Don’t Strain Yourself

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I have a recurring problem.

Whenever I start a new project – particularly when I’m also learning a new skill – starting small doesn’t, for a single second, occur to me.

“I want to learn to knit. Why make a dishcloth, when I can make an adult-sized, fair-isle, cabled sweater?”
“I want a garden. Why plant small container, when I can dig up my whole backyard?”
“I want an uncluttered house. Why start with a drawer, when I can empty the contents of my entire home onto my bed?”

It’s amazing how, even when you identify a behavioral quirk, it seems almost impossible to break.

Not long ago, I was asked to help make reusable cloth masks for a fly-in reservation in one of the Northiest bits of Northern Ontario. Upon hearing they had 300 elders they wanted covered, I asked, “Sounds good. How many in the entire community?”

I mean, why make 300 masks when you could make 1200, amiright?

This next Year of Done project was a victim of this all-or-nothing idiocy.

I had barely sewn a potholder before, so naturally it made perfect sense to make a king-sized pineapple quilt. There would be 100 – 12″x12″ squares, and each square have a mere 53 pieces.

Easy peasy makes-me-queazy.

In nearly TWENTY YEARS and in SIX DIFFERENT HOMES, I completed a total of FOUR BLOCKS.

ZERO of them were 12″x12″.

This one hurt a little more than the others. I can’t just reabsorb the fabric into my stash for future use. Congratulating myself on being so smart and organized, I precut yards and yard (and yards) of fabric into 2″ strips.

That’s a LOT of 2″ strips.

After wrestling the wonky blocks into some semblance of order, I ended up with a small quilt for my wall, and kids who are more than eager to use my scraps.

Don’t go big.
Stay small.
Stay sane.
Also, stay home, ’cause, you know, COVID.

New Plan!

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Okay, so, more of New Plan Required vs New Plan Acquired.

See, I went to (re)(re)start Beth Moore’s David study, and 30 seconds in, I knew I’d made a huge mistake.

This particular study of David is 10 weeks long. Each week has 5 days of homework. Each day of homework takes about an hour.

I have at least 15 uncompleted studies, each 6-11 weeks in length.

Let’s math, shall we?

Beth Moore’s David study – 50 hour commitment
Beth Moore’s Esther study – 45 hours
Beth Moore’s Quest study – 30 hours
Beth Moore’s Breaking Free study – 55 hours
Erin H Moon’s Ecclesiastes study – 20 hours
Fight Back with Joy – 30 hours
Priscilla Shirer’s Discerning the Voice of God study – 35 hours
Priscilla Shirer’s Armor of God study – 35 hours
Priscilla Shirer’s He Speaks to Me study – 35 hours
Philip Chan’s Crazy Love study – 50 hours
Lysa TerKeurst’s It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way study – 30 hours
Kelly Minter’s All Things New study – 40 hours
Lisa Harper’s Gospel of Mark study – 35 hours
Kay Arthur’s Genesis Part One study – 25 hours
Anne Graham Lotz Ephesians study – 35 hours

HOLY CRAP ON A CRACKER

That’s a FIVE HUNDRED AND FIFTY HOUR COMMITMENT.

That’s a FOURTEEN WEEK FULL-TIME JOB.

If I did the prescribed amount per day, that’s AN EIGHTEEN MONTH UNDERTAKING.

Also: Undertaking is a great word ’cause I’D BE DECEASED.

I could pop out another two children in less time.

Also also: Thank you Jesus for birth control.

And that’s not even counting any other studies I might come across, or the shiny new Lenten study currently in my cart. Forget the fact that I didn’t finish LAST YEAR’S LENTEN STUDY. Someone talk me into it anyhow, please? Last year’s was SO GOOD. You know, the 27 days I actually completed.

Full disclosure: I’ve rounded up on some of these. Some may only take 1/2 hour. Or 45 minutes. I have two excellent reasons for doing so. First off, I have a squirrel brain, and 1/2 an hour is NEVER 1/2 an hour. Secondly, it makes my big reveal ALL THE MORE DRAMATIC.

