A Kind Of Resurrection Story

Grandma and Grandpa
Grandma & Grandpa all dressed up, just the way Grandma liked.

Here’s a re-post of a family history story I wrote a few Easters back now. A lot has changed since then but a lot has stayed the same, too. Take care and thanks for reading. – Lori

My grandma didn’t like living on the farm. Well, not most of the time. I don’t know exactly why this was. It might have had to do with her glamourous sisters and one sister in particular.

My great aunt Esther trained to be a nurse in Edmonton and then moved to California. Once there, and being a beauty, she landed a couple minor roles in the movies. Meanwhile, my grandma described to me working as a janitor in the local one-room schoolhouse and later in life, milking cows on the farm as the animals swished their “poopy” tails in her face.

Hear me read this post:

I can imagine how she sometimes felt about her life comparing it to the excitement of Hollywood. But everything that glitters isn’t gold. Grandma would have reminded me that cow poop doesn’t glitter. I would’ve liked to tell her that her life lived simply was equally as valuable as a Hollywood life, just different.

Grandma loved cut flowers in crystal vases, paved sidewalks, pressed linen tablecloths, and elegant clothing.

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Daffodils in a nice vase were something Grandma enjoyed more than she enjoyed dead calves or milk cows.

My grandma did not like gross things. That’s why I was really surprised when she shared the following story with me.

It would have been about this time of year, late March or maybe a bit on into April. Grandpa’s Hereford cows were calving, and this kept my grandparents busy day and night. One morning, Grandma headed out to the barnyard to find Grandpa. On her way across the yard to the barn, she saw the body of a newborn calf stretched out in the weak early-morning light.

As Grandpa emerged from the barn, he nodded at the lifeless calf and said, “Born last night. Didn’t make it.”

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Not Hollywood. Not even close.

She wasn’t particularly an animal lover, my grandma. They never had pet cats or dogs. Grandpa loved horses, but they were his interest, not hers. I don’t know what compelled her to do what she did – and to spend so much precious time doing it.

For some reason, my grandma wasn’t convinced that the calf was beyond hope. She fetched a tattered woolen blanket, laid it over the red and white form of the calf, and slowly, methodically, she began massaging its limbs and its body.

My grandpa had work to do. “Leave it alone, Emma. It’s dead,” he told her impatiently and headed off to do his next task. But she didn’t leave it alone, that goo-encrusted calf.

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A one-room schoolhouse similar to the one Grandma cleaned.

“I dragged it right into the sunshine where it was warmer, and I kept rubbing and rubbing that calf with that old blanket.” I remember her chuckling here and shaking her head in disbelief. “And you know, after a couple hours, that calf kicked and snorted and stood up. Clifford couldn’t believe it!”

My favourite stories are the ones that show a totally different aspect to the people I’ve loved and thought I knew. Even if the stories aren’t sweet, I like to delve into the complexity of people. I like to move beyond the pretty and into the messy. That’s where it gets interesting.

I wonder to this day why on earth my grandma, who didn’t like getting dirty or bloody or sweaty, would’ve rubbed that calf for two hours on her knees out in the chilly barnyard. All she told me about it was, “I thought if I didn’t give up and just kept on rubbing, that calf would come to life.”

Apparently, she was right.

 

Grandma and Grandpa
Clifford and Emma Knutson

Human Beings, Not Human Doings

 

Name Plate
My old teacher name plate from St. Patrick School.

This is a post I wrote about a year ago. SInce then, I’m teaching less, and I’m editing and writing more. I’m also letting go and confirming that doing something doesn’t make you something. Just being is enough.

I used to be a full-time teacher and for a long time, that was my identity. In a small community, I was known as the Grade 3 teacher. The teacher box was the one I fit in. Almost two years ago I gave up this position to train for a new career in writing and editing.

Since completing my editing coursework and graduating from Simon Fraser University, I’ve taken on some writing projects and I’ve also done some substitute teaching. The substitute teaching has been great. I work at the school here in town, so I get to walk to work. I also get to work with older students. I wasn’t sure how that would go! They’re so tall and I’m not. As it turns out, those big kids suit me just fine.

