Time: Yours, Mine and Hours

Photo Time

In my imaginary world that I call “Lindita Land,” I wake up whenever I want to. I take the art of putzing to a new level as I push my to-do list aside and do a series of inconsequential things that I will not remember tomorrow. Never glancing to see what time it is, I continue through my day combining important tasks with inconsequential tasks. The day has a wonderful flow to it; there are no deadlines and there is no immediacy to anything. Magically, by nightfall, everything I had planned to do has been completed. I fall into a deep sleep and do not wake up during the night; a miracle in itself. I am the star of my dreams, without a worry or a care as to the who, what, where and when of tomorrow.

Yikes! Both the timer on the stove and the alarm on my phone have gone off at the same time and I am startled me back to reality. I’m not sure which task to do first, so I bounce back and forth between the two, promising myself that tomorrow will be different.

I take a break and decide that it’s time to try to outsmart Father Time and his gremlins (similar corporate setup to Santa and the elves, only snarkier). I will grab that extra flesh of time and squish it into the girdle of my day. Are you with me? Do you have any ideas to share? Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  • Create a daily to-do list, so it’s less intimidating.
  • Check emails only once or twice a day and act on them immediately: respond, delete or save.
  • Make a menu and a shopping list and only grocery shop once a week.
  • Keep a list by store and only travel there when you need a few items.
  • Plan a logical route, so you can complete errands all at once.
  • Multi task: water plants or do food prep while you are on the phone.
  • When you are asked to volunteer, sleep on it; never answer immediately.
  • Learn that sometimes you just need to just say no.
  • Promise yourself a treat once your daily tasks are done.

I am not the only one trying to make my way in life with a little help from paper and a pen. A big industry of time management journals has sprung up from the ashes of those little pads that used to spur you on with their cute headings. Now, ranging in theme from passion planners to academic planners, you can time block your day, month and year in order to be more efficient and productive in a customized version of yourself. The thought behind this is that if you enter a room with a pastel Lily Pulitzer life planner under your arm, it will mask the fact that you may actually not be feeling all that light and airy. Then, there is the latest version, the Life Planner 3000. This newest “super-size me” style is available with wheels.

My homemade to-do list is divided into segments entitled “Call,” “Do” and “Go.” It’s not for everyone, but it works for me. And now that I’ve stolen those precious minutes here and there, it actually feels workable. I am able to evaluate the best use of my time and get things done.

I’m sitting in my kitchen enjoying a cold, grapefruit flavored club soda after a particularly busy day and decide that I actually have some extra time to sit outside and read. I toast the sign on my kitchen wall that reads “Never Enough Thyme” and hurriedly head out before the time gremlins catch up with me again.

 

 

 

 

 

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Touched by an Artist’s Power and Purpose  

Photo Jenn Hassin

She was not what I expected. The pretty young woman that stood before us in the art gallery smiled demurely, as she was introduced. It was when she began to speak about her art and her life that I became captivated. There was a power that came from her words. Jenn Hassin spoke with an authority that is usually honed through age and experience.

Hers was a life filled with clashes of the presumed and the unexpected: not the childhood one would hope for, a family friend turned mentor, a stint in the military, a college degree in studio art, a divorce, a single mom, a second marriage, another child and a happy, supportive extended family made up of an ex-husband and his parents. Her personality celebrated a dichotomy of military precision and artistic creativeness. This helped to explain how she single handedly was able to get her work, Letters of Sacrifice, exhibited at the Pentagon.

Kintsugi: that was the philosophy that this exhibit was based on. Jenn went on to explain that the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold dusted lacquer treats breakage and repair as a part of the object’s history. Rather than disguising the damage, it works to make it more beautiful.

