To Do …





Hat says, ‘Mum why don’t you make a To Do list every day?’ (Hat who notices I waft).


She does.


To Do (she writes, at the top of a page in her notebook, and underlines the words in curlicues)


  1. Finish mending Dad’s shirt (a job inspired having read Louisa M Alcott’s Little Women)
  2. Do geography homework *
  3. Chat to Georgie on MSN
  4. Finish letter to Granny *
  5. Write a Christmas Wish
  6. Do half my advent calendar
  7. Clean out doll’s house


( * The asterisks denotes “A Must”).


When I was first married, when I abandoned fledgling career in the City in preference for life of eager young housewife on an African coastline, I used to compile To Do lists. (1. Learn what to do with Fish 2. Learn what to do with a prawn 3 Try not to imagine the sound I can hear as I plunge lobster into boiling water is a scream). And shopping lists (which I usually left behind when I went to the shops). I used to catalogue the contents of the deep freeze (which I had labeled first) and I composed meal plans.


I’m less organized now. Older. Less domestically enthused. More of a cynic. Or perhaps I just tell myself I prefer the daily challenge of emptying contents of freezer onto kitchen floor, surveying them forlornly and wondering what I can extract from ice-covered and unrecognizable pile (since labeling has long since been abandoned) for supper and whether, once I have done, it’s chicken, steak or dog meat.


Hat’s right though. To Do lists are written by people who understand their days need filling. Even at 11 she knows Busy is Best, the Outpost has taught her as much.


(And ought to be written by those who live in a directionless void and spend their days pondering, What Now? What Next?)


The satisfaction of a list, of course, as Hat’s demonstrates and as she can articulate, is the ticking off or crossing out.


‘I feel I have achieved something then’, she says.


Write one, mum, she urges, and stick it on the fridge.   It will make your days go quicker.


Don’t wish you life away, my own mother used to warn when I was Hat’s age (when I pressed impatiently, ‘I wish Christmas/the holidays/my birthday would hurry up’).  I didn’t live in an outpost then. She would empathize now. Certainly she would understand why I need to hasten Christmas and the holidays along. Though I’d happily wait forever until my next birthday. After 30, I have found, birthdays lose their festive allure.


So. Lists.


Mine this week (had I made one, I didn’t) would have included:


  • Build rockery. Tick. I did. With Sylvester’s help. A job that – were there any doubts remaining as to my sanity – the planting of stones as the Rains begin confirmed his worst fears: the memsahib was clearly, and quite quickly, going round the bend;


  • Organise dinner for ten. Tick. I did: in capacity of Good Corporate Wife. Three roast chickens which failed to obediently cook on time. Four hours after putting them in the oven they remained languishing like fat pale skinned Beryl Cook models with legs, somewhat suggestively, spread as if reduced to careless soporific state by lazy heat of stove. They were dragged unceremoniously out then, and hastily carved up and nuked.  By the time I served dinner at 10pm guests were too drunk to notice supper looked like so many bleached cadavers – that I insisted on dining by candlelight doubtless helped disguise what was on their plates. I told them it was chicken. Roast Chicken, I said. They believed me. Nobody died of salmonella poisoning the next day.


  • Filing, which I did not do even though it has been on the To Do lists I have not been writing since January. Or before. My husband files with meticulous precision. I hide mine in a drawer and then have to shuffle for the letter/bill/statement he demands as I mutter, ‘It’s in here somewhere …’


  • Write copy for a coffee brochure I am working on. Tick. Remembered not to add, despite temptation, that women who drink too much of the stuff have smaller boobs.  According to research.  I don’t drink coffee. My bust would apparently be concave if I did. I have well endowed friends who spend their lives high on caffeine. Imagine if they didn’t. They’d explode.


  • Research price of two new lenses for camera. Tick. The subsequent ordering (from Amazon) and payment of same was somewhere on a list for 2009. Nice to think I can cross something off a list I have not even begun.


  • Attempt to make mango chutney. Which I would have done. Had I not eaten the mangoes before I got around to the chutney bit.


What it would not have included but which I could have added with hindsight was the fact I managed to resist mobilizing a mountain rescue team when my 17 year old son called me from Kilimanjaro’s frozen shoulders to tell me he was suffering from appalling altitude sickness.  On his way down by then, he assured me he was feeling better.


Are you sure?


Yes, Mum, I’m sure.


Sure ?






Really, Mum, relax.


So you don’t me to arrange a helicopter to pluck you off the slopes then?


No Mum, I don’t need you to organize a helicopter.


