Quilting Retreat: Planning or Resisting?

To Quilt or Not To Quilt

Antique Quilts

Antique Quilts (Photo credit: Quiltsalad)

It was only a few weeks ago, when I was getting ready to pack up my quilting and accept the fact that I simply didn’t have time for it in my life right now. And as I wrote that post on new year’s day, it came to me that packing up my quilting stuff to eliminate the constant pressure of NOT getting to it, didn’t mean that I had to give it up entirely. I just needed to “contain” it, by giving it some pockets of time. That way, I could still look forward to enjoying some quilting time, but not feel frustrated by seeing everything out on a day-to day basis. Some quilting time would definitely be better than no quilting time. Right?

So I set up a couple of days during this semester break for a personal quilting retreat. This is self-directed. No one expecting me to show up somewhere at a specified time. No retreat leader or other participants to wonder where I am if I don’t show up. I only have to show up to the cutting table and the sewing machine on Thursday morning–36 hours from now.

But I have mixed feelings it. While I’d like to get back to quilting, I feel like the three writing projects, along with the textbook project, are all pushing on me–deadlines looming. And while these deadlines are real, my willingness to abandon a play-date with quilting without a fight seems a little suspicious. In fact, now that I think about it, even though I originally protested the idea of packing up my quilting stuff (and just getting it out for just such planned occasions), packing it up turned out not to be that big a deal. So what to I want? To think about quilting? Or do I want to quilt? Something is definitely going on.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy first clue came about a week ago, I was looking at my fabric stash, arranged in cubbies behind my work desk. Whenever I’m working on my teaching or writing projects, I can just turn in my chair and see the colorful fabrics behind me. I love looking at the colors and dreaming about the possibilities of the quilts that could be created with these fabrics. But on this particular day a week ago, I had a surprising thought about my fabric stash.

I’m not really sure I want to cut into my stash!

What?! Isn’t that what a fabric stash is for? Since it’s impossible to quilt without using some fabric—presumably from my stash, I needed to explore where that thought was coming from. I took a new journal that I had been saving for something “special,” and I headed to my neighborhood coffee shop to do some exploratory writing.

Quilting Memories

I started by thinking about how focused I had been on putting together Logan’s quilt top during the semester break last year–wait TWO years ago! Of course, I already knew about this time difference before writing the post, but this was a major discovery in my journal. How I thought that it had just been a year since the last time I had done some serious quilting, but it’s already been two years. In other words, when I first made the decision to bring my quilting to Taiwan and picked up some fabric, it was for Logan’s quilt. I put it together a few months later, and with a few minor exceptions, that’s been it. What a wake-up call!

Another discovery from my journal was my inability to settle on a project. I am looking at ideas now, but I was reminded that my last couple quilting times were less than satisfying. First, I was inspired to try some techniques I found in Rule-Breaking Quilts by Kathryn Schmidt. While I really enjoy the quilts in the book, my attempts haven’t been too exciting thus far.  My expectations might be too high. Or I may have just given up too soon. My time was limited after all. If I give it another go, and just RELAX about it, maybe it will be more satisfying.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe second project I tried recently involved a set of 18 pinwheel blocks that I made years ago. This is me with one of the pinwheel blocks on my last fabric-finding mission. A couple of months ago, I had pressed all of these blocks, FINALLY squared them off, and was going to finish piecing the last few odds and ends I had. But I couldn’t get my seams to line up. I couldn’t find my seam ripper. I was trying to hard to make time for quilting; almost like crossing it off my to-do list, rather than just enjoying the experience. Plus, I can’t decide what to do with them next. I have started to look at a few pattern ideas, and maybe I’ll actually take the plunge and just enjoy the moment.

I’m noticing a theme here, one that showed up in my journal in a startling way. I started the journal to explore why I was reluctant to cut into my stash. Why do I hoard and collect fabric and color only to hesitate to cut into it? What is the point of a stash that won’t give way to creation? And here’s what I wrote:

Maybe it’s not breaking-up the collection as much as the fear of doing something that isn’t good enough! Good enough for whom? Wow! Who am I trying to impress?

Quilting is a hobby, a break from the stress. I need to stop building pressure into it. Who wouldn’t want to avoid two days of evaluative play time? How can I enjoy myself if I have hidden agendas about what it means and what the results should be? I don’t plan to teach quilting. I’m not planning to enter contests. It’s just supposed to be fun?

Am I resisting fun?

There was a time in my life, before going to graduate school when I made a point of taking a fun break every week. It might be a day to go look at fabric, or a museum, breakfast out, and coffee, meet with a friend. Spend time on crafts. Try new recipes! Read a book! There were lots of choices. I even kept a journal about the ways to keep fun in my life. Go back to the past when I intentionally included fun in my life. I’ve gotten too far away from it. Fun has become expendable.

I feel so stressed at the moment, that I feel like I want to get more of a handle on things before the retreat. I think if I plan play with the idea a little bit more, taking a few minutes each day for the next week, I might enjoy it more. I can find patterns and fabrics I want to explore. I can take a little more time to write about what I want to try. I can focus on process instead of product, and exorcise some of the crazy anxiety that I seem to have about somehow “doing it right,” whatever that means.

