"People talk about racism and "reverse racism," but if you’re a white lady like me, what you get to see most is not incidents of probable racism against any particular person, but all those things white people say and do when they’re left unsupervised."
--Jen Fitz, writing here at Sticking the Corners
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"This is where the party ends."
-- They Might Be Giants, "Your Racist Friend" (Flood, 1990)
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The following is not a question of equivalencies. It is a question of consistency.
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Catholics who try to be faithful to the Church's teachings speak and write a great deal about sending messages with our actions.
To make an example of current events: It's not a simple matter for Catholics to decide whether to attend a ceremony celebrating a sexual union (of any kind) that we know isn't a valid marriage. Even if everyone knows our beliefs -- we aren't supposed to leave people confused in any way about what we stand for. We may not say a word; but our silent presence may be taken as assent and acceptance; in fact it is a kind of assent and acceptance.
Conservative Catholics know this. Liberal Catholics know it too. We each of us, if we have integrity, behave accordingly, maybe with some internal struggle, to send the message we believe we should send, by providing or withholding our presence.
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Silent presence happens in other contexts, too, where actors wish to promote a view of human nature that is patently opposed to the teaching of Christ.
And by "contexts" I mean holiday dinners with relatives, meetings with co-workers, drinks with your buddies; and by "a view of human nature that is patently opposed to the teaching of Christ" I mean all sorts of notions that are contrary to human dignity.
Notions that entire groups of people deserve blame for the actions of some of their members.
Notions that individuals can be judged by the characteristics of a group.
Notions that demeaning language -- objectifying language -- mocking language -- language that fails to treat persons as individuals, individually redeemed by Christ, individual agents working toward their own salvation in the context of the world -- is harmless if none of its targets are there to hear it.
Are we sending a message that might confuse people into thinking that, because we are there, we agree? Are we endorsing this language without meaning to?
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I have been the nice white lady standing uncomfortably -- and yet silently -- in the presence of another who is telling a story about Those Blacks, You Know How They Are. I have stayed in the meeting when the female speaker makes the crack about how a bunch of women will not be able to get anything done in a reasonable amount of time. I have done the thing where you don't laugh at the disgusting joke about gay people, or whomever -- the thing where you remain silent, because it's polite and you have reasons not to cause a scene, and maybe the teller will notice that you don't, actually, think it's funny -- but it is, in the end, the "thing" where you remain.
Silently, but you remain.
That too, my friends, is sending a message of acceptance. Acceptance of a seriously distorted view of human nature and of human dignity. Acceptance that is in no way reconcilable with the teaching of Christ.
The teaching of Christ is the teaching that welcomes the stranger, the person who is different, frightening, repulsive.
Welcoming the stranger is, as the nation learned to its grief in Charleston this week, not without personal risk.
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I had a moment of clarity around Christmas, as often happens around the holidays, when I found myself in a Nice White People situation. The kind where a forceful, humorous personality, the life of the party, feels himself safe, among people who will not challenge him. He's just messing around, after all! It's just a joke! And in this case, the joke involved dehumanizing slurs directed at gay people.
(But he has Democrat cred! Everyone knows he is a supporter of gay rights! Of same sex marriage and antidiscrimination statutes! ... Nonetheless, I am here to tell you that on occasion such people will still, if they are among a safe crowd, tell crude and dehumanizing jokes. I don't understand it, but it is true.)
I must have stood by silently a thousand times before, in this and other situations. It is not my job to set people on the right path. I may be opinionated, and I am free with my opinions on this blog, but I am not eloquent on the spot. I am reluctant to make trouble, at least when it comes to people that I have to get along with in the future for some reason.
The difference this time is that in the circle, in the conversation, in the party, I was standing, a drink in my hand, right next to my two oldest sons.
I heard the slur.
I saw my teenaged son look away, down into his Coke.
And in that moment -- and hours later, too -- I understood that I had been placed in a position where silently remaining was not acceptable, and that to silently remain would be a direct violation of my duty towards the young people in my family. The people I am charged with raising, and teaching.
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This is where the party ends
I can't stand here listening to you
And your racist friend.
I know politics bore you,
But I feel like a hypocrite talking to you
And your racist friend.
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Like I said, I am not eloquent on the spot. So I didn't speak up, not then.
But I let the expression of contempt and disgust play across my face. It was real, not faked. I don't have much of a poker face anyway.
And I left the room. (Yeah, I know. My kids were still there in the room, with the joke hanging in the air like the smell of a fart.)
And I did not look the speaker in the eye again. And he knew I was not looking him in the eye.
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That night I dreamed I was driving a car on an empty road, and up ahead curious clouds roiled into the sky. I was studying them and wondering what they were, wondering if a thunderstorm was brewing, when -- too late -- I realized I was driving straight toward a towering cloud of volcanic ash, and it was pouring over the road in front of me, obliterating everything in its path. I swerved the car to the right, I felt my body thrown to the side by the force of the turn, and the wall of ash flooded over my car and into the windows, snaring the tires, dragging my car along with it, enclosing me in darkness, suffocating me.
I woke up still suffocated.
I got up out of the bed, leaving Mark sleeping beside the baby. I went downstairs and found my boys and I told them: Last night you heard some vile language about people who don't deserve to be talked about in that way. I want you to know that it wasn't right. No matter who says it, it isn't right for people to use language like that about other human beings.
They listened to me with serious faces. "We know," they said.
"I know you know," I said. "And I also want you to know that I didn't say anything about it last night because didn't know how to respond last night. But that I am going to respond now, and I am going to let that person know that I do not want him to talk that way where you kids can hear."
And then I went upstairs and I wrote an email, and I hit Send.
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It was the loveliest party that I ever attended
If anything was broken, I'm sure it could be mended
My head can't tolerate this bobbing and pretending
Listening to some bullet-head and the madness that he's saying.
