Underground Airlines

underground airlinesThis week I read a book that smacked me in the face unexpectedly.

The premise of Underground Airlines is incredibly strong: imagine the present day, complete with modern technology, industry, and trade, but if the American Civil War never happened and slavery was never outlawed in the South. And then imagine an intricately plotted, deeply felt, tautly designed novel about that world.

Of course I wanted to read Underground Airlines for the story, and I know you’d like it for that, too. But I was not prepared for how well Ben Winters, the author, brought the issues home in a way that caused me to think carefully, and perhaps uncomfortably, about my own world.

The book is set in Indianapolis, which happens to be the city in which I live, so that already felt personal. So many things are right on and familiar about the world Winters imagines, and then Winters drops in a grim and startling facet of slavery that jars you in its incongruity. It’s not just the slavery (made infinitely more sickening by it’s modern setting–truly, this is an important narrative to read–history makes slavery feel remote and like maybe there were fringes that weren’t that bad but truly, really, evil is evil all the way down) of the “Hard Four” Southern states that still allow slavery, but the soft racism of the North (this is definitely a thing in our own world–and something that surprised me about living in the North), the deliberate, callous ignorance of people who’d rather save a few dollars on a t-shirt than buy one that was ethically sourced, the smug superiority of freedom activists who still don’t actually care enough about people as people, even as they spout platitudes about injustice.

Underground Airlines would make an excellent book club selection. It’s a fantastic story–fast-paced, full of action and nuanced characters, and a complex mystery that only unravels at the very end. But it’s also a tremendously challenging book from an ethical perspective. We still have slavery in our world (Cheap t-shirts? Cheap coffee? Cheap chocolate? Yes, we’re implicated.), and we still have people who are convinced they are more of a person than someone a different color, nation, or gestational age than they are. And those of us who do care almost certainly aren’t doing enough about it. I don’t even pray about it very often. A riveting, thought-provoking, convicting story. I think you should read this one.

“I don’t know,” he said. “How can we let him live? A man like this?”

“A man like this?” I said softly. “What’re you? What’re you?”

Note: If you’re interested in the topic of modern day slavery, I highly recommend Gary Haugen’s book, The Locust EffectIt’s a difficult read, but a crucial topic.

 

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Ordering the rhythms of our tables, calendars, and hearts

a-spirited-mind-1We live in a time in which we are fortunate to have lots of options. You can eat strawberries in November and wear sweaters in July. From where we live to how we eat, even to how we observe or ignore the weather, we pretty much get to chart our own course.

Because we have this freedom, it’s even more important that we pay attention to the underlying framework that drives our choices. I’ve recently been reading and thinking about this in light of seasons and rhythms.

I’m not against the convenience of modern life. I’m writing this post in my air conditioned office while it’s 94 degrees outside. I’ll be putting a can of tomatoes in tonight’s dinner, and I buy everything from books to pajamas to eyeliner on Amazon. But I do see a difference between using modern conveniences as tools and being blindly co-opted by our consumer culture.

As I read I began articulating some impressions of unease I’ve had about how (or if) my life reflects my beliefs on a number of fronts. I’ve made some steps to change our rhythms with things like moving to a term schedule for school (generally six weeks on, one week off), and we’ve always done a Jesse Tree for Advent. Still, in reading thinkers like James K. A. Smith and others, I’ve found myself examining our life looking for the liturgy embedded therein–we all live a liturgy, Smith says, it’s just a matter of what we base it on.

circle of seasonsIn a roundabout fashion this brought me to Kimberlee Conway Ireton’s excellent book The Circle of Seasons. Ireton didn’t grow up in a high church tradition, so her study of the church year as an adult gives her a valuable outsider perspective. Ireton avoids the temptation to create or uphold empty ritual, and digs into the value and symbolism of various church traditions.

For example, in looking at Advent as a season of waiting and preparation for Christ’s birth followed by a twelve day feast of Christmas, Ireton ties in ways Christians can move beyond the commercial Christmas to enjoy a season of peace and then extend joy and love when everyone else is tapped out and suffering a post-holiday slump. What if we had a Christmas party the week after Christmas? What if we invited people over for a Christmas dinner on December 28? How would that impact our family’s ability to enjoy Christmas and be a blessing to others?

Likewise, Lent offers a chance to think about the true purpose of fasting–not self-denial or being absorbed in yourself, but creating space for God to work in and through us.

I appreciated how Ireton thoughtfully examined ways that the church calendar can break us out of our tendency to passively trudge through life, and make us more mindful of our days.

irrational seasonI’ve already mentioned The Irrational Season, but it bears repeating here because in the book Madeleine L’Engle writes her reflections on the year in a way that is informed by and immersed in the church year.

