Archive | January 2014

I can’t put it off any longer

File DrawerIt’s time. I added it to my to-do list on January 1, 2014. It’s well past time to pull out the 13 bulging folders from the file drawer, the folders labeled “January 2013” through “December 2013” and “Misc. Tax Info.”

I haven’t clicked on the QuickBooks icon on my desktop since last February, when I finished “doing the accounting” for 2012. For me, “doing the accounting” really means entering receipts and expenses for our businesses into the computer and printing out a few reports to give to a real accountant who will prepare our financial statements and our taxes.

Organizing and entering a year’s worth of transactions usually takes me about a week of 10 to 12-hour workdays. Every year I think about changing my pattern and “doing the accounting” on a monthly basis, but I’ve stuck to the same annual pattern for 15 years, so I doubt that I’ll ever change. My week for “doing accounting” early in the new year always becomes my least favorite week of the year, but I survive it. I guess this practice is part of my disguise – so no one will ever guess that I have an MBA from one of the most prestigious business schools in the country, the University of Chicago. My guess is they would not like to claim me as one of their own.

Anyway, I can’t put it off any longer…

Elsie at PresHouse

Mom working at Presbyterian Student Center at UW Madison

I think I learned something about procrastination from my mom. She was always very organized, and she got everything done that needed to be done by the time it needed to be done. But I remember once she told me that she always ironed my dad’s shirts last. Back in those days, housewives ironed almost everything, from sheets and pillow cases to shirts and pants, even handkerchiefs. My mom had a full-time job as a financial secretary for the Presbyterian Student Center in Madison in addition to being a farmer’s wife and raising three kids, but she still ironed everything – until she could teach me to take over that job. One day she told me about how she ironed clothes. She hated to iron my dad’s Sunday shirt the most of all, so she ironed it last – just in case the end of the world would come before she got to it.

Pablo Picasso thought a lot like my mom. He is quoted in www.goodreads.com as saying, “Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.”

That sounds like a good case for procrastination to me! If I die before I get the accounting done, that’s fine with me. However, I’m sure Mim wouldn’t like it.

Mark Twain shared his words of wisdom on procrastination, too. He said, “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.” I guess that’s my justification for doing accounting once a year instead of once a month.

Well, I guess it’s now “the day after tomorrow for me.” I really need to click on the QuickBooks icon.

Something that helps me focus on getting something done that I really hate to do, like accounting, is promising myself a reward when I complete the task. I’ve already ordered my reward from Amazon.com. Since my special word for 2014 is JOY, I’ve ordered the book CHASING JOY: MUSINGS ON LIFE IN A BITTERSWEET WORLD by Edward Hays. The book should arrive today or tomorrow, but I won’t let myself start reading it until the accounting is done.

I’d better get busy.

Chasing Joy

Another Anniversary. Another Time of Joy.

Brides Basket - squareThis week, 25 years ago – 1989, was a pretty spectacular week. It was a week of beautiful weather, a January thaw. Mim and I were living in Chicago, on the second floor of a two-flat. Mim was teaching nursing at North Park College, and I was self-employed as a business systems consultant. But neither of us worked too hard that week.

I remember putting on just a light spring jacket when we drove to a flower shop to pick up a dozen yellow roses, yellow freesia, white mini-carnations, baby’s breath, and greens. Then we drove to a liquor store to pick out special champagne. The wine expert in the store convinced us to get Moet & Chandon for $26 a bottle, the most we had ever spent on a bottle of anything. But this was for a very special occasion. Six friends were coming over to our home for dinner.

When we got home from our errands, Mim arranged the flowers into several bouquets, and I placed them throughout the house. I set up the CD player with Grieg’s “Peer Gynt Suite” for background music, and made sure the house was ready for company. Mim worked in the kitchen, preparing a curried chicken-broccoli casserole. By the time our guests arrived, the house looked and smelled wonderful.

But before our guests could eat, we had a special event that we all participated in – our Blessing Ceremony. Two of our guests, Steve and Craig, were pastors from our Lutheran church. Another guest was Craig’s partner, Frank, an accomplished organist who served as our pianist. Our best friend, Mark, was the lector and photographer. Our attorney, Sandra, officiated the signing of the wills and other legal documents to make our commitment ceremony resemble a legal marriage to the greatest extent possible in 1989. Our sixth friend was Lenie, our “antique lady friend,” a local shopkeeper who had become a close friend and who served as a legal witness for us.

