Today I sat down to enjoy a cup of tea and take a little break between morning chores. The earth around me lay dormant, though somethings were starting to wake up for their yearly growth spurt. A pair of mourning doves landed on a sleeping maple to take a little rest. My cats stretched out lazily at my feet. It was a moment of quiet content broken only by my slowly and quietly getting my camera to capture a few images of the birds before slipping back into the moment of rest.
I wonder why it is so hard for me to take a rest. Rest is as natural as breathing. It is essential for health and wellbeing. I know this. I am my best self when I observe a day of rest, take times of rest throughout the day. I am not less productive when I do it. I am more productive, especially in terms of quality. Yet I more often than not run around like a hamster on its wheel wearing itself out while getting no where.
We have a culture that is driven by efficiency. I believe that efficiency is a good thing. So is water, but I don’t want to drown. Are we drowning in efficiency today? Would our efficiency produce more of quality and less garbage if we allowed ourselves more dormant time—time to watch a pair of mourning doves preen on branch, time to rejoice and give thanks for the shear wonder of our existence?
Today I want to continue talking about time management tools. Different people have different relationships with time. Time management comes more naturally to some of us. Some of us are going to thrive with a schedule, while others will find following a schedule too limiting. But all of us need to come to grips with our relationship with time. Here are some tools I’ve found helpful.
Have the Right Attitude Towards Time
The most useful time management tool I have ever used is a simple attitude adjustment. When I realize that I am the one who chooses what I do with my time, everything changes.
Too often I feel at the mercy of time: It passes too quickly. There are so many obligations that I have. I have to go to work. I have to write a blog post on a certain day. I have to make supper. I don’t always feel like I have a choice about what I am doing. Somehow life planned my day out for me, and there is nothing I can do but respond.
When I am feeling overwhelmed, I find it useful to remind myself that even my obligations are things that I have chosen. I choose to go to work because I want to be able to pay my bills. I choose to write a blog and post consistently because I have ideas that I want to share with the world. Of course, I need to eat to live, but when and what is my choice and I often make it more complicated than I need to.
Switching around how I think about these things helps me feel empowered to face them. I’m no longer at the mercy of time and a thousand obligations. I am an artist painting my life in the medium of time and obligations. Time has its limitations like any medium, but just as the limitations of oils gives character to the oil painting, the time in which we find ourselves gives character to our lives.
Creating a Schedule
I like making schedules. I don’t always have them, but life seems to go better when I do.
Scheduling works best for me when I jot things down on a piece of paper rather than when I go out and buy a fancy planner. I’m not sure if that is just because I haven’t found a planner I like, or if there is something liberating about writing things down on a scrap. Does it give a sense of order with a sense of flexibility built in? If buying a planner works best for you, go for it. But if you are new to scheduling, don’t wait till you buy a planner. Try it first on a scrap of paper and see if you take to it before you spend money on a planner.
The beauty of a schedule is that it helps me figure out how I can accomplish everything I want to accomplish. It also helps me be realistic. I might want to get 30 things done in a day but only have time for 10. A schedule gives me a visual image on how impossible my ideas are. It helps me adjust my expectations so that I am not constantly feeling inadequate. It encourages me to prioritize and to phase out or defer the things that aren’t as important to me.
Write Down What You Actually Do
In addition to making aschedule ahead of time, it can also be helpful to write down what you actually do. I usually do this on the same paper that I used to make the schedule. I find this at least as useful as having a plan to begin with. It helps me identify time drains. Say I had yard work scheduled but first I wanted to watch a YouTube video about organic weed control. One hour later I realize that I am watching habanero eating contests on YouTube and no yard work has been done and haven’t even watched any weed control videos. Writing it down helps me become more aware of my time drain quirks.
The reverse of that is that writing down what you do also helps you see when you are using your time productively. Some days we get a lot done, but maybe it isn’t what we set out to do. If I go out to do yard work but suddenly feel inspired to write a blog post, making the note on the schedule gives me a sense of accomplishment. It also lets me see how I might fit the yard work into another time slot.
Do It Now
We’ve all heard the adage: “Never put off till tomorrow that which you can do today.” I don’t think that is always good advice, but it has enough wisdom to be useful. Some projects are just going to get larger and larger as you put them off. Some opportunities will be missed if you don’t act immediately. Sometimes waiting to do something only prolongs the agony. You know you have to do that dreaded thing. You put it off because you don’t want to, but the dread hangs over you the whole time. It would be better if you just did it.
