Procrastinating

Procrastination, Thy Name is Kathy

April 29, 2010

I’m supposed to be completing an article that is due in two days and to avoid doing it, I’m procrastinating big time. So far today during the time I previously scheduled to complete this article, I’ve:
  • Gotten down on my knees to snuggle my dog
  • Taken something to the mailbox and brought in the morning paper and recycling bins
  • Refilled my half-full coffee cup
  • Looked at Jack Russell Terrier puppy pictures online
  • Read emails
  • Read blogs and commented on them
  • Started writing this blog post!
What is wrong with me?

I like writing. Really, I do. So why, when it comes right down to it, do I avoid it so determinedly? Is it the rebel in me saying, “No, I don’t want to do what you want when you want it?” Am I afraid? Am I lazy? Is it a little of all of those things? Probably. My job now is to overcome all those pesky little distractions and insecurities and FINISH THE ARTICLE.

OK. Talk to you later. But first, maybe I should get to that laundry...

I require a great deal of snuggling.
And aren't you glad she didn't put a picture of laundry here?

Multitasking

Do Less in More Time

April 26, 2010

It's not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?--Henry David Thoreau

Some time ago, I was reading one of those magazines that try to help you simplify your life, and I came across an article touting the benefits of exercising during “downtimes.” I don’t know about you, but when I’m waiting for the spaghetti water to boil, I’m emptying the dishwasher or putting the Goldfish crackers back in the pantry. I’m already multitasking, and when I pick up a magazine that touts The Simple Life, I want that life to be simpler than the one I already lead, thank you. I think multitasking and efficiency have gone too far when I can’t make dinner or ride an elevator without being expected to tone my thighs.

Our culture seems to be obsessed with doing more, more, more. Anyone who doesn’t hold down a job and fill their leisure hours with “worthwhile activity” is a slacker. Among my friends and acquaintances, our most common complaint is how busy we are, or how behind we feel. In order to achieve all our goals (make dinner, get in shape…), we’re forced to multitask.

And where is all this multitasking getting us anyway? Are we finding great chunks of time to do things we really love? Or are we just making it possible to do two or 10 more unfulfilling, maybe even unnecessary tasks? I ask myself, do I really need to alphabetize my herbs and spices? Wash the laundry room shelves? Shave the dog?

Please don't shave me...

When you think about it, is multitasking really so great? Who hasn’t been irritated—if not endangered—by the classic multitasker: the driver talking on his/her cell phone?

But here’s the clincher. A study published in 2009 by Stanford researchers found that multitaskers are more distractible and have more trouble focusing than non-multitaskers. (And this is a surprise?) In short, according to those researchers, multitaskers are incompetent.

So why do we do this to ourselves? Perhaps our busyness and multitasking are defense mechanisms, meant to keep us from seeing the empty places in our lives. If we fill every minute with activity—sometimes with more than one—we won’t feel the loneliness, anger or anxiety we’re so afraid of.

Or maybe we’re afraid that others will think less of us if we don’t have a long list of activities and achievements to rattle off when we’re asked what’s new. What would happen, I wonder, if we told a co-worker we spent the previous evening playing board games with our kids? Would we lose his or her respect because we didn’t work late, shuttle the kids to gymnastics practice and pick up the dry cleaning? We’ve seen a certain smugness some of those busy people exude—and we don’t want to lose face in front of them. If we’re not as busy as they are, maybe we’re not as important?

Philosophical questions aside, we’re still faced with ever-increasing demands on our time and the same old 24 hours to meet those demands. Now we find out that one of our techniques for managing our lives is actually making them more difficult. Maybe what we need instead of a magazine article that encourages us to exercise during downtimes is a series of articles that give us permission simply to be in the moment, to appreciate the ambiance of a restaurant without doing ankle rotations while waiting for our salads to arrive. The first article could be “Do Less in More Time—a Guide to the Slow Life.” Other articles could include:

--“The Joy of Daydreaming”
--“Put Those Bills Away!” (How to watch TV without doing something else at the same time.)
--“Ten Ways to Say No to Unwanted Activities”

Come to think of it, we don’t really need permission from anyone. We have the right—the need even—to slow our lives down to a livable pace. Let’s give our poor overworked brains and bodies a chance to focus on one thing at a time. And occasionally, let’s make that one thing stopping to smell the roses.

...or watch the sunset

Earth Day

It's Been 40 Years?

April 22, 2010

Today is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. Since that first celebration, we’ve made progress in cleaning up the most visible forms of pollution (remember the river in Cleveland, OH, that used to catch fire?). Our air and water are both cleaner than they were in the 1970s. While this is good, that doesn’t mean that all environmental dangers are gone, of course.

Photo courtesy Photoxpress.com

Whether or not you believe, for example, that global climate change is due to human actions, I believe that if we can, we should choose a more environmentally friendly way to live. I believe we are connected—with each other, with nature—and what hurts one element of this circle of life eventually hurts us all. Just like with the situation in Haiti, I’m overwhelmed by the issues brought up by environmental groups, conflicting scientific theories, and the myriad of choice beyond paper or plastic. I don’t have the time (or let’s be honest, the desire) to thoroughly research all aspects of “living greener.” So, I’m going back to my “Just One Thing” theory: what one thing can I do today that will make things better for the environment? Well, specifically, today I’ll take my reusable bags to the grocery store and avoid the paper-or-plastic question all together.

