Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Gratitude Journal

When I was young, gratitude journals used to intimidate me. I thought the only things worthy of being listed were the really big important things - like my health and my family. To list trivial things was to equate them with the big things, and that somehow seemed ungrateful - or so I thought. But listing the same big important things every day got to be boring, so I never kept a gratitude journal for very long.

I'm happy to say that I've acquired a little bit of sense as I've grown older. I've learned not to eschew the small things. G. K. Chesterton said he was grateful for "stars and street faces and wine and the great sea." I decided if Chesterton could be grateful for wine and the faces of strangers on the street, I could learn to appreciate the small things in my daily round.

Now I list in my gratitude journal all the little things that make me glad in a day's time. I'm finding that taking note of what delights me or satisfies me or gives me a sense of accomplishment is an excellent way to get to know myself better. Lately, I've been grateful for sunshine, crisp apples, and Bailey's Irish Cream. Sometimes I'm surprised at what delights me - a fresh clean dish towel or the act of lighting a candle or looking out the window by my desk as the evening fades into night.

Robert Louis Stevenson said, "To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to keep your soul alive." I think he's right.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Listen to Your Mother - Make Your Bed!

In my younger days making the bed in the morning was not a top priority for me - much to my mother's chagrin, I'm sure. She was a regular bed maker. But I felt like other tasks were more important - tasks that will be infinitely harder to do tomorrow if you don't do them today. Dirty dishes and dirty clothes multiply. If you don't take care of them today, there will be a lot more of them tomorrow. If bathrooms don't get a little bit of your attention today, they will be far worse tomorrow.

But the bed - that's another story. If you don't make the bed today, there won't be two of them to make tomorrow. The bed doesn't multiply. And besides that, I used to think, once I leave my bedroom in the morning, I don't go back until night time. It's not like I have to look at an unmade bed all day. This is not to say that I never made the bed, but it was not a regular occurrence.

Back then I was prone to think - how can making the bed be so important when there are kids to be supervised, fed, dressed, and transported to school and all their other activities? Is the bed really that important when there's grocery shopping to be done, bills to be paid, piano students to teach?

This order of priorities continued after the kids were grown and gone. It was working pretty well for me until I stumbled on an internet article that made the subversive suggestion that people who make their beds every morning are generally more successful in life. I was offended! What rubbish! After all, my life has been reasonably successful without the daily ritual of bed making. The very idea that the simple act of making your bed can make you more successful! Honestly, where do people get these ideas? I made up my mind to dismiss this silly bit of nonsense.

But I couldn't just dismiss it. The offending article would pop into my mind often. I started to wonder if it was true. Finally I decided to give it a try and see if making the bed every morning would cause ripples of organization, order, and success in the rest of my life. I found out that it only takes three minutes to make the bed, and I can do it when I'm half asleep - before I've had the first cup of coffee. What ever made me think I didn't have time to make the bed?

After making the bed several days in a row, I found I couldn't tolerate things like a wadded up tissue on my night stand or a pair of socks on the floor. The bed looked so neat, I couldn't stand any untidiness detracting from it. After making the bed, I found myself straightening up the bedroom.

To make a long story short - since I started making the bed, I've cleared out my closet and gone through numerous drawers and cabinets, tidying up and weeding out. I've even managed to recruit Jerry in this effort. With both of us working together, the bedrooms and closets are in pretty good shape. And now we're organizing our books.

Would all of this clearing out and organizing be taking place if I hadn't started making the bed early every morning? Maybe. I've had organizing fits in the past, even as a non-bed-maker. But I have to admit that creating order as soon as my feet hit the floor is an inspiring and exhilarating act. Maybe there's something to the idea that regular bed making creates more success. Just think - if I had started this bed making habit earlier, I might be President.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Resolutions 101

It's January 11th and I'm still revising my list of New Year's resolutions. No point in hastily jotting down a bunch of resolutions and then feeling like a failure when I can't keep them. There are guidelines for everything these days, so I've come up with three guidelines for making resolutions. These things may be obvious to you, Dear Reader, but I’ve had to learn them. Here they are:

1.  Be realistic in the number of resolutions you make. Don't resolve to do more than any human can accomplish in sixteen waking hours.

2. Be realistic in the kind of resolutions you make. If you're afraid to get on an airplane, don't resolve to spend your vacation on the other side of the Atlantic. If you're on a tight budget, don't resolve to have a closet full of designer clothes. You get the idea.

3. Don't resolve to do something if you can't bear the thought of failing at it, because you will fail - sometime, somewhere, under some set of circumstances. Everybody has an inner saboteur who loves to say, "See! You can't do this!" the minute you miss doing doing something you resolved to do. Make up your mind to ignore the inner saboteur. When you fall down, for crying out loud, get up! If you know in your heart that you're going to give up instead of get up the first time you fail at a resolution, then it's not a resolution. It's a wish. You can keep it on your wish list, but don't try to make it a resolution.

