Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday Afternoon Tea

It takes so little to be above average. That's what Christopher and I were talking about as I drove him to class a couple weeks ago (when I needed to drop him off at work after class).

He had been updating me on how his friends were doing in college, both his public school friends and homeschoolers. We talked about the direct relationship between time put into studies and grades received, as well as what one retains into the next semester.

He spends a lot of time studying when he is not working at the bookstore (which is why he is resting instead of breaking open the books over the Thanksgiving Holiday break). I only wished he was as diligent about cleaning his room. :)

During our conversation that day, I told him about one of the books I used to read over and over called It Takes So Little to be Above Average, written by Florence Littauer in the early 1980s. It contains a lot of the material she taught to people in leadership positions (whether in a local church or at the national speakers level).

That book was one my most influential reads, so much of the wisdom has come back to me throughout the years. Not only in the "big" areas of life but even those small decisions, like how we look when we appear in public.

She often mentioned things like... it only takes five extra minutes of work to go from mediocre to above average. Which would cause me to change from my sweatshirt into a pretty sweater, slip on some earrings, dab a little mascara on the eyelashes, choose my leather shoes instead of tennies... and meet the world just a little more put together than five minutes earlier.

I took the book off my bedroom shelves today, the place where I keep many of my old favorites. I want to "skim read" it again soon. So much has changed since I first read it. At that time I was still working in a corporation, writing Bible studies, teaching a Bible class, and generally active in a lot of leadership roles. We were a two career couple with an only child. A lot has changed since then. :)

I thought of the book again this afternoon, which is how my ponderings came to be put to paper (um... HTML?) for today's post. I had a lot to do and very little energy in which to do it. But I set the dishes soaking in hot and sudsy water while putting a load of laundry in to wash and then went out to sweep the porch and set a few Christmas decorations outside.

It then took about ten minutes to wash the dishes and let them drain before I headed outside to sweep the layer of leaves off the deck for another five or ten minutes. Our first significant snow is expected tomorrow (I'm writing this Saturday night) and I knew a thick layer of leaves on the deck's wooden surface would not be good, even if we did have it sealed this Spring. My husband has worked hard to get up most of the leaves off the grass, not easy to do when one lives at the edge of a forest.

Hubby placed the wheelbarrow and a bag of mulch next to the young tree in the front yard for me. I'd noticed earlier today that the mulch added in Spring was all gone and he'd mentioned we had a couple extra bags in the garage. It took less than five minutes to pick up my gardening gloves and spread the mulch around the tree to protect young roots from harsh Midwestern weather.

(Yes, we live with lots and lots of trees around us but the previous owners had planted this one where the driveway meets the gravel lane... a very good addition to the yard.)

Before going back inside, I took the old pumpkins and squash (which had been used as decorations) out back to the compost pile. My husband had raked it up and a nice, rich black soil was showing from two years worth of composting on that spot. He's going to move our compost pile starting in the Spring to the corner of the yard where he spent two weekends burning wood. I may plant rhubarb and some flowers in this golden soil come warm weather.

I didn't think I could get much accomplished today but once again... it truly doesn't take much to be above average and have dinner on the table (chicken and dressing casserole using leftover turkey), a clean kitchen, porch and deck, and to keep up (a little bit) with outdoor chores. Just a little at a time, here and there, adds up to a lot of good.

One little note, though... it is a good thing to want to do our best and be "above average", not wanting to to just get by in this world. It is not wise to strive for perfection as that is not possible this side of Heaven.

Perfectionism leads to dissatisfaction with ourselves and others and will never bring peace. There is a lot we wanted to do in the yard (and house) that was not accomplished this autumn due to lack of health and finances. However, we did get all the essential work complete. If we look at what didn't get done, we would become frustrated.

Instead, we thank God that the most important house and garden work are finished, that I can still do laundry and decluttering, dishes are (usually) washed and put away as needed, meals are on the table, there are books to be read, and just enough "extras" around to create beauty and warmth for a cold winter's day.

Added: It is Sunday morning and I awoke to a world of white with snow covering everything, including the "vintage" red barn at my neighbor's farm. Nothing like it to inspire me to finish packing autumn and begin to unpack Christmas. More snow expected today and tonight.


Anonymous said...

Dee from Tennessee

Oh Brenda, how I wish we could have a pretty has been so long since we have had a "real" snow. It seems as if every county surrounding us gets snow except us :) ! Of course, when I wish for snow, I think of my husband and niece and others who have to travel and I worry about their safety...have a good day.