Bribe Yourself with a Promise of Free Time
All work and no play make Mary a dull girl. I believe we all need leisure to be our best selves.
One technique I use is to promise myself 15 minutes of leisure to every ____ minutes working on a project. The amount of time on the project depends on the day and the project. Sometimes I go 15 and 15. Other times I go 45 and 15. I wrote the draft of this blog taking a 15-minute break after 15 minutes of cleaning, then 15 minutes of writing.
Choosing the Right Tool for the Job
No single time management tool is going to fit your needs all the time. I started this post on a free day using the promise of a 15-minute break to get myself to write when I didn’t fel like it. I’m finishing it in Do It Now mode because it’s Thursday, and I am choosing to follow my plan of posting on Thursday. Mastering a time management tool does not mean that you will be bound by that tool in the future. It means that you now have another tool that you can pick up and put down at will.
What Works Best for You
What works well for me might not be the best for you. I don’t function well when I am constantly in Do It Now mode. I function best with a general plan. Other people do well in Do It Now mode. If that is how you operate best, fantastic! Just make sure that you aren’t so much in the habit of responding to things as they arise, that you never make time to reflect on what it is you truly want to accomplish in life. Make sure you are giving yourself time to accomplish them.
What works best for you? Do you have favorite time management technique? Is there something that you haven’t tried yet that might make your life run more smoothly?
Growing up poor, I learned that my worth comes from something other than economic status.
Sunday morning I awoke to a world encased in crystal and covered in diamonds. It brought me back to a favorite childhood memory.
One evening I decided to venture out sledding by the light of the full moon. I don’t remember much of the sledding. I remember standing on top of a hill looking out over a glittering valley. I was no longer a bumpkin in patched jeans: I was a princess covered in diamonds.
We were richer than kings, my Dad used to say. I rarely felt that way in my out of style, worn out clothing. And we could never afford a saddle for my pony. Funny that it never occurred to me how blessed I was to have a pony in the first place. This moonlit sledding venture was, perhaps, the first time I truly understood what Dad meant.
It’s also funny how I let the fact of being out of style influence my sense of self-worth. I never cared that much about the fashion industry. My own tastes gravitate to folk art. (I was fusion before fusion was cool.) Yet I was painfully aware that I was somehow different. (That’s what happens in high school when you listen to Russian opera instead of pop music.) I always felt like the odd one, like someone in the wrong place and time.
Now when I look back, I see that wasn’t such a bad thing. I learned that my worth comes from something other than economic status. I learned to exist and think independently. I learned to make my own sense of style and develop my own sense of beauty. I feel no need to buy the latest fashion, listen to the latest sound… Perhaps that makes me irrelevant in the eyes of some people. That fact is still somewhat painful to me, though less so than it was when I was young. The opinion of those people, even if it stings a little, is ultimately irrelevant to me.
I learned to see diamonds in the snow. I’d rather have that gift than all the jewels in the world. I’d rather have that gift than to be considered relevant by people who don’t understand where real wealth lies.
When I began my blog, I planned to post twice a week, with more theoretical philosophy of life type posts on Tuesday and practical, hands-on posts on Thursday. I knew that I would be posting about time management occasionally. It’s a challenge we all face, and I consider it one of my areas of expertise. The problem is: Does it belong on Tuesdays because time is a theoretical concept, or does it belong on Thursdays because, although not hand on, it is certainly practical.
Practicalities forced me to post about time on Thursday this week. Practicalities also forced me to drop the idea of posting twice a week. I started a new job, so I less time that I can write. Every other week I will post a practical idea on Thursday; the other weeks I will post a reflection on life on Tuesday.
Today I want to talk about a little technique I use to break up overwhelming jobs into bite sized chunks, avoid wasting precious time, and make sure that certain tasks get a little attention every day. I call it the five-minute challenge.
I came up with the idea when faced with a very messy kitchen. It was so bad I didn’t know where to start. I decided to set a timer for five minutes and challenge myself to clean one section of the kitchen in that time. When that was finished, I moved on to the next section.
I discovered that the challenge gave me motivation to keep moving. Racing the timer gives a little adrenaline. I also found that I have an easier time facing five minutes of an unpleasant task than I do an unspecified amount of time, even if I know I am going to have to set the timer a few times to finish the task.
And it’s useful for other things too. There are those in between times like when you need to leave the house in 8 minutes. It’s not enough time to take on a project, but there’s usually something that could be done. If you wash 5 minutes worth of dishes now, that’s five more minutes you have to tack onto a project later. And the timer helps you keep from being late.