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So it's like this. I am one of those people who has no sense of humor. I am unacceptably self-righteous. There is no getting around it.
God give me the courage never to find that crap funny ever again. God give me the courage, if not to speak up, then to leave the room, again, and again, and again.
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Sometimes, Nice White People get together and they say objectifying things that they think are harmless. I think they think they are harmless because everyone else in the room is also a Nice White Person. Or occasionally it is Nice Straight People. Sometimes it is A Bunch Of Great Guys. Occasionally it is women objectifying women, not always Those Other Women either, believe you me; I have been in these rooms.
No one whose feelings might be hurt is there. Ergo hurt hasn't happened, right?
This is wrong. Because
(a) it normalizes the objectification of human beings,
(b) it is always an offense against human beings because it is an offense against truth, and
(c) sometimes the Nice White People who can hear are not, in fact, particularly nice. Sometimes they are disturbed people. Sometimes they are impressionable because they are young. Sometimes they are vulnerable. Sometimes they are vile racists who add what they hear to their experiences that tell them racism isn't so vile, that they are among friends even in their vile racism.
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Serious Catholics know that silent presence sends a message of acceptance and assent. We know this!
We know it is important not to confuse people about the truth.
Can we just try not to leave them confused about all the truths as well? Like the truth that a human being is an entity to which the only appropriate response is love? And that dehumanizing use (as the butt of a joke, as a scapegoat, as an outlet for sexual urges, as a political point, as a means to an end) is never the right response?
Why are we only worried about confusing people about part of the Christian message? Can we come up with a way to make it not at all confusing that we believe in charity towards all?
Out through the kitchen, to the bedroom, to the hallway
Your friend apologized, said he could see it my way
He let the contents of the bottle do the thinking
Can't shake the devil's hand and say you're only kidding.
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My heart is heavy this week. Pray for Charleston, and give thanks for people who welcome the stranger and who will go on welcoming the stranger, in everything they say and in everything they don't say.
*Since this was first posted I elected to adjust slightly the wording in the paragraph about ceremonies, to reflect the fact that, while there's plenty of advice to be had out there, and maybe individual bishops have advised their faithful on it, I don't know of any explicit direction in Catholic doctrine stating what particular Catholics must do or not do with respect to social invitations, the circumstances of which can vary greatly. It's not a matter to take lightly, but as far as I can tell, it remains a matter of conscience. Everyone, however, appears to agree that the reason it is not to be taken lightly is because presence speaks.
I'm writing a blog post this morning while I wait for the hot dog buns to rise; I want to bake them before I leave the house. This morning, it's a trip to a playground until lunch time; lunch at home (hot dogs, coleslaw left over from dinner two days ago, and bell pepper soup left over from last night).
This afternoon, I'm going to tackle my 2014-2015 school papers. A slow-motion tackle, because I can't toss them until I've processed them somewhat.
My top priority is to compile a summary for each of the three subjects that I taught to H's and my 9th-graders, because they won't have a record that's good enough for college applications unless I do that, and I owe that to H's son (as well as to mine). My second priority is to compile summaries for the other subjects that my 9th-grader did. After that, I'll move to the subjects I taught to H's middle-school kids, and finally to the subjects that my younger kids did under my supervision. As I close out each subject, I'm planning to order the materials I need for the same subject next year, and make room in the shelves and bins for those materials to land as they arrive.
The binder in the foreground, with the child's painting of a flower on it, is -- was -- my Master Binder all last year. I'll open it up, turn to the section on "9th Grade History," and pull all the papers out. Then I'll grab all the emails in my "history work" section of my email folder, and all my daily record sheets, and sit down and write a summary of the year. I'll compile that, along with copies of all of H's son's written assignments that I might have in my own possession (he's supposed to have saved many of them in his own notebook and on his Google Drive account, and she should be able to access those without my help), and send it on. I expect this will be about three hours' work, some today, some tomorrow.
Then I'll throw out the material I don't think I'll need any more. I'll save some that might be helpful to me the next time I have a round of students studying Modern World History.
I'll get on the horn, er, internet, to various homeschooling and/or office supply vendors and buy the materials I think I still need to buy for next year's American History work (for which, God help me, I'm designing the curriculum from scratch).
And then I will do something similar with Latin and with Geometry.
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Normally we have a preschool music class on Wednesdays, but the new session doesn't start till next week, so my calendar is emptier than usual. Hence the playground visit. Going to the park this morning is something I have to force myself to do. All I want to do is sit in front of my computer and pound out curriculum plans and put more curriculum to bed.
Especially since we altered our screen time rules for the summer -- in part so I would have plenty of morning time to crank out lesson plans -- to be "I won't bug you till 2 p.m., but after 2 p.m. all screens are off, and by the way you aren't allowed to use Mom's computers at all." And it's morning, and my playground visit will eat into everyone's precious screen time.
But I need to at least pretend to be interested in encouraging play outside the house. Now where did I put that sunscreen? The hot dog buns are almost done.
For inspirational purposes, I subscribed for a while to a Tumblr feed called Unfuck Your Habitat (frequently, for obvious reasons, abbreviated as UfYH.) It specializes in encouraging people to keep their living spaces livable through "twenty minutes at a time," "as much as you can handle" work. Users frequently post before-and-after pictures on the Tumblr site to show what they accomplished in twenty minutes, or in a few "20/10s" (sessions of twenty minutes of work, ten minutes of rest). It is popular among people who suffer from depression or other disabilities that make it hard to get up and do things like a day of thorough spring cleaning, or people whose habitats are so far gone that they don't know where to start.
It's also probably nice for a lot of folks that (unlike something like FlyLady) it isn't aimed squarely at an audience made up of, what used to be called, with no trace of irony, "housewives."
