Playing Housewife (or, I’d Rather Be Camping)

If “zen” is used (casually) to refer to a state of mind where you experience life as it is vs through the thoughts you have about your experiences, I have to wonder if being a housewife/husband is the fastest path to achieving a state of zen.

After all, I’ve heard stories of how zen masters teach achieving enlightenment by doing repetitive, unappreciated tasks that will only be undone and need to be done again.

One of the things I have been working on intensely is learning to leave behind my Type-A habits, be fully present, and really experience my life instead of missing what’s happening because I’m busy worrying about an imagined past or future.

I have run head-on into the most stubborn part of my Type-A traits recently. Having extended my leave of absence from my day job for another 6 months, there are some new developments in our lives:
We must re-learn how to carefully evaluate our spending decisions if we’re going to stick to the financial plan we made when I started my leave (personal leave comes with no pay).
This means one or both of us must cook more.
My husband is working long hours on his feet all day, so the cooking is falling to me.

Any of you who have read my blog for any length of time or who know me personally are probably aware of just how much I like to cook.

This is the crux of what I dislike about cooking (or any household chore): it’s a lot of effort for something that gets completely undone in only moments and then must be done all over again only to be undone once more. You are never done. You can never check it off your to-do list.

The incredible inefficiency of going in a continual circle makes me batty–it’s going backwards. I have an obsession with efficient, forward progression. It is my most Type-A tendency. Almost paradoxically, I would rather sit on the couch doing nothing than invest time and energy in a task that will have to be repeated–I become a Type-B when contemplating such a task!

There is nothing I struggle with more than going backwards.

So far, I have tried to counter this feeling by cooking in bulk. By making large quantities of soup, I have the satisfaction of seeing neat containers in the freezer and fridge waiting for us for days.

But as the supply dwindles, I find my old resentment bubbling up again. I question whether we would be better off just going back to eating out–couldn’t that time cooking be better spent growing the business than saving a few dollars?

I would love to hear from someone who genuinely enjoys cooking for their loved ones and how they get satisfaction from such a task. I’ve heard there are such people in the world, but I suspect it’s one of those legends like Big Foot.

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Will Should

It’s amazing how quickly small things get in the way of achieving a relatively simple goal.  My goal has been to make time for the things that make me happy first thing in the morning.  Riding, rowing, yoga.  Seems simple enough.

But then there’s the rush of deadlines that keeps me up late or the early-morning or late-night conference calls with colleagues in far-off time zones.  Suddenly, what I need more than a ride is sleep.  The alarm gets set for 7AM instead of 5AM.

I remember reading once (or twice) that it takes a month to establish a new habit.  I think about the times I have succeeded in creating habits.

There is a mindset that snaps into place.  It’s a mindset that says, “you will do this, no matter what.”  It’s the mindset that drags my weary rear-end out of bed long before dawn even if I’ve only had a few hours of sleep.  Making myself get up forces me to go to bed earlier.  Making the priority to get out of bed is painful for a week or two until I find I can no longer keep my eyes open after 10PM.  But where is the switch that turns, “I should” into “I will”?

I learned a long time ago that the conditional tense is a misleading and manipulative beast that carries with it guilt and shame as poor motivators.  “Should?” my inner self retorts, “You can’t tell me what to do!”

Will changes everything.  The power of grammar is contained in this simple word.  To have the will.  To will.  Both a noun and a verb, will combusts into action.  To say “I will” creates promise and commitment.  To will is to embrace, to drive.  I do not take the word lightly.

Should, however, reeks of meek compliance.  Agreement to a statement that belongs to someone else.  “Yes, I should get up at 5AM.”  The word “should” implies “but I won’t” at the end of the sentence.  That single, irritating word contains the admission of not living up to someone’s standard.  Of agreeing that whatever the task at hand might be, it is worthwhile and good, but not within your reach.  It represents an admission that you are not making good on something you should be doing.

I listen for “shoulds” when I’m talking to others.  In my career, I have learned that “should” means, “yes, that’s a good idea, but I’m not doing it.”  In volunteer organizations, I learned to shudder at the words, “someone should,” although at least it is a more straightforward admission.

Sometimes when will has left me, I have to step back and reassess.  Is there a point in time coming up that will allow me to shift to will?  Is there a project that will be finished?  A commitment completed?  Some other break in time that can get me to will?  I still haven’t found the switch, but I will.

