The Edited Life

I recently ran across two articles written by Joanna and Chip Gaines, and they made me think. Whenever I watched an episode of their popular TV show “Fixer-Upper,” I was amazed at how many irons that young couple had in the fire. I often asked myself, How do they do it all?! When do they relax?

Then, when I learned that they were ending their TV show, I thought, They’ve finally realized that they’re too busy. But no, they were merely shifting gears, taking one or two irons out of the fire and replacing them with others.

Joanna’s article revealed that her life actually thrives on simplicity. But that simplicity requires intentionality–purposeful focusing–or what she calls “living an edited life.” It is not the relaxation of doing nothing but of prioritizing and organizing to live an orderly and productive life.

Sometimes we find ourselves overburdened not by what others place upon us so much as what we put upon and expect of ourselves. We have to learn that we don’t have to “do it all” because God doesn’t expect us to do it all, and certainly not by ourselves. Joanna Gaines confessed, “[T]here’s nothing quite like the feeling of a lighter load, particularly when you can see in hindsight that you were never meant to carry all that stuff anyway.”

But she went on to say that reaching that point was not a one-time deal. Rather, it was a decision that had to be made “day-by-day, moment-by-moment,” because once it’s made, it repeatedly will be challenged as things come up, demanding our attention. Then we must make the decision again.

Having been an editor for more than fourteen years and having worked extensively with editors of my own writing for even longer, I can relate to her phrase “living an edited life.” Editing has its own demands, not the least of which are imposed deadlines. Some deadlines are well-scheduled so that an editor has the leisure to do a thorough job. Other deadlines (most, my experience has been) are tight, sometimes even unreasonable. In such instances, all the editor has time for is a “quick and dirty,” correct the basics, the most egregious errors.

Editing involves a lot of deleting. Word-count limitations and instances of verbosity, redundancies, and needless repetition demand it. And it’s not always an easy decision to determine what must be eliminated or deleted. But it must be done if the writing is to be precise, succinct, coherent, and orderly.

I think that’s what Joanna Gaines meant by “living an edited life.” We just have to bite the bullet and decide what must be cut from our busy, overburdened lives if we are to be able to relax and do our best at the tasks that absolutely, positively must be done.

The resulting less-cluttered life will leave room and time for the things that truly matter. And that’s what Chip Gaines’s article dealt with.

He revealed that he’s up at 4:00 a.m. (I can hear some of you groaning because you don’t even know what 4:00 a.m. looks like–except dark.) He does so because he’s not only a fixer-upper but also a farmer (or I guess in Texas he’s a rancher), and farmers know that they can get a lot more done with the animals early in the morning. It’s also quieter and cooler.

Chip admits that 4:00 a.m. is early and that the work is hard. But then he reveals the side benefits that sluggards and sleepy heads miss out on. He sees the stars brighter then against the sky ate its darkest. And “when I’m up before the world has woken . . . I have space to think and time to wrestle through life’s complexities.”

I need sleep as much as the next guy (increasingly so as I age), but I must say that Chip’s absolutely right. Although I’m lazier than Mr. Gaines, not rising before 4:45 a.m. (unless I encounter one of my insomnia nights), i’m up long before many other people. And although I don’t milk cows or goats or feed pigs at that hour (I don’t even have a dog to take outside), I do take advantage of the quiet in the house to read and meditate on God’s Word, coffee mug in hand, and prepare my mind for the day ahead.

As I plan, I sometimes realize that I won’t be able to get everything done to the level of quality I’d like, so I have to do some editing. I delete some things from the to-do list. I move other things to later in the week or even to the following week. And sometimes I decide that with some things that must be done, I will have to bite that bullet and content myself with a “quick and dirty.”

In the end, living an edited life turns our alright–assuming that you’ve edited according to the right priorities.

How about you? I’d be interested in knowing how you go about “editing” your life so that you achieve what must be done and still have leisure to enjoy the bright stars in the dark sky. What benefits have you discovered? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

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“As Slow as Christmas?”

Snarled in stop-and-go holiday shopping traffic the other day, I complained aloud the oft-repeated refrain, “This traffic is moving along like Christmas!” Such statements, of course, refer to the perceived (especially by youngsters) slowness of recurring Christmases. But in the moments immediately following my exclamation, I had a fleeting thought and I exclaimed, “Oh, wait! That’s not true. Christmases seem to be coming more often and faster for some reason.”