In the intervening years, between new-trying-to-be-busy-bride and now, I was too busy to make lists. I knew what needed to be done next because my children told me. The pressing urgency of motherhood filled all the gaps.


Perhaps Hat’s right: maybe I need to stop them up with lists now?




18 Responses to “To Do …”

  1. Janelle Says:

    loved this post. yes lists lists lists…mine are always of things i don;t really want to do but HAVE to do…as oprah says, one has to change this into, yes i really want to and do the grocery shopping, and i really want to go and buy really expensive landrover spares….i like lists. i do! heaps of love, toujours x j (ps: how is your french coming along?)

  2. Mozi Esme's Mommy Says:

    Oh I love lists! They keep me so focused and feeling so unaccomplished at the end of the day!

    And thanks for the tip on coffee. Let’s see – I stopped drinking when I was pregnant, and wonder of wonders, I expanded! There is definitely some truth to this… 🙂

  3. Potty Mummy Says:

    I love lists – in theory – but only when I write them. When Husband writes them they get filled up with scary stuff like; Organise the office; get quotes for building work; do filing etc etc. My preferred lists contain things like: do Christmas shopping (item by item so I can tick them all off), write new blog post, make mince pies. All easily achievable in a day giving a happy glow when i get to cross them all off…

  4. choppysunflower Says:

    I make shopping lists to prevent myself from forgetting anything and to prevent me from buying spur of the moment items, like very good chocolate chip cookies.

    Sometimes I make other lists, but frankly, I’m too lazy to bother. I like the day to just sort of slip by without me paying too much attention to it. I guess I’m not bored enough to make lists and maybe not responsible enough either. The animals and I survive regardless.

    If I were to seriously make lists, I would make them after the fact, to show how much I had actually done without realizing it. Like today. I am sick, but have done many things already when I stop to think about it. This despite the fact that there is an elephant sitting on my chest.

    That’s good! I’ll make a list at the end of today. It will look outstanding.

  5. rosiero Says:

    I cannot survive without my “To do” lists. It makes me feel good, when I can cross things off and end up with an entire list of crossed-out things. Did you see I had awarded you something?

  6. nuttycow Says:

    I love lists. I have one sitting by me right now. Have I touched any of the items? No. However, I do sometimes put things on my list that I’ve already done. It means I can tick it off and feel all important 🙂

    Hope eldest is ok. I remember when guys from school did Kili they also suffered from the dreaded altitude sickness – I think they *did* have a helicopter transfer though.

    Arg. Stop procrastinating woman (this is a note for me, not you). Right, must get on with the next item – “reading for meeting next week” – see how fun my life is?

  7. nappy valley girl Says:

    If you have never read it, I recommend Alison Pearson’s ‘I don’t know how she does it’ for some examples of funny motherhood-related to do lists….

    I like these lists. What I normally do is write one in my diary every week. Usually, half of the things get carried over to the following week…..but it encourages me to do some of them, at least. And it gives me the vague (although probably erroneous) sense that my life is under control.

  8. Expat Mum Says:

    I must admit that due to pre-menopausal/semi-senior moments, I have to make lists all the time, but the trick is not to put so much on them that you just have to sit down and have a cup of tea! Overwhelming, and sure to bring out the procrasinator in all of us.

  9. kitschen pink Says:

    I think you’re even a list person or you’re not. My hubby never writes lists – he runs a successful company with a team of staff who rely on him, does all sorts of useful things around the house and garden and somehow always seems to achieve a great deal. I write lists all the time, then I re-write them in a different order, or, if they get too long, I write lists for different categories. I don’t feel like a actually get much done and if I lose a list I don’t even know if I”m supposed to be sitting down or standing up! Hmmm. t.x

  10. Iota Says:

    Now when you make that next list, you can put on it the task of ordering and paying for the new camera lenses. Then you can cross one item off the minute you’ve finished drawing up the list. That is such a good feeling.

    Not only will it be a good feeling, but it will also give you membership to the elite club: “Bloggers who put things they’ve already done on ‘to do’ lists, and then cross them off immediatedly”. There are currently two members. Me and Rotten Correspondent. We need a few more.

    I always think of a ‘to do’ list as a ‘ta da’ list – because that is what I feel like saying when I’ve crossed everything off (which rarely happens, of course).

  11. Gillian Says:

    Yes, I have taken to depending on a list too. It’s not a daily list, it’s more like a weekly list, but even then some things hang around for months.

