March 7, 2014

The Chaos Factor

Balancing Act-- How do we sort out the chaos and get the important stuff done?

Can you wrap your mind around the fact that we are already two months into the New Year? Well, if you can, I envy you. I am certain that if I take the time to catch my breath and look back, I will see that my list of accomplishments for the present year is longer than I think just now. But, of course, it is nowhere near what I would like it to be. As always, I have lofty ambitions, but neither time nor the energy to get to most of them. When the pull in so many directions is so strong, how does one go about choosing, about prioritizing, from among all the options? Some of these options are most attractive, quite alluring in fact, but many of them are more fundamental, the sundry chores and tasks that life seems to endlessly require.

Alice in Wonderland Birthday Invitation
My house, quite tidy after the divestiture of Holiday finery, is in sore need of some more heavy duty cleaning again. Since we hosted a joint birthday party for my two youngest granddaughters on the twenty-second of February, I gave it that old once over right before. It was swept, vacuumed and dusted. I did not mop, and that was just as well, as the day dawned overcast and drizzly, and what wasn't spilled on the floor was tracked in. My little granddaughters, though five years apart in age, have birthdays that fall within three weeks of one another in February and March. I wanted to give them a party, and loving each other as they do, a shared celebration seemed perfect. As usual, scheduling anything with this family's diverse and wacky work schedules is near impossible.

I split the difference between the two birthdays, satisfied that most of my children and grandchildren could make it. Though there were a couple of absentees sorely missed, and the weather was only partially cooperative, it was quite enjoyable. I had paper lanterns, outdoor decorations, a new croquet set and a pinata. My plans were for an outdoor centered party, taking advantage of the mild, late winter weather here in Florida. While the light rain did stop in time for the actual party, and we did hang the pinata, most of the festivities were indoors. The best laid plans...
Go Ask Alice! Party!

Though I lost what little organizational steam I had when the weather betrayed me, it all went quite well. Our two little Alice's, complete with blue tulle tu-tus, ran and romped in the yard, had lots of food, candy and cake, beat the poor pinata into a heap of lavender and pink scrap, and got loads of presents. I always mean to take more pictures of these events, but seem to get lost in being the hostess. I have included a picture of my checkerboard cake which almost came out right. Whatever it lacked in aesthetic perfection it made up for by being quite delicious.

Though I often do "from scratch" cakes, this one was two cake mixes, white and chocolate fudge, baked in my checkerboard pan (this is only my second attempt, and I am getting better). I iced it with butter-cream and home made marshmallow fondant decorations.  There are several very good versions of butter-cream frosting out there, and I have used a number of variations over the years. I often go back to the basics though— butter, confectioner's sugar, a dash of vanilla and enough milk to get to the desired consistency. I do not measure, so I can not really pass on the precise recipe. It all depends on how much I need (whether it is a sheet, 2 or 3 layer cake, etc.). I have recently tried browned butter frosting, and if you are looking for something spectacularly rich for a dense cake, it is well worth the effort. You can find the links to all sorts of wonderful recipes for cakes, icings, fondant  and frosting on my Pinterest Cake Board.

Once again I have digressed somewhat. Chaos indeed. It is my normal state these days.  I am not, at present, an organized housekeeper. I tend to be hit and miss, doing a chore here and a chore there rather than applying myself and getting the job done. I freely admit to being one of those people who can get side-tracked in a tunnel. I start on one thing, only to notice something else and forget, or have to go back and finish what I first started with. This was not always the case, though my following admission was and is. Once I get going on something, I am something of a perfectionist. I can not easily tolerate jobs done shoddily or without an eye to detail. What might be a good trait in some instances becomes a character flaw in my case. While I often can delegate chores, have them done by another family member, somewhere in my secret heart I believe that I am the only one who can "do it right". The fact that I know about this failing and acknowledge it in a mostly open fashion should be a good thing. And I am working on it! It seems to be a stubbornly (Extreme stubbornness is another personality quirk I am not always proud of.)  ingrained trait though, and causes me not only regret at my own judgmental thoughts, but also a fair amount of extra work. If I do it, I can not lay blame on anyone else for it not being up to standards. So, there you have it. Another not so secret shame hung on the line for all to see.