Hiking Little Frog

It’s Sunday morning and I am joining a group hike on the Benton MacKaye trail in Cherokee National Forest.  Pat is still out of town, so I will have to drive–this will be the 3rd time I’ve driven within the city limits of Chattanooga in the 2 1/2 months we’ve lived here.  I load minimal gear (camera with only one lens, daypack with water, money, snacks, and sunscreen) into the 1990 BMW that my husband loves so dearly and that I have eventually come to love as well.

When I get well out of Chattanooga and onto the two-lane highway that runs along the Cherokee National Forest boundary, I have a little fun going around the curves at speeds that aren’t exactly recommended.  But I am forced to slow down by a line of three slower-moving cars ahead of me.  At first, I am disappointed, but then I look right.  To my side is a river that flows into a lake.  It’s surrounded by mountains covered in brightly colored fall leaves.  Mist rises off the water, swirling around the trees and rising over the mountains.  In the distance, the sun rises over the mountain tops.  I have just missed the perfect place to pull over.  I contemplate the next pullout, but I’m nervous about being late and I am unlikely to get a good shot since I didn’t bring a tripod.   I decide to remember the scene instead of photographing it.  I look again and again as the road and traffic permits.  I feel the beauty of this scene so intensely that my eyes start to tear.  I cry like a man–a little moisture in the corner of one eye and then it’s over.

I make it to the Piggly Wiggly we’re meeting at early.  I’m not sure who thought it was hilarious to name a grocery store Piggly Wiggly enough to actually do it, but it makes me laugh every time I hear a reference to this huge chain in the South.

I am a little bummed that I’m so early–now I wish I would have stopped to shoot the mist even without the tripod.  However, it does give me time to go inside the Piggly Wiggly and use the restroom.  Unfortunately, instead of a public restroom, they just let customers use the employee restroom which is through the back room.  It’s not in particularly good shape and the lighting is so dim that I’m left to wonder if it’s clean or just dark enough I can’t tell it’s dirty.  I buy a bottle of Gatorade on the way out just because they let me use the restroom.

I return to the parking lot where the group is gathering.  As more people arrive, it appears I am the youngest.  We divide up between 2 cars and then head up a bumpy dirt road to get to the trail head.  It takes nearly 45 minutes to get there.  The trail is a 7 mile through-hike.  We will hike the full length of it and then take 2 other cars that were dropped off at the other end.  This seems like a lot of driving, but I’m not up for volunteering to walk back the 7 miles.

After we get to the trailhead and get organized, we start our walk along the ridge.  We are at a fairly high elevation, but only a small number of trees are really bright.  People keep commenting about the beautiful color in the leaves, yet they seem drab to me.  I am assured that the color change is just starting now and that it will get brighter.  I am also told trees need colder weather to get bright oranges, which have already happened at higher elevations.

It’s an incredible day.  The sky is every bit as blue as yesterday.  The sun is bright.  There’s not a cloud in the sky.  It’s a little cool, but a fleece is enough to stay warm.  As we walk along the ridge, we periodically get views of the mountains off in the distance.  Our hike leader, Dick, likes to hike up hills and then stop and catch his breath while we wait for the entire train of people to catch up.  There are only 12 people on the hike, so it doesn’t take long and we don’t have to worry about leaving anyone behind.

While we wait for the group, Dick explains that a National Forest is more about forest management as a resource (i.e., logging) unless an area is designated as a wilderness area.  Then, the area is supposed to be maintained as a pristine forest area that goes unharvested.  As we prepare to enter the Little Frog Wilderness, we learn that our group was limited to 12 because no more than that are allowed in a wilderness area.  We also learned that trails are not supposed to be blazed unless it’s absolutely necessary, and then only minimally.

As we start walking again, we periodically run into limbs that have fallen across the trail.  Dick pulls out a saw and he and another man on the hike clear fallen limbs from the trail in a mater of minutes.  The organization that Dick belongs to keeps the Benton-MacKaye trail in shape and different volunteers take ownership for different stretches of the trail.

The hike is lovely.  Just being out among the changing leaves was a treat, let alone the ridge views.  But, it comes to an end about an hour after lunchtime.  We all agree to go eat at a restaurant across the parking lot.  I decide to order pulled pork.  However, I’m not able to because the restaurant is out.  I order a Fried-Green Tomato BLT and am told they’re out of green tomatoes.  I getting pretty impatient by the time the waitress tells me they’re also out of cole slaw.  I go for a regular BLT and, finally, they have all the ingredients (although they fail to add mayo).

