Thursday, February 28, 2013

Two Half-Finished Projects + One Child-Free Hour + One Cup Of Coffee = ???

I have a retro poster in my kitchen with a cheerful 50s housewife saying “Drink coffee!  Do stupid things faster with more energy!”  Today I decided to test that strategy.  I had one child-free hour with Eden at preschool and Isaac napping, two half-finished projects, and one leftover cup of coffee from this morning.  I had a little extra motivation because it’s the last day of February (yay!) and I’m ready to wrap up my February challenge

Half-finished decluttering project before: 
This is "Isaac's room."

 Where's the floor?  
I realize this room probably looks farther from half-finished to most people, but trust me, it was much worse.  This room has become the dumping grounds for anything I need to sort or that I haven’t chosen a place for yet.  I’m tired of trying to keep the kids out of it and having a room that we never use, so I decided to get this room in full use.  I’ve gotten rid of enough stuff that this is now possible.  I haven’t finished sorting, but I’m going to put unfinished boxes in the basement. 

Half-finished creative project before:

This is a painting that I started years ago and abandoned.  It was originally going to go in the bathroom  but I’m going to change course and finish it for the kitchen.  I’m using this tutorial for a copycat World Market print.  Sometimes trying too hard to be original is overwhelming and takes the fun out of playing with art for me.  And really, who is original anyway?  Aren’t we all using the same materials and working with the same themes and inspired by other artists who are doing similar things?  More on this in a later post…the simple version is sometimes it’s fun to be a copycat.   

So, one hour.  

It was amazing.  Time stood still and I totally finished both projects with time to spare. 

Ha.  Here’s the after one hour snapshots.  Keepin it real: 

I got on a roll with the room and spent most of my time there while I was waiting for my branches to dry.  (And I should've included a photo of the pile of boxes that I basically just moved outside the room into the hall, waiting to go down to the basement or be stored.) 

Painting tip:  Don’t pour all of your paint at the beginning, because you have to wait for the branches to dry before doing the swirly circles.  (And if you're painting the background, you'll have to wait for that to dry before doing the branches.  This is probably obvious to people who spend more time with a paintbrush in their hand than I do.)  And you have to wait for picking your daughter up from preschool.  And going to Home Depot for a rug for the room project.  Surprisingly, even after all that time the paint was still usable after stirring it a little bit. 

And here’s the real afters:  after one trip to Home Depot, one more hour of kids watching tv, and one hour of Kasey installing things into our crazy brick and lath and plaster and paneling walls. 

"Measure Me" growth chart
made by Grandma Fran on the far wall,
finally hung permanently!

The rug is a cheap indoor/outdoor one from Home Depot,
and warms up the floor nicely.
I’m so excited for the kids to have a space to spread out trains and blocks and someday, legos (when I’m brave enough to get Kasey’s old ones out) without having to worry about people stepping on them because it’s a throughway.  It’s finally looking like Isaac’s future room, rather than a storage space. 

It’s not completely dry yet and so not quite finished (needs to be put in frame and hung above the stove), but I’m happy with how it turned out.  I was trying to figure out if it felt finished and had enough circles on it, and then it was decided for me when it was dinnertime and I had to clean it up, since my art studio was the kitchen floor. 

So, the moral of the story is that everything takes longer than you think it’s going to, especially with kids.  But really, using that one hour gave me the momentum to finish a couple things, and you gotta start somewhere.  And coffee is always, always the answer.

Tomorrow brings March, and I’m relieved.  The average high temperature in March in Cleveland is 47, which is 9 degrees warmer than February’s average.  Plus March just sounds springy.  I’m not “done” with my decluttering and creative projects and rooting out consumerism from myself and my home, but I’ve made good progress and it’s given me something to focus on in my least favorite month of the year.  Here’s to daffodils and muddy boots, fresh air inside and more time outside!  

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How To Store Your Kid's Artwork

One of the things that creates towering piles in our home is Eden’s prolific artwork.  She loves to color, paint, make cards, stamp, and write.  Each piece is a treasure to her and she loves to have them displayed around the house.  Her latest art gallery is her room, where she scotch tapes her pictures to the walls.  

peanut butter and honey and jelly sandwich in the middle
flanked by flowers and sea

I’m pretty good about rotating the art displayed on the fridge, but I have a hard time throwing away her artwork.  I usually let it pile up for about 3 months, and then sort through it.  Once the pile is 2 feet tall, I have an easier time choosing my favorites and her favorites and letting the rest go.  I like to keep the pieces that she did completely herself and were not directed by me or anyone else.  This allows me to easily throw away the thousands upon thousands of “craft projects” that we do at home and that she brings home from Sunday School, preschool, the library, and on and on and on. 