    I took up list making with a bit of enthusiasm a few months ago when I discovered that I STILL hadn’t gone and got the bone density test done, 6 months after seeing the doc. So, I started a list to capture all the ‘gotta-oughta’ do stuff that floated in and out of my brain. Within 3 weeks the bone density test was done. Hey, this list making stuff works!!

    I’ve learnt to put little things on it (easy to cross off) as well as the big ones. And to put fun things on it too. I regularly point out to patient household members how well I am doing on my list.

    I wonder what Hat would put on your list if you gave her that role for a week or so?

  12. Roberta Says:

    I “used” to make lists. I still do for shopping, ardently trying to remain true. Lists can have lives of their own. GIve you that gut wrenching feeling that you haven’t accomplished what you needed to do within a set time limit.

    I have decided this late in life to avoid “gut wrenching”. I go for accomplishable. Take it from there.

    Another fine post from you! I adore your thoughts and actually feel a kindred spirit! Keep it up!

  13. daisyfae Says:

    when my daughter was born, i stepped off the “office rollercoaster” for 9 months to stay home… as much because i didn’t function well without sleep as to care for my newborn sprog… by the end of the nine months? Engineer-mom had created a grocery list template, in Excel, which could be used to tick off items as i depleted them during the week, and do meal planning prior to the Saturday morning grocery run… my game was to see if i could estimate – to the dollar – what the bill would be at the checkout.

    needless to say, i don’t do those sorts of lists. i’m a “write something down on the back of a post-it note and hope it isn’t carried away on the back of something else” list maker…. suspect i’ll give it up entirely someday soon…. when i’m losing the lists? not much point, is there?

    great post… thanks for triggering some thought molecules into motion tonight!

  14. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    great great responses. think there are latent list makers in us all. whether before or after the fact. much like filling in a diary (as opposed to journal) after the event. as in: ”go to dinner with x and x” (which you write after you’ve been in case you are hit by a bus and somebody finds empty diary and thinks, ”what a sad person, no life at all, just as well they went”. that kind of thing. bit like writing lists AFTER the fact, so you feel as if you’ve achieved.

    janelle – french isn’t really. coming along. it’s on a list though!

    mozi: nothing to do with the pregnancy? it’s the only time i had a cleavage. not actually bit enough to lose bits of my breakfast down. but a sort of a hollow at least.

    OMG Potty: just like my husband’s lists. do you think husbands have sort of cyber conventions on serious list making?

  15. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    … I would make them after the fact, to show how much I had actually done without realizing it … Choppy, my sentiments precisely.

    I did rosiero, thank you very much. i will get it out and hang it up, it’s a very pretty award. and i know, the tickig off is a feel good thing. i think i’ll write one up after i’ve done, and tick of immediatley. instant gratification.

    thanks nutty. i think i might have a list somewhere here too. if i could just find it …

    i have nappy and i loved it. i especally related to the mince pie incident. as a non DG and perpetual kitchen cheat …

    Expat – i think there’s a lot of wisdom in that. lists should never be overwhelming. unless of course you write them afterwards. and tick the chores you did before list composition off and then stick list in obvious place so that you can overwhelm anybody who might spot it …

  16. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    kitschen – that’s it. you’re either a list person or you’re not. i used to be. if i write a list now i either forget where i put it or lose it so stand in kaidi’s shop here and go ummmmmmmmmmmm alot. wondering what it was we needed at home …

    Iota. i’m in. i’m in. so glad there are others out there who write to do lists of the stuff they already did. and ta da is perfect, with a flourish of the hand too, no doubt?

    Gillian, Hat’s a doll. she has already pointed out i should put ”Swim” and ”Write my blog” on my list. because she know i love both and both keep me sane. sort of.

    Accomplishable. Roberta: that ought to be a mantra for us all. Lists or not. thanks for that.

    needless to say, i don’t do those sorts of lists. i’m a “write something down on the back of a post-it note and hope it isn’t carried away on the back of something else” … that made me laugh daisyfae. that’s exactly what happens to the lists i so rarely write. they vanish. on theback of something else, doubtless! and’i thought it was all by magic?

  17. carol Says:

    A few years ago my lists began with ‘make a list’ – I suppose because I had nothing much to put on my list! Now that i’m a teacher and a mum I write lists in my school diary every day – things I have to do – and when I can’t get to tick them off I just write them in the next day… how sad is that! Don’t think it helps me to be particularly organised though!

  18. Tash Says:

    I religiously write lists, leave them at home so work from memory, come back, tick off what I did, look at the list which is NEVER completely done, so write a new one, with everything I omitted and whatever also arose out of that day…

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