L’Engle did a masterful job of showing how being aware of the church calendar can direct our thoughts and contemplation. Thinking about Jesus’ coming birth during Advent leads to being watchful for His return. Considering the events of our lives in light of Epiphany, Easter, or the Trinity helps us to understand them in a truer light, and orient our own experiences in light of a bigger story.

Reading The Irrational Season won’t be so much a practical primer on how to celebrate the church year as an inspiration for how being aware of seasons and traditions can be a rich avenue for study and contemplation. I’m thinking about this a lot as I structure our school terms for next year.

feastOne of the e-books in a bundle I bought recently turned out to be an interesting resource on the Christian year. Feast! is full of practical tips and recipes for aligning your family culture with church culture.

The first two sections–on Advent and Christmas–were particularly helpful. I liked the ideas for ways to build up to Christmas and make that our focus, but without seeming Scroogey or anti-Christmas. A lot of the tips were ideas that would help to keep December less frantic by spreading out all the things we love about the season into a longer and more relaxed celebration. I’ve always felt that Christmas was this weird abrupt stop after a couple of weeks trying to cram too much in. I really like the idea of a more restful Advent and then a great fun long Christmas with plenty of time to listen to music, make gingerbread houses, and read Christmas books rather than putting everything away. The authors suggest adding to your Jesse Tree until Epiphany, which I remember my mom trying to do for us some years. The Stewarts suggest adding the names of God or attributes of Jesus for those extra twelve ornaments. I have this on my list to try.

I will say that after the Easter ideas the book wasn’t as applicable for me. The authors are Catholic and so they have special saints days they celebrate at different times, which isn’t something we do. But there was enough good food for thought in the other sections to make Feast a worthwhile read for me.

life giving home

Sally and Sarah Clarkson’s book The Life-giving Home is arranged around the year too, although I didn’t take as many notes on practical things to do in January versus May or anything like that.  Those ideas are there, but I found the book to be more helpful to me in giving me a stronger vision for the way that my home and life can better express the truth and beauty I believe in, versus specific decorating or menu ideas.

I love the point the Clarkson’s make about how our homes and family cultures are ways to engage with the broader culture and a means to tell the story of what is most important to us. This is true no matter what we believe, and certainly worth serious thought. Are our lives–from our time to our traditions to our decorating aesthetic–telling the story we want them to? Are they restorative and life-giving for our families and friends and neighbors?

jameskasmith-youarewhatyoulove

If you want to dig more deeply into how our lives tell a story of what we love and reveal our vision of the good life, you should certainly check out James K. A. Smith’s latest work, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. This book is powerfully insightful and profoundly challenging.

Smith talks about the way that our worship must incorporate not just our minds, but also our hearts. If we fail to capture and reorder our hearts, our head knowledge will not be enough. “You are what you love,” Smith writes, “because you live toward what you want.”  When we have misdirected loves it’s not because we have bad ideas, but because “our desires have been captivated by rival visions of flourishing. And that happens through practices not propaganda.”

So if we are formed by liturgies whether we admit it or not, we ought to devote careful consideration to what those liturgies are. As a parent and teacher, this gives me a lot to think about. Of course we want to give our children truth and sound ideas, but are we going beyond that to capture their hearts with truth and beauty? Does our worship and our family culture give them a vision for what it means to flourish, or are we giving them second-rate music and sappy stories and then wondering why their palates incline them to cartoons and the mall?

This has so many implications for how we structure our time, our family culture, our schools, our work…while the book may seem the odd one out in this post, it really forms the basis for why and how we follow (or don’t) seasons, rhythms, and traditions–Christian or otherwise.

There is so much in You Are What You Love that I can’t begin to touch on all of it, but I highly recommend it if you’re interested in habits, virtue, the good life, spiritual life…well, really I’d recommend it for anyone.

I haven’t finished thinking all of this through yet, so can’t give you my conclusions, but I’d be interested to know if you’ve considered these things and, if so, how you shape your family’s calendar or traditions as a result?

 
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Toward flourishing

I find my core callings deeply contradictory. Faith, marriage, motherhood, homeschooling, writing, and my paid work are not easy for me in every respect. I am fascinated but exhausted, comforted but confused, fulfilled but frustrated. The things I value most are, by and large, difficult. I say that the past year has been hard and it has. But even in the best of times I tend to do life in a fairly intense fashion.

Some of my intense life is circumstantial, but much of it is choice. So I don’t want to waste my story in rush and resentment. I want to savor hard days and difficult phases and flourish in the midst of it all. Over the years, I’ve learned that if I want to live deeply and joyfully instead of getting mired in discouragement and burnout, I need to keep my vision refreshed.

I have a feeling sleep might also help, but I will have to get back to you on that once I don’t have a baby and chronic insomnia.

irrational seasonCertain writers are my go-to mentors when I need to reconnect with the bigger picture. Madeleine L’Engle is one. I recently read The Irrational Season and was once again inspired by L’Engle’s refreshing viewpoints on faith, creativity, love, and motherhood–this time in the context of her thinking through the seasons of the liturgical year. Weaving in thoughts on language and mystery and memory, L’Engle writes with simplicity and profound insight about the way that the rhythm of temporal time enhances our understanding of depth, truth, and the unknowable greatness of God.

