Master of Everything?

One of my personal blocks to achieving simplicity is simply the fact I have way too many interests. Anyone who knows me well knows I have too much I want to learn. My amazing parents instilled in me a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world. I also inherited their pride in a sense of accomplishment and work well done. I don't think I have been very effective in meshing those two ideas into a workable lifestyle.

There are some things I just want to know about because they fascinate me. These involve just facts, and they would require a certain amount of time to research and read about. Some questions, I know, I've bothered various family members with but still can't understand:
How do planes get up in the air and stay up? How do telephones work? How do microchips work? How can Google take one second to research a million sites? How can an ink cartridge in a printer spit out such precise patterns? How can people build such tall buildings? Why can't we predict earthquakes? How do they decaffeinate coffee and tea? How can you freeze human embryos without damaging them? How can telescopes see far into the galaxy? How does an electron microscope work? How do we know what an atom consists of? What is electricity?
How do they get glue in tubes? How do cameras work? How do headache medicines know it's your head that is hurting and not your foot?

Then there are other things I want to learn that are skills. I would like to be able to play the violin, the cello, and a wind instrument. I would like to be able to smock and to knit. I want to be able to do incredibly realistic-looking photo manipulation. I would love to learn to make wood furniture. I wish I could professionally frame pictures, refinish floors, and install carpet. I wish I could garden like my sister can. These too would require inordinate amounts of time to learn - just the basics. What time would I need to master them? Some people practice all their lives to perfect these skills!

The problem essentially comes down to one question. I have asked myself this question for years and cannot come up with a satisfactory answer. Would I rather be brilliantly proficient at one or two things in life, or would I rather be moderately competent in lots of things? Because it doesn't look like I can do everything wonderfully. Such a dilemma for a perfectionist! Such a conundrum for one who is determined to simplify.

Just think - If I concentrated only on quilting and let everything else go - what I could accomplish! The beauty I could create! The quantity of quilts I could make! The creativity I could release! I would be a master at quilting - but I would miss cross-stitching, singing, playing the piano, playing the harp, working with photography, making my own greeting cards, writing poems...

Sometimes I feel that I have made the decision to not make the decision - and that means I default to being moderately competent in lots of things. At least that's where I am now.

And I still don't understand how I can pick up a telephone in Maine and talk to my mother in Memphis. It's just too weird.

Button, button, who's got the button?

It would help us simplifiers if the manufacturing industry came "down" to our standards. I am constantly amazed at how many "bells and whistles" component every technological product has to possess. I realize it is now an old joke about nobody being able to program the VCR, but the pattern is truly insidious.

I have what was in the late 1980s a top-of-the-line computer sewing machine. I still don't know how to use all its features. And I don't sew often enough to remember them when I learn them.
Every time I have to sew a buttonhole, I must take out the instruction manual and look up the instructions. I have presser feet and specialized attachments I not only will never use - I haven't even learned what they are for.

In spite of all the wonderful tasks my serger will perform, I still use it mainly for finishing seams - and for you sewing-impaired readers, that is like asking Meryl Streep to act in a first-grade play.

We bought a new smaller microwave so it takes up less counter space in the kitchen while we are trying to sell the house. Does anyone really use all those features? Sheesh! I was trying to explain to Ed, my resident culinary expert, how to cook bacon in the microwave, and he dismissed my whole lecture, saying, "I don't want to know that stuff. All I use the microwave for is defrosting and heating up food and drinks."

I'm currently on a rampage about how they make remotes. Like most families, we have several remotes - TV remotes, VCR/DVD remotes, stereo remotes...even a remote to turn on a ceiling fan and light. Each remote is different, and each time I have to complicate my life by trying to remember how each one works. I know there are "universal" remotes out there but they are just as bad and I have never been able to get them to work right. Yet these remotes are supposed to be simplifying our life by allowing our lazy selves to manipulate the machine without getting up. I suspect our kids can't even remember the days we had to get up and walk over to the TV and actually change a channel manually.

The cordless phone is another "miracle of technology." What was that Paul said in the Bible? He doesn't do what he wants to do, and does what he doesn't want to do? Yeah, my cordless phone is the same way. It has functions I will never use and never learn, yet the function I use the most, storing numbers in the digital phone book, limits itself to 30 numbers. Let me tell you, I can list 30 numbers I need to store in less than a minute - and have numbers I still want to add - but I'm limited to 30. The rest I will have to look up or memorize, I guess. And this is simplifying?