But I’ve regretted getting rid of some in the past.  For a long time I kept her first coloring book from the days when Elmo was her favorite friend, even though it showcased more of Kasey and my coloring abilities than Eden’s.  But she had a habit of taking one color crayon and flipping through the entire book, coloring one or two tiny things on each page that color.  I thought that was adorable.  But as I looked through it when she was 3, it was getting harder and harder for me to remember which coloring was hers and which was her parents’.  So I threw it away.  And regretted it the next time I sorted artwork. 

And then yesterday inspiration struck.  Eden had unpacked her backpack from preschool and spread her artwork all over the floor, and was excitedly telling me all about the pieces, what they were, how she created them, what she liked about them.  I thought to myself, “if only I could capture this excitement about her creations, her explanations of what these are.  I’ll never be able to remember when she’s 20 that this particular picture is a flamingo next to the flames of the rocketship he’s about to blast off on.” 

flamingo, flames, rocketship with person inside

And then I thought, VIDEO!!!  I’ll capture not only several pieces of artwork in one shot, but also her voice, her excitement, and her proud explanations.  

I found that her excitement and talkativeness is at its peak the first or second time she talks about her pieces.  I’m trying to learn to ask open-ended questions about her art (how? and why? and what? questions) and be descriptive instead of prescriptive (“I see you used a lot of red” instead of “it’s so beautiful!”).  All the smart people say that doing this results in a child retaining their sense of enjoyment in the process and creating for themselves rather than to please their audience (parents).  I’m not quite there yet, which is why you’ll hear me saying, “that’s so interesting!” in the video.  I’m trying to avoid being prescriptive but I come off as bland and unimpressed.  Don’t worry, I’m practicing.

I’m excited to have found a way to save more of her artwork without having to make more physical space for it in our house.  I think it’ll be so fun to look back on these videos later and see her growing along with her artistry. 

How about you?  What tips do you have for storing kid’s artwork?  

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Great-Grandma Estella

We have this plastic play food, the kind with a microscopic hole designed for mysterious unknown purposes.  This tiny hole is just large enough to let in spit and bathwater but not big enough to let it out.  So these play oranges and tin cans soon become disgusting petri dishes.  I’ve gotten rid of some of them, but I’m having a hard time letting go of the rest.  You see, they were given to Eden from her Great-Grandma Estella (Kasey’s Grandma), who has since passed away.  Well, not really even given from her, more like purchased by me on her behalf with her money.

Still life

But these impersonal, poor-quality toys have come to represent things that I want my kids to know and not forget:  the thoughtful and generous spirit of their Great-Grandma Estella.

Sometimes it’s hard to let go of things because of the immaterial meaning they bring to us.  And that’s okay, I think.  That’s a pretty good reason to keep something, as reasons go.  But in the case of the play food, it really needs to go.  So in the spirit of making the meaning permanent even if the toys aren’t, I’m going to write a little bit about Great-Grandma Estella for my kids to remember.

Dear kiddos,

Your Great-Grandma Estella loved kids.  Up through the last of her years, she was loving on kids, feeding them, and caring for them in her home, which was full of toys for kids of all ages.  Grandkids, nieces and nephews, and great-grandkids were always welcome.  She never said no to taking care of kids.  She loved holding you, Eden, when you were a baby.  Her fridge was always covered with the latest photos of the youngest generation in her family tree. 

Christmas 2008
She was a child of the depression.  She lived through days of scarcity and scraping-every-last-bit-of-butter-from-the-wrapper (and then save the wrapper because you could use it later to wrap something in).  She carried her saving mentality throughout her life, and was generous with her money and time.  She gave regularly to over a dozen charities and missionaries.  When a grandchild got married, she sent birthday money to the new spouse.  My check was something like $37.50, as the budgeted birthday money was divided by a bigger and bigger pool of relatives.    

She was sharp.  Toward the end of her life her hearing started to fade, but not if someone was talking about her in the other room.  I remember being part of a quiet sidebar conversation in the kitchen while she sat at the dining room table at the Parmelee’s house in Colorado.  She must have heard a snippet, because she made some remark about someone being a smartass that ended our conversation pretty quickly. 

She was faithful.  She believed strongly in God, went to church faithfully, listened to Christian radio constantly, and studied her Bible on her own.  Some of her letters to Kasey are as theologically rich as any sermon.