If you’ll excuse the pun,it becomes important to “patch” up my relationship with quilting. I have many good memories associated with it. It’s time to recapture those, and figure out where all this negativity is coming from. I have left quilting behind several times, and it always draws me back. Now that I’ve made these discoveries, another week might allow me to approach the quilting retreat with a more playful attitude. I can take time to determine what quilting activities I want to do, what fabrics I want to use, look through patterns. Get a little more self-directing about what will happen while still maintaining the fun and spontaneity. The last thing I need right now is one more thing on my to-do list. That is not the role I want quilting to have in my life.

Anyone want to cast their vote or opinion into the mix? Am I just putting off my quilting yet again, or is it a good idea to “retreat” and regroup for a more thought-out experience. Perhaps an oxymoron.

Stay tuned to Friday’s post to find out what I decide.  🙂

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What Can I Do in 20 Minutes?

Setting the Scene

I had a few contenders for tonight’s blog and I was going to write a post called Timers and Dice to discuss strategies that help when motivation is low. I had already been thinking about this post when another blogger asked what people did when they had trouble staying with their writing. I suggested setting a timer for ten minutes, a trick that she appreciated. After all, how can I protest doing something for just ten minutes? If the ten minutes gets the momentum going, great! If not, I can still stop after ten minutes, but movement will have occurred in those ten minutes. While this idea has shown up in many time management books and articles. I like to think that experimenting with the idea and combining it with other elements (like casting a die) provides an effective strategy that goes beyond the basics.

Setting the TImer

English: A mechanical kitchen timer

timer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m going to demonstrate what I mean by doing it as I write about it. I’m using a timer to get myself going on the blog entry as a way to get more in control of the process of posting. I’m giving myself 20 minutes to write the draft. I suspect it will take me a little longer than that to finish the draft, but in 20 minutes, I’ll be much further along than I would have been without the timer. Besides, if I gave myself “enough” time, the job would definitely expand to fill the allotted time. This blog is a perfect example. If I let it, I can just play around with the post and not really do my planning and prewriting. Soon, I will be pushing the deadline again. So by using the timer, I create an artificial deadline, something to push for. I make it into a challenging game of “Beat the Clock,” knowing that I can’t finish in 20 minutes, but interested in finding out how far I can get.

Take housecleaning as an example. If things have gotten out of hand–which they do on occasion, setting a timer for ten minutes per room can result in good progress in even 30 minutes, resulting in good momentum to keep the project going. Even if time runs out, it can be picked up again later without having to start from scratch. Besides, ten minutes while I’m challenging myself to see how much I can accomplish, often takes me further than I had thought it would. And I accomplish much more than I would if I gave myself the day to clean the house. I’d let myself get distracted by other things because I “had all day.” The focused drive of the timer running keeps me on task. When my children were young, I’d get them involved with the “just five minutes” or “just put away five items” thing. No one minded doing just five–ok, at least not much.

Sometimes, it’s just a matter of getting started. One foot in front of the other.

Two Hours to Departure

I used the timer yesterday. With two hours left before we had to be out the door to head out to catch a bus for a wedding and our follow-up getaway, I needed to pack a couple last-minute items and give three projects at least some attention. I decided to give each project 20 minutes to start, and see how it went.

To-do list book.

To-do list book. (Photo credit: koalazymonkey)

I chose my first project–a paper that has a lot of problems. I’d broken it down to steps, and one of the tasks with it was to write several notes in the document to the other author so that we can move ahead on this draft. Of course, this step was dependent on a couple other things. Over the last few days, with one thing leading to another, it has felt like just too much.

But yesterday, I found the documents I needed and even started working before I hit the start button, This is significant in its own right because of the overall sluggishness of this project. This time, with the timer running, my fingers started flying. I was able to revise the introduction, move some things around from some three-day-old editing notes, and start writing the various comments that were necessary. Things were going so well, in fact, that when the timer went off 20 minutes later, I decided to go another 20 before switching to another project. By the time THAT 20 minutes was over, I had the project far enough along that I could write the email and send it off.

I moved ahead some on the other two projects, but eventually, I did have to stop. Even though I wouldn’t have given up the outing for anything, I did find myself thinking that my productivity was so high that it would be great to continue working. It’s been quite a while since I was actually excited about working.

Taking a Break

For out outing, I decided to leave most of my work behind, and in fact, the work I did bring, I didn’t even touch. What I did spent time on was something else I had brought along. Farther to Go! is something that Joycelyn is creating to help people who are in middle age unearth what is really important in their lives so that they can create a life that has the meaning and purpose they choose. The idea of discovering what has meaning for me makes my clearing project even more significant. I am making room for the things that are meaningful, not just the things that I can do.

I am currently working on Farther to Go! tasks that include setting a timer for ten minutes a day to make lists with specific prompts. A couple weeks ago, I decided I wanted to create a bag with the working items for the process, including a timer specifically dedicated to it, so that it was always available when I wanted to take the bag somewhere. I have my lists, my journal, a few different colored pens, and a die, which I’ll talk more about in a few minutes. When Dave and I went to breakfast at the hotel today, my Farther to Go! task was to make a list for ten minutes about what I enjoy. Interestingly, one of the things I’m finding is that I enjoy doing the Farther to Go! activities, and that I think about things I could add to my lists at other times of the day. It has me thinking about both what is important to me and what has been important in the past.