The UfYH website has some helpful, systematic ideas and basic cleaning instructions, and there is also an iOS app (called, I believe, "Unfilth Your Habitat" to get around the obscenity rules at the Apple Store) and now an Android app with a few tools (timers, to-do lists) for the method.
I bring this up because the other day on the UfYH Tumblr someone asked about the Marie Kondo method:
Have you heard of Marie Kondo’s “KonMari” method of tidying/organizing? If so, what do you think? ... I kind of have to call bullshit on her claim that none of her clients has ever regressed. Are they terrified of her? Does she select only clients who are unlikely to regress? Thoughts?
Answer (emphases are mine):
So, I get like at least a half dozen asks a day about Marie Kondo and The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up, which up until now I’ve chosen not to address because, to be honest, I still haven’t finished reading the book...
Broadly, I think there is no one system that is likely to work for everyone, UfYH definitely included. I think that if a system speaks to you and you agree with the principles behind it, you’re far less likely to regress back to your old ways. So I don’t think that’s bullshit, necessarily, that she has clients who don’t regress; she may just have clients for whom her system is the right fit.
From what I can see, UfYH and KonMari differ in two major ways.
First, she advocates “decluttering” (not a word I use, ever, really) [bearing notes: KonMari's translator uses the term "discarding"] by category: so, all clothes, then all books, then all keepsakes, etc., and says that a “little-by-little” approach doesn’t work. Obviously, UfYH is based almost entirely around “little-by-little” and focuses on the fact that trying to go through all of your clothes in one shot can be completely overwhelming and itself an obstacle to getting organized. I think the people who find UfYH useful need a little-by-little approach so that they can get started, keep going, and eventually get to a point of maintenance, rather than crisis.
Second, KonMari advises you to only keep items that “spark joy” in you. While I think this is a great concept, I’m somewhat of a realist and a cynic and I know for a fact that my home will never be a carefully curated collection of items that only bring me joy, and I think lots of people live the way I do. I have items that are necessary, items that are useful, and items that I really need to have around, many of which do not “spark joy.” I believe wholeheartedly in paring down your belongings to what you really need or want, but I also think that there’s nothing wrong with you if you don’t have an emotional connection to your cooking utensils.
Do I think the KonMari method is bad or wrong? Of course not. I think everyone should use what speaks to them and what is useful and applicable in their own lives. It’s a vastly different approach than mine, which is good, because people are complex, and what works for one won’t necessarily work for another. I think it’s great that her method works for so many people and has inspired so many to try to get their homes and messes under control. I want everyone to have a home they’re comfortable and happy in, no matter what journey they take to achieve that.
A note on the joy-sparking thing: With the help of a translator, Marie Kondo did an English-language IAmA on Reddit some time ago in which someone asked her
What about keeping objects that don't spark joy but that I don't want to spend money or time replacing right now and which are still helpful - for example a computer, a mattress, a toothbrush, a frying pan, a suit, a blender, a coffee table? Should I keep these if they don't spark joy but I still use them regularly?
So those things are helping you every day. Because you are using them.
Even if they are not sparking joy, they are helping you every day. They are making your days go by - meaning, you have not realized that they are making you happy. They are sparking joy to you, subconsciously. So it's you, just not realizing that sparks joy for you. So you should convince yourself that they are sparking joy, and you should prioritize their status, because they are making your day, everyday. Then, gradually, you will start seeing some sparking joy concepts from those items.
Be grateful for what you have, I think, is a more usual way of putting that in perpective.
(The Reddit IAmA is not terribly long -- 148 comments -- and is well worth your time if you enjoyed Kondo's book.)
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So, can you do it all at once or is that too big of a job and it's just going to make a big mess that will remain after you get distracted from it?
Here are some points about the system that if you heed them will go a way toward solving the problem.
(1) You're supposed to sort quickly. Go with your gut, your first impression. Don't pause to think too hard about each item. Just pass it through your hands and ask yourself (let's say the item is a book) "Does this item make me happy when I see it on my shelf?"
(2) If you have too many things in a category -- and Kondo does not specify how many is "too many" or what limitation (space? attention? time?) makes the category too big -- you are supposed to break the category down further. For example, you are supposed to put all your books on the floor and sort them all at once unless you have too many books to do this. She suggests some categories of books, but only so that you can see the order in which to tackle categories ("general pleasure reading" comes first, reference books later). It is clear that the only purpose of the categories is to deal with as many books as you can manage at once, and to deal with like books together.
So, for example, I dealt with all my personal "pleasure reading" at once, over the space of a few hours spread over a couple of days, using space in a spare room. I went through my shelves, pulled out everything that counted as "reading for pleasure," and put it on the floor; then I sorted it into three piles:
But I could have broken "general pleasure reading" into smaller categories: pop science and novels would have been the two largest categories, and those would have each fit on my dining room table, and I would have been forced to finish each category in one day by dinner time. They are both kinds of pleasure reading, and so they compete with each other for my time and attention in one sense, but they please me for different reasons, and so I think novels and pop-sci could be considered separately as subcategories.
It was pretty obvious to me that "homeschooling curricula" was its own category, and "books meant for the children to browse but which really belong to me" was also its own category. I get the impression that you should break it into categories that are as large as you can handle -- the benefit of small categories is that you can be done with a "session" more easily without it being a multi-day messy project, but the benefit of large categories is that it's easier to discard.
(3) Can't stress this one enough. Have plenty of boxes and tape (and some trash bags -- some stuff will not be in good enough shape to donate) ready to go before you start. Fill a box, seal it right away, get it out of your house ASAP. Mine went to a fundraising garage sale.
No matter how you do it, it's a long-term project, but it really does break down into manageable pieces very well, and there's an order to it; this method gets you straight through the "But where do I START?" paralysis.
First: Restrict yourself to discarding your own unloved stuff, not your other family members' stuff.