I knew her for just a fraction of her life, but she made a lasting impression.  She was a matriarch, caring for her family both near and far in many ways until the end of her earthly life.  She was a strong, independent, active woman who never stopped giving, living, and loving.  She accepted her family members as the messed up people that we all are, and never gave up on any of them. 

I wish that you would have had more years to know her and be loved by her.  I’m passing these memories along to you so that as you grow, you can see the legacy she left in the lives of her family, including you! 


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Creating Negative Space

We devoted many hours this weekend to decluttering, organizing, and getting rid of stuff, all for the sake of bringing more peace to our home, more borders between our stuff and ourselves.  What this looked like practically was me gathering random tiny pieces of things (why are kid toys in so many small pieces??) from one room and putting them in a basket, and then wandering around the rest of the house putting those @#!*% tiny things back where they belong.  Some of these random small things ended up in a trash bag, which I made the mistake of putting down at one point.  Then a certain 4-year-old discovered the bag of “treasures” and some of the small things came back into circulation.  After that I hid the trash/treasure bag. 

Only while cleaning up did I realize how much stuff had taken over some areas of our home.  Every nook and cranny was filled to overflowing.  It’s not like I set out to live a borderline hoarders existence; it just somehow happened in the midst of moving, sorting, rearranging rooms, remodeling, and settling into our new home.  Apparently if you don’t keep a close eye on it, stuff develops a life of its own and takes over. 

We’re not done yet, but as I walk around some areas of our house now I literally feel like I can breathe better.  Like creating negative space on our shelves has infused those areas with a little extra oxygen. 

the former leaning tower of randomness  (before)
I can function pretty well in a chaotic environment (you should have seen my college dorm room), but I’m learning that I’d prefer not to.  I’d also prefer to have our kids learn to take care of their things, which they can’t do if they have too much stuff. 

Eden's room after  (before)
There’s some sort of tipping point where the kids’ toys become equivalent to carpet in their eyes.  Once the number of puzzle pieces and play food and books and matchbox cars and blocks spread out all over the house reaches this point, my children cease to be creative artists and engineers and learners and instead become bulldozers and destroyers and fighters.  They need negative space too, in order to engage with their toys in constructive ways. 

I’m hoping that a little extra space on our shelves and in our rooms leads to time leftover for other things – that placing a border around our stuff creates a line that says, “you can take this much of my time and attention, my care and my energy, but no more.”  And I’m looking forward to seeing what new non-stuff can fill in those extra spaces.  

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Hiding From My Own Flesh

I went to bible college in downtown Chicago.  We lived less than a mile from the Gold Coast district where the wealthy lived in their lakefront skyscrapers, and less than a mile from the Cabrini Green projects where the poor lived until their homes were torn down in one giant attempt at a do-over.  As part of freshman orientation, we learned how to cope with big-city living, since most of us had no experience with it.  We learned to never travel alone at night, to take gentlemen with us if we were going near the projects, to carry pepper spray and shove an assailant’s nose into their brain in such-and-such a way, and to never give money to homeless people because they’ll just buy drugs or alcohol with it. 

For the most part, we followed the advice.  A well-meaning friend of mine once bought diapers for a homeless man who said he needed them for his daughter.  The man persuaded my friend to give him the receipt as well, in case the diapers were the wrong size.  My friend did, and then watched as the man headed right back into the store to return the diapers for cash.  We reminded ourselves of these stories when we felt uncomfortable twinges after saying “no” to yet another request from a homeless person. 

We were being wise.  We were not going to participate in the cycle of addiction that kept them on the streets asking for money.  We were hoping they’d find meaningful, long-term solutions to their underlying issues and eventually be living functional lives off the streets.  Some of us were working in ministries that were trying to accomplish these long-term goals – it wasn’t all just wishful thinking and good intentions. 

But still…if this was the wise thing to do, why those uncomfortable twinges? 

I’ve been reading about fasting in this Lenten season, and came across this definition of the kind of fast that is pleasing to God:

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
                to loose the bonds of wickedness,
                to undo the straps of the yoke,
      to let the oppressed go free,
                and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
                and bring the homeless poor into your house;
      when you see the naked, to cover him,
                and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”  (Isaiah 58)

Did you catch the part about determining from a glance whether or not the hungry person is hungry because he didn’t try hard enough to get a job?  And the part about ensuring that the homeless poor are not addicted to anything before helping them?  And that last bit about making sure that you have plenty of extra before giving anything to the poor? 

