Words I live by:Love God. Love People. Live Sustainably. Read a lot. Blog a little.
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8 Books I want to Finish, Read, or Re-Read between December 20th and January 16th.
Other suggestions? I could modify or add on.
Two years ago I finished Bill McKibbon’s book Hundred Dollar Holiday and received my first Center for a New American Dream‘s newsletter in my email inbox. They both issued clarion calls to Simplify!
Today I realize, I still want urge other to contemplate something more counter-intuitive – instead – Complicate your holidays.
Here’s what I mean.
What both of these speakers want is a reduction of stuff at the holidays, particularly some sorts of technologies, expensive new clothes, mass produced cheap shit, and anything else you might buy on Black Friday.
But, they aren’t alone in those types of sentiments. Actually, everyone wants a simplified holiday! That’s the advice on the cover of every single magazine in November and December – how to make your hosting simple, cooking easy, and workouts lightning fast, and still lose five pounds!But the real reason you’re trying to cut down on the stuff? So life can be little more complicated. How so?
Because the things we’re talking about replacing those items with are Complicated. Things like:
The list of suggestions to simplify your holidays starts with something extremely personal and precious, and yes, complicated.
It starts with giving your time. Whereas I can always earn more money, and will, I can’t earn back any of my time. In giving time, suddenly we find ourselves committed to drawing closer to that person. By engaging with other deeply by sharing our time – we may find out the truth behind the easy veneer we all often paste over our messy lives. We might be pulled in – and in the process bind ourselves more closely.
Though choosing the perfect holiday gift for someone does require some knowledge of their preferences, so often we don’t think about what we give at the holidays. We just pull what looks good off the shelf, to fulfill an obligation. Spending time with others instead, is a surprisingly one-size-fits-all gift that is tailor-made.
And what about using our time to make gifts, something crafted, baked, or constructed? If we choose to give gifts made of our time and materials we will also need to redefine our values. Especially the ones we’ve received from unceasing advertising. We will no longer be able to stomach slick and (worse still) cheap. We certainly can’t prize perfection, because home made isn’t mass produced with machines. If we’re complicating things by preparing a meal from scratch, we can’t prize efficiency too much. No one wants a microwaved TV dinner for Christmas, however fast it might be. And, if we’re complicating things by purchasing used gifts, we had better not have too much pride. Giving someone a gift that has been used is a little exercise in humility.
Simplifying Complicating the holidays boils down to community – which is messy, time consuming business.
So, Complicate on folks, it’s only
December 5th November 24th and there is one more month filled with plenty of complication left (and 12 more after that if you like to keep on celebrating past Epiphany as do my Anglican readers.)
*This post was originally posted on December 5, 2011 – but updated on November 24, 2013.
When I took the GRE, three weeks after I gave birth, my biggest concern wasn’t so much passing the test, as finding a place to pump breastmilk before I spent well over 3 hours in a room in front of a computer away from my son.
That’s the sort of surprise I’ve run into continually as I make my way through my part-time master’s program.
I thought finding time to study would be an issue, but between naps, bedtime at 7:30 pm, and babysitters, the real issue has been finding time to think coherently.
I wake up in the morning with my mommy pants on (that look suspiciously like sweatpants), make breakfast and read a half dozen Curious George books. Then I get the kid set up with his train set, and sneak in a few paragraphs of my latest text book. When he needs a snack, I stop underlining, and start making a peanut butter jelly sandwich.
After cooing through “The Wheels on the Bus” to send him off to nap, I switch into grad assistant gear at 1:30 and spend time collating, updating social media, and doing mailing list material.
While I’m making dinner, I’m planning how to respond to the latest case study post on the online discussion board. When my son is brushing his teeth with daddy, I’m packing my school bag to get in a few hours of study and reading at the library – or I’m heading to class with peers who have just put in 8 hours at their jobs, a whole different environment.
It can be pretty difficult (for me) to transition between these different type of thinking and the differences in reacting to scholarly vs. juvenile literature. In fact, the surprising thing I’ve learned is how to re-frame my mindset in order to get work done to switch between strategic thinking, planning, or simply being creative. This act of switching gears, I think, could help me in the long run.
Unfortunately, another surprise is that it requires a tremendous amount of mental energy to switch between these types of thought. I’ve learned it’s pretty necessary to take the first five to ten minutes to identify the goals of the study session and how I’m going to achieve them. It’s also necessary to identify time when some thoughts won’t be allowed to intrude, or I won’t allow myself to access certain materials (eg: facebook!). Since much of my work happens at home: the site of school, parenting, writing, relaxing, and work, It’s very easy (too easy!) to let boundaries blur into each other. It takes a l
ittle lot of work to get those boundaries to the perfect state of impermeability.
If you’re a parent looking to start grad school, as well as stay home with your (young) children, I recommend recognizing that the mental effort involved is totally different than either working, or school sans offspring – BUT – It’s not the type of difficult you might be expecting.
