I have known for a while that I am the kind of person that navigates life by scanning the horizon.
I have a friend that finds lots of money because she tends to look down as she goes through her day. But, she hits her head on things a lot.
Personal habits are infinitely interesting to me, and sometimes even our best habits can throw us for a loop.
Case in point: I left my house a few days ago, my arms loaded with various items to survive the day. As I stepped off the porch to turn left toward my car, I thought, “Why is there a branch in the driveway? Did it storm?” Thankfully my reptile brain took over long before I completed those thoughts, and I made a less than elegant ninja move leaping six feet into mid-air from the sidewalk to the front of my car.
Nope, not a branch.
Yep, a 2-foot-long copperhead lounged in the morning sun on my driveway between the porch and my car. Needless to say, I do a lot more looking down these days.
Habits, personal quirks, and how we shake those up is really fascinating.
For example, organizing and minimalism are very trendy right now. Being organized is valued, using less, wanting less, having less are all BIG GOALS in the “I’m ok” department.
A great deal of the “less is more” mentality is a direct result of the economic downturn, and frankly, I hope the lessons learned from the Great Recession stick around longer than the two generations it took us to forget the lessons of the Great Depression.
I think about these lessons especially when I open my refrigerator. Most of the time it is very organized and clean in there. I do cook often, I feed a lot of people, and the turn over is pretty quick in the chill box.
Sometimes I still lose something, which is what prompted the Chicken and Olives recipe from a few posts back. I bought olives and had olives. Silly. I had a shopping list: half and half, butter, cheese, and mushrooms. But I bought olives on impulse because they looked good. When I removed the big pot of cooled chicken stock to make room for the incoming groceries, I saw the container of olives in the back. Half full.
We all have food going to waste. No matter how diligent and organized, eventually something will escape attention and end up out-of-date or moldy and scary.
For the most part, I have my kitchen under control. I have had a few decades to get better about being organized, yet I still feel overwhelmed by the clutter and piles that are a part of who I am in this life. I move things into piles and shift them around. And I can find something in an instant because I know what is in those piles. I move something to the left so I have a clear space to the right. I wonder sometimes if I put off major cleaning projects just so I can lie down at night all satisfied with my SUPER CLEAN HOUSE. I suppose that the immense satisfaction I feel at the end of a long hard day of cleaning and organizing is a bit of a drug. I am also at a point in my “age and wisdom” cycle to recognize that the general organization of my living environment is a direct reflection of my outlook and stress levels.
I have written before about how the difference in attitude for a task is perceived. Did you catch the comment section on the Chocolate Truffle Cake? Remember the kid on the counter and the dancing and singing in the kitchen? Said toddler is now a culinary graduate and working at a farm to table restaurant.
Positive Attitude=Very Happy Outcome.
Why I bring up attitude again is this: For years, the task I dreaded the most was unloading the dishwasher. In my formative years, it was the most required and least desired chore. As an adult, I have not always had an automatic dishwasher in my various kitchens, but washing dishes AND PUTTING THEM AWAY was beyond my general patience and tolerance. I don’t know why this particular chore was such a mountain to climb, but it was.
So about 10 years ago, I set a timer to see how long it really took me to unload a full dishwasher.
Tick, tick, tick.
My god, the glasses, the spatulas, the plates, for pity sakes all the plates!
Tick, tick, tick.
Coffee cups. Who uses so many coffee cups?
And the silverware. Gah!
I felt like my life was draining away in the hours of wasted time unloading that dishwasher. And when I finally finished, all sweaty, hair disheveled, golden opportunities lost in time, I looked at the timer.
Swear to god.
3 freaking minutes.
That was the moment. I really started to think about theory vs. practice especially where my stress management was concerned. How many hours of my life had been wasted putting off something I disliked when in fact just doing it would have cleared my headspace for other more interesting and fun things to do?
Maybe you don’t have that nagging harpy at the back of your brain that catalogs every last single detail of the to-do list when your eyes open in the morning, but I sure do. So that day when I really grasped the situation of putting off a task versus three minutes to get on with my life, it was an epiphany.
(Yes, Mom, you were right!)