The cell phone is no better. There are apparently a few buttons on the side of the thing that I am accidentally pushing when I handle the phone. I think one of them turns off the ringer, but I'm not sure. How in the heck does one pick up a tiny phone like that and not push anything on the outside?

The CD player in my Toyota is another wonder of technology. I still can't remember how to skip a track, etc., without pushing several buttons. Not good when I'm driving.

So is technology simplifying our lives or making them more complicated? Are we more productive? Are we less or more stressed?

I will admit here that, with all my recent rants about clocks, it gives me some satisfaction to look on the wall and see basically the same kind of simple clock I grew up with. Round, 12 numbers, 2 big hands, one little hand. It even has the same numbers I grew up watching. I'm so glad they didn't change the numbers. It's nice that some things never change...not yet, anyway.

Time...and time again

Time....I can't escape it, but I can't seem to make peace with it. When I was a child taking piano lessons, I had to play a song about a grandfather clock. I looked up the lyrics today:

Written By: Henry Clay Work
Copyright Unknown

My grandfather's clock
Was too large for the shelf,
So it stood ninety years on the floor;
It was taller by half
Than the old man himself,
Though it weighed not a pennyweight more.
It was bought on the morn
Of the day that he was born,
And was always his treasure and pride;

But it stopped short
Never to go again,
When the old man died.
Ninety years without slumbering,
Tick, tock, tick, tock,
His life seconds numbering,
Tick, tock, tick, tock,
It stopped short
Never to go again,
When the old man died.

In watching its pendulum
Swing to and fro,
Many hours had he spent while a boy;
And in childhood and manhood
The clock seemed to know,
And to share both his grief and his joy.
For it struck twenty-four
When he entered at the door,
With a blooming and beautiful bride;

But it stopped short
Never to go again,
When the old man died.
Ninety years without slumbering,
Tick, tock, tick, tock,
His life seconds numbering,
Tick, tock, tick, tock,
It stopped short
Never to go again,
When the old man died.

My grandfather said
That of those he could hire,
Not a servant so faithful he found;
For it wasted no time,
And had but one desire,
At the close of each week to be wound.
And it kept in its place,
Not a frown upon its face,
And its hand never hung by its side.

But it stopped short
Never to go again,
When the old man died.
Ninety years without slumbering,
Tick, tock, tick, tock,
His life seconds numbering,
Tick, tock, tick, tock,
It stopped short
Never to go again,
When the old man died.

It rang an alarm
In the dead of the night,
An alarm that for years had been dumb;
And we knew that his spirit
Was pluming his flight,
That his hour of departure had come.
Still the clock kept the time,
With a soft and muffled chime,
As we silently stood by his side.
But it stopped short
Never to go again,
When the old man died.
Ninety years without slumbering,
Tick, tock, tick, tock,
His life seconds numbering,
Tick, tock, tick, tock,
It stopped short
Never to go again,
When the old man died.

The idea of a clock tick-tocking someone's life away used to freak me out back then, and I must say it gives me a nervous feeling to read the lyrics again now.

I have previously written about my bumpy relationship with time, but lately I have noticed an exacerbation of one of my worst traits - wishing time away. It is such a horrible thing to do that I hesitate even to admit it. And the worst thing about it is - I must be successful, because every Thursday when I leave work for my weekend of Friday and Saturday, I think, "The weeks are going faster and faster...time is slipping by me." Yet, on Sunday through Wednesday, I spend much of the day watching the clock and getting irritated by the slow movement of its hands.

I have come to the realization that these days I hold the majority of my conversations with clocks. I get to work about 5:30 a.m., so about 8:00 I start wishing the time away. The clock is right over my computer. I am an excellent conversationalist, and I hold my own weight in the dialogue spinning around in my head. (The clock, however, never has much to offer on its end other than its relentless "tick tock.") Isn't it lunch yet? No, it's 9:00. Just 9:00?! It ought to be at least 10 by now! Then when I get home for lunch at 10:30, I start up my conversation with the living room clock. Whoa, there, slow down, buddy! I'm trying to eat lunch here! I'm trying to relax! Why do you have to be so efficient now? At work you were dragging your feet (OK...hands) and now that I'm home for lunch, you seem to finally summon up some energy.

Maybe my work clock is low on batteries. Maybe my home clock takes vitamins.