Rolling the Dice

English: Four coloured 6 sided dice arranged i...

Four dice. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Finally, the trusty die can be a nice addition to this system. Choose up to six projects that need your attention. Cast a die to determine which project gets the first 10, 15, or 20 minutes. Ten minutes is often enough for many projects, but I’ve found that 20 is a good amount for me for the kinds of projects I’m working on.My friend Joycelyn introduces an element of chance into what she does next in a variety of ways by rolling a die. Click to see her post on the subject. When I read the post back in August, I hadn’t started my blog yet, but I posted the following comment on hers.

I tried it using “what chore am I going to do next?” I took six items from my to do list, since I was having a hard time choosing one to start with. I know myself well enough to know if I don’t make some kind of decision, I may fritter away a good chunk of the day with meaningless activity.My list: 1) work on class hand-outs; 2) work on blog entries; 3) move forward on an editing project; 4) decide on my next quilting project; 5) finish sorting the last container of fabric; 6) work on sorting papers and books. I told myself that whatever the choice, I would spend 30 minutes on that project, and then move on to something else. The winner: sorting paper and books.

An interesting thing happened. I ended up (over the course of the day) making this organizational task the focal point of my day. I spent two hours in the first part of the morning, including setting up a filing system to organize the papers. I filed, recycled, and generally remade my workspace. It cleared some physical surfaces and also some mental cobwebs.

When I “took a break” after two hours, I made good progress on the editing, and the course preparations; but interestingly, I kept returning to 15-30 minute chunks of the organizational activity. I was aware that the part of me that wants to do some quilting was not totally happy, but the good news for that part is that there is now plenty of physical space to start playing with that activity, and it’s on the agenda for tomorrow–even without rolling the die.

This experience, combined with what I know about how the use of the timer works for me, provides a way to keep me motivated or to find a new source of energy when needed. Sure, it’s a little gimmicky, but I’m not going to argue with something that works.

Results

My morning Coffee-1=

(Photo credit: Sheba_Also)

As I was working on this post, I remember I used a version of this timer thing when I first started my blog almost three months ago. I just let my husband be the one who set the timer. I would ask him to check on me in ten minutes to see how I was doing. That whole accountability thing. But now that I know the timer can serve that purpose, I’m going to put my husband out of that job and focus on using the timer as a tool. In fact, the timer, along with a couple of dice are going to be part of my clearing project for the rest of this semester break. I will use them to both be more productive and to build in some more break time. A 20-minute container holds lots of possibility for getting things done, whether it be a project that’s been nagging for a while, recharging one’s batteries, or just spending some time with a spouse, a puppy, and a cup of coffee.

Oh, and for the record, it turns out I can draft approximately 500 words in 20 minutes. Now we know.

Listmaking: A Path to the Clearing

3186629203_bfcf404f50_mRemember this? It’s a photo I used in last Tuesday’s post, when I wrote about my decision to take responsibility for my over-crowded schedule. I would use my four-week semester break and figure out a way to tackle my to-do list. I chose clearing as my winter keyword–I was beginning to gain a sense of calm as I mapped out a plan for these four weeks.

I even declared a 30-day moratorium on saying yes to any new responsibilities in an effort to get a handle on my schedule. I am ready to embrace a more intentional mode of living, but I am finally getting to know myself as I really am. If there is space in my calendar–or even the illusion of space on my calendar, I’ll get sucked in by every interesting idea that comes along. So the moratorium, along with my winter keyword of clearing is providing just the right focus for my process. I envision three steps that will lead me to the clearing.

  1. Make a list of all the tasks that I need to complete.
  2. Use the available containers of time to assign tasks appropriately.
  3. Follow the schedule.

Making the List

The Master List

The Master List

I won’t lie to you. Making a list that includes all the projects and tasks I have committed myself to is a rather immense task all on its own. Luckily, I had a head start. Over the last few weeks, I’d been working on breaking down big tasks and writing them in my calendar to do on a particular day, even if not at a particular time of that day. So to make the master list, I just gathered up all the calendar pages, along with my notebooks where I’d periodically make running lists to help clear my head of all the stuff swimming around. When I got done, I had the Master List shown here..

It still seemed overwhelming, and it’s not even complete. Many of the projects on that page haven’t been broken down into manageable steps yet. So there was still lots of work to do, but at least I felt as if the enormity of the project was “contained” on that sheet of paper. I could use it to move to the next step, Or so I thought.

Assigning Time Slots

My recent Weekly Calendar pages

My recent Weekly Calendar pages

My approach to time is to arrange tasks and activities into blocks of time (containers). The main point of this approach is to avoid stuffing the container too full. Unfortunately, I seem to have this idea that as long as there is even a tiny pocket of space on the paper, something else can fit there. Somehow, my brain hasn’t mastered the concept that open space on the paper is not the same as available time in the day. The amount of space on the page cannot accurately represent the amount of time in the day. Unless I actually arrange the space on the page in pre-measured time increments. Which leads me to a related problem.

