned.

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Multitasking

Multitasking may be a relatively new term, but people have been mastering the art for years.  You no doubt practice it and I do too.  I fold laundry while waiting for the pasta to cook.  I scrub the shower walls while I am showering.  I sort through my mail while I am downloading updates to my computer or phone.  I am usually pleased with the result of accomplishing two things at once unless I violate one of the following rules.

Don’t try to do two things at once if one of them requires your full attention.  I learned this lesson when cooking hamburgers on the grill while at the same time working with my outdoor flowers.  My dual efforts produced roses that were nicely deadheaded but hamburgers that looked like discs of black molten lava.  Other people have learned the hard way that they should not text friends, retrieve spilled French fries or read a map while driving a car.  It is also not a good idea to manicure your nails while operating a power saw.

No matter how deft she is, no woman can accomplish a single other thing while she is changing a diaper, bathing an infant, or parallel parking her car.  Though some may try, no one can read a story to a child or have a meaningful conversation with another person while tweeting, texting, surfing the Web or playing Candy Crush on a phone.

Don’t try to do two things at once if the two activities work against each other.  For example, it would be foolish for me to vacuum my floors while at the same time scattering dust and lint throughout the house.  Also, I won’t be very effective in purging clutter from my home if I daily add more stuff to my stash.

Some things are mutually exclusive.  Doing one eliminates the possibility of doing the other.  I cannot eat like a 300-pound lineman and develop the body of a fashion model.  I cannot stay up until 3:00 a.m. reading a good book and then wake up at 6:00 a.m. feeling rested and ready for a new day.

This sounds like common sense, but it is easy to violate this principle without even thinking about it.  I violate it when I:

  • Try to cut sugar from my diet but continue to buy ice cream.
  • Try to spend my money responsibly but continue to accumulate credit cards.
  • Try to fill my mind with godly thoughts but continue to read trashy novels.

Be careful with multitasking.  Research shows that one’s efficiency falls when trying to multitask.  It is always better to do one thing well than to do several things poorly.

Adventures in Clothes Shopping

Despite the commonly held belief that my gender lives to shop for clothes, this woman would rather have to remove chewing gum from her granddaughter’s hair than face an hour of clothes shopping.  Shopping  may be a favorite pastime for many women but for me it is an ordeal to be avoided.

Ask any woman who is heavier than she wants to be and she will tell you that there is a certain clothing size above which she will not go.  I call this the magic number.  I may try on clothes in sizes that are bigger than my magic number, but I will not buy them.  After all, I am planning to lose weight soon.

Let’s say that I enter the dressing room with two pairs of jeans.  I try one pair on and they fit perfectly.   I practice stretching in them, sitting in them, and bending at the waist as if to pick up something from the floor.  I find that I can do all three comfortably.   However, these jeans are a size larger than my magic number size, so I know I won’t  buy them.

I take off those jeans and try on the same jeans in a size smaller, a size whose number is not offensive to me.  After stretching out flat on my back on the dressing room floor and holding my breath, I finally get them to zip.  When I attempt to put these jeans through the same test that I used with the first pair of jeans, I hear threads breaking and realize that I am struggling to breathe.  I hang both pairs of jeans on the “return-to-the-floor” rack and move on to the toy department to buy something for the grandkids.

Some items of clothing are harder to buy than others.  Swimsuits are the worst.  Retailers offer a variety of swimsuit styles for the mature woman:  suits with flared skirts to minimize wide hips, suits with built-in elastic panels to hold in the stomach, suits with boy legs for the woman who wishes to conceal her thighs. Because I cannot find one single suit that incorporates all three of these qualities, I take one of each of these styles into the dressing room.  Each suit that I try on is more hideous than the last one.

You show me a slightly rounded, middle-aged woman who can look at herself in a full-length mirror when she is wearing nothing but a swimsuit and a pair of knee-high stockings and I will show you a woman who can face anything.  Ask her to go up against the scariest, ugliest villain Disney ever created and she will do it.  She’s seen worse.

