How Not To Use a SMART list: For mothers and others

I made my list, as I’ve often been told to do.
It was quite short, and, as the experts had been coaching me SMART:
Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely.
And so the day began.
First job: Strip the bed – except that a sleeping husband lay there soundly sleeping, so I made plans to come back later.


I decided that I might as well have breakfast, except that last night’s dishes had been forgotten by the other inhabitants of the house. So, I went to fill the dishwasher. But it too was full of dishes that had not been put away. I thought that while I put those away I’d fill the sink to wash the pots and pans. I turned on the hot water and went to sprinkle several drops of dishwashing liquid into the water, but alas, the bottle was empty. To be efficient, I thought I’d write it on the shopping list straight away.
So I grabbed the shopping list, ticked the box for dishwashing liquid, and some other tick boxes caught my eye.
‘I must not forget coffee, or tuna or flour…Now what else do I need?’


But as I contemplated the list a bit longer, I heard an unfamiliar trickling sound behind me. I looked around and saw that the hot water was still running, and now there was a puddle on the floor and trickles all down the kitchen cabinet doors.
I turned off the tap and headed for the mop and bucket which I couldn’t find in its usual place. So I went to ask the sleeping husband.
“Errr…oh…Its outside!” he moaned as he rolled over and pulled the quilt back over his shoulder.


I grabbed the mop and bucket and was about to mop up the puddle on the floor. But then I thought that while I was at it, I ought to mop the rest of the floor–it was well overdue. 
So I went to the laundry to get the floor washing liquid.

One of the laundry baskets was overflowing, so I filled the washing machine with clothes to wash. But when I went to fill the rinse container with vinegar, the vinegar container was empty.

So I went to the pantry to get some more vinegar. There was no vinegar there either, so I went to the bathroom where I sometimes keep vinegar so I can use it with carb soda to clean the bathroom. Sure enough, there was some vinegar there – and also some carb soda.

The bathroom, especially the loo, looked a bit grimy and I remembered that it had missed out on its weekend clean. So I poured some vinegar and carb soda into the toilet with the promise that I’d return to scrub it later. I went to wash my hands and noticed that the hand basin wasn’t clean either. So I made the most of my time there and began to clean it.

An empty toothpaste tube lay on the vanity as a reminder to get some more – and I’d already forgotten it for three days already. So I picked it up and took it to the kitchen to add it to my shopping list.

And what did I see?

A half-made shopping list; a puddle on the floor and trickles down the kitchen cabinet; a bench full of dirty dishes and an open dishwasher full of clean dishes. I thought back to the laundry in which sat a dry mop and bucket and a washing machine full of clothes but empty of vinegar. In our bathroom was a toilet waiting to be scrubbed and a hand-basin half-done. And still in our bedroom was a soundly sleeping husband.

As far as my list of things to do – well, nothing had been done. My list of SMART was dumb for mums. It was an hour and a half later, and I hadn’t even got to number one.



Part Two:

My morning of doing a SMART list had resulted in many things begun…but nothing finished.
I sat and sulked…until the sleeping husband arose from his slumber and wandered out to the kitchen. He found me, shoulders slumped, at my desk–My desk is only a metre away from the sink.

‘I just wanted to do a few things and have failed at them all!’ I told him, my bottom lip drooping almost to the ground.
He took me in his arms, kissed me on the forehead and laughed gently–I love it when he does that!


Instead of lecturing me about good time-management or coming up with easier solutions, he just hugged me and listened. I ranted and raved until eventually I said,
‘Perhaps I should just be a little gentler on myself.’
At last he commented,
‘That’s about the first thing you’ve said that’s made any sense.’

I hugged him back.


It’s now a few weeks later. All of those jobs did eventually get done – just not in the linear time-frame I had originally planned.
The clothes were washed – and hung out, and brought in, and sorted by another member of the family.
The dishes did not stay in the sink or on the bench or in the dishwasher all day. I think it was the mess in the kitchen that prompted the girls to get it clean before they left for work.
The floor was mopped by the son who was working a late shift.


Eventually I realized that having put some strategies in place years before, to get each of the family to do their bit, had paid off.

As long as I didn’t expect everything to happen before 7 am!