Could it be that I’m just getting older?

My maternal grandmother used to tell me that the older I got, the faster time would go. I didn’t believe her. How could that be true when it took forever for Christmas to get here? And then, when Christmas Eve finally arrived and we kids were waiting impatiently for my paternal grandparents to come over to our house for our traditional Christmas Eve supper and gift exchange, time seemed to stand still. (You can read a more detailed account of the trials and tribulations that we faced during that night of waiting and waiting and waiting in my article “Christmas Eve Reunion” in the November-December issue of Good Old Days, so I won’t rehash them here.)

All that has changed now. Instead, it seems that Christmases roll around like weekends. Not only are my days all mixed up, but also my years are running together. Wasn’t that last year? No, it was the year before, the year when all of our family rented a cabin in the Smokies for Christmas. I now date everything by which grandchildren were present at the time. This year we’ll have six grandchildren. “Oh the noise, noise, noise, NOISE!” But it’ll be a joyous noise, a noise by which we will measure the passage of time. And when next Christmas rolls around, there will be seven noisemakers to bring us Christmas cheer!

Yes, the kids might think that Christmas creeps toward them, but we grandparents see it flying toward us. Suddenly, it’s upon us, and the joyous occasion occurs, and then it’s gone just as suddenly as it came. Only memories are left in its wake. We turn around, and there we see the next Christmas off in the distance and coming fast toward us. And each time, there are more grandkids, and they have grown. Where has the time gone?!

There’s nothing I can do about it. It’s a fact of life. So I should just enjoy the fleeting moment while it’s here and welcome the memories it brings. And pray that in all of the excitement and hoopla and gift exchanging and feasting that those grandkids come to realize the true meaning of it all–the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child, our Savior from our sins, the only hope for the world, the Prince of Peace–and accept Him as their own.

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Productive Waiting

I hate to be idle. Even when I’m not doing anything, I like to be busy. A relaxed busy, but busy and productive. So whenever I have to take my car for service, as I did yesterday morning, I face the challenge of finding something productive to do with my time; otherwise, I feel as though I’ve wasted that hour or whatever.

I’ve tried reading the magazines in the waiting room, but few of them interest me. Most of them seem to be geared toward females. Or auto mechanics, which I’m definitely not. I’ve tried taking my own reading material, both physical books and books on my Kindle. But there are just too many distractions. Other customers who talk on their phones (to people who obviously are either deaf or far away because they always seem to shout to them over their phones). A blaring TV. Technicians who come in and out, calling for customers and discussing all the things that the customer absolutely must have done to his or her car today (even if they don’t really). People coming and going to the coffee machine. If it will distract, you’ll find it in the dealership’s waiting room.

I need something that doesn’t require a lot of focused concentration, yet something that is mentally challenging–and that will give me a sense when I leave the waiting room and get my car that I’ve not wasted my time. And yesterday I hit on what just might be the thing. Crossword puzzles.

I’ve always enjoyed working crossword puzzles, and I’m actually pretty good at it, if I so say so myself. Not nearly as good as my mother, of course, who could work them with an ink pen and hardly ever make a mistake. I still use a pencil–and a lot of eraser. I don’t like the too-easy ones or the New York Times-hard ones. The Premier crosswords by Frank A. Longo seem, as baby bear famously said, “Just right.” They make me think. They enlarge my vocabulary. And they give me a sense of accomplishment. I’ll admit, however, that I have some trouble with the clues that involve rock stars, modern actors, and Latin terms, but the older stuff I can usually manage–because I’m old, I guess.

Yesterday, I relinquished my car to the technicians for an oil change and tire rotation and entered an empty (!) waiting room. I brewed myself a cup of coffee in the dealer’s high-tech Keurig; walked past a wall-sized TV that was blaring some dark, sinister sci-fi movie; and nestled into a chair at the far corner of the room. I pulled out my crossword puzzle and went to work. An hour or so later, I finished the puzzle just as the tech came in to tell me that my car was ready. My greatest surprise was that he didn’t even try (as they usually do) to sell me on any repairs–other than replacing the battery on my key.