Then there are those everyday tasks like keeping your house clean. It’s good to keep somewhat on top of them, but you don’t need to do a thorough housecleaning every day. I use a daily five-minute challenge or two to keep on top of things like that.
What can you accomplish in five minutes? I’m going to see if I can do those breakfast dishes before I have to run out of the door.
One of the best ways I have found to train myself to observe nature is to make a chronical of what I see through writing, photograph, and art. Winter is a good time to practice on houseplants, pets, and whatever you see out of your window. You may gravitate more to writing or visual arts. The nice thing about writing is you can use it to develop your all your senses. I gravitate to writing but enjoy visual arts as well.
I did a study of an orchid through writing, photography, and watercolor. I will use it as an example of how I observe nature through art.
Write about it.
Your writing can be practical or creative. A garden or nature journal is a good way to keep a record of what is or isn’t working for you. A poem is a good way to observe the color, form, and the emotions evoked.
If you go for creative writing, don’t get hung up on form. You don’t have to turn it in to your English teacher. I invite you to post what you write in the comments, but I promise I won’t grade it unless you ask me to.
What are some descriptive words you can use? Can you think of a metaphor? What are some poetic devices you can use?
Here is my orchid poem:
Winged flower flying Glides over green On slender stalk.
Roots reaching: Skyward, Downward
Dance of delight.
My poem doesn’t follow any set structure. I made use of alliteration, metaphor, parallel structure of opposites, and short staccato lines. I didn’t try to fit it into any poetic mold, other than I wanted the lines short. The point was the orchid, not the poem.
You might not have a camera, but you probably have a phone. Most phones today have good cameras. I developed a love of photography playing with the camera on my phone. I have an expensive camera now, but my phone started me on that path.
Pick a subject for your study or just go outside and look for interesting subjects. If your subject is a houseplant, take pictures in different light and with different backgrounds. Arrange it with other objects. (If your subject is a cat, watch for the way it arranges itself with other objects.) Try different angles. Lie on the floor. Set the plant on the floor. Try different things till you come up with something you really like.
Don’t worry if most of your pictures aren’t that great. I took 34 pictures of the orchid and only liked about 5. The point was the orchid, not the photography.
Draw It or Paint It
I had an amazing art teacher in high school who taught us, among other things, that if you can see, you can draw. The biggest part of learning how to draw is learning how to see. And I believe she was correct. Seeing teaches you to draw and drawing teaches you to see. When you practice drawing you will be better both at the seeing and the drawing.
One way to warm yourself up to really seeing an object is to do a blind contour drawing. Look at the object and draw the outline without looking at your paper. Seriously. No peeking allowed. Don’t expect a masterpiece, but you might be pleasantly surprised. I often find the results strangely appealing. The best thing about the exercise is it gets you to focus on seeing rather than on producing a product.
Now choose a medium and create your work of art. Water color is my favorite medium, so that’s what I did. If you don’t hoard art supplies like I do, just use what you have. Use a pen and printer paper if that’s all you have. Just enjoy.
Pick and activity. Give yourself at least 15 minutes to observe and create.
One of the main reasons I wanted to start a blog was to encourage other people to explore and develop their own creativity as I explore and develop mine. Everyone is gifted in a unique way. We often know what some of our gifts are but not others. I believe we all have hidden talents. I believe that we get funny ideas about what we can and can’t do that just don’t match reality. If you tell yourself you can’t paint, you won’t paint. You probably aren’t good at painting because you never gave yourself permission to try. If you don’t like painting, fine. But if you ever had the thought, “I wish I could paint like that!” Give it a try. Take a class. Watch YouTube videos. Your first paintings might disappoint you, but if you enjoy it, keep trying. You will get better with practice. But even if you get very good, you might never “paint like that.” You have your kind of creative genius; it never will be the next guy’s creative genius.
How do you find and develop yours? It is important to give yourself space to develop, nurture the things you genuinely enjoy, and learn when to let go of activities.
Give yourself room to develop.
I find that I sabotage my own creativity in two ways. I don’t give myself time to develop, or I don’t give myself mental permission to develop.
There is never enough time to do everything. There is always something to do. Right now my house is a mess. I could convince myself that the most important thing for me to do right now is take out the compost, clean the bathroom, and clear the jumble of clothing off my bedroom floor. I could easily convince myself I really shouldn’t be writing right now. In order to make time to write, the other things have to wait. It takes a conscious effort to give myself permission to write.
