Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Handling Facebook

Well, this post started out as a "comment" to a friend's Facebook post, but it was just getting way too long and philosophical for that venue, so I've moved it here.  It was in response to her announcement that she was taking a three-month break from Facebook, starting tomorrow, because she's been "convicted about being addicted to Facebook and the fact that it's becoming an idol in (her) life."  If this post seems a little like I'm talking to you directly, it is because I am writing with a desire to address this particular friend and her struggle.  (It is also particularly timely, in that I have just recently--reluctantly--allowed my 14-year-old son get his own Facebook account.  I am always seeking to help both him and his 16-year-old sister to navigate this world of electronic communication and social networking with responsibility and wisdom.)

First of all, far be it from me to ever step in the path of someone who is genuinely feeling convicted about the need to cease something, and then try to talk them into continuing it!  So, if you are truly feeling the conviction of the Holy Spirit in some arena (including this one), and the Lord is telling you that it is time for you to stop doing something (even if it is something permissible and fine, biblically), then you should stop doing it.  Period.

BUT, [as Pee-wee Herman used to say, "Everybody's got a big 'but'..."], if you are just feeling godly disappointment in the fact that Facebook (or watching television, or playing video games, or surfing the web, or one of any number of other potentially addictive things of this nature) has somehow come to take up too much of your time and affections--and you don't quite know how to get a handle it or what to do about it, so you're just quitting cold turkey out of desperation--then I offer the following thoughts.

(And know that I do so very reluctantly, because I do agree that our spending time with machines instead of with people--and, even more significantly, with the Lord--is a major problem facing all of us alive today.  Most all of us could use less "electronics times" than we currently allow ourselves!  [See this post for my thoughts--and some sobering statistics--about this problem.]  That said, however...)

It is a fact--and I am accepting this reluctantly, I might add--that social networking sites like Facebook (and texting, which--grrrr---isn't free!) are the primary ways in which younger generations are communicating these days.  I'm not sure how or when we got to the place where calling on a cell phone (let alone a landline!) or sending an email (let alone postal mail!) were passé forms of keeping in touch, but we're there. Of course they're still in use, but they are not the primary way that Generation Y keeps in touch.  Younger folks don't know how to "do relationship" in deep, meaningful, face-to-face ways, until they encounter it and learn it from some folks who have already learned it, committed to it, and shared it.  I have young friends who tell me that their peers are upset with them if they call rather than text to invite them somewhere--their friends don't want to have to respond to the invitation "live" on the phone (let alone in person!).  Is this resulting in people who don't know how to do relationship very well?  Absolutely!  But that is where we are, and we have to learn to make concerted efforts to join with the trend in redemptive ways

So, if your Facebook habits and affections have gotten out of proportion to what constitutes healthy time management--or if you just want to ensure that they never do--perhaps some self-control parameters are in order.  You can take it or leave it, or modify it to suit your life, but here's what I do to keep it--Facebook specifically--manageable in my life.

First of all, if spending too much time in chat has been--or you think it will be--a problem for you, turn it off.  Under options, "go offline."  This will keep you from getting sucked into conversations with people who are just killing time when you don't have time to kill.  If they really want to talk to you, they'll contact you some other way.

Second, if gaming has been a problem for you--or if you fear it might become one--turn it off.  I never got caught up in Facebook gaming, but--if the notifications I read when I'm in Facebook are any indication--many a friend has gotten very caught up in Farmville and Mafia Wars and the like!  If this has become problematic for you, time-wise, turn it off, or at least turn off notifications about the game, which will keep you from being forced into dealing with it unless you've specifically chosen to get online in order to play Facebook games for a few minutes.  Then you can deal with whatever has transpired since your last time playing.

After those two basic things have been taken care of--really only helpful if chatting and gaming, specifically, have been problems for you--then you get to the main strategies for handling Facebook time management.  First, be sure you're signed up to receive notifications of all Facebook activity and correspondence at your email account.  Then, choose only to get on Facebook when you get notice of something.  This takes away the obsessive feeling that sometimes develops--like you have to "know everything" and "keep up with all the news" about everyone--by keeping you off of Facebook most of the time.  Being on there a lot is what feeds the need to be on there even more... that itching feeling you develop to "check and see what's happening" with everyone.  (Young people especially--by which I mean anyone between the ages of about 12 to 35--seem to have a major problem with this aspect of things: the constant need for the moment-by-moment notifications that beep on their smartphones...)

Next, when you get there--and remember, you've only gotten onto Facebook because you've gotten an email notification about something needing your attention--then allow yourself to read one page of "top news" (the page you landed on) and one page of "most recent" posts.  Don't allow yourself to click to "older posts" in either venue.  Yes, you will "miss" a lot of things--I have missed finding out that a distant friend had a baby until the kid was like two or something!--but most of the important things will get through. That takes less than one minute to accomplish, and it is a built-in time limit.

After you do that, quickly handle whatever situation it was that brought you to Facebook in the first place.  Reply to the note, answer the friend request, look at the tagged photo--whatever thing it was you received the email notification about--and then get off.  You've already read your two allowable pages of notices and updates.  You're done.  You will have spent less than five minutes doing all of this.  Now get on with life.

For the other stuff--if you choose to allow yourself to go beyond the above parameters--impose "limits" like you will likely one day have to do with your kids.  For example, "I will spend only XX minutes a day browsing Facebook."  (You decide what's reasonable.  For my kids who have Facebook, it is 20 minutes--and only if all their work and chores are done first!)  A word to the wise: set a timer for this, or you'll lose track of time!  And the timer keeps it deliberate.  When you cross out of the limiting parameters stated above, only do so with full intention, and with the accountability of your timer.)  Another option: "I will only allow Facebook on weekends," and only for a certain amount of predetermined time.  (For our family, this is never more than an hour, and we're not like clockwork with it, either!)

Of course, you know yourself, so if you're really having trouble with it, and it isn't edifying in any way, by all means--just like anything else in your life like this--stop it!  [We don't watch TV for these reasons.]

But I am struck by the fact that in just the last week, my friend who is considering quitting Facebook would have missed the blessing of receiving the gift of a camera if she hadn't had it.  (And it is interesting to note that the friend who had discovered her lack of one--and was blessed to be able to give her this gift--found out about the need on Facebook, even while living within the above-mentioned limiting parameters and restrictions regarding its use.)

When I got on Facebook this morning, in response to a notification that I'd been tagged in a photo, I read my one page of "top news."  On it, I saw a quick comment from this friend who is considering quitting Facebook, on the Wall of a mutual friend who is in the hospital, that she was praying for her.  If she hadn't had Facebook, she wouldn't have known of our friend's hospitalization, and she would not have been praying.    [Of course, I recognize the fact that--using these parameters I've suggested--any of us might not have found out about x, y, or z on any given day.  That's okay.  We are not going to be able to know about everything that happens in the lives of hundreds of people, and still manage our own!!]

My suggestion in this regard: pray about it.  Yes, pray about Facebook!  And I don't just mean about the decisions regarding the parameters you'll put in place for its use, either.  I mean about each individual Facebook experience.

Before you get on--for anything outside the first parameters mentioned above, such as browsing around status updates using the "time limit" approach--pray that the Lord would bless your time there, and that He would use it to bless you and others in relationship.  He will lead you to the things you need to see, and it can be a rich time, relationally.

This practice of mine is similar to the practice of the "yard sale prayer list," which I've employed for many years now.  When we really need/want something, but it is just too expensive to go out and buy, I will mentally put it on my "yard sale prayer list" and ask the Lord to provide it in some other way.  I have literally furnished our home, clothed my family, and provided for our life in this way.  He ALWAYS provides the things I pray for in this way in some astonishing, very-cheap-to-free sort of ways: sometimes someone gives it to us; sometimes I find it at a yard sale, or a thrift store, or an amazing retail sale.

At any rate, He can do the same for your Facebook time, if you will take it to Him.  I ask Him to--and firmly believe that He does--lead me to just the things I need to see and know about on Facebook, whenever I go on.  I also ask Him to keep me from the things I shouldn't know about, things that might negatively affect my opinion of someone or lead me to some unfair conclusions about them.  And He directs me in how--and when, and if--to respond with my time in relationship with the things I find there.

So, if you can bring yourself to exercise self-discipline in its use, I do believe that Facebook can be a wonderful tool the Lord uses to bless you, and to bless others through you.  Like most things, however, it can also be a strangling noose around your spiritual neck--if not properly controlled and curtailed--and so I pray for great wisdom and discernment for you (as I do for myself and for my children) as you follow the Lord's leading in its use.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Enough, already!

"What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps one in a continual state of inelegance." - Jane Austen, written in a letter to a friend, 1796

I couldn't agree more!  Enough is enough, already!  Since when is down to "just in the 90's" a break?!

And my garden suffereth, too!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Extolling Hummus


Our family loves hummus.  My husband used to make our own, with tahini and everything, but we have fallen into the habit of picking up the large tubs of Sabra hummus that are for sale at Costco.  At first, we just bought the plain, which is very tasty.  Later, we really got into the Roasted Garlic and the Roasted Pine Nuts varieties.

This week my daughter spoke of a friend who had told her that she really loved the Spinach and Artichoke variety, and she doesn't even like hummus.  Well, since we love hummus--and spinach and artichokes, too-- we decided to give it a go.

It is delicious!  I often feel like I want to share when I particularly love a product.  Too bad I can't get advertising royalties for mentioning it, like those people who drive around with ads on the side of their vans or something!

Anyway, I just went into my kitchen to make a little lunch snack of it, with a clementine on the side.  It is just yummy.  Go try some!  (It is particularly good with Stacy's Simply Naked Pita Chips, which are just around the corner in the Costco aisle.)  Enjoy!

My Italian Grandmother

"I want you to pretend your kitchen has come to life as a person."

Hmmmm... This research study I'm doing is interesting to me.  The initial screening questions must have gone deeper into something besides just my cooking habits and how often, where, and when I like to eat out.  It is dubbed a "restaurant survey," but I'm still writing about my kitchen, and in an awfully figurative way that requires a level of creative thought and writing which I would think the average person doesn't practice much.

So, anyway, here goes.  My personification of my kitchen, discussing herself, and how she would feel if she met my ideal kitchen:  (Yep, that was the assignment!)

My kitchen is like an Italian grandmother, having always made something delicious and wanting you to want to eat it.  Lots of it.  She works hard with real ingredients, in real cookware... stoneware and cast iron and wood that's been lovingly oiled over years of use.

She is not at all precise with a recipe, but only because she doesn't need to be.  She knows the best teaspoons are measured in her palm, and that the bread is ready when it "smells ready."  She does want everything in its place, however, and "its place" is both practical and lovely, if it is possible for it to be.

My kitchen would be sheepish if she met my ideal kitchen.  She might feel a little insecure, but it a fiercely proud way, if she saw the larger, stainless steel stove with six burners instead of her four... with two ovens attempting to shame her one.  She would know that these things are far preferable for cooking for a large family--and for the inevitable stragglers that wander in to join them--but she has come to know and love the tools she's been given enough to shy away from coveting her neighbor's anything.  So she would blush, and blunder, and turn back to her broth with a chuckle and a sigh.

She'd turn around and give ear once again to her favorite classical music.  She loves the strains... going lovely here, and frigtening there, and loud, and soft, and gentle, and grand.  


She'll just listen to that for a moment or two, putting aside her brief struggle with discontent, and then she'll reach across the granite to gently take your hand and squeeze.  She'll let you know that it is all okay... that the momentary struggle has passed, and that this is, in fact, the best place in the world to be.

Then she'll slice you another piece, slather it thick with butter, and push it deep into your soul with a squeeze and a smile.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Shared Lifetimes

For the next assignment, I had to find a picture, and use it to write an analogy for my kitchen.  Here it is:


SHARED LIFETIMES

My kitchen is like this Italian window box.
Open, arched, reaching, reaching...

The flowers and vines grow freely
around the hearts and lives that gather here
Intertwined
Blooming
Joined, yet distinct,
as they embrace a scent 
and a taste 
and a touch.

Brown, red, orange, black,
Wood, terra cotta, stone, and iron
Wrapped around and weaving through
the lives that perch here
Some for moments,
Many for lifetimes.

Shared lifetimes
over a cookie
and a cup 
of spiced tea.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

My Kitchen

I really love my kitchen.  I have always loved it as the sort of "social center of the home" that the kitchen inevitably is.  But beyond just that comforting, comfortable feeling of a kitchen in general, I really love my kitchen--and all the more so since the "clean sweep" has made it all the way to this room.

So I was thrilled to find that the research survey I'm participating in this weekend has begun by asking me questions about my kitchen... both in technical descriptions and with figurative questions that probe how I feel about the room itself... and how I feel when I'm in it...

I was asked to use all of my senses as I gave a written accompaniment to the video, capturing how I feel about my kitchen and surrounding areas.  So, here it is:

There is a bit of a "living circuit" in our home... a circle formed, from the time you walk in the front door, that encompasses the entry hall, the family room, the kitchen, the dining room, and the study. When we have people over, they fill all of these areas, including the spillover to outside on the decks that are off both the kitchen and the family room.

The kitchen is definitely the "social center" of our home. In it, I prepare our meals from healthy, whole foods. I do home baking from freshly milled whole grains... I make healthy chicken and vegetable stocks by boiling the carcasses for at least 24 hours... we drink fermented beverages that we prepare ourselves in our home (kefir, kombucha, homemade yogurt, etc.)... we grow many of our own organic vegetables in our garden...

Our kitchen is always filled with a variety of delicious aromas, mostly driven by what's been baking or cooking on a given day.  On this day that I filmed my kitchen for the research survey, there was a chicken stock beginning to boil on the stove. During the filming, the scent of the rich broth began to prick at my nose, as the rolling boil began in earnest. There was the faint hint of banana cake in the air, and the suggestion of tomato and spices from the bruschetta we had eaten earlier.

A friend of mine once said, "I love to eat whatever Laurie sets out on this corner, because it is always good. Whatever is there, I eat it..." The "that corner" of which he spoke is the corner of the center island that is right there when you walk into the kitchen from the hallway or the family room. That ledge is always filled with whatever foods I'm serving, whether a full meal buffet-style, a wide array of appetizers and snacks, or a fun spread of homemade dessert with coffee and tea at the coffee bar.

My counter tops are granite, cold to the touch, but they sport a warm mix of tans and browns and greys that are pleasing and inviting to the eye. There is plenty of room to stand around the outer edges of the island, and people usually congregate there. This leaves me free to navigate through the "galley" that contains the stove and sink, and to continue to prepare and serve food as we visit. I have chosen to fill my kitchen with lots of wrought iron, wood, and stoneware. The overall effect is one of a European winery or bakery, with all the commensurate spice-y smells, and earthy pottery, and vintage cookware.

I ended by including a poem I'd once written, which captures pretty well some dimensions of how I feel about my kitchen, and about provincial decor in general.

I have another friend who is an interior designer at heart--probably since long before she studied it in college many years ago--and she's been after me--since she met me--to paint my wooden cabinets white.  I know she is much more knowledgeable than I about the style and fashion and trendiness of it all, but it has been easy to roundly refuse this suggestion.  Why?  Because I love wood... wooden bowls, wooden utensils, wooden furniture.  My kitchen is filled with it, and I love the warmth and homey-ness it adds.  So the rich brown of the wooden cabinets is a real pleasure to me.

I think Jane Austen must have been thinking in some measure of the kitchen when she said, "Ah!  There is nothing like staying at home, for real comfort"  (Emma, Chapter 32, 1815).

Friday, July 23, 2010

Swan Lake

Now granted, I recognize that I am still technically "post-partum," having experienced the hormonal plunge of a sudden end to pregnancy... and so, this might not be as moving as it somehow seemed to me when I watched it today.  Sometimes I'm a sap, and as such, this kind of marriage of beauty and accomplishment can cause tears to spring to my eyes.

These dancers are so smooth and graceful and polished that it seems flawless and natural, even as her body is put into positions that would in other contexts seem almost contortionist.  My favorite part is toward the end, when the extra male dancer comes out and almost imperceptibly shadows the pair as the ballerina does pointe on the danseur's head.  This spotter's entry and exit are barely discernible; he is just there, as extra safety during such an extraordinary feat of dancing skill.

Somehow, indirectly, vicariously almost, I felt honored and cared for as a woman as I watched that demonstration of concern for her safety, even as she perfectly executed the moves and proved his presence unnecessary.  Bravo!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Losing Ellery

Well, as I sit here recovering from the grogginess--general anesthesia yesterday, dozing in and out of sleep all morning--I pause to capture a few emotions.  The nurse yesterday told me the anesthesia would be in my system for at least 24 hours, and that I shouldn't drive, cook, operate machinery, or make any important life or financial decisions during that time.  The last one made me smile.  Does getting on the computer to post emotions to the world on a blog count?!

At any rate, here they are--groggy, confused, and "under the influence"--but this is what I'm thinking about on this day.

This D&C was the first I've had performed under general anesthesia.  In some ways, it is much easier, emotionally, that way. Well, at least during the "during"...

The natural miscarriage that was our first one--at thirteen weeks--was really horrible.  There was lots of bleeding (as in "you might as well just sit on the toilet" bleeding) and excruciating pain (as in "this feels just like labor, but I don't get the joy of a baby at the end of it so it is even worse" pain).  We had been taken aback by that first miscarriage--shocked, really--because I had never had any trouble before.  The kids and we were so excited about the baby, and we were all pretty devastated when it died.  We called that baby Jordan.

The next miscarriage was my first D&C, and it was actually two procedures since they didn't get all the tissue out the first time.  I was awake for these procedures--and the barbaric nature of it all is in your face as you listen to the grinding motor of the suction machine, wince under the pain of the scraping and poking going on inside you, hear the sounds of the "uterine contents" that is your baby make its way into the jar attached to the machine.  It really does seem like something out of early last century; you'd think this technology would have progressed beyond blind scraping and sucking with a machine that looks like something you'd use to blow up your air mattress.  Anyway, this is different from the natural miscarriage that lasts days in your home, but still emotionally difficult as well as physically uncomfortable, and you tend to cry all the way through it, too.  Nurses and doctors who want to be compassionate but who do this all the time give you small smiles of pity, and you just want to crawl away somewhere and bawl.  But you put on a brave face and assure them you're fine, and yes, they can keep going.  We called this baby Eden.  

My third miscarriage was, mercifully, more like a very heavy period, just six weeks along, a mere two weeks past the positive pregnancy test.  By three-in-a-row, you're getting a little jaded and numb anyway, so it was nice to have this baby leave us in a little less emotional way.  By this time, I began to realize that I was dealing with the pain of the loss separate from the procedure of the miscarriage itself... it was more of a lengthy, philosophical journey of "processing" and pain and prayer and tears.  Saying goodbye to little babies you'll never meet is difficult business...this one we called Carlan.

Our fourth miscarriage ended with another D&C; that time, like this one, my body was not getting the hint that the baby had died and that all this pregnancy stuff it was growing was not needed.  The moment the machine started up--though it had been years since the last one--all the emotions of the past D&Cs returned, and I relived the loss of all our babies even as I had to listen to them "remove" this one.  It is tricky stuff, trusting God in the pain of our lives, receiving His will when it seems so out of sync with what you think you would prefer.  This fourth little life was relinquished a couple of years ago now, at a little over ten weeks along.  That child we named Quinn.

For a couple of years after this, I did not conceive.  I had begun blogging by then, and was processing a lot of the emotions of these losses onscreen.  I find it therapeutic, having to capture all the myriad of thoughts and emotions into some sort of coherent thing that I can come back to and read.  I remember my 41st birthday being particularly difficult, as I faced the reality that my advancing age may, in fact, rob us of the joy of another child born into our family.

And so now, at age 43, we say goodbye to another baby.  I've really processed the emotion of this loss over the past several weeks, and so by the time I got to surgery yesterday--this time under general anesthesia--the goodbyes of my heart had been said, the tears shed.  It was rather a perfunctory-feeling thing yesterday, since they put me under and I woke up with it all over.  No bleeding and pain, no grinding machine, no reminders of what was happening to me and to a little baby-who-would-never-be, at least on this earth.

And so I sit, a little groggy and a little sore, with a little spotting, toying with letting the tears which tickle the corners of my eyes, come... but not so sure I want to cry anymore.  I remember one particular morning, a few weeks ago, when iivo and I just sat and wept--both of us--as we read the poem I'd written as I wrestled with letting another little one go before its time.  The goodbyes were really processed then, and the nature of this miscarriage really allowed the event itself to pass without emotional fanfare.  I embrace the part of that that is a mercy and respite, and yet I mourn the part of that that maybe doesn't mark it pointedly enough.  Your departure from us, little Ellery, is just as bittersweet to us as those of your lost brothers and sisters were.  And we are sad that it is now fully completed.

We release you to the One who loves you more than we ever could have, even if we had gotten to hold you in our arms and mentor you through this world with all the love we could muster.  We look forward to meeting you one day.  

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Brand New Day

I found these lyrics on my friend Heidi's blog, and the song has set me thinking on so many levels. I've so much wanted to blog during these last weeks, but I haven't known what to say, how to capture any of what I'm feeling...

Heidi is one of the sweetest, strongest, most real and honest people I know, and I have been blessed by the privilege of knowing her as she walks through both the agonizing pain and the unspeakable joy of life--embracing both, equally, and walking with the Lord through all of it. She allows the emotions to come--all of them--and then rides them with a grace and grit that hearkens to the raw integrity of the psalmist. She's not afraid of questions; nor of fury; nor of exhausted, angry tears and upraised fists. But she also holds fast to the little girl, snuggling deep into the bosom she's just pounded and resting there until the peace and calm come. She is amazing.

I always want to read her words when I'm facing the pain of loss. She indirectly grants me permission to grieve, to cry, to rage... but all the while she points me to God, and to a certain knowledge of His sovereign hand in all things, even the painful ones.

And so, as I face the reality of surgery on Tuesday and walk through the emotions of the loss of yet another baby, I wanted to bask in the joys of Heidi's new baby, the presence of whom is being documented on her blog. Heidi brings to all she writes a deep faith and hope in God, the kind that only comes by having walked through deep pain with Him and having made it to the other side...

I had never heard of the song or the artist, but I love them. They whisper of the hope and joy and peace and trust that are always on the other side... and not just on the other side, but right in the middle of it all, too...

God is good, and these bittersweet days He gives us here, with all their joy and pain, are such a gift.

Some kind of magic
Happens late at night
When the moon smiles down at me
And bathes me in its light

I fell asleep beneath you
In the tall blades of grass
When I woke the world was new
I never had to ask

It's a brand new day
The sun is shining
It's a brand new day
For the first time in such a long long time
I know, I'll be OK

Most kind of stories
Save the best part for last
And most stories have a hero who finds
You make your past your past
Yeah you make your past your past

It's a brand new day
The sun is shining
It's a brand new day
For the first time in such a long long time
I know, I'll be OK

This cycle never ends
You gotta fall in order to mend

It's a brand new day
It's a brand new day
For the first time in such a long long time
I know, I'll be OK

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Scary trip to the outhouse...

The quote from EV, regarding this drawing she found by her sister EL: "Does anyone else find this disturbing?!"