I don’t always agree with L’Engle, but I never fail to find food for thought and encouragement to think, write, and live with more clarity and honesty. I’d recommend all of her non-fiction, but I’ve addedThe Irrational Season to my favorites along with Walking on Water and A Circle of Quiet.

mission motherhoodSally Clarkson more recently joined my shelf of visionaries. In the past I think I misunderstood her platform and thought she was in the motherhood-is-woman’s-only-calling camp so I didn’t really connect with her. However, what I have found after several months of reading Sally’s books and listening to her podcasts is more of a vision for wholehearted living–of being all in as a mother even if you also do other things (she started and ran a business, wrote books, and homeschooled, for example). I love Sally’s vision for flourishing even in trying circumstances, and her encouragement toward excellence without making an idol out of motherhood.  There is a way to be wholehearted in parenting while also nourishing your soul and mind and creativity and I think Sally’s books The Mission of Motherhood and The Ministry of Motherhood are excellent resources.

ministry motherhoodIn both books, I appreciated Sally’s ability to cast a thoughtful vision and give practical ideas while acknowledging that families and children and life stages are different and so methods may differ even as principles stay the same.

All three of these books are the sort I wind up purchasing so I can re-read them–and I fill them with sticky tabs and take reams of notes (I got nine single-spaced typed pages of notes fromThe Mission of Motherhood alone!). I have intense kids, I homeschool, and I work and write in the margins. If you have naturally calm kids and send them to a brick-and-mortar school and work full-time as a chemical engineer your take-aways may be different than mine. However, no matter what your circumstances, if you’re the sort of person who leans in to your life and longs to flourish in the midst of it, I don’t think you could go too far wrong with any of these volumes.

What books have most refreshed and inspired you lately?

 

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Bookmarking Balance

overwhelmedAfter I read Overwhelmed, I realized that a lot of the ways I work on balance are derived from lessons I’ve read about and internalized from books.  My experience is not (at all) normative–when it comes to reading about other people’s balance it’s a good idea to remember that we all have different callings, temperaments, and circumstances.  And yet, sometimes it’s helpful to see what other people do, if only to be able to smugly assert that you’d never be caught dead doing such a thing!

Zoom out.

168 hoursReading 168 Hours helped me think of time from a big picture perspective.  Any given day might be really, really rough.  But when I think of my time in terms of weeks, months, school terms, trimesters, or years, I am freed up to see balance.  My work tends to ebb and surge–sometimes I’m up to my eyeballs in deadlines, other times I’m coasting.  Sometimes school is going fabulously, and sometimes I feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall.  But because I zoom out, when work is nuts I can pull back on other things knowing there is plenty of time to catch up later and when school is not working I can calmly assess issues without throwing in the towel (tempting though that sometimes is).  Zooming out frees me to see things cyclically, which allows me to get more done over time than if I only did things I could commit to daily.

Batch process.

tiger motherI think God gave me five children because He knew that otherwise I’d be a Tiger Mom.  I’ll admit that I take some things really seriously, but I let a lot of modern parenting requirements slide.  I don’t hover over my kids while they play outside or sit next to them while they practice piano.  The only extracurriculars we do are things they can all do at once and that meet a family priority (for a needed skill or long-term value).  So the oldest three take piano lessons at the same place one afternoon a week.  This summer they are all in swimming lessons at the same time.  During the school year we do a homeschool co-op that offers electives so they can try different things but we only have to drive to one spot. This helps us do things we value (reading aloud before bed, having relaxed evenings, doing meaningful work) and avoid things we don’t like (living in the car, eating on the run, overscheduling).

I also set aside chunks of time for work and school.  We have a fabulous babysitter/nanny for 10 hours a week–one afternoon and one morning.  She has a teaching background so on the morning she’s here she supervises the kids’ independent work assignments (math, handwriting, copywork, sometimes grammar or Latin or a composition).  According to the experts, most knowledge workers only put in 4 hours a day of real work.  So when we have the babysitter or it’s naptime, I maximize it and put in a full work day–not always completely successfully, but I try.  With those 10 babysitting hours plus daily quiet time (only the baby naps but everyone else has to read or play quietly) and some Saturday work time, I can carry a full-time workload without keeping a chair warm every day from 9 to 5.

Because I am working one morning a week, we batch a week’s worth of school subjects (other than the previously mentioned independent assignments) into the other four days. We cover the same amount of material, and no one seems to notice that I bumped their work up 25% on the other four days.

