Sunday, November 16, 2014

Greasing the Muffin Pan

This morning I made muffins for breakfast. I started with the tried and true basic muffin recipe out of a thirty year old Red Roses cookbook, and improvised from there. 

Rather than two cups of white flour, I switched half a cup of it for whole wheat flour. I threw in about a tablespoon of brewer's yeast, left here by a visiting friend who cooks vegetarian and whole grain foods.  I added chopped walnuts and dried currants to the dry ingredients. I had a small amount of mashed yams leftover from last night's dinner, so I added that, and also a couple of tablespoons of cooked quinoa, also left over from dinner. I mixed them up, popped them in the oven, and there was breakfast. The muffins were delicious. Rob ate five. 

One thing that I do not enjoy doing when making muffins is greasing the muffin pan. I have a lovely stoneware pan, a gift from a friend. It is large and heavy, and when I lift it down from its home in the cupboard above the refrigerator, still in its original box, I always smile and remember my friend who gave it to me. And then I sigh, put a dab of butter on some waxed paper and grease each muffin cup. Maybe the reason I don't like this part is because I always end up with greasy fingers. The butter gets into my skin and under my fingernails, and is hard to wash off. 

It seems to me that many tasks of life have a component in them that is off-putting, unpleasant, or even sometimes severely anxiety-provoking. Sometimes for me, that one component can be not just a little bump in the road, but a brick wall that is hard to get past. 

Greasing the muffin pan is a mild and almost silly example. But the fact is, if I let my aversion to greasing the pan stop me, I would never make homemade muffins. I would lose the satisfaction of making and eating them, and my family would lose the opportunity to enjoy them as well.

Here is another example. I love to ski. Every winter, it gives me great joy to ski as many weekends as I can. The last two winters, we have taken a March ski holiday with dear friends in another province, and we are planning to do the same again this March. Both times, we have had a wonderful week of skiing and spending time with our friends. 

But every morning at the skihill, when I put my ski boots on, my feet hurt. The boots cut off my circulation and squash my insteps down. Sometimes the pain is quite extreme from the pressure on my insteps, and also once I take the boots off to thaw my feet. 

I have good quality, properly fit boots with customized heat moulded inner boots. These are better boots than I ever owned before when I was younger and poorer. But unfortunately for me, I have wide feet, high arches, short strong calves, and poor circulation. I have never found any brand of boot that is actually comfortable. I have learned all kinds of tricks, like making sure my boots are warm before putting them on, wearing thin socks, buckling the boots loosely at the start of the day, and unbuckling them for each ride up the chair. Later in the day, once my body has warmed up to exercise and my feet have adjusted to the boots, the pain is minimal and my feet don't get as cold. 

Still, I know that every ski day, I will have to put up with painful feet and frozen toes for the first three or four runs. Then I'll go into the lodge and weep while defrosting my feet. After that, my feet will be fine for the rest of the day. I refuse to let a little thing like pain stop me from enjoying a wonderful day of skiing.

Here is a work related example. Like many people, I suffer from fear of public speaking. Yet, throughout the different jobs in my career, I regularly have had to speak publicly in a variety of situations. I have led meetings of the senior leaders of a large organization. I have taught small classes and classes of 250. I have been interviewed on television. I have spoken at national and international conferences. I have led a ceremonial event in a darkened theatre that seats 750. 

Every first time that I have had to speak in a new type of situation, I have become highly anxious. I have experienced sweaty palms, the feeling of almost fainting, and the sensation of hearing sound coming out of my mouth but being unable to understand the words that I am saying. I have had wordlessness come over me, when in the middle of a sentence, I suddenly have become frozen, unable to finish the sentence. With everyone's eyes upon me, the silence has seemed to go on and on. 

You would think that having experienced public speaking fright once, I would have avoided that type of situation forever after. But no, I am not that easy on myself. I have made myself do it again, and again, and again, until I have developed ease with that particular situation. And then I have signed myself up for tasks that up the ante, and require me to speak to larger or more critical audiences. 

I am not trying to torture myself. I am not trying to purposely seek out public speaking situations. It's just that if I am going to be able to my job well, I have to take the public speaking part of it in stride. As my career has progressed, the level of public speaking required also has risen. If I had taken the easy way out, I would never have learned to how to manage in public speaking situations, and I would not have learned to cope with the anxiety. The focus isn't me, but rather the instruction, the presentation, the interview, the meeting agenda, and the celebration. 

So, I guess the point I am making, which isn't especially profound, is that we grow when we don't let ourselves take the easy way out. This is the case in creative endeavours, like oil painting or writing a novel, and at work, and also in the little everyday things of life, like making muffins. 


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