Maybe it's just me, but I don't like the idea of wishing away minutes, hours, and days of my life.
Sure, I'd rather be home than at work. Yes, I like my job all right, but at times it can be boring and stressful, and, again, I'd rather be home even on a good workday.

I have to keep myself in the moment. I have to realize that every moment is a gift from God. I have to somehow learn the art of being able to look forward to the future without pining for it, and in the process losing sight of the "now." Even when the "now" is uncomfortable, stressful, or just plain boring.

Tick-tock. The clocks are mocking me. They're getting ready to usurp the dandelions.

The Whitten Road Property

Two months and counting and still no offer on the house. Ed is having phone consults with Ritchie from Coastline Homes about every other day regarding the plans for the new house. Ed designed a modular home that will be perfect for our lifestyle and Coastline has taken his ideas and transformed them into architectural scale drawings. It's strange to see a house plan out of Ed's head take shape on paper.

We haven't built the new house yet, of course; we haven't even bought the property. We are "holding" the property - almost 3 acres of land in Hancock. That is where our hearts are, but our wallets can't get involved until we sell this house. This puts us in a kind of limbo. Limbo is not a pleasant place to stay for any length of time - trust me. The state of limbo is not conducive to patience. It instigates arguments. When one is in limbo, one is kept off balance just enough that moods alternate between fear and pessimism. Occasionally limbo will erupt into sheer panic. Gurunet defines limbo in this way:

Limbo in Roman Catholic theology is located on the border of Hell, which explains the name chosen for it.
How apropos, don't you think? Just on the border of hell!

Lately we have begun to call our 3 acres in Hancock "The Whitten Road Property." This may seem strange when you learn that it is not located on Whitten Road. It is not even near a Whitten Road. There's a story behind this, of course.

When we were living in Memphis, we joined a small Episcopal Church in the heart of the city. After we got involved in the functions of the church, we would always hear talk about The Whitten Road Property. It was discussed at coffee hour. It was on the agenda at meetings. It was mentioned in the announcements. We finally learned that this church, located well inside the city limits of Memphis, had several years prior bought some acreage on the outskirts of Memphis on Whitten Road with the intentions of one day moving the congregation out there. They never took specific steps to do that, but the intention was always clear that "in the future" they would build a new church on The Whitten Road Property. With all the talk, though, we got the feeling that it would never happen. It became almost like a joke to Ed and me. Decades - yes, decades later - they still have not moved. We occasionally wonder if maybe they ended up selling The Whitten Road Property. Or maybe that would have admitted defeat, and as long as they owned the land, they would keep hope alive.

Through the years, churches we have attended have blessed us with the opportunity to create countless inside family jokes. This week, it is the Trinity Syndrome that I am reliving.
Trinity United Methodist was another Memphis church. It was a beautiful old building with a graying congregation. The few children who were there stayed in a dingy little nursery in the basement. Finally it was decided that the nursery needed sprucing up. They decided to paint it. This was accomplished speedily with little effort. Uh-oh...the nursery looked great, they said, but did anyone notice how the adjoining hall looked ugly now that the nursery was freshly painted? Well, yes, they did. Something had to be done. So they painted the hall. Can you see where I am going with this story? After the hall, they painted the other basement rooms...and on and on and eventually the church underwent several thousands of dollars' worth of renovation encompassing the entire building including the sanctuary. You have to be careful when you start fixing up. It makes the rest of the area look really drab in comparison.

That's what I'm involved with this week, our 10th week in limbo. I started painting a few places in the house, and I can't seem to find a stopping place.

So I'm stuck in the Trinity Syndrome, thinking all the while about our Whitten Road Property. In the state of limbo, one must keep hope alive!

It's perfect!

I'll freely admit that I am a perfectionist - in some things, that is. Not in cooking and not in housekeeping, where I will ignore defects in the "finished product." In grammar and spelling and punctuation, however, I demand absolute perfection. No apostrophe where it shouldn't be, and its corollary, an apostrophe where it should be - that's one of my mottos.

Excepting grammar, I have come to realize that sometimes it's hard to determine when something is perfect. Other times, I just feel it. When I create a poem for a homemade greeting card, my rough draft is edited many times before it is finalized. I can't put my finger on it, but I just know when it's perfect. Sometimes that perfection is achieved in a few minutes; sometimes it takes days.