Sort the rocks.

eat that frogYou’ve heard the story about how you can get more into a container if you start by putting in the biggest rocks, then fill in with smaller and smaller rocks, then sand, then water.  I think I first read about this in Eat That Frog.  Everyone tells this story because it’s so incredibly helpful to sort your rocks.  I keep a loosely defined hierarchy of tasks for all of my roles so I can do the most high impact items first.  If I have a chunk of work time, I tackle big projects rather than churning around on little stuff like email.  If I find a small window of free time I read, because I keep books strewn everywhere.  This helps me use time more effectively and take advantage of windows of opportunity, however long or short they may be.

Know the why.

BetterThanBeforeJacketHC-e1413545062477-197x300As a questioner (see Better Than Before), I find that I really only follow through with things when I have identified WHY I’m doing them.  Consider housework.  I truly think that people sleep better in clean sheets, but I have found out from personal experience that you do not get kicked out of the human race for not changing sheets on a weekly basis.  Changing sheets on five beds is not a quick job and as previously mentioned I do not retain a domestic staff.  So I change sheets every other week or so, enlist the kids to help, and that works for us.  On the other hand, I get stressed out by visual clutter.  So I make it a point to keep our main living areas picked up and swept every day, even though I don’t mop the floor very often and absolutely never vacuum my ceilings or wash windows.  I keep a clear view of my why for work tasks, for each subject we do in our homeschool, and for every activity I sign up for.  It helps immensely in prioritization, and if I can’t articulate a why, chances are I’m not the person for the job anyway.

Prioritize restoration.

fringeFrom a logistical standpoint, there is a lot going on in a homeschooling family of soon-to-be seven where both parents work, even though we don’t do a ton of sports and lessons.  Any one of my roles (mom, teacher, worker) would be enough to lead to periodic burn-out, and the combination requires some finesse.  That’s why I have to spend my Fringe Hours on something restorative.  For me, that means I try to get regular exercise, I read a lot, and I try to make time to hang out with friends when I can.  I rarely get 15 minutes to myself and think, “Self, we should scrub the shower with a toothbrush.”  I love a clean shower as much as the next person, but it doesn’t feed my mind and soul like a great conversation or a good book.  When I’m restored mentally and physically, I’m better able to find balance.

We all do life differently, but I’d love to hear what works for you!  What books or resources have particularly helped you define the balance you’re shooting for?

Being Realistic About Balance

I recently read an article entitled “Women with Big Jobs and Big Families: Balancing Really Isn’t That Hard.”  Part of me wants to cheer that such a headline is possible.  It’s great that some women have big families after attaining a level of professional seniority and compensation (or maybe after marrying men who are highly paid) so they can afford a full-time staff to handle details and logistics.  But part of me wants to call foul.  Most of us are looking for balance without the financial wherewithal to say it “really isn’t that hard.”

I get that articles like this are about encouraging young women to lean in and work for a position that makes balance easier before having kids.  But for those of us in the trenches, balance absolutely really IS “that hard.”  For most of us–including women I know with “big jobs” and those with passions that don’t come with as large a paycheck–figuring out how to mesh our parenting priorities with our other callings takes significant time and thought.

Balance is often on my mind–I’m reading about it, evaluating it, troubleshooting it, tweaking it, or trying to maintain it.  It’s never simple, but it’s a worthy pursuit because I don’t think balance is ultimately about making more money or having a prestigious job or making your kids your idol or any of those extremes.  Whether you work full-time, are home full-time or something in between, a balanced life is one in which you are confidently living your priorities.  A reader pointed out recently that it can be helpful to see how balance works for other women, even if they don’t have it all figured out.  So in that spirit, and with the caveat that my circumstances (and priorities) fluctuate wildly in this season of life, here is the balance I’m working with now.

Work/Writing – I am self-employed as a corporate writer and marketing consultant.  Sometimes I have a lot of projects at once, sometimes not.  I do this work between 10-30 hours a week, but I think my sweet spot is 20–more than that and I get frazzled, less and I get nervous about bills.  

We have an excellent babysitter for 10 hours a week–one afternoon and one morning.  She handles the kids amazingly and gamely supervises their independent schoolwork.  I try to schedule client meetings and calls for those hours.  Sometimes a friend watches the kids if my meetings don’t line up with babysitting hours.  The rest of my work fits in to daily afternoon quiet time (only the baby naps, everyone else reads or plays quietly) or on Saturdays.  I am not very productive at night, so while I sometimes do mindless work stuff like admin or emailing after the kids go to bed, I prefer to unwind then and get to bed early so I can be fresh for the next day.  

I also spend some time every week on personal writing like blogging and fiction.  I don’t get paid for that, but I love to write and I figure that writing for fun makes me better at the writing I do for pay.  