Listen to me read this post:

The trouble with substitute teaching is not substitute teaching. This job lets me feel useful and it helps teachers out. It’s fun to work with the students and refreshing to teach new content. The trouble with substitute teaching is that it reminds me what it’s like to be in that teacher box but denies me actually owning that teacher identity. This is uncomfortable. I don’t quite know who I am or where I fit in anymore. My identity was clear and now it’s blurry.

2008
My school photo taken the one year I taught Grade 3 here in Hughenden.

We are not our work.

This is true, and yet we all identify each other by our occupations. “So, what do you do?” The inquirer is not asking about whether you garden, exercise, or meditate. The inquirer wants to know how you make a living. “What is your key identifier?” That’s usually what we want to know when we ask about what another person does.

Now that I’m transitioning between careers, I feel identity-less. More accurate to say that I don’t have as solid and reliable identity as I once had. “I’m a teacher.” It was certain and no one could dispute it. It was the container I belonged in.

Supporting our identities takes energy.

We spend a lot of time and energy building and maintaining our self-identities. It’s handy to be able to describe ourselves: married, employed, Gemini, middle-aged, menopausal, rock music fan, hockey fan, agnostic, and not a morning person. We wear rings and T-shirts to support our identity. Our posts on social media proclaim our self-image. To own a solid identity is to exist.

But there’s an obvious problem with relying on identity. Identity changes constantly.

Identity is not static, so why do we strive to make it into something more solid and real than it is? Why do we cling to our self-identities as if they were life preservers in the waters of life’s ocean? Self-identity changes as sure as each wave rises and falls and disappears back into the sea. Who we are doesn’t stay the same. Sometimes we change imperceptibly and sometimes we change in the blink of an eye in the biggest way.

2015
One of many of my school photos taken while I taught Grade 3 at Amisk School.

It’s time to let go.

It’s difficult during this life change to let go of my professional image, a ghost that’s long since faded from a colourfully-decorated Grade 3 classroom. If I want to move forward, I need to take this old picture of myself out of its frame and throw it away. It’s not me anymore.

What would happen if I let go of my self-identity and took a break from trying to label myself? Probably nothing would happen because this identity is unreliable. Just like today’s weather, my identity will be different when the sun rises tomorrow. We humans crave constancy, but it’s not to be found in this mortal realm.

Life without an identity is freer.

This identity we work so hard to support and nurture might just be weighing us down. It’s like we’re building boxes of specific dimensions and out of imaginary lumber, and then shaping ourselves so that we’ll fit. We’re limiting who we might become and what we might do, all the while ignoring the fact that we constantly change shape and size. We’ll never quite fit into that box.

Let’s step out of that self-made container, take a nice deep breath of fresh air, and stretch our legs. The view is broader out here and the present moment is bursting with potential. Outside the box, we can discover that we aren’t what we do. We simply are. We are all human beings, not human doings.

If you don’t already, consider following my blog by email or through WordPress. My posts won’t always show up in your social media feed. Thanks for reading and listening. See you next time! ~ Lori

 

 

 

Fuel for Life

Hello everyone! This reblog is a short reflection on the necessity of coffee. I hope you’re have a great Sunday! It’s beautiful here and I might wander out into the yard and do a little cleaning up in the garden. See you soon. ~ Lori

Opinion CoffeeI wake up disoriented and disappointed by the day of the week. It’s not, as I’d hoped, the weekend. It is, as I suspected, a workday. My mind immediately begins to seek out a good reason to be optimistic, a good reason to get out of bed, something small to look forward to.

There it is, that smell. Rich and familiar, it drifts down the short hallway from the kitchen. Freshly ground the night before in anticipation of the inevitable morning, placed in the basket of my drip coffeemaker, and set to brew at 5:45 am.

 

Hear me read this post:

My feet reluctantly feel for the floor as I pry my body from the depths of the too-soft mattress and into an upright position. More dead than alive, more zombie than human, I move like a plant towards the sun in the direction of the aroma that promises energy and goodwill toward humankind.