Written in May 2013

Thanks to Beverley Eckermann for the photos


What happens when the lights go out

The day began great

I was up before eight

Had a walk, a coffee and shower

 

Then I went to my room

Felt a shadow of gloom

Alas! We’d run out of power

 

‘Tis no matter, thought I

‘Tis as easy as pie

My PC is charged to capacity

But what I’d forgot

–So easy ‘twas not—

The NBN needs electricity

 

Though my homework was done

I’d bet three to one

My excuses would not be allowed

So with paper and pen

I began it again

Coz my homework was stuck in the cloud

 

So tonight when you say

What did you do today

Forgive when my temper ignites

Though it started out great

I’m blamin’ the state

Coz my homework went out with the lights

Chris’s Morning on the Farm: Dog and Sheep Stories

Our morning at our new friends’ farm began much later than we expected. We rarely sleep in, but slept through baby’s squawks, Dave having breakfast, and a three year old who wanted to play.

We had the best breakfast! Milk straight from the cow. Eggs straight from the chooks. Bacon – from the friends of the pigs.

Then Chris went with Dave and the sheep dogs to help sort the sheep. ‘Help’ is a rather generous word, by all accounts.

They had to separate the girl sheep from the boy sheep. Chris, being from a farm himself, does know the difference and how to tell. But, try as he might, he could not identify which was which quickly enough to help Dave. By the time he thought he’d identified one sheep, Dave had sorted about four and had swung the gate one way or the other, to separate them into boy and girl pens.

In the end, Chris asked Dave how he could identify them so quickly.

‘Easy!’ Dave laughed. ‘Every sheep has an ear-tag. The boys on their left ear, the girls on their right. I just swing the gate according to which ear their tag is on.’

I think Chris was a little embarrassed, but he told me the story anyway.

Three Sheep Dogs

But his favourite story was about the farm’s three sheep dogs.

Dot, the smallest dog, is a sheep-dog-in-training. To our untrained eyes he looks like a Kelpie. He was efficient and obedient. Despite being the size of a medium-sized puppy, Dot knew where to be and how to convince the sheep where they should be.

Lucy, the biggest dog, was hopeless…well, as far as usefulness on a farm. A Maremma, a guardian of the sheep, Lucy flunked out of ‘guardian of the sheep’ school. Chris described Lucy’s ability to tend and guard the sheep as ‘She just thinks she is a sheep’.

Then there was Lambie. Apparently, Lambie was quite effective at rounding up the sheep and getting them to go wherever Dave wanted them to go.

The only trouble was that nobody has ever told Lambie that she is not a dog. She is a hand-reared sheep. She grew up around the house with Dot and Lucy and does everything with her two doggy-companions.

Even when Dave tried to intermingle Lambie back into the flock, that only lasted until Dave and the dogs headed back home. Then she’d split from the flock and rejoin her ‘family’ at the back door of the house.

So Dave was blessed with a puppy training to be a sheep-dog, a dog that thought she was a sheep, and a sheep that thought she was a dog.

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…◊…

Messy Christmas!

Christmas Pageant day was pudding day. As the family had done for years, on the first Saturday in November, they went together to the Christmas pageant on the Saturday morning and then returned home to make the pudding.

Round, huge and destined to be delicious, the pudding hung from the rafters for the next six weeks in preparation for Christmas dinner. The pudding was a constant reminder of the tastes, smells and rituals that the family celebrated each year. 2008-04-22-18-46-23

At last the time came for Christmas dinner.

The main course was eaten and enjoyed.

It was time for the pudding.

However, when it came to the ritual of the pudding flambé, the brandy was missing — presumably drunk.

Not to worry! The hostess, being quite resourceful, scoured through her pantry for an equally flammable spirit.

‘Oh that will do!’ she exclaimed as she found a little bottle of spirit at the back of the pantry. She quickly loosened the cap, briefly smelt it and announced, ‘Essence of Lemon’. Thankful that the flambé ritual was saved, she poured the entire contents of the bottle over the pudding in the middle of the dinner table.

By this time someone else had found the matches and then proceeded to ignite the pudding.

‘Whoosh!’

Enormous flames engulfed the pudding and very nearly reached the ceiling.