School – According to time diaries I’ve kept at various times, I devote 20-30 hours per week to homeschooling.  That includes planning and prep, as well as direct teaching time.  At this point, having homeschooled in one way or another for six years, I have a lot of things figured out so I save time by not reinventing the wheel, but I do pay attention to phases and individual needs and am always tweaking things to improve them.  My primary goals are that my kids would love truth and beauty, be lifelong learners, and get an education tailored to their unique needs and levels, so I try to approach individual subjects from that perspective, rather than being locked in to other benchmarks.  Homeschooling is challenging, but for me it is very, very rewarding.

Mind/Body/Soul Care – Most days I get up between 5:30 and 6, throw on exercise clothes, and have my morning Biblestudy and prayer time while cooking and eating my breakfast eggs and having a cup of coffee.  Then I exercise in the basement (right now I am alternating Jillian Michaels workouts, modified somewhat to accommodate pregnancy).  By the time I’m done, the kids are usually up and starting breakfast.  If I’m lucky, I can finish my workout and start my shower before they get up, but if not the bigger ones are old enough to poor milk, cook eggs, serve baked oatmeal, or whatever.  Although one child did recently set a fire in the microwave so I may need to revisit rules about unsupervised cooking!

I keep my mind sharp by reading all sorts of things, and keep books all over the house and car so that wherever I am, if I have a few moments to spare I can read.  I’m not sure how much actual time this comes to in a given day–it varies–but I average about two books per week so I guess I’m getting adequate reading time!

I tend to go to bed early most nights, but I have a lot of insomnia issues, so adequate sleep is an issue.  Since it’s been a lifelong problem for me and I don’t make it worse by staying up too late, I just do my best.  I try to rest on Sundays, at least by taking a break from paying work and trying to avoid housework where possible.

Relationships – I like my husband.  I enjoy spending time with him.  We can’t afford regular date nights, and we’re always looking for ways to carve out more time together.  But we do try!  Although I spend a lot of time with the kids as a group, I also try to make time for one-on-one outings.  They take turns going to do errands with me, going out to Starbucks, etc, and Josh does that too.  So each kid gets at least one special date with me and one special date with Josh every month.  It’s often more, but it’s good to have an achievable minimum.  I’d like to have more friend time, but I find that the best I can really do is one or two outings or playdates per month, and I try to make one or two book club meetings.  I’d love to be in a position to really do the whole “community” thing with friends, but in our area I haven’t figured out how to make that happen.

Housework/Errands – I need things to be tidy or I get stressed out, so we pick up twice a day (kids have assigned jobs like sweeping, dusting, straightening, wiping the table, etc) but I don’t do a lot of deep cleaning.  The kids are learning to clean bathrooms, and I help them out.  Josh is really good at cleaning, being more detail-oriented than I am, so he cleans our bathroom every now and then.  He also does the yard work.  I do the cooking and Josh washes the dishes most nights.  I do the laundry and ironing and change the sheets.  We trade off for things like mopping and taking out the trash.  I usually do the weekly grocery/library run and other assorted errands with one of the kids (which makes it more like a fun outing and less of a chore), although sometimes I take all the kids to Costco (and almost always regret it) or if there is only a Costco list, Josh will do it because he is a ninja and getting in and out of there fast.  While I think we would both prefer to have a weekly cleaning service and someone else to mow the lawn, right now that’s not in the budget so we make do, and I think we do a passable job of sharing household responsibilities.  

Other – This is a pretty full list, so we don’t usually sign up for other activities.  We go to church weekly and both of us serve on the worship team and in the nursery.  We go to other church events as they come up and do random things like go to concerts or strawberry picking or visit a museum once a month or so, but we tend not to do a lot of evening events, especially not regularly scheduled ones.  The oldest three kids have piano one afternoon a week at the same place, and this summer they are in swimming lessons at the same time once or twice a week.  During the school year the kids take three electives each at our co-op, which meets one afternoon per week.  We don’t have any interest in living in the car or missing our evening family time, so that’s about it for now.

I’d love to hear about how you make time for your various callings and interests.  How do you balance?  If you have an epiphany to share or a link to a related post, let us know in the comments!

Know When to Hold ‘Em, Know When to Fold ‘Em

WhenThat wisdom obviously applies to never counting yer money when yer sittin’ at the table (thank you for your insight, Kenny Rogers), but also to making the most of the time you have available to read.

After I finally gave up on Owen Meany, I devoted more thought to dropping books.  Maybe my general plan of quitting a book if I don’t feel engaged by page 50 wasn’t detailed enough, since it didn’t kick in for that book club selection.  Once I started framing my reading time as a limited but very valuable tool for living the life I want to lead, it was easier to come up with a framework.

Know why you’re reading.

First, I think it’s valuable to decide what you’re in this for.  Sometimes you want to master a particular subject or skill, like a foreign language or how to garden organically or how to structure a book proposal.  Sometimes you have a more nebulous goal like giving yourself space for an intellectual life or making time for restorative leisure.  For me, reading is all of that (except for the gardening–I’m over that phase!), but in any case it’s not just passing time mindlessly.  That’s what TV and the internet are for.  🙂

Be mindful of your time.