I take a mug down from the cupboard, barely able to feel the handle through the fog of weariness. I set the cup on the counter and slowly, deliberately fill it with hot coffee. Black as Satan’s soul, strong as lighter fluid, essential as mother’s milk. Rocket fuel. That’s the stuff.

Coffee

A few sips and the haze lifts. Objects come into sharper focus, and both my mood and my memory start to improve. I remember my name, my vocation, my place of residence. Now I can feel the floor beneath my slippers and the mug clutched in my grateful hands. Within a few minutes, I am completely restored to my old living self.

Lists of what needs to be done form themselves in my head. Powered by caffeine, I can’t wait to commence checking items off. The life that looked dreary from the vantage point of my bed now shines with opportunity when viewed through coffee-enhanced retinas. What a change! What a chance to begin again.

If the world enjoys my participation in it even a bit, most mornings it owes any of its gratitude to coffee without which I wouldn’t make it out of my cocoon. Or maybe I would. It’s just difficult to imagine life without coffee. I’d rather not.

 

The Old Stone House

SH by Lori

Hi! This is a reblog of the post I created (with the help of others) for the Amisk-Hughenden Historical Society. It’s all about the stone house that Ed Carson refurbished after it had been abandoned and stood empty for about 40 years.

I recall Ed telling me about starting work on this huge project: “The entire floor was covered in two feet of pigeon sh*t when I first got started.”

So I asked him, “Ed, how did you clean it all out?”

“I shovelled a spot every day. I didn’t think about how much pigeon poop there was. I just thought about the work I’d accomplished that day.”

“Where did you learn to work like that?” I wanted to know. “I would’ve been overwhelmed by the task ahead.”

“My dad,” Ed said, “He always told me that when you first start a big job, break it up into smaller jobs and, at the end of the day, look at what you got done, not at what’s left to do. It was some of the best advice I’d ever got.”

Here’s the link to the article at the Amisk-Hughenden Historical Society’s website. If you’re interested in history, please consider giving us a follow. Also, let others who might enjoy this know about it. The internet’s a crowded place and we don’t want interested folks to miss out on our content just because they didn’t know it existed.

Old Stone House blog post link: The Old Stone House

If you’re local to my area and would like to see a history story written about, send me your idea via this website or in the comments of the historical society website. I’m always looking for new things to write about.

Thanks for reading! I’ll see you again soon.

~ Lori

You Were Gone?

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Student desk and dictionary at the Hines Creek Museum.

Hi there everyone! I hope you’re having a good start to a fresh, new week. I’m re-posting this post today because as another school year approaches, I’m missing my identity as a teacher again! When will this let up? I’ve got a ton of other interests and a lot of things to keep me occupied, and yet I cling and cling to this image of myself.

I examine my teaching years through a realistic lens, I remember the stress that led to the soul-sucking insomnia. I remember the fear of criticism from self and others. I see clearly the hours of pointless meetings and the children that I didn’t know how to reach.

Teaching was hard, but letting go of a long-held identity has its challenges, too.

If you haven’t done so already, please consider following my blog right here on WordPress or signing up to have my posts show up directly in your email’s inbox. Either way, I’d love to have your support! Take care and have a great Tuesday. ~ Lori

Recently I contacted someone I’d worked with for years to let him know that I’m available as a substitute teacher. My ego was deflated when he said, “I wasn’t aware that you weren’t teaching full time.”

Really? Wasn’t aware? To me, it seemed that this guy and I were at every meeting and at every conference together. I saw him often.

I’ve been out of the local school system for over a year now and this former colleague never even noticed. I would’ve been happier if his response had been, “I wondered where you were!”

Listen to me read this post:

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The one-room schoolhouse in the community of Green Island.

But he didn’t wonder. My presence or absence didn’t affect him much. Most of the time, we don’t notice what our passing acquaintances are doing. We’re happy to see them or to hear from them when we do, but beyond those moments, we don’t give others much thought.