Then, she says, start with clothes. If you have too many clothes to pile them all on the floor at once, start with tops. And so on.
When clothes are done, move to books. If you have too many books to pile them all on the floor at once, start with general pleasure reading, and so on. I extrapolated from that to say: If you have too many general pleasure reading books to deal with at once, start with one easy-to-define subcategory of pleasure reading (such as novels). And so on.
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I finished clothes, and I finished books, and now I'm about to discard "papers." The timing is good because it's the end of a school year, and so I'm drowning in papers that I need to cull.
A very important note here is that "papers" does NOT include things that are kept for sentimental reasons. Even if they happen to be made of paper, these -- old love letters, photographs, children's dear little artworks, etc. -- differ fundamentally from insurance policies, credit card statements, envelopes with important addresses on them, immunization records, tax forms, and the like. Sentimental objects come last of all. When, having just finished "books," one gathers "papers" to discard them, sentimental paper-based objects are passed right over.
I am starting this just as I get back from a weeklong vacation from the Internet, and so I decided to practice the paper-discarding technique on my email inbox first, while I gather papers together. Kondo's rule is to discard every paper unless
That is a funny way of putting it, but note the difference in the verbs. It "is" in use, it "is needed" for a limited period of time, "it must be" kept indefinitely. Note the absence of verbs like "want" or modifiers like "might." When you turn it into asking yourself a question about whether to discard something, you wind up asking:
When it comes to storing papers, Kondo suggests only three files. They are not quite the same as the three categories of "things not to throw away." The three files are:
(1) Needs to be dealt with
(2) Contractual documents and other items that are infrequently accessed
(3) Items that are more frequently accessed
Yup: that's how she puts it. "Infrequently" and "more frequently."
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Before I started going through my email box yesterday, I created three new folders:
(The numbers are there to defeat by brute force the email program's automatic file-alphabetizing feature.)
I began going through my inbox with the goal of emptying it, sorting everything I don't delete into one of those three top-level folders.
Very quickly I realized that it would be helpful to have another top-level folder for the specific purpose of keeping email purchase receipts just until my Amazon, etc., orders arrive undamaged. These are, technically, a kind of "Save - Access" document, but there are so many of them and they only need to be kept for a short time, that really they should be grouped together. So I created a fourth folder:
and its name is a reminder that every so often it can be purged completely when I am not waiting for any orders to be delivered.
It took me all day, but I got my inbox to empty. I still have a gaggle of folders to go through with names like "Archive 2009" and "Rome Trip" and "History Schoolwork" -- not that I really have to delete things, since my email folders are searchable and I have an unlimited-space account. I could just move the whole file-tree into "02 Save- Infrequent." It's more so that I can comb through them to find out, once and for all, if anything in there really ought to go into "Deal With."
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So that's today's project. Once I've finished that, I'll actually "deal with" the things in "00 Deal With." Some of this "dealing" will involve printing things: turning email into Papers. And then I'll begin tackling the first of the two boxes on my schoolroom counter, boxes which have been collecting a slow drift of papers for the last few weeks, boxes of papers: one labeled "School Paper" and one labeled "Non-School Papers."
A few weeks ago, I was facing a weekend with Mark out of town, and I needed to clean out the guest room.
Our house has a tiny fourth bedroom up in the attic; at some point, one of the children will likely use it as sleeping quarters, and ostensibly it is a room for guests. For years it has hosted nothing but out-of-season and recently outgrown clothes waiting to be sorted. When guests come, we sometimes sort them; often we stuff the piles somewhere else, such as in Mark's shop, and then put them back later.
I anticipate guests soon, and I kept going up to the attic, opening the door, looking at the piles (there was literally no floor space), and closing the door again. I needed a kick in the pants.
So I got myself a copy of a book I had heard about some months before, Marie Kondo's The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. And it kicked me. Hard.
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This is not a book review. This is more a report card, on myself. You can find other reviews of the book in many places, including a recent discussion by an economist of why Kondo's method helps us combat certain irrational tendencies that make us hang on to stuff we don't need. It's less about organizing than it is about getting rid of stuff you don't use or love, and then storing what you have.
This is not the first time I've tried to discard belongings, but it's the first time I ever tried the strategy of discarding by category. Usually, I have "cleaned out" my home location by location. Like this:
PROBLEM: I need to put more books in this bookshelf and there's no room
SOLUTION ATTEMPT 1: Try to move some books to space on a a different bookshelf.
SOLUTION ATTEMPT 2: Get rid of just enough books to make room for the moved books.
I must have done this dozens of times since we moved into our house -- "cleaned out" by discarding just enough things in an overfull location to make room for the new things I wanted to put there. I probably managed to get rid of anywhere from three books to maybe one whole box of books at a time this way. For a while I tried to impose on myself a "one book in, one book out" rule, but I never was able to stick to it.
When I stopped discarding books by location, and instead did them by category -- all at once -- I boxed up nine "small" U-Haul boxes of books in the space of two weeks. And without any sense of regret about it. I found nine boxes' worth of books on my shelves that I did not want to keep. They had been hiding in plain sight all that time. Some of them too damaged to use, some of them duplicates, some of them no good, some of them having served their purpose long ago.
The undamaged ones are going on to a garage sale fundraiser this weekend, and may they find new life with someone else.
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The idea is to discard by category, if you have enough books that doing them all at once is impractical. I went through every shelf, bag, box, and bin in my house looking for "pleasure reading" books, both fiction and nonfiction, and piled them on the floor in our game room. The mountain of books was knee high: sci-fi, classics, popular science, poetry anthologies, mysteries, humor, everything that I read because I enjoyed the subject matter. And then I sat on the floor with a donation box to my left and a clear floor space to my right, and sorted.
The criterion is not "Did I enjoy this book?" It is not even really "Will I read this book in the future, or lend it to someone?"