Yesterday was my half birthday – which means I’ve only got 18 more months before I turn 30.
It’ll be anticlimactic, since, as I told a friend recently, I’ve pretty much felt 30 since I had my son two years (and four months) ago anyway. Living in Massachusetts – where over 30% of children are born to mothers over 30, can seriously skew your perception of the right age to have a kid. Also of note, average female age for first marriage here is 29 here too. Which begs the question, what’s the average age for first master’s degree? Cause that’s the main reason for those other statistics.
Also this will be anticlimatic – because I’m an old soul. At 22 I wanted to join a committee. (Seriously, what a geek.) Finally, now that I’m 28 I can attend the meetings and happily realize I’m only a decade (and some change) younger than everyone else.
If you remotely follow lifestyle/reflective/ domestic-type blogs then you know that doing a 30 before 30 list is de rigeur. Seriously – just google it. Therefore I’ve been thinking about this since, well, since right after I turned 25.
30 is kind of a big deal. You’re sort of supposed to have your shit together by then. Mostly. And I’ve been working on it. I’ve chronicled some of my life lessons here on this blog, mused on some of my Secrets of Adulthood. (There’s some overlap, obvs.)
Overall, I congratulate myself on my emotional maturity… but the hallmark of these 30 before 30 lists doesn’t have much to do with that kind of poise and self-reflection. Nope – they focus on spectacular feats of athletic prowess, mental acumen, and also, predominantly wildly expensive lessons and trips. Travel, paying off debts, buying houses, and money money money are biiiiggg features. While I’m winning on the self-reflection end of things, life circumstances have pretty much stuck me (and the fam) in the lower quintiles of the economic scale. (For the time being, I tell myself.)
No trips to India for me. Boo hoo.
So, first thoughts on this list… I’d better focus on some free, or cheap things I want to accomplish.
Michael Sleeth came to speak at Gordon College, my alma mater, and I was giddily excited to see him. I really enjoyed his book Serve God, Save the Planet, and have recommended it to many people since then (here’s the blog post I wrote about it.)
The focus of his talk though, was his newer book “24/6: A prescription for a happier healthier life.“ This book details the benefits and reasons for engaging in a weekly Sabbath which includes practicing several things (eg; hospitality, reflection, study) as well as abstaining from many things (eg: extended travel, commerce, hyperconnectivity, work (however you define it.)).
I agree with him on all those points. But… bottom line – I can’t incorporate a “full-on Sabbath” into my life right now. There isn’t a single day of the week that I can set aside to practice ALL of the recommendations AT ONCE (for multiple boring reasons you don’t want to read about.)
BUT, I do work hard at incorporating each principle throughout my week, and my long standing interest in the issue of rest and leisure (stemming from, unsurprisingly, my time in New Zealand wwoofing) means that in the past, I HAVE practiced “full-on Sabbath.”
Here is my short list of Sabbath practices and what they look like during my week, as a contrast to what they can look like on a single day.
- Time for Reflection: Knowing that I would be busy during the school year, I purposely scheduled a time to reflect on the week, lessons learned, and changes to make, as well as a time to puzzle out interesting philosophical questions that arose. For me, this meant giving up one of my son’s naptimes as a time for work, and instead allocate it as a time for reflection. Adding on one extra hour of study to two other study sessions fixed the time difference with minimal sacrifice.
– No Emails on Saturday – (self explanatory, right.)
– Limited hours on social media sites all week. I have found that I am better able to manage my time, motivation, and productivity when I set aside time to browse ridiculous buzzfeed articles, watch movie trailers, and read blogs rather than taking “breaks” from study by indulging in 10 minutes here and there. Inevitably I am distracted for much longer than I want. Furthermore, I NEVER (okay, very very rarely) multitask between spending time with my son and the internet. I know that won’t work for many others, but I have found it to be extremely free-ing to simply limit my computer hours to those when he isn’t around, or isn’t awake.
– Time for friendships – I agree with Michael Sleeth (and others) that part of the Sabbath should be time spent practicing hospitality and strengthening friendships, and making new ones. I am sure to set aside at least 1 – 2 nights/afternoons a week for time to actively connect with others. Generally, I also try to authentically engage with others during these time on more than simply a surface level (ie: ‘tell me about your day’) – though, there is nothing wrong with that if not done exclusively!
- Limited Commerce – The average American spends 45 minutes a day shopping, so I read in a recent newsource. (Whether that’s online, or physical stores I’m not sure, I didn’t dig into the numbers, nor did I dig into whether it included services (like haircuts?) as well.) That’s about 5 hours a week. Since I make it my goal to spend less than 5 hours a month in stores, this one is waaay to easy for me to make a habit. Of all of Sleeth’s suggestions, this one is the easiest for me to see the benefit of.
And you – what are your thoughts on the Sabbath? On rest? On practicing these elements of life? Is what I’m doing technically not Sabbath keeping?