The first casualty was the holly on top of the pudding, which shrivelled into a remnant of its former glory.

The next casualty was the decorative plastic table runner. It melted into a blackened heap and sent off sparks onto the tablecloth, which acquired several random holes and scorch marks.

But the pudding was saved, and, after the fire was out, eventually devoured.

It was only later, during the after-Christmas cleanup, that the source of the extraordinarily energetic flambé was discovered. Somebody else picked up the ‘Essence of Lemon’ bottle, and, using  considerably better eye-sight than that of the hostess, read the label.

‘Citronella’.

Fortunately, no ill effects resulted from the accidental ingestion of Citronella-flambéd pudding—apart from an acute case of embarrassment by the hostess.

But all the family agreed that the mosquitoes didn’t seem to bother them as much that summer!

…◊…

Some of our Christmas memories are like this funny and true story, aren’t they? They are a mixture of tradition and variations on the theme.

Christmas is one of those annual events that bring back many memories — good or bad, depending on our own life experiences.

I know many, many people who hate thinking about Christmas because of the fuss and bother that goes along with it. For some it is the time their family has the biggest arguments.

I know others who love getting together with family and who believe it really is the happiest time of the year. And still others who religiously disappear to the beach to avoid any possible reminder of Christmas.

For many of us, Christmas is one of the saddest times of the year as, for whatever reason, we are separated from our loved ones.

Whether we love or hate Christmas, we tend to develop our own rituals around it — to celebrate it or to avoid it.

…◊…

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I had a sad moment when I spoke about the Christmas pageant with my youngest.

‘Are you going to the pageant this year?’ I asked  him, remembering the panic he’d thrown the rest of us into when he decided he was going to the pageant, with or without us. He dressed and headed for the bus while the rest of us were still in bed. He’d never caught the bus by himself before, and he had no idea of where the pageant was. Fortunately, one of his older siblings was able to catch up with him and they went together to the pageant.

But this year, he’s grown up and he gave me the answer every mother dreads, ‘No, I’m too old for the pageant!’

…◊…

Christmas traditions have their moments. Some we grow out of. Some we never want to lose. Some should perhaps have never been there in the first place. But not all of them help us to focus on Christmas.

What we focus on grows. Focus on the Christmas dinner that isn’t cooked in the way we would do it, and bitterness and jealousy grow.  Focus on the relationships that aren’t easy – and Christmas cheer grows into hatred.  Focus on Jesus in the manger, and see a king who humbled himself – and our view of Christmas changes.

…◊…

I went to see my daughter perform in several school plays about the cynical views of Christmas. In one play, Santa’s elves went on strike because of lack of pay and appreciation from a particularly consumerist Santa. But, in the spirit of Christmas, the elves returned to work to perpetuate joy and peace, and demonstrated love that gives and gives, despite the rubbish that bad-Santa dealt out.

In every play, peace and goodwill (eventually) overcame the evil and cynicism, and left the audience with several challenges on which to ponder.

It reminded me that my attitude towards Christmas could be like that of the grumpy, greedy Santa, or that of the elves who chose to love anyway.

…◊…

Christmas is about true love—not the wishy-washy, sterile variety we see on the movies that leaves us with a fuzzy hope for a ‘happily ever after’.

It’s about Mary putting herself in a precarious place for the rest of humanity.

It’s about Joseph saying ‘Yes’ to a dream that told him to marry the girl who was in trouble in the eyes of her people.

It’s about Jesus — the one who was there in the beginning of creation, humbling himself to become one of us, in the lowliest form possible — a baby in an animal’s feed trough.

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It’s about the love that is messy; the love that hurts; the love that overcomes the pain; the love that hurts most when somebody else is hurting; the love that makes you want to go through the pain yourself so your loved one doesn’t have to.

It’s about us putting God’s love ahead of our embarrassment and risking life itself to give God’s love to others.

It’s about Jesus giving up his crown to live like us, with us, for us — for always.

As we draw closer to Christmas, may you be truly blessed with a new way of seeing Christmas, and a new understanding of the love that never ends.

Special thanks to the teller of the story – who shall remain anonymous to protect the identity of the not-so-innocent.