On a recent shopping outing, I decided to try on one of those highly touted, slimming undergarments guaranteed to help a woman fit into clothes two sizes smaller than her normal size.  I entered the dressing room carrying a tubular strip of beige Spandex that looked as if it might possibly stretch to go around a roll of Bounty.

I couldn’t decide whether to step into the thing or try to put it on over my head.  I chose to extend my arms straight up and try to pull the garment downward.  Within minutes I was stuck inside a straight-jacket that extended from my midriff to the tips of my upwardly extended fingers.  It refused to budge either up or down.  Having to call an assistant into a fitting room to ask for help with a stuck zipper is one thing.  It is something else entirely to ask her to call for the Jaws of Life.

I hate shopping for clothes.  However, forcing myself occasionally to endure the process does produce one positive result in me.  It transforms me from being a woman who declares that she has nothing to wear into a woman who looks through the clothing she already owns and says, “Good enough.”

Together? Forever?

I am blessed to have a wonderful, understanding and patient husband.  We have been together for over 40 years and our relationship continues to grow richer.  We enjoy doing many things together:  traveling, studying, watching movies, and playing with the grandkids.

However, there are a few activities that Dan and I cannot do together.  Our marriage is stronger because we have identified these potential trouble spots and work to avoid them.

1)  We cannot load the dishwasher together.  When I put dirty dishes into the dishwasher, I have one primary goal:  not to position any item in such a way that it will collect water that will be dumped onto the floor when I unload the dishwasher.  Dan’s goal in loading the dishwasher is the same goal he has when packing the car for a trip:  to get as many things in there as is humanly possible.   If we try to load the dishwasher together, we both wind up repositioning items the other one has already put into what he or she considered to be the best place for it.  Soon we find ourselves asking fight-inciting questions such as “Whose kitchen is this anyway?” and “Why wouldn’t you want to do it the right way?”

2)  We cannot listen to the same audio book separately at the same time.  Over the years Dan and I have listened to dozens of audio books, originally on cassette tapes and now on CD’s.  I check out the audio book from the library, listen to the first CD in my car and then pass that CD on to Dan to listen to in his car.  The process continues until we have both finished the book.

I move through the CD’s faster than Dan does because once I start listening to a book, I listen to it every time I am in my car.  Dan switches between listening to the book and listening to sports talk on the radio.  Somewhere in the process Dan invariably asks me, “So, how does this book finally end?”  I refuse to tell him how it ends because I want him to have the same pleasure I had in discovering the ending by listening to the audio book.

He keeps asking and I keep refusing to tell him.  Before long we find ourselves making accusatory statements like:  “If you had been listening to the book instead of wasting your time listening to sports talk, you would already know how it ends.” or “The only reason you won’t tell me how it ends is because you like having something to hold over my head.  You get a charge out of knowing something I don’t know.”

3)  We cannot tackle a computer problem together.  It is pretty much a case of the blind leading the blind when he and I try to figure out something on the computer.  We start with one of us sitting in front of the keyboard and the other one standing nearby giving instructions.  At some point the stander demands to become the sitter because the current sitter cannot seem to do what the current stander says should be done.  The process continues until the two of us are playing tug-of-war with a wheeled office chair. It isn’t pretty.

Newly married couples may waste their time trying to figure out ways for them to do everything together.  Old fogies like Dan and me have learned that in order for us to stay together, occasionally we need to be separated.

I Got Old Last Week

Over the years I have collected a wide assortment of return address labels.  Some of them I bought, but most of them were sent to me as a “thank-you” for making donations to various charities.  These are stuffed into a basket on a shelf where I keep greeting cards, writing paper and envelopes.  One day last week I was struck with the realization that if I use one return address label every day of my remaining life, even if I live to be very old, I will not deplete my supply of return address labels.