The criterion, as I understood it (this is not exactly how Kondo puts it) is, "Will the sight of this book on the shelf make me feel happy?" Because, of course, that is where our books spend 99% of their time. That is most of what we "do" with books: surround ourselves with them. An individual book should make me happy to be in its presence when it is closed and resting on my shelf. If not -- if it only makes me happy while I am reading it -- then I might as well give it away, and borrow it someday if I wish to read it again. For we don't have to own a book to read it.
Once I understood that, it was not at all hard to discard books. And with all the general-knowledge, pleasure-reading volumes spread out before me, picking them up one at a time, I could easily tell the difference between the books that I met as one meets an old friend, and the books that I didn't.
I passed through other categories: reference books and textbooks; self-help books; children's picture books. I have accumulated a fairly large collection of theology volumes, and it was especially easy to distinguish the "keep" from the "get rid of" there; with theology either you read it once and you've gotten everything you are going to get out of it, or you read it once and you know you'll turn to it again and again.
I departed from Marie Kondo's method in one respect. She says to handle each item only once. But as I went through each category, many books were diverted into a sort of recycle stream to be considered again under a different criterion: Even if I did not desire to keep this book around for me -- did I want this book to be part of my homeschooling library, the set of books that I keep around precisely so there are plenty of different things for the children to read as part of their school days?
I mean, I have never been able to get into Jane Austen. I have picked up and put down Emma and Pride and Prejudice countless times. I am probably never going to read either. They do not spark joy sitting on the shelf (rather, when I see them I am reminded of my failure to finish them). At least not for my own sake.
But -- as part of a library of volumes that I want to be available in my home for the readers who live there and visit there -- I am happy to see them waiting for the right person to come along and pick them up. So they stayed.
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There is a lot more space in my shelves now. I will be moving on to the next category -- papers -- starting today, at the same time as I put the old school year to bed and begin buying materials for the new one. It is good timing, and it feels like a fresh start, just in time for summer.
At least two kinds of crackers... are set out in bowls, and sometimes a take-and-bake baguette is popped in the oven and sliced. Someone slices salami ... someone arranges 2 or 3 kinds of cheese... If we have leftover deli meats of other kinds, those go out as well. (An alternative to the sausage-and-cheese platter: lox and cream cheese on cocktail rye. Mm.) We keep a small stock of jars and cans of fancy olives and preserves and spreads and pâtés and things... and one or two of those goes on the table. We cut up peppers and celery and carrots and radishes, and put them out for dipping, either with bought hummus or with good olive oil, salt, and pepper.... We open wine or beer, and the kids may have juice boxes or soda if they have some. It takes maybe 20 minutes to put on the table and is not hard to clean up.
And it feels like Sunday.
[T]hank you so much for your recent "what we do about Sunday night dinner" post!!We live mere blocks from the in-laws, and our regular Sunday routine has been Mama-made brunch here after Mass, then over to the in-laws' house in the afternoon for playing-and-supper. As the in-laws are aging, they've decided to drop back to more like twice-a-month Sunday get-togethers (when everyone shows up, my MIL is cooking for 22 people!!).I totally understand, and actually sort of prefer to have our Sundays to ourselves, but we were definitely languishing in the but what about supper area. We don't have the means to go out every week, but--like yours--my husband wasn't interested in me cooking a whole 'nother meal (especially since we do a fairly full brunch mid-day). And leftovers or sandwiches just weren't special enough.Well, after your post, we've seen the light!!
Every Christmas, one of our kids' (girls: 8.5, 8.5, 7, 5, 3 months; boy: 2) favorite traditions is eating a "snacky supper" (read: you don't have to sit down, you can walk around, food is arranged in a buffet-type style on the table) while we decorate the tree on Christmas Eve.
And now!! We're doing it on Sundays!!
You're right--it strikes exactly the balance we were looking for between "special" and "easy". (I even put it out on paper plates because I've already run the dishwasher after brunch.) We've done cheese, crackers, fruit, deviled eggs, leftover tuna salad, ham chunks, chips-and-salsa, hot dog bites... it's awesome. Everyone loves it, it relieves the near-temptation to just go out, it's super-easy to clean up, and I can keep my eye out for crackers and such on sale at the store.
And one of the best things, to me, is that it's allowing us to establish our own Special Sunday Routine Treat that will already be in place when the inevitable happens and going-to-grandma's on Sunday is done with. It's flexible and quick enough that we can accommodate the occasional Sunday afternoon outing--a pool party, a quick trip to the museum to catch the closing-today exhibit--and still do our "regular" Sunday Snacky Supper.
So: thanks. It's a great idea, it works perfectly for us, and I'm really glad you mentioned it.
Anybody else try it?
Every May and November I try to write about the long-term maintenance of the significant weight loss I achieved in 2008.
(Care about numbers? I am 4'11" tall. From lifelong obesity, having had an all-time nonpregnant high of 160 lbs, I went in 6 months from 148 lbs to 108 lbs. After my subsequent pregnancy, I ended up at 113 and felt better there then I had at 108, so stayed. Since then I have had an additional pregnancy.)
Longtime readers will remember that while that was going on, I blogged about almost nothing else, to the point that, for example, wildly popular paleo websites linked to me and called me a "weight loss blogger." I probably overdid it, but I can't be too sorry because the hyper-focus probably helped.
May is disappearing fast, so here I am with my update.
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My youngest is now nearly seventeen months old, still happily breastfeeding, and generally keeping us on our toes. I am feeling really good overall. I haven't run a 5K in a while, and have been swimming more often than running, mostly because swimming feels better and is easier to convince myself to do; but I am getting to the gym at a fairly reliable pace of twice per week.
However: I am really, really frustrated by the non-budging of my postpartum bathroom scale.
