Pay attention. I am not kidding. Really.

Month: October, 2015

Odd #16: Teresa’s the name. Efficiency’s the game.

photo of handful of nails, all head up

Handful of nails, all head up. (It’ll make sense.)

Do you have childhood memories of regular and dreary daily chores that were your responsibility alone? I’m so sad for you. As I’ve already said, I wasn’t really expected to do much as a child. But when I was, ever the serious, conscientious, only-child-for-the-time-being, I was extremely efficient in the execution of my kid-size duties.

A “Good Old Days” Story

When I was about four, Mother sent me up a little lane on our farm to a spot where my father was working. It was one of those sticky, hot and humid, Indiana summer days, and she figured he could do with a little cooling off. I was sent packing with a bright red Thermos jug of freshly made lemonade, heavily banging against my very white knobby knees. (Colorful red-and-white picture, eh?)

As my father could no doubt see me long before those stubby four-year-old legs could get me to his work spot, he had plenty of time to think about the icy treat that would soon be flowing down his parched throat. (As in Odd #13, this is completely my father’s story. Since I have no remembrance of it, I suppose we have to take his word for it.)

I arrived and gladly handed over the cursedly heavy jug. He poured a full cupful from the whopping, six-ounce cap-cup and turned to survey his handiwork of rich, yellow, waving wheat all ’round. By the time he’d turned back around to pour himself another cup, I had already gathered up the jug and was trotting back down the lane. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” you know.

Yet Another
“Good Old Days” Story
(just in case you missed the point)

Probably about that same time frame is this story, again my father’s. One has to wonder…. No, surely he wouldn’t have made up this stuff. Odd is odd, and I was surely exhibiting unmistakable signs of it already, much to my parents’ consternation, I later learned.

Mother had sent me out to “help Daddy.” We all know what that was about: she figured it was his turn to deal with The Odd One for a while. My father was up to his neck in a carpentry project when I announced the posse of one had arrived to help. He played the game graciously and told me I could hand him nails. After one or two sloppy hand-offs, he carefully showed me the head of the nail and said, “Honey, if you could hand Daddy the nails head-up, that would be very helpful.”

No problem. One nail, head-up, comin’ up. Second nail, head-up, comin’ up. When he reached around for the third nail, I handed him an entire four-year-old’s fistful of nails – all head-up, please note, and disgustedly trudged back to the house. Honestly! Any fool could see this was not an efficient operation, and I had better things to do. One pitiful little nail at a time?? Please.

Now, as I’ve said, we have to take my father’s word for these disturbing accounts of The Odd One. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and believe that he didn’t make them up. In which case, experiences like these might account for why my parents waited nine years to bring my only sibling into the world. They had to think long and hard about the possibility that another one might be just like The Odd One they already had. An unnerving thought, to be sure.

Deliberate Deceit

Back to the story. I know I’ve called this aberrant behavior efficiency, but I lied – on purpose. The problem was really an extremely impatient personality in the making. There. I said it. (“They” say admitting the problem is half the battle. Who are “they,” BTW??) Impatience, it would seem, is warp and woof of who I am. Just so you know, I’m not proud of that. Here I am, approaching 70, still working on that character flaw that was so obvious when I was only four.

IS there a pay-attention point
to these stories about
an obnoxiously odd four-year-old?

Thought you’d never ask. There’s way more than one! This Odd post, unlike some of the other Odd posts, has slightly less obvious pay-attention points, but it makes up for that uncharacteristic subtlety by providing plenty of them. Pay attention.

  • If you’re a parent, remember that your children’s obvious character flaws need to be identified and addressed as best you can. No making excuses and calling them “cute,” since character flaws are definitely NOT cute. (These pitiful tales about “efficiency” should prove that.)
  • Character flaws – in all of us – are deeply entrenched, with tap roots reaching all the way down to China, as nearly as I can tell!
  • Don’t blame your parents if you exit their home at age 18 with character flaws still intact. Get over it: parents can do only so much in molding your character – only as much as you choose to let them.
  • Plan to work on your character flaws for the rest of your life. (It’s a process, like just about everything else.) Whittling character flaws down to manageable size is an endless, unpleasant, INSIDE JOB. It’s a bummer. Some things about life are, you know. Best get over that, too.

Yes, I know the current PC take on character flaws is to embrace your flaws, say that’s just who you are, and aren’t you special? Oh yes, that makes sense and wins kudos all ’round. Not.