That thought stayed with me, not constantly and not in a morbid way but as a matter of fact.  I began thinking of other belongings of mine that will survive longer than I will:  pots and pans, my wedding dress, hundreds if not thousands of photos, and probably even some of the rarely used spices in my spice drawer.  (Does anyone ever empty a box of marjoram?)

Although I feel very much the same way I felt 20 or 30 years ago, it is true that physically I am not as strong and steady as I once was.  I cannot “show” my granddaughter how to hopscotch or jump rope, and I even had trouble demonstrating for her how to play jacks, which surprised me.  I didn’t even get past my onesies.

I fell last week when I tripped over one toy on my living room floor and landed sharply on another toy.  When my daughter saw the resulting bruise on my leg she said, “You know, Mom, falls can be disastrous in people of your age.  Promise me that you will wear your Yaktrax over your shoes if you go out onto the snow or ice.”

I have read that one’s mental acuity begins decreasing after the age of 18.  At least I think I read that somewhere.  I don’t remember as well as I used to.  I do know that I am not quite as sharp as I once was.  While singing along to kids’ songs on a CD with my grandson the other day, I realized that I  can no longer sing “There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea.”   Try as I might I could not consistently remember that there is a smile on the flea on the hair on the wart on the toe on the foot on the leg on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.

Just out of curiosity, I ordered a test to take to see if I am showing early signs of dementia.  I saw the envelope containing the test in a stack of mail on my kitchen counter.  I said, “Oh, look.  My dementia test came in the mail.” My son looked up from his phone and said, “That’s the same thing you said yesterday, Mom.”

Are there compensations for the losses we experience as we grow older?  Where is the wisdom that living many years is supposed to bring?  Where is the honor that the young are to show to the aged?  Where is the serenity that is supposed to come to those who live long, fruitful lives?  More importantly, where is my cell phone?

My granddaughter asked me the other day, “Grandma, did they have cars back in the olden days when you were a kid?”  I smiled, gave her a hug and said, “I can’t remember.”

Unnecessary Roughness

I am not a sports fanatic.  I watch bits of football games when I happen to be in the room in which they are playing on the TV.  I do not know the rules of the game, the names of prominent players, or who is ahead of whom in the ratings.

On occasion I have witnessed a player being penalized for “unnecessary roughness.”  This penalty is called when, after a play is completed, one player intentionally pushes, steps on, or punches a player on the opposing team. The pushing, stepping on, or punching does not advance the player’s purpose in being on the field, and his unnecessary roughness results in his whole team being penalized.

I have seen parents who were unnecessarily rough with their children and pet owners who were unnecessarily rough with their dogs.  Unnecessary roughness never brings about a good result.

Some people are unnecessarily rough on themselves.  I fall into this category.  I find it hard to forgive myself for any blunder I make, large or small.  I berate myself, call myself all manner of ugly names, and sometimes even shut down for a while in order to marinate in my self-torment .

Why do I do this?  Does this unnecessary roughness result in my being more careful and diligent in the future?  It does not.  What it does do is take me down the miserable road that eventually leads to self-pity.

The ironic thing is that I am very understanding of other people who make mistakes.  After all, they are fallible, broken humans.

Who do I think I am?

As in other areas of my life, pride has managed to corrupt my thinking in such situations.  I become so inwardly focused upon my failure that nothing else matters.  Never mind that other people are relying upon me to fill some role.  I have convinced myself that I am useless and might as well check out.  Poor, poor me.

In chapter 21 of First Kings, we read of a king who became so frustrated with himself for a perceived failure on his part that he “lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat.”   This was, of course, evil King Ahab, who was exceeded in his vileness only by his wife, Jezebel.  It is hard for me to ascribe any good intention or action to this evil woman.  However, when she observed her husband beating himself up and indulging in self-pity, she gave him some good advice.  She told King Ahab to get up and eat.  The situation could be remedied.  Essentially, what she said to him was, “Will you just get over yourself?”