Is it just the difference of being four years older in this last pregnancy than I was in the pregnancy before that? Or is it from being four years farther removed from the felt experience of constant, successful self-denial in my 2008 weight loss, so that I forgot how to work hard? Or is it from having 25% more children vying for my limited attention than the last time around? Whatever: After my last pregnancy, the weight came off with very little effort, and fairly quickly. This time -- it appears to be happening, but verrrrrrrry sloooooowly.
Seventeen months postpartum, I am still 7-10 pounds above my prepregnancy weight, which (on my 4'11" frame) means I am still one full clothing size larger, which means that I have a bunch of clothes that I would really like to wear that I can't. The conflict: I am still, unnecessarily it would seem, living in the yoga pants that I bought at the beginning of pregnancy to bridge the gap until maternity clothes. Should I accept life in my current size, buy more clothes that fit me, and get rid of the ones that don't? Or should I keep on working at it, in the hope that little by little, enough flesh will slip away to allow me to wear my "real clothes" again?
I don't look bad. I don't feel bad. But I don't want to buy a whole new wardrobe either. It feels like giving up.
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One factor is certainly attention. The self-denial that I have found necessary to drop pounds -- mostly, from sticking to small portions -- is not difficult to endure; I am quite used to it by now. But the body has tricks to play. As odd as it may sound, I seem simply to forget my intentions, forget to account for food I have already eaten, forget that I meant not to snack or to have seconds, forget to arrange plates full of vegetables and to limit rice and tortillas and bread. To combat this, I should make a meal plan for each day, but it is hard to find the time; family life is so distracting right now. The only time I have ever had rapid success is when I prioritized eating self-control over all other family priorities, and I am unwilling to do that now.
The best I've been able to do at this attention level, it seems, is to work on it when I remember, and hope that my efforts pay off over time.
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I am trying a new experiment on myself right now, though, to shake things up a bit: what is called Intermittent Fasting, of the "14/10" variety. That is, I'm spending at least 14 hours of every day (including my sleeping hours, of course) not eating at all.
Intermittent fasting (IF) is popular in a few circles right now -- paleo and bodybuilding, for instance. I guess the idea is that dividing your day into a (longer) period of fasting and a (shorter) period of eating is somehow better for your blood sugar, even if you eat the same stuff in your eating window as you would have if you had spread it out over the whole day. As a practical matter, it presents a clear-cut rule that should reduce one's exposure to snacking opportunities, simply because there is a biggish block of the day where you have pre-decided that you won't eat. Besides the daily block of fasting that I am trying out, another flavor of IF is to periodically, perhaps twice a week, go 24 hours without eating (generally skipping dinner-lunch-breakfast so that every calendar day does have some food), and a third is to follow a more-frequent modified fast (very-low-calorie days intermixed with high-calorie days).
I started by attempting 16-hour fasts, but very quickly switched to 14-hour ones -- which some say is more appropriate for women, anyway. A typical fasting period would begin sometime after dinner -- so, perhaps I would have my last bite around 8:30 p.m. -- and last until a late breakfast, around 10:30. But sometimes, because I chose to have a snack around 10 p.m., I would not eat until lunchtime.
As a lifelong believer in light but early breakfasts, I expected to have trouble getting used to the long delay before the break-fast. Indeed, I find I am pretty hungry when that first mealtime rolls around. But it isn't as bad as I feared. I typically drink coffee all morning anyway, and that hasn't changed, so my routine isn't all that different. It is the kind of thing that would happen to me sometimes when, interrupted by children or intent on the preparation for the day, I would forget to eat until later. That never caused me any great distress, other than a little light-headedness, and I find that doing it on purpose is no worse and often easier because of having planned for it.
I find that each day naturally seems to fall into one of two patterns, depending on whether I can set my own meal schedule or whether I am around other people who are eating normally.
If I set my own schedule, I eat a late breakfast at, say, 10:30 a.m.; a somewhat late lunch at about 2 p.m.; and dinner at the normal time or a bit later. Because the meals are closer together, it is not terribly hard to keep to a fairly light lunch and dinner (though I am still getting used to not inhaling a huge breakfast after the long fast).
If I am around other people, it works better to break the fast with a small snack as soon as the 14 hours are up. Then it's a normal lunch and a normal dinner at the normal times.
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Trying this out was a bit of a philosophical departure for me. Most of the time I try to focus on dietary disciplines that seem as if I'd like to adopt them as lifelong, or at least long-term, habits. And before I tried this, I definitely thought it would be something for the short-term. I just like breakfast too much to take it seriously! I justified the uncharacteristic "crash diet" approach by thinking that I just needed to shake things up for a few weeks, maybe break through the plateau that's dogging me.
But now that I have tried it for several weeks, I find it ... appealing, actually. I think I will keep going for a while and see what happens if I tweak it a bit here and there.
Some reasons why I like it:
I think I will keep this up for six weeks or so, and then maybe -- if I can sustain the effort required to pay attention -- start watching the total calorie count as well. I am not ready to give up on those non-yoga pants yet.
As part of my efforts to serve a first course at the start of our family dinners (see here, here, and here), I've been hunting for a vegetable soup that the kids will happily eat. If only I could find one, I thought, I could make gallons of it, freeze it, and have it ready to go as the first course for any dinner. Or if it was well-liked enough, we could have it several days in one week.
Ideally, it wouldn't contain potatoes (which don't freeze well at all), and it would be meatless. Even better if it would go together quickly and contain plenty of different vegetables.
One possibility is minestrone, which most of the family loves, but we think of minestrone as a main dish; we pile Parmesan cheese on it and have it with a salad and crispy garlic pita chips. So it can't be a first course without ruining the tradition, unless it's leftovers.
Another is tomato soup, but again, this soup already occupies a niche in our diet: 90% of the time, it is an equal partner with grilled cheese sandwiches.
Carrot soup and butternut squash soup are classic ideas, but I think of them as autumn recipes, and don't much want them in the spring and summer.
