cynthyb


4 Comments

Decisions! Decisions!

Blog Post #19

Decisions! Decisions! I am, at times, stricken by critically insignificant decisions (such as which shirt to wear with one of two pairs of jeans, or where to go for lunch.) These kinds of decisions weary my poor brain with their indifference.
I can guess what you’re thinking. You may think I’m being ridiculous; that I’m exaggerating. You may think I’m talking a few grains of salt, not the Great Salt Lake. These are just little  things. Not realdecisions. Not weighty, hefty matters. These are minuscule choices. Not worth mentioning.
 
Grains of Salt
Great Salt Lake
 
I think it’s the relentlessness of these little decisions—these lurking-around-every-corner-to-nag-and-exacerbate kinds of decisions—that encumber and exhaust my brain cells with unwanted clutter.
 
Neurons

 

First thing in the morning—every morning—I face an enormous decision-making obstacle: what to wear. I stand before my open closet, morning light pouring through the window casting a good-humored beam on the drowsy articles of clothing that never awake from their insurmountable sleep of death–the result of hanging in my closet. I stare vacantly at the drooping scene. When nothing screams, “I am amazing! Wear me!” I walk two steps to my dresser and open the drawers.  Again, vacant staring. Like watching the spoiler for the same mystery show every morning, there’s no need to wonder about the outcome, I know there will be no surprises in store for me. And even though I’ve repeated the same combinations of shirts and pants for decades, oddly enough, I still deliberate over what to wear with what. After wasting ten minutes, staring blankly, I finally put something on, and stand before the hall mirror. Yup. Same old, same old. Odder still is the fact that, one day, the same old thing looks okay, while the next day it looks horrible. I always think the things in my closet and drawers will transform into crisp, new, attractive, nice-fitting, flattering fashion statements while I sleep.  No wonder I am reluctant to face this decision each morning. 
 
 
Let me point out that there are other equally perplexing insignificant decisions that plague wishy-washy people like me during a typical day. For example, after many hours of resolute labor, sewing like the busy little mice in “The Tailor of Gloucester,” my daughter and I make a trip to the post office to ship orders to her customers (my daughter sews for a living—I sometimes help). 


From “The Tailor of Gloucester” by Beatrix Potter


When the order is in the mail, and on its way, our minds cry out to click up our heels, but our bodies are so weak with hunger from working through lunchtime we’re too withered to do it. Like limp and tired little herbs in need of a bit of refreshment to revive our droopiness, we drag our faint and weary selves to the little sandwich shop across the barren seedbed of the street for some nourishment.
 
 


The café is a tiny place, cluttered with pictures, handbills, flyers, and information on every wall.  Still famished and lacking mental dexterity, I find myself consumed by the information thrust at me on every side. Waiting behind the counter are voraciously happy, peppy, friendly people poised to take our order with pencil and pad, who offer a cheerful and encouraging greeting. Absentmindedly, I look up at the menu which is posted above said prodigiously peppy people—and find a mass of words that, for all their familiarity, might as well be written in Greek. Certainly, I recognize the words, but in my current state of weary confusion and inertness, they read more like an eye chart in an optometrist’s office.
From a 10th-century manuscript of Thucydides
Eye Chart in Greek
 
“May I take your order?” says the perky waiter to Cait and me. “What would you like?” I think to myself, “I’d like someone to simplify the menu for my famished neurons which are teetering on the brink of that shaky kind of hunger and mindless thinking born of going too long without eating. Will someone just circle in red the item that most appeals to me?” After standing aside letting other decisive people go ahead with their orders, I mull over the menu as if I were deciphering hieroglyphics in the Book of the Dead. 
 
Book of the Dead
 
Finally, I decide on the chicken salad. Yes, the chicken salad.  Then, I must decide if I want a full, or half order. Are we sharing (as we frequently do), or ordering separately? Remarkably, the (still smiling) waiter endures patiently as I think aloud, consulting with Cait about immediate and pressing decisions as we stand, conspicuously taking up precious space, at the ordering counter.
 