Do you like your spouse’s flaws, your friends’ flaws, your family members’ flaws? No? They probably don’t care for yours, either. For the sake of those close to you, commit to working on your own character flaws. Instead of embracing your flaws, embrace each milestone in your steady and gradual taming of them. Makes a whole lot more sense, doesn’t it?

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: "Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands." – Anne Frank

Same thought from a far wiser woman than I.

Odd #15: Delighting in Pristine Paper

photo of child's foot traced on paper under him

(Should be brown paper. You’ll see why.)

You know how we sometimes have to take a break from stuff that’s disturbingly awkward, stock up on courage, and then hit the awkward stuff again?

After 14 blog posts about my extreme oddity, I gave Oddity a rest. (I’d gone way past the comfort zone on the Embarrass-O-Meter.) It’s been eight months – enough time for some vigorous hide-toughening – as I begin another round of blog posts exposing my heartbreaking oddity in order to reveal pay-attention lessons that even a “normal” person (like you) can use.

A “Good Old Days” Story

In the 1940s and 1950s, farmers – even ones who went to church regularly – didn’t need many suits. During my very early years, my farmer-father had four: two light-colored, summer-weight wool ones and two dark, heavy-weight wool ones for winter. (Wool, you’ll remember, can be aired out, not requiring dry-cleaning for long periods of time.)

He was tall and slender and when he donned a crisp, white shirt that my mother had painstakingly ironed (long before the days of permanent press and poly-cotton blends) and covered it with one of his suits, he was quite handsome. In fact, I always fancied he looked a lot like Gregory Peck, with Jimmie Stewart’s self-deprecating posture and mannerisms thrown in for good measure.

In the spring and fall, I waited for The Semi-Annual Suit Week. Since there were only two per year, there was plenty of time for the anticipation to build. Mother, knowing me to be impatient, as well as odd, usually didn’t tell me when the first of the week-long wait began. My father would simply return from running errands one day and, voila, The Special Day had arrived. He had just picked up the previous season’s suits – freshly dry-cleaned and pressed. Here’s the important part: each suit always arrived in a pristine, crisp, two-foot by four-foot, brown-paper bag. Ah, paper.

No, it isn’t your imagination. Yes, we are, indeed, back to the bizarre paper fetish mentioned in Odd #12.

This was just before the unfortunate time in advertising history when businesses uniformly decided to plaster their names all over anything that didn’t move and eons before their current practice of plastering their names all over everything that does move. When I say pristine, I mean PRISTINE. Those brown paper dry-cleaner bags were completely ink-free, without so much as a phone number on them.

Painfully aware of my paper fetish, my father knew better than to let those precious bags get mussed in transit from the cleaners to our farmhouse. His odd little girl would be most disappointed with a crinkled and wrinkled dry-cleaner bag. Those bags were taller than I and so, yielded more coloring real estate than I could ever get my hands on at any other time. (There were no craft stores with huge rolls of colored craft paper in unlimited footage in those days. At least, not in our little corner of rural Indiana.)

One year, I decided to blow my budget and use one entire side of a bag for having Mother trace around my body. I wanted to get a factual perspective on how big I was – or wasn’t, as it turned out. It was a painful, in-my-face way to learn why I’d been named Runt of the Sinclair Clan.

Awww. How sad.”

If you experienced childhood any time after the 1950s, you may well be thinking we were pitifully poor. We weren’t. My father didn’t have to save that paper bag for me to color. As Odd #8 makes abundantly clear, he could well afford to buy all kinds of paper – and a desk in which to store them! 

The wanton discarding of such virgin bounty was simply not in our genes. Even if they’d had no odd daughter with a paper fetish, my parents would’ve saved the paper. They were both descended from multiple lines of Scottish immigrants from the late 1600s and early 1700s, who became Yankee stock before moving west. You know – the folks who brought us the maxim, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”?

Incidentally, that maxim – regardless of the politically correct recycling craze – doesn’t play well in The Colonies these days. Oh, we cheerily give a cursory rinsing to stuff and pitch it in the city-provided and city-collected recycling bin. We pay abundant lip-service to reusing stuff, but if it involves our personal time and energy to deconstruct something and use it in a completely different way, well, we “don’t have time.” When it comes right down to it, we’re almost as profligate with resources as preceding generations.