Jenn’s art installation entitled Embrace the Damage took over the entire wall. As Jen explained, “…The wall of current newspapers from the U.S. and around the world are folded and assembled in a chaotic, yet systematic manner. They represent my personal feelings regarding the overwhelming nature of our current sociopolitical climate. The woven gold braid meandering through it signifies the crack in society and the beauty and strength that can and will prevail for having gone through our current tensions…”

The second part of the installation, Listen and Repair, was interactive. According to Jenn, “…One of the biggest problems we face today is that we do not listen to one another. This offers the opportunity to cut and then mend a tablecloth together; to commune with one another. A gold thread will be used to mend the tablecloth, creating a seam and a border that both divides and connects. I encourage those who participate to converse with one another. You will be sitting on garments and blankets from around the world; talk to one another about culture or about what is going on around the world. Connect or debate, but above all, hear one another. The outcome of the work when the exhibit ends is to create an image of what listening looks like…”

As she spoke, everything took on a new perspective. Jenn, so youthful, became the wise old sage. Her art, subtle in its tone, transformed itself into a powerful and intense message.

Jenn Hassin’s art is a rich composite of the atypical experiences that have shaped her life. Along with the hands of the many volunteer veterans that have touched so many of her works and helped her to bring her messages to life, so will you be deeply touched.

The High, the Low and the No of Expectations  

Photo Expectations

In the celebrated new novel, Great Eggspectations, the protagonist is in hot water, scrambling to turn her life around. She’s blamed everything and everyone around her for her disappointment, rather than realizing she is expecting too much and is about to crack.

Warning: high levels of expectation can be detrimental to your health. Going through life possessing a strong belief that something will happen in a certain way can lead to crushing disappointment.

The word itself seems a bit haughty in tone; anticipating that it’s our way or the highway is the egotistical equivalent of the overwhelming desire to put words in someone’s mouth and then be the puppeteer that pulls their strings.

I’ve come to realize that expectations can actually work with and against us. Our internal expectations can work alongside our goals to produce positive results. It’s when we unleash our external expectations that the situation muddles. We have no control over what someone will say or do or how a situation will play out. Yet, we waste time and energy creating the perfect scenario and then we feel so let down when things don’t go our way.

Shakespeare said “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” Letting go of that feeling of control is not easy, but maybe little by little we can remember to be happy, grateful and content and just let our lives unfold as they were meant to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isabel

Photo Isabel

She was born with just right balance of moxie and elegance, which served her well throughout the years. As a little girl in the orphanage, she was always the one chosen to be dressed up in a pinafore with a big bow in her hair and displayed to the wealthy families who came to view the children for possible adoption. Even thought she would curtsy and smile just as she was taught, the little boys were always the first choice. It was Columbia, South America after all and the year was 1908.

It wasn’t a terrible life. The nuns were kind enough and even though they were too busy to pay individual attention to all their charges on a daily basis, they treated Isabel with a certain reverence. In her quiet, confident way, she seemed to stand out from the others and they sensed this. Mother Superior would always pat her on the head as she walked by and whisper “Eres una estrella brillante” (“You are a shining star”). Isabel treasured those words and would remember them for the rest of her life.

She had little choice where she was to go once she outgrew the orphanage. Mother Superior took special care to make sure that her placement fit her distinctive personality. She had her assigned to a positon as a maid in the home of a wealthy Spanish family who just happened to have a son close to her age. The rest would take care of itself, she surmised, as she smiled to herself and made the sign of the cross.

While Isabel felt fortunate to live with such luxury around her and absorbed the refinement and  gentility into her nature, the years were passing by and she had a gnawing feeling that there was more to life. While the family was kind to her, and their son, Manolo, was noticeably infatuated with her, once he left for college, she felt it was also time for her to move on.

She had saved up enough money for a one-way ticket by ship to New York and set her plan in motion. Jobs did not come easy then, but with much determination, she found herself reporting to work at the National Biscuit Company a week later. Convinced that her factory job of sorting and packing cookies would be short term, she did so with that same style and grace that she was now becoming known for.