Previously published in The LutheranDecember 2010 edition. 

 

Changing Shoes

As I passed a sports shop in my local shopping mall this morning, my favourite shoes were on display. My current shoes show that they’ve been much loved. Thread by thread, they threaten to reveal my big toe. Their replacements are long overdue.

I picked up a shoe and turned it over.

My current shoes became my favourites when our extended family was caught in a rain-storm in Brisbane. While I walked along the wooden esplanade through the down-pour, family members who were with me slid and skidded, performing balancing acts that should only be seen on ice, after practice—not by my mum in her 70’s.

My feet stayed secure. The little round ‘lugs’ molded into the base of my shoe created mini-suction cups. So I stuck to the walkway like a gecko on a wall.

So, prompted by the display this morning, I picked up a shoe, tipped it over to press on the little molded lugs on the bottom, with the same delight as popping bubble wrap,

but…

the little molded lugs had gone: Replaced by inserted plugs of what can only be described as aerobic exercise mat.

‘Spongy,’ the shop assistant said to me.

‘Disappointing,’ I responded. ‘Those others stopped slipping. I don’t think these will do the same.’

I didn’t tell her that with my vast experience of sporting equipment (I can hear those who know me, laughing!) those little plugs are intended to fall out.

Change

‘Change.’ she said. ‘Change doesn’t have to be so scary. I think that manufacturers don’t change things to make them worse, but to improve them.’

My mouth (surprisingly) didn’t speak the ‘Yeah, right!’ that my face obviously did.

I saw her discomfort and said ‘It’s the little changes that are the most annoying.’

She laughed, then sidled up next to me.

‘See those track pants along there?’ She pointed at a clothes rack on the other side of the store. ‘Standard stock for years. This year they have elasticised ankles.

People hate them.’

‘Especially those who are 5’ 2” I reckon,’ said me, looking up at the shop assistant who had much longer legs than me. Her eyes looked puzzled and she shook her head. I tried another tack.

‘It’s like computer programs,’ I said.

She grabbed her hair at her temples,

‘Technology! AARGH!’

I smiled. ‘Yeah. It’s those little changes: Some bright spark decides a widget would look better in a different place, might work better a little differently, or should be removed because it doesn’t appeal to his personal taste. And we, the consumers, don’t get to choose what we want.

Big changes you are forced to accept. You have to adjust your mindset. Allow yourself to grieve. Get on with life.

It’s all the tiny changes that drive you nuts.’

We both paused. I put the shoe back on the bench and said, ‘I’ll go home and think about it’.

She didn’t make a sale. But I realized I have more in common with Gen Y than I had thought.

And I went home to discover another thread had pinged on the toe of my favourite shoe.

P.S. After I came home to write this story, one of my family asked me to pick them up from a different shopping centre. And there, on sale, was a new ‘old’ pair of my favourite shoes complete with molded lugs that stick like a gecko on a wall.

 

Remote Chance of Chores: Julie Hahn

I did it again this morning.

The first time I did it was months ago, when my beloved child was not contributing at all to the smooth-functioning of our household. Instead of doing his allocated chores, he spent his time and energy on playing x-box on our t.v.

When he went off to school one morning, I grabbed his x-box remote and put it away.

I can’t remember whether it was intentional or not. But after I put it away, I forgot where I put it.

Sometimes I’m blessed with a terrible memory.

To say that for a while I was not a popular mum would be the understatement of the year. However, I do remember telling him that, perhaps, if he did his chores, I might be prompted to remember.

Weeks went past.

Everyone in our house has their own chores to do. Everyone else had already taken on his job of feeding the dog.

Shelby the dog was a bundle of white fluff that you couldn’t actually see on her. Chris used to say that she shed more fluff than she could possibly produce. In the ensuing weeks white fluff carpeted the rugs, the floors and every surface in the house.

It was disgusting.

But we were at an impasse.

Stubborn mum refused to look for the remote until his jobs were done. And refused to do his jobs despite living in dog-fluff circumstances.

Son demonstrated that he can be equally stubborn. He inherited a double-dose of stubborn, with an added pinch of passive resistance.

