Time Flies, Except When It Drags

“How did it get so late so soon?” Dr. Seuss

This post was originally titled What Happened to September? when I drafted the first sketchy lines on October 19. But now, well, it’s November, and What Happened to September and October? doesn’t have quite the same ring. I’m feeling disappointed with myself because in January I set what seemed like a perfectly reasonable goal: posting something once a month. Obviously that didn’t happen. Sigh.

The past few months went by in a blink and a blur, and now that Thanksgiving starts in five minutes, the rest of the year promises to be heading the same way. How do the months fly past us, yet the last workday before a vacation is never-ending? Yes, one of life’s mysteries.

Here’s another situation when weeks drag on for months: home renovations.

It all started when Ret and I realized we could no longer postpone the most pressing matters. We had to replace our 47-year-old kitchen range (you can read about that appliance adventure in Say Goodbye to Bessie, May 15, 2018), and re-tile the shower in the master bath, where a leak behind the old ceramic tile was causing some weird bumps under the wood floor in the adjacent hallway. Just a single kitchen appliance and a shower. It wasn’t like we were planning to gut the whole house. How long could this project possibly take?

The answer is eight months, one week, three days, six hours and twenty-seven minutes from the moment we engaged the first contractor until the day I moved back into my bathroom. It felt like years.

The short version of the saga is that our first contract fell through, and in the end, Ret’s multi-talented brother Derek brought our 1970s-era ranch house into the 21st century beautifully. Slowly, but beautifully. After all, he’s just one guy. And like most things that seem simple in the beginning, reality proved to be far less so as we ran into one unanticipated complication after another. Plus, as the work progressed, we got more and more ideas: replacing doors, painting cabinets, updating old light fixtures. If you’ve ever built or renovated a house, I know you understand.

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Groovy wallpaper

The experience was revealing, and I don’t just mean the groovy wallpaper we discovered  when we removed the vanity mirror. Maybe this wouldn’t bother a nicer person, but having my collection of toiletries — hair products, lotions, makeup, bath salts, nail files and assorted paraphernalia — scattered over every surface in the bedroom for three months drove me absolutely crazy. And let’s not talk about all the dust! It was like a comic book villain, coming back again and again despite all my attempts to eradicate it.

Now that the work is complete, I feel differently. The outcome of our project made all the inconvenience worthwhile. It’s kind of like the miraculous result of nine long, sometimes uncomfortable months of pregnancy. When you’re in the middle of a challenge, it can seem never-ending. Then you look back on it and marvel.

Perception is everything

Hindsight and anticipation bend our perception of time in different ways, don’t they?

Surreal clock

I can’t believe my youngest son Jared is a 28-year-old married man when my memories of his childhood are so vivid and seem like yesterday. Now that he and his older brother Kevin both live in Seattle, the many miles that separate us make the months between our visits unbearably long to me.

It’s impossible to me that my high school graduation was 38 years ago, and that three decades have passed since I moved to Georgia.  Where did the time go? But geez, after meeting with a financial planner, my projected retirement date seems very far in the future.

We all get the same allotment of hours in a day, and from a scientific standpoint, each hour is exactly the same length. But seriously, there’s a big difference between spending an hour at an incredible concert versus waiting in line to vote. It’s all in our minds – and our attitudes.

Spending time

I often think that if days were money, we would treat them differently. If someone offered me seven $100 bills, I would never say, “No, you can keep the first five. I just want these two.” However, I do this all the time with my weeks, wishing away Monday through Friday so I can get to the weekend. One day, when I’m very old, I’m probably going to wish I had some of those weekdays back.

Since time is such a precious, irreplaceable commodity, I try to spend it wisely and not fritter it all away on social media. The Jack Russell terrier side of me feels compelled to accomplish more and more, and not waste a minute. There was a period in my life when I needed that kind of drive; without it, I’m not sure I could have juggled college, a full-time job and school-aged children at the same time.

Things are different now. I’ve learned that quiet time is not wasted time, solitude is not the same as loneliness, and sometimes a good night’s sleep is the best investment I can make in myself. I’m still juggling multiple projects, but I’m more selective about them, spending my time on the tasks that matter most and the people and things that feed my soul.

Time off for good behavior

This is my first day of a well-deserved vacation from work, something I’ve looked forward to for weeks. There’s a long to-do list on my kitchen table. I’m a planner by nature, so I like lists. This one includes mundane things, like grocery shopping and housework, but there’s also space for baking, writing (checking that one off now) and going to the movies with Ret.