Chicken Salad Sandwich
My daughter, long ago having grown tired of my process of choosing a place to eat, as well as what to eat, turned the entire mass of decision-making over to finicky me. Cait says, “I don’t care where we go. I’ll eat anything. You decide.” I’ve heard this jaded dictum many times before. Ugh. After pleading looks, she helps me decide that we’ll share the chicken salad sandwich. “Is it for here, or to go?” says Mr. Cheerful. Again, pleading looks (not wasted on Mr. Cheerful).  Finally, the waiter decides for us. Sometimes, noting our creased eyebrows and hem hawing around about if we have or haven’t got time, he decides he should make the food to-go. Other times, calmly smiling as we try to read each other’s thoughts, we supply just enough evidence that we’re not quite ready to leave. While they make the food, we discuss whether we should sit inside, or out. It’s only 106-degrees F. outside. The heat should prompt a snap decision, but the imagined charm of sitting at a sidewalk café delays the verdict. When a girl with a computer leaves one of the few little inside tables, we quickly decide to stay inside where it’s cool, and snatch up the spot against the wall with alacrity and a sense of triumph over all other aspiring (and perspiring) customers.
 
 
 


We’ve repeated this process several times in past weeks, with varying results, but we always go through the same process of decision-making. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I enter that little shop—which I really like!—I patently reenact the same decision-making fiasco. A day or two ago, we again made a delivery and went to get a sandwich. “Mom, do you want chicken salad again?” my daughter probed with a subtle pleading in her voice, (the true meaning of which was: “Must we share chicken salad again?” Whereas I am a creature of taste bud habit, she likes a wider variety of palate pleasing tastes. Sharing with a finicky eater can be boring for the adventurous connoisseur of lunchtime cuisine.) “We don’t have to get chicken salad, Cait,” I said, explaining my apparent dyslexic confusion with the menu. I added, “To hurry things up, I always get the same thing.” (And I like the chicken salad.)  There is often a line behind us, and I don’t want to make people wait eons while I decipher the Rosetta Stone.
Rosetta Stone
 
She helped me focus on and order a turkey sandwich—the optimistic waiter sensed a breakthrough at this speedy-er decision. He hastily scribbled “to-go” on our ticket, only to have to change it to “dining-in,” as Cait pointed out during the ensuing at-the-counter-discussion about whether we should stay or take it with us that she had other errands to run before returning home. To his credit, our waiter, Mr. Cheerful, never lost his ever-jovial demeanor. While we consumed our half turkey sandwiches, I struck on a plan—I studied the menu while I ate, and decided in advance on a custom sandwich for our next visit. Yes! I will be ready for the next sandwich order. I will nip the demon decision-making weed in the bud.
 
But what of all the other critically insignificant decisions that have to be made throughout the day?  Should I put the dark clothes in the wash first, or the white clothes in to soak? Which direction should we go on our walk? Shall we take brownies or chocolate chip cookies to the potluck? (That there’s chocolate requires no decision.)  Walmart or Target? And the most infamously, critically insignificant decision of all: What shall I make for dinner?
 
 
 


Giving credence to things that really don’t matter may give one a false sense of decision-making prowess. (Either that, or make one crazy!) Although I will probably continue to puzzle over menus, chicken salad sandwiches, and my closet, these insignificant things really aren’t worth expending thoughtful energy on, so unrelated to and irrelevant are they when compared with the real, truly significant, heart-wrenching, life-altering decisions we all face from time to time.
 
 


These insignificant kinds of decisions are best summed-up in a few short sentences:
Madonna Lilies
 
And why take ye thought for raiment? *Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?  … For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.  But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:28-33)
Madonna of the Lilies by Alfonse Mucha


 And this, my dear friends, to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, is truly a good decision, worthy of thought and energy. I know when I do this, all other decisions–great and small–fall into their proper places and I feel peace.

 

End Piece

©  October 5, 2014

 
From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.
 