This fasting stuff is extreme.  Share your bread.  Bring the homeless into your house.  Give the naked the shirt off your back if it’s all you have and expose yourself to nakedness.

I don’t see much here about being “wise” when giving to the poor.  In fact, the degree to which we are being asked to give sounds foolish – really, put myself in a position of needing something because I gave my last one away?  That’s reckless. 

Reckless giving makes sense in God’s economy.    

I think that’s what those uncomfortable twinges were about, back on the streets of Chicago.  Here stood another human being, asking me for money, for food, for help, and I withheld.  I hid from my own flesh.  Sure, maybe he was going to use that money for booze and spend the rest of the night drunk in an alley.  Maybe he needed that drink to warm him up, to numb himself from thinking about the family he lost, to forget about the reality of his life.  Who am I to judge if that’s why he wanted money?  And maybe he was going to use that money for food and went to sleep hungry because of me.  What then?  Reckless giving. 

It’s my job to give.  Not because I’m some great human being but because I’m one human being and the hungry person I’m talking to is another human being.  We’re all bare flesh underneath.  We’re here on this earth to love each other and learn from each other, God help us.  And love doesn’t come out with judgments blazing, conditions stated, and the carrot held just out of reach.  Love just gives, every time.      

Today I met David, a homeless man about 40ish with clear blue eyes and a direct gaze.  Yes, he knows about the Haven of Rest but he avoids that area of Akron because it’s too dangerous.  He has his own way – he has a tent, although he’d like a better one.  There’s a lady that sometimes lets him sleep in her garage.  Once a week he gets a room at a motel so he can get cleaned up and watch the news, because he likes to see what’s going on, who shot who.  He needs batteries and hand warmers. 

He appreciates the food and money I give him.  He says God bless you.  I say it’s the least I could do and I’ll pray for you.  He says I love God and Jesus is my best friend.  I can’t tell if he means it or if he’s cutting off what he perceives as yet another attempt to convert him.  I instantly wish I hadn’t told him I would pray for him and I want to tell him that he doesn’t have to love God for my sake, I'm not interested in converting him.  Don’t worry, David. 

I get back in my warm van to drive to my warm house with my trunk full of groceries and I cry for David and pray that someone who’s in a position to do so will give him a chance, give him a job if that’s what he wants.  I thank God for the lady who lets him sleep in her garage.  I pray that his family is alive, hasn’t forgotten him, will reach out to him. 

I feel a little broken, like a little more of my heart-flesh is exposed.  I hope that David feels a little cared for.  He let me into his world today, gave me a glimpse of what his life is like, gave me gratitude and warmth.   

Thursday, February 14, 2013

You Is Kind, You Is Smart, You Is Important

In The Help, the character Aibileen cares for Mae Mobley with a generosity and compassion that is astonishing given the way she is treated by Mae’s mother and white society at large.  As part of their regular routine, Aibileen brings Mae Mobley into her lap and says to her, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.”  She speaks these identities to the little girl, imprinting them deep inside her spirit before Mae knows better than to question them.

I think sometimes we worry that in affirming our children, we are somehow puffing them up to think too much of themselves, or somehow putting down someone else.  Eden is at the age where she is discovering the dreaded suffix “-est,” wanting to be the fastest and wondering who is the prettiest.  If I tell her how wonderful she is, won’t she continue in this obsession and put herself at the top of every list? 

I don’t think so.  Granted, this parenting thing is one big experiment and I’m no expert.  But, it makes sense to me that what is poured into a child comes out later in life, for good and for bad.  Someone smart (don’t remember where I read it and can’t find it) said that the “you” messages of childhood become the “I” messages of adulthood.  If I tell my child through words and actions that she is not good enough, she will feel not good enough as an adult.  If I tell my child through my words and actions that she is good, brave, kind, and beautiful, she will feel those things and hopefully act them out as an adult. 

So, for Valentine’s Day I wanted to make something that would remind me to affirm Eden and remind her who she is and what I believe about her.  I loved this idea I saw on pinterest, but I wanted to tweak the message.  It may just be semantics, but I didn’t want a “because” after the phrase “I love you.”  A period seemed more fitting—more unconditional and unending. 

I started with a thrifted picture frame and painted it red because that’s Eden’s favorite color.  I used scrapbook paper with rainbows (also a favorite) for the background and stencils and a red sharpie for the lettering. 