When I practice internal unnecessary roughness, I penalize not only myself but also everyone else within my realm of influence.  At those times, someone should tell me to get over myself.

Where is Jezebel when I need her?

Played

As my regular readers already know, I have three beautiful grandchildren.  My older granddaughter is 6; I refer to her as Sparkle.  Her 2-year-old little sister is Twinkle, and their cousin, an 18-month-old boy, is Shine.  They are my little stars.

I am fortunate because I live close to all three and get to see them often.  On rare occasions, they all come at one time to play at my house.  Although these children are perfect in every way, taking care of all three is more challenging than you might think. I will describe for you a typical half-hour period in such a day.

Know that I have planned and prepared in advance for the invasion.  I am dressed in comfortable clothes and shoes.  I have confirmed that my house is childproofed, with no dangerous knives, broken glass, prescription medicines, or pesticides lying carelessly about.  I have the TV tuned to either Nick Jr or Sprout, for the kids’ viewing pleasure, and I have on hand their preferred food and drink items:  grape juice, apple juice, chocolate milk, Goldfish Crackers, canned pasta, applesauce, Honey Nut Cheerios, macaroni and cheese and yogurt in a tube.  Toys have been placed within easy access for them, and I have taken my anti-anxiety medication.

The troop enters and there is a flurry of hugs and kisses.   Sparkle has brought to show me a large, colorful, paper turkey she has made in kindergarten.  Shine plows through the crowd and claims rights to the jigsaw puzzles that he loves.  Twinkle announces, “Grandma, I stink.”

After changing the dirty diaper and spraying Febreze throughout the house, I sit on the floor and help Shine put in place a particularly stubborn puzzle piece.  I am distracted from this activity, however, because I notice that Twinkle has engaged herself in systematically pulling out the tail feathers of her big sister’s paper turkey.  I rescue the bird, hasten to find some glue to patch it up before Sparkle sees that it has been violated, and hear Twinkle demanding chocolate milk.  Carrying the turkey with me, I go to the kitchen to pour the milk.  Sparkle enters the room and declares, “Grandma!  I have a wonderful idea!  Let’s get all of your boxes of Christmas decorations out of the garage and decorate the whole house.  WHAT HAPPENED TO MY TURKEY?”

In the meantime, Twinkle has opened and begun playing with the My Little Ponies that her sister Sparkle declares are for her only. Sparkle, in retribution for her sister’s kidnapping of her ponies, gets out the Peppa Pig house, which is Twinkle’s favorite toy.  She approaches Twinkle, holding aloft Peppa Pig and singing the theme song from the TV show.  Twinkle cries out, “That’s mine’s,” throws down the ponies and tackles her big sister.  Shine has a toy hammer in his hand and is studying the glass-fronted curio cabinet.

I pull Shine away from the curio cabinet and separate the squabbling girls.  Sparkle asks to play on the computer so I set her up with ABC Mouse online and swiftly take away from Twinkle the end of the roll of toilet paper she is dragging from the bathroom.  I then start winding up the white streamer that goes from the bathroom, down the hallway, though the living room, and into the kitchen.  Shine begins crying because he needs a nap so I put him in his Pack-and-Play, which prompts him to cry harder.  Sparkle yells, “Grandma, the “pa-cuter” isn’t working right, and when are you going to bring in the Christmas decorations?  Twinkle pulls all of my pots and pans out of the kitchen cabinet and is using them as drums and cymbals.

The day eventually ends, and the parents come to retrieve the little angels.  I report that we have enjoyed a fun-filled day and that I am looking forward to their next visit.  My house is strewn with toys, my back is aching, and my shirt is splattered with pasta sauce and pink yogurt.  There is no doubt about it.  I have been played.

For friends who share common interests with me and enjoy reading lighthearted, inspirational, and entertaining articles, many with spiritual applications.