My next thought process? What else in my life took three minutes? Then I realized… boiling the water to make coffee!
Multi–tasking the task was a reality.
Now I unload the dishwasher first thing in the morning (if I remembered to start it before bed) while I am waiting for the water to boil so I can make coffee so I can actually function.
Guess what? I hardly ever remember unloading the dishwasher.
#1: I’m not really awake.
#2: It takes 3 minutes.
#3: All I’m thinking about is coffee.
And wow, isn’t that something? Zen in unloading a dishwasher.
So what else have I managed to conquer on my dreaded task list in the past 10 years? Top answer?
No matter how tired or how rough the day, cook a meal.
The act of standing still to chop an onion, slice some vegetables, make a meal…. It is Zen for me.
I can multi-task all the physical movements of making a meal and quiet my brain by sorting through my day, my encounters, my successes, and my failures. It is a methodical cataloging of all my stressful details using a task that brings me back to a steady pace and a thoughtful balance.
In the beginning, it was a commitment to give up fast food even when I was hungry and tired. Then it was an exercise in discipline. Then it became a form of meditation. Now, it is the balance I need to sort through my mental task list so that the harpy at the back of my brain can get a good night of sleep.
A few weeks ago, I read an incredible and concise article by Alison Hodgson called “ Three Magic Words for a Clean Home and a Better Life.”
Her admonishment of “How About Now?” really struck a chord with me. I always have a to-do list that covers three feet of butcher paper on my wall upstairs. It has short-term and long-term tasks written in Sharpie marker.
I walked upstairs after I read her article and really looked at my task list and stopped thinking and started doing. The next thing I knew, I had a donation pile, the kitchen was clean, I had managed to straighten out the corner behind the front door, and I marked several items off that list.
How About Now indeed? That article can be found here.
I’m not saying just doing a few tasks magically turns your life around. I’m just saying whether by the shock of the moment or the Ah Ha of the moment, you have the chance to try living your life a little bit differently. Admiring a friend for all their amazing organization skills does not make you more organized. Taking action and being just plain motivated to take three minutes to do the things you despise actually GETS IT DONE. For some things I choose to stop wasting time with wishing and just do it.
So about that making dinner every night commitment? I challenge each of you to make at least one meal per day this week.
No drive through, no frozen dinners.
I know you are protesting. You are busy, the kids are impatient, you don’t have time to shop. Change is hard. If your stance is negative about the very things that matter most in taking care of yourself and your loved ones then go stand in front of a mirror and just look at yourself. Check your attitude. Find a way to make all those excuses into I can and I will. Take three minutes and change your outlook in life to How About Now.
And maybe, just maybe find some Zen.
As for that whole looking up to the horizon line vs. looking down issue? I can tell you I now look down at my driveway everyday! However, I sport a constant bruise on my shin where I run into the dishwasher door all of the time. I have an excuse for that bruise… I’m not really awake!
- Any vegetables that you have:
- Olive oil
- Salt and Pepper
- Seriously. Make some eggs.
- Heat sauté pan over high heat then add 1 tsp olive oil and 1 tsp butter . Lower heat to medium and add some chopped onion and stir.
- Add sliced mushrooms and any other veggies and sprinkle with a little salt. Cook until soft and juices have evaporated. Remove to a plate and wipe out sauté pan.
- Break three eggs per person into a bowl. Add olive oil and butter to sauté pan again over medium heat. Beat eggs with a fork and add to pan when the butter is melted and sizzling. Do not stir or scrape the eggs right away. Turn off burner.
- Gently scrape eggs from edges of pan to center with a spatula and tilt the pan to allow the remaining uncooked eggs to fill in the spaces to continue cooking. Gently turn the eggs over and allow the residual heat of the pan to just set the eggs. This is a nice soft scramble. If you like your eggs hard cooked then leave the heat on under the pan for the entire time you are cooking the eggs.
- Serve the eggs on a plate topped with the veggies and add a bit of shredded cheese if you prefer.
- Dinner in 10 minutes. Not the most elegant or involved but guaranteed to fill you up and allow you to scratch the "make myself a meal" item off your to-do list.