So, a new plan is needed.

Right?

Suggestions?

Bible School Drop Out

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You know how, when you’re living on a modest income, but you’ve made a few extra purchases, and you probably need to get your financial bearings, but think that, somehow, if you don’t actually check your account balance, then it doesn’t count and you’re not actually fiscally irresponsible?

Or, it’s after Christmas, and you’ve indulged in every Gramma-goodie, and your yoga pants are the only bottoms that still have your back, but you haven’t actually stepped on a scale, so the enormity of your poor dietary decisions can’t be quantified and therefore don’t yet count?

I’m the same way with courses, non-audio books, and, in particular, Bible studies.

During a decluttering session of my bookshelves, I gathered all my workbooks together. In one place. Much like stepping on the scale, or scanning my bank card, I was in for a bit of a reality bitch slap.

No Graduation Day for You

I found 14 unfinished workbooks. FOURTEEN. And that’s not counting the legions of online studies, reading plans, or topical deep dives I’ve undertaken on my own, over the years. There may, in fact, be a Lenten study hanging out in my virtual shopping cart, even though I didn’t finished the one I bought last year. 40 days is a big commitment, y’all.

Full disclosure: I LOVE GROUP BIBLE STUDIES. I know it’s some people’s Fifth Circle of Hell, but I join every study presented, because, I want ALL THE KNOWLEDGE, and, regardless of my crushing social anxiety, I’m an Enneagram 7 and I want all the people, all the time, at all the gatherings. I *do* wish I never had to leave my house to get those things, but there it is.

I always start out great. I’m early for Thursday morning group. I have my homework done. I’ve done extra reading and can tell you the origin of that word is Hebrew and yada yada sex.

Then, at some point, my interest wanes. Okay, not my interest, per se. My interest is still high. I still want to KNOW ALL THE THINGS. My motivation to pursue my interest on my own withers. Maybe I don’t do any extra reading. Maybe I only do 4 of the 5 days of homework. Maybe I’m 10 minutes late for Thursday morning group. Maybe I can actually see it happening, but seem powerless to stop the cycle.

It’s predictable, see? If the study is 6 weeks long, the first four weeks are stellar. If the study is 12 weeks, I’m good for the first 8ish. At some point, past the half-way mark, my brain says, “Meh.” to the study, but “Damn skippy!” to that new audiobook that just became available on Overdrive.

I’m still great in discussion. My squirrel brain makes connections in lightening-fast (if not particularly coherent) ways. I can connect the dots between faith and psychology and current events and literature. My cranium is a giant Red Thread Board. You’re welcome, leaders, for keeping the conversation going, if not in the direction you wanted.

I 100% deflect, however, when the question of “Who’s got their homework done?” comes up. I’m pretty sure it’s frowned on to lie, particularly at Bible Study, but there is absolutely no way I’m copping to not finishing homework that should have taken 20 minutes.

So, what’s a girl to do?

Add them to my Year of Done!

I’ll likely start with Beth Moore’s David study. I’ve left that one unfinished TWICE, with two different groups, at two different churches, in two different decades. Have mercy.

Maybe I’ll start from the beginning.
Maybe I’ll just fill in the blank bits.
Maybe I’ll set them on fire.
Either way, I’ll either get them done or get them out.

Quilt Squared

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Some projects you look at, and remember with fondness.

Maybe it’s a quilt made with old baby clothes (note to self: finish Baby Clothes Quilt).
Maybe it’s a binder with all your family’s favourite recipes (note to self: Finish Family Recipes Binder).
Maybe it’s a garden with clippings from your Nan’s flowers (note to self: Start a Nan’s Flower Garden so you can abandon Nan’s Flower Garden, so you can resurrect Nan’s Flower Garden, so you can add it to your YEAR OF DONE).