The other way we don’t give ourselves permission to be creative is that we get it in our heads that creativity is some rare gift that only a few people have. Maybe you were told you’d never be good at something, or maybe you just decided that on your own. Maybe you really won’t ever be great at something. If you enjoy it, why not develop it anyway?
Where do you thrive?
Some people enjoy one thing and specialize in that one thing. Maybe it’s music. Maybe it’s painting. Maybe they enjoy both but specialize in one and dabble in the other. That’s great. These folks enrich the world with their mastery.
Then there are the all-purpose creative people. I’m in that category. Name something creative, and I’ve probably tried or thought about trying it for at least 10 seconds. And I get pretty good at things. I’ve developed all five senses through conscious observation and practical exercise. I am an observer before I am a creator. I am fairly good at a lot of things but haven’t specialized enough to be truly great. And that’s great. People like me enrich the world by singing in church and community choirs, bringing tasty meals to potlucks, knitting people sweaters, and creating eclectic blogs.
Then there are people whose talent is for things not generally considered creative. Maybe home organizing is your true art. Then there is city planning, engineering, coding, running a department store… These are arts. They are necessary. And they really are creative. Sewer systems are not glamorous, but the lack of them is even less so. Aren’t you glad someone thought of them and figured out how to bring them to the world? If that’s your form of creative genius, you are fantastic!
Learn how to let go of the things that aren’t right for you.
You can’t do everything. I’m still trying to learn this. I genuinely enjoy trying different things, so it can be hard for me to let go. In some ways, the Internet made it easier for me to give some things up. I’m constantly bombarded with ads for crafts, and Pinterest has more ideas for me every day. It’s overwhelming. My sanity requires me to say, “This is fun to look at, but I’m never going to do it.” Then there are the things that I enjoyed in the past that I never get around to anymore. These are harder to let go of. But there just isn’t time for everything. Life has different seasons. I find the greatest happiness in living in harmony with the season of today.
You won’t enjoy everything. I don’t like quilting; it’s easy for me to let go of. I never got into scrapbooking either, but I tried to talk myself into it because someone gave me a handmade book that was for scrapbooking. It took me years to say, “I’m never going to do this.” I used the book for a sketch book instead. Don’t let other people’s ideas of what you might like or how you should use your talents make you feel like you should be doing something that just isn’t right for you. You are the steward of your own talents.
What is your kind of creative genius?
I’m always going to challenge you to do something at the end of each blogpost. And I do really hope you will try some of the things I recommend. But I’d rather inspire you to find your creative niche than to have you follow my footsteps. If I suggest drawing, and you take up botanical embroidery instead, fantastic!
Your task for today is to think about where your creative genius lies. Do you fit in one of the three categories I mentioned? Do you feel it lies in an area that I didn’t mention? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Is there something you’d like to try or try again? Find a way to make it happen. I’d like to hear about that in the comments too.
I was planning on posting about flower arrangements, fresh and dried, when my angel wing begonia and my hellebore burst into bloom. That got me thinking about all the ways I enjoy flowers in winter: bouquets, house plants, and hellebore.
I tend to think of winter as the season for dried bouquets. I plan my winter bouquets in fall. I’ve been learning by trial and error which flowers will still be beautiful through the winter and even into the next year if you hang them upside down. It’s too late for that now, but it’s not too late to go out and scavenge for dried seed pods.
The only other option here in the North is to buy flowers. I don’t often indulge in purchasing fresh flowers, but I do enjoy them on occasion. I can get them at a reasonable price at the grocery store.
I’ve never had any classes on flower arranging. I developed an eye for it over time. Until recently I never cared much for my arrangements, but the nice thing about flowers is they are always going to be pretty. They are a good way to develop your artistic sense.
Here are some good things to keep in mind when arranging:
Choose a vase that complements the flowers. A tall bouquet looks good in a tall vase. A full bouquet looks good in a rounded vase.
Be conservative about how much stem you cut off. You can always take more off, but you can’t put any back on.
Go for balance in the overall shape. Having a tall flower or seed pod add a dramatic effect, but the shape of the rest of the bouquet should parallel or complement the tall form. A tall flower sticking out of an otherwise round bouquet will look out of place.
I used to kill houseplants, but I recently did a little stint of living in town. The apartment was bright and sunny, and several people gave me plants. There were gorgeous hibiscus. Unfortunately, these got a whitefly infestation that I never managed to control, and they died. But the orchid and angel wing begonia flourished.
There are plenty of beautiful houseplants available. Why not give them a try? Just because you didn’t do well with them in the past doesn’t mean you won’t in the future. Or maybe you didn’t have the right variety for your conditions. Some plants are easier to careful than others. I find begonias easy. Orchids need indirect light and need to have air get to their roots. They are sometimes said to be difficult to care for, but I didn’t find them difficult. You just have to be careful not to over water them.