But I digress. Back to the story. Even today, when I see a large and empty piece of paper, I remember those dry-cleaner bags and begin concocting – with practically no effort – a half-dozen ways to use it. And if anyone will listen, I’m happy to tell them all the magical ways it could be reused. Of course, few want to be seen listening to someone so odd. Don’t care. Neither should you.

Oh my goodness!
Will she EVER get
to the pay-attention point?

Patience. Patience. In time, grass becomes milk.

Obviously, there’s the recycling pay-attention point to this good-old-days story, but I’ve harped on that plenty in previous blogs. Nothing new there.

PAY ATTENTION! Here’s the deeper pay-attention point: cultivate your ability to find delight in the SIMPLEST of items, especially those others thoughtlessly and foolishly discard. Those crisp, pristine, brown paper bags (that any other father would’ve tossed) were:

  • free,
  • simple,
  • excellent practice for a lifetime of being grateful for simple things,
  • a child’s transport to Creativity Heaven for hours, and of course,
  • a poor Mother’s much-needed break while that odd little child was distracted in her little heaven.

No, it isn’t your imagination. Yes, we are back to that recurring gratitude theme. It just won’t go away, as that’s what most religions and the aged among us recognize to be the platform of a life well lived.

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “The happiest people don't have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything.” – Anonymous

(Say, like delighting in a dry-cleaner paper bag)

Our $12 Chair “Deal”

photo of channel-back, Rococo Revival chair

Deal or not? Read on, then you decide.

When you saw those quotes around deal, you knew something was amiss, didn’t you? That’s because you’ve already learned that – usually – when something looks like a “deal,” it probably isn’t. Nevertheless, most of us still succumb to that alluring, siren call of the word, deal.

Why would I be willing to tell an embarrassing story about our tumble into The Deal Pit? Because there are always plenty of pay-attention lessons to be learned from watching others fall headlong into The Deal Pit, that’s why. Since this blog is all about you, this is for you, dear reader. It’s too late for us.

(FYI: There’ll be a quiz at the end to see if you found all the pay-attention lessons.)

The Sad Seating Saga

Hubby bought our $12 chair at a thrift store where he volunteers. Risky business, that. It means he sees EVERYTHING that comes in the back door and, sometimes, just can’t resist, as in this case.

It was Rococo Revival from the very early 1900s, covered in dirty (and I do mean dirty) mauve upholstery (that 1990s, sickly, grayish-pink concoction). Hubby liked how he could really sink into it, with its curved back and cushy seat. Visions of himself reading a book while cozied up in it on a cold winter’s night danced through his head.

He made a convincing argument over the phone. But when I saw it, I realized (since I’m the person who deals with the upholsterer in our fam) that I was viewing a not-so-cleverly-disguised Money Pit. I explained it would take a small fortune to upholster it.

“Nah, it won’t take that much. Besides, we’ve been looking for a chair to go with our French Rococo couch for 42 years. This is as close as we’ll ever get,” said he. I had to agree. We had looked for 42 years, it did go nicely with our antique couch, and I did like the lines of the chair.

Get the picture? We’d just made an unspoken pact to pitch ALL reason overboard, as it would just prove a heavy encumbrance from this point on. (We tried to haul it back on-board from time to time, but never very successfully, as you’ll see.)

The Process

We took the chair to our upholsterer and came back with a stack of fabric samples. We chose one that would blend with our other upholstery and was about as cheap as we could comfortably choose (in fabric, as in most everything else, you get what you pay for), and returned the samples.

While we were there in her shop, she opened the seat cushion to show us the disintegrating foam. That would account for how “cushy” Hubby thought it felt, wouldn’t it? We chose new foam.

She showed us the tatty wrapping and cording she’d uncovered. We chose new Dacron wrapping and cording.

She showed us the webbing that was coming loose. We chose new webbing.

She showed us where the springs had come untied. We agreed to a re-tying fee.

She gave us the estimate. We choked. We plunked down our deposit.

A little later, she called. “You’ll need to do something to your chair before I upholster it. The frame’s broken in three places.” Hmm. That might account for the “cozy, sinking in” feeling Hubby got, don’t you think?

By now, we were in too deep to point fingers. She’d already purchased our fabric. We’d already paid our deposit. But that didn’t keep us from having many discussions about what was growing into THE Chair. In the end, Hubby gulped, retrieved THE Chair, spent a couple of weeks crafting special repair pieces and gluing them into place, and returned it to the upholsterer.