Others, all you can do is shake your head at yourself and think “What the actual eff were you thinking?”

This project falls into the latter category.

This was (yet another) sew-a-long, I joined with a friend.

Can we talk, for a second, about my compulsive need to enlist in every group/team/knit-a-long/sew-a-long/write-a-long/book club/book launch/challenge that crosses my path? I am a chronic joiner. I can’t seem to help myself. Is there a category in the DSM-V for Club Collector? I guarantee I tick all the boxes. Must work on this.

Anyhow, this was another Angela-bites-off-more-than-fits-in-her-gigantic-mouth project. Not only was I going to sew a quilt with ELEVENTY ONE BLOCKS, but I was going to sew TWO OF THEM. Seriously. Why is it that I need to double up when it comes to the girls? I’ve never been the mom that needed to dress her twins the same. Why am I the mom that needs matching linens?

So, not only was there supposed to be 222 blocks, but check out the colour palette.

Headline – PATCHY, THE COLOUR BLIND CLOWN GETS RUN OVER BY THE PANTONE TRUCK AT CARNIVAL

A clown threw up in my mouth.

I mean, I like colour. You like colour. There is, however ZERO NEED to put the entire rainbow in a single quilt.

TWICE.

Sadly, (luckily?) I didn’t get far. I made…wait for it…18 of the planned on 222 blocks.

Way to run the race, Roberge.

Anyhow, after slapping myself several times with my reality stick, I put the blocks together, and made a…rug? Lap quilt? Puppy blanket? Table runner? Not sure, but as it’s currently on my wall instead of in a Rubbermaid bin, I’m calling it a win.

A migraine-inducing win.

Tah dah!

Brain vs Heart

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Does your brain ever argue with your heart? Mine often have conversations, not unlike the shoulder angel/demon trope of ole.

One of my zillion Year of Done projects is a sew-a-long quilt I started in 2017. Not that long ago, considering some of my stuff, but still far enough in the past that times (and tastes) have changed.

The Vision vs The Reality

My brain says, “Angela, you KNOW you’re not going to finish that project. You know you just signed up for that sew-a-long because your friend did. Also, your style has changed over the last 4 years, and you no longer like the fabric palate you originally chose. Just let it go. You’ll feel better. Also also, you HATE applique. Also, also, also: WTF is up with the rabbits?”

My heart says, “Angela, you CAN’T not finish this quilt. You’ve already started. You’d be wasting all the time and money and energy you’ve already put into the project. I know you never really liked the project, but your joining encouraged another friend to join, so you’d be letting her down, too. Also, considering you raise rabbits for meat, the theme is hysterical. You love hysterical. Also, also, your mamma didn’t raise a quitter.”

Seriously, they bicker more than my kids.

This is when I have to repeat my mantra 278458652 times.

Not finishing a project that no longer serves me, IS NOT A FAILURE.

Choosing to cut my losses is being a better steward of my:

Time – I can spend the time on things that DO matter
Money – I can repurpose the fabric into something I DO want
Space – One fewer project bin
Emotions – One less avenue of shame
Energy – Did I mention I LOATHE appliqué?

So, here it is. My first of (hopefully) many projects in my Year of Done.

Is it perfect? Nope
Is it done? Yep.

Done is better than perfect.

<<insert trumpets>>

The Year of DONE

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Previously, in my brain…

“Ugh. Why do I suck? How can I suck less?”

Normally, I hate labels.
Don’t tell me what I am.
Don’t tell me how to be.
Don’t tell me to wear pants.
Also: Where is my label maker? ‘Cause I love labels.

I gotta say, though, getting a big ol’ ADHD stamped on my forehead (in a non-Mark of the Beast way, obvs) has given me a weird freedom. It’s amazing what it can do for your psyche knowing your tendencies are hurdles to overcome, rather than personality flaws that make you a garbage person.

So, knowing what little I do about this particular label, (it’s still new) how can I hack my own brain to get ish done?