Do I expect to scratch off every item on my list? No, it’s just a guide to help keep me on track. Last night’s planned vegetable potpie turned into a call for pizza delivery. So it’s a fluid thing! I’m giving time and space to my ideas and priorities so the week won’t get away from me.

But I know it will anyway. Sunday night I’ll look back on these nine brief days and wonder where they went.

And then, in about five minutes, it’ll be Christmas.

Clock head

Give Thanks for Traditions

This photo is me with my wonderful Aunt Rose at the 2007 Irish-Italian parade in New Orleans, a day that will forever live in my memory as one of the very most fun times ever. I’ll tell you about it one day.

Aunt Rose was my godmother and my father’s younger sister. She passed away last February after a long illness, leaving behind my devoted Uncle Chris and a very quiet space that was once filled with her larger-than-life, zany energy. You can tell by our photo that she was a fun-loving person, can’t you? Although living in Savannah prevented me from seeing her often, I shared a sweet bond with my aunt. When I visited my family in July to celebrate Dad’s 80th birthday, naturally she wasn’t there. That empty place was punctuated by my uncle’s aching sadness. She is deeply missed by us all.

Traditions give us something to cling to when the world turns upside down

Like most families, we have our traditions. One of them has been gathering for Thanksgiving dinner at Aunt Rose’s house. Mom and Dad were surprised a few weeks ago when Uncle Chris announced that he wanted to host this year’s feast. Aunt Rose would be proud.

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Mirliton, aka chayote

Traditions give us something to cling to when the world turns upside down. No matter what the stock market is doing or who’s dating whom, there are certain things you can count on, like the fact that Christmas dinner will be at Mom’s house, and she always makes the baked macaroni and the stuffed mirlitons. (Outside Louisiana, these odd, pear-shaped squash are called chayote.) And that’s a good thing, because Mom’s baked mac is oozy and delectable, and her stuffed mirlitons – heavenly!

But life is never static. Ready or not, like it or not, it’s always evolving, and we see it in our family gatherings. Children grow up, get married and there are new faces at the table. Some, like me, move away and start their own traditions. The years go by and our elders are no longer with us. Everything changes. Only the love remains.

This Thanksgiving, Ret and I are on our own. Our children are living in different parts of the country – Kevin and Jared are in Seattle, and Cameron is in Memphis – and this is the first holiday when we won’t be seeing any of them. They’ve all shared their plans with us and it’s fun to think of them in their own kitchens, preparing their versions of Thanksgiving dinner. Kevin called my mom for her stuffed mirliton recipe. The tradition will go on!

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Jared, whipping up a pan sauce

It’s exciting to start a new tradition, one that’s rooted in the person I am and the life I have now

Meanwhile in Savannah, I’m doing something I’ve wanted to do for a long time – sparing the turkey. I’ve been mostly vegetarian for years, but I’ve always tried to serve a more traditional meal to please everyone else at the table. (There was one famous meltdown a few years ago when none of the guys seemed to know how to carve the turkey, and I had to do it. Not pretty.) Thankfully Ret, who is an omnivore, is usually happy to eat like me when we’re at home. So today I’m cooking a spicy stew with butternut squash, corn and beans; green chili corn muffins; mustard-glazed green beans; and a pear, apple and cranberry cobbler for dessert. Sounds good, doesn’t it? It’s exciting to start a new tradition, one that’s rooted in the person I am and the life I have now.

This is huge. The holidays of my childhood were always big, noisy affairs involving lots of people. Moving to Savannah in 1988 changed all that for me, and I hated it. I spent a lot of years in my old life feeling miserable during the holidays, wallowing in homesickness for my family in New Orleans, wanting things to be different and wishing I were somewhere else. And I could be feeling that way now, missing the boys and failing to appreciate what’s good about my life today.

As long as the love remains

While I do miss our sons – a lot – I’m thankful that they’re healthy, happy and blooming where they’re planted. And I’m glad my Uncle Chris is surrounded by love on his first Thanksgiving without Aunt Rose. Ret and I enjoyed a quiet, low-key day with our pets, cooking together, watching football, and chatting with the fam on the phone.

The most important tradition is sharing love. It’s okay to change your menu, your locale and your company at the table, as long as the love remains.