Home-made Strawberry Jam
Home-made Strawberry Jam. Signs of Spring.
I am not trying to cry O woe is me or anything. I think that I am just stating some of the same sort of frustrations that many suffer but are uncomfortable about voicing. We live in a world where the pressure comes from all sides. Whether in the home, the workplace, as parents, employees, wives and husbands, children, or any of the multitude of roles we are expected to take on and fill, the requirements that need to be met to satisfy ourselves or others are immense. Life becomes a balancing act of gargantuan proportions. Chaos threatens from multiple directions, and the fear of failure or disappointment becomes overwhelming at times.

Craft room project-- repuposing a thrifted cassette case
In the Craftroom
 In my own case, I feel pulled in so many directions that I often end up just being lost. Most of my pressure at this point in life is, admittedly, internal. With the children being mostly grown and no 9 to 5 job to rush to, I should be a lady of leisure. Hah! There is still laundry to be done, a house to be cleaned, dishes to be washed, etc., and though I don't do breakfast or lunch, I still prepare the main meal of the day. Aside from that though, there are a myriad other things pulling at me. I have more projects, whether begun or just conceived, pulling at me than I can count. And there is this blog, as well as a free lance project that has been taking up a large portion of my productive and creative time and energy. The foremost blockage to my ever feeling productive and content though, is the continued inability to decide what comes where in the queue of my life.

Craft room project-- repuposing a thrifted cassette case
Doing the fun "stuff"
I have spoken before about this same quandary; I want it all I guess. I sometimes wish that I could choose a "passion", select a focal point from my many interests and let that be my compass. In my heart of hearts though, I feel that life should be more well rounded than that. That the true adventure lies in pursuing dreams in all directions. How can I happily craft or sew if my house is a mess and the chores remain undone? How can I do laundry and dust when the sun is slanting warmly across a patch of earth just waiting to be planted with flowers or vegetables? How can I write and create without taking time to savor a book by an author I love and admire? Perhaps it is a happy predicament in many ways. So many people these days gripe about boredom and drudgery, when the world offers so very many opportunities. Certainly, some of the requirements of life are much less interesting and fulfilling than others, but if we approach them from a center of service and humility, they have no less value to us. There is a well known Zen saying that pretty much sums it all up.

"Before Enlightenment, chop wood carry water,
after Enlightenment, chop wood carry water."

Craft room project-- repuposed cassette case
Cassette Case re-purposed for storing ribbon spools.
I know I can not do it all, but I hope to become wiser in the choices I do make, and better at dispelling the chaos and making them.

As I recount recent events, and look at my photos of projects and jobs I have undertaken and completed since this year began, I feel a bit better. It is good to take inventory from time to time as we rush headlong through our crazy lives. I have indeed accomplished more than I was consciously aware of, and still had some fun along the way.

Turkeys in Love-- Spring rituals
Spring is fast approaching. At present, the outdoors are not as alluring to me as they soon will be. In Florida, where I was born and raised, I have spring allergies that reduce me to a sniveling, sneezing, nose blowing heap of misery. I am not beset elsewhere to anywhere near this degree, and yet I came back once again. It is only for a month or so, but I am not amused. I am amused, however, to glance out the window and see our resident flock of wild turkeys strutting about in the spring ritual that proceeds nesting and the emergence of baby turkeys not too far in the future. They are all quite tame, as we feed them corn to supplement what they glean in the fields and pastures of their ever shrinking habitat. The big Tom, fluffed to proudly exhibit his full splendor, is nearby almost constantly, along with his harem of ten or twelve hens and several young toms not yet out on their own. They are endlessly entertaining, and we can hardly wait for the new batch of poults to come along.

Turkey feathers in faux mercury glass.
 I have taken to collecting the feathers they drop in the yard and pasture, and displaying them in my faux mercury glass (spray-painted with Krylon Looking Glass paint) on the fireplace mantle. They are beautiful and varied, and though brown in color they are vibrant.

Our weather continues to be strange. It has either rained or been overcast well over half of the time so far this year, and when it is not damp and cool, it has been windy and cold for the most part. Not the sort of cold most of the country has endured these early months of 2014, but still odd and uncomfortable. Last year at this time, the lawn and pasture were mostly dry and brown. This year, the lawn seems unaware that it is not supposed to be growing. My son and I mowed it during the week before the Alice in Wonderland Birthday Bash, and probably will again before too very long. When I glance out the window, I see much that is lovely and green, but still have little wish to be out there.
The yard and barn-- early March 2014
I am sure that soon the pollen will let up some, and the cobwebs in my head will clear enough to acknowledge spring and the new beginnings it inevitably brings. I will, as always, try to rise above the Chaos, but still hearken to the whispers of the Heart. Then, no matter what I do, it will be the right decision.

Blessings.

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