Managing

A week or so ago, I made fruitcakes with my friend C who, because she is English, actually knows how to make a nice fruitcake. She’s also good with other brandy/dried fruit kinds of food, like mince pies. I would write more in praise of the fruitcake, but somehow I don’t think I’m going to find a lot of sympathetic ears. That is because Americans have mostly only seen — and played frisbee with — those leaden disks studded with scary, glowing green and red things that masquerade as fruitcake. A real fruitcake is an entirely different affair, essentially a very nice, spiced cake, full of dried cherries/apricots/raisins, topped off with a few artfully arranged almonds and then drenched in brandy. Really, how could anything drenched in alcohol be bad? (Okay, I can think of a few things — really large men drenched in alcohol sitting on your front porch: bad.) Anyway, I’m not here to prostletize about fruitcake, except to say that my husband loves it and it keeps C going for the entire time she is at the Modern Language Association meetings in December.

Rather than fruitcake, I really want to talk about my friend C, who is a Victorianist, and has a great job as an English professor at one of the universities near where I live. I have known C almost my entire adult life, beginning when we were both in our early twenties and in English graduate school. That she went on to become a scholar, and I went on to join a profession full of argumentative monkeys, has not made any difference in our friendship. I love hearing about her job, and I love checking out the materials of her work.

While we were making the fruitcakes I noticed something sticking out of her (very chic leather) bag and she was nice enough to indulge my sort of weird interest in the nuts and bolts of her work. This thing sticking out of her bag was a plan for the academic year, but the page I saw was a plan for one of those extraordinarily busy months we all have. In C’s case, lots of writing, and teaching, and administrative jobs. I sink under months like that, stop writing in my blog, do not pick up crumbs that fall on the floor and forget to pick children up after school. C’s strategy is to make an utterly beautiful plan on a pad of paper and then proceed to tick off every one of the things she needs to do.

What I love about her busy month management strategy is that she obviously gets a lot of pleasure out of making the plan. In fact, when she is done she puts it in one of those cool plastic sheet protector things. She also saves all of these plans. This last thing is what makes me really, really hope that if for some reason I happen to outlive her (unlikely to happen, because she does a lot of yoga), I will get to be her literary executor and publish an entire book devoted to the many such meticulous, inspiring and beautiful plans she has made, plans that have gotten her fellowships, and books published, and articles written, and presents bought, and children raised and a few fruitcakes baked every now and then.

Here it is:

work plan

And here is a Little House on the Prairie Month Update:

The most useful part of this experience was learning that when you have to wait a little while to buy something, you occasional forget you ever wanted it. That was the fate of several pairs of shoes, some books and videos, a couple of games, and a tshirt with a rock band logo on it. There was a ton of complaining about the whole thing, but the boys were rigorous about making sure their parents kept to the “food only” requirement, which meant that we were a little short on soap, which was just as well as far as they were concerned. We also learned that food takes on a huge amount of importance when it is the only thing new thing coming into your house.

We officially ended LHPM the day after Thanksgiving, cutting it short by a few days because of all the griping we were having to put up with. And no, that timing had nothing to do with the many sales going on the day after Thanksgiving. We find crowds of people who’d kill you to get the xbox at 20% off really scary. But it was a happy day indeed for the Bloglily boy whose skateboard was stolen at school and who badly wanted to replace it, because otherwise his brother would get far ahead of him in doing tricks with the names of English schoolboys (“Ollie”) and fruit (“melon.”)

The boys are not wild about ever doing this again, probably because 2/3 of them are almost teenagers and their mom’s weird ideas must be resisted at all costs. I figure though that by next November they might have forgotten what it was like to actually have to wait before buying tennis shoes, and they might have outgrown that kind of resistance to authority.

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19 thoughts on “Managing

  1. I am drooling over C’s plan. I must start planning in such a manner. In fact, since I am on a business trip where my essential role seems to be that of Filling Empty Seat, I am going to attempt a December plan as I have not blogged or worked on my novel or bought any presents, so bogged down in everything I am. I am totally doing this. Thanks for the inspiration.