It can be a bit of a letdown, realizing how infrequently others notice us. On the other hand, this realization can be very freeing. Over the course of my life I’ve spent way too much time worrying about what others might think of me and my actions. In a way it’s nice to discover that they barely think of me at all.

When I decided to resign from my teaching position in December of 2016 to attend university for a year, I was concerned about how people might react. In the end, people simply congratulated me or thanked me or said nothing, and then very quickly, we all moved on. It’s what we do. We keep on going.

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Another desk at the museum in Hines Creek north of Fairview, Alberta where I grew up.

A skilled young teacher stepped into my former position to start her own career, and I began studying writing and editing. Surprise, surprise. I’d made a change and the world didn’t stop turning. In fact, my decision to change benefited two lives, mine and the new teacher’s.

Change is scary because we don’t like uncertainty. It’s not comfortable. That’s why we plan and try to control the things yet to happen. But no matter how much we schedule or plot or analyze, it’s impossible to accurately predict the outcome of anything we do. We can chart and graph until our eyes dry up and fall out of our heads. All our planning won’t stop the rain from raining or the snow from falling.

Life is uncertain. That’s its nature, and we’re forced to work with this uncertainty in which we exist. That’s reality.

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I had a desk like this in Grade One! I remember that heavy drawer.

Now that I’ve just returned to the classroom as a sub, I realize that my big career change was no big deal. I can tell this by the reactions that span, “Oh, you were gone?” to “Welcome back!” Neither of these reactions indicates an earth-shattering event.

This career change and its consequences have shifted the way I view making larger life changes. Big decisions aren’t as daunting now. I worry less about what others will think because I’ve got proof that they won’t think much about what I decide either way.

And if they do consider my actions, their considerations will be brief, like the shadow of a flying bird passing over the ground. “That’s dumb” or “That’s smart” or “Maybe I should try that.”

Others’ reactions to our actions don’t last long and they sure don’t matter much. What does matter is our acceptance of uncertainty and our willingness to change, to take a risk. We can’t know where any path will lead us. All I know for sure is that the view from the bottom of my deep rut was way less open than the wider view I got when I climbed out.

 

Back in the Classroom

Today in class the topic of my age came up as it sometimes does. The students were saying that I am still pretty young.

“Well,” I told them, “I’m not so young anymore,” to which one young man replied, “Nope. You’re not young or old. You’re just mediocre!”

I hope he meant middle-aged. Either way, he’s probably right.

Cute Not Rich

Yesterday, a student was sharpening a pencil endlessly. I told him, “That’s enough. Take it out and check to see if it’s sharp.”

He pulled it out of the electric sharpener. I watched as he peered at the point, looked astonished, flipped the pencil around and looked at the eraseless base.

The student held the pencil as he would a telescope and pointed it in my direction. “There’s no lead in this pencil!” he called out. We all found this extraordinarily amusing. Especially me.

Thanks to those of you who, since my departure from Facebook, have started following me here on WordPress. I sure appreciate it. And, as always, I appreciate the support of all my readers. I left Facebook for a few reasons and soon I’ll tell you all about why I made this choice. If you care to share my post on Facebook, that would be great! It is still one of the best vehicles for getting blog posts noticed and read.

mark-twain-on-education

I’m back in the classroom on a temporary, full-time contract. It’s going just fine, but I am challenged and tired! I haven’t had it in me to write much, but I couldn’t resist sharing these couple of recent classroom stories.

Take care, everyone, and if you’re in my neck of the woods or anywhere cold, keep warm!

No Mosquitoes

If you haven’t already, please follow me here on WordPress. That would be so nice.

Human Beings, Not Human Doings

 

Name Plate
My old teacher name plate from St. Patrick School.

I used to be a full-time teacher and for a long time, that was my identity. In a small community, I was known as the Grade 3 teacher. The teacher box was the one I fit in. Almost two years ago I gave up this position to train for a new career in writing and editing.

Since completing my editing coursework and graduating from Simon Fraser University, I’ve taken on some writing projects and I’ve also done some substitute teaching. The substitute teaching has been great. I work at the school here in town, so I get to walk to work. I also get to work with older students. I wasn’t sure how that would go! They’re so tall and I’m not. As it turns out, those big kids suit me just fine.

