Sunday, November 22, 2015

Is There Ever Enough Time to Read?

I started this year with a plan to read the top 50 books from last year chosen by BookPage Magazine.  I didn't accomplish that goal.  I have read 50 books so far, but I veered off the list.  It's weird because I loved almost every book on the list and had even already read a couple of them.  The list helped me try new genres and discover new authors.  It's very probable that I will go back to the 2014 list and pick up some more titles from it, as well as attempt to read the majority of the books on the 2015 list when it comes out.  However, I get distracted.  I see books in libraries and I grab them.  I read a book that mentions another book and I go grab it.  I read a book I like, find out there are more in the series and read them all.  Friends recommend books.  D recommends books.  I have trouble being in a monogamous relationship with one book list.

The book list I know I will be working on is one that started from a question I asked D a couple of weeks ago:  If you had to go somewhere and could take three books to read for the rest of your life, what would they be?  We expanded that list to 15 and made each other lists of the books that have influenced our lives or that we love or that we read at a particularly impressionable time in life and will never forget.  I just finished The Forever War, a post-apocalyptic choice from the list he made for me.  Like a boss, he started right off with Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, an over 700 page work of fiction expounding on Rand's theory of objectivism, a book I read in high school and will always remember for a myriad of reasons.  We're working on a movie list for each other which means I'm going to have to watch Ghostbusters and he is going to have the privilege of seeing Beaches and probably every Jimmy Stewart film ever made.

Here's what I've read so far in 2015.  I promise, I really DID expand my horizons, though by the looks of the fiction list it appears I definitely have a type.  

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion
Remember Me Like This by Bret Anthony Johnston
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
The Forgetting Place by John Burley
In Paradise by Peter Matthiessen
The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis
The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh
Colorless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell
Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet
The Children Act by Ian McEwan
Child 44 Tom Rob Smith
The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith
Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith
Language Arts by Stephanie Kallos
The Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock
The New Neighbor by Leah Stewart
Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher
The Melody Lingers On by Mary Higgins Clark
Outline by Rachel Cusk
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Purity by Jonathan Franzen
The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Us by David Nichols
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Christian Non-Fiction
Counter Culture by David Platt
Scary Close by Donald Miller
For the Love Jen Hatmaker
Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist

Better Than Before by Gretchin Rubin
Can We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
Blood Will Out by Walter Kirn
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Design Mom by Gabrielle Stanley Blair
Homemakers by Brit Morin
A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre
The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller
Mama Tried by Emily Flake
Hold Still by Sally Mann

Historical Ficton
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
What is Visible by Kimberly Elkins
Girl at War by Sara Novic

Post Apocalyptic
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey
The Passage by Justin Cronin

Young Adult
We Were Liars by E.L Lockhart

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Becoming Tidy

True confession:  I am a messy person.  It’s not intentional and it’s not due to laziness.  I’m not a sloth.  It’s just very hard for me to keep things organized, and it always has been.  In school my locker was the one that spilled its contents whenever it was opened.  My notebooks were the ones with papers sticking out every direction.  My desk, even when I was a teacher, was the one stacked with piles of papers in a system only I could understand, when I could remember what was in each pile.  My room always looked disheveled.  You get the picture.

This has been a HUGE source of shame for me for as long as I can remember.  I felt like nothing I ever did in my entire life would matter to anyone because I was messy, and since that’s such an outward appearance issue, there’s really no hiding it.  People judge by what they can see most of the time, and it takes about 4.2 seconds to be in any environment I’m in charge of to see that I am deficient in the tidiness arena. 

I read a study a year or so back that said people with bad handwriting-also a problem I have-are actually geniuses, and I want to say there was a study that said disorganized people were insanely creative, so that gave me comfort for a while.  But it’s not super hard to figure out I’m not a genius, and though I’m creative, it would be nice if the evidence of that could show in what I create and not what I destroy upon entering a room.

I’ve grown into how I am wired a bit more, but it still bugged me that I couldn’t keep things organized.  Since having children, it’s bothered me less out of shame and more out of practicality:  I don’t have time for messes.  I have four kids.  Tidiness would mean not spending precious time trying to find toys, keys, phones.  It would mean a sort of freedom.

With this in mind, and totally prepared to fail again, I grabbed the book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  I read it in two hours the day I picked it up from the library.  Then I systematically destroyed our house, but with a purpose this time. 

I’ll tell you this up front:   I don’t thank my shirts when I put them in drawers or ask my house where it wants me to put things as the author suggests.  But almost every other piece of advice in this book made so much sense to me that I almost fell out of my chair over the simplicity of it all.  Don’t have a lot of crap, put it where it belongs (I’m paraphrasing).