The other thing I plan to do is work my way towards using less toxic cleaning supplies. My husband and son (and dog) suffer from allergies, and I wonder if using more natural cleaning supplies might help them a little. I also hate the idea of pouring caustic chemicals into the water supply. Red Tide is a familiar and unwelcome visitor to the Gulf of Mexico beaches near our home. I already use environmentally-friendly automatic dishwashwer soap, and have experiemented with various commercial “green” cleaners. I’d like to see if I can make my own cleaners for less money. One of the drawbacks for me in the past is that I hate the smell of white vinegar, one of the main ingredients in most home-brewed cleaners. An article in my local newspaper suggested adding essential oils to the mixes to cover up the vinegar smell—a suggestion I’m going to try.

Today, an estimated one billion people in 190 countries will take part in Earth Day activities, according to earthday.org. What about you? What are your concerns about the environment? Do you plan to do anything different this year? Participate in any Earth Day events?

Whatever you choose to do, I wish you a happy Earth Day! Now I think I’ll go outside to enjoy the beautiful Spring weather and give thanks for the blessing of green grass, flowers and fresh air.

Everyday adventures

Learning to Speak Horse

April 19, 2010

Horses have their own language—primarily “spoken” with their bodies. Everything from flattened ears to a well-timed kick communicates something to another horse. Many times their language is more subtle than that, and I can’t begin to decipher it. But I’m learning.

Saturday my riding buddies and I participated in a Parelli clinic at our barn. Parelli is one of the big names in what is known as “natural horsemanship”—a system of training that, among other things, teaches horse handlers to work with horses using body language. According to practitioners, it’s useful for any type of riding or horse discipline, and for all breeds, because it deals with horse/human communication and builds a trusting and respectful relationship, instead of an adversarial—predator vs. prey—one.

Yes, I am very handsome, aren't I?


I won’t bore you with details from the clinic…only let you know that in this I am back at square one with Tank. I am learning his language, and as yet I haven’t mastered it. I’m lucky that Tank is a mellow and forgiving fellow, and any mistakes I make likely won’t hurt our relationship. I am awkward and unsure as I learn the techniques and “games” that will build our levels of communication, respect and trust. Some things I’ve done have sent the wrong messages to him and I have to unlearn some things.

What I’m learning from this is that sometimes you have to take a step backwards to take two steps forward. I’m willing to do that with and for the horse I’ve dreamed of all my life. I’m willing to make mistakes and look foolish if it helps me towards my goal of being the owner he deserves.

Is it dinnertime yet?

What about you? What big, hairy goal would you like to accomplish—and what steps, even steps backward, are you willing to take to get there?

Plants

Garden Festival Gifts

April 13, 2010

We’re having what I’ve come to consider typical April weather in central Florida: sunny, mild and breezy. I love the breezes of April and the clear blue skies dotted with cottony clouds. I spend all the time I can outdoors before the humidity of summer drives me indoors, so it’s fitting that we spent part of Saturday at the University of South Florida Botanical Gardens’ 21st annual Spring Plant Festival.

The gardens themselves looked great, considering the hard winter we had. (I know anyone from the North reading this is snorting their coffee thinking of Florida’s “hard winter,” but truthfully, the landscape here was pretty ravaged.) It’s a pleasure to stroll through the grounds any time, but especially so when booths filled with blooming flowers, herbs, orchids and rare and exotic fruit trees line the walkways. We wandered by the butterfly garden, a newly-installed carnivorous plant area, and a gently tumbling stream.



At the festival (and isn’t “festival” a happy word full of color and music and celebration?), local plant clubs and societies as well as commercial growers from throughout the state sell everything from African violets, orchids, bromeliads and bonsai to bougainvillea, native plants, camellias, tropical fruit trees, palms, carnivorous plants and more. Of course you can purchase plants, but if you have a plant-related question, someone here knows the answer and is happy to share it with you.

I had a list of plants I wanted to buy to replace some of the casualties from our freezing winter, and secretly I hoped to find one or two interesting orchids to add to my ever-growing obsess…—I mean collection. I came home with two orchids, some basil (my seedlings have mysteriously disappeared from their starter flat), chocolate mint, a geranium and a Ptilotus Joey, a plant I’d never heard of before.

The loot

Ptolitus Joey is in the back

I would have bought more, but there was just too much to choose from! I’ve discovered that I become paralyzed and unable to make a decision when faced with too much variety, and end up choosing nothing. Sometimes that happens to me in life, too. I have so many interests and responsibilities that I become overwhelmed and instead of partaking of the delicious abundance available, I shut down and do nothing, letting things pile up around me. I retreat into the safety of a book or a TV show, or I do nothing but the menial and unimportant, neglecting the things that are of real value to me.

Perhaps my word of the year should have been “simplify” instead of “open.” But then I would be going against part of my very nature—the part that wants to taste and touch and explore and learn. The trick is finding a way to do it without overwhelming myself—somehow making my way though the garden festival of life without losing myself in its riot of color and scent.