We picked up THE Chair a little later, and finished paying our $909.30 bill. Let’s see. Add that to the $12, and we’d just paid $921.30 for ONE chair.

WHY?

Now why would we, the epitome of Scottish frugality, be willing to plunk down $921 for ONE chair? I’m aware that plenty of you, my fair readers, pay this kind of money for furniture, but we do not. This was a real stretch. Did we abandon our principles? Is there a pay-attention part to our sad saga?

Of course! This saga is fairly teeming with pay-attention points – and none of them sad – for you, since you didn’t pay the $921!

The Promised Quiz

1. What does looking have to do with this story?
This is an easy one: keep looking and eventually, you’ll find what you’re looking for. It’s all about paying attention and keeping your eyes open. (See my previous post about your reticular activating system.)

Our answer? Forty-two years of looking is an awfully long time to look for something. Having found it, we should cough up the moolah and stop looking.

2. What does this story teach about the word deal?
Just hearing the term should send shivers up and down one’s spine. Seldom have I met a deal which didn’t turn into way more of something (money, time, energy, emotion) than I was expecting. When you learn the full cost of the deal, though, don’t throw it out automatically. Decide if it fits with what you’ve been trying to do or looking for. In other words, is it reasonable for YOU? It may not be a screaming deal, but is it reasonable?

Our answer? While most definitely not a deal by our standards, we have a knockout chair for our $921. The price charged by our excellent upholsterer was reasonable. Could we buy similar quality and style in a furniture store? Absolutely not. Okay then, it was as good a deal as we were ever likely to find for what we wanted. THE Chair was living up to its name.

3. Where does homework come into the equation?
It’s the very first thing you do, you know that! And you keep doing your homework until you’re satisfied you know what you need to know to make an informed decision.

Our answer? We’d looked for 42 years for inexpensive seating to go with our French Rococo couch, so we knew we couldn’t find a cheap chair. When you’ve done 42 years of homework, you know you’re paying a fair price. Heck, it was the only chair we’d found that even remotely resembled our 250 year-old couch!

4. Should quality be considered?
Say what you will about the desirability of cheap, disposable furniture, there’s something to be said for sinking into quality and feasting your eyes on it day after day. Quality lets you make a buying decision and not have to think about replacing that item for a very long time. 

Our answer? Quality wins, hands down. We’ve experienced quality upholstery on quality furniture and not-so-quality upholstery on not-so-quality furniture. Quality wears like iron and looks good its entire lifetime. Not-so-quality stuff? Not so much.

5. When does someone have to step up and be the voice of reason?
Short answer: always.

If this scenario had happened earlier in our marriage, one – or both of us – would’ve said, “Are we nuts? Why are we even discussing this? The answer is an emphatic NO!” Spending close to a $1000 on one chair would not have been reasonable for us. Your circumstances AT THE TIME – not your friends’ or your parents’ or your co-workers’ – tell you what’s reasonable (as long as you’re willing to be reasonable).

Our answer? It was reasonable for this time of our lives, though we had many discussions, trust me, about THE Chair. Seldom has an item entered our home shrouded in as much angst as THE Chair. But in the end, we agreed; it was the right time for this purchase.

6. Can you find a workaround for a “deal” that turns out not to be a deal?
This is the ubiquitous trick question that must be part of every quiz. It’s a trick because I haven’t given you a single clue.

Our answer? Of course! There’s almost always a workaround. Some would call ours pure rationalization. But, as we’d successfully hauled Reason back on-board enough to use her at least a little, we much prefer to call it a “reasonable workaround.” We simply made THE Chair:

  • our upcoming anniversary gift,
  • Hubby’s birthday gift,
  • our Valentine’s gift to each other,
  • our St. Patrick’s gift to each other,
  • our Independence Day gift to each other,
  • my birthday gift,
  • our Friendship Day gift to each other,
  • our Halloween gift to each other, and
  • our Thanksgiving gift to each other

for TWO YEARS.

Problem solved. No worrying about what to buy each other for the next two years. No buying little tchotchkes, just to have something to give on a special day. See how this works? We both got what we’d wanted for a long time and didn’t get a bunch of unwanted tchotchkes.

So how about your deals? Do you have one that comes even close to ours? Tell it! Leave a comment, why don’t you?

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “Knowing when an item will provide you with years of use or enjoyment and is, therefore, worth its purchase price – THAT is a skill worth cultivating.” – Teresa Bennett

Apparently, no sage has said this, so I said it!

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