Debbie in CA : ) said...

Ah Brenda, such a wonderful reminder to separate the perfectionism from our life's quest. I struggle with that less and less as I "mature" but it is always the uncontrolled reflex. Twas so nice to sip tea and share ina chat with you. Enjoy your snow -- I still enjoy warmth, but dream of snowy afternoons spent sipping tea. EnJOY your above-average day. ; )

CatHerder said...

Fabulous post. I am definately going to read that book....and give it to my sons to read as well.I do not strive for do so would be too stressful, but i do strive to do the very best I can..and then some. Thanks for a great post!

Vee ~ A Haven for Vee said...

Never heard of the book mentioned, but I'm going to be on the lookout for it. I know that I could use some help in going the little extra to make a big difference.

I used to make a big distinction between receiving grades and earning them. From a teacher's perspective, as student earns a grade; I didn't give a grade. Christoper sounds like a diligent student who will glean much from his studies.

We have a bit of snow on the ground here and it "feels" like snow again. Please send yours due east. :D

gail said...

Hello Brenda,

Thankyou for a great message. In most things I really try to go the extra mile but there are some things that need a little more attention so it is a timely reminder for me to strive for above average and as you say it only takes a little more effort but doesn't it make you feel great .

Anonymous said...

How very true, that it takes so little to be above average.

I am also one who struggles with perfectionism. But I'm learning... mainly through adversity... but, if that's what it takes, I will have to take it ;) You are right, that perfectionism only leads to dissatisfaction with ourselves and others.

Angela said...

I really was encouraged by this post. I love having Sunday Afternoon Tea with you. I love your wisdom, your heart and well just about everything,,lol. ((hugs)) Blessings..
We should be getting the snow either tonight or tomorrow..yahooo...perfect for the lights to be turned on at our house..all 3000 square feet of lights,,LOL. Hubby has been faithfully working for 3 weeks putting up decorations outside, 5 minutes here, 15 mintues there,,going above average,,with a happy heart...soon we will have people driving by in the evenings and taking pictures of our home...

Terri said...

I ordered the "above average book" from Amazon. Thanks for the recommendation!

Patti said...

I wanted to comment about the part where you talked about fixing yourself up a bit.

It grieves my heart to see homeschooling moms (or any stay at home mom) running around town in sweats and sneakers, with their hair unkempt. With just a small amount of effort, they could "dress for their day" just as if they would do if they went out to a job in corporate America.

Also, our homes can look neat and orderly, with just a small amount of time. They don't have to look perfect, like Better Homes and Gardens. Rather, they need to be and look lived in, but that need not be an all-out ordeal that overwhelms.

Anonymous said...

Brenda, thanks for another encouraging post! Good job on seeing to the mulching of that tree. Come spring, you will again reap the "fruit" of your efforts.

Here today was spent in a similar fashion. I noticed a sense of calm and satisfaction though much of my To Do list was not completed this weekend. More importantly, like you, what/whoever needed attention received it - given freely and joyfully.

Perfectionism can prevent me from even beginning a project. But just a small effort, done with care and a joyful heart, seems to multiple and produce beautiful and satisfying results.

Have a wonderful evening,

ps: will get a blogger ID :-)

Nana Trish is Living the Dream said...

Brenda,you have once again inspired me to go the extra mile. It is very true that it takes a little to go above average. Why do people want to remain at average?I'll bet your snow is beautiful. We came up to Indiana in August and I couldn't help but think how pretty it would be this winter. Here in Georgia we don't get much, but maybe this year.

Leslie said...

I really enjoyed your post and could so relate to the satisfaction you feel in the everyday things. I also appreciate the book recommendation. I hopped right over to PBS and ordered it! :)

All things bright and beautiful... said...

I really enjoyed that post. It is one of those posts that you just know is going to stay with you - influencing you each day :) thanks.

Kelly said...

Oh Brenda these words are so encouraging and are wonderful reminders!! You are a Godly woman and show us so many great points and facts that sometimes go by overlooked! Your daughters blog looks wonderful...I cannot wait to stop by and visit~~


Clif said...

I absolutely loved the theme of this post and your words of wisdom. I still had it on my mind today (I'm writing this a day after your post) and I got a lot of "stuff" done. While waiting for a repair man I put up part of our outside Christmas lights. I didn't think I had time but I just got started and got it done before he arrived. I did a lot of small jobs today by just "getting on with it."