Then I cut strips out of an old tie-dye shirt and folded and hot glued it into a flower shape.  Hot gluing a button into the center made it look more finished, and then I glued them onto the frame.  (I have a love/hate relationship with hot glue guns.  I love them because they make anything stick to anything.  I hate them because I burn myself every. single. time. I use it.)

Now I can write with a dry erase marker all the qualities I see in Eden, all the things I want her to know she is and all the things she will give to others.      

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Little Bit Of Mardi Gras In My Life

Happy Shrove Tuesday!  Pancake Tuesday!  Mardi Gras!  Fat Tuesday! 

A little wikepediaing and I learned that the word “shrove” is the past tense form of the verb “shrive,” which means to confess, do penance, and receive absolution.  It seems like today should be called Shrove Eve, since tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, is when the traditional period of fasting begins.  Today is for eating rich foods, feasting, and celebrating.  The kids and I are going to a party at church, complete with face painting and pancakes. 

It seems fitting to have seasons of fasting and seasons of feasting.  It mirrors the seasons of planting and harvesting, waiting and abundance.  We tend to be forgetful and sometimes our perspective comes only in contrast…we are so used to an abundance of food that we forget to be grateful for it.  We are so used to warm homes and clean water that we take it for granted, and on and on and on. 

In America, our cycle tends to get stuck on “feasting.”  But periods of doing without can bring a renewed perspective of gratitude and compassion for those whose cycles are stuck perpetually on “fasting.” 

I love having breakfast for dinner, so I’m excited for tonight.  And while I can’t say I’m “excited” for the Lenten season, I hope it brings deepened gratitude, compassion, and perspective.  “A little bit of Mardi Gras in my life” might be a good slogan after all. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Creativity as an Antidote to Consumerism

If my goal is to get rid of stuff, why would I spend time creating new stuff?  (Speaking of stuff, The Story Of Stuff is a great short film to watch on the process of consumption in America.)

I’m realizing as I reorient myself to my stuff that this is not just about making sure my drawers don’t overflow and my surfaces are clear of clutter.  Why do I have things that I don’t find useful and beautiful in the first place?  Why do other things that I do find beautiful and useful sit forgotten, dusty, or never quite finished?

I will never be able to avoid owning a lot of stuff.  Compared to the rest of the world, even if I am a minimalist by American standards, I will own a shitload more than I need and than the majority of the world’s population owns.  This is unsettling to me, but I think the more I am able to accept it and be extremely choosy about the amount and quality of things I do own, the more time I will have for things that matter. 

I want to value the right stuff in the right way.  Or, I want to own and use stuff in a way that reflects my values. 

I value creativity.  One of the hallmarks of being human is being able to create…stories, melodies, perspectives, ideas.  Kids do this naturally and are beautifully unrestrained.  Adults adopt a narrow definition of creativity and believe that only a unique few who are remarkably original and make a living at it are truly creative. So we bend over backwards to qualify our creations… “I’m not a real writer, I just…”.  But when we silence the critical voices in our heads, we are capable of losing ourselves in creating just like a child.

Isaac can sit at the table with playdough and turn it into snakes, towers, water, cookies, and anything else for an hour.  Eden narrates her actions into a story as she cuts with scissors and paper, some kind of dual-layered creativity.  Creativity is their play and their job and makes up a large part of their day.  When they are engaged in creating, they are completely content: no whining, no asking for something to do, no fighting, just creating. 

Isaac's boat, cut out of paper by himself

Being creative, making something with my own hands and mind and spirit, demands my full involvement.  There’s nothing left of me to be consumed by something else or consuming something else.  When I am creative, I feel content.  When I’m really engaged in the materials or the ideas, I’m not worrying about my to-do list or those dishes in the sink or that thing I said last night that was embarrassing or that skirt I really want to buy. 

Creativity might be an antidote to consumerism. 

As long as I don’t get distracted.  I have been known to browse pinterest while also browsing craigslist to find free or cheap materials to make what I’m seeing on pinterest.  But that’s really all kinds of consumption disguised as creativity.  At the end of those evenings I haven’t actually created anything, except for unrealistic expectations and dissatisfaction. 

This past weekend I was creative, and it felt good.  We hung curtains and made rooms more cozy and warm.  Kasey made and installed curtain tie-backs from thrifted forks

Bend fork into a C shape, using blow torch if necessary.  

Curtain tie-backs installed

I was going to cover the forks with wire and beads, but didn’t like the way it was looking.  So I detoured and created some wine charms instead. 