After filling our bellies, one of the hikers takes the two men who left cars at the trailhead back to get their cars.  I pay my check and walk the 1/4 mile back to the little BMW at the far side of the Piggly Wiggly parking lot.  I set down my camera on the daypack in the passenger seat and then turn the key in the ignition.  Nothing happens.  I try pushing a button that will prevent the car from starting.  Nothing happens still.  I am perplexed until a reach out and touch the headlight switch and realize that I left the headlights on all day.

I head back to the restaurant to wait with the wives of the guys who went to get their cars.  It will be an hour and 1/2 before they get back.  As it turns out, the time goes by quickly as we sit and chat.  When the men return, we all go to my car so they can give me a jumpstart.  However, I soon realize that I have never opened the hood of this car.  I cannot find a hood release.

The man who is an ER doctor for a living manages to find the release.  Dick, fortunately, is able to figure out how to open the hood (which is the reverse of any other hood I’ve ever opened).  Having spent several minutes trying to figure out how to open the hood, we stand there and gawk when we finally get it opened fully.  No battery.  We get out the manual to locate the battery.  As it turns out, the battery is tucked under a cover in the trunk.  I know how to open the trunk!

At last I am running again and I head on down the road.  However, there is construction and I have to stop in a long line of cars because the road is down to one lane.  About the time we’re going to start moving, I realize the car is no longer running.  I put the stick in neutral, jump out, and start pushing it with my shoulder against the door jam while steering with my right hand.  At this moment, I’m very happy that the guy behind me jumps out of his car and offers to help.  We get my car off the road and he pulls in behind me.  At least now I know exactly where the battery is and how to get to it!

He gives me my second jumpstart.  I hop out of the car to thank him and then get back in and discover I’ve stalled again.  I have to run to stop him before he gets back in his car, but he does jump the car one more time for me.  This time, I do not get out.  I keep my foot on the accelerator so it won’t stall again.  I thank him through the window and then drive off.

The need to keep the engine revving combined with the curving road causes me to drive harder than I might have otherwise.  The car has been lowered, converted to a 5-speed, given a sport suspension, performance computer chip, and performance wheels/tires.  It’s fun to drive.  Although, I confess that I refused to drive it until it also got a new paint job.  Now, humiliated by spending time on the road, it’s almost like I feel like I have to prove that this is not an old junker even though it is over 20 years old.

I apparently intimidated the man driving a Porsche Boxster in front of me.  He was driving like my grandmother and I was trying to back off, but it was a little tricky given the circumstances.  In any case, he finally decided to pull off the road and let me pass.  But then I get to a place where there is a traffic light and I have to stop.  I downshift one gear at a time, keeping the revs up and slowing the car.  But eventually, I have to use the brake.  I put the stick in neutral, brake just enough to get the car to a near stop, and then pull on the parking brake so I can put my foot back on the accelerator.  I manage to stop and keep the revs up.  Then I have to get started again.  I put the car in gear and rev higher than I would normally rev to start a car from a stop.  At the moment I’m about to engage the clutch, I release the parking brake and go.  Using this technique, I’m able to make it through the three stoplights between me and the freeway until at last I’m headed South on 75, back to Chattanooga.  I figure I’ll be good to go after nearly an hour drive on the freeway.

When at last I get off the highway, I stop at the end of the exit ramp and damn if the car doesn’t stall again!  Fortunately, there is enough charge in the battery to start it, but it doesn’t really fire up the way I expect, so I am now afraid the battery is not fully charged.  I have only one more stoplight to get through before I am home.  When I stop, I am not quite quick enough getting from the brake to the accelerator and it starts to die.  But, I manage to catch it just in time and get the engine revving enough to prevent a stall.  When the light changes, I make it through the intersection and into our parking lot with only one or two close calls.

Parked, I unload the car and pick up my gear.  I’ve lost my lens cap.  This is a major crisis.  A lens cap isn’t worth a whole lot, but what it protects is.  My camera has been sitting on my passenger seat for the past hour and a half; there is no visible damage.  I look under the seats and cannot find the cap.  I give up and carry everything inside.  I place a lens cleaning cloth over the lens and hold it in place with the sun shade for the lens.

What a day.  I wish I could reverse the morning and the afternoon–it started out so fantastically!  How is it that three annoyances can erase the glorious feeling of wonder that adventure inspires?  I met 11 new people today.  I witnessed the formation of clouds in the sunrise.  I hiked in a wilderness along the ridge of the mountain in the fall leaves.  I got to drive a little aggressively around some fun curves.  I smile to myself as I realize that the wonders will be what stay with me–the annoyances will be relegated to just another funny story.