Enter The New Project with its dopamine inducing New Project Smell.

Since I’m great at starting things, but rubbish at finishing them, what if my beautiful broken brain and I launch a New Project that sweeps all my Old Projects into one pile?

You should know there is trumpet fanfare playing in my head right now.

The Year of DONE.

So, as out of practice as I am, I’m a Writer (stamped it, no take backs) and a Word Nerd. (Also: Why does no one talk about the fact that ‘yada’ translates into “sex” in Hebrew? It adds a hysterical layer to that Seinfeld bit. Seriously. Picture your grandma saying “Yada yada yada.” I dare you.) It tickles me that the word DONE is both a get-off-your-arse verb, AND means worn out and exhausted. This is so on-brand for me that I’m thinking of having it etched into my tombstone.

“Here lies Angela. 100% DONE with this.”

Ground Rules for The Year of Done

1 – Everything is fair game. Sewing. Books. Knitting. Home improvement. Bible studies. Everything.

2 – I am not required to FINISH every project, but I am required to MAKE A DECISION on every project.

You know how, when you ask your kids to do a chore, and they have a temper tantrum, and you’re like, “If you’d just done The Thing, you’d be finished by now, but you’re still arguing, and you still have to DO THE THING.”? Like that, but it’s all in my head and I’m a grown-ass woman who should know better.

I spend so much time agonizing about The Thing, and ignoring The Thing, and feeling guilt over The Thing instead of DOING THE THING. I need to either DO THE THING or make a decision to NOT DO THE THING and, instead GET RID OF THE THING. Then I don’t have to look at it and beat myself up. ‘Cause you know my brain will forget it even exists if it’s out of my line of sight.

My current mantra is: NOT FINISHING a project is NOT A FAILURE. It’s a decision to be a better steward of my time/money/energy/emotions.

I don’t quite believe it yet, but fake it until you make it.

Also, there should probably be more than two ground rules, but I’m kinda done with this entry.

I’m riding high on my dopamine hit.

Felt bored. Might add more later.

So, here’s to you, 2021 (you flaming pile of horsehair).

Here’s to finishing partially completed projects – Whether it’s getting them done or letting them go.

Projects 1-6 of 38762387462

That New Project Smell

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Like everyone on the planet, both Covid and New Year’s has set my heart to decluttering.

You sparked ZERO JOY, 2020, so GTFO.

The two-day blitz of my craft room allowed me to set eyes on all current (and by current, I mean somewhere between 1 month and 20 years) quilting projects, and it’s not pretty.

I have 11.

So far.

Here’s a list, in no particular order, of the half-baked sewing projects taking up space in my life and in my house and in my brain:

  • Striped quilt top for my bedroom
  • Pineapple quilt also for my bedroom
  • Matching single quilts for the girls’ room
  • 2nd of 2 matching single quilts for the girls’ room
  • Bug quilt
  • Christmas quilt
  • Pink/aqua Baby quilt
  • Block of the Month #1 – Batik
  • Block of the Month #2 – Batik
  • Block of the Month #3 – Appliqué
  • Zippered bag

How many other projects do I have languishing in bins and closets and drawers, oh my?

At least 3985 knits are on the needles.
Perhaps 4872 Bible Studies started.
Then there are the 5245 new hobbies in bins just waiting to become my next passion.

Why do I do this to myself? Why do I start things that I won’t finish?

Better yet, why don’t I JUST FINISH THE STUFF?!

I remember watching an episode of Dr. Phil, (I know, right?) where he skewers someone for constantly being late. He said something along the lines of “If it was totally accidental, the laws of probability state you’d be on time 50% of the time.” The implication is that she was late on purpose. Applying the same logic, if I’m not finishing at least half of the projects I start (and, let’s face it, unless dishes and dinner count, this isn’t happening) I must be willfully letting things fall by the way.

I SUMMARILY REJECT THIS IDEA.