 
*I’ve included a link to a beautiful, peaceful Youtube recording of “Consider the Lilies.” Sit back, relax, and clear your mind as you enjoy this lovely song. 
Advertisements


5 Comments

"As You Sow…"

Blog Post #17

Jean-François Millet, The Sower
My mother-in-law had her own twist on the old proverb “For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap,” (Galatians 6:7). With delight, she often showed me pieces of fabric she planned to use for new dresses. One fabric she particularly liked had a small print of little cowboy boots, horses, and spurs on a navy blue field. She liked this fabric because it suggested something dear to her—her late husband, who had passed away a year or two earlier.  Horses and cowboy boots were synonymous with Dad.

The cowboy print looked something like this

Dad with his horse Smokey
She used the same dress pattern many times, changing the print of the fabric for variety.  Soon after she showed me the cowboy print, it became a dress much like the one she’s wearing in the picture below.
My mother-in-law wearing a
typical dress of her own making

One day, not long after my husband and I had married, his mom emerged from her sewing room and laughingly shared with me the truism she had just thought of as she began to repair a mistake in her sewing: 

Whatsoever a woman seweth, that shall she also rip!” 


This became shortened  to, “As you sew, so shall you rip,” which is how I always think of it. Her witticism seemed to make up for any error in sewing she had made. She knew she had struck on a profound play on words. Always chuckling at her wit, she repeated this phrase to me whenever I found her sewing.


The notorious seam ripper

It was simply brilliant. And so true. I have thought of it plenty of times since as I’ve sat at my own sewing machine frantically rushing to repair a mistake by wielding my trusty seam ripper. I have never been a patient seamstress. I like sewing. I do. But mostly the thing I like about sewing is being done. I like the finished product—wearing, displaying, or using it. Sewing is a means to an end.


My daughter Caity sews for a living. Her business keeps her extremely busy, with deadlines that often require additional help, (which I am pleased to provide). We sit together sewing for hours at a time, or I do odd jobs to expedite the orders she has to fill.
“Young Mother Sewing” by Mary Cassatt

Caity does impeccable work. Running her business online via an *Etsy shop means her clients must take their own measurements. This can create problems if done incorrectly. Sometimes, items are returned for adjustments. Fortunately, this is the exception, not the rule. Making adjustments is time-consuming and generally without remuneration.

At times, she asks me to remove a bodice (the top portion of a dress) from the skirt. Recently, I had two such dresses to take apart. On one of the dresses, the length of both sleeves and skirt had been miss-measured by the customer, and the dress returned for adjustments. The fully lined mutton sleeves—having two parts—also needed to be dissected and refinished.

Dresses with mutton sleeves.
Not the dresses Caity makes.

Looking at one of the sleeves, I saw a possible shortcut to repairing the hem of the lower sleeve without having to rip the sleeve apart. But I was strictly instructed that no shortcuts were allowed. Caity, having already attempted a shortcut in refinishing the sleeve at the proper length in a thoroughly acceptable way, received word from the customer that she preferred the sleeves refinished the original way.  The fabric would need re-cutting, and the sleeve, re-made from scratch. It had to measure up to a high level of quality and workmanship, and it did. Her customers are happy, and she feels peace and confidence in her product, and, truthfully, in herself. 

I balked at the thought of this, knowing the extra time and effort it would take. But Caity was adamant. I tore out the stitches, while reciting to myself the slightly altered form of the already misrepresented adage, “As you sew, so shall I rip.” True. So true. We reaped as she sowed (and as she sewed).



I’ve watched Caity in her preparations to sew her custom designs. Because she does work with a handicap—the customer’s measurements—she takes precautions to help insure a perfect fit (and achieves this feat at least 95 % of the time). I’ve watched her measure, and re-measure, two and three times before cutting.  She carefully lays-out, and pins pieces together, instead of doing it her mother’s less exacting and speedier way. In doing so, she saves the time I waste picking out mistakes. Because she makes costumes that multiple people may wear, she allows for discrepancies and variances in size by including an expandable panel in her designs. I’ve watched the great care she takes in her craft and marvel at how few mistakes she makes. It is truly remarkable, considering the queen of “just get it done as fast as possible” was her first (and only) sewing instructor. (Yes, I speak of myself. I grimace as I admit this. But it is true.)