In the last newsletter I wrote about finding pockets of time for reading, so I already know I don’t usually get great swaths of time for books.  But because I love reading I sometimes lose track of what I’m actually doing with the time I do have.  Being mindful means I’m trying to stay more attuned to how what I’m reading fits in to my goals.

Ask yourself some questions.

Depending on your reading goals your questions may vary, but this is part of making your reading time more valuable for YOU.  If a book was a best seller, or won a prize, or is beloved by everyone in your book club, or was given to you by your mother-in-law, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a great fit for you personally.  And that’s ok.  To make the most of my time, I’m trying to make sure that what I read fits me.  Here are a few of my questions:

  • Is this book inspiring me?
  • Is this causing me to think differently or more deeply about an issue, a culture, the way I live my day-to-day life?
  • Is what I’m reading challenging me?
  • Is the language or content or structure exercising my mind?
  • Is this book expanding my understanding?
  • When I read this, am I increasing the truth and beauty in my life?
  • Am I learning anything from this book?
  • Is this book sparking my creativity?

My reading purpose is to make space for beauty, creativity, and the life of the mind in the midst of my responsibilities as a wife, mother, teacher, and professional.  It’s to interact deeply with ideas and be changed by what I read.

This leaves room for lots of different books.  Literary fiction, narrative non-fiction, history, Oreo sci-fi/YA fairy tales…as long as my mind is working and I’m really feeling restored and energized, I’ll keep reading.

But, if I need to cut my losses, that’s all right.  I can walk away from books that aren’t good fits for me.  I’m not letting anyone down if I choose another book that delights or challenges me more.

Hopefully I’ll do better in the future at applying this framework before I start to seriously regret lost time!

What are your criteria for deciding not to finish a book?

What IS a bookmarked life?

Bookmarked Life Sidebar ButtonIf you’ve seen the new site design (if you read in a reader or over email, click over to the full site to see what I mean), you may have wondered at the new subtitle, “Building a Bookmarked Life.”

Writing book reviews here is one way that I process the books I read, and really take the information I learn into my life–whether it’s a life tip from a non-fiction book or a better understanding of a culture or time period from a piece of fiction.  I don’t just want to read for diversion–although certainly reading is a worthy leisure activity purely on its own merits!–I want to be changed and challenged by the books I read.

As our culture becomes more and more geared toward quick hit information, I think it’s getting harder to really interact with ideas unless you’re careful to keep up your ability to interact with longer arguments and deeper stories.  I’m not satisfied with superficial “three ways to revolutionize your productivity by Tuesday” type articles or 30 second clips purporting to explain global issues.  I don’t think other people are ok with it either.  

But how can we fit in what Plato called “the examined life?”  I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a lot of time to sit around contemplating my navel.  Life is full and moves at a fast pace.  I get that–I have four kids, I homeschool, I have a job, I keep this blog and a few other personal writing projects on the side…and I know some of you are way more busy–but I think that makes it even more important not to skate by on the surface of life.  I’d love to spend hours a day reading, but even though I don’t have that kind of time in this phase of my life, I pick up a book when I can and consider what I’ve learned as I go about my day.  What I make time to read has changed me and has had a profound impact on the way I do all of life.

The bookmarked life is about carving out time–whether long chunks or a few moments here and there–to read more deeply, to think about ideas more carefully, and to let what you read impact you and make your life richer.  It may seem like we can’t afford to make time for that, but I sort of think we can’t afford not to.

Word(s) of the Year: Double Down

DSC_0343When I read The One Thing recently, I was struck by the author’s statement that sometimes instead of filing your goals down to be more manageable, you need to think big and double down on things that are really important to you.

My one word goal for 2014 was grace.  Often throughout the year the word was a reminder to stop beating myself up for mistakes, to let go of perfectionism, and to extend compassion to other people (especially my family).  I read books on grace, studied God’s grace, and found it to be a good theme for the year.  I hope to continue putting that knowledge into practice.

But as I did my end-of-year thinking and praying and planning and goal setting, I increasingly felt like I needed to do some hard things.  Some big things.  I think I may be ready for a push year, and so when I started thinking of a one word goal for 2015, I kept coming back to the idea I read about, like maybe when it comes to my goals and building habits in 2015, I need to take my foot off the brake and double down.

It’s two words.  I know.  Warn me if the One Word Goal Police catch on to me.  🙂

I’m excited about the year ahead.  I made goals for every role of my life as I usually do, but this year I chose a big reach goal for each category.  I may not accomplish all of them, but if I double down I’m sure to get somewhere!

As usual, I’ll be reading–history, fiction, education, life management, read-alouds for the kids–but I’m also excited to delve into a couple of books about language learning and we’ll see what other interesting topics come up.

