The opposite of obligation.

imagesEver seen the Pixar film “Up”? In the how-Carl-and-Ellie-met montage is a moment when the two of them sit side by side, reading and holding hands.

That was DF and me on Sunday, reading and hand-holding in adjoining easy chairs. For him it was “Mozart in the Jungle” and for me it was one of the “Anne of Green Gables” books. (I’d never read the series as a kid and recently I found several titles in the recycle bin.)

It was so nice to see DF rooted for a while. Usually he’s in constant motion: cooking, working in the yard or garden, hanging out laundry, tidying up. Even when he sits still he’s often working: paying bills, balancing his checkbook, dealing with his father’s estate. Yet there he was, reading a non-work-related book and smiling.

And me? The day before I’d written a post for Surviving and Thriving and finished my Monday post for MSN Money. Thus I felt temporarily free to follow the adventures of Anne Shirley, even though unread personal finance books are currently stacked eyebrow-high on the desk.

For the first time in who knows when, we were observing a Sabbath. I don’t mean that in a strictly religious sense, but as a day of rest. A chance to recharge. A dozen hours of peace. The opposite of obligation.

The etymology of the word is likely from the Greek sabbaton and/or from the Hebrew shabbath, “properly ‘day of rest,’ from shabath ‘he rested’.” What a delight to see DF rest, and to feel a few deadline-free hours of my own.

We spent the day doing only what we wanted: eating cottage bacon and homemade buttermilk biscuits, playing the piano, listening to the rain, napping, reading, taking a walk when it cleared up late in the evening.

We should do this every week, but we so seldom can. Let me rephrase that: We so seldom can make it a priority.  


No time to slow down

For months it’s seemed that one or both of us have other Things We Must Do over the weekend. Writing, family commitments, time-sensitive chores (hilling potatoes, setting up interviews) and other hour-eaters conspire to usurp all of Saturday and Sunday.

Our work days bleed over into our weekends. I know we’re not the only ones to whom this happens. Saturday and Sunday are the days into which you cram everything you couldn’t finish – or even start – during the week.

So when do we rest? We don’t.

Big mistake. Neither of us bounces back from overwork as fast as we once did, and at our ages we’re increasingly aware of the importance of time. I’m 55, he’s about to turn 62: At what point can we call our lives completely our own?

No time soon, probably. We both like what we do, but more to the point neither of us feels completely secure with our retirement plans. If we had to stop working tomorrow we’d manage — but simply squeaking by and pinching every penny isn’t enough. We’re frugal and intend to stay that way, but we want a reasonably comfortable life and we also want to leave something for our kids.


The forced march

For years my goal seemed to be saying “yes” to every request and every project. How many of life’s grace notes did I miss during that time? (And even though I’ve jettisoned a lot, how many am I missing now?)

In a Get Rich Slowly post called “Want to save money? Slow down,” I addressed this unfortunate tendency:

“Galloping through the days becomes a habit. The trouble with juggling so many tasks is that you don’t know how to set any one of them down without actually dropping it.

Try. Throttle back. Take a breather. Take a nap. Maybe even take a couple of days away from the forced march that has become the unfortunate norm.”

Yes, we want more Sabbaths. (More of those buttermilk biscuits, too. Dang, they were good.) Whether or not we can make that stick is yet to be seen. But something has to change. Both DF and I know that we need to learn to drop some commitments, lest those commitments ultimately drop us.

We don’t know the number of our remaining days on Earth. We do know that the quality of those days matters at least as much – and probably more – as the quantity.


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  1. Great post, Donna! (What’s that saying about the shoemaker’s kids?)

    I suppose that is one reason all the “parachute” books advise finding your passion and making a living at that — when one loves one’s work, it doesn’t feel quite so taxing to do it all the time.
    But, like you, my retirement plans are shaky at best. I’ve no plans, really, to retire (I like working) but if I had to, maintaining my current modest standard of living would be a job itself.
    Still, a day of rest puts the week into perspective. Thanks for bringing this up!

    • Donna Freedman

      The problem with making your passion your living is that it can bleed over into the everyday, until there’s no difference between working and being at home. I spend way too much time at the computer and my lower back and legs are getting very cranky over it.
      Work-life balance is a tricky thing.

  2. Some time back I mentioned on Facebook that there were ten items in the church bulletin that had my name as the contact person. My sister in law wrote me “No. That word is a complete sentence”. I have committed to no technology (except email) and no housework on Sundays. I don’t always make it, but its a goal. Sunday becomes what my mother would have called family time. It has made a huge difference. If it doesn’t get done by Saturday it returns to Monday’s list.

    FWIW, Anne of Green Gables is one of the few shows that is almost as good as the book and if you can get the series after you read the book and have a TV I would consider it.

    • Donna Freedman

      I don’t have a TV, but maybe at some point my niece will stream it on Netflix for me and her younger child.
      I think that “put it on Monday’s list” is a swell idea. Now it’s up to me to make it happen.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  3. Linda B.

    A good book should always take precedence to “must-do” chores, at least in my fantasies. In real life, alas, we often feel we’re too responsible to let the daily labors slide. Sigh.

  4. Kind of off topic, but would you share the buttermilk biscuit recipe?

    I’m a little to likely to spend time “resting” and the result is too much chaos in the house. I really need to work to develop the happy medium.

    • Donna Freedman

      This is from the Betty Crocker Cookbook. I used powdered buttermilk, by the way — don’t keep a carton of the cultured stuff sitting around — and I used a fork instead of a pastry cutter.

      2 cups all-purpose flour*
      1 tablespoon sugar
      2 teaspoons baking powder
      1/3 teaspoon baking soda
      1 teaspoon salt
      1/2 cup shortening
      3/4 cup buttermilk (if thick, use a little more)
      Heat oven to 450ºF. In medium bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in shortening, using pastry blender (or pulling 2 table knives through ingredients in opposite directions), until mixture looks like fine crumbs. Stir in milk until dough leaves side of bowl (dough will be soft and sticky).
      Place dough on lightly floured surface. Knead lightly 10 times. Roll or pat 1/2 inch thick. Cut with floured 2- to 2 1/4-inch round cuttter. Place on ungreased cookie sheet about 1 inch apart for crusty sides, touching for soft sides.
      Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately remove from cookie sheet. Serve warm.
      *If using self-rising flour, omit baking powder and salt.

  5. I’m so proud of you for taking a break if even for a day.
    I was just going to ask for the biscuit recipe and then I looked up. I hope all went well with everything that is going on today with you. Let me know how you end up. Bahahaha, I’m an @$$. Hahahaha, I can’t stop.

    • Donna Freedman

      Let’s just say that everything came out all right. (ba-dump-DUMP!)

  6. ImJuniperNow

    First, make sure it’s the AOGG series with Megan Follows, Colleen Dewhurst and Richard Farnsworth. Oh, the scenery. I get chills thinking about it. You will bawl like a baby.

    Second, do you find yourself saying or thinking “I’m too old for this sh*t” more and more? I do.

    • Donna Freedman

      Yep, I do. In fact, I initially wrote “too old for this s–t” in the piece and amended it.
      The nice part: The older I get, the more likely I am to move on after deciding I’m too old for this, instead of turning myself inside out trying to make the unworkable work.
      I’m liking that so much.

  7. Judy Gagnon

    The problem with your job being your passion is that it can define you. My job/passion went away and I’m retiring. Never thought I’d be using that 1960s saying, “I need to find myself”.


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