Listen to me read this post:

The trouble with substitute teaching is not substitute teaching. This job lets me feel useful and it helps teachers out. It’s fun to work with the students and refreshing to teach new content. The trouble with substitute teaching is that it reminds me what it’s like to be in that teacher box but denies me actually owning that teacher identity. This is uncomfortable. I don’t quite know who I am or where I fit in anymore. My identity was clear and now it’s blurry.

2008
My school photo taken the one year I taught Grade 3 here in Hughenden.

We are not our work.

This is true, and yet we all identify each other by our occupations. “So, what do you do?” The inquirer is not asking about whether you garden, exercise, or meditate. The inquirer wants to know how you make a living. “What is your key identifier?” That’s usually what we want to know when we ask about what another person does.

Now that I’m transitioning between careers, I feel identity-less. More accurate to say that I don’t have as solid and reliable identity as I once had. “I’m a teacher.” It was certain and no one could dispute it. It was the container I belonged in.

Supporting our identities takes energy.

We spend a lot of time and energy building and maintaining our self-identities. It’s handy to be able to describe ourselves: married, employed, Gemini, middle-aged, menopausal, rock music fan, hockey fan, agnostic, and not a morning person. We wear rings and T-shirts to support our identity. Our posts on social media proclaim our self-image. To own a solid identity is to exist.

But there’s an obvious problem with relying on identity. Identity changes constantly.

Identity is not static, so why do we strive to make it into something more solid and real than it is? Why do we cling to our self-identities as if they were life preservers in the waters of life’s ocean? Self-identity changes as sure as each wave rises and falls and disappears back into the sea. Who we are doesn’t stay the same. Sometimes we change imperceptibly and sometimes we change in the blink of an eye in the biggest way.

2015
One of many of my school photos taken while I taught Grade 3 at Amisk School.

It’s time to let go.

It’s difficult during this life change to let go of my professional image, a ghost that’s long since faded from a colourfully-decorated Grade 3 classroom. If I want to move forward, I need to take this old picture of myself out of its frame and throw it away. It’s not me anymore.

What would happen if I let go of my self-identity and took a break from trying to label myself? Probably nothing would happen because this identity is unreliable. Just like today’s weather, my identity will be different when the sun rises tomorrow. We humans crave constancy, but it’s not to be found in this mortal realm.

Life without an identity is freer.

This identity we work so hard to support and nurture might just be weighing us down. It’s like we’re building boxes of specific dimensions and out of imaginary lumber, and then shaping ourselves so that we’ll fit. We’re limiting who we might become and what we might do, all the while ignoring the fact that we constantly change shape and size. We’ll never quite fit into that box.

Let’s step out of that self-made container, take a nice deep breath of fresh air, and stretch our legs. The view is broader out here and the present moment is bursting with potential. Outside the box, we can discover that we aren’t what we do. We simply are. We are all human beings, not human doings.

If you don’t already, consider following my blog by email or through WordPress. My posts won’t always show up in your social media feed. Thanks for reading and listening. See you next time! ~ Lori

 

 

 

More Like Her

patience2
She is patient. Image from aboundingwisdom.com

Patient and selfless, she’s everything I want to be. I met a lady this summer that made me want to change my life, to slow down, and to focus on what matters. I suppose I met a hero, someone I aspire to be like.

I’ve watched her work. She set up her workspace efficiently and unhurriedly. She didn’t rush and she didn’t panic. I never saw her stressed or annoyed. Even now when someone enters her office, she gets right to work, quickly and without argument and with minimal discussion. She works long hours, too, but you never hear her complain. She accepts what her job demands.

Hear me read this post:

This one understands who she is and is comfortable in her own skin. That being said, she’s not afraid to change and to shed her skin if needed. This gal’s adaptable. She can deal with what life sends her way, and deal with it she does.