Going to the Woods

Having decided to spend Labor Day weekend in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, we first have to make it there.  As we head out of Chattanooga with our entire plan being:

  1. Drive to South Entrance
  2. Find an available front-country campsite
  3. Hike,

I am somewhat nervous that our trip will implode.  But as we head off of highway 75 and into Cherokee National Forest, I have to relax.  The woods surround the roadway and we drive along a river that appears to be a popular white water rafting destination.  I give up counting rafts after about 50–the river is swarming with them.  I’m glad we’re not rafting today–it’s a bit too crowded for my tastes.  But the people in rafts all smile and look happy, which is the point.  As we twist and turn along the river’s edge, watching rafters, kayakers, and fishermen, we realize we haven’t had lunch.  Just about that time, we see a large lodge-like building on the edge of the river just ahead.  We pull in and discover a visitors center at the 1996 Olympics Kayaking course.  The river has been altered here to create an olympic shoot of rapids that probably all have special names, but I’m afraid I didn’t take the time to read all of the signs explaining the course.  We watch both kayakers and rafters take the course one-by-one.  One man in a kayak rolls over in the middle of a big rapid, but bounces right back up again, looking like he meant to do that.  I like kayaking in sea kayaks–the kind that you couldn’t roll if you stood on one edge and jumped up and down.  The notion of being tied into a boat and hanging upside down in rapids just doesn’t appeal to me, although I suppose it’s something I may end up learning how to do someday just out of shear curiosity.  (What’s that about cats?)

After watching for a while and even getting a few shots, we walk into the downstairs of the visitors’ center and find a cafe.  The man and teenaged boy working there appear to be father and son.  The son pitches their curried macaroni salad and baked potato salad enthusiastically as well as their “vintage” sodas.  We get one of each along with a ham sandwich, a grape Nihi and some specialty root beer.  I ask the teenager what year it was made.  He looks puzzled and I remind him that it’s supposed to be vintage.  He cracks up, revealing a mouth full of gums.  It’s nice to make a teenager laugh, especially when he might be self-conscious about his smile.

Selecting a table with a view of the kayak course, we discover an interesting large insect parked on our table.  I’m not sure what s/he is–but it’s large and green with the longest antenna I’ve ever seen.  I get out my macro lens and do my best to shoot it without making it move.  I didn’t have much to worry about–I don’t think an earthquake would have gotten that guy hopping.

The teenager brings our food to us and we settle down to eat.  The curried macaroni salad is more interesting than most macaroni salads, but it’s still macaroni salad.  The baked potato salad tastes just like a baked potato with sour cream and chives.  It’s really nice.  We finish our food quickly and sip on our sodas (we can’t call them “pop” anymore now that we’ve moved out of Ohio) that taste like they were definitely made recently.  I have a craving for ice cream and the cafe has a freezer full of frozen treats including Ben and Jerry’s ice cream bars.  However, we decide to use the restrooms before getting ice cream and when we return, about a dozen people appeared from no where and lined up to get food.  Deciding it’s not worth it to wait in line, we head back towards the car.

As we come up the steps to the parking lot, there are several people coming towards us.  Two of them are shirtless young men who look like they spend all of their spare time in the gym.  I really barely noticed, but I catch my sandal on a step and trip going up the stairs, which, of course, makes Pat think I’m so distracted by these shirtless wonders that I can’t walk straight.  Pat has known me for over 15 years and he’s seen me trip going up stairs about 90% of the time, so we both know that the fact that this time there happened to be a couple of shirtless men on the stairs at the same time is completely unrelated, but both of us laugh hard at the sheer silliness of it.

We return to the car and head on up the road.  When we get a stretch that is traffic free, Pat opens it up a little and enjoys the enhancements he’s made to the car over the years.  It’s a fun car to drive.  Pat is the master of making cars last forever and this BMW is no exception.  Plus, we’ve invested a little money into making it more fun, so Pat gets his money’s worth as we lean into the turns on sticky tires and a sport suspension, accelerating out of each turn with verve.  Unfortunately, the break in traffic doesn’t last long, plus, it’s getting hot enough to require air conditioning for comfortable driving and air conditioning just ruins the whole driving experience.  Pat settles back down and I get comfortable in my seat, finding my eyes closing with a full stomach and the sunshine coming through the glass.  Sometimes I think that if I could put a bed in a car, I would sleep a sound 8 hours every night.  I lean the seat back and give in to the need for an afternoon nap.