Cork wine charm

Wire and beads wine charm

Curtains, tie-backs, and wine charms are small things.  Their significance lies in the intent behind their creation – to make people who live in and visit our home feel more warmth, see more sunshine, feel cared for in knowing that they don’t have to read lip marks to figure out which wine glass is theirs.  Small things show great love.  Jesus did this too…remember his first miracle?  Surely it was healing someone who was painfully ill or feeding someone who was starving to death.  No, Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding.  At his mom’s urging, Jesus created about 120 gallons of wine.  Yes, gallons.  They really knew how to party.  Once clued in by his mom (I love the subtext regarding their relationship in this story), Jesus made sure that this wedding was known as the best party of the year rather than an embarrassment to the bride and groom.  A small creative act to show great love.

There was no perfect time last weekend to do our projects and they didn’t go perfectly.  Holes had to be redrilled and superglue was spilled on the table and my fingers.  I lamented to Kasey that it took us an hour and a half to install 3 curtain rods.  He pointed out that while that was true, we had also kept our kids alive and (relatively) happy, made dinner, found a box in the garage, and cleaned up a bedroom in those 90 minutes.  When parenting is your primary job, it’s hard (impossible?) to carve out perfect time to be perfectly creative. 

But I’m learning to be content through imperfect creativity.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

We Are Poor

A couple weeks ago, I was driving the kids home after spending the evening at a friend’s house.  Eden began commenting on all the cool toys her friends had at their house, which soon turned into, “Mama, why can’t we have a (insert toy that we don’t own)?” 

I tried all kinds of explainery – it’s more fun to play with new and different toys at a friend’s house; it wouldn’t be as much fun if we owned all of those toys too; you have cool and fun toys too. 

Then I started feeling angry.  It was January, for crying out loud.  We had barely finished opening the epic glut of new toys from Christmas, and it still wasn’t enough?

I gently reminded her of all her new toys.  I gracefully reminded her of the importance of having a grateful attitude.  I believe I actually said something like, “You should be grateful for the toys that you have.  If you don’t want them, we can give them away to kids who only have one or two toys.  I bet they’d be grateful to have more toys!!!”

Rather than feeling at all threatened, she calmly replied, “I am grateful.  But can I have just one more present?”    

Just one more…

She began asking about those kids who only have one or two toys.  She asked if they have toilets.  If they have beds.  If they have cars.  If they have keys.  If they have roads.  I tried to paint pictures for her of kids who live very differently than us, kids who sleep on a mat on the hard ground, kids who have sticks and rocks for toys, kids who hope to be able to go to sleep with a full belly and stay warm and dry at night but don’t always succeed. 

“But why, Mama?  Why don’t those kids have beds and cars and food and toys?” 

Why, indeed. 

There are a million ways to answer that question.  That night I chose to focus my answer on the reality that we don’t choose where and when we are born.  That she and I were born in a time and place that gives us easy access to a lot of things.  Things that make our lives easy but things that don’t necessarily make us happy.  And those kids living in poverty were born in a time and place that didn’t give them easy access to things.  That their lives are difficult in some ways but they might also be happy in some ways.  Because having things does not necessarily make people happy.

It’s easy to pity the poor, to regard them as pitiable.  To think of them only as bodies lacking…lacking food, clothing, warmth.  To forget the fullness of their humanity – that generosity, joy, creativity, love, even happiness can exist among the poor.  Applying our western equation of stuff = happiness can lead to this kind of conclusion. 

Mother Teresa describes the poor: “Our people, the poor people, are very great people.  They give us much more, much joy in accepting us and the little things that we do for them” (My Life For The Poor 51). 

Little things…yes, Mother Teresa did a great many little things.  And yet she says she received even more from those who, it would appear, had nothing to give. 

Who is really poor? 

“I find the poverty in the West much more difficult, much greater than the poverty I meet in India, in Ethiopia and in the Middle East, which is a material poverty…I picked up a woman from the streets of Calcutta, dying of hunger, [and] I had only to give her a plate of rice and I satisfied her hunger.  But the lonely and the unwanted and the homeless, the shut-ins who are spending their lives in such terrible loneliness, who are known by the number of their room and not by their name!  I think this is the greatest poverty that a human being cannot bear and accept and go through” (55). 

We in the West, in America, in Ohio, in Cuyahoga Falls, even in my neighborhood, are lonely, disconnected, indifferent…starving for meaningful relationships and unconditional acceptance and spiritual wholeness.  We feel our lack, and we fill it with stuff.  Just one more... 

Great wealth exists among the poor. 