Sunset, Anglin Lake, Saskatchewan. Photo credit Dale Clark
She works calmly. Photo by Dale Clark

We’ve all heard it said, “You’ve got to hustle and go after what you want. You’ve got to chase your dream!” I have seen that work for people, and some of them did get what they wanted. They experienced success and reached their goal. Sometimes that works and it’s great when it does.

This, however, is not the strategy used by this exceptional lady. She doesn’t hustle and she doesn’t chase. Still, she gets exactly what she wants without running around. And she’s satisfied working from home. I’d like to work like that, relaxed and yet productive.

Even though she works from home, her professional life doesn’t destroy the peace of her domestic life. She lives simply and quietly. She seems very happy that way.

Peaceful home
She works from her peaceful home. Image from home-designing.com

You might say, “Well, if she’s that happy she must be very self-centered.” You’d think so, but no. This gal’s work provides her a good living, sure, but it’s a very altruistic path she’s on. Most of her work benefits the world. That’s another one of the things I admire about her. She works for herself and she works for others.

Talk about focus! For someone who spends so much time on the web, this lady isn’t distracted by much. Unlike me, she’s not always checking her e-mail or checking her notifications. She uses her technical connections for work, not for entertainment. The web enables her without ever keeping her from work. I wish I could be this disciplined.

solitude-5
She is strong in her solitude. Image from stockvault.net

I don’t think she has many friends, but she doesn’t seem to be lonesome. Sure, she has company over once in a while, but visits are pretty infrequent. Someone this self-sufficient and independent doesn’t need a lot of external support. I envy her confidence and her content solitude.

Sometimes we’re lucky enough to meet someone who changes the way we look at our own lives. It was a real pleasure to spend time with her this summer and I’m glad to have had her as an example of how rich and satisfying my own professional and personal life can be if I just follow her lead.

I gratefully acknowledge her willingness to let me share several pictures of her here.

Did you like what you read here? Consider following my blog either right here on WordPress or through email. See the right sidebar to follow me. It’s easy and it’s free. This way, you won’t miss any of my posts. Thanks for reading! ~ Lori

 

 

 

Growing Resentment

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Yellow sunflower.

This is a piece I wrote while I was still teaching full time. It feels familiar today because I’m back teaching from now until the end of June. It’s nice to be back in the classroom, but I’m really glad I didn’t put in a big garden.

I just put in four shorts rows of vegetables – some carrots, beets, Swiss chard, and beans. Other than that the garden will pretty much be full of wild flowers.

Listen to me read this post:

This blog is called Growing Resentment and it’s for all of us who have ever resented yardwork and gardening on sweet summer days that are far too full.

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Pink cosmos.

For two months I’ve been saying it. “I’m not going to grow a garden this year. I’m too busy.”

Probably this is true. The garden needs to be planted and tended just when I’m preparing report cards and going on field trips. It needs to be harvested when I’m planning for the upcoming school year and getting to know my new students. Late spring and early fall are busy in classrooms and busy in gardens.

 

But then, yesterday, I went shopping and ended up at a greenhouse. It was then, with the temptation to plant so close and with the plants so plentiful, that I struck a compromise with myself.

“Self,” I said. “Instead of planting seeds this year, why don’t you purchase bedding plants? Vegetables and flowers that have been started will be easier. Put those into the warm earth, water, and fertilize them and – poof! – you’ll have an instant garden.”

I bought this argument and bought a wide variety of flowers and vegetables, and planned to fill my garden plot today, Sunday. Today, the weather was sunny and warm, perfect for planting. So I put on my gardening clothes, including hat and insect repellant, and out I went armed with a hoe, a tiny bottle of potent fertilizer, and a metal watering can.

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Orange sunflowers in my metal watering can.

The first half-an-hour was just fine. Then, slowly, a bad, bitter taste began to fill my mouth. I recognized it immediately as sour resentment. The sun was too hot even in the mid-morning and, having not bothered to eat breakfast, I was hungry and thirsty.