A related problem–as you can see, is that while I pack a mean suitcase, my packing of time slots is not as efficient. I don’t think about time in a linear way. I mean, I get that there are just so many hours in a day. And I really do get that each task takes a certain amount of time, which often can be estimated with some degree of accuracy.

Discoveries on the Path

At this point, in the process, I had two realizations.

First, I need to figure out a better way to “package” time, so that I don’t have so much free-floating time on my planning sheets. I need smaller containers with which to plan. (This concept relates to the fact that I’m better with small suitcases than large ones–the illusion that the larger space is significantly larger in my mind than it is in the physical world.

Second, it is abundantly clear that I have to be realistic about what can be accomplished in this four-week break. I didn’t get to this point overnight, and I’m certainly not going to dig out of it on some kind of magical time schedule. I need to prioritize the projects and tasks to determine where to focus my time and energy. I also need to remember that this IS supposed to be a break and to allow some time for some R&R. I will focus on during the break, and which will have to be scheduled in at a later time. And of course, those scheduled later will be handled at a slower pace, because the semester will be back in full swing.

Following the Schedule

This is where things really fell apart. Actually, this step was destined for disaster from the get go. The tasks that hadn’t been broken down tended to stay on the list undone. Then they got moved to another list, where they still remained undone. Don’t get me wrong, things were getting done, but I was spending too much time moving things from one list to another, time that could be used more productively. For one, tasks needed to be more clearly delineated. For another, I had fallen prey to the mistaken belief that if I worked hard on this plan thing, it would work. I had conveniently forgotten that many things are beyond my control.

Last week, some major challenges threatened to upset my (mostly) well-designed plan. Not one glitch, not two, but several of them came at me in rapid succession. While the clearing keyword makes sense, I found that it was too delicately balanced on the mountain of tasks. I had taken a few deep breaths and began to believe that i had a plan, but it didn’t take much time with the reality of those glitches to throw me into a state of near inertia. Projects that I thought I had handled suddenly became more complex, with problems buried in each step. Something had to give.

Adjusting the Plan

Lovely Beans, a coffee shop just around the corner from our apartment

Lovely Beans, a llocal coffee shop

On Thursday, I was still struggling to find some momentum. I needed a change of scenery to regroup. I needed to make some adjustments to the plan. The local coffee shop seemed to be the perfect solution. I grabbed a secret weapon that has proved useful in the past–index cards!

The time at Lovely Beans didn’t solve all my problems, but it allowed me to see things from a different perspective. I am now experimenting with a way of using the index cards to help me prioritize the tasks and build a more realistic path to that clearing. More details will follow.

In the meantime, we are headed to a wedding this week. It’s not THAT far away, but we decided to include an overnight as part of it and have a little R&R. Next week, I’ll post the dates of my upcoming do-it-myself quilting retreat.

How Big is Your Suitcase?

Packing for a Trip

Brown & Red Duffel Bag

Brown & Red Duffel Bag (Photo credit: rebecca)

I do my fair share of traveling. Not as much as others, I’m sure, but over time, I’ve gotten lighter and lighter about the way I pack. I have special things I like to bring, like things to read, and journals to write in, but when it comes to clothing, I pack easy wash-and-wear items that mix and match. I can fit enough of these items in a duffle bag to last 5-7 days. Doing laundry once during a week-long trip is not a big deal to me. If it’s a longer trip, I just do laundry more often. Personal care items are kept to a minimum. I make sure hostess gifts and souvenirs on the return trip are lightweight and sturdy. In recent years, even the “project” items has become almost as easy as packing my netbook and an electronic reader. OK, that might be a slight exaggeration, but it does make life simpler when so much of what I’m working on and reading can be carried with those two items.

Sometimes, when I have packed and unpacked for trips of 7-14 days to Philadelphia or Albuquerque, I felt like I was re-enacting the scene from Mary Poppins where Julie Andrews was pulling out all kinds of impossible things from her carpet bag. But this method of traveling served me well, and I was doing it long before the airlines started charging for checked luggage.

96 Leather Passport Airline Ticket Holder

(Photo credit: ExecGifts)

It’s only been in the last eight years that I started travelling internationally. Four years ago, when I came to Taiwan, I could bring two checked bags and a carry-on as part of the ticket. This was especially important when I first moved here. With two suitcases, I could bring enough things to get me started in my new home. When I travel to the US to visit in the summer, I sometimes packed my smaller carry-on in the larger one, and then had the second one to bring things back from the US, like my quilting fabric that was stored there.

Last summer things changed, and  I had a ticket that only allowed for one checked piece of luggage. Going from Taiwan to the US wasn’t too difficult, since I was already accustomed to going back with one bag, but it wasn’t as easy on the return trip to Taiwan when I wanted to bring a few things that I bought in the US. In the end, I paid for the second suitcase because there were specific things we had planned for me to bring back. But this year, I will plan my trip accordingly.

Making Connections

My duffle bag served me well for many years, but eventually it just got too tired to make the treks through those airports. But roller bags are great, and I love mine with its brown, pink, and white stripes. I didn’t think ahead, so I don’t have a picture to post of it, but it may show up some time. My roller bag is truly a carry-on size, so in some planes, it actually fits under the seat. But it holds a lot, and I almost can get that Mary Poppins feeling when I use it. Plus, she didn’t have wheels on hers, although she did have that great umbrella that made going through security a non-issue.