Great poverty exists among the wealthy. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Useful and Beautiful Things

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” 
            -- William Morris, artist, arts and crafts designer

Morris’ quote is getting a lot of play these days, as those of us fattened on the consumerism of America try to slim down in painless ways.  I appreciate the simplicity of these two criteria:  is it useful?  is it beautiful?  

Kasey and I have had frequent conversations about the marriage of form (me) v. function (Kasey).  If it were up to him, our furniture would line the walls from corner to corner to optimize the space, of course.  If it were up to me, I’d rearrange the furniture whenever I felt like it to create a cozy nook here and flow there, of course.

We’ve managed to get fairly good at combining form and function, beauty and use in ways that we both like.  And then we each have our own spaces where our own style rules…hence his garage where stuff lines every square inch of the wall and hangs from the ceiling, and my van, which though not beautiful per say, feels very comfy and lived-in with its coffee cups and comfy blankets. 

Although establishing use and beauty are a good foundation for a healthy relationship with stuff, these criteria are not enough for me.  My train of thought goes something like this: 

“Is this bright red, sporty winter coat useful to me?  Well, not right now.  I bought it 13 years ago when I liked baggy things, so it’s about 2 sizes too big.  It might be useful if I ever went skiing again though, because I wouldn’t really want to wear my other winter coats for skiing.  And it has a zipper on the front pocket so I could attach my lift ticket to that.  So yeah, it would definitely be useful to me if I ever went skiing again.  The coat stays.” 

“Is this bright red, sporty winter coat beautiful to me?  Um, no.  It’s shockingly red and hurts my eyes and calls way too much attention to me.  It has the name of my college on it, and I’m not really ever in the mood to be a walking advertisement for anything, let alone a college that I have very mixed feelings about.  But I have been wanting to learn how to sew, so maybe I should keep it as a project…I could take it in so it fits better and embroider some cool logo thing on top of the name of my college.  I can make it beautiful.  The coat stays.”     

See how I did that?  I almost always manage to find some potential scenario in the future when the thing I’m staring at might possibly be useful.  And I am wildly optimistic about my ability to make things beautiful if I apply some mad sewing skills that I don’t possess. 

It sounds ridiculous when I write it down.  But behind the ridiculousness of keeping an ugly old coat for a potential and very unlikely skiing trip is fear and thriftiness and an aversion to asking for favors and a need to hold on to a time in my past I haven’t made peace with yet.  These are the things I’m hoping to investigate this month, as I sift through the mess, both literal and figurative, that crowds out the more important things in life. 

For now, I’ve added a third question to ask if I find myself wiggling around the first two criteria:  Would someone else find it more useful and more beautiful than I do? 

The coat goes.  

Monday, February 4, 2013

For The Love Of February

I often walk into a room of our house and say “For the love…” because it looks like this:

leaning tower of randomness

No matter how many times I’ve sorted, sold, donated, thrown away, and reorganized, we still have way too much stuff.  It’s overwhelming and a symptom of our diseased consumer culture and I often feel the weight of having too much stuff. 

bags waiting to go to goodwill...and waiting....and waiting...

And because of this stuff, I often don’t allow myself to do other things… I think “when the house is organized we’ll host friends for dinner” and “once I’ve organized my art supplies I’ll paint that canvas” and “once I’ve finished rearranging all the furniture around for the last time I’ll put up the curtains and the photos on the walls in the office.”  And so my creativity and my house and my hospitality stands in this middle waiting space. 

poor curtainless windows

February is the shortest month of the year but it feels the longest to me.  It is the middle waiting space of winter and I hate it.  One year I put some place for us to go every single day on the calendar just to make sure I got out of the house.  This year, I’m going to take the month of February to give some love to my home and the people who enter it. 

I’m going to give myself permission to put some more holes in walls, some paint on canvas, and make our home and the month of February more beautiful.  I’m going to tackle some ruthless sorting and purging and reorganizing.  I’m going to try to use what I already have for these projects and buy as little as possible.  As much as pinterest would like me to believe otherwise, the answer to organizing my home cannot be buying more stuff.  Trust me, I’ve tried it.  

see how those cute baskets just tidied this space right up???

I have four creative projects in mind, one for each week…I have endless purging goals that need to be more refined…all for the love of a peaceful home where stuff doesn’t get in the way of people.  I'm looking forward to reflecting as I go and I'll keep you posted!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Post Hoc As Applied To Everything

I was explaining to my writing class this week what the “post hoc” fallacy is.  A quick flashback to philosophy class reminds us that just because one event precedes another, the first does not necessarily cause the second.  Correlation does not equal causation.  (Stick with me, this will get more interesting.)  Gerald Bracey’s got an awesome book called Reading Educational Research: How To Avoid Getting Statistically Snookered that lays out how to read data (think pie charts, graphs, tables) accurately and not get snookered by all those hacks out there wanting to convince you of things that are partially true but not really. 