Possibly prompted by an imminent houseful of guests I decided that, regardless of my intentions to stick to my guns, I needed to do the vacuuming. I went to the cupboard in the laundry, picked up the vacuum-cleaner…and there, behind the vacuum-cleaner, was the hidden remote.

I didn’t need to do the vacuuming that day.
I simply went to find the offending son and explained that I’d suddenly remembered where his treasure was. If he did his chores I could make sure they were reunited.

He looked at me with that look that asks ‘Should I believe you?’.

I walked away.

A few moments later, I heard chuckling coming from the laundry.
‘Fair call, mum. Fair call. I deserved that. That was well done.’

Phew! Not quite the reaction I anticipated. But it reaffirmed to me that logical consequences and ‘assisting’ our kids to take responsibility for their actions works – at least it did, that time.

I wonder if he’ll know where to look when he’s looking for his missing computer…

Dunny Destinations

During our recent travels, I noticed that the central theme of travel for middle-aged to older women seems to be ‘Where is the next loo?’ aka toilet, dunny, bathroom, wc, wash-room, rest-room…

At one rest-stop in Northern Territory, between 18 and 20 caravans were camped around one of these ‘dunny destinations’.

And I wondered, if the dunny appears to be the destination, why is there not a bigger attempt at making them more accessible, more user-friendly, more appealing and, dare I ask, more attractive.

Our next ‘dunny destination’ proved that I was not the first to ask this question. I wasn’t quite equipped to take a photo of the actual dunny in question, but found myself taking a photo of its hand-basin, and laughed when another patron pulled out her camera to do the same thing.

So, I invite you to send me photos of your ‘dunny destinations’ – so we can choose the most attractive, appealing and even entertaining dunnies in Australia.

I’m beginning with this one at The Lazy Lizard in Pine Creek, NT.  (Yes, sorry! This is just the hand-basin. But impressive – don’t you think?)IMG_4131

Honorary mention also to Timber Creek caravan park, Northern Territory, and to Bark Hut pub, NT. (Please don’t hesitate to send me photos of these).

 

 

 

 

He did mend it.

He loves this towel.

He’s used it for longer than he’s known me.

 

He pulled a funny face when I suggested that I could give him a new one.

I already had: For Christmas a couple of years ago.

Bright and stripey.

And in one piece.

 

But this one’s better. Apparently.

 

I’ll mend it, he says.

If you’ll just get the sewing machine organised.

I can do it.

 

I know he can.

He sewed the plastic and vinyl cover for his stereo, on his mother’s Singer treadle machine.

It looked like a professional had made it. I wouldn’t have been so patient or meticulous.

 

But he has no idea how my newish fancy machine works.

Nor that it will take ten minutes to pack up my stuff, mid major project.

Another five minutes to change threads – because anything other than cotton would shred what’s left of the towel.

Another ten to show him how to work it.

About thirty seconds to sew it.

And another fifteen to reset the settings and get my project back to how I had them.

 

It’s a bit like cooking a barbecue really.

I’ll do it and you can relax. 

Yeah, right.

 

And slightly reminiscent of a tempestuous two-year-old.

I do it. I do it.

 

You’d better do it.

If I get my hands on it, it will be in the rubbish.

 

But before I get to think about it for too much longer, it’s going  through the machine

with the scientist looking as excited as if he’d just discovered the cure for cancer.

 

He did mend it.

 

He holds it up for me to admire.

It’s still old and faded and frayed.

But he loves it.

 

Reassuring – for the wife

who’s growing older and faded and frayed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll mend it, he says. It’ll be fun, he says.

I’ll mend it, he says. It’ll be fun, he says.

I turn around and see the big gaping hole in his much-loved towel and try my darndest not to give him the look of

Are you serious? 

I know he is.

 

 

Does the hero mend the much-loved towel only to return it to the mending pile next week?

Does the heroine save the day by buying a new towel?

Does someone on the beach appreciate the exquisite mending and borrow it permanently – as happened to its predecessor?

How would you finish this story?

 

Watch this space…

 

 

 

 

My terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day*

 

The dad was screaming at his child. Every instinct in me wanted to run up to the child and whisk him into my arms as I yelled back at the dad.

Then I remembered.