I truly believed myself a minimalist until I started getting rid of things(there is an order and a system for doing this that works, so get the book and follow the directions) but two boxes of books, six bags of clothes, an entire storage box of CDs and almost 10 empty storage containers later, I now have my doubts.  And I’m not even finished.  This process will take about six months if done properly, but then it should never need to be done again.

What I’ve learned:  we have four spoons for six people and I don’t own a ladle.  That’s why soup nights have always been disasters in our home.  D has almost no underwear.  Over 80% of our book shelves are full of D’s books, not mine.  I actually don’t like to own books but prefer to borrow because it lends an urgency to reading them that owning them doesn’t (this is a sign of a procrastinator, and I fall into that category as well).  There is so much paper in our house-homeschool work, grad school work, writing assignments, art assignments-that we have probably destroyed an entire forest on our own. 

There were many pieces of this book that made the tidying experience different, but the big one was this:  the focus on what brings joy.  Instead of grudgingly throwing things in a box to get rid of having the whole process be about deprivation, this process is about what you keep and the happiness it brings you.  Most stuff doesn’t bring joy, and we can easily live without most anything we own.  But focusing on the joy part makes the getting rid of part easy. 

Oddly, that’s part of the reason I finally think I was able to tackle this and see real signs of success.  I didn’t do it out of obligation or shame.  D’s view and the kids’ view of me are not tied up in my tidiness skills.  In fact, whenever D sees me picking up toys he always says, “That is futile.  Go write.  Go soak in the bathtub.  Read a great book.  Do something you love.”  He knows what I love and he knows me and he’s never seen me as I’ve seen myself, missing some kind of outward appearance gene that makes me defective.  Because I didn’t fear failing, I finally succeeded.  I went into this looking forward to the change, knowing that even if didn’t work that was okay because I was not defined by this. 

It’s a lesson I need to remember with my kids.  No one has ever nagged me into doing a better job at anything.  By recognizing what I could already do, others have challenged me to step into the unfamiliar because their confidence in me was contagious, and I absorbed a portion of it.  It’s the path of joy and the one of least resistance and I need to practice it every day.

Our pastor has said many times that God is a God of order.  This makes more sense to me now, not because I think Jesus would come in the door and access the tidiness of my pantry but because this order is calming and unhurried, freeing up time for what’s important.  It is as liberating as I hoped.

If you come to my home in the next six months, you may not see the results of this tidiness on full display just yet.  However, it’s a work in progress, and an exciting one.  I’ll never be described as the organized mom, but people might not describe me as the lady who has paper following her around like Pigpen has dirt surrounding him all the time.  Little by little, change comes.  

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Quirks

Anyone who's been around children can probably tell you they move through phases fairly quickly.  It doesn't feel quick when they aren't sleeping, but it really is just a blink until the next season.
This season is interesting, because all of the kids have their own quirky issues, and I'm putting them here because I'm afraid I'll forget some of this randomness if it's not documented.

Wren needs to ask everyday how many days it is until another day.  How many days until my birthday?  How many days until my birthday party?  How many days until Christmas?  How many days until Thanksgiving?

She likes to ask these questions while we're in the car or at the grocery store, anywhere I don't have a calendar handy.  I'm pretty good with dates, but it's hard to figure out on the spot how many days it is until another day when four kids are usually jumping, crying, or singing the "Batman Theme"(more on that later).  Many times I've found myself giving her an estimate only to be approached the next day and have a conversation like the following take place:

Wren:  So it's 50 days until my birthday.
Me:  More like 53.
Wren:  But yesterday you said 51, so today should be 50.
Me:  Well, that was a guess, but now I know it's 53.

Wren just stands there giving me a look that asks if I was lying before or if I'm just terrible at basic math.

Sammy hates socks.  This may not be a phase.  The kid HATES socks.  He has a nervous breakdown where he throws himself on the floor and goes unresponsive until he decides to start kicking every time he's asked to put on socks.  When we finally get them on him, forget it.  There is something about the seams of all socks that drives him insane.  Every day, even if it's 42 degrees outside, he won't wear socks without a fight that is, quite frankly, not worth my time at this point in life.  So if you see him in his sandals in freezing temperatures, don't feel sorry for him.  It's called natural consequences.

Asher and Eowyn
First up, a quirk they share:  both of them demand to have their own baby playlist on Spotify, and they will screech like crazies until we turn it on.  Current favorites are "Royals" by Lorde, "Batman Theme"(Adam West version), "Peter Gunn Theme" by The Blues Brothers and "Manah Manah" by The Muppets.  Imagine listening to those four songs everyday for an hour at a time.  It's awesome.  Dennis came home one day and I told him I was on the verge of punching myself in the face with a nail gun.  Luckily, I have introduced them to Vance Joy's Dream Your Life Away album and Ryan Adam's cover of Taylor Swift's 1989 album, and they like them! It's added some much needed variety for our ears.  Now if I could just get them to stop busting out with the "Batman Theme" every time we enter a library, that would be awesome.