As a quilter, I have always treasured the quilter's tradition of having a deliberate defect or error in an otherwise perfect quilt. According to tradition, the error is a reminder that only God is perfect. Of course, I joke that my quilts contain more than the required defects, and they are definitely not on purpose!

Ed told me once the word "perfect" as used in scripture ("Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect") means not the definition we assume, but means to be whole, complete. To be as it is supposed to be.

Caroline was over here on Friday. She continues to fascinate me in everything she says and does. I feel as if I am growing up all over again with her. (If I let myself loose to act as a kid, though, I am painfully reminded that I am an adult. Those climbing maze-like structures at the playground are definitely not made for a 50-year-old body!) Caroline loves this house. She loves the stairs, she loves the bow windows where she can wave goodbye to her mama, she loves the fact there are so many places to explore.

One of Caroline's favorite pastimes is to play with stickers. By "play," I mean she peels a sticker off its sheet of origin and sticks it on another piece of paper. I think she finds the challenge in this consists of being able to peel the sticker off in one piece without a tear and being able to adhere the sticker permanently to the paper and not her finger. On Friday, she found some stickers in her toybox here, expressed her usual joy over the discovery, excitedly accepted the green sheet of paper I offered her, and got down to business. I helped her peel off the first sticker. After she admired its beauty (which in itself made me chuckle; it was a gargoyle from Hunchback of Notre Dame), she transferred the sticker onto the green sheet of paper. Once it was secure, she inspected it, smiled, and said, "It's perfect!" For the next 15 minutes, she repeated the process, peeling each sticker off its sheet of origin and transferring it to the green sheet, and with utter satisfaction, saying, "It's perfect!" Of course, it wasn't perfect. Some stickers were torn. All were placed in a crooked manner. There was no rhyme or reason to the layout. But to Caroline, the whole thing was perfect. It reminded me so much of Genesis, where after creating the world, God looked at it and said it was good.

The scene was repeated in a way later when she sat on the steps to take off her sandals to prepare for her nap. She took each shoe off, then held her little feet out and wiggled them.
"Perfect!" she said. She reached down and pulled one foot close to her face and inspected it closely. She turned it over to look at the bottom. She did the same thing with her other foot. Then she put her feet together and wiggled her toes. "Perfect!" she repeated with enthusiasm. "I LOVE MY FEET!"

We're trying to get the house perfect so that a potential buyer will fall in love with it. Of course, it will never be perfect, and it is truly far from it. There are some things we will never fix because doing so would cost too much money. One room is a testament to the fact that paint has its limits in beautifying cheap paneling. The carpet we bought to replace the paint-stained carpet in the hallway was installed because it was inexpensive, not because of its color. We tried to clean out the dirt-floor basement yesterday, and I dare say that whoever looked at it would be amazed that we had accomplished anything, because it still looks like it needs a bulldozer.

Yes, this house will never be perfect. We can fall back on the old line that its imperfections give it character. We can remind ourselves that, after all, the house is over 100 years old. Every time I walk through certain areas in the house, I see more that we should/could do. Nothing is ever finished. The task of getting the house ready to sell will never be completed to our satisfaction.

Not to worry. Caroline loves this house just as it is. And she has high standards!

Attitude Part 2

I'm a complainer, unfortunately. A lot of it is done inside my head; some of it I actually say.
That has been bothering me recently. I think part of the lifestyle I am choosing to adopt is, as Oprah says, "an attitude of gratitude."

The next time I complain about having to get on the treadmill and exercise, I will be thankful that I can walk when others can't.

The next time I complain about my coworkers, I will be thankful I have a good job with great benefits and good pay, when others are out of work and have no insurance.

The next time I complain about having to clean and fix up this house to sell it, I will be thankful I have a roof over my head when others don't.

The next time I complain about gas prices, I will be thankful I have a car that works, when others have no transportation.

The next time I complain about my hair on a "bad hair day," I will be thankful I have a head of hair when there are women losing theirs to chemotherapy.

The next time I complain about a minor health problem, I will be thankful I have my general health when, as a medical transcriptionist, I see on a daily basis reports of horrible diseases and their effects.

The next time I worry about my kids, I will be thankful I was blessed with such wonderful children in the first place.

The next time I say, "I'm starving!" I will be thankful that is a hyperbole.

The next time I complain about Ed's annoying habits, I will be thankful he quit drinking over 20 years ago.

Life is good.