We’d dropped off our eldest at kindergarten for the morning, and the house seemed too cold and lonely to go back to. So my younger two children and I headed to the library.

Normally the library was a place of solace. On Thursday mornings the library was alive with storytelling and great family-friendly activities.

This wasn’t Thursday morning.

I could usually find some books with which to settle my kids at a table within an arm’s distance of me, while I had a quick look at some reading matter a little more advanced than Dr Seuss.

But not this morning.

While I was two metres away from my kids, they started some sort of uproar.I don’t even remember what they did. But I do remember the face of the security guard as he suggested I try to come back another day when the children wouldn’t be so disruptive.

So we headed for home.

But we needed milk, so we popped into the drugstore (yes, we were living in the USA at the time).

We didn’t end up getting milk that morning. The kids caused a racket.

And in less time than it takes to get a flagon of milk and line up in a 20-person-long queue, another security guard came up to us. In his sweetest, deepest Southern-USA accent, he said,

‘Ma’am, y’all need to leave the store. These chillun’ are disturbin’ the other customers’.

Mortified, I grabbed the pusher and the hand of my three-year-old, and we headed out—without the milk.

Our house still seemed cold and lonely, so I headed to our friend’s home, where the kids felt right at home and joined in the activities without fear of being expelled.

As the kids played, my dear friend poured some freshly brewed coffee and listened as I burst into tears and related the goings-on of the morning.

‘… and then … and then …!’

And then I looked at my friend’s face. She’d evidently been trying to keep a straight face, but could no longer hold it in. She burst into fits of laughter.

‘What’s so funny?’ I asked.

‘Well, after all you’ve been trying to tell me about being a Christian, at last I know now that you’re real! This has spoken more to me than anything else you’ve ever said. Thank God you’re human!’

She continued to speak words of truth, encouragement and compassion. Her words were loving, caring, concise and compelling.

She knew us so well.

We were everyday friends and shared most aspects of our lives. So she knew of the stresses and strains on our young family.

She also knew of the unrealistic demands I had placed on myself as a young mum of three young children in a place a world away from everything and everybody we knew.

She was also a doctor, and picked up pretty quickly that at least one of our kids had a fever—something that I’d overlooked. Several hours later, another burst eardrum revealed itself as the cause of my ‘terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad day’*.

 

As soon as I remembered that day, I was able to think about the dad in the shopping centre in a different light. I was so quick to judge—just like those people in the drugstore. Several of them offered words of advice:

‘That child needs discipline.’

‘If he were my child, he would have had a spanking by now.’

‘You shouldn’t come here if you can’t control your children.’

None of the advice had been particularly helpful, and none demonstrated any form of understanding.

They did not know that we had been up all night with various demands of the children.

They did not know that we were from the other side of the world and really needed somebody to give us a break.

They didn’t know that the child who was being most boisterous never complained of pain, but acted up in other ways. He must have been screaming inside but didn’t know how to tell me.

The people knew nothing about us yet were so quick to judge.

And here I was, doing the same thing.

The dad and the child left the building.

And I felt sorry that I didn’t do anything. I hadn’t given any word of encouragement. I hadn’t offered any help. I hadn’t even given the understanding smile that I’ve since been practising.

I hope it says, ‘Yes, sometimes we do have terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad days. I understand. I hope your day gets better from here, but I promise not to contribute further to your misery.’

These days I try to keep a bottle of bubbles in my bag, which often is all the distraction that distraught dads need. A dad with those magic bubbles in his hand turns into a super-hero in the eyes of a small child, and in the eyes of judgemental onlookers.

For the times when I’m not armed with bubbles, I have rehearsed some lines which I have actually used, such as:

‘Not a good day? Can I help?’

‘I hope your day gets better.’

‘Would you like me to help you with your trolley?’

‘I remember those days. Is there anything I can do to help you right now?’

I usually receive some funny looks—but, in comparison with being a judgmental, older person with a poor memory and no clue of the cause of anybody else’s terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad day, it’s worth it!

 

Originally published in ‘The Lutheran’ magazine, September, 2012. http://www.thelutheran.com.au/

 

 

 

* from the book Alexander’s Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very-Bad Day by Judith Viorst