She met Florence on her very first day of work. Both strong-minded and full of dreams, they soon became best friends. Together, they made up for their lack of formal education with their uncanny ability to charm their way in (or out) of any situation. They would pool their money and smile coyly as they greeted the owner of the fabric store and then ask for a discount. Isabel would design the dresses that Florence would sew. Now, they felt confident enough to attend a dance at one of the big New York clubs or take in a movie together. They held hands as they had their hair cut off into a bob, the flapper style that was considered a bit rebellious.

Isabel had originally chosen New York for two reasons: it’s allure and the fact that Manolo was attending college there. It did not take long for him to respond in person to the note, scented with her perfume that she hand-delivered to the school office. They married as soon as he graduated and settled on Long Island, a suburban area of New York City. Hers was a charmed life in a beautiful home with a loving, successful husband.

She remained best friends with Florence her entire life, which is where I come in. Florence was my grandmother and that is how I got to know Titi Isabel (an affectionate term for aunt, in Spanish). Neither my parents nor my grandparents would dare make any decorating or fashion decisions without consulting her first. She was our very own Latin Coco Chanel.

I was used to the fact that my family did not allow sleepovers with minor exceptions; Titi Isabel and Manolo being one of them. As the oldest child in a household with a toddler and an infant, I was delighted to be invited to spend the weekend in such a sophisticated, adult world. Our scrambled eggs were prepared with just a dash of white wine. For lunch, we’d dine on buttered chicken sandwiches served on Pepperidge Farms bread (rather than the big loaf of no-name, sale white bread we’d have at home). Titi Isabel and I would dress together for our outings to New York City “Eres una estrella brillante” she would whisper to me as she’d dab some of her perfume behind my ear.

It was when Titi Isabel died that I was finally able to get my grandmother to divulge the name of her perfume. Just like her past, she wished to keep her scent a secret, hoping it would fade away with time. Likening her choice of fragrance to her elegant nature, my hunt, for the elusive product that now had a name, started at the most prestigious department stores. Bergdorf Goodman, Henri Bendel; my search continued as I told myself that, in this instance, money was no object.

I cannot say that I was disappointed when I paid the cashier at Walgreens for the largest bottle of that perfume that I could find. It seemed a testament to a life well lived, made up of the top and the bottom, the good and the bad, the happy and the sad. One woman’s choices made with an inherent confidence that could elevate nothing into something all because of who she was.

I dab that perfume behind my ears every day with a smile, hoping its bouquet will give me a whiff of who I might become if I let myself unfold just a bit more elegantly and mysteriously.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping the Pro in Procrastination

Photo Procrastination

Usually, nothing changes my morning routine; I jump into my exercise clothes, enjoy a big cup of tea and after some quiet, reflective time, I hit the gym.

On this particular day, I could not get going. Out of the blue, I had an overwhelming urge to check the spice cabinet and make sure that all the spice bottles were still alphabetized properly. When was the last time it was cleaned out? Probably best to take everything out of the cabinet and clean the shelves.

Shoot, I was still in my exercise clothes. Quite a bit more time passed and I now had convinced myself that checking the expiration dates of all of the items in the pantry was very important to the health and welfare of my family. After sharpening all the pencils in the house, checking the weekly grocery sale circular and rearranging the sofa pillows, I finally pushed myself toward the door and started my day.

When it comes down to it, is there really anything wrong with procrastination? As long as the action of postponing or delaying something ultimately results in the task being completed, does it matter if it gets done now or last minute? I am more comfortable guided by to-do lists and immediate action, but some achieve peak efficiency, energy and focus, by using time pressure as a stimulus. It just comes down to a choice of what style we will use in order to get things done.

According to Psychology Today “…Diverting attention away from a task while holding information in working memory allows you to passively work on it until you are motivated by emotions or activated by a deadline to actively engage in the project. An internal solving process that is gradual, continuous and unconscious occurs during this incubation period…”

As a teenager, my job was to clean the bathrooms on Saturdays. I sometimes did so at 10 p.m., rationalizing that as long as it was done by midnight, I was accomplishing the task. I see this as a good example of the incubation process in action, rather than the suggestion of laziness made by my parents.