As I travel, I’ve noticed that some people seem to think the size restrictions for carry-on luggage don’t apply to them. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has boarded a plane to find that the overhead bins are inefficiently utilized because someone’s roller bag is too large to fit front-to-back in the bin. But then, I have traveled with groups and seen people whose suitcases overflow with things that take extra attention and maintenance. When I travel, I don’t want to have to worry about stuff. I like the freedom of having less stuff to worry about. That’s why I was particularly fascinated by my daughter-in-law’s blog post about the preparations she and my son were making for their trip to Europe last September. She has gorgeous photos of the trip, but I was also impressed with the preparations she made for the trip. Talk about traveling light!

Speaking of Connections

Yup, it's February - How you doin'?

(Photo credit: Esther17)

You may wonder why I’m writing about travel and suitcases. I think about scheduling time the same way I think about packing a suitcase. And while I might say things about people who can’t seem to pack light, I’m totally guilty of overpacking my calendar.I want to somehow take what I know about traveling and bring it to my daily life. I’m sure some of the people who frustrate me with the over-sized bags are probably great with managing their time and packing their calendars effectively.

That’s actually why I’m writing about suitcases tonight. I was working on a post about my new work on scheduling as I focus on my keyword of clearing (see previous post). I discovered that my system was flawed in that it didn’t give me breathing room for a few major surprises that came along Tuesday night. I’m working through those now, with a planning system that uses index cards in a new way (at least for me). A post explaining this system is forthcoming–just not tonight. Stay tuned! I’m hopeful that the new system will be better suited for my journey to the clearing.

Keywords: Power Containers

(ReDiscovering Keywords)

I haven’t always thought of keywords as powerful, but they now play a key role in making my life less stressful and more infused with meaning. I have dabbled with keywords over the years, as my friend, Joycelyn, has developed and used keyword lists in countless ways. As she points out, single words can “evoke a concept or a mood or an attitude or a way of being , . . [that] can send you off on a journey . . .” As someone who knows how the written word can  inspire, motivate, heal, and challenge, I had failed to recognize how much power can reside in a single word. But there was no denying the power it held for for Joycelyn, or the impact it was having on her life.

A few months ago, she challenged me to select a seasonal keyword for fall. She had chosen one, as well as a song to go with it. I had to admit, the idea came at a perfect moment. A thematic focus was something I certainly needed. I was feeling really scattered and overwhelmed. And her explanation of using the keyword for a season at a time made sense to me. Choosing a focus for a year was a little too long, but changing every month might be too often, but a season seemed just right. I felt like Goldilocks and that I had just found the perfect bowl of porridge.

My Fall Keyword

I hemmed and hawed over my selection, looking for the right keyword. One that captured my motivation, my inspiration for the season. I was already well aware of the consequences of my over-commitment, and I needed something to help me focus; something to help ground me when I started to feel overwhelmed by the seeming impossibility of ever catching up. I eventually settled on clamoring. For me, it evoked an image of lots of things all vying for my attention. For one reason or another, one (or several) would emerge as the top contenders at any given time, until something else was pushed into consciousness, sometimes by internal urgency, but more often something clamoring from outside. The point is that even the things from outside could be traced back to my unbridled assumption of tasks, ideas, and projects.

(photo credit: Gustave Miller)

(photo credit: Gustave Miller)

Interestingly, I had a really hard time coming up with a song, whose lyrics fit my theme. Realistically, I had to acknowledge, looking for the “perfect” song for my theme of clamoring seemed to be pointless considering all the things on my already overly-full to-do list. I moved to classical music and settled relatively quickly on Ravel’s Bolero. The dissonance throughout the relentless rhythm that builds and builds throughout the piece seemed to fit the way I felt about all the clamoring. But I also thought that maybe having a visual focal point was as helpful to me as the aural one. After looking around, I found this painting, Clamor, by Gustave Miller (see website). I love how it all the parts of it try to demand equal attention. I was ready.

The power contained in that keyword changed my life throughout the fall. I became more and more conscious of how my life was slipping away because of all the things clamoring for my attention. I hardly had a moment to think. The power of that word led me to my conscious decision to have a moratorium on new responsibilities and to focus on making space in my life for what was really important. In fact, I needed space to discover what I actually think is important. My schedule has dictated what I do, and I need to find time to listen to my heart instead of my calendar. My calendar needs to serve me, not the other way around.

My Winter Keyword

A Clear Path

A Clear Path (Photo credit: Michael Loke)

As fall leads to winter, my keyword clamor led me to a new keyword for winter. Clearing. I’m a little late in choosing this one, but it’s perfect in terms of the school calendar. We just finished our 18 week semester. I have four weeks before classes start again. I need to see how much of these excess responsibilities I can move through before classes begin. I will also build in restorative breaks, reflection time, and other gifts of time to help bring a sense of space and well-being to my hectic life. I will make friends with the calendar and with myself.

The picture on the left will become my visual cue for this season. I especially like its title, A Clear Path. As I explore the keyword clearing over the next several weeks, I like the image of creating a path to the new life that I will envision during this time. For music, I’m going to use Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I will primarily use Winter, but since I want to reconnect with my sense of the seasons, the entire album will be a good way to reconnect with the seasons, as I use my semester break for clearing.