The big things to remember with houseplants are: don’t tell yourself you will kill it, pick a plant you like and that will do well in your lighting conditions, and water at the recommended frequency.
As far as I know, these are the only plants you will find blooming in January and February in my part of the world. You can plant them in the shade. They make a beautiful evergreen ground cover. They require very little care, and they bloom in winter or very early spring. What more can you ask for?
I encourage you to try houseplants or flower arranging even if you think you can’t. But don’t stress yourself out over it. That would defeat the purpose. Enjoy the winter flowers even if you do nothing more than look at ones in the store.
Today I invite you to drink deeply of the golden silence of winter. Think of a snowy night when the traffic is minimal, and folks are at home where it’s warm. Snow muffles what little sound there is. The silence invites you. Step outside and breath in the cold, quiet air. Let your self be revived if only for a moment.
Maybe your conditions are not as I described them. Maybe your winter is gray and rainy. Maybe you are reading this as you procrastinate from a task with a looming deadline, sirens are going down the street, and your teenager is blasting the kind of music you hate. Never mind all that. If you procrastinate a few more minutes, it isn’t going to make much difference. You might even find yourself revived enough to finish the task at hand. Your teenager won’t die if you ask them to turn down the volume. (They might think they are dying and act like they are dying, but it won’t actually be fatal. Maybe they need an invitation into reviving silence too.)
One way or another, step away from the noise even if you can only do it in your mind.
Speaking of your mind—when you step into silence, your mind can sometimes become very noisy. A thousand thoughts may crowd into your head. Stepping into silence, ironically can be like stepping into a noisy party in your head. A few dozen thoughts can suddenly start trying to talk over the background music. We never heard them when our attention was turned outward, but now they see their opportunity to get our attention, and they all start to yell.
Ask them to be still for a moment. It is important to try to keep them at bay and give silence its place. Like whitespace on a page that makes it possible to read the written word, silence is the background that makes our thoughts intelligible. The silence will let them be heard when the time is right, but that is a subject for another day. Today we are making space for the silence.
Silence is like the winter rain and snow that refresh the earth so that life can spring up again when the season changes. If the plants spring up too soon, they are killed or set back by the frost. Let yourself be refreshed by the silence before you let your thoughts spring up.
When the winter rains and snows come, don’t curse them. Bless them: They are inviting you into blessed, refreshing silence.
Parsnips are one of my favorite vegetables. They are easy to grow and easy to store. And I think they are delicious.
Direct sow the seeds in spring. You can plant them early because they are cold-hardy, but I find they germinate better when the soil is warm. I plant them around the time of the first frost free date. Because they are slow to germinate and grow, I sometimes plants radishes or turnips along with them to mark the row. The turnips and radishes will be harvested long before the parsnips are full sized.
Parsnips are best harvested after a frost or freeze. You can leave them in the ground until you are ready to eat them. Dig them out all winter as long as the ground isn’t frozen solid. I usually dig a few out in the fall to place in storage; either a cellar or a refrigerator will do. They remain good in the ground throughout winter, but we can’t always count on a thaw in winter where I live. Dig whatever is left first thing in spring. They go to seed the second year and aren’t good after they start growing again.
If you haven’t had parsnips before, give them a try. They are available in most grocery stores. Add them to soups and stews. They give a nice fragrant flavor to the soup. You can also parboil them for a few minutes and saute them in butter. My favorite way to enjoy parsnips is to oven roast them alone or with other vegetables.
Oven Roasted Winter Vegetables
Peel and chop any combination of winter root vegetables, such as parsnips, potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, and beets.
Pre-heat your oven to 400.
Place your vegetables in a roasting pan. Coat with olive oil or melted butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste. You may also add herbs to taste. Thyme, rosemary, and garlic are good choices.
Bake until vegetables are tender and beginning to brown. This usually takes about an hour. Parsnips and carrots take a little longer than onions and potatoes. I usually put them in the oven to get a head start while I’m chopping the onions and potatoes. If I’m including Brussel spouts, I add them after the the other vegetables have cooked about 15 minutes.
This is a very forgiving recipe. I’ve roasted at a lower temperature when I had other things in the oven. Adjust the cooking time if roasting at a different temperature.
Feel free to be adventurous with ingredients. I even threw in apples the last time I made it. The apples cooked about 20 minutes; I added them at the end.