I resented the wilting plants who were appreciating the sun’s intensity as much as I was. I resented the little weeds that were popping up here and there in the recently-tilled soil. I resented even the dirt itself and the buzzing bees as they dutifully pollinated the raspberries. I resented the laughter of neighbours and the singing of the birds. In short, I resented putting in a garden when I had told myself that I wouldn’t this year.

I relearned a valuable lesson today: Don’t do anything you know you don’t want to do. I suppose that I’m satisfied now that the garden is in, but it took 4 hours to do the work, the same as it does when I plant my garden from seed. Do I resent this time spent? You bet I do! So very much.

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Flowering shrub in my backyard.

As life speeds up and demands compete with one another for my limited time and energy resources, some things need to fall away. Not forever, in a lot of cases, but for now. I’m pretty good at discerning which things can be set aside and which require my focus. I’m pretty adept at prioritizing.

That’s why, when I knew that I didn’t want to plant a garden, I’m surprised that I did it anyway, only to swallow mouthfuls of resentment along with the dust from the dirt I hoed. Today’s gardening experience served as a reminder that the heart knows what it wants and that my heart wasn’t wanting to plant a garden. Next late spring I vow to listen to my heart and steer clear of greenhouses.

Charming Gardeners

 

 

Difficult, Not Impossible

Seems ImpossibleI’m done refinishing the ceiling in the main part of our house. I can’t believe it. There were so many times during this project that I thought it was an impossible job.

“Why did I start? The house will be a mess forever! I’ll only ever get this job half done and then I’ll die while scraping plaster.” These thoughts often passed through my mind. I let them go, picked up my trowel, and kept on going.

Listen to me read this post:

I remembered all the things that people told me I couldn’t possibly do:

  • Teach school.
  • Write a book.
  • Fix a badly-broken house.

These things weren’t impossible. They were difficult. There’s an ocean of difference. The rough waters between doubt and doing are what we cross in taking on a challenge.

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The living room ceiling partially cleared of stipple.

While working, I also recalled the words of a friend of mine, advice from his father to him. “When you’ve got a big job to do, don’t look at what you still have left to do. Focus instead on what you’ve accomplished already.”

In this case, the father’s advice to his son was to look back and look back often. This runs counter to the idea that we shouldn’t look back. It just goes to show, like everything else, good advice depends on context.

Whenever I got tired I would do what my friend’s dad told him, and I would look at all the stipple and plaster I had removed. This same friend gave me a little advice of his own. “Just work on doing one small bit of a project at a time. Don’t think about the rest of the work to be done.” This strategy worked for him. He wasn’t just talking the talk. My friend had walked the walk.

 

Years ago, my friend had restored an old stone house on his rural property. The floors were covered in decades’ worth of accumulated pigeon poop, deep and dense. My friend grabbed a mask and a shovel, and he started in one area. Bit by bit, shovel by shovel, he cleaned out enough uric acid to fill a one ton truck box. His triumph over pigeon poop encouraged me.

Hard Way

When plaster dust got in my eyes, up my nose, and in my hair, I thought, “Well, at least it’s not pigeon poop.” It’s funny how circumstance dictates what counts as reassurance.

Now when I sit in my recliner (I missed it so much!) and look up at the ceiling in our house, I see that it’s not perfect. It’s a little scarred and marred, but it’s also clean and bright.

Isn’t that just like life? We work, we try. Sometimes we succeed in our mission and ceilings become bare and flat. Other times we give it everything we’ve got only to discover that everything isn’t enough.

The thing is, there’s no guarantee that if we put in the time and the effort that there will be any results, anything to show for our work in the end. So the point has to be in doing the task and doing it well. If there’s no satisfaction in the work, the work probably isn’t worth doing.

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Tools of the trade. It didn’t take long to despense with the metal pan and to just let the plaster fall like rain.

I’m in no hurry to refinish any more ceilings, but I am satisfied with the imperfect results of the time I spent. I’m grateful for the words of my friend and of my friend’s father. Looking back, scraping a little area at a time, and imagining pigeon poop piled high spurred me on through the fog of plaster dust. Refinishing the ceiling was definitely difficult, but it sure wasn’t impossible.