Seasonal Containers

Childhood in Michigan

I loved the four seasons, and the way they provided a way of containerizing time. Each season had its own schedule and events. Easter ushered in spring time and led to anticipation of my birthday and the end of the school year. We could start spending more time riding bikes and playing croquet in the yard. Summer brought camping trips, swimming, badminton games, and bike rides. We spent more time outside than in, and the days just flowed one to another with time spent with friends in the neighborhood.

Four Seasons - Fenner Nature Center

Four Seasons – Fenner Nature Center (Photo credit: Aunt Owwee)

In the fall, the new school year was almost exciting, especially when it was accompanied by the slow-motion fireworks of the reds, golds, and yellows of the leaves as they changed color and drifted to the ground. The peak of autumn color is breathtaking, and the smell of autumn is amazing. The plum tree in our backyard would give up the rest of its fruit, and Halloween was just around the corner. The season concluded with Thanksgiving and pumpkin pies, before winter took up residence.

While Winter is my least favorite season, there was always something magical about the first snowfall. I also liked Christmas music and going shopping with my sister to buy little gifts for our parents and siblings. And who could argue with Christmas vacation! The tough part of winter showed up right after the first of the year. Going back to school wasn’t nearly as interesting as it had been in September. The days were cold, and sunshine didn’t stay around very long. The evenings were dark. Snow’s novelty had worn off; the only good that came of it now was the chance of a snow day. Luckily, most winters, that wish would be granted at least once.

Seasons of Adulthood

As I started my own family, the seasons continued in much the same way, the ebb and flow of activity meshing with the way I remembered things from childhood. Even though I worked in the summer instead of spending my days outdoors, I still enjoyed the daylight that extended far into the evening. Even though I had a job that often required me to work on holidays like Easter and Christmas, we found ways to modify our family celebrations to honor the contents of each season.

As the children started leaving the nest, the academic calendar still guided my experience of the season, first as I completed my B.A. as my daughter finished high school, and then during my time at graduate school. The seasons and the academic year coincided–the dreary winter days coming at the very time when focus and purpose seemed to be at their lowest. Autumn and spring were once again the friendliest seasons.

My first Christmas in Taiwan

My first Christmas in Taiwan

Two things changed when I came to Taiwan, but they were only external changes. First, the academic year is different. A case in point: here it is January 11, and this week’s tasks include grading final exams and posting grades on the computer system. In other words, classes and finals are over, and winter break has begun. I know this sounds weird to my colleagues in the States. A couple of the differences: Our semesters are 18 weeks long. We don’t have a break at Thanksgiving or even Christmas Day–as evidenced by the picture on the left. We do get New Year’s Day off, but we made up the extra Monday that came with it by teaching on Monday of exam week.

The second thing is the difference in the physical characteristics of the seasons. My students talk about Taiwan’s four seasons, but they don’t have snow. Their winter is cold (but not as cold as many parts of the US), often with days and days of rain. Spring is beautiful, sunny and pleasant. Summer is hot, hot, and hot with very high humidity. Luckily, I visit my family each summer back in the States. It takes until mid-October, though, for the temperatures to be reasonable. Classroom temperatures during September can be rather unpleasant. But once mid-October comes, it’s hard to argue with the great weather. And there are days of sweater weather even in December.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about seasonal containers. Vacations, holidays, the natural ebb and flow of the seasons, and what that means to my schedule. And unfortunately, I have to confess that the seasons and other seasonal breaks don’t make much of a difference in my life. My busyness has taken away my sense of the seasons as containers for specific types of activities. The days have become a list of tasks that spill over into the next day, and the next day, and the next week, the next month, the next season, the next year. Unfortunately, I got to the point where I saw no end in sight.

While others are planning activities and even trips for the CNY (Chinese New Year) before the next 18-week semester begins, I am trying to figure out how to catch up on the multitude of tasks and responsibilities that I have added to my schedule, often without thinking things through. It’s second nature for me to take on every project that comes to me. Hence the moratorium of December 28 was so essential for me if I am going to reclaim any sense of balance in my life.

In the days ahead, I’m going to be creating containers of time and space to begin clearing my schedule and opening my life to the cyclical nature of the seasons. Calendars, to-do lists, index cards, grids with tasks arranged by time, by category, by priority are the tools I am exploring as I try to see my way clear to a more considered life. Stay tuned as I find a new way to create space for myself and begin to appreciate the seasons again.

The One that Won’t Let Go

Party hats at dawn 1

Party hats at dawn (Photo credit: Derek John Lee)

Today I publish the 20th post for Container Chronicles. That means I have been blogging for ten weeks, just over two months. People suggested for a long time that I start a blog, but I kept dragging my feet. Partly, I couldn’t decide what to write about. I had lots of requests for stories about my time here in Taiwan, but that wasn’t a topic that pulled me to the keyboard. Maybe someday I’ll do a small series as part of this blog, but my own struggle with sorting out my life and becoming more intentional about what I want to do is a bigger draw than a travelogue–at least for now.