(Mainly, because it makes me an asshole.)

I swear on my sewing machine. My intentions are righteous. Whether it’s a quilt or a book or a gym membership, at the time of commencement, I’m 100% on board with said quilt or book or membership.

“THIS TIME WILL BE DIFFERENT.
I will ABSOLUTELY MAINATAIN MOMENTUM all the way through.
I will come out the other side victorious and healed of my abortive habits.”

Because that’s how ADHD and mental illness work, right?

Right?

I did a little reading on why people with ADHD love to start things but are absolute rubbish at finishing them. There are lots of theories, but one I liked (because: BRAIN CHEMISTRY) was that brains like mine seem to be low in dopamine. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, plays a role in how we experience pleasure. It helps us strive and focus and keep interested.

We get a hit of dopamine when we whiff that New Project Smell.

Pleasure! Excitement! Energy! Gimme all that good stuff.

Sadly, the high fades. The project vision dims. We lose our drive. Our focus. Our interest. And we go looking for another hit. Luckily, your next buzz is only as far as your local craft shop. Or bookstore. Or computer.

What to do?

How does one Finish the Things when one has a brain not wired to Finish the Things?

I’ll give you a hint.

Can you smell that?

Breathe it in.

Thaaat’s the stuff.

That’s the New Project Smell.

…to be continued…

Before
After

Done and Done

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You know when you start a project, but muck it up?

But you’re too overwhelmed to deal just then, so you put it aside, figuring you’ll get back to it the next day?

But then it gets covered by layers of clutter and life and other projects and you lose track of it for three years?

No? Just me? Anyone? Bueller?

Anyhow, I’ve decided Finishing Projects counts as Decluttering.

#stampeditnotakebacks

Hospitality: No longer a four-letter word.

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A friend of mine, well-versed in all the Gifts of the Spirit, is convinced I have the Gift of Prophecy. Like, honest-to-goodness-see-the-future-know-what-you-did-last-summer-thus-sayeth-the-Lord kind of prophecy. She honestly believes that the pictures that pop into my head (and inevitably out of my mouth) when we discuss current events, or the minutiae of Scripture, or what the heck that author meant when she ended the book in that way, are from God – as opposed to random connections my subconscious makes so that my squirrel brain can better understand the world. 

I love her, but that’s crazy talk. 

Frankly, the thought of prophesying terrifies me. First off, it’s NEVER GOOD NEWS. God never sends someone to the Israelites to say, “Well done! Keep it up! Here’s a cookie.” Second, I have enough to worry about, (what with twins, and Covid, and crushing social anxiety, and a dog that WILL NOT STOP LICKING HIS OWN BUTT), without adding to it. I can’t even SPELL prognostification, let alone perform it. I’ll leave that to Cassandra, Nostradamus, and Phil the Groundhog. 

Also: Don’t tell The Hallowed Specter, but not all of His spiritual endowments seem like much of a gift. Teaching, preaching, and evangelism, fine. But you can keep your martyrdom and celibacy, thank you very much.  

Of all the spiritual gifts, the one I find most appealing is the Gift of Hospitality. As an Enneagram 7, I want to see ALL THE PEOPLE. As one with social anxiety, I want to see all those people in my time, on my turf, and on my terms. I want to feed you, and talk with you, and make you laugh, and have you gone by 9. Is that too much to ask?

I’ve always been weirdly fascinated by hospitality across the geographic spectrum. In eighth grade, my favourite book was one that compared and contrasted practices around the world. Some customs require you to be punctual for dinner, where others expect you to be at least 15 minutes late. There’s an arabic tradition that allows you to park your butt on someone’s (anyone’s) couch for up to 3 days before they’re even allowed to ask, “Who are you, and why are you eating my baba ganoush?” Taking your shoes off is either insulting, or required, depending on where you are on the globe. (My husband’s family provides indoor footwear by way of hand-knit slippers in a basket by the door. This might also be because it’s Northern Ontario, where winters – and floors – are cold as the witches’ feet) Oh, and the American gesture for AOK, means something totally different in Japan, Kuwait, and with white nationalists. Protip: None of them will make you friends. You’re welcome.