BC-1 Marian reading vows

It was a perfect evening. The Blessing Ceremony was a full liturgy with communion, a service that we had customized from a variety of sources. Our opening hymn was “Now Thank We All Our God.” Our closing hymn was “O God, Eternal Source of Love beyond Our Knowing.” The prayers that our friends prayed for us that night are still being answered.

Faithful Lord, source of love, pour down your grace upon Mim and Marian, that they may fulfill the vows they have made this day and reflect your steadfast love in their life-long faithfulness to each other. As members with them of the body of Christ, use us to support their life together; and from your great store of strength give them power and patience, affection and understanding, courage, and love toward you, toward each other, and toward the world, that they may continue together in mutual growth according to your will in Jesus Christ our Lord.

After the formal ceremony, Mim took the casserole out of the oven. Frank and Craig thought we shouldn’t be the ones to serve our guests dinner on our special day, so they became our waiters. The eight of us sat around the dining room table for a couple hours, enjoying the dinner, the friendship, and the excitement of the evening. And the expensive champagne, too.

BC-1 Dinner Guests

But the enjoyment isn’t over yet. Every year we remember this special evening. This Friday night Mim and I plan to go out to celebrate our Blessing Ceremony for the 25th time.

champagneAs you may recall, my “perfect word” to focus on for 2014 is JOY. One of the special joys that Mim and I have is the opportunity to enjoy three anniversaries every year. On January 24, we’ll celebrate the 25th anniversary of our Blessing Ceremony. On February 1, we’ll celebrate the 41st anniversary of living together. And on September 15, we’ll celebrate the first anniversary of our legal wedding.

I guess having several anniversaries is one of the special joys reserved for gay couples.

BC-1 MM Close up

Mim and Marian – January 24, 1989.

Happiness Engineer – One of My Favorite Job Titles

happiness-engineersLast week I received an email from someone with the job title of “Happiness Engineer.” It made me smile. The email was from WordPress, the Internet service I use for hosting this blog. Earlier in the week I had contacted WordPress through their website to let them know that I had been charged twice on my credit card on the same day for a one-year renewal of their hosting and software service. Someone at WordPress with the title of “Happiness Engineer” checked out my concern, apologized for the error, and assured me my account would be credited. The “Happiness Engineer” made me happy.

In another company, the person who resolves minor customer concerns like mine would probably be called a “Customer Service Representative.” I guess that’s an appropriate job title, although if I were the person doing the job, I think I’d prefer the title of “Happiness Engineer.” I think this title would help me keep focused on trying to create happiness as part of the solution to every problem I had to solve.

Dagmar Vasby

Dagmar Vasby – former Missionary to China and Africa, and my neighbor for many years.

“Happiness Engineer.” That got me thinking about some of the job titles I’ve had over my career: English Teacher, Editorial Researcher, Business Systems Analyst, Manager of Financial Systems, Business Consultant, Real Estate Broker, Innkeeper, Organist, and a few others. The one title I really didn’t like was “Functional Analyst.” I guess it was better than “Dysfunctional Analyst,” but that’s what I always thought of when I saw the title “Functional Analyst” after my name.

A week and a half ago I went to the funeral of a 106-year-old former neighbor who had been a missionary to China and Africa. She had many job titles, too – Missionary Nurse, Teacher, Mother to a widower’s five children, Writer, Speaker, Lay Minister, and many more.

At the lunch following the funeral I talked with several old friends, and I met a few new people. When I was introduced to one person, I was shocked to hear her say to me, “the author?” when she heard my name. I guess that’s my favorite new job title. I like being seen as an author.

In this month’s “Monastic Way,” Joan Chittister focuses her readers’ attention on a self-portrait by Mary Cassatt. She begins her pamphlet with these words:

Mary Cassatt - Self PortraitTo paint a self-portrait, the artist is required to look into a mirror or study a photograph of themselves as they work. They do what few of us ever sit down and do consciously: they look themselves square in the face and try to draw a picture of what they see there. The difference between what they see there and what another artist might set out to express of them is that the person doing a self-portrait knows what every line and furrow, every cast of eye and hunch of shoulder says about the soul within…

What does a job title have to do with a self-portrait? They both provide glimpses into who we are – as we see ourselves, and as other people see us.

Jesus talked about this, too. In all four Gospels, Jesus is recorded as asking his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples answered by saying that some people said he was John the Baptist. Others said he must be Elijah, or one of the other prophets. And then Jesus asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him by saying, “You are the Messiah.”