As I age, I’m becoming more aware of the threat of dementia and Alzheimer’s, especially so now that I find myself forgetting more and more things. (I almost panicked recently when I suddenly realized that I had forgotten to turn off the microphone I was wearing for the narration of the Christmas cantata at church just as the congregation started to sing the closing carol. That assuredly would have been a most grinchly sound!) But my ears perk up whenever I hear a news report that says something helps to prevent or slow the onset of the diseases. Like drinking coffee, eating dark chocolate, and working crossword puzzles. So I’m doing all those things–sometimes all at the same time.

Now, where was I–57 across? “See 68 Down.”

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

His Time Saved Lives

Sometimes a man takes the initiative and makes history. At other times, other people thrust a responsibility on someone and he makes history by fulfilling that responsibility and doing it well. The subject of today’s blog was of the latter sort.

The catalyst for Webb’s claim to fame was a tragedy. But Webb learned from that tragedy and acted upon what he learned, and his actions led to the saving of untold lives. Webb was just a small businessman, a jeweler, who was called upon to do a job. But he took that assignment seriously, and, because he did, people escaped tragedies similar to the one that resulted in his getting the assignment in the first place.

On April 19, 1891, in Kipton, Ohio, a train wreck occurred in which eight people were killed. Investigators pieced together the chain of events and searched for the cause.

Two trains, one a fast mail train and the other an accommodation train (a local that stops at nearly every station along a line and therefore moves slowly), were approaching each other on the same track. The accommodation train was ordered to run onto a siding at Kipton to let the fast mail go through on the mainline. Earlier, the engineer of the accommodation train had dropped his watch in a puddle, and, unknown to him, it had stopped for four minutes. But while he was washing it off, it had restarted, but it had lost four minutes. When the engineer received the order to go onto a siding, he had looked at his watch, which indicated that he had seven minutes to get his train onto the siding. In reality, he had only three minutes. The last few cars of the accommodation were still on the mainline when the fast mail, which was right on time, slammed into them at full speed. Both engineers and the people in the mail car were killed.

Investigators and the Superintendent of the Lake Shore and Southern Michigan Railway sought out Webb and asked him to find a way to avoid future such accidents. But why would a railroad approach a jeweler to solve a railroad problem?

Webb, who had grown up on a farm, had earned a reputation as a hard worker and a reliable watch man during an apprenticeship with a local jeweler and as business manager for the Deuber Watch Manufacturing Company. Then he had opened his own small retail jewelry and watch shop, and it grew into a modestly successful business. That’s when the Lake Shore and Southern Michigan contacted him following the Kipton tragedy.

For the next four months after that, he investigated the details surrounding the Kipton train wreck. He learned that it was common for engineers’ and conductors’ watches to disagree. Station clocks often showed yet a different time. Webb’s solution was to standardize the timepieces of everyone working for the railroad–from the engineer to the conductors to the station masters and yard workers. Every person’s watch and every station clock must read the same identical time at all times.

Webb established a list of minimum requirements for every timepiece and recommended that every timepiece be approved and inspected regularly. The “official” time was to be determined by the U.S. Naval Observatory, which sent out the correct time every 24 hours. All timepieces used by the railroad were to be accurate, guaranteed not to lose or gain more than 30 seconds over a two-week period. Unreliable timepieces were either to be repaired to meet the standards or replaced by timepieces that did.

The railroad liked Webb’s ideas and mandated that they be followed. And they named Webb C. Ball to be the Chief Time Inspector for the railroad. So successful was Ball’s time requirement that other railroads began adopting his standard too. It became known as railroad standard time. The job was so demanding, however, that Ball subcontracted the job to local jewelers throughout the railroads’ service areas. He also contracted with various watch makers–including Elgin, Hamilton, and Waltham–to manufacture the necessary works that would meet his exacting standards. He then set those works into his own cases, which were marked with his company’s name: Ball Watch Company.

The new standard led to the widespread use of the phrase “Get on the Ball!” If anyone wanted to know the exact time, he asked for “railroad time.” Now users of the railroads could depend on the printed timetables to be accurate and realistic. But most importantly, safety on railroads improved dramatically.

There’s no way of knowing how many accidents the accuracy of Ball’s watches prevented or how many lives were saved because the railroads were using standard railroad time. But it all was possible because one man was conscientious about his work, demanding high standards of himself, his workers, and the companies who contracted to do work for him. The work ethic of this exemplar holds important lessons for us all, especially the youth of our nation.

[Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson]