Friday Link Love

How much is too much?

Three Christmas Gifts — Faith and Leadership

I dug this up from the Friday Link Love archives, since I’ve started thinking about the kids’ Christmas gifts:

At a retreat on Christian life, I heard Susan V. Vogt describe a wonderful tradition suggested in her book “Raising Kids Who Will Make a Difference: Helping Your Family Live with Integrity, Value, Simplicity, and Care for Others.” A parent of four kids herself and a counselor and family life educator, she had tried her own experiments with gift giving, eventually settling on a simple yet elegant plan: she and her husband give each of their children only three gifts for Christmas — a “heart’s desire,” a piece of clothing and “something to grow on.”

I liked her idea immediately. Giving these gifts would ensure that the needs and wants of each child would be met, that each would receive an equal number of gifts, and that we would have a structure to help us resist the cultural message to run out and buy.

My friend Sherry gives her kids three gifts because “It was good enough for Jesus.” We’ve been doing that for some time, but I think we’ll try this approach too and see what happens.

Stay tuned: I think Caroline’s heart’s desire is a guinea pig.

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An Animated Open Letter to President Obama on the State of Physics Education — Brain Pickings

Apparently we’re not teaching modern physics in high school (like, anything after 1865). Is that true? Yeesh:

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Why You’re Never Failing as a Mother — Pregnant Chicken

This is making the rounds, and rightfully so:

As for the past generations that like to tell you that they raised six kids on their own and did it without a washing machine? Well, sort of. Keep in mind child rearing was viewed pretty differently not that long ago and you could stick a toddler on the front lawn with just the dog watching and nobody would bat an eye at it – I used to walk to the store in my bare feet to buy my father’s cigarettes when I was a kid. As a mother, you cooked, you cleaned, but nobody expected you to do anything much more than keep your kids fed and tidy.

So much more awesomeness at the link.

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Mark Kelly Speaks to Jared Loughner — Huffington Post

Loughner was sentenced to seven life terms plus 140 years in prison for shooting Gabby Giffords and killing several others. Her husband Mark spoke to him, and to us as well:

Mr. Loughner, by making death and producing tragedy, you sought to extinguish the beauty of life. To diminish potential. To strain love. And to cancel ideas. You tried to create for all of us a world as dark
 and evil as your own.

 But know this, and remember it always: You failed.

Your decision to commit cold-blooded mass murder also begs of us to look in the mirror. This horrific act warns us to hold our leaders and ourselves responsible for coming up short when we do, for not having the courage to act when it’s hard, even for possessing the wrong values.

We are a people who can watch a young man like you spiral into murderous rampage without choosing to intervene before it is too late.

We have a political class that is afraid to do something as simple as have a meaningful debate about our gun laws and how they are being enforced. We have representatives who look at gun violence,
 not as a problem to solve, but as the white elephant in the room to ignore. As a nation we have repeatedly passed up the opportunity to address this issue. After Columbine; after Virginia Tech; after Tucson and after Aurora we have done nothing.

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How to Use If-Then Planning to Achieve Any Goal — 99U

One study looked at people who had the goal of becoming regular exercisers. Half the participants were asked to plan where and when they would exercise each week (e.g., “If it is Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, then I will hit the gym for an hour before work.”) The results were dramatic: months later, 91% of if-then planners were still exercising regularly, compared to only 39% of non-planners!

Why are [if/then] plans so effective? Because they are written in the language of your brain – the language of contingencies. Human beings are particularly good at encoding and remembering information in “If X, then Y” terms, and using these contingencies to guide our behavior, often below our awareness.

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Motoi Yamamoto’s Saltscapes — Colossal

Japanese artist Motoi Yamamoto travels to the salt flats of Utah to discuss life, death, rebirth, and his labyrinthine poured salt installations. These are stunning:

Motoi Yamamoto – Saltscapes from The Avant/Garde Diaries on Vimeo.

He began this process to help process the grief of losing his sister. Salt as an element in healing? That’ll preach.

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My Kid Won’t Swim the Olympics

Camille Adams, who will swim in the Olympics in London.

Caroline competes each summer with our pool’s swim team, and last week their coaches had given them an assignment to watch some of the Olympic time trials held in Omaha. It was fun to watch elite athletes swimming at the top of their game and to listen to Caroline’s observations about the different strokes.

I took particular note of Davis Tarwater, who was once described as one of the best swimmers never to make an Olympic squad. The announcers last week noted that he has a 30 hour a week job designing banking software for third-world countries. I wondered how having a job like that impacted his ability to train at the highest level. As it happened, he failed to make the team in all three events he attempted, only getting a slot in 200 m freestyle after Michael Phelps opted not to swim that event in London.

Don’t get me wrong–Tarwater is an elite athlete, holding a national record. And it sounds like he feels a sense of mission around his “day job”–I don’t think he’s doing it for the money. But it was a reminder for me of the roles that circumstance and privilege play in achievement.

The other day our swim coaches posted the ladder with the kids’ times thus far. In the 9-10 age group, Caroline is currently 6th in freestyle and backstroke and 4th in breaststroke and butterfly. Caroline is a good swimmer technically, and she loves the sport. She’s had some fun victories and finishes this season, but she is not in the top tier of her teammates. Then again, she’s competing against kids who play various sports year-round, including kids who swim competitively for a program that is supposed to be amazing but costs almost $2,000 a year.

The pressure to achieve, to give one’s kids the best of everything, is huge around here. As a mother, I am in it, even as I disdain it. I felt a little torn when I read the ladder this weekend. If we had the time, energy and money to invest in her swimming, maybe she would move up from the middle of the pack. But we just don’t have the extra bandwidth to make that happen. I already push my job to the limits of its flexibility; I wrote last week’s sermon on deck at the pool, for heaven’s sake. One of those elite swim programs meets at 4:30 in the morning. Yes, you read that right.

Caroline doesn’t seem all that interested in upping the intensity of her swimming, so I’m certainly not going to push it. This post isn’t really about swimming. Rather I’m struggling with how we talk to our kids about privilege. How do we understand our own privilege? How do we frame competitive events like a swim team in a way that encourages kids to do their best, while acknowledging that some kids have an advantage by virtue of circumstance?

And can we explain all of this to our kids in a way that doesn’t foster bitterness, but rather a hunger for justice? I don’t want my kids to resent the only child with the mom who can devote time and energy to driving them to extra practices. But I do want them to wonder about kids who don’t even have the advantages we do. Our upper middle class swim problems are small potatoes; read this article that profiles six people who live at the different levels of income disparity in the U.S. and extrapolate it out. You think competitive swim team is expensive? Have you checked out four year colleges lately? What does all of this look like for the Pallwitz kids (page 3 in the article), whose parents are barely making ends meet? What will achievement look like for them?

When the playing field is uneven at many levels, what does it mean to “do well”?

Friday Link Love

It has been a crazy week. Just nuts. On the upside, I am now finally, completely, 100% done with the book, revisions and all. Huzzah!

And anon!

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Logo for “The Truth”

First, some link love family-style:

The Truth — APM

My brother-in-law Jonathan is the producer of this radio program, dubbed “movies for your ears.” They were recently featured on This American Life. If you like the cleverness of the radio plays on Prairie Home Companion, but long for something WAY less stodgy, check this out. Clever, quality work.

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Where the Hell Is Matt…One Last Dance — YouTube

I adored the 2008 video and always vowed to use it as an intro to World Communion Sunday. (Now I have the technology to do it at Tiny! Woo!) Maybe I’ll use this version instead:

Absolute joy.

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What Post-Baby Bellies REALLY Look Like — Daily Mail Online

Honesty and beauty:

A group of working mothers and bloggers have decided to tackle the growing pressure women feel to snap straight back into shape after giving birth.

Baring their own post-baby bodies, seven bloggers from CT Working Moms have embraced their stomachs, in an effort to liberate other women from the unattainable cultural beauty ideals plaguing today’s ‘bounce-back’ obsessed society.

In a photo shoot they have named the Goddess Gallery, the women hope to encourage new mothers to accept, and cherish, their changing bodies despite the ever-growing ‘body after baby’ celebrity worship, and the suffocating negativity that can come with it.

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The Impossible Juggling Act: Motherhood and Work — NPR

Anne-Marie Slaughter is EVERYWHERE right now. Her Atlantic article is a tour de force. This capsule of her Fresh Air review gives you the gist of her argument, but honestly, you should read the whole thing.

“I still strongly believe that women can ‘have it all’ (and that men can, too). I believe that we can ‘have it all at the same time.’ But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured,” she writes. “My experiences over the past three years have forced me to confront a number of uncomfortable facts that need to be widely acknowledged — and quickly changed.”

Those changes include recognizing the needs of both parents — and giving them both time off — when they first become caregivers. But the deeper problems, Slaughter says, are more cultural — and extend beyond the first months of parenting.

“[We assume] that the worker who works longest is most committed as opposed to valuing time management and efficiency at getting things done over the length of time,” she says. “And second, [we assume] that that time has to be spent at the office.”

I’m too close to this at the moment to comment. Maybe I will at some later date.

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Impromptu Puccini — Andrew Sullivan

I’m shamelessly reproducing Sully’s entire post because it defies abbreviation:

A male reader writes:

“My husband Jimmy and I recently celebrated our wedding here in Brooklyn, and my mom and her new husband came up for the festivities. This was a totally impromptu performance by my mom at the request of friends who just started asking her to sing something. Though I expected she would go with something from the Rodgers and Hammerstein catalog, Puccini is what she delivered. Absolutely brilliant. I’m still picking myself up off the floor. I’ve never heard her sing this and it’s one of my favorite pieces. The reactions of my friends Sarah (flower dress on the right) and Neal (lilac shirt next to her) are priceless …”

[Sullivan continues] A small reminder: Mitt Romney wants to ban these occasions by constitutional amendment across the entire country, and forcibly divorce those of us living happy married lives. What he hasn’t counted on are our moms. You think Puccini is surprising? What till Mitt messes with her son and son-in-law.

Do not miss the follow up post, either. The mother is a conservative Republican from North Carolina who is very suspicious of Obama and voted for McCain/Palin… and against Amendment One.

Love wins.

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Take My iPad, Please! — Forward

Leaders in the Conservative Jewish movement have offered some guidelines on technology as it relates to Sabbath. I haven’t read them in depth yet but obviously I’m glad this conversation is taking place.

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And in honor of my denomination’s General Assembly which meets next week…

Hey PCUSA, Stare Death in the Face! — Theresa Cho

Lately, I’ve been reading “Deep Survival” by Laurence Gonzales. Using science and storytelling, he tackles the mysteries of survival – why do some have what it takes to survive while others don’t. It seems an odd choice of reading to correlate with the challenges of our denomination today, but you would be amazed how useful simple survival skills may give us the tools we need to survive. Gonzales says, “In a true survival situation, you are by definition looking death in the face, and if you can’t find something droll and even something wondrous and inspiring in it, you are already in a world of hurt.” As Christians and Presbyterians, we have a real opportunity here to recalibrate and look “death” in the face and see something wondrous and inspiring. I wonder if that is what Jesus saw when he entered the wilderness for forty days and forty nights. What Boy Scout survival skills did Jesus whip out in the depths of temptation. I imagine he didn’t only experience a sense of being physically lost, but emotionally and spiritually as well.

If you find my diagnosis of the church too optimistic–and some do–read Theresa’s article.

Motherhood Mantra: The Harder Thing

The amazing and prolific Mihee Kim-Kort recently hosted a series on her blog called “Motherhood Mantras.” I’d been kicking around the topic for several weeks and finally managed to get something written, but… the series is over. Thankfully Mihee understands that the life of the mother-writer happens outside the bounds of conventional time and has agreed to post it. 

Incidentally, Mihee also has a book forthcoming from Chalice Press, called Making Paper Cranes: Toward An Asian-American Feminist Theology which looks to be excellent.

It was the witching hour, and my husband was working late. I’d managed to cobble together some semblance of a balanced meal for the three amigos and me. But there was no getting around it—we had to go to the grocery store after supper.

It had been an exhausting day of ministry. As I navigated traffic with the kids in the back, I was lost in my own thoughts about e-mails left unanswered and people who would need to be visited the next day. I was heavy with the burden of pastoral care, not to mention sermon preparation, which percolates underneath everything else, all week long. I love my kids, but I was counting the minutes until they were tucked quietly into bed.

A plaintive request came from the back seat: “Mommy, can we pretend we’re in a spaceship?”

The internal answer was instant and vehement: Ugh, NO! I was just too tired. I wanted to get to the store, buy what we needed, and get home—no muss, no fuss. I had expended all my creative energy during the day. Surely there was nothing left for spaceship play.

But a flat NO is a bit of a buzzkill. So I considered a middle ground: Go right ahead, kids! Be my guest. Why would I stop them? So long as they stayed strapped in, they could imagine whatever they wished. They’re happy, and I get a little introvert time. Win-win.

But something in me shifted. What if I went along with them in the game? What if I decided not to do the bare minimum? What would happen if I summoned up some energy I wasn’t even sure I had, in order to play along?

“Sure!” I heard myself say, and began barking out nonsensical orders. “First Officer Caroline: monitor our coordinates. Lieutenant Margaret: check the thrusters to see that they’re operational. Sergeant James: give us a report of weather conditions outside.”

A short growl came from the backseat. Oh yeah, James is in his I’m-a-dog phase. “Did I say Sergeant James? I meant Scruffy the dog. Scruffy, you lie down until we get to the moon, then you can help explore.”

The whole errand went this way. The Fairfax County Parkway became a giant asteroid belt. The grocery store became a space station where we needed to stock up on supplies. Our garage became a lunar docking station.

Miraculously, bedtime afterward went smoothly, even joyfully. I thought they’d be wound up from our game, but they were content, excited that they’d been able to do something out of the ordinary. What’s more, I was in a better mood too.

Later that night, I remembered a phrase I’d read as a young adult: “It’s easier to do what’s hard than what’s easy.” The author’s point (if I remember correctly) is that people often choose the path of least resistance in their lives, but that path can make life harder in the long run. (Doing the bare minimum to graduate, for example—it’s easier short-term but it can impact career success for a long time.) By contrast, if you put in just a little more effort, it can make a huge difference in the end. What’s initially hard becomes easier over time.

That phrase has evolved into a parenting mantra:

The harder thing is the easier thing.

It’s hard to summon the energy to play Minivan Spaceship, but it’s easier in the long run than dealing with cranky, bored kids, resentful at yet another errand, dragging their feet instead of skipping down the aisles, looking for provisions.

It’s hard to keep the house in a basic semblance of order, but it’s easier in the long run when you know exactly where the permission slip is on the morning of the field trip.

It’s hard for me to set aside time for Sabbath each week—a practice our family has been committed to for many years—but it makes life easier because it makes life more pleasant.

The harder thing is the easier thing.

It’s hard to have the tough conversation, or to respond to that angry e-mail with a phone call instead of another e-mail, or to tell the truth the first time rather than fudge it… but it is so much more freeing to be on the other side of it.

Sometimes we’re tempted to do the minimum to get by—in life, in relationships. And let’s face it: as mothers, we’re constantly playing triage. A bit more humor, a bit more kindness, a bit more intentionality, require a lot more energy up front. But these things pay dividends in the long run, through stronger relationships and a sense of well-being.

The harder thing is the easier thing.

Like every good mantra, you have to know when to embrace its inverse. Sometimes the harder thing is the harder thing. It’s possible to force things, to strive for a perfection that’s not only impossible, but exhausting and dispiriting. I’m a big believer in the good-enough parent. Sometimes getting everyone to the store and back in one piece is good enough. Surviving is a victory.

But other times, the harder thing really is the easier thing. And the more joyful thing.

Friday Link Love

We’ve had a lot of new visitors to The Blue Room lately, so by way of orientation: every Friday I post a variety of links to items that interested me over the last week, most of which require little commentary. We cover everything from art to faith to brain chemistry. Some weeks it’s lighthearted stuff, some weeks not.

And now, for all your Friday procrastination needs… Link Love:

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Creative Dad Takes Crazy Photos of Daughters — Jason Lee

Fun with Photoshop. Lots more at the above link.

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Motherhood Mantras: It’s Good Enough — Theresa Cho

Theresa is a rockstar in Presbyterian world. (Yes, I realize the cognitive dissonance there. Work with me, people.) She’s also a righteous babe.

In my ninth week of pregnancy, I had the most vivid dream. My family and I were vacationing in a cabin. While my son and I were hanging out in the backyard, a black panther appeared and began to circle around us. I screamed for my husband to save us, but he couldn’t come. That dream haunted me for months after I found out I miscarried.

After several months had past and I had experienced another miscarriage, I decided to see a therapist for a completely different reason than the miscarriages. But somehow that dream entered into our conversation. After telling her about the dream, she asked me to close my eyes and have a conversation with the panther. Are you kidding me? Talk to the panther? I decided to humor her. The conversation went something like this…

Read the rest. It took my breath away.

This article is part of a series by Mihee Kim-Kort, who is also a righteous babe. I’ve been pondering my own motherhood mantra and hope to participate in this great project at some point.

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Fifteen Things You Should Give Up to Be Happy — Purpose Fairy

Blame, complaining, the luxury of criticism… what do you think? What makes your list of impediments to happiness?

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A Teacher, A Student and a 39-Year Lesson in Forgiveness — Oregon Live

When he was 12 years old, the boy did something he only later realized probably hurt his seventh-grade teacher. It was minor — he was, after all, a kid — but in time, when he was older and wiser, he wanted to find this teacher and apologize.

But the teacher seemed to have vanished. Over the decades, the man occasionally turned to the Internet, typing the teacher’s name into the search box. He never found anything. He never quit looking. A few months ago — by now nearly 39 years after this happened — he got a hit.

It’s not too late. Interesting to read this article in conversation with the one on forgiving and forgetting earlier this week.

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A Thin Toy is a Happy Toy! — Jana Riess

You guys know I write about body image stuff. A lot. Check out this post about how kids’ toys (e.g. Strawberry Shortcake) have gotten thinner over the years. What the heck?