When I was in college and hadn’t yet gotten my results from my Math CLEP test, I was enrolled in the basic science class in case I had to meet the math/science requirement that way.  (I went to a small Christian college that had such things as a 3 credit math/science requirement because we were super busy reading the Bible and stuff.)  The first experiment we did in that science class involved developing a hypothesis about how popcorn is popped in an air popper.  I didn’t really get the point of the assignment because we all clearly knew the answer.  But I diligently followed the scientific process and came up with my hypothesis:  The popping sound is what makes the corn pop.  After all, you hear the sound, and then the popped kernel comes tumbling over the edge and into the bowl.  My professor was not amused at my smart-ass, post hoc hypothesis.  I think her molecules were all in a bundle because based on my observational data, we weren’t able to disprove my hypothesis.  I think we all learned something.  About 3 weeks into the class, I found out that I passed the Math CLEP and dropped the class.  My professor smirked and hummed while she signed my drop slip. 

When you find yourself 9 months pregnant and ready for that baby to just. come. out. already, you get all sorts of amazing advice from other moms.  Pineapple!  Walking!  Sex!  Rasberry leaf tea!  These are some of the standard tips that may actually have some evidence behind them.  But then you hear things like spicy food! and bounce up and down! and this-one-very-specific-thing-I-was-doing-immediately-before-I-went-into-labor!  Classic post hoc.  For me, my labors are evidently induced by watching Wipeout.  I was watching people get smashed in the face with large objects covered in dense foam, and bam, Eden was born 12 hours later.  Two years later almost to the day, I was watching people get knocked off of tall objects into pits filled with white foamy substance, and bam, Isaac was born 5 hours later.  Good night, and Big Balls worked for me. 

When I hear my children fighting in the other room, and one of them comes running to me and says, “He hit me!” and the other one is in a puddle on the floor crying, well, it’s anybody’s guess.  With siblings, there’s a whole lot of correlation and causation.  I tend to go into post hoc mode and try to determine who did what to whom and when and find the initial burst of inertia that started the whole thing.  It’s futile, really.  Children are impressive illustrations of the post hoc fallacy.  There is always an endless chain of previous causes (“He hit me!” “She took my toy!” “But he wouldn’t share!” “But I just got it!”  “But I never get to play with it!” and I could seriously go on all day), or some other cause, or no cause. 

Isaac is LOVING this post hoc fallacy right now.  Last week, when we were almost done grocery shopping, Isaac was getting antsy and wanted out of the cart.  I clearly explained that if he listened well, he could get down, but if he didn’t listen to my instructions he would have to get back in the cart.  He appeared to agree.  Next thing I know he’s climbing on a counter underneath a sign that clearly says, “No climbing on the counter.”  I get him off the counter, tell him no climbing on the counter, remind him that he needs to listen or he will have to get back in the cart.  He appears to agree again.  Next thing I know he’s climbing on the counter again.  I pick him up, he throws a fit, I wrangle tantruming toddler to the car along with grocery cart and big sister.  After things are calmed down, we have this conversation: 

Me:  “Isaac, you cannot scream in the store.  It hurts people’s ears.  I put you in the cart because you did not listen and you got on the counter after I told you not to.”  (This is me trying to establish causation.)
Isaac:  “But, my whole body wadn’t on da counter.”  (This is Isaac insinuating that I am committing a logical fallacy because my data is not entirely accurate.)
Me:  “True, you were climbing on the counter.  Your hands and torso and one knee were on the counter.  I told you not to get on the counter and parts of your body were on the counter, so I put you in the cart.”  (This is me reiterating causation and clarifying the facts.)
Isaac: “But, the last time we went to dis store, Eden wad climbing on da counter.  I just doing what Eden did before.”  (This is Isaac saying “Post hoc!  Post hoc!”)
Me:  “Yes, but you need to follow the rule even if no one else is following the rule.  I put you in the cart because you didn’t listen to the rule.”  (This is me engaging the crazy and asking myself if I’m seriously having this conversation with my 2-year-old.)
Isaac:  Silence. 

I do not take this silence to be agreement.  I am not so easily fooled.

I am seriously in trouble.