I’m also planning to launch a newsletter via A Spirited Mind–mostly as a place to put a longer article about a topic or theme from recent reading, some good reading-related links, resources for finding books, great quotes, maybe some interesting word definitions…I haven’t decided if it will be quarterly or monthly (what would be your preference?).  In thinking about what to do with these bits and pieces I collect, a newsletter seemed like a good repository.  Hopefully you’ll think so too!

So whether you’re doubling down or giving yourself grace (or both!) this year, I hope 2015 brings you promise and growth.  Thanks for reading A Spirited Mind and for your thoughtful comments and emails.  I love hearing from you about what you’re reading or thinking about!

If you do the one word for the year thing, which word did you choose for 2015?

Sabbath as Resistance

Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now is an interesting take on Sabbath as a halt to acquisitiveness and anxious productivity.  The author uses the Exodus account of Israelites being freed from Pharaoh’s coercion and brought into a new model of living that sanctified a day of rest.  The parallels with modern life were thought-provoking–our tendency to get caught up in churning over the “bricks” we need to make or made incorrectly or failed to make reveals our lack of trust in God as our provider.

The book is not really comprehensive in its treatment of the topic of Sabbath, but I do think it has a lot of good points to consider.  It’s more concerned with the attitudes of our hearts than with questions like what exactly we should or shouldn’t do on a given day.

I didn’t agree with everything the author concluded, but found the book good to think over.  I’m figuring out how to balance a heavier work load this fall–which is good and I am grateful–and it’s very, very tempting to consider Sunday one more work day.  And even when I do forgo the work, it’s also tough to refrain from being distracted by my list of “bricks” for next week when I’m supposed to be focusing on a sermon.  So this book was a timely read for me, and if you’re interested in the topic I’d recommend it if you’re reading other books as well.

 

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The Bookmarked Life 2

The

2The Bookmarked Life is my take on catch-all posts–a record to help me remember this season of life.

Right now I’m:

…Considering

I’m thinking about which artists and composers to choose for our school year.  We’re studying the 1800s, which is a fabulous century for the arts, so I’m trying to narrow it down.  If you had to choose four to six artists and four to six composers to represent the nineteenth century, who would you pick?

…Furnishing my mind

A book I’m reading about how to structure work when you’re a “creative” has me thinking about the things I furnish my mind with and how they influence what I write.  A lot of my work involves branding and marketing, so I try to be mindful about what advertisements I take in so that I’m not subconsciously influenced–I figure if I’m paying close attention, I will be less likely to inadvertently use the same phrasing or idea.  But it’s interesting to consider how everything we see, hear, and read influences our thinking and creating.  It’s sobering really, and a good reminder to be a careful consumer.

…Learning about

One thing I love about history is connecting eras.  I think in school it’s easy to see history as a series of discrete events, but really it flows into itself and each time period or major happening influences the future and is influenced by the past.  Right now I’m learning about World War I, and love how what I’m reading dovetails with what I previously read about the Great Influenza and the Dust Bowl.

…Living the Good Life

My parents took the big kids to stay with them and do fun lake things for a week and a half leaving us with only Eliza.  Y’all.  The last time I only had one 14 month old child around, I was about eight months pregnant with Jack.  Not the same thing.  I love my big noisy crew, but I can’t even tell you how delightful it was to have a week of greater mobility and quiet, with lots of date nights out (taking one baby somewhere seems so much more doable than it did when we had our first baby), time to take long walks, the chance to take care of some house projects, get work done, sweep the floor without it needing to be swept again four minutes later…it was a perfect break–just long enough to help me feel rested but they came back before I started to get bored.

…Teaching

We have one last week of summer term before taking our last summer trip (my cousin is getting married so we’re hauling back east again!) and then the school year will commence in earnest.  I’m solidifying goals, purchasing the last pieces of curriculum, and laying out plans.  The nice thing about this year is that, other than Spanish, I didn’t have to choose anything new.  We are in a great groove with curriculum and it feels good to continue with what’s working rather than scrambling to find alternatives.  Hopefully those do not become my famous last words.

…Creating

While the big kids were away, I undertook a complete and massive overhaul of their bedrooms.  It’s the sort of thing you just can’t do while kids are actually living in their rooms (at least not on this scale!).  I painted walls and furniture, moved furniture from room to room, switched out mattresses, sorted all the toys and whatnot, and purged edited contents heavily.  I’m hoping that by making the rooms more beautiful and organized, they will be easier to keep clean.  Because I’m not a design blogger, I didn’t think to take before pictures, but here are the afters:

I mentioned last time how I had painted some of Eliza’s furniture.  The dresser and bookshelf on the left were from Josh’s room growing up (although they were a lovely 1980s brown then!) and the changing table dresser on the right was in my nursery when I was a baby (it was yellow then) and still has vintage 1978 wrapping paper lining the drawers!