Hospitality has evolved over time, as well. In the past, no one screened their calls. First, there were no phones, and therefore, no calls. Second, good-neighbourliness (it’s a word, I swear) seemed baked into their very DNA. My grandparents talked about a neighbour who would show up at dinnertime hoping for an invite. They never left hungry. They *did* however leave with pilfered food from their freezer, cutlery, knicknacks, and anything else not nailed down. My grandparents’ attitude? “They’ve got a big family. They need it more than we do.”  

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. Matthew 25:40

So what’s a wanna-be hostess to do, when faced with all these variables?

Ways I’ve got out of my head and got people into my house.

I’ve Embraced Golden Age in my 40s

Ever notice how Grandma, always kindness personified, suddenly has no problem telling you she hates your new haircut? It’s 100% a thing and I’ve decided not to wait ‘til I’m a senior. Since hitting 40, I’ve stopped giving an ish about what people think, LIKE IT’S MY JOB. If I’ve invited you over, and all you can see are my furry baseboards, we cannot be friends. I’m okay with that. A friend once said, “If you want to see my house, I need 48 hours notice. If you want to see me, you can come over anytime.” I feel that to my core.

I’ve Embraced Scruffy Hospitality

Romans 12:13 encourages us to share ‘em if we’ve got ‘em. It says nothing, however, about how many Cheerios we’re allowed under our coffee table, whether you use your treadmill as a dumping ground for clean laundry, or if you’ve cooked a meal from scratch or ordered take out from Golden Moon Buffet.

According to Rev. Jack King, “Scruffy hospitality means you’re not waiting for everything in your house to be in order before you host and serve friends in your home. Scruffy hospitality means you hunger more for good conversation and serving a simple meal of what you have, not what you don’t have. Scruffy hospitality means you’re more interested in quality conversation than the impression your home or lawn makes. If we only share meals with friends when we’re excellent, we aren’t truly sharing life together.”  

Hashtag Preach.

I’ve Embraced Decluttering

This one can’t be a surprise. I work with Kathi Lipp over at Clutter Free Academy, after all. I’ve drank all the KoolAid.  Visitors to Chez Roberge used to be slim-to-none, particularly when I had PPD after my twins were born, and my idea of cleaning up was putting down flat sheets to catch their dinner mess. People either had to love me despite the flotsam on every available horizontal space, or crucial enough to require the effort. “Why yes, Person Who Decides If I Can Be A Foster Parent, it *is* always this clean. Pay no attention to the smell of bleach, or the dishes piled in my bathtub.” 

My decluttering journey started when my girls were about two. Determined to get off my meds, I researched natural ways to control my anxiety. Diet, sleep, and exercise were biggies of course – I had to give up grains completely – but to my surprise, my hoarding tendencies were not only symptoms of my anxiety, but decluttering a (partial) cure. 

Bonkers. 

Luckily, I found a few great resources right away (thank goodness, as there were zero joy sparks to be found) and piece by piece, 15 minutes at a time, my house started looking less like the bastard child of a junk shop and a recycle bin, and more like the bastard child of a kindergarten class and a home.

Is it perfect? Not even close.
Life happens.
Flyers come in the mail.
A friend gives you 4 bags of hand-me-downs.
Kids draw you 74639 individual masterpieces.

But I *can* sit on the couch without shoving things to the floor. I *can* find a pen and paper WHENEVER I NEED THEM. And I *can* have people over for (Canadian) Thanksgiving without starting prep in January. 

Where once I needed two weeks and a dumpster rental, I now need a mere 20 minutes. 18 minutes to panic-clean, 2 minutes to put on pants.

Progress over perfection, baby.