  2. my dear Courtney, A plan is also good for warding off the sting of an anticipated rejection, which is what I’m trying to manage in my own life these days, as I wait to hear that another novel is chosen for that prize mine was shockingly lucky to be even considered for. I have, in fact, meticulously created a plan for the several (okay, many) steps I need to undertake to find an agent for my novel, and magazines to publish my stories. I think it’s important not to hold your breath and wait for anything. Instead of watching myself turn blue, I would like to have a reasonable and reasonably reliable blog-writing schedule. I would like to write a nonfiction book proposal for a book about raising children that’s based in part on things I’ve written on this blog. I would like to be moving forward early next year on the second novel I’d like to write. A plan helps you breathe. If you post yours, I’ll post mine! Who knows, maybe December will be the month of posting plans. xo, BL

  3. Even though I got a bit dizzy looking at the plan, it makes complete sense. Life is so much more a series of baby steps, even though we often hope for the quantum leap to project us out of our mundane existence. Your friends C’s baby steps are so encouraging (though numerous) and obviously helps her choreograph her life. How smart of her.

    And you are so right, real fruit cakes are the most delicious things in the world.

  4. Oh the neatness, the exquisite neatness! Were that anything in my life were so!

    As for fruitcakes, I love them, but no-one in my vicinity does, so if I made one of these brandy-soaked beauties I have to eat the whole thing alone, which would be good for soul, but not for waistline. Instead I have to make cupcakes and cookies which I can then share with the masses.

    Come to think of it, it’s probably time to make BlogLily’s Divine Ginger Biscuits again.

  5. Oh my goodness, that plan! I ought to have things like that, but they make me terribly tired to look at them. The ticking off is wonderfully triumphant, too! And do Americans really not have fruit cakes? Extraordinary. They are the staple of life over here (well, not really in this house as my son doesn’t like raisins, but still). My mother-in-law makes them as a form of Tourette’s, she can’t help herself, and they come, like steaks, well-done, medium and yuk. I’ll never forget the Christmas she served us all our pieces and then proceeded to tell us how she’d dropped it taking it out of the Aga early on in the baking, but not to worry because she’d scraped the mixture off the floor and look how nicely it had turned out. We knew how many bunnies the cats had dined off on that floor and everyone paused with a slice halfway to their mouths, unsure what to do next.

  6. I love the idea of planning but never can stick to it. Maybe we should start a planning meme thingy?

    I haven’t gotten over having to sell fruitcake when I was in elementary school, to support our school band. I don’t think *anybody* ate those things. I’m sure they’re still being used as doorstops, 30 years later. The idea of edible fruitcake is intriguing.

  7. I’ll tell you what, yogamum, you show me your plan for December, and I’ll show you mine. Tomorrow. Honest — I’ll post something and you will be TAGGED. Ha. I’ve already made that plan because it is what I think will save me from feeling sorry for myself next month. However, I do have to erase half the stuff on it, because I don’t want to be too ambitious and fail and then feel like a big loser. As for fruitcake, you poor thing! When I pull out the fruitcake for its next brandy feeding, I’ll try to get a photo of it and maybe even a recipe. We’ll see. I’ll put it in the plan.

    Litlove, that is a very, very funny story. Next time I am anywhere near Cambridge, I will bring you a slice or two of fruitcake that is guaranteed to have never seen the floor, much less a bunny or a cat. Ever.

    Dear Charlotte, You too need a slice of this fruitcake. I’ll save some. Even if I don’t get to Germany for a year or two, it gets better and better with time!

    Lialia — that’s a lovely thought, about small steps. It is indeed the way you get big things done. xo, BL

  8. Let’s do an un-plan Yogamum. No. A fun plan. No deadlines, no chores, no consequences. I’ll post about it tomorrow.

    Hyperventilation is not the plan over here at Bloglily.

  9. Your novel is so good, BL, that it really is pretty likely to win the competition. But there is a reason why, when people are talking about favorite foods and cuisines , the words “Fruit Cake!” and “England!” are not usually blurted out, at least not very loud. If you have a good recipe for fruitcake, I believe you and I will take your word for it, all argumentative monkeyness aside. I hope you are well into your next novel–would love to read your stuff. If anyone should be published, it’s you!

  10. Oh, bloglily, I am crossing my fingers for you that your novel is selected. Oh, the waiting is such a hard part–and oh, it is also so hard how we do try to prepare ourselves for possible disappointment, as if it can really be prepared for. Your writing is so wonderful, and I agree with marymom, if anyone should be published, it is YOU.