Last week I started trying new recipes. My first soup attempt was an enormous pot of Alton Brown's garden vegetable soup, with the potatoes removed and extra carrots and corn added. I don't know what happened to it, but everyone agreed it had a funny "soapy" taste. Too many leeks? Insufficiently rinsed pot? I don't know. I don't think I'll try to make it again.
Today I tried to adapt a sopa de lima recipe to make a vegetarian version. I started with a corn-cilantro stock that appears in a tortilla soup recipe in Mollie Katzen's Vegetable Heaven, and then I followed an old cookbook recipe for chicken-tortilla-lime soup, replacing the chicken with extra vegetables. I borrowed a page from the Colombian soup sancocho de gallo and saved time by cutting the corncobs for the stock into manageably small chunks that could be transferred to the soup; this saved the work of cutting the fresh corn off the cob to put kernels in the soup and the cobs in the stock.
It was good, bright with citrus and not too spicy for the kids. If I wanted it to be a main-dish meal, I'd introduce a can or two of cooked black beans or pinto beans, and pass a big bowl of chips.
Here you go:
Vegetarian Tortilla-Lime Soup
For the stock:
- 3 ears fresh corn, each cob shucked and cut crosswise into five or six chunks (still on the cob)
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro, left whole
- 2 bunches green onion (about 16 green onions), cut into 1-inch lengths
- 8 cups water
- 2 tsp salt, or to taste
For the soup:
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 1/4 cup (or more!) minced garlic
- Finely minced jalapeño chile to taste -- I used a couple of teaspoons, no seeds
- 1-2 zucchini, cut into quarter-rounds
- 1-2 carrots, peeled and diced
- 1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes with juice
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
- 6-8 Tbsp fresh lime juice (2-3 limes)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Tortilla chips for a garnish
- Paper-thin lime slices, cut into quarters, for garnish
Combine stock ingredients in a large pot, bring to a boil, and simmer about 30 minutes while preparing the rest of the ingredients. Strain the stock, reserving the corncob chunks (most or all of the onions and cilantro can be discarded).
In a soup pot, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and jalapeño and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil; reduce to medium-low. Add the carrots, tomatoes and zucchini, cover, and cook until the vegetables are tender, 20 minutes or so.
A few minutes before serving, add the cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper, and the reserved corncob chunks. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Ladle into bowls (including at least one corncob chunk in each), top with lime slices and a few tortilla chips, and serve.
Have we quite finished all of our work yet this year, the children and I? Not quite. I had planned to do a bit more.
Once upon a time, we used to continue "doing school" in each subject until we'd finished the book, so to speak (except for math, which is never done... there is always another book around the corner, and we just keep chugging along... a little slower in the summer, perhaps).
This meant that we emerged gradually into the summer sunlight. History book complete! A few days later, perhaps the science curriculum would run out. And so on until there was nothing left but the math books, so that the children would be rewarded for "I'm bored" all summer with "Well then! Go do a math lesson. It'll keep you sharp!"
This year it isn't going to work that way. We took a look at the calendar. In a few weeks there's a week blocked off on the calendar for a family vacation. Then a week that isn't blocked off -- but H's family will already be gone on their family vacation -- and then a week where the boys are at scout camp -- and then soon thereafter we'll go to Ohio to visit family -- and then the boys will stay a little longer with Grandma and Grandpa -- and then the boys go on the high-adventure Scout trip... and then we're going on a bike/camping trip with friends...
They've all managed to defeat me by scheduling their summer to be full of valuable experiences that will prevent them from checking educational boxes!
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What this means is that, like it or not, I have about three full weeks left in the school year (one of which has Memorial Day in it).
It is time for me to stop asking "how much longer will it take for me to finish all the stuff we are supposed to finish?"
It is time for me to ask instead "what is the best use of our time in the last three weeks of the school year?"
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Mark laughed and said, "You know, I've heard that once or twice there was a public-school teacher who had to stop for the year before she finished the last chapter of the book."
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So, for example. I've got five sessions left to work with the two high school boys on geometry. But if I didn't have a time limit, I'd have 17 more sessions (why am I so behind? Because last school year H and I had three babies between us). However, by happy coincidence, there are exactly six lessons left in the book, and the second-to-last is much more important than the last one (it lays the foundations for understanding calculus by introducing the notion of building up volume formulas by constructing solids from a large number of very thin "slices"), so I'm going to spend one day on each of these lessons. I won't get to do two chapter reviews, I won't get to do two chapter tests, I won't get to do a final exam, and I won't get to spend two sessions per lesson. Oh well! It will have to do.
I had five weeks left in Modern World History, with the last week to be spent on a capstone timeline analysis. The capstone week is probably the most important and so I'll keep it as the last week. But I'll need to remove half the material from the rest of the course to reduce four weeks' assignments down to two. Since they're trying to finish a course-long research paper at the same time, I'll probably do that by reducing the writing workload to almost nothing.
I'm going to totally finish 9th-grade Latin though! Woo hoo! Two weeks of lessons left in the book!
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The elementary schoolkids' work will just stop at one point. My 9th-grader was put in charge of his own schedule for a few other subjects -- Algebra II and Evolutionary Biology -- and I'm going to let him live with the consequences of being just a little bit behind on those, meaning that he might need to schedule some time finishing up the books over the summer during the weeks he isn't at Scout camp. I've checked -- it isn't an onerous amount, and doing a little bit in the mornings here and there should be enough. I am not in charge of that, though. He is.
Which means that... after three more weeks of work...
... I'll be done.
And my last schoolday of the year will be a Thursday at H's house where we have dinner there and the elementary school kids will recite the poetry they memorized all year long.
I just realized I will have a perfect use for the bottle of decent bubbly that Mark brought me at Valentine's Day. I think I will struggle on until then, with the pop of that cork awaiting me in the light of summer.