Here is the rest of the room–including a Peter Rabbit rug that my dad hooked for my nursery before I was born.  If you know my dad, that will probably strike you as funny.  Also, note the reading baby!  That’s my child!

Sarah asked for a “purple princess” room, so I did my best.  The paint color she chose was “Lavender Sparkle” because she liked the idea of glitter paint.  In real life the paint does not glitter (I have to draw the line somewhere).  I painted her dresser and the top of her desk/art table pink from a free sample paint can I picked up a couple of years ago, and made the canopy out of some super cheap Ikea net curtains and a wire hanger.  She has some other art prints on the wall, her castle dollhouse (which happens to the be exact coordinating shades of pink and purple!), and a new bin organizer (Aldi, $15) that are not pictured.  Her existing sheets are pink with pink and purple princess fairies on them, so it all goes together nicely, if you’re into pink and purple princess fairy themes like Sarah.

It was really sunny when I took these pictures; the wall does not really look as reflective as pictured in real life.  Jack’s Star Wars room includes some Pottery Barn pillowcases and shams purchased on super sale last year, cut outs of his Star Wars drawings mounted on poster board, and a cool framed print of R2D2 that my parents gave him for his birthday.  This room is also our guest room, so when visiting us you are, sleeping with Yoda will you be.

Jack’s friend Adam’s dad made this awesome Jedi Jack sign for Jack’s birthday.  I’m hoping that his new organizer shelf thing (also from Aldi) will help Jack keep his room clean.  He has so many Legos and other building toys that it’s often overwhelming for him to keep things picked up.  Maybe having them easily visible and sortable will help.  A mother can dream.

Last, but not least, here is Hannah’s new room.  I painted the desk and chair (also from Josh’s childhood room) and headboard a fun coral color left over from when I painted the backs of the bookcases in my office.  Her “new” bedding was from Pottery Barn when I was in college.  Not pictured is her toychest, which is sort of like a bench and is full of doll clothes and accessories.  I lined the inside of her closet with some bookcases left over from other areas of the house, because Hannah loves to play “worlds,” which is kind of like dollhouse mixed with fairy house mixed with bits and pieces of assorted whatnot repurposed for imagination play.  I used to play like that too as a child so I want to encourage her, but previously it was a huge mess all over her room so now she can keep the worlds contained on the shelves and shut the closet door on the whole thing!  This may also cut down on messy room issues as well as keep the baby out of the tiny bits of tinfoil and acorn cups and whatnot.

It was a lot of work, but I’m so happy with the results!

…Memorizing

I’m almost through the first chapter of Colossians and it really is helping me to think more deeply about this piece of scripture.  The kids are starting a new passage next week–Philippians 2: 1-18.  I’ve been working on a new system for organizing and reviewing our memory work, based on this post from Sarah Mackenzie (scroll down to see her memory notebook system).  I’m doing one notebook for our poetry and Shakespeare memory work, and another one that we’ll keep upstairs where we do family worship that will hold the hymns, Psalms, and Bible memory.  Hopefully this will help me stay organized about review.

…Seeking balance

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to cultivating a calm and happy home this fall (and yes, I do realize that “calm” is an elusive goal with four children, but I think I mean calm in the sense of the opposite of frenzied and frazzled, not calm in the sense of pin-drop quiet).  Some of that comes down to order–having a routine, leaving margin–but I think it also has to do with choosing for beauty and relationships rather than more activities or a more packed schedule.  I’m a fairly driven person, and it’s easy for me to take on too much.  That works sometimes, but often it results in having to hurry and play sheepdog snapping at everyone’s heels to move through the day rather than being loving and mindful.  As I mentioned in my review of Essentialism, when things are crazy it is helpful to pause and ask, “What is the most important thing this very minute?”  I guess if I were a person given to being snuggly and whatnot, asking that question might result in more disciplined learning or routine, but in my case I think it probably means loosening the tight ship and refocusing on ultimate goals (that my children would be well educated, love learning, and value beauty) rather than immediate tasks.

…Building the habit

I’ve been thinking about the habit of orderliness.  Keeping things in order helps my mental state, and I think it also helps the kids to feel less stressed when everything is in place.  As part of my huge upstairs overhaul, I spent a lot of time sorting and organizing their things, and coming up with systems that might be easier to keep in place.  I’m hoping that this fall we can all work on order–keeping the kids’ rooms clean, getting through our chores, and even keeping our schedule orderly.  I don’t want to be rigid about it, but I think Gretchen Rubin has it right about how outer order contributes to inner calm.

…Listening to

I listened to three entire audio books while painting bedrooms, and found it a great way to get my mind off of my aching muscles and redeem the time.  My husband figured out how I can play things off of my phone through our in-house speaker system so now I can listen to audio books or Pandora stations  or whatever else whenever I’m on the main floor or in the basement.  Technology can be amazing.

What are you bookmarking this week?