Baseball

I [Heart] Baseball

April 07, 2010

"Baseball is a ballet without music. Drama without words."
Ernie Harwell

Last night our local pro baseball team played its season-opening game. They won in a most exciting fashion, with left fielder Carl Crawford knocking in the tying and winning runs in the bottom of the ninth. Go Rays!

Photo courtesy Stockvault.net

We watch a fair amount of televised sports in the Johnson household. I could blame it on the boys (the 40+- and 15-year-olds), but I admit that as often as not, I’m the one switching on the set. I’ve already written about the Sunday afternoon tradition of football and queso dip. I would have discussed the Tampa Bay Lightning, our hockey team, but the less said about this season, the better. And now it’s time for baseball.

"That’s the true harbinger of spring, not crocuses or swallows returning to Capistrano, but the sound of a bat on a ball."
Bill Veeck

In some ways, baseball is my favorite sport to watch on TV. Aside from the attraction of athletic men in uniforms, I like the somewhat cerebral nature of the game. I find it restful. I can do a crossword puzzle, sketch, read the paper, surf the net (I’ve got a game on now, as I type)—and still not miss anything. Baseball’s leisurely pace allows me to watch the action (and yes, there IS action) as well as putter around the house. I don’t know why, but this appeals to me.

"This is a game to be savored, not gulped. There’s time to discuss everything between pitches or between innings."
Bill Veeck

Even watching a baseball game in person is relatively relaxing. The Rays’ stadium is an air-conditioned dome in St. Petersburg, a blessing in muggy, thunderstorm-y Florida. We’ve made many happy memories in the stands, eating peanuts, hot dogs and cotton candy (and pizza and chicken tenders…). Once, when our son was in Little League, we marched around the field with other uniformed Little League teams while the pros warmed up. We’ve appeared on the “Kiss Cam” on the JumboTron and my husband once caught a foul ball. We went wild with excitement when the Rays went from last in the league in 2007 to the World Series in 2008.

If you want to know more about baseball, I suggest It Takes More Than Balls: The Savvy Girls’ Guide to Understanding and Enjoying Baseball by Deidre Silva and Jackie Koney. (With me, there’s always a book recommendation.)

The Rays have just taken the lead over the Orioles. Time to hunt up my sketchbook and settle in for the duration.


"Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona."
George F. Will

Poetry

Take One Before Bed

April 05, 2010

“Always be a poet, even in prose.”
--Charles Baudelaire

I once heard Stephen King recommend reading a poem every night before going to sleep.  He reads poetry himself, and writes it, too.

Stephen King?!  The King of Horror?!

Whether or not you enjoy Stephen King's works, if you've read him, you know that the man has a way with words--he's definitely a poet, even in prose. I admire his skill (even as I pull the covers over my head).

April is National Poetry Month, and I'm celebrating by dusting off the poetry books on my bedside table and reading a poem every night before bed.  


National Poetry Month attempts “to widen the attention of individuals and the media to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic range and concern,” according to the American Academy of Poets, sponsors of the event.

If you’re interested in participating in National Poetry Month, you can sign up for a poem-a-day email for the month of April here. Or download a free iTunes app called "Poem Flow" (an animated version of a poem reads itself to you).

Here are a few more simple things you can do (taken from http://www.poets.org/):

Google a poem. Do you have a line of verse running through your head? Many people do…and with the simple click of a mouse, they can discover where that line came from and explore the rest of the poem.

Buy a book of poems for your library. Many libraries have been hit by funding cuts, and would greatly appreciate the donation of a book of poetry.

Add verse to your email signature. Your email program may allow you to create a personalized signature that gets automatically added to the end of every email you send.

And, of course,

Read a book of poetry. (Or even just one poem, for that matter.)

Where to start? I’ve written about American Life in Poetry here and it remains one of my favorite places to explore poetry. In addition, here are two of my favorite books for sampling poetry or learning about it in general: Poet’s Choice: Poems for Everyday Life (selected and introduced by Robert Hass) and Poetry Daily: 366 Poems from the World’s Most Popular Poetry Website.

On a more fanciful note, try reading If I Were in Charge of the World and Other Worries (subtitled “poems for children and their parents”) or How Did I Get to Be 40…& Other Atrocities, both by Judith Viorst. Also, Love that Dog is one of the most touching books I’ve ever read, and one of the best examples of how poetry can enrich your daily life.

I know poetry is not to everyone’s taste, but I hope if you give it a chance, you’ll find it can be part of your life. Happy reading!

Simple pleasures

Spring Has Sprung

April 02, 2010

After what has been a super cold winter for us, things are growing, blooming and flooding the air with pollen. The allergic in the family (including the dog) are sneezing and itching and blowing…but it’s SPRING! There is evidence all around...

A volunteer snapdragon



Dogwood blossoms


New maple leaves


Persian shield coming back from the dead


One teeny basil seedling--grow, baby!

So excuse me while I go enjoy the warm sun and soft breezes of April.  Here's wishing you a warm and wonderful weekend.


Look for my travel writing here