Asher is petrified of the training potty.  When I say potty she screams in my face "NO POTTY!" and runs to the couch to hide her face in the cushions.  This is a new fear.  Today she finally sat on it with her clothes on, but her look told me I better not attempt to make her bare butt hit that seat.

Eowyn's facial expressions are awesome.  She can raise her eyebrows until they almost disappear into her hair.  She's animated and mischievous.  I'm hoping her face will give her away when she's done something I should know about, like painting the walls with a toilet brush.

The quirks are occasionally difficult but fun.  I spoke to my dad this week and he reminded me of my childhood obsession with not being the last person in the house awake.  If I feared everyone else was sleeping, I'd run into my parents' room and wake one of them up because I didn't like to be awake alone.  As you might have guessed, every night I've stayed up with a cranky child has been deserved.
My quirks and weirdness, it's part of what makes me who I am, and that's true for my kids as well.  So we'll listen to the Muppets, wear sandals, and countdown to Wren's birthday with grateful hearts because next year at this time, everyone will be in a different place with different issues.  Praise God for the time it lasts.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Nothing at All

Recently two young people died due to anaphylactic reactions to peanuts.  They ate food they didn’t prepare and did not have EpiPens on them at the time of death.

D and I discussed this wondering after years of knowing there are certain things you have to do to stay safe, why you would shrug them off.  What happens to make someone with a food allergy try a food they don’t know the origin of or leave their EpiPen in the car?

Nothing.  Nothing happens.  Nothing is responsible for a lot.

Over time living with a food allergy that can kill you instantly or over time makes you search for ways to normalize in a world of food.  No one wants to be defined by anaphylaxis or Celiac disease, so you start out following all the rules and that works, but you also look for ways to integrate as much as possible for convenience, physical and emotional.  Over time, you keep following the rules and that keeps you safe, but you might get lenient here or there.  You feel normal.  Following the rules most of the time starts to become second nature which means you don’t think about it that much.  You feel protected.  Nothing bad happens.

Because of that, not following the rules one time doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.  You always follow them.  Maybe you really did read that ingredient list with a somewhat discerning eye and little concern; you’ve felt good for a while.  There’s no immediate memory of horrific symptoms that you’ll suffer if you don’t do diligence perfectly.  Nothing bad has happened for so long.  What are the chances it will now?

The late Marina Keegan wrote an essay about this in her book The Opposite of Loneliness.  She was diagnosed with Celiac at 18 months old, and her mom helped ensure she was safe.  When Marina got to college, she writes of not being mindful of cross-contamination, not taking all the precautions she’d been taught were necessary.  Why?  Because the vague threat of an increased cancer risk seemed distant.  Her body had healed enough that nothing acute had really happened recently enough for the concern to seem real or tangible. It wasn’t until she ran across a research study on what the littlest bit of cross-contamination could do to any child she became pregnant with that the gravity of the situation hit her anew.  (Ms. Keegan did not die from Celiac-related issues.  She was killed in a car wreck five days after she graduated from Yale.)

We haven’t stopped following the rules; I still consider gluten a devil spawn.  But things were so somewhat normal, so nothing for a while that we forgot something:  Celiac is a horrible house guest.  Even when you stop feeding it, it doesn’t leave or it leaves behind horrible “gifts” to be found later.  You follow all the rules and Celiac doesn’t give you a gold star; it shoots you the finger.

That’s why I spent Wednesday night at Children’s watching my six-year-old get an enema.  Why would her colon back up?  Because Celiac.  Why even though she’s not eating gluten?  Well, Celiac.  The ER doctor wasn’t surprised at all, though I was confused because poop not coming out is usually not one of our problems. 

Anyway, it’s was a hard few days.  When I was at wits end trying to open the medicine Wren had been prescribed, I was huffing under my breath, “freaking lid, come off freaking lid.”  I looked up to find Wren standing right next to me and she asked, “Is my medicine called freaking lid?”  Oops.

We have to start the crazy stuff again, the writing down every bite that goes in her mouth, looking at everything she drops in the toilet.  This wasn’t necessary for so long, and it gave her some much needed space.  It also allowed for gluten-free treat items to move in and out of our house without constant monitoring of sugar content.  No more.  Nothing at all, then everything all at once.

And I think that’s how almost all deaths happen.  The death of a season of life.  Spiritual deaths and martial deaths.  The death of unrealized dreams. 

Nothing at all, then everything all at once.

The precautions are worth it.  The diligence and the little things that seem so little, in the end those are usually the big just viewed from a different perspective.  It’s worth guarding the small habits and practices to protect what matters, and we will.  We’ll do whatever it takes.