I guess we could say Jesus’ job title was “Messiah.” And we could say Peter’s job title was “Apostle” and “Father of the Church,” based on his early recognition of Jesus being the Messiah and his getting the early church in Jerusalem organized.

Smiley FaceAs I think about who I am – as if I were trying to do a self-portrait by giving myself the perfect “job title” to describe who I am, not just the work I do, but who God created me to be – what would the job title be? “Happiness Engineer” might be a good start, but I’m not sure that’s exactly how I think about myself.

I guess that’s something else I want to think about this year – what job title would I like to create for myself? What kind of self-portrait should the job title reflect?

Abbey, Mim & Me – Our Special Words for 2014

M-A-M closeup bronze

January is a time every year that I start thinking about how I want this year to be different from previous years. Sometimes I make New Year resolutions. Some years I formulate specific goals. Every year I come up with an immediate to-do list. At a minimum I need to plan how I’m going to get caught up on the bookkeeping for the previous year so I can deliver our records to our accountant to figure our taxes.

To-Do ListI did my January to-do list last week, but I hadn’t thought much about any goals or resolutions for 2014. Then I happened to catch about a minute of an interview with a consultant on TV as I was switching channels. His advice was to pick a single word that would be my focus for the year. He recommended thinking about my needs and wants, praying about it, and then waiting for the word to come to me. It might take a few days or even weeks, but the consultant assured all viewers that just the right word would come for each of us. I thought about it for a few minutes, wondering what word could be my word for the year, but nothing came to me immediately. The next morning the word was in my mind. The word was JOY. That surprised me a little, but then I thought, I’ve been pretty serious in many of my blog posts and much of my ponderings over the past year. Maybe I need to focus more on some of the joyful things in life. Hmmm.

Mim headLater that day I mentioned it to Mim. She said, “We have a book about finding your special word for the year. I can’t remember the name of it, but the author is Debbie Macomber. I’ve already chosen my word for this year. It’s ENOUGH.”

“Enough?” I repeated. “That’s kind of an unusual word to choose. What made you choose that?”

“Oh, there’s a lot to that word. I need to think about what is enough – enough money, enough food, enough work, enough to give to others, enough to keep for myself, enough books to read – I need to know when MORE isn’t better, to recognize when ENOUGH is ENOUGH.”

Then Mim added, “JOY is a good word for you for this year. Did you notice that the quotation on the January page of the wall calendar in your office is about JOY?”

No, I hadn’t noticed. I went to check it out. It was a quotation from Buddha.

Joy comes not through possession or ownership
but through a wise and loving heart.

I think I’m going to learn a lot about JOY this year. By really pondering the word, the concept, of JOY for a whole year, I can’t even imagine some of the new insights I might gain.

Then I said to Mim, “I’m getting kind of excited about becoming more aware of JOY in life. It’s going to be fun to be on the lookout for appearances of JOY throughout the year.”

Abbey with toyShe smiled. During this conversation Abbey had come over to join us. She said, “I’ve been thinking about a word for myself for this year, too.”

“Really, Abbey. What’s your word?” I asked.

“PLAY,” she said. “Even though I’m well into my 80s in human years, I still like to play. I really liked that stuffed pig with a squeaker I got for Christmas. We all need to remember to play, even if we don’t jump quite as high and run quite as fast. By having PLAY as my word, I’m going to remember to focus on finding at least a little time to PLAY every day.”

Mim and I agreed that PLAY was a good word for Abbey for this year.

ENOUGH, JOY, and PLAY. Those are the words for the three of us this year. I’ll keep you posted as the year progresses with what it means to have these words as our focus.

One Perfect Word book coverI couldn’t put my fingers on the Debbie Macomber book, so I went to Amazon.com to find it. The title of the book is One Perfect Word: One Word Can Make All the Difference. As I explored the book online I decided to download a Kindle edition so that I could re-read the book as I’m beginning my own year with the perfect word of JOY.

From the back cover of the book –

Debbie Macomber reveals in inspiring, moving stories that the simplicity of one perfect word can become profound. When Debbie took the time to intentionally focus on a single word – such as prayer, trust, or surrender – for a whole year, this act changed not only herself, but those around her.

“The surprising thing is that when we decide to focus on one word for the year,” Debbie writes, “God takes part in the choosing. That’s why the word is perfect for us. We may not see it at the time, but as we look back we see that it all worked together – our word, our life, our journey.”

ENOUGH, JOY, and PLAY. Let the year begin!

Mim, Marian and Abbey wish you a Happy New Year!

ENOUGH, JOY, and PLAY. Let the year begin!