Come to think of it, if wives and mothers everywhere were made aware of the pros of procrastination, we would have less worldwide consumption of Advil and Tylenol and a more tolerant view of the lag time between the prompting and the actual completion of homework and odd jobs around the house.

 

 

 

 

 

The Lure of the Camino

Photo Lure Camino

Dale! (Spanish for “let’s do it!”). It was one year ago that Mr. Wiz* and I said those words to each other and left Saint Jean Pied de Port, France to hike over the Pyrenees and the 500-mile route to Santiago, Spain.

Since the 11th century, pilgrims have followed the Way of St. James to the Cathedral of Santiago, where his remains are said to be buried. For a time, its popularity waned until the movie The Way was released in 2011. Starring Martin Sheen and written and directed by Emilio Estevez, the father/son team reintroduced the Camino and are greatly responsible for its revival and the over 250,000 people from all over the world that traveled its routes in 2016 by hiking, biking or horseback.

The French route that we traveled is the most popular, but there are many others throughout Europe that all end in Santiago. Tradition dictates that it is “your Camino”; you travel each day as long as you would like, stopping at an albergue (a pilgrim hostel), five-star hotel or anything in between. You need not make the journey all at once, but in order to obtain a Compostela (certificate of completion), you need to have walked at least 100km (200km by bike) to Santiago and have had your Credencial (pilgrim passport) stamped along the way.

Your travels take you through small and large towns, fields, orchards, mountains and the flat plains of the meseta. There is a physical, mental and spiritual component to the journey that seems to be dictated by your location and the terrain. Many have also experienced a mystical aspect, seeing firsthand how “the Camino provides.”

Now, imagine all of this while sharing it with people from all over the world. As you walk each day, wishing each passerby “Buen Camino” (a good walk), can result in everything from a smile to hours of heartfelt conversation. Every 24 hours, relationships are made and lost, as people walk ahead and then catch up to each other (which usually results in lots of hugs and a celebratory glass of wine).

As each day ended, I found myself overcome with emotion, reliving all the details that made that day like no other. A simple gesture, a chance encounter, a small town on such a large world stage; there was such beauty in the incongruity of it all.

One year later, I still feel its effects on me almost daily. I now try to focus on the present, listen more and go with the flow. I have a newfound respect for the uncomplicated aspects of a simpler life. I seem to be more curious, inquisitive and adventurous. Solitude has become as important to me as socializing. Meeting other pilgrims and sharing our common bond has been invigorating.

Who would think that just putting one foot in front of the other would set me off in a new direction and lead me to a new way of life.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page

Lego of Your Yearnings

Photo Lego

Every morning when I wake up, I smile as I glance straight ahead at the piece of furniture that fits exactly on our bedroom wall and stops just short of the light switch. Moving into a new home, I worried that our furniture might not work, but it’s all nestled into its spots as if it were meant to be there all along.

Sometimes, as much as we try, we just can’t make life’s square pegs fit into its round holes. Nevertheless, we persevere, hoping that the power of suggestion alone might change the shape of our destiny. It won’t.

We can see the silhouette of the odd shaped pieces of the aspirations that we keep trying to connect together, but for some reason, we just can’t let them go. The love interest that friends and family say is not right for us, the home that doesn’t fit our needs, the job or lifestyle that is not what we really want; we stubbornly try to squeeze and whittle our desires into a format that is counterproductive to who we are.

I am an advocate of the Lego Theory of Life. Legos are colorful, interlocking plastic bricks that have been around since 1932. The company’s name is an abbreviation of two Danish words, “leg godt,” which means “play well.” Leave it to the Danes to come up with such a simple philosophy: if two blocks do not fit together, try another one.

Think of all the time and energy we could save. Gone would be the agony of frustration. There would be nothing holding us back. So, let’s play! We’d be as happy and content as a child on their first visit to Legoland.

Let’s remind ourselves that there is no point trying to mold the incongruous. And if life doesn’t go right, we’ll just go left.