Lost, Not Found: Day 4 of the Writing 101 Blogging Challenge

writing-101-june-2014-class-badge-2Prompt for June 5

Write about a loss: something (or someone) that was part of your life, and isn’t any more.

Today’s twist: Make today’s post the first in a three-post series.

The process of moving out of the house where my children were finally raised and launched did not happen all at once. I left for graduate school after my daughter (the youngest) graduated from high school.  That was the first stage of moving. What we didn’t take to South Bend with us ended up in storage–with friends and relatives. My husband was a collector of sorts, and he was able to find storage homes for much of his stuff.

Not that I didn’t have stuff, I did. But after a few yard sales, I had scaled some stuff back. It was at that point in my life that I even thought I was going to “give up” quilting. Some lucky fabric lovers got deals on my fabric and my quilting books. We all know that quilting wasn’t lost forever at that point, so this post is about the loss of something else.

Somewhere in the process, however, I lost a black metal 3×5 file box–the extra long kind was nowhere to be found. It probably could hold at least 500 cards–not that it ever did, but the potential was there. If you haven’t noticed elsewhere, I really like index cards and their attendant paraphernalia. If you haven’t noticed, I’m better at hiding it than I realized.

As you might suspect, it wasn’t the loss of the file box itself that was terribly disappointing; such things can be easily replaced. But what was inside cannot be replaced. At least not in the form that held so much meaning. That card file was home to my collection of recipe cards. And while it’s true that I very rarely use recipe cards (or cookbooks anymore), that recipe file held something more precious than simple recipes–it held memories.

Let me give you a few examples:

  • When my sister, Cindy, and I were in high school, we started doing some baking. And we had a few recipes that were pretty standard. A killer brownie recipe, no-bake cookies, never-fail cake, and maybe something else. (You might notice I have no trouble remember the items with chocolate as the featured ingredient.) We had a typewriter in our bedroom, and we decided that we needed to have these recipes typed up for easy access. So she typed them.
  • My mother-in-law, Ann, was well known for her cooking. But two of my favorites were her home-made bread and her 1-2-3-4 cake. And yes, I can find those recipes in other places, I know. But at one point in time, she gave me those two recipes. They were written on sheets of white paper with blue lines from a writing tablet. The recipes continued on both sides of the page. They didn’t fit in the file box without folding, but I folded them both in quarters, and they fit just fine.
    My maternal grandmother

    My maternal grandmother

     

  • My maternal grandmother made awesome date nut bread. Luckily, she also gave several of us the recipe on an actual recipe card with some little artistic thing in the upper left hand corner. I can almost see the handwriting and the little orange-colored thing in the corner, but not enough to make out what it was up there. And who can forget the most important part of the instructions: START WITH A COLD OVEN!

These three people are no longer part of my life, but the recipes in that file box were one of the ways I continued to feel connected to them after their deaths. Of course, I have other memories, and–in each of these three cases–I have something else from them.

  • There are other stories from that recipe box. Marie, our long-time neighbor and friend, gave me her recipe for hamburger soup. She had made it for me a couple of times, once after I had surgery. I loved that soup. It is not something I would typically make, but her soup was magical. And even though, I made it from her recipe, it was never as good as hers.

When I thought about writing about the loss of my recipe file, I knew some of the stories I would include. I hadn’t originally planned to put Marie’s story here. But I’m so glad I did. Our 22 years as neighbors didn’t end there. Every summer that I’ve gone back to Michigan, I’ve always included a visit to Marie’s kitchen, just like the old days when I went across the alley to visit. Writing this post reminds me that it’s time to check in with Marie. It’s crazy, because I really do think of her often, but she rarely hears from me. I am surprised how a simple thing like a recipe file holds so much more than recipes. Apparently, the loss of the file itself is not as tragic as it sometime seems; after all, I still have these memories even without the actual file. I still have the memories of the friendships, the connections, and the laughter that come with the preparation and sharing of food.

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As for the twist, I don’t know how this will fit into a serial post, but I’ll see how it goes when I get there.

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This post if part of the WordPress Writing 101 Blogging Challenge:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/writing-101-day-four/

 

 

 

 

 

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.