I decided on Container Chronicles about three months before I launched it. During that time, I thought about the blog, I talked about the blog, but I did very little to actually start blogging. It wasn’t exactly perfectionism that kept me from it, but I did have a fear of sorts that it wouldn’t turn out like I imagined it. Which is crazy in many ways, because if I had stayed with that line of thinking, I’d still be thinking about it and I wouldn’t be publishing this 20th post. Sometimes, it helps me to make an external commitment, so I’m not just accountable to myself. So I came up with a gimmick. I gave the “promise” of a launch as a birthday gift to a long-time friend who had been pushing me to blog. On October 9, her birthday, I sent her an email that announced my intention to launch the blog in honor of her birthday. The announcement gave October 31 as the launch date. I missed by a couple of days, but it didn’t matter because my blog was real! I felt such a sense of accomplishment! Seeing the actual blog post as others saw it was amazing. I got excited updating my stats and seeing how many people visited my blog. I wanted that feeling to keep going.

CSS Bar Charts

CSS Bar Charts (Photo credit: alykat)

Once I launched, I was determined to maintain a schedule. Twice a week seemed like a good starting point. Not too often, but often enough that it wouldn’t drift too far from my consciousness. I made a list of potential topics along with a schedule for posting them. I could start writing, schedule them to post, and move on to the next ones, keeping ahead of the schedule a bit. It was a good plan on paper, but in reality I struggle to meet the midnight posting deadline almost every time. It felt a little stressful, but I knew it was something I wanted to do, but every Tuesday and Friday, I found myself racing the clock to get it done. But seeing my “body of work” grow each week made it all worthwhile. Tuesdays and Fridays became “blog nights” in my world. I liked this new part of my world.

Then something strange happened.  People tried to help me. Not just the expected comments, like “Kudos for getting started.” Or,  “Wow, you’ve done this for how long? It looks great!” But a lot of unexpected ones as well. “Why are you adding something else to your schedule?” Or, “You do know that it’s OK if you skip a post or two, don’t you?” Or, “Maybe you shouldn’t put so much pressure on yourself.” I felt like I had to defend my blog and my decision to spend time on it. Sure, maybe I needed to figure out a way to not be up against the deadline as often, but even that didn’t bother me that much. But it was bothering a lot of other people on my behalf.

To be honest, I was baffled by that response. After all, when I was struggling with how to make time for quilting, no one tried to talk me out of it. I had a lot of support to keep at it, even though I was stressed by my inability to quilt regularly. Luckily, my friend Joycelyn* heard me when I was pushing too hard to make quilting fit into a life already overflowing with responsibility. Even though I resisted at first, she helped me see clear to changing my attitude toward quilting (and therefore helping me to have SOME rather than no quilting in my life). Joycelyn also understood the satisfaction I was getting from blogging and commitment to continue it. But my puzzlement over the concerns of others was still baffling.

my new table and computer

my new table and computer (Photo credit: slackware)

Then it dawned on me. If someone watches (or imagines watching) me while I’m working on my blog, it looks no different than when I’m grading papers online, or when I’m doing an editing job, or when I’m working on the textbook project, or when I’m answering student emails, or working on any of the other multitude of tasks that I do at my computer. In fact, if someone took a picture of me doing each of those activities, and then put those pictures side by side in a row, it might be difficult to see any difference, particularly if they are taken from the back. I like to think if the pictures were taken from the front, there would be more a glint in my eye as I worked on the blog. From the back, however. these four pictures would likely look the same. On the other hand, if someone saw me at the cutting table or at my sewing machine, they could clearly see the difference. The quilting activities would appear to be creative and relaxing, even fulfilling, maybe just because they aren’t happening at the computer.

What I know now is that twice a week, I accomplish something tangible. I add two posts to a blog that didn’t exist three months ago. I find that I want to do more. While I will still spend my focused quilting retreats a few times a year, the blog gives me something that quilting isn’t satisfying right now. I am learning as much about process, both in terms of blogging itself as well as what helps me find meaning in the rest of my life. Blogging has become a tool that helps me de-stress, that helps me clear away a lot of mental clutter. In the end, it pushes me to reexamine my life  In the end, it may even open up more quilting time. It can certainly help me decide the purpose on which I want to spend my time. It can help me focus. But for now, it pushes me to finish this post so I can publish by midnight.

*Joycelyn knows well the satisfactions of blogging. Check out one or all.

Nine Paths

Farther to Go!

give me a daisy

Image

Exploring Containers (Compliments of My Grandson)

Meet Mr. Logan. He will be two later this month.

logan 23 months

Even as an infant, he was interested in exploring non-conventional containers. Who cares about cribs and car seats and bassinets when you have Daddy’s firefighter helmet?

fireman logan

At 5 months old, Logan discovered that a discarded box could be a makeshift car . . . . . .

205974_2249162869545_2861465_n

. . . . .  or a music lounge.

music lounge

By the time he was 13 months old, Mr. Logan was still finding more than one purpose for containers. Why just keep your toys in one, when you could also use it for a reading and music center?

logan multitasking

At 22 months, he finds that containers are good for exploring different possibilities. Perhaps a new vantage point. “If it’s good enough for the blocks, maybe I’ll check it out, too,” Logan says.

containerized logan

At Christmas time, Mr. Logan discovered that gifts can double as containers. This wagon doesn’t have to just hold toys.  It can be a nice resting place.