Now then - I'm back to the proverbial drawing board to do some whittling on my long list of prospective resolutions. Ah! I do believe I see a thing or two that needs to be moved to the wish list . . .

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

And Winter Came

Another rainy, dreary winter day.  I've been listening to Enya's Christmas album called And Winter Came.  Every one of the twelve songs on this album is priceless.  Some have Enya's familiar other-worldly beauty, but others - like "One Toy Soldier" and "My! My! Time Flies!" are a little more traditional than Enya's usual fare.  "One Toy Soldier" has an engaging tune and a steady martial beat - good music for getting things done.

There are five more Christmas cards on my desk to be answered.  I didn't send Christmas cards this year.  What can I say?  It was a "fly by the seat of your pants" Christmas, and there just wasn't time for the usual card sending.  But we did receive a few cards that I want to acknowledge, so I'm answering one a day.

The book of Christmas piano music that I ordered last week came in today - not that I didn't already have Christmas piano music, but these are new arrangements.  I'm looking forward to playing all my Christmas favorites - something I never have time to do before Christmas.

I took the Christmas wreaths off the front and side doors today.  Why did I do this in light of the fact that I've decided to keep all the indoor Christmas decorations until Valentine's Day?    Is it that I don't want to advertise my Christmas eccentricity to the world?  Maybe I did it out of kindness to those who say they don't like Christmas and are always glad when it's over.  Anyway - the wreaths are packed and ready to go in the attic until next Christmas.

Tuesday is house cleaning day around here.  I just finished mopping the kitchen and living room floors.  I hate mopping - and not because it makes my back ache.  I hate it because no matter how meticulous you are about sweeping and/or vacuuming, when you begin to mop you'll encounter little bits of debris that you missed.  There are tiny unidentifiable bits of "stuff" in addition to the occasional piece of hay that made its way in from the barn.  There is always a little more vacuuming to do after the floor dries.

We couldn't watch the opening episode of the third season of Downton Abbey on Sunday night, so we recorded it and watched it last night.  It felt like a visit with long lost relatives.  I got attached to all these Downton characters during the last two seasons.  At one point in this opening episode, Robert Crawley (Lord Grantham) said he felt like a wild animal whose habitat is being encroached upon.  I know what he means.  Sometimes the culture that surrounds you changes so fast that it's impossible to change along with it.   We give in to the new cultural changes when we must or when we honestly think they are changes for the better.  But who can happily give in to changes that do violence to what you hold dear?  As some wise person once said, "I can only go so far on the fashion train."

Sunday, January 6, 2013

It's Christmas Until Valentine's

Winter is here.  Seriously.  I'm not kidding.  It's bleak right here in southern Louisiana.  It's cold, rainy, and sunless.  All the sugar cane has been harvested, and the fields are brown and bare.  The pasture is a muddy mess with very little green grass.  The horses have the winter blues.  Don't ask me how I know.  I can just tell.
The dismal weather and the long winter nights are good reasons to keep Christmas a little bit longer.  When it's dark at 5:30 p.m., I enjoy all the little white lights on the Christmas tree.  I like seeing the tiny lights around the nativity scene in the dining room. I like the lights with the Santas in my kitchen window, and the ones draped around the Magi on the mantle.  All this cheers me up during the long, dark evenings.
I'm still listening to Christmas music, too.  The weeks leading up to Christmas are so busy, it's hard to find time to fully appreciate the music.  Now that all the preparations are past and it's quiet, I can listen to the music instead of just hearing it as background noise.
So --- Christmas is staying at Bywater Farm until Valentine's Day - on purpose, not just because I'm too lazy to pick it all up.  The Inn at Christmas Place in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, keeps Christmas all year, so I can surely keep it until Valentine's.  I'm not even going to apologize or explain.  When people stop by and say, "Oh, your tree is still up!" I plan to smile and say, "Yes, it is!"

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Happy New Year to All!

Have you made your New Year's Resolutions?  I've made mine - sort of.  I am so good at making resolutions!  I can make resolutions enough for myself and a dozen other people.  I can make resolutions enough to require forty-eight hour days to fulfill them. 
I've finally figured out - when it comes to resolutions - I'm my own worst enemy.  I habitually over resolve which leads to under performance.  I set myself up for failure, or at the very least, a low success rate.  My success rate in recent years has averaged - I'll venture a guess - about ten per cent. 
I'm changing tactics this year.  I've made a long list of prospective resolutions.  The next step is to eliminate ninety per cent of these.  We'll see if I can actually succeed with what's left.  Even if I only accomplish ten per cent of the ten per cent that makes the cut, I'll be doing as well as I've done in the past.