    Also, as to the fruitcake: I have heard rumors before that fruit cake is actually very, very good–but I, too, am a victim, I’m afraid, of those rock-hard things that they used to make us sell in elementary school. Bleccch! Perhaps it’s time to try a fresh one…it does sound wonderful, I have to admit.

    Best of luck to you with the novel. And here’s to no hyperventilation!

  11. The only way I’ve managed to get through the last forty years has been by making plans like that and you’re right, for the inveterate planner there is real pleasure simply in making them. It’s something to do with the sudden hope that there may actually be a way to live through this period and come out alive at the other end.

    On another matter, I shouldn’t be so hopeful about the boys outgrowing their resistance to authority that quickly. A well remember a friend of mine sending me a postcard while on holiday with her twelve year old that simply said, “He’s practising for being a teenager.” He’s seventeen next week and the practice stood him in good stead! He’s going to be a wonderful young man, but at the moment – authority?!? ‘Nough said.

  12. to your… “and they might have outgrown that kind of resistance to authority. ”

    i say…”oh pray that this is true, and that we don’t have to wait until they are 20.”

    it started in my house at age 9. How is W on this track?

    and yes…large men soaked in alcohol are DEFINITELY out…

    tonight tonight to read or write….

  13. Bloglily, thank you for the post (and photo). I am dreadful at organization – always my bete noir – and this gives me some ideas. (Some people just have a knack for it.)

    I wish you all the best with you novel. Keep going. You will make it.

    I’m starting to investigate further study (oh, for a PhD!) and plans for writing. Baby steps.

    Onward!

  14. Congratulations on making it through Little House month with three boys in your little house. I find that far, far more impressive than any plan I might long to be organized enough to implement but never actually do. And does anyone else map out elaborate plans and abandon them within four days, like I do?

  15. Hey, thanks for the LHPM update. sounds like you did very well.

    I love fruitcake, and make an old fashioned very edible brandy soaked version that has been passed down in the family for several generations. I have actually had recipients in years past ask me why they didn’t get one again the following year. Gratifying.

    Hope your novel is chosen, and good luck with the plan. I make plans but they are very nebulous and not nearly so detailed and beautiful as your friends. she has a plan, I have a rough draft of an outline of what I might be able to do God willing and the creeks don’t rise.

  16. I wish I could make plans. Actually, it’s more that I wish I could make plans and follow them – I make lots of plans and lists and so on but always end up doing something else. I’m not so bad at making plans for other people though.

    Fruitcake! Oh how I love fruitcake!

  17. U-Dad — I think it really normalizes, and furthers the cause of gastronomy, that this blog has so many British readers. (Who knew!?) I am glad to have you come out so strong in favor of fruitcake. Plans for other people? I love that.

    HMH, Thank you. I haven’t heard, but I will let you know. And whatever happens, I feel like I’ve already won. And I want that fruitcake recipe, if you are able to ever give it out, given that it is worth its weight in fruitcake, most likely!

    Emily, I am a four day abandoner. We should have meetings, but then we’d have to plan them, which might not happen after the first one. Anyway, I think I have to come up with a sane way of planning things.

    LK — Babysteps indeed. I am all in favor of that Mark Twain thing about breaking large tasks into small parts and doing the first one.

    Ann and Gail — I have been known to be overly optimistic. And my hopes for my children outgrowing unpleasant stages in, like, three minutes, are among those overly optimistic ideas I have. Let’s just leave it at that, shall we?

    Sandi, Thank you. I think it is important to just keep right on going, don’t you? I love writing, and really, that is what matters at the end of the day. That and eating the kind of holiday food you love, rather than the kind you had to sell to adults when you were a child. (I am making those rolls this weekend, by the way, the kind that will make every man in my house weep. I can’t wait.)

    Hey Mary — You crack me up. Among the many lawyers I know the words “argumentative” and “monkey” NEVER EVER come up when I think of you.

  18. Your little house month has made me realize one interesting thing: it’s LHPM every month for me (not for my wife, though). The only things I used to miss were books and software, but now that people have invented free e-books and open-source software, I can practically live on love and fresh water.

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