Most people would like their lives to be simpler. While I echo that sentiment, I also confess that more than once I have caught myself making life more complicated. Maybe you have unintentionally done the same if, like me, you have perfectionistic tendencies, compare yourself to others, try to be the best teacher you can, or are addicted to being busy. I do all of those things, but never was my addiction to busyness as obvious as the spring break when I visited a friend in another state. When we weren’t shopping, eating or talking, there were a few 30 second lulls in our conversation that left us feeling like we were missing out on something. Without our crazy school day schedules, we were unknowingly craving chaos. On the second or third pause in our chat we looked at each other and said, “We need to make something!” My friend quickly remembered a magazine clipping she had set aside for a rainy day and ran to grab it. My adrenaline surged as I wondered what idea she had recalled but I waited patiently despite my quickening heartbeat. Soon she emerged from her room with a page she had torn out of a home decorating magazine.
“What if we each make . . . one of THESE?” she asked, unveiling a picture and directions for creating our very own scented apple wreaths.
“Yes!” I said. “Our homes will smell like there are always apple pies baking!”
That was all it took to convince us that we should fashion coils of apple slices into wreaths to hang in our kitchens. In a jiffy we were off to the store to purchase apples, spices, gauge wire, and several yards of ribbon. After the trip through the produce and baking aisles, and a quick run to the hardware section, we ran over to the fabric department. We studied the ribbon assortment carefully as there were so many choices, and because when friends are (on vacation) making scented apple wreaths, they do not want to heedlessly choose the wrong ribbon to adorn them.
We got home about two hours later and started carefully coring a huge pile of apples being certain not to accidentally cut in the wrong direction and create unusable slices. The next step was easy; soak the slices in lemon juice. Then lay them on a cookie sheet, sprinkle them with spices, and bake them for six hours. “Six whole hours?” we chorused in surprise. Yes, we confirmed it. The directions read, “six whole hours.”
While placing the slices on the available cookie sheets, we started to wonder how we were going to cook all of the wedges without staying up around the clock or working in separate shifts. We had no choice but to use the two cookie sheets and place the rest of the slices on pie pans, cake pans, and every other oven-safe flat surface we could find in her cabinets. (God bless her husband who, upon arriving home from an afternoon outing, remarked that the kitchen looked “really different” covered in brown fruit, and who was forced to eat fast food for dinner that evening as the oven was full.)
Space was beginning to become an issue as the kitchen was just big enough for two people to stand in at the same time. But, by moving around the kitchen in specific movements (like synchronized swimmers) we managed to lay the slices out to dry without knocking into each other. The next problem was how to fit all of the pans into the tiny oven at once. There was no way that was going to happen, so eventually we worked out an hourly rotating schedule with us pulling pans from the oven to switch them with other pans that were air drying all over the kitchen.
Six hours later, not a single slice was dry. And none were dry an hour after that either! But since it was 11 p.m., we turned off the oven, took out the pans, and put them on the stove top, the kitchen shelves, and atop the refrigerator to continue “drying” through the night. We looked at each other; our hair mussed from hours of shopping, slicing, soaking, and switching pans, and thought “What have we done?” Neither of us said it at the time, but I’m sure that was the moment we realized that buying two apple scented candles would have been much easier and we could have relaxed for the evening as well!
The next morning we arose early (and bleary-eyed) in anticipation of finishing our wreaths, only to find that the apples (you guessed it) still weren’t dry! How could this be? We needed to begin the threading process soon in order to finish them! I had to fly home the next day. We eventually threaded the damp pieces together because I had to leave and somehow I got the (somewhat soggy) wreath home in one piece. However, once dried it was clear I had not used enough apple slices and my wreath didn’t look very good hanging on the wall. Eventually, it even grew some mold!
I love this memory of making wreaths with my dear friend and I learned an important lesson in the process. Sometimes, people jump into things not realizing the complications that will ensue. With the best of intentions, we sign up to be on too many committees not realizing the extra work and stress will make us unbearable to live with, or we single-handedly try to plan a magnificent class project (or field trip or production) that would normally require three full-time planners and we get sick by the time of the event because we are run down, or we try to fit five days of instruction into a four day week and realize that the kids really didn’t really learn the material.
In a world where we are bombarded with messages telling us “more is always better” and that success belongs to those who earn or have or buy or do more, we need to learn to ask, “If I do this, who will be better for it? Will my life be improved? Will my family benefit? Will my students learn more?” And then we need to stand back far enough from the big picture to see the potential complications that might occur. After counting the cost, we can move forward with our plans or change them in ways that lead us down a simpler path. What about you? Do you have any plans that might be more complicated than they are worth?
While planning lessons and thinking through daily routines and activities, ask: Have I made a task, event, project, or lesson more complicated than it needs to be? Do the stress factors of any of my plans outweigh their potential good? If so, what system, plan, or project do I need to get rid of or change? Write yourself a reminder to keep your plans simple.