Oh and Jana Riess? Also a righteous babe.

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Just for fun: Jesus Tap-Dancing Christ: The Greatest Craigslist Car Ad Ever — Jalopnik

The owner, Joe, who seems to either have some decent design skills or an easily conned friend with said skills, is offering a 1995 Pontiac Grand Am GT for the low price of $700, marked down from the expected price of $199,999. His hyperbolic rhetoric about the car has an intoxicating effect, and I’m actually feeling like I want– no, I need– this Clinton-era example of what Americans can build at their absolute unfettered best.

We tried calling Joe, but of course his line was busy. Duh. There’s probably a line around his block of people hoping to look at the car, or maybe just lick the oil pan to cure cancer or have their baby breathe some holy exhaust. We’ll update if he gets in touch with us before he’s raptured to Heaven.

He did get in touch with them, and there’s now an interview up at this site. Silly post, silly ad. A bit PG-13. Don’t send me letters.

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And the obligatory posts from my favorite art site, Colossal:

A Wall of Shattered Glass Floods a Benedictine Monastery:

and Ridiculously Imaginative Playgrounds by Monstrum. I can’t possibly choose my favorite, but how awesome would it be for a church playground to feature one of these:

Jonah… go to Sunday School…

“No way, God! I’d rather be in the belly of the whale!”

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Have a good weekend, wherever you may find yourself.

Advent: Waiting

I wrote this six years ago when I was pregnant with Margaret.

talk to me about the waiting…

mostly I crouch, head bowed, eyes closed
against the soft black, safe in liquid suspense.
but even in the nothing there are constant somethings:
a fluid symphony, simmering, rolling, rushing past;
a metronome beating out the time,
world without end—and a voice:
hushed murmur, burbling laugh,
distant yet irresistible.

and then, at certain times,
I am bathed in thirsty, throaty songs:
o come, o come,
long-expected one;
rejoice, rejoice,
prepare the way;
comfort, comfort,
alleluia, amen.
and these reverberations of hope
shake the cradle that holds me,
and I stretch the kinks out of kneeling legs,
raise my arms in praise,
then bow and wait, again,
for that time when we will sing
Joy!
To the World!
together.

My Contribution to the Reality Project

My friend Mary Allison is hosting a “reality project” at her blog, in which people are invited to share pictures of the chaos in their homes as a way of truth-telling. She writes, “These scenes represent the new normal of modern motherhood where everything does not have its place.” There are some great photos there and I agree that humor is the best medicine when it comes to these crazy unrealistic expectations many of us have placed on ourselves.

I love the idea behind the reality project, but I have to come at it from a different perspective. The fact is, clutter negatively impacts my sanity. It’s not to say that my house is free of clutter—it is SO not. Nor does everything in my house have a place. But I cannot let things go more than a couple of days before I begin to unravel mentally. That’s when the White Tornado sweeps through the house. (My husband bestowed that nickname on me.)

So I’ve gotta let it all hang out in other ways.

But lest anyone dub me Ms. Hospital Corners, here is my contribution to the reality project. For those of you who say, “I don’t know how you find the time to do everything you do,” well… here comes some truth:

1. We have no mirror in our bathroom, thanks to a stalled remodel project from well more than a year ago. Also, one of the lights is burned out, and will remain so until they all go and I suddenly realize “Hey. It’s dark in here.”

2. Our Christmas decorations never got put away two Christmases ago. Instead they sat in our garage for all of 2010. Which made setup much easier last Christmas, so there’s that.

3. Our “magazine basket” has three-year-old reading material in it.

4. I’ve kept Netflix DVDs for the better part of a year.

5. On multiple occasions.

6. I use our minivan for temporary storage when I just can’t handle putting stuff away. Current items include a bag of hand-me-downs, a couple of winter jackets, and a broken princess tiara that I would like to Toy Rapture but will get in trouble for if I do.

7. One of our kitchen drawers fell apart, so we’ve got a big bowl of cooking utensils sitting in the corner of our blue room.

8. I haven’t balanced my checkbook in years. Years. Thank God for balance inquiry via ATM and online.

9. All of the booty that we buy from CostCo (paper goods, snacks) is stacked in a mountainous blob along one wall in our basement, such that there is a 2-foot-wide path to the washing machine…

10. …Which has some pillows and blankets in front of it that I haven’t washed for a year or two.

Wow, I came up with these 10 without even thinking hard. I could go on, but you get the idea.

It’s your turn. Tell a little truth today.

And anyone commenting that they have it all together, or recoiling in self-righteous horror, will be pelted by the alphabet magnets on my fridge that go with a LeapFrog game that disappeared five years ago.