Logan in Wagon

It’s nice that Logan is showing an interest in containers. Another place where he can bond with Grandmother. And of course, let’s not forget how happy he was to explore his John Deer quilt that I gave him when he was 17 months. You can’t tell, but even his quilt has a container in it. He’s standing right in front on the barn block I included.

I love this little guy!

logan's quilt

A big shout out to my Kate and Gabe (daughter and son-in-law) for providing such a great home for Logan. Check out Kate’s penpalling blog at SincerelyKaterz.

family

An Idea Whose Time Has Not Yet Come. Or . . .

“Some changes look negative on the surface but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.” ― Eckhart Tolle

Carra making a baby quilt (pinwheel).

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wish I could say that the picture on the left is me at my sewing machine. But I can’t. Wikipedia doesn’t have images of me in its database. At least, I don’t think it does. Anyway, it’s not me. I don’t have a sweater that color. And I’ve spent so little time at the sewing machine lately that there is likely no photographic evidence of such an event..

What’s wrong with this picture? If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I love quilting.Yet, in spite of my desire to quilt, something isn’t working. I’ve noticed lately that whenever I do have a few minutes of “discretionary” time, I am always torn between quilting and some deadline or task that is clamoring for my attention. When I do have a few minutes to relax, I pick up things that only take a few minutes. This happens even though I have a relatively dedicated sewing and cutting area.

I had also noticed a few potentially bad signs. For example, the last time I sat down to sew, I only completed a couple impatient seams. They didn’t line up quite right. That made me impatient. It had been a few weeks since I had sewn anything, so I couldn’t put my hands on the seam ripper. My somewhat minimalist approach to keeping a sewing area did little to stem the slow tide of teaching and research clutter that often became entwined with my quilting. I began to wonder how–in one year–I had gone from daily work on Mr. Logan’s quilt (see here) to the upcoming semester break with no real prospect for time at the sewing machine or cutting board.

Quilt Block #1

(Photo credit: emily.bluestar)

Maybe it has something to do with the constant visual reminder. For starters, it gives me the mistaken idea that I can quilt anytime. The problem with that situation is that all my other projects are also in my visual radar, but they have more priority. Quilting will lose every time. But more than that, it was a constant reminder that it was losing every time. After all, if I really wanted to quilt, I’d just do it, right? This kind of thinking becomes a little dangerous for me. I began to think the best solution was to pack up the quilting one more time. I could still look at books, play with fabric and patterns, and make plans for when I can make the time to quilt.

Then came the 30 day moratorium for January 2013. When I decided to try that out for the new year, I had already decided to pack up the quilting stuff. But that didn’t stop me from becoming overwhelmed by the other stuff that was still left for me to catch up on and bring closure to before I can pursue the things that interest me the most. For the time being, responsibilities and obligations have become the headliners.While I knew the moratorium was the right thing to do, and that mapping my way out of the avalanche of projects was imperative and worthwhile, I still had a nagging feeling about the quilting. I mean, I do know I can’t do everything, but I forgot one important thing!

Quilt notes

Quilt notes (Photo credit: duien)

Life is not black and white!  Most people who know me marvel at my ability to be flexible and to brainstorm lots of options about any given problem. So, why did I limit my choices to having everything out in the open or packing it all up? I finally remembered something from thirty years in my past. I used a responsibility-free weekend to set up my own personal quilting retreat. The boys were visiting their father for the weekend, and I took the weekend off from work. I can’t tell you what project I worked on that weekend. But I cleared the dining room table, and brought out the sewing machine and ironing board, the cutting mats and fabric, and I spent a weekend doing nothing but quilting. It wasn’t just the weekend itself that was great, it was the anticipation leading up to it and preparing for the time when it came.

I can’t tell you why I didn’t continue the tradition. Oh yeah, life probably got in the way again. And at the time, I wasn’t strong enough to identify what I wanted and schedule it in. But now is the time to resurrect that custom. After all, quilting in my life has never been a constant. It has always found its way into my life in specialized containers of time. So I am now planning Quilting Day 2013. It’s the perfect time for a quilting retreat. I have four weeks with no classes. I have worked out a schedule to map out the tasks that need to be done. But most importantly, once I set the retreat dates, there is minimal chance of interference with the plan. The moratorium is in effect. Instead of a couple hours a day that I had hoped for during the semester break, I will take a two-day mini-vacation and spend it playing with color, fabric, and pattern. And in the process, I’ll have a less cluttered work-environment overall.

What started out as a potentially negative decision has brought new options. If I hadn’t been willing to pack up my quilting, I would have continued to encounter the frustration of never getting to the machine. I wouldn’t have rediscovered the alternative of setting up compartments of time that are totally dedicated to quilting as a workable solution to the problem. While some may think this seems like a negative change, I am reminded that a weekend once or twice a year is considerably more time than I get throughout an entire year. I can capitalize on the moratorium, begin to manage the backlog, move my projects forward, and anticipate a creative getaway to energize myself. When the sewing stuff comes out, it will be a visual and tactile picnic. And maybe the start of a new tradition.