On Mother's Day I received an email from my father-in-law and mother-in-law. It was addressed both to me and to my sister-in-law, who is married with one young child.
It went like this:
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[My name], [SIL's name]We just wanted to take a moment to express our warmest thanks to both of you for being such wonderful mothers. Our grandchildren are truly blessed to have you for their Mom.A big part of being a good Mom is showing your children what real love between a husband and wife, and within a family should be. We see that with both of you, and are forever grateful for the loving example you set.You know that we love you with all our hearts and always will. Thank you for being you, the wonderful women, wives and Moms that you are. We are so proud of both of you, and live with the joy of having you as a part of our wonderful family.Best wishes for the happiest of Mother's Day.With all our love and blessings,Mom & Dad
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I paused and read this email over and over before I was ready to sit down and compose a reply thanking my in-laws for such kind words and for being the role models that they are to me.
In one sense, a message like this is completely unremarkable. It is the kind of thing that they do and say for the people around them all the time. The two attributes that I admire most in Mark's parents, the ones I aspire to: they are kind, and they are reasonable. Everybody, I think, should try to be kind and reasonable. On top of that, they are people of faith. This is less a thing that people can "try" to be or can "aspire" to be; it's the sort of thing that comes to you as a gift. It is a thing to be thankful for and to appreciate. I do appreciate it.
Perhaps it is a small thing, for a kind and reasonable and faithful person, to send such a message.
It is not always a small thing to receive one.
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Jen Fitz wrote an almost-entirely-unrelated blog post that I saw yesterday right before leaving for church, when I was feeling down about all the things on my list that I was not going to be able to get done. The post was aimed at pastors who felt they were preaching into a black hole. The line in her post that lifted my heart up was this:
"Your stalwart troops aren’t uncrushable, like Wile E. Coyote. They need to hear the truth over and over again, because life in the world sucks the spirit dry."
I thought: She is right. I am not anxious today because there is something deeply and particularly wrong with me. I am anxious today because like everyone in the world, life in it sucks my spirit dry now and again. I need to hear the truth over and over, as a corrective to the false promises and threats that are taken in with the air we breathe. And my heart was lifted because I was about to leave the house to be immersed in truth for just a little while, and I knew that it would do me some good.
(The biggest falsehood our society tells is the utilitarian one: the idea that a person's worth is measured in production and consumption. I don't believe it anymore, but I fall for it sometimes still in small ways. "Success" and worth are not the same.)
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Here is something you may not know about me:
I have a relative who makes a point of telling me directly, when this relative gets a chance, that my children receive "horrible parenting."
Those are not scare quotes. The words appeared in writing to me. I still have the communication in my possession and can double-check it. Pointing to a particular disapproved-of behavior the last time we were invited to visit: "Just another incident of horrible parenting."
There was more. There has always been more.
I grew up hearing -- not from everyone in my life, but by one significant person -- that I had no common sense.
I grew up hearing that I was heartless and that my actions proved that I didn't care about other people.
I grew up hearing, repeatedly, that I was full of shit.
This is not the only thing I heard, of course. I got excellent grades. I won awards. I was offered scholarships. Those earned me praise. They were the only way I knew for a long time how to measure the worth of a person.
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As I grew into adulthood and watched other people raising their children, married and began to have my own children, I came to understand how very unhinged from reality all those words were; how unhinged they still are.
They must come from a place that is small and pinched, a place I cannot understand -- a place I thank God I cannot understand, at least as long as it is not my vocation to provide care for someone who lives in such a prison.
I understand that these are not words that have ever been meant to mean anything. There is not a reason behind them. They are meant to go out into the world to try to make a different reality, because people loving each other and being kind and reasonable somehow offends.
Some people, they say, do not really want to be happy.
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So I know that there isn't any there there. I do.
And yet. It is good to be washed in the words of kind and reasonable people from time to time.
I respect and love them -- not because they say nice things to me that I want to hear, but because I see their lives of good work and reason. I see that they are honest in everything they do. I have reason to believe people of integrity. I have reason not to believe people whom I know not to be people of integrity.
But none of this would be worth anything if people of integrity minded their own business and kept to themselves. To set the record straight, the kind and reasonable people have to testify.
All this is to say:
Tell the people you love that you love them, and tell them that you see and know and appreciate the fruits of their work, the fruits of their love. Tell the people you meet in passing that you see their good work and appreciate it. Tell people they make a difference, even a small difference, in a good way.
It matters. It matters so much.
You might think it's obvious (especially if you are kind and reasonable and you expect to see kindness and reasonableness everywhere).
It isn't always obvious.
You might think, "Other people surely tell them."
Maybe. But not everyone finds it easy to speak kind words, because sometimes kind words are punished.
If you have the gift of being kind and reasonable, spread it. Tell people. Say, "Good job. You are loved. You are worthy."
Go out on a limb.
Everything we say or do to someone else bears fruit, and we do not know the impact we have.
Here are two quotes from Elisabeth Leseur, whom I've written about before:
[N]eutrality is impossible where it is a question of doing the good... Every person is an incalculable force, bearing within her a little of the future. Until the end of time our words and actions will bear fruit, either good or bad; nothing that we have once given of ourselves is lost, but our words and works, passed on from one to another, will continue to do good or harm to later generations.
This is why life is something sacred, and we ought not to pass through it thoughtlessly but to understand its value and use it so that when we have finished our lives we will have increased the amount of good in the world.
The first thing to do is to try to become our best selves... And God will do the rest. Our effort, our sacrifices, our actions, even the most hidden, will not be lost.
This is my absolute conviction: everything has a long-lasting and profound repercussion.
This thought leaves little room for discouragement, but it does not permit laziness.... I am unable to despair of humanity.
Despite all efforts by the Opposition, neither am I.