Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Guest Blogger Jane K. Cleland

Jane’s Time Management Strategy:
Just Say No to Cookies

In Silent Auction, the fifth installment of the Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery series, Josie spends a lot of her time thinking about ambition and what it does to people and relationships.

The autumn foliage is in full fiery glory on a beautiful day in the little coastal town of Rocky Point, New Hampshire. Josie Prescott arrives at the town’s renovated lighthouse to conduct an antiques appraisal and is horrified to discover the bludgeoned body of her neighbor Zoë’s beloved nephew, Frankie. The owners of the lighthouse are avid antiques collectors, and Josie soon begins to suspect that a scrimshaw tooth from their collection may be the key to solving the crime that has shaken Rocky Point, and broken her dear friend’s heart.

Thinking about Josie got me thinking about time.

For many years, I was the official “cookie baker” for my family’s holiday get-togethers. Chocolate chip cookies were my specialty, but I dabbled in sugar, chocolate, apple, creamy fillings, and other gourmet styles, too.

As the years passed, and I became busier at work, I grew less entranced with the prospect of baking dozens of cookies under enormous time constraints. In fact, to me, baking cookies for the holidays became a duty, not a pleasure. Then came the year when I was up past midnight completing the task. I was irritated and snappy. The next day, I grumbled to my husband that this had to stop. “I’m too busy to bake all these cookies!” I complained. And, cleverly, I thought, I asked him to call my mother and tell her that I was no longer going to bake cookies. He declined.

The next year, as cookie-baking time approached, I girded myself, picked up the phone and said, “Ma, I’ve made a decision. I’m just too busy. This year, I’m not going to bake cookies. I’m going to buy them instead.”

I’d expected a long, sad silence, followed by, “All right, dear,” or some similar, kindly worded phrase that left me feeling inadequate and guilty. Instead, do you know what my mother said? “Sounds smart!”

And in that one flash of a moment, I learned an important lesson. I learned that what I’d perceived as an obligation had never, in fact, existed at all. My family thought I liked baking cookies. And I did! I just didn’t like having to bake them. I’d volunteered once, then a second time, then a third, until finally it became an expected part of family get-togethers. I could have stopped any time, but I didn’t think I could The sense that it was a non-negotiable duty was all in my own head.

I recall that story a lot when I’m struggling with time management issues. I really, really want to spend my time doing things I value—not doing things other people value—or doing things because I think other people value them—or doing things that have become part of a tradition simply because they’re been done in the past.

That’s pretty unconventional thinking, I know. Most people value traditions for their own sake. I don’t. I value traditions for the deeper meaning they convey to me at that moment in time. And those deeper meanings shift as my circumstances and needs change.

For instance, I used to decorate like a wild woman for every holiday. I don’t anymore. For Halloween, as an example, I used to suspend paper skeletons from the ceiling in front of windows, adding backlighting so they’d glow eerily as they fluttered. To say nothing of the spiders and cobwebs and jack-o-lanterns! Now I put a few mini-pumpkins on the fireplace mantle and call it a day.

Why the change? I liked my big-time decorations—a lot. It was fun to do and fun to live with. I don’t do it anymore because I don’t need the joy the decorations provided to fill a void and I’d rather spend my time doing other things.

During the period when I’d decorated every nook and cranny of my apartment, I was enduring a tough time in my life—my mother had died, my brother had died, my beloved cat had died, and I’d gotten divorced after a 20-year marriage—all within a year or so.

Decorating provided joy during a joyless time.

Things are different now. I’m happily remarried and doing work I adore. For the moment, all is well in my world.

Josie likes to cook. She uses the recipes her mother wrote out by hand in a leather bound book as she lay dying, part of her legacy to her beloved daughter. Josie likes it when the recipes take time. She doesn’t want to hurry when she cooks. To her, multiple steps and complex instructions mean that she gets to spend extra time with her mom.

That’s luxury! To be able to spend time as you choose. (Many of Josie’s mom’s recipes are on my website, by the way, in case you want to make Orange Chicken or consider adding vanilla to scrambled eggs!)

Time—we all have only so much of it. If you’re like me, you strive to spend it wisely, by your own definition of “wise.”

But if you bake cookies for the holidays, say, red, white, and blue sugar cookies for Memorial Day, may I please have one?


Msmstry said...

Jane, I agree with your whole time management concept. I think it's the ATTITUDE with which one does things, not the things one does, that count most.

Whenever folks groan about having to do something, my usual response is, "You know you can give people money and they'll do that for you!"

Jane Cleland said...

Yes, exactly! Life is all about the little choices we make!

Margaret said...

Sounds like you have worked out a life plan, Jane. Looking forward to reading "Silent Auction." Have really enjoyed this series.

Margaret Franson

G.M. Malliet said...

Our conversation at Malice gave me food for thought, Jane. I think women especially have a hard time with these issues: We want to be perceived as "nice" and can drown in obligations of our own making.

Enjoying your series!