“…Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” True of everything, not just sewing. This summer is full of illustrations: I neglected to deadhead my roses, and have had few to any blooms. The basil, too, I’ve neglected, and have nothing but sad and scraggly plants gone to seed with which not to make pesto. I have giant “thistles” instead of artichokes, because I failed to harvest. We have a sad little avocado tree that was sown in what must be a cursed bit of soil, for the tree, (and its earlier counterpart, which we uprooted because it also fared poorly) has turned into a skinny, leafless stem. I have reaped as I have sown. No doubt about it.


There are many ways to sow. Sowing faithful and true relationships is paramount if you wish to reap a harvest of love and harmony. Sowing good works brings joy and fulfillment. Sowing things of the spirit brings a harvest of knowledge, truth, and peace. Of course, it’s possible to sow things that reap a poor harvest. Sowing seeds of laziness, self-indulgence, pride, and deceit all reap thriving harvests, but who wants grubs and sewage in their horn of plenty?  


For me, it was a particularly hot and humid summer—a particularly busy one, as well. We were busy sowing other than in our vegetable garden. One of our daughters and her family came to stay after being pruned and uprooted from the bit of soil where they had been planted for several years. Their former house sold, they stayed with us during the summer until they found a fruitful spot of ground in a happy situation less than an hour away. Transplanted and thriving–is this not a worthwhile harvest?


Add to that, the sowing and the reaping (or more apropos, the sewing and the ripping) with Caity, we’ve had a fruitful summer.
In sowing and reaping, time does not allow for shortcuts. It just doesn’t. If you plant a seed, it doesn’t matter how much you water it, or expose it to the proper sunlight and nourishment, it will always take a certain amount of time before it will produce. A mighty oak isn’t grown in a day. You cannot rush the harvest. You might be able to encourage it, to make it more plentiful. You might even discourage it, and never reap at all.


Our daughter’s family reaped a nice, quiet, home in exactly the area they had hoped to live, but there were no shortcuts getting there. They reaped as they sowed. They might have settled for something less adequate, but there would have been a price to pay. The safe environment they were seeking, the proximity to schools, work, church, family, and access to the community would have, to a degree, been sacrificed, and with that a certain measure of peace and comfort. Patience in sowing reaps added benefits during harvest.



Brad planted tomatoes. With great care, he watched over them. He nourished and cared for them because he wanted that plentiful harvest. He reaped a lot of tomatoes—many beautiful, red, ripe and delicious. Enough to bottle and to share. He thought he might be able to extend the season further into fall by pruning back the old plants, and planting a couple new plants mid-summer. He was disappointed that his efforts really didn’t produce the desired effect. The season has run its course. The tomatoes have run their cycle—all ending at about the same time. There are things we can change, and things we cannot. I suppose he could build a greenhouse, and have tomatoes year-round, but he hasn’t chosen to do that. Everything comes with a price. Shortcuts must follow the law of the harvest. No matter what, you always reap what you sow.  
 

Jean-François Millet – “Gleaners”


Looking back on the summer, it is evident that I did not sow some of the things that I might have sown. I didn’t even sew things that I planned to sew. I’ve been talking about making a new dress since March. I still haven’t done it. It doesn’t matter. The old ones are still wearable as they hang, limp and lifeless in my closet, like vintage remnants from a garage sale. Instead, I sowed a summer with my daughter, sewing and talking, and being together. It was, and continues to be, worth the harvest, for she is precious to me.



I spent the summer with my other daughter’s family, with treasured grandchildren, laughing, talking, playing games, and building relationships that reek with happiness.
Surely these, and other important things sown over the course of the summer, were worth any displaced activities I might have harvested. Instead of basil, what have I gleaned? Much, much more—and of greater worth. An eternal harvest.

One of our daughters, and some of our grandchildren on a summer outing

One of my grandsons with me

There’s always next year for basil and artichokes. But some things you may only sow once in a lifetime. They are worth every part of the time invested, and the harvest reaped is eternal.
  

*Caity’s Etsy shop is called Cait’s Boutique.  You might find it fun to take a look!

© September 6, 2014